Monday, December 24, 2007

On The Twentyfourth Day of Christmas: At Long Last It's Christmas Eve

Dad pouring me port to go with the ris a l'amande. No I didn't get the almond.

I'm back-posting by a couple of hours, 'cause the date here really has to say the 24th. And it sort of still is the 24th, Christmas Eve, seeing we just returned from a feast at my Dad's house and I haven't slept yet. Oh, there was plenty of food & drinks, and presents, and good company. Just like Christmas should be. I hope yours will be the kind of perfect you want it to be.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

On The Twentythird Day of Christmas: Dining with the Bloggers - Stonesoup

Surely, what is a Christmas Countdown without at least two installments of DwB? And seeing I only gave you one so far, here's one more, for your entertainment.

If it wasn't because I like Denmark as much as I do, I'm sure one place I'd love to call home would be Australia. They have a great food scene, it seems. And they have the most fanatstic light there - at least that's what I gather from the photos taken by Jules of Stonesoup. They are nothing short of amazing - light, natural, ethereal. Beautiful.

As if taking incredible photos isn't enough, she also writes awfully well. About her friends, about her family - she writes about life with an honesty that is captivating. Her pieces on the recent passing away of her Mum had me in tears. Even though she is several oceans and time zones away, and all I know of her is what she writes on her blog, I felt like reaching out and giving her a big hug. When a blogger does this to me, I know there's no way I'll ever stop reading their blog.

But that's one thing - this is a food blogger, after all, and as if all of the above doesn't float your boat, her descriptions of the food she serves - often in carefully composed and arranged menu set-ups - is the kind of food I dream of. Lamb shanks. Duck confit. Braised fennel with olives and soft polenta. Osso Buco. Chocolate Souffle with Dulce de Leche. Mmm-mmm-mmm. Also, she recently started doing this shopping guide to Sydney, a must-read if you're going anywhere near there. And, just maybe, an idea I have to steal and apply to the shops around my city :)

Exactly why I decided to make mahamarra is a good question. It's a dip! It's not braised or nothing, like a lot of the other things on her blog I'd love to try. But that's a thing she's able to do - make me think about trying things I never thought I would. I'm actually not crazy about walnuts, so why I decided I had to try it - well. I told you, she writes with conviction, that Jules. I guess I thought that if she liked it, so would I. And I did have that bottle of pomegranate molasses in the back of the cupboard, needing to be put to good use.

So I made it, for a night where the girls and their significant others came around for a couple beers and vegetable sticks, and it went down a treat. The roasted red peppers takes a bit of the bitterness away form the walnuts, and the pomegranate molasses, together with the smoked paprika, makes this dip something special. Definitely not the last time this has graced my table. And definitely not the last time I'll let Jules convince me there's something I got to try. Next up, lamb shanks, in any of her disguises. I'm game. All good things...;)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

On The Twentysecond Day of Christmas: My Favorite Man and His Favorite Bread

Even though I've had this blog for 3½ years, there's a certain someone I haven't told you very much about. He's one of the most important persons in my life. So why not a word? I guess because the people that are there all the time are also the people you easily take for granted. Not because you want to, but because it's so easy to forget to appreciate the things we have when they're just there, when they become something natural and something that's just part of everyday life. And he is. Part of my everyday life. And boy am I glad he is.

Let me tell you a little bit about M. I met him 8 years ago, at the place where we both worked at the time. We talked a couple times, and I guess I thought things went to slow. So after a night out on the town, I text messaged him. I forget exactly what I wrote, but it resulted in him calling me, while I had a toothbrush in my mouth. We planned to meet for coffee. And the rest, as they say, is history.

This is the kind of man Martin is: After having known me just short of two months, he decided to come with me to London and live with me there. We stayed for six months, no money, lots of work, plenty of adventure. The money we did manage to scrape together, we used on restaurant visits, food, paperbacks, a few cookbooks and movie tickets. We had no radio and no television. We visited everywhere in London we could think of, walking, talking, eating and looking. I guess our love for a lot of things that are still important in our relationship today was born back then. The whole London-concept - the eating, walking, talking, looking, exploring - was re-vitalised when he agreed that surely, we had to borrow a ton of money so we could go on the trip across USA. Because Martin is the kind of man that will listen to any crazy idea I have, think them over and make them even better.

We surely have our issues. Like, he won't let me have breakfast in bed, which I used to love (I grew up on it, for crying out loud!) He makes me spend Saturday mornings cleaning the bathroom and the kitchen while he vacuums the entire house. He rarely stays in bed 'till late, and he won't let me take my down comforter with me onto the sofa. Up until recently, he couldn't remember the exact date of my birthday - in fact, I only got it pummeled into his mind because I for a week straight asked him what date my birthday was, and every time he answered the wrong date, he got just a bit embarrased. None of us know our "anniversary" date, so at least none of us forget. But then, our relationship did evolve over time, there's been a break of a six months time and - well. What's a date, anyways?

But he's also the man that will make me tea in the morning. Or when he comes home from work and I've been stuck inside with my books for an entire day. He's the man that will make me cupcakes in the middle of the night, and entire meals out of the fridge in which I found nothing. He's the man that puts up with my mess, my stress, my too-much-work, my leftover dirty dishes next to the sink and who, back in the days when I worked really late, would snuggle up to me when I fell into bed like a sack of potatoes, too, too late in the night.

He's the man that will put his hand on my head, so I can feel the heavyness of it, and know that he's there. Not just physically, but mentally. The man is my rock, a person I know will always be there, and a person that, even though he doesn't understand me, understands. Because we've known eachother for so long, because with him, I'm just me. Not pretending, no demands of perfection, not more, not less. Me.

Martin knows how to make me laugh, he loves my silly guinea pig as much as I do and he knows what's important to me. He's the one person in the world with whom I share one of my own biggest interests: food. We cook together, or seperately, but tasting, exploring and inventing together. Making fun of each other, suggesting things, growing together. We do have very different approaches and opinions on the subject - but somehow, it all still works out.

And he's the man that will come home from being at a friend's house till late, take a deep breath just as he's entered our home and ask: Did you bake? What did you bake? And minutes later, I'll find him in the kitchen, a big smile on his face, and in his hands, a slice of a freshly baked cake, a cookie or the heel of a just-out-of-the-oven bread. I love that. I love being able to give him that.

Everyday Bread
- from Berlingske Tidende, by Nanna Simonsen

This is Martin's favorite bread - he had one slice and said: "You don't need to try no more bread recipes. From this day on, I want just this bread." It was that good, apparantly. I'm not sure I'll never do another kind of bread, but ever since I made this the first time, it's been baked at least every other time bread is needed. That must say something.

I usually make a double portion, and put the dough together in the evening, then bake it in the morning. It's one of the first breads I've made that actually makes both the crust and the crumb we like: crispy on the outside, hole-y and chewy on the inside. Maybe it's the water-spritzing that does the trick? Oh yes, and the low-level handling of the dough, perhaps.

50 ml. buttermilk
400 ml. lukewarm water
5 g. fresh yeast
3 teaspoons salt
50 g. rye flour
100 g. durum wheat flour
450 g. wheat flour + extra for kneading

Put the buttermilk and water in a bowl, dissolve first the yeast, then the salt in this. Add the rye flour and the durum flour. Little by little, add the wheat flour.
When it's no longer possible to stir the batter, start using your hands. Transfer the dough to a floured counter and knead for 8-10 minutes. Try not to add too much flour. You want the dough elastic and smooth.
Gently shape the dough into a ball, then transfer to a clean bowl. Dust with a little flour, then leave to rise for 8-10 hours in a cool, but not cold place, until doubled in size.

