Saturday, November 30, 2013

Christmas Baking in West Waterford, Ireland

Every family has their own Christmas baking traditions.  Some people get it all done before Halloween, others bake for the entire neighbourhood, some are lucky enough to be the recipients of home baked cakes.

Our family tradition is to fill the oven when the day comes to bake the Christmas cake.  The oven is on for what seems like the entire day to bake such a mammoth dessert and my Mum has always made sure to bake at least one other cake, sure you couldn't be wasting all that spare heat!  Every year she makes a Dundee cake which is basically a smaller, slightly drier fruit cake with whole almonds on top. Last year I missed the Christmas baking and I got a big slice of Dundee cake in the post.  Oh joy...

2 weeks ago, my gorgeous Mum fell and managed to dislocate her shoulder, so stirring massive bowls of cake mix was out of the question.  I decided to head home for a week to help with cooking and dog walking duties and it seemed the perfect opportunity for the McKenna girls to get together to do some Christmas baking.

To bake McKenna style, there are a few essentials - lots and lots of dried fruit, an old copy of the Irish times to line the baking tins, a bottle of brandy for generous fruit soaking, my ancient copy of the 'Hamlyn New All Colour Cookbook' for the Dundee cake recipe and a 'Stork Christmas Baking' leaflet saved from 1976 for the Christmas cake.  Finally, there must be absolutely no peel!  The only way to avoid peel at Christmas time it seems, is to do your own baking.

The night before the big bake, Mum and I sorted through all of the fruit, looking for and removing any stems still attached to raisins and sultanas.  I think we counted about 20 little stems in 2kg of fruit.  When Mum was a girl, there were so many stems it could take hours to do the same job and all the fruit would stick together, so a final dusting with flour was essential to make sure the mixing job was easier.  These days, fruit is coated in vegetable oil, which stops things sticking together, but I wonder what the quality of the veg oil is?  Not worth thinking about too much I reckon.  Once that job was done, we soaked the fruit in plenty of brandy, covered the bowl with a tea towel and left it overnight.

My job the next day was to line all the tins.  Mum has a foolproof method for this.  Line the base and sides with two layers of newspaper (preferably the Irish Times for interesting reading) then a layer of parchment paper.  The sides are cut extra wide, to allow for an overlap at the bottom and an extra bit of height at the top, as the cake will rise and no matter how well you plan, it's sure to spill over!

My sister and I did all the beating and folding, stirring and measuring, while Mum and Tilda supervised.  Mum had a small jar of walnuts that she figured really should be used up too, so we made a Date & Walnut Loaf to fill the last space on the oven shelves.  Suffice to say, if the recipe tells you to bake something for 30 mins at 180C, baking for an hour at 140C won't really cut it.  As Mum reluctantly admitted, 'I suppose baking is a science after all!'

Several hours later, 3 cakes were out of the oven and we breathed a sigh of relief.  All done until next year!

Friday, October 18, 2013

A rare Lebanese treat in Malmö

I've been 'writing' this for over 2 weeks (more like not writing).  Studying for my final yoga teacher training module has rather taken over, so learning which muscles flex the hips, what the most important yoga sutras are and working on including meditation every day are at the top of my to-do list.  I do think this post is worth sharing, even if it is really late, we go!

On Tuesday night, October 1st, I had a rare excuse to eat out.  In my first year here, I have learned that there are two categories of restaurant; the first is top notch and pricey enough to make it special occasion only; the second is cheap as chips pizza and kebab places.  There isn't much in between, which results in very occasional splurges, but no regular treats.  Sort of makes the special occasions even more special...

On October 1st, Mountain Man and I celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary.  It's hard to believe we've been in Sweden for just over a year!  Time flies...

I spent quite a while debating where we should go (thankfully Mountain Man takes a step back when it comes to big decisions like where to eat)  There are a few restaurants that we have yet to try, but in the end we landed on OCCO.  It's just around the corner from our first apartment in Malmö and I have been cycling or walking past it almost every day for a year.  There is a very discreet sign and beautifully intricate panels on the windows, screening your view inside.  For quite a while I was sure it was some exclusive members club that I would never be allowed into, but I was sure it was something special.


