31 December 2011

Let's celebrate!

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This past year has been absolutely incredible.  It's been a year of new adventures and new friendships, a year of learning and growth.  I've been listening to my heart more and more through this whole food blogging thing, trying to synthesize my love of food with my passion for building deeper understanding and appreciation between world cultures.  I'm so thankful for having you join me here at Apricosa, following my heartfelt joy in the Italian and German flavors of my heritage and cheering me on (or simply tolerating, heh) my growing excitement for Korean and Chinese food.  I love sharing these things, and I feel so grateful for you, your kind words and encouragement.  

The end of the year is always a time of reflection for me, and it is also a time full of celebration.  Celebration of what has been and of what is to come.  Then there is Advent, Christmas, and New Year's on our family calendar, as well as a good number of birthdays!  When it comes to making the birthday cakes, that project generally falls to me, and it is a lot of fun to brainstorm with the birthday "child," get inspiration from their preferences, and make those cake wishes a reality.

For my brother's birthday, he asked if he could have some sort of cake with fruit.  Being that his birthday falls at the end of December, we don't have too many fresh fruits around here other than apples and citrus.  Neither of us were really clicking with those options, but then I remembered that some friends of the family had gifted us over the summer with pounds and pounds of exquisite peaches and plums from their farm, and we'd frozen them down to enjoy over the winter.  I kept thinking about our beloved German-style sahnetortes, and when I came across a recipe for peach melba cake, my cake plan began to form.

Here, soft and moist vanilla buttermilk cake is layered with peaches and whipped cream and topped with a raspberry sauce.  This turned out light and fruity and totally fulfilled my brother's birthday cake dreams.  Yay!  And as a side note, can I just say how good it is to eat a cake that does not have buttercream frosting all over it?  Everyone at the table agreed that this cake really does beat those sugary frosted things hollow.  The fluffy peach-scented cream, the peaches and raspberries in beautiful contrast, and the nice soft cake made each bite a delight.

So it's time to celebrate!  We've got the cake and candles.  Light your sparklers and put on your party clothes.  You know it's time!  I wish you all a joyful and prosperous 2012.  Happy New Year!

Peach Melba Whipped Cream Cake 
Inspired by Epicurious 
Serves 8

6 Tbs. softened butter (plus more for greasing the pan)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 small eggs, room temperature
¾ tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbs. fresh peach juice*
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¾ cup low-fat buttermilk 

2 cups peaches (thawed or canned), sliced*
Whipped Cream Torte Filling (see recipe below) 
1 cup frozen raspberries, plus 8 whole raspberries for garnish
1 tsp. sugar

Butter an 8-inch round spring form pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.  Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Beat in the vanilla and peach juice.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; add flour to the creamed mixture in two additions, alternating with buttermilk.  Mix just until each addition has been incorporated, avoiding over-mixing.

Divide batter into the prepared pan.  Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes.  Cool the cake in its pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto the rack, peel off wax paper, and cool completely. 

To assemble the cake, first trim the domed top off the cake using a long, thin bread knife.  Split cake horizontally, then place one half on a serving platter.  Arrange peach slices all over, then spread half of the whipped cream filling over.  Place the second cake half on top and press gently to bind.  Spread the remaining whipped cream over the top and decorate with whole raspberries.  Heat the 1 cup frozen raspberries and sugar until hot and bubbling, then transfer to a serving bowl.  Chill cake for 30 minutes, then slice and serve with raspberry sauce. 

Whipped Cream Torte Filling
1 ½ tsp. gelatin
¼ cup peach juice*
1 egg yolk
1 Tbs. superfine sugar
2 Tbs. peach juice
1 Tbs. Cointreau 
1 ½ cups  heavy whipping cream, very cold

Stir together the gelatin and ¼ cup peach juice in a microwave-safe bowl and let sit until the gelatin is softened.  Whisk in the 1 tablespoon superfine sugar and 2 tablespoons peach juice.  Heat in microwave until bubbling, whisking to ensure gelatin and sugar have dissolved.  Let cool, then whisk in the egg yolk (to cook the yolk, keeping it smooth and fluid without scrambling it).  Mix in Cointreau and let gelatin mixture cool, but do not let gelatin harden.

In a cold bowl, beat heavy whipping cream until stiff peaks form, and stream in the gelatin mixture and incorporate thoroughly.  If cream appears too fluid for spreading on the cake, chill in the refrigerator or freezer, stirring occasionally, until it sets up. 

*Note: I really liked how soft the peaches were after having been frozen down; they paired perfectly with the softness of the whipped cream.  And they released a lot of juice that I used all throughout the recipe.  If you don't have fresh peaches that have been frozen down, I recommend using canned peaches that are in their own juices (no extra sugar added).

24 December 2011

Cranberry Agrodolce and Merry Christmas!

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I just finished making a batch of this absolutely delicious cranberry agrodolce for our Christmas turkey tomorrow.  It is sweet, tangy, and savory all in one.  It is so so good.  It's going to be perfect with our turkey, and it would be fantastic over a nice thick pork chop or alongside some good game meat.

