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Whatever fløts your grøt

Friday, November 28, 2014

Fløtegrøt is a Norwegian creamy pudding still enjoyed on special occasions today in Norway and parts of the United States with a history of immigration from Norway. The word fløtegrøt is a compound of the words fløte (cream) and and grøt (porridge). It is thickened with flour and can be flavored with sweetener and spices.

A 100-year-old recipe from the St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN) Phi Kappa Phi Literary Society's cookbook explains the modern process of making the pudding:
“Use a round bottomed kettle; have a good pudding stick. Take rich cream – if a little sour it may be used anyway. Let it come to a boil, then sift in flour gradually, stirring rapidly. When about as thick as cornstarch pudding do not put in more flour. Let it boil and stir constantly, and the butter will be given off. As it floats pour it off into a cup and put on back of stove to keep warm. When you can drain off no more butter add a little warm milk and stir…Cook well, stirring continually. When done serve with the hot butter drippings, sugar and cinnamon. This mush is very rich and a quart of thick cream will make enough for six or eight persons.”
Kathleen Stokker in Remedies and Rituals: Folk Medicine in Norway and the New Land describes a childbirth tradition brought to Minnesota by 19th-Century Norwegian immigrants: 
“Mothers who survived the birth could look forward to the far more joyous custom of receiving the sengemat (bed food)…” 

She also relates a story from a doctor about his mother’s experience in 1857:
“…the neighbor woman came to see her and brought along fløtegrøt, such as had been the custom on similar occasions in Norway.” 
Stokker writes that the practice of sengemat dates back to Viking times, but offers no further explanation for this claim.

Toying with this idea of Vikings making fløtegrøt, I came up with a process of making the dish with ingredients more likely to be available in medieval Scandinavia, where white flour, sugar and cinnamon were hard to come by. I won't bore you with the details from my research into other flour-thickened puddings of the Middle Ages, but will just jump to the recipe:

Pour a quart of cow's milk cream into a heavy kettle over a very low fire or hot coals. Stir frequently with a frayed stick or whisk. If butter rises to the surface, skim off and keep in a bowl. While the cream heats, sift some freshly ground wheat flour through a cloth to remove the bran. When the cream boils, slowly sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly with the whisk to prevent lumps from forming. Keep sprinkling in flour and stirring until you have a thick pudding. Cook until the floury taste is gone. Thin out with warm milk if needed and sweeten with a small amount of honey. Best served warm with some of the melted butter drizzled on it. 

I made this version for an event last weekend and its creamy, slightly sweet flavor got rave reviews.  It is decadent, so serve small portions and use a quart of cream only if you want at least eight servings.  


Who needs yeast packets to make bread?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Not me! I've been having great success making bread that is leavened only by sourdough starter. 
There is a great bread recipe called "Almost No-Knead Bread" from Cooks Illustrated that I love, but I love using real sourdough even more than the CI recipe for faux-sourdough flavor, so I gave the recipe a sourdough makeover. Granted, the time savings of the CI recipe are gone. Baking with sourdough as the only leavening is for those who like it a bit old-school.

My recipe assumes that you already have a sourdough starter available. If not, you'll need some time to refresh one you've received from someone you know or to start one from scratch. There are several from-scratch processes described in the books The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, Sourdough Cookery by Rita Davenport and Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish.

Also assumed: that you own a cast-iron Dutch oven with a lid.

Crusty Sourdough Bread
yield: 1 loaf, approximately 1 pound

Step 1: Refresh the starter 
Stir 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour and 2 Tbsp water into the starter. Leave the container out on the kitchen counter several hours until starter is bubbly and increasing in size. 

Step 2: Mix up the recipe
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces)
1 cup unbleached bread flour (5 ounces)
1 cup whole-wheat flour (5 ounces)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sourdough starter
1/2 cup water, plus a little more if dough is dry
In large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients, then stir in sourdough starter with enough water to make the dough into a shaggy-looking ball. Start with 1/2 cup water and add a little more water if dough is dry and not coming together.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave out overnight.

Step 3: Prepare for rising 
Line a flat pasta bowl, a bread basket or an 8-inch cast-iron skillet with parchment paper and grease the paper with cooking spray. Remove your plastic wrap from the mixing bowl and spray one side with cooking spray.

Step 4: Knead and shape
Spread flour over your kneading surface and knead your dough just 10-15 turns until it is smooth and elastic. Gently pull sides down under the loaf to make a ball, squeeze bottom seam together and place loaf seam-side down in the parchment-lined bowl//basket/skillet. Cover loosely with the plastic wrap, oily side down. Allow to rise until nearly doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. About 1/2 hour before the end of rising, turn on the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit with a cast-iron Dutch oven (lid on) inside it on the lowest rack.

