Jul
12
2009
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Scandinavian Sushi

Scandinavian Sushi

Scandinavian Sushi

When first I came to Scandinavia I worked for a Danish company based just outside of Copenhagen. In their cafeteria on every day of the week one could choose from several different types of pickled herring combined with various toppings and several different types of bread, many of them dark and grainy. I wasn’t wild about it at first, but it grew on me. I began to miss my pickled herring smörrebröd when I sat in London pubs – England was my other base during this phase of life.

Now that I have been living in Sweden for 13 years, I know that the summer cannot pass without a jar of sill or pickled herring in the refrigerator. There are many types that you can purchase in the shops, prepared in almost every imaginable marinade. The classic in Sweden is to lay a few slices on a starter plate with boiled new potatoes (peel unremoved) and soured cream. It is an elegant and exotic start to a meal even if you come from these parts. Sill is also a highlight at Christmas although at that time of year served with crisp bread rather than potatoes….but that is too far away to worry about just now.

Sill doesn’t feel like something you want to consume too much of at once. It has a richness as a result of the fact that herring is an oily fish and a strong flavor, imparted by the marinade, that makes small quantities in starter portions just right.

For some years there have been health concerns about the consumption of herring from the Baltic sea which was heavily contaminated by PCBs (Polychlorinated Byphenals used in refrigeration), methylmercury and dioxin-like compounds during the 1960s and 70s. In addition, overfishing severely reduced herring stocks to dangerously low levels.  The news for the Baltic seems positive, with sinking levels of these pollutants and collaborative efforts to control fishing. Still, best advice is to consume Atlantic or Pacific herring up to two times per week. If you are expecting, avoid consumption of fish from the Baltic entirely.

The good news is that sill is one of three types of oily fish (the others are mackerel and salmon) rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which protect against heart disease, among other clear health benefits. These fish are a great way to get the healthy fats that your body needs without eating ‘fat food’.

So, what is the trick for coming up with that tangy tasting sill that is one of the most common features of the Scandinavian smörgåsbord? Here is a basic recipe that you can vary according to taste and what herbs you’ve got available. You can consider adding other flavors such as juniper berries, sherry or garlic.

Pickled Herring

1 dl or 1/2 cup vinegar
6 dl or 2 1/2 cups water
3 dl or 1 1/3 cups sugar
800 g or 1.8 lbs (28 ounces) canned herring
20 Black and white pepper corns
2 red onions, sliced thinly
4 bay leaves
Clean pickling jars

Blend the vinegar, water and sugar and bring to simmering. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. During this time, chop the herring fillets into 2-3 cm or about 1 inch chunks and layer in clean jars with pepper corns, onions and bay leaves. Pour over the liquid so that it covers the fish and fills the whole jar. Seal and allow to marinade for 4 days.

Serve with your favorite dark bread, potatoes, sour cream and perhaps, for that extra health and flavor kick, beet root salad. The possibilities are endless.

May
30
2009
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Dandelion Pesto

Dandelions in Northern Norway

Dandelions in Northern Norway

Inspired by Johanna’s thrifty thoughts about dandelions this May 2009, I am including my best dandelion leaf recipe.

Dandelions are nature’s own gift to you in the Spring as their leaves have a strong cleansing effect on the kidneys and gallbladder.

Dandelion leaf has a bitter flavor which you can tone down by soaking for a half an hour or so in water before using in salads and other foods.

The slightly bitter, leafy green taste of dandelion leaf complements barbecued meats and vegetables perfectly.

Dandelion Pesto

1 liter or 1 quart dandelion leaves
1 dl or 1/2 cupVästerbotten or parmesan cheese, grated
3 1/2 dl or about 1 1/2 cups canola or olive oil
1 dl or 1/2 cup pine nuts

Soak the leaves in water for 1/2-1 hour. Pat dry and chop roughly. Blend in a food processor with the remaining ingredients until the mixture has become a smooth paste.

