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.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mystery Monday: The Ubiquitous Hot Dog

My cabinet clean-out has coincided with the seasonal ant invasion, therefore my priorities have been a little different this past week. Hopefully these things will be behind me soon, and I will be able to dive headfirst into the soups, ciders, and spiced baked goods I have been eyeing. But first, the ants must go! Go away ants!

Now, for Mystery Monday! I would like to honor Mrs. Pollifax (and her eponymous series) today: she's a strong and inspiring little old lady who, finding herself desperately bored in her life as a widowed grandmother, finally follows her childhood dream and joins the CIA. Needless to say, she thrives in her newfound work, and quickly becomes an often-underestimated but always essential asset on her numerous missions. Mrs. Pollifax surely would know how to effectively deal with ants, being perhaps the most practical CIA agent the known to the fictional world. As the home-y little old lady she is, I had been toying around with the idea of making a batch of blueberry muffins and tea for her and calling it a day, but then I came across this passage and knew it what I would be making for her:

"She sighed, never enjoying suspense. It held one in thrall, plucking at tired nerves, and she was already tired. She would love to have a warm bath now - how many days had it been? - and then sit down to an America dinner. "Of hot dogs," she heard herself say, and was looked at in surprise by Farrell.

"Hot dogs?" he said. "Are you all right, Duchess?"

She laughed. "Just wistful."

Hot dogs? Yes please. We even had some in the fridge, along with some leftover hamburger buns that we reappropriated. I think that Mrs. Pollifax would have applauded our resourcefulness, and I for one, applauded their tastiness.