26 December 2009

with or without pictures

Now what's it with my 'Riz al Andaluz'?

I made it again the last days, and despite still smarting from forgetting to take pictures the last time, I forgot them again! Can you believe it?

That dish must be jinxed.

I'll try one more time, and then I'll post the recipe anyway. With or without pictures.

Anyway. I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a lovely time with your family and loved ones. Have a great time, eat a little to much, and don't forget to take photos!

14 December 2009

the looming holiday season

Last year, I experimented with infused rum as a base for mulled wine, which still is in regular use in my household.

So when it finally turned cold in my part of the world (as opposed to rainy), I sought for something similar to experiment with this year. Somewhere, I had read about home-made coffee-liquor, and I decided I would start making some of that.

The first thing that I learned was that coffee and liquorice absolutely don't go together. I had completely misjudged the amount of star anise in one recipe, and the results were... haunting. Actually, that batch was one of vilest things I have ever concocted in my kitchen. Imagine getting an electric shock from your espresso machine, with off-colour afterimages of liquorice floating through your jumbled mind. I still get a numb tingle on the tip of my tongue by even thinking about it, and I had merely tasted half a teaspoon.

Anyway. I had a steep learning curve.

Coffee and vanilla work great together, though, and allspice and pepper add a lovely, complex background. The liquor made with the final recipe below is more spicy than sweet, and in my eyes offers a really great alternative for those moments when you can't decide wether you want a strong schnaps or an espresso after a particularly rich meal. Looking ahead at the looming holiday season, there'll be many of those, I'm pretty sure of that.

This liquor works great when very cold, a little like Jägermeister. You could also mix it with cream for something like Kaluha, or pour it onto your icecream or mix it with hot coffee...

And of course, it makes a lovely small gift for people who basically have everything already. Especially, as it only takes a little less than a week to mature, you could start it today and still have plenty time to find pretty bottles before christmas.
Which actually reminds me that I still need some of those...

digestif de café
(makes a little more than half a litre)

for the infusion
0,7 litre brown rum (40% alcohol)
200g whole roasted coffee beans
3 vanilla pods
1 stick cinammon
1 small star anise
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

for the syrup
200g demerara sugar
200 ml water

For the infusion, combine all ingredients in a large, airtight jar and leave to macerate in a cool, dark place for about five days.
Right in the beginning, the coffee beans will float on top of the liquid, so you may need a jar of about 1,5 litre volume to accommodate all without a spill.

After the week, take out all spices and filter the liquid. If you like, you can return the vanilla pods, as they will continue to add their arome without becoming too cloying. Discard the other spices.
Now that the coffee beans have soaked up a good part of the rum, there'l be surprisingly little liquid left, a little less than half a litre with me. It is kind of a shame to throw all the spices away, but the rum is really pungent already.

For the syrup, add the water and the sugar in a small casserole. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for about 10 minutes. Leave to cool.

Sweeten the rum with the syrup according to taste.
I usually use a little more than 100 ml syrup, as I do not want the final product to be too sweet, only sweet enough to make the taste mellow and lasting.

Store in a cool and dark place.
As this is the first time I made this, I have no idea how long it'll keep. Looking at the ingredients, it should keep pretty long, provided it is stored in the dark. 

Serve very cold, on the rocks as a digestiv or mixed with cream in equal parts with a dusting of cocoa for a  velvety dessert-like drink.

07 December 2009

a bit on the lazy side

For the last weeks, I've almost ritually been struggling with a bread each sunday.

It started with a harmless post on The Fresh Loaf Blog about Eric Kayser's Tourte de Meule. First it worked out nicely, then I tried to get a more open crumb with the flours available here in Germany.

From there on, things went downhill in many colourful ways.

But, after many attempts and enough (mediocre) bread to feed my neighbours, I have finally managed to stabilize one recipe that works reliably in my kitchen.

One of the things that mostly got me into trouble was my somewhat sluggish sourdough starter. Personally, I think he's a real sweetheart, bubbling and brewing, reliably awakening each time when I pull him out of his corner in the fridge. But apparently, he's a bit on the lazy side. Especially when comapared to the diligent starters of all the other (much more experienced) bakers out here on the net, he's seriously shy of work. I can hardly get the little bugger to raise my bread without some distinct shove by a spoonful of dry yeast.

But now that I know, I can always add some yeast, and for the last few times, it worked flawlessly.

My adapted 'Tourte de Meule' is a sourdough wheat bread with a distinct share of rye. I fell in love with the dark crust and the soft, moist and almost feathery crumb. The technique is untouched, and fits perfectly into my weekend schedule.
While trying the different sorts of flours available here, I figured that 'proper' wholegrain wheat flour totally kills the structure of the crumb I was trying to achieve. And I love, love, love the German type 1050 flour, which is 'dark' wheat flour. It is not quite a wholegrain flour, but flour ground longer so more parts of the shell and seed ending up in the final product, turning it distinctively darker, 'wheatier' yet still very fine.

I experimented with various combinations of flour and in the end just chucked all the complicated ratios and went for 100% type 1050 flour -  and tada! The perfect crumb, at least in my eyes.

This has swiftly become my family's favourite sandwich bread, as it is light yet intensely aromatic, with a crunchy crust. It goes perfectly with cold cuts (important in Germany) yet its airy crumb is something close to unheard of here. Try it, it might just be perfect fór you as well, too.

sourdough wheat bread
adapted from Eric Kayser's Tourte de Meule
(makes two medium loaves)

1kg wholegrain wheat flour (German type 1050)
700ml lukewarm water
30g sea salt

200g sourdough starter (100% hydration, 100% rye meal)
1 teaspoon dry yeast

The day before baking, mix the flour with the salt and water until just combined. Leave to rest for half an hour (autolyse).

Add the starter and the yeast and knead until well combined and the dough comes together, about two to three minutes.

Put in a lightly oiled container or bowl and leave to rest for 45 minutes.
As bread baking seems to become a regular part of my kitchen efforts, I have finally invested in two large plastic containers that fit into my fridge just so. They're big enough for the whole dough to fit in at once, with enough room to handle the stretch and folds inside without having to take out the dough onto my counter. A few euros that saved me a lot of cleaning duty.

Do a set of stretch and fold after the first 45 minutes, then repeat three more times after 45 minutes each to a total of four folds.

Leave to dough to rest in the fridge for 20 hours, inside a sealed container of some sort.

Immediately out of the fridge, shape into boules and leave to proof en couche for about two hours, or until the dough stops springing back after being poked.
As I said, my sourdough is rather lazy, so maybe your version will need a significantly shorter time to proof. Just listen to your dough, not to me.

Preheat the oven to 250°C.

Bake for 10 minutes with steam at 250°C, then reduce to 200°C for another 30 minute or until the crust is dark brown.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes in the switched-off oven with the door cranked open. Leave to cool on a rack, cool completely before cutting.

Freezes exellently well, is great toasted.

16 November 2009

sewing new drapes

Apart from sewing new drapes for our living room, I tried my hands at two new kinds of bread this weekend. For one, I made another attempt at making baguettes, using Anis Bouabsa's recipe. They turned out much better than last time, and my scoring definitely improves, but I still got way to go.

