Jan
09
2011
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Bark Bread is back

Betulin in birch bark could solve some of your health problems

Once upon a time in Sweden and elsewhere in the Nordic countries bread made using the ground bark of common trees instead of flour from wheat or other grains was basic peasant food. In fact, during the 18th century Carl Linneaus once described during his travels the dire situation of forests which could not survive the widespread debarkation that peasants’ need for bark flour resulted in.  Today science is discovering that there are clear health benefits to the consumption of bread containing meal of bark, particularly birch bark meal. In the latest issue of the scientific publication Cell Metabolism, scientists suggest that a substance in birch bark called betulin (which we have previously written about at nordicwellbeing.com in birch sap), could provide an equally effective if not better treatment for high blood pressure  and high cholesterol than the existing medicines available today.

So, bark bread, in particular birch bark is suddenlyback in again and everyone is out looking for a best recipe. I will be testing a few but for now I provide a translation of a recipe from a traditional Swedish kitchen. Ingrid Ölund from Örnsköldsvik has got a recipe for bark bread that is so tasty that she has had to move her bakery to a larger location. Here it is with a link to Ingrid at alltomat.se (“All About Food”, a popular Swedish food magazine). Ingrid notes that she only adds about 15 percent bark flour in contrast to the 50 percent traditionally used by the peasantry which produce a bitter tasting bread.

Ingrid’s Bark Bread

100 g or 3.5 oz yeast
1 liter or 1 quart lukewarm water
1 liter or 1 quart rye flour
1.5 liters or 1.5 quarts white flour
2 dl or 1/2 cup bark flour (Ingrid uses bark from her own pine forest)

Blend the ingredients and knead the dough. Allow to rise for one hour. Roll out into smaller rounds. Baking time varies according to the size of the bread.
(I suggest for medium rounds which are the size of pita breads 10 minutes at 225 C or 437 F – sprinkle water over before baking)

Learn more about the traditional uses of Nordic trees for good health, including more about betulin, in my book On My Swedish Island: Discovering the Secrets of Scandinavian Well-being (Tarcher Penguin 2005).

Written by Admin in: Uncategorized |
Dec
22
2010
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Healthy Nordic Alternatives for your Holiday Season Table

Don't let Christmas weigh you down!

It’s Christmas again and with this a time when your healthy kitchen could take a nose-dive. But not here at Julie’s Kitchen! With all due respect to saffron buns and Christmas ham, we really do need to start to think along different lines. Christmas mingles in Sweden usually offer up gingerbread biscuits, hot spiced wine and a host of other delicacies which unfortunately often include an overdose of refined flour and sugar. Yet the Scandinavian traditions of Christmas also offer unique opportunities for healthy eating that will leave your digestive system feeling light and bright. So here are a few suggestions of healthy Scandinavian elements to think about introducing into your Christmas that will also make your Christmas smorgåsbord or mingle especially interesting.

Starter Ideas

Focus on crisp breads with different types of smoked fish toppings. Make a luxurious pate using your favorite smoked or preserved fish topping by pureeing the cooked or smoked fish with olive or canola oil, a twist of lemon, salt and pepper. Combine in a food processor, adjusting ingredients to give you just the right consistency. Sardine is a fish that is hard to beat in pate.

Experiment with sour, vitamin C rich berries such as cranberries or rowanberries as a tangy topping for crisp bread combinations.  Place small bowls of berries in between the crispbread and toppings. Try not to sweeten too much – just a sprinkling of sugar and a bit of cinnamon will do it.

Main Dish Ideas

Make vegetables the focus! What could be better than a steaming platter of honey-baked grilled root vegetables accompanied by some festive tossed kale? For the root vegetables (beets, potatoes, parsnips, turnips and more): peel and cut into large chunks, toss in olive oil and rosemary or bay leaf, and a bit of salt and pepper. Bake at 200c or 390 F for 40 minutes. 10 minutes before the end of the baking drizzle over a bit of honey. For the kale: Chop roughly and saute for a few minutes in olive or canola with onions, golden raisins, salt and pepper. The kale should keep some of its firmness. Serve the vegetable dishes with some Turkish or Greek yogurt (not Scandinavian but it’s a great topping!).

