Sharp Things and an Asian Salad

Good morning, happy October – or something.  The sky outside, to quote my friend N, looks like someone forgot to upload the sky texture file – featureless and gray.  The sun no longer really goes very high up in the sky here, so unless it’s bright and sunny, the days are beginning to get pretty dim.  We are in the opening act of The Long Dark here, taking our Vitamin D fish oil capsules, lighting candles and drinking glögg (Nordic fortified mulled wine).  Cookies and chocolate and cakes come to mind under these conditions, but if I give in to that mode of thinking, I’ll not fit any of my nice clothes before Jul gets here.

Instead, I had gotten it into my head that I don’t eat enough vegetables, and the reason I don’t eat enough vegetables is that a lot of the really good healthy local vegetables we have here in winter season – beets, carrots, red cabbage, green cabbage, etc. – require a lot of slicing and chopping to make into easy-to-eat form.  I do own good knives, but julienne cutting and all of that takes forever, and I don’t have that sort of patience, and never did.  Enter my idea to buy a mandolin to make short work of these.  Now, I bought a big Italian one first, and it proved to be overpriced, huge and dull to boot, so I took it back the next day, and instead invested in a simple slicer by Fiskars (not a sponsored link), and a julienne cutter that looks like a vegetable peeler with cross-blades by I-forgot-what-brand-name.

And what better way to try those out than an Asian-style salad with my favorite dressing?  Eat the rainbow!


Well, maybe not the entire rainbow, but certainly a large part of the spectrum.  The beets are in the bottom, but there’s quite a bit of red in there hiding under the green.  Now, I am not going to give you a recipe for the salad, because that’s pointless.  Some sliced vegetables you like and have on hand (carrots, cabbage, radishes, beets, cucumber, onions, cilantro, etc.), or whatever else you like will be fine.  What really makes this salad awesome, however, is the dressing – and that comes together in 5 minutes and is really really delicious!


So, without further ado – to the dressing!  Now, I am no stranger to chili heat, but if you prefer to be cautious with it, reduce the amount or swap out the birdeye chili for something milder.

Here are the ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp soy sauce (I prefer Kikkoman, and no they aren’t paying me for saying that)
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • A splash of fish sauce (literally a splash, and to your taste)
  • A splash of rice vinegar (optional)
  • 1 flat teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 birdeye chili – I don’t seed it, and just slice finely across.  Adjust or replace this to fit your capsaicin tolerance
  • 1 solo head or 3 cloves of garlic, pressed
  • 1 2-3cm knob of ginger, julienned (optional, depending on whether you like ginger, and want the added heat)
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed (canola) oil or other neutral oil
  • 1-2 tsp toasted sesame oil

Combine all the ingredients except the oils in a small bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.  Add the oils, and whisk a little with a fork or whatever.  Let stand, and slice your salad vegetables up in meantime.

If you are carnivorously inclined (and I often am), salt, pepper, or season a nice thick entrecote (boneless trimmed ribeye) steak, and sear it 2-3 minutes on the side, or until medium rare, on an oiled cast iron pan preheated to medium-high heat.


Toss the salad with dressing, put the steak on your plate, and I don’t need to give you further instructions, do I?  We had this with a nice French Sauvignon Blanc, but that, too, is entirely up to you.

The whole thing tastes reminiscent of the Thai beef salads if you’ve ever had those, though I, as always, make no claims of authenticity at all, and it makes for a really great light and beautiful dinner with bright and sharp flavors that doesn’t leave you hungry or unsatisfied – just the right thing for a bland, colorless October evening.  Or at least so it is to me.

Busy Summer, Moving, Etc.

There is neither rant, nor a recipe in this post (unless you count the list of pizza toppings, in case I guess there is), because this is mostly a light-hearted update about my life over the past few months during this blog’s inactivity.  But, if you feel like looking at some pretty photos and reading me blathering about life, plans, and Everything™, then read on!

This summer has turned out to be as busy as the preceding months, and I am not going to apologize for it, or for not posting anything.  And then the school year and the associated deadlines hit, and we were both too busy to breathe for a while.  On top of that, my back and shoulder have been acting up again, and at the moment, my Median and Ulnar nerves are somewhat compressed, which necessitates many silly stretches per day to get them to not be.

Now some of that is past, and we have a little bit of breathing space, so I would like to write an update about the new place (which I love-love-love!), the kitty (kitty!!!), and a bunch of food-related and -unrelated things.  First of all, we’ve gotten a(n adorable) kitten whom we named Valkyria, because she has lightning marks on her paws, so what is she, if not the rider of the storm?

Disclaimer: no kittens were allowed to actually drink cognac in the making of this photo.

