Taste of home


I managed to pack 11 meyer lemons into my suitcase a few days back – plucked from my mother’s tree. If I could figure out how to grow them here in Germany, I would in a heartbeat. I miss them a lot. Their aroma is like no other citrus and can only be rivaled (for me) by the keffir lime, perhaps. I could make these things into lemon sorbet, I can grate their skins into fresh ravioli, I could juice them into lemon tarts…they are a million times better than normal lemons. I have yet to find a supplier here. (WHY?!)

But the best way to stretch these out over time…when trips to California are few and far in between…is to salt them and pack them into a jar. Why? Because they make exquisite tagines. So 3 of the 11 were given away to a friend who also loves to cook with great and scarce ingredients, 5 of them went into that jar in the photo, and a measly 3 lie in my refrigerator waiting for a fate to come.


These take 5 minutes and a month to make. 5 minutes to cut them into quarters – leaving the lemon intact on just a single side, sprinkle their flesh with salt, pack them into a jar with a  bay leaf, a cinnamon stick, a bunch of cloves and coriander seeds and a handful of fresh time, and then cover them with more lemon juice (no meyers, but that’s ok), and another handful of salt. And a month to marinate and pickle to a finish, each day a careful shake and a push to make sure the lemons are always submerged under the juices.

In a month we’ll have a tagine, perhaps a chicken one or lamb, and I will have a taste of California and the smell of my mother’s tree in my head. And a month after that I will travel again to California and gather more lemons.


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Two and a half weeks later…


The big reveal. Wrapped up in the cheesecloth was something quite simple – duck breasts. I never thought much of curing meat myself – always assuming it was somehow a tedious and long process. But now I know better.

A few weeks back I came across a recipe that showed how easy it is to cure a duck breast and then hang it to dry for a few weeks and simply forget about it. So…my couple weeks are up and I went down to the cellar and collected the first packet, opened it up, brushed off most of the spices it had been rolled in, and cut off a slice. Delicious. Both the flavor of the fresh thyme and the duck come through prominently and though I haven’t tried it on a salad or a sandwich yet, I can easily imagine it being extremely tasty.

Definitely will be a repeat performance – with other spices, meats, etc.


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Posted by on October 7, 2014 in Cooking at home, Curing, Holiday Foods


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A simple teaser.

I put these together last Sunday, although started them on Saturday evening. Will need to wait 2-3 weeks until I can open them. What’s inside?



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Posted by on September 25, 2014 in Cooking at home, Curing





And now comes the season of experimentation. During the summer months, when it’s usually hot out, I’m less likely to want to experiment much with cooking techniques over a hot stove or next to a hot oven. But now there’s a nice fresh breeze, almost a chill on some mornings, and often incessant rain, so the desire to try something NEW crops up like as a craving, pushing me to read recipes with renewed vigor, most especially on weekends. Like last Saturday and Sunday.

So far, I’ve been daunted by recipes that used smoking as a technique. I don’t have the proper equipment (I thought), nor easy access to hickory wood chips or the like, and in my tiny kitchen the idea of standing in a cloud of fragrant smoke, while tempting for the in-the-moment experience, makes me nervous about the odor of the entire apartment for the following 3 days. BUT.

I found this recipe…and many more, like this one by Mark Bittman of the NYTIMES, after that, for tea-smoked duck breast. And I knew I was a goner after I saw them. Because they mostly sounded so damn easy and straightforward.


So here we go. First off, I didn’t end up going with a single recipe. I combined a bunch and significantly tweaked the master recipe – the first one I saw, to get to the end result. And that said, there would be things I would do differently next time. Many of the recipes called for baking the duck in a foil encased cloud chamber in the oven (just foil around the smoking elements). Many called for steaming. Many called for a combo. I went with a combination and stuck to the stove top. First, I steam-cooked the duck legs (I went with legs, not breasts) over boiling tea+herbs for 90 minutes.


