Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Scalded Fingers, or how to make Käse Spätzle

On Friday late afternoon, after weeks (no, months), I finally completed a draft of my history chapter. It's certainly not perfect, but it's 50 pages of something. For those of you following the never-ending dissertation project, you'll understand that this is a monumental achievement for me. Getting a draft of the history chapter written means that I can turn back to my ethnographic material and start working on another chapter, it also means that it is food-blogging time!!!

Originally, I had asked if people would prefer to read about Dal with Mustard Greens or Chile Rellenos with Black Beans (the few people that cared said Dal)! Well Dal will be forthcoming, but today I'm writing about Spätzle, glorious Spätzle, since that's what I made for dinner yesterday. I'm also going to include a few photographs. [Please note, these photographs are UGLY. As I have stated before, I am terrible at food photography - the lighting is never right, my food always looks gross and lacks color, blah, blah. I only take good photos of kids and sunsets; also I only like taking photos of kids, sunsets, and buildings.] Ok, there you have it a photo of a some gorgeous schoolkids in Mwanza and sunset at Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar! Just kidding, there are some UGLY food photos below to meet the requests of readers who want some visuals to go with the blogs. For people like me, avert your eyes!

So what was this entry about again? Oh yeah! Käse Spätzle. First off, never ever say Shpaytzel, the word is pronounced Shpaytzluh. Lately, I've heard the "zel" pronunciation too often (including on Top Chef) and frankly, it's driving me insane. Spätzle, for those who don't know and didn't click on the wikipedia link above are German/Swiss/Austrian egg noodles/dumplings and one of my favorite examples of German cookery (and also one of the few vegetarian items in traditional German cuisine). As a kid in Bonn, Germany, spätzle was sometimes served as a starch to go with some kind of meat gravy (like Goulash). Spätzle are good this way and I sometimes cook them with a mushroom goulash. However, Brad does not really love spätzle with goulash and as you will see below, I need Brad to make spätzle.

Importantly, Brad really loves Käse Spätzle, the gooey combination of homemade noodles, carmelized onions, and gooey cheese that I consider the German version of mac-n-cheese. I fell in love with Käse Spätzle when my parents lived in Munich during my college years. Because of all the entertaining they did as diplomats, they employed this criminally-insane chef from Swabia (I'm not kidding, but most people who know me are totally bored of the story, so you'll have to believe me). As a classically-trained chef, he typically prepared gourmet food, but he would sometimes make Käse Spätzle (a Swabian dish) as a low-brow kitchen dish.

Ok, so you get it, right? I love this stuff. Please don't buy the store-bought stuff. It's not very good. If you want to try this recipe, invest in a cheap spätzle maker or if you have money to burn and have a lot of cupboard space, you can buy a spätzle press. If you are insane and don't want to purchase any items to try my recipe, you can use a colander.

While the recipe for Spätzle is dead simple, the process is deadly and involves finger-scalding. I really hate having my fingers scalded, so Brad typically does the really hard work. Yay Brad! And now the how-to:

1. Get out your tallest pot and fill it half way with water, add a 1/2 tsp sea salt. Bring to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, mix 3 cups of flour and 3 eggs together. I use my Kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook. As the dough starts to come together, add 1/2 cup water mixed with a 1/2 tsp sea salt. At this point, the dough should be coming together into a tacky, stiff dough. Add more water (maybe 1/2 cup) to get the dough to this consistency. You can also add some finely chopped fresh sage (maybe 2-3 Tbs) to the dough.

3. Get out your spätzle maker/press/colander and spray with cooking spray. This is Brad's tip.

4. Pack some of the dough into the spätzle maker/press/colander and rest over the boiling water. Depending on which tool, you are using, press or grate the spätzle through the holes and into the boiling water.

5. As the spätzle rise to the surface, use a slotted spoon to pull them out of the water and place them on a baking sheet.

6. Continue until all the dough is used up, cursing under your breath as the steam burns your hands and your knuckles become raw.

7. Periodically, drain the spätzle in a colander and then return them to a dry baking sheet. You want them to be really dry before using them.

Note: If they are really dry, spätzle can be frozen them flat in a ziploc bag.

Once the spätzle are done, you can use them as a starch with any kind of meat that you like or you can make Käse Spätzle (which is what you should do)!!! Insert these steps into the directions above.

