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Tuesday, May 29

1 Year

1 year ago today, our plane landed in Germany and we made Nürnberg our new home.  Last year has brought unusual challenges as well as thrilling adventures.  Although at times it felt like we would never see the light at the end of the tunnel, or in our case get internet, it’s been transforming.   And in the same breath, we are grateful for what we’ve seen, done and consumed.  We’ve traveled near and far, experiencing the culture and foods of European cities.

A year into this adventure I recognize that a new culture and a new language always bring unexpected surprises and this year has taught me us to face them head on.  (Since he moved from India to America as an adult, he’s experienced cultural shock from one country to another.  Fortunately he knew the language.)

We both can’t believe 1 year has already passed.   

Here’s to few more!

To celebrate this momentous occasion, I baked a German Chocolate Cake.  Before anyone rolls their eyes, I will be the first to say German Chocolate Cake is not German.  It was invented by Sam German in America many, many years ago.  So why bake a cake that’s not German, you ask?  Because it’s a chocolate cake.  And it’s comical for couple of Indians to devour an American cake with a German name in Germany.  And because it’s a chocolate cake, did I mention that?  With pecan and coconut filling!  That’s enough of writing about the cake. 

I followed Cook’s Illustrated recipe that was posted on Leite’s Culinaria.  I trust Cook’s Illustrated knows what they’re doing when they perfect a cake like this because they test and retest a recipe hundred many times.  

I also halved the recipe since 4 layers of the cake would be way too much.  The recipe I am posting is halved.  

German Chocolate Cake

2 large egg yolks
6-ounces evaporated milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
Pinch of table salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cups finely chopped pecans, toasted

2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/8 cup Dutch-processed cocoa, sifted
1/4 cup boiling water
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
1/3 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature 

Make the filling first
Whisk the yolks in a medium bowl over a saucepan with simmering water. Gradually whisk in the evaporated milk. Add the sugars, butter, and salt and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is boiling, frothy, and slightly thickened, about 6 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a bowl, whisk in the vanilla, then stir in the coconut. Let cool until just warm. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool, at least 2 hours or up to 3 days. Do not add the pecans now or they’ll become soggy.  

Make the cake next 
Preheat the oven to 350°F and adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position.

Combine the chocolate and cocoa in a small bowl and then add the boiling water over. Let stand to melt the chocolate, about 2 minutes. Whisk until smooth and let stand until room temperature.

Meanwhile, butter 8 x 8 inch-square by 2-inch-high straight-sided pan.  Dust the pan with flour, and tap out any excess flour.

In another bowl, sift the flour and baking soda. 

In a large bowl beat the butter, sugars, and salt with a hand mixer at medium-low speed until the sugar is moistened, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula halfway through.

With the mixer running at medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl halfway through. Beat in the vanilla, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With the mixer running at low speed, add the chocolate mixture, then increase the speed to medium and beat until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl once. (The batter may appear broken; this is okay.)

With the mixer running at low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat in each addition until barely combined. After adding the final flour addition, beat on low until just combined, then stir the batter by hand with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl. The batter will be thick.

Add the prepared batter evenly to the prepared cake pan, spreading the batter to the edges of the pans with the rubber spatula and smoothing the surface.

Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in the pans 10 minutes, then invert the cakes onto a greased wire rack. Cool the cakes to room temperature before filling, about 1 hour.  

Cake Assembling
Stir the toasted pecans into the chilled filling.  Set the cake on a cutting board and with a serrated knife held so that the blade is parallel with the work surface, use a sawing motion to cut the cake into two even layers.  Carefully lift off the top layer and set aside.

Distribute about 1/2 cup filling evenly on the cake, spreading the filling to the very edge of the cake and leveling the surface. Carefully place the upper cake layer on top of the filling.  Dust any crumbs off the platter and serve. (The cake may be refrigerated, covered loosely with foil, up to 4 hours. If the cake has been refrigerated longer than 2 hours, let it stand at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing and serving.)

Sunday, May 27

Running for Chicken Dinner

Now that the weather is suitable for outdoor activities, I’ve started running.  Actually we were both planning to run together to train for a race but his ankle has been bothering him, keeping him off the path.  He is getting his ankle looked at by a podiatrist.  He hopes to start training for a summer race so we hope the prognosis is uncomplicated.

I began running when my friend visited in February.  Before arriving she started training for a race and needed to continue training so I offered to run with her.  The first time we ran the temperatures were below 0 (Fahrenheit).  And the wind-chill was unfavorable for a run.  We ran couple more times before giving up on “below freezing running”.  She returned home, completed her race and inspired me to sign up for a race here.

