Friday, May 29, 2009

Keema and Naan

Good news:  we're having the best visit with my brother and...Anatole is well again!  That means I can sneak back onto my blog for a bit before I shut down and get outside to enjoy this beautiful Danish summer day.  

I don't remember from where I lifted these recipes for Indian Keema and Naan, but they're excellent. I was flipping through and old issue of Rachael Ray Magazine and found some sheets of notebook paper stuffed inside, and on one of them I found these recipes I'd hand written. I'll include the recipes although I give full disclosure that I don't know who to credit them to. 

This particular Keema is comprised of ground beef and veal, tomatoes, spices, peas, and lemon juice.  It's simmered on the stove awhile so all the flavors mix together, the chopped fresh tomatoes sort of melt into tiny pieces, and the peas get cooked.  It makes its own sauce, too. Because I prepare only one dinner (not something different for Anatole), I left out the hot chilies.  And anyway, as I've mentioned before, we're not big on spicy.  But my brother is and he brought out our neglected bottle of Thai chili sauce and added it to his plate.  Alan and I copied and it was a really wonderful addition.  Unfortunately, we had to omit the cilantro because it's nearly impossible to find in our town (but occasionally we do).

Store-bought bread-aisle Naan doesn't hold a candle to homemade.  It just doesn't.  I love this recipe because it's got plain yogurt in it and it's extremely fun to make.  After the prepared dough has sat for 2 hours, you cut it into 8 pieces, roll each into a ball and then, with a wine bottle, glass, or rolling pin, roll into a long oval and bake.  The bread gets puffy and golden brown and is a fantastic match for the Keema.  You could substitute lamb for the beef/veal and it would work splendidly.  


2T veg oil
1 onion, minced
8oz ground veal
8oz ground beef
salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 firm ripe tomatoes, diced (I used 4)
1T minced ginger root or 1t ground ginger
1t garam masala (I upped it to 2t to compensate for no chilies)
1t minced fresh hot green chilies
3c frozen peas
1 lemon, juiced, or to taste 
2-3T minced fresh cilantro

1.  Warm oil until hot.  Add onion and cook, stirring for 5 minutes.  Add veal and beef.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Cook until no longer pink.

2.  Add garlic through chilies.  Cook, stirring for 5 minutes.  Add peas and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 10-15 more minutes.  (I cooked mine on the long side to meld the flavors and generate more sauce).

3.  Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and cilantro, and correct seasoning adding more salt if necessary (I did).


4c flour
1t baking powder
1/4t baking soda
1t salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
6T plain yogurt (I used Greek yogurt) - room temp
3T butter or ghee, melted
3/4c lukewarm milk

1.  Sift flour through salt in bowl.  Stir in egg, yogurt, and butter.  Gradually stir in enough milk to make a soft dough.  

2.  Knead well.  Cover with a damp cloth and place in warm place for 2 hours.

3.  Preheat oven to 400F.  Knead dough on a floured surface for 2-3 minutes until smooth. Divide into 8 pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball and then into ovals about 6-8" in length.  

4.  Grease a baking sheet with oil.  Brush both sides of rolled out Naan with oil.  Bake 6-10 minutes until puffy and light golden brown.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Taking a Pause

My brother Zach arrives today from Oregon.  Actually, he's been in Europe for several weeks now.  He landed in Copenhagen, moved on to Bratislava, Slovakia, Prague, and most recently, Budapest.  I can't wait to hear about his adventures.  I told him to take some notes on the Eastern European food, so we'll see what he has to say about it. Because Zach will be here for the next seven days and also because Anatole is home sick this week (what unfortunate timing), I will take a short break from blogging.  If I have the chance, I will definitely hop on and write, but I don't want to say that I am going to do it and then let myself down if I can't.

I plan to make some special food while my brother is here, but first I have to use up the leftover meatloaf in the fridge.  We are sick to death of meatloaf sandwiches.  I'm going to chop it up and throw it into some cooked pasta, but it could be interesting.  Not interesting in a good way either, but we'll see.  I think I will also make some sort of chicken stir fry, do-it-yourself sushi rolls, something Indian, soup, another strawberry tart because it's just so delicious and I think my brother will enjoy it, and I'll bake some stuff, too.  

Be back soon.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Summing Up the Weekend

This photo was taken of the garden next door

Friday with my son was mellow compared to Thursday at the pond, but we still had our share of excitement. It's called Grocery Shopping with a Toddler. It could be a reality show, I swear. Ordinarily I shop alone, and that's the way I like it. I take my time, double check my list, and truly differentiate the fresh produce from the pieces that are bruised or going bad. But when Grocery Shopping with a Toddler it is all too easy to make careless mistakes such as forgetting the one important ingredient you were after in the first place or accidentally throwing a quart of 0.1% milk into the cart when what you really wanted was 0.5%. (You can see my earlier post on the milk labeling system in Denmark.) No, when Grocery Shopping with a Toddler it's all about getting in and getting out as quickly as possible--preferably with a minimum number of meltdowns. And I'm not only referring to my son.

Anatole and I first went to the discount market Rema 1000 to buy all our staples. He was okay for the first five minutes but after that it was whiny city, and I couldn't get out of there fast enough. I loaded the groceries in the car and then pushed the cart with Anatole inside to the cart return area. In order to use a shopping cart in Denmark one must deposit either a 10 or 20 kroner coin into a slot on the cart, refundable upon returning the cart. Along with rocks, new bars of soap, and keys, Anatole is absolutely obsessed with coins. It drives me crazy. First, my mom always taught me that coins are dirty, and second, although he doesn't ever put them in his mouth, there's still the potential that he could try to swallow one and end up choking. But anyway, what I didn't know is that at some point during my frantic trip through Rema, Anatole pushed a tiny coin into the slot opposite the coin deposit slot. This meant that when I tried to retrieve my 20 kroner, I couldn't because the tiny coin was stuck and prevented me from getting my 20. I'm sorry, but that's the equivalent of $4, which, to my unemployed self, is no chump change. I tried to explain what happened to my son, but he gave me this blank stare and muttered a soft "no, no." My point exactly.

