The Little Book of Fika

Great news! My latest book The Little Book of Fika is now available. No time is better than now for a little comfort and simplicity, and the Swedes have your back on this matter with their tradition of Fika.

Swedish Fika - The Little Book of Fika

“Fika” is the Swedish tradition of taking a break in the day, at least once, with a cup of coffee and a sweet treat. Sounds simple, right? Well, that’s the point. Fika is a moment to stop and take a breath, connect with friends and co-workers, or simply be with yourself in the moment – accompanied by a steaming cup of coffee, and a little bite of something sweet or even savory. Splendidly egalitarian and understated (as Swedes do so well), everyone can do it. The key is, well, doing it, and this little book will help you do just that. Filled with inspirational tips, a little history, and 20 sweet and savory recipes to accompany a refreshing beverage, this book is designed to bring a little happiness into your day, Swedish-style.  So go ahead and fika – you deserve it.

Red Cooked Pork Belly Recipe plus a Cookbook and Stir Fry Pan Giveaway!

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Leave a comment below through October 9, 2016 to be entered into the GIVEAWAY for a free copy of  the award winning cookbook “Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking” AND a free Anolon Nouvelle Copper/Stainless Steel Covered Stir-Fry pan.

Mid-Autumn Festival is the second most important celebration after Chinese New Year in the Chinese holiday calendar. Family members gather for a feast and enjoy the harvest moon. This year the holiday falls on September 15, and in partnership with publisher Clarkson Potter and Anolon Cookware, I am giving away a copy of Chef Kian Lam Kho’s award winning cookbook “Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking.” It’s a perfect book for you to learn how to properly cook authentic Chinese food.

phoenix-claws-book

I had the pleasure of tasting Chef Kian’s wonderful cooking at a private event sponsored by Cook’nScribble earlier this year. Not only is Kian a food writer, cooking teacher and food consultant in Chinese cuisine, he is the creator of the the Chinese home cooking blog Red Cook. His first cookbook, Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees, was the recipient of the Julia Child First Book Award from IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals). Among the dishes Kian prepared at the event I attended was Red Cooked Chicken, a traditional method of slow cooking chicken in a concoction of soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and aromatics. For this giveaway I decided to make his family recipe for Red Cooked Pork, which I discovered has the unique (and very appealing) additional step of caramelizing the sugar first, then browning unctuous chunks of pork belly in the caramel before braising. Say no more.

Anolon Nouvelle Copper Stainless Steel 12-Inch Covered Stir Fry with Helper Handle

In addition to winning a copy of Kian’s book, the lucky winner will ALSO receive a new Anolon Copper and Stainless 12.5-inch Covered Stir Fry pan, which is the perfect vessel for preparing the recipe below for Red Cooked Pork. Its deep shape is ideal for stir frying, with a sturdy handle for moving between cooktops and oven, and its copper, aluminum and magnetized stainless steel base delivers optimum heat control and performance on all cooktops, including induction.

Let the celebrations begin!

UPDATE: Congratulations to Jennifer Anne Keefer, who is the winner of the drawing and giveaway!

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Red-Cooked Pork – Home Style

Reprinted with permission from “Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking” by author Kian Lam Kho and Photographer Jody Horton; Published by Clarkson Potter, Sept 2015.

Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as a main course

1 1/2 pounds pork belly
2 tablespoons sugar
3 garlic cloves
2 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 whole star anise
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup Shoaxing cooking wine
1 1/2 cups pork stock, the liquid from parboiling, or water, plus more as needed.

Put the entire pork belly in a stockpot and add enough water to cover the meat completely. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium. Parboil the pork belly, uncovered, for 20 minutes, continuously skimming off the scum that forms on the surface. Drain, and let the pork belly cool. Then cut it into pieces about 1 1/2 inches square.

Combine the sugar with 3 tablespoons water in a wok over medium heat. Continue heating until the sugar syrup just begins to turn yellow. Add the cubed pork belly to the wok and brown it with the caramelized sugar, stirring the meat regularly to prevent burning. If you like, cover the wok with a splatter guard to prevent the fat from splattering.

