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.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Single Girl's Dinner

No - Boyfriend and I did not break up. However, since he's out of town for a few days, I have reverted back to my single girl ways. The bedroom has my clothes scattered all over the place, I roam the apartment in my tightie whities and a tank top, I drink soda, and I watch A LOT of cooking shows. In addition to my behavior around the apartment, my eating habits have changed. Balanced meal? HAH! I do try to keep vegetables somewhere in the mix but I don't cook much meat. In fact, the other day I had an ice cream sandwich, roasted broccoli and french fries for dinner - in that order. The broccoli, in addition to being the healthiest thing I ate, was also really tasty. Since we have gotten our slingbox to work, I have been watching a lot of Food Network and that means a lot of Ina Garten which also means a lot of new "experiments" coming your way.
Parmesan Roasted Broccoli
Scaled down from a recipe by Ina Garten
(Serves 2)
1 head of broccoli, cleaned and cut into 1 1/2 inch spears
1 clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbs pine nuts, lightly toasted (I used sunflower seeds but I think it would be best with the pine nuts)
2 tbs freshly grated parmesan
3 basil leaves, finely julienned
1/2 tsp salt
Fresh ground pepper
About 2 tbs of good olive oil
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, 215 degrees C. Line a baking sheet in foil.
Toss the broccoli, garlic, the olive oil, salt and pepper. The broccoli should be well coated. Spread it out into one layer on the baking sheet and bake until it is tender but still has a little bit of a crispness and the florets are a little charred, about 20 minutes.
While the broccoli is roasting, toss the lemon zest, grated parmesan, basil and toasted pine nuts in a small bowl. When the broccoli is done and still hot, sprinkle the lemon, basil, cheese, and pine nuts over the broccoli and toss. Sprinkle with the lemon juice. It's great served immediately and still warm but it's also fantastic as a snack the next day straight out of the refrigerator, door open, no utensils - single girl style.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

And I'm back!!

These crazy Europeans and their crazy amount of holiday...well, when in Rome! I'm taking full advantage of all the time off. 5 weeks + national holidays + living IN Europe = taking advantage of living on this side of the earth and going travelling.

This last weekend, just after arriving home from Istanbul, I was on an early flight to Amsterdam. Upon landing at Schiphol, I fell in love with the city. The moment happened when i stepped into the mall that is just outside the airport. This mall had everything, including fully stocked grocery stores. I loved it. Then I spent the morning wandering around the city and its numerous canals before lunching with an old friend who I haven't seen in ages. We lunched on a light salad and a tomato soup atop a second story balcony overlooking one of the canals. It was warm, the sun was shining, the food was good and I was in heaven. The city had so much charm and such a strong sense of pride in itself. I love cities with personality.

After lunch, I met up with my best friend, LA Eva and her husband Hot Toddie. The two of them had already started to explore the city so they were awesome tour guides. We took a canal boat tour where our boat "driver?" hit a small, private boat with our big tour one. There was a commotion and a little bit of drama as they sorted through their various insurance policies. Since boat crashes make people hungry, LAE and HT and I walked into the Jordaan area and sampled some local delicacies - french fries, croquettes and beer. The fried food was like a refreshing drink of water after walking through a desert and I'm not even being dramatic. True story. The fries were crisp and salty (thanks to LA Eva - I always let her salt the fries) and the croquettes were crisp and golden brown on the outside. The filling was a mashed potato with diced ham and let me ask you, with diced ham and potatoes deep fried into a ball how can you go wrong? I'll tell you the answer: you can't. Croquettes are an Amsterdam favorite. So much so that they are sold out of vending machines.

The last meal on my culinary tour of Amsterdam was a sandwich the locals call "toasts." It's really a grilled cheese made with 2 slices of toast, local cheese and ham, tomatoes, or pineapple. I stuck with a traditional and had the tomat and kaas (tomato and cheese). The perfect accompaniment was of course - fries and beer.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Istanbul, Once Constantinople

