Baked Apples – A Perfect Dessert for Fall

Baked apples

Baked apples always used to give me trouble. Yes, they were delicious. Yes, they were easy to make. But no, I couldn’t get the cinnamon and sugar mix to stay in or on the apple properly. It was a baked apple fiasco… until a good friend showed me this trick with raisins.

You’ll need:

  • Sweet baking apples, such as Jonagold or Golden Delicious
  • 1/2 cup/100 g sugar (brown or white)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Raisins

To make:

Core the apples and firmly stuff a thin layer of raisins on the bottom, creating a sort of raisin dam, if you will. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together. Fill the core with the cinnamon and sugar mixture and seal the top with another layer of raisins. If desired, you could even stick a pat of butter on top of the raisins.

Place the apples in a baking dish, just barely covering the bottom with a layer of water. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 350ºF/175ºC for about 30 minutes, or until the apples are tender.

Serve hot, with mulled wine, just after jumping in piles of raked leaves.

 

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Beef (and plums). It’s what’s for dinner.

If you’re from the States, you might remember those commercials in the ’90s for beef featuring meaty, potato-y, all-American dishes. The tag-line was always, “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” Sadly, those commercials weren’t effective on me, and I rarely ate red meat or pork. Until recently, that is.

As it turns out, deep cracks in the corners of one’s lips, an intense craving to eat ice, and getting dizzy during basic tasks like blowing one’s nose are not normal and indicate severely low iron and hemoglobin levels. If you’re experiencing similar symptoms, I would probably recommend getting yourself to a doctor and getting a blood test done. Like now. Don’t wait a year like I did. So now that I finally know what’s wrong with me, in addition to taking iron supplements, I’ve been trying to up my meat and potatoes intake. I’m sure the US meat and potato board would be glad if I was living in the States. Here’s the first dish I came up with. Serves 2.

You’ll need:

  • BEEF. (about 1 lb-ish chopped into chunks)
  • 2 plums, sliced into eighths (trust me on this…)
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 potatoes, chopped
  • 4-5 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • Thyme, to taste (maybe about 1/4 teaspoon?)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Paprika, to taste
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (or substitute with ground cinnamon, no worries)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

To make:

Sauté the onion in oil. When it turns translucent, add in the chopped tomatoes and let them fry for a couple minutes while stirring. Then, throw in everything and just barely cover with water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until the beef is cooked through, the potatoes are tender, and the sauce has thickened a bit. Adjust any seasonings. Serve in an iron bowl and eat with your hands like a viking. Or serve it with rice and utensils like I did. Your choice.

I just used the vegetables that I had on hand that I thought would work well in this dish, but I think sliced red bell pepper and chopped green onions would also be fantastic in this.

beef n plums

BEEF! and plums….

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Egg Drop Soup

What do I do in the states when I’m craving something Asian-ish, yet on the greasy and unhealthy side? Get takeout, of course! Most likely Chinese. What do I do in a small town in the middle of Germany when I’m craving Chinese takeout? One of two things: 1) Get takeout, of course! The problem with this option is that the takeout will most likely disappoint, which is why I often opt for: 2) Make the following soup. Besides, I reason, if it’s homemade it’ll somehow be magically healthier, right? Serves 2-4 as an appetizer.

You’ll need:

  • Chicken (about 1/3 lb./0.15 kg), chopped into small pieces
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • Fresh or canned corn kernels, about a handful
  • 1 handful of chopped spring onions
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Noodles (optional)
  • 4 cups/1 L chicken broth/water + bouillon
  • Soy sauce, to taste (optional)
  • Dash of black pepper (optional)
  • Dash of sesame oil (optional)
  • 1-2 Tbsp cornstach (optional)

To make:

Bring the chicken broth (or water + bouillon) to a boil. Add in the chicken, carrot, and corn. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked. Add in the spring onions and season with pepper, soy sauce, and sesame oil, if desired. Lastly, pour the beaten eggs slowly into the pot. As you do so, stir the soup slowly and consistently with a fork in the same direction. If you stir wildly and uncontrollably, the egg pieces won’t stay intact and it’ll just be a hot mess. Literally. For bigger pieces of egg, stir slower or even pause between stirs. For smaller pieces, stir faster.

