eating raspberries

Musings on food, eating and cooking

Settling

I’m back! Sorry for my absence over the last weeks. I am finally feeling more settled in our new apartment in a new city with all the stuff that goes with that. It was a fast move, a stressful move (when is moving not stressful?) and Tim started his new job while the house sat in boxes. Things are still a little hectic, point being I can’t seem to find my camera adapter yet so I had to make do with my phone for the photos for this post.

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Our  new street.

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Entering our new space.

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It’s not a secret that I was sad to leave Aachen, our charming little city where everything of importance is right around the corner. Not to mention leaving behind all my lovely friends I’ve gotten to know. We loved our old apartment and the new one is still taking some time to adjust to. Our new neighborhood in Hanover is beautiful and quiet with large leafy trees lining the street. Our building was built in 1900 and has impossibly high ceilings and beautiful wood floors throughout. I can see us being happy here but there’s still lots of work to do (like hanging pictures on the wall and finally unpacking the office) and ever since we got here I couldn’t stop thinking about our old place in Aachen and how cosy and homey it felt. This apartment felt foreign and the stark white walls seemed to mock me, making the rooms seem bigger and emptier than they really were.  But the other day I went out to the market and bought fresh flowers to bring a little life to our new home and those little pops of color were just what I needed. Kinda like that much needed bit of mascara after a sleepless night. I’ve spent some time arranging my desk in the office, making it cosy and a space I love being in. These gorgeous pink roses are helping with that!

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All this moving stress has kept me out of the kitchen- another space that I’m not quite used to yet. Smaller than our old kitchen, when I first walked in I felt as if I were crawling into a cave. It’s at the back of the house  and doesn’t get much natural light so to bring a little cheer to the space we painted one of the walls bright yellow. Immediately the space felt more welcoming and  after hanging our Sophia Loren poster smack dab in the middle of the wall it seemed a bit more like home. Even though cooking and baking seem like arduous tasks right now all this Fall spirit has gotten to me and I’ve been nursing an intense pumpkin bread craving. Living in Germany has its downsides though and the lovely, convenient,  readily available canned pumpkin I find in California is wholly nonexistent here.

So if you live abroad like me, or maybe you’re just looking to try something new, roasting your own pumpkin is a great option. All it requires is a little extra elbow grease. Roasting a sugar pumpkin yourself will result in the best pumpkin products you’ve ever tasted. If you can’t find a sugar pumpkin (in Germany I can only find Hokkaido varieties which are not so good for baking) then all you have to do is turn to your next option: butternut squash. In many cases if you actually look on the back of your canned “pumpkin” you’ll see butternut squash featured as a main ingredient. The color is  much more vibrant than pumpkin and brings that dark autumnal richness to pies, cakes and breads we all know and love. One roasted butternut squash yields about 3 cups of pureed “pumpkin” and I keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks. Then whenever it strikes my fancy I can whip up some freshly baked pumpkin goods.

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The pumpkin bread recipe itself is still in progress. Slightly put out by the overwhelming amount of recipes out there (seriously have you looked??) I tried to develop my own that would have all the seasonal flavor I was craving without all the sugar and fat. This is bread people, not cake! But my version came out of the oven dry and chewy on the outside and raw on the inside. Not exactly a winning recipe. Who knows I may even be chastised back to the sugar and butter route? At least I still have plenty of roasted “pumpkin” in the fridge to give it another go. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Until then, get yourselves a butternut squash!

Roasted Butternut Squash (for “pumpkin” pies, cakes, breads and more)

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash or sugar pumpkin

1 T vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut your squash or pumpkin in half, removing the ends. You will need a very sharp knife for this. Next scoop out the seeds and toss or save for later to roast, salt and munch. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the tough outer skin away. Chop your peeled squash into manageable pieces, depending on the size of your squash this will be about 12 separate pieces. Place in a large roasting pan and toss with the oil to lightly coat. Roast for 40-50 minutes or until the squash has completely softened and has just started to caramelize.

Remove from oven and let squash cool to room temperature. Using a food processor, blender or immersion blender, puree until smooth working in batches. Once you have a nice consistency push through a fine mesh sieve to remove any clumps. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. All things “pumpkin” are right at your fingertips!

 

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Roasted things are just better

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During the first semester of my senior year of college I studied abroad in Ireland. To this day lots of people ask me why I chose Ireland when I could have spent my time eating tapas in Madrid or- even better- gelato in Florence.  And believe me I had my moments; especially once the rain set in and I would sit huddled in my poky closet of a room lusting after photos of my friends soaking up the Mediterranean climate. Unbeknownst to me I had voluntarily assigned myself to the rainiest spot in Ireland (Galway City) if not entire Continental Europe.

