Swedish-American Crossover Christmas Cranberry Sauce

My first meeting with cranberries was when I lived in the US for a year as a high school exchange student. I had cranberry juice, cranberry bread, cranberry muffins, and of course, cranberry sauce. I loved it all. We didn't get cranberries in Sweden, at least where I lived. But a few years later, you could finally get Ocean Spray cranberry juice in regular grocery stores (maybe the Sex & the City Cosmopolitan effect), and more and more recipes using cranberries, especially dried ones, showed up. Fresh cranberries are still kind of hard to get hold of, so I was very happy when I found them in our small, student-oriented neighborhood store.

Most of the cranberries went into a rye sourdough fruit and nut bread that Markus made, but the rest were reserved for cranberry sauce. We had a leftover bottle of glögg from last year (actually, maybe from two years ago, since we spent the run-up to last Christmas in Hong Kong) and I got the idea of making a cranberry sauce flavored with glögg. The tart cranberries and the sweet, spiced glögg worked perfectly together! The glögg I used was the low-alcohol version that you can buy in regular grocery stores here in Sweden, but using glögg with higher alcohol content will work as well! The alcohol will vaporize during the boiling.

Cranberry sauce with glögg

80 g sugar
½ dl water
3/4 dl glögg (the regular red-wine kind)
3½ dl cranberries

Bring water and sugar to a boil. Add glögg and cranberries and let simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes or until the cranberries pop.


The Daring Cooks gets wrappin'

'Tis the season to be jolly, and 'tis also the season to wrap up stuff! In between wrapping Christmas presents, the Daring Cooks also wrapped salmon, meat or vegetables this month.
The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.
Food baked in pastry, it's hard to go wrong with this one! After exploring the meat section of our local supermarket we decided to go with a regional twist and make a Moose Wellington.

For me, eating game feel better and more ethical. I would love to get it more often, but unfortunately, unless you know someone who hunts, meat such as moose, venison and deer can be really hard to get hold of, and it's often very expensive. Moose hunting season in Sweden is a short period in the fall, and is quite heavily regulated. Fresh moose meat is not very commonly found in supermarkets, so if you want to cook with it you have to take the opportunity when it arrives, and also be ready to splurge a little!

The filling for the Beef Wellington recipe was button mushrooms and Parma ham. We decided to use a mixture of chanterelles and porcinis instead. Chanterelle picking season kind of coincides with moose hunting season, so the two are often served together. Instead of Parma ham, we used a Swedish cold-smoked ham called Tvärnö ham.

We missed the September Daring Bakers challenge which was making puff pastry. Had we done that one, we probably wouldn't have hesitated to make our own pastry dough for the Moose Wellington (or there would have been leftovers in the freezer). But attempting it for the first time seemed a little too adventurous and time-consuming now, so we turned to the ready-made stuff.

The recipe called for the Beef Wellington to be in the oven at 200°C for 20 minutes. That really seemed too inexact for me (what size of beef is that for? how well done will it be?) so we stuck a thermometer into the moose and cooked until it read 73°C. Unfortunately, we had forgotten that it would keep cooking also when it was out of the oven, and a dilemma presented itself: letting the meat rest and see the temperature keep going up, or carving it without letting it rest for the desired 20 minutes? When the thermometer read 80°C, we decided to carve it. This meant that the moose was a little too well done for our liking. It was, however, still delicious. I got a bad migraine the night we made it, but since we had put in all the effort (ok, it wasn't that hard) and money I just had to eat some, even though I normally would have been in bed without a thought of food. The pain kind of took away the enjoyment of eating it though. Fortunately there were leftovers, so both Markus and I were treated to Moose Wellington for lunch the following day. It was really nice also after being heated in the oven (me)/microwave (Markus), and even the crust was still quite crispy and flaky which I hadn't expected. I guess the wrapping-meat-in-crepes part really do prevent the crust from getting soggy!

What didn't work however, was the picture taking part (seriously, every month I hang my head in shame when I see some of the pictures other Daring Bakers and Cooks have taken of their dishes), and a big computer catastrophe (tip of the day: laptop should not hit floor) didn't make things better. So we only have these two really crappy picture of our Moose Wellington. Ouch!

Thanks Simone for a fun challenge! Below you will find our version of the recipe, which has some changes, and is also halved. The original (and the recipes for salmon and vegetables en croute) can be found over at the Daring Kitchen, where you also can see the other Daring Cooks' creations.

Finally: Happy Holidays to all the Daring Cooks around the world! I look forward to see what exciting challenges 2010 will bring us!

Moose Wellington

400 g moose (elk)
110 g canned chanterelles
110 g canned porcinis
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 sprig of thyme
1 tsp dijon mustard
Ready-made puff pastry (rolled)
3 slices cold-smoked ham (Tvärnö ham)
1 egg yolk

For the herb crepes:
25 g all purpose flour
62 ml milk
1 tbsp mixed herbs (we used a frozen "Italian mix" of flat leaf parsley, oregano and sage)
½ tbsp butter
Pinch of salt
  1. To make the crepes, whisk the flour, egg and milk with a pinch of salt in until smooth. Pour into a jug and stir in the herbs and some seasoning. Leave to rest.
  2. Drain the chanterells and porcini well. Heat the oil in a pan, and fry the mushrooms until most of the liquid is gone. Add the thyme leaves and some seasoning and keep cooking for a few minutes. Cool.
  3. Melt the butter in a frying pan (or small crepe pan) and mix the butter into the batter. Pour in enough batter to make a thin layer on the base of the pan, cook until the top surface sets and then turn over and cook briefly. Remove and repeat with the rest of the batter. This will make a couple of more crepes than you need so choose the thinnest ones for the recipe.
  4. Sear the meat all over in a little oil in a very hot pan. Brush with the mustard, season and allow to cool.
  5. Lay a large sheet of cling-film on a kitchen surface and put two crepes down on it, overlapping a little. Lay over the ham. Spread the mushroom mixture over the ham and put the meat in the centre. Roll the cling-film up, taking the crepe with it, to wrap the beef completely into a nice neat log. Chill for 1 hour.
  6. Heat the oven to 200°C. Roll out the pastry, remove the clingfilm and wrap the beef in the pastry like a parcel, with the ends tucked under. Trim to keep it nice and neat. Brush with egg, score with shallow lines across the top and chill for 20 minutes.
  7. Stick a thermometer into the meat and cook until it reads about 70°C. It will keep cooking while it rests, so if you prefer your meat slightly less done, remove it a bit earlier. We cooked it until 73°C, and it was a bit too well done for our liking. Allow the meat to rest for 20 minutes before carving and enjoying!


