December 27, 2014

Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped potatoes are one of my favourite holiday side-dishes. They're quite cooperative - you can generally cook them at whatever temperature you are already using for your ham or turkey or other festive fare (simply adjust the time), and require little minding once they go into the oven. Classic, simple, and satisfying.

These are the antithesis of fast food - a slow-baking, satisfying dish that yields the unexpected dividend of being a terrific breakfast dish the next day - topped with a sunny-side or poached egg, or diced and turned into Spanish tortilla (in which case, add more garlic).

Made with milk rather than cream (but no less creamy), and with a nice sprinkle of cheese at the end, these are richer tasting than they really are. If you're having a large holiday feast with many dishes, you can easily get six servings out of this, and if you're having a pared-down holiday dinner, it serves four generously.

Scalloped Potatoes

The way my mother used to make them

Makes a 9x9 inch baking dish
Serves 4 - 6

1 kilogram half-waxy potatoes (such as Yukon Gold)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (approximately)
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup coarsely grated parmesan cheese
Kosher or coarse sea salt

Prepare your 9x9 baking dish by lightly buttering or oiling it. Preheat your oven to 350-375 F if you don't have anything else already requiring a specific temperature.

Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly, but not quite paper thin (I disagree with the venerable Martha Stewart on that one). Peel and dice the onion. Place 1 tablespoon of flour in a very fine sieve and have it within easy reach.

Place a layer of potatoes in the baking dish, slightly overlapping the edges like fish scales. Sprinkle sparingly with salt, add about a third of the onions, and use the sieve to dust a small amount of the flour evenly over the entire dish. Repeat until you have run out of potatoes (no need to flour the final, top of the potatoes, though a further pinch of salt there is fine). You shouldn't need more flour for the layering stage than the initial tablespoon - go easy, to prevent the dish from becoming gluey.

Shake together the milk and the other tablespoon of flour, and pour it gently over the potatoes, making sure the whole top layer of potatoes gets wet with the milk. The milk should only come up about half way through the stack of potatoes - they should not be swimming in milk!

Cover the baking dish with foil, and place in the oven (I like to put a drip tray under it, in case the milk boils over) to bake for 45 minutes to one hour (test with a knife - it should slide easily through the potatoes with no resistance). If, due to the varied times and temperatures of your other dishes, your potatoes are done earlier than you need, simply remove them from the oven and hold them aside (still covered with foil) until about 15 minutes before you want to serve them (perfect resting time for a roast chicken, or duck, for example), before going on to the next step.

Remove the foil, and sprinkle evenly with the cheese. Sprinkle a delicate, tiny amount of nutmeg over the whole dish, and return, uncovered, to the oven to cook for another 15 minutes or until the top is lightly golden on the edges (or more deeply browned, if that's your preference).

Use a flipper-type spatula to loosen the edges, cut into portions, and serve.

December 21, 2014

Kartoffel Eintopf: German Potato Stew

Potatoes play a fairly important role in German cuisine. Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter, there's a potato dish (or several to choose from) for every season, every occasion. At the very least, the humble "Salzkartoffeln" (often manifested as a simple, peeled, boiled potato) is an all-purpose and upstanding accompaniment in a land that has not fallen prey to the fear of carbohydrates.

Potato soup and potato stew are stalwarts of the restaurant menus around the Rhine, especially in Fall and Winter. They come together quickly, don't take a laundry list of ingredients (and can often be made entirely with items already in the German pantry), and are satisfying for lunch or dinner, or as a first course.

There are a ton of recipes out there, and a zillion (roughly) variations. With or without meat, and with or without dairy are the biggest party lines to be drawn, and quite frankly, I see merits to all of these. Here is my recipe for Kartoffel Eintopf (with ham, without dairy) which can be on the table in less than 30 minutes any day of the week.

Kartoffel Eintopf

Serves 2 - 4

3 large potatoes (Yukon Gold or similar)
3 large carrots
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 bay leaves
75 grams ham
2 cups vegetable broth or stock
celery salt to taste
white pepper to taste
pinch marjoram or thyme
1 tablespoon flour
water as needed

1 stalk of celery or 1/4 celeriac
1 leek
(technically, the ham is also optional)

Coarsely dice the potatoes, carrot and onion. Finely dice the garlic, celery or celeriac and leek (if using), and ham.

In a moderately large soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, garlic, and bay leaves, and saute until the onions start to turn translucent. Add the ham, celery salt, white pepper, and marjoram, and stir through. Add the potatoes and carrots and stir about until everything is lightly coated with the oil. Add the vegetable broth, and if necessary, enough water to 3/4 cover the vegetables. Bring up to a simmer.

Make a slurry of cold water and the flour (I shake mine together in a plastic lidded container until smooth), and add to the soup. Bring up to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and let cook for about 20 minutes. Remove lid, and if necessary, continue to cook until the liquid thickens into a light gravy.

If you are using ham and vegetable broth, you probably will not need much more if anything in the way of salt, but do taste and add a little if necessary. Serve with a hearty, crusty bread, and maybe a nice salad.

December 14, 2014

Christmas Treats: Kalte Schnauze

This is one of the most beloved of all the Christmas baking of my childhood. I love the shortbread, mincemeat tarts, my sister's candy cane cookies and other classics, absolutely, but this was always the most hotly anticipated item - partially because of the chocolatey richness, and partially because my mother always made it at least three weeks before Christmas, and insisted that it took three weeks to "cure". In reality, she was merely spacing out the Christmas baking, but wanted us to leave it alone until the middle of the holiday season.

Kalte Schnauze means "cold nose" in German. By the time we got our Canadian hands on it, it was spelled "Kalter Schnautze" and I'm really not sure how it came into our holiday tradition, or who gave us the recipe. It is written out in pencil on a slip of paper that was in my mother's recipe box. It might have been our Dutch neighbour, or possibly some of the Mennonite relatives, but I do not recall; I only remember that it bumped Nanaimo Bars from the number one place in our chocolatey hearts. When I arrived in Germany, I found that it has a whole host of other names, too - Kalter Hund (Cold Dog) for example, Kellerkuchen (Cellar Cake) - presumably because you store it in a cool place - and Kekskuchen (Cookie Cake), for obvious reasons. There are versions ranging all over northern Europe, and parts of the United Kingdom, as well.

I've encountered some debate online as to the inclusion of, variously, eggs, rum, and coffee. My version has all three, and as it is a long standing family favourite, that's quite good enough for me.

One final note: the use of coconut fat is original to this recipe, and not some flavour-of-the-moment substitution. It's essential to the creamy and melting texture of the finished dessert.

Kalte Schnauze

Makes an 11x7 baking dish

225 grams solid coconut fat
2 cups powdered sugar/confectioner's sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
2 eggs
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon rum
2 tablespoons very hot water
1 package of thin "German Social Tea" style biscuits (or Butter Kekse)

Line the baking dish with waxed paper (ensure it comes up over the sides, to make removal possible later). You can also use plastic wrap - this doesn't actually go in the oven at any point.

Pour the hot water over the vanilla extract and the rum, and let stand.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, coffee, with an electric mixer until thoroughly combined. Add the warm rum/vanilla mixture and mix again.

Melt the coconut fat over low heat. Add a quarter of the melted coconut fat to the chocolate mixture, stirring/mixing well to combine, and repeat until all of the coconut fat is smoothly integrated.

Place the bowl with the chocolate mixture over a pan of hot water, so it does not set up too fast while you are working.

Pour/scoop enough chocolate mixture into the prepared pan to just cover the bottom. Take your tea biscuits, and lay them in a single layer over the chocolate, leaving a small space between each biscuit. Top with a layer of chocolate mixture, and repeat. You should have a minimum of three layers of biscuits, as shown here, ending with chocolate on top. I used large, square biscuits for this one, but I remember using smaller, rectangular ones as a kid. The advantage of the smaller ones is that you can alternate direction of the biscuits, which results in small, creamy, bonus deposits of chocolate in the finished squares. If your biscuits do not fit nicely into your baking dish, break or cut them into smaller pieces to get full coverage. You will never be able to tell, once it's done, or if the biscuits didn't break cleanly.

The amount of biscuits you need is going to depend on the size of your pan and the size of the biscuits themselves. I've never needed more than one package of any size (and often much less than a whole package), but if you're nervous, get two.

Allow to cool completely, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand someplace cool (do not refrigerate) for a couple of days before you dig in. The biscuits, so crisp when you lay them into the chocolate, soften and become quite easily sliceable after a day or two of rest in their chocolate bed.

These are very rich, so cut them small and treat them like truffles. I note that if you cut them all into squares at once, the biscuit edges will start to dry out, which you can see here. It is better to leave them in a solid piece, cutting off only the number of squares you wish to serve at any given time.

