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Archive for March, 2010

Dear Diary,

I think I’ve found “The One.” This key lime tart might just be my dessert soul mate. Its sophisticated looks and great taste are irresistible. Although we had a whirlwind romance, this feels like true love. I can hardly believe I’ve found so many of my favorite flavors in one dessert. Cancel my Tastespotting subscription; I’m set. This is it.

Admittedly, I’ve always had a crush on key lime pie. The Libra in me is drawn to that perfect balance of tangy citrus and creamy custard. But add a scarlet ribbon of raspberry jam, and […sigh…] I go weak in the knees. Swap out the graham cracker crust for a crumbly pistachio-butter-cookie base, and I start thinking maybe you can have it all. This tart? It’s the whole package.

Man, I’ve got it bad. But what’s the use in fighting something that’s meant to be? Let’s fall in love!

Our next date? A delicious rendezvous after Easter dinner.

(Adapted from Martha Stewart and Thursday Night Smackdown)

For the crust:

-4 Tbsp. melted butter, plus more for the pan
-2/3 c. roasted, shelled pistachios (salted is OK)
-5 oz. of butter cookies (I used German Butterkeks, which are not as oily as shortbread)
-1/4 c. sugar (I used raw/demerera)

For the filling:

-1/2 c. fresh-squeezed lime juice (preferably key lime juice, or the juice of 5-6 regular limes)
-2 egg yolks
-14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

-6 Tbsp. best-quality raspberry jam (I used Den Gamle)

1.  Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a 9-in. springform pan or pie plate with butter. (An 8×8-in. square pan would also work.)

2.  In a blender or food processor, finely grind the cookies and pistachios.  In a medium bowl, mix with the melted butter and 1/4 c. sugar using your hands.

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I started taking French cooking classes at my local community college, and it’s been the calorie-rich highlight of my weeks. Because the course is conducted in German, I not only get to learn the finer points of butter and egg yolks, I can also practice my umlauts. It’s been a great experience, and I wanted to share the highlights with you here. Think of this as French cooking class light: all of the good stuff, none of the overcooked chicken livers.

So far, the dish that has impressed me most was one of the easiest.  I mean, really, who gets excited about lentil soup? Sometimes I feel like despite the massive number of ingredients and herbs I throw in, it’s just uninspiring.

Leave it to the French to elevate the humble brown lentil.

Well, this French lentil soup has taught me the wisdom in keeping it simple. Its flavor is practically the inverse of the time and ingredients involved.  Not only is it easy to make and flavorful, I like it enough that I’d serve it to company. The French must be on to something.  They know a) how to extract the most flavor from a few key ingredients, and b) not to muddle up dishes with too many herbs and competing flavors.

Simple, non?

Without further ado, here’s the recipe.  I’d love to keep talking it up, but it’s a rare sunny day in Berlin, and the sidewalks are calling my name!  I’ll report back with more French hits soon.

-3/4 c. brown lentils (or French green “du Puy” lentils; I’ve made it both ways), rinsed and picked over
-1 sm. onion, chopped
-2 strips bacon, chopped
-2 Tbsp. butter, divided
-2-3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, divided
-3 1/3 c. vegetable broth, warm
-1/2 bunch fresh parsley
-3 sprigs fresh thyme
-handful of celery tops, optional
-scant 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
-freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. In a medium pot on medium-low heat, sauté the chopped bacon to render some of the fat, about 2 min. Keep the heat low so that the bacon does not get crispy. Add the chopped onion and 1/2 tablespoon butter and sweat until translucent.

2. Add the broth, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and the lentils to the pot. Cover and simmer 20 minutes.

3. Add the parsley (whole), thyme sprigs, and celery tops to the pot. Simmer covered 10-15 minutes more, or just until the lentils are tender. Check doneness occasionally to prevent overcooking.

4. In a small saucepan or skillet, brown the remaining 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter. Set aside.  It should be a deep golden brown, but not black. (more…)

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Just look at the list of ingredients:

Bacon.  Butter.  Mushrooms.  Wine.  Brandy.  Chicken.

Coq au vin basically sells itself.  Sure, I could rhapsodize about the melt-in-your-mouth chicken and seared mushrooms bathed in rich, tangy wine sauce.  But I trust you to recognize a good thing.  No hard sell needed.

Coq au vin is a classic for a reason. Ever since Julia Child ignited the craze for French food in the 1960s, Americans have greedily slurped up this heady stew and asked for seconds.  Yes, it is a bit labor-intensive, but the end result is completely worth it.  The next time you need an impressive dish for a dinner party or special occasion, think retro.  No, think classic.  Think coq au vin.

