Monday, November 28, 2016

Cauliflower Cheese

Today I saw a gorgeous cauliflower at the market which screamed at me, "Cauliflower cheese!" This is a classic English dish that I first had when living in London.  The dish is simply cauliflower covered with a cheese sauce and breadcrumbs and baked briefly to get a nice crunchy surface.  The taste is smooth and mild and comforting.  I like to toss in some pasta which allows for maximum usage of all the luscious sauce.  Some crusty bread to mop up the sauce would serve the same purpose.

For the sauce, I decided to use my new favorite combination of cheese, namely, cheddar, parmesan and American, which I use for my macaroni and cheese recipe.  The classic is just to use all cheddar.  I usually use whatever combination of cheeses that I have in the refrigerator at the time.

Serves 4 as a main course

1 large head of cauliflower
½ cup breadcrumbs or pankko
250 grams pasta of your choice

Cheese Sauce
About 30 grams
3 tablespoons flour
half a liter Milk
200 grams Cheddar cheese plus a handful to sprinkle over
100 grams parmesan
5 slices American cheese
A couple shakes of Worsteshire sauce
1 teaspoon Mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Take the cauliflower and cut off the dry end of the stem.  If there are any leaves still attached to the head, you can leave them on if they are nice and fresh, or cut them off if they are starting to get dried out.  Put the cauliflower whole into a big pot and fill with water at least halfway up the side of the cauliflower.  Add a generous amount of salt into the water, put on a lid and bring to a boil.  Throw the pasta into the pot. Let the cauliflower cook for the amount of time it takes to cook the pasta (around ten minutes) or until it is tender.  Using a large spoon, carefully take out the cauliflower and place into a baking dish.  Drain the pasta and pour it around the cauliflower.

While the cauliflower is cooking, make a standard white sauce.  In a saucepan, melt the butter and then add the flour.  Stir and cook for two to three minutes to get the raw taste out of the flour.  Add the milk slowly, stirring all the time until all the milk is added and there are no large lumps.  Don’t worry if there are a few small ones.  These will melt away as you stir.  Use a wire whisk if you feel the lumps aren’t going away fast enough.  Bring the milk to a boil, stirring continuously.  If you want this process to go faster, then heat the milk up before you add it to the pot.  Once the milk comes to a boil, cook it for a further two minutes until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  If you feel it is too thick, you can add a bit more milk (or the water that the cauliflower was cooked in).  Add the cheese, the mustard, a few shakes of Worsteshire sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir until the cheese melts, taste, and adjust the seasoning.

Drain the cauliflower and put it in a baking dish (or use the pot that you boiled the cauliflower in, if it is oven-safe) to go into the oven.  You can either put in the cauliflower whole, which will make a nice presentation, or you can break it up into pieces, which will give you a higher crust ratio.  Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and cheese over.
Put the dish into the oven with the broiler and bake until the top is browned (about 10 minutes).
Options:  Sometimes I like to put some sliced tomatoes into this, in which case I lay the slices over the top of the cauliflower.

If you want the dish extra luscious, you can whizz up some fresh breadcrumbs, add a slug of olive oil and some fresh rosemary and throw this on top.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Mozerella with Roasted Tomatoes and Avocado

This lovely salad is a caprese salad for when the tomatoes you have are a bit less than amazing, which in Sweden more or less means all the time.

Slicing the tomatoes and letting them grill in the oven intensifies their sweet flavor. Sometimes, I grill tomatoes like this as an accompaniment to steak or other grilled meat. This makes a perfect starter, or even main course for a light lunch or dinner.

Serves 6 as a starter

8 to 10 medium sized tomatoes
one onion
olive oil
salt and pepper

375 grams fresh mozzarella
1 ripe avocado
balsamic vinegar

Put your oven on its highest grill setting. Slice the tomatoes and lay on a baking tray.  Slice the onion in wedges and throw those in. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  If the tomatoes are particularly unflavorful, you can even sprinkle on a bit of sugar.  Spread the tomato and onion out in an even single layer. Grill the tomatoes for 15 to 25 minutes until they have charred edges.  Let them cool to room temperature.

