Holiday Timeout: Shrimp and Dill Open-Face Sandwich

Holiday Timeout: Shrimp and Dill Open-Face Sandwich

Are you suffering from a food hangover? No worries. You’ve made it this far, cruising through Thanksgiving, holiday parties, and now Christmas. Just a few more days to go before the New Year, and then you can look forward to a diet respite. In the meantime, here is a quick fix: a Danish-inspired open-face sandwich. Clean, fresh and minimal, this is Danish design on a plate. It’s a perfect antidote to holiday excess, yet sufficiently decorative and pretty to look at during the festive season.

Not only is this open-face sandwich healthy and low in fat, it’s seasonally appropriate. The Danes are famous for smørrebrød, or open-face sandwiches. Eaten year round, smørrebrød makes a special appearance at the Danish holiday table, where they are an important first course in the culinary marathon otherwise known as the Christmas Lunch. Christmas Lunch is a bit of a misnomer, as it applies to multiple days preceding and following Christmas Day and may happen at lunch or dinner. Whenever it may fall, rest assured there will be numerous courses accompanied by beer and shnapps and no room for any more food that day.

Now, don’t be afraid. While the Danes view smørrebrød as one course of many, for our  sake, I present you with  a Shrimp and Dill Open-Face Sandwich as a light and refreshing dietary interlude. Enjoy this for lunch or as light dinner while you pace yourselves to the New Year. And if you must accompany it with a jigger of akavit, go ahead. After all, it’s the holidays.

Shrimp and Dill Open-Face Sandwich

Bay shrimp are a good substitution for the tiny fjord shrimp typically used for this recipe in Denmark.   Makes 2 smørrebrød.

2 slices french loaf bread, 1/2 inch thick
Lightly salted European-style butter
2 large Boston lettuce or romaine lettuce leaves
1/4 pound bay shrimp
4 tablespoons creme fraiche or Greek style whole milk yogurt
Dill sprigs
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges

Spread each bread slice with butter. Cover with a lettuce leaf. Arrange shrimp in rows on lettuce. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons yogurt over shrimp. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Garnish with dill sprigs and serve with a lemon wedge.

Home Grown Food

DK Salad

I may be exposing my suburban roots, but it thoroughly impresses me when an entire meal can be harvested from a back yard.  Nowadays, there is plenty of talk of local, sustainable food, and happily this concept is growing through local farmers’ markets and CSA’s, movements such as Slow Food, and committed practice by chefs and home cooks alike. Last week, the BlogHer Food Conference offered panel discussions on urban farming, canning, preserving and foraging. NOMA, the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant crowned number one in the world this year, creates its menu from ingredients which are locally foraged. Times are changing and hopeful as we return to our land, our communities and our kitchens.

I do my best to buy locally grown food, grateful I live in a part of the country where we have an abundance. I remain mindful of what and how we eat, aware that this is a learning curve – a process to move through in order to change a pattern of living and eating into a way that feels intuitively correct. Yet, as I pat myself on my back, I cannot help but feel like a self-aggrandized neanderthal when I think of my husband’s family in Denmark. My state of attempted permanent mindfulness is their norm, naturally and reflexively. While I write about it to convey an epiphany, they feel no need to articulate it, because it’s their way of life. Like breathing.

Mushrooms tf

When we lived in Denmark, and now when we return to visit, a frequent outing was to my sister and brother-in-law’s farm in the countryside. Each visit culminated in a family dinner based on food harvested from their property. The last meal we shared with them went something like this:

It began with homemade salumi made of venison and duck hunted from the nearby forest.  As we nibbled on the lean slices of salami, my brother-in-law went outside to harvest bucketloads of crayfish from their lake. He returned with a dripping basket teaming with crustaceans. In one arm he cradled giant porcini mushrooms the size of tennis balls, which he had spotted growing by a grove of trees on the way to the dock. In the meantime, after I had rather naively inquired as to whether there was a salad I could help make, my sister-in-law returned from her garden where she went to gather her daily harvest of vegetables. She profusely apologized that she did not have any lettuce, while she heaved her basket on to the table. It toppled to the side, spilling out its contents, a free form cornucopia of heirloom tomatoes, chard, new potatoes, red potatoes, yellow carrots, crab apples, garlic, zucchini, crookneck squash, red onions and grapes. She declared that this was only one day’s worth of a harvest. It should all be eaten, since there would be just as much to harvest tomorrow. So, we got cooking.
Crayfish plate

