Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Glad Våffeldag!

The best holidays and recipes are all about adaptation. Våffeldagen (The Waffle Day in Sweden) occurs on Annunciation Day, but why? It is all about adaptation and bastardization (bastardization of words, people! Get your minds out of the gutter!). My description from an earlier posting:
March 25 is Waffle Day in Sweden, celebrated nine months before the birth of Christ.  What does Mary's conception have in common with waffles?  Yet another holiday left over from Catholic rule, this day used to be called Vårfrudagen (our lady day), in honor of the Virgin Mary.  Dialect corruption beget the name Våfferdagen, then the modern Våffeldagen, meaning Waffle day. Now, Swedes eat waffles on Lady Day.
Additionally, migratory birds begin to return home, and the crane became associated with the day. There was a saying, "On Annunciation Day the crane carries light into bed," which meant that it was now light enough to no longer require a candle to light one's way to bed. Cranes apparently carried the light in their beaks. The crane also brought treats and gifts to children (such as dried fruits and oranges) from southern countries.
What does this mean for us? Well, for my family it means we adopt Sweden's love of the waffle. This past year I've dabbled quite a bit in waffle love. Here are some greatest hits; click on the titles to link to recipes. And Glad Våffeldag!

ChickIN Waffle (see image above)

Semla Waffle

State Fair Hotdish Waffle: Asian Style (my favorite!)

State Fair Chicken-fried SPAM-n-Waffle (another of my favorites!)

Zucchini-Parmesan Waffle

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Chow mein goes hotdish

As a kid I assumed that the foods my family enjoyed were authentic interpretations of how the rest of the world ate. When my mom made chow mein, I speckled the top of my supper with lots of salty cashews and imagined kids in China eating the same dish for their dinners. I had no clue that in Minnesota our chow mein is more hotdish than "fried noodles" (the translation of chow mein). In fact, even the idea of hotdish is a Midwest spin on casserole. Although many will argue with me, I define hotdish as a casserole to which condensed soup is usually added.

Minnesota chow mein is a stew of celery, peppers, mushrooms, ground beef and chopped pork or chicken, bound together with a corn starch-thickened stock. We generally agree that white rice is the correct starch to eat with our chow mein, and most of us top the plate with cashews and crunchy rice noodles. Recipes I've found in old church and community cookbooks haven't changed much over the decades.

My great-great uncle was a pastor at the Swedish Tabernacle in Minneapolis (the building situated across the street from the nurse dormitory at HCMC, formerly the Swedish Hospital) and I've got a copy of a cookbook that came from the parish in 1936, "Friendship League's Book of Tested Recipes." In the cookbook are three recipes for chop suey and one for Merriam Park Chow Mein. As far as I can tell these recipes are pretty much interchangeable, although one of the chop suey recipes calls for an entire bottle of soy sauce.

My "Tested Recipes" cookbook belonged to my Great Aunt Hazel, who told me stories about spending Christmas Eve at her uncle's church and dancing around a giant Christmas tree while singing Swedish hymns. When Aunt Hazel's heart was failing she was ordered to begin a low salt diet. "No more chow mein," she lamented. I drummed up a lowered-sodium chicken chow mein for her and stocked her freezer with individual servings.

At Called to the Table this week is my riff on Minnesota chow mein hotdish. Below is Betty Jane Anderson's version from "Tested Recipes." 

Merriam Park Chow Mein
1 chicken, or left over meat
1 large stalk of celery
1 can of bean sprouts
1 can  of sub gum or 1 can of Chinese vegetables
1 can of mushrooms

Cut the celery into fine cross strips and place in a frying pan with plenty of butter. When half done, add the meat which has been cut into small pieces. Fry the meat and celery together until done. Then put them in a kettle and add all of the other ingredients and cook until well done. Season with Chinese molasses, choy sauce (walnut sauce), and salt and pepper. If too thin, thicken with corn starch or flour.                                        -Betty Jane Anderson

Monday, March 16, 2015

Spring break pizza

We aren't kidding ourselves. We are well aware that winter is not necessarily over, at least not in Minnesota. After all, March is the snowiest month of the year! Just because we wore shorts and flip flops all weekend doesn't mean we put our parkas and boots into storage. But we did pull grills out of dusty garages and the wonderful odor of charcoal wafted through neighborhoods like Memorial Day on steroids.

