Sunday, November 29, 2015

Carbonara in German

Italian is such charming language. All the words sound melodic, even the most benign ones kind of sing. Like the word Carbonara, which basically means something like charcoal burner. It also happens to be one of my favorite pasta dishes. A simple fare: just pasta, eggs, cheese and bacon, although our Italian friend Luigi thinks it’s "tow hevy". My point is that we Germans actually have a version of Carbonara too, but I am sad to say that we call it noodles with ham. That’s the basic difference between romance and germanic languages.

The German take on Carbonara is a hearty, rustic dish. I like it especially when I stop at a cozy mountain hut on a hiking or skiing trip because it reminds me of winter holiday during high school. My girlfriends and I rode a train, then a bus and finally we had to hike 1/2 hour with our heavy boots and unmanageable skies and poles just to get to the lift. That was hard work! After some fast runs and a few tumbles and when we were sufficiently cold and wet, we were starving. Everything tastes good after being outside for a long time, but especially a big plate of carbs with deliciously salty ham, creamy eggs and gooey cheese.

When I make the noodles now, it’s usually a last minute dinner, more like an afterthought. I lightly brown sweet-smokey Black Forest ham in butter. Then I add cooked wide egg noodles and sauté them until I have a few brown and crisp spots here and there. I throw in a handful of cheese and stir in a couple of well-beaten eggs. I give the hot pan a little swirl so the eggs have time to stick to the noodles and the cheese has melted. A deft sprinkle of chives adds a little sparkle.

I like Carbonara in any language.

Carbonara German style
Feeds 2

6 oz dried egg noodles, Pappardelle works well too, cooked and drained
4 oz of Black Forest ham, diced or cut into wide strips
1 tbs butter
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 - 1/2 cup of cheese (anything goes: white Cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack) grated
1 tbs chopped chives, parsley will do

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


My very first introduction to the Civil War was by reading the epic “Gone with the Wind”. Most memorable to a naive 14 year old was Scarlett O’Hara’s tiny waist size, (an unimaginable 17 inches!) and smashing Rhett Butler’s famous line: “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”. Of course there was also the brutality of the war.

Oddly enough, during this time in history, the basis of banana bread was laid. As people were starving and labor was in short supply, cooking and baking needed to be quick. Traditional bread making took too long, so breads were leavened with baking soda instead of yeast and called quick bread. A lot less time consuming, it needed just a few basic ingredients: flour, baking soda or powder, eggs, shortening or such and some kind of liquid, like milk. By adding sugar and other flavorings, a palatable bread was made.

I like all kinds of quick breads, but most of all, I like banana bread. It just hits the spot sometimes. It works great when I need something speedy in the morning, or when I am on a road trip. If I can find a coffee shop with a proper latte, then there is usually a piece of quick bread that goes with it. The thick, moist slices come wrapped in glossy plastic, and I can never resist the bright colors of a pumpkin or lemon bread.

Here’s the problem with baking banana bread: it calls for super ripe bananas. And while I like eating my bananas firm and yellow without a hint of a brown fleck, Kevin likes them very ripe. And just when the bananas that I have set aside for baking have reached that mottled-with-brown-spots stage, Kevin finds them, and they are gone!

But once in a while, I can salvage a few, and then I bake them into my very favorite banana bread. It has chocolate in it too, so it’s very decadent and smells just so unusually good when it comes out of the oven; the earthy sweetness of warm bananas with melted chocolate and cinnamon. I sneak tiny pieces whenever I go into the kitchen, and then the quick bread is gone way too quickly.

after all, tomorrow is another day.

Banana Bread
Recipe from Orangette with just a few minor changes
This quick bread is a little unusual as it has no fat of any kind and so it’s a little more springy than your typical quick bread. Also, it’s baked in a square pan instead of a loaf pan.

3 very ripe bananas (the size doesn’t much matter; medium to large works)
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces (no bigger than chocolate chip-size)

For topping:
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter or spray an 8-inch square pan and dust lightly with flour.

