Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 174! Switzerland - Cheese Fondue - Up Next, Syria

Once again I find myself going fifties-retro as I venture into the beautiful country of Switzerland. There are virtually thousands of wonderful dishes, desserts and pastries to choose from, but as with Sweden, I have an emotional attachment to one particular famous Swiss dish: fondue. Not only did my Mom used to make it for us on a fairly regular basis -just for fun, and not just for parties - but she passed her beautiful copper fondue set on to me. I have to admit, that it's been in my attic for about 18 years - seriously. Last night I climbed over a perilously mountainous pile of boxes of books, Christmas ornaments, old chairs and a doll house to get to it. A little - okay, a lot of elbow grease and copper polish later, and my Mom's fondue set was gleaming and ready to go. The recipe below comes from Simply Recipes, a wonderful website with loads of very good recipes and useful information. Check it out!

A landlocked country in Western Europe, Switzerland is bordered by Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. Beginning in the 13th century, small villages began to form around Lake Lucerne. By 1798, conquest by Napoleon put an end to the Old Confederation, and by 1848, a democratic Federal state with 26 sovereign cantons, democratically elected authorities, a two chamber system, and equality of the four languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh, plus many dialects) of the country and cultures was established. This beautiful, peaceful country is home numerous symphonies, orchestras, operas and theaters. Music festivals abound, and museums, castles, mansion, churches and monasteries make for a rich cultural climate. Most notable, is Switzerland's history of neutrality. In fact, it has not been to war since 1815, and today, is a leader in peace-building initiatives around the world. If they can do it, why can't we, I wonder?

Food in Switzerland varies from canton to canton, but the country is known for it's wide variety of bread, dairy and of course, Swiss cheeses. Beans, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes and numerous other vegetables are grown or imported. Sausage, veal, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, potatoes, rice and pasta are also abundant. Fruits, berries and an impressive array of sweets and chocolates round out the country's cuisine.

It's all about the cheese: Gruyere and Jarlsberg....

 Shred it up and forget about the calories and cholesterol 
 Put it in a Ziploc back with the flour or cornstarch (I used flour), shake to coat and set aside
Dry white wine, kirsch (cherry brandy) and lemon juice
 Dry mustard and a clove of garlic, split in half to rub the pot with before cooking
 Flour to thicken the sauce and pinch of grated nutmeg for seasoning
Use day-old French bread - you can toast it if you want it crispy

Cheese Fondue (Recipe Courtesy of  Simply Recipes)

1/2 pound Swiss-style cheese such as Jarlsberg or Emmenthaler, shredded
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons flour or cornstarch (use cornstarch if cooking gluten-free)
1 garlic clove, halved crosswise
1 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon kirsch (cherry brandy)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Assorted dipping foods such as cubed day-old French bread (skip for gluten-free version), cubed ham (skip for vegetarian option), blanched broccoli, carrots, or cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, chopped green bell peppers, peeled and chopped apples or pears
Special equipment recommended
A fondue pot

1 Place the shredded cheese and cornstarch in a plastic freezer bag. Seal, shake to coat the cheese with flour or cornstarch. Set aside.
2 Rub the inside of a 4-quart pot with the cut garlic, then discard. Add the wine and lemon juice to the pot, and bring to a low simmer on medium heat. Bit by bit, slowly stir the cheese into the wine. Stir constantly in a zig-zag pattern to prevent the cheese from seizing and balling up. Cook just until the cheese is melted and creamy. Do not let boil. Once the mixture is smooth, stir in kirsch, mustard and nutmeg.
3 Transfer the cheese to a fondue serving pot, set over a low flame to keep warm. If your pot is thin-bottomed, a lit candle will probably do. If thick-bottomed, you can use a small Sterno.
4 Arrange various dipping foods around the fondue pot. (A lazy Suzan works great for this.)
To eat, spear dipping foods with fondue forks or small forks. Dip to coat with the cheese, and eat.
Serves 4.

Final Assessment: What fun! This isn't the type of dish you'd serve up on a typical weekend, but for a special occasion, it's spectacular and a real treat.

P.S. When my husband had enough with all the dipping, he made himself a cheeseyman sandwich 

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day 173! Sweden - Svenska Köttbullar (Swedish Meatballs) Up Next, Switzerland

Having just emerged from my Thanksgiving food coma, I am back on track. First, a huge thanks to my (beautiful, blonde and Swedish) childhood friend, Mary, for her thorough consultation on Swedish recipes. Mary graciously and generously offered up a list of dishes her grandmother made, and from it, I picked what I suspect is the most often cooked: Svenska Köttbullar, Swedish Meatballs. I know, I know, I typically like to venture out to the unknown, but I have an emotional attachment to these party favorites. See, my Mom, who is not blonde or Swedish, but IS beautiful, used to make these on a regular basis. I can still remember the retro-robin's-egg-blue enameled casserole dish she'd serve them...and oh, the sour cream...sweet, sweet sour cream sauce, topped with lovely frondy dill. So, while I know there must be hundreds of other more exciting or complex recipes that reflect Sweden's beautiful culture, I'm sticking with Svenska Köttbullar, because Mary recommended them, my Mom made them and hey, it's the Holiday Season, and they're a most awesome appetizer or main course!

