Sunday, August 16, 2009

Everybody Loves a Makeover

Hello dwindling readership!
After a month of vacation (thank you, Norway) and a little extra time for some self examination, I have decided that I would like to do a whole bunch of stuff differently on this blog. First of all, I'd like to categorize the recipes so that both you and I can find recipes we like easily. I am very tired of digging through old posts to find that damned carrot cake recipe. Secondly, I'd like to write better. That has nothing to do with the blog itself and all to do with me. Procrastination being my middle name, I am taking a lot more time than necessary for this. Lastly, I want to make it super pretty. I'm still working on that last one. That said, keep an eye out for an announcement of the new site. Thanks for staying loyal (mom and Dora!).


Here's a picture of the lovely LA sunset taken from my parents' backyard. It's a non-sequitur.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Out of Office Reply

Thanks for taking the time to check on my blog! I will be on holiday until the 10th of July with limited access to the internet. Until then, I will be eating Swedish meatballs (from Sweden, thank you...and no, not from Ikea), taking cover from malicious sea birds in Helsinki's open air market, freezing my tail off in St. Petersburg, and shopping in Copenhagen. I will post stories and pictures of my adventures when I return. Have a happy 4th!

Best regards,

Thursday, June 18, 2009


As a traveling consultant, I had a pretty sweet life. Life, and meals, on an expense account was pretty rad. Yes, rad. I got to have really great steak in Dallas, fantastically fresh produce and local cuisine in Corvallis (Oregon), great wine in Sacramento (close to Napa), and really badass flatbread in Orlando. Orlando, which is mostly known for being one giant tourist trap with tourist trap food, had some food gems if you scratched the surface and dug a little deeper.

A couple of my favorite restaurants in my entire traveling consultant career were in Orlando. There was Press 101 that had 8 or 9 daily soups, creative sandwiches, and a wide selection of salads. I loved this place. In addition to their soups, they had several flatbreads with creative toppings like shredded duck and caramelized onion, vegetable and cheese, and so many others that I unfortunately cannot remember. Another Orlando hotspot was Seasons 52. Their flatbread was actually better than Press's (though Press 101's soups and casual atmosphere brought me back to their establishment more often). Season 52's focus was on fresh and seasonably available produce that drove the items on their menu. One of the things they were well known for were their flatbreads. They had solid toppings such as vine-ripened tomatoes with basil and parmiggiano reggiano or roasted shrimp and herbs on a cracker thin flatbread. Oh man I miss those days.

Since it is technically summer and about this time a couple of years ago, I was enjoying a glass of wine on the outdoor patio of either Press 101 or Season's 52 with a slice of flatbread, I made some flatbread of my own at home. It's raining today so there will be no sitting on a sunny and hot patio with a glass of wine but I can try and replicate the food at the very least.

I made 2 flatbreads tonight for dinner: caramelized onion and goat cheese and a yellow zucchini with parmesan. The dough I used was thicker than the crisp crackers we had Florida. It was a refrigerated pizza dough. Do you gasp at me? Well, I'm kind of afraid of making bread and I really hate kneading and letting the dough rise so for a Thursday night, I went with the refrigerated dough from the store. Sue me. You can make your own pizza dough or you can roll out your favorite dough purchased from the store or a local pizzeria. Or you can buy the one that is already made AND rolled if it's a weekday night. The toppings are the true star anyway.

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Flatbread
2 onions, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tsp sugar
3 tbs goat cheese
pizza dough - if you decide to roll your own pizza dough, roll the pizza dough into a 10 inch by 12 inch rectangle and it should be about 1/8 inch thick.

Preheat the oven to 390 degrees F, 200 degrees C. Line a tray cookie sheet with foil and lightly grease the foil. Set aside.

In a saute pan, melt the butter and olive oil together at medium heat. Add the onion slices and saute, stirring occasionally. Add the salt, pepper, and thyme and stir until the onions start to sizzle. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let the onions cook down and caramelize, stirring frequently. The process is a bit slow but after about 15 to 20 minutes the onions will be soft and deep brown. When it reaches that point, add the sugar, saute for another 5 minutes then turn the heat off and let the onions cool.

To assemble the flatbread, lay the prepared and rolled pizza dough (however you see fit to do so) on the greased and foil lined cookie sheet. Take a fork and lightly poke holes throughout the dough. Spread the caramelized onions over the dough leaving a one inch border. Break up the goat cheese into little chunks (sounds pretty, eh?) and spread it evenly around the caramelized onions. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the dough is golden brown.

Remove from the oven, cut with a pizza cutter or knife and serve!

Zucchini and Herb Flatbread
1/2 zucchini, golden or green, cut into very thin rounds. I tried to get them about 1/16th of an inch if possible but it's not rocket science. Just make sure they're even and thin.
1/2 tsp dried oregano - if you can find fresh use fresh, you can use about 1 tsp.
2 tbs grated parmesan, divided
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
pizza dough - if you decide to roll your own pizza dough, roll the pizza dough into a 10 inch by 12 inch rectangle and it should be about 1/8 inch thick.

Preheat the oven to 390 degrees F, 200 degrees C. Line a tray cookie sheet with foil and lightly grease the foil. Set aside.

To assemble the flatbrad, lay the pizza dough on the prepared cookie sheet and poke holes into it with a fork. To the dough, drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil and spread it around the dough with a pastry brush. Layer the zucchini slices onto the dough, overlapping half of the zucchini slice with another. Drizzle another teaspoon of olive oil over the zucchini slices and distribute it evenly with a pastry brush. Sprinkle the oregano over the zucchini, season the slices with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan over the vegetables.

Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the dough is golden brown. When it is done, remove the flatbread from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan, slice and serve.

Crikey, that was a long post! The end.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Life Is Just a Chair of Bowlies

Does anyone remember that Mary Engelbreit book? This dessert reminds me of that book - light, simple, and cheerful. For the last couple of weeks I've seen and heard so much about these French clafoutis that I decided to give it a try. Cherries are in season (and imported from the US if that isn't irony kicking me in the pants) and available at most of the markets and in little fruit stands around the city. The rest of the recipe calls for pantry basics so I was able to put it together with great ease.

What is a clafoutis? To be honest, before I made the dessert I had no idea. I knew it had cherries usually but that's it. It turns out that a clafoutis is a mix between a custard and a souffle. The texture is dense and slightly mushy so it may not be popular with everyone. The top gets a little caramelized and is my favorite part as the cherries float to the top. Usually, the clafoutis is topped with some créme fraîche or whipped cream. I made a lightly whipped cream to go on ours. The recipe was great but I made a few adjustments. I reduced the sugar by 1/4 and it was still plenty sweet. I also reduced the amount of almond extract as I didn't want it to be overpowering. Traditionally, the cherry pits are left in the clafoutis. From what I hear, the pits when cooked with the cherries let out an intense almond flavor that really enhances the depth of the dish. However, Boyfriend tends to eat very fast and the last thing we need is yet another trip to the dentist to replace a broken tooth. So, I pitted mine but I am very curious to try it with the pits in.

