Saturday, September 27, 2008

Gone Eating

I'm off to Paris for a week of good eating!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What the Duck?

A few weeks ago a French friend invited us to dinner at her house. She had recently returned from her summer vacation in the French countryside, where she discovered an amazing butcher. She brought back cans of his Duck confit. Even though I thought that I didn't like duck, I accepted the invitation. We'd been talking about getting together for dinner for weeks and I didn't want to spoil the momentum of the plan.

The first time I tried duck, I was in high school. We had gone out to a "fancy restaurant" with a limited menu. It was that or the steak, and I was going through a (brief) no red-meat phase. The bird was too gamey for my 17-year-old pallet.

The second time I tried it was years later at a Thai restaurant in the East Village. My date was outraged that I, who claimed to (cringe) "be a foodie," didn't like duck. He insisted that I try the duck something-or-other that night. In the end, I found it too greasy. Needless to say, the relationship didn't last either.

So, it was with a little trepidation that I approached my friend's terrace for dinner. Those doubts evaporated the moment I smelt what was coming out of her kitchen. By the time my plate was set in front of me, I knew that this was going to be pure heaven. Rich and deep, the duck was neither gamey nor greasy. She served with a side of potatoes cooked in the duck's fat with garlic and apples. By the time we left, I had my own personal jar of duck fat and the name of a brand of confit to purchase in Paris.

Tonight, Kevin and my in-laws will be served their own portion of duck fat potatoes. What beeter way to get inspired for the French culinary adventures that await us next week.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pea Soup

For some people, it's the falling leaves. For others it's the crisp weather and change of wardrobe. For me, though, soup is the best thing about fall.

Again yesterday, as I was riding my bike home in the cool air, all I wanted to do was go home and put on a pot of soup for dinner. I didn't have any stock on hand, nor did I have a lot of time before diner, so my options were more limited then usual. What could I whip up in no time, let simmer unattended while I took care of some other projects around the house, and leave for Kevin to reheat later when he got home?

Pea soup perfectly fit the bill perfectly. Here's a super soup that even a novice will find easy to make.

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced bacon (in used the pre-diced kind; if that's not available, dice two of three slices of thick cut bacon)
1 onion
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
1 16-ounce bag of dried green peas
2 potatoes
Salt and pepper

In a medium-sized pot, add olive oil and bacon. Allow the bacon to cook until it is brown, about three minutes. Dice onion and add to the pot. Allow onion to cook with bacon until it turns translucent, about three minutes. Slice carrots into rounds and dice celery. Add to pot and cook for two minutes. Add green peas.

Cover the contents of the pot by one inch with water. (This should be around one quart of water.) Bring water to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Dice the potatoes and add to the simmering water. Allow everything to cook until the peas are falling apart, about one hour and 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Makes 6 servings.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pumpkin Soup

It's crisp and cool here in Germany. Wonderful small pumpkins are beginning to flood the farms markets. Last week I made the season's first batch of pumpkin soup. A nice balance between sweet and savory, it almost makes it okay that summer has ended.

Make 2 to 3 servings

1 small to medium pumpkin
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 onion
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons cream
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut pumpkin into quarters and remove seeds. Place face up on a baking sheet. Coat with 1 tablespoon olive oil, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Remove pumpkin from oven and allow to cool slightly. Remove pumpkin skin.*

Dice onion and, in a medium-sized pot sauté in remain oil until translucent. Add pumpkin and stock. Season with salt and pepper and allow the liquid to come to a boil.

Using either an emersion blender or stand up blender, puree the contents of the pot until completely smooth. Add butter and cream and blend until full incorporated. Taste and reseason as needed. If necessary, return soup to pot to reheat. Serve hot.

* I removed half of the pumpkin skin and left the other half on. If you want a very smooth, fine texture remove all of the skin.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cobbler, Crisp, or Crumble

Today where I volunteer, I was eating the last of the peach cobbler. Soon I was present with a question: what's the difference between a cobbler, a crisp, and a crumble?

Though I tried to formulate an intelligent-sounding answer, at the moment I had no idea what the truth was.

Once home, I decided did some research. Of course, Google was my first stop, but in the end I turned to The Joy of Cooking. As one of my favorite go-to sources, I trust the book as the final word about traditional American cooking. The answer was found in a chapter entitled, "American Fruit Desserts."

