Category: bread (page 1 of 2)

How To Make Perfectly Imperfect Lefse At Home

I lied.

Earlier, I boasted that my lefse is better than your grandma’s. My first batch may have been better than your grandmother’s, but this batch probably wasn’t. Still, it’s pretty damn good.

Jake and I come from families with Scandinavian heritages. Our grandfathers epitomized the Stoic Norwegian stereotype and our grandparents drank strong black coffee. My grandparents’ shelves were decorated with rosemaling and books about Norwegian trolls. Although my parents didn’t outwardly embrace their Scandinavian heritage, they wore the wool sweaters decorated with reindeer and played the cassette tape “How to Talk Minnesotan” every time guests arrived. I looked forward to holidays where relatives brought pickled herring and rolls of lefse rolled around thick layers of butter and brown sugar. Growing up in Minnesota, encountering these foods at holiday meals or potlucks was the most normal thing in the world.

Homemade lefse is so special because making lefse is hard. It’s not impossibly difficult, per se, but most certainly a labor of love. The process involves boiling potatoes, ricing them twice, stirring in the salt, butter, and cream, and letting the mixture chill overnight. This step is essential. The next day, one must knead flour into the potato mixture and divide the dough into balls and chill them again. The final step is rolling out the fussy dough as paper-thin as possible and quickly cooked the lefse on a griddle. Making lefse is like a walking meditation.

There’s a reason why one branch of my family prepares it once a year. Everyone pitches in at the lefse-making party to roll out the dough and cook the lefse on skillets and electric griddles.

Lefse cravings are easily solved in Minnesota. Simply visit (most) any grocery store and grab a package from the refrigerated aisle. One can even visit a specialty Scandinavian food store like Ingebretsen’s or cafe like The Finnish Bistro for “lefse scramble” and “lefse wraps.” Pre-made lefse usually doesn’t taste like it’s made with cream or butter, but it’ll scratch the itch.

I am by no means a lefse-making expert, but I know how to make lefse that tastes really good. It’s not paper-thin or perfectly round; some pieces more closely resemble flour tortillas than translucent sheets. I don’t own a special lefse griddle, textured rolling pin, or cloth-covered board. But, if you want to make delicious, imperfect lefse at home, stay tuned as I tell you how to improvise with basic kitchen tools. The one tool you must have is a potato ricer.

Homemade Lefse

Ingredients:

Five pounds of potatoes. I use russet. Other recipes specify red.
7 tablespoons melted or softened butter. I use salted
1 cup of heavy cream
1 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 1/2-3 cups of unbleached, AP flour
More flour for rolling out the dough.
Serve with: Butter & brown sugar

Instructions:

1. Fill a large pot halfway full of cold water.

potatoes

2. Wash potatoes. Peel and cut into similarly-sized chunks. If you save some of the peels, you can roast them into a snack. Toss potato pieces into the cold water as you cut, so they don’t oxidate and turn brown.

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To roast potato peels, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake at 375 degrees F. until crispy.

3. Place pot on stove top and bring to a boil. Simmer until the potatoes are fork tender or easily smashable with kitchen tongs.

potatoes boilig

4. Drain potatoes. Rice them twice while they are still warm.

5. Stir in the butter, salt, and cream. Cover and chill overnight.

mashed potatoes

6. The next day, knead flour into the potato mixture. I start with two cups and usually end up kneading in about three. You may need more or less. The lefse will have a more delicate texture if you add less flour. Once the dough is mostly incorporated, divide it into two parts for easier kneading. The dough should feel smooth, slightly elastic, and a little bit sticky but not too wet.

7. Roll the dough into small balls and chill for about an hour. Warm dough is almost impossible to work with. It will rip, tear and stick to the rolling surface.

potato balls

8. Preheat griddle. I use a big electric skillet.

9. Liberally dust your surface and rolling-pin with flour. Gently roll out the ball of dough, making sure to sprinkle more flour underneath and on top as needed so that it doesn’t stick. If you find yourself using a lot of flour, that’s ok. Roll as thin as you can without ripping it. A spatula or dough scraper makes this process easiest. If you find that the particular ball of dough keeps ripping, simply roll it back into a ball, re-flour your surfaces, and try again. 

