Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bless the Swedes

Someone has been keeping the one copy of Kitchen of Light for-ev-er. I have been #4 on the library waiting list for, like, ev-er. 

There is a nifty feature on the library website that allows a patron to "browse the shelf." Since I was going to have to put off my Scandinavian cooking agenda for a while, I browsed and happened upon Sweet and Savory Swedish Baking. I would only rate this book overall as okay. The author's sins are dual: 1. The instructions are lacking and vague at times, e.g. In one recipe, step one says to cream the butter and sugar, then step two says to melt the butter. There are several such errors, forcing me to come up with my own method, which worked out fine because I am somewhat experienced, but would have been a disaster if I were a beginner. 2. The title is not apt in that there are a bunch of Italian and French recipes, and even an American cheesecake (insert editorial yuck). And yet there are no cream or jam-filled sweet breads (wait, not the meat kind of sweetbreads, but the bread kind) and no lefse. Perhaps these are attributed not to Sweden, but at least they are Scandinavian and surely belong in this book much more than focaccia. Anyway, I don't object to these foreign recipes, per se, but rather to the misleading title. 

Aside from the sins, then, it's a good book. I have made a few things and plan to make a few more. I like how the author gives a basic recipe, then a few ways to vary it, e.g. spongecake, saffron spongecake, apple spongecake. 

What I like most about the seemingly Swedish recipes is the use of unfamiliar flours - unfamiliar, that is, to American bakers who are heavily influenced by France and England, perhaps Scotland, where the use of white flour and oats prevail. But bless those Swedes and their rye, spelt, molasses, and caraway seeds. (I had to look up rye grits.)

The loaf below is my new go-to morning loaf. It has all sorts of goodies in it: molasses, rye flour, flax seeds, hazelnuts, golden raisins. It's hearty, sweet, earthy, even a little spicy and chewy. Perfect with a wee bit of butter. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Best Breakfast Ever

I think I need carbs in the morning. I'll eat a piece of fruit and an egg, maybe some yogurt - that's a lot - but if I don't have a piece of toast or something, I just don't feel done, and I am ravenous within an hour. Knowing this, and wanting to use up our buttermilk, I recently made oatmeal scones. These are the real deal, i.e., they do not use rolled oats, but rather steel cut oats soaked in buttermilk. The scones come out crumbly and chewy and are delicious. I sprinkle the top with a little cinnamon sugar and then serve with jam. Awesome.

Funny, though, because I recently saw an episode of America's Test Kitchen and they used the word "chewy" as a slur when describing an oatmeal scone. Ah well. I like it.
The chocolate beauty with the scone here is my version of a Bixit, aka digestive biscuit. I have been searching and searching for a Bixit approximate here in the States. J and I discovered or, rather, were introduced to these cookies in Norway (skoal!). They are wheaty and crunchy, and when you get the chocolate ones, they go perfectly with morning or afternoon tea. I like to dip a chocolate cookie in tea so that it gets a little melty. Excellent technique that I highly recommend. But there just is no approximation here in the States of this cookie. I bought a box that were similar in Canada, but just not the same. AND everyone seems content with milk chocolate on their digestive-type cookies. No, no, no. Dark chocolate is the only way to roll. Please. 

So, one day, I was thumbing through my enormous cookie cookbook - given to me by my old friend Jackie, who now lives in the 'burbs and I cannot recall the last time I saw her. I wonder if it will be one of those relationships that I pick back up when the kids are older. I recall driving out to Novato to see the Walshes when I was a kid - that was my mom's good friend - and we saw them once a year. That's what happens. Anyway, Jackie got me this book for my birthday ages ago and it has provided me with a couple solid cookie staples. there are still plenty of recipes that i haven't tried yet and i stumbled on one a few weeks ago that sounded a whole like Bixits. They are made with whole wheat and oat flour. Awesome. And there is  wee bit of sugar and butter to hold them together. I feel absolutely fine called this a healthy cookie. And absolutely fine dipping my homemade Bixit in dark chocolate. 

So there you have it. A breakfast not to be missed: oatmeal scone with homemade Bixit. Or a tea time not to be missed. I like a scone for breakfast and two cookies for tea.

Homemade Bixits
adapted from The Colossal Cookie Cookbook
2 cups whole wheat four
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
4T brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350. Put flour, oat flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse twice to blend. Pulse in butter until you get coarse crumbs.  Add egg and pulse in. Then, with processor running, pour in milk (you might not need all of it) until the dough just forms a ball. Knead for a couple seconds to get it smooth, then roll it out to 1/8 inch. Cut it however you like - circles, triangles, etc. Prick the cookies with a fork to avoid puffing. You can also brush on milk and sprinkle oat flour. Bake for 13-20 minutes, depending on how crunchy you like your cookies and how thick you rolled them. I like to melt dark, bittersweet chocolate and brush it on one side after they are baked and cooled. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012


I have made my fair share of pizza, using store-bought doughs as well as a variety of homemade ones. I had recipes I liked, but not one was truly great. Until now!  

The source of the great dough was most unlikely: Earth to Table. I got this cookbook as a gift a few years ago and promptly made a few recipes ... that were total dogs. Just awful. Recipes that make you wonder if the author actually made them, or if he lacks taste buds. Who likes crunchy cippollini? Gross. And, no, it was not me; it was definitely the recipes. So, I set the book aside. Recently, I decided to give it another shot, steering well clear of the recipes with little frowny faces, and quickly found several fabulous recipes and ideas. Like this dough. 