Then it was on to Fotex market to get the rest of the food. I don't mind taking Anatole to Fotex because they have a great in-store bakery where we exclusively buy baguettes and where I get him a roison boller (raisin roll) that he nibbles on while I shop. I learned this trick from watching the Danish mothers, and the best part is that the store gives them to kids for free. A $1 value, I'll have you know. So, the shopping trip was relatively calm, relaxed, and I managed to remember everything on my list and get the right kind of milk.

On Saturday we had our friends Jean Damien, Maj, and their three beautiful children to lunch. Jean Damien is French if you couldn't tell by his name and Maj is Danish. They live in a wonderful old school house that they've spent years renovating. Maj brought us a jar of her splendid looking red current jelly. I can't wait to try it. She is quite the gardener and cook and gave me some great ideas on what to do with the three heads of cabbage in my fridge (courtesy of several weeks of CSA deliveries). We ate lunch in a modified French fashion: an aperitif with drinks and snacks, a main course of beef kebabs, green salad, and slices of fresh baguette, a cheese course, and finally, a free-form strawberry tart for dessert. Maj also gave me some insight on our oven diagrams and suggested that I use one of several fans. This particular fan is plain with nothing above or below it and she said it's the most universal setting as well as the one she uses for all her baking. Good to know.

For dinner Sunday I made asparagus stir fry with brown rice, chick peas, and lemon-tahini dressing. I thought it was fantastic. My family on the other hand, well, Anatole ate the rice and chick peas and, because he has a strict, self-imposed no-wasting-food policy, Alan choked down his serving. He said it was a little too healthy tasting, as in bland and dry. But then he wasn't fond of the lemon-tahini dressing, which totally made the dish! Too bad, so sad. I would make this dish again and not change a single thing. Alan on the other hand said he would add chopped cherry tomatoes and serve it with a vinaigrette dressing instead of the tahini dressing. Oh, I forgot, I did take liberty with the dressing recipe in one small way. I thought it would benefit from a tiny bit of sweetness so I added a 1/4 teaspoon of honey. Also, I didn't have any sliced almonds in the house so I had to omit them as the topping. I found this recipe on Dinner with Julie who adapted it from 101 Cookbooks. By the way, the photo does not do it justice!

Realizing that we were out of bread for Monday morning and because I had a reserve of extra energy, I made a batch of cream currant scones before bed last night. They were a huge hit at the breakfast table this morning. They taste even better with a mug of milky black tea.

Cream Scones with Currants (adapted from America's Test Kitchen)

2c flour (I used 1c whole wheat and 1c white flour)
3T sugar
1T baking powder
1/2t salt
5T unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1/2c currants
1c heavy cream

1. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Scatter the butter pieces evenly over the dry mix and mix together until it looks like coarse cornmeal (or chunkier is fine...I use my fingers to mix in the butter).

2. Fold in the currants and stir in the cream with a rubber spatula until the dough begins to form, about 30 seconds.

3. Turn dough onto a floured counter and knead until it forms a rough, slightly sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds.

4. Press dough into a 9" cake pan, unmold, and cut into 8 wedges. (I love this step - it makes such nice, even slices.) Place wedges on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until the tops are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Emergency Chocolate Cake

It's Ascension Day in Denmark and everyone is on holiday except my husband. He's up to his eyeballs in work and planning ahead so he can enjoy his time off the month of July. That means my son Anatole was home with me today. All day. What to do with a 21-month old? The answer is simple: as much as possible.

We started by walking to the Hobro Centrum (city center) to feed stale bread to the ducks. Then it was on to the park to play in the sand box, slide down the big, silver slide, and swing on an old tire. We walked some more and were doing great until we started heading home and Anatole decided to test his mother's patience. We walked near a pond and he pretended like he was going to throw his father's bicycle pants leg clip (conveniently left in the stroller) into the pond. He looked at me and I told him it wasn't a good idea and that he should put it back in the stroller. He turned away and then looked at me again. I shook my head No. The next thing I knew he threw his right arm back as hard as he could and threw it into the water as if he was pitching a fastball. I was perplexed. This was the first time he defied me in public (I know, it won't be the last), and at home we use time out. But we were outside. At the pond. So I did the only thing I could think of. I calmly walked over, picked him up, and carried him to his stroller. Then I strapped him in. Typically he rides strap-free, but this called for restraints. He whined all the way home, but I hope he got the connection that when you throw things into the pond that don't belong there, there will be consequences. I understand that he might have thought it was okay because we threw bread for the ducks, but still. Now some poor duck is swimming around with a pants leg clip around his neck.

When we arrived home, I knew I had a half hour or so to kill before lunch, which would then be followed by nap time (yes!). I asked Anatole if he would like to make Emergency Chocolate Cake with mommy. He looked at me with a smile and said one of his most favorite and well rehearsed words: "locola!" There was my answer. So we pulled out the mixing bowls, baking pan, measuring cups/spoons, and ingredients and went to work. I would be irresponsible if I didn't give one critical warning about this recipe. It contains mayonnaise. A cup of the stuff. I know some of you will stop reading at this point, but I have to tell you this is thee go-to cake when you are out of eggs and butter. Hence, "Emergency." And the truth is, if you can get past the mayonnaise part, it's an extremely easy, moist, and tasty snack cake. And hey, you could make it with mayonnaise from the heath food store, too. The cake making with my son was yet another success in capturing his undivided attention for a full 20 minutes, just like when we made chocolate chip cookies two weeks ago. Only this time the cake was faster to make, which meant...on to lunch!

Photo note: Sadly, these were my best two shots of the cake. The two photos look like different cakes! Although I spread some Sjokade (Norwegian chocolate spread) on this piece, it looks way darker than the cake in the first photo. 

