Friday, December 16, 2011

Kids Make Danish Pebber Nodder (Christmas Cookies)

A little taste of Denmark for Christmas

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

These may be the easiest cookies you'll ever make. In fact, you might say they're downright rudimentary. But one of my favorite spices--cardamom--gives these little shortbread nuggets--called pebber nodder in Denmark--a huge lift.

I was looking for something quick and easy for our last baking class before the holiday break. These cookies certainly filled the bill, but they looked a little too plain when they came out of the oven, so we dressed them up with a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar. They would work great in a selection of holiday cookies. And they get the kids in our food appreciation classes fully involved--creaming butter and sugar, mixing the dough, rolling it out, then taking turning cutting the dough into these little pillow shapes.

Start by creaming 1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature butter with 1 cup granulated sugar. Beat until the mixture lightens in color, then add 2 eggs, one at a time, beating until the eggs are completely incorporated. We do this by hand in a mixing bowl using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, but of course you can also do it at home with an electric mixer.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and ground cardamom.

Cutting a log of dough into pebber nodder

Add the flour mix to the butter mix and gently blend until you have a smooth dough. Divide the dough into six balls--you might want to roll them in a little flour. Then, on a floured work surface, roll out one of the balls into a long, thin log--about the thickness of a cigar. Cut the log into 3/4-inch lengths and place these on an ungreased baking sheet, leaving some room around each nugget. Place in a 375-degree oven and bake 14 minutes, or until the pebber nodder are firm, the undersides lightly browned. Use an inverted spatula to move them to wire racks to cool.

Working through each ball of dough individually, we filled a total of three baking sheets. In other words, this recipe makes a lot of pebber nodder. As they cooled, we transferred them to a basket where we dusted them with powdered sugar as you see in the picture above.

They are quite delicious. I'll bet you can't eat just one!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tell This Woman How Much You Disapprove

Former White House aide Anita Dunn: corporate food shill

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

How far behind the times are we?

Apparently, it was last October that food policy writer Marion Burros reported in Politico that the White House's former communications director, Anita Dunn, is now leading the multi-million-dollar lobbying efforts of food corporations trying to put the kibash on Obama administrations attempts to curb junk food marketing to children.

Much has been written lately about how the food industry has pushed back against "voluntary" guidelines on food marketing proposed by a cluster of federal agencies. Now it appears that one of the Obamas' very own is the chief strategist for the industry assault, having left the White House to join a D.C. lobbying group, SKDKnickerbocker.

Not being a regular Politico reader, I first caught wind of it from Marion Nestle's blog this morning, where she reports on findings issued by the Sunlight Foundation that food interests--including Coca-Cola and General Mills--have poured some $37 million into the campaign to stop the marketing guidelines.

Burros reported in Politico that Dunn's turning on Michelle Obama's favorite project--childhood obesity--did turn some heads, but also did not come as a particular surprise, because she did not embrace the first Lady's thinking on the subject. You can read that as, Please do not piss off our friends in the food industry!

This sort of revolving door is nothing new to Washington politics, but underscores how corporate forces have aligned against children's health. Just to show you how incestuous things are in the nation's capitol, Dunn's husband, Bob Bauer, is a former White House legal counsel who continues to work on Barack Obama's re-election campaign.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has been pushing for years for tougher child nutrition standards, said, "Anita Dunn and her firm should be ashamed of themselves for leading teh food industry's panicky efforts to quash the Obama administration's reasonable and voluntary nutrition guidelines proposed for food marketed to children."

Burros quotes Dunn as replying: "This is a national problem that is not going to be solved by personal vilification."

Maybe personal vilification won't solve this problem. Still, Dunn should be ashamed and I think anyone who cares about children's health should tell her so. Here's the phone number for SKDKnickerbocker: 202 464-6900. Give Dunn a call and tell her what you think.

Or, you can go here and send her an e-mail.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Kids Make Norwegian Lefse

Ricing potatoes for lefse

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

There could be no greater compliment for our Norwegian lefse than the one we got from our school nurse, Elizabeth, who said the lefse--or potato crepes--we made in our food appreciation classes tasted just like the ones her Norwegian grandmother used to serve.

Who knew? The Norwegians have their own version of a French crepe, except it's made with potatoes instead of flour and eggs. So instead pouring a thin crepe into a pan, you have to roll it out. Apparently the mark of a truly gifted lefse maker is rolling a perfectly round, paper-thin crepe. For this, Elizabether loaned us her grandmother's special wooden lefse roller. The roller is textured, leaving a distinct pattern on the finished crepes.

