Monday, December 13, 2010

Ja, Sure, YaBetcha! Swedish Julbord!

The perfect Julbord: One without Lutefisk.

Like Cat Stevens, my family traditions are an interesting mix of Greek and Swedish, without any of that pesky political controversy. Despite my Grecian genes, every year we host a Swedish Christmas Smorgasbord, or Julbord - pronounced 'YULE-board'- and meaning Christmas-Table in Swedish. Fifty or Sixty of our closest friends cram themselves into our tiny house to enjoy hot mulled wine (Glogg) and the best Scandinavian fare this side of Minnesota. It's loud, hot and happy; I look forward to it all year.

The Julbord is a tradition and an art in Sweden, with many of the finest restaurants vying for business during the holidays. Stockholm especially is seeing a wave of some amazingly creative Julbords as a new generation of worldly, well-traveled Swedes demand more flavor and color than their grandparents' all-white cuisine (or cuisine blanc, as I like to say). Myself, I think that Swedish cuisine is incredibly underappreciated in the States and there are some astonishingly delicious things to be had from the every-day fare that you get in Scandinavia.

Traditionally, this buffet includes the kinds of food you'd expect to find in a Nordic country: preserved fish, smoked meats and cheeses, dairy products. Think 'no refrigeration' and get ready for pickled fish! Having lived for some time in Scandinavia, I try to keep it as authentic as possible but also include some of my favorite tasty bits from Swedish cuisine in general, not just Christmas favorites.

The bulk of my shopping was done at the Last-Scandinavian-Shop-in-Ballard, Scan Specialties and of all places, Ikea. Ikea is GREAT for Swedish stand-bys and this year was the first year I've ever seen Swedish families in our suburban-hell Ikea; they were all shopping in the Deli! Admittedly, they had a better deli selection this year than I've ever seen - possibly because all of the Scandinavian shops around here have closed over the past year or so, driving our local Swedish population to Ikea like so many Scandia Cattle in search of Lutefisk.

Three of us cook and decorate for 2 days getting this party ready each year and it's worth every minute. The tiny white signs you see in the photo are labels for each dish. I'll try to get as many of recipes as possible posted, so please feel free to leave a comment if you're looking for something specific that's not here.

Julbord Menu 2010

First Course: Fish

Pickled Herring 10 Ways:
Traditional, Sour Cream, Mustard, Aquavit, Garlic Cream
Blackcurrant, Caviar Cream, Tomato, Dill, Lemon

Gravlax with Sweet Mustard Dill Sauce

Herring Roe Caviar

Shrimp Cheese Spread

Crab Pate

Smoked Eel Spread

Black Capelin Caviar

Lumpfish Caviar

Second Course: Cold Cuts and Salads

Tiny Liver Sandwiches with Pickles

Red Cabbage with Apples

Swedish Ham

Roast Beef

Cucumber Vinaigrette Salad

Meatballs with Lingonberry Sauce

Sour Cream Potato Salad

Assorted Cheeses

Crispbread, Rye Bread and Pumpernickel with Butter

Third Course: Hot Dishes

Jansson's Temptation

Pork and Potato Sausage with Nutmeg

Fourth Course: Desserts and Sweets

Sweet Cardamom Bread

Rice Pudding

Assorted Cookies



Assorted Candies


Hot Mulled Wine

Aquavit Shots

Swedish Christmas Cola

Nonalcoholic Hot Spiced Cider

Beer, Wine, Soda, Water, etc...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Liberty! Equality! Fraternity! Soup!

One of my favorite soup recipes is French Onion Soup. It's simple, cheap, lends itself well to an appealing aesthetic presentation, and is a reasonably flexible recipe; we've made a vegan option before that was just as outstanding as the original. I make it almost every time we head down to the famed family Beache Haus. It can stand well on its own, or be paired with a variety of other dishes: serve with a green salad or traditional Caesar for lunch, or dish it up as a first course to a more elaborate dinner. Goes well with strong red wines (burgundies, for instance) or a big mug of dark ale.

I base my recipe on the one from the 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking, but with a much less structured approach.

