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Nothing rhymes with Okinomiyaki

sad

Friday night I felt…unsurprised. Resigned. It felt like it was only a matter of time before the craziness in the world would actively hit Munich. And then finally it did. I was home before I realized what was happening, although it even happened before I left work. I was riding my bike home around 6 pm, just minutes after the shooter at the Olympia Einkaufszentrum was putting people to death. Police car and ambulance and fire trucks all crossed by me and I wondered why so many of them…but it had seemed like so many of them anyway in the last days that I did not wonder too much.

When I got home, I cooked dinner. Like any normal evening. And then I checked email at 7:30 finally, when I noticed that siren after siren screamed its way by the apartment, without pause. But I feel too much nothing. I have been numbed to the tragedies after the most recent incidents in just the last couple weeks. Nice, Turkey, Republican Convention, Würzburg – all very different tragedies, but somehow they add up to numbness and inability to process what it all means and what one can even do. I can hardly compare, though, in my little insulated and sheltered world. It feels like a big farce to live here in the bubble sometimes.

So the next day you go out there and move on and don’t concentrate too much on the craziness. I moved.

Julie_Nathan

A lot. Getting ready for a marathon run in October. Maybe. My first moments of doubt came with yesterday’s half marathon training run. It was hot, close to 30 degrees. And I was careless with hydrating and eating enough and timing things correctly in the morning before leaving. When I hit 17k, I ran out of water. Still a good 4k from home, no money, no id, nothing but a phone and a key with me and a Powerbar. In the end, I could have gotten help had it really been critical, but I was frustrated that I wasn’t going to make my goal time, that it wasn’t feeling as good as it had the week before.

We went to a movie last night – Star Trek Beyond – no, I don’t recommend it. I woke up in the morning and heard that the shooter had shot himself, so wasn’t roaming the city anymore. So I said “ok” to going to a movie at night. Feeling like I was playing in a TV show of unreality. How can this be the world? A guy kills 10 people and himself 3 kilometers from where you live just hours before and the next night you are going to a movie as if nothing has happened. Well, but life goes on, right?

We didn’t have time to eat dinner before leaving for the film and afterwards it was too late. So I have been hungry the whole day somehow after burning 1700 calories in about 2.5 hours yesterday. Trying to fill in the hunger with fruit and nuts. Nothing seemed to help. Finally I began assembling dinner at around 5:30 tonight, dreaming of fat and carbs and protein and just feeling… not hungry anymore.

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That’s the beginning of Okinomiyaki. Yeah, I know, it’s hard to say without practice. Well, it’s a Japanese pancake. Made with a special Japanese yam and cabbage and in my case, seafood and a bit of ham. The easiest and fastest recipe is over here.  

The name is derived from the Japanese word okonomi, meaning “what you like” or “what you want”, and yaki meaning “grilled” or “cooked” (cf. yakitori and yakisoba).

It does require a trip, most likely, to an Asian supermarket, if nothing else for that weird yam, which you need to shred into the batter.

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It shreds very quickly, and is gooey. You add it to the flour, salt, sugar, dashi broth, and baking powder and then let it all chill in the fridge for about an hour.

And then you add the cabbage, the eggs, the seafood, etc.

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In the end, to cook it, you pile it into a saute pan and let it cook for about 10 minutes or so in total. It should be a nice fat pancake. 2 centimeters thick. You can dig into it.

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A giant pancake.

Which you then take off the stove and garnish with a special sauce (recipe with the recipe above), some mayo, some green onions, some pork floss (or bonito flakes are more traditional).

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And then you sit down, ideally when it is still piping hot, and eat it.

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Ideally with a very cold glass of rosé. Or two.

I am no longer hungry.

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Posted by on July 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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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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Looks like Munich, Feels like Singapore

Heat wave abates for the day

Heat wave abates for the day

I might have named this post “having your cake and eating it too,” but that is really only tangentially the topic at hand.

Here in Munich it is finally summer. I don’t dare complain. Riding my bike home from work, I just wasn’t sure it was *really* Munich, because it is soooo hot and fairly humid at the moment. More like Singapore. Although I hear/read that in Singapore the smog/haze is back, so I’m quite glad I am not in Singapore. Munich will do just fine, thank you very much, although I wouldn’t object to a nice bowl of Laksa just about now…. Hmm. Might be an idea…anyway… We are told to expect about a week of the heat before things begin to cool off a bit. Fine. There is likely no travel this week, maybe just a day-trip on Thursday, so I can deal with a little sweat.

It would have been nice to have been at our Cologne offices, where I am occasionally these days – I’m envious of the guys who sit up at the top of the new space we have there, overlooking the quaint little courtyard with very beautiful potted olive trees.

Office courtyard

Office courtyard

They have quite the view – both into the courtyard, but also the buildings just across the way. Nice summer feeling on the balconies there.

Speaking of which…don’t you want to jump in?

