Archive | June, 2013

Guest Post: Why is there no bread here? A rant.

24 Jun

 

 

 

Ed note: A kindly fellow blogger, The Winegetter, approached me about doing an exchange of posts this summer, as he and his wife will be traveling throughout SouthEast Asia for 2 months and he wants to keep his blog updated with original content. I promised him a post if he promised to expand on a topic that he brought up the first time we met: why there is no good bread in the US. Let me back up: he’s German. There, now all of your questions have been answered. 

bread

My wife says the easiest way to identify two Germans anywhere in the world is by listening to their first five minutes of conversation. Because, according to her, they will –100% guaranteed – complain to each other about how bad the bread is wherever they are and ask whether the other has found at least “decent” – or palatable – bread in the vicinity.

I tended to dismiss her assessment until I realized it is true. I do that. I really wouldn’t want to have to do that, but I have to do that. As a German, you grow up in bread heaven. Seriously. If you never lived in Germany, you have no idea. But if you grew up there, the smell of fresh bread is surrounding you, the variety of breads – and dinner rolls – is overwhelming and all of it is fresh, affordable, and – most of them – have a hard crust and a soft core. And no other country seems to get that right. Especially not America, where softness seems to be the key characteristic for bread.

Now, some bakeries here in and around Ann Arbor try. With the emphasis on try. Zingermans? Don’t get me started: Overprized, dried out bread that wants to be German so badly, but let me say it loud and clear: A dried out bread is not bread. Avalon? They actually do a decent job on their baguette, but then again, that is not really a bread, it is a baguette. Others? Not really. I buy fresh multigrain bread from Costco, which is still too squishy, but it is close enough…which I say with a sigh. Is that sad and pathetic? Yes.

Sigh.

Let me walk you through my random German bakery to give you an idea why I am so upset. You enter and are greeted by the danishes, croissants and other sweet stuff in the glass box that forms the counter. There are cakes, from streusel to plum pies, from strawberry tartes to serious cheesecake. There are croissants for under 1 euro ($1.30 – and I am talking actual, real fluffy yet rich croissants, not the Zingerman’s hard-as-a-rock-and-outrageously-priced-at-$3.50-crap. $3.50 for a “croissant”???? Seriously? They’re out of their minds…but then again, a look at their cheese prices is proof enough for that…sorry, I really really dislike Zingerman’s).

Photo from one of the branches of the bakery I am talking about:

geschaefte-12812-10

 

Behind the salespeople is what I am really looking for: the bread rack. The bakery I used to go to in Germany had about 35 different breads on its bread rack. 35. Seriously. And they were all different: from sunflower seed to pumpkin seed, from rye to multigrain, from baguette to ciabatta, from whole wheat to superdark full grain….the choice was awesome. And for a loaf of bread, you ended up paying around 2.50 euros to 3 euros ($3.20 – $3.90). Best of all, they had one featured bread of the week which would sell for 1.99 euros. Try to get a bread that is half-way decent in this country for under $5. Impossible.

If you have never been to Germany, you really cannot understand what I am talking about. But ask your friends that visited friends in Germany, and you will usually hear them talk about how good dinner and breakfast was, and that usually involves bread. Real bread.

Oh, and by the way: The German breadmaker’s association is currently putting together a registry of bread types in Germany, in an attempt to apply for World Cultural Heritage status…that is how serious we take this shit. (For the curious: Apparently, there are over 300 distinct different types of bread in Germany)

1616074680-handwerk-baecker-brot-BHUgYVwRI34

 

As you see, bread matters to us. But there is a big reason for that: We tend to have it twice a day; for breakfast and dinner. Not as a side, but as the hidden star of the dish. The big meal in Germany traditionally is lunch, and dinner is a meal of cheese and cold cuts and bread. While a lot of Germans are switching up their routines and tend to have more warm dinners, my wife and I still managed at least two to three traditional dinners each week. If the bread sucks, that meal sucks. If you just want to scrape up your premade tomato sauce, I guess soggy crap is just fine…

My biggest issue with American bread? Most of it is squooshy and soggy. Even the “harder” crusts tend to be too soggy, too soft, too mweh, too blurb. I am lacking words, I am making disinterested, bored sounds with my mouth. The country that has a reputation for producing bland, boring bread in Europe is the Netherlands. Why is the only thing American culture incorporated from Dutch culture one of the worst cultures in the Netherlands? I don’t get it.