Basically, just season the legs (I used salt, 5-spice powder and Szechuan pepper) the legs, place over a gallon of boiling tea (I used black), plus peppercorns, salt, star anise, cinnamon sticks and cloves. Steam for 90 minutes. Now that I’ve given you that instruction, FORGET IT. Or at least proceed with caution. I found that while this didn’t overcook the legs, it also didn’t do them any great favor. I truly wonder if it majorly enhanced the tea flavor of the end result – I’m just not sure. I need to try again without and report back later.

After you’re done with that, you get to the smoking part. I did it on my stove top, not in the oven. Line a wok with foil. Don’t skip this step. Put in brown sugar, tea (I used a mix of black and green here), rice, and some more star anise.


Set it over your flame, until the sugar starts to caramelize and the whole thing starts to …well…smoke.

Then put your steamer basket on top, so the smoke can drift up.


Cover, and place damp towels along the seam between the edge of the basket and the foil.


Let the whole thing smoke 15 minutes. Now if you skipped the steaming part, you’re going to need to smoke for longer than 15 minutes. My guess is…at least 30. But I would simply check every 5 minutes after the 20 minute point until you get there. In theory, the internal temp should reach about 175 degrees F for “safe” levels of eating, but for medium rare, you want more like 135 degrees F. I would have preferred medium rare.

Take the duck off the heat, remove the meat from the bone, and proceed with your end recipe. In my case, I went for the initial recipe with some tweaks, as mentioned.

I went with a different noodle, added broccoli to the mix, a variety of dried berries instead of just cherries, and substantially cut back on the cream – using perhaps at most a half a cup rather than the 2 cups in the recipe. Most of the rest was the same.

The duck legs had a nice smoky zing to them, and the meat was definitely infused with a subtle tea flavor. The dish was lovely in the end – a rich medley of smoky meat, mushrooms, broccoli, dried sweet berries, and pistachios, and the husband very happy with the result, suggesting I make it again this weekend. (No, we will try something new today…). So definitely some repeat trials coming up.


Meanwhile, I wish you a nice Sunday. I imagine if you are in Munich right now you are doing something like this:



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Posted by on September 21, 2014 in Cooking at home, Pasta


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Not quite smitten

IMG_9197We were really screwed on summer this year in Munich. And in fact in much of Germany. There were a few teaser days and weekends here and there, but suddenly we’re mid-September, the chill is upon us, and we’re all wondering how July and August flew by without a reasonable amount of sun and heat kissing our skin and warm breezes caressing our faces.

I am hunkered down, dreading my morning run to come, in long soft sweatpants and a hoodie, looking at recipes with duck and pasta – winter dishes really. But more on that later.

Last weekend there was a desperate attempt to make use of a favorite autumn ingredient: kale. I love the stuff and I wish I could find it more easily here. It’s a bit like finding cilantro/coriander 10 years ago here – the only place to get it was in an Asian grocery. Now, I wouldn’t call it widespread, but at least it’s more accessible. I can only hope that will happen with kale in the next year – now I have to make a special trip to a bio supermarket or the Viktualienmarkt downtown to find some kale.

Over on Smitten Kitchen I had found a recipe for an amazing sounding salad – with cheese, pickled sultanas, nuts, breadcrumbs and naturally kale – practically a meal in itself. It was worth a trip downtown. Which is where I went to pick up the kale and the pecorino the recipe called for. (Cheese photo from a stall in the Viktualienmarkt where I bought it.)


I made a sandwich recipe to go along with the salad, but that was a whole other project by itself. Slow cooked pork in a tangy barbeque sauce, pickled onions and coleslaw…ummm. Worked well.

There are a lot of steps to the kale salad, but each are simple and doable and in the end it comes together reasonably quickly.

