27 February 2014

Leek & Potato Soup

Ah, the leek. It's one of those vegetables that are fairly challenging to grow because it takes a lot of patience, care, and, above all, space to succeed. I don't grow my own (a balcony is no place for a leek to grow), but I'm basically saying that I don't envy those that do. When purchasing leeks at the store, try to get the ones with as much of the white part as possible because that's essentially the part you eat. Sure, the rest has its uses (mostly for making vegetable stock), but the white part is where the flavor and consistency you're looking for lives.

Mixing leeks with potatoes and adding stock, cream, and potentially some other ingredients is called a Vichyssoise and it is apparently either a French or an American invention. There seems to be some debate regarding the fact. I don't really care; I just think it's super tasty. While a proper Vichyssoise is served cold and contains onions and no buttermilk (only cream), I like the version found here better. It's lighter, it's good both cold and hot (I prefer mine hot), and it has a certain...je ne sais quoi.

Leek & Potato Soup

1 lb leeks
1 lb potatoes
1 quart vegetable stock (preferably homemade - if not, low salt)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup buttermilk (can be substituted with a second cup of heavy cream)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
white pepper

1. Cut off the dark green parts of the leeks, leaving only the white parts (including the roots) and the light green parts.

2. Cut the leeks lengthwise all the way down to the roots, leaving about 1/2 inch. This makes them a lot easier to wash because you're going to want to get rid of the dirt that may be trapped under the outermost leaves.

3. Once cleaned, cut off and discard the roots, then cut the leeks into small pieces.

4. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat and add the leeks and a pinch of salt.

5. Sweat over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then lower the heat to medium low and cook until the leeks are tender, about 20 minutes. Continue stirring occasionally.

6. While the leeks are cooking, peel and cut the potatoes into small pieces. Note that the potatoes brown quickly if left in the open air, so I generally soak them in water (or in the vegetable stock).

7. Once the leeks are tender, add the potatoes and vegetable stock and raise the heat to high.

8. Once the soup is boiling, turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 40 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.

9. Remove the soup from the heat and puree with a stick blender or in a food processor. If using a food processor, be very careful as the soup is hot - placing a towel on top of the lid helps.

10. Once completely smooth, stir in the cream, buttermilk, and about 1/2 tsp of white pepper, then return to low heat. Slowly heat, stirring frequently, until hot enough to eat. Alternatively, let cool down completely and serve cool.

11. Slice some chives and sprinkle over the top. Serve with crusty bread and white wine.

The soup will last three days in the fridge or three months in the freezer. Reheat in a pot on the stove over low heat.

16 February 2014

Kuvertbröd - Swedish Dinner Rolls

My grandmother, who passed away about a year ago, was a great cook and baker. I will always cherish the memories of having lunch at my grandparents' house because I knew I would get either meatballs or pancakes, which, to a Swedish kid, are about the best things you can eat in the whole world. One thing I had forgotten she baked (until my mother reminded me last Christmas) are these kuvertbröd - literally "envelope bread." At least that's what I thought all my life, until writing this blog post made me think, "That's a weird name for a piece of bread that looks nothing like an envelope." That's when it hit me: A kuvert in Swedish can mean both an envelope and a place setting (i.e., the plate and all the things that go with it - cutlery, napkin, glass, and whatever else). Using my Swedish brain even more (it's been a while since I spoke Swedish with any regularity), I recalled that you would use the word when talking about how many people would be coming to a dinner party.

With all this knowledge flooding back, I realized why these awesome little dinner roll-like pieces of bread are called what they are: They're individual servings that go perfectly with your dinner without having to share or slice bread. A cursory Google search proved me right: The name stems from the fact that they are for the individual and not for sharing with others around the dinner table. Bork, bork, bork!

