Category Archives: Breakfast and brunch

Tomatoes II: Wrath of Khan, or, “It is very cold in THE FREEZER!”

Much like Admiral Kirk and his inevitable defeat of Khan, I have defeated the tomatoes. (Or should I say, “TOMATOOOOOES!”)


I’m not sure if this shot captures the mess that I felt was all over the little kitchen after dealing with the tomatoes, but lemme tell you: it was a battlefield. There were tomato guts, skins, and tears all over the counter and in the sink. I submit the above as evidence, lest you think the life of bloggers is all pretty pictures of food and happiness and sunshine, all the time.

But the battle was completely worth it, because look!:

ready to go

Thanks to a brilliant suggestion by Braeden’s mom, I easily defeated most of the tomatoes by blanching, peeling, lightly chopping, and freezing them in quart-sized freezer bags.

tomato jam

A halved recipe of this tomato jam also happened. It’s been spread into breakfast sandwiches with fried eggs and blanched kale, on toast with sweet pickled jalapeños, and on toast with feta sprinkled over top. In other words it’s very versatile, and what are you waiting for? You don’t even have to use all the listed ingredients – I used a bit less sugar, no ginger, and just a squeeze of lime and didn’t bother with sterilizing and canning since it will be eaten within a few weeks anyway. Easy, peasy.

If the Khan tomatoes are still tormenting you, though, may I suggest something else? Something green, perhaps?

green tomatoes

If you have the chance to get your hands on some green tomatoes, do it. And then fry them. With a gentle salting, followed by a quick dredge in seasoned flour, a light bath in an egg whisked with buttermilk, and a hefty coating of spiced cornmeal and breadcrumbs, those green tomatoes will be the happiest of green tomatoes in the world. Who wouldn’t want happy tomatoes? (Aside from Khan, that is.)

I adapted my recipe from here and was craving a Mexican spice profile at the time. After making them again, I didn’t see a reason to change the spices. Even the leftovers were good cold, straight from the fridge. I happened to have a few tomatillos on hand and put together a quick, fresh salsa of tomatillos, a few small tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro, lime, and salt to spoon over the fried green tomatoes, but they actually didn’t need a condiment. Even Braeden, the Condiment King, ate one or two without adornment.


Give it a shot. I was intimidated at first (dredging, coating, and frying, oh my!), but I promise this formula actually keeps the coating stuck on the tomatoes.

(And on your fingers. But this is a battle, so you should expect some minor injuries.)

battle wounds

A glass of sangria while you work couldn’t hurt, either.

Fried Green Tomatoes
Adapted from Simply Recipes

Notes: The first time I made these, I followed the original recipe measurements for the flour, egg/buttermilk mix, and cornmeal coating but ran out before I finished frying the last tomato, leaving me in a frenzy of mixing more to finish it off. Having enough coating just depends on the size of your tomatoes. The below measurements will likely make a little more than you need, but you should know that the flour, egg/buttermilk, and cornmeal combo also does wonders to other things that may be lurking around your kitchen – pickled okra, leftover slices of grilled eggplant, slices of already cooked sweet potatoes, for example. About the seasonings: I used cumin and two other spice blends (Goya Adobo and Ancho Chili and Lime), but use whatever you’d like. Do let me know if you try something you’re particularly excited about!

  • 3 medium-large green tomatoes
  • 1 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup breadcrumbs (plain, Panko, homemade, whatever you have)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Adobo seasoning
  • 1-2 teaspoons Ancho Chili and Lime seasoning
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup vegetable oil, for frying

1. Slice the tomatoes into ¼ inch rounds and arrange on a plate, lightly salting each slice. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

2. In a wide, shallow dish or bowl, combine the flour and pepper to taste. Set aside.

3. In another shallow dish, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs. Set aside.

4. In one more shallow dish, combine the cornmeal, breadcrumbs, and seasonings.

5. Heat about a 1/4 cup of oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet. While the oil is heating, arrange your assembly line: sangria with straw (optional), sliced tomatoes, flour bowl, buttermilk-egg bowl, cornmeal-breadcrumb bowl. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and place near your skillet.


6. Once oil is heated, start coating your tomatoes. Dredge both sides of a tomato slice lightly in flour, then coat both sides in the buttermilk-egg, and finally coat both sides in the cornmeal-breadcrumbs. Place in oil. Quickly repeat with more tomato slices, filling pan in a single layer of tomatoes. Cook about 3 minutes per side (they’ll be nicely golden-brown) and remove to paper towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat until you’ve used up all your tomatoes, replenishing the oil if needed. If you have leftover coating ingredients, experiment with other things in your refrigerator! (Just don’t save the cornmeal-breadcrumb mixture, since it will be contaminated with the raw egg.)

side one

side two


7. Serve with salsa, barbecue sauce, tomato chutney, or eat plain. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator – they’re good cold or gently crisped in an oven.

with salsa verde

Yes, tomatoes, it has been lovely doing battle with you, but I have won yet again.

In conclusion, I leave you with these words of wisdom:

“Ah Kirk, my old friend. Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us ‘Revenge is a dish that is best served cold.’? It is very cold in SPACE!”


