Sunday, May 31, 2009

Swedish Pancakes (pannkakor)

There is nothing more comforting than Swedish Pancakes. Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? I'll eat them anytime. These were one of my favorite meals growing up and I practice little restraint when it comes to them.

So what's the difference between Swedish Pancakes and crepes? While the two are often considered interchangeable, I consider a crepe to be just a touch thinner and taste more "eggy." Also, growing up my mother always used half whole-wheat flour in the Swedish Pancakes which gives them a more robust slightly nutty flavor. Without that whole-wheat flour they taste just a little flat to me - but that's a personal thing. If you're looking more for a traditional Swedish Pancake feel free to just use all-purpose flour.

So if you've got a skillet and some milk, eggs, and flour (& a little butter) in your kitchen - you're set. So why not break out of that breakfast rut and try these next weekend?

Start by cracking two eggs into a large bowl & whisk them together.

Add 1.5 dl whole-wheat flour and 1.5 dl all-purpose (white) flour. If you're using US measurements, that's a heaping half cup of each type of flour. You can go ahead and use all white flour if you'd prefer.

Add 6 dl of milk (2.5 cups). Now whisk it all together. You don't need to worry about getting every little lump out. If you're a perfectionist, you could use a blender. I don't.

Now heat up a non-stick (or really well seasoned cast iron) over medium heat. Add a pat of butter and swirl to coat the pan. Don't skip this step between pancakes. While they won't stick to the nonstick pan, they won't get that beautiful lacey appearance that you're going for.

Add 1 dl (~1/2 cup) of batter to the pan and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Do this fairly quickly as the pancake will begin to cook almost immediately.

Don't worry if you don't get it right the first time, you've got plenty of batter. Plus, sometimes the first few pancakes don't look as perfect because the pan isn't quite hot enough yet. It's okay - people will still be fighting over who gets to eat them.

Let the pancake cook for a minute or so until you can feasibly flip it over with a spatula and they look a lovely speckled brown. They only need to cook for about 30 seconds on this second side. Then I just fold them in half and in half again and stick them in a warming bowl within easy reach of the stove (or onto your hungry friends plates). Repeat with the remaining pancakes. This might take about 20 minutes or so to go through the whole bowl of batter. If you're talented and up for the challenge, you can get two pans going at once to speed up the process.

There are endless toppings you could put on your Swedish Pancakes but I usually go for jam (and whipped cream, if I'm going all out).

Today I tried whipping cream with a fork while making the pancakes. How is it that I always forget how long that takes to whip by hand? Sigh. We decided to use the half-whipped yet still pourable cream because we were too hungry to wait any longer. It was delicious!

Now just fold up your pancake and you're ready to eat! Other favorite toppings include: butter & sugar, lemon juice & powdered sugar, and of course nutella. These Swedish pancakes also work particularly well with savory fillings (creamed spinach or mushrooms, etc.).

Sit back. Relax. And Enjoy!

This makes about 10 pancakes (I forgot to keep count) and serves roughly 3 hungry adults.

Here are those ingredients again:
2 eggs
1.5 dl (heaping 1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
1.5 dl whole wheat flour
(or more all-purpose)
6 dl (2.5 cups) milk

Mix it all together. Heat up buttered skillet. Add 1 dl (1/2 cup) batter to pan and swirl to coat. Cook for 1 minute. Flip. Cook for 30 seconds. Repeat with remaining batter (buttering skillet in between each pancake). Serve with desired toppings.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Clam and Herb Spaghetti

I love tinkering with recipes. I try and force myself to follow a recipe the first time around but rarely, I must admit, do I stick to my intent. The lure of the spices beckoning from the shelf over in the corner always seem to win me over. It's just too gosh darn fun to tinker with recipes.

