December 31, 2008

Danish Rice Pudding

The closer it got to Christmas this year, the more I found myself missing Denmark. J and I were there for Christmas last year, while we were on our honeymoon. My mother’s sister Lucy moved to Denmark fifteen years ago, met a Dane named Eigil, and has been there ever since. They live on the island of Fyn near the town of Kerteminde, in a pretty little village called Kölstrup, in an adorable little row house in an old building that used to be a dairy. It was originally the dairy of a castle that’s right nearby, which has been divided into apartments as well. We saw castles everywhere we went in Denmark.

We stayed at Lucy and Eigil’s for ten days. We ate, explored the countryside, learned some Danish, ate some more, relaxed, made Christmas candy, ate it, visited friends, bought souvenirs, went to a movie, visited museums, and ate.

After Christmas we went to Paris, where J has good friends, and stayed for ten days too. Don’t get me wrong, Paris was wonderful and amazing and I would return at the drop of a hat, I would live there easily, but DenmarkDenmark was just so new and different and beautiful in a way that was both cozy and stark all at once. We drove around the winding roads that curved past cute little hedges and houses made of timber and peat that were hundreds of years old. The countryside was full of houses like this, and castles, and red roof-topped buildings. The towns were strung with Christmas lights and full of little bakeries and stores with tables of wares out on the street. It was only my third trip to Europe so I was still awestruck with just how European everything was.

Of course (you knew it was coming), one of my favourite parts of the trip was the food.

The best meal of the day, in my opinion, was breakfast. We always had a variety of delicious choices:

Granola with thick Greek yogourt and honey

Toast (toasted on their old-fashioned flat grill toaster) with any number of spreads: peanut butter, jam, lemon curd, cheese …

Boiled eggs

Tea, juice, fizzy juice, hot chocolate (There’s something about having a variety of nice drinks around that makes things feel special)

We also made pepparkakor, the traditional Swedish Christmas cookies, and marzipan candy. Marzipan is everywhere in Denmark. If you walk into any bakery, probably at least half of what’s in the case will have marzipan – almond paste – in it. I hadn’t eaten much of it before, and I like it, but I found it was used a little too liberally. Marzipan rolled in a ball with nougat and dipped in chocolate, however, is pretty damn good. Lucy also treated us to traditional heart-shaped soft gingerbread cookies covered in chocolate and sprinkles, and we discovered a great treat: little donuts that were tied in knots called kleine that were available in almost every bakery.

We ate applewood-smoked cheddar and bright green sage-laced cheddar that we bought from a very nice man at a cheese cart behind the church in Kerteminde. We went to a little restaurant in the mall where we had traditional Danish sandwiches of thin rye bread topped with all sorts of things – salami, shrimp, fish, and vegetables.

The most memorable meal we had was on Christmas Eve – Juleaften. In Denmark it’s traditional to open presents on Juleaften, and Lucy and Eigil always go over to Eigil’s brother’s house that night. His brother Ole and his wife Jytte treated us to an amazing feast of roast duck and goose, caramelized potatoes, roasted apples and prunes, and red cabbage. The table was laid beautifully, there were poinsettias everywhere, and the mood was festive. Even though Ole and Jytte speak very little English, and J and I spoke only a few words of Danish, Lucy translated and we all got along wonderfully. We sang carols, and danced around the whole house (we couldn’t dance around the Christmas tree because it was a little one on a table against the wall).

After the main meal, when we were already stuffed to the gills, Jytte brought out the dessert: Danish rice pudding, or Riz à l’Amande. This is also traditional. You put lots of chopped almonds in the pudding but keep one almond whole. The person who gets the whole almond is supposed to be lucky all year. At this house, the tradition is to keep it a secret if you get the almond, and only tell after all of the rice pudding has been eaten. Then there are prizes, such as boxes of chocolates, to give out to everyone.