Before I get on with the recipe, I have to say that pitting cherries without a pitter is a major pain in my behind. Also, it's not very productive. I have no control when it comes to cherries so for every couple of cherries I pitted, I treated myself to one. The process was slow and I ran the risk of eating all the cherries fresh. But if you have a pitter, you have some element of self control, and you like desserts of a different texture the cherry clafoutis is for you.

Cherry Clafoutis
Recipe adapted from Garrett McCord

2 cups of fresh sweet cherries, pitted
2 tablespoons of slivered almonds
3 eggs
3/4 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour, sifted
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of whole milk
2 teaspoons of Amaretto -or- 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, 175 degrees C. Lightly butter and flour a 9X9 or 10X7 baking dish. Toss in the cherries and slivered almonds and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, flour, sugars, and salt until smooth. Add the milk, almond and vanilla extracts and whisk again until smooth. Pour the batter over the cherries and the almonds and bake in the oven for about 40 - 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Mine took a little longer to reach that point - around 55 minutes. The clafoutis will be slightly jiggly and that's normal. The clafoutis will deflate as it cools.

Let the clafoutis cool until lukewarm and serve with some créme fraîche or whipped cream. I whipped 1/4 cup of whipping cream with 1 tbs of powdered sugar and 1/4 tsp of almond extract until very soft peaks formed.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Summertime Means Salad Time

Well for most places in the world. In the Soviet Oslo, the selection of produce doesn't change too much. Just because I can't fully enjoy the summer bounty like the rest of the civilized world doesn't mean that I'm not going to try. I've made several salads this spring and all have come out really tasty. I like to mix a lot of colors, textures, and flavors in a bowl and dress it simply with a homemade vinaigrette.

A couple of nights ago, I made a salad with strawberries, caramlized prosciutto and almonds in a balsamic vinaigrette. I had intended to make the roasted fennel and caramelized prosciutto salad I made a few weeks ago but all of the fennel I found in the three different stores I tried were mummified beyond recognition. At the last store, I realized we had a few strawberries in the fridge that were going to be past their prime in a few days so what better way to use them up? The result was a sweet, tangy, and salty salad that had a lot of texture. Since it's summertime for the rest of you in the world, go out there and make your own crazy salad combinations. Do it for me.

Strawberry and Caramelized Prosciutto Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Serves 2

1 bag of your favorite prewashed salad mix OR 6 cups of washed, trimmed salad greens
5 slices of prosciutto
6 strawberries, sliced
2 tbs sliced almonds or toasted pine nuts
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Simple Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, 190 degrees C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Lay the slices of prosciutto flat onto the prepared baking sheet taking care not to let them overlap. Evenly distribute the brown sugar over the prosciutto slices. I like to just use my hands and sprinkle the sugar over the meat slices. Place the baking sheet in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the brown sugar is melted and bubling and the prosciutto looks crisp and slightly shrunken. Take care not to let it burn as the sugar burns very easily.

While the prosciutto is baking, add the salad greens, strawberry slices, nuts, and red onion slices to a salad bowl.

Make the dressing by whisking the vinegar, salt, pepper and honey in a bowl. Whisk until well combined and the salt is dissolved. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a steady stream while whisking the dressing. Whisk the dressing until it is emulsified and thickened. Set aside.

When the prosciutto is done, take the tray out of the oven and let the prosciutto cool. It is ready when the sugar has hardenened and the prosciutto is cool enough to handle. Crumble the prosciutto slices into the salad bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Our New Baby

Boyfriend and I would like to announce the newest addition to our kitchen. We recently purchased a Nespresso coffee machine. This little machine uses individual “bullets” of coffee to make your perfect cup every time. Ours is the simple version so we only have the option of espresso or the “lungho” which has more water. The Europeans might even go as far as to suggest it’s the American version that is big and weak. I know the French would. I’ve seen fancier machines that have a small container for milk so that you can steam milk and add it to the espresso to create your own cappuccinos, lattes, and macchiatos. Some other machines have a spout for tea. These people do not mess around with their caffeine intake!
The coffee itself comes in small, bullet shaped, sealed containers and is very finely ground. The coffee bullets come in a multitude of colors, each one indicating a different kind of bean and a different kind of coffee. Some are made specifically for espresso while others are meant for lunghi. Our favorites, being the weak-coffee preferring Americans that we are, are the golden yellow lungho bullets. The coffee is full flavored but not very acidic or bitter. It’s a middle-of-the-road coffee that goes great with breakfast.

The machine punctures the bullet, and runs hot water through the coffee for your perfect cup of joe. The machine is also smart enough to save your desired amount of water so that the next time you make the coffee, there is no need to hold down the button for more water if you so choose. It knows your setting. The only drawback is that it takes a couple of minutes to heat up the water and if you’re in a rush or going through caffeine withdrawal, those couple of minutes can feel like an eternity. However, if you weigh that against the time it takes to wash the pot, fill it with water, make the coffee and clean the pot again, you come out way ahead.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Beware - Healthy Post

Boyfriend and I have been less than healthy lately. We're working on it, though. We go for walks, we play the Wii, I plan to start running again (sometime) and I intend to buy some light weights for something to do while watching tv. In order to not let all our "hard work" go to waste, I have been trying to make more healthy, portion controlled dinners...and what's more healthy than salmon?
We had some Norwegian salmon in the refrigerator and I wanted to prepare it in a way that used little oil and was still flavorful and moist. I found a recipe for steaming the salmon in foil packets that looked very simple and used some pantry staples. It's super simple - you season the fish with salt and pepper, lay some capers and lemon slices on the fish and add some lemon juice and white wine to the foil packet. The fish steams inside the foil for about 10 minutes and comes out moist, flavorful, and super healthy. We had ours with some roasted potatoes and sautéed asparagus. You know how sometimes you eat a massive piece of cake, or half a giant sized bag of potato chips, or 2 ramen noodle packages at once (sometimes I crave salt! What of it?)...and it feels so good? Conversely, when you eat a meal that you know is very healthy and full of all the vitamins, nutrients, and essential oils that you know are good for you it feels so satisfying. That's what this meal felt like. More than how it tasted, what I remember is just feeling so good after eating it. I didn't feel snacky, wasn't craving a dessert, nor was I sluggish or sleepy. I just felt good. The next time you're in the mood to feel good, try this fast, easy and very satisfying meal.

Salmon Packets
Serves 4
Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentis

4 6 oz. salmon filets
8 lemon slices
4 tsp lemon juice
8 tbs white wine
4 tsp capers, drained
olive oil
salt and pepper

Lightly drizzle each salmon filet with a little bit of olive oil. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Place each filet onto a piece of foil big enough to fold over and seal. To the packet, add 1 tsp of lemon juice, 2 tbs white wine, 1 tsp of capers, and top the salmon with 2 slices of lemon. Fold the foil over and tightly wrap the package. Repeat for the remaining salmon filets.

