Daring Bakers February: For the love of chocolate

I am happy to announce that as of February 2009, I am a member of an incredible online baking community called "Daring Bakers". The Daring Bakers was born in 2006, when a couple of bloggers decided to bake pretzels using the same recipe and then post about it. Since then, the group has grown and grown again, but the premises are the same: each month, a recipe is presented that all participants have to follow exactly, except for specifically allowed alterations. On a given day at the end of the month, the Daring Bakers post their experiences, photos and thoughts of the challenge. It's a great opportunity to challenge yourself and try recipes that you otherwise would not have chosen, and to get to know loads of wonderful bakers and food bloggers from all over the world. You can see the blogroll here.

So, the challenge this month:
The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker and Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.
The Chocolate Valentino is a flourless chocolate cake created by Malaysia's "most flamboyant food ambassador" Chef Wan. The recipe comes from his book "Sweet Treats", and contains three simple ingredients: chocolate, eggs and butter. We were given a totally free choice on what type of chocolate to use. It was said that the finished cake would taste exactly like the chocolate used - I will get back to that statement in a little while. I decided to go local (or at least national) and use Swedish Marabou milk chocolate. A lot of people get Sweden and Switzerland mixed up and say "oh, Sweden, that's where you have the cuckoo clocks and the chocolate, right?". Well, cuckoo clocks not so much, but chocolate - yes, we do have good chocolate in Sweden.

The other part of the challenge was to make our own ice cream - a first for the Daring Bakers. But not for me; I got an ice cream maker for my birthday a few years ago, and it has not been sitting unused in a cupboard since. So the challenge for me was not to make the actual ice cream, but to find a flavour that would go well with my chosen type of chocolate. We were given two different vanilla ice cream recipes, but we didn't have to use them and could go with other flavours than vanilla. After much thinking about what flavours go well with milk chooclate, I decided to make a caramel (burnt sugar) ice cream, using a recipe from our go-to-guy when it comes to anything pastry related: Jan Hedh. The idea was to play on the flavours of another Swedish candy, Dumle, which is a milk chocolate covered caramel toffee.

Now, the orginal recipe for the flourless chocolate cake is as follows:

Chocolate Valentino
(from Sweet Treats by Chef Wan)

16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling: Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.
I halved the recipe and decided to make individual cakes in muffin cups rather than to make one big cake (to make it a true Valentino it should be heart shaped but I don't have a heart shaped pan, so...). From the halved recipe I got 7 small individual cakes.

The only mistake we (Markus and I did this together) made was to whip the egg whites too early. I was on chocolate and butter melting duty while Markus was taking care of the eggs. When he had whipped the egg whites perfectly, the chocolate hadn't started to melt yet. Stiffly whipped egg whites does not hold their shape forever, so we were a bit worried about this, since we also had to let the chocolate cool a bit before adding the eggs. That's what you get for trying to be efficient, people! When we finally folded in the egg whites, the mixture got really grainy and had a weird consistency, so we were a bit worried about the end result and that the cake would get too dry. Other than that, everything was very straight-forward and easy.

We didn't use a thermometer but instead just set a timer to 20 minutes (our oven is a bit unreliable at times). When we got them out, the cakes that had been to the front in the oven were clearly done, while the ones in the back still looked too pale and undercooked. I chucked those back in the oven, went back to the computer and....... gaah, I totally forgot the cakes! Luckily, only about seven minutes had passed and they didn't look burnt at all, so, phew! I didn't notice any difference in taste between the 20-minute cakes and the 27-minute cakes so this seems to be a very forgiving recipe.

We let them cool for a while (they do sink quite a bit while cooling), got the caramel ice cream out of the freezer (don't worry, I'll give you the recipe below!) and plated. A small cake, a chunk of ice cream on top, a Dumle candy to decorate and then, to add a bit of tartness to complement all the sweet flavours, we sprinkled a few frozen lingonberries on the plate - lingonberries and caramel is a great flavour combo!

I said above that it was stated in the challenge that the cake would taste exactly like the chocolate used. We didn't find that to be the case at all. The cake tasted much more stronger and intense than milk chocolate does - as if baking had removed the mildness and milkyness and left a much more concentrated chocolate taste. We weren't saddened by this at all - it was still delicious and I am definitely making this again, and trying it out with different kinds of chocolate. Lindt has a Fleur de Sel chocolate that I love and I am very tempted to try that in this cake. The cake was fudgy and moist and it tasted even better the next day, and still good the day after that (I kept them in a well-sealed plastic bag in my pantry). Then the seven small cupcakes were gone!

