Friday, July 29, 2011

Mr. Potato Head

With a tip of the hat to Kalba over at Slow Living in the French Pyrénées, I've had potatoes on the brain now for the past several days.  I've been thinking about buying a deep fryer for the past year or so.  Kalba beat me to the punch.  I've been meaning to get started with what certainly will be an ongoing thread about the potato.  The Germans eat a lot of potatoes (Kartoffeln, also known as Erdäpfel, literally "earth apples").  Certain foreigners here will insult Germans by calling them "you German potato" (Du deutsche Kartoffel).  I was called a German potato once by a clearly unbalanced foreigner who mistook me for a native as he was sitting at his windowsill when I passed by.  I guess this is related to similar expressions such as "Krauts" for Germans, "Frogs" for the French and "Limeys" for the British.  You are what you eat.

I'm still not ready to buy a deep fryer, but I am ready to go through another phase of getting to know the potato.  In Germany, potatoes are sold based primarily on how they cook.  The English terms distinguishing the textures appear to be "waxy" (festkochend) and "floury" (mehligkochend), and it appears to be related to starch content.  The high-starch potatoes are floury or mealy and make for classic baked potatoes (Offenkartoffeln), french fries (Pommes frites in Germany as in France, also referred to here as Pommes with the "s" pronounced or Fritten with a short "i") and mashed potatoes (Kartoffelbrei or Kartoffelpüree).  Let's stop right there and get to one of the first basic recipes that I just tried for homemade mashed potatoes.  My goal is to achieve a high level of fluff, naturally. 

Here's the equipment that you need:

-- one large pot for cooking the potatoes
-- one large bowl of cold water for the peeled potatoes before cooking
-- a potato ricer (Kartoffelpresse)
-- a whisk (Schneebesen)

Here is a picture of a potato ricer:

Here are the ingredients:

-- one kilogram of floury potatoes (mehligkochend)
-- ca.1/4-liter hot milk (recommend full fat for flavor)
-- ca. 100 grams butter
-- salt
-- ground pepper
-- grated nutmeg

Peel and cube the potatoes and place them in the bowl of cold water until ready to cook. Cook for about 20 minutes in boiling, salted water. Drain into a colander. press the potato cubes through the ricer back into the empty pot.  Fold in the milk and butter with a whisk.   Add salt, peper and nutmeg to taste.  The ricer creates a really fluffy potato base, but the milk and butter when folded in make it thicker.   I recommend making a few extra potatoes and/or adding the liquids slowly to avoid losing the fluffy texture.   Stop before you lose the fluff, or add potatoes as needed to restore it.  My potatoes came out really well the first try. I’m pretty sure I cooked more than 1 kg. of potatoes. I added the milk and butter early, before I had pressed all of the potatoes, causing the mixture to almost liquify. Once I finished pressing all the potatoes, though, I had a big pot of fluffy spuds. Next time I'll go more slowly with the milk.

If you are familiar with mashed potatoes made from flakes or using an electric beater, you will notice that the texture of the potatoes that have been passed through a ricer is a bit coarser, but not nearly as subject to lumps as when you use an old-fashioned masher (below).  I prefer just a bit of texture to remind me that the dish is not out of a box.  To maintain maximum fluff and avoid patato chunks, I recommend not adding any of the scrapings from the ricer.

Frau Bloggerboy uses this kind of old-fashioned masher
which produces chunkier mashed potatoes

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Of False Twins and Strange Bedfellows

I was in town last week, wandering down the main shopping street, when I caught notice of a conversation going on next to me in English.  I slowed down long enough to notice that the speaker was non-native, most likely German, probably not older than 18.  She was talking to a girlfriend of about the same age, most likely a non-German.  I caught references to a "he" in the conversation and gathered that she was complaining about "him".  Then, the German girl said to her friend, "you shouldn't always have to stick it up his ass".  At that point, I was past the girls, so they could not see my smile as I tried to suppress laughing out loud.  I knew right away what the poor girl was trying to say, but oh did she fail!  I wonder what her non-German friend thought of her.  Today, I told my son about what I had heard, and he burst out laughing.  So, here is the explanation for those of you not fluent in German.

In the context in which it was used, the girl was trying to say that you shouldn't have to spoil someone or spoonfeed something to them.  The German expression, granted vulgar, but frequently heard even among educated people is "jemandem etwas in den Arsch schieben", literally translated as above by the clumsy German girl.  Most native English speakers might have thought the German girl was trying to say something like "shove it".  But no.  There are variations such as "stuffing sugar/powdered sugar up someone's ass [jemandem Zucker/Puderzucker in den Arsch schieben] that give a better hint at what is intended.  In any event, I've made my point.  Now that you've got the idea, don't think that if someone tells you, in German, to "lick them in the ass", that they are offering to share their powdered sugar with you.  "Leck mich am Arsch" has about the same meaning as you would expect it to in English:  "Kiss my ass."

Sorry for this vulgar post, but better a vulgar one than no post at all -- that's my reasoning.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tour Update

La Belle et la Douce France

A regular reader of this blog will know that on any given mid-July afternoon, one might find me in front of the TV watching the beautiful aerial coverage of the Tour de France. This year is no exception. My impression is that this year, there are no superheroes. The giants of the past are gone. The dopers of the past, some of whom are still in the race, are running scared. New giants have yet to emerge. The attacks are more believable, because the riders run out of steam instead of pedaling on at wattage levels that defy belief. I won't risk my reputation to claim that there is no doping in this year's tour. That would be naive. Contador's attack yesterday, after a collapse the day before, certainly raised a few eyebrows, but Contador ran out of steam on the famous Alpe d'Huez, and that was credible given the long attack that he led. I was happy to see that a Frenchman, Pierre Rolland, won the Alpe d'Huez stage yesterday, the first French victory on that famous hill since Bernard Hinault's in the Eighties. I've also admired Thomas Voelkler's fight to hold onto the yellow jersey. He gave it up yesterday, but has run an admirable race and displays great spirit.

So, today is, traditionally, the final stage that will decide who takes place 1 on the podium in Paris on Sunday. For the uninitiated, it is not customary for the person in first place to be attacked on the final stage. It is sort of a victory lap for the winner. Other prizes may still be up for grabs on Sunday. Today's main contestants in the time trials are the Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank, from Luxembourg, and Cadel Evans from Australia. Thomas Voelkler still stands an outside chance, but is not considered a serious threat to re-take the yellow jersey. Cadel Evans is considered the favorite in today's time trials, I believe, but the Schleck brothers, particularly Andy, have promised to give him a run for his money.  Traditionally, time trials near the end of a tour have proven exciting and have given racers who did not excel in the Alps or Pyrenees a final chance to move up in the overall rankings.  Cadel needs to make up almost a minute on Andy to take the overall lead. I wonder whether, if today's time trials produce a near-tie, the contestants for first place will honor the unwritten no-attack rule on the final stage. All in all, this has been a good tour. I miss the concentrated professionalism of Lance Armstrong, but I do not miss the heavy suspicion of doping that hung over breathtaking, but, alas, incredible attacks.  I look forward to seeing which young riders will emerge as the new contenders for overall winner.   Pierre Rolland certainly would appear to be one of the possibles.

Vive le Tour!

It Couldn't Have Happened to a Nicer Guy

"This man has done more to harm journalism in America and Britain than any other person. (...) In the U.S., where his newspaper holdings are limited to the New York Post and the (actually good) Wall Street Journal, his damage has been done with Fox News, the first deliberately and unapologetically biased and partisan network in American history. You disagree? Be my guest."

-- Roger Ebert