Dessert Ideas

That’s simple! Lay out clementines, mandarins and oranges in generous bowls interspersed with small bowls of walnuts. If you want to provide an extra special touch to the walnuts, melt some good quality dark chocolate and bathe the walnuts in it. Place spoonfuls of chocolate walnuts on baking paper and allow to harden in the refrigerator.

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Check The Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook and Paavo’s Bytes for many other great suggestions for your holiday season table!

Oct
02
2010
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Rowan Berry Jelly

Rowan berries

The rowan trees (otherwise known as mountain ash) are hanging heavy with orange-red berries and the temptation to pick them is very great. However, to get them when they are just right, you have to wait until after the first frost which reduces their bitterness. A little trick for those who cannot wait is to freeze them before use. Still, there is so much else to experiment with in the autumn (apples, plums, pears – see the Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook for recipes) that perhaps there is enough lined up on the kitchen counter to let the rowan berries mature properly on the branch.

Rowan berries are prized for their high vitamin C content although most of that fades in the cooking process. Scandinavian health lore is full of stories about people who swallow whole frozen rowanberries like a vitamin pill each day in the autumn in order to avoid colds.

I provide the recipe for traditional rowan berry jelly because it is a very special accompaniment to wild meat which is a Scandinavian favorite with the start of the hunting season in the autumn.  I’ve had a little help along the way with the recipe from Sara who also has a magnificent blog with green thoughts from Sweden.

Rowan Berry Jelly

3 liters or 3 quarts rowan berries
2 teaspoons citric acid
1 kg or 2.2 lbs. sugar per liter/quart  juice

Put the berries in a large pot and cover with water. Boil for approx 25 minutes. Add the citric acid and stir well. Pour the juice into a straining-cloth, this may take several hours and is preferably done over night. Bring the juice to boil and add 1 kilogram of sugar per liter juice 2.2 lbs. per quart juice). Take away the foam and pour the juice into clean jars.

Written by Admin in: Uncategorized |
Sep
04
2010
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Plum Compote

Don't let the plums rot at the foot of the tree!

The branches are hanging heavy with them again in my back yard.  We’ve got two trees with different types of plums: one with the type that prunes are made of and the other with a larger-sized variety. Both produce a wonderful sweet fruit with a consistency perfect for making all kinds of desserts and other dishes (search for the other plum recipes in this blog).

“Go and pick the plums!” I’m always pleading with the children when they return home from school. Everyone knows that it’s not good for the tree if the plums are left to rot at its base. With a couple of budding teenagers on my hands, however, I need to be realistic about how many plums they are going to pick for me (zero).

Today seems a perfect day for standing under the shower of branches heavily laden with fruit and filling a bucket. Still, I’ve got many things to pack in on this ‘free’ day of mine so I don’t want to be standing at the hearth for hours making something complex with them.

As our existence becomes more sedentary into the cool season, I’m equipping the family to stay fit, get their vitamins and keep the digestion in good trim. There’s barely anything that beats plum compote at this time of year. It just seems made for the season and it’s so versatile. You can serve it for breakfast, enjoy it as a light snack or serve it as a dessert with yogurt, ice cream, whipped cream or rice pudding. As soon as I’ve made it, it’s gone and that is the sign of a great recipe!

Here’s how to make it although you can vary the spices according to your preferences. Some options are named in the recipe, below.