J and I loved this rice pudding so much that we decided to make it again this year on Christmas Eve. I emailed Lucy for Jytte’s recipe and she sent it back to me. It’s quite easy but it takes several hours to prepare. It’s also very rich. The recipe said it served four, and since we had nine people at J’s house that night we decided to double it. We really didn’t need to. It’s so filling that after one helping most of us couldn’t eat any more. But … you’re supposed to eat the whole thing to make sure you find the almond! Well, it all worked out. J found the almond (just like he did last year! He must be very lucky) and we put the leftovers in the fridge.

Everyone liked this pudding, and it made J and me nostalgic for our Christmas in Denmark. It’s such a festive place to spend that holiday. I can’t wait to go back again and eat kleine and rye bread and drive around visiting castles and old buildings. On our next visit, though, we’d love to see what it’s like in the summertime.

God Jul to all!

Danish Rice Pudding from Jytte Nikolajsen

Thanks to Lucy for translating the recipe! We didn’t make the traditional cherry sauce to go with this because we couldn’t find canned or frozen cherries at the store. But I think next year I’ll make another cherry sauce recipe I saw in the Moosewood Desserts cookbook that calls for cherry juice and dried cherries. This year on Christmas Eve we ate this with tiny shortbread cookies and apple cider. Yum!

Serves 4 people

65 g. short-grained rice

2 cups milk

3 tbsp sugar

1 tsp vanilla

125 g. blanched almonds

1 cup whipping cream

Bring the milk to a boil while stirring. Add the rice gradually and let the mixture simmer on low for about 10 minutes while you stir. Then turn the burner on high, stir until it boils again, and take off the burner. Pack the covered saucepan in newspapers and blankets to finish cooking. (We just put the pot to bed – wrapped it up in blankets in our bed.) Two hours later you can unpack it and decide whether it’s a bit thin and might need to be boiled one last time.

When it’s cooled, add the sugar, vanilla and chopped almonds and mix. When it’s totally cold, whip the cream and fold it in. The dessert can be frozen. It should be served with cherry sauce:

Cherry sauce:

½ l. cherries, either canned or frozen

2 dl. water


2 tsp. potato flour

cinnamon, vanilla, whole cloves

Add the water to the canned cherries and warm in a saucepan with sugar. When it’s hot, add the potato flour that you’ve blended beforehand with a little water into a runny paste. The spices are optional.

If using frozen cherries, thaw them and add 4-5 dl. water, vanilla and sugar to taste and a little cinnamon, then bring to a boil. When it’s hot, add the potato flour that you’ve blended beforehand with a little water into a runny paste. The cloves are optional. The sound of angels singing can also be heard.

The sauce can be served warm (not too hot) or cold.

Important: Let one of the blanched almonds remain whole and put it in the pudding before serving. The person who gets the whole almond should discreetly save it so no one else notices it and when the whole pudding is eaten the search will begin for the person who gets the almond prize. Finally the almond is discovered and the prize (usually a box of good chocolates) is awarded. There is no expectation that the almond prize will be shared!

December 23, 2008

Stormstayed with Cookies

I’m sitting in my mother’s kitchen as snow and wind buffet her little house. There’s a glass of wine at my side and a tray of cookies cooling on the counter behind me. A jazz Christmas CD is playing on the stereo. I should be feeling very happy, but I’m not.

Usually I love storms. There’s nothing like a good East coast blow. It’s such a great feeling to sit inside, doing cozy Christmas things while the snow blows around and makes little islands out of cars and houses. But this time, I had plans. This time, I was supposed to be out in a car on the road right now, not sitting inside eating Christmas cookies. Me and J and six of our friends were planning on driving up to our friend’s house in Western PEI tonight for a party. The eight of us hadn’t all seen each other in over a year, and it was going to be a great old time – lots of food, drink and laughter.

But there’s not much chance we’ll be going anywhere now. So I guess it’s just time to sit back, relax, and drink my glass of wine. Let me just go put another CD in. Ah, that’s better. Nothing like Louis Armstrong singing Christmas in New Orleans to put me in a better frame of mind. Oh, you want to hear about those cookies? What? This is a food blog? Well, fine.

