Sunday, June 24, 2012

Aprikosenkuchen (say that five times fast)

Before anything else I just have to say FORZA AZZURI! Which is Italy's soccer team cheer. Italy played an AMAZING game today and a lot of the cred goes to this guy Buffon the goalie for Italy. Italy now moves on to the semi-finals against Germany on Thursday. As it just so happens Germany is where today's recipe originated (see what I did there?)

In my time traveling around I spent a decent period in Germany chilling with a super-special friend, who I will call the Deutsch Dude (with his blessings). Deutsch Dude and I were caught in a spot of rain given that it was the middle of that transition period between (*^@*$& cold winter and beautiful frosty spring. What better way to pass the time than to make some food?

Our scientific, and the best, way to decide just what kind of food to make was done by the following simple steps:

  1. Open up all food related cabinets in the house
  2. Pull out everything that seems remotely appetizing OR that could be transformed into something remotely appetizing (cans of fruits and vegetables, noodles, seasonings, flour, etc.)  A warning those who have too grand an imagination should delegate this step to friends because the things creative people find usually get stomped upon by Step 4.
  3. Google in your specific items with generic terms like "stir-fry" or "cake" along with "recipe" and review your results
  4. Determine your level of dedication to making good food (are you really looking to make a wedding cake here? or is this a temporary fix of boredom?)
  5. Determine your level of dedication to cleaning up after making the food (we may have overlooked this step in our planning...)
  6. Weight all levels of dedication against the desire for the food, until you find that optimal recipe for something yum
We found some cans of apricot halves and searched the interwebs, in both English and German so as to get the most bang for our techno-buck. We came up with some wonderful recipes, absolutely astronishingly complicated recipes, all of which I was saying "oh my gosh let's do that!!!"  But Steps 4 and 5 curtailed my outlandish enthusiasm. Deutsch Dude then found this recipe from user Nike2046 for Aprikosenkuchen which is literally translated to Apricot Cake (gotta love the German language). 

my breakfast every morning last August
Easy-Peasy Baking
German cakes are easy, easy, easy. I think (not positive), but I think that this is because the historic love that Germany has for baked goods. But, Germany also has a large working population (women and men), so there can't be a ton of time available for baking from scratch. Therefore the companies like Dr. Oetker have created a standard for baking based off of packets of yeast, sugar, and flavorings. One of my roommates in Shanghai actually worked for one of these German companies and would go around Asia demonstrating the simplicity of using their products when making breads and cakes. This was THE BEST, because he would come home every night with a box of fresh baked German bread. 

I have not tried this recipe in the microwave, but have it on the list and am sure it's possible given the success of the microwave chocolate cake. So, if you are home or somewhere with an oven, or even if you want to give this a go in the microwave (let me know if you succeed and I'll post your recipe with your credit etc.), then here is the lightly sweet, juicy and warmly buttery Aprikosenkuchen.

Here is my and Google's (decently) translated recipe for your apricot cake:


1 1/4 sticks of butter
5/8 cup of sugar 
1 half a lemon's zest
3 eggs
1 cup and 2 teaspoons of flour
1 packet baking powder*
3 cups of apricot halves (if canned strained and somewhat patted dry)
1 packet vanilla sugar*

*for the baking powder and sugar you're looking for the Dr.Oetker or similar brand of packets which can be found in a decent number of grocery stores. They look like the pic above. You can substitute for them, but the mix will be slightly different.

- Grease the cake tin, sprinkle with flour! (I kept the original exclamation mark)
- Cream the butter and then add the sugar with the vanilla sugar and the eggs alternating between the two.  
- Beat in the lemon zest. 
- Sift the flour and baking powder together.
- Then mix the flour into the butter mixture along with (this part is kinda unclear) some milk? They don't give a measurement here, so I would say splash some milk in until the batter is spreadable.
- Spread across a baking pan (I think 9x9 would be about the right size, but use your judgement) 
- Place the apricot halves, pit-side down evenly spaced on top of the batter. Do no press on them, as the halves will sink during baking. 
- Bake at 325 degrees 30 minutes (roughly) 
- Remove cake once baked, and allow to cool. Before serving sprinkle the top with powdered sugar.

This is the original cake that the Deutsch Dude and I made with two-ish recipes worth of batter/apricots. We ate some with tea that afternoon, left for a day, and when we returned 3/4s of it had disappeared. The rest of the household didn't even try to pretend they hadn't decimated our cake, and finished it off later that day. What I'm trying to say is that this simple cake is a winner, so go make yo'self some!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dragons in the Water

photo credit:
As you all know, I'm returning from a two year delinquency. Know that I took photos with the intention of blogging here, but more often than not was blogging about things not food here. But I'm back and here is the first of many recaps of the great food experiences I've had in the somewhat recent past.