(Adapted from Nigel Slater)

-1 large chicken, cut into 6 or 8 pieces, or 1 small chicken plus two leg quarters (save back and innards if you intend to make your own broth)
-8 strips of thick-cut bacon, sliced into thick matchsticks, or 150 g. pre-cut lardons
-2 med. yellow onions, roughly chopped
-2 med. carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
-2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-3 Tbsp. flour, divided
-4 Tbsp. brandy or Cognac, divided
-leaves from 4-5 sprigs thyme
-3 bay leaves
-3/4 bottle red wine (approx. 2 1/4 c.)
-1 1/2 c. chicken broth, preferably homemade
-1-2 Tbsp. butter, if needed
-1 c. small “boiler” or “pearl” onions or small shallots, peeled
-1/2 lb. mushrooms (I used crimini), cleaned and halved if large
-salt and pepper, to taste
-chopped parsley, for garnish

1.  Rinse the chicken and trim of excess skin and fat.  Dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Now is a good time to make your chicken broth or bring some prepared broth to a bare simmer in a saucepan.

2.  In a large, heavy pot, fry the bacon pieces on medium heat until lightly golden.  Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings behind.

3.  Put the chicken in the pot, skin-side down, and let cook undisturbed until golden.  Flip and brown the other side.  Remove to a plate, leaving the drippings behind.

color = flavor

4.  Lower the heat and add the carrots, celery, and onions, cooking until the onions soften. Stir in the garlic. Then sprinkle the veggies with 2 tablespoons flour and stir, cooking 90 seconds more.

5.  Return the chicken pieces and their juices to the pot.  Add the bacon, then pour over 2 tablespoons of brandy.

6.  Add the wine, bay leaves, thyme, and enough broth to barely cover the chicken.

7.  Bring just to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook partially covered for about 40 minutes, or until the chicken is tender.  Remove the chicken to a bowl.

8.  Raise the heat to high and begin reducing the sauce.  Use a spoon to (carefully) skim off the grease that accumulates around the edges of the sauce, discarding all but 2-3 tablespoons.  Put the reserved grease in a metal skillet or medium pot (do not use non-stick) and set aside.

9.  If desired, thicken the reduced sauce with a slurry of 1 tablespoon of flour whisked with 2 tablespoons of water.  Return the chicken pieces to the sauce, first removing the skin (if you like).  Correct the seasoning and keep warm.

10.  Heat skimmed fat in the pot/skillet on high.  If there is not enough fat to cover the bottom, add the butter.  Add the mushrooms and let brown undisturbed for 2 or 3 minutes.  Now add the small onions and sauté 2 min. more.  Season with salt and pepper.

11.  Have matches or a lighter handy.  Pour 2-3 tablespoons of brandy into a cup.  Very carefully, pour the brandy over the mushrooms and onions. Immediately set the mushrooms and onions on fire, averting your head for safety.  Shake the pan until the alcohol burns off and the flames die out. Continue cooking until the onions are just tender, adding a little water if needed.

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What in the world makes these “Avatar” muffins,  you ask?

Let’s just say that if James Cameron’s blue characters were looking for the perfect camouflage muffins to eat on the go, they needn’t look further.   Oh, alright, fine: I made these muffins with weepy frozen blueberries, which dyed the batter a swirly blue.

Image via thefilmtalk.com

But I like to think these blueberry muffins are lovable in their imperfection.  Just like your best friend or that favorite chipped coffee cup you refuse to toss out. You know which one I mean.  Simple, straightforward, and good.

These blueberry muffins are homey and comfortable—ideal for savoring over a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper. They’re moist, fluffy, and just sweet enough without veering into dessert territory.  Plus, they’re loaded with lots of bright fruit (you know how I feel about getting color into our diets).  If you want to ramp up the nutrition even more, you could substitute whole wheat pastry flour or quick-cook oats for a bit of the white flour.  Should you prefer non-Pandoran muffins, just use fresh blueberries, which bleed less than frozen.

(Adapted from Alton Brown via Thyme for Food)

-11 oz (2 1/4 c.) all-purpose flour
-2 tsp. baking powder
-1 tsp. baking soda
-1/8 tsp. salt
-3/4 c. sugar (I used demerera/raw)
-1/2 c. vegetable oil
-1 egg
-1 egg yolk
-1 c. plain yogurt (approx. 1 3/4 containers)
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-1/2 tsp. almond extract, optional
-2 c. blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 12-count muffin tin.  Alternately, you could fill the muffin tin with liners and then spray those with baking spray.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Remove 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture and toss with the blueberries in a separate bowl.  (This reduces sinking while baking.)

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, egg and yolk, yogurt, and extracts.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring just until barely combined. Do not mix completely, or your muffins will be tough and flat.

Stop stirring!

5. Fold in the blueberries and any residual flour just until evenly dispersed. Do not overmix.

6. Drop the batter into the 12 muffin cups, filling to the top. Bake 17-20 min., or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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Germany is a funny place, food-wise.  It has some of the cheapest groceries in Europe and enthusiastically stocks shelves with gourmet delicacies from neighboring countries.  You can eat very well for very little.  Food shopping as an American in Berlin can be a little bewildering—it’s always an adventure. Need a can of rillettes? A brick of halloumi? Russian solyanka? Marcona almonds? Hungarian kabanos? How about some jicama or salsify? White asparagus? Venison shoulder? No problem.

