When I lived in DC, I had a mini-tradition of doing sort of over the top themed holiday parties. The themes weren’t things like “the holiday spirit!” or “ugly sweaters” or “cheesy eighties board games you hated.” They were just food. Different cuisines. We did a take on the feast of the whole-buncha-fishes (I say whole-buncha because I pretty sure we went with more than seven), a kitschy 1950’s thing with gelatin molds and pigs in a blanket, and a deviled egg buffet. And once, for reasons I can’t actually recall, I decided to do a Scandinavian food theme – with a huge spread of open faces sandwiches, and cured fish and … honestly I forget what else.
I didn’t really take pictures.
I don’t know why.
The point of this otherwise apparently aimless nostalgia is that when I started to think about what to offer as a holiday menu this year, I wanted to do something different than the Chophouse style menu I did last year – because I already did that last year. I wanted to do something a little different than the English style Christmas dinner we’ve hosted for friends in the past because … well, we’re not really able to see all those friends this year.
And I didn’t really want to do a rib roast or turkey … because those have been done.
Not that what I came up with hasn’t been done – the whole point of that earlier paragraph was that I have done something like this. Just not exactly this.
So, this week’s weekly menu is a psudo-Scandinavian holiday meal – not really a traditional Christmas meal or a traditional New Year’s meal. In fact, it’s not really traditional in that it’s not my tradition, and I’m just using some flavors and techniques that … you get it. It’s something that seems fancy, but’s actually pretty thrifty. It ends up being a hearty, filling cold weather meal that can be as bright and festive or quiet and comfy as you want.
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I’ve basically included this recipe as a delivery platform for the cured salmon you’ll find below – but the truth is I really like northern European rye breads. They’re different than the Jewish Rye or Pumpernickel sandwich breads ai grew up with, and for me they’ve always been deployed as more of a small moist cracker – a platform for roasted or cured meats or fish or a spread. But they’re fun. They’re also not that difficult to make, though sometimes they required some ingredients you’re not likely to have lying around your house unless you’re an avid baker or a 19th century norther European farmer’s wife.
This recipe is for a sort of high simplified Danish Rugbrød. It’s not particularly a traditional recipe but combines some of the techniques and ingredients. It’s sour, but not really a sourdough, and it’s packed with Rye Berries – which give it some rough texture without crossing fully into birdseed bread territory. You can find rye berries at health food stores or online. The recipe also calls for beer. The darker the beer you use, the darker the color of the resulting bread. I used an IPA. It’s what I had. Well, I had a few darker beers – but I’m not gonna waste that gorgeous Belgian Christmas ale in a bread dough, now am I?
2 cups dark rye flour
1 cup AP flour
2 cups soaked rye berries
2 tsp instant yeast
3/4 cup cultured buttermilk
1/4 cup molasses
1 12 oz beer
1 tsp kosher salt
Soak rye berries overnight.
In a non-reactive bowl, combine all ingredients and mix until fully combined.
Transfer to a covered container and allow to ferment at room temperature for at least 24 hours.
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Pour the dough into a lightly greased loaf pan.
Bake until the internal temperature reaches 190°F – usually about 60 minutes.
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I’ve been pretty honest about my feelings regarding fish. I just don’t like that many fishes. In fact – I dislike a lot of fish. Ironically salmon is one of the fish I dislike – but I don’t dislike it when it’s prepared this way. Cured in salt and sugar and herbs it makes a nice weird salty funky topping for the aforementioned bread-cracker hybrid. And its sort of fun to watch the process- soft fresh fish turned into something resembling charcuterie in just a few days.
Choose a good, firm piece of fish – both the resulting flavor will be better, and you’ll have an easier time slicing it.
1 ~2lb salmon filet
½ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup kosher salt
¼ cup vodka or aquavit
1 tsp caraway seeds
¼ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ cup loosely packed baby dill
Mix the sugar, salt, black pepper, caraway, and cardamom.
Sprinkle the spice sugar and salt mixture generously on both sides of fish.
Place the fish in a sturdy zip top bag large enough to hold it without folding.
Add the remaining cure mixture, the dill, and the vodka to the bag.
Press down to remove as much air as is possible (or submerge all but the top of the bag in water to expel the air) and seal.
Allow to cure, refrigerated, for 4-6 days.
Remove from the bag, rinse with cold water, and allow to dry uncovered in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours before slicing and serving.