Add the garlic, scallions, star anise, both soy sauces, wine, and stock to the wok. Bring the liquid to a boil, then transfer the contents to a clay pot or Dutch oven. (Alternatively, this dish can be cooked in a slow cooker.) Simmer, covered, over low heat, stirring the meat every 15 minutes to prevent scorching the pork on the bottom, for 1 hour or until the meat is tender when pierced with a knife.

Remove the meat and put it in a bowl. Reduce the sauce over medium-high heat until it reaches the desired consistency. Return the meat to the pot and reheat before serving.

To be entered into the giveaway for a free copy of “Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking” AND a free Analon Nouvelle Copper/Stainless Steel Covered Stir-Fry pan, please leave a comment below with a valid email link through October 9, 2016 (your email address will not be visible on the website). One lucky winner will be chosen via random drawing and contacted via email drawing on October 10, 2016 to receive both prizes. So sorry, but only readers with U.S. addresses are eligible for the giveaway.

Disclosure: The cookbooks for the giveaway are sponsored by Clarkson Potter. The stir fry pan used in the post and provided for the giveaway is sponsored by Anolon.

Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese and a recipe for Butternut Squash Stuffed with Gruyere, Sausage and Macaroni

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Christmas came early this year when I was asked to review a new cookbook,  Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese. Co-authored by writers Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord, Melt is an exhaustive celebration and imaginative re-creation of the beloved mac ‘n cheese. Embracing the childhood classic as a point of departure, the authors run with it, elevating and reinventing the tried-and-true combo in more than 75 original recipes which weave through the seasons, numerous cuisines and a veritable glossary of cheese. To top it off, the recipes are brought to vivid life by the delectable photography of Matt Armendariz. You will want to eat this book.

Whether you consider yourself a traditionalist (Tuna Noodle Casserole), an experimentalist (Chocolate Pasta with Bucheron, Hazelnuts  and Cherries), or a lover of far flung cuisines (Pastitisio with Kefalotyri Cheese and Lamb), there is something in this book for everyone. And while at times the definition of macaroni and cheese is  stretched to its limits, that’s all part of the fun you will have with this book – with rich and gooey results.

Which brings me to the cheese. While I am a pasta fan, this book is the proverbial candy store for cheese lovers like me. It’s packed with resources and tips, from shopping to storing to shredding techniques, with cheese from every provenance and milk-bearing animal finding its way onto the ingredients lists. This might help to explain the generous quantities of cheese assigned to each recipe – this is a very cheesy mac and cheese book. So be prepared to fork out a bit of moolah in the dairy department  – and reconsider canceling that gym membership for now. It’s all worth it.

melt pumpkins

Butternut Squash Stuffed with Gruyere, Sausage and Macaroni

In their book Melt, Stiavetti and McCord prepare this recipe in a large sweet pumpkin. In this adaptation I have substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin and  chorizo sausage for the mild Italian sausage. For the cheese I used all Gruyere in the filling  and then sprinkled the tops with grated Parmesan. The amount of cream has been reduced, because the squash cavities are smaller than the pumpkin.

Adapted from Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord. Recipe courtesy of Little, Brown and Company.

Serves 6.

3 medium butternut squash (select squash with wide bottoms)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces Spanish chorizo sausage, crumbled
4 ounces elbow macaroni
7 ounces Gruyere, cut in 1/4-inch cubes
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cut off the narrow necks of the squash, leaving about a 3-inch base, and save the necks for another use. Scoop out the seeds and strings from the base. Season the flesh with salt and pepper. Place cut-side down in an oiled baking dish. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until golden brown. Transfer the sausage with a slotted spoon to a large bowl cool and discard the drippings.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until just shy of al dente, about 1 minute less than package instructions; drain and cool slightly.
Add the Gruyere, rosemary, thyme, and sage to the sausage. Add the pasta and stir to combine. Fill the centers of the squash with the pasta mixture. Carefully pour approximately 1/4 cup cream into the centers of each squash without overfilling (the cream will bubble up as it cooks). Place the squash in a baking dish or on a rimmed baking tray. Bake until the filling is bubbly and the squash is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and turn on the broiler. Sprinkle with parmesan  and broil until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Garnish with fresh rosemary, thyme or sage. Serves 6.

