March 27, 2012

dark and decadent

Dear Dark and Decadent Chocolate Cake,

This was not a good hiding spot.

No, not a good hiding spot at all. You quickly morphed from a loaf into a sliver and I think it's fair to say that you can blame that on your inability to hide, from me. Yes, this is a two person household, but it only took one to finish (and start) you off. We would have made a good magic act - Aabra Ka Daabra, pop, pow, (chew - swallow), vanish. Next time you're going in the cupboard, out of plain site, at least during snack time. And let's be honest, it's always snack time, so you best get cozy between those random canned goods on the top shelf.

oh and by the way, in case you feel slighted, you should know...

your darling dearest,

This cake is similar to the raspberry flourless chocolate cake I made back around Thanksgiving, however, it's much smaller and thus doesn't demand a celebration, just a typical Monday night will do. It is amazingly dense, so much so that you can cut the thinest sliver and it won't break into crumbs. I know because I ate this cake by the 1/4 inch sliver, and that was a lot of slivers.

I made it on a Monday and it was gone, poof, by Friday. Zach helped a tiiiiny bit and so did my friend Jess, but mostly it was just me and the cake, mano-a-mano. I ate it for a snack, I ate it as an hors d'oeuvre, I ate it for dessert, I ate it for lunch and I ate it for breakfast. This cake succumbs to no social pressures or rules about when it is okay to eat cake. Just eat it when ever you feel like it, which will pretty much be all the time.

Oh and did I mention, it's super easy to make?

Gateua Therese
David Leibovitz - The Sweet Life in Paris

* The woman who gave David Leibovitz this recipe recommended that you make it two days ahead of when you want to serve it, that it improves the flavor. I have no idea how anyone waits that long, but I do remember the cake getting better with I ate it...sliver by sliver

- 9 oz / 250g bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
- 8 tablespoons/115g unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup of sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
- 2 tablespoons flour
- pinch of salt

Preheat then oven to 350ºF/180ºC. Butter a 9inch/23cm loaf pan and line the bottom with a strip of parchment paper.

In a double boiler, or bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter together until smooth.

Remove from heat and stir in half of the sugar, the egg yolks and flour

Using a mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks begin to form. Beat in the rest of the sugar and whip until the whites are smooth and hold their shape.

Use a rubber spatula to fold 1/3 of the egg whites until the chocolate mix. Once incorporated fold in the remaining egg whites just until the mixture is smooth and no white streaks are visible.

Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 35 minutes until the cake feels slightly firm in the center. Do not overbake (i take mine out at exactly 35 min). Let the cake cool in the pan. It will collapse, don't worry, it is supposed to, that's what makes it fudgy and gooey. Let it cool to room temperature before serving.

I had to escape the kitchen and the cake and so I went for a variety of long walks last week. The weather here has been beautiful, as I hear it has been a lot of other places as well. I'm sure all this March sunshine means it will snow in July, which just means I'll have to go to Southern Spain in July - no big deal.

Did I mention that this cake could easily be considered fudge. I mean look at that gooey middle! So decadent and dark and delicious. Oy! So delicious that I've made this cake three times in the last week. I'm not kidding. The first one was for me, and then I made another for Laura and Sam, and I just pulled one out of the oven a few minutes ago so I can bring it to book club tonight. This is one of those cakes that needs to be shared, and loved, and devoured.
cake and tulips and sunshine - last week was a good week!

March 20, 2012

awe and wonder

A lot of posts have been about adventures or discoveries, and others strictly about recipes or the atmosphere, but this post, this teeny tiny magical post, is about a feeling. I haven't pinned down what that feeling is exactly, perhaps it's more of an aura than a feeling anyway, but I'd have to say it's along the lines of awe and wonder (and those might be the same thing, but they bring up different emotions so for now let's just say they are different).

I think it's important that we start from the beginning, the beginning of our journey as expats. Being an expat is a truly unique experience, out of the realm of moving to a different city in your home country or traveling abroad for a semester. When you begin life as an expat you are starting from scratch, from just you and your husband and a city that you've never visited before and an apartment that you can't quite envision. This is your life, this is where you begin, without friends, without a clue, but with a whole lot of unknowns.

My biggest concern was that we wouldn't have friends. In my whole life I've never just up and moved somewhere where I didn't know a soul. 'Home' is the place I have lived sine I was two years old. I went to grade school then to high school and then to college and finally to graduate school and along that journey there were always familiar faces. And then we moved to Switzerland, just us, just me and Zach, no friends and no familiar faces. Just us. It took a little while and a bunch of first friend dates, but now we have a truly wonderful group of friends.
They are our friends, but they are also our family - our Zürich family.

