Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Category: Tips Tricks and Lists

A Few Things the Germans Do Better Than You (Unless You’re German, in Which Case, You Do Them Better Than Others)

by lyzpfister

And I don’t mean fast cars or being on time or fancy silver watches that also tell the temperature, your mood, and the relative velocity at which you’re moving through space.  I mean, the things that really matter.  Like food.  A short eat-list for you that I’ve compiled at the three-month mark:

1. Nutella with butter: No, Nutella with just bread is not enough.  I want my Nutella smeared thickly over a piece of bread sheened with butter. Daily decadence. (I’d like to amend this, actually, to butter with everything… butter with cheese, butter with salami and arugula, butter with salmon…)

2. Quark yogurt: Quark is a creamy curd cheese (which doesn’t sound all that good, does it…) used in a number of sweets.  Cheesecake, for instance, can be made with quark instead of cream cheese and the result is a much lighter cake, like custard pumped with air. But my favorite thing + quark is yogurt. My absolute favorite has peach-maracuja fruit on the bottom.

3. Apfelschorle: Apple juice is so boring. Seltzer is so boring. And yet, two boring things together is so unboring.

4. Mayonnaise on French fries: It’s called pommes rot-weiß, French fries served with a dollop of ketchup and mayonnaise, and it’s the only way to eat French fries, really.

5. Spätzle: I mean, they’re ugly noodles. Fat little fingers of doughy noodles pressed into a vat of boiling water and pulled out scant minutes later with just the right amount of chew.  And they’re endearingly ugly, especially peeking out from beneath a blanket of creamy, umami-laden mushroom gravy.

6. The Imbiss: The original food truck, albeit often without wheels.  Everywhere you go, stalls and carts serving snacks and small meals have people stuck to them like gnats on peaches.  For very little money, you can find anything from döner kebab to crepes to currywurst (a phenomenon I admittedly don’t understand) and eat it standing at tall, improvisational tables or carry it along with you as you walk.

7. Laugenweckle: Imagine soft pretzels squashed into roll form. Now imagine how amazing it is to have all the deliciousness of that buttery soft-pretzel taste spread over a larger surface area so you can smear even more delicious things on top of it.  Like butter and Nutella.

8. Potato salad: vinegar, broth, salt, pepper, chopped onion, oil.  Don’t you dare use the word mayonnaise.

9. Bakeries: Puddingbretzel, Beinenstich, Amerikaner – trays of delicious goodies like these (pretzel-shaped pastry filled with pudding, pastry filled with custard and baked with almonds and honey, and chocolate and vanilla iced cookies, respectively) are lined up next to ready-made sandwiches and bread baked fresh daily.  The quality of the bread in most of these bakeries is not always equally good – and very few do their own on-site baking, but I love that there are these bakeries on every corner, making buying pre-packaged bread irrelevant.  Better than the donut wall at the grocery store, and that’s saying something.

10. Affordable groceries: At the end of the day, it’s really nice to know that I can actually afford to buy nice things, like good cheese and beer, fruits, vegetables, freshly baked bread – even on just the money I make translating. Because if you can eat well, you can live well.

And though I wanted to end with a nice number like 10, there are just two more things I thought of after I wrote 1-10, and I couldn’t decide what to delete, so I decided simply to add. Bonus round.

10a. Schokomüsli – yes, that’s no false cognate.  Chocolate and müsli, together at last.  You remember müsli, that really healthy granola the Swiss love so much – raw oats, nuts, grains, and other variations thereof with fruit, yogurt, etc.? Yes, well, it’s all that healthy stuff – and chocolate. Brilliant.

10b. Glühwein – I had my first Glühwein of the year at Berlin’s Festival of Lights in late October. Walking around in the cold October air, looking at the Berlin’s big buildings lit up with bright lights, a hot cup of spiced wine was better than a pair of gloves. Of course, by the time the Christmas season ended, I wouldn’t have minded never having a cup of the stuff again. But the first one is always special.

