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Saint Martin's Day (Apple Oatmeal Cookies)

November 23, 2015
On November 11th, it was St. Martin's Day here in Austria.  

St. Martin was a a knight during the Roman times.  Legends say that he saw a beggar freezing by the side of the road.  St. Martin then cut his coat in half with his sword and gave the half coat to the beggar and saved his life.  He is remembered as a patron for the poor and a friend of children.  His kind act is commemorated each year on St. Martins Day.

Children light lanterns and walk in procession around their schools or through town... the lanterns symbolizes the light that brings holiness into the darkness.  Traditionally, a goose is served (St. Martin's goose) on this day to celebrate the end of autum, of harvest time... and the beginning of Winter.


At school, El & Lil's class celebrated with a short procession to an outside area where they sang songs about St. Martin.  They even re-enacted the story of St. Martin cutting his coat in half for the freezing beggar.


Earlier in the day, the kids had a special St. Martin's lunch... They even made heart-shaped Lebkucken cookies from scratch!


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Back home in the kitchen, I had a few sad looking apples on the counter.  Not wanting to toss them out with the garbage, I found a yummy Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal cookie from Joy the Baker to make for the girls.

Taste tested and El & Lil approved!




Servus!


Sweet Tooth (The Best Chocolate Pudding)

November 18, 2015

[Credit:Demotix]

So, last week was not so great of a week.  It had Friday the 13th... a tooth extraction... earthquakes in Japan and Mexico... a funeral bombed in Baghdad... suicide bombings in Beirut... and terrorist attacks in Paris.  Not so great of a week for humanity, to say the least.  

I'm not going to go into how I am digesting all of this internally... as I'm sure everyone out there is, in their own way, trying to deal with how dark the world can be... sometimes it's hard to figure out the best foot forward... but, we do it.

I started this post for myself... before all of the death and mourning began... as a marker in my lifeline of the first adult tooth that had to bid adieu.  Makes me feel old... or that my teeth are starting to fall out (oh, the horror!).  I had traumatic memories of that time in my teens where I had all FOUR of my wisdom teeth removed in one sitting... and so, as a preventative measure, I needed something to take the edge off... (and, could be enjoyed without chewing!)

But, really... this sucky part of my week was a good excuse to record (and share!) a really good chocolate pudding recipe.... One that is such a breeze to pull together... and, also, tastes of chocolate with the intensity of a chocolate mousse (minus the egg whites!)  

Let me introduce you to 'The Best Chocolate Pudding' from Marc at norecipes.com.  Based in Tokyo, Marc is really passionate about all kinds of food... and his passion really shows through on his blog.  I like how he keeps things simple... and makes the ingredients the star!

The Best Chocolate Pudding

(click the link for a great step-by-step)

Ingredients:

2 C whole milk 
5 egg yolks
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 C sugar
1/4 C cornstarch
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
140 g chocolate
1/4 C heavy cream
1 Tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla extract


Process:







By the end of fifteen minutes, I had three lovely pots of chocolate pudding to get me through the weekend... or for when I started feeling cranky about the cavernous space left bare by my now missing tooth.  I didn't have dark chocolate on hand... and thus, used a sweeter chocolate... which made the pudding a bit sweeter than intended (but, no complaints from me!).  I swirled some plain yogurt into the mix a few times... and I'm sure, had I had any heavy cream, I would have whipped up a batch to go with these chocolate beauties.

Now, what am I going to do with these five, leftover egg whites?

Servus!


Stir Crazy (Vietnamese Crepes aka Banh Xeo)

November 11, 2015
[Credit:Link]


The weather here in the Tyrolean Alps has been incredible.  It's been warm and sunny for days and days.  People are running around in shorts and T-shirts!  In America, we would definitely call this an 'Indian Summer'.  Here, it is called 'altweibersommer' or 'The Summer of Old Dames'.  All I know is that this year's summer was amazing... and it's been even more kind to leave us with an Indian Summer.  Next week, the temperatures drop and maybe this will be Summer's final farewell.

But, who am I kidding... We have been stuck at home indoors for the last four weeks because of those pesky little germs and bugs.  The girls have been tossing their colds back and forth to each other... and even once to me!  When we took El to the doctor's office she came back home with the always-welcome stomach virus.  Great.  

After a few days of that... and a little wave of the stomach bug to me... the girls were sick again with the same pesky (albeit mutated) cold again.  So, no... we haven't been able to enjoy much of the glorious weather... the girls been stuck inside... threatening mutiny... and we all have been going a little stir crazy watching all of this lovely weather pass us by!




But, as always,  El & Lil have been real troopers... finding fun things to do under every corner.  El drew a lovely portrait of the house we live in... and me... and Coco.  I believe Coco gained an extra pair of legs and has extra curly hair!

