Norwegian Dakotan Lefse

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It’s the beginning of November, so I assume we can dive straight into preparing for the holidays. When it starts to get cold and dark outside, I can’t help but remember the family recipes of my childhood that used to light up these winter months. My grandma’s lemon meringue pie, my mom’s mashed potatoes… Maybe it’s my Hoosier roots, or my Midwestern roots in general, but I’m a big fan of mashed potatoes. By some magic, my mom would make them perfectly smooth and fluffy, without a hint of gumminess, the best in the world. I’ve tried using a hand mixer like she does, but it just never works out for me. But with winter almost upon us, I know I’ll have another five months of practice.

While I myself am a fervent lover of the foods I had growing up, for most of my life I thought of Midwestern cooking as one bland white-bread-white-flour-white-cake category that was historically insignificant compared to other, more seemingly exotic regions. And while it’s true that our foods tend to be on the carbier side, historically insignificant they are not. If you’ve read even a few posts on this blog, you know that I’m a sucker for dishes that tell a story about where they came from. Regional dishes are by far the most interesting posts for me to do, and I’m particularly interested in foods that are considered “Midwestern” but that I’ve never tasted, or even heard of. For example, the fabulous Molly Yeh, who lives in North Dakota, has recently been gracing the Internet with photos of her hotdish. I had certainly never heard of hotdish, even though it’s technically a “Midwestern” dish. (Answer: It’s basically a casserole that you would traditionally bring to a social gathering. In more recent times, tater tots have become a common topping. Who’s the Upper Midwestern genius who decided to load tots on a casserole? Get that person a medal.)

And, speaking of Midwesterners, their love of potatoes, and winter: For those in North and South Dakota, the first snow and the beginning of the holiday season traditionally meant that it was time for another dish I had never heard of: Lefse, a Norwegian flatbread consisting mostly of mashed potatoes.

Last Thursday was the 126th anniversary of both North and South Dakota becoming the 39th and 40th states (though no one knows which is which, because President Benjamin Harrison shuffled the papers and signed them blindly). The Upper Midwestern States, the Dakotas and Minnesota, have very large Scandinavian populations. Norwegians began settling in the Dakotas before they were even states, and between 1860 and 1880 the population of Norwegians in the Dakotas increased from 129 people to one-tenth of the population. Now, one in three North Dakotans claim Norwegian descent, which is the highest for any state, although Minnesota and South Dakota are close.

Lefse is a Norwegian dish, which, like other old world traditions, found new life in America. There are lefse recipes dating back to the 1600s in Norway, though those traditional recipes would have used only flour, as potatoes did not make their way to Norway until about 250 years ago. To find an authentic, Norwegian-Dakotan lefse recipe, I reached out to Erin Zieske, who I featured in a post a few months back. She lives in South Dakota and had mentioned lefse when we were discussing her post. She immediately directed me to her mother, Tonna. Tonna told me that she often uses a recipe featured on NPR, in place of her grandmother’s recipe. However, it appears that there is little variation to the few ingredients that make up lefse: Potatoes, butter, salt, sugar, cream, and flour—ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen, which is likely what makes this is an enduring recipe.

Now a list of things I didn’t have when starting this process: A lefse stick, a lefse griddle, or a lefse pin. The stick helps to flip the rather large flatbreads, the griddle is extra-large and flat, and the pin has deep grooves in it, which give the lefse a waffled appearance when you roll it out. Have no fear. If you also don’t have these things, you can still make yourself some delicious lefse, though slightly less authentic. But after you taste your inauthentic lefse, and decide you love them more than anything else in the world, you can make the decision to invest in specialized lefse equipment.

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Norwegian Dakotan Lefse
Slightly adapted using this recipe, as well as the recipe from Miss Anna Berg, of Bismarck, North Dakota, in the December 22, 1948, issue of The Bismarck Tribune. Makes about 40 sheets of lefse.

Ingredients:
9 cups of potatoes, mix of red and russet, mashed
1 1/4 cup unsalted butter
4 tsp salt
4 tbsp white sugar
3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus 1-1 1/2 cups more for rolling out the dough

Instructions: 

Peel and cube potatoes, add to a large pan, cover with water, and boil for about 20 minutes, until soft enough to mash.

Mash potatoes in the pan and then measure out 9 cups into a very large bowl. Add the butter, cream, salt, and sugar and mix thoroughly.

Allow the potatoes to cool.

Press a paper towel onto the top of the mashed potatoes and then cover the bowl with a towel. Refrigerate for at least three hours, or overnight.

Using your hands, in the bowl, mix the flour into the potato mixture, beginning with a full cup, and then about 1/4 cup at a time, until everything is thoroughly mixed.

Pinch off pieces of the dough and roll into a ball, slightly larger than a golf ball. Place on a cookie sheet or plate. You can stack them on top of each other if you run out of space.

Refrigerate for about half an hour.