Prepare for Gallic oniony goodness!
Onions (white or yellow, as sweet as possible - Walla Walla Sweets are excellent in this recipe)
Butter (olive oil for vegan option)
Beef broth (mushroom broth for vegan option)
Salt & pepper
Dry red wine, cognac, or sherry (optional)
Grated cheese (Gruyere is traditional, but works fine with Parmesan or something like it too)
Stale or toasted crusty bread

Mmmm... butter...
Melt a few tablespoons of oil/fat in your favorite soup pan or stock pot over medium low heat. Butter is best for this, but you can use olive oil for a vegetarian/vegan option, or a combo of butter and oil.

Sweat, baby, sweat!
Slice onions (on the thin side, but don't worry about it too much) and add to the pot. Use white or yellow onions, and get the sweetest ones you can, because you're trying to carmelize the onions over a low, slow heat. Onions with more sugar will tend to carmelize more readily (and taste extra yummy).

Add salt and pepper here - I usually do 8 to 12 grinds each on a mill, depending how much soup you're making. More soup = more seasoning.

Sweet, sweet onion love.
It is absolutely vital to this recipe that you pay attention to the onions, because how they cook will either make or break your soup. Cook them over a low to medium low heat, give them plenty of fat to cook in, and let them sweat.

Carmelization takes time: I usually spend at least a half an hour attending to the onions. You don't need to stand there stirring them the whole time, but you do need to let them cook, and check them every few minutes to make sure they're browning but not burning. Scrape the pan if the butter starts to stick to the bottom, and lower the heat a little.

It can also help to cover them, as that helps trap moisture so they sweat instead of frying. This isn't a fast, high heat quickie, this is low, slow, sweet, sweaty cooking, like good lovin' on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

With a little herb added.
Once the onions have been cooking for a half hour or so, add tarragon - a teaspoon or so dried, perhaps twice as much if fresh. At this point you can also add up to 1/4 cup of cognac, sherry, or dry red wine to boost flavor and color, but this is optional.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...
Scrape the pan and add broth. One of those 28-oz. aseptic boxes of broth will serve two very hungry people, or four less-hungry people. I tend to make a lot of whatever soup I've got going, so I'll put in up to four 28-oz. boxes. Raise heat to high and let the soup come to almost a rolling boil, then drop the heat back down to a simmer. Let it cook for at least another 10 minutes or so.

Beef broth is the standard here. However, I've done a mix of chicken and beef when we're short on beef, and it doesn't ruin the flavor at all, just makes it a little bit lighter. If you happen to have your own home-made beef stock, you can add some of that here as well. I tend to make stock a few times and year and freeze it, so will toss in a block of frozen stock here if I have it. It's not necessary but will lift this soup from excellent to outfuckingstanding.

For a vegetarian option I recommend mushroom broth, NOT vegetable broth. Mushroom broth has the right kind of savory, umami flavor; veggie broth lacks this and will produce an inferior soup. Avoid it for this recipe.

When you don't want to be fancy.
So at this point, the standard treatment for French Onion Soup is to ladle it up into ovenproof ramekins or thick bowls, plop a thick slice of crusty stale bread/toast into each one, cover with shredded Gruyere cheese, and pop under the broiler until the cheese bubbles and browns. I think this finish helps make the soup extra special - but it isn't always possible or necessary.

So for this cooking, I just dished it up into a soup bowl and sprinkled shredded Parmesan all over it. We accompanied it not with crusty bread this time, but with oven-baked polenta. I've also had it ladled out into smaller mugs, which is perfect for a quick mug of soup on a cold rainy afternoon.

As far as cheese goes, Gruyere is the best and most traditional: stinky, creamy, and nutty, it's a lovely pale golden cheese with a texture a bit like gouda. It's also a bit expensive, especially for a soup that's supposed to have working-class origins. You can substitute gouda or something like it if your budget won't accommodate Gruyere. And Parmesan or Asiago works just fine in a pinch.

Using the best ingredients you can afford will help make this the best damn soup you've ever had in your life.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Röktlamm (Juniper Smoked Lamb)

Juniper Smoked Lamb

Lamb has a strong taste that works well with piney, menthol-ey herbs like Rosemary, Mint and Juniper. This is an exotic dish with rustic backgrounds that's served in Italy and Scandinavia (strange bedfellows, yes?). It's tremendously easy to prepare if you have a backyard barbeque or smoker, which I have to do since none of the local smokehouses seen to be willing to custom smoke anything but salmon or beef jerky, despite the fact that the meat I brought them was fresh, I had all the ingredients, my money was as green as anyone else's... but I'm not bitter.

