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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Windmill Cookies in Aarlanderveen, Holland

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Aarlanderveen, Holland is a breathtakingly beautiful village of approximately 500 residents and their four windmills.  These windmills are integral to the culture of the area, serving the dual purpose of milling grain into flour while pumping water out of the polders, or land areas which are below sea level.

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To celebrate the beauty of Aarlanderveen we are making Speculaas, or Dutch windmill cookies.  These cookies are traditionally made using wooden cookie molds, but a windmill-shaped cookie cutter will suffice.

The secret to authentic windmill cookie flavor lies in the Speculaaskruiden, or Dutch “mixed spice.”  You can order jars of Speculaaskruiden online, but it’s more fun to mix your own.  A recipe for this delightfully aromatic spice blend follows the cookie recipe, below.

picture1182Speculaas Cookie Ingredients (makes about 36 windmill cookies)

1 cup real butter

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1 egg

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons Speculaaskruiden spice mix (see recipe, below)

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Directions

Step 1) Cream together butter and brown sugar.  Add egg and mix well.

Step 2) Add flour, baking powder, salt, and Speculaaskruiden.  Mix by hand; dough will be stiff.

Step 3) Add half of the sliced almonds, reserving the other half as a garnish.

Step 4) Chill dough for at least one hour before rolling 1/4 inch thick on a floured surface.  Cut dough into windmill shapes, and carefully transfer to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

Step 5) Garnish the unbaked cookies with sliced almonds, as shown above.

Step 6) Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 12 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  Enjoy!

picture1180 Speculaaskruiden Spice Mix (makes enough for three batches of cookies)

Stir together (if using powdered spices) or grind together in a coffee grinder (if using whole spices):

4 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon mace

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon star anise

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon allspice

Store spice mix in a tightly sealed container and store away from heat and light.  Open container and smell whenever you need a smile.  🙂

Cauliflower Gouda Soup in Gouda, Netherlands

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Visiting the Netherlands without tasting Gouda cheese would be like visiting Italy and skipping the pasta, or touring Germany without sampling the beer.  It can be done, sure, but why?

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The town of Gouda, home to the world famous cheese, hosts a delightful open air market on Thursday mornings all summer long.  Visitors can sample a wide variety of Dutch treats while perusing the handiwork of local crafters and artists.  Flowers, ceramics, and a lovely variety of fresh produce are available, most at very reasonable prices.

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Locals are very welcoming of tourists, and questions about local products are answered very patiently.  One word of advice:  If you don’t want to look like a complete Netherlands neophyte (cough, cough), remember that locals pronounce both the town and the cheese as “HOW-da,” rather than “GOO-da.”

I could be happy all day long simply sneaking bites from a wedge of this lovely cheese, but alas, I am determined to cook with a respectable number of vegetables during my time abroad.  To that end, I’ve created this very simple soup for you to try.  Enjoy!

picture1094Ingredients (serves 4, with leftovers)

1 large yam, peeled and diced

1 large head of cauliflower, cut into small pieces

6 cups of vegetable broth or chicken stock

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

2 cups grated Gouda cheese

picture10721 cup milk or light cream

Diced chives or crumbled bacon to garnish (optional)

Directions

Step 1) Bring yam, cauliflower, and broth or stock to a boil in a large pot.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until vegetables are soft (about 10 minutes).  Let cool, uncovered, until lukewarm.  Puree with an immersion blender.

Step 2) Add mustard, grated Gouda cheese, milk or light cream, and stir well.

picture1075Step 3) Ladle soup into bowls and top with a few strips of grated cheese, a sprinkle of chives, and/or a few bacon crumbles (optional).

This soup is delicious with a thick slice of Tijerbrood!

Dutch Tiger Bread (Tijerbrood)

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After 24 hours of sleepless travel with pint-sized companions, Crowded Earth Kitchen arrived in Amsterdam.  Finding a meal was a tricky venture, because hungry as I was, this was not the time for anything exotic.  Planes, trains, automobiles, and multiple time zone changes shall not be paired with spicy food or sushi, thank you very much.  A simple cheese sandwich on tiger bread was a perfect snack.

Dutch tiger bread, also called Dutch crunch bread, is a unique bread worth sampling in the Netherlands.  It’s basically a white bread topped with a signature crunchy, crackly “tiger” coating.  Sesame oil imparts a distinctive flavor to the crust; I find it delicious, but feel free to substitute olive oil if you prefer a more neutral flavor.

The secret to the crackled top is rice flour – not in the loaf of bread itself, but as an ingredient in a  coating baked onto the top of the loaf.  This is a fun bread to make with children, and makes a pretty fabulous sandwich.  Enjoy!

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)

For the bread loaves:

2 cups lukewarm (not boiling) water

1/2 cup white sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast

1/4 cup dry milk

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup canola oil

6 cups white flour

For the crunch coating:

1 tablespoon yeast

1/2 cup lukewarm (not boiling) water

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup rice flour (not glutinous or sweet flour)


Directions

Step 1)  Combine 1/2 cup sugar and 2 cups lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl.  Stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons yeast, and allow to sit for a minute or two until the surface of the water appears a bit creamy.

picture331Step 2) Add dry milk, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and canola oil to the yeast mixture.  Stir in white flour, one cup at a time, and transfer dough to a floured tabletop.

Step 3) Knead dough for a few minutes until a smooth ball forms.  Add a bit more flour as needed, to prevent sticking.  Transfer dough to a large bowl which has been greased with canola oil.

picture334Step 4) Cover bowl with a damp cloth and allow dough to rise until it doubles in size.  This will take about an hour in a warm location, such as an oven that has been warmed to 100 degrees and then turned off.

Step 5) Punch the bowl of risen dough a few times to release air bubbles (this is
fun!).   Knead on a floured tabletop for a few minutes.  Divide dough in half, and shape into loaves.

picture1066Step 6) Transfer loaves onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Let rise for one hour.  After 45 minutes (15 minutes before the hour is up), prepare crunch coating as follows:

Step 7) Combine 1/2 cup lukewarm water and 1 tablespoon sugar in a small bowl.  Stir to dissolve sugar.  Add yeast.  Let sit for 2 minutes until yeast starts to foam.  Add olive oil, sesame oil, salt, and rice flour.  Stir until well combined, then let rest for 15 minutes.

picture1071Step 8) After loaves have risen for an hour and crunch coating (a “paste” at this point) has rested for 15 minutes, gently smear the coating onto the top and sides of the loaves.   Let loaves rest again for another 15 minutes.
Step 9) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  Enjoy your tiger bread!