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!
Weihnachtsessen (Christmas dinner) at the in-laws’
Spot the Rotkohl!
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.
Mama K’s Winter Rotkohl (my mother-in-law’s recipe; serves 4-6 generously)
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
Wash and chop the cabbage, then toss it into the pressure cooker.
Wash, peel, halve, and core the apples and place them on top of the cabbage in the pressure cooker.
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.
Add a few cups of water to the pot, and salt to taste.
Seal the pressure cooker, bring to a boil, and cook on medium-high pressure for about 10 minutes.
While the cabbage is cooking, fry the Speck/lardons in a hot pan, draining regularly, until the pieces are small and crispy.
When the cabbage is ready, stir in the Speck pieces as well as sugar and red wine vinegar to taste.
Enjoy immediately or heat up the next day for an even richer treat!
Update, 1 Jun ’20: This is a great “team cake” to make with a friend or partner, because each person can do two of the four components in parallel. Less prep time = earlier cake eating time! Below, I’ve added new pictures and also made a few clarifications in the recipe.
Let me just say that the Germans know how to do cake. They unapologetically make moist, delicious creations and don’t shy away from using lots of butter and sugar. Once in a while, I am totally okay with that. F had been telling me about his Rhabarbarkuchen (rhubarb cake) for ages; finally, in the height of the season a month or so ago, we bought some rhubarb, stocked up on Quark, and spent an evening making the cake.
Ohmygoodness is this a good cake (see first two sentences, above). A moist and flavorful revelation in my mouth. There’s a cake layer, a pudding-like layer (that’s the Quarkcreme part), lots of rhubarb, and a sweet-buttery-crunchy streusel topping. Just wow. This cake is totally worth the effort it takes to whip up three different layers. Be patient while it bakes and you’ll be rewarded. It’s great as an afternoon snack with coffee or tea and is also totally okay to eat for breakfast or brunch — just add a dollop of yogurt.
Rhabarberkuchen mit Quarkcreme und Streuseln (Rhubarb Cake)(adapted/translated from Chefkoch.de; makes a huge sheet cake, enough to feed a small army)
1.3kg (4-6 stalks) rhubarb, cut into 2cm/1in chunks
500g low-fat quark (try Greek yogurt if you can’t find quark in your supermarket)
300g whipping cream
1.5 packs (55-56g) vanilla instant pudding powder
zest of 1 lemon
75g sugar (granulated or caster)
150g not-super-cold-but-firmer-than-room-temperature butter, cut into small cubes
200g white/AP/plain flour (it’s all the same thing!)
250g white/AP/plain flour (it’s all the same thing!)
2 tsp baking powder
200g butter, softened at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 150C.
Wash and cut the rhubarb into 2cm/1in chunks. Set aside.
Make the Quarkcreme: Put all the necessary ingredients (see above) in a large bowl and whisk or beat with an electric mixer to combine.
Make the streusel: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and sugar together. Work in the butter with your hands or a pastry cutter, until everything is well-combined and only a little crumbly.
Make the cake batter: In a large bowl, whisk the baking powder and flour together. Add the sugar and butter and beat with an electric mixer until evenly distributed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. The batter will be quite thick.
Assemble cake: Spread the batter evenly into the bottom of a large sheet pan. Spread the Quarkcreme evenly on top. Scatter the rhubarb pieces evenly over the top, then sprinkle the streusel over everything.
Bake the cake for 45-55 minutes or until the streusel turns golden and the Quarkcreme seems set (you may have to cover it with foil partway through). Let cool for an hour or two before serving.
Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr /Guten Rutsch!З Новим Роком!
2013 was a year full of changes and new experiences for me, like moving to a new country/city, getting an English teaching certificate, and starting an MA program (back to university after three years out). My German improved — and my Ukrainian waned. I also joined an amazing running club in my area of London and was able to spend much of the summer at home in the States with my family and F. Overall, 2013 was a really good year. Here are some more fun statistics summing up the year:
2013 by the numbers:
blog posts published: 155
books read: 19 for fun, plus >30 for my MA (including some short stories/poetry/essays)
visitors hosted in London: ~19
miles run: 931.89 (76.71 miles less than in 2012, but I cycled and swam more in 2013 so overall probably racked up more mileage)
Looking back, I am satisfied to have achieved most of my intentions for 2013: learning my way around London, living frugally, cycle-commuting, “me” time, exercise time, healthy eating, starting an MA program, and staying in touch with people . I didn’t take advantage of as many free/inexpensive opportunities as I could have, but we did visit quite a few of London’s free museums and markets with visitors.