Heat a grill pan or an outdoor grill to medium heat. Pleace each packet on the grill pan. Cook the fish atop the pan for 10 minutes for each inch of fish. Our fish was slightly thicker than 1 inch so I cooked it for almost 20 minutes and it was slightly overdone. If your fish is thicker than 1 inch, cook it for about 12 to 15 minutes.
You can serve the fish right out of the foil packet but I put it atop the sautéed asparagus and drizzled a little bit of the juice from the foil packet on top.

Monday, June 1, 2009

2 Ways to Dress Up a Tarty Strawberry

I really do not like strawberries. I know, right? I'm as perplexed as you are. I want to like them, I really do. They are small, beautifully red, juicy and they smell so damned good. They are SO enticing sitting in their little cartons in the market and they tempt me with their fresh scent. Each time, I get roped into buying a carton and then I get so disappointed when I find they are tart and did not live up to the potential of their vibrant red color. They are such a tease! I do like strawberry jam, strawberry ice cream, strawberry sorbet, and macerated strawberries. I like strawberries as long as there's something else there to cut their natural tartness.

My cousin Lora and her friend Heather put on GREAT brunch buffets. They do such an awesome job they have been asked to cater many events. They always make elegant little finger foods and my favorite is their bowl of fresh strawberries. Wait - there's more. Next to the large bowl of beautiful, whole, tart strawberries is a bowl of sour cream and next to that a bowl of brown sugar. You dip each strawberry in the sour cream and then into the brown sugar. The sugar and the creaminess of the sour cream cut the tartiness of the strawberries and makes for the most perfect, fat and sugar laden bite. And it's really pretty, to boot.

I bought a carton of strawberries for some strawberry-lovin' guests who are visiting but they did not get eaten in time. I took inspiration from Lora and Heather and made a dip for the strawberries. While it didn't have the crunch from the brown sugar, the flavor was all there and we ate up the majority of the strawberries. With the remaining strawberries, I made a filled French toast this morning for breakfast. The French toast was mildly sweet, had just the tiniest hint of sour from the strawberries and lovely texture from the bread. Both these recipes were a good use of tart strawberries in case you end up buying a box of duds or if you're like me and you just don't like strawberries in that way. And by "that way," I mean naked.

Strawberries and Brown Sugar Dip
Serves 2

1 pint of fresh strawberries, cleaned
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tbs brown sugar
Mix the sour cream and the brown sugar. Let the mixture sit in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Take the mixture out and stir to mix in the dissolved sugar. Serve with the bowl of strawberries for dipping.

Strawberry and White Chocolate Stuffed French Toast
Serves 2

4 slices of bread
2 tbs white chocolate chips
4 strawberries, cut into thin slices
2 strawberries for garnish
1 egg
1/3 cup skim milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Place half of the strawberry slices on one slice of bread. Spread 1 tablespoon of white chocolate chips over the strawberries and cover with a second slice of bread to make a sandwich. Repeat for the remaining slices of bread. Set aside.

Whisk together the egg, milk and vanilla. Heat 1 tsp of cooking oil or butter in a skillet to medium heat. Dip each sandwich, on both sides, into the egg and milk mixture. Transfer the sandwich to the hot skillet. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until the side is golden brown. Flip and do the same for the other side.
Cut the garnish strawberries into thin slices, taking care not to cut all the way to the top. Fan out each strawberry over the French toast.

This dish is very mildly sweet. For us, it was just sweet enough but if you have a sweet tooth, you can dust it with powdered sugar or drizzle some maple syrup or honey ver the top.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

After Work Drinks with the Girls

I have to admit, I've been doing this a lot lately. And we always seem to end up at the same place - Champagneria in Frogner. Any place in Oslo has to be good to warrant a repeat performance due to the extraordinarily high prices. This place is so good and it warranted 2 trips in one week. So far, I have been there 3 times and I have not been disappointed.

I am told that this small bar and tapas restaurant has made a complete turnaround from the year before. The drinks were acceptable but I hear the food was not terribly good. None of that is reflected now. After fighting down a lawsuit calling for the change of their name (they don't serve much real champagne) they turned their menu and ingredients around. Today, they have a large bar menu of various types of red and white wines, sparkling wines and champagne, old fashioned and new fashioned cocktails. Their food is made from high quality ingredients and is well executed.

In the times that I have been, I have tried several of their drinks. The first time, we all split a bottle of Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine. It was a bit dry, crisp and was lovely with our food. The next time I went, it was after a long day at work so I treated myself to a Dry Martini. It was good, though not great. This last time I went, I had a Whiskey Sour, and it was sour! Sadly, I tasted little of the whiskey. I am intrigued by their list of old fashioned cocktails such as the Sidecar, Old Fashioned, and Gimlet. I am not certain they are made in the same way as the states since I've never had those cocktails before but I am definitely curious to try them.

So my review of the drinks is fairly lukewarm and you're probably wondering why I bother to go back so often. I go back for the food. The tapas they have aren't traditional Spanish tapas, but more of a collection of small plates to be shared in the style and fashion of tapas. They are extraordinary. My favorite, by far, is the cooked chevré. It is a generous round of goat cheese that I think is sandwiched between 2 very thing slices of bread, or bread crumbs, and lightly pan fried resulting in a creamy cheese with what looks like a thin crust on both sides. The final result is then drizzled with a generous amount of good honey. It is nothing short of delicious. If only I could get my hands on that recipe....but then again, I don't need additional incentive to cook more goat cheese at home. Another favorite is their lamb filet. They use Norwegian lamb and cut thin slices, season it, and lightly pan saute the lamb until it is just medium. They serve it with a red wine reduction, though in my humble opinion, the lamb is good enough to stand alone. It was tender, juicy and perfectly seasoned. Another staple at our drinking table is their bread and aioli. Though the seasoning of the aioli changes each time we go, their bread is always lovely (and helps to soak up the booze). Their menu also features some traditional Spanish tapas: slices of manchego cheese, marinated olives, chorizo, patatas bravas and tortilla. I am excited to try them all. The quality of the dishes now show no trace of the past problems they have experienced with their food service.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

White Chocolate Cheesecake with Raspberries

The Italian Rabblerowser and her boyfriend, Christian, invited Boyfriend and I over for dinner. Since they were making us a fantastic (and what looked like elaborate) meal, I offered to make dessert. On a side note not related to the cheesecake, dinner was fabulous. Boyfriend and I both agreed that the dinner was far better than most that we've eaten in Oslo. We started out with a fresh caprese salad eaten as a finger food atop a crostini. We followed that up with a beautifully executed scallop risotto that was finished with basil cream. The risotto was lightly and delicately flavored with little bits of scallops inside. It was elegantly presented with a nicely sauteed half scallop on top and a single basil leaf. So pretty! The main course was a filet of salmon that had been cooked very simply with salt and butter. Christian cooked the salmon so it was just rare. He also made a sauce out of a shallot, white wine and vinegar reduction that had been emulsified with butter. The pan sauteed salmon was served with gratineéd asparagus and roasted potatoes. Dinner was so delicious and elegant! I'd be happy to make dessert for a dinner at their house any day.