Paper Chef 47: And the winner is...

It was my great pleasure to be the judge (and ingredient picker) for Paper Chef this month. We've got four great entries, turning my picks of mustard, thyme, saffron and ham into something delicious!

First up, we have Pauline, who made Ham and cheese croquetas with salad and mustard dip. I would love to bite into one of these crunchy, cheesy and fried delicious little things!

Next up is Ilva of Lucullian Delights who created a scrumptious Saffron breaded ham with a mustard seed, thyme and pecorino filling. This sounds like a perfect lunch sandwich, and I like the use of mustard seeds.

Our next contestant is Bron Marshall who made Little ham, cranberry and saffron rice stuffing cakes. These are very creative and it looks like a perfect side dish, or just a tasty little something to snack on.

Last, but of course not least, is Karen of Prospect: The Pantry, who made a beautiful and mouth watering assortment of appetizers. A plate of tapas to share with family and friends sounds just perfect for the holidays!

You can imagine that this was not an easy one, with four such diverse and delicious dishes (alliterations are fun!). But I have to make a choice, so... (drumroll, please)

A big congratulations to the next Paper Chef:
Ilva of Lucullian Delights!

Who can resist that hearty, delicious looking sandwich? Not me! So Ilva, it is my honor to pass the virtual Paper Chef hat to you. See you next month, and until then: happy holidays!


Paper Chef 47: The (Christmas) ingredients!

As the winner of last month's Paper Chef challenge, it is my honor to pick the ingredients for Paper Chef 47: the Christmas edition! For December's ingredient list, PCers around the world were asked to suggest ingredients that they associate with Christmas. As Paper Chef is a global event, and Christmas means different thing to different people around the world, the list was very diverse.

I had to use something suitable to pick out my three random ingredients, and the choice was obvious: a sparkly Santa's hat!

So, all the ingredients went into the hat (well, not the ingredients themselves, that would have been messy!).

And then it was time to pick!

Holding the hat, sticking my hand into it to pick out pieces of paper, and taking pictures at the same time required a few more arms than I have.
But the first ingredient to come out of Santa's hat is...


And the second:


And the last random ingredient is:

Delicious flavors, but nothing much substantial. So now that it's time to pick the ingredient of my choice, I will go with:


This will be an interesting challenge! I think the possibilities are endless with this one. By the way, you can use any type of ham you want to: boiled, grilled, cured, smoked...

Now you have until next Tuesday, December 8th, to create something from these ingredients. Then the entries will be presented and I will get to select the winner. To read up on how to participate in Paper Chef, go to the rules and regulations. Have fun everyone!


The Daring Bakers are not baking in November

...but don't worry, this just means that we deep-fried stuff instead!
The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.
My only contact with cannoli before this month's Daring Bakers challenge has been through the (often unfunny) sitcom "Everybody loves Raymond", where cannoli seems to be a favorite of the dad's. I had no idea how it was made and what was in it. Here's what our host Lisa Michele told us about this dessert:
Cannoli are known as Italian-American pastries, although the origin of cannoli dates back to Sicily, specifically Palermo, where it was prepared during Carnevale season, and according to lore, as a symbol of fertility. The cannoli is a fried, tube-shaped pastry shell (usually containing wine) filled with a creamy amalgamation of sweetened ricotta cheese, chocolate, candied fruit or zest, and sometimes nuts.
The challenge had a lot of leeway: no need to make tube-shaped cannoli, no need for deep-frying, no need for sweetened ricotta filling. At first I had planned to make one batch of traditional cannoli, just to see how it tastes, but as the reveal date crept closer, it became clear that there wasn't enough time for finding cannoli tube substitutes and making ricotta. So we just went completely untraditional and made a sort of Italian-British fusion version: Banoffee Cannolipoleons!

The inspiration is of course the classical Banoffee pie. We made flat, deep fried disks from the cannoli dough (ok, not only disks, we also went a bit crazy and started playing with our animal shaped cookie cutters to make bunnies and elephants!), which were then stacked with the traditional banoffee pie ingredients: bananas, dulce de leche (boiled condensed milk), and whipped cream.

This was extremely rich but very yummy! The flavor of the cannoli reminded us of traditional ice-cream cones/wafers, but it was a bit more crunchy. We have a lot of leftover cannoli, so in the near future we'll probably experiment with different fillings, including traditional cannoli filling but in the cannolipoleon form.

This was a fun and quite easy challenge, although it took some trial runs before the deep-frying yielded perfect results. We chronicle some of our cannoli-making experiences in the recipe below. The full, original recipe can be found at the Daring Kitchen recipe archive. Thank you Lisa Michele for a fun challenge!

Banoffee Cannolipoleons

This recipe yielded us 25 round, flat cannoli (diameter 5 cm), 7 bunnies and 3 elephants!

For the shells:
125 g all-purpose flour
14 g sugar
2,5 g unsweetened baking cocoa powder
0,6 g (1/4 tsp) ground cinnamon
1.5 g salt
21 g vegetable or olive oil
2,5 g white wine vinegar
Approx. 30 grams sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand*

You can do the dough in a stand mixer/food processor or by hand, we made it by hand.
Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. We had to add a bit more juice (wine) in order to get a soft, uniform dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge, from 2 hours to overnight.

*We didn't have any suitable wine at home (we were not cranking open a bottle of Amarone for this), so we followed the suggestions on this page. Instead of grape juice, we used lingonberry juice (keeping it local), and substituted the brandy with cheap whiskey. If you don't want to use alcohol at all, Lisa Michelle suggests cranberry, pomegranate or apple juice. If using only juice, you might need to add a bit more vinegar to make the dough acidic enough to relax the gluten strands.

After letting the dough rest, use either a rolling pin or a pasta machine to make the dough paper thin. We used our pasta machine and it worked really well - see this picture:

Paper thin dough coming out of the pasta machine.

The dough is stubborn at first, but keep working it and it will give in. Use cookie cutters or a knife to cut the dough into the desired shapes. Dock the cannolis lightly, this will keep them from ballooning up in the hot oil.

Heat vegetable oil in a heavy sauce pan (or use your deep fryer if you have one). We used about 4 deciliters of oil. Heat the oil to 175-190°C. Other Daring Bakers' experiences says that it's better to use hotter oil. Deep fry the cannoli, about two at the time. They should be golden brown and blistered. Place the deep-fried cannoli on paper to get rid of excess oil. Let them cool.
To get the cannoli to hold their shape while deep-frying, Markus gave this kind of macabre tip: "Hold them down beneath the surface of the hot oil using the skimmer until there's no more bubbles. It's kind of like drowning someone". So, here's our cannoli bunnies drowned in hot oil:

Maybe an idea for suicidal bunnies?