When you are ready to eat, slice the mozzarella and lay the slices out on a serving platter.  Peel and slice the avocado into wedges and lay them on top of the cheese and arrange around the platter.  Sprinkle a bit of salt onto the avocado slices. Heap the grilled tomato and onion in the middle of the platter.  Sprinkle the whole thing with a bit more olive oil, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and grind some fresh pepper over it.  Serve with some crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Friday, September 23, 2016

How to cook Swedish Crayfish

The other day, Gustaf asked me if I would go down to the lake and fish crayfish with him.  When Gustaf was small, we would often go down to a creek near where we lived and catch crayfish.  We only ever caught a few at a time, mainly for the fun of catching them, rather than for the eating.  So, when he asked me this, I had visions of sitting for hours trying to catch some pesky crayfish by hand, and I politely declined the pleasure.

So the next day, I was quite surprised when he went to pick up his haul of crayfish.  He had obviously moved on in terms of technique because he had laid out a crayfish cage.  He caught a bucket worth, 44 to be exact, of which he threw 10 back because they were too small.

When he proudly and happily came home with his bucket of crayfish, Farfar sprang into action.  He showed Gustaf how to flavor the boiling water.  He added salt, tasting periodically until it was sufficiently salty.  Farfar whipped out a bag of frozen home grown crown dill, which is the flower of a fully grown dill plant and is traditionally used to flavor boiling water for seafood in Sweden. He threw in a few sugar cubes and then pronounced it ready.

After the water was brought to boil, we threw in the crayfish.  "All at once," admonished Farfar, annoyed when I tried to stop the action to take a picture, "otherwise the water cools and the last crayfish don't die immediately."  The crayfish are boiled for a few minutes and then set out to cool in the cooking water. Two days later, we sat down to eat perfectly salty, sweet crayfish.

Here's roughly how we did it, with a rough estimation of the measurements of sugar and salt that Farfar threw in:

About 1 kilo freshwater crayfish (about 25 to 35, depending on size)
2 teaspoons sugar
about 3 liters water
about 1.5 dl salt
6 to 8 heads crown dill

Take a large pot that will generously hold the crayfish and fill with water.  Add salt until the water is as salty as sea water.  Add sugar and crown dill.  Bring the water to a boil.  Add the crayfish. Put the lid on.  Boil for about 7 to 8 minutes.  Take off the stove and set aside with the lid on.  Leave it to cool.  Put the pot in the refrigerator and leave to sit, preferably overnight.  It can keep a few days like this in the refrigerator.

To eat a crayfish, take a crayfish in one hand.  With your fingers, pry up the bodyshell where it hits the tail.  It will come off, leaving the tail attached to the body and legs.  Put your mouth on the naked body and suck the juices.  Trust me, it tastes good.  Check the shell to see if there is some good "butter" in there and eat it.  Pull the body off off the tail.  Flip the tail over and break the shell and pull the tail meat out.  Eat it.  This is the best part.  If the claws are large, you can break the shell with your teeth and pull out the meat. Repeat.

Eat the crayfish cold.  The traditional accompaniments are a cold glass of schnapps and hard bread with cheese. Skål!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Coconut, Rum and Lime Cake

The flavors of a tropical summer holiday in a cake. Need I say more?

The cake is a dense but fluffy with lots of texture from the shredded coconut.  Although it seems fiddly to do a cake, syrup and frosting, it is actually easy to make. You can eliminate the frosting but do cover the cake in the lime syrup because it creates a more intense lime flavor.


225 grams butter, at room temperature
2.5 dl sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of 3 limes
3 eggs
4 dl flour
2.5 dl dried flaked coconut + 3 tablespoons for pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teapoon salt
2 tablespoons rum

Lime Syrup
juice of 3.5 limes
1/2 dl sugar

100 grams butter, at room temperature
100 grams cream cheese
3 dl powdered sugar
2 teaspoons rum
zest of one lime, plus juice of half a lime

Zest 4 limes and squeeze the juice.  Set aside 1/4 of the lime zest for the frosting and a tablespoon of the lime juice.

