Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Meine Deutsche Küche

So, I've stumbled into a bout of German cookery. I always intend to cook German, but rarely get around to it, but some lingering barley and a perusal of a German cookbook from mein Freunds Mutter (Die echte deutsche Küche) led to a batch of Pomeranian Barley Soup. It's actually a very nice cookbook chock full of regional specialties with nice photos, but I haven't made all that many of the recipes. Last year during Asparagus Season, I made Spargel mit Kratzete, which is cooked white asparagus and sliced ham with what are basically shredded crepes/pancakes (I told you they eat pancakes for dinner here). Anyway, it was cold last week and I wanted to use up the barley and the soup appealed. In addition to barley, it has your basic German soup veggies (carrots, celery, onions, leek, celery root, and parsley root) plus prunes stewed with a pinch of sugar, lemon peel, and cinnamon. Not something I use in all my soups, but it also had pork, which goes with prunes and other sweet things like apple sauce, fruit chutney, and bbq sauce. Said pork was specifically 500 grams of gepokelte Rippchen, which are pork ribs that have been cured/salted ... I think the literal translation is corned (as in beef). So after three or four butchers didn't have gepokelte Rippchen (and mein Freund told me that the word was frightening close to boogered ribs) (and another friend told me that nobody has used gepokelte Rippchen since before World War I, I settled on a different, but hopefully similarly salty, porky product and proceeded to make the soup. In my own defense, mein Freund, who is proudly German really liked the soup (perhaps a weak defense because Germans seem to eat most things). It wasn't quite bad, it just reminded me of eating rice pudding (the barley combined with the cinnamony stewed prunes) with veggies and pork.

Perhaps Pomerania isn't my favorite region (though I'm not quite ready to write it off) so I proceeded to make another German(-inspired) dish (courtesy of Deborah Madison): braised turnips. I meant to make this some time during the week, but other leftovers took precedence and somehow this became dinner for visiting Diana. As luck would have it, Diana is the sort of visiting friend who doesn't mind (and is possibly even amused) if you serve her braised turnips with pearl barley (didn't use it all up in the soup) for dinner and then stewed prunes (again, I didn't use them all in the soup....) for breakfast. I must say though, the turnips, which were braised in a mustard-spiked cream sauce (with a healthy sprinkle of fresh thyme) were pretty tasty. The prunes, stewed in some exceedingly mediocre Chianti with aniseed and cloves weren't bad either (not to mention the homemade custard sauce on the side). Anyway, when in Rome (or Berlin as the case may be)...

Friday, February 15, 2008


Valentine's Day is admittedly a silly holiday ... we shouldn't need Hallmark or the gods of capitalism to remind us to tell the one we love that we love them (I have to give the Germans (with the exception of flower, jewelry, and candy shop owners) credit for realizing this), but I must admit, my inner Martha Stewart welcomes the opportunity to make heart-shaped food. My lunch group ate the beautiful bright pink beet soup, heart-shaped cheese crackers, green salad with kohlrabi heart cut-outs, and orange-cardamom shortbread hearts before I could photograph them, but I did manage to capture dinner for mein Freund on "film" (with apologies for the lighting, etc.). We started with a watercress-endive salad with orange vinaigrette (please note the careful arrangement of the oranges). Next, having recently conquered, I used my new pasta machine to make heart-shaped winter squash ravioli (sans almond cookies because that addition never quite works for me. I much prefer the also-classic Parmesan and sage). Dessert was regular-shaped chocolate chip cookies because mein Freund, who while not a "foodie" by birth knows a good thing when he sees/eats it, likes them. Hope all of you had a heart-shaped day, too!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Wochenend und Sonnenschein

After so many days and months on end of grey, the sun finally came out last weekend and it was glorious. Mein Freund and I took a little excursion eastward to the Mies Van der Rohes Haus as part of our Bauhaus wanderings (not my favorite) and also strolled around a few of Berlin's many lakes. Alas, the camera was pleading a memory card error thoughout this trip so I can't show you any of the lakes or the pretty crocuses we saw poking through the winter grass. On Sunday, we celebrated Karneval with Berliners (the only bit of Karneval you get in these parts), as is “ich bin ein Berliner” (which I am not, should you be wondering). It was a little lacking in the filling department (as you might be able to see) and in general, I don’t need my cake fried, but it was festive nonetheless. Then we strolled through our local flea market (a big thing in these parts). A picture here of my favorite stand: all the duck tape you could ever use, in a wide variety of sizes and colors. We ended the day at Sasaya, which is one of very few acceptable (ie entirely free of mountains of greasy “Asian” noodles) Japanese restaurants in town: three small plates, grilled mackerel, marinated Japanese veggies, and a sadly somewhat bland, if "authentic" homemade tofu dish.

