Monday, November 7, 2011

Mystery Monday: The Girl Who Didn't Eat Swedish Meatballs Part II (Lingonberry/Cranberry Jam

Swedish meatballs are accompanied by two things: boiled potatoes and lingonberry jam. Seeing as lingonberries are not local to California, and if I wanted to make the trek to Ikea to try to "source" some I would probably just go ahead and spend the $2.99 to get the whole meal instead of spending hours trying to locate an ingredient within that vast, spiraling, monstrosity. (I learned my lesson the hard way when I tried to pick up a bottle of elderflower syrup. Don't do it!)

So, to make long story short (is that possible since I've already told most of the long story?), the tart little red lingonberries can be replaced by the similarly tart little red cranberries, which as all good Americans know are currently in season (as are turkeys for that matter, but more of that later).

Now, I have to admit something. I am a little obsessed with Thanksgiving recipes. I have a stack of back issues of November food magazines that I have collected, and I bring them out and re-read them annually. However, the one thing that I am immune to (other than the idea of oyster stuffing - how gross does that sound?) are all of the crazy cranberry sauce recipes. Chutney? No thanks. Relish? What does that even mean? Salsa? Are you kidding? What's wrong with you!?!? I just looked at Bon Appetite's Cranberry Sauce Slideshow, which suggests among other things, Cranberry Salsa with Cilantro and Chiles; Cranberry-orange chutney with Cumin, Fennel and Mustard Seeds; Chipotle Cranberry Sauce; Cranberry-Mustard Relish; Beet Chutney (wait, what? How is that Cranberry Sauce?); Cranberry Sauce with Red Wine, Pomegranate Molasses, and Mediterranean Herbs; Cranberry, Tangerine and Crystalized-Ginger Relish...Need I go on? You Get the idea. Fussy and complicated to the max.

Anyways, my point it this. My grandma's recipe, which as it happens, is exactly the same as the one printed on the back of the package of Ocean Spray Cranberries (I think maybe she helped them develop it?), is just a simple jam made of cranberries, sugar and water. It's easy, an impressive step-up from the canned stuff, and wonderfully straightforward. The world is complicated enough. Cranberry sauce should be simple. (Maybe I should re-title this post The Mystery of Why Anyone Would Complicate Cranberry Sauce Thereby Adding to the Stress of Thanksgiving Whilst Taking Away from its Deliciousness).
Which brings us back to the real subject of this post: the Lingonberry or Cranberry Jam from Falling Cloudberries which accompanies the recipe for Meatballs with Allspice and Sour Cream from last weeks Mystery Monday. This recipe, I hope, is the Swedish (or Finnish) equivalent of my grandmother's cranberry sauce recipe. It uses a few more ingredients, but they play supporting roles to the main point which the making of a tart, bright sauce to accompany the rich spiced meatballs and their creamy sauce. Lemon juice and zest adds an extra zing, while grated apple supplies body and natural pectin which helps thicken it. The end product, while different than what I am used to eating at Thanksgiving, was versatile enough to be spread onto cornbread muffins as well as roast chicken. This is a recipe that benefits from sticking to its main purpose, resulting in a cohesive and balanced meal. What more could you want from cranberry sauce?

Lingonberry or Cranberry Jam
Adapted from Falling Cloudberries

Makes about 1 cup

2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen lingonberries or cranberries
1/2 cup superfine sugar (I used regular granulated sugar)
Finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 small apple (peeled and cored)

Rinse the berries and pat them dry. Mix the cranberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a non-reactive bowl and let them macerate overnight storing a couple of times (I forgot this step and just let them sit for a couple of hours which didn't really do much, leading me to believe that if necessary this step could be skipped).

Coarsely grate the apple and put it into a small heavy bottomed pan along with the grated lemon zest. Strain all the juice from the berries (or just add the sugar and lemon juice), along with roughly half of the berries receiving the other half to add later. Add 1/2 a cup of water and simmer the mixture for 20-30 minutes, or until the apple is softened and the mixture is thick. Add the rest of the berries and cook for another 5-10 minutes until they are heated though (Keep in mind that cooking the berries for a little longer will take away some of their bite by both breaking them down and stewing them in sugar). Pour the mixture into sterilized jars and seal, or alternatively, if you want to use the jam quickly just store it in a clean container in the fridge.
Spoon generously alongside your Swedish Meatballs and boiled potatoes (but perhaps not your turkey, unless you want to be really wild).

