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The Lake House

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A month ago Caro decided it was time we all went to the Lake House. And with the Easter break just around the corner, we were all counting down weeks until the four day break. Which is now just four days away. Mal and Fred have a beautiful house right on Ammersee that is well worth a weekend outing, so I blocked off the days in the calendar right away.

After a run and a fast trip to the Viktualienmarkt yesterday morning to pick up spring bounty (fava beans, asparagus, candy sweet tomatoes from Italy, wild spring greens, fresh mint) and stare at Easter decorations for a few minutes, I was off, kindly picked up by Caro and Sebastian, who generously carted me and my groceries down to the lake house.

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We got there to find Mal, Fred and Britta in their pjs or lounging clothes, and immediately unpacked the goods, and packed up a basket with fresh pretzels and turkish string cheese, tomato marmalade, butter and sweet orange juice, to carry the 100 meters down to the lake, and sat and just chilled next to the water for an hour or two, the warm spring sun on our faces. We passed these mushrooms on the way, there were kilos of them there and it was tempting to think we might be able to pluck them and dump them in a pan with butter and herbs, but thankfully we didn’t. These guys are not edible.

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Sit. Chill. Chat. Sip tea. zzzzzzz. ;-)

After a couple hours it was time to get up and go into town to the fish lady, known for selling….fish. We had eight to feed after Philipp and Elisabeth arrived, and throwing fish in the oven with some herbs and butter and wine and baking it was an easy way to feed a crowd. Something tells me this nice couple weren’t the ones who caught our dinner.

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Caro had made a couple delicious quinoa salads – one a bit like a tabouleh, but spicy, so for greens I put together my market pickings into a yummy and simple mix. Britta asked for the recipe and when I explained there was none, she asked me to create one. So here goes.

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Serves 8

A kilo of fava beans, shelled, boiled for about 4 minutes and skins removed. Spring peas would work too and would be substantially less work.

A kilo of asparagus, bottoms removed, tossed with olive oil and salt and pepper and roasted in a hot oven (200 degrees) for about 5-6 minutes until the outsides begin to brown and the asparagus get a bit limp. Check after a few minutes – time is dependent on how thick they are. Chop into inch-size pieces when done.
Two large handfuls of watercress, leaves picked from stems unless the stems are very tender.
About 500 grams of tomatoes – only seasonal, tasty ones – sliced and chopped into bite-sized pieces
A handful of dill, a handful of mint – chopped.
1 lemon, zested, half of the lemon juice.
Mix it all together, pour the lemon juice and perhaps a quarter cup of olive oil on it, sprinkle salt and pepper to taste, toss and taste again, adjusting as you go.
To serve, grate pecorino cheese over the top. We probably grated about 100 grams.

The fish came out of the oven and Britta filleted both giant fish. They were eaten with generous squeezes of lemon and sprinkled with salt.

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And after a late night of games and wine, everyone dug into Caro’s delicious cherry and raspberry pie…which we all want the recipe for as well. ;-) Caro, feel free to post here.

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Happy Spring. :-)

 

 

 

 

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Great Balls of …Spinach!

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Been here, done this. But it’s worth writing about again, if briefly. Because this meal fits very nicely into the vegetarian meals phase. Three weeks in, I have to admit, I really wouldn’t mind eating some meat. I’m not craving steaks or hamburgers, but I do miss chicken…For now, fish is back in in limited quantities and I think it’ll stay there (i.e., not adding any further animals in including shellfish) for the time being.

On a cool spring evening, what’s a tasty dinner treat to celebrate “springing forward?” (I am hating daylight savings time right this minute. I’m tired, damnit.) Spinach and ricotta gnocci with a fresh tomato sauce. I’ve covered these before – in my former blog – but they are soooo worth trying out that I’m posting a photo and reprinting the gnocci recipe one more time. Both the gnocci and the sauce recipes are from Marcella Hazan (who died just recently), and I spent about an hour perusing her classic Italian cookbook yesterday morning, reading up on her recommendations on how to make pasta.

