Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas: Traditions and Gemütlichkeit

For the first time in about seven years we have snow for Christmas.  It began to snow on Christmas Eve morning and now, Christmas Day, it is still snowing.  It is calm and beautiful.  We shall be at home to enjoy the beauty through our windows.

We have celebrated 4th Advent with the Christmas celebration now upon us.  The Christmas season means special food prepared at home for the family.  Though our family is in Canada and far away, we shall enjoy all our traditional food as always.  Christmas Eve (Heilig Abend) means Coquilles St. Jacques as well as wieners and potato salad for us.  They certainly don't go together but we have compromised and do have both.  First, the scallops; then after a short break, the wieners and potato salad.

The wieners are not the type one gets in North America, although they are similar.  The German variety is longer, breaks off crisply when you bite into it and has a different spicing.  Generally, you just hold one in your hand and dip the end into a medium or sharp mustard and take a bite.  If eating at a kiosk, you will be served a Brötchen with it (a roll or bun), which is crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. The wiener is not placed inside the Brötchen; both are eaten separately.

Hans demonstrates how one dips the wiener into the mustard (shown on the side of the plate).  No Brötchen today for lunch.

It was the tradition in Hans' family, as in the majority of families in the area in which he grew up--the Mark Brandenburg just east of Berlin--for wieners and potato salad to be served on Heilig Abend.  That tradition was continued for his children who grew up in Canada and western Germany.  As they always celebrated Christmas Eve the German way, with the 24th being the most anticipated of all the Weihnachtstagen (Christmas days), it meant an easy and fast meal--the potato salad made ahead and the wieners taking only minutes to heat and cook--before the children saw their decorated tree for the first time, their toys around it and before the opening of their gifts.

Hans' potato salad, made a few hours ahead, using broth and not mayonnaise

The mustard is shown on the plate to the right of the potato salad.  This was a medium German mustard.

I grew up the Canadian way with Christmas Day, the 25th, being the most anticipated day for children, as that is when we saw our tree with all the gifts and toys surrounding it.  And, of course, we also had our huge goose or turkey dinner on that day.  The 24th, however, was an important and exciting day for us as well, one that always included a special Christmas Eve supper, though not always the same food each year.  We didn't have Coquilles St Jacques; that was a tradition I started with my children.  I had certainly grown up eating scallops as the Maritime provinces are well known for them as well as other mollusks and crustaceans.

The raw scallops at left have the coral attached.  Hans likes the coral very much, though I prefer mine without it.  These were bought in France, where the coral is considered a delicacy.

Digby, Nova Scotia, where scallops are renowned, is only 40 minutes west of our summer place.  During our time there we can buy fresh scallops on the town dock, at a fish store along the Bay of Fundy, from the back of a fish truck that sets up in the towns (or delivers personally) and, of course, at the supermarkets.  Here in Germany they are more difficult to come by, though they can be found.  

We always go over to Alsace, France before Christmas to buy ours.  (It is just a half hour's drive, which includes a five-minute ferry ride across the Rhine River.)  While there, we might buy cheese and red wine as well.

The picture on the right shows part of the fish counter at the medium-size supermarket we shop at in Rhinau, in the Alsace.

The first time I had Coquilles St. Jacques was in Marville, France in about 1962 at a special Air Force dinner.  The scallop shells were edged with pureed potatoes, slightly golden in colour, with the most delicious mixture of scallops and mushrooms in the centre, covered by a delectable sauce.  I still remember that dish.  A few years later, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, our next door neighbour, Sylvia May, gave me a recipe for it, one she made each year for Christmas.  I made it and liked it; later, however, I found the recipe that I have been making ever since.  There are faster recipes for this dish, but this is the best I've had.  It is from Time-Life and The Cooking of Provincial France, a recipe book I have used many times over the years for other things as well, including roast chicken and Boeuf Bourguignon (both superb).

I have made a few changes in my scallop recipe since then.  Sometimes the ingredient amounts are different, but it is the same basic recipe.  I still use butter and cream and eggs. 

The picture below left shows the scallops and mushrooms before the remaining sauce was placed over them.  The picture on the right shows the sauce covering them.

The just baked Coquille below.

Here is the recipe as I make it:

Coquilles Saint-Jacques a la Parisienne (Scallops in a white wine sauce)  
To serve 6  (I halve the recipe for the two of us and make smaller portions so we then have four Coquilles, two for Christmas and two for the freezer.)

