I wonder if Mozart would enjoy this pineapple salsa?

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The Ghost of Mozart performing in a Salzburg public square.

Salzburg, Austria takes being the birthplace of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart pretty darn seriously, if curiosities such as Mozart impersonators covered in metallic paint can be considered serious!  A visitor would be hard pressed to walk more than a block or two in historic Salzburg without seeing some sort of tribute to its classical composer hometown hero.

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While Salzburg is a truly beautiful city to visit, it is also pretty toasty in late summer.  In late afternoon, the cobbled streets are downright hot.  Those alpine breezes I was hoping for?  Yeah, not so much.  Salzburg is nestled into a valley in the Alps.  This means that while fresh mountain air no doubt swirls high overhead, it skips right over sweltering tourists and continues on its way.

 

As much as I am enjoying the city, I need to cool off, or not even the spray painted Mozart ghost will be able to make me smile.  I have a ridiculous amount of pineapple left over from making Austrian Preserved Fruit, so today we are making Pineapple Salsa!  Super easy and beautifully seasonal, pineapple salsa is delicious served with tortilla chips, or as an entrée ingredient over a plate of shredded chicken and rice.  All that is required to make this salsa is the ability to dice fruits and vegetables into small pieces, and the ability to count to “one.”  Even my head-addled brain can handle that.

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Fresh Pineapple Salsa Over Chicken And Rice

WIN_20140823_144420Ingredients

1 fresh pineapple

1 fresh, firm mango

1 white onion

1 red bell pepper

1 jalapeno pepper

1 lime

1 bunch of cilantro

1 teaspoon sea salt

Directions

Step 1) If you’ve never cut a fresh pineapple before, don’t worry – this is easy.  First, slice off the top and bottom, removing only about 1/2 inch.  Next, you will be able to clearly see the round core in the center of the pineapple.  Just slice down around it, top to bottom, removing long slices of fruit.  Toss the core into your compost bin, or better yet, place it in a mason jar and cover with rum.  Rumor has it, freshly made pineapple rum (let it soak for a few days) is delicious.  😉

WIN_20140824_130627Step 2) Dice your pineapple, mango, onion, and red pepper into bite size pieces.  Combine in a large bowl.

Step 3) Finely dice your jalapeno, removing most of the seeds first (wear gloves!).  Chop cilantro.  Add jalapeno and cilantro to the bowl with other ingredients.

Step 4) Roll your lime around on the counter, pressing firmly, to release the juice from the pulp.  Cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice (as much as you possibly can) over the bowl of ingredients.  Mix well.

Step 5) This recipe may be enjoyed fresh – just store it in the refrigerator.  If you wish to can this recipe, proceed on to step 6!

Step 6) (For canning only…) Add all ingredients to a large pot and bring to a boil.  After mixture boils, remove from heat and ladle into sterilized, pint size canning jars.  Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice to each canning jar for extra acidity and safety.  Leave 1/2 inch of headspace.  Place lids and bands on jars, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Store in a cool place for up to one year.

 

Austrian Preserved Fruit

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Preserved Pineapple and Plum (recipe below)

The most beautiful storefront in all of Western Europe can be found on a little cobbled street in Salzburg, Austria.  In this storefront, a dazzling assortment of every imaginable kind of fruit, each beautifully and deliciously preserved, is arranged in an abundant and artful display.  It is spectacular to see.  The prices, alas, are also spectacular – spectacularly high – making this particular stop a “look but don’t touch” destination.

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While I was unable to leave with a treasure bag of purchased preserved fruit, I left with plenty of inspiration to recreate these treats at home on a more reasonable budget.  It’s actually a very simple process, and very affordable!  For less than the price of chips and salsa, you can bring a plate of jewel-toned, candy-like fruit to your next social event.  Even if your cooking skills are limited to boiling water – seriously – you can do this!

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Ingredients

2 pounds fresh fruit with a firm texture such as pineapple, mango, papaya, figs, or plums

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom or clove

Directions

Step 1) Working with one type of fruit at a time (preserve different types of fruit in separate batches), peel and slice fruit into 1/4 inch thick slices.  Set aside.