Second, we’ve moved house, and our new place is right in the city centre, and we have a gorgeous view of one of the two city parks from three of our windows, which is great!


Third, the new rental apartment is really nicely done up inside – according to the realtor who was showing us around, a bank executive used to stay there, and it was made nicer at that point – the door to the  bedroom from hallway was removed, a giant wall closet was put into the bedroom, and instead, a wall between bedroom and living room was cut into a wide arch with two sliding doors which can be opened to create a much larger space.

The bedroom and living room both have balconies, which look out in opposite directions on the building, giving really great ventilation in the summer, and tons of natural light (the windows are full-wall width including the glass door, and extend from 50cm of the ceiling to about 70cm off the floor).


As a result, my plants are extremely happy – Vanda “Blue Magic” bloomed again – as always, magically so.  Which brings me to the fact that I now have a kitchen with a real door that I can shut (keeping kitty out in case I am doing something which could get kitty hurt, such as baking in shrieking hot cast iron pot or such), and also a windowsill where I can grow actual herbs, which aren’t dying of being miserably light-deprived on the counter.  Ladies and gentlemen, the kitchen:


When we moved in, my only woe was that the stove in the place (this is a rental) is a hot-plate electric, as I’ve gotten spoiled with IR and induction surfaces, but as it turned out, I shouldn’t have been upset, because while it is an electric hot-plate stove (ick), as those go, it’s a really nice hot-plate stove, which heats up reasonably fast and works well within the limitations of that design.  What’s more, the oven is a really great oven, with tons of settings, and it goes all the way up to 300°C, compared to the 250-275°c maximum for a lot of ovens I’ve encountered recently – making it pretty incomparable for pizza in the field of household non-specialist ovens.  And so there was homemade pizza baked in a cast iron pan, and there was much rejoycing.

Wild mushroom, red onion, and garlic pizza, to be precise.

The autumn this year has been extremely beautiful, with blue skies, golden shafts of sunlight falling in-between trees, and gorgeous weather, which is to say, not enough rain for mushrooms.  It’d sadden me if I weren’t so damn happy about the weather being so beautiful, which actually makes me not mind.  If I really want some wild mushrooms, there are some in the supermarket, cheaty as that is (which is where the funnel chanterelles on the pizza came from, actually).



So what have I been doing, in terms of the kitchen witchery?  A few things, actually, and there will be several blog posts to discuss some of these things, but in short, I’ve mostly been baking sourdough bread, and preserving fruit, because for all the mushroom season may be terrible, the fruit this year has been absolutely gorgeous.


Like these nectarines, for example – these specific ones ended up on a cake, but their brethren have also been made into jam, along with quite a bit of black currants, Italian plums, some pineapple (I am working on a new recipe for pineapple and lime jam, and it’s going rather well), and a box of late-season apricots.

The sourdough is going very much better this year, since my starter, Herr Klegg, has finally reached proper maturity – aided by half a year’s nap in the refrigerator, after which he was grumpy a while.  I had to feed him intensively for a few days, but after that he settled into a nice routine, and behaves well.


There will be a new recipe for easy overnight sourdough bread coming up – I think I just need one more test in a proper cast iron Dutch oven, and for that I am going to need a Dutch oven, which – squeee! – I am treating myself to next week, along with a mandolin cutter.  The latter is something I’ve wanted for a while, and have finally decided to go ahead and invest in, because I suspect that I will eat a whole lot more vegetables if finely shredding and julienning root veg and cabbage into salads wasn’t such a huge undertaking when armed with just a knife and a cutting board.

So, this autumn and winter I will try to get my shoulder to finally heal, to lose a bit more weight (nothing drastic, just healthier eating), and to reduce both T’s and my stress levels, because we both need that.  But, on the up side, we love our new place, we have an adorable critter who is great against stress (because cuddles and purrs!), and overall, life is treating us well – and I hope it is treating you well, too.

Moving House

Console arrangement ETR

Just as I got done with the dissertation and associated hoopla, and following that, the trip to Stockholm to get the apartment ready to sell, and was about to take a breath of relief, a new project has tumbled into my lap, and this one was both, unexpected and unpleasant, but will hopefully yield worthwhile results:  we have decided to move to another (also rental) apartment closer to the city centre (where the sidewalks are heated in the winter and there is a bedroom overlooking a park), because the price is right, the apartment is better, the location is better, the new place doesn’t have a bathroom designed by friendly space aliens (more about this later, if I feel like a rant, but let’s say I’ll be happy to have a bathroom without features such as a steel airplane-toilet size-and-style sink as the main sink in the bathroom), and oh, a lot of other things.