The other one was Eric Kayser's Tourte de Meule. Those two turned out rather nicely:

Maybe a little dark, but with a nice, crackly crust and a great taste, at least in my eyes. My wife and the rest of the family deemed them 'boring'. But then again, she loves the baguettes, which I found a little uninteresting.
But I'll definitely try the tourte de meule again, maybe I'll even manage to get a more open crumb the next time.

02 November 2009

this time of the year - part five

First weekend of November.
Business as usual.
Another round of pre-emptive Christmas baking.

As the dough has been resting in the larder for four weeks now, I baked the Pfefferkuchen.

The dough was astonishingly dry and crumbly this year, and needed a sizeable glug of water to turn smooth again. But on the other hand, the cookies smelled much better than last year, richer and more buttery.

And of course there were the Stollen, like every year.

Entirely contrary to the Pfefferkuchen dough, though, the Stollen dough turned out very wet, bordering on slimy, making it really hard to get decent shapes out of it. Still, about half of the loaves turned out picture perfect, while the other half somehow exploded into shapes that I cannot begin to descripe without resorting to words entirely unsuitable for a site like this.
What a luck they all were instantly covered in a thick coat of icing sugar, hiding beauties and beasts alike.

Both the Stollen and the Pfefferkuchen will now go back to the larder, carefully wrapped and tinned, to rest for another four weeks. And right on the beginning of December, they should be nice and mature and a perfect addition for any cookie platter.

Just so you know there was something else but christmas sweets on our plates this weekend - this is sunday's green prawn coconut curry on pasta, as pretty as they come:

P.S.: It has taken me a little over a year to reach yet another (tiny) milestone of this blog. This is the 100th post here on Nom-Nomnom, and there's definitely more to come. Thanks to all of you who continue to inspire and encourage me to go on cooking, and thanks to all dropping by and commenting.

01 November 2009

a clear impression

Just like I get better in cooking since I've started this project, I get better at noticing if a plate is gong to make a good picture or not.

I'm just snapping what's on the table and can't really be bothered with an extra setup and lightning, so taking a good picture of a dish sometimes is close to impossible. I don't necessarily mean taking a technically good pixture, I sure don't have enough of a clue to even start talking about that. But I mean a good picture in terms of conveying a clear impression of the dish, of its tastes and textures.

As I said - sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't.

It didn't work out, for example, with the photograph showing the 'stag bourguinon'. A black puddle next to two yellow triangles definitely isn't my idea of one of my favourite venison dish.

Last night's version of the very same 'stag bourguignon', though, gave me a much, much better opportunity for a good picture:

It's still far from perfect, but so much better already.

30 October 2009

47 letters to name a single bread

I have already written about Bäcker Süpke's wholegrain spelt bread with whole grains a few weeks ago.

But since then, I've made this bread several times, and it always turned out flawlessly. It's nothing I could claim any credit for, but I thought it too good a recipe not to post it here. And, seeing how charming Meister Süpke is in his comments, I don't really think he'd mind the extra publicity.

So I sat down and translated the original recipe, hoping to spread this around the blogosphere a little.

There are only two minor changes I made to the original recipe, apart from the translation, that is.

For one, I balked at the thought of adding the soft, boiled grains to the dough at the very beginning and kneading them for half an hour. I feared they would completely disintegrate and so I decided to add them only for the last ten minutes. And it works very well, the grains remain whole and apparently it makes for something like a double hydration technique, with the dough being able to build up strength before I add the final bits of liquid with the grains.

Also, the original recipe calls for a bit of 'Brotgewürz', bread spices. Which is all very nice, but also entirely undefined as far as I know. So I guessed and used ground caraway and coriander seeds in equal proportions. Which turned out to be one of my smarter ideas lately. Both spices blend pitch perfectly with the taste of the spelt, warming and brightening the taste without being really distinguishable on their own.

This bread has become a constant fixture of our diet, and I can only stress that it is the least 'healthy' tasting whole-grain bread I've ever come across. It never stops to amaze me that it's really brown and not grey, that it's rather sticky than crumbly, open-crumbed and yet perfectly sliceable with a nice but demure crunch to the crust.

Roasted in the oven with just a few drops of honey until the corners start to turn dark, this bread makes a perfect treat on its own, or a great coaster underneath a grillt goat's cheese, or basically anything that needs a solid, earthy partner.

The only thing I am not really happy with is the name, unwieldy as it is. Even in German with its infatuation with endless strings of words it's a rare thing to need 47 letters to name a single bread. But for a bread with such a long list of strong points, I am more than willing to put up with a lot, even this behemoth of a name.

Bäcker Süpke's
wholegrain spelt bread with whole grains

(translation and any mistakes are mine)
(makes two 850g loafs)

for the boiled grains
200g spelt grains
400ml water

for the sourdough
340g wholegrain spelt meal
10g ripe sourdough starter
340g warm water

for the soaker
200g wholegrain spelt flour
20g salt
120g water

for the final dough
190g wholegrain spelt flour
10g dry yeast (one sachet)
40g runny honey
1 heaped teaspoon ground caraway
1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander seeds (or more, to taste)

for decoration
rolled spelt, about 2 tablespoons

On the day before baking, bring the grains and the water to boil in a small pot. Cover and leave to simmer gently for about 10 minutes, then take off the flame, stir, and set aside, covered.

Mix all the ingredients for the sourdough until just incorporated. Cover and set aside.

Mix all the ingredients for the soaker until just incorporated. Cover and set aside.

Leave all three bowls to ferment overnight in a cool room, but not the fridge, for a minimum of 16 hours.

On the day of baking, combine the sourdough, the soaker and the final ingredients in the bowl of your mixer and knead at lowest speed for twenty(sic) minutes.
I am not kidding. The original recipe says twenty minutes and the dough really needs every second of it. You'll see, in this case it makes all the difference between wet flour and a dough.

Leave to proof for an hour.

Deflate the dough and add the boiled, cold grains.
The original recipe says to discard eventually remaining water, but I add it to keep the amount of added water identical each time. Never had much of it left with the grains, anyway.

Knead at low speed for another ten minutes.
That's half an hour kneading all together. Any wheat dough would be a neat rubber ball by now, but here, it just works perfectly.

Pour into a rectangular baking tin lined with non-stick paper. Even the dough and cover loosely with the rolled spelt.

Leave to proof in a warm place for about an hour to one hour and a half.
The dough will increase about 20% in volume at most, and when ready will stop springing back if gently poked.

Preheat your oven to 220°C. Bake with steam for the first minutes and immediately reduce temperature to about 160°C.

Bake for 100 minutes.

Take out and leave to cool on a rack. Rest a day or at least until fully cooled before cutting.

Freezes perfectly well, and tastes especially well toasted.
We usually bake on stock and freeze the sliced  bread, thawing individual slices in the toaster. Talk about two sparrows and one stone.

