A Christmas Favorite – Gingerbread

December 25, 2013 at 10:39 AM | Posted in baking, dessert | Leave a comment
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Gingerbread

Gingerbread

 

Gingerbread is a sweet food-product flavored with ginger and typically using honey or molasses (treacle) rather than just sugar. Gingerbread foods vary, ranging from a soft, moist loaf cake to something close to a ginger biscuit. The different types likely share a common origin.

 

 

 

Gingerbread was brought to Europe in 992 by the Armenian monk Gregory of Nicopolis (Gregory Makar) (Grégoire de Nicopolis). He left Nicopolis Pompeii, to live in Bondaroy (France), near the town of Pithiviers. He stayed there 7 years, and taught the Gingerbread cooking to French priests and Christians. He died in 999.
During the 13th century, it was brought to Sweden by German immigrants. In 15th century Germany, a gingerbread guild controlled production. Early references from the Vadstena Abbey show how the Swedish nuns were baking gingerbread to ease indigestion in 1444. It was the custom to bake white biscuits and paint them as window decorations.
The first documented trade of gingerbread biscuits dates to the 17th century[citation needed], where they were sold in monasteries, pharmacies and town square farmers’ markets. In Medieval England gingerbread was thought to have medicinal properties. One hundred years later the town of Market Drayton in Shropshire, UK became known for its gingerbread, as is proudly displayed on their town’s welcome sign. The first recorded mention of gingerbread being baked in the town dates back to 1793; however, it was probably made earlier, as ginger was stocked in high street businesses from the 1640s. Gingerbread became widely available in the 18th century.

 

 

 

* In England, gingerbread may refer to a cake, or a type of cookie / biscuit made with ginger. In the biscuit form, it commonly takes the form of a gingerbread man. Gingerbread men were first attributed to Queen Elizabeth I, who allegedly served the figurines to foreign dignitaries. Today, however, they are generally served around Christmas.
Parkin is a form soft gingerbread cake made with oatmeal and treacle which is popular in the northern England.
* In the United States, this form of gingerbread is sometimes called “gingerbread cake” or “ginger cake” to distinguish it from the harder forms. French pain d’épices is somewhat similar, though generally slightly drier, and involves honey rather than treacle. Original French gingerbread did not contain ginger.
* In Germany gingerbread is made in two forms: a soft form called Lebkuchen and a harder form, particularly associated with carnivals and street markets such as the Christmas markets that occur in many German towns. The hard gingerbread is made in decorative shapes, which are then further decorated with sweets and icing. The tradition of cutting gingerbread into shapes takes many other forms, and exists in many countries, a well-known example being the gingerbread man. Traditionally, these were dunked in port wine.
* In the Nordic countries, the most popular form of ginger confection is the pepperkaker (Norwegian), pepparkakor (Swedish), brunkager (Danish), piparkökur (Icelandic), piparkakut (Finnish) and in the baltic countries piparkūkas (Latvian) or piparkoogid (Estonian). They are thin, very brittle cookies / biscuits that are particularly associated with the extended Christmas period. In Norway and Sweden, pepperkaker/pepparkakor are also used as window decorations, the pepperkaker/pepparkakor are then a little thicker than usual and decorated with glaze and candy. Many families bake pepperkaker/pepparkakor/brunkager as a tradition with their kids. In English, pepperkaker/pepparkakor/brunkager would be referred to as ginger biscuits rather than gingerbread.
* In Switzerland, a gingerbread confection known as “biber” is typically a three-quarter inch thick rectangular gingerbread cake with a marzipan filling. Biber are famously from the cantons of Appenzell or St. Gallen and respective biber are artfully adorned with images of the Appenzell bear or the St. Gallen cathedral by engraving or icing.
* In the Netherlands and Belgium, a soft and crumbly gingerbread called Peperkoek, Kruidkoek or Ontbijtkoek is popularly served at breakfast time or during the day, thickly sliced and often with butter on top.
* Gingerbreads are known in Russia. The most famous gingerbreads there are baked in the ancient cities Tula (Tula gingerbread, Тульский пряник), Vyazma, and Gorodets.
* In Poland, gingerbreads are known as pierniki (singular, piernik). The most famous are called Toruń gingerbread (piernik toruński), a traditional Polish gingerbread that has been produced since the Middle Ages in the city of Toruń. It was a favorite delicacy of Chopin’s when he visited his godfather, Fryderyk Florian Skarbek, in Toruń during one of his school vacations.
* In Romania, gingerbread is called turtă dulce and is usually coated with sugar glazing.
* In Brazil, a type of cake similar to gingerbread is known as pão de mel (“honey bread”), it can be as big as a coffee cake, or bite-sized, and it’s usually coated with chocolate.
* There is also a very popular local variety of gingerbread in Bulgaria. It’s called меденка (“made of honey”). Traditionally the cookie is as big as the palm of the hand, round and flat, covered in a thin layer of chocolate. Other common ingredients include honey, cinnamon, ginger and dried clove.
It is also made in Karakol.

