Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in Denmark

While I will be away for two weeks celebrating Christmas in France, I recently wrote an article for Daring that describes Christmas traditions in Denmark.  I have been blown away by the way Danes celebrate this special time of year:  everything from Gløgg wine and Pebernødder cookies to the beautiful white lights and candles for as far as the eye can see.

Please check out my article.

As the Danes say, God Jul og Godt Nytår.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Risengrød and our Nisse Alberte

There is a holiday tradition in Denmark that involves making a bowl of risengrød for a household's resident guardian spirit, called a nisse.  A nisse is sort of a mixture of elf/pixie/gnome and in Scandinavian folklore nisse were said to protect farms and their masters.  But nisse are known to be temperamental and if they do not receive a warm bowl of risengrød with a knob of butter and sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon on Christmas Eve, there's no telling what havoc they'll wreak.  I remember reading somewhere that when he didn't get his porridge, one nisse made the daughter of the house dance all night long until she almost died.

This year our dagpleje mor (daycare provider), Inger, and her family gave us the gift of our very own nisse, Alberte.

I prepared risengrød a few days ago and thought it was just about the best thing I've ever tasted.  All it has in it is rice, milk, and salt, but it is wonderfully delicious, hearty, and satisfying.  You can bet Alberte will be getting a bowl this Christmas Eve.


1.5c    water
1T      butter
1/2t     salt
1c       rice (pearl rice, aborio works, too)
4.5c    milk (I used 1.5 percent, which I believe is the equivalent of the 2% found in the U.S.)

1.  Rinse rice well and drain.  In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring first three ingredients to a rapid boil over high heat.

2.  Pour in rice, stirring constantly to prevent sticking.

3.  Reduce heat to low, stirring rice until boiling is reduced to a simmer.  Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes until most of the water is absorbed.

4.  Add milk to rice, stirring to incorporate.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then immediately reduce to low.  Once boiling has reduced to a simmer, cover and allow to cook, without stirring,  45-50 minutes.

Serve with a pat of butter and cinnamon and sugar.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter in Denmark

Sharing some of our recent winter wonderland sights.  I took the photos of the lighted bush at approximately 8:00 a.m. when day break was just upon us.  With sunset between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m., it's a heck of a short day of daylight.

When I stepped off our back deck the frozen "flowers" caught my eye.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

My Gingerbread Man

Anatole and I had a blast making gingerbread cookies this year.  We shared them with family and friends, and he was especially happy to use the rolling pin and "make pie" with his gingerbread dough.  I have never seen a two-year old have so much fun in the kitchen.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Oops, My Bad

After I posted about the food I brought back from the U.S., I received some important feedback.

1.  Quinoa DOES exist in Denmark.  A girlfriend of mine found it at the discount chain Fakta in her small town of Skive.  So there's hope!

2.  A reader from Denmark encouraged me to try the chocolate chips called Grand Cru from the Odense brand.  I have and, while they're not quite like the ones from home, they are a terrific substitute.

Tak for det, ladies!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rum Balls

For countless Christmases, my grandmother would prepare a huge batch of what she called Bourbon Balls. Everyone in the family loved them, except me. I could only taste the alcohol, which made me gag. But I suppose that's the real reason everybody else loved them so much.

This year my mom shared a new recipe that caught my attention. I realized that nobody was forcing me to make them boozy. I could control the rum and add as much or as little as I liked. Now I'm on my third batch and they get better each time. I've given them away to friends and family and will be shipping some to our family members in France who live on the side of country we won't be visiting this Christmas (we're sticking to the Alps where we can ski!).

I've learned that the balls look prettiest when rolled smallish (3/4 of the size of a walnut) and run through a plate of red sugar sprinkles. Also, while I used the pecans the recipe calls for in the first batch, they are not very accessible or affordable here. In fact, I paid the equivalent of $7 for approximately 1 cup of pecans. The second time around I toasted a mix of walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts and thought the finished balls were just as good if not better than the first batch. So if you like one type of nuts over another, use what you like or have in the house. But I can't promise that peanuts would work well.

There are no chocolate or vanilla wafers in Denmark (that I know of), so I simply used Marie vanilla biscuits. Although they are quite a different thing than vanilla wafers, they worked beautifully. Finally, I opted for 1/4 cup rum and thought the flavor was perfect.