Plum Compote

Fresh, rinsed plums with pits removed
Water
Sugar
Cinnamon stick

A note about pitting the plums: You don’t need to be particular about keeping the plums whole when you pit them. Just get as much plum as you can into a cooking pot. Fill the pot with enough water so that it barely covers the plums. Add 2 tbsps of sugar and a cinnamon stick. Cover and allow to simmer on low heat for 1o minutes. Avoid hard boiling. Taste. Adjust sugar to taste and remove cinnamon stick. Cook another 5 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Ginger, star aniseed, vanilla pod, lemon or orange rind.

One of the enjoyable features of plum compote is its attractive pink color. It is as much food for the eye as for the palate.

Written by Admin in: Uncategorized |
Aug
29
2010
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Creamy Chantarelle Soup

Make a delicious soup out of this!

“The soup was great, Mamma.” “Yeah, 5 out of 5.” ” Don’t give any of the leftovers to the dog – save it for us.”

When you’ve got a family that frequently takes your cooking for granted coming up with comments like this, you have to stop and think about what you’ve just produced. The recipe has to be shared with other people!

I wish I could say that I picked this bag of golden chantarelle mushrooms but I did not. They came from the overflowing open boxes of chantarelles available in supermarkets in Sweden right now. We had already started our mushroom season in the kitchen earlier in August with some sauteed mushrooms on toast.  These were from our forest and when you just cannot wait to eat them this is the best way. See Best and Basic Wild Mushroom Recipe in this blog.

However, a nip has come into the air and I caught the customary first sniffle of the season last week, so it felt like soup time. I don’t like overloading my mushroom soups with high fat creams, butter and bacon drippings as many do in these parts. However, a little creaminess is definitely in order and so here is what I came up with that seems to have left everyone feeling that this was a very special dinner without the formality.

Creamy Chantarelle Soup
Serves 4

1 liter or 1 quart chantarelle mushrooms, cleaned and roughly chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 liter or 1 quart water
1/2 liter or 1/2 quart white wine
1 bay leaf
Soy or oat milk
2 dl or 1/2 cup creme fraiche
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar

Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil for two minutes in a soup pot. Add the mushrooms. Saute for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and sprinkle over the flour. Return to the heat and gradually add the water, stirring so that the flour blends in. Add white wine and bay leaf. Season generously with salt and pepper and add a pinch of sugar. Cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. If the soup has become too thick during the cooking period, add soy milk or oat milk  to the desired consistency. Remove bay leaf. Gently beat the creme fraiche into the soup over heat. Check seasoning. Heat the soup for 5 minutes.

Written by Admin in: Uncategorized |
Jun
06
2010
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Bring on the Weeds

Smoked salmon, ground elder, a squirt of lemon and a dash of pepper. Don't be afraid to experiment!

I’ve stopped fighting the weeds. In fact, at an event I arranged yesterday I decided to use them to the full. And what a delightful range of taste surprises they delivered! Some types of edible weeds bring back long-forgotten flavors (if they are edible they will have been eaten by someone sometime!) which our frequently tame-tasting greens such as spinach and iceberg lettuce cannot deliver.

Anyone who reads my island blog knows by now that my garden is home to a flourishing colony of bishop’s goutweed (or ground elder). My elderly neighbor who is a devoted gardener sings its praises as an alternative to cooked spinach. However, as I picked a leaf and chewed for a while, I became interested in the delightful qualities of this zesty, juicy leaf uncooked. The thought of throwing it into the blender to make a pesto struck me and soon I was dipping my carrot sticks into an absolutely fabulous bowl of ground elder pesto. At my event, the guests, many of whom fight ground elder in their gardens too, were at first aghast that I could consider serving this up as food but after tasting wanted my recipe. Here it is.

Ground Elder Pesto

9.5 dl or 4 cups ground elder, rinsed and stalks removed
2.6 dl or 1 cup parmesan or Västerbotten cheese
1 dl or 1/2 cup olive oil
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Blend all ingredients in a food processor and serve as a dip for crisp bread or cut vegetables.