When you have fried all your cannoli and it has cooled, it's time to make the banoffee cannolipoleons. For this you need:

1 can condensed milk
Bananas, sliced
Whipped cream

Place the can of condensed milk unopened in a pot of water. Bring to a boil, and let it boil for 2-3 hours, refilling the pot with water when necessary. The water should always cover the can. When it has boiled, the condensed milk will have turned in to creamy, caramel-tasting dulce de leche. Let the can cool completely before opening. Since boiling and cooling takes a while, you might want to do this the day before.

Stack banana slices, cannoli disks, dulce de leche and whipped cream to make cannolipoleons. By the way, this was how the above-pictured cannolipoleon looked when we had dug our spoons into it... Yummy!


The best broccoli

This is an amazingly good broccoli dish that originates from Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa. I found it over at Amateur Gourmet. Ina Garten seems to be a big name in cooking over in the States, but none of her books is available in Swedish as far as I know.

This is a (for me) completely new way of cooking broccoli: roasting it in the oven, which makes it crunchy and flavorful. None of the off-putting squishyness of over-cooked broccoli, just good, concentrated flavor. The lemon juice, garlic and parmesan doesn't make things worse...

The first time I made this, I stayed close to the original. This time I needed to get rid of a big bunch of broccoli (I'm working elsewhere the coming week, and the only place that broccoli might go while I'm gone is into the trash, which is a waste, so I'm making lunch boxes), but I didn't have any pine nuts or basil, so I skipped those. It was good anyway.

I persuaded Markus to try a small piece, but he didn't like broccoli even in this fashion. Sigh. Well, more for me!

PS. Sorry for the crappy picture, I took it straight into the lunch box in bad lighting.

The best roasted broccoli
adapted from Ina Garten and the Amateur Gourmet

A big bunch of broccoli
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
Juice from ½ small lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
½ dl freshly grated parmesan
(2 tbsp toasted pine nuts)
(2 tbsp fresh basil, julienned)

Heat the oven to 125°C. Cut the broccoli into florets, not too small. Place them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment or foil. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the top of some florets are browned. I only left mine in for about 15 minutes (unreliable oven), so watch them carefully so they don't get too roasted.
Remove from the oven, add lemon juice, olive oil and parmesan (plus pine nuts and basil, if using). Toss around a bit and enjoy!


Tartelettes with Brunost

Unless your Norwegian, you're probably sitting in front of the computer now, rubbing your head and wondering what on earth "brunost" is. Well, it's a Norwegian whey cheese, made primarily from goat milk. In Swedish, it's called mesost. Wikipedia tells me that it's sold under the name gjetost in the States.

The flavor is kind of sweet with notes of toffee and vanilla, but still a bit sharp. The ones made with more, or only, goat milk has a more distinct flavor, while those with a mix of cow and goat milk are milder.

We had a bit of brunost laying in the fridge since Markus' Paper Chef adventure. I got the idea of making small quiches/tartelettes with it, and the result was really delicious. I got four tartelettes with a diameter of about 12 centimeters using this recipe. They can be eaten both warm and cold. If you want something to serve with it, I think smoked meat would work really well, especially moose or rain deer. You could use this recipe to make other sorts of cheese quiches (the original recipe uses Swedish classic cheese Västerbotten).

Tartelettes with Brunost

Makes four tartelettes

60 g cold butter, cut in cubes
1½ dl flour
1½ tbsp ice-cold water
100 g brunost (Norwegian goat whey cheese)
1½ dl milk
2 eggs
Black pepper

Heat the oven to 225°C. Mix the butter and flour, add the water and work quickly into a uniform dough (I used a mixer, but you can do it with your fingers). Press the dough into four tartelette tins (diameter of about 15 cm). You could also make one big quiche. Punch the pressed out dough a little with a fork to keep them from puffing up too much in the oven, or use pie weights if you have those. Blind bake for five minutes. Remove from oven. Grate the cheese and put a quarter of it in each tartelette. Whip the milk, eggs, salt and pepper lightly with a fork. Pour the mixture over the tartelettes. Bake for about 15 minutes, until they are set and the top is a nice golden brown color.


I won!

Yay! My Chèvre mousse with beetroot, deep fried pasta and peanut butter caramel, has been selected as the winner of Paper Chef 46 by this month's judge, Dale of Home on the Range. Thanks Dale for picking me as the winner!

This means that I will get to pick the ingredients and be the judge for for Paper Chef 47, which takes place 2-8 December. To read up on how to participate, head over to the Paper Chef blogs for the rules and regulations. I will present the ingredients - three random, one of my choice - here on December 2nd. Then you have until the following Wednesday to create something from the four ingredients. Hope that many of you will participate, it's really fun!


Daring Cooks November: 寿司

...or sushi, as it's usually transcribed. Contrary to what many people believe, sushi is not about raw fish. No, the essence of sushi is the rice, dressed with rice vinegar.

Our hosts this month was Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The bite me kitchen. I must give a special thanks to them: they have spent a lot of time in the forums answering questions, giving advice and encouragement.

The challenge came in four parts:
  1. Making perfect sushi rice, and then using it to make:
  2. Dragon sushi roll – an avocado covered inside-out rice roll with a tasty surprise filling
  3. A decorative spiral roll
  4. Nigiri - the litte "pillows" of rice with various toppings

Spiral roll spread out, Jenny adding the final touch: roe.

As I said above, sushi does not have to be about fish. The private Daring Cooks forum, where members can showcase their creations, was filled with people taking the most creative and mouth-watering approaches to sushi. As we love fish and seafood, we decided to go down that more traditional route, but with a regional twist to it.

Since we intended to share the outcome between more than just our four eyes (apparently legend has it that the Japanese eat with their eyes, the Koreans with their stomachs and Chinese with their noses), we made way more than what the challenge called for, and enlisted a cousin of Markus and her boyfriend to help with the eating part. We ended up making:
  1. Two dragon rolls (one dragon and one caterpillar) filled with smoked eel and “pressgurka” (a Swedish “fresh pickle” cucumber, recipe below).
  2. Two spiral rolls with salmon, shrimp, roe, cucumber, avocado and mango.
  3. One California roll (salmon, avocado and cucumber).
  4. One Japanese coin roll with salmon and pressgurka (we used the pictures on this page to guide us).
  5. Plenty of Nigiri with avocado, salmon and smoked shrimp.

Trilobite, the ancestor of dragon roll.

