Archive for December, 2006

December 29, 2006

Dresdner Stollen

I hope you all aren’t beginning to be upset at the less-than-normal amount of posting I’ve been doing. Although there isn’t really an excuse, the holiday season swept me away, and I’ve been visiting my parents in Tübingen for the past week. However, don’t fear, as I am back now from a wonderful week at “home” with my family, and am now entertaining friends of mine from the Münster region via Hamburg until New Year’s. My cartoon post with pictures of my Christmas celebrations will have to wait, but in the meantime, here is something I brought with me to the festivities.

Dresden is well-known for having the oldest Christmas market in Germany (this year was the 572nd one) and it’s called the Striezelmarkt. The name itself derives from the Middle-High-German word for the famous Dresdner Christmas baked good, then called Strutzel or Striezel and today called the Stollen. The traditional Stollen is a dense yeast bread filled with candied lemons and limes as well as raisins. It is covered with powdered sugar which makes a fine, almost crunchy outer layer. Of course, it is possible for non-raisin-adorers (like me) to get a Mandelstollen (pictured on the left), which is the same as the regular Stollen minus the raisins and plus a few almonds. To my mother’s delight, it is also possible to buy a Mohnstollen, which is a poppy seed Stollen (pictured on the right). Sometimes Stollen are also laced with a bit of marzipan, which adds a very good almond, creamy touch. The problem with the Mandelstollen is that there are no raisins, poppy seeds, or marzipan to keep the confection from drying out, so although it’s very tasty, a cup of coffee or black tea is needed to soften it a bit. Of course, coffee and tea in general go excellently with Stollen!

Dresdner bakeries have formed a Schutzverein, a kind of club to protect their Stollen. This means that only Stollen with certain ingredients and methods of preparation are allowed the honor of putting this seal on their Stollen. This seal is also reserved only for the traditional raisin Stollen. The best of these tasty confections (according to the teachers at my school) is found at Café Toscana, right next to the Blauer Wunder, one of the bridges that spans the Elbe River (and yes, it is blue!). This whole area of town deserves much more of my attention, and I plan to explore its boutiques and food shops more once the holiday season has calmed down a bit. In the meantime, if you can find a Stollen near you (they do export worldwide and it is especially well-liked in Japan), please dig in and see what you think!

Cafe Toscana can be found on Schillerplatz 7.
Tel +49 351 310 0744

December 25, 2006

Preview

I hope you’ve all had a fun, happy, safe holiday! I went down to my parent’s apartment in Tübingen and celebrated (along with my parents) with my aunt Inge from Australia, my sister Hanna from Japan, and my grandmother from the Lake of Constance (my grandmother I call Oma, but her real name is Gertrud).

Counter to popular opinion, my long pause on my blog has not indicated a pause in my cooking and eating. In fact, it’s the exact opposite! We’ve been cooking and eating non-stop since I got here! It’s been wonderful. On the first night my sister made Japanese food: udon noodles with chicken in broth, teriyaki chicken, aubergines, and rice. Saturday we had cheese fondue (for the second Saturday in a row! I would love to continue this trend), and last night we ate salmon with a lemon, dill, and caper sauce. Today we ate a delicious turkey dinner, for which I prepared Julia Child’s garlic mashed potatoes.

Be prepared for a review of my family’s adventures (I am going to try my hand at a photo comic strip but can’t make any promises) including our tree with real candles, our walk-out fridge, playing Nerts (the world’s best card game), Inge’s first-aid response, frosty mornings, and much more!

To tide you over though, I will give you a recipe for a couple very tasty drinks that I prepared. The first is egg nog, which I had to cook because German eggs aren’t very reliable to eat raw, and the second is white glühwein. Two holiday drinks from the States and German respectively, though this particular glühwein is usually not as well-known as the red wine version. In Germany glühwein is served at every Christmas market in special mugs. Most markets will have their own mugs, designed especially for that year. You pay a deposit, about two Euros, and may choose whether you want to keep the mug or give it back and spend the money on some more glühwein. Often I can’t drink more than half a mug of this incredibly sweet, potent drink, but the nice thing about this recipe is, like the egg nog, the cook has total control over how much sugar comes into play. I found also that the use of white wine makes this a much tastier alternative, and so has everyone else I’ve served this to!