In a medium mixing bowl, mash the bananas well with a fork or potato masher. Add the eggs, and stir well to combine. Add the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and vanilla, and stir to mix. Add the chocolate and stir briefly. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the batter in the pan.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Canned goods

One of my all time favorite funny phrases has to be “open a can of whoop-ass”. Not that I use it very often, but it sure makes me grin every time I hear it. I think it's meant to be a genial threat, that I will unleash a great deal of pain on someone who has offended me. However, I can never keep a straight face when I try it out, and neither can anyone else when I deliver it with my slight German accent.

Speaking of cans, I don't keep a lot of them in my pantry. Although there are a few things that are great out of a can: tomatoes, coconut milk, tuna and beans, for the most part, I buy fresh. Except, cans do come in really handy when we go river rafting. Then all bets are off. Especially during the latter part of a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon we eat mostly canned goods and stuff with lots of preservatives.

But that doesn't mean we don't have some pretty awesome meals. One year, our friend Mark even made a turkey dinner with stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn, the whole works. We only draw the line when it comes to Dinty Moore beef stew, which one of the boatman has tried to sneak in, I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole! But we always have cans of Pringles for lunch; the chips stack perfectly, taste deliciously artificial and stay crunchy. We carry canned beets, tuna, olives, artichoke hearts, peaches, corn. The cans happily bounce and bang around, get smashed in big rapids and no harm is done. Big nylon nets of beer cans hang off the boats to chill in the icy Colorado River for the evening.
A great meal out of a can on one of these trips are salmon cakes. Using a big griddle, we have a whole bunch of them sizzling in no time. Even when we resort to tinned salmon, egg beaters, canned bread crumbs and lemon juice from a plastic lemon, they still are really tasty after a long day of rowing in the hot sun.

No reason to open a can of whoop ass ;)

Salmon Cakes
Makes 5 - 6 cakes

2 6 oz cans of skinless and boneless salmon
1 egg, beaten
2-3 tb dried breadcrumbs
1 tb mayonnaise
1 tb Dijon mustard
1-2 tb freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 scallions, finely chopped or 2 tb finely chopped parsley
3 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, diced
salt, freshly ground pepper

Drain salmon and using a fork, break apart into even-sized pieces. Mix with egg, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, mustard and freshly squeezed lemon juice. If too dry, add more mayonnaise and if too wet, use a few more breadcrumbs. Stir in scallions or parsley and sun-dried tomatoes, season to taste with salt and pepper. Form into 5 - 6 cakes and sauté in olive oil over medium heat until cooked through and golden brown.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cuppa Soup

My dad is a pretty lousy cook. But to his defense, he's always been surrounded by women that cook really well. I don't think he saw a need to get in the way. Dad's contribution to our meals was ordering boxes of individual combat rations for the German federal armed forces.

Stashed away in a cellar, he used them for his hunting and fishing excursions. He also ate them when, for some inexplicable reason, he was sick of a good home-cooked meal. My sisters and I always pilfered his boxes and didn't even care that we had to sneak down the steep steps into our scary dark cellar. We just loved the super hard cookies, jam and cheese out of toothpaste tubes and the dark chocolate.

Living by himself now, Dad does however have a few meals up his sleeve. For one, he can make a decent cup of coffee. He can also fry a mean trout by using tons of butter and then debone it expertly. And he can make a really good tomato soup. When he had an abundance of homegrown tomatoes one year, out of desperation he opened the only cookbook that was laying around. It was a book-of-the-month-club one from the sixties and had exactly one tomato soup recipe. As for the rest of his diet, he probably still has some of those rations.

Of course I snatched the tomato soup recipe, it's perfect with a grilled cheese sandwich; one of my favorite classic American combinations. The soup can be made with either fresh tomatoes or tomato paste. Funny as it might be, I actually prefer making it with the paste. Cooking the paste slowly in butter brings out a robust, deeply intense tomato flavor. Slowly sautéed onions offer a little sweetness, while lemon peel adds a bright note and some zest. Dotted with rice, the soup becomes a little more hefty. I sprinkle it with finely chopped chives or parsley for a nice contrast to the bright orangey-red, and eat it with a crunchy, creamy grilled cheese sandwich.

Beats the armed forces rations.