OCCO is a Lebanese restaurant, serving a choice of 3 meze - vegetarian, lebanese or lebanese with mixed grill.  Prices range from 290-390kr per person and there has to be a minimum of two people dining.  For a Tuesday night, I was surprised to see a table of 6 people already there and soon after 2 more tables of 2 were filled and finally a table of 12!  Midweek it may have been, but this place was buzzy and cosy.

We went for the mixed grill meze and got off to an amazing start with a whole artichoke served between us.  Oh, the flavour!  Lemony, garlicy succulent artichoke leaves to suck on.  Have you ever shared an artichoke this way?  Get ready for some sensual eating, that's all I can say! I adored it, but before we could finish it an incredible selection of dishes had arrived; divinely creamy hummous, baba ghanoush, seriously herby tabbouleh, the best falafel I've ever tasted with a gorgeous garlicy dip and a multitude of filled pastries and spiced yoghuts.  Oh my lord, I found it such a challenge to know what to eat first!  I did manage to go back to the artichoke a few times, so managed not to waste any... 

About 15 minutes later the mixed grill arrived; swoon!  Perfectly tender fillet steak, chicken marinaded in chilli and gorgeous kebab.  Neither of us managed to clean our plates, there was so much food!  Everything was so good and with discreet and super fast service the experience was wonderful.

Having been in Sweden for over a year now, I have yet to experience food or service like we had in OCCO.  The decor was perfect, luxurious and comfortable...ideal for a romantic evening together.  Most of the other tables were filled with groups though, so clearly not just a place for romance.

We finished with dessert...Mountain Man had a selection of ice-cream made in house, for once I didn't have food envy as I ordered the 'chocolate bar' which turned out to be a dense praline coated in dark chocolate, served with pomegranate seeds.  Small but perfectly formed ;-)  When we asked for the bill, we were given a little box of chocolate covered almonds, like I've never tasted before.  Top quality chocolate, big juicy almonds and a coating of dark cocoa.  WOW.  I'm already scheming to get back there soon.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Foraging like a real Swede!

Before I ever moved to Sweden, I knew one thing...the Swedes like to forage for food.  When I had settled into our new apartment and recovered from moving country, I began to seek out foraging trips.  Alas, I was a bit late and also, everything was in Swedish, so I gave up and bought them at the supermarket instead.  I'm definitely not the most experienced with cooking mushrooms, so my efforts were somewhat, eh, slimy.  I didn't try again.

This year, things are different.  I have befriended a colleague of my Mountain Man; Patrik who loves food as much as I do, if that's possible.  He knows where to shop, what to try, which pickled herring goes with what and he has promised to be my 'tasting-buddy' for some fermented herring, or surströmming.  I've been told that this stuff smells like dead people and is utterly revolting, but others claim to love it.  Patrik also loves to forage, particularly for mushrooms.  When I discovered this a few weeks ago, I asked if he would bring me out foraging and he said yes!  Yippee!!

Last Saturday we ventured out to Söderåsens National Park and began our hunt.  To be fair to Patrik, he's
not from Skåne, so doesn't know the best spots for mushroom picking.  As we began our walk, we figured that those in the know had probably already taken the best of the mushrooms.  Patrik also reckoned that a beech forest such as is in Söderåsen may not be the best environment for many mushrooms, particularly chanterelles, which is really what he was after.

There were many unusual mushrooms either side of the path, but none looked that appetising.  One little white one, with a shiny translucent cap was calling to be picked, but I resisted as I had no idea what it was and didn't think it would be edible...

As we walked along a wooden boardwalk, a little purple mushroom caught my eye.  Patrik wasn't too interested, but I was so excited at the prospect of being able to eat a purple mushroom, he relented and consulted his mushroom book.  It told us that it was called 'Amethyst Deceiver', was safe to eat and had a mild taste.  Hooray, success!!  I was so chuffed with myself for finding something edible, I didn't mind if it tasted like cardboard!  We walked for about 14km, without finding any chanterelles, but I did find some more amethyst deceivers, which I added to the paper bag that Patrik had the foresight to bring.  We found some blackberries too, which we scoffed on the spot and were absolutely delicious.


