So not long after moving here I shoved my American cookbooks to the back of the shelf and started picking up German magazines and cookbooks. Things have gone better since then. Now when I am in the States and cook something, I have the opposite problem. There's no Quark in America, Gouda cheese is overpriced, the ground meat is not ground fresh while I wait and it's so full of fat that a ton of grease needs to be drained, Butterschmalz (ghee) costs way too much if it's available at all and making enough of it for Schnitzel takes a good hour, and I can't find the right kind of potatoes.
It's not really all that surprising that the same food isn't available in both countries, so you learn to adapt. But since moving here and getting comfortable with German recipes, I've noticed some interesting differences in the instructions.
Almost all American recipes tell the cook what size pan, pot, and/or casserole dish to use. "Grease a 9x13-inch pan." "In a 10-quart casserole dish..." "Use a 1 1/2-quart microwave-safe bowl..." Sometimes it just says, "In a large frying pan..." On the bottom of all or most pans, pots, and casserole dishes, you can find their size - in quarts or inches diameter.
German recipes let the cook decide for himself which pots and pans he'll use. I think he's supposed to know that based on the amount of meat (in grams or kilos) or veggies the recipe calls for. Martin laughs every time he sees the pan size specified in an American recipe. I think to him that's like telling someone what size pants to put on in the morning.
Stove burner setting
Every American recipe I've seen tells the cook which stove temperature to use when frying, boiling, etc. "Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat" is one step for making Pepper Steak Sandwiches. This instruction is for frying the meat, and it defies everything Martin has taught me about cooking meat. Heat the pan first, and on high! Then add the oil! When the oil is nice and hot, add the meat. It should sizzle straight away. Don't heat the pan only to medium-high, because when you add the meat the pan will cool down and the meat will be boiling rather than frying. Now I know why I often screwed up this recipe when I made it in Wisconsin.
German recipes don't tell the cook which temperature to use on the stove. They use verbs, for instance:
braten = fry
anbraten = brown or sautee
anschwitzen = lightly sautee
aufkochen = bring to a boil
If you don't know what setting to use on the stove to achieve those things, figure it out through trial and error or stay out of the kitchen. (That's the message I get from German recipes.)
German recipes call for tablespoons and teaspoons, but beyond that all solid ingredients are by weight in grams or kilos and liquid is by volume in liters or milliliters (ml). Every German kitchen has a metric scale onto which the cook puts a bowl or plate and resets the tare weight to zero, and then measures the ingredient. 1 1/4 cups of flour comes to 280 grams. One cup of butter is 227 grams, but one cup of crushed walnuts is 97 grams. No more "3/4 cup firmly packed" brown sugar - packed or not, you need 132 grams for Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies.
Tablespoons and teaspoons, however, can get confusing. In America, "T" means tablespoon and "t" (uncapitalized) means teaspoon. Every American cook knows that. In German all nouns are capitalized, so "TL" is Teelöffel (teaspoon) and "EL" is Esslöffel (eating spoon or tablespoon). The first few times I cooked with a German recipe, I saw "TL" and automatically thought "Tablespoon" because of the capitalization. With salt or lemon juice, for instance, that can be dangerous. I usually caught myself before mixing anything, but I do remember several times having to dig out 2 teaspoons of some herb or spice (because apparently 1T = 3t).
We have measuring utensils for both metric and cups and ounces in our kitchen, so that makes it a little easier to adapt the recipes that do work on both continents. Martin still refuses to accept "ounce" as a unit of measure, though. "What kind of ridiculously illogical system is that? What's three-fourths of a cup?! It depends on the size of the cup! There are 16 ounces in a pound? You've got to be kidding me." Sadly, the delightfully logical and mathematical metric system - which my third grade teacher assured us America was going to switch to very soon - is difficult for me. I have always sucked at math (just ask my dad; the phrase "one half of one percent" still brings me to tears), so on the occasions when I have to turn liters into fractions in the midst of preparing a meal ("Shit! I need 1/3 liter, and there's no mark for that on the measuring cup!"), I crumble. Martin always raises an eyebrow when I have to write on a recipe next to where it says "1/4 liter Milch", "250 ml".
