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How to Make Elderflower Cordial

Last Thursday afternoon, we were sitting in Joanie's courtyard drinking cool glasses of elderflower cordial mixed with water, eating strawberries and sweet little poppyseed-stuffed yeasted crescents that she'd made that afternoon (they'll be in the book, I promise you!) and watching Hugo run after a ball and I realized that it was basically my dream fantasy of life in Berlin, except it was actually happening to me. [Insert blissful sigh.]

Before we left (at which point Hugo cried, just like I always did when I was little and it was time to leave Joanie's), Joanie grabbed one of her many baskets, lined it with paper and went out behind the garage to the enormous elderflower bush growing there to snip off a bunch of heads for me. I snapped a picture of the beautiful flowers for Instagram and then Abbey asked me to blog about making elderflower cordial and hey presto here we are. I aim to please!

Elderflower cordial is one of those things that seems impossibly complicated from afar, but in practice is silly easy. Though I do have to qualify that by saying that it is, of course, only easy if you have access to elderflower bushes (and preferably ones not lining a major roadway). If you don't, my apologies. But if you're one of the lucky people that have them growing in your local parks or backyards, then elderflower cordial is ridiculously easy and so delicious that it should go on your to-do list right now.

Okay, so the first requirement is a flowering elderflower bush that is not contaminated with exhaust. Got that? Great! Next, make sure that the bush hasn't been rained on in the past few days. Now get yourself a basket, line it with paper towels or a piece of Kraft paper and grab a pair of clippers. At the bush, hold the basket underneath each head of flowers and snip the head directly into the basket. You'll want about 25 heads. The pollen in the tiny elderflower blossoms is what makes the cordial so delicious and fragrant, which is why you don't want to lose any of it.

Once that's done, go home and find yourself a big old crock. Make sure it's clean. Holding each elderflower head over the crock, carefully snip the tiny blossoms into the crock. Do not wash the elderflowers before doing this! (This is why I told you earlier that exhaust-free flowers are essential.) If there are any bugs, try to pick them off before doing your snipping. Discard the flower stalks. Shake whatever pollen gathered on the paper lining into the crock as well. Next, gather up three or four organic lemons. Slice them thinly using a very sharp knife and add the lemon slices to the crock.

Put 1 kilo of sugar (this is equivalent to 2.2 pounds) in a big pot on the stove and add 1.5 liters of water (6 cups of water). Turn the heat up high, stir to dissolve the sugar and bring the mixture to a boil. Let it cool slightly, then pour the hot syrup over the elderflowers and lemon slices in the crock. Cover tightly with a piece of plastic wrap and put somewhere cool for a minimum of three and a maximum of five days. Stir the mixture once a day.


When the mixture is finished steeping, put a big pot on the stove and balance a sieve over the pot. Pour the contents of the crock into the sieve and let them drain well. (Do not press down on the lemons and elderflowers, though.) Add 3 tablespoons of citric acid (also known as lemon salt or sour salt in Indian grocery stores) to the pot and then bring to a brief boil before taking the pot off the stove.

Using a funnel, fill a couple very clean glass bottles with the hot liquid (you'll need capacity for about 1.5 liters of cordial). Close the bottles up and let them cool before storing them somewhere dark and cool for up to a year. Mix with sparkling or tap water for a refreshing drink (about a tablespoon per glass, though the ratio is obviously up to you) or with Prosecco, sparkling water, a squeeze of lemon and a sprig of mint for a gorgeous cocktail called the Hugo. Yes, really. :)

(The eagle-eyed among you will notice that the quantities in this recipe differ from the one in My Berlin Kitchen. The difference is that the yield on that one is a little higher and the sugar content of this one is a little lower. I'm really happy with the way this batch turned out.)

Elderflower cordial

To me, elderflower cordial mixed with cold water tastes like the essence of summer (and other things, but you'll have to read my book for them) and I rarely have any of it left by the time the days shorten and get cold again. So go out while the picking's good and make hay while the sun shines.

