Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What? No German Recipes

"Tag des Deutschen Bieres"

For those of you who don't speak German that translates into "German Beer Day." 

I hadn't given the day much thought other than, "I should buy some German beer," but The Boss suggested I make brats. I liked the idea, but in that moment, I realized that other than brats, I had a limited knowledge of German foods and absolutely no idea how to cook any of them.  Seeing that I'm only four generations removed from Germany, and that I took German for a number of years while in college, I should have at least a little knowledge of German cuisine.

Nope. Brats, sauerkraut, and German potato salad is it.

Not only is that sad, it's cliched, which is even worse.

It was 4 pm... a Saturday... I had no German beer in the house... and I hadn't started the meal I planned for the evening. I knew I would have to do an internet search, run to the store for the ingredients, and then cook up whatever recipe I had found, so I settled for the traditional brats, kraut, and German potato salad dinner, but was determined to do my homework and have better recipes to cook by the time October hit.

Later I searched for German cuisine recipes in my usual go-to places. My favorite cookbooks failed me miserably. The few recipes they did have all relied on the brats and krauts theme. It seems that here in America, when people say German food they think strictly of sausages and cabbage, but it doesn't take a culinary genius to realize that real Germans don't eat that all the time, in fact, I'd be willing to bet they don't eat that even 20% of the time.

I turned to the internet next, and I have to say I was about as equally disappointed. I had to search much longer than I should have to push past the sausage and cabbage themed dishes to find recipes for other German foods I had heard of but had never tried nor made.

One of the more prominent recipes out there is German Beef Rouladen. It seems fairly easy to make and would appeal to the America idea of incorporating beef as a main dish. Others I found were Jaeger Schnitzel, Wiener Schnitzel, and Fleischkuechle. I had completely forgotten about a distinctly German dish called Hasenpfeffer, but I doubt I ever make that because finding, skinning, and stewing a rabbit isn't really practical given the circumstances. Plus, as a previous owner of a pet rabbit, I'd just seem odd to me.

I also found a website called which sells all sorts of German foods as well as other German items. I haven't purchased anything from them, so this isn't an endorsement, but maybe it's a place for us all to start.

So thanks again to The Boss, who in her own way, gave me another epiphany and sent me out in search of increasing my ever growing culinary arsenal.

Until Next Time...
Take a few minutes to watch Chef Uwe of make up a Rouladen.

mit freundlichen Grüßen,

Friday, April 22, 2016

Pizza Stone: The Greatest Invention since...The Oven

I'm always surprised when I hear someone say that they think pizza stones are a waste of money. "They don't work."

"What do you mean they don't work?" I usually respond. "Of course, they do. They're the greatest thing since the invention of the oven."

At this point, the person usually launches into a whole host of things they've tried or done or read, and usually, the words, "I followed the directions and it still didn't work," are included in the tirade.

I then reply (sometimes with a little more condescension than I mean to), "Well no, apparently you didn't follow the directions."

A pizza stone is a wonderful tool for your cooking arsenal and should be a staple in your kitchen that you can turn to for many other types of food, including bread and other baked foods. But when used for pizza, if you follow a few simple steps it will produce a well cooked, crispy, and flavorful crust each and every time. 

Its origins can be traced back throughout human history long before the invention of pizza and it is still used in most cultures in one form or another. If it didn't work, I don't think it'd still be around.

The first mistake I've noticed people make is that they don't heat it up prior to putting their pizza on it. The whole concept of the pizza stone is that you're placing the pizza on a hot surface, therefore the crust starts cooking immediately. Like with pizza ovens, when the pizza is placed on the stone surface, the wood fire has been going for hours and the crust of  the pizza rests on is already a few hundred degrees. The mistake many people make is preparing the pizza on the stone and then placing it in the oven, therefore the top of the pizza is done long before the stone has had adequate time to heat up. Doing it that way guarantees you'll never get a crispy crust.

