Archive for the 'In Season' Category

Cherry Picking with Slow Food Beijing

We spent this past Sunday picking cherries and peas in God’s Grace Garden, a biodynamic farm in the southwest of Beijing. The event was organized by the newly founded Slow Food Beijing. The farm is 25 acres large and was established in 2001 by Therese Zhang, a very interesting Chinese woman who speaks fluent English, Spanish and French. Therese hasn’t always been a farmer. She worked for a canning company when she learned about organic agriculture. She eventually quit her job and started planting fruit trees and vegetables on her new farm to ensure a lifetime of healthful food for her family and friends. She also raises life stock and we got to feed baby chickens, ducks and even turkeys (hopefully we can reunite with one of them on our Thanksgiving table later this year). For more information on God’s Grace Garden, here is a link to a very interesting video I found on vimeo (http://vimeo.com/9902834).

Therese’s daughter-in-law cooked a fabulous lunch for us with produce and meat from the farm, including duck, lamb, eggs, leafy greens, cabbage, zucchini, peas and homemade tofu. I asked her to share some of the recipes with me and hopefully in time I can share them with you.

With full and happy tummies, we headed towards the cherry trees. We tried 3 different varieties, before settling for utterly delicious Bing cherries. I found a lonely ladder and we managed to completely clear two fully loaded trees in less than 2 hours. Naturally, a good part of what we picked went straight from our hands into our mouths, but we also took several pounds home which I could not wait to turn into delicious treats.

I spent the entire next morning searching for recipes that would be a good match to our wonderful cherries. For once I decided that making up my own recipe might be too risky and settled instead on a Cherry Brown Butter tart recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen and a Cherry-Almond Upside-Down cake I found in a Bon Appetit magazine from June 2008. The first one is a twist on a Raspberry Brown Butter tart, which initially was published by Bon Appetit as well. Both cakes tuned out fantastic, but the brown butter really raised the tart to another level. It was heavenly and very much enjoyed by everyone.

As to the upside-down cake, I changed the cornmeal asked for in the original recipe to almond meal and used Chinese black wheat flour instead of all purpose flour. I am sure white spelt or white wholewheat pastry flour would work just as well. This cake is particularly delicious with ice-cream, Greek yogurt or a dollop of creme fraiche.

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Apple Crumble

Over a decade ago, my English mother-in-law shared her basic and delicious apple crumble recipe with me. It is one of my favorite desserts of all times and I have made it countless times over the years. Mostly with apples, sometimes rhubarb or berries. I tweaked the recipe in various directions, my favorite change being the addition of almonds and extra oats, but mostly I tried to figure out how to get that crumb texture just right every time. I also ventured into the world of vegan, gluten and sugar free crumbles, which were still good, but perhaps a little too wholesome. There is no doubt that butter is a crucial ingredient in crumble and without it, it’s just not the same. A little goes a long way however, so don’t worry.

The best part of making crumble is how quick it’s done and how satisfying it is in the end. I have to admit, I much prefer making a crumble than let’s say apple pie. Pie crusts are not my friend, they take too long and are not fool proof. This crumble recipe on the other hand is so easy, you can give it to your kids and put them in charge. No worries.

My favorite apples to use here are Fuji apples. They taste great, keep their shape and still soften nicely. If you can’t get Fujis, ask your greengrocer for a good baking apple. Sometimes I add some cranberries, to make it a bit more interesting. As you can see not everyone in my family agrees with me…

Sorry, this recipe requires a scale, but this is how I inherited it from my mother-in-law. Go out and buy one as even in the U.S., metric recipes are becoming much more popular. You can’t beat the accuracy.

