Monday, December 27, 2010

Episode 2: Fröhliche Weihnachten

My mom was born & raised in Germany so I have very specific ideas on how the Christmas season should look, sound, smell and taste.  Gotta have real candles on the very real tree.  Just a few...and yes, I light them on Christmas morning while "O Tannenbaum" & "Stille Nacht" play.  Gotta have frankincense-scented incense for the smoking man  (which, besides smelling Christmas-y, also hides the smell of any herbal celebrating you may choose to do.   And regardless of what the calendar says, it absolutely can NOT be Christmas without Streuselkuchen and Lebkuchen.

Streuselkuchen is this delightfully buttery German coffee cake that Mom used to make.  Just to be clear - you can have Streuselkuchen without Christmas, but never, EVER Christmas without Streuselkuchen.  Fabulously delicious, but certainly not for those who have a doctor yelling about has nearly three-quarters of a pound of butter in it.  And yes, you have to use real even contemplate using margarine would be sacrilege.


Preheat your oven to 350.  I spray a 10" X 15" X 3/4" sheet pan, line it with parchment, then spray the parchment.  Probably overkill but better that than a stuck Streuselkuchen...

  • 1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
Mix well.  Put in the fridge while you mix your dough.

  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (I always use unbleached cuz they use benzoyl peroxide to bleach know, the active ingredient in the zit stuff you used in high school...but that's up to you)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • milk

Cream the butter & sugar together.  Add the egg & mix well.  Add the baking powder and  flour.  You'll need to add some milk to pull it all together.  How much?  Well, that depends on the humidity & stuff...I usually end up using anywhere from a couple tablespoons to a quarter cup or so.  The consistency you're looking for is kind of like cookie dough except maybe a smidge stickier.

This is the only part of Streuselkuchen that I hate...cuz it's a royal pain, but I swear, it's worth it....spread the dough on the sheet pan.  For me, the easiest way is with an off-set spatula.  I dip the spatula in a glass of water and then spread some dough.  Back in the water...back to the dough...til the dough covers the bottom of the pan. 

Once you get that dealt with, sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of water on top.  Quit looking at me like that.  You heard me.  Water.  On the top of your dough.  Use your hand to spread it over the top.  That will keep your streusel from sinking into the dough.  Break the streusel up over the dough.  Bake til a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean...about 15-20 minutes.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.  When it's cool, dust with powdered sugar & enjoy!  I have only met one person that doesn't like Streuselkuchen - and I wouldn't trust him as far as I can throw him!

Lebkuchen - gingerbread - is another must.  I usually get a few kinds of lebkuchen cookies at the German store...sometimes make another kind at home.  Occasionally I dabble with construction grade gingerbread.  But this year...this year I found a recipe for Gingerbread Cake that sounded so good, I couldn't resist making it.

I found the recipe in the latest issue of Cook's Illustrated...which btw, is a totally bad-ass magazine!  It's a small magazine but there are NO advertisements....just page after page of recipe testing, product testing and kitchen tips.  Anyway, this recipe is in the January/February issue of Cook's Illustrated and it's just AMAZING!!  I made it as a round cake the first time...and just served it with whipped cream...and it was great!  But then I thought...what if this was a cupcake...and what if I frosted it??  I fought with myself about the frosting for awhile...cuz honestly, I think a well-made gingerbread (cheesecake too, for that matter) doesn't need any bells or whistles to go with it...but I am glad I decided to frost!

Now, be warned...this cake uses ground & fresh ginger, so it slaps you upside the head and says "HEY! I'm gingerbread" so if you're sensitive to spice, cut the powdered ginger back to 1 tablespoon.  Do NOT open the oven til the minimum baking time has passed.  Another thing - a lot of cake recipes will tell you not to overwork the dough so you don't wind up with a tough cake.  But with this one, you want to develop enough of the gluten to give the cake a bit of don't baby the batter.

