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Archive for the ‘Scandinavian’ Category

Christmas Baking

I started my Christmas baking promptly this year, making three kinds of cookies without which the holidays are unthinkable at our house: peanut butter, Toll House, and hazelnut kourabiedes.
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A few days later, I added a non-traditional variety: ciambellini al vino. These crunchy, sugar-dipped rings made with olive oil, red wine, and anise flavoring come out rustic looking, but they’re delicious, and they somehow feel positively nourishing – almost savory but still with a pleasing sweet edge.
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Finally, with the baking urge still strong upon me, I decided to try a festive sweet bread of some kind. Hubris, this was, since twice in past Decembers I’d attempted to make panettone, without notable success (e.g., here). The doughs just wouldn’t rise for me. Still hopeful, though, I chose a recipe for a Norwegian Christmas bread from Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads. The recipe is attributed to a family in Indiana whose maternal forebears had been making it since 1870. I figured it must have risen for them.

The filling ingredients for a half recipe’s worth, which was to provide one large loaf, were half a cup each of dates, walnuts, glacé cherries, and mixed candied fruit.
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As you see here, I substituted hazelnuts for walnuts. I had dates and candied citron and orange peel, but not glacé cherries. I couldn’t find them anywhere. So I made some myself, from a recipe I found online, using jarred maraschino cherries. Unfortunately, the candying got away from me, so they came out like dark sticky little gemstones. Well, they’d have to do. My holiday breadmaking jinx loomed.

Making the dough itself went smoothly enough. The first stage was actually a batter. I beat together a cup of flour, a cup of milk, and a package of yeast; covered the bowl and let it stand on the kitchen counter for two hours, while the yeast did its bubbly thing.
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Next, I added half a beaten egg, ¼ cup of sugar, ½ teaspoon of salt, and a whole stick of softened butter; beat that well in the heavy-duty mixer; slowly added 2½ cups more flour; and kneaded it until smooth.
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Now came the tricky part. The instructions were to press the dough flat and work the fruits and nuts into it. Neither my cut-up dates nor my halved cherries were at all willing to separate from each other. I had to sprinkle on some flour to make them un-glom even a little. And I had to knead the dough very lengthily to get the additions distributed. It already looked like a lot to go into one 5 X 9 loaf pan, and it hadn’t even risen yet.
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I returned the dough to the bowl for its first rising – one hour, the recipe said. Hah! In 2½ hours, it still hadn’t quite doubled in bulk – but the day was moving on, so I did too. As I’d expected, that amount of dough would have filled a single pan right up to the brim, and I could imagine what a mess it would be if I let it rise like that. I deflated it and divided it over two pans.
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The second rise was due to take 45 minutes. Hah again! Here’s what mine looked like after two hours: definitely not doubled.
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With a very feeble hope that the loaves would rise further as they baked, I put them in a 350° oven for 45 minutes. They browned nicely. They didn’t rise at all. AARRGGHH! This is what happens to me more often than not with filled or flavored breads, and I don’t know why. It’s not the fault of my yeast; my normal good white bread rises perfectly.
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Adding insult to injury, the next morning when I sliced a loaf for our breakfast, it was clear that the dates and cherries had never really separated, but had somehow gathered themselves back into big messy globs. It was an embarrassment to look at.
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But there’s a happy ending to this otherwise frustrating story. Despite its sloppy appearance, the bread was really good. It had a light, delicate crumb, and the chunky interspersions of fruit and nut were interesting and tasty. I decided I wouldn’t have to run out and buy a panettone from a store after all.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Today marks my completion of a decade of writing this blog. The culinary adventures (both successful and not so) about which I’ve told stories each week have given me great pleasure. To celebrate my tenth anniversary, this post will be a retrospective of some of the dishes I’ve most enjoyed making, eating, and writing about – one for each year.

