Benefits of carbophobia

Among the benefits of avoiding carbs (yes, the dreaded Atkins) are such discoveries as this eggplant recipe from the New York Times last week. Victoria loves eggplant in all forms discovered to date, so I know it would be a winner.

Eggplant, La Tavernetta Style
August 29, 2007
Time: About 30 minutes

  • 2 pounds eggplant of any variety, the smallest you can find
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, slivered
  • 12 good cherry tomatoes, halved, or a couple plum or medium-size regular tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 1 cup roughly chopped basil leaves.
  1. Cut eggplant into pieces about an inch or two long and no more than a half-inch wide; each piece should have a bit of skin and a bit of flesh. (If eggplant are small, cut them first in long strips, then cut them crosswise. If large, you may end up discarding or reserving the fleshy, seedy center.)
  2. Put 1/3 cup oil in a skillet over medium heat; a minute later add eggplant. Cook, stirring occasionally, and seasoning with salt and pepper until very soft, about 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put remaining oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook until it colors slightly. Add tomatoes and about 2/3 of the basil, raise heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is saucy, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. When both sauce and eggplant are done, combine them. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature, or over pasta, garnished with remaining basil.

Yield: 2 to 4 servings.

Victoria was happy to pick up eggplants when I suggested it; unfortunately, I’d forgotten the bit about “the smallest you can find,” so she brought us several big ones.

As a precaution, I did the slice, salt, rest, rinse, wipe trick for reducing the bitter oils that can lead to tingling tongue syndrome. Otherwise, I pretty much did as I was told. It’s been forever since I’ve simmered garlic in oil on low heat, and doing so for this recipe was a good reminder that there are good reasons to do it that way–it puts off an incredible aroma and extracts the garlickiest of garlicky flavors. Probably gilding the lily, but I couldn’t resist a grating of parmesan on top.

Since I’m gluten-intolerant (besides doing Atkins), serving over pasta wasn’t an option. Instead, we roasted a spaghetti squash (halve, scoop out guts, roast inside-down at 375 for about 40 minutes, scoop out and fluff flesh with a fork, toss with butter and kosher salt) and of course also roasted the seeds (scatter with butter, salt, rescue from oven after about 10-15 minutes when lightly browned) as an appetizer.

To complete the menu, a little caprese (slice tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil, grind fresh black telicherry pepper, place fresh basil leaf, place slice of buffalo mozzarella, grind kosher salt). This is a bit redundant when you’re having a tomato-based pasta sauce, really, but we had gorgeous fresh heirloom tomatoes and it’s a crime to let them rot in neglect.

Mojito madness, or Evolution of a recipe

Seems like it must be time to post a recipe, so let’s start with the it-drink of the day, the tall drink of water from Habana, the much-loved, often poorly-made Mojito.

I don’t know if the claim is valid, but this one claims to be the ur-recipe, “the one Hemingway himself enjoyed at the Mojito’s place of birth: La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba” (copied from

  • 1 teaspoon powdered sugar
  • Juice from 1 lime (2 ounces)
  • 4 mint leaves
  • 1 sprig of mint
  • Havana Club white Rum (2 ounces)
  • 2 ounces club soda

Place the mint leaves into a long mojito glass (often called a “collins” glass) and squeeze the juice from a cut lime over it. You’ll want about two ounces of lime juice, so it may not require all of the juice from a single lime. Add the powdered sugar, then gently smash the mint into the lime juice and sugar with a muddler (a long wooden device pictured below, though you can also use the back of a fork or spoon if one isn’t available). Add ice (preferably crushed) then add the rum and stir, and top off with the club soda (you can also mix the club soda in as per your taste). Garnish with a mint sprig.

** Optional ** While the following isn’t the authentic original Bodeguita del Medio Cuban recipe for a mojito, some people will take half of the juiced lime and cut into into four wedges to add to the glass. Another variation is to add Angostura bitters to cut the mojito’s sweetness, which is a popular version in Havana hotels although not the true Bodeguita recipe. Some Cubans also use “guarapo” in place of the powdered sugar, which is a sugar cane syrup available in some supermarkets or online Latin grocery stores.

