Restaurants are nice, but here’s why you should cook on vacation

I can go two weeks without sleeping in my own bed, but I can’t go two weeks without cooking.

I’m a budget traveler, so I prefer staying with friends or, at the very least, an Airbnb with access to a kitchen. I feel pampered in a hotel, but after a few days without the ability to prepare food for myself, I start to get a little blue.

I made these quiche for a brunch with friends while we were on vacation in Portland last month. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Having a stove and a fridge when you’re traveling is convenient and saves money, and cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen is a challenge I’ve come to enjoy when I’m on the road — not unlike that scary-excited feeling when I get turned around in a train station and must ask someone for directions.

In that light fog of uncertainty and newness, you have to dig into your mental toolbox to solve the familiar problem of feeding yourself in a new way.

After you figure out where the kitchen’s primary mathematician stores his or her utensils, pots, pans and the like, not to mention which appliances are hidden under the counter and how much shelf space is available in the fridge, then comes my favorite part of the equation: hitting up the local markets to buy ingredients that might not look anything like they do at home or entirely new ones that you just can’t resist trying.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy eating out at restaurants in any given city. As my colleague Matthew Odam writes in his Feed to Go travel series, you can’t really get to know a city without eating at its food trucks, coffee shops, food halls and ice creameries. But I don’t really enjoy a vacation until I have access to a kitchen and a market and can reclaim some of that personal agency over feeding myself.

I almost swiped this coffee mug from my friend, Rachel, whom I was visiting in Oregon. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

 

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been on the road for Camp Mom, an adventure with my kids to visit friends and family in the Pacific Northwest.

I cooked quiches in my friend Rachel’s Portland, Ore., kitchen, where the window above her sink frames backyard roses, raspberries and a hammock hung between two trees. After a few days in the city, I knew the neighborhood — and the contents of her fridge — well enough to borrow her car to hit the grocery store for milk, bread, eggs and enough Washington cherries to feed her kids, my kids and all the adults coming through their house over the course of the week. (We weren’t their only visitors last month.)

A few days later, while we camped among the lush ferns and towering pines of Mount Hood National Forest, my other sister-from-another-mother, Erin, and I made foil-wrapped potatoes, carrots, onions and veggie sausage, and by breakfast the next day I was using her camping gear as if it were my own.

My biological sister’s tiny kitchen in Boise, Idaho, is well-used by her family of four, so when my two sons and I showed up, we got along like the seven dwarfs. (One of the kids is always Grumpy, and I’m usually Sleepy.)

After nearly half a dozen trips up there, Chelsea and I stepped back into the familiar dance of feeding all four of our children, ages 3 to 10, who might as well star in their own version of “Seriously, You Have to Eat,” the child-friendly version of “You Have to F**king Eat” from the author of “Go the F**k to Sleep.”

Cooking for a bunch of kids under the age of 10 means making simple meals, like this roasted asparagus with butter noodles and garlic chicken. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

 

Outnumbered by kids, we usually defer to their tastes, making macaroni and cheese with broccoli, frozen pizza, garlic chicken and buttered spaghetti. As long as we have Parmesan cheese and endless granola bars, we are happy campers.

On this trip, we headed up into the mountains to stay at a cabin whose kitchen was nearly the size of my sister’s living room. We took advantage of it, spreading out in ways we can’t at either of our homes.

But standing there, washing yet another bowl with a halo of dried milk near the bottom, I realized that even the not-so-fun parts of cooking while on vacation have, for me, become an integral part of picking up and hitting the road.

When traveling abroad, especially when I’m on my own and can clock 8 miles of walking in a day, I relish having a place to store leftovers and novel grocery products I discover in the supermarkets and where I can cook late-night meals or early breakfasts when I’m fighting jet lag.

The whole point of a trip is to get outside your comfort zone and learn how to find ease and enjoyment in a new environment, no matter the circumstances.

That’s a hard task for families with young kids, but every summer, millions of us do it, cramming into hotels, RVs, overnight trains and vacation rentals on the beach. We give up our creature comforts, and I couldn’t imagine doing it without a fridge and somewhere to fry an egg.

Sometimes this means you have to take your coffee with someone else’s creamer of choice or burn a few bagels before you figure out the settings on the toaster oven, but it gives you a new appreciation for the wonky blender, your beat-up saute pan, that one funky spatula and even the expired milk that greet you when you get back home.

Exploring Portland’s first food hall, with a stop by Mt. Hood for pizza

I’ll be dreaming about that grapefruit radler by a creek in the Mt. Hood National Forest for weeks.

There I am, sipping on a shandy in the shade, and my kids are playing in the stream by some waterfalls. They are slathered in sunscreen borrowed from another family hanging out at this enchanted waterway under a bridge. We have just hiked a mile and a half along a fern-lined trail with soaring trees above and glitter afoot.

