September 30, 2011

simple hummus for a simple sunday

If you're new to Zürich and you venture into a grocery store in search of mayonnaise, you will likely come out empty handed, convinced that the Swiss don't do mayo. You'll say you looked at the condiment shelves, saw the mustards, dressings and ketchups, but simply did not see a jar of mayo. That one little word, 'jar', is where you were mislead. Mayo comes in a tube, a tube that is almost identical in shape and functionality to a toothpaste tube. I kid you not (for those of us who fear mayo, placing it in a tube does not help, at all). A tube. Of mayo. Just squeeze, and out squirts a pretty little spiral of mayo onto your sandwich. Okay, enough of that. What I'm trying to say is that when you go into a grocery store in a foreign country it's not always guaranteed that they will have what you are looking for or that what you are looking for will look like it's supposed to. The mayo problem extends to yeast, baking soda and baking powder, which are all sold in individually wrapped packages. It is also true for milk, which comes in boxes, pouches or narrow plastic containers. It is not true, however, for hummus. Hummus is simply not a Swiss grocery staple and you are unlikely to find it in most of the markets no matter how many different shaped containers you look for. I'm not a hummus fanatic, but I do like it every once and awhile, and awhile happened to be this past weekend, so I set off to make some of my own.
I googled and search and did some more googling and eventually settled on an Alice Waters' recipe from The Art of Simple Food, a book that had been sitting on my shelf all along.

* cooks note: I doubled the recipe because we were sharing with friends. Doubling isn't actually such a bad idea if you aren't sharing but are still going through the hassle of soaking and then cooking the dried chickpeas - perhaps you can just give extra to a friend. Also, I added more olive oil than the recipe called for and made this adjustment in the recipe below. I just didn't find that there was quite enough for taste or consistency.

** for Zürich folks, you can get the tahini paste at Coop and I would guess at the Turkish market on Josefstrasse, behind HB. I found the chickpeas at Jemoli, but I bet you can find them at one of the larger markets

3/4 cup dried chickpeas (soaked for 8hrs or overnight - simply place in a bowl and cover with a fair amount of water)
1/4 cup tahini
1 cup fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves peeled and pressed through a garlic press
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste
ground cumin if desired

drain the chickpeas that have been soaking. Place them in a pot and cover generously with water. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Let them cook until tender, about 1.5-2 hrs

drain the cooked chickpeas, reserving the cooking water. Puree the chickpeas in a food processor or with an immersion blender until smooth, adding some of the cooking liquid (no more than 1/4 cup) to achieve desired consistency.

blend/stir in remaining ingredients. taste as you go and adjust amounts accordingly.
I was about to sit down at our dining table to enjoy a nice hummus and veggie lunch, when it dawned on me that I hadn't been outside all day. Thankfully hummus is easily transportable and I brought my lunch and a magazine to the park, where I laid out a soft cotton blanket and stretched out.
I was appalled yesterday when I realized I hadn't been outside, and funny enough, the same thing has happened to me today. I've been checking things off my to-do list and so far all of those things have been inside tasks. When you don't have to hustle out the door in the morning I guess you have to put 'GO OUTSIDE" on your to-do list.

Off I go...

September 28, 2011

wonderful three days

It was a wonderful three days. They went by too quickly, as I knew they would. That always happens with reunions and is to be expected. Kerry was here, and now she is on the shores of the Indian Ocean, writing her book in a bungalow in Mombasa. Zürich was a little layover, an opportunity for her to acclimate to the time change, soak in some fresh mountain air (which she insisted had a scent and a palpable feeling) and eat some nice haus cooking.

I actually forgot to take pictures the first two days of her visit. whooopsy daisy. I missed capturing Kerry's first bratwurst experience, which was enhanced and not diminished when she learned that bratwurst are made with veal (I think it was a bit of reverence for the baby cow). She took a second look at the meat, the mustard and the bread, and with a smile on her face ate every last bite. I missed our trip to the farmers market and our tour through the Old Town. It would also be nice to have photos of our bike ride down the lake and our subsequent beer, which we enjoyed while soaking up the last of the days sunshine, but oh well.

