Archive for February, 2007

February 27, 2007

A Glimpse Into Other Blogs

This post is not so much about German or American cooking, but about cooking in general and the joy of finding new recipes and techniques. It’s part of a new section of this blog that I am starting, to embrace the wonderful food blogging community and give my readers a glimpse of what I find interesting going on in the blogosphere.

I spend a lot of time reading other blogs online. Probably too much time. But with my job only keeping me busy for about fifteen hours a week (not counting lesson planning), I have the time. My sisters make fun of me for not appreciating the “sweet life” I have, but I have to say: it gets old quickly. My parents, and my time at Smith College, have trained me to embrace being busy and multi-tasking. This is the first time in a very long time that I have not been busy, and I don’t know what to do with myself.

So, I try to keep myself busy by reading a bunch, including food blogs. I have quite a few favorites (see the blog roll in the navigation bar, which lists all the blogs I read regularly) and I enjoy reading their stories and recipes. I realized one day that I hadn’t ever actually tried a recipe from the one blog that got me into the blogging world, Clotilde’s “Chocolate & Zucchini.” How can this be, you ask? Well, I’ve always gobbled up her beautiful pictures, her sweet, down-to-earth, and incredibly good English prose (she’s actually French!), and when I first started reading her a year and a half ago, I didn’t have a kitchen in which to try out her recipes. So, earlier this year (it sounds like a long time ago, but this was only about two months ago!) I felt that after waiting much too long, it was time to try her recipe. I gave her absorption pasta a go and let me tell you: if her recipe for absorption pasta is anything to go off of, I have been truly missing out!

This pasta is incredibly easy, incredibly flexible (great for improvising to create fancy dishes or to just empty out the contents of your fridge), incredibly delicious and (the best part) perfect for a person living and eating on her own. It’s not so much a dish as it is a technique (think rice risotto but for pasta and you’re getting the idea). Like Clotilde, I tend to use water instead of broth for a liquid, but I add a bay leaf and some spices (usually a mix of coriander, cumin, and nutmeg). Sometimes I make it spicy and add a bit of crushed hot peppers. I love throwing a dash of cream and a handful of grated parmesan in just before serving, which mixes with the starch and makes for a wonderfully creamy, flavorful pasta. As for other ingredients, the pasta is as flexible as risotto: I’ve only made a vegetarian version using on occasion zucchini, broccoli, and/or red peppers. I’m sure it would be excellent with salmon or chicken, perhaps even thin strips of beef, cooked with some tasty spices and stirred in just before serving. In any case, it’s perfect to give your improvisational cooking techniques free range. I have yet to eat a version of this that has gone bad, and believe me, I have had this dish more times than I can count since I discovered it.

Now, for the the next project: David Lebovitz’s mixed nuts.

February 22, 2007

Polenta Breakfast Twist

Polenta for breakfast? I hadn’t thought of it that way before – I’d always had it for dinner with tomato sauce and parmesan. Nevetheless, Melissa Clark’s article in last week’s New York Times Dining and Wine section (now unfortunately in Times Select, but titled “A Morning Meal Begs to Stay Up Late”) spurred some enthusiasm. While her meal was still of the dinner variety, she was selling it as breakfast for dinner. David will tell you I’m not a breakfast for dinner person (except with my mom’s creamy leek potatoes and an egg with salad) so I decided to just have the breakfast – for breakfast.

It was breaking the fast for my anti-jet-lag diet and beginning a feasting day, so it was perfect: cooked polenta with thick strips of bacon and a sunny-side up egg. I hadn’t had bacon strips since I’d arrived in Germany – the vocabulary word I knew for it was not the right one, and so when I ordered Speck at my butcher shop, they pointed to a slab of pork fat. Apparently, in Radeberg at least, bacon is Räucherfleisch (transl.: smoked meat). I woke up extra early in the morning to prepare the dish, though it only took twenty minutes – just about the same time it takes me to prepare my regular breakfast of cream of wheat. After frying the bacon I removed most of the bacon fat and fried the egg in the same pan (I know, you cholesterol people are saying “Stop! Don’t!” but I just told you, I hardly ever have bacon, so once in a while, this is acceptable procedure). The flavors were amazing. Instead of only topping the polenta with parmesan cheese, I added a good quarter cup to the mixture when it was still on the stove. The people who invented the anti-jet-lag diet had been correct: starting my day with proteins really did give me a lot of energy, and I wasn’t hungry again until lunchtime. It’s the perfect Italian twist to an American breakfast: instead of potatoes with your bacon and eggs, save some time and mix things up a bit to have some corn polenta.