In addition to cobblers and crisps, the authors discussed pandowdies, brown betties, crunches, slumps, grunts, and buckles. Though they have little to do with the post, I loved all of those names and really wanted to include them.

Here are the definitions that I've "cobbled" together:

  • Cobbler: Deep dish, single layer fruit desserts. The fruit is most frequently cooked on the bottom, with a pastry or biscuit crust on top. No one knows for sure where the term cobbler comes from, but the authors of the Joy suggests that it is because the cook has to "cobble something together."
  • Crisp: Sweetened fruit that is lightly thickened and cooked under a crumbly topping of flour, butter, and sugar. The topping can include oats, cookie, or cake, and is mixed together like pie dough, with the liquid being added at the end of the process.
  • Crumble: Very similar to a crisp, but less rich, with lower amounts of butter and flour. Generally, crumbles are topped with streusel. Made from different proportions of butter, flour, and sugar streusel is also commonly found on coffee cakes and muffins. (Ironically enough, streusel is the German word for sprinkle.)
All this research made me discover one thing: I really make fruit crisps way more often then I make fruit cobblers! Who knew?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Peach Cobbler

All summer long, a trip to the market is not complete without stopping by my favorite fruit lady to pick up some peaches. This week, seeing that she still had a nice supply, I decided to get a bunch while the getting was still good. I don't know how much longer her stash is going to last.

With my purchase I made the best peach cobbler I've ever concocted. The peaches were just ripe, but still firm enough to hold their shape throughout the cooking process. And they were so sweet that I hardly needed to add any sugar.

Cobbler is one of my favorite desserts to prepare, especially because I feel absolutely no guilt while eating it. (Okay, the scoop of vanilla ice cream on top may induce a moment or two of guilt, but it's worth it.) I always have a helping of cobbler the next morning for breakfast as well. Without the ice cream it's nothing more then cooked fruit with a whole grain topping. What could be better then that?

5 pounds ripe peaches
1/4 cup plus one 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup whole oats
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chilled butter
2 to 4 tablespoons of fruit juice* or water

Peel and slice peaches. Place in a mixing bowl and toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar (depending on your preference and the sweetness of the fruit), 2 tablespoons flour, almond extract, and a pinch of salt. Pour peaches into a glass baking pan.

For the topping mix oats, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup of flour, and salt into a mixing bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and add to the bowl. Using your finger tips, incorporate the butter until most of the mixture comes together into small clumps. Add juice or water, one tablespoon at a time, until the topping is moist but not soggy.

Distribute the topping evenly over the peaches. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 45 to 50 minutes. When the juice in the fruit is bubbling, remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes, allowing the topping to turn golden brown.

Cool a bit before serving to allow the juices to thicken. Top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Serve warm or at room temperature.

* I used a multi-vitamin juice that included a mixture of peach, pineapple, and apple. Orange or apple would also work well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Crab Cakes

Sunday was Kevin's birthday. Since we were traveling home from Greece his birthday dinner was postponed until Monday night. On the menu, his favorite cake...crab cakes!
I have yet to find crabs meat in Germany - canned or otherwise. So, when we were in Dublin we picked up a stash. Now, whenever we see a Mark & Spencer food hall in our travelers we'll be sure to purchase a can or two.

Last night I made crab cake sandwiches using soft warm rolls. I spread a bit of spicy mustard on each roll and topped the crab cake with crispy Romaine lettuce and fresh sliced tomatoes. The result was a perfect birthday cake.

2 cans lump crabmeat (170 grams or 6 ounces each)
1/2 red onion
1 stalk celery
2 slices white or wheat bread
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 egg
1/4 cup dried breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil

Drain cab meat and place in a large bowl. Finely dice onion and celery. Add to bowl with crabmeat. Remove the crust from the bread and finely grate. Add breadcrumbs to the crab mixture. Add Old Bay seasoning and egg. Mix everything together until the egg is fully incorporated.

Form crab mixture into four even-sized cakes.* Preheat a medium-sized frying pan over high heat with olive oil. Lightly coat the crab cakes with the dried breadcrumbs and place in the hot oil.

Cook on the first side until golden brown, about three to four minutes. Using a spatula, flip the crab cake. Allow the other side to cook until golden brown, about three more minutes.

