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Category Archives: Hunting and Gathering

Can you Orecchiette me?

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Home for the weekend and almost no travel ahead of me for the next 30 days – just a day trip here and there. It’s an awesome feeling. I will be sleeping in my own bed, cooking in my own kitchen, running along the isar, playing with the cats, every single day through the month of July. Today, after a month of no significant interesting cooking/recipes because I was on the road most of May/June (or it felt like it), I got a chance to really splurge and spend most of the day in the kitchen, quietly preparing dinner, almost meditating as I pressed and folded, pressed and folded, little Italian-shaped “orcchiette” – which means “little ear” in Italian.

I’d seen this recipe a month or two back, and though it is more of a late spring recipe, because stinging nettles are rather more of a spring ingredient, I didn’t have a chance to tackle it until today. And there are still plenty of nettles around my neighborhood, you just have to take care and look for younger ones, preferably those that haven’t yet flowered. I loaded up the bike basket with a bag, rubber gloves, and scissors and went in search of the weeds. It didn’t take long to find some.

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There they are, to the right of the bike, mixed in with all kinds of other stuff, but easy enough to spot, their nasty little venomous needles out and ready to bite.

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You only cut the top tender leaves off, which I did. Cups of them – perhaps seven or eight – and then I brought them home, to soak in cold water. I wear the gloves all the way through the moment I get them in the pan. I was reminded during the collection, that even a gentle swish of an arm against a leaf is enough to leave a burn.

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But washed and prepped, they look innocuous enough. Sauteed with garlic and onion and then pureed, they are a bit like spinach, but with a wild tang to them. Supposedly quite healthy as well, and I always like gathering things that end up in my dinner.

So on to the pasta. That was a nice mix of standard semolina and in my case, buckwheat, as I didn’t have any rye and couldn’t find it at the store yesterday. Mixed with water, the dough rests for an hour or so before you roll it out and begin the process of creating each of the little “ears.” I had no idea it would take so long, but I did a 600 gram recipe, meaning about 210 or 220 of those ears…each carefully hand rolled, hand pressed, hand folded. It was sort of relaxing ultimately, especially if you can just sit there and watch Netflix for two hours while you do it.

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Weigh out 100 grams, roll it into a log, cut the log into 30-35 pieces.

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Roll each into a little ball. And then press them into shape – a little concave hollow and then press the edges back…to look like an ear. Repeat with the next 100 grams, taking care to always keep the rest of the pasta well covered in plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out as you roll.

There is probably a shortcut, I just haven’t learned it yet.

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And let them dry out on a cloth or some baking sheets for a few hours.

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I’ll put the uneaten ones in the freezer and cook them another time. But for tonight, the rest of the recipe was quite easy.

Chop herbs (mint, dill, chives) and crumble some feta. Zest a lemon. Place it all in the bowl where the dish comes together.

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While you boil the pasta, saute some oyster mushrooms, throw in some fresh peas, dollop the nettle pesto you’ve made into the mix, stir in some pasta water, and finally mix it all together.

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I love how the little ears gently cradle the peas – a perfect bite of sauce in each little ear. (Cute, no!!?!).

And each bite was lovely, a medley of flavors, each bite a little different: fresh herbs, the salty cheese, the sweet peas, the gentle buckwheat flavor of the dough in the background.

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And to finish off our meal, I’d made a simple upside-down cherry and cornmeal cake. A coffee cake, as it turned out, served with a spoonful of petit suisse cheese mixed with a bit of honey.

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Happy Sunday Supper.

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After that, Monday doesn’t feel so bad, does it?

 

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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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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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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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Daaaaaaling

November Isar

November Isar

As beautiful as the Isar is during all times of year, it’s sometimes startling to see how it can change so rapidly in just a few weeks. Look at this photo from a few days back compared to the one I posted in the last blog entry. Winter is coming. (But unfortunately not yet the new season of Game of Thrones.)

Two weekends ago, we had another cook-in at Caro’s place – making use of some of her 70 kilos of garden-grown vegetables that she harvested. I had wanted to try out a salad I saw posted in the New York Times a couple months back and finally I had the chance. In addition to a lovely chicken dish plus broad beans with a saffron sauce and pan roasted and smashed potatoes, we got to work peeling carrots in order to re-create the Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad. And what was amusing along the way – the big advantage of growing your own vegetables as Caro does – is that you get the most amazing shapes sometimes…have a look at this beauty. 😉 I think Mallorie chopped her up in the end…

The salad was great. Can highly recommend it. Also it would be great with other root vegetables – parsnips, turnips, or pumpkin.

Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad

Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad

Today it pours outside and I hear the temperature will drop substantially in the next 24 hours. Perhaps it is better to say Winter is Here, although I would rather prefer to believe there is a little more sun in the future. Anyway, there will be soon enough when I go home for Thanksgiving.