This literally was a last-minute idea, and thankfully all the ingredients I needed were hanging out in the pantry.  So if you're looking for that extra-something on your table for tomorrow, this might be it!

Agrodolce, literally meaning "sour-sweet," is an Italian sauce that can be as simple as a vinegar-sugar glaze.  In my version, I balance the tart flavors of fresh cranberries and balsamic vinegar with the complex sweetness of dried berries, golden raisins, brown sugar, and red wine.  And with a savory base of sauteed onions and garlic, this agrodolce makes for a beautiful match with poultry and meats.

I'm so excited to eat it tomorrow...actually everybody in the house is, after I gave them little spoonfuls to taste-test today.  We're getting ready around here to celebrate in style, and I want to wish you all a very happy Christmas!  May you be surrounded with good company, be regaled with good food, and be filled with the even greater hope and joy that is ours this season!

Cranberry Agrodolce
Makes about 3 ½ cups

1 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup diced onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup medley of dried cranberries, cherries, blueberries, and golden raisins
6 Tbs. (packed) brown sugar
½ cup cranberry juice
½ cup red wine
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. coarsely-ground black pepper
1 bay leaf

Saute onions with olive oil in a 2-quart sauce pan over medium-high heat, stirring regularly to prevent browning.  When onions are nearly done, add minced garlic and continue cooking until garlic and onions are soft and translucent.

Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring regularly, until cranberries have burst and sauce thickens.  Serve warm or cooled.

17 December 2011

Five Spice-Scented Pizzelle

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Christmas is just around the corner, and tasty goodies have suddenly sprung up everywhere around here!  First I baked up these pizzelle, then a shipment of Stollen and Lebkuchen arrived from Germany, and now my mom has been baking batches of biscotti.  Good thing we have family coming into town to help us eat our way through it all!

It’s this time of year that really gets me digging back into my heritage—thinking back on who I am and where I’ve come from and celebrating German family traditions that have taken on an Italian American twist.  And it’s amazing how something as simple as cookies can so powerfully evoke memories and reinforce tradition.

It was over 20 years ago that I first had pizzelle, a Christmas gift from a dear family friend (and fellow German expat!) who used to live here in Santa Barbara near us.  As little girls, my sister and I loved going over to spend a day with Dorle, or “Chickadee,” as we called her, getting to go through her boxes of dress-up clothes, playing in her garden, having tea parties in her RV, and spending hours looking through her books, records, and curios.  It wasn’t just that we could do so many fun and interesting things at her house that was the attraction; it was that we knew there we could also share in our common German heritage together.  It was comforting and restful to be with her.  With time, she became our surrogate German grandmother in California.  Happy memories hang thickly when I think back on our times with her.

I know we owned a pizzelle maker even before moving to Santa Barbara, but we never actually made our own until we tasted Dorle’s cookies and inherited a recipe from her.  Knowing that Germans have long had huge enthusiasm for Italy—well, the food, wine, and vacation homes there, to be exact—I suppose it was not such a huge surprise that a German woman would be making these traditionally Italian Christmas cookies.  And for my German-Italian home, pizzelle fit right in.

Made on an iron as waffles are made, pizzelle turn out thin, crisp, and buttery.  If you catch them while they’re still soft, you can roll them into tubes and fill them like cannoli, or shape them into cups, as I did here.  The pizzelle cups are fantastic for a nice scoop of ice cream, like butter pecan or vanilla.

This year I was excited to have some five-spice powder on hand, and so I added a little to my pizzelle batter for a more nuanced aroma.  Traditionally used in Chinese cooking, five-spice powder is a lovely blend of fennel, anise, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves—perfect for Christmas baking and these pizzelle!

Whether you choose to roll and fill with cream, fold and top with ice cream, or simply nibble on one while savoring a cup of hot coffee or tea, pizzelle make for a delicious treat.  I hope you have a chance to make some for yourself this Christmas.  Buon natale!

Five-Spice Scented Pizelle
Makes about 4 ½ dozen cookies

6 eggs
1½ cups sugar
1 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 Tbs. vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. five-spice powder

Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat eggs until well mixed.  Add the sugar, and then beat on high speed until foamy.  Add the melted butter and vanilla extract and whisk to incorporate.  In a separate bowl stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and five-spice powder until well-mixed.  Add flour mixture to eggs and mix together.

Turn on the pizelle iron and lightly brush with oil.  When iron is hot, put 1 Tbs. batter on each circle and bake according to manufacturer’s directions.  When done, turn out and cool completely on a wire rack before storing in an air-tight container.

Note: To shape ice cream cups, tuck pizelle into small ramekins immediately upon removal from iron.  The pizelle harden extremely quickly.

10 December 2011

Bibimbap (비빔밥)

Anything with an egg on top has got to be good, right?  Yeah, pretty much.  Still trying (and meeting with very little success so far) to convert my parents into Korean food enthusiasts, I decided to prepare for them this bibimbap, which has got to be one of the more accessible Korean dishes for the Western palate.