This recipe was vaguely inspired by a Swedish dish called Tjälknöl, which I've had in Scandinavia but only recently rediscovered at Anne's Food. Loosely translated, it means something like "frozen chunk" and refers to the cooking method of slow-roasting a completely frozen roast (usually moose) until it's cooked through, and then brining it afterward. I've given this lamb recipe a more traditional pit-bbq treatment but tried to stay true to the flavors and ingredients of wintertime Scandinavia.

This is an Epic Nom. Seriously, it's really really really good.

We usually just raid the neighbor's hedge for juniper, but if you don't have any growing nearby it can be hard to find. Juniper berries can be found at specialty spice shops or brewing stores (juniper is used extensively in herbal liquors like gin). Smoking over pine or evergreen is a fair substitute but keep in mind that sweet woods like hickory, mesquite or fruitwood won't have the same taste.

Why yes, it WAS frosty that day.

Be careful not to overcook the roast. An old wives' tale claims that lamb must be cooked to the point of dental floss but in reality, lamb is red meat like beef and is wonderfully tender and delicious cooked to medium rare.

2-3 Lb Lamb Roast, Boneless
Green juniper boughs, enough to smoke for 1/2 hour


2 quarts water
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbl whole allspice berries
4 crumbled bay leaves
2 Tbl juniper berries, fresh or dried
2 Tbl peppercorns

Smash the brine spices in a mortar. Mix with the salt and sugar in a bowl large enough to fit the lamb.

Add enough water to cover the lamb and stir the brine until the sugar/salt is dissolved. Brine the lamb for 12-24 hours, depending on how salty you like it.

Remove from the brine and wrap tightly in aluminum foil.

Roast it in a 250 degree oven for 20 min per pound.

Remove the foil and Smoke over juniper boughs at 250 degrees for approximately 15 minutes per pound, until internal temperature reaches 135-140 degrees.

Remove from the smoker and let set for at least an hour to rest.

Slice and serve.

Räksmörgås (Swedish Shrimp Sandwiches)

Bite Sized Bay Shrimp Sandwiches with Citron Mayonnaise and Dill

When my mother came to visit me in Sweden, we were on the ferry between Helsingborg and Helsingør when I asked her if she wanted a snack. Fearing the worst kind of vending machine ferry food that you'd expect to find in the states, she was astonished when I returned with an open-faced sandwich piled high with sweet, fresh shrimp, a dollop of tart lemon mayonnaise and a frosty Tuborg to go with it.

These sandwiches are scrumptous.

Since then, this has been the anecdote that I use to explain the difference between Swedish and American expectations of food. Admittedly, the US ferry system is really trying to up it's cafe quality but I don't think they serve anything that would inspire a foreigner to write a blog post about it. Unless it was the bad kind of post, I suppose...

Sliced Bread
Fresh, steamed bay shrimp or pink shrimp - the smaller the better
1-2 Tbl lemon juice (adjust to taste)
1/4 Cup mayonnaise
Fresh Dill

Lightly butter the bread
Mix the mayonnaise and lemon juice (optionally add finely chopped fresh dill)
Put a dollop of mayonnaise on the corner of the bread
Pile as high as you can with shrimp.
Poke dill sprigs in as a garnish, or chop the dill and sprinkle on top

Optionally you can add flat slices of hardboiled egg, cucumber and lettuce under the shrimp but I think it competes too much with the delicate flavor of the shrimp and lemon.

The full-size, fork-and-knife version

Fyllda Ägghalvor (Deviled Eggs with Lox)

Deviled Eggs with Dill and Lox

Deviled eggs are a ubiquitous party appetizer in Sweden. The addition of cured or smoked salmon and dill is simple and delicious, like the best food is. The trick to making these authentically Swedish is to leave off the garlic and onion. I had a boyfriend in Sweden once who literally asked me [in Swedish], "You stink! Did you eat garlic this week?" I found the comment particularly ironic coming from a guy who'd eat surstromming.

12 hardboiled eggs
4 Tbl Whole Grain Mustard
1/3 Cup Sour Cream
1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
1/2 White Pepper
2 tsp Salt (or to taste)
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Lox, Gravlax or Soft Smoked Salmon & Fresh Dill

Peel and cut the eggs in two. Remove and mash the yolks with the remaining ingredients. Make sure you taste it as you go.

