Sunday, October 31, 2010
Happy Halloween
Happy Halloween! :) I hope you're all enjoying your weekend.

For the past many years, I have spent Halloween in New York City watching the Village Halloween Parade. Even much more than the parade (or, rather, the crowded sidewalks - ugh), I enjoy people watching, walking around the neighborhoods looking at home decorations, or sipping hot apple cider at the Union Square Farmer's Market.

Well, nothing like these decorations here. ;) Since I'm spending this Halloween in Europe and am traveling this weekend as well, I didn't attend any wild parties. I did, however, get the chance to help out with baking some Halloween treats to a party at a local nursing home. We made several dozen chocolate chip muffins, some m&m cookies, and double layer brownies. Since I got to choose the recipes, I naturally chose a vegan version of everything (except for the m&m's, where I had no choice). The baking challenge came kind of short notice, so I didn't have the time to bake a test batch of anything - therefore, I chose two different muffin recipes, just to make sure at least one of them would turn out okay.

The first batch was Stella's Chocolate Chip Yoghurt Muffins, and for the second batch, I used this recipe (I tripled both recipes). Both turned out beautiful and really delicious! We drizzled a little of my favorite chocolate glaze on top, and finished each muffin off with a homemade marzipan pumpkin (or a green worm ;)).

The theme of the party was not "pretty cupcakes" - the scarier the better - but they were tasty! :D

For the cookies, I used the recipe for Red's Ultimate M&M's Cookies, and simply veganized it by using vegan margarine and egg substitute. I made a test cookie for myself without the m&m's, but I have to say these were not my favorite cookies, as I could smell/taste the baking soda in them (I think I have an over-sensitive nose when it comes to baking soda. Gingerbread cookies are the only ones where I can use baking soda without tasting it at all). That's just strange me, however, and everyone else LOVED them - and this time, that's all that matters. :) Unfortunately, I forgot to take a close-up picture of the cookies, and only have this one of the table set up.

My favorite of all these treats were the brownies. Don't get me wrong - I love muffins and cookies as well - but there's just something about the gooey texture and the deep chocolate taste of these brownies that made me reach for a second bite... and maybe a third one as well. ;) We cut these into very small, bite-size pieces, since they were so rich and sweet (the plate pictured below is a tiny coffee plate).

The brownie recipe can be found here. The only change I made was divide the batter in half, then mix in the cocoa powder to the other half only (I reduced the amount to 1/3 c, as the people at the party prefer milder flavors), and spread the white layer over the chocolate one.

My friend says the party this afternoon was a success, and I'm so glad everyone liked our treats (of course there were many, many more things that were not pictured above - ours were just a small part of the dessert spread).


I met this lady and her sweet owner in NYC on Halloween in, I think, 2008...

This year, naturally, Finn was our Halloween dog. In true Halloween fashion, it turned out that he is afraid of the dark! Poor guy. I was wondering what he was up to, as he walked right by my side - touching my leg - whenever I took him out for a walk in the evening, whereas during the day, he'd usually walk a few steps ahead of me. His owner came by tonight to pick him up, and told me he's terrified of the dark, and will never go out the door in the night alone - he only agrees to go out if he's accompanied by one of the other [brave female] dogs. Apparently, the male Scottish Deerhounds are specially sensitive and should always be addressed with a gentle, encouraging voice, and may be afraid of ghosts and many other things. ;)

I think Finn's costume was "Bat". It is unbelievable how small he can curl up on the couch, with his long legs and all. Here he's asking, "wouldn't you please put the camera away and come scratch me instead?". :)

Despite missing the Halloween festivities in the US, I was so happy to have the chance to spend the holiday together with my parents. We had some wonderful food, and my Mom carved this handsome Jack O'Lantern out of one of our giant pumpkins. Sadly, our other giant died on us just before Halloween, so we never got to turn it into a lantern and had to throw it straight into the compost. We had carved it about a week earlier, as there was a crack on the skin and it looked like the pumpkin was just not going to make it. Oh, well. Luckily his brother made it until the big day.

Have a fun Halloween night - I look forward to reading all about your adventures!  :)
posted by Seglare at Sunday, October 31, 2010 | Permalink | 1 comments
Friday, October 29, 2010
Fool Proof Breakfast Rolls
Good evening - or night. :) Before bed, I will quickly share a delicious, easy recipe for fluffy and healthy breakfast rolls. While my Mom is the queen of wonderful cooking (and English fruit cake!), my Dad is the master of bread making. If he has the time, he likes to bake all the "white" bread himself (since my parents live a 20 minute drive away from the nearest big city, there are no bakeries at every corner like I have in Copenhagen - and the store-bought bread is just not the same). His speciality are different breakfast rolls - with varying ingredients, but always as delicious.

