Thursday, November 12, 2009

An Uncommon Intermission: Brussel Sprouts... That Are Awesome??

Yes, you read it.

Today's diversion from the Culinary Conquistadors' Austrian Month features none other than the scourge of youth everywhere: brussel sprouts. Bill Cosby hated them, children run in fear, and adults politely avoid them whenever possible. So why, if they are the essence of "terrible" would we discuss them?

I realize the concept is hard to digest (ha! +1), so allow me to pose the following question: Would the Ugly Duckling be the same if you always knew he was a swan? *Belated spoiler alert: the ugly duckling is a swan* No, because it wouldn't be pleasantly surprising when the "duckling" turned out to be beautiful. Such is the case with brussel sprouts. They are ugly, green lumps with a funky taste by most accounts... but what if you knew how to make them... not?

Well we found the way.

Ok, no we didn't, we read it in GQ. Here is the link with the recipe and the directions... Follow that and I'll focus on our experiences and let them handle the cooking explanation.

David Chang of Momofuku's brussel sprouts with bite.

Basically, long story short, David Chang, owner / chef of Momofuku restaurant in New York and one of the more highly regarded chefs around, invented a recipe for brussel sprouts that 1. Is reeeeal hard to screw up, and 2. tastes amazing. His sprouts were so successful, in fact, that he had to take them off the menu... Literally just about every table ordered them and he didn't want to have to designate a cook to making nothing but sprouts all night. That, in itself, should tell you something about the recipe.

When our mother walked in the door from Heinen's with a bag of brussel sprouts a few days back, I found myself feeling a way I never had before... excited about brussel sprouts! I ran upstairs, cut the recipe page out of GQ, and ran back down triumphantly, much to the confusion of everyone else. I loudly declared, "I can make these actually GOOD!"

And we did. We followed the recipe as laid out in the link above, and I have to say that my only regret is that we didn't have more. They were absolutely delicious by all accounts. Try them... really. I know it seems crazy, and I know they usually taste weird, but honestly these are a different vegetable altogether. If I'm wrong, feel free to comment to that regard. (I'm not).
Best of luck; I hope you'll also discoverer that when your mothers and grandmothers claimed that vegetables were, "good and good for you", they weren't lying... completely.


Brussels Sprouts on FoodistaBrussels Sprouts

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ode to Osterreich, Part I: Escape to Schnitzel Mountain

Now that you've heard Matty's story... lets move on to a more relevant topic.

Finally, 14 months after I first arrived in Austria, we shall get around to discussing Austrian cuisine, a course I ACTUALLY took! Yes dear readers, believe it or not, I do have SOME formal education on cooking. I'd give a shout-out to Birgitta the awesome cook and professor at Salzburg College, but you can't shout in text. CAPS means serious, but not necessarily loud. It's a complicated blogosphere we live in.

Is this revelation of experience a betrayal of trust? Is it a sign that you may just get something out of this blog? Call it what you will, but the fact that I have been trained by a life-long Austrian cook means a few things. 1. Descriptions of Austrian dishes will be somewhat more reliable than others as we are not completely in the dark going into it. 2. You may learn dishes that you've either never heard of, or have heard of and giggled at under your breath because they start with the word "Wiener". 3. We probably giggled at some point too.

Speaking of which, the first dish that we will discuss / explain our endeavors to is that of Wiener Schnitzel! What a wonderful segway, I know. This dish, simply put, is the Schnit. It is the staple dish of Vienna and more broadly Austria, and it is both delicious AND simple in its creation. If you manage to screw it up, I applaud your efforts because it's tough to do. If you succeed, guests / family members / alien visitors will be amazed at the exotic cuisine you've managed to concoct (It's name is German?! Oh how cultural!). You can't very well lose with schnitzel.

About Schnitzel

First of all, it's pronounced "Vee-ner", not "Wee-ner". Lets get the chuckles aside, this is serious business (not really). In German, Vienna is called Wien, or "Veen" phonetically. W = V in German to English. Didn't think you learn that here, did you? So Wiener schnitzel realistically means "Viennese" schnitzel. Schnitzel just means schnitzel, but it's no less fun to say.

Schnitzel, as the photo of Shnitzel Mountain to the left shows, is a type of breaded / fried cutlet dish. While it may look somewhat basic in construction, there are some deviations that can be made when creating it. Traditionally schnitzel is made with veal, although veal is notably expensive. For this reason turkey breast cutlets are often substituted, or even pork cutlets work well. Matty and I have used all three meats throughout our schnitzel endeavors, and they all taste great. Beyond the meat decision, the equation is quite simple: you'll need breadcrumbs, eggs, flour, salt, pepper, cooking oil, and garnishes to create an inspiring meal.

