New Ways with Bread

New ways with bread

Up in my mountain cabin during the holiday season I certainly long for that slice of whole grain fresh baked bread with my cup of coffee or tea after a round on the cross country skis. The only problem is that, well, I am on holiday and don’t feel like spending energy on kneading dough. I haven’t got a bread mixer up here and although I know that kneading dough can be therapeutic once you get into it, I’m looking for other, less demanding, ways to come up with a great loaf of fresh bread.

Perusing the holiday season magazines, I stumbled upon an idea which I have subsequently tried out and found to work beautifully. It takes time but not a great deal of exertion and produces wonderful, moist bread. This approach to bread baking is one that I call “Stretch and moisten” as opposed to “Knead, knead and rise”.  The lead idea here is that instead of standing kneading for a half an hour and developing sore arms, you stretch out the dough with a moistened hand in half hour intervals. Continually splashing over water during the baking phase completes the process. Here’s how to get a delicious walnut bread that everyone in the family will appreciate.

Walnut Bread (the stretch and moisten way)
makes one loaf

2-3 dl or 1 cup walnuts, broken up into smaller pieces
1 dl or 1/2 cup fine rye flour
5 1/2 dl or 2 1/2 cups white flour
3 tsps dry yeast
1.5 cups cold water
2 tablespoons honey

Blend the yeast with the water. Add all other ingredients aside from walnuts. Using one hand, blend into a smooth dough. Add walnuts and knead until mixed into the dough. Before leaving the dough to rise for the first half hour, take the whole lump of dough into one hand and, wetting the other hand, draw out from one angle and fold back into the center. Repeat the same action until you have gone around the entire lump of dough. Leave to rise for a half an hour and repeat the same procedure. Do this a total of three times, leaving the bread to rise for a half an hour between each time that you stretch and moisten the dough. Eventually fold over the dough into a loaf and leaf to rise for an hour. Stretch, moisten and fold over the dough one last time, sprinkle with a little extra rye flour and leave to rise for another hour. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Place the dough on a baking sheet, sprinkle with water and bake 25 minutes, reducing the temperature to 200 C as soon as you place the loaf in the oven. Sprinkle with water two further times during the baking period. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Enjoy!

Based on the original recipe by Martin Johansson with some modifications to adjust to cup measurements. If you read Swedish, you’ll definitely want to check out Martin’s blog and his upcoming book, Enklare Bröd, about bread baking.

Written by Admin in: Bread,Nuts,Walnuts | Tags: ,

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.


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


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.

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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
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.

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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.

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Cooking Fish

The best food in the world, if you treat it right

The fresh perch that we’ve been catching recently in our lake has reminded me that great food isn’t at all about complicated recipes, particularly when it comes to fish. Why is it that so many children dislike fish? Because the fish that lands on their plates is most likely over-processed, over-handled and not particularly fresh. While not everyone has a lake to pull their fish out of every day, one can certainly address the first two points.

Making a great fish dish has much less to do with what you throw into the frying pan or pot (other than the fish), than it has to do with how long you cook it. Due to phobias about bacteria in fish, we usually consume our fish overcooked. A bit of salt and pepper, a bit of butter or olive oil and the courage not to overcook  usually delivers excellent results when it comes to fish.

So what happened to the perch? I filleted them, melted  a dollop of butter and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan, lowered the heat to medium and placed the fillets in the pan. Fillets suffer from over-handling. So, don’t start shuffling and flipping until you see that the fillets are starting to turn white around the edges. Flip once and then remove from the heat. If your fillets are very thin, which is usually the case with perch, leave the pan uncovered. If you have thicker fillets, cover the pan with a top so that a bit more cooking takes place.

Serve the fish with a few new potatoes and steamed vegetables. There are few main courses that beat this.

Written by Admin in: Fish,Fish Dishes,perch,Savoury Food | Tags: ,

Using Gooseberries

The perfect balance between sweetness and tartness

My fingers are feeling tender, but they are certainly worth picking. Is there a berry with a more perfect balance between sweetness and tartness than the hard-to-get gooseberry? When they have reached a state of perfect ripeness, I find that quite a few do not make it to my kitchen counter. They are shamelessly devoured right at the bush which is of course the most healthful way to enjoy them. Gooseberries have more vitamin C in them than most fruits and they are rich in antioxidants which protect against a wide range of modern-day diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

However, for those that do make it to the kitchen counter, I’ve got a couple of good ideas. The first is one that my husband reminds me of each year when the gooseberries ripen. “Grandmother made a wonderful cold gooseberry soup with whipped cream,” he reminisces. Of course, I have no idea exactly how grandmother made her gooseberry soup and unfortunately I cannot ask her since she took her recipe with her to heaven some decades ago. Here is my best guess which is tried and tested, and makes a superb dessert or a light lunch on a hot summer’s day.

