Sauerkirschkuchen in Petersdorf, Germany (Or, “What can I bake from what I can find at Aldi?”)

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Petersdorf is one of the larger towns on Fehmarn island, large being a relative term (the entire island is home to approximately 12,000 people).  During my stay on Fehmarn, the Aldi store in Petersdorf is where I did most of my shopping – Aldi prices are quite low, and while Aldi stores aren’t exactly aesthetically pleasing, they still offer a more pleasant shopping experience that The Store With A W That Shall Not Be Named.  Say what you will about Aldi, the fact that the company has managed to keep the behemoth W out of Germany is worthy of respect.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShopping at Aldi takes some getting used to.  Aldi is able to offer very low prices because their business model dictates that an average Aldi store stock only about 1,500 different items.  That may sound like a lot, but it’s less than five percent – and in some cases less than one percent – of the inventory at many American supermarkets.

I didn’t take much notice of the limited inventory at Aldi until I tried to bake.  I could find granulated white sugar, but not confectioner’s sugar (a challenge when making frosting).  I could find baking powder, but not cream of tartar (a challenge when making meringues).  I also could not find molasses, and I tend to bake with a lot of molasses.

So, I changed my tack.  I went on a baking scavenger hunt, searching for interesting ingredients and thinking of ways to use them.  Voila!  I stumbled upon a big jar of sauerkirschen, or sour cherries.  The best part was, the jar was priced at less than half of what I knew these lovely little fruits would cost back home.  So, today we are making sauerkirchkuchen, a very simple cherry cake.  Enjoy!

picture1225 Ingredients (makes an 8″ square cake)

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons butter

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

2 cups sour cherries (pitted, drained if jarred)

picture1226Directions

Step 1) Grease an 8″ square cake pan or a glass pie dish; set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2) Combine flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.  Cut butter into dry mixture using a pastry cutter or two forks.  Continue cutting butter into mixture until all butter pieces are smaller than peas.

Step 3) Add egg and milk to flour and butter mixture; combine with a fork.  Batter should be thick, like biscuit dough.

Step 4) Spread batter into bottom of pan.  Top with cherries.  If desired, drizzle tops of cherries with 1-2 tablespoons of cherry juice and/or 1 teaspoon of white sugar.

Step 5) Bake in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the dough (pick a spot not covered by a cherry) comes out clean.  Check after 35 minutes.

Let cool slightly before enjoying.  This makes a wonderful breakfast kuchen served with coffee, or a wonderful dessert served with ice cream!

 

Red Currant Sorbet in Dänschendorf, Germany

 

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Dänschendorf is a picturesque little farming community on Fehmarn, a German island in the Baltic Sea.  A bridge connects Fehmarn to mainland Germany, making the island easily accessible for vacationers seeking sun and sand during the summer months.  Visitors flock to the beaches, which are entirely natural except for one “tourist beach” on one corner of the island, where fine grained sand is trucked in (bah, that’s no fun).  On many beaches, visitors can rent mini-cabanas for the afternoon or for the entire season.  They’re a novelty, pretty comfortable, and offer the advantage of protecting sunbathers from fierce winds that blow from the West and sometimes feel like they might carry you right across the sea, East to Lithuania!  Fehmarn is also an easy afternoon cruise away from both Denmark and Sweden, thanks to an active (and inexpensive, if traveling on foot) ferry line.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Considering the island’s northern latitude, it is not surprising that the German food in the region is flavored with a Scandinavian influence.  I was pleased, but not surprised, to find fresh red currants at a small Dänschendorf market.

Red currants or Johannisbeeren are small, round berries, translucent red in color and fragile due to their very thin skins.  Pop one in your mouth and you’ll find these berries are startlingly tart, almost like cranberries.  I find the taste refreshing, but my travel companions were not as impressed.  They are, however, quite impressed by the Eis (ice cream) stands dotting the island, so I knew just what to do with these happy little berries.picture1232

Red Currant Sorbet is super easy to make – a perfect treat for vacationers and travelers to prepare in a rented apartment, because it requires few ingredients and very little equipment.  If you can’t find fresh red currants in your area, try this recipe with raspberries and cut the sugar in half.

picture1233Ingredients (makes 4 large or 6 small servings)

4 cups fresh red currants

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup dry (trocken) red table wine

1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon zest, optional

Directions

Step 1) Puree red currants, sugar, water, and wine all together until smooth.

Step 2) Pour mixture into a shallow glass pan, and place in freezer.

Step 3) Every thirty minutes, stir the mixture gently.