Emergency Chocolate Cake - adapted from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

2c all-purpose flour
1c sugar
1/4c dutch-processed cocoa powder
2t baking soda
1c mayonnaise
1c water
1t vanilla extract
(powdered sugar to dust the top of cooled cake, optional)

1. Lightly coat an 8" square cake pan with vegetable oil spray (side note: I haven't found this in the stores here so I use oil or butter).

2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, water, and vanilla until combined. Stir wet ingredients into the dry mix until combined.

3. Scrape batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few crumbs attached, 35 to 40 min.

4. Let cake cool in the pan on a wire rack, 1 to 2 hours. Cut into squares and serve straight from the pan or turn out onto a serving platter and dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

We are running out of food in the house and need to do grocery shopping tomorrow. Plus, we are having friends for lunch on Saturday so we need to shop for that. Given our limited food supply, we came up with an easy, vegetarian dinner: a salad of mixed greens, with chopped cucumber, tomato, apple, walnuts, butter beans, and the cherry mustard sprouts I mentioned in the last post. Alan made a potato puree and also prepared a plate of canape (in this case lobster mousse on small slices of bread). I baked a loaf of light wheat bread last night, and by light I mean 1 cup whole wheat flour to 2.5 cups white flour. If you're new to the blog, my husband can't very well tolerate bread that is too wheaty and grainy. Anyhow, we served the mousse on the bread I made, and it was a delicious side dish to our salad and puree. Dessert was a slice of chocolate cake, and I added a cute little candy lion cake topper to my son's piece.

With daycare closed again tomorrow and papa back at the office, I've got to come up with a new plan to entertain my son. Keeping my fingers crossed for nice weather, but maybe no pond tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Marginal Shrimp but Great Recipe

This week's veggie box is great but not unlike the boxes of previous weeks. The only new items are a small watermelon from Spain and a cute little box of sprouts from Holland. At least I think that's what they are. I looked up the Dutch word Mosterdkers on Google Translate and it said "cherry mustard," in English. How mysterious. I'm guessing they'll make a terrific salad addition.

Dinner tonight was a shrimp dish I made many times last year. The recipe is extremely easy and comes from Real Simple magazine. It has a mere eight ingredients, four of which are garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper. The others are shrimp, scallions, feta, and roasted red peppers. I visited five different markets to find roasted red peppers, but no luck. The peppers I bought were pickled but not roasted, and they just don't impart the same flavor as the charred peppers do. Another stumbling block: no freezer means either buying fresh shrimp in the market (impossible in my town) or buying frozen and using it the same day. Which is what I did. But I wasn't that impressed with the quality of the shrimp and overall, the dish was not nearly as good as I recall from the past. I still enjoyed it--especially dipping slices of fresh baguette into the juices generated during cooking--but it didn't wow me. By the way, I'm not happy with my photos for today's post. The sprouts and baked shrimp in particular are too dark. And the pre-cooked shrimp mix looks too red and bright. More practice with the camera: Check!

Shrimp with Roasted Peppers and Feta (adapted from Real Simple)

1 12-oz jar roasted red peppers
1 bunch scallions
2 cloves garlic
1.5 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined
8-oz feta
2T olive oil
1/2t salt
1/2t pepper

Heat oven to 400F or 200C, hollow square setting!

1. Drain the peppers and cut into 1" pieces. Slice the scallions and garlic cloves. Combine all three ingredients into a bowl with the shrimp, oil, salt, and pepper.

2. Place mix in individual baking dishes or large casserole. Crumble feta on top and bake until the shrimp are cooked through and the feta begins to brown, about 20 minutes.

Serves 4

The dish is great served with a green salad and crusty bread. A glass of white wine would be good, too.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Technology: love it hate it

Note: I composed this last night with the intention to attach my photos and post it this morning. Uh, think again. I am fuming like there is no tomorrow. I downloaded the photos from my camera to Picasa, just like I always do. Then, just like I always do, I told the computer to delete the photos and wipe the memory card clean. Big Big mistake. For some ungodly reason, only ONE photo made it on to Picasa. And it wasn't even one of the good ones. I'm sorry, but where did the other 41 go? Into outer space? So below I've made a few notes where I would have had inserted my carefully considered photos. Oh that makes me mad. Note to self: delete only AFTER you've confirmed that photos have successfully loaded in Picasa.

It's late and I haven't written since Friday. I purposely took a break from my computer after spending nearly seven hours last Friday attached to it like a Siamese twin. At the end of my marathon session, I said Enough is enough. I have to say that I didn't miss it at all. A computer--more specifically, the Internet--is great for all sorts of reasons, but getting away from it and having a real life with real people is critically important. And enjoying some real soup never hurts, either.

Food wise, the weekend was relatively low key. Friday night it was homemade pizza and salad. Despite my oven challenges, I got the crust cooked exactly right this time, and I remembered to use whole wheat flour in my dough mix, so it was a double bonus night. On Friday afternoon I visited Steffan's Bageri (the bakery where I begged for a job) and asked if they had considered my offer to work for free if they would teach me to bake bread. I wasn't surprised, but I was definitely disappointed to learn that No, they would not be able to help me. "But wait, I want to help you!" is what I was thinking... Oh, well, time to move on. But just to show no hard feelings, I bought a pastry on my way out the door. That's not true. I bought it because it looked damn good. As we all know, looks can be deceiving and, sadly, in this case it was true. Don't you hate it when a fine looking pastry disappoints? It wasn't necessarily bad, but it wasn't special in any way. It was ordinary with a capital O. A brief description: Tart crust on the bottom, marzipan inside, cris-crossed lines of pistachio-green marzipan on top, and everything covered in chocolate. On top sat a tiny little marker noting the pistachio flavor. If I haven't mentioned it before, the Danes are really into marzipan. I like it just as much as the next guy, but I was sort of hoping for a different taste in this beautiful little tart.