Monday, February 4, 2008


1) Germans do not know the difference between cupcakes and muffins. For whatever reason they are generally familiar with the latter, but now that the Cupcake Bakery Trend has hit Europe, they need to be educated on how the two treats differ (Americans know that muffins are for breakfast or to have with tea/coffee. A cupcake is not necessarily less healthy, but is not ever (intended as) a breakfast food and most always has frosting (though just to make it interesting, a muffin can have glaze or streusel). I will add that I've always thought the cupcake trend was silly in the US and it is even sillier here. I don't really have a problem with the occasional cupcake bakery (though I was seriously underwhelmed by Magnolia in New York the couple times I went -- not remotely worth waiting in line for (if there still is a line...I wouldn't know) or bakeries in general selling cupcakes. Actually, I really do like cupcakes (especially blackbottom or peanut butter with chocolate frosting), but they are so easy to make and take really no time at all and I'd just rather go out for something a bit more crafted. And while Berlin may not be Vienna or some other yummier cafe city, the German-speaking world is supposed to make good Kuchen. My point: they can do better than cupcakes. Anyway, Cupcake, the cupcake bakery that opened a while back near my apartment (the one at Zionskirchplatz, not to be confused with the one in Friedrichshein. I haven't been to that one, so I can't comment, though I am very sorry for linking to it before!) is owned by an American/Brit (not sure) so I can't exactly hold the Fatherland responsible for it, but ... my cupcake was dry and my espresso macchiatto undrinkable. I have heard more favorable reviews, but when in Rome (or Berlin as the case may be): I'm going around the corner to Cake, where you can get a huge piece of beautiful cake (I had a walnut cake with walnut buttercream; it was really exquisite -- perfect crumb, delicate, but distinct walnutty flavor, and buttercream frosting that doesn't make you feel like you've eaten a tub of crisco). Oops, that turned into a bit of rant (as is often my way....)
2. Germans don't know how to eat edamame: At my weekly lunch gig a while back I made a Japanese meal that included a bowl of salted edamame. I've been in Berlin long enough to guess that Germans might not be familiar with this snack (sushi, though most often mediocre, is extremely popular here. I have seen edamame on the menu a bunch of times, but never gotten it for free at the beginning of the meal as is often the case in the US), so I asked the woman who coordinates the lunches if she/they knew what edamame/frische Sojabohnen (fresh soybeans) are and how to eat them). She said yes and looked mildly insulted so I left it at that...only to come into the dining area a while later to find many of them eating edamame with a knife and fork. I'm not saying it's wrong ... maybe in Japan they don't eat edamame with their fingers as we do, but to my barbaric American eyes, it was pretty amusing.
3. How to use a napkin (like an American would): I was taught (as I think is the custom in the states), to put my napkin on my lap. I mostly do it without even thinking about it. Germans don't - they leave the napkin next to their plate. I don't think I have a particular lot of trouble getting food into my mouth, but I do wipe the corners of my mouth and somehow it ends up dirty and crumpled by the end of the meal. This must happen to other Americans because I didn't realize this was happening until a few months into my time here in the Vaterland, but I use my napkin a lot throughout the meal. I am often the only non-German at a meal and unless we are eating something really mess, I'm always the only one who has used their napkin? I guess Americans are barbarian slobs...
4. And something that I don't know: why can't you buy milk in quantities bigger than a liter (think quart) here? This is a (if not America's) dairyland. I have often seen youths drinking entire liters of milk/drinkable yogurt/buttermilk/etc. Our neighborhood is teeming with Kinder: don't they drink milk? The most popular coffee beverage here is Milchkaffee -- made with, you guessed it, lots of milk! Am I the only one making coffee at home? Mein Freund confirms that this is not limited to Berlin or urban areas and reports that his poor Mutter with four teenage sons also had to buy their milk in liters. It's not the end of the world as I am basically a professional grocery shopper and make an average of a trip a day, but seriously, it doesn't make sense, does it?
5. I don't know how to use a knife (like a German). I've tried, but I think my fingers have aged past the point of learning new motions or something. Germans use their knife to skillfully push food onto their fork. I do ok if I have a piece of bread to nudge with, but lacking bread, I often end up trying to be discreet with my fingers. I think earlier Generations of Americans (who were often German, no?) knew how to do this, but the melting pot seems to have done away with it. Schade, nein?