Thursday, December 27, 2007

Leek Rings

Everyone knows - grease is good for what "ales" you. Get it? Ale = beer, anyways. Nothing quite calms to aching belly from one too many nights of overindulgence like a big basket of greasy goodness. Deep frying at home is kind of a committment, so this is a perfect snack that you can make in small quantities.

Leek Rings

2 quarts vegetable oil
1 leek
1 1/2 cups milk
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning

Cut off the dark green part of the leek. Slice the rest of the leek into 1/2-inch rings, separating them into layers. Place in a bowl full of water to dislodge any dirt. Drain and move onto a paper towel lined baking sheet.

Heat the oil in a heavy 4 or 5-quart pot over medium-high heat to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg and milk. In another bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Divide the flour into 2 shallow dishes and put the milk/egg mix into a third. Take 1 small handful of leeks at a time and dip them first into one flour mixture, then into the milk/egg mix, and then into the second flour mixture. Working in batches, fry the rings for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the rings to a baking sheet lined with paper towels allow to cool for 2 to 3 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with a little more kosher salt and serve with mustart.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I Have a Confession

This is hard to admit - but I don't eat all my fruits and vegetables. It's not my fault. Really.

My weekly produce delivery is getting the best of me. I had good intentions - get a box full of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables delivered every week and healthly, low-fat, fiber- and vitamin-rich meals will follow. Sounds easy, but in reality is very difficult to do.

What's a girl to do with an abundance of fast-ripening fruits? I needed a plan.

Apples are great for snacking and good in pies, but I needed something quick and easy. And quite frankly - I'm tired of eating apples. Solution = Applesauce. I love applesauce but will admit I'd never actually made it until just a couple months ago when I came across a recipe for "grown-up" applesauce. This recipe puts the "sauce" back in applesauce:

2 medium apples (I used galas), peeled & cored and sliced into 1 inch chunks
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp water (you may need to add more if it cooks off
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp Cognac, plus a little extra to stir in at the end

Place all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepan, cover and bring to a boil. Turn to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes. The apples will get mushy on their own, but mash them more against the sides of the pan with a rubber spatula. The mixture will look runny, but the butter will set up. Stir in a little more Cognac. Eat warm, or cool and store in the fridge. You can easily double this recipe if you have more apples or want more sauce.

Pears are Gavin's favorite fruit and pie is Gavin's favorite dessert. But pies take time (not to mention patience & skill), and these pears were ripening fast. As far as I understand it, a galette is French for any flat, round, crusty cake. I like to think of it as a shortcut pie. The dough is super easy and you can divide it and make one galette now and one in 2-3 days.

Pear Galette
1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 oz) flour
1/2 tsp salt
11 Tbsp (5 1/2 oz) cold butter, cut into chunks
1 egg yolk
3 Tbsp whole milk
sugar for dusting the top of the crust

Cut the butter into the flour and salt using a pastry cutter until the lumps of butter are pea size. Mix the egg yolk and milk together and add this to the flour/butter mix. Stir well. Dump the dough out onto the counter and knead for 20-30 seconds until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic and flatten into a disc and (this is crucial) refrigerate for 15-20 minutes. At this point you can also divide the dough into two discs - and save one for later. It'll keep for 2-3 days in the fridge.

3-4 cups fresh fruit. I like pears, but you can use apples, berries, peaches, etc. Cut the fruit into 1/2 inch chunks or slices.
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
dash of fresh nutmeg or ginger
1 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces for on top of the filling

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough so it closely resembles a circle (rustic edges are part of the charm), and is about an 1/8 of an inch thick. Transfer the dough to a parchment (or silpat) lined baking sheet. Pile the fruit filling in the middle and fold the edges toward the center leaving a 2-3 inch opening. Work your way around, slightly overlaping the dough at each fold. Brush the outside with eggwash ( 1 egg, lightly beaten) and sprinkle with sugar (I like sanding sugar of large sugar sparkles)

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45-55 minutes (depending on the size and thickness of the fruit. Serve warm with ice cream or a cold glass of milk.

Bananas are really starting to bum me out. They are so starchy and blah and filling. I'll admit that I love them if I am really active or really hungry and need a carb-bomb. Other than that I really have no need for them, other than for smoothies or banana bread. Thankfully, banana bread is a crowd pleaser, super easy to make and makes the house smell great. I've somehow misplaced my favorite recipe, but thankfully a quick google search will give you hundreds to choose from.

Bake on.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Pepparkakor Hus

Every Christmas - for as long as I can remember, my mom has made a Pepparkakor Hus. That's Swedish for "gingerbread house." It was a fun tradition - my mom did all the work and I got a house. I also got to take it into my classroom and share it with schoolmates (we'd smash it and eat all the stale pieces.)

That was then, but this is now and we haven't made a pepparkakor hus in years. I have never really had the desire, until I saw this.

Oh really, Red Envelope? You evil temptress with your gifts for every occasion, your clean navigation and nice product photography. Think you can also offer the end-all, be-all in gingerbread houses too!? Think you can just jump onto the mid-century bandwagon and cash in on the trend? $80 for a gingerbread house?!

