Double whammy

Still trying to perfect my techniques, I whipped up a fairly labor-intensive dinner last night of homemade pasta AND more macarons. Glutton for punishment? Nah. I’m feeling more and more comfortable with both endeavors and won’t rest until I’ve nailed them.

First up, more macarons. Chocolate, to be exact. A pretty easy adaptation; you merely add a little cocoa powder to the powdered sugar and almonds. Trying to streamline, I decided to experiment by cutting a few corners to see if they’d make a difference. First of all, I decided not to sweat the sifting. I just stirred the almonds, powdered sugar and cocoa together as thoroughly as I could and hoped for the best. Next, I used a Baggie for my piping as opposed to my pastry bag (which is a bitch to clean after use). When I was done, I just popped the Baggie in the trash can and that was that. Two big time-savers right off the bat!

Recipes I’ve consulted offer varying opinions about how long to bake macarons and at what temperature. My last lemon batch was tasty, but almost a little too chewy, so I left my chocolate macarons in the oven a little longer than I have my prior two attempts. Around 16-17 minutes instead of the usual 12-13. In the meantime, I simply melted chocolate chips with Half and Half in the microwave and stirred in a tiny bit of butter to make a quick ganache filling.

Final results? The cookies looked great. They smelled great. They tasted great, EXCEPT, they were overbaked. Way too crunchy without a hint of their trademark chewiness. Hmph. Apparently 16-17 minutes is too long – live and learn. If it wasn’t for that minor flaw, this might have been my best batch yet! The other shortcuts I took didn’t seem to affect the outcome at all. Good to know. One more time, and I think I’ll have it sorted.

overbaked chocolate macarons

For our entree, I pulled out the new pasta machine again and rolled out a couple mounds of dough. It still boggles my mind that all you have to do is knead a few eggs into some flour and bam – noodles. I rolled through the dough into long, fragile sheets and laid them out to dry while hubby helped me concoct a quick bolognese sauce with Italian sausage (the Marsh butcher counter is the best place in town for bulk Italian sausage, IMHO). I’m more a sweet sausage fan, but hubby likes it spicy, so we blended a pound of each. The results – delicious, with a nice but not overpowering kick of heat.

We boiled the pasta briefly to soften. In retrospect, it might have been smart to cut the pasta to size before boiling it – the pasta expanded as it cooked, and we had a hell of time trying to fish the sheets out of the scalding water without ripping them and/or hard-boiling our fingers in the process.

Finally, I got the lasagna assembled and threw it in the oven for about 30 minutes. Our lovely neighbors agreed to join us as taste testers. At long last, the oven buzzer rang and I delivered the steaming dish of bubbly cheesy goodness to the table, along with a bowl of quick-boiled green beans and slices of the French bread our neighbors had contributed.

homemade lasagna with fresh noodles

The lasagna was, well, it was fantastic. The fresh noodles are labor intensive to create, but they make such a HUGE difference – the texture was light and simply melted in my mouth, not a trace of the chewiness that I hate. And the sauce was awesome. I have to admit, hubby made a great call with adding in a bit of the hot sausage for punch. It was excellent. (AND he washed the entire mountain of dishes my efforts produced. Bless him. He’s a keeper.) Even the toddler scarfed down some of the leftover noodle “rags” with a little bit of sauce and some cheese on top.

All in all, a great meal shared with great friends. What more could a person want?

German 101 for foodies

Unlike romantic French or melodic Italian, German is not what I consider a pretty language. Hearing it spoken aloud, some words and phrases aren’t too bad and remind me in a way of pigeons softly cooing. Other sounds are harsh, guttural and downright ugly. This is not a good thing when you’re trying to figure out something appealing to eat in a restaurant and it sounds like your waiter is trying to clear a big wad of phlegm from his throat as he recites the specials.

It’s a given that you’ll have to eat during a visit to Germany, so it does pay to get acquainted with a few of the more common food items and how to pronounce them. Many restaurants in larger German cities such as Cologne do offer menus with English translations to make things easier. Many, however, do not, leaving you scratching your head and wondering just what the hell “erbsen” is and whether you really want to eat one.

