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Recipes for the American expat who wants a taste of home or for non-Americans who want to sample some American favorites

There are little things one doesn't think about till one can no longer get them. I know expats from other countries who have gone through this burning desire to eat something so very common at home, but totally unknown in the foreign country.

Here are a few recipes for those little items that in the States are ubiquitous, but may be unknown or impossible to find elsewhere. Because some of these recipes are the result of research and experimentation and some are not yet perfected, I'm including the notes I've jotted down for myself as I try to refine my attempts to recreate these tastes of home.

And then there are some recipes I just like.



New York cheesecake

Crust
3/4 c. graham cracker crumbs (or digestive biscuits1)
2 T. butter
2 T. sugar

Filling
6 eggs
4 lbs. of cream cheese / 1.8 kg cream cheese (bars only!2)
2 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla

Topping
1 pt. / 470 ml sour cream
3 T. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

All ingredients should be room temperature before beginning recipe.

Break graham crackers into fine crumbs. Combine with butter and sugar. Press into the bottom of a 10" springform pie plate.

Cream cheese, one bar at a time. Add eggs, beating into creamed cheese, one egg at a time. Add sugar and vanilla. Pour into pie pan and bake in preheated oven, 175° C (350 F), for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Remove from oven and increase heat to 260° C (500 F). Combine ingredients for topping and spread on top of cake. Return cake to oven for 5 minutes. Remove and cool.

Cheesecake should be stored in the refrigerator and served chilled.

1I'm told that digestive bisquits, which can be found in Germany, make a good substitute for graham crackers, though I haven't personally tried this alternative.

2Philadelphia cream cheese in tubs has nearly twice the fat of cream cheese in bars, so it will not set properly. As a substitute, you might try Buko (Der Sahnige), which is a Danish cream cheese. It also comes in a tub, but has even less fat than cream cheese in bars. Another idea is to bake the cheesecake in a water bath. This changes the texture a bit, making it a bit creamier. I tend to be a purist when it comes to New York Cheesecake, but the result I got was definitely better than the previous attempt. If you have a dairy (Molkerei) near you or at your local farmer's market, you may be able to buy cream cheese fresh, though some dairy stands buy their cream cheese in bulk and then add herbs to it for resale. They may not be able to accomodate you because they themselves are locked into buying it in a certain quantity, which may be significantly more than you need.

 

Pumpkin pie

Note: pumpkin pie should be served a day after it has been baked.

Pumpkin purée
One pumpkin

Remove pumpkin stem, either by popping it off or by cutting it off. Cut pumpkin in half from top to bottom. Scrape out seeds and strings. (The seeds can be roasted and eaten as a nut-like snack.) Then cut each half into several pieces and place face up on a cookie sheet or in a large roasting pan. You may find you want to cut the pieces in half to fit them better.

Bake for 3 - 4 hours (or more) at 150° C (300° F) till pumpkin is soft and not watery when you push it. The idea is to bake it and make it tender, but also dry it out. Your finished pumpkin purée should be able to be in a strainer without dripping, even if you shake it. If the purée is too wet, the pie won't set properly.

The pumpkin will be very shriveled up by the end, but this is what you want. (See photo.) Most recipes tell you to bake the pumpkin face down, but then you end up with pumpkin syrup all over the pan. That's lost flavor and it's a pain to clean up.

After baking, let it cool in the oven a couple of hours. Then scoop pumpkin out of the shell and purée it in a food processor. This will take some stirring and such till it's mixing well. Around the edges of each piece, it will probably be too leathery to use, but the rest is fine. The shell of the pumpkin gets very soft and tears easily, so before puréeing, I always poke through the scooped-out pulp to make sure there are no stray pieces that escaped my notice.


Crust (makes one 9" deep-dish pie shell and one 9" shallow pie)
2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
170 g unsalted butter 3
or
70g unsalted butter and 65 grams Crisco®
7 T. ice water, plus 1 T. apple cider vinegar

Measure flour and salt into a bowl. Cut shortening into flour with a pastry blender or two knives until fine in texture, like coarse cornmeal. Do not use your hands, as this will melt the butter and shortening. Sprinkle vinegared water, one tablespoon at a time on top of flour mixture, while tossing it up from the bottom with a fork. Add only enough water to dampen the flour – about 5 or 6 tablespoons ought to do it. The more water you add, the easier the dough will be to handle, but your crust will be less flaky.4

Press dough together and divide into two portions. If the kitchen is hot, chill the dough for at least half an hour before rolling out. Unused dough can be frozen for later use.

For the unitiated, I have some photos of the rest of the process. Such things have helped me when making something the first time, so even though the directions may seem simple enough, in fact, pie crust is a difficult thing to get just right.

Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough on a lightly floured wooden board or pastry cloth . Always roll from the center outward. Roll to about 3-4 mm thick and 5 or 6 cm larger than the diameter of the pie plate. To measure, lay the pie plate upside down on the rolled out dough.

Gently fold pie crust, first in half and then again, into quarters. Place in plate and unfold, fitting the dough into the pie plate without stretching it. Trim as necessary to about 3.5 cm from the edge of the pan. Tuck dough under itself so that the dough no longer extends beyond the edge of the pie plate and doubling the thickness around the rim.If you have any thin spots, you can fill them out with trimmed pieces of dough. Crimp or flute edge (see photos) for finished look.

Filling (for two pies)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 c granulated sugar
3 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground nutmeg
1/2 t. ground allspice (optional)
1/2 t. ground cloves
1 t. salt
675 - 700 g pumpkin purée
1 T. molasses
2 T. Zuckerrüben-Sirup 5
375 ml cream

Preheat oven to 220° C.

In a large bowl, combine pumpkin purée with eggs. Mix thoroughly. Add dry ingredients and mix. Add molasses and Zuckerrüben syrup and mix. Add cream and mix with a whisk. Be sure to scrape sides of bowl with a spatula.

Lightly brush unbaked pie shell with unbeaten egg white before pouring in filling.

Place pie/s on middle rack of oven. Bake for 15 minutes at 220° C, then lower temperature to 175° C and bake 45 - 55 minutes more, or until the center is set. Tester (knife or Rolladen pin) should come out clean.

Allow pie to cool before storing overnight in refrigerator. Serve chilled with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream for pie à la mode.


3 Ideally, use butter and Crisco® (a vegetable shortening that has no water in it), half butter and half Crisco. If you can't find unsalted butter, use 1/2 tsp. salt. If you can't get Crisco, you might try Butterreinfett, which has less water than regular butter or you can try Palmin Soft, which I have not yet tried. I have tried Pflanzenbackfett, which was unsatisfactory.

4Flaky = good. Hard and not flaky = bad. If you're not sure what "flaky" means, go buy some shortbread. The way it crumbles is "flaky".

5The molasses I've found in Germany is much more viscous and has a stronger flavor than American molasses, so if you have American molasses, omit the Zuckerrüben-Sirup and use 4 T. molasses.

One last note. The allspice isn't really optional, but it took me forever to find it and even then, I could only find whole berries, which I have never bothered to grind, so I've never baked a pumpkin pie in Germany with it and the pies have come out fine. So, now the allspice is optional.

 

Marshmallows

Simple syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Powdered Coating
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup Powdered sugar

Gooey white stuff
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup water
2/3 cup granulated sugar less 1 teaspoon
pinch of salt
1 packet vanilla sugar

Mix the simple syrup (see note below) of sugar and water in a bowl. Set aside.

Sift powdered sugar and cornstarch into a bowl. Lightly grease an 8 x 8" square baking pan and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the sugar/starch powder in it. Coat sides and bottom. Leave the excess in the pan.

Sprinkle gelatin into water in a small saucepan and let it soak for 5 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and vanilla sugar and stir over moderately low heat until the gelatin and sugars dissolve, a few minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the gelatin mixture, simple syrup and salt and beat on high speed, until peaks form, about 15 minutes. Spread the fluffy mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Leave until set, about 2 hours.

With a wet knife, cut the marshmallow mixture into quarters and loosen around the edges. Sprinkle the remaining cornstarch/sugar powder on a very large plate or flat surface and invert the four marshmallow squares onto it. Cut each into 9 pieces and roll in the cornstarch and powdered sugar.

Place marshmallows on a rack covered with parchment and let them stand 2 hours or overnight (depending on how crusty you like the surface). Store airtight.

Makes 3 dozen.

These marshmallows are supposed to keep for a month, but mine haven't lasted more than a few days, after which the spongy center became a bit soggy.

The simple syrup is probably the biggest factor that I'm still trying to perfect. With my first attempt, the syrup had too little water. During my second attempt, my son decided to have a catastrophe just as I was beating the marshmallow, so I lost track of the time and may not have whipped it enough. The consistency seemed right, but it may have been a little wet.

I'm not a confectioner and have to say, my second attempt at this recipe came out considerably better than the first. So far, I seem to do best if I don't make round marshmallows, but rather roll them in the starch/sugar as squares, then make sure the side that touches the rack (overnight) is the one that was exposed to air while they set.

Since I don't honestly like marshmallows, and mostly want to use them in hot chocolate or sweet potato casserole on Thanksgiving, it may be a while before I feel the urge to try another batch. I'll update the recipe as I figure out more about it.