If you've been/are an expat then you can understand this type of family. In some ways it was automatic, we were all reaching for the same thing, a friendship we could hold on to, a friendship that would calm the uncertainties and highlight the excitements of life as an expat.

And to think we've only known them for six months! These are the friends we spent Thanksgiving with and the friends that delivered take-out (no such thing as delivery in Zürich) when I was sick. These are also the friends that we were lucky enough to visit in the hospital just one day after they welcomed their little baby boy, Sam.

And that is where all that awe and wonder come in!

She has a baby. I mean I knew it was coming. As long as I've known her, Laura was pregnant. He was in there the whole time. But now he's out here. He is here. He was in and now he is out (this is where I begin to state the obvious, but I can't help it - awe and wonder people, awe and wonder). Isn't it amazing?

Perhaps all of this awe and wonder hit me like a freight train moving at warp speed because Laura was (he is out, he is here, incredible) the first pregnant woman I had spent a good amount of time with. I knew she was growing, I knew he was coming (obviously, he had to arrive at some point), but now he is here, and I have held him in my arms, because he is here to be held.
There simply aren't words, just an aura composed of awe and wonder and a whole lot of other magical feelings. Magical feelings that make a nonbeliever believe, believe in big lofty intangible things.

But with all of this happiness I can't help but think that this time and this Zürich family of ours is fleeting. One of the key components of expat life is the reality that this is just temporary, whether it be two, five or ten years, we will all eventually go back home. Of course as some go, others will arrive, but someday, probably shortly after he turns one and a half, Sam will leave. That little boy I held in my arms at just one day old will be able to walk onto the plane with his favorite stuffed animal in hand and fly away. Magical.

The hours between when Sam arrived and when we were able to visit him were long. I was so excited I could barely see straight. So I baked Laura and Paul some cookies. It's a recipe I learned from Laura around Christmas time (Sam was there) and it's "bangin" as Laura would say. These cookies thrive on the marriage of peanut butter and chocolate. And considering I don't think there is a better combo out there, not even mint and chocolate, I adore these cookies and their soft chewy texture with the chocolate plopped on top.
Sam's Peanut Butter Blossoms
makes about 4 dozen.

- 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 3/4 cup (185g) peanut butter, smooth or chunky (if you are in switzerland Migros makes a much better peanut butter than Coop)
- 1/3 cup (70g) light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup (70g) granulated white sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 1/2 cups (195g) all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt

- granulated sugar for coating
- chocolate pieces for topping - I used hearts but hersey's kisses are the standard.

With an electric mixer or hand mixer cream the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the peanut butter and sugars and continue beating until light and fluffy. Follow with the egg and vanilla. Beat in the milk.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and beat until incorporated. Place the cookie dough in the fridge for an hour or until hard enough to roll into balls.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC)

Roll the batter into 1inch (2.5cm) round balls. Place the granulated sugar in a small bowl and roll each ball lightly in the sugar, coating the outside. Place on a baking sheet, spacing about 2inches (5cm) apart.

Bake the cookies for about 8-10 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned. Right after you take them out of the oven put the chocolate piece on top of each cookie, pressing down gently until the cookie just starts to crack. Let the cookies cool completely on a wire wrack (you want the chocolate to re-solidify)

March 09, 2012

girls dinner & dessert

Does hosting a dinner party make you nervous? If so, then I think you and I should start a support group called 'I'm a nervous freaking hostess.' I love the idea of hosting a dinner party, but then when it actually comes time to consider possible menu options I freeze up, panic, and call off the whole idea. What is it about having people over that sets of the panic alarm? These are my friends, they aren't going to judge me if the salmon is slightly overcooked or if I don't have six matching sets of silverware, or if the apartment is a little bit dark because I still can't get my act together, or my German, to call the electrician. And heck, I cook dinner almost every night, and generally make enough food for leftovers, so what's the difference in adding a bit more and inviting a few friends to join us?

As I see it, the major dinner party issues are
1) what to cook
2) the timing of everything your cooking so that it all finishes cooking at the same time
3) how to be a good hostess while also managing the kitchen, which ultimately comes back to #1 & #2

Anyway, this week I composed my panicked self, made way too many to-do lists, and invited five friends over for dinner. Zach was in Miami all week for work, so I took his absence as an opportunity to have a girls dinner. These are my nearest and dearest friends here and I still made-lists and a time line for what to cook when. I constantly need to remind myself that when I am the guest I am just happy to be out, in someone else's home, surrounded by good friends, so much so that I certainly don't question what they are serving. Heck, serve me up some spaghetti with tomato sauce and I'll be a happy dinner guest.

