Scrumpalicious Scandinavian pickled cucumbers

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preserving / recipe / vegetables

The art of preserving food may seem onerous to some people, but making pickles is not hard at all. Some pickles can be stored in the refrigerator instead of processing with a water bath are super easy to make. The downside is that they don’t last as long, but all the more reason to eat them sooner. One of the best pickling recipes I have tried recently is this recipe for Scandinavian style pickles – crunchy pickles that are both sweet and sour. These are fast to make too.

INGREDIENTS: (makes 2 pint jars)

   6-7  pickling cucumbers
2 cups  white wine vinegar
     1  lemon (juiced)
 1 cup  sugar
 1 tsp  salt
 10-15  black peppercorns
     1  bunch fresh dill

Put the vinegar, sugar, salt, and peppercorns in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow the pickling liquid to cool completely. Prepare two sterilized pint jars. Cut the cucumbers into ¼” slices, and layer in the jars, alternating with sprigs of the fresh dill. When the jars are full, pour in the pickling liquid until the cucumbers are covered.

Allow to stand for 12 hours, then store in the refrigerator. they are good to eat after about a week, and keep for up to two months.

 

 

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Pecan pie

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baking / pastry

Thanksgiving in Canada, and time for pie! I don’t make pie that often, mainly because if you make it, then you have to eat it (which is always a bummer right?). Pies (of any sort) can be too sweet – so this recipe is nice because it’s not overly sweet. It does use corn syrup, which I’m not the biggest fan of, but you could always substitute something such as maple syrup. Pecans are native to North America, and pecan pie is a derivative of medieval sugar pies such as treacle tart, originating in the southern U.S..

First, let’s start with the dough. This dough recipe I borrowed from The Model Bakery Cookbook. It uses a combination of butter and shortening, producing a really nice flaky pastry which bakes well.

INGREDIENTS:

  220g  all-purpose flour
 ½ tsp  sugar
 ¼ tsp  fine sea salt
   70g  unsalted butter (cut into cubes)
   55g  vegetable shortening
  60ml  ice-cold water

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt together in a bowl. Cut the butter into the flour, and then the shortening, continuing until the mixture resembles course bread crumbs. Add the water in portions, and stir with a fork until the mixture starts to come together. Mix the dough together by hand and form into a ¾” disk. Wrap and allow to rest in the refrigerator until needed. This is enough for one 9″ pie.

Now on to the pie.

INGREDIENTS:

  200g  light brown sugar
 180ml  corn syrup
     4  eggs (at room temperature)
   55g  melted unsalted butter
2 tbsp  whiskey
 ½ tsp  vanilla extract
2 cups  pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out the dough into a round, ¼” thick and large enough to fit a 9″ pie pan. Fit the dough to the pan, and trim, ½” beyond the rim of the pan. Fold this excess dough under so the dough is now flush with the rim, and crimp the edge. Blind bake the pie shell for 15 minutes or until it just starts to gain some colour. Remove the pie weights, and bake for a further 5 minutes – it should have a light colour. Remove it from the oven.

2. Reduce the ovens heat to 350°F. Mix all the ingredients, except for the pecans, in a bowl. Pour into the shell, and add the pecans. Bake until the top of the pie has puffed up – about 45 minutes (not so much that cracks start to form). Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack for 2-3 hours before serving. The pie will deflate somewhat, and should have a slightly toasted nut aroma.

 

 

Eating gravlax

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cooking / fish / recipe

Gravlax is classically eaten with hovmästarsås, the mustard-dill sauce. Like gravlax, there are many different versions of this sauce. It is classically made with Swedish-style mustard, although I have used mild Polish mustard mixed with honey. There are recipes with different ratios of oil, and sugar – it really is dependent on personal taste.

INGREDIENTS:

 3 tbsp  Swedish-style mustard
 2 tbsp  white wine vinegar
  ¼ cup  sunflower or canola oil
 1 tbsp  finely chopped fresh dill
 1½ tsp  fine sugar
         salt

Mix the mustard together with the vinegar, and then whisk in the oil to make an emulsion. Stir in the dill, sugar, and salt to taste. I like to slice the salmon and form them into a rosebud on the plate.

 

Making gravlax – salt-and-sugar cured salmon

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fish / food / preserving / recipe

Gravlax is a way of curing salmon which involves sugar-and-salt often infused with fresh dill or other aromatics and spices, such as juniper berries. Gravlax is not the same as cold-smoked salmon, its traditions lie in an age-old method of preserving salmon which involves burying it until it becomes fermented. The word gravlax has two components, grav and lax, the former relates to the Scandinavian word for “to dig“, the latter means salmon. Nowadays of course, there is no burying involved, and certainly not much fermentation. The gravlax should end up with a very clean taste, with a slightly salty flavour with hints of whatever aromatics used.

