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Quick and simple

This one is for all those guys out there who think that cooking is difficult. One of my most favorite desserts proves the contrary. It consists of two ingredients and takes you about 15 seconds to prepare. It’s as simple as it can get. But then again, there’s a lot you can do wrong.

I am talking of yoghurt with honey. Sounds boring? I don’t think so. Yoghurt with honey is incredibly delicious, but only, if you use the best quality yoghurt and honey you can find. That’s the point. If you add ten different spices to a dish, you can easily hide mediocre ingredients. But if you eat the plain stuff, even the most subtle quality differences will become evident.

I only use Turkish or Greek strained yoghurts for this dessert. This is yoghurt which is concentrated through a cheese cloth. As part of the liquid (whey) is removed, the yoghurt gets a thicker texture and richer in fat. The final product usually contains about 10 % of fat.

I don’t know why so many people are afraid of fat. Let me assure that nobody will become overweight just by eating yoghurt with 10 % fat. The reasons underlying obesity are far more complex. But this is a different topic. I’d like to talk more about flavor. The flavor of dairy products is largely determined by their fat fraction. Water soluble compounds (derived from carbohydrates and peptides) do contribute to flavor, but only to a lesser part. Just give it try and have a glass of whole milk next to a glass of skimmed milk (a.k.a. “fat-free milk”). It’s hard not to taste the difference.

Then try the Turkish strained yoghurt with 10 % fat and you will know why I consider this particular yoghurt the only one suitable for such a straightforward dessert like yoghurt with honey. If you are in the mood of experimenting, go on with yoghurt made from sheep milk or even goat milk. I find these yoghurts more exciting than the usual cow milk ones, but I admit that it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea.

Now, let’s talk about the second ingredient of this dessert: honey. It contributes sweetness and additional flavors. However, be careful. If you use too much honey, its sweetness will overwhelm the slight acidic taste of the yoghurt. This is not what you want. So, use the honey reluctantly.

However, this means that you should choose one with a strong and characteristic flavor. Thyme honey is classic. Lavender honey is great, too. Or even fir honey, if you like its really intense flavor. But I would not choose a mild acacia honey, for example.

Yoghurt with honey

Serves 1:
150 g yoghurt
1-2 tsp. honey

In a mixing bowl, vigorously whisk the yoghurt. This should give the yoghurt a nice creamy texture. Than, pour it into a small bowl or glass and sprinkle the honey over it.

If you like, you can add some coarsely chopped nuts. I don’t.

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Summer time – salad time

It has gotten hot here. The thermometer today shows once again more than 30 °C. When even small moves make you sweat heavily, meals must be fresh and light. Just like a good salad. While I do not eat much salad during winter, I crave for it as soon as temperatures start to rise. And I guess I am not the only one.

My today’s version of a summer salad was inspired by Jamie Oliver. Leafy salads, ripe nectarines, chunks of mozzarella di bufala Campana, and thin slices of prosciutto di Parma, all drizzled with some homemade roasted chili oil. Enjoyed on my little balcony, it was a great summer dinner. Although I think that I will probably skip the mozzarella next time. The recipe doesn’t need it.

T minus 8 days

Only 8 days left. June 24th – St. John’s Day – traditionally marks the last day of asparagus harvest in Germany.

So it’s time to look back on this year’s asparagus experience. The season started rather late, due to the cold weather. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed quite a lot of asparagus in the last months. But more exciting than the shear amount of asparagus that went through my kitchen was the different ways of cooking I tried out.

Most people tend to boil their asparagus in a large pot with water. And I have to admit that I was no exception – until this year. There is a large trend among chefs to cook asparagus without any additional liquid. Steaming, sautéing, or cooking in the oven. It is all possible. And it is indeed so much better. The result is incredibly intense since no flavor is lost to the cooking liquid which, of course, acts as a solvent.

Sautéed asparagus became my personal favorite. Here is the version I had last weekend: I used both white and green asparagus and halved the shoots lengthwise. They were then sautéed in some canola oil. Season with salt and powdered sugar from the beginning. I wanted the shoots to be tender, but still firm to bite, with slightly brown edges. Just play with temperature and cooking time until you get the result you like best. It is really so easy. And so versatile.

Fava beans

While dried beans are available throughout the year, their fresh counterparts are in season for only a few weeks in spring. This is right now.

Fresh fava beans are particularly popular in the Italian cuisine. You will find them as part of a salad (even raw), with pasta, in stews, as an accompaniment to meat or fish, or as a puree.

With their vibrant green color and their nutty taste, fresh fava beans please both your eyes and palate. If you come across them at your farmers’ market or grocery store, I suggest an immediate buy. Don’t hesitate long, or you might miss the chance.

Fried fava beans

Serves 2:
1.5 kg unshelled fava beans
1-2 shallots
4 tblsp. olive oil
A few thyme sprigs
200 ml chicken stock
1 handful of basil leaves
Salt
Black pepper

Crack open the fava pods and take out the beans. Blanch them for 1 min in boiling water, then transfer to ice water. Slit the leathery white skin of the beans with a knife, gently squeeze to slip the bean out. Discard the shells.