Advertisements

Broke Eating 101, a Blog Post for Cedric

by lyzpfister

Last night at work, I found myself talking about food.  Again.  This happens to me often, usually because I bring my own lunch and when someone asks me what it is, I can’t just say “pasta.”  I have to say, “bowtie pasta with a sauce of crushed tomatoes, garlic, olives, capers, and onion topped with grated Sicilian black pepper cheese.”  And then, invariably, we start talking about food, or I launch into some rhapsodous description of what I made for dinner last night.  And, invariably, it’s the same few people who walk in on me, talking about food, again, and say, “Lyz!  You’re always talking about food!”  I mean, maybe.  But I have other hobbies.  Really, I do.

But last night, after going on a foodie spiel, I was asked by a co-worker my advice on cooking cheaply and healthily for yourself.  He was taking notes.  No one had ever taken notes.  But, since there’s no better way to make yourself an expert than to just present yourself as one, I launched into an avalanche of advice.  Really, I’m no expert (I lied, I’m sorry, forgive me), but I think I do manage to make delicious food for very little money.  And so, in the interest of sharing, here are some basic tenets on my approach to cooking and how I manage to live on mostly nothing.

The Kitchen’s Golden Rule
Banish your fear.  Fear is your worst enemy in the kitchen.  You don’t need to measure things exactly, you don’t need to use parsley or caviar.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t be afraid to not follow a recipe exactly.  If you don’t have an ingredient, substitute something else – it might sound strange, but it could be delicious.  (See: the other day, I was making a mango milkshake, but was out of yogurt and used sour cream instead and ohmygoditwasamazing.)

Start With the Basics
Some things are easier to make than others.  Some things are easier to experiment with than others.  If you’re just starting to cook on your own or you want as much variation with as little redundant grocery buying as possible, start with these four things:  grain-based salads, sandwiches, pastas, egg dishes.  More on this later.

Develop a Good Staple and Spice Collection
This is really the key to making delicious food.  Here are some things I always have on hand:
Olive oil – both extra virgin to use cold (especially for salad dressings) and regular for sautéing and drizzling over roasting vegetables
Vegetable oil – for frying and baking
Seasoned rice wine vinegar – goes into every dressing I ever make
Spicy whole grain mustard – same as above
Honey – I like a light-colored honey to sweeten dressings, curries, roasts
Balsamic vinegar – I use this less than rice wine vinegar, but a splash of this is nice in dressings
Sriracha – the best hot sauce in the world, it goes with everything
Soy sauce or Shoyu – great for stir frys, dressings, sautéing vegetables
Mayonnaise – I’m not really big on mayonnaise as a thing itself, but I do use it in cooking as a binder for sandwich fillings or in dressings
Olives – not really a condiment, but I always have some on hand to chop up
Capers – same as with olives; they add such a great, briny flavor to pastas and salads
Peanut butter – the poor man’s power food; you can spread it on bread and use it in sauces for pastas and salad dressings
Brown Sugar – A great sweetener for curries, to make caramelized onions, and in tomato-based sauces
Butter – I mean, a little melted butter, some onions, an egg…
Salt and pepper – duh
Dried herbs – oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, basil
Spices – curry powder, berbere, turmeric, crushed red pepper flakes

Non-Perishable Foodstuffs I Usually Have
Think of these as your canvas and vegetables and meat as paint.  There are so many different types of grains out there that can be way more interesting than just rice and pasta, though those are good too.
Rice – there are so many different types of rice; I prefer white rice for hot dishes and brown rice for salads
Pasta – again, so many types; I like to have a few varieties on hand
Bulgur – delicious hot or cold, beautiful nutty taste
Couscous – also good hot or cold, soaks up the flavor of whatever you put on it
Quinoa – a lot like bulgur, different texture
Grits – great for breakfast, with melted cheese, hot sauce, or buried under eggs
Flour – super basic, great for thickening sauces and baking, of course
Breadstuff – this can include sliced bread, tortillas, or pitas (I know this is perishable, technically, but it fits better in this category…)