Homemade Duck Prosciutto and a Tartine

Homemade Duck Prosciutto and a Tartine

For those of you not in the know, there is a fabulous food blog event taking place as we speak. I refer to Charcutepalooza: A Year in Meat, hosted by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster. These two bloggers have come up with the inspirational idea to cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman’s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie along with the participating food blogging community. I am a huge fan of charcuterie as well as the precepts of using sustainable and humanely raised meat, so it was without hesitation that I joined in the Charcutepalooza party.

The first challenge of the year was to make homemade duck prosciutto. I have long wished to make my own prosciutto, and what better way to get my feet wet (or hands salty) than with duck breasts. The only difficult aspect of the preparation was waiting 7 days for them to cure. During this time I learned two valuable things: Duck prosciutto is extremely easy to make, and that patience is a virtue – at least when it comes to curing meat.

There are many ways to enjoy duck prosciutto, the simplest quite often the best. In this case I prepared a tartine, or a French open-face sandwich. The prosciutto is paired with melting reblochon cheese and layered over mixed greens. At once rustic and fresh, this recipe is a great way to kick off Charcutepalooza’s Year of Meat.

Duck Prosciutto and Reblochon Tartine

Reblochon is a soft cow milk cheese from the Savoie region of the French alps. It may be substituted with Saint Nectaire or Camembert. Try using a variety of greens and herbs. I used what I had on hand: flat leaf parsley, mizuna and radicchio.

Makes 4

2 slices of french country bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick, halved
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups mixed greens, such as lambs lettuce, frisée, green herbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 wedges Reblochon or Saint Nectaire cheese
4 sprigs rosemary
4 slices duck prosciutto

Preheat oven broiler. Lightly brush bread with olive oil. Arrange on baking tray and broil, turning once, until lightly golden. Remove from oven, but don’t turn off the heat.
Place greens in a bowl. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper; toss.
Place wedges of cheese in a small baking pan. Top each wedge with a rosemary sprig. Broil until cheese begins to soften and bubble, 1-2 minutes. Remove from oven.
Arrange bread slices on a plate or platter. Top with greens. Place a cheese wedge on the greens. Lay a slice of prosciutto over the greens and cheese. Sprinkle with pepper and drizzle with a few drops of olive oil. Serve immediately.

Summer Solstice NOMA-Style: NOMA places first in S.Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants

NOMA Nordic Cuisine

This post is reprinted from the TasteFood archives in honor of NOMA Restaurant, awarded first place in S.Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants

Last summer we were in Denmark visiting friends and family during the summer solstice.  Miraculously, we managed to get a coveted dinner reservation at the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant NOMA, and realized that our luck was only due to the general population out partying in traditional solstice style on beaches before bonfires rather than in restaurants.  Seizing our opportunity, we invited our Danish friends and hosts (who were more than happy to abandon tradition for a table at NOMA) to join us.

That evening, we dined on a fabulous prix-fixe menu consisting of 7 courses composed exclusively of ingredients hailing from Nordic countries.  (NOMA is an acronym for Nordisk Mad – or Nordic Food in Danish.)  A visit to this restaurant is highly recommended if you are in Copenhagen, although advance reservations are a must. It is a fantastic collaboration between Danish chefs Claus Meyer and René Redzepi, and played an important role in establishing the New Nordic Cuisine Movement.  All ingredients originate from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.  They run from the familiar to the exotic: eel, musk ox, green strawberries, hare, seaweed, rye bread, black lobster are a few examples (quite out of context.)  You may feast on dishes such as Sautéed Dover Sole with New Danish Potatoes, Green Strawberries and Elderberry Sauce perhaps accompanied by Stirred Mashed Potatoes with Lumpfish Roe and Crispy Chicken Skin, and finish with Caramel Ice Cream with Icelandic Buttermilk, Dried Swedish Berries and Sorrel Crème Anglaise.