In other news, I'm thrilled to be a speaker at the Food Blogger Connect conference in London in a few weeks! I'll be speaking about the transition from blogging to book-writing, and will be taking part in the panel about the business of cookbook publishing in general. The full-weekend passes are sold out, but you can still buy tickets to the conference for individual days. I'm speaking on Saturday and will be on the cookbook panel on Sunday. I'll also be signing books. If you are going to be there, please come and say hi!

The Happy Cows of Ireland


A few months ago, I was invited by Kerrygold to go to Ireland with a group of bloggers. Our proposed itinerary was to spend a day at the Ballymaloe Litfest and to visit a family dairy farm that is part of the cooperative that supplies Kerrygold with milk. It only took me about 15 seconds to reply with YES ME YES YES PLEASE AND THANK YOU YES YES YES, throwing any pretence of cool nonchalance I might have had to the wind.

After that, all that was left to do was to impatiently await our departure and to aggravate the kind people in my life by asking them repeatedly if they knew that I was going to Ireland in May to see some cows. Ireland in May! To see cows! IRELAND! ME! COWS! I could not contain myself. And yet despite all that excitement and enthusiasm, the trip still managed to be better than I hoped.


The Ballymaloe Litfest, only in its second year, was held on the grounds of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, an impossibly beautiful place filled with wisteria-clad country houses, rustic old barns, beautifully lush green lawns and friendly Irish people. Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi were there,  as were Sandor Katz, David Tanis, Christopher Hirsheimer, Diana Kennedy and many luminaries of the Irish and English food world. There were delicious things to eat and the weather was splendid and I loved that the festival organizers made the entrance fee affordable so that many local families could come and spread out on the grounds with their (stunningly beautiful) children.

The absolute highlight of my day at the festival was attending a talk with René Redzepi of Noma. He was witty and humble and fun, full of good stories about his start in the cooking world (after flunking out of school at 15, he followed his best friend to cooking school on a whim) and about the formative time he spent each year with his father's family in a poor Macedonian village. We could have all listened to him talk for hours and it felt like such a gift to have been given insight into the mind behind the legendary restaurant. There were many, many other events at the festival that I wished I'd been able to attend, but who knows, there's always next year.


On Sunday, the sky thick with clouds and rain, we piled into a little bus and drove up the southern coast of Ireland, near Waterford, to visit a dairy farmer whose land sits at the very edge of the coast. We walked down a winding path lined with gorse and other low shrubs until we got to a pasture, the grass thick and velvety and a bright, vivid green. We opened the wooden gate and walked into the pasture with his herd, a group of about 65 Friesian cows. In one direction was the open sea and a blurry horizon, in the other, the craggy cliffs of the coast. The wind whipped the grass and some cows watched us quietly and inquisitively, while others munched away at the grass or sat quietly chewing their cud. These were clearly happy cows.

We stood there for a long time. I can't speak for the others, but something about the ocean and the presence of the animals and the whipping wind moved me. It felt so majestic and mysterious, like I was standing on the edge of the world. I had one of those moments I've written about before, as if someone had pulled back the curtain on some deep and beautiful secret that we go through life looking for. Something about being out in the rugged wildness of nature triggers that feeling, I guess. But when it came time to go back to the farmer's house for tea and sandwiches, I didn't want to go. I'd only just gotten there and the thought that I'd probably never again see this part of the world, our wild and beautiful world, made my heart ache a little. What lucky cows, and people, to get to live there. Lucky me, too, that I got to see it for a little while.

Back at the house, the farmer's wife put out a spread of sandwiches and cakes and cookies to put most Manhattan board meetings to shame. There was an enormous metal tea pot filled with strong, hot tea and we sat and warmed our bones while the farmer told us a little bit about dairy farming in Ireland and what makes Irish butter and cheese so special.

