July 19, 2011


Kitties come and go, things change and I feel like it's time to move onto a new space that will be something of a new start where I can devote myself to new cooking projects without the ups and downs of the last two years. Laughter, you will always be in my heart. And with that said, here's the new link...

April 15, 2011

Wild leeks (Bärlauch)

(Note to the reader: Before you go out harvesting your own wild leeks, please read the last paragraph of this article with some tips on how to do it sustainably)

When I first moved to Munich one of my favorite things to do was to go for walks in the English Garden. I moved here in spring and immediately noticed a distinctive yet elusive scent. It was distinctive in that it was earthy but pungent at the same time with a hint of something oniony and warm. It was elusive in that I had no idea what it was or where it came from. Christian didn't know either. And so it went - for years. My brain made a direct connection between Munich and that smell. To me it became the scent of Munich. And then, one day not long after the "Bärlauch"craze had taken off full throttle in the city - the herb seemed to be popping up in every dish known to man - I went for a walk through the park and finally made the connection. Bärlauch! That was what I had been smelling and searching for all this time. And it was everywhere. Long, shiny green leaves springing up in patches around trees, one of the first signs of spring's arrival and increasing in olfactory intensity throughout the summer.

I went home and looked it up right away. I hadn't yet taken the time to find the English equivalent of Bärlauch and, in no time, I had it - wild leeks, known to many as ramps.

Now a few years or so before my big wild leek discovery I had read "Sarah" by JT Leroy (Laura Albert), which includes some not-so-nice, lengthy descriptions of ramps and what they do to your digestion and to your breath. So my first thought was to proceed with caution. But then I thought, how bad could it really be, especially with the herb flooding every cafe within a 20 mile radius. I hadn't heard a single complaint. And so I dove in. It was beautiful. Garlicky without being overwhelming and, for reasons I still do not understand, not lingering over to the next day. In other words, no morning-after garlic breath.

People interested in food and in trying "new" ingredients have been using wild leeks every spring for sometime as have those who cook locally in many parts of the world (where the herb has been in use for much longer). Perhaps one of the easiest ways to prepare and store the wild leek is to make pesto. Another benefit of making pesto is that you only need the leaves, which means you can leave the bulb in the ground where it will sprout again next spring. The decimation of the wild leek population has begun to be a problem in some places because of its newly found popularity and the fact that a lot of people pull up the whole plant, roots and all, when harvesting. Of course, the bulbs are delicious, too, and are brilliant company with eggs or sauteed in butter and tossed with pasta, but if you are going to harvest the bulbs don't harvest too many and make sure to snap off the roots and put them back into the ground. It will take a few years, but those roots will grow a whole new plant. Save the wild leek!

Bärlauch (wild leek) pesto

One bunch of wild leek leaves. Or more. The more you harvest or purchase, the more pesto you can make. Just remember: A little goes a long way, so don't make too much unless you are planning on storing it.

Olive oil , enough to make everything meld together plus some extra to put on top

Finely grated parmesan cheese, about a handful depending on how many wild leek leaves you have and how big your hands are

Pine nuts, 20 - 30 or to taste

Now, there are three ways to do this. Let's start with the easiest.

Chop the wild leek leaves into small pieces. Plop everything into a food processor and mix until fine. Voila!

Option 2:

Tear or chop the leaves into small pieces and use a mortar and pestle to pound them into a paste. Add some parmesan, pine nuts and oil and pound until everything is small and combined. Depending on the size of your mortar, you may have to do this in batches. This method takes longer, but the result is more rustic and, I think, more flavorful. Maybe it's the elbow greece?

Option 3 (for those of you without a food processor or a mortar and pestle):

Chop up the pine nuts and wild leek leaves until very fine. Combine with the cheese and olive oil. Stir well.

Enjoy over pasta, slathered on roast chicken or on top of a soup for extra flavor and a subtle kick.

If you want to save your pesto for later, put the pesto in a jar and pour a layer of olive oil about as thick as your finger over it and screw on the cap. Keep it in the fridge for a week or so or freeze it (an ice cube tray for portion-sized storage) for up to 6 months.

One more side note: If you do decide to harvest your own wild food make sure that you go with someone who knows what they are doing and bring a good field guide with you so that you don't confuse the plant you are looking for with a dangerous cousin.

