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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Easy Sunday Morning Jazz

Recorded in 1955, this version of Deep Purple is timeless. With Art Tatum on piano, accompanied by Lionel Hampton, Harry Edison, Buddy Rich, Red Callender and Barney Kessel, for my money this is jazz at the pinnacle of soft, lyrical improvisation. Sweet, sweet sounds that live in your soul and carry you to new heights.

Deep Purple, written by pianist Peter DeRose, was first published as a piano composition in 1933.  Words weren't added until 1938.  After that it took off as one of the biggest of the big band hits, even lasting in various versions through the beginning of the rock and roll era.

The words sink in deep and fill your heart.  It's love with an almost unbearable pain...

When the deep purple falls over sleepy garden walls
And the stars begin to twinkle in the sky—
In the mist of a memory you wander back to me
Breathing my name with a sigh...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

No Stir, That's My Cobbler

Just pour the batter into the butter, then add the blueberries.

Cobblers, laced with fruit, and crusty with risen dough, are some of my favorite desserts. Among these, blueberry cobbler sits at the top.  Sweet and bursting with plump berries…, my taste buds are doing back flips just thinking about it.

A little bit about blueberries.  The blueberry bush is a native-American plant.  Didn’t reach Europe until the 1930’s.  But now it seems, blueberries are noted for desserts and jams all over the globe.  German grocery shelves are filled with a selection of blueberry jams.  Also, the health industry lauds blueberries for their dietary benefits.  I’ll leave more of that to you and Google.

Most U.S. commercially grown blueberries come from Maine, but even when I lived in the southern U.S., there were pick-your-own blueberry farms.  Great fun and far less expensive than buying them in a store.  Our family used to pick enough to freeze bags of them, which I found out, doesn’t hurt the color, flavor, or round plumpness.

Let’s get to the recipe, which is soooooo simple, you’re going to have to control your urge to do more.  Read the whole recipe, including the notes, to ensure you get the dessert that will have your loved ones, or even your family raving for more.

One note of caution:  Make substitutions at your own risk.  If you throw together a gluten-free, artificially sweetened, non-butter cobbler, you’re on your own in a nasty and brutish culinary wilderness.  And, no one, not even your now-disgusted friends, are going to save you.

Blueberry Cobbler

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC)

1 stick butter (114 gm)
1 Cup flour  (128 gm)
1 Cup sugar (200 gm)
2 teaspoons baking powder  (approx 11 gm)
1/2 teaspoon salt (3 gm)
1 Cup milk (.25 liters)
2 1/2 Cups fresh blueberries, or one 12 oz package of frozen blueberries (see baking note below) mixed with 1/4 cup sugar

Melt the butter in a medium sized, deep-sided baking dish that holds at least 6-8 Cups.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.  Add the milk  to the dry ingredients and mix well to make a mildly thick, but liquid batter.

Pour the batter into the baking dish containing the melted butter.  DO NOT STIR, just pour it in. 

Pour in the sugared blueberries on top of the batter.  DO NOT STIR.

Bake at 350ºF (180ºC) for 1 hour.  Crust will rise to the top as the cobbler bakes.


Baking Notes:  1) If you are using frozen blueberries, increase the baking time to 1 hour and 15 minutes.  2) This is a very sweet and juicy dessert.  If you want it less sweet, do not mix sugar with the berries.  If you want it more cake-like, mix the batter using 3/4 cup of milk.

Besides the taste, why is this one of my favorite desserts to serve to guests?  You can put it together in a flash (before you serve the main course) and go back to your guests while it bakes.  Using only two mixing bowls and one stirring spoon (only for the batter!) it’s a very quick cleanup.  I often serve it with vanilla ice cream, for a hot/cold combination that’s a wonderful dessert choice year around.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Is A Weinfest Anyway?

For my friends who have NOT had the pleasure of  a weinfest, let me explain in photos...

First you find a nice quiet river, like the Mosel...

Add to that a medieval town, little changed in hundreds of years...

Then add a band or six to make it a parade...

block off the streets, for the crowds to drink and drift..

