Saturday, July 30, 2011

sun tea

If you are a tea fanatic and you simply must drink tea every day, summer can pose a problem.

Specifically, do you want to drink a hot cup of tea when your little third-floor flat is already crammed full of hot air and your legs actually stick together when they accidentally touch?

Possibly not.

What you want is a cold cup of tea.

I have just the thing, which does not even involve plugging in a kettle to brew it.

My old friend Elizabeth taught me this on an especially humid day in Halifax a few summers ago. Elizabeth comes from the south – Virginia? Maryland? They run together in my expiring brain – and she knows how to deal with the heat.

Her sun tea is so easy and mellow, you can  manage it on even the hottest of days.

Here are the step-by-step instructions, because I can tell you aren’t thinking very clearly in this heat.

Fill a jug of water with cold water.

Take it outside and plop in a couple of tea bags or tea balls.

Now, this is very important. Do not touch those tea bags. Do not stir them. Do not poke them to see if a bit of brown tea will brew out. Step back from the jug.

I repeat: step back from the jug.

Wait a while. (Maybe an hour, longer if you get distracted and forget you put that jug out on the porch.)


The tea has now brewed and is a lovely tea colour. Because you didn’t mess with those tea bags before, it is also extremely mellow and smooth. (Yes, I believe those adjectives can apply to both whisky and tea.)

Take it inside and carefully lift out the tea bags. Discard said tea bags.

Doctor it with lemon and honey or sugar, as you please. 

Serve immediately with ice. If you have such a small freezer that you cannot afford to keep ice in it, refrigerate until cold.

Drink. Rest. Try not let any parts of your body accidentally touch each other.

My dears, I am off to Germany for a few weeks! We are visiting Berlin, Osnabrück and Lübeck (marzipan capital of the world!). I have been looking forward to this for ages – as you might have guessed by the plethora of German recipes suddenly appearing here.

My mother is German and I went often as a child to visit relatives and family friends. I haven’t been back for eight years and my husband has never been (besides a three-hour train stopover, which really doesn’t count). I can hardly wait to show him the Germany I remember and eat all that wunderbar German baking: käse brötchen and torte and Berliner jelly doughnuts . . .

Since I won’t be back for a few weeks, I’ll leave you with this: a photo of me and my new German friends back when I first visited Germany. I am the stylish one in the coordinating red turtleneck and sweater.

 Happy summer!

Friday, July 22, 2011

german zucchini soup

Is it just me, or does zucchini season start earlier and earlier every year?

I mean, I thought we wouldn’t be inundated until late August . . . Well, in fact, I’m not inundated, I’m charmed. The zucchini are so small and sweet right now that I can’t help but buy them. Yes, I know, I know. They’ll soon be giant monsters breeding in every garden and sitting on every staffroom table with a sign pleading for me to please, please just take it away.

That means it’s time to take stock of our zucchini recipes and get ready for the onslaught. And speaking of stock, zucchini can become a lovely sophisticated, silky soup. Yes, I know those are not normally zucchini adjectives. But you will just have to trust me, because I speak truth.

This recipe comes by way of Halifax from a Hungarian friend who says it’s a German recipe. Ah, Canada, the multicultural mosaic.

You start by slowly wilting your onions in a good whack of butter and a bit of olive oil to keep that same butter from burning. The onions start to glisten and look like very happy onions indeed.

See, doesn’t that look like a plump, buttery onion?

Then you add a bunch of shredded zucchini, which look like green and yellow ribbons, but make you raise an eyebrow as you wonder exactly how they will transform into sophisticated, silky soup.

You simmer that up with the stock for exactly 12 minutes. (Are you starting to see why this is such a lovely summer recipe? Yes, your kitchen won’t overheat from prolonged stove usage!)

Now, time for magic ingredient number one: white wine. In our case, Gewürztraminer. (Tomorrow, it might be Chardonnay. If you enjoy drinking the wine, I don’t think it can go wrong in your soup.)

Purée that, and you’ll start to see some silkiness creeping in . . .

Now, to finish, stir in magic ingredient number two: the so-rich-it’s-almost-sour-cream plain yogourt. Also, a bit of basil from your little garden.

Gently, gently heat it a little more if it’s a bit too cool for your taste, taking care not to bring it to a boil. (You don’t want to give the yogurt any bad ideas and suddenly separate into curds. Remember: coddle, not curdle.)

