Thursday, April 30, 2009

Heidelberg Chicken Rice

Somehow, the mere mention of the words "flu outbreak" have caused me to sniffle. I think I have a sore throat. I'm coming down with a bad case of hypochondria and I need some good chicken-based comfort food. I have frozen chicken breasts, and I want to wallow in my hypochondria.

In a quiet corner of my kitchen, if you look closely, you can find a rice cooker. Rice cookers are one of the few inventions where the low-tech versions are the superior varieties. The programs for various different kinds of rice apparently confuse rice cookers. The beauty in the rice cooker lies in the fact that you turn it on, walk away and a small, inobtrusive click tells you that rice, or dinner, is done. They do all the thinking for you. I think they use some sort of low-tech scale to weigh everything, or maybe there are little rice nomes inside, ready to try rice when they think it's done. Either way, it's super easy. You can even throw frozen chicken in there, and it will come out cooked.

Heidelberg Chicken Rice
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced ginger
1 Tbsp neutral oil
2 frozen chicken breasts
2/3c white rice
2 cups water (or according to rice package directions)

Make a paste out of the garlic, ginger, oil and salt. Put paste & remaining ingredients in rice cooker. Turn rice cooker on, walk away. Wait for rice cooker to switch from "cook" to "warm". Fish out chicken breasts, slice. Serve with rice and dipping sauces.

Aparently, if you want real Hainan Chicken Rice, you have to go to Singapore. The immigrants from the Chinese island of Hainan "brought" this dish with them, as much as Italian immigrants "brought" spaghetti & meatballs with them to the US. This is what I've been told. As much as I'd love to go to Singapore, I don't have any vacation days left (yes, I know that it's only May). Also, real chicken rice involves poaching an entire chicken and reusing the stock next time. The chicken itself is cold, and broth is served with the meal. Real Hainan chicken rice is great, but like so many street foods, not reproducable in a regular domestic kitchen (although, I could always devote my kitchen to chicken rice - it's a thought worth entertaining).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Allium Ursinum - Bears Like It (And so do I)

For a gastronome, springtime means a lot of things in Germany. It means the onset of fresh asparagus, fresh strawberries, and it also means the arrival of "Bärlauch", commonly known as wild leeks. Bärlauch means "Bear's Chives" and are apparently thusly named because bears would dig them up in the forests. The Latin name is Allium Ursinum, and I can only believe that the German language used Latin to find a name, because, frankly, there are no bears in Germany to dig the stuff up. In the years I've been here, there has only been 1 bear, Bruno. He caused such a stir that he was shot. Unfortunately, Bruno was only in Germany during the early summer and I think he missed the leeks.

This year, a friend of mine was presented with a 1 Kilo bag of wild leeks. She knew that she had to do something with them to preserve them so she made a kind of pistou - a pesto without nuts or cheese. Normally a pistou is made of garlic, olive oil and basil, but because wild leeks are leafy & have a garlicky flavour, all you need is oil and salt. She opted for rapeseed oil (any other neutral oil will do) and sea salt. After visiting her for brunch this weekend, I was given a jar of the wild leek pistou. I tried it on boiled potatoes & found it heavenly. To be honest, I've just been eating it out of the jar in the evenings after work. She has a kilo of the stuff. I can get more.

Green Golf, Green Asparagus

I must have come across this recipe 10 years ago. I'm not 100% certain, but I think it as in a green VW Golf on the way to Berlin, from some Canadian magazine, but I don't know which one.

My Canadian girlfriend had her parents come and visit and we all spent a holiday Thursday together. I gave the parents my tiny bachelorette apartment for the night and we were all to drive to Berlin the next day in the green VW Golf they had rented. A very simple plan. There was a parking lot next to my building; they would park the car there, we would all meet in the morning and away we would go on the Autobahn for 8 hours. The parents even brough Canadian magazines for us to read - Chatelaine, Flare, Canadian Living; it was a little colony on wheels and we were prepared. The minor glitch was that Friday is market day on that square, and all cars are towed. We all met on a public holiday, a day with such a Sunday feel that we didn't think that the car had to be gone the next day by 5am.

Our departure to Berlin was delayed and the parents discovered another part of my city: the car pound. A few hours and a couple hundred Deutsch Marks later, we were on our way. Thankfully the parents saw it as a fun story to tell when they got back home. And they still talk to me when I go over to visit.

As I've stated, I don't know exactly where this recipe comes from, but I know that this is not the original. The original calls for smoked salmon (to which I am allergic), as well as cream (to which my thighs respond negatively). Nonetheless, you can use salmon instead of shrimp and throw some cream in to make the sauce saucier. I also threw some frozen kale in last night. It made me feel like I was doing something good for myself by eating a big bowl of pasta.

