Advent, Advent, Ein Lichtlein Brennt

Christmas Wreath

I am a big sucker for tradition. This year was no different, except for the fact that The Kid has reached an age where there are things that MUST be done. He has fully embraced Christmas, and was so excited to trim this year’s tree.

Believe it or not, my six-year old decorated the advent wreath you see above. All by himself! I may have added a few touches, putting in the candles and bundling up the pine switches around the hay base.

I am so proud to see The Kid blossom into his own person, expressing his tastes and using his creativity to decorate for Christmas. It makes me even more excited for December 25!

Goin’ Nuts

It seems like fall has come all too soon in these parts, with the nights turning colder and the days shorter. Can it already be autumn at the beginning of September? And here I was, hoping for an Indian summer. But no matter, it is here, and I am glad.

Late summer is my favorite time of year. The gardening season is winding down, fruit falling off the trees, colors are starting to deepen. Apples are already making an appearance, pears are too. It’s time to make apple sauce. It’s time to assess what could be improved next year, ideas on what new herbs and plants should be planted next. The last time you could spend a warm summer night on the balcony, relaxing with a glass of wine.

I am still amazed how many fruit and nut trees grow in the streets of Erfurt. Just keep your eyes open, and things start revealing themselves. Walnuts have already started ripening and falling off trees, picking them from trees while when I go on walks. I’ve also discovered several hazelnut trees that I used to ignore until somebody pointed them out to me.  I’m currently looking for ways to use the hazelnuts. If anybody has got an idea, I’m all ears!

 

Lord Hell’s Plum Cake

 Plum season is almost over, but I still get to enjoy them thanks to the three sheets of plum cakes I have managed to bake this season.

My go-to cake recipe comes from the coolest handle nameI’ve ever heard, Lord Hell, the pseudonym of a Chefkoch.de member who struck gold at the death metal name generator. According to Lord Hell, this is her (?) Oma’s recipe, and is glad that she could share it so that it wouldn’t die out. Judging from the rating this cake has, it definitely won’t!

Germans are big into dry cakes, or what is also called coffee cakes. As long as you can get used to the idea that Germans like their cake to taste like bread, you are good to go.

For the base:

500 grams flour, 30 grams fresh yeast or 10 grams dry yeast, 250 ml lukewarm milk, 75 grams sugar, and 100 grams butter.

For the toppings, a kilo and a half of plums is definitely more than enough to cover a 37 cm by 42 cm baking sheet.

Pre-heat the oven to 220° C. Dump the flour into a big mixing bowl and create a depression in the middle. Place the cut-up butter, and strew about 60 grams of the sugar, and a pinch of salt along the edges of the crater, making sure that it wouldn’t fall into ist. Break up the yeast and dump it in the hollow, adding the rest of the sugar and the milk. You can either leave it as is or mix it up, if you like. Let it rest under a kitchen towel for 15 minutes. When the 15 minutes are up, knead the mixture into a dough, and proof for 30 minutes.

While waiting for the dough to rise, you could either halve or quarter the plums lengthwise, removing the stones. Place the cut-up fruit in a separate bowl.

When the 30 minutes are up, knead the dough again, and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. You can either roll the dough out with a pin or using your fingertips, massage the mixture to fan out on the sheet until the whole thing is covered with the dough. Pierce the base with a fork in several places (I prefer making a Union Jack pattern). If the plums are an especially juicy or watery variety, you could sprinkle the base with either breadcrumbs or powdered cinnamon.

 Place the plums with the skins down on the base in a row until the whole base is covered. Leave about three centimeters of lip around the edges if you like. You could also add streusel on top by mixing 200 grams soft butter with 200 grams salt, 300 grams flour, ½ teaspoons of powdered cinnamon and a pinch of salt. After mixing the ingredients together, take a big hunk of the mixture in your hand and pinch off small pieces and strew it randomly over the plums. Place in the oven and it should be done by 20 to 30 minutes. You need to watch the streusel because it burns easily. As soon as the plums smell fragrant it should be done!

