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Monday, December 23

Cookie Experiments

I’ve been on a cookie baking kick for the past couple weeks. I want to bake and share the goodies with the husband’s coworkers, for no reason at all. For someone that hates taking food to work, he has been patient about the cookie experiments.

Though I will be the first to write, some cookies haven’t been as successful as others. For instance, I tried theseblack and white cookies. My cookies were cakey and I wasn’t impressed. (A learning experience in this experiment is red food coloring; it is hard to find the “typical coloring” here in Nurnberg. I’ve bought from multiple shops and the bright, Christmasy hue of red that is expected isn’t there.

However I am happy to say this one is a keeper. Some of my friends and adamant blog followers (all 2 of you) will recognize this cookie as the Alfajores (best known from Spain and South American cultures). But there are some differences in the recipe; I did not use dulce de leche as the filler and no eggs in the cookie dough. They look like Alfajores but I call mine Hazelnut & Caramel cookies. And they are perfect for Christmas. Bake few and share some, your spouse’s coworkers will thank you.

Hazelnut & Caramel Cookies
Makes 24

220 grams or 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
80 grams or 1/2 cup ground hazelnut flour
60 grams or 1/3 cup brown sugar
210 grams or 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, diced

Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C

Put hazelnuts on a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place in the preheated oven. Toast for about 10 minutes, stirring halfway. Be careful not to burn them.

Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, grind nuts in a food processor for about 20 seconds.

In the same processor, combine ground nuts, flour, and brown sugar. Add butter and process until mixture just starts to form dough. As the dough forms into a ball in the processor, it will move away from the edge. Remove from the processor and form into a cohesive round ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. Remove dough from the fridge and let it come to room temperature for 5 minutes.

Sprinkle a little flour on the counter surface. Flatten the dough and using a rolling pin roll to 1/4” thick round. With a round cookie cutter, cut out the shape and place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. If there is leftover dough from the cutouts, re-roll the dough into 1/4" and cut more rounds. Place the pan with the cut-out cookies in the fridge for 20- 30 minutes. (The re-refrigerating helps the cookies keep their shape. )

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden.

Let the cookies rest in the pan for 2-4 minutes and then carefully place them on a cooling rack.

For caramel sauce, use this recipe from SimplyRecipes; for detail description with photos, be sure to follow her instructions. They are spot-on! I halved the caramel recipe for the cookies.

Place 1 tablespoon of caramel sauce on the bottom side of one cookie. Place another cookie (of approximate same size) on top. Make sure you have two bottoms facing each other when making a cookie sandwich. Finish with the other cookies.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have made an uneven number and can snack on 1 or 3.

Tuesday, December 17


In late September we attended a wedding on Chiemsee, Bavaria’s largest lake. The wedding was of an American to a German. The ceremony was mostly German but we understood when they were married, especially when they kissed.

On other days we explored on our own and visited one of King Ludwig’s castle, Herrenchiemsee. Ludwig built the palace as a replica to Versailles Palace. He was obsessed with admired Louis XIV and built the castle in his honor. Unfortunately Ludwig didn’t enjoy his masterpiece because he died (drowned/committed suicide/never came back from his lake trip, his death is questionable) before the castle was completed.

And the boat cruise around the lake is fun, on a nice (clear) day. If you have a spare weekend and happen to find yourself in the area, Chiemsee deserves a visit.

We loved seeing this grandma and granddaughter by the horses. I was especially amazed to see both women in their traditional clothes. We have learned from speaking with others, in parts of Southern Bavaria individuals wear dirndl or lederhosen on a whim, without a particular reason. Sometimes a beautiful day is a great reason to dress up.

Thursday, December 12

Apotheke is a what?

One of the first things we do with guests is a walking tour of the old city, inside the walls, Altstadt. And each time, we fall in love with Nürnberg all over again. There’s a new hidden gem that I haven’t seen or discovered before. We both are lucky to have the opportunity to live here and call it home.

In addition to the gems, the city is massed with Apothekes. Apotheke is a drug store in the traditional sense, a pharmacy. They sell over-the-counter medication as well as the doctor’s prescriptions. There are cough drops, runny nose soothers, headache tablets, dry-skin lotion, dandruff shampoo, heavy duty stomach bug relievers and much more. So it’s an American drug store (imagine CVS) as well as the behind the counter pharmacy rolled into one. (without the diapers and hair curlers, there’s DM and Mueller for that.)

What I like about the German Apotheke is a common cold does not require a trip to the doctor’s office because the pharmacists are able to prescribe something that sooths the ailment. One time when I was refilling my prescription a family of four (they looked like tourists with their maps in hand) asked for an ointment for the younger kid that had scraped up his knee. The pharmacist made a recommendation based on what she saw. This is logical because it’s a recommendation from a professional and prevents a trip to the doctor’s office. Another time, I was recovering from a cold that refused to go away and when I went back the second time she recommended a pill in powder form. Once I bought it, she gave me a glass full of water to take my initial dose.

