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Torkil Heggstad

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  1. Hi all, I initially found eGullet back in the day via Chowhound, and lurked for a while very impressed with the contents of the various forums. I also thought I had joined it at some point, but I must not have followed through that time. I finally came back to eGullet looking for advise on whether to get a baking steel when I am not just looking for something to bake pizza on, but also loaves of bread that may be too big for cooking in cast iron pots, i.e. loaves that are in the two pound range. It will still probably take a while before I buy any of them and even more bake a huge loaf on one of them. Anyway, seeing some old interesting topics on cookbooks I wanted to respond and thus I am finally registering, but of course now it may take a bit of time before I respond. I have cooked and baked since I was a little kid, but did not cook at all in college as I lived in dorms throughout. So it wasn't really until I moved to the US again in 1996 for work that I finally started buying cookbooks and branching outside Norwegian every day cooking. At that point the only really foreign thing I had cooked was a recipe for lionheads (huge ginger flavored meatballs pan fried then cooked in some stock that contained soy sauce and Napa cabbage, which was the best use of Napa cabbage (in Norway it is mostly used as a salad green with Thousand Island dressing (not good in my book) I have tasted to this day). I have always been more of a reader than a doer, so from most of my cookbooks I have not cooked a single dish. Nowadays I do quite a bit of cooking and baking though although the former is seldom from recipes. Anyway, moving to the US I had problems finding good whole grain and partial whole grain breads that were neither sweet nor soft, which is a problem for us who come from a culture where three of the day's four meals consist of eating slices of bread with some kind of topping (cheese, cold cuts or some kind of jam (mostly home made freezer jam in my family)). So the first things I really did a lot of was baking bread. I took a Norwegian white loaf recipe and adjusted it by changing out some of the flour with whole wheat and rye and added lots of seeds and whole grains that I cooked the day before. Especially when I lived in Denver, but even here in New York, I was horrified with the cakes I was served at birthday parties and other work functions and even in some people's homes. Back home we have a cake baking tradition that at least on the west coast is very strong. So I had to start baking more of my old trusted favorites. Soon I also started baking those things I would get from a pastry shop or bakery in Norway, like all the buns based on sweet yeast dough with cardamom. I still bake these things (even tried a new variant this morning) especially for my church choir colleagues, but also for coffee hours and parties. Thanks to some recent baking books from Norway I now know not to use melted butter in the dough, but rather working in cubed softened butter after the dough is already pliable (which completely breaks up the dough for a while until it comes back together to form the most wonderful buttery sweat yeast dough). I also longed for the thin Norwegian waffles (don't like thick and dry Belgian waffles) so eventually I bought a waffle iron which made me popular with my chorus colleagues. It is nowhere near as good as what I was used to from back home as it cooks very unevenly and has an annoying beeping that cannot be muted, but I get my thin heart shaped waffles, so who can complain. Now that I finally have seen what looks like great quality double irons here in this country too I am very tempted. Like with baking I started cooking some traditional Norwegian dishes that I missed, like the Bergen fish soup, which even means I made fish balls a few times (other times I break tradition and use pieces of fish instead of fish balls (it is not always easy to get the fresh not frozen haddock that makes the best fish balls)). The funny thing is that as a result of living here I have had the joy of making things from scratch that hardly any Norwegian do. So I made the lamb soup Sodd (including home made meat balls made from meat that I put seven times through the meat grinder until it finally had the right consistency (very smooth)) for my 50th birthday. Even my relatives from the part of the country that soup comes from have never made it themselves. As for dishes from other cultures, I love the few Indian recipes I have made from Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking. I have no idea why I don't do that more often. I also love to make sushi salad (chirashi zushi) from Elizabeth Andoh's Washoku and Kansha books. I took a week long cooking class with her once and all the food we made was so good. I have no idea why I don't make that more often either. I also make some miso soups where I follow the book on the dashi, but then add whatever I feel like to the soup beyond dashi and miso. The maybe most important influence on my cooking outside my mother (general cooking) and father (fish from catch to pan) is Lidia Bastianich. I have several of her cookbook that I have never used, but we watched countless of her shows on PBS. Her way of starting things in the pan to build flavors is how most of my general cooking (pasta sauces, and the early cooking of ingredients to what I used to think was standard Norwegian omelette that turns out to be some kind of family way of doing a stove top fritata with cheese that melts on top) is done to build flavors. The other major influence is my SO's TexMex background. We have learned several things through her mom (a fantastic cook), but I have also eaten with them at their favorite TexMex places in Dallas. One funny thing over the years is that my main reason for cooking pinto beans in the clay Olla with chopped onion, garlic and whole poblano og jalapeno peppers is that a good amount of the pot liquer with some of the beans and of course the cooked chiles and onion becomes my favorite soup with some cut up raw green onion, some cheese that melts in the soup, some cut up avocado, cilantro, and a good squeeze of a lime over. That soup is so earthy and fresh. The focus on that food also eventually lead me to the TexMex cookbook by Robb Walsh (and eventually most of his other wonderfully informative books on various kinds of Texas cooking). Whenever I go back home to Norway I now am required to make cheese enchilladas (and now in a Norwegiation of the dish I also make ground meat and cheese enchilladas) with chili gravy. I also have learned quite a bit about Mexican cooking through especially Rick Bayless' second book The Mexican Kitchen. I love how that book is organized around the salsas (and it has one of my favorite dishes, Campeche Baked Fish with Tomato, Habanero, and Citrus, which taught me how good the flavor of Habanero can be). Through that book I learned the techniques to just make cooked salsas whenever I feel like it and have the right ingredients at hand. It taught me to roast both tomatoes and peppers of all kinds, which I think has influenced my grilling too (our co op has outdoors grills that are available two thirds of the year; what a treat it is to cook and eat outside). The main thing that I don't do at all or much here in the US that I miss from home, is picking berries in forests and the mountains and going fishing with the purpose of getting the freshest fish possible (I could never get into catch and release although I can understand the sense in it in more populous areas). But what I carry with me from those is the joy in fresh berries that with a bit of sugar (not too much) can be mashed up to something much better than any jam in the store. Of course I also use frozen berries at times, but for some baked and pastry uses the mouth feel or look is not the same. And with regard to fish I learned how to handle fresh fish and that buying and cooking the fish whole is usually best. For a decade and a half we had a fire escape garden when we lived at the top of a brownstone in downtown Brooklyn. I loved being able to go outside and pick among the more than hand full types of herbs we had out there (what joy the first chives int he spring were). And growing up to 20 types of heirloom tomatoes, which was probably illegal, brought so much happiness and freshness to our cooking. I really miss that part when living in an apartment building. Maybe one day I will have a garden or at least a balcony. We will see. Bringing me back to bread baking I have in the last few years and especially the last year baked a lot from Flour Water Salt Yeast. I love the approach and the flavor of the breads. Mostly I end up making an adjusted overnight bread with 70% all purpose, 20% rye and 10% whole wheat or something close to that. I do not follow the temperatures too closely, but let things take the time they need to (benefit of being a home based freelancer). I do however as with almost all my baking use the scale (I even do that when making pie crusts (pie making is another thing I picked up from living in the US (I love Kenji López-Alt's crust method (and a lot of his writing)). At the end of this summer I finally taught my mom Ken Forkish's method with baking in cast iron pans. So now my mom in Norway bakes bread based on the method of a US baker. This was way too long, but oh well. I will probably tend to be a bit less wordy. Torkil
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