Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Eggnog from another era

26 December 2014

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Berlin, 1945. Somewhere on the streets of Dahlem, a dashing US officer accosts a long-legged 19-year-old, demurely asking for directions to a place he has traveled a dozens times before. They are swept off their feet. One out of an ill-fated, fading marriage, the other from the rubble of war and desolation. They moved to Maryland. So goes our family mythology.

My grandmother always told us the same handful of war stories. Stories for small children, about young children in the war. She told of the day the war broke out while she was at summer camp, how she spent all her pocket money to buy her favorite hazelnut-studded chocolate (it is something little German girls knew in 1939 — that in times of war, chocolate becomes scarce), only to discover, too late, that the nuts were full of worms. She told how her parents had once asked her to watch over the cooking of a duck, a unique feast bartered by my great-grand father against school lessons. How else to know when it was done, other than to try it, just a little piece? Starving, she ate the entire thing. She told of her encounter with the Russian soldier reeking of alcohol who tried to steal her bicycle — unexpectedly pelted by a spew of Russian swear words from the long-legged German girl, he lost countenance just long enough for my grandmother to speed away, back the way she had come. She told us how she met our grandfather on a street corner in Dahlem.

When she married my grandfather, my grandmother became fiercely American; though they soon moved back to Europe she fully embraced an American expat life. But she also remained proudly German, and nurtured German traditions, especially around Christmas. We laid out milk and cookies for St Nikolaus on December 6th, we baked, we opened presents on Christmas eve, we lit our tree with candles.

So today, amid the wreaths and advent calendars, among the candles and the singing, the oysters and the cookies, there are two traditions that I hold dearest. They connect me to my grandmother, and in one grand sweep I like to think they link me not only to our family story but to Europe’s history too. The two recipes that my grandmother sent me, once upon a time, handwritten, slipped inside the letters she wrote regularly: Stollen and eggnog.

Sweet Stollen, a long, patient, and tedious process, which ultimately brings the reward of nibbled bites that taste of the promise of sheltered German childhoods. Boozy eggnogg, the stuff of joyful parties, the mirth-filled evenings of a war-less era.

My grandmother was an elegant, modern, impeccable hostess. Though she was a very good cook, she much preferred to delegate kitchen duties and sit on the sidelines with a glass of champagne and a cigarette. She loved company, and she loved parties. Every 26th of December, my grandparents hosted an eggnog party, to celebrate their anniversary. This is their recipe. In loving memory.

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Leonine eggnog recipe, verbatim, probably from the 1950s
(See further below for a slightly adapted recipe. I use a third of the bourbon and it is plenty. But feel free to add much more!)

12 eggs, from Mrs. Cluck

12 level Tbsps granulated sugar

3 pints bouquet bourbon or rye

1 quart milk

1 pint heavy cream

Nutmeg

Crack eggs, separating yolks from whites. Setting latter aside for the nonce, go at yolks with an eggbeater, plying in furiously. Gradually add the sugar, beating it until entirely dissolved. Now enters the whiskey, poured slowly and stirred, its action on yolks being equivalent to a gentle cooking. Then milk, followed by cream (whipped cream if you prefer extra richness), likewise stirred in. Clean off eggbeater and tackle the whites till they stand without flinching. Fold them into the general mixture. Stir in one grated nutmeg. Will serve 12 people (or more). If it’s the whipped cream version, they’ll need spoons.

Merry Xmas!

Eggnog recipe adapted for 2014
Serves 12

12 eggs

12 Tbsps sugar

1 pint (500 ml) good bourbon or rye whiskey

1 quart (1 l) whole milk

2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream

Nutmeg

Separate the egg yolks from the whites, which are set aside for later. In a medium bowl, beat the yolks thoroughly, gradually adding the sugar while continuing to beat firmly. Then slowly pour in the whiskey, still stirring more gently but constantly. Now add the milk, then the cream.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until very firm (until the peaks hold without moving). Gently fold the whipped whites into the rest of the egg/whiskey/cream mixture.

Garnish generously with freshly grated nutmeg.

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Merry Christmas Stollen

24 December 2014

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It’s Christmas Eve and finally time to cut the Stollen!

Read my story on Food&_ about this favorite German Christmas tradition and the proper way of savoring it (then bookmark the recipe for next year!).

A very merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone!

European Thanksgiving with a cranberry lime sauce

2 December 2014

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Perhaps I am feeling sentimental. Certainly I am feeling sentimental — it happens once a year, on Thanksgiving.

Moved by bonds tightened over many years, touched by new ties strengthened over the course of a meal. Each one is a little different, and a little bit the same. The food varies only slightly; we are with old friends, and new friends. Some guests come from halfway across Europe, some cannot come at all. Some are cooking turkey with apple chestnut stuffing on the other side of the Atlantic. Thanksgiving is messy, and loud, and funny, and, basically, happy.

Thanksgiving is the time when we feel most strongly all the invisible strings.

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Barely different cranberry lime sauce
This version uses lime rather than lemon (or orange). I think it’s the best.

