Saturday, December 22, 2012

Delivering my culinary inability across the globe in time for Christmas

When it comes to cooking for the holidays, I am the family stirrer. I stir the pot, if you know what I mean. Yeah, the pot, the pan (what IS the difference?), the cooking apparatus of milk and butter and dill that will thicken after an hour of constant stirring that will eventually go on the DANISH meatballs. That’s what I do. A very important job that is hard to screw up. Because let’s face it, if it can go wrong, I will make it go that way. 

My week has been filled with Christmas festivities. At work, at home, everywhere! The Christmas spirit is contagious, and I have caught it. It is so strong, I got the crazy idea to bake cookies. My original intention was to make cookies for Helle's gløgg party on Wednesday. With working so late (until 4pm, haha) and my turtle pace in the kitchen, that didn't happen. Which is completely fine because there was SO MUCH FOOD at that party. Two kinds of gløgg (white and red), cheeses, meats, æbleskiver, chocolates, marzipan, fruit, rugbrød, and other things. The gathering needed no more food, as the amount of sweets, Danish, and hand-shaking was nearly uncomfortable. 

I was then going to make them for the get-together the neighbors were having on Thursday, but I once again ran out of time. The hard work and struggles just sat in the fridge, neglected, waiting to be loved. After this nice gløgg-drinking, æbleskiver and cookie-eating, Danish-learning gathering was over, Helle and I ate the duck she had been cooking for the last few hours. It was our little Christmas dinner. We knew it was ready when there were "meat explosions" coming from the oven. Also, she went looking in the cupboard (Danish: skab) for something to add to the duck. I heard "I'm looking for some red garbage." I tried to keep a straight face, but I just lost it. "You're looking for what?" "the red garbage." She had to describe it to me, and then I knew she was looking for RED CABBAGE. We had a good five minutes of side-splitting (literally. her rib hurt) laughter. The duck was delicious, especially with salt. After this, it was about 10:30pm, and I was ready to make my little, delicate crescents. I'll share with you the recipe, as I interpreted it. With pictures! 

From Rose's Christmas Cookies cook book. Perfectly written by a Jewish woman (Rose Levy Beranbaum), translated into metric and Danish by me, with a little help from my brother. 
Rose's Crescents (Rose's Halvmåner)
2/3 c. blanched, sliced almonds (56g mandel splitter)
1/3 c. sugar (70g sukker)
1 c. unsalted butter (120g usaltet Dansk smør—3x the price of salted)
1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour (235g hvedemel, translated to wheat flour. It’s white flour)
1/4 t. salt (…1/4 t. salt)
1/2 c. superfine sugar (throw the sukkar in the food processor. Throw)
1/2 t. cinnamon (stødt kanel) and no amounts because who uses amounts for topping?

Find the world's smallest food processor, and combine the almonds and sugar. Cut butter into pieces and add once the almond and sugar mixture is fine. Make sure you buy 1kg of unsalted and salted butter from two different stores. Just in case, or just because you can't find the butter in the store and get excited when you do, so you buy whatever.
Belongs in that place of oddities in Kansas, along I-70 next to the 
world's largest prairie dog, the world's smallest food processor.
Scrape the bowl. Lick the spatula if you like butter, almonds and sugar. If you don't like this combo, then these cookies aren't for you. There is no way 235g of flour can fit into the world's smallest food processor, so get creative! Don't use common sense!
A blender won't mix this.
Add your buttery mixture to the blender and add the flour on top, with a little salt. Start the blender. Watch the bottom mix and nothing else. If you're clever, you'll skip this step. Normal size food processors work well for mixing all of this together. But if you must, transfer the blender items to the wee food processor, making sure the blade isn't in it and the flour goes through the hole in the middle. Fix the problem. Eventually, you will end up with THIS:
After mixing everything together.
It's a little crumbly, maybe I should have added more butter. Or I struggle with a scale. Especially around the holidays.

