Friday, April 27, 2012

Kids Make Wiener Schnitzel

It takes a tough kid to make a tender schnitzel
By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Our food appreciation classes have landed in Austria on their virtual world culinary tour and we went straight for a classic dish: Wiener schnitzel. That means veal cutlet in the Viennese style, traditionally pounded thin with a mallet, then dredged in bread crumbs and fried.
Many people object to veal--the meat of a male beef calf--because of the way it is raised. Too often the calves are confined to small crates, prevented from moving to keep their flesh tender. They may be deprived of iron to keep the meat pale.

Veal is a natural consequence of the dairy industry. Cows must give birth in order to produce milk and half the calves they bear are males, which do no good in the dairy barn. Despite the controversy surrounding veal, we don't want to shiled our kids from the issues, but rather teach them how to make better choices without eliminating entire chapters from the culinary lexicon. So we bought our veal from Whole Foods, which assures customers that its veal calves are raised on pasture, where they can romp with other cows.

But if you still have a problem with veal, you can substitute chicken breast in this recipe. (I don't know of a vegetarian option.)

Figure 1 pound of veal cutlets for four to six persons. First you'll need to make some bread crumbs. Two thick slices from a country-style loaf should do. Tear the white part from the crust in small pieces and bake these in a 350-degree oven until they are completely dry and show the first signs of browning around the edges. When they've cooled, you can chop them fine, or run them through a food processor.

Next, use a tenderizing mallet or another heavy object such as a rolling pin to pound the veal cutlets thin. They will of course grow wider and longer as they get thinner. For our classes, we placed the cutlets between sheets of plastic wrap to keep our mallet clean.
Schnitzel with red cabbage and Caesar salad
To fry the cutlets, you'll want a large, heavy skillet filled with cooking oil to a depth of about 1/8 inch. Nearby, make a dredging assembly line. We used three aluminum pans for this, one containing about 1 cup all-purpose flour seasoned with salt, the second containing 2 eggs beaten with a bit of water, and the third containing our bread crumbs. Heat the skillet over moderately high heat until the oil is hot and shimmering, then dredge one of your cutlets first in the flour, then in the egg mix, then in the bread crumbs. Lower the cutlet into the oil and fry until golden on both sides. You'll probably want to fry two cutlets at a time. Drain them on paper towels and hold in a warm oven before serving.

We used our portable butane burner for this so that we could set up the entire dredging and cooking operation on our prep table in front of the kids. In smaller groups, the older kids can take charge of the dredging and frying, but they must be very careful around the hot oil.

You can serve the finished schnitzel with almost any kind of side dish: french fries, braised cabbage, spaetzle. Use your imagination, but by all means include a wedge of lemon. Our kids could not get enough.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Kids Make Spaetzle

Spaetzle: messy but good

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

Marco Polo notwithstanding, most food cultures seem to have some version of a noodle in their culinary arsenals. Germany may have the messiest. Called "spaetzle"--or "little sparrows"--this noodle starts with a sticky dough that falls somewhere between pancake batter and library paste and must be pressed through holes into a pot of boiling water.

What? You say you don't care for clouds of steam billowing up your sleeve? You aren't ready to make a gooey, sticky mess out of your favorite box grater? Pish, posh. Spaetzle, it turns out, are quite delicious and worth a little extra pain in the kitchen. Think of a noodle that's almost a pastry, flavored with a bit of nutmeg.

The great dilemma in non-German culinary circles is that most kitchens are not equipped with the standard spaetzle making tool, which looks like a long grater or a plain with large holes. It typically comes with a metal cup to hold the dough, the cup sliding back and forth over the holes. The holes cut the dough, which then dribbles into the boiling water to form the "little sparrows."

Some cooks improvise by pressing the dough through a colander. I think the holes in most colanders are too small, so I opt for my box grater. You have to hold the box grater at an angle over the boiling water so that the dough falls through the opening and not onto the opposite inside wall of the grater.

Once you've got all that figured out, making the actual spaetzle is a snap.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup all-purpose flour with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper and 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg. In a second bowl, beat two eggs with 1/4 cup milk. Pour the egg mix into the dry ingredients and stir until a smooth, sticky dough forms.

Over a large pot of boiling water, using a stiff rubber or plastic spatula, scrape portions of dough against the large holes of a box grater (or your favorite spaetzle tool), allowing the dough to dribble into the water and cook. Repeat this process until you've used all of the dough. When the noddles are fully cooked, drain them into a colander.

