White Chocolate Skyramisu & our annual Iceland in December Adventure

February 27, 2014

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I bet I’ve got a few folks scratching their heads with the title of this blog post, wondering what is “skyramisu” and who goes, nevermind goes annually, to Iceland in December? Well, let me begin by saying Skyramisu is not a misspelling of Tiramisu, the coffee flavoured Italian dessert. It is an adaptation of that popular treat using Icelandic Skyr and cream cheese instead of mascarpone cheese. Tiramisu with an Icelandic twist if you will. The resulting dessert is simply divine! There are a few other differences between the two as well. Instead of using coffee soaked ladyfingers, wafer cookies are used here. Prince Polo, a very popular chocolate bar in Iceland, was the ingredient called for in the original recipe, but since I couldn’t find Prince Polo here in the States, I went with Quadratini biscuits, little bite sized wafer cookies in dark chocolate and cappuccino flavours made by Loacker. These worked perfectly. (You can find them at World Market or online at Amazon.) At this point you may be saying “Hold on a second, what exactly is Skyr?” Well, Skyr is Icelandic yogurt, though I believe it is technically not yogurt, but rather strained skim milk cheese. If while reading this you find yourself pulling some horrible face, just stop it! Skyr is delicious! The Vikings brought Skyr to Iceland with them when they settled the country and it has remained in the Icelandic diet since the 9th Century, so you know it must be good! ( And before you start, don’t even mention the rancid shark thing…Everyone should be allowed a few little quirks…)

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Just focus on this delightful dish…stop thinking about the shark!

Skyr is very smooth, rich and creamy and is a sort of cross between ice cream and yogurt. It has 0% fat, has 2-3 times the amount of protein found in regular yogurt and is high in calcium. And unlike the elusive Prince Polo bars, Skyr is now widely available here in the US. Skyr.ie is imported direct from Iceland and there is a company located in New York owned and operated by a fellow from Iceland, Siggi’s. Their delicious products can be found in the yogurt section in Whole Foods and many other chain grocery stores. See, what’s not to like? If you haven’t tried it, run out today and give it a whirl! I first came across it last December, when I visited Iceland for the first time. My husband and I fell in love with the place and particularly liked being there in December. Contrary to popular belief, the temperatures are generally not that cold, they hover right around freezing, though I will admit there always seems to be wind, ranging from breeze level right up to gale force. Even though there are few hours of daylight, that actually gives you a better chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Icelandic folks love Christmas, so it’s great to visit in December. Believe me, if you can’t get in a Christmas-y mood there, you really are a terrible Scrooge! Another plus is that there are very few other tourists visiting at this time, which suits me just fine – we got the run of the place along with all sorts of airfare and hotel discounts for going in what is considered the “off season”. This year like last, we stayed at lovely Hotel Rangá for a few days and splurged on the Antarctica Suite.

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We hoped to see the Northern Lights again, after last year’s amazing display,

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but alas we were not so lucky. The weather this year was very snowy, indeed snowing every day. (We actually really loved all of the snow this year) So, with the snow came the clouds and the lights were just not visible. In a last-ditch attempt to chase the Aurora down, we even went out with SuperJeep on one of our last days in Reykjavik, but still it managed to elude us.

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I will say though, the SuperJeep Northern Lights tour was a lot of fun, full of off-roading and vodka spiked hot chocolate. I definitely recommend them if you are in Reykjavik and want to get out of the city for a better chance of seeing the lights. The folks at SuperJeep really put forth a good effort on our part, but the cloud coverage just would give! Oh well, I won’t be too disappointed because it means we’ll just have to go back next year to try again 🙂

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Another tour that did not disappoint, but was in fact the highlight of the trip this year was our journey to Jökulsárlón with South Iceland Adventure Company.

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We had gone on a tour to Thórsmörk with them last year and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. So I contacted them this year and was able to book a private Jökulsárlón tour with them. They don’t usually offer that tour in December because the limited daylight hours combined with the long travel time and possible dodgy December weather make it a challenge. Nevertheless,  they were willing to give it a try if we were and we are so glad that we decided to give it a go! Now we probably could have just driven there ourselves, but the advantage of having South Iceland Adventure take us was that there was no driving, we could just sit back, relax and take in the gorgeous vistas. And our fantastic tour guide, Stefnir, is from the area right around Jökulsárlón, so he was just a wealth of information and knew all the best places to visit along the way. Nothing like a local’s knowledge! Jökulsárlón is a large lake formed by a glacier located in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Bits of the Vatnajökull glacier break off (calve) into the lake and these icebergs float around until they melt enough to fit through the narrow opening of the lake and drift out into the ocean, though some do wash up on the nearby black sand beach.