Some more wise remarks of Bäcker Süpke:
  • Always add all the salt to the soaker. Otherwise, the enzymes of the wholegrain flour will produce harmful byproducts leading to a grumbling stomach.
  • Wholegrain doughs, especially wholegrain spelt doughs, have to be wet - rather add a little more water.
  • Bake long and 'slow' to get all that moisture out of the bread.
  • Always use very little yeast and long final proofs, else you wouldn't get a sliceable bread.
  • Playing with the honey and the spices is a great way of tweaking this recipe!

P.S.: And once more, this post wil be sent to the YeastSpotting section of Susan's formidable blog Wild Yeast, a home baker's resource I can hardly recommend too much.

29 October 2009

one of the nicest gifts

Last weekend, my parents came over for my father-in-law's birthday. And my dad brought me a special gift: a pot of rillettes, made by himself, after this recipe.

Of course he tweaked the recipe a little, but still. Does it make any sense that I feel poud about this? I mean, like, really happy and proud. Maybe it's the fact that my site here inspired him to cook something nice, my parent taking a clue from something I did.

What ever it it, that little pot is one of the nicest gifts I've been given in quite a while.

25 October 2009

stuffed like Hobbits

Other people have Halloween, we in our family have my father-in-law's birthday.

Not that I'm implying it's a scary event, but there is a certain amount of suspense involved every year. He likes to have themed dinners for his birthday, and after last year's classic German sixties buffet, we decided to aim higher and try to set up a proper Hawaiian luau.

Well, 'proper' in this regard surely is something of a stretch, as we have no beach, the weather here currently is nothing but drizzle, and definitely nothing tropical on offer right now. And I sure as hell wasn't going to go into our muddy garden and dig up an imu for a slow-roasted pig.

So, a little bit like last year, we didn't take the truly scientfic route and instead decided to stick with our idea of a luau - and it turned out pretty great, actually.

We had pulled porc made with liquid smoke in the oven, pineapple chutney and another one with green tomatoes. There were cheap silk flower leis for the ladies and equally thrifty shirts for the guys in lurid colours and palm leaves on the table.

We had honey-garlic meatballs, coconut-crusted prawns and lime-cured salmon salad, enough rice and sweet potatoes to feed a whole army. And of course, Mai Tais and beer, wasabi-crusted peanuts and what felt to me like one hundred nibbles I am too lazy to list up. We finished with coconut muffins and pineapple parfait, stuffed like Hobbits.

It was great, great fun and exceedingly exotic for German standarts. I learned a lot, and the coconut prawns with pineapple chutney were a real keeper.

Now all I have left to do is clean up the kitchen and then kick off my shoes for a truly lazy sunday afternoon of doing nothing. Aloha.

24 October 2009

sunny side up

The first time I heard of a 'fried egg cake', it was when some friend at school invited me over. His mother had some leftover cake from a birthday, and there would even be said 'fried egg cake'.

As I am struck with the mixed blessing of an extremely vivid and active imagination, the prospect filled me with disgust and fascination at the same time. Of course, I agreed.

It was both a relief and a disappointment when the 'fried egg cake' turned out not to contain even a single fried egg. Instead, it only looked like a platter of fried eggs, with dozens of halved apricots shining like so many sweet yolks, sunny side up.

Over the years, I have come across countless versions of this cake, and probably every household in Germany has its own.

This is my take on the 'fried egg cake, and it actually is one of my favourites. I love the combination of a crispy, crunchy base, creamy but not too custardy topping with chunks of tangy fruit and the bright notes of apricot jam spiked with lemon juice.

Unfortunately, this is one of the few cases my wife and I wholeheartedly disagree - while a crunchy base for me is an absolute must, she can't stand it. Actually, she would prefer me not to blind bake the base at all, turning the whole thing into a spoonable dessert rather than a cake to be eaten in slices.

Well, as much as I adore her, no chance in hell with this cake. It's mine.

fried egg cake (sunny side up)
(one baking sheet of 16 decent helpings)

for the pastry base
500g all-purpose flour
250g cold butter in small pieces
100g unrefined cane sugar
10g vanilla sugar
a pinch of salt
1 egg

for the batter
600g creamcheese
100g sugar
2 tablespoons corn- or potato-starch
20g vanilla sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
3 eggs

about 700g canned apricots without sirup

2 tablespoons apricot jam
one teaspoon of lemon juice

Preheat your oven to about 180°C.

Combine all the ingredients for the pastry base in the bowl of your mixer. Using the whisk attachment, mix until crumbs form, about the size of coarse sand to small peas.
Once you are beyond the 'small pea' stage, it'll take only a few seconds more before the dough coalesces into one single, solid lump. Which isn't a real problem, but hard on your mixer and means additional work when rolling out the dough.

Line a high-rimmed baking sheet with non-stick paper. Pour in the crumbs and distribute them evenly, then press down (or roll out) and close any eventual gaps.
There's no need to form a rim as long as the baking sheet is high enough.

Bake blind for about 15 minutes, take out as soon as the first spots start to brown.

Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients for the batter except the eggs. Once the mix is smooth, add the eggs, one by one, always mixing until you have a smooth batter before adding the next egg.

Take out the base and pour the batter onto the hot pastry.
Please take note that this is the amount of batter filling my high-rimmed baking sheet as it should. That is, about a finger wide on top of the pastry. Your's may vary.

Put the apricots into the batter, with their rounded side up. Try to distribute them evenly across the whole cake.
Canned apricots can be a little difficult to get onto the dough 'sunny-side up', as the slippery bastards always try to end up the other way round. At least, that's what they do with me. If one of your apricots gets 'battered', take it out again and clean it under the tab - it'll just look odd and messy if you don't. (Actually, I always take more apricots than I need and eat those I dropped into the batter. Just between you and me...)

Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C and bake the cake until the batter is firm(ish) and starts to brown.
Traditionally, the batter should just set and shouldn't brown at all. But as I am one of those persons who like the fried eggs with a tiny, crispy golden fringe, I actually like it when my cake looks at least golden and not so anaemic.

Put the apricot jam into a small bowl and warm gently until runny.
A few seconds in the microwave should do the trick nicely.

Add the lemon juice and stir until smooth.
You could run the jam through a sieve at this point to get an extra-glossy finish, but I usually skip this part.

Take the cake out of the oven and glaze with the apricot jam while still hot.

Leave to cool slightly, then slice into squares. Best served warm and on its own, though still works nicely with vanilla ice-cream.

Keeps well for a few days, but gets messy when stacked. Try not to store in the fridge, as the jam glaze will attract even more moisture there and can turn the cake soggy overnight.

20 October 2009

all is well in drizzly Germany

Found out something new this weekend:

While fried octopus usually is a tough and sorry affair, cooked and skinned octopus, prepared as for a salad such as this, stays moist and tender yet gets perfectly crispy in the pan.

Deglazed with lots of lemon juice, this is almost a dish on its own... Add some garlic smetana, and all is well in drizzly Germany.

18 October 2009

savoury cousins

Two of my strongest childhood impressions concerning food are, once again, deeply connected with my family's vacations in France.