Step 2) Bring sugar, water, and spice to a boil in a large, wide pot.  Allow syrup mixture to boil vigorously and reach a temperature of roughly 230 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 3) Add fruit and reduce heat to simmer.  Spread fruit pieces around with a stirring spoon so that fruit is in a single layer on the bottom of the pot, covered in syrup.

Step 4) Simmer, uncovered, until fruit looks glossy and turns translucent in color.  For pineapple, this takes approximately 30 minutes.  For plums, this takes approximately 15 minutes.  Cooking time will vary depending upon your choice of fruit and the thickness of your fruit slices.  Once fruit turns translucent in color, remove pot from heat and cover.  Allow fruit to soak in the syrup overnight.

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  Before Cooking

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After Cooking

Step 5) The next day, remove fruit from syrup with a slotted spoon and place on a wire rack.  Allow fruit to dry for several days at room temperature, or speed up the drying process by placing the fruit in a slightly warm oven (absolutely no hotter than 200 degrees!) for several hours.

Step 6) After fruit is dry, sprinkle lightly with sugar.  Store in a tightly covered container.  If long term storage is needed, placing the container in a freezer will preserve optimum flavor.  Enjoy!

***Bonus!*** Save that cooking syrup!  Seriously, taste it.  The sugar syrup takes on the flavors and colors of the fruit, and stores well in the refrigerator.  A teaspoon of fruit syrup is lovely drizzled over a bowl of oatmeal.  I’m told that an ounce of syrup isn’t half bad in a martini glass with a shot or two of vodka, either.  😉

Have You Entered Yet? Last Chance to Win!

lemon cakeThe Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender

Crowded Earth Kitchen is offering five – that’s right, FIVE – ways to win!

Contest Ends September 1st

*** CLICK HERE TO ENTER! ***

“My mouth – always so active, alert – could now generally identify forty of fifty states in the product or meat I ate. I had taken to tracking those more distant elements on my plate, and each night, at dinner, a U.S. map would float up in my mind as I chewed and I’d use it to follow the nuances in the parsley sprig, the orange wedge, and the baked potato to Florida, California, and Kansas, respectively. I could sometimes trace eggs to the county” (p. 95).

As a child, I loved reading The Chocolate Touch, by Patrick Skene Catling. To me, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is the grown-up, quirky distant cousin of a childhood favorite. Instead of a greedy little boy who learns it really is possible to have too much of a good thing when everything he touches turns to chocolate, Aimee Bender offers us Rose Edelstein, a precocious little girl with a most unusual and unfortunate gift. To Rose’s great dismay, she learns she can taste emotions cooked and baked into her food.

Rose’s peculiar and unshakeable ability might be tolerable if she weren’t surrounded by such an odd cast of characters. But that wouldn’t make for an interesting story, would it? Instead, Rose lives with a detached and clueless father, a melancholy and secretive mother, and an older brother who blends into the background most extraordinarily well. Rose finds grains of sanity in her friendship with Eliza, whose mother can be relied upon to cook happy tasting food, and her unlikely alliance with George, the surprisingly normal friend of her very strange brother.

In The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender accomplishes the extraordinary… she gives her food characters the same depth and development as many fiction authors give their human characters. The textures, flavors, scents, kitchen environment, and baker of Rose’s favorite lemon cake are described in several pages of detail, and lemon cake is just one food of many to receive such grand attention to detail. Foodies and fiction aficionados alike will enjoy this eccentric tale.

Hofbräuhaus Pilgrimage (Yes, I AM a tourist – what tipped you off?)

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A full liter of dunkel bier and a half liter of weiss bier

Thus far on our European Food Tour, we’ve managed to avoid (most of) the touristy kitsch.  Indulge me just this once.  We were in Munich, we were hungry, and we did it… we followed the camera wielding masses into that most epic of bier halls, Hofbräuhaus.  Simply put, it’s too old and too big NOT to visit!  The history of Hofbräuhaus dates back to the 16th century, and is a long, fascinating story.  The current building – “only” 117 years old – can seat a whopping 1,300 hungry and thirsty guests.

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High, painted ceilings

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Bavarian style oompah band

For me, the most fascinating thing about Hofbräuhaus is how, despite the hordes of tourists, the old bier hall is clearly beloved by locals.  If you don’t believe me, check out the bier hall’s website.  An impressive number of tables are reserved for regular guests, many of whom own their own bier steins and store them in one of the 454 lockers available on site!  Possession of one of these lockers is considered a status symbol among regular guests.

