The Romantic Road, Germany

August 9, 2015

With only a few days in Germany, we only had time to visit a few towns along the romantic road. My favorite town along the road that we visited was Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which was exceptionally picturesque. By the way, following the signs that say “Romantische Straße” is the surest way to get lost. Fortunately, we were only visiting a few of the major towns so we only got lost once or twice (there always seems to be a detour).

We also visited Dinklebuhl, which was a charming, well-maintained, walled town. It is small and very cute.

And finally we visiting Nordlingen. It was the smallest of the three towns we visited. While it was nice, it was undergoing a lot of re-construction so our visit was relatively brief.

We ate a typical German meal, but I forgot to take a picture (I was famished, haha).


Munich, Germany

August 8, 2015

I’ve been planning a vacation for a few years to take my two sons to Africa, and this was the year that the stars all aligned to allow it happen. But facing a 22 hours trip to Johannesburg was daunting, so I took advantage of the layover to spend a week in Europe. Because we flew Lufthansa, our layover began in Munich.

Munich is an interesting blend of modern and historic. The most impressive building is the Town Hall in Marienplatz. While it’s glockenspiel may seem tame my today’s technological standards, it certainly provides an entertaining glimpse at historical importance of Germany engineering.

Here are a few other scenes from Old Town Munich. The Altstadt is an interesting blend of modern city life and old historical buildings.

On a somber note, we also visited Dachau concentration camp. While it wasn’t the most deadly of the German Concentration Camps, about 32,000 people dies here. Most of the other 200,000 people who past through these gates went on to other camps.


Lemonade

May 9, 2015

The secret to making delicious homemade lemonade is finding fresh lemons. Tree-ripened lemons are so much more delicious and flavorful than their supermarket counterpart. Upon arriving at my brother’s house in Las Vegas, the first thing I noticed was a small lemon tree with it’s branches bending under the weight of dozens of perfectly ripe lemons. My son made his first batch of homemade lemonade; absolutely delicious. 5-stars.

Unfortunately, I don’t have my own lemon tree at home. So Chris Kimball offers some unique tricks to coax more lemon flavor out of supermarket lemons. I combined his recent tips together with his nearly 20 year old recipe for Classic Lemonade. The results were delicious; but takes an astonishing 6 hours (almost entirely unattended time). Overall, 4-stars. Still not as naturally flavorful as tree-ripened lemonade, but definitely worth making on a hot summer-like day.

More Tips:

  1. Chris Kimball has a trick to reduce the amount of sugar used (see here). Allowing the lemon juice to soak in lemon zest for 5 minutes allows you to reduce the amount of sugar by 10% to 25%, depending upon your personal taste.
  2. Lemon juice left to ripen in the refrigerator for 4 hours after squeezing have more complex flavor (see here). But Chris Kimball also warns that any longer than 6 hours the juice will begin to loose it’s flavor.
  3. If you want pink lemonade pink, add one tablespoon of grenadine.
  4. Always select thin-skinned lemons, that yield slightly as you squeeze then. They have more juice than thick-skinned lemons, even when the lemons were identical in size, shape, and weight (see here).

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $3.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess? Low.
Start: 10AM. End time: 4:!5 PM.

The original Cook’s Illustrated recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

7 – 8 lemons, scrubbed well
1 cups granulated sugar (less 2 to 4 tablespoons if zesting technique in step 2)
pinch table salt (optional)
4 cups cold water

  1. Allow your lemons to come up to room temperature for 2 hours. Chill your 4 cups of water in the refrigerator (and allow to spend the last 45 minutes in the freezer; if you like really cold lemonade).
  2. Zest lemons into a small bowl. Juice lemons, adding juice into the same bowl with the zest. Allow to soak for 5 minutes, before straining into a serving container. Refrigerate the strained lemon juice for 4 hours.
  3. If you’ve let your lemon juice steep in the zest, reduce the 1 cup of sugar to between 3/4 and 7/8 cup. Add sugar to lemon juice, allowing it to dissolve and thicken for 5 minutes until into has a syrup consistency.
  4. Add the 4 cups of cold water, stir until combined. If you didn’t pre-chill you water in step 1; allow lemonade to chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Foolproof Single Crust Pie Dough