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Fusions in Puerto Rico

I feel like a few months ago I was all “blah blah blah, I just want it to be summer and for there to be juicy, juicy peaches dripping down my face and onto my summery, summery sun dress” and now it’s all BAM. Summer! Busy! Potential possibilities for exciting things developing! On the verge of feeling overwhelmed but feeling really, really excited about it all! HUMIDITY.

Thankfully, for times such as these, you have people you can turn to. Such as, in my case, parents. In Puerto Rico.

woosh. photo credit: Braeden

Ahh, that’s better.

beach. photo credit: Braeden

As announced long, long ago, the German faction of The Troika Table up and moved to Puerto Rico. From the looks of things, I’d say they’re quite enjoying themselves. Braeden and I cleverly decided that in lieu of an Amazon gift card or some new-fangled, technological gadget for a Christmas present, we’d “settle” with tickets to Puerto Rico over the 4th of July week. (I surround “settle” with quotation marks because I want you to read that in a sarcastic tone. As in, who wouldn’t be fine with tickets to a Caribbean island as a Christmas present?) In other non-shocking news, Puerto Ricans don’t really celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July (although it is a fun beach-going holiday there). We didn’t mind, though – we were too busy eating juicy, juicy pineapple, watching subtitled French chick flicks, and drinking piña coladas. (And yes, since you asked, we also occasionally got caught in the rain.)

Along with a suitable amount of beach-going, sun-soaking, and picture-taking, we ate a lot of food. (This is a food blog, after all.) We sampled tostones, most often made of cooked plantains which were then smashed, fried, and dipped in a sort of ketchup-mayo sauce. At Crash Boat Beach near Aguadilla, we nibbled on pinchos while watching a man manipulate pelicans into doing tricks.

pinchos. photo credit: Braeden

the pelican man. photo credit: Braeden

Driving from Mayagüez to Ponce, we stopped at a cafe situated right above the water, where I finally tried the famed mofongo and a few other Puerto Rican delights.


Mofongo. photo credit: Braeden

Puerto Rican delights. photo credit: Braeden

Back at my parents’ house, we crafted our own Caribbean-inspired meal, making a variation of this pumpkin curry served with sautéed chayote and steamed breadfruit, which we had picked up at a roadside stand. Mom made pizza loaded with pepperoni, Canadian bacon, broccoli, grilled eggplant, and peppers. There was chipotle meatloaf. There was fried rice. There were breakfast hashes of crispy potatoes, peppers, and eggs. There were sweet-tart quenepas. There was the rainforest and its waterfalls. There were geckos, iguanas, and coqui.  There was rum. There was so much to see, to taste, to smell. I can’t wait to go back.

Puerto Rico

Where the pina coladas are made

fruit stand. photo credit: Braeden

music in Mayaguez

cafe by the sea


Bacardi on Bacardi

El Yunque. photo credit: Braeden


San Juan fort

San Juan

On the fort

Our recipe today is fusion food at its best: ebleskivers filled with guava paste, drizzled in a guava syrup. Ebleskivers are Danish pancakes and sort of a cross between an American pancake and a popover. You need a special ebleskiver pan to make these little treats, and I’m not sure what else you could use to replace the pan. Buy one online, or just keep your eyes peeled – I found a cast iron ebleskiver pan in an antique store in Gettysburg, PA. It might have cost $10. Mom found her ebleskiver pan before my sister and I were even born, at the tiny Hartline Grocery in good ol’ Hartline, Washington (AKA our homeland). Hartline Grocery was run by a man named Raymond, who happened to be a heavy smoker. Once when mom bought a box of oatmeal, the oats smelled like cigarette smoke. And once, when describing a rather sorry-looking Christmas tree, someone said he had seen more green on a loaf of bread at Raymond’s. Apparently his “fresh” food prices were higher than the bigger grocery stores but he had inventory in his store that had been there for decades and never changed the price stickers. Mom used to buy thread on real wooden spools for 10 cents when it would have cost a dollar or so in a fabric store. Then one day, she came across the ebleskiver pan, which cost maybe $4. When she took it up to the counter, Raymond asked what on earth she was going to do with it, surprised that she actually knew what it was. He had ordered the pans when Danes were farming over across the Coulee and had that one pan left that no one bought. (The Coulee is generally this area, AKA more of our homeland.)

the pan

Mom remembered learning about ebleskivers in a high school home economics class. The teacher was young and ahead of her time in terms of multicultural education, and she looked for people of any ethnic heritage in the community to come in to teach how to make traditional dishes.  They made Basque fish soup, Japanese tempura, and Danish ebleskivers.

For me, ebleskivers mean a special occasion. I remember them most from trips visiting my parents when I was in college, when the breakfasts were late and we could mill about, taking our time, because it was usually the holidays. Maple syrup was my first ebleskiver condiment, with Nutella eventually taking its place. This time, in Puerto Rico, Mom added a tropical twist and filled them with guava paste. If you’ve never had guava paste, I encourage you to go get some. You can definitely find it in a Latin American store, and I’d even think in a well-stocked grocery store (in the Goya section). It comes in fairly sizable blocks or discs and can be used in a variety of recipes from empanadas to pies to muffins to glazes to syrups to just sliced, with a cube of cheese. It also lasts forever (relatively speaking), since it has so much sugar.