Additional Note: My husband found marshmallows for sale in a supermarket in Germany. They're from the States and are the real McCoy. The curious thing, however, is that the ingredients list shows corn syrup as the first ingredient, but this is translated into German as "glucose syrup". The other three translations I could parse all rendered "corn syrup" as a literal translation, which may be a complete mystery to the native speaker reading the package. I do know that corn syrup is unknown in Germany, so the "Glukosesirup" may simply have been an attempt to use a word that makes sense to a German. But I'm now wondering if glucose syrup has some quality that makes it better than a simple syrup as a substitute for corn syrup in making homemade marshmallows.

 

Salt pork

2.5 kg fresh pork belly

Cure
1 tsp. Prague powder #1 6
11 g salt

- or -

25 g Nitritpökelsalz 7

Mix Prague powder and salt or use Nitritpökelsalz. Rub cure well into the meat. Lay in a plastic or stainless steel container on a thin bed of cure. Top with another layer of cure. Make more cure if needed. Place in cooler (or on bottom of refrigerator) for a week. Take meat out and re-work, rubbing well with mixture.

Place in cooler (or bottom of fridge) for one more week. Remove meat and wash with lukewarm water, then cut into pieces, if desired, and re-pack in salt.


6
Prague powder #1 can be found and ordered on the Internet. It's not expensive, but it comes in pound bags. If you know where to buy nitrite, you can just make it yourself. Prague powder #1 consists of 1 part sodium nitrite to 16 parts salt.

7 Nitritpökelsalz is German pre-mixed cure and has a very low percentage of nitrite (as mandated by German law!), so no salt is added.


This recipe was compiled from a variety of sources. The original proportions are for a "slab of side" or 100 lbs. of meat, 4 oz. of Prague powder #1 and 2 1/2 lbs. of salt. However, what got me going in pursuit of how to make salt pork was that it was an ingredient in the recipe for baked beans. However, the recipe above is for considerably more salt pork than is required for the baked beans. If you have to go to a butcher to order your salt pork, you probably don't need this recipe at all. You just have to ask him to cure the amount of pork belly that you want.

If your German isn't up to the task of asking your butcher to do this, here is a German translation of this recipe.

There's a very good photo of salt pork at "The Cook's Thesaurus" at foodsubs.com. This may be helpful when trying to convince your butcher who's agreed to make this for you that you really do want something that has more fat than meat.

 

Caesar salad (easy and eggless)

Romaine lettuce
50-60 g Roquefort
60 g Parmesan, freshly grated
180 dl olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
60 dl freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. salt
black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
2-3 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
croutons (optional)
1-2 strips of crisp bacon, crumbled (optional)

Mash Roquefort until smooth. Mix in parmesan. Add oil and blend with a whisk. Then add rest of ingredients and mix well. Pour over Romaine lettuce and serve with croutons and bacon bits, if desired. Leftover dressing can be stored in the fridge.

 

Banana bread

Note: My German friends who have tasted this call it Kuchen (cake), not Brot (bread). I usually make just half the recipe and my husband always wishes I'd made more.

225 g butter, room temperature
430 g sugar
4 eggs
5 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 tsp. lemon juice
500 g sifted flour
6 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 190° C.

Cream butter and sugar together. Beat eggs until light and add. Mash bananas and add lemon juice. Blend with creamed mixture. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together and mix quickly into banana mixture. Add nuts, if desired. Bake in greased loaf pan/s at 190° C for about one hour to an hour and a quarter for large loaves, 45-60 minutes for small loaves (or when cake tester comes out clean).

Yield: 2 large (1 lb.) loaves or 4-5 small (1/2 lb.) loaves. The bread pan that I have always used for this recipe measures 9 1/4 x 5 1/4 x 2 3/4 inches.

Put mixture immediately in a preheated oven or the bread comes out tough. If you use really ripe bananas, it comes out more like cake. Don't worry about how ripe the bananas are. The riper, the better. Black skins are fine. If they look more like large vanilla beans than over-ripe bananas, that's okay, though the banana bread will have a heartier flavor.

 

Boston baked beans

500 g small white beans
2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp. salt
3 medium onions, cut into quarters
1/4 brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 T sweet pickle juice
150 g salt pork

Wash beans and discard any that aren't good. Let beans sit overnight (at least 8 hours) in 750 ml water. After soaking, add 500 ml water and all the ingredients except the salt pork.

Boil, covered one hour or until the bean skins begin to wrinkle. Heat the oven to 130° C.

Cut salt pork into cubes and lay on the bottom of a bean pot. Pour beans over pork and add more pepper over the top. Bake covered in oven for about 8 hours. Check beans at after five to six hours to see if they need more water. Only add enough to cover. Remove lid and bake uncovered for the last half hour. The liquid will appear pretty watery when you first take it out of the oven, but it thickens up very quickly.

Bean pots are not easy to come by in Germany. What I finally settled on was a cheap enamel pot and it's been fine, though of course, I'd rather use the real thing. Click here to see a photo of a traditional New England bean pot.