December 19, 2014

Pie dough is one of those things that seem so easy; throw a few ingredients together and your done. But getting it into a workable consistency often requires too much water (which will make the dough tough). This recipe uses vodka to solve that problem, as the alcohol will not form gluten and will evaporate during cooking. Of course it is also important to keep everything well chilled and to not overwork the dough. For me the most important this is to have a bench scraper; a chef’s knife just won’t do the job properly (in step 7). If you need two pie crusts see this recipe here. Overall, a very successful pie dough. 4-stars.

Final dough was looked and tasted beautiful

Final dough was looked and tasted beautiful

Issues:

  1. My pie plate was extra large, so I didn’t get those classic fluted edges.
  2. Again, I would strongly recommend a bench scraper. My pie doughs were consistent failures until I bought a bench scraper.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $1.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time: 9:30 AM. End time: 12 PM.

The original Cook’s Illustrated recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

6 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter (3/4 stick)
1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening
2 Tablespoons vodka
2 Tablespoons cold water
1-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6-1/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 Tablespoon sugar

  1. Cut butter into 1/4″-slices, put butter and 1/4-cup solid vegetable shortening in freezer. Combine  2 tablespoons vodka and 2 tablespoons cold water; allow to chill for 20 minutes.
  2. Add 3/4 cups flour (3-3/4 ounces), 1/2 teaspoon salt, and sugar into food processor; give it 2 one-second pulses until combined.
  3. Cut vegetable shortening into 2 pieces. Add shortening and chilled butter to food processor. Process for 10 seconds; dough will resemble cottage cheese curds, and a few very small pieces of butter will remain. Just make sure that all the flour is coated.
  4. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides/bottom of the food processor (leaving dough evenly distributed in food processor). Add final 1/2-cup flour and quickly pulse 4 to 6 times.
  5. Empty into a medium bowl, and evenly sprinkle with chilled vodka/water from step 1. Using a rubber spatula, mix with a folding motion, pressing down on dough until it sticks together (and is slightly tacky). Flatten into a 4″-disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerator for a minimum of 45-minutes (or up to 2 days).
  6. Set a rack to the lowest position in your oven, and set a rimmed baking sheet on the rack. Pre-heat oven to 425-degrees.
  7. Generously flour a work surface with up to 1/4-cup of flour. Roll out dough into a 12″ circle (should be an even 1/8″-thick. As you roll out the dough, use a bench scraper to ensure that it isn’t sticking to the board, tossing some loose flour underneath as you roll out the dough.
  8. Lift up the dough by very loosely rolling it around your rolling pin, and unroll it into position into the pie plate; leaving a 1″-overhang all around. Ease the dough down into place by gently lifting the edge of the dough and setting/pressing into the bottom of the pie plate. Leave the overhanging dough in plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes until the dough becomes firm.
  9. Trim away any dough that is more than 1/2″ beyond the lip of the plate. Fold overhanging dough under itself (doubling the thickness of the top crust) so that it is flush with the edge of the pie plate. You can either flute the dough (which is prettier) or use the tines of a fork to flatten onto the rim of the pie plate. Refrigerate for another 15 minutes.
  10. Line the crust with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights (or pennies). Bake at 425-degrees on lowest shelf for 15 minutes.
  11. Remove foil and pie weights, rotate plate 180-degrees and bake for 5 to 10 minutes more until the crust is golden brown.
Chris Kimball says to use pennies when lacking pie weights.

Chris Kimball says to use pennies when lacking pie weights.


