ginger cookies, eat them with blue cheese please


Just like how a certain song can make us think of a person, a moment or an emotion, a certain meal or dish has the same ability to trigger memories. 

Ginger cookies, especially when eaten with blue cheese, will forever make me think of my friend Anna. In particular, they make me think of meeting her while we were both studying in Copenhagen and then being lucky enough to have her invite me to her apartment on the first Sunday of December to celebrate Advent. In the small room she rented, which I remember being next to a canal, she had set a table with an Advent wreath, mugs of gl√łgg, a package of good English ginger stem cookies and a piece of blue cheese.

It was my first time celebrating Advent. Every few years a chocolate Advent calendar would find its way into my childhood; however, it was never something that was a fixed part of how my family celebrated Christmas. We might have had a wreath on our front door, but there was never a wreath inside cradling four candles. That first Sunday in December in Copenhagen with Anna was my first true experience of Advent. I remember how cozy her apartment felt, with its clean white walls and sleek Scandinavian design. I remember how our conversation, as always, felt inspiring and warm. And I remember how good those ginger cookies tasted with blue cheese. 

Here were two things that I loved and ate regularly coming together to unite forces and to unite tastes. The sweetness of the cookies and the subtle warmth from the ginger tamed the blue cheese. I have Anna to thank for introducing me to the magic that is ginger cookies with bleu. When I was living in Gothenburg, Anna came to visit for the weekend from Uppsala. At the time she was working at a cheese shop and in her weekend bag she had packed a small ceramic jar filled with a blend of two cheeses: a soft white cheese and a sharper blue. It was close to Christmas when she visited and once again I remember how inspiring our conversations were that weekend and how good those ginger cookies tasted with blue cheese. When I moved to Munich I brought that small ceramic jar with me. It sits on a shelf on my kitchen, next to some spices, and sometimes I fill it with small flowers. Other times it holds my wooden spoons.

I like that my kitchen isn't just where I cook but is also where I remember. It is where I keep those small things that remind me of faces and of places. On that same shelf are salt and pepper shakers that my grandparents used to set on the table and they remind me of adding one last sprinkle of salt or pepper to a big pot of one of my Poppy's beef stews. On the counter is a tray my friend Ola made that reminds me of Whose Museum and that makes me miss my friends in Gothenburg. On the wall hangs a felt mushroom my aunt gave me one year that makes me think of the beautiful windows in her old apartment building and how she fills them with glass and felt ornaments each December. 


In one of my drawers I keep a cheese slicer with a wooden handle. My Dad has two so he gave me one to bring back to Germany. He doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, but he loves dessert as it gives him an opportunity to eat good cheese. Most meals I've shared with him end with a few slices of good aged cheddar. I'm certain that he, too, would enjoy ginger cookies with blue cheese. 

Christmas is only a few days away. If you don't have time to make these triple ginger cookies - made with ground ginger, fresh ginger and crystallized ginger - before you find your stocking already stuffed, do not worry. Ginger cookies taste good all year round and ginger cookies with blue cheese taste even better the whole year round.

Ginger cookies are traditionally made with molasses. Because I'm Canadian and using ample amounts of maple syrup is often one of the few ways with which I express my national identity, I used maple syrup instead of molasses. Call it my Canadian interpretation of an English classic if you wish.

And about that blue cheese, go with whatever type you like best. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a softer and milder blue, such as gorgonzola dolce. Other times all I want is a strong roquefort. If blue cheese isn't your thing, try the cookies with a good aged cheddar instead. However, ginger cookies might be a good assistant in getting you to give blue cheese another (or even first) try. 

Triple Ginger Cookies

adapted from Chez Panisse Ginger Cookies via David Lebovitz

makes about 40-50 cookies

ingredients 

2 cups (280 g) unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
11 tbsp (150 g) unsalted butter
2/3 cup (130 g) unrefined sugar
1/4 cup (80 g) maple syrup
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, finely minced
1 tbsp or so of large-grain sugar for sprinkling

Using either an electric mixture on low speed, or a fork and a strong wrist, mix the butter until creamed. Once creamed, add the sugar and mix until well combined. Beat in the egg, maple syrup and fresh ginger. 

