Sunday, April 21, 2013

Make This Now: Nettle Pesto

This is the third nettle pesto plug I've made here--it's just so good and the season is so brief.  The best of nettle season in Cleveland is happening right now, so if you get the chance, cut some, carefully.

Pesto = toasted pine nuts (almonds are a good sub); Parmesan (any good hard cheese could work); oil (I used half olive half sunflower); just the smallest piece of raw garlic; nettle leaves (tops of the plants blanched for 45 sec in boiling water and then shocked in cold water, dried well, and then the leaves picked from the stems); salt; and pepper.  Puree in a food processor or blender.

The pasta was Rustichella d'Abruzzo Farro Spaghetti procured at the Market at the Fig. The farro pasta worked well--I wouldn't love it in a simple tomato sauce, but here I liked it more than the refined alternative.

Anyway, if you're into this I'd try this as soon as possible.  While the nettles will be around for a while, they won't be as good as they are now for long.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Salmon Patties

Canned salmon.  I've never thought twice about getting a nice can of tuna, but for some reason the salmon always skeeved me out.  Even after living among native Pacific Northwesterners stocking up and using the stuff despite freezers full of fillets and ready access to more, I was not a believer.  But, I've changed my tune, and if you find a good brand, there's not much to complain about.  It's inexpensive, it's healthy, compared to shipping fresh fish it's something you can feel pretty good about eating in the Midwest, and it's delicious.  We've been using canned sockeye, but pink is good too.  Often packed in the US, if you consider Alaska the US, it also appears to be sustainable, as far as it's possible to really know what it means for fish to be sustainable.  There are a bunch of ways to make good use of canned salmon.  This is far and away my favorite.

To make, for one drained six ounce can of salmon add: 1 egg, half a diced medium onion (shallots are even better), one slice of fresh bread w/o crust finely minced, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, and some salt and pepper.  Mix well and let that sit for a few minutes for the bread to absorb some moisture, and then form into three or four patties and pan fry in a thin film of oil until browned on each side.  When making the patties, form into pucks somewhat firmly--there's no need to be super delicate.  Also after flipping it over feel free to press down on the top of each patty with the turner to ensure good texture and contact with the pan.

For the sauce, it's something I've been putting on fish all winter.  Greek yogurt (fat free is perfectly fine) thinned with lemon juice, a little mustard, salt, pepper, and some water if necessary to thin further.  Usually the sauce gets loaded with chopped dill, which makes it appear a little less like . . . well, mayonnaise I guess but that's not really what I was thinking when I looked at the picture.  Adding an herb or herbs (fennel tops work, parsley is fine, chives are great, so is tarragon) makes this go from very good to amazing and also makes it look very nice.  We were just short of herbs, and even though this all purpose fish sauce is on the table pretty often, when I finally got around to grabbing the camera we were herbless.

Even if you don't like salmon, I can't recommend these patties enough.  Seriously, these simple things give crab cakes a run for their money for a fraction of the price.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Even More Swede Food

thanks for the pic virge
If the Dalecarlian horses weren't a giveaway, it's still all Sweden all the time over here.  The tablecloth was broken out for company.

Pictured above are the apps.  Quick pickled beets (modified recipe from here), hearty and amazing Blackbird bread, two different butters, and  our favorite potato dish from our stay with the S.O.'s S-I-L.  I can't figure out what it's called, but there seems to be endless variations on the basic combination of potato, sour cream, roe (typically bleak, we used whitefish), dill, and chopped shallot or onion.  The way we learned how to make is was simple--shallow fry thin slices of sliced potato until crispy, and top with the sour cream, roe, shallot, and dill.  They can be DIY at the table, or, like here, we made them ahead of time and they held up great.  Super luxurious, and pretty stunning to see in person with bright roe, white sour cream, green dill, etc.  Check out this version.  I can't recommend making this enough.  It's like an everyman's bilini and caviar.

After the classic apps we had a salad along with simply seasoned and baked cod (skin on fillets, baked at 425 for around 12 min) topped with a sauce made of chopped dill, Greek yogurt, lemon juice, and salt, and thinned out with a little fish stock made from the cod head and bones.  On the side was a mix of potato, carrot, and turnip that had been boiled together and run through a food mill.  With just a little butter, salt, and pepper, there couldn't be a better side--it's far from mashed potatoes, and depending on the carrot colors, beautiful to look at.

After all that it was just some cheese with regular and Wasa crackers.