Bibimbap is just downright delicious, and it's hard for me to see how anyone couldn't love it.  It's a big bowl of steamed rice covered with an arrangement of blanched and sesame-seasoned vegetables, bits of beef bulgogi, and topped with a nice fried egg.  Finish it off with a big dollop of the spicy-sweet-sour chili sauce cho-gochujang, mix it all up in your bowl, and go at it with a spoon.  Yum.

Such a simple dish, easily transforming leftover banchan into a square meal, I could eat it all the time.  Thankfully my parents didn't flip out when they tasted this.  I count that as a major success.  To top it off, my mom even said it was tasty.  Well, I think we've taken a good step in the right direction!

Bibimbap (비빔밥)

Steamed rice
An assortment of banchan and fresh vegetables*
Fried egg

For each serving, scoop a cup of steamed rice into a large bowl.  Arrange an assortment of your favorite banchan on top of the rice and place a little bulgogi at the center.  Top with a fried egg and serve with plenty of cho-gochujang.  Mix well before eating.

* Here I used, clockwise from top: blanched julienned carrots, siguemchi namul (시금치 나물), kongnamul (콩나물), musaengchae (무생채), shredded lettuce, shredded green cabbage, gosari (고사리).  Some of these I had purchased pre-made, making things a lot easier!  For a more thorough guide to bibimbap preparation, I recommend this post.

05 December 2011

Congee with Preserved Duck Egg

I've recently been enjoying some lovely preserved duck eggs.  They are stunners.  Peel them and you reveal gem-like eggs, with firm, amber egg whites and grey-blue creamy yolks.  I love how sunlight, shining through the crystal-clear, golden-brown yolks turns the eggs into glowing treasures--totally breathtaking and inspiring.  For as much as I already love eggs in general, the striking beauty of these "1000 year old eggs" makes me see eggs in a whole new light.  Think about how fun it would be to use these marvelously-colored eggs to reinvent classic egg dishes, infusing them with an element of surprise!

These eggs make for good comfort food--good and nourishing food--with unexpected newness.

Preserved eggs are a favorite in Chinese cuisine, made by curing duck, quail, or chicken eggs in a salty, highly basic (i.e. high pH) mixture.  Traditionally, this mixture was made from clay, wood ash, quicklime, and salt, but today it is more common to preserve eggs in a salty brine made with calcium hydroxide and sodium carbonate.

Pí​dàn (皮蛋), translated as "thousand-year old eggs" or "preserved eggs," but also referred to as "century eggs" or "millenium eggs" in English, come ready to eat as-is and are used in Chinese cooking in a variety of ways, all of which I've not explored.  But one very delicious way to enjoy them is as a part of a rice porridge congee (粥, zhōu) made with lean pork (瘦肉, shòu​ròu).  This congee is eaten as a breakfast dish and is often served at dim sum restaurants.

I remember going to brunch in Cupertino Village with some college friends one Sunday years ago and my roommate being decidedly firm about us ordering congee.  It wasn't just her excitement as a Taiwanese American over eating something homey and familiar that convinced us to get it; no, when Christine tells you to order something, you do it, because experience has proven she knows what she's talking about when it comes to food.  And let me tell you, that first time I tried congee, I was once again glad I'd listened.  It was delicious.

One of the most comforting of foods, congee is as cozy as a nice warm blanket wrapping all around you--like a nice big hug.  It has such a velvety, creamy texture that gets you licking the spoon and ahem, even the bowl.  It's just so tasty you don't want to miss one drop of it.  And this recipe here--lean pork and rice congee--becomes even more delicious when you swirl in the creamy yolks of the preserved egg slices garnishing each serving.

This recipe is so easy, and it is such a great way to use up leftover rice.  If you don't have leftover cooked rice on hand, though, start with one cup dry, uncooked white rice.  Wash uncooked grains in several changes of water until water is clear, drain, and cover with 1 1/4 cups water.  Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and steam until tender.  Continue by adding the minced pork and broth and following the rest of the recipe as written.

Lean Pork Congee with 1,000-Year-Old Egg
(皮蛋瘦肉粥, pí​dàn shòu​ròu zhōu)
Makes 4-6 servings

3 cups cooked white short-grained rice
112g (1/4 lb.) lean pork, minced
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or stock
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
3 1,000-year-old preserved eggs, cut into eighths*

Place cooked rice, pork, and broth into a medium pot.  Cover pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until rice is very soft and congee has thickened, about 15-20 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid burning the bottom.  Season with salt and sesame oil to taste.  Ladle congee into individual bowls and garnish with chopped green onion and slices of preserved egg.

*Note: if 1000-year-old eggs are not available in your markets, substitute eggs that are cooked just barely to the hard-cooked stage.  As of December 2011, these eggs were available at the Oriental Market here in town.

26 November 2011

Shrimp Scampi on Couscous

This year I've had so much to give thanks for.  Opportunities for learning new languages, traveling to Taiwan and South Korea this summer, spending time with dear friends, and experiencing personal growth.  This has been a good year, and I was thrilled to be able to celebrate and give thanks with family and friends this past weekend.  I've especially enjoyed getting to spend some time with my brother, who was home from grad school for the holiday, sharing inside jokes and getting excited together about the things we both get so excited about.