And don’t forget the other cardinal sin: Most American breads are too sweet. This country’s obsession with sugar (or corn-syrup) has led to an oversweetening of many products. Where it hurts the most, for me, is in bread. Bread should not taste sweet when you try it. It is not a dessert!

Germany is lamenting the decline of its bakery land of plenty, but let me assure you: It is still leaps and bounds away from pretty much anywhere else…yes, there is more and more supermarket and frozen bread sold, but there still are plenty of good bakeries providing quality products at fair prices…

So what do we Germans abroad do? We resort to tricks. A friend of mine brings German bread-flour mixes from Germany every time he goes and then bakes his own bread. I hate baking, and even bread does not get me to make it. Also, I wouldn’t know where to find a proper recipe. Because bakery bread is actually superior to most homemade breads in my opinion. It might be the ovens, I don’t know.

Another option is to get lucky and find a guy who makes proper bread. And then we are willing to pay even a fortune. I am going out of my way to try breads here that look promising, but I often end up let down. So, all that is left to me is binge when I am back home and that is not nearly often enough. It is a sad state of affairs…probably, along with affordable stellar Rieslings, the biggest prize I paid for leaving Germany.

Sigh.

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Zucchini Jam with a Fried Egg: Breakfast of Champions

21 Jun

Final1

A few years ago I was in search of something hearty, comforting, and grilled-cheesey. I found all that and more in this recipe from one of my favorites, Big Girls Small Kitchen

{ Golden Zucchini Sandwich – Big Girls Small Kitchen }

While that recipe is just divine, it’s not what I’m going to be talking about. There is a part of this recipe that literally blew my mind, and has now become a staple in my kitchen anytime I need something cheap/healthy/tasty/light/heavy/warm/cold/dark/light/you get it right? It’s just an all-around satisfying item. Zucchini “jam”.

This is literally one of the easiest things you can make, and it’s SO good on it’s own, with eggs, in a sandwich (such as grilled cheese…), whatevs. So here, today, I’d like to share the easiest, tastiest thing you can make with 3(ish) ingredients, and 20 minutes.

You’ll need: garlic, olive oil, zucchini (+and fresh herbs you may have lying around, dill and basil work really well here).

Thinly slice your garlic, I used 3 cloves (think Italian mafia guys in prison slicing garlic with a razor blade)

Garlic

Heat about 1 Tbs olive oil in a pan over medium heat (if you’ve got a 1-10 heating knob on your stove, I’d got with about a 4-5), and add garlic. While this is happening, grate your zucchini, I used 4 small…and don’t worry about holding your camera steady, people like a blurry picture

Grate

Add the zucchini to the now kind-of-golden garlic

ZucchiniPan

Give a heavy-handed sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper, and stir. Now walk away. Do it!

Over the next 15-20 minutes, exercise all the strength you have to only go over and give it a stir about 3 times. This gets the zucchini nice and caramely, and reduces it down to a nice, jam-like consistency. A few times when you go over you’ll see a lot of liquid released…DON’T PANIC! It’ll cook away.

Let’s make this interesting and add a fried egg.

Egg

Now add some freshly chopped herbs to your jam-like zucchini, I used dill

ZucchiniAfter

Now marry the two and add some hot sauce, because variety is the spice of life, my friends.

Final

Oh yeah, my yolk popped while I wasn’t looking, so that’s why it looks like whatever that is. This is just a delightful meal, and the best way to start any day.