 

 

 

Fish of the Week – Anchovy

February 13, 2013 at 10:38 AM | Posted in fish | Leave a comment
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I’ve run weekly articles on fruit, vegetables, cheese and other items so why not one of my favorite foods – fish and seafood! I’ll start with the Anchovy and work my way down the list. Hope you enjoy it.

 

Anchovies are a family (Engraulidae) of small, common salt-water forage fish. There are 144 species in 17 genera, found in the Atlantic,

Anchovy closeup

Anchovy closeup

Indian, and Pacific Oceans. Anchovies are usually classified as an oily fish.
Anchovies are small, green fish with blue reflections due to a silver longitudinal stripe that runs from the base of the caudal fin. They range from 2 centimeters (0.79 in) to 40 centimeters (16 in) in adult length, and the body shape is variable with more slender fish in northern populations.
The snout is blunt with tiny, sharp teeth in both jaws. The snout contains a unique rostral organ, believed to be sensory in nature, although its exact function is unknown. The mouth is larger than that of herrings and silversides, two fish anchovies closely resemble in other respects. The anchovy eats plankton and fry (recently-hatched fish).
Anchovies are found in scattered areas throughout the world’s oceans, but are concentrated in temperate waters, and are rare or absent in very cold or very warm seas. They are generally very accepting of a wide range of temperatures and salinity. Large schools can be found in shallow, brackish areas with muddy bottoms, as in estuaries and bays. They are abundant in the Mediterranean, particularly in the Alboran Sea, and the Black Sea. The species is regularly caught along the coasts of Crete, Greece, Sicily, Italy, France, Turkey, and Spain. They are also found on the coast of northern Africa. The range of the species also extends along the Atlantic coast of Europe to the south of Norway. Spawning occurs between October and March, but not in water colder than 12 °C (54 °F). The anchovy appears to spawn at least 100 kilometers (62 mi) from the shore, near the surface of the water.
The anchovy is a significant food source for almost every predatory fish in its environment, including the California halibut, rock fish, yellowtail, shark, chinook, and coho salmon. It is also extremely important to marine mammals and birds; for example, breeding success of California brown pelicans and elegant terns is strongly connected to anchovy abundance.
A traditional method of processing and preserving anchovies is to gut and salt them in brine, allow them to mature, and then pack