Yeah, I had that song stuck in my head the ENTIRE time I was in Turkey. Despite the song, we had a great time. The city is beautiful and has amazing architecture. We spent most of our days in the touristy part of town, looking at and learning about the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and the Basilica Cistern. When not touring the city, we were sitting in cafes around the city, sampling various böreks, flaky pastries, stuffed eggplants, kabobs, döner, tea, coffee, turkish delight...all of it! To make it even better, we walked it off. Our hotel was in a newer part of the city, about 3 miles away from the centre of the city.
The food was hit or miss, though I certainly enjoyed tasting it for myself. The best thing we had, hands down, was a meat börek we had on our first day. A börek is a filled pastry made out of layers of dough, filled with meat, potato, or cheese and rolled into a very large coil. The outside of the pastry is tender and flaky and the center part is slightly chewy. This börek was the best out of all the others that we had during the trip. It was so good that boyfriend ate his börek, ate part of my börek and then went downstairs to order one cheese and one potato börek. He also came back with a "sweet" börek. The sweet börek is the same dough layered and then sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. We washed it down with instant coffee - long story. English was an issue. We had other types of börek, some filled with a tangy goat cheese, spicy potatoes, or meat sweetened with currents but this place was our favorite. We went back several times and each time, the guys at the counter remembered us even more than we remembered them. The first time we attempted a repeat, we ended up at the wrong bakery. It didn't occur to me that it was the wrong bakery until we went upstairs and the tables were round, unlike the square tables I remember. The good börek shop is the second one on that street...not the first.
The Best

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Meal Fit for One (or Many)

Hello! As you already know, our friend Kim went to Turkey for the Easter holiday. She asked me if I could do the honor of contributing to this blog as a guest writer while she was in Turkey, to which I said “oh my gosh, yes” in a heartbeat. Writing and eating - two things I love to do, so why not? I, too, had a long weekend out of town (to Chicago, which doesn’t even compare to Turkey’s boreks, magnificent mosques, bazaars, fortune telling rabbits, and I could go on and on) and so am a little late in posting as Kim has gone and come back from Turkey, but I figure better late than never, right?
A few weeks ago, after a rough couple of days at work and my desire to treat myself to a nice meal, but not wanting to go through the effort of making an elaborate meal or dining out (after all, we are in a recession), I asked Kim F. (not to be confused with my other dear friend, Kim K.), who just happens to be a culinary expert, if she had any ideas (note - easy ideas) on how I could combine some orzo I had sitting in my pantry and my craving for fresh mozzarella cheese and tomatoes. I was at a loss when it came to thinking of ideas for a dressing. What she suggested was fantastic. What I am calling, Caprese Inspired Orzo Salad, was not only easy and quick to make but tasted and looked great, and made great leftovers. What else could I ask for? Well, a lot, like those Easter Eggs from Kardinal Chocolate of Copenhagen, Chocolate Mascarpone Brownies, being a stowaway to Turkey, and the list goes on. But seriously, if I can do this without messing up at all, so can you. Trust me.

Caprese Inspired Orzo Salad
Recipe adapted from Kim F.
3/4 cup orzo
1/2 cup (or more) grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup fresh whole mozzarella, cut to the same size as the halved grape tomatoes
Handful of basil chiffonade*

Dressing Ingredients
5 tablespoons of lemon juice (substitutes: champagne, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tsp very finely chopped onion or shallot
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Generously season the water with salt. Put the orzo in the water and cook according to package directions. It should take no more than 6-7 minutes. Drain and place into a bowl.
2. While the orzo is cooking, combine the tomatoes and mozzarella, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. To make the dressing, mix all the dressing ingredients in a bowl with a whisk. Add salt/pepper liberally, to make sure that the vinaigrette is seasoned well for the salad.
4. To a serving bowl, add the tomato and mozzarella mixture and basil chiffonade. Re-whisk the dressing and pour about 3/4 of the dressing into the bowl. Toss it to coat. There shouldn’t be any excess of liquid from in the bowl. If the salad looks or tastes dry, add more dressing to taste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

*Before beginning this recipe, be sure to wash the basil and set it aside to dry in a paper napkin. The basil will need a few minutes to dry out. While the orzo is cooking, take the basil leaves (making sure they are mostly dry), stack them up, and roll it into a tight roll. Slice the roll very thinly cross wise so that you have thin ribbons of basil.

