Thursday, August 30, 2012

Eggplant Parmesan

If you don't like eggplant don't even try this recipe. We consider this fair warning :)

Eggplant Parmesan can be served as its own main course or over pasta as an even more filling dish.
She prefers eggplant Parmesan to chicken Parmesan because she feels that the eggplant stays moist while chicken (at least hers!) often dries out.

The number this feeds depends on if you eat this alone or over pasta. We estimate about 2-3 people.

1 large eggplant
1 egg, beaten (add water if needed)
~ 1 cup breadcrumbs
~ 1/8 cup Parmesan cheese, grated 
2 (or more) cups tomato sauce  (completed as desired)
Additional mozzarella cheese as topping
Salt, pepper, oregano, basil

This recipe is pretty flexible...we just sort of make it and go with the flow --> hence the lack of exact measurements. Depending on the size of the eggplant, number of slices, size of the pan used, the measurements might change.

Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).

Peel and slice the eggplant into thin slices (about 1 cm each).

Pour the bread crumbs into a shallow dish. Add Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and a generous amount of basil and oregano. Mix.

In another shallow bowl crack the egg and whisk. We often add about 1 Tbs or less of water to make the egg last longer. This way we do not have to use a second egg for only a few pieces of eggplant.

Dip the eggplant into the egg (covering both sides)

Then into the breadcrumb mixture. Place directly on an oven rack.

Once all of the eggplants slices are covered, place the rack into the oven and cook for five minutes. Turn over and cook another five minutes.

While the eggplant is cooking you can prepare your tomato sauce. Many people use canned tomato sauce. We like to use plain tomato sauce and add sugar and herbs to our likening.

In an oven-safe dish pour enough tomato sauce to cover the bottom of the dish. In a single layer, lay the eggplant over the tomato sauce.

Cover with additional tomato sauce and if you want cheese. We save cheese for just the top to save on calories.  Continue to layer until the eggplant and tomato sauce are used up.


Top with mozzarella cheese (we were just using up leftovers so our eggplant Parmesan was pretty lacking in cheese).

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until warmed through and golden brown.

Serve alone or over pasta. You may need extra tomato sauce if you serve over pasta.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mix-Up Monday: Top Five Best and Worst - Food

Wow, how time flies! This week marks her third year living in Germany. Three years!?! How did that happen?

For the most part I think I have gotten pretty used to everything Germany throws at me. It is now just part of my normal everyday life. There are a few surprises that do catch me off guard, but I think that there would be things that surprise me in the USA too. That's just life.

To commemorate three years of living in Germany I thought I would make a list...the top five best and worst food related things in Germany versus the USA. These are just my personal opinions (he isn't even allowed to give his input for this one) and not meant to offend anyone. Maybe you agree, maybe you don't. Have you spent a lot of time away from home? What do you love and what drives you crazy?

Best (in no particular order):

5. Beer - A clearly great thing about Germany. The culture here is about beer...for lunch, dinner, midnight snack, really anytime. There are hundreds of different varieties and a small brewery in almost every town. We actually live down the street from one brewery which makes our current favorite beer. My trips back to the USA have actually surprised me. The beer in the USA is not sooo bad, but the culture is definitely different. It is much less typical to order a beer with every meal in the USA. The beer might not be good for my waistline but that doesn't stop me. He once told me that every waitress knows right away that I'm not German. I thought it was because of my horrible American accent when I speaks German. He says, that's not it at all. It is because first thing I order is a hefeweizen and German girls do not drink beer :)

4. Tipping - Waiters in Germany make a good amount of money and therefore they do not depend on tips like American waiters do. Tipping in Germany is just considered a little something extra and the percentage you tip is much smaller than in the USA. In the USA you tip between 15-20%. In Germany you usually just round up to the nearest euro. This means if the bill is €7.20 you give an eighty cent tip and if the bill is €4.80 the tip may only be twenty cents. Of course this changes depending on how many people are on the bill and how good the service was (if four people are paying together you would tip a few euros). Overall though, tipping is much cheaper. Additionally, since in Germany the tax is already included in the price of the food on the menu the entire eating experience feels cheaper because the price you see is the price you pay. I think it is just a mental thing for me. You can read more about the differences between eating out in the USA and Germany in our Mix-Up Monday: Eating Out.