Apothekes prevents self-prescribing; unlike in America where individuals think they know the problem and buy over the counter pills. Also, pharmacists at Apotheke do not fill prescription without a doctor’s note or prescribe hard drugs without prescription so one can’t walk in and ask. In simple words, German culture disproves using prescriptions for simple problems. This is a welcome change from what we’re used to in America where all ailments have one solution, drugs.

A drawback is a doctor would thoroughly check the ailment in an appointment where a pharmacist does not. The other drawback is this reinforces policing the population. Although I don’t like “the idea” of the government or Big Brother telling me what I should and shouldn’t take, I have grown to like it because people can’t self prescribe medications.

What we haven’t figured out is why there are so many Apothekes in such close proximity. There are 4 in walking distance from our apartment. (And those are ones near us.) I joke that although Germans are cautious in taking medicine for simple colds, they must love knowing that a pharmacy is around the corner when that emergency arises.

The idea of pharmacy and prescribing medicine has been around for long time and we learned in a Pharmacy Museum in Heidelberg that many Germans chose Pharmacy as profession pre war era. Due to the conditions of the country post war, there were fewer pharmacists until recently.

Saturday, December 7

Tuscany- Part II

About that trip I was telling you about.

The next morning we drove to Gaiole for few more tastings. The first stop was Barone Ricasoli. The history at Ricasoli is interesting, being the oldest winery in Tuscany and Barone Ricasoli was the first to write the Chianti recipe and marketing to importers in the 1800s thus putting the region on the wine map. Additionally, parts of the castle are preserved with artifacts from Barone Ricasoli’s era. The brief castle tour is worthy.

The Enoteca at the bottom of the hill hosts tastings. It is a fancier environment with modern décor. Post tasting, we went to the town of Gaiole for lunch and little sightseeing. Unfortunately, there was a bike expo that day so the town was filled with bike stalls and full of bicyclists. We found a lunch spot on the fly at i galletto briaco Ristorante Pizzeria. As soon as we sat down, the host announced,” no pizza!” Instead we ordered Ribollita (typical Tuscan soup with kale and white beans), penne with tomato sauce, ravioli with sage and butter sauce and mozzarella sticks. The sticks were a disappointment, not surprisingly; the nonna in the kitchen probably rarely fries up breaded mozzarella unlike chain restaurants in America. My ribollita was perfect and exactly what I was craving. I tasted a lot of onion and carrots as the base for flavoring. The husband’s ravioli was rich and creamy and our friend said the tomato sauce with penne had good flavor.

Castello D'Albola was the next planned winery. They offer tours and tastings for free and both were worth the visit. This was the first tour I learned about the grapes grown on site, and wine production.

And to finish off, we went to Poggio Alloro for tour, tasting and dinner. This place has been around since the 1970s and started by 3 brothers who wanted to produce wine and a farm to grow olives, saffron and vegetables. As of recent, the farm raises cows for meat. We learned of the struggles the brothers faced to start this vineyard. Notably, we saw one of the brothers working at his age on the farm. Followed by the tour, we sat outside and watched the sunset and the city of San Gimignano in distance with our wine tastings, olives, bread and cured meats.

Dinner started promptly at 8 and again it was communal. This time, the room was much larger, the guest list longer, the options diverse and proportions large. There were many things we ate that night; to name the outstanding ones were an appetizer with baked polenta topped with ragu and a frittata. The risotto was a little under done but cooking for a large group, daily can have possible mishaps. The main course was turkey with veggies and though it was good, I was sad we weren’t eating the steak from the cows. We finished with a Panna cotta. There were unlimited breads, cured meats, olives, water and house wine. You can’t go wrong with a place that lets you eat like a king.
Walking away from dinner, one distinctive quality of Poggio Alloro is their customer service. Everyone was extremely friendly, willing to answer any of our questions and very accommodating. I highly, highly recommend Poggio Alloro for a tour, tasting and dinner. If not all, at least the dinner. Reserve for Saturday’s communal dinner to have the steak.

The next day was rainy and cold so we toured San Gimignano. With interesting history, this town is medieval, walled-in, and has 14 towers still standing that encompass the old town. This should be on everyone’s list to visit because of its small town charm. We ate Gelato in a shop that has won “best gelato award” for few years. The artisan that makes the gelato is well recognized in Italy and sought after.

As a total surprise, my husband and the other husband planned a cooking class for us. I had no idea what was going on when the two women showed up and said “We’re here for the cooking class.” It was a delightful surprise. With the help of the cooks, we cooked Bruschetta with Raddichio and Cheese, Squash Blossom Zeppole (Italian fritters), stuffed Veal (stuffed with prosciutto, sautéed zucchini, and omelet), Pici (local pasta) with tomato sauce and basil, and Flortentine cake. Phew. We were thrilled to learn to make simple (eggless) pasta and stuffed Veal. Overall this was a magnificent experience.

