Getting schooled

First of all, let me use a Staubtuch to wipe off the dust from this blog. You might have noticed the lack of posts of late, particularly from moi. “Real” graduate student life took over and I personally didn’t have time to properly cook moreso to engage in a hobby. Sorry about that. Hopefully the developments the past month may alleviate things.

Anyway back to food, back in January, since I didn’t have time to celebrate my birthday as I did last year, I gifted myself with a cooking course.

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Practical advice to the food storage junkie

You bought a carton of eggs last month and forgot when the expiry date was. Two weeks ago, you used up half. Today, you have nothing in your fridge and you have no time to prepare anything else cuz because you have to get on with writing your paper. Eggs are there. Hmm a quick sunny side up or maybe a Tamagoyaki. But then are the eggs still ok?

If you’ve been lurking in Huffington Post, you would have caught wind of this website called StillTasty, Your Ultimate Shelf Life Guide. No, our blog is not paid to advertise them. I just find the site extremely useful especially since sometimes I don’t know how long I can keep food in for.

What I really find nifty is that they try to cover as many situations as possible. Because you know that fresh, raw, cut up peaches will keep differently compared to fresh, raw, whole peaches.

Opened a package of cottage cheese? It’ll keep for over a week if you keep it in the refrigerator in a sealed container. Pop it in the freezer, and it’ll be ok for the next three months. Just remember, the longer they’re stored, the less likely they’re going to be tasty.

How to make a simple siomai

The city of Saarbrücken is peppered with Chinese restaurants. These family-owned establishments generally make their money by offering lunch and dinner buffets at affordable prices. The Chinese restaurant staples like stir fried beef, chop suey, noodle dishes, spring rolls and the ever so yummy fried duck abound.

Visibly missing are the steamed dumplings. I am quite surprised by it because back home, a Chinese restaurant is never without dumplings, may it be a fancy restaurant in the city or a whole in the wall in China town. They offer different types of dumplings, from the delicate har gau (shrimp dumpling) to the rugged siomai (beef or pork dumplings).

Back in grade school, I subsisted on 4 pieces of siomai at PhP 2.50 each and a cup of rice during lunch time. It was served complete with calamansi, soy sauce, and chili garlic oil.  Since then it has been one of my favorite viands and for the most part, one of my favorite afternoon merienda.

Three years in Germany, you can imagine how siomai-deprived I was. So in line with my new PhooD philosophy, I made my own.

MATERIALS & METHODS

Kookie’s Simple Siomai

  • 500 g ground meat
  • 1/3 cup diced carrots (small dices)
  • 2 small onions chopped
  • 1 tsp dried chives (in lieu of spring onions)
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • wonton wrappers
  • Chili garlic oil and soy sauce for dipping

0 Prepare your steamer by covering the surface with a thin film of oil. Start to boil water.

1 In a huge bowl, mix together ground meat, carrots, onions, chives, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, and ground pepper

2 Fill in wonton wrapper with the meat mixture (~ 1 Tbsp)

3 Put siomai in the steamer and let it cook for 12-15 minutes.

4 Serve with dark soy sauce and chili garlic oil.

DISCUSSION

I finished an entire package of wonton wrappers with the amount of meat that I used. So you can imagine how much leftovers you’ll have if you live by yourself or even if you live with a couple of people. They keep for a couple of days once they’re cooked. If you think you can’t finish it within 3 days, share it with your colleagues. Ph.D. students never say no to food 🙂

The type of meat really depends on your taste. The ground meat can either be pork or beef or a combination of both. I like pork siomai more than beef but Aldi offers mixed ground beef and pork so I used that.

Reheating is a breeze. You can either re-steam them for 5 minutes or so. That’s just enough time for the meat to be warm again. Or the other popular alternative is to fry the siomai until the wrapper is golden brown.

For those of you in the southwest part in Germany who’s never tried siomai or craves siomai but don’t want to prepare it yourself, there’s a restaurant in Mannheim called China Restaurant Pavillon. They have a good selection of dimsum that I have not found anywhere else in Germany.

The address is

China Restaurant
Pavillon
Augustanlage 59
68185 Mannheim

5 Simple Rules to Eating Weißwurst

One of the things that’s good when somebody finishes a Ph.D. degree in our lab, aside from the consolation that there is an end to the misery, is the celebratory buffet afterwards. Traditionally thrown by the lab folks for the graduating student, I think all the Ph.D. students who graduated in the past two years in our lab, organized the buffet themselves (well with a little help from Mom). Where canapés are the norm, Kathrin broke the mold with her post-defense buffet.

