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Wednesday, October 31

Hokkaido Soup

I recently did a cooking class for some of my housewife friends in town.  They are all American Expat women and we’ve talked about me teaching a class for some time now and finally this past week that became a reality.

We had the class over lunch so it wouldn't interrupt our evening schedules with husbands or other commitments.  I planned to give recipes, tips, and cook with them.

Beforehand I asked what they wanted to learn and squash (because it’s fall) and chicken came up multiple times.  I therefore planned a menu around those two things.  The menu was Hokkaido (also known as Red Kuri) Squash soup, Butternut, Sausage and Penne casserole, Stuffed Chicken with Goat cheese and Basil and Baked Apples.  

Fall Squashes are underestimated; often they’re one thing people shy away from because they seem intimidating and people don’t know what to do with them or how to cook them.  Because of this dilemma, I almost always suggest trying different kinds of squashes in soup or pasta form. 

I came up with this recipe for its simplicity and comfort for this weather.  
Hokkaido (Red Kuri Squash) Soup
Serves 6

1 Red Kuri squash, 1 kilogram (2 pounds)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion
2 medium cloves garlic
6 sage leafs, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3- 4 cups water (depending on your preference for the thickness of the soup)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup cream

Preheat oven to 375°F or 190°C degrees.

Quarter the squash and remove seeds using a spoon.  If the skin is too thick, slice into smaller pieces and remove the seeds and meat.  Place the squash on (lined with aluminum foil) baking dish/pan. Bake for 40 minutes, or until tender.

Meanwhile coarsely chop the onions and garlic, separately.   

In a dutch oven or large saucepan set on the stovetop on medium heat, add olive oil and onion.  Sauté the onion in olive oil for 4 minutes.  (If the onions are browning too quickly, reduce the heat.)  Stir in garlic, sage leaves, herbs and a pinch of salt.  (Note about sage leaves, dried sage leaves are hard to find here in Germany so either use fresh, if available, or dried chopped sage leaves.)

Remove squash from the oven and scoop the flesh from the skin and add it to the dutch oven.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cook for a 4 minutes to meld the flavors into the squash.  Add water to the dutch oven and make sure liquid covers all of the squash.  If not, add more water. 

Increase heat to bring the liquid to boil.  Once boiling, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes.  Turn off heat.  Remove the sage leaves, if using whole leaves.  Using an immersion blender puree the soup.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, carefully transfer it to a regular blender or food processor and blend.

If the soup is too thick, stir in water.  Once blended, stir in smoked paprika. Taste and adjust salt and black pepper, if necessary.

Ladle soup into bowls and drizzle with cream.

I think everyone enjoyed the soup.  Suffice it to say, I loved teaching them and they enjoyed cooking new dishes.  They said their biggest takeaway from class was adding sufficient salt to foods.  If there’s one tip I share with people about cooking, it’s “salt as much as you think the food needs and then a little more.”  

This was teaching on a personal level and although I’ve enjoyed teaching strangers in the past, having friends in the room, laughing and candidly sharing stories made it more memorable.  And more importantly, having 6 sous chefs in the kitchen is a dream.  

adding bacon or pancetta (browned in a saute pan) to the soup is never a bad idea

Monday, October 29

Getting to Dublin

With the same friends that went to Oktoberfest with us, we traveled to Dublin Ireland.  None of us had been so it was a good long weekend trip to plan.  Our flight departed from Frankfurt airport at 7:10 so we planned to leave Nürnberg at 3.  That would give us enough time for dinner and parking.  We arrived in Frankfurt Altstadt and had a quick dinner at Shahi Curry.  The concept is simple, everything is premade and the food sits on a steam table.  There are 6- 8 (vegetarian and non vegetarian curries), customers get to pick any two and get a choice of rice or roti/naan.  The food was acceptable for a quick dinner.  

The driver in our group had her own car so she’d done research on cheap parking at Frankfurt airport.  Unfortunately, this parking lot was on the other side of the airport so it took us 25- 30 minutes to get to the lot.  When the shuttle bus driver asked us the flight name and departure time, he was astounded by our response, “Aer Lingus at 7:10.”  Looking at his watch, 6:10, he couldn’t believe we’d given ourselves less than 60 minutes to check in.  He repeatedly said it wasn’t enough time.  For a bus driver, he was kind and reckless.  He was speeding through the slow driving zones, only for us.  