1-1/2 cups fresh or canned chicken stock
1-1/2 cups dry white wine (Riesling is preferable)
3 to 4 green onions (scallions) or shallots, sliced
3 celely tops with leaves, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 to 4 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
10 whole peppercorns
2 pounds large scallops, cut into 1/2 inch slices; halve them or leave whole if small
3/4 pound (12 oz/375 grams) fresh mushrooms, sliced

Sauce Parisienne
4 tablespoons butter (unsalted)
5 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream (or more if needed)
2 to 3 drops lemon juice (or to taste)
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Grinding of white pepper
1/4 cup or more grated Swiss cheese (I use more and a combination of Emmental and Mozzarella)

Butter six scallop shells or oven-proof baking dishes and set them on a baking sheet.  The shells can be bought at many stores in the dishware department.  They add an authentic touch to this dish.  Preheat the oven to 375F/190C.

Method:  In a heavy large saucepan, bring the stock, wine, green onions, celery tops, parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes.  Strain the bouillon through a sieve into a large enamel or stainless steel skillet or frying pan.  Add the scallops and mushrooms; cover and simmer for 5 minutes.  Do not simmer any longer as you want the scallops to remain soft and not overcooked.  Transfer the scallops and mushrooms to a large bowl.  Quickly reduce the remaining bouillon to 1 cup.

Sauce:  In a large stainless steel saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat.  After the foam subsides, lift the pan from the heat and stir in the flour.  Place back on low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or so.  Do not let this brown.  Remove the pan from the heat and slowly add the reduced bouillon and the milk, stirring constantly.  Return to high heat and cook, stirring the sauce with a whisk.  You don't want it to burn on the bottom.  When it thickens and comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer slowly for one minute.

Mix the egg yolks and 1/4 cup heavy cream together in a small bowl.  (I do this beforehand.)  Stir into it 2 tablespoons of the hot sauce.  Add 2 more tablespoons of sauce, then whisk the now-heated egg yolk and cream mixture back into the remaining sauce in the pan.  Bring the sauce to a boil over moderate heat, stirring constantly; boil for about 30 seconds.  Remove the pan from the heat and season with the lemon juice, salt and pepper.  The sauce should coat a spoon thickly; if too thick, thin it with cream.

Discard any juice that may be under the scallops and mushrooms in the bowl.  Then pour in about 2/3 of the Sauce Parisienne over the scallop mixture and stir together carefully.  Spoon the mixture into the buttered shells or baking dishes.  Cover the mixture with the remaining sauce and sprinkle liberally with cheese.  Note:  Hans likes capers in his as he says it adds flavor and a little pizzazz; they should be added to the shells along with the scallops and mushrooms before covering the mixture with the sauce and cheese.  (I prefer mine the classic way, without the capers.)

Bake the Coquilles in the top third of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese melting.  Then slide them under a hot broiler until the cheese is golden brown if wished.  (Serve these as a first course.)  Place the scallop shells on a luncheon plate with a lemon slice on the side and a sprig of parsley for decoration.  If so desired, you can edge the scallop dishes with pureed potato.  Both the cheese and the potato should be golden when cooked.  I don't add the potatoes but it does make a nice presentation and is more filling, especially if having no other dish to follow it.


For wine, we drank a Riesling Auslese halbtrocken (not dry and not sweet; literally, half dry) from Partenheim, a gift from Hans' son and family.  It was perfect with the Coquilles.  On the side, we had buttered toast points.

Lighted candles on our tree on Christmas Eve

A picture from a TV show on Christmas Eve, in a church in Bavaria.

For us, Christmas Day means goose and all the trimmings, which we shall have this evening.  

Merry Christmas!  Frohe Weihnachten!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent: A Time for Contemplation and Celebration

Advent is the period in which we anticipate and prepare for Christmas Day, the holy day of Christians around the world.  Though it is a religious period in celebration of the birth of Jesus, it is also a time to enjoy those weeks leading up to Christmas.  It is historically the beginning of the Church year for most Western churches and begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, nearest 30 November, and ends on Christmas Eve, 24 December.  (Should Christmas Eve be on a Sunday, it is the fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve itself begins then at sundown.)

The Advent wreath is thought to have been first used as a Christian devotion in the Middle Ages.  The design was borrowed from the customs of pre-Christian people, primarily Germanic and Scandinavian, who used candles and greenery as symbols during the winter to represent light and life.  Today, the candles symbolize Christ's coming into the world.  As a child growing up in Prince Edward Island the word "Advent" was not used, except perhaps in the church.  We didn't know the Advent wreath, though we did place wreaths made from spruce boughs on our windows.  Here it is a special part of the Christmas season in most German households.