10. Gently transfer your lefse to the griddle with a spatula, dough scraper or lefse stick immediately after rolling it. If you let the paper-thin dough sit on the counter, it will warm-up and stick.

lefse flip

11. Cook lefse until it light golden brown bubbles form. Flip.

12. Transfer cooked lefse to a plate or clean towel. You can fold them in half or quarters. Cover with another clean towl and allow them to cool completely on the counter before storing.

13. To freeze the lefse, layer unfolded sheets between waxed paper. Place in freezer bags and store. Wrapping the bags in foil can help prevent freezer burn flavor. When you are ready to use the frozen lefse, thaw in fridge.

14. This might be sacrilegious, but I like a little crisp on my lefse. Reheat by briefly cooking them in a skillet. Spread with butter, sprinkle with brown sugar, and roll into logs.

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Is lefse one of your family traditions? Or have you never seen it before? I love talking lefse. 

Helpful Lefse Links:

Heavy Table: Lefse from Scratch: Worth the Effort?

The New York Times: Lefse Recipe by Molly Yeh & Sam Sifton

An Adopted Korean Makes Her First Batch of Lefse: My old Simple, Good & Tasty piece

Grandmother Jane’s Old Southern Fruit Cake

This is the ninth installment in my series in which I cook all eleven recipes I found my grandmothers had submitted to their old church cookbooks. Previous recipes include Crabby SnacksRice Pilaf, Frozen Fruit AppetizerSalad with Cashew NutsHam & Sour Cream CasseroleOld Fashioned Cauliflower SlawApricot Jello Salad, and Ship Wreck casserole (the one my mom hated). 

Remember these?

Crabby Snack label

Hello crabby snacks. This is the Velveeta-canned crab concoction that derailed my quest to prepare all eleven of my grandmothers’ recipes I found in old church cookbooks. After mysterious casseroles and ice cream jello, Jake begged for mercy. We took an eight-month break from my grandmothers’ retro recipes and found her “Old Southern Fruit Cake” didn’t sound so bad.

I can singlehandedly dispute the rumor that there is actually only one fruit cake in the whole world that people keep re-gifting. Growing-up, my parents received a fruit cake every holiday season and I was the only person in my family who ate them. I don’t know where the cakes came from or if they were homemade, but I ate them all one slice at a time. Of course they were speckled with those fluorescent green and red candied cherries.

I examined my grandmother’s recipe and couldn’t do the candied cherry thing. Yup. I’d sooner dig into a bag of Lay’s Cappuccino chips or hack into a durian than purchase a bucket of green cherries for the sole reason that they just really freak me out. I followed the sound advice of a friend and substituted dried cherries instead. They lent a pleasing tart note and so I recommend you do the same.

Fruit Cake recipe watermarked

Grandmother Jane’s Old Southern Fruit Cake is totally not gross. I made half of a batch and live to tell the story. Like most fruit cakes, Jane’s is dense and thick with fruits and nuts, but it’s far from the store-bought bricks. We enjoyed slices fresh from the oven and relished the dried fruit which had become plump and gooey. I chose to add brandy to the batter and, after the cake baked for two hours, we were left with only a hint.

Fruit cake slice watermarked

If I had any qualms about this cake, it’s that I wished for more salt. Fortunately, this is a simple fix. Try adding a teaspoon of salt to the batter or swipe some butter on each slice and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

This fruit cake is more like an energy cake with all of its dried fruits and nuts. Who needs chalky energy bars when there are glorious cakes o’ fruit? Thank you for this gem, Grandmother Jane.

My Take On Grandmother Jane’s Fruit Cake
This recipe halves the original and produces two loaves of fruit cake. I substituted dried cherries for candied cherries. 

