Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mixin' Up My Schnitzel

Here's how I know I've been living in Germany long enough to be familiar with it's systems, but not so long that I am totally used to the place.

Yesterday I had a hankering for a salad for dinner. I had purchased some goat cheese last weekend that I hadn't opened yet. I thought it would go nicely with some pan seared turkey cutlets, greens, and cherry tomatoes.

I ran into the grocery store, made a bee line for the meat section in the back, and picked up a packet of white-meat schnitzel.* Fast forward to hours later, the salad assembled, pan on the stove, schnitzel on the counter, and Kevin walks into the kitchen.

"Pork chops," he said. "Sounds good."

"What?" I replied. "Pork chops? No. I'm making turkey,"

That's when I looked at the package. Sure enough, I had two Schwein (pork) cutlets. I realized that, for the first time since moving I simply ran into the grocery store and picked up something without reading the package. I though I just knew were everything was...but apparently I'm still not 100 percent at local.

* As far as I can figure, "schnitzel" on a package of meat means cutlet.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Polenta Lasagna

I cleaned out the fridge last night and created a miracle. I had leftover polenta from the night that we had ratatouille, leftover sauce from the whole-wheat mushroom pizza, and leftover mushroom-ricotta filling from Monday's attempt at ravioli.

The polenta had been stored in a square plastic container, and was thick enough to slice in half. I placed the bottom layer in a parchment lined baking pan. I then added a layer of sauce and a layer of mushroom-ricotta filling and placed the other layer of polenta in the pan. Then I smeared the top with more sauce and topped it with the last bit of fresh mozzarella I had. I cover the pan with foil and baked it for 45 minutes at 375 degrees.

It was delicious! What a triumph of leftover usage.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ravioli Redux

A week or so ago I made a batch of mushroom ravioli that was delicious. Kevin and I have talked about how good they were ever since. I decided to make another batch last night. But sometimes you can't re-create the magic.

Even though I used the exact same recipe for the dough, last night's version was way too sticky. I think I should have added more flour from the start, but thought that things would improve after the dough rested for a while.

Thinking about what went wrong today, I wondered if the weather was at fault. When I made pasta last week it was cool, but very humid. Yesterday was dry and hot. But doesn't that mean that last week's flour should have had more moisture in it to start. Wouldn't that translate to wetter dough? But in actuality it was much drier then what I made last night.

In addition to the dough being sticky, it wasn't rolling out the same width as last week. One of the things that made the last batch so great is that I used a biscuit cutter to make perfectly sized raviolis and measured out the filling. This meant that each one cooked the same amount. Last night I wasn't able to use the biscuit cutter since. There for I had odd shaped raviolis and I was also having trouble sealing the pasta's edges. Instead of making ravioli, I decided to pinch the ends together to make tortellini.

If I had known I was making tortellini, I would have made a different filling, but that's another discussion for another day. After experimenting I finally figured out how to create those little stuffed pasta, which perfectly capture a bit of sauce in it's inner nook. This was the one saving grace for last night's experiment.

How to Form Tortellini

Here are two ways to shape homemade tortellini.

Tortellini with all ends sealed

  • Roll out pasta dough to approximately 1 inch wide
  • Find the half way mark on the sheet of pasta
  • Place 1 teaspoon of filling, on the first half of the pasta sheet, leaving half an inch between each
  • Fold the second half of the pasta sheet over the side with the filling
  • Press down the pasta between each clump of filling, and then seal the edges in the top on the bottom
  • Cut the pasta into one-inch squares
  • Pick up one square and place it diagonally on your finger, pinching together to opposite ends
  • Pull the top end over the top of your finger and press together with the other sealed ends
  • Take the bottom corner and pull it over your finger with the other sealed ends
Tortellini with a little tail
  • Cut the dough into one-inch squares,
  • Placing the dough in the center
  • Folding the dough diagonally to form a triangle
  • Pinching two ends of the pasta together around your finger

Monday, July 28, 2008

Blueberry Muffins

The blueberries at the market have been amazing this summer. I can't seem to get enough. I've been eating them plain or with my morning muesli, but the call to bake was too strong to ignore.

On Saturday I whip up a batch of blueberry muffins to bring along to our friend's house. The first batch looked so good, I made a second on Sunday morning for Kevin and myself.