I know that The Italian Rabblerowser loves white chocolate so I decided to make a white chocolate cheesecake inspired from my favorite cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory. For this version, I made an Oreo cookie crust, put some fresh raspberries on the crust and baked the cheesecake batter on top of the raspberries. The result was a very moist cheesecake that I think hit all the right flavors. The crust had a sweet, almost bitter taste from the dark chocolate of the Oreos. The cheesecake was mildly sweet but you could still taste the white chocolate. My favorite was the addition of the raspberries. I love berries and white chocolate together because the tartness of the berries help to cut the very obvious sweetness of the white chocolate and provides a nice balance of flavor.
When preparing this cheesecake, I took a few departures from the original recipe. I lightened up the cheesecake quite a bit since I don't like very thick and dense cheesecake. I actually made 2 cheesecakes - 1 for dinner and a small, mini cheesecake for Boyfriend. I use this cheesecake to test some hypotheses so this recipe reflects the lessons that I learned. In a succinct list, what I learned is:
  • The mix of light and full fat creamed cheese plus the sour cream made for a lighter and fluffier cheesecake which is exactly what I hoped for.
  • The raspberries will be quite juicy and can sog up the crust so baking the crust before putting the batter and berries on it will help keep the integrity of the crust.
  • This recipe is a pain if you do not use a stand mixer or if you don't have 4 arms.
  • The cheesecake is quite dense so it takes YEARS to completely cool. Prepare yourself.
  • The cheesecake tastes best if it is allowed to rest and set overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Raspberries + white chocolate = divine.
White Chocolate and Raspberry Cheesecake
Recipe inspired from Santacafe

Oreo Cookie Crust
1 1/2 cups very finely ground or crushed chocolate wafer cookies (I used Oreos with the frosting removed. Special thanks to Boyfriend for shucking the Oreos for me)
1/4 cup melted butter
White Chocolate Cheesecake
400 grams low fat cream cheese (14 oz)
400 grams regular cream cheese (14 oz)
½ cup sour cream (about 50 grams)
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tbs flour
1/2 cup + 2 tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla
225 grams white chocolate (8 oz), chopped
1 cup raspberries, washed and dried

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, 175 degrees C.

Mix the ground Oreos with the melted butter well. Spread the cookie mix onto a 10 inch springform pan, patting the cookies down to form a thin crust on the bottom. Also try and work the cookie mix up the sides of the pan, if possible half way up the sides. This, I found to be really hard to do. I think it will help if all the cookies were very finely ground but mostly, I think it will just take some patience and perserverence to make sure the cookie crust is even, goes up the sides of the pan, and is pressed firmly together. Just keep pressing it all together and you will eventually get there.

Bake the crust in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the crust looks set and crisp. Take it out of the oven and let cool to room temperature. While the crust is baking, fill a pot with 1 inch of water and bring it to a very light simmer. Set a bowl on top of the pot, ensuring the bottom of the bowl does not touch the simmering water. Put the white chocolate into the double boiler and let it gently melt, stirring with a wooden spoon. Once it is completely melted, remove the bowl from heat and set aside to cool.

1. While the crust is cooling, make the filling. Mix the cream cheese and the sour cream with a hand mixer until well blended and fluffy.

2. To the cream cheese, add the sugar and blend again until well mixed.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, blending at low speed. Stop after each egg and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure all of the contents get incorporated.

4. After the eggs have been incorporated, beat in the flour and the vanilla at low speed until just mixed.

5. Add the cooled white chocolate in a slow stream while blending the mix. This was actually a huge pain in the ass especially since I don't have a Kitchenaid. If you have a stand mixer, I suggest you use it for this reason alone. Beat the batter until it is well combined.

6. To the cooled crust, spread the raspberries out onto one single layer. Pour the batter on top of the raspberries and bake for 50 minutes.

Check the batter at the 40 minute mark. You want to take the cheesecake out of the oven when it is only partly set, about 3 inches away from the rim of the cake. The middle will still be jiggly and that's ok! If you bake it all the way through, you run the risk of a cracked cheesecake. The cheesecake will continue to cook and set outside of the oven.

Once the cheesecake is removed from the oven, run a very thin knife around the edge of the cake. Let the cheesecake cool at room temperature in the pan and on a rack. Once cooled (and this will take several hours, no joke) unlock the springform pan and gently remove the pan. Let the cheesecake sit, covered, in the refrigerator overnight. You can serve it garnished with fresh raspberries, raspberry coulis or a lovely sprig of mint.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Where Have I Been?

That is a very good question and the answer is: "Out" I have been very socially engaged all week. Look, Ma! I've got friends! Since I have been out and about around town, I haven't been home to make food. Poor boyfriend has been living off of lomper and smoked salmon while I have been living it up, mostly at Champangeria in Frogner. Lucky me! Review forthcoming - and I promise, this one will be good.

Despite the full dance card, I did manage to make dinner once this week. Last night, I made a pretty healthy dinner. We had pork meatballs, or albondigas as they are called in Spanish, with a tomato sauce over rice. I had actually made the meatballs several weeks ago and froze them in anticipation of the day I would not have any fresh ingredients in my refrigerator and didn't feel like going outside to buy any. That day came yesterday. I did have a red onion, garlic and some scallions in the fridge. Those make up the only fresh ingredients I used. Everything else was frozen or a pantry staple like canned tomatoes and rice.

The meatballs, while maybe not 100% authentic, were really tasty. I used the same flavor profile of the Mexican food I grew up with: onions, cilantro (coriander), garlic, and jalapeño. In addition to these flavors, I ground a couple of strips of bacon and added that to the mix. The result was a very tender and moist meatball that had a hint of smokiness from the bacon, freshness from the cilantro, and a hit of heat from the jalapeño. I baked the meatballs until they were browned and I spooned the tomato sauce on top. It was lovely with the rice and very satisfying. The meatballs will be good in the freezer for 4 to 6 weeks and if you're using them frozen, it will take a little longer to cook in the oven. For the busy girl who can't always be at home to cook everything from scratch, the freezer is her best friend.

Pork Albondigas

Makes about 20 meatballs
¾ lb ground pork (can also sub out chicken or turkey)
2 strips of bacon, minced – I minced mine in the food processor
Half yellow onion, minced
1 jalapeño, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
½ cup minced cilantro/coriander
2 tbs tomato paste
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp fresh ground pepper
¾ cup fresh bread crumbs (if you don't have fresh, you can use dried)
1 egg

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl using your hands. It's the best way to get them really mixed well. Using a tablespoon, or a small ice cream scoop, scoop out rounded tablespoonfuls and roll it into a ball.

If freezing: Place a sheet of wax paper on a plate. Place each meatball on the plate ensuring they do not touch. Let the meatballs freeze for several hours, best overnight. When completely frozen, place the meatballs into a freezer-proof plastic baggie (I like Ziplock). Keep for up to 6 weeks.

If using immediately, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, 200 degrees C. Place a sheet of foil over a baking sheet. Place each meatball on the baking sheet spacing them about an inch apart. Bake for about 16-18 minutes until the meatball is golden brown. You can also turn them over halfway through baking to ensure an even browning. I also cut into one to make sure they are done in the middle (especially when they start out frozen).