Located in Northern Europe, Sweden is Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula. It is bordered by Norway and Finland, and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel that crosses the Øresund. Dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries, the Swedes were merchant seamen who excelled in trade, despite constant attacks by Nordic Vikings who raided and ravaged the European continent. During the 11th and 12th centuries, Sweden became a unified Christian kingdom that later included Finland. Queen Margaret of Denmark united all the Nordic lands, but tension between Norway/Denmark and Sweden/Finland persisted. Following conflicts with Russia, Saxony, Denmark and Norway, the Swedes reign of power was diminished  with further loses occurring during the Napoleonic Wars. During WWI and WWII, Sweden declared and maintained a status of armed neutrality, which continues today. Sweden's progressive government boasts one of the highest living standards in the world and is a globalized and competitive economy.

Food in Sweden varies greatly by region. To the north, reindeer and game meats are enjoyed, while to the south, those with Sami roots rely on fresh vegetables. Meatballs, gravy, ligonberry jam, dairy, bread, stone-fruits, berries, beef, pork, seafood and fish are commonly eaten. Potatoes, mashed or boiled, soups and butter are also staple items.

The Basics: fresh bread crumbs, beef stock, butter, minced onion, egg yolks, and flour

Nutmeg, allspice and salt season the meat

Lean beef, veal and pork - you can omit the veal if you wish - but really, why would you?

Soak fresh bread crumbs in water for a minute or two

Use two spoons dipped in water or your hands (my preferred method) to shape the meatballs

Fry meatballs in butter until browned, then drain on paper towels

Make the gravy: mix flour into skillet, add broth, then whisk in sour cream

Lunch, dinner, cocktails, appetizer or snack 

Svenska Köttbullar (Swedish Meatballs) - Recipe Adapted from the Joy of Cooking

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon minced onions
2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 cup water
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound lean ground pork
1/2 pound lean ground veal
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sour cream
2 cups beef stock
Freshly chopped dill for garnish

In a small, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add the onions and saute, stirring often until soft, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the bread crumbs and water. Let stand until soft, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the reserved onions along with the beef, pork, veal, egg yolks, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and allspice. Beat on low speed until smooth. Turn the mixer to high speed and beat until the mixture is light in color and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Using 2 spoons (or your hands - my preferred method) dipped in cold water, shape the meat into 1-inch balls.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Cook the meatballs in batches of about 15 to 20 at a time and brown on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain briefly on paper towels before removing to a warmed serving platter. Cover to keep warm. When all the meatballs are cooked, reduce the heat to low and add the flour to the skillet. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned. Slowly add the beef stock. Whisk in  the sour cream. Cook, whisking, until the gravy is thick and smooth. Strain, if desired. Pour the gravy over the meatballs and serve hot, garnished with dill.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 18, 2011

Day 172.5 - Blood Orange and Avocado Salad with Cilantro and Pine Nuts

I couldn't sleep at all last night. I was tossin' and turnin', turnin' know the rest, and if you don't, I so just dated myself. Lucky for me however, even in my slumberless fog, the New Yorker Food Issue lay at the ready on my bedside table, beckoning me to give up on sleep and delve into the world of food, literature and art. I submitted and an hour and a half later, I was in deep. After reading a fascinating story about René Redzepi, Chef and owner and world-class forager of Noma, a Copenhagen restaurant twice named the world's best restaurant, I flipped to a story entitled,  Secret Ingredients - Pine Nuts, by Judith Thurman. I was hooked, because to my way of thinking, pine nuts make just about anything better. Humorously written, Thurman who is a staff writer for the New Yorker, divulges that she has been known to sauté a pan of pine nuts before expectant guests come to her home for dinner, " releasing a heavenly aroma that wafts through the house, promoting the illusion that home cooking has recently taken place..." Awesome.

Just a few paragraphs in, Thurman tosses in an idea for a festive, clean dish that offsets rich foods and includes, the secret ingredient: pine nuts. If I tell you that I sat bolt upright, tore the page out of the magazine, got out of bed and tacked it to the grocery list in my kitchen, I would not be lying -- the recipe sounded that simple, that pretty and that good. Returning to bed, I quickly drifted back to sleep, peacefully dreaming about pine nuts - best dream I ever had; well almost, but that's a different blog. Anyway... here's the recipe.  Along with blood oranges (I used naval, because that's all I could find on short notice) and avocado, the salad is topped with Spanish onions sliced paper thin. Thurman offers that should dinners be wary of the aftertaste of raw onions, a small bowl of fennel seeds can be served alongside as a chaser. Finally, she suggests a light vinaigrette made with white wine vinegar, but I made up my own. The salad recipe, however, is hers in entirety.