Whether drinking from a fancy schmancy bier stein or a plain old glass mug, everyone can enjoy a hearty and delicious meal.  I’ll leave you with a few photos while I pack my bags.  Next stop:  Austria!

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Pork Knuckle

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Bread dumplings in a mushroom cream sauce

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Spaetzle (for Half-Pint!)

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Apple strudel

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Gift shop (Of course there’s a gift shop… just feel your way through the sea of blinding camera flashes, and you’ll find it eventually!)

 

An American Lost in a German Kitchen!

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German Kitchen Décor

I anticipated a few of our travel adventures before we stumbled upon them.  For example, I imagined that decoding foreign train schedules would take a bit of practice (I was right).  I imagined reading key words on restaurant menus and placing an order correctly would take a bit of luck (I was right).  But cooking in the kitchens of our rented guest apartments?  That, I imagined, would be a snap (I was very, very wrong).

I realized I was in for a bit of a challenge before I even set foot in a kitchen – I was still at the grocery store!  For better or worse, I grew up with the wack-a-doodle American system of measurements.  You know what I’m talking about… 16 ounces to a pound, 2 cups to a pint, 2 pints to a quart, 4 quarts to a gallon, etc..  It’s a ridiculous system, but it’s the system with which I am most familiar.  I understand the metric system and use it in other contexts, but it’s akin to a non-native language, and takes me an extra second to sort out in my head.

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Pretty dishes in our guest apartment

Here’s a scenario:  an item costs 6 Euro 49 per kilogram, and the shop keeper is asking if I would like to make a selection.  Hmm.  Would I?  Well, there are roughly 2.2 pounds per kilogram and $1.37 per Euro. Reasoning out that 6 Euro 49 per kilogram is about $4 per pound isn’t rocket science, but after thinking through the mental math for about 50 items, I was ready to just start chucking random items in my cart.  Then I learn that the price shown is “per 100 grams.”  I have no idea how much 100 grams of sausage (or cheese or whatever) looks like.  Sure, I’ll take 100 grams.  Oh.  I guess I’ll take another 100 grams.

Previously kitchen confident, I found myself fumbling through scenario after scenario:

  • Butter is not packaged in 1/2 cup sticks, but in 200 gram squares.  Internet conversions to the rescue!
  • Baking powder is not sold in a red cylindrical can, but in little envelopes. I found it… eventually.
  • Powdered sugar is not sold in loose bags, but in dense little boxes.  I found this also… eventually.
  • Something that looks like bacon and smells like bacon might actually be bacon, or it might be a fully cured, prosciutto-like product in disguise.  Not that I bought a package of not-bacon by mistake…
  • Flour is sold in densely packed 1 kilo packages – very densely packed.  I’m just guessing here, but it probably wouldn’t be wise to dump a bag of flour into a resealable container of approximately the same size.  I’m just guessing the flour might expand… a LOT… and make a mess that would amuse any pint-size travel companions for the rest of the day.  Good thing this didn’t happen to me.
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Spice Jars

After navigating the market, my adventures continued in the kitchen.  Oven gauges are set in Celsius rather than Fahrenheit.  Local recipes use units of mass rather than volume (a much more accurate, common sense approach, but unfamiliar nonetheless).  Ovens are generally smaller, which is more energy efficient, but also alters familiar baking times.  Stovetops are often electric and ceramic, requiring a gentler approach and a bit more patience than open gas flame.  Navigating these differences, I managed to serve slices of “rare” cake and saw through a roast that was, er, “well” done.

I also made a few dishes – heck, more than a few dishes – that were pretty darn good.  I will leave Germany with a few new cooking skills, a lot of great recipe ideas, and a healthy respect for the similarities AND the differences between German and American cooking cultures.

Next time on Crowded Earth Kitchen, I’ll share photos and stories from an iconic German dining establishment.  Then, we’re off to Austria!

The Amazing Spaetzle Dumpling Workout!

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Spaetzle Dumplings with Mushrooms and Bacon

I woke up to a rainy day in the hills of Bavaria, and decided to fill the day cooking a few of the comfort foods I associate with Germany.  Dumplings immediately came to mind.  Of all the varieties of German dumplings, and there are many, I particularly adore spaetzle.  These tiny, irregularly shaped dumplings are often served with a light gravy, or just butter with a dash of salt and pepper.  Today’s recipe includes mushrooms and bacon, and is pretty delicious if I may say so myself!  Before we get started, let’s do a few upper body warm-up stretches.