In another mixing bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, black pepper, and ground cinnamon.

Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar, along with the crystallized ginger, and mix until the mixture holds together.

Flour a clean work surface, plop the dough on top and knead until the cookie dough comes together into a ball. Divide the dough into two. Shape each piece into a log that is about 2 inches wide. Wrap each log in plastic wrap (and continue to shape if necessary) and refrigerate or freeze for at least 30 minute. The dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days and kept in the freezer for up to 3 months.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F / 180C / gas mark 4. Line a cookie sheet or two with parchment paper.

Remove the cookie dough from the fridge or freezer and use a sharp knife to slice the dough into about 1 cm or 1/4 of an inch rounds. Place the cookies onto the cookie sheets so that they have a couple of inches between them as they will spread while baking. Sprinkle the coarse sugar on top of each cookie.

 Bake for 10-14 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheet midway through baking to ensure that they bake evenly. Depending on your oven, 10 minutes will yield chewier cookies and 14 will yield snappier ones. While baking, the cookies puff up and then settle down once they are almost baked through.

Remove the cookie sheets from the oven. Let the cookies rest for a couple of minutes on the sheets and then transfer them to a cooling rack. 

Store the cookies in an airtight container for a couple of days.

And please, please serve these ginger cookies with blue cheese! If you aren't into bleu, then serve them with a sharp cheddar instead. 

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Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and, as always, Guten Appetit! 

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prosciutto wrapped scallops


Venice has the reputation of being the world's most beautiful city. It is also said to be the world's most romantic. So when I arrived I, of course, expected beauty and romance and I found both at Rialto Market. When I arrived in October the market serenaded me with zucchini blossoms and white peaches. By late November its tune had changed to fresh porcini and quince. And no matter the month nor the season, Rialto never failed to woo me with prosciutto and scallops. 

I've always had a funny relationship with pork. For a long time I could only eat it if I lied to myself and said it wasn't pork. Pork is pretty identifiable; however, for years I wouldn't eat it or only eat if I or someone else could convince me that it was chicken or beef. Pork sausages? No, they are definitely chicken sausages. Pork roast? No, of course not. It is obviously beef. 

Everyone has their quirks when it comes to food and pork was certainly mine. It continues to be, although I have gotten over having to lie to myself that I am eating a meat other than pork.

After my first year of university, I spent the summer teaching art at a summer camp in Spain. My job interview went gloriously well until the issue of food came up. "Are there any foods you don't like," the woman interviewing me asked. "Pork," I said. "What do you mean  by pork? We'll be serving pork three times a day!" It was the trickiest question in the interview. Forget long-term career goals, or personality weaknesses, I was stumped on a question about pork. "Well," I hesitated. "I wouldn't cook it at home, but I would eat it if it was served to me." Obviously my answer was convincing enough as I did get the job. I was also forced to further acknowledge my eccentricity about pork and while I was surrounded by chorizo nonetheless.

I know what you are thinking. Either you are a vegetarian and are skipping this whole post, or you are thinking that I - someone who likes food enough to write about it and photograph it - have been missing out on chorizo and prosciutto, pork sausages and bacon. Well I haven't. It just comes down to psychology and how we can convince ourselves of the strangest things. However, what I said at the interview was the truth for years and years.



This is where the "until" part comes in. I ate prosciutto for years when it was served to me, but never did I buy it myself. It was the equivalent of smoking someone else's cigarettes and not buying your own. I was a social prosciutto eater and then I started to buy cheese from Casa del Parmigiano in Venice. Founded in 1936, this cheese shop charmed me just as much as the Rialto Fish Market. Next to the tidy displays of cheese and fresh pasta (it is one of the few places in Venice to carry fresh pasta) is a whole shelf of prosciutto. There is grocery store prosciutto and then there is prosciutto from Casa del Parmigiano that with each order is sliced freshly with precision and passion. The goat cheese and smoked scamorza instantly transformed me into a regular. The prosciutto transformed me into a love-crazy regular. 

