Bouchon Bakery chocolate chip cookies

March 10, 2013 § 17 Comments

Bouchon_cc_cookies_milk_1

I never was much of a chocolate chip cookie person.  In our house growing up, a chocolate chip cookie never emerged from the oven.  Not a single time.  We were given fresh baked bread or rye flatbreads with cheese after school, not cookies.  And, while I know I whined about it, I secretly thought it was kind of awesome (and on the whole, I’ll still take fresh baked bread over a cookie, or very nearly anything else, any day).

My friends had chocolate chip cookies that they would sometimes share with me, of course, or as we got older we would go to their houses and bake them (we did try to bake cookies at my house one time, and they turned out terribly, a melted puddle of disaster instead of cookies.  Thus it was that our oven truly never made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, at least not successfully).  And I’d eat them.  I was a kid, they were sweet, it was cool.  But, I never really got to like them.

Bouchon_cc_cookies_milk_above

In college, my sophomore year roommate was a champion cookie baker.  She baked cookies whenever she wanted to avoid anything, which meant a heck of a lot of cookie baking.  From her, I learned that age-old teenage rite of eating half the cookie dough as we baked (it’s a wonder we never got salmonella, given she wasn’t exactly using the highest quality eggs), resulting in batches of only about a dozen cookies that would actually get baked.  And the baked cookies, again, were fine and whatever, but I never started to crave the cookies.

Nor did the signature chocolate chip cookies made by the boy I started dating that year change that.  Of course, these ones were odd cookies that didn’t taste particularly good unbaked, or warm, or at room temperature, but were at their best refrigerated and then soaked in milk.  Maybe he had accidentally switched to copying a biscotti recipe halfway through writing the cookie recipe down, or something.  Either way, I never saw what others seemed to see in chocolate chip cookies.  I know so many people who will get excited about a chocolate chip cookie of any quality.  But, I never found any cookie good enough to write home about.

Until, that is, my 5th year living in Boston when we moved to an apartment in Jamaica Plain near a hole in the wall little bakery named Canto 6.  A bakery with which we promptly fell in love.  They make excellent sandwiches with fresh bread and homemade ingredients as well as soups and vegetable quiches and the occasional thin slice of pizza with chevre and olives.  They make croissants that would hold their own in Paris, as well as meltingly tender scones, buttery Brioche topped with cheeses and honeys and fruits and other goodies, yogurt cakes, and olive rolls, and berry galettes, and sour cherry crumble pies.  All of which are ridiculously high quality and delicious. « Read the rest of this entry »

Broccoli salad with bacon and pecans

March 5, 2013 § 13 Comments

broccoli salad dressed

It is decidedly not spring here yet.  In fact, it’s blowing ferociously and snowing several inches outside right now (just a stone’s throw further south they’re getting close to 10 inches, but we’re getting only brushed by the storm).

I remember the day in March in 2nd grade when our teacher taught us the saying, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”  She even had a paper cut out lion and lamb thumb tacked up on the cork board to drive the point home.

We were all mystified.  No, no, no.  The saying was all wrong, we pointed out (after the metaphor had been explained).  March comes in like a lion and it goes out like a lion too.  Maybe an ever so slightly more docile lion, but a lion nonetheless.

blanched broccoligreen onions for slicing

That’s Minnesota for you.

So, no, no spring yet.  It makes me miss the other places I’ve lived, the places where crocuses and daffodils start intrepidly strutting about in March.  However, the yearning for spring isn’t desperate yet.  Not desperate, but on the other hand, I’m definitely not as into root vegetables as I was a couple months ago.

In my need for a change of pace, I found myself craving broccoli salad a few days ago, something that does not happen often at all, except for the odd day midsummer when it sounds good, or when I’m several time zones out of my element, running late for a wedding rehearsal, and my stomach is growling audibly, and I’m standing in front of a deli counter.  It happens sometimes then too. « Read the rest of this entry »

Some thoughts on diets and eating

March 2, 2013 § 41 Comments

shower feast

Shuffle shuffle shuffle, shplop, clump, clump, clump…(that’s the sound of me hauling in and climbing up on my soap box, actually no, let’s go with it being me setting up my 2 cents booth, and special for you, today only, there’s no charge!…)

So a study came out and suddenly everyone’s all abuzz with the Mediterranean Diet all over again.  Perhaps you’ve heard?

