Mighty Grandma

Photography and Food Styling by Molly Rundberg

My grandma Dorothea was a very passionate woman, she loved food and cooking, books and knowledge, pretty clothes and perfume, but most of all she loved her family.

Dorothea was an intelligent, well read, and generous lady. Her generosity came in many forms, but the standout was that she always thought of others. If there was a chance someone, anyone was going to come over; a visit from my sister and me, a friend, a handyman coming to fix something, she was going to bake, most likely Mandelbrot or chocolate chip cookies. One of the two was always fresh and always offered. Mandelbrot was something that she could still bake even when she was 89 and blind. It is similar to biscotti in its twice-baked method, but worlds away in taste and texture, at least Grandma’s was.  Mandelbrot means “almond bread” in German, but she always made hers with pecans and chocolate chips, not almonds and in my research I found this is typical for many recipes (many using walnuts). To me these cookies are tender, crumbly, not too sweet, perfect with coffee or tea and very easy to make.

Dorothea still cooked when she was blind. She started to lose her sight in her 70’s to macular degeneration, she couldn’t drive but she could cook and bake. She fought with her sight, and she refused to stop doing the things she loved.

She loved to cook, she loved to impress us with her strong will and determination to do and see things. Needless to say we were impressed, she was a woman who to her dying day was doing her best to live. She was, until dementia set in her last year of life, totally up with the news, current events, new books (books on tape), she had a cell phone and still loved stylish clothes, her passions for things always amazed us.

I loved to talk about food with my grandma; She was my first insight into the world of cooking. She would just whip things up and I was always aware that her and her cooking “had a thing going on” a great relationship. She respected the cooking process and in turn the process always reflected her passion and attention, in turn her food sang. She cooked like she could still see, using every ounce in her being to do things, to cook things.

Up until the last few months of her life I would call her whenever I made a brisket. Six years ago I was working as a private chef for a family and making my first brisket, and I realized I didn’t know what I was doing and called Grandma. “Grandma how do you make brisket?” she gave me her procedure, it was as if she was cooking it in her head as she told me. The brisket turned out great and eventually through many tests I made the recipe my own flavor-wise, but always kept her genius method. Every time I made it I would call her and ask her how she made her brisket, just as a ritual. I loved feeling her love for food and hearing all about it. I miss talking to her about food and for that matter life in general. It’s been nine months since she passed and I think of her everyday. But as long as I am cooking she is with me.

A few recipes from Grandma's collection

Photography and Food Styling by Molly Rundberg

Mandelbrodt with Chocolate Chips
3 cups AP flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/ 2 tsp. salt
1 cup plus 1 tbsp. oil
1 cup sugar plus 1 tbsp. divided
3 eggs
1 cup finely chopped nuts (Grandma always used pecans)
4 ounces chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease baking sheet. In a medium sized bowl mix flour,
baking powder and salt. In an other medium sized bowl beat oil, 1 cup sugar
and eggs, then gradually add flour mixture. Fold in nuts and chocolate chips then form dough into a 10 1/2″x 4″ loaf.
Mix remaining sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over top,
bake 20 minutes.  Cut loaf in half widthwise then in 2 inch slices
turn cut side down and bake until golden about 15 minutes.

Grandma and my mom

Baked NYC- Wedding Cake Contestants

Photo by Molly Rundberg

This Saturday we rode our bikes to Red Hook, not only was it the nicest weather here in many weeks, we were on our way to pick out cake at BakedNYC. I kept saying that Hamlet was going to do all the tasting (me not eating wheat and all), he had no problem with this “burden”.  I didn’t know until I sat in front of the cupcakes, but I was going to eat cake too. Well I survived a day of wheat, today woke up a little tired and with a sore throat but my day of wheat eating has come and gone and I don’t need to push it any longer, I have been down that road before. So on to the cake!