The second mistake is that some people have issue with the pizza sticking to the stone. There are one of two methods to prevent this: cornmeal or seasoning. When I bought my pizza stone, I wasn't aware of the seasoning method, and I knew from my years working local pizzerias that a little cornmeal underneath the pizza prevented it from sticking, so that's what I did. After a while, just the normal oils from the pizzas I cooked seasoned the stone very nicely and eliminated the need for cornmeal in the future. What I also could have done when I first purchased the stone was to rub some sort of vegetable or olive oil over the surface and allow the stone to absorb it. I then could have heated it, allowed it to cool, and repeated the process. This is a similar method many use with cast-iron skillets, and as far as the appearance of the stone, it gives it a darker, more uniform color - as opposed to mine which has multiple colors from the various oils that it has absorbed over my cooking endeavors.

The third mistake I've observed is that people misunderstand the cleaning directions. You should clean your stone with plain water and some elbow grease, never using soap since the stone may absorb the soap. Some people, though, interpret this to mean that they should never wash the stone at all. It's akin to that false belief that a grill caked in char somehow produces more flavorful food than a clean grill. Not cleaning off the chunkies of any previous pizza can have the opposite effect of what you want to achieve because it keeps parts of the stone and crust from touching, resulting in uneven crispness. 

Basically, if follow the simple instructions and don't overthink it, there's no reason why a pizza stone shouldn't give you crisp crusts every time. And if you still seem to struggle with little or no results, don't give up. It's like the old adage, Practice Makes Perfect, and while you're on your way to perfection, you're probably still seasoning the stone with each use.

Cooking pizza is fun, just stick with it, you'll be a old pro in no time.

Until Next Time...
Here's a short educational video on how to season a stone.

Stonely Yours,

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Eastern Inspired Pork Tenderloin

During my "Grill Only" cooking phase, I would pick up pork tenderloins on sale, sprinkle some off-the-shelf rub on it, and drop that baby on the grill. Good stuff. There's only many so many times you can do that though before the family starts complaining about "same ol' same ol'", and to be completely honest I was bored with it too.

But pork tenderloins were on sale a few weeks ago, and I decided to pick one up and see if I couldn't dig up some recipe online that might inspire me. Well, needless to say, I found four recipes within my skill set, thought I'd throw in a lonely box of couscous from the pantry, The Boss's two favorite spices, curry and turmeric, and include my go-to veggie asparagus.

Ta-da, I had a tasty pork tenderloin that sent us back for seconds, and seems to photograph well enough to post.

Eastern Inspired Pork Tenderloin
- 1½ pound to 2 pound pork tenderloin
- ¼ ounce (or to taste) of each of the following: curry, turmeric, paprika, salt, pepper, celery seeds, parsley, dill seed
- half cup of EVOO
- half cup of balsamic vinegar
- 5 ounces of couscous
- half can (7 ounces) of peas
- half can (7 ounces) of diced carrots
- ½ ounce of curry (or to taste)

 - mix all spices together
 - marinate pork tenderloin in a mixture of the EVOO, balsamic vinegar, and spice mix (I did it for four hours in the refrigerator, but you can do it for one hour or even overnight)
 - preheat oven to 400 degrees
 - place pork tenderloin in casserole pan and pour the rest of the marinade over it, cover with foil
 - place tenderloin in oven for 30 minutes (until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees)
 - prepare couscous per product directions; mix in curry (to taste), peas, and carrots (I added some extra scallions at the last moment; and keep an eye on that couscous, it soaks up the water faster than you realize)
 - after removing tenderloin from the oven, keep it covered while steaming asparagus for about two minutes in the microwave until they are the perfect combination of flexible but still crisp to the bite. (this takes practice and varies per microwave) 
 - serve it and listen for the choruses of "oohs" and "ahhs"

Calories per serving
Total 470 calories
Carbs 221; Protein 115; Fat 29 (5.2g Fiber; 649mg Sodium)

I'm pretty proud of this considering its simplicity. As with all my recipes to date, I'm sure it's been done a thousand times by a thousand people, but I don't have a lot of experience cooking with curry or balsamic vinegar, and I think I've made couscous twice in my life, so for this to come together and compliment each other gives me another template in my cooking repertoire.

Until Next Time...
Here's an interesting video on another Eastern way to prepare pork tenderloin, although in this recipe, I'd personally exclude honey.

