Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fudgy Walnut Brownies

Chocolate is a fickle thing. Delicate, full of flavour and smooth on its own, it can easily become quite overpowering when made the soloist of most any cake. While I do enjoy eating a piece of wonderfully dark chocolate, I don't jump at the opportunity to have a piece of chocolate cake. Well, I used to jump at the opportunity, but since my teenage years my taste buds have evolved from wanting everything chocolate into wanting, well, more. When I was younger, my Mum found a lemon meringue pie recipe in a magazine, and every so often she would make it. All of my sisters and brothers loved it, but I never even tasted it, claiming I didn't like lemon. Nowadays, it would be quite an impossible task to try to pry me away from anything citrusy.

But today's post is not about lemon or lime, but about the wonderful brownies I made for my au pair children. They were fudgy, chocolaty and walnutty, with hints of coffee and vanilla that made my mouth sing with excitement. Simply wonderful. I adapted the recipe from one I found on Epicurious.

Fudgy Walnut Brownies

250 g unsalted butter
250 g dark chocolate (I used 85 %, would have preferred 70 %)

250 ml sugar
3 large eggs
3 1/4 teaspoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
200 g walnuts

Preheat oven to 175 °C / 350 °F. Butter 30 x 20 cm / 13 x 9 inch glass baking dish. Melt butter and chocolate in heavy medium saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Let cool 10 minutes.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, eggs, espresso powder and vanilla in large bowl until blended. Add melted chocolate mixture and beat until smooth. Add dry ingredients and stir just until blended. Fold in walnuts.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Smooth top. Bake until top looks dry and tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 30 minutes. Transfer pan to rack and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with foil and store at room temperature.) Cut brownies into squares and serve.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Broken Record (Fresh Pea & Bean Bruschetta)

I know I sound like a broken record, but I cooked another Jamie Oliver recipe. I realize that pretty much everything I've written about so far was straight out of a Jamie book, but I will put forward two excuses. First, I only own two cookbooks, and that's Jamie's Italy and Jamie at Home, so I don't exactly have much to work with. Second, it's like the guy can read my mind. The type of food he makes is exactly the type of food I really like to eat: fresh, seasonal, simple. As if that wasn't enough, Mr Oliver has done exactly what I've been dreaming of: he's created a garden where he can just pop out and get any fresh herb he wants, fresh vegetables, everything. The very thought of being able to step outside and pick climbing beans right off the stalks makes me want to buy a house in Italy.

Jamie's food is all about letting the produce talk for itself, just adding the right amount of spices, and most recipes are very rustic in their nature, making them suitable for cooking in a kitchen which you have to share with 11 other people (I live in a student dorm). This time of year, when fresh produce is appearing on the markets, Jamie's recipes are to die for. And so it came to be that I went shopping at the Viktualienmarkt for my and Angelica's Saturday dinner, and just as I had hoped, came upon fresh peas and broad beans. Speaking of which, at last the blog named after them shall see some beans.

This dish is delicious with a capital D, the flavour of raw peas and broad beans makes it taste green, for lack of a better word, and it is indeed the perfect thing to enjoy when the leaves have just appeared on the trees, the birds are building their nests, and the world is so alive.

Before moving on to the recipe, I thought I'd show some inventive plating. I found this picture on my desktop, obviously saved from the internet at some point, no idea where it's from. It's cute, though. I like birds.

Jamie Oliver's Smashed Peas and Broad Beans on Toast
Serves 4. No, seriously, it does serve 4. At least as a starter, we made about 3/4 recipe for 2, and it almost filled us right up.

150 g fresh shelled peas (ca 500 g in pods)
250 g fresh shelled broad beans (ca 700 g in pods)
mint leaves
salt, pepper
extra virgin olive oil
50 g finely grated pecorino
juice of 1 lemon
4 slices of a good Bruschetta bread
1 clove of garlic, halved
ca 500 g buffalo mozzarella
possibly pea shoots to dress, we had none

This recipe is really simple, but it certainly helps if you've got a large mortar and a good hand with it. I had a small mortar, and it took some work (which Angelica performed, thanks honey), but it works with that too. Don't use a food processor, the texture was amazing.

