Pumpkin Purée

Time for the yearly pumpkin explosion! We finally depleted our stock of the orange stuff that had been lingering in the freezer for the past two years. While processing the new batch, I realized that I’d linked to a thing that I kind of no longer use. See, I’ve processed enough pumpkins now that I have my own way of doing it. Give it a shot! If it works for you, great; if not, fire up the Google. There are a plethora of other methods that might be better for the kind of cook you are.

You’ll need a rimmed baking sheet (jelly roll pan), at least one small, firm pie pumpkin or hokkaido pumpkin (try to get one that is smaller than your knife), a food processor with a feed tube and 1 cup of cold water and maybe a pair of rubber gloves (pumpkin leaves a grody film on your hands, sometimes even after washing). Preheat your oven to 350° F/175° C.

  1. Cut up your pumpkin. Start by slicing off the stem end so that you have a nice, flat plane. Set the pumpkin on the cut side so that it is stable, then slice down, halving it longitudinally. Next, halve the halves longitudinally again, then halve the quarters latitudinally. You should have 8 triangular wedges. Gently scrape out the seeds, strings and spongy tissue with a large spoon and set aside. You can clean, season and roast the seeds if that’s your jam.

  2. Arrange the pumpkin wedges skin side down on the baking sheet and bake for 45-90 minutes. Depending on how thick the flesh is, you might need the whole time. The cut edges might brown or blacken a little – this is totally fine. After 45 minutes, check doneness by inserting a thin knife into the flesh – if it slides in easily, it’s done. If you get any resistance, let them go longer and test in 10-15 minute increments. When they’re done, remove from oven and allow to cool completely, at least 1-2 hours.

  3. Fit your food processor with the blade attachment. With a large spoon, scrape the pumpkin flesh into the bowl of the processor and discard the skin. You may need to do this in batches – a good guideline regardless of size is to fill your bowl to a little over half (maximum) with flesh. Attach the lid and turn the processor on to medium-low. If there’s enough moisture in the pumpkin, it should slowly purée into a uniform texture, moving around the bowl with no help. If it’s too dry and seizes up, add water a tablespoon at a time to loosen the pumpkin and (only while turned off!) reposition the chunks with your spatula to get it move into the blade. Once with a particularly dry pumpkin, I had to add a full cup of water to get it to smooth out. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure it’s uniform, then portion into airtight containers. Purée will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days (it molds quickly) and in the freezer indefinitely (the smart thing to say is 6 months, but we ate two-year old pumpkin last month and it was perfect).

Bridge Update for September

Hoo, look at that, it’s been a whole month since the last post!

Lots of work stuff has been keeping me busy, and Sarah’s music ensemble has come out of their summer hibernation and are warming up again for the winter concert.

Sometime around the end of August on the city-side of the bridge (that’s the south bank of the Danube) we could see what looked to be coarse tarmac waiting for a new surface, and a couple of cable ports poking through the side wall pieces.

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Earlier this week we saw the same pavers as on the Stadtamhof side of the bridge.

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You’d think this would signal that the end of the project is near, but there’s still about the middle one-third of the bridge which hasn’t had any work done on it at all (barring the removal of the Bruckmandl for off-site restoration), and the project timeline is calls for activity until 2017.

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bridge supports upright and waitingThey put those giant supports all along the length of the bridge for a reason: I guess the strategy was to work on the ends of the bridge first and then the middle section last.

Creamy Goat Cheese Tomato Pasta

I am a total sucker for a creamy tomato sauce. Unfortunately, they tend to be a little disappointing. This is the exception.

The goat cheese flavor is pretty pronounced, so if you’re not a fan, this one isn’t for you. The original is here, but I made lots of changes (chief among them: cutting out the bacon – sundrieds really fill that meaty, umami slot for me). That said, the technique is the same and I might employ it in the future. As a plus, this comes together very quickly.