There are literally hundreds of recipes out there. Some have similar ratios of sugar to salt, others use more salt to sugar, others more sugar to salt. You basically have to try some recipes to find one which suits you. Classic aromatics are in the form of juniper berries, fennel, or pine needles (e.g. Douglas Fir). Sometimes alcohol is added, in the form of aquavit, vodka, or gin – usually not enough to significantly altr the flavour of the gravlax.

First start with a good piece of salmon – I like to use wild Coho salmon, because it has a nice colour, and less fat. I bought it from Hooked.

INGREDIENTS:

     1  fillet salmon, 2-3 lbs (e.g. coho)
1 tbsp  coarse sea salt
2 tbsp  granulated sugar
1 tbsp  gin
2 tbsp  fresh dill (chopped)
     8  juniper berries (crushed)

First wash the salmon in running cold water, and cut in half. Lay the larger of the pieces skin-side down in a shallow dish (I line it with parchment paper). Mix together the salt and sugar and spread over the salmon. Sprinkle over the dill, crushed juniper berries, and gin, making sure of an even cover. Place the second fillet on top, skin-side up.

Fold over parchment paper, cover with a piece of foil, and weigh the salmon down (using large cans, clean rocks, or a clean brick). Allow to cure for 12 hours in the refrigerator, then drain off any liquid, and turn the fillets. I cure it for 3-4 days, turning every 12 hours. At the end of the cure period, quickly rinse off the curing mixture, and pat the fish dry. Store in parchment paper.

P.S. If you want to add citrus notes, use zest, not juice, otherwise it will cook the salmon like a ceviche.

 

 

Norway Trip (iv) : Oslo – beyond the downtown core

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travel / vacation

It is fun just to walk around the city, and it abounds with historic buildings, and fantastic architecture. Some don’t consider Oslo as cool as some of its neighbours, like Copenhagen. If you leave the core downtown, a short walk away (north-east)  is Grünerløkka, a historically working-class district. This area has more of a hipster vibe now, littered with eclectic vintage stores, galleries, and cafes. It also does not have the deluge of tourists found towards the city centre.

This area is where the river Akerselva winds through the city. The river is the cradle of industrialism in Norway, and has a walking path winding its way alongside. If you walk upriver, you eventually run into Park Grünerhagen, and on the west side of the river is Mathallen Oslo, a fantastic food hall, which I will cover more in a later post. (You could also right next door in the Scandic Vulkan). Just upriver from the park is a unique looking building fashioned out of grain elevator – it is now a 19-storey student housing complex.

On the northern part of the city is the Vigeland Sculpture Park  in Frogner Park. This park is filled with 212 bronze and granite scuptures by Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943).  This park is free, and easily accessible via tram (No.12). I would suggest going early if you don’t want to be swamped by tourists, the car park out the front seemed to be full of tour buses. Nearby is also The Vigeland Museum, which was originally built as a studio and residence for Vigeland, and now serves as a museum for his work. Next to Vigeland Park is Frognerbadet, a swimming complex with four pools, where the water temperature is kept at a constant 25°C.

 

 

Norway Trip (iii) : Oslo – a walkable city

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travel / vacation

Oslo is a small city of roughly 670,000 people, and there is a lot to do. The nice thing is that it is an extremely walkable city, made even better in the summer due to the length of the days – the sun was out until about 9.20pm, followed by twilight! The central point of the city is the railway station, from which the central boulevard, Karl Johans Gate, divides the city as it heads to the Royal Palace.

This pedestrian thoroughfare is lined with stores, cafes, restaurants, parks, and people. Located near Stortorvet square, north/north-east of Karl Johans gate, is majestic Oslo Cathedral, built circa 1694-1697.

Oslo is a harbour city, situated at the head of the Oslofjord. One of the most recognizable pieces of architecture in Oslo is the marble Opera House on the eastern part of the harbour. Rising up out of the water like an iceberg, this is a truly spectacular opera house, with a roof that you can walk upon. It was designed by Tarald Lundevall, with construction completed in 2007. It is situated in the Bjørka neighborhood of central Oslo, and is home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. Oslo also has a bunch of very unique modern buildings.

Further towards Sentrum (the centre of the city), is the ferry wharf, and Oslo’s City Hall. Another unique piece of architecture, the building was completed in 1950, in the Functionalism architectural style. At first encounter the building seems somewhat overwhelming, a huge brick industrial monolith. But look closer, and the building tells the story of Norway, its history and culture. Inside there are massive murals (unfortunately we didn’t realize this, so didn’t go inside 😦 ). The building is surrounded by wooden friezes, and sculptures. It biggest claim to fame is being the place where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded every year.

