Musing, Recipe

Swedish kladdkaka (cloud cake? mud cake?)

I’m going to admit it right now: when I meet someone, then get to know them a little better, one of the things that comes to the forefront of my mind is food. You may be picturing me standing there, oblivious to chatting, with only a cheeseburger craving on my mind. No, it’s not like that. I mean, their food. Their food history, their experiences, their likes and dislikes. I’m not performing a secret food-background check on everyone I meet, either. Call it…the anticipatory excitement concerning the potential for a food journey? Something like that.

Growing up, I’ve always tried to be open-minded about food, because when you consider food as more than just itself—molecules and calories and nutrients and texture—oftentimes you find there is a story. An experience. Nostalgia plays a large role – I guarantee anyone will smile if you ask them to recollect a memorable meal eaten, a dish they learned to cook from Mom or Dad, a kitchen accomplishment. It draws you closer to them, and at the same time widens your own horizons.

The summer after my freshman year, I found myself in Northern Sweden, quite near the Arctic Circle, staring down a bowl of reindeer (or was it moose?) soup. For a while I had been an off-and-on vegetarian, for reasons unclear even to me, and now I was curious and slightly timid about this soup. I was visiting the Swedish grandparents of my boyfriend at the time. He told me that his grandfather’s favorite part of the dish was skimming a layer of pure fat off the top with a spoon. His grandfather was over 75 years old, had one lung, and still worked around the clock, farming and hunting. He spoke no English so we chatted to each other in our respective languages, nodding politely and gesturing, a slightly futile but wonderful, touching attempt at connecting. I ate the hearty soup that his grandmother had made, thinking of all that had gone into making it, appreciative of getting to try a staple dish that was a big part of their culinary life.

Over the course of my next month in Sweden, I would eat fermented herring that, according to Wikipedia, was found to have “one of the worst smells in the world,” and wash it down with fiery schnapps that made me gasp. I would receive chewy, tough reindeer jerky from said grandfather for a hiking trip. And though I couldn’t say these made my top food lists, I asked people to tell me stories about them. My boyfriend recounted childhood midsummer celebrations and his love of his hard-working grandfather. Here I was, getting to sample some of their past.

(Food journeys exist in the future as well as the past. Going on a local quest to find a food you’ve never tried before, a favorite dish, or the best pad thai creates experiences with someone that are fun and out of the ordinary. Push your boundaries – it’s just as valuable to know what you don’t like as what you do like – and explore. The notion of stuffy, expensive dinner dates with white napkins and unpronounceable menu items, while fun, is, well, stale. Run down a local food truck. Walk into an eatery without having read a single review. Order food for one another.)

The following recipe doesn’t contain reindeer, schnapps, or smelly fish. Rather, it is a translated recipe for one of my favorite Swedish dishes, which has its own memories attached. It’s light and delicious. I licked my plate clean.

Kladdkaka (Cloud Cake, Chocolate Sticky Cake)
Makes 1 8-inch circular cake

Ingredients
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla sugar (substitute vanilla extract if needed)
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter pan. In a mixing bowl, mix together eggs and sugar until just combined. Melt butter in a pot on the stove using low heat, then add to the eggs and sugar. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, cocoa, vanilla sugar, & salt. Combine wet and dry mixes. Stir well to avoid lumps.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 12-15 minutes. The cake will be moist—when checked, it should not jiggle in the middle, but a fork might not come out clean when done. Let cool, and then serve with fresh, unsweetened whipped cream and strawberries.

Feedback on this from said Swedish friend: “Well, where did you get the name cloud cake from? If anything, it translates to mud cake.”

So my last-minute Swedish translation might have been wrong. To me, the best part of this cake lies in the dreamy scoops of hand-whipped cream. But then again, the cake is a sticky, rich chocolate one, so “mud” makes more sense.

Cloud and mud cake? Let’s just say you should try this, because the creamy lightness combined with the indulgent chocolate is a dessert you will savor.

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Food, Recipe

Black bean red quinoa burger

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February in Minnesota and we have no snow on the ground. I repeat, no snow. It’s a miracle I haven’t witnessed in four years of living here, and yet senior year here I am enjoying a relatively warm, snow free winter. Thanks mother nature. We owe ya one.

Sophomore year was a particularly bad winter and yet my roommate and I discovered the wonders of all-you-can-heat, aka “tuition is paying for unlimited heating, so who’s to stop me from cranking this up full blast?” No one could enter our room without sweating. We had it hot in there 24/7. We wore t-shirts and shorts and used my blender to make smoothies and milkshakes. It prevented us from going completely insane once we stepped outside. “I feel like I’m being oppressed,” I moaned pitifully when I opened the door to the bitter cold.

In short, summer food in winter is excellent. These red quinoa black bean burgers are excellently excellent. They are more like winter-summer burgers, with lots of protein and hearty quinoa. These aren’t your average soggy veggie burger, the kind that make meat-eaters look upon vegetarians with pity in their eyes. They’re hearty, smoky and crisp. They hold their own and don’t fall apart. Topped with red onions, guacamole, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes, I would highly recommend this burger recipe.

Black Bean Red Quinoa Burgers

Inspired by Everyday Road to Healthy

This recipe makes about 16 because I cook dinner for a lot of people, so adjust accordingly for smaller numbers. It should halve well.