Rum Balls
Adapted from Alison Ladman's recipe, The Associated Press

8oz pecans, toasted and cooled
9oz package chocolate or vanilla wafers (or 1 sleeve of Marie biscuits)
1/2c powdered sugar
2T cocoa powder
1/2c rum (I used 1/4c)
2.5T corn syrup (or lys sirup)
Zest of 1 orange
a couple of squeezes of juice from the orange
colored decorating sugar, white granulated sugar, powered sugar, etc. (whatever you want to roll yours in...plain is fine, too)

Note: You might need to play a bit with the moisture of the mix. You want a mix that rolls relatively easy in your hands. That is, not too dry and not overly wet either. I found my first batch a bit dry; by adding a few more drops of orange juice and a little more syrup, it was just right.

1. In a food processor, pulse the pecans until finely ground.

2. Add the cookies and pulse until ground and mixed together.

3. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until thoroughly mixed.

4. Roll the mixture into small balls, then decorate by rolling in whatever topping you choose.

Store in an airtight container. Makes about 35.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

So Excited

For the first time in my 37 years, I did something I thought I would never do:  I made a fruitcake.  Yes, that's right, a fruitcake.  It all started back in the summer when I was flipping through Nigella's Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess, which has turned into my resident baking bible.  I came across a recipe for Christmas Cake and thought it sounded like so much fun to make.  I was also really excited by the idea of making something, putting it away for 3-4 weeks, and then getting it out with great anticipation.

The photos I'm sharing of my cake are rather pitiful, but it doesn't matter because I just had the best time whipping it up and can't wait till Christmas gets here.  Plus, I will share more when we actually dig into it and see what it looks like on the inside.  I know that fruitcake has a terrible reputation, but I have high hopes for this one.

Christmas Cake
Adapted from How to Be a Domestic Goddess

4c      golden raisins
1.5c   raisins
3/4c   currants
3/4c   glacé cherries
3/4c   candied orange peel
1/2c   chopped walnuts
1/2c   chopped almonds
3/4c   Marsala
1c      butter
1c      brown sugar
2T     molasses
1.5t   orange zest, grated
1.5t   lemon zest, grated
6       large eggs
3T     orange marmalade
3.5c   flour
1/4t    cinnamon
1/4t    nutmeg
1/4t    cloves
1t       almond extract
1/4t    salt

10" round pan or 9" square

1.  Place all of the fruit and nuts in a large bowl, and add Marsala.  Cover and let soak overnight.

2.  Preheat oven to 250F.

3.  Line our pan with a double thickness of parchment paper, to come up a few inches above the rim of the pan.

4.  Cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the molasses and orange and lemon zest.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, and then the marmalade.

5.  Sift the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture.  Add the almond extract and combine thoroughly.

6.  Put cake mixture into the prepared pan and bake 4 to 4.5 hours or until a cake tester comes out clean.

7.  When the cake is cooked, brush with a couple of tablespoons of extra Marsala.  Wrap immediately in its pan--using a double thickness of aluminum foil--as this will trap the heat and form steam, which in turn will keep the cake soft on top.  When it's completely cold (mine took over 6 hours on the counter to get cold), remove the cake from the pan and rewrap in foil, storing, preferably in an airtight tin or plastic container, for at least 3 weeks.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Goodies

After Hjerl Hede we stopped to see our friends Mette and Søren and their kids Frederik and Agnete. They had us for coffee, tea, and the most terrific platter of homemade Christmas treats. Except for two, which her mother made, Mette baked and prepared everything.

I was intrigued by the cookies called Vanillekranse because we had just seen them rolled, pressed, and shaped at the Hjerl Hede bakery, so I knew they must be a traditional holiday staple. The Pebernødder cookies are little bite-sized buttons of goodness that are crunchy, spicy, and sweet. You see them practically everywhere throughout Denmark at this time of year. In fact, when we flew into the airport last weekend coming back from the U.S., I had a need to use the phone in one of the international rental car company offices. Sitting right there on the desk was a tin of Pebernødder for the taking. And I noticed a few days ago at a supermarket called Kiwi there was a box sitting at the cash register, again for customers to take as they please.

Mette also prepared some delicious candy made of chocolate and marzipan and another kind with chocolate nougat rolled up around marzipan that had been mixed with powdered sugar to make it less sticky and easier to work with.

I am so grateful to have such good friends here in Denmark, and even more so because they share such wonderful food, drinks, recipes, and more with us!