One of them is the image of 'Aunt' Odette, making crêpes in front of her caravan on a farm somewhere in rural France. I can vividly remember her lurid yellow frock, her long, pink-lacquered fingernails and her huge earrings, while she made the crêpes in a single pan on a camping gas burner. She challenged us kids to try and pick the crêpes out of the pan with our bare fingers like she did, but we never managed. Probably her long, artificial fingernails gave her quite an unfair advantage in that particular discipline.

There was a whole gaggle of kids waiting in line for her treats, orderly like you'd have never guessed only a few minutes before. And those crêpes were the best in the world right then. Filled with nothing more but sugar or jam, those filigree pancakes pacified a whole bunch of unruly children better than anything.

The other image is a memory of me sitting in the cool farmhouse kitchen of Mémé Bréard in Brittany, with with her short, smiling husband sitting next to me. At that time, my French was rudimentary at best, and Mémé needed gestures and a lot of smiles to teach me how to wrap my buckwheat crêpe, a 'galette', around a small, fried sausage and dip it in a 'bol' of buttermilk to eat.

It was an assembly of foods that was so very alien to me I could hardly believe it tasted so good. Her husband's gap-toothed grin made clear he was proud to have such a good eater with him at the table.

Those images are among the first memories of foreign food making a seriously positive impression on me, and probably are to be credited for making me (at least partially) the curious eater that I am today.

Crêpes and their savoury cousins, the buckwheat 'galettes', were among the first things I learned to poperly cook on my own. At least, that is how I remember it, they definitely were the first dish that no-one else at home knew how to make, the first dish I really 'owned'.
And the memory of Aunt Odette flipping the crêpes right in the pan with her bare fingers irked me for so long that I learned how to flip them without touching them at all. It took me a few years, admittedly, but now I look like a real pro handling several pans at the same time.

What I actually want to say is - crêpes and galettes have always been part of my cooking life, and can be everything from simple treat to a truly eye-catching, show-off dessert. I still smile when I think of that HUGE burning platter of Crêpes Guadeloupe, filled with caramelized banana and flambéed with rum, that I carried onto a dinner table one evening... I love them, and my wife loves them, and almost anyone I know agrees.

Though what astonishes me every time, though, is how many people think they're terribly difficult to make or that you need a special pan and whatnots to make them. You do need a little practise, right, but apart from that - nothing you don't already have in your kitchen.

So I decided not only to write down a recipe this time, but also to add a little tutorial for those who have never made crêpes at home, or galettes, for that matter. I'll put the tutorial into a separate post, as I do not want to clutter up the recipe and keep the tutorial as streamlined as possible. If you already know how to make crêpes, you can just skip the tutorial, I do not presume to be able to add anything to your method. But if this all seems very daunting, have a look, maybe I can help you make your first crêpe. It's well worth it.

I can only repeat how lovely and versatile both crêpes and their savoury cousins are. Variantions are almost endless, and range from simple sugar or jam to nutella and straberries, orange butter and cointreau or said caramellized bananas and rum for the sweet version alone.
The galettes are mostly eaten warm, with a bit of salted butter or some cheese and a bit of bacon inside, or a fried egg and ham. The classic way of eating them in Britanny (at least as I got to know it) is to shred then into small bits and then have them cold in a bowl of buttermilk for breakfast, pretty much like a cereal. If you roll up the galette and cut it into very fine strips, you end up with something like a cold buckwheat noodle soup, wich doesn't merely look nice but also tastes pretty amazing.

galettes bretonnes
(crêpes du sarrasin dit blé noir)
(generously serves four)

250g buckwheat flour, sieved
3 eggs

500ml milk
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
a pinch of sugar

some neutral oil for the pan

In a large bowl, mix the flour, the eggs, butter, salt and sugar and a tiny bit of the milk, about 50ml. Mix with a wooden spoon until you get a smooth but still stiff batter.

To get the crêpes as thin and smooth as possible, you'll need a very liquid batter with as little incorporated air as possible. A wooden spoon or a dough whisk seem to be the only option, here, as all appliances I have tried so far gave me a foamy batter that yielded mostly failures.
You can try to work with a little more milk at the beginning to make the work easier on your arms. But as soon as the batter gets too moist, the flour will remain lumpy, and no beating and kneading will get 'les grumeaux' out again.

Add about 100ml of the remaining milk and mix until well incorporated. Then repeat with about 200ml first and then the rest of the remaining milk.
The batter should be very liquid, like a light creamy soup and barely cover the back of a spoon.

Leave to rest for at least half an hour, two hours would be best.

Start baking the galettes one by one following these instructions.
If you already know how to make your crêpes in a common non-stick pan, just make them as you always did. I do not presume to be able to add anything to your method. But if you are still convinced that making crêpes (or galettes, for that matter) calls either for a) some mythical skill or b) any equipment you don't already own, have a look. I learned how to make crêpes over a single gas burner on a camping site in 'la France profonde' when I was 10, and it really is that simple.

Stack them on a plate nearby and continue until you have used all your batter.

Serve hot with salted butter, or bacon and cheese, or cheese and a fried egg or even a fried sausage inside. Cold, the go very well with cream cheese, or smetana and smoked trout or basically anything you can come up with.
In Britanny, they were traditionally served in shreds in a bowl of buttermilk, the local lait ribot, as a breakfast, which is actually one of my prefered ways of eathing these.

The classic drink to accompany the galettes would be a nice, dry cidre, a sparling apple wine, though a crisp, cool beer works almost as well.

They keep very well in the fridge as long as they are tightly wrapped, but don't freeze well.

(Probably needless to say, but if you substitute the buckwheat flour with all-purpose wheat flour and add a lot less salt but much more sugar, you end up with a classic crêpe batter.)

crepe tutorial

These instructions are meant to help those who have never made any crêpes before. If you already make them on a regular basis - skip this whole entry, you'll probably know better than I do anyway. This is purely they way I have learned how to make them and have tried to make the process more efficient and failsafe over the years.
(Actually, it's almost a quarter century of experience, now that I come to think of it. OMG.)

you need:
a common non-stick pan
a wooden or plastic spatula
a small bowl with about two tablespoons of neutral oil
some sheets of paper towel
an assortment of various soup-ladles
a plate for the crêpes
and of course, your batter (recipe here)

A few words on the pan:
A) non-stick surface has to be as unmarred as possible. Theoretically, crepes can be made in any kind of pot or pan with a flat bottom - but I'm really not bored enough to ever have tried.
B) Also, the lower the angle of the pan's rim, the easier it will be to flip the crêpes. Which, of course, would only be necessary if you'd want to show off. But sometimes, that's part of the point, isn't it?
C) The pan can be any size you like - but medium sized pans and their subsequent crêpes are best to handle and work for any filling or topping you have in mind.

the 'mise en place'
Ignore if you are working with one pan only. But if you're in a hurry and / or are using two or even more pans at the same time, thinking about the setup will save you some precious time and a lot of a mess.
These instructions are for right-handers, lefties please flip accordingly.

Batter goes far right of the stove.
Bowl with oil and small plate for paper towel and spatula front right.
Plate for crêpes front left.

