Saturday, May 27, 2006

 

Simple and Good

Sambo and I eat pasta very frequently. We could never go on a low-carb diet. Pasta and bread--you can never have too much, in our opinion.



If you have a tomato sauce that you like a lot, then eating pasta is so easy. It's hard to get tired of a great tomato sauce. Were I living somewhere within driving distance of a jar (or twenty) of Gia Russa's Tomato and Basil pasta sauce, well, I wouldn't have to get creative with pasta. I don't know how they do it, but that stuff is unbelievably good.

Anyway, nowadays we don't often eat pasta with plain tomato sauce. And sometimes it's hard to come up with new ideas. But sometimes you get lucky, and a new combination rushes into your head on a gust of inspiration. Actually, this seems to happen regularly with me and bacon. Well, what can I say? Bacon is inspiring.



Sun-dried tomatoes are, too. And the two seemed like a good match, both being extremely flavorful. Throw in a little feta cheese for a trio of Taste.

We tossed the pasta around in some (not all!) of the bacon grease. Because it was absorbing so much fat that way, I didn't want to add any olive oil. I also didn't want to confuse the flavors. However, the pasta was slightly dry, so when we make it again, I probably will add a touch of oil. Also, next time I will make it with FAGE feta. I used the feta that was on sale at the grocery store, and it really didn't have enough taste to hold its own with the bacon and the sun-dried tomatoes.

Another recent pasta dish we tried was lemon ricotta. Extremely simple and extremely flavorful. Juice and zest one lemon, mix the juice and zest with a cup of ricotta cheese, and add a little olive oil. Probably works best with fusilli or a similar pasta, with crevices to catch and hold the lovely creamy sauce. And if you don't love lemon, then just zest half of one, because ours was very, very lemony.



Any great pasta tips?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

 

What can you bake when you're out of butter?



Biscotti!

I had a bag of hazelnuts laying around in the cupboard for a while, just waiting to be made into something delicious. After some time, I decided that they would be a perfect addition to biscotti. But I never got around to making it until after Sambo quit drinking coffee, of course. I just don't have the gift of good timing, I guess. However, there's nothing that says you can't eat biscotti with a cup of tea....

First I had to toast and husk the hazelnuts, which is supposed to take about ten minutes. Sometimes, though, I don't look at the clock; I end up peeking through the oven window and gasping, then I quickly remove the gasp-worthy item. So I think I didn't toast them for ten minutes--I overreacted to the color that the skins turned (and they, of course, were being removed anyway).



The dough-mixing part is really easy (I did that during the hazelnuts' brief toasting time) as it's basically just flour, sugar, and egg. This makes for fairly dry, chunky dough, but I found that a little bit of time to sit (while I was husking the nuts) made it better integrated. Mushing it around with my bare hands helped, too. Anyway, the slightly complicated part about biscotti is the two-step baking process. You have to form the dough into a log first, bake that for about 30 minutes, let it cool for about 30 minutes, slice it, and then bake those slices. So it requires a bit of a commitment.

The recipe I followed called for the hazelnuts to remain whole, so I was anticipating a problem when it was time to slice the log. The hazelnuts were quite soft, though, so my slices were fairly neat. They were not, however, quite thin enough: "crunchy" is an extreme understatement for these cookies. A cup of tea is a near requirement, just to soften the biscotti a little; perhaps if I had sliced them thinner, they would be easier to chew.

Still, they are rather tasty. They make a regular cup of tea (or coffee!) into something special.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

 

Autumn Harvest for Spring

Last fall I was missing the squash that I was used to seeing in New York--pumpkins, acorn squash, and especially butternut squash. I couldn't find any at the grocery stores here. But lo and behold, last week I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of butternut squash from Argentina in the produce section of a grocery store right down the street.



So I decided to make butternut squash soup. I'd only made it once, and it was a very simple, sweet soup that could be served hot or cold--it was made mostly with apple juice. I wanted this one to be creamier and more savory. One recipe I found recommended using every part of the squash, including the peel and the seeds. I was intrigued, so I decided to try it. First I sauteed diced onion in butter, then added the seeds and stringy stuff from the center of the squash.

This was a pretty time consuming recipe, so if you can get Pacific Foods Butternut Squash Soup or something similar, it might not be worth the labor. Between cutting the squash into large pieces, cooking them, peeling each of the large chunks and putting them into the blender, straining the seeds and stringy stuff from the water, etc., it's pretty high maintenance. But very yummy.

