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29 April 2009

Spargel in the Spring

It's asparagus season in Europe! Apparently there are all sorts of asparagus festivals in Europe in the springtime. In Germany and Austria white asparagus, called "spargel" is particularly popular. Lovemuffin and Pricklypear wanted to join in the celebrations, so we found a restaurant with spargel specials. I got spargel with prosciutto and sauce tartare (similar to what is pictured here), and the Lovemuffin got green asparagus with ham and hollandaise sauce. Spargel and prosciutto go together well, the prosciutto being very salty, and the spargel being very not salty. We made pizza with spargel and mushrooms and onions, and that was good, although if we did it again I would add sausage as well. Spargel cream soup is pretty popular here. It was on the menu at the restaurant, and it is easy to find dry packaged mixes for 70 euro cents.

I've been learning a little more about cultivating white asparagus. While it is growing, dirt gets heaped over it, limiting the sunlight it receives. It does not develop chlorophyll, and so it never turns green. Strangely enough, the white asparagus stalks I've seen are really thick, at least twice as thick as those of green asparagus. This is interesting, because if they grow without sunlight, I would expect them to be weak and spindly, not thick and strong.

I also learned that asparagus has a large amount of purines, and purines are metabolized into uric acid, so people who have gout (uric acid crystals built up in the tissues, especially the joints) may experience an attack of gout after eating it. But on the other hand, purine-rich plant foods are less likely to cause gout than meats that contain high levels of purines. So unless you already have gouty arthritis, the extra purines are no reason to avoid asparagus! I hope this springtime brings you plenty of asparagus, whether green or white, or even purple!

28 April 2009

Bread with Cooked Amaranth

A couple of weeks ago I found some amaranth grain at the store; I've been wanting to try amaranth for a while now. I have heard that it is supposed to be pretty nutritious. I tried cooking some with 1:3 ratio of amaranth:water, and I ate it with soup. It was interesting, with a very distinct smell and taste. It reminds me of corn husk silks, with an almost bitter edge. By itself the flavor is too strong and I don't like it. So I've been using it to make bread!

Lately I've been feeling the need to make some good whole wheat bread, because it's hard to find here. All of the dark breads here taste funny. I have a hard time figuring out the types of flour here, and even if I buy something labeled "dark flour" there is no guarantee that it will make the kind of whole wheat bread that I want. So I decided to use amaranth in my bread instead of trying to figure out whole grain flours at the store. I had a couple of bags of good old American all-purpose and bread flour that my wonderful MIL hooked us up with, so I have not had to figure out regular flour so far.

I searched for bread recipes using amaranth, but could only find recipes that use amaranth flour, and since I don't have any way to grind the little grains into flour, I decided to use it whole and cooked. I figured that it would be similar to using cooked oatmeal or cornmeal or even rice in bread. I've done breads like that before, and they've turned out great.

The finished bread still has a little of that funky corn husk silk flavor, but it is much less prominent, and adds interest, instead of being repellent. If you have some plain yogurt on hand, you can use 4 tablespoons of it instead of the milk and lemon juice mixture. I made this recipe again, and used half of it as a pizza crust, which turned out quite well. After making it the second time, I've completely run out of my nice American flour. (I'll have to tell you about my experiences using the different flours here, and if they work at all.)

Bread with Cooked Amaranth
1/2 c. amaranth grain cooked in 1 c. water until water is absorbed
1 1/2 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. honey
1 c. water, divided
1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
3 1/2 tbsp. milk
3-3 1/2 c. bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. olive oil

Set cooked amaranth aside and let cool. In a large bowl, mix yeast and honey with 1/2 cup of the water, at a lukewarm temperature. Let sit till foamy. Mix the lemon juice with the milk in a small bowl, let sit for at least 5 minutes, it will thicken and curdle somewhat (full milk works best for this purpose). Add the remaining 1/2 cup water to the amaranth, and stir to loosen any clumps.
Add 1 cup flour and the amaranth to the yeast mixture. Stir until smooth. Add the milk plus lemon juice and the oil. Stir the salt into another cup of flour, then add that to the dough mixture, mix thoroughly. Add the rest of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and knead until all the flour is absorbed. The dough should be soft and pretty sticky. Resist the temptation to add much more than 3 1/2 c. flour altogether.
Coat a large bowl with about 1 teaspoon oil, form the dough into a ball and place in the bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover and let rise until double. Gently pull the dough out and fold it over itself twice, deflating it somewhat. It should be a little bigger in volume than it was before rising, and much less sticky. Place in the bowl, turning to coat with any remaining oil, cover and let rise again. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and grease a baking sheet.
When the dough has doubled the second time, gently dump it out of the bowl, form a loaf and place it on the baking sheet. Try to not punch all of the air out as you form the loaf. I prefer to make a long torpedo-shaped loaf, but a large round would work also. Let the loaf rise till almost double, then cut 3 or 4 cut slashes in the top with a sharp knife, about 1/2 inch deep, holding the knife at a 45 degree angle. Bake for 40 minutes, till crust is dark golden. Let cool at least 30 minutes before slicing.

19 April 2009


One thing I'm loving about living in Europe is the chocolate. It seems like European chocolate is better than American chocolate, I'm not sure why. Right now the thing I'm really noticing how many different varieties are available, and how different they are from candy bars in the states. In particular I've been seeing more and more chocolate with chili in it. The concept of chocolate with chili pepper in it was really weird to me the first time I encountered it a few months ago, but remember learning in 10th grade geography class that this was how chocolate was first consumed by the Aztecs, as a hot, unsweetened drink with plenty of chili powder mixed in. 

The first chili chocolate bar I had was really spicy-it was good, but hard to eat. Recently we got two kinds of spicy chocolates on sale after Easter: sour cherry and chili with chocolate mousse, and the lime and green peppercorn with chocolate mousse, both are made by Lindt. These are oval shaped chocolates with one half being full of a jelly-like spicy filling, and the other with a smooth chocolate mousse. The cherry/chili was good, but I especially liked the lime/pepper variety. When the spicy part first hit my tongue it seemed way to strong and I was going to have to make that face like when you bite into a raw lemon, but combined with the chocolate mousse and wrapped in milk chocolate, it is just right. One other chili-chocolate combination that I've tried here is mango-chili-chocolate bar. It was pretty fabulous too. The one problem I have with chili chocolate is that it gives me heartburn if I eat too much of it. So if you aren't prone to heartburn, you should give it a try sometime! Have you ever had chili chocolate? Did you like it?

13 April 2009

The beginning

Welcome to my food blog! I've been wanting to do something like this for a while now and finally decided to make it happen. A while back I decided that I wanted to invent the awesomest dessert ever and call it "gooey somethings." But I couldn't figure out what kind of thing this dessert would be - would it be like cake or cookies or pie or pudding or something completely different? The name was too vague for one dessert, but it seems just right for a blog!
So here's some background on me: I love to bake, especially breads and desserts, and I love cheese. I hardly ever cook something straight from the recipe. Instead I like to substitute things if the recipe calls for an ingredient that I don't care for. I want to record actual recipes here, but I'm afraid I don't always take exact measurements and I hardly ever actually write them down. I'll try to have pictures, but I can't guarantee they'll be any good. Also, right now I'm living overseas, so I don't have all of my favorite kitchen equipment (I just barely got a set of measuring cups and spoons two weeks ago). I can't buy all of the same ingredients that I regularly use (I have a hard time figuring out which kind of flour is which at the grocery store). Everything I've made lately has been very experimental. So right now I'm going to be writing more about the food that we buy here, and not so much about the food that I make.