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Bottom half of an enormous Maypole, as seen from my kitchen window

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Top of the Maypole, photographed from a 4th floor window

At home, I have a little gadget for making spaetzel.  To use it, I simply scoop some dumpling dough into the white bowl on top, and slide the bowl back and forth over the hole-punched tray underneath.  Tiny drops of dough fall effortlessly into a pot of boiling water, and in just a few minutes, I have a delightful bowl of dumplings.  So easy!

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Spaetzle Maker Sitting on a Stockpot

Lacking  my spaetzle maker, I used a strainer and the back of a soup ladle to accomplish the same task.  It worked just fine, but the dough being quite elastic, it took quite a bit more effort than I anticipated!  Don’t let that scare you off, just think of this recipe as the happy end of The Amazing Spaetzle Dumpling Workout!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIngredients (makes 4 side dish servings)

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

8 slices bacon

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced bite size

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADirections

1) Fill a large pot halfway full of water.  Add a dash of salt and bring to a gentle boil.

2) Fry bacon in a separate pan.  Remove bacon when crisp and set aside to drain on a paper towel.  Add mushrooms to pan with bacon fat and allow to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally.

3) While bacon and mushrooms cook, mix together eggs, flour, milk, salt and pepper.  Allow to rest for about 2 minutes.

4) Add half the dumpling dough to a strainer with holes about the size of a pencil eraser (a bit larger is OK, but NOT smaller!).  Hold the strainer over the pot of boiling water with one hand, and use the other hand to rub the back of a soup ladle over the dough.  Keep doing this until all the dough drops through the holes in the strainer.  Your arms won’t fall off – it only feels that way!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA5) When the dough drops into the pot, it will sink first and eventually float to the top.  Dumplings are cooked through when they have floated on the top of the water for about 3 minutes.  Scoop them out with a slotted spoon, set them in your serving bowl, and repeat the process with the other half of your dough.

6) By the time your dumplings are cooked, your mushrooms will be ready.  Gently fold mushrooms and all pan drippings into the dumplings.  Serve a scoop of spaetzle and mushrooms over a few leaves of romaine lettuce.  Top with crumbled bacon, or serve bacon slices whole on the side.  Enjoy!

 

 

What in the World is American Sauce?

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Before arriving in Europe, my travel companions and I were aware of at least a few of the more common European perceptions of American dining habits.  In mealtime settings, we have been careful to keep our voices a bit more quiet than we might at home, and we have been careful to not occupy too much table space.  We have even been graced with a compliment or two about the good behavior of our pint size travel companions (offsetting that time one pint size darling threw a credit card clear across a restaurant into the dinner of a very surprised lady, but I digress…).  Although we try to abide by the old “When in Rome” adage, our American accents can be detected from outer space, and have led to a few interesting exchanges.

We’ve noticed, for example, that ketchup is offered with absolutely everything, and often with a knowing grin.  Often, the only ketchup bottle in sight is the one placed on our table.  I find it thoughtful, but curious.  Our most curious dining experience was on the heels of a much more somber visit to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.  Visiting the Holocaust Memorial and adjoining museum was a bit overwhelming.

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After spending a few hours reading and reflecting on these sights we went for a walk through the neighboring district, home to the US Embassy.  The high concentration of Americans working in this area has led, predictably, to a large number of restaurants with English menus and other American-friendly touches.  We stopped by a promising looking café for lunch… and stepped right into a parody.

The booth in which we were seated was huge – I mean, it was enormous!  The menu looked fabulous – on the first page, and the third page, and the tenth page.  Beverage cups were large, and filled to the top with ice.  Our waiter was very friendly and informal, stopped by our booth often, and delivered a giant bottle of (you guessed it) ketchup with our lightening fast meals.  The most terrible – er, I mean most popular – of American pop music played in the background.  We felt genuinely welcome, even as we found the microcosm of American dining quirks a bit unnerving.  We left an American-size gratuity at the end of our intriguing meal.

