Saturday, December 24, 2011

Fig Butter

If you like apple butter, you will love fig butter.  Fig butter ups the ante with its spices, red wine, and port.  I first tried it when I undertook these delicious scones, which are really more like a fancy version of cinnamon rolls minus the yeast.  But this time I skipped the scones altogether, doubled the batch of fig butter, and spooned it into jars for Christmas gifts.  It's wonderful on toast and pancakes, and you can just as easily add some to baked goods, such as muffins or your favorite quick bread.

Fig Butter
Adapted from Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole Grain Flours by Kim Boyce


1/2c sugar
2 whole cloves
1 star anise
1c red wine
1/2c port
12oz. dried figs, stems removed
1/4t cinnamon
4oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened


1.  To poach the figs, measure 1/4c water and the sugar into a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir the mixture together with a wooden spoon, incorporating the sugar without splashing it up the sides.  Add the cloves and star anise.

2.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the syrup is amber-colored.

3.  Add the red wine, port, figs, and cinnamon, standing back a bit, as the syrup is hot. Don't panic when the syrup hardens; this is the normal reaction when liquids are added to hot sugar.  Continue cooking the mixture over medium heat for 2 minutes, until the sugar and wine blend.

4.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The figs will burble quietly as they are jostled together by the heat.  They are ready when the wine has reduced by half.  Remove the pan from the stove and cool to room temperature. [I let mine sit overnight.]

5.  Fish our the star anise and cloves.  Pour the cooled figs, with their liquid, into a food processor and puree until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add the softened butter to the fig paste and process until smooth.  The fig butter can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Panforte, the traditional Tuscan Christmas confection, is not for the faint of heart.  Its flavors are bold.  So is its texture. That’s not surprising since the recipe includes 18 ingredients, most of which are nuts and dried fruits. But what would panforte be without its stars: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and coriander?  I am all about spicy tastes this time of year.  I love Danish pebernødder nearly as much as the traditional gingerbread cookies I grew up making in the U.S.  I also make a wonderful fig butter that consists of dried figs stewed in a vat of wine, port, sugar, star anise, cloves, and cinnamon until the mixture is soft, thick, and syrupy.  It makes a wonderful gift.

So does panforte.  Apart from the taste, smell, and dramatic look of this chewy, fruit- and nut-studded cake, it’s most special when shared.  I cut mine into large wedges and wrap in baking paper for a rustic look.  I tie each bundle with a piece of brown twine or red and white checkered ribbon and suggest recipients enjoy a small slice with a mug of hot tea or coffee.

The other reason that panforte is not to be taken lightly is that it takes some planning and time to pull it all together.  There is nothing particularly difficult about it, unless you find candying your own fruit peel difficult.  In that case, see if you can buy some.  I treated the recipe like a puzzle that I worked on over time--three days to be exact.  I find it much more manageable, not to mention enjoyable, if I break a recipe like this down into steps.  First, I candied the quince.  And please, do not let an  inaccessibility to quince stop you from making panforte.  Just up the candied orange peel or substitute another candied fruit.

The day after I conquered the quince, I moved on to the orange peel.  I find that putting the fruit to cook on a back burner while I make dinner or wash dishes is the best way to accomplish this task.  I stored both batches of candied fruit in my fridge for a day and worked on toasting the nuts.  Then came the assembly.  The prep time was key.  Had I attempted to complete the whole thing in one shot I would have been annoyed, tired, and hurrying to finish it.  Instead, the assembly was a breeze and I could relax while patiently awaiting the finished product.