I quickly developed a few coping mechanisms. First I was introduced to the lovely Irish tradition of tea and biscuits at nearly every hour of the day. It was also frigidly cold in the house so in the evenings I’d take my tea upstairs and cuddle under my duvet. (Sometimes I even took my bargain hair dryer  to my bed sheets to give them a nice warming up- this advice came directly from my landlady, something that she apparently does on a regular basis).  Lastly I liked to cook nice roast dinners for myself and the other ladies in the house. The best nights though were usually Friday nights, when my boyfriend flew in from Germany for the weekend and I pulled out all the stops.

The first thing I made- and I think the best- was a roast chicken. I feel luxurious when I roast chicken. It’s not something I’d make on a Tuesday night but you’re really just tucking everything in one pan and then popping it in the oven for the afternoon and before you know it- amazing roast dinner- otherwise known as Domestic Goddess status. So easy I feel like I’m cheating.

I remember being totally overwhelmed the first time I brought one home from the store in Ireland. It seemed like such an undertaking to roast a whole chicken. Should I truss the bird? Rub it in butter or olive oil? And what about carving? So many questions. Over time I’ve developed my favorite recipe involving lots of garlic, butter and quartered lemons. It’s always delicious and always a showstopper. Trust me, people get very impressed when you pull a lovely roast chicken out of the oven, especially when swaddled  in glistening potatoes.

So up until last weekend every time I made roast chicken for dinner I stood by my trusted flavor palate. While perusing one of my favorite blogs, Lottie and Doof, I found something that looked even better- and it is. There’s a little more leg work involved, the chicken needs to sit overnight in the fridge, rubbed down with a paste of garlic, two types of paprika, olive oil and salt and pepper. Yum. Then it’s roasted at super high temperatures over a bed of potato wedges and all those amazing rosy-hued juices get absorbed by the potatoes making a beautiful sauce. One small chicken is enough for two hungry people, if making this for a crowd I’d make two chickens (or more) but regardless of the party make lots of potatoes. You can never have enough potatoes and just saying, we didn’t have any leftovers.

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Pimenton Roasted Chicken with Potatoes (Recipe  via Lottie and Doof, Adapted from David Tanis for Bon Appetit)

Serves 2  (I adjusted the recipe to suit one chicken instead of two, if making more chickens simply up the quantities)

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken (3 1/2-4 pounds) rinsed and dried thoroughly

4 garlic cloves, finely grated

1 T plus 1 t kosher salt

2 T olive oil

1 T smoked paprika

2 t hot smoked Spanish paprika

1 bunch fresh thyme

For the potatoes:

1-2 pounds small yellow potatoes (or Yukon Gold) unpeeled and quartered

2 T olive oil

fresh parsley

salt and pepper

To start prepare your paste. Mix your grated garlic (I grated my garlic with a microplane for an ultra-fine consistency) with the salt, olive oil and paprikas. Then rub paste all over the chicken with your hands. Place uncovered in the fridge overnight.  Your fridge will smell of garlic (intensely) but don’t worry it’ll be gone the next day!

About an hour before you want to start the roasting process, remove the bird from the fridge and let stand to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (250 degrees Celsius) In a roasting pan toss your potatoes with the olive oil and salt and pepper. Place the chicken on top of the potatoes and bake for 30 minutes uncovered. The chicken will blacken somewhat so if you want to avoid that (I like a little char) cover loosely with aluminum foil.

After 30 minutes lower the hear to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (220 Celsius). Remove chicken from oven and turn potatoes. Place back in the oven and roast for an additional 20-30 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees F or 75 Celsius. Let chicken rest 15 minutes before carving and keep potatoes warm before dusting with fresh parsley and serving.

Now is the time to sit back and enjoy the fruits (?) of your not-so-arduous labor.

Sometimes the best things in life are easy

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I finally got round to making a cake this weekend. It was one of those lovely Sundays where time stands still and suddenly you have all the time in the world and absolutely nothing to worry about. I woke early, went for a run with Tim (the more grueling part of the day) and then settled into my kitchen with some nostalgic country music playing (the sort about broken hearts and fried chicken- oh wait that applies to all country music, right?) and a mission to have cake.