I didn’t give differences in dining preferences across cultures much thought after that meal, at least not until I browsed through a grocery store.  One of my pint size travel companions was the one who spotted the unfamiliar item.  Holding the item up in the air, he asked…

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“What in the World is American Sauce?”

Trio of German Treats

Perhaps I’ve enjoyed a bit too much coffee this morning, but seriously folks, I’m all over the map – the dessert map, that is – when it comes to deciding which food adventures to share with you today.  I’ve decided that I’m simply not going to decide.  Instead, I’m going to indulge my sweet tooth and share a trio of German desserts… a foodie mosaic!  I’ll let you decide what best captures your attention.  Post a comment about your favorite photo below, and I’ll work on recreating the dish for a future post!

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Thin layers of chocolate cake and chocolate mousse, all contained within a shell of chocolate genache. Yum!

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Fresh apple slices baked atop a light vanilla cake, finished with a smattering of crumb topping. Delish!

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A dense cheesecake layer is topped with a fluffy layer of cheesecake mousse in which tart glazed cherries are suspended. Yes, please!

Signature Recipe: Seven Day Sourdough Bread!

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Any self-respecting home baker should try their hand at creating a loaf of sourdough bread at least once, if for no other reason than to participate in an ancient tradition.  Baking with wild yeast sourdough can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians over 3,500 years ago, and has been modified in countless ways by countless human cultures ever since.  How’s that for a bit of perspective, San Francisco?

Bavaria offers its own, well respected bread making traditions, and since I planned to stay for more than a few days, it seemed to me the perfect place to tweak my own recipe for Seven Day Sourdough Bread.  It’s delicious with the alpine cheeses famous in Southern Germany:

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Back to the sourdough… you really do need seven days from start to finish, even with a little help from a bit of cultivated/packaged yeast, because sourdough starter needs time to develop.  Don’t worry – Days 1 through 6 each require only about 10 seconds of attention.  You can do it.  At the end of a week, you will be the proud baker of a wonderful loaf of sourdough, with plenty of sourdough starter left over.  You can keep it forever as long as you give it a little love (flour) every once and a while, and you can also give some away.  How about greeting the new neighbor with a loaf of fresh bread and a pint jar of sourdough starter?

picture1301Part I:  Sourdough Starter 

Combine the following ingredients in a squeaky clean, quart size mason jar:

2/3 cup white flour

1/3 cup rye flour

1 teaspoon yeast (I used German yeast for a more authentic German sourdough, but really any yeast will work fine)

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup lukewarm water

Stir gently to combine (lumps are fine).  Cover with coffee filter and secure with a rubber band.  It’s important to let the sourdough breathe – do NOT use a jar lid!  Place your jar in a warm location.  85 degrees F is widely considered “ideal,” but it is very important not to let the jar reach 100 degrees F, or the yeast will die.  Every day for a week, add 1/3 cup flour and 1/4 cup lukewarm water, stir only once or twice, and recover with the coffee filter.  You will occasionally see a liquid separate onto the top of the starter.  This is normal byproduct of fermentation.  Just stir it back in.

On Day 7, you are ready to bake!  Remove 1 cup of starter for the recipe below, and continue feeding the remaining starter with 1/3 cup flour and 1/4 cup lukewarm water every day.  If you only plan to bake occasionally, store your jar in the refrigerator and feed once weekly.  Sourdough starter can last indefinitely, but if it turns a reddish color or starts to smell bad, throw it away and start fresh.

picture1302Part II:  Baking Bread

On Day 7, combine the following ingredients in a large bowl:

1 cup sourdough starter

3/4 cup lukewarm water

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3 cups flour

Step 1) Combine ingredients with a mixing spoon, then dump onto a floured countertop and knead for 12 minutes.

Step 2) Place kneaded dough in an oiled bowl.  Flip the dough over once so that the top is lightly oiled.  Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let rise in a slightly warm location at least four hours, or overnight.  Don’t rush this – the longer the dough sits, the better it will taste!  Dough should double in size during this step.

Step 3) Place dough on floured countertop again, and knead gently for one or two minutes.  The flour which gets kneaded in feeds the sourdough and helps create a second rise.  Shape the dough into a loaf (round or oblong, it’s up to you).  Place your loaf on a baking pan coated in cornmeal.  Let rise for two more hours.