Gingerbread Cupcakes

  • 3/4 cup Guinness Stout
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup flour (if you make a regular cake, you'll need a little more to dust the pan)
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
Put the oven rack in the middle position & preheat the oven to 350.  (If you're making a regular cake, grease & flour an 8" square pan.  If you're doing cupcakes, put your muffin cups in your muffin pan...)

Bring the Guinness to a boil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Stir occasionally.  Remove from heat and add the baking soda.  It's going to foam up something fierce!  When the foaming subsides, stir in the molasses & sugars until dissolved.  Set aside.

Whisk the flour, ground ginger, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and pepper in a bowl and set aside.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl and add the oil & fresh ginger.  Mix well.  Scrambled eggs are good...but not in gingerbread, so we need to temper the eggs.  While you're whisking the egg mixture, add some of the still warm Guinness mixture to bring the eggs up to temperature a bit then add the rest and mix well.  Add the dry ingredients in thirds, stirring vigorously until completely smooth after each addition.

Fill muffin cups about 2/3 of the way.  Bake about 18 to 20 minutes.  (35 to 45 minutes if making a regular cake)  Cool completely on a wire rack.

Orange-Guinness Double Cream Frosting
  • 4 teaspoons orange juice
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick of butter, softened
  • zest from 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon Guinness Stout
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Soften the gelatin in the orange juice for a few minutes.  Warm over low heat until gelatin is dissolved.  Beat the cream until slightly thick then add the gelatin and beat until cream  holds its shape.  Be careful not to over beat it or you'll wind up with butter.  Refrigerate.

Beat cream cheese and butter together then add the zest & Guinness.  Add the powdered sugar about a half cup at a time.  Mix well after each addition.  Carefully fold in the whipped cream.

I know beer in frosting sounds a little nuts, but it was one of those "what-the-hell" sort of moments...and it worked really well!!  Enjoy!! :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pass the Salt, Please: A Bitch in the Kitchen Extra

Salt has a really bad reputation.  They sell low-salt this and no-salt that because too much salt can cause high blood pressure, stroke, cardiovascular disease, ulcers, heartburn…even death, if you ingest enough (supposedly 1 gram per kilogram of body weight) in a short enough period of time.  (How long is that, I wonder??)  Side note: that last one sounds kinda neat and may wind up in my novel.

So what do we know about salt?  It’s a crystalline compound, sodium chloride.  It’s a mineral.  Abundant in nature.  A component of seawater.  Used to season and preserve food.  Our bodies need it in moderation.  It’s a noun, a verb and an adjective.  French fries wouldn’t be the same without it.  And I don’t think there’s a woman alive that will deny how fabulous chocolate is when consumed with nice, salty potato chips.

But when was the last time you heard something really interesting about salt?  Something not meant to scare you away from it??  

For instance…

When sea salt is extracted from seawater by evaporation, it yields about 66 pounds per cubic yard.  I actually found Dead Sea salt when I went to the German store a few weeks ago.  Since the Dead Sea is 1,300 feet below sea level, the mineral content is drastically different and therefore, the taste and color are different too.  Used it when making dinner tonight (which I guess is really last night, at this point) and it was delicious!

Since it’s necessary for life, the production is easily supervised and it can be used to for the long-term preservation of food, governments taxed it.  In the 13th century, France created the gabelle tax to pay for a war.  From the time it was created, until the time it was abolished in 1790, the gabelle tax obligated individuals to purchase a certain amount of salt every year from the king’s storage houses…regardless of if they were going to use the salt or not.  It didn’t officially and completely come off the books until 1946.

Words with shared etymology include: sauce, salvation, sausage, silt, soused, salad, salary, salami and salsa.

The expression “not worth his salt” came about because in ancient Greece, they traded salt for slaves.  And while it’s not a practice I condone, it definitely illustrates that salt was considered a valuable commodity.