Last week I mentioned my favorite cake, Pflaumenkuchen (plum cake) and with a little foresight I even managed to remember to buy plums at the market on Saturday so yesterday I really had no excuse not to bake cake. More importantly this cake is easy. The most arduous task involved quartering the plums and then fanning them out prettily across the cake. But I actually quite enjoyed it.

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The recipe I used comes from Dr. Oetker’s Backen Macht Freude my go-to source for German baked goods. I adapted it only slightly and all I have to say is WOW. It really reminds me of the American style coffee cake I grew up eating for Easter brunch but better because not only do you have that crumbly cinnamon streusel topping (my favorite part of coffee cake) but the plums turn soft in the oven and melt wonderfully into the cake.  At the same time the lemon zest keeps it from becoming too jammy and what else can I say, it just works.

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I beg you to have a slice of this cake while it’s still warm. It’s also very good the next day, room temperature served with a cup of Earl Grey. Just the way I’m having it right now.

Plum cake (also known as Plum Coffee Cake)

Slightly adapted from Dr. Oetker’s Backen Macht Freude

Equipment:

Springform pan (26 cm or 10 inches)

Preparation time: approximately 30 minutes

Baking time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:

800 g (about 2 pounds) small plums, pitted and quartered

For the batter:

125 g (1 cup)  all-purpose flour

1 t baking powder

125 g (2/3 cup) sugar

1 packet vanilla sugar OR 1 1/2 t vanilla extract

zest of one lemon

125 g (1/2 cup) soft butter

2 eggs

For the streusel: 

150 g ( 1 1/4 cup) all-purpose flour

100 g (1/2 cup) sugar

1 t ground cinnamon

100 g (1/3 cup) soft butter

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Begin by greasing and flouring your springform pan, then set aside. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit. For the batter first whisk together your flour and baking power. Add the sugar, vanilla sugar or extract, lemon zest, butter and eggs. Mix together with a handheld mixer or in a standing mixer with a whisk attachment just until combined. Next spoon batter into your prepared pan and smooth evenly.

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Starting from the outside arrange the quartered plums to cover the cake batter completely. You may have extra plums in which case I recommend an impromptu plum cobbler!

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Next mix together your streusel ingredients. Using either your mixer or your hands combine the dry ingredients with the butter until it becomes one sandy mass. Then sprinkle evenly (and generously) over the plums.

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Bake for 50 minutes until lightly golden brown. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before removing the springform ring. Then, enjoy.

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Something for the soul

I wanted to make a nice cake last week. My favorite actually, Pflaumenkuchen (plum cake) because it’s September and officially Fall (here in Germany) and well, cake just sounded nice. The problem about living solely with your significant other is that you have a lack of mouths to feed. I know, I know, there are so many people out in the world with too many mouths to feed and here I am complaining about not having enough. I just hate wasting food. If I’m going to bake a lovely cake (and spend half the afternoon doing just that) I want there to be more than two people to enjoy it, simple right?

So since we were having dinner with my boyfriend’s parents on Thursday and going out of town over the weekend, a cake didn’t really make sense. (I also didn’t have any available half-afternoons where I could feasibly make said cake) You might be thinking: “dinner with the parents?” “weekend getaway?” doesn’t sound too bad to me… 

I’d have to agree with you, as a matter of fact that sounds completely awesome. Only problem is that we were not partaking in a sweet lovers weekend (I’m imagining lazy breakfast-in-bed type mornings and sunny strolls along the beach) but were actually participating in the grueling process known as apartment hunting. Maybe some of you can sympathize.

I have limited experience looking for an apartment. In the USA as long as you aren’t in say, San Francisco or Manhattan, finding a place is relatively straightforward. At least it has been for me. Find a place, prove you aren’t a serial killer and sign on the dotted line. Done.  Our first place together in Germany was also miraculously simple. We looked at one place online, we went and visited the apartment and liked it, applied and were accepted. After this weekend I’m starting to realize how abnormal that is.

Long story short we had eight appointments lined up on one day and out of that group only saw three. Some cancelled because they had already found someone, in some cases the realtor made a mistake and the current resident wasn’t actually home at the time of the appointment (interesting) and of the ones we did see they were a healthy mix of small, tiny and kitchen-less.  Yeah you read me right there. In Germany it’s normal to bring your kitchen with you when you move from place to place. Sometimes there is the option of buying the current kitchen from the previous owners but in this case there is simply a room and the rest is up to your imagination (and wallet).

