Monday, November 30, 2015

On surprisingly delicious breakfasts

A few days ago I chose a Bauernbrot loaf of bread from the bakery.  Once the bread was purchased and placed into a bag and handed to me, I immediately began to regret the purchase.  I have never carried such a heavy loaf of bread home before.

But being that time travel machines don't actually exist (or - at least not that I know of), and therefore, going back in time and choosing a different loaf of bread was out of the question, I figured I would give this extremely dense bread a chance.

I plunked the loaf on a tray and placed it in a hot oven.  I gathered the butter dish and knives, a clementine, and made my coffee while the bread got nice and hot in the oven.

Once that brot was warm, I sliced it into a hunk so big and chunky that it can only rightfully be called a slab.  I smeared it generously with some butter and sprinkled a bit of salt.  Then I gathered my coffee and clementine, and slab of bread and headed a table to eat.

On the face of it, it sounds like a boring breakfast - perhaps veering into the austere side - and at best, unassuming.

But boring it was not.  In fact, it could even be considered transcendent.  That bread, that inelegant and heavy Bauernbrot, was actually so full of delicious sourdough flavor that I could feel my face pucker.  That sour flavor played so very very well with the sweet creamy butter and sprinkle of sea salt.  The clementine was one of those perfect ones - plump and juicy, with the right balance of sweet and sour.  The sweetness of that clementine was a beautiful antidote to the bitterness of the coffee and the sour of the bread.  All these flavor notes coming together in a joyous symphony of taste.  How could such a simple breakfast be so beautiful?

Somehow, I was able to experience a serendipitous coming together of the right food at the right time.  Perhaps, one day, I will even be able to recreate it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On spaghetti bolognese...part 2

A pot of bolognese had been simmering on the burner, when in walked Seth into the kitchen.  He was followed by Max.  I asked Seth to taste the sauce, to make sure it tasted the way it was supposed to. He happily obliged, as did the little guy.

Seth said that it was delicious, making me feel all proud and happy.  Then Max got a spoonful for himself and proclaimed that it was old food.

My mind produced a rapid series of emotions in such a fantastically short period of time - I didn't think this was made with old food - most of it was just purchased the day before! Do I regularly serve old food to my child? Of course not! Embarassment, indignation, then...agreement.

It was indeed "old food." 

Or food that was regularly made before we moved here to Germany.

It had been one of those dishes that don't have any specific or particular memories attached to them, but were a part of the dinner rotation, a part of our identity as "people who make and eat and love spaghetti bolognese."  And though we didn't have particular memories associated with bolognese, we did have strong feelings about the deliciousness of this dinner.  Yet, in all the excitement of the move and new baby, we hadn't had much of a chance to make it in our new new home.

But making these dishes helps us to remember that we existed before the move - that we have memories and identities that follow us here.  Revisiting these meals gives us a sense of who we were who we are and perhaps even who we will become.  We should all be happy to eat old food.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

On spaghetti bolognese

So often,  I rush through everything.   I have never been one of those people who are "mindful" and in the moment.  Instead of savoring and enjoying the present, I am checking off items off my to do list.  Sadly, this can even happen with food.  I will find myself quickly shoveling food into my mouth so that I can go on to the next task of doing to the dishes, as opposed to appreciating each delicious bite of the meal in front of me.  

Yet I am a different person when it comes to this dish.  I find myself lingering over this dinner. Each bite is enjoyed instead of hurried through.  

During the bustle and chaos of the day, I sadly find myself losing enthusiasm for food.  For trying new things, for making and creating exciting new meals to enjoy.  The rhythm of checking off things on the to-do list squeezes out that lust, I suppose.

But this dish - this is something special.

It is a dish to love and rather than getting though dinner so that I can clean it up, I go back to the pot for more - enjoying the sensation of dipping leftover noodles into the sauce and surreptitiously squirreling them away in my stomach.  

Ever since being pregnant with Molly, I have lost the desire to eat garlic and onion.  So I make this bolognese without them, a heresy to my former self.  Yet somehow it is flavorful enough that you don't notice the missing alliums.  Or at least I don't think you do.  Its meatiness makes up for it.