The dairy farms that belong to the Irish Dairy Board (the farmers' cooperative behind the Kerrygold brand) are all family farms that have been handed down over the generations and hardly any of the farms has a herd that exceeds 65 cows. The mild Irish climate means that the cows can live and graze outside 300 days out of the year and when they do eat feed, it's made up of locally grown barley, non-GMO soy and citrus. Backed by stringent EU laws, Irish milk is hormone and antibiotic-free - if a cow happens to get sick (with mastitis, for example) and needs to be treated with antibiotics, her milk is removed from the system and her medication is reported to the government until she's well again. Because of their way of life, grass-fed Irish dairy cows live longer than industrial dairy cows, about five years instead of three, and they don't suffer from the ailments that we know industrial cows suffer from. They're also not high-yield dairy cows. This system translates to high-quality milk products for the consumer, fair prices for the dairy farmers and a good life for the cows.

Just last week, a story about the torturous existence of turkeys raised industrially in Germany made the rounds here. At a time when so many of us know more and more about the deplorable state of the animals kept for our dietary needs (and whims), it was refreshing to see that a different way exists.


The rest of the day was spent on the road and I didn't get back home until very late, but I couldn't stop thinking about that moment with the herd of happy, quiet cows out in the great green pasture on those craggy Irish cliffs. I'm so very grateful I got to experience that moment. I know I'll never forget it or the kind and lovely family who brought us there and let us in on their world.

Disclosure: My trip was organized and paid for by Kerrygold, but all my thoughts, opinions and, indeed, the decision to write about the trip, are my own.

Gwyneth Paltrow's Mexican Green Goddess Dressing

Mexican green goddess dressing

This aging thing is nuts. Why, just this past weekend, I had to take a six-hour train ride to southern Germany, sleep at a Holiday Inn Express (the sheets! so silky! the room! so quiet!) and then come back the next day, and all I could think about this adventure was: 12 WAKING HOURS ALL BY MYSELF I CAN READ EVERY BOOK UNDER THE SUN ALL BY MYSELF AND THEN I GET TO SLEEP ALONE AND BE WOKEN BY MY OWN SELF AND THEN READ SOME MORE IN BED BECAUSE NO ONE IS DEMANDING BREAKFAST OR A PLASTIC ELEPHANT OR THAT MAMA GET TO HIS SIDE RIGHT THIS MINUTE OH MY GAH WHAT BLISS IS THIS.

I can guarantee you that ten years ago (or even five? three? anytime before June 2012?), I would not have been this easily pleased. (My reading list, in case you're wondering, was the latest two New Yorker issues in full, the latest Vogue, The Book of Negroes and 35% of The Fault in Our Stars. No, I don't think I looked outside the window once?)

Also, with age, I have learned that the things I used to detest no longer repulse me! Let's make another list, shall we?

Things I used to hate:
creamy salad dressings

Things I now love:
creamy salad dressings

Well, not all creamy salad dressings, to be totally honest. In fact, let's just say only this creamy salad dressing. After arriving in southern Germany on Sunday and before going to sleep in the soft and silky Holiday Inn Express bed, I had an encounter with a creamy salad dressing that I would only describe as  unfortunate. (In case you're wondering what I was doing in Baden-Baden, click here and look for the show from May 12th.)

ANYWAY. This creamy salad dressing, to get to the point already, is from Gwyneth Paltrow's second cookbook, It's All Good. And while opinions differ on the book, the chapter on salads and salad dressings is pretty great. This dressing, in fact, called Mexican Green Goddess Dressing, is worth the price of the book and not to sound like a broken record or anything, but my philosophy is that if you get just one great recipe out of a cookbook, that cookbook's a keeper.

Gwyneth's Mexican green goddess is made up of sheep's milk yogurt, olive oil, cilantro, scallions, lime juice, salt, a touch of honey and a jalapeño (it's tough to find jalapeños in Berlin, though, so I used a drizzle of this terrifyingly spicy hot sauce instead - thank you, Liana!). You blend everything up in a blender or with an immersion blender that has a turbo setting and then you use it on a salad consisting of chopped romaine, avocado, tomatoes, canned black beans, corn (fresh if you've got it, and canned if you don't), more scallions and more cilantro. And you know what, it truly does taste of Mexico - all of those wild, bright flavors blended up and threaded together. It's fantastic.

