Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hemp summer squash cakes

It was 7:40pm and dark outside. It was still a warm August night, and I walked in the lawn barefoot, cutting some herbs for dinner. Later, I watched August: Osage County, a Oscar nominated movie that made it to my house now thanks to Netflix scheduling a long time ago. Baby Cat squeezed herself next to me in the big arm chair. August: Osage County is a movie with big names, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliet Lewis, Sam Shepard, …but most of them in rather unappealing roles, especially Meryl Streep, but she is fearless, finding this mean, old, pill popping, cancer ridden matriarch in herself when she convinced us with endless movies that she is graceful, elegant, funny, sexy, can sing and dance, and cook, and all the good stuff.

Dinner was summer squash from the garden --- this time grated, mixed with herbs, panko, hemp seeds, peas and an egg and fried in the pan.

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Hemp Summer Squash Cakes

  • 2 large summer squash (or zucchini)
  • 1/2 ts salt
  • fresh crushed black pepper
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 TB hemp seeds
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas (or corn)
  • some fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, thyme, savory)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • olive oil  or butter (for frying)

In a large bowl, lined with a clean kitchen towel, grate the summer squash. Mix with the salt, and let sit for 15-20min. Twist the towel, and squeeze out as much water as you can.

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Put the squished, dried summer squash in a bowl, add the other ingredients, and mix well.

In a pan, heat a teaspoon olive oil until very hot. Now, lower the heat to medium. Take about 1/4 cup of zucchini mix, pour in pan, and squish flat to a patty with a spatula or large spoon. Form a patty.

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Add 2 to the pan, and ldon’t disturb the patties. Let fry one side until the rims start to brown, then turn over. Cook on the other side for about 10min to really cook the zucchini and soften it.

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Serve immediately, or keep warm in the oven at 300F.  --- Serve with red pepper spread and hummus or greek yogurt.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Vegan Quinoa Cakes

This was one of my rainy vacation day projects --- trying out Angela’s baked vegan quinoa cakes. Unfortunately, I did not have many of the ingredients at home, so I improvised and added cooked lentils, frozen peas and a salad mix. They still came out great, although they did not sticking together very well. Great picnic and hiking food!

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Baked Vegan Quinoa Cakes (adapted from here)

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax + 6 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats, ground into a flour
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup cooked beluga lentils
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup cruciferous mix from Trader Joes (or use baby spinach, Swiss chard or kale), finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon runny tahini paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (I used parchment paper and a silicone mat; the ones on the silicone mat started falling apart, while the ones on the parchment paper stayed intact).

Mix the ground flax seed and the water in a small cup, set aside for 5 minutes to thicken.

Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl, including the flax mixture and the 1.5 cups cooked quinoa. Stir well until the mixture comes together. Shape mixture into 1/4-cup patties with wet hands. Pack tightly so they hold together better. Place on baking sheet. Clean hands between forming patties, it makes it easier to shape them.

Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the cakes over, and bake for another 8-10 minutes until golden and firm.

Wait for 5 minutes for the patties to cool, and then enjoy!

Leftovers keep in the fridge for up to 5-6 days. 

Vacation interrupted

Vacation is currently interrupted by rain and dark gray skies. The loud plong-plong-plong of the rain drops on the metal bottom on the window AC unit woke me up in the middle of the night. I started to watch TV hoping to fall asleep again. Not the best start into the day. There is still rain, on and off, until tomorrow afternoon. This calls for more indoor adventures. My fridge is full with cake, quinoa cakes and ratatouille. Maybe, it is time for a new vacation hobby, like knitting.

Regular days with rain would be fine, but we all just expect a little more from vacation days.

Lunch salad with sauted mushroom is always so much better than raw ones.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Maine Wild Blueberry time

Yesterday, on one of my cross country trips, somewhere private between the tourist vein of coastal Route 1 and the artery of I-95 I passed a wild wild blueberry field. Wild wild? Most of the wild blueberry patches are farmed (more like owned and tended) and this one was sitting there, all by itself, big blue billows of ripe blueberries.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Beluga lentils with shitake mushroom

Two days into vacation, the weather forecast for the rest of the week is mixed: thunderstorms in the afternoon. Trips with shopping adventures are still in the cards, but also staying home, getting summer cozy, writing real letters and taking the time to cook more elaborate meals.

I fired up the slow cooker for dried chickpeas. Hummus is on the menu. In a stove top cast iron pot, beluga lentils simmered with sauted onions and a bay leaf, and in a second cast iron pot dried shitake mushroom plumped up in a mix of hot water and braggs amino acids. The hummus would only be ready the next day, but a pan fried dinner of red onions, lentils and shitake mushroom with a dash of salt and crème fraiche gave me just the right amount of fuel for the evening run.

