Monday, August 20, 2012

Peach Cake, German Style

Peach Cake
I have been craving a peach cake, so, the other day I bought some peaches. Then I set to work looking for a very German-style peach cake, like the ones I used to see at the cafés and bakeries in Germany and Austria.  I remembered the Rhubarb Cake cake recipe that I found at My Kitchen in the Rockies and decided to return and see if Kirsten had, perhaps, a different recipe for peach cake.  I found one immediately and after perusing the recipe, I knew I had to make that cake.  It reminded me very much of the Sauerkirsch Kuchen that I used to have at the Café Schlossgarten in Stuttgart, Germany.  And the recipe is rather unique in its process, at least unique to me.

First, I needed to make a sweet dough which I believe, in German, is Mürbeteig, a sweet shortcrust dough.  This is then patted into the bottom of a springform pan.  Then I added the skinned, quartered peaches. Next it is topped with a cream, egg, sugar, and ground almond mix.  I have no idea what this mixture would be called.  The recipe calls for a stiff cream to which sugar, a whole egg, and ground almonds are added.  This is then topped onto the peaches.  Finally, it's finished with some sliced almonds and sprinkled sugar.  The recipe from Kirsten is here: German Almond Peach Cake.  She adapted her recipe from a German blog, BaBaFo, which has the same whipped cream topping.

The cake is delicious!  I could eat it several times a day.  Indeed, I've already eaten much of it and will be buying peaches again this afternoon.  German and Austrian cakes and pastries certainly add a little gemütlichkeit to life!  So I encourage you to visit My Kitchen in the Rockies and put a smile on your face with some good, German recipes, especially those cakes.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Best Rhubarb Cake Ever

Rhubarb Cake
When I lived in Stuttgart for a year, I loved the coffee houses with their seemingly endless selection of cakes and tortes.  I especially liked the long, two hour walk through the Rosenstein Park to Cafe Schlossgarten (Castle Garden) because all that walking sparked an appetite that could only be fulfilled by a piece of the many, many cakes that lined the counter.  One of my favorites was a sour cherry cake that had just the right amount of sugar to tart taste, a moist, butter cake texture, ground nuts, and those luscious cherries.  I always had it "mit sahne," with a dollop of softly beaten whipped cream.  I can taste it still.  That cake was the elevated, pastry chef's version, it seemed, to another cake, comparable in flavors, although not always quality, that every German woman seemed to make: Obst Kuchen.  That means fruit cake, but nothing like our American fruit cakes.  Instead it was a buttery, baking powder cake with whatever fresh fruit was in season.  It was not so rich that it couldn't be eaten for breakfast, the way I prefer it, but it did make one feel a bit decadent.

So, when I ended up with a giant bag of rhubarb last week, I immediately decided that I needed to find a European style rhubarb cake recipe, or at least some comparable fresh fruit cake recipe.  I could have fooled around creating a recipe, especially given some of the cookbooks I own, but I wanted it perfect the first time.  I googled Rhubarb Cake.  I was lucky to come across one almost right away.  Some things are just meant to be.  I found this recipe which sounded exactly right, French Rhubarb Cake.  I do not personally know the blogger of My Kitchen in the Rockies, but Kirsten's blog is one I'll be reading more frequently in the future.  I love German food and to hear her stories and read the recipes from her own family is a treasure worth having.

In Kirsten's Rhubarb Cake blog entry, she says that she adapted her recipe from one found in Bolli's Kitchen.  Kirsten reports that Bolli is a German woman who lives in France.  Her blog is both in German and French which is lucky for me because I still remember enough of both to read her blog.  I had to search a bit to find out more about the original recipe.  It turns out that it comes from a fresh apple cake recipe from the River Cafe in London, Torta di mele "River Cafe."  Both bloggers use it with any fresh fruit in season. The River Cafe recipe can be found here.