Isar waves

Isar waves

Looking forward to a run in the morning. Will go early while it is still cool(er).

When I get back…there will still be a few bites of this cake, which I made for a picnic yesterday.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Not my photo but mine looked the same except for the fact that my pan was round. There was a wedge left over after the picnic…delicious when eaten very cold straight out of the fridge with a spoon.

But thus…a run is in order.

The recipe is here. Have a look. It’s reasonably fast and easy – you just need some time to let it cool off and let the milk soak in for about an hour. Keeps well…if you don’t eat it all right away…for a few days.

 

 

 

 

 

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Winter Fishing on the Isar

Fishing on the Isar

Fishing on the Isar

I was surprised to see this guy the other day, stubbornly fishing despite the mucky weather. I wonder if he caught anything.

I liked the look of the cracked walls of the dam in the cold…next to the green water and grey/white sky.

rwehr (Dam on my run route)

Isarwehr (Dam on my run route)

Apologies on the Rabbit Dinner. It was very good, but beyond one shot I grabbed while the meat was marinating (I did end up cooking Afghani Rabbit – a lovely garlic, yogurt, nuts, cinammon, cloves and other herbs and spices marinade, along with lentils and lemony spinach, fresh tomatoes, and a chocolate cake), I caught nothing on “film.” The guests arrived and I forgot to take pictures from that moment onwards.

So…not much to show. But it was tasty. Wouldn’t cook rabbit again with that recipe – meat was a bit dry – but would try it again in a different way.

 
 

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The Happy New Year (!) Staycation

Dangers of "Staycations"

Dangers of “Staycations”

I was talking to my sister a day or two back on my birthday – she had called from the car, beach-bound, somewhere on the island of Kauai, and I was sitting on the sofa still contemplating what to make for dinner (and playing with a stupid game on my ipad, see above). “So what are you doing for your 29th (yes! 😉 ) birthday? For New Year’s?” “Oh…not much planned…but that’s ok.” And it is. I don’t think I have traveled so much in one year in my life. It felt like I was getting on a plane practically every second week. I have to admit…I don’t know if this year will be different, although at the moment, there are no travels planned, either for work or privately.

“Oh, you’re having a ‘Staycation'” she said.

“A what?”

“A Staycation.” I guess I am.

It feels almost a bit strange to hang out at home for a couple weeks, although we’ve been keeping busy while relaxing…cooking, gym, movies (can recommend: Argo, Pitch Perfect, Lincoln, Life of Pi – all great movies), museums, “spa” day later this week. Two interesting (?) dinner parties planned soon – the mexican bunny rabbit dinner and the to-be-filmed-by-professional-filmographer “Ashkenazi vs. Sephardi cook-off.” But I guess I will leave those for other blog entries.

With all the relaxing, of course I am busy playing around with all kinds of new apps on my ipad. And always on the look-out for new interesting ones. So, Larry and Ruth Nathan, go ahead and download “Snapseed” for your ipad. It’s great fun. Maybe you can already try it out with some of the photos from your dinner the other night. In essence, it’s just another photo editing app, but I think it might replace Photogene for me. Like the others, it has typical things like filters and frames you can apply, and of course you can crop and change saturation and color balance. But it also allows you to focus in on certain areas of a photo, sharpen and blur these areas, darken or lighten them. Which makes for some photo editing drama.

I know I am fairly lazy when it comes to food photography, and what I really should do is take a course to learn more about it, at least if the plan is to continue to write a food blog. (Which it is…unless this magically turns into another kind of blog). My problem is that while I want to take photos of the finished product, I’m also concentrated on eating it and getting it eaten while it is still hot. So usually right before sitting down to eat there is some scrambling to get the food photographed, cursing at the terrible terrible lighting in my kitchen and dining room, propping up lettuce leaves and such…and then generally giving up and hoping it all works out.

Which is more or less what happened last night, but have a look at the before and after – I’m no pro, not by a long shot, but I did have fun trying out snapseed and playing with all the functions to try to get things looking a bit better at least. Inspired by my parents’ dinner party on the 30th, I went and bought a lobster yesterday afternoon and did a simple but tasty lobster and fennel risotto.

The Fish Store (Before)

The Fish Store (Before)

The guy at the store selling me the lobster looked at me like I was nuts…snapping away.

The Fish Counter (After)

The Fish Counter (After)

I was lucky to get a lobster, actually. I finished running around 1:15, then went to the sauna for 15 minutes and showered and dressed…thinking I had all the time in the world to go buy one. At 2, all the stores around Marienplatz CLOSED. Literally as I walked in I was shooed out. Luckily, the fish market I frequent at the Viktualienmarkt was willing to sell me one as they were closing up shop.

About to crack the lobster (before)

About to crack the lobster (before)

Thankfully, I didn’t have to kill this one – he was ready – cooked and chilled already – when I bought him. It’s always a trauma for me to stick them in the boiling water. All I had to do to get it ready for the risotto was remove all the meat. Which was the usual messy process, but the cats enjoyed watching.