In March, I started a program to train for a 10k.  10 weeks into the program, I am happy to pronounce it’s going well.  I’m enjoying my runs and I like it more than I thought I would.  I am hoping the husband is back on the horse and can start training so we can run together.

Recently when I completed a challenging 36 minute run, we celebrated with this dinner.

Stuffed Chicken with Risotto and Glazed Carrots

Serves 2, can easily be doubled

2 teaspoons butter, divided
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
8 ounces Risotto Rice
1/4 cup white wine
2-3 cups Chicken Stock, homemade or low sodium canned (vegetarian stock also works)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

In a saucepan, heat chicken stock on low and keep aside for when ready to use.

In a separate saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon butter and olive oil on medium low heat.  When butter is melted, add shallot and garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add risotto and stir it around the pan.  When rice is slightly brown on the edges, season with salt and pepper, then stir in white wine and cook until liquid evaporates, 1 minute.  Stir in 1/4 cup of warmed chicken stock to the risotto.  If the liquid is boiling or bubbling too hard when added to the risotto, turn down the heat.  When the stock has evaporated, add another 1/4 cup of warmed stock, stirring occasionally to coat the rice with liquid.  As liquid evaporates, continue adding stock one ladle at a time and stirring until risotto is completely cooked, 25 minutes.  Risotto is ready when it’s creamy but still has a slight bite on the inside.  It shouldn’t be mushy.  For best results start tasting after 20 minutes.  All 3 cups of stock may not be needed.  Remove from heat, stir in the other 1 teaspoon of butter and cheese.

Stuffed Chicken
2 Chicken breasts, deboned and skinned
4 ounces frozen Spinach, defrosted and drained
2 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil

Glazed Carrots
3 Carrots, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon Thyme
1/4 cup white wine
Salt & freshly ground pepper
touch of butter

While the risotto is cooking, heat a 10 inch skillet on a medium heat.

Slide a pairing knife in the thickest part of the breast, and then slice a horizontal slit through the middle. Open it like a book. (If it doesn’t lay flat, cut a little more on the inside.) Lay a wax paper on the chicken and pound the chicken breast with a meat mallet. A can or thick rolling pin also works. After pounding, it should be even in thickness, about 1/4 inch. Salt and pepper the inside of the breast. Place drained spinach on each breast and top it with cheese. Roll up the chicken from one end to another and season the outside with salt and pepper.

Add olive oil to the skillet and swirl around the pan. Add the stuffed chicken, seam side down; this keeps the chicken sealed and stuffing inside. Brown for 5- 7 minutes on the first side, don’t try to turn it or move it around at this stage. When browned, turn and brown the other side, 2 minutes.

Remove the chicken breasts from the pan onto a plate.  Add sliced carrots to the pan, season with salt and pepper. Deglaze the pan with white wine and add thyme.  Scrape up the browned bits from the chicken.  When the liquid is simmering, add chicken and the juices collected on the plate to the pan, cover and cook for 8- 10 minutes.  Add the touch of butter and remove from heat. Place chicken and carrots on risotto and serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 23

Tapas and Spanish Food

We tried a local Tapas restaurant, Santos, near our apartment recently. The atmosphere is cozy and intimate inside. There’s a dining area as well as an area with bar stools and high tops. We were seated at a table for two by the window looking out at the courtyard. Across the courtyard was outdoor seating for Altstadthof Hausbrauerei. We’ve had Altstadthof’s beer and enjoy it thoroughly, especially the Rotebier. Funny enough, we ended up at Altstadthof later in the evening to meet friends for few beers.

I digress. At Santos we ordered drinks, Spanish Chorizo, Patatas Bravas (roasted potatoes) with Romesco sauce, Pollo Rojo (Chicken in Red wine sauce), Calamari (Fried Squid), Bread with Aioli, Sardines in olive oil and garlic. The aioli was a stand out. On our last night in Palma Mallorca, my friend and I went to a fancy restaurant and ordered their homemade aioli, along with other foods. The server brought out freshly baked bread to eat with aioli and we both joked we filled our bellies that night with bread and aioli. It was that good! So I suggested to the husband he try the bread with aioli at Santos. He liked the combination but he wasn't blown away. Too bad. In his defense, in comparison the freshly baked bread with aioli in Palma was better than at Santos. The chicken thighs were tender and falling off the bone and the red wine sauce was notable. Calamari was delicate and fried flawlessly, not overcooked and chewy which is easy to do.  Sardines in olive oil were served cold, acceptable but I was hoping for a warm preparation. Spanish chorizo was thinly sliced and served like cold deli meat; the husband enjoyed it more than I did. Patatas Bravas were our least favorite of all the dishes. They were cooked fine but did not taste extraordinary. The romesco sauce was watery and too acidic from the tomatoes.

