Monday, March 30, 2009

Brunch Snob

I happened to talk to a new acquaintance about brunch. Among all the American imports to Sweden, this is the latest trend (steakhouses and muffins/cupcakes being the others). He was ecstatic about the concept of brunch -- which many of us are. He began to describe exactly what was on their menu to me: smoothies ... meatballs.

"Meatballs?" I asked in disbelief. Brunch has, however, come a long way here in Stockholm. A slew of restaurants serve brunch -- but they serve it buffet style which drives down the quality of food and drives up the price of a brunch outing -- without even including a bloody mary or a mimosa.

The first time I tried to make brunch for my Swedish friends, no one came. They couldn't quite wrap their heads around the concept, and likely lagged around in bed instead. That was four years ago. Still, in my household, brunch is sacrosanct and here is one of my best brunch recipes.

Wild Blueberry & Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

serves 2-3

1/2 c (2 1/2 dl) buttermilk*
1/2 c flour
1 T sugar
1 t baking powder
1/4 t sodium bicarbonate
dash of salt
1 large egg
2 T of melted butter (cooled)

1/2 c wild blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 package of ricotta
zest of one lemon

*I use a-fil here in Sweden

Mix the wet ingredients together in one bowl. Mix the dry in another bowl. Add the dry bowl to the wet. The batter should be lumpy. Do not over-mix!

Gently fold in the ricotta and lemon zest.

In a pan or griddle over medium high heat, dollops batter in rounds. Once you see bubbles, sprinkle blueberries on each pancake and flip. Cooking each side around 2-3 minutes depending on their thickness.

Serve with warmed maple syrup.

I'm only regretting that I've eaten up all these pancakes already.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

blogging LIVE from Saturnus

Woo, live blogging!

There was an entry titled "Misadventures in Macaroons" that I haven't written, but I could have. There were many macaroons, none of them crunchy, or with "feet", but all of them delicious. But when one opportunity is sunk, another rises forth(!) at one of my favorite cafes in Stockholm. I almost regret to tout another reason to come to Cafe Saturnus -- besides the buns as big as your head, and lattes you could take a swim in. My personal favorite here is the hot chocolate made of voluptuous whole milk and melted chocolate. But, lo, yet another reason to come and be greedy: raspberry macarons.

Dear reader, I will keep researching. Chocolate macaroons on the next visit!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Shrimp, it's what's for dinner ...

My mom would always ask me when I still lived at home, "What should I cook for dinner?"

Sometimes it's just enough that you have a craving for Mexican, or Thai. But sometimes, just sometimes you need a new idea, a push in another direction, something to narrow the endless possibilities.

I love cooking home food. Things that are manageable. Unlike WD-40 and inverse eggs benedict, or olives macerated and remade into olives, home food depends on a realistic budget and amount of time and energy put into what hopefully will be a tasty and delicious meal.

If you're not a regular cook of Indian food, you might have to run out for a few spices, but I promise the result is rewarding!

This is a curry without ginger or garlic. I'm guessing because of Kerala's location is southerly and closer to Thailand, that's why there's coconut included in the dish.

Prawns in Kerala Curry

4 T butter
1/2 t black peppercorns
1 t mustard seeds
1/2 t fenugreek seeds (these are also called methi)
1 large onion chopped
1/2 t ground turmeric
1 green serano chile deseeded and minced
1 can of tomatoes (we love Mutti in our household)
1 t salt
1/4 lb shrimp
1 T tamarind paste
1/2 c seafood stock (I use clam stock found in Korean and perhaps Japanese grocery stores)
1/2 can coconut milk

Melt butter, add chopped onion, peppercorns, mustard and fenugreek seeds. Saute until golden brown. Add the ground spices tomatoes and salt. Break up tomatoes and cook down until most of the water is gone. Sir in the tamarind paste and stock and simmer down. Stir in the coconut milk and simmer and taste to see if the spicing is right. Add the shrimp and simmer for a few minutes until the shrimp are ready.