NOMA Nordisk Mad Cookbook

I enjoy poring over the NOMA Nordic Cuisine cookbook, which I bought as a memento after our meal. It is an inspirational and unique testament to Nordic terroir, and apropos several interesting blogs that attempt to prepare every single recipe in a particular tome of a cookbook, I would seriously have a go at reproducing NOMA’s – if only I could get my hands on chickweed, seakale and sweet cicely.  For now, I do what I always do and improvise with the seasonal and local products I find in my part of the world.

As we drove home after our long dinner, it was approaching midnight.  To the west the sun had just set, exiting the sky with a swirl of orange and purple flourishes in its haste to rise again. To the east it was doing just that, where the horizon was brightening with soft pink tinges nudging the gray-blue midnight summer sky.  It was truly a magical Danish solstice moment.

Gnocchi, Cannelloni and Judy Rodgers

Ricotta Cannelloni

As they say, the best laid plans…

This week I had the brilliant idea to make gnocchi.  I found some beautiful spinach at the market, and, inspired by recipes of home-cooked comfort food, I decided to make spinach gnocchi.  I consulted with my cookbooks and settled on Judy Rodgers’ recipe from the Zuni Café Cookbook.  I love Judy Rodgers and her restaurant, Zuni Café, in San Francisco.  I have owned her cookbook for many years, even before we moved to the U.S.  Her recipe is for ricotta and egg based gnocchi – light, airy, and mildly piquant with aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  I pictured ethereal dumplings delicately flavored with cheese and flecked with spinach nestling in a bowl with butter and parmesan for our dinner – sublime.

Now, perhaps, because it was a school night. Or, perhaps, because I had already spent many hours in the kitchen cooking for another event.  Or, perhaps, because it was the very nature of this recipe which drew me to it that proved to be so elusive.  Some things are just not meant to be.  This is in no way a critique of Judy, but rather a lesson in my own limitations in time and experience.  Her recipe oozes comfort and warmth.  It evokes the spirits of grandmothers past.  It implies tradition and secrets passed down through generations at the kitchen table.  It also assumes patience and deftness in the zen-like repetition of forming delicate pillows of egg and cheese.

Unfortunately, it was late Wednesday afternoon and a school night. I had one hour before I had to pick up children, help with homework, critique a current event presentation, and have dinner on the table. No grandmothers were in my time-zone, let alone my kitchen.  My gnocchi wisdom was unformed, my experience non-existent, and any questionable zen-like qualities I may have were rapidly dwindling with the hours in the day.  Nonetheless, I stubbornly plowed forward with Judy Rodgers as my guide.

As I stood over a bowl of ricotta spinach batter, eyeing the clock, I formed my gnocchi, well aware that I had no cues to work with in terms of judging my batter and its consistency, no comfort in mastering the technique of shaping and cooking the dumplings.  I noted Judy’s warning of avoiding a too-wet batter, but how to know when a wet batter is too wet?  Heeding her advice, I brought a small saucepan of water to a boil, so I could test one of the gnocchi to see if it passed the wet-test.  I carefully lowered one of my fragile almond shaped gnocchi into the water.  I waited.  I watched. The water grew cloudy and then foamy. I realized with dismay that my dumpling was exploding in slow motion.  It failed the wet-test.  I watched the deconstructed bits of spinach and cheese swirl around in the water, listening to the clock tick in the background, and made an executive decision. Stubborn I may be, but for the sake of dinner and my overall disposition in the rapidly waning afternoon, I quickly decided to go to Plan B.  A cook can also turn on a dime and improvise when need be, and a family has to be fed.  I would not be un-done by these delicate cheese and egg pillows; one-day I would master the elusive gnocchi-technique. I would even start my own gnocchi tradition, by golly.  Just not at 5 p.m. on a school night.

