Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Boxing Day

Happy Boxing Day.    Christmas is over and it's time to relax, well, for most people it would be, but in our house when I was growing up, it was time to gear up and get to cooking.    I'm not doing a Smorgasbord today, so I thought I would just detail my traditional Christmas and say how lucky I was, since Christmas wasn't just one day for us, it was a three day celebration.  

We always celebrated Christmas Eve with our family, had the big meal, usually Roast Duck, with vegetables, mashed potatoes, etc.   To start the meal we had Risengrød, something that some of us loved, some of us liked and one of us barely tolerated.  But, we always had it.  Mom would hide an almond in it and whoever got the almond would get a prize.   If one of the adults got the almond they'd hide it in their mouth and wait for everyone to finish eating their portion before admitting to having it.  And the lucky recipient of the almond would generally receive a small box of chocolates, or a marzipan pig.  For dessert, my favorite dessert to this day, a Citronfromage.   Kind of a lemon pudding, but worlds beyond that.  I'll post the recipe for that here next week.   Then my parents did the torture thing, first we had to do the dishes and clean up the kitchen, then we all clasped hands and walked around the Christmas Tree singing carols, only after that would we be allowed to sit and wait for our presents to be handed out.   Mom and Dad had that wonderful duty, they always made sure that presents were given to the youngest first, and then made sure everyone had a present to unwrap so that we could all do it in unison.   I feel so blessed I have so many good memories of childhood.    I can't say I was always thrilled with my presents, but there were some years that stood out especially.   I remember one Christmas when my older sister gave me a  baby carriage, filled with candy and under the candy, was the best present of all, a pair of cowboy boots.   I couldn't have been more than 5 or so when I got that TOTALLY WOW present.   Another Christmas that stands out was the year I got three Nancy Drew books, talk about being overwhelmed with joy, personally, I think I had the best Christmas of all of us that year.  (By the way, I still have those books).     I did get in trouble the next day because I had trouble putting my book down long enough to help out Mom, but hey, it was worth it.    And to end the night, we'd always take a bowl of  Risengrød topped with butter and cinnamon sugar out to the barn, with a wooden spoon in it.   This was to feed the Nisseman, so that they wouldn't play tricks on us throughout the year.   They had the power to make the milk sour, to dry up the dairy cows, to make the nice fat pigs lean, to cause all kinds of mischief within and without the house.    And in the morning when we went out to pick up the bowl, it would be magically licked clean.   And I for one would sigh a big sigh of relief that we would have a nice uneventful year.  ( I still feed the Nisse on Christmas eve, no point in taking any chances).  
The next day we'd sometimes go out to my older sisters, but usually we hung out at home, playing with our presents, recovering and recuperating and preparing for the next day's event which was Boxing Day.

Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, a day in which my mother hosted a late luncheon for the family and sometimes friends.   We did it Danish style, and had a Smorgasbord, Danish Smørrebrød, as well as a range of other danish specialties.  (I did mention that I'm Danish, didn't I?).    From pickled herring on ryebread as the starter, to sillsalat (herring salad), fresh fried Dover Sole, mackeral in tomato sauce, crab, shrimp, as well as various danish cold cuts, røllepølse, ham, salami, hard cooked eggs and tomato wedges,  and for dessert a fresh fruit salad and various cheeses.     My mom's fruit salad was a wondrous mixture of fruits all held together with some fresh whipped cream, and topped with very thin slivers of chocolate.    How we made room for dessert, I'll never know, but we did.  Oh, did I mention that our lunch would stretch for 2 or 3  or 4 hours sometimes, yup.  That meal was never hurried, we ate a little and visited and enjoyed each others' company.    And I'm not forgetting the 'snaps', a little bit of Aquavit was enjoyed by all, but the youngest at the table.  (Go here to read more about it; ) We always had a glass with our herring and then another a little bit later on in the meal, followed by a third, never more than that.   Those of us old enough to enjoy a beer would also have a beer to sip on during the meal, the youngest would have a 'pop', or soda to those who aren't Canadian.    Which when I was young, was a treat in and of itself.   Pop was reserved for very special occasions, Christmas being one of them.   

However those days are long gone, we're all grown up and we all have families and traditions that vary from what we grew up with.    I still make Christmas Eve special, but with only two of us at home, I now invite friends in who may be far from their families on Christmas, and I make my husbands' favorite meal,  a Prime Rib.   

6 lb. Prime Rib ready for the oven.
I'll close with a few pictures from Christmas Eve.
This is after I'd carved it, as you can see, lovely and rare.  

Yorkshire Pudding in the oven, they all rose this year, giggle.

Can't have Prime Rib without Yorkshire Pudding.

Managed to get a couple of shots of the food after.

As you can see, we had some hungry people who joined us.


The Dessert Table


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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fransk Vafler (French Waffles)

Special occasions call for special dishes, ones that are made once or twice a year.   Obviously, this time of year is when people drag out the cookie pans, dust off the cookbooks, and start a baking frenzy.   And I have to include myself in with them.

I make Fransk Vafler once or twice a year, or for very special occasions.    The process of making them is very easy, just a little time consuming.    And boy are they good.    Almost too good, not too sweet, rich and yet light at the same time.   

The basic recipe is butter, flour and a little light cream.    Really simple, rich and good.

Start by cutting cold butter into flour, until the mixture resembles a coarse cornmeal or small peas.