It is quite easy to make and it is a very traditional German dish. Thank you LordHell for allowing me to share your recipe!

Drowning in Plums

Sooooo….I have discovered the motherlode of plum trees in Erfurt, not far from where I work. Like a whole grove of plum and apple trees, with nobody paying attention to them! My son and I picked a bucket full of plums last weekend. They are what Germans call Zwetschge, a variety of plum that is deep purple, slim, and long-ish. We got a total of three kilos!  After the initial frenzy of ALL THOSE PLUMS wore off, I kinda scratched my head and asked myself what the hell was I gonna do with all those plums?

So I made Pflaumenmus, what should be translated as plum jam, but it is more of a plum puree. Three kilos fortunately fit into my six quart dutch oven, which proved itself once again as an excellent investment! I filled four large jars with the stuff. I don’t even like Pflaumenmus, so I’m gonna learn how to like it These next couple of months. Or maybe use them to fill jelly donuts?

So far I have baked three batches of plum coffee cakes, with streusel so they would keep better in the freezer. I’ve been giving them away like mad and I don’t think I’ll be picking any more plums this season!

 

Cherry Cupcakes!

Another recipe from North & South are these fabulous cherry cupcakes that you really just have to try!

240 g unsalted butter                                   210 g self-raising flour

200 g caster sugar                                      90 g plain flour

3 large eggs                                                 36 or more fresh cherries, stoned, halved and                                                                        de-stemmed

Zest of half an orange                                  12 fresh cherries, stoned, with stems intact

 

Line a muffin tray with cupcake inserts. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until white and fluffy. Add eggs and orange zest, mix well. Fold in the flours gently, then add the cherries. DO NOT OVERSTIR! It’s ok if there are still patches of flour here and there, overmixing will make your cupcakes dry!

Divide the mixture  among the hollows in the cupcake tray, placing a cherry on top of each cupcake just before baking. Bake at 200°C or 180°C on fan bake for about 10-15 minutes or until a skewer comes clean. Allow to cool and dust with confectioner’s sugar.

While the recipe says it is enough for 12 cupcakes, I was able to bake 16 cupcakes total. The cupcakes do not keep well, so consume within 48 hours. I haven’t tried refrigerating them but the article warned against it. 

Necessity is the Mother of Invention: Cherry Salsa/Chutney

 I had never really thought of cherries as a savory food, but after harvesting a bucket full of cherries and already filled three and a half jars full of jam, I was kind of under pressure be creative.

The thing is that cherries tend to attract insects and their offspring while on the tree. While swallowing a maggot or two never harmed anybody, I didn’t fancy getting a belly full of maggots. That, and cherries tend to mold quickly so that you had a three day time window to consume them. The secret is to not wash the cherries until just about the point that you are to consume or use them!

I spotted a recipe from a colleague’s North & South, a monthly magazine from New Zealand, in their February 2008 issue.  It featured a family’s cherry farm, and also shared some recipes of their own, which included a cherry salsa

All you need to do is to mix together 36 stoned and diced fresh cherries, ½ diced red onion, 174 handful flat-leaf parsley, Zest of half a lemon, 100 ml olive oil, 25 ml vincotta, Sea salt, and cracked pepper.

Because I didn’t have vincotta, a sauce made from sticky grape extract, I decided to play around this recipe a bit and made a chutney instead, using the pan drippings from the accompanying beef steak that night.

So I sautéed the onions in low heat, added the cherries, added all the seasonings and sprinkled the parsley just before serving. It tasted great and was a good contrast to the salty beef steak. A great way to use cherries!

Cherry, Cherry Cherries!

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This year is turning out to be a good year for fruits. It’s not so hot, not so dry, and the rains have come at the right time. And because of the hot spring/cool summer we are having in Germany this year, the sweet cherry and sour cherry varieties arrived almost at the same time, instead of the sour varieties coming in this July. This may differ from region to region, so I cannot speak for the whole country.

