Spoonfuls of Germany

Tastes of home, with an outlook to 2016

8 Comments

Custard Pastries with Apricots, made with vanilla custard made from scratch

Next week, it will be 18 years since I immigrated to the United States from Germany. I have fully settled into a new life, with an American husband, children, and passport. Meanwhile I still feel very much connected to my German self by the language in which I do most of my work, and the food I cook and grow in my garden.

All those spaetzle, soups, dumplings, apple pancakes, desserts with red currants and gooseberries do more for me than just satisfy a nostalgic craving for the food itself.

Red Currants with vanilla custard made from scratch

When I met my husband, he was a widower with two young children. In the first few years we were all so consumed by growing together as a family that teaching the children my native language would have been one thing too much on everyone’s plate so we didn’t do it.

However, since I stumbled into writing Spoonfuls of Germany, the book that is, which first came out in 2004 and was recently released as an ebook, German food has taken the role of the German cultural ambassador in our family. My husband and children don’t speak more than a few words of German, and have never been to Germany except for brief visits but they know and appreciate a lot of German dishes. Today the scent of a Pot Roast from the Römertopf filling the house means comfort food for all of us.

Pot Roast from the Römertopf

And, over dinner, I have shared with my family, literally mouthful by mouthful, the stories and memories that are tied to those foods for me, giving them glimpses into my past before I came to America.

The process of my digging out recipes from Germany’s huge and fantastic culinary repertoire has not ended. On the contrary, it is in full swing. I am currently working on a new book that will put everything I love about German cuisine in one place, with lots of beautiful photos taken by my husband, so stay tuned!

Vegan, gluten-free no-bake version of Nutcracker Cookies (Nussknacker)

Sometimes, when I look with a fresh eye at food I loved as a child I realize that I need to give the recipes a healthier makeover. Today I would not make the same Toast Hawaii my mother used to assemble for a quick and easy Sunday dinner and which I gobbled up, always eating the bread last because that was my least favorite part. Nor do I follow most German cake recipes to the letter when they call for half a pound of butter for the pastry crust alone.

No-Bake Chocolate Cake (Kalter Hund) using organic coconut oil instead of shortening

The challenge is to get everything to taste as authentic as possible yet fit better for today’s diet.

A few days ago I made a Leek and Cheese Soup for dinner. In Germany it falls under the category of Mitternachtssuppen, “midnight soups” – soups for a crowd, served at a party after a long night of drinking. Goulash Soup is another one of them.

The original Leek and Cheese Soup is made with processed cheese (Schmelzkäse in German), which is on my blacklist of foods. Instead I tried it with regular sharp cheddar. Success! My family loved it and it vanished.

Over the past year I have slimmed down and adapted a few other recipes. You’ll find them scattered throughout this post (click on the images to get to the recipe).

Cheese and Leek Soup with Ground Beef

Cheese and Leek Soup (Käse-Lauch-Suppe), replacing processed cheese with sharp cheddar

Cheese and Leek Soup with Ground Beef (Käse-Lauch-Suppe mit Hackfleisch)

3 to 4 leeks, depending on thickness, trimmed, using only the white and about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the green part

1 pound (450 g) ground beef

2 tablespoons olive oil, as needed

1 medium yellow potato, peeled and finely diced

7 cups (1.6 liter) water

1 teaspoon salt

1 generous pinch of nutmeg

5 ounces (140 g) sharp cheddar, finely diced

Freshly ground pepper

1. Halve the leeks lengthwise and slice them very thinly. Wash them thoroughly at least twice in a bowl with cold water. Drain in a colander.

2. Brown the meat in a large pot, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon. Leave about 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pot and discard the rest. If the meat is very lean and there is no fat in the pot, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat over medium heat.

3. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, over low to medium heat, until they are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the potato and cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes, until is starts to turn translucent.

4. Return the meat to the pot. Add the water, salt and nutmeg. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook, covered, for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally so the potato does not stick to the bottom of the pan.

5. Reduce the heat to a minimum and gradually add the cheddar, stirring it to fully melt before adding more. Cook until heated through but do not boil. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings

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8 thoughts on “Tastes of home, with an outlook to 2016

  1. So happy to have stumbled across your blog! My family loves German food and I can’t wait to try some of your recipes!

  2. Many dishes in Latvia, where I was born and lived half of my life, have their German roots. One of very popular sweet bakes that I remember was a bee sting cake, baked as a tray bake and served sliced. It was called tea pastry – tejas maizite in Latvian. I managed to recreate the taste and texture of this delicious pastry gluten free, though, as you I wanted to transform the recipe into lighter version and to avoid yeast. The main goal in these modifications not to compromise on the taste and texture of the original. Thank you for your recipes, many of them bring sweet memories of the food I grew up with.

    • That is great to hear, thank you. Interesting, I did not know that bee sting cake, a German classic, had traveled as far as Latvia. I know from a few not-so-sucessful attempts that gluten-free baking is a challenge, wonderful if you have found a way to make that a tasty version of that cake. I will certainly check out the recipes on your book next time I need to make something gluten-free.

  3. The custard pastries are beautiful to look at, and I can only imagine how delicious they were to eat. 🙂

  4. Gorgeous pictures and lovely food!! Happy new Year and happy blogging for 2016!!

  5. No Bake Chocolate Cake! That is literally the cake I had for my birthday this year. Love the blog! Jeremy

  6. Argh… the nearly long comment that I wanted to post disseapered…
    Ok, again: I really like reading your blog telling us so many interesting details about German cooking that I never made my mind up.
    I cooked this “midnight soup”, too, during my years of study in Würzburg for parties, and yes, we used this (ugly) processed cheese mainly because it was cheap. So thanks a lot for your suggestions that make the recipes always a lot healthier!
    And last thing: like our languages, as well the cooking is developping through time (fortunately). So we do not bake cakes with 24 egg yolks any more like Henritte Davidis did in her cook-books 😉

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