ode to my uncle

food detective

Categories: Meat, Dinner for Two, Supper, Lunch, Posted on March 17, 2019 by Sandy Bergsten

There's something about Scandinavian men of a certain generation, just with their presence they seem to make those around them feel safe and reassured. My uncle, a stoic man with a slight smile and radiant twinkle in his eye, always made me feel as though he truly saw me. As the youngest in my family by years, I adored spending time with my cousins who bookended me by months. Life was often chaotic with our pack running wild, my dad and uncle off fishing and hunting, my mom and aunt looking like movie stars catching more fish than their counterparts in their Rita Hayward bathing suits. 

When my girls were three and four my marriage imploded. One of the people who helped me get through that rough time was my uncle. Never making a show of it, he quietly reached out to me. You see, one of the worst things about being a newly divorced parent is that you have to split up your children for the holidays. No one prepares you for that. My uncle extended an invitation for me to join his family for Thanksgiving in Omaha, Nebraska. With his subtle sense of humor, he came up with several reasons why there was no other place in the world that I ought to be. So, in the coming years as my girls’ dad and I divvied up the holidays I often traveled west solo to the heartland.

Many of my cousins would often come back for Thanksgiving and those young adult holidays are some of my favorite memories. The Colorado Buffs playing the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The inevitable shots of aquavit when a touchdown or interception occurred. Learning some crazy 90’s dance moves in the family room to that year’s hit wonder. And the most memorable when my aunt, trying to focus with one eye, couldn’t cut through the tomato aspic because the day before she had inadvertently dropped a wooden spoon in, and it had set well below the surface.

My uncle always came up with the best snacks. Just like his personality they were grounded and satisfying. One of my favorites was his “poor man’s wellington”, a kielbasa slathered in mustard, wrapped in Pillsbury crescent rolls and baked to crisp. So, the other day when a recipe for hasselback kielbasa came in an email from NYT Cooking, a flood of memories flowed in

Here is a polished-up version of my uncle’s rendition from Sam Sifton’s NYT “a no recipe- recipe”-hasselback kielbasa. Did you know that hasselback is Swedish for Hasselbackspotatis, which means cut part through? How appropriate- kind of subtle, welcoming and nourishing, just like my uncle.

Start with a kielbasa.

Place a rimmed sheet pan in a 425-degree oven.

Roughly chop an onion and one or two red or yellow bell peppers.

Toss the vegetables in a splash of vegetable oil, season with salt and pepper. 

Combine a tablespoon of apricot preserves with a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and set aside.

Tip the vegetables into a single layer on to the hot pan. Lining the pan with a sheet of parchment paper will help with clean up.

Roast in the oven while you cut the kielbasa into thin slices, stopping short of cutting all the way through the meat. 

The easiest way to achieve this is using a pair of chop sticks on either side as a guide while you cut.

Remove the vegetables from the oven, give them a stir, and place the kielbasa on top. 

Baste with the apricot preserves and mustard mixture.

Return the sheet pan to the oven and allow everything to roast for about 20 to 25 minutes, basting two more times. 

Ideal served with mixed greens and warm baguette.

But if serving with tomato aspic and imbibing on aquavit, be sure to a run a butter knife through it before it sets. You’d hate to discover one of your chop sticks in there.

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