Perishable Foodstuffs I Usually Always Have, Too
You can use these things for EVERYTHING, so I try to always have some on hand.
Onions – use sliced, sautéed onions in pretty much everything
Garlic – ditto for garlic, a little bit goes a long way; also great in salad dressings
Potatoes – roasted, sautéed, mashed, and always filling
Parsley – people underestimate the power of garnishes, but there’s so much flavor in parsley and it brightens up any carb-heavy dish
Cilantro – you either love or hate cilantro, but if you love it, use it in salads, tacos, sandwiches, anything cold
Eggs – so versatile, more on these later
Cheese – I usually have a few types of cheese on hand; always a block of parmesan, and then I rotate between brie, feta, goat, blue, and cheddar
Cabbage – hot or cold, stir fry or slaw, another versatile food that lasts forever
Greens – a bunch of greens is so cheap and lasts for over two weeks

Grain-Based Salads
If you’re broke, you need to eat cheap, but you don’t need to sacrifice taste or health for something that’s going to fill you up.  The key is grain-based salads.  It’s simple: choose a grain (like rice, bulgur or quinoa) and cook it, chop up some veggies (carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumber, beets, jalapenos, cilantro, canned corn, red or green pepper, whatever), make a dressing (olive oil, rice wine vinegar, honey, mustard, salt, pepper, fresh herbs), and mix it all together.  Grains are super cheap and a little bit goes a long way, since it’s very filling.  So having a salad made with a grain base is great because you don’t need a lot of veggies to make a really great meal.  Use this principle to make pasta salads as well.

Sandwiches
There is nothing you can’t put between two slices of bread.  Forget sliced deli meat, yellow cheese, and mayo.  So boring.  Think:  crumbled blue cheese or feta, bacon, lettuce, homemade slaw, pequillo peppers, avocado, egg, mushroom – basically any leftovers you have in your fridge, throw it on bread.

You can even take some of your leftover grain-based salad, put it on a pita and then make a little cabbage and carrot slaw – and bam, you have a wrap.  Waste nothing.  Put it in a sandwich.

Pastas
What you can’t put in a pasta sauce… Think of pasta sauce as a way to use up leftovers.  Nubs of carrots, canned tomatoes, olives, capers, peppers, onions, eggplant, egg – just sauté veggies until soft, cook pasta, toss together.  Shave some parmesan on top.

Egg Dishes
Kind of the workhorse of broke cooking.  You can put anything in eggs (trend, anyone?).  A frittata can include: potatoes, onions, broccoli, greens, leftover pasta, parsley, tomatoes, chicken – or whatever else you happen to find.  Just soften everything in a skillet and then crack two eggs into the pan.

Some Final Thoughts
There’s more.  There’s always more.  But this is a great place to start if you’re new to cooking for yourself – or if you’re new to not having any money.  Especially if you’re new to not having any money and needing to cook for yourself.  Remember, just don’t be afraid to do anything and it’ll all turn out ok.

A New Thing
I’d like to ask your input, your advice.  We’re all about as expert as each other.  What can’t you cook without?  What do you always have on hand?  Ready: respond.

Something From Nothing (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

I wish there was a tiny chorus of approving gourmands that lived over my left shoulder and gave me a round of applause and a miniature pat on the back from each of their sprinkle-sized hands every time I verged on the brink of culinary genius.  Like when, after two months of mediocre results, I finally manage to make perfect foam with my espresso machine for four days in a row (right now!  I’m drinking perfect foam!  Isn’t it exciting?).  Or when, on the spur of the moment, I add a layer of strawberry jam between two layers of ordinary yellow cake with vanilla frosting.  Or when, coming home after a long day of work, I despondently shrug my shoulders at the mismatched food in my pantry, only to throw the mess together into something delicious half an hour later.

But there are no invisible gourmands.  It’s just me and my mouth and occasionally my roommates, who I make eat bites of my food as they walk past on their ways to something probably very interesting.

Can I clap for myself?