Root vegetables, quality bread and dairy, a small piece of fresh fish, roe, lots of dill . . . you could do much worse.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Buck Tenderloin

After a slow start to the season, on the last day for shotguns I finally got a deer.  A relatively small nine point buck whose removal was probably best for the Ashtabula gene pool.  What it lacked in looks it made up for in meat, as a direct (read: lucky) shot right to the vitals dropped the thing instantly, ensuring clean meat with nearly nothing ruined by the slug.  The gutted buck, skin and all, went into the freezer, where it will be held for a week or two with several of its departed friends until the hunting group gets together for a sausage making bonanza.  But post gutting and before putting him up, after the sun went down and everyone was drinking beers and trading lies, I reached in and, with just the slightest bit of knife work, removed the two tenderloins.  One I left for the group's host, the other was tonight's dinner.  It's a pretty standard hunting ritual to enjoy the tenderloins fresh, usually grilled that evening, and if you're the slightest bit familiar with deer anatomy, which you are intimately after gutting, removing the tenders couldn't be easier.

This deer is from corn and bean country, and one look inside its belly revealed that this guy was getting fat on corn leavings.  Some folks staring into a half gutted carcass filled with partially digested corn might be turned off of corn for minute.  Me, I immediately thought, "Gee, this meat will go great with grits."  So with grits as the base, the badly pictured meal above was really all about eating the last few months of the deer's life.  Local cornmeal cooked in chicken stock provided a starchy base, and the fall/early winter vegetables are simply roasted parsnips, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and little turnips.

For the tenderloin, I cut it in two and seared it all over in a thin film of grape seed oil.  Then the browned but still pretty much raw tenderloin got set aside and some red wine was reduced with thyme and sliced prunes.  Once the wine was cooked down, in went some chicken stock.  The stock got cooked down to a nice consistency and just a little bit of butter got added (this is very lean meat).  Then the tenderloin pieces were cut into largish medallions and added to the reduced sauce along with the resting juices and some salt and pepper.  The thyme stems got removed, and once the tenderloin pieces were warmed through (and still quite rare) everything was plated up.  This is my favorite sauce for deer tenderloin or backstrap (aka loin, depending on who you ask).  Dried cherries in the sauce are good.  Prunes are better.

As for eating a buck, there really was never any question.  For the most part no one in our group is a trophy hunter.  We eat what we kill, and if we have the good fortune of getting a few more deer than we need the meat gets donated to be distributed to the hungry.  I hear people talking about deer being gamey, particularly bucks, and maybe if this was a bigger buck or if it was rutting or something that'd be the case.  But treated well, any deer I've ever had from Northeast Ohio hasn't had the least bit of an offensive gamey taste, or really any gamey taste at all.  And I've had gamey meat to point where it's not enjoyable, just not here.  When the group I go out with hunts we gut quickly and cool the meat down quick, and I'm sure that helps, but it wasn't particularly cool out when I took this guy down and the meat was still excellent.  My thought is that it's just the diet over here--say what you will about monocropping corn and soybeans, I'm not a huge fan myself although I see the economic drivers for it, but I think our deer are the silver lining of that system.  Plentiful, healthy deer with sweet tasting meat.  It's our terroir.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Sorta healthy pizza alternative.  Maybe more of a sorta healthy pita pizza alternative.  What ever it is it's a pretty good appetizer or light meal.

The bread recipe is Plenty inspired, as trickled down from from this pretty neat Austin food blog.  The S.O. made it by combining 1/2 C whole wheat flour, 1/2 C spelt flour (OH grown at Narrin's), 1.5 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, and 3/4 C Greek yogurt.  See the blog link above for instructions.  Or buy Plenty, which looks pretty good.

After we made the bread it got topped with steamed squash (15 minutes in the pressure cooker), sauteed red onion, bell pepper (last of the season from the yard), and carrot, and braised duck (with five spice, red wine, and chicken stock--pressure cooked in 30 minutes).  The bread got heated through in a 450 oven and finished with cilantro, red pepper flakes, and some of the duck braising liquid defatted and reduced with balsamic vinegar.

Next time we might add some shredded apple, but either way this dish just seems right for mid-November in NEO.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Different Berea

Birria.  I've been obsessed with it since a recent trip to Chicago.  Recipe from here (from a pretty nice online magazine) with a few changes, just two of which are worth noting.  First, rather than steaming the goat in the oven I did it in a pressure cooker.  After 1 1/4 hours and a natural release of pressure, it didn't take much more than a stern look to pull apart the ultra tender meat.  Second, I used shoulder rather than the leg called for in the recipe.  It's all they had ready to go at Turczyk's, a stand at the gracefully aging West Side Market.  For goat and lamb it's hard to beat Turczyk's.  Not only is the quality good, the people there are generally super pleasant, and custom cut requests are handled very well right on the spot.