This creek deep in the Mt. Hood National Forest was a chilly refuge on a hot July Oregon day in what I like to call Camp Mom. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

It was worth every step, they said on the way back to the car.

For two weeks, we are taking steps in every direction up here in the Pacific Northwest. First in Portland and soon, in Boise, where my sister lives.

Camp Mom, I’m calling it. Where we eat pizza next to a snow-covered mountain top.

Pizza from the Timberline Lodge on the slopes of Mt. Hood. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

In Oregon, I’m here with my closest girlfriends. We met as roommates in Spain, so our first endeavor was a tapas trail, where we hopped from restaurant to restaurant, eating as Spanish as we could.

Small plates from Taqueria Nueve in Portland. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Taqueria Nueve, St. Jack, Ataula and Pollo Bravo served us well in our efforts to drink lots of red wine and gin and tonics and eat patatas bravas, croquetas, pulpo and chicken mousse. (We were hoping for a thicker pate-like consistency in that meat puree, though. “Basically human cat food,” Rachel says of the canned stuff we loved in Alicante.)

The rotisserie chicken at Pollo Bravo is served with sauces, including aioli and romesco. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

A highlight has been Pine Street Market, where we already spent two meals’ worth of time yesterday. Portland’s first indoor food court opened last year in the historic Carriage & Baggage Building, a skylit livery dating back to 1886. You’ll find everything from burgers and espresso to ramen and bibimbap, with a little Salt & Straw ice cream and Spanish bodega thrown in.

Oh, and a juice bar and a “frankfurter test kitchen” from Olympia Provisions.

Inside Pine Street Market, you’ll find nine mini outposts of Portland’s top restaurants and food shops. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

It’s a busy space glimmering with culinary delights.

Julian ordered the ramen from Marukin, a Japanese chain with nine locations abroad and only a couple in the U.S. My youngest got pizza from Trifecta Annex, whose owner Ken Folkish has several bread cookbooks for sale next to the breads behind the counter.

Ramen from Marukin, a Japanese restaurant with two locations in Portland. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

I sipped on a sake and munched on a happy hour chicken karaage from Marukin while we refueled after a long day of walking around downtown. Later, my friend Erin met us for the most amazing rotisserie chicken with aioli and romesco sauce from Pollo Bravo.

Another splendid afternoon in Oregon, even without the creek.

 

 

 

Super Bowl brings a restaurant boom to downtown Houston

Flights are starting to fill up for the Super Bowl in Houston on Feb. 5, but if you want to make a wild day trip of it from Austin, you need to know that there are about a million new food places opening just in time for the biggest sporting event of the year.

The Discovery Green district of downtown Houston has expanded quickly over the past year to include several blocks of greenspace downtown surrounded by new restaurants that are gearing up for the flood of tourists who visit Houston for the Super Bowl in early February. Contributed by Discovery Green
The Discovery Green district of downtown Houston has expanded quickly over the past year to include several blocks of greenspace downtown surrounded by new restaurants that are gearing up for the flood of tourists who visit Houston for the Super Bowl in early February. Contributed by Discovery Green

Most of the openings are in the Discovery Green area just south of Minute Maid Park and north of the convention center. I was there for the Houston International Quilt Festival last fall, and both the quilts and the playful greenspace outside were amazing.

We had gyros from a food truck parked next to an outdoor art market next to the greenspace, but the culinary centerpiece of the grassy area on the north side of the convention center might soon be Brasserie du Parc, a French restaurant in One Park Place that will have a walk-up window to the park. (Also in One Park Place is Phoenicia Specialty Foods, a gourmet grocery that will delight fans of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s that is a requisite stop for me when I’m in downtown Houston.)

Literal billions of dollars are being spent ($2.2 billion, to be exact) on construction projects in downtown Houston. Current construction projects including the Aloft Hotel in the former Stowers building; the 20-story Hotel Alessandra in the GreenStreet development; the 40-floor Market Square Tower with its glass-bottomed rooftop pool; Catalyst Houston, an apartment building a block west of Minute Maid Park; and a $175 million renovation project at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Here’s a fly-by of the restaurant news you will want to know the next time you’re headed to downtown Houston for Super Bowl celebrations or just a regular ol’ weekend:

  • Chris Shepherd is debuting his One Fifth concept any day now. The idea? A new restaurant every year for the next five years. The first is called Steak. The fourth location of the gourmet sandwich, salad and seafood restaurant Local Foods just opened in a 10,000 foot space in the iconic Boyd’s Department Store building downtown.
  • Biggio’s, yes, from that Biggio, is one of the many restaurants located inside the Marriott Marquis, a 29-story hotel with a Texas-shaped lazy river on its roof that is located between Discovery Green and Minute Maid Park. (That new Mariott space has something like six new eateries on the block.)
  • Bill Floyd of Reef has teamed up with Astros owner Jim Crane to open two restaurants — the high-end Potene and Osso & Kristalla, a trattoria serving breakfast, lunch and dinner — in 500 Crawford, the luxury apartment complex located directly across from Minute Maid Park.
  • Conservatory is an underground beer garden and food hall that recently opened downtown. Just a few blocks away, the Four Seasons recently underwent its first renovation in a decade that includes the new Bayou & Bottle, which replaces the former lobby bar.
  • The most concentrated place for restaurant openings right now is Avenida Houston, a plaza between the convention center and that fun Discovery Green space, which is great for kids to run around. It’s now a restaurant row, with nearly a dozen concepts scrambling to open and be fully staffed by next week. Those include a downtown location for Grotto, a Caribbean restaurant called Kulture and Xochi, the latest from Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught.

Some of these places are opening as we speak; others will open next week, and some will likely miss the big game.

The good news for those of us who live in Texas is a cool downtown area to explore the next time we’re in Houston and lots of new places to eat, no matter why we’re there.

(Even if it’s quilts.)

5 Days of Scandinavia: No-Bake Chocolate Oat Balls, perfect for fika

These chocolate oat balls are among the many treats that Swedes eat during fika, a coffee break in the middle of the day. Photo by Addie Broyles.
These chocolate oat balls are among the many treats that Swedes eat during fika, a coffee break in the middle of the day. Photo by Addie Broyles.

I’m wrapping my up post-vacation stories about Sweden and Denmark, two countries I visited earlier this month and have been dreaming about ever since.

On Wednesday, you can read my column that digs a little deeper into the purpose of my visit, what I ate and some recipes to bring some of those tastes back home, but first, I wanted to share one of the dishes in that story that I made over the weekend.

We saw these chocolate balls, called chokladbollar, in every cafe and market in Sweden. They are a perfect example of something you’d eat at fika, the coffee-and-a-snack bread that many Swedes take every day.

These balls are a simple mixture of butter, sugar, cocoa and finely ground oats, rolled in a ball and coated with coconut. They remind me a little of those no bake cookies we used to make at kids, but these aren’t even heated on the stove. (And no peanut butter. But a scoop of that would be an excellent addition to the ingredient list, however inauthentic.)

Chocolate Oat Balls

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. pure vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup finely shredded coconut

In a food processor, pulse the oats into coarse meal. Don’t grind too finely. If you don’t have a food processor, use quick cooking oats or the finest oats you can find.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the cocoa powder and vanilla and continue to cream until well blended. Using your hands, mix in the oats and salt.

Place the shredded coconut on a small plate. Roll about a tablespoon of the mixture into a ball and then roll the ball in the coconut until fully coated. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or in the freezer.

— From “Fika: The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break, with Recipes for Pastries, Breads, and Other Treats” by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall (Ten Speed Press, $17.99)

5 Days of Scandinavia: What’s up with Swedes’ love of Tex-Mex?

61Fk4JUF3hL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_When I was living in Spain in 2003, I would have killed for a good tortilla.

The good people of Spain feel quite strongly about Mexican food, and not in a good way.

Apparently, those feelings are not shared by other European countries. I can’t speak for all of them, of course, and I can’t even speak for Sweden, but I can tell you that I’ve seen several clues that lead me to believe the Swedes are quite passionate about many different international cuisines, particularly of the Mexican and Tex-Mex variety.

First, Jonas Cramby. I did a double-take last year when I saw his name on the cover of a book called “Tex-Mex from Scratch.” “What the heck does a Swede named Jonas Cramby know about Tex-Mex?” was my first thought.

My second thought, as I flipped through the book: “Hey, this isn’t too bad.”

It turns out that Cramby has written about both Texas barbecue and Tex-Mex because he’s personally interested in Texas culture and become there’s a huge market for these flavors in his native Sweden. (He has a pretty cool YouTube channel if you want to hear/watch a Swede in the Swedish countryside show you how to make fajitas or lamb barbacoa.)

How do I know there’s a huge market for those flavors in Sweden? Because every grocery store we went in had a huge Tex-Mex section. In one of the bigger supermarkets in Visby, I found practically a whole aisle filled with taco kits, corn and flour tortillas, salsas, queso, spice packets, refried beans and rice mixes. Grocery stores aren’t going to stock that many items if those products aren’t selling well.

The Tex-Mex aisle at this grocery store in Visby, Sweden, was larger than some in Austin. Photo by Addie Broyles.
The Tex-Mex aisle at this grocery store in Visby, Sweden, was larger than some in Austin. Photo by Addie Broyles.

