Monday, March 25, 2013

Brunch: Pork-filled Muffins

This past Friday, a coworker asked the familiar Friday afternoon question: have any weekend plans? I replied that we were going for brunch in a small town in the area. This created interest. Where? What are their specialties? An implied "why have I never heard of this place before?" We were at the home of a former coworker of the Workaholic. We didn't really know what to bring. Bloody Marys? Rolls? Cheese? We knew that omelets would be provided, as well as Bellinis. Neither of us has a sweet tooth, but my Friday afternoon mind recalled a baked good she had read about a while back: bbq pulled pork stuffed cheddar-scallion cupcakes. This was the kind of baked good I could deal with.

There are no recipes for bbq pulled pork stuffed cheddar-scallion cupcakes on the web. In fact, the original appears to be a closely guarded secret.  All I knew was: bbq pulled pork in a Red Lobster-esque casing. Not knowing the least about baking, I started.

Saturday night, I made pulled pork with a store-bought rib rub, to which I added cumin (there was none included, and I like cumin). I made my own BBQ sauce with as much smoke as I could add without going outside: smoked garlic and smoked paprika. I drew the line at adding liquid smoke. I added warm beer, mainly because it was warm. Had the beer been cold, I may have consumed it on my own.

The "muffin mix" was easy:
1 3/4 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
ca 2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp cooled bacon fat (if you don't keep this in your fridge like I do, I guess you could leave it out)
1 c grated cheddar + 1/2 c
1 c thinly sliced green onions (scallions)
1 1/2 c buttermilk

Add baking powder and salt to flour. Crumble in butter and bacon fat until the mixture feels like sand. Add 1 cup cheddar and scallions. Add milk.

Place 1/2 Tbsp in the bottom of a muffin tin. Add pulled pork. Cover with 1 Tbsp of "muffin" mixture. Bake at 200 C for 15 minutes. Top with the remaining cheddar and continue to bake for a further 5 minutes.

These went over well at brunch, with the advice from a restauranteur that I leave off the paper liners & just grease the cupcake tins (and maybe add a hint of chopped jalapenos - but the restauranteur is from Arizona, so I'm not surprised with this advice). There's a lot more experimenting to be done.

The odd thing with experimenting is, sometimes it is well received, other times it is not. I'm taking my chances and publishing my incomplete results.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentines Bouquet

For all those in North America, I understand you may be tired of bacon. Bacon has been everywhere - not only on burgers and in cheesecakes but it snuck its way into an envelope filled with lip balm. Germany is a little different. While the country is far from underdeveloped in the porcine-products, bacon is only one of many ways to eat a pig.

Hot on the heels of the 6th Bacon Festival, I made the Workaholic a bacon-themed Valentine. I got the instructions from Instructables and made a few adjustments. German bacon is something of a joke. There are no thick slabs, the uncooked slices are maybe 15 cm (6"), the thin raw meat threatens to dissolve in your fingers as you lift it out of its plastic cocoon. There was no way I would fill 24 mini muffin tins with this bacon. Furthermore, there was no way I was going to drill holes in my muffin tins; I'd have to justify destroying pans by having weekly bouquets. There's only so many bouquets the Workaholic can handle before he has a heart attack.*

Wrapped around themselves, theses slices of bacon went in the oven and out came a bouquet of... well... roses on tulip bodies? Mutant flowers? One of the more ridiculous Valentine's presents? Yes, we'll call it one of the more ridiculous Valentine's presents. Now the challenge is: how to make something more ridiculous and delicious next year.

*the original plan to make a meal out of the bouquet and cheese fondue got nixed for fear of the need to call an ambulance.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fall Rolls

While planning lunch this week (there is an actual plan stuck to the fridge with a magnet eye from Malta), I decided to make Vietnamese spring rolls. I had the rice paper in supply, I knew that they are easy to prepare but I had one minor issue: it's cold outside and I don't feel that mint and coriander and shrimp are appropriate. So instead of spring rolls, I opted for a more seasonally-appropriate fall roll.

We had duck breast earlier in the week. Leftover strips: cut up and in the roll. Pumpkin puree: in the roll. Mache (lamb's leaf lettuce)? In the roll. A few threads of cellophane noodles and slices of spring green onions, and we're good to go.

Fall rolls
4 sheets of rice paper
1/4 cup cellophane noodles (soaked)
1/4 cup of cooked, sliced duck breast
1/4 cup of mache
1/4 cup of pumpkin puree (mine was a butternut squash with garlic, onion and cumin)
top of one green onion, sliced thinly

Soak 1 rice paper sheet. When it is pliable, assemble 1/4 of all ingredients inside.
Soak 2nd rice sheet while you are working.
Roll by folding the top down, the sides in & rolling the rest down. Do not roll too tightly.
Wrap in plastic wrap and continue with the next roll.

Hoisin dipping sauce:
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tbsp sambal olek

Mix everything together and serve with rolls.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Things to do with Kale III: Salad

Kale salads abound on the internet: recipes for, health benefit claims of, adoration of - it's all there. Given my seasonal influx of kale, I thought I would give it a try. I "massaged dressing into the chopped leaves", and I allowed to marinate. It seems as though I did everything right. What I failed to do, however, was buy the right kind of kale. Kale salad calls for "dinosaur kale" or "tuscan kale" or something else that is available in the summer, and not available here.

German kale, or Gr√ľnkohl, as it is called, is not available is summer. It is a hearty vegetable that is best after the first frost. It is stringy, it is filling, it is not the stuff for salads.

I made my salad with marinated tofu. I enjoy marinated tofu, and these little chunks of soy were enough to keep me going through my salad (or maybe it was the ravishing hunger?). Is this a repeat? Not until I go to Tuscany to sample the kale there.

Kale Salad with Marinated Tofu

1 block of pressed tofu
1 tbsp white miso
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1 cup of chopped kale
3 tbsp olive oil - lemon juice vinaigrette

Chop tofu into bite sized pieces. Add miso, vinegar and chili to a zip-loc bag. Mix. Add tofu. Allow to marinate, at least overnight.
Toss kale with dressing using your hands, ensuring each leaf gets coated.  This can also marinate overnight.
Sautee or grill tofu. Add to kale.
Salt & pepper to taste

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Things to do with Kale II - Kale Chips

Finally, I have been able to get on the kale chip bandwagon. For years, I have been unable to get my hands on fresh kale - something about German kale needing to be super-fresh before the vitamins self-destruct have kept it out of my reach. Perhaps there have been genetic mutations, perhaps the invention of refrigeration has finally broken into the mainstream - whatever the reason, I found 500g bags of kale in my supermarket and grabbed them. They are so foreign that the German gentleman in line ahead of me looked at what I had placed on the conveyor belt and asked, perplexed, what kind of spinach I was about to purchase.

Fresh kale is mine, and I did the easiest, tastiest thing I could think of: kale chips.

My kale comes washed and cut into bite-size pieces. All I have to do is give a final rinse (more for my sanity than for the sanitation of the kale), toss in a ziploc bag with some olive oil, scatter them in a thin layer on a baking sheet and bake at 150 °C for about 20 minutes. Toss with salt and nutritional yeast, put on a movie and you'll not miss chips.

If there are any, I keep leftover kale chips in a ziploc bag filled with air (my own recreation of a potato chip bag), and toast them before I devour another bowl. 

Nutritional yeast is the secret umami I've stolen from the hands of vegans. Apparently it contains B-vitamins. It also contains a whole lot of flavour and can be used to flavour soups, and, oh so importantly, snacks like popcorn and kale chips.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Things to do with Kale I - Caldo Verde

One winter night, long ago, a Dutch friend came back from a weekend trip from the Netherlands with a bag of greens. She invited us over to her place promising a Dutch specialty. Knowing what she had brought, I could barely contain my excitement. Borenkool, known as kale in English. It's very difficult to find this kind of kale because it grows best in cold weather and is best shortly after harvest. I've had it frozen or canned but fresh - there is a new world of opportunities awaiting with fresh kale. This is one of them.

