Friday, November 30, 2012

Gingerbread houses

Not that we have any need for this type of architecture in Maine, there is plenty of empty space, but other, more populated places might be inspired by this way of architecting houses: just stack them in layers, on top of each other. The Dutch are very creative with this type of architecture...

This gingerbread house is a colorful hotel in the Netherlands, the Hotel ZaanDam.
This 3-layer building can be found in a Parisian suburb.
This Peruri 88 tower, science fiction type construction, was built by Dutch architects in Jakarta. I like the trees and gardens everywhere!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Green christmas decor

Now if you'd collected all those egg cartons over the summer (years?) instead of returning them to their rightful owners at the farmers market, you could make this spectacular christmas tree....

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


The work week has restarted, and today I was ready for some cozy food in the evening. What better to cook other that to put some squashes in the oven to roast? I cut up a small butternut squash, pierced a spaghetti squash, and placed the scooped butternut squash seeds simply on the baking sheet. It is a fabulous trick --- no cleaning, just place them on the sheet, they get crisp and the strands that held them together simply fade away during roasting. I used to toss out the seeds because it was too much of a hassle, but this is not. I added a sliced sweet potato and dinner plus more squash for the week’s meals was done.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Spiced red cabbage with cloves, red currant jelly and red wine

The holidays are over (for now) and things are getting back to normal – until we are gearing up for the next holidays, which are not too far off. This was a dish I brought to this year’s thanksgiving holiday dinner; it is a bit of different, interesting and still fabulous side dish that compliments any holiday dinner. It is a traditional German holiday feast or Sunday roast side --- sauteed spiced red cabbage, based on my mom’s recipe here.


Spiced red cabbage with cloves, red wine, and red currant jam
(makes a large pot, about sides for 10 people)
  • 1 medium sized head of red cabbage (ca. 2-3 pounds)
  • 1 red onion, diced finely
  • 1 TB butter or ghee (my mom’s recipe actual calls for bacon fat)
  • 1 medium sized tart apple, finely diced (not peeled but core removed)
  • 1/2 TB whole cloves (or 1/2 ts ground cloves, whole one are better)
  • 1/2 TB juniper berries
  • 1/2 cup of red wine (e.g. cabernet sauvignon or a good table blend)
  • 1/4 cup of apple juice (if not using red wine, use more 1/2 cup of apple juice)
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1-2 TB red current jam or black currant jelly(e.g. Bonne Maman or Schwartau)
  • 1/2 TB beef broth concentrate, diluted in 2-3 TB of water
  • optional: 1-2 TB  aged good balsamic vinegar

Prep: quarter the red cabbage head, remove the core, and slice the quarters really thinly with a sharp knife (or use a mandoline) – the finer shredded, the better.


In a large cast iron pot, dutch oven or heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, melt the butter or clarified butter and add the diced onion, and saute until slightly browned. Now, add the shredded cabbage, the cloves, juniper berries, the bay leaf, and the diced apple to the pot, and mix all ingredients well.


Add the red wine and the apple juice, and close with the tight fitting lid (there is no other liquid and make sure the steam from the gabbage does not evaporate but helps steam the cabbage). Turn heat on medium-low, and cook for ca. 20-25 min depending on how ‘crunchy’ or ‘well-done’ you like the cabbage to be cooked. Nevertheless, stir once in a while to make sure it does not burn on the bottom. If it gets too dry, add more apple juice.


Once the cabbage is tender, turn the heat to low, and add the red or black currant jelly or both, remove the bay leaf, add more salt and pepper to taste, and a half TB of beef broth concentrate (or bouillon) dissolved in some hot water. Mix well, and add a glug of balsamic vinegar to round out the flavor. Enjoy!


Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Cat Friday

Hope, your Thanksgiving was joyful and good-food-and-family full. I came home, and shared some of the leftover turkey on the send-home plate with 2 of my cats (the other 2 turn their noses at anything that is not fancy feast). For a while now, I have also been feeding a stray cat. He or she comes in the dark of the night and I never managed to see him or her, but in the morning the food is gone. Last night I made a special thanksgiving bowl for the little one: some fancy feast, thanksgiving turkey, some blue buffalo wilderness food and a few cat treats on top. This morning when I grabbed firewood from the garage, the bowl was licked clean. Happy thanksgiving, little stray cat.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The clock is ticking

The clock it ticking, and the deals have already started. Over the last years (as a now savvy shopper) I have realized how intertwined the thanksgiving turkey feast and the deal hunt (likely replacing the chase for a turkey 100 years ago) have become. I feel we are all at the start line of an Olympic type sprint for the best deals starting at midnight on Thursday. The air is electric, the coupons are clipped and printed, the attack strategy is formulated. I wonder if I can remove myself from the storm, and just lay low and let it pass over me, buying nothing, really. But then I open my email box and there all these deals, and I remember the things I like and never bought. But now, with 50% off? why not?

I don't really need anymore stuff. But here a few things that could tempt me.