Step 4) Using a pastry brush, coat the loaf with a bit of water.  This helps create a nice crust.  Bake your loaf in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25 minutes.  Let cool completely before cutting and serving.  Don’t rush – this bread is worth the wait!

 

Watermelon Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Topping in Bavaria

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We’re moving South into the Free State of Bavaria, or Freistaat Bayern as it is known within Germany.  Occupying over 27,000 square miles including a significant region of the German Alps, Bavaria is a unique and special place to visit.  Life here seems a bit less formal than in cities to the North, with even greater emphasis placed upon leisurely enjoyment of traditional food and local bier.  Expansive, interesting landscapes compel travelers to slow down and stay a while.

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Small Mountain Village

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Alpine Stream

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Farm Outbuilding in the Foothills of the Alps

All of this sunshine and summery fresh air means that I still have watermelon on the brain.  Watermelon and vanilla ice cream make a fine flavor combination, do you agree?  Let’s make a batch of delicious Watermelon Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Topping!

picture1317Ingredients (makes 1 pint)

2 cups pureed watermelon

2 cups sugar, divided into 1 1/2 cups (for step 1) and another 1/2 cup (for step 2)

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon powdered pectin

1 vanilla bean

picture1327Directions

Step 1) Combine pureed watermelon, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and lemon juice in a large pot.  Bring to a full, rolling boil, stirring occasionally so that the bottom doesn’t burn.

Step 2) Combine 1/2 cup sugar and pectin; mix well.  Sprinkle sugar/pectin mixture all over the surface of the boiling watermelon mixture and stir until well combined.

Step 3) Stirring constantly, return pot to a full, rolling boil.  Boil for one minute, then remove from heat.

picture1319Step 4) While mixture cools slightly, carefully cut your vanilla bean in half lengthwise.  Use the tip of a paring knife to scrape out the tiny vanilla seeds inside the bean.  Add the tiny seeds, just a few at a time so that they don’t all clump together, to your pot.  Stir well to combine.  When cool, store your ice cream topping in the refrigerator.  Serve over real vanilla ice cream and enjoy, preferably while looking out over the Alps!

Optional – Step 5) This recipe is suitable for canning, and makes a great gift!  Simply double the recipe and ladle into sterilized, half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.  Place lids and bands on jars, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Makes 4, half pint jars.

 

 

August Book Giveaway! Don’t Miss Out!

lemon cakeThe Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender

Crowded Earth Kitchen is offering five – that’s right, FIVE – ways to win!

Contest Ends September 1st

*** CLICK HERE TO ENTER! ***

“My mouth – always so active, alert – could now generally identify forty of fifty states in the product or meat I ate. I had taken to tracking those more distant elements on my plate, and each night, at dinner, a U.S. map would float up in my mind as I chewed and I’d use it to follow the nuances in the parsley sprig, the orange wedge, and the baked potato to Florida, California, and Kansas, respectively. I could sometimes trace eggs to the county” (p. 95).

As a child, I loved reading The Chocolate Touch, by Patrick Skene Catling. To me, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is the grown-up, quirky distant cousin of a childhood favorite. Instead of a greedy little boy who learns it really is possible to have too much of a good thing when everything he touches turns to chocolate, Aimee Bender offers us Rose Edelstein, a precocious little girl with a most unusual and unfortunate gift. To Rose’s great dismay, she learns she can taste emotions cooked and baked into her food.

Rose’s peculiar and unshakeable ability might be tolerable if she weren’t surrounded by such an odd cast of characters. But that wouldn’t make for an interesting story, would it? Instead, Rose lives with a detached and clueless father, a melancholy and secretive mother, and an older brother who blends into the background most extraordinarily well. Rose finds grains of sanity in her friendship with Eliza, whose mother can be relied upon to cook happy tasting food, and her unlikely alliance with George, the surprisingly normal friend of her very strange brother.

In The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender accomplishes the extraordinary… she gives her food characters the same depth and development as many fiction authors give their human characters. The textures, flavors, scents, kitchen environment, and baker of Rose’s favorite lemon cake are described in several pages of detail, and lemon cake is just one food of many to receive such grand attention to detail. Foodies and fiction aficionados alike will enjoy this eccentric tale.