Before overcoming my hang-up about pork, I often paired scallops with mango. Although this is a pretty addictive combination, it isn't quite as classic as prosciutto and scallops. By roasting the scallops wrapped in prosciutto, the prosciutto crisps up and lends both a salty and crispy flavour to the sweetness of the scallops. You can make these as a little taste sensation and serve them as an appetizer, or roast a few more and pair them with a salad (with bitter radicchio perhaps) as a main.



There is still so much I want to tell you about Venice. I want to tell you about the rose petal jam made by Armenian monks on the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni. I want to tell you about the city's cicchetti and the grilled radicchio that alone has me ready to fork out the cash to buy a grill or a train ticket back. I want to tell you about the pastries I ate for breakfast and how perfect the coffee was at my neighbourhood bar. I want to tell you about spritz cynar - an alcohol made from artichokes - and how I fell in love with prosecco (especially the only nearly bubbly kind). Yes, I want to tell you a lot, but for now I hope that these prosciutto wrapped scallops will be enough.

As I write this I am back in landlocked Munich; however, just before my suitcase and I boarded the train I visited Rialto Market one last time and made these prosciutto wrapped scallops. Again. It was the third time in a few weeks and it was my parting meal. Once I find scallops in Munich that don't seem totally sad compared to the ones Venice gave me I'll surely make these again. And again. They are an impressive appetizer for friends and a simple, yet classy meal for one. Holiday fare anyone?

Once again this isn't so much a recipe. The name alone - prosciutto wrapped scallops - practically instructs you how to make them. You could add some herbs or chili or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar if you like; however, when you are lucky enough to have fresh scallops from Rialto Market and prosicutto from Casa del Parmiginao I can assure you that those two ingredients plus a little olive oil and salt and pepper are all that you could ever need.


Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops

If you are serving this as an appetizer, aim for 2-3 scallops per person and 5-7 as a main.

ingredients

fresh scallops
prosciutto
olive oil
sea salt
black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180 C/ gas mark 4.

Wash scallops and pat dry. Rub both sides with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. 

Fold a slice of prosciutto in half, lengthwise, and wrap around each scallop. 

Place the scallops on a cookie sheet with parchment paper or in a baking dish and roast for 15 minutes. The prosciutto should be crispy and the scallops opaque and firm to the touch. Serve immediately.

Guten!

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how to make vanilla extract + edible gifts


The month of December, also known as Cookie Month, generally requires a lot of vanilla. It is that one month when ingredients for cookies seem to take over shopping lists and whole grocery store aisles. Even my local organic grocer, which is rather tiny, now has an entire section just with ingredients for cookies. Germans, like most Christmas celebrating folk, take baking cookies very seriously at this time of year.

Not every cookie recipe calls for vanilla, but having heaps on stock is always a good idea. Vanilla extract is much harder to come by here in Europe. Vanilla beans are certainly the real deal and although I do love cooking with them, sometimes I'm just too lazy. Sometimes I just prefer vanilla extract. Luckily it is quite easy to make at home. All you need is alcohol of some kind (I used vodka), vanilla beans and two months time. 

I find it incredibly satisfying to make something from scratch. I imagine the feeling that I get from whisking egg yolks and oil to become mayonnaise or pulsing almonds into flour is comparable to a child who likes to take telephones apart and then put them back together. It is a eureka kind of moment, like you have figured out how the world works and you know how to put it back together should it ever fall apart. 

That said, learning how to make things from scratch can be a real tease. You finally have a living and breathing sourdough starter yet you need a few more days before you can bake with it. You have pulses soaked in water but it will be a day or two more before they sprout. And you have homemade vanilla extract in your cupboard that is getting darker and more beautiful each day, but it will be two months before you can use it!