The picture at right is of the Advent wreath in St. Landolin's, the Roman Catholic church in our village.  The wreath is high above the floor, set on a tall holder.

The Advent candles below were at the Krone Gasthaus in Allmannsweier, where we had a group Christmas lunch this week.

Although there can be variations in shape such as four candles mounted side by side as on a log or similar long base, the traditional wreath is a circular evergreen with four candles, representing the four Sundays of Advent.  The circle represents never-ending spiritual life, the same meaning as for wedding rings.  The wreath may hold three purple candles and one rose (purple is the liturgical colour and the colour of royalty).  Some churches use five candles, with a white candle in the centre, which is lighted on Christmas Day.  Some Protestant churches use blue candles.  Many now use red, gold or pink, with red being the colour most often seen today in our region of Germany.  Last year, ours were white; this year, red, our colour of choice.  In St. Landolin, the village pilgrimage church, the candles this year are gold.  Red and green are more secular colours of Christmas and for most of us define this special time of year.

The picture at right shows our Advent wreath from 2009, using white candles.

Advent is the time for decorating the church and home with wreaths, boughs or trees.  It is a time when families gather together around the table--often the coffee table--to light the candles on each successive Sunday leading up to Christmas and to enjoy special sweets.  We, like most others, light our candle at about four o'clock on Advent Sunday afternoon.  On 1st Advent, one candle is lighted; on 2nd Advent, the first one plus a new one is lighted.  Thus it goes until 4th Advent, when all four candles will be alight.  Each successive week may be defined as Hope on 1st Advent, then Peace, followed by Joy, and then Love on 4th Advent.

The season is also the time when baking permeates the house and children excitedly await the Weihnachtsmann or Santa Claus.  It is a time for Christmas markets, bazaars, special meals and parties and a time to wish family, friends and neighbours a Happy Advent and a Frohe Weihnachten/Merry Christmas.

These five pictures showcase a little of the Christmas market held in Mahlberg, a town near us, this past Monday.  The bottom two show Hans buying hot chestnuts from an elderly gentleman whose dog is curled up at his feet.

Hans is wearing a toque he bought that day. I also bought one to wear as it was cold out!

The following pictures are from our luncheon this past Wednesday at the Krone in Allmannsweier.  Each year the men invite the women to their weekly get-together in December.

One of the meals served was Sauerbraten with boiled potatoes or noodles and red cabbage (Hans and I both had potatoes as shown).  See below.

In our house I bake my Scotch cake (shortbread) and make cranberry sauce for our goose dinner as well as to give as a small gift.  German wives and mothers bake many special cookies and cakes, one of the best known being Stollen, a type of fruit cake.  We buy that cake each year from Dresden, the city where it became famous.  The picture below depicts the box in which the Stollen came. 

We also start thinking about the Christmas goose.  This year we have bought a goose that was raised in a proper environment here in Germany.  We have bought imported ones in the past.  As many of those are raised in cramped and inhumane conditions, we shall no longer get ours from outside the country but rather purchase bio-raised ones here.  Our goose is now in the freezer awaiting the big day.  If any of you would like to try roasting a goose for Christmas rather than a turkey this year, but are not sure how to do it, this is how we roast ours.  The one below was our 2008 goose, just out of the oven.

Roast Goose - Roasting time about 3 to 3-1/2 hours

One 8 to 10 lb goose (4 to 5 Kg)

Wash it well, inside and out, with cold water.  Dry well.  Any excess fat around the neck opening can be removed, but it should be added to the roast pan with the goose.  (The fat will later be drained off for use in other cooking and for making the gravy.)

Salt the inside only.  Stuff with dressing of your choice (we prefer Canadian-style sage and bread dressing; Germans generally add various fruit to theirs) and skewer or sew the openings together.  Truss it as you would a turkey, with string around the wings and legs to keep them close to the body.

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C.  Set the goose, breast down, on a rack in the roast pan.  Add about three cups of hot water to the pan, along with two apples, halved.  Cover the pan.  Roast for about an hour, then turn the goose so that it is breast side up; pour a little more hot water into the pan; cover it.  About halfway through its roasting time, insert the tip of a sharp knife between the leg and body of the goose to remove some of the fat.  Continue roasting for 2 or so more hours, basting several times with the pan juices/fat.  (Check for doneness occasionally as roasting time also depends on one's oven.  It could take less or more time to cook than mentioned above.) 