Serve with steamed rice. I like to serve it with some mango chutney on the side.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fridays I'm in love ...

Growing up, I only ate sausage in small quantities. I never became a huge fan of those patty style sausages either. In a lot of Asian cuisine, sausage is used more as a complementary aspect of a dish -- like poh piah (a Malaysian dish). Poh piah is comprised of a mass of ultra healthy vegetables wrapped in a fresh rice paper, sprinkled with lots of herbs like green onion and coriander, and then dappled with a few sauteed shrimp and bits of Chinese sausage. I promise to put up a recipe in the near future.

After becoming introduced to Italian delicacies through 'ino in New York, I found the best Italian delicatessen run by Sal at DiPaolo's in Little Italy and Spicy Soppressata is my favorite whether eaten by itself, or accompanied by some hard cheeses and marinated artichokes on a plate of antipasti. They know customer service -- and all the more reason to go there for slices of Parmesan-Reggiano or fresh ricotta for your next New York soiree!

I'm probably going to outrage the Swedish portion of my readers, but I'm not a fan of falukorv (a traditional Swedish sausage). But! I have found an amenable recommendation instead. I love eating this sausage for breakfast -- but then again, I love the piquant taste of spicy sausage even in the morning.

My product highlight of the day is Ugglarp's Cabanossy. I apologize, I did take a picture of the product, and then even went to the official website to try to get a better picture, but the honest truth is that sausage doesn't photograph well.

For Swedes, if you cannot find it in your local grocery store, go ahead and ask the manager if it's possible for them to buy it for the store. Ugglarp uses only meat from Swedish farms. Buy local meat when it's possible!

I'd love to hear other sausage recommendations. In America I'm a fan of chicken apple sausage found at Whole Foods. In our household we are also addicted to lamb sausage but are engaged in a food mystery because the kiosk on the corner offers better lamb sausage than what we can find in the local grocery stores. The mystery continues ...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

8 Hours or Presence of Mind?

My boyfriend has rightfully earned the name "flan monster" or flanmonster because he once hosted a dinner for four and made an 8 person sized flan. After we all ate one slice each, he then proceeded to eat the rest of the entire flan sealing his unofficial nickname forever.

Since he got a promotion, I thought I'd make him an extra special dessert: panna cotta. I, like many other Americans, grew up on jello. Jello was, and still is, strangely refreshing. Chewing on those red flavored slices fresh from the fridge was a summer past time.

My sister made a panna cotta for Christmas with a lovely carmel sauce. After having scanned a restaurant menu, the words yoghurt panna cotta caught my eye. A new spin on a classic. I was a little dubious though since the favored desserts of my boyfriend are all egg based and panna cotta is not, but I thought I'd try something new.

Remember that stovetop raspberry jam? It's the perfect sauce for a yoghurt panna cotta. There's a lot of yoghurt mousse action going on here in Stockholm. Yoghurt panna cotta is similar, just less airy. Yoghurt gelato is also one of my favorites. It's that yoghurty tang that works so well, perfectly complementing fruit.

I had intended to make this for a dinner, but then found out that panna cotta takes a minimum of 8 hours to set, but, like jello, making panna cotta is one of those quick mix it together and forget it dishes. Low maintenance, and elegant!

Yoghurt Panna Cotta

2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2 cup turkish/greek yoghurt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon salt

In a saucepan dissolve the gelatin in the heavy cream, then heat over low heat and stir together with milk, and salt. Add gelatin/cream/milk mixture to the yoghurt beating well with a whisk. Pour into forms and refrigerate for 8 hours or over night.

It's cool, creamy, and voluptuous.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


It's always astonishes me when I come across an unbalanced home cooked meal. The most likely guilty party is my boyfriend whose emphasis on proteins and carbs are meant for those with extremely hearty appetites and those who care little for nutritional content. Vitamins, people!

Tara Parker-Pope covers this issue today in the New York Times

It might not come as a surprise that I'm the innovative type of home cook. Someone who definitely has a bent towards healthy foods, but is curious and enjoys food of all cuisines.