Get the mash into a very fine paste and run it through a pastry piping tube with a star tip, filling the egg halves from the bottom as illustrated below.

Garnish with a thin slice of rolled Lox or Smoked Salmon and a generous sprig of fresh dill.

Ägg Smörgås (Caviar and Egg Sandwiches)

Tiny Egg and Caviar Sandwiches
Front to Back: Lumpfish, Capelin, Smoked Herring (Kalles)

Eggs with eggs. Chicken with Fish. Funny how some things are food and some, condiments. These sandwiches are elegant and delicious, but not for the faint of fish. Despite its reputation, caviar can be delicious and affordable if you know where to look. Abba makes a perfectly respectful Lumpfish caviar (orange), and I found the most luciously rich Capelin caviar (black) at Cost Plus World Market, both for about $5 per jar.

The lumpfish is a bit sharper and fishier than the Capelin, which was unctuous and complex, but the surprise winner at the party was the Kalles smoked herring roe caviar, which comes in a toothpaste tube. It's a little like bacon, if bacon were made of fish, ground into a paste, salted heavily and squeezed from a tube. It's GREAT with boiled eggs.

The sandwich recipe is simple: butter the bread, slice the eggs and put a dollop of caviar on each. For a variation, mix the caviar with a little sour cream and finely diced shallot.

I like to use a variety of breads with these sandwiches and like all Swedish Smörgås, they're traditionally served open-face to be eaten with a fork and knife. For parties, making bite-sized versions is practical and beautiful.
Take-n-Bake baguettes from Fred Meyer, Homebaked Amish loaf

I love Caviar. Nothing photographs quite as beautifully.

Sillsalad Smörgås (Herring Salad Sandwiches)

Swedish Herring and Apple Salad Sandwiches

Swedish Sandwiches are served open-face, and eaten with a fork and knife. For buffets like a Julbord, it's easier to make them more like canapés, to be eaten in a couple of bites. This one is an interesting combination of tart, sweet and salty. And um... fish.

1 Cup Wine Pickled Herring
1 Tart Apple, like a Granny Smith
3 Hard Boiled Eggs
1/2 Sweet Onion, like Walla Walla

Finely dice all the ingredients and mix together. The proportions above are suggested only - aim for equal quantities of each, diced.

Add in a little pickle juice if you like it more vinegar-ey and let the salad sit in the fridge for 12 hours or overnight. Optionally, add 1/4 cup diced pickled beets but that will turn your salad kind of pink. Herring and apple salad is strange enough for Americans - I don't recommend an ungodly shade of pink to boot.

For tiny appetizer-sized sandwiches, sliced baguette works nicely. Lightly Butter the bread before putting the salad on it because it's a) traditional, b) keeps the bread from getting soggy and c) delicious. Garnish with a sprig of Dill, and Varsågod!

The full-size, fork-and-knife version.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Weirdity of the Week

Okay, I have NO idea how I managed to stumble across this video, but I guess that's the sort of thing that can happen when you're up too late screwing around on the intert00bs when you really should be sleeping because you've got work in the morning. In any case this one gets the prize for weird item of the week. And it's only Monday.

Suddenly I want falafel and baba ganoush and roast lamb with apricots. Can't imagine why...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Smoke Me a Kipper, I'll Be Back for Breakfast

I don't know what's gotten into me lately, but for some reason over the past couple of days I've been eating a lot of "traditional" working-class English food and pub grub. A few nights ago I cooked Lancashire hot pot, brimming with hearty meaty goodness. Last night I made a rich, smoky Welsh rarebit and washed it down with an amber beer. This afternoon I'm having scrambled eggs with kippers on toast, complete with a steaming mug of black tea.

Stoke me a clipper, I'll be back for Christmas
Some years ago when I was still just a pup, my Australian-born-New-Zealand-raised-half-Welsh-half-English grandmother very patiently explained to me the difference between afternoon tea vs. high tea. In a tone polite as only the Brits can be, she told me that afternoon tea was usually held mid-afternoon, and was the sort of event put on by upper class ladies wearing pastel shades and pearl strands. The tea would be black but not too strong, with sugar and cream, though of course no real lady ever took more than one lump of sugar. And there would be pastries and small cakes and those little finger sandwiches full of watercress and curried chicken salad and paper-thin cucumber slices, all with the crusts cut off.