You may remember Kathrin from one of my previous posts. She taught me how to make Spätzle from scratch. One thing I failed to mention was she’s from the great German state of Bavaria, home of Oktoberfest, the Dirndl, Lederhosen, and FC Bayern. Her family (parents, grandpa, uncle, and cousins) drove all the way from Bavaria to Saarland and brought with them kilos worth of Weißwurst.

I have stayed in Germany for 3 years now and I must say that I have never ever tried Weißwurst before Kathrin’s defense. It’s more of a Bavarian thing. I live in Saarland, where Schwenker, Merguez, and Lyoner are all the rage.

There are a five simple rules to enjoying a Weißwurst.

Rule #1: It must be cooked in hot water

Weißwurst is never cooked on a grill, unlike other sauseges in Germany. It is made with thin sausage skin which might burst when put on a hot grill. Instead it is poached slowly in hot, not boiling, water for 10 minutes. Never use boiling water as it is too hot for the sausage skin to bear.

Rule #2: It must be eaten before noon

We didn’t follow this rule because Kathrin’s defense was in the afternoon but, the Weißwurst is traditionally eaten before lunch. Why you might ask? It is prepared without any preservatives, ergo must be consumed as soon as possible, preferably the morning it was made.

Rule #3: It MUST be eaten with a pretzel and sweet mustard

There was one comedy moment during the buffet when Kathrin’s dad, who was manning the Weißwurst pot, sent one of our foreign students back because she asked for a piece of Weißwurst whilst having a piece of Butterkuchen on her plate. He was horrified by the idea of mixing the two together.

A pair of Weißwurst must be eaten with pretzel and sweet mustard. Not just any sweet mustard, I was told. It has to be Händlmaier Süßersenf. My other German colleagues started to disagree, but Kathrin shut them down with her very aggressive persuasive “Nein!”. She argued that Händlmaier is the original, therefore the only choice for sweet mustard.

I know I wrote a pair of Weißwurst. The other one was still in the pot.

Rule #4: It must be skinned before eating

Unlike most sausages in Germany which are eaten whole (not all at once!), the Weißwurst has to be carefully taken out of its skin before consuming.

There are several techniques:

  1. Suck out the contents from one end of the sausage, a technique called zuzeln.
  2. Make an incision lengthwise and remove the skin using your knife and fork.
  3. Slit one end of the sausage and with the skin flap caught between the knife and your thumb, peel the skin in one solid stroke.

Thorsten, our office’s biggest fan of Bavaria, taught me the third technique and I must say it’s the fastest way to get the skin off of the meat.

Rule #5: It can only be partnered with Weizenbier (wheat beer)

This is not a strict rule, as not everyone are fans of Weizenbier. Traditionally, Weißwurst and Weizenbier go together. Weizenbier is not as fancy as wine, but unlike Pils that one can drink straight from the bottle, Weizenbier must be served in a Weizenbierglas.

Weizenbiergläser

So there you go, five simple rules to enjoy a Weißwurst. Abide by them while in the presence of a Bavarian.

These rules are Chef-approved!

Orange Chili Turkey

About a year ago, I ate Pasta Tacchino Piccante in Vapiano. It was severely out of place in what is supposed to be an Italian restaurant. Against my food snob purist personality, I ordered the obviously Asian-inspired pasta dish. Imagine this, linguine topped with turkey in orange chili sauce with pak choi and bell peppers. Oye nothing says Italian than Pak friggin choi!

To make matters worse, I made the mistake of just saying yes to whatever the cook was asking me and I ended up with Parmesan on my dish. Gah.

Take out the Parmesan, and I would say that the spicy turkey topping makes for a good Asian viand.

So I went off to make my own little version.

MATERIALS and METHODS

Orange Chili Sauce
This is a modified version of a dipping sauce recipe found here.

