Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Vietnamese Egg Drop Soup with Tomatoes and Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Recently, we were invited to a wonderful dinner club party where everybody had to bring a certain dish. The theme of the evening was "Vietnamese Cooking". My job was to bring the appetizer and I chose spring rolls. They were a delicate and satisfying starter for the food to come later that night.
However, the best part of the meal was a Tomato Egg Drop soup that someone else brought. Everybody loved it so I had to make this soup for my family immediately. It is a very easy tomato flavored broth with minced pork, rich yet light and very tasty. I found it very surprising that you can make such a flavorful soup from just a few ingredients.

Vietnamese Tomato Egg Drop Soup

1 1/2 T Neutral Oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
3/4 pound  ripe tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
3/4 t salt
1 1/2 T fish sauce
1/3 pound ground pork
5 1/2 cups water
2 eggs, beaten
Cilantro for garnish
Black Pepper

In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently, for about 4 minutes, or until fragrant and soft. Add the tomatoes and salt, cover, and cook for 4 - 6 minutes, or until the tomatoes have collapsed into a thick mixture. Stir occasionally and  if necessary, lower the heat to prevent the tomatoes from sticking or scorching.

Uncover and add the fish sauce and pork. Use a spoon to move the pork around the pan so that it breaks up into small pieces. Add the water, raise the heat to high and bring into a boil, using a ladle to skim and discard any scum that rises to the surface. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the flavors have developed and concentrated sufficiently to produce a rich broth. If you are not serving the soup right away, turn off the heat and cover.

Just before serving, return the soup to a simmer. Taste and add extra salt or fish sauce, if necessary. Turn off the heat. Pour the beaten egg into the soup in a wide circle, and then stir gently to break up into chiffonlike pieces. Ladle the soup into a serving bowl. Garnish with the cilantro and a generous sprinkle of pepper and serve.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

1/2 pound thin dried rice noodles, angel hair pasta or somen noodles
12 round rice paper sheets, about 8 inches in diameter
10 Lettuce leaves, cut crosswise into 1-inch strips
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
5 green onions, trimmed, cut into 3/-inch lengths, and then cut lengthwise into thin strips
12 medium shrimp, cooked, peeled, and halved lengthwise
Dipping Sauce of your choice for serving

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Drop in the rice noodles, and remove from the heat. Let stand 8 to 10 minutes, gently lifting and stirring the noodles now and then as they soften to keep them separate and to cook them evenly. Drain, rinse with cold water, drain well, and set aside. You should have about 2 cups of noodles.

Arrange all the ingredients in separate dishes around a large cutting board or tray set before you. Have a large platter ready to hold the finished rolls, and fill a large skillet or shallow bowl with hot water.

To make each roll, slide 1 sheet of paper into the pan of water and press gently to submerge it for about 15 seconds. Remove it carefully, draining the water, and place it before you on the cutting board.

On the bottom of the third of the sheet, line up the following ingredients in a horizontal row: a small tangle of noodles (about 1/4 cup), some lettuce strips, some mint leaves, and some cilantro leaves. Sprinkle green onion slivers on top.

Lift the wrapper nearest to you and roll it up and over the filling, tucking it in under them about halfway along the wrapper and compressing everything gently into a cylindrical shape. When you've completely enclosed the filling in one good turn, fold in the sides tightly, as though making an envelope. Then place 2 shrimp halves, pink side down, on the rice sheet just above the cylinder. Continue rolling up the wrapper and press the seam to close it, wetting with a little splash of water if it has dried out too much to seal itself closed. Set the roll aside on the platter to dry, seam side down. Continue to fill and roll up the rice paper sheets until you have made 8 to 10 rolls. Set aside.

To serve, present the rolls whole, or cut them in half crosswise - straight or on the diagonal. Or trim away the ends and cut into bite-size lengths.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Italian Jam Shortbread Tart

Made out of pantry staples, this quick Shortbread Tart could be on your table in less than an hour. The shortbread dough will be used for the crust and the topping. For the filling you can simply use your favorite jam. Add some nuts to the crumbly topping for a little bit of crunch and flavor and you're done.