Although I wish I had more photos of our visit I'm also glad I didn't spend the entire time feeling like it was a 'photo shoot.' Sometimes I get caught up in photographing scenes and meals and life for the blog that I forget to just experience it. That's what happened on the safari portion of our honeymoon in South Africa, where I had to remind myself to look at the animals with my own eyes, and not just through the camera lens. So it goes. And I think it is fitting that I chose, somewhat unconsciously, to not overdo it on the photography while Kerry was here. She seeks to be present and to live in the moment. It's hard to drown out thoughts of the future, but she tries, and as a result enjoys the little moments when the rest of us might be wondering what is next.
Breakfast on Saturday was the only in-haus meal I had my camera for. It was simple, just coffee, yogurt and leftover plum cake (I've made 2 more since I posted that recipe). That's not to say we didn't sit around the dinning room table and chat while eating delicious food, we did, I just didn't photograph it. First we made pork tenderloin stuffed with apples, breadcrumbs, prunes and pine nuts, which was then doused in apple cider and baked in the oven. The pork was accompanied by parmesan risotto and followed up by a plum cake. Friday night, for a little belated b-day celebration, we made chicken marbella and polenta and enjoyed a delicious flourless chocolate birthday cake. Had there been any chocolate cake leftover we probably would have eaten it for breakfast alongside the plum cake. After all we needed some sustenance for a day in the Alps! We decided to go to Flumserburg and it was fabulous - a quick and easy trip with great views and a fun toboggan ride.
Perhaps if we had hiked up instead of taken the gondola the entire way we would have deserved the greasy and delicious mountain meal that we ate perched on the edge of the hillside. Whether it was deserved or not we ordered and ate three pork schnitzels with fries all accompanied by an extra side of rösti. When in the Alps....
Having decided not to hike up, we decided we should at least walk down and enjoy the beautiful weather. We walked until we came across a toboggan/luge ride. You sit in a sled that runs on a track and you zip down the mountain, and if your me you grip the breaks and slow down all of the people behind you.
It was a blissful three days, and now she's busy settling into life where elephants are just within reach and the vastness of the Indian Ocean conjures up wonder and amazement. To think that you can wake up with a view of the Alps and in the same day go to sleep to the hum of waves crashing on Eastern shore of Africa - it is incredible.

My initial plan was to pair these photos with some yummy baked goods, but I realized that was just too much. No need to move the focus away from what was truly a wonderful wonderful weekend. And besides the two cakes, back to back, filled up my baked good quotient for a least a few days. Kerry - COME BACK! and everyone else....just come! Fondue season is almost upon us if these mountains scenes aren't enough to lure you to Switzerland.

September 25, 2011

autumn soup (with bacon and cheddar!)

This past weekend wasn't particularly fall-ish, with it's muggy days and hazy skies, but then again it wasn't especially summery either with daylight fading before dinner was even served and chilly nights that make you thankful for a cozy comforter. The weather seems to have a hold on me these days. I think I've probably mentioned it in every post since I first 'felt' fall. No matter what the weather, it was a perfect weekend to spend exploring the city with our visitor! We went on a day trip (more on that later), we explored the flea market, we had a beer by the side of the lake and we went on a couple long walks. It was heavenly. Heavenly until I had to walk Kerry to the train and say goodbye. Off she went, towards the airport and eventually Kenya, and here I am still in Zürich. And of course she had to leave on a a Sunday, one of the more depressing days in the Swiss week, when everything is closed and the city feels deserted (aside from that weird bike/balloon fair that was happening alongside the Limmat). Obviously it was time to do some cooking, but what to cook? Ker and I had chatted a bit about our similar lunch conundrum, which is basically, 'what on earth to eat for lunch?' We both love yogurt with honey and muesli for breakfast and hot savory meals for dinner, but aren't especially keen on the cold sandwich or salad that typically make up lunch. I'm generally not a huge leftovers fan, but she convinced me, as we munched on day old risotto and pork tenderloin, that it is actually the perfect lunch. When leftovers aren't an option then it's soup for Kerry. She'll tell you that she happily ate the same lentil soup almost everyday for lunch when she was clerking in Brooklyn. It was warm and satisfying and when you include the pita that it came with, just enough to hold her until dinner, or at least until that afternoon snack.