I've mentioned it before on my blog, but the Thais really do have it right. A traditional home cooked meal in my family prepared by the loving hands of mom usually includes rice, a clear soup with vegetables and maybe an odd fish ball or two, a stir fry with the minimum amount of oil comprised of small slices of meat and vegetables AND another vegetable side dish.

You might notice that that means that there is very little dairy, cream, cheese or meat in an Asian meal, and you would be right.

While I hold this meal structure as my standard, it's often hard for me to always muster up the energy for a complete vegetable side dish. I think, though, it's a habit one needs to form. In a quick fix, having some frozen green beans, spinach, or peas, is a good way to round out a meal (with some salt and a little butter). Thais in Thailand often buy a few of their dishes at the market, but I think they're often prepared more healthily than a lot of pre-prepared foods in the American and European marketplace.

What are your favorite vegetable side dishes? My latest discovery from Croatia is sauteed Swiss chard with tons of garlic over potatoes.

Swiss Chard over Potatoes

4 medium steamed or boiled and peeled potatoes in large dice
1 bunch chopped Swiss Chard
4 cloves of garlic minced
olive oil or butter

Chop the Swiss chard into small squares. Over medium-high heat, melt butter or add olive oil, sautee garlic for one minute, add chopped Swiss chard until wilted, and strew over the large diced potatoes. Salt to taste.

Monday, March 16, 2009

for the love of lasagna

I think I'm particularly addicted to the tang of tomatoes combined with the voluptuousness of dairy -- in almost any form which is why I'm particularly enthralled with lasagna.

My love affair with the decadent dish began as a child. My mother would take the time to make a lasagna which substituted cottage cheese and egg for ricotta, which she must have found in some woman's magazine back in the 80's. I still adore this lasagna, parmesan that comes in a Kraft green box and all.

Later on, I joined the culinary club at Amherst College, and was delighted to learn how to make a Wild Mushroom lasagna with bechamel sauce taught by Betty Rosbottom who features recipes in Bon Appetit. It was one of my first lasagnas with bechamel, and I still feel pangs of regret that I've misplaced that recipe.

One of my ex-boyfriends made me a homecoming lasagna. I often compare food with love, and the tangy goat cheese lasagna filled to the brim with vegetable was a valentine my taste buds will never forget.

One of my sisters must have mentioned my friend Angela's scrumptious lasagna. Turns out it had been pioneered by her father. This lasagna includes boiled eggs, spinach, and canned spaghetti sauce. It's a quickly made lasagna intended to overload you with protein. It's one of my boyfriend's favorites.

Lastly, of all the lasagnas is my friend Francis Strand's Turkey Walnut Lasagna. Never could a lasagna be further from the original lasagnas my mom used to make. Francis Strand's cooking always has a bent towards the decadent -- despite the inclusion of turkey.

From the kitchen of Francis Strand:

Mushroom Walnut Lasagna

500 g (1 lb) mushrooms
4-5 dl (1 cup) walnuts
1 tub mascarpone cheese
500 g (1 lb) ground turkey
1/2 yellow onion chopped
1-2 T dried sage
Lasagna pasta sheets (ones you don't have to boil, or fresh)
300-400 g (10 oz) grated Pecorino or Manchego cheese
optional: walnut oil

Bechamel sauce
2 T butter
3 T flour
1/2 (2 cups) liter milk
pinch of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F).

Brown the turkey in a skillet and add salt and pepper to taste along
with the sage; set aside. Cook the onions in the drippings until soft,
add to the turkey.

Combine in a food processor the walnuts and mushrooms (you can add a drizzle walnut oil) until relatively finely chopped but not so fine to become a paste. Mix with the mascarpone.

Melt the butter, add flour to form a paste, then slowly add the milk, keep stirring to prevent lumps. Cook for about five minutes.

Alternate the various parts, starting first with a little bechamel,
then the lasagna sheets, a thin layer of the mushroom walnut mascarpone mixture,
then turkey, then some of the pecorino. You can probably get at least
four layers, maybe five. Make them pretty thin. The last layer should
be cheese, save plenty for the top.