Canned anchovies

Canned anchovies

them in oil or salt. This results in a characteristic strong flavor and the flesh turns deep grey. Pickled in vinegar, as with Spanish boquerones, anchovies are milder and the flesh retains a white color. In Roman times, anchovies were the base for the fermented fish sauce garum. Garum had a sufficiently long shelf life for long-distance commerce, and was produced in industrial quantities. Anchovies were also eaten raw as an aphrodisiac. Today they are used in small quantities to flavor many dishes. Because of the strong flavor, they are also an ingredient in several sauces and condiments, including Worcestershire sauce, Caesar salad dressing, remoulade, Gentleman’s Relish, many fish sauces, and in some versions of Café de Paris butter. For domestic use, anchovy fillets are packed in oil or salt in small tins or jars, sometimes rolled around capers. Anchovy paste is also available. Fishermen also use anchovies as bait for larger fish, such as tuna and sea bass.
The strong taste people associate with anchovies is due to the curing process. Fresh anchovies, known in Italy as alici, have a much milder flavor. In Sweden and Finland, the name anchovies is related strongly to a traditional seasoning, hence the product “anchovies” is normally made of sprats and also herring can be sold as “anchovy-spiced”, leading to confusion when translating recipes.

National Dish of the Week – Sweden

September 29, 2011 at 1:17 PM | Posted in baking, Food, grilling | Leave a comment
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Due to Sweden’s large north-south extent there have always been regional differences in Swedish cuisine. Historically, in the far North, meats such as reindeer, and other (semi-) game dishes were eaten, some of which have their roots in the Sami culture, while fresh vegetables have played a larger role in the South. Many traditional dishes employ simple, contrasting flavors; such as the

Swedish meatballs with cream sauce, mashed potatoes

traditional dish of hearty meatballs and gravy with tart, pungent lingonberry jam (slightly similar in taste to cranberry sauce).

Swedes have traditionally been very open to foreign influences, ranging from French cuisine during the 17th and 18th century, to the sushi and cafe latte of today. On the fast food side, pizza and hot-dogs have been a ubiquitous part of Swedish culture since the 1960s. Twenty years later, the same could be said about the growing popularity of the kebab and falafel, as many small restaurants specialise in such dishes.

Swedish cuisine could be described as centered around cultured dairy products, crisp and soft (often sugared) breads, berries and stone fruits, beef, pork, sweetened seafood and fish. Potatoes are often served as a side dish, often boiled. Swedish cuisine has a huge variety of breads of different shapes and sizes, made of rye, wheat, oat, white, dark, sour-dough, whole grain; soft flat breads and crispbreads. There are many sweetened bread types and some use spices. Many meat dishes and especially meatballs are served with lingonberry jam. Fruit soups with high viscosity, like rose hip soup and blueberry soup (blåbärssoppa) served hot or cold, are typical of Swedish cuisine. Butter and margarine are the primary fat sources, although olive oil is becoming more popular. Sweden’s pastry tradition features a variety of yeast buns, cookies, biscuits and cakes, many of them in a sugary style with a pastry (fika) are enormously popular in Sweden.

The importance of fish has governed Swedish population and trade patterns far back in history. For preservation, fish were salted and cured. Salt became a major trade item at the dawn of the Scandinavian middle ages, which began circa 1000 AD. Cabbage preserved as sauerkraut and various kinds of preserved berries, apples, etc. were used once as a source of vitamin C during the winter (today sauerkraut is used very seldom in Swedish cuisine). Lingonberry jam, still a favourite, may be the most traditional and typical Swedish way to add freshness to sometimes rather heavy food, such as steaks and stews.

Sweden’s long winters explain the lack of fresh vegetables in many traditional recipes. In older times, plants that would sustain the population through the winters were cornerstones; various turnips such as the kålrot (aptly named “swede” in British English) were gradually supplanted or complemented by the potato in the 18th century. Before the influences of French cuisine during the 17th and 18th centuries, a lack of distinct spices made every-day food rather plain by today’s standards, although a number of local herbs and plants have been used since ancient times. This tradition is still present in today’s Swedish dishes, which are still rather sparingly spiced.