One of the things that always reminds me of my brother is this dish, scampi on couscous.  I've made it for him over the years, and he loves it so much that he's even learned to make it for himself away at grad school now.  I couldn't contain my excitement and pride when I found out he had made it on his own!

An absolute family favorite in my home, this shrimp scampi on couscous is a light yet satisfying meal.  Though we certainly enjoy this meal year-round, I think the clean flavors and textures of the dish, plus the ease of preparation and the figure-friendly calorie count, make this a dream of a meal for the post-Thanksgiving exhaustion that might be beleaguering some cooks (and eaters) right about now.

Mounds of fluffy couscous cooked in tomato broth are topped with spicy, garlicky scampi and finished with bright notes from lemon juice and parsley.  The tomato broth can be made (and frozen) weeks or days in advance, and the couscous and scampi cooks up in just a few minutes.  This is ideal not just for days when you feel too tired to cook much, but also for effortless entertaining.

Consider making this a part of one of your holiday menus, either as a simple main course, serving it up with some crusty bread and a green salad, or as a first course as a part of a more elaborate meal!

Scampi on Couscous
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis
Makes 4 Servings

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 (8 ounce) cans tomato purée or crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup dry white wine
1 cup water
sea salt, to taste
2 cups plain couscous
1-2 tsp. red pepper flakes, to taste
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 garlic cloves minced
1 lemon, juiced
Chopped parsley leaves, for garnish
Lemon wedges, for serving

In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. When oil is fragrant, add onion, carrot and 2 cloves smashed garlic and saute until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato purée, chicken broth, and white wine. Bring to a boil and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes, uncovered.

Remove sauce from heat and blend until smooth with an immersion stick blender. Check for seasoning, adding salt to taste.

Stir in 1 cup of water to the sauce and bring to a boil. Remove pot from heat and add 2 cups couscous. Cover pot and let rest for 10 minutes, allowing the couscous to absorb all the liquid. Fluff with a fork and season with salt and pepper.

In a large sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil with the red pepper. When the oil is hot, add the shrimp and the 2 cloves of minced garlic. Stirring occasionally, cook the shrimp until they start to turn pink, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp or they will become tough. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice. Check for seasoning.

To serve, mound the couscous in the center of a platter and top with the shrimp. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve with lemon wedges.

12 November 2011

Garlic Tutorial

Today I'm taking a break from my usual recipe posting to share with you something that has absolutely revolutionized my world: a new way to peel garlic!  The claim?  Peel a whole bulb of garlic in 10 seconds flat.


Growing up, I learned the family trick of crushing garlic cloves with the tines of a fork to loosen the skin and then removing all the skins by hand.  I later modifed this technique by switching over to using the flat of a chef's knife instead of a fork.  What I love about this method is that it is a great way to start the mincing process.  This isn't based on any rigorous testing or anything, but I feel like the minced garlic somehow tastes better if it's crushed versus chopped.  Maybe it's similar to tearing lettuce leaves instead of chopping them?  But anyway, what I do NOT like about this process is that the garlic juices, released upon crushing, cause the papery layers of the clove to stick all over the place...on my knife, my cutting board, my fingers.  And I always have to check over each smashed clove to make sure I don't have any of the dry skins mixed up with the garlic.

So when I saw this technique, demonstrated by the folks at Saveur, I was intrigued.  Could it be?  Can you really peel a whole clove, nay, a whole BULB of garlic in 10 seconds?  Truly removing all those pesky, papery garlic skins?  And in such record-breaking time?  When I first watched this tutorial, I was a bit skeptical--you never know what goes on when there's a cut in a video.  Could they possibly have slipped in some peeled garlic cloves to make this technique look successful?  So I tried it out last night, and yes indeed folks, it is true.

1. Smash a whole head of garlic with the heel of your hand to separate the cloves.
2. Place all the cloves into a lightweight metal bowl.
3. Invert a second bowl over the first bowl.
4. Hold the bowls tightly together and shake vigorously for 10 seconds.
5. That's it!  Now you'll have whole cloves of garlic that are completely peeled.

My life is pretty much forever changed.  Peeling garlic this way totally works!  And by the way, when I tried this, my bowls weren't as big as the ones shown in the tutorial, nor were they a pair of bowls exactly the same size as each other.  Just as long as you hold the bowls tightly together to keep your garlic from flying out, it should be fine.  Getting at that beloved garlic has just become all that much easier!

How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less Than 10 Seconds from SAVEUR.com on Vimeo.

06 November 2011

Gewürzter Kürbiskuchen: Spiced Pumpkin Cake with Ginger-Pecan Streusel

With some very warm weather during October, summer almost seemed to have been making a comeback in southern California.  But this weekend, with rain and cold coming through the state, it feels like Fall is finally settling in.  And when chilly weather comes, there's often nothing nicer than cooking with fragrant spices like ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Spiced Pumpkin Cake, or Gewürzter Kürbiskuchen, came into being as a result of my recent pumpkin mode intersecting with dreams of last month's Zwetschgenkuchen (Italian Prune Plum Cake).  I love the super dense cake base--almost verges on what you might call a crust--that my Opa's recipe yields, and though the fresh prune plum filling is an absolute classic, I think my Spiced Pumpkin Cake, containing creamy pumpkin custard and a spicy candied ginger-pecan streusel, is perfect for this time of year.

