Thursday, May 20, 2010

Eating out in Berlin

We just got back from a long weekend in Berlin.  Alan had been before, but it was my first visit.  Let me start by saying, What a city! Perhaps it's because I live in semi-rural Denmark and am constantly city-deprived, but I really fell in love with the German capital city.  How can you not go crazy over a city with a 600-acre park smack dab in the center?  And the history of East/West Germany is fascinating.

I have more to say (and show) about Berlin but  thought I would share just how much I appreciated eating dinner at some excellent ethnic restaurants.  The first night it was Greek food in a tiny taverna; next was a Nepalese/Indian restaurant that had the best momos, or Nepalese dumplings.  And isn't it fun to say the word "momo?"  Anatole was thrilled with the wide array of children's books for restaurant patrons--a few in English, too.

The day after that we enjoyed lamb kebabs at one of the oldest Turkish establishments in the Kreuzberg district.  Fantastic food.

On our last night it was a toss up between traditional German fare and fish and chips and Guinness at a charming Irish pub called Lir.  The pub won out, and the fish and chips were no regrets.

Another highlight of the trip was shopping at an Asian grocery store and bringing home things I could never dream of finding within a 100-kilometer radius of my town, if at all in Denmark.  The evening we arrived home I turned the buckwheat soba noodles into a delicious meal with stir-fried tofu and veggies.

Also, at the Asian market next to the checkout, I picked up a small cellophane bag containing little dumplings with sweet mungbean inside.  It was so fun to try something foreign, and the bonus is that they were delicious.

It's worth mentioning that the cost of eating out in Berlin is very affordable.  The average price for two entrees and two glasses of wine or beer was 23 euros (for dinner).  It feels like a pretty big score when you can eat great food and spend less than 25 euros at the same time.  I don't know about other parents of toddlers out there, but most of the time Anatole shares what we order.  He just tends to eat so little for dinner that it doesn't make sense to buy him his own entree.  

Thank you, Berlin, for the good food, lush, green trees virtually everywhere you turn, and lots of amazing spots for sightseeing.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pandekagekagen or Pancake Cake

So last week I was at our local library with Anatole playing with their fun toys and picking out books to bring home.  Along with a Barbapapa book about the Barbapapa family turning into an orchestra, a book about going to the doctor (endless fascination for Anatole at this stage in his life), and a "search and find" picture book, I found a something for me.  Has anyone else ever done that?  It happens every once in awhile that I find a children's book I just have to take home.  Like the time I found a fascinating story about a day in the life of a real family in Mongolia or the book with fun do-it-yourself crafts for Easter.

Well, this time it was a Danish cookbook called "Fun in the Kitchen with Peddersen and Findus."  It has plenty of fun illustrations geared toward children, but the recipes are adult-friendly.  I fell in love with the drawings, fun colors, and great looking recipes...and of course Peddersen and his helpful cat.  Too cute.

The recipe for "Pandekagekagen" or pancake cake had my name written all over it.  But I should confess right now.  Yes, I made a pancake cake, but No, I did not make it from scratch.  Right from the start I knew that I'd use a box of the best pre-made Swedish pancakes, available in my grocer's freezer aisle.  Swedish pancakes are thin and similar to crepes. I debated and debated about the right filling, and then ended up grabbing a jar of Scottish lemon curd that a friend had given me a few months back.

To a leftover tub of soft cream cheese, I added a half cup or so of powdered sugar and stirred it until it was nice and smooth.  Then came time for the fun part.

I placed the first (thawed) pancake on a cake plate, smeared on some lemon curd and then topped with another pancake.  Then I added the cream cheese filling, another pancake, and more lemon curd, alternating until I had a plain pancake on top.

To the top I spread on a thick layer of maple-syrup-sweetened whipped cream and garnished with sliced strawberries and lemon rind.

The guests that I served it to said they really enjoyed it.  Personally, I loved the presentation more than the taste.  It's a good dessert and the flavors work really well together, but it was perhaps a tad gummy.  I actually think it would be better to make my own crepes and assemble the cake with the homemade version.  My store bought brand is excellent and all-natural, but perhaps the time going from frozen to thawed to served made for some challenge in the texture department.

Best nevertheless, I had a lot of fun preparing the pancake cake.  And I also think it makes for a novel dessert for a lunch or dinner party.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Baking Mix and Coconut Custard Pie

The other day I pulled out an unopened bag of sweetened, shredded coconut that had been sitting in my fridge since I returned from the U.S. last December.  (Perhaps you can get the sweetened version in Denmark, but I've never seen it.) I realized it was probably time to do something with it. I thought I'd make macaroons, but then I spotted a recipe on the bag for pie and was more inspired to try that instead.  The only problem is that the recipe called for baking mix, such as Bisquick.

First, I've resolved never to use Bisquick again if I can help it.  It's not that I hate the stuff, but it's very processed and contains all sorts of questionable ingredients.  In other words, Bisquick is about as far from natural as you can get.  However, having a go-to baking mix is extremely handy for all sorts of things (pancakes, waffles, biscuits, crumbles, and more).  So why not make your own and control what you put in it?

So I scoured online and hard copy recipes to arrive at something I could feel comfortable with.  Normally, for the flour, I would use either all or part whole-wheat, but I'm short on that precious staple at the moment. And, you wouldn't think so, but finding plain, finely ground, whole-wheat flour is next to impossible in my town.  It's easy to get whole-rye flour, for example, or sometimes I can find whole-grain gluten free flour, but I'd just as soon skip both of these as the basis for my baked goods.

