Tasted

Food is good and it isn’t just for survival anymore.

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February 5, 2009
Restaurant
Sjögräs

Åse took me to Sjögräs for my birthday. Wow, what a pleasant surprise. I knew the reputation of the place, but even so was unprepared for the experience. The restaurant was small but warm enough with an interior that sufficiently surpassed the typical Swedish restaurant decorum (Eastern-bloc-cold-cement-and-hair-gel post-modernism) to make it welcoming and friendly. Service was above par if somewhat mechanical: the waif serving us looked cool with her black outfit and matching asymmetrical haircut framing an expressionless face, but she was a bit impersonal for my taste. I felt like I was being served by Kraftwerk. But then the food came and it was heavenly. I had the wild game sausage on a bed of mashed potatoes. Åse had the venison fillets. And oh my God the desserts! She had the lemon creme with raspberries and I had the coffee mousse. It ranks up there with the absolute best meals of my life. In Stockholm, only Sardin has matched this meal. Check out their website (above)…it is one of the coolest sites I’ve seen in a long time.

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January 24, 2009
Restaurant
Rabarber

Rabarber is a jazz bar and restaurant with one of the best, if also one of the smallest, menus in Stockholm. In a city filled with restaurants that feel too cold and hard-edged to get comfortable in, this one feels familiar and warm the moment you walk in. The dominant feel to the decor and food is French, and once you step through the door, you’re transported directly to Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the heart of Paris. This is Stockholm’s French district…too bad its just one building.

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January 18, 2009
Turkish coffee

After a highly satisfying and life-altering journey to Egypt (more on that later), I have finally given in to the allure of Turkish coffee. I’m not a huge fan of straight espresso and drink it only on occasion when I have some strange urge that I can’t shake. But Turkish coffee, while similar to espresso in appearance, is a different beast completely. Sweetened with sugar and often spiced with cardamom, it is neither as bitter nor as strong as espresso. I had it twice daily while in the Middle East and can say that it is divine. I brought back a couple of Turkish coffee makers – essentially tiny copper pots with handles – and a couple of bags of coffee from Cairo with the cardamom already added. These were promptly ripped open by customs in their search for, I believe, small animals that should remain in the Egyptian rain forest. My clothes still smell like sweet coffee. I have attempted to make the perfect cup several times, but haven’t quite gotten it right. I seem to have a history of struggling to make the exceptional cup o’ joe. But it hasn’t been a total failure here as I have made good coffee every time. I just haven’t gotten the “face” quite right, which is the creamy surface of the coffee in the demitasse. There is definitely an art to the preparation of Turkish coffee and it takes a steady hand and a watchful eye. But I have found dozens of different methods of preparation and will try all of them until I get it just like I want it. My Egyptian friend, Abbe, tells me that everyone makes it differently and it becomes sort of a signature for those that do it. I was glad to hear that, because mine definitely tastes…unique.

turkish-coffee-1

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December 17, 2008
Good coffee

I love coffee. Perhaps I’m an addict. It didn’t used to be this way. In fact, I pretty much couldn’t stand the stuff before coming to Sweden. I think the swill I used to get in deep-south Atlanta diners tempered my enthusiasm for the black bean. But just like beer, coffee in Europe is different and it woke some sleeping giant within me. Now I’m a three-cups-a-day fella. I’m not talking espresso, which is an entirely different animal (and another passion of mine); I’m talking regular coffee. Every day, we fix a fresh pot, but we don’t have an electric coffee maker or a percolator. Instead, we use a press and the taste of the coffee is amazingly rich, strong, and satisfying. If you’re looking for a snappy way to make a killer java, get one of these and never look back.

coffee-press1

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December 13, 2008
Julbord

Last night, our company held its annual Christmas dinner for employees. It was held at Tyresö Slott, which is an old palace out in the countryside. Without a doubt, the place is beautiful, and being reminded every holiday season that I am a commoner is quite beneficial for the company. Still, I can’t complain since I got to play royal for a few hours, though I get the feeling the servants there drive fancier cars than I do. The dinner was a julbord. Jul is the Swedish word for Christmas. Bord is the Swedish word for table. So, julbord is a Christmas table. In English, we’d call it a buffet, but this ain’t your mamma’s Western Sizzlin. You won’t find mashed taters or collard greens or fried okra or chocolate pudding from a can anywhere near this party. What you will find on a julbord are such things as smoked reindeer, eel, venison, pan-fried strömming (a special type of Baltic herring), liver paté, cow tongue, meatballs (imported, I’m sure), three types of cabbage, several freshly-baked breads, four or five different flavors of smoked salmon, half a dozen types of spiced sausage, a dozen different cheeses, and a bazillion varieties of pickled herring. It looks fantastic and it tastes even better, though many Swedes I’ve talked to haven’t been caught dead anywhere near a julbord in a decade. I guess I haven’t been here long enough to become disenchanted. Or perhaps I’m working for the wrong company.