On Sunday morning I decided to consult Google, to be sure that these weird little purple mushrooms were definitely edible.  Google said yes, so I prepared & cooked them up as Patrik had advised.  First off, use a soft brush to clean them, then heat them gently in a frying pan to get rid of any water they've soaked up.  Once that's done, add some butter and garlic, which the mushrooms will soak in delightedly.  While the mushrooms are cooking, toast some sourdough bread, rub with garlic and butter.  Once the mushrooms are soft and the butter has been soaked up season and serve over the sourdough toast.

I can't say that those little purple mushrooms were a culinary treat, but they tasted pretty good to me, probably due to the addition of all that butter and garlic!  What really felt good was picking my own food, in the great outdoors and cooking it up myself.

Of course I still had to try some chanterelles, so today, I picked up a carton of them in the local supermarket and treated them the same way.  On Saturday I used a toothbrush for cleaning, but it was a bit rough, so today I used my MAC eyeshadow brush (washed first of course!)  I know, sacrilege, but it was the softest brush I had and actually did a great job!  Besides, I hardly ever use it for makeup, so why not mushrooms?  I've just eaten them for my lunch and I can certainly say they taste better than the amethyst deceivers!  Really meaty, lovely woody rich flavour.  Next week we're hoping to get out again, to a different spot that might just reward us with some of our own fresh chanterelles.  Either way, I'm loving the adventure!  (Thanks to Patrik for some of the photos here, which you can click on to see in more detail if you like!)

Friday, August 30, 2013

The trials and tribulations of going 'grain free'

I am in the process of cutting grains out of my diet.  Yep, grains.  That's all grains...wheat, spelt, rice, buckwheat, name it, if it's grain I'm removing it.  There is one caveat, if it's been soaked and sprouted and then turned into bread or noodles, I'll allow it.  You can't really buy those kinds of grains so easily and I'm not yet at the stage where I'm doing it for myself. grains, why is that again?

Well, it's a long story, too long to cover in sufficient detail here, but for me, there are a few reasons.  Grains (and nuts and seeds too) naturally contain phytic acid, a mineral blocker that prevents the absorption of various nutrients (calcium, magnesium, zinc and more).  Phytic acid allows grains to pass unharmed, through our intestines, ready for action in a pile of fertiliser at the other end!  If you're a grain, that is wonderful.  If you're human, not so good as we just don’t get to absorb all those nutrients locked up in the outer kernel of the grain.

There are other issues with grains – they have a massive influence on blood sugar levels, even if they are wholegrains.  So, when we eat them our insulin levels spike, which can lead to a hormone storm and ultimately issues like diabetes or insulin resistance, obesity and infertility.   On top of that, grains also contain gluten and lectins, which we now understand, can do serious damage to the wall of our intestines.  As well as the health issues already mentioned, grains are also implicated in the development of arthritis, various cancers, autism, depression and many other auto-immune conditions.   

Grains have become such a staple, many of us simply don't realise that humans didn't always eat grains.  With the agricultural revolution, grains became much more popular and have since managed to sneak into our food pyramid! In the early stages of this revolution in farming, grains sat in the fields for a few weeks, exposed to the elements, where they would begin to sprout, before being turned into flour.  That simply doesn't happen anymore, so the phytic acid remains and our digestive systems pay the price.

If you absolutely love bread, or pasta, pizza or pancakes, this information is really hard to stomach (accidental pun!)  I don't eat very much bread, so I thought giving up grains would be pretty easy.  It's not that easy actually, even if you cook almost all of your food from scratch.  I realise I use rice for lots of curry dishes, I have a favourite brand of wholewheat noodles that I love to combine with a reliable mid week satay dish.  On the weekend my dream breakfast is home made crepes with bacon and maple syrup.  I have had to do quite a bit of rethinking, planning ahead to be sure that I don't accidentally eat grains.  On Tuesday night I had been craving pizza for a few days and eventually gave in and had it.  As I'm not allergic or intolerant to anything, I didn't suffer unduly, but I did feel that I had given up a bit too easily.  I started again on Wednesday and haven't had any grains since then! Go Ruthie!

