Spinach and pine nut soup

March 19, 2013 § 20 Comments

spinach pine nut soup 1

I wasn’t kidding about the soups (I even made another one today for lunch.  This one, in fact, but with kale instead of cabbage).  And, as you can see, I definitely wasn’t kidding about the spinach and pine nut soup.  Actually, I used the soup and my desire to make it as an excuse to have an impromptu St. Patrick’s/St. Urho‘s day dinner for a few friends.  Clearly there is nothing very Irish (or Finnish for that matter) about spinach and pine nuts, but check out how green that soup is!  I decided that with a side of soda bread and some good Irish butter and cheddar it would suit us just fine.

And it did.  It’s actually quite a wonderful soup.  No wonder I used to make it as a starter for dinner parties all the time!  Come to think of it, I think I first served this soup (or a version of it) at the first serious dinner party I ever hosted.  That was back in the day, back during my sophomore year of college, if I remember correctly.

toasted pine nuts

Courtesy of my first year of college, I developed such an aversion to the food at the school’s dining hall, I convinced the school to let me not be on a meal plan at all, and I started cooking for myself in the tiny – and usually disgusting with other students’ crusty leftover midnight macaroni and cheese pots and half eaten bags of microwave popcorn – dorm kitchen down at the end of the hallway.

That was pretty much my start of cooking seriously for myself, though in this context “serious” meant a lot of chicken breasts with steamed broccoli interspersed with granola or Special K bars for dinner.  (The Special K bar dinner was the saddest.)  I also discovered how very lonely it can be to sit and eat dinner in silence by yourself every single night.  I suppose that must have contributed to my passion for sharing meals, and I started devising ways to coax others to dine with me. « Read the rest of this entry »

Panade of leeks, greens, and gruyere

March 14, 2013 § 24 Comments

panade of leeks and greens above

I’ve been going through a spate of soup-mania lately.  Vast quantities of soup have been making their way from the kitchen to my lips.  It’s practically all I want to eat.

I mean, I always like soup, but right now something about the world, the liminality of so many things – not the least of which being the season – is making soup particularly appealing.  When you’re in between winter and spring as well as all sorts of projects, just waiting (and waiting (and waiting)) for people to get back to you about pesky little things like edits and comments, what better to do than a little slurping?  Soup is there to oblige all slurping needs.   Also, I have a private theory that I’ve been dehydrated because of the dryness in the air, and my body is trying to make up for the fact that 10 or so cups of water a day just isn’t quite enough by steering me towards eating liquid food as well.  Is that even possible?  Not sure.

leeks for panade 1leeks for panade 2

Anyhow, I’ve had avocado soup for lunch for about 5 days in a row.  We’ve had sourdough tomato soup, and Norwegian fiskesuppe (with some extra parsnip and tiny arctic shrimp added), and creamy squash soup, and pho.  To name just a few.  I also just had the sudden flicker of a memory of a spinach and pine nut soup that I used to make for dinner parties in college (because I hosted dinner parties in college.  With no kegs or even drinking games.  Because I was that cool.).  I’ll have to make that some time soon because doesn’t that sound good?

This soup, though, I consider the culmination of sorts (though not the sort of culmination that signals the end.  No way.  More soups to come, so if you’re a soup person you should come on over…).  The soup to rule all soups, you might say.  A soup so filled with wonderful things that it is a considerable stretch to call it a soup.  It should be eaten with a fork.  Indeed, it should be so thick a fork should stand right up in it. « 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 »

The “honeycrisp” cocktail

January 17, 2013 § 14 Comments

honeycrisp cocktail 1

A cocktail seems only appropriate given I still have dried whiskey grain schmutz on my shoes (epic pump disaster people, epic!) and smell like a fermenting tank from our five days of working out at the Bainbridge Distillery.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not so very coincidentally, this particular cocktail came out of our last trip to Seattle.

maple syrup spoonpouring rye shot

« Read the rest of this entry »

Creamy “pumpkin” soup

January 2, 2013 § 35 Comments

pumpkin soup 1

Happy, happy New Year to you all!  Did you ring in the New Year in style?