For a quicker version of this recipe, use frozen fava beans – you will need 500 g shelled beans. You only need to defrost them, then you can easily remove the white skin without prior blanching.

Peel and dice the shallots. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, cook the shallots over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until translucent. Add the beans as well as the thyme sprigs, season with salt. Add the chicken stock and bring to boil. Cover the pan with its lid, cook the beans for 5 minutes over medium heat until they are done. Then remove the lid from the pan and increase the heat to maximum. Go on cooking for 3-4 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and the beans are starting to develop crispy brown edges. Cut the basil in fine stripes and stir under the beans. Season with salt and pepper.

I had the fava beans with pork chops, but they go very well with beef, poultry, or fish, too. I added some fried tomatoes, their acidity was a good counterpoint to the beans.

Dinner in 15 minutes

Chicken breast with pancetta and sautéed asparagus

Serves 2:
2 chicken breasts, 180 g each
100 g pancetta, in thin slices (salt cured and dried pork belly)
500 g green asparagus
Some garlic cloves
Some rosemary sprigs
Some thyme sprigs
4 tblsp. olive oil
1 tblsp. butter
Salt
Black pepper
1 tsp. powdered sugar
Aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena

Preheat a large plate in your oven at 120 °C.

Cut the chicken breast in pieces and wrap each with a slice of pancetta. Break off the tough ends from the asparagus, then cut the stalks in short pieces. Crush the unpeeled garlic cloves with the back of your knife.

Heat the olive oil in two frying pans. Put garlic, rosemary, and thyme in one of these pans, then add the chicken breast. Gently fry over medium low heat from both sides for just 1-2 minutes. Transfer meat and herbs to the plate in the oven and let rest there for 3-4 minutes.

While frying the meat, put the asparagus in the second pan, season with salt, and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Then dust with powdered sugar and continue sautéing for another minute. Add the butter and let it melt.

Arrange asparagus and chicken breast on plates, season with salt and coarsely ground pepper, and sprinkle with aceto balsamico.

Garten-Koch-Event Mai: Spargel [31.05.2010]

Rhubarb

Spring seems quite like a shy animal not daring to leave its den. It gently peeks outside on some days, but is then frightened by the light and immediately hides again. It’s 8 °C here in Cologne and the sun hasn’t been seen for days. It’s hard to get that spring feeling this year, even though the trees are blooming.

But the produce of spring are bit by bit hitting the markets these days. I have recently come over some wonderful domestic rhubarb. I had to take it home with me, although I did not really know what I would make from it. One of my first ideas was about muffins with rhubarb. However, I wanted something which better accentuated this awesome fruit. And so I developed the idea of mini cheesecakes with poached rhubarb. The recipe was fully improvised. But since it proved delicious, I am not afraid of sharing it with you.

Mini cheesecakes with poached rhubarb

Yields 12 tartlets:
Tartlet dough:
225 g wheat flour
150 g chilled butter
75 g sugar
A pinch of salt
A pinch of baking powder
2-3 tblsp. ice water
Poached rhubarb:
3 stalks of rhubarb (250 g)
300 ml water
100 g sugar
Scraped seeds of 1/4 vanilla bean
A generous shot of grenadine
Cheese filling:
500 g curd cheese
4 egg yolks
50 g sugar
Grated cest of 1/4 orange
30 g cornstarch

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Cut the butter into small pieces, and add to the flour. With your hands, combine all ingredients just until you get a smooth dough. You will have to add some water during kneading, or the dough will be too firm and brittle. Don’t overknead, this is not about gluten. Wrap the dough in plastic foil and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Peel the rhubarb and cut it in 2 cm pieces. Mix water and sugar in a pot and bring to boil. Then add vanilla seeds, grenadine (this is to improve color), and rhubarb. Cover the pot, and simmer the rhubarb for 3-4 min over lowest heat. Let cool in the sirup.

Preheat your oven to 180 °C.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface until 3 mm thick. Lay out small tartlet cups (I used my muffin pan) with the dough. Put in the freezer for 10 min. Then, place pieces of baking parchment inside the tartlets and fill the tartlets with dried beans or peas. Bake for 20 min, then let cool. Remove baking parchment and beans.

Place the curd cheese in a clean musslin cloth and squeeze out the liquid. Put the cheese in a bowl and mix with egg yolks, sugar, orange cest, and cornstarch. Fill the tartlets with the cheese and top with the poached rhubarb. Put back in the oven and bake for another 20 min. Let rest for 5 minutes, then take the tartlets out of the cups and let cool on wire racks.

More signs of spring

Some celebrate cherry blossom, I adore magnolia blossom. The most beautiful tree in spring. We had to wait long this year, but right now, tulip magnolia is in full bloom here in Cologne. Spring is coming!