Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Happy Holidays | Danish rice and almond pudding



Christmas time is upon us and it's time for the last blog entry this year. I would like to use the opportunity to share again the recipe for rice and almond pudding (risalamande), a traditional Danish dessert that always gets many views on my old food blog in December. I remember seeing the pudding on the Christmas table in my childhood but it wasn't an annual tradition. The Danes have served the pudding at Christmas since the late 1800s and it has undergone some changes. I think I remember it correctly that the whipped cream wasn't added to the recipe until the era of the Second World War (1939-1945) when the price of rice got higher. A few years ago, when we were living in Copenhagen, my aunt and her Danish husband invited us to their home for a Christmas dinner and for dessert they served risalamande with organic cherry sauce, which was a wonderful combination. This was back in 2009 and since then the rice pudding has been on our Christmas table.


I serve the pudding on Christmas Eve, which is the day of celebration in the Nordic countries, when a festive dinner is enjoyed before the presents are opened. If buying the cherry sauce I would opt for an organic choice, free of refined sugar. Preparing the sauce is very easy. If I can get fresh cherries at this time of year I use 600 grams: Cut the cherries and remove the pits before mixing with 1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup in a food processor. Pour it into a small saucepan, stir in 2-3 tablespoons of unrefined cane sugar and add a bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Let it simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, until the liquid has mostly evaporated, but not to the point of having dried out. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and allow it to cool before serving. You can also use frozen cherries but then you will only need 300 grams that go straight into a saucepan with the syrup, sugar and lemon juice. When the sauce is ready you can mash the cherries with a fork or a spoon before allowing it to cool. On Sunday I made the rice and almond pudding and for the sauce I used frozen mixed berries. It tasted wonderful and that's the sauce you see in the photos.

In this house the Christmas preparation is pretty much done and the smoked lamb (hangikjöt) is on its way from Iceland via express mail. Here in Scotland there is hardly any chance of white Christmas, even a bush by our dining room window has started to form buds. I would like to wish you Happy Holidays and my best wishes for 2016, and at the same time to thank you for all the blog visits this year.


On this blog, late in 2011, I mentioned the recipe for the risalamande (some write ris a la mande or ris à l'amande) and much to my surprise my readers were eager to view it, which is why I shared it on my old food blog. It is the recipe I got from my aforementioned aunt and her husband in Denmark and I have only made slight changes: I use more sugar because my children like it that way (they use half tablespoon) and instead of blanched almonds I use almonds with the skin, which provides dietary fibre. I always prepare the pudding in the morning of Christmas Eve, as it needs time to cool, and the scent of vanilla that fills the house is heavenly. As I said before, I serve it with either organic cherry sauce or home-made. If you are interested in a lighter version of the pudding you can substitute the whipping cream for Greek yoghurt, or you can combine cream and yoghurt. At Christmas I always prepare the real thing, with the whipped cream.

RICE PUDDING (RISALAMANDE)

190 g pudding rice (scant 1 cup)
250 ml water (1 cup)
1 litre milk (4 cups)
1 vanilla pod
2 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea/Himalayan salt
75 g almonds (½ cup)
400 ml whipping cream (about 1½ cup + 2 tablespoons)

To make the pudding: Rinse the pudding rice (white short-grain rice) before boiling in 250 ml water (1 cup) for 2 minutes in a saucepan. Add the 1 litre of milk (4 cups) and bring gently to the boil. Turn the heat down and let it simmer gently for about 35 minutes. Use a lid but tilt it to allow the steam to escape. (The cooking time applies to Danish grødris (pudding rice). Other type of rice could need longer time to cook. Most of the liquid should be absorbed and the rice should be soft.)

Before adding the vanilla pod to the saucepan you need to split it and remove the seeds. Use a sharp knife to split it lengthways and then scrape the seeds out with the knife tip (I use the seeds to make my own vanilla sugar with unrefined cane sugar).

When the rice pudding is done remove the saucepan from the heat and remove the two halves of the vanilla pod. Spoon the rice pudding into a big bowl, add the salt and sugar and stir gently. Cover the bowl and allow the pudding to cool in the fridge.

Chop the almonds with a knife or in a food processor and add them to the cold pudding. (You can use blanched almonds if you prefer. If you can't buy them then simply put them in a bowl of hot water and rub the skin off with your fingers.) Whip the cream (not too stiff) and gently stir it in.

Serve the pudding with cherry sauce or sauce with mixed berries.

Uppskrift á íslensku.