Serve hot.

* Note: The recipe can be made up to this point and the pre-formed cakes can be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to pan fry them just before serving.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Mediterranean Diet

The food in Greece was amazing! Here are some highlights.

Greek Salad
Everyday I had at least one salad. Since I'm a "when in Rome" kind of girl, I mostly I ate Greek salads. These were so perfect though; I wasn't disappointed with a single one. The salad was composed of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, green peppers, olives, and feta. Sometimes the feta came crumbled as in this photo, but more often then not it was sliced and placed on top of the veggies with a drizzle of olive oil. The dressing usually included lots of olive oil, a little red wine vinegar, and a sprinkling of oregano.

Fava Bean Puree
Sometimes things coincide so perfectly that it's almost crazy to call it a coincidence.

On the way to Greece I started reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. In one of the first few chapters she discusses the Slow Food movement and its impact on certain products. One example she mentions was the Santorini fava bean. Later that night, on Santorini, it was Kevin's turn to order an appetizer for us to share. His pick: fava bean puree, using local beans of course.

Unlike the fava beans that I am used to, the favas here are white. When cooked and pureed with olive oil, garlic, and salt they are delicious. This puree was served in a mold, but the waiter explained that it tasted best when spread out and topped with olive oil and lemon. Around the favas are slow roasted tomatoes cooked with capers.

After our first taste we ordered at least one portion of the stuff everyday. I even brought a few bags of dried beans to bring home with me. Watch out for a post about my experience trying to recreate this treat at home in the coming weeks.

I had eggplant three different ways while in Greece. Once sliced and fried; once cut in half and stuffed with tomatoes, capers, onions, and baked with cheese; and once smoked and mashed. Each version was superb. The eggplant was sweet, with not a trace of bitterness. I didn't photograph any of the eggplant dishes I ate on this trip, but noticed that each time white- or pale-purple-skinned plants were used and the flesh was also very light in color.

Grilled Fish
Red snapper or sea bream seemed to be the fish of choice this weekend. I loved getting the fish whole with the skin grilled to a crisp. After Kevin and I were finished, only the head and bones remained.

One night (for Kevin's birthday) we decided to split a grilled lobster. The night we ordered the lobster, the power went out. The waiter told us that this happens couple of times each summer, often when it's a little cloudy. Though he didn't know what one had to do with the other (he didn't even know what the power source in Santorini was) we didn't mind at all. We were on a rooftop in Oia and ate by the light of the full moon. It was very pleasant, but it made it hard to see what we were eating. I took this picture of our meal so that we know what was on our plate before digging in.

Crazy Juices
Greeks must really like their juice. Adult-sized juice boxes were sold everywhere. The flavors are way more exciting the standard apple, orange, and grapefruit. In addition to those, you are also able to get cherry, peach, or banana. My favorite was pineapple coconut. By the end of the trip I would have one of those bad boys while other people were enjoying a cocktail. I was basically like drinking a virgin pina colada.

Cooking on the Water

Many of the tiny harbors that we saw were lined with restaurants. Here seafood is the obvious choice. The octopus, for example, were literally pulled directly out of the water, cooked on one of the outdoor grills, and served.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Big Fat Greek Adventure

I'm off the the land of feta, fish, and phyllo in search of something delicious. I'll be back next week and hopefully I'll have a lot of great thing to report and Greek-inspired recipe to share.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Whole New Take on Calamari

On Saturday night Kevin and I met friends for dinner at El Dorado (Wesselheideweg 59), a Spanish restaurant in Bonn/Duisdorf. We shared a plate of tapas for four, which included bacon-wrapped dates, shrimp with garlic and chili, stuffed mushrooms, and calamari. Everyone had the paella as a main course. All of the food was very good, but the calamari really stood out.

In most restaurants calamari is served breaded and deep-fried. I admit that it is sometimes delicious, but more often then not it resembles fried, chewy rubber bands. Perhaps that's why Saturday's appetizer was such a wonderful surprise.

The squid, which included only a few pieces with tentacles, was cut into generously sized pieces. Instead of being deep fried, it was sautéed in olive oil. Lightly breaded, a few crispy, garlicky crumbs clung to choice morsels. A bright, but not overpowering splash of lemon, topped off the dish.

