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October 2010
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December 2010

Of Pie Crusts and Roasted Shallots


In the past week, I have baked five different batches of cookies, two pies, and one panforte. I am going through bags of sugar like it's going out of style. I buy candied orange peel every time I see it in the store, because I can't seem to keep it in stock in my pantry. And not a day goes by without some sort of nut toasting in a pan. Christmas in Germany (or the Advent time leading up to Christmas, I should specify) is serious business.

But, oh, it's so lovely. I can sit in my kitchen working on yet another spice cookie thing and hear the four-person brass band playing Christmas music at the Weihnachtsmarkt across the street. We lit our first Advent candle last night and let it burn in its pine wreath almost down to the nub. I have stockpiled a tower of tins for cookie-sharing and gift-giving. The best part is that it's all just so cozy at the same time as it's busy and productive, which is a lovely feeling. I'd dare say it's the nicest thing about this time of year.

I have also been doing a lot of cooking, but being up to my eyeballs and elbows in molten hot honey or a panful of nuts just this side of toasted at the same time has made documenting my dinner properly a little difficult. So! I'm going to do a little recipe round-up today instead.


I finally got around to trying Judy Rodger's panade with Swiss chard and Gruyère, which is so toasty and silky and delicious that it is very difficult to stop eating. What is it about stale bread and hot liquid? It's amazing to me that something so rough and scratchy around the edges, something as mundane as old bread and hot broth, can be transformed into something so supple and elegant. There's also the alchemy between long-stewed onions, teetering just on the edge of being too sweet, and nutty Gruyère cheese, which undergoes some sort of Cinderella-pumpkin thing in the hot oven. All put together, it's wondrous stuff. I find myself wanting to hide old bits of bread in the bread box so that we have a reason to make this more often.


Speaking of bread, I made some of my own! Inspired by none other than the 100th issue of Goop. This seeded whole-wheat loaf, from Tartine's new bread book, was featured in the newsletter, along with instructions from the owner and resident bread baker at Tartine for making natural leaven for bread simply by using water and flour and the natural yeasts in the air, instead of commercial yeast. For those of us who can't dedicate three days to producing natural leaven, you're given the alternative to make a pre-ferment poolish, which is what I gratefully did, and a weekend later, I had two glorious loaves of whole-wheat bread, full of flavor and delicious seeds and a chewy, holey crumb.


Except, you know what? I live in Germany now, or the Land of Bread as it's alternatively known (well, not really, but it should be), and making my own bread doesn't hold the same allure it once did. Also, these loaves were a lot more work than Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread. So, my verdict: for those of you living anywhere but in Germany, make this bread! It's so satisfying to watch bakery-style loaves emerge from your oven. And you'll never get tired of the chemical wondershow that is one measly gram of yeast turning a bunch of flour and water into bread. For those of us in Good Bread Land, eh, get thee to a bakery.


The other day, on the (fruitless) hunt for fresh cranberries at an organic grocery store in the south of Berlin, I came across a bin of lovely torpedo shallots from France. Isn't torpedo a good word? Torpedo, torpedo. The shallots are good, too. They have such good heft, such a nice shape. I like to just let slip around in my hands or skitter them around on the counter in an impromptu game of shuttlecock. When it came time to cook them, I took Molly's, or should I say Brandon's, lead, and roasted them with vinegar until the entire apartment smelled like a vinegar factory - and I mean that, quite literally, in the best possible way - and the shallots themselves had collapsed into the sweetest, slipperiest, most fragrant and wonderful version of themselves. I wish I had a photo for you, but they were gone so fast I could barely blink. I also had the distinct feeling that I could have made twice the batch and they would have gladly been eaten. We were all being rather polite at the table, I think. They're going to be a staple in our kitchen for a long time to come.


And finally, I was in charge of desserts at our friends' German-American Thanksgiving this year, so I made my usual squash pie (with Hokkaido squash instead of butternut), but with the very best crust I've ever made, if I do say so myself. I cobbled it together from Deb's recipe here, but with Melissa's brilliant "think lima beans!" instructions from here. Check out the flake on that thing! People at the dinner party thought I had used puff pastry, it was so flaky. And I did it all by hand, armed only with two dinner knives and some high-fat German butter. It's my new go-to crust recipe.

I'll tell you about the panforte (with candied quince!) in my next post, and then I have to divvy it up among the cookie tins, along with Spekulatius, some sort of nut brittle, snow-white Springerle and a few more things that have yet to be determined. Also, I have recently been bewitched by the sound of a hazelnut-prune tea cake that must be made mine, so stay tuned. And tell me, dear readers, what are you baking these weeks before Christmas? What's going in your cookie tin?

Kitchen Covets - A Holiday Gift Guide

Are you, like me, thrilled every year when the time rolls around for the Internet to publish its Gift Guides, thereby lightening your load, getting your shopping done in one fell swoop, and making you feel creative, resourceful and thoughtful, even though you never left your desk? I find them to be such a relief (the ones from Design*Sponge, Cup of Jo, Oh Happy Day, and Mighty Goods are especially good).