When the dough has risen enough, preheat your oven to 250 degrees Celsius. Put baking parchment on a baking sheet and dust the parchment with flour. Gently transfer the dough to the parchment, essentially nudging it from the bowl onto the baking sheet. Nanna says to treat your dough as if it was a balloon, and I like that analogy. You don't want to loose all the air the long rise has incorporated into it. If you do wish to divide the dough in two, dust the dough with a little flour, then cut in half and gently divide it. Push the dough a little into a breadlike shape, but don't poke it too much.
Make a couple cuts on the diagonal in the shaped breads, then bake in the preheated oven. (no, there is no rising after shaping the bread - it doesn't need it. I was a little baffled at this the first time I made it, but trust me, it works) Before you put the bread in, spritz the oven with a little water, to create a steamy environment for the dough to bake in. Turn the temperature down to 225 degrees Celsius. Repeat the spritzing a couple times while the bread is baking. The bread will be done in about 30 minutes, but keep an eye on it after 20. Leave to cool on a baking rack.

Friday, December 21, 2007

On The Twentyfirst Day of Christmas: A Photo Essay of a Day with Loads o' Cake

One of my old friends, a chef from one of the restaurants I worked at, recently had a crazy idea. It's really like him though, he gets crazy ideas, and that's what makes him so much fun to hang around.

This time, it involved cake, and a group of people loving cakes. To be specific, we're about 200 people who's all joined a group called "Team Kagemand" (team cake man, literally) on Facebook (what, you're not caught in there yet?). We fight for the good cake - those with REAL, proper, ingredients. No butter substitutes. No strawberries in the dead of winter. Good chocolate. Fresh nuts. No plastic-wrapped monstrosities from the back of the rack. Homemade, with love. That's what we're all about.

And two weeks ago, a couple of us met up, all bearing - cakes. Only 14 of us came, but I think that was probably a good thing - I couldn't imagine the tummy ache I might have had otherwise... Hopefully, this was only the beginning of Team Kagemand's adventures...

I was trying to put some advice from Lara to good use. I most definitely have issues with my whitebalance and that yellow hue, and generally, why are people moving about when I'm in the proces of taking a picture? But just having her advice in the back of my head made me think about what kind of pictures I was going for, and being conscious about my camera and where I point it is something I need to work on. I can't help but feel that too much mucking about with the photos afterwards isn't what I'm going for. Besides, I'm not very skilled in the editing department, either. Hopefully, I'll learn. Baby steps... :)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

On The Twentieth Day of Christmas: Serve Them Creamy Tomato-Carrot Soup

My idea of Julestue, when I started it three years ago, was for people to drop by for a nibble of something sweet, a sip of something Christmassy and then to move on. An informal event, some people standing, some people hanging around upstairs, some people sitting by the table chatting, some people boiling water for coffee in the kitchen. Mixing my family and Martins, and adding friends into the mix. Christmas Classics on the stereo, people wishing each other a Merry Christmas. Lots of cookies.

But you know, people don't seem to leave once they get here. They may not all arrive at the same time, but gosh darn it, none of them leave. It's not like I don't like having them around - I did invite them in the first place - and we do have a sort of large apartment - but 25+ people is just on the verge of what it's possible to have hanging around when they can't all sit down at the same time. And I think I figured out why they don't leave. They know proper food is coming later on. How do they know? Because the first time we had Julestue, we served a little savoury thing, but not until a little later on. Reversed meal, cookies first, then salty food later, and it wasn't mean to be a meal as such, but. Now we're stuck in it. Besides, it works. Once they've had their food, they seem to get it, and then they leave. After having another cookie or two, at least ;)

Feeding a crowd is one thing, but feeding a crowd when you have limited resources as to the number of plates, cutlery and seating spaces available, you are somewhat restricted. I told you about my love for glasses before, and Julestue is one event where I wouldn't know what to do without my (okay, HUGE) collection of glasses. Yes, I could use plastic cups (and I do use plastic spoons), but I'm a snob and a half and I like using real dinnerware or in this case, glassware, if at all possible. Apart from using glasses for glögg, coffee, tea etc., I serve soup in them. Besides the fact that it's practical, and, I think, pretty - is that your guests can easily stand up and spoon a little soup into their mouths, tapas-style. Soup is great for these kinds of events - people love a warm, creamy, pureed vegetable soup after having gorged themselves on cookies, you can make it in large quantities, it reheats easily and you don't necessarily need any form of garnish with it, other than maybe a hunk of bread.

So I serve soup, homebaked bread, Mom-in-laws leverpostej (liver paté), her pickled beets and some thinly sliced spegepølse (salami). People sitting down make sandwiches, pass them along on napkins to the people standing up or running around (that would be the kids) - and there is no real need for plates, yet people feel like they get proper food.

Feeding people like this, I'm pretty sure to have my home back in an hour. Maybe two. But sometimes, someone puts the kettle on for another round of coffee and cookies...;)

Creamy Tomato-Carrot Soup - a recipe Martin got from an old colleague
6-8 servings

This is ridiculously easy to make. Cut up your vegetables, boil, purée. You can freeze it, but I find that it looses taste after having been frozen. I know, tomatoes aren't really in season, but sometimes, you need that little reminder of sunshine and summer in the midst of winter. Find the best ones you can. You could probably also substitute a good quality canned tomato, but I've never actually tried that myself.

8-10 large tomatoes
3 large carrots, peeled
2-3 large onions
3 cloves of garlic
1/4-1/2 head of celeriac, peeled
1 fresh red chili, deseeded
500 ml. cream
500 ml. full fat milk
salt and pepper to taste, maybe a pinch of sugar also?

Cut up all of your ingredients into 3-4 cm. sized bits. Put in a pot, pour over your milk and cream, and bring to the boil. Let simmer until the vegetables are soft, about half an hour. Purée in a blender - let it run for a while, making sure the soup gets really smooth. Reheat once puréed, then season to taste with salt and pepper. If you find the soup to be too thick, thin it with a little water, or more cream or milk.

Serve, if you wish, with a dollop of créme fraîche or a swirl of olive oil or maybe croutons, or how about pumpkin seeds? Or you could make basil oil - purée blanched basil leaves with a spoonful or two of your best olive oil, then swirl that on top. And I like a slice of homemade bread on the side, for dipping into the soup.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On The Nineteenth Day of Christmas: How to get rid of those Christmas-shopping sore feet.

By buying marzipan and nougat. Bo Bojesen is a chocolatier (and a chef, and all sorts of other food related stuff) and he has collected the best Marcona almonds he could find, made it into marzipan, then found some awesome hazelnuts from Turkey and turned that into soft, sweet nougat. And now, he sells it. For like, people money. If you are anywhere near these boxes, you owe it to yourself to buy these. You're worth it, you know. And after eating a couple slices of each, sandwiched together, it's like your feet aren't that sore anymore...:)

The last of Julestue will be back tomorrow! I'm exhausted, but I think I got all of my Christmas presents today - wo-hoo!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On The Eighteenth Day of Christmas: [DANSK] Æbleskiver

Allow me to continue where I left off yesterday - yes, I most certainly will stretch those photos from the Julestue for as many days and posts as possible!

I shot the photos the day after the actual get-together. As I said yesterday, I try to organize myself out of anything that may happen, but I sure am busy like a little bee when I do these things. I'm not quite the proverbial chicken without it's head, and people generally get fed within a short time after they've arrived, but. Still. I have, over time, managed to get so together that I no longer relive the first birthday party I threw all by myself, where the first dish was on the table oh, a good three hours after people had arrived. But. Busy. So it's not often I get to take photos during the party (of people, maybe, but food, seldom) and besides, it was already dark outside. We all know that me + photos + darkness is no good match.

What I do try to manage is to get some photos of making the food - you can only imagine how many pictures I have of ingredients and batters and so on, with no end result. Hey, maybe I should start making little "guess what dish these photos adds up to?"-quizzes?

But, I digress. I try to organize myself out of the hoo-hah. Like, I make sure I have all the plates and glasses and serving dishes that I need ready, and I know what dish goes in which bowl and on what platter. I set the table and get out the extra chairs. I make sure new candles are put in their holders and the soap dispensers are filled (and that extra toilet paper is stocked). I make sure my pantry is well-stocked: sugar, flour, salt, spices etc. Oh yes, and freezer bags, parchment paper, paper towels, and napkins are at the ready - nothing more annoying than running out of any of these when you have 25+ people stopping by. I do this several days in advance.

