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Posts Tagged ‘easy’

A few weeks ago, I went on an Iron Chef-style mission to empty my fridge by cooking creatively.  With plans to leave town for the next 15 days, I did not want to come home to any nasty (green, fuzzy, smelly) surprises.  And I hate to waste food.

When I found a pint of buttermilk lurking in the fridge, I thought chocolate buttermilk cake might be the answer.  This recipe sounded promising but needed to be scaled down.  Although I was a little nervous about the success of my sketchy mathematics, I forged ahead.

I shouldn’t have worried.  As my husband took his first bite, I asked, “Is it as good as the Guinness Chocolate Cake?”

“Better,” he said with a smile.

Iron Chef: 1; Waste: 0

This buttermilk chocolate cake is moist, dark, and moderately sweet.  Sweet-tart raspberry sauce and a bit of whipped cream are the perfect accompaniments.

(Adapted from “P@perseed)

For the cake:

-1 c. all-purpose flour
-3/4 c. sugar
-1 1/3 tsp. baking soda
-1/4 tsp. salt
-1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Dutch-process)
-1/3 c. + 1 Tbsp. oil
-1/2 c. buttermilk
-1 large egg
-1/2 c. strong, hot coffee
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (more…)

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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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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.

(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.

(more…)

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People, particularly people of Hungarian origin, have very strong feelings about goulash.  Things you should know:

1) It’s one of Hungary’s national dishes;

2) It does not contain ground beef, spaghetti sauce, chili sauce, tomato soup, or Velveeta, you Midwestern heretic 😉

And most importantly…

3) That ultra-thick, beefy stew with onions and paprika you love so much? That’s not goulash!

That is pörkölt.

If you take pörkölt and add potatoes and vegetables and thin it out with water or broth, then you have goulash.  At least, that’s what the fellow in this video claims.  And as a matter of principle, I tend to believe guys who speak Magyar and cook over open fires.

What else do you need to know?  Not Goulash, AKA, pörkölt, is incredibly delicious.  It’s intensely beefy, richly spiced (but not hot—unless you want), and simple to make.  Mashed potatoes are a match made in heaven (and probably totally inauthentic. Parsley potatoes or Spätzle, however, might pass muster with the correctness police.)

In short: make this, and for goodness’ sake, please don’t call it “goulash.”

(Adapted from ifood.tv)

-2 lbs. beef chuck, trimmed and cut into 2-in. cubes (I actually used venison)
-1/2-3/4 c. red wine
-pinch tarragon, optional
-1 sm. onion, finely diced (not too much onion, please, it overwhelms the dish)
-1/2 Hungarian or red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
-1 Tbsp. butter + 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, or the equivalent amount of lard/bacon grease
-2 Tbsp. tomato paste
-2 cloves garlic, chopped
-1 c. broth (I used vegetable)
-2 (heaping) tsp. good quality sweet Hungarian paprika
-1 tsp. dried marjoram
-1/2 tsp. caraway seed, preferably ground
-8 whole juniper berries, optional
-salt and pepper, to taste (I added a little smoked salt for that “cooked-over-an-open-fire” flavor)
-dash of cayenne pepper or hot Hungarian paprika (more…)

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These crispy fish fillets* are much more than the sum of their parts. After posting several fairly involved recipes, I thought it time for a quick, easy recipe that’s simply delicious.  I was skeptical making this the first time, but one bite confirmed it.  Potato chips, tartar sauce, and white fish?  Like Martha says, “It’s a good thing.”

Still not sure?  Take 15 minutes:

-2 white fish fillets (such as cod, turbot, tilapia, etc.)
-2 Tbsp. prepared tartar sauce (or make your own)
-1 oz. ridged potato chips (e.g., Ruffles…or their German equivalent, Riffels!), crumbled
-2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
-salt and pepper, to taste

1.  Preheat the oven to 375F. Lightly grease a glass/ceramic baking dish or lay some chopped vegetables on the bottom (e.g., celery, fennel stalks, carrots).

2. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper. Spread 1 Tbsp. tartar sauce on top of each fillet. Press a few tablespoons of potato chip crumbs on top. (more…)

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Guess how these cookies got their name?

First, I started making them at 10PM, only to realize that I was out of eggs and short on chocolate, thus requiring a run to the corner store.  Second, I’d forgotten to factor in the one-hour chilling time for the dough.  They were finally done around 12:30AM.  But hey, I’d waited six months to finally make these—what was a few hours?

Americans ex-pats typically crave strange, hard-to-find things like Kraft Blue Box, chipotle peppers, cream of mushroom soup, and Saltines. Chocolate chip cookies are another doozy. Good luck finding any of the essential ingredients in Germany: brown sugar, chocolate chips, or vanilla extract.  I hadn’t had much luck.

brown gold…

But then my friend, Liza, brought me back a bag of fancy chocolate chips from her last trip to the U.S.  A plan was hatched. My dad good-naturedly agreed to haul a 2-lb. bag of brown sugar in his luggage at Christmastime.  And the vanilla extract problem I solved by macerating a vanilla bean in a mini bottle of vodka:

Finally, it was cookie time! I started with a recipe billed as no less than “The Best Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies in the Entire World.”  Although I might not go quite that far, if you like a chewy cookie…these were totally worth the wait!

(Makes 22-23 medium cookies)

-1 1/2 c. flour
-1/2 tsp. baking soda
-1/2  tsp. salt
-1/2 c.  (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly colder than room temperature
-1/2 c. sugar
-3/4 c. tightly packed light brown sugar (I used dark but recommend light)
-1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-1 large egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
-7 oz. bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips
-1/3 c. chopped walnuts, toasted (optional) (more…)

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For reasons I don’t quite understand, fresh washed, bagged baby spinach costs an arm and a leg in Berlin.  I guess it hasn’t caught on in trendy circles yet.  If only the hipsters with painted on jeans and hideous shaved haircuts had an inkling of the green deliciousness they’re missing.

Anyway.

Here’s a simple recipe for a yummy spinach-potato soup.  The shortcut involves using frozen creamed spinach, which is all my discount grocery store (the U.N. refugee-camp-style Netto) had.  Topped off with some homemade croutons or a drizzle of cream, it makes a nice lunch or starter.

(more…)

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Do you ever get really sick of eating rich food?

OK, me neither.

But sometimes you need something acidic to cut the grease, if you will.  The Germans are masters of balancing heavy, hearty food with pickled dishes that perk things up (sauerkraut, anyone?).  German potato salad is another mouth-puckering example.  No mayo, no fuss; just a simple vinaigrette with onion and parsley.  It is unapologetically plain and delicious—just like your Schwäbisch Oma (“Grandma”) might make.

The next time you fry up a chicken schnitzel or grill a bacon cheeseburger, make sure you have some of this on hand.

Caraway seed is a favorite in German cuisine, quite possibly because it comes in such gorgeous packaging.

-2.2 lbs. waxy potatoes (such as red potatoes or Yukon Golds)
-1 Tbsp. whole caraway seed
-1 Tbsp. salt

-1 c. HOT chicken/vegetable broth (from bullion cube is OK; Oma’s not that fussy)

Dressing:
-1/4 c.  sweet onion, minced
-2 Tbsp.  shallot, minced
-2 Tbsp. chives, snipped
-2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
-2 Tbsp. white vinegar
-5 Tbsp. oil (avoid olive oil if you plan to serve cold)
-3/4 tsp. sugar
-1/2 tsp. spicy German or Dijon mustard
-2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
-salt and pepper, to taste

(more…)

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I won’t say too much about these bars, other than that they are delicious.  You already know that soft, fluffy baked goods drizzled with cream cheese icing are my Kryptonite.  The next time you have a couple of overripe bananas, you know what to do.

Just don’t come knocking.

You can double this recipe and bake it in a 13×9-in. pan.

