Category Archives: Meta

Those Prosciutto Asparagus Bundles—Some Tips

Blog posts for bundles of asparagus wrapped in prosciutto are ubiquitous. Some are roasted until the prosciutto is crispy and some are wrapped at the last minute, after only the asparagus are cooked. I’ve even seen some that have cheese either under or on top of the prosciutto. Whatever kind you’re looking for, here are a few tips to save you some headaches:

  1. Precook the asparagus before roasting. Just a 2-3 minute simmer will cook the asparagus enough that it won’t be tough after a short time in the oven to crisp up the whole bundle. I don’t think I would use the very fat stalks, but if you have to, you should probably peel them before simmering.
  2. If like the prosciutto I always find, yours tears into pieces just trying to separate them—even when they have paper or plastic between the slices—don’t panic. Prosciutto pieces will stick to themselves and you can easily piece them together. Every single one of my slices tore into three identical pieces, one small square, one long straggly strip, and one nice looking rectangle that was large enough to go around the bundle itself. So I put the ugly duckling pieces on the inside and wrapped the big rectangle around the whole thing. No one would be the wiser, if I actually had company, instead of being in self-quarantine with just my husband.

I brushed mine with olive oil and roasted them at 400º for about 20 minutes.

Weep no More, My . . . Yogurt?

I hope you’re not throwing out that yogurt or sour cream or ricotta, etc. that is only a few days old, just because it seems to have developed a puddle of watery liquid where you last spooned some out. I know it doesn’t look appetizing, and I usually just pour it off, but you can stir it back in, too, and move on with your recipe.

That liquid actually has a name—whey—and it’s full of nutrients and fine to stir back in. The process of the weeping has a name too—syneresis. Read more about it here.

But if you just can’t stand seeing that liquid, there’s an easy way to prevent it. After you spoon out what you need, use the back of your spoon to smooth out the top of the remaining food, as you might do when frosting a cake. Just smooth it to the point of having no large craters where the whey can seep out.

Here’s what happens when you spoon out some yogurt and just put it away. The next day, the space is filled with watery whey:

Here’s how to prevent that puddle:

Here’s that container after a week of spooning out and smoothing—no whey!

So, if you’re grossed out by that weeping, and you know you’ve been throwing out good food, just smooth it out after using and you’ll be surprised at how brand new it looks every day.

Another Contender for Grandma’s Cookies—Buttermilk Cookies

I shared my post for Serinakaker with the only two people left who might remember my grandma’s cookies, my brother and cousin. One remembered and one kinda didn’t, but my cousin has her mother’s recipe box that includes three new possibilities for the cookies, two of them variations of a buttermilk cookie. One of those two is labeled as Mums, giving it priority. The one that uses sweet milk is identical to the one labeled Mums, with an addition of cream of tartar.

I’ve made the one labeled as Irma’s three times now (some are in the freezer), twice with butter and once with vegetable shortening, which the recipe calls for, but which I was reluctant to use for taste reasons. I had been thinking, even when making the serinakaker, that butter might have been a luxury in my grandmother’s house. I’m guessing that by shortening, the recipes mean something like Crisco®, but it could just as easily have meant margarine, which, like butter, has some water in it—that does affect texture, as well as taste.

These cookies are softer than serinakaker, rising to a dome shape after being rolled into balls, but I found the texture to be a little more fine and uniform than I remember her cookies. I played around with the amounts of flour and found the lesser amount suggested (“try 5 or 6 cups”) to be more flavorful, especially without butter. With butter the dough is very sticky and you need a lot of flour in order to shape it. With shortening, the dough is quite easy to handle.

If you’re wondering whether there is a corresponding Norwegian cookie, I did find Kringla, which uses buttermilk. It is rolled into rope pieces and then formed into a pretzel or knot shape for baking. The cookies I made with Crisco could easily have been shaped that way. Some kringla recipes use both buttermilk and sour or sweet cream. You will find kringla claimed by both Norwegians and Swedes, not surprisingly.

But, who knows where my grandmother’s cookies originated? Her mother was a Gillingham and her grandmother was a Shreffler, conjuring up all sorts of other culinary possibilities. In the end, maybe they simply came out of a magazine or popular cookbook. You’ll notice that all three recipes on the cards are just called Cookies with reference to the relatives and friends who claim them.

When I make them again, and I will, but not until a holiday, I’m definitely going to try a knotted shape. That way you can distinguish them from the serinakaker, which I will also be making again. For now, I’m a little bit over cookies for a while. In the photos below, the first one shows cookies that had been scooped or rolled into balls, with no other shaping or topping. The second photo shows the same cookie, but with fork marks and decorating sugar. The third photo shows the fine texture of these cookies.