T and I enjoyed our last day of spring break with Mediterranean flavors and happy cats in the catio. There was a warm breeze and promise; I've never felt so relaxed. We lived by the Spicoli Proverb: All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I'm fine.

Grilled Mediterranean Chicken Pizza
4 servings

1/2 batch pizza dough for grilling (recipe here)
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
8 ounces mozzarella, sliced or grated
4 ounces Parmesan, grated
1 cup cooked chicken, diced
1 cup tomatoes, sliced thin
3/4 cup Kalamata olives, chopped
1/2 cup artichoke hearts
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

Divide dough into 4 pieces and shape each piece into a thin round (use your hands or rolling pin) about 8 inches in diameter. Place rounds over direct heat and grill until marks appear on cooked side. Turn dough for even heating. When bubbles appear on uncooked side of dough and cooked side is brown but not burned, remove dough from grill.

Divide toppings over cooked side of pizza and return to grill, uncooked side over indirect heat. Close grill and cook until cheeses melt and toppings are hot. 

Drizzle pizza with olive oil and garnish with pickled red onion.

For the pickled onion:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 red onion, sliced thin

In saucepan over high heat bring water, vinegar, sugar, and salt to boil and simmer until sugar dissolves, whisking occasionally. Remove from heat and add onion. Set aside to steep for half an hour. Chill before serving.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Nordic Cool

I know it still shocks old-school Minnesota-Scandinavians when I add Thai curry paste and coconut milk to an otherwise standard recipe for ärtsoppa (Sweden's traditional Thursday night yellow pea soup). Add fresh ginger and orange zest to someone else's recipe for Swedish meatballs and you are bound to step on more than a few toes.

But food, like all of our best cultural attributes, is dynamic. In America as in Scandinavia a unique combination of ethnic cultures contribute to our foodways, which makes food a compelling tool for telling the immigrant story. 

Our first deluge of immigration to Minnesota began with a bunch of Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, and other European immigrants. It took some effort but eventually we became neighbors and friends. My great-grandmother never had lefse in Sweden, but she bought some from a Norwegian neighbor and for one hundred years it has had an honored place at our holiday tables. The German bakers in the Twin Cities understood how to make a decent rye bread, and few people appreciate a rich dense bread as do Scandinavians and Finns. Regardless of our backgrounds, our communities shared a love of pickled herring, beer, sausage, and coarse mustard. At the table we understood one another a little bit better; ingredients we had in common as well as flavors we hadn't tried before.

Modern Minnesota draws a more diverse ethnicity than we began with. Along Lake Street you'll find numerous Mexican stores and restaurants, on the stretch of University Avenue we've got Vietnamese and Thai dining, and the storefronts along Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis are loaded with Ethiopian, Somalian, and Sudanese restaurants and Halal grocers. The foods of our new immigrants help tell their stories. It is up to us old immigrants to take a plate and listen.

So I add new flavors to old recipes, hoping to tell some stories, learn from our new neighbors, and honor the ingredients they bring to our communal table. Old recipes are great, but they can be made better, and adding a bit of ginger and zing to your grandma's meatballs makes them perfectly Nordic cool.

My recipe for Nordic Cool Smörgås is relatively traditional as open-faced sandwiches go, but there is a crunchy bacon pecan topping that may surprise your taste buds, and you'll find my Thai inspired recipe for updated yellow pea soup is at Called to the Table.