We saw several Tex-Mex/Mexican restaurants in each city we visited but didn’t try any, sadly. (I’ll file that one under #travelregrets.)

So why do Swedes love tacos? A theory I’ve been developing has to do starts with the fact that they generally embrace international flavors. Just about every cuisine you can find in Austin I saw in Sweden. In the grocery store magazine, the recipes ranged from Lebanese kofta to Thai soup and American potato salad. Just as authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex is growing in popularity in the U.S., the foodies of Scandinavia are just as curious about replicating some of those unique flavors in their kitchens as New Yorkers.

And I also have to point out that although Swedish food certainly isn’t the bland/boring cuisine that several people warned me about before I left, the bold, intense ingredients used in Tex-Mex and Mexican food — chiles, cumin, lime, cilantro, to name a few — provide a nice contrast to the pickled, preserved and homey ingredients that are the backbone of Swedish cuisine.

This week, I used a package of Swedish taco seasoning I picked up at one of the markets in Stockholm. It was heavy on the cumin, and though not as dark in color as some American taco mixes, it packed a nice bit of heat that I wasn’t expecting.

That little chihuahua with the sombrero on the back of the package is a little silly, though.

Where are some of the interesting places you’ve seen Tex-Mex or Mexican cuisine served? Anyone with knowledge of Sweden have any other ideas about why Tex-Mex is so popular there?

tacomix

 

 

 

5 Days of Scandinavia: Falling in love with IKEA food all over again (except the veggie balls)

These heart-shaped waffles are some of our favorite items from the IKEA store in Round Rock. Photo by Julian Knox-Broyles.
These heart-shaped waffles are some of our favorite items from the IKEA store in Round Rock. Photo by Julian Knox-Broyles.

For a few years now, I’ve been fascinated with IKEA’s role in Texas-Swedish culture.

The home furnishing giant, which started in Sweden in 1943 and opened its first Texas store in 2005, flourished in the U.S. more than 100 years after Swedish immigrants started settling here.

Swedes were hugely influential in Central Texas starting in the mid-1800s, and many of the streets, parks and landmarks, especially in Williamson County, are named after Swedish settlers. Even Austin Bergstrom International Airport is named after a Swede.

Yet we eat kolaches and not kanelbullar.

Not to say that Czech culture in Texas isn’t equally as important or worth preserving, but Texas-Czech culture is thriving in a way that Texas-Swedish culture is not. There is a Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in Austin, and Swedes in Elgin and New Sweden host mid-summer and St. Lucia celebrations, but for the most part, Austinites don’t see evidence of Swedish influence on Texas in the same way that we see German and Czech influences, especially when it comes to food.

Except when you go to IKEA.

At a midsummer celebration a few years ago, I was blown away to see so many Swedish expats, Swedish-Texans or people who just have an interest in Swedish culture gathering to eat Jansson’s Temptation (a creamy potato casserole) and sip on lingonberry soda.

Once I saw IKEA through a different lens, I started to love going there, specifically to buy food from the small grocery market near the exit. Right before my trip to Sweden, I stopped by IKEA to stock up on meatballs, cinnamon rolls, pear soda and lingonberry jam so that my kids, who were staying with my parents in Missouri, could have a taste of Scandinavia while I was gone.

Two weeks later, on the way home from picking them up after I returned, we stopped by IKEA again to drop another $60 on Swedish food. Call it an at-home souvenir.

In that shopping trip, I picked up several new food items I hadn’t tried before, including the vegetable balls that IKEA launched in 2015 and a boxed multigrain bread mix.

veggieballsI tried the veggie balls during this week’s Facebook livestream — I do these every Wednesday at noon — and as you can see, I was not a fan. At the store, they serve the veggie balls with an Indian-spiced sweet potato sauce that might improve their flavor, but when simply baked in the oven, they tasted like pea paste studded with pieces of corn and bell peppers. I’ve had a few people tell me they like these veggie balls, but maybe I just don’t love the taste of peas enough to like them.

Or maybe I love their regular meatballs too much to be able to fairly judge them.

The second new product was this multi-grain baking mix that comes in what looks like a square milk carton. I had this bread several times in Sweden, where it is generally called seeded rye bread. The mix has wheat and rye flours, wheat and rye flakes, sunflower seeds, linseed, malt and yeast, and to make it, you pour hot water directly in the carton, close it up and shake the heck out of it for 45 seconds. Pour the batter into a bread pan, let rise for 45 minutes and then bake at 400 degrees for 60 minutes.

I should have pulled the loaf out after about 50 minutes because it’s extra crusty on top and a little too chewy on the edges, but in general, this is a good approximation of the dense, hearty bread you’ll find served with hard-boiled eggs, salmon, tiny shrimp or ham for breakfast, lunch or fika, the afternoon snack.