This recipe is a keeper! Thanks Wendy and Dharm for a very tasty challenge!

Here's the caramel ice cream recipe. It comes from Jan Hedh's book Desserter (Deserts).

Time: 2 days

2 g gelatin (~1 leaf)
1/4 vanilla pod
2 ½ dl heavy cream
2 ½ dl milk
125 g sugar
120 g egg yolks (~6)
25 g honey

Day 1:
Soak the gelatin in cold water for 10 minutes.
Slice the vanilla pod open, scrape out the seeds and put them in a sauce pan with cream, milk and the opened vanilla pod. Bring to a boil.
Melt the sugar until it has a golden brown color. Get the vanilla pods out of the cream mixture and pour it over the caramel (be careful, there will be a lot of smoke and bubbles). Stir until the caramel has melted completely.
Whip the egg yolks light and airy together with the honey. Add them to the caramel cream mixture.
Stirring instantly, let the mixture reach 85 degrees C. If you don't have a thermometer, do the "rose test": dip a wooden spoon in the mixture. lift it up and blow at the mixture on the back of the spoon. When a rose-like pattern is formed, it is done.
Squeeze the excess water out of the gelatin. Put it in the mixture and stir until dissolved.
Transfer the mixture to another bowl that you place in a bath of ice-cold water to let it cool down fast. Cover with plastic and place in the fridge until next day.

Day 2:
Put the mixture in an ice cream maker for 30-45 minutes. Transfer to a plastic box and freeze until needed.



On Wednesday, February 25th this blog was visited by its 100th “absolute unique visitor” according to Google Analytics! Yay! Go us! :-) Our typical visitor runs Firefox on a Windows computer in Uppsala, Sweden... wait a minute, that's Jenny and me! I guess we attract a lot of people “just like us”... in a kinda' eerie way. :-)

Anyhow, thanks for all the traffic, even if no one comments, we still know we're being read, and that's what really counts!


Green and blue salad

This salad contains a number of green ingredients and one blue - blue cheese. You want to use a firm blue cheese that crumbles but doesn't get all smeary. We use Swedish Kvibille Gräddädel, but I don't know how internationally available that is. You could either add the cheese as is, or turn it in to a dressing by mixing it with some crème fraiche. Today we opted for the former.

We got a big bowl out of this, enough for the two of us and some leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Green and blue salad

2 handfuls of mixed greens (we used mostly baby spinach today but aragula/rocket, maché and swiss chard also works. But please, don't use iceberg lettuce.)
1 pear
2 stalks of celery
100 g firm blue cheese
½ dl walnuts

Rinse the greens and put them in a large bowl. Dice the pear, slice the celery and dice/crumble the cheese. Mix everything and top with walnuts. Done!


Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, which means that us Swedes ate semlor. A semla is a cardamom-flavored bun filled with whipped cream and almond paste. They are very popular; according Wikipedia, a Swede will eat on avarage five store-bought semlor a year (me, I have only had one so far this year). All bakeries and grocery stores will sell them, even places like 7-Eleven does, and even though traditionally just eaten on Shrove Tuesday (before Lent), nowadays you can find semlor on sale from Christmas up until Easter. The quality varies vastly though, and every year the local paper will do a test of the different bakeries' offerings and tell you where to go for the best semla in town. Another way of guaranteeing good quality is to make your own, which we decided to do this year.

First, you need to make the almond paste for the filling. You could buy it ready-made but making our own is easy. Now, some people don't like almond paste and will fill their semla with vanilla custard or jam instead. I really don't get this, so let's move on. To make your own almond paste you need equal parts of blanched, peeled almonds and white sugar. We used 250 grams of each which yielded (surprise!) about 500 grams of almond paste. We really don't need that much for making semlor, so I see an awful lot of almond paste-related baking coming up. It keeps in the fridge for quite a while though, so no worries.
So, when you have blanched and peeled your almonds, you chuck them in with the sugar in a food processor and work it until everything is very finely chopped. If you have an almond grinder you really want to use that for the almonds (before mixing them with the sugar), because a food processor really doesn't make them finely ground enough, but it still works. At this point the almond-sugar stuff will mostly be grainy, the paste part comes later. Pack the paste-to-be very firmly in clingfilm/plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to firm up, at least over night.