On the same day as I created this recipe I also noticed that the nettles had grown to giant size in the fertile soil just outside my garage. I clipped them down and placed them in my prettiest basket. Clipped nettles can make your fingers burn but their smell is divine and awakens that wonderful feeling of summer and soft grass. I needed a creamy alternative to the pesto and so cleaned out my blender and combined the nettle with a bit of cream cheese. The result provided a perfect balance to the other dip. I also dolloped this cream cheese mixture onto small rounds of dark bread to serve with drinks. Very good indeed.

 

Nettle cream cheese bites on dark bread rounds

Nettle Cream Cheese Dip

9.5 dl or 4 cups fresh nettle, rinsed and stalks removed
600 g or 21 oz light cream cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Blanch the nettles in a bit of boiling water so that they soften and the sting goes away. Drain and allow to cool. Squeeze as much liquid out of the nettles as possible and form a ball out of them. Chop into pieces and throw into the blender with the cream cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Use as a dip or a topping for bite-size open sandwiches.

So, what’s so Scandinavian about using weeds in the kitchen? There is an old saying in the Scandinavian kitchen coined by its first cookbook writer Cajsa Warg (1703-69) which says, “one takes what one has.” I’m taking what I have. Why don’t you try it too.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Not all weeds are edible. Please do your research before experimenting and ingesting!

Written by Admin in: Uncategorized |
Mar
16
2010
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Eating Naturally

Still working on using up last season's carrots

Still working on using up last season's carrots

We’re being asked to do so many things when it comes to food and diet these days. The new drive to combat obesity spear-headed by Michelle Obama in the United States is long overdue yet at the same time opens the floodgates for all sorts of new diets suggesting a host of rules and regulations about eating and food preparation. Today it is common knowledge that rigid diets do not serve us well over the long term. They might reduce weight for a time but they won’t do anything for us as the years go by. So what do we do?

At the same time as we are being urged to think about how to eat for healthier weight, we are also being asked to choose in relation to the environment, taking climate change, pesticide use and genetic modification into account. On top of all of this we should prioritize fair trade, meaning the purchase of food products which improve the working and living standards of producers in developing countries.

All of this seems a tall order. You could be forgiven for standing in your kitchen holding your head in your hands. It was with all of these various new demands in mind, the experience of winning over a food disorder and the strong desire to have a natural relationship to food that I came up with The Natural Eater system for thinking about food choices. On the concept page you can read about this values based idea for having a relationship to food that feels freeing and healthy rather than constraining and leading only to short-term health solutions.

With The Natural Eater system in mind, I’m freeing you up with a refreshing little recipe for using up whatever is left and creating a hearty meal out of it. One of the operating principles of The Natural Eater is that food is creativity. For this to be so, it’s important to have enough food preparation skills so that you can look into your fridge or pantry at any given time and prepare something good to eat. Limitation is the mother of invention if you have certain basic food preparation skills. The idea of using whatever is left also relates to another important Natural Eater value which is that food is solidarity with the planet and its peoples and therefore we do not waste it.

I opened my fridge at about 5 pm this weekend and found a few carrots, a carton of champignons, a bit of cottage cheese, a stick of mozarrella cheese and some remaining soured cream.  I had a few other odd ingredients around and wondered whether I should instead shoot off to the supermarket to reduce my thinking time. Then I thought of one of my favorite food programs shown on BBC television for years in which a well-known chef was asked to prepare a meal with a bag of inexpensive ingredients purchased by a regular everday person who would be their assistant. Using this program as my inspiration, I came up with the following:

Carrot & Champignon Lasagne (serves 8 persons)

