Bärlauch

Ah, spring. Spring means that the lovely, lovely seasonal fruit and vegetable bounty starts. In the German cycle, early spring means that Bärlauch becomes omnipresent on the menu. People go crazy for this stuff! Known in English as ramsons, or bear’s garlic, among other aliases, it is a wild realtive of chives.

I had bought a bunch of leves from the market and put it into Chinese dumplings, soups, and used it as garnishing. I got myself a lovely jar or leek pesto from my favorite pickle and mustard maker.

Although I have been trying to plant them on my balcony, my attempts to grow them have never been sucessful. Apparently the prefer a speciaI kind of soil, in forests, with slightly acidic soil. I never try to gather them in the wild, as I am not exprienced enough to distinguish it from its doppelgänger, the lily of the valley. The season is almost over in Germany, but it should just be starting in the US, after a long and hard winter.

Der Perfekte Schnitzel

Schnitzel is something that many cultures have, claim to have invented, and love to eat. Really, it is impossible for a meat eater like me not to like. My first favorite Boneless Breaded Pork Chop came from one my beloved greasy spoons near my university, BRB. If you know where BRB is, then you know where I went to university in the Philippines. It is what I exclusively ordered when I ate there, with rice, a small side of coleslaw, and sweet and sour sauce.

Then I met Pork Tonkatsu. We met at a small Japanese restaurant at the side of the A building of SM Megamall, which I am pretty sure doesn’t exist anymore. I loved eating Tonkatsu-Don, which is chopped up porkchop in a rice bowl, if I was not in the mood for Tempura.

Then of course, I landed in Germany, the land of ze Schnitzel. Please don’t say that to Austrians, as they would get very upset. Yes, ze Germans eat Schnitzel with noodles, but mostly with potato or potato dumplings, a side of boiled cauliflower or broccoli, in a butter-breadcrumb sauce, and a lemon wedge that is squeezed over the Schnitzel.

schnitzel1German Schnitzel is made of pork slices, while the Wiener (Viennese) Schnitzel is calf. Yes, baby cows that go moo. It took me a few years to get Schnitzel right, I really had the hardest time with it! The first few years I started cooking Schnitzel, it really looked awful because they were almost charcoal. Pan frying them made the crust brown and the meat raw! Until a Schnitzel that I ate while on vacation in Heigenbrücken changed my life. It was really the most perfect Schnitzel I’ve had in my life, and the lady who owned the place was generous enough to tell me her secret: Schnitzels are deep-fried.

DUH!!!

It really was the simplest thing on earth, really, and I smacked myself in the head for not thinking that. I immediately experimented once I got home, and I’ve been churning out great Schnitzels since then. As you see in the picture above, Schnitzel is just basically pork slabs, eggs, and breadcrumbs.

Firstly, choose the meat wisely. Pork well-marbled with fat is the best bet for Schnitzel. Not too fatty! Just marbled. Then heat a scary amount of oil into a shallow pan or skillet. The Schnitzel must “float,” as the lady said. A cup of oil (about 200 ml) in medium-high heat in a small pan is enough. Germans have different techniques in tenderizing the meat. Some use their fists, other a meat tenderizer mallet. I use the blunt edge of a knife and “chop” the meat sidewards and lengthwise. Then season it with salt and pepper (preferably cracked), dip it in egg, roll in the breadcrumbs, and straight into the pan. Wait for one side to becoome brown, turn once, and that is it!

It really is the simplest things that are the hardest to master, and it took me three to four years of burned Schnitzel before I was able to consistently make the perfect Schnitzel

Yay Waffles!

Yay! Got myself a new waffle iron for Christmas. So I get to make waffles, thus ending the monotony of Saturday morning pancake breakfasts. It came with a cookbook on how to make waffles, it is quite easy.

For 20 waffles:

A block of soft butter or margarine (250 g), 200 g sugar, 2 packets vanilla sugar, 5 eggs, 500 g flour, 5 g baking powder, and 400 ml milk.

Scramble the eggs, stir in the sugar and the butter/margarine into a smooth dough. Add the vanilla sugar, flour, and baking powder. Slowly add the milk until the batter has a smooth consistency.

The batter is much heavier than pancake batter, it doesn’t run or spread as much as pancake batter, and has a stiffer consistency after cooking,

I was also pretty stoked that I got a Raclette grill, cookbooks galore (I Know How to Cook and The Silver Spoon), and new china. What did you get for Christmas?

