Friday, June 24, 2011

salad days done right

from The Artful Vegan (my favorite vegan cookbook): heirloom tomato stack with thai basil, avocado, and arugula; curried hazlenut mojo dressing (a creamy and zingy blend of toasted hazelnuts, citrus juice and zest, balsamic, honey, curry, cumin and fresh ginger made in the food processor), snipped nasturtium blossoms.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

our Midsommar traditions: floral flair

Another reason to love Midsommar: it is traditional to wear a flower crown, or flowers on your person, even if you are a grown-up. The last three hours before the party, a crack team of three of us were quickly whipping up crowns, headbands, corsages...
and boutonnieres for all the gents. Of course, it's Seattle, so you practically have to push any kind of attention-getting accessory onto people.

But the results are charming, no? That's me in the middle with two friends. We're all nearly 6' tall and as such, if you put us together, we're mistaken for relatives - or for each other, which is extra-amusing. One classmate's husband came bounding up to Natalie on the left there, in the green skirt, hugged her, and exclaimed how good it was to see her again (they've never met). She just went along with it, and then my husband, dying of laughter, pointed out that that girl was not the hostess. Ah, midsommar madness.

I keep hoping that some of my friends who had cameras will send me some more pics of everyone looking extra-darling with all these flowers! (We even broke out about a hundred golden sparklers later, to take the place of the traditional bonfire - you'd be surprised how fun it is to run around in the dark with a sparkler, even as a grown-up. It was great to see everyone making shapes and laughing together in the dark).

Happy Summer, everyone!

our Midsommar traditions: cloudberry cake

Once I decided to open our cloudberry preserves (thank you, IKEA!), I realized I wanted to be able to pretty much use up the whole jar. Even though real cloudberries aren't available to me here (not that I know of) in Seattle, I figured, what the heck, let's go for a cloudberry cake.

I made this recipe for a jam cake, adding a bit of Mexican vanilla, increasing the baking powder slightly, and cutting the crumb topping, but otherwise sticking to the instructions. Some reviewers, you will notice, said the cake was dry - GOOD. I wanted it to be dry.

I made four mini cupcakes for the two little girls who were coming, because the rest of this cake was soaked in cloudberry liquer. How much cloudberry liquer? Oh, probably a half cup or so (it's not a big cake). The night before the party a friend brought over the remainder of her cloudberry liquer from Denmark, and we started sprinkling the cake with spoonfuls of it. I kept doing this every few hours, whenever I thought of it, until the party.

This cake? Gone so fast, I should've made two. Cass didn't even get to try it - guess I'll have to find cloudberry liquer and make another one! (shucks!)

our Midsommar traditions: gravlax and herring

Hard to imagine a Midsommar party without these traditional foods. What is gravlax? Gravlax (or gravad-lax) is a dish of cured fish. Traditionally, the fish was salted and then buried in the cold ground and left to pickle/preserve in its own juices as the salt drew them out of the meat. Lacking a suitably chilly patch of permafrost, we use our fridge - and Marcus Samuelsson's recipe in Aquavit: And the New Scandinavian Cuisine. This book is dynamite. We received it for Christmas a few years ago and have absolutely LOVED every recipe we've tried. I highly recommend checking it out from your library and giving some of the dishes a go: the venison chops marinated in akvavit and juniper, with a berry chutney, is a particularly gorgeous and company-worthy dish.

Anyway, so you mix together salt, sugar, and cracked peppercorns (hence the morter and pestle; you want to crack, but not grind, the pepper), rub it into both sides of a beautiful skin-on cut of salmon (is that not a gorgeous piece of fish? I love living so near to Alaska), set it in a dish and sprinkle the remaining salt/sugar over, then cover the fish with fresh chopped dill.

It sits on the counter in a cool place for 6 hours, then goes into the fridge for 36:

When it's done, you simply rinse off the salt sludge and slice it up. We actually rinsed ours, then wrapped it in plastic wrap for another day until our party. This stops the pickling process before your salmon turns into jerky and as the meat has been cured, there's no problem wrapping it up for another day or two or three - even four, if there had been any kind of leftovers (there weren't; I barely got a scrap, myself).

And while on the subject of pickled fish, we also serve smorrebrod, a traditional open face sandwich, using this recipe from epicurious for a smorrebrod with herring in mustard sauce and pickled beets. I use Beth Hensberger's Bread Bible recipe for the Swedish Rye bread, and sneak in extra fennel, orange zest, and replace some of the water with extra molasses in mine. Then I bake it in many mini loaf pans so we can make cocktail-sized smorrebrod bites.