I'm pretty sure that if you take a telephone apart you can put it back together instantly. I'm afraid to say that making things from scratch is not the same. However, demystifying foods such as sourdough or sprouts or vanilla extract is certainly worth the wait. Also, vanilla extract makes an excellent gift. If you get to it now people can use it in February and by then they'll probably be ready to bake cookies again. 


How to Make Vanilla Extract

yields 1 cup

ingredients

1 cup alcohol (I used vodka)
3 vanilla beans

Use a sharp knife to split the vanilla beans in half; however, leave about an inch at the top of each bean connected. Put the vanilla beans in a glass jar. Old maple syrup jars are excellent for this. Pour in the alcohol so that it covers the beans completely. Tightly cover the jar with a lid. Give the jar a good shake and then store it in a dark and cool place. Give it a good shake every week or so.

Age for at least two months before using. After two months you can pour the extract into smaller bottles if you wish. 

This will last for years (that is if you don't use it all for baking cookies). 

* * * *

In fact, most things that are homemade and edible make excellent gifts. Below are some other ideas. Some are gifts that can be wrapped and that will last a few weeks to even months and others are gifts that are best eaten fresh at that holiday party or the day after.

I'll be spending the holidays in Texas this year. If it wasn't for Homeland Security I would definitely be packing my suitcase full of almond butter, granola and sriracha to give to my family and friends; however, since Homeland Security considers foreign edible gifts to be smuggled goods I'll be packing my suitcase with German beer instead.


Paper Doll Parade Recipes for Edible Gifts 

For the Pantry

Fig Mustard (use a different type of fruit that is in season)

To Eat Right Away  


* * * *

Happy Holidays and Guten!

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when all cakes turn into pumpkin


The transition from autumn to winter is marked by a few routine things. Leaves go from green to red to simply bare. Markets go from selling vegetables that only need a little salt and olive oil to ones that require an oven and a good hour of roasting. And as autumn becomes winter everything that I bake seems to begin by roasting pumpkin or squash.

This pumpkin season I've already made pumpkin brownies, pumpkin ice-cream, pumpkin pie and, the star of this season, brown butter pumpkin bread. I've made all of the above more than once, but I cannot stop making this pumpkin bread. It satisfies my cravings for all things autumn and for all things comforting.


I'm back in Munich after two months in Venice. Venice pulled at my heart-strings more than I could have imagined. Before this two month stint, I had only had one-night stands with Venice and I was always left rather unimpressed. I thought that it was over-rated and that its canals were stinkier than they were beautiful. However, this time around I was smitten. My camera and I were part of the annoying crowd blocking pedestrian traffic over bridges as we couldn't stop admiring the city's views. Beyond the city itself, I became smitten with the people I shared it with and I like this brown butter pumpkin bread all the more because of who I cooked it for and who I ate it with. 

 Eating is a shared experience. Even when we prepare a meal just for ourselves it is part of a web of sharing - from the ingredients we use and how we got them (be it from a neighbour's garden to a big-box grocery store) to the recipes we follow or the cooking techniques we use. Therefore, it only makes sense that meals are often the most satisfying when they are shared. Breakfast with a friend or lover. Lunch with friends. Dinner with family. However, sharing a meal can also become complicated. Health issues, dietary restrictions and preferences can make a meal something that is exclusive rather than shared and unfortunately the sad state of our food industry has made this even more so. Never before have food allergies been so common. Robyn O'Brien, a food activist and author, has written and lectured extensively concerning food allergies and how so much food actually makes us sick. Her TED talk is a good introduction to the subject. 

I am lucky to have no problems with dairy, gluten or meat. I have no food allergies or sensitivities. All I ask is that my ingredients be honest and fair. That said, I seem to be among a small number of people who can say such a thing these days. Because I like to share meals, I'm happiest when I cook something that everyone can eat. So when a friend asked if I could make gluten-free pumpkin bread for American Thanksgiving I of course said yes. In addition to being able to include more people in the experience of sharing a meal, I find it quite the adventure to discover that I can use ingredients such as chickpeas instead of flour, brown rice syrup instead of sugar, apple sauce instead of eggs and almond milk instead of dairy. 