Once we arrived, we ran to the Aer Lingus counter and the check in person was packing up his belongings and leaving the counter.  The husband and the driver in our group begged him to let us check in and he refused.  It was 6:26 and too late to check in for the Dublin flight.  He left and we were left wondering our next option.  We then approached a lady who was working at the information counter for Aer Lingus (last minute reservations).  She refused and suggested we book the flight the next morning for Dublin.  Unfortunately none of us wanted to stay in Frankfurt for the night so we asked and asked again.  Finally we started begging the woman to let us check in.  She finally caved and wrote us a boarding pass to get through security.  We ran to the gate (the fastest any one of us has ever ran in our lives).  

When we arrived at the gate, a younger guy was printing paperwork for the flight.  A call was made for all passengers to board the flight.  We told him we didn’t have a ticket and asked could we get one there?  He refused because he had already printed the passenger list and couldn’t print a new list or tickets. So we decide to stand in line, hoping to get in.  Nope.  The guy that walked away from us at the main counter was checking in the passengers and told us he couldn’t let us board without a ticket.  Having gone through the first hurdle, we refused to leave.  We requested to the younger guy, again, to print our tickets.  He called his manager to override and she told him the woman that wrote our boarding passes to get us through the gate was in big trouble for allowing us to get through less than 45 minutes before the flight departure.  She then allowed the override for the tickets and the younger guy printed them.  

We did make our flight that evening to Dublin but now we know we have to be there 45 minutes before the flight departure.  Also, Aer Lingus doesn’t allow online check an important note to be aware of.

Monday, October 15


Let’s declare that I am a terrible, terrible student.  Not only that but I am stubborn too.  When baking, the bottom line is I will do whatever the heck I please, because I can.   

We know from experience that I follow my own method for making something as basic as dough.   

This post shows that I will go as far as compromising pan dimensions (from an Internet search, herein lies A problem, sometimes the Internet tells you exactly what you want to hear or read) to fit my criteria.   

Germans love their Zwetschgenkuchen.  It literally means Plum cake but it's really a Plum tart.  When in season Italian plums sell fast.  So I had to make this before the plums went out of season.  Thankfully, I found a recipe for Zwetschgenkuchen.

In the recipe the author states that a pan the size of 11x7 is required or a round pan of the same size.  I don’t have that large pan but a round one, so what do I do?  Let’s first just state what a normal, logical person would do.  They wouldn’t make the recipe!  I, on the other hand, am convinced I have to make this cake-tart-thing so I find, using the amazing Internet, pan conversion site.  Joy of Baking, a-ha! 
It says a round pan that’s 9 x 1 1/2 inches will fit 6 cups of awesome plum cake-pie-thing, same as the 11 x 7 inch pan.  So I make this recipe.   

After rolling the dough out for the crust, I realize I have way too much dough for the round pan.  I had to halve the dough and re-roll it to fit the round pan.  I had already chopped 1 kilogram of Italian plums at this point so they were halved as well.  

Zwetschgenkuchen (Italian prune plum cake)
Makes 1 large tart or enough for two round tarts

150 grams or 11 tablespoons butter, room-temperature
170 grams or ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg, room temperature
400 grams or 3 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
100ml or scant 1/2 cup milk, room temperature
1 kilogram or 2 1/2 pounds Italian prune plums, pitted and cut into sixths
Streusel topping (recipe follows)

Cream butter, and sugar, then add the egg. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt and incorporate into the creamed mixture, along with the milk. Chill dough for at least 30 minutes.  (Dough keeps 1 week in the refrigerator.)

Roll the dough out on a floured surface and place on the bottom of a greased 11 x 7 inch, rectangular pan, (or if you’re feeling daring 9 x 1 1/2 inch round cake pan- this makes two round tarts), pressingly slightly at the edges to build up the sides of the cake.

Layer plum pieces to evenly cover the base.  Sprinkle streusel over top, and then bake at 350°F or 175°C for 35- 45 minutes, depending on the moistness and thickness of your cake and toppings.  (Start checking the tart at 35 minutes.) 

100 grams or 1/2 cup sugar
100 grams or 7 1/2 tablespoons butter
200 grams or 1 1/2 cups sifted flour
pinch of salt

Cream together sugar and butter, then mix in flour and salt.  Streusel can be stored in an airtight container, refrigerated, up to one week.  Press handfuls of the mixture together to form clumps of streusel before scattering over the cake.

Having said all that, I baked one Zwetschgenkuchen with divine results. Although I am laughing at myself for making a foolish mistake, it was worth the effort. 
We have extra dough and plums waiting in the fridge for round 2.  Tragic.

I must state Joy of Baking is very reliable and the author is not to be blamed for my error. 

Friday, October 12

Say it with me, München!