Thanksgiving Cooking Guide

November 25, 2013

I’m re-posting my Thanksgiving Cooking Guide from last year. I still am afraid to risk my Thanksgiving turkey using Chris Kimball’s November 2012 recipe for Grilled Turkey. I still hope to give that recipe a try later, but won’t risk my huge Thanksgiving turkey on the idea. So, my options are:

  1. Herb Roasted Turkey, which I’ve rated 5-stars in the past. It is brined in salt water for 4 to 6 hours, then air-dried, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours to get crisp skin. The herb paste adds great flavor, but the recipe calls for a relatively hot oven (400-degrees) so I doubt this will work on my big turkey.
  2. Old Fashioned Roast Turkey.  This is one of my favorite turkeys. It is drapped with salt pork, which constantly bastes the turkey during baking. Also, it salts the turkey instead of brines it.
  3. Brined Roasted Turkey. For many years I brined my turkey to help keep the turkey from drying out. Chris Kimball’s formula is 1 cup salt per gallon cold water for 4-to 6-hour brine or 1/2 cup salt per gallon cold water for 12-to 14-hour brine. The hardest part is finding a stockpot or clean bucket large enough for the turkey.
  4. Roasting Pre-cut Turkey Parts. For 2013 Cook’s Illustrated is urging me to cut up my turkey prior to cooking. Even though using Julia Child’s name does give me some assurance that everything would be okay, I simply cannot bring myself to depart from a traditional whole turkey roasting all day in the oven. It’s as much as the warm, aroma-filled house as it is about the seeing the massive turkey resting before the meal. In other words, giving thanks for turkey parts seems insincere.

Gravy:

  1. Best Turkey Gravy. A classic recipe for turkey gravy.
  2. Make-Ahead Dripping-less Turkey Gravy. This recipe was developed by Cook Illustrated because it’s associated turkey recipe was cooked too hot to yield usable drippings. So if you don’t have drippings, here is the solution.

Cranberry Sauce:

  1. Cranberry-Orange Sauce. Don’t make a standard cranberry sauce, when a little bit of triple sec and orange zest make it so much more interesting.
  2. Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce. I made this recipe for years, which is 100 times better than canned cranberry sauce.

Potatoes:

  1. Fluffy Mashed potatoes. Cut potatoes into 1″ chunks. Rinse, Steam for 10 minutes, Rinse again, Steam for 20 more minutes until done. It requires my Dutch Oven, but I’ve had dinner guest that raved more about these potatoes than the 5-star main course.
  2. Holiday Scalloped Potatoes. A nice 4-star alternative to standard mashed potatoes.
  3. Master Recipe for Mashed Potatoes. Requires boiling potatoes with their skins on, then peeling hot potatoes. For 15 years Chris Kimball has told us to make mashed potatoes this way.
  4. Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Peeled before cooking, then boiled in half-and-half normally added at the end of the recipe.

Pumpkin Pie:

  1. Matt’s Pumpkin Pie. Make the filling the night before for the best flavor. This recipe is based upon King Arthur Flour recipe. My son Matt took over the pumpkin pie baking responsibilities in 2011. For him, it’s a labor of love.
  2. Libby’s Pumpkin Pie. For a long time this was my “go to” pumpkin pie recipe, until I discovered the King Arthur recipe.
  3. Chris Kimball’s Pumpkin Pie. I could never bring myself to put yams into a pumpkin pie, so have never made it.

Guanajuato, Mexico

August 30, 2013

Our trip through the Mexican colonial highlands brings me and my two sons to Guanajuato, Mexico. The city is built using all three dimensions; underground streets, mysterious tunnels through mountains, houses built upon other houses, built over streets or sidewalks, or simply suspended in mid-air. With few drivable streets, Guanajuato is mostly a collection of small, interconnected alleyways built at impossible angles.

At its core, Guanajuato is an old silver mining city dating back to the 1500’s. At one point, Guanajuato’s mines were responsible for 80% of the world’s silver production.

But life in colonial Mexico centers around the town’s tree-lined plazas, and because most tourists to Guanajuato are Mexican, those plazas are tremendously lively places. One of my favorite memories was my son eating a bowl of Sopa Azteca (a version of tortilla soup) surrounded by ten mariachis singing (off-key) and strumming at full-volume.