1B-6. After putting the water on to boil, half and then slice two onions into thin strips. Melt 3 Tbs of butter in a large sautee pan and add onions. Lower the hear and stir the onions occasionally allowing them to caramelize. Add water if necessary to continue the goldening of the onions. Preheat oven to 400

8. Grate 6 ozs Gruyere or Emmenthaler cheese. [I had neither last night, so I used Dubliner which worked really well. An aged Gouda would also be nice].

9. Place dry spätzle into a baking dish. Toss with 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp white pepper.

10. Layer cheese over the top of spätzle, then scatter buttery onions over the top of the cheese.

11. Bake at 400 for about 35-40 minutes. The onions should be slightly browner, the cheese should have melted and be turning golden brown

I typically serve Käse Spätzle with braised red cabbage to complete the German theme. Last night, I was working with a nearly empty fridge, so I concocted a quick and tasty accompaniment. After removing the onions from the frying pan, I added a Tbs of olive oil. In the olive oil, I sauteed a sliced leek and two carrots (sliced into rounds). I added a package of halved mushrooms and continued sauteeing all of the veggies until brown. I then added a 1/2 Tbs smoked paprika, some salt and pepper, and a few shakes of Cavender's Greek Seasoning (a spice mix that I find addictive). I then deglazed the pan with about a half cup of red wine. As the red wine was simmering, I added a half a bag of frozen mustard greens and cooked the veggies until the frozen greens were warmed all the way through. These veggies were not very pretty, but the smokiness of the greens and paprika added a nice foil to the cheese.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Adventures in a DIY Kitchen

Prompted my dear sister-in-law Rosemary, I'm taking a few moments away from my real writing project to do this blog entry on my DIY distractions.

If you've ever hung out with me in my kitchen or opened our fridge, you've probably seen the 2 large green Tupperware containers jam packed with onion peels, rotting vegetables, carrot ends, and so forth. My husband, Brad, is one of the greenest people I know and has trained me to be a compulsive recycler and composter. As I cook, I toss my veggie ends into the green containers which get refrigerated until full and then get tossed into the composting bins in our backyard. I rarely am the one who actually disposes of the compost (ask Brad), but apparently my daily trimmings get turned, transferred from bin A to bin B, and eventually end up fertilizing our little urban organic garden. The little urban organic garden features raised square foot boxes and two rain barrels, in addition to project compost. In addition to the obvious benefit of the compost itself, we only have to take out our trash about once a week. Without meat and rotting veggies, the trash fills up with eggshells and the few containers that can't be recycled.

But there are some veggie bits that I just can't bring myself to compost, because they seem too good to waste. I'm talking about leek stalks, Swiss chard stems, fennel bulb ends and fronds, soggy celery, and herbs that aren't quite fresh enough. So I have a plan B for these items. I chop them coarsely and toss them into a ziploc bag in my freezer. [Ok, all this compartmentalizing of "waste" is sounding kind of bizarre, but given the very high costs of the organic veggies that I buy, everything needs to be used more than once.] When the ziploc bag gets full, I make vegetable stock.

I noticed that I had two full bags of frozen veggies yesterday, so I made stock. Stockmaking is an art and any number of cookbook authors from Deborah Madison to Julia Child prescribe technique for making the perfect stock. Mine is much more simple, but still pretty successful:

Grab a stockpot, throw in 2 tbs of olive oil. Heat the oil. Toss in 2 quartered onions and 3 smashed cloves of garlic. Add some coarsely chopped carrots. Sautee for a few minutes. Gather all frozen vegetable bits (in yesterday's case it was the stalks from two bunches of red Swiss chard, a celery bulb, some celery stalks, fennel fronds, and the base of a fennel bulb). Toss into the pot with 2-4 tablespoons of sea salt and some freshly ground pepper. Add any available herbs (yesterday was parsley and rosemary, though thyme, marjoram, and savory are good.). Then put in as much water as your pot can hold. Bring to a boil and then simmer for a long time. Maybe an hour or so. Turn off the heat, cool and strain. The strained veggies went right into the compost container. Since I'm lazy and don't really care if my sauce is clear or perfect, I strain my stock using a colander over a large salad bowl and usually end up with some herbs in my stock. Once the stock is cool, pour it into large (preferably glass containers). Use in the next couple weeks. You can also freeze the stock, but I go through enough of the stuff, that freezing is rarely necessary. This makes about 4 quarts of stock.