Cooked Egg Nog

6 eggs
1 liter (1 quart) Milk
1 tsp ground Nutmeg
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 tsp Vanilla extract
dash of rum or schnapps

Mix half of the milk and all the eggs together with the nutmeg, vanilla, and sugar, and slowly cook it on medium-low heat until it becomes a bit thick, stirring constantly. Add the rest of the milk and the spirits. I hesitated putting in any alcohol; however, I realized that without it the nog tastes more like vanilla pudding. Store-bought egg nogs will put in alcohol aromas, so without some it will taste like something is missing. The amount of sugar you can increase or decrease as you like, depending on if you like sweeter or more sour nog.

Weißer Glühwein

1 liter semi-dry White Wine
200 ml (a little under 1 cup) clear Apple Juice
4 whole Cloves
1 Cinnamon Stick
1/2 slice Lemon
100 ml (about half a cup) orange liqueur

The quality of the alcohol in this recipe is not important. Trust me. It doesn’t taste better if you spend $50 on your wine, or dole out twenty-five Euros for a bottle of Cointreau. Go ahead and buy the screw-top or the tetra pak wine, and the non-brand liqueur. You will not be sorry – if at all, you will be happy you did, because you got much more for your money, which means you will get to enjoy much more of this drink!

Pour all the ingredients into a large pot, and heat on low heat until warm. Let it steep for about half an hour before serving. Don’t let it boil, as the alcohol will eventually cook out!

December 17, 2006

Menu for Hope III

I’m not one of the amazing bloggers personally hosting this event; however, I’d like to take a moment and let you know about this wonderful event in the food blog world.

Pim, from Chez Pim, began Menu for Hope three years ago to raise money for a charity program during the holidays. Food bloggers donate raffle prizes and the rest of us get to donate money and bid on the prizes. This year’s donations will all go to the UN World Food Programme to fight hunger worldwide.

There are some fantastic prizes, everything from a private gastronomy and chocolate tour of Paris with David Lebovitz to adopting a lamb of your own from Susan the Farmgirl. Books, tours, dinner gift certificates to multi-star Michelin restaurants, and more are available as well (and when I say more, I mean much more!). This year the USD17,000 raised last year has already been surpassed, and, as of today, over USD22,000 have been collected (and this only in one week!).

Now, how do I donate you ask? Well, first visit Pim’s site, where you can get a much more detailed description of the event, as well as a listing of all the prizes hosted by the regional hosts. Of course, for many prizes, you don’t need to live in that region to win them! When you are ready to donate, just click over to the Menu for Hope III site at First Giving and follow the instructions. Make sure to do this by December 22nd, that’s this upcoming Friday! Every USD10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket. Be sure to designate which prize you want by giving the code in where it asks for personal comments.

Good luck and happy holidays!

And now for an update on what I’ve been doing this week… (see below)

December 17, 2006

Weihnachtsfeier!

All week this week I haven’t been posting as regularly, not because I don’t love you anymore, but because I’ve been cooking. Surprise, surprise! I was testing the limits of my Amelie kitchen, specifically my mini oven, in preparation for the Christmas party I threw for my friends here in Dresden yesterday. Each night I’d stay up, much later than I should have, brainstorming for the party, rolling and kneading dough, and finding new and exciting recipes and ideas in my grandmother’s cookbook and on the internet.

All the time and energy spent was well worth it. First of all, I’d like to say that my apartment can hold eight guests and me without bursting at the seams (yay!), and no Mom, we didn’t blow up the building when we lit the flame to eat our Appenzeller cheese fondue. Those two important things mentioned, everyone seemed really happy and in Christmas cheer. If that had to do with the wonderful company of friends, or the gingerbread lattes, white wine Glühwein, homemade egg nog – or perhaps all the homemade goodies – is up for debate. Overall it was a wonderful afternoon that went straight through evening and into night, and after seeing my last friend out the door, I was so happy that my first self-hosted (dinner) party was a success, that it didn’t even seem like work to make my very messy kitchen clean again.

Of course, I was so wrapped up in how wonderful the afternoon was, that I forgot entirely to take pictures! I felt so silly when I saw my camera looking up at me, forlorn, when I walked into the living room at the end of the evening. While I’m a little sad to have missed that chance, I tell myself that it is the memories, not photographs, that I will keep for the rest of my life (not to get sappy on you all here…)

However, what I do have for you is an amazingly easy recipe for peanut brittle. I got this from “The Minimalist” Mark Bittman in the New York Times’ Dining & Wine section. While (as much as I don’t want to admit it) my mini oven just can’t handle his adaptation of Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread recipe, which has spread through the food and blogging world like wildfire, this is a stove-top recipe simple enough for my Amelie kitchen.