A few many I don’t know how far back months ago I made a menu that was mostly almost completely monochromatic. Once I realized that that was the direction I was going, I became a complete smartalex about it and decided to make a monochromatic salad to go with it. The thing is, that salad was actually pretty good and in truth that – and some smartalexyness now – was what gave me the idea for this salad. I’m calling it red salad, though in truth is sort of more a purple or burgundy, maybe even maroon salad? Regardless, the ingredients are all sort of red. They’re also kind of fun and different. Crunchy, bitter, spicy, sweet. It’s a little but of an unusual combination – but it’s a great balance to the unctuousness of the pork roast you’ll find below – and I even like it as a balance to the soft saltiness of the curred salmon (try a little with the salmon on some rye bread.)
1 cup thinly sliced red cabbage
½ cup spiced pickled beets (below)
1 cup loosely packed torn radicchio leaves
1 tbsp Greek yogurt
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 clove garlic
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp finely chopped baby dill
¼ tsp kosher salt
Sprinkle the sugar over the cabbage and allow to sit while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Peel, trim, and microplane or mince the garlic.
Add the garlic, lemon juice, and salt to a non-reactive bowl.
Allow to rest five minutes to tame the harshness of the garlic.
Add the dill, mayonnaise, and yogurt and whisk to combine.
Fold together the sugared cabbage, radicchio, julienned pickled beets, and dressing.
Spiced Pickled Beets
1 bunch red beets
1 cup water
1/2 cup white vinegar
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 star anise pods
2 green cardamom pod
2 whole cloves
Peel, trim, and thinly slice the beet root.
Bring the water, sugar, vinegar, and spices to a low simmer.
Add the sliced beets and cook for 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Refrigerate covered at least 1 day, or until ready to use.
Roast Pork Shoulder with Dill Mustard Sauce
All those years ago when I did the previous iteration of the Scandanavian themed dinner, I asked my friend Tommy - a Dane by way of Sweden, Canada, Italy, San Francisco, and now Australia – for suggestions on what I should make. His first response was a long and impassioned (and well deserved) ode to the wonders and traditions and techniques of Frikadelle (tasty danish meatballs) which I’d already penciled in for that party. His second suggestion was “Pork roast … with [incomprehensible].” The incomprehensible turned out to be crackling. The crispy crunchy skin you get from a properly prepared skin on roast.
Most pork in the US, particularly the cuts you’ll find at mainstream groceries, are sold without the skin – and trimmed of all that luscious fat that resides right below the skin. For this recipe – you’ll want to find a skin on roast. I’ve had good look at international markets or by ordering them in advance from a better butcher. The reason you need the skin is that what makes this recipe different form just any old pork roast is that crispy, crunchy crackling – and without the skin, a long slow cook, and a little bit of kitchen chemistry – you won’t get it.
The kitchen chemistry mentioned above is quick rub of baking powder – applied just to the skin. It helps give it that crunchy texture – instead of leathery hardness. The other important party – at least as far as I’m concerned, is scoring the skin. This both helps the fat render – making the skin even crunchier – but also makes that crunchy skin easy to cut through and eat.
1 skin on pork shoulder blade roast
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground black pepper
Preheat your oven to 300°F.
Coat the skin side of the roast with baking powder, rubbing to ensure even distribution.
Use a very sharp knife to score the skin into squares – cutting just through the skin and into the underlying fat.
Season the roast on both sides with salt and pepper.
Roast uncovered at 300°F for approximately 40 mins per lb. or until the internal temperature reaches 145°F.
Raise the oven temp to 425°F and roast until the skin is crisped and browning.
Allow to rest 10-15 minutes before carving.
Dill Herb Sauce
2 cups chicken or pork stock
4 egg yolks
¼ cup minced baby dill
¼ cup minced flat leaf parsley
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp kosher salt (plus more to taste)
1 tbsp butter
Bring 2 cups of stock to a low simmer.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yoks and lemon juice.
While whisking vigorously slowly pour ½ the stock into the egg yolk mixture.
Again while whisking vigorously, pour the yolk mixture back into the remaining stock.
Cook until the mixture begins to thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from the heat, and whisk In the butter.
Once the mixture has cooled slightly, fold in the herbs, taste for seasoning, and season with salt and pepper.
Serve slightly warmed but not hot as to avoid curdling.
Mashed Potatoes with Leeks and Havarti
As part of another project, I’m working on, I went down a rather odd food research rabbit hole the other day. Don’t ask how I got there, but I ended reading about the myriad cultural traditions of mixing (mostly green) stuff in mashed potatoes. Bubble and Squeak, Champ, and Colcannon. Stovies, Rumbledethumps, and Clapshot. Stamppot and Stoemp. Trinxat. Pyttipanna and Biksemad. While those are all European, I’m sure there are traditions from all over the world that are some variations of “look, I put the leftovers in with the potatoes.”