Feb
05
2009
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Be a Sour Belly

Light Wheat Flour Sourdough

Light Wheat Flour Sourdough

When German settlers crossed the Great Plains into the Wild West they did it often with a small sack of fermenting sourdough tucked near their tummies. In this way they could keep their beloved sourdough just at the right temperature for the healthy and tasty cultures in the sourdough to stay alive. As a result of this cultural habit that they could not leave behind, they became known as the Sour Bellies. Since then, the world has fallen in love with sourdough breads. Particularly in the northern parts of Scandinavia and Finland, dark rye sourdough is a favorite.

Why use sourdough in bread baking? Not only does the bread take on that great, tangy flavor, but you can use less yeast which frequently can give bread an unpleasant, overbearing flavor. From a health point of view, breads using sourdough cultures are better for your digestion than breads that do not use it. If you are using rye or whole grains to make the bread then there are all of the heart and digestive benefits of using those ingredients.

Making and maintaining a sourdough culture is the easiest thing you can imagine if you keep a few basic principles in mind. 1) Sourdough doesn’t like drastic changes of temperature (although it should be stored in the refrigerator once prepared). Keep it at an even temperature in your kitchen. 2) “Feed” your sourdough with new flour and water once a week. If you don’t, the culture you have created in the sourdough cannot survive. 3) Keep your sourdough in a clean, sealed container. If it begins to look discolored, do not use it.

Most of the time, I have both lighter wheat flour and darker rye flour sourdoughs on the go in my kitchen form making lighter and darker breads. Here is how to make them:

Light Wheat Flour Sourdough

Day 1:
2.5 dl or 1 cup white flour
2 dl or 3/4 cups water
1 tbsp grated apple
Blend in a clean glass container. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand somewhere warm in your kitchen (e.g. above your refrigerator, near your stove) for two days.

Day 3:
1.5 dl or 1/2 cup white flour
1 dl or 1/3 cup water
Add these ingredients to your sourdough which should already be bubbling with microbes. Cover once again and place as before.

Day 4:
Repeat as for Day 3.

Day 5:
Ready to use for baking. The sourdough should be something like the consistency of waffle batter. Once you have used some of the sourdough in your bread recipe, replenish the sourdough culture with flour and water  as for days 3 and 4, above. Keep refrigerated.

Dark Rye Sourdough

Day 1:
2.5 dl or 1 cup rye flour
2 dl or 3/4 cup water
1 tbsp grated apple
Blend and handle as for light wheat sourdough.

Day 3:
1 dl or 1/3 cup rye flour
1 dl or 1/3 cup water
Blend and handle as for light wheat sourdough.

Day 4:
1 dl or 1/3 cup rye flour
1 dl or 1/3 cup water
Blend and handle as for light wheat sourdough.

Day 5:
Your rye sourdough is ready for use. It should be a slightly thicker consistency than the light wheat sourdough. Use, store and maintain as for light wheat sourdough.

Now I’m off to bake some sourdough bread. So, prepare these sourdough cultures during the coming days and return to my kitchen after that to pick up some of my very best sourdough bread recipes which I will be entering shortly.

Jan
03
2009
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Yellow Pea Soup

Peas, like the other pulses and grains of Scandinavia are great heart food!

Peas, like the other pulses and grains of Scandinavia are great heart food!

If you’re feeling a little overloaded after all of the festivities, you’ll want to take it a little easy on the food front. However, latest research supports what we have always known: crash dieting isn’t the answer! Particularly during this sneezy time of year, you expose yourself to flu by reducing your intake of nutritious foods.

What you need at this time of year is pea soup. Sounds terrible, but if you make it from scratch, it is everything but terrible. Garnished with a few slivers of left-over smoked salmon or (dare we say it) that Christmas ham, it is a true January delight that will be your guardian against nasty colds.

