Archive for June, 2007

June 26, 2007

Pizza!

David’s bag, which had somehow gotten lost among 18,000 other stranded bags in Frankfurt last Thursday, finally arrived in our apartment yesterday. It actually spent the night in my neighbor’s apartment, because Lufthansa had delivered the bag on Sunday when we were out to brunch, but only left a little note in my mailbox that it was there. I don’t check the mail on Sundays for internationally obvious reasons: it’s always empty on that day. Never mind that it’s often empty on other days as well, but that’s another story.

So, to celebrate the fact that David no longer had to live out of a complimentary toiletry bag we decided to make pizza. It turned into a Mexican-themed pizza when David removed a 2-pound loaf of Tillamook Pepper Jack Cheese from his bag (I don’t care how many days it has been out of a fridge – I’m eating it because it’s yummy!). However, I digress. We also chose a Mexican theme because we had some corn meal flour in my cupboard, which we used to make the dough. We topped it with the pepper jack cheese, Saturday night’s leftover tomato sauce, some peppers, salami (they don’t have pepperoni here), tomatoes, and a sprinkling of parmesan – we couldn’t remove the Italian completely out of the pizza…

Which brings me to my next point. While shopping, David and I asked ourselves: what is the history of pizza? We decided it must be Italian, from Naples (I cringed as I thought about the sardines on a Pizza Napoli…). I took it upon myself to google the question this morning, for what other resource would a smart, college-educated girl turn to for such important questions?

I know you all could do the same thing as I did, but you didn’t and I did, so I will share with you my findings. Basically, what I could glean from the first five sites or so (and Wikipedia of course!) is that pizza actually has its origins in Greece. In ancient times they used flat breads to sop up gravy and oils from their food as a replacement for plates. We still have such breads today, namely the foccacia bread and the pita bread. Pizza floated to Italy, where peasants ate flat breads with various toppings on them. The introduction of the tomato to Europe through trade* as well as Queen Margherita’s discovery of this delicious peasant food in the late 19th century led to the popularization of pizza in Italy, as well as the Pizza Margherita. This was apparently the queen’s favorite pizza made by Rafaelle Esposito, a well-known baker in Naples whom she invited to her palace to make her three types of pizza. The Pizza Margherita as you may know has a tomato sauce, cheese, and basil topping.

While pizza made it to the United States in the 19th century already, it stayed a tasty secret in the Italian-American population. It wasn’t until WWII, when American soldiers occupying Italy discovered pizza, that America’s love of pizza took off upon the soldiers’ return. Pizza was originally hawked by peddlers in Chicago on Taylor Street, who sold the pizza out of copper tubs. Famous pizzerias include Lombardi’s in New York where originally a whole pie was sold for five cents, but many people couldn’t afford to pay for the whole thing. Instead, they would name the price they could pay and get a slice accordingly. Ike Sewell opened Pizza Uno in Chicago in 1943 and invented the deep dish pizza. Domino’s was created in 1960 by Tom Monaghan and became the first delivery pizza.

Of course, a discussion about pizza would not be complete without referencing the word “pie.” In the Northeast, especially in some bakeries in Central New York, they’re known as “Tomato Pies,” actually put together backwards with the cheese first, then the toppings, and lastly the tomato sauce. Seems messy, but intriguing! The word “pie” actually comes from the Magpie, known in Italian as “pica” hence “pizza” in Italian and “pie” in English. The Magpie is a gatherer, similar to pizzas which have many different ingredients. Other etymologists claim that the word “pizza” comes from the Old High German word “bizzo” or “pizzo” meaning “mouthful,” or even from the Italian word “pizzicare” which means “to pluck,” referring to the need to remove the pizza quickly from the oven. There are many other etymologies of the word, seemingly hotly contested, but I would say as long as you’re happy with the pizza you have in front of you, all is well!

* Tomatoes, as you may know, are actually native to southern North America and Central America, aka Mexico – points for our Mexican Pizza!