Tangy Farfalle with Shrimp and Asparagus
200 g Farfalle
150g shrimp
1 Tbsp minced garlic
olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp capers
1 lemon
1 cup chicken broth
200 g green asparagus, cut into 2" pieces
1/4 cup chopped prepared kale
1/2 cup cream (optional)
parsely or cilantro to garnish (optional)

Cook pasta.

Sautee garlic, add shrimp. Grate zest of lemon into pan, add chicken broth and asparagus. Squeeze lemon juice into pan and add cream or kale if using.

Drain pasta, toss with sauce, garnish with parsley or cilantro.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Two-toned Asparagus

I stumbled upon this idea at my foodie friend's website Shizuoka Gourmet. Considering it is still "Spargelzeit", I can get fresh asparagus nearly anywhere in Germany. I opted for Aldi. Yes, there is Spargel at Aldi. Granted, it is 2nd Grade, but I don't really care.

There are many grades of asparagus in Germany, but I believe the most important thing to look for is size. Width matters (please keep any phallic comments to yourself). Width is important with white asparagus because it needs to be peeled and extra diameter in "untreated" asparagus means that there is something left over. Grade 2 asparagus is still large in diameter, it is simply not as straight. I don't really care about this for 2 reasons: 1) I do not believe that organic material should be symmetrical and 2) it all evens out when you peel it.

In this dish, I got to finally try out the 12-year old vinegar I bought over 6 months ago. You don't need to break out a vinegar that has the same per ounce value as Dom Perignon, you can use a balsamico sauce.

This was my first time poaching eggs, and I still have a lot to learn. But I know that I'll be practicing this a few more times before "Spargelzeit" is over.

Two-Toned Asparagus with Poached Eggs
4 stalks green asparagus
2 stalks white asparagus, peeled
2 eggs
1 leaf wild leeks
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar (or sauce)

Sautee asparagus in olive oil. Poach eggs. Sautee wild leeks. Layer asparagus and eggs. Garnish with fried wild leeks. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over eggs.

Wild Leeks, also known as wild garlic, ramsom or ramps, are another springtime treat. Known under the Latin name Allium Ursinium, they are found in the woods and emit a strong garlic smell. They can be found right now (at least in my neighbourhood) and, like asparagus, should be enjoyed as long as the season lasts!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Japanese Maultaschen (Maulza)

There are many things Japan and Germany have in common. Both are leaders in the automotive industry, both are economic powerhouses of the 20th century that are floundering in the new millenium; the fastest train in the world was built by Germans and is run in Japan. And let's not mention the war. Walking through Heidelberg, one will inevitably encounter a group of Japanese tourists, following their guide who is holding an umbrella high above her head (usually it's a female) . There are signs in the shops, in Japanese, informing shoppers that cuckoo-clocks are for sale inside, and there is a tax rebate available (at least I think this is what the signs say, it's what the English translations would have me believe).

Nonetheless, there is very little Japanese food to be found here, apart from the odd sushi bar. This fact surprises me, not only because of the apparent simmilarities, but also because of the 1 shared dish. Call them gyoza, call them maultaschen, they are the same. They are both not ravioli.

I wanted to make maultaschen last night, but I was missing a few key ingredients, such as bacon. What I did have was maultaschen dough (it's pretty much an average pasta dough), ground pork, ginger, garlic, spinach, soy sauce, green onions, and rice wine vinegar. I'm making maultaschen-gyoza tonight. I'm making Maulza.

200 g ground pork
1 Tbsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
2 green onions, chopped (include the greens!)
1 Tbsp dark, sodium-reduced soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
150 g spinach, blanched
1 package Maultaschen dough (or 32 wonton wrappers)

Mix all ingredients except dough in bowl. On rolled out dough, drop 16 equal-ish amounts of filling. Use extra dough or wrappers as lids on the pockets. Pinch pockets tight.
Steam pockets for 3 minutes. Pan fry pockets. Serve with asian-style dipping sauce.

To the best of my knowledge, gyoza are made with shrimp and were imported by the Chinese, who call them jiao-zi (little pockets). The jiao-zi I have made have been out of pork and usually involve some sort of chili oil and chopped cabbage. Maultaschen, on the other hand, are mild (most German food is) and is often either in a soup or pan fried, served with a salad on the side. The word Maultaschen itself means "animal mouth" and, the story says that it was popular during lent as monks could hide their meat in the pocket of dough.

I don't really care what anyone calls them, but I'm yet to have ravioli like this!