On Wednesday night I made a grain free pad thai.  I had made it before and it was really really tasty.  I did something different this time and it was horrible, but I ate it anyway and had leftovers for lunch yesterday.  Yuck.  Last night's dinner had to be better.  So, I reverted to an old favourite and made a really tasty and quick Chicken Satay.  I usually serve this with wholewheat noodles, but this time I made courgette 'noodles'.  Easy as pie, all I did was peel the courgette into lovely ribbons, then dunked them in boiling water for a minute or two, drained them, squeezed the water out and served them.  They were crunchy and really tasty.  I felt so virtuous and dare I say it, victorious!  If you fancy trying it yourself, this is the recipe for the satay.  An old boyfriend who loved eating but not cooking gave me this recipe and the reward to effort ratio is perfect!

Satay Sauce
In a measuring jug, make 250ml chicken stock.
Add 2 tbsp of crunchy peanut butter straight away, so the heat of the stock softens the peanut butter.

Into the jug add the zest and juice of a lime, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, finely chopped chilli (to suit your own tastes) and about a tablespoon of creamed coconut (the stuff you buy in a cardboard packet).  Stir it all around and try to integrate the peanut butter completely.
Once that's done, let the jug of tasty liquid sit while you chop a red pepper into really small chunks.  Pan fry them in a little coconut oil on a high-ish heat til they're really well cooked and browning.  
While the pepper is cooking, slice up a chicken breast or two and add to the pepper in the frying pan.
Once the chicken is cooked, pour in the sauce and make sure any lumps of peanut butter are smushed out.  Turn the heat down a bit (my hob goes to 9, so I turned it down to 6) and let it all simmer away for a few more minutes.
While the sauce is thickening, peel your courgette into ribbons (I peeled around the core, as it's full of seeds and not great for this purpose).  Boil some water in the kettle.
When the sauce looks lovely and thick, add your courgette to boiling water in a saucepan and simmer for max 2 minutes.  Drain them and press as much of the water as you can out of them.
Serve the satay on to of the bright fresh courgette noodles, with sliced spring onions, coriander and a wedge of lime.  
Heaven in a bowl.  Yum!  I have leftovers in the fridge, ready for lunch today and I can't wait to tuck in :-)


Monday, August 19, 2013

A change of seasons...and chocolate shops.

On Saturday Mountain Man and I made some big decisions.  We've been in Sweden for almost a year now and...well, it hasn't been easy.  Of course, as my Grandad would often remind me, if it was easy everyone would be doing it!  Despite that nugget of wisdom and truth, or perhaps because of it, we have decided to shake things up a bit and cram more fun into our lives.

Malmö is a great place to live in many ways - it's close to Copenhagen, right by the sea and has wonderful cycle tracks and parks.  It's seriously lacking on the restaurant and foodie end of things though and we both miss that.  For that and lots of other reasons, we have decided to move from our beautiful apartment in Malmö to the University city of Lund.  Mountain Man will cycle to work every day, I will meet him for lunch and every now and then,  pop into St. Jakobs Bageri for a cuppa, mosey in the Saluhallen for fresh fish, meat and cheese and maybe, once in a blue moon treat myself to some divine chocolates from Hovby No.9 Chocolaterie.

As we walked around Lund on Saturday, luxuriating in the buzz, the smells of fresh food from the Saluhallen and the joyfully autumnal flowers at countless market stalls in Mårtenstorget, we stumbled across a sign for Hovby No.9 Chocolaterie.  Mountain Man remembered someone telling him it is the best chocolate in Sweden, so what could we do but follow our noses?  The signs and smells directed us through a little courtyard and down a set of steps into a surprisingly warm, tiny chocolaterie.

An hour later, we resurfaced, having learned the story of Hovby No. 9, of the warm and funny owner Inger and her many careers and of course, with a box of very special chocolates in tow.

Inger opened the chocolaterie 13 years ago, having spent 12 years in Switzerland and some time in Paris learning the art of chocolate making.  She grew up on a farm and chose to name her chocolaterie after the place and people she loves.  She was preaching to the converted when she told us 'I would rather have nothing if I can't have good quality.  No, I just do without until I can afford the best quality'.  Over the years, in different guises, working with the best quality has been her raison d'etre and she has brought this deep respect for quality to her latest venture, which she tells us proudly, she began at the ripe old age of 55.