I got the recipe from Epricurious and it's almost perfect. I prefer my muffins a little less sweet, so I reduced the sugar. I replaced the whole milk with buttermilk, as was suggested by some of the comment. (It's what I had on-hand.) Also, since I’m in Germany and am forced to use single-acting baking powder instead of the double-acting kind available in the U.S. I modified the instructions so that the liquids get mixed into the flour as close to the time of baking as possible. Below is my revised recipe.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 whole large egg
1 large yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups fresh blueberries (12 oz)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tablespoons raw sugar
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Greece muffin tins or insert muffin liners.

Melt butter. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. To the melted butter, add buttermilk, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Whisk together until light yellow.

In a separate bowl add flour and sugar for topping. Cut butter into small pieces and add to the bowl. Using your finger pinch together the butter until all the dry ingredients are mixed in. It should have some pie-sized clumps. Set aside until the batter is spooned into the muffin tins.

Mix the wet muffin ingredients into the dry muffin ingredients. Mix until incorporated. Add berries and gently incorporate. Divide batter evenly among twelve muffin cups. Add topping.

Bake for about 18 minutes. Check doneness by sticking a skewer into the middle of a muffin. When it comes out dry, the muffins are done.

Cool slightly before removing from muffin tins. If you are using silicone muffin trays, which are my new favorite toy, wait until the muffins are completely cool before removing.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Robbed by the Cob

Yesterday I was wandering through the market in Bonn, looking for something to make for dinner. I was in the mood for something summery, but tired of eggplant and zucchini. I didn't want to make yet another salad. I wanted something that could be cooked. What I wanted, I realized, was corn on the cob.

A little while later, in the health food store, I found about 10 ears!

Now, I understand that corn on the cob is not the most popular food in Germany. I suspect that many Germans think of it as pig — not people — food. But, I was amused that, below the corn's label, were instruction to cook it by boiling or grilling.

I don't know if all this talk in the media about farmers growing corn for bio-diesel is true, but I was shocked by the price-per-cob. Just to make sure I wasn't totally remembering everything in the U.S. as being less expensive, I logged on to Fresh Direct, an online grocery store in the New York area, the check the price in the states.

Fresh Direct is selling ears of corn for $0.59. Guess how much I paid in Germany.

1.49 Euros per ear! With the exchange rate, that's $2.34 per ear!!! Per ear!!!

I bought two ears anyway. But at home, over dinner I told Kevin to enjoy. At these prices this is the only time we'll be eating it this summer.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Ratatouille might just be the perfect summer food.

Composed of some of summer's best offerings — eggplant, tomatoes, onions, peppers, zucchini, garlic, and herbs — it originated in Provence, France. The vegetables used can vary depending on the cook’s preferences and what's available. The one constant in making ratatouille is that the vegetables are simmered in olive oil.

Ratatouille it makes a nice topping for any grain with couscous, pasta, or — what I ate last night — polenta my favorite options. It's best to make extra, because the leftovers get even better. I love to eat it on crusty bread or lunch the next day.

Yesterday I skipped the peppers and added mushrooms instead. (Mainly because I had mushrooms in the house, but no pepper.) I like to make ratatouille with tons and tons of basil, but my basil plant is looking a little puny these days. It's also yummy with thyme or oregano.

This recipe serves two with some leftovers.

1 medium eggplant
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 zucchini
12 mushrooms
1/4 cut balsamic vinegar
1 pound tomatoes
1/2 cup basil
1/4 cup parsley
Salt and pepper

Cut eggplant into cubes, salt, and place in a calendar over a bowl for one hour. Rinse off excess salt, drain, and dry in a clean dishtowel. (See my post about salting eggplant for more details.)

Slice onions and sauté in one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Finely mice garlic and add to the pan. Add eggplant. Cut zucchini into cubes approximately the same size as the eggplant. Add to the pan. Cut mushrooms into quarters and add to the pan.

When all of the ingredients are slightly browned, add vinegar. Scrape all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan and allow the liquid to evaporate. Add tomatoes and cook over medium high heat for two minutes. Reduce heat and add the remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes or until all of the vegetables are soft. Rough chop the herbs and add to mixture at three minutes before removing from the heat.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tomato Salad With Shallots and Herbs

The summer's crop tomatoes are starting appearing in markets, or — for the lucky ones — in the garden. There are almost endless ways to enjoy these treats. Here's a simple salad that really showcases the tomatoes.

1 pound tomatoes (whatever looks best)
2 shallots
2 tablespoons basil
1 tablespoon parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil*
Course salt
Fresh ground pepper

Chop tomatoes. Finely mince shallots. Tear basil into small pieces and chop parsley. Place all ingredients in a bowl. Add olive oil and mix together. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve.