This, however, this is one of those recipes. Those recipes that you can turn to in a crunch - whether its company dropping in unexpectedly or when you suddenly find out you're out of ground beef when you were planning on making hamburgers. This recipe is time-tested & fool proof. Just. The. Way. It. Is. Even I refrain from tinkering (okay, lets be honest...I don't tinker too much!) with this recipe. It's made of ingredients I always keep on hand (once you try it, you too will stock up cans of minced clams & the rest you probably already have) and the whole thing is ready in less than 1/2 an hour (chopping included!).

This recipe is perfect for those warm summer days where you want a satisfying meal but one that doesn't feel so "heavy." This serves up a hefty dose of olive oil and clams. It's one of those recipes I turn to when I have something important the next day (be it a race or a test) and I want something that will taste great and give me lots of "feel-good energy" for lack of a better term!

Start out by finely dicing (the finer the better!) 1 large onion & 3 cloves garlic. This is one of those recipes you can pull out your food processor for if you don't mind cleaning it out later.

While you're at it, you might as well finely chop 1 cup parsley*.

*I never seem to go through parsley and it inevitably sits there looking sad in a near-wilted state. At that point, (if I remember!) I finely chop it and throw it in a ziploc and into the freezer. It works perfect for dishes like this where you slightly cook it - you can just throw the already chopped frozen parsley in and voila! it works just like fresh and you didn't waste anything.

Now heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add 1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (about 250 ml). Once that begins to warm up, add your chopped onion & 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or 1 chopped dried red chili). You won't really notice the heat, it merely adds a pleasant warmth in the background of the dish. Let cook 3 minutes. Add your 3 chopped garlic cloves.

(Don't forget to start cooking the spaghetti at this point!)

Add chopped garlic, 1 tbsp dried basil, 1 tbsp dried oregano, salt & freshly ground black pepper, and the broth from both cans of minced clams (reserve the clams). Simmer until reduced slightly (-10 minutes, depending on how hot your stove is and how thin you like your sauce - don't forget it will still thicken a little more later!).

Add that 1 cup chopped parsley and the reserved minced clams. You're almost done! Let simmer for about 5 minutes to heat up the clams and slightly wilt the parsley. Don't forget to check on that spaghetti you have boiling!

Now grate a good mound of fresh parmesan cheese for serving. Don't skimp! By this time, your noodles should be cooked, the sauce is ready to go, and everyone is drifting into the kitchen because of the delicious smells. Enjoy!

Clam Spaghetti
Serves 4

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or 1 dried red chili, chopped)
1 large onion, finely minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp dried oregano
Salt* & pepper
2 (6.5-oz) cans minced clams **
1 cup chopped parsley

Cooked spaghetti (I usually do about 1 lb dried spaghetti)
Fresh parmesan cheese, grated (for serving)

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onion & red chili flakes. Stir and let cook for 3 minutes. Add minced garlic, basil, oregano, salt & pepper, and the broth from the minced clams (reserve the clams). Let simmer until reduced (~10 minutes). Add the chopped clams and chopped parsley. Let simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve over cooked spaghetti noodles and top with a healthy dose of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

* I usually use 1/4 teaspoon salt or less because the broth from the clams is salty and is topped with the slightly salty parmesan cheese.

**If you want to get fancy and you have access to fresh clams, you could steam the clams seperately and use 1 cup bottled clam juice (yes, they actually sell that) in the recipe. Just add the clams in at the very end right before serving. Tres elegante!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Let me introduce myself...

I thought it was about time I properly introduce myself. I'm new to the world of blogging, as you may have noticed, but I'm not new to the world of food (or maybe I should say cooking, as I'm pretty sure we've all been eating our whole lives, right? I'd say that makes us all experts). I love the sights, smells, traditions and overall joyfulness that surrounds the rituals of cooking and eating. There is something so intoxicating about the whole process.

So let's see - what can I tell you about myself? Let's do this in bullet-point form, shall we?

- I like ketchup on my eggs - and spaghetti.

- I might become a doctor someday. Or a nurse. Or a world-traveling chef (where do I send my application for that job?).