The beans were also pressure cooked (I just got the thing--I'm going a little nuts).  Soaked beans cooked to perfection in 10 minutes.  It's crazy.

A few words on my new toy, the pressure cooker, for those that are unfamiliar with its amazingness.  I love slow cooking--having a pot simmering on the stove or a braise in the oven all day--as much as the next guy, but unfortunately I like other things too, and even on occasion have to work, so sometimes time is at premium.  The pressure cooked goat and beans (done separately, of course) were every bit as good as the slow cooked versions, but were done in a fraction of the time.  And for something like chicken stock, the pressure cooker just does it better (and faster).  It's hard to ignore the energy savings too.  Every bit counts and all that.  I've only had the thing for a weekend, but I think I'm a pressure cooking convert, at least for some things.

A few takeaways from this dish.  It's all about the consome--the sauce made with the steaming liquor, tomatoes, and a chili mixture that's ladled over the plated goat.  Prepared with some of the fat skimmed, it's addictive in its mild goatiness.  Also, prior to roasting the steamed hunks of goat any large pockets of fat and gristle have to go.  At least for me, that stuff is just too intense.

Side note: If you're in Cleveland and like cooking Mexican-style food La Plaza is the best.  They're so nice, and usually well stocked with all the essentials.  I love going there (it helps that I live 5 minutes away).  And their summer taco cart offers what I think is the best Mexican street food short of going out to Painesville.   It's my happy place.

This was no substitute for the fare at Chicago's Birrieria Zaragoza, but still, it really is quite nice.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Or Porgy, or whatever.  If you have a grill and feel like watching a video instead of reading, click here.  That's how it's done for real.  Otherwise, read on if you're curious.

It started with one porgy from Kate's. I planned on grabbing a black bass, the default when my brain isn't working early on Saturday morning, but got steered to this instead.  The fish was not expensive, but it was familiar.  Just like black bass, I used to catch these all the time growing up, typically when pier fishing in New Jersey, and would hand them off to anyone around that was interested.  They just seemed bony, and no one I knew kept them.  What I didn't know then that I do now is these are great fish.  For my tastes, better than black bass, and much better, if not requiring a little more work, than bronzini and other standard fish counter choices.

This fish got scaled and gutted at Kate's.  At home, I salted the whole fish inside and out while heating up a pan with a mix of grape seed oil and butter.  I also stuffed the fish with some lemon chunks, just a couple.  The fish got dried with paper towels and then placed in the hot oil/butter mix, where it cooked for about 3 minutes--just until the skin got a little crispy.  Then the fish got flipped and placed in a 450 oven (hot oil + dry fish = no sticking) for about ten or twelve minutes in the hot oven.  After removing the fish from the oven, I threw a little (like 1/4 tsp) of minced garlic in the pan where it immediately sizzled in the oil mixture, and I basted the fish with the now fragrant oil before leaving it to rest until just cool enough to handle.  This was dinner for two, so each person got a piece of belly and a piece of loin.  I didn't share the collar, cheeks, and what I think may have been the tongue.

Roasting the whole porgy was a great way to maximize the yield of the bony fish.  Fillets would have been tiny.  By cooking the fish whole it was super easy to pick the top fillet right off the bone, remove the spine, and then grab the bottom fillet.  Any rib bones were easily removed from the cooked flesh before serving.  And with the whole fish you get a nice margin of error as far as overcooking goes.

The fish got dressed with a mix of super light Ligurian olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, capers, sherry vinegar, a tiny amount of minced garlic, and a little salt.  Lemons, olive oil, and garlic.  Fish has no better friends, even if garlic can sometimes be the third wheel.

The Brussels sprouts were just roasted in that 450 oven with grape seed oil and salt, while the potatoes were fried in peanut oil, twice, and seasoned with smokey pimenton and salt.

All in all a nice meal that got me reminiscing about my home state, that may or may not be underwater by the week's end.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Icelandic Haddock, just salted and and baked skin side down in a hot skillet in a 425 oven.  Topped post-cooking with toasted bread crumbs mixed with some herbs and olive oil.  The broccoli soup/sauce is just broccoli boiled in chicken stock and blended with caramelized onion and sweated garlic. Made thick almost like a pea soup and seasoned with salt, pepper, and just a drop of Sherry vinegar (it's good with Greek yogurt and/or some harissa spooned in).  

Seems everyone is all about smoked or fried haddock.  Nothing wrong with that, but baked it's a nice economical alternative to halibut.  And best I can tell it's as sustainable as just about any other wild fish. 

Fish from Kate's.  Broccoli from Covered Bridge.