Today, in the middle of my studying, I suddenly realized there was the distinctive, cozy smell of freshly baked bread lingering up from the kitchen downstairs. Soon enough, I was brought a fresh roll to try.

I never manage to get my bread as fluffy - unless I use white flour, which in turn affects the taste and nutrition - so I asked my Dad for a basic recipe. Here's his own, trusted recipe, and I'll include a few variations for you below (pumpkin rolls is what he made today). :)

Dad's Basic Breakfast Rolls
  • 2 c very warm water 
  • 11 g/0.4 oz active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar, honey, or sweet syrup of any kind (this is just to "feed" the yeast)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 c rolled oats
  • about 4 1/2 c whole grain bread flour (the amount needed will vary by the type of flour used - see below)
Combine the warm water, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Mix in a little flour to form a very thin batter. In a separate bowl, combine the yeast with about 1/2 c flour. Add into the wet mixture, and mix until well combined. Gradually add the rolled oats and enough flour to form a soft dough. Mix in the oil and some more flour, and knead until you get a soft, elastic ball that naturally pulls away from the sides of the bowl and doesn't stick to your hands too much (see the first picture below). Do not add too much flour! It is better to have the dough a little too soft, as you can add more flour later on.

Cover the bowl - a tea towel will do, but you can use plastic wrap if you prefer - and put in a warm place (you can even place the bowl in a bigger bowl filled with warm water). Let rise for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 50 C (122 F). Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and knead for a minute or two. Add more flour if necessary, i.e. if the dough seems to stick to the surface too much or is difficult to handle.

Roll into a log, divide into equal pieces, and place on a baking sheet (naturally, you can also form these into any shape you like). This should be enough for two baking sheets, depending on the size of your oven.

As soon as you are done with this step, place the first batch in the oven, and turn the temperature up to 225 C (440 F). As the oven heats up, the rolls will rise, and you save some time.

Place the rest of the rolls on another baking sheet, and cover. Naturally, in most ovens you could also bake these at the same time; however, the result never seems to be quite the same.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 15-25 minutes, until golden, and cover with a tea towel as soon as you remove them from the oven. Repeat with the other batch, but note that you will need a shorter baking time (about 15 minutes), as the oven is already warm. ;)

Three tips for success...
  • Make sure the water is warm enough - much warmer than lukewarm is needed to activate dry yeast. It should be about 42 C (108 F). However, do not exaggerate, as it might kill the yeast.
  • Do not add too much flour. This is a typical reason why rolls or bread become too hard. A very soft dough, just firm enough to handle, produces soft, fluffy rolls. 
  • The reason for using the oven to aid in rising the first batch is to cut the time the other batch rises. If you wait for both to rise first and then bake them separately, the second batch rises too long and might "sink" in the oven. 

  • Replace half of the liquid with pumpkin puree or applesauce. Make sure this is the same (very warm) temperature as the water! Do not attempt to replace more than half of the liquid, as this will make the dough too heavy and it might not rise.
  • Add a cup of grated apple, carrot or zucchini to the dough. 
  • Mix in your leftover oatmeal, mashed potato, or even baked sweet potato or roasted squash.
  • Throw in pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax, or any other seeds or nuts you have on hand.
  • Instead of rolled oats, use oatbran, buckwheat, barley, some wheat germ or even quinoa. 
  • Add your leftover juice pulp into the dough. My dad frequently uses blueberries (bilberries), aronia, or apple.
  • If you're feeling adventurous, spice up the dough with some fresh herbs, chopped mushrooms, jalapeno peppers, chopped bell pepper, sun dried tomatoes or olives. 
  • These are just some ideas - use your imagination and create your own. ;)

Now I can't wait to wake up and enjoy another roll with jam and almond butter for breakfast.

Good night! :)

PS. Apologies for any typing errors in advance. My brain - or eyes?! - really don't quite work as well in the evening as they do in the morning. ;)
posted by Seglare at Friday, October 29, 2010 | Permalink | 3 comments
Dog Talk
This morning, there was no sign of frost on the ground, the sun was shining from (almost) bright blue sky, and after wearing winter clothes for weeks, it was now warm again to go outside with just a thick sweater or a fall jacket. 

I started the day with some thick study books (very, very, very boring land/estate law. My Dad always teases me that I'll probably end up working in land surveying, but I assure you that once the exam is over, I'll never look back to this subject! ;)). I had a cup of pumpkin spice tea on the side. I'm really not a fan of cinnamon-y teas, but with some vanilla soy milk, this was quite okay.