These gnocci come together relatively quickly, although the whole endeavor – including the sauce – will probably take you about an hour and a half. If I’m being honest. The sauce – Marcella’s classic Tomato, butter and onion – only has four ingredients, but needs to simmer for 45 minutes. There are no shortcuts. You can make the gnocci after getting the sauce up (2 pounds tomatoes – peeled and chopped, 5 tbs butter, one onion cut in half only, salt to taste – put in saucepan, simmer 45 minutes, remove onion. Done.)

And here is Marcella’s gnocci recipe (modified to remove the prosciutto – completely unnecessary, but adding in lemon peel).
Ingredients:
1 lb fresh spinach or 1 10-ounce package frozen leaf spinach, thawed (Euro readers, 10 ounces = 283 grams, I used frozen and it was just fine)
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon onion chopped very fine
Salt
3/4 cup fresh ricotta cheese
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
1 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
The peel from about a half a lemon, grated.
Whole nutmeg (I cheated – put in a pinch of pre-ground)

1) Cook the spinach in a covered pan with salt (VERY IMPORTANT) for about 5 minutes (I did about 3…) Drain it and squeeze all the moisture out of it, chop it coarsely.

2) Saute the butter and onion in a small skillet until it is pale gold. Add the chopped spinach and some salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Take off the heat and let cool.

3) In a bowl, combine the spinach mixture, the flour and ricotta and stir. Add the egg yolks, grated Parmesan, and a grating of nutmeg (about 1/8 teaspoon), the grated lemon peel and mix with a spoon. Taste and correct for salt.

4) Make small pellets of the mixture, shaping them quickly by rolling them in the palm of your hand. Ideally they should be no bigger than 1/2 inch across, but if you find it troublesome to make them that small, you can try for 3/4 inch. If the mixture sticks to your palms (IT DOES), dust your hands lightly with flour. (I tried the flour, but that did not help. So instead, I wet my hands with water and then rolled them – and THAT WORKED).

5) Drop the gnocci, a few at a time (about a dozen or so) into boiling SALTED water. Cook them for about 3 minutes – or for about a minute or two after they return to the surface of the water. Remove with a slotted spoon.

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Veggieliscious

Shelling peas

I am in sort of a marathon vegetable phase, for better or for worse. Don’t get me wrong, I love my vegetables. But I simply have never been a vegetarian, or really even tried to cook without meat or fish for any sort of extended period of time. I definitely don’t eat meat or fish with every meal and I do my best to make sure every meal is well balanced with not too heavy emphasis on the animal protein when it is in there.

But…for a few weeks or months – let’s see how long – I’m doing my best to simply go without meat. Fish may be reintroduced soon, as the purpose of this “fast” is health only. What’s particularly nice is that it forces me to be more creative, rather than relying on the easy fat and flavor that meat often brings to dishes. More creative with spices, more creative with variety.

So far so good, although I am collecting lots of recipes to keep the idea database well-stocked.

Breakfast is pretty easy – fruit and either my standard toast and avocado or cheese or else a bowl of quinoa or amaranth when I have the time to cook it (often).

Lunch has been a mix – going out for lunch when I’m out of town and ordering only vegetarian or alternatively bringing leftovers for lunch or making a quick pot of lentils and bringing them to the office (was met with snarky comments on Friday by some of my colleagues who didn’t like the look of my lentils).

And dinner last week saw a variety of things. A lovely whole grain pasta mixed with onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and herbs quickly sauteed and then tossed with yogurt and a bit of garlic (a favorite of mine).

Veggie pasta with yogurt

Veggie pasta with yogurt

When I have time, I might bake some bread – as in this photo with a yogurt and molasses and whole wheat bread – on the side, some sauteed greens and parsnips and a sunny-side up egg.

Bread, sauteed greens, egg

I can imagine doing all kinds of variations on the recipe below – with socca pancakes (an Italian chickpea pancake) and tamarind potatoes.

Chickpa pancakes with tamarind potatoes and tomato salad

Chickpea pancakes with tamarind potatoes and tomato salad

Last night I had a bunch of guests over and did a few courses of veggies. A lovely warm soup with tomatoes, chickpeas and coconut milk with smoked paprika – highly recommended!, a fresh pea and ricotta cheese torte, a seasonal asparagus salad with pistachios and mint, and finally a very delicious avocado mouse/brulee (brulee didn’t work out quite as desired…) – but more on the dessert in the next post…it’s deserves its own post….

