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caramel apple sundaes and a trip to sweetland orchard

October 4, 2012

The granny smith caramel apple sundae in the Food Building at the Minnesota State Fair is the first fair-food I developed a deep and abiding love for. There have been others over the years, but that apple sundae will always hold a special place in my heart for being first. As a kid, I loved the traditional caramel apple. Nuts and caramel stuck to the outside of my favorite fruit on earth? Yes Please! But then… let’s just say there was this ‘playground altercation’ that rendered caramel apples, and the better part of both top front teeth, a thing of the past. (long story short, if you are a pair of 5th grade girls who run fast, it’s perhaps not a good idea to put that talent to use at recess by running through the boys basketball/football/dodgeball games and stealing the ball. Or, if you do, be sure and be the one who sees the angry kid coming before he face-plants you into the blacktop.)

Enter the deconstructed caramel apple sundae. Every bit as good as the original, but with less trauma for the dentalwork. After our workshop with the boys from Brooklyn’s Baked bakery a few falls back, we’ve been obsessed with their Sweet & Salty Brownies. It occurred to me as we were tromping through the gorgeous Sweetland Orchard* two Saturdays ago that their caramel would be perfect for the deconstructed caramel apple sundae. (bonus points for off-setting its naughtiness by drizzling it over apples instead of baking into the sinful sweet & salty brownies, right? right?!). As a bonus, we scored a few of the delightfully crisp Northern Spy Apples to test drive the caramel on.

Clockwise from top: Picking our own at Sweetland Orchard, The amazing Northern Spy apple, Caramel Apple Sundae, making the caramel

WOW! We’ll be doing that again and again. (I prefer a fairly tart apple to offset the sweetness of the caramel, but I’m guessing whatever apple is your fav would work just as well)

Caramel

(adapted from Baked Explorations)

  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/4 C water
  • 2 TBSP light corn syrup
  • 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 1 tsp fleur de sel (see note)
  • 1/4 C sour cream

In a medium pan, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup. Stir together carefully (don’t splash the sides of the pan).  Cook over high heat, until it turns a dark amber in color (watch it carefully. When it starts to change color, it goes from blonde, to light amber to dark amber to burnt quickly). Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the cream (it will bubble up).  Then add the fleur de sel.  Whisk in the sour cream.  Set aside to cool.

Note on the fleur de sel: We didn’t have any this time, so I used Hawaiian alaea salt instead. It worked just as well.

Note on caramel making: We’ve both made this solo, which works just fine. It was, however, much easier to simultaneously stir the corn syrup mixture and pour the cream with an extra set of hands.

* A Word about Sweetland Orchard

Sadly, apple season at Sweetland is nearly over. Mother Nature was a particularly harsh mistress last spring. Apple blossoms don’t take kindly to being coaxed into blooming in way early spring only to be hit by a punishing frost. Apples blossoms and frost so do not play well together. As a result, Mike and Gretchen have become poster kids of sorts for what happens when weather takes out 90% of your crop before the season even really begins. (a quick visit to their website’s As Seen Around Town page is filled with great and media about the amazing cider donuts & etc about the apples, but also highlights appearances due to the 2012 Spring Freeze) I’m not sure I’d be able to present such a zen face to the world if I was in their shoes. If you are within driving distance and looking for something fun to do this Saturday night, consider showing your support at the Big Orchard Shindig. A bunch of amazing Twin Cities food folks have banded together to put on what looks to be an fun-tastic fall evening as a benefit for the Orchard.

non-recipe for kohlrabi matchsticks

July 17, 2012

When you’re in the middle of summer, and in the middle of an unprecedented heat wave (and without working central air), the last thing you want to do is turn on any of the heat generating appliances in the kitchen (which is a currently a cool 91°). So food options that don’t call for cooking one of the ingredients are our favorite thing at the moment. And while I’ll always have a fondness for raw carrots, my current raw obsession is kohlrabi. Sure, it can be steamed, scalloped, sautéed, boiled, braised, roasted or puréed. But for my money, peeled and sliced up like matchsticks is the way to go. (you can also shred it and toss it into your favorite chicken curry salad) As a bonus, it’s good for you (certainly better than that bag of chips that makes googly eyes at you every time you walk down that grocery aisle for sparkling water). Next year, this is totally going into our home vegetable beds.

