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The Cover of Classic German Baking

Classic German Baking_thumbnail

Without further ado, I present to you the cover of Classic German Baking! When you hold the book in your hands, you'll see and feel that the title is embossed and that the cute little cake pan is both embossed and in matte foil.

Getting to a final cover on any book can be a lengthy, dramatic process, but especially so with illustrated books like cookbooks. Still, I had a feeling that Ten Speed Press, my amazing publisher, wouldn't disappoint me and I was right. I knew pretty early on that I didn't want a photo on the cover of the book and I'm still so happy and grateful that the publisher, my editor and the designer were game to try some other options. To help the designer along, I sat down at my desk one morning and spent about seven hours doing Google Image searches for everything relating to German and Austrian baking, culinary history, historical lifestyle items and ingredient packaging. I collected the best and most beautiful - and relevant - image links into one very long email and sent it off (hoping that the designer wouldn't think I was the most annoying, meddlesome author ever). It was really important to me to call attention to the kind of visual information that Germans and Austrians take for granted but that feels so integral to the subject. For example, the fact that blue and white are emblematic of the German kitchen, the elegance of the script that adorns antique porcelain kitchen canisters, or the Bauhaus-ian colors and patterns on my beloved Bollhagen ceramics.

A few months later, a variation on the cover above appeared in my inbox. I felt that the illustrator had nailed the design almost on the first try. There were just a few small tweaks to be done before it was final, like getting everyone to agree on the right reddish orange color of the line elements, figuring out which illustration would be the best (the first go-around featured a slice of a fancy torte with a cup of tea, then it changed to a braided, sugar-spangled loaf that I was quite partial to, but we finally settled on the classic cake mold you see on the cover now), and ironing out the minutiae of the dots, whirls and lines. What I like best about the cover now is how well the design straddles the old-fashioned and the contemporary. It feels classic without being fusty and, my most fervent hope, will age well.

A final funny anecdote about the title and subtitle: Agreeing on the title was surprisingly painless. We played around with a few options, but both my editor and I separately - and simultaneously - came to the conclusion that for this book, the simplest, most declarative title would be best. We felt so accomplished! A title without any blood, sweat and tears - amazing. And then, dear reader, and then: the subtitle. I think that a minimum of 38 emails were exchanged in our attempts to nail the subtitle. Oh, the variations we tried! For example, just agreeing on "Pfeffernüsse to Streuselkuchen" - hoo! Which were the German recipe names that would resonate most with potential readers, which ones were most traditional and therefore wouldn't irritate or alienate a native speaker for whom the subtle regional differences could be quite glaring, and which ones, quite simply, were the easiest to pronounce? Then there was the construct of the sentence itself. It wasn't just me and my editor working on this one, no, the sales and marketing team had their brainstorming caps on, too, and so back and forth, back and forth it went until one day - not even so long ago! - we finally lit upon the formulation you see on the cover above.

It's always so funny, at the end of a long, involved project like this one, to look back and see which decisions ended up being the most difficult ones and which ones were surprisingly easy. I would have never guessed that the subtitle would be the source of so much angst. Still, all those back-and-forths were worth it to get a cover, title, and subtitle that all feel just right. What do you think? I so hope you like it.

You can pre-order the book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or if you prefer supporting independent bookstores, at Powells or at Indiebound. And thank you so, so much for all your support and enthusiasm.

Amandeep's Butter Chicken

NYTimes' Butter Chicken

I may have been at this blogging thing for almost eleven (gulp gasp whuut) years, but I have still not figured out how to make gravy look good. In my defense, I swear I wouldn't inflict these photos on you if it wasn't for a good cause, namely your dinner. Maybe even your dinner tonight!

The recipe comes from a "young kitchen hand" at a restaurant in Melbourne called Attica. Amandeep - we are not told his last name, hrmm - made (makes?) it for staff meal. Well, if this is the restaurant's staff meal, I can only imagine the restaurant's actual offerings. It's totally luxurious - chicken bathed in a thick and creamy yogurt marinade, cooked in copious amounts of butter, then finished with heavy cream. Ground almonds thicken the creamy, nicely spiced sauce, which is almost better than the chicken itself. You will want to eat every last drop of it. Luckily, the recipe makes a lot of sauce. (I left out the chiles in the vain hopes that my child would join us in eating this delectable dish, but he was not having it, no sirree, though I will hardly complain about that, because it just meant more butter chicken for me and his father. Next time, ooh, next time, I cannot wait to use the chiles and really let this baby rip.)