I have many le creuset, but I never saw that there is even a 1 quart one available. 1 quart! It is only 5 1/2 inch in diameter and still costs (on sale) $100. Cute. Great for single portion chilis. But, no.

I am going through a preppy phase right now, and you cannot have enough JCrew blazer to go preppy. The middle one is tempting. But maybe I outgrow my preppy phase, and then I have way too many blazers and it is ebay time again, sell the surplus.
I have most of these items, from Gap's city girl collection, in some form or another, but this red leather moto jacket could be a life time piece, right? But the red one is not available online and it is definitely not in my store. Dreaming on (and saving a lot of money).

Now, I will hide out somewhere, and keep myself distracted with something productive.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Beef Bourguignon

It is US Thanksgiving holiday week, work is winding down (I wish) and it is time to focus on cooking, turkeys, side dishes, buy good wine, and invite friends and family and/or be invited. To warm up, I cooked a beef bourguignon with some grass-fed local organic beef from the farmers market. While I am waiting for Guiliana and Bill to have their baby, I am writing this up.

Beef Bourguignon (makes ca 4 not too large servings):

  • 4 oz smoked bacon, diced
  • 1-2 TB olive oil
  • 1 – 1 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound carrots, cut into larger cubes
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 1 cloves of garlic, microplaned 
  • 1/4 cup cognac
  • 1/2 bottle good dry red wine such as Cote du Rhone or Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2 cups of beef broth
  • 1 TB tomato paste
  • 1 ts fresh thyme leaves (1/2 ts dried)
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh or dry
  • 1/2 pound fresh whole pearl onions
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1/2 ts thyme, 1 bay leaf, salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms stems discarded, caps thickly sliced
  • 1/2 TB butter
  • 1.5 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Add the diced bacon to a large Dutch oven and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is releases the fat and is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate. Add the olive oil to the pan.


Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside. Add more olive oil if the pan gets too dry.


Again, add more olive oil if the pan is too dry at this point, and add the carrots, and onions to the dutch oven, 1 ts of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned and the carrots caramelized. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the cognac, stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol (or just cook off). Add the braised meat and bacon back into the pot with all the juices.

Now, pour the 1/2 bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme and stir in. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 3-4 hours until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork (*).


Meanwhile, prepare the pearl onions. Peel them, and heat 1 TB butter in a pan. Add the pearl onion and brown from all sides for 10 min, gently roll over for even browning. Add salt, pepper and a bay leaf as well as the thyme. After browning, add 1/2 cup of broth, cover, and simmer for 45-60min until tender and most of the liquid is evaporated. Discard the bay leaf.


Saute the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter for 10 minutes until lightly browned. Remove the dutch oven from the oven and add the sauteed pearl onions and the mushroom. Also, sprinkle 1/2 TB of flour and stir into the beef stew. Heat, stir and see that the stew starts to thicken. Optionally, add a 1/2 TB butter. Serve with crusty bread, or boiled potatoes.


(*) I used a very low-fat beef, and even after 4h in the oven it was still not tender. So, I placed the stew in a pressure cooker, the wonder weapon to get any meat tender, and cooked under pressure for another 30min. It was not perfect, but tender enough. If you are short on time, you can also cook the entire stew in the pressure cooker for about 45min.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

This is the time of the year to check for fashionable cold weather boots (is there such a thing?) and be vulnerable to new dutch ovens for stews, chillis and holiday dishes, and the gettogethers with friends and family. It is not that I don't have a le creuset dutch oven collection already, but I could not resist this one any longer. I had seen it for 2-3 seasons on the Sur La Table catalog and this year it had bewitched me heart and soul: the Le Creuset Marseille round dutch oven. Sur la table also has a really good price -- $149 instead of $285. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Streuselkuchen (German crumb cake)

It was my late great aunt Jenny’s 100th birthday yesterday, and in her honor and to remember her I baked one of her most famous cakes (famous across generations in our family) – the streuselkuchen. When it was baked, everyone came to her house ‘zum Kaffee trinken’ (come over for a cup of coffee). It is a German custom, much like the British make time for tea and pastries in the afternoon, Germans make time for coffee and cake. Typically, since only the stay at home moms have time to do this, it is a way to meet up with girlfriends, let your kids play together, and hang out, knit, gossip, solve the life’s latest problems, and spend a few hours. On the weekends or for birthdays everyone came. This cake was a staple in my family when we all still lived close together, and it is fabulous not only because it tastes fantastic but also because it only gets better after a few days, less crumbly, more dense and the best thing to bite into when having the hot coffee. 

No one could make this cake like my great aunt. It is involved, you have to have patience, nurture it, and it richly rewards you. Just like my great aunt was, one of the best cooks and bakers and gardeners I’ve ever known. Aunt Jenny, this is for you!


Streuselkuchen (German Crumb Cake)

This recipe is for a 10-12 inch square or round spring form.

Special equipment: standmixer with dough hook (can also be kneaded manually).