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

As for the gnocchi, the batter instantly transformed into cannelloni filling (surprisingly easy with ricotta gnocchi.)  A little more Parmigiano-Reggiano, some minced garlic, a liberal grinding of black pepper, and we were good to go.  I quickly sautéed an onion with some garlic, added a can of crushed Italian plum tomatoes, some condiments, and I had a quick 10-minute tomato sauce.

For the filling:
1/2 lb. (about 250 grams) spinach
Olive oil
2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Cannelloni shells, uncooked, about 12
2 cups tomato sauce (recipe below)

Wash and dry the spinach.  Cut off stems.  Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a deep skillet.  Add spinach and sauté until limp but still bright green.  Transfer spinach to a kitchen towel.  Lay another towel over spinach.  Press to extract liquid.  Chop spinach and set aside.
Mix ricotta and eggs together in a medium bowl until smooth.  Add 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, garlic, salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Stir to combine.  Mix in spinach. Using a knife, fill cannelloni shells with ricotta mixture.

Spoon a thin layer of tomato sauce over bottom of rectangular baking dish. Arrange stuffed canneloni shells in one layer over sauce.  Spoon remaining sauce over shells to cover.  Sprinkle with remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Bake in pre-heated 350 F. oven until shells are tender and the tomato sauce and cheese topping is bubbly and melted, about 45 minutes.

10-Minute Tomato Sauce:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz. can crushed Italian plum tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan.  Add onion and garlic, and sauté over medium heat until onion starts to wilt and garlic is fragrant, taking care not to brown the garlic.  Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and oregano.  Simmer 8 minutes.  Add sugar, salt and pepper to taste.

Easy Late Summer Dinner: Tomato Tart

Easy Late Summer Dinner: Tomato Tart

Tomato Tart

Early September brings beautiful tomatoes, their sunny colors cheerily keeping autumn at bay, reminding us that summer is not yet finished.  Sweet, juicy, sunkissed heirlooms, early girls, and cherries promise to bring a little sunshine to our dinner plates while the days grow shorter, cooler and crisper.

This tomato tart is an easy, light dinner for a busy weekday night that takes advantage of the kaleidescope of cherry tomatoes falling in our gardens and showcased in the market. The tart’s ease of preparation is, in part, due to the usage of store-bought frozen puff pastry dough.  I confess that as much as I try to homemake everything, homemade pastry (unless made well ahead of time and frozen) doesn’t conveniently figure into a spontaneous week night meal.  Fortunately, high quality frozen pastry dough is available in many stores.  I buy mine at Whole Foods, and while the price is not cheap, I see it as a break-even when considering the cost of the ingredients and time I would need to make it myself.


Tomato Tart
Serves 4 as a light meal or 6-8 as a side dish

1 sheet (11 oz./300 g.) frozen puff-pastry dough, thawed
1 1/2 lbs. (750 g.) cherry tomatoes, multi-colored if possible, halved lengthwise
1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram

Prepare tart:
Preheat oven to 400 F. (200 C.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4″ thickness.  Pierce dough all over with a fork, leaving a 1″ border in tact.  Transfer dough to a parchment-lined baking tray and refrigerate 15 minutes.
Bake in oven until lightly golden, 12-15 minutes.  Remove from oven, but do not turn off heat.

Arrange tomato halves, cut-side up, on crust, leaving the 1″ border clear. Drizzle tart with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Return to oven and bake 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.  Remove tart from oven, and transfer to serving platter.  Garnish with fresh marjoram (or basil) and serve immediately.

For a complete rustic meal serve with a wedge of soft, runny Camembert or Saint Nectaire cheese, thick slices of pain paysan and a salad of mixed seasonal greens.