Tomato Soup
Adapted from “Das neue grosse Kochbuch”, Berteslmann Publishing ca. 1963
Serves 4

Just under 1/2 a small can (2.5 oz) or 1/2 tube of tomato paste
alternately, use 3/4 pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 tbs unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
4 cups water
1/3 cup long grain white rice
piece of lemon peel
salt, pepper, sugar
parsley or chives

Let butter melt over medium heat and sautée onions for about 8 minutes, or until golden, don't let them get dark. Add tomato paste or fresh tomatoes and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Pour water into pan and add lemon peel, bring to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Let cool, purée in blender and return to pan. Bring back to a simmer, add rice and cook for 20 minutes on low heat, stirring every once in a while so rice doesn't stick to bottom of pan. Season with salt, pepper and just a little sugar. Sprinkle with herbs and serve with a grilled cheese!

Saturday, January 3, 2015


Last week I went to my rowing club's holiday pot-luck party where I immediately got tipsy on a yummy cheese fondue. All I did was follow instructions to dunk the bread cubes into the Kirsch before I dipped them into the cheese! So it was good that I also found an impressive array of desserts. My friend Alex and I compared notes on our picks. He was telling me that while he definitely goes for the more gooey, runny, creamy ones, his wife Terri, who normally avoids gluten, splurges now and then on cakey sweets. They probably remind her most of the things she used to eat.

I've never even thought of the division in desserts in this way, but looking at my plate, I was thinking that I must definitely be the cakey type. It all started when I was a little girl. At the family Kaffeeklatsch, I never went for the pretty and fancy cakes, the involved ones, with soft layers and creamy fillings. If the dessert wasn't just plain cakey, then I just ate a ham sandwich.

I even feel the same way when it comes to French desserts. I admire all the beautiful creations in the Paris pâtisseries which look like little art pieces. I also love the fancy macaroons in every possible color. But in the end, they are all just too sweet, too soft and too sticky for me.

However there is something else in France, and that is a Madeleine. A tiny sponge cake in the shape of a scallop shell, it was supposedly invented by an eighteenth century French pastry chef named, surprise, Madeleine.
Although I've never read anything by Marcel Proust, I've heard that Madeleines will always be connected to his crazy long, 3000 page novel “In Search of Lost Time” where he dedicates several pages to this bite-sized cake.

A cute little Madeleine is golden brown on the shell side, and buttery yellow on the opposite. Pretty to look at, light and airy, it's not too sweet and perfectly well, cakey!

Orange Zested Madeleines
Makes about 1 1/2 dozens
adapted, with a few minor changes, from my cousin Carol's recipe

You do need a non-stick Madeleine mold pan

2 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbs honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest on orange
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
4 tbs unsalted butter, melted
additional cold butter for mold

Beat eggs and sugar in a bowl for about 4 minutes until pale yellow and thick. Mix in honey, vanilla and orange zest. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into bowl, gently fold in the dry ingredients. Add the cooled and melted butter, gently folding into batter.

Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of batter and chill for at least 3 hours (can be made a day ahead).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and position rack in center of the oven. Using your fingers, rub cold butter into each mold, making sure all the surfaces are covered. Drop one scant tablespoon into each buttered mold. Bake for about 10 minutes to a golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove pan from oven, invert and quickly knock madeleines out of pan. Serve soon!

PS Cool mold completely before baking again

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scuzza me

I knew when I bought my first shapely sweater from United Colors of Benetton that I was onto something; I was onto Italy. I adored everything Italian, and my younger sister and sidekick Sophie didn't have a choice but like it too. We even took an Italian class together where the teacher, according to Sophie, looked like an ice cream cone, very top-heavy that was. Nothing really stuck with us, except from that day on she has called me Sorella (which means sister in Italian), and she has probably forgotten my real name by now.

My boyfriend at the time suggested that we all visit the island of Elba. It was a long hot drive, and it involved an uncomfortable night in a small Ford Fiesta, since there was a ferry strike, but we saw the leaning tower of Pisa on the way and we were in Italy, yeah!