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The cats are on vacation, too. They enjoy a whole bouquet of catnip from the garden. Good feelings, all-around.

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Beluga lentils:

  • 1 cup of dry beluga lentils
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1/2 small red onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 ts olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh if possible

In a small enough cast iron pot with a lid, heat the olive oil and saute the onion. Add the garlic once the onion is slightly charred. Pour in the dry lentil, and fill with 2 cups of hot water. Stir, cover with lid and turn down the heat to medium low. Cook for 20-25 min with lid closed. Stir occasionally and check consistency of lentil (if you like more or less al dente lentils).

The water should be cooked off once the lentils are soft.

Shitake mushroom:

  • about 10 dried shitake mushroom caps (or sliced dried shitake)
  • 1 sharp serrated knife
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 TB braggs amino acids or tamari sauce

Use a cast iron pot with a lid, add the water, the amino acids, and keep hot on the stove. With the serrated knife (bread knife is best), cut the shitake mushroom into thin slices. Once a mushroom is sliced, add to the boiling water mix. Once all mushrooms are sliced, stir the pot, cover with a lid and let simmer on low for 20min so that the mushroom ate completely soft and meaty.

Lentil Shitake fry:

  • other 1/2 of the red onion
  • 1 ts olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cooked lentils
  • 1/4 cup reconstituted shitake mushroom
  • pinch of salt, fresh ground pepper
  • option: teaspoon ground cumin
  • dash of Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of crème fraiche (best: vanilla crème fraiche)

Sautee the onion in the olive oil in a regular non-stick pan. Add the remaining ingredients, combine, taste for flavor and serve.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Vacation planning

It is Monday morning and I wonder what to do with my vacation. My cleaning lady buzzes around the house, which is a good start into vacation because I have a clean house, and I don’t have to do it.

nevertheless, what to do?

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A great vacation needs a plan. A list with “what would be fun to do this year?” “any new things I’d like to experience/travel to/see?” “Any summer classics I definitely want to see this year again?”

Last summer vacation I got through 2/3rds of my vacation list, but the remaining 1/3 looks less appealing this summer. There is a vibe, specific for each summer. This summer vibe seems to be more a ‘stay home, bake a cake and invited people over’ kind of vibe. Explorations on the social front. New babies, old friends, the girls. A day in Boston. A hike with friends. Whatever feels right.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

To dangle one’s soul

There is a wonderful German saying if you want to relax, have downtime, go on vacation and just leave all cares behind and it is  “die Seele baumeln lassen”, which literally translates into letting one’s soul dangle… So much more poetic than the simple translation of relax.

My vacation has finally arrived, the day promises to be hot, which often leads the day to be quiet,because the kids and gardeners and lawn mowers stay inside or everyone is off to the beach.

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It reminds me of Italian siesta, the quiet time between 12pm and 4pm, when the streets are empty, the shops are closed, and everyone is home to take a nap.

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But on vacation, there are more opportunities. The sea, a pool, the beach, and it is not just at noon time when it is a good time to hang.

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These are the times to be, just to be, and not to think, plot or plan. Where life is effortless, like a sail on the ocean or the wind in the trees.

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Animals are experts in this.

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so, there. Vive les vacances!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Monday to come

It is August, the summer is winding down. The next 2 weeks are finally vacation for me. It is great to forget all obligations for 2 weeks and focus only on things that are benefiting my wellbeing, allocating a budget to eat at the expensive restaurants, drive places, read a book on the beach, and just let the soul linger, like sailing with a negroni in your hand lazily on a boat in the Sicilian sea. It is fun to wake up and say to myself “what is the most fun I could have today?”, let my fantasy run wild and then do it. ---- In general I feel every day should be lived like that but there are things like lawn mowing, work responsibilities and budget constraints so it does not always workout like this. But vacation? All bets are off.

This was the last portion of the precious Mesclun mix from Chase’s Daily, pricey, with with plenty of crisp bib salad leaves, baby radicchio and bright orange flowers. Here, randomly topped with chickpeas and blue cheese.

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Officially, vacation starts Monday, and there are still things to wrap up at work before that, so this weekend will be a non-weekend. But come Monday, I’ll kick off my shoes and sit back and relax!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A taste of vacation

This morning, after a few days of a lot of work, I felt like “time to for a trip to the coast!”. And so, I did. It started with the usual, Belfast, and vegetables at Chase’s and walking around town. Then, I was off on the back country roads of Coastal Rt 1 to Cellardoor Winery. Fabulous glass of wine with a view. The backroads to Camden, quite the preppy tourist trap. But this comes with good restaurants, so no complaints. On the search for the Camden farmers market, I found 40 Paper. But for dinner I tried the James Beard 2014 Best Restaurants of the Northeast Semifinalist, Francine. Unfortunately, at that point my camera battery died so only a photo of the restaurant. --- the food was superb, and I was lucky to get a table on the romantic veranda right after opening.