My Dad, after trying to work in his office with a dog head pushing into his lap begging for constant attention, started his day with this guy. These lucky boys got to enjoy a long hike in the lovely weather, in the beautiful nature. If I didn't need to study this morning, I would have joined them. Do you remember this dog, Finn, from the day I arrived? Well, he's here again, while his owner is working at a dog show this weekend.

I've had a few great runs with him: although he can run over 65 km/h (over 40 mph), he really paces his speed when you run along with him. Running together with my Labrador was impossible, as he was far more interested in sniffing and would stop every few feet like he'd met a brick wall. Indeed, one big difference between these two breeds is that the Scottish Deerhound seems to enjoy running just for the sake of it - you can see his whole face light up when he is let off the leash to run as fast as he can (in a secure area, of course) - while for a Labrador, running has to have a purpose, whether it is running to eat dinner, to greet the mailman, to play "find the sausage", or to retrieve his favorite dummy.

I have no doubt that when I have the chance (= a house or a suitable apartment: not a top floor apartment like ours, in a building without an elevator!), I will get a Labrador again: they are intelligent and gentle, with good nerves and a balanced nature; they like to please and are quite easy to train (at least as long as food is involved!); they're usually relatively clean dogs, good with kids, and small enough to comfortably take along in the car or even on a plane. One big issue is also that they can be let out the door and will stay on the property, while Finn has to be kept on leash and so, if he needs to pee at 3 AM, you have no choice but to put on your boots and take him outside yourself. Labradors are a race without bigger health problems, and usually live quite long. Sure, they can be wild and destructive when they are puppies, but I'm hoping one of us will have a chance to work from home when the dog is young, so as not to get our couch, walls, or electrical cords chewed up (!). They also - or was it just my dog? - shed quite a bit of short, stick-like hair that, despite constant brushing of the dog and vacuuming of the house, goes everywhere, from your computer keyboard to the fridge to your cell phone (yes - there's actually a dog hair under the glass of my phone!), and change their fur twice a year: the shedding process seems to last about 6 months in the spring and 6 months in the fall. ;)

Although I'd probably not choose Scottish Deerhound as my dog - that is, unless I had a big, fenced property in the country - it has been really nice to get to know this old, gentle, affectionate and fascinating breed (which I had never even heard about before, and probably wouldn't have found myself), and I'll be happy to dogsit Finn whenever I can. The more time I spend with him, the more I like him! He is quite a character, too. :)

I always think that while my Labrador might have been a stand up comedian, psychiatrist or a cook if he had been a human, this dog would probably be a philosopher or a professor in French literature or art history. Labradors always seem to have a twinkle in their eye, are not afraid to make a fool of themselves, and consider everything a fun game, while this dog seems much more serious and dignified - and if he gets upset, he sulks, to an extent that he won't touch his food the entire day! This happened the other day, when I kindly asked him to stay away from the dinner table (mind you, with a gentle voice): he looked at me like asking if I was serious, then moved to the couch, and stayed there, staring at me from under his brows, and refusing to come and eat for hours, despite frequent begging and patting. If my Labrador had refused FOOD, it probably would have meant something was life-threateningly wrong with him (I remember this happening only once, when he got some kind of a serious poisoning outdoors and, had we not had medical carbon on hand, probably would have died of it before we got him to the vet). I didn't always share his taste for food: after pumpkin, his favorite were raw potatoes, with the dirt and all (and no, I really didn't feed him a vegan diet ;)). Here he is testing the quality of the potato harvest last fall...

Another breed I really love is the great Newfoundlander - I have got to know many of them in the water rescue training I attended with my dog - but sadly, I hear they often live a relatively short life and may have serious joint problems. My boyfriend would like to get a daschound, but - please don't laugh ;) - small dogs kind of frighten me..!

What is your favorite dog - or are you more of a cat person? :)

Unless I get some unpredictable problems with my connection again, I'll be back later today with some food-related talk as well. ;)
posted by Seglare at Friday, October 29, 2010 | Permalink | 4 comments
Thursday, October 28, 2010
From My Parents' Garden: Sukuma Wiki
My whole family loves the nature and outdoors; and apart from hiking, berry-picking, and other activities, one of my parents' very favorite hobbies is gardening. Our house is surrounded by a huge garden, with numerous apple, cherry and plum trees, berry bushes, and a small vegetable garden.

