Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Oat Surprise, Muesli Loaf

Wouldn't it be great to be an inventor? To invent something that people can use and really love? I'm thinking of food here. Not pancakes in an aerosol can (yes, it does exist) but perhaps a terrific new recipe for some variation on the standard pancake. Or what about a new and innovative pasta salad? I've been thinking about this idea a lot today: while I adapt and modify the majority of the recipes I use, I'm still wholly dependent on others for ideas. Once in awhile I will come up with something of my own, like Green Pasta, but it's not exactly the most original dish on the planet.

I understand that many of the food bloggers I follow are in the same boat, so I think the key is in how you tweak the recipe, reinvent it, and make it your own. This is where fun and originality come into play. But I applaud loudly for those individuals with extraordinary culinary skills who continually create new and exciting foodstuffs from which people like me get ideas.

In this spirit, I'll talk about one of my favorite snacks that I created (my very own self!) and also about a wonderful loaf of bread that is the brain child of the great Nigella Lawson. If you've read more than a couple of my posts you will know that I rely heavily on her for inspiration. I enjoy the way she speaks and writes, admire her creativity and originality, and love her approach to food. And while she has written numerous cook books, even Nigella Lawson borrows recipes and ideas from others from time to time!

This oat surprise snack is my version of a morning or afternoon pick-me-up. It uses quick-cooking dry oats as the base and there are plenty of ways to modify it and incorporate flavors you like. All you do is add the following ingredients to some dry oats: peanut butter, unsweetened coconut, and a drizzle of maple syrup. In place of the peanut butter, you can use almond butter, soy nut butter, or any other kind of nut butter. Raisins are a good addition and if you don't have or like maple syrup, use some honey. And of course, if you don't desire any sweetness, skip it altogether. Apart from the delicious mix of sweet and salty flavors, somehow the coconut really makes this for me.

Oat Surprise

1/4 quick-cooking oats
1.5T peanut butter (crunchy or creamy - I use the all-natural variety with some salt added)
1T unsweetened coconut flakes
1.5t maple syrup (or to taste)

1. Mix all ingredients together until you have a round blob looking thing and the oats are incorporated into the pb. You can leave it as it and eat it with a spoon, which is what I do, or roll into a ball with wetted palms. The more peanut butter you use the more of a solid ball you're likely to have.
Feeds one and is delightful with a cup of milky black tea. I'll include a photo the next time I make it.

The bread about which I spoke earlier is called Lazy Loaf. It's an absolute breeze to make and healthy to boot. It contains unsweetened muesli, something of which we have A LOT in Denmark. I've bought it in the States, but it's not as prevalent there. Sometimes the best kind is found in the bulk bins, if your American supermarket has those. This bread is heaven with apricot jam and makes a great snack to take on a hike or a bike ride.

LazyLoaf from Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson
2 3/4c wholewheat bread flour
2c unsugared muesli (do not use granola)
2.5t (1 package) rapid-rise or instant yeast
2t kosher salt or 1t table salt
1c 2% milk
1c water
1. Mix the flour, muesli, yeast, and salt in a bowl, then pour in the milk and water and stir to mix. It will be a thick porridge.
2. Transfer to a greased or silicon 2lb loaf pan. Place in a cold oven, turning it immediately on to 225F, and leave at this temperature for 45 minutes.
3. When the 45 minutes are up, turn the oven temp. up to 350F and leave for 1 hour [see my notes], by which time the bread should be golden and cooked through. Slip it out of the pan and although dense, it should feel slightly hollow when you knock it underneath.
4. Remove to a rack and let cool.
My notes: What a fantastic recipe: stir everything in a bowl, bake, and voila, you have a beautiful whole grain bread studded with raisins, big curls of dried coconut, hazelnuts, and whatever else your preferred brand of muesli contains. But here's the deal on the cooking time. After the 45 minutes were up, I checked the loaf and found it nicely brown and looking quite done. But I followed the instructions, increased the temperature, and set my timer for an hour. After 30 minutes, I checked it again and found the bread even darker and pulled away from the sides of the loaf pan. Moreover, when I removed it from the oven and took it out of the pan, it made that special hollow sound when I knocked on it. So I trusted my instincts and kept the bread out of the oven. I don't regret doing so, although I don't think it would have harmed the bread to cook it longer. Another fabulous thing about this bread is the crunchy crust. Love it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Chocolate Pudding, Roasted Tomatoes

The weather in Denmark has been unbelievably nice for seven consecutive days. It's most welcome but surprising because things here change so rapidly, and it's not at all uncommon to experience only one nice day sandwiched between five or six crappy ones. So when we had friends over for lunch on Saturday I was thrilled not only to have their company but to see sunny skies and warm temperatures, too.

I regret not photographing lunch. It was a beautiful vegetable couscous salad and marinated, grilled chicken breasts. I did, however, remember to take a shot of dessert. Maybe it's because I constantly have sweets on the brain. I found the couscous and chicken recipe on Dinner with Julie (who either got it from Epicurious.com or Bon Apetit). It's an excellent summer lunch and because you can prepare the salad the night before, it makes the day-of prep a breeze. All that's required is removing it from the fridge to get it close to room temperature before serving and tossing with toasted, slivered almonds and cilantro. Well in my case, just the almonds.