Saturday lunch was leftover cauliflower/potato/leek soup along with some cheese and crackers and fruit for dessert. Saturday dinner got a little more interesting when Alan offered to make Matafans Savoyards. What you say? It's basically French hash browns, but you would never hear me say that to Alan. And truthfully, it's different and better for two reasons. Raw eggs are mixed with raw, grated potatoes along with garlic and salt and pepper. The eggs act as a binder to make little pancakes which are fried in an inch of peanut oil. Unless you have experience as a fry cook (or perhaps have a fryer machine), frying is nothing short of challenging. Getting the quantity of oil right, perfecting the temperature, avoiding a grease fire, and so on. It's hot, messy, dangerous stuff. Alan had fun making this recipe but because some of the potatoes fried too long and were burned, he gave his dish a 25 percent. He served it with salad and burger patties, which he lovingly molded in mini-tart pans before grilling. He finds that the burger patties I make are too big and thick, so he was going for a more dainty pattie, I guess. They turned out nicely, and I suppose we'll start to implement the tart mold technique going forward. But we'll see. I sort of like using my hands.

[Insert photo of Matafans Savoyards and photo of Alan grating potatoes.]

Sunday is a blur. All I remember is a trip to the beach and this. Do you think? No, we couldn't have. But hunger makes people do strange things. Actually, now I remember. It was sandwiches for lunch and a lovely golden split pea soup for dinner.

[Insert photo of seal carcass found on the beach. What I wrote above just doesn't have the same effect without the photo. Arrgh]

I grocery shopped today for most of this week's food. I plan to make a shrimp dish, sarma, another Eastern European specialty, and some sort of pasta. I found an enticing-looking jar of cherries in rum at the Fakta discount market and put it in my cart thinking I would figure out something to do with it. As I drove home I remembered that I've wanted to try to make a clafoutis for a long time. Now clafoutis are customarily made with fresh, not jarred, cherries, but we make do with what we have. Plus, I loved the fact that the cherries were soaking in rum. So I found a recipe on line and went to work. Clafoutis is extremely simple to make and so pretty. Since I'd never had it before today, I don't have anything to compare it to, but it tasted delicious. Creamy, not too sweet, and the fruity-tart taste of the cherries (and rum!) complemented the eggy custard perfectly. It's funny, to me the clafoutis tastes like a crepe but in a completely different format. I suppose that's why some people like it for breakfast, not just dessert.

[Insert photo of the Clafoutis. It was SO pretty. Double Arrgh.]

Dinner tonight was Greek salad with grilled chicken but sans Kalamata olives. I forgot to buy some. Even without them, the salad was light and refreshing. After buying block after block of bad feta cheese, we've finally found a brand that tastes like real feta.

[Insert photo of feta cheese. Okay, this one is not much of a loss.]

Our veggie box arrived today, one day early because there is a holiday this week in Denmark. Thursday is Kristi Himmelfart's day, or Ascension day. It's a Christian religious holiday observed in Denmark and other Western European countries. I haven't quite figured out if there are any special traditions on this day (such as Hveder for Store Bededag that I wrote about in an earlier post), but I will try to find out. My next post will focus on the contents of our box.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Oven Challenges, Rhubarb Compote, and Quiche

I'll start by giving a big thanks to Molly Wizenberg. Not wanting to give up entirely on rhubarb, I spotted a mention of rhubarb compote on Orangette, Molly's terrific blog. There was a link to the recipe, and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to make it. The ingredients couldn't have been simpler: rhubarb, sugar, orange zest, orange liqueur, and butter. It bummed me out, but in order to save money I omitted the liqueur. The smallest bottle of Cointreau I could find was the equivalent of $25. It's a well known fact: hard alcohol is extraordinarily expensive in Denmark. This is not the kind of money I can justify spending on a recipe ingredient when I'm out of work. The good news is that the finished compote was sweet, tart, orangey, and absolutely delicious. I didn't even miss the liqueur, although I can imagine how good it would be with it. I loved it so much that it started me thinking about rhubarb and what a unique and incomparable fruit/vegetable (?) it is. I ate it atop Greek yogurt and it was the best possible ending to our dinner of quiche and salad.
The French know a thing or two about food. They're also more than willing to say what they think about it, no matter how direct or blunt it might sound. I should know. I'm married to one. When we met, my husband taught me how to make a "real" quiche. It's sort of like "real" soup. A quick aside: I once made a minestrone-type soup to which, after taking a bite, Alan remarked, Wow, it's good but it's not real soup. For those of you not in the know, "real" soup must be pureed. Didn't you know that?! But back to the quiche. I'd made it in my pre-Alan days, but it was the thick, American kind and always with lots of cheese. Alan's quiche contained no cheese, the eggy filling was light and much thinner than I was used to, and it was just simply good to eat.
In addition to a crust made of flour, butter, olive oil, salt, and water, the filling contained 3 to 4 whole eggs, a little sour cream or soy cream, and a little milk. After lining the quiche pan with the unbaked crust, the egg mixture was poured in and various toppings were applied, such as mushrooms, tomatoes, and bacon. But always bacon, and always prepared the same, unusual (to me anyway) way: raw slices placed in a bowl, covered with water, and microwaved for 5 or so minutes until cooked through. The toppings were applied sparingly so that you could still see plenty of the pale yellow color of the egg mix.

Fast forward five years. It's me who makes the quiche now. I'm not sure why, but it's happened this way. I make it virtually the same way except sometimes I add one or two additional eggs and I always fry the bacon first to make it brown and crispy. Call me American, but I just prefer it this way. Oh, and I also put lots of toppings because to me it's healthier this way. Today's quiche contained bacon (naturally), asparagus, and cremini mushrooms. It was a hit all around the table although Alan (in his effort to help me be a quiche master. yeah right.) suggested that it might be a little too egg-heavy. He reminded me that he likes to use no more than 3 eggs. Okay, whatever. While I disagreed with his assessment, I did admit that it lacked enough salt. Although we are light salt users, and the bacon typically adds all the salt it needs, it was admittedly on the bland side. But we both agreed: too little salt beats excessively salty any day. My final comment on the quiche has to do with the third part of my headline, oven challenges.