-2 eggs, room temperature
-1/2 c. granulated sugar
-1/3 c. raw sugar
-1/4 c. vegetable oil
-1/4 c. plain yogurt
-8-oz. bananas (weighed after peeling—about 1 1/2 medium bananas), mashed
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-1 c. all-purpose flour
-1 tsp. baking powder
-1 tsp. ground cinnamon
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. baking soda (more…)

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“Did a bad, bad thing…”

Every single time I think about these pumpkin bars, the chorus from that Chris Isaak song runs through my head.  I’m not kidding.

Don’t make these.

You won’t be able to stop yourself.  One minute you’re pulling them out of the oven, and the next thing you know, you’re left covered in orange crumbs, your fingers sticky with cream cheese icing, wondering what the hell just happened.

Try to eat just one.

Paula Deen gets credit for this recipe, which makes perfect sense when you consider her other devious creations.  I decided to lighten these pumpkin bars up with some yogurt in place of half the oil.  The substitution worked perfectly, and I’m certain you’ll love their moist quick-bread texture.  I tweaked Paula’s recipe, using fresh pumpkin, fresh ginger, and some raw sugar, but feel free to check out the original recipe, too.

Be strong!  (Next up will be a healthy, savory vegetarian main dish to atone for these sins.)

You hedonists can double this recipe and bake it in a 13×9-in. pan.

-2 eggs, room temperature
-1/2 c. granulated sugar
-1/3 c. raw sugar
-1/4 c. vegetable oil
-1/4 c. plain yogurt
-8-oz. homemade pumpkin puree or canned Libby’s pumpkin puree (NOT
pumpkin pie filling)
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-1 c. all-purpose flour
-1 tsp. baking powder
-1 tsp. ground cinnamon
-1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
-1/2 tsp. fresh ginger, grated (or 1/4 tsp. dried ginger)
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. baking soda

Making pumpkin purée is almost as easy as opening a can… (more…)

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caviar dip

Sounds fancy, right?  But this dip is a cinch to put together and makes a nice hors d’oeuvres with some champagne or prosecco before a holiday dinner.  It plays off the classic combination of caviar and crème fraîche, swapping out the traditional blini base for root vegetable chips.  Salty, creamy, slightly decadent…what’s not to like?

caviar dip

Although there has been a lot of (justified) talk about saving money and scaling back expenses this holiday season, the tiny bit of caviar in this recipe is worth the splurge.  Not sure where to find it in stores? Look for little jars near the seafood section (often with the smoked fish).  Whole Paycheck…er…Whole Foods almost certainly carries it.

caviarWhat possessed the first person to eat caviar?

-3/4 c. crème fraîche
-1/2 c. sour cream
-4 tsp. caviar (I used generic German black caviar, but whatever suits your fancy/wallet), plus a little extra for garnish*
-1 small bunch chives (about 3 Tbsp. total when snipped)
-1 1/2 tsp. minced shallot
-1 tsp. minced red onion
-salt and pepper, to taste

To serve:  1 bag of root vegetable chips, such as Terra Chips, or kettle-cooked potato chips

1.  In a medium bowl, snip most of the chives, reserving a few for garnish. (more…)

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quinoa cake with mushroom ragout
The other night, while my husband made a delicious roast pork loin, I was in charge of cooking the side dish.  I followed the German instructions on my package of quinoa (which called for too much water and cooking time) and ended up with a soggy, risotto-like pot of mush. So much for stereotypes about exacting Germans, eh?  Anyway, we were left with about 3 cups of quinoa that I was determined not to waste.  Because its texture was so similar to risotto, I decided to try a riff on arancini (fried risotto balls) for lunch today.

We were both surprised by how delicious these quinoa cakes were.  Next time, I might even ruin my quinoa on purpose, just to have another excuse make this dish.  Give this recipe a try next time you’re craving something different with an Italian vibe.

quinoa cake batterhumble beginnings…

quinoa patty…a tasty end

Quinoa Cakes:

-2 1/2-3 cups cooked quinoa (preferably slightly overcooked in excess water, so the grains cling together)
-2 eggs
-1/2 c. grated parmesan
-2 1/2 Tbsp. flour
-pinch of red pepper flake
-1 tsp. fresh basil
-1/2 clove garlic, minced
-1/2 tsp. dried oregano

-1/2 tsp. ea. salt and pepper
-approx. 2.5 c. panko or regular bread crumbs
-vegetable oil, for frying

1.  In a medium bowl, mix together all the ingredients except the salt, pepper, bread crumbs, and oil.

2.   Put the panko in a wide bowl and season with salt and pepper.

3.  Heat a large skillet with 3 Tbsp. oil until very hot.  Heat your oven on its lowest setting and line a cookie sheet or pan with paper towels.