Here we have our take home cupcakes that we tasted, we are not having cupcakes but two round (non-tiered) cakes. We picked two flavors, what do you think we picked? Here is what we tasted.  The slice on the upper right is called “bananas” its banana cake with chocolate peanut butter mousse surrounded by a layer of chocolate ganache.  Top left: red velvet cake with cinnamon buttercream, top right: salted caramel chocolate butter cream with chocolate cake, middle left: is birthday cake vanilla butter cream and vanilla cake, middle right: coconut cream with citrus vanilla cake, bottom left: vanilla cake with chocolate frosting, bottom right: chocolate birthday cake with vanilla frosting

So which do you think we chose?

Christmas in July

Food styling and photo by Molly Rundberg

I shall explain. Hamlet’s birthday (my fiancé) is a few days before Christmas. Instead of a cake this last year he wanted a tart, so I told him I would make him a pear almond tart, then I got sick on his birthday and one thing led to another and the tart was long forgotten about. About a week ago, in his sweet demeanor he said “so I would really like my tart.” This is one thing I love about him, he says what he wants and there is no confusion. And he was right, the man deserved his birthday cake, I mean tart. So a slow work week led to me walking around town a lot. A walk to Atlantic Avenue led me through the Thursday Borough Hall Farmers Market which led me to the berries for this tart. The pastry cream I made was smooth and not too sweet. The crust, almond meal, some gluten-free flours and lots of butter! And success, Hamlet has never been happier with a dessert, he loves my gluten-free desserts, I wonder why? Yes, they are as tasty as desserts made with regular flour but he seems to like them better, maybe he likes that I can enjoy them with him. Regardless, he said I should make another one immediately because this one won’t last long.  I wonder if it will last the weekend?

Happy Fourth of July!

Sunday Brunch with Friends

Food and Photos by Molly Rundberg

I realize it has been months since my last post, this could be considered a positive thing since it means that I am busy with lots of work. But it is hard  because my blog means a lot to me and should be as important as work. So I will do my best to post pictures and recipes as I can and try a bit of a different format. So here are some pictures from brunch this afternoon and recipes will follow in the next week or so.

These quiches were made in honor of dear friends, out-of-town from Austin, Texas. We had grapefruit mimosas, fruit, roasted potatoes/butternut squash and two quiches: a caramelized leek, bacon and gruyere and an asparagus, mushroom, sun-dried tomato, chèvre.  What a wonderful lazy rainy Sunday.

Note: the sun-dried tomatoes from Fairway Market are the best.

Engagement Cake: Gluten-Free Lemon Cake

food styling and photos by Molly Rundberg

Over Valentine’s weekend my fiancé and I traveled to Los Angeles for our engagement party. Initally our flight was canceled due to that crazy blizzard, so the only way we could make it to LA was to drive to Boston to catch a flight there. And that is just what we did. After a crazy hour trying to get out of New York City, we started to enjoy our drive up to Boston, I think realizing that this mini adventure was really the start to our many adventures together on our road to marriage. We had fun and after a long trek to Boston, then a long wait at the airport then an excruciating flight, we made it to LA. My mom picking us up with snacks and her warm spirit made us so happy to finally be there. Our party was the next evening,  and not only did we have a gorgeous two tiered lemon cake from Violet’s Cakes in Pasadena, but my mom also made a Gluten-Free Lemon Cake and a lovely lemon curd, then I came in and made a Swiss Meringue Buttercream and put it all together. I eat gluten-free, there I said it! Something I have struggled with my whole life and only this past year have I admitted it to myself and others. Yes it is difficult as a chef to be gluten-free and especially one that tests and develops recipes that have wheat in them but I have figured out a way of tasting and not making myself sick. There are many things in a gluten free life that are enjoyable and this cake is one of them, actually it is hard to tell the difference with this cake, it is amazing!

Our big cake! From Violet's Cakes (non gluten-free)

Swedes-True Butter Devotees

Photos by Molly Rundberg

butter dish from casafinagifts.com

“A meal should be prepared with butter and love.”  -Swedish proverb-

The butter in Sweden is almost like a family crest, each household is devoted to a different salt intake for their butter and they live for it. While traveling with my dad we stayed and dined in several different households and each household’s butter was different. Salted, unsalted, extra-salt, light salt, and sea salt, I was amazed at the salt varieties of butter and my separate obsession with both butter and salt reached a new height and new level of intensity in Sweden and I have never been the same. Their lovely wooden butter knives and clever butter dishes make butter easy to spread even when cold, it is brilliant. When you scrape butter length wise on a long plane with their butter knives it is easy to spread onto your bread without tearing even when the butter is cold, right out of the refrigerator.