I like the broth a little bit thinner, but if you want it thicker in consistency, mix the cornstarch with a little broth from the soup in a separate bowl. When it’s combined, stir the mixture into the soup and cook until it thickens, about 2 minutes.

And that’s it! Authentic, healthy-ish egg drop soup for a sleepy Fall day.

Egg drop soup

Bird’s eye view of my egg drop soup. I put so much stuff in it you can’t even see the eggs anymore. They’re in there, I swear.

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Asparagus!

Here’s an odd piece of trivia…. Germans are obsessed with asparagus, known in Deutschland as spargel. I myself, having grown up in the states, thought of them as nothing more than a stinky green vegetable as a child. As an adult, I was always neutral toward them since they were always “in season” at the supermarket. However, asparagus is naturally in season for a precious 8 weeks per year, typically from mid to late April until the end of May or beginning of June. This year I noticed asparagus cropping up (no pun intended) at farmer’s markets in mid-April. Although I have more of a positive view on asparagus now, I’m still trying to understand the German obsession with it. I’m telling myself it has something to do with asparagus symbolizing spring and warm weather. Maybe?

chocolate asparagus

I even found white chocolate in the form of asparagus. Not sure I want to be thinking about asparagus when I eat chocolate though…

I have to admit though, this year I’ve slightly bought into the hysteria and have cooked both white and green asparagus several times. Thick, white asparagus is the preferred variety in Deutschland, although green asparagus takes less prep time and in my opinion lends itself better to Asian-y dishes (always a plus with me).

Asparagus for sale

Spargel at the farmer’s market

So, what exactly does one do with asparagus? Green asparagus are easier to work with: just wash, snap off the woody ends, and you’re good to go. I like to chop them in 1 inch/2 cm pieces and make a stir-fry with shrimp, mushrooms, and chili. They also work well in risotto and pasta dishes. If you want to avoid overcooking, blanch them until they turn bright green and then submerge them in an ice water bath to maintain their gorgeous green color. Add them to any dish when it’s almost finished.

White asparagus, on the other hand, range from thin, short pieces (the cheaper variety) to gigantic thick stalks an inch/2 cm in diameter. White and green asparagus are actually the same variety, but white asparagus is the product of farmers covering their crops from sunlight, thus preventing photosynthesis and the resulting “green-ness.” This makes for a milder taste and more tender texture. The woody bottom inch/2 cm should be chopped off and the bottom 2/3 of white asparagus must also absolutely be peeled before cooking! Most Germans keep it simple and boil them standing up in a tall pot specifically made for asparagus. If you don’t happen to have a freakishly tall pot, a normal wide one will work as well. Boil them in salt water until tender, about 5-10 minutes or until a knife will pierce through one easily. The classic German dish is asparagus with whole boiled potatoes, sliced ham, and a simple butter or hollandaise sauce. They would consider it a sin to prepare it in any other way. I have to say it’s a pretty satisfying and filling meal….

Asparagus and potatoes

A typical German asparagus meal: Asparagus, potatoes, and hollandaise

….but what if you want some variety? Here are some other ideas (shh, don’t tell the Germans!):

Orzo or Risotto:

Garlic, onions, butter, orzo (or risotto rice), peas, spinach, white or green asparagus, and herbs all combined and cooked in chicken or vegetable broth.

Asparagus orzo

Stir-fry

Stir-fry shrimp, mushrooms, and blanched green asparagus with soy sauce, oyster sauce, and chili.

