Spring chicken with asparagus and autumn chanterelle sauce

Celebrating Valentine’s Day or “Alla hjärtans dag” (All Hearts’ Day) is a fairly new tradition in Sweden. It was slowly introduced for commercial reasons in the 1960s and peaked in the 1990s when more and more students, after spending a high school year in the U.S., brought this custom of Valentine’s Day with them when they returned home.

Commuting home from work on February 14, whether by train, bus or subway, it is a rather moving sight to see all these tired and half asleep men and women, all having a flower package resting on their knees, containing the day’s mandatory rose for their loved ones.

Fine dining, roses and heart-shaped jelly candy are the most common gifts this day, while Valentine cards are no bestsellers.

Our day started early this morning with breakfast in bed, served by Devoted Husband, and tonight it was payback time for me, which meant cooking and serving my beloved man a delicious meal accompanied by a glass or two of a great red wine.

I often try to avoid buying vegetables and fruit / berries that do not naturally exist in our country this time of year, but today I could not resist the temptation of  a bundle of green asparagus from Spain. With asparagus, my dried autumn chanterelles and a couple of chicken fillets I was able to treat him with a dinner that rocks hard, despite its simplicity.

Spring chicken with asparagus and autumn chanterelle sauce

IPlated dish 2

Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 2 fillets of chicken
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter and olive oil

Sauce

  • 5-10 cm leek, rinsed and shredded
  • 2 cups dried chanterelles
  • 2 tablespoons butter + 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sherry
  • 200 ml cream
  • 1 tbsp black currant jelly
  • 1 teaspoon bouillon powder
  • 2 pinches of curry
  • 2 pinches of smoked paprika
  • black pepper, thyme and salt

Methods

Soak the chanterelles in water for 20 min. Drain and gently squeeze the excess water out.

Soaking chanterelles

Dry sauté chanterelles until remaining water has boiled away.

Add butter and oil together with spices and leek and stir fry for a few minutes.

Add cream, sherry, jelly and bouillon powder, reduce heat and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. Check the seasoning.

Meanwhile mix butter and olive oil in a frying pan, season the chicken fillets and fry them until the meat juice is clear. If the fillets are thick continue baking them in the oven at 175 degrees C.

Frying chicken fillets

Rinse asparagus under running water and snap the bottom part.

Fill a large pan with a little water, add salt and let come to the boil, then add asparagus and cook for 3-4 minutes.

Cooking asparagus

Drain of excess water in a colander, then rinse in cold water to preserve crunchy texture.

Distribute asparagus stalks on warm plates, place the chicken fillets on top and spoon the sauce over.

Plated dish

Tuck in!

A bite

Enjoy and have a Happy Valentine’s day!

Recipe: From Nyfiken Grå (Curious Gray) a blog that caters seniors and retirees.

Clam chowder my way

This soup is a pleasant reminder of the years when the family lived as expats in Princeton, N.J.

It was Labour weekend and we were heading home after a camping holiday among wild horses on a Maryland beach. It was quite late and the children were tired and grumpy. Well, we were all rather tired and grumpy, but most of all very hungry and in a desperate need of food. So we stopped at one of all these more or less shabby truckstop diners along U.S. Route 1.

The smell of French fries, burgers and fried eggs hit us like a wall when we entered the room. A bored looking waitress with quite an attitude told us that all that were left on the menu at this late hour were burgers and clam chowder. So burgers (for the kids) and soup it had to be.

And was that soup delicious? To put it mildly, yes, the very best I have ever tasted. Since then I have tried to copy it many times over the years and I think I have come pretty close.

What’s there to learn from this? Well, maybe never to judge a shabby truckstop diner before you have tasted its clam chowder!

U.S. Route 1 Clam chowder
4-6 servings

Clam chowder

Here goes!

Ingredienser

Sorry, I forgot to display the saffron!