We camped out and spent our days sunbathing, swimming, drinking cappuccino and eating lots of pasta. We explored the charming island towns with sexy sounding names like Portoferraio, Capoliveri and Porto Azzuro and listened to Italian pop songs on the car radio singing along exuberantly. (I am not sure why Napoleon wanted to get away from here, we were perfectly happy!) In the evenings we drank plenty of Chianti, and while I stayed back with my rather boring boyfriend, Sophie rode off into the sunset with the waiter on his unmistakably-sounding Vespa.
Even the most basic pasta was exquisite. At lunch time at a tiny place right on the beach, we ordered the same thing every day: Spaghetti Napoli. It came to the table steaming hot, brightly colored and smelling heavenly aromatic. It was always served with a healthy pat of sweet vanilla-colored butter. Melted right into the simple tomato sauce, the butter made it rich, creamy and satisfying. Each time, the spaghetti was cooked perfectly al dente. We showered it with finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and twirled up the long strands with the help of a big spoon, grinning at each other across the table with crimson stained lips.

Napoli Pasta Sauce
inspired by Renée
Serves 4-6

6 ripe and fragrant tomatoes, 1 3/4 – 2 pounds
2 - 3 tb extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 large fresh basil leaves
Salt to taste

Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Drop in one tomato at a time, bubble for a minute and scoop out with a slotted spoon. Peel all the tomatoes, remove the core and chop into bite-size pieces. Gently heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions. Sauté for 10 minutes until translucent and soft, stir once in a while. Throw in the garlic for the last half minute until the mixture smells sweet and aromatic.

Add the chopped tomatoes with all the juices, season with salt and then add the whole basil leaves. Simmer for an hour or until the sauce is concentrated and fragrant. Adjust taste and blend, leaving it still a little chunky.

Serve over spaghetti with a knob of butter and plenty of parmesan cheese on the side.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Flat Whites

I have been a New Zealand fan for a long time, ever since I was a teenager dreaming about emigrating to far away places. I imagined outgoing people, the greenest pastures with many cuddly sheep, crystal clear lakes, incredible peaks, and an epic and mythological history. And that was way before the Lord of the Rings movies! When we were lucky enough to have our New Zealand friends ask us to join them on a trip, we didn't have to think twice.

I wasn't so far off with my daydream. On the South Island, we were immediately smitten by drop-dead gorgeous mountain ranges and fjords. I felt like I had stepped into a movie set and all the Kiwis were awfully nice. We moseyed on up with bikes, visited loads of charming wineries
and tried plenty of crisp and tasty Sauvignon Blanc. The men played on stunning golf courses, while my friend Catherine and I shopped for marvelously thin, non-itching wool sweaters.
When we got to the North Island, we stayed right above a fantastic black sand beach where we watched race horses being exercised in the wee hours of the morning. Our friends took us to their family beach house with a driveway so steep that I made them stop the car. I got out and happily walked through an extremely noisy rainforest admiring fat ferns, it felt a lot safer. Their darling cousins cooked us delicate whitebait fritters which we devoured with plenty of that easy to drink NZ wine.
Of course we ate lots of wonderful food. Lamb shoulder so tender it fell off the bone, briny green-lip mussels and delicate Pavlovas for dessert. I just drew the line when it came to Lamb's Fry! We had an ungodly amount of local bold and robust olive oil, and I was on a mission to drink lots of Flat Whites, a Kiwi coffee invention.

Here is my favorite official definition: “The flat white has less milk, less foam (hence flat white) and therefore proportionately more coffee than a latte. The desired texture is a velvety sensuality and there should also be a natural sweetness.” as quoted by Joseph Hoye from Electric Coffee Bean

I encountered lots of great "flatties", and I've already figured out that I need to go back. Meanwhile, I have a flat white whenever I can get my hands on one, and sometimes, I make this simple version of New Zealand's national dessert.

A very simplified “Pavlova”

Definitely a cop-out, but my friend Catherine tells me it's perfectly alright to take this shortcut; I even bought the meringue cookies. I happen to have a very good baker in the neighborhood, but the more ambitious approach would be to make home-made ones.

Makes 1 small serving

2-3 small meringue cookies
4 heaping tablespoons of unsweetened, stiffly whipped cream
¼ cup ripe strawberries or raspberries (other berries will work too)
1 Tb chopped dark chocolate
1 Tb toasted and chopped hazelnuts or almonds

Break cookies into bite size pieces. Mix berries, meringue and whipped cream carefully and fill into pretty dessert bowls. Sprinkle with chopped nuts and dark chocolate and eat immediately!