* This salad really benefits from using the best quality olive oil.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pan-Seared Steak With Garlic and Chives

I recently saw a segment on a cooking program about making restaurant-quality steaks. I was surprised to discover that the chef recommended pan searing instead of grilling. His technique looked simple and the results seemed yummy that I decided to give it a try.

The steaks are cooked in a cast iron frying pan then topped with butter. I decided to make a garlic and herb compound butter for mine. I don't know if I am convinced that this steak is better then one cooked over an open fire, but it was pretty tasty.

I'm not sure what types of steaks I used. They were nicely marbled with a layer of fat on the top that the butcher cut off for me. There was no bone, but a bone-in steak didn't seem to be an option. The butcher called it "roast beef," but what I got was certainly not the same thing that we refer to as roast been in the states.

2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons chives
2 tablespoons butter, slightly softened
4 steaks
Salt and pepper

Finely mince garlic, then lightly sauté it in 1 teaspoon olive oil until the garlicky aroma just starts to come out. Remove from heat and place in a small bowl. Finely chop chives and add to the bowl. Add butter and mix to incorporate herbs. Season with salt. Using plastic wrap, form the butter into a log and refrigerate for at least one hour. The longer the butter sits, the stronger the garlic and chives will be. The butter can be made ahead and keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Preheat a cast iron frying pan. Brush the bottom with the remaining olive oil. Season the steaks with course salt and pepper. Add steaks to the pan and cook on one side for three to four minutes. Flip steaks and cook for another thee minuets on the second side. Turn off the heat and add half a tablespoon of butter to the top of each steak. Allow butter to melt, then serve.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Homemade Mushroom Ravioli

Since making this dish on Thursday night, I haven't stopped thinking about it. It was that good. And, it's not just me who liked them. After eating the raviolis my dinner guests went out and bought their own pasta maker!

Makes 16 1 and 1/2 inch round raviolis
Special equipment needed: pasta maker

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
1 and 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup water

Whisk together flour and salt. Place on a board and make a well in the middle. Add egg yolks, olive oil, and water. Using a fork, gently mix the liquids into the flour. When the dough comes together, form it into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. The dough should rest at room temperature for at least one hour. You can also refrigerate the dough overnight.

1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 pound mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons Sherry
1 cup ricotta
Salt and pepper

Finely mince onion and garlic. Finely chop mushrooms. Add olive oil to a medium-sized frying pan. Sweat onions and garlic in oil until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté for five minutes, until mushrooms have cooked down to about half of their original volume. Deglaze the pan by adding the Sherry and using a wooden spoon or the tip of a pair of tongs to scrape all of the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Allow Sherry to evaporate. Remove from the heat. When cool, mix in ricotta and season with salt and pepper. Set aside until the ravioli is ready to stuff.

Forming the Ravioli
Cut the dough into four pieces. Following the instructions on your pasta maker, roll out one piece of dough at a time. (Note: To get the right thickness on my pasta maker, that mean rolling the dough to the second to last thickness.) On half of a sheet of pasta, add one tablespoon of filling every inch and a half. Fold the second half of the pasta over the filling. Cut with a biscuit cutter. Dip your fingers in water and press around the ravioli to seal the edges. Be sure that all of the air is removed from between the layers of pasta and no filling is poking through the edges, which can cause a "blow out."

Place ravioli on a baking sheet lined with a clean dishcloth. Sprinkle semolina flour or polenta to keep the raviolis from sticking. Cover with another clean dishcloth and set aside until ready to use. The raviolis can also be frozen at this point.

To cook, bring 2 quarts of well-salted water to a boil. Place raviolis in the water and cook for four minuets. Drain.

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Return ravioli to the pot. Add butter, olive oil, and parsley. Gently toss until all of the ravioli is coated. Place in serving dish and sprinkle with Parmesan. Season with pepper.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Burnt Green Beans

This recipe comes from my friend Liz. The interesting thing about that is: Liz hates to cook! This sure-fire crowd pleaser is one dish that even the most novice cook can master. Your guests will never guess that the trick to these beans is to burn them.

1 pound green beans
1 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Wash and dry beans. Trim the ends. Toss with olive oil. Preheat a large frying pan. Add green beans and let them burn. Seriously. Burn them until they are black on one side, the toss the beans and burn then on the other side. When beans are mostly black, toss with salt and pepper. They can be served hot or room temperature.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Deliciously Successful

Last night's dinner was oh so yummy!