To get in the spirit of fall, don’t hesitate to make a big pot of Daal – in my pressure cooker, this is a super fast dish to throw together. Not many ingredients plus you can tweak the recipe as you like, choosing the types of lentils/beans you like, and adjust the seasonings to your preference. Yesterday I did this one:

Daal prep

Daal prep

Directions: chop up a small red onion and fry it for a few minutes in some mustard oil (ideally in a pressure cooker, but any medium sized sauce pan will work). When the onion begins to brown, throw in a teaspoon of brown mustard seeds. When they begin to pop, put in your dry spices: some ground cumin, tumeric, asafetida, ground coriander. Stir. Chop up your chili and throw it in. Stir and let the flavors begin to meld. Chop up two tomatoes – remove the skins if you prefer – and put them in. Let everything cook down a bit – your tomatoes should begin to get mushy. When they do, put in two whole peeled garlic cloves, 5-10 curry leaves, a handful of chopped cilantro and a half a cup of yellow split peas and a half a cup of green lentils and one to two teaspoons of salt. Finally add 4 cups of water and stir everything around once before putting on the lid. If you’re cooking with a pressure cooker, set your timer to 25 minutes, and select the higher pressure valve setting. Let it cook. In 25 minutes you will have a daal. Rich and spicy, perfect served with a scoop of yogurt and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro.

Daal

Daal

 

 

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Goubuli Baozi (Dogs Ignore)

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Baozi are unlikely to be ignored by anyone, let alone a dog that would be able to sniff the savory meat filling inside. Nevertheless, this post is about Goubuli Baozi (天津狗不理包子), which apparently means “dogs ignore” in Chinese, or just Baozi (包子), the rather addictive chinese buns filled with meat (or many other things – egg custard, red bean paste, vegetable curries) and steamed. I haven’t made them in a very very long time, and our freezer was getting empty of any “quick dinner” food. It was time to try them again.

I have a copy of Barbara Tropp’s famous “The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking” at home, so I ended up using her recipe and directions as a guide. But there are a million recipes for them online, and many of them don’t differ at all or much from Tropp’s recipe. Here’s one that was quite close.

Ramps in the english garden

Ramps in the english garden

I did make one seasonal substitution. Rather than using a combo of leek and cilantro, as recommended in Tropp’s recipe, I went for a combo of onion and ramps…since they are still growing like mad in the English Garden. They’re beginning to flower, though. So the leaves are not quite as tender and delicate. Still, enough to make do. Like any dumpling, you can choose your ingredients and flavorings as you like – garlic, ginger, onions, cilantro – the herb mixture should be to your taste.

The only really tricky part of making Baozi once you have the dough proofed (which admittedly does take quite awhile), is the folding part.

Cutting up dough

Cutting up dough

You chop the dough up into appropriately sized chunks and then roll out the chunks a bit, pressing the edges of the circles down, leaving it a bit puffy in the middle.

Folding Baozi

Folding Baozi

Once you have a circle approximately the size of your palm – or a bit bigger, you spoon in about two tablespoons of filling and then carefully – and here is where the tricky part comes in – pleat it closed. Here’s a super short video that shows you how you should hold your baozi as you fold.

It takes a bit of practice and mine certainly weren’t perfect. Apparently each one should have 15 pleats and should resemble a chrysanthemum flower.

Baozi model?

Baozi model?

Although mine were probably closer to the Sharpei up there.

Baozi waiting for steaming

Baozi waiting for steaming

Please, don’t count the pleats.

Really, at the end of the day the thing that matters the most is simply how they taste.

Finished Baozi

Finished Baozi

Make sure you steam them right before you eat them. And steam all of them – it’s best to re-steam them after they are frozen as opposed to freezing them raw.

Make a bit of sauce to go with them – some soy sauce mixed with a bit of chili and sesame oil, a little vinegar and some shreds ginger.

Serve with some spicy sour cucumber salad.

Baozi and salad

Baozi and salad

Three or four of them make a nice meal with a salad…depending on how gigantic you make yours….these were each about the size of a small fist.

Gè bǎo (个饱) – Bon appetit!

 

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Love Letter to Morton & Bassett

In case you didn’t know, Morton & Bassett is a company that sells spices.  Here’s their homepage:

Morton & Bassett homepage

Morton & Bassett homepage

It’s a shame that it’s not scratch and sniff…because even if the scents don’t evoke strong images and memories for you (like they do for me), you would still be mesmerized by the perfumes.

My mom sent me two jars of their bay leaves for Valentine’s Day. She sent other lovely things as well (chocolate, beautiful vases, a card, a cute little puzzle), but it was those bay leaves that I was waiting for. I was down to my last two leaves – I must have forgotten to buy some when I was home in November last year. (No idea how that could have happened!).  I opened one of the jars and stuck it under the noses of my friends at work, where I’d received the package. They were awed or at least they pretended to be.

I even gave *one* leaf to a colleague of mine who loves to cook as well. Apparently he cooked a lasagna with it last night and it was (as expected) very delicious. I had two girlfriends over for dinner last night and I put it in the dal I made. Ahhh…so lovely.

This morning, just now, my colleague just contacted me. We think it is time Morton & Basset started to distribute here in Europe.

So I wrote them a letter. It’s something between a love letter and a pushy aggressive needy begging communication. I hope they take it the right way. 🙂

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Meanwhile…I will hoard my little treasure.

 

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