I also make as much as possible of the food beforehand. I make dough for bread and leave for over-night rising. The soup (and more about that later) was made two days in advance and kept in the fridge. The glögg extract was made a good 14 days before I needed it.

This was not one of my bigger events (people-wise, yes, but the food was kept pretty simple, and my mother-in-law even brought a couple things), so arranging for extra fridge space wasn't an issue. Neither was matching recipes you could do well in advance (and maybe even freeze) with recipes that needed a simple arranging or recipes that needed heating or cutting just before serving. I will usually do a little calculating in my head - especially because I like serving lots of smaller dishes - regarding how many dishes that need to be on the stovetop and/or in the oven, and those needing to be lukewarm, compared to how many dishes that will almost already be on the table when people arrive. There is plenty of calculating to do - and sometimes, I err on things.

Like these æbleskiver. I thought I'd figured out how long it would take for me to make them. Making one try-out batch on Thursday night, using one pan, taking me about 45 minutes, I figured I could do a quadruple batch, using two pans and get it over with in about 2 hours. I figured I could heat glögg and boil water for tea and coffee and arrange cookies in between turning the æbleskiver, 'cause you don't need to watch them like a hawk all the time. It would be perfect.

As you may have guessed, that didn't work out exactly as planned, but hey, I actually think there's a charm to greeting your guests while still in an apron. I like my apron, and it just goes to show that I actually cook and bake what I serve myself. Luckily, my guests are the kind that will gladly don one of the other aprons in the kitchen and lend me a hand - that is exactly the kind of place I want to live in. A place where people feel at home, where they aren't afraid to jump in to help because they're intimidated by the cook, and where they are greeted by the scent of lemon zest, baking and freshly brewed coffee wafting through the door and down the stairs. Mmm, home.

Æbleskiver - Camilla Plum's Jul

The translation of æbleskiver is apple slices, but there's nothing slice about these and in the commercial version definitely nothing apple either. The name, however, does stem from there originally being added a slice of apple to the batter as it was cooking, just before turning it over. I added apple (in cubes) to mine, and liked the little fresh fruit burst it gave.

Commercial æbleskiver are a lot greasier and more puffy than the ones I made. I'm sure with training, I could get rounder and prettier looking æbleskiver, but tastewise, these definitely beat the commercial variety (am I surprised? No ;)) For another time, I'll make them well in advance (the day, or even two before), especially if I'm feeding a crowd - you have to start early to get them done, so no matter what, the first ones you've made will have gotten cold and need reheating. Once made, if making them well in advance, you can keep them in the fridge, then reheat them in a 50-100 degree Celsius hot oven, laying them out on baking sheets and covering with foil. It's my experience that while in the fridge, they harden up a bit, but after 5-10 minutes in that lukewarm oven they go soft and supple again, just the way I like them. In my opinion, æbleskiver aren't supposed to be crusty goods, but they can be, depending on how long you heat them. If that's the way you want them, just heat them a little longer.

You do need an æbleskiver-pande for this. That there is no way around :)

Makes about 25

250 ml. milk
15 g. yeast
3 eggs - divided in yolks and whites
1 tablespoon sugar
200 g. flour
½ teaspoon groudn cardamom - or more if you like
zest of one lemon
65 g. melted butter
8 small apples, I used a variety called pigeon, I'm nut sure what they're called in English - they're small, red-skinned, but with a perfectly white interior. The taste is reminiscent of almonds (so wise people tell me)

extra butter for the pan

Heat the milk until lukewarm and dissolve the yeast in it.

In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Into this, whisk the flour alternately with the milk/yeast blend. Stir in the melted butter, cardamom and lemon zest.

Whip the eeg whites until they form stiff peaks, then fold these into the batter.

Leave the batter somewhere warm for about 30 minutes. When the time is up, the batter should have risen a bit and be foamy and "alive".

Heat up your æbleskive-pan. Add a little butter to each hole. Once the butter has stopped foaming, add a spoonful of batter. You want the hole to be full, but definitely not overflowing. Add little cubes of apple to the batter, gently pushing it into the batter with a toothpick.

Once the batter is bubbling all around the edge, it's time to turn the æbleskive. With a toothpick (or like mu Mom suggested, a knitting pin - or maybe an old, small-ish fork?) stuck into the edge, flip the æbleskive over so the unbaked batter fills the hole. This takes some training, and the first batch usually flops (just like pancakes), but you will get the hang of it. Bake untill done, maybe turning once more. Keep up until you have no more batter.

Oh yes, last but not least - æbleskiver are served with lots of powdered sugar (NOT regular sugar!) and strawberry jam (NOT some other variety!) Heh. I mean, that's how I do it, and seeing it's Christmas and traditions and what have you, I have to say it like this, don't I? In the real world, you can have it with any kind of jam and sugar you fancy, I suppose. It's just not right, you know ;)

Æbleskiver aftermath...

Monday, December 17, 2007

On The Seventeenth Day of Christmas: [DANSK] Hvid Glögg

Ah yes. Yesterday was all about the Julestue - our Christmas Open House for family and friends. It's third year in a row we're doing it and I love it. There's something about gathering the people you love around you, treating them well and stuff them with goodies of the drinkable and edible kind.

I try to be organized when I throw these things. Even more so this year, 'cause Martin was working. The two last years, my Bonus-Mom C's also been around before the guests arrived - it is usually our Christmas Cookie Baking Day - but this year, she had to be somewhere else (it was her godson's birthday. Pshs! ;)). So she wasn't there either - I was all by myself. Not that I mind. But as I said, I try to be organized. I didn't say I always manage...

Drinks - those I managed. Coffee, tea, lots of cold water, dad-in-law brought cold beers and then I made white glögg. One of the good things about glögg is that you can make the extract well in advance, and then all you have to do is heat it up before you serve it. That does mean you need to make sure you have a heat-source of some kind available, and not, say, occupied by æbleskive-pander... But one can only be so well-planned.

Glögg made from red wine is the traditional thing, but we've made this white glögg for the last two years, and I think we're going to keep it up. I find the red version to become a little sickly sweet fast, while this white one is a little fresher. I haven't tried it with cider yet, but can only imagine it to be good. Oh yes, and don't splurge on a fancy bottle of wine - you're going to load it with spices, rum and sugar anyways, so it would be a shame to use that lovely Chablis you got from work. Something cheap-ish, but okay, and fresh, not something that's been open for four weeks. You get it, right?

White Glögg - from Camilla Plum, again

makes about 12 glasses (depending on the size, of course!) - I serve it in small glasses and probably get about 16. Glögg is a thing you love and want more of, or have one glass of because 'tis the season and all, but really, you don't appreciate it all that much. With small glasses, it's possible to have just that obligatory glass and then the people that love it can go get themselves a refill in the kitchen. You could choose to put a couple pitchers or thermos with glögg on the table too, just make sure it's warm when it's served. Pitchers will lose heat fast, and thermos will take up the taste of the warm wine, so for me, the "refill's are in the kitchen!" works best. Plus it's a great way to lure people into the kitchen, and maybe have them lend a hand with the dishes at the same time :)

2 bottles white wine/real cider (1,5 liter total)
200 ml. dark rum (maybe more?)
4 star anise
4 thick slices ginger
half nutmeg
20 black peppercorns
2 cinammon sticks
4 all spice berries
4 juniper berries
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
Piece of one bay leaf
Zest of 1 lemon
cane sugar

Crush the spices lightly in a mortar - put them, together with the lemon zest and 500 ml. water, in a pot and let it simmer for half an hour. Leave to infuse for at least a day - I've left mine for up to 14 days with no problems.

