fish soup

When I was a child my mother had a rather strict clean plate rule, which meant no getting up from the dining room table until everyone had cleaned their plates. I sat through many university-worthy lectures on the poor starving children in other corners of the world, who would have been grateful for the warm meal which I was distaining. On more than one occasion I expressed concern for those poor starving children and offered to send them my carrots, but for some reason she never took me up on the offer.

Stubbornness may well run in the family because it took years of skirmishes in the ongoing carrot wars before she finally softened and decided that not everyone should have to suffer. And so the rule changed so that only the person who hadn’t cleaned their plate had to stay at the dining room table. She had the advantage of a well-designed house because from the living room she could see me take my cleared dishes into the kitchen and could then verify that the plate was really clean. But, as I would later come to appreciate, she could not see into the dining room itself.

Carrots may have been the most common cause of our nightly hostilities, but they were hardly the only culprits. I have vague memories of staring balefully at plates of brussel spouts, zucchini, lima beans, and the thankfully rare but always dreaded fish soup. Desperate times call for desperate measures and it was the hated fish soup which finally motivated me to find a solution, salvation in the form of a houseplant.

We didn’t just have a few houseplants, we had a virtual greenhouse full of them, and in the dining room we had a particularly large fern which needed a particularly large pot. To this day I still remember the first time it occurred to me that that pot might just be big enough to hide a bowl of fish soup (and yes, I remember that it was fish soup) without being noticed. Had I been old enough to consider the potential consequences of rotting fish in our dining room, I probably would not have attempted it, but I wasn’t and so I did. And over the years that fern grew bigger and bigger and seemed to thrive on its occasional late night feedings.

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I’ve since come clean and admitted this story to a few people and every one of them asks the same questions, “didn’t it smell?” and thankfully, the answer is no. Thinking back on it, I’m as surprised as anyone. But it would seem that I was clever enough to bury it deep and lucky enough to have a guardian angel who didn’t like fish soup either:-)

So, as you see, fish soup and I have a checkered history. I’ve since learned to love it in the form of a hearty bouillabaisse, but this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe hit just a little too close to home and jogged those childhood memories loose. At this point though, I don’t have any (still living) houseplants and had to rely on my husband to get rid of the leftovers.

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orange and olive salad

I’m a rather notorious last minute packer and can rarely be bothered to even pull out the suitcase until the night before I’m due to depart. I find this to be an odd trait because it so clearly goes against my usual type-A tendencies of organization and preparedness, but it’s always been so and at this point I’ve given up thinking that I’ll someday grow out of it. This time around it seems to be a double whammy because I’ve put off both packing and posting until the last minute. In a few hours I need to head to the airport to catch a flight home and so this week’s post is going to have to be an efficient one.

Which seems fitting considering how quick and easy this week’s recipe, Orange and Olive Salad, was to put together. The most difficult part of this recipe was slicing up an orange. No, actually, that’s not true, the most difficult part was waiting to eat it. I know because I completely failed. In fact, I made this salad to go with the Lamb & Apricot Tagine, which still needed a bit more time to cook by the time I had finished the salad. I took a bite of the salad to taste it (as Miss Piggy would say, “it’s a chef’s thing dear!”), and then I took another, and then I was luckily wise enough to set it down and take a picture before I got any further. In the end, we decided that it was a first course and not a side dish:-)

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Wishing you all a happy holiday season.

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lamb and apricot tagine

I have a rather strict “no Christmas until after Thanksgiving” rule. I take open offense at stores which start trying to hawk their Christmas wares before I’ve gotten my first bite of turkey (a losing battle, I know) and I’m downright grinchy if anyone tries to ask if I’ve started my Christmas shopping before the calendar flips to December. My personal view is that Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day is a sign of the apocalypse, and that Black Friday may well prove to be humanity’s downfall, but now I’m just getting morose, so I’ll move on.

After all of that you’re probably thinking that I’m worse than the Grinch, but the truth is that I still truly enjoy Christmas, in its natural time and place, which is December! I love decorating the tree, I love baking cookies, I love watching the same movies year after year, I love finding the perfect gift for a loved one and picking out pretty paper to wrap it in, and I love my first trip to the Christmas market for a warming mug of glühwein. The Christmas markets are truly one of the great advantages of living in Germany and I know that I’d miss them like crazy if I ever moved away. Every decent sized town and city has its own market, a collection of assorted wooden stands selling glühwein (warmed mulled wine) with or without a shot of something stronger, kinderpunsch (non-alcoholic version), roasted chestnuts in paper cones, food, food, so much food, Christmas decorations (some beautifully handcrafted, some… less so), and more. The Frankfurt Christmas market is huge and spans several market places and the connecting city blocks, but the oldest and most beautiful part of the market is just a 5 minute walk from my flat and therefore we tend to visit at least a few times each holiday season. Even when it’s freezing cold outside, a steaming mug of glühwein with a shot of rum (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it) goes a long way towards keeping you warm and toasty.