Although I thought my search was over, while browsing through my copy of Cakes: Good Cook Time-Life Books, I found a Rhubarb Cake recipe similar to the ones above.  It's from Hans Karl Adam who wrote Das Kuchbuch aus Schwaben (I chose this link because it shows the book cover).  I can't believe it!  In my own bookcase I have a recipe from a cake cookbook that features the kind of cake I remember most from where I lived in Stuttgart, the biggest city in Swabia.  Coming full circle, the recipe has once more been confirmed as a keeper. Like Kirsten in her Rocky Mountain kitchen and like Bolli in her German/French kitchen, I may make slight adaptations here and there but I know that the recipe will always bring back memories of my days in Stuttgart and those lovely, old coffee houses filled with the most beautiful and delicious cakes and tortes. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Navarin Printanier

Navarin Printanier
Nothing says springtime like a Navarin Printanier!  In French Country Cooking, Elizabeth David states that that a Navarin Printanier " a ragoût of lamb or mutton to which spring vegetables give special character."  But to me, it is the name, a springtime ragout, that brings forth thoughts of putting in the vegetable garden, picking the first crops of spring, foraging for perennials and wild plants, and finally eating fresh vegetables again.  Indeed, most of my summers are spent eating fruits and vegetables.  The other aspect of the traditional Navarin Printanier that brings forth springtime memories is the taste of that ragout, the combination of the turnips with the lamb and the peas is unique, and to me, special.  It's special because I love those flavors and also because my husband and I had the most delicious Navarin Printanier one year in Paris, one that I will never forget.

Elizabeth David's recipe calls for " potatoes, a small bunch of new carrots, and a few baby turnips...[as well as] 1 1/2 lbs. of green peas, freshly shelled...."  I'm not sure where in the world these different foods are all available in the same season, and especially in spring.  In springtime in north Idaho, the potatoes, carrots, and turnips must be bought locally or have over-wintered in the root cellar or the garden.  The peas are a "maybe" for May, although they do appear in June.  But all of that doesn't really matter because I am driven to make this dish every spring no matter where I find my vegetables.  The lamb is never a problem because I always have some locally raised lamb in the freezer.

One vegetable that does appear in May is asparagus and we eat as much as we can.  Thus, it appears on the plate, but not mixed in with the traditional dish.  In honor of its name, I served the Navarin after a day of working in the garden, tilling the soil, planting some seeds and starts, pruning the grape vines, and all those other activities that must go into a garden for bounty in the summer.  The dish was tasted the same as I always remember it.  It's not as beautiful as I have sometimes made it.  And the photo is not the best because I had to use my phone, my usual camera appearing to be broken forever.  But no the photo could do justice to the memories of Navarin Printanier that inspire me every spring.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Spring Whimseys

At the end of spring semester, I always need to escape for a few days.  Last year, we went to Depoe Bay on the Oregon Coast.  Last week, we stayed in Canmore for three days, a short, five hour drive from where we live.  Canmore, Alberta, is located about two miles south of Banff National Park and was the location for the 1988 Winter Olympics.  I love being in the Canadian Rockies because the mountains are so majestic and so filled with wonder that the weight of responsibility falls from my shoulders, as if in a sacred place, and I feel like I am home.  It has become a regular place to visit, to get out of Dodge once in a while, and to lose myself in such overwhelming beauty.