Polenta, Egg, and Bacon Breakfast

4 1/2cups broth or water
1 1/2cups polenta (not quick-cooking), coarse corn meal or corn grits
1 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
1 1-ounce chunk or 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 large eggs
8 (thick) slices of bacon

Boil the water and stir in the polenta and simmer. You don’t have to stir constantly, but Clark cautions against burns from molten polenta bubbles. Stir in butter, pepper, and cheese. In a separate pan fry the bacon until desired crispness, remove the bacon and keep warm in oven. Fry the eggs (in your choice of olive oil, or some of the bacon fat), turn them over as you are walking with the pan to the table. This provides a very slightly cooked top to the egg, but maintains the oozing yellows which will provide a creamy texture to the polenta. Clark suggests serving this with sauteed garlic swiss chard, though spinach would be a good side dish and source of vitamins and minerals as well.

Yield: 4 servings.

*recipe ingredients and instructions adapted from Melissa Clark’s recipe titled “Buttery Polenta with Parmesan and Olive Oil Fried Eggs”

February 15, 2007

Let’s have a date!

Last year during spring break, I visited my sister and her husband. My brother-in-law introduced me to the wonders of dates that week. I’d always associated them with figs, a fruit I have a not-always-loving relationshp with, and so I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the wonderful sweetness of dates. This creamy, naturally sugary fruit that tastes like a confection a professional baker would take years to perfect was in fact developed over thousands of years by mother nature herself. It was also the inspiration for a song the three of us recorded later that year, which will simply be called the “Date Song” and is full of awful puns, and equally painful intonation.

There are different varieties of dates, and I have to honestly say I don’t know which ones I’ve had and which are better than others. However, these organic Jordanian medjool dates (which is also the variety grown in California) I found on sale in my local Edeka grocery store a few days before I left for the States. I was on the anti-jet-lag diet – which includes days of “feasting” and “fasting” and trust me: this one doesn’t diet, much less fast, so shopping in the evening of my fasting day in preparation of my feasting day took a lot of self control – and I could not give up these jewels. There were only six in the box, but they were deceptively inexpensive to be as good as they ended up (and organic on top of that). Fasting did not mean I couldn’t eat, it just meant I had to eat much less. So I ended up on what Germans call the “FDH Diet”: “Friss die Hälfte” (transl. “Eat only half,” though it is somewhat a joke because the verb “fressen” refers to how animals eat, not humans).

In any case, by the time I got home these huge, juicy dates were calling to me as I put away my groceries. I knew I had polenta with bacon and eggs to look forward to in the morning (stay tuned), but I couldn’t resist these sweet temptations any longer. I took out one of the dates from their box, cut off a piece of baking chocolate, and replaced the date pit with a slice of nature’s other fantastic dessert*. The bitterness of the chocolate is completely masked by the sweetness of the date, and makes for the perfect natural energy bar (in fact, that’s where my brother-in-law got the idea). Perfect for a long night of lesson planning and packing!

And, if you’re curious, my jet lag was almost non-existant. Does thie mean the diet worked? Who knows, it could have been influenced by many different factors. I do know that I won’t be feasting and fasting before I go back. I’d rather enjoy my last few days here as much as possible.

*The candied espresso-bean-sized objects in the middle of the picture are actually caramelized cocoa beans. The idea is similar to espresso beans, though I have to say I like espresso beans more. In my opinion they don’t hold up to baking chocolate in dates, though if you want something crunchy to go with the soft fruit I recommend them.

February 8, 2007

Tea Fanatics

I’m leaving for a two-week trip to the United States early tomorrow morning. Early means I have to get up about the same time my father usually wakes up: 3:30am. Awaiting me is a 24-hour trip, requiring me to endure three layovers before I arrive in Portland and am greeted by David. I am not looking forward to the trip. However, what will get me through is the knowledge that David awaits me in the end, and also an extra excitement(!): in Boston, Kait will be waiting for me in the airport to chat away the layover. I know that one will be all too short (only four hours to make up for nine months of catching up to do!), and I cannot wait to see her again.