The effect of the meal is that I am now inspired to try cooking some squid at home. I only hope it's easy to find in my local fish market.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Salmon Cakes

I love canned salmon! It is really an awesome product.

It can be stored in the pantry, is jammed packed with calcium and omega acids, usually contains wild salmon, and is so reasonably priced. For some strange reason I can't find canned salmon in Germany though. So, when I saw some in the grocery store in Dublin I stocked up.

My favorite way to use canned salmon is to make salmon cakes. If you don't have access to the canned stuff, you can use a poached salmon fillet.

Serve salmon cakes as you would serve crab cakes. I like really like them over a salad with balsamic vinaigrette. One cake per person is a good for an appetizer; two makes a light dinner.

1 can salmon (about 200 grams or 7 ounces)
1/2 red onion
1/2 red pepper
1/2 carrot
1/4 cup parsley
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Drain salmon and place in a mixing bowl. Using a fork, break up the fish into small pieces. Finely dice onion, red pepper, and carrot. Mince parsley. Add to bowl and mix all of the ingredients together. Add 3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs and egg. Season with salt and pepper. Mix until the egg is fully incorporated.

Place the remaining breadcrumbs in a small bowl. Using your hands, shape the salmon mixture into four evenly sized cakes. Coat each cake lightly with the breadcrumbs.

Preheat a medium-sized skillet over high heat. Add olive oil to the pan, and then sauté the salmon cakes until they are golden brown on one side, about four minutes. Flip the salmon cake and cook until the second side is also golden brown, about three additional minutes.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Braised Baby Artichokes With Tomato

I made another attempt at baby artichokes last night, and am happy to report total success! I think I may be ready to graduate to the big ones soon. The trick to my success is being aggressive — you have to trim a lot away.

10 baby artichokes
1/2 lemon
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tomato
Salt and pepper

Prepare the artichokes by cutting off the tips, which means removing the top one-third of the artichoke.) Then remove all of the tough outer leaves. Place artichokes in a bowl and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over them to stop them from turning brown. Cut each artichoke into quarters and remove the choke with a pairing knife. (Slide under the base of the choke and use the tip of the knife to release the choke from the leaves.)

Mince garlic. Heat a medium-sized saucepan. Add olive oil and sauté garlic for about a minute. Add the artichokes and sauté for another few minutes. Dice tomato and add to the pot alone with the chicken stock. Bring the liquid to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper, and then cover the pot. Allow tomatoes and artichokes to braise for about 25 minutes, until the artichokes are tender all the way through.

Serves two as a side dish.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

An Unbelievably Good Sandwich

On Tuesday I made a huge batch of ratatouille. The market is still overflowing with eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes. I figured that I better that advantage of it while it lasts.
Yesterday for lunch I used some of the leftovers to make a great sandwich for lunch. Splitting a length of onion baguette in half, I covered both sides with Gouda cheese and stuck it under the broiler until it was melted. When the cheese started to turn golden brown I took it out of the over and topped it with a healthy scoop of ratatouille.

Sometimes I really love have contrasting temperatures in one dish. The crispy bread and hot goowy cheese provided a nice contrast to the cool, rich veggies. Today I packed a cold version of this sandwich for my lunch at work, but I fear that it will not be as good.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Mini Fruit Tarts

Chocolate, pastry, and fresh summer berries. What could be a better combo then that? Here's a simple recipe for accentuating the best of summer with a little dark chocolate.

1/2 basic pastry dough
1/4 cup chocolate ganache
1/4 cup blueberries
1/4 cup raspberries
1/4 cup strawberries, cut in half or quartered

Roll out 1/2 of the basic pastry dough. (The other half can be frozen for another use.) Cut dough into four pieces and line four three-inch tart pans. Remove excess dough from the edges by rolling your rolling pin along the top of the pan.

Cover dough with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pierce the bottom of the tart crust several times with a fork. Cover each tart crust with foil and pie weights. Bake for seven to ten minutes. Remove foil and pie weights. Bake for another two to three minutes, until light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool.

Make basic ganache. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for one week.

Carefully remove tart crusts from the pans. Pour 1 tablespoon of chocolate into each crust and gently rotate to allow the chocolate to cover the bottom and the sides of the crust. Fill each shell with blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Place tarts in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes to allow chocolate to set. Serve at room temperature.