Now, on to the buns. This recipe will give you seven buns, and one semla is very filling, but they do keep for a few days (unfilled, of course) and you can freeze them. For the buns, you need:

½ egg, at room temperature (use the other half for brushing the buns)
25 g fresh yeast (in Sweden we have a kind for sweet doughs, use that if you have something similar)
50 g butter
1½ dl milk
Pinch of salt
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ dl white sugar
~5 dl flour
1/4 tsp hartshorn salt (ammonium carbonate)

Crumble up the yeast in a bowl. Over low heat, melt the butter, add the milk and let it reach 37 degrees C. Add a little of the butter-milk mix over the yeast, and stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the rest, and then the salt, cardamom, sugar and egg. Stir in the flour and hartshorn salt, a little at the time, until everything is incorporated. The dough will be very sticky at this point, but after rising it will be extremely easy to work with! Cover the bowl with a piece of cloth and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Put your oven to 225 degrees C. Get the dough on to a clean, lightly floured surface and knead the dough until all the air bubbles are gone. Cut the dough into seven equal parts and roll them into buns. Place them on a parchment covered baking sheet, cover with a piece of cloth and let them rest for another 30 minutes.
Brush the buns with lightly beaten egg. Bake them for 8-10 minutes, and allow them to cool completely before filling them.

To make the actual semla, you cut off the top part of the bun. The lid, as we call it, should be very thin:

After this is done, you hollow out the bun to make a hole in it for the almond paste filling. Thus:

Save the crumbs you get from hollowing out the bun, 'cause you will need those now. Get the almond paste out of the fridge. Now I don't have any proportions for this part, you just have to feel your way around this. What you do is that you mix the almond paste with part of the crumbles and a little milk to make the actual paste. It should taste like almonds, not like bread crumbs or milk, but you need the milk and crumbs to bind it together. It should have a soft consistency, but not so that it's running all over the place.
Whip the cream until soft peaks are formed. Fill the holes with almond paste (about 2 tablespoons) and top with whipped cream (if you want it to look fancy you could pipe it). Put the lid on top and sift a bit of confectioner's sugar over it. Enjoy!


Spicy, fruity salmon

This recipe originally comes from a really nice book on food and wine pairings (Kombinera mat och vin by Jens Dolk and Mette Ankarloo.) It pairs this dish with a dry German Riesling, and let me tell you from experience that the acidity in that wine works really well together with the spicy and sweet flavours, and with the fattiness of the salmon.

The original recipe uses Jerusalem artichokes and says to serve with rice or couscous, but we usually substitute potatoes, oven-roasted in the same dish as everything else, and then skip the rice/couscous. The potatoes works really well with his, and less pots and pans to clean is a good thing in my book! This time we added some carrots too; they get wonderfully sweet when roasted in the oven. The original spice mix contains cayenne pepper which makes it quite hot. This time we used ancho chili instead which made it less in-your-face spicy and gave it a more subtle, but still noticeable, heat. The original also adds curry powder (1 tsp) so chuck that in there if you want to. (And sorry, no pic of this - we were too hungry!)

Spicy oven-roasted salmon with mango

Serves 2

200 g salmon
1 mango
6 potatoes (or more if you're really hungry)
4 carrots
Olive oil

For the spice mix (you should only use dry, ground spices):
1 tsp each of ancho chili, turmeric and cinnamon
2 tsp each of cumin and ginger

Put the oven to 200 degrees C. Mix the spices together. Peel the potatoes and carrots, cut the potatoes into wedges and halve the carrots lengthwise. Put them in a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and add about half of the spice mix. Using your hands, mix everything around. Put in the oven for about 15 minutes.
Peel and slice the mango. Cut the salmon into portion-sized pieces and rub the rest of the spice mix on the salmon.
So, when 15 minutes have passed on the carrots and potatoes, you get the dish out and add the mango. Mix it around with the the carrots and potatoes, and then place the salmon on top of the whole deal. Cook for about 10 more minutes or until the salmon is done. (If your mango is a bit unripe, like ours was today, you might want to get it in the oven a bit earlier, say when 10 minutes or so have passed on the potatoes and carrots.)
We served it with some plain greek yoghurt as a sauce. It's also nice to add some freshly squeezed lime juice on top of the salmon. Just get some acidity in there.


Birdie nam-nam

Roasted chicken is one of my favourite comfort dishes. It's simple, homely and fills your house with the most wonderful smell. If I don't know what to make for dinner and I'm in the mood for easy and stress-free yet filling and "robust" food, chances are I'll end up making roast chicken of some kind. The flavorings vary: sometimes it's lemon and parsley, sometimes it's chorizo and peppers.

Of course you could use a whole chicken as well (I usually do, but my store didn't have any today) and adjust the cooking time accordingly. One thing though: I think the kind of mozarella I used melted quicker than normally, so you might want to roast the eggplant for a while first, get it out and add the cheese, and then put it in the oven for a few minutes again to let the mozarella get warm. I ended up with an awful lot of melted cheese all over my baking sheet and the eggplant was not completely done.