But what if you just need a humble pound of ground chicken to make Smitten Kitchen’s chicken meatballs?

That’s a tall order. Certain American culinary trends haven’t caught on well here, and ground poultry is one of them.  When I asked the butcher if she had any ground chicken, I got a brusqueThat’s not something we carry.”  (My friend, Robby, tells a funny story about how his simple inquiry about ground lamb prompted an angry diatribe about the unreasonable number of separate grinders required.  But I digress.)

Anyway, I was not to be deterred.  I finally tracked down some ground turkey and decided it would have to do.  I needed those meatballs.

Like, yesterday.

And oh, the meatballs.  Delicious!  Just as Deb promised, they’re moist, flavorful, and—yep—vaguely cheesy (despite not containing a lick of cheese).  I think the pancetta and tomato paste give them that delectable hit of umami.  These are good.

Rumor has it they’re also delicious cold, straight from the fridge.  But what was it Reagan said?  “Trust but verify”?  Go on!

Because my grocer sells ground turkey in 3/4 lb. packages, I had to buy two. The following recipe has been scaled up and makes a lot of meatball mix. You can either halve it, or make a make a separate meatloaf for another meal, as I did. Two birds, one stone.

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

-5 slices Italian bread, crumbled into small pieces (I used stale homemade oatmeal white bread)
-1/2 c. milk
-3 oz. pancetta, or uncooked bacon or turkey bacon, diced
-1 sm. onion, finely chopped
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey (lean is OK)
-1 egg, lightly beaten (two are pictured in photo)
-4 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
-1 Tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped, optional
-good pinch red pepper flake
-3 Tbsp. tomato paste, divided
-1 Tbsp. olive oil
-salt and pepper, to taste

1. Put the bread pieces in a large mixing bowl and drizzle them with the milk. Let sit while you follow the next step. (more…)

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I discovered a green deficiency in my wardrobe this morning and decided to make an Irish-themed cake to avoid the St. Patty’s pinching-vigilantes.  A couple friends were coming over for tea shortly, so I selected the cake on my friend Katty’s blog, which looked easy and festive.

After a quick mix in one bowl (love that!), my kitchen filled with the best aroma in the world: baking chocolate.  As the cake cooled, I whipped up an addictive batch of Bailey’s-spiked cream cheese glaze (which I was sorely tempted to dye bright green).  The deep chocolate cake baked up fluffy and boxed-mix-perfect, while the Bailey’s icing pushed it over the edge into venial sin.

If you’re looking for a delicious way to commemorate the holiday, you can hardly do better than combining Guinness, chocolate, Bailey’s, coffee, and cream cheese. Granted, binge-drinking frat boys would probably contend otherwise.

In any case, happy St. Patrick’s Day!

(Adapted from Katty’s Kitchen)

Guinness Chocolate Cake

-1/2 c. raw (demerera) sugar (or sub. white sugar)
-1/2 c. dark brown sugar, firmly packed
-scant 1 c. all-purpose flour
-scant 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
-3/4 tsp. baking powder
-3/4 tsp. baking soda
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1 tsp. instant coffee or instant espresso granules, optional (or sub. 1/4 c. strong brewed coffee for 1/4 c. of the milk)
-1 egg
-1/2 c. milk
-1/4 c. vegetable oil
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-2 tsp. Bailey’s liqueur
-1/2 c. Guinness (full disclosure: I successfully substituted dark German beer,  because I couldn’t find Guinness at my local market.  St. Patty promptly rolled in his grave.)

1. Grease and flour (or use cocoa powder) an 8×8-in. square or 8-in. round pan. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (except for the instant coffee).

3. Pour the Guinness into a small saucepan and add the instant coffee granules, if using. Bring just to a boil.

4. Stir the egg, milk, oil, Bailey’s, and vanilla extract into the dry mixture. Gradually whisk in the Guinness-coffee mixture.  The batter will be somewhat thin.

5. Pour batter into prepared pan (I used a springform) and bake on the middle rack for 30-35 min., or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

6.  Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan to wire racks. Cool completely before frosting.

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I thought you might like to see where all the action takes place.  I’m renting a fully-furnished apartment in Berlin, which thankfully has a well-stocked kitchen. Aside from a few santoku-style knives, a grill pan, and some wooden cutting boards, it had just about everything I needed going in.

Well, nearly.  The two-dozen metal canisters on the shelf to the right?  Those are our spices from the U.S.  That’s right.  We imported our spice collection. When it comes to packing, having a traveling companion who shares your priorities is a perk!  (It also means you both neglect to pack winter gloves.)

But back to the kitchen.  I love that the open layout allows me to chat with guests while I cook or clean up.  My last kitchen was a hot, stuffy closet.  This one is a definite improvement, because it has the most crucial household appliance ever: the dishwasher.

I’ll never go back to hand-washing.  Never!

On (all too rare) sunny days, the kitchen fills with natural light.  Now that the days are finally getting longer, I have more time to dream up and photograph new dishes. (more…)

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