Which I suppose must be nice for the Mediterranean Diet and all, given it was probably feeling a little dusty and lonely and ignored from several years of being quite out of the spotlight.  And maybe, if things go well, it’ll get some people to eat a little extra olive oil and seafood.

But, here’s what I worry.  I worry that this is just going to add back one more way we measure ourselves and judge ourselves when it comes to what we eat.  It provides one more set of potential boxes to constantly fret about ticking off so that we can feel good about ourselves because we “were good” that day, and to feel bad about ourselves if we deviate from because we “were bad” that day.

This is actually my problem with all the diets I hear about these days be they “paleo,” “vegan,” “raw,” “4-hour body,” “bullet proof,” or what have you.  It’s not a problem with the diets themselves, actually, but a problem with how we – or, well, let’s personalize this, how I – respond to them emotionally.  They make me judge myself.  And if there’s one thing I don’t need extra help with, it’s judging myself.  I’m super good at that all on my own, thanks.

When I’m trying to adhere to one of these carefully delineated ways of eating it becomes a constant rating game, just like so much of the rest of life can feel.  When I’m getting praise at work or I’m on a run of eating no grains at all or something, inside I start jabbering, “I get a star for this, ooh that means I’m a good person. Must try to maintain stars at all costs”… and then I get worn out and feel bad about myself because I’m just trying to maintain my internal idea of how many stars I have, and then I do something “wrong,” like eat a scone or get a negative comment back from a journal I’ve submitted a paper to.  “I get a big black X for that, oh no! disaster!! despair!!!!!!  I must be a bad person.  I am a horrible person…”  And then I feel bad about myself.

Either way, it turns out, I feel bad about myself because I tie myself to my rating system of the moment (and I have a feeling I can’t possibly be the only one who does this, including with regards to food).  And with diets, this winds up making me feel frightened of my food.  And I’m quite certain that when you’re frightened of your food, it can’t really nourish you, no matter how many micronutrients it might contain. « Read the rest of this entry »

Polenta hiding mozzarella and lemony greens

February 26, 2013 § 17 Comments

polenta hiding greens 1

This past weekend Joel and I were in Wisconsin for the American Birkebeiner.  The Birkie, as it’s called, is the largest Nordic ski race in North America and the third largest in the world.  Every February, thousands and thousands of skiers descend on the tiny town of Hayward, Wisconsin to subject themselves to over 50 kilometers of hilly, sometimes icy, always beautiful, and invariably intense cross-country ski racing.

From those not used to it, I’ve heard it’s really a cultural experience.

My family has been going to the Birkie for as long as I can remember.  There’s a children’s race, called the Barnebirkie (which is Norwegian for “child Birkie”) the Thursday before the big race, and my brothers and I started skiing it when we were still so little that my mom had to walk beside us the entire length of the 1 km toddler course.  My parents would then do the grown up race on the weekend.

mozzarella slices

I started skiing the half Birkie in high school, and I did the full a couple of times while I was in college.  But then I up and moved to the East Coast and was never able to make it back in February (much less train for it, anyway), and so the glorious Birkie weekend full of the excitement of a giant challenge and the fun of meeting up with and staying with friends, comfortably sharing tons of good food and wine and swapping war stories after the race is over, became something I just heard about over the phone each year.

But now we’re back in the upper middle of the country!  And one of the first things I did upon arriving at our new home in Northern Minnesota was to register both Joel and myself for the Birkie.

So then we had to start training like mad.  Trail runs and hikes followed by skiing and skiing and skiing as soon as there was snow.  Sadly, fate conspired against me and last week I found myself feeling substantially under the weather and completely exhausted.  Things didn’t get any better going into the weekend, so I had to bow out of skiing the race (small strangled sobbing noise).  I still went with and did part time cheering duty and full-time relaxing duty at the cabin where we stay, listening happily to everyone’s excited stories of how terrible it was this year (tough conditions make for even more satisfying suffering). Next year, though.  Next year I plan on being fully well enough to ski. « Read the rest of this entry »

Gingery kimchi fried rice

February 21, 2013 § 16 Comments

kimchi fried rice 1

Decidedly not a beauty queen this one.  She’s all lumpy and monochromatic.  But the frumpy exterior conceals a heart packed with flavor.

