Long time no post

I have still yet to get back into the blogging swing of things since coming home to the states. Something about the combination of guests, Thanksgiving, more guests, trip to Sweden, final exams, three-week holiday vacation in six European cities, coming home, moving into a new apartment, and then a weekend to relax before the start of the new semester has left me reeling.

Anyway, I hope to start blogging again, especially because Tulsa actually offers a decent amount of natural light for photography. Until then, I found a picture that sums up a lot of my life living in Oslo.

staring at an empty chair

This is a breakfast I made for myself one morning while my boyfriend was asleep in bed. I ate it by myself in my little messy apartment kitchen. Mackerel, onion and sour cream omelet with orange slices, a carrot, tea and milk. Oh, Tine, my favorite dairy monopoly! What would I have done without Norwegian milk products? And of course grainy bread, which is conspicuously missing in this breakfast photo.

We also ate a hell of a lot of omelets in Norway, too. And gallons of hot tea.



On the cabbage family and comfort

This week my boyf, Dan, was on another four-day field trip. Last time I coped with really rich brownies. This time, for whatever reason, I used...brussels sprouts?? Who thought that a crucifer could give as much comfort and satisfaction as chocolate?

But whatever, they are so delicious roasted. Monday night I had them in a roasted veg medley (with potatoes, garlic and carrot, nosy!) with a honey mustard sauce. And it was good.

But Tuesday's cole crop special, which featured a balsamic reduction enriched with heavy cream and a crumble of Spanish bleu cheese, was even better. Nigh perfect, even. I hope I can recreate it now that Dan's back...he was really disappointed that we didn't get to cook the brussels before he left.


This would be a really great fall side dish, says I. Brussels sprouts are a brassica family vegetable, so they're never gonna get the spotlight at your dinner party--plus it kinda looks like camouflage (cute, baby cabbage-looking camouflage, but still). Even so, the taste is fantastic...sweet and a little tangy with an unusual sort of peppery flavor from the cheese.

(BTW does anyone know if this is a common feature of blue cheese? We got a wedge of Valdeon the other day and the spiciness is so prominent--I'd never noticed that before. Doing my research I've found that Cabrales is known for its spiciness, and Valdeon is supposed to be Cabrales' tamer cousin.)

Anyway so here's how it went down. First I did the roasting: spruced up and halved 8 sprouts or so (cooking for one, poor me). Threw them in a small roasting pan with a few cloves of garlic. Tossed with a spot of olive oil and a light grind of sea salt. Put 'em in a 200C oven until they started getting some really nice color on 'em. (Ah, just thinking about the gorgeous caramelization brussels are wont to do in the oven just makes me smile. ) I stirred once during the roasting so they'd get browner and more evenly so.

Once they were about done, I turned off the oven but left them in there while I reduced a little bit of balsamic (just enough to cover the bottom of a small pot--one person here!) with a dash of sugar until syrupy. I retrieved the roasted garlic cloves from the pan, peeled and smashed them, and added to the reduction. Then I stirred in a few dabs of heavy cream and maybe a tablespoon of the Valdeon (you don't need a lot, trust me!).

I ended up thinning the stuff with a couple teaspoons of water (didn't want to add more cream because I wanted to keep the nice dark brown sauce pretty clear). Then I dumped the sprouts into the sauce and stirred it all up. Dumped it into a bowl and cozied up with it, impressed with myself.

brussels sprout bokeh??


P.S. I was able to recreate this for my dear friend Ewelina (who brought me some lovely Polish and Hungarian chocolates!) and she liked it! Reproduceability--such a good thing! (But maybe not a word.)

They were right

Sometimes simple really is better, not least of all when it comes to cooking. (I hear someone named Einstein said something similar about physics.)

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Another idiom that holds a lot of truth in the food world is that good things come in small packages. I think a lot of cooks would agree with me that miniaturizing food is somehow tremendously fulfilling.

It's not that big things aren't occasionally terrific: I'd never downsize a greasy, sloppy slice of NY-style pizza (though maybe I should). But some things are just better smaller, especially when it comes to dessert. Recently I've taken to baking many miniature tarts and tiny pies, including my takeoff of a very simple apple tart from Molly at Orangette.