Pod your peas and beans if necessary, and keep separate. Bash half the mint with some salt and the peas in a mortar, then bash in the broad beans a few at a time. Do it in batches if necessary, but keep some goo in the bottom when adding another batch, it'll help stop the peas from jumping out of the mortar. Don't overwork it, the texture is wonderful when there's a mixture of sizes of bits enveloped in the smooth creaminess of the really mashed part.
Add olive oil carefully until you get a spreadable yet firm consistency, then add pecorino and most of the lemon juice. Taste it, and season with salt and pepper, and maybe some more lemon juice or oil if necessary.
Grill the bread slices and then rub them gently just a couple of times with the garlic halves, not too much, just so you get a hint of garlic there. Distribute the pea and bean mash on the bread, rip up the mozzarella and place over it, dress with some olive oil and possibly pea shoots, maybe a small pinch of pepper, and finish with some grated pecorino.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Walnut Bread

For the first three months of this year I was unable to bake anything. I lived with Daniel in a very small flat - 16 square meters / 52 square feet small - where it was hard enough to boil a pot of pasta, let alone create all those wonderful dishes and desserts we had grown accustomed to back in Sweden. We had no oven, hardly a stove and a pitiful excuse for a refrigerator. And no, absolutely no working space. Needless to say, we grew tired of it, and moved.

Now that I actually do have a proper kitchen again, one would think that I already would have baked my arse off. But since it is not my own kitchen, we do not really know each other yet, and I do not feel too comfortable working in it. Oh well. All in good time, and so on.

Just the other day, I baked my first loaf of bread for the year. Yes, yes, I know, April is already coming to an end, there is no excuse. However, since the bread was a complete success (the first loaf was apparently gone in under ten minutes), I shall waste no more time! Bread-baking, here I come!

Walnut Bread

This recipe originally comes from the Swedish cookbook Soppor, bröd och röror written by Monica Eismann. I changed it quite a lot, adding different types of flour and ground almonds. Next time, I will add the almonds whole instead, and also add hazelnuts.

But yeah, it was gooooooood!

50 g fresh yeast
700 ml lukewarm water
1 tbsp walnut oil
2,5 tsp salt
200 g walnuts, slightly crushed or coarsly chopped
200 g ground almonds
200 ml dinkel flour, whole-grain
300 ml rye flour
500 ml (or more) wheat flour, high protein type

Crumble yeast into the (large) bowl of your stand mixer with paddle/dough hook attachment and dissolve in the water with oil and salt. (You could of course knead it by hand, but it will take longer to finish.)

Add the everything except for the wheat flour, and start kneading. Gradually add the wheat flour, about 200 ml at a time, until the dough is smooth and does not stick to the sides of the bowl.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel, and let rise for one hour. (Make sure it is not too cold or drafty.)

On a floured surface (e.g. kitchen table), divide the dough into two equally large parts. If the dough seems too sticky, knead some more flour into it. Shape the bread into two round balls, cover with plenty of flour and let rise underneath a kitchen towel for another 30 minutes, making sure to switch on the oven to full whack in the meantime. If you do not have a bread/pizza stone, leave the oven tray

Using a very sharp knife, cut a criss-cross pattern into the loaves, then carefully place the loaves onto the oven tray. Place a couple of ice cubes (or pour a glass of water, or spray with a spray bottle) on a tray in the bottom of the oven.

Reduce the temperature to 250 C and bake for 15 minutes, and then reduce the temperature to 175 C and bake for another 20-30 minutes. The loaves should be golden brown, and make a dull sound when tapped gently on the bottom.

Let cool. Eat. Eat some more.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

When life hands you lemons...

... jump up and down and clap your hands! At least if your lemons look anything like these organically produced babies that I picked up at a steal of €0,40 a piece.