dansk bøf med løg (danish hamburger patties with grilled onions & gravy)

July 12, 2012

Today’s recipe is (as many of mom’s recipes are), more of a guideline or plan of action than formal recipe with weights and measures. At the heart of it, it’s dead easy. Gently caramelize some sliced onions (use butter, not oil!); form* then fry up some ground beef patties (use good quality ground beef, and simply salt and pepper each side); take the patties out of the pan & make a brown gravy in it; put the patties back in the pan, spoon a bit of gravy over each patty, then gently place mounds of caramelized onions on each & serve – preferably with some boiled potatoes. (It’s also forgiving. If the dish has to sit covered on a warm burner for a bit while dad finishes up in the garage and then scrubs his hands clean, it’s none the worse for wear).

But that little phrase “make brown gravy in the pan?” That part vexed me for decades. This, incidentally, is why some people find it difficult to learn from my mom in the kitchen (hi sis!). When pressed, she will certainly be patient and slow her pace so that you can measure everything she’s doing. Thing is, the next time, the measurements may well be different. It all depends on the feel of the ingredients (or the size of the eggs), the number of people you’re feeding (and sometimes what’s currently on hand in the pantry). At the base of what seems (to a faithful recipe-following-measur-er) to be a chaos, however, there is structure. When you know the ratio of flour to butter for a roux, for example, and can measure by sight, the seemingly random tosses of flour and pats of butter have predictable order. When you’re making that roux in the pan you’ve just sauteed ground beef patties in, the drippings factor in as well (as does the fat content of your ground beef). And if you’ve saved the potato water (of course you did! you wouldn’t just send it down the drain would you?!) to use in the gravy, you’ll need to remember not to add too much flour because the starch in the water will also act to thicken your gravy. Whisk the bejesus out of it as you’re going along (otherwise lumps!), and at the appropriate moment, add a touch of the Danish equivalent of “kitchen bouquet” for color, and bob’s your uncle, you’ve got gravy. It’s not exactly alchemy, but it might as well be for me. Luckily, I’m only ½ of the kitchen duo in residence here. Mom’s technique has now been safely passed along to EJ (who will make me all of the bøf med løg I’ll ever need, right?!)

What follows is a short photo essay of the master at work (on her birthday no less!). Even though it’s typically the birthday person who decides dinner, this one came at dad’s request. Ever magnanimous (and as a nod to the fact that it was also their anniversary), mom let dad pick the meal that night. And while it was never a favorite of mine growing up, it has come to be the quintessential comfort / transport-me-back-home meal. I’m really grateful she not only tolerates the camera in the kitchen, she seems to enjoy passing the family recipes to us with a side of photography.

[I’ve never seen mom’s patty making process in the US. American technique seems to universally favor pressing hamburger patties into shape. For these, as well as patties destined for the grill, mom has never formed them with her hands. In researching other versions of this recipe, I’m seeing that it’s the Danish standard to do it mom’s way. Begin by forming the ground beef into balls. They are then rhythmically chopped into submission with a chef’s knife. Basically, you deploy small quick chopping motions first on one angle, then slide the knife underneath to release it from the cutting board, turn a few times to shore up the sides (using the flat of the knife to guide the edge) and repeat at a 90 degree angle to the first direction. Then do the whole thing over again on the other side.  With a little practice, you end up with absolutely identical pucks of beef ready to be browned.]

vanilla cake with fresh berries

July 9, 2012

There are certain recipes that whisper to you through the internet, begging to be tried. Such is the case with pretty much everything that comes out of the amazing Smitten Kitchen. One of her latest cakes, however, so begged to be made asap, that I actually made it untested for a bake-off because that was the next baking need I had.