Step 4) Sorbet will be ready to scoop and serve after 2 – 3 hours, depending upon your freezer temperature.  Enjoy!

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Smørrebrød in Rødbyhavn, Denmark

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Smørrebrød with Shrimp, Salmon, and Egg

When is a sandwich not just a sandwich?  When that sandwich is a beautifully arranged smørrebrød, the national dish of Denmark.  Smørrebrød are open faced sandwiches with very few rules – perfect for cooks who love to be creative in the kitchen without being overly fussy.  Crowded Earth Kitchen is featuring smørrebrød from Rødbyhavn, a Danish harbor town in an agricultural area just across the Baltic Sea from Germany.

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Rødbyhavn Coastline

Considering Denmark’s saltwater coastlines and storied fishing history, it should come as no surprise that many versions of smørrebrød prominently feature seafood.  Salmon, herring, shrimp, crayfish (called kreb), and lobster are all enjoyed on these little sandwiches, along with roasted pork, beef, and chicken for variety.

All you need to make smørrebrød at home are a few ingredients and a bit of creativity.  Freshness is key here – Danish cuisine favors high quality, minimally processed ingredients enjoyed in delicious combinations without a lot of fussy preparation.  Try making your own smørrebrød from your favorite combinations of the following:

Small, thin slices of your favorite bread 

  • Rye bread is common in Denmark, but really, anything goes.

Freshly prepared condiments for moisture and flavor 

  • Mayonnaise, remoulade, and mild mustard are common, but nothing is preventing you from adding a bit more heat and bite if that’s your thing!

Thin slices and small bites of protein 

  • Beyond seafood, red meats, poultry, cheese, and egg, don’t be afraid to try less common ingredients such as tofu and slivered almonds.

Garnish, garnish, garnish! 

  • Please don’t neglect this final detail, or you miss the whole point of smørrebrød.  It’s supposed to be pretty and show that you put some thought and effort into your food!  Herbs (especially dill) are common, as are dollops of crème and specks of caviar.  Really, the sky’s the limit.  I’m thinking yellow lemon zest, black poppy seeds, purple pansy blossoms, red pepper slivers, and thin green chives.  What do you envision?  Give it a try!
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Danish Lobster Tails

 

 

 

Cherry Liqueur (Kirsebælikør) in Denmark

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Cherries are quite popular in Denmark, and my family is happy to enjoy them right out of the market basket.  Variations on Kirsebælikør, or cherry liqueur, are also quite popular.  I must admit that spending the afternoon on a ferry in the Baltic Sea exploring Denmark’s Viking heritage with my own horde of pint size, toy sword-wielding Viking enthusiasts, any combination of cherries and vodka sounds pretty darn good.  Go ahead, judge.  How many times did you get hit with a plastic sword today?

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Ingredients

2 1/2 cups good quality vodka

1 cup good quality brandy

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 pounds fresh cherries, washed and stems removed

Directions

Step 1) Combine vodka, brandy, and sugar in a large bowl.  Stir gently until sugar is dissolved.

Step 2) Score cherries with a sharp knife and place in sterilized quart jars (two should be sufficient).

Step 3) Cover cherries with sugar/alcohol mixture.  Cover jars with tight fitting lids and store in a cool place away from sunlight.  Every few days, tip jars upside down back and forth a few times to mix ingredients.

Step 4) Liqueur will taste pretty fabulous after only a day or two, but for maximum flavor, try to let this sit for 2 or 3 months.  If only one of the quarts lasts that long, well, who am I to judge?  ;)

Step 5) Strain liqueur from cherries, and serve liqueur in small cordial glasses.  Use the cherries for something else – a cake, perhaps?  Hmm… I feel another recipe brewing.  Stay tuned!

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Ferry Port in Denmark

Lunch in Old Town Cologne

There was absolutely no cooking at Crowded Earth Kitchen today.  Sorry, folks!  No, the stove sat lonely and neglected while we explored Old Town Cologne.  Quaint cobblestone streets and a view of the cathedral are accompanied by predictable price inflation in many restaurants, but menus posted along the walkways make it easy to determine which establishments fit within your travel budget.  We found a lovely corner café with prices that were a bit of a splurge, but not ridiculously so.

While most patrons chose to sit outside at little sidewalk tables vaguely reminiscent of Paris, I was drawn to the heavy woodwork I spied with a quick glance inside.  We settled into a tall corner booth complete with little pillows – a whimsical touch!

My pint size travel companions each ordered a speckpfannkuchen from the “light” menu.   Apparently, “light” is a relative term!  These egg-rich, butter-laden pancakes were filled with smoked bacon and easily overwhelmed a standard sized dinner plate.  My pint size companions barely made a dent in their speckpfannkuchen before they were contentedly full and ready to continue exploring the city.