The beets, incidentally, kind of match the salmon for colour.Scandinavian cuisine sure is beautiful, eh?

our Midsommar traditions: black pansy sorbet

LinkAfter enjoying dinner at The Herbfarm, I checked out The Herbfarm Cookbook from the library. I was so thrilled by the prospect of some of the dishes (like black pansy sorbet) that I immediately began culling Seattle for black pansy plants. I bought 3 little 6-packs, or 18 plants, three times the number of plants the cookbook advised having on hand for the recipe - and perfect estimate! When I culled all the blossoms before the party, I got 3 gently packed cups of blossoms, so I made a triple batch of this recipe.
the beautiful blossoms are ground with sugar into a paste in the food processor. Then you add a bit of water and keep grinding.
Next, you add quite a bit more water, and stir it up to make a syrup.
The fun begins when you add fresh lemon juice and the whole things turns a magenta colour - kitchen witchery, indeed!
I don't have an ice cream freezer, so I had to just pop mine in the freezer and keep scraping it up with a fork about once an hour.
The result was more of a granita than a sorbet, but how wonderful! It is sweet, pretty, and so unusual. I have a ton left; looks like we'll be eating flowers for a while!

our Midsommar traditions: may wine

This year we introduced some new traditional foods to our Midsommar dinner, and some were very special; I thought I'd tell you some more about them.

The plant above is known as Sweet Woodruff. It is a shade-loving groundcover, and yes, it is this bright green in my own garden. Now, the only problem with Sweet Woodruff is that it is an aggressive and invasive plant, and I'll soon have to start tearing bits of mine out, alas.

See all the tiny flowers there? They smell like jasmine - another plus for this plant. And they are the key ingredient in making may wine for a traditional maying celebration (or in our case, midsommar).

To make may wine, you need 24 of the little stems per bottle of wine. You don't want to use any more than this, because sweet woodruff can be toxic in higher doses, so stick to the recipe.

Now, open a bottle of a medium-sweet riesling or gewurtztraminer wine. Not too sweet, but definitely not dry. Pour out about 1/4 cup of wine to make a bit of room in the bottle. Stick your 24 blossoms in, and recork. Stick your bottle of may-wine-to-be in the fridge for two days. Be sure to strain out the blossoms as you pour your wine! We used a simple tea strainer held over each glass.

So, what does it taste like? Almost like cinnamon and celery seed have been infused into your wine. It's incredible! And it was a great pairing for our opening offerings: foie gras on toast with cloudberry preserves and home-cured gravlax (pictures forthcoming there).

You can also add a bottle of champagne to your bottle of may wine, and float some wild strawberries in the mix, you have a traditional may punch!

fun with rhubarb

as a wedding present, Cass' firm purchased us gift certificates for a dinner at The Herbfarm. Cass let me pick the meal, and I selected the spring forager dinner earlier this year. It blew our minds. Or at least, mine. To kick off, we were served a warm rhubarb and douglas fir punch, which was incredible - I definitely needed to be able to drink it as often as the craving hit! What's a girl to do?

Well, I found this recipe on Not Without Salt for rhubarb tea, and made a few changes. The pot above is filled with 8 stalks of rhubarb cut into 1/2" to 1" pieces, 8 cups of water (1 cup of water per stalk), lemon zest, and fresh rosemary sprigs (for an extra piney boost). You bring to a boil then reduce the heat and cover (so as not to boil off the liquid!) for 30-60 minutes, or until the rhubarb has literally become a mush.

Strain out the solids, add honey to your taste and drink - voila! Beautiful, warm rhubarb tea:

While we were sick, we would sometimes drink a whole pan of this together in an evening. It was delicious and so comforting.

But the other day, we weren't sick, had some rhubarb that had gone a bit limp, and needed to use it up. I made the tea, but we didn't polish it all off in a night. What to do with the leftovers?

Rhubarb cocktails! I can't be terribly precise here, but these drinks consist of about 2 parts rhubarb tea, 1 part St. Germain, 1 pt. Aviation gin (a local gin that is very light and floral), a dash of Austrian stone pine liquer, and maybe 1 pt. sparkling water infused with lime. The stone pine and the juniper from the gin complemented the piney qualities of the rosemary and the tartness of the rhubarb, and the St. Germain sweetened it up a bit (complemented by the floral qualities of the Aviation). They were pretty amazing; Cass is developing some mad skills as a mixologist.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

all food and no crafts?

a little lean on things to show, except for all the excellent nosh we've been making! Saturday is our Swedish Midsommar party (five years running now!) and we are really pulling out the stops this time: I am making cloudberry cake and trying a recipe for black pansy sorbet and we have the last jar of foie gras from Paris to open, etc. etc. Should be a lot of fun.

So it's all cooking and cleaning and cleaning out closets and returning borrowed things and streamlining the house as much as possible these days. We gave these crab cakes with cilantro, corn, and chili a spin two nights ago and boy, were they ever amazing!

The only change we made was to use fresh corn kernels cut from 1 ear of corn, rather than canned. And we just spritzed ours with fresh lime juice - I think Cass topped his with some guacamole - and they were absolutely delicious. Totally recommend. And if you've got a Whole Foods near you, check the cooler case in the fish department; they are now selling pre-packed 8oz. containers of different grades of crab meat. We got the cheap stuff, at $6.99 (I think?) and it was just fine. Nice to have an affordable option for crab just as summer comes (hopefully soon!)