Base layer:
  • 2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3 TB warm milk
  • 1 ts fast rising yeast
  • 40  g sugar (divided, 1 ts for yeast + milk)
  • 1 TB bakers milk powder (optional, but helps the yeast to rise)
  • 5 TB (40 g) unsalted sweet cream butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 egg (reserve other half for the crumbs)
  • pinch of salt
Mix the yeast, 1 ts of sugar and the lukewarm milk in a small bowl, and wait until yeast starts to get bubbly (ca. 15min). 

In the bowl of a standmixer with the dough hook attachment, add the flour, 3 ts sugar and the bakers milk powder, and mix all three ingredients. Make a well in the flour, and pour the milk yeast mixture in it. Turn on the standmixer, and on slow mix the dry ingredients with the yeast mixture (do not yet add: butter, egg or salt since it interferes with the yeast). Once the yeast is well incorporated and distributed in the flour mix, add the butter, 1/2 egg and salt. Knead the dough on medium speed until it comes together as a ball (it will be crumbly for quite a while, ca. 10 min). If it does not come together after 15min of kneading, add 1 TB of warm milk.  Once the dough forms a ball around the hook, continue kneading for another 15min on medium speed. 


Now, remove dough from bowl of standmixer, and place in a metal, glass or ceramic bowl, and let rise for ca. 30min at a warm place. Time to make the crumbs!

Streusel (crumbs):
  • 2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
  • 125 g sugar
  • 125 g unsalted sweet cream butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 egg (reserve other half for the crumbs)
  • 1/2 ts bitter almond extract
  • 1 pouch Dr. Oetker Vanille sugar (or 1/2 ts liquid vanilla extract)
  • pinch of salt
In the bowl of a standmixer with the dough hook attachment, add the flour, sugar, and the butter, cut into small cubes. Start the mixer on low speed, until the flour/sugar and the butter start to incorporate. Add all the other ingredients, and let the mixer run for about 10-15 minutes until uniform-sized crumbs are form. At the beginning, the butter will be large lumps, and the flour has only tiny crumbs, but over time the butter distributes over the flour more evenly, all crumbs are about equal in size. When it doubt, just let it run a little longer. Patience!

Stop the mixer, when the crumbs are at equal size.


Preheat the oven to 50-80F (warm). Spray a spring form with baking spray, and distribute the base dough into the pan.


Take a fork, and gently poke the dough all over the pan. Once done, brush lightly with some warm milk.


Now, distribute all the streusel on the cake evenly.


Place in the oven at 50F for about 45min for the yeast-based base layer to rise to about 0.5-1 inch thickness. After that, remove cake from oven, and preheat to 425F, and bake the cake for ca. 20-25min.

Before serving, sprinkle wit granulated sugar.



Thursday, November 8, 2012

The first snow

Well, after a bit of dusting the other day, we got the first snow last night thanks to the first Northeastern’er. Now, the wind is blowing and it is cold, and rain on top so it’s the mess. Just makes you want to stay put in front of the fireplace, cuddled by cats, and not venture out in the world. Brrrh! Winter to come.


Lunch is the last romaine in the fridge, cannellini beans and fried baby portabellas with gorgonzola and snippets of the last rescued rosemary from the garden and a blonde balsamic vinaigrette.

first_snow_2012_0 first_snow_2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Let's fly away and visit the Borough Market in London

Now, that all the exciting US stuff is over, we can focus on the fun again, such as travel. Every visit to London should include a visit to the Borough Market, a market that has 'farmers' from all over Europe to sell cheeses, meats, breads, flowers and more. It is open during the week for restaurants, but on Friday and Saturday it is open for the public at large. Talk about sampling! Conveniently it starts with stands to get your breakfast oysters and a glass of champagne and then the weekend can start with samples from France, Italy and of course, England. Don't miss it!

Borough Market is a produce and fresh fish and meat market for whole salers. On the weekend, it is open to the public at large.

A great place to have breakfast, oysters, or a glass of prosecco before produce shopping.

It's best to come around 9am when the market is still empty, private, and relaxed.

Food ranges from organic fruit to spanish ham and provence lavender.

Samples are available at most stands, and they alone a worth wandering the market.

The cheese is Switzerland, Netherlands, Italy and naturally some British goat cheese and Stilton.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Foggy November

October ended with keeping everyone in its grip watching Sandy, and November came quietly leaving us with assessing the damage, the devastation and helping to rebuild. In some ways, looking at the news coverage, it feels like Sandy is the Katrina of the Northeast. Not in means of lack of FEMA response but by the widespread devastation. So many people who lost everything. The weather report says there is a new storm on the way, this time a winter storm, with snow and cold temperatures. Looking at global climate change, unfortunately this will not be the last of a storm like this.

Things here in Maine are more quiet, we were not impacted much, at least not as long as you do not live in the Southern and coastal Maine parts. Our days consist of raking leaves these day, from trees finally emptied of their bright yellow coat by Sandy, clearing out the vegetable beds, buying dried local beans and bags full of beets for cheap at the farmers market, and also wondering if there will be the first snow this week.

One thing this week is for sure, though, tomorrow is election day, so GO VOTE.