So there’s nothing particularly wrong with this recipe, but it doesn’t work all that well, and I think the proportions are off. As with most drinks, you really want about a four-to-one ratio of booze to whatever (someday I’ll post on my grand unifying theory of cocktails), so make that a whole lime to 4oz rum and figure it’s a recipe for two drinks. Another problem is that even powdered or superfine sugar isn’t easy to dissolve in cold liquid, so you’d be better off using simple syrup. I’ve never had Havana Club white rum, but I have found that–contrary to my usual principle that better (and darker) rum makes a better (if uglier) cocktail, in the case of a mojito you really do want the cheap white stuff, so let’s assume that part is fine. But the real problem here is in the muddling: muddling is only so effective at drawing out mint flavors, and unless you muddle maniacally, this recipe is going to produce an insufficiently-minty mojito in my opinion.

Cut to the next candidate: the recipe I surreptitiously copied down while waiting for my to-go order at an estimable local Mexican restaurant when I spied it on the back wall, just barely legible thanks to some damn fine work by my ophthamalogist. This one is all about practicality: how do you make a muddling-intensive drink consistently good, quickly, on demand at a busy restaurant? Well, clearly you work ahead and make a mint simple syrup, of course! Here we go, and this one is for a pitcher, not just a wimpy pair. Since I didn’t exactly have permission to copy it and I’m about to criticize it, I’m not giving away which restaurant it was, but if you own that restaurant and would like to claim and/or defend your work, use that Comments link down there at the bottom of the article!

A certain restaurant’s mojito
Mint syrup

  • 4C water
  • 2C suqar
  • half bunch mint


  • 9oz Bacardi
  • 4.5oz mint syrup
  • 4.5 oz sweet and sour mix
  • 12 mint leaves
  • ice, soda

Let’s deconstruct this one. First, I should probably explain the method, which wasn’t printed at the back of the bar but which is not hard to infer: boil water, sugar, and half a bunch of mint until mixture is reduced by approximately half. Cool and store, refrigerated, in a meticulously clean glass jar. To make the pitcher of mojitos, pull that jar out and dump a healthy dollop in the pitcher. Add an equal dollop of sweet and sour mix. Add a dollop of Bacardi twice as big (and here I can endorse the rum choice–Bacardi white is far from my favorite rum, but it’s just the thing for a refreshing mojito). Mix. Add decorate mint leaves. Now fill almost the rest of the way with crushed ice and top with soda. Get a runner to rush it out to the table and turn your attention to the next customer’s margarita needs.

This recipe is marginally better than the first one. Why? Several reasons. First, because making a mint simple syrup isn’t just efficient, it’s effective–it really does force the mint flavor out of the recalcitrant leaves and into the drink. It also gives you some cushion against out-of-season mint that looks nice but has no flavor. Second, it makes a pitcher instead of a lousy pair of high balls. Third, the booze-to-lime ratio is moving in the right direction.

However, it’s not perfect. First, it’s too sweet by far–rum is already a sweet booze, and that simple syrup adds a lot of sugar. Second, rushed bartenders don’t get it mixed very well–they’re just dumping liquids into a pitcher and hoping the addition of ice does the work, but some shaking or at least vigorous stirring is needed when you’re blending such unlike viscosities as rum, lime, and simple syrup. Third, and this is really important, what on earth are they doing with sweet and sour mix instead of lime juice??? Well, okay, fresh-squeezed lime juice isn’t the easiest thing to crank out in volume in a busy restaurant, so obviously that’s why they’re using sweet and sour, but sweet and sour is (a) too sweet and (b) not sour. And (c) not lime juice. Not even close. To be refreshing and brisk, this drink needs to bite of real, fresh-squeezed lime juice. Do not accept substitutes.

Enter the third candidate, my recipe, which I will put up against anyone’s, for a batch of four high balls:

Erin’s mojito

  • several stems’ worth of mint leaves, and then some
  • 8oz Bacardi white rum
  • very little superfine sugar
  • juice of 2 limes
  • crushed hard ice
  • club soda

Vigorously muddle mint leaves in rum and sugar and let stand at least several hours if not overnight. Squeeze in lime juice using one of those brutally effective lime squeezers that are effectively a garlic press on steroids. Fill highballs almost full with crushed ice (not the warm, watery kind you get at a fast food joint, the colder, harder kind your refrigerator’s ice-maker puts out). Add rum-sugar-lime mixture to the halfway point. Add decorative mint leaves, but tear them into little shreds with your hands while you’re tossing them in. Top with club soda.