December 07, 2014

Arroz con Pollo, Chorizo, y Choclo: Rice with Chicken, Chorizo, and Corn

Rice-based skillet dinners (or other one-pot meals) are very rewarding to make and to eat. I grew up on my mother's iteration of chicken and rice, but as an adult, I've discovered the joy of so many different versions from all over the world. Takikomi Gohan in the Japanese style, for example, Chinese Chicken Fried Rice, Caribbean Chicken & Rice, Italian Chicken Risotto, Russian Chicken Plov, and of course, the many, many versions of Arroz con Pollo - Chicken and Rice to our Spanish speaking friends.

My version plays up the Spanish and Latin American flavours, with saffron and chorizo that you might find in Europe, and the corn that you might find in a Peruvian variation. The method is rather like an oven-finished paella (in the Mark Bittman style); a quick weeknight meal that you can put in the table without a lot of fuss.

I have used fresh corn, cut off the cob, but you could as easily use frozen kernels.

Arroz con Pollo, Chorizo, y Choclo

Serves 4

1 3/4 cups short grain rice, such as Bomba
400 grams boneless chicken, chopped
1 - 2 cups sliced cured chorizo
3 1/2 cups water or chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 fresh corn cob worth of corn kernels (approximately 1 1/4 cups)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pinch saffron, brewed
2 teaspoon paprika
splash of dry sherry

Preheat your oven to 400 F., with the rack in the middle or lower-middle slot.

To brew your saffron, grind it with the back of a spoon in a small dish, and add a tablespoon or so of near-boiling water. Let stand for about 10 minutes while you prep the rest of the ingredients

In a 30-centimetre skillet, heat the sliced chorizo in the olive oil, and quickly sauté the chicken pieces until lightly golden on the outside, but not cooked through. Add the diced onion and sliced garlic, and stir through. When the onions have turned translucent, add the paprika and the brewed saffron, and keep stirring through. Add the tomato paste, and a splash of sherry, and stir again.

Add the rice, and stir it through until every grain of rice is coated in the rich, golden colour. Add the corn, and stir through until evenly distributed. Add the water or broth (or stock), and stir through once more. Bring the liquid just to a light boil.

Carefully move the (very full!) pan to the oven, and bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Check to see if it needs a bit more liquid, and add up to a quarter cup if it does. Turn the heat off, and continue to cook with carryover heat for another 10 minutes. Test a few rice grains to make sure they are done. Scoop into shallow bowls, and serve with crusty bread and a salad on the side.

You can garnish with freshly chopped parsley if you like, or a pinch of pimentón - Spanish smoked paprika.

There are so very many more chicken and rice recipes out there to try, from the simple to the far more complex! Biryani, Jollof Rice, Oyakodon, Clay-pot Chicken Rice, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Zereshk many wonderful dishes yet to come.

November 22, 2014

Lentil, Mushroom, & Walnut Shepherd's Pie

One of the first German recipes that I made once I moved to Germany was Linseneintopf, a thick and hearty lentil stew, often served with sliced or whole sausages as one of the components. We were really taken with the original dish, but it has been nagging at me for some time that it would make a wonderful vegetarian (or vegan) main course as well.

Just for the sake of variety, I made this one into a Shepherd's Pie rather than making the potatoes simply part of the stew, but you could do it either way. This is the sort of hearty, vegetarian dish that shows it European heritage in its flavours, and is intensely satisfying to eat.

As this is a compound dish that is baked in the oven, I suspect German cooks would classify this as an Auflauf (casserole), rather than an Eintopf (one-pot stew).

Lentil, Mushroom, & Walnut Shepherd's Pie

Serves 4 (generously)

250 grams dry brown lentils
400 grams fresh mushrooms
1 cup toasted walnut pieces
1 medium onion, diced finely
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, diced finely
3/4 cup celery, diced finely
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 bay leaves
pinch of marjoram
4 cups vegetable broth or water
pinch kosher salt
Black pepper

4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled
1/4 cup milk or non-dairy "milk"
1 tablespoon butter or mild-flavoured oil

To toast the walnuts pieces, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes, or until fragrant. If the skins are too bitter, you can rub the warm walnut pieces with a towel, which will remove much of the skin. You can also toast walnuts on the stovetop in a dry skillet, but you need to watch them very carefully, and stir frequently, or they will burn. If you have walnut halves, chop them roughly.

Wipe the mushrooms clean, remove any gnarly bits or tough stems, and coarsely chop. I used a mixture of chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms, because my farmers market is awesome, but you can use any fresh mushrooms you like -- to be honest, really fancy mushrooms may get a bit overwhelmed by the robust flavour of this dish.

Wash and pick over the lentils. In a dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, celery and carrot briefly. When onion turns translucent, add the garlic, bay leaves, marjoram (you can substitute oregano if need be) and pinch of salt. If you are using water instead of broth, increase the salt to a half teaspoon.

Add the chopped mushrooms, and stir through. When the mushrooms start to give off a little liquid, add the walnuts, and stir through again.

Add the (washed, drained) lentils, the broth (or water), and bring to a low simmer. Cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes, or until nicely thickened. Taste, adjust for salt, and if necessary, add a small pinch of sugar to balance the flavours. If it tastes a little flat (for example, if your lentils were a bit old, this can happen) you may wish to add a teaspoon of red wine vinegar, to brighten it up and provide a little acidity. Finish with with freshly ground black pepper.

While the lentils simmer, make your mashed potatoes. Boil or steam your potatoes until tender, and drain. Keep the potatoes in the same, hot pan, and break them up with a spoon (or the edge of your masher) so that excess moisture can evaporate. That's advice from Julia Child, folks, and ever since I adopted it, my mashed potatoes have had a more awesome texture. Add the butter (or oil) and milk (or "milk") and mash until smooth.

Dollop the mashed potatoes carefully over the lentil stew, and smooth the top down (or crenellate it with a fork, whatever you like). Brush the top with a little extra butter or oil if you like it to be a bit crusty on top. You could also sprinkle it with a bit of paprika. Bake the stew at 350 F for about 20 minutes, or until the top is golden and inviting. Use a large serving spoon to dish into serving bowls or plates.

Leftovers heat up fairly well in the microwave, or in an oven-proof dish in a regular oven.

November 15, 2014

Grilled Cheddar & Mango Chutney Sandwich

It is my understanding that every food blogger must at some point commit a post to a cheese sandwich. This is one of my favourites.

Okay, okay, it's not really grilled, it's panfried in a skillet. We called these "toasted cheese sandwiches" when I was a kid. You could absolutely grill it, though.

In my mind, I invented this recipe, a natural outgrowth of my favourite childhood cheddar-and-pickle relish (non-grilled) sandwiches, but honestly I was not at all surprised to discover that plenty of other people had already invented it. It's a winning combination and, if not original, utterly delicious and well deserving of widespread enjoyment.

You make it exactly as you think you do:

Grilled Cheddar & Mango Chutney Sandwich

2 slices sandwich-type bread
Sufficient aged cheddar cheese to cover at least one of the bread slices
Sufficient mango chutney (I prefer the spicy version) to cover (thinly) one of the bread slices

You may wish to finely chop any extra-large pieces of mango in your chutney, for ease of eating.

Assemble the sandwich exactly how you'd expect by spreading one of the slices of bread with chutney, covering the chutney with cheese, covering the cheese with the other slice of bread. Butter the outside slices of bread, and fry the sandwich over medium-high heat until golden, then (carefully) flip and repeat.

Serve with soup. Again from my childhood, a Simple Tomato Soup (recipe in the comments below) is a clear winner. But might I also suggest a Mulligatawny, or Brown Lentil & Tomato Soup?

November 06, 2014

Züricher Geschnetzeltes (Zürich-style Meat Strips in Mushroom Cream Sauce)

Geschnetzeltes is a wonderfully complicated word to say, especially if you're trying to say it with a Swiss-German accent ("Züri-Gschnätzlets") for the first time. Essentially, it means thinly sliced meat, and would probably be classed as a "stir fry" cut in North America. Supermarkets carry them both seasoned (for Gyros or Kebab) or unseasoned. The unseasoned ones are likely destined to become Züricher (aka "Zürcher" or "Züri") Geschnetzeltes. But what you really need to know about this dish is that it's delicious, and pretty easy to make.

The most traditional Swiss version uses veal, but Germany seems to more often use pork, so that's what I'm making here. I've seen chicken and turkey versions, too, but in these parts, unless the meat is otherwise specified, there's a pretty good chance it'll be pork.

Züricher Geschnetzeltes are usually served with Rösti (in Switzerland) or Spätzle (Germany), but can also be served with potatoes, noodles, or rice. You can see from the photo that we went with Rötkohl as a vegetable side dish.

