Monday, November 28, 2016

Comfort from Denmark: Trine Hahnemann

A friend contacted me through social media, asking if I planned to attend a book signing with Chef and cookbook author Trine Hahnemann. Attend?! I hadn't even heard about it. Seems that was the common reaction last week when we Scandinavian food lovers learned that Chef Trine made a quick stop in Minneapolis to promote her latest cookbook, "Scandinavian Comfort Food."

I've got all but one of Hahnemann's books on my shelf, and gleefully headed to Uptown on Monday where she was speaking and signing at Magers & Quinn Booksellers. Five of us (did I mention no one knew she was coming to town?) sat in the stacks and lapped up every word as Hahnemann generously spoke to us about the art of hygge (Danish concept of coziness) and how cooking plays into our health and wellness.

"Hygge is our culture, part of our daily life," Hahnemann explained. Now hygge is becoming a trend that is marketed. Hahnemann shook her head and told us, "That is just weird. To be hygge comes with expectations about atmosphere. It is not a concept, not a commodity." Similar to Swedish fika, hygge is now used a a verb, defining an event that was nice, pleasant, with an atmosphere where everyone feels good, calm, in sync. And, most importantly, drinking coffee and snacking on cake. "That party was so hyggly."

Hahnemann grew up with "hippy parents" on a commune, and while at the time Denmark generally cultivated a homogenized food culture, on the commune Hahnemann learned about the foods and cultures from Palestinian and Latin American refuges. Every night dinner included very non-Danish flavors such as hummus and eggplant.

When visiting her traditional grandparents, Hahnemann learned berry picking, jam making, and the importance of coffee breaks. "We have three meals and three fika each day!" she told us. When guests arrive, "Always offer coffee and cake." The Danish baking culture comes from the practice of welcoming neighbors to a slow, relaxed conversation while enjoying fika.

"I received this gift from my grandmother: to understand seasonality; what and when to cook." Hahnemann pointed out the similarities between Danish and Minnesota lifestyles: living in a northern climate defines the way we eat. The cold and the light (should) guide our food choices. "There is always something to look forward to with the seasons." As for diets, Hahnemann prefers common sense eating. "Eat things that taste good and you will eat less."

While we can define what we eat as local, that doesn't necessarily mean we should eat only things that are indigenous to our region. We should eat food that make sense, such as imported spices (and bananas, the number one fruit eaten in Scandinavia). When you purchase food from other regions, reach for those that make sense (such as organic, fair trade bananas that come by ship). Just as she learned from her time living in a commune, Hahnemann reminded us that when we eat flavors from other regions, we learn about the people who live there. "Trading with each other means we know each other. If we know each other we are not afraid of one another."

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

2016 Friends Thanksgiving

Another year and another Friends Thanksgiving spent with friends I've had since we were kids. This post election party was a change to breath again, and remind ourselves that we are in this thing called America together. There is great comfort in that knowledge.

2016 Friends Thanksgiving
Assorted cheeses, tampenade,bread, olives, crackers, dried fruit
Main course
Bitter greens, croutons, almonds
Root vegetable and chestnut stuffed squash
Brussels sprouts
Cranberry walnut bread

Coconut ice cream with Cointreau cranberries swirl
Ginger caramel
Spicy pepparkakor
Assorted desserts from Lunds & Byerly's

I found the base of the ice cream recipe online at several sites. We topped the ice cream with warm ginger caramel, and paired with a spicy pepparkakor.

Coconut Ice Cream with Cointreau Cranberries
for the ice cream;
2 cans coconut milk
1/3 cup corn syrup
1 tablespoon Cointreau
1 teaspoon each ground ginger and vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Process ice cream batter in ice cream machine according to manufacture's instructions.
for the swirl;
1 1/2 cup raw cranberries
1/4 cup orange juice
zest from 1 orange
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Cointreau

In saucepan add all swirl ingredients and bring to boil over medium high heat. Reduce to low and simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Chill 30 minutes.

In ice cream storage tub, stagger layers of ice cream and cranberry swirl. Freeze at least 2 hours before serving.

Ginger Caramel
1 cup plus 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice

In saucepan simmer 1 cup cream with ginger for 5 minutes, stirring often and making sure cream does not boil over. Add sugar and lemon, continuing to cook an additional 10 minutes or until mixture is thick. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup cream. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Pumpkin stuffed with goodness

The gals on our local radio station have been touting the pleasures of this concoction for years: Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good. The love child of bread pudding and fondue, this dish is easy to throw together, doesn't require a complicated recipe, and with a salad makes a complete meal (or a celebratory side dish). Don't have a pumpkin? Use squash. Don't have white bread? Use French, cornbread, or whatever bread happens to be hanging out in your kitchen. Add your favorite cheese, any combination of fruit, nut, herbs, and veggie. Got bacon? Add that.