Why is this better? It’s all in the details. First, when you muddle vigorously, I really mean it–vigorously. You might try adding a mortar-and-pestle round-the-sides swirling grind to your choreography. Mint leaves are thin and sturdy, so you really need to beat them up if you want them to release their flavor. Second, you leave it standing in the rum for a while, because the alcohol does the real work. Most flavors worth pursuing are fat- and alcohol-soluble, and you’re taking advantage of that by letting the alcohol break down the mint and get its flavors into the liquid. I got this trick from an article (sorry, can’t remember to cite) about mint julep recipes from all the bourbon distillers in Kentucky, and it’s a great tip. Third, fresh lime in the right proportion. Fourth, tearing those decorative leaves before tossing them in ensures that you get that fresh, just-massacred mint oil hit, especially on the nose, which probably picks up the mint better than our palates do. Finally, cold, hard ice–wimpy wet stuff isn’t cold enough, and it waters down your drink.

Finally, the lazy mixologist’s Atkins-friendly variation. For this one, I credit my friend Sue’s discovery that Fresca makes a good club soda alternative. I haven’t actually tried that, because although I think its grapefruit flavor would probably be a pleasant addition, I’d rather not tamper with the genetics of the drink too much. However, her pointer inspired my experiment, which was a stunning success:

Erin’s heretical diet mojito

  • several stems’ worth of mint leaves, and then some
  • 8oz Bacardi white rum
  • no sugar at all! none!
  • juice of 2 limes
  • crushed hard ice
  • Sprite Zero

Same method. The madness is using Sprite Zero at the end instead of club soda. And why not? It’s a sugarless lemon-lime carbonated beverage! Unlike Diet Coke, Diet 7-Up, and so on, Coke Zero and Sprite Zero have managed to minimize that nasty artificial sweetener taste to the point that even I, a die-hard saccharine and aspartame hater, consider them pretty darned drinkable. I’d rather have the real thing, but these are actually an acceptable substitute. Since the Sprite Zero is going to be adding plenty of sweetness, I forego the sugar in the muddling step, and the balance ends up being just right.

Step 13: Guest recipe from Magdalena

Magdalena brought an Apfelstrudel that was out of this world–gorgeous, with an amazing aroma, and unbelievably delicate. I do believe it might have been the most popular item served (after the lutefisk, of course). Magdalena graciously agreed to share her family recipe with us. So here it is, in her words.

I don’t know how this is possible, but somehow I don’t have any pictures of Magdalena. Sorry!

This Apfelstrudel is a family recipe handed down from my grandmother to my mother and now to me. The original is in German and it is a bit different from the recipes you will find on the web.

Ingredients for 3 rolls of strudel.

For the apple filling:
  • 4 pounds of apples (Granny Smith, Fuji or similar)
  • about 4-5 tbls. of sugar (lately I have taken brown or more unprocessed sugar)
  • 1 lemon (peel + juice)
  • 1/2-1cup of rum
  • 2 tsps. of liquid vanilla
  • 1/2 tsps. of nutmeg
  • 2-3 tbls. of cinnamon
  • 2 tsps. of creamed wheat

None of the quantities above are cut in stone, they depend on your taste.

For the dough and the finishing:
  • 1 box of Fillo dough (sheets)
  • 1/2 pound of whipped, unsalted butter
  • 1/2 pound of margarine
  • 2 tbls. of powder sugar in which you have kept a vanilla stick for at least 3 days for vanilla flavoring

If you prefer, you can only use butter for the dough, but I use it whipped and mixed with the healthiest margarine I can find for health reasons.