Ingredients (In a simpler-to-read format)
(To serve 4)

2 eggs
2 T milk
2 lbs. leg of veal (or substitute turkey breast / boneless pork) - Cut into 1/4 in. thick slices
Freshly ground black pepper
4 T flour
1 cup finely ground, dried breadcrumbs
Oil for frying

Lemons (garnish)
Preiselbeeren / cranberry sauce (garnish)

So you start with your meat. As directed, you want to buy veal, turkey, or pork cutlets and beat them into 1/4 in. slices... they can either be bought this way or be flattened with a meat hammer. Trust me, the latter is significantly more fun. I've made schnitzel at home, at school, and abroad, and hands-down beating the meat is the favorite activity. It's loud, but whether you actually have a mallet or just a pronged crusher (see picture), it works.

Once flattened, sprinkle the meat slices liberally with salt and pepper. Get both sides, it is important for flavoring. Next, dip each slice in flour and shake off the excess. You'll want to have the flour out on a cutting board or large bowl or something to do this. Next, take your eggs and beat them with the milk long enough to combine them. Once this is accomplished, dip the floured veal slices into the beaten eggs. Yes, it will be gross at the time, we know... it will pay delicious dividends eventually, however. Finally, take the floured, egg-ed veal slices and dip them in the bread crumbs, covering both sides. Shake off the excess, and you're done with the sloppy part of the assembly line.

Now for the actual cooking: Heat oil in a heavy, 12-in. frying pan preferably until a light haze forms over it. Put in enough to cover the bottom. Next, add the prepared cutlets themselves. Cook the cutlets over meduim heat for 3-4 min per side or until they are a golden-brown color. Yes, like marshmallows, it is a universal indicator of "good". Use tongs to turn them over (the oil will attack you to the best of it's ability so keep your distance).

Realistically, this is about all it takes. As the schnitzel is finished being browned (you may want to check one to be sure you have cooked it through, but I've never run into a problem with that), it should realistically be served immediately. A warm schnitzel is a happy schnitzel. Garnish with lemons when you serve it... squeezing lemon on these guys is absolutely essential to getting the full experience in my book. You can also serve it with preiselbeeren (cranberry) preserves... we haven't done so the last few times we have made it, but that is simply because we forgot to pick some up. It is certainly recommended as well if you can find some. It is recommended as well that you serve schnitzel with some sort of potatoes / potato salad (I'll post the Austrian way to make good potatoes / potato salad in a future post... check there).

In all, schnitzel is easy yet rewarding in both taste and experience. It is not only something different for most people, but fun to make with friends and family. Since it is pretty difficult to mess up on schnitzel, the benefits of working together are rarely mitigated. If we can do it, just about anyone should be able to. If you haven't found out from the Alamo Soup post, we can be pretty inept. Best of luck, get you some of that schnit.

The Truth Comes Out

Luke's last post is nothing but a foul, malicious lie. According to his story, we were slounching about on our haunchy laurels and choosing to be sedentary and lame. According to him, we just didnt feel like getting our hands dirty in the muddy, bug-infested pool of culinary excellence.

The Truth, however, is much more sinister.

You see, if we'd had time to be cooking up a storm, we certainly would have been. If we'd had the opportunity to explore the wonderful world of tasty dishes and exciting possibilities, we'd have been on that like butter on bread. The only problem is, we were busy being KIDNAPPED BY OUTER SPACE ALIENS!!!!!

Here's exactly what went down. We were actually in the kitchen, and brainstorming about our next potential culinary adventure, when I suddenly saw a bright flashing light outside of the window. Lukas was horribly frightened and shivering in the corner like the flimsy yellow coward he is; I, on the other hand, wanted to explore this new development and expand my knowledge on its existence and meaning. After a few promises of Scooby Snacks, he agreed to investigate, quivering like a thing that holds arrows.

The aforementioned flashy bright thingie turned out to be a decently large flying saucer; I would just call it a saucer, because at the time it was most certainly not flying, but to call it simply a "saucer" would seem rather anticlimactic. Anyways, to make a short story even shorter, we were absconded by these aliens (who looked curiously like Zydrunas Ilgauskas, but slightly taller) and were forcibly thrown in the cargo hold. It only took me about 10 minutes to figure out a brilliant escape plan, but due to crazy alien time-bending stuff and some very strange applications of the theory of relativity, it ended up being about a month later when we returned.

Luke tried to cover up the story with his lies of complacency, but I think that you all deserve to know the truth. And you know what the really funny thing is? After Luke made that post, the same thing happened again, and that's why THIS post is very late as well. Aliens... what are ya gonna do, ya know?

That said, I think Luke will have a series of posts quite soon about his amazing Austrian cuisine! Pumped? I am!!