Puff Pastry Almond Pear Tart

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I’ve been on a baking kick lately. I think it’s because I’m immersed in a culture that loves sweets more than Americans. Pears and almonds complement each other so well, and they are in abundance in Germany. This tart came together surprisingly fast because the puff pastry crust was store-bought. I’m not ashamed. I used a 26 cm springform, which yields around 8 slices of tasty.

Ingredients

  • 1 package of puff pastry (“Blättertieg”), thawed
  • 200 g marzipan
  • 1 cup of almond meal
  • 4 small ripe pears, peeled, cored, and halved
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C.
  2. Line a 26 cm springform with the puff pastry.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine the marzipan, almond meal, eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla, almond extract, and salt.
  4. Pour the mixture over the puff pastry, and spread it evenly with a spatula.
  5. Place the pears cut side up in a radial pattern.
  6. Bake for 50-60 minutes.
  7. Cool to room temperature before serving.

 

 

Chili Oil

This chili oil is glorious. It’s also way spicier than the stuff I’ve encountered at the restaurants and in the grocery stores, so consider yourself warned. Next time, I might consider adding some minced garlic and ginger at the very end (with the crushed red chili).

Yield: around 6 oz

Ingredients

  • 4-5 oz of sunflower oil, or you can use canola oil
  • 1 inch of cinnamon bark
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tbsp ground Szechuan peppercorns
  • 5 cloves
  • 1/3 cup of crushed red chili

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan except for the crushed red chili.
  2. Over medium-low heat, simmer this for 30 minutes.
  3. Pour the crushed red chili into a heat safe glass container – I used a clean mason jar.
  4. While holding a metal sieve over the mason jar, slowly pour the hot oil over the red chilis. We just want to remove the chunkier spices (e.g. cinnamon stick) from the final product.
  5. Wait until this cools (!) and then go buck wild, drizzling this over whatever your heart desires.

Vegetarian Dan Dan Noodles

A versatile, spicy Szechuan dish that makes me drool. It’s originally made with pork, but I think my vegetarian version is just as good. The chili oil I used in this recipe was easily made in about 30 minutes, and most of that time was just the spices simmering in the oil. However, the lazier cook can substitute premade chili oil from the Asian store. This dish is typically served with sui mi ya cai, Chinese fermented vegetables. I can’t find any vegetarian versions of this at the Asian grocery (and I don’t really want to make my own), so I either skip this altogether or substitute my vegetarian Kimchi, but it really just depends on my mood. Not a dealbreaker.

Yield: 3-4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp sesame paste (tahini)
  • 2 tsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 tsp red wine
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground Szechuan peppercorns
  • 1 tsp chili oil (mine is super spicy, so a little goes a long way, but you can fiddle with this as you please)
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tsp sesame oil for sauteing the vegetables and tofu
  • 1 head of broccoli (broken into small chunks) or an equivalent amount of sliced bok choy
  • 4 servings cooked noodles
  • 2-3 cups of shiitake mushrooms or oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 block of tofu (diced) or an equivalent amount of tofu skin (I’m partial to tofu skin)
  • 1 sliced bell pepper or 2 sliced carrots (like matchsticks)
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted peanuts
  • chopped green onions for garnish

Directions

  1. Mix the ingredients for the sauce – everything from the tahini to the minced garlic in a small bowl and set it aside.
  2. Prepare the vegetables and tofu- washing and chopping, etc.
  3. Saute the vegetables together in the sesame oil.
  4. Add the sauce to the pan, stir well.
  5. Adjust with any additional chili oil or soy sauce.
  6. Serve over the cooked noodles.
  7. Top with scallions and peanuts.

Almond Horn Cookies

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These cookies are made of marzipan (almond paste and sugar), which is a very popular food in Germany. I hadn’t realized how tasty marzipan is until we moved here – I’ve made these cookies about four times now, and they were instantly devoured every time. It gets a little messy, so the best order of operations is laid out below.