Bockwurst and The Bach House

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Bockwurst is a popular German sausage made from finely ground veal and pork.  It’s relatively hefty size and natural casing means that bockwurst must be cooked slowly to retain its appearance and flavor.  As long as you keep that one detail in mind, preparing a meal of bockwurst, potatoes, and peppers is very, very simple (see instructions, below).  It was a perfect meal to cap a day spent exploring The Bach House and surrounding area.

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Sample of instruments played by Johann Sebastian Bach

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Listening pods for visitors

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Recreation of Bach’s facial features from a plaster cast of his exhumed skull (creepy but true)

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Exterior of The Bach House (left) with adjoining gift shop and café (right)

 

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Exterior statue of Johann Sebastian Bach

Classical music aficionados in large numbers trek into central Germany during the summer months to visit The Bach House.  This well reputed museum displays a comprehensive collection of Johann Sebastian Bach’s musical instruments, hand written compositions, and furnishings from his home.  Meandering from floor to floor and room to room, visitors are treated to the sounds of professional musicians performing Bach’s compositions on Bach’s own instruments – pretty cool.  Visitors may also settle into comfortable listening pods, pictured above, to listen to a wide variety of Bach pieces performed by a vast array of musicians.  While admittedly a bit macabre, visitors also have the, er, interesting opportunity to learn how Bach’s likeness was recreated by exhuming his body (seriously) and using his skull as a model.  [The cost of fame? Yikes.]

Whether you are touring The Bach House or simply popping in a CD, here’s a solid German meal to enjoy while you listen!

Bockwurst with Potatoes and Peppers

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 medium size potatoes

4 bockwurst

1 small onion, sliced

3 bell peppers (different colors if possible), sliced

1 tablespoon butter

black pepper to taste

 

picture1284Directions

Step 1) Wash potatoes and cut into bite size chunks.  Place in bottom of a nonstick pan.  Place bockwurst on top of potatoes.

Step 2) Cover bockwurst and potatoes with cold water.  Water should completely, but just barely, cover the bockwurst.

Step 3) Cover pot and heat on low until water is just about ready to boil.  Don’t turn the heat too high – it should take about 30 minutes for the water to approach boiling.  Be patient!

Step 4) Just before the water boils (for example, when the surface of the water appears to vibrate, or very teeny tiny bubbles begin to appear on the edges of the pot), layer the onion and peppers on top of the bockwurst.  Turn the heat OFF and LEAVE THE POT COVERED.  Do not lift the cover for 20 minutes!

Step 5) Important – check the internal temperature of one bockwurst with a meat thermometer.  The internal temperature should be at least 160 degrees F.  If the temperature has not reached 160 degrees F, turn the heat back to low and cover the pot for another few minutes.  Check the temperature again before serving.

Step 6) To serve, gently remove peppers, onions, and bockwurst from the pan.  Drain most of the liquid off of the potatoes; leave just a little bit of water with the potatoes in the pot.

Step 7) Add butter and pepper to the potatoes and coarsely mash.  Potatoes should be chunky; this is a rustic dish.

Step 8) Spread one scoop of potatoes on each serving plate and top with one bockwurst.  Arrange onion and pepper slices on top of bockwurst.  For added color, garnish with carrot shavings (optional).  Enjoy!

 

 

 

Watermelon Coolers and Wartburg Castle

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Wartburg Castle, located in central Germany, is an amazing sight to see.  Originally built in the eleventh century, Wartburg Castle was in a near constant state of active inhabitation and renovation until the early twentieth century.  Wow!  The most famous inhabitant of Wartburg Castle wasn’t a count or a prince, but rather a sixteenth century monk seeking refuge under an assumed name.  In a tucked away room in Wartburg Castle, Martin Luther produced the first hand-written translation of the Bible from Latin into German.  Even five hundred years later, Luther pilgrims continue to flock to the castle.