Züricher Geschnetzeltes

Serves 4
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 30 minutes

500 grams Geschnetzeltes (your choice of meat, thinly sliced)
1-2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 small onion, finely chopped
200 grams fresh mushrooms, chopped
1/2 tablespoon paprika (sweet)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup white wine (dry)
2/3 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
Kosher salt
Lemon Zest (fresh - about half a lemon's worth)
Parsley, freshly chopped for garnish (optional)

Toss the meat strips in the flour with a good pinch of salt, and shake off (discard) any excess flour. Finely dice or mince the onion. Slice the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. Quickly sear the meat strips over high heat, stirring or turning as needed to brown both sides, but not cooking all the way through. Remove the meat to a plate.

Add the other tablespoon oil to the emptied skillet, and add the minced onion and the mushrooms. Fry until golden, and then add the paprika. Stir through, and then add the white wine and let it boil until almost dry. Pour in the cream. Lower the heat and simmer until the sauce is creamy. Combine the cornstarch and cold water and stir until smooth. Add to the sauce and stir through until the sauce is thickened slightly.

Return the meat and its juices to the skillet and cook for two or three minutes until heated through and tender. Taste the sauce, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Grate fresh lemon zest over the pan, reserving a little to top each plated serving. Garnish with parsley if you wish.

Serve over rösti, spätzle, rice, boiled potatoes, or wide egg noodles.

October 31, 2014

Cornmeal Dumplings

Chili and cornbread is a really classic combination. Cornbread, of course, can take many different shapes and forms, not to mention bonus flavours and the eternal debate between sweet/not-sweet that rages through the Americas. My favourite, growing up, was Southern Spoon Bread, a cornbread leavened with beaten egg whites into a lusciously light accompaniment to almost any meal. But I like all kinds of breads made from corn.

Stew Dumplings are the fastest form of bread that I know. They're quicker to whip up than cornbread, biscuits, or scones. The dough requires no resting period like tortillas or arepas, and because they cook on the stovetop, right on top of whatever savoury concoction you're already simmering, they take very little time to cook. No oven pre-heating, no extra pan(s) to grease. I like Stew Dumplings for beef or chicken stew, but chili feels like it needs a little extra something. So, after looking at my cornbread recipe, I decided to simply swap out some of the all-purpose flour with yellow cornmeal in my classic Stew Dumplings recipe. It worked wonderfully, and the next time I do this I may also add some chile flakes, to make them prettier.

While I used these on top of a simple ground beef and bean chili, I think you could also use them on a chicken stew with great success, especially a green chile chicken stew.

Cornmeal Dumplings

Makes 8 dumplings
(serves 4)
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 20 minutes

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal (not superfine)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch chile flakes (optional)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons chicken fat or canola oil
1/2 cup 1% milk

In a medium mixing bowl, use a fork to stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Add the chicken fat (or canola oil), and stir it through – it will give the flour a lumpy appearance, which is fine – keep stirring until the lumps are very small. Add the chile flakes, if using, and stir through.

Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture, and pour the milk in all at once. Stir (with a fork) very rapidly and thoroughly, until all of the dry flour is brought into a stiff, sticky, batter. Use a tablespoon to drop eight (8) dollops of batter evenly over the surface of a bubbling, hot stew. Make sure there is sufficient liquid in the stew – the dumplings should just have their “feet” wet, but mostly be sitting on top of solid lumps. If there is too much liquid, the dumplings will sink a bit. They'll still taste good, but will expand downward instead of upward, and be a bit denser and wetter.

Cover the pot tightly, set the burner temperature to low (so the chilli doesn’t burn) and let the dumplings cook for 15 minutes – no peeking! Do not lift the lid until the dumplings are cooked, or they will become dense and soggy. Serve two dumplings per person.

If you're one of those really organized pantry people, you might want to jar-or-bag up premixed dry ingredients, since you only then need to add a dollop of fat and the milk (you could also use milk powder in a mix, for truly hardcore, and just add water and oil).

For classic Stew Dumplings, replace the cornmeal with more all-purpose flour, and add 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley.

October 22, 2014

Breakfast at Home: Rösti (Swiss and German Hashbrowns)

Rösti are essentially a Swiss version of hashbrowns, specific to the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and differentiated geographically by an imaginary border called the Röstigraben ("rösti ditch") from its French-speaking and Italian-speaking neighbours.

Rheinisch Germany seems to enjoy rösti most often at lunchtime. These are often called Tellerrösti ("plate rösti") and are almost the size of the plate that they arrive on. To make it a complete meal, the rösti usually has various toppings: ham, mushrooms, and/or cheese are popular choices. Where cheese is added, they're usually popped under the broiler for a few minutes to melt it into bubbly goodness.

If rösti seem a bit similar to latkes or other potato pancakes (especially the smaller ones, or ones that are made with a ragged edge), indeed they are. However, there are some telling differences. The primary discrepancy is that latkes normally call for egg, and often flour as a binder, making it more of a fritter, whereas rösti rely solely on the starch in the potato to hold them together. Here in Germany there is something of an analogue for that, too, which is the deep-fried Reibekuchen (also called Kartoffelpuffer). These potato and onion fritters served with smooth applesauce or ketchup, are popular local festival fare. Not quite a latke, not quite a pakora.

There appears to be much disagreement about the perfect rösti recipe: what kind of potato to use, floury or starchy? Start with raw, par-boiled, or fully cooked potatoes? Should you add onion? Can you add tiny cubes of ham? Do you fry it it butter or oil or pork fat or duck fat? Should you leave the edges natural (ie: ragged) or should you pat them into place, or use a swirling motion with the pan to round the edges out naturally? Pan fry, or shallow fry?

The good news is that the lack of a definitive recipe means that you can lean toward your own preferences, without feeling like you're doing it wrong. And if anyone tells you otherwise, they can make their own rösti.

That being said, I like to use cold, fully cooked potatoes for my rösti, for three reasons: 1) I don't have to squeeze liquid out of the raw potato shreds; 2) the potato shreds are easier to compress into a cohesive mass; and 3) the cooking time is shorter. I just make sure to boil a few extra potatoes the night before.


Makes 1 (6-inch rösti)
Total Prep & Cooking time: 15 minutes

1 medium* potato, such as Yukon Gold, cooked and cooled completely (overnight in the fridge is great)
large pinch kosher salt
1 - 2 tablespoons grated onion (optional)
1/2 - 1 tablespoon butter (duck fat is also nice, if you have it)

The potato can have the peel on or off, it's entirely up to you.

In an 8" skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, dry your potato well with paper towel, and grate it on a medium-large-holed grater onto a cutting board. If you are adding onions, grate them separately.

When the butter is hot, add the potato strands all at once into the pan, and spread them about loosely and evenly. Sprinkle with salt, and add any onions (you can also use finely sliced green onion here).

Using a spatula, pat the potato mass into a nice, rounded shape, pressing down from time to time to ensure good contact with the bottom. Do not "stir" the potatoes. You want the ones touching the bottom of the pan to crisp up and get beautifully golden, and that takes a little time. If you have a lot of potato, it will be a thicker cake, and may take a little longer.

Continue to press the potato cake from time to time, both around the edges and across the top, to compact the potatoes into a cohesive cake. Use firm, but gentle pressure - you don't want to mash the potato strands, but you do want them to hold together. Check the temperature and make sure that the potatoes are sizzling, but not burning. Reduce the heat, if necessary.

When the bottom has developed a golden brown and delicious crust (this takes about 5 to 7 minutes, I find), you are ready to flip it over. Use the widest turning spatula that you have and move fast, if you're confident. If you're not confident, or if despite your best efforts, the potato isn't holding together as nicely as you would like, slide the rösti out of the skillet onto a plate. Cover the rösti with an inverted plate, and flip it over so the crisp bottom side is now on top. Slide the rösti back into the skillet with the crisp side up, and continue to cook for about another five minutes. The thicker the rösti, the longer it takes to cook through, especially if you're adding raw ingredients into the mix.

Slide the rösti onto your plate and you're ready to go - add a layer of ham and cheese and give it a quick broil, or top it with poached eggs and hollandaise for a fantastic breakfast.

You can make your rösti quite large, with multiple potatoes, in which case the inverted-plate method of flipping it over is pretty much essential. The finished rösti can then be sliced into wedges or quarters, as you like. For a thick rösti, you might consider finishing it in the oven, especially if you have eggs to poach or hollandaise to stir.

I realize that none of the above tells you how to pronounce "rösti", and the pronunciation itself is somewhat regional. The tricky bits are the ö which is pronounced somewhere between the "o" in 'dog' and the "oo" in 'good'. The s is pronounced "sh". So... rushti is not that far off, while still not being all that close. I'm sorry.

*How big is a "medium" potato? I use one about the size of my fist, but your mileage (and your fist) may vary. That's about 200 grams raw weight.