Cooking the apples:
  1. Wash and core the apples, no need to peel them.
  2. Grind the apples (the grinder of the Cuisinart is wonderful for that, it takes just minutes).
  3. Place the apples in a pan at fairly high temperature and add the sugar. The idea is to get all the juice out of the apples as fast as possible.
  4. You need to stir often, otherwise they will stick to the pan and become unedible.
  5. Add the ground lemon peel, the juice of a lemon, and, when there is almost no more juice, the rum and the vanilla.
  6. Do not forget to stir and make sure that all these ingredients are well distributed in the apple mass.
  7. Do not hesitate to taste and see if you like it. Add sugar, or lemon juice or more spices, as needed.
  8. When all the liquid has evaporated, turn off the heat, but leave the pan on the stove and add the nutmeg, the cinnamon, and then the creamed wheat, mixing vigorously in the process.
  9. Take your pan to a cool place to let it cool a while.
Rolling the strudel:
  1. The Fillo dough needs to be completely defrosted before you open the box.
  2. Take the sheets out, count them, and divide them into 3 parts (one third for each strudel).
  3. Cover the sheets you are not working onat least with a paper towel, so they do not dry out.
  4. Liquify 1/3 of the butter + 1/3 of the margarine (the microwave is well suited for the operation). Repeat this operation before you start on each of the strudels or when you are out of liquid.
  5. Placeone dough sheet on a clean and flat surface and use a soft and wide kitchen brush to brush a thin layer of the liquid butter-margarine mixture on the sheet. Then place the next sheet over it and repeat the operation until1/3 of the sheets are piled up. Do NOT put any butter or margarine on the last sheet.
  6. Place1/3 of the apple mixture in a rollat the endof the longer side of the sheet, but leave about 0.5-1 inch free at both ends.
  7. Loosely roll the sheets around the apples and then close the ends by crimping them together. Place the strudel in a baking pan (teflon is ideal).
  8. Generously brush the strudel with the butter-margarine mixture.
  9. After you have finished all 3 strudels, punch them densely with a toothpick, so the hot air has some way out and does not break the strudels.
Baking the strudel and getting it ready to serve:
  1. Preheat the oven to 325-350 degrees.
  2. Place the strudel pan in the preheated oven and let it bake for about 30 min. or until the strudels turn light brown.
  3. Take the strudel pan out of the oven, otherwisethe strudels might get brown and taste burned.
  4. Cut the strudel with a very sharp knife. It is easier to cut and better to eat while it is warm.
  5. Let it cool just a bit andput the vanilla-flavored powder sugar in a small tea sieve and stir it with a teaspoon, while moving the sieve over the strudel.
  6. Continue until all 3 strudels are covered with a layer of powder sugar.

The warm strudel can also be served with vanilla ice cream or with whipped cream (Schlagobers, as the Austrians would say), for me it is a bit too rich.

Guten Appetit (also mostly Austrian)!

Step 12: Guest recipe from Katja

Getting back to the Smørgåsbord blogging, at long last! We’re no longer working in chronological order, here, but I want to get these guest recipes (this post and the next, lucky step 13) up soon.

This recipe, graciously provided by the aforementioned Katja, is a beautiful, beige salad. You wouldn’t think it would be attractive, but it’s all shades of beige, and it’s all julienned, and the effect is stunning. I wish I had a picture of it, but by the time Katja, Paul, and the salad arrived, I was up to my elbows in goose fat and taking pictures was beyond me. Just trust me, it was beautiful, and here instead is a picture of its maker.

I’ll post the recipe in Katja’s own words:

Below you will find the (easy) recipe for the salad I made for your party. It is basically a Wurstsalat but in my family, it has always (or let’s say as long as I can think) been called “Lieblingssalat” (=the favorite salad). Of course, you can make this salad and time of the year but in the Zuske family, there are only two times a year when it comes onto the table: Christmas and my brother’s birthday. I guess that is why we kids liked it so much – create interest by rarity 😉


  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Berlin- or Spreewald-style pickles
  • Apples (Cox Orange Pippin, Braeburn or similar)
  • Fleischwurst (or Virginia- or Blackforest-style ham)

For the sauce:

  • Mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, and/or yoghurt
  • Lemon
  • Liquid from the pickle jar
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Basically, you use 1 egg per 1 pickle per 1 apple but in the end, the ratio changes with the size of your ingredients and also your taste, of course.

On Sunday, I used something like 5 eggs, 4 apples, 6 Spreewald pickles and about a half inch slab of Virginia-Style ham, mixed with 3 table spoons of mayonnaise, the juice of half a lemon, and almost half of the liquid in the pickle jar. Again, try and see what you like.