Step 5: Baking a crusty loaf
Sprinkle the loaf with flour, then slash a 1/2 inch-deep line across the loaf with a sharp knife. Turn on the kitchen exhaust fan, if you have one, before the next part. Carefully bring out the Dutch oven, open the lid, pull up the corners of the parchment paper around your loaf, place the paper with the loaf in it inside the Dutch oven. Cover carefully with lid, turn oven temperature down to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and bake 30 minutes. 

At 30-minute mark, remove lid and continue baking loaf in Dutch oven another 20-25 minutes until it is well-browned and center temperature of loaf is 210 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool finished loaf on a wire rack.

Step 6: Eating and storing
I'm assuming that you will already start to eat the bread the same day it is made, as soon as it is cool. Who could wait longer? I won't tell you what to put on your bread, but storage is a piece of cake. Turn the cut side of the loaf down on a cutting board.

Alternatively, you could wrap the whole loaf in foil. If the crust is getting tough and losing its crispness, it can be re-crisped in the oven or toaster. This bread is still delicious on Day 2 and makes great toast for a couple days afterward. 

Keeping a sourdough starter: Once you've got your starter going, you can store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container between uses. I feed mine at least once a week by mixing in 2 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour and 1 Tbsp water. I feed it more, still in a ratio of 2 parts flour to 1 part water, if I will be baking often. If I baked nearly every day, I'd just leave the starter container out on the counter to keep those yeasts really active. If I know I won't be baking for a while, but the starter is getting close to filling the container, I discard some before the next feeding.


The Müsli-on-the-cheap experiment

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

While I was a college student in Germany, I fell in love with the breakfast mixture of whole grains, nuts and fruits called Müsli. It has all the ease of cold cereal – pour into bowl, pour on milk or stir in yogurt. After it has soaked a short while in milk or yogurt (or my favorite soaking liquid of plain yogurt thinned with almond milk), the grain in Müsli softens up as it soaks up liquid, yielding a bowl of tender grains with exciting bits of crunchy nuts and sweet dried fruits in a creamy sauce. It has only as much sugar as the dried fruits in the mix. Unlike granola, Müsli is cheap and easy to make; no baking required, the ingredients don't need to be pricey ones. Also, it does not have the added oil of granola, just the fats that might be in nuts and grains.

I was hoping I could make a cheaper at-home version of my current favorite brand, Seitenbacher. I wanted to vary the ingredients a bit, but keep the texture mix of crunchy and chewy and the flavors of sweet and tart dried fruits.

Original Seitenbacher Müsli #2 ingredients

Rolled oats
Rolled barley flakes
Dried raspberries
Dried apples
Sunflower seeds
Sliced almonds

Net weight: 16 oz
Retail price: $4.99 per 16 oz    (sometimes on sale at $3.99)
Price per ounce: when on sale, $0.25 per ounce

                        When at regular price, $0.31 per ounce

New at-home version

Quaker Old-fashioned Oats, 1 lb 2 oz = $3.50, or $0.20 per ounce
Rolled rye flakes (cheaper than rolled barley), 8 oz = $1.03, or $0.13 per ounce
Sunflower seeds, 6.08 oz = $1.17, or $0.14 per ounce
Dried apples, 2.4 oz = $1.69, or $0.71 per ounce
Golden Raisins 15 oz = $4.99, or $0.33 per ounce
Pecan pieces, on sale 16 oz = $8.49, or $0.53 per ounce
Dried raspberries not available (maybe I could dry some from my back yard next year!)

Trial recipe for Müsli-on-the-cheap

7.5 oz oats (cost: $1.50)
5.25 oz golden raisins (cost: $1.73)
4 oz rye flakes (cost: $0.52)
4 oz pecan pieces (cost: $2.12)
3.25 oz sunflower seeds (cost: $0.45)
2.4 oz dried apples, chopped (cost: $1.69)

Total weight of finished cereal: 26.4 oz (1 pound, 10.4 oz)
Total price of finished cereal: $8.01
Price per ounce = $0.30

I think I can still do this a bit cheaper. I love pecans, but pecan pieces had a bit too strong of a flavor along with sunflower seeds, and I decided I’d like a more grain-based cereal with fewer nuts, seeds and apples per spoonful. On my next attempt, I’m going to increase the amount of grains per batch and reduce the amounts of nuts, seeds and apples. I might change the nuts to sliced almonds instead of pecans next time, but I will have less of whichever nut is involved. Perhaps the rolled oats at the natural foods store will be cheaper per ounce than the Quaker oats, too. That store had rye flakes that cost less than my oats!