Roasted chicken with tomatoes, eggplant-mozarella towers and potatoes

Serves 2, and leaves extra for lunch boxes

1 kg chicken legs
250 g cherry tomatoes
As much garlic as your want (I used about 5 cloves)
Half a dried red chili pepper
1 tsp thyme (dried)
A couple of potatoes (maybe 3 per portion)
1 eggplant
125 g buffalo mozarella
Salt and black pepper
Olive oil

Put your oven to 200 degrees C. Place the chicken legs in a snug fitting pan. Poke a small hole in each of the cherry tomatoes. Peel the garlic. Place garlic cloves and tomatoes on/around the chicken. Cut up the dried chili pepper in small pieces and sprinkle it on top of the chicken (I dry my own chilies by hanging them on pieces of string in a pantry). Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and thyme. Put the chicken in the oven and get to the potatoes.

Wash the potatoes, but you don't have to peel them. Slice them about ½ cm thick. Place on a parchment covered baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and give the salt grinder a good couple of turns . Put the potatoes in the oven (under the chicken) when the chicken has cooked for about 15 minutes.
Slice the eggplant ½ cm thick in an even number of slices (I got 12). Slice the mozarella in half that amount (i.e. 6 for me). Place a slice of mozarella on an eggplant slice, cover with another eggplant slice, drizzle olive oil on top and season with salt and pepper. As I said above though, you might want to bake the eggplant for a while before adding the mozarella. Bake until the eggplant is done and the mozarella is melting (but not competely runny). Make sure the chicken is cooked through before serving. I put the eggplant-mozarella thingies on top of each other to make little "towers" but of course you don't have to.


Asian beef salad

This was a dinner last week, on one of the few days I've been at home lately - I have been very busy. We got bok choy (pak choy/pak soi - this Chinese vegetable has a lot of spellings) in our organic produce box last week. While I really wanted to attempt to make char sui (Cantonese BBQ pork) served with rice and bok choy - one of our Hong Kong favorites - I had neither the energy nor the time to run around looking for all the required ingredients. Uppsala lacks a Chinatown...

So instead, I made a beef and rice vermicelli salad. It incorporates a lot of flavors used in various Asian kitchens, but is in no way authentic. It's like Jamie Oliver once said: it's got a little Asian fusion thingie going!

I'm not giving you any amounts this time cause I have no idea how much I used. But this is what went into the salad

Thin rice noodles (vermicelli)
Thinly sliced beef ("lövbiff" in Swedish)
Salt and black pepper for seasoning the meat
Alfalfa sprouts
Bok choy
Fresh cilantro
Freshly squeezed lime juice

Cook the rice noodles as directed on your package*. Cut the beef into bite sized pieces if needed. Fry the beef quickly in a hot pan with some butter - do not overcook cause then it will get dry and stringy. Season with salt and pepper. Cut off the hard stems of the bok choy and toss it around in a hot pan with some butter until it gets soft. Dice the mango and chop the peanuts coarsely. Mix all the ingredients into a salad and pour the lime juice over it. We ate this with chopsticks (to maintain our skill level) and I'm happy to report that I can still pick up peanuts with chopsticks!

*Does anyone have a tip on how to prevent the noodles from sticking together in a big lump once they're cooked? I really want to make a Vietnamese salad based on cold vermicelli, but I don't want it to be a cold lump of vermicelli...


Hot Quinoa

This is my kind of food: chop'n'fry! You basically just chop up things and add them to a hot frying pan as you go along. At the end you mix in something like quinoa, bulgur or couscous, and your done! Make sure you get something spicy and something sweet in there, and you don't have to worry too much about the other flavors.

So, today I am having (as I'm typing actually) a hot quinoa based chop'n'fry. For this particular one you need:
1 Onion
1 Eggplant (I had a rather small one)
~100g Chorizo (spicy)
1 Bell Pepper (I used a small yellow one)
8 dried Apricots
4 servings of Quinoa
butter/oil (or both) to fry in

Start by setting the quinoa cooking (follow the instructions on your particular package) and heat a large frying pan with butter. Now, the order in which you chop the foods will be the order in which they land in the pan, so it's important to do this right! Start with the onion and then the eggplant—chop up and toss in the pan. Make sure there's enough fat in the pan, the eggplant can suck up quite a lot. Next the chorizo, which contains some fat that will mix nicely in with the rest. Add the bell pepper which will also add some juices, keeping the pan from drying up. Last but not least chop'n'toss the dried apricots, which will suck up any excess moist. Make sure you stir the content of the pan every now and then during the above procedure. When the quinoa is done (mine took ~15 minutes, which is just about right), toss it into the pan with the rest. Let them all have some bonding time, and introduce them to whatever amount of salt you see fit. Enjoy!