3. Prices - For the most part, food in Germany is cheap! Looking at a current receipt from the grocery store I see that I only paid 51 cents for milk (1L),  45 cents for flour and 55 cents for a 500g ball of mozzarella. I haven't done a ton of shopping in the USA but as far as I can remember these prices are much lower. Not everything is super cheap in Germany though.  Beef is extremely expensive and vegetables off season can break the bank. When it comes to the daily necessities though, you can get everything you need without spending much. At the same time, Germany does not do the coupon thing so the price you see is the price you get. No great shopping tricks here.

2. Cafe culture - Germany has a cafe culture. Perhaps not compared to Italy but compared to the USA you can really see the difference. When the weather is good (those rare times when the sun comes out) the Germans crowd to restaurants and cafes and spend leisurely lunches soaking up the sun. You do not get the bill until you ask and in Germany and it is not uncommon to make lunch or dinner last a long time (a looong time!). There is no pressure to leave and no waitress asking for the tenth time if there is anything else she can get you. When it is cool out, restaurants provide blankets to keep you warm while you sit and enjoy your meal. Definitely one of my favorite parts of the German culture, even if I don't always have the time to enjoy it.

1. The food - Duh! Germany has a lot of good food and since there is almost nothing from the USA you cannot get in Germany, this means you get the best of both worlds. I have always lived in Southern Germany which is especially famous for its selection of delicious traditional meals. Spätzle, maultaschen, schnitzel, and wurst wurst and more wurst. German food has very mild flavors and no spice, but that makes it hard to get tired of eating the same dishes over and over again. I definitely have no complaints when it comes to traditional German food!

Worst (in no particular order):

5. Drinks - Beer is lovely and all that (I mean it was good enough to make the top five) but sometimes you don't feel like a beer/ have to drive/ it is before noon and you don't go for the whole beer for breakfast thing/etc. etc. The problem is that in Germany water does not come free with your meal and soft drinks are expensive. You often spend more to get a tiny soft drink (0.3 liters) than to get a beer (0.5 liters) and there are no refills. None! It is a pretty tricky scheme German restaurants run and the reason she has a beer 99% of the time. Good thing Germany does not have spicy food. A lack of drinks would definitely be a problem. Beyond the tiny and expensiveness of the drinks, Germany does not believe in ice. You order a coke and it is often only a bit cold or room temperature. If you try to make it last your entire meal it is warm by the end. I guess when people are paying so much for so little they do not want to waste time with ice. You can be sure that I always have ice on hand at home :)

4. Seating - We mentioned this before in the Mix-Up Monday: Eating Out entry. You get to pick your own seats in German restaurants. I find this very stressful when the restaurant is full. It feels like being in middle school again and trying to find someone to sit with in the cafeteria. No one wants to be that person walking around trying to figure out where to sit down. It is like a secret club. Those already sitting give looks of superiority while the lost person tries to figure out how they can find seating for four when there is only one table for two. As soon as they sit down they get the look of superiority and stare at the newest person looking for a seat, like they were not just in that position! The worst is when a group of two sit at a table for four or more and there is just nowhere for you to sit. Restaurants are supposed to be relaxing, not a test of your logic and spatial skills!

3. Meat - I love wurst,  I love schnitzel, I actually am an extremely  not picky eater but Germany, WHERE IS THE BEEF??? Beef in Germany is expensive and much harder to find than pork. Even "ground beef" is not actually ground beef, unless you want a pay a premium. Ground beef is a mix of ground pork and ground beef. I am fine with the flavor, it is actually less greasy than pure ground beef, but where are the steaks, the ribs, the entire cow?? When I visit the USA I go on beef eating binges. There is only so much pork one person can eat...isn't there??

2. Service - I knows I can't have it both ways, but come on, can't I??  I love being about to sit at a restaurant or cafe for a long time without being bothered by the waitress. I also love getting good service and being attended to. For the most part, this does not happen in Germany. It is not necessarily that the service at restaurants is bad in Germany, (especially when compared to all other service Germany, as we complained about in our Mix-Up Monday: Customer Service ) but seriously, do I really need to wave my hand and call you over anytime I want anything? This is especially true when it is time to pay. Because in Germany you are expected to relax and take time to enjoy your meal, waitresses do not come and ask if you are okay or if you need anything else after you receive your food.  If you want an after dinner coffee or to pay, you have to make sure to get her attention. This can be done either through eye contact (takes a lot of skill and practice) or by waving her over. If you had to do this in the USA the waitress would have lost a large percentage of her tip. I have gotten a lot better at this system, but sometimes I still find myself sitting and waiting, hoping that the waitress will remember I am there.