Because I can never find cilantro in my local markets, I thought Danes never used it, but our guests Soren and Mette said you can usually find it Fotex (not in Hobro's...at least not when I've looked) or Bilka, which is sort of a Danish version of Costco. The chicken is a snap. It gets marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, and seasonings for either 30 minutes at room temp. or a few hours in the fridge. Throw it on the grill for a 3-4 minutes on each side and it's ready to join the couscous. For those of you who want to try it, click on the links above.

When I perused my copy of Nigella Express for dessert ideas, I was drawn to a recipe for Budino Di Cioccolato (chocolate pudding) because, once again, I could prepare it ahead of time. Moreover, it's a cold dessert (not served straight from the fridge but still cold-ish) which is perfectly suitable for summer. My two words to describe it? Absolute heaven. So very creamy, smooth, and delicious. I sprinkled each dessert cup with a few colorful chocolate buttons and stuck a cookie stick inside (I can't remember the fancy name for them).

Budino Di Cioccolato from Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson

1c whole milk
1/2c heavy cream
1/3c sugar
1T cornstarch
1/3c cocoa
2T boiling water
2 egg yolks
1t vanilla extract
2 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped

1. "Put the kettle on to boil water, and warm the milk and cream together either in a saucepan r the microwave.

2. Put the sugar and cornstarch into another saucepan and sift in the cocoa. Add the 2T boiling water and whisk to a paste.

3. Then whisk in the egg yolks, 1 at a time, followed by the warmed milk and cream, and then the vanilla extract.

4. Scrape down the sides of your pan and put it on the heat, cooking and whisking for about 3-4 minutes until the mixture thickens--if it helps, think of a consistency like mayonnaise.

5. Take off the heat and whisk in the finely chopped chocolate before pouring into 4 small cups or glasses each with a yield of about 2/3 of a cup.

6. Cover the tops of the cups with plastic wrap, laying it directly on top of the pudding to stop a skin from forming, and then refrigerate once they are cooler. Make sure they are not still fridge-cold when you serve them. You can add a blog of cream on top if you like."

My notes: I doubled the recipe and ended up with 7 ramekins of pudding. Also, I didn't bother with the plastic wrap step and it was just fine, not much of a skin at all.

Now, on to the tomatoes...

Lately, nearly every food blog I follow has posted something about roasted tomatoes. I've been salivating each time I see the photos and read the authors' comments about their deliciousness. So, Nigella came through for me once again with her recipe for what she calls "Moonblush Tomatoes." I love this recipe because not only is it ridiculously easy but it's like getting a wonderful surprise when they're finally ready. I put mine in the oven last night before bed and when I woke up this morning couldn't wait to remove them and eat some. Here's the thing, you turn the oven on and get it nice and hot and then once you place the tomatoes inside you immediately turn it off. This means you can either do like I did or if you'd rather, you can stick them in before you leave for work in the morning and come home to these beautiful, fragrant gems that are fabulous in salads, alongside fish, chicken, or steak, or simply eaten with some cheese and bread.

This morning I ate mine for breakfast with cottage cheese and a slice of toasted rugbrod (Danish rye bread). What a treat!

Moonblush Tomatoes from Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson

1lb, about 24, on-the-vine cherry or other baby tomatoes
2T olive oil
2t kosher salt
1t dried thyme
1/4t sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 450F.

2. Cut the tomatoes in half and sit them cut side up in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over the olive oil and seasonings.

3. Put them in the oven and immediately turn it off. Leave the tomatoes in the oven overnight or for a day without opening it.

My notes: I used less than a pound of tomatoes because I simply took what I had sitting on my counter. Some were on the vine and a few of them were larger (sandwich-type) tomatoes. Also, I used sea salt and lined my pan with aluminum foil to make clean-up easy.

I can't wait for lunch to get here.

Thank you Soren, Mette, Frederik, and Agnete for coming to visit us!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Vegetarian Risotto, I mean Chili

I'm hesitant to write about this risotto, oops, I mean chili because it looks NOTHING like the version from 101 Cookbooks that inspired me to make it in the first place. My chili was so thick you could stand a fork in it, and I probably should have added a lot more water than the 10 cups the recipe calls for. Because barley figures prominently, I'd almost call my version chili risotto. Having said that, it was just plain wonderful, so I'm going to write about it anyway.

I'll give you the link to Heidi Swanson's recipe right up front. My changes are as follows: I omitted the hot peppers and chickpeas (the chili powder made it spicy enough for my family, and I was out of chick peas). Then, after I had sauteed the onion, shallots, and spices, I realized that I did not have a single can or carton of diced tomatoes. That left me with only one solution: improvise like hell. I used a quarter jar of almost-too-old-to-use spaghetti sauce, a half-cup of leftover diced tomatoes, a quarter cup ketchup, and 6 finely diced tomatoes. It might sound like an odd combo, and Heidi Swanson would probably be aghast, but it actually worked in the end. In addition to this mixture, I added dry lentils, barley, and bulgar wheat.