And truly, on most days at least, who really wants a gorgeous but high maintenance looker of a dish when in a few minutes you could instead have one of  the most incredibly easy and tasty lunches (or dinners, but I always seem to eat it for lunch) known to man.

And it uses up some leftovers too.  That’s always good.

fried rice garlic

I never used to like fried rice that much, actually.  I didn’t dislike it, I just saw no reason to eat it.  I never saw what others seemed to see in it.

So for years I would scrupulously cook rice in small quantities so as never to have leftovers.  Or, if there were leftovers, I would turn them into a porridge-like pudding for breakfast, and never think about the possibility that I was missing something. « Read the rest of this entry »

Down to basics – Soft scrambled eggs

February 17, 2013 § 32 Comments

soft scrambled eggs 1

My dear friends, would you be up for bearing with me for just a moment so I can talk about scrambled eggs?

Plain old scrambled eggs.  Not scrambled eggs with crisped asparagus or lacy pieces of prosciutto, not scrambled eggs with cheeses and meats and peppers and mushrooms.  Not scrambled eggs with anything, except perhaps a helpful piece of toast.  Just scrambled eggs.  Soft scrambled eggs.

Scrambled eggs are a staple breakfast of mine, and it has occurred to me – given the many times I have been given not very good scrambled eggs – that this absurdly simple preparation, requiring only a few ingredients and minutes, can be quite tricky to pull off.

scrambled eggs start

I think, like me, for many people the ideal of scrambled eggs is soft and creamy, a smooth pillowy mound of golden eggs with barely a curd to spear into.  Eminently scoopable eggs, almost like a savory custard.  But more often our eggs turn out dry, in large chunks.  It’s disheartening.

I didn’t used to feel this way about scrambled eggs.  When I was little, scrambled eggs were my favorite food, after any of the sweets we weren’t allowed to eat, but I liked them cooked until totally hard and dry.  Then I’d chop them into tiny pieces with my fork.  I was weird.

When I was 6 or 7 I got into a huge argument about this with my grandmother, in fact.  She explained to me that the proper way to cook scrambled eggs was to leave them partially uncooked and creamy.  I insisted this was a disgusting and terrible idea.  We faced off, dug our heels in, and neither of us would give an inch on our stance.

It was time that wore me down (happily).  I began to prefer my yolks runny and my scrambled eggs soft, and it became a point of intense experimentation to try to achieve my new vision of scrambled egg perfection. « Read the rest of this entry »

Fastelavens boller (aka Norwegian semlor)

February 12, 2013 § 26 Comments

fastelavensboller 3fastelavensboller 1

aka Fat Tuesday buns, if you don’t know what any of those other things mean.

Yes, it’s Fat Tuesday, and while in some parts of the world this means shiny beads, and raucous parades with floats, and beignets, across Scandinavia, it means buns.  I don’t know the history of how this particular regionally specific way of preparing for Lent came to be (I mean seriously, why buns?  Why not, I guess.), but since I grew up with it, I’m awfully fond of it.

Basically, I wait for this day all year, just so I can eat these buns.

bolle dough risingboller unbaked

The best known of the Fat Tuesday buns are the Swedish semlor (the plural of semla).  Theirs are sweet cardamom buns filled with almond paste and whipped cream.  If you’d like you can drown them in warm milk before serving.  Danish and Icelandic Fat Tuesday buns are more like pate a choux, stuffed with whipped cream and jam and topped with chocolate (and here I must also admit that the Icelanders actually eat theirs on the Monday before, which they call bun day.  Those Icelanders, always trying to be different…). « Read the rest of this entry »

Pepper crusted salmon cakes with horseradish sauce

February 7, 2013 § 18 Comments

pepper salmon cakes finished

Even when you’re a northerner through and through, and you cherish each of the four seasons, there are times when winter starts to wear on you.  Just a little bit.