It’s always reassuring when the plate the waiter brings to the table contains exactly what you thought you were ordering, and it is possible to deduce some items phonetically or visually. Say “schokolade” out loud and you can pretty much guess that it means “chocolate.” Same with “milch” (milk), “kaffee” (coffee) and “salat” (salad). However, seeing signs for “back” shops initially made me think they were advertising chiropractic services, or perhaps something along the lines of a “Relax the Back”-type store. Au contraire, mon frere. “Back” means “bake,” so there you go. Bakery, or as the Germans say, “backerei.”

The items that really threw me for a loop the first time I read them were the meat dishes. Meat here is called, somewhat graphically, “fleisch.” Yup. You’re literally ordering flesh. Add on the animal to determine the kind of meat, as in “schweinefleisch” (pork) or “rindfleisch” (beef). To make matters worse, ground meat is called “hackfleisch.” It’s enough to turn one into a vegetarian if you think about it too much.

Oddly, “schinken” is not chicken, as you might be led to believe after pronouncing it aloud. It’s actually ham. Chicken is “huhnchen.”

After you’ve dined out a few times and eaten something that you’ve enjoyed, it’s easy enough to look for it again on menus elsewhere. Ever the creature of habit, hubby finds one or two things he likes and sticks to them (see “pizza salami” in my earlier entry). Some consistently good and authentic German standbys that I often find myself seeking out include “gluhwein,” a delicious hot mulled red wine; “gulaschesuppe,” spicy beef-tomato soup with peppers; “schnitzel,” breaded pork tenderloin; “rippchen,” a smoked pork chop; and “spaetzle,” noodles, sometimes served with a cheese sauce like a German mac and cheese (“spaetzle mit kase”). Oh, and “eis,” which is ice cream or gelato. You see tons of signs for “eis cafes,” charming little eateries that serve coffee and desserts.

There’s sort of a caste system of restaurants here as well. There are the nicer, more upscale, sit-down places where you can enjoy full table service. There is plenty of recognizable American fast-food, sadly. There are smaller, cozy, more casual restaurants where you can enjoy a beer and some food. There are also tons of bakery/coffee shops with a handful of barstools or sometimes even just tall bar tables and no seats, good for zipping in and out for a quick espresso and a pastry. There are also snack stops galore (“imbiss”) where you can grab a quick bite of whatever might tickle your fancy. Turkish kebabs, Chinese take-out, pizza slices, even seafood.

As in any language, the most important German words to know are “bitte” (please) and “danke schoen” (thank you). I’ve found those two utterances alone, along with awkwardly pointing to the item you want on the menu, can often see you through the worst of times when it comes to ordering.

Guten appetit!

Cold comfort

I’m sick. I felt it coming Monday night, and sure enough, when I woke up on Tuesday – full-blown cold. Hubby is enjoying a weekend of work in sunny Florida while I’m stuck at home trying to balance languishing and taking care of the baby. I was briefly tempted to hop on a plane and head down there with him to enjoy a few days of sunshine and warm temps, but decided in light of our quickly approaching trip to Europe next week, it was probably more prudent to stay home. Hope he’s having a good time, &*#@*&#@. Actually, I’m exaggerating. I’m not really that sick right now. Tuesday and Wednesday were the roughest days, and hubby was here to take great care of me before he had to leave. Things have improved steadily each day since and although I’m still not quite fully recovered just yet, I imagine I should be back at full strength in another day or two. 