Heidi has all kinds of ideas regarding great toppers for her chili. I left mine alone and loved it that way but added some fresh dill and cubes of feta for my blog photo. To my mind, it's not really chili season, but I'm so glad I have a pot of leftovers to last me a few days. If you're a fan of barley and bulgar, I suggest you try it. Instead of chili risotto, you'll probably end up with something far closer to the original recipe.


I don't give up easily. When we visited Kira and Kevin last weekend I spent some time flipping through Kira's cookbook on Greek cuisine. I landed on a recipe for Spanakopita and saw that it included instructions for making phyllo dough from scratch. I loved this of course because of the sheer impossibility of buying phyllo in my town. arrgh. I love you, Jamie Oliver, but No, filo (as he calls it) is NOT available in all supermarkets nowadays (a maxim from Jamie at Home). At least not in Hobro, Denmark.

So the recipe intrigued me and I felt compulsed to tackle the challenge of making my own phyllo. It was not an east feat, trust me, but I managed to roll 8 individual layers that would end up enveloping the spinach filling. The sweat literally poured off me as I rolled each piece of dough as thin as paper. In a warm house, in summer. However, I wiped my brow before any dripped on to the dough, I promise.

I was pleased with the finished product even before I slipped it into the oven. Fully baked, I was even happier. While my phyllo was not nearly as light and flaky as the commercial variety, it was far better than I imagined it would be. I will definitely make this recipe again and each successive time I'll endeavor to roll the phyllo lighter and thinner. In the case of homemade phyllo, the adage practice makes perfect couldn't be more fitting.

Dough issues aside, what I love most about this pie is its filling. It's very simple and yet so darn delicious. I modified the recipe by adding cottage cheese and an egg to the spinach mix because, well, I like it this way. I think the combination of the white cheese and greens is both lovely and tasty.

Adapted from The Best Traditional Recipes of Greek Cooking by Dimitri Haitalis

1/2 kilo (1lb, 2oz) fresh spinach
6 spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 teacup fresh dill, finely chopped
1.5 teacups olive oil
1.5c cottage cheese (optional)
1 large egg (optional)
salt and pepper

1/2 kilo (1lb 2oz) flour
2 eggs
1/2 teacup melted butter
1 teacup warm water

1. Clean and wash the spinach meticulously, then drain well. Saute the onions in olive oil on medium heat until transparent but not brown. Shred spinach in large pieces and add to onions. Season to taste. Cook for 15 minutes until all the liquid is gone. Remove from heat and stir in dill.

3. Optional - in a bowl mix 1.5 cups cottage cheese with 1 large egg. Add a tiny bit of the warm spinach mix to the cold cheese mix and stir well. Then, in small amounts, keep adding spinach mix until it is all incorporated. Set aside and get on with preparing the phyllo dough.

4. Place flour in a bowl, add eggs, melted butter, salt and as much warm water as in necessary for a dough that is pliable. Knead well and roll out in thin pastry sheets with a rolling pin.

5. Line an oiled pan with a pastry sheet, brush with olive oil, then lay 2 or 3 pastry sheets on top brushing each one with olive oil. Spread filling evenly over the pastry sheets and cover with 3-4 more layers of pastry, oiled in the same way as previously.

6. Bake in a 180C or 350F oven for 45 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

My notes: Feel free to make the original version without cheese; I've included instructions if you want to add it though. Greek cooking uses teacup measurements. One teacup is equal to 3/4c. I really just eyeballed my measurements and probably used less olive oil than called for.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


We are lucky to live close to one of only four sacred Viking treasures in Denmark. Close enough that we rode our bikes there for a visit. What an experience. The highlight for me was an old, old, old Viking oven in which bread and other goodies are baked to share with visitors. One of the "Viking women", dressed in authentic Viking costume, presented me with a bread roll hot from the oven. I'm not exactly sure if the Vikings ate this particular kind of bread--it was a dense little loaf with many different grains that I'm not so sure they had access to in Viking times--but I loved the chewy, nutty, and rich flavors and texture. We finished our tour just as the center was closing for the day or I would have asked for more details and the recipe.

Part of the Viking village has been reconstructed, but other parts are original. There is also a terrific museum where you can try on one of those battle shirts made of silver chains (heavy!), a war helmet and, if you fancy, brandish a sword. And what museum isn't complete without a creepy--real-looking but--fake person? Here there's a Viking man made entirely of carved wood. Impressive.

Perhaps most impressive is that every July families move into the village to live as Vikings. Visitors can see these families involved in their daily routines and facing the joys and challenges of life during the Viking period.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cake and Braai

Last Friday afternoon Alan arrived home with two empty Tupperware boxes in which my cakes had been placed that morning. His colleagues ate every last bite of the lemon syrup loaf cake and the black and white cake.