What does this story have to do with the watermelon cooler pictured above, you ask?  Well, consider that Wartburg Castle is perched on a cliff 1,350 feet above the town of Eisenach.  Here is a view from the top:

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To preserve both the ecology of the cliff and the historic integrity of the castle, visitors are not permitted to drive to the castle.  The hike to the top is steep – I mean STEEP – and I happened to visit on a rather toasty summer day.  Exploring the castle exterior (free of charge) was very worth the hike, as you can see from the photos, below:

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It was a lovely afternoon, but after trekking back down from the castle, I felt a bit as if I had fallen into a moat full of syrup.  Not a refreshing feeling!  Germany, as we’ve discussed in earlier posts, is a nation committed to energy conservation (much more so than the US, in any event).  Air conditioning at the foot of the cliff was in short supply.  Watermelons and mineral water, however, were readily available… the combination is far more delicious and an all-around better idea than a blast of toxic Freon.  😉

Feeling toasty?  Simply cut a few small chunks of watermelon and freeze solid.  Plunk them in pairs into tall glasses of sparkling mineral water, relax, and enjoy.  You might feel refreshed enough to climb up to your nearest neighborhood castle!

Eis in Eisenach, Germany

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEisenach is a bustling town of approximately 40,000 people in the Thuringia region of central Germany.  As the birthplace of composer Johann Sebastian Bach and nearest town to Wartburg Castle, Eisenach welcomes a significant number of tourists (mostly German) every year.  Watching tour busses navigate the narrow, perilously steep roads near the town center is nerve wracking indeed!

Visitors can easily walk through Eisenach for hours perusing outdoor markets (see above), taking in museums, visiting churches, and enjoying fountains.  During the summer months, Eisenach can get quite toasty warm.  Air conditioning is not a common amenity, leaving sightseers to find other ways of cooling off.  Thankfully, Eisenach cafes and restaurants take “Eis,” or ice cream, to whole new levels.

Crowded Earth Kitchen is sharing ideas instead of recipes for you today.  Once you take a look at the photos from our ice cream adventures below, I don’t think you’ll mind.  All you need are ice cream and toppings (fresh fruit is a must!) from your local market, and a little imagination. Have fun cooling off deliciously!

 

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Traditional Spaghetti Eis: Vanilla ice cream piped in the shape of spaghetti noodles, topped with strawberry slices and coconut shavings

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Chocolate Banana Spaghetti Eis

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Amaretto Eis: Vanilla Spaghetti Eis topped with amaretti cookies, chopped walnuts, coconut shavings, and a drizzle of amaretto liqueur (sigh…)

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Butterfly Eis for half-pint visitors

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Semi-creepy clown eis for half-pint visitors and eccentric adults!

 

Bier-Braised Pork Chops in Bischofroda, Germany

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Bischofroda is a small village of less than 700 residents nestled in the Southwestern hills of Thuringia, right in the heart of Germany.  While many Americans think of the Rhine River valley as “storybook Germany,” the Thuringia region seems even more special to me.  The hills vary from gentle and rolling to steep and spectacular, with a surprise around every turn in the road.  In high places, visitors can simply stand along the roadside and gaze down at village after red-roofed village adorning countless acres of farmland and forests.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABischofroda is the sort of place that encourages its occasional visitors to slow down and relax. We enjoyed meandering through the village, exploring the grounds of the local church, and stepping aside on narrow cobbled roads every now and then to allow locals on horseback and tractors to pass.  Returning to our guest house to enjoy a slow and simple dinner with a cold German bier was a great way to end the day.

German bier is so widely available, so inexpensive, and so varied, we may as well cook with it, too!  What follows is an easy peasy recipe for fork-tender pork chops, braised in German bier, of course.

picture1253Ingredients (Serves 4)

8 thin-cut boneless pork chops

2 carrots, sliced into coins

1 onion, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup ketchup*

1 pint of your choice of German bier

*Yes, we’re using plain old ketchup.  There’s no need to be precious about it – ketchup’s acidity helps to tenderize the pork, and the flavor blends well with bier.  If you prefer to be all fancy pants, here’s what you do instead…  first you’ll need to peel, seed, and finely chop two ripe, fleshy tomatoes.  Cook them down over low heat for approximately 30 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add one teaspoon of brown sugar and a pinch of salt.  Voila, ketchup.

Directions

Step 1) Sear pork chops in frying pan over medium-high heat, approximately 30 seconds on each side.  Sprinkle with coarse ground black pepper if desired.

Step 2) Push pork chops aside and place onions and carrots evenly around bottom of the frying pan.  Place seared pork chops on top of onions and carrots.  Drizzle ketchup over pork chops, and pour bier over everything.

Step 3) Place lid on frying pan and simmer on low for 30 minutes or until pork chops are fork tender.  Enjoy!

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