Tag Archives: baking

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?


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.

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!


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…


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…


What’s Been Cooking? “First month in Münster” edition

Hello there! Long time no blog, I know. My excuse is that F and I were moving countries. After a wonderful 6.5 years in London, we decided it was time for new adventures in a smaller place with a less hectic pace of life, so we moved to Münster, Germany at the end of May. It was hard to leave our friends and communities in London but we are glad to be in Münster, where we already have a good network thanks to F’s friends from his university days.

Part of moving into a new flat in Germany required buying and installing a kitchen. No, not just the appliances – an entire kitchen. Apparently it’s a thing in Germany. Kitchens are seen as “furniture,” and most flats come unfurnished, so…no kitchens! (Or at least they aren’t a guarantee.) Once a kitchen is installed in a flat or house, if those tenants move out they can either take the kitchen with them (yes, people do that) or they can sell it to the new people moving in.

 

Anyway, designing and buying a kitchen was a new experience for both of us. They are not cheap, but ideally we’ll be in this flat for the next 5-10 years so it’s a worthy investment and we both enjoy cooking and baking. We ended up at KüchenTreff Münster and had a great experience from designing through installation. I’d recommend them if you’re in the Münster area and in the market for a kitchen.

All that was a long-winded way of getting to the point of this post: what F and I have been cooking (and baking) in our new kitchen over the past month! Here goes, in no particular order:

 

I made our favorite Käsekuchen (German cheesecake) for F’s birthday in mid-June. He returned the favor for my birthday two weeks later by making our now go-to cherry pie from Stella Parks at Serious Eats.

 

June was Spargel-Saison in northwestern Germany. Spargel is white asparagus, which I never came across until visiting western Germany and Belgium in May/June. It’s a thing, and for many – like F – it’s something to be enjoyed in multitudes for a short time every year. It tastes completely different from green asparagus – milder and sweeter, to me. Peel it, then wrap it in a foil packet with butter and salt and roast it in a 200C/400F oven for 45-60 minutes. Yum.

Back to baking, the first thing I made in our new oven was a batch of my go-to granola. Needless to say, more batches have followed.

Anita Bean’s lentil-stuffed peppers from her Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook made for a tasty and light dinner on a warm summery evening.

We don’t usually celebrate the Fourth of July (American Independence Day), but F wanted to have friends over for a barbecue and he asked if flag cakes are actually a thing. I wasn’t sure, but I checked smitten kitchen and – lo and behold – she had a recipe for one. A classic yellow cake base (it stayed quite moist, maybe thanks to buttermilk) is slathered with cream cheese frosting and topped with berries in the shape of the American flag. I think it’s one of the most patriotic things I’ve ever done or made… It was a hit with our German friends and I’d definitely make the cake again, with or without the flag design.

What have you been cooking recently?

———

Festive Cookie Party!

This year, Thanksgiving crept up on us before we were able to organize a friendly get-together, as we have done for the past couple of years. So instead, partly inspired by this NY Times feature and partly by remembering that my mom has hosted cookie decorating parties, F and I decided to host a festive afternoon Plätzchenbackparty (“cookie-bake-party”) in early December.

A bit of festive decor

So we chose a date, sent out WhatsApp invites to friends, searched for cookie recipes, and calculated how much mulled wine to make. I got my upper body strength training by using our handheld mixer to make loads of cookie dough the night before, and we stocked up on icing (powdered) sugar and food coloring.

On Saturday, friends came and went throughout the afternoon. Many cookies were baked: I made basic sugar cookies and chocolate cookies, and others contributed Scottish caraway biscuits, Lebkuchen, and shortbread. Once the icings were made – simple powdered sugar + milk, and F made this royal icing – people got down to some serious decorating business. There were plenty of drinks to go around, holiday tunes played in the background, and the atmosphere was warm, cozy, and festive. Highlights included Shana’s Shakespeare cookie cutter (and the creativity that those cookies engendered) and the ever-elusive Christmas jellyfish…photos below!

Race Recap: Middlesex 10k, 2017 edition

Photo credit: Noelle O’R.

