Category Archives: food

What’s Been Cooking? Pandemic edition

 

Life has certainly changed a bit since my last “What’s Been Cooking?” update. Social distancing is the new norm, so the three of us have been holed up at home (when we’re not out for our daily walk(s)) doing lots of cooking. This won’t be an exhaustive list of everything we’ve cooked since the stay-at-home recommendations started a month ago in Germany; rather, I’ll try to highlight some of our shopping strategies and follow that with cooking/baking highlights and projects. So without further ado…

Shopping & stocking the pantry:

F had good foresight regarding the quick global spread of the Coronavirus, so we started stocking up our pantry early with rice, lentils, dried beans, and canned goods. The only thing we forgot was flour, which sold out of the shops and supermarkets really quickly! Apparently when the going gets tough, the Germans get baking… We finally found some Type 1050 (high gluten) flour, which worked great for pizza dough but probably isn’t great for sweet baking; I finally caved and bought 2.5kg of Type 550 (all-purpose) flour online. It was not cheap but I’m glad to have it now.

We have been planning our meals weekly and doing a big shop once a week for a few years. It was simpler to shop less in London because our commutes were so long, and here in Münster we find it easier to save money when we’re not popping out to the shops every other day and inevitably impulse-buying things we don’t really need. So COVID-19 hasn’t really changed our shopping habits, except for trying to go when it’s least busy: for supermarkets, that has been around 8:30am on a weekday, and before 8am on Wednesdays for our weekly outdoor market.

What’s been cooking:

  • F discovered Serious Eats’ J. Kenji López-Alt’s YouTube channel and we watched his video on pan pizza. Needless to say, we were inspired to try it ourselves! F made a sauce like Kenji’s, and I made NYT’s Roberta’s pizza dough, which is one of the two I usually make. We used our stainless steel pans and topped the pizzas with cheese, basil, and salami. After 10-12 minutes in the oven, we quickly finished browning the bottoms on the stove, and voilà! Super delicious crispy pan pizza; we both agreed they were perhaps the best pizzas we’ve ever made. Richtig geil. We might never go back to the sheet pan style…
  • Our favorite buttermilk pancakes for weekend brunch! Always in the rotation.
  • Michaela’s chewy chocolate brownies – devoured just by the two of us over the course of a few days. It’s not great for the waistline when social distancing prevents you from sharing goodies with friends, but it is delicious.
  • F made a delicious Bärlauch (wild garlic) pesto, and we even had enough to freeze for future meals.
  • Pretty regular batches dal and rice, often from Priya Krishna’s Indian-ish cookbook.
  • One of our main meals for the week is always a big, hearty salad. Sometimes we do a Niçoise-style, sometimes beet(root) and carrot, sometimes just a mass of chopped veggies. At the moment we are loving cooking dried butter beans to add to our salads: soak them overnight, then add a generous pinch of salt and a couple of bay leaves and cook at a strong simmer for 45 minutes.
  • I made my whole wheat sweet potato quick bread, since we had more whole wheat than white flour. Great for breakfast and/or afternoon snacks.
  • For our fourth wedding anniversary this month, I made Melissa Clark’s one bowl cornmeal poundcake; it came together really quickly and made a great snacking cake, toasted and spread with butter and honey. I used lemon zest, half butter and half rapeseed oil, and split the flour between spelt and all purpose/plain.
  • For Easter weekend, hot cross buns from the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. They are actually not hard to make, and I doubled the recipe to produce 24 buns so we could gift some (at a distance) to our local friends in lieu of meeting in person. Yum!
  • This crispy potato kugel from NYT Cooking: definitely for potato lovers! It could’ve used another onion and a tad more salt, but overall was quite nice with applesauce and sour cream. It was a bit too much work to make regularly but it was a fun project.

What have you been cooking while sheltering at home?


What’s Been Cooking? Early 2020 edition

I was hoping to publish this earlier and now it’s almost March…where have the first two months of the year gone?! The time is flying scarily fast, especially as Baby E grows and develops just as swiftly. In the kitchen, F and I are focusing on more vegetarian dishes (not that we ate a lot of meat beforehand, but we’re now really only buying meat from the market every other week or so. We do regularly eat canned tuna) and thus have tried some great new recipes this winter to add to our already pretty good arsenal of vegetarian meals. Here’s what’s been cooking:

What have you been cooking so far this year?


Recipe: Thai-Style Peanut Sauce

I thought F and had a pretty good Asian-style peanut sauce recipe for use on soba noodle salads and the like. Then I discovered this recipe from Cupful of Kale: we’ve already made the sweet potato and cauliflower lettuce wraps twice this winter, but the peanut sauce has featured even more frequently.

Compared to my old recipe, this peanut sauce has a shorter ingredient list, is extra creamy thanks to coconut milk, and has a good kick from Thai red curry paste. It is so good. As the Germans might say, einfach geil. I feel like this is the only peanut sauce I ever need to make again!

