Follow by Email

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shrimp Spaghetti - hold the marinara, bring on the cherry tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, and crushed red pepper.

When the shrimp turn pink, they're done.

Spaghetti is spaghetti is spaghetti, or so the unimaginative twits mutter.  Let ‘em! They see noodles as a glob, soaked in tasteless tomato sauce, instead of a canvas waiting for a culinary palate of color and taste.

Time to flip to a new page.  Banish those failed chemistry projects labeled spaghetti sauce, and let your spaghetti soar!  Unleash that magic simplicity that delights the eye and brings a smile to your face.  Think of the almost limitless possibilities of flavor and panache!  Now, race to the kitchen, sip some wine, and prepare to share some of that magic.

Shrimp Spaghetti

3 cups of cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup olive oil + 2 tbsp to pour over the cooked spaghetti
4 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
3 tbsp chopped Spanish chorizo, casing removed
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 lb (or more) medium shrimp, cleaned and peeled
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 package spaghetti (gluten free works just as well for this dish)

Heat 1/3 cup olive oil over medium heat.  Add the cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic, crushed red pepper and chorizo.  Cook until tomatoes are softened, about 6 minutes.  Add the white wine and cook until reduced by half.

While the sauce is reducing, boil the spaghetti noodles in salted water until al dente, 7 minutes.

Add the shrimp to the tomato mixture and stir to cook.  When the shrimp are pink, they’re done.

Drain the spaghetti, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

Add the cooked spaghetti to the tomato mixture; pour the reserved water and the 2 tbsp olive oil over the noodles, and mix the spaghetti with the sauce.

Serve with warm, crusty bread and white wine. Gewürztraminer stands up well to this mildly spicy, flavorful dish.

If you hear even a hint of complaint from your ungrateful guests, banish them forever, and spread the rumor they’re copious droolers who laugh uncontrollably at odd times.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Farmers Markets in Germany

Some of the things I like best about the springtime in Germany are the farmers markets.  To be sure, there are farmers markets all year long, but they seem to be tired and withdrawn in the cold of winter.  The warm weather appears, with its fragrant rains, turning to sunny skies and suddenly the market places spring up like mushrooms.  Seemingly every village throws up banners, smiles break out like rainbows, and the culinary world comes out of hibernation.

Every market I go to is new, even if I’ve been there before.  Cheeses I haven’t tasted.  Spicy wursts I haven’t smelled.  The aroma of roasting nuts.  And, most of all, bursts of red, yellow, deep purples, and bright greens covering every stand and every cart.  For someone who likes to cook, the possibilities overwhelm the imagination.  “Let’s see, I can make tomato chutney with those, some grilled eggplants might be nice.  OH, check out those yellow squash and the zucchinis!”  I effortlessly plan stews and salads, desserts and grilled vegetables.  I grab several bunches of cut flowers to decorate the house. 

Then my wife stomps into my reverie with her high-heeled jackboots.  “That makes 16 meals so far.  You that hungry or do you plan on feeding the French Army?”

“I’d never invite the French. They’d eat all the food and criticize my technique.”  However, she has drawn my attention to the five shopping bags I’m lugging, all brimming with plump loaves of crusty bread, redolent fruits, fragrant cheeses, and vegetables in every available style and color.  Well, it is kinda hard to know when to stop.  Money in my pocket.  Time on my hands.  Mind in the kitchen.

My wife nods.  “The boys will probably help you make a dent in the provisions.”

Boys indeed.  They’re now men, with the kind of rapacious appetites that cause a school of piranhas to stare in awestruck wonder.  Whole families of swine are known to wail in terror when one of my sons mentions barbeque.

Well, it is a match made in culinary heaven.  I like to cook.  I have people to cook for.  With that bit of comfort, I stroll on, stopping to admire some tree ripened apricots and shiny skinned nectarines.  I do have another empty shopping bag.

A few recommendations: 
Kaiserslautern : farmers market, Tues and Sat, Stiffsplatz

Saarbrücken farmers market Sat  0900-1600, St Johanner Markt

Homburg, farmers market, Tues and Fri morning, Marktplatz

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Benny Goodman - Memories of You

For my money, one of the most beautiful songs ever written.  The lyrics are powerfully evocative, but even as an instrumental, I hear it and memories of life and loves flow past in an unending rainbow of sentiment.

Benny Goodman's clarinet was legendary and the piano of the inimitable Teddy Wilson is beyond compare.