Spring Pea and ricotta torte and shaved asparagus salad with mint and pistachios

Sophie was most impressed with me shelling the peas…

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Some recipes well worth sharing – but I did quite a few modifications on the pancakes, the roasted broccoli, and the tamarind potatoes. The last four links I followed more or less to the letter:

 

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Green Tea and Me

Green tea ice cream with red beans

Green tea ice cream with red beans

I love green tea desserts and they’re hard to find here, although I recently had some pretty yummy green tea ice cream over at a new Korean restaurant in Munich about a month ago. See above. It got me thinking that I’d like to try to make some green tea sweets, and so when I came across a crazy looking zebra striped green tea and chocolate cake I didn’t hold back anymore.

I know it’s odd that I am writing up two baked good posts in a row, but that’s somehow because on the savory side of my life I am doing a lot of repeats.

Inspired by this blog, and having a bag of matcha in my cupboard, I got to work in the afternoon so we’d have the cake by evening.

And it’s actually relatively straightforward – the only difference between this one and any other standard tea cake is that you are making two batters – one green, rich with the perfume of Japanese matcha tea, and the other dark brown, a chocolate lover’s heaven. Before you bake it, the batters are carefully marbled together in order to produce a dramatic green and brown swirl when you cut the cake.

Before baking, I had a few read throughs of the recipe and decided to make a few adjustments. This is the adjusted recipe – both ingredients and steps.

Ingredients (adapted slightly from the original)

batter 1 (common batter used in both the following batters):
4 eggs
200 g sugar
100 ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

batter 2:
3 tsp matcha powder
3 tsp water
75 g butter

batter 3:
100 g dark quality chocolate
75 g butter

icing 1:
75 g icing sugar
3 tbs cocoa powder
whipping cream

icing 2:
75 g oz icing sugar
1/3 tsp matcha powder
whipping cream

Common batter:
Whisk the sugar and eggs and vanilla extract in a bowl until fluffy. Add the milk and stir. Sift in the flour and baking powder in the bowl and stir until smooth. Divide in equal halves and separate into two bowls – do this by weight.

Batter 2: Mix the matcha powder with the water. Stir until smooth. Add 75 grams butter and combine again until reasonably smooth. Add the mixture to one half of the first batter and stir to combine.

Batter 3: Melt 75 grams butter and chocolate in a small pan on low heat. After the chocolate has melted completely, take off the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Then add this mixture to the remaining half of the common batter.

Ultimately you should have two batters:

Double batter

Grease a cake pan (22-3 cm/9 in diameter) and dust it lightly with flour. Spoon in the two batters, mixing between them a bit. In my case they were quite dense, and it was a matter of adding a spoon of one, then a spoon of another in order to ultimately get the marble effect I was looking for.

Assembling the cake

The directions said then to take a stick and mix the two batters a bit, but I wanted to be able to really see a sharp difference in color and flavor.

Bake in a pre-heated oven (175°C/350°F) for approximately 45 minutes (original recipe said 30 min, but my cake was far from done at that point.) Take out the cake, turn it out on a plate and let it cool down.

Ready for frosting

Meanwhile mix up your two icings. You want to add enough cream to get them to a consistency that will work – not too liquid if possible, although the green tea icing is more fluid than the chocolate version. When the cake is cool, go crazy. ;-)

Frosted Green Tea and Chocolate cake

Play with designs.

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This cake lasted perhaps three days. ;-)

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I think it tasted best on the first day – stronger flavors of both chocolate and green tea (a very nice combination, by the way). After a day or two it was still very nice, but had a milder flavor.

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It goes without saying that LOTS of vegetables were served before allowing ourselves to dig into the cake.

Loved these – and I HATE brussels sprouts most of the time. But I guess anything that David Chang makes is pretty darn yummy.

David Chang (Momofuku) Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce vinaigrette. The bitter flavor that I don’t like with the sprouts was still there, but not so prominent and well-covered with the tang of the vinaigrette. Will make this one again.