Monday, 14 December 2015

Swedish braided bread with cardamom



Swedish braided bread with cardamom is the latest recipe on our Christmas menu, a welcome new tradition that is making our Sunday brunches in December even better. Perhaps the recipe should be called Nordic or Scandinavian Christmas bread, as it isn't specifically Swedish. Some people call it coffee or tea bread but I'm used to calling it Swedish. In Finland they call it pulla and another Finnish word for it is nisu or nissua. The Norwegian bread is called julekake (Christmas cake) and has raisins in it but I don't think they necessarily braid the loaf. In Denmark I have seen teboller (tea buns) with cardamom. The ingredients in these recipes will vary slightly but the cardamom, widely used in Scandinavia, is the common factor.


In Sweden they either bake a loaf or buns from the dough and usually they sprinkle pearl sugar on top, which is something you will never find in my cupboards. In some recipes the braids are formed into a ring that has been filled with butter, sugar and spices, and often topped with sliced almonds. All these Nordic recipes include butter and sugar, but it shouldn't come as a surprise that my version is less sugary and has just a bit of coconut oil instead of the butter. The bread is still soft and has a sweet taste but for us it's more about the heavenly taste of cardamom.



In my recipe I use freshly ground cardamom, from half tablespoon of cardamom pods (20-25 green ones). My first braided bread experiments included fresh yeast but I decided to experiment with dried yeast as well, in case some of my readers weren't able to buy fresh yeast (no one in this household complained, perhaps it was the cardamom coma!). The recipe calls for 735 grams of flour (5½ cups) but it's enough to use dried yeast needed for 500 grams (1 lb). I bake the bread with white spelt flour but I have also used organic plain flour, using either fresh or dried yeast, with good results. It was my intention to share a yeast-free version as well but to avoid confusion I will post it separately some other time.


I have told you before that I have Danish ancestors and was brought up in Iceland with quite many Danish traditions. However, I don't remember ever having seen braided bread on the table or buns with cardamom. The look of the bread has always fascinated me and I wanted to make my own version, as I have found the breads I have tasted too sugary. It isn't complicated to bake the bread, it just takes time as you first have to activate the yeast and then allow the dough to rise two times, first for an hour and then for 30-40 minutes after the loaves have been braided. If you don't know how to braid don't let it stop you, just make regular loaves instead. As I said before, my version of braided bread contains no butter and is less sugary than the recipes I have come across. Let's just say that in my recipe the scent of cardamom plays a leading role.

SWEDISH BRAIDED BREAD WITH CARDAMOM

makes 2 loaves
17 g fresh yeast + 125 ml warm water (½ cup) to activate the yeast
  (or dried yeast for 500 g of flour - see notes in ivory box below)
185 ml milk (¾ cup)
4 tablespoons organic unrefined cane sugar
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon sea/Himalayan salt
½ tablespoon cardamom pods (or ground cardamom)
1 egg, free-range
135 g + 600 g white spelt flour or organic plain flour (1 + 4½ cups)
coconut oil for greasing
1 egg white for brushing

To activate the yeast: Put the fresh yeast with warm water (35-37°C /95-98.6°F) in a medium bowl. Stir gently with a spoon to dissolve the yeast and let it sit for about 5 minutes, until the surface is covered with froth. (See notes in the ivory box below if using dried yeast.)

Crack the cardamom pods with e.g. a rolling pin to remove the seeds. Crush the seeds coarsely using a mortar and pestle or a grinder. You can also wrap the seeds in baking parchment and crush them with a rolling pin.

Warm the milk in a small saucepan - do not boil it! Put sugar, coconut oil, salt and cardamom in a medium bowl. Pour the warm milk over and stir gently while dissolving the sugar and coconut oil.

In a large baking bowl, put 135 grams (1 cup) spelt flour/plain flour and egg. Break the yolk with a whisker before pouring the yeast mixture and milk mixture into the bowl. Whisk until smooth. Add the 600 grams (4½ cups) of flour and combine with a wooden spoon. Knead the dough while still in the bowl to get a feel for the texture. If it feels sticky sift some flour into the bowl and knead the dough until the texture feels right: moist but not sticky.

Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead with your hands for 5-7 minutes. Grease the bowl with a little bit of coconut oil before putting the dough back in. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for at least 1 hour, until it has doubled in size.

Punch the dough down and knead it slightly before dividing the dough in half, and each half into three balls. Roll the balls and shape into 6 equal ropes, 30 cm long each (about 12 inches).