The eggplant get a really mild, sweet taste and a soft and moist feel—sometimes iterrupted by the spiciness of the chorizo, sometimes overrun by the sweetness of the apricots. The quinoa makes you full, and onion and bell peppers seem to work with just about anything that touches a frying pan. Perfect!

Oh, and if you want some crunch, feel free to chop up some peanuts, cashews or pine nuts and add at the end—it goes really great with the rest.


Sunday dessert

For our late V-day dinner, I also created a dessert, largely from previous posts! So, what I didn't tell you about the meringue was that I also made a “marängbotten” – I'm totally at a loss as to what this is called in English! Please help me out. Anyway, I made a disc of meringue by moving the pastry bag in a spiraling motion, and in Swedish it sort of means cake foundation in meringue. All you need is a steady hand and a full pastry bag, which you can see from the picture were not as fully stocked as I would have wished for... it's the first time I made it though, so next will be better!

Word wanted!

I then scoped up some cherry ice cream on top of that...

The beginning of a wicked cool dessert

And then sprinkled some chopped chocolate on that.

All done!

Maybe not a winner of beauty contests, but tasting divine! There's a moral to this story as well: if you keep busy making goodies during the week, the weekend desserts doesn't have to be all that hard to make!

And if you've just shared a bottle of wine between the two of you, you'll probably want something strong to go with it. In this case I would suggest that you do like we did and enjoy this dessert with a nice avecish drink called God Father. Just pour 1 part amaretto and 3–4 parts scotch over some ice cubes. And I don't mean the bar-tender type parts (~15 ml), but the ones you decide the size of yourself, because the recipe only gives you the proportions. Although the bar-tender's part will result in a fairly well sized drink.

Sunday dinner

A little late, but here at last: our Sunday dinner. Jenny is having a hectic time right now, and is scarcely home at all, she was however home between Sunday lunch and Monday morning! Perfect time for a nice wine and dine to catch up on our missed V-day.

We had a little talk before, and settled on lamb, and we also had to make something of the Scorzonera hispanica we got in our organic box this Wednesday (the English language seems to have a lot of names for this plant, among my favorites are black oyster root, serpent root and viper's grass). The leaflet that came with the box stated that it could be gratinated almost like potatoes, so we settled on potato and serpent root gratin. The menu ended up being:

Fillet of Lamb
with Red Onion Confit, Thyme-pesto Ricotta
Potato and Serpent Root Gratin
Penfold's Bin 28

It turned out really nice, and we had a nice evening with good food, wine and company. The combination of the Red Onion Confit and the Thyme-pesto Ricotta was really surprisingly harmonic. Thyme was sort of a theme, and it always works with lamb, just like a good expensive Australian wine (it's curious how beverages from different countries go so well with the local staple foods). We also had dessert, but that's in a later post.

Meet the meat, real close up.

The recipe was more or less made on a hunch, so a lot of the measures are a bit iffy, but we do our best to estimate! This serves the usual three (Jenny, me and me tomorrow).

Fillet of Lamb
2–3 fillets of lamb (we had three, totaling ~450 g... it's not a very large animal)
Some fresh thyme
~4 tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
~4 tbsp Oil
1 large Garlic Clove

Clean the fillets and put them in a plastic bag. Pour the vinegar and oil over. Give the garlic clove a good beating so it raptures (put the blade of a knife over it and the put your weight on the blade) and throw it in. Throw in the thyme and add salt and pepper to taste. Don't actually taste it, but try to estimate how much you need – for us it's usually “three or four turns on the mill”). Seal the bag and massage it for a while, then put it in the fridge for a few hours.

Take out the fillets and brush of as much as possible of the other stuff. Fry them in a hot pan with butter until they get a nice coloring all around. Heat the oven to 200°C and put them in for about 15 minutes, they're supposed to have an inner temperature of ~55–60°C, or feel like the tip of your nose when you poke it (red inside) or harder. There's some oven synergy to be had with the gratin, they don't mind sharing. Make sure they're done a few minutes before serving so they have time to rest.

