Thursday, January 26, 2012

Zucchini Muffins and Homemade Chocolate Letters

We received a last minute invitation to a birthday dinner last weekend. Muffins and cupcakes are a great last minute treat to make because they do not take as long to bake as a cake and also cool a lot faster. Even frosting and decorating a cupcake is much easier than a cake. With our short amount of time we decided to skip the cupcakes and go a little out there. We made zucchini muffins with chocolate chips and then decorated them with powder sugar and homemade chocolate letters. They turned out pretty well for the speed we made them in and for not having any of her cake decorating supplies, which are all back in the USA. It just goes to show, no excuses! Even with a busy schedule you can cook your food fresh and make it look pretty (and still have the time to shower, do your hair and makeup!)

This recipe makes about 14 cupcakes. We made 12 cupcakes and one mini cake.

1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2  tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup zucchini (peeled and shredded)
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup walnuts, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C)

In one bowl mix flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a second bowl combine the egg, oil, milk, lemon juice, and vanilla. Mix well and then slowly mix into the dry ingredients.

Once everything is mixed, fold in the zucchini, chocolate chips, and walnuts (we skipped the nuts because of allergies).

Fill muffin cups to be about 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (ours took 22 minutes).

See? That took no time at all. With both of us working in the kitchen we had our muffins out and cooling within 35 minutes.

Once muffins are finished let cool for a few minutes and then, if using silicone muffin cups, pop them out and let finish cooling.


If you are really short on time we suggest just sifting powdered sugar over the muffins. It is quick and makes them look very nice. Do this on the day you will serve them. Powder sugar which gets damp from the muffins no longer looks very nice.

If you have a bit more time we suggest making your own chocolate letters. This is much easier if you have a pastry bad and decorating tip but you can still make it work if you don't. We used a plastic bag and poked a tiny hole in the corner with a toothpick.

All you need to make chocolate letters is some chocolate (we used 50 grams of baking chocolate), parchment paper, a bowl, a bag, and somewhere to cool the letters quickly. Because she does not like (or trust) her own handwriting, she copied the text she wanted from the computer, wrote it out and put it under the parchment paper. This way she had a guide to follow. Using this method you can make an unlimited number of styles and designs.

Melt the chocolate for about 30 seconds on high in the microwave. After 30 seconds stir and if it is not completely smooth put it in for another 15 seconds.

Scope the chocolate into your bag of choice and make a very small hole.

Place your parchment paper on something hard which can also be moved (we used a flexible cutting board). This was you can pick up your chocolate and move it to the freezer without ruining your artwork.

Slowly pipe the chocolate onto your letters. Mess up? No worries! Just wipe the paper off and start again. DO NOT USE WATER! Water ruins the texture of chocolate and will make it very challenging (and ugly) to work with. Since you will be peeling the chocolate off the paper once it is hardened it does not matter if there are little blobs here and there that you do not like.

Once finished, put the entire paper (and board) into the freezer for about 15 minutes or until hard. Once it is finished you can easily peel the letters off of the paper and place them on the cupcakes/muffins.

We were going to make a chocolate icing to stick the letters in so they would be standing up and not flat but we ran out of time. Instead, we heated up the leftover chocolate and put a tiny dab on the back of each letter so they would stick to the muffin during the car ride.

If well planned, this entire process (baking the muffins to finishing decorating) should take under 45 minutes. Almost everyone has time for that.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mix-up Monday: Keyboards (US Keyboard vs. German Keyboard)

When you move to a new country you usually prepare for the big things...different language, different food, different money, etc. The funny thing is that the stuff that ends up really sticking out and bugging you turn out to be the little things. Perhaps it is because it is small so it catches you off guard. One of these things for us turns out to be keyboards.

QWERTY Keyboard
Have you ever gone to a foreign country and tried to check your e-mail on another computer? Of course if the programs are in a different language it leads to bit of a challenge but the interesting thing is that if you need, for example, to check gmail you know gmail and it does not matter what language it is written in. Username, password, and login are in the same place as usual and you can do it without much thought. But then this think you are on a roll, no problem got my e-mail, and then you try to find the @ sign and bam! It is much harder than you thought.