Adapted from Tartine Cookbook and The Wednesday Chef

8oz / 225g candied quince, strained and coarsely chopped
3oz / 100g candied orange peel, strained and coarsely chopped
1c / 225g dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
1c / 225g prunes, pitted and coarsely chopped
3/4c / 175g currants
2T / 30g grated orange zest
1T / 15g grated lemon zest
1c / 225g lightly toasted unsalted pistachios
2c / 450g well-toasted hazelnuts
2c / 450g well-toasted almonds
2/3c / 150g flour
1/2c / 115g cocoa powder
1T / 15g ground cinnamon
Freshly grated nutmeg from 1 1/2 nutmegs
3/4t / 7g ground coriander
3/4t / 7g freshly ground black pepper
3/4t / 7g ground cloves
3/4c / 175g honey
1 1/3c / 325g granulated sugar
1/4c / 60g powdered sugar


1. Heat the oven to 160 degrees. Butter a 26cm springform pan, line with parchment paper, and butter the parchment, making sure to butter the sides of the pan well.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the candied quince and orange zest, dates, currants, orange and lemon zest, and all of the nuts. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, pepper and cloves over the fruits and nuts. Mix well. Set aside.

3. In a deep, heavy saucepan, combine the honey and granulated sugar over medium-high heat. Stir gently with a wooden spoon from time to time to make sure that no sugar is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture registers 120 degrees on a thermometer, about 3 minutes. The mixture will be frothy and boiling rapidly.

4. Remove from the heat and immediately pour over the fruit-and-flour mixture in the bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate the syrup thoroughly with the other ingredients. Work quickly at this point; the longer the mixture sits, the firmer it becomes.

5. Transfer to the springform pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula dipped in water. Bake until the top is slightly puffed and looks like a brownie, about 1 hour. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge to loosen and turn out of the pan and cool completely.

6. Sift powdered sugar over the top, bottom and sides of the panforte. Lightly tap it over the counter to shake off excess sugar. It will keep, well wrapped, in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks, or indefinitely in the refrigerator. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Vegan Fruit and Nut Cookies

Contrary to what you might think, the words cookie and vegan are not an oxymoron. Really. Let me say up front, I am not nor will ever be vegan. I couldn’t live without bacon. Or cheese. And a rich brownie without a glass of cold milk? Forget it. But I love baked goods, including, it turns out, vegan cookies.

While I wholeheartedly believe that the western world consumes entirely too much meat--at the expense of our heath and the environment--I also believe that one can enjoy animal products to the fullest in moderation without foregoing them entirely. American food writer and critic Mark Bittman is a self proclaimed “vegetarian before 6:00 p.m.” That is to say, Bittman, author of the best selling cookbooks How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, eats plant foods all day long, but at dinner enjoys a regular meal of, say, pasta, cheese, vegetables, perhaps a small steak even. In this way, he reduces his carbon footprint while at the same time improving and maintaining his overall health. There are also “Meatless Mondays,” an increasingly global effort to forgo meat at least once a week.

So what does all this have to do with today’s recipe? Simple. Instead of turning to your stand-by cookie that contains butter and eggs, why not try one that not only tastes fantastic but is made sans animal products. Some might argue that it's better for you and the planet.

Loaded with fruit, nuts, and coconut, it’s the perfect treat alongside a mug of hot tea or coffee. Just the thing to warm up during these chilly fall days. Go ahead and play with the ingredients. Can’t find dried blueberries? Cranberries are a great substitute. No shelled pistachios on hand? Pumpkin seeds, walnuts, or sliced almonds are an equally good bet. If you are feeling health-conscious, political, or environmental, these cookies fit the bill. On the other hand, it’s totally okay if you just want a sweet treat.

Delicious Vegan Cookies
Adapted from Alicia Silverstone's recipe

1c /250 ml rolled oats
3/4c /175 ml all-purpose flour
1/3c /75 ml brown sugar
1t /5.0 ml (small spoonful) cream of tartar (omit if unavailable to you)
1t /5.0 ml baking soda
1/2t /2.5 ml sea salt
1/3c /80 g maple syrup
1/2c /115 g vegetable oil
1t /5.0 ml vanilla extract
1/4c /60 ml dried blueberries (or cranberries, raisins, apricots)
1/4c /60 ml toasted pistachios (or other nuts)
1/4c /60 ml unsweetened coconut flakes
1. Mix the oats, flour, brown sugar, tartar (if using), soda, and salt in a large bowl.
2. Stir in syrup, oil, and vanilla.
3. Fold in dried fruit, nuts, and coconut.
4. Wet your hands with water; use your hands to shape the dough into small balls of uniform size.
5. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, slightly flatten ball with the palm of your hand.
6. Bake at 350F /180C for 8-12 minutes or until tops are slightly golden. Let cool 5 minutes on baking sheet before removing to a wire rack.