You’ll notice a strong Western European emphasis in the choices here. That’s a reflection of Tom’s and my general eating preferences, but I’ve actually written about dishes from 24 countries in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. I could have featured many of those others among these favorites.

Clicking on an image below will open the full post about the dish.
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2010

Prosciutto-wrapped Broiled Shrimp

My first blogging year was devoted to one new recipe a week from one of the 200+ cookbooks in my collection. This one, from Ada Boni’s classic Il Talismano della Felicità, makes as good an appetizer as it did a main course.

 

2011

Plum Cake Cockaigne

From my second year, I began including posts about recipes I’d previously known and loved. This one, from Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, has been a late-summer favorite in our household for more years than I can remember.

 

2012

Traditional Paella Valenciana

I found recipes for this relatively simple paella in two cookbooks: Penelope Casas’ Food and Wines of Spain, and Teresa Barrenechea’s Cuisines of Spain. Both looked good, so I drew steps from both recipes.

 

2013

Bluefish Gravlax

 

Here, I adapted a salmon gravlax recipe from the Cooking of Scandinavia volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series for local bluefish. I also made the book’s cucumber relish and mustard-dill sauce.

 

2014

Tripe in Golden Fontina Sauce

This is my own version of trippa alla valdostana, from Tom’s and my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. It makes a remarkably rich, mellow, elegant dish – if I do say so myself.

 

2015

Pheasant Pie with Noodles and Mushrooms

Under this pastry crust is faisan à la vosgienne, made from an Alsace recipe in Anne Willan’s French Regional Cooking. Pheasant, noodles, mushrooms, sauce, and pastry were all lavishly endowed with butter.

 

2016

Chickpea and Cuttlefish Stew

Penelope Casas’s book La Cocina di Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain provided the recipe for this Andalucian dish intriguingly spiced with hot red pepper, sweet smoked paprika, and garlic.

 

2017

Poulet Marengo

Anyone familiar with my food preferences will know I couldn’t let this retrospective go by without including at least one chicken dish. This is a classic from Robert Courtine’s The Hundred Glories of French Cooking.

 

2018

Veselka’s Borscht

The Ukrainian restaurant Veselka, in NYC’s East Village neighborhood, serves the best borscht I’ve ever tasted or can imagine tasting. Making a batch of it from the place’s own cookbook was a major accomplishment for me.

 

2019

Apple-Stuffed Pork Roast

Apples, bacon, butter, mushrooms, onions, sage, a pinch of sugar, and a touch of wine vinegar made a delightful stuffing for roasted pork. It’s a recipe I clipped from Saveur magazine and pasted in my big recipe binder.

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So:  10 years, 512 posts, recipes from 120 cookbooks, as well as a few from magazines, newspapers, and the internet. I’ve learned a lot about food and cooking from all this. Now I plan to take the month of January off, to think about how I’d like to position my blog for the coming years.

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A bluefish spoke to me the other day.

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I was walking through the Greenmarket, thinking only of fruit and vegetables, when I saw the above creature on display at Blue Moon Fish, a stand that sells excellent fresh fish and shellfish caught in the waters off eastern Long Island.

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I stopped. I looked at the bluefish. It looked at me. It murmured of long-ago early-fall days when Tom and I occasionally trolled for its relatives in and around the Shinnecock Inlet, in my parents’ runabout boat. It also reminded me that one thing we did when we caught any (not too often, I confess) was make gravlax of them. Well, for old time’s sake, I decided to do that again.

I bought two ¾ pound fillets and a big bunch of fresh dill, brought them home, and looked up the two recipes on which we’d originally based our technique: one for salmon gravlax from The Cooking of Scandinavia volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series, the other for bluefish from a very old Food & Wine Magazine clipping.

Both recipes wanted fillets that had skin on them. Mine didn’t, but I hoped that wouldn’t make too much difference. I patted a dry mix of salt, sugar, and coarsely ground pepper into both sides of the fillets; sprinkled on a few drops of grappa (as a substitute for aquavit); and sandwiched them together with a heap of dill sprigs.