What are we doing with the rest of the haul? Making elderflower kombucha, celebrating the end of the school week with the sparkling pear cider and trying to limit our intake of the chocolate heart cookies and the heart-shaped waffles. (I already finished the package of dill gravlax.)

What do you like from the IKEA restaurant or food store? Where are the hidden pockets of Swedish culture that I’ve been looking for? Have a good recipe for Swedish meatballs to share?

IKEA now sells a box of multigrain bread mix. All you have to do is add hot water to the box and shake to mix. Bake for about an hour at 400 degrees. Photo by Addie Broyles.
IKEA now sells a box of multigrain bread mix. All you have to do is add hot water to the box and shake to mix. Bake for about an hour at 400 degrees. Photo by Addie Broyles.

 

 

5 days of Scandinavia: Would a hipster porridge shop fly in the U.S.?

One of the two oat-based breakfast porridges at Grod in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Addie Broyles.
One of the two oat-based breakfast porridges at Grod in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Addie Broyles.

In the weeks leading up to our trip to Sweden and Denmark, my sister and I had fun booking AirBnBs in each of the cities we were going to visit.

When I confirmed two nights in a cute apartment in Copenhagen, the host emailed me to ask about my arrival. “There is a very nice little porridge shop next door called Grød. I can leave the keys in there so you are flexible to come anytime you want.”

Grod founder Lasse Andersen opened his first porridge shop in Copenhagen in 2011 and wrote a cookbook a few years later. This tomato risotto is one of the dishes on the menu and in the book. Photo by Addie Broyles.
Grod founder Lasse Andersen opened his first porridge shop in Copenhagen in 2011 and wrote a cookbook a few years later. This tomato risotto is one of the dishes on the menu and in the book. Photo by Addie Broyles.

A porridge shop?! I’d never heard of a shop dedicated to porridge, but the idea seemed so adorably Scandinavian that I knew it would be the first place we visited after we dropped off our stuff. (It was right next door, after all.)

Sure enough, Chelsea and I stopped by Grød, which first opened in 2011 and now has four locations around Copenhagen, around 11 a.m. last Monday. It was early enough for her to have an oatmeal with caramel and apples, but close enough to lunch that I could get the tomato and Parmesan risotto. (We both had coffee. Of course.)

Within two bites, we knew that that tomato risotto was the winner. The oatmeal was fine, but nothing compared to the rich, creamy rice topped fat shavings of Parmesan, a pool of basil pesto dotted with halves of cherry tomatoes. After I snagged the recipe from the English-language version of the Grød cookbook (see below), we practically licked the bowl clean and planned a return visit.

The daal at Grod in Copenhagen. Photo by Addie Broyles.
The daal at Grod in Copenhagen. Photo by Addie Broyles.

Twenty-four hours later, we were back in the shop for our third bowl of porridge. We’d already eaten breakfast, so as a pre-lunch, we ordered the daals; curried lentils with tomatoes, cilantro, Skyr yogurt and salted almonds.

ALMONDS, my friends. When was the last time you had almonds on daal?

Well, I can tell you that almonds and lentils, topped with plain yogurt, no less, were a fantastic combination.

It was maybe even better than the tomato risotto from the day before, but the lentils got us thinking: Are risotto and daal porridge? Would a porridge shop ever make it in the U.S.?

A porridge shop opened in Brooklyn a few years ago, but it was apparently only a pop-up shop and is now closed. Savory porridge is definitely on the rise here. In February, I wrote a big story about how chefs, home cooks and even the people who develop new products for grocery stores are getting in on savory porridge.

But the problem with the term “porridge” remains. Even though many of us like to eat porridge and porridge-like foods ranging from fancy oatmeals to the kind of savory risottos and daals served at Grød, the word “porridge” (and its even uglier cousin, gruel) is associated with bland, boring breakfasts that our grandparents used to eat.

My theory is that a porridge shop wouldn’t make it in the U.S. if they tried to sell it with the term “porridge,” but if some marketing genius could come up with a better way to brand the wide array of sweet and savory, thick, satisfying and comforting dishes that they serve at Grød, we’d all be eating there three times a week.

Grød, by the way, is about to open its fifth location — and its first outside Copenhagen — later this year. The porridges cost between 40 to 85 krone, which is in the $6 to $13 range, and I would buy each of them again in a heartbeat at that cost.

Tomato Parmesan Risotto

For the pesto:
1/2 bunch of broad-leafed parsley
1/2 bunch of basil
1 cup olive oil
1 tsp. cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt

For the tomato compote:
2/3 lb. tomatoes
1/2 onion
1 clove garlic
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

For the risotto:
1 small shallot
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups risotto rice
11 cups of boiled water, vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup roughly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and cider vinegar, to taste

Make the pesto: Process the ingredients in a food processor and set aside.