My photograph of the lemon syrup cake is terrible. But please don't let that deter you from making a pan of this light, soury-sweet dessert. It's simple to make and extremely satisfying. I lifted the recipe from Nigella Lawson, and here it is, if you'd like to try it.

Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake
From How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

1/2c unsalted butter
1/2c plus 1T sugar
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon
1c plus 1T self-rising cake flour
pinch of salt
4T milk

juice of 1.5 lemons (or 4T juice)
1/2c powdered sugar

9x5 inch loaf pan (or 8" round or square) buttered and lined with parchment or wax paper

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Cream together the butter and sugar, and add eggs and lemon zest, beating them in well. Add the flour and salt, folding in gently but thoroughly, and then the milk.

2. Spoon into the prepared pan and put in the oven. While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Put the lemon juice and sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently so that the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

3. Bake the cake for 45 minutes or until golden brown and risen in the middle (it will sink a little on cooling). As soon as the cake is out of the oven, puncture the top all over with a cake tester, toothpick, or other suitable implement.

4. Pour over the syrup, trying to let the middle absorb it as well as the sides, then leave it to soak up the rest. Don't remove from pan until completely cold, as it will be sodden with syrup and might crumble.

My notes: It is not possible to buy self-rising cake flour in Denmark. Therefore, I mixed 7/8c of regular flour with 2T cornstarch and added a scant teaspoon of baking powder. I sifted it all together to make it light. Also, you might find that 45 minutes is too long for baking. Make sure to check it at 30 minutes.

My mother-in-law gave me a fabulous French cookbook called gâteau roulés in which there are lots and lots of tantalizing recipes for different kinds of jelly roll and other filled roll cakes. This was my first attempt at making one and, apart from a mistake with the cream filling, it turned out perfectly.

I like this dessert because it looks beautiful and it's quite easy to make. First you make the cake (La genoise) and then, while the cake is baking, the cream filling (La creme). One warning: there is A LOT of butter in the cream filling: over 1 cup! That's of course why I made it for my husband's colleagues. It's summer and I do not need the extra calories, thank you very much. My error in making the cream was inadvertently using granulated sugar when I knew very well that it called for powdered sugar. I simply reached for the granulated sugar without thinking about it. Oops. I believe it did have a slightly negative effect on the finished cream. My guess is that the powdered sugar would have essentially melted with the butter where the granulated sugar is a little tougher and not as "melt-worthy." Unless you cook it in a liquid first.

But anyway, after the cake is finished and cooled, the cream is applied, and the cake is rolled up, it gets wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

Here, my attempt to translate the recipe...

Noir et Blanc
From gâteau roulés by Ilona Chovancova

Serves 6-8

5 eggs
1/2c granulated sugar
1/2c flour
1t salt
3T cocoa powder

2 eggs
scant 1/2c powdered sugar
1c butter, soft
1 whole vanilla bean, seeds removed
1t salt

1. Preheat oven to 350F. For the cake, separate the yolks from the egg whites. Mix the yolks with the sugar until well blended and almost mousse-like in texture. Progressively add the flour and the cocoa until incorporated.

2. In another bowl, mix the salt with the egg whites and, with a hand mixer, beat until firm. Slowly incorporate the other mixture and fold together until blended.

3. Cover a cookie or jelly roll sheet (in Europe these pans are part of the oven) with parchment. Pour the cake batter onto the parchment, spread evenly with a spatula into a rectangle (leaving a half inch or so around the border) and bake 12 to 15 minutes.

4. When the cake is finished, remove from the oven, and place a clean, damp towel on top. Roll into a jelly roll and let cool.

5. Prepare the cream. In a bowl combine the eggs and slowly incorporate the powdered sugar. Over another bowl of hot water, mix the eggs and sugar for a couple of minutes until it thickens. Remove and continue to mix until thick-ish and well blended. (Mine didn't get that thick.)

6. In another bowl, beat the butter with a hand mixer. The instructions say to beat it until it becomes nearly white, 5 to 10 minutes. Mine didn't really turn white, but I beat it for 5-6 minutes to make sure it was nice a fluffy. Add the vanilla seeds (I suppose you can add 1t extract if you don't have a vanilla pod) and blend.

7. Incorporate the egg and sugar mix and stir with a wooden spoon.

8. When the cake is cool, unroll (some of the cake will stick to the towel, but don't worry, the cake will be covered with the filling anyway), remove the towel and parchment. Cover with the filling, roll again, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2-3 hours.

On Saturday we were delighted to visit our friends Kira and Kevin in Nykobing for a braai, which is Afrikaans for BBQ. Kira is Danish and Kevin is South African and they met years ago on a kibbutz in Israel. They are wonderful people and we are so lucky to count them as our friends. We were also joined by their friend Anita and her two darling children, Isabella and Nanna. Kevin and Kira's kids Freya and Anton were great about sharing their toys, paints, playhouse, and trampoline with Anatole and the girls. Anatole was in heaven. He played hard from the moment we arrived to the moment we left, nearly 5 hours later.