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For a two-person household there are lots of reasons that petite wins out over gargantuan: you finish the cake before it goes stale and you keep your exercise-resistant body from overconsumption. But best of all you get your own minuscule-yet-entire dessert. It really appeals to human selfishness and Western notions of property, don't you think? Why else do you think cupcakes have taken off in recent years?

Just kidding.

But there's something special, fun and attractive (or grotesque and cutesy, depending on who you ask) about desserts in miniature. And they don't all have to be baby bumblebee frosted cupcakes--this tart (whether individualized or full size) is elegant and understated, and perfect with a cup of coffee. I like that this tart is about apples, pure and simple--not the evocative, cinnamon-spiked taste of American apple pie.

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I've gotten into the habit of keeping a batch of basic butter tart dough, divided into small portions, hanging out in the fridge/freezer for whenever I want to roll some out and have my way with it. If I've made a dough recipe that calls for a bit of baking soda, I sometimes just straight up deep fry slivers of dough and toss them with spiced sugar. (Is that bad? They are so light and crisp and perfect, though!)

I also simplified Molly's recipe by using apple jam in place of the glaze (which is simple in its own right, just apple peels and cores boiled down in syrup until it begins to gel a little). If you don't have anything appropriate to substitute in your pantry, just follow her directions.

Simple Apple Tart(lets?)
adapted from Molly Wizenberg's adaptation of A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, by David Tanis
recipe yields 6-8 servings, but you can bake just a few at a time, like I do

You will need:
One batch basic pie crust, divided into 6 or 8 hunks (I like all-butter recipes but some swear by Crisco!)
About an apple for each serving you want to make
Sugar for sprinkling
Apple jam (or the original glaze)
Hot water

To make:
Preheat the oven to 375F or 190C.

For each tartlet, roll out the hunk of dough into a rough rectangle on parchment paper. Peel and slice the apple thinly (don't pitch the scraps if you need to make glaze), then arrange the slices in overlapping rows over the pastry. Sprinkle with sugar (according to your taste).

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Bake until the edges reach a deep golden brown and the pastry underneath the apples has crisped up. Don't worry if the apples start looking dry--the glaze solves this.

Mix a good teaspoon or two of jam for each tartlet with just enough hot water to make a thick, syrupy, spreadable liquid. Brush or spread over the apples as soon as the tarts come out of the oven. Slice into quarters or strips for easy serving.

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This is a story about jam and good humor.

It can be a battle to stay dry, warm and happy in Oslo. Most days lately are suited for nothing more than warm socks, a mug of Earl Grey tea, and the following snack (which, now that you mention it, is how I've spent this entire weekend).

lovin spoonful
first you take apple-rosehip jam

just add butter
then you add butter (arguably the most important part in terms of happiness)

jelly bread
then you smear it on fresh-baked homemade bread

The fact is, November is here and it's not going away. Every day we get a little less daylight and a little more rain. It's been raining/sleeting for the past three days with no signs of stopping. It's been gray and dreary for many more days than that. And it even snowed at the end of October! Quite shocking when you're used to Oklahoma winters.

proof that it snowed

Good weather is a rarity now, but when the sun comes out in Norway, it's like all the Scandinavian angels in heaven start sweetly singing the praises of the welfare state, fjords and brown cheese. It's even better when the beautiful weather keeps on giving, especially when combined with other Good Things. In this instance, cheap stuff and cooking.

In late September we had a stretch of gorgeous days. Sunny, blue skies, 60 degrees (F!). My lovely boyfriend and I even went island hopping in the Oslofjord.

dan conquering gressholmen
Dan conquering Gressholmen

That day, the weather was so pleasant and cheery that I declared that I'd gather apples and make jam. I collected the apples from my apartment complex and rosehips from the bushes lining the streets on the way home.

free apples look like this

Yes, I'm a scavenger. But you would be too if you lived in Oslo, home of the $4 cup of boiled coffee. Everything here is expensive. Cheap things do pop up here and again, like the constant weekend flea markets and the cheap ethnic grocers downtown. And the abandoned jeans I found in the dumpster. I'm a hunter-gatherer, ok?

free rosehips look like this

Because apples naturally contain plenty, I didn't even have to buy pectin. Discounting the time spent working (and the slight burns endured at the range), I spent next to nothing making it--the cost of one lemon and the sugar.

