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.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Norsk Høstfest: faces & food

It's been a few days since I left the North Dakota State Fairgrounds, but I can still smell cinnamon (Rice pudding! Bread pudding! Rømmegraut!)and my body is craving an almond cream filled bite of lefse with my morning coffee. So many images running through my mind and fond thoughts of the friends I left behind but hope to see again next year.

Last night I dreamed I was rolling meatballs for a crowd of fifty. Was it a dream or a happy memory?



Saturday, October 1, 2016

Norsk Høstfest: a day in the life

A day in the life of a hired hand at Norsk Høstfest includes waking early, ironing my apron if I was too exhausted to do it the night prior, heading down to the hotel lobby to exchange morning greetings with the other Norsk Høstfesters, and grabbing a cup of coffee to go. During the seven-minute drive to the North Dakota Fairgrounds I turn on the radio to a happy country station and sing loudly along to songs I've never heard before.

We all wear badges to get in and out of the event, and as we check in the guys try to give me a wristband ("So you can get back in if you leave today.") which I wave away assuring them I won't leave for about twelve hours. If I'm lucky I run into a few characters, grab something tasty to eat with my bad cup of coffee (I know I'll get so lost no one will ever find me again if I dare venture to the downtown Starbucks. Besides, the car I am driving is so enormous it has taken me several days to learn to park it.), and find some space at the Nordic Kitchen where Chef Stig is typically already prepping his food for the day and the gals from Nordic Ware are organizing their kiosk store.

Høstfest is housed in a large building made up of large halls connected by vast hallways, and during the fest each hall and hallway is cram packed with Nordic themed shopping, food, music and entertainment, wandering Vikings, many many trolls, and tens of thousands of people celebrating every bit of the experience. The halls are named for Nordic cities, and our Nordic Kitchen is housed in Helsinki.

At the Nordic Kitchen we take turns cooking Nordic-inspired treats while anywhere from five to fifty guests watch and listen, and wait (somewhat) patiently for edible samples. Chef Stig Hansen is a favorite. His Danish dishes help him to sell lots of cookbooks, as does his dry wit during presentations. We've got half an hour between cooks, so as soon as samples are passed out our den mother Gigs helps us wash and dry dishes and tidy up the kitchen. Occasionally we have a guest cook, and this year the delightful and wise Beatrice Ojakangas was with us a few times. As I helped to grease and butter her cake tins, I thought, "I am sitting at the foot of the master."

Last year my cooking theme was updated Swedish foods, and this year I am making modern Swedish suppers, from barley risotto and Flying Jacob to banana curry and kebab pizzas. With each presentation you learn dos and don'ts. I'll never be as smooth as I'd like, but gosh what fun it is to try!

We are friendly with the vendors in Helsinki, including a few favorites that we try to bring samples to, and occasionally our generosity pays off with a reciprocal treat delivery (The candy people are our absolute favorites. More Finnish licorice? Yes, please!). And we always, always, give our awesome technical and sound team extra portions. A well-fed tech team is happy team!

While most of my day is spent at the kitchen, occasionally I break away and explore the other halls. All around are the smells of good food and the sounds of beautiful music. Approaching Copenhagen Hall is like walking into another world. That's where they house the Vikings. Last year the only food outside of Nordic Kitchen that I tried was the lefse, which I had every single day. This year I am determined to taste some of the wonders that are Høstfest. So far I've had a Viking on a Stick and an amazing wheat lefse filled with almond cream (having that again today with my morning coffee!.

After the final cooking presentation we give the kitchen one last scrubbing for the day. Back in my hotel I snack on a dinner of pumpkin lefse, fattigman, and glass of wine. I throw in a load of laundry so my apron is fresh, fall into bed, and dream of cardamom and trolls.