My local supermarket has been having this influx of fresh kale, something I have not witnessed in the last years of shopping there. I saw a 500g bag and claimed it for myself. I made kale chips the first time (another post). The next week, I tried a soup I had tried previously and discovered, frozen kale is not always interchangeable with cooked kale.

I may or may not have had this soup in Portugal. Apparently it's very popular there. My Portuguese memories have all been overtaken by the flaky crust and sugary sweet custard, hot out of the oven, topped with cinnamon, ordered as a 6-pack of Pasteis de Belem, devoured in a nearby park. I still think of those pastries, I still scheme ways to have them delivered to me but I know they will never live up to the freshness that came out of the oven of the Cafe de Belem. There's no room for memories beyond that pastry. So maybe I had caldo verde in Portugal, maybe not, but I was pleased with the result I was able to conjure.

Caldo Verde is apparently a popular dish in Portugal, apparently meant to fill you and warm you. Apparently, it's made out of a certain kind of kale impossible to find outside of Portugal. Knowing that faking this kale is easier than faking that custard tart, I went ahead nonetheless. This soup certainly warmed and filled me on a cold November night. Part of the soup is mashed to add a creamier texture.

Caldo Verde
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
4 inch (10 cm) of chopped chorizo (extra-spicy)
1 sprig of thyme
small sprig of rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 cup of sliced fingerling potatoes
2 liters of water
250g of kale, sliced thinly
Olive oil to garnish

In a spot over a medium flame, sautee onions in olive oil and add carrot. Add garlic and chorizo until garlic is softened and chorizo has released its red colour. Increase heat to high , add potatoes and cook, stirring constantly until potatoes develop a crust. Add in thyme, rosemary and bay, cover with water. When potato slices are cooked through, use a potato masher to mash some (not all!) of the potatoes. Add kale and cook for remaining 5 minutes, until kale turns an emerald colour. Garnish with olive oil. Serve with a crusty bread.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Return from France

I insisted we spend the day in the supermarket. Not in France, but in a French supermarket. The goal was to get some wine, and maybe the odd pack of oysters or something. We did our regular shopping (wine and oysters and herbes de provence) and made haste towards the border. But wait! Can't we still have lunch in France? Lunch is a bit difficult in small towns at 5pm. We went window shopping in a border town before we sat down to our French Meal.

French Meals consist of French components that you would never find in one particular region, often not the region you are currently in. Paris may be the great exception because you can get everything there, but that would have been another blog entry that I was too engrossed with food to actually write. We did however find a leitmotif to carry us through our meal: garlic. Ail may be the only word the Workaholic knows in French, it is certainly very relevant to him.

The Amuse-bouche may have even set other people off. It was a terrine. It was a fantastic terrine but it was, well, bits of meat packed into jello.

The frog's legs could have been my thing but they were joined at the hip and looked like mangled barbie dolls. The Workaholic claims they are "like chicken wings" which confuses me because every time we go to his home town, we get chicken wings covered in hot sauce. These were covered in garlic. I am confused by the legs, joined at the hip, claiming to taste like wings. I am fairly certain that these wings have never seen a bottle of Frank's Red Hot in their day.

You may have already heard of escargot. We call them: the ultimate garlic delivery method. The crevices in snails enabled an extremely effective delivery of garlic, parsley, and butter to my mouth.

The truely Alsacian specialty was certainly the light as air tarte flambee. It's a French pizza, minus the tomato sauce, lessen the cheese, crust is paper-thin and ideally imparted with a kiss of a charcoal oven. This particular model was topped with topped with lardons (like bacon minus the cult surrounding it) and garlic. Lots of garlic. I may be able to fend off the Twilight movies for a few more years, thanks to the amount of garlic on this tarte flambee.

There we are, full of food, following our GPS. It tells us to cross the Rhine. We don't realize that we have to take the ferry at this particular juncture. So we pay the ferryman (in coins, no less) and cross the river. Our adventure in decadence behind us, our adventure with new wines about to start.
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