I can hardly believe this was my fifth year in a row running the Middlesex 10k in Victoria Park. Always a big draw for competitive club runners, this year’s event was no different, and loads of Heathsiders turned up for it. This race always feels like a harbinger of autumn, and it’s a great way to test the road legs before diving into cross country season. For variety’s sake, I’m changing up my usual race recap narrative format in favor of a snappy bullet-point version:

  • Background: I did a month or two of track workouts back in the early summer, but unfortunately got a bit too eager in early July and developed some plantar fasciitis. I had to stop doing speed work and start doing lots of calf stretching, foot rolling, and toe raising. Not being allowed to do track workouts meant I decided to refocus my efforts on building up my endurance base, and I’m pleased to have put in a few 13-15km long runs (“long” is relative, marathoners!) over the past month and a half. All of that is a long-winded way of saying I felt like I could run a pretty good Middlesex 10k but not a PR/PB. Which brings us to the next bullet point…
  • Goal: I decided on a goal time of 48:00. In the past year I’ve run a couple of 10k races in just over that time, and recent parkrun times have indicated that I could probably manage that in this race. I aimed to try and average 4:45/km to give myself a bit of wiggle room if I slowed down in the second half.
  • Weather: coolish (~60F/15C) and overcast (good) but very humid (not so good). A nice breeze while running (good).
  • The race: It went by in a bit of a blur and was relatively uneventful. I ran alongside Caroline for the first couple of kilometers, trailing Nilesh and Tom. I caught up with the latter two around 5km, which I went through in a pleasingly quick 23:38. Tom and I then stuck together for the entire second half of the race, alternating between running side-by-side and swapping small leads (he claims I pulled him along, but I think it was mutual). With a couple of kilometers to go, I knew we could make it under 48:00. At 9km and onto the final straight, we picked up the pace. I dug deep to push past another runner and even managed a bit of a kick to finish in 46:46 (7:32/mile, 4:40/km) – my fastest 10k since 2015!

Photo credit: Noelle O’R.

  • Fun facts:
    • I hadn’t run a 10k under 48:00 since 2015 (at this very race). I think the long runs have helped my endurance a lot, as I didn’t feel like I was struggling to complete the distance.
    • This was probably one of the most evenly-paced 10k races I’ve ever run. It helped massively to run with Tom for the second half. Thanks for the pacing, Tom!
    • As per tradition, I baked in exchange for a lift to the race. I made this Scandinavian almond cake, which got rave reviews and which has become part of my regular baking rotation (if my erratic baking can be called a “regular rotation” at all).

For me, this is remarkably even pacing.

And that concludes my recap of this year’s Middlesex 10k. A quick and efficient race, as usual, in one of my favourite London parks. Next up, hitting the trails and XC courses!


Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Albanian Cheese Triangles

I know I’m behind on my goal of two Hot Bread Kitchen recipes per month. I tried making their monkey bread last weekend but something went wrong with the rising (or lack thereof), as I couldn’t find active dry yeast in the shops here in London — only quick/instant yeast is sold. Anyway, after that failure I ordered some active dry yeast from Amazon and decided to try a non-yeasted recipe this weekend: Albanian Cheese Triangles.

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #3: Albanian Cheese Triangles

This recipe comes from the “Filled Doughs” section of The Hot Bread Kitchen CookbookWho doesn’t love a good filled dough? I’d always thought filled doughs take ages to make: you have to make the dough, then the filling, then get the filling into the dough before cooking. Albanian cheese triangles (called byrek according to the book), however, sounded delicious and not too complicated to whip up for an easy Sunday dinner. The ingredient list was short and didn’t require and hard-to-find ingredients, plus the filling was cold, which would save on prep time.

It took 40 minutes to make and roll up these savory pockets of goodness. The dough is thin and stretchy and it takes some practice to roll it into triangles around the filling, but I mostly got there in the end. The 45 minutes that the triangles spend in the oven gave me time to prepare a nice salad to enjoy with the byrek.

I popped my triangles in the fridge for the day and baked them just before dinnertime. They turned out golden and flaky, with a light crunch to contrast the creamy filling. No soggy bottoms here! Albanian cheese triangles were surprisingly simple to make and would make great appetizers or nibbles at a brunch or dinner party. It would be adjust the size of the triangles depending on the occasion, and F pointed out that you could use any number of different fillings to complement the neutral crust. I’ll definitely make them again.

Have you ever heard of byrek? Does your culture have a similar filled dough recipe?

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Chapati

Welcome to the second installment of my new series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen!” You can read about my first bread adventure here.

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #2: Whole Wheat Chapati

I returned to the kitchen last weekend for my second “multi-ethnic” bread-making adventure from The Hot Bread Kitchen CookbookI’d been planning to make rich and complex paratha, but my time and energy were in short supply, so I settled on the simpler chapati, a classic South Asian flatbread. I’d helped make chapati while facilitating a cooking class at work last fall; also, many of my Bengali and Indian students and co-workers make it regularly.