Make the tomato compote: Clean the tomatoes and cut into rough squares. Chop the onion and garlic finely. Heat a pan with oil and fry the onions and garlic. Add the tomatoes, cider vinegar and sugar into the pot and boil until the tomatoes are tender and stick together. Season with salt, sugar and cider vinegar and set aside.

Finely chop the shallot and garlic and put into a pot with olive oil and butter. Saute at a very low heat until the onions are tender and translucent. Pour the stock into a separate pot and let it simmer over low heat. Add the rice to the onions and fry at a medium heat. Keep stirring until the butter has been absorbed. Add white wine and let it reduce. Add about 1/2 cup of the boiling stock every time the stock has reduced. Stir frequently.

When there is about 1/2 cup of stock left, add the tomato compote to the risotto and let it reduce further. Add the Parmesan, season with salt and cider vinegar and serve immediately.

— From “Grod” by Lasse Skjønning Andersen

 

5 days of Scandinavia: No oats needed for this Copenhagen-inspired granola

IMG_0112
Rye breadcrumb granola from Original Coffee in Copenhagen. Photo by Addie Broyles.

Hej hej!

That’s Swedish for, “Hey, I’ve been gone for a few weeks, but I’m really happy to be back!”

My sister and I were on an ancestry trip to Sweden to see where our family emigrated from back in the late 1800s. Our goal was to see Visby, a town on the island of Gotland that is about 60 miles off the eastern coast of Sweden where my great-great-grandmother left, with two kids in tow, to move to Southwest Missouri in 1892.

You’ll be reading more about that trip that was 134 years in the making, but this week, I wanted to blog about out five noteworthy food moments that stand out as I reflect on my trip.

We’re going to start not in Sweden but in Denmark. Copenhagen, specifically. That’s where we ended our trip.

Our very last meal together was breakfast at a coffee shop called Original Coffee. My sister is a coffee nut, so we were always looking for third-wave shops that could pull a cortado worthy of her scrutiny. This place certainly fit the bill, but I got excited when I saw muesli on the menu.

As with almost all the “muesli” I had in Scandinavia, this was actually a cooked, crunchy granola, as opposed to soft, uncooked muesli that soaks in milk or yogurt to soften. And it turns out that this granola didn’t even have oats in it.

IMG_0099
At Original Coffee in Copenhagen, they serve a rye-based granola with yogurt, fresh fruit and rhubarb compote. Photo by Addie Broyles.

I knew I was going to be writing about DIY granola and muesli when I got back to the U.S. (you can read that story in this week’s food section), so I’d been paying close attention to the different kinds of granola/muesli I had in each of the four cities we visited. Most of the stuff I had in Sweden was like the granola you’d buy in America: Lots of oats, dried fruit and nuts, maybe some coconut flakes.

This Original Coffee’s granola was unlike any I’ve ever had. It was made from rye breadcrumbs, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and honey. That’s it. No oil. No dried cranberries. No coconut flakes and, most interesting to me, no oats.

A few days after returning, I set out to try to recreate it in my own kitchen. I bought sliced rye bread, an ingredient I think I have literally never bought even once in my life, and turned it into crumbs with a food processor. I added a few squeezes of honey, turned the crumbs out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and baked them at about 300 degrees. Fifteen minutes in, I added pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds and a little more honey. After another 15 minutes in the oven, I was delighted to find that my knock-off granola had turned out pretty close to the real thing I had been enjoying just a few days before while sipping on a coffee next to a huge canal in one of the most beautiful European cities I’ve ever visited.

My view wasn’t quite as striking, but the granola put a smile on my face.

I made it again today with slices of rye that I’d let stale over the weekend, but the result was nearly the same, so use fresh or stale bread. And as with all granola recipes, feel free to tweak the ingredients to your liking. Agave nectar, sunflower seeds or flaxseeds would all be great additions to this dish.

This is my attempt to make Original Coffee's rye granola at home. It's not quite as crunchy or dense as the original, but it also doesn't have as many sesame seeds. Photo by Addie Broyles.
This is my attempt to make Original Coffee’s rye granola at home. It’s not quite as crunchy or dense as the original, but it also doesn’t have as many sesame seeds. Photo by Addie Broyles.

