Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Unpasta

If your somewhat like me, and I’m guessing some people are since I actually get some hits on this page ;), then you connect with people through food. It becomes a communication tool which can span over language barriers or cultural and religious beliefs like when I had fried chicken feet and fermented pal juice with locals of a small town in Lombok Indonesia. But in contrast to those macro level benefits, of the collective and unspoken bonding qualities of food, it also works on a much more personal level. Basically I want to connect to you through food, it is something I love passionately, and I want to share that experience with people I love/admire/respect…I should however stop my rant on my views on food and get to the recipe that has come out of one of these encounters.

If you haven’t guessed, you will undoubtedly find out, … I love pasta…and how can you not, it’s such a versatile and tasty food of the gods. Well, up until about two years ago I would have answered that NO you can not deny the awesomeness that is well made and properly cooked pasta, but now I know better. If your allergic to gluten you have no choice but to say no thank you when offered. Yes I know there are gluten free product out there that claim to be pasta, I however would regard them as something else (actually I haven’t tasted them so I can’t comment on taste), and below I humbly offer my entry into the unpasta category. This recipe has been dormant in the back of my head for maybe a year now and was inspired by the obstacle of not being able to cook my signature dishes (most of them pastas) for a very deer friend.

Parsnips (two or three per person depending on size)
Pancetta or bacon (the air dried qualities of pancetta is preferred but both work great)
Fresh rosemary
Cream (or half and half)
Fresh parsley

Start by cutting pancetta or slab bacon into any size you want but keep in mind that our objective with this wonderful piece of charcuterie is for it to go really crisp and render out its fat (lardoons are supposedly the cut for this but sine my pork belly was precut in slabs and I was feeling lazy I just cut them in inch long pieces. Another side note to this is to try to use a poke product which haven’t been pumped with lots of water since this is bad for the crispiness.). Put in a skillet (preferably cast iron ) and at a water to just cover the bottom of the pan and set it over medium heat. The water will let the pork render its fat and the medium heat will slowly crisp it up without burning it.

While the pork is doing its thing go find a garlic clove per person. Smash them lightly to open them up from their peel a bit and add them to the rendering fat in the pan and let it roast while you continue with the rest of the ingredients.

Delicately peel your parsnips or scrub them clean. In any case you want your peeler handy for this. What you want to bee doing is creating thin strips of parsnip on your cutting board. The width and length of the strips aren’t super important, but think of a thin tagliatelle for optimum consistency and ability to grab the sauce. Also make sure to only use the “outer flesh“ since the inner “core“ can get really woody and that wont work well in this recipe. When this is done remove the fresh rosemary from the stem.

By now the water should have disappeared from your pa and everything should be browning nicely. Keep an eye on the garlic so it doesn’t burn, but since its still in its skin this is unlikely. When the pancetta is crispy take it out of the pan and put it on some sort of mesh to drain and crisp up even more (paper towels aren’t ideal because it holds the fat right next to the thing you want drain from fat, however dabbing particularly fatty pools does help, at least psychologically).

The garlic should also be removed at this point, and you should be left with wonderfully garlic scented pork fat mmm good. Ok you’ll be left with way to much pork fat so drain most of it away but you do want to keep as much as you dare keep in the pan because that’s major flavor your taking from the pan (and hopefully putting into a suitable container to store in fridge for later use).

The garlic should be all mushy and sticky with all the sharpness of raw garlic gone and replaced by wonderfully earthy tones. Remove the peels since these aren’t tasty at all and mush up the sticky stuff into a garlic paste.

Put the rosemary into the pan and watch it fry up nice and crispy in just a little while, but be careful not to burn it. Once it has reached a stage of your liking grab your cutting-board, which should contain your parsnip tagliatelle and the garlic mush, and dump it into the pan. Be attentive since both the garlic and the parsnip contains plenty of sugars that burn easily. You do not want your unpasta to become hard fried strips, you basically want to start wilting it. Since both the heat of your pan and the size of your strips matter here I cant tell you how long you can do this, but as soon as you see browning you want to hit the pan with the cream (half and half) and watch it bubble, thicken, coat and cook the parsnip. This is also the time to add other vegetables to your dish.(I used zucchini).Once again I cant give you a time, but just taste the strips until they are done to your liking (also correctively season, but odds are you wont bee needing any salt since the brine of your pancetta or bacon will see to that, some freshly ground pepper is always nice though), you can always add more liquid if the pan gets to sticky.