While pea soup seems like it takes a long time to prepare, the reality is that the actual time spent working in the kitchen is very short. You just need to plan a bit for soaking overnight and allowing the soup to cook. Here’s how with a few modifications to the traditional recipe.

Yellow Pea Soup

5 dl or a little over 2 cups of dried yellow peas
2.5 dl or 1 cup water or as much as is needed for the yellow peas to be completely soaked
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
4 tbsps olive oil
1.5 chicken or vegetable stock cubes
Pinch of ground cloves
2 tbsps chopped fresh thyme or marjoram
Pinch of sugar
Salt & pepper to taste

For garnishing:
Smoked salmon or cooked ham cut into slivers
Extra fresh marjoram

Rinse the peas and allow them to soak in water overnight. If the peas look dry in the morning, add a little more water so that there is something to cook them in (the peas should still be covered in water). Remove any of the husks that have floated up to the top of the water. Saute chopped onion in olive oil in a cooking pot. Add cloves, chopped marjoram and 2 cloves crushed garlic and continue to saute for another minute. Pour in the soaked beans and water, and add stock cubes. Stir. Allow the soup to simmer, reduce to low heat and cover. Allow peas to cook for approximately two hours. Check after an hour to make sure that the peas are not sticking to the bottom of the cooking pan. If so, add a bit of water. Once the peas are soft, add a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with extra marjoram and slivers of smoked salmon or ham. Serve with wholemeal bread.

Jan
03
2009
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Gröt Glorious Gröt!

The Glorious Filling Grains & Pulses of the Nordic Kitchen

The Glorious Filling Grains & Pulses of the Nordic Kitchen

Gröt or porridge doesn’t seem like the sexiest of dishes but things aren’t always what they seem. Porridge in all of its most innovative and traditional forms is being served up as fine cuisine in some of the most fashionable restaurants in Scandinavia. Why? It’s healthy, fresh and delicious.

My own porridge recipe is as simple as it is delicious. Enjoy with some fresh berries, nuts or raisins strewn on top:

Julie’s Porridge for a Happy Morning or a Satifying Evening

4 dl or 1 3/4 cups oatmeal
8 dl or 3 cups milk
3-4 tablespoons honey

Warm all ingredients in a pot, stirring slowly over medium heat with a wooden spoon. Once thickened, and just beginning to simmer, remove from heat. Lap up and enjoy the warmth surging through your body! You can use water or milk substitutes as an alternative to milk if you are allergic.

Dec
09
2008
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Little Cookies

The Famous Small Cookie Tin

The Famous Small Cookie Tin

On several occasions I have written about the virtues of one little old Swedish ladies’ traditions: småkakor or little cookies. In our bigger is better world, these are that marvelous exception. Small is beautiful, particularly when it comes to cookies. If I am drinking a cup of coffee or tea I usually want something sweet with it – I want a småkaka or a little cookie that no one in Wayne’s Coffee or Starbucks is prepared to give me.

For years I read stories to children between the ages of 3 and 10 at a nearby school. I always brought with me a tin of home-made småkakor as I knew that mid-afternoon most kids’ blood sugar sinks to levels that make concentrating seem like climbing Mount Everest. My småkakor were of course a great hit, but to console myself that the kids did not just come for the cookies I told myself that they would not have come had I offered cookies but no story.

Now, I’m not trying to suggest that processed flour, sugar and big lumps of butter are healthy ingredients. All of those should be minimized in our diets and that is just what little cookies do, particularly during the holiday season when everyone wants to feel, well, just a little richer.

I noticed in Johanna’s marvelous thrift blog that she is running her usual new perspective across metal tins. Here is the childrens’ favorite recipe for småkakor which combined with Johanna’s packaging ideas could make a unique and thoughtful Christmas gift.

