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.

May
11
2009
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Asparagus Time

Asparagus and Potatoes with Lemon Oil

Asparagus and Potatoes with Lemon Oil

If you want a real lift this May, I suggest you try the light lunch prepared in under 10 minutes that I enjoyed today. What was it that I prepared and ate? Asparagus. What is that doing in the Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook, you might ask? Doesn’t that grow in a sandy, dry environment somewhere where it is much warmer? In actual fact, asparagus is a hardy plant that grows in a wide variety of climates and can even tolerate frosts. Asparagus from Gotland has become a delicacy in Sweden, for example. During the past decade asparagus has become a favorite of Nordic kitchens during the warmer, lighter season.

What’s so good about asparagus from a health point of view? Just a few of its many virtues include that it is a great source of vitamin C, B2 and one of the richest existing sources of B9 (folates) among other essential vitamins and minerals. If you’ve got diabetes, gout or fluid retention you’ll want to eat more of it. It’s also one of those foods that you don’t have to buy organic since it has relatively low pesticide residues. Since it doesn’t have a long shelf life, it’s one of those vegetables you’ll have to eat relatively fresh. There are, of course, also frozen options.

A more long-standing great favorite of the Nordic kitchen is the potato and these combine beautifully with asparagus for a delightful and satisfying meal. If you’ve got any of those boiled potatoes  left from last night’s meal, don’t throw them out! They will make a perfect lunch with asparagus.

Asparagus & Potatoes with Lemon Oil
Lunch for 2

Bunch of asparagus (green or white – up to you)
4 medium-sized boiled potatoes, room temperature (ecological please!)
1 lemon cut in half
Canola or extra virgin olive oil
Salt/Pepper

Wash the asparagus, cut off the hard ends of the stalks and place in a pan just covering with water. Sprinkle in a little salt. Bring to boil and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Pour into a sieve, draining out the hot water and rinse immediately with cold water so that the asparagus retains its crispness. If you’ve got an asparagus cooker (steams the asparagus upright so that it cooks more evenly and preserves more of the nutrients) it will take about 10 minutes.

Cut the potatoes into quarters and divide between two plates. Divide the asparagus into two quantities and pile next to the potatoes. Drizzle potatoes and asparagus with oil and serve with a half a lemon for squeezing over just before eating.

This dish is as divine as it is simple. P.S. Kids and adults alike love it.

Apr
28
2009
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Black Currant Cake

Black Currants

Black Currants

As the black currant bushes around my town home and out on my island begin to sprout the first aromatic leaves, I realize that it is time to use up my frozen berries from last year’s harvest. Black currant is regarded by many nutritionists as a wonderfood due to its high antioxidant content (meaning that they offer protection against free radicals which can damage cells and cause disease). The only question is how can you use them aside from in the standard, albeit wonderful, jam pot? Black currants have a strong flavor and can be more difficult to figure out how to use in bakes, etc.

Recently I discovered a recipe for a black currant cake in one of my cookbooks, but I had to hesitate. Mounds of sugar, butter and white flour were required in order to produce this delicious-looking black currant creation. I summoned my courage and decided to make the cake with alterations. The result was divine and everyone liked it without exception.

Here we go:

Black Currant Cake

For the cake:

3 eggs
2.5 dl or 1 cup raw sugar
3 dl or 1 1/3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla sugar
For the topping:

4 dl or 1.5-2 cups black currants (frozen or fresh)
50 g or 2 oz butter cut into thin slabs
2 dl or 1 cup slivered almonds
0.5 dl or 1/4 cup raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 175 C or 347 F. Grease a regular-sized pie dish. Blend the eggs and sugar until creamy. Add the flour and remain cake base ingredients. Blend. Pour into the pie dish.

Scatter the black currants evenly across the top of the cake base. Follow with a layer of nuts. Scatter the sugar across the top and finally distribute the slabs of butter evenly.  Bake approximately 30-35 minutes. The cake should not be entirely firm and retain some moisture in the middle.