I loved standing at Inger's counter, she was so warm and generous, listening to our story as she weaved hers around us.  She told us, with such passion, about an ingredient she had discovered and insisted we try a chocolate she had made with it.  When she learned we wanted to move to Lund, she laughed and said '...the best thing about Malmö is that it is close to Copenhagen!'  She insisted on sharing her email with us and taking mine, in case she heard of anything becoming available.

Mountain Man and I grinned at each other as we basked in the simple act of chatting with a stranger...oh how we have missed that!  Inger may not have realised it, but her kindness & openness gave us the final nudge we needed to make the decision to move.  Lund here we come!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Hungry Cailín Goes West - Part 1

One of my favourite things about Sweden has to be the ‘klämdag’ or ‘squeeze day’ tradition.  If a public holiday falls on a Thursday or Tuesday, you take the day squeezed between it and the weekend off!  What’s not to love?

Last weekend, Mountain Man and I took advantage of Sweden’s National Day on Thursday 6th of June and the klämdag on Friday.  We ventured into the wilderness; setting off from Malmö on Wednesday afternoon and by early evening setting up camp in the beautiful campsite ‘Klättertorpet’ in Bohuslän, Western Sweden.  Run by climbers Hanna and Petter, this place is not a typical 5*campsite - there is no hot water or showers and there is no 24 hour reception.  To me though, it has everything that qualifies as 5*.  There is endless peace and quiet, beautiful views, great climbing in every direction, 2 affectionate cats, composting toilets, a fire pit with a shedful of wood and a barn with cosy couches, a fridge and cooking facilities.  Everything about the place is relaxed and informal…like most climbers I know.

On Thursday, Hanna took me out to a nearby crag (that’s a cliff for those of you who don’t climb and for people like me who are just learning the lingo!) to give me some one-on-one instruction.  I’ve climbed before and Mountain Man has been climbing since he was a teenager, but I’ve never felt 100% comfortable or confident when it came to knots or technique.  We spent 4 hours practising, I climbed some of the toughest routes I have ever attempted and even learned how to hand jam (that means putting your hand into a crack in the rock and basically using it as an anchor to hold you…scary, right?!)  There are very few feelings like the one you get when you abseil off a tough climb and one of Sweden’s strongest climbers (read ‘shit hot’) high fives you.  What a morning, I was practically levitating with joy. 

To celebrate our return to our climbing harnesses (it’s been a while for me and my Mountain Man) we ventured a little further down the road to ‘Stenugnsbageri’ a gorgeous little bakery sitting all alone on the side of the road, in the middle of the countryside.  The lady behind the counter heard us conversing in English and immediately asked if we would like to taste their breads, so of we course we took her up on the offer and dived into the little jars of bread samples, every ingredient listed on the blackboards on the wall.  As we tasted, oohing and aahing all the way, the owner appeared, covered in flour, drawing us over to look in the window of his kitchen, pointing out his enormous oven, fuelled with 1m lengths of locally supplied timber.  His pride in a 6 year endeavour radiated from his cheery face, as he told us about the suppliers of his lettuce, vegetables, herbs…his flour and cheeses.  ‘Everything is organic, it’s easier that way, than having to explain what isn’t!’  My kind of man…  We had the most delicious lunch, with super fresh ingredients and old fashioned lettuce full of flavour, unlike the baby varieties that are so popular now, but often taste of nothing!  Sitting in the sun, luxuriating in the feeling of spending all day outdoors, I really couldn’t have been any happier.

We spent the afternoon taking endless photos of the local countryside, swimming in the sea and soaking up the June sunshine.  Being outside all day long felt so good, I realised that while I love being close to everything in the city, my country roots love to ‘go wild’ as often as possible! 

We concluded our day with a gourmet meal of buttered asparagus (Kerrygold of course) homemade organic beef burgers, caramelised onions and a top notch salad…all prepared at the picnic bench beside our tent and gobbled down by two hungry climbers.  Who ever said camping food has to be basic?