The stories about the origins of ebleskivers are murky at best, but my favorite comes from a Viking myth: Vikings, famished and returning from a fierce battle, had no pans in which to cook and thus flung their battered shields onto a fire, making pancakes in the indentations. While that might not be quite how ebleskivers came about, we do know that three main islands of the US Virgin Islands were in Danish possession from the 1600s until 1916. Who knows – maybe one of the Danes added guava to his ebleskivers.

Guava ebleskivers with guava syrup
adapted from Julia Peterson Tufford’s Original Scandinavian Recipes
Makes about 28 ebleskivers, can easily be halved

scandinavian cookbook

For the guava ebleskivers:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups buttermilk, or 1 1/4 cups yogurt mixed with 3/4 cups milk, or 1 1/2 cups sour cream mixed with 1/4 cup milk
  • butter, for cooking
  • enough guava paste to fill desired amount of ebleskivers: if making 28, you’ll want 28 1/4-inch or  1/2-inch cubes.

cubes of guava

1. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the eggs and liquid and beat until smooth.

2. Heat your pan over medium to medium high heat. Cut your butter into little dabs so that you can quickly add it to your ebleskiver pan. Like this:

dabs of butter

3. When you add your butter, you want it to sizzle slightly, rather than nonchalantly melting. The sizzle means your pan is at the correct temperature to efficiently cook your ebleskivers through without taking too long. Take a deep breath, you can do it.

4. When your butter is sizzling, drop in the batter so it fills the holes about halfway. Working quickly, tuck a cube or two (depends how much guava you want!) into the batter, but don’t shove it down to the bottom. You want the guava to float in the batter, not get stuck to the pan. Dollop a little more batter on top to cover, and cook until you can slide a fork or knife under to see that the bottom is golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Using a fork or knife or your fingers if you’re an adventurous Viking, flip the ebleskivers to cook on the other side another few minutes.



They are best enjoyed hot out of the pan, drizzled with this simple guava syrup:

  • water
  • guava paste

In a small sauce pan, add a chunk about the size of a fist and slice it into cubes (you can just slice it right in the pan to avoid more sticky fingers). Over medium to medium-high heat, warm the guava paste with 1/2 cup of water, whisking and breaking up the guava to form a syrup. Once the guava is blended into the water and the syrup is simmering, you can decide if you want a thinner or thicker syrup and add more water or more guava accordingly. Any leftover syrup happens to go quite well with peanut butter, on bread.

a happy 4th of July

¡Buen provecho!

Kara and Tami

the fort

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Who Doesn’t Love a Little Irish?

I’m not sure which I like more, breakfast foods or St. Patrick’s Day food.  Good thing it’s March, and I have an excuse to have a little extra corned beef!  Almost every time we go out for breakfast, I get corned beef and hash.  Jason doesn’t like any of it, except for the kind I make at home.  Who wouldn’t take that pat on the back?  I know I will!

Normally, this dish consists of ground corned beef, ground onions, very finely diced potatoes, and topped with fried eggs.  I will still eat it, and love it, but Jason won’t.  A few years ago, I decided to find a way to make him love the dish as much as I do.

First off, peel and dice potatoes.  I used Russet potatoes because that’s what we had.  I think I prefer Yukon Gold, though.  They provide a bit of extra creaminess.


diced potatoes

Next, dice one small onion.  Chop leftover cooked corned beef, as well as roasted green chiles just to make the dish a little more Colorado.  It is fantastic!

chilies, corned beef, onion

In a skillet, cook the potatoes in some butter, probably 3 tablespoons or so.  If in question, add more butter.  Lets face it (to quote my least favorite celebrity chef): butter does in fact make it better.  Season the potatoes with salt and pepper.

In a separate skillet, cook the onions, corned beef, and green chiles until the unions are slightly softened in just a bit more butter.

Combine the corned beef mixture with the potatoes, and keep them warm while you make the eggs to go on top.

Corned Beef ‘N Hash

Make as many eggs as you want, and cook them however you like.  My personal favorite is two eggs, fried, over-easy/ almost over-medium-ish.  Place the eggs over the mixture, top with sliced green onions (would you expect anything else?) as well as your favorite hot sauce.

Corned Beef ‘N Hash with Egg and Sauce

Enjoy, especially since it is almost St. Patty’s Day!


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Banana chocolate rum bread

Of all the family stories, the one most fascinating* to me is that of my great-grandpa.  My mom can tell this story better than I, but it involves the Great Depression, hitching rides on trains from West Virginia out to the promise of the West, singing gospel songs on the radio along the way, and eventually, happenstance-ly, meeting the brother of the woman who would eventually become my great-grandma.  Maybe we can get Mom to tell the story in its entirety.

I was very young when those great-grandparents passed away, but I still have two solid memories of my great-grandpa:

1) Whenever my mom and I visited, he would have fresh, summer-ripe peaches for me to eat, but insisted that they be peeled by dropping them in a pot of boiling water to slip the skin off. This, of course, took time – time for the pot of water to boil, time to allow the peaches to cool before slurping them up, and time wasted (in my 3- or 4-year-old mind, at least) that could have been spent slurping up more peaches.

2) He made the best banana bread. Without doubt. No banana bread could ever rival his banana bread.  As such, I’ve long given up the dream of ever having delicious banana bread again. (I had very sophisticated tastes at 3 or 4 years old, believe you me.)