I had this salad with French bread and EVOO (as Rachel Ray would say) seasoned with salt/pepper, and a glass (or many) of chardonnay. Because this meal was so simple, it’s great if you’re cooking just for one (or many). It’s a great meal to entertain with as well if you’re short on preparation time or dining with vegetarians, like myself. I had the pasta, served cold, the next day – just had to add some more salt. The leftover French bread, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella, make a great caprese sandwich, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and seasoned with salt/pepper, for later in the week as well. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

God Påske - Happy Easter

Happy Easter y’all! Boyfriend and I are busting out of Scandinavia for a tad and hopping down to south to Turkey. Meanwhile, Happy Easter and enjoy those Easter eggs. These are ours.
Påske Eggs courtesy of Kardinal Chocolate of Copenhagen. Aren’t they gorgeous? Handmade chocolates filled with marzipan and hazelnut nougat.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Quinoa - It's Good Tasting and Fun Saying

Kee-no-ah. Sound it out now, boys and girls! Kee-no-ah. In addition to being a fun word to say and a great topic of conversation at dinner parties (MY dinner parties at least), quinoa is super healthy for you. In fact, it's often called a super food because its set of amino acides makes it a complete protein. It is also high in dietary fibre, magnesium, and iron. Thank you, Wikipedia!
I like quinoa because it has great texture. Raw, they look like little balls. Cooked, they unravel a bit and have a tiny little tail of sorts that pops out. It's a bit nutty, a bit soft, but still a nice little crunch. It makes GREAT salads and can replace brown rice, orzo, or any other type of pasta. It's also great served as a side for chicken, fish, a chickpea stew, whatever you dream up. It is very mild in flavor so for me, the true value is the interesting texture it lends to dishes. And of course, it's super health features.
This salad is my favorite. It's got a nice crunch from the fresh vegetables, the heartiness of the quinoa, protein and flavor from the chicken and chicken stock, sweetness from the raisins, and a nice added texture from the sliced almonds.

Quinoa Chicken Salad
2.5 Cups diced chicken
1 cup quinoa
1.5 cups chicken stock
1 rib of celery diced
Half red pepper diced
¾ c. diced cucumber
½ tsp salt
½ tsp tumeric
Ground pepper
1 scallion, finely sliced
2 tbs golden raisins
Sliced almonds for garnish

Rinse the quinoa twice with boiling water, letting it sit for 2 minutes each time. Then rinse the quinoa with cold water until the water is clear when rinsed. Quinoa can have a bitter husk or shell that is easily removed by thorough rinsing.
In a pot, bring the quinoa, chicken stock, tumeric, golden raisins, and 1/2 tsp salt to a boil. Add pepper to taste. Once boiling, lower the heat until the quinoa is simmering gently. Allow it to simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the quinoa looks dry. Turn off the heat, and let the quinoa sit in the pot for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, fluff the quinoa with a fork and let it cool completely.

Once cool, toss the quinoa with the diced chicken, diced cuccumber, celery, red pepper, and sliced scallions. Garnish the dish with sliced almonds. It's also great with a little bit of yogurt.
**Note - This can easily be turned vegetarian by using vegetable stock or plain water and omitting the chicken**

Monday, April 6, 2009

Easter Dinner 2009

For Easter this year, Boyfriend and I are heading down south - somewhere warmer and sunnier. As such, we will not be at home to celebrate Easter or have any of the super yummy Easter food. In the US, our family usually celebrates Easter with a brunch buffet. Someone makes a breakfast casserole filled with hash browns, breakfast sausage, eggs and cheese. Sometimes we have waffles, or scones, fresh fruit and ham. We eat and then we sit around in a daze thinking about dinner. That's how my family rolls. We're not exactly religious people - religious holidays are reasons for us to cook up a storm and then sit down to eat it.

This year, being far from home, I decided to make an Easter dinner utilizing ingredients in season this time of year in Norway - primarily, lamb. Over lunch the other day, I discovered that lamb was the traditional Easter food and decided to make a rack of lamb at home. So on the Easter Menu: Garlic and rosemary crusted rack of lamb with minted mashed potatoes and lime mint asparagus. Sounds GREAT!