The porcinis were cleaned, sliced, and dressed with olive oil and salt. I made a salad of colorful heirloom tomatoes, red onion and chard; potatoes were roasted in olive oil and garlic; apples and carrots were sliced and put in lemon water for the children; we sautéed the zucchini and crookneck squash; the crayfish were boiled and cooled; homemade bread was warmed and sliced; the table was laid while we gamely tried to find room for all the plates and food. As we tucked into our meal, my brother-in-law told us to save some space for the pigeon and duck he had braising in the oven that he was eager for us to taste, adding that he had saved the largest porcini mushroom for a cream sauce which would accompany the birds.

This was a delicious, abundant meal created from food hunted or grown on the property. The further beauty of it was that there was no need for a written recipe. Each dish reflected the main ingredient, either cooked or raw, enhanced with salt, pepper, some olive oil, perhaps a little vinegar and lemon or a simple sauce. It was delicious and sating – a feast for a king despite our hosts’ humble means.

I still have so much to learn.

Heirloom Tomato and Chard Salad with Red Onions and Basil

Serves 4-6.

2 pounds assorted baby heirloom tomatoes, sliced or halved, depending on size
2 cups mixed red and green chard leaves, stems removed
2 small red onions, peeled, thinly sliced
1 cup purple and green basil leaves, stems removed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Arrange tomatoes in the center of a serving platter, alternating colors. Arrange chard leaves around the edge of the platter. Top tomatoes and chard with red onion slices. Garnish with basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Red Berry Soup with Cream (revisited)

Berry Soup and Cream

Once again I arrive in Denmark with a terrible cold. Nearly a year ago to this day I arrived and wrote this post while recovering from a flu. It seems appropriate to reprint this – especially since this recipe for Red Berry Soup is the best antidote I can think of for a sore throat – and perfect summer fare for the record breaking heat wave we are experiencing in Europe.

A few reasons why I like Denmark:

1.  I arrive in Copenhagen with a terrific sore throat and low grade fever.  My 83 year-old father-in-law sizes up my condition and states that a shot of Gammel Dansk (schnapps) will cure me.
2.  Shortly thereafter, I speak on the phone with my sister-in-law who happens to be a surgeon in a nearby hospital.  She hears that I am under the weather, and tells me that there are studies that support drinking red wine or rum or Irish coffee in reasonable amounts (her words) to offset a virus.
3.  I go to the doctor-on-call to have a strep test, and he takes a swab, acknowledges there is definitely something going on in the back of my throat, and says that in Denmark they do these tests only to decide whether it is absolutely critical to take an antibiotic to cure an ailment.  Result:  I have a virus, therefore no antibiotics.  (I personally support this philosophy.)  He then suggests rest and prescribes red wine with dinner.
4.  I return to my father-in-law’s house, and my 10 year-old daughter is helping him make dinner, cleaning potatoes, while he fries homemade frikadeller (meat patties) which are his singular specialty in the food-making department to serve us, his special guests, for dinner.  She then tells me she would like to pick all the ripe gooseberries, raspberries, black currants and wild strawberries in his rambling garden and make Rød Grød med Fløde or Danish Red Berry Soup for our dessert.  She adds that the berries will help to heal my cold, because that is how things work.  I agree with this, too.

Red Berry Soup

Danish Red Berry Soup with Cream – Rød Grød med Fløde

Serves 4-6

2 1/2 pounds mixed summer berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, red and black currants)

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Whipped cream or crème fraîche

Combine berries and sugar in a heavy large saucepan.  Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and berries release their juices, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Stir in lemon juice. Cool and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours before serving.  Serve with whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Note: Any combination of berries may be used.  Depending on the combination and acidity of the berries, additional sugar may need to be added.

Try to include black currants, if you can, as their firm texture and astringency add extra complexity to the sweet soup.