We have been enjoying this with spaghetti, as the long strands are caressed by the sauce and wrap themselves around whatever they can find - a mushroom piece, a spiced bit of meat slathered canoodling with a carrot - creating a delicious pasta cocoon for the sauce. and a restoration of my love for food and life.

olive oil
4 celery stalks, diced
2-3 carrots, diced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground dried porcini mushroom
1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
salt and pepper
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
generous grating fresh nutmeg
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
6 ounces tomato paste
28 ounces crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup beef broth
1 cup red wine
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cover the bottom of a large pot or dutch oven with a coating olive oil.  add the celery and carrots.  Over low heat, allow them to soften - about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a skillet.  add the mushrooms.  Brown them, sprinkling them with the dried mushroom powder, salt, and pepper.  once brown, remove from heat and splash with the soy sauce.

Once the celery and carrots have softened, add the cinnamon, clove, bay leaves, italian seasoning, and nutmeg.  Stir.  add the meats and turn the heat to medium-high.  Once the meats have cooked stir in the tomato paste.  Add the crushed tomatoes, beef broth and red wine.  turn to high, and reduce.  Once the wine has reduced, simmer for 1-2 hours.  add cream and cheese then serve with spaghetti.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

On cake pops

The world is chock full of stupid and/or nonsensical aphorisms and proverbs floating around.  For instance - "boys will be boys" or "you can't judge a book by its cover."  What does it even mean that "boys will be boys?"  I have no idea! And yes, while it isn't everything, you can indeed judge a book by its cover!  It usually tells you the author and the publisher - so there is some important information right there!  Do you like the graphics/pictures/fonts used on the front?  The book may actually appeal to you as well! But I digress.

I must, however, stand behind the good old nugget of wisdom "never say never."

A few years ago, when cake pops were EVERYWHERE, I took an anti-cake pop stance.  I told myself that I would never ever let these spheres of cake make their way into my home.

I don't actually know why I was so vehemently anti-cake-pop.  Perhaps they were just too fussy for my tastes, involving a surgical level of precision that I do not possess.  Or maybe they were, quite frankly, just too small of a serving size.  Maybe I harbor anti-stick sentiments as well.  Who knows! But the feelings were strong, a knee-jerk reaction to their omnipresence.

So of course, I am now the proud(??) owner of a cake pop maker and cake pop stand!  What changed?  Max found out about them! And I didn't have a good reason to say no to them.  Telling a four year old that "cake pops are just too trendy, small and fussy" doesn't really register as a great argument.  So here we are getting ready to break out the cake pop machine for the upcoming kiddo birthdays.  And I might even be looking forward to eating them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

On high chairs

A few months ago, Seth and I picked out a charming high chair for Molly.  So bright and white and made out of wood, it was - at the time - a satisfying purchase.  A picturesque backdrop for making food memories with the little one.

Then we actually started using it.

It might be strange to name an inanimate object as one's enemy, but so it goes.  What makes the chair aesthetically pleasing has become its Achille's heel of function.  The white paint on the wood holds - nay, wears - all manner of food that finds it way to it like a coat of armor.  And all the food does find its way, of course.  The foods mix and mingle, residues and juices coming together to make a protective barrier on the chair.

A protective barrier from what?  Me, of course! Along with my weapons of cleaning bottles, rags, and sponges.  The high chair wants no part of these cleaning shenanigans.

Just when I think I have rubbed away all the filth and grime, a new nook or cranny (and this chair has a never-ending supply of these, it is as though the chair is an MC Escher drawing come to life) reveals itself, boastfully instigating a new battle.  We repeat these antics until I finally look at the time and realize that I have spend 45 minutes cleaning the chair! Just the chair - there are still dishes and floors to clean as well!  And it isn't finished.  Nor can it ever be truly finished.

So I admit defeat and tend to the dirty dishes and floor.  At least these make for an easier task.