And it was! There were a couple of snafus. The recipe called for an obscene amount of salt in the crust that didn't occur to me until I made the crust for the lamb. I tried to fix it and the adjustments are reflected in the recipe below. The potatoes called for a ricer to push the cooked potatoes through but I don't have one. I tried to use a shortcut instead and used my handheld blender to puree the potatoes. Big mistake. BIG. Instead of making silky smooth mashed potatoes, I made a gluey, gummy, mess that tasted ok, if nothing like the mint that was steeping in the cooking liquid. The true star, for me, was the asparagus. It was cooked just right, not over done, and the hit of lime juice at the very end added brightness to the dish. Also, this is my first rack of lamb and it came out perfectly medium well. Next time I'll aim for medium but due to the quality of the lamb, it was still super tender and juicy. Norway has awesome lamb.

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb
Adapted from: AllRecipes.com
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (8 bone) rack of lamb, trimmed and frenched
Salt and pepper for the rack of lamb
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Move oven rack to the center position.
In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs, garlic, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Toss in 2 tablespoons olive oil to moisten mixture. Set aside.
Season the rack all over with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy oven proof skillet over high heat. Sear rack of lamb for 1 to 2 minutes on all sides. Set aside for a few minutes. Brush rack of lamb with the mustard. Roll in the bread crumb mixture until evenly coated. Cover the ends of the bones with foil to prevent charring. (I didn't do this and it worked out ok).

Arrange the rack bone side down in the skillet. Roast the lamb in preheated oven for 12 to 18 minutes, depending on the degree of doneness you want. With a meat thermometer, take a reading in the center of the meat after 10 to 12 minutes and remove the meat, or let it cook longer, to your taste. Let it rest for 5 to 7 minutes, loosely covered, before carving between the ribs.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Remember to Eat Your Veggies, Kids!

I love me a good, healthy vegetable dip. The first time my very talented cousin, DEWBaker, made her baba ganoush, I ate almost the entire bowl of dip with her homemade pita crackers. Roasting the eggplant, peppers, and onions brought out their inherent sweetness and whizzing them up in the food processor with lemon juice, olive oil, tahini and parsley provided all the other flavors of tart, herby, and toasty to make it a well rounded flavor. Her baba ganoush has inspired me to make my version of that over the years. I made it once for a dinner party and brought my own baked pita. It was a hit. This last time I made it, I wanted it to accompany homemade spelt crackers. The dip came out perfectly; the crackers were not so lucky. I think I did not roll them out thin enough and in the end, they were thick and very, very hard.
So what does a girl do when she’s got dip but nothing to dip with? Make lasagna! I could have purchased crackers for the dip but I’ll be honest – the dip, while super tasty and healthy, is not exactly pretty. It’s very brown with flecks of green from the parsley, purple from the eggplant skin, and red from the tomato. I, personally, think it looks great drizzled with a little bit of olive oil and chopped parsley on top but Boyfriend is a bit pickier than I am. So, I thought to myself, “How do I make this more visually appealing?” I decided to layer it between sheets of whole wheat lasagna pasta, ricotta, and shredded cheese. The result was a very healthy, tasty, simple lasagna that I knew was a homerun when Boyfriend took the initiative to reheat the leftovers in the oven the next day.

Roasted Vegetable Dip
1 Lb eggplant, diced into 1 inch pieces
1 large tomato, diced into 1 inch pieces
1 red onion, diced into 1 inch pieces
2 stalks of celery cut into 1 inch pieces
1 red pepper cut into 1 inch pieces
4 cloves of garlic smashed
5 tbs olive oil
1 tbs tahini *Tahini is ground sesame made into a thin paste – it provides a lovely, toasty, nutty flavor and depth in flavor*
2 tbs fresh lemon juice(I had to use lime and it was also very good)
1/3 cup chopped parsley
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F, 190 degrees C. Line a cookie sheet with foil.

Place the eggplant, tomatoes, celery, red pepper, onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes onto the cookie sheet. Generously salt and pepper the vegetables. Drizzle the seasoned vegetables with the olive oil and toss well to coat. Place it into the oven for 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and gently browned. When the vegetable are done, take the tray out of the oven and let it cool.

Once cooled, put the roasted vegetables into the food processor. Add the tahini, lemon juice, and chopped parsley. If desired, drizzle in a little bit of olive oil. Pulse the mixture a couple of times before processing the mix. Process the mix until it’s blended almost smooth. I like it with a bit more texture. Test for flavor and adjust the salt and pepper. If you prefer not to use so much salt, try flavoring with more lemon before adding salt.