This ensures that none of your hands will (normally) have to cross the stove. It also minimizes the ways both the batter and the oil have to travel to the pans.
This might seem silly considering what little distances your hands have to cross, but when keeping in mind that making a large batch of crepes can easily turn out several hundred of them, each milimeter makes a difference.

actually making crêpes

Preheat the pan(s) to medium heat.

Grease by wiping the pan with a paper towel dipped in oil, it really only needs a greasy sheen.
Yes, you wipe the hot pans with a paper towel. This is how you get asbestos fingertips. Or learn how to fold paper towel really thick...

The pan is hot enough when a drop of the batter dries in about ten to fifteen seconds.
You should be able to loosen the drop by merely nudging it with the spatula. If the drop sticks, wipe away with the oiled paper towel and leave the pan on the stove for a few moments longer before trying again. The oil should never start smoking, though.

Stir up the batter with a soup ladle before making the first crêpe.
Especially when making galettes, the batter might have separated a little, depending on the coarseness of your flour.
Also, pick the ladle according to the size of your pan - ideally one full ladle should yield exactly enough batter to cover the pan once. If in doubt, rather err on too small a ladle than one too large - it's easy to fill gaps, but impossible to make a thick, stiff crêpe thinner.

Pour one ladle of batter all at once into the pan, right below the handle.

Then, in a continuous motion, tilt the pan to the left, then down, then to the right, and then up. The batter will spread out and flow downwards, so by continuously changing where 'down' is you can effectively cover the whole pan with a whisper-thin sheet of batter before it has time to set.
Imagine you were rolling a ball along the bottom corner of your pan in a slow, controlled circular motion. If you are not sure of what I am talking, this actually is a great way of training it. Take the pan of your choice and a small ball (A tennis or a golf- or baseball, but an orange, a marble or even a glug of water would work just as well.) Try to roll the ball around in your pan by tilting the pan, in a slow, steady motion. You should be able to stop the ball at any place of the pan without the little thing rolling back and forth. If you can do that, you're only inches away from complete mastery of the batter in your pan.

My wife and I have tried to capture me 'rolling around the batter' in the pan, so you might get a better idea of what I am talking about here. I admit the images looks all very unprofessional, but I still think it helps a lot more to see than to read.

To the left and down...

Down and to the right...

And up...

Left and down again...


Put the pan back onto the flame and mend eventual gaps with a few drops of batter.
Most of the times, that one darn drop hanging underneath the ladle will be just what you need to fix those tiny gaps that just seem to be unavoidable every now and then.

Once the surface of the crêpe has lost its wet sheen and the borders of the crêpe start browning, see if you can loosen the crêpe with the spatula.
In a really well-seasoned pan, you actually can just shake it loose.

Once the crêpe is nicely browned (as brown as you like it) turn around or flip in the pan.

When the other side is as brown as you like it, flip again and slip onto the plate to your left.

Wipe the pan with the oiled paper towel and start the whole process over, step by step creating a neat little pile of crêpes.
You can see that where the batter was poured up the rim of the pan, it turned very thin and crisp, almost tuile-like. This is one thing I really love about pan-made crêpes, something you would never get if they were made any other way. Those fringes always remind me of starched lace ruffles, don't they?

04 October 2009

this time of the year - part four

Once again, it's this time of the year. The leaves on the trees are starting to turn colourful, and the shops are already stocking up on stollen and other christmas sweets.

Which means that I have spent some time this weekend in my kitchen, making Pfefferkuchen. More precisely, I have been making Pfefferkuchen dough, as I do every year on the first weekend of October. This way, the dough can rest four weeks until the first weekend of November, to be baked together with the Stollen. Both will have to rest another four weeks before they are mature, which will be on the first weekend of December then. Right in time for the proper start of the cookie season.

And as every year, I have made a few changes to the recipe - if they also were improvements, we'll all see in eight weeks. I doubled the amount of butter, added more anisseed and less potash and salt of hartshorn. And I forgot to add the zante currants, but that's not a real change to the recipe, just a little sloppiness on my side. And despite making them for so many years by now, I am still excited how they will turn out this particular year.

In perfect keeping with the season, the weather has turned muddy and drizzly and cold. I am sure that somewhere I have still some of the spice-infused rum for my mulled wine... One of the very few advantages of this weather in this time of the year.

24 September 2009

tasty pizza without cheese

Within the confusingly meandering (yet hopefully charming) confines of my mind, there is a place where Sophia Loren, Alsace and the North-Hessian infatuation with smetana meet.

And whatever you might be thinking right now, it is entirely safe for work.

See, one of the deeply formative movie experiences of my childhood involves an early scene of 'Houseboat', that incredibly saccharine movie with Cary Grant and, you guessed it, Sophia Loren.
Sophia's character, Cincia Zaccardi, had just run away from her gilded-cage life as a rich man's daughter without a penny on her name, and drifts along some kind of fair, aimless and very hungry. She spots a little boy struggling hard to eat his slice of pizza, and, being the expert on Italian food that she is, decides to help him.

"See, Roberrrto," she said, her 'r's rolling with an Italian accent so strong it makes me giggle even today, "'dis is how you eat rrreal Italian pizza!"

Needless to say, her demonstration of 'fold first, then bite' consumed the better part of the young man's dinner.

For several reasons, this scene stuck with me, and there are two lessons I have learned:
1) When eating (thin-crusted) pizza, fold first, then bite, ignore the cutlery.
2) When a stunningly beautiful lady chats you up on a fair, offering to teach you something, she's after your food only. (As I said, I was really pretty young when I saw that movie.)

The first of these lessons came to my mind during my office's annual outing a few weeks ago. The lovely place we were having lunch at offered 'Flammkuchen', an Alsatian specialty very closely related to pizza. But as this is 2009, they added a local twist, using the regionally beloved smetana instead of the traditional crème fraîche.

And, boy, it was great!

Smetana is significantly richer than crème fraîche, and a little sourer as well. But with only onions, bacon and some flatleaf parsley as topping, that made all the difference. The smetana didn't curdle like crème fraîche would have done, and it added that kind of moreish creaminess that usually you can only get by using cheese.

Actually, in retrospective, this was the first time ever I ate any kind of 'pizza' without cheese that tasted great.

Eating these very flat 'pizzas' can be a little tricky, and using knife and fork on something with the rough proportions of a tea towel very swiftly bordered on comical. So me and those of my colleagues who had ordered the Flammkuchen as well abandoned all pretense of good manners and followed Sophia's (or rather Cinzia's) advice - cut roughly, then fold, then bite.

As you can imagine, we had a great time.

Of course, I had to try and replicate the recipe at home, and when the last time I refreshed our stock of chiabattini, I set aside some of the dough for dinner. It turned out just as great as I had hoped, despite me over-cooking the bacon just a tad and only having curly parsley which was a little too harsh for my taste.

Smetana might be difficult to come by west of Germany, but if you get some, you've got to try this at home. Even if it sounds hard to believe, there IS tasty pizza without cheese in this universe.