Bowl of flour with grated frozen butter.
  Then add the half and half, and form into a ball.   It will feel a little loose, but just keep on patting it together.   This dough is very tender from the butter and should not be overworked.     I tried a new technique this year and grated the butter into the flour and formed the ball with the half and half.     I'm not real fond of that one and the next batch of cookies I made, I cut the butter in the old fashioned way.

After forming the ball, flatten it out a little and place in the refrigerator to rest.    After a couple of hours or even the next day, divide the dough into quarters, and take it out of the fridge and start rolling it out.    I've discovered that I can pat the dough down a little more and then using my rolling pin just get it nice and even and thin. 
Cut out rounds.

I use a small juice glass for this, but use whatever you have.   Dipping the cutter into some flour helps the dough release, and you can then place them in a pan of sugar.   Pressing the cut rounds lightly into the sugar and then transferring them, sugar side up, to a parchment covered cookie sheet.
Cookie rounds in the sugar
Ready for the oven
Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden in color.

See how they puff up, that is the action of the butter in the dough.  
When cooled, put a smear of butter cream frosting on each cookie and make a sandwich.    (of course if you're anything like me, you've already sampled one or two of the cookies after they came out of the oven. )

Then just place them on a plate, with a few homemade caramels in the center and place them out for your guests, or just yourself.

Whoops, it is Christmas, so you might want to purty up the presentation a little with some mini candy canes.  Now go pour yourself a cup of tea, grab a book and snuggle down on the sofa and enjoy a respite from the season. 
Merry Christmas, og,  Glaedlig Jul

Here's the full recipe:

French Waffles (Fransk Vafler in Danish)

1 pound cold butter, cut into chunks

4 cups flour (or one pound weighed out)

12 soup spoonfuls of light cream  (yes, soup spoons, not tablespoons, but the big soup spoons, this is a very
old recipe). 

Granulated sugar to top cookies

Butter Cream frosting

Cut butter into flour until it resembles corn meal, then add the cream and stir together. Dough will be extremely soft. Shape into a flattened ball, wrap in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours to firm up. Cut dough into sections, and roll out ¼ of the dough at a time, replacing the remainder in the fridge. (I take out each piece of dough about 10 minutes before I roll it out. This gives it time to warm just a smidge and makes it a little easier to roll out). Cut out rounds, then place in sugar and coat one side of cookie with sugar. I either pat the cookie into the sugar or place about 6 or 8 cookies on some sugar sprinkled on a sheet of paper and take the rolling pin and do a quick roll over. This elongates the cookie a little. Place on cookie sheet, sugar side up. Bake for about 12 minutes at 350 degrees or until color changes on cookie, I like them a tad browner, so I bake them a couple minutes longer. This is the kind of cookie that needs to be watched as some cookies are ready before others on the same pan. Just take those off and put them on a rack to cool while keeping an eye on the rest of the cookies while they bake.

After baking all the cookies they can be put together with butter icing.

My recipe
2 cups confectioners sugar (plus a little more if needed. You be the judge. )
½ cup butter
Cream well together
Then add 1-2 teaspoons of good vanilla, or sherry or your favourite liquer. 
Personally, I prefer a good glug of Kahlua in it, it adds a nice flavour and lightens
the butter cream a little . 


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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Food Porn, and other guilty pleasures...

I will admit this right up front, I love to look at Food Porn, all those luscious pictures that wonderful people post on sites like Foodgawker  and  Tastespotting .   Love to read the recipes with exotic ingredients that make simple, everyday foods POP.   Ache to try stuff like Creme Brulee with star anise, or maybe some scallops with Brown Butter.   But, the reality is, I don't cook like that.   I make some very basic foods, and don't really venture into the exotic, unless it's for potlucks, or covered dish affairs.    Then I can get away with trying new dishes, without having to commit an entire meal to it.   And since I'm a lot more adventurous than my other half, at least in trying new foods, well, let's just say that for the Mon-Friday cooking, I stick with a very limited menu.  And, that's really not all that bad.

I make stuff like Taco's, Chile Verde, Salisbury Steak, Spaghetti, Patty Melts, roasts and steaks on a very regular schedule.   With the occasional foray into casseroles, like the family favorite, Enchilada Casserole, or maybe a Tex Mex casserole or even Lasagna.     I can do all those dishes without having to think about recipes or timing or...  I've been making them for so many years that there is no mystery, no challenge, no surprises.   And I'm sure there are many others out there who also do the mainstays and only venture into exotic dishes on special occasions.  

And all of that doesn't mean I don't like to cook with gusto or verve or to try new stuff, cause I do.   When I make Spaghetti, I'll serve it up for my spouse, just the way he likes it, but for myself, that's a whole nother chapter.    I'll experiment, toss the cooked spaghetti in a pan with some EVOO and chopped garlic and a sprinkling of freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese and some fresh black pepper.   Totally divine.   If I have shrimp, I'll toss them in the oil for a minute, add a little butter and spritz of white wine or vermouth and then add the spaghetti.    Or maybe just add in a little asparagus or fresh veggies.   It amazes me how versatile a simple noodle dish can get.

So, if you get caught in the rut, are sick to death of cooking the same old thing, try just changing up what you are eating.    It really doesn't take that much more effort and best of all helps you out of the rut.

Here are a couple of pictures of my fruitcake, wrapped in cheesecloth, dunked in bourbon and ready to sit and wait for Christmas.

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