Luckily, I have a partner in crime – the other half to my half-full pantry – and together, we are very good at making something out of nothing.  The other day, we were sitting around, kvetching, drinking green tea with ginger and honey, and realized that it was dark (no hard feat in winter Brooklyn) and we were hungry.  This is kind of how the conversation went:

Me: “I’m hungry.”
Her: “Let’s make food.”
Me: “I don’t have anything.”
Her: “Me either.”
Me: “I have potatoes and blue cheese.”
Her: “I have lettuce.”
Me: “Ok, we’ll figure it out.”

The result being that we scrounged up a salad with peppery greens, blue cheese, canned beets, almonds, and a dressing of oil, cherry flavored balsamic vinegar, lemon, Dijon mustard, and honey.  We found a can of tuna and so made a tuna salad which we ate on the last slice of a dense, whole grain bread, split in two.  We didn’t even eat my potatoes.

The moral of that story is: there’s never really nothing, unless of course, there’s really nothing.

I believe I’ve made this point before, but not everything one cooks will be a success.  Not even everything will be good.  I’ve made horrible mistakes.  Ruining stir fry with too much ginger, underestimating the potency of fenugreek (never, ever underestimate the potency of fenugreek), attempting to make blue cheese and bruschetta work (it just sounds like it does).  But for all of those failures, there will be amazing wins.  And the wins are so much better because you figured them out yourself.  It isn’t some recipe Martha Stewart’s food lackeys have tested hundreds of times to find just the right ratio of cumin to salt.  It is one shot at something good, it’s Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star.

So shoulder gourmands or no, I will continue to experiment, to resist having to walk in the cold to the grocery store, to finally use the jar of brined lemons, the fennel bulb, the semolina flour, and the tamarind paste.  But maybe not together.

Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Tomatoes

This is one of those come-home-late-hungry-want-food-now dishes that I threw together a few nights ago.  Super easy, super good.

Melt a healthy chunk of butter in a saucepan and when melted, toss in one yellow onion, slivered, and oh, one or two tablespoons of brown sugar.  Stir the onion slivers around until they’re past translucent and at some point add one finely chopped clove of garlic.  In the mean time, put on a pot of water to boil and salt it if you’d like.  After the water has boiled, add a handful of linguine and set the timer for ten minutes.  After five minutes have passed, add a chopped tomato, basil leaves, and a dash of oregano to the onions and stir it around pleasantly.  Season with salt and pepper.  When your linguine is done cooking, drain it and rinse it with cold water, then add it to your onions and tomatoes.  Toss everything thoroughly and maybe add a dash of olive oil to bring it all together.

A Few of My Favorite Things (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

Or, more precisely, ten of my favorite things. Making this list was harder than I thought it would be. For instance, how much of the list was I going to devote to spices or non-essential ingredients? Did these ingredients have to work together? Would this be an “if you were stranded on a deserted island…” list?  What if I ended up devoting the entire list to cheese?

What this list has ended up being, however, is a list of foods that recur in my food life, continually influence what I order in a restaurant, or are things I’d just really miss if they didn’t exist. There are a number of food items that come up again and again on this list, such as garlic and tomatoes, that didn’t make the actual top ten, and I’m wondering if that means they should be here too. But then i realize the beauty of a top ten foods list. It’s inclusive.

Olive Oil

Josh, having spent six months eating the real stuff in Italy, is certainly more of a connoisseur of olive oils than I am, but I do know a good thing when I’ve got it. Olive oil has the magical ability to transform anything. The bread they serve to you at restaurants? Boring. The bread they serve to you at restaurants plus a little bowl of oil and crushed herbs? Delicious. Broiled eggplant? Boring. Broiled eggplant brushed with olive oil? Delicious. Olive oil is also first on my list because it’s so integral to my cooking. It is a rare dish that wasn’t brushed with, soaked through, or sautéed in olive oil. It’s also first on my list, because it is often how many of my recipes start – a hot skillet drizzled with oil.

