Saturday, October 10, 2009

Gourmet's Brown Butter Cookies

or: The day that Gourmet died

The demise of Gourmet Magazine with the October 2009 issue is a sad event in foodie history. So in honor of Gourmet's 67 years of good food, I made my favorite cookie from Gourmet's own list: Gourmet's Favorite Cookies 1941-2008

I love shortbread-style cookies more than any other kind of cookie out there. They are quick, easy, and melt-in-your-mouth buttery and in this recipe, by first browning the butter, they fill your mouth (and your whole house) with a toasty, heady, fleur-de-sel caramel, irresistible goodness.

Here is the recipe, exactly as it was given in the June 1961 issue of Gourmet:

"In a heavy saucepan melt 1 cup butter over low heat until it browns. Add 2/3 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar and cool the mixture. Beat in 2 1/3 cups flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder to make a smooth dough. Roll spoonfuls of the dough into marble sized balls and put them 1 inch apart on a buttered baking sheet. Press each ball down slightly with the tines of a fork, and top with half a blanched almond. Bake the cookies in a moderately slow oven (325° F.) for 20 minutes. Remove them from the baking sheet and cool. Serve half of the cookies. Freeze the remainder in a freezer container. To serve the frozen cookies, defrost them at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes"

As usual I couldn't resist putting my own twist on the recipe and cheating a little. Here is how I have modified it:

- left out the baking powder

- used a few drops of pure vanilla essence instead of vanilla sugar

- added a tsp cocoa powder to the flour (to enhance the browned look and flavor)

- mixed the flour in before cooling

- formed the cookies when it had just cooled enough to handle

- skipped the almonds

- baked the cookies at 200°C for just 15 minutes

These get full marks from my very hard to please taste tester. Bon appétit!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Never use shampoo again

I have not washed my hair in over a year. At least, not the way most of us would consider 'washed' i.e. with shampoo and conditioner. I have also long since tossed out or given away all of my formerly 'absolutely necessary' face and body washing, moisturizing and primping products – lotions, creams, gels, oils, lip gloss – everything. I am, like we all are I suppose, a little vain. So this was scary. But I was ready to be through with petroleum-based products and I craved a natural and safe health and beauty regimen.

Over the past year I have experimented with natural/edible things from my kitchen to keep me clean, healthy and sweet. My first experiment, using yogurt to wash my hair, face and body, was a partial success. It left my skin soft, clean and moisturized and was effective at removing the new 'pure mineral powder' make up I had switched to. My hair was another story. Yogurt left my hair clean and soft but every now and then I would sense a faint waft of newborn baby milk vomit. Not good.

I found my next inspiration as I wiped some egg beaters clean, to make a merengue, with a little apple cider vinegar - good for removing traces of oil, grease, dirt. Perfect. For about four months I washed my hair with a 1/2 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in a liter of warm water. It left my hair soft, clean and smelling fresh but I also felt my hair becoming very fragile and concluded the a.c.v. to be too strong, even as diluted as it was.

I went back to researching alternatives and at a local SlowFood meeting I met a certified organic hairdresser. She uses clay powder to wash her own and her customer's hair, as they also do (I discovered) in a traditional hammam spa. I had some clay at home that I had bought at Vallåkra Stenkärlsfabrik, an excellent local and traditional pottery with an equally excellent restaurant that I will have to write about another time.

I dried the clay, ground a piece of it in a mortar and pestle, mixed the powder with warm water to a smooth creaminess. It worked perfectly. I loved it. And I used it to wash my hair approximately every two to three days for about six months. But - it was a hassle to pound and mix each time. And, it was a mess in the shower. And, sometimes my hair felt too squeaky clean! And dry. In a dry climate my hair was possessed by static electricity.