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This place is stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful! Completely surreal, haunting and magical. Simply a must-see if you visit Iceland. And if you can, leave the driving and the expert guiding to the folks at South Iceland Adventure Company. You won’t regret it.  Pictures really don’t do Jökulsárlón justice, but here are a few for you.

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The black lines in some of the icebergs are caused by ash from past volcanic eruptions.

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In the summer you can zoom around the lake in Zodiac boats for a upclose view of the icebergs. As you can see, December proves a bit too icy for that.

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Over at the black sand beach…

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Now we did manage to drive around  south Iceland on our own a bit and after getting turned back by a snowstorm one day, we persevered and made it out to the tiny fishing village of Vík and the Dyrhólaey peninsula the following day. I’ll just let our pictures do the talking here…

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After our stay in the countryside, we headed into Reykjavik for a few days. We hiked up to Hallgrímskirkja to take in the views.

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Reykjavik bird’s-eye view

We took a day trip out to The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal pool and Spa located in a lava field in Grindavík about 40 minutes from Reykjavik.We simply wouldn’t miss it. This year was interesting because the winds were just insane. I kid you not there were literally white caps forming in the pool! As a consequence we tended to shelter under bridges and behind rocks and were still able to really enjoy the waters.

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Otherwise we had a great time just hanging out in the city.

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Once again, we couldn’t stay away from Bæjarins beztu pylsur! Best hot dogs in the country.

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Believe me, we ate at least one every day we were in Reykjavik!

This is where I have to give a huge shout out to a superb Icelandic travel blog, I Heart Reykjavik , written by Auður Ösp. I found her site after our visit last year and have followed it ever since. If you are headed to Iceland, you really must take a look this blog. Come to think of it, you should really check it out whether or not you have plans to visit Iceland. Not only is this blog very entertaining and witty but it is also chock full of honest expert advice from a local on all the sights and natural wonders to be seen in Iceland.  You will also find savvy travel tips, bar and restaurant recommendations and reviews, notes about Icelandic history and culture and even a few lessons on how to say useful phrases in  the Icelandic language. And for a bonus, Auður is a wonderful photographer and Iceland is a gorgeous subject. If her stunning photos can’t tempt you to visit, I don’t know what could! This year we followed lots of her recommendations and can say it sure beat the tired old tourist guide we were dragging around with us last year. Thanks to I Heart Reykjavik we found Ölstofan, a great down to earth bar which not only serves up delicious beer – such as Bríó, their own German pilsner- but does it with music played at a level which is conducive to actually being able to have a conversation with the other folks there who, like us, tend to be a few years past their 25th birthday, she led us to

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Chillin at Ölstofan

The Noodle Station which served up some truly spicy (not often found in Icelandic cuisine) Thai Noodle Soup that I’m still craving, ate the best french fries in Reykjavik at the Laundromat Cafe (and yes you can really do your laundry there while eating fries, reading a book, drinking a beer and surfing the internet) and had one of the best meals of our lives at Grillmarkaðurinn. This top-notch restaurant serves up the freshest local ingredients in exquisitely prepared traditional Icelandic dishes with a modern twist. And it is one of the most beautifully designed restaurants in which we’ve ever had the pleasure of dining. The decor was a blend of chic modern and natural organic outdoorsiness (I think I just invented this word). Our experience there was superb from start to finish! We give it our highest recommendations. So our heartfelt thanks go out to I Heart Reykjavik! We couldn’t have done it without you!

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But I suppose I should get back on the subject of this White Chocolate Skyramisu. Icelandic folks love their Skyr and I noticed that it was featured in quite a few desserts. This one really tempted me in particular because of the inclusion of coffee and white chocolate. Yum!  This tasty dessert comes together very quickly and is sure to please. It is a bit heavier than its inspiration, Tiramisu, but believe me you will savour every thick, rich, creamy decadent spoonful.

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All the while thinking of just how good for you Skyr is. Yeah…you could even say you were being virtuous by gobbling up this dish…At least that’s what I was able to convince myself of! I’m just sitting around, scarfing down dish after dish, thinking about our recent Icelandic break and planning out some adventures for this coming December! (Anyone up for a jaunt into the magma chamber of a volcano?)

PS. Just a reminder – my annual St. Patrick’s Day blog-stravaganza is going to start this Saturday March 1st! I will be posting one Irish-y recipe a day all the way up to March 17th! The Baileys, Guinness and Jameson will be flowing! Check back in to see all the fun! (And wish me luck! – 17 days in a row is a lot of blogging!)