I’ve made a few tweaks to the original recipe and am quite flexible with my measurements, so feel free to add or subtract from the amounts to balance the flavors to your liking. If you want a thinner sauce, add some water. If you want more tang, increase the lime and/or rice vinegar. If you want more coconut flavor and creaminess, add more coconut milk. Increase or decrease the curry paste amount to adjust the level of spice. However you do it, it will be delicious!

Thai-Style Peanut Sauce (recipe adapted from Cupful of Kale; makes 3-4 generously drizzled servings)

Ingredients

  • 2 generous tbsp natural peanut butter (ideally just roasted peanuts, with/without salt is okay)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 2-3 tsp Thai red curry paste
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1-2 tsp rice vinegar

Procedure

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small food processor and blend until smooth. (You could also use a hand mixer to bring everything together.) Use as dressing for a soba noodle salad or drizzle over crispy tofu and roasted vegetables.

Year in Review: 2019

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr! З Новим Роком!

I know I’m a bit late with this, but give me a break – I had a baby less than eight weeks ago! As we settle into 2020 and a new decade (!), here are some reflections on my 2019.

Running and fitness in 2019:

  • Distance run: Strava tells me that in 2019 I ran 530.4km =  329.58mi, which is less than half of my 2018 distance, but considering I was pregnant for 9.5 months of 2019, I think that’s not too bad.
  • I had a really good start to the running year, with a solid Fred Hughes 10 Mile time and one of my best XC races in recent years. I snuck in a casual but swift-ish 5-mile intra-club race in March in Finsbury Park. Due to pregnancy, I consciously slowed down and cut out speedwork by April-May, so ran a steady Crouch End 10k with Jo (at around 11 weeks pregnant) in May. That was also a bittersweet final road race in London before moving to Germany.
  • I ran 12 parkruns from January through May, including a course PB at Finsbury parkrun in February.
  • Distance cycled: 1,527.9km = 949.39mi of commuting in London and then Münster, with a few fitness rides thrown in on Cape Cod. I was happy to be able to cycle (in flat Münster on an upright, Dutch-style bike) throughout my entire pregnancy.

Favorite books read in 2019:

  • In 2019 I read 24 books. Here are some I enjoyed the most:
  • Deborah Frances-White, The Guilty Feminist. I discovered DFW’s “The Guilty Feminist” podcast in late 2018 or early 2019. It’s a hilarious comedy podcast with appropriate serious moments covering a range of topics relevant to feminism and broader equality today. The podcast let me to DFW’s book of the same name, which was fun and insightful to read. Highly recommended for anyone who calls themselves a feminist or believes in gender/person equality.
  • Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind is a fun bit of fantasy; I read the first two books in this trilogy and then ran out of steam, as the second book got a little repetitive. Some good unrequited love and magic, though!
  • Speaking of magic, F, my parents, and I all read the first trilogy of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series (first book: The Final Empire). They feature a fascinating and unique magic system as well as a strong female lead and a good amount of political and philosophical musing. Would recommend.
  • Yes, I was an English major. No, I hadn’t read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale until late last year. I was finally motivated to pick it up by the press and awards Atwood got around the publication of its sequel, The Testaments. I read both and they were equal parts fascinating and terrifying. The writing is also much more accessible than I anticipated it would be.
  • Jo recommended I read Mark Sullivan’s Beneath a Scarlet Sky and it was excellent. I love historical fiction, as you may know, and I also learned a lot about World War II in Italy.

Other highlights of 2019, in no particular order:

  • If you know me and/or follow this blog, you’ll know that 2019 was a big year for F and me:
    • We decided to move to Münster, Germany after 6.5 years in London.
    • We got pregnant (March) and had a baby (December)!
    • The above events included a new job for F – working remotely – and me going freelance as an English teacher in Münster. New work arrangements for both of us and so far going well (although I’m currently on a break from work given the second point above).
  • I passed a German exam to gain my B2 Goethe-Zertifikat. Next up: C1!
  • We spent a lovely two weeks with my parents in August on Cape Cod.
  • We celebrated Thanksgiving in Münster by sharing all the best desserts with friends here and making a two-person feast for ourselves.
  • I’ve continued to cook and bake loads, which is fun in our new larger kitchen in Münster. I had 6 weeks (that turned into almost 8 weeks) off before baby E was born, so I filled my time with many projects in the kitchen. F and I are still being mindful of how much meat we eat and where we get it. We’re eating a lot more vegetarian now and have added some new recipes to our rotation from Bon Appétit magazine and Priya Krishna’s Indian-ish cookbook as well as the ever-present NYT Cooking website/app.

I’m not big on resolutions but my main intentions for 2020 are to live as much in the moment as possible, enjoy baby E’s growth and development, get back into decent running shape, and figure out how I want to work as a freelancer going forward.