Makes 12-15 cookies, depending on the size of your dough balls.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Soft Pretzels

My favorite cookbook of 2011, the one that I've returned to again and again, is Good to the Grain, Baking with Whole-Grain Flours by Kim Boyce.  I continue to find inspiration in the innovative recipes and rustic, understated photography. 

To celebrate Oktoberfest this year I turned to Soft Rye Pretzels.  I was captivated by the recipe from the first moment I thumbed through the book, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't also intimidated.  I think it was the word "bath," and that I would be required to bathe my pretzel dough in the cooking process.  A half cup of baking soda is nothing to sneeze at either.  Baking soda is cheap, but I don't always have large quantities on hand.  In fact baking soda is sold in such small containers here in Denmark that I doubt Danes use it for anything other than baking .  Forget about orange boxes of Arm and Hammer found in U.S. fridges to ameliorate orders.

So one day I had some time, which is a must when making Soft Rye Pretzels, and enough baking soda to get the job done.  The small number of ingredients makes up for the fussy-factor in making homemade pretzels.  Nothing is particularly difficult, it just takes time--and a little patience--to rest the dough, form it into pretzel shapes, let it rest again, bathe it, and then, finally, stick it in the oven to bake.  The bathing is key because it's what seals the dough and gives it its chewy texture.

Rest assured, the pretzels are worth every step of the effort.  The texture is amazing as is the deep rye flavor.  A few words of advice before you start though:  Make sure you use a large and deep saucepan when bathing your pretzels.  I made the mistake of using one that was too small; when I added the pretzels the baking soda water bubbled over and flooded my stove and drawers under my stove.  I'm still finding dried bits of baking soda in surprising places.  Also, these pretzels are best eaten the same day they are made.  The next day the texture is compromised, and it sort of feels like eating a rubber shoe. 

Serve the pretzels warm with a side of good mustard. 

Soft Rye Pretzels
From Good to the Grain, Baking with Whole-Grain Flours

2T unsalted butter, melted, for the bowl and baking sheets

1 package active dry yeast
1T honey
1c rye flour
2 1/2c all-purpose flour
1T kosher

1/2c baking soda

Coarse sea salt, such as Maldon


1.  Measure the yeast into a large bowl.  Heat 1 1/2c water in a small saucepan over low heat to a temperature that is warm to the touch, about 100F, and pour over the yeast.  Add the honey and stir to combine.  Add the flours and salt and stir again.

2.  Dump the sticky dough onto a floured surface and knead.  Add up to 1/2c all-purpose flour, as needed, until the dough is tacky but not sticky.  Knead for 10-12 min until soft and supple.

3.  Lightly brush a large bowl with melted butter.  Using a dough scraper, scrape the dough into the bowl, cover with plastic or a towel, and let rise for about 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.

4.  While the dough is rising, place two racks at the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 450F.  Brush two baking sheets generously with butter.

5.  Once the dough has doubled, gently pour it from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.  Cut the dough into 12 pieces.  Take each piece of dough and roll it into a snake about 17 inches long, with thinly tapered ends.  Form the dough into a pretzel shape by folding one-third of the left side over the center of the snake, and then one-third of the right side over the left.  Place the shaped pretzels onto the prepared baking sheets.  Let the pretzels proof (rise) for 15 to 20 minutes.

6.  Meanwhile, for the bath, fill a large pot with 10 cups of water and bring it to a boil.  Once the pretzels are proofed and the water is boiling, add the baking soda to the water.