Here are the lyrics to Memories of You.  If you can find the vocal version by Bette Midler, you'll fall in love all over again with your memories.

Waking skies - at sunrise
Every sunset too
Seems to be - bringing me
Memories of you

Here and there - every where
Scenes that we once knew
And they all - just recall
Memories of you

(Oh) How I wish I could forget those, (those) happy yesteryears
That have left a rosary of tears

Your face beams - in my dreams
(In) Spite of all (that) I do
(And) Everything - seems to bring
Memories of you 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ropa Vieja – old clothes, but tasty!

Tomato Chutney as a dip.  For crackers I used a cookie cutter to cut flour tortillas,
painted them with olive oil, sprinkled salt and baked them in a 350ºF  (185ºC)

Sliced tomatoes, topped with rice vinegar marinated onion
was a nice and colorful addition. 

What a tasty pile of old clothes it is!  Before I get started, I'm putting out a disclaimer.  Ropa vieja is made around the Caribbean basin, by everybody and his mother who drink rum all night, dance the Macarena, then cook all day.  So, I’m sure that your mother, wife, girlfriend, or favorite stalker makes the best ropa vieja on earth.

By the way, what does Macarena mean?  Is it a) a salsa queen who has gobbled a Big Mac, without using her hands b) the best macaroni in Hoboken c) a Peruvian princess whose rena is pleading for larger size pants d) I know, but I ain’t sayin’ because you might tell my wife.

The answer will come in next week’s blog about humiliated salsa dancers.

Meanwhile, back to the recipe.  It's a great one!

Ropa Vieja

2 nice sized flank steaks, sprinkled with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 or 2 strips of bacon, roughly chopped
Enough olive oil to make 3 tbsp when added to the rendered bacon fat
1 medium to large onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper thinly sliced
6 oz tomato paste
1 tsp each of dried cumin, marjoram (or thyme), and oregano
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cans beef consume (Campbell’s condensed), plus just enough water to make 3 cups total
1 16oz can whole, peeled tomatoes, undrained (crush these with your hands as you add them)
1/2 cup green, pitted olives, sliced in half
1/2 cup roasted red bell peppers, roughly chopped
3 tbsp capers, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (to be sprinkled over the cooked ropa vieja)

Place the bacon in a Dutch oven, over medium heat and cook until the fat is rendered.  Remove the bacon pieces and add enough olive oil to make approximately 3 Tbsp of total fat.

I prefer to grill the flank steaks on my gas grill, but if you don’t have a gas grill, cook the steaks briefly in the fat/oil until they are lightly browned on both sides.  Remove the steaks from the pot and set them aside.

Add the onions and (raw) peppers to the pot and cook until they are soft, about 4-5 minutes.  Add tomato paste, cumin, marjoram, oregano, and garlic.  Mix well and continue cooking for another 4 minutes.  Add the wine and cook, scrapping the bottom of the pot to mix in all those delicious bits.  Return the bacon to the pot and mix.

Cut the steaks cross-grain into 1 1/2 inch wide strips. (the strips will be about six inches long)  Return the steaks to the pot, along with the beef stock and can of tomatoes.  Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and cook until steaks are very tender, 2-3 hours.  This may be done stovetop, but to avoid having to watch and stir for several hours, I heat my oven to 230ºF (110ºC) and slide the covered pot in the hot oven.

After the steaks are tender, remove them from the pot, shred the meat and put the shredded meat back in the pot, along with the olives, roasted red bell pepper strips, capers, and vinegar.  Cook about 30 minutes longer.

Before serving, sprinkle the chopped cilantro on top.

As a side dish, try this:  2 cups of rice, 4 cups of water, 1 tbsp cumin seeds, paprika, 3 tbsp olive oil.

Put the oil in a pot and add the cumin seeds.  When the seeds begin to darken, pour in the rice and the paprika and mix until the rice is nicely coated.  Pour in the water and let the rice boil for 10 minutes, uncovered.  At the end of ten minutes, you’ll see steam holes in the rice, with the top layer of rice appearing to be not fully cooked.  Remove the pot from the heat, cover it and let it stand 5-10 minutes.  Fluff with a fork and serve.

What’s For Dessert?

Fruit Mélange over shortcakes, with whipped cream

4 cups of mixed fruit cubes
1/4 cup Amontillado Sherry (medium)
8 scones
cream for whipping
1 tbsp sugar

Make basic scone recipe (see a previous post), but add 8 Tbsp of butter instead of 4, to make the scone flakier.   For aesthetics, I cut the scones in rounds instead of pie wedges.

