i started another longterm project a few months ago when we got back from berlin: rumtopf (or rum pot.) in between movies and meetings at the berlinale, frank and i went for lunch at rogacki, the amazing deli in charlottenburg.

beyond the sausage and smoked fish porn, there are various stations where you can order food and a glass of wine as well as a cafeteria line featuring most prominently, big tranches of fried fish and three (three!!) types of potato salad. as you move along there are pickled cucumbers, “tartar sauce” (more like a dill-y quark) and an assortment of desserts. one of the desserts was a yellow pudding with a brilliant crimson sauce. the pudding turned out to be bavarian cream and the sauce was a mélange of red fruits. most interesting was the texture – decidedly seed-y, quite, in fact: gritty. i had no idea what it was until we were looking for dessert one night at diener and the brilliantly surly waitress suggested the only dessert they have: röte grütze. in a quick back and forth it was established that röte grütze is not rumtopf which is another german red fruit concoction that i learned about from a former german flame’s parents. a winter holiday delicacy, rumtopf is a crock into which all of the red fruits of summer are added along with rum and sugar. starting in the spring with strawberries and moving through the summer, raspberries, blueberries, red currants and anything else that looks good are layered into the crock and laced with rum and sugar. then it sits through the fall to be revealed in the days leading up to christmas. the boozy red syrup and fruit can be poured over ice cream and cake or as i intend: eaten deliriously with a spoon.

i made röte grütze when we got back and also took a foray into bavarian cream which is remarkably easy: gelatin-fortified creme anglaise with whipped cream folded in.  the “red grits” are comprised of raspberries, cherries, strawberries, blackberries and red currants cooked down with tapioca starch (some traditional recipes call for sago.) the “grits” are the seeds of the raspberries, blackberries and currants. i love the crunchy sensation along with the tartness of the pudding. frank hates it and keeps asking if i can make it without the grits part which is sort of not the point, but i will give it a try.

so i’ve put up a rum pot and it has been sitting since february with the occasional addition. today i added a bunch of pluots left over from last week’s csa. it already smells and looks pretty good: i tried a strawberry, it was intact, translucent, sweet and totally alcoholic. yum.


mother’s day: schweinekoteletts

frank and i have lots in common – a pair of leos who love classic cars – but one of the coolest commonalities is our love of german (and austrian) food. it’s in our genes somewhere – most obviously in his scottish/german ancestry, less so in my my west indian, new york, scottish, irish, african-ness. schnitzel sluts r us.

my mother used to make us pork chops and sauerkraut with apple sauce when i was a kid. it was yummy – particularly the potatoes and sauerkraut part – but the pork chops were generally unyieldingly dry (sorry ma.) i have no idea what she did to them but baking in an electric oven on high for an hour will undo the effects any amount of white wine and sauerkraut juice i reckon.

this fall i will start a new batch of sauerkraut in my beloved gartopf  but it’s getting warm in la so i’ll doctor up some boar’s head and be done because it is really all about the pork. the chops should be boneless center cut, really thick and they absolutely must be brined.

brining is a key meat move in any cook’s technique arsenal. it’s a chemistry trick involving osmosis. the water, salt and aromatics in your brine carry into the meat cells and make them virtually impervious to drying out. harold mcgee has lots to say about this in his various books. read them.

schweinekoteletts mit sauerkraut

1 or 2 center cut boneless pork chops – at least 2 inches thick – per person


i have to admit i’m a little lazy with my brines. there is all sorts of precision to be had, eggs to be floated, etc. i choose a vessel of an appropriate size for the meat in question and go to town: bay leaf, habaneros or other hot pepper, white peppercorns, black peppercorns, juniper berries, a clove of garlic, a bit of star anise and then salt and sugar in a 1:2 ratio and fill the vessel (usually a ziplock bag) with cold water. if i am doing a big cut – like a brisket – i will boil it all together and add ice and let it cool and be more precise with the measurements, especially with the addition of the nitrite in the case of cured meat like  corned beef. but for a couple of pork chops – some salt, some sugar – taste it – if it’s too strong add more water. throw it in the fridge for a few hours to a day or two. the chops in question today have been in a weak-ish (but spicy) brine for a week. i know. i’ve been busy trying to get a movie going.

sauerkraut (fresh is fine, homemade is best)

potatoes – parboiled

onions, garlic etc.

spices – juniper, caraway seeds, black pepper

white wine (a troken riesling if you want to be authentic)

preheat oven to 300. sauté the onions, garlic, kraut and spices in butter or goose fat. deglaze with white wine, and set aside. brown the chops (rinse off any clingy bits of spice and dry them first) in goose fat or butter. set them into a baking pan (i usually brown them right in my le creuset rectangular pan), position the potatoes around them and cover with the sauerkraut – making sure the meat is totally obscured. cover with foil and seal tightly. bake the whole scenario in the oven for fifteen minutes –  then temperature test the pork. pork does not have to be cooked to 190. it will probably not even kill you at 140. presumably, since we don’t have swine running the streets and eating garbage and small rodents anymore, trichinosis is not as much an issue these days. cooking pork to medium rare (about 145) is fine and even at 165 the brine does its osmotic magic so they should be custard-like, barely pink and really really juicy.

frank likes his sauerkraut sort of browned and crispy – we were at diener in berlin in february (for the berlinale) and they left our wurst plate under the salamander too long and the sauerkraut crisped up – it was nice. so now i do that – just run it under the broiler for a few minutes. good german mustard and apple sauce or sautéed apples are yummy with too.