Sometimes, though, a memory wants to be more than just remembered – it wants to be recreated, tried again, honored, even.

So here we are. Luisa sums this recipe up quite perfectly:

“What sets it apart from other banana breads is the huge amount of brown sugar in the batter. It entirely replaces the usual white sugar and adds not only to the appealing dampness of the final product, but it also gives the banana bread a depth of caramel flavor and a warmth that I wasn’t expecting. It’s not overpowering – molasses doesn’t waft up from the crumb – but it’s more nuanced and delicious. Also, you don’t purée the bananas – you mash them with a fork, leaving little lumps and bumps in the batter that give each finished slice tenderness and cozy banana flavor.”

With a description like that, how could I not try to make banana bread that even my 3- or 4-year-old self would love?

…except when I started to mix the ingredients together, I came to a realization that, hopefully, a 3 or 4 year old wouldn’t come to: What goes quite, quite well with brown sugar, ripe bananas, vanilla, and chocolate? Rum – just a dash – a taste – a hint – of rum.

chocolate banana rum

The bread/cake comes from Nigel Slater, and it is absolutely a-ma-zing. Don’t wait 20-something years to make this banana bread, ok?

pre bake

Banana chocolate rum bread
adapted from The Wednesday Chef/Nigel Slater 

A note about measurements: In my “I just graduated from college! I need to have a decently stocked kitchen! I need a digital scale!” phase, I purchased a digital scale. I believe it was this one. It’s super convenient and accurate and has all those nifty weight options. What I’m saying is, I left the below measurements in grams. Sorry if that makes this recipe difficult to convert, but maybe this is life’s hint that it’s time for you start your “I found a delicious-sounding recipe! I need a digital scale!” phase.

  • 250 grams all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 125 grams softened butter
  • 235 grams muscovado or dark brown sugar or turbinado sugar
  • 4 to 5 ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon rum (I used Mt. Gay Eclipse Black rum)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100 grams dark chocolate, chopped (mine happened to be of the salted-nutty variety, and it was splendid)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 F. Line a standard-sized loaf pan with parchment paper, or grease/butter a loaf pan if you recently ran out of parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs and beat until combined and slightly fluffy.

3. Peel the bananas and mash them with a fork in a medium bowl.  You want the bananas to be a little lumpy and not completely pureed. Stir the vanilla extract and rum into the bananas.

4. Fold the chocolate and mashed banana mixture into the butter/sugar/egg bowl.  Gently mix the flour and baking powder into the banana batter.

5. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and bake in the oven for 50 – 55 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the bread is browned and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

6. Remove the bread from the oven and let sit on a rack for 15 minutes, then gently plop the bread out of the pan and allow to cool completely on the rack.

Luisa says the bread will keep for a week or more – we’re on day three and it’s more than halfway gone, so I doubt we will have the chance to test its longevity. Also, this bread is quite good toasted, with a pad of butter. Or, nutella. Surprised?


In other news, I have about five (5!!!) other recipes I neeeeeed to tell you all about. Omg, you guys, they’re great.


*Ok there is actually another story about a different great (or maybe great great) grandpa who may or may not have been a dear, close friend of Pancho Villa and fled Mexico after that all went down, but that story is more family legend than fact. Maybe.

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Grilled cheese for breakfast (or whenever)

This morning, I was planning on getting up really early to make a yummy breakfast grilled cheese.  Although I did wake up far too early, I didn’t make it for breakfast.  Instead, I made a breakfast-for-lunch grilled cheese.


Breakfast grilled cheese

I made scrambled eggs by combining:

  •  6 eggs (this was for 2 adults and 3 kids)
  • 1 tablespoon of heavy cream
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sliced green onions (my kids claim that they don’t like green onions…but if they come from my gene pool, lets face it… they love them. Even if they don’t realize it yet.)

I cooked the eggs in a buttered skillet until they were almost done.  I left them fairly wet, because they cooked a little more when they were in the sandwich.


I cooked them a bit more than the picture shows. 🙂

After the eggs were ready, I let them sit for a little while to firm up a bit more. While the eggs were resting, I sliced the cheese and tomatoes. I then assembled the sandwich and grilled it!


I used an Irish cheese that was on sale, and it was amazing. The label said it was a “gouda style” cheese, so any gouda would be just as delicious.  For the bread, I used a ciabatta loaf, and sliced it up. Looking back on it, I probably would choose another bread.  The crust got a little chewy when grilled.  It was still good, good, good!



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Hi there

Hey, everyone. It’s been a while, I apologize. But! I’m going to show you something tasty and so quick you’ll be eating a satisfying lunch or snack in no time.

Ready? Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Strawberry basil grilled cheese
adapted (barely) from here

Notes: I used Russian black bread, which was lovely. I think any bread you’d like to use for a sandwich would be nice. As for the cheese, I used mozzarella. The original recipe recommends smoked cheddar or jack. I think gouda or a few dots of goat cheese could be interesting. Or then again, why not brie?

  • 2 slices bread
  • enough slices of cheese to fit comfortably on your sandwich
  • 3 or 4 basil leaves
  • a handful of strawberries (I used about 8-10 small ones)
  • splash of balsamic vinegar

Rinse and slice strawberries, place in a small bowl or cup. Splash with balsamic vinegar and let sit for 15 – 30 minutes.

Start a small pan heating with a touch of olive oil over medium-low heat.