In some blog-related reflecting, here is a listicle of of my top posts via views in 2019:

  1. Lemon, Ginger, & Turmeric Infusion with Cloves & Honey – still my number-one viewed post! A delicious, warming, healing infusion
  2. A New Favorite (& possibly the BEST) Pancake Recipe – this remains our go-to pancake recipe and we’ve made it for and passed the recipe on to multiple friends in Germany
  3. Baked Scallops in White Wine Cream Sauce – a creamy, slightly fancy scallop bake nice on a cold winter’s day
  4. Issues in Modern Culture – overview of my MA program(me). Already 6-7 years ago!
  5. Smitten Kitchen’s Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – just the best classic oatmeal-raisin cookies
  6. Kale Sautéed in Olive Oil and Garlic – my favorite way to cook and eat kale. Works well with chard, too
  7. Käsekuchen (German cheesecake) – F’s favorite. Takes a bit of work but is totally worth it
  8. English Grammar Workshop: Prepositions – should I write more English teaching content?Comment if yes!
  9. Roasted Eggplant with Crispy Chickpeas, Lamb Meatballs, & Yogurt-Tahini Sauce – 4 recipes in one! Choose a couple or make them all
  10. Rhabarberkuchen mit Quarkcreme und Streuseln (Rhubarb Cake) – another classic German cake of many layered components. Make it in spring/early summer when the rhubarb is fresh!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2020.

Recipe: Sausage Rolls

Some time last year, F and I got into the habit of treating ourselves to a sausage roll – a classic British hand-held snack – from Dunn’s Bakery in Crouch End after doing our weekly fruit and vegetable shopping across the street. F remarked at one point that sausage rolls must not be that hard to make at home, so he embarked on a recipe search and turned out some beauties based on this video.

Fast forward to a year later and we’re now in Germany without easy access to bakery-bought sausage rolls (the horror!). So with gray, wintery weather setting in, we thought we’d make them again ourselves while waiting for our tiny human to appear. This time, we tried our hand at homemade rough puff pastry, which turned out pretty well, with a little bit of lamination. You can definitely use store-bought puff pastry, though, to simplify and speed up the process.

Sausage rolls are easy to make: add fresh herbs to pork mince (ground pork, for US readers; Schweinehack for Germans!); make a log of meat (sounds appealing, I know) on top of the puff pastry; seal closed; egg wash and garnish with salt and fennel; bake; eat! Don’t skip the fennel and sea salt on the crust – they really bring it all together.

Sausage Rolls (recipe adapted from here; makes 10-14 sausage rolls, depending on how you slice)

Ingredients

  • 1 pack/batch of puff pastry (store bought is fine; we’ve used that as well as this homemade rough puff from Joy the Baker)
  • 1kg/2.2lbs pork mince (ground pork)
  • 1 medium bunch each of fresh sage, thyme, & chives, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • to taste: salt & pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten (for egg wash)
  • 1-2 large pinches of coarse sea salt flakes
  • 1-2 large pinches of fennel seeds

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F (convection setting).
  2. Chop the herbs and mix them into the pork mince along with the bread crumbs and salt & pepper.
  3. Lay/roll out the puff pastry and arrange the mince on top in a log shape, a few centimeters from one long edge.
  4. Lightly egg wash the long edge that the meat is closest to, then fold the pastry over the meat and seal to the egg washed bit by crimping with a fork.
  5. Trim any excess pastry edge from the crimped side but make sure there is still a centimeter or so of sealed bit.
  6. Egg wash the top of the long log, then sprinkle on sea salt and fennel seeds.
  7. Cut the log into roll-sized pieces of your choice (you should get 10-14 individual sausage rolls) and arrange the pieces on a parchment-lined baking tray.
  8. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the pastry is golden-brown and the meat is cooked through (71C/160F).
  9. Let the sausage rolls cool for 15-20 minutes, then enjoy warm. You can store extras in the fridge and eat them cold or reheat them for 2-3 minutes in the microwave.

Recipe: Mama K’s Winter Rotkohl

Rotkohl, ready to cook

F and I have visited his parents’ house in western Germany for, I think, five of the six last Christmasses. A highlight is always Christmas (Eve) dinner: a feast of Sauerbraten (literally “sour roast” – not as weird as it sounds and actually very delicious!), gravy, Rosenkohl (Brussels sprouts), Semmelknödel (bread dumplings), and my mother-in-law’s delicious Rotkohl (red cabbage) dish. Last year, I helped “Mama K” make the Rotkohl and jotted down a few notes so I could share the recipe with you. Maybe you’ll be inspired to try it out for your own holiday feast this year!

Mama K’s winter Rotkohl is a silky-smooth, hearty side dish with a lovely balance of spices and sweetness. Warning: it’s not vegetarian! You could leave out the bacon fat, but the dish might lose some depth. The great thing about this Rotkohl is that it cooks up really quickly in a pressure cooker (you could also simmer it for a long time in a regular pot; I’d guess a slow cooker would also do a great job). If I remember correctly, we actually made it the day before and then reheated it for Christmas (Eve) dinner; that gave the flavors a chance to meld together in their glorious richness.

Anyway, to the recipe! This is a family recipe from K’s mother and I’d highly recommend it as a side dish to any festive (or even not-so-festive) winter meal. It’d probably make a great accompaniment to a Sunday roast.

