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.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Wine Week in France

There are many things to look forward to in the fall - the changing of the colours, the rain and rainbows, the crisp air, and the wine harvest.

In Germany, there are wine fests in nearly every wine-growing town. These fests are a wonderful thing, they are full of local flair and local pride. German wine fests are something I try to ignore each year but simply cannot. Skipping across the border to France, there is a different tradition, which I am happy to drive 2 hours to be a part of.

Le Foire aux Vins - I have no idea what this translates to other than: WINE WEEK! In the fall, most major (think Wal-mart sized) supermarkets have some sort of specials on in which you go, try some wines and get a decent deal on a case. There were even cases on a buy 1, get 1free offer. Take a moment to consider we are talking about French Bordeaux. Absorb this: buy 6 bottles of Bordeaux, get 6 bottles free. This is amazing. I will drive for 2 hours; I might even drive longer if I needed to.

Not all Bordeaux are created equal mind you. This is where the Animateur comes in. Either this is a seasonal sommelier, in which case they are trying to engage in conversation with you, or this is the regular sommelier, in which case, he knows you and leaves you alone with a plastic cup to sample. I prefer the regulars.

The appeal in these wine weeks is apparently not only the great value but the distance. You are not a part of the vineyard. You are trying wines in a parking lot, in which your senses are not altered by the decor of the cellar of a particular Domaine. I like it because I can sample from all over France, in little tiny barrels, and my decisions are not so blind. Of course, the sales don't hurt either.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Harvest Season Begins - Clauer Hoffest

Somewhere I once read that in Japan, the women all change their outfits on one undeclared day, heralding the arrival or Spring. How a season can arrive on one day is a mystery to me; I'm used to seasons slowly creeping into the next. Take Fall for example. Fall is the harvest time in Germany, a season in which vintners go painstakingly through their vineyards to start production for the next release of wine. This is not the case in Germany this year. The summer has bled into the harvest and created a very hospitable environment to enjoy the harvest.
This year, we enjoyed the harvest with a local, family-run vintner, with the party they threw.

Frankly, the Workaholic and I have both been exhausted in the last little while and we were reluctant to take public transit to the middle of nowhere, walk on the side of a country road and rely on the GPS of our smart phones to get us to our ultimate destination. But the Heidelberg Crowne Plaza set up an oyster stand. I was willing to get lost in the woods for the promise of succulent oysters and sparkling wine. Thankfully, both the Crowne Plaza and the Clauer Sekt lived up to my expectations.

After a walk that lasted eternity, walking in the ditch, against oncoming traffic, we arrived amid a field of retro-tractors. These, although amusing, were not Sekt and oysters. I quickly surveyed the surroundings, found a sign and was in my happy place. There are places I need orientation and there are places with sparkling wine. The 2 groups are normally mutually exclusive.

Wine and festival: we ran into friends, shared some wine and danced to a swing quartet. A decent party by any measure. Are we ready to return? Perhaps next year. We may have a better idea of how to get there on the train.

Clauer Wine:
Public Transit to Clauer Vineyard: Grab a bunch of friends and split a taxi.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Lady who Lunches

Last week, surrounded by great self-made fanfare, I returned to my blog. Now I am faced with a few harsh realities:
  1. days are getting shorter leaving less daylight hours to take photographs of food
  2. taking pictures of your food at the work cafeteria makes you look like a weirdo
  3. the "Program" the Workaholic insists on following is restrictive (it's a program, not a diet)
  4. I spend a lot of time cooking as a result of aforementioned Program
Last week had a few fun lunches that were relatively easy:
  • the homemade summer rolls
  • a chickpea and arugula salad
  • a quinoa and black bean salad
  • black bean salad with fresh corn, avocado and tomatoes
The chickpea and arugula salad has been a mainstay of the program. Easy to prepare and it keeps overnight.
chickpeas (from a can, then drained)
chopped tomatoes
chopped grilled eggplant & zucchini
(tip: grill a bunch of things & add to sandwiches, salads or dinner through the week)
chopped red onion
red wine vinegar
olive oil

Part of the pleasure of bringing my own lunch when we have a fully catered canteen is the reaction of my coworkers. When I brought my Quinoa Salad with Black Beans, my lunch date asked me if he could be in the picture. Behold my salad & my coworker:
Cooked quinoa
Black beans (dried & then cooked)
red onions
olive oil
apple cider vinegar

The next day, I had the pleasure of a surprise visit from an old friend. I was so engrossed with catching up, I got back to my desk only to realize, I had no photos. I quickly called the Workaholic and he has happy to oblige. I quickly discovered that the Workaholic is in a much darker environment than I am.

Black beans (the dried kind are the best I can find in Germany)
grilled corn, shucked
chopped tomaotes
chopped avocado
lime juice

Fruit Salad:
1/2 Kiwi
Cranberry juice to keep it from looking gross

That's it. A week of lunches. Let's see if I can find anything new this week. While still adhering to The Program, of course.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reconnecting through lunch

Hello again!

It has been a while since I was last here. Eons ago, I took on a new job that allowed me to either cook or to write about cooking. If I gave up the cooking, I would have had the time to write about food but no material. An uncomfortable situation. I chose the food.

I'm back because an old friend, Emily, is running a contest of sorts on her site. She encourages everyone to get creative with their lunches. Because I have come to the conclusion that my cafeteria's offering of fries & schnitzel is not always my friend, I have been packing a lot of my own lunches. Today was a Vietnamese-style summer roll with a peanut dipping sauce and chopped mango and strawberry.

The rolls are filled with Thai basil, lettuce, bean thread, MSC-approved shrimp, mint, and slices of carrot, radish and red chilies.  The peanut sauce has chili oil, peanut butter, maybe soy sauce, maybe rice vinegar, maybe green onions. I'm not really sure because it was leftover from something else. Because I planned this lunch ahead of time, the actual assembly was 20 minutes for 4 rolls. It took me more time to make the fruit salad that I only realized was necessary after I saw all the empty space in my lunch box.

Summary: both the Workaholic and I were content. And it was the envy of my co-workers who had spaghetti with meat sauce.
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