These are the first two of three different cookie recipes J and I are making this year. Every year we bake cookies for J’s mother to have around her house during the holidays. It’s becoming a bit of a tradition, and to stay on tradition this year we decided to bake three cookie recipes that we’ve already made in the past. I wanted to try out a new one too, just to shake things up a little (and because I was so tempted by so many recipes in the Gourmet Favourite Cookies online feature), but realised that it may be a bit excessive. I might still get to them after Christmas.

We first made Nigella’s Christmas Decorations cookie recipe a few years ago when we were living in our first tiny apartment on Pownal Street in Charlottetown. We actually used them as Christmas decorations on our tree. This year, we just made them to eat them because they are so tasty. They’re kind of like a cross between a molasses cookie and a sugar cookie, and they’re a bit like Pepparkakor, the traditional Scandinavian spice cookie, but not as dark and gingery. The secret is in the ground pepper, which may seem a bit out of place in a cookie but is actually amazing. Use the full two teaspoons and you won’t be disappointed.

The pinwheel recipe is from the Moosewood desserts cookbook and we made it a few years ago as well. They take a few more steps, but it’s worth it. They’re crunchy, buttery, and look so pretty on a Christmas cookie platter. I’m planning on posting some more Christmas recipes in the next week, despite our very hectic schedule. Who knows? This storm may last for days, and maybe all I’ll have to do is sit inside, drink wine and bake cookies. There are worse things.

Christmas Decorations

From How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson


2 cups all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon mixed ground spice

1-2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper

scant ½ cup unsalted butter

scant ½ cup dark brown sugar

2 large eggs beaten with 4 tablespoons honey

For the icing and trimmings:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

3 tablespoons boiling water

gold or silver balls or sprinkles (optional)

florists’ ribbon or twine for hanging (if using as decorations)

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and mixed spice, and pepper in the processor. With the motor on, add the butter and sugar, then, slowly, the eggs and honey, though don’t use all of the liquid if the pastry has come together before it’s used up. Form two discs and put one, covered in plastic wrap or in a freezer bag, into the refrigerator while you get started on the other. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Dust a surface with flour, roll out the disc, also floured, to about 15 inches (it’s best if it’s about ¼ inch-thick), and cut out the cookies using cutters. Re-roll and cut out some more, setting aside the residue from this first disc, well covered, while you get on with rolling out the second. When you’ve got both sets of leftover clumps of dough, roll out and cut out again and keep doing so till all the dough’s used up. Now take a small piping tip and use the pointy end to cut out a hole just below the top of each cookie (through which ribbon can later be threaded to hang them).

Arrange on the baking sheets and cook for about 20 minutes (We only cooked them about 13 minutes): it’s hard to see when they’re cooked, but you can feel; if the underside is no longer doughy, they’re ready. (Make sure they don’t get too brown because they’re best when still chewy.)

Transfer them to cool on a wire rack. Make up ordinary glace icing by mixing the boiling water with the confectioners’ sugar and stir till you’ve got a thin, glossy glaze. (We used about twice as much water as that.) Ice the cold decorations using a teaspoon (the tip for dripping, the back for spreading) and scatter sprinkles and sparkles as you like.

Pinwheel Cookies

From Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

A simple butter cookie recipe can be the starting point for many delightful creations. Ours have a light, delicate texture and the unmistakable richness of butter.

The basic cookie dough is great baked just as it is or topped with a whole or half nut, a few chocolate chips, or sprinkling of sugar just before baking.

You can also use this dough to make jam drop cookies – just make a thumbprint in them just before baking and then add jam afterwards.

The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Keep some of it on hand in the freezer; it will keep for up to 6 months. Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator for a day before using.

Yields: 60 to 70 cookies
Preparation time: 15 to 20 minutes
Baking time: 15 to 20 minutes per batch
Chilling time: about 1 to 2 hours

Basic Cookie Dough
1 ½ cups unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups unbleached white flour
½ teaspoon salt

Pinwheel Cookies
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

With a wooden spoon or an electric mixer, cream the butter until light. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, then add the vanilla and beat until smooth. Gradually add the flour and salt, mixing just until the dough is uniformly smooth. The dough is now ready to chill, shape, and bake or freeze or flavor for one of the three variations below.

