Summer Freshness! Rumtopf oder Compote


, , , , , , , , , , ,


a spot of sunshine in a bowl

Celebrating the sun and the heat with simple foods that don’t weigh us down, that’s the Summer we all want. After a long dark Winter of heavy comfort foods that keep us feeling full and energized, not to mention warm, Summertime salads hit the spot. In Northern Michigan we have had an on again/off again relationship with the heat. Currently we are sitting in the 60s when our normal temps are in the upper 70s to 80s. Nonetheless, the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables can not be missed! Preserving Summer’s bounty to last as long into the year as possible is the hallmark of German cuisine. Preserved meats seem to be the thing most Americans are familiar with. Rumtopf is another standby in the rich German food tradition.

Rumtopf accumulates ripe Summer fruits during the season. As they become available the coarse cut fruit is added to a pot and topped off with Rum. Strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and currants go into a pot to stew in their own liquid with that rum to activate the process. Red fruits seem to be the most common. However, any fruit harvested in season will work. Keep stone fruits together in one collection of plums, apricots, peaches and quince though. I suspect the flesh of these will break down faster.

I’ve had rumtopf once. And it was an experience that proves two things. One bad cook can ruin and entire nation’s reputation and always use the best ingredients. A cheap rum, such as what was used in the batch I tried as a kid, destroys the entire effect. And, because there are bad cooks everywhere, you can not let one experience keep you from exploring further. It is a treat when you get the good stuff right off. But it is an adventure to find better examples.

Sadly, I won’t be making rumtopf this year as I am currently unemployed. So instead, we leave the rum out of this recipe and kick up the compote with flavored sugar. Vanilla sugar is the most common flavor enhancer used in Germany. I find very few recipes that call for anything else. But I also know that the Germans aren’t afraid of the bold flavors.

So this compote has a healthy dose of Lavender Sugar in it. I know what you must be thinking; it tastes like soap. But no, it does not. In fact, the stringent quality of the lavender mixed with strawberries, raspberries and blackberries gives a near perfect balance of flavors. I say near perfect because there is one fruit I am hesitant to use lavender with.

Due to allergies, we leave cherries out of a third of the mix. After sampling both mixes with and without cherries I can say that I wouldn’t mix them with this herb. For what ever reason the lavender seems to enhance the bitter taste of the cherry skin which actually destroys the flavor of the cherry flesh. We’ll still eat it. But next time will leave it our. And we will add blueberries when they come to season.





, ,


galium odoratum: sweet woodruff. Also known as sweet bedstraw, and bedstraw, or wild baby’s breath. Native to much of Europe and Asia, limited naturalization in North America this species belongs to the rubiaceae family. 

We were trekking through tornado torn Glen Arbor a few weeks ago and stopped in to Wildflowers. As we were on a mission for trilliums, which Alex has been cultivating for a few years now, I wasn’t really expecting to find any thing that I couldn’t live without. Until we passed a tray of woodruff.

I’ve been studying this plant since discovering Waldmeister flavored gelatin. I knew these perky little guys immediately and I might have squealed a little. Then I saw the wildflower beds set for display. A carpet of woodruff surrounded each of the birches! After my housemate found her triliums I went back for a 6 pack of woodruff. It smelled just like the gelatin! Eating it doesn’t taste much like it. But the smell! Any time you ruffle your fingers through these flowers is smells like dessert!

So we brought these guys home and stuck them in the hillside. They should take over fairly easily. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources will be naturalizing this plant to protect it from developers. It is not native to Michigan. Brought over by our Immigrant Ancestors™, it is largely ignored by most of the citizenry. Alex is cultivating it because it is a prolific plant that works hard to control erosion along riverbeds. No one really knows that much about it here, so I wasted no time telling him!

My goal is to have these plants spread enough this Summer to make my own mai bowle next year. Aside from it’s herbaceous qualities, it is really just a perky and adorable little plant worth being in any wildflower garden.



Panna Cotta, That’s NOT German!


, , , , , , ,


~ cool layered dessert

Puddings, custards or a panna cotta. They are all  very similar in texture it is the construction that differs. Custards are thickened with egg, puddings most often with corn starch and panna cotta with gelatin. This recipe is a German Italian fusion. Using Giada deLaurentis’ panna cotta recipe as a base, we are going to Deutsch it up a bit with a key substitute. Waldmeister Götterspeise.