Which brings me to the recipe. After getting home late last night tired and dejected (insert chosen adjective here) I didn’t want to cook or eat anything that required more effort that tipping a box of cereal.  I thought I’d share with you something I made last week, something that I want to make again right now and would if only I had such a great zucchini again. Of course I suppose two small ones would work fine as well.

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It was a gift from a friend of a friend’s garden. Something that I could never grow myself and represents, to me at least, the best of summer’s bounty. I call this Harvest Soup. Inspired by this magnificent zucchini the rest of the ingredients are a compilation of what I had in my fridge at the time and what I like best. Feel free to substitute as you wish.

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I think the thing that makes this soup particularly flavorful (and delicious eaten either hot or room temperature) is my take on the pistou I add right before serving. I start by making a paste out of crushed garlic and salt. Using the back of my knife I gradually work the salt into the garlic pressing until the garlic and salt form a smooth paste. To this I add about 1/3 cup crushed canned tomatoes and a big bunch of fresh basil. I mash all of this together (a mortar and pestle would be useful here) and then stream in olive oil. The last step involves adding freshly grated parmesan reggiano cheese. Stir until combined and drizzle (generously) over ladled portions of soup. This my friends is delicious.

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Harvest Soup

Ingredients:

2 T olive oil

1 large or 2 small zucchinis, chopped

1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced

1 red onion, diced

1 leek, sliced

5 carrots. peeled and chopped

5-6 small yellow potatoes. chopped

1 can white beans

4 cups vegetable broth

salt

pepper

For the pistou:

1/3 c olive oil

1 garlic clove

big bunch fresh basil

1/3 cup canned crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan reggiano cheese

salt

Start by heating the olive oil in a large dutch oven. Cook the onion, leek, fennel and carrots together for 5-10 minutes until translucent. Add the zucchini and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Next add the white beans and stir to combine all the ingredients. Add the vegetable stock so that all the vegetables are covered. Add more stock or water if necessary. Simmer for 15 minutes uncovered and then add the potatoes. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked through. Check for seasoning.

While the soup is simmering get the pistou ready. Mash the salt and garlic together with the back of your knife to from a paste. Add this to the tomatoes and fresh basil. Mix, crushing all of the ingredients together using either the back of a spoon or a mortar and pestle. Stream in the olive oil and then finish with the parmesan cheese.

Serve the pistou with the soup, drizzled generously over the top. And maybe have a little cheese and bread on the side. I think it works.

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A Better Lunch Break

 

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Let’s talk about lunch. Maybe the most rushed meal of the day, many of my friends admit to scarfing down something at their desks most days. When I brought lunch to work it was either leftovers from the previous night or a sandwich I threw together as I rushed out the door (which inevitably became tragically limp and soggy by the time lunch rolled around).

Being in Germany though makes your lunch choices pretty easy. See, Germany is the land of bread- FANTASTIC bread at that. Bakeries are on every corner and whether you’re looking for a hearty organic, spelt, hazelnut loaf, a rustic Bauern (farmer) bread or just a classic crisp white bread, you can find it and enjoy it freshly baked every day.

Some Germans eat bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bread with cheese and butter for breakfast, a roll with wurst for lunch and the requisite Abendbrot spread thickly with Leberwurst for dinner. It’s definitely a thing.

And one cultural practice that I’ve taken to eagerly. Sometimes I eat bread for breakfast and occasionally we have Abendbrot but I almost always have bread for lunch.

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Except today. My bread bin was empty and being right in the middle of working, I didn’t feel like trundling off to the bakery. I’m sure you can appreciate my dilemma. I rummaged around a bit though and spotted this little pile of endives waiting in the fridge. Score!

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My standard tuna salad on bread turned into tuna salad stuffed endives. This is a major upgrade from your childhood tuna salad sandwich and something I would even serve as an appetizer at a dinner party. I added a tomato relish to brighten it up and add some acidity. It’s light, healthy and pretty to look at-  the perfect lunch for a busy work day.

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Endives with Tuna Salad

Serves one for a light lunch (quantities can be easily increased for a larger group)

Ingredients:

1 can good quality tuna in water

3/4 cup sweet pickles, diced

2 T mayonnaise

1 T mustard

2 spring onions, minced

1 cup yellow cherry tomatoes

1 T white balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:

Flake the tuna into a medium sized bowl. Combine the mayonnaise, mustard and salt and pepper. Gently mix dressing into tuna, then add the pickles and toss. Taste for seasoning. Set aside.

Now start on the relish. Place the diced tomatoes and minced onions in a small bowl. Toss with the vinegar and let sit for 5- 10 minutes.