Red Onion Confit
2–3 Red Onions (we had 3 medium ones, but threw some of it away)
½ dl Water
2 tbsp Jelling sugar
4 tbsp Red Wine Vinegar /EDIT: Sorry, it's supposed to be Apple Cider Vinegar /

Chop the onion coarsely and put in a kettle. Add the water and vinegar and bring to a boil. Add the rest and let it reduce to something jam-like. If you want to, add some red food coloring (I did as soon as Jenny hit the shower... :-) ).

Thyme-pesto Ricotta
2 tbsp fresh Thyme leaves
2 tbsp Pine nuts
3 tbsp Ricotta
Lemon zest

OK, I wont try this one again in a hurry. I thought it would be nice to make a kind of pesto with thyme instead of basil... turns out thyme has a lot smaller leaves, and is a real pain in the butt to pluck, but I did manage, and although I'm not sorry in retrospect, I'll probably never try it again.

So, pluck the leaves of fresh thyme. Chop the thyme, pine nuts and lemon zest (at this point you would add oil to make pesto). Mix it with ricotta and add salt to taste.

Potato and Serpent Root Gratin
~8 Potatoes
~3 Serpent roots
½ Leek (or an onion if you want)
some Cheese (we used a piece of Cheddar the size of a potato)
3 dl Cream
some Milk

This is really just a potato gratin with some of the potatoes substituted by serpent root.

Clean, peel and slice the potatoes, serpent roots and leek. Grate the cheese. Chuck it all in an oven pot. The amount of salt should be “add until you are ashamed of yourself, and then some more” – it's really hard to have to much salt in a potato gratin. Add pepper to taste. Get down and dirty mixing it all with your hands (yes, if you want to get it really mixed there's no clean way). Add the cream and then top up with milk until the “top layer” isn't covered (but all the rest is). Bake it in the oven at 200°C for 40–50 minutes.

We didn't quite get it the way we like, we failed to mix in the cheese which stayed on top, and we had to much milk. The serpent root was a little too al dente as well, so maybe you really should try to bake it for an hour, or maybe pre-boil the roots. Or maybe you should bake it at 175°C instead, but then the meat wont like it, and we only have one oven... anyhow, it worked out quite nice anyway.


Black cherry ice cream

Time: two days

Nothing really tops home made ice cream, and we usually keep to the recipes provided by Jan Hedh. For this one I used his vanilla ice cream recipe and just left out the vanilla to make a neutral ice cream batter, which you can then flavor with your favorite jam. In this case I used black cherry jam.

So, for the ice cream batter you need:

1 leaf of gelatin (or just skip it if you're doing this vegetarian style)
2 ½ dl cream
2 ½ dl milk
26 g honey (or glucose)
6 egg yolks (hence yesterday's meringue)
125 g sugar

Put the gelatin in cold water. Mix cream, milk and honey in a kettle (use one that is way bigger than you think you will need based on the size of the ingredients – we're going to add a lot of air and heat to this). Whisk the egg yolks and sugar fluffy. Bring the cream mix to a boil and whisk it into the egg-sugar fluff, then pour it all back to the kettle and keep stirring while heating to 85°C. If you don't have a thermometer, make sure you coat the back of a wooden spoon in batter, and that the batter gets structure that it keeps when you blow on it. Squeeze the water off the gelatin and stir it in, then cool quickly in a cold bath. Cover and let it cool in the refrigerator at least overnight.

Once you have the batter you can add whatever jam you want and run it 30-40 minutes in an ice cream maker (ode to that one coming up later). I used a fine French black cherry jam (where they use grape juice to sweeten rather than sugar and preservatives) – it's a little bit more expensive, but then again, you're putting in a lot of work, and that's the real precious resource – don't skimp on the other! After the ice cream maker, just chuck it in the freezer. Supposedly you could make this without an ice cream maker, but I have no advice to offer on that procedure.

If you're not flavoring with jam, there's a good chance you should boil the flavoring into the cream batter, so don't use this recipe for those ice creams.


French meringue

Since I got some egg whites left over from another thing I did (coming up later), I thought I might as well do what I always tell my self I ought to do whenever I make something with egg yolks: meringue. All you really need is egg-whites and sugar (and some lemon juice) so it should be easy, right? Yeah, theoretically at least...

The recipe I used is straight from Jan Hedh's book “Desserter” (you just know you can trust a baker that looks like him!). So for this you need:

100 g egg whites (refrigerator cold)
1 tsp squeezed lemon
100 g sugar
100 g confectioner's sugar

Heat the oven to 150ºC. Whisk the egg whites and lemon juice until it starts to get fluffy. Add 50 g of sugar and continue whisking (use medium speed if you're using a mixer). Add the rest of the sugar and speed up to full speed. Whisk until it becomes a firm meringue fluff. Stop whisking and sift in the confectioner's sugar. Toss it to a smooth fluff with a dough scraper. Use a pastry bag or just dish it out on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 100ºC and bake for another 1½ hours. Don't keep the oven completely closed. You can also sprinkle a fine cover of confectioner's sugar on top just before baking, it's supposed to make them even crispier.

