Thursday, October 20, 2016

Eleanor's Shepard's Pie

Shepherd's Pie is Eleanor's favorite dish. Every time I cook it, she eats at least three servings. It's hilarious to me because she normally eats everything "deconstructed" and doesn't love dishes where everything is mixed together. But this is her absolute favorite. I think the key here is that she actually knows every ingredient that goes into it. That's an additional benefit of having your kids cook with you...when they understand the dish and took part in creating it, they're more likely to eat it. Works for me!
Here's my recipe for Shepherd's Pie, which might not be the most traditional, but I guarantee it's one of the most delicious. This is perfect enjoyed with a salad on a cold evening when you need a hearty warm-up. And I'll admit I usually garnish with a little Tabasco sauce. I think that's the leftover Soldier in me....

Hope you enjoy! Let me know how it works out for you. 

Eleanor's Shepherd's Pie

1 lb potatoes, peeled (if desired) and cut into equal size pieces
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, small dice
2 small carrots, small dice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp each minced fresh sage, thyme and rosemary (or 1 tsp each dried)
1 lb ground beef or lamb
2 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 C beef broth
1 C frozen peas
1/3 C herbed cream cheese (I used German Spundekäs, found at the local street market or in grocery stores)
1/2 C whole milk or cream
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F with rack in center of oven. 

Put potatoes in large pot and cover with cold water. Salt water generously, then put over high heat, covered, until boiling. Turn heat down to maintain a simmer and partially uncover pot while potatoes cook. 

While potatoes are cooking, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large, oven proof skillet over medium low heat. (If your skillet is not oven proof, you can transfer your pie to a baking dish later, before topping with mashed potatoes.) Add your onions to the hot oil and lower heat to low. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add diced carrot and cook 5-10 minutes more, until vegetables are starting to brown. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add garlic and stir, cooking about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add herbs and stir well. Increase heat to medium and add ground meat, stirring well. Cook and stir until cooked through. At this point, if you see very little oil in the bottom of the pan (which will be the case if you used extra lean beef), add up to 1 more Tbsp olive oil to the pan. Next, sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine. Add Worcestershire sauce and beef broth; being to a simmer. Add green peas and stir well.  Immediately take pan off the heat. (If using a baking dish, transfer mixture now.)

Once potatoes are cooked through (when a paring knife slides in and out easily), drain and return to pot. Add cream cheese and milk, then mash potatoes well until free of lumps and well mixed. 

Place large dollops of potatoes on the top of your beef mixture, and use a rubber spatula to carefully spread mashed potatoes to the edge of your skillet or dish. (You can also pipe the potatoes using a pastry bag, if you prefer.) Slide the tines of a fork along the top of your mashed potatoes to make ridges, if desired.

Bake pie in oven until the ridges are delicious-looking golden brown and the liquid is bubbling. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes, sprinkle with some chopped parsley and serve.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Pumpkins in Frankfurt - Kürbishof Müller


We checked out Kürbishof Müller today as we were looking for pumpkins and a "pumpkin patch experience", and information on it was written up in the Heute. It was a fun experience and the town it's in (Langgöns) was neat to drive through, although overall it was a bit different than expected. It is not actually a pumpkin patch, but rather a courtyard between two houses where they sell pumpkins/squash. But they had a grand variety of squashes, very attractive carving pumpkins, and tons of interesting gourds, along with some decorative items and pumpkin wine. The proprietor was very nice. The prices are incredible, particularly compared to what we're used to in the States.

So if you're looking to buy a rarer variety of squash while getting your carving pumpkins on the cheap, this is the place for you. For the "fall experience" I think we'll try Goldgrund next time. I'll let you know how it is!

And speaking of squash, I can't wait to whip up this risotto to help usher in fall!

Photo and Drawing courtesy of

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Freitzeitpark Lochmühle

One of the Large Play Structures
If you're looking for something that's guaranteed to be especially fun for the 3-7 yr old crowd, I've got three words for you:

Super Fun (if small) Roller Coaster
  For 12€ per kid(90-120cm) and 14€ per adult (over 120cm), and only about a 30 min drive from the center of Frankfurt (20 min from Dornbusch), you get several hours of safe, clean fun. Itty-bitty kiddos (under 90cm) are free. (Most rides are divided into "age 7 and over" and "under age 7". As I said     above, I think the target age is 3-7 years, but there's still a lot of fun for the 18 to 36 month set, and a few things the bigger kids will get a kick out of. The playgrounds are great for all ages--including someone as old as my husband. Ha!)