Every year, my parents seem to find new things to plant, and it's interesting to see what their garden produces. The growing season is starting to be over on this latitude now: we have had the first night frosts, and after covering the plants for the nights for a while, we have now harvested most of them. There are still some tough plants growing outside, such as greens (kale and collards, palm kale, mangold, parsley), Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, carrots, and the last winter apples - but I assume most of those are just hanging in there and not growing anymore, either.

Since I currently live in the city center and don't have my own garden, I still like to think of this garden as mine, too. ;) Although I'm far from being as enthusiastic a garden digger as my parents, I try to help out whenever I'm at home, and certainly enjoy eating all the delicious things it produces!

Here are a few pictures from this fall. Some of the things (such as bell peppers) were harvested a couple weeks ago, but I never had the time to post a picture. Most of the things have been harvested in the last few days, though, and several types of chili peppers and herbs have been moved to continue their growth indoors. Our garage has been filled with boxes and boxes of apples - probably about 100 kg (over 200 lbs) of them?! - and you are met with the most delicious scent whenever you open the garage door. That only includes the apples that haven't been turned into juice, applesauce, bread or pies yet. Our basement, on the other hand, has turned into a pumpkin storage (we have so much pumpkin this year that any recipes are more than welcome!). :)

These are a mixture of green snack peppers and black snack peppers. Unfortunately, I failed to take a picture of the really black ones: the one in this picture was harvested before time, as the weather forecast predicted frost.

These two were our biggest pumpkins this year. I'm glad to have a freezer filled with pumpkin puree for the winter (I just hope I also manage to bring some back to Denmark). :) I hope we also manage to carve at least one of them before Halloween! 

 The green, round thing on the right is a compost - we have two of them!

...and meet the smaller guys:

Unfortunately, I got the names mixed, and will have to check again with my parents. I believe that apart from the green Hokkaido/Kabocha (the only one I recognize), these were called Queensland Blue, Marina di Chioggia, and some other..?

In the summer, we also had hundreds (or so it seems!) of Patty Pan Squash and green zucchini. For obvious reasons, lots of pumpkin/squash is always consumed in this house. In the past few days, I have made pumpkin bread, pumpkin scones, pumpkin soup, Hokkaido fries, pumpkin butter, pumpkin rolls, brownies, pumpkin nachos, and added it to stir fries and other dishes as well. ;) Recipes to some of my favorites will follow later.

Our otherwise already winter dead vegetable garden is still full of different greens.

Under the ground, we also have tons of Jerusalem Artichokes, which can be harvested in the spring as well. Although we eat them ourselves and give them to anyone willing to take some, we never quite manage to use them all up. 


Now, on to food: today I will share with you one of my favorite and my boyfriend's least favorite side dishes, sukuma wiki. My boyfriend spent a big part of his childhood in Kenya and Tanzania, where his adoptive parents were working as UN diplomats. To him, "sukuma wiki" is like a red cloth that brings back memories of eating it in school day after day, usually served with another typical East African dish, ugali.

Of course, you can make this dish extremely boring by cooking the vegetables mushy and not adding any seasonings. However, you can also make it very tasty by seasoning and cooking it right. Even my boyfriend will happily eat this, just as long as I tell him it's "just some spicy greens" and assure him it's really not sukuma wiki. ;) Sukuma wiki may refer to any greens and my recipe to cook them is naturally not the only one (nor am I using the traditional Royco Mchuzi spice mixture) - it's just one suggestion.

Sukuma Wiki
  • 2 large bunches of greens, such as collards or kale, chopped
  • 1 large onion, sliced very thinly
  • 1 c chopped tomatoes
  • 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp good quality curry powder
  • 1 c water
  • 2 tsp vegetable bouillon powder (you can replace this with Herbamare or other salt, or soy sauce)
Heat the oil in a wok pan. Add the curry powder and onions, and cook until the onions turn transculent. Add the chopped tomatoes, and continue cooking for a minute or two. Add the collards in a few batches (adding a new batch as soon as the previous one is wilted), and cook for a few minutes, until everything is wilted. Add the water and the vegetable bouillon powder, and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed and the greens have reached the desired consistency. Serve as a side dish to your favorite meal - or, if you want it to be really authentic, with ugali. ;)

That's my Mom chopping the greens...

In addition to ugali, chapati bread is a traditional way to serve sukuma wiki. We sometimes make chapati instead of injera to go with Ethiopian food as well, as it is MUCH less time consuming than injera (and, I have to confess, the first time we made injera, it accidentally turned into chapati! More about that story - and a real injera recipe - another day ;)).

This is a very basic, simple and easy recipe that you can modify by adding different flours. 