Turn on the oven to 175C (325F).   Prepare your cake pan by rubbing it with butter.  Throw in 3 tablespoons of shredded coconut and shake the pan so that the coconut evenly covers the bottom and side.  This will both help the cake from sticking to the pan and create a nice crust.  Set aside pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the butter, sugar, vanilla, and rum together until light and fluffy.  Add in the lime zest, flour, salt, and baking powder. Beat carefully until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated but do not overmix. Add in the coconut and stir until it is evenly distributed through batter.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the oven from 35 to 45 minutes. The cake will be brown and top and a toothpick will come out clean when it is done.

While the cake is baking, make the lime syrup.  Take the juice of 3.5 limes and add 1/2 dl sugar into a small pot.  Put on the stove and bring the lime juice to boiling.  Take the pot off the stove and set it aside to cool.

When the cake is out of the oven, take a fork or toothpick and poke holes all over the top.  Spoon over the lime syrup, trying to cover the cake evenly.  Set the cake aside to cool.

When the cake is cool, make the frosting.  Whip the cream cheese and butter together in a bowl.  Add in about a third of the powdered sugar, the rum, and about half of the lime juice.  Whip together and add in the rest of the sugar.   The frosting should lighten in color and get very fluffy.  If you wish the frosting to be stiff (if you want to pipe it onto the cake and have it hold its shape), then you will need to add more sugar.  I like it looser and I just spoon it on top of the cake.  Adjust the lime juice and to your liking, remembering that the more liquid you add, the looser the consistency of the frosting.

Unmold the cake and put it on a serving plate.  Smooth the frosting over the top of the cake only, letting the sides of the cake show.

Store leftover cake in the refrigerator.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Plättar (Little Swedish Pancakes)

Earlier this year I discovered an iron pan with seven round shallow depressions in my father-in-law's cupboard, a plättjärn.  I love old fashioned Swedish cooking, so I immediately started looking up recipes for little pancakes.  Of course, my beloved Mannerström came up trumps.  He had a perfect recipe.  
These little pancakes are extremely tender and delicate, with a lovely slightly crispy exterior.  Do cook these on a cast iron pan.  If you try to cook them on a regular pan, the pan will not get hot enough to make the lovely exterior.  

In Sweden, these would be dessert, not breakfast.  I like them for both dessert and breakfast.  My friend Aiai and I made these pancakes this summer and the kids lined up.  They are served with whipped cream and jam.

Serves 3 to 4

3 eggs
1.5 dl flour
2 dl cream
1 dl water
50 grams butter
1 tablespoon sugar
a pinch of salt

Melt the butter in the microwave or in a small pot on the stove.  Set aside to cool.  In a medium bowl, beat the 3 eggs.  Add the flour and sitr until mixed.  Add the cream water, sugar and salt and stir until you have a smooth batter.  Add the butter and stir until the butter is fully incorporated into the batter.

Heat a cast iron pan on medium heat, preferably a Swedish plättjärn.  Melt a little butter onto the pan and pour in enough batter to just fill the pancake depressions.  Alternatively, you can make little pancakes using about a tablespoon of batter.  Cook until golden brown and then flip and cook on the other side.  Serve with jam and whipped cream.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Falkenberg Cakes (Falkenbergare)

There is an amazing bakery called Stålbloms down near my summer house on the west coast of Sweden.  All of their cakes are gorgeous and delicious.  Their Princess Cake is divine. They make the best Semlor that I have ever tasted, a cardamom flavored bun that is filled with marzipan and whipped cream and only served during the Spring.  It always amazes me that this bakery, in a little town in the countryside, rivals the best bakeries in Stockholm.