It was basically just an onion, some butter, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and some cream. If I were to do it over again, I would probably use a little less cream, or maybe none at all. The flavor before adding the cream was excellent and purer. I would also use some nutmeg--I need to remember to look up the Swedish word for it so I can stock my kitchen with it!



That's pita bread right there. It was meant to be a baguette. I had big plans to make my very first baguette in my very own oven. But when the dough didn't rise (perhaps the water temperature wasn't right and it killed the yeast), I decided that to salvage the dough we'd fry it instead of bake it! It was quite good actually, and there ended up being enough dough for about 10 pitas over the next few days. It should be rolled out really thin for best results, and using half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour seemed perfect (though that's what I use for quite a few things, like pizza dough and pancakes, so I guess I'm partial to that mix).



For dessert, to go with the autumnal soup, I made a fruit compote using glögg, which is a spiced wine sold here in December. The glögg makes it really easy--I only added a touch of honey to the mix. But I'm sure a similar compote could be made with regular wine and additional spices; it might require a longer cooking time for the desired flavor. Basically, I just cut a bunch of dried fruit in half or in quarters, cut a fresh apple into bite-size pieces, poured the glögg in a saucepan and let it boil, then threw in the fruit and turned the heat to low. It's such a simple dessert, but very satisfying. Especially when you serve it with whipped cream (many thanks to my new electric mixer)!


Sunday, April 30, 2006

 

Catching up with cookies

So, I've taken a little break from posting, but that certainly doesn't mean that we haven't been eating. I've made a few delicious things in the past few days, and one of those things was a batch of double chocolate cookies.



Could it get any better than that? I used this recipe, following it pretty closely, though I only made half of it (which was dumb!). I did use a little more cocoa powder and a little less sugar though.



These were especially fun to make because I just bought an electric mixer. Found a great sturdy one with two different attachments (a pair of dough hooks thrown in!) for a mere 60 crowns (about $8), and this was my first time using it. Yes, up until now I've been making everything with nothing but a whisk or a large spoon. Which is actually fine, 'cept when you want to make whipped cream. Then your arms fall off. Anyway, this recipe was quite simple, and while I was a little concerned because the dough felt thicker and drier, and thus, a little more fragile than most cookie dough, I wasn't worried that it'd be a disaster or anything. I mean, it's double chocolate!



I used about a tablespoon of dough for each cookie and rolled them into a perfect ball before putting them on an ungreased baking sheet. They baked for 8 minutes, didn't stick to the cookie sheet, and were positively delectable.



During my freshman year of college (yes, it was a particularly junky time, with the aforementioned Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, microwave popcorn or a pint of ice cream for dinner, a steady supply of Swedish fish and chocolate-covered raisins, and Carnation "cappucino" from a box. I might as well confess to everything at once) I would often pick up a box of Entenmann's double chocolate chip cookies (which I cannot link to--they seem to be off the market now) and eat about four in one sitting. Anyway, these homemade cookies remind me of those, in their lovely softness and in their need to be eaten in groups of four or more. Only the homemade ones are much, much better, obviously, as they don't contain any of those undesirable unpronounceable ingredients known as preservatives. My only complaint is with myself, for foolishly halving the recipe!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

 

Lax! (Inte gravad)

Yesterday at the grocery store, I just happened to be the first person to see the last package of inexpensive fresh salmon (lax). Though we had chicken at home and I hadn't intended to buy fish, I couldn't turn it down. It cost half as much as it has in recent months, and thus, it had been months since we'd eaten salmon.

(I won't go into the bit about the cashier not realizing it was on sale and me having to say "ehm, det... ar... halv... priset?" because it seems I not only have to hear Swedish slowly, I have to speak it at half-speed, too, and how I held up the line and all while the cashier fixed everything, because what can I say? We are poor. It had to be done.)

So, once the salmon was safely home, I surveyed the fridge and consulted with Sambo. We agreed upon pasta with salmon, tomato, and feta cheese. Flavored with a little minced garlic and a little red wine vinegar. The label is unfortunately obscured, but the feta cheese in the picture is really terrific. It's made by FAGE, the Greek company that makes the truly awesome Total and Fru-Yo yogurts. I just discovered that one of the local grocery stores also carries FAGE halloumi cheese, so we will be trying that soon. Anyway, FAGE feta: try it.