Zum Alten Schwan–Erfurt

Salmon with leeks, juniper foam, on a bed of sauteed winter vegetables and parsley mashed potatoes.

In the whole rush of Christmas activities, I have been quite remiss with my blogging activities. One of the parties that I attended took place in the Restaurant “Zum Alten Schwan,” which belongs to a hotel in Erfurt. The building itself is quite old, as it was built in the 13th century, but the restaurant is relatively new. It is also located right in the city center, just behind the historic Krämerbrücke, which is an added plus.

It sells itself as a fine dining establishment, but I would rather classify it as somewhere in between. The food is delicious, the restaurant serves traditional German food with a twist, and a three course meal set us back at least 30 euros per person. So value for money-wise, it is a good deal. They deal with the comfortable and familiar, so don’t expect cutting-edge cooking here.

It was a very satisfying dining experience. The only thing that bothered me are the restrooms. They were so antiseptic-looking that I thought I was in a hospital, not at a hotel. Definitely time for a renovation!

zum Alten Schwan

Gotthardt Str. 27

99084 Erfurt

Do NOT Disturb A Hungry Man

I like this fellow Patrick Stäbler. He’s a journalist. He likes food. He’s adventurous. In these points we have a lot in common. However, his curiosity has taken him somewhere I haven’t been yet. Namely through Germany. Patrick, who is quite the gourmet, has realized that he eats Sushi more often than he does Schweinhaxe. So he goes on a journey to eat obscure regional dishes from each of Germany’s 16 states.

So to make the trip a whole lot more difficult and interesting, he decides to hitchhike to his destinations and crash at people’s apartments along the way. He wrote a blog, and found himself a publisher. The book, Speisende Soll Man Nicht Aufhalten, has a double meaning in German. You could translate it like I have in the title, or as “Do NOT Stop for a Hungry Man.” Then his trip became part of the Leipzig “Iss Was!?” exhibit, which is how I decided to stop by the gift shop to get the book.

In between bites of funny-sounding unheard-of specialties like Dibbelabbes or Schnüsch, he eats other, more popular regional specialties like Döner and Currywurst. And he meets a motley crew of people along the way, like the chic Russian nurse who commutes from Germany to Luxembourg, to the neo-Nazi who took him to Berlin.

The book is funny and well-written, I feel that he tries too hard at some places,  but that is okay, since his earnestness is winning. Like most blog turned books, the book has a chronological narrative, and can seem boring at times, especially when he describes the days when he could not get anyone to pick him up.

It was strange to read Patrick rhapsodize about German dishes. Maybe it’s just Thuringia, but I do not experience a vielfalt of flavor when I eat German food. It has basically three different flavors: sweet, salty, and fatty. Maybe sour if you eat Sauerkraut or Sauerbraten. Let’s just say that while I like a good Braten, the taste palette is sehr begrenzt.

In general, I would recommend this book for people who want to prepare obscure German dishes (the recipes are in the book), for immigrants who want to learn more about Germany (provided that your German is at a B1-B2 Level), or for anybody who likes German food in general. I hope that it’ll be successful enough to warrant an English translation. And if you are ever in Berlin, the best Döner I’ve ever had was right across the road from the Zoobahnhof. Alas, I think it doesn’t exist anymore.

Food and Germans

I went to Leipzig, a bit too early for an appointment. I had time to kill, so what do you do? Go to one of Leipzig’s many free museums! And as luck would have it, The Zeitgeschichtliches Forum Leipzig has a temporary exhibit on the eating and drinking habits of zee Germans.

It chronicles how people ate in Post-war Germany, and how food and shopping habits developed in both East and West, and after re-unification.

Highlight for me was seeing “Das Buch für Gute Speise,” the oldest German cookbook, in the flesh! I’ve downloaded it a few years ago and have been wanting to cook some recipes from it, but I haven’t really found the time. Maybe I will! I also ended up buying a book, which will be reviewed in this space in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

Zeitgeschichtliches Forum Leipzig
Grimmaische Straße 6
04109 Leipzig
Tel: (03 41) 22 20-0
Exhibition will run until February 2, 2014

Christoffel

Erfurt is a town that has an intact city center that dates back to the middle ages. Walking through its cobblestoned streets, it is not hard to imagine what it was like before there were cars, the internet, or the invention of the deodorant.