The salad is best the day it’s made (although it lasts about a week – well, not in my family…), however, it needs to rest a couple of hours before serving. Right before serving, have a taste, usually, it is good to add some more pepper at that time.

All ingredients are easy to find here. I collected them in my yard and at the Farmer’s Market, Trader Joe’s and Lunardis. Dittmer’s would have been a good source too.

Voila. Easy!

And yummy!

Step 11: Mach Rotkohl!

We’ll be serving that roasted goose on a bed of Rotkohl, which is the red, sweet, spicy version of Sauerkraut that many people have never had the pleasure of tasting–yet. Rotkohl is fabulous stuff. We’re making a double version of Frl. Nadia’s recipe:

  • 1 red cabbage. cored and shredded fine
  • 1 T honey
  • 1 C red wine vinegar
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 shallots, peeled and minced
  • 3 medium tart apples, cored, peeled, chunked (or a glob of applesauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • pepper, salt
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, and studded with 6 whole cloves
  • 2 T red currant jelly

Mix the honey, vinegar, salt, and toss with cabbage. Let sit for an hour while the salt draws the juices out of the cabbage.
Melt the butter and saute shallots until translucent. Add apples and cook until softened, or skip that and substitute the half jar of applesauce you still have leftover from Hannukah latkes. Add cabbage, bay leaf, pepper, and 1 C cold water. Cooking tip: when recipes call for a can or jar of something and later call for a bunch of liquid, use that liquid to rinse the can or jar. Place the clove-studded onion in the middle of things, turn down to the lowest flame, cover, and allow to simmer for an hour until the cabbage is soft and yummy. Stir in jelly, remove onion and bay leaves, and remove to the refrigerator until the big day. Warm and serve as a bed under goose.

Save the clove-studded onion to stuff into the goose along with everything else.

Step 10: Start "Erin’s Professor Sylte Gløgg"

Gløgg is a Norwegian mulled wine. We make a gigantic 5 gallon cauldron of it, and we invite people to bring cheap red wine to dump into the cauldron. No, really–cheap. Two Buck Chuck is too good. You want the box of Franzia or Almaden. This is your opportunity to get rid of the weird odds and ends that you have acquired in the red wine corner of your closet that you’re afraid to drink.

What makes it good, despite the dreadful plonk that is its base, is that you start by whacking up a whole fresh pineapple, zesting and juicing 2 oranges, and dumping this into a huge pot with several cups of mixed raisins and slivered or food-processored almonds. Also grate 2-4″ inches of fresh ginger, crush 20 whole cardamom pods, 12 whole cloves, 4 cinnamon sticks. For raisins this year, we’re using probably 3C of dead old white raisins and 3C more of basic raisins, another C or two of craisins (dried cranberries), and whatever other crap you might feel like adding. Cover with cheap red wine (the classic recipe calls for burgundy), bring to a boil, cover, turn off heat, and let sit around until the day of the party.

On the day of the party, you’ll dump in slugs of the following along with a lot more wine into the largest pot you have–we use a 5 gallon Revereware brewpot. It’s a bit of a juggling act, really; you want to kind of pace yourself on the extra ingredients to make them come out even with the wine that gets added. We usually get the pot up to about the 2/3 full point with our own wine and the following, and then we add the wine that arrives with guests and selected additional slugs of the following as we go. Ultimately it all adds up to about: 10 liters or more of red wine, 1-1/2 C akevit, 1-1/2 C sugar, 2 bottles of port, 2 bottles of sweet vermouth. All of these should be the cheapest plonk you can find.

This recipe is named for three people: the legendary but anonymous “professor” of classic Norse gløgg recipes, Ruth Sylte who gave me a version of it/, and I, who multiplied it a bazillion times to soak 50+ guests.

Bring to the meekest of boils, then turn down the flame to the lowest possible setting to keep the gløgg warm but not burn off the alcohol. Put your entire mug collection out on the counter and invite your guests to choose a mug that they will remember is theirs. Provide a ladle and encourage people to get some chunky bits, too. Gløgg is first a drink and then a marinated-fruity-almondy snack.

Step 9: bake pretzels

On Wednesday we baked pretzels. I’ve made homemade pretzels before, so you wouldn’t think this would be particularly challenging, but I managed to make it really complicated somehow.