The high chair may have won many, many battles.  But I have won the war.  For the chair has been made redundant by an ugly plastic chair from Ikea.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

On breakfast rice

What follows is a discussion of our breakfast rice.  Though we would eat it for lunch or dinner as well.  Perhaps it is better titled anytime rice?

There are supposedly two kinds of breakfasts - the every day kind and the kind you serve to guests.  I'm not exactly sure where this would fall.  We would most definitely serve this to guests.  But not just any kind of guest.  Those not-fussy kind of guests.  The kind we can be ourselves around.

Those guests who require us to be a different version of ourselves? A stiffer kind, a more pretentious kind, a kind that only obscures and obfuscates the feelings and emotions and thoughts simmering just below the surface?  For those people, a different breakfast will have to do.  And perhaps, a hotel room.

I suppose this feels like a major cop-out of a recipe.  Just rice with butter, nori goma furikake, soy sauce.  And some chile paste, if we are feeling fancy.  

So often rice is served as an afterthought, served on the side to round out a meal of stir fry or curry, used to plug in the gaps between bites filled with spices, herbs, proteins, and vegetables.  Or else it carries all these goodies as a whole dish, with the grains of rice acting as a vessel of conveyance, carrying the flavors of the dish upward and onward from fork to mouth.

But here we offer an alternative. We are championing rice, simplifying it.  Honoring it.  And urging everyone to embrace this grain as breakfast.  A relatively stripped down rice dish - an underlying hint of butter, with a generous drizzle of soy sauce, preferably the thick kind, to strike that umami note, a sprinkle of nori goma furikake to give a salty spark to it all.  And depending on the mood, some Sambal Oelek for sweet heat.  

In this breakfast rice, the rice is not an afterthought, but the raison d'etre.  The only thing that can possibly pull you out of bed on that bleak, dreary morning.  That morning when not enough sleep was had.  That morning that starts a day that holds nothing but stresses and problems, that morning when the body craves comfort and a warm a blanket for the soul.

I submit to you that this rice dish, a bowl of rice all piping hot and loaded up with these favored condiments, is a supremely superior warm breakfast when compared to oatmeal.  Nourishing, and warming to the body.  Stimulating the senses in order to embrace the coming day.

It isn't technically a complete meal.  There isn't any protein.  Nary a piece of produce in sight.  But it is a meal, nonetheless, and it is one of our favorite meals for breakfast.  It may not have all the food groups, but it hits all the right flavor notes.  And we will proudly serve this to those special people.  

Cooked calrose rice ( we use our rice cooker for this)
Unsalted butter
Nori goma furikake
Soy sauce, preferably thick
Sambal Oelek, optional
Sesame oil, optional

Scoop the cooked rice in a bowl.  Then have fun with the condiments.  Add a small pat of butter, sprinkle the nori, drizzle the soy sauce and sesame oil, scoop some Sambal Oelek.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On roasted broccoli

Oh broccoli.  You are such a tricky fellow.  When I bring you home, you look so magical and beautiful, sitting in the store like the proud, sturdy, green, tree-like vegetable that you are.  It is as though a wizard became angry one day came and shrank down an entire forest into 500 grams.  A portable forest to bring home and enjoy.   I always imagine that enchanted tiny forest creatures like foxes and owls are flitting through your florets, causing havoc amongst your leaves.

Your appearance makes it so that I can't help but sneak in a bite while prepping you.  I do this, even though disappointment is always experienced.  Despite your beauty, one finds nothing but cabbagey bitterness and florets that disintegrate weirdly in one's mouth.  And a practically inedible stalk.

But oh how things change when one puts this broccoli in the oven!  After a warm and cozy stint in under a high temperature, broccoli emerges darkened.  Which, as an already-dark vegetable, means it comes out a bit olive green, a bit charred, a bit brown.  Not the most appetizing array of colors.  And instead of being all proud and sturdy, it becomes limp and fragile.  The only forest that it resembles now is one that has experienced a wildfire.