This version isn’t authentic to any of those – though it probably more closely resembles Champ than the Scandinavian versions. It is pretty easy, very tasty, and as a bonus, the leftovers fry up in really nice potato pancakes.
2 large russet potatoes
1 large leek
½ cup shredded Havarti cheese
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tbsp plus 1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp kosher salt, divided
Trim the leek, removing the roots and removing – but reserving- the green end.
Finely chop the white portions of the leek.
Finely chop, and carefully wash the green portions.
Prepare a pot of salted boiling water, and quickly blanch the leek greens for 1 minute, shocking them in cold or ice water after blanching, then drain.
Add 1 tbsp of unsalted butter to a frying pan over very low heat.
Add the leek whites and greens and ½ tsp salt.
Cook the leeks over low heat until softened and fragrant, but take care not to let them brown.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
Peel, clean, and cut the potatoes into evenly sized chunks.
Place the potatoes and ½ tsp kosher salt into a large thick bottomed pot with enough water to cover and bring to a low simmer.
Cook until the potatoes are fork tender.
Drain the water.
Whisk the remaining 2 tbsp of butter into the potatoes.
Whisk in the heavy cream (you may want to warm it in the microwave first.)
Add the cooked leeks and shredded Havarti.
Taste for seasoning and add additional salt if needed.
Steamed Fruitcake with Hard Sauce
I was always told to hate fruitcake. It was a joke kids told at school. Forget that lump of coal, if they really wanted to punish you you’d have to eat some of Aunt Whatever-her-name-was’ dreaded fruitcake. It was a threat that played out in those cellphone wrapped ring-things I saw at gatherings in the 70’s and eighties. The store bought ones were dry and crumbly and tasted overwhelmingly of weirdly commercial candied fruit. The homemade ones – rare as they were – were either off limits because of the proportion made with high proof liquor, or distasteful to my young palate … because of the proportion made with high proof liquor.
Then, sometime when I was in high school, someone gave my dad some sort of Gourmet fruitcake as a thank you gift. There was still a pretty hefty portion of high proof liquor, though by that time in my life I was getting less adverse to it. But it wasn’t dry. The fruit in it wasn’t bitter and day glow colors. It … was fruit. I like it. Spread with some butter or cream cheese … I really liked it.
I don’t make fruitcake much. And really this isn’t what most Americans would call fruitcake, it’s a hybrid creature falling somewhere on the Fruitcake to Christmas Pudding spectrum. It’s steamed instead of baked, which - because it doesn’t have much leavening makes it almost fudgy in density. But unlike most British puddings of the sort, it doesn’t use suet. Mostly because suet is a pain in the butt.
The end result is dense, moist, chewy, sweet, spice, nutty … and probably not for everyone. Kate hates it. My Mom – whose family is pretty much entirely Britishish – loves it. Your milage may vary.
1 cup AP flour
1 cup chopped pecans
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup molasses
¼ cup brandy, bourbon, or dark rum
2 tbsp melted unsalted butter
½ cup sliced dates
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup golden raisins
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp microplaned fresh ginger
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp fresh grated cinnamon
¼ tsp fresh grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp kosher salt
Use a sharp vegetable peeler or knife to remove the peel from the orange, lemon, and grapefruit – taking care to leave the white pith behind.
Juice the peeled fruit.
Cut the peel into very thin strips.
In a non-reactive bowl, mix the peel and the granulated sugar.
Cover, and allow to stand at room temperature overnight.
Add the raisins, rates, and golden raisins to another non-reactive bowl and add the brandy or other liquor as well as the reserved citrus juice.
Cover and allow to stand overnight.
The next day, combine the citrus and the fruit mixtures in the bowl of a stand mixture fitted with a paddle, or a parge bowl.
Add the spices, flour, molasses, eggs (lightly beaten), butter, pecans, salt, vanilla, and baking powder.
Pour the batter into a lightly greased loaf pan, heat proof bowl, or mold.
Trim a piece of parchment to place over the top of the batter.
Prepare a steamer by placing a rack or upside-down colander in a very large pot with an inch or two of water in the bottom.
Steam the pan for at least 3 hours, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely.
Wrap tightly until ready to serve.
Slice and serve with hard sauce (below).
1 stick softened unsalted butter
2 tbsp confectioners’ sugar
½ oz brandy, rum, or bourbon
Using a whisk, cream together then butter and confectioners’ sugar and whisk until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Carefully drizzle in the liquor, while whisking.
Refrigerate until ready to use, but allow to come to room temperature before serving.