Which means I am packing, and throwing things out, and giving things away, because moving house is the best de-cluttering regimen known to (wo)man (and it’s working).  And then I am packing some more, and wondering if I really do need all these plates (I do, I use all of them, but I hate that I have to pack them!), and realizing that I haven’t seen some things I own in 2.5 years, which means that unless they are irreplaceable (some things are), out they go.

My giant IKEA blue out-bag is bulging.

Anyway.  Our moving date is June 15th, which is next Wednesday, and thanks to some awesome friends (shoutout to Katie – who has an awesome podcast if you’re wondering about life of American expats in the Nordic countries, and Anlin, who is a yarn, hook, and needles magician, and Sandrita, who all came to help me pack!), I am nearly done with this session of masochism, I mean packing.

After all this upheaval, I am really, really looking forward to our July staycation in Jyväskylä, enjoying the lakes and the emptied-out town, and not doing anything much.  Ok, picnicking, and eating strawberries and more strawberries, and maybe picking wild strawberries, and lots of sleeping in.  Hopefully that also means that I will both, have time to cook, and time to blog about things, so all I am trying to (long-windedly) say, is that normal programming will ideally resume in a month or so.

The beatings will continue until morale improves.  Or something!

Pots au Chocolat: a French dessert not for the faint of butter

Pots au Chocolat 2 sm

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, it will come as no news to you that I, the proprietoress of it, am a supremely lazy creature.  I am also a fairly busy creature, which may seem to be contradictory at first glance, but really it isn’t.

The apparent contradiction comes from the misuse and abuse of the word ‘lazy’ – the word has such a bad connotation in a lot of Western cultures.  Lazy people are viewed as slothful, unethical and other bad things.  I agree neither with the fact that being lazy is a bad thing in itself, nor that being lazy has to mean that all one does is lay on the sofa, eat chips, and watch soap operas.  For reference, while I enjoy my sofa, and allow myself to eat potato chips occasionally, I don’t even own a TV, and I blame the internet for informing me of the existence of the Kardashians – I could have really continued to live without knowing that they exist.

But I digress – I was talking of laziness, and I was about to elaborate on a French dessert at some point, too.  Let us speak of that and not of various BS that apparently spews forth from the screen if you are careless enough to own a TV set and cable.  Ugh.  No.  What I mean by being shamelessly and happily lazy, is the fact that when I do have a free day, I do not feel the pressing need to fill it with doing stuff just for the sake of doing stuff and being productive.  I don’t feel any need to be productive on my days off.  It would seem to me to defy the purpose of days off.  So when people might go on about all the gazillion things they got done before lunch on a Sunday, the total sum of what I may have accomplished before noon that day is brushing teeth, and drinking coffee that T has made for me, and some conversation.  I consider laziness a luxury, something that allows me to enjoy life, and therefore also a necessity – for the purpose of said life enjoyment.

Which brings me to dessert, and chocolate and the fact that French really know how to do dessert, and they have also mastered the art of enjoying life, and being lazy in the right way.  Making gorgeous, luxurious French chocolate creams, aka Pots au Chocolat, is one of those pleasures that doesn’t have to take all day, isn’t complicated, and requires just a little bit of patience, and then some more patience, and no particularly fancy skills.  It does, however, require not fearing dessert in all of its fatty, sweet, delicious glory.

French chocolate creams are not for the faint of heart butter, and I say this as someone who agrees with Julia Child’s immortal quote that goes something like “if you are afraid of butter, just use cream”.  Because if you want to make a luxurious dessert, then you really can’t be going the fat-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, joy-free deliciousness-free route.  A block of tofu dressed up to look as cheesecake with pretty berries on top is still a block of tofu (with berries on top, and I am not knocking the berries).  A cheesecake requires cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and all those things that are not a block of tofu.  And really, if I want to eat a good-for-me vegetarian meal, it’s called a “large lunch salad” and it happens all the time in our house, and I don’t need to be abusing the idea of dessert  for the sake of healthy eating.  If I want a healthy dessert, I will eat a piece of fruit or those selfsame berries, hold the tofu please.  Seriously.

But, when it comes to a rich, decadent dessert like chocolate creams, the French really have the right idea about not being too awful to their own health and still enjoying life: you need to not eat half a kilogram of it in one sitting, that’s all.  Which is why I make these in teeny tiny glass cups intended for drinking glögg (heated spiced Nordic version of mulled wine), and serve it with the daintiest spoons I can find because that’s what is needed in order to get to the bottom of those tiny cups.  And while this stuff probably has a bazillion calories (a totally valid technical term) per kilogram, just… don’t eat a kilogram of it, ok?  I mean, it’d be an effort to, because they are so incredibly rich that really, one of those is enough for me, and I love dessert.