Making sushi is something we have wanted to try for several years now, but never found the time to (alright, we had time, but there's something to be said for a good kick in the right direction as well, so thanks again to Audax and Rose for that kick!). We really had a good time making the sushi (apart from all the rice washing and straining, which might be necessary, but no fun waiting for), and will definitely be making it again (otherwise we end up spending a fortune to let someone else have all the fun!). 'Nuf writing, picture time!

Dragon roll, took Markus an hour to carve, an hour I tell you! (An hour of good fun that is.)

Not as scary as the dragon, but equally delicious: the caterpillar roll.

Japanese coin rolls, apparently these look like ancient Japanese currency. Spiral rolls in the background.

Day-after-lunch. We were defeated by the sheer amount of deliciousness the day before, so two rolls made it to our lunch table: one spiral roll and one California roll, along with pressgurka (which works surprisingly well with sushi), gari and wasabi.

Close up on the spiral roll.

Pressgurka is normally made in thin slices, but thin sticks works better when filling sushi so that's what we used. This is usually served with fish, but also works with steaks and such. We were served something very similar to this, minus the parsley, at a Korean restaurant in Hong Kong. Maybe that's why so many Swedes seem to like East Asian food – the sour, tangy and sweet flavors are very similar in these two kitchens.
Press- is a prefix from the word pressa which means “to press”. It's because the cucumber is pressed down using something heavy before the liquid is poured over the cucumber. Gurka is cucumber. That concludes today's Swedish lesson!

1 cucumber, cut in thin slices for traditional pressgurka, or in thin sticks for use in sushi. If making sticks, remove the seeds from the cucumber before using.
3/4 tsp table salt
1 dl water
2 tbsp vinegar (acetum)
2-3 tbsp sugar
2-3 tbsp finely chopped parsley

Place the cucumber slices or sticks in a suitable bowl. Sprinkle the salt on top and mix around a little bit. Place a plate or something similar on top, the plate should touch the cucumber. Put something heavy on top of the plate, I usually take my mortar and pestle. The weight will press down on the cucumber (hence the name) and make it release liquid. Let it stand with the weight on for about half an hour. In the meantime, mix water, vinegar (acetum) and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the parsley. Pour the mixture on top of the cucumber and mix around a bit. Let it rest for at least half an hour before eating. Best eaten fresh, but it will keep in the fridge for 2–3 days.

The other recipes can be found at the Daring Kitchen – Command HQ of this Blogosphere quadrant.

Fine print a.k.a. blog checking line
The November 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was brought to you by Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen. They chose sushi as the challenge.


Paper Chef 46: Markus' entry

This months Paper Chef was a real challenge, as Jenny has already pointed out. The ingredients just wont combine nicely! You start off with the given pairing of beetroot and goat cheese, and go further and further away until you actually find something that go with peanut butter, but by the time you get there it just doesn't go all that well with beetroot anymore... Try as we may, neither of us liked the others far out ideas (any idea where peanut butter and goat cheese seems to enjoy each other's company can be considered far out, however slim the chances of the get-along), and thus the idea of a “cook-off” was born!

My thought drifted towards some Thai-fusion-thingy (as Jamie Oliver succinctly phrased it on TV once), and a kind of Satay-y thing would incorporate the peanut butter in a natural way. For Satay sauce we tend to get Chicken skewers here in Sweden (I have no idea how Thai that actually is, but not too far off I think), so beetroot skewers would be the obvious way to incorporate the beetroot. This leaves the goat cheese and the pasta. The pasta was lamely incorporated as the staple food for the dish, but the goat cheese proved more difficult. There's no whey (pun intended) that would fit! Unless the whole French presupposition that goat cheese equals Chèvre was abandoned in favor of whey cheese! In Norway they make an excellent “Brunost” (brown cheese), which is a whey cheese made of primarily goat milk (at least the one I used). They taste quite strongly and a bit sweet, making them potentially agreeable to the company of peanut butter.

As the Brunost Satay started cooking and going stiff, I needed to add some liquid, and foolishly added lemon juice to cut it. As I myself (if less stressed) could have figured out, the dairy started curdling instead, making this the stiffest “sauce” in History (that's right, history with a capital H). Made it taste good though, but would probably have been better with lime, added after it had cooled down. Anyhow, that's how I made it, so that's how I'll report it!

The making of the rest was rather uneventful (turns out deep frying beetroot doesn't change it that much), and the final dish turned out to be (drum roll please...)

Deep fried Beetroot Skewers
with Brunost Satay
on a bed of Pasta

Recipes towards the end of the post. The verdict was mixed, but on the whole I'm pleased with the outcome, I kept it minimalistic, not adding very much to the four challenge ingredients, and actually making something edible (only regret cheating with the goat cheese...) Oh, and it wasn't very photogenic either, so only one picture this time (hopefully the Satay doesn't look too much like it's future self in it).

Deep fried Beetroot Skewers
1 Beetroot
Oil to deep fry in

Boil the beetroot for 45 minutes, peel and cut into thumb sized pieces. Heat the oil and deep fry the beetroot pieces for about 4 minutes. Skewer (can I use that as a verb? Please?) them.

Brunost Satay
½ Onion
2 tbsp Peanut Butter
60 g Brunost (Norwegian Whey Goat Cheese)
½ Lemon (juice from)
pinch of Chili Powder
pinch of Ground Cardamom
Butter to fry in

Finley chop the onion and fry it. Add the spices and let it get some color before adding the peanut butter and cheese. Stir vigorously to combine, then add the lemon juice.

Please don't make me write out the recipe for boiling pasta...


Paper Chef 46: Jenny's entry

This month's Paper Chef was a real challenge. When I went over to last month's winner, Dale of Home of the Range, and saw the first three ingredients - pasta, chèvre, and beetroots - I said to myself "heh, this will be a breeze!". Then I saw the last one. Peanut butter. Beetroots and chèvre works together like bread and butter, pasta goes with almost everything, but there was no clear way in which to add peanut butter to that mix.

Markus and I couldn't agree on what to cook with these ingredients, so when Markus suggested we do one dish each in a sort of cook-off, I jumped on that. After a lot of thinking, I came up with some sort of starter/cheese course.

Chèvre mousse with beetroot, deep fried pasta and peanut butter caramel

50 g chèvre without rind
2 tsp mascarpone

1½ tbsp honey
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dutch style peanut butter

½ beetroot, boiled
A small bunch of fresh tagliolini
Vegetable oil for deep frying

Mash up the chèvre, add the mascarpone and stir until smooth. Cover and refrigerate.
Heat the oil. Fry the pasta for a minute or so until it's lightly brown and blistered. Place on a paper towel to get rid of excess oil.
Put honey and vinegar in a pot and boil carefully until the mixture is a bit reduced. Add the peanut butter, stir well and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. The caramel will harden quite quickly, but you can soften it on the stove again if needed.
Cut the beetroot in small cubes. Form an egg of chèvre mousse using two table spoons. Place on a plate, decorate with beetroot cubes, small dots of caramel and the fried pasta bundle.