Vanillakranse Cookies
Recipe adapted from

1.5c butter, softened
2 1/4c granulated sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
3.5c flour
1/2c finely ground almonds (almond flour preferably)

1. Cream butter and sugar.

2. Add remaining ingredients and mix until smooth.

3. Put dough into a cookie press to make a serrated strip of dough (see photo above) and shape into a wreath. If you don't have a cookie press, use your favorite cookie cutter.

4. Place on a greased or parchment lined cookie sheet and bake at 325F for 8-10 minutes or until very lightly brown.

Note: If dough is difficult to work with, refrigerate 30 minutes.

Turns out, I don't mind seeing a pig slaughtered

This past weekend I traveled to a wonderful place in Denmark called Hjerl Hede. If you are not Danish, don't even think about trying to pronounce it correctly.

Hjerl Hede is an open air museum with many different buildings, stables, recreation areas, and more that mimic Danish life in the old days. Even though my toes were frozen for the better part of three hours, it is without a doubt one of the best and most interesting experiences I've had in Denmark. We went with our friends Kira and Kevin and their children Freya and Anton. The place was packed because Hjerl Hede is closed from November through March but opens up for three special weekends in December to celebrate Christmas, old-fashioned Danish style.

I was absolutely amazed by the sight of a real live pig being slaughtered, and all the steps that were involved using techniques that would now be considered archaic. I wasn't sure I would be up for seeing all the blood and guts, but I had a hard time pulling myself away. So fascinating. Even the kids were into it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Finally Back Online and Cherry-Habanero Sauce

I thought I would end my 4+ week hiatus with a post about the food I brought back from my trip to the U.S. and share a fun condiment recipe courtesy of my stepdad.

Here's the deal: ever since my residency in Denmark began, I started keeping a mental--and eventually, paper--list of food items not accessible in my little corner of the world. Of course, some of these items might be found in Copenhagen or even Denmark's second largest city, Aarhus, which is nearer to where I live, but let's get real. It's simply not practical to grocery shop two hours away--unless you live in Alaska or Siberia and you have no other choice.

Among the items pictured, I also returned home with a box of currants, two boxes of matzo ball mix, various spices and extracts and some glacé cherries and candied orange peel for a special Christmas cake I'm planning to make. I thought for sure that customs would pull me aside and ask if the contents of the bags of whole wheat pastry flour were some sort of toasted cocaine, but thankfully I made it through with no questions asked. While I was dying to bring back a bunch of cans of black beans, I opted for dried instead and used my can allotment for poppy seed filling and sweetened condensed milk.

I also picked up some bulk steel-cut oats and quinoa. If you cant tell from my photo, there is also a bag of almonds. Strange you might say, are there not almonds in Denmark? Of course, but I am crazy about the dry roasted variety, and I've yet to find any in my vicinity. There are also some ziploc baggies with the unboxed contents of Annie's Organic Macaroni and Cheese. We can't even find Kraft in our town, let alone Annie's! Only when you are really serious about cooking do you go to this much trouble during a vacation. Finally, the candy represents various interests: the dum dums are for my son, the kisses were bought because I really cherish memories of eating kisses out of a candy dish at Christmas time, the caramels because one day I was daydreaming about caramel apples. And the chocolate chips because if you haven't heard me say if before, it is impossible to find NORMAL chocolate chips here! But I'm not bitter or anything.

On to today's recipe. Through a friend of a friend, my stepdad got his hands on an amazing recipe for Cherry-Habanero Sauce. I'm a wimp when it comes to spicy foods and sauces, but this sauce makes the most delicious condiment for eggs, meats, and roasted or steamed vegetables. I tried a little on steamed broccoli and it really brought out the life in the tree tops and woody stems. But a little is all you need...unless of course you want a burning mouth or happen to enjoy that particular sensation.

Canned in cute little jars, this condiment makes the perfect holiday gift for your favorite food lovers. Thanks, Len, for opening up my world by introducing me to this wonderful sauce.

Cherry-Habanero Sauce

2c Ketchup
2/3c Vinegar
1/2c Onion (finely chopped)
1c Cherry preserves
1/4c Yoshida's
1/4c Water
2 Habanero peppers (chopped)
2 Bay Leaves
1 Clove Garlic (finely chopped)

Mix all ingredients together in a sauce pan and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Pulverize mix in a food processor or blender until well blended. Strain for an even smoother finish.

Add and incorporate:

1/2t Salt
2/3c Brown Sugar
1T Liquid Smoke

Makes 3 cups.