Thursday, September 10, 2015

Planes, Trains & Automobiles…..Leipzig or Bust!!

As I’m writing this, I am suffering through our 6th heat wave. Labor Day unofficially ended summer; however, it is still hanging on!  Hurry up and be over!  You know, there once was a time when I loved summer & mourned its end but those days are increasingly fading into the past.  Summer is certainly a whole lot different as a grownup compared to being a kid. Growing up in the 1970s & early 80s, I longed for endless summers. Every 2 years during summer vacation, I trekked with my mom to visit my grandparents in communist East Germany & various relatives and friends in the West. My first trip was in the summer of 1974, I was soon to be 6 years old and I was anxious.  I hadn’t seen my grandparents or been in Germany since I was 2 years old & upon arriving in Germany, I had absolutely no idea what anyone was saying.  The only German word I could think of was “Schweinhund” from the TV show Hogan’s Heroes.  I was homesick the first week but by the end of our visit, I didn’t want to leave and German was rolling off my tongue.  As much as I anticipated these trips, I know they were often stressful for my mom as she was the one who had to do all the planning, packing & repacking, etc. Flying the friendly skies back then, especially in the ‘70s, was a whole lot different than today.  We used to actually get “dressed up” to travel.  Looking back, I have to laugh at how my mom always requested non-smoking, yet we were always seated DIRECTLY BEHIND the last "smoking" aisle.  Like that was going to make a difference.  We always arrived in Frankfurt, dreading making our way down the escalator with what seemed like 100 pounds worth of luggage and then onto an express train that stopped for 2 minutes to allow passengers on (Hey, it’s Germany, Mach Schnell! or miss the train). Thankfully, there were always some kind souls on board who helped load us and our luggage onto the train, often accompanied with an “Ach du meine Güte” while rolling their eyes, after discovering the weight of our suitcases.  The train took us to the Frankfurt Main station where my beloved godmother Elsa & her sister Liesl would be waiting for us with a luggage cart & lots of goodies to take with us on our way to the East.  We would sit together in the café at the station having coffee and pastries while we waited for our train.  Then we bid a quick farewell, as we would return to stay with them in several weeks time.  We always had reserved seats in a cabin on the train. Riding the Bundesbahn was wonderful; the speed at which the train would travel as we passed through cities and whizzed by the beautiful countryside. Often I would open the windows and hang my head out trying to take it all in.  I was so excited and counted down the hours until we reached Leipzig!  The train made a prolonged stop at the East/West border where the Stasi and the border control officers with their perpetual looks of disdain would board and check passports, visas and luggage (looking for any Western goods).  My mom always gave a sigh of relief once the train started moving out as our suitcases were ALWAYS LOADED with contraband.  We would arrive at Leipzig Hauptbahnhof and there would be my Omi waiting for us; either with her friend, Doris, or her neighbors the Brodkorbs. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the sounds and see the images of that train station as if it were yesterday.  Alas, from the train we would either go by taxi or Wolfgang “Wolfie” Brodkorb’s car to Alte Strasse 19, my grandparents’ apartment and the home where my mom grew up.  I still see my Opi looking out the third story window, waiting for us and waving when he saw us coming. My grandparents always had a decorated handmade sign hanging on the apartment door: Herzlich Willkommen.  As soon as I stepped through the door, I could smell the schnitzel that Omi had already cooked for me.  I had happily arrived to my home away from home.  And I was hungry!

Our arrival to Alte Strasse 19, Summer of 1974. From left to right: Opi, Omi, me, my sister Yvonne

Frühstück mit Opi auf dem Balkon

Schnitzel doesn’t exactly come to mind as something you would cook during the summer; however, I love a good schnitzel.  Something that seems to be on trend, is placing the salad atop the cooked entrée.  Here, I’ve prepared a recipe that pairs a chicken schnitzel with a mixed greens salad & vinaigrette.  It’s a great way to lighten up what may seem to be a heavy dish and it utilizes the fresh produce of summer. Guten Appetit!!
Chicken Schnitzel with Mixed Greens Salad & Herb Vinaigrette:
Chicken Schnitzel
2 large  Boneless, skinless chicken breasts pounded to approx. ½ “ thickness
             2           Eggs, whisked
¾ c.      Flour (more if necessary)
1c.        Fresh bread crumbs (more if necessary)
3Tb.     Butter
3Tb.     Canola Oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet, heat the butter & oil over medium high heat.  Take the chicken breasts and coat them in the following order: flour, egg, bread crumbs.  Place each chicken breast in the skillet & allow to brown, approx. 3-4 minutes.  Turn over and brown the other side for another 3-4 minutes.  Remove chicken breasts to either a small baking sheet or individual sizzle plates and cook in oven until fully cooked, approx. 5-7 minutes.  Chicken should be cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees. Remove from oven & tent with foil to keep warm.
Mixed Greens with Herb Vinaigrette
3Tb.       Red wine vinegar
1Tb.       Shallot, minced
1 clove  Garlic, minced
1Tb.       Dijon mustard
1Tb.       Parsley, finely chopped
1Tb.       Basil, finely chopped
1Tb.       Oregano, finely chopped
1/3 c.       Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
4c.          mixed greens/spring mix
5-6         multi-colored cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Ricotta Salata Cheese
Whisk together the first 7 ingredients.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil until it emulsifies with the other ingredients.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  This can easily be made in a mini food processor or in a salad dressing bottle with a lid.
Toss the dressing with the salad greens and tomatoes then place 2 cups of salad atop each schnitzel.  Grate some of the ricotta salata cheese atop the salad and serve.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Adieu, Chef