Inspired by the stock production, I made a Japanese-inspire udon soup (loosely adapted from the Japanese section of the Sundays at Moosewood cookbook) for dinner last night. To make the stock more "Asian," I pulled out about a quart and put it back in the stockpot with some chopped ginger, shitake mushrooms, slice green onions, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and a piece of kombu (a Japanese sea vegetable). Brad found the broth too vinegary -- I was out of Mirin -- which would have tasted better. After the broth had simmered enough, I used a slotted spoon to remove all of the vegetables/ginger. I then quickly cooked each of the following vegetables (separately) in the broth: carrots sliced in rounds, sliced bok choy, chopped beet greens (because they were leftover and were too good for the stock). After cooking each round of veggies, I used a slotted to remove them and keep them in separate bowls. In a sautee pan, I sauteed sliced shitake, enoki, and standard mushrooms, with a chopped heirloom tomato in some sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Meanwhile, I hard boiled then peeled and sliced two eggs. I also cooked the udon. To serve the soup, I place some noodles in a large flat bowl and artfully arranged each layer of veggies over top. I added two halves of each egg and then poured the broth over top. It was a lot of work (and dishes) and was just ok. I'm not sure if I would make this dish again. I felt a bit like Brittany Murphy's character in The Ramen Girl (cute movie) -- everything was technically right, but the dish had no "soul." I'll see how the leftovers taste.

I'm using the rest of the stock -- that is, the non "Asian" variety -- to make Sara M's delicious black beans from the Top Chef cookbook. I'll serve these for dinner tomorrow with some guacamole and my version of chile rellenos. (Sara M. pairs these beans with chile rellenos stuffed with squash, raisins, and rice. I like battered poblanos stuffed with cheese, myself).

So far, instead of writing the you-know-what, I've spent today preserving lemons (organic lemons were on super sale at Ukrops). Preserved lemons make for a wonderful addition to tagines and leafy greens and I've been sort of obsessed with them lately. They take a lot of lemons (2 bags!) to make a medium-sized jar. To make them, boil your jar and lid, juice 3/4 of the lemons, take the remaining lemons and cut 6-8 large gashes into each lemon, rub kosher salt into the gashes, stuff the lemons into the jar, cover with the lemon juice, place jar in fridge, and wait 3 weeks. The lemons should last for 3-6 months.

PS For those who don't already know my beets won! The recipe will be published in the Food 52 cookbook.

Friday, March 5, 2010

French Peasant Beets

At least once a month this winter and almost weekly in the late summer and fall, Brad and eat French Peasant Beets, a dish that I concocted to celebrate the sweetness of beets, the tart funkiness of Bucheron cheese, and the utter deliciousness of greens. People love or hate beets and we LOVE them. You might too (if you try them this way). Sadly, so many people have been subjected to canned beets and therefore HATE beets, but you wouldn't judge mushrooms or green beans by their canned cousins, would you?

Anyway, when I saw that Food52 was running a beet contest, I had to enter (No I'm not senile, I remember writing about this the other day) ... and today I found out that I am one of two finalists! So I'll be getting OXO gifts and If I WIN, MY BEETS WILL BE IN A COOKBOOK!!!!! It's voter-generated, so I'm asking for your votes. Go check out my beautifully photographed (not by me) beets.

For those who have no interest in the contest, the recipe is below:

French "Peasant" Beets

Between our CSA and garden, we found ourselves up to our eyeballs in beets a few summers ago. I concocted this dish as an homage to a simple French peasant dinner. When I explained the concept to my husband, he ridiculed me, "What peasants eat bucheron and drink Muscadet with their beets?" "Um, French ones?" - Amy_N-B