This year, I thought I'd try my hand at a gift guide, specifically tailored to things one might covet for the kitchen or the dining table or the cookbook shelf, in other words, any area of the home that involves cooking or eating or reading about cooking and eating, since, you know, that's all any of us really want to be doing at any given time, right? Right?

Happy giving!


1. Tell your little sister enough already with the paper napkins, even if IKEA does produce them in such adorable colors. These Skinny Laminx "Orla" napkins from South Africa will make her dinner table look grown up and smart.

2. Any of the wooden cake stands that Herriot Grace makes are gorgeous (not to mention everything else in their shop). But there is one little problem: if you're lucky enough to get your hands on one (they're sold out at the moment, I'm sorry), I'm not sure you'll be able to give it away. Still, it'd get you in good with your mother for years, if she's the cake-baking type.


3. Buy one of Amco's metal lemon squeezer for your dad, your father-in-law, your brother, heck, any of the men in your life. I don't know a single man who doesn't love this bright, clanky thing. I recently switched from a wooden reamer to this lemon squeezer and I do declare it to be my favorite kitchen utensil, hands down. It's so satisfying to use and the little inside-out lemons it leaves behind make everybody laugh.


4. Bee House's Kyoto teapot in day-brightening turquoise is just one of those artful objects that dress up any breakfast table or work spot, wherever your mother-in-law and her impeccable taste takes her spot of tea.

Be 74


5. A chic wooden Mayfair candlestick or two, for your brother's first apartment. Maybe it'll get him to turn off his halogen tower left over from college.Yhst-69328165909994_2131_101184340

6. Would your mother rather be reading than baking cakes? Get her Milk by Anne Mendelson. It's a fascinating and comprehensive history of our relationship with milk, along with mouthwatering recipes from all over the world. She'll never drink milk the same way again. Who knows, she might even find herself elbow-deep in homemade cheese one day. But no pressure.



7. This one's for the grandchildren. Be diligent about writing down your favorite recipes on these beautiful recipe cards from Rifle Paper Co. and one day you''ll have the best heirloom ever to pass on. (Here's the matching wooden box to store them in.)



8. I find scrubbing potatoes, squash and other vegetables to be rather mind-numbing work. But if you got to pull on a pair of fire-orange, rough-palmed, Cooper-Hewitt rubber gloves to do that work, or go even farther and peel those vegetables, wouldn't you feel like a million bucks? I thought so. A great gift for the reluctant cook in your life.


9. Much has been written about the glory of the Canal House Cooking series, from the beautiful photography and food styling to the deeply delicious recipes, and all of it is true. These books are total gems and not so precious that you can't get them spattered in the kitchen and dog-eared by the bedside table. For your best friend still mourning the demise of Gourmet.



10. The old Russian tea company, Kusmi, has been given a rather luxe makeover as of late. But their teas are still wonderful, either loose in pretty tins or packed into gorgeous little muslin tea bags. My favorite at the moment is Kusmi Boost, a spicy green tea blend packed with cardamom pods, ginger, and orange peel. For your boss or your favorite neighbor and, while you're at it, get a tin for yourself, too.

  Kusmi Tea BOOST 125g Dose

11. Do you have a smallish person in your life who likes to cook? Chances are they've spent their entire cooking lives looking for an apron that will fit. So get them this Fog Linen apron, because good aprons for smallish people can be terrifically hard to find.


Berlin on a Platter


It's been almost a year now since I got back to Berlin. Or since I left New York, depending on how you see things. I've been through a long winter, a short, hot summer, a fall that went by too quickly and now we're narrowing in on Christmas. I found a place to live, I've made some friends, I've got a desk that's pretty good and a kitchen that's pretty great, and though I miss my people in New York every day, I like my life here so much. In fact, I love it. And finally, I'm starting to be able to see this city without the fog of newness and confusion that surrounds so much of settling in to a new place (even if it's new and old at once).

I've promised a few, or more, of you a post about my favorite restaurants in Berlin for a while now. But the more I thought about it, and the more I ran around Berlin trying to find good food to eat, the more I felt frustrated by packing everything I'd like to say about food in Berlin into a single post. And even though, when the tiny kernel of the urge to start another blog, devoted to my favorite (and not-so-favorite) things to eat in Berlin, appeared in my mind the first time, I knew intellectually that between the book and this blog and trying to have that life that I like, no love, there was no way I had room in my world for a second blog. But that kernel wouldn't budge. Instead, it took hold and grew and grew, kicked my intellectual self gently in the ribs, and found room where I thought there wasn't any, which is, dear readers, how Berlin on a Platter was born.

Berlin on a Platter is about the little discoveries I'm making in Berlin, about my favorite bakeries and snack stands, the hidden gems I might (or might not) find on my journeys around the city, gustatory wonders at the grocery store, a good restaurant in the East or a great one in the West. Consider it my personal culinary notebook for Berlin, a resource for those of you visiting this city or those of you who live here. I hope you like it.

Guten Appetit!