Rote Grütze

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Food causes involuntary time travel sometimes. When an ingredient or aroma instantaneously transports you to a cherished time and place a slow smile plays on your lips and you salivate slightly. Have you ever experienced sudden food memory? It’s like muscle memory for your mouth and it can stop you in your tracks as your mind recalls the marinating memory from many moons ago.

I time traveled this week while walking through the 14th street Trader Joe’s. I came across an amaranthine array of fresh raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries and memories of rote grütze with vanilla sauce (rote grütze mit vanillesoße) were pulled effortlessly from 2010 and brought to the forefront of my mind. Standing before the scarlet spectrum my mouth watered and I knew that I had to make this classic German fruit dessert.

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Rote grütze is a traditional German fruit dessert that literally translates to red grits. Made with fresh red berries, rote grütze typically calls for raspberries, currants, strawberries, sour cherries, and other red berries typically found in Germany like johannisbeeren. Many people use blueberries, black currants, and blackberries adding some rich purple hues to this traditionally ruby red dessert. Typically made in summertime, Rote grütze is a great flexible recipe that can be made with what you have on hand or what is available in stores. Plump raspberries and blackberries were in beautiful abundance so I chose to use only those two berries this time, but you can make rote grütze with any combination of berries.

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Rote grütze falls into the comfort food category for me and it brings back fond memories of my time in Germany and all the wonderful people I met and the family recipes I tasted. My favorite way to enjoy rote grütze is with a warm vanilla custard sauce drizzled on top just like the Allendorffs did each time they lovingly made their family recipe. I can still hear Sybille’s gentle German-accented English shooing her family away from the stove as they lingered nearby with brimming bowls of chilled rote grütze eagerly waiting for her classic vanilla sauce to thicken. Sybille stood smiling over the stove, the room was perfumed with warm vanilla, and the feeling of home and comfort were in each spoonful of her homemade rote grütze.

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Rote Grütze with Vanilla Sauce (Rote Grütze mit Vanillesoße)

2 lbs berries of your choice fresh or frozen
2 cups (500 ml) water, red wine or red fruit juice OR 1 ¾ cup of wine, water or juice and ¼ cup fruit brandy or orange liqueur
3 tbsp corn starch
3 tbsp water
½ cup sugar (or more to taste)
1 vanilla bean

Vanilla Custard Sauce (Vanillesoße)

3 Egg yolks
1 vanilla bean
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp vanilla sugar (sugar mixed with the scraped vanilla bean)
1 tbsp corn starch
1½ cups whole milk

Rote grütze is made with an array of fresh (or even frozen) berries based on what is in season and the quality of what you can find. Just make sure the combination of berries weighs around 2 pounds or a little extra if it’s a kilogram (2.2 pounds). Just because I only used raspberries and blackberries this time doesn’t mean that’s all you should use! Cherries, strawberries, raspberries, red and black currants, blackberries, and blueberries can all be used in rote grütze. Wash and pit all fruit and cherries thoroughly.

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As for the liquid used you can use just water, red fruit juices, or red wine if you like. If you are going to use wine try a fruit forward wine; avoid tannic, dry, and oaky wines. I used Layer Cake Primitivo (zinfandel) but a Garnacha, Gamay, Merlot, fruity Cabernet or Shiraz are great options. If you are using fruit brandy or liqueur use only a ¼ cup of each as part of the 2 cups and use wine, juice, or water for the rest of the liquid. A fruit brandy made of red fruits would complement this well, or an orange flavored liqueur like Grand Marnier could work wonderfully in rote grütze. Remember cooking and creating things in the kitchen is supposed to be fun. The ingredients listed in a recipe shouldn’t discourage or restrict if you don’t have them. While I might list ingredients for recipes, the fun part is using what you have to make something delicious and unique.