October 15, 2014

Roasted Vegetable Salad with Yoghurt & Lime Dressing

Composed salads like this one are dead easy to figure out without a recipe, so consider the ingredients I've chosen as a mere guideline for your own favourite roasted vegetables and flavours. I like to season one or two of the roasted vegetables each a little differently, to add depth and warmth to the flavours. As a bonus, if you make a big batch they make a wonderful side dish for dinner the night before, which means you get to be virtuous by using up leftovers to make this tasty salad.

I've chosen cheese, nuts, and (optional) egg to boost the protein and give staying power to this salad, but you could definitely omit the egg, sub out the cheese, and go vegan with chickpeas, or maybe marinated tofu. The egg in the ingredient list is purely optional and is not shown here, but was included in the version of this salad that my husband took to work. He also topped everything with a squirt of Sriracha sauce, so there you go.

Beyond the selection of vegetables and accompaniments, the dressing is what brings this sort of salad together. In Germany, yoghurt-based dressings are very popular, so I've been experimenting with them more than usual. This one is Yoghurt & Lime dressing, and we liked it so much that it's sure to appear again very soon. For vegans, I'd switch the dressing for something sesame or tahini based.

Always In The Kitchen Roasted Vegetable Salad

Romaine Lettuce, raw, coarsely chopped

Vegetable Rows:
Purple Cabbage (raw, thinly sliced)
Roasted Butternut Squash (seasoned with cayenne)
Roasted cauliflower (seasoned with cumin or curry powder)
Roasted Beets, diced

Walnut halves, toasted
hard boiled egg, sliced (optional, not shown)

To roast the squash and cauliflower, I cut them into bite-sized pieces, toss with a mixture of a little water, a little olive oil, some kosher salt, and the seasoning of choice. Toss thoroughly, then tip out into a roasting pan in a single layer (include a tablespoon or two of the oil/water liquid), and roasted at about 425 F for 20 to 30 minutes, as needed. I prefer not to mix the vegetables before roasting, but your mileage may vary. For the beets, I top-and-tail them, quarter them, and wrap them, skins on, in a package made of aluminum foil with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil. I roast them for about an hour, or until easily pierced with a fork. Remove them from the foil (carefully! That steam is hot!) and the skins should rub right off with a paper towel (or clean j-cloth). Then simply dice them to the size you want. You can also use Orange Flower Glazed Beets instead, if you're lucky enough to have some leftover.

Yoghurt & Lime Dressing

Makes 3 servings

150 grams plain yoghurt
1 large clove garlic, pressed/minced
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
zest of one lime

Combine in a small bowl and beat with a fork until well integrated. Taste, and adjust for salt and garlic, as desired.

Place the lettuce in a bowl, and arrange the roasted vegetables, raw cabbage, and whichever accompaniments you choose in rows over the lettuce. Drizzle generously with dressing. Eat as is, or toss first, if you want the dressing more evenly distributed.

Add a drizzle of Sriracha, if that sounds good to you.

October 01, 2014

Cheese Scones

Breads are very satisfying things to make, whether slow-rising yeasted types, batter-style quick breads, or the near instant gratification of the biscuit/scone family. They're a great base for (or addition to) breakfast, the savoury ones pair wonderfully with soups or stews, and any of them can be made into a sandwich or snack with little to no effort. They are infinitely customizable in either sweet or savoury directions.

Coffee shops throughout North America all seem to offer at least one variety, but unless you luck into a place that makes its own (or it happens to be delivery day) you're likely to get something that tastes more of dry flour than whatever the signature ingredient is.

These are tender and not at all dry, and even hold up pretty well at room temperature for a few days, if you can hold out that long.

If you think they look suspiciously like my biscuits - you'd be right. The biggest change is substituting some of the milk for a beaten egg, which is also used to glaze the finished scone. The principals and the principles are otherwise pretty much the same.

Cheese Scones

Makes 8 large, or 16 small

2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 large egg, beaten
about 1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 - 2 cups grated tasty cheese (I used sharp cheddar and gouda)

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the grated cheese, or any other additional flavourings (for example, a pinch of cayenne might be nice) at this time. Using a pastry-blender or a fork, or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly and the little lumps of butter are about corn-kernel sized or smaller. 

In a small bowl, beat the egg. Reserving 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg in the bowl to use as a glaze later, pour the rest into a liquid-measuring cup. Add just enough milk until you reach the 2/3 cup marker.

Create a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour the milk/egg in all at once.  Hold the bowl steady and, using a fork, stir rapidly but briefly until the dough comes together in a ragged mass.  Quickly dump it out onto a clean counter, and knead very lightly and briefly until the flour is incorporated.  You may need to add a little extra flour, but probably not.  Go cautiously —— too much flour makes the dough tough. It's okay if they're a little sticky. Use a bench knife or dough scraper to lift the dough off the counter as needed.

Pat out the dough into a thick square, and slice into four squares. Cut each of the squares in half diagonally for large scones, and for small scones cut each of the large scones in half again. Try to make sure that your cuts are up and down through the dough —— don't drag the knife sideways out of the dough, or it interferes with them rising later. You can use shaped cutters, of course, if it's important for them to be uniform.

Place the scones on a lightly greased (or silpat) baking sheet, ideally far enough apart that they won't become fused together as they rise. Use a pastry brush to brush the top of each piece with the reserved beaten egg. Be sure to only brush along the tops and not spill down the sides, because that will actually inhibit the scones from rising properly as they bake.

Bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until they have gotten tall and golden.

September 14, 2014

Rotkohl, or German Red Cabbage

Germans have three names for one vegetable: Rotkraut, Blaukraut, and Rotkohl all mean red cabbage, and just to make matters even more confusing, all also mean the prepared dish of finely sliced red cabbage, simmered in a tangy vinegar-enhanced sauce. Around our little section of the Rhine, the term is almost always Rotkohl to mean the simmered side-dish.

Cabbage is very popular in Germany. Here it is fermented into sauerkraut, marinated in salads, and simmered into rotkohl as one of the most ubiquitous side dish of autumnal and winter menus. The portions are also enormous, which makes sure you get your daily dose of fibre. It is commonly served alongside Sauerbraten (pot roast), Spießbraten (roast pork), Rouladen (beef wrapped around pickles), roast goose (especially at Christmas time), or roast duck. In fact, it may be the go-to side dish for anything with the word "roast" (or equivalent) in the title.

I've published a recipe for red cabbage with apples before, a leaner, lighter version that is juicy, but doesn't exactly have the kind of gravy that you get here in Germany. You may remember seeing it show up next to leg of rabbit on my Hasenpfeffer post, or alongside Danish-ish meatballs.

There are a lot of variations - some with a combination of red wine and vegetable stock, some with water, some with duck or pork stock, and varying amounts of fat from the lean to the spectacularly rich. Some versions have tiny pork cubes in them, which seems like overkill but in Germany, any addition of pork is considered "just enough". This version is fairly close to the ones available in restaurants here, although the gravy is often thickened even further using flour* instead of cornstarch. It makes a big batch, but it also freezes very well.

Klassischer Rotkohl (Classic Red Cabbage)

Serves 4-6

750 grams fresh red cabbage
2 medium onions
2 tablespoons butter (or lard, or duck fat, or oil)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
dash of white pepper
3 tablespoons red currant jelly
2 bay leaves
3 juniper berries
3 clove buds
500 ml vegetable stock
1 large cooking apple (eg. Boskop)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Clean the cabbage, removing the stalk and tough outer leaves. Cut the cabbage into quarters and slice each quarter into fine strips. Peel the onions and finely dice.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter, sauté onions until translucent, add the cabbage and sauté 5 minutes more. Season with salt, pepper and red currant jelly, and stir through.

Add the Juniper berries, bay leaves and vegetable stock, and continue to cook on medium-low heat (covered), for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, peel, core and dice the apple. Add the apple to the pan and cook for a further 20 minutes.

Combine the red wine vinegar with the cornstarch, stirring until smooth, and then stir it into the cabbage mixture and bring to a boil. Once thickened, stir in the other tablespoon of butter. Taste and adjust as needed for salt, pepper, and vinegar, and serve.

*If you decide to thicken with flour instead, you will want to add it with the vegetable stock, to allow the flour sufficient time to cook out its raw taste. Simply combine two tablespoons of flour with enough of the (cold or room temperature) vegetable stock before adding it to the dish. In this case, add the red wine vinegar on its own, at the end.

September 07, 2014

Gâteau de Crêpes

Looking for something interesting to do with a batch of crêpes? This is a Gâteau de Crêpes, aka Crêpe Cake or Crêpe Stack. It can be savoury, like this ones (full of mushrooms, herbs, and mascarpone), or they can be sweet (for example, alternately layered with dark chocolate and sour cherry jam). The possibilities are almost endless.

Since I was making only two servings (albeit very filling servings), I used a total of six crêpes, but in order to get a tall and pretty tower of a gâteau, I cut them in half and made a half-moon shaped stack.