Easternly Yours,

Calorie Breakdown
Pork Tenderloin (per three ounce serving)
Total 122 calories
Carbs 0; Protein 88; Fat 27 

Asparagus (5 stalks)

Total 70 calories
Carbs 70 calories

Couscous per serving (one half cup)
Total 88 Calories
Carbs 72; Protein 12; (1.1g Fiber; 4mg Sodium)

Peas per serving (four ounces)
Total 70 calories
Carbs 52; Protein 12;  (3g Fiber; 350mg Sodium)

Diced Carrots per serving (half cup)
Total 32 calories
Carbs 27; Protein 3; Fat 2;  (2.2g Fiber; 295mg Sodium)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Lasagna's Cousin ( or Cheesy Sausage Bake or maybe it's a Casserole ) - RECIPE

Are there official guidelines that distinguish a lasagna from a bake from a casserole? I guess it depends on your definition.

This all started with a simple idea to recreate a quick, easy dish my mother used to make - a mac & cheese tuna casserole. I had watched her make it a hundred times growing up, unfortunately, I didn't really pay attention. Not like I really needed to. There was nothing to it. Macaroni and cheese with tuna, throw it in the oven. She didn't include peas though because my brother is a picky eater and would starve himself before he would eat anything that a pea even had touched.

But the issue with recreating my mother's simple classic family fare was that it didn't sound like it'd be any fun to make. A plain boring dish, with minimum fuss for a busy working woman. So with deciding to make it myself, I sought ways to muscle it up a little. Before too long, I had included some ingredients from two other standard recipes and tossed in a few additional changes. Around the house, I kept referring to it as a "bake," but The Boss said it was more like lasagna than anything else, and the inclusion of Ricotta cheese pretty much assured she was right.

This lasagna lacked some of the signature ingredients of regular lasagna, including the type of pasta noodles, so I struggled with a name, until finally just moments before sliding this concoction into the oven, inspiration struck and I named it:

Lasagna's Cousin
- 1 pound Fusilloni (spiral) pasta, or other short pasta like penne
- 7 links of Johnsonville Italian Sausage (it's what I had on hand, use whatever Italian sausage you have on hand)
- 1 jar of Classico Italian Sausage spaghetti sauce (again, just what I had on hand, use your favorite)
- 2 tablespoons of an Italian seasoning mix, mine always has basil, (extra) oregano, rosemary, and thyme.
- 1 container (15 ounces) of Ricotta cheese
- 2 cups (8 ounces) of shredded mozzarella cheese
- 3 tablespoons fresh grated Parmesan (grate this yourself, don't use the shake-can variety, i.e., The Great Parmesan Cheese Scandal of 2016)

- preheat oven to 350 degrees
- cook pasta per directions on box, stopping a minute or so early (el dente)
- mix the Ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan in a bowl (set aside)
- peal casing off sausage and cook on medium heat, drain and then return to pan.
- stir in sauce, seasonings, salt, and pasta
- in a large baking tray, layer half of the sausage/pasta mixture
- evenly spoon cheese mixture over the baking dish
- top that withe remaining sausage/pasta mixture and a bit more mozzarella (to taste, but don't over do it)
- bake approximately 30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and has that "done" color

Calories per serving
Total 545.5 calories
Fat 253.25; Carbs 159.5; Protein 119; (Sodium 917mg); (Fiber 6.4g)

To say that this recipe was A Hit around here would be an understatement. We ate this for lunch and dinner for the next couple of days until it was completely gone. I'd make it again soon, but I don't want to burn everyone out, and besides, I'm out of spaghetti sauce.

Until Next Time,
Watch the folks at AllRecipes make the most beautiful lasagna I've ever seen. It is truly art.
Lasagnaly Yours,

Calorie Breakdown
Johnsonville Italian Sausage per serving (link)
(7 links used in this recipe)
Total 260 calories per link;
Fat 190; Carbs 12;Protein 56; (Sodium 570 mg)

Lidia's Fusilli Pasta
Total 138 calories;
Fat 6; Carbs 107; Protein 21; (Fiber 5 mg)

Mozzarella cheese per serving
Total 80 calories
Fat 45;Carbs 4; Protein 24

Ricotta cheese per serving
Total 52 calories
Fat 20; Carbs 10; Protein 17; (Sodium 47mg)

Classico Italian Sausage Spaghetti Sauce per serving
Total 48 calories
Fat 16; Carbs 28; Protein 8; (Sodium 300 mg);  (Fiber 1.4 g)