Chapati requires just three ingredients: whole wheat flour, boiled water, and salt. What could be easier than that? As the cookbook mentions, mixing flour with hot water cooks the flour so that the flatbreads stay tender and pliable, even the next day. I recalled that you can actually buy special “chapati flour,” which is very finely ground. I used regular whole wheat flour for mine and it worked fine, although I may try using chapati flour next time to see if it changes the bread’s texture at all.

My chapati turned out well. The recipe was so simple and the whole process took just under an hour, from initial mixing to 12 cooked flatbreads. I made them in parallel with F making chicken curry from Simply Delicious. The chapati were (was?) tender, soft, and great for scooping up chicken pieces in the curry.

I took some leftover chapati to work the next day for my Bengali co-workers to sample — they were generous in their praise and told me it tasted like the “real thing.” An Indian co-worker recommended using a little less salt next time and drizzling leftover chapati with olive oil before packing and reheating them for lunch. I’ll try that next time — and yes, there will definitely be a next time for these quick and delicious flatbreads.

Have you ever made chapati? Post your tips and tricks in the comments.

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: M’smen

Hello and Happy New Year! Long time no blog… I lost a bit of energy and motivation for it last fall, but now it’s a new year and I have a new project that I hope to blog about regularly. Read on to find out more…

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As the holiday season approached last year, I stumbled upon a review of some new cookbooks, one of which caught my eye: The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. The review explained that Hot Bread Kitchen is a social enterprise in New York City, helping migrant women share bread-making skills from their cultures while providing them with training and jobs. As some of you may know, working with migrant women is a passion of mine (as well as my job!). The fact that the cookbook included bread recipes from around the world had me sold. I sent the link to F, hinting that I might like the book for Christmas. He willingly obliged.

So, armed with a beautiful cookbook made up of a plethora of “multi-ethnic” (their words) bread recipes as well as extensive tips and techniques, I have made a 2016 intention to try two new bread recipes per month from the book. That’s roughly every other weekend, so it should be manageable. As I make my way through breads of the world, I will write short posts about my experience with the recipes (I will not post the recipes themselves). I hope you’ll join me on my bread-making adventures: “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.”

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #1: M’smen

The first section of The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook is titled “Primordial Bread: Unleavened Flatbreads.” I have tried my hand at flatbreads before and make naan pretty often. I like the general simplicity of flatbreads — they don’t usually need much resting time and cook quickly in a hot pan on the stovetop. For my maiden foray into The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook, I decided to cook the very first recipe in the book: m’smen, a Moroccan flatbread.

The only ingredient for m’smen that I didn’t already have at home was semolina, which was easy to find at our local greengrocer or big Tesco. The other ingredients were plain (all-purpose) flour, salt, water, neutral oil, and salted butter.

Making m‘smen required a few stages of dough shaping and resting before cooking, so the whole process took me almost two hours. I started around 11am with a vigorous 6-minute arm workout of mixing the dough by hand (must get a stand mixer one of these days!), before dividing the dough into 12 balls and setting them on oiled baking sheets to rest for half an hour. I left to do some errands and ended up out longer than expected, so the dough actually rested for almost an hour.

Next, the recipe called for more oiled workspace (I guess my hands were well-hydrated by the end of the process?) to stretch each dough ball out, sprinkle it with butter/oil and semolina, then fold it over onto itself to create a neat little pocket:

post-stretching & folding

post-stretching & folding

Finally, each pocket must be stretched and cooked in a hot skillet for a couple of minutes on each side. The author of the recipe recommends drizzling hot m’smen with honey and having alongside mint tea. F and I did share the first bread with honey — yum — and reheated the rest in the evening to serve alongside falafel and yogurt sauce and Moroccan carrot salad. Once the m’smen cooled down, they were a combination of crunchy and chewy, with a pleasant flavor and a hint of sweetness.

cooking the m'smen

cooking the m’smen

I enjoyed the process of making m’smen. It was a relatively involved recipe with a lot of hands-on time, but the flatbreads turned out delicate and delicious — worth the time investment. The dough was quite sticky and very stretchy; it helped to keep my hands oiled. I’ll definitely make m’smen again and may freeze some to use as an alternative to sandwich bread.

Have you ever heard of “m’smen”? Have you every made it yourself?

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