For a filling, I chose duxelles (basically, finely chopped mushrooms, onion, garlic, butter, and brandy that have been sautéed together into an almost paste consistency), and a cheese mixture of mascarpone, crushed garlic, fresh parsley, basil, and sage, a good pinch of salt and a tablespoon or two of butter, which functioned as a sort of delicious glue to keep any stray mushrooms from running amok. If I'd done a better job chopping my mushrooms, the glue factor would have been moot, but worth including from a flavour perspective in any event.

If you are making a round Gâteau de Crêpes, simply double the ingredients and leave your crêpes intact.

Gâteau de Crêpes

Serves 2

6 6-inch crêpes, each sliced in half

450 grams mixed mushrooms, finely minced
(I used half chanterelles, half cremini)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 medium onion, finely minced
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 tablespoons brandy
Kosher salt

If you have a food processor, use it to pulse the mushrooms until they are finely chopped. Otherwise, you'll need a knife and a bit more patience than I have. In a medium skillet over medium heat, sauté the onion, garlic, and mushrooms in the butter. Add a pinch of salt, and continue to sauté until the mushrooms start to stick. If you have any fresh thyme, you might want to add a pinch or two. Add the brandy, and stir through. Turn the heat to low and continue to cook and stir until the brandy has evaporated, and the mass becomes a purée.

Savoury Mascarpone
125 grams mascarpone
2 cloves garlic, crushed
large pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, basil, sage)

Mix everything together with a fork until thoroughly integrated.

If your crêpes are cold, warm them up. They won't be spending much time in the oven at the end, and you don't want them to start out chilly.

Lightly butter (or oil) a baking sheet (or pizza pan).

On each crêpe-half, spread a small amount of the mascarpone cream and a tablespoon or so of the duxelles. Be sure to spread the fillings all the way to the edges, to keep the stack from sagging at the sides. Place the first crêpe on the greased sheet, and then stack each "filled" crêpe-half on top of the previous one, until you run out of filling and crêpes. If you like, you can top the final crêpe with some grated parmesan, but it works just fine without, as well.

Place in a 400 F oven for about 10 minutes, or until the mascarpone is bubbling slightly and the top appears crisp at the edges.

Slice into two portions with a sharp chef's knife (a serrated knife would be more difficult to slice cleanly). Cut each slice again, to serve as an appetizer. Serve right away, or at room temperature. I served this one right away, with a chopped salad to follow.

Here it is once more, just before it went into the oven.

Flat side:

Round side:

August 28, 2014

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches with Chile-Basil Butter

These darling little sandwiches were inspired by Madhur Jaffrey's Indian-accented tea sandwiches, which call for chile-mint butter, and don't contain cucumber. I was tempted to add a hint of ground coriander and cumin to the butter mixture, just to elevate the sense of Indian flavours, and I might do that next time. Hers also had a touch of lemon juice in the butter mixture, which I might try as well, as I think the added brightness will work nicely.

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches with Chile-Basil Butter

Makes 8 Tea-sized Sandwiches

4 larges slices of thinly sliced soft white bakery bread
2-3 inches finely sliced cucumber
3 tablespoons soft butter
2 tablespoons minced basil
1 minced green chile
Kosher salt
Black pepper to taste

Mix the butter, basil, green chile, and a pinch of salt (along with any bonus seasonings you'd like to add) until thoroughly combined. Spread the butter mixture thickly on one side of each piece of bread.

On two of the slices of buttered bread, layer as many pieces of cucumber, overlapping, as you can fit onto the bread. Don't worry about peeling the cucumber (unless it has an inedible peel), the dark green adds a nice bit of contrast. Top the cucumber'd bread slices with the other buttered slices of bread, to make two large sandwiches.

Trim the crusts, using a very sharp knife and a single downward slicing motion for each side, to prevent the sandwiches from trying to fall apart. Slice each sandwich into quarters, in whichever way you see fit, or use a sandwich punch or cookie cutters if you want fancy shapes.

Serve right away, so that the bread doesn't have a chance to dry out. If necessary, cover tightly with plastic wrap until ready to serve.

August 10, 2014

International Bento (Mixed): Ham, Cheese, & Walnut Crêpes with Greek Salad

I've been making crêpes fairly often since we moved to Germany. They're a wonderful, multi-purpose flatbread that you can make in advance, even refrigerating for a few days (or freezing...separate each one with parchment, and bag them up) so that you can have them on hand for quick breakfast, lunch, snacks, hors d'oeuvres, dinner, or dessert. It's all about what you fill them with, and how many of them you want to eat at a time, that determines their role.

I have posted a recipe for Crêpes before, showcasing one of the wonderfully tender and silky French styles of crêpe. I still make those (they are especially good as dessert crêpes, with a sweet filling), but I also have another, slightly less eggy-and-rich go-to recipe for an everyday crêpe that can be used in exactly the same way.

These crêpes are the ones you want to use if you want the emphasis to be on the filling slightly more than the crêpe itself (don't worry, they're still delicious!), if you want a slightly lower fat/calorie version, or if you go to make crêpes and discover that you only have two eggs on hand. If you are planning breakfast crêpes with an egg filling, you probably want to use this recipe rather than the other.

The ratios are from Cook This Not That! but with better (I think) mixing directions.

You can easily halve the batch, or double it, as you see fit.

Everyday Crêpes

Makes 10-12 6-inch crêpes

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1-2 tablespoons melted butter

In a medium mixing bowl (or food processor, or blender), mix the flour and salt. Separately, combine the eggs, milk, and water, and beat well. Add the liquid mixture to the flour, and whisk (or process with a cutting blade) until smooth.

If you are mixing by hand and cannot get rid of a few lumps, simply pour the batter through a sieve, and push-through or discard any lumps left behind.

Stir in the melted butter, and then let the batter rest for about 15 minutes so that the flour fully hydrates. If you're planning to fill the crêpes right away, you might want to get your filling(s) ready while the batter rests. Otherwise, just pour yourself a glass of something pleasant - might I suggest wine? - to sip at during the cooking process.

To make a six-inch (15 cm) crêpe, I use an eight-inch (20 cm) non-stick skillet. The skillet is usually measured by the width of the top of the pan, but the base is usually somewhat smaller. The base of my skillet is just over 6 inches. You can use whatever size skillet you like, for whatever size crêpes you like, but I find this to be the best all-purpose crêpe size.

Just like in the previous recipe:

Heat the skillet over medium heat until a drop of water dances. Spritz with canola oil, or brush very lightly with mild oil of your choice. You only need to do this for the first crêpe, if you're using a non-stick pan.

Using a ladle or scoop that holds 3 tablespoons, measure your first crêpe's worth of batter. Lift the skillet off of the heat (I hold it in the air) and quickly pour the batter into the middle of the pan. Drop the ladle back into the batter-bowl and rapidly tilt the skillet in a circular motion, to spread the batter until it evenly covers the base of the pan. Return the pan to the burner, and allow the crepe to cook until lightly golden, and the edges release from the pan, about a minute or two.

Slide a silicone spatula under the crêpe (or grab the edge carefully with your fingers) and flip it over. Let it continue to cook for a minute, and then slide the crêpe onto your work surface for filling.

Repeat until all of the crêpe batter has been cooked. This does take a little bit of time, unless you've got multiple skillets going and are multi-tasking like a champ, which is (well, one reason) why I suggest having a beverage on hand to sip while you cook.

The crêpes in the bento above have a filling of Tilsit cheese (you could substitute Havarti), very thinly sliced ham, and chopped toasted walnuts. I find that it's important when considering crêpe fillings to ensure that there is something that will act as a sort of "glue" to keep the filling together while you're eating. A filling of only dry items, such as dice chicken, chopped almonds, and asparagus will simply fall apart into its discrete components once you cut into it. A small amount of cheese, or scrambled egg, or thick sauce (or paste) of any kind will help keep the filling together.

The other compartment of the bento above has a Greek-ish salad chopped cucumber, bell pepper, tomato, feta, radishes and an oregano lemon dressing, and the little dark item is a miniature Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chip muffin, as a tiny little dessert.

July 27, 2014

Caribbean Curried Chicken Skillet Dinner

It's been a while since I made a rice-based skillet dinner, so I thought it was time. You can easily adapt this recipe to use boneless chicken thighs, if you prefer, simply by shortening the cooking time and finishing the cooking solely on the stovetop. However, you won't get quite as pretty an effect, and of course, you won't get the crispy, delicious chicken skin.