Stuff your endive leaves with 2 tablespoon scoops of tuna salad and top with the relish. Enjoy!

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Fall Comfort

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After a lovely sojourn in California I’m back in Germany. True to form summer has begun to falter and there’s a certain bite to the air that hints Fall is just around the corner. Though I’m somewhat reluctant to put away my sundresses just yet the bakeries here have started selling my all-time favorite Fall staple, Pflaumenkuchen (plum cake) and today I even caught myself looking longingly at my rugged leather boots standing idly in the corner. Suddenly the thought of layering up in knit tights and woolen scarves seems much more romantic and  I’m feeling a little more welcoming towards the upcoming season at present. This is a good thing because yesterday I woke up to stormy skies and I had one thing on my mind: soup.

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Soup is such a wonderful thing to have simmering away on the stove on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Normally I tend to lean towards a nice hearty vegetable and legume variety but my boyfriend politely requested his favorite- onion- and I was happy to acquiesce. There’s something incredibly decadent about topping little ramekins of soup with crusty baguette and smothering them with broiled cheese. What is possibly more comforting than broiled cheese? Not much in my book.

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It should also be mentioned that this soup was a team effort. About halfway through slicing the onions my eyes began to water so profusely that I had to call in my second and let him finish them off. I don’t know if they happened to be a particularly potent batch of onions or if I’m just losing my edge but there you have it- don’t be afraid to ask for help on that part.

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The real work you need to worry about with this recipe isn’t in fact the slicing but more importantly the caramelization process. This is where the magic happens and where you transcend from having a pot of broth with onions to creating a deeply flavored onion stock. At this point I left the house for my yoga class (where I proceeded to be tortured with hand stands for 90 minutes while smelling faintly of onion) and my boyfriend, Tim, happily babysat my onions and coaxed them to their glorious golden brown state.

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Comforting Onion Soup

Inspired by Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Ingredients:

6 large sweet yellow onions, finely sliced

3 T unsalted butter

1 T olive oil

1 t salt (plus more to taste)

1/2 t granulated sugar

3 T all-purpose flour

8 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup dry white wine

Black pepper to taste

plus

sliced baguette

generous servings of grated cheese of choice ( I used Gouda here because that’s what I had on hand but I usually like to use something with more of a bite like Gruyere or Parmesan Reggiano)

Begin by heating the butter and olive oil in a dutch oven or a large saucepan. Once they are heated add the onions and coat them in the oil and butter. Lower the heat and cover, allowing the onions to cook gently for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes have passed raise the heat to medium, remove the lid and add the salt and sugar. Now begins the somewhat long caramelization process where you have to keep a firm eye on your onions. Stir frequently until the onions turn a deep golden brown. This will take roughly 40 minutes- don’t worry if it takes longer, they will brown, I promise.

Once your onions have achieved the desired color dust them with the flour and cook for two to three minutes. Add the white wine and the stock. Bring to a simmer and season to taste. Cook partially covered for 45 minutes and serve.

At this point I ladled personal sized portions into oven-proof ramekins. I topped the soup with two slices of baguette and covered them with grated cheese. Pop them under the broiler for 5-10 minutes or until the bread is crisp and toasted and the cheese is bubbling and has begun to brown. ***Do not walk away from your broiling soups*** I elegantly sat myself on the kitchen floor and stared imperiously through the oven window. (Note: this does not speed up the broiling process but it does help avoid any blackened cheese episodes)

Enjoy piping hot with a glass of crisp white white and a simple green salad.

Hello Fall!

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Let’s go with a classic

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Every Tuesday and Thursday my city hosts one of the prettiest markets I’ve ever seen. Farmers come bearing heaping piles of fresh produce, flowers, cheeses, meats, fish and eggs.  Tucked against the backdrop of the medieval town hall in the center of the city it feels very “European” to say the least. Vendors get there early and rain or shine (there’s quite a bit more rain than shine) people hustle to the market and tote home baskets of fresh food for their hungry families.

When I lived in California just about every shopping trip required a car. Now I relish my short walk to the market. I load up on fresh flowers and take my time examining the farmers’ wares. There’s something so beautiful about coming to the market without a list and just letting inspiration take you for a ride. For example if I see some particularly fantastic tomatoes that’s the beginning of a really great dinner.

