Monday, March 4, 2013

Kitchen experiments

I've decided not to post any more step-by-step recipes here, since I am having to re-explore a lot of baking/cooking techniques and basics in my new (Swiss) environment. Also, I would imagine that reading about learning to use the uniquely Swiss ingredients isn't terribly interesting for friends and family back in the US. I'd prefer to use the time/space here to tell you more about what's happening in our lives (PS - I love and miss all you guys!).

That being said, I definitely have been cooking/baking a lot over the past few weeks, and I will continue to post occasional finished products and links to recipes that I felt were particularly successful (as well as any changes I made to said recipes). And I'll definitely keep you updated on my attempts for homemade macarons.

I bought a book in my Kindle a few weeks ago that made my baking heart flutter. It's called Ratios and it talks about the underlying ratios present in many dishes, from breads to sauces. I've only tried one ratio from it thus far - I made 3 loaves of bread using different mixes of flour, since I am still unsure about the flours here (they have neither the same naming system as the US, nor the number systems that France and Germany have). They were all very basic loaves, and I was impatient about the rising, so they weren't perhaps the best tasting. But it was interesting to see the difference:

Identical loaves except for the flour used. The one in the foreground used 100% Weissmehl (white), the loaf in back used 50/50 white/Bauernmehl (Fr: rustique) flour, and the far left loaf used a 50/50 mixture of white/Zopfmehl flour. Bauernmehl translates to "farmer's flour," and apparently contains 12% rye flour. Zopfmehl translates to "braid flour" (I think it is often used to make a challah-like braided bread) and contains 10% spelt flour. I am still figuring out how exactly these percentages influence the baking process. Definitely Zopfmehl leads to a lighter dough that requires less kneading and rises faster (makes sense, since spelt flour is gluten-free). And I've only begun to explore the flours available in the baking section.
Mostly I've been just sticking to Weissmehl (Fr: farine blé) in my baking, since it appears to be the all-purpose equivalent. Which is fine for cookies and brownies (eg, I made these Nutella brownies with an extra scoop of Nutella in them - still not much hazelnut taste, but wonderfully fudgy), but I am still trying to work out the equivalent of bread, cake, or whole wheat flour.

Aside from baking, I have been trying to branch out in my cooking. I have phobias about trying to cook meat cuts (out of simple ignorance, not because I think the animals will take their revenge upon me at some point in the future), so I usually avoid them like the plague and before Zurich, I'd stick with ground turkey or some easy boneless chicken. However, B is a big meat eater, so I made a marinated pork loin for Valentine's day dinner (using this marinade as a base - I used brown sugar and added generous amounts of pepper, ginger, and garlic), along with some braised red cabbage and smashed potatoes (add parmesan cheese on top for super tastiness).

Not a great picture, but it was very tasty - and I didn't overcook the pork, yay! (well...not too much. I have issues when meat is still 'too' pink. Yep, I order steak medium well.)

I also made this couscous recipe, replaced the lemon with lime, added more seasonings/herbs, and threw in some extra veggies (onion and bell pepper) and some kielbasa-like sausage for a super quick, easy one-pot meal (Disclaimer: Switzerland doesn't seem to have liquid broths; I've only found boullion cubes, and I'm not sure I'm using them correctly. But it still tasted very good).

I've already made this a second time - with bell peppers. One of the quickest meals that I've discovered - and minimal dishes after!
This pear/dark chocolate tart wasn't actually my cup of tea (B loved it, the chocolate filling was almost bitter, but to me it was too strong and the pear flavor was lost), but there was a ton of leftover chocolate crust, so I made an extra tart with one of my favorite lime tart filling recipes (I use about 3x the amount of lime juice called for) and stuck some fresh raspberries on top. Delicious. I used the leftover egg whites to make some mini cupcakes and topped them with chocolate icing.

Dark chocolate pear tart with some vanilla ice cream on the side.
One of my favorite tart fillings, although it is better with graham cracker crust than the chocolate one, imo. Sadly, Switzerland does not have graham crackers - learning how to make homemade ones is on my to-do list, but of course one should use graham flour to make graham crackers...see my above words re: flour types. It's a vicious circle.
Mini cupcakes! Super cute, and they disappeared quickly at B's work, but they felt a little spongy and not quite right to me. I may have overcooked them (I had no toothpicks, so couldn't test the center). I am also struggling to get my usually-reliable icing taste here - it's odd, but the powdered sugar is almost...sweeter than the powdered sugar in the US, so I haven't been able to make a strong chocolate frosting yet. And it can taste grainy. Works in progress.
I did love the pear component of the tart, though, and we had a leftover one, so I made this single-serving size of pear crisp, and it was so good that I went out and bought three more pears, threw some raspberries in, and made a much larger version. B and I consumed half of it in one evening.

Super tasty, easy, and not even that unhealthy (well, compared to many other links on this post).  I have an allergy to raw apple and pear skins, so I may be a wee biased; this is the first time I was able to eat pears in well over a year.
One of my favorite recipes I've made so far are these lime-cardamom sweet rolls. Yum! I added some cinnamon into the filling for a more robust, rounded flavor. Amazing.

So good. Cannot recommend this recipe enough.

I've made other dishes, but I slacked off in taking pictures. If you are super interested, I keep most recipes that I try (and that work) on my Pinterest board Tried and True, along with notes about what I changed. Pinterest is a pretty huge time suck and probably my favorite form of procrastination, but I've found that keeping all the online recipes that I might want to revisit (because they were just that good) in one place is actually very useful. Recipes that aren't there I probably have stored on my account, a totally AWESOME website (it suggests recipes based on the ingredients you say you have), but I am trying to slowly switch saved/favorite recipes to Pinterest, as they are easier to find there.

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