One thing to note here, no where does this recipe say that the dessert will separate into two layers. When I unpotted these I was quite surprised by the result. I also had used only 3 cups of half and half. That may have contributed to the issue. I added an extra cup to this recipe because a packet is more than the one tablespoon that Giada’s recipe calls for. And with the extra cup you will have a fluffier dessert than the dense creamy bottom I got.


  • 1 Cup whole milk
  • 1 packet of waldmeister flavored gelatin
  • 4 cups half and half
  • 1/3 Cup honey or 1/4 cup of agave nectar
  • 1 TBS sugar
  • pinch of salt

Add whole milk to a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin pack over it. Let sit for 3-5 minutes to let the gelatin soften.

Next pout this mixture into a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the gelatin dissolves but the milk does not boil. Then pour in the half and half, sweeteners and salt. Cook while stirring until the sugar dissolves, about 5-7 minutes.

Remove from heat

Pour into chosen moulds.

A note about moulds. You can use anyting. This kind of pudding done German style can be very rustic, use simple items like coffee cups or 2-3 ounce dessert bowls which will give you a well rounder dome. Restaurant dishes like the square server I used are trendy. For specially themed parties you can use a mini bundt or kugelhopf pan,  mini jell-o moulds for individual servings. Or you could use a large old fashioned mould for a larger dessert display.

A thinner panna cotta will start to melt the moment it is served. For the thicker one like mine use only 3 cups of half and half to the one packet of gelatin. This will hold up well to sitting out for a time.

Chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours to allow this to set properly. If you are using individual moulds lining them up on a baking tray before filling will make transport and storage much much easier.

To turn out the panna cotta, run a knife dipped in hot water around the edges. Set into a shallow bowl of hot water to loosen. Lay the serving plate upside down over the top of mould, flip over. It should release with a slurp or a pop.

Garnish as desired. I used an actual sprig of waldmeister.




, , , , ,


dressed coleslaw

Summer picnics in the States are replete with the interpretations of dishes brought from Europe by our Immigrant Ancestors™. Potato salads and coleslaw abound. We have three very basic kinds of potato salad; yellow potato salad, standard with egg, standard without egg, and one kind of coleslaw. In America, German potato salad is dressed with a vinegar & mustard base and served warm. And coleslaw is a single note salad drenched in a cream dressing. A little research revealed a good many varieties of coleslaw in German Cuisine. One recipe can be found here. It almost presents like kimchi with the addition of carrots and peppers.

This slaw is green cabbage, red pepper, vidalia onion and the dressing. It is prepared with the method used in the link above. Core the cabbage and remove the harder large parts of the bracts near the base. These are bitter and not very tender at all. You can always freeze the bits to use in making vegetable stock later. I chose to feed the wild rabbits. Once cabbage is sliced, sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt as in the method in the link.

My dressing is as follows

  • 1/3 C rice vinegar
  • 1-2 tablespoons celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Mix the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together. Let sit for about 20 minutes while you prep the rest of the salad.

Drain the water that has wept from the cabbage.

Cut the red pepper and onion into thin slices, add to the cabbage. Pour dressing over the salad and toss. Let sit over night in the refrigerator.

I sampled this in two hour intervals. It most definitely needs to sit in the fridge! The salt treatment lets the flavors get into the cabbage. Because the dressing was not cooked first, which would have made more of a refrigerator pickle consistency, it needs over night for the flavors to really get together well. It is even better the second day.

American palates be warned… this is not the coleslaw you buy in the store. It is not the coleslaw that your grandparents made. We are used to the creamy, runny slaw. Try this recipe at least once. It is a healthy alternative to traditional coleslaw, will keep better at a picnic and won’t sit heavy in your stomach.

Lamm Salat


, , , , , , , , ,


Lamb strips, frisee, halved cherry tomatoes, sweet onions, feta cheese and onion balsamic vinaigrette.

Making dinner for four on short notice is not easy. And by short notice I mean there was only 45 minutes warning. Lamb steak for one turned into lamb salad for four rather quickly. Fresh lettuce and veggies had already been purchased for a standard dinner salad so really all that needed to be done was the steak. And to find the Germanic twist.

It is Spring everywhere it should be except in the Northern United States and Lecker has been rolling out the Spring salad issues like crazy. Inspired by Lecker, the German twist in this recipe is the dressing for the salad made with a German condiment, onion jam.

