As Norwegian As Apple Pie

This Nebraska girl is going to Norway in May.  As much as I love to travel, for whatever reason, I never considered Scandinavia as someplace I had to see.  However, when the opportunity presented itself in the form of a study abroad situation, I had to jump at what seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

For the last month or so, the small group of six students have been meeting at the professor’s house to discuss the trip, complete assigned projects, and learn a little bit more about the country we will explore in May.  For our last meeting, we were all allowed to choose a certain aspect of Norwegian culture to present to the group, and naturally, I chose food. 

I spent a good ten minutes in my professor’s living room, surrounded by my future travel mates, educating them about whale meat, lutefisk, cloudberries, and reindeer steaks.  I made sure they understood the meaning of the word pølser (which is nothing more than a simple hot dog), as well as made sure they felt comfortable with the notion of brown cheese known as Brunost.  It’s delicious, by the way.

I arrived at the meeting with a Norwegian version of apple pie called eplepai.  Essentially, it’s a simple apple cake with cinnamon, cardamom, and almonds.  And it was delicious, not to mention dead simple to make.

When I served it up, I was told by my professor (who is of Norwegian descent, I should mention) that it was authentic in its flavor and appearance.  I was pleased to know that I could represent his heritage as well as the country I’ll soon be visiting.

Eplepai
adapted from Rosa’s Yummy Yums

Ingredients:

1 egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
3 medium tart apples (I used Braeburn)

Method:

Preheat oven to 350ºF, line a 7-inch springform pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment.

In a large bowl, gently whisk together all of the dry ingredients, as well as the slivered almonds.

Peel, core, and dice apples, and add them to the flour mixture and toss. 

Add the beaten egg, milk, and vanilla extract to the apple mixture and mix well.  The batter will seem dry, but keep mixing until what you have looks like a super thick, and super chunky muffin batter.

Add mixture to prepared pan and spread gently.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until lightly browned and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 

After about a minute, run a small knife along the side of the cake to loosen, then remove the sides of the springform pan.

Place a cooling rack upside down over the cake.  Turn rack and cake over, remove the bottom, as well as the parchment paper.  Place cake back on cooling rack. 

Cool completely before serving.

Note:  I only have a 9-inch springform pan, so when I baked mine, it was thinner than it would be if I’d used a 7-inch pan.


Deck time. (Taken with instagram)


Homemade Ricotta & Quail Egg Ravioli

Sometimes I wonder if Scott thinks I like to pretend I’m on Iron Chef when I’m preparing a meal.  I say this because the other afternoon, I sent him out to pick up some ingredients for a vegetable stir-fry I was planning.  Upon his return, he presented surprised me with a container of quail eggs.  He said to me, “I figured you could do something with these.”

Clearly, they weren’t going in my stir-fry, so they would have to chill for a day in the fridge while I gave it some thought.  It didn’t take long before I remembered seeing (on Iron Chef, perhaps) someone put a lovely, golden quail egg yolk inside of a ravioli.  Oh yes.  This is what I was going to do.  But not just any ravioli.  A ravioli made by hand, and stuffed with homemade herbed ricotta cheese.

I apologize for the poor photo quality.  Someday I’ll get a better camera.

So, I set out to make my own ricotta, which was super easy.  It had a lovely and light citrus flavor from the lemon juice, and the texture was super silky.  Waaay better than anything you could buy at the store.

Bring whole milk and heavy cream to 190ºF, remove from heat, add lemon juice.

Place mixture in cheesecloth in a strainer set over a bowl.  Let sit for up to 2 hours.

Voila!  Ricotta!  Add whatever herbs you have on hand.  I added thyme, dill, tarragon, parsley, and cilantro.

Every time I make pasta, I start with a new recipe in the hopes that it’ll be the one I will use forever.  Sometimes I make it in the food processor, and sometimes I make it by hand.  The amount of flour varies, as well as the number of eggs.  This time, I wanted to try a very eggy pasta from, you guessed it, Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

Simple ingredients = the best food.

Perhaps I made my well too big? 

Slowly and deliberately, the dough came together.

I let the dough rest for about an hour and then I rolled it out using the attachment for my stand mixer.  The consistency of this dough is outstanding; it’s tough, yet pliable.  I was able to run it through the thinnest setting of my roller without it tearing.  Deb, this is now my go-to recipe for pasta dough.  Thank you!

Onto the quail eggs.  The tiniest of eggs.  Frankly, I had no idea how to even open one.  Yes, they are eggs, but their size intimidated me.  I knew that I had to separate the whites from the yolks for this particular recipe, so I had to be very careful not to break the yolk as I tried to open them.

Once opened, the yolk separated from the white relatively easily, and I gently placed each one in a little divot I made in the ricotta.