Arrange 3 ropes of dough on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and pinch the ends farthest from you together. Braid the ropes and fold the ends under the loaf. Repeat with the other 3 ropes and make sure there is space between the braided loaves. Cover with a tea towel and set aside in a warm place for 30-40 minutes.

Brush the loaves with egg white before baking at 180°C/350°F (160°C fan oven) for 20-25 minutes. If you tap the bread bottom and the bread sounds hollow you will know it's done. Place the loaves on a wire cooling rack before slicing and serving with butter.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

For this recipe you can use either fresh yeast or dried yeast. Activating fresh yeast: see instructions above. Activating dried yeast: Even though the recipe calls for 735 grams of flour (5½ cups), I use the dried yeast needed for 500 grams (1 lb) - simply follow the manufacturer's instructions on the packet, as those may vary. The type of dried yeast I have used to make the bread calls for 125-150 ml lukewarm water (1 part boiling, 2 parts cold), 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of dried yeast. First you dissolve the sugar in the water in a medium bowl, and then you sprinkle the yeast into the bowl, whisk thoroughly and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes, until the surface is covered with froth.


Friday, 4 December 2015

Sunset Song and latte



Are you getting ready for the festive season? I managed to catch a cold that kept me in bed for a few days and now I desperately want to go from first gear to the fifth and get our new home ready for Christmas, but I'm going to be wise and rest a little longer. After all, I already have my poinsettia and indoor hyacinths, and I have unpacked the important stuff - that would be the books and kitchenware. The other boxes can wait. When you move houses you're bound to come across things you had forgotten, even though they pretty much stare you in the face every single day. In my case it was Sunset Song, a Scottish classic by Lewis Grassic Gibbon that I read many years ago in a Scottish Literature class at university. It demanded rereading with my latte.

Because of the move to Scotland I hadn't been following the news much and didn't learn until after unpacking the book that a new film version, Sunset Song (2015), will be released in UK cinemas today. The director is Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea (2011), The House of Mirth (2000)) who also adapted the screenplay. The story is about Chris Guthrie, played by Agyness Deyn, the daughter of an abusive farmer who takes over her father's farm and is widowed during the First World War. Film critic Peter Bradshaw calls it "a sad, sombre, deeply satisfying drama" (The Guardian review). Check out the trailer if you are interested, or just to enjoy the Scottish accent.



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Tuesday, 24 November 2015

life … in Scotland



I have been silent for a month and during this time I somehow managed to pack our things and move to Scotland. I will give you a moment to digest that … or perhaps read again. I am now living by the west coast, southwest of Glasgow, in a walking distance from the town's centre and the beach. A real beach. On my first day I woke up to the sound of seagulls and immediately felt at home. I love the closeness to the sea; it's what I was brought up with in Reykjavik, Iceland. Our new home is an old, renovated house with soul: it has French windows, high ceiling, original wooden doors and stairs, and both old and new floorboards. It speaks to me. I even have a garden with hydrangeas! During our no-Wi-Fi-yet period I would sit in this corner in the dining room with my coffee and play solitaire, with actual playing cards, when taking a break from the unpacking. Very old school and calming.

These days life mainly consists of unpacking and arranging things, getting the children settled in their new schools and allowing the ear to get used to the Scottish accent. I thought it would be more difficult to understand the Scots but I was wrong. As I have only been living here for a short time, I cannot really make any general statements, but I have to say that I find it astonishing how one line on a map can change people. The Scottish are very different from the English in temperament. It must be the nature and climate.


Monday, 26 October 2015

comfort food: spice loaf / bread



Perhaps I shouldn't admit it but I got into the holiday spirit early this year. I blame the kids. One evening when having dinner they started talking about our Christmas traditions, the food we enjoy, and I haven't recovered. I think I may have to pretend to be American and celebrate Thanksgiving this year just to get me some turkey and pumpkin pie. Back to my holiday mood. It's serious. I even baked a spice loaf two days in a row last week, mainly to enjoy the Christmassy scent of spices coming from the oven. And yesterday I started my experiments for our Christmas brunches, which you may have seen on Instagram.


October has kept me busy but one of the highlights this month was getting my friend (Cafe)Sigrun's cookbook in the mail, which you can spot in two images. It's the cookbook I worked on and told you about in this post. It was published in Iceland in the beginning of the month and has been well received. I thought my heart would burst when I opened the envelope. It was a strange feeling holding the book in my hands and turning its pages: there they were in print the documents that had been on my computer screen for months! I'm going to share a few recipes later and give you a peek inside the book.