Allow to cool and enjoy in small pieces with tea or coffee. Remember that quantity and physical activity are key in being able to enjoy your desserts well!

Apr
23
2009
1

It’s Nettle Time

Nettles around my compost

Nettles around my compost

As I sauntered past my compost container yesterday, I noticed the first tender leaves of nettle forming small umbrellas over the rich soil.  Although it is a bit of work, this is the best time to clip away a liter (a quart) or two for preparing that iron and calcium boost you need this spring.  So, if you’ve got some nettles starting to grow in your vicinity, pull on the gardening gloves  and clip away as much as you can (no need to worry about it not growing back – it is a very determined plant!).

In Scandinavia, nettles are a main feature of spring cuisine. Every newspaper and magazine in April is running its own nettle soup and other prickly green recipes. I remember sitting in the offloading room of a major restaurant in Stockholm in April and gaping at a local who had just walked in with several crates of nettles. The man who had leather hands declared that he never picked with gloves on!

I’m starting with my favorite nettle recipe which isn’t the typical nettle soup (that’s next). If you haven’t got nettles you can use baby spinach leaves instead.

Spring Nettle Pie

Pie Crust:

3.5 dl or 1.5 cups whole wheat flour or Grahamsmjöl
1 tsp baking powder
100 g or 3.5 oz. butter
Pinch of salt
1 egg

Filling:

2 liters or quarts nettle leaves detached from the stem
Water for cooking the nettles
1 white onion, chopped finely
2 tbsps canola oil or extra virgin olive oil
150 g or or 5 oz. feta cheese or other goat cheese
2 eggs
3 dl or 1 cup creme fraiche
Salt & Pepper

Garnishing:

Red currant jelly or other favorite berry jelly

Preheat your oven to 200 C or 392 F. Mix the dough ingredients in a food processor until they clump together in a thick sausage shape. Roll out in between two sheets of baking paper (so as to avoid the dough sticking to the counter and the rolling pin). Scatter a bit of extra flour onto the bottom sheet of baking paper before rolling out to avoid stickiness. Remove the top sheet of baking paper and turn the dough into the pie dish, peeling away the other layer of baking paper once the dough is nice and flat in the pie dish (ca. 11 inches or 28 cm).  Cut away any extra dough that hangs over the edges. Sounds complicated but it’s actually very simple once you get the hang of it!

Place the pie crust in the oven and allow to bake for 7 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Now to the nettles. Brush off any soil. Pluck the leaves off the stems, place in a pan with just a few tablespoons of water and gently bring to boil. Let boil for only a minute or until you see the leaves wilting. Place in a collander and press all of the water out of the nettles. Roll into a ball and press more water out. Cut the nettle mass into fine strips. Saute the onion for two minutes over medium heat. Do not let them brown. Remove from heat and blend in the nettles.

Beat the eggs and blend with creme fraiche,  a pinch of salt and a turn of the pepper grinder.

Assemble the pie. Cover the base of the pie with the nettle and onion mixture. Crumble feta or other goat’s cheese on top. Pour the creme fraiche mixture over the contents of the pie and cover evenly using the back of a spoon. Ready for the oven!

Bake for 25 minutes or until the pie is lightly browned on top. Serve with red currant or other fruit jelly of your choice. If you are enjoying this as a main dish you can also serve it with some cold meats and almost any type of salad.

Mar
04
2009
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Chocolate Fruit Balls

Sweet Tooth's Healthy Delight

Sweet Tooth

Kids in Sweden love them. Adults in Sweden buy them at the shops without telling their kids. They are an energy bomb and are the sweet tooth’s delight. What are they? Chokladbollar or chocolate balls! How can I possibly think of including this in a health food blog, you may well wonder. Well, let’s see.

I’ve been working on ways to create this Swedish sweet-tooth’s dream with means other than the usual bomb of butter and sugar. I’ve worked out a version with oats and honey in the past, but that still includes butter. Chocolate balls do have the virtues that you can make them bite-size and they don’t include white flour. However, I’ve got to do better than that.

