Monday Sep 03, 2007

10 Minuten Ziehen Lassen -- Duh!

One of the dishes that the mother of an Austrian friend of mine often made for my wife and I while we were visiting was Griessnockerlsuppe. I'm not aware of an American equivalent. It's basically beef broth with little dumplings made from butter, egg, and farina (better known as Cream of Wheat in the US).

While we were still living in Germany, I tried several times to follow the recipe she gave me to make them at home, but invariably, as soon as the nockerl hit the broth, they would come completely unglued, resulting in beef-flavored porridge. After several failed attempts, I finally gave up. I haven't tried making Griessnockerl in over two years. Until tonight.

Since I have long since lost the scribbled recipe from my Austrian friend's mother, I looked up a recipe on the Internet. And there was the answer. Every recipe I found said to let the nockerl dough stand for at least ten minutes before putting them in the boiling water. Works like a charm! Such a simple omission, but oh so important.

Here's a translation of the recipe I used:

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • Twice as much farina as egg (by weight) -- roughly 5 ounces
  • As much butter as egg (by weight) -- roughly 6 tbsp
  • Salt
  • Nutmeg
  • Broth

Direction

  • Mix some of the farina with the butter and beat until creamy.
  • Beat in the egg and the rest of the farina.
  • Season with salt and nutmeg and beat well until a smooth consistency is reached.
  • [Form small dumplings from mixture. Keep them small because they will get larger as they cook.]
  • Let the dumplings rest for 20 minutes.
  • Bring the broth to a boil.
  • Lay the dumplings into the lightly boiling broth.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and cook until done, roughly 10 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and leave the dumplings in the broth for 3 more minutes.

Friday Jul 20, 2007

German Cooking Abbreviations

I was just browsing through my keyword searches with Google Analytics, and someone found me searching for the meaning of "el" in German recipes. In another bout of post-facto on-demand blogging, here's the answer:

German AbbreviationGerman MeaningEnglish Meaning
elEsslöffelRoughly one tablespoon (tbsp)
tlTeelöffelRoughly one teaspoon (tsp)
msMesserspitzeA pinch
pckPäckchenA full packet (most often applies to baking powder and vanilla sugar, which come in packets that are about a tablespoon (tbsp))
 TasseRoughly one cup (c)
ca.circaApproximately

Keep in mind that in German recipes, the small measurements are not exact. Cooking something from a German recipe often involves more than just following the instructions. I've usually found that it takes a couple of tries before I get something that tastes right.

Thursday Feb 15, 2007

IE Unmasked

PC World just published an article on what are expected to be the three biggest computer security threats of 2007. What was #1 on the list? Microsoft Internet Explorer. Glad someone finally noticed.

Thursday Jul 06, 2006

My Favorite Techniques

Since I've had cause to use these two recently, I thought I'd share. Technically, I guess you could call them recipes, but I like to think of them as techniques.

The first is Emeril's "recipe" for boiled eggs. I don't know about you, but every other method I've tried for hard boiling eggs has failed to impress me. Either the yolks don't get fully cooked, or they get overcooked, or the eggs turn into rubber. With Emeril's technique, they come out perfect every time.

The second is my way of making grilled corn on the cob. There are two main camps of grilling corn. The first says that you should husk the corn and put it right on the grill. The result is corn that's burned, carmelized, and chewy, but really tasted grilled. The second says that you should husk the corn and put it in aluminum foil before putting it on the grill. The result is corn that is nicely steamed, but completely lacks any flavor. I say don't husk the corn! When I grill corn, I pull off the outer few leaves, and then carefully peel down the remaining leaves. Once the corn is peeled, I remove the stringy stuff and close the leaves back up. The peeling and unpeeling does two important things. First, it lets you get rid of the strings, which are annoying for the people who will eat the corn. Second, it loosens the leaves so that the flavor of the grill can get to the corn. After the leaves are back in place, I put the corn on the grill, about 5 minutes each side. Don't worry if the leaves get burned. The result is corn that is nicely steamed that has that great grilled flavor.