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free apples ready for their close-up, sporting characteristic free apple beauty marks

one very ripe rosehip

The sunny days are sadly past. On the bright side, almost two months later I still have the biggest out of the four jars of apple jam that I made stashed in my fridge. I dip into it at my leisure and each time its rosy apricot hue reminds me where it came from.

a spoonful of homemade jam help bad weather go down

these apples were destined for jam. note the authentic apple scab marks. (perfectly safe to consume, btw.)

So basically I took a bunch of apples and chopped them up. I left the skin and cores intact.

large dice
a pretty big dice

Then I boiled them with about a handful of ripe rosehips, chopped up, and some cloves, adding just enough water to keep the bottom from scorching.

let her go until everything's soft and mashy

The mixture took maybe about 20-30 minutes to reach that stage, with a bit of stirring now and then. In the meantime I had a bit of a snack with some of the leftover apples.

while you wait
you see where this is going?

ahhh, childhood!

After my snack, I pushed the apple mush through a screen, which took care of the apple cores and skins, the cloves and the rosehip seeds. It was pretty painstaking though, which is why I didn't strain it any further through cheesecloth. This is why I ended up with jam instead of jelly (which is made from clear liquid rather than pulp).

Then, as per the basic method of jelly/jam making, I added sugar to equal three-quarters the amount of pulp. I also added the zest and juice of one lemon. And of course I cooked it til it gelled, popped it in the jars and called it a night.

this is what I ended up with

A rough recipe for anyone who wants to try:

Apple Jam flavored with Rosehips, Cloves and Lemon Zest
1200 grams of apples, chopped roughly
About a half cup of ripe rosehips, appendages removed and chopped
3 cups water
15 cloves
Zest and juice of one lemon
3.75 cups of sugar (75% of yield of apple puree)

Boil apples, rosehips and cloves in nonreactive pot with about a cup of water until mashy. Push through seive or food mill. Measure puree and add three-fourths that amount of sugar and the zest and juice of a lemon. Return to pot and simmer until gelled (use spoon test or cold plate test). Watch for hot jam magma splatters. When it reaches the proper consistency, pour into sterilized jars. Store in fridge (what I did) or process in a water bath for shelf storage. Eat whenever you goddamned feel like it.

serving suggestion: taste test of jelly bread with and without butter

Please enjoy the sun if you have it--Oklahomans I mean you! Some of us get about 8 hours of dreary light per day. (I am officially sick of 4 p.m. dusk.)

one free apple
and use your free apples wisely!


Hvordan vi spiser norsk pølser

Would a hot dog by any other name taste so sweet? Well in Norway, they're conveniently disguised as "pølser," the general word for sausage. Since they're European you might be fooled into thinking they taste better than the American sausages we know and love (even if they are made of pig butts). BUT you would be wrong. They are exactly the same!

And they're omnipresent in Scandinavia. Don't ask me why, they just are.

In a way, it's quite homey. Walk into any 7-11 (yes, they have 7-11 here!) and you'll find an assortment of hot dogs rolling on the grill, just like in the states.

But here, hot dogs are even more versatile. Bargain-hunting at a loppemarked (literally, flea market)? You'll find pølser for sale there, too, along with delicious Norwegian waffels. Say you'd like to see the sights at Vigelandsparken. In the grassy areas surrounding the sculptures and rose gardens, you're liable to find groups of people huddled around an engangsgrill (literally, one time's grill, a charcoal-filled foil contraption designed to use once and throw away). And what are those pink logs lined up neatly over the flame? You guessed it! Pølser!

And of course, when you go camping, you bring pølser to grill over a campfire. The hot dog in the glamour shots is one such pølse, hot off the stick. I followed it up with toasted marshmallows, to round out the nutrition profile of my meal.


One different thing about hot dog consumption in Scandinavia is that the wieners are often enrobed not in a fluffy wheat bun, but rather a tortilla-like flatbread called lompe. It's made of potato flour, it's bland, and honestly I like buns better. But when in Rome.... (For the record, you can get buns here, it's just that lomper are more common.)