I know we did.  Much more stylishly than we really are, in fact.  But if the holidays aren’t a time to up your style game, when is, right?

Perhaps it’s the crash after the high of holiday activity, perhaps it’s that the New Year always makes me nearly as nostalgic as October does, but I’m now left feeling quietly morose.  “Another year,” a voice somewhere inside of me sighs, “another year, and I still don’t understand.”

onion skins

So I’m sitting in our living room now, which feels dark as the Christmas twinkle lights have all been put back into boxes, wondering to myself, ‘understand what?  What do I so yearn to understand?’

The answer, I’m sorry to say, is anything and everything, as far as I can tell.  The answer is Life.

Day by day life happens, intermittently glorious and terrible, and I don’t understand any of it.  At all.  Not a bit.

I’m suddenly remembering a quote my mother told to me earlier this year (I’m not entirely sure of its origin), “this thing of which we speak cannot be found by seeking.  But only seekers will find it.”

I don’t entirely understand the quote either, but it speaks to me about life and meaning on a level separate from understanding.  I feel somehow like that’s it.  Like maybe trying to understand won’t get you anywhere.  Life just is, it isn’t an entity to be dissected and understood.  You have to get out of your own way, but at the same time seek and make that daily effort to get out of your own way. « Read the rest of this entry »

Poached eggs with sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts

December 12, 2012 § 14 Comments

poached eggs sweets and brussels 1

I have a major breakfast thing people.  It’s pretty weird.

I mean, I knew I had a breakfast thing before – I’ve brought it up more than a few times, for example every time I mention breakfast – but I don’t think I knew knew.  If you know what I mean.  You know?

But now I know.  When I commandeered the whole breakfast-making procedure at my best friend in Boston’s house – where I was the guest, mind you – and started turning out frittatas with arugula and over easy eggs with a brown butter vinegar sizzle, that’s when I really knew.

poached eggs sweets and brussels 2

It may be Monday or Thursday, I may have a meeting at 8 am, but still I find myself compulsively fixing breakfast for myself and whomever else I can shake out of bed.  Plates of migas, fried eggs with kimchi and orange aioli, potato cakes with smoked salmon, honey-avocado lassis, fresh baked corn bread with homemade ricotta.  I may not be able to plan out my lunch, potentially not even dinner, but breakfast is likely to be a minor masterpiece.

I’d say it was a problem, if it weren’t so delicious! « Read the rest of this entry »

Broccoli cheddar and apple gratin

November 28, 2012 § 18 Comments

Fair ladies, kind gentlemen!  I bring you: more broccoli!

Yes.  More broccoli.  Consider it another delicious stepping stone on the cruciferal march toward that cauliflower with harissa cream that I mentioned, and I swear I am working on, and it will appear any day now.

As a reward for your patience (or a way of buying it, perhaps?) though, this gratin is none too shabby, at least that much I can promise.

But first and foremost, for those of you who had Thanksgiving last week, how did it go?  Are you still stuffed?  Ours was quite the gathering, the most rollicking Thanksgiving I’ve been to in years, perhaps ever.

We were not only my family but also Joel’s, and on top of that not one but precisely six Norwegian students, here in Minnesota studying at various universities and connected to my mother in various ways.

The turkey was gargantuan, the gravy flowing, the Brussels sprouts piled high, and the pies numerous and flaky.  The conversation was sparkling.  Also, loud.  Norwegian Americans may be reticent, but Norwegian Norwegians generally aren’t. Nor is my family.  Plus, my grandmother was in the midst of everything exhibiting her talent for handwriting interpretation (mine = hard to read) and discussing Project Runway.  Always a kick. « Read the rest of this entry »

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