Week 14: Germany

Germany
Germany

I don’t know why it took me so long to recap Germany when it was probably my favorite dinner to concept thus far. There were so many fun elements and I have a LOT of tips this week.

Germany was actually a long time in the making because I had to prep the sauerkraut about a month in advance. I’ve made sauerkraut a few times before- in fact I once had a new roommate move in while a batch was fermenting on the counter. She immediately thought I was strange but soon came to understand it was just the beginning of my odd personality. For our Germany dinner I wanted to make two types of sauerkraut- green and red. I thought it would make for a beautiful plating and we could compare the different flavor profiles of the cabbage. So back in November of 2015 I made a batch of sauerkraut. It failed. Then the day before I left on my honeymoon in December I made another batch. It also failed. In February I decided to try again. I only succeeded with the red batch and I called it a success. So what happened?

Making sauerkraut is a very simple process. You finely chop a head of washed cabbage and mix in 2 Tbs of kosher salt. You turn the cabbage over a few times with your hands, making sure to really mix together all the salt and cabbage and then you let it sweat for about 30 minutes. Then you take all the cabbage and all it’s juices and pour it into a large canning jar. You should make sure to pack down the cabbage as much as possible until all the extracted water/cabbage juice covers the cabbage. You then place a ziplock bag of salt water on top as a weight. The water is salted in case any leaks- this way it just adds to the brine instead of watering it down. The kraut is left on the counter at room temperature for about 30 days and you should check to make sure it’s covered with brine at all times. After 30 days you can transfer it to the fridge and eat within 1-2 weeks! There! Done! And I didn’t’ even need to consult a recipe to tell you that.  Again… what happened?

So a few things went wrong in my first attempts.  The first batch developed a mold on top. I’m still not 100% sure why it molded. The brine was completely covering the cabbage and it smelled good until the day it didn’t. I think a few things may have factored into the mold. 1. I covered the kraut with a bag of water, but it may have suffocated it a bit too much. The kraut needs a little bit of air to ferment, otherwise you’re just creating the perfect moist, sealed environment for mold to grow. 2. The room temperature could have been a bit too warm. October is the warmest month in SF and my jars were placed directly under hot lights on my counter. Of course the lights weren’t on all the time, but I should have placed it where the temperature was consistent. Now with the second batch AND the third green batch I know exactly what happened. For Christmas my new husband gave me this incredibly romantic gift of a kimchee making kit (lucky gal, I know). The kit come with a large glass jar and a moisture regulator that goes into a hole in the lid. So for the second batch I used the jar to make the kraut. I followed the instructions, placing a water bag on the kraut and then I placed the lid on the jar. Again- I suffocated it. For the third green batch I just used the jar as a vessel without the lid and I used a regular canning jar for my purple batch. The kimchee jar ended up being too big for my one head of lettuce and the brine didn’t reach the top. The kraut dried up quickly. BUT my purple batch was perfectly compressed and ended up being the winning sauerkraut. So while the kraut is easy to make in theory, it does require a good amount of babysitting in the first few days.

Kraut in the making
Kraut in the making

I couldn’t find a picture of my beautiful red and green cabbage fermenting side by side. But this is an example of their beautiful colors co-existing in Philadelphia planters during the winter-time. As a native Californian I had no idea they used heads of cabbage as decor, but it always makes me chuckle when I see it.

Cabbage
Cabbage

Bratwurst!

Making sausage is no easy undertaking, but it is very satisfying! I like knowing exactly what goes into the sausage I’m eating- and exactly how bad it is for me. Now Bill has made sausage before so this wasn’t exactly a stretch project for him, but he invited over our friend Matt who was a newbie. We made 2 types of sausage because it’s much easier to make in large batches once you’ve already started the process. We made a traditional bratwurst and an Italian style (not for this dinner). The main meat was pork butt with a smaller portion of beef. We began by grinding the meat thoroughly then mixing it together- with our hands. We use this kitchen aid attachment for grinding and packing sausage. It’s very efficient and you can vary the speeds as you get the hang of it. We then separated the meat into two batches and added the appropriate seasoning for each style.  Another lovely part of sausage making is stuffing sausage into pig intestine. I remember first learning about these special “casings” and thinking how disgusting yet awesome this idea was.  You are essentially stuffing the pig back into itself. See? Disgusting. And Awesome. Pig intestines are like very very very long cloudy “balloons”. We get them from one of my favorite meat shops Clancey’s in the outer sunset. I love this place as it’s small, friendly, and out of the way. It makes for a meat adventure- like we are hunting the food! Except we are just buying the food.