We’ll be visiting one last time this weekend and then flying to the States before we get another change! In the midst of all the pomp, pageantry, and preparations of the past few weeks, I somehow managed to knock out all of the December recipes, so now let’s see if I can keep up with posting them. So far, so good. This week’s recipe, Lamb & Apricot Tagine, is probably my husband’s favorite of the month. I think he’s enjoyed most of Dorie’s stews and would be hard pressed to name a favorite. This one was a heady mix of sweet apricots and savory spices and the smell while cooking was almost, dare I say it, christmasy:-)

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tartine de Viande des Grisons

Viande des what now? This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe sent me directly to Google to figure out what in the heck we were eating. Turns out that Viande des Grisons, or Bündnerfleisch as it is known in German, is air-dried beef from southeast Switzerland, which is often served with raclette. Somehow that last bit was news to me, because we’ve been serving raclette to our New Year’s Eve guests for years now and never thought to serve it with Bündnerfleisch. Now we know.

I may have never heard of this particular meat before, but the lady at my local delicatessen didn’t even bat an eye when I asked if she had it, she just asked me how much I wanted and then proceeded to slice me off 100 grams worth.

IMG_3264I opened up the package immediately when I got home and tried a piece. My initial though was, okay, but not really exciting. The flavor is pretty similar to a hundred other varieties of cured meats found in and around the Alps. My husband, on the other hand, is a huge fan and is always bringing back whatever local variety from our hiking and skiing trips. So, I thought, at least he’ll enjoy this recipe.

Later that same day I put a pot of lentil soup on to cook. The darn recipe needed an hour and a half and after the first step of browning the sausage, I was starving! So I decided to make myself a little mini tartine to tide me over for the next 90 minutes.

Well, what a difference a little bread, butter, and walnuts makes! I munched my way through my first little tartine, and about half an hour later (with an hour still to go until dinner) I made myself another. Then my husband got home and of course wanted one. And then we made another batch for breakfast the next morning, and finally remembered to take a picture.

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By now it should be clear that this one was a huge hit in my house. We will make it again. The lentil soup, on the other hand, not so much. I’ll stick with Dorie’s lentil soup recipe from now on.

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red kuri soup

IMG_3235Red Kuri is one of the most commonly found squash options around these parts and I have learned to love them since moving to Germany. First of all, because they are an awfully friendly size for a family of two, and secondly, because of their almost creamy taste. I’ve already used these little guys for my Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good and most any other recipe which calls for pumpkin. But shockingly enough, this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe was the first time that I attempted to make them into soup.

IMG_3236Dorie’s Red Kuri Soup is an incredibly simple recipe, and yet, all did not go as planned. My blender coupler broke in the middle of pureeing the cooked soup and I didn’t have any extras on hand. My initial annoyance was replaced by the idea that this was the perfect opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison of my poor overworked blender vs the immersion blender. The results were hardly surprising, as I’ve always been told, the soup pureed in the blender (right) was clearly much smoother than the soup pureed with the immersion blender (left). But still, it was interesting to see the results for myself.

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Despite this little mishap, the soup was simple and tasty. Quick enough for a weeknight (if your blender plays along) and nutritious to boot. What’s not to like?

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storzapretis

This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe, Storzapretis, is the last recipe in the Vegetables and Grains chapter of the book, which in turn, is the first chapter that we have completed. Overall a very successful chapter and I have enjoyed the vast majority of the recipes. The Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good stands out as my favorite dish in the chapter while the Spiced Glazed Carrots and Warm-Weather Pot-au-Feu have been the most repeated. We also make Dorie’s Spätzle recipe pretty often, but we tend to cheat by buying the spätzle at the store and then making the mushroom sauce, so it’s not entirely from scratch. As a matter of fact, the not entirely from scratch version will be making a debut appearance on our Thanksgiving table this year. I’m curious to see the reaction from my German guests:-)

But now to give a little love to this week’s recipe. I had never heard of storzapretis before. According to Dorie this is a Corsican dish, which makes sense as the ingredients and flavor combinations of ricotta, spinach, mint, tomato sauce, and cheese, struck me as more Mediterranean than say Parisian.

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It appears that I unwittingly lucked out with this dish because my ricotta didn’t need to be drained and yielded a soft but workable dough which held up quite nicely through the various cooking steps. And there were quite a few steps!

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This was a rather time-consuming recipe but the end result was absolutely delicious. I brought the leftovers to work the following day and can confirm that, like so many such dishes, it improved after a night in the fridge.

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pan-seared duck breasts with kumquats

I must have had a premonition that November would be tough because I made the full month of recipes as soon as they were announced. Which is lucky because since then we have had very little time for cooking.

Duck is always a happy dish in our house. It’s one of my husband’s very favorite meals and, since he is the duck pro in our house, it means that I don’t have to cook:-)

Dorie calls this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe, Pan-Seared Duck Breasts with Kumquats, a simpler version of duck a l’orange. I know that it’s an old classic, but somehow I’ve never actually had duck a l’orange. I think that by the time I had enough money to eat in the kinds of restaurants which would have served such fancy fare, the dish had been replaced.

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In this simpler version, Dorie has us candying sliced kumquats and serving them alongside the seared duck breasts with a balsamic reduction. To complete the orange theme, we paired the duck with an orange rice pilaf. The duck was perfectly cooked and the sauce was absolutely delicious. Husband approved!

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