Herring-Stuffed Small Potatoes

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My favorite thing about New Year's Eve is the food.


In Eastern Europe, the New Year is particularly special, as it was a holiday that replaced Christmas during the Soviet era. As a result, people would enjoy a big feast on New Year's Eve. Meals would often begin with a choice of appetizers and salads (followed by the main course and then dessert, both of which often went neglected as you'd be quite full after the first course). And, of course, herring, which would be served on a separate plate sliced, with onions sprinkled on top.


This year I decided to make an appetizer using herring. That way, those unaccustomed to the fish can enjoy a noncommittal bite. I've talked about salted herring before here, however for this recipe I simply used a jar of pickled herring slices I found at Whole Foods. This type of herring is sweeter and slightly more pungent because of the vinegar, but it works well with the potatoes.


If I can get away with it, I'll eat nothing but appetizers on New Year's Eve or at any other holiday. And if on no other occasion, New Year's is definitely the one to stuff yourself full of them. Try this herring appetizer or any one of these: salmon tartare on cucumber slices, deviled eggs, bloody mary shrimp cocktail, and mozzarella-stuffed tomatoes.


Happy New Year!

Herring-Stuffed Small Potatoes
Makes 10

You will need:
10 baby red potatoes
1/3 cup pickled herring slices, chopped
2 tsp finely chopped scallion
1 tsp capers
sprigs of dill for garnish (optional)

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the potatoes, whole and skins on, and boil until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain and cool under cold running water until potatoes are cool enough to handle.
2. With a paring knife, carefully slice 1/8 of an inch off the bottom of each potato, so that it can sit flat on a plate. Slice the tops of each potato and carefully scoop out the middle to make potato "shells;" discard the rest.
3. In a small bowl combine herring, scallion and capers. Fill the potatoes with the herring, distributing evenly among them. Serve on a serving platter garnished with sprigs of dill or refrigerate until needed.


English Mulled Cider: Wassail

Friday, December 21, 2012

Last year around the same time we were making some Norwegian mulled wine or gløgg. As the weather turned colder this year, I was on the lookout for another warm, spice-infused drink to warm the soul (and body temperature) in these dark, chilly months.

Not wanting to do a mulled wine variation again, I opted for some wassail.


Wassail (rather than wass-AIL which is what I was calling it, it is more commonly pronounced as WAH-sl, although the former version is not incorrect), is an old English mulled drink. It can be made using a variety of things, and there are many versions of it. Some use beer, others wine, with spirits sometimes added. I employed Tony to research the drink thoroughly and come up with the best version of his own.


Although there are many variables in wassail, there are some constants. One is cider (of the hard variety). The drink is said to have originated as part of a winter ritual to ensure that the next year's apple harvest would be plentiful (and hence yield more cider). It is therefore the base for the drink. Another is spices, so that the resulting cider is "mulled." It is sometimes strengthened by brandy, port, or both. Some versions add an egg, which we opted not to use. Similarly to a punch, wassail can be served with fruit floating on top, such as baked apples or oranges.

Historically it is served with toast, which is soaked in the drink and then muddled in it. The entire mixture is then consumed (presumably while toasting "wassail" or wæs hæl, which means be healthy).


There is something about the aromatic, pungent smell of nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon together with the warmth, sweetness and fruitiness of the drink that is extremely comforting in the winter.

The apples are baked slightly ahead of time, so be sure to start at least an hour before you are planning to serve it. If you're short on time, you can dispense with the apples, and add a splash of apple juice to the drink instead, together with some orange wheels to float on top. And remember Julia Child's wise advice, "always start out with a larger pot than you think you need."

As a serving suggestion: have it with some shepherd's or meat pie. Or toast. Wassail!