If you are baking frozen meatballs, bake for about 20 - 25 minutes.
If you choose to make the tomato sauce to accompany the meatballs, I suggest you start the sauce first so that the sauce has time to simmer and let the flavors concentrate.

Tomato Sauce
1 can of diced tomatoes with juice
1 tbs tomato paste
1/2 red onion (or any onion), diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 scallions, diced
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt + more to taste
1/4 tsp pepper + more to taste
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chicken stock (water also works just fine).
In a medium saucepan, heat about 1.5 tbs olive oil and saute the onion and red pepper flakes at medium heat. Saute for a couple of minutes and add the garlic and saute until the onions and garlic are soft and fragrant. Season the onions and garlic with a pinch of salt and pepper. To the sauteed onions and garlic, add the tablespoon of tomato paste and saute for another minute. I do this to caramelize the tomato paste and further concentrate the flavor and sweetness. To the pan, add the can of tomatoes, chicken stock, cumin, scallions, salt, pepper and sugar and stir well. Turn the heat up to high and let the sauce come to a boil. When boiling, turn the heat down to low and let the sauce simmer for at least 30 minutes. It can simmer gently for longer - perhaps the time it takes to make the meatballs?

The sauce will reduce quite a bit and be thick and chunky. Test the sauce for seasoning and adjust the salt, pepper, and sugar. Spoon the sauce over the cooked meatballs and rice.

Sorry for the mangled picture - I was really hungry. Also, the meatballs are hiding under the sauce.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hos Thea - A Review

So did you know that Michelin has an iphone app? This app tells you of the Michelin visited and rated restaurants all over Europe and you can provide ratings and feedback on the restaurant. It's really a cool little app. Since Boyfriend has put it on his iphone, he's gotten the idea that we should try all of the restaurants and write our own reviews. It's no wonder I love this man!

Today, we tried a restaurant in our own backyard. We went to a small, homey restaurant called Hos Thea. It is located on Drammensveien in the Skillebekk area. The restaurant is very small but beautifully and tastefully decorated with white walls, tables, chairs and spare wall decorations. The waitstaff was polite and attentive and made us feel very welcomed. It 's a nice departure from the usual wait-service around Norway.

The food was ok. It was actually fairly average and unfortunately, not very remarkable. And we had such high hopes! We both started with the shrimp "ravioli" with a lemongrass and cilantro scented sauce. The ravioli were really won-tons stuffed with chopped shrimp and herbs. The sauce was very rich but was a very nice complement to the crisp and tangy flavors of the lemongrass and the cilantro. For dinner, I had a lamb filet in a red wine and fruit reduction. It sat atop some hericot vert and was topped with a braised scallion. On the side was a small portion of gnocchi in a very rich parmesan sauce. Each component was nicely cooked: the lamb was tender and medium rare, the gnocchi were flavorful, and the vegetables were not overdone. My problem was that the dish didn't quite come together. The fruit and wine reduction was a bit too sweet for the meet and was incongruous with the heavy, creamy, parmesan flavor of the gnochhi. The braised scallion on top of the dish seemed like more of an afterthought than anything that would lend a specific flavor to the overall dish. Lastly the gnocchi, while well seasoned, was a bit dense and not as light as I would like. Boyfriend had the grilled hamachi that sat atop roasted potatoes and a basil olive oil. For me, the fish was overdone and lacking in flavor. It was very simply prepared with a brush of oil and a scant amount of salt and pepper. The potatoes were lovely. To finish our meal, we had strawberries in a mint syrup with a scoop of coconut sorbet on the side. Again, I felt that the dish was too busy and unfocused. The bowl of mint syrup and strawberries were lovely. The coconut sorbet, on its own was lovely. Together, the flavors of the coconut and the mint competed for my attention instead of working together to build the flavors.

Overall, the atmosphere of the restaurant and of dinner was lovely. We were not rushed nor did we wait excessively long for our food. The dishes, while not stellar, were ok. I feel that we need to give it another shot before making a final conclusion on the restaurant.
Meanwhile, feast your eyes on this pic of our app: shrimp ravioli with lemongrass and cilantro sauce.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dinner in the Sun

We are very fortunate to have a pretty large balcony. The balcony gets a lot of sun and is absolutely gorgeous on a sunny day. In the last party I had, the balcony was so inviting we took our glasses of wine and hung out on it, even though there was no furniture to sit on and we each had to hold onto our glasses while standing and chatting. This week, Boyfriend and I finally got our shit together and bought adult furniture for our sun-soaked patio. The furniture we bought is large, comfortable, chic, and tres adult!

To celebrate and welcome the newest addition to our apartment, we ate dinner in the warm spring sun. I made a light salad of roasted fennel, caramelized pancetta, and field greens. To go along with the salad, I used some leftover french bread to make crostini topped with brie and honey. The dinner was light, flavorful, elegant and tres adult!

However, there's always a but, isn't there? In making the salad, I followed the directions word for word and ended up with steaming, blackened crisps of overburnt pancetta. A costly mistake that was. The recipe instructed me to mix the fennel and pancetta with brown sugar and garlic with a bit of olive oil. Then it instructed me to bake the pancetta and fennel together for 20 minutes. The sugar caramelized then burnt. While it smelled good, it looked and tasted hideous. Luckily, I had a few strips of pancetta that I did not bake and I quickly tossed those into the oven to crisp. The recipe below reflects the changes I will be implementing the next time I make this salad...and I will be making this salad again very soon.

The salad itself had a lot of great flavors working for it. The pancetta that managed not to get burnt was sweet and crisp. The fennel had a sweetness of its own but it also had a cool, anise-y flavor that complemented the saltiness of the pancetta. The crostini, for me, were the star of my meal. The bread was perfectly toasted and golden brown. The brie had melted lightly over the crisp crostini and the drizzle of honey worked so well with creamy subtlety of the brie. This light dinner enjoyed in the sun and on some comfortable furniture was the perfect end to an otherwise mundane hump day.

Caramelized Pancetta and Fennel Salad
Adapted from a recipe by Giada de Laurentis
5 thin slices of pancetta,
1 bulb of fennel
1 5 0z. bag of mixed salad greens, your favorite kind. I like the ones with ruccola and a bit of radicchio for the bitter bite.
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground pepper
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F, 190 degrees C. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Arrange the racks 2 racks in your oven to the first and second third of the oven.

Wash and trim your fennel and cut it in half lengthwise. Slice each half into 1/4 inch wedges. Place the fennel into a bowl. To the bowl, add the slices of pancetta. Add the garlic, brown sugar, salt, and pepper and toss. Add the tablespoon of olive oil and toss to try and get some of the brown sugar on each piece. On one baking sheet, pick out the pancetta and lay it on the sheet so that there is no overlap. To the second baking sheet, pour the fennel and remainder of the contents of the bowl. Spread it out so that the fennel makes one single layer. Place the sheets in the oven. Bake the pancetta for about 10 minutes, or until the sugar has caramelized and the pancetta is crisp. You're going to want to watch these. Bake the fennel for an additional 10 minutes or until tender.