7.  To poach the pretzels, lift 2 or 3 pretzels, depending on the surface ares of your pot, into the bath.  Boil each side for 30 seconds, use a strainer to remove the pretzels, pat any excess water with a towel, and transfer them back onto the buttered baking sheets.  Boil the remaining pretzels.  Sprinkle with salt.

8.  Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.  The pretzels should be dark mahogany in color.  Transfer them to a rack to cool.  These pretzels are best eaten the day they're made, ideally within the hour.

Makes 12

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Magic Homemade Ice Cream

Note:  This post appeared in last week's edition of The Copenhagen Post.

I just moved, and now I have a freezer. It sits nicely atop my fridge. Never mind that both are not much bigger than what you’d find in a child’s dollhouse. I’m just happy they’re there. After all a freezer is not necessarily a given in housing rentals here.

It would be fair to say that I’ve lowered my appliance standards considerably in the three years I’ve lived in Denmark. I remember the moment I walked into the kitchen of my first rental and spotted the place--not much larger than a shoebox--where I would be keeping my food cold. What folIowed was an endless rant about the restrictions that such a fridge represents. Unless you had a mini-fridge in your college dorm room, where I come from people are simply unaccustomed- and ill-equipped to dealing with the diminutive European refrigerators. Coping with one sheds a whole new light on grocery shopping, meal planning, and food storage. You mean I can’t fit two liter bottles of Pepsi and boxes of home delivery pizza in my fridge? I’m kidding. I know some of you think that’s all we Americans consume. But I have news for you. We eat hamburgers, too.

In the beginning a week wouldn’t go by that I didn’t whine about the lack of adequate fridge space. But fast forward three years, and I’ve made incredible strides. As least that’s what my therapist tells me. Through the years, I’ve gradually learned how to optimize my small fridge and--now that I’ve moved--freezer. I’ve adapted my food shopping, meal planning, and cooking in a way that fits my lifestyle and, as luck would have it, the inside of my fridge. Tall items such as milk, orange juice, and white wine are tucked into the door. Dairy, bacon, and lunch meat go on the top shelf. Alas, this kind of transformation does not happen overnight. Every couple of months things still get out of control in my fridge. That’s when I take a step back and say, Okay, you can either make a therapy appointment or organize this fridge. And you know what, a clean and tidy fridge is the best therapy.

But back to the freezer. As a way to inaugurate mine, I made ice cream. For months I have been guarding this special ice cream recipe like a hawk protecting its young, in anticipation that I would one day have a freezer again. This is not your run-of-the mill frozen dessert. It’s magic. Truly. What gives it special properties? First and foremost, it requires no ice cream maker or throwing a coffee can back and forth until your arms ache. Better still, it’s comprised of basic kitchen staples and is, quite simply, extraordinary. The texture is sublime and the taste will leave reaching for “just one more spoonful.” Only make sure you have enough room in your freezer.
Magic Homemade Ice Cream

Recipe courtesy of Christopher Kimball

Note: You know that cherry sauce that is ubiquitous in Denmark this time of year? Sure, you can serve it over the traditional Danish ris a la mande, but why not heat some up and spoon it over your ice cream. I guarantee you’ll love it. Also, since the vanilla flavor tends to be sweeter than the chocolate variety, try serving it with a plain cake, such as pound cake, almond cake, or other lightly sweetened cake.

Ingredients (in U.S. and metric measurements)

1/2c...200g sweetened condensed milk
1 oz...30g white chocolate (if you are making chocolate ice cream use 20g white and 30g dark - 70% or higher - chocolate. The chocolate flavor requires more chocolate than he vanilla variety.
1T...1 soup spoon of vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1/4c...60g sour cream (creme fraiche)
1 1/4c...300g cold heavy cream (38%)


1. Make base. Gently heat sweetened condensed milk and chocolate. Stir until chocolate melts, this should take less than a minute. Let cool. Stir in vanilla, salt, and sour cream. Set aside.