Flammkuchen, Hessian style
(generously serves four)

half a batch chiabatta dough

800g onions
250g bacon
400g smetana

half a bundle flatleaf parsley
salt & pepper

Prepare the dough as described, but set aside after the last fold.

Well in advance, heat up the oven as high as it goes.
Mine tops out at about 250°C, which is just barely enough. Simply make sure the oven is thoroughly heated up, not merely the air inside that'll go off as soon as you open the door.

Peel the onions and cut into fine rings. Bring a large pot of water to a roiling boil and blanch the onions for just about 30 seconds. Douse with cold water and drain thoroughly, then cover and set aside.
As the Flammkuchen will be done in a very hot oven, the onions will hardly have time to cook. Blanching them takes out just enough of that 'grassy' feeling, leaving them tender and sweet yet still with a little bite.

Cut the bacon into small strips or matches (lardons). Fry in a non-stick pan at low temperature until barely even golden, then cover and set aside.
As above, the bacon should be pre-cooked before going into the oven. But I fried it in a heavy, cast-iron pan and completely forgot that the bacon would be further browned by the residual heat of the pan alone. In consequence, the bacon bits on the Flammkuchen on the picture above were a little bit on the dark side.

Pour the smetana into a bowl and add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Mix until smooth.
If you decide to use more bacon than I mentioned above, you won't need this additional salt.

Sort the (biggest) stalks out of the parsly and roughly chop the leaves.

When you're about to sit down for dinner, take out the dough and deflate. Quarter the dough and form firm balls as you would for rolls. Then take the first portion, flatten and roll out until it is only a few milimeters thick.
Basically, roll out the dough as thinly as you can handle comfortably.

Take a quarter of the smetana and spread (as) evenly (as possible) across the dough, leaving a border of about a centimeter uncovered.

Evenly distribute a quarter of the blanched onions on top of the smetana. Sprinkle with a quarter of the lardons.

Put into the oven and bake until the rim of the dough looks almost burned. Ideally, this will take exactly as long as it will take you to roll out and top the next Flammkuchen. My oven took a little longer, but still only a few minutes, really.

Sprinkle with some parsley and serve immediately.

Goes best with a fresh, dry white wine or a similarly crisp, cold beer.
Lots of it.

Keeps surprisingly well in the fridge and reheats nicely, but really is best fresh out of the oven.

20 September 2009

my heartfelt thanks

Since I am now making a reasonably nice chiabatta and a mean bunch of raisin buns, the only thing we would need to be wholly independent from our (formerly) favourite bakery would be a way to replicate their whole grain bread.
Whole grain in this case not merely as in 'whole grain flour', but as in 'entire grains'. It is a rather heavy, somewhat brick-like loaf, dark and delightfully hearty. If we need some bread to put underneath a couple of fried eggs, that's the one.

You can well imagine my excitement as I found a recipe that's remarkably close to that bread by dear Bäcker Süpke, a German baker and creator of the famous 'Black Hamster' bread.

Of course I had to try it, and it isn't only all we had hoped for, it actually is much better. It is a 100% whole-grain spelt bread that delivers perfect slices, tastes great, has a lovely crust and even that slight sticky crumb that I love so much. Here, have look:

Just ignore the vein of dry rolled spelt that's running across the bread, that's entirely my own fault as I am a clumsy chaot and can't handle a wet dough. But that's the bread when I cut the first loaf about three hours after baking, and its already giving slices as neat as any white bread despite the relatively open crumb. So lovely.

It is Bäcker Süpke's 'whole-grain spelt bread whith whole grains' and you can find the original recipe here, even though it's in German. If anyone needs a translation, please drop me a line, I'll gladly help out.

The only variation I made (apart from the involuntary inclusion of rolled spelt) was that I didn't include the cooked spelt grains until the last five minutes of kneading, as I feared the grains would be reduced to mush if I did. But I don't think I should have worried, as the dough was moist enough to give them room.

So once again, the internet made my day and made us finally independent from that bakery. My heartfelt thanks to Bäker Süpke!

13 September 2009

so German it almost hurts

Close your eyes and think 'Germany'.

Think autumn. Think Oktoberfest.
(Which never fails to irritate me as it is being held in September.)

You see beer? Lederhosen? Spit-roasted suckling pig? Cool.

But I wasn't aiming that high with my projects, at least not yet. No, rather simple but still so German it almost hurts: Brezeln.

Emboldened by my recent successes in baking, I have lately been trying my luck with 'Brezeln', or pretzels, and generally all kinds of baked goods dipped in lye.

Actually, is there any other way to translate 'Laugengebäck' other than 'lye pastry'? That really sounds too weird to my ears, like apple pockets and lye.

Dipping dough in lye before it is baked is a tradition in Germany and surrounding countries that is far wider than just pretzels. Though 'Brezn' are by far the most common version in many shapes, you can theoretically use any dough. A short bath in lye adds a very specific, savoury taste and a lovely deep colour. And at least in my area, lye croissants are giving the classic pretzels a real competition.

Curious as I am, I have been experimenting a lot, and together with this post on 'Hefe und Mehr' which I found via Yeast Spotting, I stumbled upon a real treat - kaiser lye rolls.

Very pretty, assertively savoury rolls with a glossy crust and a fine crumb and a nice but not overly obvious part of whole grain flours. And dead simple to make. What more could I ask for?

kaiser lye rolls
(makes eight rolls)

for the rolls:
350g bread baking flour
100g whole wheat flour (German type 1050)
50g coarse rye meal
250ml lukewarm water
50g butter
1 sachet active dry yeast (about 12g)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt

for the lye:
1l water
30g sodium hydroxide pellets

On the day before baking, mix all the ingredients for the dough in a large bowl. Knead until smooth (first gluten developement).

Store the dough in a cool place (cellar or upper area of fridge) for twelve hours.

On the day of baking, degas the dough and cut into eight pieces. Roll each into a string of about 60cm (four to six hands wide).

Make a knot (see here for instructions) and leave to rest for about 45 minutes, until the rolls have gained about one-and-a-half time their original volume.
Do not cover the rolls during this time. Just let them dry out a little, it'll make them easier to handle and they'll take up the lye all the better.

Meanwhile, prepare the lye. Pour the cool(!) water into a metal or glass bowl. Add the pellets and occasionally stir until the lye is clear again and the pellets are completely dissolved.
Two words on lye - while the final lye is relatively harmless, the pellets are not. Never touch them with your bare hands, never pour water onto them or use a wet towel to wipe them up if spilled. Just keep them dry until you put them into a lot of water, and all will be fine. Do not boil the lye.
Also, while the final lye IS caustic, it'll not eat away any of your equipment or digits if spilled. You can simply wipe it off, just use some clear water to wipe after.
But - if you have wooden countertops that are merely oiled, it
will stain them a lovely dark brown, just like the rolls. My freckled countertop is living proof to that, sadly so.

When the rolls are ready, individually dip them into the lye for about 15 to 30 seconds each.

Transfer onto a baking sheet, making sure there is no (or only a little) lye pooling in the centre of the crown.
One tiny disclaimer - I have no idea of the effect of lye on silicon baking sheets. Don't blame me if things go boom.