The verdict
On their own, the elements of this dish were good. However, the chèvre mousse and the beetroot weirdly didn't go that well together. It wasn't bad, it was just that the chèvre overpowered the beetroot. In hindsight, it would have been better to bake the chèvre in the oven to make it softer and sweeter, maybe with the peanut caramel drizzled on top. The caramel itself wasn't bad either, but I think that it should have been a lot runnier, because the chewy texture didn't work that well with this. The deep fried pasta was cool though, crunchy and kind of reminded us of grissini. So, all in all not a home-run, but with some adjustments this has the potential to be a really cool dish. In a few days, all the other participants' dishes will be posted on the PC website, and then Dale will select the winner. It will be really interesting to see what all the other Paper Chefs have come up with, cause this was quite a tough one!



Oh look, another title with weird Swedish characters! Faithful readers might recognize an element of the word: tårta, meaning cake, which we have talked about before. Dröm means dream, and thus the name of this particular cake is "dream cake". I don't know why it got that name - it's certainly not that spectacular, but it's a childhood classic for me. My mom used to make this all the time, and I think this was one of the first baking items I attempted to make on my own. I distinctly remember it being a disaster. The top of the cake was burnt to the point of resembling charcoal, and when I tried to salvage it by peeling away the burnt bits, I found that the bottom of the cake was still runny and uncooked. Lots of tears ensued. That, plus the great 1990 rice-cooking disaster, made me firmly believe that I should stay out of the kitchen. Luckily, things have changed. However, for some reason I still utterly fail every time I try to make omelette. It's like a curse, I tell ya.

Anyway, drömtårta is a Swedish classic. I think these types of cakes are called jelly rolls in English, although this one has nothing to do with jelly. It's a light chocolate flavored sponge-type cake that is filled with vanilla buttercream. You can find perversions of it in grocery stores - always unchilled and with the shelf life of a formalin-stored alien. I haven't dared to look at the ingredient list for one of those, but I'm pretty sure that you can believe it's not butter. Sadly, that seemed to be the only type of "dream cake" that Markus had eaten, prompting him to tell me that he doesn't like it. Well, that needed to be changed! I have successfully gotten him to like spinach (but sadly I have realized that I need to give up on broccoli, as dislike for that seems to be genetic), so how could I fail with a buttercream filled chocolate cake?! That, plus the fact that we had French vanilla buttercream in the freezer (leftover from the triple x macaron feast), prompted me to make this cake a few days ago.

I think it was the first time I made it since that disastrous attempt over 20 years ago. Appearance wise, it left a little to be desired, but it tasted just like moms, with better buttercream. I'll give you the buttercream recipe from the original version as well, but if I were you I would go with the French one, even though it's more labor intensive.

from Sju sorters kakor (Swedish Cakes and Cookies)

3 eggs
1½ dl sugar
3/4 dl potato starch
2 tbsp cacao powder
1 tsp baking powder

Set the oven to 250°C.
Whip the eggs and sugar until the mixture is light and airy.
Mix the flour and baking powder, sift the cacao and add the dry ingredients. Mix well.
Place a parchment paper on a cookie sheet with higher edges. Spread the batter out as evenly as possible (this is where I apparently went wrong, judging from the appearance of my cake). You want it to be quite thin (~3 mm) as it rises a bit when it bakes.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 5 minutes.
Take a piece of parchment paper and sprinkle it lightly but evenly with sugar.
Transfer the cake upside down to the sugar coated paper. It's not as tricky as it sounds, as the cake will be stuck to the parchment paper that has been in the oven. Just be quick! Peel of the parchment paper carefully. Let the cake cool before filling.

Traditional buttercream filling

150 g butter
2 dl confectioner's sugar
2 tsp vanilla sugar
1 egg yolk

Beat the butter and sugar until the mixture is fluffy. Add vanilla sugar and stir in the egg yolk. Mix well.

French vanilla buttercream
Note! this recipe yields more buttercream than you need for filling the cake. It can be frozen.

80 g egg yolks (about 4)
½ vanilla bean
60 g water (60 ml)
125 g sugar
250 g unsalter butter, at room temperature.

Whip the egg yolks until they are light colored and airy.
Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and put them in a small pan. Add water and sugar, and bring to a boil. Use a wet pastry brush to brush down the sides of the pan, this will remove any sugar crystals that have stuck there. Boil until a sugar thermometer reads 117°C.
Add the sugar mixture to the egg yolks, while whisking constantly.
Continue whisking until the mixture is cool. Add the butter little by little, and whisk until the buttercream is light and airy.

To assemble the cake:
Let the cake cool completely before filling it. Make sure your buttercream is at room temperature. Spread the filling over the whole cake and roll it up. Wrap the cake in plastic and store it in the fridge for a few hours before cutting it. The whole cake can be frozen, but note that if you use previously frozen buttercream (like I did), you can not freeze it again.


Chicken Parmigiana, and a versatile sauce

This dinner was a result of me craving the Chicken Parmigiana I saw over at The Pioneer Woman Cooks, and Markus wanting to make a roasted vegetable sauce that he had seen on a food show on Swedish TV. So, we simply used the vegetable sauce instead of tomato sauce for the chicken.

The roasted vegetable sauce is easy to make, spreads a wonderful smell in your kitchen, and is extremely versatile. You can use other vegetables, and feel free to tamper with the amounts. It can be served on its own with pasta, used as a flavoring in casseroles, stews and paellas, or as a base for soup. You don't need all the sauce for the chicken here, so you will have some left-overs to experiment with. The sauce can be frozen.

Roasted vegetable sauce

3 yellow onions
8 tomatoes
2 red bell peppers (we used the pointy kind)
1 green chili fruit
1 parsnip
4 small carrots
2 large cloves of garlic
Olive oil
Vegetable stock (~3 dl)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 175°C.
Take a large oven-proof dish and prep it with either some oil or with parchment paper.
Halve the onions, but keep the skin on. Place them skin up in the dish.
Halve the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Quarter the bell peppers and remove the seeds. Peel the parsnip and carrots and cut in slices. Halve the chili fruit and remove the seeds. Peel the garlic and give it a little crush by pressing down on the cloves with the side of a knife blade. Place all the vegetables together with the onions in the dish. Sprinkle with some olive oil.
Put in the oven for 1-1½ hours, until the veggies are soft and roasted.
Remove the skin from the onions.
Transfer all the vegetables to a mixer fitted with a blade, or to a large bowl or pot. We used a large pot and an immersion blender. Mix/blend until you have a purée. Add vegetable stock until you have the consistency you want (for the chicken below it should be quite saucy). We used water plus concentrated store-bought stock, but homemade vegetable stock would of course be better.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

Tasty, but not photogenic...