Caribbean Curried Chicken Skillet Dinner

Serves 4

8 bone-in chicken pieces
1 tablespoon unbleached flour
2 — 3 tablespoons Jamaican-style curry powder*
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 cup parboiled rice
2/3 cup coconut milk
1 1/3 cups water
3 tablespoon shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted
2 large carrots, shredded
30 grams sultana or golden raisins
1/4 cup finely sliced green onions
1 — 2 Scotch Bonnet Chili peppers, minced

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Combine the flour, curry powder (and salt, if you are using an unsalted curry powder) in a shallow bowl, and toss the chicken pieces to lightly coat.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the peanut oil and add the chicken pieces, skin side down, working in batches if you need to. Sear the chicken until darkly golden brown on the skin side, about six to eight minutes, and then flip over to brown the other side, too (for about five minutes). Set the chicken aside on a clean plate.

While the chicken is browning, combine the coconut milk, water, and the remaining curry powder/flour mixture, whisking until smooth, and have it standing ready.

When all of the chicken is out of the pan, drain most of the fat (and any loose browned curry powder) leaving only a thin layer of oil in the pan. Add the shredded carrots, green onions, scotch bonnets, and raisins. Stir and fry for a minute or so, before adding the rice and toasted coconut. Stir around until the rice is thoroughly coated, scraping the bottom of the skillet with your spoon or spatula so that everything is evenly integrated.

Add the coconut milk mixture to the rice and stir well, to ensure that nothing is sticking to the bottom of your skillet.

Return the chicken to the pan, placing each piece skin-side up in a single layer so that the skin is not submerged in the liquid. Place skillet uncovered in the hot oven, on a middle shelf for 30 minutes. (check at 20 minutes to see if more liquid is needed).

Remove chicken pieces from the skillet onto serving plates, and spoon up the rice with a big serving spoon. The rice will be creamy-textured rather than pilaf style. If I have leftovers, I take the meat off the bones before cooling and refrigerating, to make re-heating in a skillet or microwave easier.

This dish can be pretty fiery and intense, so a fresh green salad will help provide a cooling counterpoint.

*Use a Jamaican-style curry powder if possible. Also, check to see if your curry powder contains salt; if not, you may want to add a half-teaspoon of kosher salt (or coarse sea salt).

July 20, 2014

Käsespätzle: Germany's Macaroni & Cheese

This is German comfort food, as evidenced by its remarkably frequent appearance on menus here. It sometimes has different names - for example, one of my favourite places for German classics calls their version of this "Brauerspätzle" (Brewer's Spätzle), but when you read the description, it's the same dish. You can even buy it frozen in bags in the freezer section of supermarkets, although I can't imagine the quality is that impressive.

There's a lot of room for personalization here. Käsespätzle can be served vegetarian or with tiny ham cubes, the latter being the most common one I've seen (Germany loves its pork, after all). It can be short, stubby spätzle, or longer, more uniformly thin ones. It can have crispy onions on top, or finely diced sautéed onions throughout. You can use Emmenthal, Gouda, Bergkäse, Edam, or a blend of whatever grated/grate-able cheeses you have hanging about in your fridge. I used a pre-shredded combination of Gouda and Tilsit, which was advertised as "cheese for gratin".

This took me about 70 minutes, start to finish, and makes a bit of a mess (but one that is mercifully easy to clean up).

Pro Tip: Have a sink or basin of cold water standing by for you to put the batter-goopy tools in as soon as you've finished the stove-top phase.


Serves 4-6

4 eggs
400 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 - 1 cup water (or more, as needed)

For assembly:
150 - 200 grams grated tasty cheese
125 grams tiny ham cubes (Schinken Würfel, bacon, or similar)
3 tablespoons cream
1 medium onion
1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine flour and kosher salt in a medium-large mixing bowl or food processor. Beat the eggs and 1/2 cup of water together, and stir into the flour mixture. Add additional water until you get a thin batter, that falls in ribbons from the spoon or whisk. Beat/whisk/blend until smooth. If you can't get it completely smooth, pour it through a sieve and push any lumps through, otherwise you risk clumps of uncooked flour in your finished noodles. Let stand 15 minutes to allow the flour to fully hydrate.

Next thinly slice an onion, and set it to fry over low heat in the olive oil (with maybe a pinch of salt), until deeply coloured and crispy. This will take a while, and is low maintenance. It can finish crisping up while you're cooking the spätzle.

Preheat your oven to 400 F while you cook the spätzle.

While the batter is resting, get your onions and ham cubes (if using) cooking and set up your spätzle cooking rig. If you have a spätzle Hobel or spätzle Brett and know how to use it, carry on however you see fit. If not, here's my method:

Half-fill a tall saucepan with water. Ideally, the width of the saucepan will allow you to rest a four-sided grated over the top in a way that you won't need to hold onto it (although I do usually use one hand to keep it steady while I'm working). The batter is going to be pushed from inside the grater through the "large holed" side straight into the boiling salted water. You're going to want to lightly oil the grater (just the one side), inside and out, to help the batter fall more smoothly through the holes.

Place the grater over the gently boiling, salted water, with the largest round(ish)-holed side facing down. Use a large spoon to add a scoop of batter inside the grater. The batter will start to drip through the holes.

Using a flat-ended wooden spoon (you can use a spatula, but is easier to use a rigid tool), gently but firmly scrape the dough back and forth along the inside the grater, repeatedly, until all of the dough is pushed through.

Remove the grater from the top of the pot, and start using a spider-tool or other skimmer to remove the floating spätzle to a near-by waiting bowl. I like to use a large mesh colander over a plate, but a large bowl also works fine.

Return the grater to the pot and repeat the dough scooping and scraping, spoonful by spoonful, removing the cooked spätzle regularly with your skimmer, until all of the batter is gone. Remove the grater and any other batter-crusted tools immediately to a basin of cold water, and allow them to soak while you complete the next steps.

Loosen the spätzle with a fork, to de-clump it. In a 10 or 11-inch skillet (cast iron is terrific), rub a little butter or vegetable oil over the bottom, and then add a layer of spätzle. Top with a handful or two of grated cheese, and some of the ham cubes. Repeat until all of the spätzle are in the pan, ending with a layer of cheese or cheese-and-ham. I got about three layers of noodles, but your mileage may vary. Scatter the fried onions evenly over the top of the last cheese layer, and gently pour a couple of tablespoons of cream over all.

Place uncovered in the preheated oven for 15 - 20 minutes. Serve with a nice big salad (or at least some sliced fresh vegetables).

Spätzle also reheats quite well the next day, either in the microwave, or in a foil-covered dish in a moderate oven.

July 13, 2014

Strawberry Shortcake

There are generally two camps for Strawberry Shortcake lovers -- the biscuit camp and the sponge cake camp. As you can see here, I clearly fall into Camp Biscuit. In fact, it was not until I was in my late teens that I learned about the sponge cake variation. It sounded good, but was a little disappointing when I tried it. Sponge cake gives you a much softer overall dessert -- easily made in advance, and easily sliced and portioned for a crowd, for sure -- but the firmer, yet still tender, biscuit gives each serving of this dessert an individual, more impressive character: each biscuit becoming a small work of art assembled for each guest. The crisply sweet finish on the golden top crust, the squish of the top of the biscuit descending into the tender interior of whipped cream and macerated berries, feel more decadent to me.

The biscuit method for Strawberry Shortcake is almost laughably easy: make your favourite drop-biscuit dough with an extra teaspoon of sugar per cup of flour, and before baking brush the tops with cream and sprinkle with a little more sugar.

If strawberries are not your thing, plenty of other fruits also work beautifully: raspberries, or peaches, or my all-time favourite, the tiniest possible blackberries.

Strawberry Shortcake

Serves 4


3 - 4 cups sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar

Toss the strawberries with the sugar and refrigerate, covered, for a couple of hours, stirring once or twice.

Shortcake Biscuits:

1 cup pastry flour
2 teaspoons sugar, plus extra to finish
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons butter
7 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon cream

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender (or use your usual method, if different), and set aside until you're ready to bake the biscuits, say... just after dinner.

Preheat the oven to 450 F, and lightly grease a baking sheet. Make a well in the flour mixture and add the milk all at once. Stir rapidly with a fork until it becomes a sticky dough without streaks of dry flour. Drop in four equal spoonsful to make four biscuits on your baking sheet. Lightly press the biscuit into shape, flattening the top slightly if necessary. Brush the tops with cream and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until risen and golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before assembling, so that the whipped cream doesn't melt.

Whipped Cream:
Whip 3/4 cup of cream with a teaspoon of sugar and a quarter teaspoon vanilla extract (or use vanilla sugar), until you have stiff peaks.

To assemble:

Use a fork to separate the biscuits into top and bottom halves. Spoon whipped cream onto the bottoms, top with berries, then another dollop of whipped cream before perching the lids on top. Serve immediately.

July 06, 2014

Smoked Duck Étouffée with Artichokes

I love Cajun food, which probably comes as no surprise to those of you who know how often I use chiles (and how many, and how hot) in my cooking. That said, there is a wealth of Cajun and Creole dishes that are not hot at all. They are often intensely flavourful without necessarily using loads of chile peppers.

