Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Food Blogger in Training

I was worried that my niece -- a rather picky eater -- would have a hard time dealing with German cooking. Luckily, she'll eat just about an type of meat, so we didn't have a problem at all. Also, I found it ironic that she -- the same person who told me to stop writing about food on my other blog -- took a picture of every single thing she ate during her week abroad. Here is a collection of some of the highlights:

Dutch pancakes with chocolate at Pancake! in Amsterdam.

A pork steak sandwich at the Christmas market in Cologne.

A chocolate-covered apple qualifies as a fruit one day.

German Christmas cookies in Cochen couldn't be passed up.

Who doesn't love fries?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pumpkin Cake With Rum Raisin Walnut Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting

I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of pumpkin pie, but that is not the reason why I left it off my Thanksgiving menu.
The real reason was that, since I had houseguests the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I decided to do my baking ahead of time and keep it in the freezer until the holiday. I knew the apple pie would freeze well, but I had some trepidation about freezing a pumpkin pie. I thought the custard would get too weepy and make the crust soggy. I thought about making the crust and the filling, freezing everything separately, and baking it on Thanksgiving. This, however, would complicate my already complicated oven plan.

Instead, I decided to make this three layer pumpkin cake.
Pumpkin cake
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 cups fresh roasted pumpkin*
Zest of one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour three eight-inch cake pans.

In a bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.

In a separate bowl, combine sugar and vegetable oil using a hand mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Add pumpkin and vanilla, and mix.

Add half of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Add the other half of the four and mix again.

Evenly divide cake batter between each of the three pans and bake for 30 minutes. Using a toothpick, check that the center of the cake is cooked. When the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done.

Cool on a rack. When the pan is cool enough to handle, remove from the pan.

Rum, raisin, and walnut filling
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 shots of dark rum

Combine raisins, walnuts, and rum. Let mixture soak for at least two hours. Can be prepared a day ahead.

Cream cheese frosting
16 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
4 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

Using a hand mixer, combine cream cheese and butter. Slowly mix in sugar, one cup at a time until the frosting is light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla.

To assemble the cake
Ice the top of the bottom layer. Add half of the raisin walnut filling. Ice the bottom of the second layer and place on top of the first layer. Repeat with the second layer. Place the third layer on top. Ice top and sides with a light layer of icing, known as a crumb layer. Let icing set in the refrigerator. When firm, use the remaining icing to ice the top and the sides. Decorate with orange zest and candied ginger.

* You can use canned pumpkin as well.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sweet Potato Pizza

The surprise hit of my Thanksgiving fest? Sweet potato pizza. Sure, I got flack for replacing the traditional casserole or mash with an unconventional option. The traditionalists on my guest list were very skeptical. But, by the end of the meal, I won them over. The few leftovers were quickly eaten up the next day.
Pizza dough
3/4 cup very hot tap water
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil

Add yeast to tap water. Set aside for five minutes to let the yeast proof. If a bit of foam appears on the top of the water, the yeast is okay to use. If no foam appears, throw out the yeast and use another package.

Place flour in a large bowl. Whisk in salt and sugar. Add water with yeast and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix until slightly sticky dough has formed. Add more flour, one tablespoon at a time, if necessary. Kneed the dough for two or three minutes in the bowl.

With the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, coat the sides of a large bowl. Put the pizza dough inside and cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free place and allow dough to rise for about one hour.

Punch down dough and roll out.

Sweet potato pizza topping
1 large onion
5 cloves garlic
2 large sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup Sherry

Finely dice onion, mince garlic, and peel sweet potato. Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the sweet potato.

In a large frying pan over high heat, sauté the onion until translucent. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so. Add sweet potatoes and reduce heat to medium high. Cook, tossing every few minutes, for six or seven minutes. Add tomato paste, salt, and pepper. Mix to incorporate the tomato paste and cook for another few minutes. Push potato mixture to the side and add Sherry. Using a spoon, scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan while the Sherry evaporates.

Spread the potato mixture even in the pan and remove from the heat.

To assemble pizza
1 pizza dough
Sweet potato pizza topping
1/2 cup grated Greyer cheese

Preheat over to 425 degrees. Roll out pizza dough to fit on a baking sheet. Bake pizza dough until the top becomes slightly golden, about five minutes. Remove from oven and evenly spread sweet potato topping over the dough. Sprinkle with cheese. Return to oven and bake until cheese is melted and brown, about three to five minutes.

Remove from the oven, slice, and serve. The pizza is good hot or at room temperature.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Chestnut Stuffing

My Aunt Kathleen always made stuffing for Thanksgiving. That was almost enough reason for me to travel to her house in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. every year to celebrate the holiday. When I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner last year, there was no doubt about the type of stuffing I would make. Again this year, it had to be chestnut stuffing.

1 pound chestnut in shell
2 onions
3 ribs celery
1 bunch parsley
2 bags stuffing, or two loaves white bread cut into cubes and toasted
3 eggs
3 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut an "x" into the top of each chestnut. Place chestnuts on a baking dish and roast until the shells begin to buckle, about five to seven minutes. Take out of the oven and remove the shells while the nuts are still hot.

Dice onions and celery, mice parsley, and chop chestnuts. Add stuffing mix and toss to make sure that tall ingredients are evenly distributed. Add eggs and chicken stock. Toss to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper.

This recipe makes enough stuffing for one bird, plus a baking dish. For stuffing cooked in the baking dish, bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees covered with foil. Then remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Turkey for Me

I've written about my German butcher before. He's awesome and has great quality meats. And for Thanksgiving he didn't let me down.
I ordered a 16-pound turkey about a week ahead of time. On Thursday morning, Kevin and picked up the fresh bird. To my surprise, the turkey was a bit larger then expected. This year's bird was nearly 20 pounds. Considering I had barley fit last year's turkey in the over, I had reservations about fitting this one, but took the bird home any way.

Once home I set up what I refer to as the poultry spa. The turkey pampering starts with a nice salt-water bath. I brined the turkey for four hours in a large cooler filled with salt water. Before roasting, I pat the turkey dry, stuffed it with a chestnut dressing, and trussed it up good and tight. (This was as much to get it into the over as to keep it moist.)

I massaged the turkey with butter, generously sprinkled it with salt and pepper, and then put it into the oven. (Actually my Mom put it in the oven -- at 32 weeks pregnant I didn't think wrestling an over-sized bird into an under-sized oven seemed like a good idea.) The "turkey sauna" consisted of 45 minutes at 375 degrees, then another 3 hours at 350 degrees.

I managed to baste it a few times, but didn't obsess about not being able to reach the back of the bird. After letting it rest of an hour, the turkey was ready to carve. Everything sliced beautifully. The meat was moist and rich and delicious. We even had plenty of drippings for plenty of gravy to ladle generously on everyone's plates.