All posts filed under: Sides and Breads

jam-filled plunderhörnchen

Is it a doughnut? A croissant? No, it’s a plunderhörnchen!

Plunderhörnchen or, to quote several German baking websites, “plunder croissant” or “plunder squirrel.” What better name for a treat that’s shaped like a croissant, glazed like a doughnut, tender like a roll, baked like bread and jam-filled like a croissant-shaped, doughnut-bread-roll. I would love to share a fascinating origin story for plunderhörnchen. However, all I have are basic facts. In Germany and Austria plunder is a yeast-leavened dough used in sweet baked goods. Unlike croissant dough, plunder contains eggs. It also has less fat in it than other pastry doughs. As for the designation “plunderhörnchen,” like whoopie pies, snickerdoodles and other unusually named treats, it remains a mystery. So, too, does the reason for calling it a ‘squirrel.’ What’s not a mystery is why I came across it so often while traveling in Germany. This pastry is light, portable, convenient and delicious. You can take it on the train, munch on it as you walk and never worry about crumbs, greasy fingers or sticky frosting. As with doughnuts, people generally eat this roll at breakfast. …

ven pongal

South Indian Ven Pongal. It’s Not Just for Breakfast.

I always feel a little sheepish about discussing Indian foods. Obviously, I am not Indian nor do I I have a long, rich history with this cuisine. Until a 2009 trip to Delhi and Rajasthan, my understanding came from the cookbooks of Madhur Jaffrey and local Indian restaurants. What I lack in background, though, I make up for with my passion for the country and its diverse, vegetarian-friendly cooking. Whenever I try an intriguing, new dish there, one that I may not find back in the States, I track down the recipe so that I can make it on my own. The latest of these at-home recreations is South Indian ven pongal. During a recent trip to Chennai Air India had offered a scoop of ven pongal as part of my in-flight, vegetarian meal. The hotel where I stayed also served it as part of its breakfast buffet. After trying and liking it on the plane, I made a beeline for it at the buffet table. For the next eight mornings I skipped the glazed, …

giant cast iron pan holding sauteed mushrooms

The Sautéed Mushrooms of Poland and Germany

Food is always on my mind but never more so than when I’m traveling. What local specialties can I try? What cool ingredients can I track down? What can I eat that won’t kill me or make me insanely ill? (It took only one meal in Delhi, after which I had an emergency doctor’s visit, IV drip and 3 days bedridden, to add that question to my list.) Since I’m a pescetarian, I also wonder whether I can order dishes without meat. On a recent trip to the meat-loving lands of Poland and Saxony Germany I found that last criteria surprisingly easy to meet. Along with bratwurst, kielbasa, pork knuckle and hunter’s stew, restaurants, bars and food stalls served sautéed mushrooms. Since at least the Middle Ages mushrooms have played a part in Poland’s cuisine. In the past people went out into the surrounding forests and gathered as many edible mushrooms as they could find. Once at home they brushed them off and started cooking. Mushrooms made their way into soups, sauces, dumplings and stuffed …

Pad Thai in Thailand

Pad Thai was my gateway into Thai cuisine. In my early 20s and unsure of what to order at a new, neighborhood, Southeast Asian restaurant, I opted for a simple noodle dish that promised complex flavors, interesting textures and a touch of the exotic. With hints of piquant tamarind, crunchy peanuts and salty fish sauce pad Thai delivered on its word. After that first satisfying encounter it became my go-to meal when dining or ordering out. After 15 years of sampling this specialty on American soil, I wanted it to be the first thing that I ate in Thailand. I’d tried countless Western interpretations of this stir fry. It was time to experience the real deal. This proved surprisingly easy for you can find noodle carts, shops and restaurants serving phàt Thai on almost every street in Bangkok. The same holds true in Northern Thailand. Popular with locals as well as food-obsessed tourists, this dish has a lot going for it. For starters, it’s inexpensive. Depending on where you buy it in Thailand, you can …

Honeyed Fruit and Whole Wheat Couscous

Over the years I’ve prattled on about my fascination with couscous, my unwise decision to drag a couscousiere across North Africa and my ongoing dabbling with these granules of semolina. Light yet hearty, savory yet sweet and toothsome whether hot, room temperature or chilled, couscous’s almost incongruous nature is what keeps me hooked. I’d like to see spaghetti pair as smoothly with such disparate ingredients as cinnamon, cumin, cilantro, dill, cucumbers, dried cherries, balsamic vinegar or almond milk. Yeah, it’s a versatile food. Before the holidays I started tinkering with an old favorite, Sweet & Nutty Couscous, transforming it into the following dish. To some, the name “Honeyed Fruit and Whole Wheat Couscous” might sound redundant. After all, couscous comes from durum wheat so all couscous could be considered wheat couscous. However, this recipe works best when you use the mildly nutty whole wheat, pearl couscous. If you have a couscousiere collecting dust on your kitchen shelf, by all means wipe it off and put it to work. Otherwise, instant or quick cooking whole wheat …