Cellardoor Winery, Lincolnville, ME

Several people wanted to know which shoes I am wearing.

A glass of wine with a view on the Cellardoor vineyard and the pond.

40 Paper, Camden, ME

Camden farmers market

Francine, Camden, ME

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer dolce far niente

July slowly comes to an end. It feels like a long drawn out month, a summer month, but endless. Maybe it was because I did not feel like going in my usual summer hectic of “Oh, I have to make the most out of summer, let cram as much as possible into every day.” For paradoxical reasons, doing the opposite actually made the month feel endless. But there is no denying it, only one month of official summer left.

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Everyone looks like this by now.

I am not sure if I will continue with my laid back attitude or go into vacation with a renewed sense of “let’s make the most out of summer there is not much left”.  I should get at least one hike in. Eat one lobster.

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But I am eating no-lettuce salads, and managed to finally lose my fitbit flex. The clasp had opened several times recently but always at home and just in time I caught it. This time it happened on campus. I retraced all my steps, and despite it being bright pink it was not to be found. Hope, it makes someone else happy.

Fortunately, there is always cake to cheer me up..and ordering a new one.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Personal ricotta lemon cake

Currently, I am into baking smaller cakes. Like a third of a recipe sized cakes. However, as lesson learnt shows, you can’t just divide the ingredients into 3 and then go with a third. The proportions no longer fit, especially if you don’t weigh ingredients but go by cup measurements. I did this with the ricotta lemon cake, making it in a size just right for 2-3 people. The first round, I just third-ed the ingredients; the cake came out very tasty but very dense, more like a cheese cake. The second version, investigating proper portion proportions for fluffy cakes, I got it right. 

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It starts with a half stick of butter, and a half cup of sugar, butter airated with an electric mixer.

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Then, add 1 egg, 4oz of ricotta, vanilla extract, lemon extract and lemon zest.

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Finally, sieved in a cup of flour, mixed with 1 ts of baking powder, 1/4 ts of baking soda and a pinch of salt (all mixed before adding).

Pour into a greased small bundt cake or 8 inch spring form.

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Baked in a preheated oven at 350F for 35 min.

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So, this was the first version with the proportions of a half cup of flour and ca 8oz of ricotta.

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I placed frozen berries on the bottom of the pan for a summer note.

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A delicious, moist cheesecake treat.

Second try:

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More like it.

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1 slice = 1/8th of cake = 170kcal.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Great Beauty

Yesterday, I saw a movie that knocked my socks off. I am still reeling in the impression of it, and decided then and there that I need to buy the DVD. --- I can imagine it is a love-it or hate-it movie. I could not remember what made me originally add it to my DVD queue in Neflix, and that can happen. This was one of them. I started watching, I had not googled anything about it, and I was just taken in, annoyed that I ordered a movie with subtitles, and wondered after 15 min “This is fun, but where is the plot???”

After 30min it was clear “The Great Beauty” was more a Fellini-type of movie, and I had to check the small signs of a Mac or other indicators that this is current movie. It could easily have been a classic Fellini with its array of colorful, absurd, over the top characters and lack of plot. What drew me in immediately where the roof top over Rome party scenes. My favorite type of dance music and everyone, in every shape, size and age group, brought it on, shaking to the rhythm like they owned it. Bravo, Italia! I thought. “Everyone has the attitude it does not matter who you are, elegance, beauty, sensuality and living life belongs to you. La Dolce Vita.”.




The scenes of dazzling night life are contrasted with scenes of solemn women singing and a Japanese tourist suddenly dropping dead. Foreshadowing – nightlife and death. After a while the plot becomes clear. It is about Jep, an aging socialite, on his 65th birthday when he starts to reflect on his life. In his youth he had loved Elisa but she left him and he never knew why. He never married, only wrote on book in his youth (when he still believed in the beauty and poetry of life) and then was too distracted by just living the glittery high society nightlife of Rome, which was really more empty, overstimulated, with a lack of real emotions. It is a loving homage to his friends, and all of them having had their smaller and larger disappointments and disillusionments in life, but they jointly, politely, lovingly keep the illusion of the “Grande Bellezza” of life intact. Yet, people feel empty, people kill themselves, hang on to trying to be finally successful or loved, die too young of unspecified illnesses, retreat to their hometown and disillusioned leave Rome. But Jep, encountering a 104 year old nun/saint, whose goal it is to climb the stairs to a saint in a church on her knees on her visit from Africa, depicting so clearly that much of life can be pain, suffering and hard work, finds his roots, connects to the true beauty of life again and starts to write his second book. The film ends with a boat ride on the Tiber through Rome, underneath the stone bridges at sunrise (after a typical long party night).