So here comes my solution: chocolate balls made with dried fruit. Some of us (including me) are sensitive to dry fruit and, in general, medical science is beginning to realize that different bodies have different tolerances for high quantities of fiber. So, choose a dried fruit that agrees with you. I love dried apricots, but my stomach growls when I eat more than just a touch of them, so I combine a bit of dried apricot with dried figs, dried apples and sometimes dried cranberries. The great thing about using dried fruit to make these delicious little sweet quenchers is that the moisture and sugar in the fruit allows you to skip the sugar and butter. A little added honey and you are away. Also, if you are lactose, gluten, milk or egg intolerant, this recipe meets your needs! Here is my suggestion which can be made in many variations.

Chocolate Fruit Balls (makes about 20-25)

2 cups or 5 dl nuts of your choice (a mixture of almonds, walnuts and cashew works well)
1 cup or 2 1/2 dl dried fruits of your choice
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbsps honey
either 2 tbsps grated apple or grated rind of one orange plus juice of half an orange

1/4 cup or 1 dl dessicated coconut or unsweetened cocoa powder for dipping the balls in

Grind nuts and dried fruit in a food processor until they form moist clumps. Add remaining ingredients and blend until a smooth paste. Pour the dessicated coconut or cocoa powder into a bowl. Take a tablespoon of the paste and roll into a ball, dip in the coconut/cocoa and place on a serving plate. Keep refrigerated.

Chocolate fruit balls are not just a child’s delight. They are also an elegant finish to a nice meal, particularly if everyone is too full for a major dessert. Just serve them up with coffee or tea after the meal. Very elegant indeed served on a platter and surrounded with a bit of fresh fruit.

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
17
2009
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Hot Blueberry Crumble

Dalarna Blueberries

Dalarna Blueberries

I love the very cold spells that we still have down in Stockholm (despite the grape-growing climate that the warming of the planet seems to promise us). It gives the lake ice a chance to become thick enough for us to skate on so that we can explore the islands of Lake Mälaren the way that people used to do in the winter. Our bay is an enormous ice skating rink at the moment and you don’t have to wonder what we will be doing with our Saturday morning!

Don’t go unprepared! Pack some Maple Roasted Nuts and hot chocolate as a snack. Whatever you pack, do expect everyone to be starving and ready to eat your right arm when you get home. The cold has a habit of making us feel truly hungry (a good thing). In this situation, I usually have ready some Chicken Soup for the Cold with a nice dill white cabbage salad (see the next entry!) on the side.

The crowning glory of the day, however, will be this dessert recipe for Hot Blueberry Crumble which everyone will lap up with a warm cup of coffee or tea. Don’t expect there to be any leftovers. If you didn’t know it already blueberries are a superfood packed with antioxidants (cancer shield) and good for eye health. As always, and hard as it may be with something so delicious, eat in moderation since this dish doesn’t just consist of blueberries!

Hot Blueberry Crumble

500 g or 1.1 lbs frozen blueberries
2 tbsps potato or corn starch
1 tsp vanilla sugar
4 tbsps sugar
rind of one lemon which has been rinsed and dried
100 g or 3.5 oz. butter
3 dl 1 1/3 cups oats
1 dl or 1/2 cup wheat germ
3/4 dl or 1/3 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 200 C or 390 F. Grease a medium-sized casserole dish. Blend the blueberries, starch, vanilla sugar, sugar and lemon rind in a bowl and pour into the casserole dish. Wipe out the bowl and combine remaining dry ingredients in it. Add the butter in chunks and rub it into the dry ingredients so that a crumble forms. If it is too dry take a little more butter. Scatter the crumble evenly on top of the blueberries. Bake 15-20 minutes. Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream or a spoon of Turkish yogurt.

Remember to visit the Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook which is a continually growing directory of recipes for your good health this 2009!

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.

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.

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