This recipe makes more than my family and I can eat in one weekend, so I've frozen away a lot of it for enjoyment in the coming weeks.  And cutting up the cake into individual servings before freezing makes it super easy to pull out a piece any time I want a nice sweet snack.  I have come to love eating it still partially frozen--the pumpkin custard makes this cake just like an ice cream sandwich treat!

Gewürzter Kürbiskuchen 
Adapted from Gerhard Sommermann

150 g (11 Tbs.) butter, room-temperature
170g (¾ cup plus 2 Tbs.) sugar
1 egg, room temperature
400g (3 cups sifted) flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
100ml (scant ½ cup) milk, room temperature

Cream butter and sugar, then add the egg and beat until smooth. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt and incorporate into creamed mixture, along with the milk. Dough keeps 1 week in the refrigerator.  Spread dough into the bottom of an ungreased 11 x 17 –inch cake pan. To build the sides of the cake, push the dough up the sides of the pan and create a ¼ -inch rim.

Spread pumpkin filling over top and then sprinkle with Spiced Streusel.  Bake at 350°F for 45-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean.  Serve with whipped cream that has been sweetened with vanilla and sugar.

Pumpkin Filling
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams (or sweet potatoes)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. fine-grained salt

For the pumpkin filling, blend together the sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and vanilla.  In a the large bowl of a food processor, combine the pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and blend until it forms a smooth mixture.  With the processor running, add the condensed milk mixture in a slow stream and process until fully incorporated.

Spiced Streusel:
100g (1/2 cup) sugar
100g (7 ½ Tbs.) butter
180g (1 1/3 cups sifted) flour
¼ cup minced crystallized ginger
60g (½ cup) coarsely chopped pecan pieces

30 October 2011

Banh Mi Party Sliders

This weekend I had the opportunity to get together with some dear friends in celebration of a birthday, and everyone was asked to bring an appetizer along.  For some reason I got thinking about making sliders, perfect little party bites with a nice meaty center and refreshing vegetable slaw on soft sweet Hawaiian rolls.  I got inspired by the idea of giving these sliders a banh mi twist, seasoning the patties with green onions, garlic, fish sauce, and sriracha.  They turn out so savory and delicious, it's hard to eat just one of these.

These Banh Mi Sliders really lend themselves to make-ahead preparation, and they are a great appetizer for a party or a fun way to change things up on your weekly burger night.  Seeing how quickly they disappeared, I'm confident they'll be a hit at any party!

For a little extra kick, I sprinkled slivered jalapenos inside some of the sliders, and to let party-goers know which ones were extra spicy, I pinned a slice of jalapeno on top with the toothpicks.  So cute, and so tasty!

Banh Mi Sliders
Makes 16 sliders 

Meat Patties
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 green onions, finely chopped
2 Tbs. fish sauce
2 Tbs. sriracha
2 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. finely ground sea salt 

Vegetable Slaw
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated carrots
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated daikon
1 1/2 cup finely sliced savoy cabbage
1 cup finely sliced purple cabbage
1 cup (loosely packed) cilantro leaves
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. finely ground sea salt
2 Tbs. mayonnaise

16 King's Hawaiian sweet rolls
Thinly sliced jalapeno chilies
16 large toothpicks

Place ground pork and beef together in a large bowl and sprinkle remaining meat patty ingredients evenly over the surface.  Gently mix ingredients together, avoiding overworking the mixture.  Chill 30 minutes, covered.  Portion meat mixture out in 1/2-cup scoops, forming patties with a slight indentation in the center.  Place evenly on baking trays.  Broil patties until cooked through (about 5-10 minutes, depending on heat of broiler).  Transfer patties to paper toweling to drain fat. (Can be made ahead.  Reheat before assembling sliders.)

For the slaw, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, and salt.  Place grated daikon and carrot in separate containers and divide the vinegar mixture over them.  (Use a food processor with grater attachment, if you have one, for prepping the carrots and daikon.)  Toss to coat evenly and let marinate at least 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  (I marinate these separately so that the orange liquid from the carrots doesn't turn the rest of the slaw an overall orange color.  I think it also helps draw out some of the spiciness of the daikon.  Can be done 1 day ahead.  Cover and keep in refrigerator.)  To finish the slaw, toss all the vegetables together with the mayonnaise until vegetables are well coated with the dressing.

To assemble the sliders, toast the individual sweet rolls and then split them in half.  Mound a few tablespoons of slaw on the bottom half, followed by a meat patty, a sprinkling of slivered jalapeno, and then the top half of the roll.  Secure sliders with a toothpick and serve.

22 October 2011

Sonntags Müsli

Ah, Sonntagsmüsli, a breakfast that by its name alone invokes thoughts of a dreamy, leisurely weekend breakfast.  Müsli (often spelled "muesli" in America), a healthy, energy-packed breakfast food developed by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner around 1900, is popular in many central European countries today.  I loved eating Birchermüsli while living in Germany, especially the Schokomüsli, which contains the addition of chunks of real chocolate.  Kind of decadent for a "healthy breakfast," but I guess it was okay since I usually only had this kind at dessert time.