The drive is always amazing.  Highway 95 takes us to the border at Eastport and then, for almost an hour, we travel through a narrow canyon which cuts off all phone service making one feel alone, on a beautiful drive through forest, rocky canyon walls, past Moyie Lake, and into the flats of Cranbrook. Traveling through in the early morning and in the evening a driver must be careful about the wildlife on the highway. Elk abound here.  Our next stop is in Cranbrook where I use my ATM card for some Canadian money, and then promptly spend some of it on a latté.  From Cranbrook we continue traveling north through some very historic territory.  This is the trail used by David Thompson and the fur traders in their final passage through the Canadian Rockies and south into the United States.  The town of Canal Flats is  interesting historically and geographically because the Kootenay River flows in a southern direction just east of the town.  And about 1.2 miles north of Canal Flats, at Columbia Lake, are the headwaters of the Columbia River, which flow north before changing direction, heading south into the U.S., and then flowing westward to the Pacific.  After passing the lake, we then travel past Windermere Lake, and between the towns of Windermere and Invermere David Thompson, in 1807, had Jaco Finlay build Kootanae House, a trading post for the North West Company.
As an aside, note the different spellings of Kootenay, which is the spelling used in Canada.  In the U.S. we spell it Kootenai.  In both places we find the spelling Kutenai.  But historically, this name for the Ktunaxa peoples, exists in many forms, e.g., Cootenae, Cutenai, and so forth.

We stopped in Invermere to check out the local bakery but we think it has new owners because the breads are just not as good as they were.  From Invermere it's just a quick 15-20 minute drive in to Radium Hot Springs and already, this year, road signs tell us that the Big Horn Mountain Sheep are out and about.  Sometimes they congregate in the middle of Highway 95 as it goes through Radium, creating, of course, interesting traffic jams.  We found them, still in their winter coats, just past the Hot Springs at Radium, located in Kootenay National Park.  About two miles past the sheep, we stopped to watch a black bear, about one year old, feeding on vegetation on the other side of the road.  I tried to take a photo but didn't want to stop too long on the highway, nor get out of the car so close to the bear, so, needless to say, I lost the photo.  From the Kootenay National Park we traveled into Banff National Park.  Melting snow filled the rivers and streams, turning them into an endless, emerald-green water chain.  Snow still capped the mountains but the sun shown brightly.  What a magnificent drive!  And then we were there, in Canmore, with a room and a view that lifted our eyes upwards to the peak of one of those majestic mountains. 

It is unfortunate that I cannot bring this beautiful drive to life with photos because I took some, but my camera's shutter died in Kananaskis Country halfway through our short respite.  I did manage to save a few photos of the Rocky Mountain sheep, including one who really had his eye on me.

Rocky Mountain Sheep
So there it is, a story without photos and, even worse, no camera for food photos.  However, I did check out a few websites of some of my favorite food places in Canmore so here it goes. I love some of the great restaurants in Banff, especially Le Beaujolais.  I love to have a cocktail in the bar in the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel because the seating opens into windows with incredible views of the mountains and valleys in this part of Banff National Park.  The hotel is one of the original Victorian style hotels built by the Canadian Railway to attract travelers to the trains that traversed the country.  I took my best friend to Banff when she visited from Tucson, AZ, and we really enjoyed the ambiance, as well as the food, at Ticino, and even though we lingered for hours, we never felt unwelcome or intrusive.  I have not yet tried Eden, the AAA Five Diamond Award Restaurant because $200 dinners are just not within my budget, but it certainly looks good! However, I can recommend some really good innovative and inexpensive food at several locations in Canmore.

One of my favorite places is Valbella.  It has incredible house-cured meats (the Black Forest Ham is to die for), some excellent charcuterie like sausages, patés (wild boar paté), smoked meats, salamis, and so forth.  I also like to visit the Railway Deli.  Two Austrian brothers, who once worked at Valbella, opened their own deli and restaurant, and the food is similar to Valbella but with more of the Tyrolean influence from the town they came from.  I think I had one of the best lamb burgers ever at Sage Bistro and although I consider french fries, or, pommes frites, as an ultimate junk food in which I rarely indulge, I ate an entire order of the sweet potato pommes frites which I dipped into the red pepper aioli.  I truly earned the title of "piggy" after that feast.   Other places in Canmore suit me as well, like the incredible views at the Iron Goat Pub.  Finally, like all good meals, my favorite dessert is not one on a menu, but the unique chocolate creations at Le Chocolatier.  Several years ago, I discovered their absolutely delicious Belgian chocolate bars, and on this latest trip they had, and I bought, a bite-size, dark chocolate cup filled with salted, lighter chocolate.  I also indulged in an amazing cognac chocolate, a hazelnut-cream filled dark chocolate, and the list goes on.