For Pinwheel Cookies, gently melt the chocolate with the sugar and cinnamon in a double boiler. Remove half of the dough from the bowl and set aside. Add the melted chocolate to the bowl and stir to make an evenly colored brown dough. Cut both the dark (chocolate) and the light (vanilla) balls of dough into halves. Wrap each piece in plastic and flatten into a ½ -inch-thick disk. Chill for at least 1 hour.

On four lightly floured pieces of wax paper, roll the disks into 12-inch squares. Flip each dark square onto a light square, peel off the wax paper, and press lightly with the rolling pin to seal the two dough layers together. You will have two double-layered 12-inch squares. (If the dough is already soft and sticky, refrigerate it for 10 minutes.) Roll up each square of dough, jellyroll fashion, to form two logs, removing the wax paper as you roll. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 1½ hours, until the dough is firm enough to hold its shape when sliced.

When the dough is firm, preheat the oven to 350°. Using a sharp knife, slice the logs into ½-inch-thick cookies and place them an inch apart on lightly oiled baking sheets. Bake until the edges of the cookies are lightly golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.

December 11, 2008

The Last of the Sandwiches

I don’t even know what to write anymore. You all must be sick and tired of hearing about my damned sandwiches. Don’t worry, this is it. We’ve moved into the realm of the salads, which I’ll be reporting on soon. But before I get to them, just let me say a few words – I promise! Only a few! – about these last few sandwiches. It’s worth it.

Bruschetta with Sauteed Peppers

Soft, melty peppers, crisp bread, gooey cheese, and a touch of basil. Need I say more?

Creamed Leeks on (Walnut) Toast

Writing about this, I want to eat it again. Right. Now. I had never really made creamed anything and this convinced me that it’s an excellent, if calorific, way to cook. But hey, I’m still eating vegetables, right? Here you just cook some leeks with butter, a little wine, a little cream and some parmesan. Heaven on a piece of toast. As well as a very simple and homey supper, this strikes me as something you could serve very easily as a dinner part canapé that would totally impress your guests.

There. That’s it. Recipes below. I promised, right?

Sauteed Peppers

From Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

4 large bell peppers – red, yellow, and/or orange

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 small red onion, quartered and thinly sliced crosswise

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon tomato paste diluted with ¼ cup water

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, to taste

1 ½ tablespoons chopped marjoram or two tablespoons sliced basil leaves

Slice the peppers into wide or narrow strips as you prefer. Heat the oil in a wide skillet, add the onion, and sauté over high heat until translucent and beginning to colour around the edges, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and peppers and continue to cook, stirring every so often, until the peppers are singed on the edges, about 10 minutes. Add the diluted tomato paste, lower the heat to medium, and continue cooking until the peppers are soft, about 10 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper to taste, add the vinegar, and raise the heat to high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the peppers are glazed, then stir in the marjoram or basil.

To make the sandwich, toast some bread and rub half a clove of garlic on it. Cover the bread with grated fontina (or any kind, really) cheese. Put onto plates, spoon the peppers over top, and garnish with the basil.

Creamed Leeks on Toast

From same

Deborah suggests using walnut bread here, which I’m sure would be delicious. I didn’t buy any just for this and it was still great.

4 small or 2 large leeks, trimmed and sliced into ¼-inch rounds

1 ½ tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup dry white wine

½ cup half-and-half or crème fraiche

2 teaspoons chopped tarragon, parsley or rosemary

¼ cup grated parmesan, gruyere, or crumbled goat cheese

2 slices bread, toasted and lightly buttered

Wash the leeks well, but don’t dry them. Melt the butter in a wide skillet, add the leeks, and toss with a little salt. Add the wine, cover, and cook over medium heat until the leeks are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the cream and herbs and simmer until slightly thickened. Turn off the heat, stir in the cheese, then spoon the leeks over the toast. Add pepper and serve.