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Bring the 2 cups of liquid of your choice to boil. You can use a combination of wine, red currant juice, cherry juice (even cranberry juice would work here), and brandy or liqueurs. In a small separate bowl blend the 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with the 3 tablespoons of water till smooth. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the boiling wine and juice. Add the fruit to the hot wine and remove from heat. Sprinkle the fruit with the sugar and fold into the hot wine. Remove the fruit from heat and allow it to cool. (I tossed in a scraped vanilla bean to add some flavor. I saved the vanilla flecks for the vanilla sauce.)You do not need to “cook” the fruit per se- the berries will become soft and pudding-like as they cool in the hot liquid. Once cooled at room temperature place the rote grütze in the refrigerator and allow it to cool overnight. When you are ready to serve the dish make the vanilla sauce.

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Scrape the sticky black vanilla specks from the inside of the vanilla bean. Mix this with 2 tablespoons of the sugar to create vanilla sugar. In Germany vanilla sugar is something sold in grocery stores, so this is my version. Keep the vanilla bean to perfume the vanilla sauce. Mix the egg yolk, both sugars, and corn starch until smooth. Slowly whisk the milk together. Heat the custard in a saucepan on med-low with the scraped vanilla bean until it thickens. Do not allow the sauce to boil and remember to stir consistently. It might look liquidy on top but it can thicken on the bottom and cook the custard! When thickened to your liking (this usually takes around 15 minutes) serve immediately over the rote grütze. If the sauce becomes too thick add a little more milk. Rote grütze is best enjoyed chilled topped with warm vanilla sauce drizzled on top.

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Cuban Stuffing

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I’m a holiday traditionalist. Each year I look forward to the tried-and-true dishes, seasonal favorites, and family specialties. While I love thumbing the pages of cookbooks and pinning new holiday sides, I always go back to the classics. One of these classics is my abuela’s Cuban stuffing (relleno) that everyone craves around this time of year. Scribbled on the back page of my mom’s beloved Cocina Criolla cookbook is my abuela’s recipe that she makes each year for the holidays, especially thanksgiving.

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I have to admit I’m a sucker for the bready and soft American version with plenty of butter, celery, and onion, but my abuela’s Cuban stuffing is a thanksgiving and holiday favorite. The mixture of beef, pork, and ham with warm cumin, plump raisins, crunchy almonds, and Spanish olives makes Cuban stuffing a blend of deliciousness with familiar flavors and comforting aromas. My mom makes the stuffing each year for Thanksgiving, but I think it would be great stuffed in small cornish hens for fancy dinners, baked in pastry, or just by the bowlful atop white rice.

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I made this Cuban stuffing for the first time ever with my mom this year. The stuffing was easier to make than I imagined, and oh so flavorful. As the years go by, my appreciation for my family’s traditions and favorite dishes has only increased, and I’m happy I get to document them and share with younger cousins, baby brothers and sisters, and future generations.

Cuban Stuffing (Relleno Cubano)

  • 2 lbs ground beef (not low fat)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb ground ham (do not use smoked or flavored hams)
  • 1 large onion diced (about 1 ½ to 2 cups)
  • 5 garlic cloves minced
  • ¾ cup raisins
  • ¾ cup Spanish olives with pimientos sliced in thirds
  • ¾ cup sliced almonds
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 tbsp oregano
  • 2 tbsp Cumin
  • ½ tbsp ground black pepper or more to taste
  • 1 ½ packages cornbread stuffing
  • 1-2 cups turkey/chicken/ or vegetable stock

Dice the garlic and onions; grind the diced ham. I have made the mistake of purchasing smoked, honey, or mesquite diced ham. This totally kills the flavor of the relleno and does not work. I grind the diced ham in the food processor. Add the pork, beef, onion, and garlic to the pan all at the same time. Stir well and cook until just browned. Make sure to buy ground chuck or sirloin and avoid leaner cuts of beef. You do not want to overcook the beef because it will continue cooking in the bird if you choose to stuff it, or it will heat in a crockpot for serving, and do not drain the fat.

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Once browned add all of the herbs and spices and mix well. Do not add salt. Both the ground ham and the olives add plenty of natural sodium. Trust me on this!! Next add the package of cornbread stuffing and combine thoroughly.  At this point you can finally add the ham stirring to combine, and then go ahead and toss in the almonds, olives, and raisins. You can always add more to taste (of everything) and this part is really up to you- that’s the fun part of cooking and tasting =P. The raisin, almond, and olive trio really does add lots of flavor and is reminiscent of delicious picadillo.