Since moving into our rental house at the beginning of April I've struggled with the oven repeatedly. Using the appropriate setting, getting the temperature right, and realizing with great disappointment that my cookie sheet (shipped all the way from the U.S.) is too big to fit in it. Come on, Europe, get some bigger ovens...and refrigerators while you're at it! I can hear it now, "those greedy Americans..." Anyway, it will sound like a lame excuse but I attribute--at least in part--my failed enchiladas, lasagna, Madeleines, and rhubarb cake to the crappy little oven. It's not that I can't read the Celsius temps (I use my handy little cheat sheet that converts degrees F to degrees C), but instead of Warm, Bake, Broil, etc., on the other dial there are DIAGRAMS. There's a little fan, a big fan, a solid square, a hollow square, and a square with little teeth looking things on top. grrrrrr. Because I've had no luck with any of the other settings, I always use the hollow square. Meanwhile it's taking me ages to get some of my food cooked properly. Welcome to cooking in Denmark. That's a joke, and apart from the oven, I am totally in love with the kitchen.

That brings me back to my final comment on the quiche (I know, enough already). I baked the crust for 15 minutes before adding anything to it. I never had to take this step in the U.S., but it's a new day and a new country. And precooking the crust means that we end up with a thoroughly cooked quiche rather than one that's still doughy in the middle. Which is just gross.

Final thought of the day: Did I mention that we don't have a freezer? We didn't realize it until the day we moved in and we simply assumed that there was one at the top or the bottom of the fridge. I've never lived without a freezer. What will I do with myself? Seriously, it does pose a challenge. For example, the other night I made a big batch of soup (real soup) but now it's a race to finish it before it goes bad. I don't need that kind of pressure! The lesson is to make things in smaller quantities (something utterly foreign to American thinking)..but it also means that we can't buy ice cream for home. So sad.

Real Quiche

1c flour
2T unsalted butter
2T olive oil
1t salt
1/3c water (more if too dry)

5 whole eggs
1/2c sour (or soy) cream

3 slices of cooked, crisp bacon chopped into small pieces
3 stalks of asparagus, chopped into 1" pieces
4 or 5 mushrooms, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350F or 180C
1. Mix crust ingredients until shaggy. Knead for a minute and roll into a ball. If preparing right away, roll into a large circle to fit your pan or wrap in plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to use. Roll on a lightly floured surface and fit in pan. Prick dough with fork.

2. If you have a finicky oven, bake crust for 15 to 20 minutes until it looks partially cooked but not brown. If not, whisk the eggs and sour cream together in a bowl and pour into the uncooked crust. Place toppings on the surface of the eggs mix and press down lightly with your fingers.

3. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until puffy and golden brown. The quiche will deflate upon cooling. Cut into slices and serve with green salad or soup.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fighting with Food...and then I see the light

I don't literally fight with my food and I haven't had a food fight in years, but I'm referring to running into trouble with certain dishes. In general I'm happy with the outcome of what I prepare, but I have my share of misses, too. Oh yes. What hasn't worked for me lately: failed enchiladas (note: only use white meat and cook longer), beef and spinach lasagna (gummy), Madeleine cookies (heavy and dry), and over-limed asparagus stir-fry, all--with the exception of the lasagna (it was so bad I still can't talk about it)--written about in earlier posts. Unfortunately, I am adding a newcomer to the list: rhubarb cake. This makes me terribly unhappy because first, I was so looking forward to making and enjoying it and second, because it didn't hold a candle to my friend Hannetjie's version.

It might not look bad in the photo, but it was so no success, trust me. I've tried to figure out why and here is what I've come up with: I converted all the measurements from Hannetjie's recipe (metric to U.S.) and my math skills are pathetic...and that's using an online converter!; I used too big of a tart pan. Actually I baked it in a glass pie plate because my quiche/tart pan is quite large and I knew I did not have enough prepared ingredients to make it work; It needed more time in the oven. I baked it for 35 minutes and it looked done, but the golden brown top belied the undercooked dough sitting at the bottom. I was aggravated even more because if I had poked it with a cake tester upon removing it from the oven, I could have returned it and baked it longer. But No, I took it out, set it on my kitchen counter and forgot about it until dinner time.

While the rhubarb was cooked perfectly (yes, one small victory!), the dough on the bottom was mushy and barely set. And right under the lovely golden brown top was another gooey mess. I have to admit that the taste was not bad, but it just didn't work. I think I know how to improve it the second time around, but talk about disappointing. Maybe if I hadn't tried Hannetjie's cake I wouldn't be judging mine so harshly, but I know I would still give it a thumbs-down. Also, I hate to admit this because wasting food is stupid, but I threw it away. This was only after I gave some to my son and he stuck his tongue out and shook his head. Love the honesty.