A Fall Favorite, Persimmon Bread

In recent years I have begun to think of fall not as the season of pumpkins but as the time of another gorgeous, orange globe, the persimmon. Thanks to my friends Frank and Jane, who have acres of prolific fruit trees, I have easy access to this rare and often overlooked autumn treat. Early Americans could pluck small, squat American persimmons straight from their branches. As luck would have it, I can, too. Today, though, most people consume one of two larger, Japanese varieties, the tomato-shaped Fuyu or the oblong Hachiya. Both possess a mild, honeyed, pumpkin flavor and can stand in for pumpkin in breads, pies, tarts, puddings and other desserts. When picking persimmons, I look for unblemished, reddish-orange fruit that’s so plump it looks as though it will burst through its skin. This is will be a ripe, flavorful persimmon. Hard, yellow-to-pale orange fruit I leave on the tree limb or in the produce bin. These unripe persimmons possess an unpleasant, astringent taste that can only be remedied by freezing them. Hence the …

Sweet and Sour Cucumber Salad

What’s summertime if not the time to throw theme parties? That’s my motto! With that in mind I recently subjected friends to a night of Danish food and activities. Yes, when torturing friends with vacation photos just isn’t enough, there’s “A Night of Danish Delights.” Recalling the surprising number of ping pong and badminton clubs seen throughout Denmark, I included ping pong, badminton and a Lego building competition on the activity list. Why Legos? Well, Denmark is the birthplace of Legos. Besides, how often can I justify playing with 6 pounds of colorful toy bricks? Never! Denmark is also home to such culinary specialties as pickled herring, smoked salmon, smørrebrød, hearty rugbrød or Danish brown bread, danishes and hindbærsnitte. They, along with Danish tilsit, blue and havarti cheeses, starred in the evening’s menu. So, too, did steamed, heads-on shrimp. As you might expect, these appealed to a select few. There is something about having your food stare back at you . . .. Far more approachable were the refreshing summer salads of seasonal berries and …

Frisian Sugar Bread for Easter & Beyond!

I may have visited the Netherlands twice, roamed around the Dutch-influenced areas of Belgium as many times and even have Dutch friends but, until recently, I’d never tried Dutch Frisian sugar bread. A specialty of the northern Dutch province of Friesland, suikerbrood or sugarbread features spices and a generous amount of the large, coarse, stark white sugar known as pearl sugar. As you might expect from a food with “sugar” in its name, this is a sweet bread. Yet, I wouldn’t call it overly saccharine. Eaten at breakfast in the Netherlands, it has a warm, honeyed flavor on par with Danish pastries and cinnamon rolls. When I compare it to such cloying breakfast staples as syrup-soaked pancakes, waffles and French toast, I find this bread to be mild and pleasantly sweet. Although not part of the pantheon of European Easter breads, Frisian sugar bread would be a fitting addition to any Easter brunch. For those abstaining from sweets or baked goods during Lent, it will be a delicious way to break these fasts. For everyone …

Bavaria-Inspired Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels

Thanks to this winter’s intense cold and frequent snows, I’ve been doing a fair amount of armchair traveling, looking at trip photos, thumbing through travel books and imagining slightly warmer times. One book that’s especially piqued my interest is a biergarten cookbook. Picked up on a recent trip to Germany, it includes a recipe for something that I’ve long enjoyed but never made at home, soft pretzels. I cannot recall the first time that I ate a pretzel. I can, however, remember my initial bite of German brezel. Purchased at a jam-packed Christmas market in Cologne, it was softer and more bread-like than what I habitually bought at home. Unlike the dry, chewy pretzels consumed at my office desk, this didn’t leave me parched or with an indigestible ball of dough in my stomach. Unfortunately, the cookbook that I carted across the Atlantic does not contain a reliable pretzel recipe. What it offers contains too little liquid, too much flour and too few directions. Starting from scratch, I came up with the following Bavaria-inspired recipe. …

Masterminding Moroccan Carrots

Think of all the controversial topics that could come up between family and friends. For most people slender, knobby, orange root vegetables wouldn’t be among them. Yet, in my household carrots have long been a source of contention. Until recently, the only way that I could convince my husband to eat these vegetables was if I shredded and made them into a carrot cake. Smart guy, huh? Rather than rely on cake alone to provide us that burst of Vitamin A, I look for ways to make carrots more palatable to the picky. So far, Moroccan Carrots, which I featured in Fish Market, are the favorite.When teaching a class, holding a talk or just sitting around the dinner table, I’m frequently asked how I and other food writers create recipes. While I can’t speak for my colleagues, I can explain the rationale and process behind Moroccan Carrots. All dishes begin with the question “What foods go well together?” If I’m working with a versatile ingredient such as a carrot, that’s easy to answer. From a …