Next to the harbour is the 700-year-old medieval Akershus Fortress. It is currently still a location used by the military, but the grounds (known as Akershus Festning) are open to the public until 9pm each evening. The ramparts offer a great vista of Oslo, and the grounds also house Norway’s WW2 Resistance Museum. The castle itself, Akershus Slott, is also usually open to the public (but is closed until Sept. 2018 for construction).

P.S. If you want to get the maximum daylight, then July is almost the best time to go – from 10.40pm on July 1st to 9.48pm on July 31st.

Norway Trip (ii) : Arriving in Oslo (the basics)

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travel / vacation

Our flight to Oslo arrived *way* too early (6am), and as a result we had to wait around for a long time to get into our hotel room. Arriving at Oslo Airport (Oslo Lufthavn) was extremely smooth. The airport is 35 km from Oslo central (known as Oslo S), and so to get there from the airport, you can take the Flytoget, Norway’s only high-speed train. Tickets are NOK180, (≈C$30) for adults, and children 16 and under ride for free if accompanying an adult. The benefit? A fast 19 minute, ultra-smooth ride into the city – one of the best train rides I have ever taken. It does not terminate in Oslo S, so make sure to watch out for the station. From the train station it’s possible to walk to most hotels, as the downtown is compact and pedestrian friendly.

Flytoget

Hotels: We decided to stay our four nights in Oslo at the Scandic Victoria. It is often tricky in Europe trying to find hotel rooms for families. We got a room with two singles, and a sofa bed. Most hotel rooms have two single beds (pushed together). Scandic is a Nordic hotel chain, and you will see them everywhere – there are eight in Oslo alone. The hotel rooms are comfortable, and the rate includes breakfast, which seems normal for hotels in Norway (more on hotel breakfasts later).

Scandic Oslo Airport

Arriving in town at 7am does give you a view of Oslo sans-people, as there are very few people around at that time of morning. The history of Oslo goes back to around the year 1000AD. You will see some historical references to the city being called Christiania – in fact Oslo was its original name, however this was changed to Christiania in 1624, Kristiania in 1877, and back to Oslo in 1925. The name Oslo roughly translates to “meadow at the foot of a hill” or “meadow consecrated to the gods”. In about 1299, King Haakon V of Norway moved to Oslo, and it took on the role of capital from Bergen.

The Oslo TIger – the city’s nickname is Tigerstaden – “The Tiger City”

Coffee: There are very few Starbucks in Norway (17 in total I think?) – which is good for people who prefer real coffee. Coffee houses abound. Like I mean there are independent coffee houses everywhere. Which is not surprising given that Norway ranks 2nd in the top 20 biggest coffee drinkers, with Norwegians drinking 9.9kg per capita per year. In fact, all five Nordic countries rank in the top six… maybe it’s all the dark winters? Oh, and Canada ranks 10th, only one of two non-European countries in the top 20 (the other is Brazil). And they all seem to make fantastic coffee, and having amazing pastries (not called Danish pastries). Check Scandinavian Traveler for a guide to the best coffee in Oslo, or the Oslo Coffee Tour with Kaffikaze’s Ingri.

Coffee shop “steam” in Østbanehallen, a food court in the oldest part of the railway station. Also home to two Italian restaurants, a grocery store, and the Oslo Visitor Centre.

The Oslo Pass: One of the best ways to see a bunch of things without it costing too much is the Oslo Pass. At NOK745 for adults, and NOK370 for children, for a 72-hour pass, it is extremely good value. It gets you on public transit, and into most museums/galleries for free. Public transit consists of trams, and buses (and the 72-hour Oslo Pass also gets you the boat ride to the museums across the bay), and is clean and efficient. The easiest place to get an Oslo card is at the Oslo Visitor Centre, in Østbanehallen, adjoining the train station. It comes with a handy guide to all attractions included, and transit info. Note that on average, adult entrance fees to museums are NOK100-130, so it is a great deal.

Currency: Norway, like many of its Nordic neighbours has its own currency. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between them: Denmark (Krone), Norway (Krone), Sweden (Krona) and Iceland (Krona) – largely because they all have different conversions, and large currency denominations. Norwegian Krone come is bills up to NOK1000. So converting to C$ requires dividing by 6.3, so NOK1000 is C$158. Icelandic Krona is even crazier, because conversion to $C involves dividing by 85 (ish). It does mean you don’t have to worry about dollars and cents. On a side-note, people apparently use credit cards extensively to pay for things in stores (we didn’t use debit once), partially because there is no transaction fee for users or shops.