The prospect of making this cake on short notice saw me trek to 3 different farmers markets on Saturday in search of fresh raspberries and blueberries. I was too late in the day to nab them at either Fulton or Midtown. Luckily, Mill City rescued me from using grocery store berries. The gorgeous raspberries (my all time favorite berry) are from Prairie Hollow Farm. The succulent blueberries are from Heath Glen Farm. (The blueberries were, in fact, so tasty they have nearly converted me to a lover of blueberries. They have been one of the few fruits I never warmed up to. until now.)

Are you reading this in the Twin Cities? Have you ever thought to yourself, I should try entering my beloved [enter baked good here] in a bake-off? I urge you to dip your toes into the bake-off pool at Kingfield Farmers Market. It’s not only a fun, low-stress way to tick this activity off your lifetime to-do list (or was that just me?), it’s a fundraiser to help support this most excellent neighborhood market. And while this cake didn’t take home a prize yesterday, it was a definite winner with us. The only thing I changed when I made a third cake just for us last night was the amount of cake underneath the frosting and fresh berries. We either had crazy good conditions yesterday, or super baking powder, or I don’t know what. As written, the cake rose to the tippy top of a standard 9″ x 13″ pan, and was a bit much for the frosting & berries on top. For the cake pictured here, I used a half recipe of the smitten yellow cake & same proportion of frosting.

Deb’s instructions also reinforced some of the earliest cake baking lessons I learned from mom, a list of best cake making practices if you will:

  • Room temperature butter means room temperature butter. If you need to ‘help’ it there with your trusty microwave, so be it, but proceed with caution. If you end up with a soupy half melted stick of butter, start over again. Butter at different stages of solidness absorbs flour differently. Your recipe is giving you a key piece of information with the butter temp it calls for. (that’s also why you cut ice cold butter into flour for pie crusts)
  • Yes, your eggs should be room temp too. No, you can’t help THEM along in the microwave.
  • “Cream together butter and sugar” always means mix them together until they take on the properties of a light yellow, fluffy cloud (about 3 minutes on medium high regardless of whether you’re using a stand or a hand mixer).
  • Yes, sifting the dry ingredients together is a pain. Do it anyways, especially if you’re working with cake flour (clumps may survive the mixing. and clumps? bad for the batter).
  • Always add your eggs one at a time and always scrape the bowl down in between adding ingredients.
  • If you have to add dry and wet ingredients to a batter, alternate them and add each bit by bit. It’s easier for the batter to absorb a bit of flour and then a bit of liquid and so on, than to pour all of either in all at once.
  • The toothpick test is the most reliable way to test for cake doneness (an inserted toothpick will come out of the center of the cake cleanly when it’s done). you may, however, find yourself needing to test a cake without the aid of a toothpick. With practice, you can also see that a properly baked cake will pull away from the edges of the pan slightly.

Vanilla Cake with Fresh Berries

adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Flag Cake

Preheat oven to 350°

Berries

  • 1 pint raspberries, washed and dried
  • 1 pint blueberries, washed and dried

Vanilla Cake

  • 1/2 C butter, room temp
  • 1 C sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temp
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla bean paste
  • 233 grams cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 C buttermilk, well shaken

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder & salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar, then add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Alternately add dry ingredients and buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry. Pour into prepared 9″ x 13″ pan. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out of cake-center clean. Cool completely before frosting & adding the berries.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8-ounces cream cheese, room temp
  • 1/2 C butter, room temp
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla bean paste
  • 2 1/3 C powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese and butter together until they are fully incorporated and fluffy. Add powdered sugar 1 C at a time. (if you want it a bit more sweet & stiff, you can use 3 C powdered sugar instead)

RECIPE NOTES:

I’ve never figured out how to best measure flour when accuracy really counts. Scoop & level a measuring cup? Pour into a larger measure cup and wiggle the cup on the table to level the flour? Each method gives enough of a different quantity to potentially make a difference in a recipe. Which to choose?! This is why I adore recipes that give me flour as a weight. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, GO! BUY! They aren’t expensive and you can even get ones that will do tare weights and flip between American and metric measures.

If you don’t have cake flour, don’t fret. Head over to the original recipe for the hack on how much regular flour & corn starch to use instead.