My first thought was to find a natural conditioner. In books and on websites about home spa remedies I found that egg yolks, honey and avocado were often recommended. Since I try to eat local I skipped the avocado and mixed an egg yolk with a teaspoon of honey. This mix worked so well as both a shampoo and conditioner that I soon dropped the clay mess altogether. One caution though - don't have the water too hot when you rinse or you will have bits of cooked egg in your hair.

Almost everyone I tell about my experiments has one big concern - they love the beautiful fragrances of their beauty products in the shower/bath and how it lingers in their hair and on their skin like perfume. I'm no different and I have been rinsing my hair, from the very start, with different herb/flower/spice infusion rinses. I use lemon balm, rosemary, mint, cinnammon, cloves, ginger, vanilla, lavendar, rose, violet, and more. My favorite rinse of the moment is to re-steep the tea bags/leaves from my breakfast tea for a tea rinse - earl grey, french breakfast, fruit flavored teas, and rooibos with vanilla flavor are wonderful.

I have been the guinea pig so you don't have to. Here is what works best for me.

Every 3 to 4 days - 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon honey and a drop or two of real vanilla essence - for best results, separate the white and the yolk first (use the white to make marshmallow cream) then hold the yolk gently in your hand and prick it twice with the tines of a fork, squeeze and let the creamy yolk run into a glass and toss the yolk skin which is more heat sensitive and could leave behind eggy bits in your hair.
Every shower - rinse with infusion of tea and/or herbs/flowers/spices

Morning/night – Wash face with organic high fat yogurt and washcloth
Every shower - Wash face and body with organic high fat yogurt and washcloth, rinse with infusion of tea and/or herbs/flowers/spices
For dry skin – rub a few drops of organic canola oil on dry skin

The few non-homemade products that I do still use are: toothpaste, a small collection of nice perfumes, pure mineral powder foundation and rouge, and a hand soap made exclusively from saponified organic olive. I'm also using an organic mascara but I'm currently in the process of experimenting with an agar agar gel mixed with brown and black eye-shadow powder from the pure mineral source. Any and all ideas are welcome.

Bon courage!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Daring Bakers: Something Light

This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux.

My Tuiles are 100% organic and I filled them with homemade chocolate cream and lemon curd cream. The chocolate turned out better. The sweet lemon curd with the sweet cookie was just too over the top sweet for my taste. The shaping bit was fun but, truth be told, a little too much work for the amount of fun you get out of it. I think if I were to make them again I would do a savory version and make little coronets filled with a nicely Swedish Toast Skagen filling. Bon appétit!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Twelfth Night or What You Will

Would the play by any other name be as sweet? How about 'The Thirteenth Day'? Here in Sweden there is no such thing as Twelfth Night. There is instead a Thirteenth Day. And the Thirteenth Day Eve is the night of fancy balls at the fancy castles and hotel ballrooms around the country.

And it isn't until a little day they call 'the twentieth knut' (Jan. 13th, twenty days after Christmas and the name day of all Knuts) that Christmas is officially over. Then the Christmas tree can be plundered and it and all the myriad of decorations and ornaments and red decorating details are tossed out until November 29th, 2009. Most Swedes I know are ready with advent candles, mulled wine and gingerbread cookies for this day, the first advent of Christmas.

With some swift calculation that adds up to about 7 1/2 weeks of Christmas (!) and even more if you consider all the Christmas markets and unveiling of the town square and storefront decorations that start the weekend prior to the first advent.

Our Christmas tree is one of the few lucky ones that won't be hacked to bits in order to fit into the neighborhood garden recycling bin. This year we opted for a living tree, a four foot high Nordmann Fir (Kungsgran in Swedish and a.k.a. Picea Nordmannia) with its roots still on. Hopefully it will grow slowly and be our Christmas tree for a few years, on the terrace in a giant pot, until we decide where to plant it permanently. Bon courage!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ring Out, Wild Bells: A Curiously English New Year's Eve Tradition in Sweden

"Ring Out, Wild Bells" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson is the perfect new year's eve verse and in 1890 Edvard Fredin, an actor, critic and translator from Stockholm, translated it to Swedish. For over a hundred years now it has been read aloud at the stroke of midnight for the New Year's revelers at Skansen Park in Stockholm, above the din of the fireworks. Here are both versions. Bonne Année!