Rotkohl prep

Mama K’s Winter Rotkohl (my mother-in-law’s recipe; serves 4-6 generously)

Ingredients

  • 4 small heads of red cabbage, chopped medium-fine (see picture at top of post)
  • 4 apples, peeled, halved, & cored
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup Speck (lardons/bacon cubes/salo), or any amount you prefer
  • to taste: red wine vinegar & sugar

Procedure

  1. Wash and chop the cabbage, then toss it into the pressure cooker.
  2. Wash, peel, halve, and core the apples and place them on top of the cabbage in the pressure cooker.
  3. Stick the cloves carefully through the bay leaves (so as not to lose them in the pot! No one likes to accidentally chomp on a whole clove) and then arrange them on top of the cabbage with the apples.
  4. Add a few cups of water to the pot, and salt to taste.
  5. Seal the pressure cooker, bring to a boil, and cook on medium-high pressure for about 10 minutes.
  6. While the cabbage is cooking, fry the Speck/lardons in a hot pan, draining regularly, until the pieces are small and crispy.
  7. When the cabbage is ready, stir in the Speck pieces as well as sugar and red wine vinegar to taste.
  8. Enjoy immediately or heat up the next day for an even richer treat!

What’s Been Cooking? Maternity leave, weeks 5-6

In Germany, expecting and new mothers have the advantage of a legally protected, essentially “no work allowed” time for 6 weeks before and 8 weeks after their due dates. So now I am on Mutterschutz (maternity leave) and working my way through some cooking and baking projects to keep me from getting too stir-crazy at home and to try and stock the freezer with easy winter meals to reheat when our tiny human arrives.

You can catch up on what I made in my first two weeks off here, and in my second two weeks off here. Below, see what I’ve gotten up to in my third fortnight off, including two Thanksgiving celebrations:

Week 5

On Monday, I made one of F’s and my go-to cool-weather dinners: these sweet potato and black bean enchiladas. The recipe is flexible and forgiving, and the enchiladas are always delicious. I’ve been making them semi-regularly for years.

sweet potato & black bean enchiladas

On Tuesday, I made a variation of The Full Helping’s curried quinoa salad. I discovered this recipe a year or so ago and it has become part of our regular salad rotation. The ingredients are really flexible – this time, I left out the broccoli and used two boiled beetroots that we had in the fridge. You can adjust the curry level in the dressing and swap in or out other veggies according to your preferences. Highly recommended!

Also on Tuesday, I baked two test lactation cookies from Serious Eats. I was skeptical of the brewer’s yeast so left it out. The cookies were delicious – F liked them, too! – and I froze the rest of the dough to batch-bake as and when I am breastfeeding (hopefully) and get a cookie craving (highly likely, whether or not I’m breastfeeding!).

simple & delicious

On Thursday I used up leftover cabbage by making smitten kitchen’s roasted cabbage with walnuts and parmesan. F billed it as “really nice, and so simple!” The lemony walnut dressing and hint of parmesan lifted the cabbage to the next level.

Wednesday through Friday, I spread out preparations for our Thanksgiving-themed Kaffee und Kuchen gathering on Saturday. We planned this in lieu of a full Thanksgiving, which, given my due date, we thought was a bit too risky to shell out for an entire turkey and all its trimmings. Enter a slightly early dessert extravaganza! But you’ll have to click here to read more about it.

Week 6

black pepper beef & broccoli

For Tuesday dinner, I made these curried potatoes, lentils, and peas from The Full Helping. They were tasty but quite mild; next time, I’d up the spice levels as well as the amount of lentils. On Wednesday for lunch, F and I made a delicious black pepper beef and broccoli stir-fry, based on this NYT recipe. We served it over rice. I also made some more of my go-to granola; now the freezer is well-stocked for upcoming granola cravings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday was Thanksgiving! There was no sign of the tiny human arriving, so we decided to prepare a mini Thanksgiving feast for just the two of us. Click here to see what we cooked.

choc nut butter oatmeal muffins

Last up for maternity leave cooking/baking: chocolate peanut butter oatmeal muffins from My Name is Yeh. I made these in a sudden burst of energy on Saturday while F was out helping friends move flats. I made a few adjustments to Molly’s recipe: spelt flour in place of the whole wheat flour; mostly almond butter + 20g peanut butter to make the right amount; dried cranberries; zartbitter (dark) chocolate chips; no coconut (didn’t have any). The muffins took 27 minutes to bake through and were thoroughly delicious! We nibbled a couple and I froze the rest for postpartum snacking needs.

That’s it for “What’s Been Cooking?” on maternity leave. Next up: have a baby – hopefully soon!


Thanksgiving 2019: Kaffee und Kuchen + A Feast for Two

 

Given that our tiny human’s arrival is estimated for just a couple of days after Thanksgiving this year, F and I decided it was too risky to plan a massive feast and invite loads of people on the actual holiday. But I wanted to do something to celebrate my favorite holiday and share it with friends in Germany. So, a bit like we did last year, I thought to combine Thanksgiving with the excellent German weekend afternoon tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen (“coffee and cake”), and to celebrate on the Saturday before (slightly less risky in terms of my due date).

