Saturday, June 18, 2011

Catch-up 3: trout and everything that is in season

This is a result of my first attempt to cook for four in my new kitchen – one which boasts a two burner stove, a miniature fridge, and a tabletop oven smaller than most microwaves. With some planning, it worked like a charm.

Everything in this meal is fresh, in season, purchased at the harbour that morning. It's an intensely satisfying way to cook.

The trouts were stuffed with lemon and fresh dill, rubbed with olive oil, and roasted whole at 200°C for about a quarter of an hour.

The Danish new potatoes were cooked until just tender with lovage stems, and then tossed with lovage leaves before serving.

The spring vegetables (blush radishes, new onions and cherry tomatoes) were gently sautéed in olive oil whilst the rest of the meal cooked.

It's simple. It's easy. And it's wonderful.

Catch-up 2: Open face sandwiches: shrimp and egg

Call it reconnecting with my cultural roots. It's taken me far too long to start making my own open face sandwiches since moving to Denmark half a year ago.

I do eat very plain open face sandwiches nearly daily: bread and cheese. It's what I ate, essentially, seven days a week for lunch growing up.

But the fancier Danish sandwiches have, for me, so far been limited to restaurants and the university canteens. There's no question as to my favorite: it's the shrimp and egg variety (not too much mayonnaise, please), typically topped with thinly sliced cucumber and a twist of lemon.

Yes, eat the lemon. Please don't leave it behind. [The same goes for raw egg on other open face sandwiches.]

The layers:
  • rye bread
  • a few dry leaves of salad (to keep the bread from getting too moist)
  • thinly sliced hard-boiled egg (1 egg per slice of bread)
  • baby shrimps, gently tossed in mayonnaise and mustard
  • thinly sliced cucumber
  • thinly sliced lemon (not visible in the picture due to technical difficulties)
  • optional: a small spoonful of roe
  • optional, but recommended (unless, in my case, deal has been temporarily banned from the flat): a small sprig of dill

As I wilt in the Jylland summer (hey, it reached 20°C here yesterday), these are a welcome meal, cool and refreshing. There is, however, I discovered, a fine art to making these: the better they look, the harder they are to eat. Knives and forks all around. 

[For a much better photo, and different toppings, have a look at A Year in Food's salmon, radish and apple open face sandwich]

Friday, June 17, 2011

Catch-up 1: fresh herring and new Danish potatoes

I would try using recent trips to Copenhagen and Stockholm as an excuse, or the influx of visitors over the past month, but, in fact, all that regular blogging would take is more discipline.

I don't necessarily expect it to emerge, but at least I recognize the problem.

The other problem, I suppose, is that I prefer cooking (and eating) to actually writing out blog entries – but, on the flipside, it's darn useful when I want to re-create a recipe. Or when friends and family ask for my recipes. So: here's the first of what should be several catch-up posts.

Spring in Denmark has brought a flurry of new potatoes from islands and regions all across Scandinavia. Those from Samsoe seem to be the most valued – to the extent that cafés have stopped advertising their beers and started putting out large signs reading “Samsoe kartofler”. We bought ours from an enthusiastic man selling vegetables out of the back of his truck near the fishmonger last Saturday. They had been harvested and cleaned that morning, and he advised us to cook them that day lest they turn brown. He suggested placing them in a pot of salted cold water along with lovage stems, bringing it to a boil, and then turning off the heat and letting the potatoes (and lovage) sit in the hot water for seven minutes. The result? Perfectly cooked, beautifully flavoured new potatoes.

Things learned this weekend: Lovage = Løvstikke = Liebstökel.

We tossed the potatoes in a light crème fraîche-mustard sauce, together with all the fresh herbs in the house: lovage leaves, dill and chives. [On an unrelated note: my new fridge is typically European; waist-high and approximately 4 cubic feet in volume – I should never have kept fresh dill in it, since I think the smell is now permanent.]

The fresh herrings were bought already filleted at Havnens Fiskehus early on Saturday afternoon. That's the last time I try going to the fishmonger on a Saturday. We arrived at about noon, and drew ticket 48 – at the time, they were serving ticket 4. We were served just under an hour later. By that time, as they were trying to close the shop for the weekend, the shellfish was completely sold out. I shouldn't complain, as we ended up with trout, herring, dill, a lemon, and a large chunk of pepper smoked salmon. Richard pan-fried the herrings gently but quickly with some onions – perfect.

