December 25, 2010

Christmas wishes

Merry Christmas from our kitchen (and home) to yours. I hope it is warm and cozy wherever you are...

December 11, 2010

Pork exquisite

We've had our first snow here, but a thaw set in a few days ago and it almost feels like spring outside. So, before the winter sets in for good, I wanted to do a post about the trip to Edinburgh I took in late fall and especially about something beautiful I discovered while I was there. Yes, we took long walks through the city and even longer ones through the park

and along the coast.

We even visited the farmer's market near the castle

And it was all beautiful.

But there was something else, something that took my breath away in a primal part of my being that seems to have awakened in me since moving to Munich, the city of beer and pork. Something that calls me back to Edinburgh because I have to have it again. And again. And (hopefully) again.

And that something was Oink.

Now, Oinks may be small, it may be simple, but it is absolutely spectacular and, even though you might miss it if you walk past it on your way to the city center, overwhelmed by all the other sights and sounds, once you know it is there you will never miss it again. And why not?, you ask. Because. Of. The. Pig.

Yep, that is what you think it is. A spit-roasted pig in a display window. With knives sticking out of it for easy access. And beautiful skin that folks in Edinburgh call "crackling" and people in Bavaria refer to as the "Schwarte." Since I had never eaten it before coming to Munich, I'm really not sure what it is called in the States or even if it is called anything at all. It is basically pure, crisp, golden, salty fat. Delicious. And somehow, I am absolutely positive, good for you.

On a soft, squishy roll with sage and onion stuffing or haggis and a choice of spicy or sweet relishes (I opted for the sage and onion, C. opted out and stuck with the spicy relish), it was absolutely heavenly and C. and I enjoyed every last bite. So, if you're ever in Edingburgh, check it out. Once you know it's there, it's very, very hard to miss.

Here's the address in case you need a little help:

Oink Hog Roast Shop
34 Victoria Street
Edinburgh, EH1 2JW

(right up the hill from Grass Market as you head toward the Royal Mile)

December 7, 2010


I used to make tomato sauce in college - easy to use in pizza, lasagna or on pasta, all three of these being carbohydrate staples, which, along with the more vegetable-friendly stir fry, were what I seemed to subsist on in 4 different cities and 2 different states until I got my degree. But I realize now that the sauce I made back then lacked refinement and finesse. There was nothing subtle in that sauce, no "hint" of anything - just roughly chopped onions and garlic cooked in olive oil and then tomatoes and herbs to top it off. Back then a long, slow simmer meant 10 minutes max on medium heat.

                      This is the new school sauce, not the old one

But now that I and my taste buds have matured somewhat, I realize that there is more to a tomato sauce than that. That it can be a luxurious creature and still not take up much of your time. That tomato sauce holds secret and mystery in its silk and that subtle flavors can be coaxed into and out of the sauce with ease. And that these subtleties form a luscious base for so many foods, far beyond the pasta, pizza, lasagna creations of my younger days. But of course, tonight, I want it straight and simple. Give me spaghetti, please, and a sprinkle of parmesan.

One thing I have noticed, though, that really elevates the flavor of this sauce for me are herbs that I use either fresh or have harvested and dried myself. It's a hobby of mine in the spring, summer and fall - harvesting herbs from my garden and the countryside/woodlands around Munich to dry and use over the winter in tea, in soups and stews, with meat and vegetables and, of course, in sauce. They have a power and a punch that you just don't find in store-bought dried herbs that have been sitting around for a while. Of course, the store-bought variety are also fine to use in a bind - which is what I did tonight when I realized I didn't have any basil. All the herbs I used in this sauce were dried except for the rosemary, which seems to have survived the first snow intact. Try using larger amounts of fresh herb if it strikes your fancy. I especially like the brighter taste of them in the sun on the patio in the summertime.

                                 A few herbs for winter days

(originally inspired by the beautiful blog Orangette and adapted there from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan)

2 cans of whole, peeled tomatoes
3-4 cloves of garlic
2 small onions, peeled and halved
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. each of dried thyme, sage and basil (use 2 1/2 - 3 tsp if using the fresh herb)
1 tsp dried rosemary