To finish the dish of cut some parsley for a little fresh note and color as well as crumble up the bacon for that salty crunch. Plate and enjoy.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pat Pat on the sholder

Bad things have happened to me sins last time, my computer…my lovely computer, it used to be so nice and helpful, but now it has turned into a hard drive munching monster devouring any new hardware that comes close to it. This would have opened up a lot more food and nature time for me since I am a bit of an internet addict and you cant really spend to long surfing on a media center tv screen because it gives you terrible headaches due to resolution and things like that. Anyways, nature it was…or well due to all of us polluting way too much (especially you people with way to many and to big cars)…nature here has been a very wet experience, and I’m not talking a bout the good waterfall/supersoaker/any other good wetness either. It has been pouring down. This does, however have its advantages, its great for the mushrooms.

So after a decent little walk in the woods hunting chanterelles I whipped up this little dish.

If we have to name it I guess it would be a chanterelle and zucchini pasta with a hint of thyme. I’m feeling pretty proud about myself actually because this was really really tasty. Here is what I did:

Start your pasta water, and when it boils don’t skimp on the salt…it should be like the ocean at least. Penne works well although I used another kind (think about 3 portions worth).

Take two generous handfuls of clean chanterelles and start sautéing them in butter and a tiny sprinkle of salt on medium heat (no scary low fat substitutes please).

Take your nice..ehm I’d say John Holmes sized zucchini but I guess we shouldn’t mix such things in with the food so about 30cm worth or I I guess a bit over a pounds worth. Halve and quarter, cut away the seedy bit because it becomes mushy, and then cut into pieces somewhat resembling the size of your pasta.

Peel and finely chop two cloves of garlic (one would probably be enough but hay garlic is good for you)

When all the water has been evicted from the mushrooms and has jumped ship on the pan as well, add your garlic and pieces of zucchini. (you might have to add a bit more butter so the garlic has something to play around in and wont go all burnt on you)

Let everything in the pan heat up a bit then hit it with a splash of cream. The amount depends on how much you have in your pan I guess but it should not be running all over the place. The cream is the to blend the flavors and should be added to just a bit over coating everything nicely once the initial heat reduction has occurred. The pan will look way to dry to be able to coat your pasta but don’t worry. This is also where I would add a nice bit of fresh time to the party to enable it to perfume the creamy mushroomie goodness.

Take the “sauce” of the heat once the thyme has gone in as not to overcooked the veggies. The zucchini will go all mushy on you if you give it to much heat to quickly and we do not want that happening. At this point your pasta should be rapidly approaching that perfect al-dente phase by now anyways, and when it does start lifting it over to the pan you made the sauce in. not rinsing the pasta will allow the sauce to cling to it better as well as some of that salty pasta water coming into the mix as well creating a silky smooth sauce that finely coats everything. At this point all you have to do is serve and eat…but if you want to go all fancy I guess you could add a nice little bit of parsley for that added green effect which my picture is obviously lacking.

Its really tasty I promise…and soo easy to do…so don’t sit there in front of your computer, go out and enjoy what nature so generously offers.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Nostalgic foraging

With the luxury of all this nature we have in Sweden combined with a warm day at my families summerhouse i thought i would revisit some of the tastes of my youth. Granted that i did not cherish the surroundings while growing up there (i mostly wanted to play computer games as is the fashion of the youth of this time) i still remember that some things in these here woods are edible.

First of two classics...wild strawberries i think would be the English term for these rubies of the forest. Wonderfully sweet and intense in flavor, i wouldn't want to cook with these though, they demand eating right there and then...or maybe, just maybe if your feeling decadent have them in a bowl with some full fat cream (none of that light stuff here) its so delicious it should be enjoyed more often.

The more readily available blueberry is another forest favorite of bears and Patriks alike. However, these are the real deal. Not those scary frankenberrys we got in the college cafeteria or that you can buy bloated in the supermarket. These are, like so many wonderful things, tiny! And the inside pulp is intensely colored and flavorful. They taste great directly of the bush or in a pie or as soup...YUM YUM YUM

This is the flower of a Dog rose, a wonderful flower on its own but what you want are the rose hips that are great dried and then boiled to make an excellent brew or soup. I'll be sure to post a recipe for this later on. The book I'm reading (a “neo-paganistic” rewrite of the Arthurian legends, thank you for this one Anna) also claims this concoction to be beneficial for pregnant women, i'll have to remember that for the future so i can enjoy it together with the future mother of my children.

The above should not in any way be confused with real dogs....which although considered delicateness in some countries would, at least to me, make morally fouled brews. (Bad joke i know, but a good reason to post a picture of my aunt's cute little doggy)

Ok, so this isn't exactly a childhood snack but my dear grandmother taught me to spot this spice, its caraway, which is a traditional bread spice, and also appear in a lot of traditional Scandinavian not so child friendly beverages, Islandic brennivin anyone?.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Summer's day treats

So yesterday my dad came upon a real treasure in the dry forests around our house. Chanterelles are a mushroom pretty common during the fall but this early they are rare. Still super delicious though. Now, there are tons of ways to use them but considering the small quantity I think, one of the simplest and tastiest ways is just frying them in butter and then adding a touch of cream at the end, then serving it on a slice of toast (home made of course). Another good one would be in a risotto, but I think I’ll save that one for the fall.