Note:  We don't drain the fat from the pan until the goose is cooked, though you can.  If you do remove it from the pan, reserve the fat; don't throw it out.  It is great to add to Sauerkraut or Rotkohl (red cabbage) or in other cooking.  A little can also be used to make more gravy for leftovers after Christmas.

About twenty minutes before the end of its roasting time, mix about 1/2 teaspoon of salt in about 1/4 cup cold water and brush it over the goose.  This helps to brown and crisp the skin.  When the legs move easily or the fat runs clear or yellow, the goose is done.  Remove it from the roast pan.  Let it stand a few minutes before carving, during which time the gravy can be made.

Gravy:  Remove most of the fat from the pan into a heavy pot.  Place the roast pan with the remaining fat over two medium hot burners; stir the fat and any brown bits well over the heat until combined and browning.  Stir in some flour (1 or 2 tablespoons to start) and continue stirring until well mixed, doing it quickly so as not to allow it to burn, but just until it is brown.  At this point there is no liquid in the pan, just fat.  Pour into the pan some chicken broth, water or vegetable broth.  Stir continuously until boiling and then simmer it until thickened.  If it doesn't thicken, mix and stir together a spoonful of flour with some cold water, then add it slowly to the pan, stirring continuously with a whisk.  If it thickens too much, add more liquid.  Season to taste.  If you wish, add some whipping cream (heavy cream) to the gravy before serving.  We usually do as it makes for a smooth sauce--and also very good.  Note:  The leftover goose fat in the pot can be frozen to use at a later time.

Hans's Red Cabbage

1 large head of red cabbage, approx. 1-1/2 to 2 kg

Cut cabbage into quarters; remove core; finely slice.  Place in a deep cooking pot with 1 onion, finely diced.  This will make a lot, but as it freezes well, it is worth it.  Add the following:

1/2 to 1 bottle (750mL size) dry red wine; about 1/2 liter (2 cups) water; 2 tablespoons sugar; 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or cider vinegar; 2 large peeled apples, finely chopped or 1 small jar apple sauce; 4 to 5 cloves; 3 to 4 bay leaves; 5 to 6 whole peppercorns; 4 to 5 juniper berries; 1 to 2 Knorr chicken bouillon cubes; 1/2 teaspoon salt; a couple of grinds of pepper; 2 to 3 tablespoons goose or pork fat if you have it, as it adds flavour.

Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  Make sure there is sufficient liquid so that it doesn't burn; if not enough, add some water.  Stir occasionally so the spices are kept covered and to ensure the cabbage doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.  Taste, as you may wish to add more sugar, spice or vinegar. The taste should be slightly sweet-sour.  The cabbage should still have some bite, so don't over cook it.  You want it tender, but not too soft.  Remove bay leaves before serving.  Red cabbage is excellent with Sauerbraten, wild boar and other game as well as goose.

Note:  If you wish, instead of a whole cabbage, use two large glass jars (or tins) of ready-made red cabbage.  You can buy this at the supermarket (two 28oz cans/800 to 1000mL size).  If canned cabbage has apple in it, reduce your apples by one.  Follow the recipe as given, though it might take a little less cooking time.  Check for doneness and taste beforehand.  I freeze any leftover red cabbage in zip lock bags.

Guten Appetit!

Third Advent Sunday with a special wine and some Stollen

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Two Special Offerings: Forellen (Trout) and Steak

The trout below was served at the Gasthaus-Restaurant Damenmühle outside Lahr

The Schwarzwald (Black Forest) is known for its Forellen as the many small rivers and streams that flow through the countryside are abundant with trout.  Farms have built their own ponds with the trout filling them from those streams passing through.  Many a Gasthaus has its own Forellen pond or has a source just down the road.  Most of the Gasthäuser in our immediate vicinity do not have trout on their menus, but only 25 minutes or so from us, in the hills, there are several that specialize in them.  Some local Gasthäuser, however, do offer them from time to time.

Trout served as a warm meal will be either Forellen Blau or Forellen Müllerin.  Forellen Blau is poached and is faintly blue in colour when cooked (blau means blue in English).  Müllerin means it is fried or sauteed but the word itself actually means miller's wife.  No doubt at some time a miller's wife fried some trout and the name stuck.  The trout will be served whole, with the head and tail still on.  A small dish of melted butter will usually be served on the side, though occasionally the butter will be poured over the trout on the plate.  Boiled potatoes will always accompany it.  

