Monday, October 20, 2014

German Spaetzle

Fall is a wonderful time for shifting food styles.  Every year, several families in my neighborhood do a big "block party" to celebrate Oktoberfest, and it doesn't really feel like fall until I get those flavors and leave the summer foods behind.  The actual Germans in the group are responsible for the potato salad, handmade pretzels, spiral-cut radishes, and a dozen other important details.  Every year, though, I get to contribute one important dish to the effort: Spaetzle (or Sp├Ątzle).  It's a small dumpling-like pasta, traditional in Germany and surrounding countries.


One party-load. Beer and stein optional, but recommended.



Like many rustic dishes, the basics are simple, but the details are important. The traditional recipe consists of only coarse flour, eggs, and salt, and involves a special method for scraping long, thin, ribbons of the dough off of a cutting board into boiling water.  Modern cooks typically use a spaeztle machine instead - one of the only uni-taskers I own.  I also think a food mill with a large-bore sieve (3/8" holes?) would work, and some people have even used a basic colander with large holes.  


A modern spaeztle machine

A note on technique:  Most spaeztle recipes you find in books or online are derived from the traditional method and ingredients, but some adjustments are needed for the average home cook.
The proscribed process is to mix the ingredients like you're making a pasta - form a well in the center and gradually add egg mixture.  I don't like this approach as I think it encourages over-working the dough and makes the dumplings too chewy.  Traditionally, the flour used would be coarse, like Semolina, but we're using AP flour, so gluten formation will be more rapid.  The other important consideration if you're using a spaeztle machine, food mill, or colander, is that we need the resulting dough to "flow" and squish though the holes.  It should be wet and sticky, somewhere between a sponge and a batter.  
Therefore, instead of the pasta method, I do this more in the muffin method - prep the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, then add all the wet to the dry and mix minimally, adjusting the liquid to get the proper consistency.  If you start with the base recipe as below and your flour is as dry as ours is here in the Southwest, you will almost certainly need to add at least another 1/4C to 1/2C of water to get the proper sponge wetness.  If the sponge is too tight, it won't flow through the hopper and you'll be frustrated.  If you've somehow gotten it too loose (big eggs?), add a bit more flour and soldier on.



Basic Spaetzle

(Feed ~six as a primary starch, I usually make a double batch for a big Oktoberfest party)

2-1/2 Cups Flour
1/2 Cup Milk
1/2 Cup Water
2 Eggs**
1/4 tsp salt

** If doubling these proportions, use 5 eggs to double the remaining ingredients. You may still need to add liquid to adjust the consistency, but a bit less. You'll want a BIG pot of water for cooking a double batch, if you can manage it. I use my biggest stock pot and by the end of the batch the water is getting pretty starchy. If you can't manage one huge pot, maybe better to work one regular batch at a time and bring a second pot of water to boil for the second batch.

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. 
  2. Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. 
  3. Beat eggs lightly, add milk and water. 
  4. Pour wet ingredients into dry, and mix quickly but thoroughly, being careful to avoid over-working. 
  5. Check consistency and add water in 1/4C increments until you have a loose sponge that clings to a wooden spoon but flows somewhat. 
  6. Begin making dumplings. Place whatever tool you'll be using directly over the pot of boiling water.  Fill the hopper of your spaeztle machine and "Grate" the dough mixture through the holes.  If using a colander, use the back of a spoon to press the mixture through.
  7.  I usually work in small batches (1-2 "hoppers" of the spaetzle maker at a time), so that as the dumplings cook I can pull them out with a wire spider or slotted spoon after ~2 minutes of cooking.  Transfer to an earthenware bowl or casserole to keep warm while you continue to boil the rest of the dumplings. If you are making the below "sauce" directly in your casserole, you can begin adding pats of butter now and stirring briefly so that the dumplings don't stick to each other. 
  8. Repeat until you've used up the sponge/batter/dough. 
  9. Reserve some of the cooking water if making sauce.

"Hopper" of my spaeztle maker, approx. 2 cups


"Sauce" for Spaetzle 
(recipe is approximate for an above batch - double if you're doubling the spaetzle)

1/3 stick butter (or more, if you're feeling frisky)
~1 Cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine
1/2 Cup tarragon, chopped fine
1 tsp of lemon juice
~1/4tsp of Nutmeg, grated fresh
salt & pepper to taste

  1. After you've cooked the whole amount of spaeztle, or in between hopper-loads, add the butter (cut into pats so it melts better) and stir to start it melting 
  2. Add the herbs, probably 1/4 cup parsley and 2T of tarragon at a time, and stir. I usually judge the proper amount of herbage by the overall "color" of the mix and a taste test. You want a fair amount of both to impart flavor, but you're not making a salad. 
  3. Add the lemon juice, nutmeg, and generous salt and pepper to taste. 
  4. Add up to 1C of the cooking water and toss if it's too tight with just the butter. You can do all of this directly in the casserole dish, if it's big enough.