Inspired by Ella's drawing, I deconstructed and reconstructed the box of our new humidifier (congestion be gone!) into a pint-size Tyrolean residence. 




El & Lil got a pair of new teddy bears - snuggles!  And, Ella worked on her zebra drawings...




Dada got some new fangled headphones... which were immediately tested by Lil.



Music is big in our house.  There's always something playing in the background.   Music makes our days so much sweeter...  So, now that you understand why we are stir crazy, you can also understand why making Vietnamese Crepes (Banh Xeo) was just what the doctor ordered. 

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Growing up, my mom would make these for special occasions.  They take a bit of preparation... the chopping and cutting and mixing... and in usual Vietnamese fashion, you have to make enough to feed an army.  You can't just make two crepes.  I think it's more about the fact that it's a little bit of a lot of things that together make a really fantastic big thing.

I found this recipe over at Hungry Huy.  I like everything about his blog... esp the photos! Yum!  Head back to his site for a great how-to for these babies.

The only thing I substituted was tapioca flour for his wheat flour.  That's it.  Everything else was spot on. 

 

So, I would definitely say to wrap these in a lettuce leaf and dip into nuoc mam (the quintessential Vietnamese condiment - goes with everything!)... and enjoy!  Not just any lettuce leaf - a soft green lettuce like Bibb or butter lettuce.  Don't go for the icebergs or the romaines... these crepes already have their crunch from the bean sprouts.

Nuoc mam is a thing of much complexity... and depending on who you ask, their mother probably makes it the best.  Some are more concentrated, some are more light... some are more sour, some more sweet.  So, you've got to try a lot of different recipes before you find what tastes best to you.  But, this is a good starting point... an adaptation of David Chang's Fish Sauce Vinagrette... 

After being stuck inside for weeks, these crepes were a symphony of sensory magic at the dinner table.  Starting at the stove with the scents of ingredients cooking away... the sizzling of the onions, shrimp, and pork... to the sound of the batter hitting the hot pan... 

Then, at the table, the crunchiness of the bean sprouts meets the soft middle bits of the crepe... the crispy edges of the crepe meet the savory filling... and all of this taste and texture is enhanced by the dipping sauce... which brings it all together into the most satisfying bite ever!

Servings-wise, I was able to make six crepes the first night... and nine crepes the second night.  If you have any leftovers, just pop them into oven to crisp them up again.   

Servus!

New Kids on the Block

November 4, 2015


So, I picked up a few goodies at the florist around the corner from my apartment.  I'm not one who can show any kind of self-control around a display of succulents... especially when they're on sale (or "Aktion!" as it is called here.)  I was so excited to bring some new life into my 'green' family.  They really did bring something fresh to my garden... and even gave me a bit of pep in my step!


The starburst shaped succulent is of the Echeveria family.  The plant with the pink flowers is the Sedum Sieboldii Dragon.

Getting these new plants inspired me to make a veggie quiche for dinner.  A quiche has been long overdue on the dinner table!  I went over to the grocery store to see what vegetables were quiche-worthy.  I decided on zucchini and mushrooms. 



Vegetable Quiche

* Adapted from this recipe by Celeste
* Pate Brisee from Michel Roux and this recipe


Ingredients:

pate brisee*
dijon mustard
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup + extra Milk
1 Tbsp oil
1 medium onion, sliced
4 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 large zucchini, sliced thinly
2 handfuls of frozen peas
2 Tbsp speck, or bacon, diced
1 1/2C Gruyere or Emmenthaler, grated
1Tbsp flour
salt & pepper


Directions:
Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Roll out the chilled pate brisee to cover your quiche/pie pan.  Prick holes all over the bottom of the dough.  Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.  Remove from oven and allow to cool. 

Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.

In a large pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and garlic.  Soften til translucent.

Add the speck/bacon.

Add the zucchini slices.  Cook until softened... about ten minutes.  Add the mushrooms and frozen peas... 

Brush a thin layer of Dijon mustard along the bottom of the pre-baked dough.

In a bowl, beat the three eggs and milk... and a pinch of salt.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour into the shredded cheese.

Pour the veggies into the tart pan.  Then layer the cheese over the veggies. 

Pour the egg/milk mixture into the pan.  If the liquid level seems a bit low, add some of the extra milk.  Too much liquid and the quiche runs the risk of being a bit soggy... so add slowly.

Pop into the oven and bake for approximately 50-60 minutes... or until nicely browned.

Remove the quiche from the oven and let it cool for 20 minutes before slicing.  It can be served warm or at room temperature with a simple salad.

 

Simple Green Salad with Simple Lemon Vinaigrette

* Adapted from this recipe from Epicurious


Ingredients:

1/2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp fine sea salt, or to taste
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
freshly ground pepper

A few handfuls of mache salad
apple slices

Directions:

Toss everything into a small jar and shake with wild abandon.  Lightly drizzle over the salad and enjoy.  Where has this vinaigrette been all my life?  This recipe has moved to the top of My Favorite Vinaigrettes list.