“Mexican” Pizza

For the Pizza Dough:
1 Tbsp Yeast
1 Tbsp Sugar
1 cup warm Water
2 cups Corn Flour
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
ca. 2 Tbsp Olive Oil

Toppings:
1 ½ cups Tomato/Pizza Sauce (vegetarian spaghetti sauce works fine)
2 cups Pepper Jack Cheese (grated)
Salami
or Pepperoni (as desired)
½ each of Red and Green Peppers (chopped)
1 clove Garlic (chopped or pressed)
1 Tomato (thinly sliced)

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in water until it foams. Stir in the flour ½ cup at a time. Knead about ten minutes on a floured surface, adding about a tablespoon of oil as needed. Let rise 45min to 1hour in an oiled bowl placed in a warm area. Punch down, let rest ten minutes, and pat into a lightly oiled (lined with parchment paper) pizza pan.

After the dough has risen, chop and grate the toppings. Sauté the garlic with the peppers for about two minutes on medium heat. Assemble the pizza as desired and bake*.

* I can’t give you a specific temperature or time, but a hot oven for a short amount of time is better than a cooler oven for longer. This way it will get nice and crispy. It also helps to make your dough as thin as possible.

June 23, 2007

Wine in Saxony

When I’m alone, I don’t drink alcohol with dinner. However, if I cook a nice meal for guests, it’s always nice to enjoy it with some good wine. In Germany, this is not difficult to find as it’s in the middle of Europe with its thousands of wine regions. One of the smallest, and most northern, wine regions in Europe is right here at my doorstep on the Sächsische Weinstraße.

For our pesto dinner, Sarah and I went to the wine shop in the Kunsthof Passagen in Dresden. We were helped by a very friendly woman, who has visited the local wineries from which her wine comes from. She started by offering us a wine from Baden, but we had just come from that area, and we wanted to try something Sächsisch. She knew we were eating lamb, so she suggested a dry white wine and pointed us in the direction of the Frédéric Fourré Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris).

I love Grauburgunder, so I was sold on that. However, the woman continued to explain to us how small this vintner is, and that it is too expensive for these small vintners to get a certain accreditation from the state. Furthermore, in the process of testing, these vintners would lose a significant portion of their yield. Instead, they have formed an organization of their own, the Weinbauverband Sachsen. Fourré, like many of the other regional vintners, just started rebuilding his vines after the wall came down in 1989, so his land and yield are very small. You all probably know by now that I love supporting the small, local guy – and when it’s something I really like in general all the better!

Due to their small size, it is very difficult for Saxon wineries to compete against the massive wineries from Baden-Württemberg. Thus they have developed a specialty niche, and the prices of their wines show this. While a good Baden-Württemberg wine* can usually be bought under ten Euros, Saxon wines range anywhere from ten to twenty. Our Fourré cost around sixteen. This may seem inexpensive to American eyes (purists might say a decent bottle is cheap when it’s around twenty dollars) but from a discounted European perspective, it’s a hefty ticket.

But it’s worth it. Even Nathan, who usually doesn’t drink, enjoyed sharing this bottle with us. It was delicious next to the lamb: a fruity yet dry, rounded taste which brought out the flavors of the pesto and lamb, yet helped reduce the sweetness of the dates. We had no problems drinking this with our dinner, and it tasted just as good after dinner by itself (or, with a piece of parmesan cheese). I’ve had similar experiences with other wines in this region, most notably the wines, especially the Bacchus, from Schloss Wackerbarth.

To find Saxon wines, try online or in your local wine shop. If they don’t have it, ask if they know about it. I don’t know if it is exported internationally, but it should be!

*Some wines in Baden-Württemberg were produced en-masse in recent years and very cheaply sold to discount grocery stores. This means I can buy a drinkable bottle of wine for one to two Euros, and a quite good wine for three or four, but it also means that Baden-Württemberg’s reputation has unfortunately gone downhill, even though many wineries still produce excellent wines.

Frédéric Fourré can be found on Bennostraße 41, 01445 Radebeul, Tel. 0351-8011345, Fax 0351-8011345, email: fourre [dot] fred [at] t-online [dot] de. Tours of the wine region are also available if you contact the Dresden, Radebeul, or Meissen tourist information offices.