I put a little oil in the pan so the salmon skin wouldn't stick to it and burn, though I sort of regretted it later on because man! Salmon is so oily! I didn't have to add any oil at all once I combined the pasta with the fish. But here's the salmon when it looked quite dry and innocent, with just a bit of salt and pepper:



One large clove of garlic didn't really impact the taste. The salmon was rather overwhelming. I wonder if using a second pan might have made a difference--if I combined the pasta with the salmon in a separate pan instead of the one in which the salmon was cooked? It was pretty fishy. But, as it had been so long since we'd had fresh fish, it was pretty welcome. Eating fish always feels healthier (unless it's deep-fried, I suppose) than eating... other animals, yet it's equally satisfying. Salmon especially is so meaty; we found our pasta dish quite filling. Oh, and it's definitely a brain food. I felt noticeably smarter in my Swedish class today. Really! I'd better start eating more salmon!


Monday, April 24, 2006

 

Five Things You'll Miss When You Move to Sweden

5. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. You know, I did not regularly eat this stuff at home. Well, I ate quite a bit of it during my freshman year of college, but I had more or less moved on to better things when that phase of my life was over. But I get here, and just start craving all this junk food that I didn't consume, but was exposed to on a regular basis. Now that it's unavailable, it seems, it's incredibly desirable. I actually found a box of knock-off mac and cheese on the "American" shelf at one of the grocery stores here. It even had a similar looking blue box. But it did not taste as good as the Kraft stuff.

4. Coach Farm Goat Cheese. If you live in New York, do yourself a huge favor and buy yourself some of their herbed fresh goat cheese. Then do me a huge favor and buy me some, too. Heehee. By far the best goat cheese I have ever had. I don't know why it's better than others, but I'd like to meet their goats some day, you know, to say thanks in person. It's pretty hard to come by any fresh goat cheese here (I don't like the aged stuff all that much), so when it's available I'm really grateful, but every time I eat it I recall my days of wine and roses, and Coach Farm cheese.

3. Real pizza. New York pizza. Pizza from Patsy's. Pizza from Totonno's. Pizza from Bella Napoli. I can make pizza here, but I can't make it like the greats do. I can also buy pizza here, but it's, well, Swedish pizza.

2. Bagels. Bagels! I ate a bagel practically every day! My favorite being David's Bagels. How do you just completely cut out an integral part of your diet? Bagels are next on my list of things to learn how to bake.

1. Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. We used to eat so much ice cream. Probably two pints a week. But we don't anymore, as we haven't found any good Swedish ice cream; a couple stores import Haagen-Dazs but it's 46 crowns and not in any of the flavors I'm interested in. Oh Ben. Oh Jerry. Please come to Norrland, and bring your Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Oatmeal Cookie Chunk with you.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

 

Anniversary dinner

Our anniversary was yesterday, and to celebrate, Sambo and I wanted to make a special dinner--something different, maybe with an ingredient that we hadn't eaten in ages. Thus, we hit upon shrimp.

Well, we haven't eaten shrimp since moving to Sweden because it seems as though shrimp is not taken seriously here. They don't sell it fresh at the deli, with the salmon and the herring and the tuna. They throw it (unpeeled) in a freezer, from which an ice scooper hangs, and charge 13 crowns per hundred grams ($17 per kilo). I'll take a picture some time and post it. It looks absurd and unappetizing, and yet, I wanted shrimp.

Specifically, I wanted shrimp with coconut milk soup. We already had the coconut milk, so we just had to shop for the less mellow flavors. We decided on a leek, a lime, cherry tomatoes, and dried chilies.



While I put some rice on to cook, Sambo fried the leeks in butter and quartered the cherry tomatoes. When the leeks were more or less translucent, I added the can of coconut milk, plus about a cup of water and half of a vegetable bouillon cube. The shrimp and tomatoes went in next.



I just got this cute little juicer on Friday (for 15 crowns!), so I was happy to use it. At Sambo's request, I reluctantly juiced only one half of the lime. Before adding it, I tasted the soup and decided to add the remaining cream from the night we had bacon cream pasta. It wasn't much, but it made the soup noticeably richer.



After Sambo put some of the dried chilies in, we let the soup cook for a few more minutes while we fussed over this delicious organic Rioja. No, probably not the right drink for a Thai-style dinner, but nevertheless a wonderful drink for the occasion.



After a few bites of the soup, we decided (well, I had known all along!) that we should squeeze more lime juice in it. We also decided that frozen shrimp is pretty worthless. Still, it was a lovely creamy soup. And my respect for leeks continues to grow--they do so much more for soups than onions ever could.



Passion fruit for dessert. Awww.

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