Monday, December 13, 2010

Ja, Sure, YaBetcha! Swedish Julbord!

The perfect Julbord: One without Lutefisk.

Like Cat Stevens, my family traditions are an interesting mix of Greek and Swedish, without any of that pesky political controversy. Despite my Grecian genes, every year we host a Swedish Christmas Smorgasbord, or Julbord - pronounced 'YULE-board'- and meaning Christmas-Table in Swedish. Fifty or Sixty of our closest friends cram themselves into our tiny house to enjoy hot mulled wine (Glogg) and the best Scandinavian fare this side of Minnesota. It's loud, hot and happy; I look forward to it all year.

The Julbord is a tradition and an art in Sweden, with many of the finest restaurants vying for business during the holidays. Stockholm especially is seeing a wave of some amazingly creative Julbords as a new generation of worldly, well-traveled Swedes demand more flavor and color than their grandparents' all-white cuisine (or cuisine blanc, as I like to say). Myself, I think that Swedish cuisine is incredibly underappreciated in the States and there are some astonishingly delicious things to be had from the every-day fare that you get in Scandinavia.

Traditionally, this buffet includes the kinds of food you'd expect to find in a Nordic country: preserved fish, smoked meats and cheeses, dairy products. Think 'no refrigeration' and get ready for pickled fish! Having lived for some time in Scandinavia, I try to keep it as authentic as possible but also include some of my favorite tasty bits from Swedish cuisine in general, not just Christmas favorites.

The bulk of my shopping was done at the Last-Scandinavian-Shop-in-Ballard, Scan Specialties and of all places, Ikea. Ikea is GREAT for Swedish stand-bys and this year was the first year I've ever seen Swedish families in our suburban-hell Ikea; they were all shopping in the Deli! Admittedly, they had a better deli selection this year than I've ever seen - possibly because all of the Scandinavian shops around here have closed over the past year or so, driving our local Swedish population to Ikea like so many Scandia Cattle in search of Lutefisk.

Three of us cook and decorate for 2 days getting this party ready each year and it's worth every minute. The tiny white signs you see in the photo are labels for each dish. I'll try to get as many of recipes as possible posted, so please feel free to leave a comment if you're looking for something specific that's not here.

Julbord Menu 2010

First Course: Fish

Pickled Herring 10 Ways:
Traditional, Sour Cream, Mustard, Aquavit, Garlic Cream
Blackcurrant, Caviar Cream, Tomato, Dill, Lemon

Gravlax with Sweet Mustard Dill Sauce

Herring Roe Caviar

Shrimp Cheese Spread

Crab Pate

Smoked Eel Spread

Black Capelin Caviar

Lumpfish Caviar

Second Course: Cold Cuts and Salads

Tiny Liver Sandwiches with Pickles

Red Cabbage with Apples

Swedish Ham

Roast Beef

Cucumber Vinaigrette Salad

Meatballs with Lingonberry Sauce

Sour Cream Potato Salad

Assorted Cheeses

Crispbread, Rye Bread and Pumpernickel with Butter

Third Course: Hot Dishes

Jansson's Temptation

Pork and Potato Sausage with Nutmeg

Fourth Course: Desserts and Sweets

Sweet Cardamom Bread

Rice Pudding

Assorted Cookies



Assorted Candies


Hot Mulled Wine

Aquavit Shots

Swedish Christmas Cola

Nonalcoholic Hot Spiced Cider

Beer, Wine, Soda, Water, etc...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Liberty! Equality! Fraternity! Soup!

One of my favorite soup recipes is French Onion Soup. It's simple, cheap, lends itself well to an appealing aesthetic presentation, and is a reasonably flexible recipe; we've made a vegan option before that was just as outstanding as the original. I make it almost every time we head down to the famed family Beache Haus. It can stand well on its own, or be paired with a variety of other dishes: serve with a green salad or traditional Caesar for lunch, or dish it up as a first course to a more elaborate dinner. Goes well with strong red wines (burgundies, for instance) or a big mug of dark ale.