Well, we’re already 3 months into 2015.  By now, most resolutions have long been forgotten.  As for me, I stopped making resolutions a long time ago.  To me, resolutions seem rather pointless & cliché; however, that doesn’t mean that I don’t often take the time as a new year emerges to reflect on the past, on life and to make plans for the future.  I recalled an article that I read several months ago about the passing of Fritz Blank. Who was he you ask, he was the owner/chef of the long since shuttered French restaurant Deux Cheminées. At the time I was in culinary school, there were only a handful of restaurants in Philadelphia that I esteemed to work as an apprentice.  Deux Cheminées was one of them and I took on my second apprenticeship there in 1996 in what would end up being quite the experience and a very long summer.  The article led me to reflect on a career that I probably wouldn’t have dreamed of as a young girl. I had no designs to open a restaurant, but I knew I loved everything about food and that somehow it would all become clear.
It’s not a career that has been a constant as I spent over 10 years working in finance, or shall I say “dutifully working in a field in which I had a degree.” It was a career in which I always worked very hard but in the end it proved to be just a job & I think I feared that one day I would be found expired at the age of 60 face down on the keyboard. The only career I have ever truly enjoyed is in the culinary arts.   It’s truly a passion, career that I enjoy and there is something about giving your all and having a sense of happiness and fulfillment; however, my apprenticeship at Deux Cheminées made me question whether I had what it takes to make it in my newly chosen career.
Chef Fritz Blank was an interesting person, incredibly knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge.  You just had to make sure you were attentive and listening even if at the moment you were not in the mood to hear an hour long lecture on corn.  He never struck me as the warm and fuzzy type but I half expected that as an apprentice, especially a female one.  I remember the mornings I headed off to the restaurant, I would pray to God to just get me through the day and keep me out of the cross-hairs of Chef.  Keeping out of his line of sight often meant me volunteering to do anything pastry-related. The kitchen was at basement level and there was no air conditioning and there were days it was hotter than hell.  I remember beads of sweat rolling off onto the asparagus I was grilling (it happens) & having to roll gougere in the walk-in refrigerator because the heat of the kitchen was melting them.  In the middle of summer I ended up with bronchitis because I was spending so much time in there.   Chef was a very particular man.  Before cooking, he was a microbiologist, which explained why we all did things the way he wanted them done.  As a group of chefs & waitstaff, we were not permitted to go into the walk-in refrigerators alone on hot days unless we went in as a group, collected all of our things, and then came out as a group.  It made for a lot of laughs but damn if that walk in never dropped below temp.  That was the whole point.  I used to walk around with a little blue spiral memo pad in my chef’s coat pocket.  Always making copious notes and writing down recipes.  I’m so happy that to this day, I still have that little notebook, the writing faded, food stains on torn pages.  One of the last things I can remember making was an Apple Bavarian Torte. It was during my final days of my apprenticeship. The torte was a recipe Chef wanted to try out. I felt like my whole learning at Deux Cheminées culminated in me making this dessert perfect.  Well, I don’t think Chef ever would have said it was perfect but he did like it and I believe he actually smiled.  It was a good day & I had survived.
I’m grateful to have learned from someone who had the desire to teach and share all what he knew.  It really has made a difference because so much of what I learned has helped me along the way. I want to share with you the recipe for the Apple Bavarian Torte.  I’ve been making it for almost 20 years and it is my “go to” dessert.  It’s a great recipe for fall & winter and in the summer I substitute peaches for the apples.  It’s not fancy by any means, but it is very versatile and can complement any meal.
Here is a link if you would like to read a short article on the restaurant & Chef Fritz Blank:
Equipment:  9” non-stick springform pan
1 ½ c.   unbleached flour
¾ c.      unsalted butter, chilled
½ c.      granulated sugar
¼ tsp    pure vanilla extract
3          Granny Smith Apples, peeled & sliced
½ tsp    cinnamon
¼ c.      granulated sugar
1 tsp     pure vanilla extract
16 oz.   cream cheese, softened @ room temperature
½ c.      granulated sugar
2           whole eggs
1 tsp     pure vanilla extract
 ¼ c.      chopped walnuts
Place the 1st four ingredients in a food processor.  Pulse until the ingredients are combined & forming a dough.  Take the dough & form it into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 15 minutes.  Roll out the dough on a floured board.  Place in the springform pan pushing the sides up the pan.  If there are tears in the dough, gently press on the dough to cover & repair.  Partially bake in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow crust to cool in pan. **The dough has a tendency to slide down the sides so you may have to intermittently push the dough back up the sides while it is partially baking. 
Place sliced apples in a bowl and toss with the cinnamon, sugar & vanilla.  Set aside.
Next cream the cream cheese in a mixer.  Add the sugar & blend until combined.  Add eggs one at a time until combined then add the vanilla extract.  Pour the batter into the cooled crust.  Then layer the apples atop the batter in a circular pattern, slightly overlapping.  Sprinkle the walnuts on top.  Bake the torte in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.  Remove and cool to room temperature.  Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.