White Summer Sangria

Friday, May 25, 2012

Even though the official start of summer is about a month away, the Memorial Day weekend serves as the start of its prelude here. The sticky heat acts as a warning of the wet, hot, American summer that is to come. These humid, almost-summer nights are almost suffocating. And what better way to cool off that than with a cold, white sangria? So to kick off the Memorial Day weekend here is a recipe for a sangria full of summer flavors.


White sangria is extremely easy to make, you just need to give it some time to marinate to allow it to penetrate the fruit and in turn infuse the drink with its juices. You can use a variety of different fruits or just a few. I like to use the flavors that tend complement the white wine: apples, peaches, citrus or mango. You can also add or substitute what's in season or what you can find in the store or at the market, including strawberries, melon, pears, plums, or even grapes.


In this recipe I used a South African chenin blanc from the Paarl region. It is a dry, very crisp white wine, with a very faint hint of altogether pleasant bitterness. It is otherwise quite neutral in flavor, lending itself well to sangria as it is able to absorb the flavors of the different fruits. This particular one caught my eye with its name, "Tormentoso" and an endearingly grotesque looking fish on the label. It is so named because of where it comes from: according to the label, the southernmost tip of South Africa was named Cabo Tormentoso by the Portuguese explorers. It means Cape of Storms, but can also mean its English counterpart - torment - because the grape has grown in an unlikely climate, its roots tormented by the rocky soil.


A few weeks ago, we were sent to try out Cascal, which is a carbonated, fruity soda made with fermented juices (with no sugar other than from the juice). I thought the drink would pair well with sangria while adding a hint of fizziness. There are five flavors altogether. The flavors we used here are Bright Citrus, which in addition to the citrus has a rich pineapple flavor, and Crisp White, which is dry and crisp, less sweet, with notes of pear, and of all things, petals (it claims magnolia). The latter is my favorite for this recipe, and its flavors pair very well with the fruit in the sangria. If you can't get your hands on some Cascal, or other low-sugar, fizzy beverage, you can use club soda. Or, for a stronger sangria, you can dispense with soda altogether.

As white sangria is served chilled, sometimes with ice, I added a few bits of frozen strawberries instead for added flavor.


White Summer Sangria
(Serves 4-6)

You will need:
1 cup strawberries, chopped into small cubes
1 green apple, cored and chopped into cubes
1 mango, peeled, pitted, and chopped into cubes
Other fruit, e.g.: plum, pear, peach, etc., cubed
1/8 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup brandy
1 bottle dry white wine
12 oz Cascal or club soda
Mint, for garnish

1. Reserve 1/2 cup chopped strawberries. Place the remaining fruit into a punch bowl or a pitcher. Stir together agave syrup and brandy and pour over the fruit. Add the wine and stir. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight. Freeze the reserved 1/2 cup strawberries (to use in place of ice cubes).
2. To serve, spoon some fruit into the bottom of a wine glass. Add a few frozen strawberry slices. Fill the glass 1/2 full with sangria. Top off with Cascal or club soda. Add a few mint leaves to each glass and serve.


Norwegian Meatballs and Syttende Mai

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Today is syttende mai (May 17th), the Norwegian constitution day. On this day in 1814 Norway declared its independence, which it did not fully gain until 1905, when it finally broke apart from its union with Sweden. May 17th is a big and well-celebrated Norwegian holiday.

As I mentioned earlier, we lived in Oslo. In 2010, a few days before May 17th we were told by a Norwegian we knew "to go outside and look at the people." So we took a long walk to Oslo downtown, to Karl Johans gate. We saw people trickling in from around the streets, gravitating in the same direction, dressed in formal wear. Men were wearing suits, women formal dress. Some women were wearing beautiful long folk dresses, with embroidery on the front, white shirts, and long flowing skirts, the colors blue or red or black.  As we walked down towards the palace, people were blasting music and drinking and having fun on rooftops. When we reached the palace, we could not walk any longer. There were people everywhere, a crowd bigger than I've ever seen before, not anywhere, not even during the Yankees parade in New York. Karl Johans gate was completely filled with people, as far as the eye could see. And everywhere there were bursts of color, balloons and Norwegian flags, blond heads and traditional hats. It was easy to spot the tourists, because they, like us, were not dressed for it, and there were in a pitiful minority. Everywhere there were traditional dresses, the beautifully handmade bunad. Little children, almost angelic with their blond and gold and golden brown heads, were also wearing the traditional (but tiny, almost fit for a doll) dresses, each clutching a small flag in their hands. There were there for the children's parade, which is one of the traditions on that day.

Soon after, the crowd began to disperse, as people went home for dinner or to the outdoors for grilling and enjoying the evening outside. And I was awed and humbled by the national sentiment so strong which we were privileged to see.

So it is perhaps fitting to make Norwegian (as opposed to Swedish) meatballs today. They are similar but there are differences.


My experience with Swedish meatballs is rather limited (I've had them at IKEA and I've made them at a cooking class), so for fear of stirring some strong emotions that inevitably arise when it comes to the right way of making particular meatballs, I will not even attempt to claim to know them. It appears that Swedish meatballs are made using breadcrumbs which are soaked in milk for a bit. This is what gives them their light, springy texture. Norwegian meatballs appear to have a more meaty substance; breadcrumbs aren't always used, and if they are, they are used in lesser quantity. There are also differences in spices. In our cooking class, the Swedish meatballs called for caraway seeds. Norwegian meatballs and meat cakes call for nutmeg or ginger or both.


Norwegian meatballs are traditionally served with sauce or gravy and served with boiled potatoes. You can also serve them as an appetizer with a dipping sauce. To make a simple dipping sauce, mix some plain yogurt or crème fraîche with some garlic, dill, salt and pepper and serve it on the side. Anyway you like them, I'm sure you'll enjoy them.


Gratulerer med dagen, Norge!

Norwegian Meatballs
(Makes about 55)

You will need:
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/4 cup potato flour
1 cup milk
1 egg
Butter, for frying

1. In a large bowl, mix together beef, pork, onion, salt, pepper, nutmeg and ginger. Mix in potato flour until blended. Add the milk and egg and mix until the liquid is absorbed and the mixture is uniform.
2. Line a baking sheet or a cutting board with wax paper. Using a round tablespoon, scoop some of the mixture into your hand. Roll between your palms into a small ball and place on the wax paper. Repeat with the remaining meatballs.
3. Heat about 2 tbsp butter in a large pan on medium heat. Working in batches if necessary, place the meatballs into the pan and brown the meatballs, shaking the pan occasionally to flip the meatballs so that they brown on all sides. Once the meatballs are browned, lower the heat and cook the meatballs until fully cooked through, about 15 minutes total. Serve as an appetizer, or as a meal with boiled potatoes and your choice of sauce.

Sauce for Meatballs
(Makes about 1 cup)

You will need:
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp finely chopped onion
3/4 oz all purpose flour
1 cup chicken or beef stock
1 tsp mustard, or to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add the onion and cook until transluscent. Add the flour and mix until uniform (mixture will become very thick). Add the stock and the mustard, and whisk until combined (for a thicker sauce, double the flour). Bring to a simmer, and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Recipes adapted from: Tom Victor Gausdal og Ole Martin Alfsen,  Familiekokeboka.


Cream Puffs with Mascarpone and Strawberry Filling

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I like to think I get my baking skills from my mom. When I was little she would throw parties, for which she would cook and bake over a dozen different dishes and I would help in the kitchen. My primary responsibilities were that of a sous chef, with a lot of prep work and an occasional foray into making side dishes. Aside from making everything else, she would create magic in the oven.


While I don't have the recipes (which were themselves lost in various moves, then recreated again, mostly from memory), instead I got something else. It is how to rely not on a written recipe, but on your senses, your basic instincts. Knowing when something is done just by the smell. After you've stepped away due to a distraction outside the kitchen, sensing that the cake will already be too dry when you run in to take it out. Knowing the precise limit of the force that you can use to open and close an oven door to take a peek inside, without causing the cream puff pastries to collapse. Taking them out judging not by time, but by shape and the degree of color. 


For the recipe for the puffs I turned to what can only be described as a treatise on pastries: The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg, which runs just slightly over one thousand pages. While most recipes give the time as a guide, others just give the temperature: the book recommends using your intuition and relying on the color for baking. Incidentally, Julia Child also recommends relying heavily on your senses: for roasting a bird, according to her if you can't hear it sizzling, it isn't baking.


Cream puffs (also known as profiteroles, or choux à la crème) are made with pâte à choux, or choux paste. Choux means cabbage in French, and it is thought that the pastries are so called because of the resemblance of their uneven surface to that of small cabbages.


What is unique about the choux pastry is that the batter or "paste" creates steam when baked, which helps form a hollow space within the pastry, which in turns allows the pastry to be filled with almost anything. As a result, the choux pastry is very versatile. The same base is used not only for the cream puffs, but also for eclairs, and for pastries with a savory filling (known as gougères) since there is no sugar in the recipe.