Together, the herrings and potatoes are delicious, but they need something light to accompany. The salad is everything in season: arugula, blush radishes, young onions and lovage leaves, with an olive oil and walnut oil dressing.

Brussels! We have a house. Next task: find a fishmonger.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Broccoli and bacon salad

This is my bounty from the morning's farmers market: tender young radishes, soft red strawberries, and a half kilo of peas. And all at what, in my continual adaptation to Scandinavia, now seem like reasonable prices: five dollars each for the peas and strawberries, and only one dollar for the radishes.

I love peas in the spring. I love the way they grew up our balcony railings in Budapest last year, confounding the neighbors and giving us fresh peas even in 30° heat. To me, a large bowl of fresh peas is the springtime equivalent of a bowl of mandarin oranges: placed on the table after a meal, they bring a refreshing closure.

Despite all my complaining about high prices in Denmark (it's the $14 for a pint of beer which really gets to me), one vegetable is reliably available and always inexpensive: broccoli. I don't understand it. A head of broccoli typically costs 7 kroner (or 12 kroner for organic broccoli). This is just over one dollar (or about two dollars for the organic). The only explanation I can think of is that Danes don't like broccoli. Luckily, I do. And I eat a lot of it.

This salad is my favorite new way of using broccoli: quick, simple and as tasty as it gets. (That's the bacon. The foodie scene may have had it with bacon-flavored ice creams and crème brûlées, but I'll never tire of plain, simply cooked bacon.) Fry up some bacon – while it's in the pan, cook some broccoli [please do not overcook it] – let the broccoli cool slightly – combine the bacon and broccoli with some lettuce and chopped green onions (both the tops and bottoms) – and toss with a simple olive oil-balsamic or walnut oil-balsamic vinaigrette. Eat. Enjoy. Be glad it's spring.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Shrimp and basil frittata

I am usually not a fan of egg-based dishes. Omelettes, quiches and frittatas are – despite years of trying – not to my taste.

Until now.

This brilliant concoction [I'm still marveling at how well it came out of the pan] is a shrimp and basil frittata, a glorious circle of lightness and flavor. It's based on Jamie Oliver's shrimp and parsley frittata, with a few changes to give it a bit more zing. It takes virtually no time at all to prepare and cook: preparation is limited to deveining some shrimp and grating Parmesan, and the cooking takes six minutes.

It's immensely satisfying when something so far from my usual repertoire works so well. And especially so when the past week has been filled with some of the best food in the world: seven course dinners at Belica winery in the Goriska Brda region of Slovenia, and fresh seafood out of the Adriatic in Piran. We spent the Easter weekend enjoying deer carpaccio, home cured prsut, potica, persimmon jam, whitebait, and scallop roe at two of our favorite restaurants from this posting. Slovenia has been the highlight of our posting to Budapest, and we will miss it.

Shrimp and basil frittata

What you need (serves two):
  • 6  eggs
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a large handful of basil leaves, roughly torn
  • zest from half a lemon
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 8-10 shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • butter
  • olive oil

What you do:
  • Pre-the oven to 210°C. 
  • Place a good dollop of butter and a splash of olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan or pot, and heat it on the stove.
  • Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a small bowl with a little bit of salt and pepper. Add the basil, lemon zest, and Parmesan, and stir briefly. Then add the green onions and shrimp and stir again.
  • Once the oil and butter are foaming, pour in the egg mixture. Cook over medium heat while gently stirring for 1 min. Then transfer the pan to the oven and cook for 5 min., until the frittata has risen slightly and is light, fluffy, and just turning golden brown.
  • Serve with a simple salad.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Scallop and avocado salad

Oh, spring is here. It is glorious: sun and crocuses and acolytes and miniature daffodils and even hyacinths. And a cat which gets up from sunning itself on the path and runs to me to be scratched every time I walk through Nordre kirkegaard. And at the grocery store, yams and topinambours and winter squash have been replaced by strawberries and spring onions and young courgettes.

