German Ragout for Pastetchen

I wasn’t lucky enough to grow up knowing most of my grandparents. By the time I was old enough to remember, there was only my father’s mother, my Oma. And unlike other kids whose grandparents were a car ride away, mine was a plane ride away — all the way across the Atlantic Ocean in Germany. My memories of her are limited; as I got older, so did she, and it wasn’t long before our relationship was limited to what remained in her long-term memory.

One of the memories I wish I’d gotten to have was cooking beside her. She was a solid German cook, making simple, hearty food that had little fuss. On the day we flew in, there was always a tasty broth-based soup waiting for us as lunch. (I still crave broth-based soups after a long plane ride). She also made delicious Christmas cookies, inventing recipes that my cousin Tina has passed down to me.

The other Christmas tradition that she did was make Pastetchen — pastry shells filled with a meat stew. It looks fancy, but it’s really peasant food. Tasty and very filling, my family still has it every year on Christmas Eve. Her recipe, written out in German, is above, written with her signature blue fountain pen. Below is my translation.

Quality Ragout for Pastry Shells.

Good-quality veal! (and neck when it’s not fatty) Let the butcher cut it into small pieces (smaller than for goulash). Brown it in half butter and half margarine with chopped onions. Dust with flour and lightly roast. Deglaze with white wine (cooking wine). Salt and some pepper, lemon juice, Worchester sauce [she means Worchestershire sauce]. Season to taste, and if it isn’t done yet, let it cook lightly a bit more.

Separately, prepare mushrooms in butter with onions (cut small), some parsley (chopped) as well and either mix it with the ragout and pour into the hot pastry shells, or serve on the plate next to the pastry shells (with the ragout). I find the latter better, as it looks better arranged on the plate. (A raw salad is good with this.)

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We make a few changes (beef instead of veal, and adding in peas and carrots), but for the most part, that’s the recipe we still use. And we do serve it with a big green salad!

Merry Christmas!

This Week’s Dinners

This week I made two excellent meals:

Lasagna with salad: Made basic lasagna with ground turkey and sauted onions. Used store bought sauce, but grated cheese ourselves. Simple, easy, and made enough for two dinners and a lunch. Made a big salad using pre-washed greens, and my home-made dressing (garlic, oil, lemon juice, s&p, mustard, honey).

Chicken Teriyaki: This was mega cheating (in terms of the teriyaki) but it was still ridiculously good. I had a package of chicken thighs which I marinated in half a bottle of Whole Foods 365 Organic Teriyaki Sauce in an oven-ready dish. While that was marinating, I put on a pot of brown rice, water, and chicken bouillon (ever since I made rice once with chicken stock I almost never make it plain; it’s so tasty this way!). When the oven was done pre-heating, I put the chicken, covered, in at 375 for 40 minutes (and with my new oven in my new home, 375 actually means 375. Amazing.). Some people don’t put marinate in with the meat, but I like my chicken tender and juicy, so I leave it all in. I hate dry chicken and I never make it.

While the rice and chicken were cooking, I installed my knife magnet rack ($14.99 at IKEA and I love it to death) and then prepped a head of broccoli for steaming. One problem, of course: We don’t own a steamer. So instead, I filled a pot with about an inch of water, put in a heart-shaped metal cookie cutter, put a bowl on top of the cookie cutter, and put the broccoli on that, and covered it! It sounds crazy, but it worked! I waited until we were about ten minutes from eating dinner, then turned the broccoli pot on high and set the kitchen timer for five minutes. It came out bright green and al dente. Yum. I served it with a butter/garlic/oil sauce, which was literally just a mug with two tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of butter, two crushed garlic cloves, and some s&p–all of it microwaved for 30 seconds (for the butter to melt) and then just stirred some. It makes for delicious drizzling.

All of this made for two dinners and about one and a half lunches. YUM. I’ll definitely be making the chicken teriyaki again.

Julia’s Eggs

I have been reading my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Not as a manual, but as good reading. I figured that something would eventually sink in as I poured over Julia’s instructions on everything from sauces to chopping onions to making eggs.

Then, this morning, as I was grumpy and hungry and in need of some food (I’m moving; packing requires much nourishment), I decided to make some eggs. Nothing fancy, just simple eggs. I don’t love just plain eggs, but I was starving and needed something. I dumped two unceremoniously in a mug, beat them with a fork, added some salt and pepper, and set a pan to high with some butter sitting in it.

I dumped in the eggs, and, all of a sudden, Julia took over. Without even thinking about it, I started violently shaking the pan, swirling the eggs around on top of each other. Then, once a bottom layer had materialized, I tipped up the handle and started jerking the pan and the eggs towards me. It worked. The eggs slid down, the jerk curled them on top of each other. It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t pretty, but I had the concept down. Once it was in a curled-up pile, I dumped it on a plate, dashed some salt on top, and ate.