Tuscany is exactly as I had imagined but so much more when experiencing it in person. Everywhere we looked there are rolling hills covered in vine groves and dotted with cypress trees. It is scenic. Chianti wine is fruity and pleasant with a meal or on its own. We learned of a new white grape grown only in the region of San Gimignano, Veranacci, it subtly tastes like Sauvignon Blanc which we are not fans of. The local cheese is Pecorino and if the local producer is selling it, stock up. We bought 1.5 kilos (we drove to Tuscany to bring back wine and cheese) from a cheese shop that produces pecorino, ricotta and few other cheeses.

October is one of the better times to visit; it’s the beginning of harvest season so the vines were full of grapes, ready to be picked. Unfortunately that also means many wineries do not offer tours or tastings however we found enough that offered tours and/or tastings. And this trip was extra fun because of our friends. Eating typical Tuscan food, drinking wine and sharing laughs will make this as an unforgettable trip.

Sunday, December 1

Tuscany- Part I

After Dublin Ireland, this was our 2nd trip, traveling with friends. Although we’ve traveled with family this year, we wanted to make this trip with some friends. When they suggested a trip to the Tuscany region of Italy for wine and food, we agreed, of course.

There was weeks of planning that went into this trip. We were going with someone that’s a planner, like myself. We had 2 days of wine tastings planned, 1 daytrip to a city and another day to relax and take-in Tuscany.

After arriving on Wednesday evening, we had 20 minutes to unload our car and drive to dinner. We asked our Villa host directions to the restaurant and she said, in broken English, at the end of the road, turn left. Of course our GPS gave us an alternate route. Relying too much on technology, we followed the GPS and were completely lost. Thankfully with a phone call to the restaurant and directions, we got there 10 minutes after 8pm.

We ate at Agriturismo Il Vecchio Maneggi, communal style with 10 other guests. The host is a nonna that loves to feed her guests until we can’t eat anymore. We had multiple courses of cured meats, Farro soup, gnocchi, pork with saffron laced potatoes and salad, local (pecorino) cheeses and dessert. Our favorite were the farro soup, mashed potatoes with saffron and the cheeses with honey. There was always a full bottle of house wine on the table so unlimited wine was a bonus. The price is reasonable and the meal is worth the trek out to this agriturismo. During dinner, we learned they have few rooms for guests to stay and offer cooking classes. And if all that weren’t enough, they sell housemade wine, honey and oil on site.

The next day we left early and headed to Greve for wine tastings. First was Castello di Verrazzano for a beautiful view of the heart of Tuscany. The tour was engaging, especially the cellar with their iced grapes for dessert wine and displaying barrels of chianti.

Next was Castello Vicchiomaggio, down the street and across the hilltop from the first. We had the opportunity to try their wine at the shop and then walk around the winery’s garden, church and premises. For good views, both of these wineries in Greve are the place to visit on a beautiful, sunny day. For lunch in Greve, we stopped in at Enoteca Fuoripiazza in the smaller square. I recommend this for a quick lunch amidst wine tastings. It doesn’t offer gastronomic treasure of Tuscan specialties however the pasta and the meat dishes were fair. The restaurant host suggested we walk to the main square in Greve. The square is small and charming with a bread shop, butcher shop and a city building.

While driving to the next winery the husband pulled into an unassuming winery with a “We sell wine” sign. We rang the cowbell hanging on the door and within minutes pulled up a woman in her car. We tried their house wine as well as olive oils to buy. The husband and I were impressed with both. It was one of the most inexpensive wines we’d bought on the entire trip, costing 6-7 Euros/bottle.

Another winery we visited was Fattoria le Fonti which is impossible to find in the hilly town of Panzano. Although there are signs, we were going in circles trying to find the place. At last, we did find it and had a brief tasting. The woman that was doing the tasting was from Germany and interning for a short time. It was fun to speak German with her. She explained the owner is German who quit his job and bought the winery and works there full time. What a dream come true.

Dinner was at Taverna Bibbiano. That particular evening was Latin night with karaoke music and buffet. We opted out of that option and ordered a la carte from the menu. Instead of ordering by courses, we ordered an appetizer, a meat dish, and pasta, all to share. Our friends ordered three pastas to share. Our wild boar (chiangale) ragu with polenta was good however the polenta was cold, disappointing. And our friends said their risotto wasn’t very good. Other dishes were fine; the dinner was average. Although the meal wasn’t memorable, the evening was. When we were almost finished with our meal, we saw people run after something with big sticks. With the help of another restaurant guest, we learned there was a thief and they were chasing him off property. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen or heard of someone running after a thief with a wooden stick.