Zucchini “Jam” Adapted from Big Girls Small Kitchen

  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 4 Small or 2 Medium Zucchini
  • 2 Tbs Fresh Dill
  • 1 Fried Egg (yolk preferably runny)
  1. Heat oil over medium heat. Thinly slice garlic and add to oil to brown slightly.
  2. Grate zucchini, add to garlic. Let sit for 15-20 minutes, stir 3-4 times. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Once zucchini is cooked through take off heat, and stir in freshly chopped herbs.
  4. Top with fried egg.

A Feast of Berries and Nice: Pt 2

13 Jun

And our Strawberry extravaganza continues…

Final1

You know what my big dilemma is when it comes to Summer? The Farmer’s Market is brimming with all sorts of tasty delights, and it’s literally a 10 minute walk from my house. However, this is also the time where there are about 10,000 fun and exciting things to do every weekend, and many of them involve me traveling (weddings, festivals, concerts, lakes, beer excursions, etc) over the weekend. Needless to say, I’m having Farmer’s Market guilt since I haven’t been able to take much advantage of the bounty held mere blocks from my house. However, I was still able to pair this with my delightful produce-packed meal last week (and it even coincided with the Red Wedding during Game of Thrones, who could have matched that up so perfectly??).

So, without further ado, I present to you the second Strawberry-inspired post this month:

Strawberry Jam Biscuits – Yvette Van Boven }

You know what stresses me out about that title? Biscuits. Fellow blogger The Food and Wine Hedonist recently posted about why baking is a lot more stress-inducing than cooking, and I couldn’t agree more. Any time I’ve made scones on here I feel like I go into an hour-long rant about over-mixing and blah blah blah, but you know what? Over-mixing and blah blah blah! You know what’s worse than throwing away something you’ve spent minutes (and possibly hours) creating? Remembering that you also spent money on all the ingredients. Yes, baking ingredients are traditionally relatively cheap (flour, sugar, baking powder/soda, salt, water), but remember, I’m the type of gal that will stop mid-run to pick up pennies. And when I don’t have a pocket in my shorts, I’ll carry that red cent all the way home, and triumphantly announce said money to anyone in the near vicinity.

Sidenote: one time at a movie theatre John, my sister Jessica and I were waiting in line to get tickets. Jessica and I both locked eyes on a nickel that was on the ground about 2 feet away from us and started a mad dash to be the first to pick it up. Before either of us could get our grubby fingers on it, John took a casual side step to conceal the five cent piece under his foot. He then gave us a “are you seriously competing for a nickel” glare. He just doesn’t get it. But suddenly something happened, the ticket counter person was calling “next in line” which was us. What to do. We each paused for an uncomfortably long time, hoping John would remove his shoe from our monetary prize before we could purchase our tickets. Alas, he firmly stood his ground, and we had to make the heroic decision to go purchase our tickets to continue the flow of movie traffic. That was 3 years ago. I still often think about what could have been… So yes, I’m cheap, that’s what I’m getting at.

With the weight of messing up these biscuits on the shoulders, I decided to embark on this project, just to prove to myself I could do it. I started with the non-baking portion first: home made jam.

Jamm

 

Well, I’m never buying jam again, this is so easy, tasty, and idiot proof, it’s crazy. You take strawberries and sugar, cook them for about 12 minutes, then stir in some lime zest and lime juice. Boom, you’ve been jammed. I decided to add some blueberries to the mix since I had them and I like questioning authority, man.

While letting your jam cool, take a deep breath and start your biscuits. CAREFULLY mix/sift your dry ingredients together (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt) and then add some lime zest and PRECISELY cut chilled butter cubes

ButterLime

 

Here’s the tricky part: use your fingertips to mix the butter into the dry ingredients, but DON’T over mix it. It needs to be like a coarse, sandy texture. Don’t stress out though, I mean, it’s not like if you over-mix it you can’t go back and fix it…oh wait.

BiscuitMix

There’s something kind of vulgar about that .gif isn’t there?

Now add your buttermilk, and mix with a fork until the dough resembles something “shaggy” looking

Dought

Oh my god, that doesn’t look shaggy. What have I done!? Now the fun part (if you haven’t had a panic attack yet): roll out GENTLY and cut your biscuit circles with an inverted glass

GlassCut

 

Put your little deflated circles on a baking sheet, give them a good thumbing in the middle and a heavy-handed sprinkle of sugar. It’s Jam time.