- I grew up with a Swedish mother (amazing Swedish Pancakes!)

- I spend a lot of time staring at the oven door when I'm baking.

- One of my favorite sandwiches is cream cheese and ham.

- One of my other favorite sandwiches is peanut butter and bananas.

- I've eaten pig intestines in Korea.

- I later became a vegetarian. It lasted 1 1/2 years.

- Dirk and I race (recreational) on a tandem bicycle.

- My newest food obsession is non-homogenized milk in glass bottles. There's something so satisfying about that cold milk being poured from a glass bottle.

- I think that stressing about what you've eaten is far worse for your health than any fat or calorie-laden food you may have consumed.

- I'm not afraid of cooking with butter. Or brussel sprouts.

- Brussel sprouts have always been my favorite vegetable. My mom and I always fight over the cold leftover steamed brussel sprouts. Dirk doesn't fight me over them.

- My favorite spice is cumin. Or black mustard seeds. Or...

- I'm terrible at making decisions.

- I (or occasionally Dirk) take all of the photos on this blog.

- Dirk knows a bazillion times more about cameras than I do.

- I'm learning. Slowly.

- My favorite photography subject is food (I suppose that's obvious).

- I have far more cookbooks than anyone in their right mind should.

- I like to read cookbooks before I go to sleep.

- I sometimes even read cookbooks in the bathroom. Don't tell anyone.

So, now that I've shared some random intimate details about myself, tell me something about yourself. Need some inspiration? ....What's your favorite spice? What's the most bizarre food you've eaten (or eat regularly)? What country/state do you live in?

p.s. A reader asked how I became such a fan of Indian spices and cooking: My first experience with Indian cooking came from my aunt and uncle while I was growing up. They had traveled to India many times and always cooked the most delicious exotic smelling meals. It was love at first...smell? My experience with Indian cooking grew when my sister lived with a girl from India and a girl from Pakistan during college - they shared with me many family recipes and hints. Ever since then I've always kept a wide range of Indian spices in my kitchen. I'm a spice shopaholic.

p.p.s. For those of you living nowhere near Indian grocery stores, fear not - in the end most of my recipes will not, in fact, feature really random obscure ingredients. Or at least hopefully not. I promise I'll try.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Indian inspired fried rice...sort of!

I couldn't decide on a title for this dish. It doesn't contain egg like most fried rice dishes (though now that I think about it, that probably would be a delicious addition). I don't want to call it biryani because it isn't layered nor baked. Rather this dish was a delicious experiment to use up the leftover basmati rice that I had sitting in my fridge and to satisfy my must eat fast hunger pains that erupted as soon as I walked through the apartment door at five pm. All in all it turned out delicious and came together remarkably quickly (since the rice was already cooked). It's a very forgiving dish for those nights where you want a healthy and flavorful dinner on the table asap.

As I mentioned before, I'm not much of a recipe follower and this dinner doesn't really warrant a recipe (though I provided one just in case). Rather it's a use up the tidbits in your fridge kind of recipe. As long as you've got leftover rice and some vegetables, you're basically set. The rest is up to you and the contents of your fridge. Use whatever spices and vegetables you have on hand. If you have some leftover cooked chicken or meat, throw that in! I'd love to hear what variations you come up with!

I served the one-pot dish with a dollop of lime pickle from the local Indian grocery store. I'm completely and utterly addicted to this stuff! If you ever see a jar of this, don't hesitate to buy it - you won't regret it! Really, you could serve this dish with any chutney or Indian pickle you have on hand (or if you don't have either, the dish is flavorful enough to stand up on its own). I also made a pseudo-raita on the side which basically consisted of greek yogurt mixed with finely chopped cilantro and salt. It provided the perfect cool and soothing contrast to the hot and spicy fried rice.

Onto the "recipe" if you want to call it that!