While the pancetta and fennel are baking, make the dress. Whisk the following ingredients together in a bowl:
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tbs lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tsp honey
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil

Pour the salad greens into a serving bowl. When the pancetta and fennel are done, let the pancetta and the fennel cool for about 3 to 5 minutes. Take the pancetta and break it up into the salad bowl. Pour the fennel into the salad bowl. Pour about half of the dressing into the salad bowl and give it a good toss. If you need more dressing, add a little bit more. Be careful not to overdress the salad. Taste the salad and adjust the seasoning.

Brie and Honey Crostini
Recipe adapted from Giada de Laurentis
10 slices of French baguette, sliced diagonally about 1/4 inch thick
10 slices of brie cheese, about 1/8 of an inch if possible.
olive oil
Keep the oven heated at 375, 190. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Place each slice of bread in a single layer on the baking sheet and drizzle each with a healthy drizzle of olive oil. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the crostini are light golden brown. When done, take the bread out and place 1 slice of cheese on each slice of bread. It should get soft and melty but if it doesn't, or doesn't get melty fast enough, you can put the baking sheet back into the oven for 2 minutes. Take the crostini out of the oven and drizzle each with a little bit of honey.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Marriage of Two Biscuits

Last year around this time, my good friend Mark got Boyfriend and I a gift certificate for Art Smith’s Restaurant, Table Fifty-Two in Chicago. Art Smith was Oprah Winfrey’s longtime personal chef and he finally opened up a restaurant of his own. The reviews for the food and the ambience of the restaurant were nothing but great. Since we were armed with the gift certificate and it was one of our last weekends in Chicago, we made a reservation and got dolled up for brunch. We couldn’t score dinner reservations on such short notice so we settled for an early brunch. Our decision could not have been smarter. The day was warm with spring in all its glory. The space is small but has large windows letting in the fresh spring air and shedding the warm glow of the midday sun on the light, white, and simply decorated room. After we ordered, the waiters brought us chive and chevre drop biscuits cooked in a cast iron pan. These biscuits were salty, tender, buttery and so good. I-don’t-remember-the-rest-of-the-meal kind of good. Mind blowing.

Fast forward 1 year. Those biscuits are still on my mind. I go to Glas Magisinet and I see the Le Creuset cast iron pans and think of those biscuits. I thought about those biscuits again when I saw an Ina Garten recipe for chive biscuits. I thought I’d try them and see how they turned out. The result was good. The chives added a nice savory flavor to the biscuits. The texture was a bit dense but very rich and definitely satisfying. Instead of having the goat cheese inside, I made a goat cheese spread scented with lemon zest. But what if…? What if instead of taking the pansy route of serving the goat cheese on the side, I mixed it all together? The next weekend, I made it happen. The result was a more dense and less buttery version of the Art Smith as they were cut and baked instead of baked in a cast iron pan with dollops of butter. This version, while not as buttery had all the taste. The biscuits were oniony and savory from the chives and had the subtlest bit of tang and creaminess from the chevre. The buttermilk added tenderness to the biscuit and the butter them nice and flaky. They were beautiful and tasted delicious. I’d serve them with a bit of softened creamed cheese mixed with a bit of lemon zest. Make these!

Chive and Chevre Biscuits
Makes 8
Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
1/3 cup creamy goat cheese, cut or broken into chunks.
3/4 cup half-and-half or buttermilk (I prefer the buttermilk)
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, 200 degrees C.

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a tall mixing bowl. To the mixing bowl, add the butter and the goat cheese. Mix the flour and the butter and cheese with an electric mixer until the butter is the size of peas. Start slow as the flour will probably fly. When the butter is the size of a pea, add the buttermilk and mix until the buttermilk is just absorbed. Add the chive and mix it a little bit more until the chives are mixed through, about 15 seconds. Not all of the flour will be part of the big dough ball in the bowl and that’s ok. Knead the dough in the bowl a couple of times until the flour has all been gathered into a ball. Put the dough onto a floured board and knead it again a couple of times until it’s formed into a rectangle. Flatten out the rectangle until it’s about ¾ inch thick. Using a 2 to 2 ½ inch round cookie cutter, cut out rounds of dough. Place the biscuits on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Brush each biscuit with a little bit of the egg wash. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes until the tops are golden brown and firm. Serve warm.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Cinnamon Toast

Spices were considered rare and expensive for the majority of our history. It is only within the last 100 or so years that spices have had a more commonplace presence in our cuisines and diet. Prior to that, they have been the cause of wars, sources of vast wealth and empires, and have held a certain sense of mystique and romance. We tend to forget that spices such as cinnamon, vanilla, and pepper have a colorful past considering their easy presence in all of our cupboards and our recipes. Let’s take, for instance, cinnamon toast – bread, butter, cinnamon and sugar. Simplest thing, right? Well, let’s remember that it has taken centuries for us to reach a place where we could enjoy exotic spices on our toast for breakfast. Recipe as follows.

Cinnamon Toast
2 slices of toast
Butter, softened
1 tbs vanilla sugar (or regular sugar works just fine too)
½ tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, 175 degrees C.

Mix the cinnamon and the sugar in a small bowl. Butter your bread. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the bread slices and place the toast on a lined cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet in the middle of the oven. Toast for 5-6 minutes.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What the Phô?!

On one of my recent trips to the Asian grocery store, I picked up a packet of instant noodles that were phô flavored. Phô is a Vietnamese noodle soup that is basically intensely flavored beef broth, rice noodles, herbs, bean sprouts, and various cuts of beef. My favorite is phô tai which is the noodle soup with very thin slices of raw, lean beef on top. The heat from the soup cooks the beef through. The magic of phô comes from its beef stock. The soup is made from simmering beef bones and meat and other parts in a large pot with cinnamon, star anise, other secret spices and onion. The soup is strained and used for the phô but the result is a spicy, savory, very rich broth.

My favorite thing about phô is that you can make your own perfect bowl. What is brought to you is usually a boiling hot bowl of that rich soup with just cooked rice noodles submerged inside. The soup also comes with thinly sliced onions and the raw slices of beef on top that cook while at the table. A tray of herbs such as mint, cilantro, Thai basil, and this long green leafy herb that I can't find the name for. On this tray, there are also usually some lime wedges, bean sprouts, and fresh jalapeño slices. The beauty of phô is that you can customize the bowl to just how you like it. Everyone has their own preference based upon how tart, sweet, or spicy they like it. This is my phô routine:

1. Immediately put a handful of raw bean sprouts into the boiling hot soup. Using chopsticks submerge the sprouts and loosen up the rice noodles sitting in a ball at the bottom of the bowl.
2. Rip up some of the cilantro and sometimes, if I feel like it, the long leafy herb I can't name and put it into the hot soup.
3. Squirt about 2 teaspoons of Sriracha (Thai hot sauce) into the soup. I like it very hot so I'm not happy until the broth is red.
4. Squeeze 1 wedge of lime juice into the soup.
5. Mix up the soup well until the broth is the right color of red.
6. Squirt A LOT (I use about 2-3 tablespoon fulls) of hoisin sauce in a separate sauce dish. This is important for me. I don't like my hoisin in the soup but some people might. I like to dip my chopsticks into the sauce and slather it all over the meat or the noodles so I get a big hit of hoisin with each bite.
7. To prepare the perfect bite, I put a little bit of noodles, 1 slice of beef, a slice of onion, a big dollop of hoisin sauce into a Chinese soup spoon. I put a bit of hot broth into the spoon and I eat it all in one big bite. It's delicious. I love phô.
Oslo has a fairly large Vietnamese population and while the phô here is acceptable and will do in a pinch, I take issue with paying as much as I do for it. In southern California, I used to pay $3.75 for a bowl of phô. Here, I pay about 3 times the amount for a mediocre bowl of noodle soup. That is until I found this little gem at the grocery store. A company has managed to put the perfect bowl of phô into a cellophane package, and I thank them. The instant noodles has a packet of dehydrated herbs and small dehydrated beef slices. I know, sounds gross...but the slices are very small and really rehydrate very well. The broth is nicely spiced, spicy from the dried red peppers, slightly tangy and full of beef flavor. The noodles are rice noodles that get the perfect soft and silky texture. This bowl of instant phô is better than what I can find here in the restaurants. I don't know if that's incredibly awesome or incredibly sad. I guess they aren't mutually exclusive. On the upside, I can make my own bowl of great phô at home at any time. I might even add some slices of roast beef sandwich meet on top to make it a real meal. Who would have thought? Real phô out of a cellophane wrapper - what the phô?!?
Oh Ricey!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

While in Norway, I like to think of myself as a cultural ambassador showing the wonders and nuances of American culture to my new international friends. One such occasion is the fun that is Cinco de Mayo. Being that I am from California, I feel like I'm an honorary Mexican and can represent the country in celebrating its independence. We celebrated it the way that I know how - Coronas and lime, nachos, and guacamole. Spicy Dog, The Italian Rabblerowser, Nina,, Oslo Eva and I met up for dinner at Spicy Dog's house. Let me get the word out there: Spicy Dog makes an awesome tray of chicken nachos. If I'm lucky, I can maybe get her to guest blog the recipe exclusively on this site.

I was responsible for the guacamole. I used the recipe my little Spanish-speaking Chinese mother taught me. She spent several years of her childhood in Mexico and she took with her not only a fluency in the language but also a comprehensive knowledge of Nothern Mexican cooking that has influenced her cooking and what I grew up eating. The recipe is super easy and can literally be put together in 10 minutes.

Our dinner of chicken nachos made with tortilla chips smothered in freshly grated cheddar, shredded chicken, creamy mashed beans and pickled jalapeños were a taste of home. It tasted like any great nacho plate you can find in a Southern California hole in the wall. We had a bowl of sour cream, spicy salsa, and the guacamole as accompaniments to the nachos. I was so happy that I ate well beyond the point of being comfortably full. Sitting around a table full of rowdy and giggly girlfriends helped to work off a little bit of dinner to make room for the handmade chocolate covered strawberries - thank goodness! Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

3 ripe avocados
2 tbs finely diced red onion
1 tsp finely diced jalapeño or other chile, you can adjust up or down depending on how hot the pepper is and your own tolerance for heat.
1 tomato, small dice
1 scallion, finely chopped
1/2 lime, maybe more depending on how juicy the lime is
2 tbs chopped cilantro or coriander
1/8 tsp salt, or to taste

To remove the avocado from its skin, cut the avocado in half lengthwise. Twist the 2 halves and pull them apart.

Using a knife, carefully crack the seed with the sharp end of the knife. The blade should be sunk into the seed.

Give the knife a twist and pull the seed out. To dislodge the seed, gently press the against a cutting board and the seed should pop off the knife blade. Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh of the avocado and put it into a bowl. Repeat for the remaining 2 avocados.

Squeeze the lime juice into the avocados. Mash the avocado flesh with a fork and mix in the lime juice. To the mashed avocado and lime juice, mix in the tomatoes, onions (both types), peppers, cilantro, and salt. Mix well. Taste the guacamole and adjust for seasoning. Serve with tortilla chips, quesadillas, nachos, burritos, or even pretzels!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Chai and Bickies

Back when I was living and working in Southern California, I had some very good Indian girlfriends. These are the same girlfriends who showed me the wonders of microwave pappads, mutter paneer, curd rice, and how to make a mean cup of chai. One of my closest friends, my SFAM (Sister From Another Mother), and I would sit around in one of our apartments and gossip over steaming hot cups of milky sweet chai.

My SFAM and I would start our days with hot cups of chai and Parle-G. Parle-G Biscuits, or bickies as SFAM calls them, are sweet, crisp and slightly dry cookies that are eaten all over India and by Indians all over the world. Some people like them straight, some people crush it up and have it with milk, just like cereal, but most have the bickies with chai. We would dunk biscuit after biscuit into cups of chai as we chatted about mutual friends, coworkers, movies, life aspirations, and the mutual convictions and beliefs that made us SFAMs. Chai, for us, was a ritual. We started our get-togethers with a cup of chai and ended our get-togethers with a cup of chai.

Given that those were some of my favorite years, I have a very strong, nostalgic connection to chai. I crave the hot, milky chai and I can indulge my cravings with the chai granules I brought from California. What I cannot make for myself are Parle-G biscuits. Spicy Dog has recently returned from a trip to the states and she brought back with her several packets of bickies for yours truly. I was beyond overjoyed! Now I can have my chai the way chai is supposed to be had - dunked by a bickie.

Thanks to SFAM, well for being my SFAM, and also for introducing me to the perfectly complementary flavors of bickies and chai. Thanks also to SpicyDog for reuniting chai and bickies - the way it's supposed to be.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Ladies Who Lunch

May 1 is Norway's Labor Day and we all have the day off. I used this opportunity to have a lunch amongst friends to celebrate spring and maybe to celebrate labor? The day for a celebration of the appearance of spring could not have been more perfect. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, the breeze was cool and the sun was incredibly warm. To put it in one word: gorgeous. The perfect day. In attendance was the usual cast of international and ecclectic characters. We had Spicy Dog, Nina, Oslo Eva, and our new friend, Victoria. The highlight of the day was when Oslo Eva recounted the story of how she came to wear a box on her head for a week to disguise her identity. Classic story.

I thought an informal luncheon spread across a buffet would suit the mood, the food, and the group well. I set up a little buffet station in our dining room and it looked perfect. The pictures do it no justice. Our dishware is a pale yellow, antique-retro Californian set and I have some yellow and green serving dishes that were a gift from when my kitchen was themed in "green." The pale yellow and green nicely complemented a pretty bouquet of pale yellow, white, and green flowers. We had a chilled bottle of proseco, chilled water, and enough flatware for all my guests. It was the prettiest table setting I have ever put together.

