Monday, March 5, 2012

Week Nine: A Journey to Germany

German cuisine….sausage, sauerkraut, spaetzle, and beer!  At least, that’s what I thought before this week’s foray into German cuisine.  For the most part, my assumptions were correct. boasts that over 1500 varieties of sausage exist and that Germans eat about sixty-seven pounds of meat and sausage products per year.  As much as my husband would’ve loved a week of different sausages every night (okay, I would’ve enjoyed it, too), I wanted to dig a little deeper and discover new dishes.  After all, that is the point of the journey.

While German cuisine is not spicy, its incorporation of white pepper, parsley, marjoram, juniper berry, caraway, chives, and thyme as commonly-used spices certainly informs its flavor profiles.  Mustards and horseradish are popular condiments and serve to complement the seasonings of those many, many varieties of sausages.  Trout is the most common freshwater fish, and fly-fishing for brown trout in the mountains is actually quite popular.  Of course, I knew that cabbages are common vegetables, and recipes for German-style cabbage abound:  boiled, braised, stuffed, and sweet-sour.  I did not know about the white asparagus craze though.  During white asparagus season, the vegetable is so popular that restaurants feature entire menus dedicated to the “edible ivory” as they call it.  In an article titled “Germans Are Obsessed with Asparagus” from Spiegel Online International, Valerie Callaghan recalls how her most reserved German colleagues and friends suddenly came to life with conversation as soon as the season began in mid-April.  She also notes how they dismally lost their social skills when the season ended in November.  Bread is so popular that Wikipedia lists the Top Ten most popular German breads…which must mean that there are at least another ten or fifteen out there, right?  Most breads are made with sourdough and include wheat and rye flour.  For desserts, Germany is known for its cakes and tortes, most famously Black Forest cake. 

As a side note for my Cobaya friends, I was delighted to discover a German dessert called Spaghettieis, which is eerily similar to Michael Blois’ dessert “spaghetti and meatballs” served at the February Experiment.  Spaghettiesis begins with vanilla ice cream pressed through a potato ricer to look like noodles.  Then, the ice cream noodles are covered in a strawberry sauce and toasted coconut to mimic marinara sauce and parmesan cheese.

With family visiting this week and a few after-work engagements, my time for German menus was more limited than usual.  I managed to eke out a Monday night dinner and a Beer & Pretzel night. 

Monday Night Dinner:  Riesling-Poached Trout with Thyme, Sweet and Sour Brussels Sprouts with Fresh Dill, Black Pepper and Chive Spaetzle

This menu represents my attempt to create a sophisticated German-style dinner. 

I opted to make Riesling-Poached Trout with Thyme for several reasons:  trout’s prolific availability in Germany, the inclusion of a German Riesling for poaching, and the challenge of cooking my first whole trout.  The recipe included a quick sauté of leeks and carrot matchsticks served over trout poached in Riesling with fresh thyme.  The simple combination of ingredients and the soft, flaky texture of the fish provided a flavorful and satisfying dish.

Brussels Sprouts are my favorite vegetable, and I am always curious to discover new preparations.  I chose to make Sweet and Sour Brussels Sprouts with Fresh Dill as a more sophisticated option than cabbage.  The sauce included apple cider vinegar, crushed tomatoes, sugar, and chicken broth with cornstarch for thickening.  In all honestly, they were just okay.  Not bad, but not something I will make again. 

For years, I’ve had a complacent attitude about spaetzle.  Those feelings changed when I tasted the cheddar spaetzle served with Guava Chili Pork at neMesis Urban Bistro.  Then, I had squash spaetzle served with roasted antelope at Sustain’s Exploring Burgundy dinner in November, and it blew me away, too.  Both presentations were so unbelievably tender and flavorful!  With inspiration from neMesis and Sustain, I attempted to make Black Pepper and Chive Spaetzle from a recipe in The New York Times Jewish Cookbook.  It was terrible!  I’m confident that the issue is my spaetzle-making skills, not the recipe.  The spaetzle was tough, and I think it’s because I used a metal colander over the simmering water which caused the batter to “cook” and toughen before it even hit the water.  I’ll try again sometime, but for now, I’ll just order it at my favorite restaurants!

Wednesday Night:  Beer and Pretzels

Enjoying hot, soft pretzels from the oven with homemade mustard and cold German beer at home is a little bit of utopia.  I turned to Alton Brown for his Homemade Soft Pretzels recipe.  (I like to use recipes that include specific details about temperatures and weight, not volume, to ensure precise, successful results.)  This recipe was on the mark!  The dough rose perfectly, and the end result was a delicious, tender soft pretzel.

I found a recipe for Beer and Horseradish Mustard on, that I knew would provide the perfect accompaniment to the warm pretzels.  I love the idea of making mustard!  I highly recommend trying this one out, but make sure you plan to make your mustard about 24 hours before serving.  It needs time to set-up.  As for the ingredients in my mustard, I used Ayinger’s Oktoberfest lager for the beer, red wine vinegar, and Colman’s dry mustard.  This mustard is so delicious that I would be happy just slathering it on some white bread for a snack.

Before embarking on my plan for beer and pretzels, I knew I needed a beer expert to provide guidance, so I turned to the author of a favorite blog, The Miami Malt Bomb, for recommendations (with the caveat that the recommendations should be beers I can easily find).  He recommended Weihenstephaner Original and Ayinger Dunkel, and I found both at Total Wine with no issues.  The pairing of the beers with the mustard, not the pretzels, offered the most interesting complements.  By no means do I consider myself an authority on pairing beers with food, but for what it’s worth, I listed my thoughts below:

I enjoyed the earthy flavors of the Weihenstephaner Original with the mustard.  Because the mustard is so full of flavor, this lager’s crispness provided a welcome freshness as a balance.

The caramel flavors and nutty tones of the Ayinger Dunkel complemented the strong flavors of horseradish and caraway in the mustard.  The “bready” flavor of the beer also tasted great with the soft pretzels.

I may not have been as adventurous with German cuisine as in previous weeks, but I learned to appreciate new flavor profiles and dishes from Germany that I did not know when the journey began.  Because of that, I will call this week a success….even if I can’t make tender, delicious spaetzle!

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