It's very rare that we do a theme night without being extremely intentional. Some time ago, I was having a conversation with my friend, Ernie Penate. (He's one of Theme Night's biggest fans!) He had already been to Japanese Night, Cuban Night, Greek Night......heck, we had done most of the "Nights" you could muster up! I went to my trusty globe in the great room and the first thing I saw was Germany. "We haven't done German Night!" was my text to Ernie. "LET'S DO THIS." was his reply.
We started with who all would be in attendance. Ya just can't have Ernie without the Burkes, Brett and Julie. (We do it that way because it cracks us up that it sounds like Burt and Ernie. HAAA!) Ernie had his lovely bride-to-be, Karrah, by his side, of course, and we had our friend Jorge and his sister, Ana (also our friend), and without question, Alex Adamitis (sounds like a super-hero name, doesn't it?), and his inamorata, Jenni.
Adrian and I dressed the part. (OF COURSE WE DID) Adrian put on a pair of khaki shorts, a white, button-down shirt with white tube socks pulled all the way up, a pair of crocks, and a traditional German tweed fedora-type hat with a yellow fluffy feather. (We couldn't find cheap lader-hosen) I donned braided pigtails with a white, button down shirt under a black Oktoberfest-looking dress and clogs. We used stuff from around the house, garage, and attic for our authentic decor, found the Polka station on Pandora, and played it as we marched to the door each time someone arrived, saying, "Wilkommen!"
Everyone received a menu, which took me about a week to put together. I wanted to do it both in English and in German. It was pretty awesome, if I do say so myself!
What really stood out to me with this Theme Night Menu was that I had almost everything already in my pantry as staples to make the meal. I was floored at how little I had to purchase from the grocery store to make it complete. I made everything from scratch, which is what helped make it so. I did learn to treat the veal gently when cooking it. Though it was delicious, it was not as tender as I feel it could have been.
The three items that really stood out to me were the onion soup with pumpernickel bread, and the spaetzle, and I've attached the recipes below. They did take a little work, I must admit, but once each bite hit my mouth, I knew it was worth it! When I say they were top-notch delicious, I MEAN IT!!
We laughed, made merry, and had a marvelous time as we always do on our adventures together. We ended the night out back in the cool night air playing washers (pronounced var-shers just for German Night!) It was one of the best Theme Nights yet!
As life happens all around us, we don't always have the time or the money to enjoy our friends and family, let alone travel the world. But it becomes what you make of it. Treat it gently so that you realize how tender it can be. If you're willing to put in just a little work, you can be adventurous and surround yourself with the ones you love while you make lasting memories together that are totally worth it and top-notch delicious.
3 lbs red onions, sliced super thin
4 slices bacon, diced (small dice)
2 pieces bread, toasted and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 qt 1l beef stock (I use organic beef-FLAVORED stock)
2 cups water
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (I use mine from my garden!)
10 oz grated Swiss cheese
6oz brie, cut into small pieces (you can leave thisyou, if you like, but it adds a creamy richness you would not BELIEVE!)
1 shot brandy (or two if you want one to drink!)
Set large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Render bacon, do not brown too much. Add butter. Melt. Add thinly sliced onions. Cook over medium heat until they release liquid, stirring frequently. Turn up the heat to high and cook until the liquid has almost evaporated, stirring from time to time.
Reduce heat and slowly caramelize the onions. Stir frequently and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching. When the onions are nicely browned and the bottom of the pan is covered with the caramelized juices, add 1 cup water in very small steps, keep cooking and stirring and wait until the water has evaporated before adding the next shot.
Add the remaining water and beef stock. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the chopped parsley. Stick in some bread cubes and pieces of brie. Top with grated swiss cheese. Pour brandy (optional) over the hot soup and cheese. (At this point for the purpose of German night, I added the soup crouton pearls (backersben) at the table, but this can be served without)
2 cups warm milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons molasses
3 1/4 cups bread flour
1 1/3 cups rye flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/3 teaspoons salt
2 2/3 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 2/3 tablespoons brown sugar
Mix well bread flour, rye flour, cornmeal, salt, yeast, cocoa, and brown sugar. Add milk, oil, and molasses. Mix thoroughly. When mixed well enough that the dough holds together, knead by hand 15-20 minutes.
Cover, let rise in bowl 30 minutes. Punch down, form, and place into 9 1/2x5 inch pan. Cover with damp cloth and let rise about 1 hour.
Bake in preheated 375 degree oven 25 to 30 minutes, covering top with aluminum foil last 10 minutes. (For German Night, I spread homemade herbed butter over each slice and topped with green onions. WOO!)
2 cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached organic)
7 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
Combine the flour, eggs and milk in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Prepare an ice bath bowl. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil. Set a large colander with holes anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2-inch wide over the pot. Steam is hot and steam burns are the worst, so BE CAREFUL!! Use potholders! Pour 1/4 of the batter into the colander and press it through the holes with the back of a large cooking spoon or spoonula. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes then use a slotted spoon to fish spaetzle out and drop it in the ice bath. Continue with remaining batter in batches. Use only a little batter at a time so that lots of tiny, twisty spaetzle come out as opposed to large gummy ones.
Drain the spaetzle well and toss it with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil to keep it from sticking. (For German Night, I put them immediately into a hot pan with a tablespoon of butter for a good sear, then tossed with brown gravy and herbs and topped with fresh parsley. I could eat this three times a day every day it was so good!)