680 g fresh cranberries

300 g (1 1/2 cups) sugar

2 cups water

1  lime

Wash the cranberries, check through them, and chuck any discolored or soft ones.

In a saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a lively simmer.

Add the cranberries and cook for about 15 minutes, until they’ve all popped. Stir in the zest and juice of one lime and cook for another minute or so.

Remove from the heat and transfer to a jar or bowl.

Three ginger cake

5 November 2014

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The best cake in my world.

Were we to play the hypothetical game by which I had to pick one single dessert, to the exclusion of all others, for the rest of my life, I would choose this one. It is incredibly moist and sticky, intensely gingery spicy — need I say more?

The recipe is by April Bloomfield, from her engrossing book A Girl and Her Pig, which is full of anecdotes and brilliant recipes. I made two very small changes.

Since I couldn’t find ‘light molasses’ anywhere, I substituted with a mix of blackstrap and honey. Bloomfield pointedly specifies against using blackstrap hence the mix. I played around with the quantities and using more than 1/3 cup blackstrap makes the taste overpowering. Also, I added bits of candied ginger to make it a ‘three’ ginger cake because… Well, just because.

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Ginger cake by April Bloomfield A Girl and Her Pig

8 Tbsps (1/2 cup or 110 g) butter at room temperature

2 1/2 cups flour

1 Tbsp ground ginger

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup light molasses (or 1/3 cup blackstrap molasses and 1/2 cup light liquid honey)

1 tsp baking soda

1 packed cup dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1/4 cup finely grated fresh ginger

Two handfuls candied ginger (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325ºF (160ºC) with the rack in the middle of the oven.

Butter an 8-inch springform cake tin and line the bottom with parchment paper. Place the tin on a baking sheet (because the cake will probably leak a bit through the springform).

Sift the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and baking powder together into a medium bowl. Stir well.

Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to boil in a small pot. Add the molasses (and honey if using) and the baking soda. Stir until everything is well dissolved. It seems like a lot of water but trust the wizard here — it works!

Beat the butter and sugar heftily for a few good minutes, until light and fluffy as they say. Add the egg and mix until it is well incorporated. Add the grated ginger and mix again until combined.

Now add about 1/3 of the flour/spice mixture. Mix well. Then 1/3 of the molasses mixture and stir well. Repeat this, in thirds, until everything is combined. The mixture will be very wet. Again — it works.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and carefully (because it is so liquid!) place it in the oven, with the baking sheet underneath of course.

Now very thinly slice the pieces of candied ginger.

After about 15 minutes in the oven, as swiftly as possible in order to not disturb the cooking, pull out the cake and evenly sprinkle the finely sliced candied ginger. **This is done now because if the candied ginger is added before the cake goes into the oven, everything falls to the bottom.**

Bake for another 45 minutes (the cake bakes for about an hour altogether), until a knife point comes out almost clean and no longer wet. Let cool a little before removing the ring from the springform.

Bloomfield likes this cake still warm. I loved it the next day. In any case I’d serve it with a big dollop of clotted cream.

The best (roasted) leeks

23 September 2014

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Leeks are in season again. After a long bountiful summer of tomatoes, zucchini, artichoke, beans and tomatoes, more tomatoes — fall vegetables are back at the markets and it’s the time to start roasting.

This is not only my favorite way to prepare leeks, it’s one of my favorite ways to prepare vegetables, period, and leeks are incredibly versatile and always a hit.

They are a stellar companion alongside simply grilled fish and lentils. Or together with braised carrots and a roast chicken. I make them with a good steak and very crispy roasted potatoes. The possibilities are endless.

Roasted leeks
This method is inspired by the wood-roasted vegetables from The River Cafe Cookbook Two (yellow). It is not exactly a recipe, and can be adapted to other vegetables and modified using different vinegars (apple cider, sherry) or perhaps lemon juice, and an array of herbs (rosemary, sage, marjoram, chillies…) depending on the mood. It is especially important to use very good quality ingredients.

Leeks

Balsamic vinegar

Red wine vinegar

Garlic cloves

Olive oil

Fresh thyme

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC).

To clean the leeks, trim the roots at one end and darker leaves at the other, peel off the tough outer leaves, keeping only the tender green and white hearts, and thoroughly wash of any grit. Cut the stalks into 2-inch (5cm) pieces, then halve each of these lengthwise.

In a large bowl, create a dressing of sorts with the vinegars, crushed garlic, olive oil, and picked thyme leaves. As in a vinaigrette, the proportions should be approximately two thirds olive oil, one third vinegar(s). In this case I would do half balsamic/half red wine.

Toss the leeks in the dressing until well coated. Season generously with salt and pepper. Place the leeks in an oven-proof dish large enough to fit them in one layer. Slide the dish into the oven and roast for a good hour. Every 20 minutes approximately, gently toss the leeks. The leeks should be well caramelized and meltingly tender. Don’t hesitate to leave them in the oven a little longer than you think.


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