Update: As of the day before Thanksgiving, our little turkey was still roasting, so we decided to plan and prepare a a mini Thanksgiving feast for just the two of us to enjoy on the actual day. I’ll outline the menu below the Kaffee und Kuchen details.

Thanksgiving Kaffee und Kuchen – the Saturday before Thanksgiving

I initially planned to make four desserts, and the week before sat down to strategize how to spread the shopping and baking out over a few days – partly to avoid oven clash, but also to avoid doing everything on one day because I don’t have the energy for that at the moment.

But as Saturday approached, my energy was waning and a few people said they couldn’t make it, so I dropped the apple crumble plan and stuck to the following:

  • These maple pecan bars, which this time I made with roughly 2/3 pecans and 1/3 walnuts (pecans are expensive here). These are very rich and sweet – one square at a time is enough – but totally worth it.
    • I made these on Thursday (two days before), put them in the fridge overnight, then cut them on Friday and stored them in a Tupperware container at room temperature.
  • My family’s cranberry upside-down cake, which never fails to surprise and delight people’s taste buds! It’s F’s and my favorite for this time of year.
    • I made this on Friday (the day before) and popped it in the fridge until Saturday morning.
  • My good friend Emma’s recipe for pumpkin pie. I had a bit of a par-baking crust fail on the first attempt (they sunk!), using this pie crust recipe from smitten kitchen. After despairing and then resting, I made a new crust (Emma’s recipe) and risked not par-baking it, which ended up being fine (no soggy bottom!).
    • This all transpired on Friday afternoon (the day before), and I kept the pies in the fridge overnight, getting them out just before people arrived on Saturday (I prefer my pumpkin pie chilled). We served the nice-looking pie on Saturday but I tried the thinner pie (in sunken smitten kitchen crust) on Sunday and almost preferred it due to its higher crust-to-filling ratio.
  • Plenty of freshly whipped cream, made as people were arriving on Saturday.

The Thanksgiving Kaffee und Kuchen afternoon ended up being lovely! Seven people came around 3pm and we feasted on cake for a solid couple of hours. Coffee and tea were abundant, and I was glad I’d picked up some early-season clementines for a fresh, juicy hit after all the sweetness. It was fun to introduce some of my favorite seasonal American treats to German friends. People were intrigued by the pumpkin pie’s unique flavor and spice combination; the cranberry cake was praised; and the pecan-walnut bars all but disappeared. Yum all around!

Thanksgiving Feast for Two – Thanksgiving (Thurs)day

To be fair, the mini feast we prepared probably could have served 3-4 people, but around here we like leftovers. Here’s what F and I prepared and ate on Thanksgiving day:

  • My go-to cranberry sauce. So good.
  • Green beans and crispy shallots, inspired by this recipe. I sautéed thinly sliced shallots in olive oil until they browned and crisped. While that was happening, I blanched the green beans in boiling water for 5-7 minutes, then drained them. To serve, I squeezed some lemon juice and sprinkled a bit of sea salt over the beans, then piled the shallots on top. Delicious!
  • This Bon Appétit bread stuffing/dressing – F requested it after we watched the ba YouTube video about it. It was super delicious: moist underneath, with a lovely crunchy top layer that married well with gravy and/or cranberry sauce. Will add this to the Thanksgiving recipe list for next year!
  • One very large turkey thigh that F dry-brined overnight and then roasted at 180-200C for just over an hour. The meat was tender and moist, but overall it was too salty (especially for me); we couldn’t really see the benefit of the dry brine but it was worth trying out.
  • Gravy!
  • We decided to forego desserts, since we had had enough cake, bars, and pie the weekend before.

Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving weekend and start to the winter holiday season! When in doubt, I highly recommend serving dessert first.


What’s Been Cooking? Maternity leave, weeks 3-4

Swedish cardamom buns

In Germany, expecting and new mothers have the advantage of a legally protected, essentially “no work allowed” time for 6 weeks before and 8 weeks after their due dates. So now I am on Mutterschutz (maternity leave) and working my way through some cooking and baking projects to keep me from getting too stir-crazy at home and to try and stock the freezer with easy winter meals to reheat when our tiny human arrives.

You can catch up on what I made in my first two weeks off here. Below, see what I’ve gotten up to in my second fortnight off:

Week 3 – bread week, with a bit of soup

By chance, I seemed to settle on a few bread-making projects this week, so in the spirit of The Great British Bake Off, I dubbed Week 3 my personal “bread week.”

On Monday, I made traditional challah from the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. It didn’t go quite to plan but was a fun process anyway. Read all about it here.