And this topping. I brushed the dough with olive oil, then spread mashed delicata squash, sprinkled rosemary and cheese, and tore prosciutto on top. Wonderful!

My other two topping combinations were also winners: olive, artichoke heart, marinara, roasted pepper, and anchovy; and caramelized onion, potato, roasted garlic, and rosemary on an olive oil base. 

Best Pizza Dough (from Earth to Table)
3 cups AP flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups water, divided
1 T ev olive oil
1 tsp honey

In a stand mixer, combine the flour with the yeast and salt. Add the oil, honey, and one cup of water, stirring either with the paddle attachment or a wooden spoon until pretty much incorporated. Change to the dough hook and start on low speed, gradually adding the remaining 1/2 cup water until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and hangs on the hook, approximately 5 minutes (you might not need all the water).

Turn the dough out and knead until elastic and smooth, about 3 minutes. Place in a large greased bowl and roll the dough around to coat with oil. Cover with a clean, damp cloth and allow to rise for about an hour, until doubled in size. (If it is cold in the house, you can place the bowl in an oven with the light on.)

Divide the dough into four balls. Roll them, tucking the edges under, into small balls. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 15-20 minutes. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Soup and Sandwich

There is little more satisfying on a snowy day than soup and a grilled cheese. I would argue that a good book, a quiet house, and a warm afghan are also nice, but I don't know when I will experience those again what with two young children in the house. But I can and did set about to make the meal happen at least. I picked up Essential Pepin, a cookbook totally worth its weight in gold as I see it, to guide me in the soup department. To trim this book down to its 700+ recipes, Jacques Pepin had to seriously cut. Can you even imagine having a repertoire so vast? I chose his cauliflower soup, which is flavored with curry powder. This is one of the things that makes JP so amazing - he is sooooo classically trained, coming up through the ranks the old fashioned way, yet he is not wedded steadfastly to strict French technique and tradition. He loves corn and sour cream! I think a lot of French chefs would sneer at that. 

I even made the bread for my grilled cheese. I have been gun-shy on bread as of late because of two enormous mishaps. Blunders, really; no, travesties in yeast. I made four doughs that I ended up chucking after baking. I baked for twice as long as recommended - going by internal temperature on the last two loaves and tapping on the first two - and all four were undercooked. So strange a thing too. The inside of an undercooked bread is doughy and moist and smells like beer. So wrong. You think, I can salvage this. Maybe it's not underdone. You take a bite and realize that it is hopeless.

I went to America's Test Kitchen for a whole wheat loaf and hit the nail on the head. This bread was awesome. The crust was perfect and the chew was great. It was not dry, like wheat loaves I have made in the past. I followed the recipe to the letter - even setting a timer for the kneading process - because ATK is all about The Letter. Knead for 9 minutes? Check. Such a relief to get back into bread and have it work out. There's nothing that hurts more than a bad loaf. You put in all this effort and time and you so look forward to fresh bread, and then Yuck! you have to pitch it because it's nasty and unsalvagable. You feel like less of a person. I do, anyway. But I am back in the saddle. Yee-haw. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Southern-Asian Fusion

The food of the American South sounds like some of the grossest and most unhealthy out there. It is enjoying a revival that includes small batch bourbons, local sourcing, heritage animals and so on. That's nice. I have never been to the South. I am from the West. These two facts combine to mean that (a) I can't possibly understand or comment on Southern food, and (b) I have never eaten true Southern food. I tried to make something Southern a few weeks ago: chicken-fried steak. Sounds wretched, doesn't it? It should be served with a white, flour-based sauce. I have three cube steaks in my deep freeze, and what does one do with that cut? One makes chicken-fried steak. So I did. And, man, was it good. I served it as leftovers the following day in a most heretical way: with tempura dipping sauce. I think that is actually called "fusion." 

Speaking of the South, Paula Deen recently announced that she has Type 2 Diabetes. This comes as a shock to no one who knows what the woman makes: desserts and white-flour laden meals. Duh. She positively loves that her food is bad for you. She has a joke with her TV audience that you should "eat your greens" - she says this and then adorns her dessert with a mint spring. Ha ha. Apparently, Paula has had diabetes for a few years now and kept it out of the public eye because her empire is built on her unhealthy food. Wow. She might be working a deal with Big Pharma to promote a diabetes drug. Now that's gotta be called fusion too. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lady who lunch

Ah, the real reason I stay at home with the kids - lunch. I get to fix what I want and eat it in front of my favorite telenovela. Actually, I don't really have a novela now. One of the best ones just ended: La Fuerza del Destino. This is how I keep my Spanish ability well exercised. 

bean de dok, mung bean pancakes with kim chi
I like to throw together a little leftovers with something new, most days. Here we have some bean de dok (I'm on a Korean kick), miso soup, and a salad with miso dressing. Quite the lovely lunch. 

I call lunch my "break." Whenever T decides to nap, I get my break. When I have both S and T at home, I do not get a break. They have conspired against me - taking naps at different times. Actually conspiring so that, when it's time for Sam's nap, T wakes up from his. I remember wanting to blog every day about food. I also remember that I was quite active on Yelp, even getting "elite" status. Now I am not really active in anything. Two kids and a husband make a big mess to stay on top of - just feeding them means I am in the kitchen a lot. Like, a lot. I haven't been feeling very bloggy - I haven't even kept up with reading the blogs I follow. I usually at least do that. Ah well. Phases, right?