When I found these lemons at Feinkost Spina, a large and slightly wholesale-ish Italian food shop in the area, I immediately bought five, and then one day later bought another three similar ones at the Viktualienmarkt. Of course, I didn't have a clue as to what to do with them, all I knew was that these lemons made me smile, and I wanted to bring them home. Luckily, just a week or so before, I'd found the lovely food blog Orangette, and browsed through all the summer recipes. One of these was a lemonade that looked very interesting, so I set to work making the syrup. I changed the recipe slightly, using green mint instead of basil, partly because I had just bought a bunch of green mint, and partly because, well... citrus and mint, need I say more? Since I didn't really modify it much, I'm not going to post the recipe, it's available at Orangette's above.

I've tried the syrup mixed with cold water and the juice of a lemon, and while it is delicious, my preferred way of consuming it is the way me and Angelica drank it on a warm afternoon: syrup, a dash of water, loads of lemon, and a good shot of Cachaça. This should really be served on ice, of course, but when you live in a student dorm, you just have to do without.

What could be a better accompaniment to a lovely drink such as this than Jamie Oliver's limoni di amalfi cotti al forno (baked lemons)? After having tried it, I can assure you that there is nothing better. These baked lemons are filled with buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, anchovies and basil, and seasoned with just a little bit of dried chili, salt and pepper. Once baked in the oven to a lovely bubbly brown, simply place the cheese filling on a piece of crostini or bruschetta, and enjoy, but don't eat the skins, they're just there for flavour (and to look great, of course). The warm and smooth mozzarella, infused with all those lovely flavours, is so dead simple, yet so damn delicious. I am salivating just thinking of them; this recipe is definitely a keeper, it is so simple to make, tastes great, and is absolutely beautiful. One of those recipes that make you look like a great cook with no effort at all.

But the best thing about this recipe is that it only calls for the lemon skins, meaning that you're left with the flesh and juice for other purposes, such as a lemon sorbet, or a sallad dressing, or some drinks... perfect!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Living in the Refrigerator

Being an expat really focuses and sharpens your opinions on your native land. Some things you thought you would miss, you end up not missing at all, and things that you didn't even know were close to your heart, you ache for. In my case, filmjölk, which is Sweden's preferred sour milk product. Think yoghurt, and you're not far off, but filmjölk is a bit thinner for it's fat contents, has a slightly grainy texture, and a more clean acidity. At any rate, it's one of those things that simply do not exist in Bavarian grocery stores.

Filmjölk is traditionally a breakfast or light lunch food, eaten with cereal, müsli, fruit or broken up pieces of knäckebröd or, when Christmas is near, with gingerbread cookies. I've never been much of a breakfaster, I can't eat at all close to waking up, and it takes me hours before I'm fit for anything resembling a British or American breakfast, with fried foods. Filmjölk, however, is cold, silky, and sour, and is a soothing contrast to the coffee which I compulsively gulp first thing in the morning.

So, what do you do when faced with the lack of such a morning blessing? Well, you wait until your parents come to visit, and ask them to bring a package, of course. But not just any package, you ask for one which advertises the positive effect of its live bacteria culture.

And then you make your own.

Reproducing sour milk products

This recipe, if it can be called that, can be used for any sour milk product which still has it's bacterial culture alive. I really don't know if any of them are pasteurized after souring (as opposed to just being set in pasteurized milk), but I would guess that any type of natural yoghurt or the like has it's bacteria alive. After all, that is a major selling point; that they help create a healthy intestinal flora (fauna?).

The fat contents of the milk you use as a base is going to be the fat content of your final product, so if you're aiming for a 3,5 % yoghurt, go with 3,5 % milk, and so on. If you want a fatter product, mix in a correct amount of cream. You don't really need much of the mother product, for a liter of milk I've tried using about 50 ml, and about 200 ml. Both worked fine, the latter was a bit quicker, thickening well in under 30 hours, while the first needed close to 48 hours.