Serves 2 for dinner, 4 as a side
  • 4-6 Beets with greens (I like a mixture of golden and red beets)
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 shallot
  • Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons white wine (Muscadet is my preference)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • .5 pounds Bucheron Cheese (room temperature)
  • Crusty peasant style bread (warmed in oven
  1. Scrub and peel the beets. Remove the greens and chop coarsely. Set the greens aside in a large prep bowl. Slice beets into 1/4 inch rounds.
  2. Remove the ribs from the Swiss chard and coarsely chop and toss into bowl with the beet greens,
  3. In a large sautee pan, melt butter. Sautee shallots.
  4. Add beet rounds to the shallot butter mixture. Crack some pepper over the beets and a toss on a pinch of salt. Reduce heat and sautee beets, turning over to ensure even cooking.
  5. About 15 minutes later when beets are beginning to glaze and become tender, add greens and chard. Sautee for about 5 minutes, then add wine and cover. Cook until greens are wilted, adding water if necessary. Allow liquid to be mostly absorbed into greens, adjust seasonings.
  6. Scoop greens and beets into a low shallow bowl. Garnish with a sizable wedge of bucheron and some crusty bread. Crack a little bit of pepper over the entire dish.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Savory Tomato Bread Pudding and Swiss Chard

So I have a confession to make, I started this blog because a) I am a chronic procrastinator and b) I made the most amazing savory tomato bread pudding last night and I wanted a platform to rave about it.

I spent all day yesterday writing fiendishly (I'm trying to finish my history chapter) and was craving pizza-ish flavors, but not actual pizza. I took a study break to pop over to food52 and take a look at Amanda and Merrill's selections for this week's contest. For those who don't obsessively read food blogs, food52 is producing a cookbook generated through online submissions judged in weekly contests. [Ok, I admit it, I submitted a beet recipe for the current contest and I was checking to see if I had gotten any "likes" or comments. I haven't :( ] Anyway, this week they/we are judging the week 36 finalists in the categories of best sweet bread pudding and best onion or garlic soup.

So I got to thinking tomato bread pudding. Yum! The only problem is that Brad is turned off by foods that are called "pudding" - clearly, he has never been to the UK. Also, last time I made a savory bread pudding, it kind of tasted like vegetarian stuffing with a ton of expensive mushrooms mixed in. So, I started looking for recipes and they are a lot out there. This one from the New York Times inspired the proportions, but I went in a different direction.

  • 1/2 lb high quality Italian bread (like a Tuscan Boule) cut into cubes. Mine was not stale so I baked the cubed bread at 375 for about 10 minutes to "toast" it.
  • 2-3 tbs olive oil
  • 1-2 shallots finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic smashed and chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups 2% milk (or skim or whole or whatever milk you like)
  • 1 cup half and half (or cream, if you are into that)
  • 3-5 of the ripest kinds of tomatoes you can find in the dead of winter, sliced into 1/4 " rounds
  • 1 ball fresh buffalo mozzarella sliced into 1/4" rounds. Do not use American-style mozzarella, it is so not the same.
  • 2-3 rosemary sprigs (remove the rosemary and coarsely chop)
  • 2-3 oz finely grated Parmesan
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • butter
Preheat oven to 375. Sautee shallots and garlic in olive oil. Whisk eggs, milk, and cream together to form a "custard." In a large bowl, mix olive oil with garlic and shallots with bread cubes. Butter a 9 x 11 dish. [One really lazy way to do this is to put a few tsp of butter in the dish, stick it in the oven for five minutes and then use a pastry brush to spread the butter.] Layer half the tomato slices. Salt and pepper the tomatoes and sprinkle half the rosemary on top. Layer on all of the bread cubes. Cover with the remaining tomato slices and the mozzarella slices. Salt and pepper the tomatoes and sprinkle the remaining rosemary on top. Pour the egg/milk mixture over the top. Sprinkle the Parmesan over top of everything. Add a couple of cranks of pepper for good measure. Bake for 45 minute uncovered at 375.

This was really yummy. I served it with some Swiss chard braised in Muscadet.

Mad Men Party Food

Amy: So, at some point in December, my friend Laura mentioned that a friend of a friend of a friend was hosting a Mad Men-styled Christmas party, so we decided to copy the idea. Only ours was held this February and involved vintage snacks in addition to vintage frocks. Obviously, the party also involved very strong vintage drinks including Manhattans, Dirty Martinis, Gimlets, and an Old Fashioned or two.

Because I love procrastinating through internet research, I researched the heck out of 50s and 60s cocktail party food. I learned the following helpful factoids: people in the 60s liked salty meats, cream cheese, mayonnaise, olives, jello, and canned food stuffs. Of these items, I really only like olives. I'll take cream cheese and mayo as condiments, but I don't really think they belong in the principal foodstuff category. In addition to rippled chips, pretzels, goldfish, mixed nuts, I went retro with some twists (photos by Laura):

Grandma Helen's Clam Dip

(This is my husband's step-mom's actual retro recipe)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (smashed and coarsely chopped)
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 can minced clams
  • Beau Monde seasoning
  • salt
  • pepper

Into a food processor, toss garlic, cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and 2 tablespoons of the juice from one can of minced clams. Season with a little salt, a lot of pepper, and a couple of shakes of Beau Monde seasoning. Puree until smooth. Stir in the minced clams.