Sell some pretzels

...gather lots to eat...

...including roast meats ...spießbraten

...Lots to drink

...more happy paraders

balloons for the kids

...just one more way to say I love you!

...young and old, in costumes and not

...what's a festival without a queen?

...the parade goes on and on...

...but in the end, it's all about the grapes.

These grapes

...and of course, the wine...

...Until the day drifts harmlessly into evening...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pozole By Any Other Name

Don't cook the meat too long.  Let the juices collect.

Let’s gird our loincloths and travel on a culinary field trip, back through time to Mesoamerica, when men were warriors and virgins got stuffed into active volcanoes.  Think about that.  If you were a virgin, could you think of a way to quickly and pleasantly disqualify yourself for the volcano event in the Mesoamerican Olympics?

Ah, but time to get my mind out of the volcano and back on the pebble-strewn mountain trail to culinary adventure.  Let’s go to Pozole-ville.

Chili ain’t the only meal-in-a-bowl to come roaring out of Mesoamerican culture.  But, if you haven’t heard of pozole (po-zoll-ay), sit down, and pull up a spoon.  You might also want to pull out a pencil, pen, quill, or sharpened stick to jot this down:  pozole is frequently spelled posole,  posolii, or pozolé.  But, anyway you want to scratch it, it’s a combo of corn and meat.

Pozole possibly began (historians can be so circumspect) as a religious holiday dish, with human flesh as the meat ingredient.  Ground corn, in the eyes of the Aztecs, formed the dough from which God made humans, so human flesh and ground corn made an ancient ‘happy-meal’ combo.  The heart was torn out of the victim, with the rest of the meat chopped and mixed with corn and water. It was then served as a communal (communion) feast.  Kinda makes you want to stick with the work-week and skip the holidays, doesn’t it.

Don’t know about you folks, but when people speak about the innocence of the tribes that tomahawked up and down North and South America, call me skeptical.

Eventually, as the Conquistadores brought Catholicism to the tribes and put a stop to profiling virgins, and consuming your loved ones in pots of boiling corn, the ingredients of pozole changed.  Now it’s a nice little dish, easily made, that your family can enjoy without looking around suspiciously, wondering why Aunt Rosy is missing.

I told you the two main ingredients are corn and meat.  There are three varieties of corn, red corn (popcorn), sweet corn, and field corn.  In pozole, we use hominy, which is field corn soaked in slaked lye (lye cut with water) until the hulls come off.  Hominy, by the way is taken from the Powhatan tribe’s word for maize.  Maize, on the other hand, etc, etc.

Making Pozole

1 1/2 pounds ( .75 kilo) pork cut in 1 inch (about 3 cm) cubes.
6 Cups chicken stock  (1.5 litre)
1 Can tomatoes (about 15 oz or 430 gr) undrained
1 Can pinto beans with jalapeños, undrained
2 Cans hominy (drained, but not rinsed)
2 dried California (or similar) chilies
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 heaping Tablespoons cumin
1 heaping Tablespoon of marjoram (or substitute oregano)
1 heaping Tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Chopped onion, chopped fresh cilantro, and shredded cheese for garnish.

Flour tortillas to accompany.

Preparing the meat:

Mix the pork with 1/2 chopped onion, 3 cloves chopped garlic, cumin, red pepper, paprika, marjoram, salt, pepper.  Fry in a large pan (or fry in small batches) with a little bit of olive oil.  Do not overcook the meat.  It will continue cooking in the broth. After it lightly browns, take the pan off the heat and set it aside.  Juices will collect in the pan and will be added to the broth later.

Preparing the broth:

Step 1: Heat two cups of chicken broth in a small pot, then set aside.   Scorch the dried chilies in a hot frying pan.  Use no oil.  Don’t let the chilies burn, but a few black spots are ok.  Take them out of the pan; snap off the stems, shake out the seeds and let the chilies soak in the hot chicken broth until they are soft, about ten minutes.

Step 2:  Put the soaked chilies and their chicken broth in a blender.  Add the can of tomatoes and blend well.  Meanwhile, heat the remaining four cups of chicken broth in a large pot and add the contents of the blender to it.  Add the remaining 1/2 chopped onion and the cans of pinto beans and hominy.