But I digress.  Sonntag, meaning "Sunday" in Germany, was always a real day of rest for me and my family in Bavaria.  It was the one day of the week in which the bakery was closed, allowing the grateful bakers a chance to actually sleep until sunrise instead of waking up five hours before.  Mornings, we'd walk across the village, summoned by the church bells, and attend worship services together, singing hymns set to ancient melodies that have been sung through the centuries.  Returning home from church, we'd sit down to a traditional meal with a roast of some sort like Sauerbraten with Kartoffelklösse (potato dumplings).  Afternoons would be devoted to napping (for the bakers) or long walks through the surrounding meadows and forests (for me).

So when I talk about a Sonntagsmüsli, this is a müsli that is special: nutritious yet belonging to a day of profound rest and a broader sense of well-being.  Not your ordinary müsli, this one shows a little extra love, with a variety of fruits, nuts, and grains all mixed together in creamy yogurt.

While most müslis are oat-based, this one uses buckwheat (which is not related to wheat at all) as the primary grain.  If you are interested in the nutrition data, 1 ounce (28g) of buckwheat groats has absolutely no fat, cholesterol, or sodium, and with 20g carbohydrates (of which 3g are fiber and 11g are sugars) and 1g protein, comes to a total of 80 calories.  (It also provides 2% of your daily Vitamins A, C, Calcium, and 4% of iron.)  Set the groats to soak in water the night before, and then whip together the rest of the ingredients the next morning.  I've taken a few other liberties with the traditional Bircher recipe, adding in orange zest since we have oranges on hand in the garden right now, and adding pears leftover from our garden's pear harvest.  And using 0% Fage Greek yogurt, this breakfast is low in fat and high in protein while still decadently creamy.  Sonntagsmüsli certainly was a favorite of mine at family holiday brunches in Germany, and I'm glad to enjoy the memories while savoring this müsli here now.  Happy weekend everyone!

Sonntags Müsli 
Makes 4 servings

6 Tbs. (70g) buckwheat
¼ cup quick oats
2 Tbs. finely chopped toasted hazelnuts (husks removed)
2 Tbs. dried shredded coconut
½ cup milk
1 cup 0% Fage Greek yogurt
1 small apple, peeled and coarsely grated
1 small pear, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 small banana, mashed
1/8 tsp. finely grated orange zest
Agave nectar or honey, to taste

The night before, place the buckwheat groats in a medium bowl and cover with about 3 times as much water.  Cover loosely to prevent dust from entering and soak the buckwheat at room temperature overnight.

The next morning, strain the buckwheat and thoroughly rinse with fresh water.  Drain well, then place buckwheat in a large mixing bowl and add the oats, hazelnuts, coconut, milk, yogurt, fruit, and orange zest.  Mix well and then check flavor, sweetening as desired with a bit of agave nectar or honey.

As part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publisher program, I have been entered for the chance to win a trip to Greece courtesy of FAGE. You too can enter to win one of three trips to Greece by entering the FAGE Plain Extraordinary Greek Getaway here: http://www.fageusa.com/community/fage-greek-getaway

15 October 2011

Opa's Italian prune plum cake

Once a year, for only about one week each fall, Italian prune plums, known to me as Zwetschgen, make an appearance in the local produce markets.  You have to be ready and watching, because once the limited offering of plums hit the stores, it gets all snapped up.  It's always exciting to see the crate of fresh prune plums, partly because my prolonged anticipation is finally fulfilled, partly because I know I didn't lose out to other customers on my 3 pounds-worth, and partly because I know I've got a very good cake coming my way soon.

A very good cake.  Rich in memories and lovely in flavor, this cake comes straight from my Opa's recipe files.  I remember eating this Zwetschgenkuchen over and over as a little girl on my visits with Opa and Oma in Germany.  With a dollop of lightly-sweetened, freshly-whipped cream, and a cup of coffee, this is a quintessential Kaffeetrinken treat.

Kaffeetrinken, one of the important meals in the German day, is enjoyed around 4pm every day.  It is a time for an afternoon coffee pick-me-up, and cakes and pastries are generally eaten alongside the coffee.  In a baker's family, you can be sure we had many tasty options to choose from!  And what I like about most German baked things is that they are not overly sweet, and as a result, they pair excellently with Kaffee.

Since getting this recipe from Opa over a decade ago, I think I've made this cake pretty much every year.  Living on different continents, we didn't get to see each other much while he was alive, but I've always loved getting to have a part of him with me through his recipes.  And I'm so happy to get to share this one with you!


As I was able to get some of these plums recently, I indulged once again in my yearly tradition.  I made a nice big tray of Zwetschgenkuchen, packing some of it up for a picnic with friends in the Santa Barbara Sunken Gardens one sunny weekend, and freezing away the rest to enjoy on another occasion.