Farm Equipment Display
I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but there are a ton of fun playgrounds, a couple rollercoasters, and other theme park-type rides alongside farm animals and other farm exhibits. It's really interesting as a lot of the simpler rides are "self run" (you'll see what I mean) but the other visitors were all very polite and mostly orderly in line, taking turns, etc. There's even a large indoor space should it start raining or get too hot, although it's not big enough for everyone in the park to congregate there should it start pouring. Good news, though...the park website has a link under "Extras" (on the English site) for you to check the current weather and forecast at the park before you head out.

Picnic Area with Grill
Feel free to bring any food and drink you like as there are spots to picnic all over, and
there's even several charcoal grills (get there early...probably by 10:30 or reserve one for your party and bring your own briquettes). They also sell plenty of food from light snacks to full meals, beer, wine, coffee, ice cream and everything in between. The grounds, restaurants/snack bars and the bathrooms are all super clean.

Dogs are also allowed, but keep in mind they are supposed to stay on the paths at all times, and they state clearly that they expect you to pick up any feces using doggy poo bags (on sale at the Kasse--cashier--for €0,50 if you forgot yours).

PLEASE NOTE! The park is only open from late March until early October every year, but it's open seven days a week during the season.

Getting to Freitzeitpark Lochmühle: If you're using GPS to drive there, you should just be able to search "Freitzeitpark Lochmühle" and it will pop up. It's in the town of Wehrheim. Alternatively, you can take the S-Bahn 5 from Frankfurt to Friedrichsdorf. Change at Friedrichsdorf to Taunusbahn heading for Brandoberndorf. Get off at Saalburg/Lochmühle, and all you have to do is cross the street to get in to the park.


Friday, September 16, 2016

Homemade Croutons - Let me count the ways...

Traditional German Nut Bread on the
right, Pretzel Rolls on the left. (The
pretzel croutons are especially good
on chili or soups--think potato soup
or cheddar cheese. Yum!)
With so much great bread here in Germany (and cheap!), sometimes I go a little overboard. You too? Glad I'm not the only one.

Naturally, with a family of only four, I often end up with bread we can't get through because it goes stale. My son loves to save it for the ducks at the duck pond, but my favorite thing to do with it is to make homemade croutons!

Homemade Croutons are so great because a) they cost next to nothing (especially when the bread is already a sunk cost and would otherwise go to waste), you can make them with absolutely anything you have in the house, customizing to go with your personal tastes, c) they keep in the freezer for weeks so you can make them and use them when you're ready, and d) they make normal, run-of-the-mill salads and soups extraordinary!

Croutons can also be a surprising, unusual addition to many other types of dishes from ragouts to stews. Love your slow cooker, but still complain that everything comes out the same texture? Throw some homemade croutons on there, and you've just elevated your dish to a whole other level.

Here's a guide for you so you can give it a shot.

Step 1:
Cut or tear your bread (sandwich, French, ciabatta, pretzels, bagels, English muffins, corn bread, you name it), depending on how you like it. Smaller is great for salads and "fancy" dishes, big is great for soups, and hand-torn is very rustic (kind of like a big hug, if you ask me!).

Step 2:
Decide whether you want to bake or sauté your bread crumbs. Baking makes them more uniformly crunchy, while sautéing gives you a bit of variation in texture. Both are equally easy, but sautéing requires that you watch the bread crumbs from start to finish.

Step 3:
Prepare your toppings. This is the fun part....
For about three cups of breadcrumbs, I use about 2-3 Tbsp of melted butter or olive oil. The most versatile three ingredients are garlic, salt and pepper. If you want to use garlic, you should peel 2-3 cloves, smash them, and add them to the butter while you're melting it (or simply heat your olive oil up until you can smell the garlic). It's not wise to use minced garlic because it will burn.