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White Chocolate Skyramisu

recipe adapted from skyr.is

Ingredients:

for the base:

  •  2 – 250 gram bag of bite sized wafer cookies
  • 3/4 cup strong black coffee

for the filling:

  • 400 grams cream cheese
  • 2 containers (300 grams) vanilla skyr
  • 1 tablespoon milk or cream
  • 1 cup (150 grams) White Chocolate
  • 2 Tablespoons brandy or coffee liquor (I used Kahlua)
  • 1 cup (100 grams) icing sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • white chocolate shavings for decoration
  • cocoa powder for decoration
  • rolled wafer cookies

Directions:

Layer the wafer biscuits (cookies) on the bottom of a 9 X 13″ dish. Pour coffee over wafers and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer combine cream cheese and skyr mixing until smooth. Add icing sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, to cream cheese/skyr mixture and continue to mix until fully incorporated. Add egg yolks to the cream cheese mixture mixing until combined.

Place chopped white chocolate in microwave proof bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of milk to chocolate. Microwave in 15 second increments until melted, stirring often. Add liquor into melted chocolate and mix until combined.

Gently fold the melted chocolate/liquor mixture into the skyr mixture.

Spoon filling over the soaked wafer cookies and chill.

When ready to serve, sprinkle with cocoa powder and grated white chocolate. Garnish further with a rolled wafer cookie.

Enjoy!

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Czech Guláš served with Knedlicky (dumplings)

February 21, 2014

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Guláš, or goulash, a soup or stew of meat and vegetables seasoned with paprika may have Hungarian origins, but it is also quintessentially Czech. Every pub or restaurant that you go to there has their own unique version. Often it is served with Knedlicky (bread dumplings), but I’ve also seen it in a bread bowl or simply with potatoes. I can tell you this first hand because I was lucky enough to actually visit Prague back in September! In my last blog I mentioned that I had met my husband in Berlin after he finished with a work conference there. Well once we met up, we jumped on a train and high-tailed it to Prague! Now Berlin was very nice. I would definitely visit again given the chance, but Prague….well …what can I say…I am completely smitten! It was just stunningly beautiful! I really fell in love with it!

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And as much as I liked our hotel in Berlin, Casa Camper, I completely adored The Golden Well (U Zlaté Studně), the boutique hotel where we stayed in Prague. I think it may indeed be my all time favourite hotel. The hotel is ideally located at the end of a quiet, cobbled, pedestrian street, right up against the walls of Prague Castle in the historic Malá Strana (Little Quarter) district.

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Every single room in the hotel seemed to offer gorgeous vistas over the city.

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Centrally located, it was only a short walk to get to Charles Bridge, St. Nicholas Cathedral, Old Town Square and the Jewish Quarter, yet so removed from the hustle and bustle of some areas of the city, it was a tranquil and peaceful oasis. The hotel and its exceptional staff truly exceeded our expectations. Our room was very luxurious and large. There was a bottle of wine waiting for us when we arrived,

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as well as nightly bedside turn-down treats on the bedside table and a pillow menu. Yup…you heard me right. Pillow menu! You could choose a different style pillow, or two every night…”tonight I think I will go will the wool, lavender scented pillow” Yay! And the staff could not have been more friendly and attentive. As soon as we checked in we were offered a drink and snacks while a hotel representative went over a map of the city with us, advising us on possible destinations. Each afternoon wine and nibbles were served in the lounge. The breakfasts were out of this world. Not only were they served on a terrace which provided breathtaking views over the city, but they were so delicious and plentiful. I must admit this is the first time I have been exposed to the concept of the “breakfast dessert”. Just sounds great huh? Well let me explain. We were served a full cooked breakfast, you know, eggs, sausages, hash browns along with the well stocked breakfast buffet items. When we finished, our server asked if we were now ready for our “breakfast dessert” which would consist of pancakes or french toast! As much as we adored the idea, we were not able to take her up on it but it is good to keep in mind for the future! I just can not praise this hotel enough, and even if I didn’t care for Prague at all, which I assure you is not the case, I would be tempted return to the Golden Well as a destination all in itself! Over our four days in the city, we spent quite a lot of time at the Prague Castle Complex, thoroughly explored St. Vitus Cathedral,

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climbed to the top of the bell tower for fantastic views over the city,

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took a leisurely stroll over Charles Bridge,

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Commissioned by Emperor Charles VI in1357 and lined with statues of the Saints, it spans the Vlatava River connecting Prague Castle and Old Town.

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saw the astronomical clock strike the hour

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The astronomical clock was built in 1490.

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On its hourly chiming there is a procession of the 12 apostles, Death rings a bell and inverts his hourglass.

and climbed Old Town Hall tower to take in the view as well (can’t get enough of those stairs!),

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Church of Our Lady Before Tyn. Final resting place of Tycho Brahe.

roamed the Jewish Quarter,

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The Old Jewish Cemetery was in use from early 15th Century up until 1787. It was the only place in which Prague’s Jewish citizens could be buried.