There’s something else to be said for loyalty. I’ve been coming to this market for about a year now and -finally- I’ve started to develop a bit of a repertoire with my favorite vendors. Notice how I didn’t say friendship; Germans are notoriously cautious around strangers. I think if I’d been coming to the market for 10 years instead of one I might have tentative friendships with these people. But as the new kid on the block (and a foreigner at that) our relationship is very professional.That doesn’t stop me from throwing in the odd sunny smile or two (I am from California) but it’s a whole different ball game here.

Right now I’m back in California for a much needed rendezvous with my family (and a taste of real summer) and I’ve been  spending as much time as possible soaking up the cloudless blue skies. Really! Blue skies for as far as I can see- that’s something you don’t see in Germany. Amidst the family gatherings and requisite visits to all my favorite restaurants I must say it’s  taken me a few days to readjust to the friendly conversation between strangers that most Americans dismiss as “normal”. I’ve become so accustomed to keeping to myself and keeping conversation to the bare minimum that it was a bit of a shock when I landed in Los Angeles. It seemed that wherever I went there was someone wanting to talk to me. While I was waiting in line at security, and passport control and even in the women’s bathroom! At first I kept thinking What is going on here?! Who does this woman think she is to talk to me right now?! But by now I’ve relaxed back into American culture.  I love chatting with people on the street and becoming friends with someone you met five minutes ago but I realized that I’ve also started to appreciate the effort it takes to really get-to-know people in Germany.

Every word from someone feels like a small victory and every smile is worth celebrating. People don’t make friends easily in Germany but bonds aren’t broken easily either. That’s something I’ve learned to cherish and even though I will miss my dear Americans when I fly back to Germany I will be happy to see my favorite vendors at the Tuesday market. Especially my strawberry lady.

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In case you didn’t know strawberries are in season and in Germany they are particularly lovely. Smaller than the ones I grew up with in California (my boyfriend likes to refer to them as “American-sized”) they’re sweeter as well. So sweet in fact that you really have to eat them fast and when I picked these up the other day all I could think about was one thing: strawberry shortcake.

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I think strawberry shortcake is the best possible vessel to showcase, and enjoy, your strawberries. This recipe is easy and quick which is perfect because I didn’t want to spend much time in the kitchen anyways. I started with a basic Victoria Sponge because I like something light and airy to play fiddle to my strawberries but if you’re in the mood for something a bit denser you could always go with a standard pound cake.

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If you feel so inclined this would be the point where you might want to “taste” the batter.

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Strawberry Shortcake

Equipment: One 8 inch  (20 cm) cake pan for a taller cake or a 26 cm pan for a slightly thinner version

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit)

Part One: Victoria Sponge

200 g (1 2/3 cup) all-purpose flour

200 g (3/4 cup plus 2 T) unsalted butter, softened

200 g (1 cup) granulated sugar

2 T baking powder

5 eggs

pinch of salt

Part Two: Filling

2 cups heavy whipping cream

500 g strawberries

bit of sugar

half of a lemon

Butter and flour your cake pan and set aside. Preheat oven.

In a large bowl mix flour, salt and baking power. Set aside. Beat the sugar with the butter and eggs until combined. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until fully combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes. I used a 26 cm cake pan so my cake baked faster, just adjust your baking time accordingly. Let the cake cool completely (about 2 hours) before slicing horizontally in half.

Meanwhile hull and slice about half of your strawberries. Mix with the lemon juice and sugar to taste. Let sit in the fridge for 1-2 hours. When you’re ready to serve whip your cream to a soft peak, adding a bit of sugar if you like.  Spread the bottom layer of the cake thickly with sweetened cream. Top with the prepared strawberries and the other cake half. Spread the top of the cake with the remaining cream and garnish with your remaining strawberries. Serve chilled.

I think this cake is great for entertaining because it’s such a crowd-pleaser and really, who doesn’t like strawberry shortcake? This cake also holds up quite well in the fridge overnight so if you can’t finish it all in one go, fear not. There are seconds for tomorrow.

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Eating Jerusalem

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There has been a lot of craze out on the blogosphere lately about the newest book to hit the shelves- and the kitchens- of food lovers around the world.  Of course the book I’m talking about is Jerusalem the latest masterpiece from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Bearing that in mind this post is a little bit after the fact. So many of my favorite bloggers have been cooking and writing from it for months.  After reading so much about it I went into a frenzy once I had my very own copy sitting happily in my kitchen. Any time I’m feeling a little bit bored or uninspired in the kitchen all I have to do is pick up Jerusalem and I’m transported to another place .  Some of my very favorite recipes include Roasted Chicken with Clementines & Arak and Braised Eggs with Lamb, Tahini & Sumac.

