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 »

Arugula and delicata salad

January 22, 2013 § 22 Comments

arugula delicata salad 1

Right at this moment, it is 20 below zero outside.  The windchill is -43F, and the high today is a balmy -4.

In other words, it is January in Minnesota.  And while this kind of weather does make you vaguely wonder how life can exist here, it is also pretty great – after the thaw we had two weeks ago – to feel like we’re getting a spot of normal weather.

delicata half moons

In case you don’t live in such a frigid place, here are some things to know about this type of weather:

Yes, there is still a palpable difference between temperatures when you get lower than 32F.  Sure, it all feels freezing, but not at all the same level of freezing.  5 degrees above feels downright vernal after a spell of -15.  When it’s around 10 or 15 below, salt actually stops working to melt ice.  It’s kind of funny.  When it gets really, really cold you can toss a cupful of water up in the air, and it will freeze before it makes it back down to the earth.

The best way to respond is to go outside in spite of the cold, just be sure all of your skin is covered and that everything you’re wearing is thick and wooly.  Then, make some type of remark to everyone you meet about how arctic explorers would be overjoyed to have such a pleasantly warm day.

On a related note, you must learn to recognize everyone by their hats and puffy coats because you can’t really see faces.  You need boots that are in a whole different league, preferably made of moose skin.  The long fur coats you inherited from your grandmother stop looking like a politically incorrect bit of fashion history and instead look like an extremely reasonable and adaptive way of dressing. « Read the rest of this entry »