Ladle into bowls and serve with a bit more of that fresh basil. A silky and sophisticated way to ease into zucchini season, if I do say so myself.

german zucchini soup

serves 3 - 4

1 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c. butter
2 onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. kosher salt or 1/4 tsp. regular salt
1/8 – 1/4 tsp. black pepper, to taste
2 1/4 c. zucchini, shredded
2 c. vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 c. white wine
1/2 c. plain yogurt, preferably high fat
fresh basil, chopped

Heat thick saucepan over medium-low heat. Melt butter and olive oil in pan. Add onion and sauté. Turn heat down to cook slowly. After 5 minutes, throw in the garlic, salt and pepper. Fry until onion is almost transparent, about 10 minutes. The onion will glisten and look almost soupy.

Add zucchini and stock. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 12 minutes, uncovered.

Stir in the wine. Whir it all together with an immersion blender or regular blender until it’s creamy. Return to heat. Stir in yogurt and about half of the basil. Heat gently, but don’t let it boil, for fear it will curdle.

Ladle into serving bowls. Place a few bits of basil on top. Serve.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

kristina's nuss kuchen

I need lunch.

You may feed me breakfast at 11 o’clock.

But I will not be tricked.

Come 1 o’clock, I need lunch. And I mean a proper lunch, preferably hot with all the food groups. Do not give me a cracker or a piece of fruit and call it lunch. You do not want to see the consequences of not feeding me lunch.

Eight years ago, my mother and I were visiting relatives and family friends in Germany. We took the train from Osnabrück to Hamburg one July morning, riding for about 3 hours.

I was hungry on the train and considered buying lunch there. But since lunch is like dinner in Germany, I do believe my mother convinced me not to. (Or perhaps I came up with the not-so-brilliant plan of starving all by myself.) We were due to arrive just after 1 o’clock, and we thought my mom’s cousin Kristina and her husband Klaus would feed us.


Klaus and Kristina welcomed us warmly and took us out to a pretty, shaded table on the deck. As you might imagine, I was hungry and having rather overwhelming visions of lunch at that point.

Kristina went inside to bring out the food, and we waited with anticipation.

But what she returned with was not hot or hearty or even savoury.

It was a cake.

I took one look at that cake and felt tears pricking. Then I felt a sniffle. I just wanted lunch. I just wanted to die of embarrassment, crying in the middle of the day at a perfectly nice cake brought out by relatives I had only met once before.

My dear mother went inside to explain in German and came back with a yogurt for me. I brushed away my tears and prayed my red nose would calm down sooner rather than later.

Finally, my yogurt eaten, we all tried the cake.

It was, in fact, a perfect summer afternoon cake: sour cherries on a tender cake that was so hazelnut-y I knew I had to be in Germany.

Needless to say, I took a deep breath and asked for the recipe.

I have been making it ever since – for dessert, not lunch – fumbling around, trying to adapt the European weight measurements into cups and teaspoons. Even with my haphazard measuring guesses, it always baked up into a lovely cake and made me think of Hamburg.

Now, I have a scale, so it’s much easier to follow the recipe exactly. (However, dear reader, I know you may not have a scale – yet – so I have converted it into funny volume measurements just for you.)

Since it’s July, I decided to use fresh cherries this time. Baked, they are not quite as pretty as the very red sour cherries, but with a dollop of cream, it’s a very delicious cake indeed. Feed me this any day – for dessert, not lunch.

cherry hazelnut cake
a.k.a. kristina's nuss kuchen

serves 8

100 g. (scant 3/4 c.) hazelnuts
450 g. (3 c.) fresh cherries or canned sour cherries
125 g. (2/3 c.) butter
125 g. (1/2 c. + 2 tbsp.) sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp. milk
1/4 tsp. salt
6 g. (1 tsp. + scant 1/4 tsp. baking powder)
150 g. (1 c. + 1 tbsp.) wheat flour
            Or, gluten-free flours:
            30 g. (1/4 c.) sweet white sorghum flour
            30 g. (1/4 c. + 1 tbsp.) oat flour*
            30 g. (3 tbsp.) sweet rice flour
            30 g. (1/4 c.) tapioca starch
            30 g. (3 tbsp.) potato starch
whipped cream, for serving**

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees Fahrenheit (180 – 200 degrees Celcius). Butter a 9 or 10-inch springform pan.

Grind the hazelnuts finely in a food processor. Try to stop before they become hazelnut butter. Set aside.

Pit cherries if necessary. If using fresh, chop them roughly. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs and milk. Set aside.

Mix the dry ingredients together – stir well. Stir into the creamed mixture. Scrape into the prepared pan. Place cherries over top to cover. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until golden brown and a cake tester comes out crumb-free.

Once the cake has cooled, serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

* Make sure the label specifies pure oats if you are gluten-free
** I like to whip the cream with a bit of Frangelico (more hazelnut flavour!) and sugar