My brother is an actual chef,and he makes messes just like this. Good sign?
Transfer the mixture to the least staticky husholdningsfilm you can find. Form a disc, like so:
Dough Disc (you would think I would notice this was too crumbly)
Nothing worth doing is easy. This saying translates to the kitchen as well. Challenge yourself to cutting the
husholdningsfilm with right handed scissors in your left hand. 
Difficult task.
Put the dough in the refrigerator for 2 hours or until the dough is firm. Ready? Preheat the oven to 325 or 164 Celsius. Take about 1/8 of the dough, kneading it to warm it a bit. Make 3/4in balls, then on a lightly-floured counter top, roll into 3in long, 1/2in wide logs. Then form into crescents.
 Bake for 14-16 minutes (place directly on pan or parchment), then lets cool on the sheet for about 10 minutes. While warm, dip in the super-fine cinnamon and sugar.
Fresh out of the oven.
Crescent in cinnamon and sugar bowl. If you couldn't tell.
BE CAREFUL! They are fragile.
Finished product documented by one of the worst photos ever.
A tip: If you work in Denmark, don't share them with your coworkers. They will look at the fragile crescents like they are the most horrifying thing they've ever seen. But if you must, your colleagues will try and like them. 

After watching me struggle, Helle really summed up my life, "I don't know how you feed yourself." This is one of life's mysteries. 

We have been drinking gløgg daily, apparently that is rare, but when in Denmark.... In spreading the Christmas cheer, here are a few recipes for you to experience a few Danish Christmas delights. Due to translation and a rip through the middle of the recipe they're a little vague.

Cherry Heering-Gløgg 
(from the Jul i Femina magazine)

1 3\4 flask (bottles) red wine
0.43 cups Brøndum Snaps
1.06 cups red wine
zest of one lemon
30g sugar
8 whole cloves
6 whole bright cardamom (??) 6 hele lyse kardemomme
3 stalks whole cinnamon 
125g raisins
1.27 cups Cherry Heering
200g blanched, sliced almonds

Soak the raisins in Cherry Heering for 4 hours. Cook the essence down in a covered pot for a long time. haha. Then I guess when you feel like it, pour the essence over a strainer into the red wine and snaps. Keep in pot for a long time to heat, but don't let boil! Add almonds.

I should write recipes for a living.

Hvid Gløgg (white gløgg)
From the kitchen of the amazing Helle
3\4 L white wine
1 1\4 L elderflower juice
some cloves
some cinnamon stalks

Soak the raisins in rum for 3 hours. Put everything in a pot and let heat up for hours. Don't let boil. 

 CHRISTMAS LUNCH at work! The Christmas party wasn't enough.
From the bacon covered liver clockwise: bacon-covered liver, ham loaf?, beets,pork and pork things, some sauce with cream and dill, little potatoes boiled with sugar, ham, cheese tray, crackers, olives, bacon and apples, rugbrød.

Clockwise: eggs, mayonnaise curry sauce for fish, some fish, another kind of fish, MORErugbrød, more bread, saucy sauce, herring (pickled and non), shrimp. There may have been a salmon but after I took the picture.

Of course on the same day there was a break at 14.30 for gløgg and æbleskiver. "Lick, stick, dip." That's apparently the way to eat æbleskiver.
Later that same day...
æbleskiver (eaten with powdered sugar and marmalade), vanilie krans (Danish Christmas cookies to Americans), and Brunkager.
Not only did I find the almond in the risalamande on Thursday and win two bottles of wine (along with my FOUR bottles I got as part of our company Christmas present...all of which I had to lug into the bank and grocery store), but I won on Friday too! Wahoo!
Friday's risalamande winnings! Marzipannish cookies! I didn't have enough food and sweets already.
For dinner on Friday, I met up with a girl from work and a couple of her friends. A Dane, Chinese, Brazilian, and American walk into a tapas restaurant... We went to Forlæns & Baglæns, a cozy tapas and cocktails place near the city center. The food was absolutely delicious and CHEAP (even by US standards)! You can pick a certain number of items from the menu, plus drinks for a set price, and they let you split it! Shocking really. Between the four of us, we had wine, two shrimp plates with an amazing, creamy allioli sauce, a potato and chorizo plate, and a tapanade platter with cheeses, meats, olives and almonds. For dinner we each had our own plate, two of us had "pig jaw" with mashed potatoes (the meat was so perfect, like butter), another girl had duck, another had risotto with something else. Then we had cocktails. Everyone had sweet drinks, but I couldn't do that..I went with the Manhattan. ALL OF THAT for 273 kr/person. That's only $48. I will definitely be returning.
"pig jaw" from Forlæns & Baglæns.