Ingredients

1 kg fresh blue mussels
2 finely chopped shallots
2 cloves garlic, chopped
200 ml white wine
100 ml water
1/2 bunch chopped fresh thyme
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped

2 cans of clams à 400 gram
100 grams of diced salted pork
2 coarsely chopped yellow onions
5-6 potatoes, diced
Olive oil for the frying pan
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1-2 tsp smoked paprika powder
1 gram saffron
Juice from the canned mussels + water = 500 ml
200 ml white wine
3-4 tbsp Touch of Taste fish bouillon or 2 fish stock cubes
300 ml cream
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 bunch fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped (save some for garnish)
salt and pepper

Method

Oops, I did it again! Halfway through the cooking process, I realize that I have once again forgotten to photograph the various moments. But what the heck, everyone knows how chopped and fried onions and vegetables look like, and when it comes to pouring wine, water or cream there are so many much more elegant pouring shots than mine out there. Instead I hope the soup itself will tempt you.

Preparing the mussels

  • Clean and rinse the mussels under cold, running water and remove the beards sticking out.
  • Discard any broken shells or shells that do not close when tapped. Set aside the rest.

Cooking the soup

  • Pour some olive oil in a large saucepan, add parsley, thyme, chopped pork, onions and potatoes, smoked paprika powder and saffron and fry for a couple of minutes.
  • Add wine, water, lemon juice and juice from the canned mussels, the Touch of taste bouillon and bring to a boil.
  • Let simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.

Cooking the mussels

  • Meanwhile fry shallots and garlic in a large pan, add parsley, thyme, wine  and water, and bring to a boil.
  • Add the mussels, cover with a lid and cook for 4-6 minutes while shaking the pan occasionally. The mussels are ready when the shells open.
  • Discard any mussel that hasn’t open.
  • Reserve and set aside three mussels in their shells / person for garnish. Remove the remainder from the shells and lift into a bowl and keep warm.
  • Add strained broth and cream to the soup and bring to a boil. Let simmer for another 5 minutes.
  • Check and adjust the seasoning.
  • If you find the soup too thin, a small amount of corn starch slurry may be added.
  • Add canned and fresh mussels to the soup and heat gently for another minute. Don’t boil!
  • Ladle the soup into warm soup plates and garnish with the reserved mussels in shells and finely cut parsley. Serve with garlic bread.

Bon appétit!

Clam chowder 3

Clam chowder 4

Clam chowder 2

May Day cake aka Ambrosia cake

For the sun-worshiping Swede this past weekend/holiday is perhaps one of the highlights of the year. The Last Day of April, Eve of May Day, Walpurgis Night, there are many names for this holiday and in Swedish we simply say Sista april, Valborgsmässoafton or Valborg

This long awaited holiday definitely puts an end to winter, no matter what the weather is like. It’s now the hibernating Swede is brought back to life again.

The name of the holiday originates from the English missionary and nun, Walburga, who was canonized May 1st (about 870), but that is the only connection there is to this saint Walburga.

This is also the time of the year when the cattle are let out to pasture for the first time after the long winter and far back in the 18th century huge bonfires were lit to protect the livestock from both predators and supernatural beings.

The tradition with bonfires still lives though, but nowadays Valborg is just another opportunity to bring friends and family together, have a bite to eat and later in the evening take a walk to the nearest local bonfire and welcome SPRING with speeches, songs and eventually some very colourful, but perhaps not so eco-friendly, fireworks.

So, what do the Swedes eat on this holiday? Well, if the weather is nice Valborg marks the start of the barbecue season and when you pass by the gardens you’ll most likely find the whole block wrapped up in smoke and smells pretty close to the famous London fog. Besides that, the meals can be anything from a fancy three-course meal to just a nice piece of pie or a bowl of  soup.

With 1st of May (International workers’ Day) as a public holiday in Sweden this weekend is really long lasting. For me and Devoted husband and some of our friends this is the day when we bring out our bikes and do our first three hour tour to Vada Church where we have our lunch in the lee of the church wall.