When ready to drink, sieve the extract into a pot, and mix it with the wine/cider. Heat it till just below boiling - do not let it boil, ever, you'll boil away the alcohol ;) - and add sugar and rum to taste. Serve straight away. If you wish, you can also add yellow or green raisins, soaked in rum, to the glasses. Sometimes, people put in slivered almonds as well, but I personally think it's overkill. It's good in the red version though.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

On The Sixteenth Day of Christmas: Oh. So. Tired!

Vaniliekranse - again...

Yes, another excuse. There was loadsa people. And great company. Christmas music with Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby and, of course, Wham. Cookies and æbleskiver and glögg. Hygge. I will tell you all about it tomorrow, 'cause right now, I have a date with my couch. I promise I'll have a proper post for you tomorrow. Promise! Seriously. I'm off from school tomorrow, you see. He!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

On The Fifteenth Day of Christmas: Oh. So. Busy!

That's what I am. Good thing I had a substantial breakfast - Martin makes a mean omelet, and this one was portobello mushrooms, bacon, cubes of pecorino and a little parsley. Very good.The rest of the day was crazy busy.

Tomorrow, my entire family and a couple of friends to boot, will arrive at our apartment, expecting Christmas Cookies, glögg, æbleskiver and oh, the usual Christmas suspects. So I'm cooking and baking - and have been shopping - up a storm. I'll be back tomorrow with goodies. Christmas is all about waiting...:)

Friday, December 14, 2007

On The Fourteenth Day of Christmas: Sweet Like Chocolate, Girls

A couple weeks ago, I had a veritable Chocolate Extravaganza get-together at my place. The occasion? Oh, I don't know. Isn't wanting to eat a lot of chocolate enough? Do we NEED an occasion? I didn't think so.

Actually, I was convinced I had to throw this party-of-a-kind by my two cousins. Those of you who's been around for a while know I have a weird family tree, so naturally, these two aren't my real cousins, but my Bonus-mom's nieces. They're 15 and 20 years old, respectively, we battle each other in SingStar and on top of that, they're gorgeous, tall, blond, funny girls and one loves food more than the other. They get all of that from their Mom, my Bonus-Aunt, I'm sure. It's a tough family to like, eh?;)

In October last year, we all, bonus-mom, my dad and my younger siblings, bonus-aunt and bonus cousins, me and Martin, had the good fortune to spend a couple days, courtesy of Bonus-Granddad, at a beautiful place on Fyn. Fyn is where Hans Christian Andersen was born, and yes, it is kind of fairytale-ish, if you ask me. I mean, we stayed at a castle fer crying out loud!

What we also did while there, was to go to Falsled Kro, one of the best restaurants in Denmark, to have hot chocolate and croissants. They served proper hot chocolate there - as in "you can stand a spoon upright in this, and it'll stay put upright" hot chocolate. The girls were swooning. And that was when I made the minor faux pas of mentioning I could certainly make this, too!

Then, during this summer, we went on a brief stint to Skagen (the northern-most point of Denmark), and had lunch, just Martin, the cousins and me. We went to Ruth's Hotel:

- a cute, old hotel and brasserie, run by one of the best chefs in Denmark. We had Gâteau Marcel. And F, the older cousin, almost cried. It was soooo good. And I told them why, I have the recipe for that cake at home in one of my books. And that was how I was lured...

Fast forward more than a year, and I finally pulled myself and 1 kilo (!!!) of Valrhona chocolate together and made them awesome thick, hot chocolate. And chocolate cake. Just to make sure we all got the theobromine we needed. It is a womans right, you know.

Gâteau Marcel - from Michel Micheaud

For some reason, I wasn't quite pleased with this. It wasn't as dark and heavy as I remembered it from Ruth's Hotel. It was probably the chocolate I used (which, silly me, I'm not that much into really dark chocolate, so I used half 70% and half milk chocolate) so I URGE you to try it with all dark chocolate - it was AWESOME back at Ruth's. I've never tried making chocolate curls before, but it was easy and fun, and I love the sophisticated look.

140 g. dark chocolate (70%)
140 g. sugar
140 g. unsalted butter
7 egg whites
5 egg yolks

One 24 cm. spring form cake pan, brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with sugar.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie, add the butter and 80 g. sugar.
Take of the heat, then stir in the egg yolks.
Whip the egg whites until just stiff. Add the last 60 g. sugar, then whip until peaks form.
Mix the egg whites into the chocolate mixture - gently, gently.
Use three quarters of the batter for baking - gently pour it into the prepared spring form pan. Bake for about 40 minutes. Cover the rest of the batter, and leave in the fridge until later.
Once the cake has cooled, add the refrigerated batter to the top of the baked cake. Serve with chocolate curls on top, or sift a little cocoa or powdered sugar on top.

Proper Hot Chocolate
Chop 200 g. of best quality dark chocolate. Put in a big container. L, the younger cousin actually had me add 100 grams more chocolate, it just wasn't thick enough, she thought. That girl is crazy about her chocolate...;)

Gently heat 500 ml. milk and 200 ml. whipping cream in a pot, together with 3 tablespoons sugar. If you like, throw in a split vanilla pod, too. Once it's just below boiling point - do NOT let it boil! - pour over the chopped chocolate, while whisking gently. You're just whisking to melt the chocolate, so small circular motions will do. Leave to cool. You can easily make this a day in advance, in fact, it will leave the flavors time to develop. It'll keep in the fridge.

Once you're ready to drink, gently heat the chocolate-mixture, again, taking care not to let it boil. Lightly hand whip 2-300 ml. whipping cream (yes, it does make a difference whether you whip by hand or with a mixer. In my book, anyways)

Serve the hot chocolate with a spoonful of whipped cream on top, and more on the side. This portion will make enough for 8 small cups, but it really is crazy rich - you can't drink more than a small cup. Even though you really, really want to.

The cake here in the last picture is not the Gâteau Marcel - it was a chocolate cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting, and while it looked good, it was a disappointment - therefore, you get no recipe. Yes, I actually made two chocolate cakes to go with the hot chocolate. When you're going do it, you might as well go all the way!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

On The Thirteenth Day of Christmas: Something To Chew On

This is actually more of a spring/summer dish, but forgive me. I'm not putting one more of those yellow photos up here again (yet). It's not totally out of season though - yesterday, I laid my hands on a lovely head of spring cabbage and remembered this dish I made in - spring. It's a lighter version of coleslaw, if you will. Ah, spring! Today was 1 degree Celsius outside, and I, stupid me, forgot to put on pantyhose under my jeans. Brrr.

This is not so much a recipe, as it is a set of instructions. Slice your cabbage finely, and dress it with a couple pinches of salt and sugar. Leave to one side for half an hour. The salt and sugar will lightly cure the cabbage, and make for a smoother chew. Meanwhile, toast your pine nuts and leave to cool.

When you're ready, give the cabbage a good grind of pepper and mix in half the pine nuts. Transfer to a pretty bowl and top with the rest of the pine nuts. There's no dressing as such, but if you think it needs a spike, a little white wine or champagne vinegar could definitely work.

Serve with fish, or maybe a pork chop, a frikadelle or... something grilled. Dream of sun and bird song (and forget for a second that you haven't bought all your Christmas presents yet. Like me. Yikes!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On The Tweltfth Day of Christmas: Just Another Weeknight Wednesday

Yeah, so the picture's yellow-ish, and not all that fantastic and haven't I just told you that I'm getting better at taking photos? Well, I'm sorry, but that's what you're gonna get - I'm busy lounging on the couch, with my Man, three episodes of CSI, tea and a Banana Chocolate Bread. Beat that. I know, I'm lucky. So this is all you get - the recipe for the cake - it's not like the world really needs one more recipe for banana bread, but this is our favorite. Maybe yours, too?

Banana Chocolate Bread - from The Little Red Barn Baking Book

195 g. sugar
110 g. unsalted butter, room temperature.
80 ml. butter milk
250 g. flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
250 g. mashed bananas (about 3 bananas)
125 g. chopped chocolate (or chocolate chips)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Butter and flour a 23 x 10 cm., 7 cm. deep loaf pan.