1.5 cups red quinoa
Olive oil
Sea salt
2 large onions
4 cloves garlic
12 oz jar assorted roasted peppers
Burger seasoning packet
3 cans black beans
2-3 tablespoons Soy sauce/Tamari
1.5 tsp Paprika
2 tsp Red pepper flakes
1/2 cup whole wheat flour

Prepare quinoa like one would rice: bring one part quinoa and two parts water to a boil (so three cups water,) add a teaspoon of olive oil and a dash of salt. Reduce heat and let simmer until all water is absorbed. Set aside.

Chop up onions and dice garlic: add both to a saucepan with a tablespoon of olive oil. Cook over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add jar of peppers and seasoning pack. Rinse and drain beans, add them to the saucepan. Stir until combined and add soy sauce, red pepper flakes, and paprika. Cook until liquid is reduced and let cool.

Preheat oven to 375.

Add 2/3 of the quinoa to the saucepan mixture. Using a blender, food processor, or emulsion blender, blend the mixture in small quantities, until it resembles a paste or thick soup. Stir in remaining quinoa as well as whole wheat flour until well combined.

Grease a cookie sheet and use a 1/2 measuring cup to scoop out burger mixture onto sheet. Shape in a circle and pat down flat– burgers should be around 1″ thick. For juicier burgers, make thicker– be aware these are harder to flip.

Bake for 20 minutes in the oven. Flip once and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove with spatula and serve with your favorite fixings.

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Food, Musing

the first meal of the day

What do you like to eat for breakfast? Do you like to eat breakfast?

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. It’s probably because it can go both ways–sweet or savory. I love eating at the beginning of the day when everything is fresh, the morning is bright, there’s a paper to read and tea to drink.

Lately I’ve been excited to wake up every morning to my giant bowl of oatmeal, with generous amounts of berries and apples, spices, a pinch of sea salt, and almond milk. One of my friends swears by toast, jelly, and eggs-over-easy.

I think what I love most about breakfast is its simplicity. The best breakfasts are breakfasts in bed, breakfasts made by someone else, fresh breakfasts, hearty breakfasts. Diners with a familiar mix of eggs, hash browns, and bacon. Pancakes the size of your head smothered in fake syrup. Everything hits the spot. And there you are, thinking of the day to come, treating yourself to a little optimism and sunlight. This isn’t fancy. This isn’t a four-hour French meal. There’s nothing holding you back from sitting there in your underwear. It’s breakfast. The most important meal of the day–if only because it’s the most unassuming meal of the day.

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Food, Recipe

chia seed pudding

These are chia seeds. Yes, I’m talking about the seeds that allowed you to grow your beloved, grassy pet in the 90’s. These are the same ones. But we’re not going to plant them. They’re a superfood, you see! While you’ve forgotten about them, they’ve gotten fancy. People eat them now. Buy them in bulk. Tout the wonders of their omega-3 content. Runners make gels with them and use them for energy. And yet these little seeds look very pre-historic. Up close, they resemble multi-colored pebbles. Mixed with liquids, however, they swell up and become gel-like.

An easy recipe that utilizes these seeds and also falls under the “healthy raw food” category is chia seed pudding, similar to rice pudding but no cooking needed. You can find these at a local co-op.

Chocolate Chia Pudding

2 tablespoons chia seeds

6 tablespoons almond, coconut, or soy milk

a dash cinnamon

1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsp honey

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. (Add milk depending on desired consistency: less milk will create a thicker pudding, more milk will make it runnier.) Let the mix sit for an hour, or even better, overnight.

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Food, Recipe

almond vanilla pound cake

Almond is a flavor missing from mainstream American desserts. In Scandinavia, I fell in love with the taste of almond, especially in baking. In cakes, Scandinavians use marzipan (almond paste) like one would fondant–covering a cake for a smooth outer layer. Marzipan is baked into the center of croissants, drizzled with chocolate, sandwiched with creme. It’s a popular candy at Christmas time, when my host mother rolled thin tubes of marzipan filled with raisins, wine-soaked nuts, and chocolate, slicing them into bite-size pieces.

When I cleaned the house I will live in for the rest of this summer, I found a single vanilla bean tucked inside an unmarked jar. I wanted to bake with it (vanilla beans produce a flavor unmatched by extract) and knew immediately what I would include–almond. We didn’t have any marzipan, but I found almond extract. I that thought a poundcake, simple and buttery, would best show off the flavor. Drizzled with a glaze as soon as it comes out of the oven, it has a crispy crust and beautiful pale yellow color, flecked with vanilla.

Almond Vanilla Pound Cake

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen.)

Cake:

1 1/2 cup flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 sticks butter

4 eggs, separated

3/4 cup + 2 tbsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp almond extract

seeds from 1 vanilla bean

Glaze:

1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted

4-5 tablespoons milk

1/2 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a loaf pan with butter/cooking spray and flour. With a whisk, combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside. In a mixer, beat egg whites until they form hard peaks. Beat in 1/2 cup of sugar a little at a time. Remove from mixing bowl and set aside. With the mixer, cream butter and add remaining sugar (1/4 + 2 tbsp). When the butter and sugar is well combined, add yolks one at a time, followed by the almond extract and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the egg yolk mixture, being careful not to over mix. Finally, fold the egg whites into the batter until just combined. Pour into pan and bake for 40-45 minutes. It will be done when a toothpick comes out clean, but be sure to err on the side of moist (avoid dry poundcake!) While the cake is baking, combine glaze ingredients in a bowl. If needed, add more milk to get desired consistency. Once the cake is out of the oven, immediately pour glaze on top and drain any excess. Let cool for 10 minutes, and you’re ready to go!

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