Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Table Full of Food

Still featuring Sweden this week, with today’s focus on FOOD! (scroll down for recipes)

Who can resist a good smorgasbord? You don’t really hear that word much anymore, it’s been replaced by the shorter, easier-to-spell “buffet.” But it was the Swedes that made popular the idea of a table laden with a variety of foods where guests or customers could fill their plates. Smorgas means something akin to “open sandwich,” and bord means “table,” but a true smorgasbord does not have sandwiches. Instead, you’ll find numerous small dishes containing pickled herring with onions, Swedish meatballs, salmon, eggs, fried potatoes, salads, pies and more.

Nowadays, fast food is very popular in Sweden. You can go to a korvkiosk stand for boiled or fried hot dogs, fries and mashed potatoes!

Easter celebrations in Sweden usually mean coming home from church and enjoying a smorgasbord feast. Afterward, there are plenty of desserts to go around. Here are a couple of recipes for Swedish sweets. (Couldn't find a photo, so enjoy this picture of the Northern Lights instead!)

Spice Cake (kryddkaka)
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat eggs until very light and fluffy. Add sugar gradually while beating. Sift together flour, spices and baking powder. Fold this into the egg mixture gently, so as not to deflate eggs. In a small saucepan, heat butter and water over low heat until butter has melted. Once butter melts, bring to a boil and add while still boiling hot to the batter (first mixture). Combine thoroughly. Butter a 7 3/4 inch tube pan and sprinkle evenly with the bread crumbs. Pour cake batter into pan. Bake in preheated 350°F oven 45-50 minutes or until cake tests done. Serve unfrosted or with confectioners icing.
Serving Suggestion: Slice and serve with fruit and fruit syrup topped with whipped cream.

Almond Cake (mandeltårta)
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 16-oz. can pears in light syrup, drained
1 cups sugar, divided
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup buttermilk, divided

Caramel-almond Topping
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 teaspoon almond extract

To make cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl. Puree pears in a food processor or blender until smooth. Measure out 1/2 cup of the puree; keep the remainder for another use. Combine 1/2 cup sugar, butter, oil, vanilla, 1/2 teaspoon almond extract and the 1/2 cup pear puree in a mixing bowl. Whisk until well combined.
Beat egg whites in a clean mixing bowl with an electric mixer on low speed until frothy. Add cream of tartar and beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and beat until firm peaks form. Add 1/4 cup buttermilk to the wet ingredients and beat with the mixer on low speed. Add half of the dry ingredients and beat on low speed until just combined. Repeat with the remaining buttermilk and flour. (Be careful not to overmix, or the cake will be tough.) Fold in the reserved meringue with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

To make caramel-almond topping: Combine 3/4 cup sugar with water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium and cook, without stirring, until the syrup turns a deep caramel, 4 to 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly add 1/3 cup buttermilk. (The caramel will harden.) Return the caramel to low heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until the caramel dissolves. Stir in almonds and 1 teaspoon almond extract.

Place the cake, upside-down, on a serving plate. Poke holes all over the top with a thin skewer. Spoon the topping over the cake, spreading the almonds evenly and letting the caramel drip down the sides. Let the cake stand for about 1 hour to absorb the syrup, then serve.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sweden's Icy Wonder

Just imagine a lavish hotel that sparkles like crystal, inside and out! Located in the Land of the Midnight Sun, Sweden’s famous Icehotel (all one word) is created entirely of ice and snow…even the beds. (Thick fur padding and covers keep guests warm and cozy as they sleep.) Elegant chandeliers, artistic statues and wall carvings take this place to levels comparable to any fine “regular” hotel. Even the glasses at the bar are made of ice! The hotel’s renowned restaurant offers unique cuisine that cultivates the many flavors of Swedish Lapland. Just outside, visitors will find the River Torne, and above (depending on the time of year), the amazing Northern Lights.

The hotel is located in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden and is open from December through April.

Check out my next posting for a little bit about Sweden’s food and a recipe as well.

Like to read? My friend Millie Samuelson is the author of Hungry River, which is partly set in Sweden and features main characters born in Sweden. Here’s a quick overview of the story:

In the midst of the deadly 1900 Boxer Rebellion riots, Nils and Lizzie attempt to flee to safety down the treacherous Great Long Yangtze River. When rebel troops capture them, a fierce-faced commander takes one look at them, then shouts to his men, "Where are the foreign devils? I see only white Chinese. Release them!"

Hungry River tells the story of this daring Swedish-American family struggling to survive in war-tormented China -- a story highlighted by their granddaughter Abbie's modern-day journal entries. A romance triangle, danger, tragedy and despair are all part of the plot. But so are faith, hope, love and triumph.