Salt has played a big part in a lot of religions…it’s mentioned more than 30 times in the Bible.  The ancient Hebrews and Greeks made offerings of salt during sacrifices.  The Shinto religion uses salt to purify an area.  Buddhists use it to ward off evil spirits.  In 1933, the 13th Dalai Lama was buried sitting up in a bed of salt.  In India, salt is still a gift that is considered a symbol of good luck.  Some Native American tribes had restrictions on who was permitted to eat salt.  Hopi legend says that the Warrior Twins were angry and punished mankind by making salt deposits hard work to get to & mine.

Remember, in the kitchen, the primary function of salt is to enhance the flavor of food, not overpower it.  It’s there to stimulate the appetite and bring out the flavors.

So why all the salt talk?  Because tomorrow we’re brining!!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Episode 1: London Broil with Southern Comfort & Honey Glazed Carrots

Well, here we brand new blog.  Not any old blog,'s actually a spin-off from my imaginary cooking show that airs via my Facebook status.  And that alone should tell you this should be one helluva fun ride. LOL  

Just so we're clear, the point isn't to cook my way through any cookbook in a year.  I love Julia, admire Julia, respect Julia and will no doubt quote Julia, but as great as that idea was - certainly one I wish I'd thought of first - and as fabulous as the movie was, it's been done.  Obviously.    Besides, I'm waaaaay too fussy to cook my way, cover to cover, through any cookbook....except perhaps a Godiva cookbook ;)  The blog is simply a place to share my culinary adventures.  A place to chronicle kitchen experiments, recipe evolutions, helpful tips and some random thoughts.  Hopefully it will be a place of inspiration, too.  Of course, I welcome a creative exchange of ideas.  And while I"m working towards adding more veggies and some healthier habits into my diet, if you're looking for "diet" need to look elsewhere.

There is a Christmas tree just waiting to be decorated so nothing fancy tonight.  Tasty Tidbit: London Broil, though most Americans use the name to refer to a cut of beef, is actually the name of the finished dish: broiled (or grilled) marinated top round or flank steak, cut across the grain into thin strips.  Based on what I've read, they've never even heard of "London Broil" in London, England.  Go figure.   Anyway, I let a piece of beef marinate in a mixture of 1 tablespoon grill seasoning, 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce & 1/4 cup olive oil for the afternoon.  The grill seasoning is the tail end of a jar of store bought stuff.  Yummy, for sure, but it's salty.  And if *I* find it salty, trust me, it's salty.  I'll be making my own as soon as my order from Penzeys Spices arrives.  (You'll find Penzeys in the links section.  Check 'em out.)

I have never liked cooked carrots.  Ever.  At least not til these came along.  I found a recipe and like most recipes that I find, I changed it to suit me...fussy eater, remember??  Then I tweaked it a bit here and there.  After a few tweaks, here's what we wind up with:

Southern Comfort & Honey Glazed Carrots
  • 1 pound baby carrots (cut the bigger ones in half)
  • 2/3 cup water or ginger ale
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons honey *
  • 3 tablespoons Southern Comfort (the alcohol cooks off, so it's cool for the kids)
  • 1 teaspoon dehydrated onion (or a couple of tablespoons of fresh, finely chopped onion or shallot)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes **
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper **
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked & crumbled (optional)
Put all the ingredients (except bacon, if you're using it) into a 10-inch fry pan or sauté pan.  Cook on medium to medium high heat until the water evaporates and the carrots are tender but not mushy...about 15 or 20 minutes.  Add the crumbled bacon the last minute or two so it can warm up and get coated with the fabulous glaze left in your pan.  Serves 2 to 4.

A couple of notes on this recipe:

* if you use local honey, you'll build up an immunity to your local pollen which will make for a more pleasant allergy season.

** if it's too much heat for you, use less of the cayenne & red pepper flakes but honestly, between the carrots, SoCo & honey (and ginger ale if you're using that) there is plenty of sweetness to get away with the extra heat if you aren't feeding kids or super sensitive stomachs.

No, I didn't take pictures....they're carrots.