Every so often I crave trout for supper, so off we go to one of the places we know and where it is excellent.  One of my favourite memories is of my birthday one year.  In the country, amongst the hills and woods, we went to the Gasthof Freiamter Hof.  I had trout on my mind.  Unfortunately, the Gasthof didn't have any on hand.  They asked me to wait a few minutes and they would see what they could do.  They phoned a nearby farmer who had a trout farm, and the next thing I knew a trout was frying away in the kitchen for me.  Along with the potatoes, a salad and a glass of Weissherbst wine, it was a delicious and memorable birthday supper.

I often order Forellen Müllerin mit Mandeln (trout with shaved almonds) if on the menu.  The almonds are browned first and then added to the butter in the pan just before the trout is served.  The almonds and butter will then be poured over the fish on the plate.  I also enjoy Bratkartoffeln (pan-fried potatoes) with trout and sometimes ask for them instead of the boiled potatoes.  However, boiled are the norm.  You'll note that the trout are served with the head and tail still on.  The head and tail are ways to identify that it is really trout that you are being served.  I grew up eating trout and other fish in Prince Edward Island, Canada, though fish was never served with the head on. 

The trout below with Bratkartoffeln that I had at the Gasthaus zur Waldlust this past summer.


Most large restaurants serve trout as well as various other types of fish.  A restaurant or more exclusive Gasthaus will frequently offer trout fillets as an entree as well as a main course.  They will also serve a whole fish without the head and tail if requested.  I prefer the whole fish with the head and tail left on.  I then cut them off myself and remove the centre bone. (I don't forget to remove the tender small flesh from each fish cheek first before setting the head aside.)

 Below is Forellen fillet with almonds served at the Bürgerstuble in Kippenheim a week ago

Often on a New Year's Eve when we stay at home, one of the courses for our special menu will be smoked trout with creamed horseradish, accompanied by my own cranberry sauce.  We buy the smoked trout from a farmer and for the horseradish sauce, we buy a jar of horseradish and mix some of it with whipped cream.  Delicious!  (The horseradish comes from a small town about 35 minutes north of Lahr.)  We served that to guests in Nova Scotia one fall, the trout from our own trout pond and the smoking done in Hans's smoker.

The smoked trout fillet with horseradish and accompaniments was served at the Gasthaus Eiche on the Langenhard last spring.

Years ago, in the mid 1970s, shortly after arriving on our posting to Germany, friends took us to a small farm Gasthaus in the hills.  It was night time and we had no idea where we were as we had turned off the main road onto a narrow country lane.  We drove through a farmer's yard to reach the Gasthaus, which was at the very end of that small road.  It was a tiny place with just a few tables where we sat on benches on each side.  Their specialty was Forellen.  We all ordered the same, Forellen Müllerin.  The fish arrived, one large one each, with the head and tail intact.  Then a huge bowl of boiled potatoes arrived along with pitchers of hot, melted butter.  Oh, everything was superb!  We weren't finished yet, though.  They removed the plates filled with bones and then served us another trout each along with another huge bowl of boiled potatoes and jugs of hot butter.  Luckily we were all young enough to have healthy appetites!  That lovely little farm Gasthaus in Prinzbach was torn down in the 1980s and rebuilt into a large and beautiful one, but in the doing it lost its atmosphere--at least for us--though it is a lovely spot still and attracts many guests.


Our friend Martin Grimm, chef and Wirt (owner) serves a fantastic steak at the Gasthaus Engel in Dörlinbach, about 20 kilometers from Lahr.  About twenty years ago one had to go to a high-priced restaurant or to a Gasthaus that specialized in steak (few and far between then) to get a good one.  Steak is still not a specialty in Germany, but now you can get a very good one in many local Gasthäuser, not just in better restaurants and, of course, some restaurants do specialize in it.  Beef has improved greatly in tenderness and flavour. 

The picture below is of a fillet steak with green peppers, Krauterbutter and a Cognac sauce.

Martin's steak is as good as we've ever had.  We have taken many friends and acquaintances there over the years and all go back again.  He and his wife, Monika, and his brother Uli run the Gasthaus and are always present.  It isn't a fancy restaurant but a local "gut bürgerliches" Gasthaus, one that isn't pretentious and serves home-style cooking.  He's a great cook; nearly everything he offers is delicious. He buys the best cut of beef he can get.  When we go there to eat, Hans always asks how his steak is that day.  If Martin says it is excellent, that is what we have.  We mostly order his Rumpsteak with Krauterbutter (herb butter) or Zwiebeln (onions).  I order it with both the butter and onions, plus sauce; Hans orders it without sauce and without onions, just the herbed butter.  From time to time we order his fillet steak with green peppers and a Cognac sauce, more expensive but excellent.