I really enjoy looking at these new kids in my garden.  Oh, I forgot to mention Sempervium Tectorum. What a looker... and she even came with two chicks by her side!  Babies and me, make THREE!!  This is my favorite thing about succulents - how they easily propagate... oh, and how they can survive any kind of neglect.  They are true survivors!





After dinner, came die Nachspeise... or the dessert.  The husband's colleague was so kind to give us some fresh pears from his garden... unfortunately, I let them sit on the counter all weekend... and not being ones to stop living for any reason, the pears got a bit over ripe.  But, have no fear!  I decided to make the husband's favorite dessert with these pears - Pear Tatin.

Pear Tatin

* Adapted from this recipe from Sweet Gastronomy
* Pate Brisee from this recipe from Michel Roux

100g unsalted butter
250g sugar
8 ripe pears
splash of vanilla extract
pate brisee


Directions:

Preheat oven to 200°C.

Roll out the pate brisee to desired diameter to cover the oven proof pan.  Chill in the fridge until needed.  Luckily, I still had almost half of my pate brisee leftover from the quiche - score!

In a heat proof pan, melt the butter over medium high heat.  Add the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon. Cook the sugar/butter mixture until it bubbles.  Stir it around with a wooden spoon.

At this point, add the fruit.  This step is to soften the fruit a bit (if your pears are a bit on the firm side).  I like the fruit to be soft but not mushy.  You want to be able to bite into something in the end.

For my over ripe pears, I took them out after a few short minutes, because if I continued, they would have, indeed, become mush.  And, because they were so ripe and juicy, I got more liquid than necessary in the pan.  If you also have too much liquid, separate out the fruit, and continue cooking the liquid at medium-high heat.  Keep cooking until you get to a nice saucy consistency and the color of maple syrup.  Ahh, the smell!!!

Arrange the fruit into a small oven proof pan and pour the caramelly goodness on top.  I used a second smaller cast iron pan because my pears reduced in size... and the original larger size just seemed like too much.  A smaller, more intimate size pan worked wonders! Pears with uniform slices would be appropriate here... so excuse my pears that look like scallops that were cut into random shapes.  Random because remember my pears were past their peak ripeness and had
a bit of bruising here and there.  So, what you see is what I could save that I thought was still edible and could survive a brutal beating in the pan AND the oven!



Take out the pre-rolled and chilled pate brisee and lay it on top of the pan.  Fold the edges under and tuck in.  Prick with a fork a few vent holes.

Toss into your preheated oven.  Bake for 20-25 minutes...  Remove and let cool for 10 minutes before flipping onto a plate.  Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.   Devour... and we did so quickly that I didn't even get a picture of the whole dessert.  But, who am I kidding, a corner of the crust broke off... but that didn't stop the madness.

A lovely dessert... and this time, I didn't use store bought puff pastry.  I did it the French way... and made my own pate brisee.  And, to be honest, I enjoyed it this way much more. 

. . .




Ahh, an inspiring day from the start to the finish!  Hope everyone is enjoying the Autumn season so far!  Servus!!

Falling (Vietnamese Eggrolls)

November 2, 2015


Hmmm, all around us the leaves are falling... and soon there will be no more.  I'm glad the grounds keepers have been slow to gather up the leaves just yet... it gives us a few more moments to, quite literally, embrace the sun's warm gifts.


El and Lil had a fun time throwing leaves around... and even Coco met a few other dogs for some sniffing and doggy gossiping.


We've been given a wonderful treat by Mother Nature the last week - above average warm temperatures and clear skies!  This weekend, all of this much needed Vitamin D from the sun gave me motivation to make a big batch of egg rolls.

Egg rolls are the quintessential Vietnamese party food.  Each and every occasion is the right time to put out a platter of freshly made egg rolls.  They are so easy to eat, enjoyed by everyone... "I'm really not in the mood for egg rolls" said no one ever!  And, they're like Lay's potato chips... you can't eat just one!!!

But, they are time consuming to make... it's better to roll these babies with someone else... but, if you're one who likes to actively meditate... then go it alone, like I did!

Vietnamese Egg Rolls

* adapted from Christine Ha's Mama's Egg Rolls
* makes about 100 small egg rolls

Ingredients:
  • 4 oz dried wood ear mushrooms
  • 3 oz dried bean thread noodles
  • 1 kg mixed ground pork and beef
  • 400 g shrimp, peeled and minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1/4 C fish sauce
  • 2 large eggs
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Filipino egg roll wrapers
  • rice paper wrappers
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • peanut or canola oil

1. Soak the wood ear mushrooms in hot water for a few minutes.  Once they are tender, finely chop them up with a knife or throw them into a mini food chopper (as I did).