A note on food safety: I can not guarantee the safety of this method, but nor can anyone guarantee the unsafety, regardless of what they claim. This is how sour milk products were always made back in the days when people lived on farms, and some of them certainly survived. But I do recommend covering with a moist cloth, to lessen the risk of invading cultures from the surroundings. Do note, however, and I've written this below as well: do not ever use airtight seals. The milk bacteria won't perform well under these conditions, but botulin bacteria will.

a bit of your mother product
1 liter of milk base

Pour the milk and the mother product in a bowl, stir, and let sit in room temperature for about 36-48 hours. If you want, cover with a moist cloth, but absolutely not with anything airtight. Stir every now and then, and when the consistency seems right, have a taste. When it tastes and feels right, it's done. You can now refrigerate and eat at will, just remember to save a bit for a new batch.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Chocolate Balls (Chokladbollar)

Chocolate balls are one of the first things any Swedish child will learn to bake. Be it in the kitchen with your Mum or in the Kindergarten with the teachers, every child will have gotten their hands, face and most likely clothes dirty with the would-be cookie dough. You see, you do not actually bake the chocolate balls, just combine the ingredients, form them into balls and let them rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. In no time at all, you will have delicious, home-made candy!

I must have made hundreds, if not thousands, of batches over the years, most of them long since forgotten. There is, however, one occasion I will always remember. I was probably six or seven years old, and my parents and most of my siblings were out of the house. This was especially remarkable on its own, since my Mum was a homemaker stuck with three daughters and two sons (quite a few years later, another sister decided to join the family and turn us into an even eight), so you were never completely alone. On this day, though, I was alone save for one of my older sisters (or was it my younger brother? My memories fail me). She was hardly interested in taking care of me (and if it was my brother at home, I apparently cared little for him!), so I was left alone to do whatever I felt like.

And what could a little girl of six years old possibly get up to on her own?
Why, she baked, of course!

Since I was so young I had never really baked on my own, and chocolate balls were the easiest and most instantly gratifying things I could think of. So I started making chocolate balls. As it turned out, I did not really have the patience to sit and wait for the butter to soften, so I thought I would be clever and melt it. This turned out to be a rather bad idea; instead of producing a cookie dough that was firm but soft, I was left with a rather runny sort of batter. Still, it tasted good. And that was the only thing I cared about.

100 g butter, softened
300 ml porridge oats
100 ml sugar
2 tbs cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla sugar (can be omitted)
2 tbs strong, cold coffee (can be substituted by milk or water)

In a bowl, carefully mix everything toghether, making sure the ingredients are evenly distributed.
Scoop up a small amount in your hand and roll it between your palms to form a ball. Cover the balls in pearl sugar or shredded coconut.
Let the chocolate balls rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Swedish Style Cured Salmon (Gravad lax)

Easter came, as it does once a year, and brought a whole new world of food-related trouble. In my family, Easter is a tradition-laden event, where the whole family would gather for an Easter smörgåsbord, that decadent Swedish specialty. My mother would serve up a range of traditional and untraditional dishes: the ubiquitous pickled herring (inlagd sill), boiled eggs, cold meats and sausages, Västerbotten cheese pie, meat balls (köttbullar), fresh baked bread, and more. But there is one dish that would somehow set itself apart from the other delicacies, and make itself king of the smörgåsbord. I am talking of Gravad lax; salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill. Food does not get much more Nordic than this, and not much simpler either, if you have a couple of days to spare.

This year, being an expatriate in Munich, I couldn't just pop over to my parents' house for Easter, so Angelica and I had to try to create our own holiday spirit. It didn't look too bad at first, we Swedes have a trick up our sleeve to get the necessary food stuffs for holidays. Can you guess it? Picture the colours of the Swedish flag, navy blue and yellow. Now picture a huge-ass warehouse building painted in that blue colour, with yellow letters on it. I'm talking about IKEA, of course.