Italian Jam Shortbread Tart
(recipe adapted from food52)

1 ½ cup (7 1/2 ounces / 210 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (6 ounces / 168 g) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup (3 1/2 ounces / 100 g) sugar (I used 1/3 less)
¼ teaspoon pure almond extract (I used Vanilla)
⅛ teaspoon salt
¼ cup (2 ounces / 56 g) not too sweet apricot jam (or other jam of your choice) (I used bitter orange marmelade)
⅓ cup (1 ounce / 28 g) sliced natural almonds (I used walnuts)

Heat the oven to 350 °F. Position an oven rack in the center of oven.

Place the butter, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (a handheld mixer is fine; just allow a little extra time to reach each stage in the recipe). Beat on medium speed until the mixture is very light in color, about 3 to 4 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the almond extract and blend well, another 30 seconds.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and combine on a low speed just until the dough is thoroughly combined, about 30 to 40 seconds (if it doesn't come together add a little bit of cold water) Measure out 1/2 cup of the dough and set it on a small plate, then place the plate in the freezer (this will chill the dough and make it easier to crumble).

Press the remaining dough into a 9 or 9 1/2-inch tart pan in an even layer (the edges can be a little higher than the rest, just be careful that the center is not the thickest point). If the dough is too sticky, just chill it briefly.

Use a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon to spread the jam in a thin, even layer over the surface of the dough, leaving a border of about 1-inch around the edges.

Remove the reserved dough from the freezer and crumble it into small pieces over the layer of the jam, allowing some of the jam to peek through. Sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly over the top of the tart.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the topping is a beautiful golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool completely. If your tart pan has a removable bottom, to unmold, center the tart pan on top of a large can so that it balances midair as the rim of the tart pan falls to the counter. Leave the bottom of the pan under the tart for support, or run a large spatula between the crust and the pan, using the spatula to guide the tart onto a plate. Alternately, cut wedges straight from the pan. Serve with tart whipped cream.

Store the tart covered in plastic wrap, at room temperature for 3 to 4 days. The tart can be assembled ahead and frozen for up to 1 month. Assemble the tart, then wrap tightly twice in plastic wrap and freeze on a flat surface -- it may require a few minutes extra of baking time.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette

This salad might seem kind of boring, just some lettuce and a little bit of cheese. What's so special about that? But simple is sometimes the best, right?  For example a big slice of a fresh, crunchy loaf of homemade bread with a piece of salted butter or a beautiful piece of cheese....

My whole family loved this salad and requested it repeatedly. What makes it so special is this : The vinegar is infused with the onion for an hour and then strained. Furthermore,  the dressed lettuce is dusted with finely grated Manchego to help the dressing stick. Simple but genius.

Note: I made this salad also with Parmesan Cheese and different kinds of lettuce and added some toasted walnuts

Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette 
(recipe from food52)

2 to 3 heads radicchio (4 quarts, once chopped)
¼ cup good-quality balsamic vinegar
¼ cup good-quality sherry vinegar
1 red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon honey
¾ cups olive oil
1 ½ cup Manchego, finely grated and divided
Salt and pepper


Remove the cores from the radicchio and discard. Chop into 1-inch pieces. Take 1 gallon of water in a large bowl and add enough ice to make the water icy cold. Once cold, strain out the ice and add the radicchio to the water. Let it sit for 15 minutes to remove some of its bitterness, strain and then spin in a salad spinner until dry. Fluff the dried radicchio. (Note: If you don't strain the ice out before adding the radicchio you'll be pulling out ice pieces for half an hour so that you don't have wet radicchio.)

In a large bowl, add the balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar, and chopped red onion. Break the onion up into pieces so that all of that oniony flavor gets into the vinegar. (Note: If you want to quick pickle and eat the onions themselves, Food52er hardlikearmour suggests adding the honey now too.) Let it sit for 1 hour and then strain out the onions.

Add the honey and olive oil to the strained vinegars and whisk.

Using your hands, toss the radicchio with the dressing until evenly coated. Add 1 cup of finely grated Manchego, salt, and toss again.