Guess this won’t be much of a recipe post, more of a picture tryout for me, but I just had to commemorate the yellow gold combined with the black (mom’s cast iron skillet that is).

Since it was rainy I also took the time to whip up a batch of my cinnamon roles. Much to my family’s delight I might add, although, I wasn’t happy with them since I haven’t become really good friends with the oven yet.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Forget the baguette, the weather beet me

In my earlier post I promised sourdough baguettes, and although a great concept in theory, I only manage to crank out something that would have made a tasty thin crust pizza but nothing close to a baguette. Several things could have gone wrong, but my money is on the sourdough starter overheating in the summer weather and not being lively enough. I will tinker with it and see what I come up with. For now, I can leave you with a nice little summer side dish recipe as some conciliation.

As the bad pun (I do love them) might hint it’s about beets. Now I know beets maybe aren’t the first vegetable you think of in summertime since they are pretty good all year around and go great with savoury autumn and winter dishes. However, this time a year you can get those cute baby beets which go great in salads or as a side to some grilled meat or fish.

I know some of you might be lucky enough to have cool farmers markets with heritage breed beets, but I’m stuck with the common red variety, and actually they taste great so I shouldn’t say stuck with. Look for bunches with their greens left on and for uniformity in beet size. The fresher the greens the fresher the beet, and the uniformity is just to keep cooking even.

Once you have beets at home this is a pretty quick recipe. Scrub your beets, as they are bound to be dirty, but never peel them before they are cooked. For one the beets wonderful colour will jump all over, and cleaning was never my favourite part of cooking. Further, peeling them after their done is a lot easier than to peel them raw. Just rub the beet in a kitchen cloth or sturdy kitchen paper. Yes it will stain but the colour is water-soluble so don’t worry.

With your beets scrubbed cut of the greens, but leave a little “handle” which will look nice as well as give you something to hold when you peel them. The greens can be cooked and eaten much as spinaches or kale if they are fresh, but if they are slimy discard them (you do have a compost or cute animal to feed them to right?).

Set the scrubbed beets aside in a colander in the sink (because they will bleed a bit). Now depending on your amount of beets make an aluminium foil pouch. I recommend using double lyres so it becomes sturdy and wont mess up your oven. That’s right…the oven! Its way better than boiling I promise. Probably it has something to do with the dryer heat concentrating the flavours of the beet instead of diluting them with water. This pouch method also allows you to create a flavoured environment which can only be betterJ. This is my personal favourite:

Pouch summer beets

  • Olive oil (Generously coat the beets in the pouch)
  • Balsamic or sherry vinegar (One part to three parts oil, think vinaigrette)
  • Garlic cloves (Just crush them, no need to peel or shop finely. Use as much as you want i.e. LOTS!)
  • Sage (coarsely chopped and or bruised with the handle of your knife)
  • Fresh rosemary (Try to balance the amount to the sage)
  • Salt and pepper

Close the pouch tightly and sort of swoosh the beets around inside it to coat evenly and to let everything blend. Then just park it for 40 minutes in a 200°C or 390°F oven.

After you have peeled them serving can range from just a knob of butter to salads whit feta or baked chèvre cheese. Personally I had them with a cooling yogurt tzatziki kind of sauce.

And I know, still no pictures…..if I manage to massacre the wonderfully photogenic beet with my camera I threat for future posts…I’m just not good with the camera.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mmm Toast

Yeah that’s right, I make my own toast. I must say I don’t even look at the scared wheat (my name for the 99% air pre-sliced white bread you find in your local store) when I pass the huge piles of the stuff as I forage for groceries. However, we have just finished celebrating midsummer’s eve here in Sweden and you sort of want some newly toasted bread to go with the egg and pickled herring or the sour cream, onion and fish roe toast. Anyways with a fresh batch of (or I guess it’s sour but anyways) wheat sourdough starter in the kitchen I’d thought this was an excellent opportunity to put its powers to good use.

Sourdough cheese toast
360 g water
30 g fresh yeast
100 g sourdough of wheat
60 g butter
600 g extra strong flour
50 g durum wheat (semolina for you US readers)
16 g sea salt
100 g cheese in cubes (not to hard cheese of your choice, but not to strong, and defiantly not that horrible scary yellow propane product some Americans call cheddar)

Possible taste additions:
10 g of freshly chopped dill
2+ cloves of finely chopped or smashed garlic
Red chilly flakes to taste

15 g of toasted sesame oil
50 g toasted sesame seeds

Mix all ingredients except the salt, cheese and additions in a mixer on a medium setting for 6 minutes (or hardcore kneading for 10). After that add the salt and let your machine work another 4 minutes (or yourself for 7). After this you can add the rest of the stuff and work it in for 30 second (1 minute by hand).

