23 December 2012

Apple Glӧgg

On Christmas Eve we will be sipping this Swedish drink under the tree, toasting to the year wrapping up and the year to come. In Nordic countries, Glӧgg (with slight spelling variations depending on the country) widely refers to a warm, mulled wine, served with a spoonful of raisins and blanched almonds at the bottom of the glass.

Many countries have a variation on mulled wine, including but not limited to: Glϋhwein (Germany, Austria, Netherlands), Vin Chaud (France), Sıcak Şarap (Turkey), Caribou (Canada), Kan Zake (Japan), Wassail (England and USA). But if you are not familiar with the culture and don't speak the language the name won't mean anything to you. That is why I love discovering cross-cultural commonalities through food and drink; they are visual representations of a culture that surpass language and communication barriers allowing one to get a glimpse of the preferences, influences, and traditions of a country, possibly even finding a familiar and common ground with his/her own culture.

There is a Swedish-inspired coffee shop in St. Gallen called Oya Bar that I enjoy visiting with girlfriends. Unlike many charming Swiss buildings in the historic center, Oya Bar has an open, airy floor space and a clean design. The staff are friendly and the shop attracts other like-minded customers looking for a cozy, informal setting to enjoy a chat with friends and a warm beverage or soup of the day. 

courtesy of atebo.ch 

courtesy of annabelle.ch 
This is where I was introduced to Glӧgg and specifically Apple Glӧgg. I would not have ordered it by seeing the name alone. It was being prepared for a woman ahead of me, and once I saw the cinnamon stick go into the glass and nuts and dried fruit added to a bowl and placed on the serving tray, that was it for me! Apple cider was the base instead of wine, and the flavor was similar to a barely-spiced Wassail, or mulled cider, something my family made during the holidays when I was growing up. But the raisins and blanched almonds were a fun addition I had not tried before. I decided it was a festive idea for the season and snapped some photos with a plan to make it at home.

I am waiting for Christmas Eve though, so my intention here is to share a few ideas for your own interpretation instead of a recipe. Anyways, I feel much more liberated and empowered when I creatively piece together a recipe rather than rigidly follow one step by step! And I want you to feel that way too.

Here is my loose plan:
Simmer apple cider (or cloudy, unfiltered apple juice) with spices and orange or cranberry juice for about an hour over low heat, covered. Once it is heated stir in a few splashes (or to taste!) of desired liqueur. Of course the alcohol could be left out if you need an alcohol-free version.

Ladle into a mug with a cinnamon stick and a spoon. Serve in a bowl on the side blanched almonds and raisins (or swap out raisins for dried cranberries if you like) so people can spoon as much as they like into their mugs.

Spices & Flavors (add any combination that sounds good to you):
  • Cinnamon stick
  • Cloves
  • Ground cardamom or smashed cardamom pod
  • Thin orange slices or orange peel (be careful not to take the bitter white part)
  • Few splashes of orange juice or cranberry juice
  • If you absolutely must, you can add some maple syrup, honey, or sugar but keep in mind you want the flavor of the spices to come through and not be overwhelmed by sweetness

  • Amaretto
  • Calvados (apple brandy)
  • Brandy
  • Rum
  • Orange liqueur

Here's to embracing variations on a familiar tradition through the eye's of another culture and finding common ground with others around the world!

17 December 2012

Avocado and Mango Salad with Tahini Vinaigrette

If you're in need of a light and refreshing, almost tropical element added to your short and dark wintry days, this salad will quickly become your new best friend. It is creamy from the tahini dressing and avocado, sweet, juicy, and slightly tart from the mango, and crunchy from toasted pine nuts. These flavor and texture elements in one bowl, contrasting and complimenting each other in a balanced way, are what elevate this salad from average to magical.

This was my welcome-to-Switzerland-for-the-holidays salad for my mom. She bravely left a pleasant 50° Fahrenheit (10° Celsius) winter behind to venture across the Atlantic only to receive a frigid welcome of -10° Celsius (14° Fahrenheit). She's such a trooper! So I wanted her to feel more at home with this bright and cheery salad. Don't worry, I also gave her a warm bowl of soup. But this salad could also be a festive and maybe unexpected addition to your holiday spread!

Avocado and mango are definitely in my Top 5 Favorites list. Fortunately, the avocados around here are pretty consistent, but to my delight recently the small, sad bin of mangos moved from the outskirts of the produce department to front and center, multiplying in volume. I figured they must be pretty tasty, and I decided to snatch up a few without yet knowing what I would do with them.