The food was terrific and by food I mean meat! In addition to potato salad that Anita brought and a marinated broccoli salad that I made (as well as some cut up cucumber and corn kernels), this dinner was all about two very fine meat dishes. Kira prepared spiced burger kebabs and the most fantastic pork loin, both cooked to perfection on the grill, thanks to Kevin's apt grilling skills.

Here is what made this particular pork loin so special: bananas and bacon. Yes, bananas. First, Kira seasoned the meat with salt and pepper. Then she covered it with Dijon mustard. After that she spread it with mashed banana, wrapped it in bacon, and secured it with toothpicks. I thought it was one of the better meat dishes I've had in a long time. The pork combined with the banana and mustard flavors was truly unique and delicious. I encourage you to serve this dish at your next BBQ. You won't be disappointed. But please make sure to not overcook the pork loin. Kevin grilled this one perfectly juicy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More Green Soup

A couple of months ago I couldn't stop making bread, but my new fixation is soup. It's light, healthy, and really satisfying at the end of a long day.  I happened to see a recipe for squash soup on 101 Cookbooks and was drawn to the beauty of the soup in the photo.  Other than reducing the amount of garlic and red pepper, I followed the recipe word for word and was absolutely delighted with the results.

Once again, I have to comment on my photo, specifically the difference between the soup photographed by Heather Swanson and my version.  That's because, once again, I employed my trusty food mill to puree the cooked squash, potatoes, and seasonings.  Heather used a blender to arrive at her beautiful bright green, silky-smooth-looking soup.  While some might call mine homely, I prefer rustic. And anyway, the taste is pure heaven so who cares.  The flavor of rosemary with the zucchini and potatoes is a perfect blend, and the feta on top adds an interesting touch.

This is an easy soup to make, so if you are a fan of squash or maybe have an excess supply in your garden (green or yellow works fine), I urge you to try this recipe.  I have a feeling tomorrow's leftovers are going to be even better.

Sorry, I don't feel like retyping the recipe, but please click here for it and you can see the gorgeous photo!

Now I'm going to get back to making cakes for my husband's office.   Yesterday he told me that he wanted to do something special for his team on Friday and was planning to buy some treats. I piped up and said Let me do it!  Now it's late Thursday night.  I've made two cakes, a tart dough is waiting in the fridge, I've done countless dishes, and everyone is in bed except me. What did I get myself into?  Truth be told, I love every second of it (except the dishes!).  Baking is relaxing to me, and it makes me happy to create something sweet to share with others.  

In my next post, I'll discuss the joys and challenges of making a lemon syrup loaf, noir et blanc gateaux roule, and free form strawberry tart.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Asparagus Soup

In case you couldn't tell, I'm still on the asparagus section of Jamie at Home and although I was trying to imitate a photo in the book, I didn't come close. That's because, excluding the bread and egg, my version of creamy asparagus soup with a poached egg on toast was pushed through a food mill, my one and only tool for pureeing. Asparagus being the woody, stringy vegetable that it is, it just doesn't puree in the same way that, say, potatoes do - nice and creamy. Jamie even says to use a hand-held blender or liquidizer (whatever that is). The bright green stalk in the middle of my bowl of soup is one of the tips, added at the end of cooking to give it a little something extra. I think it also makes the dull green more palatable.

Apart from the texture--I went ahead and threw the stringy stuff at the bottom of the food mill into the broth--the soup was fantastic. I would have much preferred it pureed to the silky smooth consistency that Jamie talks about, but I still reaped the benefits of this nutritious dish. If you are looking for a light and tasty soup made all the more interesting with the addition of a poached egg on toast, give this one a go. Don't judge it by my photo because your blenderized version will be creamy and much prettier!

Asparagus Soup (adapted from Jamie at Home)

400g asparagus, woody ends removed
olive oil
1 medium white onion, peeled and chopped
1 stick celery, trimmed and chopped
1 leek, trimmed and chopped
1 liter chicken or vegetable stock
sea salt and ground pepper
4 small eggs
4 slices of ciabatta or baguette bread
a knob of butter
extra virgin olive oil

1. Chop the tips off the asparagus and put to one side for later. Roughly chop asparagus stalks.

2. To a saucepan containing olive oil, sautee onions, celery, and leeks for 10 minutes, until soft. Add chopped asparagus stalks and stock and simmer for 20 minutes with a lid on.

3. Remove from heat and puree (preferably with a standard or hand-held blender). Season the soup little by little with salt and pepper until just right.

4. Put soup back on the heat, stir in asparagus tips, bring back to the boil and simmer for a few more minutes until the tips have softened.

5. Just before serving the soup, in another saucepan, bring a few cups of water to the boil and, using really fresh eggs, crack each one into the water. Cook 2-3 minutes. [My husband always does the poaching and he swears by putting a couple teaspoons of red or white vinegar in the pan prior to inserting the eggs].