Asparagus stir-fry

Asparagus stir-fry

Cream of asparagus soup

Boil onion and asparagus (white or green) in water or broth until very tender (about 30 minutes). Puree until smooth, stir in creme fraiche or sour cream and season with salt or pepper.

Cream of asparagus soup

Cream of asparagus soup

Also try asparagus atop salads, wrapped in bacon and baked or pan-fried, and in springy/summery pasta dishes.

Guten Appetit!

 

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Barcelona Baby!

Ahhhh Spanish food! Paella, ham, tortilla…. but wait a second. I didn’t eat any of that in Barcelona (Ok…except for that one paella…).

So, is the cuisine of Barcelona actually distinct from the rest of Spain? The answer is, of course!

Every region of Spain, however, has its own specialties and cuisines. In the south there are tons of fried fish and seafood dishes. In the northwest regions, they have more hearty stews, soups, and breads. In Basque country, stunning tapas take the center stage.

Fried chipirones

Fried chipirones (baby squids) - A typical dish in southern Spain

Barcelona, part of the Catalan region, is no exception and has its fair share of unique dishes. I just so happened to visit during the end of March, which was perfect timing to enjoy one of the most delicious spring Catalan dishes: Calçots.

Calçots are essentially barbecued spring onions. Once grilled, the outer charred portion is removed to reveal a tender green shoot. This is then dipped in an nut-based tomato and pepper sauce (romesco) and subsequently lowered into one’s mouth, much like a kid eating spaghetti with his hands. Did I mention that you get your own special bib when eating them in a restaurant? It’s a very messy, very charcoal-y affair and by the end of it your finger tips will be black and your face covered with romesco sauce. It’s totally worth it though.

Calçots (Barbequed Spring Onions):

You’ll need:

  • Spring onions
  • Romesco sauce, for dipping (See recipe below)

To make:

Barbecue the spring onions over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Turn over and grill the other side for 3-4 minutes. Repeat this process until the onions are charred on the outside, about 10 minutes. Serve with Romesco sauce.

Salsa Romesco (Romesco Sauce):

Salsa Romesco is a smooth, creamy sauce made with nuts and peppers. Although it accompanies barbecued calçots, it’s also served with bread, fish, meat, or other vegetables. This is the recipe that a friend passed along to me:

You’ll need:

  • 1 Red bell pepper, halved and seeded
  • 1/4 cup/30 g hazelnuts or almonds, skins removed
  • 4 slices French bread
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large tomatoes, halved and seeded
  • 4-6 large garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • Salt, to taste (optional)

To make:

Roast the pepper, tomatoes, and garlic with 1 tbsp olive oil on a baking sheet at 425˚ for 40 minutes. The pepper should be blackened. Cool and peel the pepper, tomatoes, and garlic.

Fry the hazelnuts in the remaining oil until lightly brown, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and fry the bread until also lightly browned on both sides, about 3-5 minutes. Combine the olive oil from the pan, bell pepper, tomatoes, garlic, hazelnuts, vinegar, and bread in a blender or food processor and process until pureed. Add salt, if necessary. The mixture should form a thick, but creamy paste. If it’s too thick, add in more olive oil. Serve with calçots or use as an accompaniment with meat, seafood, vegetables, or bread.

Calçots and romesco sauce

Calçots and romesco sauce

calçot close up

Ready to eat

Another simple, yet satisfying dish, Pa amb tomaquet, is eaten for breakfast or as an afternoon snack. It’s essentially bread rubbed with tomato, drizzled with a little olive oil, and sprinkled with salt. This dish is also served throughout Spain but is known as Pan con tomate. I did notice that in other regions the tomato was actually a thick and pureed spread. Both variations are delicious and can be partnered with other ingredients (such as a slice of tortilla) to make a very Spanish sandwich.