The husband and I have been to Munich few times and each time it feels like a city that’s busy but unlike New York City or Bombay where one feels cramped for space or overwhelmed with people, Munich’s full of history buffs.  Due to it's prominence in World War II, many tourists (read Americans) and Germans make a stop in Munich. 

The first time the husband and I visited we toured the city with a group and a tour guide and saw the key tourist attractions.  Some of our favorites are Viktualienmarkt and Feldherrenhalle.  We ate dinner at the famed Augustiner Bräu (brewery) restaurant.  That day was filled with learning about the Bavarian capital.

We went back for a visit to Münchner Residenz, Munich Palace.  The Palace was the former residence of monarchs and now is filled with royal items from those days.  We toured through the museum for the afternoon before heading to dinner. This time around, I’d done research on food and we went to a Mexican taco place.  (Mexican food is impossible to come by here in Nürnberg.)  Although tasty, it wasn’t  memorable.  Our search for great Mexican food in Germany continues.  
With mom visiting, Munich was top of the list.  Upon arriving mom and I stopped in at Viktualienmarkt for brunch.  We bought olives, cheese, bread, bier and Weisswurst and parked ourselves on one of the benches.  The rule on Weisswurst is it can only be eaten before 12pm.  I attest to this because at 11:59am, the butcher we got the wurst from was putting away the extra ones.   In the middle of the market there is a large area with benches that the public can use for a picnic.  The rule is to sit on tables without tablecloths because benches with tablecloths are reserved for restaurant customers.  We spread out the picnic and ate our brunch.  To my surprise, mom really enjoyed the Weisswurst. 

Post brunch we walked around Marienplatz and found this guy. Hey, any way to make a little money.  
We headed to Königsplatz and walked around briefly.  We weren’t interested in either exhibits so we paused in the shade before heading forward.   
We went to Olympia park first and then BMW Welt (world) since they are next to each other.  Although it’s nice to see the park where the 1972 games were held, it’s not extraordinary.  Most of the buildings were closed and the swimming pool pentre was only open to members.  
BMW Welt is neat and had a showroom with their newest models of cars.  The museum is located next door but mom didn’t wasn’t interested in seeing their antique cars so we didn’t bother.  (Mom isn't much of a museum fan.)
Englischer Garten was the final stop for the day.  I’d read about Chinesischer Turm, a biergarden with a restaurant, so we went there for dinner.  They had plenty of pork knuckles but we opted for the Hendl, half chicken, roasted potatoes and beers.  Overall the food was good.  Mom especially enjoyed the roasted potatoes, she never ceases to amaze me.  After dinner, we walked on one of many paths at the garden.  I wish I lived in Munich for the maze of running and walking trails at the Englischer Garten.  

The trip with my mom was memorable not because of any particular sight we visited but how much fun we had being with each other.  That day trip brought us closer together because we were both exploring a new, semi new for me, city and having fun and lots of laughs while doing it.  

Finally there was the well acclaimed Oktoberfest. Days after mom left Germany, we and some friends headed to Munich for Oktoberfest.Brief history- Prince Ludwig (the crazy guy) married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810.  To celebrate with the citizens of Munich, Ludwig hosted a massive party with bier and food in the open fields which is now the area the fest is held.

Like the true locals foreigners that we are, we both dressed up in Lederhosen and Dirndl. We arrived at 11:30 to get a table and have plenty of time to drink and eat. It's recommended to arrive between 12- 2pm (on a weekday) for a table. At 4pm, the only people allowed inside the tents are ones with reservations. I learned, for next time, pacing yourself with biers is the way to have a good time. I did not do that.

We didn’t stay for the late night madness but that was at my request.  It was grand celebrating Munich’s history in a large tent with locals and other foreigners over bier and pretzel.

Tuesday, October 9

Schwarzwald with a Guest

A lot has happened in the past few weeks and I am looking forward to sharing some of the adventures. We have been eating, well, both at home and on our travels. More importantly, my mom came to visit for three weeks. Lots of beer and food was had by all, of course, and we traveled some.

On her 2nd weekend here, we took a trip to Schwarzwald, better known as the Black Forest. We did a round trip from here through the southern part of the forest and ended up in Strasbourg and then back.

