Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sweet Sweden

Vronsky and I ventured to Stockholm this weekend to see one of my author's for Pegasus, Camilla Läckberg, who is the best-selling author in Swedish history. She's sold 3 million copies of her book, in a country of only 9 million people, and that includes babies and children and people who can't read. She was the sixth-bestselling writer in all of Europe this past year, and besides being super talented, she's a lot of fun and quite a foodie herself. She's written one cookbook and has another in the works that covers Swedish "coastal" cuisine.

I don't think Nordic cuisine as a rule gets too much love outside of Scandinavia, and at first glance, it is easy to see why, as much of the traditional Nordic diet is not in sync with the American palate, which borrows more from France, Italian, and in general, the more lighter "Mediterranean style" of cuisine, combined with the gamut of Asian and Hispanic flavors and style of cooking that now is part of many people's everyday culinary lexicon. Like Russian food, cold-water fish is a large part of the diet...think herring and cold-water shrimp, which are teeny-tiny, and smoked salmon, along with beets, kale, cabbage, lingon berries, cloudberries, carrots, potatoes, lots of pickled goodies, and of course lamb and steak with a wide range of diary products. Swedish meatballs, are of course, the trademark "Swedish" cuisine, and they are far from kosher. What makes them so delicious and different from say, Italian meatballs, is that the meat (usually a blend of game and steak) is mixed with cream before people made into meatballs. These meatballs are traditionally served with potatoes and lingon berries on the side.

But what really stood out to me during my short stay there was coffee and sweets. A huge basket of every type of toffee, chocolate, and sweet goodie was passed around during our flight over, and Camilla herself has told me that no one drinks more coffee than Swedes. It is a standard sign of hospitality to offer someone a cup of coffee as soon as they come into your home, whether it is in the heart of Stockholm or out in the countryside. And what gets served with said coffee? Something sweet. It can be chocolate or cake or some sort of biscuit or cookie, or, as prominently featured in The Ice Princess, some sort of pastry or cinnamon bun. The coffee I had in Sweden was thick and stronger than the usual garden variety here in the States (except what I brew from my french press each morning, which is up there with sludge, mmm), but compared to what I drank in France, Swedish coffee had a slight sweetness to it that came without even adding sugar. Perhaps it was just that the taste was already in my mouth from a zillion little toffees, but it was quite lovely and I can see how it perfectly matches icy winters and midnight summer "sun."

For a taste of Scandinavia here in NYC, Smogas Chef is a go-to favorite, or check out Camilla's book, out in June, with a cup of coffee and a cinnamon cake to much on while you become absorbed in the tiny coastal town of Fjällbacka and its secrets.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gaga for Guac

Come summer time, light, slightly spicy food that does not require too much "cooking" (aka standing over a hot stove in my apartment, which is already so hot that I could probably sear some meat right on my mattress), really hits the spot. It is a well-known mantra in hotter climes that in order to cool down, eat hot. Something about the mouth-watering burn is paradoxically just what you want on a hot day. And nowhere is this more apparent than with guacamole, which has the added boon of being slightly "hot" while simultaneously, deliciously cool. Now if only the weather here in NYC would stop being nasty and rainy and cold....

2 tbsp. finely chopped white onion

3 firmly packed tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp. finely chopped jalapeño
1 tsp. salt
3 medium-ripe hass avocados
3 tbsp. diced tomato

1. Grind 1 tbsp. of the onions, 1 tbsp. of the cilantro, jalapeño, and salt together in a molcajete (one of those volcanic "rock" tripod bowels you see in Mexican restaurants) until all the ingredients are well ground. (Alternatively, use a fork to mash the ingredients to a paste in a wide bowl or a mortar and pestle).

2. Cut avocados in half. The flesh will most likely still be caught and "stuck" around the pit. Twist the halves to separate them and remove the pit with the tip of the knife. Place an avocado half, cut side up, in your palm and make 3 or 4 evenly spaced lengthwise cuts through its flesh down to the skin, without cutting through the skin. Make 4 crosswise cuts in the same fashion.

3. Scoop the diced avocado flesh into the molcajete or bowl you are using. Repeat with remaining avocado halves. Gently fold the avocado into the chili/onion/salt paste, keeping the avocado pieces fairly intact (DON'T make it a smooth mush...I like mine especially chunky).

4. Add tomatoes, remaining 2 tbsp. of the cilantro, and remaining 1 tbsp. of the onions.

5. Fold together all the ingredients. Taste and add a bit more salt, if necessary, and lime or lemon juice if you like, to taste.

6. Serve immediately, directly from the molcajete (or bowl), with tortilla chips.

This recipe is taken from Saveur (greatest food magazine out there) although I've tweaked it a bit to suit my own preferences, but once you have the basics down, go to town! Some people like more tomatoes, less tomatoes, no jalapenos at all (or more!)....go nuts and it's a great treat to bring to parties and buffets. I've even spread this on turkey sandwiches, mmm, or used with left over chicken (sautee up some of those leftover onions from above, chop some lettuce, and you have a nice fajita in the works). Delicious and nutritious, and healthy too! I've included another avocado based recipe in this blog before, for avocado hummus, but this definitely has a bit more zesty kick!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me and Happy Mother's Day!

And what is birthday without some yummy food to go along with it? Vronsky and I had a lovely dinner last night at One if By Land, Two if By Sea (get the roast duck, mmm) and while One if By Land is very heavy on the Ye Olde New Englande decor, the place I am going to tonight with my lovely gals, Pipa, is decorated in the exact opposite pastiche. "Modern Ornate" is the best way I can describe it. The ceilings are dripping with chandelier after funky chandelier, all for sale at the ABC store next door. A fun, festive atmosphere for celebrating the fact that I am going to have to start lying about my age soon, and that these old bones probably shouldn't be having that extra plate of their delicious calamari, but what the hell.

My birthday always falls on or near Mother's Day, and I was lucky enough to go home to Washington DC to spend some quality time with my mom, which included chasing pugs, eating her yummy spaghetti, shopping for some new rugs, trying on her wedding dress (pretty! But way too small as she is in the running for World Tiniest Woman) and her veil (also pretty! And a win, since how could a veil not fit?). We also made sure we ordered a celebratory cake from the incredible Pastries by Randolph in Arlington. Yellow cake with butter cream frosting and chocolate flowers. Delicious! I tried to eat it all before I left but couldn't, so whatever is left over my mom is freezing for next time.

Hug your moms today or give them a call, as every day is mothers day! I mean this, too. If you were a bad child and forgot, send them an Edible Arrangement. I love these things and send them to family, friends, work people, and am tempted to even send one to myself. They're fun and tasty! What more could you want? And with the incredible rich meal I had last night and the one TK tonight, I think a nice cleansing pineapple/cantaloupe flower or two would be just thing.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Manuevering through the wedding buffett

Because Vronsky and I both come from inordinately large families (I am one of four, he of nine, including his half-siblings, our mothers are both one of spirals out from there), there is no way to avoid a grand, enormous "big fat" wedding short of eloping, which would just devastate my Po-po beyond repair, and so, royal wedding it is.

That said, seeing as our rehearsal dinner is already looking to top 100 people, and that is without one single non-relative attending. A sit-down dinner for 250+ people at the actual reception not only sounds like setting fire to a winning lotto ticket, but also a bit of a drag, because it will doubtless take a long time to move through the service no matter how awesome of a caterer you hire.

And since I do NOT want anyone bored on my wedding day (they should be awaiting the first dance and speeches with baited breath, getting good and drunk and ready to hit the dance floor), Vronsky and I have decided to forgo a sit-down dinner and have a buffet at the reception. Also, I think this is a bit better, gastronomically speaking, for the guests, as they have some options to choose from versus a sit-down, in which you usually only get two choices, if that. What our two families have in common in terms of size I do not think will reflect in terms of palate. Old world southern cuisine versus organic/California/Chinese. I have yet to tell Po-po that his idea of fresh fruit growing up was canned peaches...she would have a box of oranges from her orchard in the mail so quickly I fear for the postal system.

When choosing the menu for our grand buffet, there are a zillion different options and I don't want to get too fancy. First off, the food won't hold up as well sitting in those trays and secondly, we want to please the broadest amount of people.

We will start with a cheese display (mm cheese) and a crudite, and for hors d'oeuvers, I like the idea of smoked salmon carpaccio with dill on black bread, whipped white bean spread on tortilla toast, some beef negimaki with soy dipping sauce, and a peking duck roll. (You'll notice that there are no chicken skewers or egg rolls here...).

For the actual buffet, we will have a mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette, some roast vegetables, a caprese, filet mignon with a red wine sauce, filet of salmon with a tomato marinade, some roast breast of chicken, penne a 'la vodka for a vegetarian entreé option, roast potatoes, another veggie medley, and then dessert and cake. I can't choose a dessert option until I settle on a cake, but I am thinking something chocolate-y, as both Vronsky and I are yellow-cake fans, and so if we have a yellow-cake wedding cake, I think we should throw those chocolate lovers a bone.

I am most excited to meet with the pastry chef though when we come by the NYAC for the tasting later this summer. I've had enough penne a'la vodka to last me a lifetime, but wedding cake is not only tasty, but aesthetically pleasing! I am not one for big, flowery wedding cakes. I want something that actually looks edible (plus, I don't really like the taste of fondant). Something clean and elegant like the one pictured above. That way, we can find a funny cake-topper of V and me!

There are some weird wedding cake designs out there (and I won't even go into the ones that TRY to be funny...). Cakes like this are deliberately made to look this way with the idea that it is pretty/glamorous/whatever. What on EARTH would you have a river of BROWN running down your cake? It does not bring to mind least for me, and while I may have the mind of an 8-year-old, I guarantee that I am not the only one who thinks this....