Goat Cheese

I love cheese. I love all cheese. In fact, I had a hard time not making everything on this list cheese (feta, blue cheese, and cream cheese were all serious contenders). But I love love love goat cheese. The first time I had goat cheese was in eighth grade French class, when our teacher brought a tiny log of chèvre to smear on chunks of baguette. I was instantly smitten. Goat cheese makes me think of ice cold water from country wells, rolling green hills, wildflowers, a crisp breeze cutting through a warm, Provinçal sun. It’s simple, cool, fresh, and breezy – the antidote to sautéed mushrooms or garlicky tomatoes and basil, the crown of a fresh baked loaf of bread.

Brie

When I’m not currently enamored with goat cheese, I’m doting on brie as if it’s an old millionaire uncle about to die. I like my brie soft, with insides the consistency of butter left to sit at room-temperature, and with a thin, mild shell that adds just the slightest pungency. One of my favorite meals consisted of freshly bought French bread slathered with brie and topped with cherry tomatoes, shared in the middle of the campus lawn one May evening during final exams. Where goat cheese is simple and fresh, brie is just a little bit complicated. It’s rich, sexy, versed in the trappings of high society, and pairs well with a dangerous glass of red wine.

Crusty Bread

What brie and goat cheese both share is an affinity for crusty bread, preferably the kind of crusty bread that’s been freshly baked and crisps when torn apart. Its insides are warm and yeasty and yield to pressure without becoming paper thin when pressed with a butter knife. Crusty bread is the ideal foil for any sort of tapenade, dip, or cheese, but also is delicious by itself, eaten on a long car ride until the whole loaf is gone.

Eggplant

If I’m having trouble deciding what to order on a menu, and I happen to see a dish with eggplant in it, that dish will invariably win. I love eggplant because it’s complicated, both in flavor, texture, and preparation. It’s easy to ruin – not cooked long enough, eggplant is an unfortunate foray into bitter chewiness, overcooked, it squeaks. Eggplant must be thoroughly oiled and cooked until opaque and should crush apart with the slightest pressure from a spoon. When properly prepared, eggplant is absolutely delicious. I love its versatility; from Moroccan tagines to roast-garlic infused tapenades to Mediterranean-style roasts of eggplant, feta, and tomato to eggplant parmesan, eggplant has the ability to work within a variety of cuisines and adapt their flavor while imparting its own silky texture, and rich earthiness to whatever dish it graces.

Smoked Salmon

I rarely eat smoked salmon. Every now and then, when my wallet is feeling generous, I indulge in a pack of pale pink salmon, glistening and lined with white streaks of fat. I have my bread, my cheese, a thin slice of salmon and feel utterly refined. I just returned from a trip to Washington DC, where I dined at the News Café on a savory crepe filled with smoked salmon, crème fraiche and caviar, and I assure you, I stuck my pinky out the entire time.

Bagels

I think bagels are a good follow up to smoked salmon, since most of the time, I eat my salmon on a bagel with cream cheese, capers, and maybe a thinly sliced sliver of red onion. A good bagel is slightly chewy, yet light with a touch of sweetness. It is the perfect base for cream cheese, ham and tomato, roast beef and cheddar, melted gruyere and gherkins. Not only are they deliciously versatile, but a toasted sesame bagel with plain cream cheese and a glass of ice water is the perfect hangover cure. So I hear.

Eggs

Looking through some of my posts, eggs tend to come up often. Egg-in-toast, sautéed greens with egg and feta, quiche, French toast, scrambled eggs… Nobody seems to remember the TV jingle from a few years ago that went, “I love eggs, na-na-na-na-na-na-na, from my head down to my legs. Scrambled or fried, sunny side – I love eggs,” but it pretty succinctly sums up my feelings about eggs. Another versatile food, eggs are also essential in many things, especially desserts and baked goods. You can’t even make Funfetti cake without eggs. My favorite eggs, though, are organic eggs from free-range hens cooked over easy, so that intense orange yolk runs out over whatever it’s on and you have to sop up the last bits of egg with bread or home fries or rice.