The only (other) change I made to the recipe, which really is absolutely perfect as is, was to add frozen peas at the end so that I wouldn't have to also make a vegetable for dinner. Yes, I am lazy! I am also a broken record. Forgive me. (Eleven years, people.)

Butter Chicken

And with that I leave you to your shopping lists and Memorial Day cookouts. But tomorrow, the official cover of Classic German Baking awaits you! See you then.

Amandeep's Butter Chicken
Adapted from the NY Times from a recipe in Eating with the Chefs
Serves 4

1 ½ cups full-fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 ½ tablespoons ground turmeric
2 tablespoons garam masala
2 tablespoons ground cumin
3 pounds chicken thighs, on the bone
¼ pound unsalted butter
4 teaspoons neutral oil, like vegetable or canola oil
2 medium-size yellow onions, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated or finely diced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 medium-size tomatoes, diced
2 red chiles, like Anaheim, or 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
Kosher salt to taste
cup chicken stock, low-sodium or homemade
1 ½ cups cream
1 ½ teaspoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons ground almonds, or finely chopped almonds
½ bunch cilantro leaves, stems removed

1. Whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, turmeric, garam masala and cumin in a large bowl. Put the chicken in, and coat with the marinade. Cover, and refrigerate (for up to a day).

2. In a large pan over medium heat, melt the butter in the oil until it starts to foam. Add the onions, and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and cumin seeds, and cook until the onions start to brown.

3. Add the cinnamon stick, tomatoes, chiles and salt, and cook until the chiles are soft, about 10 minutes.

4. Add the chicken and marinade to the pan, and cook for 5 minutes, then add the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for approximately 30 minutes.

5. Stir in the cream and tomato paste, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

6. Add the almonds, cook for an additional 5 minutes and remove from the heat. Garnish with the cilantro leaves.


Aglaia Kremezi's Warm Yogurt Soup with Grains and Greens

Warm Yogurt Soup with Grains and Greens

Another soup, I know, but you're going to want to know about this one for the warm days of spring and summer. I got the recipe from Aglaia Kremezi's Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts, which was published almost two years ago, but which I only got my hands on last week when Aglaia came to Berlin to launch the book. Aglaia lives on Kea, in the Greek Cyclades, is the author of several books on Greek cuisine and, together with her husband Costas, runs dreamy-sounding cooking vacations. Bucket list alert!

Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts is a really thoughtful assembly of recipes not just from Greece and Italy, but also Turkey, France, the Balkans, and the Middle East. But it's also a very personal book, full of Aglaia's favorite recipes collected over the years, like the stuffed vegetables she grew up with as well as the simple loaf of bread she and Costas eat every day. I can already tell it's going to become one of those books I just keep in the kitchen so that I can cook from it all the time.

The first recipe that I made from the book was this Turkish yogurt soup that's thickened with rice and cornstarch and streaked with soft leafy greens. The soup is traditionally made with Swiss chard, but on our Saturday morning market run, I found some nice-looking baby spinach to use instead. Just about 30 minutes after getting home, lunch was ready to be served. I know that for some, the sound of "warm yogurt soup" will not be appealing, but please trust me - it's delicious. The dried mint, pepper flakes and olive oil drizzle give the light, creamy soup liveliness and pep. The cornstarch and rice helps give it body, and the water-thinned yogurt base is just the right level of sour. It's so refreshing. I served it with nice sourdough bread and a big salad to eat afterwards and we were all very happy. Well, "we" the adults. Hugo refused to even try the soup, but we found out afterwards that he had a fever. He gets a pass!

I've been loving our Saturday routines recently. I wrote a little bit about it on Instagram. Our weekends used to feel scattered and grumpy. But since instituting this new rhythm - market, playground, cooked lunch at home in the dining room, not the kitchen - things have changed rather dramatically. Things run more smoothly, we all feel calmer, saner and happier. Funny how such a seemingly small thing can have such impact. Do you have any routines or weekly traditions that you feel have helped your family harmony? I'd really love to know.

