Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Germany to Hickory Flat...In one weekend

Well, it's been a long hot weekend, yet again. Thank goodness it was a long weekend or else I think the whole family would have gone nuts. Of course, the omnipresent threat of tropical storms and hurricanes threatened the entire south, thankfully, there wasn't much that came of any of it.

Deutschland. Ahh, from our very first trip there back in 1999 it has always held a soft spot in my heart. Even further back in college I got the bug for the German language in freshman year and, amazingly enough, a lot of the vocabulary has stuck in my head. Oh what a different world it could have been if I'd stayed an international business student and concentrated on my German a little bit more.

Okay, so other than a fresh hot pretzel from a street vendor in NYC on a crisp fall day, German pretzels may just have the edge when it comes a better environment in which to eat them. Perhaps it's just the beer that comes along with them that gives them the edge. No matter. They are easy and fun to make and, suprisingly, don't take that long either.

The steps for this one came from the foodgawker web site. Just search for pretzels - this one is for the Hellboy version. They are a little different because they contain a fair amount of whole wheat flour, so they come with a slightly more nutty taste when cooked off. I'll just run through some of the basic steps below:

The basic steps start with mixing scalded milk with sugar and tossing in the yeast. The recipe doesn't mention it, but I did let it sit before blending the whole mess together to let the yeast bloom a little bit. After that, add in a little salt and mix. To that mixture, add the whole wheat flour and beat to combine. Slowly add in the white flour and begin to knead with the dough hook until combined and pulling away from the sides.

After that, let them rise for about 15 minutes, cut, twist, boil, bake. My only complaint/comment would be to let them rise a little bit more, and I ended up cutting too few knots from the risen mass of dough. This led to having too large of a twist that almost look like pretzel rolls. Not a bad thing, but the ropes could have been twice as long. Oh well, this was a practice batch for now. The real ones will be brought to the neighborhood Oktoberfest in a few weeks!


Hickory Flat

Hickory Flat, for those in the know, is a great northern Atlanta rural area, that's soon to be urbanized. Like it or not, progress will come. There is no stopping it. It is among these cow pastures that our friends have decided to lay their roots for now. We've known these folks since the olden times when my wife used to work with one of them and we discovered a common interest in cooking and hosting parties for small groups. Afterall, I grew up in a household of supper club members, so I was used to it and this was just a natural extension of my childhood into adulthood. Good thing too, because our members are some damn good cooks!

So, now that summer has begun it's slide into fall and the kids are all back in school, we figured it was time to take the group out of moth balls and get back into the kitchen this past weekend. Of course we spoke up and mentioned that we'd been on a cooking binge lately and wouldn't mind making apps and, naturally, that led to instant brain freeze as to what to make. There are just too many food blogs and not enough time to read them all, so we did what all good cooks do when forced into a corner, make stuff up.

We'd seen a couple of good things in books and magazines, but couldn't decide on which would be best. In the end we came up with chicken salad on a spinch leaf with corn bread crackers. Sorry, no photos of this one because the wife was making this while I was building a dog house for the son's stuffed animals! The second thing we did was pulled straight out of thin air: Puff pastry rounds with tomato and cheese. It's inspiration was from a Giada recipe that had pizza dough and tomatoes and cheese, but we totally switched things up. Here's the basic process:

Starting with a sheet of thawed puff pastry that has been docked, floured and rolled out to 1/8 inch. I covered it with store bought pesto. Make sure to dock the pastry enough, I didn't and it ended up puffing up too much in the middle of the rounds.

Using a 1.5 inch biscuit cutter, I made them into rounds and placed them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Then entire lot then got a covering of Asiago cheese, salt, pepper, 1/2 of a cherry tomato, and a smattering of olive oil. Then into the oven for about 17 minutes, just keep an eye on them, the pesto has a tendancy to burn just a smidge - nothing horrible, just with the cheese and pesto on there, it may crisp up a little more than you'd like. When they are done, a little more fresh Asiago for a garnish and platter them up!

Tablescaping and Dinner

J, in addition to being a wonderful cajun type cook, is also a wonderful designer. We keep threatening to submit some of his party stylings to a magazine in order to get him recognized by someone other then a bunch of his drunk friends. When I mentioned that I had started a food, it was decided that we must start including his party tables, so here you go along with some good food porn from the night's dinner.

On with the food!! Dinner started, like many other meals at the beginning with a salad course. I don't know how the dressing was made, but it was a creamy, almost green goddess type dressing with a great flavor of cilantro. This was poured over greens with sliced red pepper and a wonderful corn mixture. I'll have to remember not to drink so much before dinner that I forget to as what was in everything as it's being made. Anyway, yummy, yummy, yummy.

The dressing and salad being combined. Ahh, a waterfall of corn, or would that be a cornfall?

Next up, the main course of course!

I'll spare you the assembly, J was not on his best timing night ever. Oh well, I won't say it's never happened to me, most nights it happens to me - what are you going to do? Let me just say it was completely worth the wait. J was inspired by a favorite place in Atlanta and remembered their lobster stuffed burittos, luckily the recipe is on the web. Not so lucky enough for me to remember the fool places' name, however. That, along with a wonderful corn salad with tomato and avacado and some Spanish rice to round out the plate. Insanely good food, worth every minute and calorie.

Not to be outshone by the main course, dessert arrived in a playful manner in the form of cupcakes! Not just one kind, but two: chocolate and peanut butter and chocolate and white chocolate. Being a fan of Funny Bones, the old Drake's type, I chose the CPB cake.

I chose wisely. Nothing better than that good combination of sweet chocolate and salty PB. Nothing low fat about it.

So there it is, two continents spanned in less than six hours through the magic of food and fossil fuels. I can't wait until the next meeting of the group!!!