Thursday, February 26, 2009

Spicy Crisp Tofu on Mint-Avocado Salad

A friend posted this link on Facebook with the heading "It would be criminal not to post this recipe so you can make it and eat it," so in order to avoid prison I am posting it here. It is from Martha Stewart's "Whole Living" website. I haven't tried it yet but plan to:

Spicy Crisp Tofu on Mint-Avocado Salad

Sunday, February 22, 2009

In Praise of Marzipan

MARZIPAN: a confection consisting primarily of sugar and almond meal.

If you have never had the pleasure of marzipan in your candy, you are missing out. If you are allergic to almonds, well, I pity you. Almonds are one of my four favorite "essential foods" (which I will define and blog about at some future time). For now, I will just regale you with tales of the heights to which Germans take their marzipan (which they take very seriously...)
Photo 1: a display case in a cafe in Kreuzberg, in Berlin. In the rear center is a pile of Mandelhörnchen, the horseshoe-shaped marzipan logs coated with sliced almonds and with the ends of the horseshoe dipped in dark chocolate. This is a fairly standard pastry, and it is TO DIE FOR. It is densely filled with a generous dose of marzipan.
(Note: the round cakes next to the Mandelhörnchen are surrounded by a thin layer of marzipan around the sides; my son got one of these, and he let his parents try it. Inside it has cake and cream; the marzipan is the best part.)
Photo 2: discovered at the grocery store yesterday: Pflaume in Madeira (plums in Madeira). The name doesn't do it justice. It has a plum-flavored marzipan-like confection atop a layer of pure marzipan, all coated in a generous layer of dark chocolate. (And no, it does not taste like prunes.) The hint of Madeira wine is enough to give you a little bit of a buzz -- just icing on the cake of delectability.

The experience of eating a Pflaume in Madeira is akin to eating a Mozartkugel, but much better. I'm not knocking Mozartkugels, it's just that these are better. (To be precise, I've only ever eaten the German mass-produced imitation Mozartkugels, which I learned a lot about from Wikipedia; here they are sold in Aldi.)
Photo 3: Then there's the Rittersport Marzipan candy, which I LOVE. In the U.S. we pay a hefty price for it (I don't recall exactly, at least $3 or $4). Here in Berlin it costs 0.85 Euros (that's aobut $1.20 U.S.). I always thought this was high-quality candy, but the Germans don't think so; my husband's German cousin refers to Rittersport as "Kinder Schokolade" (i.e., chocolate for children).
Photo 4: I am embarrassed to say that I have never tried the tempting confection pictured at right, even though it is sold in a market stall in front of my apartment building every Saturday morning. For one thing there are about 30 different varieties; for another, I'm intimidated by the language barrier in trying to make such a specialized purchase. The labels all claim they are made from marzipan. They are punctuated with a variety of nuts and dried fruits. It is my goal to buy at least one or two next Saturday and try it. I'll let you know what happens.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Peter Piper Picked a Peck...

Does anyone know what do to with pickled peppers? I don't mean the long tasty strips of grilled sweet red pepper that have been preserved in jars with vinegar; I mean the actual peppercorns. This is something they sell in German grocery stores, and it looks exactly like a little jar of capers, which is how I ended up buying them. In fact they are on the shelf right next to the capers (just to confuse you more). I didn't notice my mistake until I got home and saw "Pfeffer" on the label, and still had to confirm with my husband that "Pfeffer" was, indeed, "pepper" and not "capers." This is an item I have never seen on an American grocery store shelf. If you have any good ideas about how I can cook with them, please let me know.

That brings me to the subject of today's post -- German vs. American foods. Now, I am not some kind of food snob; I will freely admit that when I am in Europe for an extended period of time, I eventually start to crave Hershey's chocolate, especially the milk chocolate with almonds (either bars or kisses). [This should be interpreted as a hint to anyone who wants to send me a care package.] I know that Hershey's is a completely pedestrian -- some would even say degenerate -- taste, one which can only be accounted for by childhood experience. Some people I know won't even eat Hershey's.

Things I like about food in Germany:

1. Blood orange juice. It's a European thing, in general; I first discovered it in Italy many years ago. I just don't understand why it's not available in the U.S. But I drink it every day here.

2. Yoghurt -- excellent! Maybe it's European yoghurt in general, but it's incredibly rich.

3. German-made "Dijon" mustard that is so spicy it makes your eyes water.

4. Rittersport candy bars for less 1 Euro (about $1.30 at the moment). (We pay several times that in Missouri.) My favorite is the dark chocolate-covered marzipan.

5. Black licorice. If you, too, love black licorice, let me know and I will bring some back for you in August.

6. Quark. This is a dairy product, somewhere between yoghurt and sour cream in texture and flavor. My husband says it is "whey." In Germany it is as common as yoghurt, and can be flavored with fruit or with herbs. With the herbs it is sort of like eating onion dip.

7. "Crema di balsamico," actually an Italian product, but available in the German grocery store. It's a thick syrup made from balsamic vinegar, it's like a carmelized balsamic vinegar reduction. A little tangy, a little sweet. Delicious on ice cream (as I can testify), and they also recommend it on savory foods like meat (which I haven't tried).

Things I miss from America:

1. Avocadoes that are tasty and consistently good quality (though that can't always be taken for granted in Missouri, either).

2. Chicken broth, preferably organic and free-range; but you can't find ANY here except concentrated stuff that has to be reconstituted with water. I suppose it's more economical and more environmentally sound, since it requires less packaging, but somehow it seems more heavily processed to me.

3. Almond butter. They do have it in Germany, but it's hard to find -- you have to go to the health food store (the Bio-markt), and even then it's very runny (even when refrigerated).

4. Trader Joe's. Okay, I miss that even when I'm in Columbia, Missouri. Germany has Aldi but that's just not the same.

These lists are pretty short. Pretty much everything is available everywhere these days, isn't it? But I've only been here for two weeks; these lists may grow over the next 5 1/2 months.