June 20, 2007

Linguine with Date Pesto, Lamb Filet, and Radicchio

I know I have already declared my love of dates on this blog, but they’re so good I want to revisit this declaration. I love dates of all kinds: first dates, dates with longtime friends, romantic dates to dinner and a movie, and not to forget first dates with a future good friend at Ikea (you know who you are). It may seem depressing, but I get more exposure to, and I especially like, sweet edible dates that come from desert regions. Do not despair though, my number of dates I will go on will jump up dramatically as David is coming tomorrow!

But, back to the sweet dates at hand. When Nathan and Sarah visited this past week, having dates in the house was an obvious choice. We decided we would cook dinner together, and looking through my cookbooks found a recipe one of my teachers at school had given me. It seems sort of “Neue Deutsche Küche,” Germany’s fusion cooking of sorts. It combined lamb with radicchio and a date pesto made of parsley, pine nuts, and various seasonings. While the pesto took a bit to prepare (we doubled the recipe and had no cuisinart) it was worth it: the sweetness of the dates played with the bitter radicchio leaves, and the flavor of lamb went along perfectly. We tossed it all together with linguine and since we made so much of it, I have frozen a good portion for the next time I’m invited to bring something to a potluck with my friends.

Linguine with Date Pesto, Lamb Filet, and Radicchio

500g linguine
1 clove garlic
60g pine nuts
125ml vegetable broth
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp parmesan
1 Tbsp fresh, chopped oregano
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
6 dates
½ tsp cumin
dash of sweet paprika powder
1 small radicchio*
500g lamb filet
salt and pepper

Cook linguine in saltwater until al dente. Peel garlic and chop together with pine nuts (cuisinart is ideal, but chopping by hand is also an option). Add broth, olive oil, parmesan, oregano, and parsley. Remove pits from the dates and chop coarsely. Stir into pesto and add cumin and paprika to taste.

Wash the radicchio, removing it from the stalk. Cut the leaves into strips. Wash the lamb in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper and sauté in olive oil about six minutes each side. Slice the lamb into strips. Toss the noodles with radicchio and pesto and lamb.

Serves: 4 people

Time: ca. 25 min (with cuisinart)

*Note: This may seem like a lot of radicchio, but the bitterness is needed, and disappears a bit, to offset the sweetness of the dates.

June 18, 2007

Beer Tasting

So many things have happened since I last posted. The day after my last post I hopped on a train (again) to return to Tübingen. There I saw my sister Sarah and her husband Nathan as well as my parents. The next day my other sister Hanna arrived, and the weekend was spent cooking for the festivities. What festivities, you ask? Why, my father’s 60th birthday. Last Monday, the eleventh, my father celebrated six decades of a wonderful, inspiring life.

For the party we served a cold buffet, and my donation to the spread was Köttbullar (Swedish meatballs), a fresh salsa, my German cucumber salad (which gets the most hits out of any other post on my blog so it must be good), and a flourless chocolate almond layer cake with a chocolate frosting and shaved Ritter Sport chocolate (from my father’s favorite cookbook).

After the party Sarah and Nathan came to Radeberg and stayed a glorious seven days. It was a lot of fun, despite the fact that last week was probably the most stressful week at work I’ve had all year. During my free time we ventured into Dresden a couple times for sightseeing, shopping, and attending the Bunte Republik Neustadt (BRN), cooked some tasty meals together, and took a day trip to Leipzig with my friend Creed.

Today’s post, however, is dedicated to my father’s birthday, and once more to beer. My father used to drink much more beer when I was younger, but in recent years he’s switched to red wine. Since the rest of us in my family aren’t large beer drinkers either, we had to figure out what beer to offer my parent’s friends at his party. To make this important decision, we decided to have a beer tasting. We invited over my parents’ American neighbor Ben and did a blind taste test similar to the Amateur Gourmet’s olive oil test. First I placed numbers on the bottles and numbers on the bottom of the glasses. Next I poured the corresponding beers into their glasses. My father then carried them out to the table and placed them on sheets of paper marked “A” through “G” (one letter for each glass). By that point things were mixed up enough that no one knew which glass contained which beer and the tasting began.