On this past trip we stayed primarily in Canmore, with a day's trip through the Bow Valley and into Kananaskis Country.  Other times we have driven to Lake Louise, and even on to Jaspar.  We've explored the canyons off of Hwy. 95, stopped to view some lakes, hiked along trails, and, of course, watched some of the wildlife.  On this trip I thought about visiting Rocky Mountain House, another David Thompson historical site, but we weren't staying long enough for that extra trip.  It's located outside the National Parks, north of Canmore and west of Red Deer.  I'll save that for another time.  Instead, I rested, took it easy, and arrived home with a happy heart.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Busy Winter and Spring

Wow, I cannot believe that summer is just around the corner.  I haven't written in a long while and in looking over my past posts, I see that I completely forgot to post at least two of my blog writings.  My bad!  From teaching to research to applying for a full time position, I just let go of blogging times.  But it did not mean that I haven't been focused on food.

From smoking various cuts of meat to trying out new recipes to ordering "something different" kinds of meats to cleaning out the freezer, I have been busy.  Unfortunately, I never took the time to take some photos and I think the lack of photos led to a lack of blogs.  Not good. 

I followed acookblog, grand winner of A Year of Charcutepalooza, on his grand prize winning journey to France and have followed his blog ever since.  I still follow a number of the Charcutepalooza bloggers in a year of making charcuterie that I will certainly never forget.  Because I also can the produce from my garden every year, I have become a faithful follower of Mrs. Wheelbarrow as well as others in the canning trade.  I have become a walking/talking advertisement for two Charcutepalooza sponsor/blog supporters, Food52 and PunkDomestics, and I just placed another order to D'Artagnan, another Charcutepalooza sponsor.  D'Artagnan offers some great cuts of wild boar, an animal, if it lived in my neck of the woods, would turn me into a hunter in seconds flat.  I love the flavor of wild boar!

For my birthday, in April, my dear bff and talented chef, Mark, helped me make my birthday dinner.  Yes, I usually make my own because that is my birthday gift to myself.  But I miss cooking with Mark so for a birthday present, I asked him to help me.  We made an absolutely delicious tropical fruit stuffed pork loin that was a big hit with everyone.  We added a corn, tomato, and arugula salad which was sooooo good.  We served it all family style and also added fresh, roasted vegetables to the menu.  Finally, we topped it off with my homemade yellow plum ice cream, served in tuile cups, and topped with a blackberry/cabarnet sauce.  It was so delicious!  Everyone was blissfully satiated.

The Charcutepalooza smoking challenge made me realize that I really needed something better in a smoker and I went with the Bradley Smoker.  One of my favorite smoked food items is fish, especially trout.  Because trout are popular with fly-fishing fanatics in our local rivers, I decided to become a fly-fishing woman.  My husband taught me to fly fish years ago, but it became forgotten knowledge until recently.  My cousin, Mike, in Maine, a certified fly fishing instructor and Maine guide, sent me a fly-fishing rod and reel for my milestone 60th birthday.  Now I have to do it, especially since my Bradley Smoker beckons me daily to smoke some fish!  Luckily, I have my local friend, Red, who is an expert and I can't wait to wade into the Moyie River to fly fish with her.  Our mutual friend, Steve Jamsa, took this great photo of Red fly fishing in the Moyie, and I think it should be the poster for fly fishing in the West.  What do you think?