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When they ran out of land they began to layer graves on top of one another. There are approximately 12 layers of graves, 12,000 tombstones and up to 100,000 burials.

climbed to the top of Petřín Hill

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and hung out with some monastic brewers at the Strahov Monastery Brewery.

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Actually, we might have spent more than our fair share of time sampling the local brews!

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Whew! What a fantastic time! Needless to say, we worked up quite an appetite! And, to our delight,  pretty much every restaurant or pub we visited in that magical city had guláš on the menu. We tried out our fair share of them and enjoyed them all. Apparently Czech Guláš  is slightly different from the guláš offered in other countries in that it is a mostly beef based, thick stew served with bread dumplings and often garnished with fresh raw onions. I couldn’t wait to get back to my humble kitchen and try to figure out a good recipe. The bread dumplings were new to me, being more familiar with our big southern fluffy chicken and dumpling style dumplings. I went ahead and gave you a recipe for these Knedlicky and feel it was very similar to the dumplings we ate in Prague.

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Definitely a new dumpling concept for me and I had a great time trying it out. I did seem so odd though, making a yeast bread dough and also adding bits of stale bread to the mix and then boiling it…who thought that up?! But they are just perfect for mopping up all that lovely guláš sauce. The morning after our guláš feast, we even fried a bunch of bread dumplings up in butter with our scrambled eggs and sausage and they were really tasty! We were very pleased with this version of Czech Guláš.

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Quite fortuitously I made a huge pot of it right before our last big snow storm and it went a long way towards keeping the chill away on those frigid nights . Not to mention, its very presence couldn’t help but to  call to mind the heart warming memories from our Prague holiday. I can not wait to go back!

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Czech Guláš

yield: 6 -8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 lb. beef stew meat (boneless chuck roast), cubed
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to season meat
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to season meat
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, sliced into rings
  • 7-8 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons marjoram
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 12 oz. Pilsner Urquell beer
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons cornmeal ( or all-purpose flour)
  • 1/4 cup water

for garnish:

  • onions
  • hot red peppers
  • parsley

Directions:

In a 12″ skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high. Working in batches, add beef which has been seasoned with salt and pepper to the pan and brown on all sides. Remove to platter and set aside.

In same skillet, add remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and saute onions until tender. Add garlic, paprika and cayenne and cook, stirring mixture continuously for 30 seconds. Remove from heat.

Mix beef broth, pilsner beer and tomato paste together. Place browned beef and onion mixture into slow cooker. Pour broth mixture over meat and onions. Add salt, pepper, marjoram and cinnamon. Stir until ingredients are well combined.

Cover slow cooker and cook on high for 6 hours.

About 30 minutes prior to serving, whisk cornmeal with water until smooth. Stir mixture into Guláš to thicken.

Garnish each bowl with onion, spicy red pepper and fresh chopped parsley.

Serve with 3-4 Knedlicky per helping. (recipe below) Or alternatively, serve in bread bowls.

Knedlicky

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 grams yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups cubed white bread

Directions:

Place milk in saucepan and warm to lukewarm (95° F). Pour 1/2 cup of warmed milk into bowl of stand mixer. Add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. Stir to dissolve. Sprinkle yeast over the top. Let sit for 5 minutes or so until foamy.

Add the egg yolk and remainder of yeast and stir on low speed with the paddle attachment. Begin adding the flour, about 1 cup at a time. Add the cubed bread. If mixture seems too dry, add a bit more milk. Switch to the dough hook and knead for about 8 minutes. The dough should be elastic.

Dust work surface with flour and divide dough into 4 equal peices. Shape each into oblong rolls. Place rolls on parchment lined baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for about 1 hour or until approximately doubled in size.

When dough is ready, prepare a large pot of salted, boiling water. Carefully slide dumpling rolls, two at a time, into boiling water. Cover pot and reduce to simmer. Cook for 20 – 30 minutes, turning rolls several times so that they will cook evenly.

Remove from boiling water and place on cutting board. Cut dumplings into 1/4″ slices using string and serve immeadiately with Guláš. (if you want “neater” edges to your dumplings, use biscuit cutter )

Wrap any left over dumplings in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator. To reheat the dumplings, place in steamer basket and steam for about 8 minutes.

Enjoy!