April 4, 2011

Cherry winter/spring

Now that spring is in full throttle, not to be denied or made to go back under that sleepy winter blanket, it is hard to look back at the coziness (and cold) of winter and feel any sort of warm glow inside. I am chomping at the bit for fresh baby vegetables from the garden and the bbq! Still, a few weeks ago things were not quite so far along and our almond tree, which now looks like this

looked like this

(As you can see in the first shot, it's raining today, which I why I did not go looking for wild leeks and did not make the pesto recipe that I am looking forward to sharing with you. But hey, all the more to look forward to, right?)

And in the fever of wanting, wanting, wanting spring and warmer weather I remembered that I still had a bag of cherries sitting in the back of my freezer that I halved, pitted and flash froze last summer. I knew I had to act fast. It would not do to have those cherries still around when the real competition came back on stage - fresh beats frozen any old day and I had saved those cherries so that I could have a burst of summer flavor in the depths of winter. So I thought and rummaged and came up with a plan. A sweet and simple plan, perfect to accompany a cup of tea on a raining spring day (like this one).

I structured my plan around the recipe for french-style yoghurt cake that was posted on Orangette way back and that I find myself turning to time and again for its simplicity and also because when I make it I can actually just use the yoghurt container, which makes me feel quirky and old-fashioned in a good way. Of course, you need to buy your yoghurt in a plastic container or jar that holds about 1/2 a cup but it's worth any possible extra effort involved because aside from feeling quirky and trendily old-fashioned, you'll also have the feeling that you really know what you're doing, you know, no measuring cups!

Of course the cherries gave the cake that little something extra. And in the process of measuring

and mixing

I realized that frozen cherries are incredibly delicious. I might even have to freeze up a bunch this summer and make some sort of slushy treat instead of waiting again until winter has come and gone to enjoy the bounty.

I only made a few minor adjustments to the Orangette recipe. I added the cherries, of course, and a pinch or two of salt (I like my sweets a little salty). I also reduced the amount of sugar slightly and used vegetable oil instead of canola oil. And I left out the glaze because I didn't want anything interfering with the cherries. But feel free to add it, if you want. You will find the recipe for it in the original post.

I have a habit of making cakes in miniature pans like the one above. There are only two of us and, although it may be hard to believe, there really is only so much cake two people can eat. With the smaller cake pans I can put one out to eat right away and freeze the others for later on in the week or to bring along on a spontaneous visit to a friend.

So here's the recipe. Enjoy!

Yoghurt cake with summer cherries (for winter!)
Slightly adapted from the recipe posted on Orangette

(again 1 jar equals about 1/2 cup)

1 jar plain yogurt, whole milk (I know, I know, but whole milk yogurt is soooo much better, especially when you bake)

1 3/4 jars sugar

3 large eggs

3 jars unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

a pinch of salt

1 jar vegetable oil

2 tsp grated lemon zest (you could substitute the lemon zest for orange zest if you want a cherry-orange cake. With toasted almond slivers or pecans on top....)

About 15 to 20 halved and pitted cherries, frozen, depending on how cherry you want it. (That will give you 30-40 cherry halves).

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit (180º Celsius)

In a large bowl combine the yogurt, eggs and sugar and stir until well blended. Add the flour, baking powder and lemon zest, if using. Combine. Now comes the odd part. Add the oil. It won't stir in right away and will look like a gloppy mess but keep stirring and it will blend in eventually. Pour about half the batter into a buttered 9-inch round cake pan or divide half of the batter between 4 4-inch cake pans. Place half of the frozen cherry halves cut-side down on the batter. Don't worry, they will sink a bit. Add the rest of the batter, dividing in among the pans if you are using more than one. Put the pan or pans in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes until the cake has just started to set. Carefully plop the remaining cherries, cut side down, on top of the cake in a pretty pattern of your choice. Slide the cake back into the oven and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes or until toothpick stuck into the center of the cake comes out clean. I've found that the cakes take a little longer to bake because of the fruit.

Let the cakes cool on a rack. I find it best to remove them from the pan after about 15 minutes and then let them continue to cool completely. They tend to slide out easier when they are still warm.