Assemble sandwich: layer cheese, strawberries, and basil leaves onto bread, top with other slice.

Cook in pan, pressing down a few times to get a nice browned and slightly panini-esque flatness to the sandwich. Grill, flipping occasionally to prevent burning, until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes total. I like to place a lid over the sandwich to speed the cheese-melting along. Or, use a panini press.

Tah dah, you have a sandwich. Also, we think this formula would work wonderfully with all sorts of fruits and herbs and cheese. Peaches splashed with balsamic or red wine vinegar + fresh ricotta + basil, maybe? Plums dashed with cider vinegar + mozzarella + arugula (+ prosciutto or other cured ham?!).

What other combinations would you try?


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To Spring, and Mother’s Day, and Daylight and Green Things

First, a dedication:  here are Edvard Grieg’s “To Spring” and Christian Sinding’s “Rustles of Spring” for all the mothers out there, especially to my own mom and others who faithfully drove their kids to music lessons week after week.  The Grieg piece is beyond me now, but I surprised myself recently when I sat down at the piano and discovered I can still sort of play “Rustles of Spring” (it sounds a lot harder than it really is).

It makes a lot of sense that Norwegian composers would salute spring in their music.  Even here where we live in Germany, winter is long, cloudy, and dark, and the arrival of spring is a welcome change.  This year we had an early teaser with several beautiful weeks in March, then it turned gray and cold on us.  Finally now every day is longer and lighter, the trees are all covered with new leaves, it’s getting warmer, and I have a couple of springtime recipes that go together very nicely – nettle turnovers and Spargelsuppe.

A month or so ago I was talking with my friend Rebecca and she mentioned some kind of whipped up green appetizer they’d sampled somewhere in the Black Forest.  The chef wouldn’t say what it was, but he did say no, no, and no when she guessed ingredients such as spinach, peas, and asparagus.  I wondered if it might be nettles, and that set me to looking up recipes and gathering tips.  Stinging nettles grow all over around my favorite walking route, but around that time we hit a busy and rainy spell and I didn’t make it out to pick any until the other day.

In my reading I learned that nettles have historically been valued as a spring food source in northern Europe, especially in places like Scandinavia and the Baltics.  In fact, when I gave Rebecca a sample of my nettle turnovers she mentioned that her neighbor from Lithuania said they always used to gather nettles for soup and dry them for tea.  Rebecca got me started on this nettle tea with lemongrass and I really like it.

Nettles don’t even grow where I come from on the dry side of the Evergreen State, so I didn’t know what they looked like until I pulled one out of my little flower garden after we moved to Germany (bare-handed gardening, ouch!).  Ever since then I’ve been careful to avoid nettles when I’m out walking, and it felt a little funny to be purposefully seeking them out.  Although they are thriving along all the nearby country roads and trails, it seemed like a good idea to gather my greens off the path a ways where people don’t walk their dogs.  Other than that, my only tips are to go gathering before the plants get tall and start to bloom, wear gloves, hold the top of the plant with tongs, snip to remove the top few sets of leaves, and drop the cuttings into a basket or other container (and don’t touch them!).



When you get home, use the tongs to hold each stem while snipping off the leaves, then dump the leaves into a big bowl of cold water to wash away any dirt or bugs, which will settle to the bottom of the bowl (well, the bugs might float, but you can pick them out with a spoon).  I found lots of conflicting advice about blanching time, ranging from 30 seconds to five minutes, and just today I came across a New York Times article from last week that said blanching is not necessary – the leaves can go straight into a sauté pan and the heat will deactivate the sting (and next year I might be brave enough to try it with young early spring nettle leaves).  I put a big pot of salted water on to boil, thinking I’d go with a minute, but I chickened out and left the leaves in for almost three minutes just to be sure they wouldn’t sting me.  I didn’t think to try to weigh the leaves, but I started out with a big pile of leaves, and after blanching, chilling in cold water, draining, and squeezing excess water out I had a solid ball of green stuff about the size of a softball.  I would say it was about a pound of leaves, or maybe a quart and a half to two quarts of loosely packed leaves before blanching.



The turnovers use the same method as spanakopita triangles, and I think it would work very well to use a spanakopita recipe with nettles instead of spinach.  When I was getting ready to do something with nettles I didn’t have any feta, but I did have some mascarpone I bought with a vague purpose in mind, plus some shredded emmentaler, and the combination turned out very well.  I added an egg as a binder to keep the mascarpone from melting all over the oven, and continued the green theme by finally thinking to use some of the mass of chives growing on the edge of the terrace.  The result looked like it was bursting with chlorophyll! Next year I’ll try to go out gathering much earlier in the season and make some beautiful spring-green filled turnovers for St. Patrick’s Day.


Nettle Turnovers

  • 1 ½ to 2 quarts nettle leaves, trimmed, washed, blanched, drained, and squeezed as described above
  • 250 grams mascarpone (cream cheese or ricotta would also work)
  • ¾ cup shredded emmentaler (or any “Swiss” type cheese)
  • 3 tablespoons snipped chives
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg
  • 10 sheets phyllo
  • ½ – ¾ cup butter, melted

Place the squeezed-together lump of blanched and drained nettles on a cutting board and roughly chop.  Blend the cheeses, nettle, and chives in a bowl and salt and pepper to taste.  Beat in the egg and set aside.