Oddly, the world’s best sandwiches are in Guanajuato. A sandwich al pastor (sheppard-style pork), with fresh, Mexican cheese and guacamole sauce cost just $1.65.

After 6 days in the colonial highlands, we took a break at the beach in Puerto Vallarta. While I typically avoid resorts, I know my sons wanted a nice pool, and the hotel included a kitchen. I was able to buy whole, fresh fish for only $1 each.


Crispy Orange Beef

January 12, 2013

Crispy Orange Beef is a typical Szechuan. Officially it’s supposed to be made using dried-tangerine peels, but Chris Kimball recommends using a vegetable peeler to remove peel and some pith from navel oranges. The beef is deep fried in 3 cups of oil, but it cut into thin strips so that it cooks quickly. The beef is rich and delicious, but was a little too heavy. Not because of the oil, but the flavors were not quite balance. A little brightness would have made for a better meal. Still, it was a delicious and interesting, and not too much work. 4-stars.

Rich and delicious Szechuan Beef

Rich and delicious Szechuan Beef

Comments:

  1. Chris Kimball says to use flap meat, which I wasn’t able to find in my regular 3 supermarkets, so I used skirt steak which had a similar open grain.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $17.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Dinner time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:

Rice Ingredients:
1 cups long grain white rice
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter or vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon table salt

Beef Ingredients:
1-1/2 pounds beef flap meat
1+2 tablespoons soy sauce
6 tablespoons cornstarch
10 x 3″ strips orange peel
1/4 cup juice (2 oranges)
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
3 cups vegetable oil
1 jalapeño chile
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 scallions

  1. Slice beef with the grain into approximately 2-1/2″ to 3″ wide strips, then slice against the grain into 1/2″ wide slices. If the slices are much more than 1/2″ thick, then slice them in half so that they aren’t quite so thick and will cook more quickly.
  2. In a medium bowl, add beef and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Toss together with 6 tablespoons of cornstarch until they are evenly coated. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet and arrange beef strips into a single layer. Freeze for 45 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, Line a second rimmed baking sheet with 3 layers of paper towels. Use a vegetable peeler to remove oranges peel into 3″ strips, ensuring you peel deep enough to include some pith. Set aside for now. In a small bowl, juice the oranges and remove any seeds, then combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, molasses, sherry, vinegar, and sesame oil.
  4. Put rice into a strainer and rinse under running water until the water runs clear; this will remove the excess starch from the rice. Pre-heat the oil/butter in a saucepan over a medium burner. Increase burner to high. Add the rinsed rice and salt and bring to a boil. Stir (or swirl pan) to combine, then reduce the burner to low, cover and allow to simmer for 18 to 20 minutes. Remove rice from heat, remove lid and place a clean kitchen towel. Allow to stand for 10 to 15 minutes, then use a fork to fluff just before serving.
  5. Set a Dutch oven over a medium burner and heat 3 cups vegetable oil to 375-degrees. In 3 batches, add 1/3 of beef and fry for about 3 minutes until golden brown; stirring occasionally. Remove beef and place on paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Make sure oil returns to 375-degrees before frying the remaining batches.
  6. While the beef cooks remove stem and seeds of jalapeno, then slice lengthwise into thin strips. Also slice the orange peels lengthwise into strips, which should yield about 1/4-cup. Slice your scallions on a bias. Peel your garlic and grate your ginger.
  7. Place a 12″ skillet over medium-high burner and use 2 tablespoons of the frying oil. Pre-heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Add orange peel and jalapeño strips and saute for 2 minutes. Press garlic directly into skillet, add grated ginger, and ­pepper flakes. Saute briefly, only 45 seconds, before using the soy sauce mixture to de-glaze the pan. After 45 seconds, add the beef and scallions and toss. Place on a serving platter and serve immediately.

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