Learn more about Millie’s books on her website:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Wonderful Wisconsin

The Miura family took a little Spring Break from work, school and even blogging last week to escape to the Wisconsin Dells. Yes, it's famous for waterparks, fudge and tacky souvenier shops, all of which we indulged in, but it's also a beautiful part of the country. You can see the scenic side by driving around outside "the strip", or heading a short ways down the highway to Devil's Lake and Mirror Lake state parks. You can also see the dramatic rock formations by taking a Dells boat tour, a helicopter ride or a Duck ride, which goes on land and in the water (kind of noisy, though). Our preferred mode of transportations is horseback. My daughter and I make an annual trip to "The Ranch" -- our favorite stable -- and meander through the woods for an hour or so. This year we met Norman, an adorable miniature horse (see photo). Another great way to see some of the Dells natural wonders is to take a horse-drawn wagon ride through Lost Canyon.

Some of my favorite shops are the Mouse House (not Mickey -- we're talkin' CHEESE) where you can get awesome cheeses and sausages, cow pies (chocolate candy with caramel and nuts) and an amazing array of preserves and snacks. Oh, and cheese curds, of course. You can't leave Wisconsin without a bag or two! I discovered a wonderful artsy shop at the far end of downtown Dells. If you go, check out Artistic Expressions. You'll know it by the Moose out front (see photo).

Check in next week for a virtual trip to Sweden...and recipes too!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I was looking forward to my research on Russian food because, for those of us who aren’t Russian, it is a bit of a mystery. Sure, we all know about borscht, but it’s unlikely that Russia’s 142 million people sit around eating borscht day after day. And…it’s a huge country that actually spans two continents, so the food is as diverse as the people. With over 160 nationalities represented, there must be some incredible “melting pot” stuff going on when it comes to cuisine!

Many of the foods we consider Russian are actually French influenced and known as Franco-Russian. Examples are Veal Orloff, Beef stroganoff and Chicken Kiev. Here are a few other main dishes that sounded good to me: Beef Shashlyk is a marinated beef kabob, popular at picnics. Bosartma is stewed lamb in a tomato base. Fish cutlets involve grinding the fish, mixing it with sour cream, egg and other ingredients, then forming a cutlet or patty which is fried.

Hot and cold soups have always played an important role in Russian meals. An age-old favorite is Shchi (pictured at right), which contains cabbage, meat, carrots or parsley roots; spicy herbs like garlic or onions; and sour components, like apples, sauerkraut or pickle water. Rassolnik is a hot soup in a salty-sour cucumber base which contains either veal, beef kidneys or poultry giblets.

Now this came as a surprise to me: mushrooms are a popular ingredient in Russian cuisine, often replacing meat. Here’s a delicious traditional mushroom-based recipe.

200 grams fresh mushrooms
100 grams rice
2 onions
2 Tbs. flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for frying

Boil mushrooms in salted water, then drain and rinse. Let water trickle off. Finely chop mushrooms and set aside. Finely chop onion and fry in oil. Boil rice until almost cooked, then let it cool. Mix mushrooms with onion, rice, salt and pepper to taste. Shape into small cutlets and roll in flour. Fry in oil until there is golden skin.Serve with a fresh green salad.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Raving About Russia

A couple of things I find fascinating about Russia: One, it’s immense size. Two, according to a map, you could almost get there from any point in the U.S. by driving to the western most tip of Alaska and swimming across the Bering Strait. Yes, I know this is not realistic – it just looks that way. But even if there were roads through all that Canadian and Alaskan wilderness, and the swimmer in question was Michael Phelps, my guess is the Bering Strait would be cold enough to instantly ice-cube someone within minutes. (It connects the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean.)

Russia has many interesting features and places to visit, but the one I’ve always wanted to see is Lake Baikal. Like Russia, it is huge. Located in Southern Siberia, Lake Baikal is the largest and deepest freshwater lake in the world. It is also one of the most ancient lakes on our planet, estimated at 25-30 million years old. It lies in a gorge where the earth’s crust is pulling apart. What does that mean, exactly? I don’t know – sounds a little scary. It’s age, depth and other unique features mean that two-thirds of this lake’s 2,000 species of plants and animals don’t exist anywhere else in the world! Now that is amazing!

One of the lake’s popular critters is the Nerpa Seal, which is fat and earless. No one knows how these seals came to live there, since it is a great distance from any ocean. I love it that our world still has mysteries!

Completely surrounded by mountains, the sheer beauty of this lake draws people from all over the world. Coming soon…the food of Russia, along with a recipe!

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Cliffs of Moher

Going to Ireland? Don’t miss the famous Cliffs of Moher on the west coast. These monoliths of Mother Nature rise from the sea to create one of the most outstanding coastal features of this island country. They are located just south of the Village of Doolin in County Clare, and ascent to over 700 feet. There are many hotels and bed & breakfast places to stay in Doolin, which is renouned as the music capital of Ireland. Bird lovers will enjoy the wildlife of the cliffs, where Atlantic puffins, black and white Razorbills and the solid black Choughs can be found. Surfers will be exhilarated by the challenging 35-foot waves at the bottom of the cliffs.

