Sunday, May 23, 2010

when you begin to believe summer will come...

strawberries + blueberries make a summery snack in the garden
no strawberries are ready yet this far north - these came from italy and the blueberries from spain
yesterday was the first glorious sunny day of the late spring. it almost made us believe in summer. we took full advantage, spending the entire day outdoors in one form or another - from a lunchtime picnic on the lawn to hanging up a swing to getting out the iron garden "couch" and pillows and having a little afternoon snooze with birdsong accompaniment. an easy, springy fish dinner with new potatoes and white asparagus.
a summer picnic consisting of sandwiches with paté and some with tuna
homemade rhubarb syrup* mixed into a cool drink.
and a danish summer diary treat - koldskål with crunchy müsli ton top
although i bought my koldskål (literally translated: cold bowl) in the grocery store, it is possible to make it and it's wonderful when you do, but the organic one we can buy here in the store is so yummy i took the easy route.


1 liter (quart) buttermilk
1 C yogurt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla (or one vanilla bean, scraped with a knife) for the pretty little black flecks)
1/2 C sugar
juice of half a lemon

whir it all up in a blender. you can add a handful of strawberries to the blender if you have some. otherwise, serve it with some sliced strawberries. what's traditional is little round, hard cookies called kammerjunker. but a homemade or store-bought müsli is just fine to sprinkle on the top. here we even have one that's specifically for koldskål
a light late spring almost summer dinner.
kuller (in the cod family) fish with homemade bread crumbs on top
new potatoes with butter
white asparagus on a bed of fresh spinach & the first of the garden onions

easy cod with homemade breadcrumbs

4-6 fish filets with the skin still on (any fish will do - ours was kuller, which is a member of the cod family)
5-6 slices of day-old, slightly hard bread (i used some of my homemade focaccia)
seasoning salt of your choice (i used a cajun one)
knob of cold butter

whir the bread, butter and seasoning together in your food processor on pulse until they are large, chunky crumbs, but not totally pulverized. dip the fish filet (just the fish side, not the skin side) in egg, then lay it, skin side down in an oven-ready dish that you've brushed with a little olive oil and sprinkle the bread crumbs on top. pop it in the oven for 20 or so minutes at 175°C/350°F. you can turn on the grill at the end to get the bread crumbs nice and toasty.

a bruschetta starter with tomatoes that are starting to taste of something again.
i served a little bruschetta starter - drizzling some of yesterday's focaccia with olive oil and a bit of prima donna (salty aged gouda) over the top and giving it a little toast in the oven. meanwhile, i diced some tomatoes, threw in a few mint leaves (it's what i had and gave a more spring-like tone than basil, but use what you have), a clove of garlic, salt, pepper and a drizzle of good olive oil.

the meal, all plated up - with a bit of creme fraiche dressing at twelve o'clock.
i know white asparagus is considered a real delicacy, but i'll admit to you that i prefer green any day. the fat little stems, intentionally starved for sun just don't do it for me, but it came in our box this week, so i decided to give it another chance. the skin on white asparagus is awfully tough, so you have to carefully peel it off with a vegetable peeler. i'd advise you to do it against a cutting board and not trying to hold it, as it will be less likely to break the asparagus that way. after it's peeled, it just needs 4-5 minutes of steaming and it's ready. i put it together with the following spinach dish and that made it better.

fresh spinach with onions & breadcrumbs

1 large bag of spinach - carefully rinsed and the big stems discarded
1 small onion, thinly sliced
handful of bread crumbs (i had some left from the fish)
knob of butter
olive oil
salt & pepper

melt the butter and olive oil together in a large pan - a wok is ideal, because the spinach seems like a LOT at the beginning (it wilts down to nothing quickly). throw in the onions and sauté them. these were fresh, spring ones (without being spring onions), so they didn't take long. add the bread crumbs and toast them a little bit before adding the rinsed spinach. keep stirring. the spinach will wilt and you'll be very surprised how little there is. when it was done, i placed it in a bowl and arranged the white asparagus on top with a little pat of butter on it. the spinach definitely made the asparagus more of a delicacy. 

served with simply boiled new potatoes and a creme fraiche to which i had added the cajun seasoning i was using completed this springy, almost summer meal.