 

 

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Prep Work

I was tired yesterday and the only thing I wanted to do, other than sleeping, was to cook or bake something. Sleeping wasn’t an option. All three kids were at home with me and my husband was sitting on an airplane to Beijing. The kids were tired too, and in need for entertainment, so I asked them to bake the cookies while I prepare dinner. I got a bit carried away after a long stare into the refrigerator. I had been on a bit of a food shopping binge lately and there were more vegetables in my fridge than we would ever be able to eat. I decided to prep and cook them in order to speed up and facilitate our dinner preparation this week. So out came the cauliflower, broccoli, beets, pumpkin, squash, parsnips, chard, kale and mushrooms. With the oven already on, I quickly turned the kale into sesame kale chips (recipe later this week), while I chopped and sliced the rest. The sugar pumpkin, was cut into 1 inch cubes for roasting, while the squash was halved, deseeded and roasted cut side down. I scrubbed the beets, drizzled them with oil and put them into a small roasting pan, covered with aluminium foil. I cut the parsnips into 1/2 inch x 2 inch sticks, drizzled more olive oil over them and found the last free spot for them inside the oven.

I am not sure if you ever roasted your cauliflower (it took me 10 + years of steaming, before switching over), but now I don’t want to eat it any other way anymore. I remove all leaves and the thick middle stalk from the cauliflower, place it on a cutting board, stem side down, and slice it between 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. I break apart the slices to get bite size pieces and place them in a bowl, together with 1 teaspoon turmeric, salt and freshly ground pepper and yet again, olive oil. Everything gets a good mix in the bowl, before I spread it on a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Roasting time is 20-30 minutes on 375 F (190C), or until the edges start to turn brown.

While my oven was going at full speed, I cut the mushrooms into quarters, minced 4 cloves of garlic, removed the thick stems of the chard and cut it into 1 inch slices. In a large pan, I sauteed the garlic first in some olive oil, added the mushrooms and a tiny bit of white wine, salt and pepper and cooked everything until tender, less than 10 minutes. I removed the mushrooms from the pan, careful to leave some of the garlic behind, and added the chard and a little more white wine. I put the lid on and cooked the greens until just wilted, less than 5 minutes. After a bit of seasoning and a good stir, I removed the chard from the pan into a bowl.

The beets were done after about one hour and I peeled the skin right off them once they had cooled down a bit. I scraped the flesh out of the acorn squash and put it into a bowl ready for a quick soup or risotto. Here is a picture of the beets and everything else.

All of this didn’t take me more than a couple of hours and with the result, we are set for a range of delicious meals in the coming days. I had cooked a pot full of chickpeas as well, so we didn’t need to go protein free.

Yesterday night we had this:

I sauteed a diced onion, added some of the roasted pumpkin pieces, half of the mushrooms and chard, a few handfuls of chickpeas, a little white wine and chicken stock. I ate mine with left over rice, while the kids had theirs with pasta and a good bit of parmesan sprinkled over it. Yum!

Today, we had pumpkin soup with ginger and coconut milk. Tomorrow it’ll be beets with goats cheese for lunch, roast vegetable pizza for dinner and frittata on Thursday. The rest of the chickpeas will either be turned into hummus with the remaining pumpkin thrown right in or I’ll make my beloved pumpkin and chickpea salad. One thing I didn’t do was caramelizing a few onions, which would have been another great addition to any of those meals. Next time!

 

German Christmas Cookies No. 3 – Vanille Kipferl

And here is the last Christmas cookie for this season, ‘Vanille Kipferl’. They are one of our all time favorites and always disappear quickly out of the tin.

‘Vanille Kipferl’ are one of the most traditional Christmas cookies made in Germany, Austria and parts of Eastern Europe. They are crescent shaped, usually include ground almonds in the dough and are rolled in vanilla sugar after baking. I love their fine crumb and delicate consistency.

Don’t be surprised, but I used plain flour and white sugar in this recipe because I didn’t want to mess with the texture.

Enjoy! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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German Christmas Cookies No. 2 – “Gewuerzprinten”

I brought these cookies to a potluck dinner on Sunday and the lovely lady to my right at the dinner table – Cornelia – asked me for the recipe. She bakes 20 different varieties of cookies every Christmas, putting most good German housewives to shame.