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Scent of Cardamom

It’s been awhile – sorry about that. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking, it’s just that I have been cooking, working, running (literally), sleeping, commuting between cities, and haven’t had much time for blogging. And when I had time I was usually too tired.

But some delicious food has crossed my path many times in the last month – quite a few new restaurants as well, not all my food.

I made a cake recently that is worthy of a mention and a word of warning. Actually two words of warning. But first, understand that the absolutely STUPID winter we’ve been having here in Munich obviously forced me to make cake. It’s drizzly and cold and grey out almost every single freaking day. But this cake is a slice of sunshine, I swear it. I read Shayma’s blog pretty regularly and somehow her recipe for Cardamom tea cake called out to me. I scrolled past it a couple times, but then it stuck. My finger wouldn’t move further and before I could think about it much I was in the kitchen with iPad in hand, ready to bake.

Here is warning number 1. Sometimes it is better not to improvise the first time around. Very important. More specifically, I could smell the cardamom in my head reading that recipe. And then a stray thought moved in along with it…”ummm….what about apples? what about if I chopped up some apples very small and mixed them into the batter?” Sort of a pound cake…with apples…and cardamom. And don’t get me wrong – there are definitely delicious recipes out there with cardamom and apples, it is just that this was not it.

But I did it anyway.

Apple Pound Cake with Cardamom

Apple Pound Cake with Cardamom

Yeah, I know it looks ok. Good even perhaps. But if you take a second glance you’ll see that the edges are a bit burned and the inside looks dense and gummy. And that is really sort of what it was. No one refuses cake, though, at least a first time, so over the course of a couple days it was eaten.

I was really intrigued, though, and I knew that the original recipe would be vastly better if I would bother to follow it. Which I did a few days later. I don’t have a picture of the cake as a whole, which is where,

Warning number 2 comes in:

2) Do not bake this cake when you are on a diet. I’m not, but just saying…if I were. ;-) Because it is amazing. Simple and delicious. The scent of the cardamom is haunting. And if you are not careful you will slice yourself a piece. And then another. And maybe just a third sliver. At the end of it (don’t worry, couple days later), we were arguing over how evenly to cut the last chunk of it. Halves? But who ate more of it over the course of its lifetime? Who ran further today? Who cleaned the cat litter religiously this week? Yes, that good.

It looks a bit homely perhaps in this photo, but one of my favorite ways to eat it would be lightly toasted in the morning with a cup of coffee. Sweet black milky tea would have been lovely too. Maybe next time.

Cardamom tea cake

Cardamom tea cake

Recipe? Yup, here. And you can pretty much cook anything on her blog – all the recipes are delicious.

 
 

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Learning the mystical magical ways of making pasta

Happy New Year! And welcome to 2014, whatever it may bring. So far it has brought me a very bad cold (actually, 2013 gave it to me as a parting gift, so maybe 2014 will miraculously clear away the cold and spare my already shredded sore nose asap).

When it comes to pasta, actually, what I learned is that there is no magic. There is only muscle and patience. ;-)

I received a pasta machine for Christmas this year and naturally I needed to try it out a few times right away. Yes, I agree, it’s a bit scary looking.

IMG_6993And needless to say, if you are gonna crank up the monster, you want to make a bunch of pasta. So we’ve been eating a lot of pasta in the last few days.

The recipe for pasta is easy: for one portion, you want 100 grams of durum wheat flour and 1 egg. Just multiply for more people. And note, once you make the pasta, it’s easy enough to dry it and store it in your pantry for later eating. And worth it. Make more, trust me on this.

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Start out by making a mound from the flour and crack the eggs into the middle: I read in the instructions afterwards that it is easier to do this in a bowl. But it was too late by then.

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Take a fork and gently and slowly mix the eggs with the flour from the center. Add water if the dough is too dry and won’t come together (as in my case) or more flour it it is too wet and sticky. Ultimately you want a lump of dough that looks like this:

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To get there, you need to knead the dough to a nice even consistency, it should feel like the texture of an earlobe. Feel your earlobe. Yes, like that. You *will* need to put some muscle into this – the dough is tough, and it will fight you.  It should take about 5-10 minutes of kneading to get there. Let it rest  for about 20 minutes, and then cut off a hunk of it and roll it out so you can fit it into your new pasta machine.

