Saturday, February 12, 2011

Valentine's Day: German fest

The last few years, I've done an ethnic-themed Valentine's Day dinner for me and Dave. Last year was Turkish, the year before was French, and the year before that was Greek. (Sorry, no blog back then.) This year I decided to take a trip down memory lane with German.

I was undecided until I saw this article in the Trib: venison schnitzel. I knew it would be a great way to use the venison steaks in my freezer, so I picked that as my main course and thumbed through my Berghoff Family Cookbook for accompaniment ideas. (Thanks, Julie!) I eventually decided on spaetzle and red cabbage for side dishes, with an apple strudel for dessert. It just so happens that spaetzle and red cabbage are what the venison article suggests as side dishes, so I guess I was on the same page as the author. Oh, and Dave surprised me with a couple of bottles of Stiegl! Sehr gut!

Now let's go through what I made.

Red cabbage

This is a recipe I got from the Berghoff cookbook. I will never get over how beautiful red cabbage looks when you slice it open:

Believe it or not, this is a CSA cabbage I got in January. Still good! You boil the cabbage in vinegar, sugar, and butter for 1 hour. Easy enough. This pot of cabbage was simmering away happily while I fretted over other dishes.

This was one of my staple dishes in Austria during my study abroad. It's tasty little egg noodle pasta that's buttered and seasoned. It's not widely available in the U.S., and you can't make it unless you have a spaetzle maker. I did not have one until we went on our Wisconsin trip last fall, where I purchased one at Swiss Fest in New Glarus. (Yes, that's right.)

Sadly, I do not have any photos, but I can tell you that I used my recipe from BH&G, it was easy, and the spaetzle turned out just fine. I wish I could have gotten a video of myself doing the spaetzle, but if you look at the maker, it is pretty obvious how it's done: put the dough in the trough, then run it back and forth over boiling water as the dumplings fall into the water. Mine came out smaller than I had in Germany & Austria, but they were basically perfect.

OK, here's where some of the real problems began.

As I said before, I needed venison steaks to pound out and make the schnitzel. I took mine out of the freezer to thaw, then set up my breading station. As I was taking the venison out of the wrappings, I noticed something: I had ground venison, not steaks.


OK, I regrouped, smooshed the meat together, and prayed that they looked something like a steak. It was at this point that I knew they would not hold together during the breading process. (See the assembly ride at left).

What I did instead was hold the "cutlets" in one hand while I covered them in flour, eggwash, and a parmesan-bread crumb mixture with the other. They were totally coated and stayed together while I fried them in olive oil.

Here's the final plate: red stuff is the cabbage, the cutlet is next to the lemon, and the top one is the spaetzle. Look at my adorable dumplings!

Lovely. With the Stiegl, it was like I was back in Austria!

I should note that the original recipe called for a fried egg on top of the strudel, which would have been interesting to try, but good lord. I think I would have keeled over or exploded.

Apple strudel

This was another one from the Berghoff cookbook. They suggest using granny smith apples, but I prefer golden delicious. I bought some lovely little ones from Whole Foods.

You slice the apples and cook with sugar, apple juice, and cinnamon. Here I ran into some more problems: I don't have any apple juice. I did, however, have some sparkling cider. I wasn't sure if it would work, but it worked just fine.

When I had to add a little corn starch to the sauce, I was afraid the corn starch would have some kind of explosive reaction to the bubbly cider, but it didn't. Maybe I'm thinking of baking soda...

You cool the filling while you prepare the phyllo crust. I don't know if I got some bad phyllo or what, maybe I didn't let it thaw sufficiently, but this stuff broke apart like crazy. It took quite a few sheets to get some that actually held together, but in the end I was able to find a few whole ones I could butter and layer together.

Then you put the filling into the phyllo, roll it up, and bake it.

It turned out pretty good; I liked the filling a lot, but the phyllo was a little crumbly. Next time I think I'd like to just do a pastry crust. I should also note that the original recipe calls for raisins and nuts in the strudel, and I won't get into it here, but I am generally against baking nuts or raisins into anything. I know raisins are terribly traditional for strudel, but I really, really hate it. So my strudel is raisin-free. That's all I have to say.

I do, however, entirely approve of eating strudel with vanilla bean Haagen-Dazs ice cream.

So this was a lovely Valentine's Day weekend dinner, and Dave and I are going to go die of heart attacks now. We're having a lunch of Indian food tomorrow, so hopefully some of that fiber and spice will get my cardiovascular system back in working order.

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