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.