Königsberger Klopse (German Meatballs)

February 18, 2014

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So you know how I pulled that disappearing act back in the Fall? Well there were just a whole bunch of reasons that happened, some fun and some not so fun. But this post is going to be about one of the fun things. My husband had to go to Berlin for business and I got to tag along! Well, what I actually did was wait until all of his work stuff was nearly done and then flew over and met him. I worked out really well. I avoided all of the stressful icky work stuff and turned up just in time to do all the fun vacation-y, touristy stuff. The only thing I was really sad I missed out on was the Donor Kebab shop that turned into a full on disco suddenly at 3 a.m. My husband took me back to the scene but it failed to make it’s dance-tastic transformation for me. But luckily the Disco Donor Kebab wasn’t the only sight to be taken in whilst in Berlin. What a great city!

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We only had a couple of days to play the tourists there, but we made the most of them. Folks were really friendly and we couldn’t have been anymore impressed with the public transportation system. It was so well thought out, it just made it incredibly easy to speed all about the town. The weather was just perfect, warm but not too warm during the day and jacket weather in the evening. We stayed over in the part of the city that had been “East Berlin” before the wall came down, in the Mitte neighbourhood. If anyone is headed over that way, I have to tell you, we stayed in a great little boutique hotel, Casa Camper. Yup, it is owned by the same folks that do the Camper shoes. Our room was  a bit quirky, sleek, modern and spacious. The hotel is in a great location close to tons of shops, restaurants and the Weinmeisterstraße underground station is right across the street. One of the best things about the hotel is that they don’t do those silly little mini bars in your room, instead they have a lounge located on the top floor which is open 24 hours a day. You can always get a snack there and they have a fully stocked honor bar that you can help yourself to any time of the day or night. Makes you feel right at home! On the weekend they serve their generous breakfasts until 2 pm! It was a great find and as far as I’m concerned the place to stay in Berlin. We spent most of what little time we had in the city checking out the various museums at Museumsinsel (Museum island…that’s right a whole island of nothing but museums!), the Fernsehturm (tv tower – tallest structure in Germany),

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the Berlinerdom (Berlin Cathedral)

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and visiting a pub or two or three…

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Statue of St. George in front of Brauhaus Georgbraeu

Besides the many pints of beer we quaffed (uh…there really were quite a few…) we had some really tasty meals. (Good thing or we really would’ve been in a state with all that beer on empty stomachs…) My husband loves meatballs. Seriously. He likes those little appetizer cocktail meatballs, he likes them perched on top of spaghetti, stuffed into subs or just all on their lonesome. So you can imagine how delighted he was to find them on the menu of pretty much every restaurant we visited! When we got back home, he was somewhat despondent that his meatball access had been curtailed. So I set out to find a recipe for Königsberger Klopse (German Meatballs), just like we had in Berlin. These savoury meatballs cooked in a creamy white sauce came close and definitely brought a smile to his face. Cooked in a broth, rather than grilled, these meatballs are very tender, a bit spicy and have a fresh zing from the lemon zest. The original recipe called for veal, but I went with beef, though I think pork would also work well.  Also there seems to be some folks out there who are quite insistent that capers must be included in this dish for it to be authentic. If that is true, I have fallen a bit short here as there wasn’t a caper to be had in my house on the day I prepared them. If you are a caper fan, feel free to toss a bunch into the mix.

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I served these meatballs over Spaetzle, which I made from scratch. I’m afraid though that I don’t really have that recipe down yet. Certainly not enough to share with you. I’m thinking at this point that a Spaetzle maker might be a necessity here, cause I tried a variety of methods from colander, to potato ricer to strainer and often just ended up with some sort of mutant uber-spaetzle blob. So I’ll put that one on hold right now. I will mention though that after struggling with my homemade spaetzle demons, I found a lovely box of Authentic German Spaetzle at the grocery store, just hanging out there with all of the pastas. That might be the way to go to save yourself a bit of frustration if you haven’t already acquired mad spaetzle making skills. Rice or parsley butter potatoes would also be a good alternative as an accompaniment. And don’t forget a tall frosty beer. I went with one of our all time favourite beers, Pinkus Ur-Pils,  which happens to be brewed in Germany, so that worked out just perfectly. As they say in Germany, “Prost!”

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Königsberger Klopse (German Meatballs)

recipe adapted from: Craig Claiborne at The New York Times

yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 4 teaspoons butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoky paprika
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 Tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped with additional for garnish
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions:

Put beef in mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper and mix to combine.

Heat 1 teaspoon of butter in saute pan. Add onion and garlic. Cook until softened. Add onion mixture to beef. Add breadcrumbs, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and zest, paprika, parsley, chives and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly. Shape mixture into equal sized balls.

Heat remaining butter in saucepan and add flour, stirring with whisk until smooth. Add broth, and wine, stirring continuously. Add meatballs to simmering sauce. Stir gently from time to time so that they cook evenly, about 25 minutes.