  • 1 1/2 c whole grain bread flour or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 c all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 3/4 c warm water 
Sift the flours and salt into a bowl. Mix in the oil and enough water to form a soft dough (see the picture below). Knead for a few minutes, until the dough naturally forms into a ball; then cover, and let sit from 30 minutes to one hour. 

Move the dough onto a floured surface, and knead for a minute or two. Roll into a rope, and then divide into 10-15 equal pieces (depending on what size of chapati you like). Roll each piece out into a thin circle.

Heat a flat-bottomed, preferably cast-iron, skillet on a stove on medium-high heat. Do not add any oil to the skillet. Once the pan is hot, place a chapati on it. When bubbles start to form, flip over, and continue cooking until brown spots appear on the bottom. Flip once more, and press very gently towards the bottom of the pan. Remove from the pan, and brush with vegan margarine. Place in a covered serving dish, so as to keep the chapatis warm while you make the rest.

You may have noticed that I have this very same kitchen towel in Copenhagen. These towels - with some bath towels, sheets and pillow cases - were given to my dad by his mother when he first moved away from home, and they are still in use in our family today. My grandmother (whom I, sadly, never met - she passed away when my Dad was in grad school), has embroidered my dad's initials on each towel by hand. The towels are old and incredibly soft, and seem to be made of really good quality cotton - you wouldn't believe how many newer kitchen towels have been ruined in my kitchen, while these show no signs of breakage.  I took one with me when I went to college myself, and consider it a special treasure. :)

We enjoyed our sukuma wiki on these chapatis, together with some Berbére lentil stew, and topped with a dollop of plain soy yoghurt. A perfect, tasty and filling meal!

Good night and sweet dreams everyone. :) 
posted by Seglare at Thursday, October 28, 2010 | Permalink | 2 comments
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Two Months to Christmas Fruit Tart
Many apologies for the delay in posting this recipe. About an hour after I hit publish on my previous post, our internet connection went out - and it has been gone until this morning. According to the operator, an excavator working on a private road construction site some 10 miles away had accidentally hit a cable. Poor guy who did that - I'm afraid there's a huge fine waiting for him/her for not (double) checking the cable maps. :( Oh, well - it is finally fixed now. I have been using our portable internet, but sadly, the connection is not fast enough to upload any pictures - it's mostly good for checking email only.

After the complaint, to the recipe! As I have probably said before, I'm a huge fan of English fruit cake (my Mom's old recipe without alcohol, though - I don't really care for the one soaked in rum or brandy). Actually, I would be quite happy if fruit cake and gingerbread dough were the only sweet things served at Christmas. :)

Since I thought it would be too early for real fruit cake, I decided to celebrate "Two Months to Christmas" with a Christmas-y fruit tart instead.

Two Months to Christmas Fruit Tart
Recipe adapted from here.

Tart base:
  • 1/3 c vegan margarine, softened
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 ripe banana
  • 1 1/4 c semi-sifted spelt flour (all-purpose flour is fine, too)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 c chopped mixed dried fruit (I used papaya, pineapple, apricots, cherries, figs and dates)
  • 1 c pineapple juice
  • 1/2 c plain or vanilla soy yoghurt
  • 1 1/2 c nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts)
  • 1/4 c apricot marmalade
  • 1/4 c pineapple juice
Soak the dried fruit in the pineapple juice in the fridge overnight. Alternatively, you can quickly boil the fruit in a mixture of pineapple juice and apricot marmalade.

To make the tart base:
Preheat the oven to 175 C (350 F). Beat the soft margarine and sugar together. Add the banana, and beat until smooth. Sift in the flour and baking powder, and mix until well combined. Using your fingers, press the dough into the bottom and sides of a greased 9" or 10" pie dish. (If you want a prettier looking tart, you can also use a rolling pin to roll out the dough, press into the dish, and cut out the excess dough on the sides.) Poke with a fork a few times, to avoid bubbling in the oven. Bake in the lower part of a preheated oven for about 10 minutes.

Pour the soy yoghurt on the prebaked tart bottom. Layer the nuts and fruit (including the soaking liquid) on top of the yoghurt base. Bake for about half an hour, until the filling has set and the sides are golden brown.

To make the glaze:
Bring the pineapple juice and apricot marmalade to a boil. Mix well, and brush the tart with the hot mixture.

Let cool completely, or until just a little warm, before serving.

This is a very sweet, rich tart, so a little goes a long way. :) Enjoy with a big cup of your favorite tea or coffee.
posted by Seglare at Wednesday, October 27, 2010 | Permalink | 2 comments