Fruit Cake Cover Photo

Ingredients:
1/2 cup mashed banana
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup + splash of brandy or grape juice
1 1/2 tablespoon buttermilk (can substitute whole milk with a splash of lemon juice)
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs
1 scant teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups pecan halves
1/4 lb dried cherries
(optional) 2 slices dried or candied pineapple, cut into small pieces
1/2 lb. dates cut into large pieces

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 250℉.
  2. Grease pans and dust with flour so the cakes don’t stick.
  3. In a large bowl, mash the banana with the sugar until it forms a paste. Stir in the brandy, buttermilk and flour.
  4. Mix in the eggs until smooth.
  5. Add the vanilla, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  6. Stir in the fruits and nuts until combined.
  7. Pour batter into two loaf pans. Tap and shimmy the pans so that the batter is evenly distributed.
  8. Bake for one hour uncovered.
  9. Bake covered for another hour. Cool.

Only two grandmother recipes remain: Grandmother Jane’s braised Chicken Marengo and Crabmeat Casserole. I will not be preparing an entire Crabmeat Casserole which is a baked dish that contains crab, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise and cream. Fresh crab is not available here and frozen crab is expensive. Based upon the Crabby Snacks experiment, I’m afraid this dish would be a waste of resources if we prepared it with canned crab. Maybe I’ll try preparing a small ramekin of crabmeat casserole. 

Beet & Goat Cheese Flatbread

I love baking homemade pizza and homemade pizza is Jake’s favorite.

This week, I found beets at the farmers market and eagerly bought a couple of bunches. We ate the leafy beet greens right away. If you haven’t tried them, cook them like you would any other green. I don’t blanche the tops because they’re tender and wilt quickly like spinach.

Kale is the green everyone talks about, but we enjoy beet greens more. I toss them into sautéed onion and garlic and briefly wilt them in soy sauce and honey or maple syrup for a sweet and salty treat.

Beet Greens

For a special midweek treat, I prepared this beet and goat cheese flatbread. I baked my favorite, thin crust pizza dough recipe and spread it with goat cheese flavored with garlic scapes. Then, I sprinkled over diced beets and green onion. Beets and goat cheese is one of our favorite combinations and it brightened up our week.

Beet and Goat Cheese Flatbread
Makes two large but very thin flatbreads.

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How To Prepare the Garlic Scape Goat Cheese
Combine a large 10 oz. package of plain goat cheese with enough milk or cream to make it spreadable. Add minced garlic scape. The flavor of the scape is strong so I used a handful. If you can’t find garlic scapes, you could add minced garlic, green onion, chives, dill, and/or parsley.

How To Cook the Beets

Beets
I cook beets by simmering them in water because I first learned to cook them this way, though many prefer to roast. Be aware that beets will stain your cutting board. Here’s my simmering method:

  1. Clean the beets and remove most of the stem.
  2. Place them in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until they are tender enough to easily insert a knife into the center.
  3. Drain and cool until they’re cool enough to handle.
  4. Gently peel off the skin and remove the stem and tails.
  5. Slice or dice however you wish.

Preparing the Flat Bread:
Adapted from the recipe Lahmacun published by Saveur. 

Ingredients:
1 package of quick rise yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, combine the warm water, yeast and sugar. Hot water will kill the yeast. Allow to sit and bloom until it bubbles.
  2. Add the flour and salt to a large bowl. If preparing by hand, make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast mixture and olive oil. Gradually stir until the dough forms a ball. If using a stand mixer, add the yeast-water mixture and oil to the flour on low and mix with a dough hook until the dough pulls away from the sides and forms a ball. If it’s too dry, slowly stream in a little water. If the dough is too soft and sticky, add a little flour. Knead or mix at a higher speed until the dough is smooth and elastic and not too sticky.
  3. Form dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Loosely cover and place in a warm location until it’s doubled in size.
  4. Punch down and divide in half.
  5. On a floured surface, roll out dough and place on an oiled baking sheet. Stretch the dough towards the edges.
  6. Allow the dough to rise again for about 1/2 hour.
  7. Pre-heat oven to 400℉
  8. Lightly brush the dough with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  9. Bake until the dough is cooked through and golden brown on the bottom.

