Sunday, March 29, 2009

How I Learnt to Love Eggs

I never used to like eggs. Back in the day when eggs were the bad boys of cholesterol, I celebrated the fact that I would never have to eat eggs again. Then I slowly realized what the mistake was. Eggs do not need to be paired with bacon or anything else to cover up their taste. Eggs simply need to be good. Free-range, grain-fed or organic - all good eggs. These days, they are even viewed as healthy as well. Still, the appeal of the egg slightly evaded me until one December morning in London, Ontario.

After a long night, eggs are always a good way to wake up. So, one December morning, I picked the frittata from the breakfast menu. This frittata made me love the fluffiness of eggs; it made me see beyond "scrambled" and "over easy". It calls for asparagus, and as there was asparagus available in the supermarket yesterday, I recreated the eggs that started it all.

Frittata with Ham, Asparagus and Sundried Tomatoes

Cook 1/4 cup diced ham. Lightly blanch 5 stalks of asparagus.
Dice 4 sundried tomatoes. Add to 5 organic or free-range eggs & mix. Add 2 Tbsp water.
Pour into frying pan.
Cover & cook over low heat until it looks slightly solid.
Using a plate & circus skills, flip frittata.
Sprinkle grated cheese (pecorino or parmesan), cover and allow to cook until cheese melts.

In Italy, frittatas are not a breakfast dish. Indeed, many egg dishes, including quiches and omlettes are not eaten for breakfast in the countries of their origins. Leftover frittatas can be eaten at room temperature - just don't try to reheat them.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Japanese in Germany

Like many people these days, I am not pleased with the current status quo. The current financial situation seems to distress a lot of people, and while I am certainly not immune, I am aware of my abilities to influence economic stimulus packages. I am more interested in the things I can do to improve myself. Taking the time to read a book, finish a painting, listen to a CD on the balcony while enjoying the view - all the things I can do to make this insecure time a little more bearable.

My newest idea is to get into shape. A better shape. A not so round shape. My plan involved a Nintendo Wii Fit. I'm still a little skeptical about dropping a huge amount of money on a video console, especially because my game skills are severely limited. But the thought sent a shot of hope into the otherwise triste day-to-day adventure of watching new financial valleys being discovered on Bloomberg. There is one Japanese company out there that is hugely innovative and severly successful. This is a ray of hope in the German economy where there government could be happy to have a rate of unemployment as "low" as the United States right now.

In celebration of Nintendo, and in an effort to gain back my Game-Boyish figure, I made the following:

Grilled Tuna with a Miso-Sesame Crust
Steamed Spinach and Wakame
Mashed Sweetpotatoes with Scallions

No pics but sufficient instructions for an impromptu meal.

  • Mix ca. 2 Tbsp red Miso with 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tsp sesame seeds & smear over tuna steaks. Grill.

  • Sautee 2 cloves garlic in oil. Add 2 cups washed and cleaned spinach. Add 1/3 c wakame (seaweed used in salads).

  • Cut 2 large sweet potatoes into 2" cubes & steam until tender. Mash. Add sliced scallions, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar.

Serve with a dry riesling.

It's not really Japanese but it's not the gastronomic equivalent of a Zombie Company either. And it keeps me off of the Wii.

Monday, March 23, 2009

If I can't speak Spanish...

...then at least I can try my hand at Spanish cuisine. I was watching TV the other day, a show called Cuisines des Terroirs, where they show a family in a small village in Europe; how they live and what they eat. Recently, a Catalonian family was showcased, and the grandmother made Arroz a la Catalana, a dish simmilar to paella but with no saffron or seafood.

Strangely enough, I have never had a good paella in Spain. There is so much other food to savour and most of the paellas in the main areas are frozen. So why not just make a regular "Arroz con whatever"? Well, because I needed a better grain than white rice. I found some quinoa in the kitchen and made a Quinoa con Pollo y Gambas. (This is about as much Spanish as I speak - enough to get through a menu). The phone rang, and the normal Sunday chats with the family followed. My Quinoa simmered away nicely. I wanted to take photos but hunger prevailed and now there are mere leftovers in the fridge.

Quinoa con Pollo y Gambas

2/3 cup washed quinoa
2 chicken breasts, cubed
2 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp Ghee (clarified butter)
1/2 red pepper, diced
1 1/3 cup hot water
1 pinch saffron
8 large shrimp, cleaned

Sautee garlic in ghee, brown chicken, add quinoa and let toast lightly. In the meantime, add saffron to the water & let steep. Add the saffron water to the quinoa. Let this soak. Reduce heat, stir occasionally, talk with family on the phone. Add red pepper & shrimp, remove from heat & continue speaking to family. While conferencing with parents & siblings, allow shrimp to cook in risidual heat.