Aglaia Kremezi's Warm Yogurt Soup with Grains and Greens
Adapted from Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts
Serves 3 to 4

1 bunch Swiss chard or several bunches spinach or baby spinach
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 onion, chopped
3 scallions, white and most of green parts, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup/50g white rice or 1 cup/160g cooked wheat berries or pearl barley
1 cup white wine
5 cups water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 cups/480ml plain yogurt (not Greek)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried mint
Crushed red pepper flakes

1. Wash and trim the chard. Cut the leaves from the stems. Chop the stems into bite-sized pieces. If using, spinach, wash and chop. If using baby spinach, wash.

2. Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and scallions and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the chard stems, if using, and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or two. Add the rice or wheat berries/barley, stir well, then add the wine and water. Add salt to taste, bring to a boil, and reduce to medium-low. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the chard leaves or spinach/baby spinach. Simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the greens are very tender. Remove from the heat.

3. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of cold water. In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt with the cornstarch slurry. While whisking, pour in a ladleful of hot soup. Slowly add 2 to 3 more ladlefuls of soup, whisking until the yogurt mixture is pretty hot. Pour it back into the soup pot, return to low heat and cook, stirring, until it almost boils. Add black pepper and the dried mint. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Serve, drizzling each bowl with a bit of olive oil, and sprinkling with red pepper.

Melissa Clark's Curried Coconut Tomato Soup

Melissa Clark's tomato coconut soup

A nice little recipe to have in your back pocket for those days when dinner needs to be cozy and comforting, but also quick. It comes from Melissa Clark's Cook This Now, which is not just a great collection of recipes that manage to be both (mostly) simple and yet also sophisticated, exactly like her NYT column, but also makes me nostalgic for the good old days of cookbooks, when they were printed with regular fonts on normal paper, with a few glossy pages of photos gathered together in bunches. The Internetization of cookbooks has tired me out a little. Look at me, out on my lawn with a broom.

The soup, made with canned tomatoes and an array of warm spices, is made creamy with coconut milk instead of cream, so it's good for the vegans or lactose-intolerants in your life (use coconut oil instead of butter to begin with if it's a dietary necessity). We are neither vegan nor lactose-intolerant, but found this soup almost compulsively good. The balance of flavors was so perfect that it was hard not to go back for thirds. ("We", that night, was me and Hugo, so it is child-friendly - just leave out the chile powder if necessary or use a not-too-spicy curry powder). Sometimes cumin can get a bit much, you know? But here, smoothed out by the coconut, and balanced by the coriander and curry powder (I use this one, which is excellent), it was just right.

Tomato coconut soup

I was feeling ambitious the night I cooked the soup, so I also made Melissa's suggested accompaniment of whole wheat parathas, but they were a little fussy. Next time, I'd make grilled cheese, as I usually do with tomato soup, and call it a day.

Oh and next time, I'd also do what Melissa suggests as an alternative topping to the chopped herbs (missing from our plates because as soon as the soup was ready I suddenly got very hungry and needed to sit down and eat rather than chop anything else) and toast some coconut chips, mix them with sea salt and drop them on top of the soup for a crunchy contrast. You should definitely try that.

NB: This is not a thick tomato soup; it's meant to be thin, but not watery. The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup coconut cream, which I left out when I made it. You can add that if you'd like, for a richer soup, or you can add less water (3 cups instead of 4) if you prefer.

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Melissa Clark's Curried Coconut Tomato Soup
Adapted from Cook This Now
Serves 2 to 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or coconut oil
1 yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch chile powder
1 large can (28-oz) diced tomatoes
1 regular can (13.5 oz) coconut milk
1/2 cup coconut cream, optional
Chopped fresh cilantro, mint or basil, for garnish

1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the curry powder, coriander, cumin and chile. Cook for 1 minute. Stir in the diced tomatoes and 4 cups of water (3 cups, for a slightly thicker soup) and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. Whisk in the coconut milk (and coconut cream, if using) and check for seasoning. Let the soup simmer for another 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped herbs.