We're going to France in July, so guess who will be coming back to Denmark with a trunk full of whole-what flour?  Guilty as charged.

At any rate, this baking mix is easy to mix up, sits happily in the refrigerator for weeks, and turns out some tasty pancakes.

I also used it to make the coconut pie from the Baker's Angel Flake Coconut package, but I'm calling it Coconut Custard Pie, because it tastes nothing like a traditional coconut pie to me.  Also, because there is sugar in the baking mix and sugar in the coconut, I completely eliminated the sugar called for in the recipe.  Quick aside:  I realize that what I said about Bisquick being loaded with preservatives and other unnatural ingredients goes for sweetened, shredded coconut, too.  At least the Baker's brand.  I suppose I feel better (but only slightly so) about using the coconut because it's something we eat so seldom. Whereas, I refuse to make my kid pancakes every Sunday from a heavily processed mix.

Okay, back to the pie.

The result is a slightly sweet, eggy, coconut dessert that I think would make a perfect accompaniment to brunch.  And if you're not a fan of coconut, don't even bother.  But I really like this pie because it offers something different in the way of flavors and texture and isn't overly sweet.

Homemade Baking Mix
8c. flour (unbleached white or whole wheat)
4T sugar
1T salt
1/4c baking powder
1c. powdered milk
1/2c. non-hydrogenated margarine (or shortening)
1/2c. canola or vegetable oil

1. In a large bowl, combine first five ingredients.  Stir well.  Using a pastry cutter, blend in shortening or margarine until mix starts to resemble coarse corn meal.  Add canola or vegetable oil a tablespoon at a time and, using your hands, make sure the fats are well blended into the dry mix.  When you are finished it should look like powder (with a bit of coarseness).

Place in covered plastic container and store in refrigerator up to 4 weeks.

1.5c baking mix
1c milk
1 egg, lightly beaten

1.  In a bowl, mix together egg and milk.  Add baking mix and, using a fork or wire whisk, blend 4-5 strokes.  Do not over mix.

2.  Heat greased skillet and pour by 1/4c for small pancakes or 1/2 cup for big pancakes.

Serves enough for 2 adults and 1 toddler (toddler is known to eat three pancakes!)

Coconut Custard Pie
Adapted from Baker's Angel Flake Coconut Amazing Coconut Pie
2c. milk
1/2 baking mix
4 eggs
1/4c butter, softened
1t vanilla
1 1/3c sweetened, shredded coconut (such as Baker's Angel Flake Coconut)

1.  In a food processor, blender, or bowl of electric mixing bowl, combine milk, baking milk, eggs, butter, and vanilla.  Mix for 3 minutes.  Pour into greased 9" pie plate.  Sprinkle coconut over the top.

2.  Bake at 350F (180C) for 40 minutes or until the center is set and top is golden brown.  Serve warm or cool on wire rack.  Store leftover pie in refrigerator.

Serves 8

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Unique French Fries - Legoland 2010

Two weekends ago we visited one of Denmark's most notable attractions:  Legoland.  We met up with our friends Liz and Ole and their kids.  Our two families hung out and toured the sites for more than seven straight hours.  I was impressed that a pair of two-year olds and a six-year old could have that kind of stamina.

Legoland truly is a magical place that's worth every kroner of the admission price.  There are lots of rides, tons and tons of extraordinary lego sculptures, an aquarium, movie theater, and more.

Most of all, there is Lego food.  Exhibit A:  french fries...that you can actually use to build stuff.  These Lego people are not only creative geniuses, but clever in the marketing department, too.  To warm us up on what was one heck of a rainy, dreary day, Liz picked up hot chocolate for all of us.  She said the coffee shop also sells chocolates in the shape of Lego blocks.  I wanted to run over and buy some, but the attractions were calling...

I should probably also mention that any Danish theme park or outdoor festivity would not be complete without bread roasting.  It cracks me up. And that photo of the orange train car, second from the bottom?  I'm clueless!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hveder Revisited

I wrote about my first experience with hveder around this time last year. That's because these special rolls are ubiquitous for Store Bededag or "Big Prayer Day," a national holiday in Denmark that fell on April 30 this year.

Last Thursday, the day before Store Bededag, I was at the supermarket when I noticed that virtually every shopper had a bag of hveder rolls in their hand.  Hveder is nothing more than a basic bread roll, but it is traditional to eat them on the holiday, and especially important to toast them prior to applying any toppings.

Well, either I don't follow rules well or like to mix things up a bit, or both, but I made my own hveder and, gasp, we ate them untoasted.

I'm sure the hveder we ate were unorthodox as well because I used regular boller (roll) mix sans grainy wheat flour.  But despite the fact that we ate white, untoasted, bread rolls (from a boxed mix) on Store Bededag, this French-American family felt in some small way that we were honoring this most important of Danish traditions.

The mix is a cinch.  All you do is pour the contents of the box into a bowl, add water and yeast, knead, rise, form into balls, rise again, brush with water or milk, and bake.

You'll notice that I used cake yeast, instead of the powdered kind. Nearly everyone here uses this type of yeast, where in the U.S., it's the opposite:  the powdered, rapid-rise kind is more popular.