The spice loaf recipe, which contains cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cocoa powder, is one of those from my old food blog. I adapted it from my friend (Cafe)Sigrun, who was inspired by a spice tour in Africa when she put hers together, which is spicier. I have been baking the spice bread, a loaf cake, for many years and it's our comfort food. Sometimes when it's cold outside, and it's just the children and me at home, we enjoy it with hot chocolate for dinner. It's one of the few things I eat with butter, but I also like it without it. I bake it with spelt flour and I combine white and wholemeal, but you can use another flour. When I make it I use a dl measuring jug (something I was brought up with in Iceland) but I have added the measurement in grams and cups for those who don't have one or have never heard of it before.

SPICE LOAF / BREAD

3½ dl spelt flour (175 g, scant 1½ cups)
2½ dl rolled oats (100 g, 1 cup)
1¼ dl organic unrefined cane sugar (110 g, ½ cup)
2-3 tablespoons cocoa powder, organic/fair-trade
2½ teaspoons baking powder, gluten free
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
250 ml milk / soya milk (1 cup)
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Add the milk and maple syrup and combine slowly, until there is no dry spelt flour left at the bottom. Add 1-3 tablespoons of milk if needed.

Line a (ceramic) loaf tin with baking parchment and pour the batter into it.

Bake at 190°C/375°F (175°C fan oven) for 35-40 minutes. You can stick a fork into the middle to see if the bread is ready. My children prefer the loaf a little sticky so I never bake it longer than 35 minutes in my oven. You can freeze slices of the spice loaf and put them straight into a toaster.

Uppskrift á íslensku.


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

rhubarb and strawberry crumble



You know those lame family jokes that I believe every family has a set of? My husband is the author of most of ours and even managed to make one about crumbles. Every time I'm preparing a crumble - rhubarb and strawberry is our favourite - he or any of the children can be heard singing a line from Adele's Bond song Skyfall, with slight changes. Instead of when it crumbles, they sing let it crumble. I know, terribly lame, but still it puts a smile on my face every time. I don't know what it is with a crumble baking in the oven, but it seems that ten minutes before it's ready everyone is already in the kitchen waiting, even walking around my farm table and peeking through the oven window. It must be the aroma. Crumbles are indeed comforting, even more so in autumn when the leaves have started to turn.



We are very fond of rhubarb crumbles with either fresh strawberries or blueberries, preferably both, but fresh plums and apricots are also wonderful. Instead of adding much sugar to the fruit and berry base, I use chopped semi-dried dates and only two tablespoons of sugar. Dates are naturally rich in sugar but they are also a good source of dietary fibre.


Most of you are probably used to plenty of butter in the crumble topping but mine contains none. I don't bake or cook with butter. I rub a bit of soft coconut oil into spelt flour and then I usually add ground almonds, or finely chopped, for that delicious crunchy texture. Walnuts and hazelnuts are also ideal.


When I was growing up I spent much time with my paternal grandparents. Their rhubarb bed in the garden was large and we ate the stalks like candy. The rhubarb was also used to make jam and my mother would often prepare a rhubarb pudding for dessert. Here in the UK, a rhubarb pudding looks like a cake - nothing like my mother used to make. I guess my mother's version could be called Nordic style rhubarb pudding. It was smooth like a thick soup or a smoothie, served warm with cream - sugary and delicious!



I had already posted a rhubarb and strawberry crumble recipe on the old food blog. In essence, this is the same recipe but the base is larger and I have added blueberries. You can replace the blueberries with more strawberries or other berries. We lived in Luxembourg when I put the recipe together and were so lucky to have rhubarb in the garden. I was inspired by a rhubarb and blueberry crumble recipe from my friend CafeSigrun that I had tried and loved. Remember her cookbook that I told you about? It just got published in Iceland. In fact, this morning I was listening to a live interview with her on an Icelandic radio station where she was introducing it. More on the book later. If you are expecting guests and want to serve the crumble for dessert you can prepare everything beforehand but wait with topping the base. Do so right before the crumble goes into the oven or else you will lose the crunchy texture that makes a crumble so tasty.

RHUBARB AND STRAWBERRY CRUMBLE

fruit & berry compote/base
400-450 g rhubarb
300 g strawberries
150 g blueberries
100 g semi-dried dates
2 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

crumble topping
50 g ground almonds or finely chopped
100 g white spelt flour
3 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
2 tablespoons coconut oil, soft
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice or water

Fruit and berry base: Wash the rhubarb, trim off the leaves and chop the stalks into 2-2.5 cm chunks (about 1 inch) and put them into a large bowl. If the stalks are chunky chop them more finely. Rinse and hull the strawberries. Depending on their size, either halve or quarter the strawberries and add them to the bowl. Remove the stones, then chop the dates finely and add them to the bowl. Finally add the sugar, ground ginger and nutmeg and mix gently with a spoon. Set aside while preparing the crumble topping.

