Sunday, January 30, 2011

Waiting for winter to return; or, Mustardization.

Oklahoma weather is crazy.

Our old mathematician-and-occasional-blogger will testify to this oft-repeated statement anytime after having spent 6 months in the Sooner State. (Gulp, he is 30 now-but let us quickly move on.) Indeed, the Oklahoman Swede-Pole recently entertained a visitor from Berkeley in sunny CA, and in order to welcome the Californian-Swede, Stillwater decided to cover itself with a thin layer of ice and a slightly thicker layer of snow on the day of his arrival. The two Swedes felt just like home! Talk in the math department given, Stillwater bar scene and classic beef restaurant in Oklahoma City experienced, our blogging postdoc's visitor departed, and less a week later, summer came to Stillwater.

Believe it or not, our hero spend most of yesterday outdoors, biking around and running errands. A high point of that 77F day was an hour spent in the shade of a tree outside his apartment, playing guitar and remembering those first summer days in Stillwater. So much has changed since then. As always, some changes may turn out to be more permanent than others, and they may not be the changes one would expect. Now a winter storm warning has been issued for tomorrow, so it may be a while before there's another opportunity for this kind of retrospection.

But some things are always present in our blogger's life, whether blogged about or not-music and food, for instance. Then again, a friend claimed that these two things are the only topics present in the Facebook status updates of our Swedish-Poles. (Include coffee in the food category, and this may well be an accurate statement.) In any case, between work and social calls, there has been little time for updating this blog lately, but now that the weather is taking a turn for the worse, it may just be time for culinary writing again.

This blog post constitutes self-plagiarism, in a way. Sitting under that tree yesterday, he felt an inexplicable craving for mustard, and, since it was essentially summer in Oklahoma yesterday, a French-style potato salad came to mind. Today, it was discovered that half a block of feta cheese was also available, and with a winter storm approaching, roasting root vegetables in the oven felt appropriate-again. (See a post from last year's blog.) Out of this confusion was born today's mix of wintry potatoes and carrots and summery capers and mustard.


4 potatoes
1 carrot
1 red onion
3 cloves of garlic

1 block of feta cheese

Dijon mustard

baby spinach

olive oil
salt and pepper
pickled capers

Turn on the oven; make it hot. Wash the potatoes and cut them into wedges, leaving the skin on and chop up the carrot also. In a glass cooking pan, smother the potato wedges and carrot sticks in a generous amount of olive oil. Season with salt, ground pepper, and thyme. And then, into the oven the pan goes. (See an earlier blog entry for pictures.)

Now for the mustardy part of our meal. Slice the onion; we want thin rings here. Cut the garlic cloves in half. Then, in a frying pan, caramelize the onion and garlic. Use moderate amounts of olive oil, and try to get the capers a little crispy at the same time.

Once you're happy with the onion's state of caramelization, add a little mustard to the mix. Don't overdo it, two or three teaspoons should do it. Stir gently for a minute or so, and then remove the pan.

Take a little break and pour yourself a glass of wine. Then check on the potatoes; you want them getting crispy before proceeding to the next step. Once this is the case, chop the feta cheese into large cubes, add them on top of the potatoes and grill the mix until the cheese starts going soft and possibly crispy around the edges. Turn off the oven and take out the cooking pan.

Finally, return to the frying pan, turn up the heat, and sautee the baby spinach in the onion/mustard mix. The spinach leaves should be soft, but they should not lose all of their texture. An extra spoon of mustard might be a good idea. And then we're done.

Serving suggestions: Anna von Hausswolff, "Singing from the grave" on the side. A glass of red wine.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lasagna and jazz, all in 2011.

"In these last few days I have thought a little about where things begin and how they end. It seems to me that although things may start and be maintained without too much consideration, they often require a lot of work to complete."

These are the first sentences of the preface of a certain KTH doctoral dissertation in math, written years before this blogger graduated from high school. (Not the kind of source you would have guessed, right?) I have always like this quote a lot, as it seems to apply to many different things. (And this is no doubt how it was intended.) I usually think of something else in connection with is, but it does apply, in a way, to this food blog as well.

Then, at the end of the same preface, the author extends his thanks to the master musicians of the past for composing the music that has comforted him during difficult times. I agree completely with this sentiment, but I would like to add that good music also provides a frame and soundtrack for happy times, crazy times, confused times, and boring times, the year 2011 being no different. This first post will feature this mathematician's humble attempt at music writing, before turning to the food itself. Hopefully, a reader or two will make it through. And hopefully 2011 will be a great year for Swedish-Oklahoman cooking!

In keeping with this blog's sometimes (always?) pretentious tone, I would like to take the opportunity to enthuse a little over music that has made me particularly happy lately: the brilliant work of saxophone great Pharoah Sanders. Take the track called "You've Got To Have Freedom" that I've been playing over and over-so great! Sanders' initial saxophone howls convey a sense of necessity and urgency; he will not be denied. It's a clarion call-we all need freedom, this is important! Sanders playing is often thought of as abrasive and extreme (his early work with Coltrane), but here I feel he is spot-on. Then John Hicks effortless piano playing takes over; fearless and confident, yet laid-back (that recurring but slightly changing falling figure at the end of his phrases!). Sanders then alternates between melodic solos and high-pitched screeches. Add a swinging rhythm section, that beautiful sax riff, and it's impossible not to feel happy and free.

This energetic recording provided the prefect soundtrack for tonight's vegetarian lasagna! It is effortless-try it yourselves.


lasagna plates
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 green bell pepper
1/2 onion

cottage cheese
2 carrots

peppadew jack cheese

olive oil
salt and pepper

First, chop up the (half American giant, whole Swedish regular) onion and the pepper. Then, in a frying pan, sautee the onion and pepper in a little olive oil. Don't forget salt and pepper. Chop up the tomatoes without losing the precious juice. Add the tomato chop to the mix, and let stew for a few minutes.

Next, pour the cottage cheese (I used half a 24 oz. can) into a bowl. Peel the carrots, and let them meet their shredded demise at the hands of the cheese grater over the bowl. Add lots of pepper, and mix it!

Turn on the oven, medium temperature. It is now time for the layering of the lasagna. The experts disagree here, but I do it thus, starting at the bottom of a glass cooking pan:

tomato sauce
cottage cheese mix
tomato sauce
cottage cheese mix.

Once you're done, take out your favorite cheese.  I like something that has jalapeno in it for this; this time
i used peppadew jack cheese. Grate the cheese and sprinkle it on top of the last layer of cottage cheese. Add pepper and thyme, and into the oven it goes.

Relax for a while with some music, preferably jazz but traditional Italian canti might be ok. Check the lasagna with a fork. Once it goes right through without a crunch, and the cheese on top has deliciously melted, it is done! Enjoy.

Serving suggestions: "A Love Supreme" by John Coltrane on the side, a bottle of New Grist, a sorghum and rice beer from Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee, WI.