1. Restaurant selection - Like said earlier, I  like the food in Germany. Right now we live in a pretty small city so the choices are limited but there is still German, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese (oh, but how I miss American Chinese food!), and so on. In a larger town there would be an even better selection. Although I do miss some types of food (like American Chinese or more Mexican-y Mexican) my complaint is about the lack of chain restaurants. Chain restaurants, you think?? How American is she? Isn't that the one thing that makes America evil? Those big chains killing all the cute family-owned restaurants. Yes, chains can be evil, but I do not mean McDonald's or Burger King (they have plenty of those over here!) I mean the more real restaurant types like Applebees, Olive Garden, and Macaroni Grill. The food at these places are not any better than the food offered in Germany, but have you ever gone on a road trip in a country without chain restaurants?? It is terrible! Unless you want McDonald's or something else fast and not so tasty, you are stuck driving around hoping that some restaurant you never heard of and know nothing about will be decent and not too expensive. There is a comfort in knowing in the USA that when you are tired, hungry, and extremely grouchy that you can sit down at Cracker Barrel and order exactly what you had at the Cracker Barrel 3,000 miles away. I don't think chains should take over Germany, but a few near the Autobahn would be nice!

So, those are my top five best and worst of food in Germany versus the USA. Maybe by this time next year they will change, maybe by this time next month. Happy three years to me, and here is to the next three!

...and for all that typing - A BEER!  ---> Don't worry, you deserve one too for reading so much :)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Easy (and Cheap!) Popcorn at Home

Microwavable popcorn from a store bought bag is expensive and unhealthy, full of salt, butter and chemicals. Make a healthier and much much much cheaper snack by making your own popcorn at home. For 99 cents we can buy a large bag of popcorn kernels and make many bowls of popcorn. At the store, a one time use bag of popcorn is the same price!

All you need to make your own popcorn (he didn't believe me at first but now he is a big fan of this method) is:

Plain popcorn kernels
A brown paper bag
A microwave

Pour kernels into the bag - a little makes a lot so don't go crazy!
Make sure to fold over the bag so it does not all pop out.


Microwave on high. Set the clock for five minutes but keep a watch on the popping. As soon as there is about a five second pause between pops you know it is mostly done.

To get the maximum amount of popcorn out of the kernels, we often pour out the popcorn once a lot is popped and put the unpopped kernels back in the microwave for a bit longer.

Eat plain or just with salt (almost a zero calorie snack!) or melt a little butter and pour over the popcorn.

Sweet popcorn is very popular in Germany which you can get by sprinkling a bit of white sugar over the popped corn.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies

These chocolate chip cookies might be the most famous in the USA. The original recipe, printed on the back of Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip bags, account for, she would guess, more than 50% of all homemade chocolate chip cookies in America. This recipe is also a favorite for using when one wants to eat plain cookie dough...although eating raw eggs is not recommended, with this recipe you just cannot resist!

Although she did not have any Nestlé chocolate chips here in Germany, she used the same recipe and cut up her own chocolate chunks to make the result as close to the original as she could.

About 50 cookies:

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups chocolate chips (or chocolate chunk pieces)
1 cup nuts (optional - she left this out)

Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C).

Beat the butter, vanilla, sugar and brown sugar in a large bowl until well mixed and creamy.

Add one egg, beat and then add the second egg and beat again.

Slowly add in the flour, baking soda and salt. Mix well.


Stir in the chocolate chips (and nuts if you wish).

Using a spoon, drop a spoonful of dough onto a ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 9-11 minutes or until slightly golden brown.

Let cool for about two minutes before removing from the baking sheet.

Enjoy with a large glass of milk or a cup of coffee.

A variation of this recipe:

We made a second batch of cookies a week later and this time added 2 cups of pretzel pieces to the above recipe. This gives the cookies a great chocolate and salty mix.

We wanted to have easy access cookies so instead of baking them, we refrigerated the dough for about 15 minutes and then rolled cookie dough balls.

We then froze these balls and now anytime we want a few fresh cookies we just have to pull them out of the freezer and bake!

You can do this with many different cookie recipes.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mix-Up Monday: Customer Service

It has been said that Americans are "too friendly." Too friendly, as in so friendly that it is not just nice anymore but fake. This might be so, but there is one area that we believe there is nothing such as "too friendly" and that Germany needs to take America's example...customer service.