High tea, on the other hand, was a working man's dinner, the sort of thing a common man would eat when he got home from a hard day at the factory or in the mine. It was typically served around six or seven in the evening, standard dinner time. Kippers and toast had their place at such a meal, along with sturdy fare such as meats, boiled eggs, bread and butter, and some sort of cake for dessert, all washed down with mugs of strong black tea.

For this recipe, spouse cooked up the scrambled eggs for me, and I made the kippered toast. It's just buttered wheat toast with chunks of Brunswick kippered snacks on top, popped back in the toaster oven for a minute more to heat them up, with a final sprinkling of paprika for seasoning and color. This is definitely one of those meals that tastes better than it both looks and smells: it's strong, smoky, and fishy, which combo isn't for everyone. But if you need a good dose of omega-3's and can get your nose around the piscine scent, kippers on toast is filling, and it had a nice savory, smoky, slightly nutty flavor coupled with the crisp warmth of the toast.

Spouse has requested Welsh rarebit for dinner again, since he wasn't in for last night's version. I'm also contemplating tackling bangers and mash in the not-too-distant future, or perhaps a scaled-down version of the Sunday Beefeater dinner my mom's family used to have around Christmas time when I was a kid (complete with roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, steamed peas, and apple pie). Stay tuned for more Britfood as I continue to get in touch with my culinary roots.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Anything Soup

It's soup season again at Chateau Gwen - cold, crisp days and long chilly nights full of icy winds or driving rain or soggy snow. One of my standard soup recipes is Anything Soup. That is, you can make it out of anything you've got in your pantry or fridge. Think a cousin of stone soup here, though with less collaboration.

This week's Anything Soup started with a standard mirepoix of onion, carrots, and celery sweated in butter. First seasoning was a few grinds of black pepper and salt.

The mirepoix.

I let the onions get translucent, then added my chosen seasoning: a Moroccan spice blend called ras el hanout. Loosely translated as "top of the shop", it's a mixture of top shelf spices put together by the owner of the spice shop. Similar idea to Indian curry - it's aromatic and wonderful and there are about as many recipes for it as there are Moroccan spice shops. Mine has about two dozen spices in it, including cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, clove, mace, ginger, black pepper, cayenne, and a bunch of others I don't recall off the top of my head.

Ras el hanout.
The spoon in the above picture is the spoon I "measure" my spices with. I don't generally use measuring spoons at all (unless I'm baking, the chemistry of which requires a bit more precision), preferring the throw-a-bunch-of-stuff-in-there-until-it-tastes-good method. Usually it works just fine.

Here's the mirepoix again post-ras el hanout. At this point I also put a couple of tablespoons of garlic-infused olive oil in there too, to add another layer of allium flavor. Garlic and onions are both members of the Allium genus, each with their own similar but distinct taste. I'm fond of the way sweated onions sweeten up and blend with the more mellow garlic.

The next thing I added was chopped sweet potatoes (which you can see on the cutting board up above, next to the spice jar). I added extra cinnamon because sweet potatoes go well with the "sweet" spices - ginger, mace, allspice, all those lovely things your grandma's kitchen used to smell like on baking day. I probably could've done a small dice instead of a large chop, but they worked fine anyway.

After the sweet potatoes I added a can of garbanzo beans and plenty of liquid (chicken stock in this case, plus an extra can of water so the potatoes would have something to soak up). Brought to a boil, then lowered the heat and simmered for about 15 minutes or so, until the sweet potatoes were tender.
The final product.
The end result was a lovely, aromatic, golden soup with lots of hearty veggies in it. However, I still found it a bit lacking in something: I found it bland, despite the strength of the spice blend. It actually smelled far stronger than it tasted (and it smelled great!). The raisin garnish was a small stroke of genius, because the tartness of the raisins helped boost the flavor. But my spider sense is telling me that the next time I make this I should probably add something like ground lamb, which would take the soup to a whole 'nuther level of exotic deliciousness.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pork Ribs So Good Even I Will Eat Them

I mentioned these in the previous post. Lexi and her significant other made them for spouse's birthday during a recent beach house trip. They involved much brining and soaking and prepping with shovels and rakes and implements of destruction, and there was fire involved at the end... it was dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria!