Sift the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda together. In a seperate bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one by one, beating well after each addition. Fold in the mashed bananas.

Add the sifted dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Fold in the chocolate chips. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre comesout clean. Leave to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before slicing. If you have that kind of time.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On The Eleventh Day of Christmas: Friends IRL

When was the last time you made a new friend? I mean, a real life new friend? Not just a new person stopping by your blog, leaving a comment, and with whom you feel strangely connected? But a real, flesh-and-blood friend? How do you even make that kind of friends??

It's no longer something you just do, is it? I'm making the assumption that the larger part of food bloggers are past the age of elementary school here, but really. They don't just fall into your lap, once you've reached a certain age, do they?

When you're a kid, you're constantly bombarded with new friends. First, kindergarten - all new people. Then, you start school - hello! If you're lucky, you know some of the kids from kindergarten, but if you're not, they're all unfamiliar faces. Then it's high school, college, university, whatever you call it where you live - and then slam! It's over. Yes, there are jobs, new jobs, new faces, but honestly, its' not often you stumble across someone that actually gets to be part of your life. That you feel like you need to keep in your life. Why is that? Do we simply grow to lazy to put in the effort it sometimes take to establish a friendship? Do we already have enough friends?

I don't know about you, but my interest in food started relatively late in life. I have a lot of dear, dear friends, and it's not like they don't like food. But. It just seems it's not as over-shadowing an interest to most of them as it is to me. And sometimes, you just want to spend hours waxing over the superiority of organic products vs. regular, or arborio vs. carnaroli rice, without constantly having people yawn with boredom. Having found this forum, this foodblogging business, where you can make as many internet friends as you want, that all, each and everyone, are as crazy about food (if not more so) as you? That is a gift.

I had the great fortune to turn a couple of these so called virtual friends into IRL friends when M and I travelled across the States. Some of them were even so generous as to open up their own homes, even the homes of their relatives, for us. That trip just wouldn't have been the same, hadn't it been for you women. Did I ever thank you? Like publicly? Just in case I didn't, and because either way, it can't be said enough, let it be heard, from the bottom of my heart:

THANK YOU. For giving us a home while on the road, for feeding us, giving us a place to sleep and an opportunity to wash our clothes. For showing us great times. For being your lovely selves. For telling us about your culture, your country, your people. For being real.

But why do you have to be so far away?;)

I've also had the chance to have a couple people come meet me here, in Copenhagen. Got the chance to show them a tiny bit of the city I love so much. Awesome, too. There really is something about putting a face to all those words you read, almost on a daily basis. To find out they are real people, with feelings and opinions, in other departments than the food one, too. and it makes reading of their blogs (if they have such ones) so much more interesting.

But why do you have to be so far away, too??

Luckily, it seems the virtual-turning-IRL friends aren't only to be found outside this country. Because there is also Anne.

Anne is a girl that, about two years ago, found my blog. She found my e-mail adress and wrote me the dearest mail, explaining about her own relationship with food, how she loved it and how she was in the midst of doing an internship at a cooking school in the South of France, and oh, the food they made, and is Pierre Hermé a genius or what?? How could I not like this girl? We e-mailed back and forth for a while, planning to meet once Anne was back from France, I was done studying for exams etc. etc. You know how life is.

And finally, a couple of weeks ago, having met each other only briefly one night in December 2006, when Anne coincidentally came to have dinner at the restaurant I worked at, we managed to set up a cooking date at my place. One Friday afternoon, we finally browsed cookbooks together, planned a menu, went shopping for ingredients, came back, cooked and talked about food, men, life histories, more food and oh - you know. Everything you talk to a new friend about.

It wasn't hard, or weird, or akward, as I thought it might have been. In fact, it never has been, when I've met my virtual friends IRL - and hopefully, this isn't the last transformation of friendships that's happened. Because it's just plain old fun and good times. And you know? There's ALWAYS food involved - good food!:)

Henriette's Apple Cake - from Æbler af Per Kølster (Recipes by Camilla Plum)

Anne made this cake for us - one of the great things about new friends is their fresh look at what gems your cookbook shelves are hiding. I would never have jumped at this recipe, but Anne saw it and decided that was what we were having. Good choice, too. It's sorta meringue-y, but the apples takes teh sugar high tendencies you sometimes get with meringue onto a reasonable level. Oh yes, and you MUST have this with whipped cream - I'm usually all for creme fraiche with apple cakes, but softly whipped cream is but pure love with this. Give it a go.

(the original recipe calls for double the amounts given here - since we were just the two of us, we scaled it down)

750 g. apples - you want something like Belle de Boskoop or Cox Orange
50 ml. dry white wine (you could substitute water easily)
1 vanilla bean
2 tabelspoons sugar

180 g. blanched almonds
180 g. sugar
110 g. butter (room temperature)
1 egg
1 egg white
40. g. flour

Butter an 18 cm. spring form pan. Line it with parchment paper, then butter the parchment. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Peel the apples and remove the core. Chop the apples up and boil them in apot, together with wine, sugar and the vanilla bean (cut it open and scrape out the seeds into the apples - put both the seeds and the pod into the pot) Boil over a low heat until you get a very firm apple "mash". You don't need to boil it to oblivion, some firm pieces in there are fine - just make sure it isn't too wet. Leave to cool

Chop the almonds very finely. Beat them together with the butter and sugar until it's soft and creamy. Stir in the egg and egg white (I actually think we just used two whole, small eggs) Stir in the flour. The batter will be pretty soft, so you need to spread it out evenly into the prepared spring form pan. Only use half to start, making a layer about 2 cm. thick.

On top of that, spread your apples. Top with the rest of the batter. Bake for 45-60 minutes - if it grows to dark on top too fast, cover with a little foil.

Leave to cool before unmolding. Eat with softly whipped cream.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On The Tenth Day of Christmas: Bacon - How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways...

1. I love you in thin slices, with my weekend morning's scrambled eggs. You make eggs the Belle of the Morning Table. You make eggs the Belle of any table, in fact.

2. I love you in a greasy burger, smothered in cheese, ketchup and mayo.

3. I love you in thick slices, with kartofler og persillesovs (it's a Danish thing). I would alwaus choose you, bacon, over your non-smoked brother, flæsk.

4. I love you in a quiche, with a crumbly tart shell, and meltingly tender leeks, a dash of cream, and. You. Maybe a frisée salad on the side.

5. I love you in cubes, fried, then tossed with a salad of baby greens, goat's cheese and maybe a crouton or two.

6. I love you in a BLT. Especially if you add a little avocado as well. I think bacon and avocado is a match made in heaven.

7. I love you with cabbage. Controlling the sharp taste of cabbage is something only few can do. With brussel sprouts, you're at your game, noone above you, noone beside you. You rule the brussel sprouts.

8. I love you with white fish. Your smokyness and saltiness adds a depth to a dish, that noone else can. You bring out the best in what your pair up with.

9. I love you crumbled over a baked potato with sour cream and chives.

10. I love your leftover grease, using it in breads, with beans, or in my favorite, the bacon vinaigrette.

11. I love you crumbled on top of soups, dazzling me with your crunch and flavor, you do.

12. I love you with chicken. You add that little extra oomph, that makes chicken/mayo salad stand out, and win over the other mayo salads, when you're by her side.

13. I love you with jerusalem artichokes. You make sure their sweetnes is tamed, their taste of nuts enhanced. You make jerusalem artichokes stand at the top of the podium, smiling.

14. I love you in carbonara. Playing with some of your best friends, Egg Yolk & Cream, you make everybody all warm and fuzzy inside.

15. I love you with warm leverpostej and mushrooms. No wonder the Danes have taken to you so.

16. I love you, munched in crispy, crackly bits, straight off of the kitchen towel where you lay to drain, after having been fried.