I needed a quick lunch today, something I could make and eat in under a quarter of an hour. Work calls. A few scallops, sautéed in butter with a bit of fleur de sel and black pepper and a squeeze of lemon – lettuce from a pot – spring onions – fresh basil – and half an avocado. A touch of olive oil and balsamic, and ta-da: a light and sumptuously simple lunch.

No recipe is needed. Just a few hints:
  • use both the white and green parts of the spring onions
  • to sauté the scallops, get your butter very hot (but not burning), and just show the scallops the pan: 1 to 2 min. per side will be enough. Season them in the pan with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Baked herring with tomatoes and yams

It sounds like a winter dish – but the basic idea comes from the new spring edition of Mad (Food), the Danish-language cooking magazine I have bought in an effort to improve my Danish. [Admittedly, my reading of Danish isn't the problem; it's the speaking I'm having trouble with. Comparatively, Hungarian was so easy to learn.] The entire issue is devoted to fish – not surprising here, but still immensely satisfying.

As various of the food blogs I read have been reminding me recently, small oily fishes (sardines, mackerel, herring) are not known quantities in North America, unless they come from a tin or a jar. But fresh sardines, mackerel, herring are plentiful here, and beyond delicious. I've been looking for ways to prepare them other than grilling, and ways which do not fill my miniscule flat with the smell of fish for days. Mad provided a basis to work from, and with a bit of modification, the result is a keeper.

This dish bakes the fishes in layers of tomatoes, onion, garlic, yam, and lemon – with large quantities of fresh basil. The result is a hot (thermodynamically, I mean) meal, and filling one: indeed, not your typical spring dish. But it is currently pouring rain here, and quite cool, and I will be making this again tonight.

What you need (per serving; scale up as needed)
  • 3-4 small oily fishes, cleaned or filleted (sardines, mackerel, herring,…)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes with juice
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 small yam, very thinly sliced
  • 1 medium tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
  • fresh basil

What you do
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  • In a Corningwear or other oven-proof dish, coat the bottom with olive oil. Spread the diced tomatoes and juice over the bottom of the dish, and then add the onion and garlic. Mix it up a bit with your fingers, and add a generous quantity of fresh basil. Place the thinly sliced yams on top of the tomato mixture, and press them down gently. Then place the fish in a single layer on top of the potatoes, and finish by topping with the thinly sliced tomato and lemon.
  • Bake in the oven for about half an hour, until the yams are just done.
  • Serve with another generous helping of fresh basil on top, as well as crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lemon cheesecake bars

I had wanted to make something lemon-y for a group get together last Friday night, but decided not to risk the Joy of Cooking lemon bars since they have a disturbing tendency to not set. Two times out of three, I end up scooping the Joy lemon ‘bars’ over ice cream as sauce. Delicious sauce, mind you – but not what I had in mind for last Friday.

A quick scouring of the Internet led me to several variations of lemon cheesecake bars, all of them written with North American grocery stores in mind. Translating them into Europe-speak [sour cream? what is this sour cream you speak of?], I gave it a shot – and the result was more than excellent. The crust was too thick, but other than that, the lemon curd set beautifully and the taste was divine.

(Just to make sure that they had set, I cut myself a slice on Friday morning. Then, I decided I couldn't bring a cheesecake with one slice removed to the get-together, so I had to slice the remainder into squares before leaving home. Hence the photo.)

What you need:
  • approximately 70 g of the closest thing you can find to graham crackers (or enough to cover the bottom of your pan to the thickness you want for the crust)
  • 6-8 tbsp butter
  • 225 g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1-2 tsp vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp crème fraîche
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest

What you do:
  • Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and line the bottom of a 8 x 8" baking pan with aluminium foil [it doesn't matter if your pan is square or round]. Butter the foil.
  • Crush the graham cracker substitutes until fine (suggestion: put the crackers in a plastic bag, seal it well, and stomp on it. very satisfying.). While you're doing this, melt the butter.
  • Remove the butter from the heat and add the cracker crumbs. Stir briefly and then press the crumbs evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 12-15 min., until golden. Let the crust cool while you prepare the filling. 
  • For the filling, beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and crème fraîche, and then the lemon juice and lemon zest. Spread the batter over the crust as evenly as you can.
  • Bake for approximately 30 min., until set in the center. The cheesecake will puff slightly in the other.
  • Cool the baked cheesecake completely on a rack, and then chill for at least two hours before cutting. Keep the cake in the fridge.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fish coconut curry

March 10? Really? I'm not quite sure where the past three weeks have gone. One and a half of them went in Copenhagen, I suppose, which gives me a feeble excuse for not having posted here.