Few of us are lucky enough to live right where avocados and mangoeare grown. So, let's get one thing straight about buying locally when it comes to these two wonders. I buy seasonally and locally as much as I can. For one, I want to feel connected to the natural rhythm of nature and enjoy the peak freshness of produce. I also want to support small-scale local farmers to ensure their ongoing success and show my appreciation for having access to produce and dairy products cultivated and produced in a way that is friendly to the environment, animals, and our bodies. BUT, there are two exceptions. I will shamelessly buy mangos and avocados wherever I am and in whichever season I find myself, assuming the cost is still reasonable and they are ripe and tasty. Hypocritical? Maybe. But will you care after trying this salad? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Fortunately some mango varieties (i.e. the common thick-skinned mangoes often sold in super markets) are grown year around in some parts of the world. Same goes for avocados. But if mangos are not looking good or not available in your market right now you can substitute segments from a few oranges or blood oranges.

And if you live in Northern Europe or the Midwestern/Northern U.S. and are really desperate for a tropical reprieve you can substitute toasted, chopped macadamia nuts for pine nuts. But most importantly you want the nutty crunch, so when it comes down to it any old toasted nut will do.

Cheers to magical salads!

Avocado and Mango Salad with Tahini Vinaigrette
Serves 4 as a side salad/2 as an entrée salad

Notes: I added crumbled feta the first time I made this, but I didn't think it was necessary and chose not to include it in the recipe. The salad is arguably better without, but I will leave that decision up to you.

Tahini Vinaigrette
1 Tbsp. tahini paste
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
Splash of apple cider vinegar
Drizzle of honey
2 Tbsp. mild olive oil, walnut oil, or avocado oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 large ripe but not overly ripe avocado, diced
1 medium ripe mango (or 1/2 large), sliced in long thin strips then halved
Several big handfuls Mache leaves (or other tender greens like Boston/Butterhead or baby spinach)
3 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted

In the bottom of a large serving bowl, mix all ingredients for the vinaigrette. Taste and adjust the level of acidity and sweetness to your liking. Remember, you want the vinaigrette to be slightly more acidic at this stage because the flavor will be diluted a bit once tossed with the salad.

Add salad ingredients and toss gently with salad servers or two large spoons. Serve immediately!

08 December 2012

Offerings From Cinque Terre: Part II - Quick Brioche Minis

I really don't know where the last year has gone, but the holidays are upon us once again. What are you doing to prepare?

Thanks to my husband our house is now festive and cheery; lights hang across our windows, our silver and red table centerpiece found its' way to the dinning table, and a few Santa figurines are standing watch around the house. We took a day trip to Konstanz (southeastern Germany border) to visit our first Christmas Market and met up with friends who drove up for the day as well, where (to our surprise, and theirs too) they got engaged! We all came back that night to toast under our newly strung lights to their engagement and to having partners in life.

These Quick Brioche Minis are another reason to celebrate this holiday season. Little parcels of decadence that come together quickly and make for a great holiday gift to a neighbor or friend or allow for a break in the day to gather people together for an afternoon treat with a bottle of bubbly. Really people, we don't need a grand excuse to enjoy Champagne or Prosecco!

These treats were another creative product from our fall holiday at the Cinque Terre B&B (read Part I here) that I made a mental note to make. Our hostess, Laura, made these for our breakfast on the last day. The first bite of the pastry delivered a soft, subtly tangy, and buttery dough with a not-too-sweet local berry jam rolled up inside. It was rolled perfection. But as this was baking and required more exact measurements, I knew I had to ask for the recipe. Laura came out of the kitchen and in one fluid breath explained you mix together equal parts flour, ricotta cheese, and butter with a little sugar, no salt, and then roll the dough out. That was it. When I asked for the name, she said it didn't have one but then said, "I guess I'll call it a quick brioche". Brioche is a characteristically rich and buttery yeast bread, so this name made sense to me as the pastry obviously had A LOT of butter. 