To surprise our friends I got up early this morning to bake and bring along this May Day (not Mayday) cake, commonly known as Ambrosia cake. This is a true Swedish classic when it comes to cakes.  

May Day cake aka Ambrosia cake

  • 150 grams of butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 deciliter of sugar
  • 0.5 tsp baking powder
  • 2.5 deciliter of flour
  • (optional: zest or juice from half a lemon

Glaze

  • 2 deciliter of icing sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons of orange juice (or water)
  • about 50 g candied orange peel

Preparations

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.

  1. Grease and flour a ring mold, approximately 22 cm in diameter.
  2. Melt butter and let cool.
  3. Beat egg and sugar until fluffy.
  4. Stir in flour and baking powder.
  5. Add melted butter and stir until batter is smooth.
  6. Pour batter into mold and bake for about 40 minutes.
  7. Cover with waxed paper if the cake tends to get burned.

The glaze

  1. Mix icing sugar with orange juice and spread on top of the cool cake.
  2. Sprinkle with candied orange peel.
  3. Leave in the fridge for the icing to harden, then eat and enjoy.

Nettle soup and poached egg

Equipped with gloves and a pair of scissors, it’s time to open the door to nature’s own pantry and look for spring’s first primeurs – which are also completely free of charge – the young, tender shoots of stinging nettles that’ll make a delicious nettle soup.

Ow, ow you might think, that doesn’t sound like something I’ll fill my mouth and stomach with! Well, don’t eat them raw and be careful to wear gloves when picking and clearing them. When soaked in water, cooked or dried the stinging chemicals are destroyed and you can handle and eat the nettles without getting stung.

Nettles are extremely nourishing and rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. When cooked they taste pretty much like spinach and in most recipes containing spinach you can replace it with nettles.

Nettles are also high in nitrogen and therefore an excellent fertilizer that’ll make your garden and vegetables sky rocket. To make the liquid manure, fill up a bucket with nettles, fill the rest up with water and allow to steep for a week or so until water starts to stink (cover with a lid if too unpleasant) and gets a browny color. Throw the used nettles on your compost pile where they’ll speed up the decomposition process. Dilute one part of fertilizer with ten parts of water before using and you have just made yourself a very potent, environmentally friendly and to no cost at all (here I go again) fertilizer. Just don’t over-fertilize!

Well, back to my nettle soup, this delicatessen, that highlights SPRING and is a common use of the plant especially in Scandinavia and certain parts of Eastern Europe. For most people though, I guess, the stinging nettle is just regarded as an unpleasant weed in their gardens, just like the ground elder which can actually be used just the same way as the nettles. So my advice to those of you who struggle with these intruders is simply: If you can’t fight them – EAT them!

Here goes

Nettle soup with poached egg

4 servings

  • 1.5 liters of  nettles
  • 1 liter of water
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 pressed garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 deciliter of cream
  • salt
  • chopped chives for decoration
  1. Clear the nettles and remove any sharp stems.
  2. Place the nettles in a large bowl and fill up with water.
  3. Stir occasionally to make sand and dirt sink to the bottom.
  4. Repeat this process once more with new water.
  5. Boil water with a little salt and add the nettles and give them a quick boil.
  6. Strain the cooking water and add the stock cubes and bring to a boil again.
  7. Fry onions and garlic for a couple of minutes until soft.
  8. Squeeze liquid from nettles and let them fry with the onions.
  9. Dust with flour and dilute with the broth little by little and let simmer covered for about ten minutes.
  10. Blend the soup in a food processor, little by little, bring to boil again and add the cream.
  11. Adjust seasoning according to taste.

Poached egg

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 liter of water
  • ½ deciliter white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  1. Boil water, salt and vinegar just before serving.
  2. Crack an egg at a time into a cup and gently drop the egg into the water when it starts boiling.
  3. Immediately remove the pan from the burner.
  4. With a spoon, nudge the eggwhites closer to their yolks and let stand covered for 4-5 minutes.
  5. Lift eggs out of pan with a slotted spoon and place on a towel.
  6. Divide soup into four bowls, gently add the eggs and garnish with chopped chives.