First, a disclaimer. In the real world, you should make pretzels approximately 20 seconds before you plan to serve them. Within a few days, they’re excellent, but warm right out of the oven, they’re frigging awesome. However, smørgåsbord day is always a frenzied chaotic storm of last-minute preparations–putting out decorations, arranging foods on the table, and preparing the foods that must be served absolutely fresh. Notably the Norwegian meatballs are a reliable source of at least 90 minutes of tension; if they don’t set off the smoke alarm and alert the ADT monitoring office, they at least make a giant mess, and after that you have to gather your wits somehow to gather the drippings, make beef broth, make roux, not scald yourself, and get a gravy together, all while last-minute RSVPers are calling to say they’re coming or not and bringing someone else or not.

Another comment on RSVPing: yes, it’s good to RSVP, especially when asked, and more especially when nagged about it in a blog like mine, but what’s the point of RSVPing the day of? No extra shopping, cooking, cleaning, or dish-purchasing will be done on the day of. Just show up and give your hosts an extra-enthusiastic kiss, please. When you call the day of, you’re likely to get frenzied freakazoids who are worried that if the conversation lasts one more sentence, meatball burning, roux scalding, or gløgg boiling will occur. Or whatever it is that your hosts are doing (we realize that although smørgåsbords are the best possible party, many people throw parties that lack a smørgåsbord theme). At any rate, the company of your pleasure is very much desired, and please come even if you haven’t RSVPed (unless it’s a dinner party and there’s a chance of exactly the wrong number of something-or-others being prepared), but don’t call. We’re busy. They’re busy. All hosts are busy the day of, or else they have a lot of hired help and professional caterers and the party won’t be any fun anyway.

Okay, I guess that wasn’t a comment, it was a rant. What do you expect? This is a blog!

Now let’s discuss those pretzels. The wonderful German cuisine for Americans cookbook that V got me for Christmas, Spoonfuls of Germany by Nadia Hassani, Hippocrene: New York, 2004 (which can be purchased here) is a nice collection of recipes, and the commentary and diagrams are nice, but it has some problems. First, the index lists only the translated names of foods, so if you want to make Knödel, you’ll have to figure out whether that’s filed under potatoes, dumplings, globs, blobs, starchy units, or whatever. Good luck. We haven’t actually found them yet. Another problem is that it wasn’t proofread very well, so for example, their recipe for spätzle calls for “soda water,” without specifying whether that means seltzer water/club soda or water with baking soda dissolved in it. She also is weak on the principles of baking, so if you’ve never baked and have her cookbook, just go ahead and follow her directions and you’ll probably get lucky, but if you are an experienced baker, please substitute your own knowledge where needed and consider her recipes to be serving suggestions.

About those spätzle: we were planning to make a double batch of them tonight, but we ran into our wonderful friends Noel and Ayse at our other wonderful friends’ David and Arlene’s befana tonight, and Noel promised to make Rotkohl and Spätzle. I explained that I’d already made a massive batch of Rotkohl (see later post), so he’s making a quadruple batch of Spätzle and we’re not, so it doesn’t matter that we don’t know whether to use baking soda or seltzer. (Vielen Dank, Noel!)

So anyway, Frl. Nadia’s pretzel recipe is hella confusing. She calls for 1 oz of fresh (cake) yeast, or 2 (1/4 oz) envelopes of active dry yeast. We have the little jar of Fleischmann’s, which says 2-1/4 tsp equals one package active, or RapidRise Yeast (1/4 oz) = 1 cake fresh yeast. So how the hell much of this shit are we supposed to use?! Well, whatever–but be sure to dissolve it in water that’s around 110 degrees F, and don’t trust V’s senses of this. Add salt. She calls for 1 tsp, which seems wrong, and I’m sextupling, see below, so it’s a healthy slug of salt in my version.

Moreover, her recipe makes 10 pretzels, which is almost enough for one person. We have invited almost 200 people, and probably 60-80 will show up. So we needed a sextuple recipe, and if we cut the pretzels, we might run out before half the guests have arrived. So if you don’t know how much yeast to use in the first place, and you need to make a sextuple recipe, and you sextuple the liquid but for some reason after immensely complicated algebra you only triple the yeast, and in metric at that (don’t ask), it all gets rather confusing. Meanwhile, if you’ve ever known Jane, you are likely to substitute whole wheat flour for at least half of the white flour in the recipe. This, however, changes the moisture requirements of a recipe. Note that in managing your moisture supplies, which are a sextuple batch of warm water and a I-don’t-know-uple of yeast.