Soup was the perfect comfort food for my mood yesterday. But I wasn't sure I'd be able to find all the ingredients at the train station grocery store, which is the only one open on Sundays. No trips to specialty stores or farmers markets, I'd be stuck with what they had, which always questionable on a Sunday because the market is packed to the gills with people, people who seem convinced that they'll never be able to buy food again. Thankfully the hoards of people left some butternut squash and apples for me and I set out to make this Autumn inspired vegetable soup.
The soup is almost entirely vegetable based. It's delicious on it's own, but for some reason I have a mental block where I can't eat soup without some type of bread, whether it's a slice, a roll or a crouton. When a soup is smooth I need some crunch. That's where the cheddar croutons come in, oh yeah, and the bacon bits! crunch crunch. The bacon and the cheddar pair well with each other, obviously, but they also pair really well with the butternut-apple flavor of the soup.
This recipe caught my eye when I saw that it started with bacon! It's from the Gourmet website.

butternut- apple soup - very slightly adapted from above recipe
- 8 slices of bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2" pieces
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 leek, chopped
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 3/4 lb boiling potatoes
- 3 medium Granny Smith apples, or other tart apples
- 1 1/2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and 1/2" pieces (3 1/2 to 4 cups)
- 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock or broth (since it's hard to find in Switzerland and expensive when I do find it, I make my own roughly based on this recipe)
- 2 to 2 1/2 cups of water
- Garnish sour cream

cheddar croutons
- 1/2 loaf of wurzelbrot (twisted bread) or whatever leftover bread you have on hand, cut into 1"x1" pieces
- 1/4 tsp of ground cumin, more or less to taste
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2/3 cup of grated cheddar cheese

Cook bacon in a heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally so that it doesn't stick to the bottom, until crisp. Spread out on a paper towel to let the grease drain, leaving roughly 2 tablespoons of fat in the pot (add vegetable oil if your bacon doesn't yield enough fat).

Cook celery, carrot, onion and leek in fat in pot over low heat, keeping the pot covered and stirring occasionally. Cook for roughly 10-12 minutes until vegetables are soft and translucent but not brown. (If you aren't a bacon fan you can always use 2 tablespoons of olive oil instead)

While the vegetable are cooking peel and roughly chop 2 apples, the potatoes and the butternut squash. Stir into the onion mix, adding the stock, water, 1tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper. Turn up the heat and once the liquid begins to boil turn it back down to a simmer and let it simmer for 20minutes until the vegetable are tender.

While your soup is cooking make the croutons. Preheat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. In a bowl mix the bread with olive oil, salt, cumin and olive oil. Place the bread on a baking sheet in one even layer. Bake the bread for 5 minutes to toast it, keep an eye on it, you just want it to be lightly golden brown. Remove from oven, sprinkle the cheese over the pieces and then place back in the oven to melt the cheese. Don't worry about the cheese that lands on the aluminum foil and not on the bread, that will turn into nice little cheese crisps.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup right in the pot. If using a blender, puree the soup in a few batches. Add additional water to achieve desired consistency. Serve hot with bacon, croutons, sour cream and some sliced apple.
The soup quickly became a vehicle through which to eat bacon and cheddar croutons. We kept refilling on the toppings without adding anymore soup. Cognizant of our expanding waistlines and of the preciousness of these fleeting summer days we went for a long walk up by the zoo. The haze obscured our view of the mountains, but it was still nice walk and a relaxing, albeit sweaty, end to a wonderful weekend.
I'm cozied up here with my second cup of coffee, but I'm thinking I should switch to ice coffee. In the time it has taken me to write this post the weather has shifted from cool and foggy to hot and hazy. And wow, I made this second batch of coffee really strong. Maybe it will propel me to actually get some things done today, or maybe it will just get me so riled up that I can't accomplish anything at all.

If you are looking for some events to put on your calendar this week be sure to visit Girlfriend Guide to Zürich, where this post is being featured as the recipe of the week. I know they have a Zürich Film Festival offer and some upcoming Girls Nights Out.

Okay off to try and check some things off the to-do list.

September 21, 2011

Birthday Crostata

I told you that other dough ball would make an appearance soon, ta-da, a purple plum crostata. And actually I only used 1/2 of that leftover dough. It's just us. No need to overdo anything here. This of course means that I still have some dough, which will be put to good use this weekend when my dear friend Kerry arrives. Zürich is conveniently located travelwise, so much so that Kerry is stopping through on her way to Kenya. Stopping through, on her way to Africa to visit friends and write her book. Wow.

Zürich is a little layover vacation, a happy accident, a bonus. The days will be carefree, but full of all of those good, heart-warming things, like talking to an old friend, going for long walks, cooking a delicious meal and then enjoying it with wonderful company. There will be an excursion into the old town and one into the Alps. I'll show her all the chocolate shops and certainly my favorite bratwurst spot, where I'll warn her about the spicy mustard and instruct her to simply eat it out of the paper, like a meat stick, no bun required.