The steak below, a Rumpsteak with Krauterbutter

Martin's steaks are about two inches (5 centimeters) or more thick, tender and cooked to perfection.  Hans orders his rare and I, medium rare.  Martin makes sure we get a good one every time, with Hans always being served the larger one--a good thing because I always take half home!  (Steroids in meat, by the way, are not allowed in Germany nor is genetically manipulated animal feed.)

The picture below was taken a few months ago.  We had Rumpsteak, mine covered in onions and herbed butter, Hans with the butter only.  Kroketten (potato croquettes) accompanied our meal as did a salad.  Hans is drinking a glass of Spätburgunderrotwein (a German red wine made in our area from the same grape as in Burgundy, France) and I, a glass of my favourite, Weissherbst (a rose).  (Hans set his beer aside to finish after the meal!)  

Along with those steaks, we always order their homemade Kroketten (potato croquettes).  Martin's mother, Frau Grimm, and his wife, Monika, always made them together every Friday or Saturday, enough to do all week.  They would freeze them uncooked.  After his mother died last spring, Monika made them herself with some help from Martin.

The secret (from his mother) is lots and lots of parsley, very different from any potato croquettes you get anywhere, including those from cookbooks.  They are so good that we think about them even before we go there, just as we think about those delicious steaks.  It is seldom that we can eat all that they serve us, so invariably we take half home with us.  About two weeks ago or so, we were served 16 croquettes!

The recipe below is from Frau Grimm, who gave it to me herself in 1997.  It is without a lot of amounts given.  If you try them, it will perhaps be a bit of trial and error.

Frau Grimm's Kroketten (Potato Croquettes) 

Use floury potatoes, perhaps 1-1/2 to 2 kilo (3 to 4 lbs).  Wash them.  Boil them with the skins on, two days before needed and keep chilled.  On day you wish to serve them, peel and grate them finely.  (I think you could mash them on the day you cook them and then chill them in the refrigerator.)

To the potatoes, add some butter (a good-sized chunk); 1 grated or finely chopped small onion; lots (lots!) of chopped parsley; one 4-inch piece of leek, chopped (white part only).  Add a little flour into the potato dough mixture and some fine bread crumbs.  Add 2 whole eggs, a bit of nutmeg, salt and pepper; some clear soup broth or Knorr or Maggi cube or cubes.  (You will have to go by the feel of the dough as to how much of certain ingredients to use, especially the liquid-type ones.)

Form into balls. If too soft, add a little more flour.  Chill.  Roll the balls in fine bread crumbs.  Heat oil in a deep fryer to 180C/350F.  Deep fry until golden.  They will be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.  I did make these and they were good, but not as good as Frau Grimm's.  One needs to get the right consistency. 

Tip:  Frau Grimm said that you can cook these in boiling water as well; then they are dumplings.  I haven't tried that.

The picture below shows the croquettes with a greenish hue--from the parsley.  We order these as well with the Zigeurnerschnitzel, as shown below.

Enjoy some trout or a steak at home with a nice bottle of wine.  With the trout, I enjoy Weissherbst (a rose wine) but a Weisserburgunder is also excellent.  That is similar to Chablis but with more flavour.  Trout is rich and I think requires a wine that is also rich in taste.  With the steak, a red Bordeaux or a full-bodied Burgundy wine.  Perhaps with a beer beforehand as Hans often does.

The picture below shows Annabelle contemplating the burning candles.
This is Second Advent with only two weekends before Christmas. 

 Guten Appetit und Prosit!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

To Tempt the Appetite: Schnitzels and Other Offerings

A summer day at left in the hills and mountains and first snow as seen from our patio this weekend, on First Advent.

The province of Baden-Württemberg is renowned for its food, its wine and its scenery.  It is the second most visited part of Germany--the capital Berlin being number one.  We can find elegant restaurants and simple Gasthäuser in all directions, some within a few minutes and others within half an hour's drive.  Mostly we look for the simpler places:  family-run, friendly and with "gut bürgerlisches Essen"--meaning non-pretentious, home-style cooking.  From time to time, though, we eat at a fine restaurant where the food is excellent, the menu is large and interesting, the decor and ambience are gemütlich.  Above all, we look for friendly service wherever we go.  We might return to a Gasthaus or restaurant where the food was not exactly as we thought it would be, but rarely will we return to one where the service was unfriendly, seldom though that is.  We do tend to give such a place a second chance, however, as anyone can have a bad day--just not two in a row!