Place a sheet of phyllo on your work surface and brush it lightly with melted butter.  Put another phyllo sheet on top and brush it with butter.  Cut the double layer of phyllo into four strips with a pizza cutter or knife.

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Place a tablespoon or so of the nettle filling on the end of one strip, then fold into a triangle (like you would fold a flag).  Place on a parchment-covered baking sheet and brush one more time with melted butter.  Repeat this process until all of the phyllo is used up – you should end up with 20 turnovers.  Poke the top of each one in several places with a fork.

Bake at 375 F until the turnovers are golden brown.  Based on the spanakopita recipes I read, I thought it would take around 15 minutes, but it was closer to 25 minutes (just keep an eye on them).

Cool slightly and serve, or they are also good at room temperature.  I didn’t try freezing the turnovers before baking, but baked frozen turnovers were very good warmed in the oven (I let them thaw first, but I don’t think it would be necessary).


Spargelzeit! Asparagus Season!

Signs are popping up all over, advertising frische Spargel in the produce markets and Spargelmenu in restaurants.  Germans celebrate Mother’s Day the same day as Americans, and Spargel is traditional for Mother’s Day dinner since the date coincides with Spargelzeit.  Germans do love their asparagus, especially the white kind that is covered while it grows to prevent photosynthesis (hmm, good thing we have a good shot of green stuff from the nettles in this meal).  I have developed a real taste for asparagus – I actually like the green kind better, but I am also very fond of traditional German Spargelsuppe made with white asparagus.

One thing about white asparagus, it has a tough, somewhat bitter skin, and you have to peel the stalks.  Well, I was surprised when I stopped at a local produce store to learn that they have a giant asparagus peeling machine that does the job in no time.  However, the last bundle I bought came from a little roadside stand, with no fancy machine in sight, so I peeled the spears myself (really not too time-consuming).  Even so, I had soup on the table pretty quickly, and it is a good pairing for the nettle turnovers.


Adapted from the Dr. Oetker German Cooking Today cookbook

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound white asparagus, peeled and tough ends removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • ½ cup water
  • 1¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup crème fraîche
  • 1 tablespoon snipped chives
  • Dried or fresh parsley, chopped (to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large saucepan and stir the asparagus pieces around in it until they are coated.  Let the asparagus cook in the butter for about five minutes, until it releases water.  Sprinkle with flour and stir to mix the flour in and coat the asparagus.  Add wine, water, and milk and stir until the liquid is smooth.  Let it simmer uncovered until the asparagus is tender, about 20 minutes.  Puree in the blender or using an immersion blender.  Stir in crème fraîche and chives and season to taste with parsley, salt and pepper.  In restaurants here, the soup is frequently served with a big dollop of unsweetened whipped cream and a few croutons, and it is really good that way (but you can always substitute another spoonful of crème fraîche and it will still look pretty and taste like that flavor you looked forward to all winter long).  Happy Mother’s Day!



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Perfect for catching up – Empanadas

A few (plus a few) weekends ago, my best friend Kelly visited. Kelly and I both studied in Moscow together, where we began as simply classmates, but grew over a love of food, tea, and photography exhibits to become dear friends.  Also, we randomly met Diane von Furstenberg. Kelly is in law school now (so proud of you, Kelly) and we hadn’t seen each other in a while, but quickly got to drinking refreshing drinks, eating delicious Mexican food, and creating some unforgettable empanadas.

The empanadas were fairly labor intensive, but totally and completely worth it. We made the dough from a recipe I had written down several years ago, in a recipe-collecting notebook I bought back in my Cracker-Barrel-country-store-obsessed days.  (They just have so many cool trinkets and unnecessary things, you know?) I have no idea where the recipe comes from, as it is simply titled “Mom’s Empanadas.” Mom doesn’t know, either, but we decided it tastes too good to care. You might see the recipe is also not very complete in its directions. …I don’t know if you’ve noticed before, but I’m not always the best at giving precise directions. I’m more the type to eyeball when measuring (except when baking, usually) and for this blog, that means I give directions like “just add to taste!” or “use your imagination!” If you’re the type who prefer, or even need, precise directions, then you’re in luck; Kelly faithfully took notes as I added and tweaked the ingredients and spices, so you can fearlessly recreate these delicious empanadas on your own.

Or, you know, use your imagination and go where the wind takes you.

We made two fillings – one savory, the other sweet. The savory filling is modeled after a picadillo from Pati’s Mexican Table. It’s incredibly moist, and has just the right spices to warm you to your core. If you have any left over, which I did, it’s very easy to just eat it on its own, straight from the pan. Or if you have a little more self-control, it’s also good mixed into some rice for another meal. Then again, it’d make a really good topping for polenta, or even tacos or tostadas or even some beefed up molletes.

The sweet filling is so very simple, inspired from some peach and guava empanadas I tasted at a local empanada shop. (Julia’s is also most likely responsible for inspiring me to make empanadas in the first place.) Both types of empanada are baked, and their crust is wonderfully flaky. They also reheat surprisingly well in a microwave, but I’m willing to bet they’d fare even better after a short time in a low-heated oven.