Mexican chopped salad

You are by no means constrained to only use this dressing on this particular salad, though. I used it on cold boiled broccoli the next day to fantastic effect, for example, and on a bowl of sliced cucumbers and tomatoes a few days after that and could imagine it on a bowl of simple arugula, too, or steamed fennel or any vegetable really, that needs a bit of a creamy, spicy, zingy zhuzh.

I still haven't come around to dill, though. Maybe check in with me when I'm 40.

Gwyneth Paltrow's Mexican Green Goddess Dressing
Adapted from It's All Good
Makes 1 1/2 cups

2/3 cup sheep's milk yogurt
¼ cup cilantro
2 scallions, roughly chopped
¼ cup lime juice (2-3 limes)
½ jalapeno, roughly chopped, or a drizzle of hot sauce
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar

Combine all the ingredients in a blender. Blend until completely smooth. The dressing can be kept in a jar in the fridge for up to a week.

Jennifer Steinhauer's Just Good Chili

Just good chili

A week ago, I was over at my friend Sharmaine's house, sitting on her comfortable brown couch in her cozy kitchen while our sons played with trains and trucks and cars on the floor, sort of ignoring each other while they played, but sort of stealing sweet little glances at each other every so often, too. We talked about work and life and parenting, the usual stuff, while her husband Thomas pulled a simple chocolate cake from the oven and we all had some, still warm and lovely. Then Hugo had to go crumb-hunting on the big brown couch, of course, and after that the boys ran around without pants on for a while and Sharmaine told me that there was going to be chili at her birthday party a few days later and I said I'd bring cornbread. After that it was time to go home, so we packed up and left after Jackson and Hugo kissed goodbye at the front door and we all went "awww", and then I couldn't stop thinking about making chili for the rest of the week.

So this is a post about chili.

I was well into my third decade of life before I understood that chili wasn't just something served up at potlucks and Mexican restaurants in Germany. I didn't know that there were rules and strictures about what goes into chili and what doesn't go into chili. And I certainly didn't know about the Chili Appreciation Society International. (!)

Now I do. And while the Italian side of me has a profound respect for food rules, I must confess and beg forgiveness for having found a chili that I love that certainly does not abide by the no-bean rule, which - as I understand it - is likely to be Rule Number One about chili. It's just that this chili is simply so good, as its name already suggests, that it pains me to let it pass by. It's so complex and wonderful, sweet and spicy, and you can just about make it with your eyes closed.

The chili boasts beer and cocoa and coffee, ground meat and beans, and a warm sprinkling of spices. It cooks for an hour or longer, turning the sauce a wonderfully rich, deep brown, almost mahogany. We ate our bowls of chili topped with diced avocado, sliced scallions and a few long shreds of grated cheddar, to bring a bit of color and texture and creaminess into play, and felt almost comically satisfied with our dinner, no cornbread required.

Rules are rules for a reason, I'll admit. But I'm so glad this chili exists.


I'm thrilled to announce that I'm going to be teaching a food writing class in Berlin later this month. The class starts May 20 and runs for 7 weeks. There will be reading and writing assignments, snacks by yours truly and it should, I hope, be a whole lot of fun. The stack below is just a sampling of the kinds of texts I think the world needs more of and that we're going to get into. If you're interested in attending, please visit The Reader for more info and to register. And feel free to spread the word!

Food writing class

Jennifer Steinhauer's Just Good Chili
Original recipe here

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 12-ounce bottle of beer
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Half a serrano or other hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped, or to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 15-ounce cans kidney beans

1. Place a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat. Add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the meat and sauté until browned, then transfer to a plate.

2. Add the onion to the pot and stir for 1 minute. Take two large sips from the beer, and pour the rest into the pot. Stir in the tomatoes, coffee and tomato paste.

3. Add the brown sugar, chile sauce, cocoa powder, hot pepper, cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt and kidney beans. Return the meat to the pot. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partly covered, for at least 1 hour (Longer cooking improves the flavor.) Adjust salt and cayenne pepper as needed and serve.