Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's the Butter ...

On a 80 F degree day -- a temperature which Sweden hardly ever sees, I remembered how much I was charmed by the little ceramic butter containers when I ate lunch at Bouchon in the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle, and then once again saw at the restaurant Helsingborg in Stockholm.

The only dilemma is this, rustic or tres elegant style? The boyfriend falls on the rustic side and I fall on the impeccable French one. What do you think?

Hmmmmmmmmm ...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Happy Belated


Here in Sweden they celebrate on the Friday closest to the solstice (it's totally cheating, I know).

In any event, this is what you can expect to see on your plate on a regular Midsummer's Eve lunch.

Several kinds of pickled herring, fresh potatoes overlaid with dill sprigs, Swedish crispbread topped with Swedish butter (yum) and Västerbottens cheese, a boiled egg, and my own personal favorite -- a slice of Västerbottens pie.

Given that interpreting Swedish language in the grocery store is uneven, I wound up buying puff pastry instead of pie dough, but the results were still fabulous.

Västerbottens Mini Pies

2 eggs beaten
200 grams of Västerbottens or something like a extra sharp cheddar grated
1/2 c heavy cream
defrosted puff pastry sheets
muffin tins

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
smattering of chopped chives or other fresh herbs for topping (optional)

Set oven to 200 C/400 F. Lay pieces of puff pastry dough in the muffin tins. Prick all over with a fork (to prevent over-puffiness). When the oven is hot, bake for 10 minutes.

Combine beaten eggs with cream and salt and peppar. Evenly distribute grated cheese into each muffin tin (now lined, of course with puff pastry shells), and then pour over the egg/cream mixture.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the pies are set. Garnish if desired.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

The reason the pies are so rich is because Midsummer's involves a lot of drinking of schnapps, and having a full belly prevents more than a little mayhem.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sourdough Non-starter

Over the weekend, my friend brought some fabulous walnut and dried apricot bread from her local bakery. I was so smitten with the idea, I wanted to try to replicate the bread from home since her local bakery is about an hour away. I do love bread, but a two hour round trip is still a little much for me.

In Sweden, there are not a whole lot of sourdough bread lovers. Swedish breads tend more towards molasses-sweetened breads which have a nice chewy texture (from the oat flour), but sourness isn't a highly sought quality. However, they're very into more sour-tasting rye and crispbreads.

When researching breads, I realized that I did want that bit of a tang in my bread and realized I needed a sourdough starter. I had made it once before a zillion years ago, but my then boyfriend wanted to throw it away (why are Swedes so paranoid about the refrigerator?), and I succumbed to the pressure.

In any event, now I have lots of ingredients (I'm planning on a walnut, golden raisin and apricot bread), but no bubbly starter. I have a cup of water combined with a cup of normal white flour in a plastic yoghurt container with my rice serving spoon stuck in it (you're not supposed to use metal), and about a 4-7 day wait for my starter to start going.

I guess the most useful thing I learned today is that bovete is buckwheat, which I accidentally took for oat flour havregryn. Galettes for everyone!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Yeah, it tastes like spaghetti ...

Yesterday I was test cooking again a recipe I wanted to try to tweak for the culinary memoir I'm working on, and I knew I wanted to include some steamed squash.

I had picked up a very orange section of a hewed squash from my local grocery store labeled, "French pumpkin."

Since I was very busy making a paste for the recipe, and fixing the rice, and couldn't find a spare pot at the moment, I did the unthinkable.

Ages and ages ago, I had made spiced pumpkin cupcakes (search my blog for the entry) with cream cheese frosting. Hum, now that I think about it, I should have used some molasses to get a darker taste, but anyway, I had stumbled across some literature that proposed microwaving the pumpkin. Back then, that was unthinkable, but yesterday it seemed very thinkable.

I microwaved medium thin slices of squash on a plate in the microwave covered for 3 minutes on high. No go, 3 minutes more, looking better, 3 last minutes and voila, it was perfectly cooked squash.

Imagine my surprise when it happened to be spaghetti squash -- a squash I had only eaten once before during a leaf-strewn fall in Amherst.

I waited for my boyfriend to come home to try some of it. "It's called spaghetti squash."

He asked, "Because it tastes like spaghetti?"

I just sat and smiled, "You'll see."

He ate a bite of it and said, "That's strange it kinda tastes like spaghetti."

I threw up my hands, "Silly boy, it's shaped liked spaghetti."

Yes, the moment your fork hits the squash, small "noodles" of the cooked vegetable seem to come out of nowhere.

Anyway, I'm pleased the fridge is stacked with vedge. Now what to do with all my frozen wild blueberries?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

how to make Thai Ice tea

Ever live somewhere Thai Ice Tea is nearly impossible to find?

Thai ice tea - a sweet milky tea concoction colored brilliantly orange, is hard to be found in this area of the world (Stockholm). I would step in and out of Thai restaurants (there are like six in my neighborhood) and ask for Thai ice tea and they would shake their heads at me and my limited Thai vocabulary.


I finally found it

Turns out I'm too lazy to take a pix of the tea I'm drinking now, but here's a picture of it from a former post.

I seep about four teaspoons of Thai tea with 3 teaspoons of sugar, then I strain it with some paper towel or cheesecloth-like item (it will get stained orange though, to note), pour it over ice, add unsweetened condensed milk, and then add water until it's suitably thinned.