Before I knew it, I had eight lovely ravioli stuffed with my very own herbed ricotta and the littlest of yolks.  Simply divine.

Scott and I enjoyed these with a simple green salad, and I topped the ravioli with brown butter, pine nuts, and freshly grated Parmesan.

Homemade Herbed Ricotta
Makes about 1 cup – recipe easily doubles.

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt, I used Maldon
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pour the milk, cream, and salt into a large saucepan.  Attach a candy/deep fry thermometer to the side.  Heat the milk mixture to 190ºF, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t scorch.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice.  Stir it once or twice, gently and slowly.  Let it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Line a fine mesh sieve or colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and set over a large bowl.  Pour the mixture into the strainer and let sit for 2 hours.  It’ll firm up as it cools.  Discard the whey, and add your ricotta to an airtight container.

Chop up a handful of fresh herbs (1/2 cup or so, or more or less depending on your taste)
You can use all the same herb, like basil, or you can mix it up like I did and use whatever you have on hand.
I used tarragon, parsley, dill, cilantro, and thyme.

Add the herbs to the ricotta along with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, freshly ground black pepper, and sea salt to taste.  Mix together and adjust seasonings based on your taste.  Refrigerate until ready to use in ravioli.

You can also just leave the ricotta plain and spread it on slices of toasted baguette or use it in lasagna.  It should save quite nicely for at least 3-4 days in the refrigerator. 


Scott just brought me quail eggs! I’m stuffing these babies in ravioli! (Taken with instagram)


St. Patrick’s Day (Belated)

So, last week I decided that I wanted to prepare something for St. Patrick’s Day.  I realized how much I love corned beef so I thought, “What the heck, I’ll brine a brisket for the big day.  How hard could it be?”  Ever the culinary optimist, I headed out in search of all the ingredients necessary to perform such a feat.  Luckily, my local Whole Foods had an unadulterated brisket “in the back” that I could buy.  If I had wanted to cut corners, I suppose I could have just purchased a vacuum-sealed pre-brined brisket.  But no, not this girl.  No.  Way.  I was doing it right.

When I spoke to the butcher, he informed me that 8 days might not be long enough to get the effect I was hoping for, but since I couldn’t go back in time, I chose to forge ahead and see what happened.  I had been wanting to try a corned beef recipe from the venerable Michael Ruhlman, which can be found in his book, Charcuterie.  It’s pretty flawless if you can locate all of the ingredients for the pickling spice.  Even I had a hard time (I had to drive a few places), but ultimately, I procured everything on the list and made my way home to make my very first brine!

After 8 long (refrigerated) days in the brine, today has finally arrived and I was able to start cooking!  Now, I deviated from Michael’s recipe just a bit, and added a full can of Guinness to my braising liquid, along with the water.  It’s bubbling away as we speak, filling the house with most amazing smells.  (Edit: the final product tasted amazing!  It had a lovely flavor courtesy of the pickling spice mixture, and the red pepper flakes included in said mixture really put it over the top.  Unfortunately, we got so excited about eating that I forgot to snap photos!  Forgive me and trust that it was delicious.)

Yesterday, I knocked out my dessert: Guinness Chocolate Brownies.  I have a recipe for Chocolate Stout Cake that I can practically make with my eyes closed, but I wanted to try something a little different, so I went with brownies.  The kicker?  I reduced a cup of Guinness down by half and used some of the concentrated beer in the brownie batter, as well as in the chocolate glaze I poured over the top.

For my final contribution to the dinner was an oh-so-simple (and quick) bread made with Guinness, Irish cheddar cheese, and chives.  As my friend pointed out, it had the consistency of banana bread, but was of course, savory.  Very nice, and I’m sure would be delightful toasted up with some Irish butter spread on top.

My friends contributed a gorgeous sauerkraut soup along with some roasted new potatoes, garlic, and Brussels sprouts.  It was by far one of the best meals we’ve had in long time!  And now I know that I can successfully brine a brisket for all of my future St. Patrick’s Day needs.

Cheddar and Chive Guinness Bread
adapted from The Kitchn

Ingredients:

2 3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 (12-ounce) bottle Guinness
1 cup grated Irish cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped chives
6 tablespoons good butter (I used Plugra, but you can use Kerrygold if you want), melted

Method:

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Line a loaf pan (8 1/2” x 4 1/2”) with parchment paper, or coat with butter (I used Pam for Baking spray).

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together.  Add the beer and mix until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened.  Fold in 3/4 cup cheese and the chives.

Transfer the batter to prepared pan.  Pour the melted butter evenly over top of the dough.  Bake about 30 minutes, then scatter the remaining 1/4 cheese over the top.  Return to oven and continue to bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until a tester inserted near center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then turn out on a rack.  Serve warm or room temperature.

UPDATE:  As per request, I have included the recipe for the Guinness Chocolate Brownies.  Enjoy!