The kuchen tasted so good, as it always does.  Its base is a very dense cake made of Mürbteig batter that gets covered by a layer of plums and then topped with chunks of streusel (which, by the way, should be pronounced "stroy-sel," not "stroo-sel").  As they bake, the Italian prune plums melt into a slightly sour fruity layer, which is complemented well by the slightly-sweet streusel.  It freezes away quite nicely, and though the streusel loses its crunch, the Mürbteig layer actually takes on a somewhat cheese cake-like characteristic.

The classic accompaniment for this is lightly-sweetened whipped cream.  And though I'm not a real coffee drinker, I have to say, this is one of the few things in life that screams out "drink a coffee while eating me!"


As a professional baker in Germany, my Opa developed all his recipes in grams and milliliters.  I've included both the original measurements here as well as the American conversions.

And as I write this, I'm struck by how fitting a cake this is for Apricosa...a German cake featuring Italian plums.  Ah, if a cake could be a metaphor for my life, would this be it?

Zwetschgenkuchen (Italian prune plum cake)
Recipe from Gerhard Sommermann

150g (11 Tbs.) butter, room-temperature
170g (¾ cup plus 2 Tbs.) sugar
Lemon zest from half a lemon
1 egg, room temperature
400g (3 cups sifted) flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
100ml (scant ½ cup) milk, room temperature
3 lbs. Italian prune plums, pitted and cut into sixths
Streusel topping (recipe follows)

Cream butter, sugar, and lemon zest, then add the egg. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt and incorporate into the creamed mixture, along with the milk. Chill dough for at least 30 minutes.  (Dough keeps 1 week in the refrigerator.)

Roll dough out on a floured surface and place on the bottom of an ungreased 11x17-inch cake pan (or a round pan of your choice), pressingly slightly at the edges to build up the sides of the cake.

Layer plum pieces to evenly cover the Mürbteig base.  Sprinkle streusel over top, and then bake at 350°F for about 45 minutes, depending on the moistness and thickness of your cake and toppings. Serve with plenty of whipped cream that has been sweetened with vanilla and sugar.

100g (1/2 cup) sugar
100g (7 ½ Tbs.) butter
200g (1 ½ cups sifted) flour
pinch of salt

Cream together sugar and butter, then mix in flour and salt.  Streusel can be stored in an airtight container, refrigerated, up to one week.  Press handfuls of the mixture together to form clumps of streusel before scattering over the cake.

09 October 2011

Savoring and being thankful

The past couple of days, spent with friends visiting from out of town, have been a wonderful mini-vacation for me right here at home.  Warm and sunny Santa Barbara skies.  Leisurely meals.  Entertaining conversation.  And trips around town to take in a couple of our annual food festivals.  For the past few years in October, Santa Barbara bursts forth with a month-long celebration of its rich agricultural bounty and thriving foodie scene in a series of festivals and events under the umbrella of EpicureSB.

At the Harbor Seafood Festival, we got to sample the freshest uni ever, with live red sea urchins being cracked, cleaned, and handed to us literally in under a minute right there on the pier.  We spooned the orange and creamy uni straight out of the shell, enjoying it simply with a sauce of ponzu, wasabi, and lime juice and a sprinkling of sea salt and green onions...absolutely heavenly! Other treats were seared sesame-crusted ahi and a paella plentiful with chunks of crab, fish, mussels, and clams.

At Carpinteria's annual Avocado Festival, I met up with more friends and tried out some of the special concoctions like avocado cream pie, a cheesecake-like filling with a hint of lime on a bed of graham cracker crust.

Then, of course, there was the avocado ice cream.  Subtle in flavor, I'd describe it as a vanilla ice cream with overtones of avocado.

The locally-grown flowers and produce were just so pretty!  My friends and I had a fun time playing with our cameras and capturing some of the essence of the day.


Such a refreshing weekend, a taste of what life should be like.  Connecting with friends.  Tasting good food.  Seeing throngs of people coming together in celebration.  Slowing down to watch the sunset.  Hearing the crashing of the waves on the beach.  Being thankful.  In the midst of this busy season, I'm so grateful for these reminders that point to life's real beauty.

Epicure SB will continue on all through the month, so there's still time to come and participate in the celebration of our local cuisine, wines, and culture.  Check out the website for a full listing of upcoming culinary events!

26 September 2011

Hobakjeon: Pan-Fried Pumpkin Side Dish


Walking along the Devereux Slough at sunset and seeing birds gliding across the peaceful surface of the water, a swan ruffling its wings off in the distance, and a lone egret fishing for supper, it is easy to slip into a deep and restful sense of well-being.  Some friends of mine are lucky enough to have a generous garden plot along the banks of this slough, and here, with the blue Pacific ocean in view beyond the slough, my friend Katy likes to relax with a book or simply sit and enjoy the calm beauty as her husband TG tends the garden with care.  With all of nature smiling on and with the attention of a careful gardener, it's no surprise their garden flourishes as it does, bursting with tomatoes, squash, and corn that grow bigger and tastier there than in any other garden I've seen.

TG, not only a great gardener but also a fantastic cook, once shared with me some Chinese pork, cucumber, and corn soup that he'd made using produce from the garden.  The flavor and texture of the corn, still on the cob, were wonderful; each kernel, separating easily from the cob, had remarkable roasted flavor and pleasing, hearty chewiness.