Let your wonderful dough rest for 20 minutes. Divide into two pieces and “round-shape” them (I don’t know the exact word for this but the process is: 1. Flatten or punch down the dough into a disc and then fold it into a jellyfish sort of shape. 2. Cup your palms over the jellyfish and work it in small circular motions. 3. Repeat a couple of times). This is done in order to even out tensions in the dough as well as making a nice round shape:).

While resting the two nice rounds for five minutes prepare to loaf pans with a bit of oil. Now destroy your nice round shape by reshaping the dough to fit into the pans and make some slits in the dough (I went for 3 diagonal ones on each). This is also the time to brush some eggwash on and maybe another addition (raw seeds of any kind fork fine, but try to display what is inside the loaf so if you added sesame in the dough use sesame on top), and then rest for 60 minutes. *insert bad joke about not waiting for the CBS show if you want*

Preheat your oven to 250C or 480F (if you have a wood burning stone oven *drool* that would be the best option, but otherwise convection ovens work best). Put the loafs in spray in water to create steam and lower the oven to 220C or 420F, and bake for approximately 30 minutes.

After removing the loafs from the oven I would let them cool a bit before removing them from the pans but not to let the bread cool completely in them.

Store the bread in a paper bag if uncut or since this is toast, slice it, and freeze it. Toast and eat with butter *YUM*

Ok, so I did mean to be a good bloger and give my readers pictures but I am sort of picky about aesthetics sometimes and I didn’t give my bread enough time to rise after I slashed it which resulted in sort of teacup shaped toast slices not fit for a picture. I’ll be more vigilant with my camera tomorrow when I will make sourdough baguettes.

PS. I'm scared of the camera; I’m a crappy photographer to start, and everyone else post such beautiful pictures HELP

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Going wild

Ok, so the blog got of to a really slow start due to me moving from my student apartment to my parents to live the life of a parasitic bum while I search for that dream job. Anyhow, I’m all settled in now and I can start to take over the kitchen like the megalomaniac dictator I sometimes turn into.

First of, some basics: No sourdough starter….what is this *shaking my head*. Oh well I guess that isn’t really a standard item for most, but it should be! It’s easy to make and HALLO those wild yeasties give great rise and a certain zing to nice things like baguettes, toast or fruitbreads YUM!

Ok, so wild yeast are floating around everywhere. Actually, it’s really fascinating; every strain of wild yeast is different and so will bring different flavour to the bred depending on where you are in the world. To harness the awesome power of these free roaming microorganisms (doesn’t that sound tasty ;) we need three things; water, flower and time. Now some people might say they don’t have time, but they are mistaken. Sure, building your starter base is going to take you four-five days but most of that time your starter can be left all alone without your supervision.

Here we go. To set your yeast trap find yourself a container of some sort. I used a plastic bucket type thing which I guess would hold a litre of water (guess that is about two pints of liquid). This is hardly ideal, and I personally prefer a glass jar so I can watch the action. The volume is pretty good though since the starter is going to rice about seven times its original size.

Wheat starter

Day 1

In your container whisk the ingredients into a smooth paste:

  • 200g of water (here in Sweden we have great water from the tap but if the stuff coming out of your tap is full of chlorine and other killers then use bottled since we don’t want any chemicals to kill the yeast that dive into our slurry)
  • 150g of flour (try to use organic stone ground flower because it contains more natural goodness which will give you a better sourdough)

Put the lit or plastic wrap on (but not air tight) and let your yeast spa sit, in a not to warm (about 18-20°C or 64-68 F) dark place, for two days.

Day 3

  • Add 100g of water and 80g of flour, and put it back for another day.

Day 4

  • Repeat the day 3 step and let the starter sit for yet another day and then your ready to bake.

This will produce more starter than you are likely to need for a single bakesession. This is good since we don’t want to repeat this process every time we want to make bread. The leftovers can be easily stored in a sealable container in your fridge, and when your ready to bake again reanimate your starter a day in advance by adding water and flour until it reaches the consistency of a pancake batter and leaving our container in room temperature.

Some of you readers (if there are any) might have noticed my use of grams, this is because baking is a bit of a science and although this starter can be made freehand once you have the feel for it, bread should always be made by measuring the ingredients. However for you people that wants to stick to measuring with cups and all those things 100g of water is one dl and 150g of flour is about 2.5dl. if your not on the metric system and don’t want to go convert the numbers yourself just leave me a comment and I’ll post this and continuing information in that other strange system, which is only used by the US, Liberia and Myanmar ;)

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