2 shallots, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
100 g (roughly) oil-packed sundried tomatoes, drained and sliced thin, oil reserved
2 T white wine
1 14.5 oz/400 g can stewed tomatoes
1 small pinch salt
1 small pinch sugar
1/4 t dried oregano
1 large pinch dried red pepper flakes
1 lb/500 g short pasta (1/4 c pasta water reserved before draining)
3-4 oz/100-125 g spreadable goat cheese (Ziegenfrischkäse)
lots of torn basil leaves

Heat a deep skillet over medium low heat and warm 1-2 T reserved sundried tomato oil. When oil shimmers, add shallots, garlic and sundried tomatoes and stir frequently until shallots and garlic are tender (3 minutes). Add wine and cook until 3/4 reduced (and the boozy smell is gone). Add canned tomatoes, salt, sugar, oregano and red pepper flakes and reduce heat to low. Stir to combine, crushing tomatoes with spoon. Allow sauce to simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, then remove from heat and set aside.

Cook and drain pasta, returning it quickly to the pot off the heat. Add goat cheese to pasta and stir well to coat. When goat cheese is well distributed, pour in tomato sauce, again stirring very well. If sauce seems too thick, add a little pasta water to loosen it to your desired texture. Add torn basil and stir until just distributed. Serve immediately.

Chipotle Corn Soup

The Germans aren’t huge fans of corn – I think it’s a more a novelty or garnish that makes something ‘American’ to them (see pizza). So corn season can be a fraught, unreliable affair filled with dashed expectations.

But the corn is ok this year, so I get to try things like this! The original is here, but I tweaked and tinkered, so this is my version.

2 T butter
6 green onions, sliced thin (about 1 bunch)
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 t chipotle pepper in adobo, roughly chopped
1 1/2 t salt
ground black pepper to taste (go easy – chipotle is potent)
1/2 t ground cumin
6 ears corn, shucked and kernels cut off
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced (optional)
3 c chicken broth
1 c whole milk

In a Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat until foaming and add green onions, garlic and chipotle. Sauté until onions are tender and fragrant. Add salt, pepper, cumin, corn and potatoes (if using) and stir well to coat with butter. Add chicken broth and milk and bring to a low boil, turn down heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove soup from heat and blend with a stick blender. The original recipe instructs you to then strain soup through a food mill or fine mesh sieve, removing solids and pressing all liquid out of them. We skipped the sieving, which leaves lots of…um, ballast. Consider the quirks of your digestion going forward.

External USB drive won’t mount on OS X? Try safe boot.

I like to reuse old computer parts where possible. I’ve got an old 2.5″ hard drive rescued from a laptop headed for the junkyard Recyclinghof in a USB enclosure that is serving Sarah’s much more modern laptop quite well as a back up driving, using Time Machine. We’re using the same drive, but it’s partitioned into two different Time Machine volumes.

But try as I might, I could not that make that drive mount reliably on my machine. Until now.

Symptoms

I could plug in the drive into one of my USB ports and the green drive light would go on and you could hear it whir to life, but it never mounted. The System Information and Disk Utility never showed the drive. And yet it mounted quickly and painlessly on Sarah’s Macbook Air (a couple years older than mine, but running the same OS version).

Sometimes I would leave the drive connected (but not mounted!) overnight and come back to find that it had eventually mounted and the Time Machine backup had run. But usually not. I thought it might be a question of the cable, the connector pins, even something mechanical about the drive itself. One time it came to life while standing vertically, so for weeks I thought that must have something to do with it — kinks in the cable or drive inertia or something.

Solution

It’s working now, but I still don’t know what the problem was or why the fix worked. All I did was start up the machine, a late-model Macbook Air, with a safe boot, while the drive was connected via USB, after googling for similar problems. I am not aware of any other problems on this Mac, so I figured a safe boot couldn’t hurt. It’s “safe,” right?