Update after next grocery run: store brand old-fashioned oats on sale, 1 pound 2 oz for $1.50!


Food pictures are back, baby!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

I've been watching old episodes of Futurama lately, so I'm hearing Bender in my head when I write the title of this post.
I haven't been posting any photos to go along with recipes for a while because our camera quit playing nicely with its power source and wouldn't stay powered on long enough to take pictures.
New camera has arrived, I've played around with taking a few photos of my houseplants, and the next time there is a recipe to post, there will be photos!
I'm looking forward to taking photos of food and markets on an upcoming trip to Korea. Will post some here for your enjoyment. If only the photo transmitted smell and taste.


Introducing kids to medieval flavors

Saturday, May 31, 2014

I've been at two different schools this spring giving presentations about medieval food to local kids. The kids I've talked to find it a bit strange that children in medieval England were likely to drink ale at breakfast and that even in the wealthiest households there were not always enough cups and plates to go around and people shared them at table. They have shown much curiosity in whether some of their favorite foods also showed up on medieval tables, whether they were told correctly that wealthy feasters enjoyed such odd dishes as roast peacock dressed in its feathers and cockentrice, and whether the table knife I bring to medieval-style feasts (that piece of tableware was usually provided by the diners, not by their hosts) is a weapon. For the record, my table knife has only been used on food, the peacock and cockentrice stories are for real (I've seen the original recipes) and pizza and potatoes were unknown to the Europeans of the Middle Ages. 

At the first school demo, I had the opportunity to bring a dish for the students to taste. They impressed me by being more adventurous eaters than I expected. A few even asked for second helpings, which I was happy to provide. I was telling my favorite friendly city bus driver about the school demo and he asked for the recipe, since he hasn't eaten any medieval food either. I hope he likes it as well as the schoolchildren. 

This dish travels well if it is in a sturdy pie plate and it is tasty when cold or warm. Enjoy the mix of sweet and savory flavors, a typical medieval English combination.

Tart in Ember Day
A tart for religious holidays in medieval England when eating meat was forbidden

Pie crust:
Measure all the ingredients by weight with a scale.
8 ounces all-purpose flour
4 ounces whole-wheat flour
8 ounces cold butter
4 ounces ice-cold water
1/8 ounce salt

Mix the flour and salt. Cut the butter into 1/8-inch cubes. Rub into the flour until flour-butter pieces are the size of small peas. Mix in the water and push mixture together with your hands to make a ball of dough in your bowl. You may need to mix in a tablespoon or two more of the water to get a dough to form. Divide your dough ball into two pieces, wrap and refrigerate at least one hour before rolling out for your pie plate.

Tart filling:
4 Tbsp butter
pinch of saffron threads

Melt the butter, cool a little and stir in the saffron. Let this mixture sit while you prepare the rest of the tart filling.

2 medium-sized onions
dash of salt

Boil a couple cups of water in a small pan with the salt. Peel the onions, cut off ends and chop each onion finely. Parboil the onions until tender, drain in a strainer with very small holes. Make the rest of the filling while the onions are drip-drying:

1 ½ pounds cottage cheese
about 1 cup chopped parsley
½ cup zante currants or golden raisins
2 Tbsp sugar
10 eggs
1 tsp chopped fresh sage
½ tsp ginger powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
3 cloves, ground
½ tsp ground nutmeg
small pinch of ground mace
½ tsp salt
1 cup breadcrumbs made from fresh bread

Mash the cottage cheese in a large bowl until it is no longer in lumpy curds but is smooth. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Mix the eggs and all the rest of the filling ingredients in with the cottage cheese, including the saffron butter and onions.

Roll out two rounds of pie dough and line two 9-inch pie plates. Pour half the filling into each pie shell. Put the tarts side-by-side on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit about 20 minutes, turn each pie plate (move the outside edges to the center), and bake another 10 to 20 minutes or until center of each tart is just barely set.

Original recipe sources:
“Tart in Ymbre Day” in Ancient Cookery, a collection of 14th Century English recipes edited by Samuel Pegge
original text: Take and perboile oynouns presse out the water & hewe hem smale. Take brede & bray it in a morter, and temper it up with Ayren. Do therto butter, safroun and salt, & raisouns courauns, & a litel sugur with powdour douce, and bake it in a trap, & serue it forth.

“Tart in ymbre day” in Forme of Cury, a 14th Century English cookbook, edited by C. B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler in their book Curye on Inglish
original text: Take and perboile oynouns & erbis & presse out the water & hewe hem smale. Take grene chese & bray it in a morter, & temper it up with ayren. Do therto butter, safroun and salt, & raisouns corauns, & a litel sugar with powdour douce, & bake it in a trap, & serue it forth.

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