I redeemed myself today with Burek. My son wasn't crazy about it, but he doesn't tend to like meals with ground beef as the base. My husband loved it, and, while it didn't taste like the authentic burek I savored in the past, I thought it was delicious. I served it with a dollop of plain yogurt and a Greek salad. I think I did something a little funky with the rolling part though. I thought it looked a little fat, like I should have put less meat inside before rolling, but it didn't affect the taste one bit. I was happy to make this dish because it is not easy to find phyllo dough where I live. I had a meeting at the International School of Aarhus today about being a substitute teacher in the next school year, so I stopped at a big supermarket in Aarhus to get the phyllo. I also bought a bottle of wine there, on sale for 20 DKK, only $4 USD,...and so good! Having-had-time-to-think-about-it-note: Next time I make burek, I'm going to make one big piece, like the way I've seen it done in the past. Basically, I will fill each piece of phyllo with a little less meat, start on the outside of my pan by making a circle of dough and then working from the outside in (think finished cinnamon roll...sort of) until I have a pinwheel-looking pie. I can't wait to try it this way.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Green Pasta

When I have lots of fresh spinach in the fridge there's a pasta recipe I inevitably turn to for a quick, healthy, and delicious meal: Green Pasta. I use cooked spaghetti and spinach as the base and then add in whatever else I have in the fridge that would be a nice complement. Tonight it was chicken, asparagus, and cremini mushrooms. I mix all the cooked ingredients together and then dress it with a mixture of olive oil, butter, and Parmesan cheese--a small amount because my aim is to keep it healthy. But what I really like about this dish is that you can combine practically any ingredients you have on hand and make whatever kind of sauce you like. I've made a sauce for it out of Vachequirit cheese and soy cream and it worked perfectly. We're not spicy food eaters in our house, but adding a teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes when you're sauteing the spinach or making the sauce might be good.

Tonight I used a delicious store bought Pesto as my sauce. Ordinarily I make my own pesto but I'm out of fresh basil at the moment. I go easy on the amount of store bought pesto because it tends to be heavier and saltier than what I make at home. I'm not the best at measurements, but here is my recipe for Green Pasta.

1/2 package spaghetti
6-10 cups fresh baby spinach (however much you like- it cooks down a lot)
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 bundle of asparagus, chopped into 1" pieces
1 c mushrooms, sliced
1/3 c store bought or homemade pesto (increase or decrease quantity to taste)
1/2 c grated Parmesan
1-2 T olive oil

1. While the spaghetti is cooking, chop the chicken into small pieces and saute until golden brown. Remove chicken from the pan and set aside.

2. In 1T of olive oil saute the asparagus until tender, about 5-7 minutes (shorter if you like it crunchier). Remove from pan and set aside with chicken.

3. In same pan, add the remaining 1T of olive oil and cook mushrooms for 3-5 minutes, until they shrink a bit and start to turn brown. Add spinach and cook until wilted, stirring spinach and mushrooms together. This goes quickly, maybe 2-3 minutes.

4. Once the pasta is cooked and drained, add the chicken, asparagus, mushrooms and spinach and mix. Add pesto and mix well. Top with Parmesan and serve.

This with a glass of wine is pure heaven.

On a different note, I can't wait for our CSA box to get here today. What will be inside?

Monday, May 11, 2009


The objective of today's post is to write about pancakes.  But first a couple of updates:

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I have approached two local bakeries about working (or even volunteering) to learn how to make bread.  The first told me to learn more Danish and check back with them in a few months.  The second place is thinking about my offer--they even took my name and number, which--after so many flat out rejections--made me feel good.  I have no idea if it means anything or not, but I was told I could call them this Friday to follow-up.  Apparently the baker does all his work between midnight and 8:00 a.m.  That would mean I would have to work at night, something I've never attempted before.  I am a morning person through and through, but I am willing to work the night shift if it means I can learn more about baking.  Stay tuned...

I found some rhubarb in the market today, so this week I will make Hannetjie's rhubarb cake.

Back to pancakes...

When I was growing up, the only kind of pancakes we had at home were buttermilk, usually from a boxed mix.  The toppings were simply butter and maple syrup--and it was always Aunt Jemima or another brand of fake maple syrup.  In middle school, however, I discovered crepes. From time to time I would enjoy them at my friend Jenny's house.  Her mom made them from scratch and we'd eat them one after the other--rolled up cigar style--with butter and powered sugar inside.  But I like other kinds of pancakes, too.  In the U.S. there is a breakfast restaurant chain called Original Pancake House that makes the best Dutch Baby Pancakes ever.  The pancake is bakes up puffy and golden brown.  It's served in a pie plate with melted butter, powdered sugar, and a wedge of lemon.  So good.  

But back to crepes.  I noticed a recipe for thin pancakes on Everybody Likes Sandwiches.  I was attracted to it for several reasons.  First, no blender required--hand mixing works perfectly fine and delivers the same results.  Second, I did not have to make the batter and then put it in the fridge for an hour, like some recipes require.  Finally, I was taken with the notion that the name of the recipe is "thin pancakes," not crepes.  I can't really explain it, I just like the fact it's called this way.  But most of all, I strongly endorse this recipe because it makes a beautiful batter that cooks in the pan so nicely (no sticking or fussing invloved) and the finished pancakes are divine.  

My husband and son ate theirs with my father-in-law's delicious Myrtille jam (from wild blueberries in the French Alps), while I opted for my standard filling of butter and powdered sugar.  This with a cup of milky black tea was a perfect way to start the day.  Excluding my husband, who eats little for breakfast and always toast, during the week my son and I alternate between cold cereal, oatmeal, eggs, toast, and yogurt, or combinations thereof.  But on Sundays I enjoy preparing something special.  I will certainly incorporate this recipe into my Sunday morning breakfast line-up.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

From Cookies to Burek

My 21-month old son made his first batch of chocolate chip cookies. I wasn't sure the task would keep his interest, but he stuck with it from making the dough to watching me remove the last batch from the oven. And why not? Chocolate chips were involved. This cookie making foray was special for two other reasons: we used my one and only bag of Nestle Toll House chocolate chips (shipped from the U.S.) and we baked after our pyjamas. When I'm in the U.S. I easily pass up Nestle brand chips for those made by Ghiradelli. But let's face it, Nestle chocolate chips are a classic, and it's a fun tradition to make Toll House cookies with kids. Or so says the marketing! We followed the recipe exactly except for adding a handful of M&Ms, another big hit with my son. By the way, chocolate chips are NOT available where I live. Imagine! I found some once but they came in a very small bag (1/2 cup max.), were expensive, and the size, shape, and taste were just not the same. Did I also mention that I have found only two different brands of peanut butter in Denmark? I've tried both and they're quite good, but how many different types and brands of PB are there in the U.S.? 20? I haven't seen any other nut butters here, either. Too bad--I've had my share of almond butter kicks in the past, too. But back to the cookies. Even though my kitchen and my kid were an utter mess, this was the most fun I've had in a long time.