Putting it all together:  As the broth mixture comes to a boil, add the meat and meat juices that have collected.  Turn down the heat and let the dish simmer for about 30 minutes.

I’ve found it’s better to let the dish simmer for 30 minutes, let it cool and then reheat it.  That further allows the flavors to blend.

Garnish the individual bowls of pozole with chopped onions, chopped cilantro, and shredded cheese.

Makes you feel like a real Mesoamerican warrior, don’t it, or at least want to start your own religion involving pozole and virgins.

Delicious antiquity in a bowl

Friday, April 20, 2012

Buying Wine the German Way - Small Vintners, Big Wines

Drop in and taste a few wines...

While you're at it, check out the warehouse

..Don't forget the vineyard...

Karl Dennhardt packs up your purchases

...While Frau Dennhardt adds up the bill...

No matter which wines you pick, they're going to be fabulous.

I admit having a fondness for the fermented grape.  Lived in Spain, traveled in France, toured the Napa Valley, blah, blah, blah.  I don’t mean the wines were blah, far from it.  I denigrate no wine before it’s time.  Wherever you are with that sweet someone, whether it’s a sun blinded day, or a drizzling time for snuggles, even if you have a two dollar, screw cap from Jimmy Jon’s Bottle Shop and Shoe Repair, it’s going to be a great wine. Warms your heart just thinking about those bygone days, doesn’t it.

In Germany, you can capture them again. Easily.  The big vineyards in the States have polished presentations and showcase tasting rooms, expansive enough to quench the thirst of busloads of tourists.  But also rather impersonal.  Not knocking that either.  Business is business. 

But, in Germany, the big news is the little news.  Up and down the German Weinstraße, there are hundreds of small-scale weinguts, family businesses, with their own hand-tended vineyards, careful wine production, and sales right out of the family homestead.  It’s fun to taste, but even more fun to get to know a little bit about the people who make the wine and sell it and care about it.

I know what you’re thinking.  If there are hundreds of weinguts, how do you go about picking one?  You have some choices.  Just go from one to another, sipping until you can’t remember your wife’s name, or where she left her purse.  Another, slightly less obnoxious method is to order wine in a restaurant and ask the waitress for the name and address of the weingut.  If she also includes her phone number, you’re a very lucky man.  A third way is to simply go to a friend’s house, drink his wine and before he throws your ass out, ask where he got it.  A fourth and probably the most fun you’ll have being clueless, is to get a map of the Weinstrße and plan a few tasting weekends.

In spring through fall, perhaps the best way is to look for winefests.  Chances are great that any wine you taste at a winefest is a local wine….as in down the street.

Don’t like any of those suggestions?  Go pop a top on a Bud and hunch down in front of the tellie for an afternoon of ‘Who Wants to Be A Loser?’

As it happens, we found a wine we liked at a restaurant.  Asked the waitress.  Walked out with a scrap of paper and all the info.  Now comes the best part: We drove there and all our dreams of a romantic wine tasting came true.  I’m using romantic in the way the word was intended. Enjoying.  Comparing.  Chatting about tastes and smells. Meeting lovely people in a cozy atmosphere that made you never want to leave.  In short, sharing a lovely afternoon with your sweet someone, with no worries, and no cares.

Dennhardt winery sits unobtrusively on a side street in Mußbach, a suburb of Neustadt.  Behind the house is a rather large warehouse, that stores wine production machinery, a small tasting room, and over 100,000 bottles of delicious red, white, and rosé wines.  Behind the warehouse stretch acres and acres of manicured vineyards.  The winery is run by Karl Dennhardt and his wife, both in their 80’s, and anything but old.  Cheery, enthusiastic to the point of exuberance, they invited us into the small tasting room and sat with us as we sampled six or seven of the more than fifteen different wines they produce.  Frau Dennhardt shared stories from her childhood to the present.  Neither she nor her husband speak English, but that didn’t seem to slow anyone down.