Put the fruit in a bowl, pour the sherry over the cubes of fruit and mix well.

Whip the cream.  Add the sugar and whip again.  Do this out of order and the cream won’t whip!

By Jove, I think you’ve got it!

Be sure to tell your mother, this ropa vieja wasn’t as good as hers!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Scenes From The Zweibrücken Rose Garden

I’m an outdoor kinda guy, but different from some of my friends who like to scamper up forbidding cliffs, fingernails worn clean by scaly rocks, or the odd folk who think nothing of sleeping outside on the hard ground, with only ticks and mosquitoes for company.  Nope.  Not for me.  The almighty didn’t offer hotels with room service and put money in my pocket so I could roll in the dirt with the vermin. I’m the outdoor guy who sits in the shade of a well kept garden, sipping a cool beer, watching the roses smile at the sun, while bees do their sworn duty.

Speaking of gardens and roses, garden season sneaked up like a warm, wet kiss.  I’m ready!  Sparkling days, sunny temperatures, trees and flowers bursting into bloom tell me it’s almost time for the annual Zweibrücken (Two Bridges) Rose and Garden Market.  Scroll down for the rest of the story.

A placid lake leads the way

Zweibrücken’s history dates back more than 650 years and even has a tie to the United States, having sent the Regiment Royal Deux-Pont to help us win our independence from Britain.  Today, one of Zweibrücken’s sister cities is Yorktown, Virginia, where the Royal Regiment fought in the eponymous battle that essentially put an end to British resolve.

Rose and Garden Market

From 09/06/2012 to 06/10/2012

Besides looking and drinking and eating, the rose garden offers all sorts of garden plants and herbs for sale, as well as garden implements, furniture, and decorations.  Expert advice lingers at every sales booth.  For more information, follow this link:

Also, Don’t miss the Town Market on Saturdays!  0800-1400

A total of 25 market stalls feature all sorts of edibles, under the slogan"Fresh from the region for the region." A large selection of cheeses, baked goods, fruits, vegetables, oils, jams, flowers and plants, fish, meat and meat products, fresh eggs and pasta, dairy products, honey, liqueurs and spirits delight the senses. To make the market experience even better, there is now a great tasting and gourmet zone.

Another thing to consider is a visit to Zweibrücken’s vast shopping complex, The Style Outlets (same name in German and English), featuring many famous and popular brands.

So, ok, fellow outdoor enthusiasts, go straight to the city that boasts over 60,000 roses.  Grab a bier and a wurst and sit in the shade in a most magnificent garden.  Enjoy the great outdoors in style. Buy a few plants for your garden, or pick up a stylish bottle of rose liquor.  No need to roam the jungle and sneak between the mongoose and the cobra to claim your share of nature’s bounty.  Zweibrücken offers my type of outdoor experience.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Strawberry Shortcake, minus the shortcake

Whip it!  Whip it good!

Whip whites to stiff peaks

The completed cake.  Turn out on a rack to cool.

Now it's the strawberries turn.

What the heck is shortcake anyway?  Am I the only one who wants to know?  Remember all those biscuits and scones I wrote about in other titillating blog entries?  Any baked good made with shortening, including butter, is a ‘short bread.’

There’s nothing wrong with short bread.  Eat a lot of them myself, but for strawberries and cream, nothing beats sponge cake.  Rather limiting?  Not if you pass up the commercially made, chemically enhanced, never rot in a hundred years, lining the supermarket shelves junk and make your own.

The first thing you’re going to do is look at the recipe I so thoughtfully provided and say to yourself….WAAAY too hard.  Wait a sec!  If it’s hard to make, I don’t make it!  Yes, my sponge cake takes a trivial amount of time longer than ripping open a cellophane wrapper and tossing some sponge gunk on a plate.  Tastes a hellofa lot better, too.  The question you have to ask yourself, punk, is:  Are you worth it?  Well, are you?

Rule one in cooking: Gather your family (or other freeloaders) in your kitchen.  Rule two:  open a bottle of delightful wine.  After that, cooking becomes a pleasure, followed by a wonderful meal, followed by unbridled ….wait a sec, that’s with your loved ones, not your family.  Common error.

Sponge Cake or Biscuit de Savoie

7 eggs, separated (no, not by size, color, or national origin – yolks and whites, fool!)
1 1/4 Cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 Cups sifted all-purpose flour

Soft, unsalted butter for cake pans (or spray cooking oil) + All-purpose flour for cake pans

Two 9 inch cake pans.  I use rectangular cake pans, but round ones are fine.