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At risk of betraying my German-American heritage, I will nervously confess that I was all carbed out by lunchtime… one can only indulge in so many bäckerei treats before one needs a break from everything made with flour!  I ordered a champignon salat, and it was delicious.

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Where I may have failed to order something from the “Top 10 foods to try in Germany,” two of my travel companions pulled through with currywurst.   They described this quintessential German sausage as tasting like a mild bratwurst, soft in texture, with a sweet curry sauce accompaniment.  Served with pommes frites, this was a picture perfect lunch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Crowded Earth Kitchen will cook something for you tomorrow, I promise.  Right now, we have a city to explore!

Himmel un Ääd and the Cologne Cathedral

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Himmel un Ääd, also written as Himmel und Erde in some parts of Germany, translates as “heaven and earth.”  This simple comfort food consists of apples (heaven) paired with potatoes and onions (earth), all topped with a savory meat.  The most common meat pairing is black pudding or blood sausage, but as someone who eats very little meat, well, I’m not quite there yet.  I chose bacon instead.picture1162

I’m having a bit of fun with the name of this dish, and am pairing the recipe with a few photos of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom).  I can’t honestly say that Cologne is one of my favorite German cities so far – it’s not the cleanest city I’ve seen, and current subway construction near the city center makes Cologne painfully difficult for visitors to navigate by car.  That said, parts of the city have a certain laid back, international flavor vaguely reminiscent of New York, with the almost indescribably beautiful backdrop of a massive, eight hundred year old Gothic cathedral.

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Himmel un Ääd Ingredients (Makes 1 large platter, perfect for a Sunday buffet table!)

3 pounds yellow potatoes, scrubbed and quartered

1 pound thick sliced bacon

2 pounds sweet onions, sliced thin

3 pounds crisp apples, washed and sliced thick

1 tablespoon sugar

salt and pepper

Directions

Step 1) Place quartered potatoes in a large pot.  Cover with water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are soft, 10 – 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Step 2) While potatoes are cooking, fry bacon slices in a large pan.  When bacon is crisp, remove from pan (don’t wash the pan!) and set aside on paper towel to drain.

picture1159Step 3) Add sliced onion and sugar to pan with the bacon fat.  Sautee onion in bacon fat over medium heat until onions are soft and lightly caramelized.   Using a slotted spoon, remove onions from pan (do not wash pan!) and set aside.

Step 4) Add sliced apples to pan and fry over low-medium heat.  If pan is sticky, add a tablespoon of butter.

Step 5) While apples cook, drain potatoes and mash.  Himmel un Ääd “purists” leave the mashed potatoes as is.  I like to add about 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 cup of milk, and  a bit of salt and pepper.  You decide.

Step 6)  Assemble your Himmel un Ääd platter.  Arrange mashed potatoes in a half-circle on one side of the platter, and arrange the fried apples in a half-circle on the other side of the platter.  Arrange the caramelized onions in a small circle in the center of the platter (overlapping the potatoes and apples), and finally arrange your bacon strips over the top of everything else.  Voila!  Enjoy!

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Fast Food, Dutch Style!

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Exploring Europe poses a delightful dilemma… to cook, or to sightsee?  Today, we’re turning off the stove and looking instead at a few fun foods available in Dutch markets.  My favorite find, and a favorite of my pint-sized travel companions, are stroopwafels, shown above.  Stroopwafel translates as “syrup waffle,” and is really a cookie.  A dense caramel filling is sandwiched between two round cookies which taste like waffled ice cream cones.  Here’s the fun part:  stroopwafels are designed to settle right on top of your mug of morning coffee or tea, so that the steam from your hot beverage can soften the caramel center.  Brilliant.  As much as I enjoy a morning scone or biscotti, I have to confess, my morning coffee has a new best friend.

Another fun find for busy mornings are pre-made pannenkoeken, Holland’s answer to the French crepe and the American flapjack.  Yes, yes, I know, making a pancake is not exactly rocket science.  The thing is, these premade cakes are really good!  I warmed them in a microwave oven (gasp!) for a few seconds, gave them some love with a tablespoon or two of nutella, dressed them up with banana slices, and Voila!  I enjoyed a lovely breakfast in the same amount of time it would take to prepare a bowl of corn flakes.

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When traveling abroad, remember that exploring foreign food markets can be a whole lot of fun!  Perusing grocery stores is a practical, economical way to explore other food cultures.  Enjoy!

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