Chocolate Slices
(makes ca 40 thin biscuits)

100g or 3.5 oz. butter, softened at room temperature
1 dl or 1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup or light cooking syrup
2 dl or 3/4 cup white flour
2.5 dl or 1 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 175 C or 350 F. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Cream sugar and butter. Add syrup. Blend dry in ingredients in a separate bowl and mix into the creamed mixture gradually. Scatter a little extra flour across a clean surface. Split the dough into two and form two long rolls about as long as a baking sheet. Place them on the baking sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly (but not completely) and then cut into flat, thin strips about 2 cm or 0.8 cm in width. Allow to cool completely prior to storing.

Dec
03
2008
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Citrus Fruit for the Holidays

Vitamin C for Christmas

Vitamin C for Christmas

The citrus fruit that comes up to Scandinavia from Spain during November and December have become a holiday season institution up North. They are a light, Vitamin C-rich contrast to all of the heavy, vitaminless sweet food offerings of December. The aroma of orange or mandarin is a distinct Christmas aroma in the Nordic region.

Aside from placing a bowl of mandarins on your Christmas smorgåsbord, you can also consider making up this simple compote which everyone will eat loads of because it is sweet and, most importantly, light.

Orange Compote with Berries & Cinnamon

8-10 oranges, peeled and sliced in thin cross-sections
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup Cointreau (optional)
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup red currant, alternatively 1/2 cup soaked raisins

Slice round segments of orange into quarters so that the pieces are bite-sized. Place in a mixing bowl. Add orange juice and cointreau, if desired. Sprinkle over the icing sugar and cinnamon. Blend gently. Place orange mixture in a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate for one hour. Serve garnished with red currants or raisins.

Since this dish is light, you can afford a dollop of whipped cream on top which makes it even more festive.

Visit the Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook!

Dec
03
2008
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Beetroots for Christmas

Big Beautiful Beet

Big Beautiful Beet

Since I’m on great Finnish food ideas and root vegetables this week, I thought I’d throw in that little extra that will add great color and flavor to your holiday season table.

I just cannot say enough good things about beetroots. Just a superb food. If you don’t eat them yet, start! Want to learn more about them? Check Paavo’s Bytes for May 2008 in More Bytes.

Beetroots in Soured Cream with mashed potatoes or mashed root vegetables (see my recipe in the previous entry in this blog) is a terrific dish and very easy to prepare. Here’s how:

 

Beetroots in Sour Cream

1.8 lbs or 800 g medium beetroots, peeled and diced
2 medium onions finely chopped
2 tbsps butter
1 2/3 cups or 4 dl sour cream
2 tbsps red wine vinegar
pinch of sugar
Salt/Pepper
A generous handful of fresh chopped parsley

Melt the butter in a pan and saute the onion and beetroot. Lower the heat, cover and allow to ‘sweat’ until cooked. Blend in the soured cream and wine vinegar. Season with sugar, salt and pepper. Place on a warm serving dish and sprinkle over parsley.

Typically, this dish is served with mashed potatoes piped around it. However, you can go for a lighter version and simply serve with my light recipe for mashed root vegetables as a separate dish.

If you are wondering how to avoid ending up with pink fingers after making this dish, wear disposable kitchen gloves.

Dec
03
2008
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Just Right with Rutabaga

Rutabaga & Kale - Staple Nordic Winter Foods

Rutabaga & Kale - Staple Nordic Winter Foods

I recently asked my friend, Paavo from Finland who caters to some of the more illustrious tables of Manhattan, what some of his favorite memories of Christmas food from Scandinavia were. I expected something elaborate and well, frankly, upmarket, but certainly not Rutabaga Casserole. I shouldn’t have been so suprised, Paavo is, after all, a master of suprise.

So what is rutabaga? It is what I have previously called turnip or yellow turnip in this blog; a marvelous mixture between a turnip and a cabbage (thus deserving of its Scandinavian name, kålrot, which literally means cabbage root) that will henceforth be known as nothing other than rutabaga in this blog.