Make ahead note: The dough should be made at least 30 minutes before you want to assemble the empanadas, as it needs a little time to rest and chill in the refrigerator. You could also make it the night before, and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Then again, as with most doughs, you could also freeze it, tightly wrapped, for a month or so.

Mom’s Empanada Dough

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, chilled
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup (give or take) cold water
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • a few sprinkles of turmeric, optional (it’s a trick Kelly learned from the Jamaican version of empanadas)

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl; set aside. Cut in butter and shortening with a pastry blender or two knives or a fork. Add the vinegar and as much water as necessary to form a dough (we ended up using a cup of water exactly). (Also, this is much like making a pie crust, where you don’t want too too much water or the dough will be kind of gummy. I think this dough is slightly more forgiving than pie crust, though, so don’t fret too much.) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight (see note).

Filling #1 – Picadillo, of sorts

  • 3 ripe Roma tomatoes, skinned (slash an X in one end, dip in boiling water for 15 seconds, remove, and the skin slips right off), and pureed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more) of cumin (we used at least 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • other seasonings to taste: spice mix, garlic, ground coriander, etc
  • 1 pound (give or take) ground turkey
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (or water)
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • salt, to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon)
  • optional: up to 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, to help thicken sauce

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat; add onion and cook a few minutes until translucent. Add spices and cook for about a minute; add turkey and saute, stirring occasionally, until browned, 8 – 10 minutes. Add pureed tomato and let cook an additional five minutes, to get the raw tomato flavor out. Add broth (or water, if using) and stir around, then let cook for 15 minutes. The filling should start to thicken; if you think it is too dry, add more broth or water. We decided to add the cornstarch to ensure the filling was still saucy but not watery – soggy empanadas aren’t the best. Add walnuts and raisins and taste to check the seasoning, then add salt and adjust seasonings to your taste. Once the filling is at the desired consistency and taste, turn off heat and set aside to fill. Or, you can make this ahead and refrigerate for 3 or so days (or, freeze it).

Filling #2 – Guava and cream

This one is easy: buy some guava paste from a Latin grocery store (or maybe even the Hispanic section in a big grocery store), and buy some cream cheese. Once your dough is rolled out, simply spread a tablespoon of cream cheese and a slice (1/8 inch thick) of guava paste, fold over, press, and bake as directed below. You could also add more filling if you want, but I like my crust to filling ratio with sweet fillings to be more equal and less overwhelmingly sweet. You might be wondering about that turmeric we added to the dough and then proceeded to use for our sweet empanadas: we didn’t even notice it was there. Just do it.

Empanada assembly:

Now for the easy, albeit time consuming, part!

  1. Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Have a little dish with water ready to use for sealing the empanadas.
  4. Roll dough 1/8 inch thick, cut into 4 or 5 inch circles with a cookie cutter, biscuit cutter, clean aluminium can, or large German Bierstein. Whatever it takes.
  5. Place about 1 1/2 tablespoons of filling on one side of a round, dip your fingers in the water and rub around the edges of the round; fold a side over to the other side and press with a fork to seal.
  6. Repeat with others, and place on prepared baking sheet.

Your first empanada might be a little…gushy. It’s ok. It will still taste wonderful, and just add less (or more!) filling next time.

Bake empanadas for about 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and cooked through. Be sure to let them cool, or you just might burn your mouth on the extremely hot steam that inevitably comes blasting out as soon as you break open one of your creations. If, however, you can’t seem to wait long enough to let them cool, know that your mouth will heal, and your tummy will love you.

If you find yourself with a free day and a good friend, make empanadas. They’re perfect for sipping wine and catching up on all that’s passed. Also, to make up for April’s small amount of posts, look out for another post tomorrow!



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Good for You, Good to Eat – Amaranth Pancakes

When I was a child, my mom went through an extended health food phase – wheat germ in the peanut butter, whole-grain everything, and no refined sugar in the house.  I’m sorry to say I came through the experience with my fondness for sweets still very much intact, but perhaps due to that early exposure I’ve also always loved hearty grain flavors.  This pancake fits right into that category, with a generous portion of fiber from wheat bran, oatmeal, and nuts, a nutritional boost from amaranth seeds, and raisins for a kiss of sweetness.

What, doesn't everyone use hardware store clamps in the pantry?

In case you are unfamiliar with amaranth, it has a long and intriguing history as a source of food, tribute, and religious offering among the native peoples of Mexico and South America, and nowadays it is especially popular as the main ingredient in dulce de alegría, which is basically like a popcorn ball-type confection made from puffed amaranth and a piloncillo and honey syrup (by the way, dulce de alegría means “happiness candy” – isn’t that a promising name?).  I find amaranth in the “bio” section with all of the other healthy stuff at Globus, a large German supermarket.  In the U.S. I’ve seen it in health food stores and regular grocery stores distributed by companies such as Bob’s Red Mill, and it is probably available for a good price in a Mexican store if there is one in your neighborhood (these little places are also the best place to buy low cost dried chiles, herbs, spices, and beans and often fresh produce as well).

The pancake recipe is adapted from one contributed by a Cocina al Natural reader named Bertha Ramos.  I’ve kept the recipe basically the same except it needed more milk to get the right consistency (and I also cut the quantities in half, yielding six medium-sized pancakes).  The original recipe calls for equal amounts of almonds and “nueces” or nuts, which can refer to pecans or walnuts.  I used all pecans instead of a combination, and last time I substituted ground hazelnuts – that was my favorite version, with a flavor that reminded me of Nutella but without the chocolate.  These hot cakes are delicious with a simple fruit topping or warm maple syrup, and if you want to dress them up, stir together a little honey and softened cream cheese to spoon on top.