Jamming

 

Don’t let the false hope fill you up while these are baking, because your home will smell AMAZING during the 18-22 minutes these are baking. Moment of truth time:

Biscuits

 

I don’t think it’s possible for me to have a shot without some type of beer in the background. Hmm.

So as you can see, they look DELIGHTFUL, however, not puffy and flaky like a biscuit should be. I hereby change the name of these to Strawberry Jam COOKIES, because these things are sweet, tasty, and very satisfying. Just not….biscuity.

Final

 

And I’m sorry about all the animated pictures. I’m one step away from 90s chic with the tail that forms on your cursor when you navigate around the site, or, you know, I could go with the classic toaster with wings…

 

Strawberry Jam Biscuits – Yvette Van Boven via Bon Appetit }

Strawberry Jam

  • 12 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled, halved or quartered if large (about 3 cups)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  1. Cook strawberries and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until jamlike in consistency, 12–15 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in lime zest and juice. Pour into a shallow bowl and let cool.

Biscuits

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus more
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream (for serving)
  1. Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk sugar, baking powder, salt, and 2 1/4 cups flour in a large bowl. Add butter and lime zest and blend with your fingertips until coarse crumbs form. Add buttermilk and, using a fork, mix until just combined. Transfer to a lightly floured surface. Gently knead just until a shaggy, moist dough forms, about 4 times.
  2. Roll out dough about 1/2-inch thick. Using a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter or inverted glass, cut out rounds. Gather scraps and repeat rolling and cutting until all dough is used.
  3. Place biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using your thumb, make a large divot in the center of each biscuit; brush with egg and sprinkle liberally with raw sugar. Spoon a scant 1 teaspoon strawberry jam into each divot.
  4. Bake biscuits until golden brown, 18–22 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, if using, and remaining jam.

 

 

 

A Song of Berries & Nice: Pt 1

5 Jun

 

Salad

Tis the season, my friends. Produce aisles are brighter, more opulent, and brimming with tasty little gems. I’m going to consume all of it.

New Entering Flavor Country Strawberries

Sidenote: I have recently gone through somewhat of a drastic work change (long story), but I’m in essence working two jobs, both marketing related, both food related, and I have the pleasure of having at least one “home office” day. These are the best days of all my friends. I’ve opted to go Ann Arbor coffee shop exploring by choosing a different location each week to do my work from. The only downside is about an hour into work when that coffee and [whatever type of pastry said coffee shop offers] runs through your system, you need to use the facilities and your computer is all sorts of hooked up. Stranded. The first time I asked the barista to “keep an eye on my stuff” while I ran off, only to come back to see her no where near my stuff. The second time I opted to just wait….the full 4 hours…until I was done. The upside to this approach is that the payoff is immense, if ya know what I mean. But back to food. I was doing my “home office” work at Babo last week (they gave me a free yogurt sample, it was delightful), and during my walk back home for lunch I decided to stop in Literati, the new book store on Washington. That place is dangerous….I could spend a LOT of time and money there. They have a great selection, and a few of the books have hand written reviews and notes about them, which of course made me want to buy all of them. After having this sequence happen in my mental shopping cart–no books, 4 books, 2 books, 6 books, 1 book, no books–I decided to pick up the newest Bon Appetit and come back when I didn’t have 2 books on deck at home. I ATE up this issue. I have about 10 recipes dog-eared to make (I’ve already made about 4 of them) and whoever is doing their layouts (kissing fingertips), très magnifique. Which brings me to…

Strawberries! Yvette Van Boven (of one of my favorite cookbooks Home Made) has a special spread in this issue with about a half dozen recipes centered around strawberries, complete with beautiful photography and creative illustrations (done by the Chef herself….I think she just made my list of people “dead of alive” I need to meet). I chose 2 of her recipes, along with an additional mini-recipe featured in the front of the magazine to create quite the day of culinary delights. The second recipe of hers will be featured in the next post, so consider this a cliffhanger (I’m not going to post the recipes here because I’m already getting long winded, so feel free to click on the links to follow along):