Recently, I've found myself using these rolls for breakfast. I know that may sound weird to anyone in the U.S. reading this, but in Sweden, having a sandwich (we call it a macka) for breakfast is perfectly normal. We generally top ours with butter, Swedish cheese (which I currently purchase at IKEA), and maybe a slice of cucumber or tomato. A future blog post will feature the macka - I promise - and it's as Swedish as Absolut Vodka and ABBA. Read the Dragon Tattoo books and you'll find that they're having coffee and mackor (plural of macka) on every other page!

Anyway! This recipe is easy but made way easier with a stand mixer. It makes 24 rolls, and they freeze really well.

Kuvertbröd - Swedish Dinner Rolls

5 cups AP flour
50 g (about 3.5 tbsp) unsalted butter
2 tbsp active dry yeast
2 cups + 1 tbsp whole milk
1 tbsp white sugar
2 tsp salt
1 egg

1. Melt the butter in a small pot over low heat.

2. While the butter is melting, mix the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.

3. When the butter has melted, add the milk and heat to 118 degrees F (48 degrees C).

4. Add the milk/butter mixture to the dry ingredients and knead with the dough hook for 5 minutes. If not using a stand mixer, mix with a wooden spoon until everything comes together, then knead with your hands for 5 minutes.

5. Place the dough in a lightly floured bowl - it's likely pretty sticky at this point. Let rest under a kitchen towel for 30 minutes.

6. Turn your oven to 480 degrees F (250 degrees C).

7. Punch the dough down and divide into 24 equal parts - I use a kitchen scale for this. If you don't have a kitchen scale (digital), go get one. So useful.

8. Roll each piece of dough into a ball between the palms of your hands and place on a baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches of space between each piece.

9. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let rest another 30 minutes.

10. Crack the egg into a bowl and lightly whip with a fork.

11. Lightly brush each roll with the egg and sprinkle a little bit of sea salt on top. Alternatively, you can sprinkle with sesame seeds or black poppy seeds. Or just omit the sprinkling of anything at all.

12. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

13. Let rest on a cooling rack until cool enough to touch before cutting in half, slathering with butter, and trying not to eat too many in one sitting.

Once completely cooled, you can freeze the rolls in a Ziploc back for up to six months. While they can be toasted, I prefer mine not to be. Instead, I microwave a roll for 30 seconds on low power, then cut in half and microwave again on medium power for about 10 seconds. Your results may vary depending on your microwave, and you need to experiment with the timing if you're defrosting more than one roll at a time.

10 February 2014

Chocolate Coffee Cookies

I love cookies. The chocolate chip cookie recipe I've posted in the past is a staple, and I try to bake them pretty frequently - my wife and all of our respective coworkers seem to appreciate it when I do. While chocolate chip is awesome, you can really make a more interesting dough than just a butter/flour/sugar mix. Case in point: I made cookies that do contain chocolate chips but also have two more of my favorite things in the dough itself: coffee and alcohol. Chocolate coffee cookies!

Chocolate Coffee Cookies

2 cups + 2 tbsp (9.6 oz) AP flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 tbsp instant coffee powder
1/4 tsp sea salt + more for topping
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup coffee liqueur (like Kahlúa)
1 cup chocolate chips (I used a mix of dark chocolate and white chocolate chips)

1. Melt the butter over low heat in a small pan (or in the microwave) and let cool for at least ten minutes.

2. Mix the flour, coffee powder, salt, baking soda, and cocoa in a bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the butter and sugars until combined.

4. Add the coffee liqueur to the butter mixture and mix thoroughly.

5. Add the flour to the butter mixture gradually and completely incorporate.

6. Fold in the chocolate chips.

7. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.

8. About 20 minutes before removing the dough from the fridge, turn your oven to 325 degrees F.

9. Remove the dough from the fridge and shape into 1.5-inch balls.

10. Place the balls on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each ball, and sprinkle with sea salt.

11. Bake for about 12 minutes or until the edges are set (the center may not be completely set).

12. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before moving to a cooling rack to cool completely.