Cream puffs can be filled with pastry cream, whipped cream or any other cream you can conceive (pastry police will not prevent you from whipping up a cream cheese filling, I promise). I made the filling here with whipped cream, strawberry purée and mascarpone cheese (which is a slightly sweet, Italian cheese very similar in taste and texture to cream cheese, but creamier and slightly less sour, lending itself well to desserts). I wanted something less airy than whipped cream, but not as heavy as pastry cream. The end result is delicious, light, creamy, with a taste slightly reminiscent of strawberry and vanilla ice cream.


Cream Puffs with Mascarpone and Strawberry Filling

Cream Puff Pastries or Pâte à Choux
Adapted from The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg
(Yield: 24)

You will need:
1 cup water
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour
4 eggs, lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or, lightly grease the sheet with butter).
2. In a saucepan, on medium heat bring water, butter and salt to a boil to allow the butter emulsify completely with the water. Reduce the heat to low and add the flour in a continuous, rapid trickle stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring, breaking up any lumps, until the mixture is thick and separates from the sides of the pan, about 1-2 minutes.
3. Transfer to a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon to cool slightly. Make sure the mixture is warm, not hot to the touch before adding the eggs, or they will curdle. Add eggs, two at a time, mixing quickly until well blended (the mixture will separate then come together). The final mixture should have the consistency of a thick custard.
4. Fill a piping bag with the batter. With a round tip, pipe 24 mounds of about 2 inch diameter on the cookie sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart. (Alternatively, fill a clear plastic bag with the batter and cut a corner opening of about 1/2 inch wide.)
5. Bake the pastries at 425ºF for 10 minutes. The pastries should puff up and change color slightly. Reduce the heat to 375ºF and bake for 20-25 minutes longer, until the pastries are golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Do not place in the fridge as they may collapse. Let cool completely before filling.
6. To fill the pastries, puncture a small opening with a knife on the side of each pastry to accommodate a round tip. Fill the piping bag with the filling. Using the round tip, fill each pastry with the cream through the opening, until the cream begins to overflow slightly. Wipe away any excess cream. Serve or refrigerate.

Mascarpone and Strawberry Filling
(Fills 24 small cream puffs)

You will need:
1/2 cup strawberries, cored and halved
1 cup heavy cream
8 oz mascarpone
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a food processor or blender, purée the strawberries. Pour into a measuring cup or a small bowl and set aside (puréed strawberries will condense to about 1/4 cup).
2. In a medium bowl, whip the heavy cream with an electric mixer on medium speed for a stiff consistency, 3-4 minutes. Cover and refrigerate while working with the remaining ingredients.
3. In a large bowl, mix mascarpone, sugar, vanilla and strawberry purée with an electric mixer until well blended. Fold in the whipped cream. Cover and refrigerate until needed for filling.


Mozzarella Stuffed Tomato Appetizers

Saturday, May 5, 2012


I don't think anybody can deny that appetizers are a lot of fun to eat. They are delicious and bite-sized, which to me means a free license to pile up as many different ones as you can fit on your plate and sample each one (and then perhaps leave). But they can also be fun to make, because you can whip them up in minutes, use simple ingredients, and still impress your guests. Case in point: pile some stuff on cucumber slices like for instance salmon tartare and you are done (or just put a rolled anchovy on each one, go crazy).


Tomatoes are also great to use for appetizers. This is primarily because they can be hollowed out and stuffed with pretty much anything: salsa, shrimp salad, or ricotta tossed with some crushed garlic and salt and pepper.


This appetizer is based on insalata caprese, which is simply tomato slices, fresh mozzarella and basil. I thought, why not shake things up a bit and put mozzarella, basil and onion in the tomatoes?

To start, use large cherry tomatoes or campari tomatoes. Carefully slice the tops and reserve them. Slice a few millimeters off the bottom, so that the tomatoes can stand upright on a plate. Then with a small knife, cut out the middle without puncturing the bottom. Spoon out the seedy flesh and discard.


Finely chop fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, and red onion. (My mother-in-law recently gave us these awesome Le Creuset silicone prep bowls which I was dying to use, and finally got a chance to do so.)



Combine everything together, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and toss with salt and pepper. Stuff the tomatoes with the mix, put the tops back on top (my husband refers to them as lids) and serve.


Mozzarella Stuffed Tomato Appetizers
(Makes 15)

You will need: 
15 campari or cocktail tomatoes
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mozzarella
2 tbsp finely chopped red onion
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

With a small knife, slice off the tomato tops and reserve. Slice a few millimeters (1/16 of an inch) off the bottom so that the tomatoes can sit flat on a plate; discard the bottoms. Carve out the seeds and the flesh and discard. In a bowl, toss together mozzarella, red onion, basil, vinegar and salt and pepper. Stuff each tomato with the mozzarella mix. Top with the tomato tops. Serve and enjoy.

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