Nordic Cool Smörgås

Denny’s on 5th Avenue Bakery Danish Pumpernickel bread (available at Ingebretsen's) or similar rye bread, sliced thin

Cream Cheese Butter Spread:
3 ounces cream cheese, softened

¼ cup butter, softened
Zest from half and orange
1 tablespoon minced dill

Stir together all ingredients.

Orange-Pickled Cucumber Salad:
½ cup sugar
½ cup distilled white vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dried dill
1 cup ice
Zest and juice reserved from orange that has been sectioned
1 large cucumber, sliced thin
1 orange, sectioned and membranes removed

In medium saucepan bring sugar, vinegar, and salt to boil; simmer until sugar dissolves. Add dill and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in ice, orange zest and juice, and cucumber. Chill until ready to use. Add orange slices just before serving

Assemble sandwiches: 
Spread bread slices with Cream Cheese Butter and layer Orange-Pickled Cucumber Salad over spread. Garnish with bacon and pecans.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Swedish meatballs meet bánh mi and lessons in Food & Wine

Coming down from the great American (um... Minneapolis) Food and Wine Experience high is nearly as exhausting as the trip itself. The Food and Wine Experience took several weeks of planning and recipe testing, three days of unbelievably exhausting but rewarding work, and interaction with a few thousand awesome people who were receptive to thinking about Scandinavian foods in new ways. The only drawback? As many meatballs as I've made in my lifetime, you'd think I'd snap a decent photo of one of just one of them. Ah, the elusive unphotogenic meatball.

I spent Friday in the Danish American Center kitchen (a terrific commercial cooking space, by the way, if you ever need one) with a handful of awesome Ingebretsen's volunteer meatball rollers and all around outstanding prep cooks. Together we prepped 1500+ meatballs with fifty pounds of quick pickled slaw, 88 liters of Swedish soup (more on that Thursday), thirty pounds of cream cheese-butter and twenty pounds of orange-pickled cucumbers for smögås. It was a labor of love and hope that our appearance at the Food & Wine show will bring new customers into Ingebretsen's historic marketplace (and not just during Christmas).

Lessons learned: friends who are willing to work for minimum wage in the kitchen are priceless, husbands like T are rare and incredibly supportive helpers, and invested volunteers can roll forty pounds of meatball mix in less than three hours.

Other lessons: no matter how many times you warn your volunteers, a few of them inevitably cut themselves on your mandoline blade or burn themselves on the industrial oven. You will feel guilty about that for many days following. And, you will need to remind non-food people that there is a difference between chefs and cooks, and that I, Nordic Food Geek, am a cook not a chef. There is no shame in being a cook, there is shame in claiming to be a chef when you have not earned that title.

Most positive takeaway: people will lose their minds over tempura battered and deep fried pickled herring.

Most important message conveyed during my Ingebretsen's Food and Wine Show experience: updating old immigrant ingredients with new immigrant flavors honors both communities and tells a new story of immigration. 

Swedish meatballs with quick-pickled slaw are my ode to bánh mì.

Swedish Meatballs with Quick-Pickled Slaw
Makes 50 small meatballs
For the meatballs:
1 ½ pounds Ingebretsen’s meatball mix 
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Zest of 1 orange
Combine meat mixture with ginger, nutmeg, and orange zest. Keep your hands wet with water to avoid mixture sticking to them, and shape tiny meatballs (use a heaping tablespoon to measure each ball). Place meatballs in buttered cake pans or parchment-line baking sheets with high sides. 
Bake in preheated 375 degree oven. Flip balls after 10 minutes; continue cooking until internal temperature reads 160 degrees; about 25 minutes total cooking time.
Serve hot with quick-pickled slaw and spicy mayo.
For the quick-pickled slaw:
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, roughly chopped
Grated zest from 1 lemon or lime zest)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 cups assorted vegetables, cut into matchstick-sized pieces or sliced very thin 
(cabbage, daikon, carrot, cucumber, red pepper, onion)
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1 to 2 jalapenos, sliced thin
Add vinegar, water, sugar, and ginger to a saucepan over high heat and bring to boil. 
Remove from heat, add zest, and steep for about 30 minutes. Strain solids from liquid and pour over about vegetables that are cut into matchstick-sized pieces. Chill. 
Add cilantro and jalapeno before serving.
For the spicy mayo: Combine 1 part mayonnaise with 1 part sambal oelek chili paste.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Food, wine, and herring

