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.

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