Put the tomatoes with their juices into a large sauce pan or dutch oven together with the onions, garlic, butter, olive oil, herbs and a few pinches of salt. Give it a stir and get the lot simmering. Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. For a thicker sauce, simmer without the lid on for the last 10 minutes or so. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon - press them against the side as you remove them to get out all the flavor or leave them whole and chop them up to add to whatever meat or vegetable you are going to eat with the sauce. Taste for salt. I won't give any specific amounts here because every tomato is different as is everyone who eats tomatoes. If it seems a bit too acidic, add a sprinkle or two of sugar. Once you have gotten the sauce to your liking, squish the tomatoes down with the back of a wooden (or other handy) spoon (a slotted spoon works nicely for this, too) for a chunky, crushed tomato effect or blend in a food processor or hand mixer for a smoother, silkier sauce. Ladle away and enjoy!
As I said, this sauce is extremely versatile. You can leave out the herbs for a softer, more subtle flavor or play with the mix if you prefer the taste of basil, say, to rosemary. You can also add a few red pepper flakes for a punch (think penne al arrabiata) or mix it with roasted veggies or beef for a primavera or bolognese effect.

November 30, 2010

The bird that keeps on giving

I have learned two things over the past few months (ok, at least two relevant things):

1)   I am definitely a cold weather blogger:

                                            is that.... snow?!

2)   Sometimes you just have to post a recipe after the big event has passed

Case in point - today I am going to give you a turkey recipe almost one whole week after Thanksgiving and almost two whole weeks after I actually celebrated the holiday here in Germany - since it isn't an official holiday over here you can be flexible about these things, you know.

But... this turkey technique will knock your socks off. That was definitely the effect it had on the 11 and 3/4 people we had over for dinner (11 adults, a 3 year old and a six-month-old baby). It's called dry brining and will make your bird incredibly juicy and tender with only about 2 1/2 hours cooking time!

              Our bird and, um, some slight problems with carving space...

Can it really be true?, you ask. Yes, it can. And if trust is not your forte, well, you might just have to make this turkey for Christmas this year and see for yourself! Or even this weekend for that matter. After all, turkey really is the bird that keeps on giving - turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey quesadillas, turkey pot pie... turkey is a very effective way to feed a small army without a ton of extra work - at least with this recipe... I discovered it in the issue of fine cooking magazine that I bought at the airport to keep me entertained on my last 11 hour flight from LA to Munich. Truly incredible (the recipe, not the flight, although it wasn't bad either, as far as overseas flights go). Give it a shot and let me know how it turns out.

One word of caution however - this is a DO-AHEAD recipe! The turkey needs to soak up the dry brine for at least 24 hours, if you have 3 or 4 days, even better!

P.S. You should be seeing more posts on this site now that winter seems to have settled in.

Dry brined roasted turkey with fresh herbs
(adapted somewhat from the Oct/Nov 2010 issue of fine cooking magazine)

DO NOT BE DAUNTED by the lengthy descriptions here. They are purely for the sake of explanation. The actual doing it part goes really fast.

This recipe is for a 16-lb. turkey. Our turkey weighed in at almost 18 lbs., which was fine because you can adjust the salt brine by using 18 oz. of salt per pound. Also, you can increase the amount of herbs you use, just be careful not to overdo it too much. If you decide to up the amount of herbs, add a little more olive oil to keep the mixture spreadable.

Serves 8 - 10 with PLENTY of leftovers

2 Tbs.          fresh thyme, chopped
2 Tbs.          fresh sage, chopped
2 1/2 tsp.    fresh rosemary, chopped
1 Tbs.          extra-virgin olive oil
1 16-lb.        turkey, as fresh as you can get it
2 oz.            sea salt or kosher salt

(The recipe calls for kosher salt and if you have it, use it. I couldn't get my hands on any so I used sea salt instead, but I read that kosher salt is the perfect kind of salt to use in this kind of preparation, so if you can get it, it's worth the effort! If you do use kosher salt and do not have a scale, use 1/2 cups if using Diamond Crystal and 1/4 cups if using Morton)

STEP 1: The herbs

Rinse out your turkey and pat it dry. Mix the herbs and oil in a small bowl. Carefully slide your hand underneath the turkey's skin (between the meat and skin) and loosen it from the breast, thighs and drumsticks. Rub the herb mixture on the meat underneath the skin Make sure you get it in there! When you are done, pat the skin back into place. It will look lumpy and green is spots, but that is ok.

STEP 2: Dry brine the turkey

Rub the salt inside the cavity and on the skin. Make sure you use up ALL of the salt, even if it seems like a lot. Don't worry, your turkey will not be salty! Put the turkey in a large food-safe plastic bag (like a roasting bag) and then double-bag it. Refrigerate the turkey for 3 days, turning it over every day. If you don't have that much time you can shorten this last part, but try to leave your bird in the brine for at least 24 hours, turning it once after the first 12 hours.