This morning was my last morning before leaving, so Helle made some "morning balls." Basically just a ball of dough made with spelt and she added some yogurt. Very tasty!
"morning ball"

Currently I am trying to figure out how to work the washer and tumble dry, but failing miserably. I am no homemaker. 

Soon I'll be taking the 3:30am bus to the 6:45am bus to Copenhagen then making my way to Finland for Christmas and New Year's Eve! So excited, even if I don't get to sleep tonight and have to pack wet clothes.

Monday, December 17, 2012


After getting off the plane a little over a week ago, we made our way to the office. Five minutes hadn't passed before the annual Christmas party was mentioned. It was the talk of the office all this past week. I had no idea what to expect, as I have never been to a workplace Christmas party. As the week went on, I knew I could expect two things: a lot of food and snaps. I underestimated both.

At any formal event, Danes will line the room and as guests arrive, they go down the line and shake everyone’s hands. I had no clue what was going on when I walked in the room and people were standing in a line around the room. I kept looking at the next person, completely puzzled, but went on saying about the only thing I can, “hej!” After all the employees and their significant others arrived, the CEO offered a toast. In Danish. Anytime I hear Danish, I start to daydream. Then they all looked at me! I smiled and he said something short, in English. Who knows what he said after. Kidding. After the toast, we headed to the dining area where other companies were having parties as well. On the table were all sorts of alcohol, Christmas beer, other beer, fruity liquor drinks and most importantly (most, snaps. 
Oh dear.
Bread was passed around, and we could put pickled herring on the bread. Along with butter and some mayonnaise, curry and chunk mixture. Nothing goes better with butter than mayonnaise.The bread most commonly used is called rugbrød (pronounced by holding your tongue to your lower lip and mumbling something), which is a dense, grainy bread. The Danes eat everything on bread. They should have a plate made entirely of bread so they can put ALL the things on it.  Once everyone had taken a bite, it was time to drink. With a raise of the glass of snaps, and a “Skål!” (Danish for cheers), the drinking had begun. And it never stopped. After the first fish dish, it was time for more fish and more bread. This time with the fatty fat on bread, we were served fried fish!When I commented about the stack of fat on my bread, they asked “You’re American, don’t you fry everything?” Not everything, but fried butter is our specialty. 

The one with the big hair! That's me!
After whatever course that was, it was time for another Danish tradition, the passing around of gifts! There are presents wrapped over and over and over again with characteristics of a person written on them. You must find the person at your table who matched the description, give them the gift and they open it. When you unwrap the present and find the gift, it is yours. I got "biggest hair" a couple times. We all know how I love to wear my hair big. 

Then it was time for dinner. Whole fruits (pears, apples, bananas), sliced fruit, bread, shrimp, bread, salmon, more salmon, bread for your salmon, spinach, another kind of salmon, and then about four kinds of herring. Disgusting blood sausage, beef, pork and pork ribs. Swing around to another line and you find duck, probably more salmon, spinach, potatoes that tasted like butter and cream with some potato, some more meat and then sausage. If you wanted to try everything, you would need a tray or two. And five stomachs. After you finished this course, you were allowed to go sample all the cheeses.