2. Whip heavy cream with electric mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks begin to form, about 2 minutes. Fold one-third of the whipped cream into the chocolate mix until well incorporated. Fold remaining whipped cream into the chocolate mix until completely incorporated and smooth.

3. Scrape mixture into an airtight container and freeze until firm, at least 6 hours or up to 2 weeks. Serve.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tomato Tart with Phyllo Dough

In case you were wondering, I did not fall off the face of the earth.  I did however spend time this summer with family in Oregon, the place my grandmother has always called god's country, and in the French Alps, where we relaxed in hammocks under the trees at my husband's family's weekend house.

Firsts for me this summer were a visit to Provence where we enjoyed hiking with friends, a lunch stop and walk around the legendary Gigondas wine region, and buying a mixed case of organic wine from a local family owned and operated winery.  At the end of our stay in France we spent one week in a quaint little coastal town in Brittany on France's west coast.  We ate like kings, enjoyed time with family, and played and lounged on the beach (for the record, I do not play on the beach.  I lay under an umbrella and read.)

While I was away I spent a scant amount of time in the kitchen.  My go-to meals were homemade pizza and all different combinations of rice salad.  This Tomato Tart with Phyllo Dough was a stand out. Really really delicious.  Served with a green salad, it's the perfect summer meal.

The challenge I had with it was getting the tomatoes sliced thin enough.  I was using my mother-in-law's knives that are somewhat neglected in the sharpening department; even though I was afraid that the dough might suffer from excess moisture of tomatoes sliced a bit too thick, it didn't.  The phyllo dough was crisp and the tomatoes were the ideal complement to the cheese tucked inside each layer of dough.

I hope your summer adventures have brought you fun, good memories, and plenty of rest and relaxation.

Here's to getting back in the kitchen.

Tomato Tart with Phyllo Dough
Adapted from Sunset Fast and Fresh

10 sheets of phyllo dough, thawed
5T butter, melted
8T grated parmesan cheese, divided
1c very thinly sliced onion
1c shredded mozzarella cheese
6-8 roma tomatoes (depending on size), cut into 1/8-in. thick slices
1T fresh lemon thyme (or regular thyme)
salt and pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 375F or 190C.

2.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly oil the paper.

3.  Lay 2 sheets of phyllo on paper and brush lightly with a little melted butter.  Sprinkle all over with 1T parmesan.  Repeat layering 4 more times (phyllo, butter, parmesan), pressing the sheets firmly so they stick to the sheets below. 

4.  For the final layer: brush with remaining butter and sprinkle remaining 1T parmesan.  Scatter onion slices across, top with mozzarella, and arrange tomato slices in a single layer, overlapping slightly.  Sprinkle with thyme and salt and pepper to taste.

5.  Bake 30-40 minutes until golden brown.  Cool 10 minutes, then serve. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Homemade Oreos

Let’s talk about Oreo cookies.  Are you a dunker or a non-dunker? Typically Oreo lovers are divided into two camps:  those who dunk them in a glass of cold milk and bite into the slightly soggy cookie with abandon, and those who carefully separate the dark chocolate sandwich rounds from the creamy white icing, eating each part with great care (glass of cold milk on the side, optional).  If you’re like me, you let your mood dictate the method of choice.
Oreos are not hard to find in Denmark.  But Danes are apparently more civilized and sparing in their Oreo consumption for the packaging here is much smaller than what one finds in the U.S.  (surprise surprise).
While Oreos have an unmistakable crunch and flavor, they are not the most natural food on the planet.  Don’t even attempt to make sense of the ingredient list.  Moreover, it won’t make you feel very good after you’ve ingested six of them.  The point is, shouldn’t there be a more natural way to have our Oreos and enjoy them too?  
Today’s your lucky day.  Homemade Oreos are exceedingly simple to make and taste even better than the store bought variety.  I kid you not.  But let me be up front about this recipe:  you will not arrive at the same pretty uniform-sized cookies that come in the package.  Honestly, who cares.  What you will make will be original, full of character, and wholly delicious.

