Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rye Crackers

Those of you about to embark on a weekend of Super Bowl frenzy, keep these words in mind: When life gives you football games, make snacks.

Last night I taught a Swedish Small Plates cooking class at the American Swedish Institute and it was a blast! Our menu included rye blinis and roe butter, cheese-filled olives soaked in Gamle Ode Dill, gravlax with pickled mustard seeds and oranges, shrimp fritters, smoked herring salad, juniper bison meatballs, and licorice ice cream. We piled some bites on rye crackers and skåled with flights of local aquavits.

Since the demise of RyKrisp, I've been trying to perfect a copycat cracker. Thankfully, the RyKrisp recipe was recently purchased by a small company embarking on reestablishing the deliciousness that is RyKrisp. Meanwhile, I've found a decent recipe online, and we made a few batched in our class last night. Add these knäckebröd to your Super Bowl menu and celebrate a win (or mourn a loss) with a few shots of aquavit.

Rye Crisps (Knäckebröd)  
Makes 30 crackers

1 cup dark rye flour
1 cup whole wheat flour, plus more for rolling
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
½ cup whole milk
1 tablespoon molasses
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons caraway
½ teaspoon coarse salt

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. In a food pro­cessor or large bowl, combine the rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt and ground caraway and pulse or whisk to combine. Add the butter and pulse or rub with your fingers until the butter is in tiny pieces and the mixture resembles fine cornmeal, 15 one-second pulses.

In a measuring cup with a spout, combine the milk and molasses and stir until the molasses completely dissolved. Gradually add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and pulse or stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together into a ball.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth, about 25 strokes. The dough will be slightly sticky; add flour only as necessary. Divide the dough into two balls, cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. (The dough can be made up to this point and stored in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 days.)

Pat one ball of dough into a small rect­angle and roll it out on a lightly floured surface until the dough is 1/16-inch thick, lifting the dough and rotating occasionally to make sure it’s not sticking, and adding flour only as necessary.

Using a pastry wheel or pizza cutter, cut the dough into strips; reserve any scraps. Transfer the strips to a prepared baking sheet and repeat the process of rolling and cutting with the remaining dough and scraps. Brush the crackers lightly with the beaten egg and sprinkle them with the caraway seeds and coarse salt. 

Bake until the crackers are golden brown around the edges and no longer pliable, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets once from top to bottom and from back to front while baking. Watch carefully to make sure the crackers do not burn. Cool the crackers on racks and store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Recipe adapted from Swedish Caraway Rye Crisp recipe at

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thursday update and Fig to Fork

Things are hopping right along over here in blog land. Today I've got a Called to Table column up with a recipe for Kimchee on Rye, a.k.a. Kimchee Pizza. We made it last week at the American Swedish Institute in my Swedish Pizza the Sequel class, and the combination of Italian, Swedish, and Korean flavors kept my taste buds happy for the entire week. I found Ashley Bode's kimchee recipe on Marcus Samuelsson's blog and added orange and caraway to bring the flavors of the rye pizza crust into the toppings. Make this easy and quick kimchee or use store bought if you are in a hurry.

Also today at the StarTribune I've got a piece about my friend Paurvi and her family's roti recipe. Last year at our annual lefse making party Paurvi noted how similar our lefse was to her mother's roti, an Indian flatbread. Her mother and aunt generously invited me and a few friends over to learn the art of roti. Afterwards they served us a meal that I am still thinking about: several dishes of stews and curry, breads, and sweets. It was an evening of laughter and good food, a definite highlight of last summer.

Finally, T and I continue to enjoy weekly deliveries from Fig to Fork, and I am saving tons of grocery money. Best, I am adding new ingredients and recipes to our regular old repertoire and having a blast in the kitchen. Who would ever believe I would willingly eat kale? Or polenta? Each box comes with recipe suggestions from local chefs. While I typically use those recipes as a loose guide. Although Chef Alan Berg's (of St. Paul's Salt Cellar) wild shrimp cakes were so delicate and brilliant that I'll be riffing off his recipe forever. A few examples of recent boxes and dinners are below. Meals (and recipes) included pan-fried pork chops with tomatillo slaw, curry chicken with coconut rice, and shrimp with cheddar grits.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cat Show (and Tell)

January is one of those months when, while the rest of the nation shrivels up from the chill, in Minnesota we thrive. We wrap ourselves in down and wool and head out into the cold (and snow and wind and occasional ice) to find some fun. If we are lucky we stumble on an entire auditorium filled with ... cats! This January proved to be no exception, and on Saturday we headed into downtown St. Paul for the 40th Annual Championship and Household Pet Cat Show, sponsored each year by the Saintly City Cat Club. 