Tuesday Nov 29, 2005

Holiday Pick-Me-Up

I have posted before about how I hated coffee until I moved to Europe. Now that I've moved back to the US, I've found that I still hate American coffee. Fortunately for me, I brought an Italian, stove-top espresso maker and a can of Segafredo back with me. On mornings when I know that I'll need a little extra lift, I brew myself an espresso or a cafe latte (espresso and milk).

This morning, while making my cafe latte, I was struck by a bit of brilliance. Instead of making it with milk, I made it with eggnog. Wow! What a fantastic holiday drink! I highly recommend giving it a try. It would probably go better as an after dinner drink at a holiday party than as the first cup of joe, but it absolutely beats the pants off Starbucks!

By the way, don't add sugar to the espresso before adding the eggnog. The eggnog will probably be sweet enough to not need more sugar. I usually make my cafe latte with a 3:2 ratio of espresso to milk (or eggnog, in this case). Also, I have no idea how this would work with regular coffee. I suspect regular coffee would be to weak to make the ratios work, but let me know if you give it a try.

Saturday Aug 13, 2005

Your Friend, the Onion

One of the most versatile veggies you can have on hand is the onion. There aren't many dishes, outside of desserts, that can't benefit from the judicious application of onions. (In Bavaria, however, onion cake is a favorite dish!) A downside to onions, though, is that, because of their structure, unless you know how to do it, dicing an onion can be a pain.

Here's the technique I use for onion dicing. It's pretty much the industry standard. If you've watched any cooking show before, you've probably seen it.

Step 1:Get an onion.
Step 2:Lay the onion on its side and cut off the top.
Step 3:Stand the onion on its (missing) head and cut it in half.
Step 4:Lay the onion down flat.
Step 5a:Cut a criss-cross pattern into the end of the onion, or...
Step 5b:Cut a star pattern into the end of the onion.
Step 6:Slice the onion perpendicularly to the previous cuts.

The idea is really pretty simple. Instead of trying to dice up onion slices, which can take a while, you dice the slices before you make them. Using a criss-cross pattern is the more traditional way to do it (and the only way to mince), but I find that a star pattern is often easier when the size of the pieces is larger. (Unless a dish really needs minced onions, I prefer to chop my onions into bigger pieces for both textural and flavor interest.)

This technique will also work for mincing (with the criss-cross pattern, of course) garlic and shallots and probably any other bulbous veggie without a pit or seeds. It does not work for tomatoes.

There you have it. Odds are you already had it, but what's the Internet for if not distributing useless and redundant information? Doubly so for blogs. Actually, being able to dice an onion is a requirement for the next installment...

Friday Jul 22, 2005

The Devil and Three Millers

Since moving to Germany, I've developed an appreciation for mixed drinks. This doesn't exactly count as cooking, but it's close enough. Here are two drinks that I've recently discovered and fallen in love with.

El Diablo

  • 2 shots tequila
  • 1 shot Creme de Cassis or Chambord or raspberry liquer
  • Combine and serve over ice

I first had this at a Mexican restaurant here in Regensburg. The food was terrible, but their cocktails were great! Because of the tequila, it's brutally intoxicating, but the Creme de Cassis keeps the taste very mild.

Three Millers Cocktail

  • 2 shots rum
  • 1 shot brandy
  • 1 teaspoon grenadine
  • A squirt of lemon juice
  • Combine and serve over ice

I discovered this one last night in my Old Mr. Boston's Book of Cocktails and had to try it. Wow! Very tasty!

Friday Jul 08, 2005

Green Fairy Potato Salad

This recipe is a good example of an easy, bachelor-friendly recipe. The poster called it "Cari's Potato Salad," but since I know her personally, I've taken the liberty of renaming it in this post to something more attention-grabbing. (In case you're wondering, my name for it comes from Moulin Rouge! The original name of the recipe was "Bohemian Potato Salad." After watching that movie, the first thing I associate with Bohemia is the Green Fairy.)

This recipe is also a good example of a German recipe. German recipes tend to be much less exact. For example, in German recipes, a tablespoon and a teaspoon are literally intended to be measured using everyday flatware. There is no concept of half or quarter teaspoons. The only measures smaller than a teaspoon are a knife point and a pinch, both intended literally. This inexactness gives the cook a great deal of freedom to personalize the dish. It also has the side effect, that the quality of a dish directly reflects the skill of the cook.