Spaghetti and tomato sauce and dessert, that will be my go-to dinner party menu. I love thinking about and making desserts for a crowd. If the spaghetti doesn't appeal to you, then well good, because you'll have more room to eat dessert. I was debating between two desserts for this little fête; that decadent chocolate cake from Thanksgiving, and coffee flavored meringues with ice cream and fruit. As you can see from the picture, I chose the meringue. It just seemed appropriate for a girls dinner, a light little treat after a savory dinner.
I had never made meringues before and so I was a bit intimidated and concerned that I wouldn't know when my egg whites were 'peaky' enough or when the batter silky enough, but it all came together with ease, so much so that this recipe will go on my 'quick & easy dessert' list. The color of the batter after adding the sugar and espresso was beautiful; the creamy white of an oyster silk wedding dress. These would actually make a wonderful dessert at a wedding, perhaps a wedding where the bride and groom were tired of cutting cakes or a wedding at which either the bride or groom is gluten-free.
Coffee Meringues
Nigella Lawson, Nigella's Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home

makes 8-10

- 4 egg whites
- 1 cup superfine sugar
- 1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
- pinch of cream of tartar (I didn't have any so didn't use it and as it turned out, didn't need to)
- chopped hazelnuts for sprinkling on top (optional)

Preheat the oven to 275ºF/135ºC

Combine the superfine sugar, brown sugar and espresso powder and cream of tartar if using. If the mixture is at all clumpy (mine was) use a sieve to get out the lumps.

Whisk the egg whites in a grease free bowl (I used my kitchen-aid mixer with the whisk attachment). Whisk until they are beyond foamy and soft peaks have started to form. You should be able to lift the whisk out of the bowl and leave behind peaks that stand on their own. Once you've gotten to that point you are ready to add in the sugar mixture. While continuing to whisk add 1 tablespoon of the sugar mixture at a time until you have added all of it and the meringue is shiny and the color of oyster silk.

Line a lipped baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon out the meringue into large dollops, about 2 heaping soup spoonfuls, to give roughly 2 inch diameter meringues, aiming to create 8-10 (I had 11) in total. Using the backside of a spoon or a spatula, pull the meringues upwards as you go, giving them height and that meringue 'sweep'. Sprinkle the meringues with some of the chopped hazelnuts.

Place the meringues in the oven for about 40-45 minutes, until they are dry on the outside, but still gooey in the middle. They should be fragile to the touch. Take them out of the oven but do not remove them from the baking sheet. Once the meringues and the baking sheet have cooled to room temperature, remove them and pair them with some ice cream and fruit and enjoy!

* these are a great dinner party dessert because they can be made up to the night before and stored in an airtight container. I made them the morning of and just left them on the counter. They were delicious and a bit hit!
Don't worry, I didn't default to spaghetti and tomato sauce this time around, and we didn't just eat dessert. I was able to gather my wits about me and cook a sensible and yummy dinner. One of my favorite chicken recipes was the star the meal, but the accompaniments of polenta, green beans and a salad with Ali's tarragon-shallot dressing were all yummy, and relatively easy to make.

Chicken Marbella is a wonderful dish for a dinner party, because all you need to do is marinate it for as long as you can, ideally overnight, and then transfer it to a baking dish and stick it in the oven for an hour. Polenta is an especially apt side to chicken marbella, because it sops up all of the leftover sauce and takes on the flavor of cooked prunes and olives. Polenta can be a bit hard to time, but I recommend making it a couple of hours before you plan on serving it and when it is done, transfer it to a double boiler (with a top or plastic wrap), and it will remain soft for up to a few hours and will be ready to serve when you are. Green beans are a bit tough considering they only take a few minutes to make, but those few minutes are right before you want to eat them, so they pull you back into the kitchen and away from your chatting guests, but only for a minute. And then the salad...easy to wash and prep and make the dressing while the polenta is cooking. This tarragon dressing adds a little something extra to your basic oil and vinegar dressing, which is perfect for a dinner party.
Now that I've shared some dinner party ideas with you, hopefully making your next party a breeze, you could share some with me? I'm always eager to hear about dinner party go-tos, especially if those dishes can be cooked in my mini-Euro oven (I actually measured it the other day, its about 16" x 16.5").

In the end I realized there was absolutely no need to get worked up about dinner...but then again, maybe if I hadn't, it would have been a flop. Either way we had a really nice evening, full of chatter from Jessica Simpson (did you see this) to Rush Limbaugh and all of those crazy 'sluts' who take birth control (if you haven't watched the John Stewart segment on the Rush issue then I highly recommend it - click the 'sluts' link).

shönes Wochenende (nice weekend) !