It was really good. The eggs were warm and soft– not rubbery at all (I think the key is not overcooking). It was almost like eating a custard– I wouldn’t have believed that it was just eggs and a pat of butter unless I’d done it myself.

Yum, Julia. You’ve revolutionized the way I eat eggs. Nicely done.

[Concept is here: http://foodproof.com/recipes/view/julia-childs-basic-omelette-118]

Dumplings, Dumplings, Dumplings, oh my!

For weeks I’ve been meaning to write about this.

One day a few weeks ago, Catherine and I were meandering through Cambridge after finishing an artery-clogging-but-otherwise-heavenly brunch of fried chicken on waffles at Tupelo. As we wound our way from Inman to Harvard, Catherine suggested we duck into the Harvard Bookstore to browse. Never one to turn down a book, we did. As we were looking around, I noticed the staff recommendations. There, standing out in the middle was a book about dumplings. It was fittingly called: Dumplings: A Seasonal Guide. I browsed inside it for a few minutes while standing. Then I found a chair and started really reading it. Fifteen minutes later, Catherine was ready to go. I looked at her and clutched the book in my arms the way a small child holds a security blanket. “If it makes you that happy,” she said, “you should probably get it.”

So I did! I should say up front that I haven’t tried too many recipes yet, but that doesn’t stop me from giving the book a pretty glowing review. The book is organized by month, with recipies within it that culturally and seasonally make sense to eat during that month. January, for instance, has the German potato-based dumpling spaetzle. February has dumplings in celebration of Chinese New Year (which I know can bridge months, but for a book that couldn’t organize itself by the lunar calendar, I think February was an okay choice). Within each month, the dumplings are organized by difficulty. So you can start at the beginning (as I did with some semolina-based dumplings) and then pick up speed and skill towards the end.

The book also has a section that details all the different ingredients that can be in dumplings, as well as section on all the different ways to fold dumplings. For the book, the authors decided that a dumpling was “a portion of dough, batter, or starchy plant fare, solid or filled, that is cooked through wet heat, and is not a strand or a ribbon,” so there are lots of different kinds of dumplings. Some are technicallyone big dumpling (like English bread pudding), and some bear more resemblance to  pasta (like my semolina-based dumplings that I tried).

Some recipes are just the dumplings, some have soups and sauces to match. Some are sweet, some are savory. All of them look delicious. I can’t wait to try them all!

Thanksgiving 2009

This is what we ate at my house on Thanksgiving this year:

olives, hummus, and carrot & celery sticks as an appetizer

Turkey Lurkey (turkey basted with orange juice and white wine, stuffed with bread, dates, dried figs, dried apricots, dried applies, walnuts, and more orange juice & white wine)

gravy, obviously, as well as extra stuffing

a humongous fresh salad with lemon juice, mustard, olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper

braised brussel sprouts & chestnuts (a new dish this year and surprisingly delish!)

sweet potato pudding (with pineapples and fluff)

pecan pie with homemade whipped cream

Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup (easier than pie) with inspiration from Barbara Kingsolverpumpkin soup

Buy small local sugar pumpkin. Cut out top and save. Carve out inside (remove seeds and pulp).

Fill with stock and 2 tablespoons of butter. Add dash of salt & pepper. Replace top.

Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes.

Remove from oven. Scrape down sides, being careful to not scrape too close to edge. Add 2 tablespoons milk (if you have it) and squirt of honey.

Blend with handheld blender (this is key). Add dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Serve!

Recommended Reading: Notes on Freezing

It’s decidedly winter. If you’re anywhere in the Northeast right now, the snow and cold are probably making you dream deliriously of beaches and sunshine and drinks that come in tall glasses garnished with pineapple. In terms of food, winter usually means that I tend towards soups and pastas and other things that are warm. But it also makes me think of how much I tend to slack off, in terms of cooking and storing, during the summer.

One year during college, when I lived in a co-op, I spent part of the early fall making a delicious spaghetti sauce, spiced liberally with fresh dill. I filled most of a gallon jar with it, then took it down to the basement and put it in our spare freezer. Later that year, in the dead of winter, I crept downstairs and brought it out. I sat the oversized jar in a large pot of warm water and waited for it to thaw while I put the water on for pasta.

When I finally caught a whiff of the sauce, it was like a mental transport right back to the previous fall—making trips to our local CSA farm, picking ripe cherry tomatoes off the vine in the afternoon sunlight, filling our bags with fresh bunches of dill, parsley, basil, etc. In short, it was delicious.

After college, however, there weren’t often extra freezers in my life, so I slacked off storing soups and sauces for the winter. But this recent post from Stacy reminded me about all the possibilities; maybe next summer I’ll spend more time in the freezer. (And not just because I don’t have AC!)