For cakes where the vanilla is to shine, I like vanilla bean paste. Strictly speaking it’s not necessary. Sub in pure vanilla extract if you don’t have the paste.

currant affairs: sunberry juice

July 1, 2012

Another enduring taste of my childhood showed up yesterday. Black currants, flanked by their more photogenic siblings, red, pink & white, arrived at the Fulton Farmers Market with Mary Dirty Face Farm. Last year I was already weighed down with an abundance of produce to deal with when I spotted them. I ooohed and aaahhhhed, deliberated, tried to figure out if I had time to process them in addition to everything else, took photos, and then… just when I had decided life is short, seize the currant(s). They were sold out. So much for mom’s black currant jam.

This year, when I heard it was currant weekend at Fulton, I planned accordingly. Rhubarb was dealt with in advance. I got to the market early, scoped out the available supply, and waited a polite interval (you know, to give anyone else who wanted some a chance), and then pounced on them. 6 quarts of black currants (plus a quart of pink ones & 2 quarts of gooseberries) and 2 little black currant plants were mine before the market had been open an hour.

I fully intended on making mom’s jam. I still may… if there are more black currants next week. While I was patiently waiting my turn, Anton was asked what one does with black currants. “Jam, pie, juice,” he said.

Juice?!

Given how much we love homemade juices, I was intrigued. When questioned, he described a process similar to mom’s rhubarb juice formula: After the berries are stemmed and rinsed, put them in a pot and add just enough water to a pot full of berries so that you can see the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or so. Strain through a sieve and add a bit of sugar to the resulting juice concentrate. And by “a bit” of sugar, I mean measure the resulting juice, then add up to half that much sugar (so for 2 cups of unsweetened, juice feel your way up to 1 cup of sugar). I added mom’s final step of bringing the sweetened juice back to a boil, but if you don’t make much, and are drinking it right away, it may not be necessary. After it’s cooled down, dilute to taste  (sparkling water works amazingly well), add ice & enjoy!

As it turns out, the whole “after the berries are stemmed” part was a bit of a backbreaking ordeal. They are sticky little buggers with tiny stems a plenty. It was worth it though. In this weekend’s 100 degree heat, black currant juice was a welcome refreshment. As a bonus, I heard from mom after I posted a picture of my beet-red, berry-juice-stained hands on facebook. Apparently, back in the day, black currant juice concentrate was so well thought of that it was prescribed to my grandmother when she started having trouble with her liver. Mom also reminded me that in Danish, black currants are call “solbær” or sunberries. I rather like that.

rhubarb curd shortbread

June 29, 2012

Last weekend, we came home with rhubarb, sweet onions, dill, eggs, rhubarb, baby beets, kale and more rhubarb.

More Rhubarb?!

Yes. More!

What can I say? It’s the tail end of a particularly bleak rhubarb season and I’m finding myself hoarding. I still have at least 5 recipes on my new rhubarb tastes-to-try list for this season. They won’t all make the cut, however. (don’t worry rhubarb prosecco jelly, you are on the short list. Everyone else may lose out to our need to restock the liquor cabinet with rhubarb cordial). As for the current batch of ruby goodness… I started in on another batch of juice yesterday after discovering the bliss of rhubarb curd (more on that in a minute). Special thanks goes out to my mom, again, for that juice recipe. Not only is it the most enduring taste of my childhood come to life (no kool-aid for us), but I love that the sugar is added AFTER cooking the rhubarb. I have seen countless variations on the rhubarb juice concentrate theme, but they all begin with cooking down the rhubarb with a set amount of sugar. That her recipe accounts for the differences in sweet factor you get across varieties, as well as whatever random quantities of rhubarb you have on any given day, is just genius.

Now what’s that I said about rhubarb curd? Imagine lemon curd (not cheese curbs), but have rhubarb bring the tart. I’m not a huge lemon curd fan, but I just couldn’t resist a recipe that paired a flaky scotch-type shortbread with a tangy rhubarb topping. If you have any rhubarb left at all, I imPLORE you: Make. The. Rhubarb. Curd. Double boilers and talk of tempering eggs may be scary, but I swear it isn’t. Though I’ve watched mom make this sort of thing countless times, it was a first for me. It must be a forgiving recipe because I played fast and loose with technique and it turned out great.