In anticipation of the approaching holiday and wanting to share an idea for a balanced but indulgent treat, I went to work recreating this at home. I experimented with the proportions and used half the amount of butter called for and swapped regular white flour (all-purpose) for a combination of spelt flour and whole wheat pastry flour to provide a less refined, more substantial base. Of course all white flour,  a combination of white and whole wheat pastry flour, or a whole-grain gluten-free flour mix can be substituted. Nevertheless, this is a wet dough so you will want to work quickly and continue flouring the surface, dough, and rolling pin to prevent from sticking when you roll out. Use your favorite jam filling or sweet spread. I used strawberry jam for half of the recipe and Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut spread) for the other half. Nutella was my favorite and I would highly recommend it here.

Quick Brioche Minis
Serves 28-32 minis

3/4 cup spelt flour (I used light spelt flour)
1/4 whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup ricotta, at room temperature
8 Tbsp. butter (113 grams), at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar

Your favorite jam and/or Nutella

Icing sugar to finish

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit (180° Celsius)
For the dough, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment mix together all ingredients until just combined. Be careful not to over mix. Pour out onto a floured work surface and bring dough together with your hands, forming a ball and flouring the dough as needed so it has a smooth, non-sticky surface. Divide dough in half. Set one half aside and roll out the other half to ~1/4 inch thickness. Rotate dough after every few rolls and flour the surface and dough as needed to prevent from sticking.

Cut 2 strips down and 2 strips across to yield 9 squares. Cut diagonally across each square to form ~ 16-18 triangles. (This is simply a guide, so make as many squares as you would like).

Spread a thin layer of jam or Nutella on each triangle and roll dough towards the pointed end. Place rolls on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15-17 minutes, or until the tops are just beginning to get lightly golden.

While the first set bakes repeat steps with the other half of the dough. Transfer cooked minis to a cooling rack and serve warm with a dusting of icing sugar.

02 December 2012

Simple Tomato Soup with Orzo

Sometimes we need something for dinner that is simple and quick but still comforting. Friday was one of those days. It is unofficially officially winter here. We are enjoying our second snow of the season already, and after two days of relentless snow fall, an accumulated foot+ of this powdery goodness is now piled up in our corner of the world. Admittedly I was waiting in excited anticipation for the snow to begin. It is absolutely gorgeous to look at and provides a great backdrop for winter sports. And now that it has fallen I look across the valley and I hardly recognize the city anymore with it's new winter outfit. It has literally been transformed into a winter wonderland.

If you could not tell already, I really enjoy winter and snow. But there are a few downsides, as there is to anything worth loving. The change in barometric pressure can trigger some pretty harsh headaches and the snow prevents me from getting around town by bike safely (my main form of transportation), leaving me with the option of taking the bus. Swiss public transportation is probably the most reliable in the world so this is a perfectly feasible option, unless of course you are running late for your last day of German language class and you cannot rely on your bus to also be running late!

So by Friday night after two days of snowfall and dropping temperatures, you can imagine how this soup came in handy. The recipe is adapted from Ina's cookbook noted above. I don't own it but had a peek at it's content on Amazon. Ina is a trusted source for foolproof and simple but delicious recipes, so I'm not surprised she came out with this cookbook. I added sweet and rich balsamic vinegar to balance the tomatoes' acidity and buttermilk for richness instead of cream, which worked beautifully in the soup.

It wasn't until I sat down and slowly, methodically started to slurp up the soup that I realized how much of a calming effect it had on me and decided I should share it with you. My headache dissipated, I finally felt like I could wind down from the week, and suddenly everything was right in the world again.

Simple Tomato Soup with Orzo

Serves 6

Notes: Serve with a grilled cheese sandwich. I enjoy whole grain bread with gruyere cheese and whole grain mustard. Ina suggests making grilled cheese croutons. Cut the grilled sandwich in small cubes and top individual soup bowls.

3 Tbsp. good olive oil
3 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (I used canned whole, peeled tomatoes because that's what I could find)
1 (15-ounce) can crushed or diced tomatoes
Salt and black pepper
3/4 cup whole wheat orzo or other small, short-cut pasta (or stir in cooked brown rice at the end)
1 cup buttermilk

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Deglaze the pan with balsamic vinegar, and stir onions to coat. Add the stock, tomatoes, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

If using whole or diced tomatoes puree soup with a hand blender or transfer, in batches, to a food processor or blender and puree. Return soup to pot and bring back up to a gentle boil.

Add orzo to the soup and stir to make sure it does not stick to the bottom. Cover and cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally and checking that the soup stays at a gentle boil, until orzo is cooked through but not mushy (it should be al dente).

Stir in the buttermilk and simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Serve with grilled cheese or grilled cheese croutons.