Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kringla, Versatile and Amazing Little Pastry

    It’s the day before Thanksgiving.  It’s time. 
    I climb on the kitchen stool and open the cabinets in my 30’s kitchen.  After a sigh over the disarray, I reach for the top shelf.  Out comes a half package of spaghetti, the Dutch cocoa in the pretty tin, the excess corn husks from a tamale experiment, a lost BBQ spice blend, and six open boxes of toothpicks.  There it is, next to a sandwich bag of half used birthday candles.  The chipped, dark brown recipe box still has floury finger prints from when I stowed it away last year.
     I really only bring out the box around the holidays.  Most of my recipes are digitized and searchable or clipped from magazines and stashed in three ringed binders.  But, around the holidays, that annual nostalgia for familial comforts must be satisfied and grandmas old recipes are resurrected.  I open the box.  There it is, printed on bright yellow paper and given to me by my aunt years ago.  The recipe for Kringla.  An upper Midwestern mainstay, this Norwegian pastry is an enigma, both dense and fluffy.   The slight sweetness is like no other and immediately evokes memories of stocking footed mornings watching Sunday Morning and cozy evenings playing Rummikub.   My grandmother served Kringla with butter and a dish of jam.   They are frequent additions to after dinner cookie trays on my aunt’s coffee table.  My dad likes them with coffee in the morning.  When I asked him how Grandpa liked to eat them, he smiled though the phone and said, “Quickly.”
      My grandma always made perfect little knots.  It took me years to get even reasonable at it.  Still, most of my kringla look like pastry tumors with ears.  Never the less, I still consider this one of my go to holiday recipes.  Every year, I make a huge batch of them and freeze them by the dozen.  They make a unique host’s gift.  They also match surprisingly well with a glass of champagne as an elegant cocktail accompaniment or a late night snack.  What?  You don’t have champagne as a late night snack?

Recipe for Kringla
½ cup butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp soda
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Beat all the above together thoroughly.
Add 1 cup buttermilk and 4 cups flour alternately a little at a time.  Make sure it is thoroughly mixed but don’t over beat. 
Chill overnight.  This is an important step.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Roll out in logs about 13 inches long and the thickness of your ring finger.  Shape like a pretzel and move to a parchment covered cookie sheet.  Leave about an inch between each kringla.  Bake until lightly brown on the bottom edges, about 15 min.  Cool completely and store in an air tight container. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Protective Goggles and Kinetics

I got a lot of strange looks today.  At the grocery, the teenager at the deli counter kept covertly pointing at her head.   I thought she liked my hair.  I made sure to say thank you.   It wasn’t until I got in the shower and was lathering oatmeal-lavender soap through my hands that I realized my protective goggles from welding class where still nestled into my taciturn locks.  This isn’t the first time this has happened this week.  My husband is beginning to believe I have added protective goggles to my wardrobe along with a regular dose of soot smear on my face.  The soot is never in a romantic-hardworking-damsel type of place, like accentuating a high cheekbone.  No.  It usually extends at an awkward angle from the corner of my mouth, or leads straight out of my nose towards the left side of my lip.  Despite my efforts to unknowingly match them to pairs of vintage heels, protective goggles have not caught on.  I’ve just gotten so used to wearing them.   
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the welding class I’m taking.   It’s at the Chicago Ave Fire Arts Center in Minneapolis.  And, I honestly think, welding might be the most enlightening process I have ever tried to learn.   I feel about welding like I did when I first started cooking.  It’s become an obsession that holds court in my psyche.  There’s something about taking a pile of cast away metal and using fire to transform it into that thing you’ve always wanted.  That great idea you had in 1997 that you thought was always out of reach.  That problem solving technique you used to use when you where seven that started with “You could make a …”
Not to say Oxy-acetylene welding doesn’t have its limits.  This week I learned what pot metal is.  It’s pretty much a bunch of zinc and other cheap, quick melting alloys used in inexpensive manufacturing.  I believe it has been used extensively since the 1940’s to make Slinkys.   If you can imagine what metal would look like if it turned into foam instead of melting into a puddle, that’s what it looks like when you hold a torch to pot metal.  No matter.  There are always bolts. 
So, my first project stemmed from a shovel off a cultivator I dug out of the ground in our old yard, a pile of nuts (the metal kind), and a solder pin.  Being a lover of contradictions, I added a folded bit of paper from an old book that had lost its cover long ago.  I love a challenge so I made it kinetic.  

The class is once a week, so I will lay awake now, mind trilling with rusted springs and steel cranks.   Saying, “You could make a …”
I should take a moment to thank my parents for teaching me not to be afraid of power tools.  All those days Dad asked me to steady a piece of wood while it was fed through the table saw and watching Mom wield farming implements has given me approachable access to any tool I might need to follow my whims.  

What should it be named?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chocolate-Pear Jam

     I love jam.  I love it for cooking.  I love it for sauces.  I love it dripping down my hand as it slips off warm toast.  It makes that AM rush out the door, toast balanced on the coffee mug and trying to scrape frost of the car, routine bearable.
     Jam often evokes the image of moo-mooed grandmas in hot kitchens, elbow deep in pulp.  I, on the other hand, have been on a recent mission to upscale jam.  I'm convinced jam deserves a place in gourmet kitchens next to smoked paprika and pink salt.  But it retains a timeless quality that corn foam lacks.  
     I tried a few experiments.  I put salt in blueberry jam.  The first batch was like what you might imagine a blueberry would taste like if it washed up on the shores of New Jersey.  The next batch was fantastic and I served it with roasted marshmallows and Graham crackers.  I made jam from Shallots and port and served it with goat cheese. I considered these successes.   Then I was seduced by the Top Chef bandwagon and tried to create a bacon jam.  I put it in a BLT.  It was a weird pap of a surrogate. It was less jam and more fat spread.  I should have just used bacon.
      I tried not to be discouraged.  I kept trying to add a little this or that to a classic jam recipe until I found what I wanted.  Then I found some windfall pears at the farmer's market. I made Chocolate- Pear Jam.

Chocolate pear Jam:
5-7 very ripe pears
3 cups sugar
Half a vanilla bean
4 oz good quality chocolate, like Valhrona, chopped into small pieces
4 sterilized pt jars or a container for storing

     Peel and chop the pears into small pieces.  Depending on the variety of pear you use, the pieces may not cook down completely, so you will have small chunks in your jam.   Chop the pears so that you will still be able to spread the jam.  Put the pears into a heavy bottomed pot.
     Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds.  Add seeds and pod to the pot. How to split a vanilla bean
     Add the sugar.  Boil until the mixture gels.  There are tons of techniques for telling if a jam is ready.  Dripping it off a spoon, dropping it on a cold plate, bringing it a Voodoo priestess, use what ever technique you prefer.  If you don't have a preferred method, use a thermometer.  Jams should start to gel at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. 
     Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate.  When the chocolate melts, remove the vanilla bean and poor into jars.  Continue with the canning process or store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. 
                                   Anyone had an amazing jam?