Bake for 20-30 minutes.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Environmentally friendly cooking?

I'm currently living in Stockholm, and as I write this post, some ultra-spicy Thai ramen is making my lips tingle.

The first time I saw my Swedish friend boil water in Sweden, I was surprised. He matter-of-fact-ly filled an electric kettle, poured a centimeter or two of water in the bottom of a pot, and set the pot on the stove over high heat while the electric kettle was boiling. Within minutes the kettle was finished, he poured the water into the pre-heated pot and voila, instant rolling boil.

This method is particular useful when you'd like to eat the quickest of quick foods: ramen. Now, I won't lie to you and say that I don't eat ramen. In fact, there are just some days when you're feeling lazy and there are no leftovers. However, I punch up my ramen by throwing in some frozen spinach (I always have some in the freezer) or any other vegetable I happen to have that will cook up fast, and then poach an egg while it's cooking. This guarantees at least a bit of nutrition, I promise!

According to my boyfriend, using an electric kettle is the most energy efficient way of boiling water. According to other studies, boiling more water than you need is a Europe-wide problem, so you should know exactly what you need. I know I need about an 8 on my Bodum kettle to make a full pot of tea.

While I was in New York, I was impressed by my sister's All-clad pot. It retained heat at such an amazing rate. I can only think that having a heat efficient pots and pans is not only environmentally conscious, but also works as a great boon to being able to control your cooking. It's definitely on my to-buy list.

Though some food recipes have discussed making your own hay box (lining a box with copious amounts of hay) to cook your food to be the most energy efficient, I haven't gotten that far yet. But! I have been suitably impressed upon to start poaching eggs by bringing the water to a boil and then letting the eggs sit in the hot water until they're finished (4-6 minutes) -- the same with boiled eggs.

Cutting back on meat is the most environmentally conscious gesture you can make, but Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has also pointed out that you can choose meats which are the most energy efficient in terms of the environment like pork and chicken. On an entirely unrelated note, apparently lamb is the most likely to be treated the best out of all the possible animal abuses since lamb doesn't thrive in poor conditions.
I know. Me, too. I miss the green mango background color. Please pardon me as I fuss around with the layout and color. It takes ages.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

cheap is chic? marinade away ...

In the recent downturn in the global economy, cooking inexpensive, healthy and nutritious meals at home seems like a very good idea.

However, cooking at home is the norm in Sweden compared to the U.S. Since salaries for even the more menial jobs like fast food etc, are actually decent, the cost of eating out is high (even going out for a hamburger), and is a large deterrent. This is, perhaps, why Sweden doesn't have obesity issues.

During my last trip to New York, my sister fed me a meal that I recognized from my childhood: soy-sauce and ginger glazed oven roasted drumsticks. Atop a nice chewy bed of Japanese rice, she served up a drumstick, a soy-sauce egg and a sprinkling of spicy pickled mustard greens. My taste buds were alight with the familiar and new tastes combined.

Though this dish takes a little prep, it's mostly a hands-off operation. It does take advantage of the wonderful relationship soy sauce has with meat. In fact, Swedes love soy sauce so much, it's often the basis for any marinade (especially for BBQ), Asian inspired or otherwise.

Soy Sauce and Ginger Glazed Drumsticks

8-10 drumsticks patted dry
2 T soy sauce
1 T honey
1 inch of ginger minced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 T mirin (an Asian cooking wine, you could use sake as well)

Combine all the ingredients in a bag. Make sure that the drumsticks are evenly coated in the marinade and place in bowl in the fridge. Marinate at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C. Place drumsticks in a shallow baking dish and bake for around 30 minutes.

Your kitchen will be filled with the lovely smells combining together, and anticipation is definitely part of this dish. When the dish is completed, the juices of the chicken will combine with the marinade to create a sauce. While the chicken is roasting, this is a good time to start the rice (rice takes approximately 20 minutes to cook).