You can serve it up as it is drizzled with a little bit of olive oil and finely chopped parsley. Scoop it up with baked pita chips, crackers, or your own spelt crackers.

If not – you can layer it in a lasagna. Recipe as follows. This post is a two-for!

Chock Full o’ Vegetables Lasagna
3 cups of the vegetable dip (recipe above)
1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup of shredded mozzarella
Enough lasagna sheets to line a small dish twice (Prepared by the package directions. I used a no-cook pasta)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, 170 degrees C and set the rack in the middle of the oven. Lightly grease the bottom of an 8x8 inch glass baking dish with olive oil. The dish I used was slightly smaller – more like 4x10 inches.

Spread about 1 cup of the vegetable mixture around the bottom of the baking dish. Put one layer of the lasagna pasta on top of the vegetable. Spread another cup of the vegetable dip on top of the lasagna sheets. Spread ½ cup of the ricotta on top of the vegetable and spread ½ cup of the mozzarella on top of the ricotta. Put another layer of pasta on top of the cheese. Spread the remaining cup of vegetables on top of the pasta. Add the remaining ricotta as a layer and then the remaining layer of mozzarella. Cover the baking dish with a piece of foil and place dish in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes. After 35 minutes, uncover the dish and bake for a remaining 10 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Dim Sum Treasure in Oslo

So I've already told you that I found some of the best sushi I've ever had in Oslo. We have also found a place for really good dim sum. Best dim sum I've ever had? No. Best dim sum in Oslo? Hands down, yes.
The people running the kitchen and the restaurant are Cantonese, so there's a point won for them. Hong Kong and southern China is where dim sum was born and it is all the rage. Traditionally, dim sum is a brunch time meal where little, old Chinese ladies push steaming hot carts filled with food around the room. As the ladies walk by, they are shouting out the contents of their carts and diners are usually peeking inside to see if what is in the cart is what they want on their table. If so, the diners stop the lady and order off the cart. The dim sum lady stamps the diners' ticket and those stamps are tabulated at the end of the meal to calculate the final tab. With the dim sum, the diners get pots and pots of hot tea. The tea can be chrysanthemum or per erh black tea, or a mix of both. My favorite is the per erh and I drink cup upon cup of it to help wash down the grease. In Caontonese, we don't say "dim sum." We actually call it "yum cha" which translates to "drink tea."
So I've described the dim sum atmosphere, where it comes from, and what we drink with it - but what is dim sum? Dim sum are small little dumplings and dishes mean to "please the heart." Traditionally, there are har-gao, a steamed shrimp dumpling wrapped in a rice flour wrapper, shiu mai, a steamed pork and shrimp dumpling wrapped with a very thin flour wrapper, chuun-keen, egg rolls, and ngo-mai gai, a steamed rice and chicken packet wrapped in banana leaves. Additionally, we have a daikon (radish) and rice flour cake called loh-bak guo, stewed chicken feet, filled, rolled and stewed tofu sheets, and other steamed little dumplings filled with varieties of chicken, pork, and seafood. My favorite is a deep fried, puffed out ball made from sweetened rice flour and filled with a scant amount of ground pork, mushrooms, and green onions. Dim sum is quite heavy but each little treat is very tasty. For dessert, there is usually a Portugese egg tart, steamed buns filled with an egg custard, or a silken tofu in a sweet, ginger syrup. What I've described are the basics. Dim sum chefs have broken far and beyond these little steamed dumplings and have created a wide variety of deep fried and stewed small plates that they proudly serve.
More than anything, dim sum is a cultural affair. It's most successful when there is a group of 4 to 6 people so that everyone gets just one or two tastes of each little treat that comes by your table. Dim sum is also the way that most families and friends get together to chat, very loudly, over brunch. I don't love dim sum, mostly because I get put into a deep fried coma after the meal, but I do love that it's a chance to meet up with people I haven't seen in a while and just catch up or see friends I meet often and hang out. This time, Boyfriend and I got to introduce our new Finnish friends to the treats and delights of dim sum. I think they may have been a bit overwhelmed at first and they definitely experienced the dim sum coma but I hope they enjoyed it enough to come with us again.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pasta in a Pinch