Having perused the menu post dinner, there is a larger list of drinks, wine and bier. We guess Santos is a cocktail bar that serves food to accompany. Overall a satisfactory dining experience but not an outstanding one.

Craving Spanish food, I made Chickpea, Meatball Stew from The New Spanish Table. I’ve only made handful of recipes from this cookbook and should cook more from it because everything has turned out really good.

Chickpea Stew with Chorizo and Meatballs
adapted from The New Spanish Table
Serves 4

For the chickpeas
1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 bay leaf

For the meatballs
10 ounces ground pork
1/4 cup grated onion
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon smoked sweet Spanish paprika
Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil

For finishing the stew
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon smoked sweet Spanish paprika
6 ounces Spanish Chorizo, sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper

Soak chickpeas overnight in cold water. Drain in colander and place drained chickpeas in a large saucepan with 2 inches of water to cover on high heat and bring to boil. Once the water is boiling, add bay leaf and reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered for 1 ½ hours. If foam rises to the top, skim off the foam with a slotted spoon. If the water level gets really low, add water to the pot. 

While the chickpeas are cooking, form the meatballs. Combine pork with grated onion, egg, paprika, salt and pepper. If the meatball mixture is too moist to form meatballs, place in the fridge for 30 minutes.  With oiled hands, shape the mixture into golf ball sized meatballs.  Heat olive oil in a large pan on medium heat and cook the meatballs until they are browned on both sides. Cook the meatballs in batches, if necessary.

In the same pan with the meatball drippings, add the onion, carrots, and garlic over a medium heat until they soft but not browned, around 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, paprika and chorizo, then cover the pan and cook for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Taste the chickpeas for doneness. If chickpeas are done, remove from water with a slotted spoon and add the chickpeas to the onion-tomato-chorizo mixture. If chickpeas are not done, continue cooking until done. In the meantime, turn off the heat for onion-tomato-chorizo mixture. Once chickpeas are added, add salt and freshly ground pepper and simmer on medium-low for 20 minutes. Add the meatballs at the end and simmer for another 10 minutes. Taste the stew and season with salt and pepper as needed. 

Serve hot or warm.

Saturday, May 19

Traveling with Transportation

One thing we’ve learned to rely on (and become fond of) is the available transportation in and around us. Nürnberg is very well connected to other major German cities as well as Europe. It also helps to be centrally located in Europe. We often check and use Deutsche Bahn for the long distance trips. Within Bavaria, we get the Bayern pass for 29 Euros and can travel the state in a short period. 

Although the rail network is extensive what many fail to understand is the cost of travel. One thing is obvious- living in Europe is expensive (compared to US). Given that, it is still perplexing to pay high prices for travel outside of Bavaria. If, for instance, we want to travel to Zurich for a weekend, average cost for tickets is 100 Euros/person. The only hitch is to plan 60- 90 days before the trip. This is also the case for traveling to other German cities outside of Bavaria, like Cologne (Koln) or Hamburg. Last minute booking and travel is not common here. After speaking with some coworkers the husband learned “last minute travel” is defined in 30 days, for Germans. And very rarely there will be deals for “last last minute travel.” Having lived in America and planned many trips last minute and traveling that very weekend, it’s taken some adjusting to this. 

And this isn’t just for rail travel. 

Air travel isn’t much different. Since Nürnberg isn’t a top 10 city for international travel in Europe, the flight options are limited. Of course, we have a functioning airport and there are many international flights yet finding deals for flights out of Nürnberg is a challenge. A discount carrier that flies out of Nürnberg is Air Berlin. It has reasonable deals (i.e. Mallorca) unfortunately other than Mallorca we haven’t found a steal. Other discount carriers like Ryan Air fly out of a city close to Munich, Memmingen. To get there, we’d have to travel to Munich and then a bus to Memmingen so although ticket deals (i.e. Dublin 60 Euros/round trip) are inexpensive, adding train tickets (a day pass for going and returning) and bus the total equates to taking the train from or flying out of Nürnberg. 

Car rentals are sometimes worth the deal and sometimes not. For instance, we rented a car recently for a trip to Austria and it turned out to be expensive (with the cost of gas). On the other hand, when we rented a car for Budapest, it was very inexpensive. Nonetheless, I pick train and plane over car. When road trips are 4+ hours it’s easier to be in a train where both passengers can be mobile and can enjoy the ride. 