While I've always eaten this dish over rice, I've seen it on the menu of a fusion restaurant served with mashed potatoes. They did fiddle with the sauce and thicken it, but obviously, it depends on your energy level if you want to stir in some cornstarch to the sauce. Eat in good health!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

bubble, bubble, raspberry trouble? more like loveliness ...

Easy-peasy Homemade Raspberry Jam

Making jam is a lot easier that most of us realize. One thing that has been impressed on me recently is that a lot of frozen fruit and vegetables are picked at the height of their ripeness making them, sometimes, better than fresh produce. This is probably not true of mango (although, it varies, obviously), but I've found the frozen raspberries scintillating with sweet and tart flavor.

1000 grams of frozen raspberries
100 grams of white sugar

On the stove, heat the raspberries and sugar together. I like to heat it over medium high for about 10 minutes, stirring as needed. The jam is, of course, a bit more drippy since it doesn't have extra pectin added to it. I love this jam over waffles, with yoghurt gelato, and in my morning yoghurt. It keeps in the fridge for about a week.

Swedes like to use raspberry jam in "Opera Cake" which is a white cake bottom with raspberry jam, vanilla custard/pudding, whipped cream, AND a layer of marzipan on top. Decadent, yes it is!

Monday, March 09, 2009

tea = fruit & vedge?

The Wonders of Tea

According to the blurb on my teabox, two cups of black tea can give you the equivalent flavenoids as a serving of fruit or vegetable. Hm? What exactly is a flavenoid and why do I need them? Apparently, they keep your heart healthy by clearing your arteries of cholesterol. Nice.

During a chilly, but enjoyable trip to Uppsala (a city north of Stockholm), we stopped in a tea shop and found some Kusmi tea bags which are optimal for figuring out which expensive tea blend you'd like to acquire for your tea collection next! Turns out that the new tea of the moment is Anastasia.

Though named after Russian royalty, no doubt, Anastasia is an Earl Grey blend with undertones of lemon and orange. As you can see from the beautiful tin it comes in, these do make great presents. Too bad my birthday's not until August.

Friday, March 06, 2009

To Prestat or Not?

To Prestat or Not?

When searching out my favorite cafés, may they be in Stockholm or New York, or even Tokyo for that matter, I'm always on the lookout for some stellar hot chocolate. Some places in Stockholm serve O'boy packets with hot water (I'm looking at you City Konditori!), but my dearest boyfriend bought me some snooty chocolate flakes for Christmas because I asked Café Saturnus to show me how they made their hot chocolate (this is the sort of hot chocolate that makes up for a cold slushy grey day in Stockholm), and the server showed me small chocolate chips.

I've been using Prestat at home and been satisfied, not ecstatic, but yesterday I happened to have whole milk at home and voila. Mystery solved. For the truly decadent it has to start with melted dark chocolate and whole milk ...

Prestat is, by the way, "By Appointment To Her Majesty The Queen" (the British one, not the Swedish one) it doesn't get snootier than that!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

let's start from the very beginning

In Search of the Perfect Soy Sauce Egg

One of the most familiar flavors of childhood was "brown eggs." We called a lot of things by color back then. We would often ride in the "yellow car" and eschewed names and makes for the characteristic that mattered: the color.

My mom would stew these eggs all day long. The fragrant smell of anise would rise along with the other four spices that comprise classic Chinese 5-spice mix. In the same broth she would stew a hunk of pork, and pouring over that lovely melody of broth over rice while using the egg slicer just so made many a homey meal.

All of this changed, though. I lived in Tokyo for a year and came across the wonder that is Ramen eggs. These eggs are also soy marinated, but they are not cooked (to my surprise). Instead they are steeped in a soy marinade in the fridge which allows the yolks to stay custardy.

With 5-6 6 minute eggs peeled and scored with a knife.

Combine in a plastic bag:
1 T rice vinegar
2 T soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
a drizzle sesame oil
1 bit of skinned ginger

I've just made mine today. Hope they turn out tasty tomorrow!