To Assemble the Flatbread

  1. Spread the warm pizza crust with the goat cheese mixture.
  2. Sprinkle with diced beets, sliced green onion and any herbs you desire.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Slice and serve.

Our Favorite Slow Cooker Corned Beef & Cabbage Meal

I took the plunge and prepared my first corned beef and cabbage meal for Saint Patrick’s Day.

It turned out well and made us realize that corned beef is not just for the holiday. Corned beef is for anytime.

Since Jake and I have been together, we’ve visited restaurants on St. Patrick’s Day to order corned beef and cabbage meals. The thought of cooking my own corned beef intimidated me until I saw how easy it is to prepare in a crock pot.

A reader, Stu, recommended covering it with water, sprinkling over the seasoning packet, and adding baby red potatoes and carrots.

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Cook on low for six hours, add cabbage wedges, and cook on high for another  hour, serving with butter for the veggies.

I also gained some inspiration from Martha Stewart and tossed in some onion and dried thyme. This method worked perfectly.

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Point vs. Flat Cut?
If you have never bought corned beef, you’ll notice your grocery may sell point or flat cuts with a significant price difference. I was only able to find one brand, but I’m sure you can find more in larger cities. We bought our point cut for $7, as opposed to $16.

Afterwards, I learned the point is fattier than the flat and less uniform in shape. But if you are slow cooking it, who cares about its shape? It may be fattier, but at least it won’t dry out. You can always remove the excess fat after it’s done cooking.

We feasted on corned beef for several more meals. As for the last little bit of meat, I shredded it and placed it on top of a frozen cheese pizza. This should be a thing. Corned beef on everything, please.

Soda Bread
We dunked hearty slices of Ina Garten’s Irish soda bread into the corned beef’s broth.

soda bread collage.jpg

I made a few small changes by adding less sugar, substituting lemon zest for orange, and raisins for currants. This also turned out well, though it tends to become more crumbly and dry each day its left over. My only complaint is that the raisins on the surface of the bread got burnt so I picked them off.

Did you make a corned beef meal? What are your favorite cooking methods?

My Mom’s Garlic Toasts

Writing my last article for Simple, And Tasty’s Farm To Fork, A CSA Series brought back memories of my mom’s cooking.

I reflected on my adaptation of the mini cheesecakes my mom used to make each Christmas. These treats were the vanilla wafer and cherry pie filling crown jewels on our Christmas Eve dinners. I haven’t thought about them for years and enjoyed the process of recreating them as an adult. Writing the last Farm To Fork article also brought to mind of carving pumpkins as children, as my mom roasted the pumpkin seeds.

This time of year has been difficult since my mother passed away in 2008. Whether I want to or not, I can’t help but think about her passing. Our recent wedding was fun, and our wedding was hard. Not an occasion from which I’d ever imagined her being absent.

Then I thought about her garlic toasts. The majority of my mom’s cooking was simple and hearty and some of it was semi-homemade. My dad often traveled for work and was gone for 11 days at a time while she stayed home to take care of my brother and I.  For her, cooking was more work than fun, though she seemed to enjoy trying new recipes as we finished high school and went to college.

During our last Christmas Eves together, she prepared our favorite artichoke dip and garlic toasts. I remember enjoying the leftover toasts days later, even when became so stale and sharp, they were painful to eat. This fall, I baked big batches of the toasts to nibble for breakfast or for snacks.

I make these toasts and think of my mom. To honor the memories we all shared together and for the new family I’ve found in Jake.  I also make them because they just taste good and are easy to prepare.

Ingredients:
French bread
Olive oil
Garlic salt
Black pepper
Optional: Cayenne pepper, ground
Marjoram, dried
Parmesan cheese, grated
Instructions:
  1. Cut French bread into thin slices and place in a single layer on a sheet pan.
  2. Lightly drizzle with olive oil. Flip bread and rub oil on both sides.
  3. Season with garlic salt, black pepper, cayenne, and marjoram. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
  4. Bake until golden brown.
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