This dish is one of those. The combination of a caramel-coloured roux, smoked duck breast, and artichoke hearts, along with the Cajun trinity of onion, celery, and green bell pepper and typical Cajun herbs and spices makes this Étouffée recipe decadent, richly flavoured, and incredibly satisfying, and is a unique dish in its own right rather than simply replacing seafood with duck in a Shrimp or Crawfish Étouffée. It does have the tiniest bit of cayenne in it, and you could add a drop or two of Tabasco sauce if you insist, but this recipe doesn't even remotely qualify as spicy.

Do not mess around when you are making your roux. It takes a bit of time, and patience, and stirring - generally around 25 minutes of stirring, but it's easy to do and your patience will be rewarded. Make sure you have completed all of your mise en place before you begin the roux. You can cook the rice separately during the simmering stage, which only requires intermittent stirring.

If you do not have access to duck fat to make your roux, use lard. If you cannot source duck stock, a strong brown poultry stock (such as roasted-bone chicken stock) will do, but do note that without duck fat and duck stock in this dish, you will be reducing the luxurious duck flavour significantly. If you've never made roux before, here are some links you might want to check out: Making Roux Step by Step (Allrecipes), and Master the Art of Making Roux (The Daily South). Making a roux is not difficult, but it must be done correctly -- no shortcuts or cowboy moves until you've mastered the basics -- at which time you'll understand why cowboy moves simply shouldn't be applied to roux.

Smoked Duck Étouffée with Artichokes
Adapted from Cajun-Creole Cooking by Terry Thompson-Anderson
Serves 4

1/2 cup duck fat
1/2 cup flour

1 large yellow onion, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
4 large garlic cloves, minced/crushed
600 grams smoked duck breast, diced (largish)
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
dash Tabasco sauce (optional)
1 cup duck stock (room temperature)
3-4 canned artichoke hearts, cut into sixths
2 green onions
handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Before you begin, prepare all ingredients so that they are ready to add to the dish. If your duck breast is skin-on, remove the skin and set aside for another dish - perhaps turn it into cracklings to garnish a pasta or an omelette or risotto, or tuck it into the freezer until you know what you want to do with smoked duck skin. Measure out your spices (they can all go into a single mise dish).

In a large Dutch oven, prepare your roux by melting the duck fat over high heat and add all of the flour at once (you can use all-purpose flour or cake flour). Whisk like mad for about a minute, to make sure you don't get any lumps. Then reduce the heat, change your whisk to a spatula, and stir over medium-low heat until it is all smooth and gently bubbling. Continue to stir relentlessly, regularly scraping the entire surface of the bottom of the pot, for about 25 - 35 minutes, or until the roux passes "peanut butter" (light brown) colour and moves on to "caramel" (medium-brown). The darker the roux, the easier it is to burn it, so be increasingly vigilant as you go along. Once the roux begins to darken, the process accelerates: you need to pay attention.

As soon as the roux reaches the right colour, add your onion, bell pepper, and celery (the "Cajun trinity") and the garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until they have started to soften. You don't need to turn the heat up - it's plenty hot already.

Add the spices (note there is no added salt in the recipe - there's quite enough from the smoked duck and the duck stock). Stir the spices through and allow to cook for a couple of minutes before adding the diced duck breast. If you are adding Tabasco sauce, add it now.

Add the duck breast, and stir until it is thoroughly coated with the roux.

Pour in the duck stock in a steady stream, stirring constantly, until it is all integrated. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this time, you can put your rice on to cook. We've used parboiled rice here, but long grain white or brown rice would also be fine.

At the end of the simmering time, add the artichoke heart pieces, the green onions, and the parsley, and cook for a further 5 or 10 minutes. Taste the Étouffée and add salt if needed (you probably won't need any, but it's good to check). When the artichoke heart pieces are heated through, you're ready to serve.

To serve, place about 3/4 cup rice in the middle of individual serving bowls, and spoon the Étouffée in around the rice. I like to use a round measuring cup (lightly buttered) to shape the rice --just pack the rice into the cup and turn it over into the middle of each bowl-- but it's certainly not necessary.

June 22, 2014

Schweizer Wurstsalat (Swiss Sausage Salad)

This is an enormously popular salad in this part of Germany, and while variations are also enjoyed in Switzerland, Austria, and the Alsace, this particular version of Wurstsalat (which also goes by the names "Straßburger Wurstsalat" and "Elsässer Wurstasalat") is often referred to as "Schweizer", meaning Swiss, because of the inclusion of Emmental cheese. It's a common summertime snack (as you can imagine, it goes rather well with a nice glass of beer) or light lunch, and easy to pack for a picnic.

As with the Rheinischer Kartoffelsalat, in my last post there are many, many iterations of this salad, and you can easily customise it as you see fit. As previously, I'm posting a fundamental version for your consideration, but feel free to adjust the proportions of the key ingredients — as I served this with the potato salad as linked, I kept the number of pickles somewhat discreet, although I have seen some versions that boast almost as much pickle as meat, and ones with a shocking amount of onions. There are versions with or without cheese, and versions with mayonnaise instead of marinade. Some delis here will have two or three different versions, so you can choose depending on your mood. So feel free to let your own needs and preferences dictate the balance of the various ingredients.

One thing that I appreciate about grocery shopping here is that there tends to be no real difference in price for "format shifting". That is to say, if I buy my cheese or meat as a block, or in slices, or shredded, it costs pretty much the same, priced by weight. Since I can buy pre-julienned sausage here, too — available, I'm sure, expressly due to the popularity of this salad in these parts — this dish comes together in a snap. You'll see that the marinade is quite similar to that of the potato salad, but has less liquid, since none of the marinade gets absorbed.

Schweizer Wurstsalat
Swiss Sausage Salad

Serves 4

300 grams thinly julienned sausage (recommended: Schinkenwurst or Lyoner sausage)
1/4 - 1/2 medium yellow or red onion, finely sliced
6 - 8 cornishon-style pickles, julienned
3/4 - 1 cup grated Emmental cheese (or Edam, or Gouda)

100 millilitres vegetable broth or stock
1/4 cup finely sliced green onion
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon hot mustard
3 tablespoons neutrally-flavoured vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or coarse sea salt
ground white pepper to taste

Heat the vegetable broth/stock until not-quite boiling, and remove from the heat. In a medium-large mixing bowl, combine the green onion, parsley (finely minced), vinegar, mustard, oil, salt and white pepper and whisk. Slowly pour in the broth, whisking, to bring the marinade together. Add the julienned sausage and stir well, ensuring each piece is thoroughly coated with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight. Stir periodically, if convenient.

When you're ready to finish the salad, give it a quick stir, and then add the yellow or red onion, the pickles (julienned), and the grated cheese. Toss lightly to ensure that the marinade (I guess it's a dressing, by this stage) gets evenly distributed, and serve with buttered bread on the side.

One of the attractive looking versions that I've seen includes tiny bits of red chile peppers (and possibly also chile flakes). You could also use paprika sausage (which is essentially Lyoner sausage with pepper flakes) for all or a portion of the meat. I wouldn't use a super aged or smoked Gouda here, as it might overpower (or, go ahead, but maybe use half the amount of cheese to start, and adjust as necessary). While this salad is normally served without greens, you could certainly serve it on a bed of baby lettuces, for a sort of chef salad effect (with or without the hard-boiled egg). You could probably also use it as a basis for a pasta salad, although I think you would need quite a bit more marinade, and maybe more parsley.

June 19, 2014

Rheinischer Kartoffelsalat (Rhineland-Style German Potato Salad)

Summer weather has arrived in Rheinland-Pfalz, and with it many restaurants have switched over to their summer menus. Oh, not to worry, you can still get the heartiest of hearty items (Sauerbraten, Rinderrouladen, Goulash, etc.), but the seasonal offerings have definitely shifted. This includes a fundamental shift in the lunchtime menus from fried potatoes (that is, bratkartoffeln) on the side, to potato salad.

I was a pleased and surprised, here in the heart of sweetened mayonnaise country, to discover that most of the potato salads in this region are marinated in a vinaigrette as opposed to a creamy dressing. What didn't surprise me, however, is the lack of crumbled bacon in the salads. Oh, a lot of them have pork in them, but it's ham. Tiny, tiny cubes of fried ham. Also, not every potato salad, even the Rheinisch ones, contains pork - although plenty of them do. But it is definitely not the crumbled bacon, or even bacon bits, that so often comes with the "German Potato Salad" label in Canada. I chose to make this one vegetarian, simply because I was serving it as part of a duo alongside a sausage and cheese salad, and decided that my meat requirements were being well met already.