To serve, top the salad in a serving bowl with the remaining 1/2 cup grated Manchego or distribute salad and Manchego among 4 to 8 bowls or plates.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Arabic Sugar Mix

I am totally addicted. The other week I went to a cooking class in Munich that was a birthday gift from some very dear friends last year.  It was a cooking class at the famous Alfons Schuhbeck cooking school. Alfons Schuhbeck is a very famous cook in Germany and he also owns a couple of shops where he sells his great products and I went home with a couple of new spices and  recipes.
Besides others, I bought the arabic sugar spice mix and when I first used this mix I was in spice heaven.
The recipe for this mix is in one of his books that I happened to own and I have to share it with you.
Use it in your coffee, tea or hot chocolate, in a cake mix or in any dessert that you make.

Arabic Sugar Mix
(Alfons Schuhbeck)

100 g / 3 oz of sugar
1 t cardamom
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t cloves
1/4 t allspice
a pinch of nutmeg
a pinch of vanilla powder (I just added some pieces of a vanilla bean to the mixture, or replace a part of the sugar with some vanilla sugar)

Mix everything together and store in a nice glass jar.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon

In German we call beef stew "Gulasch" and besides all my experiments in the kitchen my kids sometimes request a classic dish that I don't make for them too often. The classic German recipe does not contain red wine or mushrooms but other than that it is quite similar. So when I picked Julia Child's recipe for Beef Bourguignon I was sure they wouldn't complain. This stew is a very comforting dish in the winter, and although we hope that spring is lurking around the corner, it is still cold enough to enjoy this hearty, comforting, rich, and delicious kind of food.

Beef Bourguignon 
(Julia Child)


One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock (I used water)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 white onions, small (I didn't make those)
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered

Cooking Directions

Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. (I simmered everything on the stove and didn't use the oven)
Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.

Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes.
Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust).

Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.
Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.
Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.
Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.
Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.
Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms.
Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan.
Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.
Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.

Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.
Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Macarons have been on my "to make list" for a long time now. Turns out, there are not too difficult after all. I decided to go with Thomas Keller's recipe because his recipes are usually foolproof. I found the only tricky part was to pour the sugar syrup into the egg whites. If you don't hit the right spot you will get little sugar crystals all over your bowl. Next time, I will take the bowl out of the mixer and mix manually while adding the syrup. That way you can aim more precisely. They don't look too bad for the first time, right? My filling was very easy too, I just filled them with a little dollop of Nutella.

(Thomas Keller, Bouchon Bakery)

(I halved the amount and had about 36 macarons, about 2cm)

Almond flour/meal
212 grams | 1 3/4 cups + 2 1/2 tablespoons

Powder sugar
212 grams | 1 3/4 cups + 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons

Egg whites
82 grams | 1/4 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons
90 grams | 1/4 cup +  2 tablespoons

Granulated sugar, plus a pinch for the egg whites
236 grams | 1 cup + 3 tablespoons

158 grams | 2/3 cup

Food coloring
3 – 4 drops

You will need a Thermapen or another candy thermometer, a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch plain tip, and a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch plain tip. Baking in a convention oven is preferable; the tops of the macarons baked in a standard oven often develop small speckles, which can affect the texture (though not the flavor)

For the macarons: Because the cookies will be sandwiched, it is important that they be as close in size as possible. Even if you are proficient with a pastry bag, we suggest making a template, as we do. Use a compass or a cookie cutter as a guide and dark marking pen, such as fine-tip Sharpie.

1. Lay a sheet of parchment paper. Trace 4 evenly spaced 2 1/4-inch circles along the top long edge, leaving 1 inch of space between them. Trace 3 circles below them, spacing them between the first circles. Continue with another row of 4, followed by another row of 3. Turn the parchment paper over and lay it on a sheet pan. Lift up each corner of the parchment and spray the underside with nonstick spray to keep it from blowing up while cookies are baking. Repeat with a second sheet pan and piece of parchment paper.

2. Preheat the oven to 350°F (convection) or 400°F (standard).

3. Place the almond flour in a food processor and pulse to grind it as fine as possible.

4. Sift the almond flour and powdered sugar into a large bowl and whisk together. Mound the almond flour mixture, then make a 4-inch well in the center, leaving a layer of the flour at the bottom. Pour in the 82 grams | 1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons egg whites and combine with a spatula, stirring until evenly distributed. Set aside.

