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!