Beat sour scream with egg yolk and lemon juice. Add mixture to meatballs. Heat briefly without boiling. Serve hot with spaetzle.

Enjoy!


Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin for my Valentine

February 14, 2014

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So here it is, Valentine’s Day yet again. And this one had quite an exciting meteorological lead up to it around here. Folks have been pretty much hysterical all week over the HUGE snow storm that was slated to commence clobbering us on Wednesday evening. Didn’t I say Winter wasn’t done with us yet…dang that old Punxsutawney varmint! (Just kidding…Sorry Phil, I won’t shoot the messenger!) Usually when there is that much hype about a storm here, nothing actually happens. But this time we did end up with about 10 inches in the wee hours of Thursday and sleety rain/snow throughout the entire day. Luckily I was prepared to make a gorgeous treat for my Valentine and had all of my ingredients ready right here in my cozy warm home and did not need to go out to brave the grocery stores, which if they were even open, I’m sure were in a quite a state to say the least! This year I will be sticking to my usual template when making Valentine’s Day Treats for my sweetie. I think the first one I ever blogged about was Lemon Curd Bread Pudding with a Blackberry Glaze,

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the next year I was on to Luscious Lemon Squares,

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then I whipped up a Poached Pear Tart with Lemony Cream.

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Anyone spot a pattern here? I just noticed that they all had lemon in them, but that isn’t really what is key here. Give up? They are all fruit desserts. No rich, decadent, indulgent, oh so common on Valentine’s Day chocolate in sight! Now I’ve told you that I think the husband’s preference for fruit desserts over chocolate ones is a bit inconceivable for me, though I must say, I don’t necessarily want chocolate…You guys know me by now right? What do I want? CUPCAKES! (just thought I’d make that word really stand out in case my sweetie just happens to be reading this post…hint, hint!) But since I’m such a lovely and thoughtful wife, I did not make my Valentine cupcakes. I made him this fantastic Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin!

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I was lucky enough to receive Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook for Christmas and immediately knew this Tarte Tatin would be the Valentine’s Day dish this year. If you have not got a copy of the book, what in the world are you waiting for?!! It is chock full of delicious recipes, similar to the ones found on her blog, as well as her stunning photos. And let me tell you, this Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin did not disappoint. It was very quick and easy to make. You really only dirty one pan, the cast iron skillet that you cook it in. You start by cooking the bananas in a boozy butterscotch sauce on the stove top.

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This is where you will lose any element of surprize because the tantalizing aroma of the bubbling banana medley will bring every single person who is in the house into the kitchen to investigate. Next step is to add the buttery puff pastry topper and then pop the whole thing into the oven for about 25 minutes until it is bubbly and golden.

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Are you drooling yet?

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Next you carefully flip it over onto a plate and get ready for folks to swoon!

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I think it looked truly impressive. Not to mention how scrumptious it tasted…and I am not even that big of a fruity dessert fan.

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I did indeed choose wisely for my Valentine. He was over the moon! Hope everyone has a Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin

Recipe from: Smitten Kitchen Cookbook  by Deb Perelman or you can see recipe online at EatDrink.CA

yield: 6 – 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • All-purpose flour, for work surface
  • 1 sheet frozen puff-pastry dough, thawed in the refrigerator for 1 day
  • 3 Tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (95 grams) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt flakes, such as Maldon
  • 5 Large ripe bananas peeled, halved lengthwise
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon bourbon or Scotch (optional – are you kidding me?! I chose Knob Creek Bourbon)
  • Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Directions:

For this recipe, you’ll need a 9″ skillet heavy enough so you fear dropping it on your toes. Preheat your oven to 400° F. Roll out your puff pastry on a floured surface to a 9″ circle, and trim if necessary. Transfer the pastry to the fridge until needed.

Melt the butter in the 9″ skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the sugar and salt. Cook, swirling the skillet occasionally, until the mixture turns medium amber, about 3 minutes.

Arrange the bananas in the skillet, overlapping them slightly. Cook, without stirring, for 3 minutes. Drizzle the vanilla and the alcohol of you choice over the bananas and cook them until most of the liquor has evaporated and liquid has thickened, about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the bananas from heat.

Place the pastry round on top of the bananas and transfer it to the oven. Bake until the pastry is golden brown and puffed, about 25 minutes. Remove the tarte from the oven, and carefully invert the tarte onto a serving plate. Don’t even think about serving this without vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy!


Tater Tot Casserole

February 10, 2014

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I’m sure you know by now, that dang critter saw his shadow. Yup…SIX, count ’em…six more weeks of this bizarro Winter! Boo!!! I kind of had a feeling it wasn’t done with us yet. So looks like we’ll have to hunker down for just a bit longer. This Tater Tot Casserole is the perfect comfort food to help you get through it.