Pseudo-Indian Fried Rice

2 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
Mix of Indian spices*
1/2 onion, diced
2 cups mixed vegetables, diced
1/3 cup toasted cashews
1 cup garbanzo beans
1/3 cup frozen peas
2 cups leftover basmati rice
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

chutney or pickle, to serve
quick raita** (recipe follows)

Heat 1 tbsp of vegetable oil in a wok or large pan over medium heat. Add spices and fry for a minute or so. Add onion and let soften for a few minutes. Add diced vegetables and stir fry until almost cooked (about 5-10 minutes, depending on the vegetables). Add in cashews and garbanzo beans. Push vegetables to the side to expose some of the bottom surface of the pan. Add reserved tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add in cold leftover rice and peas and stir-fry, breaking up clumps. Stir fry for a few minutes to heat up the rice and eventually mix the whole masterpiece together. If your rice is more than a day or two old, you may want to add a tbsp or two of water and stir-fry the mixture, letting the rice steam and soak up some of this moisture. Serve with chutney or Indian pickle and the following "quick raita."

*I used 2 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon chili powder, 3 green cardamom pods crushed (if all you have is curry powder, I'd go ahead and use 2-3 tsp of it)

**Quick Raita
3/4 cup greek yogurt (or plain yogurt, or sour cream)
2 tbsp finely minced cilantro
1/4 tsp salt or to taste

Mix all ingredients together, to taste.

Blackberry Skillet Upside-Down Cake

I don't usually follow recipes myself (at the very least I usually seem to tinker with the spices) but this recipe from the cookbook Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless is absolutely perfect just the way it is. While no one would complain if you served it for dessert this cake goes just as well with a cup of coffee for breakfast. Delicious but wholesome is has a slight nutty flavor imparted by the browned butter and whole wheat flour which melds perfectly with the blackberries (or blueberries!). Also, this cake stays remarkably moist for the modest 6 tbsp of butter in the recipe.

The best part about this cake? It can be whipped together in 10 minutes and out of the oven ready to serve in another 35 minutes. I often make this cake on Sunday evening and leave it in the skillet so as the week goes by Dirk and I can cut off a wedge and heat it up for breakfast. It makes getting out of bed much easier knowing I have this cake to look forward to.

So I have to admit, I got so excited about taking pictures of my breakfast this morning, that by the time I took a bite, it had already gotten cold. No problem, I thought, I'll just zap it in the microwave. Well a few distractions later and I looked over at the table, saw an empty plate and thought, hmm...I guess I already finished my breakfast. I wonder why I'm still hungry? Must have been that long walk yesterday... Well, twenty minutes later I went to heat up my coffee which had also gotten cold and lo and behold, there was my slice of cake sitting in the microwave with only a single bite taken out of it. Sigh. Maybe it's hereditary - I'd say almost fifty percent of the time that I went to heat something up in the microwave at my parent's house I'd find my mom's now cold cup of coffee that she had heated up and forgotten about. Does anyone else do this on a regular basis?

Onto the recipe!

Blackberry Skillet Upside Down Cake

6 Tbsp butter (preferably unsalted)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 cups fresh or frozen blackberries or blueberries (no need to thaw if frozen)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (or additional all-purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup white sugar
1 "large" egg
3/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt*

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and position a rack in the middle. Melt the butter in a large (10-inch) ovenproof skillet.** Swirl the butter in the skillet until it turns nut-brown and smells deliciously nutty. Immediately pour the butter into a medium bowl. Without wiping out the skillet, sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the bottom. Top with the fruit in an even layer.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, soda and baking powder. Add the white sugar to the browned butter and whisk until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the egg, then the buttermilk or yogurt. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ones. Whisk to thoroughly combine.

Pour the batter over the fruit in the skillet. Slide the skillet into the oven and bake for about 35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springy to the touch at the center. Remove and let cool 10 minutes.

If desired, invert a plate onto the skillet, then, holding plate and skillet firmly together with towels or pot holders, invert the two in one swift movement. Remove the skillet, and the cake is ready to serve. According to Rick it's best right out of the oven, but I certainly like it every day after that!