Gyoza on Foodista

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Albino Asparagus Season

Asparagus season is eagerly awaited in the entire nation. Every decent restaurant has some sort of asparagus dish on the menu for a 4-6 week period of the year. Music pumped into supermarket stereos announce "wünderschöne Spargelzeit" and advertise the hollandaise sauce you can buy to put on your asparagus. I don't believe in store-bought hollandaise, and I can't make any at home with a good conscience - the stuff has lots of butter. I need another solution to the asparagus time-bomb ticking in bottom of my fridge.

I just read an entry from Mark Bittman on how he tried Cuisine de Marché in Paris. I was appalled at how he tried to throw white asparagus into a chicken roast. Then he didn't understand why people pay up to 20€/ Kilo for it. No one does "Spargel" (white asparagus) better than the Germans, even without the hollandaise. There's the soups, the salads, just steamed & dipped in butter (think "landlocked lobster"). After living here for so long, I knew I could do better, I just wasn't too sure how.

I opted for a marinade of melted ghee (clarified butter), olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and some bruschetta herbs I have in the cupboard (oregano, parsley, garlic, red pepper, salt, pepper). I peeled the asparagus, let it steam, cooled it immediately in ice water, and poured the marinade on. It wasn't the asparagus that people wait 10 months for (that is the kind that is covered in hollandaise) but at least I didn't finish my meal asking myself why people pay good money for that.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Not so Orthodox Easter

It has been a while since Easter, I know, and while I am not Orthodox, Orthodox Easter gives me the oportunity to share my holiday in a nearly-timely fashion.

I had a wonderful Easter, full of family and food. Really, what more could one ask for? The family kept me busy for the last week, hence the (un)orthodox timing, but it was a wonderful visit. On Good Friday, I found the weather gorgeous and worthy of a Cherry Blossom picnic. As the stores were all closed, all I could do was scavange in my fridge. I came up with a mache salad with orange slices and pine nuts, along with some remnants of goat cheese that was hardening and maturing in my fridge and rolls I picked up at the gas station along the way. It was the way a picnic should be - the food was secondary to the beautiful setting of the cherry orchard in the castle park. Watch out for toddlers practicing soccer and teenagers with badminton rackets.

Easter Sunday meant brunch in Frankfurt. This involved an experimental fritatta, which I did not make. My contribution was dessert. I am not a dessert person. I do not bake. Baking is science, I prefer domestic alchemy. Don't laugh, this has been my fallback recipe for years. Use organic ingredients, make half the original recipe, fail to measure butter correctly, ignore baking temperatures and times & there you go - chocolatey goodness. The frosting came from the supermarket, as did the decorations. In spite of my shortcomings, I made chocolate cupcakes that made a 2 year old happy. Really, what more can you ask for?

Post-Birthday/Bellini Blues

Well, I made it back from Venice in one piece and I have to say, it was delicious! Of course it was great to see the museums, the basillica, the glass blowers, the gondolas, the carnival masks and the rest of a beautiful city but to be honest, Venice has been on my list of places to go for years now, if only for a Bellini.

The Bellini was created at Harry's Bar and is the signature cocktail at a bar which hosted Hemmingway for months. I first heard of the existence of this cocktail in Brett Easton Ellis' novel American Psycho as the narrator seems to be plagued by restauranteurs trying to gain his favour by giving him & his party free Bellinis, while all he wants is Finlandia vodka. A controversial novel which I am not recommeding; I am simply stating, this is the first time I had heard of the cocktail and it has intruiged me ever since.

In Hemmingway's favourite watering-hole, I sat down to lunch & was asked if I wanted the house-cocktail. I had been waiting decades for this pleasure. I wasn't even phased by the ridiculous price tag. Aware of the subtle signs indicating that taking photos inside the bar are prohibited, I snuck a pic of my Bellini. I did not take pictures of the carpaccio, the marinated raw beef specialty also created at Harry's. The cocktail was good but what was more fun was watching the bartenders pour them out. Everyone drinks Bellinis there! What really surprised me was the colour - the local peaches are a different colour than I am used to. Where I am from, peaches are, well, peach! A slightly orange hue, certainly not the pink that was on my table.

Of course, not all gastronomic delights have to be as pricy as Harry's. The Rialto market has a wonderful fish market. The market was fascinating because of the logistics. Everything is brought in by boat, and this fascinated me. The wares were also noteworthy and appetizing! They have calamari, complete with their own ink sack used for colouring pasta (I tried black pasta with a tomato crab sauce - phenomenal!), and they also have Moeche, a tiny crab, which I saw for the first time. The next day I tried them, battered and fried and as succulent as any Atlantic-coast crab shack can ever be. But with a Pinot Grigio instead of beer.

