Archive for January, 2008

the benefits of cheese nationalism

January 30, 2008

A friend from Switzerland, about to introduce our party to Eating In Paris, was astonished when I told him that even Holland was famous for its cheese. It belongs to this story that I have to tell the French and Dutch readers at this point that Switzerland is famous for its cheese. Cheese nationalism is universal.

(As an aside, Sweden is not at all the same as Switzerland. Look at the map. The Swedish and The Swiss have different approaches to language as well. I keep repeating these things when abroad. The problem reminds somewhat of the old Boston joke “where do you come from?” “Iowa.” “In these parts it’s actually pronounced Ohio.” [sorry, folks from Idaho, there’s only one way to tell this joke at a time])

Sweden, I wanted to tell, has no specific international cheese reputation. That doesn’t mean that some Swedish cheese isn’t good. Well, okay, some isn’t. Whatever the case, even in Sweden, one tends to become a bit vague when it comes to understanding other nation’s cheeses. (more…)


pressing matters

January 29, 2008

The culinary value of pressed garlic might be overrated. Most of the time, I am fine with chopped garlic, which sautés nicely. Pressed garlic has, of course, gotten special fame as translucent yellow blobs on takeaway pizza. Sometimes, we just don’t want sauteed garlic. I make tsatsiki with raw, pressed garlic. When I’m about to get a cold, I fill a bowl with yogurt, salt it and add some oil, and press three to five cloves of garlic into it (I never get colds). Pressed garlic is good in soups. Anyway, I do own a garlic press.

The act of pressing garlic brings back long-lost melodies of adolescence. Scritch. The presser’s gleeful thrill carries a note of benevolent aggression. Gotcha, clove. (more…)

chopping – and then?

January 29, 2008

I am watching this popular Swedish TV cook, all smiles and a chaarmaing South-Swedish accent. She chops fresh herbs, using a 24cm Chef’s knife while chatting and looking into the camera. I bet her pussycat is waiting someplace out of the camera angle, purring in anticipation.

So is blind-chopping without maiming yourself the trademark of a professional chef? Nope. Herbs well chopped, she carries the plank, knife still in her hand, across the studio to the stove and – scraaatch – scrapes them into whatever is sizzling there, blade across the plank, multiple times, scraping angle 90 degrees. I can’t watch and switch off the TV.

Why, one may ask, do the better kitchen knives have backs that are only slightly curved? For reasons of an elegant design? Ah well, probably, but that’s not where I want to go – forget rhetoric: for scraping chopped goods off the plank, and for saving the cherished and painstakingly honed blade. But perhaps, TV cooking is there for showing us that things really don’t matter so much.

two secret uses of the salad spinner

January 29, 2008

I own a Moulinex salad spinner that has served me for approximately 25 years. It holds vast amounts of goods, has a turning crank and the habit of getting unbalanced.

One turns to get rid of the worst of the moisture, and then the spinner begins to spin and wobble out of control. So one stops, opens the lid and very carefully re-distributes the content until the internal spinner-colander almost balances on the pivot. Then one closes the whole machine very carefully again and the spinning becomes a feast.

Robin has a “good grips” spinner that has no such problems of balance. But it turns slightly slower, so the drying takes more time. So we have two spinners, a slow and safe one, and a battered Ferrari.

I don’t want to write about dry lettuce. We all know that it’s better. There is a nice restaurant in the Gothenburg Brew House in Gårda, called bEAT (yES1) that offers very fine, fancy, hand-hewn salad dressings (in line with their other food, which is most of the time very good). But at lunchtime, they serve their lettuce literally floating in its rinsing water. Quite disgusting really. Matter of one hand of the cook not knowing what the other does. Hope he doesn’t cut himself one of these days.

I want to advertise two alternative uses of the salad spinner. (more…)

chicken thigh fillets again

January 29, 2008

And as an elaboration of an earlier post about chicken thigh fillets,

I am adding a shockingly crossover variant:

At least several hours ahead of cooking, I take around six or seven chicken thigh fillets, cut off any excess of fat and cut them into small bits. These are now immersed in a mixture of lemon juice and plain Japanese soy sauce, covered and stored in the refrigerator.

Also ahead of time, I soak three cups of green lentils.

When cooking proper is to begin, I slowly sauté a cup of finely chopped celeriac in two tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil. After five minutes, I add half a cup of chopped onion to the mix, even later a chopped clove of garlic. Before anything starts to brown, I add the lentils, water to cover, one chopped tomato, a bay leaf, freshly ground black pepper, salt, a teaspoon of dried oregano and a pinch of dried thyme. This is stirred and adjusted to a pleasant bubble.