After the challah failure, F requested that I try my hand at a classic sandwich bread. After some sleuthing, I settled on smitten kitchen’s oat and wheat sandwich bread – it looked tasty, straightforward, and we happened to have all the ingredients at home. So on Wednesday, I put my bread-head back on and got to work. We only have one loaf pan (make that had – I just bought another one!), so I halved Deb’s recipe. The dough came together quickly with some whisking, dumping, and stand mixing (or hand-kneading, but to be honest I’m glad not to have to do that anymore thanks to investing in a stand mixer). I added two extra tablespoons of flour, as the dough was quite wet, then turned it out, plumped it into a ball, and popped it in a bowl for its first rise.

The first rise went a bit longer than Deb’s recommended 60-70 minutes, but I trusted her when she said this was a forgiving recipe. It proved nicely and shaping it into a log roll for the loaf pan was not difficult, although I should have made it a bit shorter, as I think the second rise might have been impeded by the crinkle in the middle (see picture above). Despite the crinkle, the bread baked up wonderfully and, if a bit low-to-the-ground, tasted great. If you don’t believe me, ask F, who said: “It could be a bit bigger but I actually like how dense it is and it tastes really good.”

On Thursday, I took a break from bread and made F’s delicious Hokkaido (aka “red kuri/kari”) squash soup with ginger and coconut. We’ve made it three or four times this fall, which I thought definitely merited its own blog post, so head over here for the newly posted recipe!

On Friday, I went back to bread – this time sweet, in the form of Swedish cardamom buns from NYT Cooking. The whole process took 4-5 hours, but most of that was hands-off time. I think I managed to roll and knot the buns kind of correctly, but some of them split apart in the oven. They also turned out a bit dark (and dry on the second day); I wonder if mine were actually smaller than the recipe intended them to be, although I made 16 as recommended. The cardamom buns did taste good, though! Quite sweet, but countered nicely by the cardamom. Friends professed their enjoyment after dinner on Friday, and a (flexible-ish) vegan friend even ate an entire bun! I’d make these again, perhaps with a shorter baking time and/or slightly lower temperature.

Week 4

I wasn’t feeling super inspired this week, but I ended up doing a bit of baking and cooking anyway.

oat & wheat bread, take 2

On Tuesday, I made smitten kitchen’s oat and wheat sandwich bread again, this time the full recipe. I used the rest of my bag of whole wheat/wholemeal flour, which was 540g, then topped up to the required 635g with spelt flour. I also used olive oil rather than sunflower oil in the dough (Deb says you can use either). The first rise was good again, and instead of dividing the dough I shaped and plopped it all into our new, very large, loaf pan. The bread turned out well – taller than last time – and tasted just as good as the previous loaf, with a nice crust. I froze it in two halves and we thawed it later in the week. The only unfortunate outcome of the freeze-thaw is that the bread dried out a bit and the slices were very crumbly. I wonder if adding a little more water to the dough would also help?

tofu noodles

For Tuesday lunch, I cracked open Anita Bean’s The Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook, one of our favorites for easy, vegetable-forward, pantry-based meals. I made her tofu noodles: a tofu, noodle, and vegetable stir fry, simply seasoned with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and lime. It was quick to put together and tasted great, with enough leftovers to cover us for dinner on the same day.

For Friday lunch, I made baked potatoes (aka jacket potatoes for UK readers) using this method (brine then bake at a high temperature), as recommended by The Kitchn. I can’t say the potatoes turned out differently from usual (I usually smear them with oil and salt, then bake for about an hour at 400F/200C), but they were certainly delicious with nice crispy skin. I topped mine with butter, sour cream, baked beans, and cheddar. F made a tuna-sweetcorn mixture for his. We devoured them too quickly to get a picture!

The autumn apple crop continues to put in a strong showing at our favorite fruit and veg stand at the Wochenmarkt around the corner from us. So for a Friday treat, I made these oatmeal brown sugar baked apples from The Kitchn. The apples split a bit towards the end of baking, but that didn’t put us off. Oats and walnuts added nice additional textures, and F proclaimed, “I love this!”

I’ve discovered Junior Bake Off (it’s quite sweet! And some impressive young bakers) and watched an episode this week where they had to make Viennese Whirls. I was inspired (and by “inspired” I mainly mean “developed a strong craving”…blame it on late pregnancy?), and on Saturday tried my hand at Mary Berry’s recipe via The Candid Appetite. Let’s just say that piping was attempted and quickly abandoned, so these became “buttery sandwich cookies” instead. Delicious, although almost too sweet, even for my taste.

Stay tuned for my next edition of “What’s Been Cooking” in a couple of weeks…


Recipe: Hokkaido Squash Soup with Ginger & Coconut

Hokkaido squash soup

One of the reasons I love fall/autumn cooking is the abundance of squash. I love squash’s versatility: you can roast it, stuff it, boil and mash it, add it to curries, and puree it into soups. We’ve already done all of the above this fall, mainly with vibrant Hokkaido (aka “red kari/kuri”) squash, a relatively new discovery for F and me but a squash variety that is readily available here in Germany, and often cheaper than Butternut squash. Hokkaido has another advantage in that it doesn’t need peeling: the skin is thin enough to eat once cooked.

