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Cookies and Salads

23 Aug

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The other day, Rob and I did some Back To School grocery shopping, and it happened to be a date-night of sorts. We had already eaten dinner, and flashbacks of our Coos Bay days of taking a stroll down the fun-house halls of Walmart at 10 pm rushed in our minds as we stood in the Publix cookie aisle with two other couples. Hushed conversations evolved and we noticed the other couples, slowly and closely meandering, stopping and short-pointing with only a pinky, then whispering some more, were having the exact same musings as Rob and me.

“Remember these?”

“Oh, I ate a box of those ones once.”

“Huh, the packaging has changed on these ones.”

“Strawberry Oreos? Really?”

“Ooo these look so goooooood.”

Then, super-stealthily that short-pointing pinky turned into a swift grabbing hand snatching that Back To School treat. One couple got always-recognizable-even-when-cleverly-stuffed-under-the-16oz.-bag-of-baby-kale Pepperidge Farms cookies, the other couple further down settled with an audible let’s-be-responsible sigh on a cookie/cracker thing, and Rob and I chose Fig Newtons. The original. Always a Back To School classic, at least in my lunch box.

Seams harmless, right? Then, what’s with all the whispering and sideways glances? After further investigation of our late-night cookie aisle recon, this Back To School treat shopping was not for the kids. It was for the adults.

Who knows what happened to the other couples, but Rob and I waited until we got home (there is some restraint), and I dove into the little squares of fruit and cake. After a couple, the “fix” was over, and all was right and just in the world.

Teaching Kindergarten can be a different kind of crazy at beginning of the year, and even in this hot, hot, hot Jacksonville heat, a craving for comfort food spikes at the end of the day. Rather than turning to the cookies, I’ve actually found myself becoming increasingly adventurous with salads. Yes, salads. With the help of our farm basket, I have been experimenting with hot and cold salads, sweet and savory salads, grain and paleo salads, and many more. Come to realize it, more often than not, I have written about salads throughout the years. Well, hold on to your carrots, my friends, cause here comes another.

I called this the Chop Chop Salad, before I realized that there were actually many variations of an actual salad called a Chop Chop. So, I guess I’m adding another variation to the many recipes out there (although I’d like to continue to live in my ignorance that I actually came up with the really cool name). Literally, take every single vegetable that you love and toss it in a bowl. Add lettuce or any other green you’d like, or not. Add grains like quinoa, barley, or spelt, or not. Add a dried fruit or nuts, or not. You get the picture. Pour the contents on a big cutting board. With two chef’s knives, chop chop the heck out of it. Pour it all back into the bowl. Top with your favorite dressing. Voila! Chop Chop Salad! For such an incredibly unrefined technique, it creates such a beautiful presentation, and it’s fabulous for fun entertaining. Here’s how I made mine (everything was just a small handful, fresh and raw, unless otherwise stated):

  • Roasted kale
  • Corn
  • Carrots
  • Crimini mushrooms
  • Roasted green beans
  • Tomatoes (seeded)
  • Celery
  • Green onions
  • Manchego cheese

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The very best part of this salad happened to be the interesting dressing. To me, a big, full Chop Chop salad needs a hearty dressing. These days, however, cream and mayo-based dressings haven’t been making much of an appearance in our house due to the calories they add to the otherwise healthy dish. So to keep the creamy need, yet lose the bulk, I made a Cauliflower Dressing: ½ head of raw cauliflower, ¼ c extra virgin olive oil, ¼ c water, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 2 tbsp agave nectar, 1 tbsp fresh dill. Throw it all into a blender with some s&p, whir until smooth and pourable, and taste for more seasoning. Pour a desired amount on your Chop Chop Salad, mix, and sit back and crunch away.

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This salad made for a great lunch the next day at school, and I told my kids all about it. At 5-years old, they weren’t so interested in a bowl chalked full of veg. Although I did get many oohs and aahs when I said “corn.” I think even a couple of excited claps.

It’s Back To School – a time for new beginning and taking risks. This salad isn’t risky at all, but try it anyway. It’s easy! It’s your own creation of tastiness! It’s healthy (which means you can dive into those cookies afterwards)!

Enjoy!