So here's how it's done: after grilling your pølse, lay it smack in the middle of your lompe, and slather in ketchup and mustard. (Or whatever else you like--in Scandinavia, hot dog toppings run the gamut from ordinary to...just weird. Shrimp salad atop a hot dog? No thanks.)

Next, just roll her up. Very portable, and poses less mess risk than a messy hot dog wedged inside a bun.

And of course, consume!

Yeah that's me. Yeah, that's not flattering. All in the name of cultural understanding!


Sunday Breakfast

Sundays are the best days to eat breakfast at 11. You know, when the sun pouring in through the window convinces you to get out of bed and grace the kitchen with your presence (or maybe it was the grumbling stomach). Then you don't eat lunch until 2. I love that; it's like the whole day is delayed just because I'm lazy.

An omelet-to-be.

I also have the luxury of no class or work on Mondays this semester, so I can do that. It's nice, but let me tell you, I don't really accomplish anything. Besides cooking lots, that is. I spent all of Saturday baking two kinds of bread (whole wheat and ciabatta). When I say that I mean I spent the day lounging around waiting on the dough to rise. Maybe I should have fit some homework in there...I've always been more of a grasshopper than an ant, though, what can I say?

Whole wheat (plus a bit of rye) bread baked into little loaves.

When you bake bread you can do decadent breakfasty things like THIS (well, you can also buy the bread, but it's just not as satisfying).

I don't have a toaster so I have to toast my bread in a cast iron skillet. Resourceful!

Mmmm. But I really wanted to tell you about my omelet, a dairy-stuffed number with sour cream and cheese, plus fresh tomatoes and sauteed onions and garlic. This is my favorite omelet filling to date. I think it would only be made better by a generous chiffonade of homegrown basil.

I have nothing better to do that snap photos mid-bite.

Ingredients (to make one omelet):
2 eggs
Splash of water or milk
Some onion and garlic sauteed in butter (boyfriend conveniently made enough for the both of us before I even made it to the kitchen this morning)
Mild white meltable cheese (I used Jarlsberg, a Norwegian Emmental-style)
Generous spoonful of sour cream
A few cherry tomatoes cut into wedges
Salt & pepper to taste

I guess you can't really see the tomatoes in this one.


Whisk eggs together with the water or milk. Salt now, or not, depending on your preference (salt makes the eggs set firmer, so if you like your eggs more tender, wait until the egg is cooked). Pour egg mixture into skillet still hot and greasy from sauteing onions (have heat reduced to medium low). Cook the omelet however you like. (For me, flipping the damn thing is usually too risky, so I just cook it slowly on one side until all of the egg has set.)

Give it a good grind of pepper at this point (and salt if you haven't already). Position the cheese down the midline of the omelet (know what I mean?) to melt along with the onion/garlic mixture. Take off the heat and smear the spoonful of sour cream along the rest of the filling and scatter the tomatoes over all. Fold (I do my omelets in thirds, and then flop it in half hamburger-style).

Maybe that explains the way I fold it a bit better?

Eat! Preferably with toast smeared with butter and honey. And breakfast beverage of your choice.

This one's gratuitous.


Best Cocoa Brownies (for Beating Blues)

That's right. I'm a sad sack. A whiner and a complainer. Even an ingrate. And this is a post about depression-induced brownie baking. While I should be having the gosh darn time of my life expanding my horizons in a foreign country, I'm not, to put it simply. Instead I bitch and moan silently to myself and tear up to Fleetwood Mac songs. And eat brownies. Ridiculous. But what can I say, I'm really really homesick.

(And I happened to spend all of last winter with my pals listening exclusively to Rumours and Tusk while hanging out in a fort. Well...a ping pong table covered in blankets and carpeted with pillows. Naturally! There was a lot of drinking involved and not a lot of class attendance. Ah, youth!! And thus, I weep when I hear Lindsey Buckingham sing "Second Hand News.")

To top it off, my darling boyfriend Dan (and de facto sous-chef) is gone this week for some wack-ass trip to a biology field station somewhere north of the city. Pout.