Green. Bean. Slaw. Where do I sign up? Green Beans are an under appreciated workhorse in my opinion. They’re the go-to for restaurants to accompany meat and potatoes, or as a french fry swap out. Sadly, they’re often slathered in too much butter or oil, or over cooked to a sad mushy side. Don’t get me wrong, a nice soft melt-in-your-mouth green bean is alway appreciated while incorporated into a great casserole, but while on it’s own I like the vegetable to sing, to snap, to still have a semblance of it’s original self. This slaw not only offers a stage for the Green Bean to really belt it out, but it also brings along it’s friends radish, onion, and olive (how selfless, Green Bean).

First, prepare a mixture of feta, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper as your slaw binder (yes, it looks like cottage cheese)

Feta

Slice up your veggies

Greenbeans Radish

Add them to the feta mixture

Slaw

Toast some bread, and put heaping spoonfuls on it (I’m talking’ spill over, messy plate amounts)

Sandwich_Slaw

Top with some hard boiled egg slices (I like a good 6-7 minute egg, with the yolk still gooey, john is a fan of the 8-9 minute egg, with the yolk solid. Will we ever be able to make this relationship work?)

Sandwich_Egg

Now put that other piece of bread on top and set aside while you prepare your salad

Sandwich_Complete

For the salad, I was originally going to shell the peas, but look how many 10 pods (and 3 minutes of effort) produced

PeaShelled

So I went a different route

PeaCut

Now all you do it layer arugula, sliced strawberries, and almonds on a plate. Top with freshly grated parmesan, and a delightful vinaigrette that you just whipped up (oil, vinegar, sugar, whole gran mustard, poppy seeds. Classic.)

Salad

Select a delightful beverage to accompany your fresh FRESH and delicious lunch (we opted for 3 Floyds Jinx Proof and 3 Floyds Robert the Bruce because an afternoon of slicing and dicing can work up an appetite for a good beer)

Meal

Meal1

Now dig in.

Salad_Eat

This meal continued with a delightful Strawberry-centric dessert, which will be featured in the next post, so say tuned!

Also…I apologize for the lame attempt to name this post in a Game of Thrones-esque manner. 

Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market Feature: A-Picklin’ Bonanza

3 Jun

Board

Well well well, guess who’s featured on the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market blog again? Obviously it’s me because why would I non self-promote (I’m looking’ out for #1).

Pickled Market Veggies with Whitefish Spread – Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market

We have a new season full of fresh new veggies, and I thought “let’s brine ’em”, and brine ’em I did. I picked up some AMAZING Whitefish Spread from Bay Port Fish and decided to create a board around that (I was also fresh off my Charcuterie Board high). I was going to do asparagus, radishes, and swiss chard stems, but only ended up doing the first two because I wanted to make sure the brines were different enough for each type.

Once you start making fresh refrigerator pickles…there’s no stopping you.

  • Make a mixture of vinegar and water
  • Add some salt, sugar, and spices
  • Bring to a boil
  • Pour over desired vegetables
  • Let cool to room temperature
  • Pop in fridge for 48(ish) hours
  • Say “oh THESE pickled [vegetable name], no, they’re HOMEmade, I’m what you’d call a purist” while enjoying with an unsuspecting guest (however, don’t expect them to want to hang out with you again, this pickling knowledge has gone to your head!)

You can really play with the brine by selecting different types of vinegar (apple cider vinegar will give it a sweetness, while red wine vinegar will give it nice tang), and the herbs/spices you put in will also give great influence (you can go for classic dill, or maybe pair some cilantro and rice vinegar for an Asiany flair). And don’t forget, a pinch (or fistful) of crushed red pepper is always a nice addition for those who are into the spicy arts.

Final

 

To get the full recipes, check it out, and if you find yourself at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market, grab some of that Whitefish Spread because day-um, it was soooooo good.

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