This was my fourth julbord. I always look forward to them, but they always turn out the same: I eat too much and by the time I’m ready to hit the dessert section, retching seems an attractive option. I remember my first julbord, which was at Vaxholms slott (another Swedish castle that made me feel more like a prisoner than a commoner – but in a good way). I went to the first section of the julbord and it was filled with sill , which is raw herring in various spices. I swear, there were probably twenty different flavors of raw fish to select and I thought that was the entire julbord. So I filled my plate to overflowing. When I sat down, the people around me looked at me like I was crazy. Then I noticed that they were all eating beautiful steaks and hams and fowl and vegetables. I saw none of that when I went to the buffet, so I asked where they got it all. They explained that it was on one of the other five tables. And there I was, with a plate full of cold, raw fish and nowhere to run. I could not throw it away and then come back with a plate full of cold, raw mammal flesh. I had to eat it. So I did. Now don’t get me wrong, I love sill and this stuff was absolutely top class. It was delicious. But after an entire plate of the stuff, I was done. There was no room left for beef or cabbage or Jahnsson’s Temptation (mmmmmmm…potatoes, cream and anchovies!) or even chocolate mousse (not from a can). I felt ready to keel over and sprout gills. And that was the end of my first julbord.

Last night, I knew there was more than raw fish. So I paced myself and took only a small portion of sill and then got busy with the other meats. It was divine, but then I made the classic mistake: just when I felt I had the finish line in sight, I loaded up on the desserts. I had chocolates of all sort, three mousses (should that be mice?), a tort, several caramels, some very strange jelly thingies in bright colors, a bunch of grapes, three types of blue cheese, and a selection of sweet breads. Oh god, the ride home was hell.

Swedes have a very specific culinary tradition. I’ll discuss it in more detail later, but suffice it to say that they have surprisingly good food. The biggest problem with Swedish cuisine is that, like Swedish culture in general, it hasn’t been influenced by much outside of Sweden until recently and therefore is not terribly diverse. The general modus operandi is to take one type of meat – usually raw – and offer it up in a dozen different shapes and smoked flavors. It actually works quite well since I find their julbord entirely satisfying.

As long as I take it in moderation.

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December 9, 2008
Kettle

When I first arrived in Sweden, strange sights and customs were absolutely everywhere. I remember the first time I sat in a Swedish kitchen and, upon accepting an offer of a cup of coffee, the host pulled out a plastic jug, filled it with water, set it on a base, then flipped a switch. In a couple of minutes, we had boiling hot water. It was love at first sight. I had never seen a water kettle used in the States and to this day I wonder why Americans haven’t embraced the electric kettle. There are few things in the kitchen so practical. Get one. It will change your life.

This is the Siemens 70101 kettle I have. I prefer the full aluminum base to those with exposed coils, which require cleaning more often.

This is the Siemens 70101 kettle I have. I prefer the full aluminum base to those with exposed coils, which require cleaning more often.

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December 2008
Baked Vegetables with Feta
This is easy and delicious! And it ain’t your mama’s baked vegetable casserole.

1 head of broccoli
1 large carrot
3 stalks of celery
2 large wedges of savoy cabbage
75g feta
1dl whipping cream
1dl milk
salt and white pepper
optional: 250g smoked ham

Preheat the oven on to 225 Celsius.
Chop the broccoli into quarter florettes. Cut the carrots in half and then cut the halves into quarter stalks (lengthwise). Cut the celery into stalks about the same length as the carrot stalks, and cut them in half lengthwise. Cut the savoy cabbage into medium-sized wedges. Boil all the vegetables until they are slightly soft (not too much!) then drain them. Bring the cream and milk to a boil, then remove from heat and add most of the feta, but not all of it. Let simmer on low heat, stirring to thicken it up a tad. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set the drained vegetables in an oven-safe dish and pour the cream sauce over them. Sprinkle the rest of the feta over the top. Set in the middle of the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, until everything is hot and the feta on top has taken on a bit of color.

I recommend this with a dragon-spiced chicken breast or pesto-encrusted salmon fillets and a side of black beans.

Gino
This dessert is fabulous and so easy.
Strawberries
Bananas
Kiwi (skinned)
white chocolate (grated)

Slice the strawberries into wedges, the bananas and kiwi into coins. Place fruit into an oven-safe dish and cover with the grated white chocolate. Bake about 20 minutes at about 200 Celsius. Serve hot with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. Simple.

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