European butter has a higher fat content than American butter about 4-5% more fat and many people think this is why European butter tastes more flavorful.  But really much of that flavor comes from the cultured cream that they use, where most American butters are made from uncultured sweet cream, the cultured cream is what makes European butters taste more “butter-like”. Cultured butter or butter made with cream that has been fermented with bacteria is most common in Europe but there are some American cultured butters. Organic Valley and Vermont Butter and Cheese both carry cultured butters, to name a few.

Swedes’ love of butter cannot be looked into without a mention of their breads and crackers. With all of this bread and butter eating, one would think that Swedish people were not health oriented, but like many of its European neighbors it is quite the contrary. Not only is the “eat what you like, but only in moderation” theory true here but the “eat less move more” theory is also at play, as I noticed that cold weather was only a backdrop to activity not a deterrant.  Their bread usually contains whole grains, as does their crackers, dark rye crackers (knäckebröd) are eaten on a daily basis with butter and cheese.  Butter is a part of the enjoyment of their wonderful artisanal breads and delicious crispy dark rye crackers, they go hand in hand. But to understand the Swedes love of butter one must study the perfection of their butter knives which is really the tool that proves their butter devotion.

Food blogger, Magnus Hultberg encapsulates the Swedish peoples love of butter and devotion to their distinct invention of the wooden butter knife.

“Butter knives must be made out of slightly dark, big grained, flexible wood with a slight scent of fresh spring forest. Thickness is important, so as to get the right flex when scooping up the butter with a precise sweeping motion (just the right amount, wiping excess butter from the knife on to the sides of the box is a capital offense when it comes to proper butter worshiping in Sweden)….” read more.

Swedish Christmas-cocktail hour

Ode to Sweden, Christmas centerpiece.
All photos by Molly Rundberg

Pepparkakor (Swedish ginger snaps) topped with blue cheese, and glögg are perfect things to serve before dinner but really they are a party on their own, and easy to keep on hand. Swedish ginger snaps are sold most everywhere and have a long shelf life.

Last Christmas my dad took me to Sweden. He was born there and lived in Sweden until he was eight.  Then after high school in northern California he returned to Sweden for college and attended design school in Stockholm. Growing up my family celebrated Christmas with many Swedish customs and foods. I always viewed Christmas as a celebration of candles, warmth and spending time with family. The trip with my father was magical, the time spent with my dad as well as the location itself will not be forgotten.

Because of the short days, roughly 9am-3pm of sunlight, there are candles and wood burning fires outside everywhere you turn. People would spend as much time outside during sunlight even in extremely cold temperatures, at cafes with heatlamps and chairs with blankets of fur to cozy into made it a true winter wonderland. It is not unusual to see people biking and even kayaking (cousin Nils) in very cold weather.  Then after the sun goes down it’s all candles, glögg and gingersnaps.

Swedish hospitality is warm and inviting and the most simple of things become elegant and festive. I loved the gingersnap with blue cheese as an hors d’ oeuvres and I have a simple glögg recipe below.  The cookies in the picture are homemade but are easily found store bought.


1 bottle of port
1 bottle of red wine
2 cups of water
1 cup of sugar
5 cardamom pods
10 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
1 inch of ginger sliced thickly
slivered almonds

Pour port, wine, water and sugar into a medium sized pot and turn up heat. Bunch all of your spices into some cheese cloth and tie a pouch together, drop into wine mixture.  Heat glögg just until the liquid starts to steam and is nice and hot, turn off heat and keep covered. Serve in small mugs with a teaspoon of both almonds and raisins.

Note: Glögg keeps well in the refrigerator for up to a week, just store covered in a glass pitcher then heat in a pot on stove whenever anyone comes over. If you would like to make this drink stronger please feel free to add some vodka or brandy, how about a cup?!

