Comfort Food

Knödel

This morning we woke up to a shockingly cold 7F! I had to take our dog to the vet for some shots and her annual prescription of doggie valium to calm her nerves on New Year’s Eve, and it was not pretty. It takes forever to get dressed in five layers of inner and outer wear when it’s this cold, not to mention putting on boots and gloves. The car was covered in ice, which I had to scrape off while my dog was sitting in the back shivering despite the fact that she has developed a very thick coat of fur, and that she weighs about 70lbs.

She also hates going to the vet and her barking and growling at tiny little dogs makes me feel like a bad mother who doesn’t have a handle on her unruly child. It’s particularly embarrassing when we get mean stares from people with rabbits and hamsters who she growls at like she is about to devour them. But all her wolf like behavior disappears when it comes to fire works. And fire works are BIG here. As soon as Christmas is over, the fire works and fire crackers start, culminating in a night of madness come New Year’s Eve. Based on the sound and the clouds of smoke hanging over the city, one would think Vienna was in the middle of a war. It’s beautiful to watch though, but nothing nice when you are a frightened dog. Which is where the doggie valium comes in very handy…

Cold weather calls for appropriate food, so I decided to make Tiroler Speckknödel (Tyrolean bacon dumplings) today. They are comforting and hearty, the kind of food that used to feed loggers and farmers back in the day. The original recipe calls for Tiroler Speck, which is a cured and salted ham that’s very popular in Austria and the northern Italian province of Alto Adige. Regular bacon will suffice though if you can’t find it. The Knödel are made with tiny cubes of dried white bread, which is sold here as Semmelwürfeln (Semmeln = a typical Austrian type of bread; Würfeln = cubes).

Tiroler Speckknödel (serves 4)
150g Semmelwürfel or tiny cubes of dried white bread
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
80g Tiroler Speck or any other bacon, finely diced
100ml milk
2 eggs
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt

1. Put bread cubes in a large bowl.
2. Melt butter and saute onion for one to two minutes, then mix into bread cubes.
3. Add flour and bacon to bread cubes.
4. Whisk together milk, eggs, parsley, and salt in a small bowl and pour over bread cubes.
5. Mix well and let sit for 15 minutes.
6. The resulting batter should be moist, but neither too dry nor too mushy. If the batter is too dry, add more milk. If it looks to mushy, add some extra flour.
7. Using about 2 tablespoons per dumpling, shape the batter into small balls between the palms of your hands. Make sure the dumplings are compact and smooth on the outside, otherwise they will fall apart during cooking.
8. Heat water in a large pot and add 1 tablespoon of salt.
9. When the water is lightly simmering, reduce heat and add the Knödel. Cover halfway with lid and simmer lightly for 15 minutes. Be careful not to let water simmer too rapidly as this will cause the dumplings to disintegrate.
10. Lift dumplings out of water with a slotted spoon and let rest on a plate for a few minutes before serving.

Sprinkle finely chopped chives over dumplings and serve with a simple green salad and thin slices of radish. Enjoy!

Here’s to a happy and healthy New Year! I hope 2011 will bring good things to every one of you. See you next year. :-)

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Christmas in Vienna

Christmas in Vienna

Vienna is magical for Christmas. The streets are beautifully decorated with lights, shop windows tempt with all manners of Christmas cookies and sweets, and the traditional Christmas markets will get even the worst grinch in a festive mood. The air is filled with the fragrant scent of Punsch and Glühwein (spiced wine), roasted chestnuts, and Lebkuchen (ginger bread). And if you’re lucky, you may even get a glimpse of Christkind delivering presents on Christmas Eve…

I wish everyone a magical Christmas filled with peace, love, and great food!

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Christmas Cookies: Vanillekipferln

Vanillekipferln

I am finally back to blogging, and I’ve got tons of fun stuff coming your way! Christmas is by far my favorite holiday with all the great seasonal foods and festive atmosphere. Christmas cookies are a huge tradition in Austria, and my family is no exception. Every year, my mom starts baking in November filling tin after tin with the most delicious cookies, which are “off limits” before Christmas, but the best part is sneaking as many as we can…

Vanillekipferln (vanilla crescents) are probably one of the most iconic Christmas cookies in Austria. They are delicate with a crisp bite, coated with powdered sugar that’s been subtly flavored with vanilla. In order to achieve the perfect crispness and full aroma, it is crucial to let them rest in tins for at least two weeks. They are definitely worth the wait! If you can’t find vanilla sugar, you can make your own by flavoring powdered sugar with vanilla beans.

Vanillekipferln
170g butter (unsalted!), cut into cubes
50g powdered sugar
70g almonds, ground
270g flour
4 egg yolks

200g powdered sugar mixed with 3 tablespoons vanilla sugar for coating

1. Combine butter, powdered sugar, almonds, and flour and knead until a smooth dough forms.
2. Form into a log, tightly cover with plastic wrap, and let rest overnight in the refrigerator.
3. Cut dough into slices.
4. Roll slices into small balls, and using your palms, roll balls into thin logs.
5. Shape logs into crescents.
6. Preheat oven to 200C and bake crescents for about 8 minutes. Be careful not to let them take on color.
7. When they are cool enough to handle, carefully dip and roll them in the mixed powdered and vanilla sugars.
8. Store in tins for about two weeks.

Enjoy!

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Risotto With Pears And Taleggio

Risotto With Pears And Taleggio

Ooops…it’s been a while since I last blogged. I’ve been taking a much needed break over the long Thanksgiving weekend and enjoyed the beautiful fall weather in New Orleans along with some great food (watch out for future posts). Can’t believe it’s already December! Time seems to be flying these days. While I’m not a fan of cold winter weather, I do love December for all the special seasonal foods that pop up at Christmas markets all over Austria. And then there are my mom’s Christmas cookies, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

In the meantime, here is a wonderful dish to keep you cozy on a cold December night. The juicy pears in this dish still carry the flavors of fall, while the buttery browned onions and richness of the risotto are a nod to winter comfort food. The saltiness of the Taleggio nicely contrasts with the sweet pears and onions and provides the risotto with an extra layer of luxurious creaminess.

Risotto With Pears And Taleggio (serves 6)
420g risotto rice (arborio or vialone nano)
300g taleggio, cut into small cubes
1 pear, cored and cut into small cubes (peel on)
2 small onions
white wine
vegetable broth
parsley, finely chopped
celery leaves, finely chopped
butter
extra virgin olive oil

1. Finely chop 1 onion and sautee in large pan for 2 minutes.
2. Add rice and stir for 1 minute.
3. Deglaze with wine and let evaporate, stirring.
4. Add half the chopped pear, and some of the vegetable stock.
5. When stock has been absorbed, add more stock, stirring frequently. Cook until rice is al dente.
6. Thinly slice other onion.
7. While risotto finishes cooking, heat walnut sized piece of butter in pan over high heat.
8. When butter turns brown, add sliced onion and cook until slightly browned.
9. Add remaining cubed pear, and cook until lightly browned.
10. When risotto is al dente, add walnut sized piece if butter and stir through.
11. Reserve a handful of taleggio, and stir the rest through the risotto.
12. Plate risotto and top with taleggio cubes, sliced onion, and pear.
13. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and celery leaf.

Enjoy!

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