March 01, 2012

red pepper & fennel soup

Every morning I stir oats into water and almond milk and let them warm until they've absorbed all the liquid, and then I sprinkle them with a healthy amount of cinnamon and a few raisins and sliced almonds, and then wander to our table oats in one hand and a mug of hot tea in the other. I sit down and while the tea steeps and I slowly start eating my oatmeal, I stare out the window at the building across the street, watching my neighbors partake in their morning routines. I like to call it being neighborly, but really I'm just being nosy.

Anyway, my breakfast routine is really besides the point, except the point I was trying to make is that I have a breakfast routine. I eat and do the same thing every morning. I love it. And that makes me wonder why I don't have a similar lunch routine. In fairness I'm not always home for lunch, but when I am I never really know what to eat. I don't love lunch. That was until I made this red pepper and fennel soup. It's taken twenty nine years for me to realize that I love warm food for lunch. Maybe it's because warm food is the anti cold-cut, a food item I have shunned since before I can remember. Or maybe it's just because lunch, like breakfast and dinner, is also a time for comfort and warmth. Either way, this red pepper and fennel soup, will be my new lunch routine, hopefully on a rotation with a few other soups that I've yet to discover (lentil? cauliflower? pea?).

Roasted red pepper and fennel make a wonderful pair. Somehow the sweetness of the pepper manages to both dampen and highlight the licorice flavors of the fennel. It is a subtle soup, with no one flavor overpowering the rest. It also takes to spices really well. As the leftovers were dwindling I started experimenting with a few shakes of cumin and a bit of paprika, and found I liked that taste even better than the original. I also started added leftover quinoa to the mix and like that too. Really, I guess, I just like this soup and I trust you will too.
Besides a few tablespoons of olive oil to warm up the pan and get the saute going, this is truly a vegetable based soup (the bread is for the croutons).
Beware of the immersion blender! A couple of years ago when I was busy prepping for dinner at our apartment, blending a gazillion cloves of garlic, I decided to stick my thumb in and unstick the garlic from the blade...and then god knows why, I pushed the on button with my thumb still in range of the blade, and voila thumb soup. No not really, but I did need a little medical superglue on my thumb. Considering I have the shortest thumbs known to man (someday I'll show you...maybe) it's a good thing I didn't slice the top right of. I was sure I was the only person who was stupid enough to turn it on when my finger was still in it, but then my friend's older sister told me she did the same thing, and she has the scar to prove it. So with that warning, I say, don't stick your finger near the blade.
Red Pepper and Fennel Soup
adapted from Food and Wine

- 6 large red bell peppers
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 large carrots, coarsely chopped
- 2 medium fennel bulbs, coarsely chopped
- 1 medium leek, white and tender green parts, coarsely chopped
- 1 small spanish onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed
- salt and ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

- a tablespoon or two of cumin (optional, to taste)

garlic croutons
- 6 or so thick slices of bread
- olive oil for brushing
- garlic clove, sliced for rubbing

Heat the oven to 450ºF.

Slice the peppers in half and arrange on a baking sheet, round side up. Place in the oven and roast until skin turns brown and begins to separate from the flesh. Remove from the oven and place in a plastic bag and allow to steam for 15 minutes. This will make it easier for you to remove the skin from the pepper. Once cool enough to handle peel the peppers, discarding the skin.

While the peppers are roasting, heat the olive oil in a large heavy bottom pot (I used an 8qt pot). Add the carrots, onions, leek and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occassionally until the vegetables are softened but not brown, about 10 minutes or more. Add the peppers, white wine, fennel seeds and 4 cups of water and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 40 minutes.

Once soft either use an immersion blender right in the pot, or transfer the vegetables to a blender and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and cumin if desired. Stir in the parsley and if the consistency is too thick you can thin it with a bit of water. Garnish with garlic croutons and parmesan cheese.

garlic croutons - brush your thickly sliced bread with olive oil and put it in the oven to toast until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and rub with a garlic clove that has been cut in half. Slice and serve.

*quinoa is also great with this soup - either in it, or with a bit of soup served on top.
Oh, and this is my new favorite snack/lunch...avocado on toast or cracker with salt and pepper. I could eat an entire avocado without even blinking...the same goes for a chocolate bar, which unfortunately is not source of 'good' fat, but I'm still able to convince myself it's healthy as long as it's dark chocolate. Speaking of healthy, if you are planning on spring cleaning your diet, this soup would be a great addition, perhaps a substitute for that chili you've been eating all winter long.
The weather has been phenomenal this week. I've been outside as much as possible, taking long walks just to feel the sun on my face. I'd forgotten how much I like walking around the city and exploring new neighborhoods. Forget the trams, I'll walk! Snow is apparently headed our way next week (ugh) so you can be sure I'll be sitting on a bench near the lake with my face in the sun all weekend long.