Monday, September 10, 2012


The classic tapa, patatas bravas.  No deep frying necessary.  Instead, the peeled potato pieces were gently cooked in a cast iron pan over a medium flame with just shy of two tablespoons of rendered lard.  Not exactly health food, but a pretty nice treat with the just-crisp outsides yielding to a creamy interior.  A 425ish oven would have worked just as well as the stovetop, and probably kept the modest splatter even more humble.  Maybe next time.  Tossed around every five minutes or so, the potato pieces took just shy of 20 minutes to cook through.

The dipping sauce was at least as seasonal as the potatoes.  One part homemade harissa, one part Hellmann's mayonnaise.  Don't scoff at the Hellmann's--more reputable Clevelanders than me base fry sauces on it (commercial grade extra heavy, ftw).  For the harissa, this wasn't an authenticity contest.  I roasted and peeled a few red bell peppers, tis the season after all, and food processed them with salt, toasted and ground cumin and coriander, a handful of lazily seeded fresh cayenne peppers, garlic, and a good glug of olive oil.  An all hot pepper sauce would just be brutal, and at least with the roasted red peppers the heat suppressant doesn't take away from the pepper flavor like, say, beets or carrots or tomato or whatever non-chili thing that gets thrown into harissa pastes to temper the spice.  The mayo-harissa mix is familiar, like the sriracha/kewpie mayo that pops up at sushi places, food trucks, and everywhere else, but the vaguely French/Tunisian condiment doesn't cause the "why the hell can't I stop eating this" effect so enjoyed with its msg laden cousin.

Harissa: just one more way to use all those hot chilies you get bombarded with on your way into fall.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dear Gimme! Coffee

Dear Gimme!,

I really like your coffee.  While taking a quick vacation to Ithaca you were my rock.  All four of your locations up there were excellent.  Truly.

Our first taste of your magnificent coffee was at the Green St. location.  Coffeeshop/bus stop--it's like you were in my head.  And when I was craving an affogato--it was hot out--your super-into-it barista suggested I head next door to Green St. Pharmacy for a scoop of ice cream (fantastic Cayuga Lake Creamery ice cream, no less, not that we had any complaints about Purity) that he'd gladly pour a shot of espresso over.  He does it all the time for himself, he said.  I don't blame you for not carrying ice cream in your stores.  Really, I loved the minimalist style and lack of ridiculous coffee drink options.  You didn't do much, but what you did you did perfectly.  Plus the top of the line gear and bottomless portafilters provided all the visuals I needed.  And when my request for an off the menu drink was met not with barista scorn, but instead genuine enthusiasm and interest, I just couldn't have been more pleased.

Imagine my shock and excitement when, on my way to the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, I discovered that your locations were not limited to downtown Ithaca!  While that trail did not exactly delight with what I'd consider  life-changing wines, the still-fun experience was made all the better after getting jacked up on your espressos in T-burgAtwater Estate, Red Newt, Lamoreaux LandingDamiani . . . . all were worth the visit and the super low tasting fees, with the sparkling at Lamoreaux, at $25 a bottle, being the winner of the day.  There were also plenty serviceable whites, though we didn't fall for any reds.  Also, the food at Stonecat out there was quality and plentiful.  And then there's just T-burg itself--what a great town.

Now, we had coffee elsewhere.  Ithaca Bakery offered a decent cup to accompany a more than adequate breakfast, but the juice just didn't compare.  Neither did the bakery offer such stimulating art work as the tasteful sideboob-showing photo at your Cayuga St. spot.  That just makes for a real nice way to start the day.  But before gearing up for walks like the long loop at Danby State Forest, checking out the crazy impressive vistas at Taughannock Falls, and a by the book jaunt at Treman, more sustenance was required.  So we dabbled elsewhere, always to return to you.

The State St. shop too was perfect.  And it's right by Da Westy--with that spot's great drinks, decent looking cart food, and a BK meets Cornell vibe--the kinda sophisticated and chill Felicia's Atomic Lounge, and Maxie's Supper Club (pretty decent southern food and suprisingly clean seafood).  Pretty awesome neighborhood.

Sure, it was odd to see vegetables aging well past their prime at Cornell's Pounder Heritage Vegetable Garden.  But a quality meal at Just a Taste with the local wine flight made things better.  Bandwagon Brewpub looked good too, even if we didn't get a chance to eat there.

Anyway, I see on your website that you have a retired trailer and are soliciting suggestions for a new location.  Have you considered Cleveland?  We already have an improving coffee culture--Phoenix, Rising Star, Loop, sometimes City Roast, a few tiny independents . . . even Erie Island does a good job (with Caruso's coffee?), and I'm sure another spot would be welcome.  We also seem to love getting food from trucks here, so I imagine our love of getting coffee from a trailer would be no different.  And clearly you know how to hang in the weather.  I've got an extra parking space at my house if you need some storage.  Free of charge.  Let me know what you think.