There are times, when it’s been a while since the snow cover has been refreshed and a while since the temperature has been above single digits, and it starts to feel drab and dreary and repetitive.  It loses its luster the way snowbanks do as they get trampled over and sprayed with dirt.

salmon poaching dish

But then, in the midst of all that, you may have a morning where you wake up to hear the cheery whistle of a songbird, “twee-ooo,” letting you know that it may get up into the teens today, and suddenly the world feels a little more alive.  Then, the clouds may roll in and blanket everything with 4 or 5 inches of fresh powdery snow, and the world feels a little more clean.  And hopefully, on such a day, you’ll decide not to go cross-country skiing on the groomed trails, even though you have a 50 km race you were supposed to be busting your butt training for, and instead go tromping in the woods, playing tag with the dog, searching for animal tracks, and making snow angels, and then you’ll remember why winter is gorgeous and magical.

Even the most wonderful things need paying attention to, or you’ll forget how very wonderful they are. « Read the rest of this entry »

Vanilla bean scones and lemon-tangerine curd

February 1, 2013 § 19 Comments

lemon tangerine curd scone overhead

So, a couple of weeks ago I had this whole plan in my mind wherein I was not going to make or eat any sweets until Valentine’s Day.  Not because of any January, ascetic, resolution-y type of reason.  I steer clear of food resolutions in general, and cleanses peeve me.  They rub me the wrong way, I guess because I feel like they’re a reflection of our national dysfunctional relationship with food.  I know they’re not trying to, but to me they send the message, “you can shove whatever you want into your body without paying attention all year long as long as you spend 2 weeks in January consuming nothing but juiced vegetables and wheatgrass,” or whatever.  Which you can’t.  You should eat cleanly all the time, and it should and can be incredibly enjoyable, and then also leave room for some good clean fun here and there (like nachos, hehe).

citrus curd whisk

Anyhow, pardon the brief tirade, that’s neither here nor there because the real reason that I was going to forego all sweets for any number of weeks was to create a giant buildup to a Valentine’s Day treat to end all Valentine’s Day treats. In spite of my usual relaxed attitude toward the holiday of love, this year, for whatever reason, it struck me as a fun idea to use it as an excuse to make something billowing, and chocolatey, and gooey, and basically hopelessly, ridiculously rich.

And, I suppose I still may, but a couple of things conspired against me in the last few days to send my plans into a tailspin.  First, my dear husband told me that he was going to be out of town on Valentine’s and the surrounding days for a consulting project he’s working on.  Insert sad face, but that hitch could be overcome by postponing our Valentine’s celebration until he returned.  But the second problem is, I lost my taste for chocolate.

I know:  What???!!!  Right?  It’s completely ridiculous.  Who goes from being a devotee of chocolate in all its most intense forms, mousse, sorbet, midnight dark bars, dense flourless cakes, to being slightly put off by the very thought of it?  Who????  Sadly, me.

citrus peels from curd « Read the rest of this entry »

Down to Basics: Stew & Co.

January 28, 2013 § 11 Comments

stew gremolata vegetables

Ever since eating salad while admitting it was stew weather, I haven’t been able to shake stew off.  Stew has been following me, or more accurately I have been following stew, chasing it into every manner of manifestation in my kitchen and out onto the table, beef, pork, lamb, venison, chicken, simple, spiced, something in between.  It’s been stew all of this last week.

Or, if not stew itself, a member of the stew family.  That is, tagines, curries, chilis, and so on.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, all of those are really stew masquerading as something exotic.  And, of course, to those who grew up eating these others as their comfort food, stew is the exotic one.

lamb tagine

And so, because once you can make a stew you can make all of its spicier cousins, let us go over some basics of stew construction, plus variations on how to transform your warming pot of meat and vegetables into a tagine, curry, or chili.

Stew is basically slow cooked pieces of meat (or it can be beans or another protein source) with vegetables in liquid of some sort.  It’s thicker – less soupy – than soup, and the pieces of meat are smaller than the one (or several) large pieces in a braise.  The steps in making stew are approximately these:

Start by cutting a couple pounds of a tough cut of meat into 2-inch cubes (stew beef, lamb, or even pork tend to work well; you can also stew chicken thighs,  but they’ll take a bit less time in the final cooking process) and sprinkle them with salt.  If you wish you can also toss them in some flour, which will help thicken the stew, but which is by no means absolutely necessary.  Follow this by browning all your meat bits in butter or oil in a large heavy pan.  Do this in batches so as not to crowd the pieces of meat because if they’re crowded they’ll steam rather than browning.  Once nice and brown on all sides, transfer the meat to a plate. « Read the rest of this entry »