Chicken Parmigiana
adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks

2 chicken breasts
1 dl flour
Salt and black pepper
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 dl freshly grated parmesan cheese
Roasted vegetable sauce (recipe above)

Place each chicken breast in a ziplock bag, or in a normal plastic bag which you tie up very well. You don't want chicken flying about your kitchen. (Yuck.) Anyway, either take one of those meat-hammer thingies, or do as we do and use a rolling pin, and pound the chicken breasts flat. You want then to be ½ centimeter thick or so. Mix the flour, salt and pepper on a plate, and coat the chicken breasts.
Heat the butter and oil in a pan. When it's hot and the butter has melted, you fry the chicken breasts (we had to do them one at the time) until they're nice and golden brown, about 2-3 minutes on each side.
Clean out your pan (or grab another one). Put in however much of the roasted vegetable sauce you think you'll eat. If we would have had some wine (red or white) at home, I would have added a splash of that at this point, so do that if you're so inclined. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Place the chicken on top of the sauce. Sprinkle the parmesan generously on top of the chicken. Place a lid on the pan and simmer until the cheese is melted and the chicken is heated.
We served this with mashed potatoes (made with more cheese!), but obviously pasta works as well. If you have any fresh herbs (parsley, basil) you can sprinkle that on top.


Daring Bakers October: A tale of two macaron recipes

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.
We have made macarons quite a few times before, but were nevertheless excited when learning about this month's Daring Bakers' challenge. I mean, a) macarons are delicious; b) the possibilities for creativity are endless; and c) it's always fun to try out a new recipe.

The first time we made macarons, we used a recipe from Tartelette. The result wasn't bad for first-timers, but they weren't perfect. The next time, we tried the recipe from our guru for all things sweet, Jan Hedh in his book Passion för Desserter (Passion for Desserts). That's the recipe we have used since, and it has yielded some really good results, and we have even been a bit daring with it.

But what's a good macaron like? Before starting to make them ourselves, we had never had a macaron, so in reality we didn't really know how they're supposed to be in order to be perfect. But a few weeks ago, we got the answer, and it was given to us by no other than the famed Pierre Hermé. Markus went to Paris for a work conference, and "skipped class" to go to Hermé's store and pick up a box of assorted macarons. Unfortunately they got a bit compromised by traveling, so they didn't look perfect, but the taste... oh dear god, how delicious! There was 12 different flavors (two of each!), all delicious. Markus liked the champagne one best, I fell in love with the olive oil and vanilla (sounds weird, but the flavor was so delicate), and we both let out a big sigh of pleasure when biting into the fleur de sel caramel. We didn't take any pictures, but if you want to see what Pierre Hermé's macarons are like you can take a look at this post on Nook & Pantry. We had quite a few of the flavors described there.

So now we know what a perfect macaron is like. Would Claudia Fleming's recipe lead us to that holy grail of pastry making?

It's sometimes hard to stop yourself when coming up with macaron flavors but we limited ourselves to two, probably quite original, flavors: Gingerbread & Blue Cheese macarons and Tiramisu macarons.

By coincidence, we started with the gingerbread macarons. We could tell that there was trouble afoot when we were making them - the proportions seemed kind of odd, and the macaronage (the batter) did not behave the expected way when Markus piped it. Also, the temperatures and baking times seemed a bit strange. In the private forum of the Daring Bakers, I found that Clumbsy Cookie shared my apprehensions about temperatures and timings. As Clumbsy is a lady who knows her way around the sweet stuff, I followed her adjustment of times and temp's, and baked for 6-7 minutes at 170°C and then for three more minutes at 150°C.

Aaaaaand... fail!

These aren't macarons, people. They were, however, very tasty - kind of a chewy meringue cookie. Actually, they were so tasty that I forgot to take a picture of them with the filling before eating them all!

We still had the batch of tiramisu macarons to make, and we agreed that we didn't want to waste more ingredients and time on a recipe that could fail us again. You see, we make our own almond flour for macarons, a time-consuming process which involves:
  1. blanching almonds
  2. peeling them
  3. drying the peeled almonds in the oven for about 1 hour at low temperature (100°C)
  4. letting them cool
  5. grinding them in our very efficient but kind of small almond mill
  6. sifting the almond meal to make sure it's very fine

Our awesome almond mill. Thanks grandma!

Yes, I realize the truly daring thing would have been to give Claudia Fleming's recipe another go, but instead we decided to use Jan Hedh's recipe for the second kind of macarons, and figure out what the differences between them are.

So, here's the macarons we made using Jan Hedh's recipe. They're not perfect (we think the most perfect macarons we've made are the lavender ones which can be found in this post), but they're like a 1000 percent better than the above pictured fiasco!

So, what's the differences between the two recipes?
  1. Proportions of ingredients: See the interactive recipe scaler below. In short, the largest difference is the amount of sugar, where Jan Hedh's recipe calls for much more per egg.
  2. Drying before baking: Hedh's recipe calls for drying the piped out shells at room temperature for 15-30 minutes before baking them.
  3. Baking time and temperature: The official recipe called for 93°C for 5 minutes, followed by 190°C for 7–8 minutes while Jan Hedh called for 7–8 minutes in 170°C.
To make the ingredient comparison more clear, Markus made an interactive ingredient scaling Javascripty thingy (fingers crossed, and hope it's working).

The official recipe
Egg Whites
225gConfectioner's Sugar
190gAlmond Flour

Jan Hedh's recipe
100gEgg White
200gConfectioner's Sugar
100gAlmond Flour
5gLemon Juice

Now, let's talk about flavors!

Gingerbread & Blue Cheese macarons
Gingerbread and blue cheese may sound like a weird combination, but a slice of blue cheese on top of a Swedish gingerbread cookie (pepparkaka) is a very popular treat in Sweden during advent and Christmas, often served with a glass of hot glögg. We flavored the shells with four teaspoons gingerbread spice mix (ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom), which gave a perfect gingerbread taste to the shells, and made a blue cheese cream for filling. These were really tasty, and we'll definitely make them again for the holiday season - actually they were so good that we made a second batch, using the Jan Hedh recipe. After all, we still had some filling left.

Blue cheese filling

140 g firm blue cheese (we use Swedish Kvibille Ädel, similar to Danish blue cheese)
75 g whipped cream

Mix the cheese and the whipped cream. The way to get a uniform, smooth cheese cream is to cut the cheese into smaller pieces and chuck them in the freezer the day before. Then you give the frozen cheese a good whirl in a food processor until you have very fine cheese crumbles. Mix them with the whipped cream. Smear between two gingerbread macaron shells.