I base my recipe on the one from the 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking, but with a much less structured approach.

Prepare for Gallic oniony goodness!
Onions (white or yellow, as sweet as possible - Walla Walla Sweets are excellent in this recipe)
Butter (olive oil for vegan option)
Beef broth (mushroom broth for vegan option)
Salt & pepper
Dry red wine, cognac, or sherry (optional)
Grated cheese (Gruyere is traditional, but works fine with Parmesan or something like it too)
Stale or toasted crusty bread

Mmmm... butter...
Melt a few tablespoons of oil/fat in your favorite soup pan or stock pot over medium low heat. Butter is best for this, but you can use olive oil for a vegetarian/vegan option, or a combo of butter and oil.

Sweat, baby, sweat!
Slice onions (on the thin side, but don't worry about it too much) and add to the pot. Use white or yellow onions, and get the sweetest ones you can, because you're trying to carmelize the onions over a low, slow heat. Onions with more sugar will tend to carmelize more readily (and taste extra yummy).

Add salt and pepper here - I usually do 8 to 12 grinds each on a mill, depending how much soup you're making. More soup = more seasoning.

Sweet, sweet onion love.
It is absolutely vital to this recipe that you pay attention to the onions, because how they cook will either make or break your soup. Cook them over a low to medium low heat, give them plenty of fat to cook in, and let them sweat.

Carmelization takes time: I usually spend at least a half an hour attending to the onions. You don't need to stand there stirring them the whole time, but you do need to let them cook, and check them every few minutes to make sure they're browning but not burning. Scrape the pan if the butter starts to stick to the bottom, and lower the heat a little.

It can also help to cover them, as that helps trap moisture so they sweat instead of frying. This isn't a fast, high heat quickie, this is low, slow, sweet, sweaty cooking, like good lovin' on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

With a little herb added.
Once the onions have been cooking for a half hour or so, add tarragon - a teaspoon or so dried, perhaps twice as much if fresh. At this point you can also add up to 1/4 cup of cognac, sherry, or dry red wine to boost flavor and color, but this is optional.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...
Scrape the pan and add broth. One of those 28-oz. aseptic boxes of broth will serve two very hungry people, or four less-hungry people. I tend to make a lot of whatever soup I've got going, so I'll put in up to four 28-oz. boxes. Raise heat to high and let the soup come to almost a rolling boil, then drop the heat back down to a simmer. Let it cook for at least another 10 minutes or so.

Beef broth is the standard here. However, I've done a mix of chicken and beef when we're short on beef, and it doesn't ruin the flavor at all, just makes it a little bit lighter. If you happen to have your own home-made beef stock, you can add some of that here as well. I tend to make stock a few times and year and freeze it, so will toss in a block of frozen stock here if I have it. It's not necessary but will lift this soup from excellent to outfuckingstanding.

For a vegetarian option I recommend mushroom broth, NOT vegetable broth. Mushroom broth has the right kind of savory, umami flavor; veggie broth lacks this and will produce an inferior soup. Avoid it for this recipe.

When you don't want to be fancy.
So at this point, the standard treatment for French Onion Soup is to ladle it up into ovenproof ramekins or thick bowls, plop a thick slice of crusty stale bread/toast into each one, cover with shredded Gruyere cheese, and pop under the broiler until the cheese bubbles and browns. I think this finish helps make the soup extra special - but it isn't always possible or necessary.

So for this cooking, I just dished it up into a soup bowl and sprinkled shredded Parmesan all over it. We accompanied it not with crusty bread this time, but with oven-baked polenta. I've also had it ladled out into smaller mugs, which is perfect for a quick mug of soup on a cold rainy afternoon.

As far as cheese goes, Gruyere is the best and most traditional: stinky, creamy, and nutty, it's a lovely pale golden cheese with a texture a bit like gouda. It's also a bit expensive, especially for a soup that's supposed to have working-class origins. You can substitute gouda or something like it if your budget won't accommodate Gruyere. And Parmesan or Asiago works just fine in a pinch.