The key to traveling in Europe is to look for deals in advance and book a port of transportation that is convenient and economical at the same time. 

Thankfully we still have plenty to see in Bavaria and those day trips will continue to happen. And at the same time plan our long distance trips well in advance.

Tuesday, May 15

Scones Delight

Speaking of Mallorca seeing all those citrus trees everywhere on the island, even in February, I had to buy couple kilos of Clementines and Oranges for the husband. Had to because he loves citrus fruit and will trade in his Fall Apple days for all-year-around citrus.  And he’d do it in a heartbeat.  You understand my husband’s obsession with citrus?  On the last day of our trip, while lugging around our bags and newly purchased olive oils, I made my final purchase at Palma Farmer’s Market.  I bought 1 kilogram of Clementines and 1 kilogram of Oranges.  The obvious difference I could tell were Clementines are sweeter in taste than their Orange counterpart.  And they have thinner skin (easy peel) compared to Oranges.

The Clementines were devoured within the first week.  And the Oranges were almost gone after few Sunday mimosas but with some left, we made delicious scones.

If you’ve never made scones, I suggest you try these.  The fresh orange zest coupled with cardamom, it is breakfast bliss.

We followed this recipe.  I am reposting here if you didn’t click on the original.

Orange Cardamom Scones 
Yields 8 scones

200 grams plain flour, sifted
1 scant teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
47 grams sugar
2 1/2 ounce unsalted butter, very cold
2 eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
56 grams blanched almonds, roughly chopped
2 Tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (if using fresh from pods, use 10 cardamom pods, cracked open and the black seeds crushed in a pestle & mortar)

1 egg
1 Tablespoon water
demarara sugar for sprinkling (also known as Turbinado sugar or sugar in the raw)

Preheat the oven to 450F. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Cut the butter into the flour with a fork or pastry cutter, or pulse in the food processor until you have the texture of coarse sand. Don't worry about seeing little bits of butter in the flour, this keeps the scones flaky.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and cream together and add the orange zest, and cardamom. Add the flour into the egg and cream, add the almonds and stir quickly to combine. Do not beat the mixture, just stir gently to form a rough ball shape. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead no more than 3-5 times.

Press the dough into a 3/4 inch thick flat circle.  Cut the dough in 8 equal slices, like cutting pizza into equal slices.
Put the scones onto an ungreased baking sheet with 1 1/2 inch space between each scone. Make the eggwash by beating the egg and water together and brush the top of each scone. Sprinkle with demarara sugar.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.

Mark Bittman tips- do not over knead the dough or the scones will be dry.  And try to avoid adding too much flour as you knead, the dough is much softer than a bread dough and will be slightly sticky to the touch.

Thursday, May 10

Spring has Sprung

We had a moment recently. One of those where he reminded me that he doesn’t like Rhubarb. After I’d slaved over baking The Crumble. And this is where the moment intensified. He said, “remember last year when you made something with rhubarb and strawberry and I didn’t enjoy it?” Yes it all came back to me. He doesn’t like Rhubarb. We’ve tried few times with the same results. So we I decided last night, each spring when I see Rhubarb at the farmer's market, I’ll buy it, make something delicious with it and then he’ll remind me post-eating, of course, he doesn’t like Rhubarb. And then I won’t make anything with it until the next year. This compromise works for both of us, I think. I get my annual fix and he doesn’t have to eat it more than once a year.

This is really a simple and delicious recipe if you enjoy this tart Spring fruit. With the addition of nuts, hazelnuts (walnuts would work in a pinch) it's splendid.  

Rhubarb Crumble
Serves 2-4

1/2 ounce butter
1 Pound rhubarb, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 ounce sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 ounce all purpose flour
2 ounce butter, cold and cubed
1 1/4 ounce sugar
1 1/4 ounce loosely packed brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts (use any nuts you have on hand)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8x8 square baking dish.

On medium heat, add butter to a saucepan, followed by rhubarb, sugar and vanilla. Cook until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved, about three minutes. Stir occasionally. Add the filling ingredients to the buttered baking dish.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour and butter. Rub the butter into the flour with hands or use a fork. Mix until the flour and butter resemble a coarse texture. Add in the sugars and the nuts and mix well. Scatter the topping over the rhubarb filling.

Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until bubbly and browned.

Allow the crumble to cool five minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature. Vanilla ice cream is the best accompaniment.