How was the food, you ask? It was a great lunch. The food was light and ample enough for everyone to eat to their heart's content. I made a wild rice salad, a roasted shrimp salad, and chive biscuits with a lemon-scented goat cheese spread. The roasted shrimp salad and chive biscuits were recipes of Ina Garten but the wild rice salad and the goat cheese were all mine, and they were fabulous.

To finish off the luncheon, I made Art Smith's Hummingbird Cake and while it was deliciously sweet and had great flavor from the roasted pecans and bananas, I took issue with the texture of the cake. It was far more dense than what I was expecting and very filling. His recipe for the frosting was way too sweet and I had to cut the sweetness with additional cream cheese. While it was a nice way to celebrate the coming of spring with an American South tradition, I don't think I will be making this cake again.

I love having the girls over at the house for a fun and relaxing meal with good wine and good company and if I can find a way to celebrate small things like the coming of spring, I am sure I will have many more occasions for gatherings like these.

Wild Rice Salad
Serves 4-6

3 cups wild rice
1 c. diced cucumber
1 ½ cup diced chicken breast (I cheated and bought a roasted chicken from the grocery store)
2 scallions, finely chopped
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup roughly chopped toasted pecans
2 tbs champagne vinegar (or a white wine or sherry vinegar would be fine too)
3 tbs fresh squeezed orange juice
2 tsp honey
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Cook the rice in a large pot of well salted water. To salt the water, add 1 tsp of salt for every quart. While the rice is cooking, dice the cucumber, chicken, scallions and pecans and add them to a large mixing bowl.

For the dressing, blend all the ingredients in a blender or a food processor. Using a blender or a food processor emulsifies the dressing and really mixes everything up really well. If you don’t have either of those, you can also use a whisk and mix it by hand.

When the rice is cooked to your preferred doneness (I like my rice cooked through but not soggy), drain the rice in a colander. Let the rice cool for 5 minutes before adding it to the mixing bowl with all the other ingredients. Add about ¾ of the dressing and all of the cranberries to the warm rice and toss well. Check for seasoning. If the rice is a bit dry, add the rest of the dressing but if it’s moist enough but lacking salt or pepper, adjust the seasoning only. The rice will soak up quite a bit of the liquid so I like to reserve a quarter of the dressing to add in before serving.
Put the salad into the refrigerator and let it sit for at least an hour before serving. This allows the rice to absorb the dressing and makes the flavors all come together. I like to take the rice salad out of the refrigerator about half an hour before serving to take the chill off. At this point, I also add the remaining dressing and check for seasoning once more. This can certainly be made a day in advance. In fact, it will probably be better that way.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Is This Chop Suey?

Growing up in a predominantly Asian neighborhood of Los Angeles, I never knew what dishes like "chop suey" or "egg foo young" or "General Tso's Chicken" or "Buddhist's Delight" were. Turns out Buddhist's Delight is a real dish - a vegetarian stir fry of tofu and a bunch of vegetables. General Tso's Chicken, though not really Chinese (sorry to disappoint you, kids) is super tasty. As far as I know, I've never had Chop Suey or Egg Foo Young. I'm still not quite sure what they are. Maybe Chop Suey is what I made for dinner? Stuff was chopped, maybe stuff was sueyed? Regardless, I actually hadn't intended to post this on the blog. It was something I whipped up based on what was in the refrigerator but it was so good, it made a repeat performance the following night. You know something is good when you crave it again so soon.

My mom used to make these one pan rice dishes that were a mix of whatever leftovers she had in the refrigerator. Sounds weird, but whatever she mixed in always tasted good together. Perhaps it's because most of her dishes had the same underlying flavors so nothing ever really clashed. This dish is inspired from years of watching my mom whip up quick breakfasts, lunches, or dinners using ingredients she already had in the refrigerator. Yesterday, I had some leftover rice, some choi sum, a variey of bok choy, and some eggs. The result is this super yummy super easy one pan meal.

Kim's Chop Suey
Serves 1
2 heads of choi sum or bok choi, or any type of vegetable you have available.
1 cup of cooked rice
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tbs oyster sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tbs of vegetable oil
1 egg

Wash the vegetables and cut it into 1 inch slices.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or fry pan to medium heat. Add the minced garlic to the oil and saute until you can start to smell the garlic. When you can smell the garlic, add the vegetables and saute for about a minute. Add the oyster sauce and soy sauce and saute. After a minute, add the cold rice to the pan, breaking up any clumps and ensuring the sauce is evenly distributed. Saute the rice and vegetables for about 3-5 minutes or until the rice is soft and hot.

If you really want this to be a one-pan meal, remove the rice from the pan and turn the heat down to low. To the hot pan, add a little bit of oil and crack an egg into the oil. Season the egg with a little bit of salt and pepper. Cover the egg and let it cook on low heat for about 5 minutes or until the egg is set. Depending on how you like it, you can also flip the egg to cook it more. I like the egg runny so that the yolk mixes with the rice. Serve the egg atop the rice.

These flavors for me - garlic, onion (though not present), oyster sauce and soy sauce are the flavors of home. I hope you try it - I guarantee you, it's what real Chinese food tastes like.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Lefse Ladies

This weekend you could feel that spring was in the air. The weather alternated between warm and sunny and cool and overcast throughout the course of the weekend. To celebrate spring, Oslo hosts a program called "Tourist in your Own Town" where we can pick up tickets that allow us free access to all of the museums around the city. We chose to go to the Folk Museum in Bygdøy. I have never been before so it was a surprise to find a large plot of the land dedicated to different types of houses that were used all around Norway at various different time periods of its history. The houses were gorgeous and made out of wood. They were simply decorated with wood carvings. Most interesting were the views into the homes. We got to see how families lived back before there was electricity and modern conveniences. Most homes had a kitchen, some in the middle of the whole house. Often there were children's beds in the kitchens with an additional room with a bed for the parents. In other homes, there was just one room with beds in the corner, a wood pit in the center or a different corner of the house. Large cast iron pots were used to cook the majority of the meals; the same meals that are reflected in the tradtional food of modern day Norway.

One of the attractions in the museum, besides the amazing array of old homes and the stave church, was the lefse-hut. Lefse are a traditional Norwegian flatbread made out of wheat and potato flour. Since it is a flatbread, it is not kneaded long and it does not have time to rise before it is rolled out and baked. The result is a chewy, mildy sweet bread. At the lefse-hut, girls in traditional garb made lefse after lefse for a line of hungry patrons. They made the dough, kneaded it, and baked it over a castiron pan sitting over an open flame. The girls brought the rolled out dough to the castiron flat pan using a stick. Using that same stick, they flipped the bread once and when it was done used an additional stick to slide under the bread in an x-shaped formation to carry the hot bread to the serving table. This cooking technique added a lovely crunch to the bread. The patrons can add all the butter they want to the hot lefse and they carry the lefse out to enjoy in the cool spring afternoon. The result, especially after the long wait, was heavenly. The bread was toasted and slightly crunchy on the outside and chewy and dense on the inside. The flavor was smokey and mildly sweet that complemented the salty richness of the melted butter. I must find a recipe for this lefse. In addtion to the recipe, I must also find a wood pit and a castiron flat pan.