I forgot to mention, there was also a party going on.  The Dennhardts had a dozen or more friends in their backyard, eating, drinking, and enjoying themselves.  Frau Dennhart told us she’d made a five-kilo bowl of potato salad.  Out behind the warehouse, big chunks of skewered pork roasted over a wood fire and graced us with a heavenly, smokey aroma.

I asked Karl Dennhardt if it was really ok for us to taste right then.  He told me words to the effect of: hey, at least you’re buying wine.  Those folks out there are eating and drinking for free!  He wasn’t wrong about the buying part.  After a leisurely hour, we came home with seventy bottles.  Better than that, we came home with smiles and memories.

Weingut Karl Dennhardt
Brelten Weg 23a
67435 Neustadt-Mußbach
tele:  0632168367

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spargelzeit - Asparagus At It's Best!

Find a nice restaurant... 
...near a vineyard

...with a certain casual elegance...

...order a dry white, or whatever the chef suggests

...a crisp salad...

Spargel with pan roasted potatoes and Weiner schnitzel

The same, but with turkey steak

In Germany, April brings Spargelzeit (Asparagus season).  You don’t have to mark your calendar.  Restaurant chalkboards everywhere brag “fresh asparagus.”

I view Spargelzeit not only in culinary terms, but also as a harbinger of spring.  Time to drop the top on the cabrio, change to cotton scarves, have a meal al fresco, find another table inside because the sun went behind a cloud and your wife spears you with an icy stare.  When you ask her what’s wrong and she answers “NOTHING!” You’re in trouble.  In this case ‘nothing’ may be translated as “Read my mind, you unfeeling bastard.”  The brave man would sit it out, the coward caves.  She liked it much better inside.

I confess to loving the changing seasons, something I missed where the weather was constantly warm.  Germany has a bunch of seasons to like.  Not just spring, summer, winter, and fall.  There’s asparagus season (April –June), pumpkin season (Sept-Nov), beer season (Ever heard of Oktoberfest?), new wine season (Sept-Oct), strawberry season (June), and kick hell outta the French season (no longer celebrated) to name a few.

In the United States, and I suspect elsewhere, vegetable and fruit seasons are a dying phenomenon.  Supermarket chains scour the globe to being you everything you want, all the time.  Pumpkins in the spring?  Grapes in January?  No problem. But, we lose something in the process of having everything.  What if you celebrated your birthday, or Christmas everyday?  I know what you’re thinking.  Damn, I don’t want to get that old, that fast!

Asparagus (Spargel) served in Germany is almost exclusively the white variety.  Thick, succulent, even a little sweet, the woody stalk must be peeled before it’s cooked, but it’s worth the effort. No wonder the Germans rightly refer to asparagus as edible ivory, or the king of vegetables.  Spargel season is something to celebrate.

Say, isn’t white asparagus the same as green asparagus?  Kinda. There’s no biological difference between white and green asparagus.  The big difference is in the way they’re grown.  In short, white asparagus isn’t allowed to see the sun.  Lots of ways to do that.  Pile dirt on it (called hilling).  Cover it with a black tarp.  Without sunshine, no photosynthesis takes place, hence the paleness.  The result is a much milder and sweeter stalk.  Because it grows longer (green asparagus must be picked young), white asparagus is larger.  Here’s the bottom line for me:  serve white asparagus with a light hollandaise sauce and suddenly everything else on your plate is a side dish.

Traditionally, asparagus is bundled and cooked standing up in salted, boiling water.  If you find it in a market, buy it now.  The season traditionally ends on 24 June, with the feast of St John the Baptist.

Want expert help in cooking and serving?  Put the top down, drive to a sensational restaurant near a vineyard and pick a table inside, with an outside view.  Just sayin’….

Gutshof Bauer's Stuben
Altdorfer Straße 3
67482 Venningen
Tele:  06323-27-34

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Vinegar in a Tux

This is vinegar? 
Weinessiggut Doktorenhof in Venningen

First a little courtyard lesson

And what a courtyard!