Half-eaten risalamande. yum!
For dessert risalamande is served. This rice and milk mixture has chopped almonds in it and ONE whole almond per dish. If you are the lucky one to get the almond, you hide it somewhere in your mouth so no one knows and everyone else keeps eating to find the almond. The good thing about Danish is you probably wouldn’t notice if you had an almond or ten in your mouth. The one who finds the almond gets a present. It is served with a cherry sauce. Supposedly in the old days when they would prepare this dish for Christmas Eve, the pot would be taken off the stove a little early and put in a warm bed, surrounded by hay to complete the cooking process. I’m sure they did this.

After dessert, there was a comedian. Danes think they are funny, but that’s funny in itself. (They also think they invented sarcasm. The phrase “Den-sarcasm-mark” exists for a good reason. Haven’t you heard it?) As the night went on, we drank, talked, sang Danish songs, and were merry. It was a lovely way to finish off my first week.

Snippets and Pictures!

I am currently doing software testing where the test procedures are written in English and Danish, filled with some humorous translations. Right click seems pretty easy. Nope. Why right click when you can "activate the right mouse?" I literally thought I needed another mouse. 

Søndergade in the heart of Aarhus. There are all kinds of stores and food places along the pedestrian walkway.

I love walking through Søndergade. People, music, coffee, food, and shopping!

I saw my first fjord. What a monumental event. Our Christmas party was at a casino and hotel on the Vejle Fjord.

I went to a delicious little pizza place today and got the biggest piece of pizza I have ever seen. And because I wanted the whole Pizza Pronto experience, I got lettuce, ranch dressing, some seasoning, and sriracha put on it. So.Good. 
Why have a side salad when you can put it on top?

During conversation, Danes will gasp as a way to show they understand something.

I tried to be a vegetarian when I was in Alaska and Kansas City. It was possible for a few months, but here it is impossible. I haven’t had bacon yet, and I hear it’s delicious in Denmark. I’ve tried though. Every day at lunch, there is this Christmassy apple bacon dish. Each day I think to myself, “oh, I’ll get a piece of bacon!” Then I get to the table and there is never any bacon. Today, I brought home the bacon! I saw it on my plate as I sat on the table. I was so excited. I saved the sweet dish for last, and I forked the bacon with a piece of apple. During transit from my plate to my mouth, OFF FLEW THE BACON. Hit my jacket, pants and then floor. Is the universe telling me I shouldn’t eat bacon? I don’t understand.

iPhones are a real struggle for Danish people. I have great pictures of the floor, table, and hands, but blurry pictures of what I actually wanted. 

Short street signs.

The Danish flag is everywhere. Someone having a birthday?? OH! Perfect occasion for a card with the flag on it. How about some flag cups, napkins, plates and stickers? Flag confetti is a must. The table certainly needs a Danish flag table cloth. 
All your birthday party decorating needs.

Christmas Tree in front of City Hall.

Bikes get their own lanes and turn lanes. Drivers are very conscious of bikers around them in traffic. Danes love bikes. Bikes love bikes. AND no one locks up their bikes. After living in Charleston for four years, this is shocking. Bikes don't get stolen. Please imagine that for a minute.
Bike Love.
One of the tables for lunch at work. The other table would have the different fish and meats. NOTE ALL THE BREAD. The dark bread on the left is the rugbrød. The stuff that looks like cat food on the right is liver. Then there is the bowl of beets labeled "SNACK."
Look at Yette's hat. Adorable.

I am still loving everything. Work is great, people are great, life is great. I can't complain! The Danes keep surprising me with their kindness. I know my way around. I had drinks with a couple of people the other night. I am so very happy, and things are going so well.

Wednesday, Helle (the lady I live with, who is a complete gem!) is having some people over for gløgg and æbleskiver (apple slices). I am going to contribute my favorite Christmas cookie, Rose's Crescents! I will post again with recipes! On Thursday, we are going to have our own little Christmas dinner complete with duck and other sides. I love all of this.

I saw this sign while waiting to cross the street. I really like it, and we all need a little reminder. 

Here is the only place we will ever be, and now is the only time we will ever have. ENJOY IT! Especially if the end of the world is Friday.