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Pandora’s Lunchbox, by Melanie Warner

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As teenagers and college students are prone to saying around bites of junk food, “Just, Wow!” Based upon the author’s diverse writing background, including two years as a staff reporter for The New York Times, I was hopeful that Pandora’s Lunchbox would be well written and engaging. As a chemist and an educator myself, I was hopeful that this book would find and walk the line between depth of accurate food science detail and clarity of presentation for a wide audience. Melanie Warner delivered on both counts. And delivered, and delivered some more!

Pandora’s Lunchbox is as smartly written as it is impossible to set down. From her personal food “experiments” (Did this used to be a chicken nugget? Is that facial mask or avocado dip?) to her broadly painted historical overview to the interview vignettes which highlight her journalistic expertise, Melanie Warner illustrates the landscape of modern day processed food in stark detail. Ms. Warner begins by explaining what a processed food is not (“pasteurized milk…. frozen peas, canned beans… frozen ground beef shaped into hamburgers”) before succinctly clarifying what we are really talking about: “A processed food is something that could not be made, with the same ingredients, in a home kitchen. Your home kitchen” (p. xvi).

Prior to reading this book, I thought I had a pretty solid grasp on the “no-no’s” of processed food. Little did I know! Pandora’s Lunchbox had me rethinking the origins (and wisdom) of my daily multivitamin, the journey of ingredients in my children’s “healthy” breakfast cereal, and even my store bought loaf of whole grain bread. As I progressed from chapter to chapter, I was both humbled by how little I knew and inspired to do better for my own health and the health of my family.

Pandora’s Lunchbox confronts the business realities of the food industry, where processing and preservatives allow longer shelf lives and lower costs, corporate shareholders demand high profits over high nutrition, and consumers respond to slick marketing and artificial flavors. Melanie Warner ends her well written book with 216 referenced endnotes, placing well organized facts gently and firmly in the hands of her readers. Read Pandora’s Lunchbox, and you will – to your benefit – never experience a trip to the supermarket quite the same way again.

Cabanossi and Kohlrabi in Oberkrämer, Germany


Oberkrämer is a sleepy community of just over 10,000 residents in Brandenburg, approximately 25 miles Northwest of Berlin.  It has the feel of an American suburb, with an independently owned, hexagon-shaped doner kebap stand instead of a drive-thru fast food franchise, and the logically well connected mass transportation access one expects to find near Germany’s capital city.


Like most communities within commutable distance from a major metropolis, Oberkrämer offers several affordable markets for convenient grocery shopping.  I have to smile at how the produce section of each of these markets prominently features kohlrabi, a largely overlooked vegetable in the US.  Germany grows more kohlrabi – and consumes more kohlrabi – than any other country in the world.  My very German grandfather loves kohlrabi, and connecting with my German heritage is the reason I find myself here, so there you have it – we’re cooking up kohlrabi for dinner… but with what?

picture1250Cabanossi sausage!  If you haven’t tried Cabanossi sausage before, you’re in for a treat.  A mild, smoked sausage readily available throughout Germany as well as parts of the US, Cabanossi is seasoned with paprika and cured (like salami).  Cabanossi is considered more versatile than salami, in that it is commonly enjoyed both hot (baked, roasted, or grilled) and cold (on charcuterie plates and in sandwiches).  Today, we’re baking Cabanossi along with kohlrabi, potatoes, and a few mushrooms (optional) for a hearty, one dish dinner.

Ingredients (makes 4 main dish servings)

4 Cabanossi sausages (150 grams each)

3 large potatoes

1 large kohlrabi, leafy green top still attached

12 mushrooms

2 tablespoons butter

salt and pepper


Step 1)  Grease a large baking dish liberally with 2 tablespoons of butter.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Step 2) Wash potatoes and cut into bite size chunks.  Arrange potato pieces in a single layer on the bottom of the baking dish, skin side down.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes to par-bake (mostly, but not entirely, cook through).

Step 3) While potatoes are baking, cut leafy green top off of the kohlrabi bulb.  Discard stems, and cut greens into 1 inch strips.  Set aside.  Peel kohlrabi bulb (the bottom) with a potato peeler, and cut the peeled bulb into bite size chunks.  Set aside.

Step 4) Cut mushrooms into quarters.  Set aside.  Cut each Cabanossi sausage into three pieces.  Set aside.

Step 5) Remove potatoes from oven.  Arrange quartered mushrooms around the edges of the baking dish, and top mushrooms with kohlrabi greens.  Arrange kohlrabi chunks in the center of the dish, and top everything with sausage.

Step 6) Place dish back in oven for another 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and serve while hot.  Guten appetit!


Galician-Inspired Trout in Poland

picture1210Poland’s many lakes and freshwater rivers offer robust trout fishing, a fact which is easily deduced by even a glance at Polish cuisine.  Today we are featuring a simple trout preparation inspired by PSTRĄG PO GALICYJSKU, a classic Galician style trout found in the kitchens of Jewish cooks throughout Southern Poland and Austria.

Traditional PSTRĄG PO GALICYJSKU is fried, where the recipe below is baked.  The emphasis on incorporating strong flavors of garlic and horseradish has been retained.  You will not be disappointed!

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 fresh trout fillets (brown trout or rainbow trout, both are delicious)

1 tablespoon garlic paste

salt and pepper

4 lemon slices

4 teaspoons prepared horseradish (or freshly grated horseradish, if you can find it)


Step 1) Rub trout fillets with garlic paste, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Step 2) Place trout fillets on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Step 3) Serve each trout fillet with a slice of lemon and a dollop of horseradish.

All Things Schnitzel in Landkirchen, Germany

When asked to name a German food, schnitzel is the first thing to pop into the minds of many people.  Schnitzel is simply a boneless cut of meat which has been pounded thin with a meat mallet for tenderizing, breaded, and fried.  Pork schnitzel is quite common throughout Germany, although any meat may be used (I enjoy the less common chicken schnitzel, myself).  In German restaurants, it is sometimes possible to hear a faint “thump, thump” from the kitchen, which is schnitzel being prepared for the next round of diners!

Landkirchen is a small town in Fehmarn, Germany and is popular with tourists.  Most of the tourists themselves are from other parts of Germany, which bodes well for food offerings.  Schnitzel abounds – plain schnitzel and schnitzel with toppings, schnitzel with potato salad and schnitzel with pommes, schnitzel on paper plates and schnitzel all fancied up.  Crowded Earth Kitchen sampled the schnitzels throughout Landkirchen by dining where the tables were most full, and where diners were visiting with staff (a hopeful sign that the diners were either locals or returning guests).  We were not disappointed.  Here are a few photos for you – pick your favorite in the poll below, and Crowded Earth Kitchen will work to recreate the recipe for you!


Seafood Schnitzel with Pommes


Jaeger Schnitzel with Kartoffelsalat


Hawaiian Schnitzel with Pommes

Which recipe would you like to see Crowded Earth Kitchen recreate?

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


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)


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



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


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!



Smørrebrød in Rødbyhavn, Denmark


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.


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!

Danish Lobster Tails