Now the chicken bits are drained, patted dry, carefully dusted with flour and quickly browned in vegetable oil. The browned bits are directly dumped into the lentils. The cooking residue, dissolved in a dash of white wine, is added as well. Then the stew is cooked until both chicken and lentils are done. A few tablespoons of lemon juice enter at the very last. The result should be creamy and yummy.

I came to this horrifying mix of cooking traditions because, from Dutch Vegetarian days long gone, I knew that lentils and soy sauce go together really well. Having started down the path of natural taste-enhancing ingredients (such as soy sauce) I just assembled more of them: celeriac is, if treated friendly, a fantastic ingredient to almost anything (except vanilla ice cream); tomato is a well-known natural taste enhancer; I do not need to mention wine, butter, onion and garlic.

salmon again

January 29, 2008

As an elaboration of an earlier post about salmon slices on a bed of savoy cabbage

I am posting here Salmon on a spinach bed

Start by pre-heating the oven to 390 degrees F (200 C). Retrieve from the freezer 3 cups of hacked, frozen spinach, or use the amount of fresh spinach that would cook down to three cups (carefully rinsed and coarsely chopped) while four tablespoons of good olive oil are heating up in a skillet. A large quartered or two small halved garlic cloves are very carfully browned until dark golden. The spinach is now added, together with a pinch of nutmeg, salt and freshly ground black pepper. It should bubble for the time it takes to slice fresh Salmon for two into half-inch thin bits.

Take an oven dish and cover its bottom with the spinach. Distribute the salmon evenly on top, sprinkle with salt and some lemon juice. Bake in the oven until the salmon is done.

It seems so simple – turned out as the best dinner of the past weeks.

peanut sauce, an improvisation

January 27, 2008

This recipe is the result of an emergency: none of my tradition-based Indonesian cookbooks mentions a straightforward peanut sauce like they are served all over the place. Quite some of the satay recipes I’ve seen use candle nuts (kemirie), which are oily, hazelnut-shaped yellow-white nuts not unlike macadamia nuts. They are usually first roasted and then ground into a paste. According to all the information I could get they are not good for consumption in their raw state. They taste inspiringly exotic, but not like peanuts. And that’s what we want here: peanuts.

In fact lots of them, which means that the lean, sweet and lemony variants as served in modern town restaurants don’t appeal to me. Let’s try something of our own. (more…)


January 27, 2008

The tomatoes are a watery pink and they taste like cold dishwater (“Dish-waterrr” squeaks Helium*). It is late January. Someone in the newspaper writes pessimistically that Sweden is just not the country for tomatoes in winter. If I remember well, Holland wasn’t either. There, in January, Tomatoes came from Spain just as ours, and they were just as watery. (Funny, isn’t it, how I can afford to generalize in this outrageous manner. That’s what a consistent product profile does to you.) January is, simply, a time for compromises. One way to go is to buy organic tomatoes, which sometimes are in fact better; and the tendency is definitely upward, with ever more people buying organic food and encouraging the market.

But even organic tomatoes grow slowly in January, on this half of the earth. The person from my newspaper recommends canned tomatoes: not the three-cans-for-a-buck kind, or the pre-chopped ones, since they contain more juice and fewer tomatoes. You ought to buy whole, nice, red, Italian canned quality tomatoes. I agree, although I had to find a compromise out here, where the whole canned tomatoes, most of the time (inexplicably) are called Eldorado or Euroshopper, and are rather of the translucent, watery kind. The organic canned tomatoes of the brand Kung Markatta, on the other hand, are chopped, or “krossade”, as the Swedish language makes them (the word evokes fantasies of large splintery objects being crushed to bits in a huge hydraulic press of some sort. Think Goldfinger…). But they come from Sicily, (more…)

quarky salmon on savoy cabbage

January 19, 2008

Sometimes, as with the tomatoed chicken thighs a few days ago, spontaneous kitchen improvisation produces quite nice results. But sometimes one is, in all humbleness, totally knocked over with the outcome of an experiment. Like today.

I had to get rid of about 1 1/2 cups of quark [scroll down on the page], a traditional German and Austrian fresh cheese, for reasons of its own called Kesella in Sweden (if you are looking for substitutes it will be helpful to know that Kesella has 10% fat). Other interesting contents of the fridge were: the soft, light inside of a medium-sized head of savoy cabbage (yesterday the green leaves all went into cabbage roulades), around 200 grams of fresh salmon and an almost empty jar of goose fat from Christmas. The following recipe serves two. (more…)

green (soft. mushy.) boiled vegetables

January 17, 2008

Hervé This-Benckard, also mentioned on this blog, combines the art of cooking and chemistry. I have here a German translation of his Les secrets de la casserole. Most enlightening is his explanation why green vegetables should be boiled in much, lively boiling, water and without a lid. Note: this recommendation is entirely the opposite of what <fill in favorite term> have told their daughters for centuries. (more…)