I was able to put quite a few of our CSA ingredients to use in last night's Asparagus Stir Fry, from 101 Cookbooks. The only variations I made to the recipe are that I added some chopped mushrooms, used handfuls of bok choy instead of the spinach or chard, and sprinkled toasted sesame seeds on top. While my expectations for this dish were high and the potential great--how can you go wrong with so many fantastic ingredients?--I was disappointed for one reason. Too much lime. The recipe called for the zest and juice of one lime. My husband and I agreed that it overpowered the other amazing flavors and made the dish just okay instead of memorable. I will make this recipe again, but next time I will use half of a lime and save the other half for another dish.  I almost forgot to mention that I finally found a market in my town that carries boxed, extra firm-tofu.  I'm not a huge tofu eater, but hooray!

Dinner tonight was potato leek soup. There is not much to say except that it was simple to make and extremely delicious. All you do is peel and chop a few potatoes, chop two big leeks, put it all in a pot with water (about 6 cups) and 1-2 T of butter, and cook for 1 hour. Once it's very soft, puree in a blender or food mill, which is what I used. This is an extremely comforting and satisfying soup.

My friend Tennison is a culinary student in Portland, OR. She has a great blog, Schmackofatz, that chronicles her adventures, and it's worth checking out. Recently she posted about making Burek, a classic Eastern European meat-filled pastry. It made me think about my years spent in Washington, DC, where I had the opportunity to try all kinds of different and fantastic ethnic food. Oh how I miss that part of living in the Capitol City. I've had my share of burek along with many other foods from Eastern Europe but hadn't thought about it since I moved away from DC in 2003. Tennison's mention of it has inspired me to try making it, and I'm even considering ordering a cookbook with recipes from Romania, Bulgaria, and Ex-Yugoslavia to try other interesting recipes.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fish, Wine, and Hveder

So Hannetjie sent me her rhubarb cake recipe. Problem is, I need to translate the measurements before I post it. I'll be back with it soon.

Yesterday, while at my local supermarket, I discovered that there is a vendor who visits each Wednesday with fresh-caught Atlantic fish and other seafood. I was delighted to see his impeccably neat and tidy caravan with the freshest looking fish I'd seen in a long time. I picked up a fillet of Torsk, a relative of cod. I simply placed it in a baking dish greased with olive oil, sprinkled on some salt and pepper, and baked it until it was opaque and flaked easily with a fork. I served it with roasted stove-top potatoes that were so simple to make. All I did was chop three smallish baking potatoes into cubes, boiled them on the stove for 10 minutes until they were soft, drained and then tossed them in 1/4 cup of vegetable oil. I drained them again, and sauteed until they were golden brown. It's important initially to let the potatoes cook undisturbed for at least 5 minutes to get that nice brown color going. At the 5 minute mark I added one finely chopped yellow onion and continued to cook for another 10 or so minutes until I liked the look of it. Everything was golden brown and slightly crispy. I added salt and pepper to taste.

To use up the last of the purple cabbage, I made the salad I made a couple of weeks ago, but this time I added roasted, salted peanuts instead of walnuts. My husband said he much preferred the version with walnuts, but I thought the saltiness of the peanuts was a great complement to the apple and orange pieces and lemon and olive oil vinaigrette.

We've tasted two wines in the past week. One is a Beaujolais that I bought with the intention of giving as a gift (I love the fun, flowery label), however, I had had a particularly rough day when I ran for the wine opener and got into it as quickly as I could. This with some cheese and crackers totally hit the spot. The other wine is also French, a Muscadet that was a perfect match with the Torsk.
Tomorrow is a religious holiday in Denmark. It's called Store Bededag, or "Big Prayer Day." I read a story about a tradition that started hundreds of years ago related to bread and Store Bededag. All the shops close for this holiday, and it's impossible to buy bread. Therefore people started to make their own special rolls called Hveder. They're made from wheat and yeast and other typical bread ingredients. The key is that you make them the day BEFORE Store Bededag so that you can enjoy them with butter and/or marmalade the next day. It's a special treat to commemorate the holiday, and our daycare provider Inger stressed that the Hveder must be toasted in the oven before any spreads are applied. My Danish friend Kira reminded me to buy some Hveder today, so evidently times have changed and it's socially acceptable to purchase rather than slave in your kitchen for Hveder. While I have a recipe, I don't feel much like baking today, so I shall indeed venture out for some bakery Hveder. Also, my understanding is that while there are certainly those who spend the day in reverence, many Danes use it as a time to simply relax with family and friends. A quick follow-up: until I got to the bakery this afternoon I did not realize that Hveder are really just plain old rolls; the kind that I see bagged on the shelves of the bread aisle in the supermarket. The difference is that it's a custom to eat them on Big Prayer Day, many people splurge on the special kind from the bakery, and they need to be toasted.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rhubarb Cake, Rice Salad, and Weekly Veggies

The only thing I regret about the delicious rhubarb cake I devoured yesterday is that I don't have the recipe to share.  I visited my South African friend Hannetjie and enjoyed her delicious cake along with homemade sunflower seed-carrot rolls and coffee.  What a treat.  In addition to butter, she set out grovhakket leverpostej (a pork liver spread that is ubiquitous in Denmark), a tomato jam from South Africa, and a whipped fish spread with savory cream on top.  I wish I had the courage to try at least one of them, but I wimped out and stuck with butter.  I will ask Hannetjie for the cake recipe since it's rhubarb season and others might want to try it.  It has coconut in it, and the rhubarb is perfectly sweet and sour, that is, not overly sour or sweet.  By the way, the photo at the top was taken on my drive to see Hannetjie.  It's typical Denmark: wind generators and beautiful green and yellow fields.