I have become an absolute believer in buying meat from a trusted local butcher. Not a butcher in a grocery store, but a real, trained, certified butcher who does business out of a store that doesn't also sell clothing and auto parts. In Germany even the butchers in the grocery store have to be specially trained and certified through an educational program that takes several years, but I'm guessing the meat is still shipped in on trucks from heaven knows where. I can go to our local butcher (a 10-minute walk) and tell her or any of her employees what I want to cook, and she'll pick out the right meat for me if I'm unsure exactly what I need. Those working at the butcher's counter in the grocery store don't have time for that. It's true that the meat is more expensive - in some cases twice as expensive as at the grocery store - but we are convinced the quality is better. Nothing is pre-packaged or pre-cut, the ground meat is not pre-ground, and the animals were born, raised, and slaughtered in Baden-Württemberg.
When I do buy ground beef from the grocery store out of laziness, Martin can always tell. If he walks in while I'm frying beef for tacos, he sniffs the air and says, "Beef from Real?" (Real [RAY-al] is the closest grocery store to us, and it's similar to a decent grocery store plus Target.) He says it just has a funny smell, though I can't tell the difference. There's also more fat in the Real ground beef, although still not enough to have to drain it after frying like ground beef in the U.S..
In Germany I can go to any butcher and ask for "four pork Schnitzel." I have no idea what part of the pig that comes from, and "Schnitzel" just means "cutlet". I went to a butcher in Sheboygan (with a German-sounding name even!) last year and asked for ten pork Schnitzel, and got a blank stare.
Guy: "Do you mean pork chops?"
Me: "No, Schnitzel. No bones. Ok, how about ten slices of that hunk of pork?" (I pointed to what I wanted.)
Guy: "Well, we have these boneless pork chops [already cut]. What about these?"
Me: "No, this piece of pork really looks like what I need. Ten slices, about 1 centim...er, about half an inch thick."
Guy: "Let me just talk to my boss. Hang on a sec." [He disappears into the back, and reappears with boss.]
Boss: "Hi Ma'am. Are you sure you want slices of this? We have...."
Me: "No, I'm really sure. I don't want pork chops. Ten slices of this will be just perfect."
Boss: "Ok, we'll see what we can do."They went into the back again without the hunk of pork I'd pointed to, and one of them re-emerged after a few minutes with a plate of ten slices of pork which looked right. I'm not sure why they didn't just use the exact piece of meat I'd ask for, but I took it, and it worked perfectly. At our butcher here, they cut the meat in front of us, we know exactly what we're getting, and we've never been dissatisfied. We've had good and bad luck at the grocery store.
Cooking at home
Martin and I truly enjoy cooking together. We're a darn good team in the kitchen, and he doesn't get upset when he comes home after ten hours in the office and needs to brown the beef or pork steaks because he's better at it than I am. I don't spring this on him - we usually decide by lunch what we're cooking that evening. I do the Bratkartoffeln, he does the Rösti, he grills (yes, friends, I'm still afraid of grills and always will be), I make the casseroles, he does the sauce or gravy because I don't have the patience, he flattens the Schnitzel and I flour, egg, and bread them. He sharpens the knives, I do the dishes, and whichever one of us notices the floor needs washing washes it.
There's one drawback, though, and that is that our standards are not as low as they once were for dining out! We enjoy the meals we cook so much (though yes, we've had some duds, of course) that we question paying for a meal we'll probably like less. The obvious exception is our favorite restaurant, where we've tried almost everything on the menu and haven't yet had something we wouldn't gladly order again. There are also quite a few restaurants in Esslingen that we really like. But beyond those, I don't get excited about dining out anymore. Why dine out when your own home-cooked meals are so good (and less expensive!)? I'm not saying we're fabulous cooks - rather that we like the meals we cook.
Here are some of our favorites (I am working on the quality of my food pictures, which will hopefully improve soon.):
|Bauernfrühstück - Farmer's Breakfast|
potatoes, pork tenderloin, bacon, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms...
|Kartoffel-Apfel-Auflauf mit Kasseler|
Potato-Apple-Casserole with Kasseler
One of my favorites; not Martin's
|Züricher Geschnetzeltes mit Rösti|
Zurich Ragout with hashbrowns
I could eat this at least once a week.
|Rösti after flipping, which Martin does expertly|