Both before and after this period, some new Germanic dishes were also brought in by immigrants, such as persons related to the Hanseatic League, settling in Stockholm, Visby, and Kalmar. Swedish traders and aristocrats naturally also picked up some food traditions in foreign countries; cabbage rolls (kåldolmar) being one example. Cabbage rolls were introduced in Sweden by Karl XII who came in contact with this dish at the time of the Battle of Poltava and during his camp in the Turkish Bender and later introduced by his Ottoman creditors, which moved to Stockholm in 1716. Kåldolmar were already described in 1755, by Cajsa Warg, in her famous Hjelpreda i hushållningen för unga fruentimber.

Swedish husmanskost denotes traditional Swedish dishes with local ingredients, the classical every-day Swedish cuisine. The word husmanskost stems from husman, meaning “house owner” (without associated land), and the term was originally used for most kinds of simple countryside food outside of towns. Genuine Swedish husmanskost used predominantly local ingredients such as pork in all forms, fish, cereals, milk, potato, root vegetables, cabbage, onions, apples, berries etc.; beef and lamb were used more sparingly. Beside berries, apples are the most used traditional fruit, eaten fresh or served as apple pie, apple sauce, or apple cake. Time consuming cooking methods such as redningar (roux) and långkok (literally “long boil”) are commonly employed and spices are sparingly used. Examples of Swedish husmanskost are pea soup (ärtsoppa), boiled and mashed carrots, potato and rutabaga served with pork (rotmos med fläsk), many varieties of salmon (such as gravlax, inkokt lax, fried, pickled), varieties of herring (most commonly pickled, but also fried, au grautain, etc.), fishballs (fiskbullar), meatballs (köttbullar), potato dumplings with meat or other ingredients (palt), potato pancake (raggmunk), varieties of porridge (gröt), a fried mix of pieces of potato, different kind of meats, sausages, bacon and onion (pytt i panna), meat stew with onion (kalops), and potato dumplings with a filling of onions and pork (kroppkakor).

Dishes akin to Swedish husmanskost and food traditions are found also in other Scandinavian countries; details may vary. Sweden is part of the vodka belt and historically distilled beverages, such as brännvin and snaps, have been a traditional daily complement to food. Consumption of wine in Sweden has increased during the last fifty years, partly at the expense of beer and stronger alcoholic beverages. In many countries locally produced wines are combined with local husmanskost.

Husmanskost has undergone a renaissance during the last decades as well known (or famous) Swedish chefs, such as Tore Wretman, have presented modernised variants of classical Swedish dishes. In this nouvel husman the amount of fat (which was needed to sustain hard manual labour in the old days) is reduced and some new ingredients are introduced. The cooking methods are tinkered with as well, in order to speed up the cooking process and/or enhance the nutritional value or flavor of the dishes.

Swedes have adopted some foreign influences, ranging from cabbage rolls and influences from French cuisine during the 17th and 18th centuries, to the pizza and cafe latte of today. Many Swedish restaurateurs mix traditional husmanskost with a modern, gourmet approach.

On the fast food side, hot dog sausage served in a bun or wrapped in flatbread is the classical Swedish fast food, but pizza has also been an integral part of Swedish fast food since the 1960s. Twenty years later, the same could be said about kebab and falafel, as many small restaurants specialise in such dishes.

Swedish pancakes

Swedish traditional dishes, some of which are many hundreds of years old, others perhaps a century or less, are still a very important part of Swedish everyday meals, in spite of the fact that modern day Swedish cuisine adopts many international dishes.

Internationally, the most renowned Swedish culinary tradition is the smörgåsbord and, at Christmas, the julbord, including well known Swedish dishes such as gravlax and meatballs.

In Sweden, traditionally, Thursday has been soup day because the maids had half the day off and soup was easy to prepare in advance. One of the most traditional Swedish soups, still served in many restaurants and households every Thursday together with pancakes, is the yellow pea soup, or ärtsoppa. It dates back to the old tradition of peas being associated with Thor. This is a simple meal, a very thick soup, basically consisting of boiled yellow peas, a little onion, salt and small pieces of pork. It is often served with mustard and followed by thin pancakes (see pannkakor). The Swedish Army also serve their conscripts pea soup and pancakes every Thursday.