Not as common as mustard and curry ketchup, onion jam seems to be one of those things that came to England from their immigrant ancestors. As will happen, everyone has their variations. In Northern Michigan that variation comes in the form of a balsamic oinion jam from Fustini’s 

Once the lamb has been seasoned and broiled and left to rest, it is time to prepare the dressing. Take two tablespoons of jam and melt it down then add the olive oil and a splash of fig vinegar to create a vinegrette.

Slice the lamb into thin strips and lay on top of the salad then drizzle some dressing over your favorite ingredients.

German Style Board Games


, ,


All aboard!

The 1950s began the Cold War Years. In the Post WWII era board games took on a new character of cooperation, eliminating the violence and Winner Take All mentality of American styled games like Monopoly. The Depression Era fantasies of quick riches and the games of chance gave way to society building games that evened the playing odds of winning. A global trend in games came in the 1990s, reviving game night. My own personal experience with German Style board games began with the Ravensburger brand of games.

One of the things that I appreciated the most with these games is the quality of the materials, the package-feel. The visuals are stunning as well. Moreover, the game mechanics are simple enough to learn quickly but keep things interesting with the interaction of players. 1995’s Settlers of Cataan has taken the world by storm. It is the gateway game to others of its genre.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAEnter Ticket to Ride. Designed by Alan R. Moon, an Englishman based in the States, for Days of Wonder. Tabletop, a Youtube production by Wil Wheaton demonstrates game play in this face paced and riveting episode. I’ve been dying to get this game ever since. And for Easter weekend I did.  We played at a friend’s house. It was a lot of fun; everything that one expects from these kinds of games.


Game of the Year 2004, Germany

Your cross-country quest involves claiming routes between specific destinations as well as trying to claim the longest chain of rail cars. The mechanics are simple; collect sets of cards in numbers which correspond with the length of a route, block your opponents to prevent them from making long routes and try not to gain too much attention when you do it. There are a few different strategies for success. The one that you chose actually depends on the character of those you play with. Some people will be distracted by table talk or manipulated facial expressions.Others will be very methodical in their progress across the board and forget that there is anyone else on the board. Due to the nature of the game, team play is actually possible. When one player gets a clear lead the others can stymie the leader’s advance with coordinated efforts to block routes.

A game of Ticket to Ride goes pretty quickly, usually about a half an hour to 45 minutes. Because things change with each player’s turn there is little chance to be bored or distracted. As players have more experience with the game, play is quicker and the margins for winning shorten. The tension among experienced players creates a dynamic game. I am looking forward to the next game night.





daily newal

Matthias Reim’s new album comes out in April. The closer it gets the more excited I am for it. The songs are available to sample on the website. I don’t know how he manages to blend so many styles together so seamlessly, but he does and it is amazing. I am told that this album is more autobiographical than the others. I’ve always thought they were anyway. But we won’t get into the music theory and creative process in this post. I will say that it is purposefully autobiographical and call it good.

One of the things that excites me about the new album is the iconography. The text and symbols are beautiful and reflect the nature of the album… Phoenix. Of course I am the weird font geek and you all could have figured that out on your own. But when you go to the website to listen to the music look at the album’s design. It is just gorgeous. The font and flourishes totally convey the strength in this new album.

So far, my favorites are Erlöse mich (release me),Träume (dream), and das Lied (the song). I have a few weeks before the album comes out so we will see if those choices hold up upon hearing the entire song. We will also see if this is going to be an album that helps heal some hurt. The impetus that started me listening to Matthias left some scars that simple “muscling through” won’t heal. “Move on” does’t seem to be the answer. The further I get from the source of both my greatest joy and greatest sorrow the less platitudes help. And the more I realize that Time does not heal on its own. Time has to fix a lot of things and we have to help it along when we can. So I am hoping that as awesome as the samples are, and that my choices of favorites which speaks more intimately to the situation than I can go into here, mean that Time has chosen an optimist like Matthias for a helper.

I know I have. And I have not yet been disappointed by his unintentional assistance or his company along the road. When I get to the end of my sorrows I hope that some of Matthias’ good nature will have been passed along to me. I kinda miss the old me.

Something to Nosh on


, , , , , ,


crackers and cheese

Creamy, light on the blue cheese flavor and just a bit on the salty side, this cow’s milk cheese comes from the Southern German region of Allgau. French and Italian influences combine to create Cambozola.

