Ah, European food…..
Well. That depends on where one is.
Recently, I spent some time abroad (which you would know if you followed me on Twitter…).
It was grand – except for the work part, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss. Yes, there were lots of cute Germans (I was surprised too!!), but the interesting parts were the food and the culture – not just in Germany, but my whole week was permeated with all things European. And I don’t just mean the hangover that followed me home (Bitburger!! Oy!!).
My first culinary adventure was on my first night in Germany. I am ashamed to admit that I did not know Weinerschnitzel was veal. I know, I know. How can I call myself a foodie?! Well, judge me later.
It was fine. The Bitburger was good.
The next night we had a lovely champagne reception – and then brats. Now, let me say a few things about bratwurst. I lived in the Midwest for 10 years (give or take). I have had lots of brats – well, by “lots” I mean a few a year. I’ve had brats boiled in beer. I’ve had brats grilled. Let me say this: Midwestern brats (no offense Midwesterners) do not hold a candle to true, real, German brats. They were yummy. Not too spicy, not bland, very flavorful. Paired with a great potato salad, dilly, yummy, awesome.
Of course, to drink there was lots of Bitburger.
The next couple of days were kind of a blur of beer, scotch, beer, and, oh yes, beer.
This is where I would like to mention that apparently the English do not know who Jerry Lewis is.
Did I mention I had a lot of beer? Did I mention that I was drinking with a load of English blokes? Warning, the English can drink. And, they do not know who Jerry Lewis is. Did I mention this? I mentioned it several times, while there, I’m told.
In the midst of all the flowing beer (German hefeweis is not the same as American hefeweis. Just so you know.), an American insisted I was English.
I am not English. Is it wrong that I thought this was a compliment? An Englishman said to me, just then, “Well, you look English.” I know this is not about food, but it made me happy, in a weird way.
My last night in Germany we had dinner , and I had something predictably heavy. But, what I want to share with you is this:
Photo: me (wanna use it – why I can’t imagine – you gotta ask first)
My friends, it was Spargel season in Dusseldorf. What is Spargel? Nothing more than white asparagus. Apparently, through the end of June, white asparagus is godly.
But, look closely, do you see that? You can have your white asparagus – excuse me, ahem, Spargel – with whipped cream. Strawberries. Ice cream.
Back the truck up. Why the fuck would anyone, German or otherwise, want whipped cream with their asparagus? Asparagus is not one of those versatile savories, like, oh, salt, that pairs well with sweet. Trust me. I tried it. I nearly lost my Bitburger (oh, you thought that was forgotten? Oh, no. I was still *in* Germany, you see.).
I tried the Spargel with hollandaise (quite good actually). I tried Spargel with strawberry (sans whipped cream, I’m not deranged).
Have I mentioned that I do not like asparagus?
Nope. I don’t. I can tolerate it. I will eat it because it’s good for me. But the taste? Ew. I like to think I have a refined palate, but the 7 year old in me just tastes it and thinks of the smell of asaragus-pee. I know, mature (and I wonder why I’m single??!).
Still, when in Rome , er, Dusseldorf, one must eat as the locals do. I can now say, I have. Check.
The European adventure continued, though. I went to the grocery store. Where I saw this.
Photo: me. Hell, you can use this one if you want. Just credit me, will ya?
Yes, that’s right. African Cream. With a leopard on the front. And, the best part, the bottle was fuzzy. Cha-ching!
This was for real – and I would have purchased it if it weren’t 14 Euros. I’m guessing it was like Irish Cream, only darker, richer, more Saharan. I should have bought it.
Shortly after I snapped this photo, the grocery store guard (yes, guard) smiled at me and asked if I spoke French. Bien sur!
I do not know why he asked me that. But, we proceeded to have a conversation . It went like this (except in French):
Him: “I saw you taking the photo of the alcohol.”
Me: “But, yes, why not? It was interesting.”
Him: “Yes. Are you German?”
If I were German, wouldn’t we be speaking German?!
Me: “No. American.”
Him, excitedly: “Oh! I used to work with some Americans! A few years ago! …something, something, something…But it closed! I do not know why.”
Me: “Oh. Well. Have a good night!”
So. I was mistaken for an English woman and a French -speaking German. Not a bad week.
I wrapped up my week by cooking a couple of things (See? You knew we’d get back to food at some point). To round out the European theme, and because I was severely jet-lagged, I snagged a super easy , and yummy recipe from hot Brit Nigella Lawson.
It looks a little strange, but those are shrimp in black rice with an asian dipping sauce. Super easy, very simple, satisfying and quite good. Perfect for a hot Summer night. I highly recommend it. You can find the recipe in Nigella’s cookbook Forever Summer.
I closed the weekend (Father’s Day) by cooking up something for dear ol’ Dad. My dad (Stepdad really, but he’s my dad, nonetheless) is French. One of his favorite family recipes is what he and his Provencal sister who taught it to me call Ratatouille. Note – there is no eggplant in this Ratatouille. It’s damn good though, and I know better than to argue with a Frenchwoman about what makes a true Ratatouille. So, eat this et tais-toi.
It’s best hot, of course. 😉
I serve it over whole wheat cous cous.
garlic (fresh or jarred, whichever you prefer)
onion (I prefer a sweet vidalia)
large sweet red peppers (about 4)
fresh tomatoes – I love tomatoes, so I use a lot, anywhere from 6-10 depending on the volume I want to produce
1 large can of stewed tomatoes
small can of tomato paste
herbs of choice (I use, marjoram, oregano, basil, sometimes thyme, occasionally rosemary)
eggs (one per person served)
in a large , deep, heavy bottomed skillet, add olive oil, an entire diced onion, and a clove or two of minced garlic. cook over low heat until the onions are browned.
the peppers should be very thinly sliced – much thinner than a julienne. slice them into strips as thin as you can make them. This isn’t critical but helps with the cooking time. Add them, plus about a tablespoon of salt, to the pan.
still over low heat, cook the peppers, onion, garlic combo until the peppers are watery and reduced (about an hour or so). I cover the pan at first and then leave uncovered to let the liquid evaporate.
after about an hour and a half, add diced fresh tomatoes, canned stewed (preferably diced), and salt and herbs to taste.
continue cooking, uncovered (stirring and tasting periodically)until most of the liquid is evaporated and the consistency is very thick , almost, but not quite, like a sauce.
taste, add more salt or herbs if you like.
Just prior to serving (as mentioned, I like over whole wheat cous cous), crack one egg per person served, over the top of the ratatouille, and cover until the eggs are poached.
Serve a healthy portion , plus a poached egg, over cous cous, and enjoy.
P.S. If you happen to know any hot, single chefs (Brits a bonus), send them my way. You know how to reach me. 😉 (Knowledge of Jerry Lewis not mandatory)
A la prochaine…