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If you are making the Cuban stuffing a day in advance allow the dish to cool before placing it in the refrigerator. If you stuff the bird with the Cuban stuffing it does not require any stock to keep moist, but when you are reheating for a thanksgiving or holiday meal, you will want to slowly add hot stock of your choice and blend well. If the Cuban stuffing becomes too wet simply add more of the cornbread stuffing. I always buy two bags just in case. This year we placed the Cuban stuffing in a crockpot on low to warm a few hours before everyone came over and it was perfect and delicious. I’d say this version makes around 16-18 cups. Cuban stuffing is surely to become a holiday staple and thanksgiving must.

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Mom’s Best Apple Pie

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On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving my mom pulls out the tattered and worn 1983 Betty Crocker’s Cookbook and turns to page 295. Worn and stained, these pages reveal years of memories, baking follies, Thanksgiving triumphs, and epic battles over the last slice of apple pie. For me Thanksgiving is always about the warm apple pie that my mom bakes with love each holiday season. Covered in crunchy streusel topping and piled high with fresh tart apples, this is seriously the best damn apple pie you’ve ever had.

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My mom has been making this apple pie for nearly three decades, and it is a timeless family classic that we all look forward to and fight over every Thanksgiving. It has gotten to the point where my mom makes an extra apple pie just for our (nuclear) family to dig into late night after everyone has left, when our bellies are still full, but one more bite of apple pie is all we crave.

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I am thankful for my mom’s patience as I took one million photos for this post. I am thankful for her years of pie baking and deliciousness making even with a house full of small kids. I am thankful for the years of tradition my family has kept alive. I am thankful for my family and friends that make the holidays worthwhile and wonderful. Burnt pie crusts, bone-dry turkeys, and broken dishes happen to the best of us- all that really matters is that you take a look around the room and realize how much goodness and love is already in one place. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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Mom’s Best Apple Pie

Modified from the Betty Crocker 1983 Version

  • 1 pie crust (homemade or store-bought, you decide!)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • Dash of salt
  • 7-8 cups of apples thinly sliced tart apples (around 1 bag)

For the streusel topping:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup cold butter

Heat oven to 425F. Peel, core, and thinly slice your apples. I used an apple corer and then sliced each segment again in half. Do not slice the apples too thin. Mix the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and stir in the apples till well coated. If you’re feeling awesome and have plenty of time on your hands go ahead and make your own pie crust. I myself am not that cool, so I bought a premade pie crust, and I think it tastes pretty damn delicious with the shortcut. Place the pie crust into the 9 inch pie dish. Add the sugar and spice coated apples. The apples will form a large mountain, but fear not, the apples will become smaller as the pie bakes and it will settle even lower as it cools.

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Mix the streusel ingredients until nice and crumbly. My mom taught me to use a cheese grater to grate the cold butter into the sugar and flour. Do not over mix, the crumble should be just that- crumbly!  Top the apples with the streusel topping. Make sure to wipe any of the delicious gooey sugar apple coating that might have gotten on the edges of the pie crust. The sugar will turn black and burn parts of the pie crust. Simply use a moist paper towel or clean fingers to rub it off. Fold a large square of aluminum foil in half and cut out a large circle. Place the remaining square over the pie which should perfectly cover the crust. The thin crust can burn easily so it will be a perfect golden brown if you cover it during the entire baking process.

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Bake the apple pie for 50 minutes, but take a peek around 20 minutes to see how golden brown the streusel topping is. This step is crucial as the topping can sometimes get quite crisp. If it is looking golden early on (as it usually does) fold a piece of aluminum foil in half and tent it over the pie. Do not place the aluminum foil firmly against the pie or try to fasten because this can cause the streusel to become soft and soggy.

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After 50 minutes take your beautiful apple pie out of the oven and allow it to cool somewhat. Serve the apple pie warm with vanilla bean ice cream, vanilla sauce, or with a nice big dollop of whipped cream. This apple pie will become a staple in your home for years to come; I know I can’t have Thanksgiving without it!

apple-pie-with-whipped-cream

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