Ask around your local biergarten for more recipes


Alternative Preparations: Basic spaeztle are very versatile, and can be used like gnocchi, pasta, etc. with any of your favorite sauces.  Other classic German preparations are to fry the spaeztle in butter then season lightly, or to make into a cheese casserole with sauteed onions (Kaesespaeztle)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Quinoa Adobo Chile

The family and I recently attended the 2014 American Adventurist Mountain Rendezvous.  This is a fantastic event, and one half of their semi-annual series that gets together over a hundred Overlanding-oriented families and their rigs. 


Photo courtesy of Brent Haywood Photography
Many recent events have featured a Dutch Oven competition, and I wanted to participate this year.  As with many potluck events that we attend as a family, my goal was  to cook something vegetarian-friendly so my wife would be assured a meal.  We never like to impose her choices on anyone else and it's frankly ridiculous to assume.  In addition to being vegetarian, this recipe is also (accidentally) gluten free and could be full-vegan by either omitting the chocolate or using semi-sweet or other milk-less chocolate.  I had a lot of positive comments on this dish, and at least a half dozen requests for the recipe, so I consider it a great success. 
Pre-heating the oven. Photo by Kimberley Newmark
The other great success of my weekend was getting to use my freshly-built firepot tripod.  This shameless DIY clone of the excellent
Roadii Firegrill (prohibitively expensive in the USA since they're built in the UK), was desperately needed due to local drought-induced fire restrictions.  It is wonderfully convenient to be able to set up my lightweight fire system anywhere that's safe and not have to bend or stoop to manage the coals or the dutch oven.  I've also got an adjustable grill-grate on cables for when I want to use it for grilling. 


Notes: 
The quinoa is already a complete protein, but adding the soy meat gives nice texture, flavor, and makes it extra filling. Substituting turkey or other ground meat will add nice flavors as well! This recipe is designed for a 14″(8qt) dutch oven and produces a nice thick chili.  Obviously it can also be prepared at home over direct heat or baked in a 350° oven.  I can't take full credit for the recipe, as I adapted it from one I found at camp-cook.com, but here's my version "as prepared":

Quinoa Adobo Chili

Directions

Ingredients
1 cup quinoa (easiest to prepare in advance, per below)
2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
1.5 tablespoon cumin 
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 cans of black beans (recommend unrinsed unless sodium intake is a factor)
12oz (1 package) Lightlife Smart Ground Mexican Style soy filling (alt: 3/4lb of ground Turkey or TVP)
3+ tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive oil 
1 onion, diced 
1 cup corn (For best flavor, roast your own or use Trader Joe's Roasted/frozen corn)
6 cloves garlic, minced 
1 quart of canned diced tomatoes
1-2 cups water 
2 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, diced large
1 large or 2 small zucchini, diced large
2-4 chipotle peppers and as much adobo sauce as you can drain from a small can (4 peppers makes for good heat without being overwhelming)
¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate, chips or broken into chunks (I used Belgian 75% cacao, omit or use 100%/milkless chocolate for vegan )
1 bunch of cilantro 
2 limes
salt and pepper to taste 

Photo by Kimberley Newmark
Prior to departure:
  1. Rinse the quinoa in a strainer until clear water is running through it.
  2. Toast the quinoa for about 3 minutes in a cast iron skillet.
  3. When toasted, add 2 cups of the vegetable broth to the skillet, cover, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. The quinoa is done when it starts to split open. Resist urge to season at this point, you're just prepping an ingredient.
  4. Cool and bag or vacuum pack the quinoa for the trip
  5. Measure and combine cinnamon, cumin, chile powder, and paprika into a tightly sealed container or ziplock bag
  6. If sodium intake is a factor, you can rinse black beans and bag them now, however I prefer to include the starchy liquid from the can to help thicken the chili and add flavor. It's also way more convenient to just bring the cans. Likely no added salt will be needed if you use the liquid.
  7. You can optionally dice and bag your veggies now as well, but I am recently forbidden from transporting cut onions in our camper's fridge, so I elected to prep the veg on-site.
Simmering away over the coals. Photo by Kimberley Newmark
In camp:
  1. Pre-heat the 14″ dutch oven with a solid circle of ~28 briquettes on the bottom.
  2. Chop the Onion and mince garlic.
  3. Dice peppers and zucchini, if not done at home.
  4. When Dutch oven is hot, add the olive oil & onions. Saute the onions until they start to change color then add the garlic and veggie "meat". Just brown the soy meat for texture, but cook until no-longer pink if using real meat (about 2 min).
  5. Add chipotles and adobo sauce and the dry spices. Stir mixture for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the tomatoes and their liquid, black beans, bell peppers, quinoa, zucchini, and ~1 cup of water. Mix well.
  7. Move 1/2 the briquettes to the lid of the Dutch oven to form a ring. Reform the bottom briquettes into one ring.
  8. Let mixture simmer for about 15 min then mix in the chocolate.
  9. Check thickness of chili: If mixture is too tight, add water and let it simmer covered for another 5 min. If too loose, remove the lid and let simmer uncovered 5-10 minutes to thicken.
  10. Garnish with fresh cilantro and a slice of lime. (Can't emphasize this enough - the late addition of acid really brightens up all the veggies!)


Enjoy!


Photo by Kimberley Newmark