We started with a round of Bing cherry mojitos and a bowl of pistachios. (I planned to make spiced nuts, but something had to give.) I need to thank my friend Michael for introducing me to these luscious libations and Martha Stewart for creating the recipe. With plenty of fresh cherries and lime juice and topped with sparkling water, this is more like cherry limeade with a splash of vodka.

Next was homemade ravioli stuffed with mushrooms, which were sautéed with onions, garlic, and a splash of Sherry, and mixed with fresh ricotta. I served the ravioli simply dressed with olive oil, parsley, and shaved Parmesan. I used a biscuit cutter to for the ravioli, which helped to create a good seal around the filling and I didn't have one "blow out." (That's a first for me and my homemade ravioli.)

The main course was pan seared steaks with garlic and chive compound butter, tomato salad with shallots, and burnt green beans, which deserve a post all their own.

For dessert, what else could be the job, but a rich and dense chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and fresh raspberries? The cake was good, but it didn't rise as much as it usually does. I need to figure out if this was a result of cutting the recipe in half and miscalculating the measurements or the fact that this is the first time that I used German baking powder instead of the U.S. variety. Apparently the American kind is double acting, which the German version is single acting.

It will take me a few days to post all of the recipes, but I'll get them up as soon as I can.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Birthday Dinner

What better way to enjoy one's own birthday, then to cook up some of your favorite things? For me that means that I've created the following menu:

Visit the blog tomorrow to see how it all turns out.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Muesli Explosion

I've talked before about the seemingly endless varieties of sausages and yogurt available in Germany. Another food that has more choices then I ever imagined it muesli.

Though the two are often thought of to be the same basic thing, muesli is different from granola. Developed by a Swiss doctor in the early 1900s, Bircher muesli (named after the doctor) contains rolled oats and fruit that are soaked in milk and yogurt. The culture in the yogurt breaks down the grain, making it easier to digest. Granola is a made from oats and other grains that are tossed with honey or another sweetener and toasted.

Though I haven't been soaking my muesli overnight, I have been eating a lot of the stuff lately. The version that I fancy has oats, corn flakes, hazelnuts, flax seeds, almonds, and cashews. Topped with a giant handful of blueberries and some soymilk it might just be the perfect breakfast.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Potato Pancakes, Take Two

Last night I tried making potato pancakes again. I am happy to report great success.

I used the recipe that I posted after my previous failed attempt. The addition of a grated onion added a bit a sweetness and dimension to the pancakes. Also, by reducing the amount of flour and egg, the pancakes held together, but were still dominated by potato and had a more delicate texture.

I served them with sautéed pork chops, homemade applesauce, and a salad. Delicious!


Makes about 2 cups

2 apples
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 lemon

Peel apples, remove core, and chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Add apples and sugar. Allow too cook over a high heat for one minute, stirring occasionally. Add flour and cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt, cinnamon, and lemon juice.
Reduce heat and cover, allowing the apples to break down. Cook for 15 minutes.

The resulting applesauce will be chunky. If you want a smooth applesauce, force through a mesh sieve or food mill.

Cool and serve.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Roasted Tomatoes Stuffed With Herbed Bulgur

Yesterday I made roasted tomatoes stuffed with herbed bulgur. Kevin, my biggest fan, loved them, claiming that the filling was fresh and complimented the sweetness of the tomato nicely. I thought they were good, but that the filling was too delicate. Next time I will add pine nuts and Parmesan for a bit more richness and texture. Here's the recipe I'll use for the improved versions.

1 cup bulgur (cracked wheat)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 red onion
1/2 bunch parsley
1 bunch mint
1/2 lemon
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
8 medium to large tomatoes
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line the bottom of a baking dish with parchment paper.

Toast bulgur in a small pot with 1 teaspoon olive oil until it starts to smell slightly nutty. Add 1 and 1/3 cups boiling water, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 17 minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered for another 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set a side.

Toast pine nuts in a frying pan until they are light golden brown. Remove from hot pan and pour into a mixing bowl.

Finely dice red onion. Finely chop parsley and mint. Add to the mixing bowl with the pine nuts. Add cooled bulgur, lemon, Parmesan, and remaining olive oil. Toss all ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper.*

Hollow out the tomatoes by removing the core and seeds from tomatoes. Salt the inside of the tomatoes and lightly drizzle the outside with olive oil. Fill each tomato with the herbed bulgur and place in the baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional five minutes. Garnish with 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan and serve.