Fire up Kitchen-Aid mixer! Put the yeasty mess in the bowl. Gradually add flours–to each 1-1/3 cup of yeasty mess, add about 3 C of whole wheat flour and 2 C unbleached white flour. Mix until it comes off the sides of the bowl yada yada yada. Knead. Cover with a moist towel and let rise 2 hours.

Go off and catch up on blogging step 6. Come back and dissolve 6 tsp baking soda in a big ass pot of hot water, bring to a boil. Get your oven preheating to 425 F. Briefly knead a whunk of the dough, roll into snakes about 1/2″ in diameter, and pull off 12″ snakes to make each pretzel. Make a loop, twist twice, flip upside-down, and fold the ends over, pinch, and plop onto a greased cookie sheet. Get a dozen or so ready on the sheet, cover with the moistened cloth, and move on to the next sheet. At some point, get V involved in the snakerating, and start this process, which should be familiar to those who have made bagels: drop the pretzels several at a time into the water to boil for 20-30 seconds or until they float, then fish out with a leaky ladle (Barbara Tropp’s name for the Chinese net spoon; Nadia calls for a slotted spoon–once again, whatever). Plop back on the greased sheet. When you finish up a sheet, sprinkle the pretzels with kosher salt.

If you’ve been ranted at about cooking by me before, you know that I believe kosher salt is a necessity in any kitchen. Uniodized sea salts are optional, kosher is mandatory, and iodized table salt gets the Barbara Tropp skull-and-crossbones treatment.

Slide into the oven and bake 25 minutes or until brown and crisp. Serve at once. Or store in Tupperware and serve on Sunday. If you do serve at once, butter’s a nice touch.

Step 8: Start baking!!

The baking began at Jane’s place in Sausalito. On Monday night Jane prepared
the pepparkakor dough, recipe courtesy of our friend Nilos:


sifted flour 3 1/2 c.
ginger 1 1/2 t.
cinnamon 1 1/2 t.
cloves 1 t.
cardamom* 1/4 t.
butter 1/2 c.
sugar 3/4 c.
egg 1
molasses 3/4 c.
orange zest 2 t.

Sift together flour and spices and set aside. Cream butter till fluffy, adding sugar gradually. Beat in egg, molasses and orange zest. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Chill covered overnight (will hold more than a week of wrapped airtight). Roll out 1/8″ thick on well-floured board, cut out and bake on greased cookie sheets at 375°F for 8 – 10 minutes. Store airtight. They get better as they age.

Great recipe – tasty and easy to make. The dough does not contain too much butter (relatively speaking), and so does not stick to the floured cloth rolling-out urface. Enjoyable to make these.

Tuesday night, Jane baked the pepparkakor and made the Zimsterne, recipe courtesy of Beate:

ZIMSTERNE (Cinnamon Stars)

4 egg whites
2 tsp lemon juice
300 g caster sugar (powdered sugar)
1 tbsp cinnamon
375-400 g ground almonds

Preheat oven to 130°C.Beat egg whites with lemon juice until very stiff. Gradually add sugar and beat until firm (so that it could be cut with a knife) and glossy.Take away and set aside a little more than half a cup of this mixture for the topping. Mix cinnamon and almonds into the rest of the egg white mixture. Make sure it is not too sticky and not too dry. Add more almonds if too sticky.Sprinkle the worktop with flour, some sugar and some ground almonds. Spread a small amount of the mixture on the work surface and roll out to a thickness of about ¼ inch. Cut little stars with a cookie cutter and place on a baking tray.
Spread the egg white mixture set aside earlier on top of the stars.Bake stars for about 45 minutes, leaving the oven door slightly open (the icing
has to stay white).