Bake for about 20 minutes at 190°C, no steam necessary, until well browned.

These rolls are best eaten fresh, but can be quite well frozen and crisped up again.
Cold & old, they're plain vile.

The lye rolls hold up especially well against strong toppings. I had some smoked trout and horseradish on them for breakfast, and the combination was a perfect match. On the other hand,  my wife prefers them with plain cream cheese, so what do I know.

P.S.: Again, I will submit this post to the YeastSpotting section of Susan's formidable blog Wild Yeast. As already mentioned above, it is a constant source of inspiration for me.

12 September 2009

this morning's bread basket

Recently, I have started experimenting with lye rolls an pretzels, which are a lovely addition to our bread basket each morning. I tried kaiser lye rolls with 20% to 40% wholegrain wheat and rye today, and they turned out nice enough I'll make a post out of them. Until then, have a look at this morning's bread basket:

After that, I cleaned up and made the cake for this afternoon, making one of the more memorable messes in the last months - while glazing, I made sure all stayed clean, at least that is what I thought. But then I turned the cake around and found this:

Lake chocolate. And it was already flowing underneath the cake platter... Well, I managed to get the cake clean enough to go into the fridge, and the mess on the table is still there, waiting to get hard enough so I can scrape it off.

But we're going to have 'flammkueche' tonight, so that'll make up for a lot of kitchen mishaps today. Really looking forward to them.

06 September 2009

born with a third hand

Now that I have been talking about home-made pasta not once, but twice, I think maybe it's time I add the recipe here for sake of completeness.

Making pasta yourself is terribly simple, it doesn't call for any special skill nor ingredients. What it does call for, though, is a bit of effort, some equipment and ideally a helping hand. Making pasta on your own isn't only a bore, it's also quite impossible unless you're one of the very few people born with a third hand.

But it makes quite a difference to store-bought pasta, and most of the times helps turning a good dish into a great one. And that's definitely worth the little extra effort, in my eyes at least.

simple pasta with eggs
(recipe given per person, scale accordingly)

100g bread baking flour
1 medium egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil (optional)

In a small bowl, mix the salt with the eggs until dissolved.
If you mix it all together like that, you'll end up with grains of salt in the rather dry dough, which will draw water during the rest, making the dough harder to get smooth.

Mix all ingredients and knead until all flour has been absorbed.
The oil is optional, but will make the dough less sticky and helps against the dough drying out. Definitely recommended when you do not plan to dry and keep your pasta on stock.
If the dough is sticky despite everything, add some more flour.

Wrap in clingwrap and chill for about half an hour.
The dough will dry out rather quickly, so if you insist on a box for the dough instead of some plastic, find one that fits with as little air around the dough as possible.

Cut the dough into pieces about the size of a small fist. Cover your kitchen table with tea towels or your proofing linnen and get a broomstick handy.

Using a pasta mill like the one you can see in the picture below, run the dough though on the largest setting. Fold in half and repeat until the dough comes out as a smooth sheet.

Set the sheet aside onto the towels and repeat with the remaining dough.

Depening on the size of the pasta you want to cut, roll out the sheets in increasingly thinner settings, this time without folding them in half.
Latest here you'll need a third hand, as cranking the handle, feeding the dough into the mill and getting it out again will be just one simultaneous task too many for one person alone.

Once the individual sheet is as thin as you want it, cut into the pasta of your choice.
I almost invariably make tagliatelle, as they are still fine enough to catch a lot of sauce and yet sturdy enough to hide any mistakes or sloppy handling.

Once cut, hang the pasta over the broomstick as shown - this way they will start drying and will be less prone to sticking to each other.

To cook, set up a big pot with salted water, and use more salt than you think you need. Boil for four to five minutes only, depending on the thickness of your pasta.

Serve with a little bit of butter and / or anything you can come up with.

Instead of making tagliatelle, I sometimes make ravioli - filling the sheets in idividual parcels is pretty straight forward, and ricotta and store-bought creamed spinach in equal proportions make a great, easy filling.

03 September 2009

a long way to go together

Happy aniversary, Nom-Nomnom! (or is it a blogiversary, rather?)

Since one year now, I've been typing, taking pictures and learning a lot about home baking and hypertext.

I've actually had a hard time deciding if I were to make an extra post out of this. Birthdays and such are not really something I like, at least as long as it is me being at the centre of attention. But I really like other people's birthdays, so in the end, I decided, this isn't about me, this is about this blog, this place, this little book it has become.

Indeed, more and more often I catch myself using the red folder where I keep a printout of this blog as a cooking book - even if it is just to look up some measurements. This blog has become a great place I can refer people to when I am asked for some recipe, and looking at the hits this place gets, other people seem to think so, too. So I figured I'd make a post about 'the other people' actively and passively involved in this blog, as a way to mark the day.

The idea about writing about food was on my mind for a long time already, but then I stumbled across Molly's adorable Orangette, and it was her lovely, evocative writing that finally made me pick up the pen (the keyboard) and get my own act sorted out a little. Meanwhile, Molly has opened a restaurant of her own with her husband, her focus understandably but sadly not on writing any longer.

Our (once) favourite bakery stopped making their chiabatta - so I learened to make my own. And baking bread made me stumble across a lot of lovely places and people - among them Susan of Wild Yeast, a treasure trove for bakers, or the amazing Shiao-Ping on The Fresh Loaf blog who, with her talent and unique point of view, is a real inspiration.

But this place would neither have been created nor kept a live for this long if it hadn't been for my lovely wife, who is both my greatest fan (sometimes irrationally so, imho) and my most honest critic. Nothing inspires to kitchen greatness as easily as a wife with a clearly voiced opinion. So, kudos to her.
And if there is one thing I wish for my blog - it's that my lovely wife just keeps on being the way she is, for that'll make sure this blog, me and her will still have a long way to go together.

01 September 2009

your new favorite Greek word

My knowledge of the Greek language is pretty rudimentary, even though I did have Ancient Greek at school for a few years.

But, there is one word I haven't forgotten since I was a little kid - 'lagos' means 'rabbit'.

Very tasty rabbit at that, for 'lagos' showed up at my parents' place usually in the form of 'lagos stifado', a Greek rabbit stew with almost as much onions in it as there was rabbit.

I vaguely remember the original recipe being somewhat complicated, with ketchup and tomato juice and lots of frying and braising involved. But this here is the 'family version', a user-friendly, stunningly simple recipe that has evolved (or been stripped to the core) over the years in both my mother's kitchen and mine.

Basically, it is just rabbit, onions and canned tomatoes in roughly the same proportions, cooked until all starts falling apart.

But it is so, so very good. Especially good, actually, on home-made pasta, as we had it this weekend. I intentionally overcooked the rabbit a little, ending up with an almost dissolved rabbit and a very thick sauce that went so smoothly with my papardelle it was a joy. It was one the very rare cases that I was entirely satisfied with something I had cooked.

