Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Holidays! - Eggnog

There are certain things that belong to every family's holiday traditions. My mother's inexplicable purchasing of eggnog belongs to this category. While I didn't really mind it, I was never really a fan of the stuff. Nonetheless, I would get a glass handed to me at random intervals. A few years back, I hosted a holiday party, and a friend who had access to eggnog brought over a carton. The other people at the party loved it. I make no effort to recreate the gelatinous viscosity of ready-made eggnog. I instead prefer something that is rich, creamy and a taste of holiday indulgence.

4 eggs, separated
1/2 c sugar
1/2 rum
1 1/2 c whiskey
1 1/2 c milk
1/2 c cream
nutmeg to garnish

Beat egg whites with 1/4 c sugar until soft peaks form. Beat egg yolks separately with remaining sugar until the sugar is disolved. Fold the whites into the yolks.
Slowly add milk and liquor. Whip cream until soft peaks form and fold into the eggnog.
Garnish with nutmeg.

I experiment with the liquors. This year, I didn't want to use the good rum, so I used some honey-flavoured rum from the Canary Islands. I also used a little bit of Spanish brandy. The 1.5L of drink are now gone, and although it was great, I'll have to wait until next year to do it again. For now, it's back to work to finish off things for 2009 & you can bet I'll be dreaming of a glass of eggnog in the office.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bask in Chicken

A few weeks ago, I visited my first cooking class and promised to try out a recipe and blog about it. Because Santa is just a few hours away, I have to make good on my promises now. Otherwise, I'm afraid of getting a shot glass like I did last year. Granted, I did get some liquor to put into the shot glass, but still.

The first time I had Poulet Basquaise was in Nice. My wonderful host made it with olives. The recipe I kinda followed did not have olives, and frankly, in the cooking class, it wasn't all that much to write home about. I think the olives are a good touch. As well as bay leaves. Lots of bay leaves. I used 3 for 2 chicken thighs, but this could easily be doubled. I used dark meat, but breast meat is also possible, which reduces cooking time.

Poulet Basquaise (Basque-style Chicken)
2 chicken legs, cut into drumsticks & legs
1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 large bell pepper, seeded & diced
1 can tomatoes (peeled and chopped)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 c black olives
salt, pepper
thyme, bay leaves

In 1 Tbsp olive oil, sautee onion, garlic, pepper until soft. Remove from heat. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil and brown chicken.
Return onions, garlic & pepper to the pot, add remaining ingredients. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
Serve with rice or quinoa.

My result was certainly better that the original recipe I got in my cooking class, but not as good as the one in Nice. Another reason to go back, I guess. Now that I've officially been a good girl, maybe Santa will even take me to the Atlantic coast of France.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blood is Thicker Than Stock

This is not a vegetarian soup. The reason is pretty easy: I needed a thickener for the soup but was out of cream. I remember going to dinner a while back & one companion ordering warm blood sausage and liverwurst. At the time, I didn't find the combination of sausage & warm very appealing. I still don't, to be honest, but it reminded me that blood sausage falls apart when warm. I thought it might be the last touch that I needed in an otherwise bland pumpkin soup. I didn't have any cream, so why not?

Result: very tasty, not meaty, subtle depth and no leftovers.

1 pumpkin, cooked in 1 L broth, spices to taste. Cook until tender, add 1 Tbsp blood sausage & puree.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dark Latkes for the Festival of Lights

From a theological standpoint, Hanukkah is not a significant holiday. From a cultural standpoint, Hanukkah is great! The date varies but it usually takes place some time in December, that is, some time when we could all use as many lights and social gatherings as we can get, and Hanukkah offers 8 days of festivities. 8 days is enough for me to catch up. The first day of Hanukkah was last Friday. I made my latkes - traditional potato pancakes - last night

I miss a lot of things about Canada and multiculturalism tops the list. Needless to say, there is not a huge Jewish community here in Heidelberg, although there is a synagogue and a Jewish University. While they are very open at both institutes (I visited the one and took a class at the other), I never found the same sort of integration that I felt is so natural in Canada. I felt really sad when someone at the synagogue said, "we haven't had any troubles, but on the high holy days, it's still nice to have a police car patrolling the area". I know there is a huge amount of baggage that I am not willing to discuss, nor am I willing to judge one side or the other. I'm selfish & I just want a good latke.

Potato pancakes exist in Germany. They are called "Kartoffelpuffer", "Reibekuchen" or an assortment of other names. They are common for the area that was once the Holy German Empire (Germany, Bohemia, Poland, parts of Austria). These foods that were so common for the area seem to be the dishes that Jews from Eastern Europe (Ashkenazic Jews) took with them to North America. These "Kartoffelpuffer" are present at every Christmas market, indicating that the dish is of local significance, not religious significance. What I don't like around here is that they are only available with applesauce, not sour cream. In Düsseldorf, I had some with herbed Quark (a kind of cream cheese). I was all over it. To top my latkes (or Kartoffelpuffer, or potato pancakes), I used skim quark with a pinch of herbes de provence (my secret ingredient) as well as chives and parsley.