Telling someone that you're Swedish will usually result in one of three responses: 1) "Oh, with the chocolate and the mountains?" "No, I'm not from Switzerland", 2) "Oh, blonde girls with big breasts?" "Well... yeah, but...", or 3) "Oh... IKEA!". Frustrating as this can be, I am still happy that IKEA exists. As soon as I set my foot in that huge store, I immediately feel at home, and it is a great source of Leksands knäckebröd and pickled herring. With the crisp bread (knäckebröd), pickled herring and flavoured vodka (snaps) in place, disaster struck; there was still something missing: the cured salmon.

Munich is a quite land-locked city, with all of Germany between it and the Atlantic and Baltic Sea, and the Alps between it and the Mediterranean. Consequently, the poor people don't really have a culture of eating fish, and the prices of fresh fish reflect this fact. Shelling out €30 / kg for farmed salmon didn't exactly make me happy, I consider it to be well over twice a decent price for the fish, but Easter only comes once a year, and what can you do? Besides, the result was worth it.

Well, I'm getting on a bit, so let's move on to the recipe.

Gravad lax

The food authorities in Sweden recommend that you deep freeze your salmon for a couple of days before curing it. This is because the fish will be eaten uncooked (unheated), and apparently salmon can sometimes have parasites, presumably worms. Me, I'm brave; I eat fish raw without freezing, and as of today, I'm still alive. Your mileage may vary. The problem with freezing the fish is that it tends to become a bit watery and looses firmness, which has a negative impact on the cured product.

Speaking of fish quality, take a whiff at the filet before you buy it. If it smells faintly of the ocean, it's fresh. If it smells like fish, it's not fresh enough. Find another fishmonger.

This recipe is calculated for about 1 kg of filet, which was what I used, but you can cure enormous amounts at once, just scale it up. Curing less than 1 kg can be sort of tricky, since you need to double-layer the fish.

1 kg of fresh salmon filet, the fatter the better, and firm in texture
50 ml salt
60 ml sugar
1 tsp of coarsely crushed white pepper
a big bouquet of dill

Mix salt, sugar and pepper. Cut the salmon into two equally large (geometrically, not weight-wise) pieces. Finely chop the dill, including stalks. In a dish large enough to accommodate the salmon, sprinkle the bottom with some of the salt-sugar-mix, and some of the dill. Place one piece of fish, skin-side down, on the mixture. Sprinkle nearly all of the mix and dill on the fish, and place the other piece on top, skin-side up. Cover with the last of the mixture and dill. Place some sort of surface on top, for instance a small cutting board or plate, and then place a milk carton or some other heavy item on top, to apply some pressure. Let sit for about 3 days, turning the filet-package upside down once during the time. The longer the fish cures, the more water will be extracted from it, and the firmer and less raw it will be. Three days is pretty much optimal. The fish will water lots during the curing; this is normal.
Once the fish has cured, pick it out, brush off most of the dill, and slice it very finely. Cured salmon is delicious on its own, with boiled potatoes, on toast, or on crisp bread. Always serve with hovmästarsås, recipe below.


This sauce is traditionally served with cured salmon, but is great to any fat fish served cool. The name translates to "Head waiter's sauce" and is so named because it would be stirred together right at the table, by the waiter himself. Or so I'm told.

The dill, that lovely Nordic herb, shows up again here. Whenever there's fish in Sweden, there's likely to be dill around. The recipe calls for Swedish style sweet mustard. I know that you can find sweet mustard in Bavaria, but it might be hard to conjure up anywhere else. You could try using Dijon mustard instead, but reduce the amount to 1 Tbsp in that case, and probably add a bit of sugar.

2 Tbsp sugar
2 ml salt
6 Tbsp finely chopped dill
3 Tbsp sweet mustard
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
100 ml neutral-tasting oil
fresh ground white pepper, salt

Rub sugar, salt and dill in a mortar to bring out the dill flavours. Mix in mustard and vinegar. Add the oil in small doses, stirring vigorously (like a mayonnaise), until it's all incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.