Oh and there will be some birthday celebrations mixed in there. Mine! It's my first birthday abroad, and likely not my last. It certainly promises to be different than past birthdays, but I imagine it will still be full of joy and friends and cake!
I like to joke that my birthday is not just a day, but a month. The happy-birthday-to-moi presents begin to be purchased in late August. A new sweater here, a pair of boots there, a bike, oh and that desk is really great let's get that too! All August, September and October purchases get bundled into the birthday present category. I blame it in part on the change of season and all of the back to school fall fashions that hit the market just as my birthday is coming around the corner. This isn't a new phenomenon. It's always been this way. I'd go shopping with my mom in August before grade school and all the sudden we were birthday shopping. This year it was exacerbated by the fact that I was moving to Zürich, one of the most expensive cities on the planet, and I just had to buy things in the states and bring them over. Happy Birthday to ME!
Now instead of buying things I bake things!
Plum Crostata
dough - see recipe here

filling (for one dough ball, halve the recipe if using 1/2 the dough like I did)
17-24 Italian prune plums piums, pitted and quartered
2 Tablespoons Cassis
1 Tablespoon corn starch
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tablespoons cinnamon - more or less to taste
egg wash - egg and milk

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

In a bowl mix the plum slices, cassis, sugar, corn starch and cinnamon.

On a lightly floured surface roll out the tart dough into an 1/8" thick circle. Lift the dough and transfer to a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Starting 1" from the outside edge of the dough, arrange the plum slices in a a circular manner, moving towards the inside. Fold the dough over the sides and crimp down. Brush the dough with the egg wash.

Bake for roughly 35-40 minutes, until the crust is nicely browned.
You didn't really expect that baking would make up for lost time birthday shopping, did you? I did buy myself a little present today, see above. I spotted this herringbone cowl and I just haaaaad to have it, or rather, make it. Of course I picked a challenging project to start with, but that's typical, because I'm not satisfied with the simple stuff. I have it in my mind that if someone out there can figure out how to do it then I can do it, it is just needles and yarn after all. Those will surely be my famous last words. I've already started over four times. If nothing else I will be really good at casting on.

If we hadn't just bought a new desk and a couple new bikes and some plane tickets back to the states then I would certainly be gifting myself a sewing machine. My first project would be these linen pillows. We have four chairs and a church pew at our dinner table and while none of them have proper cushions the church pew is in need of a comfy makeover.

Happy Birthday to me and happy wednesday to you!

September 19, 2011

ratatouille tart with ricotta

I am bundled to the brim. Someone turn the sun back on please. Wool socks and long cashmere sweaters are nice, but I’d rather not be wearing them right now. I’d also rather not be drinking excessive amounts of coffee in an attempt to keep myself warm.

This current cold snap sent me into a produce panic (likely induced by excessive caffeine consumption). I’m not ready for gratin dishes stuffed with root vegetables and bubbling cheeses. I’ll eat summer fruits and veggies by the bushel if it means postponing winter for just a little bit longer.

That’s what I tried to do with this tart, stuff it with summer, but it’s a bit deceiving. It’s overflowing with summer veggies and it’s colorful and cheerful yes, but those zucchini slices are sitting on top of a buttery crust and a warm ricotta under layer. Don’t get me wrong, I really did want to make a purely summer dish, but a cold salad just wasn’t going to cut it, I needed something warm and cozy and comforting. Simply put I needed winter to be disguised by summer. And it sort of worked, but I still want a bit more summer, or at least fall.

It's Monday, which means this recipe is doubling as the 'Recipe of the Week' over at My Girlfriend Guide to Zürich. Last week I attended their Girls Night Out event at the Museüm fur Gestaltung (The Design Museum) where we were treated to a tour of the François Berthoud exhibit, given by François himself. A notable fashion illustrator (think Vogue, Channel, Dior, Cartier, etc) his works were provocative in their simplicity of color and form. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the Zürich area.