Homemade Oreos
Adapted from Tiny Urban Kitchen

1.5c /350g all purpose flour
3/4c /175g sugar
3/4c /175g unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2t /2.5ml baking soda (a small spoonful)
1.5t /7.5ml salt (two small spoonfuls)
3/4c /200g unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2c /115g heavy cream
8oz. /225g white chocolate, chopped in small pieces
1.  In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar and beat with a hand mixer until smooth and creamy.  Set aside.
2.  In a small bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda.  
3.  Carefully add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, a little at a time.  Incorporate well after each addition.
4.  Gather the mixture into a loose ball and divide in two.  Form each into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.
5.  Make the filling by bringing the cream just to the boil, then removing from the heat and adding the chopped chocolate.  Let sit for a few minutes; combine well until mixture is smooth without any lumps, and refrigerate, stirring every half hour or so.  The mixture can sit for six hours at room temperature to thicken or you can speed up the process in the refrigerator.
6.  Remove cookie dough from the refrigerator, one disk at a time.  On a well-floured surface, roll the dough until it is thin but thick enough so that your cookie cutter is able to pull the dough up with it.  
7.  Using a round cookie cutter (any size you prefer, although you’ll get more cookies with a smaller cookie cutter), cut as many rounds from the dough as possible.  You will need to re-roll the dough a few times.
8.  Bake at 350F /180C for 10-14 minutes, turning the baking sheet half way through the cooking time.
9.  Repeat with the remainder of the dough.  Let cooked cookies cool on a baking rack.
10.  Once filling is thick enough, beat it a minute or two with your hand mixer.  Apply as little or as much filling to completely cooled cookies, and enjoy.  Cookies can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summery Rice Salad

I'm a sucker for rice salad.  It's my go to meal this time of year.  I mean, who doesn't have rice in the house?  The other reason it's brilliant is that you can add whatever you want to it and dress it with practically anything (i.e. tangy vinaigrette or creamy herb-laced buttermilk).

On a related note, let's talk about the seemingly humble carrot. When I was growing up, carrot sticks were invariably a lunch time staple. Unlike in the U.S. where we tend to slice carrots into thin strips, Danes have no compunction about eating them whole.  Even the three and four year-olds at my son's school eat them that way.  Just as carrot sticks are common in the U.S., a whole carrot that's been peeled and had it's tough ends chopped off are an ubiquitous snack in Denmark, (which is not to say that Danes don't eat carrot sticks, they do, but more commonly it's the whole variety).

I won't get into my French relatives' relationship with the raw carrot. Shredded is acceptable, but my mother in law won't let a carrot stick past her lips.  A whole carrot?  Mais, no.  I recently prepared a salad with carrots sliced into thinish coins. Alan said eating it made him feel like a rabbit.  But the French are never particular about what's put in front of them to eat.  No, never.

Having said that, I owe my discovery of the rice salad and it's myriad renderings to said French relatives. You'll note that the carrots in this rice salad have been shredded.

This version is ultra simple and makes for perfect lunch time fuel. All you do is make a pot of short grained brown rice, shred a few carrots (slice them in coins if you like.  Mais oui.), finely chop a handful of cornichon (mini pickles), chop up a red pepper, and that's it.  A can of tuna is a great addition.  So are garbanzo or black beans. The dressing I use consists of equal parts plain yogurt and mayonnaise as well as a spoon of dijon mustard, and salt and pepper.  To add even more flavor, grate one or two cloves of garlic over the whole thing and stir to combine.

Summery Rice Salad


1c short grain brown rice (cooked according to package directions and cooled)
3 medium carrots (shredded)
1/4 c cornichon
1 whole red, yellow, or green bell pepper, chopped into small pieces
1 can of tuna (optional)

1/3c plain yogurt (I used Greek yogurt)
1/3c mayonnaise (I used Hellman's - yes we can get Hellman's in DK!)
2t dijon mustard

Add to taste:
1t sea salt
1.5t pepper
1-2 cloves of garlic, grated


Pour cooled, cooked rice into a serving bowl.  Add carrots, pepper, cornichon, and tuna (if using).