The three pictures below are of Gasthäuser we frequent:  The Waldlust, Lieberatsbergstube and a Vesperstube in Yach, southeast of us, all of them in the countryside.

German housewives are very good cooks and most cook according to their local specialties and the seasonal produce.  Farmers' markets abound.  Many of the supermarkets buy from the local farmers as well.  Many housewives, especially in the towns and villages, have their own gardens, with some produce lasting well into late fall or early winter.  Right now, Feldsalat is in season and available everywhere, including in those gardens.

Feldsalat - Lamb's Lettuce or Field Salad

Sprigs of Feldsalat, the left one right side up, the sprigs on the right, showing the stem side & right side.

The bowl of salad below is without dressing, just with washed and ready leaves awaiting our supper last evening.

This is my favourite of all salads and it is offered at most Gasthäuser and restaurants at this time of year.  It is a green that requires cold weather and will be available until early spring.  The small leaves, tender and mild, form a circle around a stem.  It is usually served with a dressing that is made with mild vinegar, oil, minced onion, fried Speck (bacon cut into dice and fried) and herbs of one's choice (though sometimes no herbs), topped with croutons that are sauteed first in butter and sometimes in garlic.  Below is our salad of last evening, with dressing and croutons.

We had a simple meal along with a bottle of Beaujolais Premier 2010, which was very nice with the Feldsalat.  That wine will last perhaps a year. 


The picture below is at the Zum Schwert in the hills outside Seelbach, a small town near Lahr.  This was from a year or so ago.  Helga and Wolfgang ordered Schnitzels with Zwiebeln (onions) and I ordered a regular Schnitzel paniert (breaded).  The portions are large as you can see.  Hans's Vesper can be seen at the edge of the picture.

Gasthäuser serve mostly local dishes or typical German dishes known around the world, such as Schnitzel in all its many varieties.  Restaurants offer local specialties but also specialties from around the country and the world--though not always Schnitzel.  I am a Schnitzel fan.  Hans complains that I order it too often and don't try some of the other offerings; I do, though usually just not the ones he particularly likes, such as his favourite, a Vesper.  That is a cold meal--usually eaten in the evening, which is served on a wooden board covered by various sausages and Schinken (ham), some raw onion slices, a pickle or two and perhaps a wedge of cheese, all accompanied by a hearty bread.  A good Pils and a Kirschwasser (cherry Schnaps), both served at the same time are the preferred liquid accompaniments (helps the digestion is the excuse for the latter!).

I did have a Vesper this fall at a Vesper Stuben down a long, country road outside Elzach and the village of Yach. Below shows my board in front with a selection of cheese and Wurst.  Hans' board is just beyond.  This was a farm that also offered food, all made or produced right there, except for the cheese.

Vesper is loved by many, but I like a Schnitzel with French fries and a salad, or a Paprika Schnitzel covered in a sauce that consists of red peppers and onions.  Many Canadians who come back for a visit love Jägerschnitzel (Jäger means hunter, so a hunter's Schnitzel).  It is a pork Schnitzel (unbreaded), covered in mushrooms with a mushroom sauce.

Below left, a paprika Schnitzel with French fries.  On the right, a Jägerschnitzel.

In our area, most Schnitzels are made from pork (unless otherwise specified).  They can be breaded or unbreaded ("paniert" or without "paniert").  Pork in Germany is of high quality and rigidly inspected.  

A Wiener Schnitzel is always breaded and always made from veal.  If advertised as Schnitzel Wiener Art, it will be breaded but not necessarily veal.  We prefer the pork Schnitzels as they have more flavour we feel, though a Wiener Schnitzel in Wien (Vienna) is special and a must to have when visiting that beautiful city.

If you visit Germany, you will find that each type of Schnitzel will be somewhat different at each Gasthaus.  They all have their own way of making it, though all will follow the standard method.  Those with toppings or sauces, like Jägerschnitzel, Paprika Schnitzel, Zigeunerschnitzel or Schnitzel with a cream sauce will be different everywhere, as the quality of the meat is a factor, along with each cook or chef who will add his or her own touch to them, especially to the sauces.  Breading can also be somewhat different as an herb may be added (or not) to it before frying.  Below, my meal one evening last spring at the Lieberatsbergstube (picture of that Gasthaus at the very top).  This was a Schnitzel with sauce and Krauter butter (herb butter).

You must drive up the side of the mountain to reach this farm Gasthaus.  Luckily I met no other car on the way up or down, though the Gasthaus outside, where we all were, was packed.  Most had walked up!