P.S.  We also really enjoyed the Ithaca Farmer's Market.  The Saturday one.  Very impressive.  The Thursday one was a little bootleg, but I can see the potential.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Recipe from here.  Some changes.  I used bread flour (these are kanelbulle, not cinnamon buns) and added just a bit of vanilla to the filling--you should too.  I used nonfat milk in the dough--you shouldn't, this isn't health food.  Länge leve Sverige.  And no skimping on the cardamom, cinnamon, or pearl sugar.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Dinner salad, with: lettuce, blanched green beans, Azoychka tomato, tuna canned in olive oil, hard boiled egg, bell pepper, olives, tiny Kennebec potatoes, and avocado with a caper, mustard, lemon juice, canola oil dressing.  Lots of summer in there.

The best of the backyard (tomato, egg, bell pepper), farmers market (lettuce, green beans, potato) and . . . Trader Joe's (tuna, capers, olives, mustard).  You could do worse than TJ's for those four ingredients.  You could do much better, but you could do worse.

And the canola oil for the dressing--the good stuff brought back from a trip to Sweden.  So clean, and so strange higher end canola/rape seed oils aren't available locally.  Salad oil.  It doesn't have to come from olives.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sverige Part III: Dining Out

Sadly, we couldn't eat every meal in.  But thanks to the internet and some good luck we managed to eat out pretty well.  I've already covered my love of Gamla Enskede Bageri a few posts ago--that was by far my favorite place in Stockholm.  We also had great coffee at Il Cafe in Ostermalm, a neighborhood with a pretty solid hipster quotient.  Il Cafe was very Italian in style with great mini sandwiches in both Swedish and Italian varieties.  It also carried fantastic looking breads.  Really, any cafe that looked like it would serve good espresso and espresso based drinks did.  Their gear and beans are second to none, and they take things seriously without being all stuffy about it.  Maybe it's the fika culture?  Two other spots worth checking out are Non Solo Bar and  Mellqvist Cafe and Bar, which are right next to each other and in another neat area not far from a pretty cool looking park.

Gamla Enskede Bagari
As much as we tried, we did not live on coffee alone.  We also ate at Stockholm's two major markets--the grand Saluhallen Ostermalmstorg and the slightly less fancy Hotorget Market.  Both markets have West Side Market style fruit and vegetable stands outdoors, and all sorts of foodstuffs inside.  We didn't do much shopping for home at the markets, but we did browse and grab some food to eat there.

Saluhallen is a paradise for a food lover without budgetary constraints.  Great European fish (surprisingly to me, the general quality of fresh fish in Stockholm wasn't all that impressive), gorgeous aged beef, game, cheeses, prepared foods . . . all sorts of stuff.  It also had restaurants right in the middle of everything.  From upscale to cafe-like, the options to grab a bite  for sit down or takeaway are serious.  While the pictured place (below) caught my eye--just about everyone was eating the same thing, a perfect piece of steamed snow white cod topped with an equally prefect little quenelle of dayglo orange roe--it just seemed a bit too special occasion for a quick lunch.  So we ate at one of the more cafe-like places in the market.  I went with a Danish-style pork liver pate on brown bread, and the companion had an impeccably prepared shrimp salad.  Totally satisfying, especially followed by a trio of French oysters cracked open at one of the fish stands.  It's worth noting though that those oysters, from a premier vendor, don't come near the quality of our cold water oysters.  So while seeing a case filled with different varieties of Normandy oysters may seem super awesome, the reality wasn't all that special.  Regardless of the oysters, this market is a must visit for any self-respecting food nerd.  Expect to see many camera toting fellow tourists.

Fancy place in Saluhallen Ostermalmstorg
Hotorget was a little different.  A little more for the common man, it kind of reminded me of La Bretxa Market in San Sebastian; i.e. a little too fancy for it's own good.  Maybe we're just spoiled by the WSM.  Regardless, there was some nice fish and cheese there, and again some quality restaurants.  There's doner and classic Swedish food, but I chose the much internet-lauded fish soup at a spot right across from the market's best fish stand.  For like $15 you get a huge bowl of a bouillabaisse type thing with a generous scoop of aioli, bread, and a lame salad.  The soup is complex and beautiful.  No seafaring creature is safe from it.  And it's got this never ending thing going on too--while I was on line a fish monger walked over and handed the cashier, who's stationed right by the soup pot, a huge chunk of super fresh cod to toss into the pot.  While not exactly cheap, this soup has got to be one of the best values in the city.  I grabbed some oysters there too--again fine, but not remarkable.  Sweden may have healthcare, bike lanes, education, public transportation, and interior design down, but we've got them beat on bivalves.  Yay for us.