So, if you want to impress you family and friends this Holiday Season, consider this gorgeous salad that takes no time to make and is a refreshing departure from typical green salads, or God forbid, ambrosia.  Lastly, here's a little avocado trick I read about (I have no idea where). To prevent discoloration: quickly run the cut avocado under cold running water - for some reason (magic?), this stops the fruit from browning.

Tonight, since I'm kind of tired (but well read), my husband and I plan to have this salad with a warm baguette, some good stinky cheese and lots of wine. Done and done. Happy Holidays!

Avocados, sliced oranges and super thinly sliced onions make the salad

The original recipe calls for blood oranges, which would look even better if you can get them

Use fresh, Spanish onions for the best flavor

Should you fear "onion breath", a few anise seeds lend a fresh taste and scent

A light vinaigrette works best - a little coarsely ground mustard

Half a fresh squeezed lime (really compliments the cilantro topping)

Use white wine or white balsamic vinegar for a clean, light vinaigrette

Top salad with onions, finely chopped cilantro and pine nuts - easy, right?

Blood Orange and Avocado Salad with Cilantro and Pine Nuts
(Salad Recipe Courtesy of Judith Thurman, The New Yorker Food Issue, November, 2011)

2 blood oranges (naval are okay), thinly sliced
1 small Spanish onion, sliced paper thin
1 ripe but still firm avocado, sliced
1 bunch baby arugula
finely chopped cilantro
pine nuts

Carefully peel and thinly slice two blood or naval oranges, a small Spanish onion, and the avocado. Alternate orange and avocado slices on a shallow bed of baby arugula. Strew the onion slices on top, then sprinkle with some finely chopped cilantro and pine nuts.

Vinaigrette (Recipe, Courtesy of Me)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 Tbsp. white Modena balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. coarse brown mustard
pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 fresh squeezed lime

Correct seasoning and oil:vinegar ratio to your liking. Whisk all ingredients together, drizzle over salad and serve.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 172! Somali Date-Filled Sambusas - ONE Recipe for Change

With Thanksgiving just a few weeks away, I can't help but reflect how much I take for granted. A full fridge, stocked pantry, backyard garden and grocery stores brimming to nearly obscene largess - This is America, and I am eternally grateful to live in this land of bounty. Recently, I made a meal from Somalia, a beautiful African country besieged by drought and widespread hunger. The irony of preparing this lovely dinner was not lost on me, as I suspected  few Somali families were sitting down to the traditional dish my family and I enjoyed.

Then, last week, in what I believe was a twist of fate,  I was contacted by the ONE Campaign, with an offer to collaborate on a Thanksgiving project to raise global awareness of the famine and escalating food crisis in the the Horn of Africa, where 30,000 children have died in the past three months and more than 13.3 million people are at risk of starvation. I am honored to join with ONE's initiatives to fight world poverty,  hunger and raise awareness.  I hope you will too.

According to ONE, while the current drought plaguing the Horn could not have been prevented, famine is a man-made disaster that could have been avoided. Supporting proven, cost-effective agriculture program that help train farmers and provide them with much-needed supplies and access to markets, are just a few of the ways we can help to prevent famine in the future.

You too can support ONE's work by making this traditional Somali dessert for your family Thanksgiving dinner. Simply print out the virtual recipe card (below) and share this post to broaden ONE's mission.  Every single voice counts. 

So what is the ONE Campaign?  ONE is a grassroots advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease -- particularly in Africa -- by raising public awareness and rallying political leaders to support smart and effective policies and programs that are saving lives, helping to put kids in school and improving futures. Co-founded by Bono and other campaigners, ONE is nonpartisan and works closely with African activists and policy makers.

Drought May be an act of Nature, but Famine is not

Backed by a movement of more than 2.5 million ONE members -- including more than 50,000 here in my home state of Massachusetts -- ONE achieves change through advocacy, harnessing the collective voice of its massive global membership, rather than soliciting funding from the public. In fact, their tagline is short and simple: We're not asking for your money, we're asking for your voice. ONE holds world leaders to account for the commitments they've made to fight extreme poverty. This includes agricultural programs like USAID's Feed the Future, that is helping African farmers to feed themselves and their entire communities -- all for a fraction of less than 1% of the entire U.S. budget.

Somali Date-Filled Sambusas - ONE Recipe for Change

Ingredients for the dough

Yeast, water, oil and milk make the dough elastic and very easy to work with

Proof the yeast in warm water

Let proof for 15 minutes

Mix in flour gradually - this helps avoid making the dough too stiff and dry

 Cover and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk

Filling - Look at those beautiful dates!

Use freshly grated nutmeg if you have it, otherwise ground nutmeg is fine
Ground cardamom has a lovely taste and scent

Cook dates down to a paste *Use a VERY low flame and add water if mixture becomes too dry*

Roll dough out to squares (trim as needed), fill with date mixture, fold over and seal with water

Bake at 325 degrees for about 15 or until golden brown

Serve this traditional Somali treat as dessert or a snack with tea ... and enjoy!

Date-Filled Sambusas (adapted from Celtnet)
**Click here to download and share the virtual recipe card**

***Awesome Illustration by Malaka Gharib for ONE***

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved