Finally, finally we made it to Europe! We start with Germany, which is the first country I ever traveled to (I was six weeks old, I have zero memories of the trip). I’m sad to say that I haven’t been back, which is kind of pathetic considering that I studied abroad in a French town fairly close to the German border and my friend Kalisa was studying in Munich at the same time that I was in Nancy. Oh well. I went to Greece instead and made out a lot with a cute American, so all was not lost.
Kalisa, as it happens, is a ex-pat who still lives in Germany. She also happens to be an amazing cook. So, it made sense to ask her to suggest a few recipes that I could try. Coupled with some internet research, I was pretty stoked about our German menu, which was:
Lets start with the good, easy part. Because it was not all good nor easy. In fact, Germany proved to be just as damn hard as anything that I’ve tried so far. But, we’ll get to that.
Rot Kohl is one of my favorite German dishes. Whenever my sister I go to Gustav’s, our favorite “German” restaurant in Clackamas, we always gorge on schnitzel, mashed potatoes, and red cabbage. The key is to get a bite with everything on it. I’ve long wanted to make rot kohl, but have been put off by the lengthy cooking time. However … SLOW COOKER TO THE RESCUE!
This recipe was fairly easy to put together. I made a few adjustments, such as adding a bit more butter, and reducing it down to 1 apple instead of 2 (I used Granny Smith apples), which I think were good. The recipe calls for “wine” – which I interpreted to mean red wine (I used a fairly cheap bottle – we are going to drink some good German wine with dinner). It goes together like most crock pot meals – cabbage on the bottom, then layer with the other ingredients. I blended the dry ingredients together before sprinkling them on top and did the same with the wet. Into the crock pot for 6 hours on low, I mixed it together half-way through.
Let me tell you – it smelled great. Oniony and cinnamony and warm and good. And, 6 hours later, it was perfectly tender and spicy. The flavor was really good and intense – it had maybe too much of something, but I can’t put my finger on just what. Maybe too much nutmeg, since I forgot to measure that in with the rest of the dry ingredients and just shook some into the crockpot. However, that’s a minor quibble. This was easy and tasty and, as a bonus, really pretty.
Onto the next element, the frikadellan. This was also pretty easy. I used a combination of ground pork and beef (about 2/3 lbs beef and 1/2 lb pork – a bit more than the recipe called for, but when I mixed it up just half and half, there were a lot of onions so I added more beef). I also just used a piece of French bread instead of a roll. I used a ice cream scoop to shape them and came away with about 18.
I think I made them a little small, because the recipe said to fry them for 7 minutes per side and that was way too long. Luckily, I made them in a couple of batches, so I was able to correct my error. The second set was perfect (and the first wasn’t half bad, just a little crispier on the outside).
These were pretty good. They tasted rather like hamburgers, but the marjoram gave them a deeper flavor and the bread added a nice texture. Michael said that these were the best part of the meal. I made a gravy to go with them, which was a winning combination.
So far, so good. But oh, the spätzle. Let me tell you about the spätzle.
First of all, I should say that I really love spätzle. Our favorite German pub in Seattle, Fierabend, makes really good spätzle and I eat it whenever I can, which is rarely these days considering the fact that it is 21 and over. (Bastards.) So, I figured I would make it. Couldn’t be that hard, right?
I am not sure exactly where I went wrong. I followed the recipe exactly, but the dough was really sticky and adding more flour did nothing to help. I let it rest for the 30 minutes I was instructed to, hoping the texture might magically change, but it did not.
I assume the dough isn’t supposed to be sticky, because here is the problem with trying to make spätzle with sticky dough: to form the spätzle, you are supposed to press the dough through a spätzle press, which I don’t own. However, I do own a potato ricer, which seems to be about the same thing, so I figured I’d use that. The idea is to press the dough through over a pot of boiling water so that it makes nice, neat little pieces. Mine, however, did not come out in nice, neat little pieces. It came out a blobby mess.
This is not what spätzle is supposed to look like. And while my spätzle crisis was happening, I was also trying to fry the frikadellan and make the gravy (which got dangerously thick) and gently tell my two-year-old to get out of the kitchen … basically, a clusterfuck (how do you say that in German?). Still, I decided to persevere, figuring that I have knives, I’ll just cut that shit up. Which is what I did. And honestly, it wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t great, but not terrible. Throw most anything in with some butter, camerlized onions, and emmanthaler and odds are lucky it won’t be disgusting. With the gravy on top and combined with a bite of the cabbage, it was even almost good.
Once everything was done, I did what any good many-generations removed from the motherland Fräulein should do and busted out the German booze.
Booze helps everything. And indeed, once I sat down with my plate full of food and a glass full of German wine, I was content enough.
It should be said, however, that Quinn was not a fan. She tried everything, blew raspberries, screamed, and then decided to play with her babies. She had crackers for dinner. Whatever works.
Now, back to that German beer.