Customer service - or at least the American standard - does not exist in Germany. There is no such thing as the customer is always right. Germans do not seem to be worried that if they are rude, unhelpful, or that you may never come back. They don't seem to really even care if you find the answer/product/service you are looking for. Being a customer in Germany sometimes is like begging to be helped so that you can spend your money. Of course there are some workers and stores that have great customer service. Unfortunately, these are the exception not the rule.

We aren't exactly sure why there is such a large difference between customer service in the USA and Germany. He notices it, she notices it, and it is something often discussed and blogged about by other expats. Although we do not believe that people who work retail in Germany love their jobs anymore than people who work retail in the USA, Germans seem to have a loyalty to their company that is unexplainable. Something is broken and you want to trade it? Not going to happen (unless there is a law that says they must accept it, but that is for another time). Bought french fries at McDonalds? Better expect to pay for ketchup if you bought a small not a medium. It doesn't matter how much you try to flirt with the guy or girl behind the counter, that is how it is going to stay.

Last week when her mom had problems with an airline in the USA that involved multiple phone calls and a great deal of time she received a voucher for her trouble. What would you get in Germany? NOTHING! The service representative would treat you like you should be thrilled that she is taking the time to fix her company's problem. Most likely (99 out of 100 times) you would be paying for the call to fix the problem. Germany is not a fan of free 1-800 numbers (or the equivalent here 0-800). The ticket machine is broken at a small train station? You have to pay to call the train company to report it! You want to know what your telephone provider offers? You better expect to pay 14 to 42 cents per minute.

Here is another example. She bought an article of clothing from a store in the USA. She got to Germany, wore it, and it broke within a few wears. She writes an e-mail to the company explaining that the article broke rather quickly and she is very disappointed with the product. With no evidence, no receipt, not even a discussion, a coupon shows up in the mail for the same value of the bought item. This also happened to him (with a tech gadget and not clothing). After multiple e-mails and a lot of complaining the company offered to accept the item back and replace it for a different (and unneeded item) if he paid all the shipping charges! This is just one of many examples of the difference in customer service between the USA and Germany.

Another place you can see it is when you enter a store in Germany. In the USA the person working at the store almost always says hello and asks if they can help you. Yes, perhaps this is annoying if you are just looking but the option is there to be served. In Germany, only very small owner-run stores will have someone say hello and you will rarely be asked if you need help. You can actually stand over the person and stare to try to ask where something is and unless you are extremely assertive you will never be helped (she has learned this after a lot of time wasted hovering over people at the grocery store and never getting served).

The entire thing is quite odd. On an individual basis Germans and no more rude or unpleasant than Americans, but when it comes to client - customer relationships the difference is huge.

Have you traveled and noticed a difference? What do you think is the cause of this? What makes one culture decide customer service is at the utmost importance and another not care? What makes people keep going back to these stores with no customer service? We are interested in what you think.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Mug Cake

Another single serving mug cake for her to devour while he is away for work and she is cooking for one.

All you need is a mug and...

1 egg
1 Tbs flour
1 Tbs brown sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 Tbs cocoa powder
2 Tbs peanut butter
a handful of chocolate chips

Crack the egg into the mug.

Add 1 Tbs brown sugar.

Add 1 Tbs flour.

Add 1/4 tsp baking powder.

Add 1 Tbs of cocoa powder.


Add 2 Tbs of peanut butter.

Mix everything together.

Add a handful of chocolate chips. She recommends adding more than less. She only put in a few and although it was tasty it would have been even more super tasty with more chocolate.

Mix again and microwave on high for one minute (really, only one minute and it will be done!)


This recipe was adapted from Babble

Friday, August 17, 2012


If you didn't grow up with these cookies the name might sound a bit silly. Don't let the name fool you though, these cookies are delicious. A cinnamon and sugar flavored cookies and a definite American classic.

For about 50 cookies:

1 cup softened butter
2 cups and 3 Tbs sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 F (180 C)

Beat butter on medium until creamy. Add 2 cups sugar and beat again. Add the eggs, milk and vanilla. Beat everything together.

Add the flour, baking powder and 2 tsp of cinnamon to the mixture. Mix everything on low until blended.

In a small bowl, combine 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon with 3 Tbs of sugar.

Roll the dough into small balls (about 1 1/4 inch in width). This is easiest done with wet hands.

Roll the balls into the cinnamon and sugar mixture and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Flatten slightly with the palm of your hand.

Bake for about 13 minutes or until lightly brown.

Let cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

This recipe was adapted from