For the finishing touch, melt about 4 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Over moderately high heat, add the spaetzle and cook, tossing frequently, until the noodles show just the slightest hint of browning.

We served the finished noodles with some brown gravy. They make an ideal side dish to a typical German meal of sausage and braised red cabbage, in which case they are even better dressed with a little gravy.

Friday, April 13, 2012

No trick to making this delicious side dish

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

It's hard to believe anything as simple as cooking red cabbage in a pot could taste so good. But red cabbage may be one of the most underrated of vegetables. With so much nutritional value--to say nothing of the stunning visuals it brings to the dinner plate--we should find more occasions to use it.

"This is your brain on cabbage," I told the kids in my food appreciation classes. And the cross-section of a red cabbage sliced in half does look a bit brainy. At least I thought so. "I think it looks like the inside of a cathedral," said one of the more precocious kids.

In any case, what you'll need to make a family-sized helping of this delicious side dish is little more than a red onion, a red cabbage, some red wine and red wine vinegar and a few spices. It cooks best in a heavy lidded pot. I can't think of anything to go better with a gamy dish such as venison tenderloin, or perhaps your favorite German sausage.

Start by chopping the onion into medium dice and sauteing in olive oil (or bacon grease) over moderately high heat until softened, about five minutes. I like to season the onion aggressively with salt to draw out the liquid. Then add 1/2 head red cabbage, roughly chopped. Stir in 1/4 cup red wine (we used a non-alcoholic wine in our classes) plus 1/4 cup red wine vinegar. Add 1 apple, peeled and grated, and a bouquet garni consisting of 4 whole allspice berries and four peppercorns tied up in cheesecloth. Push this to the bottom of the pot so that it's submerged in the liquid.

Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and cook slowly for about 45 minutes, or until the cabbage is cooked through and tender. After removing from the heat, fish out the bouquet garni and discard. Then for the finishing touch, stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. You can make this less sweet if you want. But red cabbage really calls for cookie spices to bring out its innate flavors.

I don't know any kid who doesn't like red cabbage cooked this way. You could almost serve it for dessert.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Kids Make Sauerrueben

Squishing grated turnips with your hands

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

Touring Northern Europe, my food appreciation classes recently got their hands deep into the food. They were making sauerrueben, a version of fermented turnips very much like sauerkraut, but t0 my mind much better. Sauerrueben has a nuttiness and depth of flavor most sauerkrauts lack. Tossed with sauteed onions, it works great next to a Polish sausage, for instance.

All you have to do is grate some turnips and add salt. Truly, this is more a formula than a recipe. For every five pounds of grated turnips, mix in 3 tablespoons pickling salt (or substitute sea salt or kosher salt--no chemicals allowed, including iodine). You can make more or less, depending on your needs.

What you see in the photo above is one of my students mixing the turnips with her hands. This is the most fun part, although the kids are crazy for peeling and grating turnips as well. Anything involving a kitchen tool will keep them focused for hours. But there's nothing like squishing sloppy, grated turnips through your fingers to get the juices flowing--literally.

We are fermenting our turnips--about 10 pounds--in a ceramic crock made for that very purpose. Otherwise, I would use a plastic bucket from the paint store. You just need a tight-fitting ceramic or glass plate (or a piece of non-resinous hard wood cut to size) to lay over the top of the turnips. Salt draws the water out of the turnips, creating a brine that should cover not only the turnips, but whatever object you are using to hold them down. For good measure, place something heavy--like a plastic jug filled with water--on top to weigh everything down and keep it submerged.

What happens next is a kind of culinary miracle. A procession of bacteria will multiply in your brine, creating lactic acid that inhibits noxious organisms. The bacteria feed on the turnips to survive. So you might say that the finished sauerrueben--or any fermented food, for that matter--has undergone a process of rot.

Sounds rather unpleasant, and there is a bit of odor to go with the fermentation. But it sure tastes good. Just put your crock in a cool dark place for a few weeks, covered with a tea towel. And I love teaching kids how our ancestors dealt with food preservation before they had refrigerators.

The bacteria are happiest in an ambient temperature of around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Check on their progress periodically. You'll know your sauerrueben is done by tasting.

You can store your finished sauerrueben in the refrigerator, which will slow the fermentation process to a crawl. I've had it as much as two years later and it was not only edible, but incredibly delicious.

This is one science experiment you can definitely eat for dinner.