From Scratch French Onion Dip
(Adapted from Alton Brown - my version uses more onions and light mayo/sour cream)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups diced onions
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups light sour cream
  • 3/4 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • salt to taste

In a saute pan over medium heat add oil, heat and add onions and salt. Cook the onions until they are caramelized, about 20 minutes. Add a tsp or two of water to further melt down the onions. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Mix the rest of the ingredients, and then add the cooled onions. Refrigerate and stir again before serving.

Baked Cheddar Olives

(I had never heard of such a thing, but apparently they were very popular in the 60s. This recipe is all over the internet and served as the basis for my olive balls.)

  • 2 cups finely shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup butter sliced into pats
  • 1/4 -1/2 tsp cayenne
  • water
  • 20-30 large pimento-filled green Spanish olives

Mix the cayenne and flour together. Using a pastry cutter or food processor, cut the butter into the flour. Add ice cold water as necessary to bind pastry. Knead the pastry and roll it into a log. Refrigerate for a few hours. Roll out the pastry so that is about 1/4 '' thick. Using your fingers, wrap the pastry around each olive closing any seams. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.

Pimento Cheese Sandwiches
(I was recently exposed to really good pimento cheese spread on the Black Sheep's Bridge Club and wanted to recreate it in mini form. I googled away until I found this great thread on pimento cheese on Chowhound. The version I settled on (and am now obsessed with) is basically Tom P's with a few tweaks.)
  • 8 oz Tillamook cheddar
  • 8 oz sharp white Vermont cheddar
  • 8 oz chopped pimentos mostly drained
  • 2/3 cup light mayonnaise
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • cayenne
  • salt

Put the grating blade in your food processor. Grate all the cheese. Remove about half of the cheese to another bowl. Change to your mixing blade and dump in the mayo, a couple of cracks of pepper, a pinch of salt, and a few shakes of cayenne. Process for a minute or two and add the remaining cheese and pimentos. Process until mostly smooth, but a little chunky. Scrape down sides, stir, test for seasoning. Scrape into a container with a sturdy lid. Refrigerate.

For the party, I did triple-layered rye and pimento cheese sandwiches on cocktail bread, cut into triangles with cocktail toothpicks.

I won't bore you with the additional recipes, but I also made Ina Garten's shrimp scampi, stuffed mushrooms, smoked salmon canapes (mix light cream cheese with horseradish, spread on cocktail bread, apply salmon, dust with dill), and Moosewood's curried deviled eggs. I learned that I hate making deviled eggs and that peeling boiled eggs might be my Waterloo. Luckily, Brad was able to pick up the pieces and peel for me. I also stuck Dubliner cheese and pineapple cubes into a pineapple "hedgehog." It looked gross, but was pretty tasty.

My party guests upped the ante with tons of booze, Swedish meatballs, mini-pineapple upside down cakes (OUTRAGEOUS), and banana and chocolate creme pies.

A food blog

Amy: I've wanted a food blog since blogging first became fashionable. I have a travel blog that I update when I go on an extended trip somewhere and at one point I tried to have a sort of general blog about my life. But since my life really isn't that interesting, and I sort of HATE narcissistic blogging, I never really kept it up. I also really like snarky, funny blogs, but frankly, I'm not that good of a writer (though I can be pretty funny in person).

But food blogs.... I love reading them. I love restaurant gossip and new recipes. I love to read about soaring successes and abysmal failures. Also I really, really love food. So, like every other foodie, faux foodie, or foodie wannabe, I'm starting a blog. It's going to be about the stuff I cook and how well it works and the food I eat when I am out at restaurants. Because, I am not very good at taking photographs of food, this blog will probably not be very image-heavy. (In addition to narcissistic blogging, I also sort of HATE bad food photography.)

I'm hoping this blog will involve two voices: mine and that of my husband, Brad. Brad is the primary sampler, cheerleader, and critic of my culinary travails. He also dilligently cleans up after my exploits.