There is a distinct danger of drinking too many Thai ice teas in a row when it's suddenly so accessible.

Test Cooking

Test Cooking for yourself isn't very fun.

Don't get me wrong, I love to cook, but I love to cook in conjunction to cooking for someone. Sharing the experience of good food is one of my absolute favorite past times. And, of course, it's no wonder that cooking for one doesn't have that same dimension of pleasure.

Today is day 3 of the Thai food test cooking marathon. The snack green mango is what started this blog in the first place, but if you rifle through my archives, though Thai food and sensibility has had a great influence over what I eat and cook over the past years, Thai food is still an adventure to me. Which is what my book is about.

Anyway, test cooking recipes for my book is proving to be both interesting and helpful in understanding the cuisine (and filling).

I can't help but think again that Thai and Italian food have the communality of very good produce which is a substantial boost to any dish. While pounding the latest curry paste (sans the creamy grey shrimp paste this time which kinda icks me out), I remembered that my aunts would throw in the whole garlic clove (they were so tiny to begin with) and pounded together even the thin skins of the tiny purple garlic cloves. This reminded me of the Animal, Mineral, Vegetable book by Barbara Kingsolver, and her short writing on various kinds of garlic, which in turn made me want to grow my own garlic. Garlic is already a marvelous addition to many dishes, but even more flavorful garlic? Be still my heart!

Pounding curry pastes quickly becomes a meditative process like kneading dough. It takes time, and you could use a machine (I couldn't, my food processor is out at the country house), but when you reap the rewards -- a much more flavorful curry soup, than one using the store bought kind, there's a glowing satisfaction to the whole process.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I'm going to need a bigger mortar ...

I'm test cooking for the book, "How to Eat a Green Mango," a book about my stay in Northern Thailand replete with my favorite recipes for the best dishes I've eaten in Thailand.

Imagine my surprise when the paste turned to paste! The instructions said to mash it until it was smooth. I was pretty incredulous that it could turn paste-like, but after some patient pounding, voila!

This does make me think about Thai foods relation to India. They're all about their pastes too. Relatively little elaborate pan/cooking maneuvers, but lots of curry/chili paste preparation. Probably because it's so hot in those countries one prefers to spend a little time over the stove possible!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Right Amount of Cheesiness

Carr's to the rescue!

Dear reader, I have been robbed! I just discovered this today after my trip through the Baltic (posts and pictures forthcoming). I went to the bank to try to get my details together to file a report with the police. I knew something bad was going to happen due to me not able to keep six currencies straight: USD, euro, Swedish kronor, Lats, Litas, and Kroon.

After my visit to the bank I stopped by my local grocery store to look for some crackers to eat a nice cheese we have at home, and I spotted Carr's Cheese Melts. Though I admittedly have been craving box macaroni and cheese (indoctrinated!), I decided cheese melts would suit me well, and suit me they do.

Carr's cheese melts are crisp with the right amount of flakiness punctuated by dots of poppy seeds and of course cheese and salt flecks baked right onto the top.

Just the sort of thing to stuff into your mouth while you hammer out your report for the police. *Sigh*.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Edible Blossoms

I'm growing summer squash.

Have you ever seen a squash blossom before? I got enchanted at the idea of them the first time I saw them stuffed with goat cheese and fried in a light batter in my Savoring Mexico cookbook released by Williams-Sonoma. That's a really good cookbook by the way. I keep trying to bring it to Sweden but the book weighs five pounds all by itself.

One of our squash blossoms has curled up on itself like a Chinese dumpling:

We couldn't be more tickled. Actually, squash blossoms are probably some of the most expensive vegetables around, and quite difficult to obtain. Although, you can eat some at various Italian bistros in New York, I've heard. Apparently, summer squash is one of the easiest vegetables to grow. I think they should make a list of the easiest to cultivate vegetables. I'm such a beginner, I need encouragement and some delicious vegetables to sustain me through the terrors of snail attacks on our tiny vegetable patch.

As long as we're talking about edible flowers, I'm planning on growing Nasturtium, which is from the watercress family and has a peppery flavor and great in salads, and also has a reputation for being a low maintenance plant:

And finally, a last touch to the amazing Italian fennel and celery salad we've been making ever since our last trip to Tuscany, wild violets:

Violet strewn Fennel and Celery Salad

Handful of violets, picked over and rinsed and patted dry
Wafer thin slices of fennel and celery (about 50/50 ratio)
Mustard dressing, recipe follows:

olive oil
Dijon mustard

Unfortunately, I mix the dressing by feel, but like all good food preparation, taste as you go. In a bowl mix 1/4 of a cup of olive oil with just a small amount of Dijon. The mustard isn't meant to overwhelm the other flavors, just complement. It's the same idea with the sugar, salt and pepper. Salt the dressing a little bit more so that when you toss the fennel and celery in the dressing, it will enhance the flavor of the freshly cut vegetables.

Strew with wild or cultivated violets.

This is one of our favorite summer salads. My friend taught me that the human palate can readily identify three flavors (what many Italian dishes hinge their success on) which would also explain why Japanese and French food can often transmit pure clean flavors. Adding any more tastes is another ball game.

One of the best things about this salad is that it's so easy to prepare. Hope you'll dare to try it. Fennel is one of those vegetables I had scarcely been even acquainted with.