I'm having those leftovers tonight.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Looks Like Beef

Although my freezer requires a Tetris champion to touch anything without causing an avalanche, I bought frozen calamari. I know that fresh is better - I am not about to dispute this - but in the seemingly landlocked area I live in, fresh squid is not often a fiscally viable option. Thankfully, I am also aware that freezer space is incredibly precious real estate, so I am reducing the calamari, starting today. Had I known what I would cook for dinner, I would have bought the ingredients for a spectacular calamari ripini, taking me back to my diving week on the Italian island of Elba.

Squid are beautiful creatures, they posses majestic motion and, if they are not scared & swim away, look beautiful underwater - flourescent stripes down the sides, curious eyes, flapping wings. I had a wonderful dive in which I had barely gotten myself under the surface & I saw a squid, motionless, much more serene than myself or my dive buddies. Nonetheless, 4 of their kin are up for dinner tonight.

Calamari en Vino Rosso

3 cloves minced garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
200g squid, cut into bite-sized pieces, scored on one side
300ml questionable red wine (the kind that's good enough to buy, not good enough to drink)
100ml tomato puree
1 tsp herbs de provence
1/4 preserved lemon
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
salt & pepper

Sautee garlic in olive oil. Add squid, turn heat down to low. Add wine, tomato paste & herbs. Allow to simmer for 1 hour. Add lemon, season to taste. Add parsley right before serving, either on a bed of couscous or with crusty bread. It'll take on the colour of the wine & will look like beef. It will, however, be soft & succulent after having stewed for an hour.

Close your eyes, listen to the wave of the sea rolling in, and, if desired, imagine that squid, waiting for you to join his underwater world.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Home can be exotic

In a constant quest to leave behind the dreary gray of Germany, I realized that "home", regardless of where it is, is exotic to someone else. Yes, it's taken me a while to figure this out. Hence the reluctance of many Germans to embrace corn on the cob. It simply does not belong to the culture.

My "exotic" find came from the depths of my fridge; the "feldsalat" I bought at the farmer's market 2 days ago. "Feldsalat", known as "mâche" or "lamb's lettuce" in English, is a wonderful winter green I only became aquainted with when I first came to Germany. It is a green that adds a highlight to winter, as it grows quickly in the fields, and requires low temperatures. Some say it has a velvety texture, which I would not have agreed with until I mispaired it tonight. It goes well with roasted beets, sauteed mushrooms, goat cheese (what doesn't go well with goat cheese?) and, I think is best in a light dressing.

My mispairing was with crawfish & sauteed pitas, two "exotic" ingredients around these parts. I found the crawfish in the local supermarket, and the lebanese pita was my huge score from the green grocer around the corner. I had never had fried pita until I went to Kuwait. Somehow, this makes me feel like I lead a sheltered life. Bottom line: crawfish - good; fried pita - aditional velvety texture which simply confuses the palate.

If you find mâche, try it with seasonal veggies. And enjoy one of the few greens worth the gray days of winter.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What to do with overpriced Okra

I found some okra in my regular supermarket. The exorbitant price of 17.80 € / KG did not deter me from purchasing a few hundred grams.

I was recently in a Southern Indian restaurant where I had an amazing okra dish as a part of the banana leaf meal. The banana leaf meal, for those who have never had one, is a richly exotic experience. A banana leaf is placed on the table like a placemat, but food is placed on it, like a plate. Overwhelmed by all the food and the sensual lack of utensils, I focussed on the food and not on the names.

Back at home, with my overpriced okra waiting in the fridge, I knew I didn't have time to experiment. I had time to slice & sautee. I sliced the okra, diced some onions, and realized I needed to call my mom. I'd eaten okra many times before but had never cooked it. The result of a 3 minute phone call outshined the rest of the meal. I can't even remember what I made. But I will make the okra again.

Sauteed Okra in a Light Dry Curry

2oo g okra
2 Tbsp oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/4 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 small tomato, chopped
salt to taste

Wash okra, pat dry. Slice in 1/4" slices. Dice onion. In a pan over med heat, saute onion and garlic. When the onions and garlic are softened, add spices while stirring continuously. When the spices start to release their perfume, add okra, and cover. Allow to cook for a few minutes, when the okra are nearly cooked through, add chopped tomato. Stir until tomato seperates from skin. Add salt to taste.

Although I was incredibly happy with the dish, it wasn't the okra that caused inspiration. I think that dish is called okra kichadi. Next time I buy okra, it will be from the green grocer down the street (for 5.90€ / KG) and I will vaguely follow the following recipe: And I'll call my mom to tell her how it all goes.
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