Friday, November 4, 2011

Ratatouille: Third Time's the Charm?

One of the best ways we enjoyed our ratatouille was smashed inside of a buckwheat crepe. Buckwheat crepes sound fancy, and they are a bit of a pain, but if you have the foresight to make your batter the day ahead of time and the patience to stand over the stove doing what amounts to glorified pancake flipping duty then what are you waiting for?

The combination of the succulent and fragrant vegetables with the earthy crispy-yet-tender buckwheat crepes was very tasty (the parmesan we added to the mix didn't hurt either).

I used the recipe for buckwheat crepes (ok, galettes) from David Tanis's cookbook, Heart of the Artichoke.

Grease and heat your pan sufficiently. And don't worry if a few don't turn out perfect.
What, you want a recipe? Go buy the cook book already! Jeez. (You'll thank me later.)

I will tell you that I halved the recipe and I found buckwheat groats in the bulk section at Whole Foods, and, last but not least I stuffed each crepe generously with re-heated leftover ratatouille and a generous pinch of parmesan which melted (and was delicious).
Ps. I just realized that I combined an Alice Water's recipe with a David Tanis recipe. I think that it must have been fate.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ratatouille: This Time with Pasta!

Pasta and whole grains, are often the best way to stretch both a dollar and a meal. Instead of reaching for a can of tomatoes (or *gasp* a jar of store-bought sauce), I decided to dress up my pasta and bulk up some of my leftover ratatouille by combining the two.

This may not be the most traditional way of enjoying leftover ratatouille, but it was the quickest, easiest, and had all of the heft and charm of a homemade meal with none of the work.

Pasta a la Ratatouille

Pasta of your choosing (I like something small, like fusilli or penne, which I find easier to eat than spaghetti with a chunky sauce like this one)

As much (or as little) leftover ratatouille as you would like, or can spare

Cook your pasta in one pot, and heat up your ratatouille in another (just make sure it is large enough to accommodate the amount of pasta you are cooking). When the pasta is al dente, drain it - setting aside some of the starchy cooking water - and add it to the ratatouille. Add a spash of the pasta water to loosen up the mixture so that it coats the pasta, and cook for a couple of minutes until everything is well combined and the pasta is cooked to your liking.
Gobble it up and try to figure out what you are going to do with all the time you bought yourself by cooking with leftovers. (Maybe watch Bridesmaids for the fourth time? Just wait until you've fully digested dinner before watching it.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Genius by Proxy

Yesterday was a big day for me. Here are some of the exciting things that I did (in no particular order).

1. I cooked an enormous pot of butternut squash stew (I'll tell you more about that later).
2. I parted my hair on the wrong side, on purpose (long story short - I think my hairline might be receding a teensy bit on the right side).
3. I started day 1 of my participation in NaNoWrMo (National Novel Writing Month).
4. I cleaned the apartment for several hours to avoid my new writing responsabilities.
5. I snacked on of the delicious honey cornmeal fresh-cranberry quick bread muffins that I baked over the weekend (I will tell you more about that later too. Suffice to say that if you think that the title is a mouthful just wait until you try one of the muffins!)

But that was yesterday, and this is today. And today is a very big day for you because I am going to share one of the best new recipes I've tried in quite a while. It's from Food 52's Genius Recipe series, which features lots of great recipes that for some reason or another stand out from the rest of the pack.

Now, this recipe is not really a hard sell. It's by Alice Water's for one. And it's ratatouille (which is just naturally likable for it's sing song name alone). The clincher, however, lies in the technique that sets this recipe apart and raises it to Genius Status. It requires neither superhuman skill or the use of expensive gadgets. It is actually simpler than most. Instead of cooking each vegetable separately, this recipe uses a trick my grandma has bragged about many times, in which the vegetables are added to the pot at intervals according to their relative cooking times. Oh, and it tastes fantastic. Savory and rich without being heavy, meaty without having any meat...