Pa amb tomaquet (Bread with tomato):

You’ll need:

  • 1 baguette, sliced in half, then cut into 6 inch/12 cm pieces (or 1 mini-baguette sliced in half will also do)
  • 1-2 tomatoes per serving, halved
  • Olive oil, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
To make:

Toast the baguette slices until light golden-brown. Rub the tomato halves onto the bread slices while squeezing the pulp and seeds onto the slices. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt. Alternatively, puree an entire tomato and spoon this over the bread. Also drizzle with olive oil and salt. About 2 slices = 1 serving.

Pa amb tomaquet

Pa amb tomaquet - the perfect breakfast or snack

I’m not ashamed to admit that trying new foods is one of the main reasons I love to travel. What’s even more gratifying is figuring out the recipes and recreating them at home in case of a craving emergency. And what’s even more gratifying than that is sharing the recipe in case of a craving/lazy emergency so someone can cook for me : D Enjoy!

Caramel churro

I now firmly believe that more churros in the world need to be caramel filled. Surprisingly not overly sweet.

 

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Potato Leek Soup

It has been embarrassingly long since I’ve posted. Shame on me! During that long break though, I did manage to travel to Barcelona for a week and eat some amazing food…some of which I will share later. First things first though, here is an exceptionally easy soup. Serves 1-2.

You’ll need:

  • 1 leek, cleaned thoroughly and sliced
  • 2 medium to small potatoes, chopped
  • Water or broth, enough to just barely cover the leek and potatoes
  • Whipping cream (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Paprika, to taste (optional)
  • Nutmeg, to taste (optional)

To make:

Boil the potatoes and leek in water or broth. I like this soup a bit on the thicker side (think runny mashed potatoes), so feel free to add more water or broth if you like thinner soups. Season with salt, pepper, paprika, nutmeg, and whatever other spices you find tasty. Although, if you want to keep it simple, plain salt and pepper works fine.

When the potatoes and leeks are tender (it usually takes about 20-30 minutes, but you can test them with a fork), puree the mix with a handheld blender. You can also use a normal blender, but make sure the top is on tight. And be careful when taking the top off! Whenever I used a normal blender, the heat seemed to somehow create a sort of extra suction-y vacuum that made the top hard to get off, once resulting in some spilled soup and non-drastic arms burns. Still very annoying though.

Lastly, adjust any seasonings, and, if you like, stir in some whipping cream before serving.

potato leek soup

Potato leek soup served with fresh cream and baguette.

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A recipe for salad?

Is it weird to crave something healthy? I have the most obnoxious craving for freshly pressed carrot and ginger juice. I know, right? Not exactly what most people’s food fantasies include. I don’t have a juicer, sadly, so I’ll have to either hunt it down either in a health food store or some overpriced juice bar. Hm. On the other hand, I can satisfy my other healthy food craving, which is….da da daaaa…..salad?

Blame it on the cold weather, but I’ve been eating lots of cooked, soupy, hearty things lately and now I really just want a salad. This salad specifically (Yes, I really am giving you a recipe for salad. I just had to share the divinity of olive oil and parmesan on lettuce. Because it’s never been shared before, of course….):

You’ll need:

  • Lettuce (I used Lamb’s Ear Lettuce/Corn Salad…my new favorite nomnomnom)
  • Half an avocado, sliced
  • Hazelnuts
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
  • Finely shredded parmesan cheese, to taste (I just keep putting it in the oil until it’s somewhat of a more solid mix, but not too dry…if that makes any sense)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, to taste
  • Rice (I’m just kidding…I’m not that much of a fanatic)

To make (or, to assemble, rather):

Mix the parmesan cheese with the olive oil, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl. Coat the lettuce in it (use your hands! It’s the only way!) and decorate with hazelnuts, hard-boiled egg, and avocado slices. Adjust any seasonings and ta-da! You have a super healthy entree. If you’re looking for something more substantial, stay tuned for the next recipe…which is soup to go along with this.

Corn salad

Just FYI, I ate an entire bar of chocolate after this. Some things never change….
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