We often oven-roast slices of squash (season with salt, pepper, and fennel seeds) as a staple side dish, but F has also made this delicious Hokkaido squash soup three or four times in the past couple of months. We love it, and it has already become one of our go-to easy lunches or dinners.

This Hokkaido soup with ginger and coconut has a short ingredient list and lots of vitamins to keep you healthy through the winter (although you should also get a flu shot – herd immunity, people!). The recipe can be as flexible as you want: use more ginger, leave out the turmeric, use water instead of stock, add celery root – or not! I wouldn’t recommend leaving out the coconut milk, though; one can gives the soup just the right amount of coconut flavor and enhances its silky-smooth texture.

Hokkaido Squash Soup with Ginger & Coconut (F’s original recipe; makes 4-6 portions)

Ingredients

  • olive oil, or neutral oil of your choice
  • 1-2 medium onions, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • “a hefty amount” (2in/4-5cm) fresh ginger root, peeled & roughly chopped
  • 1-2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 small-medium Hokkaido squash, washed, de-seeded, & cut into medium-large chunks (you could use Butternut squash instead if that’s easier to find where you live)
  • optional: 1/4 – 1/2 celery root, peeled & cut into medium-large chunks
  • 1L vegetable stock
  • 1 can (400mL) coconut milk
  • to taste: salt & pepper

Procedure

  1. Prep onions, garlic, ginger, and stock. Cut up your squash and celery root.
  2. Heat a few generous glugs of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they soften and start to brown.
  3. Add turmeric and stir for a minute or so.
  4. Add squash and celery to the pot. Pour in enough stock that it just covers the vegetables (or use more liquid for a thinner soup).
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to an active simmer. Put the lid on and cook until the vegetables are soft enough to puree, about 15-20 minutes.
  6. Take the pot off the heat and use an immersion blender (or transfer carefully to a standard blender) to puree the soup until smooth.
  7. Stir in the coconut milk. Do not return the pot to the heat – the coconut milk may split.
  8. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve with crusty bread.

Enjoy!


Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Traditional Challah

Welcome back to my (very) casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” Maternity leave (pre-baby, of course) is allowing me more time to explore breads of the world in the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. Last time, I made paratha, a rich, buttery flatbread from South Asia. This week, I delved into Jewish cuisine to try my hand at an enriched, yeasted bread: challah. Read on for the experience…

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #10: Traditional Challah

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Challah and Beyond: Enriched Breads, Rolls and Buns”; my first attempt at a bread from this chapter. The section’s introduction explains challah‘s significance in Jewish history, cuisine and culture, as well as enumerating the different types of challah made around the world. The book also mentions the importance of challah’s braided shape: “A braid, with all of its arms intertwined, is said to represent love” (p171). I can get on board with that!

Hallo, challah!

I decided to start my enriched bread adventures (“breadventures,” if you will) with the chapter’s first recipe, for traditional (Ashkenazi) challah. This required a bit of planning ahead, as I had to make pâte fermentée the day before. That done, on Monday morning I fired up the stand mixer to combine/knead the pâte fermentée with the rest of the dough ingredients: flour (I didn’t have bread flour so used all purpose/plain), sugar, salt, yeast, egg yolks, honey, and water.

After an hour’s rise, I wasn’t sure if the dough had actually risen enough – I feared our kitchen’s “room temperature” may have been lower than Hot Bread Kitchen’s – but went ahead with the rolling and braiding anyway.

The dough was relatively easy to work with, although it took me a while to create ropes that were long enough to make into two-strand braided loaves. Even so, the loaves looked pretty small. But I continued with the steps and let the braided and egg-washed loaves proof/prove for another hour. I gave them a second egg wash then popped them into the oven, where after 45 minutes they had developed a beautiful, shiny, mahogany crust.

Upon handling and tasting the cooled challah, it became clear that they weren’t quite right: too dense (under-proved, I think, and/or maybe because of using plain rather than bread flour) and too salty, even though I reduced the amount of salt because kosher salt is hard to find here. Despite the less-than-stellar outcome, the challah-making process was fun and straightforward, and I’ve learned a few lessons for next time.

Would I make this again? Yes, but with proper bread flour, less salt, and longer proving times.

Have you ever made challah? What are your tips and tricks for getting a light, fluffy loaf?

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What’s Been Cooking? Maternity leave, weeks 1-2

I love apple season

In Germany, expecting and new mothers have the advantage of a legally protected, essentially “no work allowed” time for 6 weeks before and 8 weeks after their due dates. If I were fully employed I would not legally have been allowed to keep working. As a freelancer, I think I could have continued working into the 6 weeks pre-due date, but I decided not to because by 33-34 weeks it was already tiring to cycle back and forth for my teaching commitments.

