My Swedish Christmas Experience

Back home = back to blogging!
The past months I’ve been more away than home so top of the list, now that I’m finally settled for a good couple of months, is share with you all the food stories that I’ve recently gathered.

I spent the last two weeks of 2013 in Sweden, more specifically in Gothenburg, which has become one of my happy places. I guess I have a bit of an emotional connection to this city: one of my best friends, Maral, lives there so we’ve taken care of creating all sorts of funny memories around. This time, not only did I have the chance of spending holidays with my friend and her family, I could also experience what a traditional Swedish Christmas (read: FOOD) is like.

I become way too curious whenever there’s food involved. Swedish Julbord? Let me tell you what I learned about it.
julbordcollage003Julbord (Swedish for Christmas table) is a buffet-like dinner and is served on the night of the 24th. Maral’s mom (Mrs. Fariba, to whom I’m eternally grateful) prepared the table for us and the rest of the family. As I wrote on my Instagram update from that moment: “Table looks amazing, food looks great, photos have been taken…can’t wait to dig in!”

Here’s an overview of the dishes I could try out (which won’t ever miss at any traditional julbord):
– Potato gratin (potatisgratäng)
– Beetroot salad in mayonnaise (rödbetssallad)
Prinskorv (translated “Prince sausage”): small fried sausages known for their crown-like cut.
– Potato salad (potatissallad)
– Mustard herring (senapssill)
– Stewed red and green cabbage
– Swedish meatballs (köttbullar)
– Christmas ham (julskinka) served with mustard
Janssons Frestelse (translated “Jansson’s temptation”): A casserole made of potatoes, onions, pickled sprat fish, bread crumbs and cream.
– Raw Spiced Salmon (gravlax)
– Beer bread (vörtbröd) served with cheese: a dark bread spiced with cinnamon, ginger, raisins, clove and cardamom. This bread is only sold during this time of the year.
julbordcollage002I was very surprised at the seafood variety on the table; had never seen fish being served during Christmas before, quite interesting. Some of my favorites were the potato salad and gratin and the stewed cabbage.
An extra curious tip: during Christmas, Swedes traditionally drink Julmust. This is a non-alcoholic alternative to beer, very similar to coke, just felt a bit sweeter and with a spicy flavor.

On the sweet side, the table included some Ris a la malta (rice pudding) which is not too sweet by itself, but is served with some cinnamon and jam to make up for it. It is tradition to hide a whole almond between the pudding so that the person who finds it gets a special prize or will be in good luck the coming year. There’s also Julostkaka, a cheesecake served with strawberry jam. For warming up, there’s always mulled wine (Glögg) served with almonds, raisins and ginger snaps.
julbordcollage001I had an amazing time trying out all these new foods and learning about holiday traditions in Sweden. Definitely a culinary experience I can recommend!

(Thanks to Maral, her mom and sister for welcoming me at their home and letting me be part of this tradition. Love you so much!)

Pineapple Upside Down Cake (Sweetened with Honey) – Family Christmas Tradition

Thirteen more days for Christmas!
It was about time I posted something in the holiday mood here on the blog. Today I’ll be sharing my recipe for the popular Pineapple Upside Down cake, not the most innovating dessert out there, but a big family tradition for me.
pineappleBlog002Back in Panama, on the night of the 24th we used to host a huge Christmas’ Eve dinner, quite a crowded one since I come from a big family. My grandparents were the ones who most of the time took care of preparing the food. Next to the traditional Christmas ham, there were always two cakes that my grandfather (from whom I inherited my baking skills) always prepared exclusively for this holiday: Fruit Cake and Pineapple Upside Down cake. No kidding, this cake just brings tons of Christmas memories back to me, I can’t relate it to any other season, so I wanted to share this with you.

Even though my grandfather followed a recipe from Fannie Farmer’s cookbook (a masterpiece and a literary keystone in our family’s culinary history), I’ve managed to put together a really easy version with simple steps and accessible ingredients. I’m also not using any refined sugar and I’m sticking to honey for sweetening it up. The result is a buttery, moist, melt-in-your mouth cake, hope you like it!