STEP 3: Let the bird rest

On the evening of the 3rd day (sounds biblical, doesn't it?), remove the turkey from the bag and pat dry. If you are planning to stuff the bird, you might want to give the cavity a quick rinse at this point and then pat it dry as well. Put the turkey in your roasting pan and plop the whole thing back into the refrigerator, unwrapped, so that the turkey can air dry overnight.

STEP 4: Roast the turkey

Take the turkey out about 1 hour before you want to start roasting it so it can get rid of the chill. You can stuff it at this point, too, if you are planning to cook the stuffing in the bird. Heat the oven to 425° F. Place the turkey in the roasting pan on a rack in the bottom third of the oven. No need to cover with tinfoil. Roast at this temperature for 30 minutes and then reduce the heat to 325° F. Roast for about another 2 hours until an instant-read thermometer reads 170° F at the thickest part of a thigh. Baste the turkey with its juices or a little bit of melted butter for the last 30 minutes to get it nice and golden.

STEP 5: Let the bird rest, the sequel

Take the turkey out of the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes to let the juices settle (covering it in foil at this point helps keep it warm). Remove the stuffing, if using, and carve away!

June 21, 2010


Ok, so this isn't my very first harvest, but rather a late spring/early summer harvest coming in the middle of a relentless streak of rain and cold weather in June (!). And on (and possibly through) June 21 (!!!!) to boot.

Now I love fall and, being a Southern California girl, get very excited about the first snow - I love cozy weather where it makes sense to drink tea and eat cake, curled up in front of a movie - maybe one you wanted to see and never got around to or one you'd never even heard of before you saw it at the rental store or on iTunes. But on the summer solstice? Really?

That, my friends, is a picture of the sky in Munich right now (a color photograph, mind you), at around 3:30 in the afternoon (not sometime after dusk) during a time of year and in a part of the world where the sun doesn't set until almost 9:30 p.m. or even later.

So when my friend V., with whom I am renting out garden space from the city of Munich, stopped by in the pouring rain yesterday with two heads of lettuce, some spring onions, two different kinds of radishes, some late spinach fresh from our garden and a lot of mud on her shoes, I was definitely impressed. That's dedication!

And just the right amount of fresh color to brighten up a gloomy day. So tonight, we will dine like queens (and kings, of course) on abundant salad and grilled onions. Maybe with a cup of soup (protest! I want light, refreshing summer food!) on the side to help keep us warm.

And in the meantime, Laughter will kick it on the heater.

P.S. With that said, I've heard there is hope and that the gloom might flee these parts by Wednesday, making way for some real summer days. As they say, hope springs eternal, or, as they say in German, die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt.

P.S. Next time I'll include a recipe. Promise!

June 7, 2010

When in doubt, boil an egg

One of the most difficult meals of the day for me is lunch. For some reason, I always seem to have a hard time coming up with something nutritious, tasty and filling between the hours of 12 and 2, especially if I will be eating alone. And this is bad. Because if I don't eat, I become one of two things -  a raging beast who is willing to eat practically everything in sight or a woozy slug who can barely make it to the door. So what to do?

Well, I know, I know, a sandwich is always good, and I'm trying, but I can't really seem to find the inspiration for layering things on top of each other between bread when my energy level is at its lowest.

What about soup, you say. Yes, soup is a very good idea and something that I often crave during the noontime hours. The only problem with soup is that I have a hard time mustering up the patience to go through the soup-making process when I am so hungry I could eat my cat (something, I'm sure, he often thinks about me as well. I mean, let's face it, deep down in their hearts even house cats are ferocious, carnivorous beasts - we're just too big to eat). If I happen to have soup, left over and ready to go, great. If not, no soup.

This is a situation, by the way, that I hope to change in the near future. Lunch every day, rain or shine, on my own or in the company of others...

But for now, what is the grand, over-reaching, mother of all solutions? Well today it's an egg.

The egg...

Hard-boiled, plain and simple, no fuss, no frills.

Chop it up and add some dijon mustard, a little bit of pepper, green onion tops, a sliced radish fresh from the garden, some tasty bread and there you go.

And this little protein bomb in a shell can be eaten with all sorts of things or just plain naked with some salt and pepper. So, when in doubt, at least for now, a hard-boiled egg can save the day.