Ottolenghi and Tamimi make you think outside the box. If you haven’t cooked Middle Eastern food before don’t be intimidated.  While some of the ingredients are hard to find, I relish hunting down things like preserved lemon and harissa paste, and in Germany we actually have loads of Turkish grocers selling everything from fresh herbs to meat and spices. Jerusalem has certainly influenced the contents of my pantry and if you’re looking for a pick-me-up in the kitchen or really just something new to wake-up your senses, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

I think my favorite thing about Jerusalem (aside from the smashing food) are the stories that are beautifully woven throughout the figurative tapestry of the book. Tales from Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s childhood run rampant; stories that make you laugh and smile and wish you were there too, growing up in a city with so much history and so many different cultures all living side by side- though as we all know, not always in peace. I kept it at my bedside for weeks- to the despair of my boyfriend- and was constantly rifling through its pages, enraptured not only by the stunning photographs and my desire to eat everything, but the story that holds it all together. It makes you nostalgic for your own childhood and that special after-school snack your mom had ready for you when you got home, and all the other memories that are so often associated with food.

I have so much respect for this book because what it does so well is what all bloggers, including myself, try to do each and every time we sit down at the computer and try to put words to that great piece of cake we ate yesterday. It’s an art really and a magnificent example at that.

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My favorite recipe from the book though is without a doubt the baby spinach salad with dates & almonds. Right off the bat I had to make some substitutions because a) tender baby spinach as I know it is not to be found in Germany and b) having made this salad so often I now tend to use whatever I have lying about instead of leaving the cozy confines of my apartment for the chaos at the market.

So instead of using baby spinach I used Feldsalat. Literally translated it means “field salad” but it is tender and mild and a perfect backdrop to the strong flavors of the dish. As you can see I also used pistachios instead of almonds. This is mostly because I had pistachios in the pantry and not almonds, but also because I love seeing the vibrant green nuts nestled amongst the salad. They also taste amazing.

What really makes this dish sing though, and the reason I keep coming back for more, are the pickled dates and red onions.

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If you’re not a fan of all things pickled hang with me a moment longer. I promise you the pickling process (which just involves soaking the red onion and dates in a wee bit of vinegar for approx. 30 minutes) brings around a total change. Dates which can be tooth-achingly sweet become much more manageable. Raw red onions (which I normally avoid like the plague) lose their acrid harshness and lend a nice balancing act to their new best friends (the dates).  Together they are the bread and butter of this salad. Meat? What meat? This is not a salad where you may feel inclined to toss some chicken breast on top. Even my very German sauerkraut and schnitzel loving boyfriend gobbles up this salad with glee. And no, he doesn’t request any extra protein.

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I should also mention the fabulous “croutons”. I used a mixture of day-old Turkish flat bread and a seedy whole-grain number I had on standby in the bread bin. I broke them down into bite sized pieces and cooked them in a pan over medium-high heat with the pistachios and a nice helping of butter and olive oil. In about 5 or 6 minutes they began to crisp up and I took them off the heat and added salt, pepper, chili flakes and sumac.

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Sumac is a necessity here. Don’t skip it! It may take a little leg-work to track it down, depending on your location, but most specialty food stores should carry it. It’s not hot and adds not only great color but a sharp Middle Eastern flavor to the salad.

Salad with dates and pistachios (adapted from Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s recipe in Jerusalem)

Ingredients

big bunch of baby spinach or other tender salad (approx 150 grams)

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

100 g pitted Medjool dates, quartered lengthways

a bit of unsalted butter

2 T olive oil

2 small flat breads torn into small pieces (pita or any other day-old bread also works nicely)

75 g unsalted pistachios or almonds

2 tsp sumac

1/2 tsp chili flakes

2 T lemon juice

1 T vinegar (I used white balsamic, white wine would also work here)

salt

Begin by putting the vinegar, red onion and dates in a small bowl. Let sit for around 20-30 minutes. Then drain away any remaining vinegar and set aside.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a small frying pan. Add the bread and pistachios (or almonds) and cook until crunchy (about 5-6 minutes) while constantly stirring. Once the bread is ready remove from heat and add the sumac, chili, and a pinch of salt. Set aside to cool.

When you’re ready to serve toss the spinach leaves with the bread mixture. Add the dates and red onion, the leftover olive oil and a bit more salt. Toss gently with your fingers and serve.

Ginger nostalgia

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I have bad memories about Ginger Ale.