What makes this pumpkin bread special is chestnut flour. The chestnut flour also makes it gluten-free. You can certainly make this bread with all purpose flour or spelt, but please make it at least once with chestnut flour. You won't regret it even though I admit that chestnut flour wears a big price tag. I reckon that it would also be quite easy to make this cake vegan. Just use coconut oil instead of butter, 2 tbsp chia seeds or flax seeds mixed with 6 tbsp of water instead of eggs (just let the mixture set for 15 minutes so that it is thick enough to bind together the batter), and nut milk. Just adjust this recipe until it suits you.

Also, this happens to be recipe number 100 on Paper Doll Parade. Small victories! Yes, dear reader, I have also baked this cake for you and I'm sure that no matter your food preferences and allergies that you can eat it. However, if you don't like pumpkin there isn't much I can do (or want to do) about that. I guess you could always use bananas, but banana bread is obviously just not the same as pumpkin bread.

Regarding the type of pumpkin/squash, here in Germany I use Hokkaido squash at the Germans grow it in generous amounts. In Venice I used a green pumpkin that was grown on the island of Sant'Erasmo. It is on this island that Venice grows most of its fruit and vegetables and what gorgeous fruit and vegetables they grow! Use whatever type of pumpkin or squash makes sense where you are. As a kid I grew up eating pumpkin pies that were made from canned pumpkin so I am not one to judge. It is only because I moved somewhere where pumpkin isn't sold in a can that I started making puree at home. That said, these days I am a firm believer that something fresh and local always beats something canned. It is easier than pie to make pumpkin puree and the instructions are below.    


Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread

adapted from 101 Cookbooks

ingredients

1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, plus a tad more for the pan
1 tbsp melted coconut oil (or hazelnut or almond oil, or just more butter)

1 1/2 cups (170g) chestnut flour 
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (or freshly grated nutmeg) 
1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract) 
pinch of sea salt 

1 cup (140 g) unrefined brown sugar, plus 1 tbsp for sprinkling on top 
 2 large organic eggs 
a very generous packed 1/2 cup (130g) of pumpkin puree, instructions are below 
1/4 cup (60ml) milk (dairy, almond, rice, soy et cetera) 
1/3 cup (30 g) toasted almonds, chopped into chunks 

In a small pot over medium heat melt the butter and let it cook until it is brown and smells nutty. This will take anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the heat of your stove. The butter solids should be toasted but not burnt. Once the butter is browned, stir in the coconut oil and set aside to cool.

While you are browning the butter preheat the oven to 350F / 180C / gas mark 4. Butter a loaf pan and either dust it with some (chestnut) flour or line it with baking paper.

Combine the chestnut flour, baking soda, spices and salt in a large mixing bowl and then set aside. In another mixing bowl combine the eggs, sugar, pumpkin and milk. Once the browned butter has cooled, whisk it in with the rest of the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just combined. Fold in 3/4 of the almonds and then pour the batter into the greased pan. Sprinkle the top with the remaining almonds and 1 tbsp of sugar. 

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the center is well set. However, do not over-bake as this cake is at its most charming when moist. 

* * * * 


How to Make Pumpkin Puree

Make sure to use a small pie pumpkin. Ask your local farmer if you are not sure. Larger pumpkins are much better used for Halloween decorations than they are for pie (as the Italian sign above on the left reminds us).

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C / gas mark 4. 

If you pumpkin looks like it has just come directly from the farm, rinse it under warm water to remove any dirt. Cut the pumpkin in half with a sharp knife and then use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.

Lay both sides of the pumpkin face side down in a large baking dish and cover the bottom of the dish with about 1/4 inch of water. 

Bake the pumpkin until just tender, about 40-60 minutes. The time will depend on the size of the pumpkin. Use a fork to check if the pumpkin is done. When it is easy to pierce the pumpkin with the fork then the pumpkin is ready to puree. 

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh with a fork and then mash until completely smooth. Discard the skin.

Store the pumpkin puree in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

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Guten!

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