More importantly, it was off the charts on the deliciousness sclae. If not for the fact that I’d been baking while EJ was away and wouldn’t have had time to clean the evidence dirty pans I’d created, I would have eaten that entire bowl of rhubarb curd with a spoon. As it was, I may or may not have tried to lick the sieve. (What?! I dare you to let a drop of it get rinsed down the drain go to waste)

A note about baking pans… The recipe calls for an 8″ square pan. Now, we have more than our fair share of bakeware. And yet… Not a single 8″ square pan to be found in the house. Given that our poor kitchen cabinets can’t possibly hold one more pan, I was determined to figure out a solution that didn’t have me trekking down the street to Cooks of Crocus Hill. again.

Enter a workhorse 9″ springform pan accompanied by a formal, blanket apology to all of my many math teachers. You’re right. I totally use math. Almost every day in fact. And it was super helpful to know how to compare the area in the 8″ square vs a 9″ round. (in case anyone is dying to know: for the circle, area =  pi * radius squared = 3.14 * 4.5² = 63.585. for the square, area = 8² = 64. Close enough in my book to sub in that 9″ springform pan for the nonexistent 8″ square.

recipe after the jump…

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Pâté at home. An old recipe becomes possible again.

June 25, 2012

I’d like to give a warning to the squeamish, the vegetarians and particularly the squeamish vegetarians. This recipe is about pork liver and fat and the glorious gallimaufry that is created when put through a grinder a few times with onions, seasoned just so, blended with a cute blonde named roux and baked in a hot water bath. Sounds like a spa treatment… But with bacon.

First, a brief history. I was kind of a finicky eater as a child. Though, to be honest, even kids that are not-so-finicky have trouble with liver and onions. No doubt the very thought gave rise to a fair number of adult vegetarians. However, being the son a Danish immigrant mother, I would be fed things that only had names in Danish. And, being introduced to these foodstuffs at an early age meant that I had trouble pronouncing them. So, leverpostej (liver pate or paste in english) turned into “moo-steh-stigh” off the tongue of a toddler (no liver in THAT). That pronunciation stuck until about my second trip to Denmark where the relatives taught me the correct pronunciation long after it became my favorite Danish dish and I didn’t care what it was made of. I just only ever wanted more.

For the uninitiated, Danes love food and to make things pretty (as well as functional). When the two collide you have artwork that is delicious. Hence, the open-faced sandwich. The polar opposite of, say, a pannini, the Danish sandwich is a beautiful, delicate arrangement of flavors and textures atop, more often than not, a square piece of buttered pumpernickel bread — a dark, sour, dense rye, and eaten with a knife and fork. (Danes even butter their bread on a separate plate!) Generously spread leverpostej topped usually with pickled beets is the most popular cold-cut sandwich in Denmark.

Given the process it takes to make from scratch as well as its scarcity in the U.S., I usually waited for the two or three times a year it was purchased at the specialty Scandinavian shop. These were usually fine. But they weren’t the ones I remembered as a boy. The handmade (yes, handmade as grinders were manual back then) versions were far superior. But our society made buying quality liver and fat much more difficult with the preference for industrial hog farms and supermarkets unable (or unwilling or both) to accommodate custom purchasing. And, let’s face it, the quality of our food in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s suffered as a result.

Fast forward to the 2010s and we are seeing the fruits of a food revolution that began a decade ago. Food is important again. And, most importantly, the quality of our food is. More and more consumers now care about where their food comes from and are taking matters into the own hands and are dealing directly with the producers. We have a long way to go, but important strides are being made. The growth of farmers markets, the rise of Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and the small-scale organic or otherwise sustainable farms that supply them are feeding not only our bodies but our minds and souls.

The following recipe is illustrative of that. Pork liver and fat from sustainably and responsibly raised pigs from Sunshine Harvest Farm and onions from what could have been any number of small farmers you can find at the Kingfield or Fulton farmers markets in Minneapolis. There are over 7000 farmers markets in the U.S. now. Go find one near you. It matters.

Recipe after jump.

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