Fish coconut curry. I love this dish. It's simple [so long as you remember to make the rice before the curry is finished; oops]. It's versatile. It has fantastic taste. And it can be made as spicy as you like. The dish has three key ingredients: fish, coconut milk and vegetables. For the first, I use whatever white fillets are available. Today, it was plaice. For the second, the only necessities to make sure that your coconut milk is precisely that: it shouldn't have any added preservatives, artificial colors, or artificial flavors. For the third, something crunchy and green usually works best – today I used string beans, but snap peas are also a good option.

Photo? No photo. Don't ask. Instead, here's one from my excuse:

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

I've been wanting to make something spicy since Friday night, when a colleague made a spectacular – spectacular – Indian dinner featuring duck varaval. Luckily it's the first Sunday of the month, so there was some hope of finding a grocery store open in Århus today. I had to buy a small jar of curry paste. It's one of the very few ingredients I don't make on my own (sorry, Chez Piggy, but your recipe intimidates me).

What you need (three servings):
  • rice
  • olive oil
  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • zest and juice from 2 limes
  • 1 large or 2 small boxes coconut milk
  • 2 tsp red curry paste (or to taste)
  • 1 cup string beans or snap peas
  • 3 small white fish fillets
  • 1 generous cup cherry tomatoes

What you do:
  • Don't forget to make the rice. Put it on before you start making the rest of the curry.
  • Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Once it's hot, add the onions and red pepper, and cook for about 5 min. Then add the ginger and lime zest, and heat through (but don't let it burn).
  • Add the coconut milk and stir, bringing slowly to a boil. Incorporate the curry paste. Once it is simmering, add the green vegetable, fish, cherry tomatoes, and lime juice. Cook until the fish is finished (5-6 min. should do it).
  • Serve over rice with a slice of lime.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Roasted tomato soup

Last December, when I was in Amsterdam (in fact, when I was stuck in Amsterdam because of snow – that is the last time I try flying through Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Budapest three days before Christmas) I had the most amazing tomato soup at a small American-run restaurant near Leidseplein. It was thick and dark, nearly chunky as if a fresh salsa had been heated and scooped in – and it was comforting and tasted heavenly. I've been meaning to try re-creating it ever since, but only just got around to it.

The basic ingredients are three: tomatoes, onions and garlic. The key is to roast them at a high temperature for a fairly long time, to bring out the flavors and just begin caramelization. And then – homemade vegetable stock, some croutons, and voilà: a thick, flavorful and hearty tomato soup. It's not quite as good as the one in Amsterdam, but I'll work on it.

What you need:
  • homemade vegetable stock (3-4 cups, depending on how thick you want your soup)
  • a whole bunch of ripe tomatoes… about 3 pounds
  • 2-3 large onions
  • 4-6 large garlic cloves
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • olive oil

What you do:
  • Begin by quartering the tomatoes, peeling and quartering the onions, and peeling garlic cloves. While you're at it, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
  • On a large cookie sheet, gently toss the tomatoes, onions and garlic in olive oil. Roast in the oven for 30-45 min., until they are just starting to caramelize. Stir every once in a while to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the cookie sheet; an initial liberal application of olive oil will also work.
  • Whilst the vegetables are roasting, bring your stock to a near boil.
  • Combine the roasted vegetables and stock in a large pot and slowly bring to the boil. Set to a simmer, stir in the Parmesan cheese, and let simmer for 20 min. to build the flavors.
  • Blend the soup until largely smooth.
  • Serve with olive oil croutons: simply cube and old baguette (I used whole wheat), toss with olive oil, and pop in a 120°C oven for about 15 min.