While all of their cakes are memorable, there is one that I dream about. It is an unassuming plain little cake topped with a glaze and sprinkling of candied orange peel.  Even if I am tempted by one of the more glorious looking cakes to eat for my fika, which I love to take in their pretty garden, I buy one of these to take home with me and eat slowly while gazing out at the sea.
They call these cakes Falkenbergare, after the name of the town Falkenberg, where Stålbloms was founded.  These cakes are sticky and dense, almost custardy.  They are rich but not cloying.  The combination of almond and orange is delectable.  I have googled the name of this cake several times and I have kept an eye out for these cakes at every bakery that I visit.  But I have never found a mention of them on the internet or seen them at any other bakery.

This summer, I was excited to notice that they had a cookbook for sale.  I eagerly looked through it to see if they had published a recipe for my beloved cake...and YES!  So, now I can have these wonderful cakes any time I like, and so can you.  Here is the recipe, slightly modified from the original:

Makes about 15 cakes

250 grams butter at room temperature
500 grams marzipan (mandelmassa)*
1 tablespoon potato flour or cornstarch
5 eggs

About 4 dl powdered sugar
Zest of one orange
Juice of about half an orange
Candied orange peel, to garnish

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F). Butter a muffin pan or other small cake forms. Grate the marzipan to make it easier to incorporate into the butter. Put the marzipan and butter into a large bowl and mix with an electric mixer until it is well mixed and creamy.

Add in the potato flour (or cornstarch) and the eggs, one at a time, mixing until each egg is well incorporated. The batter will become lighter and fluffy with each additional egg, but still be very thick.

Divide the cake batter into the muffin tin or forms, filling each form almost full. Bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes until browned on top and a toothpick comes out clean.  Take the cakes out of the oven and let cool.

While the cakes bake, you can make the glaze.  Put the powdered sugar in a bowl with the orange zest.  Add in some orange juice, a few drops at a time and stir until the glaze feels thick enough to spread easily but not so thin as to be drippy.

When the cakes are cool, unmold them and top each cake with a spoonful of the glaze and spread the glaze around the top.  Sprinkle some candied orange peel on top of each cake.  Eat reflectively and slowly, preferably while staring out at the sea.

* This cake calls for a marzipan that is 50/50 sugar and almonds.  In Sweden, this mixture is called mandelmassa or almond paste.  Marzipan in Sweden is more sugar than almonds about 60/40.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Kladdkaka “Sticky Cake”

This cake is a Swedish classic and it can be found in most cafés, is served frequently for dessert at parties, and a quick version can be found in the freezer section of the grocery store.  It is very similar to an American brownie in texture, being slightly sticky in the center.  Like a brownie, it can easily be overcooked, in which case it will be a more ordinary chocolate cake, still delicious, but not a kladdkaka!  This version is from Lelia Lindholm, a Swedish baker, whose cookbook is one of my favorites. It is a simple recipe and is the best version of this cake that I have tasted.

It is so simple, that have relinquished the baking of this cake to my son Oscar.  Oscar and his friend Konrad whipped up the batch in these photos and had a great time doing it.

50 grams butter
½ deciliter cooking oil
2 eggs
2 deciliters sugar
1 deciliter granulated brown sugar (raw sugar)
2.5 deciliters flour
4 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla (or vanilla sugar)
1 pinch salt
50 grams dark chocolate  (use a good eating chocolate here)

Get into all the nooks and crannies when buttering the pan.
Put the butter in a bowl and melt it in the microwave, usually about one minute.  When the butter is melted, mix with the cooking oil, and set aside
In another bowl, beat the eggs, and two types of sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Stir in the butter and oil mixture.  Add the flour, baking powder,cocoa powder, vanilla, and salt and stir the batter until well incorporated.

This recipe makes one cake but the boys doubled it.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan.  Chop the dark chocolate into small pieces and sprinkle over the cake batter.

Bake the cake for about 30 minutes.  When testing the cake, it should be still sticky in the center.  The cake will puff up, but then as it cools it will fall in the middle.  This is totally normal, so don't freak out.

Serve with whipped cream.