Set the oven to 350 ºF or 175 ºC

Cut out pieces of parchment to line the bottoms of the cake pans.  Brush the parchment with butter (or spray with oil) and put them in the pans.  Dust the pans with flour and shake out the excess.

Mix the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl until the mixture is pale yellow.  I use an electric mixer.  Combine the flour with the yolk mixture to make a batter.

Beat the egg white until they form stiff peaks.  Hint:  if there is even one speck of yolk in the egg white, they will not beat to stiff peaks.

Fold a third of the beaten egg whites into the yolk/flour mixture.   When they’re combined, fold in the remainder of the fluffy egg whites.

Divide the batter between the two pans and bake in the center of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Turn the cakes out on a rack to cool.

Meanwhile, thinly slice your strawberries, put them in a bowl and mix with a spoonful or two of sugar.  I save a whole strawberry to decorate the top of each serving.

Whip the cream until it is thick.  Add a scant tablespoon of sugar and mix well.  Hint:  if you add the sugar first, the cream will not whip properly.

I think you can take it from here.  If not, you were correct not to attempt a sponge cake.  Confine your meager talents to peanut butter and saltines, or crunch your way through an uncooked package of ramen.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Benny Carter - Jazz for a Lazy Sunday

Benny Carter (1907-2003) was a true jazz virtuoso.  His mother taught him to play piano, then he picked up the trumpet (which you'll hear on this song), then he switched to the sax.  By his teens, he sat in with many jazz orchestras in Harlem.  Mention a jazz great and Benny Carter played with him.  He even led this own orchestra for a time.  In the 1930's he was one of the premier alto saxophonists.

As for Roy Felton, the singer on 'More Than You Know,' here's what Earl Coleman, another jazz singer said about him:  "Roy Felton’s one of the greatest singers that ever lived. I’ve seen him lay Mr. B [Billy Eckstine] to rest, at Mr. B’s peak! This isn’t hearsay, I’m telling you what I know."

Written in 1929, this version of the song was recorded ten years later.  Since then, many singers have given it a go.  Been in several movies, but this is the version that sticks in my memory and in my heart.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Vietnamese Spring Rolls - My Take

The dipping sauce and the filling.

Rolled, but not yet fried.

Why do I prefer Vietnamese style spring rolls over Philippine lumpia, Turkish borek, or Chinese egg rolls? Memories of a city and a woman.  Let me take you back a few years to Paris, the capital of the Vietnamese universe.  I was roaming the back streets with a very special lady who’d never had Vietnamese food.  We were both ravenous, and as we turned a corner, the most delicious, spicy smells from a small, open-faced shop wrapped around us.  With my pidgin French, I asked for two of the crispy rolls, sitting in a large stack on the corner of the stove.  I earned a blank look.  My friend used her perfect French and if she’d ordered camel drool I probably would have lapped it up. Paris is that kind of city.  She was that kind of woman.

I still remember the lingering goodness of those spring rolls.  Crisp on the outside, a succulent blend of rubbery noodles, vegetables, shrimp, and fish sauce on the inside.  As I munched, a couple of splotches of hot oil dripped on my new shoes, scarring them forever.  I didn’t care.  Years later I would search in vain for the same taste.  Never found it until I decided to make my own.

The Recipes

Dipping sauce

1/4 Cup sugar
3/4 Cup warm water
1/4 Cup Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
Juice of one fresh lime
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Mix the sugar and water until the sugar dissolves.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and let the sauce rest at room temperature for an hour or two.

For spring rolls

7 1/2 oz very thin bean or rice thread noodles
1/2 to 3/4 Cup thinly sliced green onions
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 Cup finely diced or grated carrots
1/4 Cup Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
1/2 Cup chopped cilantro
1/4 Cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 lb shrimp in shell, peeled and de-veined
25 square, frozen spring roll wrappers, thawed

1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 Cups vegetable oil for fying

Put the noodles in a bowl of warm water and set aside, stirring occasionally.  Give them about 15 to 30 minutes to soften.  If you look closely, you’ll see the strands of noodles have little white dots in them.  When these tiny dots disappear, the noodles are ready.  Chop the noodles into 2 to 3 inch lengths.

Sprinkle a little oil in a large frying pan and lightly cook the shrimp.  When they’re lightly pink, they’re done.  Do not over-cook them.  The rolls will be fried and everything will cook completely.  Give the cooked shrimp a medium chop and set aside, or lightly pulse in a food processor.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Let the ingredients sit for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.  If the mixture has too much liquid, drain the excess.