HA! I'll take your mid-century and raise you a pair of Eames lounge chairs. Actually I called up mom for a plan of attack. Yeah, I'll admit I never could have designed this without her. I am not exactly artistically gifted.

You wouldn't believe how this thing came together - mom got out the graph paper and, using the picture of our house above, she sketched out a pretty good to-scale plan. We cut out the plans, then traced them onto parchment paper. Rolled out the dough, cut, baked and assembled. What a cinch.

Um, OK - not really. Rolling out pepperkakor dough is already a little tricky. It has to be very, very thin. Well, combine the thinness with lots of little window cutouts and doors, argh, it was really kind of a pain in the ass. I was determined though.

Once we baked up all the pieces, assembly began. The thing about assembling these buggers is using the right adhesive. And in our case, this adhesive is molten sugar. Holy hell - this is some scary ass shit to work with. If you get it on you, it immediately adheres to your skin and begins to harden. Needless to say, some injuries occurred.

Assembly would have been much easier if we were actually working with perfectly measured pieces. See the thing is, the dough changes shape once you bake it. No matter how good your original plans are noor how well the rolled & cut dough are, baking it alters the shape. Thankfully my father, who's a builder, was on hand to ovesee the project. Sure, sure, sure - he had lots of tips, but he's used to working with different materials. And plans for that matter. Not so helpful afterall.

Nonetheless, we managed to get it assembled. Mom kept reminding me that icing covers a multitude of sins (can this theory be applied elsewhere?). Indeed it did. Armed with a piping bag and some pretty wicked icing, I went to town! I iced the hell out of this pepparkakor hus. And then it snowed - fluffy, fluffy powdered sugar snow. And behold....

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Marshmallow Heaven

OK - so this is kind of a childhood dream realized - making marshmallows, and they are all MINE!

Of course - the recipe came from Martha Stewart. It was surprisingly easy (that is, if you have a stand mixer, a thermometer and the desire).

Start by blooming the gelatin in the bowl of your stand mixture and letting it sit for 30 minutes. Then heat your sugar, corn syrup, water and salt to 244 degrees.

Slowly pour the hot mixture into the gelatin and slowly increase the mixer speed to high. Holy hell - it sounds like a helicopter taking off. Mix on high for 15 minutes. The mix will triple in volume (and make the mixer sound a little taxed). Then, mix in the vanilla. I thought the recipe was a little heavy on the vanilla, so next time I think I'll start with half and then taste, add a little more, taste, add a little more, taste, taste, taste. OK, actually, I just wanted to grab a spoon and devour this bowlful of fluff. It is so dang good!

Once your fluff is ready - pour it into a 8" x 12" pan sprinkled with LOTS of powdered sugar. Spoon in the mix (it doesn't really pour, it is too thick) and then sprinkle with lots more powdered sugar. I sifted the powdered sugar, so it would be fine and light. Press it down with slightly we hands. And wait. Wait. Wait!? Yes - overnight.

The only good part about the overnight wait is that you can enjoy your marshmallows with a cup of morning cocoa. Turn out the pan and slice with a hot, dry knife. Sprinkle with (more!) powdered sugar and store in an airtight container.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Swedish Knäck

December always makes me nostalgic for the traditional foods of Sweden & Norway. My Scandinavian parents always pull out all the stops at Christmas. The pickling, baking, cooking and curing begins weeks in advance. None of these traditional dishes are simple by any means. In particular, the cookies and sweets are very time-consuming.

I was surprised - and excited - to find a shortcut Knäck recipe on Anne's Food blog. I tried it tonight and it could't be easier. Yes, it is a little dangerous with all that molten sugar around (read: wear protection), but the results were great. Tack så mycket Anne!

Swedish Knäck
(makes around 40)
100 ml cream
100 ml golden syrup - you can buy Lys Sirup at IKEA
80 g / 100 ml sugar
3 tbsp finely chopped blanched almonds
Tiny paper cups

Mix cream, sugar and syrup in a 4-cup Pyrex cup. Put it the microwave on the highest setting, for exactly 7 minutes. (You might need to try this a couple of times - if it doesn't boil for long enough, it'll be very soft and chewy. If it's boiled too long, it'll be rock hard.) Remove very carefully - it's super hot - and gently fold in the almonds. Pour into tiny paper cups very fast, if it cools down it'll be a lot harder to pour. Place in the fridge until they're set. Keeps well in an air-tight container.

It Begins with Pork

Is there anything tastier than pork fat? No, not really. I've been enamored with pork belly for awhile now, yet just learned it is in my blood. My Norwegian blood that is.

A traditional dish in Norway called Ribbe is cooked each year at Christmas. Ribbe are essentially the ribs, but the cut of meat can also extend down to the belly. All these cuts - as far as I understand - are from the side of the pig. And that my friends, is where the flavor is.

Scandinavians, like the British, have a soft spot for crackling. That is, the crisp, crackling fat and skin that results from scoring, drying and then roasting a nice cut of pork.

In preparation for next month's Soup Night - and its Scandinavia theme - I am testing some recipes out first.

The Menu:

Danish Pickled Red Cabbage
Mashed Potatoes
Brown Gravy