And they were so good that even I - an inveterate rib-hater - ate them and thought they were delicious. Spouse loved 'em.

Lexi did the cornbread (sweet and moist, with niblets of corn in it) and I made the red jacket mash (with plenty of butter and whole milk). No recipe for this one, just a few images to make you drool.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beach + Debauchery = Debeachery?

My family is fortunate enough to have the use of a wonderful beach house located on one of the myriad salty inlets in the region. Owned by my grandmother (venerable matriarch of the clan, and a majorly bitchin' gourmet cook in her own right), the house boasts spectacular views of the local terrain, not to mention a kickass kitchen that was remodeled a scant few years ago after a disastrous water leak. We've hosted many a family get-together there, not to mention quite a few parties of a rather more... adventurous nature.

It's one of my favorite places to cook, eat, and drink. The location right on the beach makes gathering shellfish easy: we can walk right out the door and collect mussels, oysters and clams, and have them shelled and cooking in a half an hour (longer for mussels, since they have to be cleaned and de-bearded). In good seasons we can also put the crab pot out and have fresh Dungeness, steamed in an old industrial-sized pot on the bulkhead two steps from the beach. A cold plunge in the salt sound after lunch and a bonfire after the sun goes down, and you've got a recipe for heaven.

Birthdays have been a favorite reason to celebrate. My family has hosted birthdays at the beach house for as long as I can remember, and the tradition continues, with friends old and new. There's always plenty of fun and games, but I have to admit that a big part of my visits there have to do with food - creating menus, cooking special dishes, mixing drinks, and just playing freely in the kitchen. One weekend we had a Kung Fu moviefest, and Lexi churned out a 12-course Chinese meal to die for. Other weekends have been one long surf-and-turf grillgasm from start to finish. Not long ago Lexi's significant other brought down a luscious, dark, homebrewed mocha stout for spouse's birthday, to go with ribs so delicious even I enjoyed them... and the list goes on.

These shots are from my 35th birthday (I won't tell you when that happened). They're an introductory sampling of the sort of fare in which we indulge at beach house parties. Trust me, there'll be more of these to come.

I'm a huge fan of Lexi's Angels on Horseback. She usually makes them with oysters, but here she did a variation: big, fat scallops wrapped in bacon, sprinkled with brown sugar and broiled. Yum!

More scallops (I think these ones were steamed with Old Bay seasoning, but I don't recall), along with steamed crayfish.

I think Lexi (and perhaps the spouse) invented this drink. It's called a Mertini. I don't remember what all exactly was in it, other than fruit and ice and some liqueur or other, plus a plastic mermaid. I don't think the recipe really had much to do with an actual martini, the name just worked out that way.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And We'll All Have Chicken & Dumplings When She Comes...

Spouse is as much a foodie as we are, plus he's got designs on going to culinary school. Every so often he tries out some new recipe or other, and most of the time whatever he's cooking turns out pretty well - even the weird stuff he makes up on the fly with ingredients you'd never think of putting together. (An early success was braised chicken breast and pears in white wine sauce... mmmmmm.)

Recently we had a fun evening when he tried chicken soup with dumplings. Behold the dumpling goodness.

I'll admit, he cheated a bit and used a commercial biscuit mix for the base. But he rolled them with wheat flour and it added a slightly nutty flavor, which turned out to be a little extra yum.

He also added garlic, salt and pepper to the dough. Dumplings can be rather flavorless but the garlic gave these ones a delicious savory flavor.

The soup base was a basic chicken soup recipe: mirepoix made of chopped carrots, onion, and celery cooked in butter until the onion is clear ("because everything's better with butter, especially dumplings!" quoth spouse).

Add diced chicken and cook until the chicken is browned.

Then add commercial chicken stock and bring to a slow boil. As I recall we used sage and rosemary from our herb garden for the seasonings, plus salt and pepper. You can see the fresh cut herbs simmering on top of the broth here.

When the stock comes to a boil, lay the dumplings on the surface of the liquid and turn the heat down to a simmer. It's worth adding a little more liquid at this point, as the dumplings need to steam in the pot, and they can soak up some liquid as they do.

Cover and cook until the dumplings are done, about 20 minutes or so for dumplings about the size of a golf ball. Don't take the lid off while they're cooking or you'll lose steam.

