Fort Wayne — Karin Brenig has just served up a small slice of her hearty homemade German bread, topped it with Bavarian cheese spread, again homemade, and sliced onions. The bread and cheese spread look and taste like the work of a professional, but Brenig, who moved to Fort Wayne from Munich, Germany, six years ago, is quick to make it clear that she’s not a professional cook.
“I’m not a cook. I’m a programmer,” says Brenig, a computer programmer at Indiana Tech since 2007, “I became a cook here out of necessity. I started reading ingredients on the food labels. I’ve noticed over the years you can make your own food, like bread. I told my daughter in Germany everything I’m making from scratch and she said, ‘Mom, it seems like you’re turning into a regular housewife there.’ ”
Brenig, 56, began her career in computer programming in 1978 while still living in Germany. She said it took nine months after moving to the States to find a job.
“I was hired through a temp agency as an administrative assistant. I learned to fit into a work environment in the States. Culture shock! I was glad I didn’t have a challenging job. It allowed me to adapt to the environment,” she says, adding, “Fort Wayne is not Silicone Valley I found out.”
When she’s looking for something to do during her downtime, Brenig’s hobbies include photography and painting. She also enjoys ballroom dancing with her husband, Tom Pyles, and yodeling, but not at the same time.
“I don’t sing very well. So, I yodel. While living close to the Alps, it wasn’t hip or cool (to yodel). But here, it’s very typical if you’re Bavarian,” she says.
Unable to find yodeling classes, Brenig purchased a CD yodeling course online and listened to it as she drove back and forth to work.
“Indiana Tech has a talent show. Did I yodel? Yes. If you Google me, Karin Brenig on YouTube, you’ll find me. Yodeling is my current hobby,” she says.
Q. Do you have a favorite cookbook?
A. No. I get all my recipes on the Internet. If I don’t have a recipe, I’ll Google. The last thing I wanted to know – how to make an apple jelly or jam. I had a lot of apples and I went online. If I don’t find (recipes) in English, I look in German. I don’t have a specific site.
I do have my grandmother’s cookbook. But it was from the 1920s and it has normal recipes from Germany. They were servings for eight to 12. They have strange ingredients, especially the meat products. They used every piece of an animal – maybe except the hair.
Q. Did you find it difficult to adjust to temperatures and measurements used in recipes here?
A. Yes, that is still an issue. I have a scale in the kitchen. I’m getting used to it. I made myself a table for temperatures. If something says to bake in degrees, I want to know what it is in Celsius. I check the table.
Q. What vegetable do you eat most often?
A. Now, let me think. I don’t know. Does tomato count? I love tomatoes. This year (in our garden), we had tons of tomatoes. I cooked them to make tomato paste.
Q. What do you do to keep meals healthy?
A. It’s not only healthier (to cook from scratch) but cheaper. I never made bread in Germany. Here my first breads were like construction materials. When I got here, I thought bread was my least concern.
Q. What do you make better than anyone else?
A. Tiramisu. That’s Italian and it means “lift me up.”
Q. What one word describes your cooking style?
A. (laughs) Oh, that’s free-style.
8 ounces full fat natural cream cheese
8 ounces ripe camembert or brie cheese
1 tablespoon red paprika powder
Chop cheeses up and mix briefly in a bowl; add paprika powder. Blend ingredients in a small food processor until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Store in a sealed plastic container in the refrigerator. Serve with Bavarian pretzels or German rye bread and sliced onions on top. Makes 2 cups.
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons water, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
7 egg whites
Preheat oven to 360 degrees. Beat egg yolk, water and sugar with an electric mixer at high speed. Mix flour, corn starch, baking powder and salt together. Sift the flour mixture through a strainer onto the egg yolk and sugar mixture. Slowly blend in flour mixture until smooth and even. Beat egg whites as stiff as you can. Using a fork, blend egg whites into the dough. Be careful, blend very slowly, don’t stir air out of it. Line a cookie pan with parchment paper; pour dough into it and spread out evenly. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes. While you prepare the filling, let cake cool.
2/3 cups strong cold coffee or espresso
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons coffee liquor
6 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 pound mascarpone (Italian cream cheese) or full fat cream cheese
In a glass bowl, mix coffee with 3 tablespoons sugar and coffee liquor; set aside. With electric mixer, blend egg yolks and remaining sugar, until light, creamy and fluffy. Add cream cheese to creamed mixture. Cut cake in half. Put one half in the bottom of a glass container. Soak the cake with half of the cold coffee mixture. Spread half of the filling on top of the layer of cake. Put on second half of cake, soak with the remaining cold coffee; add the remaining cream filling. Cover the dish and put it into the refrigerator for at least four hours. When Tiramisu is well chilled, sift a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder evenly over the top. Makes 8 to 12 servings.