Place a towel folded in half near your work space. Place two pieces of wax paper between the folds of the towel.

Heat an ungreased large griddle or skillet up to about 500 degrees.

Liberally flour a work surface and a rolling pin. Begin rolling out the dough, adding more flour as needed to your work surface, the dough, and the rolling pin (you may need a lot, and that’s OK). Roll until very thin, into a circle about 10 inches in diameter.

Using a spatula, transfer the dough circle to the preheated griddle. Cook for about 1 minute, until light brown spots begin to form on the bottom. Then flip and cook the other side for about one minute.

Remove the lefse from the griddle, fold in half, and place between the two pieces of wax paper in the towel.

Continue until the dough is gone, laying the complete lefse on top of each other.

Allow to cool completely, fold into a quarter, and eat immediately or freeze for later use.

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Often, families will make dozens of lefse at a time, eating them throughout the holidays. (I now understand why, since making them is time-consuming and rolling them out is tedious). As with most flatbreads, they are amazingly versatile. Some families stick to adding only butter, or butter and sugar. Others go savory by filling them with lutefisk (!!). I’ve generally gone the butter-sugar route. Long story short, butter, potatoes and sugar together are tasty.

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Chocolate Krispy Treat Sandwiches

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My favorite human turns 30 years old today! I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love birthdays (my birthday! friends’ birthdays! strangers’ birthdays!). I also believe that birthdays should be celebrated for no less than a month, particularly if they are 30th birthdays! Alex doesn’t agree. He doesn’t like celebrations, particularly if they are celebrating him. He also doesn’t like cake, which I will never understand.

So, instead, we started celebrating last week, a whole three weeks shy of full birthday celebration. Per his request, we saw the anxiety-inducing Dunkirk on opening night at the Music Box. (Really, truly spectacular, if your heart can take it.) Tonight, we will have a nice dinner and some drinks. Tomorrow, we’re both taking off work and making a special trip to Werewolf Coffee Bar, and going to Sunset Pho Caffe for dinner with Alex’s dad. This weekend, we’ll probably make our way over to the Newberry Library’s Book Fair and celebrate with some friends. And, before the weekend is over, I suspect we’ll eat more than a few hot dogs. (Alex claims to never have food cravings, but this man has been talking about hot dogs, like, a lot.) For dessert, we will not have birthday cake.

Since cake was off the table, I tried to plan a celebratory dessert that captured the genius that is my wacky husband. Things I know about Alex are this: He is particularly fond of chocolate. A chocolate fiend, in fact. He’s been known to devour entire bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips. So, chocolate, sure, we’re getting somewhere.

The sandwich cookie is also a favorite. Alex’s love of cookies, particularly cookie sandwiches, knows zero bounds. His Instagram handle is @eatingcookies. No joke. (Don’t go looking for cookies there, though. He mostly takes pictures of garbage during our walks around the city.)

Finally, when I ask him about desserts he would like to try, they are almost never fancy. A while back, out of the blue, he mentioned he had read an article about an Australian snack called Chocolate Crackles. Essentially, this is a cupcake-shaped, chocolate Rice Krispies treat.

So, I combined the three, chocolate, cookie sandwiches, and Crackles, into a dessert truly fit for a 30-year-old man’s birthday.

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Chocolate Krispy Treat Sandwiches
Makes 24 rounds; 12 filled sandwiches. Slightly adapted from this recipe.

Ingredients:
For krispy treats:
6 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the cookie sheet
1/8 tsp salt
10 1/2 oz bag of marshmallows
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
7 cups rice cereal (like Rice Krispies)

For filling:
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 tsp salt
5-6 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup heavy cream

Instructions:
For krispy treats:
Butter a 12″ x 18″ cookie sheet.

In a large saucepan, melt 6 tbsp of butter over low to medium heat.

Once melted, add the salt, marshmallows, semi-sweet chocolate, and cocoa powder. Stir until combined and the marshmallows have completely melted. Remove from heat. Add the vanilla.

Add the rice cereal and stir until completely coated.

Immediately pour onto the buttered cookie sheet. Using your hands, or a spatula, press the mixture into the pan, filling to the edges. If you have a bit of leftover butter from the stick you used, you may find it helpful to cover your fingertips or the spatula with a bit of the butter while pressing to keep the mixture from sticking.

Once you have completely filled the pan with an even layer, refrigerate for about 15 minutes.

Using a 2 1/2-in round cookie or biscuit cutter, punch out 24 circles and move to another cookie sheet or plate.

For filling:
In a small bowl, beat the peanut butter, salt, powdered sugar, and vanilla until completely combined and smooth. In a separate bowl, beat the heavy cream until it forms stiff peaks. Add the heavy cream to the peanut butter mixture and fold together until combined.

Fill two rounds with peanut butter cream, press together, and enjoy!