Using the best ingredients you can afford will help make this the best damn soup you've ever had in your life.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Röktlamm (Juniper Smoked Lamb)

Juniper Smoked Lamb

Lamb has a strong taste that works well with piney, menthol-ey herbs like Rosemary, Mint and Juniper. This is an exotic dish with rustic backgrounds that's served in Italy and Scandinavia (strange bedfellows, yes?). It's tremendously easy to prepare if you have a backyard barbeque or smoker, which I have to do since none of the local smokehouses seen to be willing to custom smoke anything but salmon or beef jerky, despite the fact that the meat I brought them was fresh, I had all the ingredients, my money was as green as anyone else's... but I'm not bitter.

This recipe was vaguely inspired by a Swedish dish called Tjälknöl, which I've had in Scandinavia but only recently rediscovered at Anne's Food. Loosely translated, it means something like "frozen chunk" and refers to the cooking method of slow-roasting a completely frozen roast (usually moose) until it's cooked through, and then brining it afterward. I've given this lamb recipe a more traditional pit-bbq treatment but tried to stay true to the flavors and ingredients of wintertime Scandinavia.

This is an Epic Nom. Seriously, it's really really really good.

We usually just raid the neighbor's hedge for juniper, but if you don't have any growing nearby it can be hard to find. Juniper berries can be found at specialty spice shops or brewing stores (juniper is used extensively in herbal liquors like gin). Smoking over pine or evergreen is a fair substitute but keep in mind that sweet woods like hickory, mesquite or fruitwood won't have the same taste.

Why yes, it WAS frosty that day.

Be careful not to overcook the roast. An old wives' tale claims that lamb must be cooked to the point of dental floss but in reality, lamb is red meat like beef and is wonderfully tender and delicious cooked to medium rare.

2-3 Lb Lamb Roast, Boneless
Green juniper boughs, enough to smoke for 1/2 hour


2 quarts water
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbl whole allspice berries
4 crumbled bay leaves
2 Tbl juniper berries, fresh or dried
2 Tbl peppercorns

Smash the brine spices in a mortar. Mix with the salt and sugar in a bowl large enough to fit the lamb.

Add enough water to cover the lamb and stir the brine until the sugar/salt is dissolved. Brine the lamb for 12-24 hours, depending on how salty you like it.

Remove from the brine and wrap tightly in aluminum foil.

Roast it in a 250 degree oven for 20 min per pound.

Remove the foil and Smoke over juniper boughs at 250 degrees for approximately 15 minutes per pound, until internal temperature reaches 135-140 degrees.

Remove from the smoker and let set for at least an hour to rest.

Slice and serve.

Räksmörgås (Swedish Shrimp Sandwiches)

Bite Sized Bay Shrimp Sandwiches with Citron Mayonnaise and Dill

When my mother came to visit me in Sweden, we were on the ferry between Helsingborg and Helsingør when I asked her if she wanted a snack. Fearing the worst kind of vending machine ferry food that you'd expect to find in the states, she was astonished when I returned with an open-faced sandwich piled high with sweet, fresh shrimp, a dollop of tart lemon mayonnaise and a frosty Tuborg to go with it.

These sandwiches are scrumptous.

Since then, this has been the anecdote that I use to explain the difference between Swedish and American expectations of food. Admittedly, the US ferry system is really trying to up it's cafe quality but I don't think they serve anything that would inspire a foreigner to write a blog post about it. Unless it was the bad kind of post, I suppose...

Sliced Bread
Fresh, steamed bay shrimp or pink shrimp - the smaller the better
1-2 Tbl lemon juice (adjust to taste)
1/4 Cup mayonnaise
Fresh Dill

Lightly butter the bread
Mix the mayonnaise and lemon juice (optionally add finely chopped fresh dill)
Put a dollop of mayonnaise on the corner of the bread
Pile as high as you can with shrimp.
Poke dill sprigs in as a garnish, or chop the dill and sprinkle on top

Optionally you can add flat slices of hardboiled egg, cucumber and lettuce under the shrimp but I think it competes too much with the delicate flavor of the shrimp and lemon.