I mean, some people don’t have to watch their weight, and we hate those people so those people can certainly eat more than one serving of this without much detriment to their health, but so far I haven’t met a person with enough of a sweet tooth to eat more than one in one sitting – even the self-admitted chocaholics – but that’s not to say that I’ll not run into someone who can.  All I am saying is that you can still enjoy this dessert, just don’t eat the whole batch of it alone.  Or do, if that floats your chocolate boat.

I have adapted this recipe from a French blog (she has some gorgeous photos of her chocolate creams on there, done up in teeny Japanese teacups).  I don’t read French, but Google translate does, and certainly well enough to puzzle out a not-too-complicated recipe.  The reason I bothered with that, is that a lot of English-language recipes for non-anglophone-country dishes tend to be… messed up.  The problem is typically that instead of being translated, they are adapted to the food culture of the country from which the person adapting them hails, and that is typically to the detriment of the original dessert.  Pro tip – if you want a recipe for a German apple cake, just google ‘Apfelkuchen‘ and run it through the translator, it’ll be fine.  Better than fine – it’ll be German apple cake and it’ll be awesome (the recipe linked above is the one I use for my German apple cake and yes, it’s fantastic).

But, back to French matters and chocolate – all the recipes for French chocolate creams I’ve seen in English have been too fussy and had a lot of unnecessary ingredients (cornstarch?  gelatin?  wtf?!).  The original French dessert has two.  Yes, you’ve heard it right, two ingredients:  heavy whipping cream (fat content 35-45%), and good chocolate (none of that ‘chocolate cake coating’ garbage, you need real 45-70% cocoa mass chocolate for this).  I insist that the chocolate should be good because honestly, if you make this with a Hershey bar, it’s your own funeral failed dessert, and you will deserve the disgusting waxy results.  I usually add a third ingredient – a real alcohol-based vanilla extract.  I make my own, but a good shop-bought one will obviously work.  No, don’t be tempted to add ‘vanilla sugar’ or fake vanilla extract – when a dessert has as few ingredients as this, the quality matters, and it’s best to just go with the cream and chocolate.

Ingredients for a batch of 9 tiny cups:

  • 600ml heavy whipping cream (I’ve used 35% and 40% fat before with equally good success – it will not set at a lesser fat percentage, so don’t bother).
  • 225g good chocolate (good-quality real baking chocolate is fine here).  I use 45-55% cocoa chocolate because I am not the fan of the 70% stuff, but you can certainly use the latter – decrease the amount to 200g, however, as it is going to make the creams more stiff.
  • 2-5 teaspoons real vanilla extract (alcohol-based, entirely optional, and not using any at all is better than using crappy vanillin or vanilla sugar)

The technique for this is simple, but not easy, in the sense that it’s not a “microwave on high for X minutes, dump into bowl” sort of dessert.  However, if you are willing to put in a few minutes of effort and attention, it’s not difficult, either – and certainly not complicated.

Here’s what you do:

  • Prepare your cups.  I typically stand them into a lidded plastic container where they won’t move around much (you can pad them with some wadded aluminium foil or paper towel if your container is too large), and which is at least 1cm taller than the top edge of cups.
  • Break your chocolate into as small pieces as it’ll go.  If you are using the really large baking chocolate squares, cut those with a sharp knife into pieces no larger than 3x3x1cm.
  • Pour your cream into a heavy-bottomed pot, and heat on medium-low heat, stirring constantly because cream burns like oh my god, especially if you walk away for half a minute, until the cream comes to a simmer.
  • Take the pot off the heat, and immediately dump in all the chocolate.  Allow to stand for a few minutes, then whisk until all the chocolate is dissolved.  This will look like a thick chocolate milk.
  • Put the pot back on the medium-low heat, and bring back to a simmer, stirring constantly with a whisk or a silicone spatula (I prefer the spatula but whisk has worked for me before).
  • If using vanilla, stir it in at this point.
  • Once the chocolate comes to a simmer, simmer (stirring constantly!) for 3 minutes.  You will notice the liquid thickening a very little bit – it’ll offer a little more resistance as you stir.  Take the pot off heat, give it a final stir, and pour carefully into prepared cups or ramekins or whatever.
  • Place the box of cups into the refrigerator without a lid on.  You can place a paper towel over the top but I have been fine just leaving it open.
  • In about 1 hour, take the box out (the creams will not be fully set yet, so be careful not to shake it too much!), and snap the lid on.  Place it back in the refrigerator, and chill for at least 8 hours (I do this overnight).  Place pretty berries on top if you like.

That’s it.

Pots au Chocolat 1

This dessert must be kept refrigerated, and served chilled, but there is no need to freeze it.  I suspect it’ll keep fine in a closed box in the refrigerator for a few days, but I cannot offer you any sort of assurance on the subject – I have never had it survive its first contact with the guests.