But I digress. What is a medieval town without a hokey medieval restaurant? I’ve been to Christoffel a couple of times, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience, as long as you don’t take anything too seriously. From the court jesters to the use of faux olde Deytsche, Christoffel is a fun place to spend an evening.

The portions are huge, and I’ve never been disappointed by any of the grilled meats that they have served. The photo above is a platter of eat-all-you-can ribs, and I was so stuffed that I had to take home two of them.

This is the place to take an American visiting Erfurt. It has a very Disneyland/Ren Faire vibe to it, and be forewarned none of the dishes are authentic medieval (gasp!). If it were, we should be eating turnips and horsebread. Although sometimes I do wonder if the guests actually buy that. I get the impression that they do.

Wirtshaus Christoffel

Michaelisstraße 41

99084 Erfurt

Suki

What does the word suki mean? For a person who runs a household, everything.

Suki is a Filipino word, which in German, translates to Stammkunde, or a regular customer of a particular shop.

Gaumenfreude in Erfurt is a pop-up shop that sells their own mustard mixes, jams, condiments, and sauces. They also sell preserves from the region, things like Sauerkraut and pickles made the old fashioned way–without any vinegar used to preserve them!

I always buy their Bärlauch Senf or mustard. Bärlauch, a wild relative of leeks, is a German obsession in the spring. They collect them when they can find them in woods and parks everywhere. Of course they were going to pair it up with mustard, Germany’s favorite condiment.  I love this particular mustard so much I use it on everything! Dips, sauces, and as a seasoning for stewed meat.

Gaumenfreude’s stall can usually be found at the Erfurt farmer’s market on Saturdays or whenever there is a festival in the Erfurt-Weimar area. The man at the shop recognizes me already, and always gives me something to nibble on as a thank you. Last time we saw each other, he wanted to give me a cherry. But since I love me some pickles, I asked for one. 😀 The perks of a suki.

Elderberry Syrup

I am slightly allergic to Elderberry sap, but it doesn’t stop me from making Elderberry syrup. This recipe has ensured that I make at least a batch every year. Three tablespoons of syrup mixed with a glass of water is amazing! Citric acid is a powder can be bought in drugstores and is used to remove scale in coffee makers and electric kettles.

With the prolonged winter, the elderberry flowers are just starting to bloom. My gloves will come out of hiding, and syrup-making season has arrived this year at last! And for people in tropical countries, your local IKEA should be selling them 🙂

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter everybody! I hope you all had a great time with family and friends. In the picture above, I have featured two traditional Easter baked goodies in Germany: sweet bread with raisins, and Easter lamb. Easter lamb-shaped cake tins  are available here around Lent, and in some churches, churchgoers bake them and are given to  elderly parishoners who could not go to church anymore. The sweet bread one is a one-eared bunny made by my son and his Oma. 🙂

I am usually skeptical of recipes that are printed on the box. As I child, I used to rip off Del Monte can labels and save the recipes at the back. Now I know that they are used as advertising. This time, following the box recipe saved me from doing unnecessary research. This recipe comes from the box of the cake form featured on my link.

You would need:

2 small eggs, 60 g sugar, 65 g soft butter, 1/2 sachet vanilla sugar (I used 1/2 Tablespoon), a pinch of salt, 15 g flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, and some icing sugar. Lemon flavoring/extract optional

Separate the eggs. In a small bowl, beat the egg whites, adding 30 g of sugar bit by bit until stiff. In another bowl, beat the yolks with the rest of the sugar, melted butter, vanilla sugar and salt until foamy. Add in the lemon flavoring if so desired. Mix the flour and baking powder in a cup, and add it the yolk mixture, and mix with a spatula. Fold in the beaten egg white until well-incorporated. The result is a mass that is somewhere between batter and dough.

Grease the baking form by brushing the insides with melted butter, and close the form and secure with the clips provided. Turn the cake tin upside down, and pour the batter into it. Bake it upside down for 180°C top-and-bottom heat for about 30 minutes. Test the center with a stick.

If you need the cake in a jiffy, take out the cake tin, let it cool, wrap the tin with a wet kitchen towel for 10 minutes and gingerly release the lamb from the tin and saw off the bottom part to even it out.

I was too lazy, so i just waited until completely cool and removed it from the cake form.

Dust with powdered sugar with a small sieve, dot the eyes with chocolate or raisins. Enjoy!