You have to prepare the walnuts, raisins, breadcrumbs, cheese  and the kale all separately and then in the end toss everything together with some lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. What’s nice about this salad is that it keeps for a day because the leaves from the kale are so hardy (I mixed in radicchio as well for color and bitterness). Just put leftovers in the fridge overnight and enjoy the next day.

Only critique I’d have is that I feel like the breadcrumbs were truly not necessary – they ended up drying out the salad in a way that I felt was unnecessary. The cheese and nuts were enough of a foil together with the sultanas to make the salad really delicious. So I wasn’t as smitten as I could have been with it. Next time, no breadcrumbs.


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Posted by on September 13, 2014 in Cooking at home


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Cozy up to your mushroom

Ready or not…fall is here. At least for those of us shivering away in Munich. We all keep hoping it’s just the phase of the moon or a bad luck moment…but the cool days seem like they’re here to stay. I find the biggest telltale sign is the type of recipes I am pinning over on Pinterest. Cool breezy fruity drinks? Still summer. Spinach salads? Fig tarts? Corn? Getting to the end of summer. Lentils? Pasta? Mushrooms? Pasta and mushrooms? Fall has arrived. Accept.


It’s not so bad, really, as long as you love fungus. I didn’t as a kid. Now I can’t get enough of them and I was like a little kid in a candy store at the viktualienmarkt on Saturday buying up various mushrooms. Crimini, shitake, three kinds of oysters, chantarelles…no porcinis here, but I’ll get those too soon.

The challenge (I challenged myself) was to make a pasta dish that used Japanese flavors but made the eater feel like it was Italian pasta. Not just the noodle, the whole dish. I love the satisfied feeling I get from a simple bowl of pasta with a rich tomato sauce. I wanted that feeling. But with Japanese flavors, which generally just don’t do it for me when it comes to pasta. I decided to make soba noodles as the base.


I found a recipe that called for a mix of flours for the noodles. 2/3 buckwheat, 1/3 farina. Apparently this makes the noodles easier to handle – adding the flour with the gluten – which buckwheat lacks – makes it easier to work the dough. But it keeps much of the flavor of soba, and is not quite so “slimy” when you’re done.


After mixing the dough (calculate 100 grams flour and 50 grams water for every person eating and use the ratio above for making the dough), I let it sit while I went for a run. Came back and rolled it out with my pasta machine – you can see from the cracks on the edges that the dough is a bit harder to work and a bit drier than a typical semolina. I just sliced off the edges and added them back into the rest of the dough. Cut the noodles by hand so I would have a bit of natural shapes, as well as thicker noodles. I let them lie out for the rest of the evening before making my sauce.


In the end, after they’ve dried for a bit, you can just roll them all up in your towel and dump them in your boiling water when you’re ready to cook them. These took about 5 minutes to boil because of their thickness.


For the sauce, I decided to roast the chopped mushrooms in the oven with a handful of fava beans, a handful of reconstituted wakame seaweed, a couple cloves of thinly sliced garlic, a few glugs of olive oil, and a fair shake of two spice mixes my sister brought me – a Japanese herb and spice mix (citrus, seseme, chilis, etc.) and an umami salt mix (salt, essence of mushroom, who knows what else). Left everything in the oven at about 200 for a good 15-20 minutes until the mushrooms crisped up a bit on the edges.


Meanwhile I made the sauce. More of the same (more mushrooms, garlic and the spice mixes), but also onions, spinach, cream, white miso paste, a dry white wine. It all came together well – the umami salt punched up the flavor a lot.



Finally, for the protein (beyond the buckwheat) I wanted something still reasonably light – so I went for tiny quail breasts. They’re great sauteed lightly in a pan for a few minutes and then roasted on low heat for about 10 minutes more to finish them off.



After draining the noodles – I cooked them in a broth with a porcini mushroom base – I began to carefully toss them with all the components.


And it worked. I really had the feeling as I ate the dish that it had the richness of an Italian pasta (ehem, cream? :-O) but had captured also the flavors of Japan. At least many of them.  To finish the dish, I sprinkled it with toasted sesame and some sliced sheets of nori.