... And to think I was once a vegetarian.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

On The Ninth Day of Christmas: A Package Arrives

Good things come in brown packages. But what? You will have to come back tomorrow to find out...

(I have been to a cake fest. Seriously - I think I have cake coming out my ears. I'm all sugared out!)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

On The Eighth Day of Christmas: Photo Makeover! The Best Sweet Chili Sauce. Still

Shameless, shameless. Yes, weekends should be the time where I had plenty of hours at my leisure, to spend blogging and - you know, doing the other things life requires of me. And that is exactly what I have been doing - the things life's requiring of me. Like making chilisauce again, 'cause lordy, we've almost run out - oh the horror!

Of course, I jumped at the chance to snap some new pictures while I was at it. As much as I am a kind of person that very seldom regrets anything, I just didn't feel very, well - proud - of the photos accompanying my original post for chilisauce. Which, coincidentally, is probably my most Google'd post. (I'm second on the list - doesn't that make me almost famous?!?) Honestly, those photos are crap, and the people arriving here from Google deserve better. You deserve better. And while I still have a whole lot to learn in the photography department, I can, without saying too much, do better than that, today. So here is the post again, recycled, but all brand new. (If you haven't made this yet, I still urge you to try it. It's easy, and the results are so, so worth it)

The Best Sweet Chili Sauce. EVAH!
Originally posted to Food & Thoughts on March 4th, 2005

So you're probably going: why on EARTH would I want to slave over my own chilisauce, when there are so many nice brands out there, that are even cheap? Well, I for one do, simply because this is the best one I've ever had. The taste may not be as the commercial kind, here you can taste every single ingredient - maybe I'm not able to taste the galangal from the ginger, but I know it's there! And there's just something weirdly satisfying about reading a recipe that says "2 tablespoons of chilisauce", then taking that little, dark, sweet-spicy smelling, sticky jar of your own homemade sauce out of the fridge, instead of a large bottle. I'm weird like that, but I do like that feeling...

Sweet Chili Sauce
Makes three small jars (250 ml each)

You need:
10 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 large red chilies, stems removed
3 thumbs of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 thumb of galangal, peeled and roughly chopped
8 lime leaves
3 lemon-grass stems;
remove the two outside leaves, discard the top third of the stem and finely slice the remainder
1 cup fresh coriander leaves

Put in a food processor and purée to a coarse paste.

Then put
1½ cups caster sugar
together with 4 tablespoons water in a saucepn, place on a moderate heat, stirring well intil the sugar dissolves. When it has, remove the spoon and turn up the heat to full. Boil for 5-8 minutes, do not stir, but of course, don't let the caramel burn either. (I never actually need to turn the heat to full - it seems to boil away nicely on a medium heat with me...)

Stir in the paste, bring the sauce back to the boil and add:

100 ml cider vinegar
50 ml Asian fish sauce
50 ml tamari

Return to the boil and simmer for 1 minute. Pour in jars, and leave to cool before eating.

The recipe is not actually made to be a keeper, but I've had mine around in jars for about a year or so, no problemos at all - I don't really do anything special to keep them, other than sterilizing the jars (ok, basically pouring boiling water over them before I fill them!) and keep them in the fridge. Also, if you want it to be HOT you could probably leave some of the chili seeds in - this really isn't hot at all, but I just am not that big on hot-hot stuff...

I stole the recipe from Peter Gordon's: The Sugar Club Cookbook, a, in my opinion, really nice book. Very pacific rim, and okay, I am a bit biased: I used to work at The Sugar Club's sister restaurant, Bali Sugar -when The Sugar Club moved to Soho, the owners opened yet another restaurant, Bali Sugar, at the original place in Notting Hill, so all the pictures in this book is from the restaurant I used to work at. Ah, memories!

In the cookbook, the chilisauce is served with grilled scallops, watercress and creme fraiche - that's a great combo, and a signature Peter Gordon dish! I'd also use the chilisauce with homemeade fries aka potato wedges - small saucer with creme fraiche, small saucer with chilisauce, and then you dip your potato wedge into each one alternately. I had this in Australia and though I at first thought the combination sorta weird, it really worked!

Friday, December 7, 2007

On The Seventh Day of Christmas: Working Out Those Green Thumbs - Growing Cress

These are some of the remains of The Balcony. Actually, only the thyme (far left) and the rosemary (middle) is from the balcony. The basil is a new addition, seeing I killed my basil not far into summer. The rain killed it, that is. There's still quite a small bundle of thyme on the balcony now - it seems to thrive in the cold up there. The rosemary has liked taking up warmer quarters and is growing like crazy.

As for the rest of plants I scattered around the apartment in the end of September, well... The pineapple sage has gotten some sort of bug, but is growing. The regular sage - dead. Both of them. Majoram - is not really liking me, seeing I forget to water it (so who can blame it?) but it seems to hang in there. Bay tree? Keeping it real. Lemon verbena - hibernating, I hope. Tarragon? Doing better than ever!

But what I'm really having fun trying out my 10 green thumbs on these days is cress. I remember us growing cress back in kindergarten, in cut up milk cartons with a little cotton in the bottom. The fact that it grows so fast - mine was ready to cut in less than seven days! - is always a treat when you have kids - or those young at heart, like me - around.

I'm so having egg salad with home grown cress tomorrow...

How to grow cress:
Cress seeds are inexpensive and easy to come buy around here. You can grow them in a windowsill, mine don't get much direct sunlight, but it's not in shadow entirely. The key, in my experience, is to keep whatever you grow the seeds on (paper towels, cotton, soil) moist at all times. Apparently, it may go bitter otherwise. So gently water your chosen growing medium - scatter a few seeds (pretty close) on top, and now, wait. Water as necessary - the paper towels, in my case, leaked a little water when you pressed a finger on it, which seemed fine - the only other ingredient you need is a small bit of patience. In anything from 5 to 10 days, you'll have a thick, green blanket of lovely cress, ready for your egg salads, tomato-mayo sandwiches or whatever you fancy.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

On The Sixth Day of Christmas: Breakfast for the People That Don't Like Getting Up Early Enough To Make It: Granolabars!

Yesterday, I had actually planned to get home early so I could snap a couple of pictures before the last snippet of daylight was gone. If one of these days you'll see a post with the title: Yeah, so the picture is awful, but the meal was awesome! you shouldn't be surprised. I've whined about the whole darkness thing before, and I probably will again. Don't let it scare you. I like darkness, and the almost obligatory accesory of woolen socks, hot chocolate and roaring fire places that goes with it. But taking pictures in it is not a hoot.

Enough already. What happened yesterday that prevented me from shooting food in daylight was a breakdown on the train line that I catch every morning and every afternoon, going back and forth to the hospital. Instead of the 45 minutes I usually spend on the train, it took me two hours. Doh. But sometimes, that's just the way it is, and while it is slightly annoying, I got a good chance to leaf through the cookbook I brought - I really can't study on the train. Sorry, just can't ;) I also got to contemplate how to work around the fact that both Martin and I are notoriusly bad breakfast eaters. Me, it's got to do with the whole 6 am thing, Martin is more of a 8 am thing, but the result is the same. We don't eat breakfast, we're crazy hungry at 10 o'clock, then eat something nasty and probably not very nutritious, and definitely not very homemade.

Martin's been poking me to make the granolabars I used to do again, so we could eat those. While I think Nigella's recipe for granola is still the best I've come across, the granolabar recipes I've tried needed some tweaking that I hadn't gotten round to working on. Waiting on busses and trains, I figured out what I might needed to do to them, so when I got home, I tried it, and this morning - on the train, still not getting up early! - I had one scrumptious granolabar for breakfast. I almost felt healthy. And I didn't even have to get up earlier than usual - that's a quality I really dig!

Yes, there's butter and sugar in there, so relatively speaking, they aren't as healthy as a bowl of oatmeal. But hey. You make them yourself, so at least they aren't full of weirdo additives and other ickies as the bought kind may be. Calculating the nutritional info, I got about 270 calories, (about 100 of these from fat), which actually isn't to bad. It's more than a grocery store granolabar, but these are so much better, and I'll eat a homemade one over a storebought one any day. I'm like that.

