Monday, November 23, 2009

Tour de France - in the Kitchen

Yesterday, I attended my first cooking class. It wasn't so much a cooking class as a cooking club. 14 people met in the local community college to cook 6 dishes from various regions of France. On the menu:

Onion Soup - Paris
Endive Salad - Picardy (North East)
Quiche Lorraine - Lorraine (Mid-East)
Basque Chicken - Basque country (South West)
Gratin Dauphinoise - Dauphiné (South East)
Norman Apple Tart - Normandy (North West)

My "team" was responsible for the Endive Salad with Roquefort and Walnuts, as well as the Apple Tart for dessert. While I can't really say I learnt all that much about the secrets of French Cuisine, I certainly had an entertaining Sunday morning. And I got to eat 6 dishes from 6 different regions.

While I'm not a dessert person, and I wasn't blown away by the Gratin (it's scalloped potatoes without the cheese), there were some dishes that I enjoyed. I may have discovered a way to eat endives (I normally hate them). In the next few weeks, I have a feeling I will be making the Onion Soup, and maybe the Basque Chicken. I'll post recipes as well, so everyone can have their own culinary Tour de France.

This event was co-hosted by the Volkshochschule Heidelberg, and the 4th annual Französiche Woche (French Week).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrivé!

Every year on the third Thursday of November, people gather to drink the first wine of the season. This year, I joined a few friends, stood outside in the cold and drank Beaujolais out of tiny glasses.

Beaujolais Nouveau is not for everyone. Some people say it's fantastic and goes well with turkey. (This works well if celebrate Thanksgiving in the USA, as you have 1 week to get the stuff.) Some people, myself included, think it's terrible. One friend tried his first Beaujolais Nouveau last night & made the same face that people make when they bite into a lemon. The wine is not sour, but, it's not that refined. It's young. Very young. A few weeks old. It is also usually made from lesser-quality grapes, while the good grapes age for many more months.

So, why go stand in the cold with a bottle of bad wine? Because it's fun. The wines arrival is scheduled, so you can schedule an event out of it. You and your friends can block your calendars, the importer can arrange a party. All you need is a few cases of Beaujolais Nouveau.

Last night, a group of us met at the market square, drank a few glasses and enjoyed an otherwise drab November day. We stayed until they closed the stand, and were offered the sandwiches which hadn't been sold. Afterwards, we all went our separate ways for dinner. I completed the evening with a leg of goose from the French restaurant around the corner, and then a Kir Royale in the French bar a few streets down - it was an evening in Petit France. Hopefully next year will be just as special - I'll try to ensure it is by not touching Beaujolais until then.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Daring Cooks November - Quest for Sushi

The November 2009 Daring Cooks challenge is from Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen. They chose sushi as the challenge. The sushi challenge this month was harder than I thought. It involved letting other people into my kitchen. Allow me to explain.

A few weeks ago, I was having coffee with a friend. I then said that I had to go home but on my way, I had to stop by the Asian Supermarket. Because the Asian Supermarket stocks Tiger beer, my friend decided to bring his shopping bag to accompany me. The workaholic had been informed that I was on my way and was waiting.

On the 1km journey to the Asian supermarket, my friend saw approximately 20 stores that had interesting things in the windows. I concentrated my efforts on pulling the friend out of stores and towards the supermarket. Again, the workaholic is waiting.

30 minutes later, in the supermarket, my friend asks me what I need. I explain that I have to make sushi this month for The Daring Kitchen. The friend then informs me that, together with a mutal friend, he attended a sushi course a few weeks ago at the community college. Surely the mutal friend had the ingriedients I needed. One not-so-quick phone call later (reception problems) and I can pick up the vinegars & everything else I need. I grab my chickpea flour & explain to the waiting workaholic what happened.

To take ingriedients and not to offer a dinner invitation is out of the question, so my once humble sushi challenge has evolved into a sushi evening at my place. This is the time to remind you, my dear reader, that there is very little fresh fish in southern Germany. I buy an avocado a few days ahead of time (they too are of poor quality here), and I plan to buy fish.

The only fish I am not allergic to is tuna. The mutal friend, who brought over the ingriedients, said that the sushi instructor claims that there is good fresh fish to be had in Metro - the members-only-mega-size store. As it happens, this friend happens to have a membership. We make a date to go buy sashimi-grade tuna. I do my regular grocery shopping, trying to avoid buying pasta in 2.5 kg packages.