So I have a bucket full of cherries. The darker ones are sour cherries from the backyard, while the lighter ones are from the tree I spoke of last year. I believe the tree is a Royal Ann cherry, but I am not sure what kind of cherry is the one from our backyard. It is not really sour, it’s more tart-sweetish, and quite juicy.

I’ve made three jars of jam, and one wonderful cherry chutney so far. I hope to make cherry cupcakes today, and maybe freeze the rest, if I am not able to harvest any more this weekend.

What amazes me is the difference of the cherries from the backyard tree from this year and last year. It was pruned this spring, and the cherries are huge and juicy! I wish I could learn more about tree pruning, but I guess that is for when I have more time.

 

 

A Hankering for Home–Arroz Caldo

We have had a spell of cold weather lately, which kinda sucks because it was already so warm! I always want a bit of home when I get the blues, so I made Arroz Caldo. It is basically the Filipino version of Congee, that much-beloved Chinese rice porrige. It is normally served during cold days, for breakfast, or when one is having a meh day.

It is quite easy to make, the only thing that you need to look out for is the kind of rice that you are using. Filipinos normally use a mixture of normal and sticky rice, but risotto rice or German Milchreis is also an acceptable variety.

First, finely mince three cloves of garlic and dice an onion finely. Chop about an inch’s length of ginger into matchsticks. In a large, deep casserole, sauté the onion and garlic in about four tablespoons of oil, then add half of the ginger and about three to four pieces of chicken in the pot and slightly brown them. When the chicken pieces are slightly brown, throw in a small amount of water (about fourth of a cup) into the pot and let the juices seep out of the chicken (this is a technique I picked up from Burnt Lumpia), about 10 minutes. Season the chicken with salt or fish sauce and soy sauce for some color and pepper, then wait another five minutes to let all the juices seep out because of the salt. Then I add enough water to fully submerge the chicken, and wait until the water comes to a boil. 

When the water starts boiling, add a cup or two of rice and the rest of the ginger and lower the heat. Cover the pot. Stir occasionally to check if the rice is done, about 30-40 minutes. Boil a little longer if it is too watery, or conversely, add more water if the porridge is too thick. Season with salt or fish sauce and pepper, and garnish with chopped chives, safflower, and a sliced hard-boiled egg. Sprinkle the porridge with a touch of calamansi (lemons and limes are acceptable substitutes) and more fish sauce, and you have the Filipino comfort food in a bowl!

And there are many different variations to this basic recipe. If you take out the chicken pieces from the stock before adding the rice, and omit the soy sauce and fish sauce, you are making lugaw, which is what we feed babies, the elderly, and the sick. Use pig or cow intestines instead of chicken, it’s called tripa, because of well…tripe. The local version of Blutwurst can also be used as a garnishing.

As for me, I prefer eating one-day old re-heated Arroz Caldo.

 

Salmon Bärlauch Bordelaise

Have you ever tried the recipes from boxes and can labels? I once had a collection of those as a child,. After buying a slab of frozen salmon, I spied a recipe on the box flap that suggested a good use of the ramsons I had purchsed from the farmer’s market.

I am a big fan of frozen fish a la bordelaise, so this was something  similar to that. In absence of ramsons, Chives would be a good substitute.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Defrost a 200 gram slab of salmon. Wash, pat dry, then finely chop a handful of ramsons, and grate the peel of half a lemon (or about 4-5 calamansi). Halve 300 g of cherry tomatoes, and chop three shallots or one small white, sweet onion into four.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a shallow pot, and sauté the ramsons, 30 g panko crumbs, grated lemon rind and 30 g pine nuts (roasted sesame seeds are a good substitute). 

In a small baking dish, spread the tomatoes and onions evenly on the bottom and drizzle generously with olive oil. Season the salmon with salt and pepper, place it on the veggies, then evenly spread the ramson mixture on top. Bake for 20 minutes.

So I spent 40 minutes total from start to finish. Not bad! The outcome was surprisingly good and I’ve committed the recipe to my print-out book.

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.