1 package of lasagne sheets
6 carrots, peeled and grated
dried or fresh herb such as parsley, tarragon or nettle
1 box of champignons, rinsed and sliced
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 dl or 1 cup soured cream
2 dl or 1 cup cottage cheese
500 g or 1 lb mozarrella cheese
3 dl or 1.5 cups milk
canola or olive oil
salt & Pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 C or 390 F. Grease a rectangular pyrex (mine is 30 x 17 cm or 12 x 7 inches)and cover the base with lasagne sheets. Set aside. Prepare the lasagne fillings. Toss the grated carrot with 2-4 tablespoons of herb. I used dried nettle which you cannot find in shops but parsley, tarragon and a host of other dried or fresh herbs work just as well. Drizzle over a bit of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss. Set aside. Drizzle some olive oil into a pan and saute onions and garlic over medium heat for two minutes. Add the sliced champignon and saute for another two minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat. In a mixing bowl blend the cottage cheese, soured cream and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Slice the mozarrella thinly.

Assemble the lasagne. Spoon half the carrots onto the bottom lasagne sheets and cover with a new layer of pasta. Spoon half the mushrooms onto the new layer of lasagne sheets and cover with half of the milk mixture. Cover with another layer of lasagne sheets and repeat the layers once more, finishing once you have spooned over the rest of the milk mixture. Cover the surface of the lasagne with mozarella slices, season with salt and pepper and drizzle over oil. Bake for 20 minutes or until the lasagne sheets are soft and the mozarella is lightly browned. Serve with your favorite salad.

I thought the dish would last us for two days. It didn’t. We probably ate one too many portions, but at least you know that this recipe lives up to the taste test!

Oct
05
2009
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More plums…

A real winner

A real winner

Now you’ve been very patient, waiting for me to test that plum sauce and see whether it works with savory foods. The good news is that a) it does and it is superb and b) you get an extra recipe for plums which cropped up in the process!

I served the following plum sauce over pork served with braised apples and red cabbage, and boiled potatoes. My children couldn’t get enough of it which should give you the heads up. It has the advantage that it is much more health conscious compared to the better known plum sauce from Asian kitchens.

Savory Plum Sauce

1 liter or 1 quart plums, halved and pitted
3 dl or 1 1/3 cups dry white wine
2 tbsps apple cider vinegar
3 tbsps honey

Cook the plums covered on low heat in dry white wine and vinegar.  Once the plums are soft, allow to cool and press through a strainer. Place the plum liquid into a clean cooking pot and add honey. Allow to cook on low heat uncovered until the volume of the sauce has reduced by half.  Serve warm or cold over pork, potatoes or other.

Making the sauce didn’t exactly take care of the copious quantities of plums I had picked from my tree. I even needed a friend to help me pick them and suggested she take a basket home. We both came to the conclusion that the best thing to do in order to bottle this sunshine was to make some plum jam. This recipe is divine:

Bottled sunshine

Bottled sunshine

Plum Jam with Lemon & Cinammon

1 liter or 1 quart plums, halved and pitted
500 grams or 1 lb sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
grated rind of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp natrium bensoate

Clean glass jars with tops for bottling

Combine all jam ingredients in a pot and blend with a wooden spoon, cover and cook over low heat. Once the sugar has dissolved and the jam is gently bubbling, remove from heat and skim away the ‘foam’ at the surface of the jam. Blend the natrium bensoate in a spoon or two of jam and add to the pot, blending thoroughly. Remove the cinnamon sticks. Pot the jam immediately.

Sep
03
2009
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Lovely Leftovers

We love them at nordicwellbeing.com!

We love them at nordicwellbeing.com!

My grandmother always used to say that most things that you prepare taste even better the next day if you rehash them a little bit. I guess she had to develop this approach having lived through two world wars. The thing is, I tend to agree with her. I don’t know whether it has to do with actual taste or just the satisfaction of not wasting food.

Who doesn’t have a sealed tub of leftover cooked pasta in their refrigerator? Please raise your hand. Aha! As I suspected, no one is raising their hand. As I had just pulled this year’s beets out of the ground in my kitchen garden yet didn’t feel like spending too much time cooking, I decided to put two and two together and came up with this little number that is just superb. I know you must think that we are beet-lovers at nordicwellbeing.com (yes we are! see our Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook).