So yes – now I am on Mutterschutz (maternity leave) and working my way through some cooking and baking projects to keep me from getting too stir-crazy at home and to try and stock the freezer a bit for easy winter meals once our tiny human arrives. Here’s what I’ve gotten up to in my first two weeks off:

Week 1

On Monday, we ate leftover meatloaf and mashed potatoes for lunch, then I froze the rest of the meatloaf and decided to use the mash for a project that had been on my list for a while: potato varenyky using this smitten kitchen recipe. I have fond memories of eating varenyky in Ukraine, usually with sautéed onions, butter, and sour cream. A great cheap, cold-weather, stick-to-your-ribs, carbs-on-carbs kind of meal!

Varenyky!

The varenyky dough was simple to make and had a nice stretch to it, which made it easier to envelope the mashed potatoes and seal the dumplings. We sampled some for dinner – tasty, although the dough was maybe a tad thick – and I froze the rest of them.

Paratha

On Tuesday, I delved back into my Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook and posted about that here: Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Paratha.

Superbly chocolaty cookies

On Friday, I wanted to bake something sweet for the weekend, so went for Melissa Clark’s tiny, salty, chocolaty cookies from NYT Cooking. My goodness were they good! Chewy and with crispy edges, gluten free (in case you care! I don’t), and very rich (thanks to cocoa powder and dark chocolate). G came over for boardgames on Saturday and devoured quite a few of them, and other friends also professed their enjoyment. Will make again!

Week 2

It wasn’t specifically on my cooking project list, but we had leftover vegetables on Tuesday so I threw them into these Korean scallion pancakes from NYT Cooking. It was a great use of the veg and made for a nice, lightish dinner, although I wish the pancakes had turned out a bit crispier.

On Wednesday we were hosting friends for the group’s weekly vegetarian dinner. F made spinach lasagne and I contributed dessert in the form of smitten kitchen’s Versunkener Apfelkuchen (sunken apple (& honey) cake), which was based on a German recipe. Delicious! The honey flavor came through really nicely and the apples were cooked but not mushy. I didn’t include the salted honey glaze because we thought the cake was sweet enough without it. Friends enjoyed it and, when I asked how traditional the recipe was, a couple people said their mothers/grandmothers had made similar cakes. Score for cultural integration through Kuchen!

On Friday (a public holiday in Germany – thanks, Catholics!) we had friends over for brunch: pancakes, of course. Later, I made a big pot of these chickpeas from Bon Appétit. For dinner, I turned some into a spiced chickpea stew with coconut and turmeric, NYT Cooking’s Alison Roman creation that became its own hashtag on social media. I’ve made #thestew three times now and it is so warming and delicious. It’s also quick and easy to throw together, quite forgiving, and flexible: add any greens that you happen to have; enjoy with pita, rice, or sweet potato; add yogurt and garnish, or not.

With the rest of the chickpeas I’ll make some hummus and this creamy chickpea pasta. That should get us through the start of next week!

Stay tuned for my next edition of “What’s Been Cooking” in a couple of weeks…


Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Paratha

Welcome back to my (very) casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” It has been exactly two years since my last post in this series, but I’m on maternity leave now and hope to delve further into the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook before our mini human arrives. Last time in this series, I made tortillas de tiesto, feta-filled flatbreads from Latin America. Today I also went for a flatbread: paratha, a classic from South Asia. Read on for the experience…

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #9: Paratha

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Primordial Breads: Unleavened Flatbreads”. From this section, we’re already explored m’smen and chapati. Paratha is a rich, layered flatbread from the Indian subcontinent that Wikipedia tells us is traditionally served with breakfast. The cookbook says that “depending on the region, shapes and fillings can vary greatly.” These are a basic, layered-but-not-stuffed version of paratha.

Paratha

The paratha recipe has a short ingredients list; I decided to make half a recipe (8 instead of 16 flatbreads) for just F and me. Rice flour was the most out-of-the-ordinary ingredient but was easy to find at our local BioMarkt (organic supermarket). I wasn’t bothered to look for ghee in the international supermarket (full disclosure: I only thought of that just now, while writing!), so I used regular unsalted butter, which seemed to work fine.

The paratha dough came together quickly in our newly-acquired stand mixer and, thanks to the addition of butter, it was soft, pliable, and easy to work with. After a couple of 30-minute resting periods, I commenced rolling, buttering, and folding each individual dough ball to build up the layers. (If anyone can advise me on how to roll a triangular piece of dough into a circle, I’d be much obliged. My paratha shapes were not particularly round or consistent.)

Grilling the paratha in a non-stick skillet – with more butter, of course! – was time consuming but not difficult. F and I tried a fresh one and declared them delicious. I loved the nutty flavor imparted by the whole wheat (wholemeal, for UK readers) flour. They tasted like a less dense but richer chapati. When asked to describe the paratha using three adjectives, F summed them up as “buttery, succulent, crisp.” I’d call that a success! The paratha are best eaten warm, although they developed a nice crispiness by the time we had them alongside chicken korma and roasted cauliflower for lunch.

Would I make these again? Absolutely.

Have you ever made paratha? What’s your favorite way to stuff and/or eat them?

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