Down in the caves

With a monk's cloak, of course

Vinegar Maidens

handblown vinegar goblets

Life can't be ALL vinegar


“I’ll have a shot of vinegar and while you’re at it, keep some handy to top off the ice cream.”  Sound bizarre?  Not to diners at the famous Four Seasons restaurant (Chicago) and not to the vinegar makers at Weinessiggut Doktorenhof who take the very sweetest dessert wine, trokenbeerenauslese, or eiswein  (for an explanation of German wines see an earlier stroudallover blog entry), add a hundred year old “mother,” an alcohol-eating bacteria, and age the liquid in oak casks for five to fifteen years.  What you get is a sweetly delectable aperitif that sits on your tongue like your favorite dessert and rolls down your throat with scarcely a bite.

That’s an unexpected twist on an ancient product.  Vinegar in one form or another wanders aimlessly through all of human history.  It’s probably been around since some Neanderthal teenager left the rock off his father’s grog jar.  Hippocrates, the father of medicine, prescribed it for stomach ailments.  Roman legionnaires drank it with water.  Those who lived in the Middle Ages used vinegar to prevent diseases. Evidently, it had a spotty record with the black plague.  But, even today, medical practitioners praise vinegar for its healthful qualities.  As for me, I just found a new favorite designated driver’s drink.

Weinessiggut Doktorenhof does the whole job.  Grows the grapes, such as Spätburgunder, Weißburgunder, and Gewürztraminer, in their expansive vineyards, changes the wine into vinegar, infuses the already sweet vinegar with herbs, or fruits, ages it in huge casks in dark cellars, and ties the whole together process with vinegar as you’ve never tasted it.  Most of the vinegars, carrying such interesting names as “Fig,” “Mozart,” and “Angels Kiss the Night,” are bottled and sold as aperitifs.   Good marketing move not to call them “Hoof of Ox,” or “Catch-a-whiff.” Doktorenhof vinegars are also used to make everything from pralines to mustard, to vinegar-flavored coffee.  Even the modern paintings on the walls were created with vinegar based paints.  I like to use these fabulous vinegars in vinaigrettes.  (see stroudallover on making your own)

Makes you want to drop in for a visit, doesn’t it?  You have to sign up for a tour, which takes about 90 minutes.  First an overview in the courtyard, then inside to don monk’s cloaks and descend into the cavernous cellars.  In the candle lit darkness, with somber tones of Gregorian chants echoing, your guide explains in German the thorough process of making vinegar that is like no other.  To the non-German speaker, whose vocabulary could fit on a postage stamp and still leave room for the Gettysburg Address, the spiel sounds like this:  Vinegar, blah, blah, five years, blah, blah, sweet wine, blah, blah…followed by raucous laughter, which you immediately join in on.  Thumping of casks.  Procession to the next cellar chamber.  More blah, blah, and tasting mustard for no particular reason.  But, the mustard is grand.  The non-German speaker beside me whispers, “Why are we tasting this?”  She expects me to know?  I’m saved by the blah, blahs beginning again.  I put my finger to my lips to signify the need for complete silence while I concentrate on understanding the incomprehensible.

We ascend from the depths of darkness, doff our cloaks and follow to the tasting room.  At last.  This time our guide, uses a different tact.  Non-German speakers are seated in the back row of the spacious room.  The guide ambles on endlessly in German, then approaches us to mention, “This first vinegar is called Fig.”  Armed with that vital bit of information, we eagerly await the vinegar maidens, who pour excelsior from slender bottles into tall-stemmed, thin goblets hand-blown for this specific purpose.   They roam the room, passing out small portions to the jubilant crowd.  There are also small dishes of breads and chocolates strategically placed for you to cleanse the palate between samplings.

The first thing that hits you when you gingerly take a sip of Fig is its remarkably sweetness, with only the barest touch of sour.  In other words, it’s the most un-vinegary vinegar you’ll ever taste.  The second trial is of a darker variety, Angels Kiss the Night.  I’m sure the night felt pretty good about it, and I certainly did.  Next came Mozart, followed by Cassanova.  Followed by cheering and stamping of feet. All were sweet and all were distinctive. The vinegar maidens filtered through the crowd, topping us off.  Chocolates, which went particularly well with Mozart, disappeared.  All the bread was gone.  The now restless throngs shuffled off to the buying room.  They’d suddenly gotten a rebellious urge for more vinegar.