These are chewy granolabars, rather than crispy, and a bit on the heavy, compact side and not fluffy and light, like some granolabars you buy. What I want is a granolabar that isn't too sticky or buttery, and not too sweet either. These are just about right - I may still try tweaking the amount of sugar/honey, by adding a bit more applesauce as these are a tad on the sweet side, but texturewise, they are the best I've gotten so far. If you have any other ideas on the tweaking, I'm all ears!

170 g. unsalted butter
130 g. runny honey
140 g. sugar
100 g. applesauce
400 g. rolled oats
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
150 g. nuts, dried fruits - I usually use cranberry, raisins and almonds, but have been known to add coconut, hazelnuts and apricots too.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Line a 30 x 20 cm pan (I use a Pyrex dish that we usually use for making lasagna) with parchment.
Melt the butter, honey and sugar in a small saucepan. Make sure the sugar is fully dissolved.
Mix together the oats, spices and nuts and/or dried fruits. Stir in the applesauce, then stir in the melted butter/sugar/honey mixture.
Press into the prepared baking pan - it's okay to give it a firm squeeze, you want it to be rather compact. Bake for 15-20 minutes, untill golden around the edges AND in the middle. I think I tended to bake mine too little, which made for very floppy granolabars - not what I wanted. Once done, transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool. With a sharp knife (I used to use a serrated knife, but found I got better (i.e. less crumbly) results using a large, sharp knife) cut into bars. I get around 16 bars from this portion.

Enjoy on the train, in the car, with tea, coffee, in the afternoon or in the morning. Just remember to have breakfast, whatever else you choose to do. It is good for you.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

On The Fifth Day of Christmas: Dinnertime with A Messy Salad & Baked Cod

Look, I know this looks like a pile o' mess. But trust me, it doesn't taste like a mess. What it does taste like is fantastic. I promise. Sweetness from the beets, salty capers, starchy potatoes, mustardy hotness and smoky bacon backdrops flaky, clean-tasting cod. It's lovely, if you ask me. It fits right in here during winter - not being very Christmas-sy, or too heavy. Lord knows there's enough of that kind of food around in December.

And there's a lot you can do regarding the attractiveness of the dish - like not mix the beets in with the rest of the ingredients, but just gently bounce a couple round the top of the rest of the "salad" before serving. That way, everything won't be pink. Even though I'm all for pretty girl colors in food, there's gotta be a limit.

The dish does take a little time to put together, but I'm thinking you could make a couple shortcuts. Like use already pickled beets, boil the eggs the day before, and use leftover boiled potatoes. It's mostly a matter of assembling, and because I serve the vegetables only lukewarm, it's not that much a matter of timing everything, but just doing them.The blueprint for this dish is one I got from Jens, the chef at one of my old work places - and I am ever so grateful. Here's what you have to do:

The key to the vegetables are to make the pieces the same size - I aim for about 1x1 cm. You need a couple hardboiled eggs - one per person will suffice. Peel them, and cut them into pieces of your chosen size.

The potatoes are the same thing - you need small bites. I plan for 2-3 per person, depending on size. Roast them in a pan (you could probably roast them in the oven, too, but I've never done that) - they need to go all golden and slightly crispy. Remember to salt and pepper generously.

With the beets, I usually bake a couple in the oven (160 degrees Celcius, 1-2 hours, depending on size - I try and get the baby-fist sized ones, and use one pr. person), peel them and cut them up. Then, just before assembly, I roast them quickly, with a tablespoon of red wine vinegar. So you see, this is basically pickled beets. Just make sure, if you choose to use jarred, pickled beets instead, that you take them out of the fridge in good time - you don't want ice cold beets!

Bacon. Ah, bacon. You like bacon too, don't you? Again, cut a nice slab (1-1½ one centimeter thick piece pr. person) into the same size as the vegetables. Fry these slowly, making sure they release a lot of their lovely fat, but of course, not letting them end up all dry. Transfer to a piece of kitchen paper, allowing for some degreasing. For God's sake, keep the fat on the pan! This is the gold you need to make your bacon vinaigrette.

The vinaigrette I make is very simple - onto the still hot bacon fat, I pour about 5 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar pr. person (don't use your most expensive one - a decent, but fairly priced one will do), let it cook down a bit, then add 2 teaspoons of coarse grain mustard, salt and pepper and stir that in. Now you have sauce for your dish. Keep it warm.

For the cod, I go for about 150-200 g. per person. Gently rub it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake in a 200 degrees (celsius) hot oven, 6-7 minutes.

Now, when you put in the cod, pop a couple of plates into the oven as well - the vegetables are lukewarm, but there's no need for them to go even colder than they are. And people are always so impressed when you serve on hot plates ;) As the cod is baking, gently mix the potatoes, egg, bacon and a couple tablespoons capers - I use the ones preserved in vinegar, but if you prefer salted ones that you soak in a little water first, that's okay with me - and a bit of finely minced parsley together. Salt and pepper to taste. A minute before the cod is done, take out your plates, and spoon the vegetables onto the hot plates. Top with the beets. Arrange the cod on top of the vegetables, drizzle with the bacon vinaigrette, sprinkle with a bit more parsley (which I totally forgot to do in the picture). Serve, straight away.

That wasn't hard, was it?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

On The Fourth Day of Christmas: A Healthy Addiction.

I have very few bad habits. Yes, I'm messy. I spend way too much time on the computer. I twirl my hair. I buy too many cookbooks (but not this year!) I leave the dishes for a little longer than they may need. But still. I don't bite my nails. I don't hog the remote control. I don't interrupt people when they speak. I don't burp in public. I apologize if I walk into someone on the street.

But I also have very few good habits. Like that yoga thing I had going on for a while? Not happening so much these days. Other sports? Nah. Not really. Cooking well for myself and Martin? If I'm lucky, yes. Other days, it's bacon and egg sandwiches and potatoes with mayo. Tasty, but not healthy in the veggie, fruit and cholesterol-low way.

I had one good habit. WE had a good habit, I have to say. We used to get up together in the morning and make juice for each other - if I was due in school early, Martin made it, and vice versa if he was the first person out the door. Somehow, that's gone all awry this semester.

For some reason, M doesn't feel it's appropriate to get up with me these days. Why? Well, it may have to do with the fact that I have to get up at 6 am in the morning to catch a train to the middle of the city in far, far away, where I'm currently doing some hospital duty. Yes, 6 am may be piece of cake for some of you out there, but I. LIKE. SLEEPING. As does he. Preferably late. And definitely longer than 6 am. You can probably tell what this is doing to our otherwise nice habit of getting the juicer in gear every morning.

So currently I am in a state of deprivation. Nay, make that in a state of cold turkey. I get no juice in the morning, and I like my freshly squeezed juice. Naturally, a true addict will find a way out. Therefore, I now drink my juice in the afternoon. The pretty colors doesn't make it any less of a relaxing thing to be doing after a hard days work (yeah right. I have a lot of those - pshs!). I guess there's no law saying you can't have juice in the afternoon, but for some reason, it felt weird. So afternoons, and on the weekends it is. Then I can make sure Martin stays healthy too.

This one up here is pear juice, but I'll take anything. Except maybe mango, or pineapple - pineapple makes my tongue numb. Oh, or celery. Don't even ask why I tried it - I guess it's just what happens when you have a juicer and celery hanging around - they will inevitably clash at some point, with bad results. And always remember that no matter what, the jucie will only be as good as the fruit you use.

Classic Combos Chez Zarah & Martin - for you to try, should you chance to run the risk of becoming an addict too. You will need a juicer for most of these, but for us, it has been an investment worth itself.