But us cookin' types always know how to make ourselves feel better, right? At least gastronomically? That's where yesterday's grocery trip came in. I had been moping all day, so when four PM rolled around I felt like I should at least make an effort to act more human and less lump. So I strolled down to the supermarket for a baking supplies spree!!

Me and my Norwegian cast of characters gearing up for the big show.

Well, wouldn't you know, the results of said baking did not quite cure my homesickness...but the brownies did make it a lot more palatable. I like to think of them as a form of culinary palliative care. I nibbled them as I wasted away in my bed, humming "Take Me Back to Tulsa" while daydreaming of all things American. Aimless summer car rides and sloppy Braum's cheeseburgers come to mind, and are probably making me more pitifully misty-eyed than I should admit. Maybe only chewy chocolate confections can keep me from going over the edge into soppy oblivion.

Just checking, does anyone actually feel worse after consuming delicious chocolate desserts? I didn't think so. OK, I confess, I did feel a little digestively disgruntled after stuffing one too many of these babies in my face. But psychologically? I was uplifted.

But I digress. These brownies are the epitome of rich chocolatey-ness (read: you will need some milk). They are dense, dark and chewy with a crunchy crust. They have the ever so slightly sophisicated (for brownies, anyway) tang of dark chocolate tempered with just the right amount of sugar. Not much else comes to mind as far as description goes. Oh, wait, except mmmmm.

Please tell me you picked up a carton of milk on the way home.

I admit, I have always had my doubts about cocoa brownies. For some reason, it's always been hard to believe you can get scrumptious, rich, chocolatey results out of a powder. You know? Maybe I'm nuts to think that, but I'm a believer now. Even without chocolate, this recipe probably has enough butter and sugar to make powdered cement reasonably tasty. Just close your eyes when you put it in the mixing bowl and I swear it will not end up on your ass.

That was a lie.

Well, I guess I'd better tell you how to do it already. The sooner you make, these the sooner you can begin working through the caloric guilt.

Best Cocoa Brownies
(found on Epicurious)

The goods

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Special equipment: An 8-inch square baking pan

Notes: I didn't follow the online recipe's advice to use "the best cocoa you know." I used the only cocoa available in the Norwegian supermarket. I also subbed the vanilla extract for 2 teaspoons the inexplicably powdery "vanilje sukker," reducing the flour accordingly. I have no nuts (ha). Lastly, my ill-equipped kitchen (so characteristic of temporary apartments) doesn't contain a square baking pan, so I used a sort of strange round pot...whatever works, man!

Strange, isn't it?

My cocoa powder. Dear elitist recipe: it seemed to work fine.

The method (as translated and slightly tweaked by me)

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F. Butter baking vessel. Then flour it. (Or if you're fancy/OCD, use more cocoa instead of flour.)

2. Combine butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in saucepan and double boil (I just ended up mixing the batter in the saucepan, worked fine). Stir occasionally and try to get it to be nice, shiny and smooth. It should not get very hot. I couldn't really get my mixture that smooth, as the biggish sugar crystals were not about to dissolve, but it didn't seem to matter. Let cool on the counter for a bit.

3. Stir in the vanilla now (or if you use vanilla sugar, add with the flour).

4. Add the eggs one by one, stirring really well after each addition. The batter will get very thick!

Really thick! Don't you want to put your tongue on it?

5. When it looks super smooth and shiny (like you just want to get a spoon and dig in), add the flour and stir gently until combined. Then give it 40 hard licks with the spoon/spatula. Don't forget the nuts if you have 'em.

6. Spread into the pan. (If you did things like I did, you will literally be spackling it in there. Your batter will be SO THICK AND STIFF. This may be because I never measure things super accurately.)

Just scrape it on in there as best you can. Or leave some behind to taste while it bakes.

"The other black gold," as it's known in oil rich parts of the world such as Tulsa and Norway.

(7. Lick and scrape as much of the batter off of the spoon and bowl as you possibly can.)

8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick to the middle comes out only a bit moist. This way the brownies will be somewhat gooey in the middle. If that squicks you, bake until the toothpick comes out clean.

9. Begin therapy as soon as the brownies cool a bit.

Most things are better with a little goo in the middle. Don't you think?