We have both spent many minutes searching for the @ sign on computers and trying to figure out exactly what combination of buttons you need to push to make it show up. She has even given up at times, finding somewhere it is already written and copying and pasting it to where she needs it.

Even after years in Germany she still has to stop and think when she wants to use certain symbols. Apparently, typing becomes so natural that trying to to break the patten takes a lot of work.

A typical American keyboard
There are two major differences between a German and America keyboard. First, a German keyboard has special letters not used in English (ä, ö, ü, ß). This changes the layout of the keyboard a bit but it typically does not get in the way. When he tries to use her American computer he has to write these letters out which is pretty common in Germany (ä = ae) or ask her (even though he has asked her hundreds of times before) how he can make the letters with her keyboard (only possible because she has it set to international where pushing a pattern brings up new letters... a + " = ä). This difference, however, is not the big one that catches us both off guard all the time and unless we are consciously making a big effort, we get wrong all the time.
The most important differences between a German and American keyboard (

The keys Y and Z on the American versus German keyboard are switched. These are the only two switched letters on the entire keyboard and it seems like it would rarely be a problem, yet apparently Americans love the letter Y (Of course, it is a problem for him too but these letters are not as common in German as Y is in English). It is really obvious when she is typing on his computer. It goes something like this... Todaz was the first daz of the new zear. Then you hear a, "Ugh, I hate your stupid computer!!!" It wouldn't make a difference if she used the keyboard every single day...her fingers know where Y and Z should be and it does not want to give it up. After a few minutes it is not so bad, but those first few minutes are killer for her!

The use of a German keyboard has also shown her how many mistakes she makes (even when typing reasonably well) and how often she needs to use control + Z for undo. The mistakes really stick out when she has to stop, look down at they keyboard and remember that no, control Y was not what she was going for.

Luckily, he has his computer and she has hers...and hopefully, with a little more practice, we will both be bilingual typist :)

I am sure there are plenty of worse keyboards to learn to type with. What's your experience?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Low-Fat Spaghetti Carbonara

Like we mentioned in an earlier entry, we have been watching what we eat. That doesn't mean we are eating white rice and plain skinless boneless chicken breast for every meal. It just means that we have been experimenting in ways to cut out the fat but not the taste in well-known recipes. This spaghetti carbonara is one of these tries. It is not like what you would find in Italy but it is still creamy, delicious and won't stay behind on your thighs.

For two portions you need:

~160 g (pre-cooked) spaghetti. (This comes out to about 400 g  cooked)
1 large zucchini, grated
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 chili, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 Tbs oil
2 eggs
2 Tbs milk (or cream but milk tastes as good as and is healthier)
1 Tbs parsley
30 g grated Parmesan ( ~1 Tbs or a bit more)
dash of cayenne pepper, pepper and salt

Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions.

While the spaghetti cooks, heat the oil in a large pan on medium-high. Cook the grated zucchini, onion, garlic, and chili (you can see from this picture we have some leftover green bell pepper and added this to the recipe). Let cook through (about 5 minutes). Add the tomatoes, cayenne, pepper and salt.

In a separate bowl beat the eggs and add milk, parsley and Parmesan. Mix well.

When the spaghetti is cooked, drain and add to the pan with the zucchini. Mix together and add the egg mixture. Mix again and leave on the heat long enough that they eggs are cooked but the mixture does not become dry. This only takes a few minutes.

Serve alone or with salad.
Spaghetti Carbonara

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sweet and Spicy Chicken (Asian Style)

We don't really have a name for this dish and it is hard to come up with one. Even the recipes we pieced together to make it do not help with the naming process. Most of them just call their sauces, "Asian Sauce." Very descriptive...we know. Sweet and spicy chicken is the best we can do to describe it. You will have to make it to see exactly what we mean.

This recipe is for enough sauce to cover one chicken breast. If you are making more (or want yours to be more saucy) just double/triple/whatever it. We have doubled it and it worked just fine.