To help you along, I'll add a few comments on this recipe.

  • First, as it states in the comments on the post, you can get away with one apple if it's big enough. What's really important is that you get the apple and onion balanced. In my experience, a red onion will balance an apple of approximately the same diameter. (Most crisp apple varieties tend to be much taller than onions, so this ratio works. If you're using a short, squat apple, you'll have to work out the ratio yourself.)
  • Be gentle with the salt and the vinegar. Both flavors will become more prominent after the dish has been in the fridge for a day.
  • I prefer to peel the potatoes before boiling them. If the potatoes are boiled with the peels still on, salting the water has little effect. With peeled potatoes, well salted water will produce boiled potatoes that don't need additional salt. This technique has two advantages. The first is that it's an almost foolproof way to get the amount of salt in the dish right. Second, the potatoes taste better to me this way. The flavor is more natural.
  • To add some textural variety, use an apple corer to slice the potatoes horizontally before chopping them up. This process results in interesting potato shapes, like wedges and medallions. I also recommend chopping the apple into small wedges instead of cubes.

Since I haven't gotten time to cover how to chop an onion yet, you'll just have to wing it for now. I'll try to make some time for that post this weekend. All in all, this is a very easy dish, it requires very little cooking, and it's quite tasty. So, what are you waiting for?

Saturday Apr 23, 2005

Knife Skills, Lesson 1: The Basics

One of the most fundamental kitchen skills you can learn is how to handle a knife. Almost anything you cook will require you to chop, slice, dice, or mince something. Assuming you've identified the pointy end of the knife, cutting things up is a theoretically easy endeavor. There are several subtleties to it, however.

To start with, let's review the two goals for using a knife in the kitchen, in order of priority:

  1. Don't cut off anything that won't grow back.
  2. Make the big bits into little bits

Your primary goal in any cooking adventure should be to not cut off any of your fingers or toes. An occasional grated knuckle is OK, but anything that requires stiches or a tetnis shot is best avoided. To that end, there are a couple of simple safety tips I can offer.

  • Keep your knives sharp! I know that sounds like it would make them more dangerous, but it doesn't. The way to hurt yourself with a knife is when you lose control of it. You lose control of your knife when you apply too much force to it and what you're cutting suddenly gives way. If your knife is nice and sharp, you won't need so much pressure and hence are less likely to lose control.
  • If you find yourself putting your weight behind the knife, stop. See the previous point. Find another way to do it.
  • Always curl the fingers of the hand holding the vegetable (or whatever). Pretend you're making fun of your grandmother's arthritis. If your fingertips are curled under, you can't cut them off. When using a knife, I regularly nick my fingernails. If I didn't have my fingers curled, I would be slicing the tops of my fingers.
  • Use the right knife for the job. Coring an apple with a chef's knife is bad. Dicing with a paring knife is bad. Slicing bread with cooking shears is bad. Using a Dremel in the kitchen, except in certain emergencies, is bad.

Another important part of knife work is having an appropriate cutting surface. The counter top is not it. You really will be less than happy when you have to replace the counter top. They're not cut-proof, and they're not cheap. (There are some that are cut-proof, and obviously what I just said doesn't apply to those countertops.)

Not every cutting board is created equal. I have three. One is a soft plastic, one is hard plastic, and one is wooden. I don't like the hard plastic one because it seems to dull my knives quicker. The wooden one is great for the knives, but is a real pain to clean, and it scars easily. The soft plastic one is my favorite. (By soft plastic, I don't mean that it's pliable. The best way I can come up with to describe it is this. If I hit the knife against the hard plastic board, it goes "clack!" If I hit the knife against the soft plastic board, it goes "thud." Got it?)

On to the actual cutting. You will encounter a variety of cuts requested in various recipes. Here's a list of the most popular with quick descriptions. For links to demo videos, see FoodNetwork's Cooking Basics: Knife Skills.