Conversions: degree Celsius = 266 degree Fahrenheit grams = 2.5 cups unsifted powdered sugar375 – 400 grams = 2.6 to 2.75 cups whole almonds

This was a baking experience!! Not your average cookie dough! This recipe is not for the baking novice . . . . but what a tasty result! The cookies is very much like one recipe for the traditional Scandinavian “kransekake” – ground almonds, powdered sugar and egg white – no butter or flour. (Stay tuned for the kransekake blog this weekend.) For the Zimsterne, be sure to set aside enough of the egg white/lemon mixture for spreading on the cookies later! I didn’t set aside quite enough, so there are a few “naked” zimsterne in my cookie tin. 🙂

Also be sure you have plenty of extra ground almonds on hand to add if the dough is too sticky. These cookies bake longer than your average American cookie, and at a lower heat, so as to keep the white meringue topping white. And a word to the wise, or to the temper-tantrum-prone, keep a tasty cocktail handy to keep your mood mellow when the dough sticks too much or when frosting the cookies with meringue or when things don’t turn out exactly as you’d thought they would . . . . 😉 Because this was the first time I’d made this cookie, I used my good friend “google” to look up some other recipes for the same cookie and found the following words of warning to begin one of the other recipes, “These are extremely difficult to make, but if you make them, they are heavenly.” Took a sip of my cocktail and ploughed ahead!

Wednesday was the easy baking day – just one batch of Spritz cookies. Though you find a recipe for spritz in any Scandinavian cookbook, I found a recipe for “German Spritz,” so chose to make that one. It’s virtually identical to the Scandinavian recipes.


1 c. butter
2/3 c. sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract (I used vanilla)
2 1/2 c. flour (actually, 2 c. was plenty)

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolks and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in flour.
Fill spritz cookie press, press, decorate. Bake at 400°F for 7 minutes.

Baking blogs to follow in next few days – krumkake, kransekake, pumpernickel
bread, and braided cardamom bread. 🙂 Yum!

Step 7: Start graved laks

Graved laks (aka gravlaks) is ridiculously easy, but few people seem to realize this, so it always gets big oohs and ahhs at the smørgåsbord. The keys are to buy really good salmon (wild, of course) and start at least 5 days in advance. We make a two-fillet batch for the smørgåsbord. Fresh salmon (like any fish) should be firm and not smell fishy. Farmed salmon is evil, both nutritionally and environmentally, so even though it’s a lot more expensive, always hold out for wild salmon.

To start, roast a bunch of anise seeds in a pan, then add 4 parts salt to 3 parts sugar and stir. You need enough of this stuff to cover both sides of both fillets. For two fillets, I used about 2 C of stuff.

Rinse and pat dry the fillets. Feel along the bone-line to find any pin bones needing to be removed, grab hold with a small, sprung needle-nosed pliers, and yank out. This is the way the pros do it, and it’s much easier and tidier than any other method. Be sure to wash, dry, and oil the pliers when you’re done.

Next, cover the fleshy sides of both fillets with the stuff, then cover again with chopped fresh dill. The idea of graved laks is that the stuff is going to suck out the water from the fish as a way of preserving it. Stick the fleshy sides together and then use whatever you have left to cover the skin sides. Use the discarded dill stems to make a rack in the bottom of a pan, plop the fishes on top, cover with plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge. Weight the salmon down by piling whatever stuff you had to move out of the way in the refrigerator on top of the fish; this helps press out the juices.

For the next several days, every 12 hours you need to drain off the juice, turn the pair of fillets over, and put back in the refrigerator. The pictures (above) are after the first 24 hours; notice all the salmon juice in the pan!

Step 6: Shop more!

Next we drove back to Oakland and visited Nordic House, where we picked up a frozen lutefisk, several kinds of gjetost, our house cheese and cat’s namesake, some rullepolse, several varieties of syld (herring), and whatnot.

Gjetost is a sweet brown cheese made from cow and/or goat milk and whey that is simmered for hours to carmelize out the sugars, and then it is made into cheese; the carmelized sugars stay sweet rather than getting digested and made tart by the little microbial friend. The cat is a sweet brown Snowshoe Siamese with beautiful, Nordic blue eyes. Here are the cheese and the cat. They chose not to pose together.

Finally, a trip to Andronico’s for less exotic groceries. Many hundred dollars later, we returned home and got to work. Well, actually V went to Dunsmuir (Scottish dance) practice, and I got to work much later on.