But oh how appearances can deceive!  Once one takes a bite of these roasted brassicas, one rediscovers the magic!  Some sweetness, but without the cloying flavor of sweet potatoes or squash. And this soft sweetness is mixed with an edgy bitterness and then topped with hints of smoke.  One then takes another bite to experience that unique mix of tastes, and then suddenly one finds that the entire pan of broccoli (a pan meant to be the basis of dinner) is now gone.  And when that happens, one can only hope that a new dinner can magically appear on the table.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On Nutella

I have come to the conclusion that we as a society are misusing Nutella.  A dizzying array of recipes that make use of this condiment can be found.  All sorts of cookies, cakes, brownies, morning pastries, quick breads, candies, drinks, ice creams, scones, waffles, are being stuffed or mixed with Nutella every day.  And I think it might be time to put an end to it.  I must, however, confess here that I too have done these exact things with Nutella in the past.  But it stops now

But not because I'm "over" Nutella.  Of course I am not "over" it, that would be insane!  Though I'm probably behind on my trendy candy-like condiments, as I'm under the impression that Biscoff is now the popular one.

But because Nutella isn't the extrovert that we make it out to be.  Being around others actually ennervates Nutella, making its deliciousness - that thick, rich, chocolatey hazelnutty goodness- less strong, less prominent - overall, less Nutella-y!

So how can we keep Nutella its wonderful Nutella self?  How do we make sure it keeps up its strength?  By letting it be the introvert that it is!  It needs some room, some space to breathe.  It doesn't want to feel smothered by a glut of ingredients. It doesn't want to make small talk with a bunch of strangers like flour, mascarpone, pistachio, and caramel in your latest incarnation of a poundcake.  Nutella is at its happiest when sitting atop a nice crusty bread (mayyybe buttered and with a little bit of salt) or served with some crepes, or maybe, just maybe, hanging out with some close friends like bananas or strawberries or a sprinkling of hazelnuts.  But that is it.  And to really let Nutella shine?  Just take a spoonful right from the jar :)

Monday, November 2, 2015

On liverwurst

On some days here in Hamburg, the clouds are so thick that they appear to be a suspended grey sea hovering over our heads.  One can't help but look up, nervously wondering when they will release their waters on the ground, necessitating the donning of a ridiculous but practical polka-dotted rain poncho to protect myself and the baby from becoming drenched.  A rain poncho, instead of a rain coat, because my adorable but large baby enjoys being worn instead of strolled and a poncho allows room for both of us.

And just when it doesn't seem possible that these dense, thick clouds can allow for the existence of a sun, a hole opens up and sunbeams announce their presence, and that threat of becoming a walking, talking polka-dotted Violet Beauregarde (after she becomes the blueberry) no longer seems so imminent.

Liverwurst is an unfortunately named food.  We don't often like to be reminded of vital internal organs and of their consumption.  In English, it is as though we are saying "worst."  So "worst liver" is right there in the name.  Its appearance generally ranges from a sickly pink to a sickly grey. Liverwurst does not give the best of impressions, to say the least.

However, liverwurst isn't the grey looming cloud of foods.  No no no.  It is the sunbeam.  just when you think the worst is going to happen, you realize that you were mistaken.  The sun is there, the clouds are actually passing overhead, rain is no longer imminent, the sky is actually quite beautiful with the contrast of the grey clouds and sun peeking through, you don't have to wear the rain poncho, and that the bite of liverwurst, the bite you had to brace yourself for by closing your eyes, you have taken is absolutely delicious.
It is so moody, so umami, with a taste of salt that your taste buds absolutely cannot get enough of.

To enjoy liverwurst to its fullest, we have taken to making breakfast tartines.  I know, I know, there should be a photo, but alas, the imagination will have to suffice.  A smear of butter on warm toast, followed by a generous spreading of liverwurst then with slices of cucumber topped with freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt and lemon zest.  One must be sure to use a bread that gets some crunch when toasted, something solid for your teeth to get through, as that contrast of the bread with the soft spread is important.  A bit of sun to start the day.

To make, you will need some
farmers bread
cucumber slices
lemon zest

Toast that bread, that butter it.  Spread on some liverwurst.  Add cucumber slices.  Sprinkle salt and pepper, then finish with some lemon zest.  Guten appetit!