We’re Home and It’s Hot, Spicy, and Pickled

12 Jul

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Well, we’ve made it.  Our cross-country road trip taking 4 days and 3295.2 miles, reaching record-breaking temperatures across the desert (122 degrees – are you kidding me?), hastily sneaking the pup into motels, and trying not to get killed by crazy San Antonio Friday night downtown drivers, has lead us to Landed Gentry.  We’ve been in our new house now for just over a week, and have been unpacking piles of boxes taller than us, all the while trying to get used to the newfound heat and humidity (for all you skeptics out there, absolutely there is a difference between a “dry heat” and humidity).  But, my pasty Oregon skin has started to get accustomed to that strange bright orange thing up in the sky, and Rob, Sig and I are quickly becoming accustomed to Southern life.

First of all, the Farmers Markets are something unlike anything I’ve seen before – huge, sprawling, and you better know what you want to get cause these folks aren’t fooling around.  I’ve never felt intimated at a Farmers Market before, but with new experiences come new things to try.  So far, Rob and I have been indulging on true Georgia peaches, sweet corn, amazing tomatoes, and greens, greens, greens – my favorite thing.

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In between unpacking boxes, and learning how to sew picnic bench cushions (thanks, Mom!), I have even been trying my hand at some Southern staples.  After a short deliberation, a couple lip smacks, and a way-too-serious-for-tea expression, Rob announced I passed the Sweet Tea test.  Of course I docked it up by making it Lemon Basil Sweet Tea, which, probably isn’t truly a Southern staple, but it was my take on the sweet refreshingness that is cold, black tea.

At the Farmers Market, I saw a huge bag of what they called “stir fry,” which really was just a mix of already roughly chopped and shredded cabbage, carrots, onions, summer squash, and some collards.  Standing there, gaping at the bounty bulging out of the simple plastic bag (honestly, drool could have been possible), the lady running the booth, whose skin revealed that the parking lot market was a spa compared to the mass amounts of Southern Georgia farming she has done in the humid sun for probably most of her life, almost threw the bag into my hands.

“Smell it!”

“Uuuum….”

“I said, smell it, honey!”

I’ve learned quickly to do what I’m told.

And am I ever glad that I did, as my car, shortly after, was filled with the “stir fry” freshness and potency.  But my plans for this veg were not wok-ready.

On a Saturday outing of exploring and a reprieve from unpacking, Rob, my mom, and I stumbled upon a cute little eatery in downtown Jacksonville called DIG Foods.  It was all vegan, and so~o delicious.  My mom and I split a sandwich made of a black bean spread and Chow Chow, a pickled Southern favorite.  It gave me inspiration, and became the culinary destiny for my bag o’ veg.

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As my Scandi roots started bubbling to the surface, I created a pickling brine perfect for this veg to accompany any sandwich, salad, or topped on a perfectly fried chicken breast.  The key is a 3:2:1 ratio of water:vinegar:sugar.  It works every time, and the flavor combinations are endless.  For this veg, I added a spice (a few chili peppers, as I was given about 20 for a dollar at the market), sliced garlic cloves, caraway seeds, thyme sprigs, and, of course some salt and peppercorns.  The best part about a pickling brine is you can make it any flavor you’d like to compliment the food being pickled.  It’s the perfect avenue to be creative in the kitchen.  After pouring the hot brine over the veg and letting it sit for about 10 minutes to give it a good, quick wilt factor, I ladled the veg into sterilized mason jars and put in the fridge to seal.

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The next day, Rob turned his plain bologna sandwich (which, I think is fabulous in its own right), into something pickly and spectacular.  He even got comments on his lunch at work.  He took the sandwich again the next day, but wasn’t too mindful of the chilis, thus scalding his tender Irish mouth for the rest of the day.  Today, he didn’t take a lunch.  Oh well.

The recipe for the pickled veg is one to be adapted to your liking, just make sure you use the 3:2:1 ratio for enough brine to completely cover whatever veg you are using.  Use a lighter, brighter vinegar (I like unsweetened rice wine, apple cider, or white balsamic), and play with the flavorings.  Ginger, horseradish, dill, bay, rosemary, mint, pink peppercorns, you name it.  Then make it your own!  Enjoy!

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The Meal That Changed Rob’s Life

2 Oct

Well, not really.  But I did get him to eat salmon… finally.  Rob has never been a fish person, but living on the Oregon Coast has given him an experience with fish that has he can’t deny; the fresh fish here is downright amazing.  Fantastic.  Fabulous.

Last weekend, Rob’s parents were visiting us on their journey through a whirlwind Oregon adventure.  Driving down the Coast, they realized sooner than later that there are no “national” chain restaurants here (there’s not an Olive Garden to be seen, fortunately or unfortunately?), so experiencing new restaurants and foods was luckily on the menu.  And when they arrived, I wanted to show a true, seasonal, local Pacific Northwest meal.