  1. Turn your Mac off.
  2. Turn it back on, and press and hold the shift key (either one? I used the left shift key) as soon as you hear the chime.
  3. It’ll check the startup disk, and take longer to boot than normal.
  4. When you log in, not all the usual stuff that happens upon login will happen. But that’s when my drive started happily blinking away, and I saw it was mounted and ready for business.

Safe Boot

Here’s what Apple says about starting your Mac in “safe mode.” Nothing on that page really leaps out at me with a solution that indicate external drives connected via USB are handled differently, unless maybe the failure to recognize and mount the drive was caused by an unnecessary kernel extension, and disabling it via the safe boot made the drive usable again. But if that’s the case, then a subsequent normal, non-safe (um…unsafe?) boot should have caused the drive to fail to mount again. But it doesn’t. So safe boot must have fixed something else.

I kinda want to know what it did, but I’m just glad I didn’t junk this drive without giving it one more try.

Blueberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake

It’s the berry time of year, and while at the local farmers’ market on Saturday, I couldn’t resist a big carton of tiny little wild blueberries at a stand manned by two little old ladies, offering only blueberries and raspberries (they were near the west entrance, across from the egg ladies, in case you need to score from them next Saturday).

I transcribed this recipe from an allrecipes.com video on a recipe page for blueberry sour cream coffee cake1. I like the streusel topping so much I plan to use it on future cakes, too.


Equipment

  • Preheat oven to 350°F / 177°C
  • Grease and flour a 9×13 inch (23×33 cm) baking pan or 9″ Bundt pan

Ingredients

Batter

  • 2/3 cup (146 g) softened butter
  • 1 1/2 cups (315 g) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (200 g) sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 5/8 cups (224 g) flour + 2 Tbsp flour (for blueberry flotation)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries

Topping

  • 1/2 cup (105 g) brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (just eyeball it) chopped pecans
  • optional powdered sugar for dusting the final product

Method

  1. Beat butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in 2 eggs one at a time. Gently stir in 1 cup sour cream and 1 tsp vanilla extract.

  2. In a separate bowl combine

    • 1 5/8 cups of flour
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp salt
  3. Combine with butter mixture, just until blended. Toss 1 1/2 cups blueberries with 2 Tbsp flour to keep them from sinking in the batter2, and gently fold into the batter. Put half the batter into your greased and floured pan.

  4. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar to a bowl, along with 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 cup chopped pecans. Stir together, sprinkle half over the batter. Spread the rest of the batter into the pan, and top with the rest of the pecan/sugar mixture. Swirl the batter/topping layers around with a chopstick for a nice artsy touch.

  5. Bake about 55 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test. Ours needed an extra 10 minutes, but it’s really hard to tell with all those blueberries at the bottom moistening your toothpick. Cool completely in the pan, and optionally top with powdered sugar just before serving.

  1. which, oddly, doesn’t seem like exactly the same recipe depicted in the video []
  2. this proved completely ineffective, but I guess I don’t care. []
Adapted a recipe from the Kitchn, and they're perfect.

Homemade Hamburger Buns

You can find American-style hamburger buns in Germany in many or maybe even all supermarkets, if you’re willing to buy into the kooky red-white-and-blue motifs. Those products, in our experience, are generally not bad. They’re usually not quite as soft as you’d expect a hamburger bun in the USA to be, and they’ll do just fine.

But they don’t have to. I found this recipe online yesterday for homemade hamburger buns and tried it out. It was a great success! Continue reading

Scottish Thistle

A week in Scotland’s West Highlands

We’d been to Edinburgh once for a long weekend of exploring, but were itching for a change of scenery. (Turns out the itching would be literal at times.) When my parents came to visit from Michigan, they told us to pick a place we’d like to explore together. We chose a bed-and-breakfast in Scotland’s West Highlands to use as a daily jumping-off point, and we sure don’t regret any of it. Continue reading

…what's happening on our side of the pond