Monday, April 27, 2015

I just want to keep typing Sju Sorters Kakor over and over

From Fika, by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall:

“To have a real fika means using the classic recipes that everyone knows (what the Swedes call klassiker), either those from one of the Swedish cooking bibles like Sju Sorters Kakor (Seven Kinds of Cookies) or Var Kokbook (Our Cookbook) or those passed down from one generation to the next.”

As luck would have it, there was an English edition of Sju Sorters Kakor on amazon. How could I not? 

First published in 1945, Sju Sorters Kakor has been revised several times and it’s a dazzling, bright, cleanly-designed, and compact book with an astonishing variety of desserts packed into 188 pages. Pretty little color pictures accompany most recipes, some of which call for hartshorn salt

I’m not even going to pretend I’m sheepish about buying yet another cookbook. That would be the kind of reflexive, coy, apologetic female self-deprecation I despise and at which I excel. (Right there? That was an example of the self-deprecation I was talking about.) 

I love owning this book. Good purchase.
Birgitta's almond torte from Sju Sorters Kakor
Nothing new was cooked this weekend, except the Swedish pancakes from Fika, which are lovely, fragile, soft, and crepe-like. I squeezed lemon and sprinkled sugar on them and when Owen saw them he complained that they were “thin, like tortillas, and won’t carry flavor.” I said, “Yes, they’re really disgusting, don’t feel like you have to finish.

He came back for seconds, said, “I don't want you to waste the batter.” 

This morning I asked if he wanted more of the “disgusting” pancakes and he said, “Yeah, but only because I’m really hungry.” 

I don’t want to make Owen out to be a brat.  He’s not. You’d like him. He’s kind and earnest and talkative and interested in stuff.  Complaints about my cooking are a joke and a habit in this house, a family tradition. He and are great friends and then sometimes I take away his computer keyboard and he gets really, really mad and insults my cooking. At this point, I could not care less. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ska vi fika?

I’ve fallen in love with Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall, a review copy of which landed on my doorstep a few weeks ago. It isn’t just a great cookbook, it’s also an affordable and adorable object and a fun read. I like this little book so much I recommend you buy it not just for yourself, but in bulk to give as gifts. The audience for Fika is broad, but there’s a certain type of person whose life will be incomplete without it. If you have a friend who bakes, collects vintage china, wears a Marimekko apron, and/or covets an AGA, buy her Fika this instant! 

Does it sound like I’ve suddenly started promoting products on this blog? Never.

In case you don’t know, fika is the Swedish ritual of pausing at some point every day to regroup with a hot beverage and a baked good, of carving out a “magical moment.”  “You can do it alone, you can do it with friends,” write the authors, but fika is “something everyone does, at least once a day. It factors into travel planning, work schedules, and even a relaxed weekend at home. Life without fika is unthinkable.” 

I always wondered how Mrs. Olson knew so much about coffee. Fika.

I often “fika” (the word can be used as a verb) at American cafes that sell giant to-go lattes and giant brown muffins. Giant muffins and Starbucks increasingly happen in Sweden too, but there’s a countervailing tradition of daintiness, variety, fine china, creating a sense of coziness (mysig), and home baking. (At one point, proud Swedish housewives prided themselves on offering seven types of homemade cookies when they served coffee.) This is the legacy that Fika celebrates.

Clockwise from upper left: ginger meringue, hazelnut crisp, oatmeal sandwich cookie with a layer of ginger-spiked chocolate inside. The photograph makes them look big, but they are very small.
I’ve been on a bit of a Fika tear and I have nothing but praise for the recipes. All the cookies I’ve made from the book have been crispy and bursting with bright flavors of ginger, hazelnut, chocolate and/or butter. American cookies seem heavy and floury by contrast. These cookies are also quite small -- after all, if you’re serving seven kinds of cookies, you don’t want people to fill up on their first.

These are also, for the most part, easy cookies. To make hazelnut crisps, my favorite Fika recipe so far, whisk together 1 egg, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup melted butter, 3/4 cup very finely chopped unblanched hazelnuts, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and a pinch of salt. (I always appreciate a recipe that doesn’t make me blanch the hazelnuts.) Drop by teaspoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets, bake at 350 degrees F until dark golden brown at edges, about 10 minutes. Leave on sheet until firm, remove to racks. SO GOOD.