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I was worried that these things would be complicated to use, but they’re truly not.

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You simply pass it through the rollers a bunch of time, each time narrowing the opening through which you fit the dough.

Eventually, the dough can get WAY TOO LONG to handle.

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But the solution is easy. Cut it.

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And trust me, you don’t need to take it all the way to the “9″ thickness on your machine – it’s too thin for most dishes. Go for 5 or 6.

Next step: cutting the pasta. The attachment on the back works just like the rollers on the front. Pass the dough through and out comes tagliatelle. Like magic.

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Sort of wow. At least the first time.

You will have a hell of a lot of it very fast. Like 3 times this amount.

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Find a recipe to cook. Jamie Oliver and Marcella Hazan are pretty fail proof.

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Make sure you have some hungry eaters around.

The fresh pasta takes just a few minutes to cook in a nice pot of boiling salted water.

Eat and enjoy.

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Mexi-xmas

IMG_6960Mexican Christmas? Well, not really. But I was put in charge of dinner on Monday night, the 23rd, and really really wanted to try out pozole. The taqueria I really like here in Munich keeps serving it, but somehow I keep missing it whenever I am there to grab lunch. They are either out of it already or haven’t made it on that day. And apparently, pozole is quite a traditional dish to serve on Christmas in Mexico. So the pozole was at least appropriately timed if not culturally fitting.

Pozole is made with meat (generally pork, although I used chicken) and a special form of corn – in english, called “hominy.”  According to wikipedia: “To make hominy, field corn (maize) grain is dried, then treated by soaking and cooking the mature (hard) grain in a dilute solution of slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) or wood ash, a process termed nixtamalization.” It helps soften the corn, more or less removing the outer layer of the kernel. You can buy it either canned (forget this in Germany, or at least in Munich), or dried – so it needs to be reconstituted with water over night and then cooked for a very very very long time.

soaking the corn

soaking the corn

There is a fairly wide variety of recipes out there for pozole. Some people make it green and sour – with tomatillos and green chilis and such. Others go for a red version – rich with red chilies. I ended up with my own version. I used this recipe as a guide, but went off-road fairly quickly. ;-)

First step is to make chicken soup – which I did with dark meat only. Rather than using flat Italian parsley in the soup I put in cilantro/coriander to imbue a Mexican flavor from the get-go.

Make chicken soup

Make chicken soup

The recipe called for a variety of chilis, but I had no chance of getting them all here. I’d bought some canned poblanos from a local mexican grocery, which was at least a good start. Although what I wasn’t able to do was char the skin of the peppers and roast them. So…compromises compromises…

Canned poblanos

Canned poblanos

To make the pozole itself, I blended a mixture of chilis, garlic, onions to form a sort of paste/base flavor. This gets gently sauteed in oil for a few minutes, and then I added tomato puree and the chopped up poblanos.

Getting the pozole started

Getting the pozole started

After a few stirs, the corn went in next.

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And finally the chicken stock.

Simmer for about an hour, letting the flavors meld and the corn soften further. Then add in the chicken (which you have removed from the bones) and let the whole stew cook for a bit longer.

Meanwhile you can chop up all the toppings for pozole – not a few. Cabbage is traditional, as is chopped up and fried tortillas, lime, cilantro, onions, creme fraiche (well, it should have been a Mexican version, but close enough).

Toppings for pozole

Toppings for pozole

I baked some tortillas to make them into “tostadas” as well – a nice crispy alternative to bread or rice. Topped with black beans, some salsa and guacomole and a sprinkle of cheese, they rounded out the meal.

Tostadas with toppings

Tostadas with toppings

Not the flavors of Germany, but a nice spicy zing the day before the more traditional German Christmas fare.

Definitely a recipe to make again (and if you want a more exact recipe, just message me, I’ll try to come up with the amounts I used for everything) – but next time the corn needs to be cooked even longer. Now off to the taqueria again today. Maybe they’ll have pozole for me to try and compare mine with.

 

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