When I was a kid anytime I got in a car for an extended period of time (and by extended I mean >30 minutes) I would get car sick.  I don’t think I ever actually got sick (not to be explicit or anything)  but nausea would hit me like a ton of bricks. This usually resulted in me automatically snagging the shotgun seat next to my father on long family road trips, to the irritation of my younger sister. It also usually resulted in frequent stops along the highway and you guessed it, Ginger Ale.

Though I have no recollection at all about whether or not it actually worked, my parents gave me Ginger Ale to soothe my stomach. Whenever we stopped for gas on those long car trips  my sister and I headed into the Quick Mart for Skittles and Starburst. She always picked out Dr. Pepper and at my parents’ insistence I always got stuck with Ginger Ale.

I must say though after nearly a lifetime of eschewing all things ginger-y, lately I’ve developed something of a taste for it.

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So last weekend we decided to be luxurious and instead of undertaking the somewhat arduous process that involves walking and eating ice cream simultaneously, we decided to plump for a sundae and a seat,  to soak up the sun with all the other Germans.

Bearing my ginger kick in mind, I decided to forgo the elaborate ice cream towers gently swimming in amaretto (which aren’t bad either) in favor of something refreshing.  I opted for the “Ginger Fizz”. Image

Passion fruit sorbet and Ginger Ale are blended together with a little ice and you end up with a perfectly thick milkshake consistency. It was so good that the next day (which was hot and humid) all I could think about was going back for another Ginger Fizz.

So I decided to make my own.

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Ginger Fizz inspired by Cafe zum Mohren

Ingredients:

Ginger Ale

Passion fruit sorbet or frozen yogurt (mango also works nicely here)

ice

This is hardly a recipe so feel free to substitute as you will. I had a hard time finding passion fruit sorbet so I went with a frozen yogurt variety. If anything it just added extra creaminess.

For two servings (or one decadent one) add three or four heaping scoops of sorbet and about a cup of Ginger Ale to the blender. To keep it extra cold and refreshing toss in a couple ice cubes. Blend just until everything it combined and you have a thick consistency. If you feel like it’s a bit thin add another scoop of sorbet.

Enjoy in a frosted glass out on the balcony in the sun. It really is the perfect summer drink.

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Cooking therapy

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Being far away from home has its ups and downs. Weekend visits are no longer possible so instead of family barbecues you gravitate towards family Skype dates, it’s not the same but pretty good given the circumstances. 

On days when I feel the distance particularly acutely I cook. I make something that reminds me of home. Either something I ate growing up, something with California flair (avocados anyone?) or sometimes it’s just the act of cooking; chopping, mincing, seasoning, tasting and enjoying that soothes me. I like the process. I like the work that goes into making a great dish. 

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That being said this dish isn’t really much work. Sundays are lazy days here in Germany where everything except bars, restaurants and bakeries are closed so shopping for your supper isn’t really an option. 

I already had some chicken simmering away on the stove and with a glass of chilled white wine in my hand I perused the dwindling supplies in the fridge. Not much remained aside from a few limp spring onions, half a bunch of radishes and a single bulb of fennel.

Aha! It came to me. Radishes and fennel. Perfect. 

 

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Previously I never would have entertained many recipe ideas for radishes. I grew up eating radishes that had been delicately sliced and then buried (or hidden) in a salad of iceberg lettuce and rubbery tomatoes that was positively swimming in ranch dressing straight from the bottle. Not very stimulating stuff.

Lately though I’ve been reading a lot about braised radishes and how amazingly soft and tender they become if you give them a little love. Now that was intriguing. So I thought sautéed radishes and fennel had just as much likelihood to be surprisingly delicious. I’m so happy I was right.

 

Sauteed Radishes and Fennel

Serves two as an appetizer or side

Ingredients:

1 bunch radishes

1 bulb fennel

1 tsp granulated sugar

2 T olive oil

1 pat unsalted butter

salt and pepper to taste

2 T white balsamic vinegar

fresh basil for garnish

I started by putting a little olive oil in a nonstick skillet and added a smidgeon of butter (just because). While this got nice and hot I quartered my radishes and sliced my fennel as thin as possible. If you have one, a mandolin would be quite handy here for the fennel.

Once the oil and butter has heated add the radishes. Let them cook for about 2 minutes without moving them around. Then, add the fennel and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the vegetables with the sugar and stir to evenly coat. Add the vinegar and let cook for 8-10 minutes or until the fennel has started to caramelize and the radishes have softened and mellowed to a light rose hue. 

Enjoy with a glass of chilled white wine and a crusty baguette. 

 

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