Yesterday Mark and I were killing time in San Francisco while Owen finished his painting class and we ended up at a place I’d heard about called the 20th Century Cafe and I finally had a chance to try their famous honey cake. 
This will ruin you for oafish bundt cakes.
Just look at that magnificent slice. Look at that pretty china. Only as we were leaving did I realize we’d just had a perfect fika.

So: buy Fika and if you ever come to San Francisco, fika at the 20th Century Cafe.

Two healthy recipes to recommend:

I’ve made this refreshing and satisfying brussels sprouts salad from River Cottage Veg Every Day about a dozen time in the last couple of weeks, usually for lunch. Thinly-sliced sprouts, aged cheddar, apple, some thyme leaves, big squeeze of lemon, olive oil, toasted nuts. To the recipe as printed I would add: walnuts are better than hazelnuts or almonds and you should chill the apple. It’s not going to rock your world, this recipe, it’s just a nutritious, tasty salad, that you can make very quickly, day after day, without going to the grocery store to replenish your lettuce supply. Brussels sprouts take weeks to wilt, unlike wimpy lettuce.

It's really good, trust me.
Also: I love, love, love this smooth parsnip soup, also from River Cottage Veg Every Day. (This recipe might actually rock your world.) I highly recommend adding the yogurt when you serve it -- the cold yogurt in the hot, gingery soup is a wonderful contrast. I should say that Owen didn’t care for this soup at all -- and kids in general might not. He politely pushed his bowl away at dinner. Later that night, after I removed his computer keyboard because he hadn’t done his chores, he got furious and began insulting my cooking, one of his new “things.”  He said: “That soup? It’s like you vomited into a pot and tried to feed it to me.”

I laughed and didn’t give him his keyboard back.

The soup is great.

Finally, I came out of reviewing retirement to write about the chef Nora Pouillon’s memoir, My Organic Life, and you can read the piece here.   

Monday, April 06, 2015

Time got away from me

Rather than try to catch up on all the stuff I’ve cooked for the last 10 days, I'm going to pretend none of it ever happened and start fresh. But there are a few recipes and thoughts I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention:

-Although I stand by my contention that Sean Brock’s Heritage is impractical for home cooks, I read enough about his recipe for hoppin john to decide I had to try it for myself. So I ordered Carolina gold rice and heirloom Sea Island red peas from the revered Anson Mills and made the dish. It was spectacular, damn it. Very aggravating because if I want to eat this hoppin john again and again and again, which I do, I will have to keep ordering expensive rice and peas from Anson Mills.  

I recommend the recipe anyway.

-A new cookie in my life: Dorie Greenspan’s croquets from Baking Chez Moi. Nutty, super-crunchy, delicious, easy. If you need to use up egg whites, look no further. 
Hot Pot Island, 5512 Geary. It may not be the best hot pot place in San Francisco, but it's our hot pot place. 
-This review made me want to check out Steven Satterfield’s Root to Leaf, but it’s not yet available at the library. Has anyone seen a copy?

-Inspired by this story (and using the accompanying recipe) I made a gorgeous Montenegrin sampita for family dinner last night. Author Francis Lam describes sampita as “a plank of yolk-rich cake piled with glossy meringue, a kind of open faced marshmallow sandwich.”  I can't do any better than that. Another layer of cake would make this dessert more delicious, but then it wouldn’t look quite so magnificently absurd. How magnificently absurd? Some pictures. Really fun, tasty, sticky, ridiculous, beautiful dessert.

-Yesterday I took Mark outside and asked if he thinks we should replace our front walk. I’ve been asking him about this at intervals for the last six years, ever since the roots of the oak started to push up the concrete blocks in earnest.
I worry someone is going to trip and sue us. 
He said, “It’s good enough. We don’t have that many visitors. I think we should wait and fix the path just before we sell the house so it will look as new as possible.” 
I worry someone will slip on the slimy piece of plywood covering the mud hole and sue us.
We came inside and he said, “But if you want to fix it sooner, go ahead. Don’t worry about me. You know what I’m like.”
I worry that the condition of the front walk is liberating out our inner slobs. 
I said, “Thanks. I hired someone last week. He's starting on the 21st. I was just asking for your thoughts so I could quote you on the blog.”

I’m not sure if you think that’s funny, but he did. I’m not sure if you think our front walk needs a little facelift, but I do. 
Mostly, I just really, really hate how it looks.