Rye Sesame Pumpkin Seed Granola

3 slices rye bread
3 Tbsp. honey, divided
1 Tbsp. sesame seeds
3 Tbsp. pumpkin seeds
Pinch salt

Heat the oven to 250 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the bread until it start to form breadcrumbs. Add 2 Tbsp. honey and pulse several more times until the bread is evenly crumbled.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet and spread the crumbs on top. Bake for 10 minutes and then stir. Bake again for another 5 minutes, stir again and then add the sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, a pinch or salt and final tablespoon of honey. Stir well and then bake for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and taste the granola to see how crunchy the breadcrumbs have become. Bake for another 5-10 minutes, if desired. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 10 days.

— Addie Broyles

Grocery Diaries: Four days in Boise, four supermarkets

I went to Boise last week to visit my sister and my niece and nephew. Taking my own kids to the grocery store is one of our favorite activities, so I had fun doing the same with 4-year-old June. We went to the Trader Joe's and Whole Foods in downtown Boise, which are located practically on the same block.
I went to Boise last week to visit my sister and my niece and nephew. Taking my own kids to the grocery store is one of our favorite activities, so I had fun doing the same with 4-year-old June. We went to the Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods in downtown Boise, which are located practically on the same block.

Four days. Four grocery stores.

I sure know how to have fun on vacation.

Over the weekend, I was visiting my sister and her kids in Boise. We ate out exactly twice (Chick-Fil-A and a local Mediterranean spot called Mazzah) and cooked the rest of our meals in her tiny kitchen that is only slightly larger than my cubicle.

Instead of cookbooks and calendars that have swallowed up my desk, her countertops are covered in drying dishes, boxes of tea, a blender for smoothies and a rainbow of plastic bowls and cups for her two kids, ages 4 and almost 2.

I love cooking with my sister, even in her tiny kitchen. I showed her that chicken soup recipe from my latest column and she showed me how to make kombucha, a kitchen project that will make its way into the paper soon.

But in order to do that cooking, we needed groceries, right? My 4-year-old niece, June, who didn’t know what a newspaper was, much less what her aunt does at one, was happy to accompany me to two stores on the very first day of my visit.

Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods — located just a block from one another — are the newest supermarkets to open in downtown Boise, and I hadn’t been to either location. They are just blocks from WinCo, a regional favorite that I’ll explain in detail in a minute.

Like in Austin, the Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods in Boise try desperately to appeal to the Keep Boise Weird crowd, which is nearly as fervent as the Keep Austin Weird demographic here, with murals of the nearby Capitol and signage touting local products. At Trader Joe’s, we picked up a sparkling limeade and a local IPA (my treats) and knock-off Fruit Loops and orange juice (her treats), plus some roses, a token of adoration for the woman who was — at the moment — pulling single mom duty while her husband is on a two-week mission trip to Africa.

She’d requested a kind of beer that Trader Joe’s didn’t carry, which was a pretty good excuse to pop into the Whole Foods. They didn’t have it either, but it was fun to walk through an Austin institution as a tourist trying to spot products from our booming consumer packaged good industry. On an end cap, I found Austin’s Boomerang Pie’s on sale, as well as Austin-based Skinny Pop popcorn, Rhythm Superfoods’ kale chips and Beanitos, the bean-based tortilla chips also based in Austin.

Austin has the flagship Whole Foods, and Boise has the original Albertsons, an unremarkable store just two blocks from my sister’s house that is good for last-minute purchases, like the toppings to go on the Trader Joe’s pizza dough I’d purchased the day before. With overpriced produce and mathematically complicated loyalty program pricing, Albertsons is like Randalls: totally forgettable and worth avoiding unless you really need pepperoni and mozzarella cheese at the last minute. (UPDATE: Apparently Albertsons does not have a loyalty card program. They did away with it in 2013.)

I saved the best for last. Chelsea had been under the weather all weekend, which — oh darn — meant that someone needed to go to WinCo to buy groceries for the week.

WinCo Foods is a regional grocery chain in the Northwest that feels like a combination of Costco and H-E-B. Customers sack their own groceries, and the bulk and deli sections are enormous.
WinCo Foods is a regional grocery chain in the Northwest that feels like a combination of Costco and H-E-B. Customers sack their own groceries, and the bulk and deli sections are enormous.
Loss leaders, including milk and eggs, are products that stores intentionally under price to bring customers in the store.
Loss leaders, including milk and eggs, are products that stores intentionally under price to bring customers in the store.

WinCo is to Boise as H-E-B is to Austin, but with a walk-in beer cooler, kombucha on tap and a bulk selection so large and so diverse that it’s enough to make a grocery lover weep.

Am I drunk on Winco because we don’t have it? Probably. Is it my sister and all her friends’ favorite place to shop, even though they have to sack their own groceries at the end? You bet.

The loss leaders — those items that stores intentionally underprice just to get you in the door — will make your eyeballs pop: $1.98 for a gallon of milk and 99 cents for eggs, specifically. The store-branded products can’t hold a candle to what H-E-B offers, but they are well-priced and good quality, my sister reports.