2 Tbs + 2 tsp warm water
2 Tbs brown sugar (using the brown sugar found in Germany did not seem to hurt this recipe at all!)
1 Tbs orange juice
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs ketchup
1 1/2 tsp vinegar (white)
2 cloves, garlic
1/4 tsp chili flakes (or if you us you just dump some in and then act shocked when it is very spicy :) )
A little pepper (We thought we would want salt but didn't need it because of the soy sauce)

1 Tbs olive oil (or as much as you need to cook the chicken)
1 chicken breast

Cook the chicken in the olive oil over medium heat until browned and cooked through.

While the chicken is cooking, mix the warm water with all the sauce ingredients. Mix well so that the brown sugar dissolves.If you make this before you cook the chicken give it another stir before adding it to the pan.

Once the chicken is finished cooking, pour the sauce mixture over and let boil. Reduce to a low heat and let simmer for 20-30 minutes.

The taste does not change after about 10 minutes, only the consistency. The first time we made this (and in these pictures) we let it cook the entire 30 minutes and the sauce became very thick. The second time we made this we took it off the heat early and found that we liked having thinner sauce to spread over the rice.

Serve with vegtables and rice.

If you have a better name after trying it, let us know. We are looking for suggestions...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mix-up Monday - Hand towels

We thought we would add a new element to this blog. It is not like we do not have enough recipes to share, we cook 2-3 times everyday and are always trying something new, but part of what works/is funny/is interesting about our relationship is the idea of two cultures and backgrounds living together and learning new things daily.
He grew up in Germany and other than a recent month in America has never been to the USA. She grew up in the USA and even though she studied German and has lived in Germany for a few years, she is still finding weird and strange things about the country. This, as one would guess, leads to some pretty small and pretty big misunderstandings, mix-ups, and all around confusions between him and her or between her and the culture.

We thought we would share one of these mix-ups every Monday as a way to break up the pure recipe part of the blog. We hope that you might learn something, or at least be able to laugh along with us, as we try to figure out this whole melding two cultures thing.

This mix-up just happened this weekend. It isn't anything giant, but it shows how the smallest things can turn into cultural differences. 

Hand towels:

The hand towels
In Germany, it seems to be quiet common for there to be two bars next to the sink for hand towels. On these two bars are two separate towels. He always has two matching hand towels which he puts on these bars. When he first did this she did complain about having two out (twice the washing she said! - even if he washes very often ;P) and that the hand towels couldn't even be hand towels because they are so large, but he just gave her some non-answer about how those are the hand towels and that was that. After time she would even put two out when she put the towels in the bathroom just because that was how it always was.

This weekend, after a long time of using two towels in the bathroom he asked her why the hand towels never dry out. They never dry out? She had no idea what he meant. Of course they are not always perfectly dry if they are getting used multiple times each day.

But he continued, they are both always wet. It doesn't make sense!

Turns out, she was the "wet hand towel" culprit. Apparently, her American background did not teach her how to properly use German hand towels.
An American hand towel (

If you are an American reading this, then you probably think of hand towels in the same way she does. About twice the size of a wash cloth and only one, hanging near the sink. You wash your hands, dry them, the towel gets damp but quickly dries because it is small and out in the open (not stuffed down near the sink).

Her method

 So, knowing only hand towels such as these American ones, how does she dry her hands? Who cares if there are two towels! They are so close together just use them as one. One wet hand goes on one, the other on the second towel, rub dry and ta-da. Dry hands!

The proper method

This is not proper hand towel use in Germany, she found out. You must use one towel to dry your hands, the next time if the towel on the left is still damp you may use the dry towel on the right. This then goes back and forth so that you must never dry your hands on a damp towel (oh those Germans think of everything!)

Now, he knows why the outside of both towels is always damp and she must learn to use proper hand towel ettiqute. Oh the lessons to learn!

Well, that is the first of our mix-up Mondays. Believe us, hand towels are only the beginning!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Goulash (Gulasch, gulyás, Гуляш, gulaš)

We had this goulash on Christmas and we loved it so much that we asked for the recipe and made it ourselves a few weeks later. It is perfect for a winter's night. It is also perfect for onion lovers everywhere because one recipe (which serves 2-3 people) takes EIGHT ONIONS. Yes, that's right, it was her (the onion lover of the pair) dream dish.