Potatoes are eaten year-round as the main source of carbohydrates, and are a staple in many traditional dishes. Not until the last 50 years have pasta or rice become common on the dinner table.

There are several different kinds of potatoes: the most appreciated is the new potato, a potato which ripens in early summer, and is enjoyed at the traditional mid-summer feast called midsommar. New potatoes at midsommar are served with pickled herring, chives, sour cream, and the first strawberries of the year are traditionally served as dessert.

The most highly regarded mushroom in Sweden is the chanterelle, which is considered a delicacy. The chanterelle is usually served as a side dish together with steaks, or fried with onions and sauce served on an open sandwich. Second to the chanterelle, and considered almost as delicious, is the porcini mushroom, or karljohansvamp named after Charles XIV John (Karl XIV Johan) who introduced its use as food.

In August, at the traditional feast known as crayfish party, kräftskiva, Swedes eat large amounts of boiled crayfish boiled and then marinated in a broth with salt, a little bit of sugar, and a large amount of dill.

Fruit soups, especially rose hip soup and bilberry soup, are eaten or drunk, usually warm during the winter.

The most important of stronger beverages in the Swedish cuisine is Brännvin which is a general term that includes mainly two kinds of beverages: The Akvavit, also called Aqua vitae, and the Vodka. When consumed traditionally it is often served as a Snaps, but Vodka is also populary consumed as a drink ingredient. Renat is often considered to be the national vodka of Sweden, but other highly popular brands are Explorer Vodka and Absolut Vodka, the latter being one of the world’s best known liquor brands. Most forms of Brännvin have around 40% alcohol.

The production of hard liquor has a tradition dating back to the 18th century and was at a high in the 1840s. Since the 1880s, the state-owned Systembolaget has a monopoly on selling spirits with more than 3.5% alcohol, limiting access. Hembränt (moonshine) used to be made in rural Sweden, but production has lessened in recent years due to more liberal rules for the import of alcohol as well as increased smuggling.

Brödinstitutet (The Bread Institute) once campaigned with a quotation from the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, recommending eating 6 to 8 slices of bread daily. Drinking milk has also been recommended and campaigned for by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare; it’s often recommended to drink two to three glasses of milk per day. 52% of Swedes surveyed drink milk at least once a day, usually one glass with lunch and another glass or two in the evening or morning.

kräftskiva (crayfish party) – Sweden

September 29, 2011 at 1:05 PM | Posted in baking, Food, grilling, seafood | Leave a comment
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A crayfish party is a traditional summertime eating and drinking celebration in the Nordic countries. The tradition originated in Sweden, where a crayfish party is called a kräftskiva. The tradition has also spread to Finland via the Swedish-speaking population of

Crayfish cooked with dill in the traditional manner.

that country.

Crayfish parties are generally held during August, a tradition that started because crayfish harvesting in Sweden was, for most of the 20th century, legally limited to late summer. Today, the “kräftpremiär” date in early August has no legal significance. Dining is traditionally outdoors, but in practice the party is often driven indoors by bad weather or aggressive mosquitoes. Customary party accessories are comical paper hats, paper tablecloths, paper lanterns (often depicting the Man in the Moon), and bibs. A rowdy atmosphere prevails amid noisy eating and traditional drinking songs (snapsvisa). The alcohol consumption is often high, especially when compared to the amount of food actually eaten (crayfish shelling is tedious work). It is culturally correct to suck the juice out of the crayfish before shelling it.

On the Swedish west coast it is common to replace the fresh water crayfish with havskräfta (English: Norway lobster)

Akvavit and other kinds of snaps are served, as well as beer. The crayfish are boiled in salt water and seasoned with fresh dill — preferably “crown dill” harvested after the plant has flowered — then served cold and eaten with one’s fingers. Bread, mushroom pies, strong Västerbotten cheese, salads, and other dishes are served buffet-style.

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