6. Toast the bread slices. Using a slotted spoon, remove the eggs to a plate and add a knob of butter to them.

7. To serve, divide the soup between eight warmed bowls and place a piece of toast into each. Put a poached egg on top, cut into it to make it runny, season and drizzle with evoo.

Serves 4 [I halved the recipe--just double it to serve 8 or freeze some.]

Spring peonies, Hobro, Denmark

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Asparagus and Potato Tart

Look at what my precious son brought me. He was so excited.

Other than accepting this beautiful flower from my son, the best part of being sick this week was receiving my new Jamie Oliver cookbook in the mail and laying in bed reading it. I remember watching him on TV years ago when the Food Network was just getting started. I've always admired his energy, creativity, and zest for life. He is one of a kind, no doubt about it. But until recently I hadn't thought much about his cookbooks. I had been hearing how great Jamie at Home is and decided to splurge on a copy, shipped from Amazon UK. It's not that the book is that expensive, but anything is a splurge when you're unemployed.

I'm only about a third of the way through it, and I've been impressed with the beauty and simplicity of the recipes. The book's chapters are divided into the four seasons and each season is broken up into sub-chapters. Right now I'm focused on the asparagus section in spring. There's a recipe I'm dying to try because it looks so darn delicious and fun: crispy pancetta wrapped asparagus that you dip in soft boiled eggs. In the book Jamie presents the topless soft boiled eggs in a purple supermarket egg carton. The bright green asparagus, deep yellow and white eggs, and the purple carton, well, the colors make for an extraordinary photo. I can't decide whether to make it now for my family of three (not exactly toddler food except for the hands-on part) or wait to serve it for breakfast or brunch with friends.

Tonight I adapted Jamie's recipe for Crispy and Delicious Asparagus and Potato Tart. I had hoped to follow it to the letter, but I only had two sheets of phyllo dough in my fridge (Jamie refers to it as filo and his recipe calls for 5) and I lacked one of the two cheeses it called for. Quick aside: if you are new to this blog, I'll just tell you that locating phyllo dough in Denmark is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. I'm not joking. I can't find it anywhere in our town and the last time I bought some was in Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city and well over an hour's drive from here. I bought two packages but I should have bought at least twice that. At least I know for next time.

But despite my short supply of phyllo and different cheese, I went for it. I like the fact that Jamie says you can use whatever kind of pan you prefer. I chose a 10" quiche pan. I lined it with one sheet of phyllo (which overlapped the pan) brushed it with melted butter, and repeated with my second sheet. I set that aside and got busy with the filling. To boiled, mashed potatoes, I added two types of cheddar. One a traditional mild yellow and the other white and sharp. Both are imports from Ireland. In another bowl I mixed 3 eggs with 2/3 cup heavy cream. The egg and cream mix got mixed in with the cheesy potato mix and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg was stirred in. I poured this into the phyllo lined tart and then decorated it with blanched asparagus spears.

The presentation is lovely. This is a very good dish but I would do a couple of things differently next time. First, I believe the amount of filling I poured in the pan was too much for the pan size. According to the photo in Jamie's book, the tart should be on the flat side. Mine was at least 1.5" thick, too thick I thought. Also, I would make sure I had the requisite 5 sheets of phyllo because I think it would make more of a crust that the filling needs.
But this is a terrific and easy lunch or dinner and goes great with a pile of greens on the side.

Asparagus and Potato Tart (from Jamie at Home)
500g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g asparagus spears, woody ends removed
200g filo pastry
100g butter, melted
100g freshly grated Lancashire cheese
100g freshly grated Cheddar cheese
3 large organic or free-range eggs (Jamie has a whole section in his book about why you don't want to eat traditionally farmed eggs)
1 x284ml pot of double cream (I used a little more than a 1/2c of heavy cream)
1/4 of a nutmeg (would have preferred a whole nutmeg but used ground instead)
In Jamie's words:
Put your potatoes into a pan of salted boiling water and cook for 15 minutes. Meanwhile blanch your asparagus in a separate pan of salted boiling water for 4 minutes, and drain in a colander.
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Get an ovenproof dish--I've used many different shapes and sizes. Layer the sheets of filo pastry in the dish, brushing them with melted butter as you go and letting about a 2.5 cm hand over the edge. You want to get the pastry about five layers thick. Put a clean, damp tea towel over the top and put to one side.
When the potatoes are done, mash them with the cheeses. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs and cream and stir into your cheesy mashed potato. Grate in the nutmeg, season well with pepper and mix together. Spread the mashed potato over the filo pastry, then bring up the sides of the filo and scrunch them together to form a rim. Take your blanched asparagus and line them up across the filling, making sure you cover it all. Brush all over with the remaining melted butter [a step I forgot] and pop into the preheated oven for around 20 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Serve just as you would a quiche for a quick lunch or supper, with a salad.
Serves 4

Friday, June 12, 2009

Food for Invalids

Why did I bother? I just asked my husband which of the 10 or so photos he liked best of tonight's dinner of white fish and veggie puree. Alan: "You know what's the problem? The plate. You should have used a different one." But don't worry, he said, you can Photo shop it and make the rim blue instead of yellow." Me: "Yeah...okay...I'll get right on that." I must admit, he has a point about the veggie puree unintentionally ending up the same color as the rim on our bowls, but no mistake equals the punishment of monkeying around with Photo shop.