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I’m not even going to try to pretend this casserole is healthy or good for you in any way. I’m quite sure it is not. But let me tell you…it is oh so good. Gooey, creamy, savoury, cheesey, tater-tot-y bliss! Just the thing to warm you up and soothe those nerves on one of these frigid winter nights.

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And one of the truly awesome things about this casserole is that it freezes fantastically well. So once you are going to all the trouble to make it (uh…it is really not very much trouble…) you can make an extra pan of it and just pop it in the freezer. You will be so happy that you did because the next time you have one of those days…you know the kind…made even worse by the icy roads, frozen pipes and kids being home from school for the second week straight…all you’ll have to do is pull that bad boy out of the freezer and place directly in the oven. There you have it…comfort food therapy on the way! And while the family thinks you’re busy “preparing” dinner, you can have a moment or two to yourself. All alone…Well, alone except for that glass (or should I say bottle) of wine… Just kidding! I know you wouldn’t do that. I’m sure it is obvious to everyone that a tall, frosty beer (or say six…one for every extra week of Winter) would be a much better pairing with this dish! Hope everyone enjoys their extended weeks of Winter!

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Tater Tot Casserole

recipe adapted from: craving comfort

yield: 4 servings

ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato puree
  • handful fresh thyme leaves
  • 10 ounce can of condensed cream of chicken or mushroom soup
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 16 oz. package of frozen tater tots
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Brown ground beef seasoned with salt and pepper. Remove beef from pan, leaving as much of grease in pan as possible and set aside.

Saute chopped onion and garlic in reserved grease. Cook until tender. Add ground beef back to pan and add Worcestershire sauce and tomato puree. Stir until combined. Add thyme leaves to mixture.

In large bowl, combine sour cream and cream of chicken soup. Add beef mixture and stir to combine.

Place soup/beef mixture in 8×8″ pan. Top with tater tots.

Bake uncovered for 30 – 40 minutes until bubbly and tater tots are golden brown.

Sprinkle one cup of cheese over tater tots and return to oven until cheese in melted.

Enjoy!

This casserole freezes well. Put it together and freeze until ready to bake. If you would like to feed a crowd, consider doubling it and baking in a 9×13″ pan.


Salted and Malted Nutella Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies

February 5, 2014

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Salted and Malted Nutella Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies. I really don’t know if I need to elaborate on this one… I mean, I don’t know about you, but they had me at Salted & Malted. Nothing more need be said. But then those delicious pair of words are followed by Nutella. And it doesn’t stop there. Oh no. It goes on to read Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie! Have Mercy!

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I was instantly confident that this would be the recipe that I would make for World Nutella Day. That’s right, today February 5th is World Nutella Day. This celebration of all things Nutella was started in 2007 by Sara at Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle at Bleeding Espresso as a day to celebrate, get creative with and most importantly, to EAT Nutella.

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I love Nutella. Although I missed adding a submission to Nutella Day last year. (Total brain freeze…I have no excuse) I have contributed a couple of truly tasty Nutella laden recipes in years past. There was my exquisite Nutella, Double Chocolate & Banana Tart

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and my delightful Nutella & Banana filled Peanut Butter Ebelskivers.

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I think these Salted & Malted Nutella Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies are a great way to jump back into the game.

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Morgan over at Host the Toast came up with these gems back in December. What a masterpiece! They literally have it all, silky, decadent Nutella, creamy caramel, nostalgic malted goodness and rich chocolate chips all rolled up in a crunchy chewy salted cookie. (Yup…its got the salty/sweet thing covered as well!) They are an absolute breeze to make and as I’m sure you can imagine, are certainly quite easy to eat. (Ahem…probably a bit too easy judging from the fit of my britches…) I can’t get enough of these little devils! Get yourself addicted today!

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Salted and Malted Nutella Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies

recipe from Host the Toast

yield: 27 Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 and ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup malted milk powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • ⅔ cup Nutella
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅔ cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ⅔ cup caramel bits (or baking caramels cut into tiny pieces)
  • Flaky Sea salt, for topping

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, malted milk powder, baking soda, and salt until well blended.

Cream together the butter and both sugars in a separate bowl until completely smooth.

Add the Nutella to the butter mixture and mix until fully combined. Add in the egg and vanilla and continue to mix. Then, slowly add in the flour mixture. Mix until it all is just incorporated, but don’t over-mix.

Stir in the chocolate chips and caramel bits until evenly distributed. I like to refrigerate cookie dough for an hour or so before baking. It helps to keep it from spreading too quickly in the oven resulting in a very thin cookie. However, this step is optional. Using a medium-sized cookie scoop ( holds about 2 tablespoons) scoop dough and drop onto the parchment paper-covered baking sheets, spacing them out about 2½ inches apart and away from the sides of the sheet. You may have to do multiple batches– don’t try to squeeze them all in.