The original source is Dorie Greenspan. Next time I make this I'll be using my favorite grilled cheese ingredients and stuffing it into one of the dozen or so squash that seem to have made my pantry their permanent habitat (cranberry walnut bread with Fontina and Gruyère, extra walnuts and cranberries).

Helpful hints: let this baby bubble away for about an hour and a half before you check the pumpkin for donesness. Depending on the size, it may take an additional half hour to completely cook.

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recipe

Serves 2 to 4

1 pumpkin or squash, 1 1/2 to 3 pounds
Salt, pepper, olive oil
1 to 3 cups stale bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 to 8 ounces good melting cheese, such as Gruyère, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2-4 garlic cloves (to taste), minced
About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives, scallions, or shallot
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme and/or sage
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Using a very sturdy knife cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin or squash (think Halloween Jack-o-Lantern). It's easiest to work your knife around the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle. You want to cut off enough of the top to make it easy for you to work inside the pumpkin. Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside the pumpkin. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Place pumpkin or squash on the baking sheet.
Toss the bread, cheese, garlic, onion, and herbs together in a bowl. Season with pepper and pack the mix into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be well filled. Stir the cream with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper and pour it into the pumpkin. You don't want the ingredients to swim in cream, but you do want them nicely moistened.
Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours—check after 90 minutes—or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. Because the pumpkin will have exuded liquid, remove the cap during the last 20 minutes or so, so that the liquid can bake away and the top of the stuffing can brown a little.This is also a good time to add a handful of nuts or roasted pumpkin seeds.
When the pumpkin is ready, carefully transfer it to a serving platter. Allow the pumpkin to cool at least 10 minutes before presenting. Spoon out portions of the filling, making sure to get a generous amount of pumpkin into the spoonful.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Comfort from lapcats

Neither of our cats are my lapcats. To be clear, Orson is Ted's lapcat, and Oskar sleeps on my head at night. I know that they love me, but their physical affection toward me is limited at best. Ever since our Olive passed away, my lap has been empty.

Until yesterday.

Cats have a keen sense of emotion in others. They witnessed my sadness and anger Tuesday night as the polls came in. They saw me struggle Wednesday morning, crying and trying to breathe in, breathe out. Then they tag-teamed laying in my lap the entire day, taking turns crawling over my laptop to get closer to my chest, purring and kneading me with sharp nails that I've been meaning to clip for a few weeks.

I've been thinking so much about my Aunt Hazel. She lived her entire life, 94 years, waiting to see a woman become president. Imagine being born in a country before women had the right to vote, then watching and participating in the changes that made it possible for women to vote, to run for office, to run for president. Aunt Hazel was devastated when Barack Obama beat out Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic ticket in 2008. I was beyond happy that a brilliant, eloquent man (and yes, black!) was running for office, and elated when he won (My god how I will miss him when he leaves office. What a refreshing counterpoint to those terrifying bumbling inept Bush years.). Yet, Aunt Hazel pointed out then what I've have been grappling with this past year about how our country, how our world, views women.

Tuesday I brought Aunt Hazel's spirit with me to vote. I was really bummed that the celebration we should have been feeling for this amazing historic moment was squashed by the ugly. Even my fellow liberals began conversations with, "I hate Hillary, but..." Here is my truth: I admire Hillary Rodham Clinton and I have no idea why she gave so much of herself to such an ungrateful audience. As I marked the rectangle next to Hillary's name I felt hope, pride, and my Aunt Hazel smiling over my shoulder.

The backlash, or blacklash as some pundits refer to it, is exhausting. From Bill Cosby to campus rapes, from white supremacists to antichoicers, from unarmed black men shot by police to ... oh I am too tired to list the insults and untried crimes we've dealt with, and sadly will continue to deal with. The very worst of frat boy mentality reveals itself. More often than not, the rich white men who rape and grope are rewarded, and it isn't just women who will have to fight off the smirking bigots.