Back to the sausage! We (and at this point I mean Bill and his lovely assistant Matt) found it a bit difficult to stuff the sausage into the casing and get an even flow. The meat was coming out in spats and it created lumps instead of a smooth tube. The boys realized that the meat was too soft so aha! They placed it in the freezer for about 15 minutes. That did the trick! The sausage came out much more even and it was easy for them to stuff, spin, and stuff some more. There really isn’t a trick to creating the sausage links, you just want to spin it enough that it closes up the link. For the bratwurst, as you can see in the second picture, we just created a few long pieces of sausage to cook up together.

That's how the sausage is made
That’s how the sausage is made
Pumping the meat
Pumping the meat
Sausage
Sausage

The pretzel making was what I looked forward to the most! Bill has made pretzels before, but I had not. They were actually so simple I don’t know why we don’t have them around all the time- oh ya, I’d eat it all up. I made the dough the night before and let it rise overnight. The dough is simple; flour, yeast, water, salt, butter. The pretzel shaping however was a bit tricky. See you make the dough and let it rise, then you slice it into strips and roll it out into long tubes. You take two ends of the pretzels and do this. Then you have a lot of failed attempts at twisting the pretzels into perfect pretzel shapes and you just decide to carefully shape it on the pan instead. Look I’m not a pretzel making machine! This is where I struggled the most. After watching that Auntie Anne’s video I realized perhaps I didn’t roll my dough out long enough. See, what I found challenging was once your pretzels were shaped you needed to let them rise again. This rising process often resulted in a big blog of dough that didn’t resemble a pretzel at all. The dough would get larger and rise into the sides. I had to keep holding up the dough to let it droop and separate into the correct pretzel shape. Eventually I learned to roll it out a bit thinner/ longer and just be happy with the shapes they ended up in.

Once the dough was ready we salted the pretzels and boiled them in water with baking soda. The baking soda causes the water to become alkaline and that’s what creates the beautiful brown crust on the outside. If you’re making a big batch of pretzels I suggest changing out your water and baking soda mix a few times as it tended to neutralize halfway through.

Salting Pretzels
Salting Pretzels
Boiling pretzels
Boiling pretzels

What is that awesome outfit I’m wearing instead of an apron you ask? Why it’s my homemade San Francisco 49er’s themed dirndl. Bill made his own lederhosen  as well (please ignore the hat). I figured I should bust it out to keep in theme for the night.

German Outfits
German Outfits

To go along with the pretzels we had dijon, honey, and horseradish mustard, as well as a creamy horseradish sauce. I really wanted to make my own mustard but I was too busy babysitting the sauerkraut earlier in the month. Le sigh.

Pretzels and mustard
Pretzels and mustard

And then we drank beer.

Beer!
Beer!

To go along with the Brats and the Kraut and the many many beers, Ashley made a traditional potato salad with an onion vinaigrette.

Dinner
Dinner

For dessert Sergio and Ashley made these heavenly things called Berliners which gives me the perfect excuse to go back to Germany. These were hand stuffed with a lemon curd and rasberry jam (although my first one was gypped of the filling- come on guys!). I am so glad I don’t know how to make these guys. Otherwise I’d be making them about 3 times a week.

Berliners
Berliners

Let’s take one more look up close and personal.

Inside look
Inside look

Recipes for your inspiration:

Sauerkraut

Bratwurst

Pretzels

Berliners

Proust!

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