  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
  • Juice from half a lime
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 500 g turkey breast, cubed and seasoned with salt
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 red / green / yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • champignons, sliced

0 Mix the ingredients for the Orange Chili sauce and let stand for at least 30 minutes before use.

1 Pan-fry the turkey cubes until golden brown
2 Add bell pepper and champignons
3 Pour the orange chili sauce and let it boil over medium heat.
4 Add cornstarch and let simmer until sauce has thickened
5 Serve hot over crackers, rice, or pasta. Makes 3 – 4 servings.
6 Garnish with parsley

DISCUSSION

Ingredients for the Orange Chili Sauce. I actually have no idea how good the original dipping sauce recipe was as I’ve never tried it. The version I came up with was prepared from ingredients that I found in my pantry. I used dark soy sauce so the 3 Tbsp the original recipe called for would make the sauce more salty. Using balsamic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar could also reduce the acidity of the sauce. If the above combination is too sour for your taste, you can adjust the taste by adding more sugar.

Shelf life. No clue. I had the topping over crackers, rice, and pasta on three consecutive nights. Normally, I would tire of the taste after 2 servings, but strangely enough, i didn’t. Or maybe I was too busy to notice.

Chocolate Revel Bar with Mango Cream and Raspberry Coulis

Hi Everyone!  I’m back to writing about food.  It’s been a while, ain’t it?  Actually it would have taken longer but I have paper/progress report writing to procrastinate ergo this post.

Because it’s sorely overdue, I’m posting about the dessert we served during my birthday lunch.

I must admit I was doubtful at first as to how well the tangy mango cream and raspberry coulis would go with my revel bars, but David managed to convince me with his little work of art.

The Chocolate Revel Bars, a hit with my officemates, were prepared using the recipe found in Better Homes and Garden which you can find here.  It’s a major crowd pleaser here in Germany.  I mean how can you go wrong with oatmeal, butter, chocolate and sweetened condensed milk?

The other components?  Here’s how we David made them.

MATERIALS and METHODS
Mango Cream

  • 3 cups whipping cream
  • 1 cup mango puree (available in Asian food stores)
  • 2 gelatin sheets
  • confectioner’s sugar to taste

1 Heat mango puree.  Add two gelatin sheets and let it dissolve.  Cool.
2 Whip the cream until soft peaks form.  Fold in some confectioner’s sugar until slightly sweetened or to taste.
3 Fold in mango puree mixture.
4 Freeze until it has the texture of semi-frozen mousse (almost semifreddo-like)

Raspberry Coulis

  • Fresh raspberries (or frozen ones)
  • sugar

0 If using frozen raspberries, thaw.
1 Puree the raspberries using a stabmixer
2 Cook the raspberries over low heat.  Add enough sugar to make the mixture sweet without losing it’s tanginess.

Everything was put together on a dessert plate and was topped with white chocolate slices and toffee.

It would be nice to find a reason to do something this grand again.  A publication perhaps?

Chicken Adobo on Green Beans and Mini Salad with Sesame Raspberry Vinaigrette

The second dish served during my birthday lunch was the easiest one to prepare.  Adobo we could prepare with our eyes closed.  And the sides?  Idiot proof.

METHODOLOGY

1 This recipe was used to prepare the chicken adobo. The proportions were adjusted for 2.5 kg of chicken breast.

2 Store cooked adobo in a sealed container overnight for post cooking marination.

3 Lay out the chicken breast pieces on a baking tray. Pour half of the adobo sauce over the chicken.

4 Place baking tray on the top layer of the oven and bake at 200 deg C for 20-30 minutes. Baste the chicken with the sauce every so often to avoid drying out.

5 To the remaining sauce, add enough sugar  until there’s a balance of sweet, sour and salty.

6 In a small pot, reduce the sweetened adobo sauce until thick.

7 Blanch the green beans in boiling salted water.

8 Wash the lettuce and tear into smaller pieces.

9 Arrange the green beans and the lettuce on the plate.

10 Lay the baked chicken breast on top of the green beans.

11 Glaze the chicken breast with the adobo sauce reduction.

12 Drizzle the lettuce with the sesame raspberry vinaigrette and serve.

Sesame Raspberry Vinaigrette

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup raspberry jam/preserve
  • 3 Tbsp sesame oil (depends on the aroma of the oil. when using clear cold-press sesame oil, 3-4 Tbsp will do. When using toasted sesame oil use less.)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Whip together until slightly emulsified.

DISCUSSION

Why use chicken breast? Because it means there will be no bones on the plates after. On a normal day, I wouldn’t mind the bones, but for my birthday, I would have found them unsightly.

Because chicken breast is the blandest part of the chicken, I doped the pot with a chicken leg to add fat into the sauce, and eventually to the breast.