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So, to recap–Rice Krispies Treats are good. Chocolate Rice Krispies Treats are better! Chocolate Rice Krispies Treats, filled with peanut butter cream are the best of all! Maybe they’re not the most grown-up dessert. No, they’re definitely not. But, being a grown-up is overrated anyway. Even as I was writing this last sentence, my brain was thinking, “You know what would be really good? Some peanut butter ice cream smooshed between two chocolate Rice Krispies Treats!” Omg brb gtg make some ice cream sandwiches!

Happy birthday, my love. Welcome to your 30’s!

Mandy Ross’ Sweet and Salty Chex Mix

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I’m very excited to be joined by Mandy Ross, the woman behind the very popular Instagram account, Paper of the Past, where she shares her collection of vintage scrapbooks dating from the 1850s to the 1940s. Each post beautifully displays a few pages from the collection, alongside the name of the owner, and often some details about them and even some of their own words. When I asked how she got interested in collecting scrapbooks, Mandy told me, “To me, old scrapbooks are time capsules in book form. They combine stories and mystery with a bit of an underdog vibe. For one reason or another, they have been discarded or lost, and need a good home. Each book tells a story, but I have to dig around to piece that story together.” I have my friend Sarah to thank for introducing me to Mandy’s Instagram, but many more discovered her before I did. She started her account in the summer of 2016 and now has over 16,000 followers, who enjoy her glimpses into personal pasts. Mandy adds, “Not only do I enjoy the investigative process of unraveling the story, but also putting those memories back out in the world via Instagram.”

Obviously, whenever I have a guest on the blog, I ask them to share a family recipe. When I first reached out to Mandy, she wasn’t sure which recipe she would provide, but she knew immediately it would be something that her grandmother made. I told her that the emphasis of my blog is always the significance of the recipe, meaning it’s often something so ingrained in a family’s life that it’s hardly noticed. After some thought, Mandy told me the story of her grandmother’s Chex Mix recipe. “I visit my grandparents in Phoenix before Christmas each year. We make Chex Mix, listen to oldies, and play cards for three or four hours a day. Actually, we play cards while we wait for the Chex Mix to bake. I keep my phone in another room (most of the time) and they don’t have internet. In winter, it’s sunny but cold in Phoenix. We watch birds and rabbits running around in their backyard. There’s a grapefruit tree, cacti, and hummingbirds. It’s very peaceful. Their house is full of antiques and old family photos. Throughout the years, it’s been the same relaxing visit. No matter how much my own life changes, the Chex Mix process and card-playing stays the same.”

“It’s very simple, but the process holds a lot of great memories for me,” Mandy says. She and her grandmother still make the mix every year. “We make a few batches for me to pack in my suitcase and share with the rest of my family in San Diego. So, even though it’s a recipe that my grandma and I share, my family enjoys the tradition as well.”

Sweet and Salty Chex Mix

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Mandy Ross’ Sweet and Salty Chex Mix

Ingredients:
3 cups Corn Chex cereal
3 cups Rice Chex cereal
3 cups Honey Nut Chex cereal
1 cup mixed nuts
1 cup pretzels
1 cup Cheez-It crackers
6 tbsp butter
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In an un-greased large roasting pan, melt butter in the oven.

Stir in Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder.

Stir in cereals, mixed nuts, pretzels, and Cheez-Its until coated.

Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Spread on paper towels or wax paper until cooled.

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Mandy’s grandmother “grew up in a big happy family in Southern California.” She owned and managed a beauty salon, and still does her friends’ hair. She also exercised her creativity through her hobbies of making porcelain dolls, sewing, and painting ceramics. Mandy says, “If she were in her twenties now, I think she would have a successful Etsy shop. My house is full of blankets, coasters, dishes, hanging towels, and bags that she made for me.”

Mandy says that her grandmother is partially responsible for her path. “She taught me the importance of having a lifelong hobby. Both her and my grandpa have creative hobbies that bring a lot of joy into their life. She also taught me it’s OK to have an entire room, or area, of your house dedicated to your passion. I live in a one-bedroom townhouse, with minimal space, but have converted my dining area into a scrapbook library. My grandma has a sewing room and a guestroom full of fabric.”

As interest in her work grows, Mandy is seeing more opportunities arise. “In the future, I expect to do more collaborations and tell the stories in more detail. I’d love to create a YouTube channel and share flip-through videos or un-boxing videos. My goal for the second year is to use Instagram to branch out into non-Instagram projects. I’d love to visit more library collections and also organize a small exhibit in San Francisco.” One particular scrapbook has already blossomed into its own research project—Mandy will visit Luxembourg soon to research the owner of the scrapbook, which contains love letters from a Luxembourger woman named Suzie to an American man. (You can even follow along with Mandy on her journey by searching #findingsuziekonz on Instagram.)

Mandy, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today and share you and your grandmother’s recipe! I can’t wait to see what’s in store for you next!