In the meantime I thought I’d leave you with this post.* It’s about tea, if you haven’t already guessed. Germany is a country of tea. There are at least two or three tea shops in every section of Dresden and Hamburg, and I have a favorite shop in Tübingen, which makes its own fruit teas. Fruit teas are, for me, the quintessential German tea. They are not actually teas, as my brother in law would point out to you, they are actually infusions. Nevertheless, they have a dense and sweet flavor, and unlike some black teas don’t get bitter if they’re steeped too long.

Some of my favorite memories in Hamburg were sitting in the communal kitchen with a pot of tea and chatting with my floormates. It’s amazing how drawing a pot of tea can be: many people would enter the kitchen and sit down for a cup and some conversation. A short tea break from studying would turn into a two-hour teatime, which I always justified by the fact that I was using and learning German language skills, as well as making friends.

As I already mentioned, one of my Hamburg friends, Julian, his sister Emilia, their parents, and Julian’s girlfriend Esther came to Dresden for New Year’s to pack up Emilia’s room and to celebrate 2007 together. It was a fantastic time, and I was very sad to let them go. However, a couple weeks later I was sitting in my apartment (probably writing a post for the blog…) when my doorbell rang. “Post!” the voice said at the other end of my intercom system. “Ein Moment bitte!” I called and ran down the steps. Who could it be from? I hadn’t ordered anything, my parents hadn’t announced a package. I was even more confounded when I was handed a box about three inches high, half a foot wide, and one and a half feet long. What was this, and who sent it?

In my apartment I opened it and discovered it was four bags of 100% certified Darjeeling tea from Teekampagne from Julian’s parents. You may wonder what that means, 100% certified. According to the accompanying leaflet, every year over 40,000 tons of tea is sold as “Darjeeling” tea, but only 10,000 tons are actually produced in the Darjeeling region. This means that three-fourths of all Darjeeling tea is actually “fake.” I also learned the difference between “First Flush” and “Second Flush”: First Flush is the first harvest after the winter break. It is picked between February and April and is usually milder. Second Flush is harvested in June and July and is a stronger tea. I also received a package of green Darjeeling, which differs from black tea in that it is unfermented. The last package is their Darjeeling Garden Tea, which comes from only one garden, Ambootia Tea Estate, and is highly prized in the tea world.

Overall this was a wonderful surprise, which I have been happily enjoying. I have already begun to work my way through the teas and enjoy them with friends!

*Don’t worry, I will be still posting from the States, I promise!

February 6, 2007

Homemade Apple Leberwurst

Last Thursday, Heather came over to Dresden and all of us Dresden FSA’s* went to see Juli in concert. It was an awesome concert, if a little short. Germany tends to have very punctual concerts that don’t last longer than an hour and a half or so. But you can always count on two if not three encores!

The next day, Friday, was a bit rough for me as I had to rise at six AM to get to school and teach a lesson on MLK Jr. It was a great lesson, and I realized while watching his speech with my class what an amazing orator King was. It’s sad that so many of us haven’t even seen the whole speech. Take the time during this month to watch it and remember what happened, and how much more there is to be done.

When I got home, Heather was just waking up and we decided that today would be the day: we wanted to make Leberwurst. Both of us are big fans, but wanted to know what actually goes into it. So we took it upon ourselves: she’d seen a recipe on television, and with some googling we pieced together a recipe, wrote up a shopping list, and went for it. At the butcher’s we were advised not to put in pork chops, since it would have made the Leberwurst much too expensive, and it would be “a waste of pork chops” according to the butcher. Instead he gave us some pork belly, which had beautiful layers of fat and fatty meat (perfect for Leberwurst). The butcher wished us good luck on our way out, and we went back to my apartment and cooked. Then we realized we forgot canning jars, so Heather went out to buy some. In line at the cash register an old lady noticed Heather’s jars and asked if she was making jam. “No, Leberwurst,” she replied. The old lady’s face lit up, “Really? But, you’re young! And you’re an Ausländer!” When Heather returned, we started canning. Then we realized we forgot to buy labels for the jars, so off I went to find some. I asked at the stationary store downstairs, and she asked me what I was doing with them. “I’m making Leberwurst” I said shyly. Her reaction at first was non-chalant. Then she looked at me: “You mean, from scratch??” I smiled, and affirmed. She was impressed. And all of Radeberg knew that the two Amis were making Leberwurst. If you don’t believe us, here’s proof:

*FSA’s stands for “Fremdsprachenassistenten,” which in English means “Foreign Language Assistants”