Guinness Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Bon Appétit

As you can see in the photos, I chose to use a springform pan, rather than a standard brownie pan.  For whatever reason, my brownies did not fully bake in the middle, so I would urge you to use a square pan.

Ingredients:

1 cup Guinness
16 ounces (2 cups) bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 1/4 sticks)
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

Method:

Preheat your oven to 350ºF.  Line a 9x9x2″ metal (or glass) baking pan with foil, leaving a 2″ overhang.  Bring beer to a boil in a medium saucepan; cook until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10-12 minutes.  Let cool.  Set aside 1/4 cup of stout.

Stir 12 ounces chocolate and 1 cup butter in a medium metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water until melted and smooth.  This can also be done in a microwave set on low power, but you have to be sure not to burn it.

Whisk sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend.  Gradually whisk in chocolate mixture and coffee granules, then 1/4 cup beer from saucepan.  Fold in the flour and 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt.  Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake brownies until surface begins to crack and a tester inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 35-40 minutes.  Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool for at least 20 minutes.  Stir remaining 4 ounces chocolate in a medium metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water until melted and smooth (again, you could do this in the microwave).  Add reserved 1/4 cup beer, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt; whisk until well-blended.

Pour warm glaze over brownies.  I found that the glaze made a bit too much for my taste, so I didn’t use it all, but hey, go for it if you want!  Let the brownies sit at room temperature until glaze is set, about 40 minutes.

Using foil overhang, lift brownie from pan; cut into squares.


Tuesday Night & Sunday Brunch at Lot 2

Tuesday night, Scott and I made a date with Lot 2 Restaurant and Wine Bar.  I was so excited for its opening, and I just had to try it.  

The decor is just what I like.  Simple, not too fussy, clean lines, dark wood, cozy light.



We started with drinks and first course.  We ordered the roasted bone marrow, which came with a small parsley salad, pickled red onions, and toasted baguette slices.  It was rich, luscious, and just what I would have expected.  Definitely a must try.  We also ordered the chile lime shrimp.  Aside from being a little messy, the shell-on shrimp had a subtle heat that was just enough without being overly hot. 



For our entrees, Scott ordered (and I sampled) what was probably the best bangers and mash either of us have had this side of the Atlantic.  Oh my my.  So delicious.  Some entrees (this one included) are offered in a whole or half portion.  Scott ordered the half, which was enough, but I think he likely order the full portion next time.

  I ordered one of their two flatbreads – Stilton, bacon, and mushroom.  The flatbread itself was wonderfully light and crispy with a great flavor.  But paired with the richness of the Stilton, smokey flavor of the bacon, and earthy bite of the mushrooms put it over the top.  Just perfect.



Overall, our first (of many) experiences at Lot 2 was delightful.  I am excited and happy to see so many great people doing so many awesome things in Benson.  This will most definitely become one of my favorite places to dine.  Well done!


Last night, while eating dinner, Scott and I ruminated about what we were going to do for Sunday breakfast.  Usually, I scramble some eggs, throw in whatever herbs I have on hand, and toss some bacon in the oven.  But last night (after our lovely dinner on Tuesday) we decided we wanted to check out Lot 2 for brunch.  So, around 7:30pm, I called Lot 2, fully expecting they wouldn’t have space for us on their first Sunday brunch service.  To our delight, they had a table open at 10:00am (their opening time).

Under a cloudy sky and light rain, we arrived at Lot 2 promptly at our reserved time (we were the first guests).  We started a pot of French Press coffee, along with two Mimosas.  I really wanted a Bloody Mary, but in order to do that, I’ll have to make reservations for after the noon hour.  The coffee was perfect for an overcast day – it reminded me how much I love the flavor of French Press.

Scott ordered the hash, which had chorizo, potatoes, onions, eggs, salsa, feta, and pickled jalapenos and it was served alongside a small stack of flour tortillas.  The chorizo had a lovely spicy flavor and was perfectly paired with the rest of the ingredients.

I ordered the L2 Eggs Benny, which as you might imagine, could be your average plate of Eggs Benedict.  Oh no, not this plate.  Yes, poached eggs were involved, but there was also a lovely layer of goat cheese and pancetta under the eggs, and all was covered in a creamy Bearnaise sauce.  The tarragon in the sauce mixed incredibly well with the goat cheese.

While we were there, the restaurant filled up quite quickly and it looked as though they were expecting a few big tables later in the morning.  The service was great, the music was good, and there was a sense of excitement in the air.  I can’t wait to go back (and try a Bloody Mary!)

If you’re going, definitely try to make a reservation, but also know that you can sit at the bar and enjoy your brunch, cup of French Press, and Mimosa.  Viva Lot 2!


Brining ingredients for my brisket. (Taken with instagram)