For The Love of Orange Vegetables

Come Fall I crave orange vegetables. I am not sure if it is a vitamin deficiency or just that my body is in touch with the changing seasons but I am at the mercy of butternut squash, acorn squash and pumpkin come the end of September. I believe this elegant dish is in honor of orange vegetables, this time the star is  butternut squash.

I love risotto but I like it with some depth, I like it with some variation, some texture. So I decided to take my favorite hors d’ oeuvre, a butternut squash bite with parsley arugula pesto and turn it into a risotto dish. The roasted butternut squash is sweet, the pesto and sautéed mushrooms are earthy and balance the sweetness, then the pancetta ties everything together with a little salt bite.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Parsley Arugula Pesto

serves 4 as a main dish

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs. butter
1 cup shallots, chopped (3-4 shallots)
1/2 cup white wine
1-1/2 cups risotto
4-1/2 cups chicken stock
1 pound crimini mushrooms, thickly sliced
1/4 pound pancetta, roughly chopped

Parsley Arugula Pesto
2 cups arugula
2 cups parsley
1/4 cup parmesan
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven 450°F, toss butternut squash with 2 tbs. of olive oil and season with salt and pepper (make sure squash is not crowded on the sheet pan, otherwise it will steam and will not brown properly), turn squash once after 20 minutes, then roast another 10 minutes. Squash is done when it is very soft and golden. Set aside.

Make pesto while the squash is roasting.

In a food processor add all of the pesto ingredients and process, slowly add oil and puree until smooth but still a little texture to it about 30 seconds.

Make risotto:
In a saucepan heat up chicken stock, then let sit on stove on low.
In a large sauté pan or pot, heat 1 tbs. butter and 1 tbs. olive oil add shallots and a pinch of salt and cook on medium low for 10 minutes. Add risotto and toast stirring to coat rice in the oil/butter for 2 minutes. Add wine and bring heat to medium, stir risotto occasionally and cook until the wine evaporates. Add one cup of the hot chicken stock cooking on medium heat stir occasionally and let cook till stock evaporates, continue with stock one cup at a time and after 3 cups add the butternut squash with the last 1-1/2 cup of stock. While stirring mash a few pieces and cover with lid with heat on low, while you cook the mushroom and pancetta about 5 more minutes.

Sauté mushrooms in a large sauté pan on medium heat until slightly golden when they are almost finished turn up heat and add the pancetta and cook until crisp about one minute. Fold into finished risotto season with salt and pepper and serve with pesto on top.

Chocolate Crepes with Hazelnut Goodness

photo by Molly Rundberg

Chocolate crepes? Well why in the world not! I paired this recipe with hazelnut praline spread from Le Pain Quotidien it is called Brunette, how cute! I made some hazelnut brittle then ground it in a food processor and of course topped everything with some unsweetened whipped cream. This is a dessert crepe although I think it could be a wonderful breakfast crepe with a little jam and dusted with powdered sugar.

Chocolate Crepes

makes 18 crepes

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbs. espresso powder
1 cup sugar
3 cups milk
3 egg yolks
1 large egg
2 tbs. unsalted butter, melted then cooled (plus butter for pan)
1/2 tsp. salt

Sift flour and cocoa powder into remaining ingredients whisk until smooth.
Pre-heat crepe pan over medium high heat. Smear 1 tbs. of butter into the pan with a paper towel to evenly grease pan.  Measure 1/4 cup of batter, holding pan pour batter as you swirl pan to create a thin pancake. Play around with temperature, it usually takes a few tries to get it right. Your batter should immediately start to bubble around the edges with the bubbles slowly working their way to the middle about one minute total until cooked on first side. Then carefully flip crepe with large wooden or plastic spatula. Cook for another 30-40 seconds. Remove and place on sheet pan. Using your greased paper towel keep your crepe pan moist but not too greasy as you continue to make your crepes. Stack crepes on a sheet pan covered with aluminum foil and in 250 degree oven until ready to serve.