Hard-boiled egg life-saving lunch

1 or 2 hard-boiled eggs, depending on how hungry you are, preferably still piping hot from the stove*
A dollop of dijon mustard (or more if you want a real kick)
pepper to taste
1 green onion top, chopped (I usually just snip it with scissors)
1 small radish, sliced

After you are done hard-boiling your egg (cook it for about 10 minutes in boiling water), run it quickly under some cold water so you don't burn your fingers and peel it. Then, chop it up into rough, "rustic" chunks, add a dollop of mustard and mush/stir it together a little with a fork - just enough to spread the mustard around. Garnish with the green onion on top and add the sliced radish on the side. Break out the bread and enjoy!

*eating the egg nice and hot gives the yolk a creaminess when mixed with the mustard that you just can't get from cold egg yolks

You can take the humble, freshly hard-boiled egg and make it into a simple meal by adding all sorts of ingredients. I'm thinking sliced prosciutto, tomatoes and basil or, maybe next time, goat cheese.

June 1, 2010

Impromptu carbonara cure

It's rainy here in Munich.

And cold.

I'm not sure if someone forgot to read a memo somewhere, but it's June 1st! And it's not just the fact that I'm from California and have a different internal thermometer (yes, still, even after 10 years - lows of 41? What?) Everyone here seems to be longing for sunny days. One of the things I love most about living in Munich are the seasons. But today, June 1st? Brrrrrr.... Still, I suppose it's good for the grass seeds we sowed on the weekend.

And for the other plants that finally got repotted or put in the planter where they get to stretch their legs a bit.

So what's a girl to do on a day like this? Well, after going for a run during the only relatively rain-free patch of the day (only four more weeks to go until I do my very first half marathon ever, gulp), C. and I made pasta. Spaghetti carbonara to be exact. No rules, no recipes. We just kind of threw it all together. C. is becoming a whiz at sauces and almost anything to do with noodles, which is nice because that means a lot of potential dinners! Dinners where I can enjoy being treated to someone else's talents and let my creative juices stew for other endeavors.

And it was amazing...

I cut up two smallish onions, while C. got the water boiling.

I also cut up the ham and grated some parmesan.

There were the onions, and the ham of course, and eggs and then there was the cream. I love you, cream!

Although this isn't exactly a one-pot wonder, it's pretty close. Once you have the onions nice and translucent, you add the pasta, then the ham, the cream and then, finally, the eggs. Salt and pepper to taste, add some parmesan and you're golden. And so is this dish.

We sat down to a delicious, creamy, smooth pasta with a slight crunch from the onions and a salty kick from the ham. I am starting to think that cream makes anything work (i.e., delicious). Every noodle was covered with a delicate coating of cream, cheese and egg. So good. The rain started up again outside and I could feel a cloak of coziness wrap around me. It's still there. And now I think I'll go make a cup of tea.


Spaghetti carbonara improv

serves 2

enough spaghetti noodles for 2 people (about a fist-full)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
75 grams prosciutto or other salty ham, sliced (if necessary) and cut into squares - I used Schwarzwälder ham here... I'll get to that another time
2 smallish onions
2 eggs
150 grams heavy cream
a small pile of parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Start a pot of water boiling for your pasta. Don't forget to salt it! While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a skillet for about a minute and then add the onions. Cook the onions over medium heat until translucent and somewhat brown around the edges. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet. Add the ham and stir to combine. Next, pour in the cream and stir some more to coat the noodles. Let simmer for about a minute. Crack two eggs on top and mix those in as well. Each strand of pasta should be completely coated by now. Cook for 30 seconds or so to give the egg some time to set. Add the parmesan and salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

You can garnish this dish with chopped parsley, chives or any other green, leafy edible herb you can find around the kitchen. The green color gives the dish a freshness and ties it all together.

January 31, 2010

An explanation

Ok. This is my first time blogging. It's not my first time writing, but it's my first time writing about food. Not only is this a chance to engage in dialog about something I'm really interested in - food, cooking it and eating in - it's also a chance to put myself out there and maybe chisel away at some of the constraints I put on myself when I sit down to tackle a project. I set standards. A good thing. But they can get in the way. It's not like everything I produce has to be worthy of Nietsche or Inger Christensen (she is so amazing!). That attitude will get me nowhere, which I'm sure is very obvious to everyone. But for some reason it is a logic that I still need to grasp myself. It all starts here.

And I could take a lesson from my cat, Laughter. Everything he does he does with total passion and without thinking. Ok, so he has a very, very small brain. But still. He's a constant presence in my kitchen because food is the one thing he is most passionate about in life. And he works for it. He doesn't give up, even when there is no hope of success in sight.

I could learn from that. Just like I hope to learn by writing this blog. A blank canvas for whatever I cook or think or explore. And hopefully some pictures of Munich, the Isar and more. I can't wait!