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myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

Flaming Brown Cheese and other Cold Weather Treats

Did you hear the one about the cheese fire in Norway?

Gjetost Cheese

Gjetost Cheese

Actually, it’s not a joke. Recently, a truck carrying 27 tons of brunost, a sweet, high fat cheese sold in the United States as gjetost, burned for over six days blocking a tunnel in Northern Norway. “This high concentration of fat and sugar is almost like petrol if it gets hot enough,” explained a public official to the New York Times. Of course, the cheese is normally consumed like any cheese, not flambéed unless there is some kind of accident.

When you’re enduring Arctic, or sub-Arctic, temperatures, either because you live in Norway or Sweden, or in so many parts of the United States plagued with this winter’s unusually cold weather, it’s easy to develop an appetite for things like a sweet, fatty cheese, loaded with the calories your body craves.

We won’t go into the subject of blubber, but myMEGusta’s Eskimo readers are welcome to add their Comments.

Lutefisk

Lutefisk

But let’s look at some other treats of the north.

My personal favorite, and I am the only non-Scandinavian in the world who likes (no, LOVES) it, is lutefisk. Cod or other white fish which has been preserved in lye, lutefisk has the dubious honor of being the world’s most ridiculed fish.  People claim that it smells up the house, and then tastes horrible. Well, myMEGusta is here to tell you that the lutefisk you buy today has been pre-soaked and de-odorized, so the old wives’ tales of the smell are just that, anachronistic and just not true any longer. Because of how it was cured, the fish has an amazing gelatinous texture, almost melting in your mouth. My favorite way to enjoy lutefisk is on a very cold day, swimming in cream sauce (perhaps seasoned with a little mustard) and melted butter, with boiled potatoes and lefse, a kind of potato pancake, on the side. Oh yes, in a restaurant in Stockholm.

Pea Soup with Pancakes and Lingonberries

Pea Soup with Pancakes and Lingonberries

Another wildly popular Swedish dish, traditionally served on Thursdays, is pea soup accompanied by pancakes and lingonberries. This pea soup is not the insipid, overly pureed stuff in most cans, but rather a thick, chunky mélange with the aroma of smoked pork, and a perfect companion to the hot pancakes.

Fondue

Fondue

Moving south to the Alps’ frigid high altitudes, there’s fondue. Quite the fad in the United States in the 60s and 70s (the joke was how many fondue pots people got as wedding gifts), “fondue” came to mean anything dipped in a pot. You had beef fondue (tenderloin deep fried and served with dipping sauces) and the emergence of chocolate fondue.  But the real deal is a cheese mélange (including white wine and perhaps seasonings) into which bread is dipped, perfect for an apres-ski supper. High in calories and fat, another goodie to enjoy on a cold night.

Hot Wine at the Christmas Market in Prague

Hot Wine at the Christmas Market in Prague

Then there the hot beverages which are to be found in little huts in the Christmas markets that dot Northern Europe in December: wine punch, mulled wine, gluh, gluehwein.

Wine Punch at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

Wine Punch at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

Every culture there has its own variation, but they’re all a combination of a wine and/or spirit (red wine, port wine, brandy, vodka) usually plus sugar, fruit juices/rinds and spices (cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom being the most popular), sometimes even raisins or nuts, all served warm.

You can even find hot mead, made from honey.

Hot Mead at the Christmas Market in Prague

Hot Mead at the Christmas Market in Prague

But what are the best of all of winter’s culinary and beverage treats? The ones consumed in front of a roaring fireplace.

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Cachaça and Pisco: Two New Dance Crazes from South America?

No, these are not variations on the cha cha or requiring disco balls and bad hair.

These are two of the most famous Latin American spirits, long living in the shadow of tequila and rum but now emerging in their own right in the United States and best appreciated in their signature drinks.

Caipirinha

Caipirinha

Cachaça (pronounced cah-SHAH-zah) is the classic spirit of Brazil.  Made from fermented cane sugar, it is similar to rum (made from molasses) but has a more assertive flavor.

The  Muddler - Also a handy tool for old fashioneds and mojitos

The Muddler – Also a handy tool for old fashioneds and mojitos

My initial encounter with it was at the Discophage, a long deceased Brazilian restaurant in Paris (which readers may recall from reading about the bean dish, feijoada, on May 15, 2012) where caipirinhas (ki-pah-REE-nyas) were made one by one: muddling fresh limes with sugar then adding cachaça and stirring with ice. Because the lime rinds are in the drink, and get crushed, you pick up a delicious accent when the lime oil is released.

Sadly, while real caipirinhas are available in good Brazilian restaurants, most of them push the use of vodka instead of the real deal, for a “milder” drink. This is a shame, as they are usually the same proof (alcoholic strength) and cachaça gives a much more interesting flavor to the cocktail.

Another less well-known use of cachaça is in drinks known as batidas (bah-TCHEE-das), infinitely variable blends incorporating fruit juices, and usually coconut milk or condensed milk. These are delicious, refreshing and laden with calories.

Moving to the West coast of South America, we come to pisco (PEE-skoh), a grappa-like unaged grape brandy, claimed by both Chile and Peru as its own.

Pisco Sours at Pio Pio

Pisco Sours at Pio Pio

The most popular way to enjoy pisco, in both countries, is the pisco sour – a mélange of pisco, sugar, lemon juice and egg white (for the froth) shaken vigorously or blended with ice and garnished with bitters.

My initial encounter with an alleged pisco sour was at the Santiago Hyatt on the eve of a flight to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world where our group would board a ship for Antarctica. Alas, made in bulk for a large reception, it was just OK, a pleasant enough beverage but nothing special.

The next time was in Mallorca, Spain, made by a native of Peru with pisco from Peru. And it was delicious. But, the mixologist was not happy; it wasn’t good or authentic enough, in part because there was no blender in the villa. “You have to try this in New York at a good Peruvian place.”

And the pisco sours at Pio Pio (at least in the Hell’s Kitchen branch) are heavenly.

I can’t wait to try one in Lima!

Don’t Mess with a Crone when It Comes to Crones

OK, if you look like George Clooney, we’ll let you get away with it. And perhaps schedule a private myMEGusta tutorial.

Crones

Crones – A Vegetable

The scenario: Bouchard, a fabulous French restaurant in Newport, Rhode Island.

The protagonists: Above-mentioned waiter advising one of my dinner companions that the squiggly looking things in his Petite Marmite were NOT artichokes, rather they are crones, having “nothing whatsoever to do with artichokes, Miss.” (That’s me. He gets points for not saying “Madame”.)

Actually, we were both right and both wrong.

Preparing Crones

Preparing Crones

These little tubers are known variously as Chinese artichokes, Japanese artichokes, crones, crosnes, chorogi and knotroot.

Native to Asia, it is said that the First Western cultivation was in Crosne, in northern France, hence the name. A member of the mint family, they still grow wild in north China, and have many relatives in the western hemisphere, what we could call weeds. Some websites will counsel as to how to forage for them; MyMEgusta does not advocate this unless you are really certain of what you’re looking for, as crones and their relatives also have medicinal uses.

Crones in Salad

Crones in Salad

At the Market

At the Market

Crones are comparable to jicama or water chestnuts in flavor and texture. They can sometimes be found fresh in upscale or farmers markets, as well as Asian markets where you’ll also find them salted and/or pickled.

Pickled Crones

Pickled Crones

Treat fresh crones as you would water chestnuts in stir fries, or add them to soup or salad for a nice crunchy accent. They are about 23 calories per ounce, not bad considering that a little will go a long way to make a dish visually and texturally interesting.

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