The New Convivialist

Month: October, 2012

Savor Sweet Rosemary Shortbread

rosemary shortbread recipe

I have written already about Dritte Mitte, the Italian-style Aperitivo that Katharina, Til, Lorenzo, Frank and I host once per month. We love to talk about how much work it is. Oh, the hours we spend trolling the market for the best greens or searching for elusive cans of ginger beer that the cocktail-of-the-week would not be complete without. Not to mention the time spent in front of the stove, rolling polpette, elbow deep in frying oil. Yes, we complain, hopefully more to each other than to our guests, but when all is said and done, we do, though we would never say it out loud, love every minute. We all enjoy (understatement) eating and cooking, and the fact that we need to provide sustenance for some 80-100 people every four weeks keeps us on our toes, keeps us trying new recipes. Because if not, we would tire of it, simple as that.

This last week’s Aperitivo consisted of lots of fat. Maybe it’s the fault of the colder weather that is now descending on Berlin, but every new plate we brought out to the guests seemed more calorie-rich than the last. Shortbread, sweet and savory at once, was a major sub-genre under last week’s general theme of Fat. We baked two different types, one being Rosemary Shortbread, which is a long-standing favorite of mine.

I originally sourced the recipe from the NYTimes (Melissa Clark). Over the years, I have modified it slightly; this is pretty much as perfect as you can get when talking shortbread. Don’t be afraid of the massive amount of butter. It is what makes shortbread shortbread, after all. I think that without the addition of the fresh rosemary, the shortbread is still ok, but the herbaceous quality gives it an extra kick that also helps to cut the richness of the butter. A good dose of salt and sea salt makes it sweet and savory at the same time.

Sweet Savory Rosemary Shortbread Recipe

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

10 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 pinch sea salt

2 teaspoons honey (or even better, a citrusy syrup

1 cup (2 sticks, 225 g, one “pack”) unsalted cold butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

1. Heat oven to 325°F or 165°C (yes, low, as they must bake relatively slowly).

2. Whisk together flour, sugar, rosemary and salt.

3. Add butter, and honey (once, I replaced the honey with a lemon-flavored simple syrup that I had made for another purpose, and I found the result to be divine). Cut in with a pastry cutter, two knives or your hands (if you have a food processor, go ahead and use it) until mixture is the texture of fine crumbs.

4. Rub together/pulse in food processor a few more times until some crumbs start to come together, but don’t over-mix. Dough should not be smooth.

5. Lay parchment paper on the bottom of an 8- or 9-inch (20- or 23-cm)-square baking pan and press dough evenly into it. Prick dough all over with a fork.

6. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes for 9-inch pan, 45 to 50 minutes for 8-inch. Cool slightly. Cut into squares, bars or wedges while still warm.

Yield: One 8- or 9-inch shortbread.

rosemary shortbread

Good Morning Cake

good morning cake

Who ever said you couldn’t eat cake for breakfast?

Remember when you were a kid, those “fun packs” of tiny boxes of sugary cereals? You could buy, say, 2 boxes of each of Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks, Corn Pops and Cocoa Krispies, all shrink wrapped together in a row? Alas, I was never allowed to have them, making those colorful little cardboard containers naturally all the more appealing.

Ok, I admit that I did not regress back to childhood and eat the Good Morning Cake – a four-layer vanilla cake with espresso frosting – for breakfast. I made this cake about two and a half years ago as part of an installation, for an ongoing project I did called Conzept Kiosk. Why I woke up yesterday dreaming about this cake, I do not know, but I felt it appropriate on my 30th (!) birthday to re-consider it. My words of wisdom discovered after three decades of life experience: I actually think that what’s on top of this cake is far more unhealthy for you than the entire cake itself.