Peanut brittle, as Bittman points out, is the quintessential candy, and especially enjoyed in the US during the Christmas season. It’s crunchy, nutty, and completely unhealthy. And the best (or worst?) part about it, is that you can enjoy it even long after you’ve finished chewing, as it sticks in the pockets of your molars. A dentists’ nightmare. Most likely, no one should be eating this stuff, and I’m sure someone will come up with a good reason why it’s a carcinogenic; but in the meantime, I am going to enjoy this incredibly simple-to-make candy and experiment with other nuts. Besides, as Bittman mentioned, in respects to other ingredients for foods out there, sugar and nuts are cheap. So why not dig (or break) in?

As I set the bowl of brittle on my coffee table for the party, I hoped its prominent place would tempt people to take a piece. However, as my friends came, they dug into the homemade cookies, but left my brittle alone. I was beginning to get nervous, when my German friend Emilia picked up a piece and began munching. The others took a piece as well, and everyone’s eyes lit up in smile. I have to point out that Emilia liked it, and, as the pumpkin pie confirmed, Germans usually don’t like really sweet things. Perhaps peanut brittle will be the next candy to take Germany by storm…

Stay tuned for more recipes from Kerstin’s Weihnachtsfeier in the next week!

Peanut Brittle (from Mark Bittman)

2 cups Sugar (granulated)
2 cups Nuts (peanut, walnut, what-you-will-nut)
Pinch of Salt (if desired)

Place the sugar into a saucepan and on low heat, with a tablespoon or two of water, heat (without stirring!) slowly until it begins to brown (Bittman says this takes about five minutes, but for me it took a bit longer – he suggested if you’re a newbie, like me, to use a very low temperature to prevent burning, but that if you’re experienced you can go as high as the medium setting on your stove). When some of the sugar has caramelized, other parts are in crystal form, and some is still granulated sugar, you should begin stirring. It should become a uniform golden brown (caramel!) color within a couple minutes. At this point, pour in the nuts and coat them. Pour this onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper (he suggests a buttered, non-stick sheet, but I prefer parchment paper) and let cool. When it’s cooled completely, you can take your aggression out on it and start breaking it into pieces! See also the link above for Bittman’s video, which visualizes this process.

December 12, 2006

Hazelnut Macaroons

Last time I was in Germany I made some of my mother’s Christmas cookies that she made, and taught me, all through my childhood. She, in turn, learned most of these recipes from her mother. So when I sat down to try and figure out how to make my world more Christmasy right now (the Christmas markets and Advent hype just wasn’t enough for me…) I thought I’d start baking some cookies.

My grandmother recently moved out of the home she lived in for forty years with my grandfather, and in which they raised my mother and two aunts. During the move, I inherited her hand-written cookbook, a gem of a cookbook if you ask me. It is full of post-war as well as traditional southwestern German recipes, most of which were written in fountain pen so I have to be very careful not to spill anything on this book! It has been well-loved, and some of the recipes have water damage on them and some pages are threatening to detach themselves. However, the recipes in them are still decipherable and so far have turned out beautifully!

I started my cookie baking with one of her cookie recipes that my mother didn’t make when I was a child, at least not that I remember. They are hazelnut macaroons. Of course, my mother and I disagreed whether or not they should be baked on oblaten, which are wafers similar in texture and taste to communion wafers. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I decided not to bake them on oblaten. I can only say I personally haven’t ever had macaroons on wafers before (for example Kosher coconut macaroons). My mother and I will have to ask my grandmother at Christmas to solve our dispute!

Overall this recipe turned into little mounds of pure, moist hazelnut goodness. And the best part about them is that, if you buy already ground hazelnuts, they are incredibly simple to make!

Hazelnut Macaroons
from the cookbook of Gertrud Mayr

4 egg whites
280g (1 1/3 cups) sugar
280g (3 cups) finely ground hazelnuts

Beat egg whites until they make stiff, snowy peaks. Fold in sugar and hazelnuts. Set small teaspoon-sized mounds of batter onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. They shouldn’t be perfectly smooth, as they look more pleasing to have small peaks that will brown nicely in the oven. Bake at 160۫۫ C (325 ۫۫ F) for about twenty minutes, or until golden brown. Keep an eye on them, as once they begin browning they bake very quickly! To make sure they bake through you may want to cover them with tin foil for the first ten or fifteen minutes, then remove the foil to brown.