Rutabaga has had a hard time in northern Europe.   In hard times it has been a food of last resort, making it a food of no resort during good times. Its rehabilitation has been tough in Germany where it earned a reputation as famine food. In Scandinavia those associations are not quite as strong and there has been some creativity around rutabaga. After all, it comes from this part of the world – it is thought to have spread its way westward from Siberia and Finland during the 17th century – so we ought to know how to handle it!

Aside from its original taste, rutabaga is both nutritious and eco-smart. It is a good source of vitamin C, folate and fiber. The down side is that it is a high GI food, but on the other hand low in fat. As with everything else, consume in moderation. On the environment side, it grows in cold climates, reducing the need for pesticides.

Finns are the grand masters of rutabaga, particularly in the form of Rutabaga Casserole which is a classic during the holiday season. It’s got a bit of cream in it to give it that festive flavor. However, if you want a superb light rutabaga recipe that got 5 stars from my family (can you believe it?), you’ll want to try my low-fat rotmos or Mashed Root Vegetables. This dish is an exciting alternative to the much less interesting mashed potatoes and healthier too! Here are both the casserole and mashed root veg. recipes.

Rutabaga Casserole

1 medium rutabaga, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 medium potato
2/3 dl or 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
2/3 dl or 1/4 cup cream
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 egg
3 tbsp butter

Cover rutabaga and potato in water with a dash of salt and cook until soft.  Drain off the water and mash. Mix the bread crumbs with cream and allow to soak for a few minutes. Add nutmeg, salt and egg. Fold this mixture into the mashed root vegetables. Pour into a casserole dish, dot with butter and sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake in 350 F or 175 C for about one hour until lightly browned on top.

Mashed Root Vegetables or Rotmos

1/4 medium rutabaga, peeled and roughly chopped
4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and roughly chopped
Salt/Pepper for seasoning

Cook the root vegetables until soft. Drain and save the liquid. Mash by hand or in a blender so that the vegetables are smooth. Return to the cook pan and over low heat blend in a few tablespoons of the liquid until the rotmos has reached the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

For more recipes visit The Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook!

Nov
22
2008
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The Indomitable Potato

An exhibition of pest-resistant potato types

An exhibition of pest-resistant potato types

During the past years potatoes have come under attack for being high carbohydrate foods that send our blood sugar soaring. As always, with extremist conclusions about good ingredients like the very best of potatoes, there are plenty of arguments that one can make to the contrary. Potatoes are very low in fat if handled the right way, they can be an important source of B vitamins and important minerals such as potassium and magnesium and they may even have a preventive effect against certain viruses and cancer due to the presence of antioxidants. The most important thing, a with all foods is to eat them in moderation.

In the Nordic region potatoes are today regarded a basic ingredient in traditional food. However potatoes have only been around as a staple food in this region since the 18th century. Before this time they were often regarded as the food of the devil from faraway lands (South America).

During this cold season we want more out of potatoes than just plain boiled. There needs to be a little extra – some excitement that combats the dreary season. The problem is that most of the excitement that you can add to potatoes is also fattening.

Here is a basic recipe for potato gratin that got the thumbs up from my family. It fits well as a side-dish with most meals and it isn’t the carb bomb that most gratins are.

Slender Potato Gratin

8 medium potatoes, washed, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
5 dl or 2 1/4 cups milk or lactose-free milk product (soy or oat milk)
Salt/Pepper
50 g butter, in small cubes

Preheat oven to 225 C or 437 F. Grease an oven-proof casserole dish and create a bottom layer of potato. Cover with a layer of onion. Season with salt and pepper. Continue with this sequence until all of the potatoes and onions are used up. Pour over the milk. Scatter butter cubes on top of the bake. Bake for 40-50 mins or until the potatoes are soft.

For another great Scandinavian idea about how to use potatoes the slender way visit my article, A Light & Satisfying Winter Meal. Visit the Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook for more great recipes!

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