A week ago, a girlfriend invited several of us over for a casual get together at her house. Being that we are all busy with projects and work, we decided on the menu ad hoc while at the local grocery store. If you have been following this blog, then you will know how I feel about Norwegian grocery stores. The best way to put it would be to say that the experience is “hit or miss” depending on many factors. It depends on what you need, what your expectations are, and where you go. Going into the party, I had a rough idea of what I wanted to make. I had in mind a spinach and feta filled pastry utilizing frozen puff pastry, followed by a Spanish tortilla of eggs and potatoes and finished by a simple dish of sautéed pineapple served warm over vanilla ice cream. This menu was easy to make and I assumed that the ingredients were simple and generic enough to find at most stores. I was wrong. HOWEVER, the mark of a good cook is one that is creative and quick thinking on their feet, right? At least that’s what shows like Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen taught me.
The store we stopped at did not have the puffed pastry or spinach and combined with some dietary restrictions we changed the menu on the spot. Grabbing a couple of cans of diced tomatoes, dried spaghetti, basil, roasted artichoke hearts and pine nuts we decided on a quick pasta dish that we could all make together. A berry sorbet would round out our dinner, providing a light finishing touch.

Dinner with girlfriends was as it usually is – chatty, giggly, and tasty. We all caught up with what was going on at work and at home and then dove into a conversation (with a mini workshop) on belly dancing. It was great fun and a good chance to bring two of my favorite things together – food and girlfriends.

Dinner Amongst Girlfriends Pasta
Serves 4
2 14 oz. cans (400 gr.) of diced tomatoes
1 lb dried spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
½ onion, finely diced
½ c. chopped fresh basil
2 tbs olive oil
1 cup roasted artichoke hearts, quartered *You can also sub out marinated artichoke hearts*
1/8th (up to 1/4th) tsp red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tbs toasted pine nuts for garnish

Bring salted water up to a boil in a large stock pot. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet. To the oil, add the red pepper flakes, diced onion, the garlic and sauté until the onions are soft and lightly browned. Season the onions and garlic lightly with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes to the onions and let bring it to a boil. Once boiling, bring the temperature down until the sauce is simmering lightly. Let the sauce simmer for 35 minutes.

At the 30 minute mark, drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook for about 7-8 minutes, or until al dente. You don’t want the pasta to be too done as it will finish cooking in the sauce.

At 35 minutes, add the artichoke hearts to the simmering sauce and let it warm through. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and toss in the chopped basil. When the pasta is done, lift the pasta directly out of the cooking water and into the sauce and toss thoroughly to coat the pasta with the sauce. Turn off the heat and divide the pasta into 4 portions. Garnish the pasta with additional chopped basil and the toasted pine nuts.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Brown Cheese, Please

When we first moved to Oslo, we stayed at the Radisson for a month while our apartment was being vacated. The Radisson, like most Scandinavian hotels, included a breakfast buffet full of Scandinavian treats such as pickled herring, liverpate, and brown cheese (brunost). The first time I tried brunost, I was turned off by its chalkiness. I also did not like the indecisiveness of the flavor. Was it salty? Was it sweet? I couldn't tell and I didn't like it.

Fast forward 6 months, lunch at the office kantine. As a treat, the kantine prepared waffles (vaffels) for our enjoyment. Usually the waffles are eaten with jam (syltetøy) or that chalky, satly-sweet brown mess they call cheese. I watched my coworkers enjoy their waffles and slices of brown cheese and I was intrigued. The very next day, at the airport on my way to Trondheim, I was hungry and what did I find? Waffles and brunost! I gave that brunost a second chance and am really glad I did. What turned me off about the brunost initially all seemed to work with the mildly sweet waffle. The salty and sweet complemented it each other and the chalky texture was muted by the spongy waffle. It was delicious. After my trip to Trondheim, I found that I could not stop thinking about this ubiquitous brown cheese. After Trondheim, I saw it everywhere. Every bakery had brunost sandwhiches, brunost and waffles, brunost and crackers, brunost and brunost. I had to try it all...and I did. That brunost is fabulous!

This was an afternoon snack - meuslibrød, brunost, og kaffe. Translated: muesli bread, brown cheese and coffee. The Norwegians are pulling me in.