Tiramisu macarons
Tiramisu is one of our favorite desserts: savoiardi (ladyfinger) biscuits dipped in coffee and layered with an Amaretto flavored mascarpone zabayone. We made coffee flavored macaron shells, and used the mascarpone zabayone for filling. We were out of Amaretto, but since macarons already are almond flavored, it didn't really matter. However, we added a bit too much coffee powder to the macaron shells - we used 1½ teaspoon, but really one teaspoon would have been enough. Apart from that, these were good. We had planned to dust the shells with some cacao powder before baking them (tiramisu is decorated with a dusting of cacao), but we forgot. Instead, we dusted some cacao over the filling before sandwiching the cookies together.

Mascarpone zabayone
1 egg, divided
2½ tbsp sugar
100 g mascarpone cheese

Whip the egg white to stiff peaks. Whip the sugar and egg yolk until the mixture is light and airy. Stir in the mascarpone. Fold in the egg whites carefully. Place in the fridge so that the mixture sets before filling the macaron shells. If you like, you can dust a little bit of cacao powder over the filling.

Thank you Ami for this challenge! Even though we didn't succeed with the Claudia Fleming recipe, we had fun making this. Make sure to visit the Daring Kitchen for recipes, pictures and lots of other good stuff, and pay a visit to other Daring Bakers through the blogroll!



I know: that's a lot of weird looking characters in the title... must be something Swedish. Why, yes it is! There are a few modern Swedish loan words in the English language, ombudsman is one of them, and smorgasbord is another. The “Smörgåstårta” is closely related to the smörgåsbord (as we write it, since we have three more letters than you do). It's basically a cake topped with a smorgasbord!

Naturally you don't want to make it a regular cake (spongecake and whipped cream/fondant), since you're topping it with savory stuff, so the base takes some creativity to work.

Looking back at the word “smörgåsbord” it's actually a compound consisting of “smörgås” (open top sandwich), and “bord” (table). I guess the original meaning is a large variety of toppings for an open top sandwich served on a separate table. The word “smörgåstårta” is also a compound consisting of “smörgås” (again) and “tårta” (cake, etymologically the same word as tort). This holds the key to making the cake base: bread!

Rather than baking the bread ourselves, we brought two large loves of toast bread, cut them down to even squares, and assembled them to form a large sheet cake. To “glue” the layers of bread together we used a filling made of spiced cheese and crayfish. The spiced cheese is a bit of a specialty (I doubt you can find anything similar if you don't know where Boxholm is located), but it's basically regular cheese that has been aged with caraway and cloves.

The sheet cake (we ended up with three layers) is covered in a mix of mayonnaise and crème fraîche, and then decorated with whatever you want on it.

A lot of sliced toast bread
Crème Fraîche

Spiced cheese and crayfish filling
150 g crayfish tails
50 g aged spiced cheese, grated
1 tbsp dill, finely chopped
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp crème fraîche
1 tsp dijon mustard
½ tsp caraway seeds, ground (use a mortar and pestle)

Ham (rolls)
Smoked salmon
Lemon slices
... you can basically have whatever you like/think looks tasty.

This post is horribly late, I had some trouble finding the recipe for this write-up. We enjoyed it on Jenny's birthday more than a month ago... If you ever have the chance to try this Swedish delicacy, do not hesitate, it is truly delicious!


Phở Ga 2.0

Some week or so ago, we made Vietnamese chicken noodle soup - Phở Ga - with the Daring Cooks. We were disappointed with the results, but saved the leftover broth in the freezer to try to improve it at some point in the future. Turns out the future was today, mainly due to a whole bunch of fresh cilantro that we forgot to use in yesterday's dinner.

We added more toasted spices - maybe 6 whole cloves, 3 whole star anise and 2 tablespoons ground coriander seeds. We also charred a large onion and a big chunk of ginger and added those, together with a large bunch of stems from the fresh cilantro. We brought the broth to a healthy boil, added chicken breast and thighs, boiled those for about 15-20 minutes, and then boiled the soup for another 20 minutes or so.

And guess what! It was delicious! More flavorful and complex; you could definitely taste the warm fragrant spices, the ginger and the onion. So, the key to making a nice Phở Ga was: more vigorous boiling for a longer time plus extra spices and more ginger and onion. A lot of Daring Cooks were very happy with the original recipe, but next time we're making
Phở, we'll make sure to up the amounts of flavoring and increase the cooking time.

I'm so happy that the challenge turned out satisfying in the end. Thanks to our fellow Daring Cooks for their encouragement in comments on the original post, and to Jaden of the Steamy Kitchen for sharing her recipes!


The best cheese and cracker!

You know those flavor combinations that are totally unexpected but just knocks you off your feet? This is one of those. I even had to make a new label category for this: perfect pairings. We can't take credit for it though; it comes from the Swedish food magazine Allt Om Mat (we've subscribed for something like five years, and keep every issue. Nothing we've ever made from it has turned out bad).

So, what's this perfect pairing then? It's a biscotti-like biscuit with almonds, vanilla, sesame seeds and anise, that you serve with strawberry-apple jam and a slice of chèvre (goat's cheese). The combination of flavors and textures is spot on. The biscuit is crunchy and sweet, but not overly so, and you can definitely taste both the sesame seeds, the anise and the vanilla. Together with the salty, creamy chèvre and the sweet strawberry jam with a slight tang from the apples, this is perfect matchmaking of flavors.

Markus made a batch of the strawberry-apple jam this summer when fresh strawberries were cheap and in abundance. I never got around to making the biscuits then, but I decided that it was time now, before we run out of jam (it's also great with freshly baked scones).

Like most biscotti recipes I have come across, the dough has a tendency to crumble and fall apart (I remember being nearly in tears trying to make lavender biscotti with a particularly unccoperative dough). Instead of rolling the dough out, you might find it easier to sort of squeeze-shape it into long sausage-shaped rolls.

Sesame biscuits with chèvre and strawberry-apple jam

Sesame Biscuits

makes about 40

1 dl almonds
100 g butter, at room temperature
½ dl sugar
1 tsp vanilla sugar
2 tsp ground anise
2 eggs
5 dl flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ dl sesame seeds (black or white)

Set the oven to 175°C.
Chop the almonds.
Mix butter, sugar, vanilla sugar and anise. Add the eggs, one at the time, and mix them in well.
Mix the flour and the baking powder and add to the batter.
Last, add the sesame seeds and chopped almonds.
Shape the dough into two rolls, about 40 cm long. Place them on a parchment covered baking sheet and flat them out slightly with your hand.
Bake for 20 minutes, remove them from the oven and let cool. Lower the oven temperature to 150°C. Cut the rolls, slightly diagonal to make the biscuits larger, into slices about 1½ cm thick. Lay them down so that the cut surface is up. Put them back in the oven and let them dry for about 25 minutes. Let them cool on a wire rack.