  • Chop -- this is the classic "making one big thing into lots of little things"
  • Slice -- not surprisingly used to make slices; think tomatoes on a hamburger
  • Dice -- a fine chop
  • Mince -- a very fine chop, usually reserved for onions, garlic, and shallots
  • Chiffonade -- making thin strips out of leafy herbs and veggies like basil

That's it for now. I'm off to the flea market. Next time we'll talk about how to tackle specific veggies.

Sunday Mar 20, 2005

Dinner For One

I have decided to start a new category on my blog. Danese Cooper says that the way to get a popular blog is to talk about what you know. Well, one of the few things at which I can claim to be good with little dispute is cooking. Yes, I'm male, and I cook. I'm not just a hobby chef, either. I cook pretty much every meal my wife and I eat.

The title of the category is Bachelor Cooking. I know you're wondering what I know about bachelor cooking if I'm married, but since we moved to Germany, I have spent many weeks alone while my wife escapes to the US. Enough about me.

In this new category, I intend to talk about how to cook with little planning and without a cabinet full of shallots and truffle oil. I do not intend to post recipes. We're all manly men (and women) here. We don't read the instruction manuals for our $2000 laser guided table saws. Why on earth would we follow a recipe? If you want recipes, ask Martha.

To kick this thing off, I thought I'd start with an inventory of supplies, equipment, and skills. If all you've got in your fridge is a 4 year old jar of mustard and some expired milk, I can't help you.

Supplies

(Otherwise known as ingredients.)

These are what I consider the baseline requirements to have hanging around the house. If you have these things on hand, you are unlikely to starve. This list does not include delicate perishables (like meat), because they don't hang around so well.

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Whole black pepper corns
  • Table salt
  • Course/kosher salt
  • Olive oil
  • Mustard
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Cayenne pepper (Because we're manly men (and women))
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Pasta of various kinds
  • Good beer of various varieties (A good beer makes any meal better.)
  • Cream (Yes, it's perishable, but it lasts a long time.)
  • Minced onions
  • Various other spices (I like paprika, rosemary, thyme, and nutmeg.)
  • Parmesan cheese (Also perishable, but long lasting.)

While with these things on hand, you can make a meal, it will be a much better meal if you also go out and buy some meat, bread, cheese, and vegetables occasionally. Since they tend to rot, I usually only buy as much as I need, right before I need it.

Equipment

I kinda assume your kitchen has a stove and an oven. A microwave is optional. On my endless pursuit of Ted Kazinsky down the path of Luddism, I've actually come to shun use of the microwave. I much prefer the stove or oven.

  • Frying pan (It doesn't have to be huge or fancy. A smallish cast iron skillet will do.)
  • Pot (This does need to be kinda biggish. Pasta needs room when it cooks.)
  • Big spoon-like thing (I prefer wooden.)
  • At least one good knife (This is an absolute must. If you only get one, get a chef's knife. As a bonus, you get geek points for owning a really expensive set of knives.)
  • A sharpening steel for the knives (Less than sharp knives aren't useful.)
  • Pepper mill
  • Colander
  • Spatula
  • Oven mit or hot pad
  • Aluminum foil
  • Baking sheet or baking pan
  • Toothpicks
  • A dog (Helps clean up spills and "mistakes.")

Skills

If you gave all of the above to a caveman or a Scott, the likelihood of him producing dinner is slim to none. You have to have a vague idea of which end of the knife is pointy if you're going to cook something you will actually want to eat.

The first place to start is Good Eats on the Food Network. Alton Brown is the ultimate bachelor chef. His show is how I learned most of what I know. Also, if you have the time and money, buy and read all of his books. Really.

Another good source for skills is the Food Network web site. They have a cooking section with videos and a cooking encyclopedia.

Finally, be sure to cruise the Internet for recipes. You don't actually have to follow them, but they can give you an idea of how to go about making whatever it is you think you're going to make. Aside from the Food Network and Martha Stewart, Epicurious has a good selection of recipes.

So, there you have it. The fundamentals of cooking. I haven't told you anything useful yet, but I will; don't worry. Hopefully in the coming weeks I will find the time to document some of my principle building blocks and techniques. Until then...

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