If you don't know what salt pork is, click here for instructions on how to make it. You don't want to substitute anything smoked for this!

I looked far and wide for pea or navy beans and was unable to find any, but then finally came across some that were very close in size and shape to navy beans. I first found these in a health food store (not Reformhaus) and later found some in a large supermarket chain (Kaufland). They are just labeled as white beans (Weiße Bohnen), so you have to know what you're looking for. The beans you want should be roughly the size (although not the shape) of peas. They are a little bit oval, whereas the other white beans look a little like flat, white kidney beans.

If you can only find the blackstrap type of molasses, then use a combination of Zuckerrübensirup and molasses, about half and half.

If you don't have brown sugar, use white sugar and a little bit of molasses or you can try Rohzucker, which is not easy to find, but I finally did locate some at the same health food store where I found the beans. It was hard as a rock (hey, just like brown sugar!) and had a color close to dark brown sugar, but the texture was a bit different. I haven't yet bought any, so I don't know how it compares in taste or cooking, though. If you have an Indian/Asian shop near you, you can also try using some of their "molasses sugar". It's got a heavier molasses flavor than brown sugar, but would probably work or in combination with some white sugar.

 

Lemonade

This simple drink is a summer favorite. I once stayed with a German woman who couldn't fathom drinking what I described. She tried to make it from my basic instructions, which were ingredients only, without quanitites. It was terrible. She used way too much lemon, too little water and then way too much sugar to compensate. The memory of that prompts me to offer my lemonade recipe for those who've never had lemonade before. These proportions are just a guideline. Add more or less lemon juice and sugar, according to your personal preference for sweetness and tartness.

Pitcher of lemonade
juice of 1 1/2 lemons
1 - 1 1/4 L water
80g sugar (or a heaping 1/3 cup)

Put juice in a pitcher. Add water and sugar and mix till the sugar is dissolved. Serve chilled or cold.

 

Snow Candy

This is an old treat from New England, where I grew up. It's really just maple syrup made hard, but you set the candy in snow, hence the name. It's great fun for children, but sadly with global warming, you have to really live in the right place to be able to make this outdoors every winter.

1 1/2 teaspoons butter
1 cup maple syrup

Melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add syrup and cook, stirring constantly, till the syrup reaches the "soft ball" stage (forms a soft ball in cold water). Bring outside and drizzle hot mixture over freshly fallen snow that's at least seven centimeters deep. If you don't have snow, you can fake it with shaved ice.

 

Death by Chocolate (Rezept auf deutsch hier)

This is a chocolate cake with dark chocolate chunks in it. Be prepared. It's rich, it's sweet, it's... delicious! This American favorite may startle Germans who are used to having something far less rich (but having two or more pieces). This kind of cake is normally served as a sliver (as opposed to a slice). If you're a real chocolate fan, you'll perhaps want more. Other people will immediately want a cup of milk or black coffee and then a nap.

2 c. flour
1 Tbl. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
115 g butter (room temperature)
1 c. sour cream
1/3 c. lowfat milk (or whole milk or cream, as you see fit)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
65 g. unsweetened cocoa
250 g dark couverture (or semi-sweet baking chocolate)
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Butter a bundt pan (known in Germany as a "Gugelhupf").

Hack baking chocolate (or Kuvertüre) into very small chunks and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa till the color is uniform. Set aside.

Cream sugar and butter in a large bowl. Add eggs and beat, one at a time. Add cream and vanilla and mix thoroughly.

Add flour mixture and beat slowly (so you don't end up covered in brown dust) just until flour is absorbed. Don't overbeat. Fold in chocolate chunks and pour (or spoon, as this thickens pretty quickly) into buttered Bundt pan. (I actually always have enough batter to make a mini bundt for my son, as well. This bakes at about the speed of a cupcake.)

Place in the oven a bit lower than middle and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until tester comes out clean. If you know what you're doing, you can tap the top to see if it's done.

Important note: Check after 20-30 minutes to make sure the top of the cake isn't burning. To prevent scorching, shield the cake by laying a piece of aluminum foil over it.

When cool, decorate with sifted powdered sugar.

 

Banana pops

Bananas (straighter are better).
Popsicle sticks

Peel the banana. Push a popsicle stick into the center of the straighter end, leaving about half the stick outside the banana. Freeze for several hours. Make sure there's a bit of room between the bananas or they will freeze to each other – they can be quite hard to separate. I tend to make the pops in the evening or early morning because otherwise, my son drives me nuts, asking if they're frozen yet.

I usually put the bananas on some parchment or plastic wrap or foil so the bananas don't stick to the freezer, but I don't bother wrapping them up because my son eats them so quickly, there's never a danger of freezer burn.

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