The film opened with a quote: “To travel is very useful, it makes the imagination work, the rest is just delusion and pain. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.”

(“The Great Beauty” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Movie this year).

Friday, July 25, 2014

I love lists, Friday!

It is time to sail into the weekend. Everyone much seems in the summer groove, like sitting down to a large feast, and just enjoying…. only the feast is really the great weather.

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The garden is full of plants and herbs, and my cooking interest is always at an all time low in the summer. This year I seem to be extra anti-cooking.

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Thank good for salad bars.

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I love lists, Friday!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Scallop season

It feels like this month stretches endlessly. Which is ok, because it is summer, and what better than for a summer month to stretch endlessly. The stores have ‘back to school’ isles stacked, and the clothing stores have the first fall wardrobe. Party poopers. The summer squash plants in the garden now produce based on where I planted them: in the old part of the raised bed, or the new addition filled with the Maine lobster compost. Those plants are about 5 times as big, and produce summer squash in record time. Therefore, most meals now include some fresh yellow squash.

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Like the lunch with seared fresh scallops from Stonigton via the farmers market. Yesterday, I even found the first chanterelles in the woods. As good as summer feels” scallops, brown butter, chanterelles, fresh peas and a dab of crème fraiche.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

German Summer Strawberry Cake

The other day I found a brandnew cake pan at a flea market that is perfect for making the bottom cake layer of a typically German fruit cake. A fruit cake is none-specific because it is made in the same manner, but the fruit varies based on season or in the winter with canned (peaches!) or frozen fruit. A fruit cake is similar to a French fruit tart – both are made with fresh fruit. However,  the ‘crust’ of the German bottom layer is more like a sponge cake and it is also inverted: the pan is filled completely with dough, baked and then turned upside down. Therefore, the cake pan needs to be the right one (like this, for example).

I baked the bottom layer, the farmers market had the last strawberries of the season, the German team won the world cup in soccer, so the fate of the cake was sealed: German strawberry cake!

Check this great video for more complete instructions (the cake layer is made as a more authentic sponge).

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Fresh Strawberry Cake

Base Layer:

  • 100 g sugar
  • 4 TB butter, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 0.5 ts vanilla extract
  • 150 g flour
  • 1 ts baking powder
  • 0.3 cup milk


Strawberry Cake

  • 1 quart fresh strawberries, dehulled, cut in half if they are large, otherwise keep whole
  • 3-4 TB strawberry jam
  • 1 cup vanilla pudding (store-bought or from scratch or with help of pudding mix)
  • 500 ml milk (for pudding)
  • 1 TB butter (for pudding)
  • 1 package Dr Oetker fruit tart red or clear glaze (a yello-like glaze that gets firm when it cools and keeps the fruit in place)+2 TB sugar + 250ml water  (optional)

Base layer: You need a pan similar to this one for baking the base layer. Make sure to butter it well because you don’t want the cake to stick.

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Preheat oven to 360F. In a standmixer (or with handmixer), mix the sugar and butter until slightly foamy. Add the egg, and mix until well incorporated. Add the vanilla extra, and mix in. Mix the flour with the baking powder, and slowly add to the mixture, alternate with tablespoons of the milk.

Pour into butter pan, and bake for 20-25min.

Cool slightly, invert, and cool completely (it is best to make the crust a day ahead).

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Preparing the strawberry cake:

Wash and hull the strawberries. Cut larger strawberries in half, keep smaller ones in tact. They should all be about the same size.

Poke the crust with a fork, and then distribute the strawberry jam on the crust. Ideally, it soaks the crust a little bit. If you use frozen fruit, preserve the juice when thawing and mix with the jam before distributing.

Prepare the vanilla pudding according to instructions. Let cool for 1-2 min, and distribute a thin layer on the cake layer. Let cool. (you won’t need all the pudding cooked).

Now, arrange the strawberries on the cake, in a circle from outward to inner circles. Sprinkle with a bit of sugar.

Optional (but authentic): Cook the glaze according to instructions and pour hot over the fruit. Start from the center of the cake and slowly distributed to the rim.

Let cool and set. ---- Serve with whipped cream!

Einen guten Appetit!

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