Our first stop was at Mummelsee which is beautiful especially on a cold, foggy morning. We ate our packed lunch there and then walked around the lake; it’s short 30 minute stroll. Then we were off to Triberg(er) waterfall, Germany’s highest. Although we didn’t hike to the top, we spent an hour at the there. We then walked around Triberg, the capital of Cuckoo clocks. We did not partake in the tradition of buying a clock, only because they cost an arm and a leg. Our last stop for the day was Hinterzarten. After the morning drive and touring we were all ready to settle into a comfy couch or bed for the evening. Hotel Am Bach was the place for relaxing. We’ve rented rooms from gasthouses before, small homes with few spare rooms for guests, however Am Bach is different from what we were used to. It’s large, spacious home with approximately 10- 14 rooms.
For dinner we went to Pizzeria Leonardo Da Vinci in the main square. The tomato bisque was incredible and the pizzas were acceptable. Post dinner, it was an early night and much needed rest for a long day ahead. The beds at Am Bach were very comfy and just what we needed. The next morning the breakfast was served in the dining room and included freshly baked breads, marmalade, cheese, sliced meats, juice, coffee/tea. I highly recommend this place if you’re in the area.

It was an early start to the morning with a stop at Titisee. Compared to Mummelsee, Titisee was much bigger. Unfortunately there wasn’t a path around the See to walk on so we admired the lake and the small public area that’s decorated with flowers. Parts of the See are blocked off by hotels for private beach area. We then drove to St. Blasien Dom with a farmer’s market in its parking lot. Food lovers that we are, we first browsed the market and then toured the church. Priorities. Unlike most churches we’ve seen in Germany, St. Blasien is beautifully recreated in Baroque architecture. The walls and columns are white which gives it a fresh and peaceful feel. Having seen fresh olives, bread and cheese at the market earlier, we bought our lunch for a picnic. With food in tow, we headed to Freiburg. We wanted to see the Schlossberg so we headed there straight. After driving 15- 20 minutes through the city and up a small mountain, we had a panoramic view of the city from the Schlossberg. Thankfully there were benches and we enjoyed our picnic lunch. Freiburg is a college town that has a small city charm. We visited the Freiburg Cathedral and then walked around the city for few hours. We stepped into a food shop that had amongst other things many varieties of homemade vinegar. We bought their top seller, apple-grapefruit vinegar. (I’ve made dressing with it already, really tasty.)

We especially enjoyed seeing the Bächle, open waterways throughout the city, in Freiburg. They’re gutters so don’t drink the water from them. No one did while we were visiting, phew.

For a late afternoon snack we stopped in at Café Schmidt for the famed Black Forest cake. It was tasty and unlike any cake we’ve had in America. It was multiple layers of crust, chocolate cake, cherry brandy cream and more chocolate.

We then drove to Strasbourg for the rest of the weekend. Arriving late, the only thing on everyone’s mind was dinner. Thankfully we found a French place that had an open table, La Petite Mairie, on 8 Rue Brûlée. It was a locals-only type of restaurant. I had the slow braised pork with onion marmalade and potatoes, the husband got the fish plate with baked Turbot and pan fried Salmon served over pasta and cherry tomato sauce and mom ordered the Cornish hen with roasted potato hash. And if that wasn’t enough we also had a basket of bread and an order of fries (which we did not order), both were on the house. Between the three of us, we had enough food for five people. That was one of the most memorable meals on the trip, delectable food and large portions.

Our full day in Strasbourg was filled with sights of the city including the Notre Dame, Le Petite France and a boat cruise on river Ill. Strasbourg feels very picturesque with its cobbled stoned streets, timbered houses with flower boxes on windowsills on the river. 
The next day we wondered through the streets and found wonderful items at the city flea market. It was fun browsing the stalls full of books (French), glassware, dinner sets and copper pots and pans. The French do love their copper-bottomed cookware. I, unfortunately, did not find a copper pot to bring home but instead a porcelain container to store sugar. Mom also found a set of porcelain jars for tea and coffee.

At that market, we came upon a food stand with a long line of customers. If there’s a line, it must be good. Following the locals, we ordered a Traditional and Gruyere version of the Flammkuchen, an Alsace specialty. It is dough flattened very thinly, covered with crème fraîche and topped with onions and ham. They are then baked in a hot wood oven for few minutes. The Gruyere version is the same topped with Gruyere cheese. This is a local specialty and it was an amazing find, worth the long, 30 minute, wait. Next door a vendor was selling local beer and wine so that made for a perfect lunch. 

Our final destination before heading home was Obernai, a town with some vineyards. Obernai is the part of an Alsace wine road that has wineries along the way. Our goal was to find wineries that sold their locally grown and produced wine. We found two wonderful wineries that met our needs. At each we bought Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Rosé.

This was exactly how we’d hope our trip would be; mom requested a tour through scenic Germany and she got just that with an added bonus of food and wine.