Watch this space for Part 2...crayfish, crab & summer houses by the sea.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Village gossip and the joys of asparagus...

I'm back from a glorious week in the Cotswolds in England.  First time there and I am already planning a return trip.  What a stunning part of the world!  Beauty in every direction, immensely friendly locals and some of the loveliest local cheese I've ever come across.  It helped that the owner Henry, of Woefuldane Dairy shop shared some village gossip with us, it really made us feel included...  I had my first ever English cream tea in the village of Minchinhampton and visited the local WI (Women's Institute) market.  It was like being part of the cast of Calendar Girls!

To cheer me up even more, the farmers market on Drottningtorget was back last weekend.  It's been a long winter without any fresh, local, 'straight from the farm' produce so I literally jumped out of bed on Saturday morning to have a wander and soak up the smells and atmosphere.  I also bought my first bunch of Swedish asparagus, from Lund!  Dreamy, fresh, crunchy asparagus...I really couldn't have been happier as I cycled home with a basket filled with local goodies.

I've managed to get a few spears into most dishes so far this week, but my favourite was probably today's lunchtime salad.  Rocket, lemon balm, coriander leaves, lightly toasted sunflower seeds, creamy avocado, cherry tomatoes, panfried asparagus and some shredded chicken from an organic bird I boiled up to make stock.  Oh sweet was so good.

I had been listening to music while I sowed seeds to germinate on my windowsills and while I prepared lunch, sporadically checking emails as I went...  There was so much stimulation and sound that as I sat down to eat, it struck me that in order to appreciate what I was eating I had to turn everything off and 'log out' for 20 minutes.  I turned everything off and took my bowl of goodness into the kitchen.  I held it in my hands and gave thanks for such incredible food before savouring each bite. Hooray for Summer and local farmers!

Tomorrow, I am planning to check out the Malmö Garden Show which looks like it should be lots of fun.  I'm a little bit sad that I am missing Bloom in the Park this weekend, but a mini local version will be a treat with no guilty air miles attached.  Happy weekend everyone, I promise I won't leave it so long next time!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

My signs of spring

Spring has sprung!  I's hard to tell when this is my first spring in Sweden, but here's hoping.

Yesterday I walked in the sunshine, through our nearby park (ignoring the last signs of winter lurking under some trees & park benches).  I dawdled outside florists, their steps littered with pots of narcissus and primula.  I nearly fell over when I spotted the very first new buds on a tree in the very beautiful city graveyard.  Last week I was filled with grouchiness and misery, feeling that winter would never end and just a few days later I can see some
real signs of Spring.  I'm so relieved!

This morning I sat in the dining room, bathed in light, tucking into a bowl of home made granola, natural yoghurt, baked rhubarb and that delicious Super Life breakfast topping I mentioned on facebook recently.  Rhubarb is another sign of spring for me.  OK, it's been forced, but when it appears for sale I always feel happy that spring has arrived.  I discovered baked rhubarb in a lovely B&B in Wexford a few years ago.  It was part of the breakfast buffet and I almost died with pleasure when I tried it.  It's the easiest thing to reproduce too.  

First, turn on your oven to 180°C, then put the juice and zest of an orange in a saucepan with 2 teaspoons of honey, 1 or 2 pieces of star anise, a cinnamon stick and some grated nutmeg.  Heat it gently for a few minutes, until the honey has completely dissolved into the juice.  Chop up 4 or 5 washed stalks of rhubarb into 3cm lengths (you don't need to be precise) put the rhubarb pieces into a large, shallow ovenproof dish and cover with the fragrant juice.  Put the whole lot in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until the rhubarb is still holding it's shape but is beginning to brown a tiny bit.  The juices will have thickened up too, providing luscious, tasty goo for drizzling.  

This rhubarb is wonderful with breakfast, but you can use it in a crumble or with ice-cream or yoghurt as dessert too.  I don't know why I don't make it more often!  It'll keep in a jar or bowl in the fridge for a week, easy...except it won't, because you'll eat it all within a few days!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

When grouchy...cook.