On another occasion I was the delighted recipient of one of their Chinese-style pumpkins--pale, speckled green skin on the exterior and deep golden-yellow flesh inside.  Part of the giant pumpkin I used in making a pot of doenjang jjigae.  After simmering in doenjang broth, the chunks of pumpkin became melt-in-your-mouth jewels, seriously so much better than any squash or pumpkin I've had before.

Pumpkin.  Isn't it that time of year again?  Time to pull out the pumpkin recipes, like pancakes and cinnamon rolls and goulash and pie... and now these great pan-fried pumpkin slices.

With more of TG's fresh pumpkin left on hand, I was inspired to prepare some of it as hobakjeon sometimes is: thinly sliced, dredged in flour and beaten egg, and then pan-fried until soft in the center and lightly crispy on the exterior.  Dipped into a salty-sour sauce, it was an absolutely delicious side dish for dinner one evening, and leftovers made a great snack the next day.  If you're getting in the mood for Fall and buying pumpkins and squash, why not try making this tasty pumpkin dish!

Hobakjeon (호박전) Pan-Fried Pumpkin Side Dish

Squash or pumpkin, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thin (if you don't have garden-fresh Chinese pumpkin, try Korean hobak or butternut squash)
all-purpose flour, for dredging
beaten egg
vegetable oil, for frying

Coat the bottom of a large non-stick skillet with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat.  Dredge slices of pumpkin in flour, shake off excess flour, then dip in beaten egg to coat thoroughly.  Place immediately in hot oil and fry until golden, turning once to cook both sides.  Remove cooked pumpkin from pan and place on paper toweling to blot oil.  Repeat with remaining pumpkin slices, adding more oil to the pan as needed.  Serve warm with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbs. rice vinegar
1 green onion (green parts only), finely sliced
1 tsp. Korean red chili powder (고추가루/gochugaru), optional

18 September 2011

A German Brotzeit in California

Enjoying the September sunset in Santa Barbara yesterday evening, Germany started to be on my mind.  Thoughts of my grandmother, who loves flowers and lays out a well-planned flower bed in her garden every year, of my uncle and his bakery already in the midst of their Christmas baking season (those Lebkuchen are in high demand when the weather turns cool!), and as I returned from my walk, sat down at my computer, and started looking over my collection of recipes on Apricosa, I realized that the German side of me has not been getting as much attention here.

Granted, my culinary obsession now centers on the flavors of the Mediterranean with a healthy does of Korean cuisine, but I'd have to say that my first inspiration for getting into the kitchen and making something to eat came from the days I'd spend as a little girl playing around in my grandfather's Backstube, watching him and his apprentices turning out huge loaves of rye bread and light, crispy white rolls in the wee hours of the morning, and standing at my uncle's elbow as he put together delicious Sahnetorte creations of exquisite beauty.

With callouses from much physical work and constant handling of hot bread, my Opa (grandfather) would often slide loaves out of the hot ovens into large wicker baskets using his bare hands.  I remember him laughing one time when I tried it myself and ended up surprised over how hot it was to touch.  I think I was quickly consoled, however, getting set on one of his wooden stools tucked off to the side of all the activity in the bakery and being handed a fresh, steaming roll to munch on.

We're always lucky when my uncle and his family come to visit in Santa Barbara, bringing with them loaves of real German rye bread.  There's nothing like it to be found in the United States, as far as I've been able to find: dense crumb and hearty crust, based on a mix of wheat and rye flours and a starter from leftover loaves of bread.

The small crisp white rolls, cut in half and eaten with butter and homemade jam or Bavarian honey, or a slice of cheese and ham, are lovely breakfast treats, but the big loaves of Roggenbrot or Mischbrot are more of the staple.  Eaten at breakfast, used for snacks (my mom used to pack me Mischbrot and Lyoner sandwiches for my mid-morning break when I was a school student in Heidelberg), and the basis for evening Brotzeit (supper, literally meaning "bread time").

At traditional German suppers, it's always fun to put together different combinations of open-faced sandwiches: maybe salami, cheese and pickles on one, and butter and tomatoes and hardboiled egg slices on another.  I remember discovering what is now one of my absolute favorite combination at a bread restaurant-cafe in downtown München.  It was a large slice of this hearty bread, with a slathering of Quark, a generous sprinkling of chives or green onions, and slices of tomato sprinkled with a little salt.  Absolutely divine to sink my teeth into the soft yogurt-like cheese supported by the sturdy slice of bread, flavored with juicy tomato and hints of onion flavor.

So whenever a loaf of German bread gets into my hands these days, I am always sure to have a few slices topped in this way.  With the discovery of 0% Fage Greek yogurt, I have been able to get a pretty decent substitute for the traditional Quark, and green onions (or chives), with tomatoes from the garden, finish off this wonderful breakfast, lunch, or supper.  And I'm also enjoying the addition of thinly-sliced cucumber as well these days!

See how you like this combination: thick, spreadable Greek yogurt on a slice of hearty bread.  You can go the savory route with these great veggies, or perhaps add a bit of jam or honey, if you prefer something sweet!