Raspberry AHA! moment. Pardon my ignorance once again, but I never thought that raspberry jam would taste so good with meat. We had some leftover vinaigrette after we prepared all of the dishes, so David put it on the table just in case people still wanted some. He told me that it would taste great with the chicken. I was doubtful but was willing to give it a try.

I spread a small amount of the vinaigrette on a slice of chicken. When I put it into my mouth, the first thing I tasted was the meat and the rich adobo flavor. And then I was bombarded with the sweet and tangy taste brought on by the raspberry jam.  The stimulation was like being tickled, but not wanting the tickling to stop.

CONCLUSION
Now don’t you think that was a pretty easy entree to serve? Most of the work was done the day before.  Granted the simmering for adobo takes an hour to do but waiting is kinda effortless right?

All of the last minute prep work for the sides could be done as the chicken breasts are baking.  This already includes the start of the plating.

One caveat: Make sure there’s enough air circulation in the room when you prepare and serve this dish. The smell of garlic will emanate and will stick to anything. Anything might also include underwear. Just saying.

Tofu Sisig – The Vegetarian Alternative

Have you ever let somebody eat something and not tell them what’s inside, and then they’re either horrified or pleasantly surprised when you do tell them afterwards?

I have.

Thankfully, the Tofu Sisig was more of the pleasantly surprising fair.

Not everyone is a fan of tofu on this side of the planet. Some detest the texture, while some are just bored by its total lack of flavor.

This inherent blandness is what makes tofu good. It keeps the flavors you subject it to, making it a very versatile ingredient.

MATERIALS and METHODS
Tofu Sisig (Serves 2 – 3)

  • 400 g tofu, drained and cut into 0.5 cm slices
  • vegetable oil, for deep frying
  • 4 – 6 onions, chopped (chop only after cutting fried tofu)
  • 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 cup Maggi Seasoning Sauce
  • 1 Thai chili pepper, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs, scrambled
  • Mayonnaise
  • Röstzwiebeln (fried onions)

1 Fry the sliced tofu until crispy. Place on paper towels to remove excess oil.

2 Cut fried tofu into tiny cubes.

3 Chop enough onions such that it’s in a 1:1 ratio with the chopped tofu.

4 In a big saute pan, cook together the chopped tofu and onions until the onions have browned.

5 Mix balsamic vinegar and Maggi seasoning sauce together then pour onto the tofu and onions. Mix.

6 Adjust taste with salt and pepper.

7 Mix in chili pepper and allow the tofu sisig to simmer for a few minutes then take off from heat until before serving.

8 To serve, heat  up the tofu sisig on a sizzling plate or a regular pan. Add the eggs and mix well. Top with a small amount of mayonnaise and Röstzwiebeln.

Everyone was surprised to find out that there wasn’t a hint of meat in the recipe. You know when a dish is convincing when the lone vegetarian was still doubtful, even after I assured him that there was no meat inside.

DISCUSSION
The Original Sisig. Had we served the original Sisig, I predict that my European friends would not have spoken to me after my birthday lunch. If you don’t know what the original Sisig is, it is basically parts of a pig’s head chopped and cooked with lots of onion, seasoned with calamansi and Maggi Savor, crisped on a sizzling plate and topped with an egg. It is eaten best with your favorite brand of beer.

Crisping the tofu. If you are like me, you’re not a fan of deep frying. I tried to crisp the tofu once by placing the slices on the top layer of the oven, at 220 degrees Celcius for 20 minutes. After that, I took out the tray and flipped the tofu so the other side can crisp. The texture was the same minus the calories.

Why not dice the tofu before crisping? Good question. I ask myself this too. David has to enlighten us about it.

Adjusting the sauce. I only guesstimated the volume of balsamic vinegar and Maggi seasoning sauce in this recipe. It seems reasonable for the amount of tofu that’s included. I suggest you have some extra vinegar and Maggi available just in case the taste is not savory enough for you.

CONCLUSION

We used in total 1.4 kg tofu, almost 1 kg of onions (chopped by Janet who claimed that she liked doing this. Go figure), and a small bottle of Maggi. This was enough to serve 12 people a cup of Tofu sisig each. Not bad eh?  We even had leftovers.

If we can make a pork version of this that uses the more common types of pork, maybe this recipe will fly in Saarland. Just a little bit of trivia to all of you: people from Saarland love Maggi. So much so that there’s a bottle on every table in our Mensa and giant bottles are available in the supermarket. By giant I mean one friggin liter.