The full-size, fork-and-knife version

Fyllda Ägghalvor (Deviled Eggs with Lox)

Deviled Eggs with Dill and Lox

Deviled eggs are a ubiquitous party appetizer in Sweden. The addition of cured or smoked salmon and dill is simple and delicious, like the best food is. The trick to making these authentically Swedish is to leave off the garlic and onion. I had a boyfriend in Sweden once who literally asked me [in Swedish], "You stink! Did you eat garlic this week?" I found the comment particularly ironic coming from a guy who'd eat surstromming.

12 hardboiled eggs
4 Tbl Whole Grain Mustard
1/3 Cup Sour Cream
1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
1/2 White Pepper
2 tsp Salt (or to taste)
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Lox, Gravlax or Soft Smoked Salmon & Fresh Dill

Peel and cut the eggs in two. Remove and mash the yolks with the remaining ingredients. Make sure you taste it as you go.

Get the mash into a very fine paste and run it through a pastry piping tube with a star tip, filling the egg halves from the bottom as illustrated below.

Garnish with a thin slice of rolled Lox or Smoked Salmon and a generous sprig of fresh dill.

Ägg Smörgås (Caviar and Egg Sandwiches)

Tiny Egg and Caviar Sandwiches
Front to Back: Lumpfish, Capelin, Smoked Herring (Kalles)

Eggs with eggs. Chicken with Fish. Funny how some things are food and some, condiments. These sandwiches are elegant and delicious, but not for the faint of fish. Despite its reputation, caviar can be delicious and affordable if you know where to look. Abba makes a perfectly respectful Lumpfish caviar (orange), and I found the most luciously rich Capelin caviar (black) at Cost Plus World Market, both for about $5 per jar.

The lumpfish is a bit sharper and fishier than the Capelin, which was unctuous and complex, but the surprise winner at the party was the Kalles smoked herring roe caviar, which comes in a toothpaste tube. It's a little like bacon, if bacon were made of fish, ground into a paste, salted heavily and squeezed from a tube. It's GREAT with boiled eggs.

The sandwich recipe is simple: butter the bread, slice the eggs and put a dollop of caviar on each. For a variation, mix the caviar with a little sour cream and finely diced shallot.

I like to use a variety of breads with these sandwiches and like all Swedish Smörgås, they're traditionally served open-face to be eaten with a fork and knife. For parties, making bite-sized versions is practical and beautiful.
Take-n-Bake baguettes from Fred Meyer, Homebaked Amish loaf

I love Caviar. Nothing photographs quite as beautifully.

Sillsalad Smörgås (Herring Salad Sandwiches)

Swedish Herring and Apple Salad Sandwiches

Swedish Sandwiches are served open-face, and eaten with a fork and knife. For buffets like a Julbord, it's easier to make them more like canapés, to be eaten in a couple of bites. This one is an interesting combination of tart, sweet and salty. And um... fish.

1 Cup Wine Pickled Herring
1 Tart Apple, like a Granny Smith
3 Hard Boiled Eggs
1/2 Sweet Onion, like Walla Walla

Finely dice all the ingredients and mix together. The proportions above are suggested only - aim for equal quantities of each, diced.

Add in a little pickle juice if you like it more vinegar-ey and let the salad sit in the fridge for 12 hours or overnight. Optionally, add 1/4 cup diced pickled beets but that will turn your salad kind of pink. Herring and apple salad is strange enough for Americans - I don't recommend an ungodly shade of pink to boot.

For tiny appetizer-sized sandwiches, sliced baguette works nicely. Lightly Butter the bread before putting the salad on it because it's a) traditional, b) keeps the bread from getting soggy and c) delicious. Garnish with a sprig of Dill, and Varsågod!

The full-size, fork-and-knife version.