For this goulash  you need:
500 g cubed beef (ours said it was especially for goulash)
8 onions (medium to large)
1 diced bell pepper
1 Tbs tomato paste
1 1/2 liters water
1 Tbs mustard
1 bouillon cube or 1 Tbs bouillon powder
3 Tbs powder for gravy (or add gravy and less water)
salt, pepper, paprika, nutmeg, chili flakes

Let a stock pot get very hot on the stove. Add the meat, bell pepper and onions and let brown. Add everything else. Start with minimal salt and pepper and add as needed (you will know once it has cooked down).

Let boil for 1-1 1/2 hours. Taste and add seasonings as needed. Boiling the goulash for so long causes it  to lose almost half of its volume. This is why you do not want to season it to taste before it has finished cooking. We used 3 Tbs of chili flakes and let us tell you, it was SPICY!

Enjoy on a cold night.

Friday, January 6, 2012

HOT! Beef Chili

This chili is HOT! When we say hot, we mean, the two of us, who love spicy foods, had our noses running the entire time we ate dinner. It was that spicy. But don't let this discourage you! If you are not the biggest fan of spicy foods we still recommend making this dish...just leave out the spice and add it later if you decide it needs an extra kick. She says this is all American! He says it is definitely Mexican. It doesn't matter because this beef chili is good any way you serve it, so you have no excuses not to cook up a pot!

To make two big portions or three small:

1/2 lb ( ~250 g) ground beef
7 jalapenos or hot chilies (I don't think anyone sane uses this many but we do!)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 bulb (or 2-3 cloves) garlic, chopped
2 tsp tomato paste
2 cans of diced tomatoes (keep liquid)
2 tsp basil
2-3 bay leaves
1 medium can corn
1 can kidney beans
salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

In a large pot on the stove cook the ground beef with the onions, garlic, tomato paste and bell pepper .

Once browned, add chilies, diced tomatoes and seasonings.

Cover and cook for about 20 minutes on medium to medium-low. About 15 minutes in, add the kidney beans and corn. Let finish cooking and if needed add salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.

Serve hot and HOT!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tuna Cakes

A very happy New Year to everyone! This holiday season as been filled with a lot of cooking for us. Unfortunately, we have very few pictures to show for our work. We were busy busy busy!

So now it is a new year and we are back on track eating and cooking a more normal amount.

Today, we made tuna cakes for lunch. We don't eat tuna cakes very often, especially in comparison to the amount of tuna we eat, but when we are looking for something quick tuna cakes are a great choice. The other good thing about tuna cakes is that you can eat the same recipe for three completely different meals: Tuna cake sandwich, tuna cake alone with sides like mashed potatoes and green beans, or like we did today, tuna cakes on salad. You can also choose to make them on the stove by frying them in oil or bake them in the oven if you are looking to be a bit more healthy.

For 4-5 good sized cakes you need:
1 can of tuna
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 egg
2 Tbs lemon juice
3/4 cup bread crumbs (more if you would like to coat them)
Salt and pepper
Chopped onion, corn, or bell pepper can be added by choice
Oil  (if frying)

[ We have started using Miracle Whip (Miracel Whip in Germany) to save on calories. This mayo is very sweet and if you use a low-fat mayonnaise you might need to do something to cut the sweetness. We do this by adding mustard.]

Drain tuna and mix with the egg, mayo, lemon juice, salt. pepper, bread crumbs, and onion or other vegetable if you choose to. This time we used some corn.

Mix well and form into patties. If you have time refrigerating them for about 30 minutes will make it easier to fry.

She was being lazy and tried to remember the recipe without looking it up today. She also did not measure any ingredients. Because of this our tuna cakes were a lot denser than usual. We recommend to stick to the recipe! 

If you would like, you can roll the cakes in another 3/4 cup of bread crumbs. We skipped this step since we were going to eat the tuna cakes over salad.

Fry in oil over medium or bake on 175 C (350 F) for 20 minutes.

Serve anyway that sounds good to you!

Our cakes were served with a balsamic/olive oil/ herb dressing which we make ourselves and tomato soup.