Apple & Ginger - a small knob of ginger will do! I like Pink Lady apples, but use your favorite crispy apple.
Apple & Pear - 'tis the season. Use hard pears - the soft ones will only produce mush.
Orange & Apple
Orange & Carrot - probably THE favorite in our household
Strawberry & Watermelon
- awesome in the summer time. The strawberries shouldn't be too soft, or you'll get purée instead of juice.
Orange & Strawberry
Grapefruit & Orange
- especially the ruby grapefruits.
Grapes & Apples
Bloodorange & Orange
Apple & Pomegranate - I knock out the seeds and run them through the grate-thingy - this makes for more juice than merely juicing them.

Suggestions are welcome in the comments!

Monday, December 3, 2007

On The Third Day of Christmas: Green Raisin Chutney

I think Camilla Plum is my hero. Camilla Plum is everything I am not. For one, she's quite a bit older than I am - somewhere in her 50's, I think. Two, she lives on an all-organic farm with lots and lots of animals and kids and a husband that runs his own breweri. To boot, she's an awesome cook. I'm pretty sure she used to be a chef-chef - you know, one of the one's in white aprons with a chef's paper hat with years and years of experience in a kitchen and the cuts on her underarms to prove it - but to me, she's a cook. A darn fine one, too. You see, she cooks real food - the kind you do at home. Wait a minute, make that the kind I want to make at home, and could make at home, was I organized enough.

She uses bunches and cases of fresh herbs - in all her meals. She braises stuff. She simmers beans. She cuts up whole cows and pigs and lambs and trots into her kitchen garden to get the cabbage she needs for her dinner. She makes down home comfort layer cakes and good, old-fashioned Danish food, with a twist, but also reaches out towards Italian, Middle Eastern, Indian and French cuisine. She bakes bread, made with flour milled from the grain from her fields, for her rosy-cheeked children. She is the woman that made me really fall in love with baking bread.

She writes the most awesome cookbooks. Her cookbooks are the kind you read in bed - which is a good thing, too, 'cause no matter how much I love them, there's no doubt that if I tried to learn cooking, or baking by them, I would grow frustrated early on. For some reason, especially in her baking book, baking times and oven degrees are left out. Mostly, it's a matter of "cook/bake untill done" which is, naturally, how it should always be done - but, still. A guideline's always nice to have.

This is a woman with an opinion, and a strong one at that. If it isn't organic, it isn't good enough, but if she wants foie gras, she wants it, and there's no stopping her. She's the kind of person you either love or hate, and I - am in love. Martin and I visited her farm a couple of times this summer - it's open to the public - and we heard her speak about her approach to farming, growing organic produce and cooking. She grows flowers in between rows of cabbage. She grows currants of the kind that are the most difficult to grow, and that yields the least - but they're the ones with the best taste, so that's just the way it's got to be. Basically, she's all about good food, and how to get it like you want it. She somehow manages to bestow some confidence in me, 'cause even though I've sometimes felt like pulling out my hair at some of her recipes, they very, very seldom fail me. And I have cooked my share of them. Unfortunately for you in the non-Danish-speaking part of the world, all her books are in Danish. Maybe she needs an English translater?

One of the latest of her's I've cooked was this Green Raisin Chutney. I had a large jar of green raisins that I had no idea what to do with and that was rapidly growing past their prime date. Add to that a whole lotta spices, a bunch of cilantro, a couple chilis, a couple scolded jars - and you have the perfect partner for falaffel (and if you haven't tried Nic's oven baked version, here's your chance) I'm sure it's also great with Indian foods but, ahem, let's not talk about that combo, seeing I'm still sorely lacking any experience in that department... The raisins are a little sour/sweet, there's heat from chilis and harissa and a lot of palate-pleasing flavour from all of the spices. Give it a go - or give it away as Christmas presents!

Green Raisin Chutney - from Camilla Plum's Grønt II

2 tablespoons cumin
Seeds of 10 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1-3 red chilis
small bunch fresh cilantro
small bunch Moroccan mint
250 g. big, green raisins
zest of 1-2 lemons
juice of 2-3 lemons
3 tablespoons harissa
3 tablespoons cider vinegar (or other clear vinegar)
200 ml. olive oil (not necessarily your most expensive one)

Toast the spices in a heavy pan until you get a nice fragrance lifting from the pan. Toast each of the spices seperately, or you'll end up with some of them all black and some not toasted yet. Grind them to a fine powder in a large mortar or spice mill.

Remove the seeds from the chilis and chop them up finely. Chop the cilantro and mint coarsely - you can include the stems and roots from the cilantro if you like.

Mix all of the ingredients. Depending on how spicy you like it, you can up or down the harissa amount (or the chilis) Add salt if you think it needs it. Pulse half, or more if you like, of the mixture in a food processor. Transfer to cleaned jars, and leave for at least a couple of hours before you dig in. Keeps for several weeks in the fridge.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

On The Second Day of Christmas: [DANSK] Vaniliekranse

It's 9.30 a.m., Martin just left for work and I snuck my computer with me into bed. Wham's "Last Christmas" is playing on the radio, it's grey outside and it's the first Sunday of Advent. Heh! Heeeee. I like December so far. Later today, we're going to my Dad-in-law's place for a little roll-the-dice present-game and food - we're bringing bread. The dough was done yesterday, so I just have to shape it, let it prove and bake it off. I have HOURS on hand, it seems, right now. Yes, yes - I need to wrap a couple presents for that game, and um... Did someone mention I have an exam in the middle of January? 'Cause I'm very good at ignoring that fact.

I oughta be planning what the whole of December should look like, when to bake cookies, when to take care of all of those things I still haven't done on my 2007 Foodie Dares, when to buy Christmas presents and - you know the drill, I don't have to keep rubbing it in, do I? Instead, I'm listening to the radio and contemplating leafing through a couple of the cookbooks that's occupying M's side of the bed as I write. Yes, I'm actually LISTENING to the radio - call me old-fashioned. I am, and I'm proud of it. I'm also going to set up a couple of posts for the next few days. I'm only two days in, and already I seem to have problems figuring out what to entertain with. Shesh!

Speaking of cookies - it seems I have totally forgotten I promised you a recipe last year. Shame on me. Here it is - these are probably my favorite Christmas Cookies around.

Vaniliekranse - a Family recipe
550-600 g. flour
200 g. potato starch
325 g. sugar
500 g. butter - semi-soft
2 pinches ammonium carbonate
5 vanilla beans - cut open and the seeds taken out. Stick the leftovers in your vanilla sugar or vanilla extract.
150 g. almonds - blanched and finely chopped

Mix together all of the dry ingredients. Rub in the butter, untill you get something looking like a coarse pie dough. With the warmth of your hands, quickly assemble the dough, and roll into logs that will fit into the opening of a meat grinder. Leave in the fridge, at least for a couple of hours, but preferably for a couple of days.

When ready to bake the cookies, take them out of the fridge and leave to get to room temperature - if you don't do this, it will be near impossible to get them through the meat grinder. Yes, you did just read the words "cookies" and "meat grinder" in the same sentence. What? ;)

This is the fun part, you know. You attach a star-shaped disc to the meat grinder - I have one that fits my KitchenAid meat grinder, and that works perfectly. The dough is simply too hard for using a star-shaped nozzle on a bag - at least this particular recipe is. So - on it goes. One by one, gently push the cookie-dough logs through the grinder - around here, this is usually done with one person pushing through dough, one person catching the dough, and one person shaping the dough. Baking Christmas Cookies is not a one-person job! :)

Once you have a sheet full, bake the cookies in a 190 degree hot oven, for about 8 minutes. They need to go just very ligthly browned around the edges, and no more. Allow to cool, and keep in airtight jars.

I have no idea how many cookies you get from this recipe, for some reason, I haven't noted it in my little book. Once I've made this years batch I'll get back to you.

Other cookies I might make this year:

Hazelnut Crescent Cookies
Mexican Wedding Cakes
Korova Cookies

Hey, I just made a list - that's almost planning! What are you baking?