Printen are a type of “Lebkuchen” or gingerbread and contain very similar spices. They also include figs, maple syrup, brown sugar and finely ground rock candy or “Kandiszucker, which I substituted with turbinado sugar. Don’t worry, they are not as sweet as it sounds here, and they contain hardly any butter.

Again, I apologize that this is another “metric” recipe for which you’ll need a scale. Good luck!

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German Christmas Cookies No. 1 – Linzer Stars

I know this must come as a bit of a surprise, but I have decided that it is time for a new post after a nearly 4-month absence from the blogging world. Your encouragement has been much appreciated, and ideas kept popping up in my head, unfortunately without the time to either realize them or document them on foodvergnuegen. Most of my energy was spent getting ready for our upcoming move to Beijing, which as most of your know is far from our first move, but it is definitely the hardest yet. We have left Perth a couple of weeks ago, the house is empty, the cars and white goods sold, the container fully loaded and our good-byes said. It’s been really busy and exhausting and my cooking was reduced to the bare minimum. So now that we are in our hide-away spot in the Berkshires to decompress until the end of January, I hope all this will change and I am looking forward to re-acquainting myself with the stove and the oven just in time for the holidays.

As to our future in Beijing, I am looking forward to exploring a whole new world of food, markets and recipes. I have sourced a few organic farms around Beijing which I’ll be sure to tell you all about. I am grateful they exist in a land were mass-food production is a top priority to feed the large Chinese population. For the rest, it is either imported for a large premium or I will have to bring it in my suitcase. I am sure we will be fine and well-fed as usual.

But for now, I’ll stick with what I know, which today is German Christmas cookies.  I use a trusted and much-loved collection of recipes that I have made for years now. These cookies make great gifts and brighten up our days waiting for snow and Santa to finally arrive. A scale is needed as I haven’t even tried to measure everything out in cups, tablespoons and ounces. This is a good reason to buy one; you can get them quiet cheap and even IKEA sells them. Make sure it has a lbs./oz. function as well as grams. You also need a round cookie cutter, about 2″ in diameter, a small star shaped one and the best raspberry jam you can find.

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Mysterious Brownies

Looking at the title, you might wonder if you should even consider reading this post. How can brownies be mysterious, if all it takes is flour, butter, sugar, eggs and chocolate to make them. It really doesn’t get much more straight forward.  To my excuse, I am in a state of frantic pre-holiday chaos and with my brain crammed with to-do-lists, I had to come up with something quick, and this was it. The title actually does fit the brownies quite well, since they got a few untypical ingredients that are best not mentioned when it comes to picky eaters. I assure you however, that no one will ever be able to tell what exactly they are and these brownies will be devoured in no time. There’s no way you can detect the pumpkin (even if you want to) and my family thinks they are just delicious. Guilt free snacking at it’s best!

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Watercress with Orange, Grapefruit, Persimmon, Pomegranate, Hazelnuts and fresh Goats Cheese

Last December, the day after a gigantic blizzard blanketed most of the north eastern United States with tons of snow and caused major traffic and air travel delays, I was scheduled to attend a cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. With a maximum speed of 30 mph, I drove myself into the city, braving slippery roads, gusty winds and minimal visibility. The drive that normally takes two and a half hours took almost twice as long. My family thought I was crazy, but I had my mind set to it and the thought of a few days in the city all by myself was just too tempting. I had bought myself a last minute Broadway ticket to make the most of my evening, parked the car right outside the theater, knowing policemen had other things on their mind, and enjoyed the show. Arriving at my hotel, with a lobby full of tourists desperate for a place to stay, I soon found out that the cooking class for the next morning was canceled.

What is a girl to do in New York City with all this free time? Well the holiday sales were in full swing and I dove right in. I needed a new pair of skinny jeans, not an easy feat right after a week of gluttony. I must have tried on every single pair and finally out of shear desperation, bought one that was promptly returned when upon inspection a few days later, both my husband and oldest son made comments that included hips and shapely behind.