So the Birthday lunch has started. Off to the next, Asian BBQ Pasta (to be posted by David).

Birthday Eve Black Forest Cake

My apartment was abuzz the night before my birthday. Tofu needed to be fried. The vegetarian adobo had to be cooked. The raspberry coulis recipe had to be tested. Pots and pans had to be washed. Gaaaahhh…

Despite the fact that we were scrambling to do prep work for the next day’s lunch, I managed to find a little bit of extra time to bake a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte or Black Forest cake.

I have several baking books on my shelf, but this is the simplest Black Forest recipe I could find. The source is a book called Kleine Kuchen (little cakes) by Anne Katrin Weber that came with my 20 cm springform. Tiny you might say? The size was perfect because there were only three of us who were going to share one entire cake. Believe it or not, about half of the cake was still left over for Janet and David’s breakfast the next day.

I prepared a non-alcoholic variety by exchanging the Kirschwasser with just plain cherry juice from the bottled sour cherries I bought.

MATERIALS and METHODS

For the Dough

  • 3 egg whites
  • 3 egg yolks
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100 g sugar
  • 75 g flour
  • 20 g cornstarch
  • 25 g cocoa powder

A.1 Preheat oven at 175 degrees Celcius. Line the bottom of the springform with baking paper.

A.2 Using a hand mixer, beat eggwhites with salt until it forms stiff peaks.

A.3 In a separate container, beat egg yolks with 2 Tbsp of warm water and sugar until mixture becomes thick and light colored.

A.4 Add the egg yolk cream into the beaten eggwhites.

A.5 Sift together flour, cornstarch, and cocoa powder and use a whisk to fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture.

A.6 Transfer the dough into the springform. Place the form in the middle of the preheated oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes.

A.7 Remove from oven and cool upside down on a wire rack. Remove from form and peel off the baking paper.

A.8 Slice the cake twice to make 3 layers.

For the Filling and Frosting

  • 250 g of bottled sour cherries, drained (collect the juice)
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 75 ml cherry juice
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 400 g whipping cream
  • 1 package whipping cream stabilizer (~8 g) (Sahnefestiger)
  • 6 Tbsp Kirschwasser (or cherry juice)
  • 20 g grated bittersweet chocolate (Schokoraspel)

B.1 Mix together cornstarch and 2 Tbsp cherry juice. Simmer the rest of the cherry juice with sugar.

B.2 Add cherries into the simmering cherry juice. Add the cornstarch mixture. Let it cook until the sauce has thickened.

B.3 Let it cool before assembling the cake.

B.4 Whip the cream, 1 Tbsp sugar, and cream stiffener until stiff peaks form.

Assembly

C.1 From the thickened cherries, select 8 of the nicer looking ones for the toppings.

C.2 Spread a thin layer of the whipped cream on the bottom cake layer.

C.3 Put the rest of the cream in a piping bag.

C.4 Make three cream circles on the bottom layer. Fill the rest of the space with half of the thickened cherries.

C.5 Place the second cake layer on top and soak with half of the Kirschwasser / cherry juice.

C.6 Repeat step C.4.

C.7 Place the top cake layer and soak with the rest of the Kirschwasser / cherry juice.

C.8 Cover the entire cake with the rest of the whipped cream. Save some to make little peaks on top of the cake.

C.9 Distribute the 8 cherries evenly.

C.10 Sprinkle the grated chocolate, first in the middle then in the spaces between the whipped cream peaks.

C.11 Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours before serving.

Did I say it was the simplest recipe I could find? The more authentic version from the Dr. Oetker recipe book lists twice as many ingredients.

I don’t know what I do while preparing sponge cakes but I never seem to have the right amount of height. Instead of slicing the cake twice, I only managed to cut it once to make two layers. Here’s what it looked like with my toothpick guides before slicing.

The original recipe called only for 3 Tbsp of Kirschwasser but I doubled the amount here because 3 Tbsp was not enough to soak through the sponge cake.

While we were waiting for midnight to strike, David got all gourmet on us and decided to temper some white chocolate. Come cake eating time, each slice had a nice white chocolate rainbow on it.

Don’t know how to temper chocolate? Bryan Voltaggio posted a step-by-step guide about it on their website.

So yeah first recipe down, 4 more to go. Up next, Tofu Sisig.