Yesterday, I was having one of 'those' days.  For no good reason, I was in a big fat grouch.  Maybe it's the unending winter, that keeps pushing it's way into my world, in between teasing moments of Spring. Maybe it's the lack of conversation about the weather that is part of every day in Ireland?  Maybe it was just an off day.

I'm one of those annoying people who is almost always in good form.  I don't know what to do when I am grouchy for no good reason.

Except cook.  Cooking always helps, even if it's just the joy of kneading dough until is succumbs to my will.  It's cathartic.

Last night, I decided to make pizza dough and sauce from scratch.  Mountain man inspired me, with two punnets of cherry tomatoes, which were bought for a party he had while I was away.  I'm not sure what exactly the tomatoes were for, but they were still in the fridge when I got back, so they spent 45 minutes in a hot (200°C) oven with 3 cloves of garlic, two sprigs of rosemary and a few sprigs of fresh thyme, along with a glug (technical term) of gooey balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and a drizzle of cold pressed, organic sunflower oil.  It's a failsafe way to turn somewhat tasteless out of season food into something worthy of your belly.

The smell was intoxicating.  It's hard to be grouchy with smells that good, but I was determined to cling on nonetheless.

While the pizza dough rose slowly in a clingfilm covered bowl atop the radiator, I chopped pizza toppings, burned some shallots that were supposed to be caramelising and dropped a carton of feta on the floor.  Mountain Man wisely handed me a drink and cleaned up my mess, even washing the burned saucepan and chopping fresh shallots for me.  Did I mention I love my husband?

Dough refuses to rise any faster than it feels like, forcing me to wait and take a breath.  Cooking teaches patience, who knew?!

Finally, 2 hours after I started, dinner was ready.  Mountain Man had a
movie lined up and ready to watch and I sank gratefully onto the couch.  Biting into the first slice of pizza made me feel even better.  In spite of my weird mood and determination to burn everything, the pizza tasted like a little piece of heaven and with the blinds down and a blanket to snuggle into, I didn't even notice that it was snowing again.

It always works.  No matter what my mood is, cooking always cheers me up.  Am I the only one who finds cooking restorative, cathartic, meditative?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What do with ingredients bought on a whim...

Oh if only smell was transportable via high speed internet.  As I type I am sitting in my kitchen, drunk on the smell of bergamot orange (which looks more like a lemon to me) as it caramelises in the frying pan.  I bought it last Friday on a whim, as I couldn't resist the scent.  It is truly incredible; somehow fresher, lighter and headier, all at the same time, than a cup of earl gray tea (which includes bergamot oil)
I had no idea what to do with the fruit, but felt the need for some comfort with a kick.  A facebook request for ideas produced the suggestion of coconut rice pudding and caramelised slices of the fruit.  Oh mamma, perfect.  (Thank you Sarah!)

I was feeling rather unwell last night and this morning.  Not sure why, I have a pretty tough immune system so whatever it was, seems to have been kicked to the kerb now.  I definitely felt the need for some comfort food this afternoon, so I broke some rules and bought white rice (horror!) to make the rice pudding.  It has to be one of the easiest to prepare, cheapest and most rewarding desserts on the planet.

In a saucepan I put half a cup of pudding rice (or grötris in Swedish, which google translate tells me means 'boil'.  Hmmm...sometimes Swedish makes little sense to me) a tin of coconut milk, a teaspoon of rapadura sugar and the seeds from half a vanilla pod.  I brought it to the boil, then simmered for about 20 minutes, giving it the occasional stir.  Once it had thickened up I added a hefty pinch of cinnamon and put a lid on the saucepan to prevent a skin forming.  I'm not a fan of skins on things, like warm milk...yuck.  If you like a skin that you can savour, don't cover the pudding once cooked.  Job done.

I then focused on the fruit.  I figured half the fruit would serve two of us, so sliced it into segments with the peel on (that's where the oil is after all!) and fried them gently on a low to medium heat in some butter and a teeny bit of rapadura sugar.  I turned them a few times in the pan, until they had turned golden and a little bit chewy.

