I’m a road-tripper.
I love meandering, traveling byways instead of highways and always braking for food finds.
I love diners — the more shine and neon, the better — and country cafés and roadside smokers.
Some of my best travel memories revolve around picking wild blueberries in Maine, or taking the perfect bite of melting peach ice cream over hot peach cobbler in Georgia. I remember my first taste of gooey butter cake in the shadow of the St. Louis arch, and burning my tongue gladly on flash-fried fish dockside on Florida’s Suwanee.
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If you are like me and have favorite places you’ve stumbled upon, true taste memories, email or write me so we can pass along those finds!
The Norske Nook is just that kind of place: a homespun café with Scandinavian roots founded in the small town of Osseo, Wisconsin, in 1973. It went on my travel wish list a few years ago, when it started winning blue ribbons at the National Pie Contest in Orlando (it added more ribbons this year, for a total of 41).
So when The Norske Nook Book of Pies ($29.95) by Jerry Bechard and Cindee Borton-Parker crossed my desk, I was more than ready to pull out my rolling pin.
This is for those who love pies — Dutch and praline-topped, double-crust, candy, berry, cream cheese, sour cream, meringue, single-crust, stirred pudding, frozen and sugar-free — though there are also chapters on cheesecakes, tortes, muffins, cookies and Scandinavian specialties.
If I have a nit, it is that the recipes are all tailored to 11-inch pie plates, and most of us don’t have that size. Of course that means you’ll have enough filling to make a tart or two.
Tips and tricks
More clever ways with kitchen tools and appliances from readers:
▪ “I love really crispy hash browns like you get in a diner, but mine always either were mushy or burnt on one side and raw on the other. Then I got the idea to use my waffle iron. It makes great crispy hash browns, and if you use frozen ones you can just pop out as much as you want from a bag then return to the freezer. Shreds work a little better than the cubed ones. Set the heat to medium-high. Use a lot of sprayed-on oil and push down on the top after they’ve steamed a little while. They’re done when you don’t see any more steam.”
I loved this one and have a few tips to add after trying it: If using frozen hash browns it worked best when I preheated the waffle iron and used a full cup of the shreds. Put the top down and cook 2 minutes to defrost the potatoes, then push down hard to get the iron to close. It took a full 10 to 12 minutes to get the potatoes as crispy as I like them.
▪ “Use your stand mixer fitted with the paddle beater to shred cooked beef for making ropa vieja.”
This one makes sense if you are shredding a lot of beef, pork or chicken and you’ve precooked it until the meat is very soft. Great not only for ropa vieja but for barbecue and all kinds of dishes that call for shredded meats.
▪ Many readers sent variations on this theme: Use ice cube trays to freeze small portions of ingredients — like chipotle in adobo, tomato paste, ginger purée or stock — when you’ve opened a jar or can but don’t need all of it for a recipe.
Laura Sokolov says she uses this method after a party, “when you find you have a lot of partially emptied bottles of wine. I freeze it in cubes to use for cooking.”
▪ “Use a serrated grapefruit spoon to peel ginger and then get nice shreds of the ginger for stir-fries and salad dressings.”
▪ “Cover your kitchen counter with a big sheet of plastic cling wrap before rolling out pies or cookies. Saves a lot of clean-up time, plus it is a lot more sanitary.”
▪ Use your old squeeze bottles from ketchup and salad dressing for all kinds of kitchen jobs. I use them for pancake batter — you get perfect rounds with no drips — and they are perfect for squeezing frosting onto cupcakes fast.
Q. I am hosting a baby shower and would love to serve a nonalcoholic punch that does not involve any soda or orange sherbet or any of the usual super sugary artificially colored concoctions you normally find at these things. Do you have any thoughts?
A. Try the lemonade recipe included here, featuring a great flavor pairing of fresh strawberries and basil. Added bonus: It’s beautiful, without any artificial coloring. And for those who want a more spirited version, the taste lends itself wonderfully to dark rum or to gin.
Send questions and responses to LindaCiceroCooks@aol.com or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.
Lemon Cream Cheese Pie
1 baked single 11-inch pie crust (see note)
1 (8-ounce) bar cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 (16-ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed and divided
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons cornstarch
5 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups lemon juice
1 1/2 cups hot water
With an electric stand mixer, mix cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Fold in half the whipped topping and mix a bit longer. With a rubber spatula, continue mixing by hand. Spread the filling into the bottom of the baked crust.
In a saucepan over high heat, mix the sugar, salt and cornstarch. Whisk in egg yolks, lemon juice and hot water. Cook until thickened and center is boiling. Transfer to a plastic bowl and refrigerate. When mixture is cooled, mound it over the cream cheese layer. Top with the rest of the whipped topping, or with fresh whipped cream. Keep refrigerated. Makes 8 servings.
Note: If you do not have an 11-inch pie plate, this will make one 8- or 9-inch pie plus enough filling for 2 tart shells — or layer leftover filling in parfait glasses.
Per serving: 598 calories (47 percent from fat), 33 g fat (16 g saturated, 10.7 g monounsaturated), 190 mg cholesterol, 6.8 g protein, 71.7 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 287 mg sodium.
Source: “The Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes,” by Jerry Bechard and Cindee Borton-Parker. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.
Strawberry Basil Lemonade
1 cup strawberries, hulled
1/4 cup basil
1 cup lemon juice (4-6 lemons)
1 cup simple syrup (see note)
4 cups water
Ice to taste
Purée strawberries and basil in a food processor or blender and optionally strain through a fine mesh sieve. Mix the strawberry and basil puree, lemon juice, simple syrup, water and ice, and enjoy. Makes 8 servings.
Note: To make simple syrup: Simmer 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and chill before using.
Per serving: 110 calories (0 percent from fat), 0 g fat (0 g saturated, 0 g monounsaturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g protein, 28.7 g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0 mg sodium.
Source: Florida Strawberry Growers Association.