Since we're still recovering from this nasty cold virus that's hit our household, I made fish and veggies, the most nutritious and easy thing I could think of. The fish is local and is a relative of cod. I simply sprinkled it with a little salt and dried tarragon and baked it for 15 minutes. On the stove top I sauteed leeks and a little bit of butter in a large saucepan. After it cooked for a few minutes, I added chopped carrots, asparagus, and potatoes along with a little salt and a couple cups of water. It cooked for 25 minutes and then I passed the mix through a food mill to puree it. I added the finished puree back to the saucepan, incorporated a tablespoon of butter, and that was it. I wasn't sure how the fish would taste sitting right on the puree, but it was actually quite good. I squeezed fresh lemon over the whole thing and mixing a bit of fish with a bit of puree on the fork was a delicious combination. When he was eating it, Alan didn't even notice the yellow rimmed plate.

A quick note about my title: I have this incredible cookbook that I've had for many years called The American Woman's Cookbook, first published in 1938 and last published in 1943. I picked it up at a garage sale when I was in college, and I've referred to it at different times over the years. While it is full of wonderful and basic information on practically any food you can think of, it offers some very archaic advice. For example, an entire chapter is devoted to Food and Beverages for Invalids, intended to "help the housewife who, in addition to her other work, has the duty of ministering to the needs of the sick and convalescent." Thus the inspiration for today's blog title. Don't you love it?

White Fish and Veggie Puree
Four, card-deck size (or thereabouts) fillets of cod or other white fish
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 t tarragon
olive oil for the baking dish

1. Place a piece of foil in your baking pan and drizzle with 1T of olive oil. You don't have to line the pan with foil, but I do this because I'm lazy and prefer washing a minimum number of dishes.
2. Place fillets in the pan, sprinkle with salt and and tarragon
3. Bake at 350F for 15-18 minutes

Veggie Puree
1 large leek, chopped into rings and washed (I immerse my chopped rings into a bowl of cold water to get all the sand and dirt out)
2T butter
3 medium carrots, peeled (I leave the peel on if they're organic) and cut into 1/4" rounds
8 or 9 small potatoes (new potato size), 2 large, or 4 medium
1/2 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
2-3 cups of water
1t salt

1. In a large saucepan, saute leeks in 1T butter for 5-6 minutes until soft and translucent.
2. Add the rest of the veggies, water, and salt (the water should barely cover the veggies---if you want soup, add more water) and bring to a boil.
3. Once it boils, reduce heat to a strong simmer and cook 20-25 minutes until veggies will easily mash with a fork.
4. Remove from heat and either pass through a food mill or puree in a blender, in batches.
5. Add puree back to saucepan and incorporate remaining 1T butter and season to taste.
Serve with fish.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Danish Greek Salad

Did my title catch your attention? I've been sick all week with a cold, sore throat, and cough and the foods that appeal to me most are fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies. Today for lunch I chopped cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, and feta and added two things to give this salad a Danish twist: slices of a beautiful narrow little yellow Danish pepper and a piece of toasted rugbrod on the side. The pepper added even more splendid color to the salad, and the bread was a fantastic, crunchy accompaniment. Unfortunately, I'm out of Kalamata olives, but normally I'd toss some of those in, too.

To the top, I added a few sprinkles of dried oregano and a 1/4 teaspoon or so of Cavender's All Purpose Greek Seasoning. I didn't bother with a dressing, but you can easily add a splash of olive oil and vinegar or olive oil and lemon juice.

This is such a terrific salad this time of year. Everything tastes so fresh and good. I recommend letting the tomato and cucumber come to room temperature before assembling; but if you prefer your veggies straight from the fridge, go for it. My tomatoes are typically on the counter, but it's the cucumber that I remove from the fridge ahead of time because I find it tastes better not quite so cold. Also, as a matter of preference, I chop the ingredients into small bits so that all I need is a fork to get it from the bowl into my mouth. In other words, no knife required...but cut the ingredients as big or small as you wish.

Danish Greek Salad
Serves 1 as a main dish or 2 as a side

1/2 cucumber, diced
1 large tomato, diced
1/4 of a block of good feta, crumbled
1/4 of a red onion, chopped fine
1/4c Kalamata olives
1/4 of a yellow pepper, chopped fine (or sliced into rings if you have a narrow pepper)
1 piece sliced, toasted rugbrod (or any good bread)
Sprinkle of oregano
Sprinkle of Greek seasoning (otherwise add a little salt to bring out the flavor of the tomatoes and cucumbers...go easy though, the feta is already salty.)
1. Toss all ingredients into a bowl, mix in spices, add, if you wish, a dressing of olive oil and red wine vinegar, and serve with toasted bread. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Girls Night Out

Clockwise from left: Kira, Yolanda, Liz, Sanne, Hannetjie, and Maela

Left to right: Yolanda, Staci, and Kira

Last Saturday I hosted girls night out for six fabulous and diverse international women. Each one is interesting and accomplished; among other things, our common denominator is that we live in Denmark and we love to laugh and eat good food. In part, I have my husband to thank for this.