Mix together dressing ingredients in a jar and shake well (or mix together with a fork in a small bowl).

Add the dressing to the salad a little at a time until it is coated to your liking (you may have some left over that you can refrigerate).

Grate one or two cloves of garlic over the top and stir.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Amazing banana upside down tart

I have a little smile on my face as I write this.  If I hadn't been to England right before Easter then I wouldn't have been to the airport shop with all the magazines.  Magazines in English.  Well, it was England after all.  If I hadn't been in the shop then I wouldn't have seen a particular cooking magazine.  If I hadn't seen that magazine and brought it with me to the checkout counter then I would have never discovered this:

But I did. And halleluah.  I haven't been taken with a recipe like this in a looong time.  As soon as I saw the photo of the dish and read the ingredient list I said, Ok, I will be making that. And quick.  I continue on my bandwagon of desserts that are both super easy and totally divine.  And when fruit is a main ingredient the whole thing somehow seems virtuous.  As in, I'll have another piece.  And another.

You won't believe how easy this is.  If you are at all timid about making your own caramel on the stove, just buy a jar of dulce de leche in the store.  Or if you are in the U.S. buy a bag of Kraft caramels and get to melting.  But honestly, making caramel on the stove is ridiculously easy...and way tastier than anything you can buy.

Here is what you need to do to get started on the tart:  Make your go-to pie crust recipe.  Don't have one?  Surely you can ask your mother, aunt, or trusty neighbor for theirs.  If that isn't an option, look in a cookbook or on one of the gazillion cooking websites or blogs.  (I love cooking with a passion but even I get overwhelmed by all the sites.)  Whatever you do, keep it easy.

Then you are going to get a few bananas.  Maybe four, depending on their size.  You want firm, yellow bananas.  Not hard green ones or the super ripe spotted variety.  Slice into fat coins and set aside.

Have your salt and pepper at the ready.  I'll explain later.  Trust me on this one.

For the caramel:  put a 1/2 cup (100g) of white sugar in a saucepan and stir in 2T (2 soup spoons) of water.  Stir over low heat until the sugar is melted and the mixture starts to bubble.  Turn up the heat to medium and cook for another 3-5 minutes, or until it turns a golden caramel color, swirling the pan gently from time to time to brown evenly.  Don't let it burn (although it might smell a bit "too done") but don't undercook either.  Remove from the heat, add 1T (1 soup spoon) of water (the sputtering and hardening is normal but will stop quickly), stir, then add 3.5T (50g) of butter.  Stir to a smooth sauce and set aside.

To assemble:  Pour the caramel in the bottom of a pie plate or tart pan (judge the size of the pan by how much caramel (and banana slices) you have).  I used a 9" pie plate and the caramel covered the entire bottom, which is what you want.

Take a couple of big pinches of sea salt and sprinkle all over the caramel. Then scatter over a few pinches of black pepper or grind right onto the bananas.  Leave to cool for a few minutes and then add the banana slices, pressing them into the caramel and pushing them together to fill the gaps.

Roll out your pie crust to the diameter of the pie plate, as thick or perhaps a little thicker than a coin (but not quite as thick as your banana slices).  Place the pastry on top of the bananas and press down; tuck in the edges so it forms a sort of upturned bowl over the bananas. Prick the pastry with a fork.

Bake at 375F or 200C for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.  Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge, place a large plate over the top and carefully invert the tart onto the plate.  You might need to reposition some banana slices.  Be careful of the hot caramel. Serve warm or cold.

I ate it plain but it would also be nice with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Adapted from Lucas Hollweg's Good Things to Eat.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Say it with me: Rød Grød Med Fløde

When I moved to Denmark three years ago I was horrified when a fellow Danish language student tried to get me to pronounce Rød Grød Med Fløde.  I beg your pardon?  If you've been in the country for any length of time then surely you've heard of this classic Danish dessert with the mumble jumble name.  Alas, ‘red porridge with cream’ just doesn't have the same ring to it.  Titles and translations aside, early summer is the perfect time to prepare this bright red, fruity concoction drizzled with cream.