2.  Soak the bean thread noodles in hot water for a few minutes.  Once tender, give them a whizz in the food chopper to get them roughly chopped - strands will be about 1-2 inches... or chop them by hand for the same effect.

3.  Into a large bowl, add all of the ingredients (ground, shrimp, aromatics, carrot, fish sauce, and eggs) and mix by hand until uniform consistency.  At this point, take a spoonful of the filling and fry up a test patty in a small frying pan.  This is a good step to take now to check how the filling will taste after cooking... you don't want to roll a ton only to find out upon serving that the egg rolls are too bland or too salty!

 

4.  For the Filipino wrappers, you will need the beaten egg.  I found only the large size wrapper (approximately 10"x10") so I decided to cut them in half on the diagonal.  Worked out just fine.
Lay each triangular wrapper onto a plate with the long edge facing away from you, pointy edge towards you.  Take a spoonful of filling and create a 3" long x 1/2" diameter log centered across the top edge.  Keep the diameter of the filling somewhat narrow - this helps ensure quick and fully cooked rolls! Fold the left side over, then the right side.  Then, carefully and tightly roll the fold and the filling down.  Use your finger and wet the corner with the egg mixture.  This is the glue that will keep your egg roll from unravelling in the hot oil.  So, don't forget this step!


5.  For the rice paper wrappers, no egg is needed.  The paper will be sticky after you wet it in hot water.  So, grab a large bowl and fill it with hot water.  Hot water from the tap will do just fine.  Dunk and roll each wrapper sheet in the water.  Lay it on a flat plate.  As before, take a spoonful of filling and create a 3" long x 1/2" diameter log centered along the top section of the wrapper... about an inch or two down from the top edge.  By now the wrapper should be very wet and sticky.  Fold the left side over, then the right side.  Then carefully and tightly roll down.

Note: this type of rice paper egg roll can be made up to a few hours in advance.  I waited about a half hour before frying mine.  You will notice that right after you roll one, the egg roll will be very wet.  You don't want to throw that wet bomb into a pot of hot oil right now.  Give it some time to rest and absorb all of the extra water.


6.  At this point, if you want to freeze any... you can freeze the Filipino wrapper egg rolls now.  Grab a few freezer friendly ziplock bags and place the eggrolls in a single layer in each bag.  Freeze until ready to use.  You do not even need to thaw them before frying.  Just heat up the oil and pop them directly into the oil.  Watch out for splatter.

Unfortunately, you can not pre-freeze the rice paper rolls.

7. Pour about two inches of oil into a heavy-bottom pan.  Heat the oil to 350 degrees F and deep fry in batches of 3-4 rolls until golden brown and crisp.  Don't over crowd the pan or the rolls (especially the rice paper rolls) will stick together.

I made both versions of the egg rolls this time around... partly because I didn't buy enough Filipino wrappers.  But, I remembered the rice paper versions and thus, made a big batch of those, too!


I fried the rice paper rolls first.  Right at first, big air pockets bubble up around the rolls and the egg rolls will gravitate towards one another and want to stick to each other.  Keep them apart until they get nice and crispy on the outside.  The color will still be white-ish.  Give it a few minutes at medium high heat to achive a tanner color.  You do not want these to be a dark brown color... they will have a slightly burnt taste (take it from me!).

Make sure the temperature hits around 350 degrees F.  If you start frying them at a lower temperature, they will never get that brownish tint.

I fried the Filipino wrapper ones last and they were finished in a flash.

Tastewise, the rice paper rolls were crisp on the outside and chewy/softish on the inside.  A bit sticky on the teeth when chewing, too.  I've had this version at many a restaurant and at home and I never experienced them this soft and chewy on the inside.  Maybe I wet the wrappers too long?  Maybe it was the brand?  I'm not sure...

The Filipino wrapper eggrolls were crispy throughout.  I prefer these because these are what I've grown up with at home... and, I can freeze a ton for later... because if you're gonna sit down and make egg rolls, you might as well make a lot to share... or not. :D

El & Lil definately favored the Filipino version.  And the husband?  Well, he loved them both because to him, it's the delicious filling that's the most important bit!

Serving wise, my mother would probably shake her disapproving head at me.  We are pretty minimalist in our house.  The girls eat them plain without any sauce.  I served slice cucumbers along side the egg rolls.  My husband loves the Thai chili sweet and sour sauce as a condiment.  I should have made a batch of Nuoc Mam to go with the egg rolls... but I was out of fish sauce... and took the lazy way out.  Thai chili sweet and sour sauce, it is!

If you have any leftovers, toss them into the oven to get them back to their old crispy selves!

Enjoy!

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While you're rolling away, here's a few ladies who know a thing or two about 'Falling':