One of the best things about this recipes, in my eyes, other than the fact that it is relatively managable and doesn't break the bank, is the fact that once you've made it there are so many different ways that you can enjoy it. This means that if you make a big enough batch, you can enjoy your leftovers is a myriad of ways, therefore avoiding the tedium often associated with repeated eatings. Out of our first batch we enjoyed ratatouille four ways: over rice, in buckwheat crepes, tossed with pasta, and stuffed into home-made calzones. If I could have made it stretch any further I would have had some over polenta too. I think that that would be very, very good. (I already have it penciled in for next Monday.) Also, I used rosemary, which I had on hand, instead of expensive limp store-bought basil. It worked well.

Genius Ratatouille
Adapted from Food 52's adaptation of Alice Water's recipe
Serves 6-8

2-3 small eggplants (chopped into 1/2 inch cubes)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onion, or 1 large (chopped)
4-6 garlic cloves (chopped roughly)
1/2 buch of basil (tied into a bouquet) -or- 1 sprig of rosemary
small pinch of dried chile flakes
2 red bell peppers (chopped into 1/2 inch pieces)
3-4 medium zucchini or summe squash (chopped into 1/2 inch cubes)
3 medium tomatoes (chopped), -or- 1 can diced tomatoes
salt to taste

First chop the eggplant and toss the chopped cubes with a teaspoon of salt. Set the salted pieces in a colander to drain for 20 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, chop up the onions, garlic, bell peppers and squash.

When the eggplant is done draining, pat it dry. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pot. Cook the eggplant, stirring frequently, until golden. If the eggplant sticks to the pan you can add a little more oil. Remove the eggplant from the pan and set it aside.

In the same pot, add the onions with a pinch of salt and cook for 7-10 minutes, depending on how much oil was left from the eggplant you may need to add a little more olive oil. When the onions are soft and translucent, add the garlic, basil -or- rosemary, dried chili flakes.

Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the peppers. Let those cook for another 5 minutes or so, and add the summer squash. After the summer squash had completed its 5 minutes in the mix, add the tomatoes. After 10 minutes, add the eggplants back into the pot. Give the whole thing a good stir, and cook for 15 minutes more, or until all of the vegetables are soft. Remove the basil -or- rosemary, and season to taste with salt.

Eat away! But not too much, because you are going to want leftovers.
Ps. My boyfriend came home just as I finished making this, and was really excited because he told me that he had smelled something delicious wafting from outside of our apartment building and then realized that it was coming from our apartment. Which is just another reason, among the many others, that you should make this.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mystery Monday: The Girl Who Didn't Eat Swedish Meatballs

I waited patiently throughout all three enormous volumes of the "Girl Who" trilogy for Swedish meatballs. No luck. I had to laugh when the crazy old government agent, who plays a pivotal role in the final book, was silently disappointed when a young whippersnapper went on a lunch run and returned with sushi. He would have much preferred some good old-fashioned Swedish meatballs. Me too.
I have been wanting to make Swedish meatballs for a few years. I bookmarked a recipe from Gourmet's book club but never got around to making it. When I mentioned that I had been toying with the idea of making them for my Mystery Monday series, my boyfriend gave his full and undivided encouragement. And, after eating our second day's worth of boiled potatoes, meatballs with brown sauce, and homemade tart cranberry-sauce, he is still very enthusiastic. They were (and still are) very tasty.

Making these meatballs does take some patience, but it does make enough for either a big group or several meals. First and foremost, I would not recommend making the meatballs tiny like I did. A "walnut" is not a "Tablespoon." Having fewer meatballs to brown would have saved a lot of time and a little bit of stress. Also, don't despair (as I may have), if the sauce doesn't look perfectly smooth. It's rustic and homemade (i.e., not from Ikea). The most important thing is that it tastes good.

Swedish (ok fine, Finnish) Meatballs
Adapted from Gourmet, who sourced it from Falling Cloudberries

Serves 6 (or two people, three times)

3 slices sandwich bread, crust removed
2/3 cups milk
2 1/4 lb mixed ground pork and beef
1 large egg
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup sour cream

Boiled potatoes (boil waxy potatoes in salted for 20-40 minutes or until done)
Lingonberry or cranberry jam (recipe forthcoming)

Soak the crustless bread in the milk, and set aside while you chop the onion. One the bread has absorbed all of the milk and is very soft, mix it with the meat, egg, onion, allspice, salt, pepper. Knead together well (don't worry about over-handling the meat). Form into small balls about the size of walnuts, rolling them between damp palms so that they are compact and won't fall apart when cooking.