What with fly-fishing, an early, wet spring, and a garden that, at the moment, looks like a rain forest, I expect food to focus large on the horizon.  Given that I'm still just a part time instructor at the local community college, I'll have lots of time to give to cooking, food, and all the beauty present in my neck of the woods.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Queen Of The Leftovers

Spaghetti Carbonara?
I know, you can't really see the eggs, but they're in there.  Along with some duck breast prosciutto scraps taking the place of bacon/pancetta or whatever other flavorful, salty, cured meat is hidden in that spaghetti.  After slicing our Duck Breast Prosciutto we ended up with scraps because, wow! that prosciutto warms up quickly!  I froze the scraps and later, while drooling over some cookbook photo of spaghetti carbonara, I decided to turn those leftover duck prosciutto scraps into an exciting dinner based on the traditional favorite, Pasta Carbonara.  The prosciutto provided a nice fatty, salty flavor for the pasta.  I sauteed some locally raised shallots in the fat before adding the spaghetti and local fresh eggs.  And it tasted divine even if the photo didn't do it justice.  I wish I had cracked one final fresh egg over that hot dish.  Delicious. You see,  I could never let those sliced prosciutto scraps go to waste...they had potential as "leftovers."

And that is one of the reasons that I think one description of me could be "Queen of the Leftovers."  I actually feel, sometimes, like some reincarnated memory of the Great Depression, a memory that comes from a farmer, from the kind of family in which my Grandma was raised in upstate New York.  I know that she was poor and the effect was a thriftiness that lasted all her life.  Somehow, she passed some of that on to me, especially when it came to home life.  I am a re-user of household stuff.  Old T-shirts become dust rags, old, but still good fabric becomes patches, old sheets cover my crops in possibly freezing weather, old towels have numerous applications, and the list goes on.  I don't make rag rugs, but I really like the idea of them.  But I digress, because what I'm really, really good at is food leftovers.  Leftovers as meals.

Wild goose breasts in pork fat
My husband complains that we never have first overs.  He thinks I scout the neighbors for leftovers.  Sometimes he's right.  Last year, my friend, Mark, gave me six wild goose breasts that an acquaintance had given him.  Since they were skinned, I knew they would be drier than usual so I had to think of a good way to use them.  What process could be better than to confit them?  I didn't have any goose fat but I sure had a lot of rendered pork fat so it was an easy task turning them into confit. After a month in the fridge, we tried two of the goose breasts and they were still dry. Unfortunately, they also had some buckshot in them.  I thought about tossing them but that thrifty saver inside of me said "no, let them sit longer in the fat."  We tried them again at three months and they were still somewhat dry but the next two had no buckshot.  My hopes rose.  Finally, after six months we tried the last two and they were moist and delicious.  My husband's had one piece of buckshot but it didn't take away from how good the goose breasts tasted.  Dang good leftovers from friends!

Pancetta, shrimp, and fava bean pasta
During my year of Charcutepalooza I found many uses for the leftover portions of a bigger dish.  Pasta dishes came easy to me.  I love the combination of a salty, cured meat product with shrimp, roasted, ground fennel seeds, hot pepper flakes, and a vegetable.  Using the pancetta seemed a perfect combination to the shrimp and fava beans resulting into a complimentary blend of textures and assertive flavors.  Some extra heavy cream pulled everything together as well as leaving a light but luscious coating on the pasta.

Head cheese made it into several different soup dishes including Yellow split pea and Navy Bean soups. I also loved using it for Head cheese hash. To me there is some unexplainable affinity between poached eggs and head cheese, so that became an easy Sunday breakfast.

Sausage, by far, is the easiest leftover.  I love the choice of the various kinds of sausage I made last summer during the year of Charcutepalooza.  With all those choices calling to me from the deep freeze, I knew we would be eating lots of sausage this past year.   From cabbage stuffed with merguez sausage, to mac 'n cheese with garlic sausage, to Italian sausage sandwiches, to pasta sauces filled with a variety of sausage flavors to just plain sausage on the barbecue, all that homemade frozen sausage is wonderful to have in the freezer and it certainly fulfills my junk food obsession for sausage.  Plus, aren't I using leftovers....