Adapted from NY Times
(Serves 6-8)

You will need:
5 Fuji apples, or another sweet, crisp variety
4-6 tbsp brown sugar, divided
1 large orange
2 tsp whole cloves, more if needed
Two 22 oz bottles of hard, dry cider
1 3/4 cup Madeira
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 stick of cinnamon
1/2 cup brandy

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Core the apples, then fill the middle of each apple with one teaspoon of brown sugar. Cut the orange in half. Insert cloves into one half of the orange, spaced about half an inch apart. Reserve the other half for garnishing drinks. Place the apples and the cloved orange half into a ceramic baking dish and fill with cold water about 1/4 inch deep (approximately 1 cup). Bake uncovered for 1 hour, until apples are softened. Remove from oven.
2. In a large stock pot, stir in cider, Madeira, nutmeg, ginger and the cinnamon stick. Add the baked apples, cloved orange, and the liquid from the baking dish. With heat on low, heat until the mixture is just starting to simmer. Stir in the brandy. Add the brown sugar, one tablespoon at a time, stirring to dissolve; adjust to taste. Wait until the mixture starts to simmer, then turn off the heat so as not to evaporate the contents.
3. Ladle the wassail into mugs or double-walled glasses. Garnish each drink with an orange wedge pierced with whole cloves. Serve hot.


Norwegian Chocolate Buns (Boller)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

While browsing around at an antique shop I stumbled upon the ephemera section. There was a fairly large selection with postcards from every state as well as some international ones.


I found a box, stacked somewhere between Poland and Switzerland, labeled vaguely as Scandinavia. It was separated into two sections for Denmark and Sweden. I looked through the several dozen cards and found a few from Norway. The one in the photo was sent to someone in South Amboy, NJ. The only message was “Hilsen fra” the person named, “Juleaften 1920” (Greetings from... Christmas Eve 1920).


There were a few others, black and white photographs of famous places in Oslo. One of the ski jump explained the sport, “You should see them jump. They glory in winter sports, just as we delight in baseball and football in the States.” It was sent in 1919. It reminded me of how I was when I was there, writing back to explain what was to me as a foreigner curious peculiarities or something notable.


One notable thing was bread. Baked fresh daily, it was supplied even to the smallest of grocery stores there before they opened each morning. We got into the habit of getting a loaf each time we stopped to pick up some food. Fresh, thick, hearty, soft with deliciously crispy crust, I couldn't help but tear pieces of it off to snack on during our walk home.


And boller (buns). These buns, perfectly sized to fit in your hand, can be found almost anywhere there. We stumbled upon them by accident when we were out exploring just a few days after our arrival. We started to feel slightly hungry and stopped at a newsstand for some good, black Norwegian coffee and found these buns.


Some were with raisins, others with chocolate. We bought five of the former and gulped them down immediately, splitting the fifth. They were fresh, soft, fluffy, sweet, infused with a spice that complemented them perfectly, yet gave them their particular flavor. The next day, as we were deeper into our exploration of the city, we bought ten. We each swallowed five. They were even better than the ones the day before - they were with chocolate.


The secret spice is cardamom, which is not an uncommon addition to baking around Scandinavia. In Norway, the buns are so popular that you can buy a prepared mix of them in stores. They are also very versatile. These can be had for breakfast or as a snack. The chocolate can be replaced with raisins. Or they can be baked without either and be turned into dinner rolls (without the sweets, they can be enjoyed with ham and some cheese).

Norwegian Chocolate Buns (Boller)
Makes 20

You will need:
4 cups (500g) flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cups (100g) sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
7 tbsp (100g) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) milk
1 package (0.3 oz or 8.75g) active dry yeast
1/2 cup (85g) chocolate morsels
white of 1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom, and salt in a large bowl. In a saucepan on low heat, melt butter, then add milk, and heat to about 100-105ºF (37-40ºC), stirring constantly. Sprinkle a bit of sugar and mix until dissolved. Remove from heat and pour over the yeast in a medium bowl. Stir until the yeast is fully dissolved.
2. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until uniform and dough starts to form. Cover the bowl with a towel and stand for 30 minutes to allow the dough to rise and roughly double in size. Then, stir in the chocolate morsels.
3. On a dusted surface, knead the dough a few times until smooth. Divide it into four equal pieces, then roll each piece into a sausage shape and cut each shape into 5 pieces, to have 20 equally sized pieces of dough. Roll each piece into a smooth ball between your palm and the dusted work surface. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover the buns with another sheet of parchment paper and let stand for another 15-20 minutes to allow the buns to rise more.
4. Preheat oven to 425ºF (220ºC). With a pastry brush, brush the top of each bun with the egg white. Bake until the buns are golden brown, about 12-14 minutes. Remove from oven onto a wire rack. Once the buns are slightly cooled, separate them from each other. Enjoy with a glass of milk, a cup of black coffee, or a glass of gløgg.

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