Separate the wrappers and cover with a moist tea towel. Select an individual spring roll wrapper, lay it flat and place line of filling on it.  How much filling you use is up to you, but I recommend less rather than more.  2 heaping tablespoons seems to be about right. Less filling makes for a crisper spring roll.

The rolling technique is simple:  roll, fold, finish rolling, seal.  The secret is to roll the wrappers as tightly as possible and seal them well. Use the egg yolk to seal the wrappers.

Heat the oil to 365ºF or 185ºC.  When you fry the rolls, watch them closely!

Now that you know how roll your own, all you have to do is pick the woman you want to share them with. Take it from me, if she speaks French the taste of the spring rolls will linger.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Americana à la Carte

When you enter an American city, even a small one, the tendrils of old time America trail off and disappear into the bulldozed, concreted urban mass.  I’m taking about the fruit and vegetable stands, the mom and pop groceries, the cheap diners with stained tablecloths, and the seafood shops whose hot grease aroma washes over you when you step out of your car.

Across the street from where my parents once lived, there used to be a good-sized stand with a hand painted sign advertising sweet melons.  Bushel baskets of brown skinned onions sat about.  Hand-sized wood cartons of bright red tomatoes, green peppers, green cased ears of corn, and yellow summer squash sat on long, trestle tables.  Down the street, a BBQ joint selling thick sandwiches of smoked pork welcomed you with wisps of fragrant smoke.  No longer.  They’ve been replaced by a branch bank and a big-chain supermarket.  You want some Americana, you have to venture farther a field.  Don’t even bother to look until you glance out the window at green pastures and rows of corn.  That’s when you find out it’s not just the vegetables and BBQ that’s missing.

I was outside Whitesboro, Texas, when I stopped at a vegetable stand.  Didn’t need vegetables.  “I’m lost,” I confessed to a man in jeans, a calico shirt, and a baseball cap.

“Fred,” he twanged at one of his customers, “Do you know where (whare) that road is?”  Fred didn’t know, but he suggested the guy running the bait shop next door might.  I started to walk that way, but Fred had already left.  “Jest a sec,” the owner told me.

About 30 seconds later, the man from the bait shop walked in.  Turned out he didn’t know either, but he led me back to his shop where he had some maps.  The maps did no good, so he called his friend who’s a fireman.  A little while later, I was on my way straight to my destination.  Folks with big, friendly hearts are never too busy to help.

I’m pleased to report I found similar hospitality in the sprawling outskirts of Atlanta.

Truett Cathy’s first Atlanta restaurant was called the Dwarf Grill, a humble beginning to what has become the second largest fast food chain, Chick-fil-a.  Now a nation-wide collection of 1500 plus restaurants, with over $3.2 billion in annual sales, something new has been added, a group of nostalgia-laced eateries called Truett’s Grill, featuring a 1950’s era décor, complete with old cars, gas pumps, naugyhide covered booths, a toy train that races above the diners, and one heck of a southern breakfast.  But, more than that, the waitresses greet you with a “Mornin’, Hon” and hustle to take your order.  Coffee appears as if by mental telepathy.  All of this reflects the humble beginning and humble heart of their employer, Truett Cathy.  Never met the man myself, but good or bad, everything starts at the top.  Talked to a couple who go to church with Truett and couldn’t stop talking about all he’s done for the community and especially for small business just starting out.

Best of all was the breakfast of fried chicken filet, two eggs over easy, grits, and biscuit.  But, I have to admit the meal tasted a little better knowing about the warmth of the man who made it possible.

On the rough edges of Orangeburg, South Carolina, I found Duke’s BBQ.  Found it on a Saturday, as I passed through. Normally, I'm not attracted to BBQ restaurants with a buffet.  Normally.  Dukes was different and even if the smoked pork lacked a bit and the green beans were cooked past their prime, it was still worth a stop, just to observe the folks inside.  If the rough edges of South Carolina still hold to the old ways, you’d never notice at Duke’s. People of every background flock to the place.  High school grads, still wearing their mortarboards came in with their families.  Workmen wore stained clothes while they gobbled their ‘cue.  In one corner, a family and friends in coats and ties and dresses sat and prayed before digging in.

I’m not one of those who hunger for the good old days.  I like some of the big chain stores and the convenience of Internet shopping.  Sill, it’s nice to know the simple, friendly heart of America still beats as strong as ever.