For a nice night out, we went to Matbaren (Food Bar), the less expensive sister to Matsalen, both located in the opulent Grand Hotel.  The gentleman with his name on the door, Mathias Dahlgren, has serious accolades and was in the house (must be nice to have two spots in one hotel--it is a big hotel though).  There's a fair amount on the web about Matbaren, so I'll keep it short.  The butter and crackers served at the beginning of the meal are as good as people say they are (as is the bread served with the meal), the staff was super knowledgeable, the wine list interesting, and you get fantastic little treats at the end of the meal.  We had a bowl with nettles, asparagus, egg, and morels, and another with pickled herring, egg, beets, and potato.  All just slightly modernist.  We also got crab dumplings and a dress-your-own salad where we were presented with the option of Swedish rapeseed (canola) oil or Spanish olive oil for seasoning.  There was also Sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper.  The canola was recommended, and I'm all for it.  Maybe the corporate salad dressing makers are on to something--canola works great, particularly with super fresh lettuces and vegetables.  For a $20 salad it would have been nice if they dressed it for me, but still, well played.  We also got a cheese plate with mostly Swedish cheeses and rose hip jam--great cheese plate.  Total cost for some champagne, wine, and all that plus modest tip--$210, a relative bargain in Stockholm almost-fine dining.  We did sit at a bar--but it was a very nice bar.

Swedish meat
For a real not-to-be-missed Stocholm dining experience we went to Pelikan.  Bourdain recommends it, and so will anyone else you ask in that city.  Traditional food in a wonderful location--make sure to sit in the old part of the restaurant.  We had cured salmon with potatoes with dill sauce, meatballs, and a another meatball-like dish.  Everything is reasonably priced (although oddly the cheese plate costs the same as the one at Matbaren, but we didn't get it at Pelikan so no review on that), service is fine if a bit brusque, and overall it's just a great place to eat and drink even if the food isn't life changing.

Another great spot for breakfast or lunch is Bla Lotus in Ostermalm.  A solid choice for the granola eating crowd and just a real cute spot with pretty good outdoor seating on a relatively quiet street.  Tasty and pretty healthful food.  Everything in the place looked good.  And again, great coffee.

I'll conclude my dining out in Stockholm post with these words of caution:  Even when hungry on the street, you can do better than the street dogs.  Yes, spices are added to the dirty water.  Yes, there are enticing sounding varieties including the French dog and chorizo.  And yes, the ketchup and mustard are dispensed by things that look just like udders.  But, although the Swedes do many things well, and many things better than us, the street dogs over there just didn't stack up, at least in my opinion.  Your mileage may vary.  Just stop somewhere for a coffee and kanelbulle instead.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sverige Part II: Home Cooking

As mentioned in the last post, our trip to Sweden was not about eating out.  We ate in a lot, which worked out just fine.  And while we don't have pictures from any of the homecooked meals (or really any of the meals we ate over there), I think they're still worth memorializing here.

Some of the best food we had was on our trip to Isala, prepared for us by girlfriend's sister-in-law's mom, a native of southern Sweden now living in Falun, about a two and half hour train ride from Stockholm.  After meeting her in Falun, we took a 45 minute bus ride to the cabin pictured below.  It's an old goat barn--no electricity, no plumbing, and that covered area in the bottom left of the picture is the kitchen--not yet open for the season.  The S-I-L's mom provided the the food during this excursion, dividing the meals into a picnic, a dinner, and a lunch the following day.

Picnic:  Once we got to the cabin in Isala we had a hearty snack prior to making a poor attempt at fishing (halfway around the world and we were going for walleye--go figure) and taking a hike.  The meal consisted of wraps made with tuttulbak, a thin flat unleavened bread made of wheat and rye flours and potatoes, surrounding elk.  Half the wraps were seasoned with horseradish and the other half with mustard.  The elk was tjälknöl, meaning that it was cooked from frozen in a slow oven overnight and then marinated before being sliced for the wraps (see this link and use google translate for a good time and some background).  Really pleasant sandwiches, and unlike the typical wraps served in the States, the wrapper, tuttulbak, wasn't just neat and convenient, it was tasty and healthful and as much a part of the meal as the filling.  And, just because it was Sweden, there was also a huge hunk of very serviceable cheese.