Otherwise, lefse are fairly easy. There are only only six ingredients: potatoes, heavy cream, butter, sugar, salt and all-purpose flour. The finished lefse are so simple, but delicious and comforting. Sprinkled with sugar or perhaps a dollop of fruit preserves, they make an easy dessert. Or you can stuff them with cheese for a savory snack or side dish.

Recipes vary, calling for more or less potato, more or less flour. I found that 2 1/2 pounds potatoes make plenty of lefse for our needs--about 15 large, finished crepes. We measured the flour loosely, eventually just taking handfuls from the bag until we had a manageable dough that wasn't sticky.

A day ahead, peel 2 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, cut into large dice and cover with plenty of water in a large saucepan. Cook until the potatoes are tender, then drain in a colander and pass the potatoes through a ricer into a large mixing bowl. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream and 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) melted butter, along with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (omit if making savory lefse). Mix well, cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day you'll want to have some sort of griddle on hand along with butter to grease it. The Norwegians have a special electric griddle for this purpose. We made our lefse on our portable butane stove at the prep table so the kids could watch the crepes cook, using for a griddle our cast-iron Mexican comal, essentially a skillet with no sides to interfere with our efforts to get under the crepes and flip them with an inverted spatula.

To the prepared potato mix, add 1 1/2 cups flour and work it in with your hands. Continue adding flour until a soft dough forms that is no longer sticky. You may need another 1/2 cup flour or more for this. Dump the finished dough onto a floured work surface and roll into a log about 3 inches across. You will cut pieces from the log to form individual lefse.

Slice enough doughfrom the log to make a small fistful, roll it into a ball and, using your floured work surface and a rolling pin, roll the dough into a paper-thin, round (--ish!) crepe. Carefully work an inverted spatula under the crepe, then lift and move the disc to a buttered griddle over moderate heat. Within a minute or two, brown spots will appear on the underside of the lefse. Flip it with the spatula and cook another minute more. At this point you can sprinkle the lefse with sugar (or with grated cheese, if making savory lefse). Fold the lefse in half twice to make a triangle shape.

Finished lefse, hot off the griddle

You can line the finished lefse on a platter to cool. You need do nothing more at this point than serve them, or perhaps dress them with a dollop of lingonberry jam. For savory lefse, you might want to place them into a hot oven to melt the cheese inside.

Lefse are a simple peasant food that must have brought great comfort to Norwegian families during long. dark winters. Elizabeth also encouraged us not to worry too much about rolling our perfectly round ones. She said hers usually turn out more square.

Friday, December 2, 2011

KIds Make Norwegian Christmas Cookies

Wire release scoop for making cookies

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

What's special about Norwegian Christmas cookies?

They look like ordinary sugar cookies at first blush. But one bite is all you need to tell the difference: These cookies are chewy and full of almond, coconut and oats.

What? You say you've never heard of oats in Christmas cookies?

Our food appreciation classes have started their annual baking segment and with Christmas just around the corner I decided to lead off with these cookies so we could serve them at tonight's parents night dinner, which features a buffet of all the Scandinavian food we've been making lately.

As simple as the cookies look, they do require quite a bit of elbow grease if you're making them by hand. They're much easier if you're using an electric mixer. But in our classes, the mixer consists of a wooden spoon and kid muscle.

Start by placing 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted room-temperature butter in a large mixing bowl, alongwith 1 cup sugar and 7 ounces almond paste, grated. For the almond paste, we used the Odense brand, which comes wrapped in foil looking like a small sausage. It's somewhat soft, so grating it on a box grater takes a bit of work--great if your trying to keep a group of kids busy.

Mix until the ingredients are combined, then add 1 egg plus 1 egg white and beat on high for 3 minute. Picture a group of third-graders armed with a wooden spoon, imitating an electric mixer turned to "high."

Meanwhile, sift 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour with 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add this, plus 1 cup rolled oats and 1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes. Mix until well combined, then form into balls and place on greased cookie sheets.

Using a fine seive for sifting dry ingredients

To make balls out of the dough, we used a 1-inch metal scoop with a wire release. If you have one a little larger, so much the better. It all depends on how big you want your cookies (or what kind of scoop you have on hand). I suppose you could do this with a spoon if you didn't have a scoop with a wire release. Once the balls are on the cookie sheets, you want to pat them down a little, either with the palm of your hand, or using the flat end of a glass moistened and dusted with granulated sugar.

We then decorated our cookies alternately with red and green sugar sprinkles. Place them in a 350-degree oven and bake just until they begin to show a little brown around the edges, or 10-11 minutes. An inverted metal spatula works best to remove the cookies from the pan and place them on wire racks to cool.

Merry Christmas from Norway!