Beet Pasta
(per person to be served)

50-100 g or 2-3 oz leftover cooked pasta or cook up some new
2 medium beets, cooked*
30g  or 1 oz. Goat’s cheese: feta or chevre
2-3 tbsps roughly chopped hazelnuts
Olive oil for drizzling
Salt/Pepper

Place the pasta in a microwave-proof bowl. Chop beets into bite-size wedges and add to the pasta without blending. Crumble over goat’s cheese and add hazelnuts. Cover and heat in the microwave until warm (1-2 minutes on maximum). Drizzle over the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss. Enjoy with a green salad.

* Cooking beets: Remove most of the stalk leaving about 2-3 cm or 1 inch on the beetroot. Wash and place in a cooking pot. Cover with water and add a bit of salt. Bring to boil and then lower heat leaving to cook about 30 minutes or until you can easily pierce the beets with a fork or other. Drain away the water and allow to cool. Remove the skin to use in food preparation. It should slide off easily.

If you do like beets (a wise health choice), please look no further, check Paavo’s Bytes and The Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook.

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Along the lines of food and frugality, please do check out the Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm which is now home to the Manna Exhibition which has toured Sweden, Denmark and the US. The new cafe, MatMekka, established simultaneously with the exhibition is well worth a visit!

Jul
29
2009
1

Best and Basic Wild Mushroom Recipe

Gold of the Forest

Gold of the Forest

It’s been a variable summer so far with a bit more rain than most Nordic sunseekers like to see. Yet for those of us who are chantarelle lovers it looks like this is already a remarkable year. The damp forest floors of Scandinavia are already covered in ‘forest gold’, and when my husband found them growing out of the sandy soil under the swings in our children’s playground at our island home, we realized that it was time to take down the mushroom picking baskets hanging from the kitchen ceiling and head out.

The culinary mythology around what to do with wild mushrooms once they are in the basket on your kitchen counter is contradictory as it is extensive. ‘Never do this’ and ‘never do that’ are a common means of expressing advice around the precious annual fungi finds. Butter companies adore this time of year and if you happen to be in a Nordic subway station from August until October, you’ll notice that chantarelles are portrayed on billboards as the inseparable buddies of a lump of butter.

Fine if you like butter, but my advice is not to be swayed. Years ago I walked the forests around my island with one of Sweden’s most respected mushroom experts, Bo Nylen, and he reminded me always when I got home to do the following with the most delicious edible mushrooms:

Basic Mushroom Recipe (particularly chantarelles and porcini)

Wild mushrooms (consume only if you are absolutely certain about what you have picked!)
Ecological Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1-2 garlic cloves (optional)
Salt

Clean the mushrooms with a cooking brush (anything resembling a small basting brush is fine). Preserve as much of the mushroom as possible for eating, including the stem. Do not wash in water as the mushrooms become…well…I cannot find another word: mushy. Chop the mushrooms into cross-sections or just roughly. With porcini, make sure that the insects and worms have not gotten into the mushroom first. Heat a thick bottomed sauteing pan with a few tablespoons of ecological extra virgin olive oil. Lower the heat to medium and add the mushrooms. Drain away the excess liquid in the pan after a couple of minutes of sauteing and add some extra olive oil, the crushed garlic and a pinch of salt. Saute until the mushrooms become ever so slightly browned (not burned). Serve on a slice of toast with sour cream and chives or use in a wide range of other dishes. See, for instance, Warm Mushroom Wraps.

My friend, Rune Kalf-Hansen, has just come out with a fabulous new cookbook in Swedish language called Kalf-Hansens Ekologiska Kök. If you do read and understand Swedish, you will enjoy his mouth-watering recipe for Kantarellpiroger (his version of Chantarelle Wraps). Rune’s cuisine gives eating seasonally new meaning and he has devoted decades to making people understand why it is important. An authentic work in every way!

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