Strawberry-Apple Jam

makes about 4 dl

1 apple
200 g fresh strawberries
1 tbsp water
½ tbsp lemon juice
3 dl jelling sugar*

Peel and core the apple and cut it into small cubes. Cut the strawberries into smaller pieces.
Put apple, strawberries, water and lemon juice in a pan, bring to a boil and let it boil for five minutes. Add the jelling sugar, bring to a boil again and boil for three more minutes.
Pour the jam into a clean jar, let it cool and store in the fridge.

*jelling sugar (syltsocker in Swedish) is sugar with added pectine, citric acid and potassium sorbate.

To assemble: Put a slice of chèvre on a biscuit, and top with a spoonful of jam. Devour!


Daring Cooks October: Phở Ga (and a little extra something)

Fall is here: the days are getting shorter, the temperature is creeping towards zero, and the trees are showing off their new colors of orange, red and yellow. It's the perfect season to escape to the kitchen and make stews and casseroles, apple pie and hot chocolate. Or as in this month's Daring Cooks challenge: a flavorful, warm soup.

The Daring Cooks had a special guest host this month, Jaden Hair of the blog Steamy Kitchen, who just published her first cookbook: The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. As the challenge, she graciously shared her recipe for a Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, Phở Ga.

We had great expectations for this challenge. I love noodle soups, and Vietnamese food has never disappointed me. I remember the Phở Ga I had at a small Vietnamese place in a back road in Jordan, Hong Kong. It was packed with flavor of warm, fragrant spices, the noodles were perfectly cooked and the chicken oh so tender.

I was very excited about getting to recreate something so yummy in my own kitchen. We could either do a quick version of Phở, using store-bought chicken stock, or a longer version, where you make the chicken stock yourself. We of course opted for the longer version - making the broth from scratch would surely mean that the soup would be super delicious!

Meet the meat, up close and personal.

We followed the recipe perfectly, and even threw in an extra chicken carcass that we had laying in the freezer, to get some extra bone and marrow in there. We took great care to toast the spices and char the ginger and onion - these are steps that both Jaden and other Daring Cooks said were essential in creating a rich, flavorful broth. Judging from the smell coming from the oven and the stove, it would indeed be lovely.

We had started cooking kind of late, so the clook was approaching 9pm when I finally dipped a spoon into the broth in anticipation of what was to follow: the taste of a rich broth with layers of flavor from the spices.

Total anticlimax.

The broth was watery, and didn't taste much else than chicken fat. We were so disappointed. We really don't know what went wrong. We both went back and re-read the recipe, but no, we hadn't missed anything. The only reasons we could come up with as to why the broth was so flavorless were:
1. We couldn't find whole coriander seeds, only ground. We used the same amount, they were fresh and had a lot of aroma, so I can't imagine that this would have done that much for the end result.
2. It hadn't been simmering enough. The recipe said to simmer for 1½ hours on "low". We did exactly that - we even let it simmer for closer to two hours, but maybe we should have cranked up the heat a little bit to get some more bubbles going. We think this was problem.

We ate the soup with all the sides: rice noodles, the cooked chicken breast, bean sprouts, red onions, red chilies, freshly squeezed lime and fresh cilantro. We had also found sriracha sauce in the store (another bottle of strange condiments for the fridge), and we found ourselves pouring a lot of sriracha into the soup to make it taste something.

While we were eating, we had turned up the heat on the stove so that the broth was simmering more vigorously. The recipe yielded a lot of broth, and the idea was to freeze the remainder, so that we can make more Phở in the future. I want to say that the broth tasted more after it had boiled for another hour or so, but I couldn't really tell, so maybe that's just me wanting to like this recipe. Because I really want it to be great. It has potential, definitely. But in this version, I'm sorry to say, it was only... meh.

Anyway, the remainder of the broth is now in the freezer, and I hope that when I thaw it, heat it and add those lovely Phở ingredients, I will be pleasantly surprised. Maybe the extra boiling was the secret key to a flavorful, rich Phở. I will report back when we have tried it.

The recipe for the long version of Phở Ga can be found on the Steamy Kitchen blog. Jaden also has a recipe for a beef Phở (the challenge said that we could do chicken, beef, seafood or vegetarian/vegan). The recipe for the quick version of Phở Ga can be found on the Daring Kitchen website, where you also can see the other Daring Cooks' creations.

The fine print:
The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

But wait, there's more!

As a bonus, Jaden gave us her recipe for deep fried chocolate wontons (you'll find the recipe in the Daring Kitchen). This optional challenge was to make a creative wonton dessert. Sadly there were no wonton wrappers in our grocery store, and it was way too cold to bike across town to the Chinese shop (we got our first snowfall yesterday; it didn't stay on the ground, but still kind of early in the year), so I had to use phyllo dough instead. I hope this will count as "in the spirit of the challenge"! Voilà, my dessert:

Ganache filled banana in a wrapper

Bananas (the thicker and straighter, the better)
Dark chocolate ganache (I used this recipe)
Phyllo dough
Melted butter
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Vanilla ice cream
Caramel sauce (I used this recipe, scroll down for caramel sauce)

Peel the bananas and cut them in smaller sections of about 5 cm. Use an apple corer to make a hole through the banana (this is why you want straight and thick bananas).

Bananas with holes, ready to be filled with ganache.

Make sure your ganache is soft but not runny. Use a pastry bag to fill the banana with ganache (this didn't work for me so I had to use my fingers, which was messy but got the job done). Place the chocolate filled bananas (standing up) in the freezer for about one hour.

Things to remember about phyllo dough: the sheets are very delicate and need to be stored under a wet cloth, otherwise they'll dry out and break apart!

Cut the phyllo dough into squares of about 15×17 cm. Take a sheet of phyllo, brush it with some melted butter, and put another sheet on top. Place a chocolate-filled banana piece on the short end of the square, roll it up and twist the ends (carefully!) to make it look like wrapped candy.

Place your little packages in the freezer for at least twenty minutes. Heat the oil for deep frying. Deep fry two rolls at the time for 2-3 minutes, turning them halfway through. Place on a paper towel to get rid of excess oil before plating. Dust with confectioner's sugar. Serve with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.

Needless to say, this was incredibly yummy!