Here’s the recipe, as I made it:

Buttermilk or Sour Milk Cookies

  • Servings: about 4 dozen
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Preheat oven to 350°; line cookie sheets with parchment paper, if desired.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup solid vegetable shortening (or butter for more flavor)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup  buttermilk or soured milk (to one cup of sweet milk, stir in one tablespoon of white vinegar and let sit until it curdles)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  •  5-6 cups all purpose flour

Preparation

  1. Mix by hand or in a stand mixer. I used a stand mixer.
  2. Mix sugar and shortening until well combined, then beat in eggs.
  3. Slowly mix in soured milk and vanilla until well combined.
  4. Mix together flour, baking soda, and salt, then add to liquid mixture, mixing until smooth.
  5. If you used butter, wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, so you can handle it. Otherwise, you should be able to shape the dough immediately, with or without floured hands.
  6. Roll the dough into large walnut sized balls and place on cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake as is or do some shaping with a floured fork and decorating sugar.
  7. Bake at 350º for 10-12 minutes. I think they’re better cooled, especially the next day, but that’s my preference for all cookies.

This cookie would make a good vehicle for frosting, if you’re into that sort of thing

In Search of My Grandma’s Cookies: Serinakaker

Maybe I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve been searching for decades for a cookie recipe like the plain, crumbly sugar cookies my paternal grandma always had on hand. I shouldn’t really call them a sugar cookie, because if there was anything on the outside of the cookie, it was some leftover flour, probably used to mold the dough into balls for baking. They baked into a soft, slightly crumbly (maybe even doughy) mounded cookie, with just a slightly sweet flavor. I think most people would say they didn’t have much flavor at all, but I really liked them and wish I could reproduce them. Once, after it was too late to ask my grandma, I asked my aunt who lived her entire life with her if she had the recipe, but she said it was not written down anywhere. That tells me it must have been handed down in a memorable formula. But that’s as much as I could figure out, trying out recipes for crumbly or soft sugar cookies to no avail.  They were either too crisp or too sweet.

I only recently discovered through my Ancestry.com DNA test that I have 20% Norwegian ancestry, and that both my grandmothers had Norwegian maiden names, Mong and Aga. So, just for the heck of it, I searched for Norwegian cookies and found the Serinakaker cookie that I’m writing about today. Unlike all the web recipes for Serinakaker, I did not put nuts or sugar or any other topping on the batches illustrated here, because I was trying to recreate the cookies in my memory, so they will look a little too plain for a Christmas cookie.

I made my cookies in a stand mixer, just putting all the ingredients in the bowl and mixing slowly until it all came together—this is not a recipe where the butter and sugar are creamed together first, and I think that makes a difference. But if you want to see it mixed by hand, which is probably how my grandma did it in the 1950s and 1960s, here’s a wonderful version of that method:

I settled on this recipe from Food52, which I made a couple of times before I changed it to fit my idea of a recipe someone might have committed to memory, and also to make it just a bit less sweet, which better fits with my memory. At first, I did roll the dough into neat balls and make the fork imprint on top. They were lovely little cookies, but my grandma’s cookies were never so uniform. Hers were so roughly shaped that they almost resembled a drop biscuit more than a cookie, so I have tried to replicate that shape in later attempts, just to humor myself, but for Christmas this year, I’m going to make the smaller, shaped cookies with the fork impressions, egg wash, and decorating sugar, because no one else remembers my grandma’s cookies, so they’re mine now.

Update 12/16/2017: About the eggs. I don’t really see the need for the original recipe to have used medium eggs—who buys medium eggs? But I don’t like my decision to use just one large one for their two medium ones, either. The difference between large and medium in small numbers is not much, so since I always buy large eggs, I’m going to use two in my adaptation, and I’ve marked that change below. Plus, I put my final Christmas version in the group of photos, as well as in the featured header.

For full instructions, see the original recipe on Food52: Serinakaker.  Here is the list of ingredients from that recipe:

  • 4 cups (500 grams) sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons (300 grams) softened salted butter
  • 1 1/3 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 medium eggs, lightly beaten (or one big old American-sized egg)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar (or vanilla extract if you have no vanilla sugar)
  • 1egg white, for brushing the cookies
  • Pearl sugar and/or chopped almonds, for sprinkling

I used these ingredients for two batches, and while I liked the resulting cookies, I felt they were a little too sweet for the cookies I remembered. Plus, I figured that a memorized recipe is probably a simple recipe—1 cup plus 6 tablespoons butter? 1 1/3 cups sugar?—I think those two, at least, could have easily changed without affecting the cookie too much.  Here are the ingredients I finally used and that came the closest to what I remember:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2.5 sticks (1 cup plus 4 tablespoons) salted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs (see update above)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

I think this batch is plenty sweet, and the dough had the same texture as the original—both are easy to mold and shape, as long as you take the time to mix the ingredients well, whether by hand or with a mixer. The resulting cookies, from either list of ingredients, are soft, sweet, and just a little crumbly. I think they will be even better with the egg wash and decorative topping.

Anyway, I’m putting the search for my grandma’s cookies to rest