The potatoes are Vitelotte, a dark potato that retains its colour when cooked. They were, honestly, this dark. I added beets and carrots to make me feel less guilty about eating fried food. But let's be honest, the festival of lights is only possible because there was enough oil to light the lamps for 8 days. Oil is an essential part of the holiday. If I only celebrate one of the 8 days, my arteries aren't doing too badly.

Happy Hanukkah to everyone! Enjoy the lights and the fried food!

Midnight Latkes
300g Vitelotte potatoes (or another purple variety)
200g beets
1 carrot
2 eggs
oil to fry

Grate potatoes. Place in bowl of water to allow starch & liquid to escape. Squeeze all liquid out of potatoes and, if possible, retain starch. Add to a large bowl. Grate beets and carrots, squeezing out liquid. Add egg and salt and mix.
Heat oil in a skillet and when hot (a toothpick should bubble) place 2Tbsp lumps of latke batter into oil. Do not overcrowd the skillet.
Cook until solid, turn & continue cooking. Place on a plate with lots of paper towels, and keep warm in the oven.
Serve with apple sauce and skim cream.

Skim Cream
150g quark
1 tsp herbes de provence
1 tsp chopped chives
1 tsp chopped parsley
salt to taste
Mix all ingredients. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Cheer - Market

I was at the Christmas market earlier this week, which is always good fun. Hot mulled wine (Glühwein) a warm bratwurst, potato pancakes with applesauce and browsing by the stands selling handmade wares. Local pottery, handmade leather goods, scarves and candles and crystal fill the old town for 4 weeks. I'm not there for the presents, I'm there to socialize with people and drink some Glühwein to keep warm. Frankly, I prefer warm fruit punch with a shot of rum, but the Glühwein isn't bad either.

The are a lot of tourists here on a normal day, and even more come for the Christmas markets, especially on the weekend. They don't have a tiny BBQ to grill bratwursts, they have a more industrial setup, ready to feed many mouths.

I'm north of 49°, which means that it gets dark at around 4:30pm. The lights of the Christmas markets might be a little bit kitschy but 1) Germans invented kitsch & 2) it's less depressing than in January.

The pyramid actually spins around, like the tiny ones my parents would put out when I was younger. It has "famous" figures of Heidelberg, none of whom I can recall. The main thing is, it is on top of a stand that has a lot of tables to meet people and have a hot drink.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Daring Kitchen December - Something in a Croute

I've been ridiculously busy in the last little while. When the Workaholic gives me a hard time for not synching my calendar, I simply reply, "I haven't even had time to blog!" He then understands the gravity of the situation. If it weren't for the Daring Kitchen Challenge (and my constant threat of being kicked out for non-participation) I wouldn't even be blogging today. The challenge didn't really appeal to me right away, but I figured I could do some tweaking to make it more for me.

The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.

I'm allergic to fish. And I didn't really want to have beef. And then there's the problem with chicken that I prefer thighs and they don't really fit into crusts. And then the Workaholic isn't a big fan of mushrooms. What does this leave me with? Spinach. Feta. Sundried tomatoes and a bit of black olives. All of this in a crust of puff pastry. As mentioned before, I've been crazy-busy the last little while, so I'm not about to make my own pastry if I don't have to. I bought the only pastry in the store, which I think was the wrong kind. Oh well. It's what's for dinner. And it wasn't that bad. Actually, it was pretty decent.

Epinards en Croute (Spinach pockets)
1 c cooked spinach, drained of liquid
3 Tbsp cumbled feta
1 tsp tapenade (black olive paste)
3 Tbsp sundried tomates, marinated in oil, chopped
pinch cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
1 package puff pastry

Mix all ingredients except for pastry in a bowl. Roll out pastry, slice into 8ths. Divide spinach mix evenly over 4 slices of pastry. Top the pastry with remaining slices. Bake at 200° for 20-25 minutes until tops are golden brown.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Cold

Since my last post, I've come down with a cold. This cold lasted 3 weeks. Regular over-the-counter drugs aren't working (granted, I only really gave children's cough syrup a fair chance). I decided it was time for the home remedies of chili, garlic, ginger and chicken noodle soup. Chili frees up the sinuses, garlic is supposed to ward off the common cold, ginger provides energy and chicken noodle soup - well, it's chicken noodle soup. I tried to combine these ingredients and I wound up with the a soup that will keep me free of vampires for the next 2 months.

Anti-Cold Soup
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2" ginger, minced
1 chili, sliced thinly
1 L chicken stock
150 g chicken, cut into thin slices
100g rice noodles, soaked according to package directions
chopped cilantro
green onions, sliced, white parts only
1 kefir lime

In a large saucepan, gently brown garlic and ginger over low heat. Add chicken broth and chili, and bring to a boil. Add chicken and allow to simmer for 2-4 minutes. Add noodles. Spoon into bowls, serve with sliced onions, cilantro and lime.

I remained sick for a few days, and I'm not sure what effect, if any, the soup had on my well-being. I think, more than anything else, it kept me at home where I belonged. I didn't want to take my garlic stench outside to scare anyone. And the rest certainly did me some good.
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