Like every year, the highlight was the Crate & Barel post holiday sale, were I filled my bags with all things Christmas. For the rest of the day, I wandered around, marveling at my favorite city completely covered in snow and looking forward to my dinner at COOKSHOP

I had the most lovely evening at this beautiful “farm-to table” restaurant in Chelsea. Not surprisingly it wasn’t busy and I had a quiet table with just enough candle light to decipher the articles in my magazine. I ordered a salad of watercress, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, persimmon, pomegranate and buffalo ricotta for starters and duck crepes for mains. Both were delicious, but the salad was truly spectacular and I have dreamed of making it ever since. A few days ago, with all the right ingredients finally in season here in Australia, I recreated it to the best of my memory and it was just like I remembered it. Beautiful, unusual and delicious!

I hope you’ll enjoy it just as much as I did.

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Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

This is a really lovely dessert I have made several times during the past few weeks. It is a breeze to make and tastes delicious. The hint of spices, beautiful creamy texture and mild pumpkin flavor make it the perfect dessert for a holiday meal or a dinner party. My favorite part is that I can make this a day or two ahead and not worry about it again until everyone has finished their main course. I just take it out of the fridge, fire up my blow torch and within minutes it’s ready.

I like to serve it in 1/2 cup ramekins, which is just the right amount of dessert after a big meal. The first recipe I followed used larger cups and less eggs, therefore increasing the cooking time in the water bath to more than an hour. Although I only had my 1/2 cup ramekins, I didn’t expect there would be a great difference in cooking time. Oh, how wrong I was. I thought I had plenty of time to pick my kids up from school before returning to a perfect dessert. So upon opening the oven door about an hour later, my beautiful crème brûlées had turned into a wrinkly and solid and completely uneatable version of what they should have been. Lesson learned –  check the size of your ramekins and adjust accordingly. And after about 30 minutes of cooking time, check your custards and give them a little shake. They are ready when they still have a slight wiggle in the center.

Another near mishap occurred when we made this crème brûlée in one of my “cooking get-togethers”. We accidentally used 2 instead of 1 cups of pumpkin puree, with the same amount of sugar, eggs and cream. It still turned out wonderful, just a bit more pumpkiny and took a few minutes longer to set. The recipe below asks for only one cup of pumpkin puree for 2 cups of cream, but if you like a stronger pumpkin flavor, go ahead and use more. Continue reading ‘Pumpkin Crème Brûlée’

Savory Pumpkin Crumble

It feels like a small eternity since my last post, and the person who threw away this recipe is partly to blame. I was so upset for having lost it and close to giving up my search, when I found it in the trash can of the bathroom. Who knows how it got there and what exactly made me look in there, but I am so relieved for having found it.

I made this crumble last week and while eating it, I said to my family that this is the recipe I want to be famous for. I had searched google forever to find a good savory pumpkin crumble recipe, but found mostly desserts and a few savory recipes that I didn’t really fancy. So I came up with this and I was so surprised and excited at the result that I made the above-mentioned, self-glorifying remark. You see, it doesn’t always work this way. I spend many hours in the kitchen experimenting, with frequent mediocre results. I usually keep trying until I am satisfied, but it takes a lot of time, patience, good will from the family and money. So when I get something right straight away (actually it was the second try in this case) I am thrilled.

Crumble until recently has meant dessert for me, usually with apples, rhubarb, berries or a combination of all. My mother-in-law taught me the basics years ago, which is flour, oats, brown sugar and butter. Simple, yet delicious. Since I am a nut-lover, I have alwyas added chopped almonds to this and experimented with walnuts, pine nuts, dairy- and sugar free versions, but the traditional version is still the best.

Last year, I have learned something invaluable from 101 Cookbooks. If you melt the butter before adding it to the dry ingredients, mix it all up and then put the mixture in the freezer for 30 minutes, you get the crunchiest crumble topping. This method also allows for less butter with the same fabulous effect. So now instead of using one stick butter (113g) I use only 2/3 of it. I am so happy with this new technique, I might never go back to the dairy-free option.

So go ahead and try this. I would love to hear what you thought of the crumble. Don’t be shy…

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