Basil

Hands down my favorite herb. I’ve tried to grow basil countless times (I even name my basil plants), but they always end up dying – probably because my musty college dorm rooms don’t get quite the amount of sunlight basil requires to survive. Basil is essential in Italian cookery, and because I love my pastas and pizzas, I always try to have fresh basil on hand. I first fell in love with basil on a family reunion in Italy, when the herb grew fresh outside our window, and every night we’d make a salad of ripe tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil drizzled with olive oil, freshly ground pepper and coarse salt.

Salt

Of course salt is on my list. People died for this stuff. I don’t personally use much salt in my cooking, but I absolutely recognize its importance. I believe that salt, like makeup, should be an enhancer rather than a concealer. Too much salt overpowers whatever you cook, but too little, and you notice something’s missing. Salt livens the flavors of vegetables, sauces and dips and brings out the juices of roasted meats and broiled vegetables. However, the best dishes with salt in them taste nothing like salt. Like olive oil, salt shapes my kitchen and my palate.

Nothing is Sacred (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

As I was packing up to leave home after a relaxing Easter break, I realized there was nothing left in the house to eat.

By nothing, I mean, there was lots of leftover ham.

Hungry, and inspired by an almost hidden recipe in Gourmet, I decided to give in and eat ham again, but this time as miniature ham croquettes. Only a little bit daunted by the recipe’s injunction to “deep fry” the croquettes in a stomach-churning amount of vegetable oil, I dutifully followed the recipe, mashing white rice, ham, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and egg together into sticky balls and rolling them in bread crumbs. Maybe I didn’t let the rice cool long enough, or maybe my egg just wasn’t enough like cement, but my croquettes looked more like misshapen footballs than the cute, symmetrical spheres in the magazine’s pages. Armed with the longest spoon I could find, I plopped those tentative blobs into the hot oil and hoped they wouldn’t disintegrate too much. And then, as I noticed the thick smoke billowing through the kitchen, I mercilessly abandoned them as I frantically opened all the windows and doors within a fifteen foot radius.

Miraculously, the croquettes were only mostly burnt.

The good deed done, the leftover ham used up, I took my benighted croquettes to the table and took a bite.

Bland. Bland, bland, bland.

Why, you may ask, am I telling you this? Let me tell you.

I am telling you this because it teaches some valuable lessons about cooking. One, that not everything you make will be good. Two, that some things will be bad. And three, that the recipe is never sacred.

Taste copiously while you cook to make sure that it’ll turn out all right, and if it doesn’t taste good, add something new, like horseradish or cumin or caraway seeds. If you’re cooking with raw eggs (see: this disastrous attempt), you may not have that privilege. And in that case, when it’s done and it’s awful, call on your friends Harissa or Texas Pete, and invite them to dine. Unless it’s completely and utterly charred, spoiled, smashed, or exploded, don’t throw it away. Almost everything is a little bit salvageable.

In this case, I slathered those deep-fried bundles with either wasabi or Dijon mustard, and ate them with a little more appreciation.

Alas, as I went back to the fridge to rummage for more condiments, I heard a thud behind me and whirled around to see Molly the Beagle chomping the last of them with much more gusto than I had mustered.

So then I had a deviled egg.

Easy as Dressing Yourself. Or a Salad. Whichever. (a post by Josh)

by lyzpfister

There are a few things that I think people need to make at home. Salad dressing is one of many. No more buying them at some store for too much money. It just seems like a waste to have the ingredients in your kitchen, and also a big jar of Ranch dressing (made of who knows what).

This banter is mainly from my countless dinner parties where someone would ask “is there dressing on the salad yet?” “yeah” “oh, what kind?” “I don’t know, I just made it” “OH! How! I don’t think I could do that.”

Yes, yes you can. And yes, those exclamation points are in there for a reason. It’s real simple, though, to make a salad dressing. I’m going off of a vinegrette (and not anything heavy), but here are the basic ingredients:

Read the rest of this entry »