The flashing neon sign out front advertises kombucha on tap, but they don’t mention that Humm, the brand on draft, is the only kombucha sold by the bottle, too. The organic section is about as large as the one at Sprout’s, which is to say, not very large, but the prices were good.

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WinCo in Boise has Humm kombucha on tap, which you can drink while you shop.

But it’s the bulk and deli section that are so interesting to me. Although there are organic options in the bins, you can also buy powdered drinks (a la Kool Aid) or three kinds of gravy mixes or even bright orange cheese powder. These aren’t the foodie shoppers who stock up on quinoa at Whole Foods, but you can get quinoa and barley and farro at WinCo, too. They also sell pet food and nuts and cereals and gluten-free flours and Chex mix in bulk, as well as sell candies and gummies and chocolate-covered banana chips.

You could get lost in that section alone, but over in the deli, you’ll find about twice as many prepared foods and meats as most stores in Austin, including $4.98 rotisserie chickens and pre-seasoned taco meat and grilled chicken breasts that are a staple of my brother-in-law’s diet.

I bought a fried chicken salad for the plane ride home the next day, along with about half a dozen treats from the bulk section to surprise my kids with. (Chocolate-covered gummy bears, anyone?)

I gawked at the new-to-me ice cream brands, including one from Tillamook, on the way to the check-out stand, where my cashier rung up my groceries and then sent them down a conveyor belt so I could pack them into resuable bags I’d borrowed from my sister. (Our friends in our hippie sister city to the north do not yet know the joys of a citywide plastic bag ban, and after talking with my sister, it doesn’t sound like it’s even been a matter of public discussion. They don’t get the newspaper or watch the local news on TV, though, so I could be wrong.)

Anyone else out there like to grocery shop when they are traveling? What are some of the favorite stores you’ve found?

On the hunt for Ozarkian whiskey, Missouri’s best French fries

Welcome back from the holidays! Like many of you, I got to take a few weeks off and enjoy some time with my family. My boys and I headed to Southwest Missouri to meet up with my sister and her family, and some of my best memories of the holiday were cooking together. We made Springfield-style cashew chicken as our Christmas Eve dinner and had our traditional Christmas Day breakfast (with cheese grits and orange rolls), followed by a big ol’ pot of chicken and homemade noodles.

I’ll blog some of those recipes later this week, but first, a quick recap of some of the food-related adventures we took while we were up there, just in case you ever find yourself in that neck of the Ozarks.

First and foremost, I know a few Austin restaurants that could take a cue from Aviary Cafe and Creperie, an eatery with two locations in Springfield. Just weeks after a server here upsold me on fries that were most certainly not “the world’s best French fries,” as she’d promised, I had what were probably the world’s best French fries, no hyperbolic pitch needed from the staff. Thinly sliced crisp wedges were almost more like potato chips than fries, but nobody cared what they were called. We just wanted more. Even without the aioli on the side, these fries, which I ordered with a giant salad on the side, were worth seeking out.

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One more observation about Aviary, this time from my sister (creator of the world’s best chocolate chip cookies, you’ll remember): “It’s very Pinterest-y in here.” Yes, Pinterest is now an adjective to describe a certain whimsical, hand-crafted aesthetic at place like this. Interior design will never be the same.

(I also chatted with the chef, who said he is planning on opening another concept in Springfield this year and hopefully an outpost of Aviary in Sugarland, where he has family.)

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Right around the corner from Aviary’s newest location at Farmers Park in South Springfield is 5 Pound Apparel, a retail store that has a donation tied to every purchase. The company started out as a screenprinting shop that would donate five pounds of food for every shirt purchased, but they’ve now expanded the philanthropy to include international hunger relief and other charitable efforts. If you’re looking for a “Missouri is Awesome” shirt or bottle opener, this is the place to get one.

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On another trip to the big city, my dad and I dropped off the rest of the family at the movies and hit the distillery. Not that there are many distilleries to choose from in the Ozarks (hard to believe, I know), but Copper Run in Walnut Shade, just north of Branson, makes some really fantastic moonshine, whiskey and rum that you can sample at their woodsy tasting room from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.

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The distillery, the first legally operating still in the Ozarks since Prohibition, has been open since 2008, but the tasting room is somewhat newer. We enjoyed a tasting flight of the moonshine, two whiskeys and two rums, followed by a beer-whiskey combination of Three Blind Mice brown ale from Springfield’s Mother’s Brewing and Copper Run’s small batch house whiskey.

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I’ll be enjoying more of Copper Run’s whiskey this winter, alongside the Piney River Brewing Company‘s Missouri Mule, another Southwest Missouri libation that makes that feeling of being home linger a little bit longer.