If you would like to read about Ireland, check out this new book by author Cindy Thomson. CELTIC WISDOM: TREASURES FROM IRELAND, is a collection of classic Celtic sayings and stories, prayers and proverbs which reveal the authentic core of Celtic spirituality. Beautifully illustrated with evocative images of Ireland, this book does more than simply retell Celtic stories: it equips seekers to transform their worlds by putting this ancient wisdom in practice. Thomson also wrote BRIGID OF IRELAND, which is set in fifth-century pagan-dominated Ireland. Brigid is born a slave to her own father and is separated from her mother. Desperately seeking love and acceptance, Brigid becomes a believer in Christ. Will her hatred for her father and a scheming evil sorcerer destroy her faith? To learn more about Cindy and her books, here are links to her website and blog:

One more Irish recipe before moving on to another country!

Cheese Crusted Haddock
• 3/4 pound cheddar cheese, grated
• 1/3 cup ale
• 1 tablespoon flour
• 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
• 1 teaspoon dried mustard
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• 1 egg
• 1 egg yolk
• 6 pieces fresh or smoked haddock, about 6 ounces each

In a saucepan over low heat, combine the cheese and ale and cook until the cheese melts, 5 to 7 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Add the flour, mustard, and breadcrumbs and cook until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cool.

When cool, transfer to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add the egg and egg yolk. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Transfer cheese mixture to a pastry board and roll out to a smooth thickness of about 1/4-inch. Lay haddock pieces into a buttered ovenproof casserole dish, cut pieces of cheese mixture to fit on top of haddock (trim the edges), and bake, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, or until haddock is heated through. Place under the broiler to brown the crust. Serves 6

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Irish Castles

Who doesn’t love a good castle? (or even a bad one?) Irish castles are not the humongous structures you might expect, though there are some large ones (see photo). Most are rather dark due to their windows being narrow slits, designed primarily to see if an enemy is approaching. The rooms inside are small so they can be warmed by a fireplace, though some have a great hall and many have a chapel. Throughout the Emerald Isle you’ll find castles in a variety of conditions, from piles of rubble to beautifully restored.

Did you know you can stay in castles when you visit Ireland? Check out this link for an array of beautiful castle hotels:

If you’re not interested in staying in a castle, maybe you’d like to get married in one. Would that be romantic, or what? There are many beautiful castles throughout Ireland where couples can take their vows amidst stone walls that have stood tall and proud for centuries. Just type “Irish Castle Weddings” into Google or Yahoo for a list of sites.
Hidden passageways, wails in the night and slamming doors might be just the ticket for those of you interested in paranormal activity. There are plenty of allegedly “haunted” castles available for exploration throughout Ireland. Now I myself am not a believer in ghosts, but apparently haunted castle tours are quite popular.
One more post coming up this week on Ireland -- stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Ireland, land of rocky cliffs that rise from the North Atlantic, ancient ruins, Celtic shrines and cathedrals, colorful villages and hidden beaches. Did you know Ireland actually encompasses two separate countries? Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom; and the Republic of Ireland, an independent country that is a member of the European Union. Both have as many fascinating sites to explore as they do mystical legends. To get in the spirit for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, I will dedicate this week to all things Irish, beginning with food. Come back later in the week for castles, dramatic scenery and famous sites.
Before we talk food…I just have to tell you about a great book set in Ireland by my good friend, author Patti Lacy. Check out AN IRISHWOMAN’S TALE, available in bookstores and from Amazon. From the rugged, green cliffs of rural 1940s Ireland to present day Illinois, you will embark on a voyage of shattered hearts and jumbled lives, linking the fragmented pieces together as Mary, the book’s main character, reveals her history. Listening with her heart wide open is Mary’s new friend Sally, a feisty Southern woman who suspected all along there were stories and secrets hiding in Mary’s heart.

IRISH FOOD – The surrounding sea provides fresh seafood, while sweet green pastures afford plenty of meats and dairy. A variety of vegetables, especially potatoes, are ideally suited to Ireland’s climate and soil. Some traditional Irish foods are:
Seafood Chowder, with fish, bacon, onion, corn, potatoes and “a knob of butter.”
Colcannon, a mixture of mashed potatoes, cabbage and onions.
Irish Stew, containing lamb or mutton, onions and potatoes (do we see a pattern here?)
Got a craving for some Coddle? Here’s the recipe:

The classic Irish coddle recipe is basically a ham, sausage, potato, and onion stove-top casserole. It makes an easy and hearty meal.

1-1/2 pounds pork sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
1-1/2 pounds smoked ham, cut into 1-inch dice
1 quart boiling water
2 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly diced
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the sausage and ham in the boiling water and boil for 5 minutes. Drain, but reserve the liquid.
Put the meat into a large saucepan (or an oven-proof dish) with the onions, potatoes, and parsley. Add enough of the stock to not quite cover the contents. Cover the pot and simmer gently for about 1 hour, or until the liquid is reduced by half and all the ingredients are cooked but not mushy. You may need to remove the lid during the last half of the cooking process. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot with the vegetables on top and fresh Irish Soda Bread and a glass of stout. Yield: 8 servings