*Note: Depending on the size of your tomatoes, you may have extra filling. Leftovers can be eaten chilled with diced fresh tomatoes.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Far From the Perfect Omelet

Hungary? Check out The Apron Caper for recopies, tips, and stories of what not to do in the kitchen.

Textbook omelets are yellow, folded in half or in thirds, and not broken. My omelets are browned, flipped but not necessarily folded, and almost always broken.

This morning I did a little research about what my problems may be. First off, I haven't been using a nonstick pan. I love my AllClad frying pans, and forget that they are not perfect for everything. Also, I haven't been thinning my eggs out with water. Some sites claim that this helps to produce a fluffier omelet. I personally think it doesn't sound very appetizing, but I'll give it a try next time if it will improve my results.

The final problem is keeping the eggs from browning. I haven’t figured out how to melt the cheese without the eggs getting “a touch of the pain.” If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Warm Summer Soup

When you do think of summer soups, the chilled variety often comes to mind. But you don't need to completely write off warm soups during the summer months. Instead of soups that have been slowly simmered for hours, warm summer soups should be light and refreshing, with crisp, almost raw veggies.

Last night I made the following chicken soup, which is more like a salad in a bowl with warm broth.

(Serves 2)

1/2 cup of barley (or any other grain such as rice or couscous)
1 onion
1 stalks celery
3 carrots
1 teaspoons olive oil
1 chicken breasts
10 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4 button mushrooms
2 scallions
4 radishes
1/2 red pepper
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Salt and pepper

Steam barley in 2/3 cup of boiling water.

Rough cut one onion, one carrot, and one stalk of celery. In a medium-size pot sauté the onion in olive oil for about a minute. Add the carrots and celery and sauté for another minute. Add the chicken breasts and cover the contents of the pot by two inches with water. Add peppercorns and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Poach the chicken for twenty minutes skimming any film off the top of poaching liquid.

While the chicken is poaching, finely chop the remaining carrots along with all of the scallions, mushrooms, red pepper, and radishes. When the chicken is opaque all the way through, remove it from the liquid and set aside to cool. Strain the poaching liquid and discard the vegetables. Set the liquid aside.

Put the pot back on the stove. Add the poaching liquid and season soy sauce and pepper, and bring back to a simmer. Shred the chicken. Assemble ingredients in a bowl as follows: barley on the bottom, then chicken, mushrooms, carrots, peppers, radishes, and scallions. Pour hot broth over everything, and serve.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Moroccan Spice Mix Challenge

When I was in Morocco last month I purchased a pouch of fish and poultry spice. I'm not 100 percent sure what is included in the mix, but my best guess is that it is made up of cumin, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, cayenne, allspice, cloves, turmeric, and paprika.

I had planned to whip something up for my guests in Spain, but never had the chance. I brought the mix on my trip back to the states this month thinking I could cook for my friends one night. That didn't happen either.

Last night, after being carried across three continents, I finally used the spice mix. It was a weeknight so I wanted to make something quick and easy. I pound out two chicken breasts to about half and inch. (A therapeutic activity in itself.) Then, used the spice mix as a dry rub. I let the chicken marinate for an hour or so while I went for a run and prepared the rest of the meal, which included couscous with turmeric, raisins, and walnuts and pan roasted tomatoes and mushrooms. Before cooking the breast I lightly coated then in flour to stop the spices from burning. Then I sautéed them in olive oil for three minutes each side.

The result was better then I expected. The chicken extremely flavorful and had a slightly crisp exterior and a moist flesh.

Moroccan Spiced Chicken

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup Moroccan spice mix
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil

Remove tenders from chicken breast and set aside for another use. Using a heavy frying pan, pound the chicken breasts until they are half an inch thick. Rub spice mix on both sides of the chicken and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Lightly coat the chicken breasts with flour, shaking off excess. Heat frying pan and add olive oil. Sauté chicken for two to three minutes on each side. Remove from pan. Allow chicken to rest for two or three minutes, then serve.

Moroccan Spice Mix

Though I purchased my Moroccan spice mix already assembled, you can make your own version.

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 tablespoon cayenne
1/2 tablespoon ground cloves
1/2 tablespoon turmeric
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in bowl. Whisk together. The mixture can be stored in an airtight container for one month.