5. Place the remaining 90 grams/1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Combine the 236 grams | 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and the water in a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until the syrup reaches 203°F/110°C.

6. Letting the syrup continue to cook, add the pinch of sugar to the egg whites, turn the mixer to medium speed, and whip to soft peaks. If the whites reach soft peaks before the syrup reaches 248°F/12o°C, reduce the speed to the lowest setting, just to keep them moving.

7. When the syrup reaches 248°F/120°C, remove the pan from the heat. Turn the mixer to medium-low speed, and slowly add the syrup, pouring it between the side of the bowl and the whisk; the meringue will deflate. Increase the speed to medium and whip for 5 minutes, or until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. Although the bowl will still be warm to the touch, the meringue should have cooled; if not, continue to whip until it is cool.

8. Fold one-third of the meringue into the almond mixture, then continue adding the whites a little at a time ( you may not use them all) until when you fold a portion of the batter over on itself, the “ribbon” slowly moves. The mixture shouldn’t be so stiff that it holds its shape without moving at all, but it shouldn’t be so stiff that it holds its shape without moving at all, but it shouldn’t be so loose that it dissolves into itself and does not maintain the ribbon; it is better for the mixture to be slightly stiff than too loose. Add 3-4 drops of food coloring into the finished meringue mixture and mix well.

9. Transfer the mixture to the  pastry bag with the 1/2-inch tip. Hold the bag upright 1/2 inch above the center of one of the traced circles and pipe out enough of the mixture to fill in the circle. Lift away the pastry bag and fill the remaining circles on the first pan. Lift up the sheet pan and tap the bottom of the pan to the spread the batter evenly and smooth any peaks left by the pastry bag. If using a convection oven, bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the tops and shiny and crisp. If using a standard oven, place the sheet pan in the oven immediately lower the oven temperature to 325°F, and bake for 9 to 12 minutes, until the tops are shiny and crisp. Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely. If using a standard oven, preheat it to 350°F again.

10. Pipe the remaining meringue mixture into the circles on the second sheet pan and bake as directed above. Let cool completely.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Two Biscuit Recipes

Homemade fluffy biscuits are easy to make. Slathered with butter or topped with a dollop of jam they are great for breakfast or just coffee. Tender and moist these biscuits are a real treat and you can have them on your table in no more than 30 minutes.

Simple Buttermilk Biscuits

3 cups / 400 g all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup / 250 ml buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425°F. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Using fingertips, rub 3/4 cup chilled butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk and stir until evenly moistened. Using 1/4 cup dough for each biscuit, drop biscuits onto baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until biscuits are golden brown on top, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm.

Fresh Cranberry and Meyer Lemon Biscuits
(from Joy the Baker)

makes 10 to 12 biscuits

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar (FFEK: I used less)
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup cold buttermilk
1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped (you can used thawed and drained berries from the freezer although the scones will have a more pink color) (FFEK: I used dried cranberries)
1 teaspoon Meyer lemon zest or regular lemon zest
1 beaten egg for brushing the tops of the scones before baking
turbinado or granulated sugar for sprinkling on top before baking

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, pinch of ginger, salt, and sugar.  Cut in butter (using your fingers or a pastry cutter) until mixture resembles a coarse meal.  Work the butter into the dry ingredients until some of the butter flakes are the size of peas and some are the size of oat flakes.    In another bowl, combine egg and milk and beat lightly with a fork.  Add to flour mixture all at once, stirring enough to make a soft dough.  Fold in the cranberries and zest.

Turn out onto a floured board and knead about 10 times.  Roll or pat out into a 1-inch thickness.  Cut into 2-inch rounds using a round cutter or cut into 2×2-inch squares.  Reshape and roll dough to create more scones with excess scraps.    Place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Brush lightly with buttermilk and sprinkle with sugar.   Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown on top.  Serve warm.  Biscuits are best the day they’re made, and though they can be frozen and lightly reheated in the oven if you need a future treat.