How’s that for growing up?

good morning cake

In Conzept Kiosk, I would leave baked goods (or in its last version, entire cakes) on a stand on the side of the street. It began on a remote island in Finland and continued on a mixed-use urban street in Brooklyn. The absurdity of it all interested me. But the further goal was as follows:

To investigate an alternative mode of exchange and distribution, one in which there is an implicit sense of trust that goes beyond the unsaid but all too present sense of obedience and fear of manipulation that we all have experienced as a buyer and a seller. In our urban culture, we are often taken aback by generosity, even when it is sincerely offered, and regard it as suspect. In Concept Kiosk, however, there is a moment of sharing, of uninhibited exchange. My goods are vulnerable to the perusal of the “customer,” but the leaving of money is an acknowledgement of the value of my public offering. This subtle shift in the traditional model of consumerism posits the consumer as an active participant in a dialectical artistic exchange.

good morning cake

good morning cake

good morning cake

The “In NYC But Would Rather Be Upstate” Dinner

I just returned to Berlin from a whirlwind ten days in the US, mostly New York. Unfortunately the trip’s purpose was not leaf-peeping. Nor was it shopping, as the officer at the security check leaving Berlin simply assumed of my travel plans! No, I flew back to be with Paul, after he learned the sad news that his father would not make it to 12-12-12, when he would have turned a century old.

It was a quiet week, not at all like my usual trips back to New York, which consist of round-the-clock running, in order to see everyone and eat everything. Even at the time, it seemed to us a shame not to at least drive for a day upstate to see the brilliant red maple trees, pick pumpkins and eat apples. But it just wasn’t on the agenda; there were more pressing things. On my last night in town, though, Paul cooked up one of his signature dishes, inspired by the season and flavored with his very unique touches.

I think if any born and bred Italian would see how Paul prepares his ravioli, they would sneer at the disregard of the purity of ingredients. But it tastes fantastic so, in the end, I simply like it. My best way to describe how he cooks is a fusion of Japanese and Italian, using some elements of the macrobiotic movement. His telling is much more poetic: “Fat is seared. Moisture is driven out. So all is delicious in the end.” Which, let’s be honest, are really tenants of so many wonderful dishes from all kinds of cultures. So, keep an open mind and follow along.

Recipe: Cinnamon-Pumpkin Ravioli with Orange Garlic-glazed Kale

Serves 4

-enough pumpkin ravioli for four (either store-bought fresh ravioli – which we used – or homemade)

-one large bunch of green kale

-½ head garlic (yes, this much!)

-3/4 cup orange juice


-olive oil


-umeboshi plum vinegar

-brown rice vinegar

-powdered ginger


1. Peel and chop the cloves from ½ head of garlic coarsely. Wash kale and remove leaves from the stems. Chop leaves coarsely.

2. Warm a large pan with high sides and a lid with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and ½ cup of orange juice. Add garlic and simmer for a few minutes until reduced (see photo). Add a small knob of butter and simmer a couple of minutes more on low heat.

3. Add chopped kale, in batches depending on the size of your pan and stir to coat in sauce. Sprinkle in a tiny bit of tamari, umeboshi plum vinegar and brown rice vinegar to taste (these are pretty intense, but go ahead and add a few splashes). Cover and cook on medium heat for 8-10 minutes, checking and stirring every couple of minutes to be sure it doesn’t overcook.

4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the ravioli and cook only a few minutes, just until they float. Drain well and set aside for one minute.

5. Heat a non-stick frying pan with a tablespoon of butter and ¼ cup of orange juice. Add drained pasta and sprinkle with cinnamon. Stir together gently and let fry over medium heat until browned. When you see it beginning to dry out, add a bit more butter, a splash of tamari, a drop of the two vinegars and a pinch of powdered ginger. Continue to cook until seared/well-browned.

6. Serve a few (or in our case, more than a few) ravioli next to a heaping portion of kale.

orange garlic glazed kale

reduction for orange garlic glazed kale

adding kale to pan

paul's triad of secret saucesYou really can’t imagine how satisfying, yet surprising this meal is. The browning of the carbohydrates in butter makes it generally savory, but it is prevented from burning through the orange juice, which doubles as a nice sour-sweetener. Despite all the fats and salty vinegars, the meal still doesn’t feel too unhealthy. Kale is a superfood, after all, something to feel good about.

Though we cooked a meal for four, all of our friends in the neighborhood have either babies or stressful jobs or both, and were too tired to join us on short notice. Deciding to turn our attempted dinner party into an early birthday party for each other, Paul and I ate nearly the entire meal for four between us, and even whipped up a couple of mini flourless chocolate cakes for the finale.

pan-frying ravioli

cinnamon pumpkin ravioli and garlic orange glazed kale recipe