Try it, you'll see, 'lagos' might just become your new favorite Greek word, too.

lagos stifado (greek rabbit stew with onions)
(serves six)

1,5 kg rabbit (with bones, preferrably thighs)
1 tablespoon olive oil
200ml dry red wine

1kg onions
3 cloves garlic, optional
1,5kg canned tomatoes (more or less)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
a generous amount of black pepper (about a teaspoon)
some tabasco or similar
1 tablespoon butter

Clean and pare the meat, if necessary.

Peel and quarter the onions. Peel the garlic.
Don't forget to uncan the tomatoes.

In a large, cast-iron pot, brown the rabbit meat in the olive oil.
This is just for the meat to catch some colour and taste, not to cook.

Deglaze with the wine, then add all the other ingredients except the tabasco and the butter.

Bring to a gentle boil, then put into the oven at approximately 170°C and braise for 1,5 to two hours, depending on how loose you want the meat to be.
I cooked mine for about two hours, as I wanted to use it as sauce on my pasta, and didn't need any extra-large chunks of meat.

Occasionally check if there is still enough liquid in the pot.
Ideally, the sauce should be thick on the verge of dry, but not burned, once the meat is done. Either add a bit of water if too dry or braise with the lid askew if too wet for a while to correct.

Right before serving, take out of the oven and adjust the seasoning. A bit of tabasco works great here. Add the butter for some luxurious taste in a still very lean dish.
Also, a pinch of cinnamon and / or anisseed would be typical and very nice, but as this is the plainest version possible, I usually leave it as it is.

Goes great with pasta or potatoes, but crispy bread will do just as fine. Serve with a salad and more of the wine you used for cooking, or try a glas of pastis or similar, as it goes great with the onions in the sauce.

Keeps great for a few days in the fridge or almost indefinitely in the freezer, though it might look a little worse for the wear once heated up.

29 August 2009

I'll start considering

Somehow, the more bread and rolls and cakes and stuff I make myself (as opposed to buying it at a bakery), the more of it my family seems to be eating...

I mean, seriously, are the bakeries in Germany that bad? They shouldn't be.

Admittedly, their bread goes dry in a day and moldy in two, which mine doesn't manage in a week. But still. Just saying.

I just realized how little we buy at the bakery these days. An occasional piece of pastry when I'm in the mood, nothing else. And I really don't miss anything.

It's only two weeks ago that I made a whole batch of raisin buns, and they're all gone already. Making new ones today.

As soon as our neighbours start asking me for bread, I'll start considering a career change.

20 August 2009

nothing but pink clouds

How many unsharp pictures you think one can take of the same object? A non-moving, well-lit object at that, while using a pretty foolproof point-and-shoot camera?

More than you think, apparently.

Going through the pictures I had taken at our summer party right before the hungry locusts (aka our guests) were called in, I found that none of the pictures I had taken of the gravlax, the cured whole salmon I had made, were even remotely sharp.

More than that, the salmon seemed to have poisoned the pictures it was in. Picture of cheese platter and italian vegetables - sharp. Picture of cheese platter and a tiny corner of gravlax - mostly sharp. Picture of cheese platter and gravlax - damn unsharp. Picture of gravlax - nothing but pink clouds. Tiny corner of gravlax and tuna tabouleh - sharp again!

What the fudge?!

So, this is what I could salvage, a cutout from a larger 'groupshot':

But despite the pictures, the gravlax itself was a resounding success. Especially considering how little work it actually had been to prepare.

I've been told it's a traditional swedish(?) way of preserving salmon, and the recipe is one I've got handed down from my mother. Curing with salt takes some of the moisture out of the meat, making it firmer, more intense and darker, pretty much like a cured ham. After two days curing, it is still recognizably 'fishy' in texture, but at four days, it really is more ham than salmon, except for the taste, of course.
My family is a little divided on how many days curing are best, but two days seem to be the best compromise.

The sauce that goes with it is traditional and pretty nice, especially if you make it completely from scratch and grind your own mustard, but that's not really necessary. Also, it is far from the only option - my wife skips the sauce completely and sticks with garlic smetana to go with the gravlax.

Whatever you put on top of it - the gravlax is a dead-simple way of preparing a different, intensely tasty salmon dish, perfect for a light summer dinner or as a nice starter.

gravlax (cured salmon)
(Serves 4-6 as a main, double as starters. Images show a whole 6kg salmon.)

for the gravlax
1kg fresh salmon with skin, in two equally-sized pieces
5 small bundles dill
1 tablespoon white pepper
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons coarse salt

for the sauce
3 tablespoons hot mustard
1 teaspoon mustard powder
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon plain vinegar

Wash the salmon and descale, if necessary. Pat dry.
When you buy the salmon, make sure it is very fresh. Curing will make it taste more intense, for good or bad. Also, making sure you get two pieces of the same shape helps a lot.

Roughly shop the dill and coarsely grind the white pepper. Mix both with the sugar and the salt.

Put one piece of salmon onto a large sheet of tinfoil, skin-side down. Cover well with the spiced salt-sugar-mix, then lay the other piece on top, skin side up.
In the end, you should have skin-meat-salt-meat-skin.

Wrap the salmon tightly with the foil and put into a high-rimmed dish. Lay something heavy, like a stone or a full water-bottle, on top of the whole thing, making sure there's some gentle but insistent pressure all over the fish.
I actually have a few cobblestones in my larder right for that purpose... and as doorstoppers, if need be.

Cure the salmon in a cool place (but not the refrigerator) for two days, turning the bundle each twelve hours.
Do not discard the brine running out, you'll need it for the sauce.

On the day of serving, unwrap the fish and discard the remaining salt and spices. Depending on how intense you like the dish, you can even wash it off, as long as you carefully dry the salmon afterwards.

For the sauce, add four tablespoons of the brine with the remaining ingredients, and stir or blend until smooth. Correct seasoning, trying to find a rather mild balance between hot/salty/sweet.

Serve the fish in thin slices with some fresh dill, the sauce and some fresh bread. Pickles or cucumber salad go very well with this.

The gravlax keeps in the fridge for a few days, but grows more and more intense and ham-like each day.
By the way, I've heard rumours about a version of this involving rainbow trout, coriander green and ginger instead of salmon and dill... My fingers twitch even thinking about this. MUST. TRY. SOON!

12 August 2009

something similarly silly

Well, I know I already mentioned I made all the bread for the summer party. But did I also mention what a fun it was, kneading and folding almost twenty pounds of dough in a laundry tub?

Or the mess I made when I poured the whole thing onto my kitchen counter for pre-shaping?

It was great. And I am actually looking forward on doing something similarly silly again next year.

Definitely one of the nicest sights of the whole event was the pile of loaves on my dining table on friday before the party, growing slowly but steadily, filling the house with their scent, crackling softly.

And with all the good food (and especially all the meat), it was little wonder that last weekend, we all longed for something a little less... meaty, actually. As not all of us are overly fond of piles of vegetables, pasta seemed the obvious choice.

Homemade pasta.

It's dead simple - should I write down the recipe and how-to, anyway? And with a nice heap of grated cheese, and a big bowl of long-cooked, almost caramellized tomato-basil sauce, there's hardly anything simpler and better to be had on a nice, calm summer evening.