Here is my non-exhaustive list of intentions for 2014, in no particular order:
This Käsekuchen is one of F’s specialties and favorites. It’s a baked, German-style cheesecake that he introduced me to some years ago. When we first made it together back in 2013, we splurged on a food scale and a springform cake pan in order to make it, because the recipe F used has grams rather than cups.
This is no American-style cheesecake. The only cheese in this Käsekuchen is quark, a tangy, very low-fat fresh cheese common in Germany. It tastes a bit like yogurt, but has a thicker, spreadable consistency and is technically cheese. Instant pudding — use custard if you’re in the UK — acts as a thickening agent for the filling. The combination of quark and pudding lends a pleasant tang to the final product, and it’s not too sweet.
Another difference between Käsekuchen and American-style cheesecake is the crust: in the States, cheesecake crust is usually some kind of crushed graham cracker or cookie deal; Käsekuchen requires a proper dough that smells and tastes almost like a sugar cookie. Delicious.
Nutritionally, you could do much worse than Käsekuchen. Yes, there’s sugar and butter and cream, but the quark is virtually fat-free and you can use mostly semi-skimmed milk to keep things leaner. It makes a great breakfast or afternoon snack with a cup of Kaffee!
Käsekuchen (German Cheesecake) (adapted/translated from this recipe)
330g white flour
130g granulated sugar
130g unsalted butter, slightly softened at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1kg quark (if in Germany use, Magerquark, the very low fat version)
300g granulated sugar
2 packages instant vanilla pudding (use instant custard if you’re in the UK – I can’t tell you exactly how much because we ballparked it)
100mL sunflower oil (or other neutral oil)
150mL single cream
350mL semi-skimmed milk (use any combination of milk products adding up to 500-600mL)
4 large eggs
Optional: zest of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 175C (350F).
Make the crust: Flour a flat surface. Put all the crust ingredients in a large bowl and blend with an electric hand or stand mixer until the butter forms small balls. Use your hands to finish forming the mixture into dough. Roll the dough out on a floured surface, then press it into the bottom and sides of a springform cake pan.
Make the filling: Combine all the filling ingredients in a large bowl and blend with an electric mixer until smooth.
Pour the filling into the cake pan with the crust.
Carefully slide the cake into the oven and bake for 75-90 minutes or until the top is starting to brown and the middle is mostly set — you may have to cover it with foil about halfway through so the top doesn’t get too dark.
Let cool for at least two hours and preferably in the fridge overnight. You can speed up cooling in the freezer if you can’t wait to try a piece.
Confession: I have a weak spot for R&B, especially sung by a man with a smooth, sexy voice.
John Legend certainly fits that bill. I used to listen to a lot of his music but hadn’t heard his most recent albums.
Until I read this article from Die Zeit; it’s a review of Legend’s newest album, “Love in the Future,” and it gushed enough that I immediately started listening to the album on Spotify.
It’s been hard to turn it off. I fell even more in love when I heard the song “All of Me.” Then I found the video of John Legend singing said song Live on Letterman. Just wow. Watch it yourself and see if you don’t melt:
Yes, Legend has a super sexy voice and isn’t bad looking. But he is also an actual musician — you can’t say that about every artist these days — who plays the piano in addition to singing (Legend’s closest female equivalent would probably be Alicia Keys, who I also admire). Sure, as the Die Zeit review points out, Legend still employs plenty of electronics/computer-generated effects in his tunes, but he has a nice balance of electro-R&B and piano ballads.
On that more electronic side, “Made to Love” is a catchy, futuristic, yet still romantic song (albeit the video is a bit strange):
Conclusion: while R&B can be cheesy and unimaginative, and in recent years has leaned more toward the sounds of pop, John Legend still keeps it real with his genuine musicianship and originality.