The lobster to be cracked...after some tweaking

The lobster to be cracked…after some tweaking

I know I have some work to do on figuring out where to put dark shadows and blur…this is not much better, but I am still getting the hang of things.

The Risotto, before

The Risotto, before

Ok, this one…I *know* is better below. Major improvement, I think. Would be better still if the focus were on the risotto but I had some sort of object – fork, spoon, wineglass, in the background – to relax the eye, offset the focus. Like this it is just “food porn” I suppose. Well, practice makes perfect. Will work on it. And maybe get some tips from my sister.

The Risotto, after, aren't you hungry now?

The Risotto, after, aren’t you hungry now?

Wishing you a very very happy, healthy and successful 2013.

 

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Chocolate Döner at Tollwood

Really? Did the world need this particular thing?

Chocolate Döner stand at Tollwood

Chocolate Döner stand at Tollwood

Wandering around one of the local Christmas markets a couple days back, I ran into this new concept: chocolate döners. A döner, for those of you who don’t live in Germany and don’t know, is a “Turkish” sandwich made insanely popular here – probably by Germans, not Turks. Shavings of lamb or other meat mixed with fresh salad and tomatoes, garlicky yogurt sauce, slivers of onions, and wrapped up in a flatbread or a roll. Runs you about 5 euros and 700 calories…In the US we would call them “Gyros.” And they would be considered Greek, not Turkish. Same concept though.

Now you can get the sweet version of the tasty sandwich: the chocolate version. Instead of scraping meat off a rotating stick, the lady there scrapes chocolate. And mixes it with things like fruit and whipped cream and sweet sauces…rolls it up in a waffel or something…and voila – your chocolate döner. I couldn’t even get closer than this to take a better photo, the place was overrun with people waiting in line to grab their piece of chocolate paradise.

I think…if I indulge…I would go for a crepe. The chocolate döner will not appear on my “die, die, must try” (Singaporean for “gotta have it”) list…

 

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Autumn is here, we celebrate with salsa

Dress Rehearsal? Oktoberfest days away...

Dress Rehearsal? Oktoberfest days away…

If the chill in the air weren’t enough to convince you that summer is well into its departure in Munich, sights like the one above should be enough to convince you. Yesterday as I passed through the English garden on my bike, I had to stop and grab a photo of this…”float” (what to call it?), essentially a wagon piled high with beer barrels drawn by horses and accompanied by men in “tracht” – German traditional clothing…in this case of course the Bavarian costume. And when you walk around anywhere, you see plenty of women dressed up for the Oktoberfest that will begin in just a week or two. (Yes, in case you didn’t know, Oktoberfest actually mostly takes place in the month of September. )

And I keep cooking Mexican food…a great pairing for sunny days (when we have them), and cool air. Last night a bunch of friends came over to eat chicken tacos and apple cake and I thought I would try a salsa recipe I’ve eaten in a favorite mexican restaurant here. It’s made with pumpkin seeds, of all things. You toast them in a pan for a few minutes until they get aromatic, and then throw them in a blender with the rest of the ingredients.

I used the recipe from here as a starter. But I found once I got everything into the bender, I had to make some adjustments.

Pumpkin seed salsa ingredients

Pumpkin seed salsa ingredients

MAKES ABOUT 1 ½ CUPS

INGREDIENTS (including my adjustments)

1 ¼ cups raw, unhulled pumpkin seeds
2 plum tomatoes, cored
1 habanero chile, stemmed (I used a serrano not habanero)
3 tbsp. finely chopped cilantro
3 tbsp. finely chopped chives
1/2 a small onion – I used a red one
Kosher salt, to taste
Olive oil: enough to loosen the paste in the blender (perhaps about 1/4 cup?)

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Heat an 8″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add pumpkin seeds, and cook, swirling pan often, until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor, and process until smooth, about 45 seconds; set aside.

2. Return skillet to heat and add tomatoes and chile; cook, turning as needed, until charred all over, about 5 minutes for the chile, 7 minutes for the tomatoes. Transfer to food processor with pumpkin seeds along with cilantro, chives, onion, and salt, and pulse until smooth. Add olive oil if necessary to loosen the salsa a bit. Transfer to a bowl, and serve at room temperature.

It’s quite good when served warm and fresh. Very rich stuff – you won’t need much. Pairs really really well with a tomato salsa and a bowl of guacamole. This is not a photo of mine – but one from the original recipe. But it comes out looking like this, Keep covered if you don’t serve it immediately – if left exposed it will darken.

Pumpkin seed salsa - serve with chips

Pumpkin seed salsa – serve with chips

Enjoy!

And of course, “Shana Tova!” (Happy New Year) to those of you who celebrate Rosh Ha’Shanah. I’ll eat a piece of leftover apple cake today to stick with tradition – at least a bit.

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Cooking at home

 

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