I wanted to make something quick and easy for dinner, and I put my finger on just the thing. Rice salad.  The first time I had it was at my husband's aunt's house in France.  It's a cold salad and perfect for spring and summer, although we have it any time of year.  She made it with white rice, chopped chicken, tomatoes, and gherkins.  When I started making it in my own kitchen, I added whatever veggies I had on hand along with either chicken or canned tuna and some chopped hard cheese (cheddar or Comte, etc.).  Last night, I threw all of this into a big bowl:  albacore tuna, cucumber, tomatoes, purple cabbage, cheddar and Dubliner cheeses, and chopped green, pimento-stuffed, olives.  I cooked and cooled the rice and then added it to the veggie mix.  Over the top, I drizzled a vinaigrette of Dijon mustard, salt, red wine vinegar, and olive oil.  It's a healthy, satisfying, and easy meal.  To make it even healthier, substitute the white rice with brown rice.  I took the photo before the rice was added but forgot to take another one once everything was mixed together.

Our CSA box arrived and here is what's inside:
Bok choy
Green leaf lettuce

The only idea that's popping into my head at the moment is potato-leek soup, and I need to find something interesting to do with the boy choy. I might make a quiche with the asparagus. Now, it's time to search for recipes...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Catching Up

Even though it was calling to me, I took a break from my computer over the weekend.  Here are some highlights since last Thursday:
  • Kaj kage
  • Danish pastry (I don't remember the Danish name of this particular one)
  • Easy pasta
  • Marinated broccoli
  • Do-it-yourself sushi
  • Carrot cake from 101 Cookbooks
  • Golden Spit Pea Soup from Rachael Ray Magazine
I picked up two treats at my supermarket's bakery:  Kaj kage and a light pastry with jam filling. The Kaj kage had caught my eye so many times before, but I had the urge to finally try it.  It is a basic yellow cupcake with Guf frosting, and a marzipan topping.  Even though the cake was dry and not very tasty, I had fun eating this cupcake.  I mean, just look at the picture.  After you peel the marzipan face off the cupcake, you are greeted with a mound of fluffy strawberry Guf (a Danish ice cream topping that is airy, creamy, and very sweet).  

I expected the second treat to taste sort of like the oatmeal bars filled with jam that you find in the U.S.  But it was much, much lighter and the meringue top was chewy.  

Pasta and Broccoli Salad

I made my friend Andrea's marinated broccoli salad and served it along side penne mixed with crispy prosciutto, toasted, chopped walnuts, olive oil, and a little grated Parmesan.  

Marinated Broccoli

3 bunches fresh broccoli
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. dill (fresh or dried)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

Wash broccoli and use flowerets. Mix rest of ingreds.  Marinate in a covered container with tight lid.  Refrigerate 24 hours.  Shake and invert now and then.

Andrea added that she marinates for a much shorter time - anywhere from 4 to 6 hours.  She also drains off all the oil before serving.  My notes:  The only sugar I had in the house was a wrapped cube that I had picked up when I had coffee somewhere.  It worked fine.  I also omitted the dill because I didn't have any in the house.  Finally, I mixed in some chopped red bell pepper.  I marinated for approximately 4 hours, and it turned out to be plenty of time for the juices to soak into the veggies.  I believe that sesame oil would be a great substitute for the vegetable oil (but maybe reduce the quantity a bit since it's a heavier oil), and some toasted sesame seeds could be added.  Andrea said that she never uses olive oil in this recipe because it congeals.  I'd have to test whether sesame oil would do the same thing.

Do-It-Yourself Sushi Rolls

Our Japanese friend Natsuko had us over for Sushi rolls a couple of years ago, and we learned something new about Japanese "fast food."  We expected the kind of sushi found in restaurants and at the grocery store, but she prepared it differently.  On the dining table was a big bowl of sushi rice, a plate of Nori, and all sorts of fillings and condiments.  In addition to a few pieces of fish, she served bacon, sliced meats, various chopped vegetables, egg, soy sauce, mayonnaise, and wasabi.  Then we all started rolling our own - putting rice in the middle and adding in whatever we fancied.  I'm telling you, it was one of the most delicious and fun meals ever.  Ever since that day, we have tried to duplicate our own version.  It's not quite the same, but it's close, and I gathered as many ingredients as I could find in my local supermarket to make... sushi in Denmark.

A New Carrot Cake

The carrot cake from 101 Cookbooks is very different from the typical carrot cake.  The only thing they share is similar ingredients and the moisture factor.  Other than that, it's a much heavier texture and, because bananas and dates are the only sweeteners, it's much less sweet than traditional carrot cake.  I loved it, but I do have a comment regarding the icing, or I guess I should say the icing as applied to the cake.  It's made with cream cheese and maple syrup and is a wonderfully delicious combination.  Here is where it literally got sticky:  I frosted the cooled cake and then realized that I would have to refrigerate it because you typically don't leave something as perishable as cream cheese frosting out over you?  I didn't think so. That's when I stuck it in the fridge and cut off a slice later that day.  As much as I liked this cake cooled from the oven, I did not care for it as much refrigerated.  It was even heavier than before and slightly sticky.  I decided that if I made it again, unless I would be serving the whole thing at once, I would skip the icing (or keep a dish of it in the fridge to add as necessary) and leave it as is, stored on the counter.  

Give me Soup

I cannot adequately describe my love for Golden Split Pea Soup from Rachael Ray.  It is warm and comforting, easy to make, and good for you.  The flavor of the leeks mixed with the split peas is incredibly good.  Since I make this recipe over and over, I thought I would include it in case anyone else wants to try it.  This weekend I made it without the carrots because I had just used the last of my carrots in the carrot cake.  It was just as good without them.

Can't wait for tomorrow -  our weekly box of fruits and veggies will arrive!