Servings: 8 cookies

Ingredients

  • 200 g marzipan (1 packet)
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1 egg
  • 100 g sliced almonds
  • 50 g dark chocolate
  • 1/8 – 1/4 cup milk (I just eyeballed it)
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp sugar, set aside

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 C.
  2. Spread the sliced almonds on a dish.
  3. Line a cookie sheet with some baking paper.
  4. In a small saucepan on extremely low heat, melt the chocolate, milk, and butter. Keep an eye on this so that it doesn’t boil or burn. Stir occasionally. When the mixture is well combined, stir in the 2 tsp sugar.
  5. Combine the egg, almond extract, 2 tbsp sugar, marzipan, and almond meal in a bowl. I mixed this by hand. It gets all over the place.
  6. Take about 1 tbsp of the mixture and roll it into a log directly on the dish with sliced almonds.
  7. Fold the log into a horn shape, and place it on the cookie sheet.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes.
  9. Let cool for 15 minutes.
  10. Dip the ends in the chocolate mixture.
  11. Refrigerate until the chocolate has cooled into a shell, around 3o minutes.
  12. Try not to eat the whole pan.

 

Puff Pastry Pecan Pie

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Super easy pecan pie – takes around an hour to make.

Ingredients

  • puff pastry (enough to line your pie pan; 1 packet should do the trick)
  • 200 g pecans
  • 400 ml caramel sauce or about 36 unwrapped soft caramels
  • 150 g brown sugar (approximately 3/4 cup)
  • 3 eggs
  • vanilla beans from 1 vanilla pod
  • 50 g butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup milk

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C.
  2. Lay the puff pastry out to thaw.
  3. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the caramel, butter, and milk.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla.
  5. Slowly fold the caramel sauce into the egg mixture.
  6. Line your tart/pie pan with the puff pastry.
  7. Pour the caramel mixture in the pan.
  8. Arrange the pecan pieces in a radial pattern.
  9. Bake the pie for 45-50 minutes.
  10. Allow to cool until the filling is set, around 30 minutes.

Vegetarian Tom Kha Soup

img_0030This recipe has gone through a lot of edits and trials before finally converging on a flavorful and well balanced result. It’s always a challenge to adapt recipes that depend heavily on meat because the vegetarian versions end up tasting flat and sad. But I think this recipe for Tom Kha soup is up to par with its meaty counterpart. The base is the most important part, and you can mix and match the veggies as you please.

You can remove the chunky and tough spices from the soup before serving, or leave it in (and caution your guests to eat around it). But don’t slice lemon grass or ginger or kaffir lime leaves too thinly because these are really tough to eat, and the thinner you cut them, the harder it is to pick it out of the soup.

Yield: 4-5 servings

Ingredients

Soup Base

  • 1 large bay leaf or 2 small ones
  • 1 tsp capers (replaces fish sauce)
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1-2 inch piece of ginger, sliced into chunks that you can fish out later
  • 10-12 kaffir lime leaves (fresh is best, but dried will do; in either case, leave them whole so you can remove them later)
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, pounded and sliced into halves (or thirds, if they are really long)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 liter of vegetable broth
  • 3-4 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 parmesan cheese rind (adds depth to the stock)

To add after the base has cooked for some time:

  • chili oil to taste
  • 1 can of coconut milk (400 ml)
  • juice of 1/4 of a lemon
  • soy sauce to taste

Optional Add-ons

  • 8 dried tofu skin knots
  • 1 cup fresh oyster mushrooms
  • 3 vine tomatoes
  • 1 cup of spinach, sliced into ribbons
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced

Directions

  1. Combine the soup base ingredients into a large stock pot. Simmer for 30-40 minutes. If you are using the dried tofu skin knots, add them after 20 minutes of simmering.
  2. Fish out the inedible chunks from the soup base (everything but the capers and mushrooms). Or you can leave them in, and caution your guests to fish them out later.
  3. Add whatever vegetables you like, some suggestions are listed above.
  4. Simmer the soup for about 10 more minutes.
  5. Add coconut milk.
  6. Add chili oil, lemon juice, and soy sauce to taste.
  7. Serve with some bread or rice to the side.

My First Quilt (finished)

It’s finally  done… I finished this little puppy in July 2016. I was stitching for days, I tell you… days. So how long did this take me, from start to finish? I think I started this in the summer of 2012 – 4 years from beginning to end. Yikes. And the only reason it got finished was because we were relocating abroad, and I couldn’t bear to leave this unfinished in the States.

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It was so much work to finish this thing, I need to recover a little before I even think about starting a new one.

Final dimensions: 67 x 89 inches, about right for a twin sized bed. It was going to be a queen sized quilt, but I was worried it wouldn’t fit in my luggage.