A cat show is very much the picture book "Millions of Cats" come to life. In the book, an old couple is lonely and decide that the companionship of a cat would sooth them. The man sets out to find a cat and comes across an entire hill of cats: Cats here, cats there. Cats and kittens everywhere. Hundreds of cats. Thousands of cats. Millions and billions and trillions of cats! The man says, "Now I can choose the prettiest cat and take it home with me!" And this is very similar to what happens at a cat show.

(Obligatory story explanation here: Those of us who love cats understand, the man cannot choose just one cat and ends up taking the whole lot home with him. As things progress, the cats fight over who is the prettiest and a hoarding nightmare ensues. All of the cats scatter except for one sad little thin creature. After love and care from the elderly couple the scrawny kitten becomes plump and beautiful. This tale warns of the ills that comes from hoarding, and encourages us to adopt a cat in need. Total win-win. Another related theme to "Millions of Cats" is that author Wanda Gag received training at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.)

Back to the show:




Later, at home, our small clowder enjoyed gifts of catnip pillows that we brought back from our adventure:

And then T photobombed Oskar's selfie:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Year in Review

This week we said goodbye to Christmas with a lutfisk lunch at the First Lutheran Church in Columbia Heights where volunteers hustle up to 250 diners during each of their three two-hour services. Highlights: the fish was mellow and flaky, the lefse basket was endless, the rutabaga mash was buttery (rutabaga is an under-appreciated vegetable and I am always glad to see it served), and my dining companions were funny and smart. A great event and I am already marking my calendar for next year's feast.

While visions of sugarplums are dancing out of my head, that means it is time for Birthdays! Both T and I celebrate our birthdays this week. While he is a little more low key about his day, I believe in making the entire month a glass full of revelry (with a debauchery chaser). 

Last year I borrowed a page from Sue Heck's bedazzled scrapbooks and declared this past year "Year of Patrice." I opened myself up to opportunities and relationships, and amazing things happened:
Ingebretsen's hired me to represent them at the Food and Wine Event
The StarTribune published a few of my words including this piece on barley
My awesome friend Catherine Dehdashti published her first novel and asked me to be a reader AND a reviewer
My cooking classes at the American Swedish Institute continued to draw students
Our daughter married a man we adore almost as much as we adore her
My Ginger Pinchies won a Blue Ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair
The good people of Minot, North Dakota hired me to work at Nørsk Hostfest (a once in a lifetime experience)
I was asked to contribute a dinner party to my friend's Blue House orphanage benefit
My mother-in-law gifted me with her family's heirloom lefse roller
As Year of Patrice churns to an end, I am astounded at what a whirlwind crazy amazing happy year it has been. Opening yourself up to the Universe and all it has to offer can jump start a whole new journey of challenges and bounty. Self-indulgent? Yes. But I feel that I am finally starting to pull the weeds up from the path I am supposed to be walking.

Probably the most terrifying and satisfying event of the year was that I sold a book pitch. I'll provide details when I am able, but I can offer this much: the next 12 months will be "Year of Jul."

Meanwhile T and I are eating our way through the Twin Cities and dedicating ourselves toward finding the meal that best exclaims, "It's our Birthdays! Is there any better reason to celebrate?" And anyone who knows me well understands that my Birthday means a day of donuts and Cheetos. So many donuts, so few birthdays.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Signs of the season and rømmegrøt

Hang around with a few Norwegians and you might be lucky enough to dabble in their holiday porridge tradition of rømmegrøt. Beg hard enough and you might be lucky enough to have an expert in rømmegrøt make an entire batch for you, which is the spot where I found myself this past weekend.

My friend Di is easily the World's Best Rømmegrøt Maker. I don't throw that title around lightly, and you can rest assured I've eaten more than any Swede's fair share of good rømmegrøt. Di is a rømmegrøt master. Armed with a pint of cream, a bit of flour, and a few cups of milk she stirs and mashes the mixture into the smoothest, most buttery, creamy, rich concoction ever imagined. Below is her recipe, handed down through generations.