Behold the dumpling goodness in all its steamy fluffy chickeny glory!

Something about chicken, sage, garlic, and fluffy dumplings made for a perfect early autumn dinner. Just remember that you have to eat the dumplings when they're fresh, because if you try to save them for later they dissolve into a soupy porridge-like mess. Still tastes pretty good, but at that point it isn't really dumplings anymore, it's more like a savory bread pudding.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Halloween Site for Foodies

It just don't get any better than this, baby. I recently found the blog and website of a butcher/chef in San Francisco named Ryan Farr. I'd never heard of him before today, and now I'll never forget him. This man does A-MAY-ZING things with all the parts of the animal that your mom told you to wash up after touching. And he seems obsessed with pork (Ryan, are you married?!) and bacon. Evidently he participated in a Cochon 555 Event in Napa in 2008. Can't say I'm surpried, really...

Check out his site, but be warned that along with phenomenal recipes for homemade bacon, spiced pork shoulder and hotdogs there are... other things...

This Cured Rolled Pig Face is what first caught my eye...

In case you ever wanted to know how to make head cheese from cute little bunnies. Or, Thumper Terrine, as I call it.

Okay, so now it's clear that he may be a bit 'off'...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dutch Babies

No, this isn't really a post on how to eat infants from the Netherlands; this isn't that kind of food blog. This is a recipe for a German Pancake, also called a Dutch Baby. I learned this recipe back in high school from a friend who used to make them for Sunday brunches. Cousin to Yorkshire pudding and popovers, they're in the class of eggy, savory pastries that puff up when you cook them (and sometimes make really entertaining egg-and-flour sculptures, depending on how you've mixed your ingredients or where the hot spots in your oven are). Traditionally served with lemon and powdered sugar, they're equally good with jam or berry syrup. This recipe is more or less as it was told to me, many moons ago, by my high school friend, with tips added from years of practice.

2 large eggs
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
Preheat oven to 400 F. Put a couple of tablespoons of butter into a glass pie pan and stick the pan in the oven for a few minutes so that the butter will melt in the pan. It's OK if the butter browns a little, but don't let it burn - burned butter is nasty.

While the butter is melting, whisk the eggs in a glass bowl. You can whip them up until they have some bubbles on the top and this will make your Dutch Baby fluffier, but it isn't a requirement - it'll still rise regardless. Add the milk and stir until blended. Stir in the flour until just blended, but don't worry too much if it looks lumpy, and don't overmix - it shouldn't be too thick.

Take the pie pan out of the oven and swirl the melted butter around until it coats the bottom of the pan evenly. Now comes the crucial part: pour the batter into the center of the pan. As it spreads out, the butter will come up around the edges, but DON'T mix in the butter! Somehow the magic of the melted butter around the rim is what makes it puff up the way it does.

Bake for 15 minutes. When it comes out of the oven it should look something like this:

Serve with lemon wedges and powdered sugar.

Grilled Bok Choy

Don't forget to eat your veggies!

One fine evening this past summer, Ms. Lexi invited m'self and m'spouse over to her place for a spontaneous grill night, where she turned me on to the delight that is grilled baby bok choy. We've had it at quite a few cookouts since. It's simple to prepare, looks great, tastes yum, and has enough flavor to stand up well with the various main courses we've served it with (including spice-rubbed London broil, grilled chicken, and oysters).

1 baby bok choy per person, sliced in half lengthwise
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

Arrange the sliced bok choy on a baking sheet and brush both sides with olive oil. If you like a little more flavor, you can use an herb-infused oil, but nothing too strong since one of the great things about bok choy is its light, cabbage-like flavor.

Season with salt & pepper to taste. We usually just sprinkle seasonings on the cut side of the bok choy, but you could also season your oil before brushing, to eliminate a step.

Grill over medium coals until the bulb is tender-crisp and the leaves are crisp and lightly charred.

"Medium coals" for us often means that the bok choy is cooking to one side of the fire or with the grill open so that the heat dissipates. You don't want to absolutely charbroil the stuff - it's a veggie, not a Cajun catfish.

Here's the delightful little things after being turned once. The edges of the leaves get nice and crunchy-crisp and just a little bitter, while the bulb stays hot and sweet and retains a slightly spicy cabbage-like flavor. It's a great contrast to rich meats, and washes down well with dry white wines or lighter beers.