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land...


Ring, klocka, ring i bistra nyårsnatten
mot rymdens norrskenssky och markens snö;
det gamla året lägger sig att dö...
Ring själaringning över land och vatten!

Ring in det nya och ring ut det gamla
i årets första, skälvande minut.
Ring lögnens makt från världens gränser ut,
och ring in sanningens till oss som famla.

Ring våra tankar ut ur sorgens häkten,
och ring hugsvalelse till sargad barm.
Ring hatet ut emellan rik och arm
och ring försoning in till jordens släkten.

Ring ut vad dödsdömt räknar sina dagar
och forngestaltningar av split och kiv.
Ring in ett ädlare, ett högre liv
med bättre syften, mera rena lagar.

Ring ut bekymren, sorgerna och nöden,
och ring den frusna tiden åter varm.
Ring ut till tystnad diktens gatularm,
men ring till sångarhjärtan skaparglöden.

Ring ut den stolthet, som blott räknar anor,
förtalets lömskhet, avundens försåt.
Ring in det rätta på triumfens stråt,
och ring till seger mänsklighetens fanor.

Ring, klocka, ring... och seklets krankhet vike;
det dagas, släktet fram i styrka går!
Ring ut, ring ut de tusen krigens år,
ring in den tusenåra fredens rike!

Ring in den tid, då andarna befrias
ur själviskhetens sammansnörda band.
Ring mörkrets skuggor bort ur alla land...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers November: Caramel Cake

Oh! Caramel Cake! Allow me to introduce you to November's daring baker challenge - Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting. In my variation I used only organic ingredients, replaced 1/4 of the flour with dark cocoa and about 1/2 the water in the caramel syrup with whisky. And when it came to the carmelized butter frosting I had to skip the powdered sugar - I have never learned to like vile and foul-tasting Swedish version of this product - and the resulting drippy warm carmel sauce tasted perfect anyway, and looked very pretty. This actually stood in for pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving at our place since the little american store in Malmö has been sold out of pumpkin for weeks.

First things first, make your carmel syrup:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly and dark amber. Then very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back. It is a good idea to have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin. Now whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers - let it cool on a spoon before touching it to test stickiness.

And now the cake:
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan. Cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy. Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform. Sift flour and baking powder. Now slowly add and mix about one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients - this is the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method. When batter is uniform, turn it into prepared cake pan and pop it into the oven for about 45 to 55 minutes. Check that cake has begun to pull away fron the sides of the pan and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool the cake at room temp while you make the icing - it will keep perfectly at room temp for three days and stay nice and moist.

Now, the caramelized butter frosting:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Brown the butter. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool. Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl. Whisk in confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste. Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month. To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix until smooth and light

Recipe courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon on Bay Area Bites. And for more beautiful carmel cake inspirations visit this month's hosts Dolores at Culinary Curiosity, Alex at Blondie and Brownie, Jenny at Foray into Food and Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go.

Bon appétit!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Novembre d'une bonne vivante

Compared to the predominately evergreen forests of my childhood in the Pacific Northwest, the colorful, falling leaves of beeches, oaks and birches are fairy dust, enchanting my autumns in Southern Sweden.

Autumn is passing leisurely this year. The leaves were mostly allowed to remain in peace on their branches for the whole spectrum of color change and then make soft, dry heaps under their very own trees (and not ripped prematurely off and far away into a wet mush by gale force winds and rain like last year.)

I found autumn's last blackberry blossom and admired the new open views to the sky on my walks in Pålsjö Skog. And I managed to get four very energetic dogs to sit still together in the leaves just long enough to snap this picture(!) after a hike on Hallandsåsen Ridge. From left: Billy, my Toto, Smilla and Charlie. Bon automne!