*If you don't have any of these on hand, just put two teaspoons of lemon juice or white vinegar in a measuring cup and pour milk in to bring it up to 3/4 cup. Let stand for five minute and proceed to use it in the recipe!

**Rick recommends a nonstick skillet with an ovenproof handle but I always have great results using my 10-inch cast iron (albeit if I let it sit in the cast iron for a few days, the fruit takes on a slight iron flavor which might be offputting to some people, so if you don't like that flavor, just remove it from the cast iron once it's cooled slightly after baking as described above).

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Poor, Misunderstood Cabbage

I really feel quite sorry for cabbage. We know how to drown it in mayonnaise or boil it to pieces, but rarely do we let this sorely misunderstood vegetable shine on its own. I propose a rediscovery of this vitamin and fiber rich (and cheap to boot!) vegetable. A quick stir-fry in a handful of spices gives cabbage the front and center attention it deserves. Plus it'll be ready to enjoy in less than ten minutes!

Chop up as much cabbage as you feel like eating. I usually do 1/2 a medium sized cabbage head for two hearty cabbage eaters (with a little leftover).

Melt 1 tbsp of butter over medium heat. If you want even more flavor use ghee (clarified butter). It will give a delicious nutty aroma and make your family come running into the kitchen to see what delicious things you are cooking. Or you can use vegetable oil if you, you know, want to be healthy or something.

Next, add 1/2 tbsp of cumin seeds. Now it has to be exact, or else, you know, your dish might have more or less cumin seeds. Okay really, just eyeball it. Be free! Let loose with the cumin! If you have black mustard seeds those are a delicious alternative to cumin seeds, a different but delicious flavor. Just be sure to stand back when you add the mustard seeds, they pop and splatter like nobody's business.

Watch them sizzle for a minute or two. Can you smell the buttery nutty goodness? If so, feel free to proceed to the next step.

Add a 1/2 tsp of turmeric. It gives a beautiful golden tint to the finished dish, not to mention its health properties (apparently it's anti-inflammatory have been shown to prevent everything from breast and prostate cancers to slowing the development of multiple sclerosis, who knew?). If you don't have any on hand, it's okay. I'll forgive you. Your recipe will still be delicious.

Add a handful of curry leaves (15-20) and let them cook for a minute. If you don't like the look of leaves in your dish, you can tear them up into smaller leaves. Me? I like leaves.

Hi, I'm curry leaves. Have we met? I make things taste delicious. You should seek me out at any asian or Indian grocer. I come fresh or dried. Either way, I'm delicious. If you buy a bunch of me fresh you can freeze me with great results. Lest you think I'm too expensive, the above package cost $0.98. If you haven't bought spices at a mom & pop Indian grocery before - do so now! Your pocketbook will thank you about a million times over. Plus they're always really fresh. Okay, where were we...?

Oh right, the main event: add cabbage. Stir fry until the cabbage is cooked, approximately 5 minutes. Add a generous sprinkling of salt (it will bring out the flavor of all the other spices).

It's finished. Doesn't it look delicious?

Now serve with something tasty, like the above chicken for example. I promise I'll get around to posting that recipe someday. But in the meantime....

Sit back and devour, or you know, watch your meat and potatoes loving significant other devour.

I'd say he looks full and happy, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

World's Best Ice Cream Sundae

Hands down, this is my favorite ice cream sundae combination. Good quality vanilla ice cream topped with a warm gooey brownie, juicy red raspberries, and a generous pour of dark chocolate syrup. Does life get any better than this? This dessert is reason enough to rush out and bake a pan of brownies - not that a warm brownie with a cold glass of milk isn't reason enough. Just make sure you save a few brownie squares to try out this combination. Only got frozen raspberries & Hershey's syrup? It doesn't matter, it will still be amazing.

In our apartment, this is all that's left after approximately 2.5 seconds. Enjoy!