We had chosen mainly Pils and Pilsner, one Exportbier, a Spezial, and a Hefeweizen (which was too obviously different to really count and is pictured fourth from the back). Many were watery in my opinion, or not very complex. We all agreed that the Fürstenberger Exportbier had absolutely no flavor, though their Premium Pilsner was a bit more flavorful with that signature bitter taste upon swallowing. I liked the Flensburger very much during the taste test – it had a mild, full taste. However, with dinner it was too strong (so, perhaps a better at-the-bar beer). The Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu Pils was not much better than the Fürstenberger Exportbier. Their Spezial though was the best – mildly bitter and delicious with a meal. The Alpirsbacher Spezial and the Dinkel Acker CD Pils, a bit thinner but also a good balance of flavor, won the honor of being served at my father’s party. Overall the experience itself was simply a great time. Organizing a blind taste for all of us was an interesting challenge and became somewhat difficult to distinguish among the beers towards the end of the tasting though. Sharing all that beer together in one night though made for very cheerful conversations!

Tested Beers:

*Dinkel Acker CD Pils
*Alpirsbacher Spezial
Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu
*Flensburger
Fürstenberg Premium Pilsner
Fürstenberg Weizen
Fürstenberger Exportbier

*winning beers

Note: Many of these beers, especially the Alpirsbacher, are local brews and can’t even be easily found outside of southwest Germany. So, take a note of the name and next time you’re there look them up. Or check out your local import store in the States to see if you can find them!

June 6, 2007

Apple-Rhubarb Compote

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most since becoming more and more aware of foods, and especially the local food movement, is incredibly tasty seasonal foods. There’s nothing like biting into a ripe apple just picked off a tree, perfect plums from the local farmers market, fresh white asparagus, or sweet, bright-red strawberries. Right now we are in the middle of the strawberry season.

I was the kid who always loved strawberries – in any form. There’s an infamous story of me as a two-year-old conspiring with a buddy and eating all of the strawberries, with powdered sugar, that my parents had saved for dessert for their dinner guests. You can imagine the sticky, sugary mess!

However, this post is not dedicated to my favorite red fruit but in fact to one I’ve had a less-loving relationship with: rhubarb. These sweet-tart stalks, which are now in season, have fascinated me, both positively and negatively. I have in the past liked them – especially, and unsurprisingly, in strawberry-rhubarb pie. However, their tartness overpowers their sweetness too much for me in the traditional German Rhabarberkuchen, even with a generous helping of streusel on top. Since my mother liked to make this Kuchen, and it was more often than not the only way I had rhubarb, I didn’t really develop a taste for it.

Until this year. Perhaps it was the stalks that lay around the kitchen in Lafigère while I was there. Untouched but mysteriously beautiful and enticing with their green and red hues, their image in my memory lured me into buying some at the store yesterday when I was shopping for dinner. I double-checked the Herkunftsland (transl. country of origin), the closest I can get to knowing in the store that my veggies are coming from a German farm, and bought two stalks. I didn’t know what I’d do with them – I thought I’d try cooking them into a compote, but was nervous it would be too tart. It wasn’t until I was halfway home that I realized I could throw in one of the Austrian Jonagold apples I’d just bought to alleviate some of the tartness and enhance the sweet flavors of the rhubarb. Stirring it into my cream of wheat this morning I marveled at how simple, and at the same time perfect, this compote is.

Of course, Luisa Weiss, the Wednesday Chef, concludes that after trying Rose Gray’s and Ruth Roger’s recipe for rhubarb: “I don’t know that I’ll ever cook rhubarb any other way again.” Perhaps I’ll have to try that recipe next!

Apple-Rhubarb Compote

2 stalks Rhubarb (ca. 2 ½ cups or 270g)
1 chopped Jonagold Apple (ca. 1 cup or 190g)
¼ cup (60g) Sugar
½ cup water (or as needed)

Peel the rhubarb well with a small paring knife (start at one end and peel the top layer down on all sides, repeat on other end if needed). Peel and core the apple. Chop the fruits into equal sizes and place in a saucepan with sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and cook (about 10 minutes) until soft. If you like, you can puree the compote with a whoosh-whoosh-thingy until desired consistency is achieved. Store in the refrigerator or increase the recipe and can in jars for wintertime. Makes about 2 cups.