It isn't easy convincing everyone to taste pickled herring. It is a bit of an acquired taste, which is the nice way of saying if you didn't grow up eating it, you'll probably wrinkle your nose with disgust the first time you take a bite. When faced with an unusual or unpopular ingredient, many of us reach for the deep-fryer. 

This weekend is the Food and Wine Experience in Minneapolis. I'll be working with Ingebretsen's to showcase Nordic ingredients prepared in new ways (the Swedish homecook works for the Norwegian grocer and preps for event in a Danish kitchen. That is the trifecta of Scandinavian food.). Our menu includes tempura battered pickled herring served with a lingonberry hot sauce. Will this flavor combination tempt any newcomers? 

I keep fantasizing about serving these nuggets atop rye-dill waffles. Move over chicken and waffles, we've got herring on rye. Need more ideas for serving pickled herring? Try the po- boy recipe at Called to the Table. 

Tempura-Fried Pickled Herring with Lingonberry Hot Sauce
Serving suggestion: serve with savory rye-dill waffles 
Serves 4 to 6 

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour + ¾ cup flour for dusting
1 tablespoons baking powder
1 cup soda
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons dill flavored aquavit (such as Gamle Ode), optional
1 pound pickled herring
Quart peanut or vegetable oil

Whisk together the 1 ½ cups flour and baking powder in a deep bowl. Gently stir in soda, eggs, and aquavit until loose batter forms (do not over mix; batter should be lumpy). Refrigerate or put bowl over ice until ready to use.

Rinse herring pieces well in cold water, remove onions and other pickling bits, and pat dry with paper towels. Pour remaining ¾ cup flour into a separate shallow dish and dredge herring in the flour.

Dip the herring pieces into the batter so that they are well coated.

Bring peanut oil to 350 degrees over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot and deep-fry the herring, about 8 at a time, for about 1 to 2 minutes. Use a metal slotted spoon or spider to remove the herring from the oil and place on a paper towel-lined plate; salt.

Serve with lingonberry hot sauce.

For the hot sauce: Combine 1 part hot sauce to 1 part lingonberry syrup.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Old Wheezie, Beloved Furnace and Servant, Dies at 55

Old Wheezie passed away Saturday, February 28th after falling ill that morning. In her final moments, Wheezie struggled against fate and managed to belch out a few brief surges of heat. She was pronounced dead four hours later when the furnace repairman snuffed out Wheezie’s dimming pilot light and cited the cause of death as complications related to old age. She was 55.

Wheezie spent a lifetime in service to the two families who inhabited the home where Wheezie was born. As a youth she established a reputation for efficiency and loyalty. She was known for loud bursts of joyful effort during winter, her favorite season. In her later years Wheezie could be heard groaning loudly and gasping prior to beginning her tasks, thus receiving the nickname “Wheezie” which came to be her permanent title.

Preceded in death by longtime companion The Stove, siblings May and Tag Washer-Dryer, her home’s previous tenants including Pat the Dog and Haley the Cat; survived by current tenants T, P, Olive, Oskar, and Orson. The home’s spokescat Orson offered this perspective, “While it may be cliché to say that Wheezie died doing what she loved, it is no less true. She lived her life to the fullest and, indeed, accomplished her duties to the very end.”

Final viewing scheduled for Monday, March 2nd at 7 AM. In lieu of flowers family members request that contributions memorials be sent to the Heating and Air Replacement and Installation Experts who will be handling Wheezie’s replacement.