Other ideas for additions:
~ Fresh Herbs - parsley, thyme,
~ Spices/Dried Herbs - garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, spice mixes (watch the salt--don't add any extra if your mix contains it), curry powder........
~ Nuts/Seeds - smaller varieties like poppy and sesame would work best
~ Cheese - hard cheeses, like parmesan, shredded small work best
~ Prepared Sauces like Pesto or Romanesco (usually better with olive oil)

Step 4:
Mix up your croutons in a large bowl with your desired additions. Just add a bit of whatever you like from the list above to the melted butter or olive oil, then toss with your croutons.

Step 5:
Bake or sauté! For baking, just line a large baking sheet with foil, and spread your prepared croutons onto it in an even layer. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until crispy and gold brown, about 15 minutes.  For sautéing, simple heat up your pan over medium heat until warm. Add croutons and a little butter/oil from the bottom of your mixing bowl - IN BATCHES - into your warm skillet and sauté until browned. Be sure to move your croutons around a lot, and do not overcrowd the pan to avoid steaming your croutons. Remove croutons from oven and let cool on pan, or if sautéing move the croutons onto a paper-towel lined plate to cool.
I wish you guys could smell this right now!
Step 6:
Use or Store. Use your croutons warm immediately, or store them in an airtight container or Ziploc. They'll keep on the counter for a few days, or in the freezer for a few weeks. To use from the freezer, just bring them to room temp on a plate (so any condensation can evaporate) and warm them up quickly in the oven.

Step 7:
Get ready to impress your family and friends with this hand-crafted yummy garnish that you secretly know is super easy!!

Let me know what your favorite combination is, and the unique ways you've used your homemade croutons!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Dogs can go everywhere in Germany!"...sort of...

For those of you who have been in Germany for a while, you might be saying, "Dogs really can go everywhere!" but for those of us who are new, we're thinking..."Really?"  I've only been in Germany six weeks now and it is true that I am continually surprised at where I see dogs, as well as how nonchalant Germans are about having them in restaurants, food stores, banks, etc.

Jonesy Boggs
We Americans (particularly the Missbach family!) love our dogs and consider them members of the family, but it is NOT ingrained in our culture to include them in every aspect of our lives, unless you live in a smaller town. Even where it is totally acceptable to have dogs in Germany, it STILL feels unnatural to newcomers to take our dogs to those places. Plus, the truth is that dogs aren't truly welcome EVERYWHERE....
Nieve Noel

So I've decided to start compiling a list, particularly for newcomers to Germany, for you to reference before you start out on a jaunt, trip to a restaurant or errand-run with your pooch. This list, so far, only reflects my personal experience so it must be expanded! Please feel free to leave comments to let me know additional places where can/cannot take them, or correct me if I'm wrong (including providing exceptions/additional considerations).

Where you CAN take your dogs...

- Outdoor seating areas of most every restaurant
- Through the indoor dining room of a restaurant in order to get to the outdoor area and inside more casual restaurants. Don't be deterred by tablecloths and candles...just ask them as you walk in if it's ok. They'll let you know, and won't be offended that you asked! (I'm still investigating dogs inside more formal restaurants, but not really sure if I would want to take them if I was dressed up anyway...)
- the Bank
- On the U-Bahn, Strassebahn (street tram) and S-Bahn
- into the dry cleaners or other non-food related businesses
- into clothing stores, including department stores (unless they display the "no dogs" sign above)
- the Opel Zoo (I'm not sure about all sections of the park, but I have seen people walking in/out with dogs.)
- Lochmühle Freizeit Park (Dogs must always stay on paths and they state clearly that you must pick up any feces. Doggy poo bags are available at the Kasse (cashier) for €0,50.
- Freilichtmuseum Hessenpark (Admission for pups is €1 and gets you a poo bag--yay! The "rules" state that dogs shouldn't go in the buildings themselves, but we saw many patrons flouting this rule.)

Where you CANNOT take your dogs...

- the Supermarket (but plenty of people leave them tied up outside)
- most playgrounds (in the areas where children play, for health/sanitation reasons)
- the Palmengarten
- the Frankfurt Zoo
- inside churches and cathedrals (not surprisingly)

To be updated as I find out more and you guys share your knowledge with me! Thanks!