Will try out the soba noodles again with some other combos. Perhaps just a simple tomato sauce.




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Steamy buns


Nice poster, no? ;-) It was in the bathroom of a bar in Cologne I went to two weeks back. I couldn’t resist taking a photo. It was one of those evenings where just walking around outside left you covered in a fine sweaty film – the humidity must have been about 95%. So the poster certainly looked…refreshing. Haven’t tried the drink advertised though.

It is barbeque season over here and for some reasons we’ve been more enthusiastic about barbequing this year. We don’t have a balcony or our own yard, but there is a lovely shared garden downstairs with a built-into-the-wall hand-made grill that one of the neighbors apparently crafted many years back. And during the summer the picnic table comes out – another neighbor – and sometimes there are spontaneous grill parties.

And while I like a juicy burger or bratwurst, I’m generally trying to think up something more interesting to put on the grill. A couple weeks back I invited a bunch of friends over for a korean taco barbeque. Two nights later I tried out some thai meatball sliders. In each case, the standard German bread option wasn’t really a great pairing and getting fresh brioche buns is difficult here. The packaged hamburger and hot dog buns in the grocery stores leave something wanting here as well. On a whim, I decided to test out a momofuku bun recipe (thank you, David Chang!) with the thai sliders. And that was a major win.

The buns are meant to be for pork belly bites. But they work really well with any spicy meat. They’re a bit of work to make, so make sure you have a couple hours at your disposal to tend to them. They need to rise three times. But if you’re doing other stuff around the house, the active time to create them is not terrible. Make sure to make an entire recipe – it’s worth it and you can freeze them.

Based on David Chang’s recipe, but slightly modified.


1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1.5 cups water, room temp.
4.25 cups bread flour (sorry – I know this is a miserable measurement – it should be by weight, but this is what Mr. Chang thought was good enough, I think you could go with even a bit more flour.)
6 Tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Rounded 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup rendered pork fat or veggie shortening at room temp


1) combine the yeast, water and sugar in a bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes and foam. Add the flour, salt, baking powder and soda and fat and mix (in a mixer or with your hands) for about 8 to 10 minutes, kneading as the dough comes together. I used my bread machine to do it for me and that worked perfectly. The dough gathers into a neat ball, a bit shiny.
2) Lightly oil a medium bowl, put the dough in it, cover with a dry kitchen towel. Let it rise about 1 hour 15 min.
3) Cut out 50 squares of baking paper, each about 3 inches square.
4) Punch the dough down and turn it out on your work surface. Divide the dough into 50 pieces, each about 25 grams. Don’t be lazy, use a kitchen scale. You want these things uniform in size. If you can’t get 50 pieces, go with what you can – I only got about 38.
5) Put the balls/pieces to the side somewhere to rise for 30 min.
6) Roll out each piece into an oblong oval shape about 4 inches in length. Take a chopstick, coat with a bit of grease – oil or shortening – and gently fold the oblong oval in half over the chopstick and then slide the chopstick out. You want to create a little hollow in the middle of the bun where it can easily be separated later after steaming. Place on a square of baking paper. Put each one to the side as you roll.
7) Let the buns rest again 30 minutes. They should look something like this.


8) Get your steamer ready. I have one with two layers. More convenient. Place the buns – perhaps about 10 per layer in my case – in the steamer and let steam cook for about 10 minutes. Work in batches. Remove and let cool.

After they’re all done and cool, simply bag the buns you won’t eat and freeze. They keep for months.

For the barbeque – you can take frozen buns and put directly on the bbq – they’ll quickly defrost and get nice little grill marks. But if they’re fresh you can choose to put them on the grill or not – or even resteam them for a few minutes to defrost them if you like.

Pair with a meatball or other spicy alternative, a few green onion slivers, perhaps a slice of cucumber, a little kimchi – whatever you fancy.




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