I stopped on the way up to take this picture, looking back to the Schutter valley below

Martin, the chef and Wirt (owner) at the Gasthaus Engel in Dörlinbach--as well as being a friend of ours--cooks a special Schnitzel for us, a Zigeunerschnitzel (Hungarian style) paniert, which is covered in mushrooms, green peppers and onions and a delicious sauce.  We had asked him long ago if he would bread it first, rather than preparing it without breading, as is the norm and served that way at the Gasthaus and others.  He agreed.  Many years later, that is the way we still order it.  (In the early 1970s, at a Gasthaus just north of Lahr--now closed--I had breaded Jägerschnitzel, which was unusual, as that Schnitzel is also served without breading, just with the mushroom sauce.  It was delicious.  I never forgot it--nor the huge mushrooms with which they covered the Schnitzel.)

On the left, a platter of Zigeunerschnitzel (4 Schnitzels on it, covered with vegetables and sauce, for two people).  The plate on right shows one helping with some French fries and potato croquettes. When my sister Carol visited us from New Hampshire in the United States, this was her favourite meal.  Ours, too!

Another favourite of mine is Schnitzel with a cream sauce and the very best one I've had is at the Deutscher Hof in Biederbach.  Ruth's is superb, the sauce rich with cream and full of flavour.

One that has stayed in my memory from the mid 1970s was served at the Gasthaus Löwen in Mahlberg, a Gasthaus that is now closed, run then by a lady who was close to 80 years old.  Hers was much like Ruth's is now, with a delicious, creamy sauce.  It was her side-dish of potatoes that brought many customers there as well:  Bratkartoffeln (pan-fried potatoes) that were served in individual small casserole dishes. 

One gets to know where the best Schnitzels are served, including where the best regular Schnitzel is served, the one that is breaded and fried in the pan, without any embellishment other than lemon and parsley.  A Cordon Bleu is really two pork Schnitzels making a sandwich of a slice of Schinken (ham) and a slice of Swiss cheese.  It is usually made from veal (though I generally prefer a pork or chicken Cordon Bleu).  The best is served at the Gasthaus Grünen Baum in Keppenbach where they also have the best Vesper, according to Hans.  Unfortunately it is now closed due to illness of the Wirtin (lady owner).

The picture below shows a Cordon Bleu in the background and a Paprika Schnitzel in the foreground.

Another excellent Cordon Bleu, going back to the early and mid 1980s, was at the Kaiser in Sulz, now closed.  That was Hans' and his son Heiko's favourite Gasthaus.  Many of these closings are due to the children of a Gasthaus owner not wishing to carry on that family tradition, thus the Gasthaus discontinues as such.  Often they are taken over by foreigners who offer Italian, Turkish, Greek or Chinese food instead, which means one less German Gasthaus in the town or city.   Also, the many fast food outlets everywhere mean fewer customers at the regular German Gasthäuser.  Luckily we still have plenty of the latter in which to eat, particularly in the country and away from the big cities.

To Cook a Schnitzel

You will find a recipe on how to prepare and cook a Schnitzel in many cookbooks.  Here is one way:

Pound a boneless pork cutlet until it is fairly thin, though not too thin.  Dry it well.  Season with salt and pepper.  Dip each cutlet into some flour and then shake it gently.  Dip it into a mixture of a slightly beaten egg and a little water.  Then dip them into fine breadcrumbs.  Let them rest for 15 to 20 minutes.  Heat about 1/2 cup or so of butter or other fat (butter gives the best flavour) in a frying pan.  (Clarified butter is best as it doesn't burn as easily.  Melt butter in a pan over low heat.  When completely melted, remove from the stove and let rest until the sediment has gone to the bottom.  Skim the butter fat from the top and strain what remains into a dish or jar.  Use that butter for frying.)  

Fry the cutlets in the butter until golden on one side; turn and cook the other side until it is golden and the meat is cooked.  Place them on a platter and top with lemon slices and parsley.  Serve individual lemon quarters with each Schnitzel.  (Many deep-fry their Schnitzels rather than pan-frying them, especially when cooking a Wiener Schnitzel.)

First Advent and the lighting of the first candle on our Advent wreath.  We enjoyed a glass of Sekt (German Champagne) and some special German sweets.  Enjoy the Advent season!

I shall have another blog posted  soon, once again on food specialties we enjoy here.  Click on any picture to enlarge it and then click on the arrow at the top left corner to return to the blog.

Guten Appetit!