Sunday, August 02, 2009

Culinary Extremes

Reputation-wise, at least, the cuisines of Mexico and Norway must represent opposite ends of the continuum of flavors, from spicy on Mexico's end to bland on Norway's. I know from experience that that's not always true (having had very flavorful Scandinavian meals, especially on the Saturdays following this event--and having had subtly flavored Mexican dishes, particularly flan), but it was indeed true for us yesterday.

We met our friend Job just after noon for dinner at El Sombrero, a great Mexican restaurant in town, where we had a deliciously spicy meal (including some of Job's chicken nachos, which the girls loved). Because Susan and I are all about "delightful surprises" for our daughters (remember?), we didn't tell them in advance that we were going out to eat--or, once we arrived at the restaurant, whom we were meeting. There were many squeals and hugs when Job walked in, and he was the center of their attention throughout the meal. We were at the restaurant for 2.5 hours! Lots to catch up on, I guess. This is the second summer that Job is performing in the Medora Musical (remember?), and we'll be seeing him in this summer's production in just over a week. Until then, he agreed to pose for a pic with the girls:

Job with Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary--and can you see me in the window?!

Less spicy, but still tasty, was the supper that Suzanna and I made for Scandinavian Saturday last night . . . although what we prepared for dessert definitely did Norway proud in terms of its reputation for bland food! Here's what we made:

main course
smørbrød og ertesuppe ["butter bread and pea soup"--open-faced sandwiches and "thick as fog" split-pea soup]

We enjoyed smørbrød at Norwegian camp in June, so we decided to try our hand at this standard food item. On thick slices of marble rye, we spread flavored cream cheese ("garden vegetable") and split each slice into two. On one half, we layered slices of provolone cheese, smoked ham, and thinly sliced cucumbers. On the other half, we layered slices of smoked Gouda cheese, summersausage, and thinly sliced yellow bell peppers. Smørbrød is supposed to look good as well as taste good, and I think we achieved success on both counts.

To go with the smørbrød, we decided on soup and then set out to find a recipe appropriate for Scandinavian Saturday. I found something called "Norwegian pea soup," but the list of ingredients would have put the resulting concoction securely at the "bland" end of the flavor spectrum (I mean, really, the only seasoning was ground pepper . . . and whatever salt escaped the boiled salt pork). So we improvised! First we fried and drained a pound of smoked, black peppercorn-covered bacon. Then in some of the reserved bacon fat, we sautéed a mix of diced yellow onion, shallot, scallion, garlic, carrot, celery, and red potato. Then we added the bacon, some chicken stock, and a package of Thick as Fog Pea Soup (dried yellow and green split peas with herbs and a seasoning packet), brought it to a boil, and then let it simmer for a couple hours.

Shortly before supper, we added fresh spinach to the soup; and when we served the soup, we added a dollop of sour cream to the middle of each bowl and sprinkled chopped parsley on top, adding not only the bright color but also the bite of fresh parsley! Speaking of "bite," the soup's seasoning packet included cumin, turmeric, and coriander--a far cry from the "salt and pepper" standard of stereotypical Norwegian dishes! It was quite a hit with the whole family.

Prince Harald's crèpes

As Sons of Norway members, we receive a monthly magazine called Viking, which we quite enjoy. In the August 2009 issue is the recipe for these crèpes, which Suzanna and I decided to make for last night's dessert. Unfortunately after a supper rich in sapidity, the shall-we-say-"subtle"? flavors of the dessert stood out in stark relief. The recipe calls for the batter to be made "early in the morning for the night it is to be served," so we did that. We also made the vanilla egg custard with which we would later fill each crèpe.

After supper, we heated up a pan, took out the batter and the custard, and got our production line ready: I would fry a crèpe, and then Suzanna would fill it with custard, roll it, sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top, and serve it. "How are they?" we asked our family members as they consumed the crèpes, a question that was met with looks of wild indifference. "They're okay"--by which they meant "bland." (Should Prince Harald take offense at the slam inherent in having this particular recipe bear his name? "Here, have some crèpes that are as unremarkable as the prince!") Well, what should we have expected, really? The batter included eggs, cream, flour, sugar, butter, and salt; and the custard was made of milk, sugar, vanilla, egg yolks, and potato starch. Not exactly likely to produce a taste explosion in one's mouth.

The best part of dessert was the actual production of the crèpes. I was in charge of the frying, but I had never before made even a pancake, let alone a crèpe--so what did I know about how hot the pan should be, how much batter to pour, when to flip the crèpe, how to flip the crèpe without ripping it or folding it onto itself, or how to get it out of the pan and onto the plate without destroying it? As it turns out, I knew nothing about these things. Beside the stovetop, Suzanna and I set out an "experiment plate" upon which I could toss my initial failures, the pile of which looked like a cross between overcooked pancakes and undercooked scrambled eggs (yes, it was a pile of crèpe). Suzanna found the whole enterprise to be vastly more amusing than I did (at one point, she was in tears and out of breath from laughing so hard).

However, I finally learned how to produce baby-sized crèpes that were done and unripped but which were too small to fill and roll--so we ended up putting a bit of custard on one end of each crèpe and just flipping it in half. Each serving was about two or three forkfuls so that, after about 15 seconds, the dessert eater was already waiting for me to produce another crèpe. Heavy sigh. Oh well, at least it was an entertaining experiment that was perfectly edible--and authentically Norwegian.

1 comment:

  1. Where do you get the fonts in which to type the Norwegian words? Very neat...

    Also, I would be laughing right along with Susan if I were in your kitchen as you attempted to fry the crepes....!!! It made me giggle just reading about her!

    And I love the "pile of crepe" discription! ( I don't know how to put the "`" over the e in crepe...)