They're supposed to keep for several weeks if kept in a air tight box. I'll have to get back to you about that, or, maybe they wont survive long enough...

Freshly baked French meringue tops... yummy!

Getting at the best zest

Cooking is not only about the joy of preparing good food stuff, it's also about doing it with good tools. There are a few that we really wouldn't want to do without, and it's only fair that they get to spend some time in the limelight as well.

Here's one we didn't know we needed until we got one (as a gift), and which we take for granted on a regular basis: a lemon zester. There are many like it, but this one is ours (and made of shiny stainless steel).

Our shiny, heavily used, stainless steel zester.

So, what makes a lemon zester such an invaluable utensil? Why not just use a grater instead?
  • The zester is small and handy
  • It's easy to wash
  • It produces long, graceful, golden arcs of lemon (and other colors of other citrus fruits)
  • It keeps the white, bitter stuff under the zest away
For me it's especially the first point that makes the zester a no-brainer over a grater. It's just there and begs to be used.

Graceful golden arcs of lemon zest.


Couscous and crayfish

Dishes based on couscous, bulgur or quinoa mixed with veggies and some kind of meat is somewhat of a staple in our kitchen. They are so simple to make: just chop, fry, boil and mix and dinner is done. Tonight's version had crayfish tails and fennel, two things that go really well together. The apple adds a nice acidity and fruitiness. We served it with a lemon yoghurt sauce made of Turkish yoghurt, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and black pepper.

Couscous with fennel and crayfish tails in garlic butter

4 large portions

1 small fennel
1 small red pepper
1 tart apple
Olive oil

3 dl couscous
3 dl water
½ tsp turmeric

400 g crayfish tails in water (strained weight)
1 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp dry white wine
Salt to taste

Dice the fennel, red pepper and apple. Heat up the olive oil and fry the veggies for about 5 minutes, you still want them slightly crunchy. Set aside for later.
Bring salted water to a boil. Remove from heat, add couscous and turmeric, stir and let stand under a lid for about 5 minutes or until the water is absorbed.
While waiting for that, you chop the garlic clove very finely and mix with the butter. Put the crayfish tails in a hot pan, add the garlic butter and let it melt. It will smell quite heavenly. Add the white wine and let simmer for a minute or two on medium heat (don't overcook the crayfish, they will get dry and stringy). Now the couscous will be ready, so pour that into the pan with the crayfish, add the veggies and stir around so that the couscous absorbs the butter-wine sauce. You might want to add some more salt, but remember that the crayfish tails are quite salty. Serve with lemon-yoghurt sauce.


A muffin experiment

Muffins are somewhat of a gamble. The café ones look delicious sitting there at the counter and luring me into buying them, but often they leave me disappointed, being too dry and crumbly, or not being made up of what they pretend to have in them. If I buy a blueberry muffin, I want it moist, brimming with plump blueberries. But too often, you end up with a cheater that only has a few sad blueberries in the top, visible part and where the rest of the muffin is dry and tasteless crumbles. Or, maybe even worse, one that is filled with overly sweet, industrial blueberry jam. Yuck. And then there are those muffins with fluffy toppings whose prettiness just begs you to get one. But if you manage to take a bite without smearing fluff all over your face (seriously: how are you supposed to eat that huge thing?) you get something so sweet that it makes your teeth curl up and cry.

Having said that, muffins can be really good, especially if they have something extra (by which I do not mean pink, über-sweet sugar goo on top). Plain ones often bore me, so I usually add a crumbly topping or a filling of some kind. Tonight's recipe is a total experiment: I decided to add a cheese cake filling (adapted from this recipe which is super yummy and you should totally try!) to my basic apple muffins.

Now, these did not turn out the way I wanted. They are still delicious, but not what I had in mind. I wanted them to have a cheese cakey center, but my filling got too loose and floated out on top of the muffin batter instead of staying in a nice little dollop. That was entirely my fault: I realized too late that I didn't have normal cream cheese but instead a new kind made partly of yoghurt and thus not as solid. Mixed with the egg, it got way too runny and impossible to use as a filling. Instead it kind of floated out and mixed with the muffin batter. The result was to my liking though: an incredibly moist muffin, as far from dry and crumbly as you get. The cream cheese also adds a little salty tang which was really nice.