Heat 2 Tablespoons butter with the olive oil in a nonstick skillet (I just used my Le Creuset). Fry the meatballs in batches, turning once during cooking so that they are browned on two sides. Be careful not to burn the butter. Transfer the cooked meatballs to a heavy bottomed saucepan with any onion that is on the bottom of the skillet and continue with the next batch (I set mine aside on a plate, then returned them to the Le Creuset later).

Once all of the meatballs are browned and set aside, sprinkle flour into the skillet and mix with a wooden spoon until it is smooth. Add the remaining butter and let it melt. Continue cooking, stirring almost continuously until it is a golden color. Remove the pan from the heat and very slowly pour in 2 cups of hot water, stand back a bit (it can splatter) then return the pan to the heat. Stir in the sour cream and mix well, then carefully pour over the meatballs (in my case, I returned the meatballs to the sauce). Season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook, covered, over very low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until you have a thick, creamy sauce with soft meatballs to serve with berry jam and boiled potatoes. (I reduced my sauce a little further after removing the meatballs, I just simmered it for a little longer to thicken it).
Dig into this cold-weather comfort food! I for one am proud that I finally conquered both a recipe and a series that I had been intending to get around to for a looong time. It may have taken several years, but it was still worth it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mystery Monday: The Girl Who Drank Lots of Coffee

I am finally reading The Girl With trilogy, and let me tell you they are very addictive! Because of their sheer size, they take a sizable chunk of time to get through, and once you get started you can't stop! Aside from some sandwiches, frozen pizzas, and a single slather of cloudberry jam, the most prevalent item consumed by everyone in the books is coffee. Thermoses of coffee abound. It's everywhere, all the time. It keeps the people going, which keeps the story going. One of the main characters drinks so much coffee it makes him sick. It also plays an important role in the life of the poor overworked readers. These books call for some wide-eyed late-night cram sessions. You're not going to sleep until you've read it. Pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee and get back to work! (Only 500 pages left...I can totally finish tonight right?)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Never Bake on the 13th

I made a series of errors today. First, I baked on the 13th. Never a good idea. Secondly, I baked on a day in October in which the temperature reached well into the 90s. So hot. Even hotter with the oven on. Thirdly, I started baking in the morning, before breakfast. I was groggy and had a headache, which led to mistakes, which in turn led to a baking disaster. And then, post-baking disaster, I stubbornly would not give up, so I decided to bake some more, because apparently I NEEDED HOMEMADE BAKED GOODS. Luckily, despite a little smoke coming from the oven (left over from baking experiment #1), which burned my eyes and made me a little worried about the smoke detector, my second attempt was eventually a modest success.

The last lesson is this: if you need to bake some comfort food (which is what all muffins, cakes, cupcakes, breads and cookies essentially are), choose a comfortingly reliable recipe. Nothing fancy. Nothing risky. Because if you do fail at your comfort food-baking then you will be sent inevitably into a downward spiral of needing more comfort food to make you recover from the sadness and frustration of failing at cooking your inital comfort food. And the least comforting thing in the whole world is an ENORMOUS pile of dishes in your sink from NUMEROUS semi-sucessful baking projects.

So here is my recipe for reliable, delicious and definitely comforting Oatmeal Cookies. I added cranberries and peanuts, so they taste like granola bars to me, which means they're healthy, right?
Granola Cookies
Adapted from Smittenkitchen

Makes about 22-24 cookies

1/2 cup butter (softened)
2/3 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soa
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup cranberries
1/3 cup peanuts

In a medium bowl cream together the sugar and butter. Mix in the egg and vanilla. Add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and rolled oats. Stir to combine. Lastly, add the cranberries and nuts, mix so that they are evenly distributed.

Scoop the dough into tablespoon-sized balls, arranging them on a plate. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or more to chill them before baking (this will help them stay thick when they bake).

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Bake them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, arranged a couple of inches apart from each other (they don't spread excessively). Check them after 10 minutes. It may take 12 minutes for them to get nicely bronzed.

Cool on a cookie rack. Eat your heart out.
ps. These cookies are perfect for breakfast since they have cranberries and oatmeal. Definitely heart healthy.