Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cooking in a small space

Hi friends and family!

As you know, I love to cook (which is good because both Sasha and I love to eat) so one of the hardest things for me so far about moving to Marburg is that our apartment really has a joke of a kitchen.  Our apartment was fully furnished and had some pots and pans and a full set of plates, etc. although we enjoyed seeing what Germans apparently think is essential for a furnished apartment: 6 Schnapps glasses and 6 dishes for serving hard boiled eggs? Of course.  A rubber spatula or a plastic or wood cutting board? No. 
Our kitchen is technically a "kitchenette" I guess, and has a tiny fridge/freezer, a small sink, about 1.5 ft squared of counterspace, two electric burners very close to the wall (one of which barely can keep already heated water simmering), and when we first got here, in place of an oven, we had this:
Would you want to bake with something that looks like this?

It's OK, we bought a Bekväm serving cart (aka.auxiliary workspace) from Ikea, and for my birthday, my mom bought us a bigger, better toaster oven (26 liter volume) and despite the joke of a rolling pin:
Not so threatening, even to a blob of dough

I've successfully made apple pies on two separate occasions.

SO despite the frequent schimpfen (swearing) during cooking, I generally have been able to cook what I want.  (Note: in addition to the oven, we got an induction burner and an induction-safe wok.  Best Thing Yet. Induction burners are like cooking on gas; they heat the pan up almost instantly, and are easy to regulate.  Also, way hotter than electric, so stir frying, etc. is much easier, but that's a digression).

Anyway, I wanted lasagna last night, and those previously mentioned difficulties were compounded by the fact that Sasha has been trying to avoid tomatoes for stomach-related reasons.  I know there are all sorts of non-tomato-based lasagnas, but those are usually really creamy, and I wasn't really in the mood for that sort of thing, either.  So after paging through the pasta cookbook (in German) that Sasha got me for my birthday, I decided to wing it, and Sasha thought that I should post the recipe because it would be funny.  It looked and was pretty tasty and while I would make some changes, I'd be willing to make it again:
This dinner gets the Sasha seal of approval

I will also include the changes that I would make at the bottom.  This isn't really going to be a food blog, but I figured that it might be nice to give you an idea of this aspect of our life here in Marburg, both about our kitchen, and about how I cook when I'm tired on a Friday and can't find a tasty recipe.

Anna's pumpkin zucchini meat lasagna

2 zucchini
Ground meat, somewhat less than 500 grams, since that amount was a bit more than we needed (normally, what's cheapest here is a mix of pork and beef, but it was all out, so we used just beef, although I think that the mixed meat or ground turkey would be tastier)
lasagna noodles (1/2 of a 500g box)
half a medium onion, diced
olive oil
Speisequark (if anyone actually wants to replicate this, I'd use ricotta, then stir in a bit of salt)
basil and oregano
salt and pepper
pre-sliced middle aged Gouda
grated Parmesan

Preheat your oven to somewhere between 150 and 190 degrees C. (The "when in doubt bake at 350" rule doesn't quite work here, that's much too hot in centigrade)
Step 1. seed and boil the remainder of a Hokkaido squash/ eating pumpkin until it's soft.  Let it cool and peel it.

Step 2. slice 2 medium zucchini into rounds and boil them until par-boiled/soft-ish.

Step 3. brown the meat in the wok and then move it to a bowl.

Step 4 and 5. Boil the lasagna noodles and simultaneously saute the onions in a mix of a random lump of butter (2 T??) and a glug or two of olive oil.  Once the onions are soft, stir in a bit of flour (2T?) until it makes a paste, then mix in the pumpkin, somewhat mashing it in the process, and a few big glugs of milk (1 cup?)  Throw in some salt and pepper too, and a small handful of fresh basil and oregano, roughly chopped.

6. Mix together the quark and meat.

7. Find all the random bakeware in your kitchenette and schimpf a few times, then decide on the round shallow white ceramic one and the deep glass round one.

8. I haven't figured out how to get lasagna noodles to not stick into one giant lump after/during cooking, so if you know the trick, please let me know!!  (the noodles here are smaller and don't have the curly edges of the ones I usually have in the US).
 Layer a layer of noodles in your dish of choice.  Cover with a layer of zucchinis, a layer of the quark and meat, another layer of the noodles, a layer of the pumpkin sauce, another layer of noodles, a layer of zucchini, then cover the whole thing with slices of gouda and a nice sprinkling of parmesan.

9. Bake until it is bubbly and nicely browned.  I didn't time it, and it depends on your pan/oven, anyway.

10. repeat steps 8 and 9 with remaining ingredients/ cookware if your oven and pans are small and random like ours.  If your oven rack has a tendency to fall when you put in the heavy casserole dishes, make your husband put it in to minimize schimpfen.  Note: if you also have trouble with sticking lasagna noodles, then I can say it works fine to simply do a layer of lasagna noodle tatters at each step.  I am NOT a food magazine, and my husband thankfully isn't too bothered by less-than perfect appearances as long as the contents are good...also good, since I'm not a supermodel.  Just as well, in my opinion.
11. Eat the lasagna or casserole or (if you're Minnesotan) "hot dish".

Like I said, this is more to give you an indication of what it's like to cook here, rather than a recipe, but if you do want to make it, I'd make these changes: The meat/quark layer needed a bit of something.  If you can eat tomatoes, I might stir in a few Tablespoons of tomato paste, or at the very least would probably add the oregano, basil and pepper to this layer.  Quark is saltier than ricotta, so shouldn't need extra salt.
 Since part of what was fun here were different flavors in the meat/ pumpkin layers, I'd not add more basil/oregano to the pumpkin, but would probably use more warm spices with it like a healthy dash of cinnamon and nutmeg and a big pinch of paprika.

So there you have it.  Cooking here involves some improvisation, but sometimes that's a good thing. Particularly when your favorite cookbooks are still in a boat somewhere west of Great Britain.

1 comment:

  1. Love it! Especially the Sasha seal of approval. A bit like my Ed-ratings. Sounds like you're making do just fine - how about some soufflés next?