Elderflower Syrup

Elderflower Syrup

Hyldeblomst tf

We are spoiled with nature in Northern California, but one thing missing in our garden landscape is elderflowers. Elderberry bushes are prolific in North America and Europe, growing in gardens and the wild. The ripe berries are often used to make wine and marmalade. But, in my opinion, the best part are the flowers which peak in the early summer weeks. The blossoms can be harvested and left to macerate with sugar and lemon for several days to make a syrup which imparts a soft floral and honeyed flavor to drinks and desserts. Dilute a few spoons of the syrup with water for a soft drink, or with champagne or wine for a cordial. The flowers may also be dipped in a light batter and fried, serving as a light dessert.

Hyldeblomst cordial

When we lived in Denmark, elderberry bushes were everywhere. They grew in our garden and along the paths we walked into town. In June, after a welcome warm spell, we picked baskets of elderflowers and made the concentrated syrup that we would enjoy throughout the season. So, naturally, when we return to Denmark on visits, if the timing is right we continue the tradition of making elderflower syrup.

Elderflower Syrup
Makes 2 quarts

40 elderflower sprigs
4 untreated lemons with skin, cut in slices
4 pounds granulated sugar
3 ounces food grade citric acid
2 quarts boiling water

Thoroughly rinse the elderflower sprigs. Place in a large pot with a lid. Add lemon slices. Add sugar and citric acid. Pour water over elderflowers. Stir to ensure the sugar dissolves. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 4-5 days. Strain syrup through a fine meshed sieve or cheese cloth. Pour into sterilized bottles. Refrigerate until use. (Syrup may also be frozen in ice cube trays.)
To serve, mix a small amount of syrup with water, white wine or champagne to taste.

Summer Solstice NOMA-Style: NOMA places first in S.Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants

NOMA Nordic Cuisine

This post is reprinted from the TasteFood archives in honor of NOMA Restaurant, awarded first place in S.Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants

Last summer we were in Denmark visiting friends and family during the summer solstice.  Miraculously, we managed to get a coveted dinner reservation at the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant NOMA, and realized that our luck was only due to the general population out partying in traditional solstice style on beaches before bonfires rather than in restaurants.  Seizing our opportunity, we invited our Danish friends and hosts (who were more than happy to abandon tradition for a table at NOMA) to join us.

That evening, we dined on a fabulous prix-fixe menu consisting of 7 courses composed exclusively of ingredients hailing from Nordic countries.  (NOMA is an acronym for Nordisk Mad – or Nordic Food in Danish.)  A visit to this restaurant is highly recommended if you are in Copenhagen, although advance reservations are a must. It is a fantastic collaboration between Danish chefs Claus Meyer and René Redzepi, and played an important role in establishing the New Nordic Cuisine Movement.  All ingredients originate from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.  They run from the familiar to the exotic: eel, musk ox, green strawberries, hare, seaweed, rye bread, black lobster are a few examples (quite out of context.)  You may feast on dishes such as Sautéed Dover Sole with New Danish Potatoes, Green Strawberries and Elderberry Sauce perhaps accompanied by Stirred Mashed Potatoes with Lumpfish Roe and Crispy Chicken Skin, and finish with Caramel Ice Cream with Icelandic Buttermilk, Dried Swedish Berries and Sorrel Crème Anglaise.

NOMA Nordisk Mad Cookbook

I enjoy poring over the NOMA Nordic Cuisine cookbook, which I bought as a memento after our meal. It is an inspirational and unique testament to Nordic terroir, and apropos several interesting blogs that attempt to prepare every single recipe in a particular tome of a cookbook, I would seriously have a go at reproducing NOMA’s – if only I could get my hands on chickweed, seakale and sweet cicely.  For now, I do what I always do and improvise with the seasonal and local products I find in my part of the world.

As we drove home after our long dinner, it was approaching midnight.  To the west the sun had just set, exiting the sky with a swirl of orange and purple flourishes in its haste to rise again. To the east it was doing just that, where the horizon was brightening with soft pink tinges nudging the gray-blue midnight summer sky.  It was truly a magical Danish solstice moment.