Before we moved to Hobro, Alan had a Friday night tradition in Skive known as "book club." Yes, it's in quotes because there were no books involved. It was a bunch of guys sitting in a pub drinking pint after pint of Guinness. He was lucky enough to be welcomed into this group of Irish, Scottish, and British men that's been meeting for years to shoot the breeze and consume as much Guinness as their bellies will hold. While I was happy for Alan--he thinks the world of these guys--I wasn't so thrilled seeing him stagger into the house and head immediately to the couch where he would stay (fully clothed) until morning. And in true Danish fashion, he rode his bike home from the pub! However, his book club membership paid off for me in a big way.

One of the Scottish guys works with an American woman, Liz, with whom I eventually got connected. Liz invited me to coffee at her house with her and two other American women and then soon after to an unforgettable girls night out where I met some really incredible women. I hadn't had that much fun in ages. So yes, I do have Alan to thank for going to the pub, drinking Guinness, and passing out on the couch. Now that we're in Hobro we have a new, much mellower, Friday tradition: we ride our bikes to the marina and while Anatole and I share an ice cream, Alan savors a single pint of Carlsberg Special (no Guinness at the ice cream shop!). He misses book club, but he's happy to be felling fitter and saving the 200 plus kroner he would spend each time (that's $40...on beer!).

Back to girls night out. My Danish friend Kira showed up early and got preparations underway for her signature peach soup. Last year she attended a conference near Vejle and this soup was served at the hotel. She later obtained the recipe from the hotel's website. It's a gorgeous and wonderfully delicious concoction. Yolanda is from Madrid and she showed up next with a mouth watering orange chocolate mousse. Then the rest of group arrived: Liz, who's originally from Missouri, brought an amazing, garlicky shrimp artichoke dip. She served it with tortilla chips, and it was impossible to stay out of. Trust me. Hannetjie is South African and she made a simple yet incredibly delicious appetizer--cherry wrapped bacon skewered with toothpicks and broiled until crisp. It was only after I ate one did I realize that she used maraschino cherries, not something I typically go for. But the combination of sweet and salty was irresistible.

Sanne is Danish and she whipped up not one but two pans of ham and leek quiche. I think there was cheese in it, too. It was light and seasoned perfectly. The quiche I made was studded with sauteed spinach, tomato slices, and crisp bacon bits. Lots of pork going on at this party.

Yolanda and Maela

Born and raised in Belgium, Maela is the daughter of Italians. She speaks four languages that I know of. Maela bestowed us with her delectable tiramisu (to which she added sliced strawberries) and a lovely apple tart. There's not much to say about tiramisu other than that it's a truly special dessert. Beautiful to look at and even better to eat. The apple tart was sweetened perfectly, had a nutty, crunchy topping, and I love the fact that Maela left the skin on the sliced apples. It gave it a rustic touch and a pretty pinkish color. Thanks, Mama Maela! I almost forgot about the chocolate cheese--very unique and such a treat. Last but not least, Yolanda's chocolate mousse was a huge hit--light, creamy, and so delicious.

We drank beer, wine, Safari liqueur, tea, coffee, and consumed a 9 x 13 pan of vodka Jello. While it's possible to find gelatin in Denmark it's virtually impossible to find anything similar to Jello, where all you do is add water to the mix and then let it set in the fridge. So when I told Liz I was thinking of hosting a girls night and that I had shipped some boxes of Jello from the U.S., she said "You have to make Jello shots!" I combed the stores for little paper cups but couldn't find any, so I took Liz's suggestion and made them in a pan. I followed the recipe for strawberry gigglers and simply added vodka. When they were ready I cut them into squares and people ate them right out of their hands. Gigglers are nice (with or without the vodka) because there's so much gelatin in the mixture that they don't stick to your hands and make a mess when you eat them. There wasn't one of us who didn't take seconds...and thirds. Those little suckers are dangerous!

We took a nice walk to the marina for some fresh air and to make room for dessert. After we stuffed ourselves with mousse, tart, and tiramisu, we sat talking until after 1:00 a.m. What a spectacular evening. Thanks, ladies! I can't wait for the next girls night...

Kira's Peach Soup
2 onions - chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic - chopped finely
1T mild curry (madras)
1t turmeric
1-2t oil
1 can of peaches in syrup
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1/2 liter cream
750ml chicken stock
2 leeks - finely chopped
400g small shrimp

1. In a large stock pot, fry onions through turmeric in oil for a minute or two.
2. Puree peaches and tomatoes and add to the pot, let simmer over low heat for one hour.

3. Add leeks and shrimp 2 minutes before serving, mix together and serve with bread on the side.