What’s the old saying – “Starve a fever, feed a cold?” Or is it the other way around? I can never remember. I’m not sure I had a fever, but I definitely have a cold. In any case, I didn’t have much appetite this week and my culinary thoughts turned to comfort foods. Mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, soups, chocolate pudding and the like. For me, anything warm, soothing and creamy fits the fill just fine. Another appeal of comfort foods is that they’re easy to make, which is very much appreciated when you’re feeling too woozy to stand at the stove for very long. You can even make a game of it! Play along for a minute and I’ll show you what I mean. Open up your fridge and take a look at what’s inside. Select almost any cooked meat and a vegetable. Now open up a can of cream of mushroom soup (you know you’ve all got one lurking in your pantry) and mix it all together. Dump the whole concoction into a casserole dish, throw some cheese on top and bake it until bubbly. There ya go. This sort of thing makes me happy as a duck in water. It’s not the kind of food I could eat every day, mind you, but when I’m sick, it’s just the ticket.  

I pride myself on having a pretty diverse palate, but comfort foods will always hold a special place in my taste buds. Don’t they for us all? There are such important memories wrapped up in them. Years from now, I will tell my son that for the first couple of months of my pregnancy with him, I survived on little more than cottage cheese, freshly squeezed orange juice and Triscuits. Those were the only foods that sounded good, and they were just what I wanted. 

When I was under the weather as a little girl, the first comfort foods I can remember my mom making for me were hot tea and cinnamon toast. Hot tea seemed like such a grown-up thing to have when you’re small, I always felt so important and loved whenever a cup of this magical potion appeared before me. And sure enough, it always seemed to cure whatever was ailing me at the time. I’m a coffee drinker today, but it just doesn’t have the same connotation. I still enjoy the occasional cup of hot tea and look forward to quite a few cuppas next week when we are back in Ireland.

More of my favorite comfort foods from childhood and beyond include Cocoa Krispies, Spaghettios with hot dogs cut up into it, broasted chicken from Miller’s Cafeteria in Richmond IN (long since closed, but still to this day, the BEST chicken I’ve ever had), the stewed chicken and dumplings my mom used to make every Christmas, hash brown potato casserole, my mom’s beef vegetable soup and her chocolate chip coffeecake, my hubby’s Guinness beef stew, and porcupine meatballs. (Note of explanation: porcupine meatballs are not made from porcupines. Relax. They are named porcupines because the rice that sticks out of them when they’re cooked looks like little quills.) Which reminds me, hidden somewhere in my dad’s house are several cookbooks full of recipes contributed by members of our church, a GREAT source of comfort food inspiration. Note to self – find these books and steal, I mean, er, borrow them next time I’m home…

Another favorite comfort food tradition in my family came from a surprising source, but has definitely stood the test of time. In the early 1980s, my brother brought home a recipe for chicken rice pilaf from his 7th grade home economics class and proudly made it for us for dinner. We loved it, and were somewhat amazed by his up-to-then hidden culinary talents. It’s been a staple in our family ever since, and my brother’s turned into quite a good cook by his own merits. It’s simple to make, not exactly low-cal (but who cares about that when you’re sick and need some good nourishment) and reheats splendidly. Kids love this, too. Chicken, noodles, rice – what’s not to like?? You can easily jazz the recipe up by adding in any variety of vegetables, fresh herbs, perhaps a splash of white wine, but the unadulterated version is perfect on a cold day or when you’re not feeling well. Whip up a batch next time you’re feeling puny, or better yet, have your significant other make it for you. Don’t forget to sprinkle in some extra love!


Get-well-quick Chicken Pilaf

  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 2 c. uncooked pasta (I like rotini or good old fashioned egg noodles)
  • 1/2 c. rice (NOT instant)
  • 2 c. chicken broth
  • 1 c. shredded cooked chicken (about two boneless breasts worth, poached and cooled, or you can go the super-easy way out and use your favorite ready-to-go rotisserie chicken from the grocery store)


Melt the butter in a large skillet, add the dry pasta and cook over medium heat until lightly browned, stirring frequently. Don’t skip this step, it gives the dish a wonderful nutty flavor, but be forewarned – once the pasta starts to get toasty, it can go from browned to burnt in a hurry, so be ready to dump in the broth as soon as the noodles start to become evenly browned. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a low simmer and cook uncovered until the rice is done and noodles are soft, about 20 minutes. Can add a little more water if needed as the rice and noodles soak up the liquid. Makes about 3 servings.