If you prefer you can just as well serve the soup with hard-boiled eggs cut in halves. That’s what I generally do, but as I have never poached an egg before I thought I would give it a try.

Spinach lasagna with bacon

Without being fanatics I and Devoted Husband have made some major changes in our way of living over the past two years. We are more conscious about our health and have increased our physical activities, leaving the car at home and walk or bike when possible, which is almost always – it just  takes a few minutes more. We are also more aware of what we eat and have replaced much of fast carbs like ordinary rice, pasta, potatoes or white bread with whole grains, beans and vegetables (especially broccoli and cauliflower, I just love them!). That doesn’t mean we can’t indulge “junk or unhealthy food” now and then. We do! I still believe you can eat everything, just not always.

Well, occasionally though I can get a craving for a good lasagna and today was such a day. So when Devoted Husband returned home after a hard day’s work he was treated with this spinach and bacon lasagna, once given to me by Alex(andra), my daughter-in-law, and since then a recurring favorite.

Spinach lasagna
Serves 6

This is what you need

Preheat oven to 200 degrees

  • 450 grams of frozen spinach
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 2 pressed garlic cloves
  • 2 cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cubes of vegetable stock
  • 2 teaspoons of sambal oelek
  • 15-18 lasagna sheets (I use whole wheat)
  • 1 package (4 deciliters) of pre-made cheese sauce (of course you can also make your own)
  • 1 package of bacon, 150 gram

Method

1. Thaw the spinach and squeeze dry.

2. Fry the chopped onion and pressed garlic until soft.

3. Add the chopped tomatoes, spinach, vegetable cubes and sambal oelek. Season with salt and pepper to your own taste and let simmer for about 10 minutes.

4. Alternate spinach/tomato sauce and lasagna sheets in layers and finish with the sauce.

5. Drizzle the cheese sauce on top and bake for about 30 minutes.

6. While baking the lasagna cut the bacon in small pieces and stir fry until crisp.

7. Sprinkle bacon over the lasagna when ready.

Personally I serve the lasagna with steamed broccoli, chrushed walnuts and a dressing of olive oil, white vinegar and flakes of sea salt.

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Before leaving you for now I just want to share some of Devoted Husband’s pictures from one of the most magical live performances I’ ve seen – The Crane dance at Lake Hornborga.

Walnut bread

I’m so excited! I’ve just finish baking my walnut bread for tomorrow’s five hrs roadtrip to the Lake Hornborgarsjön.This is one of Europe’s most important bird lakes and is a vital resting place for birds on their way north in the spring and south in the autumn.

Early Friday morning we will be there by the lake 15 minutes before sunrise (about 5:15) and watch when about 25 000 cranes come flying in from the northern part of the lake to perform the great crane dance. A spectacular and magic show of intricate dances to attract mates according to those who have seen it.

Well, slices of walnut bread, a thermos of hot soup and coffee will hopefully make me and Devoted Husband feel good and warm in the cold morning air while enjoying the performance.

Walnut bread

  • 5 deciliters of water
  • 50 grams of yeast
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 10 deciliters of whole wheat flour
  • 2 deciliters of fine rye flour
  • 1deciliter coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 deciliter pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of anis seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of fennel seeds
  • 3 teaspoons salt

Heat the oven to 225 degrees

  1. Dissolve the yeast with some of the water and add honey and oil.
  2. Add hand-warm water (37 degrees).
  3. Combine the rest of the ingredients and stir into the yeast mixture.
  4. Work the dough vigorously for about 8-10 minutes (preferably in a food machine if you have one).
  5. Add some more flour if the dough is too sticky.
  6. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a towel and leave it in a warm place to rise for 45 minutes.
  7. Turn the dough out onto a floured work-surface and knead it and fold it three, four times.
  8. Shape the dough into a loaf and a smaller bun and place in floured special rising baskets (? Hope you understand what I mean) or molds.
  9. Cover and let them rise for another 40 minutes.
  10. Gently turn the loafs over to a baking tin and bake in the oven.
  11. Place a cup of water in the bottom of the oven to get a nice hard crust.
  12. Decrease the heat to 175 degrees after 10 minutes and bake for another 40-45 minutes.
  13. Cover with baking paper if the loafs tend to get too dark or burnt.
  14. Let cool uncovered on a rack.