In Metro, we buy all the things I never knew I needed. My friend buys 2 kg of breakfast cereal ("it's my favourite!"). We save the fish counter for the end, so it stays cold. After having filled a cart with wine, Kaffir limes, Twix, gummi bears and who know what else, we hit the fish counter. "We'd like some sashimi-grade tuna", we say. "OK," says the lady behind the counter, "I have a 2.5 kg piece". We look at each other and ask, "do you have anything smaller?". "2.2" is the answer.

We leave the store with hundreds of things that we didn't come in for, and nothing that we actually wanted. It's Saturday night, 7pm, there is no chance of getting any more fresh fish before tomorrow's sushi night.

Invitations to roll and eat are for 6pm. Out of desperation, I open a can of tuna at 5pm, adding a bit of rice wine vinegar and chopped chives. It marinates & wasn't that bad for nigiri. Not comprable to the 2.5 kg loin of sashimi-grade tuna, but not bad. I cook the rice in the rice cooker & let the guys take over.

Preparing the cooked rice
(apparently, a sugar-vinegar solution is poured over the rice & blended in. Apparently this is what sushi is all about - not about the fish. Apparently.)

Making the omelette
(I think the key is to make a sausage out of an omelette & to roll the cooked layers, pouring more egg on as you go. I think)

Pressing the omelette into shape
(note the masculine hands that clearly do not belong to me)

The Nigiri Sushi
(a bit of immitation crab, some avocado, omelette, and the canned tuna topping)

I know that this month's challenge was to make a dragon roll, a decorative maki and some nigiri. I know I didn't make the decorative maki nor did I make the dragon roll - and strictly speaking, I didn't really make the nigiri either. Nonetheless, this month was still a challenge. One of the most important lessons I learned this month is: there's a sushi restaurant around the corner from my place. They have the conveyor belt and they're open Sundays until 10pm.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stuffed Turkey for 2

The local supermarket had turkey steaks on sale. They were ridiculously thick, like 1 1/2 - 2 " (4-5 cm). I originally wanted to slice them into little strips for stir-frys or for chili, or something that doesn't involve eating a huge slice of turkey. But when I asked the work-a-holic how he wanted his turkey & he said "stuffed", I figured, why not.

Step 1: prepare Chestnut Stuffing, reduced by 1/10th
Step 2: butterfly turkey steak
Step 3: open turkey steaks, place stuffing on top
Step 4: Wrap turkey steaks with kitchen twine, or use skewers
Step 5: place stuffed turkey in an oven dish with 1/4 cup white wine, cover with foil & allow to roast at 180° Celcius (350°F) for 30 minutes.
Step 6: serve with roasted pumpkin.

Granted, there is no gravy, there are no mashed potatoes but I could have made all of those things. Maybe I will if we spend American Thanksgiving here.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pumpkin Potstickers with Sage Butter

Last night was Halloween, and I took some short cuts so I could wait for the Great Pumpkin.

They say there's a way for lazy people to make ravioli: use wonton wrappers instead of making your own pasta. I think that this is some sort of punishment for being lazy because wonton wrappers are for making wontons. Maybe other Asian dumplings. Not ravioli. Every time I have tried using this little short cut, I have ended up with some sort of failure. I believe the reason they recommend wonton wrappers to lazy people is to prove that if you want a good product, you have to put in the effort, so make your own pasta!

Luckily, I realized before my fragile packets exploded in a pot of boiling water that this was not going to amount to much. I reshaped my ravioli & decided to go more of a potsticker route. I kept the same seasonings (they were already in the mix) and I stuck to my plan of sage butter. I'm actually quite content with the results. They may have been a little greasy, but I think that's the problem with a butter sauce.

Pumpkin Potstickers with Sage Butter
300 g pumpkin, steamed until it falls apart
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano
salt & pepper
20 - 24 wonton wrappers
1/2 c water
3-6 leaves of sage, sliced
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 c white wine

Combine pumpkin, nutmeg, garlic, thyme & oregano until well mixed.
Place 1 heaping teaspoon of pumpkin mix onto a wonton wrapper, pulling together the sides & sealing with water as needed. They should form a little pouch.
When all potstickers are done, heat oil a pan over med-high heat. Add pot stickers for 2-3 minutes, covered, until brown. Add water, replace cover & allow to steam for a further 2-3 minutes. Add sage, and butter until butter melts, pan covered. Add white wine & allow the wine to evaporate.

I had these for dinner, sat back & waited to The Great Pumpkin to come. He didn't make it this year. Perhaps because I killed one of his kind. I'll know for next year.
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