But that meant Rob would have to eat salmon.

Oh my.

The Oregon Coast is utterly amazing, and a main reason is because of the food.  So when I asked Rob about how he’d feel if I cooked Chinook salmon for his parents, he surprisingly was all for trying it out again.  There have been many times I’ve asked Rob to try salmon, “Just *bleeping* taste it!” each time with no avail.  He makes his “fish face” (it’s a term of endearment), and is quite polite about it all, but has never enjoyed the experience.

“So, why now?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugged, “I just want to give it another try.”

The wife in me knew that maybe he wanted to show off for his fish-loving parents (which provoked a little audible giggle), but the cook in me was ecstatic.  Yay!  Rob will eat one of the most amazing ingredients to come out of the Pacific Ocean!

I cooked my favorite kind of meal: simple, tasty, with flourishes only to enhance the flavor of what already is.  With ingredients this fresh and beautiful, there’s no benefit to altering them, only to support them.  Like the humble adjective to the bold action verb in an interesting sentence, the specific sauces and sides add more than just color to a dish (sorry, we’re in the 5th week of school – my teacher nerdiness is bound to come out sometime).

While the fish was obviously a fresh purchase, there are things that I like to keep on hand in my kitchen that makes entertaining super easy.  Those humble sides and sauces, when seasonal and well planned, can be made ahead and create a painters palate of a menu.  For this particular dish, I took some local corn and tomatoes and did a hot sauté for a quick relish.  The creamy addition were melted red onions with green apples – sweet, tangy, and rounded out with a douse of white wine (yes, sometimes I actually do put it in the food).  Finally, and while everything is best in threes, the finale sauce was a special (and favorite) no-cook fresh strawberry, maple, and rosemary coulis.   Strawberries, believe it or not, are at the end of their season up here, and there’s something about the sweetness of a berry that pairs so Scandinavianly well with salmon.  Trust me; channel your inner Tuula and Johaan.

While putting the it’s-really-not-a-lot-of-time-but-tastes-like-it-was-prepared-for-days time into creating the special touches to add to a dish, it let’s the true star shine.  The salmon tasted like salmon, and like what cooked salmon should taste like: the smell of a foggy ocean morning mixed with cucumber and butter.  Finally, Rob understood.

While the meal was great, being able to reconnect with family was even better. There will be stories to repeat forever (like how my Irish in-laws had to go to an Italian restaurant in Ireland because, “You can only eat so many carrots and potatoes!”) and stories to be reminded of forever (I’ll leave those be).  The trip was a whirlwind, but so much fun, and we spoiled ourselves with a steady flow of great food and wine.  After all, if you can’t indulge with family, then with whom can you indulge?

Baked Salmon (serves 4)

  • 2 lbs. wild Chinook salmon (preferably fall season, Pacific Norwest rivers)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ c white wine (either a chardonnay or pinot gris)
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

Prepare the salmon by patting it dry, then rubbing it with olive oil and lemon juice.  Sprinkle a large pinch of s&p, and place, skin side down, in a square baking dish.  Pour over the white wine, and cook until salmon is just cooked through.  NOTE: rare to med-rare salmon tends to have the best taste, but know where your fish came from before consuming undercooked protein.

Serve with the following sauces:

Corn and Tomato Relish (makes 1 pint)

  • 2 ears of corn, kernels cut off
  • 1 large tomato
  • ¼ tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

Heat the corn and tomato in a sauté pan over high heat.  Season with s&p and the thyme.  Cook for only about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes soften a bit (but do not break apart), and the corn warms through.

Melted Red Onions with Apple (makes about 1 pint)

  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ Granny Smith apple, small diced
  • ½ c white wine
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

Over medium-low heat, sauté the onions, apple, and red pepper flakes in the oil until they start to soften (seasoning with s&p from the beginning will help with this process).  Deglaze the pan with the wine, picking up any brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan.  Reduce the wine until the mixture is smooth, and it looks like the onions have “melted” and submitted to the low, constant heat of the pan. 

Strawberry Maple and Rosemary Coulis (makes about ½ pint)

  • ½ pint strawberries, hulled
  • 1 tbsp good quality maple syrup
  • ½ tsp fresh rosemary
  • juice ½ lemon
  • small pinch of salt

 Put all ingredients into a blender, and blend until thick, smooth, and almost frothy. 

ENJOY! 

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