* i'll be doing an all rhubarb post in the near future, but to tide you over, i've done a rhubarb cocktail over here and it tells how to make the syrup.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

simple meals for busy times

i've been a bit absent from this blog of late as we packed up nearly a decade of life in our home and moved across the country to new jobs and a new house on an old farm property. my new kitchen is a severe downgrade in comparison to the old one (we're going to remedy that, don't worry) and i'll admit to a mild depression over having to cook here amidst the pepto bismol pink color the last owner chose to paint the cupboards (seriously, who would think that color would look good in a kitchen?). since it's going to be about a year before we redo the kitchen, i'll be painting those cupboards in shades of teal leftover from my famous blue room over this coming long holiday weekend (ascension day makes for a four-day weekend in denmark).

one thing i found in the midst of the chaos that is a move is that our desire to eat was not lessened in proportion to how busy we now were. so i had to find ways to cook simple meals that required few dishes, as my selection of dishes, pots and pans got pared down as more and more of that stuff was packed down.

i came up with a couple of delicious solutions that were easy, but look deceptively like you slaved for hours. a pasta dish and veal parmesan. not necessarily to be eaten together, tho' you could if you were really hungry.

simple pasta with red pesto and zucchini ribbons
this pasta dish is super easy because you use those packages of fresh pasta you can buy in the refrigerated case in the supermarket, the best pesto you can find (also purchased from the supermarket and preferably from the refrigerated section not just a jar) and a single zucchini, sliced into thin ribbons using a potato peeler. it's super quick (the fresh pasta takes only 3 minutes). you simply toss the pasta, pesto and raw zucchini ribbons together in a big bowl and dig in. a very posh meal literally in minutes. i can see from my picture that i also tossed in a bit of asparagus that i cut into bite-sized pieces and threw in with my pasta for the last minute or so of the boil. just long enough that it's still green and brilliant. the zucchini cooks just enough from being tossed with the warm pasta, so you don't need to cook it at all.

the second easy dish i've made of late is a big pan of veal parmesan. on our last night in the old house, we invited our neighbors for dinner and i made this, making sure that i made enough for us to take a pan of it with us to the new house - it felt symbolically important to make food in the old house and bring it to the new one to eat the first day.

veal parmesan
you may be thinking that i'm crazy to say that veal parmesan is easy and you'd be right if i told you to spend six hours stirring up the perfect sauce from scratch, but that's not what i did, there simply wasn't time for that. i bought a jar of good quality tomato sauce - Dolmio classico organic to be exact.

veal parmesan

100 grams of very thinly-sliced veal weinerschnitzel per person - i have the butcher slice it for me as thin as he can (so thin he thinks i'm crazy)
1 jar good quality tomato (pasta) sauce
2-3 medium-sized onions
1 thinly-sliced eggplant (if you like it)
2 eggs
finely grated parmesan cheese

pound your veal with one of those meat-pounding thingies (mine came from ikea) - it's very therapeutic and relieves stress nicely. you want it to be super, super thin, like thin enough to read something through it if you laid it over a newspaper. 

mix the breadcrumbs and parmesan together and dip the veal in egg and your breadcrumbs. you can season the breadcrumbs with salt & pepper. i used Lawry's seasoning salt as well, but use whatever you like.

brown them up in a pan. while they're browning, slice the onions into small boats and put them in the bottom of an oven-safe dish. layer the veal on them as it gets done. put more onions between layers. if you like eggplant, layer browned eggplant slices together with the veal. cover the whole thing in the jar of tomato sauce and grate a bit of your favorite cheese over the top (we love prima donna at our house - it's an aged gouda with salt crystals in it). pop it into the oven at 175°C/350°F and bake for 30 minutes or so (depending how fast your oven is). serve it with some good bread and an arugula salad. it's very filling, so you don't need pasta with it, but you can serve pasta to soak up some of the good sauce.

make extra so you have some the next day. it's great cold put onto some good ciabatta bread as a sandwich, but it warms up very nicely again in the oven. we really thought it was the perfect meal on our first night in the new house, after a long day of driving and unpacking the truck. like most tomato-sauce dishes, it tastes even better the second day.

these are deceptively simple. make them the next time you want to look like a superwoman (or man). :-) and just pretend you slaved all day.


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