EAT and ENJOY! 

 

Pea soup, punsch and saffron pancake

Over the past 20 years, Easter weekend has always been spent in our little summer cottage, our Paradise, in the north of Hälsingland. One of our Easter traditions is to invite friends and neighbors on Good Friday for a get together on the frozen lake and treat them with my homemade pea soup, punsch and saffron pancake.

This year was no exception and we enjoyed a seven hour joyful gathering in the sun with friends, food, drinks and music.

If you ask a Swede what’s for dinner on a Thursday the answer would most likely be “Pea soup and then pancakes for dessert”

Pea soup, or as we say ‘Ärtsoppa’, is a traditional Swedish dish you’ll find on almost every restaurant’s Thursday menu. It is also a popular dish when you invite a lot of friends for an informal party, simply because it is easy to make in large amounts, it doesn´t cost much and most people like it. At least if they have the punsch to go with it.

Punsch is a Swedish liqueur with the base ingredient of arrack that’s often served (then hot) with the pea soup. The peak of the Punsch consumption in Sweden occured during the nineteenth century when it became part of the cultural life and festivities in the universities’ student associations at the time and still is.

Saffron pancake (saffranspannkaka) is a traditional dish from the province of the island Gotland (the larges island in the Baltic Sea) that’s served with blue raspberry jam (salmbärssylt). Blue raspberry is a cross  between raspberries and blackberries and grows wild on Gotland.

Here are my homemade versions of pea soup and saffron pancake, so enjoy!

Pea soup

Serves 6

  • 500 grams of dried yellow peas
  • 2 liters of water
  • 2 + 2 tsp salt
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 2 teaspoons marjoram
  • 1 cube of vegetable stock
  • 300-400 grams of salted pork
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons sweet (and coarse-grained) mustard (Swedish mustard is often sweetend)

Just double the ingredients if you want a larger amount. The soup is also perfect to store in the freezer for meals to come.

  1. Rinse and soak the peas along with 2 teaspoons salt for 6 – 12 hours.
  2. Boil fresh water with peas, pork, the remaining salt (don’t take all at once, remember the pork will add some salt too) and herbs.
  3. Let simmer for 1.5 – 2 hours
  4. Remove the pork when tender and add the onions, whole.
  5. Cut the pork into cubes and add at the end. Season with mustard (and salt) to taste. Let it simmer for 1,5 – 2 hours.
  6. Taste the peas to make sure they are completely cooked and soft.

Serve with mustard on the side and a shot of hot (or chilled punsch).

 

Saffron pancake

This is what you need to serve 10-12Preheat oven to 200 degrees

  • 4 x 500 gram rolls with rice porridge ( I make it easy for myself and buy rolls with ready-made rice porridge, but of course you can cook your own.
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 dl of single cream
  • 1 gram of saffron
  • 0.5 dl sugar
  • 1 tbs vanilla sugar
  • 100 grams of finely chopped almonds
  1. Whisk eggs, cream and almonds mixed with sugar and vanilla sugar together.
  2. Fold into the rice porridge and mix well.
  3. Pour batter into a greased dish and bake for about 1 hour. Check with a stick that the cake has set and the stick comes out dry.
  4. Cover with waxed paper or foil if the cake starts to get too much color.
  5. Serve lukewarm with “Queen’s jam” (drottningsylt – a mixture of blueberries and raspberries) and whipped cream.