As for technique, my blender is actually more like a food processor than a regular blender.  It didn’t really do a very good job of grinding the amaranth seeds because there was too much space between the blade and the sides of the container, but with a little experimentation I found that my little electric coffee grinder was perfect for the task (I ground the amaranth separately and then added it to the blender container).  I think a regular blender would work just fine, and it seems to do the trick in the Cocina al Natural video.

Hearty Amaranth Pancakes
Adapted from a recipe by Bertha Ramos

  • ½ cup amaranth seeds
  • ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • ½ cup wheat bran
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup nuts of your choice (I compared a third of a cup of pecan bits by weight and it equaled 50 grams, which translated to ½ cup pre-ground hazelnuts)
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 to 1¼ cups milk
  • Butter for cooking
  • Fruit, syrup, or other toppings as desired

Place seeds, oats, bran, raisins, and nuts in a blender in the order listed, stirring around a little to separate the raisins.  Blend until the mixture is all ground up and looks like coarse meal, then stir the baking powder into the mixture in the blender.

Add the egg and a cup of milk and blend a little longer to mix it into a batter.  It should be thin enough to pour, so blend in additional milk if needed.

Heat a large nonstick griddle or skillet until a few drops of water will sizzle and dance around on it.  Drop a small little dab of butter in each spot where you’ll pour a pancake, spread it around with the pancake turner and quickly pour the batter.  I used about ¼ cup of batter to make medium-sized pancakes; you could make them smaller if desired, but I think it would be hard to turn them successfully if they were much larger.

Let the pancakes cook a few minutes until they get dry around the edges and look brown underneath.  They are a little fragile at the turning stage, but slide your pancake turner all the way under each one with a single quick motion and then give a fast flip and all will be well.  Cook until the other side is golden brown.  I usually put a metal pie pan on another burner at the lowest setting to keep finished pancakes warm while I am cooking the rest of the batch.

I somehow let National Pancake Week escape my notice this year (in fact, what really happened to all of February and March and how can we already be chugging through April at such a fast clip?).  Anyway, these pancakes will turn any day of the year into a date worth celebrating, so go get some amaranth and have a good healthy breakfast!


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The Corn Kick Continues With Savory Pies

In the last couple of recipes, we’ve brought you pineapple tamales and cornmeal cookies.  In today’s corn offering, a little cornmeal is combined with a hard cheese in the pastry for a crispy-crusted mushroom and green chile quiche.  I made little pies in a muffin tin this time, but the quantities given are also good for a 10-inch quiche pan.  I like the individual mini-pies because they freeze nicely and reheat well in the microwave or regular oven, and the flavor combination is one of those all-purpose any-time-of-day tastes….I’ll eat one or two of these little pies for breakfast with some fresh fruit on the side, for lunch with some raw vegetables, or for dinner with a fresh green salad.  They also make a nice appetizer or snack and would be perfectly at home in a brunch buffet.

Savory Little Cheese Pies


  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup white or yellow cornmeal plus extra for the muffin pan
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup grated hard cheese (cotija, parmesan, etc.)
  • 1/3 to ½ cup milk

Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray and sprinkle very lightly with cornmeal (pick cornmeal up between your fingers and thumb and then rub lightly to let the cornmeal fall evenly over the surface).

Combine the flour, cornmeal, and salt; cut in the butter and stir in the hard cheese.  Pour 1/3 cup milk over the dry ingredients and stir lightly with a fork until the dough comes together, adding a little more milk if necessary.

Press the dough together and cut into 12 pieces.  Roll each piece out to a circle about 5 inches across and fit each one into a muffin cup, pressing lightly to smooth out the places where the crust doubles up on the sides of the cup.


  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • ½ cup chopped hot green chiles (I used pre-chopped frozen New Mexico hot green chiles – no need to thaw, just scoop them out of the tub with a sturdy spoon and break apart)
  • 1 cup shredded cheese, plus a little extra to sprinkle on top (I used about ¼ cup gouda and ¾ cup emmentaler)
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Heat the butter in a medium pan and sauté the mushrooms until they start to turn brown.  Stir in the chiles and heat a little longer if needed to evaporate the water if you are using frozen chiles (2 – 4 minced jalapeños would be a good substitute if you don’t have the New Mexico hot green chiles).

Divide the shredded cheese evenly among the pastry-lined muffin cups, then do the same with the mushroom-chile mixture.  Use a spoon or your fingers to mix up the cheese, mushrooms, and chiles in each cup.

Beat the eggs with the salt and then beat in the milk.  Pour the egg mixture evenly over the cheese mixture in the muffin cups.  Top off with a few more shreds of cheese so you’ll end up with a nicely browned finish.

Bake on the bottom oven rack until golden brown, about 20 minutes at 375 F (for a single large quiche, bake at 350 F for 45-55 minutes).  Let cool in the muffin tin for about five minutes, then gently remove and serve or place on a rack to finish cooling.  Once the little pies are cool, you can pack them in a large zipper bag or storage container for freezing.






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