Di's family lovingly refers to the porridge as cream mush, an ironic name for a pudding fit for the gods. Rømmegrøt is magic.

Note: Flour amount varies according to humidity and age of the cream. Di uses Wondra as it comes sifted. The entire cooking process takes up to an hour, although larger batches takes much longer.

Add 2 cups of heavy whipping cream to large pan over medium high heat. Add 1/3 cup Wondra and stir with flat wooden spoon and/or heat proof spatula, occasionally smashing any lumps up against the side of the pan. Stir and cook until the mixture thickens and begins to become a consistent ball of batter.

Sift in more flour slowly and continue stirring and smashing.When butter begins to separate out quit adding flour. Stir constantly (or batter will scorch) and occasionally remove pan from the burner, adjusting heat, if any batter becomes hard and golden.  

Use a metal spoon to remove separated butter, reserving butter for serving. Add 2 cups HOT whole or 2% milk, about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring to mix well. When batter becomes a creamy pudding consistency, add 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1 to 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

To finish, float the butter on top with a bit of sugar and cinnamon. Serve very warm but not hot since butter and sugar can burn!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Epiphany lefse (or the year Rosie O'Donnell came to the party)

Here's the deal. I am not ready to say goodbye to Christmas just yet. It feels like just when things are getting started, we are forced to take down the decorations and stuff tomte back into the closet. Thankfully our annual lefse crew feels the same way, and they were enthusiastic participants in our (post) holidays Epiphany Lefse Party. Who writes the Christmas calendar rules, anyway?

Our lefse makers are a motley self-taught crew. We are scrappy yet orderly, taking on tasks as needed and learning new skills each year. We mostly agree that early morning sparkling wine tastes best without the addition of orange juice, and we've come to the conclusion that it is important to save lefse pizza for after all of the dough has been balled, rolled, and flipped. Our lefse making is a labor of love, trial and error, and above all community.

This year I was especially excited for the event as my mother-in-law gifted me with the most beautiful lefse roller I've ever seen. It belonged to her great grandmother one hundred years ago, and is hand carved out of a single fat piece of wood. It is about twice the size of a regular roller, but happily the sleeve I bought stretched across it.

This year we were also graced with the presence of a real life lefse expert. K's mom came ready to roll delicate lacy rounds, and we were eager for her assistance. I handed her a ball of potato dough and she immediately asked when the flour had been added to the potato mixture. "Last night," I answered. "It's been chilling for more than twelve hours."

K's mom tsked tsked her disapproval. "You must not add the flour until you are ready to roll the balls." She held a limp wet dough ball in her hand and looked sad. "Well, I'll do my best." As she rolled the ball into a thin round she pointed to the bulging potato pieces that didn't blend into the dough. "What's this?" she asked, almost accusatory.

"Um... potato?" I offered. As way of explanation I added that my good potato ricer is missing and I was forced to use my old plastic model, which doesn't do a great job of dicing a cooked potato into silky threads. Things were getting embarrassing and I understood why smart Norwegians probably don't often allow Swedes to take on any critical roles in the lefse kitchen.

K's mom taught us lots of little lessons as the day progressed. When the twin griddles blew a fuse, K's mom rolled the lefse around her rolling pin and stood patiently, explaining that leaving a piece of lefse on the cloth guaranteed it would stick once it was time to move it to a hot griddle. We watched as she used her rolling pin to transfer flatbreads to the griddle, only using a stick to carry cooked lefse from griddle to stack.

(Necessity and ingenuity brought K's dad to create their family's lefse stick from an old wooden blind many years ago. He passed away this summer, and I couldn't help but feel his presence in the kitchen as well.)

The grand thing about having a lefse expert with us was that I finally learned a thing or two about making the dough. Self-taught griddlers will never become GOOD griddlers and embarrassment be damned, I am intent on learning the art of lefse. (Our youngest lefse makers are two years old this year. They invited Rosie O'Donnell - the doll not the person - to join us but honestly she wasn't much help. She did, however, eat more than her fair share of lefse pizza.)

In the end our lefse was beautiful. The stack of flatbread rose and we congratulated ourselves for making a fine product out of a less-than-perfect dough thanks in part to the presence of T's family roller, K's lefse making mom, and the wooden blind stick that K's dad made many years ago.