I found that I only had four muffin paper cups, so I made quite a small batch. My paper cups were the large "American" kind, if you use smaller cups you'll probably end up with twice as many muffins.

Apple muffins with "failed" cream cheese filling

Makes 4 large muffins or 8 small ones

For the muffin batter:
1 egg
1 dl sugar
25 g butter
½ dl milk
1½ dl flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
Dash of nutmeg
1 tart apple

For the cream cheese "filling":
1 small egg
100 g cream cheese (I used Philadelphia Yoghurt)
40 g sugar
Cinnamon for sprinkling

Start with the muffin batter: Beat the egg and sugar until light and fluffy. Melt the butter, remove from heat and add the milk. Stir that into the egg mixture. Mix the flour with baking powder and nutmeg and blend until just incorporated. Dice the apple (peel it first if you want to, I didn't) and add to the batter.

For the cream cheese stuff, just blend all the ingredients together using a mixer. Fill your muffin cups about half full with batter. Pour over some of the cream cheese filling. Add the rest of the batter, and top with remaining cream cheese. Sprinkle over some cinnamon and then swirl around gently using a small spoon. Bake at 190 degrees C for 18-20 minutes.



A fairly traditional Swedish dish consists of meat, potato and onion, diced and fried in a pan. It's generally referred to as “pytt” or “pyttipanna” (which is just a contraction of pytt-in-pan). The meat is traditionally beef, but lately all kinds of crazy pytts has started to appear. So, today I'm making sausage pytt (sv. korvpytt). I'm using isterband, which is a lovely Swedish pork sausage (with a light sweet and sour/smoky touch to it).

Since Jenny is away on a military exercise this week, I'm cooking for two (me and my future self, who needs a lunch box). For two large portions you need:

½ kg of potatoes (peel if they're thick skinned, don't bother if they're not)
1 onion
2 isterband (packet says 330 g total)
lump of butter to fry in
salt and pepper to taste

Start by melting the butter (the stove says heat is 4 out of 6). By the time you've diced the potatoes the pan will be hot, so toss them in. Dice the onion and toss it in. Fry until the potato has got some roasting surface (feel free to toss it around TV-chef style rather than using a spatula – remember: airborne food is good for you). Dice the isterband add throw them into the pan (since it's rather bratwursty in size, I tend to go for quartered slices). Toss it around regularly until the potato yields to light spatula pokes. Add salt and pepper to taste. The whole frying time should amount to about half an hour.

Usual condiments are pickled beets and a fried egg. I don't care for any of them, and just eat it as is.

Jenny brought the camera with her, so no pictures today... :-( Let's just say it looks a lot nicer than the crap they show in the Wikipedia article!


Saturday pizza

(I know this is written on a Sunday, but the pizzas were actually made yesterday.)

Everyone loves pizza, it may not be the healthiest food around, but it makes up for it with its wonderful taste. And why not indulge on the weekend? So, to make your own pizza (which is so much yummier than what's mostly available), you need:
2 dl water
2 tbsp milk
12 g yeast
1 tsp honey
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
5 dl flour

Dissolve the yeast, honey and salt in some of the water. Add the rest of the water, milk and olive oil. Work the flour in until it's a smooth dough. Let it rise for 40 minutes. This should be enough dough for two pizzas (each fitting nicely on an oven sheet). To turn the dough into pizza crusts, I usually massage it on an oven parchment until it covers most of it. If you're feeling adventurous, feel free to toss it spinning in the air, like this:

Airborne food – it's good for you!

Airborne food is good for you! Come to think of it, this is my second food post, and my second one advising people to toss something into the air! Anyway, there's more to pizza than the dough. Toppings are of course highly personal, but can be categorized into three main categories: tomato sauce, cheese and others.

Tomato sauce: Do a real one, or this quickie: mix pureed tomato with some olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano and basil. we used the quickie.

Cheese: The cheese is really important to a good pizza. Don't buy ready grated stuff as it's usually packed with things you don't need (long shelf life does not taste better). We used grated cheddar and sliced buffalo mozzarella.

Other: Just go crazy, or stick to something familiar. We used a strong Italian salami (Spianata Calabrese), olives and red onion. This has become something of a favorite to us, and usually we also have mushrooms on it, but we were in a bit of a hurry, and sadly forgot them.

Whatever you decide to top your pizza with, the order should be, bottom up: tomato sauce (spread thinly over the whole pizza), grated cheese and then the others.

Topped up pizza, ready for some heat.

When the pizza is topped up, just bake it at 275°C for some 8-12 minutes.