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I covered their dish with foil, weighted it with a platter and several cans from the pantry . . .

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and put it in the refrigerator for two days. Then I took it out, reversed the position of the two fillets and their greenery, and returned the contraption to the refrigerator for another two days.

When the gravlax was ready to eat I scraped off the seasonings, and Tom gallantly offered to slice it for me. That was not easy: The flesh was very soft but there were some thin sinews that tried to defy the knife. It might have worked better if the fillets had still been on their skin. Many of the slices came out rather ragged, but they eventually capitulated.

As accompaniments, I’d made a mustard-and-dill sauce and a cucumber relish, both recipes from the Scandinavian cookbook, and I’d baked cocktail-sized white bread for toasts.

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These made a very tasty combination. The bluefish had a gentle flavor and a texture halfway between sushi and pickled herring. The mustard sauce spiced up each bite, and the slightly sweet cucumbers made a crisp contrast. Two of us couldn’t eat all the gravlax, of course, so I tucked the rest into the freezer. A few days later, with guests, we had it again on canapés. This time Tom chopped the fish so it would be neater for biting into the toasts, and I made fresh batches of the mustard sauce and cucumber relish. They were quite delicious little nibbles.

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Almost made me want to rent a boat and fishing tackle, to stalk the wily bluefish in its own element again! But, practically speaking, I guess I’ll just keep patronizing Blue Moon.

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I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the rösti potatoes that accompanied the rack of lamb in the Patrick O’Connell menu that I wrote up two weeks ago. Rösti is a Swiss version of potato pancakes, and they should have been better than ours were. I decided to look at some other recipes for them.

The Swiss style is usually, though not invariably, made with previously cooked potatoes. Other versions don’t precook them – just grate them up raw. But techniques and ingredients vary, and some that I’ve tried make fairly leaden cakes. The one best recipe I’ve used (about which more later) is quite complex.

So when I came across a totally simple Swedish recipe for Lacy Potato Pancakes with Chives Rårakor med Graslök) in the Cooking of Scandinavia volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series, I wondered if it could possibly be good. It is.

It starts with coarsely grating baking potatoes into a bowl, keeping all the liquid they exude. That was curious, I thought, because many other recipes say to squeeze the grated potatoes very dry. With no other ingredients but salt, pepper, and chopped chives, wouldn’t all that moisture just make the cakes fall apart in the pan? (The squeeze-dry recipes all add egg and flour to the mixture.) It didn’t. Of course, that moisture contains potato starch, which seems to be enough to bind.

The cakes are put in a hot pan with butter and oil, flattened out enough to cook the potatoes on the inside by the time the outsides are crisp and golden. Quick, easy, and delicious.

Why am I so surprised by this? Well, as I said above, I’ve suffered through a lot of soggy potato pancakes in my time. Some recipes even call for Yukon Gold potatoes, which are completely wrong. You need mealy baking potatoes – and if you can ever find Green Mountains, a very old, wonderfully tasty Maine variety, use them by all means.

The only potato pancake recipe I’d been happy with up to now is a much more complicated Polish one (Racuchy) from another volume in that Time-Life series, A Quintet of Cuisines. This recipe grates potatoes and onion into a sieve set over a bowl. You press the solids hard to extract as much liquid as possible and put the potatoes and onion into another bowl, adding an egg yolk, flour, salt, and pepper.

Meanwhile, in the first bowl, a layer of potato starch will have sunk to the bottom of the liquid. You carefully pour off the water and add the starch to the potato mixture. But you’re not done yet. Beat an egg white to firm peaks and fold it in, along with chopped parsley. Then at last you sauté the cakes in hot oil. They are also delicious, with an excellent texture.

So I’m glad to now have two strings to my potato-pancake bow: one for days when I feel like cooking elaborately, and one for days when I need something quick and easy.

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