Camembert and Gorgonzola  had a baby in the Käser’s kettle and this delightful cheese is the result. For all practical intents and purposes this is a blue cheese brie. As I said the blue is mild. The cheese is a triple cream delight so it has all of the spreadable goodness of a brie and pairs well with fruits. It is, I find, one of those rare cheeses that is well served with a seafood entree.

A collection of leftovers served for a second breakfast or a light evening repast is elevated with a schmear of Cambozola on a hearty entertainment cracker. We ate this with apple slices, leftover curry chicken salad and the remains of the baked salmon, served cold. What a delightful picnic!

Frisch gemacht!


, , ,

Spring banner

Winter time has been short this year. There are many signs that Spring is soon to arrive and unleash a bounty of color and flavor after the taste buds have been dulled by cold and thick, heavy comfort foods. As you can see from the banner, fresh herbs are on my mind. But where to find the time to prepare fresh food let alone cook?.

So tonight there is Eintopf, slow cooker meal, in the machine. The ingredients may not be quintessentially German, but the marinade most certainly is. Fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, majoram,  and blackberry wine is the key to this flavor combination. Using the whole stem and leaf assembly from the bunch at the store, I tore apart the leaf and stem and dropped them into a gallon sized zipper seal bag. Then I added two fresh gloves of garlic, slightly crushed, one half coarse chopped yellow onion, about two tablespoons of dried marjoram and a couple of teaspoons of coriander to the parsley in the bag. Zip it shut, then grind the pieces together between your fingers. I don’t have a mortar and pestle so smashing everything together in the bag was the only way to break down the oils in the fresh leaves to release the flavors. I poured one half bottle of Blackberry wine into the bag, placed the lamb shoulder in the bag and then very carefully squeezed the air out so that the meat was encapsulated in the wine and herb mixture.

In essence this is pre-cooking your meat. German cuisine employs chemical interaction to help break down the muscle tissue of meats, mostly wild meat, to make cooking and later digestion easier and quicker. Acids like wines, vinegar or a citrus juice react to the proteins in the muscle and cause the tissue to begin to break down. The other flavors that have been added find their way deeper into the muscle tissue and deepen the flavors. Wild meats, as we discussed in the Hassenpfeffer post, need 24-48 hours to marinade in some kind of acidic solution. Domestic meats from the grocery store such as the New Zeeland lamb that I picked up, should not need more than one hour to marinade. Another note about marinating meats: your meat should be at room temperature. This advice comes from the science nerd and chef Alton Brown.

The reason that a roast must come to room temperature is to avoid rapid shrinking which occurs when cold meat meets hot pans. Before any meat goes into a crock pot or a roasting pan it is seared on a hot, almost smoking pan, to seal in the juices and prevent foods from drying out. When you drop cold fish onto a hot pan you get that weird white goop that looks liked cooked egg whites. It is the protein coming out too fast and coagulating. If you drop cold red meat onto a searing hot pan your force the protein out too fast and then get a foam later when you make the broth or gravy from the marinade juices. Room temperature meats on hot pans prevents this unsightly and nasty tasting accident from occurring.

Your veggies go into the bottom of the slow cooker, lay the seared lamb shoulder on top and set the temp then leave it. Don’t lift the lid. Don’t poke at it. Just let it be for about 4 hours. And whatever you do, don’t pour in all the marinade juices! Slow cooking and braising do not need a lot of extra juice. As the fresh veggies cook they release water. As the meat roast cooks it releases more of the juices that make the broth. The lid of the slow cooker captures the steam released and deposits it back into the pot. The best thing to do with the marinade liquid is to cook it down for gravy or a light broth.

A popular side dish is red wine and shallots. I think that a couple of bulbs of shallots or pearl onions par boiled in the marinade liquid would be wonderful with this dish. I just drank the broth on a cold winter night to warm my insides while waiting the four hours for dinner to cook.

In a few weeks my cravings for fresh things will outweigh the complacency of Winter comfort foods and no matter how cold it is I will want leafy greens for salads, fresh herbs on everything and fresh fruits to boost my mood. For now though, with gusty winds tearing through the tall pines, I will dream of greener fare.

More Great Sites for German Foods



I found this site  today through my favorite Pinner, Elli Pirelli. The photos are amazing. The recipes look simple. I definitely have food envy now.

I don’t want to turn this blog into a aggregator, but these recipes and photos are too amazing no to share. The direct blog link is here. I am thinking of adding a special page to function as a hub for my information sources, like a visual bibliography. My blogging 101 class has my brain spinning.