I owe my encounter with it to my friend Gitte who--as a Dane living in the U.S. and a food blogger to boot--is my mirror opposite.  Gitte sold me on Rød Grød Med Fløde, and I'm forever grateful.  This dessert is as delicious as it is beautiful. It's simple enough to eat by the spoonful right out of the pan but elegant enough to serve at a fancy dinner party.

This time of year the markets are teeming with seasonal fruit, especially strawberries.  I even found a small basket of lovely Danish strawberries in among those from Spain and Belgium. The other seasonal fruit that is a splendid match for the berries in this dish is rhubarb.  I love the stringy tart stalks, but some don't.  If you are put off by it, either because of texture or taste, please don't be. All it takes is a little sugar, heat, and commingling with other fruit and you have a scrumptious treat. What's more, rhubarb adds a wonderful flavor boost to cobblers and pies.  Celebrate the underrated rhubarb.

The recipe for Rød Grød Med Fløde is relatively effortless and can be assembled in a matter of minutes.  The most difficult step is saying the name (see paragraph 1) and waiting for the mixture to cool in the refrigerator.  
Recipe adapted from My Danish Kitchen

2 medium stalks rhubarb, cut into small pieces
200g fresh raspberries (small basket, about 1.5c)
200g fresh strawberries (about 1.5c)
1/2c...125ml sugar
1c...250ml water
3T...3 soup spoons cornstarch
5T...5 soup spoons water


1.  Toss washed fruit together in a saucepan.  Add sugar and water and set saucepan over medium heat.  Stir occasionally until mixture just comes to a boil.
2.  Turn heat down to low and simmer for 15 minutes or until fruit has broken down.
3.  Meanwhile, mix together cornstarch and water in a small dish and set aside.
4.  Remove fruit mixture from heat and pour into a sieve which has been set over a bowl.
5.  Use a spoon to scrape the seeds and pulp against the sieve, catching the juice in the bowl. (it's okay if a little pulp gets into the juice).
6.  Set the pulp aside.  You can save it for later as a topping for yogurt or pancakes.
7.  Return saucepan to medium heat  and slowly add cornstarch mixture, spoon by spoon.
8.  Stir constantly until mixture thickens and can coat the back of a wooden spoon.
9.  Remove from heat and pour into individual serving dishes or a medium glass bowl.
10.  Let cool for 10 minutes and then refrigerate for at least one hour.  Serve with cream or milk.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Now where was I

Shortly before Easter I attended a teachers' workshop at Oxford University.  It was an intense two and a half days of work, but I managed to have a peek around the city under warm and sunny British skies.  It was my second trip to Oxford more than 10 years after my first where, as part of a mini European tour, I spent a weekend with my friend Sonja who was on an exchange from Georgetown University.

In my best British accent, I must say that Oxford is lovely.  Simply charming.  Not dreadful in the least.  I love the way the Brits talk.  Much more refined than us rough and tumble Americans.

The food--as least in my experience--is rather underwhelming.  My sense is that good food is to be had in Oxford,  but the extent of my foray into the local culinary scene has been dining halls, cheap eateries, and supermarkets.  Take the dinner I had on my one free night of the workshop.   Following nearly two hours touching, breathing in, and practically consuming the wares in Blackwell's Bookshop, I stopped at the Tesco for sushi, fruit, chocolate, and a small bottle of red wine.  I then went back to my room, ate at my desk and indulged in another guilty pleasure:  People Magazine.

The atmosphere at Oxford is inspiring enough to write one's first novel.  Instead, I ate chocolate and read People.  You also can bet that I loaded my suitcase with as many American magazines as I could get my hands on as well as a few books from Blackwell's.  I'll save those for when I'm feeling slightly more intellectual.