Winter is on it's way and these two pictures are proof. First there is the wool coat sitting and munching hay on the right and then there is the freestyle snowboarding run on the left. Well at least I think it's going to be for snowboarding. They've set it up right in the Wollishofen park down the lake from us. Yikes. I'll have to be sure to go check it out next weekend when the event is supposedly taking place.
The dough is easier to make by hand than you might think. Combine butter, flour and a little bit of ice cold water and you have tart/pie dough. I rub the butter/flour between my fingers until there aren't any pieces of butter larger or thicker than a US quarter/Swiss Franc coin. This ensures that the crust will be flakey and light.
This tart is composed of a bunch of layers. First the onions, ricotta, tomato sauce, eggplants, and then the spiraling veggies, then a bit more eggplant and sauce and then more spiraling veggies. You can design it however you like, the end result is apt to be the same.
Ratatouille Tart with Ricotta
* cooks note. I used homemade ricotta and homemade sauce in this tart. I was inspired by this site and this post, which we've made twice this week already. The remaining sauce and ricotta helped inspire this ratatouille tart. If you live in Switzerland and want to make your own ricotta email me because I went about it a round-about way, using muslin I found in the baby department of Manor, which necessitated a slightly different process, but with the same silky smooth cheesy outcome.

Marcella Hazan's sauce recipe
Gwyneth and Ina's ricotta recipe

tart dough - makes enough for 2 tarts, although you will only need enough for 1. You can refrigerate or freeze the second dough ball, or halve the recipe. Stay tuned for an appearance of the second dough ball on house-to-haus soon.
2 cups/240g all purpose flour
1/2tsp/2.5mL kosher salt
12 tablespoons/1.5sticks/170g cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup/120mL ice water

1 large onion or 3 small ones roughly chopped (Zurich folks - I was able to find a large one at Coop)
2 eggplants, on the smaller side, thinly sliced
2 zucchini thinly sliced
1 red pepper thinly sliced (you won't use all of it so only slice 1/2 the pepper)
1 yellow pepper thinly sliced (you won't use all of it so only slice 1/2 the pepper)
1-2 San Marzano or Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
6-8 tablespoons/120mL tomato sauce
2/3 cup/125g ricotta cheese, more or less to taste
salt, pepper and olive oil for sprinkling on tart before baking

10" tart pan with removable bottom
mandolin slicer, for those nice slice vegetable slices

Prepare the tart dough. Combine salt and flour in a large bowl. Add the butter in small chunks and integrate into the flour using your fingers. To ensure a flakey crust do not over mix. It's okay to leave some butter pieces fairly large and uneven, about the size and thickness of a quarter or franc coin. Slowly pour the water into the dough and mix with a fork. Only use as much water as you need to form the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into two balls. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour

The eggplants take a bit of prep work so while the dough is cooling begin by slicing the eggplants into relatively thin slices, about 1/8” – ¼” (3mm-6mm). Lay the slices on a paper towel, sprinkle lightly with salt and allow to sit and ‘sweat’ for roughly 30min. Pat the slices dry with a towel. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. In batches cook the slices for roughly 2-3 minutes a side, adding more oil if you need it, and then place on a plate.

While you are waiting for the eggplants to sweat you can cook the onions. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and add the onion, stirring occasionally until the onion is soft, juicy, and slightly tan in color, about 15 minutes. Place in a bowl and set aside.

Slice the remaining vegetables about 1/8”/3mm.

Lightly flour your work surface and with a rolling pin roll one of the dough discs into a rough circle about 1/8” / 3mm thick large enough to cover your tart pan. Don’t roll up and down, but rather roll out from the center, turning the dough every so often to ensure even thickness. Place the dough in your butter-greased tart pan, smooth out around the edges and trim excess dough.

Preheat oven to 375ºF/190ºC. Begin layering the veggie slices. Start with the onions, spreading them over the dough. Follow with the ricotta and then most of the tomato sauce. Place some of the larger eggplant slices, as many as will fit, on top of the tomato/ricotta/onion layers. Drizzle with the remaining tomato sauce. Starting from the outside begin to spiral the zucchini, pepper, eggplant and tomato slices in whatever order, fashion you please (I did 3 zucchini, then 2 pepper, 1 eggplant and 1 tomato, but really it’s up to you and what veggie you want to feature). Before you continue to the inner spirals add 3 or 4 more of the larger eggplant slices in the middle. Continue spiraling until you reach the center. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Place in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes. Let it cool a bit and then remove the tart plan. Best served warm.

We ate the tart for lunch, hot out of the oven, and then we went for a bike ride. We came back with cold ears and fingers and so we ate another slice of tart, as a snack. And then feeling cozy and settled in the evening, unwilling to cook up something new, we ate another slice, or two, for dinner. It was the perfect food to have around on a cold day.
'We' went on a bike ride, which means I bought a bike! We went back to the flea market this weekend and I found a blue 1980s style cruiser bike. It doesn't have a basket yet, but I'm on a mission to find one.

Okay time to reheat the tart for lunch! I'm hungry and cold. Stay warm Zürich readers!