Crumble topping: If not using store-bought ground almonds, process whole almonds in a food processor. Set them aside. Combine the spelt flour and sugar in a bowl. Add the soft coconut oil and rub together with your fingertips (if it's warm and your coconut oil is in a liquid form then simply place it in the fridge before using). Add the ground almonds and orange juice and rub together a little longer.

Put the compote in a pie dish and spread it evenly (mine is 25 x 5 cm (about 10 x 2 in.) with sides that don't slope much). Top the compote with the crumble topping and bake at 200°C/400°F (180°C fan oven) for 30 minutes, until golden brown on top. If the top starts getting too brown, you may want to cover it with baking parchment or foil about ten minutes before the crumble is ready.

Allow the crumble to cool for a few minutes before serving with whipped cream, home-made vanilla ice cream or Greek yoghurt.

Uppskrift á íslensku.



Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Diary of Virginia Woolf - Volume 1



"Something interesting happens every day" are words spoken by Virginia Woolf that my son and I have taken to heart and turned into a question that we ask each other every day. It started in the summer when I was reading The Diary of Virginia Woolf - Volume 1: 1915-19, part of my ongoing Woolf-and-Bloomsbury-group phase. They appear in a short documentary, The Mind and Times of Virginia Woolf, in the bonus material of The Hours (2002) DVD (towards the end, at minute 24). One interviewee was the late Nigel Nicolson, the son of Woolf's closest friend Vita Sackville-West. He talks about his childhood memories of Woolf, about the questions she would ask about events of the day, and how she would encourage keeping a diary because 'something interesting happens every day'.

For those who thrive on the thrill of a good plot in novels, perhaps reading diary entries with everyday descriptions of the weather, or whatever, doesn't sound interesting. I think one has to be intrigued by any kind of life writing to enjoy such books. In the case of Woolf's diaries, I think it helps to be a fan of her work. My idea was to end my evening reading with one or two entries from Volume 1 but I always read more. What I found most fascinating is her way of observing people and her surroundings. The precise descriptions sometimes feel like poetry, even if she is only describing the weather or the changing of the seasons. Then there is life during the Great War, which interested me. 'Happily the weather is turned cloudy; spring blotted out, but one must sacrifice spring to the war' (p. 128 - 15 March 1918).


The diaries, five volumes, were edited by Anne Olivier Bell (wife of Quentin, the son of Woolf's sister, Vanessa Bell). There are footnotes for those who want to know more about the people and events Woolf writes about. The first volume covers the years 1915 to 1919. 'My writing now delights me solely because I love writing & dont [sic], honestly, care a hang what anyone says. What seas of horror one dives through in order to pick up these pearls—however they are worth it' (p. 20 - 16 January 1915). After six weeks of entries the diary stops in February 1915, when Woolf slid into madness, right before the publishing of her first work, The Voyage Out, in March 1915. Sadly, two years before she had tried to commit suicide. Because of her mental problems there is silence until 1917 when she starts again with brief entries. In the autumn the entries get longer but it isn't until in 1918 that the diary takes off and becomes an essential part of her life. In January 1919 she writes:
I note however that this diary writing does not count as writing, since I have just reread my years diary & am much struck by the rapid haphazard gallop at which it swings along, sometimes indeed jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles. Still if it were not written rather faster than the fastest typewriting, if I stopped & took thought, it would never be written at all; & the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the diamonds of the dustheap. (pp. 233-34)

On the back cover: The Monk's House kitchen entry, Virginia and Leonard Woolf's home in Rodmell.

In April 1919, Woolf writes a long entry where she contemplates on her diary writing:
I got out this diary, & read as one always does read one's own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity. I confess that the rough & random style of it, often so ungrammatical, & crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat. ... But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practise. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses & the stumbles. ... What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit, & yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace any thing, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds & ends without looking them through. (p. 266)
I am currently waiting for a copy of Volume 2: 1920-24 to arrive in the mail, looking forward to picking up where I left off. For those of you who aren't into diaries but are interested in her life, there is a biography called Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee, which I intend to read when I'm done with all the five volumes of the diaries. Lee is one of the interviewee in the aforementioned documentary.