Archive for February, 2012

What’s the Wurst?

When dad’s a chef/owner of a German restaurant, the word “wurst” is heard quite a bit. I couldn’t help but to hear that inner guilty childish giggle every time it was verbalized. It sounded dirty.

Now, where do you even find a wurst or a wienershnitzel (why does the Lorena Bobbitt story always come to mind)? Oops, there goes that giggle again. Well, Germans and Austrians do love their meat – suppress the giggle – but in a time where everyone is carrying a pill bottle of Lipitor or trying to fill up on salad and tofu, there’s hardly a demand for consuming protein- and starch-heavy dishes.

There are those days, however, especially when it’s cold, when you need a little pork fat to warm up your veins. And there is still the older generation of German immigrants who are true to their hometown cuisine. So where to go since dad’s place in New Jersey has been closed for five years? I’ve tried these so-called German restaurants that are nothing more than a tailgate party of hot dogs and beer. Then I found Heidelberg, NYC. This had the wood, the steins, the lederhosen and dirndl, and of course the boots of beer.

Traditional offerings include a Wurst Platter, wiener- and Jaegerschnitzel, rouladen, kassler rippchen and sauerbraten. The king of all the dishes, though, that will make you forget about the bratwurst quickly, is the schweinehaxe (enough for 2). The roasted pork shank with the large bone in center provides you with an array of flavors from the crunchy outer skin to the moist center meat that takes on multiple characteristics depending on which side you approach. When it’s brought to the table, you think, “that’s so much meat.” But it becomes an exploration and a puzzle trying to figure out how this piggy can deliver so much and be so  juicy without any gravy. The next thing you know: nothing but bone..

I don’t mean to worship this swine so much, but you’ll understand when you sink your teeth into it, and you’ll never really stop thinking about the rendezvous with Porky, since you probably won’t meet again until you go back to Heidelberg NYC.

There are so many other German/Austrian dishes worth trying here, so go ahead slap your leather pants, loosen your belt, crash your beer mugs together and wish “Ein Prosit”! If you’re an Irish coffee kind of person, finish with the hot apple strudel and a Rudesheim Coffee.

You’ll be yodeling all the way home.

~Aufwiedersehen

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Goulash Soup

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Wurst platter for one

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Cucumber salad

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Duckling

Baked camambert with poached pear

Baked camembert with poached pear

Do you Fondue?

Growing up in a house with numerous display items that were “look-don’t-touch”, I often wondered why we had this pretty copper set. The only time I could handle it was when I was assigned to dusting the dining room. It may have actually been used in the early 70s, during the fondue party craze, but I was just a toddler and don’t recall any fork-poking and dipping and swirling revelry.

Fast-forward to the late 90s-ish, and out pops a fondue restaurant in Northern New Jersey. I didn’t understand at that time: My inner thoughts tried to reason – “Why would people just go to eat a dinner of melted cheese and cubed bread?” Silly me..that was my traditional understanding of fondue from the Swiss Miss W.

A group of us went to the Melting Pot in Westwood, NJ, and when I saw the menu, I was confused – you can ‘fondue’ shrimp and meat and vegetables in oil or broth? While choosing our cooking style and learning how to dip in the most sanitary way so as not to poke raw meat and then eat off the same poker, I realized I was enjoying myself. They offered several types of cheese fondue to start, like cheddar, and the idea just went against my Swiss nature. I needed the traditional, and they delivered rather closely to what I expected (Gruyère and Emmenthaler Swiss cheeses, white wine, garlic, nutmeg, lemon and Kirschwasser). I was almost fondue’d out by dessert time but had to indulge in a chocolate fondue. After all, I wasn’t planning a fondue party any time soon, and there was no way that copper pot was going to be dirtied.

A few years later, I had a strong need to get back to simplicity and have some real Swiss fondue, where else but in Switzerland! A fondue lunch (with nothing but that hot, melted cheese goodness, with the essential Kirschwasser I mentioned in my Black Forest Cake blog and cubes of hearth-baked bread) outdoors in Zermatt with the Matterhorn behind me felt like I had reached the heavenly root of my heritage.

I heeded our tour guide’s advice not to have beer with cheese fondue. It apparently turns the cheese into a rock in your stomach. After all, between the white wine and the kirsch in the fondue, that’s probably enough of an alcohol combination.

Ironincally, this review just came out: http://www.northjersey.com/food_dining/140267803_Restaurant_puts_fondue_in_diners__hands.html

Taking a Bird to Dinner

Chickens, cornish hens, you know – the bland birds – you really need to dress them up if you’re going to bring them up a class and make them suitable for a fancy dinner.  When I see “chicken” on a menu, my eyes generally don’t pause long enough to absorb the description. I move ahead quickly to other, more interesting menu items.

Sadly, poultry has not quite transcended the economic classes. It just can’t seem to break the barriers around the upper class of meats, which are highly guarded by the cow (veal)  and lamb and sometimes a pig or two, noticeably creatures without feathers. But if you get the bird naked, you can dress it up to fit in with at least the high-middle class.

For instance, skip that  boring flour dredging and massage some Dijon mustard on the skin. Poultry seasoning has the right combination of salt and herbs such as thyme, sage, marjoram, made specifically for the bird’s enhancement. If you’re not a fan of the mustard flavor, mayonnaise works just as well to help crisp up that skin. (Why haven’t they developed crispy chicken skin as a snack? Yum.)

This chickenwas finished with baking a fresh sprig of rosemary on top. There’s something about rosemary and chicken that marries well together.

 

This cornish hen was coated and baked with a cranberry-pomegranate reduction to add a little bit of sweetness if you like mixing your savory and sweet together.

The Sinful Sacher Torte

I had long forgotten about that sinful Sacher torte, which is full of chocolate goodness, until the Swiss Miss W. asked my brother, “What would you like me to make for your birthday?” Then came the reminder with his response: “Sacher Torte”.

I recall her making one in my youth, but I was never one for things laden with so much sweetness, so much chocolate, EXCEPT a more recent memory contradicted all of that. On a trip to Austria about five years ago, we were in Vienna, and we found ourselves standing in front of the Hotel “Sacher” http://www.sacher.com/en-hotel-sacher-vienna.htm. I, being ignorant of the history of the Sacher torte (after all, who really cares about intellectual particulars when your taste buds are having a drunken party?) A cartoon bubble popped open above my head: “Sacher? Could this have any connection to the cake I tasted as a child?” The hotel must have seen my bubble and immediately responded with the sign that read: Home of the Original Sacher Torte.

I needed to go into this hotel, and I needed to experience the “ORIGINAL”. Now, history seemed much more interesting when taste-and-tell was involved. One slice was all that was needed to wake up my senses and recall – oh how delectibly sweet and chocolatey smooth. It wasn’t American, hurt-your-teeth white sugar sweet; it was European, glide-across-the palate, delicate yet rich,  kind of sweet. The light spread of Apricot jam in-between the layers was just enough to channel the moisture of the cake itself.

PHOTO CREDIT: http://www.sacher.com/en-original-sacher-tart.htm