As I sit on my couch, trying to write, my heart too broken for words, another cat climbs into my lap and purrs and does his best to comfort me. I hope all of you have a cat or a dog or a friend or family to remind you of the good in the world. Soon enough we will need to dry our tears and start, again, the good fight. When I was younger my mom always gave this advice when I was sad: cry for ten minutes a day, then move on and do something constructive. I will take her advice because I refuse to roll over, and I refuse to allow cruelty and bigotry to be the accepted standard in my country.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Chef Marcus Samuelsson and Red Rooster Harlem: culture, food, and stories

When the world seems a little too scary to even venture out of the house for trick-or-treating, a visit from my favorite Swedish chef is a welcome respite. Chef Marcus Samuelsson came to the Twin Cities this week as part of his latest cookbook launch. I was lucky enough to score tickets to Monday evening's Cooks at Crocus Hill dinner and book signing, and as ever, Chef Marcus did not disappoint. The night was filled with music (Marcus is traveling with his house band ... or, rather, three of the eleven members of his house band, The Rakiem Walker Project), dance (Marcus is also travelling with two members of the Waffle Crew who are a group of young dancers specializing in litefeet - moves you have to see to believe), and the best food I've had in ages. 

The evening also included a healthy dose of Marcus talking about opening Red Rooster in Harlem, culture-food-civil rights, and politics. Marcus reminded us of the New York City he moved to when he migrated from Sweden. "That was Donald Trump's New York, when he wanted to put five innocent black boys to death," referring to what the media called the Central Park Five who were wrongfully accused and convicted of raping a jogger in Central Park. (Read the details here.

Marcus wove themes of culture thoughout the evening, giving a shout out to Black Lives Matter, and encouraging the rapt audience of about fifty to embrace their cultural heritage because it makes us who we are, and provides a story to our existence.

Most Americans have an immigrant past. "Let's not disown what culture and what immigration have done for this country. He continued, "How about all immigrants stop working for a day," so that we could witness the importance of their work across America. Without immigrants, "This country would not be half as good."

Speaking to the current popularity of Nordic and Swedish culture, Marcus stated, "Without (Swedish journalists and crime author) Stieg Larsson, without H&M, without ABBA, without these storytellers there is no mystic." Storytellers create a fascination with their own culture which then spreads. America is a collage of ethnicity and we can see all of our stories in the food coming out of our kitchens.

That is Marcus' story as well, and certainly the story coming from his Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem. "The Red Rooster Cookbook" is Marcus' love letter to all of the places he has been (born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, trained across Europe, immigrant in America) and the people he's known. The food he cooks is always evolving according to those experiences. We who ate at Aquavit Minneapolis understood this, and those of us who have enjoyed Marcus' food for all these years have seen and eaten the continuing transformation. Obviously delicious, Marcus' food is also laden with stories.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sweet Potato Poutine

Nothing in life is quite as decadent as poutine, that Canadian treat of French fries and cheese curds swathed in gravy. Come on! Poutine is as comforting as eating warm bread and butter while wearing your pajamas and watching snow fall outside. This version calls for sweet potatoes and adds even more cheese to the gravy.

If you make the full recipe for cheese gravy, you will have extra. Ladle it over mashed potatoes, hash, cooked vegetables, burgers, hot dogs, or warm turkey sandwiches.

Sweet Potato Poutine
1 or 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into long strips
olive oil
salt, pepper, nutmeg
1 cup fresh cheese curds

Toss potatoes in olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Place single layer on parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake in 350-degree oven until the interiors of potatoes are tender and the exterior s are crisp and golden; about 30 minutes, turning after 15 minutes for even cooking. Season with nutmeg and layer on serving dish with cheese curds. Cover with cheese gravy.

For the cheese gravy:
3 tablespoons each flour and butter
1 cup each low sodium chicken stock and half-n-half
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Salt, pepper, nutmeg

In saucepan melt butter and whisk in flour. Whisk over medium high heat until mixture gets bubbly. Whisk in stock and half-n-half and continue whisking and cooking until gravy is thick. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. When cheese is melted, season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Christmas Palt in Minot

I have a friend who moved from Minneapolis back to Minot, North Dakota this year, and gosh I've missed him. Spending a week at Norsk Høstfestgave me an opportunity to see S again, and he invited me to dinner so I could watch him make his family's special palt. Palt is similar to kroppkakor, Swedish potato dumplings filled with tasty meat and served with BUTTER (and lingonberries), and lots of it. 

S's family enjoys palt all year long, but it is especially important during Christmas.They always drink milk with their palt. But we learned that palt is like friendship and pairs equally well with a glass of champagne.