Sprinkle dough with flaky sea salt.

Bake 10-13 minutes. Remove from the oven. They will still be very, very soft. Leave them on the cookie sheet on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, or until they are solid enough to eat.

Enjoy!


Italian Lentil Salad over Crusty Mozzarella Toasts

February 1, 2014

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This Italian Lentil Salad, spooned generously over toasted crusty bread topped with melted fresh mozzarella, may have kept me alive last week. I kid you not. This meal is so incredibly hearty and delicious, it kept me going on the night that our furnace gave up the ghost and the temperature outside plunged to a bone-chilling 8° F (-13° C). Yup…Oh and the wind chill made it feel like 1°F (-17° C). Well, it didn’t get that cold here inside, but I was really freaking out that it would get just cold enough that all the pipes in the house would burst. Just two days before hand we had been dealing with a frozen sewer pipe. Needless to say, tension was running high around here that night. Luckily we had a gas fireplace in the living room that we were able to huddle around and big servings of Italian Lentil Salad which helped to not only warm us but to also fortify our souls for what further, yet unknown calamities were certainly lurking right around the frigid corner. And I should also mention that we had a big bottle of wine (or two) that perhaps helped to sooth our cold shattered nerves!

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I am happy to report that not only did we survive the most recent arctic blast unscathed, but our pipes held out like champs! Normally a big fan of Winter, this Virginia winter has proven quite bizarre for me. We have endured multiple days of temperatures which were only able climb to a high of 20° F (-6° C), and you can imagine where they headed once the sun went down.  However, even thought the temperatures are lingering in the polar vicinity, we haven’t had much snow (which I actually like), just the glacial cold. I was visiting Iceland in December and believe it or not, I feel I need to return if only to warm up! So it seems good old Virginia has become a land of the extremes; sweltering, miserable humid and sweaty summers followed up by bitter, raw Siberian winters. Hmmm….

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Frozen Virginia Vista

That most famous of groundhogs, Punxsutawney Phil, is scheduled to make his yearly appearance on Sunday.

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The critter himself!

I never thought I’d say it, but I hope he does not see his shadow and Winter is over. I do declare that with some trepidation because even though it was cold, and I do mean somewhat glacial, without a furnace the other night, I was able to put on enough layers and pile on enough blankets that I was comfortable. If not for my extreme dread over burst pipes, all would have been well. However, it is often so hot here when it does deign to “warm up” that I can’t get comfortable, no matter how nekkid (that’s a word right?) I get.

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Thinking back to those steamy Virginia summers, that is when I originally found this recipe on Pinch of Yum ( I did modify it somewhat). You see, I had planted an incredibly over active cherry tomato plant and was scouring the intertubes (my word for worldwide web) for recipes in which I could use my bumper crop. I made this salad quite a few times back then. Mind you, since we were at the opposite end on thermometer from where we are now, I served it cold, as a side salad, or sometimes over a bed of lettuce or if I was on the go, rolled it into a wrap. No matter which way I served it, it was absolutely delicious and refreshing. So, there you have it. This gem of a recipe is very versatile temperature wise and it certainly must be good for you, chock full of lentils, bulgur wheat and veggies as it is. No meat in sight. It will not only delightfully satisfy your hunger, but will also even allow you to feel somewhat virtuous as you tuck into a big plate of it. You really should add this one to your recipe box. You never know, it might just save your life!

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Italian Lentil Salad

recipe adapted from: Pinch of Yum

yield: 8 – 10 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry green (brown) lentils
  • ½ cup dry light bulgur
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 3-4 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinaigrette
  • 1/4 grated parmesan cheese
  • handful of fresh basil, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • toasted slices of crusty bread

Instructions:

Cook the lentils and the bulgur according to directions, using vegetable/chicken broth instead of water. When cooked, combine and set aside.

Saute the onion in the olive oil until it softens a bit and then add the tomatoes and garlic to the pan. Saute over low heat for 15 minutes or until the tomatoes and garlic are soft and fragrant. Remove from heat. Add the lentils, bulgur, basil and parmesan to the pan and stir to combine.

Season with dressing and salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold.

If serving over toasted bread, toast bread slices. Place slices of fresh mozzarella on toasted bread slices and stick under broiler until cheese is melted. Top bread slices with heaping spoonfuls of warm lentil salad.

Enjoy!

P.S. Thanks to all you folks out there reading my blog! I have been at the food blogging thing for 3 years on February 1st and am so thankful anyone is actually paying attention! I hope I can continue to inspire you with my culinary adventures in the upcoming year.


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