At its most plain, this potato salad omits the radishes, and at its most fancy (known as Bunter (colourful) Kartoffelsalat) it will have not only the radishes, but also a sparse inclusion of red and/or yellow bell pepper pieces, and possibly fresh cucumber to go alongside the pickles. The fun thing about salads is that it's very easy to customise them to your personal tastes. So, by all means, feel free to add the extra vegetables. Or tiny cubes of fried ham. This ham-free version is vegan.

Rheinischer Kartoffelsalat
Rhineland-Style German Potato Salad

Serves 4 - 6

2 kilos waxy potatoes
1/2 medium yellow onion
4 cornishon-style pickles
4 large radishes

200 millilitres vegetable stock or broth
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon hot mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
white pepper to taste
1/4 cup parsley (and/or fresh dill)

Boil and peel the potatoes in whichever order you choose. Allow them to cool, and then cut them into slices. Some of those slices will break up a bit - that's supposed to happen, and if it doesn't happen now, it probably will when the remaining ingredients are stirred in. Put the potatoes in a bowl with a bit of extra room (to allow you to stir).

In a small saucepan, heat the vegetable stock or broth (or heat up some water and add vegetable base as is appropriate). Add the vinegar, mustard, salt and white pepper, and whisk to partially integrate. Finely dice the onions, and add them to the stock, simmering very briefly - not for more than about two minutes. Pour the onion-stock mixture over the potatoes, and stir through. Allow to cool at room temperature for about 15 minutes, then stir in the parsley. Cover and place in the fridge. Let the potatoes soak up the liquid for at least an hour or two, then thinly slice and add the cornishons and radishes, and any of the optional additional ingredients that you like. Taste, and add a little extra vinegar if you like (places around here serve it extremely tart, which is very refreshing in hot weather) and more salt if needed. Allow the salad to chill again, covered, for about half an hour, and serve. If you like, you can garnish with wedges of hard-boiled egg or tomato. I like to do a final pass with freshly ground black pepper to serve.

Coming soon: Swiss-style Sausage Salad (Update: Now posted!)

May 31, 2014

Himmel und Erde (Heaven & Earth), plus International Bento (German)

Himmel und Erde (Heaven and Earth) is a classic regional meal popular in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz (also called the Rhineland-Palatinate), among others.

This is really more of a serving suggestion than a recipe - I'm assuming that you know how to make simple mashed potatoes, and can source decent sausage, onions, and applesauce. A basic sort of peasant dish, Himmel und Erde is simply mashed potatoes, served with sausages, applesauce, and fried onions. Himmel, or Heaven, is invoked by the apple, which grows high in the air, and Erde, or Earth, is invoked by the potato, which in some German dialects is Erdapfel ("earth apple", not unlike the nomenclature for French pommes de terre, which also means "apples of the earth"). But where do the sausage and fried onions come in? Well, short answer is, that the sausages are pork, and Germans seem to serve pork with almost everything. Fried onions are just a bonus.

The classic iteration of this dish that I can find is with blood sausage and bratwurst, and that's what I've done here. The blood sausage is a smokier version of the United Kingdom's blood pudding, which you could also use in a pinch. The applesauce I made by peeling and dicing some pie-making apples into a saucepan with a pinch of salt and some water, and then simmering and stirring until they became sauce, but you could use any applesauce you like (I would avoid overly sweetened ones myself...but a lot of Germans probably wouldn't). Then, it's just a matter of cooking it all up and getting it onto the plate.

So, boil your potatoes to make the mash, and warm up your applesauce. While that's happening, sauté your onion rings in the same skillet that you're using to cook up the bratwurst. When the applesauce is ready, turn it off with a lid on to keep it warm. Push the onions and bratwurst to one side of your skillet, and add the slices of blood sausage to the pan. Let the blood sausage cook over medium heat (turning once) for about five or six minutes, while you mash the potatoes. Once the potatoes are mashed, the onions and sausages are fried and standing by, assemble as desired.

I'm contemplating a slightly more elegant version of this dish using roasted potatoes and apples in wedges, in some sort of clever baking-dish assembly, but that hasn't happened yet.

I sent the leftovers to work with Palle the next day as a German bento. There are extra onions acting as a bed for the blood sausage, and no bratwurst (this seemed plenty filling for a lunch as it was). His co-workers seem to find it amusing when he arrives with home cooked German food for lunch, while many of them head out for pizza and Burger King.

May 24, 2014

Almond Chile Chicken

I almost called this "Not-Quite Kung Pao Chicken" as the primary difference is the use of almond slivers instead of crushed or whole peanuts. However, it turned out much too tasty to burden with a name that suggested it was not living up to its full potential. Another significant difference is the absence of Szechuan pepper, although it would be a great addition. This recipe makes no claim to authenticity, but it is delicious. With three sources of chile, it's also very hot.

It's helpful to allow the chicken to marinate for a little while, at the very least while you prepare the peppers and toast the almonds, but ideally at least for half an hour. You can easily add in another vegetable for an all-in-one dish green bell pepper, for example, or diced baby corn, or even finely chopped celery (to stay true to its Kung Pao roots), but don't crowd the chicken with a lot of other things. Maybe serve a simply steamed gai lan with a shot of oyster sauce, or sautéed baby bok choi with a nice dressing on the side. Serve the chicken over rice.

Almond Chile Chicken

4 Servings

400 grams boneless chicken (breast or thigh)
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
handful of dried red chile pods
3 — 4 fresh red chiles (long, preferably)
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon peanut oil

Marinade and cooking sauce
2 tablespoons Chinese mushroom sauce (or oyster sauce)
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry (or Chinese wine)
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar (or black vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

green onion, thinly sliced
cilantro, stems removed

Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl, and stir until thoroughly combined. Cut the chicken into bit-sized pieces, and add it to the marinade, stirring well until the chicken is completely coated in sauce. Cover and let rest in the fridge for a few hours (if possible).

Thinly slice the red onion and mince the garlic, and set aside. Toast the almonds gently in a dry skillet until they are fragrant and golden brown, and set aside. Remove and discard the seeds from the fresh chiles and julienne the pods into nice, long matchsticks. Prepare the dry chile pods by removing the stem end, shaking out excess seeds, and breaking longer pods in half (or thirds).

Prepare any additional vegetables (either for this dish, or for a separate side), and slice the green onion and roughly chop the cilantro for your garnishes.

Have a half-cup or so of room temperature (or hot) water standing by once you're ready to fry.

Heat a large nonstick skillet (or wok, if you're set up for it) over high heat, and add the peanut oil. Using a slotted spoon or spider-tool, remove the chicken from the marinade (reserving the marinade to add later). Add the chicken in a couple of batches to the hot peanut oil, and let the pieces sear for a moment before giving it a quick stir. Add the red onion and stir through, and continue to sauté for another minute. Add the fresh chiles and the dry chile pods, and stir again. If you're adding diced baby corn, now is the time to add it, otherwise add any quicker-cooking items along with the marinade in a couple of minutes.

If the chicken starts to stick, or the marinade starts to burn, add a tablespoon of your stand-by water to loosen it up. Don't add too much water, or you'll be steaming your dish instead of frying it. You can get around this by simply using more peanut oil than indicated, but that makes for a much richer dish. Continue to sauté for another minute or so, and then add the reserved marinade along with another splash (ahem, tablespoon) of water, and stir rapidly to allow the sauce to cook through thoroughly and coat the chicken once more. Give it another couple of minutes sauté time, and add the almonds. Stir though, adding another tablespoon of water if it seems too dry, although you probably won't need to. Plate immediately, and garnish with the green onion and cilantro.

May 18, 2014

Kohlrabi Carrot Coleslaw

This salad is best made a bit in advance, as the kohlrabi has a bit of a starchy flavour when raw. Once it has had time to marinate for a little while, that off-note completely disappears. I liked this salad just fine on the first day, but on the second day it was absolutely fantastic.

While a lot of salads are at their best when prepared just before eating, this dish not only keeps well in the fridge, but actually improves with a bit of time. That makes it a perfect choice for any dinner where the other dishes demand all of your attention (or workspace, or time, or last-minute fiddling), and also works beautifully as a take-along or picnic dish.

Kohlrabi Carrot Coleslaw

Serves 2 - 4

1 large kohlrabi
1 large carrot
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
black pepper to taste

Peel away the thick skin of the kohlrabi, remove the fibrous top bit and trim the root end (as though you were trimming an onion) and grate on the large-hole side of a box grater (or equivalent). Peel and trim the carrot, and grate it too. Combine the grated vegetables in a bowl.

Make the dressing by combining the olive oil, wine vinegar, mustard, and salt in a small bowl, and whisk (or beat with a fork) until it is emulsified. Pour the dressing over the grated vegetables, and mix until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, or better still, overnight.

Stir through once again, correct for salt (you may need a little extra on the second day), and add the black pepper just before serving. The starchy rawness will have disappeared, and overall the dish will appear a bit more...pliable, but the vegetables will retain a lovely, delicate crunch in the middle.