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Pumpkin Sage Dessert

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Unexpectedly, I was in Cologne on November 11. The city goes a bit mad on this day, and I got to observe a little of it in the morning as I walked to the office. Lions and tigers and bears, and whatever else, costumed in celebration of the carnival to come in early spring next year. Inside our office there was no evidence of craziness, (or maybe there was, but it wasn’t carnival related).

I got home later that week…and maybe all the costumes reminded me of Halloween and pumpkins…who knows. Anyway, the bright little orange kombochas all over Munich started singing my name.

This dessert creation was the result.

I can’t really call it ice cream…because it’s a kulfi, which always has the requisite ice crystals, at least a very mild smattering of them, scattered through the otherwise very creamy frozen dessert. I had a craving for some vegetarian Indian dishes and ended up with a fusion mix for the meal. The traditional Paneer butter masala – indian cheese in a thick aromatic and delicious curry gravy, some unusual but very good carrot pancakes – made with a beaten egg, a handful of chickpea flour, shredded carrots and chopped coriander, and finally some flash fried spanish pimento peppers with just a bit of salt and pepper. But to finish off, I wanted to try something a bit nontraditional Indian, and had come across this blog recipe for pumpkin sage kulfi.

Beautiful photos over there and an easy straightforward recipe. But…he made his kulfi with almond milk and I admit I wasn’t willing to do that – I like almond milk, but I also like cow milk ice cream. Maybe next time. He also used canned pumpkin puree, which is hard to find here. Germans do love their pumpkins, you find them at every fresh produce stand around the city, big ones and small ones, and you can even simply take a slice home instead of buying something so huge you can’t possibly eat it all without turning orange.

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So I quickly chopped up my pumpkin and threw it in the pressure cooker for five minutes on high (perhaps two cups of pumpkin when chopped up.) Meanwhile I warmed my milk (4 cups) with two tablespoons of chopped sage leaves, and skimmed them out after 5 minutes of cooking, added the sugar (3/4 a cup of brown sugar – but to which I added probably ANOTHER 1/2 cup later because the mixture was so very non-sweet, surprisingly.) I let this cook for a bit. After the pumpkin was done, I pureed it, and added a good cup or so of it to the milk mixture along with 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch.  And that is it. Let it cook until it thickens a bit and then take it off the heat and pour it into cups. I use old yogurt cups.

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Nice serving sizes, not too much.

The kulfi itself was nice, but a bit one dimensional. So I made a little ginger syrup to pour over the top (1/2 cup of chopped ginger, a cup of water, cup of sugar – heat on the stove for about 20 minutes until it reduces down by half. Pour into a jar and use as needed. Keeps forever. And finally, to give it all an herby note I candied some sage leaves, which sounds complicated but which takes just a few minutes:

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Brush each leaf (or dip, which is what I did) with egg white and then dip them into sugar. Let dry for a few hours until they harden. Also will keep for several months without a problem.

So the dessert concoction in the end was a nice complex combo: The creamy caramelly pumpkin kulfi infused with sage, the spicy sweet note of ginger syrup and the herby candied sage leaves over the top. Worth a try, although a bit fidly/takes some time. Most of the work can be processed simultaneously, and much of it is simply waiting around. But lovely presentation in the end.

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Taste of home

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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.

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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 thyme, 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…

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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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Patience.

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

 

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Smokin’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

Oktoberfest

 

 
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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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