You may get all the info you need to schedule a vinegar tour at: 
Tele:  06323-5505

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bière - That Other Drink From The Alsace

Most people ignore France when they think of beer.  Good reason, but not because of quality.  France trails most of the known world in beer consumption, well behind such powerhouses as Venezuela (9), Panama (16), and Angola (33).  France, meanwhile, has a solid lock on 64th.    What are the top five per capita beer swillers?  Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Ireland, and Estonia.

Nevertheless, France has some very nice beers, which differ greatly depending on the region in France you’re in when you belly up to the bar and smack down your Euros.  Let’s take The Alsace for example.  While big brewers dominate (and the proximity of Germany is not lost on them), their pils lean all the way from cousins of the heavy German style, to the much lighter, almost elegant varieties.   Astounding how the combinations of four simple ingredients: hops, barley, yeast, and water, can lead to such variances in flavor.

I confess I’m not a constant beer drinker, but I do like the occasional glass, especially on a hot, sunny day, when I’m seated in an outdoor café in The Alsace, wearing a scarf and blending almost as well as a baby in a saggy diaper.  But, in my well-organized blind beer tasting, we needed someone who is more refined than the typical beer guzzler. After a careful search, I chose myself.

Two other volunteers rounded out this scientific survey of Alsatian beers, a young man who only stops drinking beer when he’s sleeping and the straw falls out of his mouth, and a woman whose eyes lit up, but looked confused until I pressed a glass in her hand and uttered the magic words:  Taste this!

So, here we had a thoughtfully educated man (TEM), a younger man who thought high school was a travel experience (YM), and a female (F), representing the full range of the fairer sex.

As to the beers, I could have gone for some Alsatian, micro-brewed-never-gonna-find-it beers.  Instead I went for selections from large brewers, which the average, yet diligent consumer may well find around the world.  Meteor.  Fischer.  Kronenbourg.  Although each of these brewers makes a number of styles, I chose to stick with the universally known style, pils.

The device for the blind tasting was simple.  Each of us took turns marking glasses A, B, and C. Only the one doing the marking for a particular round knew which beer was which.  So, three tasting rounds, two of them blind for each of us.

Here is the compendium of the blind tasting results:

Fischer:           -  TEM - light aroma, slightly sweet taste, soft finish
   -  YM -  Light, crap, watery finish
-  F -  not very beer-like, like wine on a summer day, nice easy to swallow, no real aftertaste, just warmth

Kronenbourg:  - TEM – nice, light aroma, smooth and even taste, slight bite
-  YM – light aroma, light taste, smooth finish
-   F – almost no aroma, more of a beer taste, but not strong, a little beer aftertaste and watery

Meteor:            - TEM – slightly sour smell, nice hops taste, heavy German finish
- YM – light aroma, a lot of taste, smooth finish
-       F – light, but beery aroma, strong taste, harder to swallow, strong aftertaste

So from that can you guess who like which beer?  Here’s how it came out.  YM said the Meteor really kicked some nasty ass, but thought the devil had probably brewed the other two to make us hate beer.  F like Fischer because it flowed as softly as a summer day, when the birds were singing and everyone dressed up and had a happy time. But, she was willing to like one of the others if it would make us feel happy, too.  TEM also liked the Fischer best, but for different reasons:  It had a refined flavor, without such a boorish aftertaste, and rested easily on the palate.

As a side note, please notice the photo has four bottles, the fourth being Picon (pee-COn).  Picon is an orange aperitif often added to beer in France.  Makes the beer sweeter and has an orange-thirst-quenching flavor.  Nice in the summer.  If you can’t find Picon in your liquor store, grocery store, or stingy neighbor’s pantry, substitute a couple of spoonfuls of any orange based liquor to an eight ounce glass of beer.  Just be sure to wear a scarf and pull a small round table and a couple of chairs onto your front lawn. Voilà!