I'm not a fan of sugar, if I had some coconut sugar I would have used that, but I don't, so rapadura was the best I could manage.  If you don't know much about sugar,'s a bit of a minefield. Basically, the more processed the sugar, the worse it is for you.  Rapadura sugar is the least processed sugar, still containing many of the minerals that are removed from white sugar and so it is my solution when I have to use sugar.  White sugar is considered to be the cocaine of the food world.  Utterly addictive, completely lacking in nutritional value and damaging to health in every way.  Best avoided, or at least reduced so it doesn't appear in your bowl, plate or cup on a daily basis.

Back to the rice pudding.  Oh lordy, heaven in a bowl.  Not super sweet, as I didn't think it was necessary and I got to savour the taste of the bergamot fruit.  The gentle vanilla and bergamot aroma wafted around the apartment, tempting me back into the kitchen for sneaky tastes every 5 minutes.

I have half a bergamot orange left, so might do something different with that tomorrow.  What would you do with a bergamot fruit?  Ever bought on a whim and made something incredible?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Saturday Night at Belle Epoque

I think it's time to buy a swanky new phone.  Preferably one with a high resolution camera built in.  That way, wherever I go, I can take photos of the food I eat, so that I can share it with you.  Makes sense, right?  Sometimes I forget to bring my little Canon Ixus with me and get home from a lovely meal or impromptu fika, without a single photo.  I never forget to bring my phone with me, ergo I need a new phone.

Last weekend Mountain Man and I had visitors.  My cousin and his wife spent a few days with us.  We cycled around Malmö, showed them the sights, had delicious coffee in Cafe Number 6 and on Saturday evening went for dinner in a restaurant called Belle Epoque.  Situated in the pretty, hip area between Triangeln and Möllevången, Belle Epoque is a mix of cocktail bar and restaurant.  They only do evening meals and are closed on Mondays.

Of course, I forgot my camera (the pic above is from the BE facebook page).  Thankfully my cousin had brought his swanky new smart phone with him, so in the dim light of the restaurant, he snapped a few pics as each course arrived.

At Belle Epoque, the menu changes weekly and consists of 3 main courses and 2 desserts.  That's it.  I love the confidence.  One main course is meat, another fish, another veggie.  Since our first visit here in June, they have introduced a tasting menu, where you get a small portion of each main course, plus one of the desserts, of the chef's choosing, for 390kr.  It might seem like a limited menu, but every detail is so well attended to, they do not need to offer anything else, in my humble opinion.

We started with an incredible pasta dish, delicately flavoured with a light creamy tarragon sauce (which can often be overpowering) and topped with a runny poached egg.  Amazing, all on it's own.  I was swooning and we were only one course in.  If I had a photo I would share the beauty of this with you, but on emailing my cousin yesterday to get the prized photos, he replied, in consternation, that I wouldn't be very happy to hear that he had deleted all the photos he had taken.  Apparently the quality wasn't good enough for his high standards.  See?  I really do need my own smart phone...

The second course was a fish dish.  The waiter didn't know the English word, but it was white and firm - haddock like in consistency.  This was perfectly pan fried and served on a bed of celeriac mash.  Yumsky.  I wish I had the photo to double check the details, as I realise this description doesn't really tell you much, but honestly, it was better than we ever expected it could be and our visitors were hugely impressed.  Score.

The final course was slow cooked wild boar, served with a local forest mushroom and bean ragu.  The portion was so generous I couldn't finish, but thankfully Mountain Man was on hand to help me out.  The boar was incredible; gamey but not too strongly flavoured, with little chewy, caramelised pieces to savour.  Utterly delicious.

We were all served the chocolate brownie for dessert, which was the lightest, more flavourful brownie I think I have ever had, and I've had a lot of brownies.  The entire meal was just incredible and luckily, the least expensive bottle of wine on the price list was also fantastic, so we felt we did incredibly well.

At around 10pm the DJ kicked things off and the atmosphere changed.  The lights dimmed and the bar started to get busy.  This is a great spot to come to for food and hang out in before moving onto a club, as they are open until 1.30, later than most bars.  If you want a quiet drink without the crowd and some really good food cooked with love and panache, then come early.  A lovely spot, one I will have to go back to once I get that smart phone...