The Story:
Last spring I was in Shanghai and happened to get there just in time for the Dragon Boat Festival, a big to do that spans the fifth week of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. There are a lot of stories about the origin of the festival, or 端午节, but the story I was told was that there was a poet of significant importance who was exiled during a political upheaval. Distraught and set by a duty of defeat, the poet threw himself into a river next to his town to commit suicide. But, the poet was greatly loved by the people in the town, so they set out after him in dragon boats to save him. The boats did not get there in time, and the poet drowned. Therefore, every year dragon boats are raced out to save the poet drowned hundreds of years ago. (checkout Philly's festival from last year here)

The Yum:
Which brings us to this blog's favorite thing about festivals: the food. The Dragon Boat Festival really only has one traditional food called the zongzi (the z is pronounced kind of like "ts") or 粽子. Zongzi are made of glutinous rice typically filled with pork, but I've seen them with salmon, beans, or sometimes nothing. I'll quickly clarify so that you aren't surprised if you go to China and try these: pork is more often than not pork fat. Actual meat is kind of rare, in part because the fat is considered the really good part of the pig. If someone gives you the pork fat from a dish, recognize that it's a kind act and you should eat it. Probably it will be kind of weird to eat at first. For example, it took me weeks to be able to swallow pork fat, because I was raised in such a low fat, low salt household (I write that while eating a Chicago deep dish stuffed pizza, but still...)

How It's Done:
I have never made zongzi, but here's the basic idea: You take a bamboo leaf, which is a pretty long thin thing, and fold the corners in at the end so that you have a kind cone/pyramid scene going on. Holding that pyramid so that it stays in that form, fill it with raw glutinous rice and your filling until you hit around the top of the pyramid. Then you fold the leaf around the the filling keeping the pyramid form. When you reach the end of the leaf, tie and knot a string around it so that everything stays put. You then boil them to get the final product.

And More:
The zongzi I have here were given to me by my absolutely amazing roommate in Shangahai, who is the sweetest girl you will ever meet. Her mother like many Chinese mothers feared that her daughter, a victim of her generation and therefore unable to cook many classic Chinese foods, would be without zongzi that year and thus sent her tons of them frozen. Which meant that I ate a lot of zongzi. That was fine by me, as glutinous rice is one of my favorite foods. I don't know how to describe glutinous rice if you've never had it,  but know that it is kind of chewy and that it sticks to absolutely everything. I tried to eat a zongzi a few weeks ago while totally jetlagged and end up with rice on my chair, the table, my sleeves, a bit in my hair... not a proud moment of dining, but that stuff is really good at gluing itself everywhere.

I will see if I have time to try and make this microwave style later this week (though don't hold your breath) and will report back if I do. This year's Dragon Boat Festival runs from June 22 to June 29, so if you can, find or make some zongzi and join China in celebrating 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Blues Chews

It's only been...not quite 2 years, right? Not terrible.

My excuse is that I've been traveling around the world a lot. That means that I'll be catching you all up with food available in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Thailand, Germany and more. Right now though a quick intro to the bluesy world of Chicago and two Soul Food items I picked up at the Chicago Blues Festival.

So first a bit about Blues and Chicago. Blues is Chicago, Chicago is Blues. They go hand in hand as the blues poster and blues harmonica-playing-roommate sitting next to me attest. Chicago is where blues really was born in the swinging jazzy 20s when the Great Migration began from the south. The smooth, super sexy saxes and heart-yanking bass with the simple tskdadadsk of drums, poured over with gospel shouts of problems with my man, and you've got blues.

What to eat with your Blues you ask? Soul food, baby.

Started with some Mustard Fried Catfish from BJ's Market & Bakery. I lucked out with just outta the fryer hot, hot, hot catfish. It was AMAZING. That crust was that rough, crunchy, salty, and full of flavor all over sweet and just soft catfish. Smothered in hot sauce and honey-mustard.  My vote is for the honey-mustard. So, if you're in Chicago check BJ's Market out.

OK, next up from Reggies (not sure if this is the 
right website) the classic, the one, the only mac and cheese.  Alright, when I first got it, especially because I had just gotten that exceptional catfish for the same price, I was thinking this was not a good investment. It was watery, and only kinda warm, and I wasn't really sure what the red was. 

BUT, a few bites in I was sold. This is not your thick and totally melted to liquid cheese M&C. This was sweet cream with gooey still tangible cheese with, still not sure but I think, paprika on top. If I had it again, I might throw some hot sauce on top, but all in all very solid soul. 

I'll be updating some more, and before two years have passed again, to give you the tasty bits of my trips around the world. In the meantime, what have you been up to recently? Let me know in the comments.