Sunday, October 12, 2014


Ah, German food in October. A tradition that has happened for centuries upon centuries.  And although I am half-German, I usually don’t go out of my way for it for some reason.  Some years I do, some years I don’t.  But this year is different because I made my own. (Spoiler alert: it was awesome!)

Super good, even though mine turned out like a bagel-pretzel. 
I started out with the bread.  I usually think of rye bread or pumpernickel when I think of German breads, but I remembered a type of bread that I’ve never made and absolutely love: soft pretzels.  These type of pretzels ­–known as laugenbrezel– are particularly popular in Bavaria where it was developed.  I didn’t do the “super authentic” version where it’s dipped in lye before baking. As a general rule, I avoid recipes that list safety goggles and caustic advisories in the materials list.  I started out mixing molasses (in lieu of barley malt syrup), yeast, and warm water together and let that sit for about ten minutes.  Then I added in the butter, flour, and salt, kneading it until I made a smooth dough.  Then I divided the dough into four pieces, rolling out each one into a rope until it was about an inch thick.  Then I curved the rope around and twisted it, laying it flat and pinching it to the sides like you normally see pretzels. When those were all finished, I cut a 6” slash into the bottom edge of each pretzel.  It calls to put this on a pizza stone, but seeing I hadn’t bought one since the last time I needed one (which was when I made tarte flambé as part of my post on French food), I used my work-around.  I nested two cookie sheets together, turned them upside down, and heated them in the oven to 500º.  Then after I brushed the pretzels with a hot water and baking powder (hoping it works the same as baking soda since I didn’t have any?) and salted them with kosher salt, I put them on some parchment paper and transferred it to my cookie sheets.  It took about 20 minutes for them to be brown enough, but the outsides were a little harder than I thought they should be.  Inside, the bread was soft and chewy. In America, we typically eat our soft pretzels with mustard or melted cheese, but in Germany, the tradition is to eat these with melted butter.  We tried it the German way, and it’s really, really good. Of course, I did have a few bites with mustard (even though it’s better with a brown mustard rather than yellow). 

This was almost like a sweet sauerkraut.  Or would that be sweetkraut?
Next, I made German red cabbage.  I did make a similar dish when I cooked for the Czech Republic, but this recipe turned out slightly sweeter. I drug out my large pot and mixed together butter, a diced green apple, shredded red cabbage (which my kids think is a stupid name for it since it’s purple – you can’t argue that logic), sugar, apple cider vinegar, water, salt, pepper, and clove (which I substituted allspice).  I set it on medium-high heat and then turned it down to medium-low, covered it, and let it simmer for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally.  I really liked this one, but it didn’t go over well with the kids. I still think it’s the color because sometimes, that’s all it takes. I was sure taking a few “no thank you” bites would change their minds, but no. I suppose there’s more for me.

Mmmm. The most perfect comfort food. 
When I was a kid, I hated German potato salad. Probably because my dad would buy it in a can and serve it cold. But as an adult, my mom made it from scratch for a picnic several years ago and served it warm (like it should be), and of course I tried some just to be polite – but it was like an epiphany. A potato-y, bacon-y, vinegar-y epiphany. This stuff was good! And it’s not that hard to make. In one pot, I boiled my peeled diced potatoes.  And in my skillet, I cooked four slices of thick-cut bacon.  Once the bacon was done, I set it off to the side and cooked some diced onions in the bacon grease.  Once the onions were transparent, I added in vinegar (be careful with this!), water, sugar, salt, and pepper and cooked it down. Now back to the first pot: once the potatoes were done, I drained it and put the potatoes in the serving dish, topping them with some dried (or fresh) parsley flakes. I crumbled in some of the bacon with the potatoes.  Then I poured my onions and vinegar mix on top of my potatoes, topping with more crumbled bacon. Really, I could eat this for breakfast. There’s just something about the combination of vinegar and bacon that reminds me of my childhood.  I think this went over well with the whole family.

I'm very happy there will be leftovers. 
And finally, the main dish.  I know Germans are known for their sausages and such, but I went a lightly different way on this.  I chose Sauerbraten Meatballs.  I have to say: I like meat, and I like cookies, but I have never thought of mixing the two together. Until today.  I started with the meatballs: mixing together a pound of ground beef, some crushed gingersnap cookies, chopped onion, water, salt and pepper.  I formed it into meatballs and placed them on a cookie sheet, baking it at 400º for about 20 minutes.  In the meantime, I started the noodles.  Because it’s October, and German food is often extremely prevalent in the grocery stores, I went with one of my favorites: spaetzle noodles, a type of thick egg noodle.  I also got started on the gravy: I mixed chicken broth (because I was at Aldi’s and didn’t see beef broth), apple cider vinegar, sugar, more crushed gingersnap cookies, and some cornstarch, stirring constantly until it thickens to a gravy consistency.  This gravy recipe calls for raisins but I left them out because I have a very short list of foods that I don’t care for and raisins made the cut. After the gravy was done, I put all of the meatballs in with the gravy and stirred everything carefully so that the meatballs were covered.  I really liked it, but because of the gingersnaps and the vinegar in the sauce, you really needed the drier noodles to cut some of the tartness of the meat.  I found that I only needed 2-3 of these since they were so filling. 

Breakfast and a beer. (Just kidding.  The potato salad will be my breakfast.)
And of course I can’t finish this without a mention of my German beer choices. (I could’ve also gone with a Reisling wine, but I haven’t had beer for a while and wanted a change.) I chose two that I haven’t tried before: Franziskaner Weissbier and Spaten Opimator (doppelbock), both from the Munich area.  I started with the Franziskaner, a pretty good wheat beer. It went well with my meal.  I can’t wait to try to other one tomorrow.  I just know that a doppelbock is a strong, malty lager.

I'm happy that this is my part of my heritage. 
I’ve really been on a German and Germany kick lately.  Maybe it was from this blog, or maybe it was because Germany just announced that they will be offering free tuition to all of its universities, even for foreign students.  The way I see it, for the cost of one year’s tuition at any university in Indiana, I can pay for my entire family to fly to Germany, and then my kids can work on their bachelors degrees while I work on my masters and doctorate degrees.  So, I figure if I start learning German now, I should be really good in nine years when my oldest actually gets ready for college.  And with all the money I save, I can have all the pretzels I can eat. 

Up next:  Ghana

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