I make stock out of any leftover bones, fat, and meat.  I save herbs from my garden and use them all winter.  I do have some fresh herbs in my sunroom, including rosemary, bay, and lemon verbena, all plants that I have to over-winter indoors.  I can jams, jellies, chutneys, pickles, butters, sauces, and even dried morels.  And it doesn't stop there.  After using a nice, fresh vanilla bean in my version of David Lebovitz's poached pear dessert for the Charcutepalooza finale I had to save the vanilla bean.
Spicy vanilla bean sugar
After removing it from the liquid, I allowed it to sit for several days until it dried.  I assumed it had become infused with the other flavors .  For the leftover version of all that spiciness, I stuck it in a canning jar filled with sugar. After a month of infusing all that spicy goodness into the sugar, I could already catch the heady aroma of that dessert.  I figure that by saving the spicy infused vanilla bean it means I can pick up my crown for Queen of the Leftovers.  And wow! that sugar sures tastes good in my morning bowl of oatmeal....

Spicy sugar oatmeal

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wishing For Tomatoes

Tomatoes for roasting
These tomatoes are what I'm longing for.  It is now February and we've endured weeks on end of either 20F or 30F weather.  It has also been a rather "brown" winter without much snow- only enough to not melt on our few sunny days.  The remaining snow, and any melted snow, now freezes everyday which requires ski poles, skill, guts, or those little chain ice-walkers.  I'm beginning to feel like a cow yearning for the fresh grass of springtime.  I keep looking for signs of chives, usually the first green to grow in my garden, and so far my search has not been fulfilled.  I think I'll order seeds and let the growing begin.

Yes, I've been absent for the past month or so.  Fall semester barely ended before Christmas and when that happens my favorite holiday seems to whoosh by.  I spent most of my vacation time updating classes and preparing for the spring semester.  I also worked voraciously on my book business.  Then my computer caught a virus so I spent several days performing a system recovery.  Actually, the recovery part was easy but all the updating was tedious.  My next computer will definitely be an Apple.

I have not stopped cooking.  For Christmas eve dinner I made sugo d'anatra, a duck ragu.  I'm still missing the skin that I assumed would be on my locally raised ducks and I thought the ragu would at least keep the duck moist.  It did and it was delicious!  For Christmas, since there were only four of us for dinner, I cooked my locally raised chicken, from the same source as the chicken I used for that time-consuming but fully-worth-it Chicken Galantine.  That is something I never would have made without Charcutepalooza.  And it was so good, that I will definitely make it again!

Spicy Noix de Jambon
Right after Christmas I also bought another pork leg and proceeded to make some new noix de jambon.  I made three "real" noix de jambon, then I experimented with roasted, ground fennel with garlic as well as a spicy jambon.  I made two each of both ideas on some smaller cut noix.  The fennel became too gritty so next time I would do it with whole, fresh fennel seed and garlic, although I'd be worried about bacteria forming because of the raw garlic.  For the spicy noix de jambon I coated it with Spanish smoked paprika and cayenne.  Needless to say it was hot and delicious.  The three regular noix also turned out yummy.
I've been rummaging through the freezer, cleaning out those products with expiring dates.  Needless to say, I'm just about out of sausage so that is on the calendar.  I've added leftover pork pieces (from the not-so-capable butchery of two pork legs) to risottos and pasta dishes.  I even added some pork, instead of beef, to a wintry batch of borscht.  The borscht did much more than double duty because I used up last summer's beets, carrots, and cabbage as well.  With some duck breast prosciutto scraps I made a carbonara and the list just goes on and on. 

My birthday is coming up in April and I'm already thinking about a Chicken Galantine....  We'll see.  Usually for my birthday I give myself the gift of making a very difficult dessert that I haven't made before.  One year I even made Sherry Yard's six layer Dobos Torte that she made for one of  Wolfgang Puck's famous Oscar parties.  Wow!  That was not only delicious but also great fun!  I don't know what will happen this year but the ideas are simmering on my brain's back burner....galantine, pork pie, head cheese....