So here I am, back in Germany, and although I just played tourguide here, the lack of seafood reminds me that I am no longer on the Adriatic. That's fine, though. I can console myself with the alpine cheese I just bought in the Bavarian Alps, or, when the weather allows, I will sit on the balcony & share the 1,5 L bottle of Bellini I brought home with me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Birthdays, Visits & Other Adventures

It was my birthday on the weekend. Again. After 2 months, I finally cashed in on the trip I got as a present. Venice was good - details will follow.

In the meantime, I still have to buy the giver of the Birthday-in-Venice trip a birthday present. I have 2 days to find something as wicked as a weekend in Venice. I am doomed to fail.

In addition to the stress of work, which has become normal, I am also expecting visitors next week. In my few free moments, I am trying to find amusement for them in Stuttgart. Why? I'm not really sure. I usually provide my own entertainment in Stuttgart, I do not rely on the city.

All this, plus the onslought of allergy season, means that it's meatloaf night tonight. While I make a mean meatloaf, I'm not going to bore anyone with details beyond this: use wine. Lots of it. Not in the meatloaf.

For my birthday this year, I went to a restaurant with sofas. You lie on the sofa, and are fed 10 courses. One of the appetizers was a bajhi with a jogurt tahini sauce. While I'm not a fan of deep-fried foods at home, I am turning into a huge fan of chickpea flour. I thought I would try some zuchinni pancakes with chickpea flour. Not perfect, but I might try it again, with a little bit of tweaking.

Monday, April 6, 2009

No Marinara for These Mussels

The first time I had mussels, it was in a white wine sauce. It was so many years ago, I can't even remember which city it was - all I remember is the red brick interior and the chalkboards on the walls with the daily specials.

Today is a hectic day. I am expecting visitors soon and need to clean the apartment, my cell phone died on the weekend and needed to be replaced, plus work is demanding more & more of my time. So, when I passed by the fishmonger & saw mussels in the window, I knew that I could grab a loaf of bread on the way home & have a quick dinner.

At first, I thought of the classic Mussels in White Wine Sauce. However, I just had the most amazing Venus Clams in White Wine that I didn't want to tarnish the memory with lesser shellfish (I prefer clams to mussels any day). I made this instead:

Mussels in Spicy Coconut Milk
1.5 Kg Mussels, cleaned
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp minced garlic
3 stalks lemongrass, chopped
1 red chili, chopped
2 Tbsp ginger, minced
3 Kefir lime leaves
1 tsp sesame oil
300 ml coconut milk
3 Tbsp lime juice

Heat oil. Sautee garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chili & kefir lime leaves. When softened, add mussels. Cover, allow to steam open, stirring occasionally. When all mussels are open, add coconut milk, sesame oil and lime juice. Serve with Basmati or Jasmine rice.

Slightly spicy, largely tasty; broth is perfect for a soup.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What I Wouldn't do for a Ftira Right Now

Last year, I was fortunate enough to travel to the islands of Malta. Having just arrived on the sister island of Gozo, I sat at the patio of the St. Patricks hotel, and wanted lunch. They had 2 sandwiches on the menu: a club sandwich and a Ftira. I had no idea what a ftira was, what it had in it, but I knew I needed one.

It turns out that "Ftira" does not refer to the fillings, it refers to the bread. The bread has a dark crust & a soft center. I'm not sure what it is about the bread, but it is much better than the italian breads I have had so far. As with most sandwiches, the filling is important, but the right bread is essential. A bagel with cream cheese is better than cream cheese on toast, a bocadillo is not the same in a dinner roll. The bakery down the street has good crispy bread with a soft filling and this is the bread I will use today.

Sandwiches are one of my favourite lunch foods. They are an easy food which can be enjoyed anywhere, but the best place to have them is on a beach. I gained the inspiration for my lunch today on the beaches of Nice (think Pan Bagnat) and the waterfront of Xlendi Bay.

Today is a deliciously sunny day, and although I don't have a sunny Xlendi Bay to look over while I eat my lunch, I can still sit on the balcony, eat my fake ftira, enjoy the sun and the view.

Fake Tuna Ftira
1 loaf of crusty bread (ca. 250g)
1 can water-packed tuna
1 can tuna in olive oil
3 small tomatoes, seeded & chopped
2 sundried tomatotes, chopped
1 Tbps chopped olive
1 Tbsp chopped capers
1 Tbsp pesto
1 Tbsp chopped red onion
1 tsp grated lemon zest
Handfull of arugula

Drain water-packed tuna. Do not drain olive oil packed tuna. Place both tunas in mixing bowl. Add all ingredients except bread & arugula. Allow to marinate for 30 minutes.

Slice open loaf of bread. Pull out a little of the bread, to make room for the filling. Place arugula on bottom half, spoon tuna mixture on to top half, wrap in plastic wrap and allow to sit in the fridge for up to 1 hour.
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