Gooseberry Soup
Serves 4

1 liter or 1 quart gooseberries, hard ends removed
Water (as per preparation instructions)
Contents of one vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla sugar
1 lime
Honey or sugar to taste
4 tbsps cornflour blended with a bit of cold water

Place the gooseberries in a cooking pot and pour in enough water so that the gooseberries are not quite covered by the water. Add vanilla pod or vanilla sugar. Cook over medium heat so that the berries soften – ensure that the mixture does not boil. Remove from heat and add honey or sugar to taste. Once blended, add the cornflour mixture and allow to thicken over low heat. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature. Pour into a serving bowl and grate over the rind of 1 lime. Serve with the option of whipping cream.

Recently I discovered that gooseberry makes a delicious sauce for roast chicken (and I am sure turkey). Everyone at the table, particularly my children, agreed. Take about 2 dl or 1 cup of gooseberries and pour over 2 dl or half a cup of water. Allow to cook over low heat until the berries have softened. Add a little sugar and a pinch of salt and blend so that the berries are crushed. Don’t make the sauce too sweet – remember this is a savory topping. Allow the sauce to cool to room temperature. Serve at the table in a pitcher as an option with the roast chicken. Don’t serve anything spicy with this dish – perhaps a few roasted or boiled vegetables such as carrots, potatoes and parsnips – so that the wonderful gooseberry flavor can be allowed to stand out.

Written by Admin in: Fruit Soup,Gooseberries |

Classic Gubbröra renewed


The Crown of Swedish summer dishes: Dill

Gubbröra is one of those Swedish summer classics that never grows old. It is typically made with strong-tasting ingredients, including anchovies, and eaten on rye crisp bread or with new potatoes. It makes for a light lunchtime meal which is satisfying, not salad (!), and yet leaves you feeling light and mobile on a hot summer’s day. 

Anchovies are not most childrens’ cup of tea, so to speak, and so I decided to come up with a variation on Gubbröra that they might be able to enjoy as well.  The only thing that I was not willing to change in so far as ingredients was dill. It is that supreme herb of Swedish Midsummer that gives whatever you are eating that relaxing summer flavor. Here is my family-friendly answer to Gubbröra:

Family-friendly Gubbröra

8 thin slices of smoked salmon cut into thin strips
1 red onion finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Juice of half an orange
2 hard-boiled eggs sliced

Combine all ingredients. Toss. Place in a serving dish and top decoratively with boiled eggs. Serve with crisp bread or new potatoes.


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!

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Nettle Soup

Wear rubber gloves when you handle them until they are cooked!

How could we miss it? The Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook hasn’t got a nettle soup recipe until now! If you don’t already know it, those stinging nettles that shoot up around your compost or wherever there is a bit of nutritious soil, are one of the very first fresh spring ingredients of the Scandinavian kitchen. And how fortunate we are that they kick in first! Nettles launch us into that green season of lighter foods with a healthy dose of iron.

You can pick nettles for use in the kitchen throughout the warm season – use them dried as a herb in cooking and bread baking, sprinkle them dried on a bit of yogurt or buttermilk for enjoying on a hot day, bake them into pies – but we are out after the smallest and earliest leaves for nettle soup. Follow the instructions for preparing nettles as in the recipe for Spring Nettle Pie up to cutting the ball of cooked, pressed nettles into strips. Then follow this recipe reprinted from the invaluable food chapter of On My Swedish Island by yours truly.

“For every amount of fresh nettles that you use, you need half the amount of broth (for 1 quart or 1 liter of fresh nettles you need 1/2 quart or 1/2 liter of broth). Add the cooked, pressed nettles to the broth and gently warm, mixing together. Add whatever: a couple of  tablespoons of butter, cream, or creme fraiche. Season with salt and pepper. You can also stir in an egg yolk or two. As garnishing serve with either a dash of sour cream, or finely chopped hard-boiled eggs. There are so many ways.”

Written by Admin in: Herbs & Spices,Nettle,Savoury Food,Soup | Tags: , ,

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