Dinner:  After the picnic there was a bike ride into town, an unsuccessful fishing trip, and a hike filled with snacking on sorrel. But man cannot live on sorrel alone, so after the hike we were famished and it was time for dinner    Luckily our host was prepared for us striking out in the water, and had brought "reindeer pot" with her to be reheated in the cabin.

The reindeer pot was made with thin slices of reindeer (sliced while frozen)--think reindeer shawarma--cooked with onion, funnel chanterelles (brownish chanterelles that are picked in the fall and then dried), cream, bouillon, and juniper berries.  Served with a mashed mix of carrots, potatoes, and rutabaga and a side of rowanberry jelly.  Like the picnic, dinner was all about a sense of place.  Each dish could be recreated anywhere (or at least anywhere where there's access to reindeer and elk), but the context made the meal an experience. 

Lunch:  Our host didn't stop with the picnic and dinner.  The following day we returned to Falun for a city tour and more traditional cooking.  The four course lunch started with hard bread and cheese along with a Danish style live pate, then came cured salmon topped with small shrimp in a sour cream and dill sauce, then the entree: classic pea soup made with whole yellow peas (ärtsoppa) served with pea shoots (not very traditional) and both a sweet mustard (very Swedish) and a Dijon one (favored adaptation), and finally a rhubarb pie right from the oven with some ice cream.  All washed down with some local beer and a juniper soda that would please any grape soda loving American.

And that was it--back to Stockholm for the remainder of the trip.

Luckilly, there was one more wild meal wating for us when we got back to the city.  The S-I-L's father, not to be forgotten about, had dropped off a tjälknöl of his own.  More elk, again with a chanterelle cream sauce!  They just don't fuck around over there.

One last traditional food food we had at home in Stockholm was a delicious combination that started with a slice of fried potato onto which was added some sour cream, a generous scoop of gloriously orange bleak roe, some chopped shallots, and a sprig of dill.  I'm not sure what that dish was called, but it was like Sweden in one (or two) bites.

Next and final Sweden post will cover eating out, which, despite the above, we did a fair amount.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sverige Part I of II (or III)

Stockholm. Not exactly known as a culinary destination, but this trip wasn't supposed to be about food. As it turned out, we ate pretty well. And despite being in one of Europe's most notoriously expensive cities, along with a current exchange rate that makes the dollar feel like a third world currency, we managed on a relatively modest budget.

First, a word of warning to crazy food nerds thinking omg Scandinavian food is sooooo cool right now (as one of those food nerds I'd like such a warning): new Nordic cuisine was not in the cards for this trip. There was a slight dabble, and I'll get to it, but this was really just about spending time with my girlfriend's family, not about partaking in the food world's latest fascination. Not that I wasn't a bit curious--it's just that with prices hovering around of $400 per person for food and drinks at those places I wasn't that curious. This type of plated landscape just doesn't get my blood pumping. That said, had I known about the small menu at Mistral before the trip I might have given it a shot, but really while I'm glad to see new Nordic trends trickling down to "regular" restaurants (more foraged foods, funky presentations, chefs with neat long hair and nice hygiene), I didn't feel a huge need to spend my limited time or funds exploring that realm. And besides, we still ate a ton of wild stuff--sorrel, elk, reindeer, dried brown chanterelles, nettles--it just didn't cost nothing.

So now to the meals, most of which aren't pictured. This might be pretty boring, because I'm using these posts to keep track of just about everything we ate on the trip, but this blog has always been pretty diary-like (diaretic?).

First, we had an epic layover in Newark, and I had a chance to re-live some of my New Jersey youth eating Portuguese food there. We went to Sol Mar where we had octopus clay tile style (?) with potatoes and olives and a chicken and rice stew made with chicken blood, both off of the specials menu and both excellent. We also had some seriously salty sausage that was set ablaze on the bar, and some nice Portuguese red wine and espresso. Everything being served in the restaurant looked good, the portions are insanely generous, and service was super nice. It certainly beat waiting and eating at the airport, and the cab ride was totally reasonable.  After lunch we walked up Ferry Street to Teixeira Bakery for pasteis de nata and little round cookies that were like Portuguese biscotti. I had never had pasteis de nata before--they were unreal.  Ironbound is just where it's at.

After the Jersey binge we arrived in Stockholm early on Saturday morning, heading right to my girlfriend's brother and sister-in-law's place in Blasut, a residential neighborhood on the edge of the city. Stuffed from the prior day's Portuguese meal and over-the-top food provided by Scandinavian Airlines (which included things like booze, smoked salmon, and organic butter over the course of a dinner and a breakfast), I accompanied the girlfriend's sister-in-law and niece on the short walk to the niece's school in the adjacent neighborhood of Enskede (pronounced something like: ein-hweah-da) , one metro (T-bana) stop past Blausut. After dropping the niece off we went to what turned out to be my favorite place of the trip, and a place we went to over and over again.