4.  Take a heaping tablespoon of quinoa mixture in the palm of one hand and shape into a flat round approx. 3/4 in. thick (the size of a small crabcake).  Gently coat in the crumb mixture and place in the hot oil.

5.  Repeat.  Fry, gently turning so that each side is golden brown. Add more oil as needed.  Remove cooked cakes to the heated oven to keep warm while the others cook.

6.  Top with mushroom ragout and serve immediately.
(more…)

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Apple cake

This lovely cake comes from Smitten Kitchen, a very famous food blog with beautiful photos and recipes that sometimes work.  I approached this recipe with a fair dose of skepticism (not to mention, blog envy) and about 2 lbs. of apples.  And I’m so glad I did.  After a few recent baking failures (including this week’s zucchini bread with raspberries; trust me—don’t go there), my baker’s ego was a little tender.  So imagine my delight when my husband’s coworker came over for coffee and remarked, “Ach, so this is the famous apple cake your husband talks so much about!”

apple cake side view

I could have kissed her right there. Instead, I made a mental note to add this cake to the short list of go-to recipes for dummies (i.e., me). (more…)

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potato soup

Image via The Big Blend

Cool weather just screams out for hearty, homey food, don’t you think? The weather dropped a good 15 or 20 degrees (Fahrenheit…have to specify now!) this past month in Berlin, and I’ve been craving comfort food. This chunky, creamy potato soup fits the bill without being a total fat-bomb. It’s great as is, but feel free to kick it up a notch with some grated cheddar or a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of homemade croutons and fresh snipped chives.

potato soup ingredients

Don’t let the German-language label mislead you…that thar’s evaporated milk.  And there’s no celery in this photo because I spontaneously added it later.  For me, soup making is a bit of alchemy!

sauteed shallotsA little butter is key to this recipe’s success.

homemade stock

In a soup of so few ingredients, homemade broth is a nice touch.

Soup:

-1 3/4-2lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
-1 1/2 stalks celery, pureed in blender or very finely chopped
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 onion, finely chopped
-1 shallot, minced
-handful of parsley, chopped
-approx. 4 c. chicken or vegetable broth (depending on how thick you like your soup)
-1 c. evaporated milk (not condensed milk)
-cayenne pepper, to taste
-pinch of dried sage
-salt, pepper, and white pepper, to taste
-pinch of nutmeg
-2 bay leaves

-1 Tbsp. butter
-olive oil

To serve: fresh chives, sour cream, cheddar cheese, homemade croutons (recipe follows)

1. Melt butter and a splash of olive oil over med-low heat in a large stock pot. Add onions, shallot, and celery. Cook gently until almost translucent.

2. Stir in garlic, being careful not to burn. Next, add broth, evaporated milk, bay leaf, sage, and parsley.

3. Add peeled, chopped potatoes to pot. Simmer uncovered until tender. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste.

4. Thicken the soup. Either 1) use a potato masher to break down some of the potatoes and thicken the soup or 2) remove the bay leaves and about 3 cups of cooked potatoes to a bowl and puree the remaining contents of the pot with an immersion blender. Return the reserved potatoes to the soup.

5. Heat through and serve with your choice of toppings.   Enjoy with a chunk of crusty bread!

Homemade Croutons:

-2 slices thick cut bread of your choice (whole wheat is good)
-1 tsp. butter
-salt

1. Cut bread into bite-sized cubes.

2. Melt butter in a skillet.

3. Add bread cubes. Fry until golden. Sprinkle with salt and serve atop your favorite soup.

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