Danish Gløgg and Aebleskivers

Glogg and Aebleskivers

It’s the first weekend of advent and I should be in the woods. More precisely, I should be in the woods freezing my toes off, quite possibly in the dark, most likely in the rain. And I’m feeling nostalgic. We lived near Copenhagen for six years before we moved to California.  Each year, on the first advent weekend leading up to Christmas, we traveled to my sister and brother-in-law’s farm in a forest in the middle of Zealand.  We would spend the afternoon outdoors foraging holly, twigs, pinecones and moss to make Christmas decorations. The weather was often cold and wet, and the sun would set between 3 and 4 in the afternoon. After a few hours of walking in the forest with darkness descending, we would return to the house cold and hungry.  Fires would be stoked in the ovens, gløgg would be heated on the stove, and we would claim a space at the long farmhouse kitchen table. Our harvest would be piled in the center, and adults and children would get busy making wreaths, tree ornaments, candle holders and centerpieces. While we did this, we would take turns making batches of æbleskivers, which we dipped in raspberry preserves and powdered sugar and washed down with mugs of steaming gløgg.  It may have been cold and wintry outside, but inside everything was warm and toasty.

Now we live in California, and we continue our family traditions from Europe at Christmastime.  We still make many of our holiday decorations, and, of course, gløgg and æbleskivers.   In fact, I just finished a batch this afternoon, and as we sat in front of the fire with a glass of gløgg it began to rain outside – and we didn’t mind a bit.  It was just like Denmark.

Danish Æbleskivers

Referred to as pancakes, dumplings or even doughnut holes in English, æbleskivers are served as a treat throughout the month of December, almost always with a glass of gløgg.

Makes about 20.

1 1/2 cups (360 ml.) whole milk
.6 ounce fresh yeast (1 cake)
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/2 vanilla bean
2 eggs, separated
Unsalted butter
Raspberry or strawberry preserves
Confectioners/powder sugar

Heat milk in a small saucepan until lukewarm.  Remove from heat and pour into a medium bowl.  Add yeast and let it dissolve.
Combine flour, sugar, salt and cardamon in a medium bowl.  Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds into dry ingredients.  Whisk the egg yolks into the milk.  Add the wet ingredients to the flour.  Mix well.
Beat egg whites in bowl of electric mixer until stiff.  Fold into batter.  Let rest one hour at room temperature.
Melt 1/2 teaspoon butter in each indentation of an aebleskiver pan over medium heat.  Pour batter into each indentation, about 2/3 full.  Cook until golden brown underneath, 3-4 minutes.  Using a knife or skewer, turn aebleskiver over and continue to cook until golden and cooked through, 3-4 minutes.
Remove æbleskivers from pan, and repeat with remaining batter.  Serve æbleskivers with powdered sugar and preserves (and gløgg!)

An aebleskiver pan is a stovetop pan with 6-8 holes or indentations. While non-stick is available, choose a cast iron pan for best results.

Summer Solstice Danish-Style

Solstice Picnic
Denmark is the land of the (nearly) midnight sun. The sun sets just before 11:00 in the evening, only to begin its ascent again in the wee hours of the morning. In a land where the winters are long and very dark, it is no wonder that celebrations, and even a God or two, have been delegated to give thanks and perhaps curry favor with the fiery powers that be. Summer Solstice, or Sankt Hans Aften (which means the eve of St. John the Baptist Day), is the height of these jubilations, as it celebrates the longest day of the year. Bonfires are lit, and food and drink are plentiful, as the Vikings of yesteryear, and in spirit, party and feast until dawn.

This year we will attempt our own celebration on a nearby beach.  We will light a bonfire and have a picnic dinner as the sun sets.  It is likely that we will forego the authentic tradition of burning an effigy over the fire, as that may not go over too well with the local residents and could quite possibly get us arrested.  (Proper solstice tradition would have a straw witch burned over the fire.  This symbolizes the riddance of problems, worries, and threats from people’s lives.)

Food typically associated with the solstice celebration is simple picnic fare: grilled fish or meat, fresh boiled local crayfish (which can be a party unto itself) and remoulade sauce, potato salad, green salad and a dessert featuring summer strawberries.  All of this would be accompanied, Viking-style, by beer, snaps and wine throughout the evening.