Gamla Enskede Bageri. Not only have I never been to a better bakery with a cafe, I've never been to a place that serves better espresso either. Baking and making coffee are two different arts. It was a treat to see one place so successful with both in a comfortable, laid back light filled cafe. I had lots of great espressos on trip, along with plenty of pretty rough coffee. This place was the best. And everyone working there was super nice.
Well made lattes and mini sandwiches were the standard. Gamla Enskede Bageri's were the best.
The bakery is set up with small individual sections for the baked goods, cafe foods, and coffee along with some seating. It's small but airy. For those who care, the shots are pulled on a sweet La Marzocco machine. One time we were there the barista actually apologized for the beans being too fresh--too much foam rather than crema (that really can be a problem). "It's a luxurious problem to have" she said. A very Stockholm problem I thought. Anyway, the espresso was perfect, as it was on each visit. If you're a Chicago person, taste wise think more Intelligentsia than Metropolis. Very new school. If you're more into regular coffee, there's enough gear there to satisfy any brew method fetish. The tea selection is serious too, if that's your thing, and there's wine.

In the food area they've got a soup of the day, little sandwiches (pictured above) on their amazing wholesome bread, and lasagna (lasagna was everywhere?!?!?). The sandwiches may look ordinary, but like the espresso they're perfect. Great ingredients combining to exceed the sum of their parts.

In addition to the soup, sandwiches, and lasagna, the bakery takes care of any fika needs as well. Fika, if you're not aware, is like tea time for professionals. Ideally twice a day, fika consists of drinking coffee, eating a pastry, and hanging out. I guess in warm weather countries there are siestas. In the north it's fika. Fika is awesome.

kanelbulle, cinnamon and vanilla
For fika, or breakfast, or whatever, Gamla Enskede Bageri has kanelbulle, cinnamon buns. There's also a vanilla version, flavored with cardamon. These pastries are available everywhere, from the train cafes to convenience stores, but we didn't have better than the ones here. They're soft and buttery and perfumed of their flavor. A coffee cake would be embarrassed to be in the same room as kanelbulle. It has no equal. That it's hard to read this without at least thinking about Cinnabon makes me sick--the toilet water at a proper kanelbulle bakery is superior to anything from Cinnabon. Probably healthier too.

I can't explain enough how much I loved this place. Whether picking up a hearty walnut bread to go with dinner, grabbing an espresso, or eating breakfast or lunch, the place was perfect. They've created a warm environment and offer products that are beyond reproach. It's also right by a T-bana stop, so I can't imagine a visit to Stockholm without a stop there.

fika, ftw
For dinner that first night we enjoyed some of the walnut bread with pickled herring (sill), smoked herring, cheese, butter, and crispbread (knacke). Good, healthy bread and dairy was a trip constant, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The next day we had an early lunch at Nystekt Stromming, an outdoor stand selling fried herring in a square outside the Slussen T-bana station. I went with a deluxe plate--a rookie mistake unless you are a professional eater with an abiding love of mashed potatoes. A wiser person than myself would order a knacke (pronounced, sort of: kaneck-keah), which is a piece of hard bread with a normal portion of fried herring and some toppings (dill, onions, etc.). Either way, the place is not life changing but it's quality food and the best I've had from a non-restaurant in a while. And sitting by the water in the Slussen square is hard to beat. The deluxe plate might be nice for 2?

After the Slussen herring stop, we went to Rosendals Tradgard, a small part of which is pictured above and below. It's a huge park where some farming takes place, and there's a cafe where you can eat in greenhouses or sprawled out in a super old apple orchard. Since the apples were blooming we chose the latter, enjoying fresh baked organic snacks and cold beers surrounded by couples and families enjoying a beautiful spring day. The food at Rosendals isn't cheap, but it's very high quality, and the rest of the experience there is free, so the value is there. It's urban farming at a whole new level.

After returning from Rosendals the girlfriend's sister-in-law, a native Swede, decided we should get all Scandinavian with it, so we foraged for nettles in the neighborhood. We blanched the leaves for just a second or two and processed them in the food processor with olive oil (yeah, yeah, we should have used the local canola), pine nuts, and Vasterbotten, a Swedish hard cheese to make a nice little pesto for a pasta dinner. I also ate some of the nettle leaves raw, which is great for shock value, but completely painless and delicious when the leaves are folded properly.

The next day was up and out early for a trip to a relatively primitive cabin in Isala with some solid traditional food.
Isala, Sweden
To be continued.