Pineapple Upside Down Cake (Sweetened with Honey)
Ingredients (makes a 18cm/7.5inch cake):

For the caramel topping:
4 pineapple rings (try to get ones canned in pure pineapple juice syrup, no sugars added)
50g soft (soy) butter
75g honey
For the cake:
100g soft (soy) butter
100g honey
100g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
50ml syrup from the canned pineapple rings

1. Grease your cake pan very well and place the 4 pineapple rings in the bottom.
2. We’ll start by making the caramel: In a small saucepan at low temperature, melt the butter together with the honey until it gets a golden brown color.
3. Pour this caramel over the pineapple rings.
4. In a deep bowl, combine the ingredients for the cake: butter, honey, flour, baking powder eggs and pineapple syrup. If accessible, beat everything with a hand mixer, this will guarantee a spongy cake at the end.
5. Pour the cake batter over the caramel and pineapple rings layer.
6. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and bake for 35 minutes. Let cool for a bit before turning it over into a big plate.

Visit this section for more Sugar Free recipes!


“Dulce de Leche” filled Cookies

The past couple of days I’ve been thinking of recipes for home-made treats that can be also given as gifts since Christmas is so close now.
Previous Christmas gift idea: Vanilla-Butter Cookies (Sugar-Free!)
I had some Dulce de Leche lying around that was sent to me some time ago by the people from Delhaize Belgium. Dulce de Leche is a very typical dessert in South America. It’s basically condensed/sweetened milk that is heated up by submerging it in boiling water, creating a caramel-like effect. The condensed milk then gains a brown color and has a richer taste. It’s very popular in Argentina and Chile, where it’s called “manjar“. The one I got is from the brand “La Salamandra” based in Argentina.
So I thought, why not bake cookies that can be filled up with this traditional latin delicacy?
The result was amazing, these cookies are to die for! You can be sure that person will be adore you forever if you decide to wrap these up for someone as a gift 😉
What you’ll need (for 10 double-layer cookies):
1 cup flour
25g almond powder
50g sugar
1 egg
100g cold butter
“Dulce de leche” for the filling (or you may choose to use your favorite jam or spread chocolate)
Combine the flour, almond powder and sugar.
Add the egg and mix well.
Cut the butter into small cubes and add it to the mixture.
Now you’ll need to work with your hands. Knead the dough until all the ingredients are well integrated.
Cover the dough with a clean towel and let it rest in the fridge for half hour.
Roll the dough in a floured surface. You’ll be able to make around 20 round cookies. Cut a smaller circle in the middle of 10 of the round cookie shapes. These will later become the top layers for the cookies.
Place in a paper-covered baking tray. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and bake for 12 minutes. Let cool.
Cover the bottom layer cookies (the 10 without the whole in the middle) with some of the dulce de leche or the filling you chose. Match them with the top layer cookies (the ones with the whole in the middle) to complete the double-layer cookies.
Hope you like this recipe, buen provecho!

Opening Patrick Roger @ Sablon, Brussels!

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the first Patrick Roger chocolatier boutique in Belgium, which is now located in the Sablon area in Brussels (Place du Grand Sablon 43).
Patrick Roger is not your typical chocolatier, he’s actually considered one of the rebels of the chocolate world. He not only produces an exceptionally good variety of chocolates, but also creates magnificent sculptures out of chocolate! That’s a first one for me. He carries the Guiness World Record as the creator of the biggest Christmas tree made out of chocolate.
I got super excited the moment I got this invitation, since Sablon is one of my favorite areas in Brussels. His shop is located just in the center next to other awesome chocolate shops. He decided to keep the store in his original state, you’ll notice original paintings in the wall blend in with bricks. In the middle you’ll find one of his own creations, a 7 meter long chocolate sculpture that serves as a table to display his chocolate creations. One interesting fact is that he decorates his stores inspired in forests, so you’ll always see that contrast between brown and green colors.
For his opening in Belgium, Patrick Roger wanted to make a special entrance by appealing to one of the most loved belgian traditions: Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolas). He created a chocolate sculpture from the Sint, which is now displayed at his shop in Brussels.
He talks about his creations as a lifetime investment and you can actually notice all the dedication that goes into his work. The ingredients he uses in his chocolates are so varied, have so many different origins and are rich in creative combinations.
I had the pleasure to try out some and gotta admit my favorite one was a Chimay-based truffle, quite thoughtful since Chimay is a very well known belgian beer.
I’ve prepared a short video in which I show a bit of the store, his sculptures and a short interview I had with Patrick Roger himself:

Hope you guys enjoyed this post, if you ever come to Brussels, do check out this shop! You won’t regret it.
Thanks for reading me, buen provecho!

Patrick Roger chocolatier (Brussels)
Pl. du Grand Sablon 43
1000 Brussels

Thanks a lot to Laurent from Pride for inviting me to this event and also to Sally for being my interpreter during the interview with Patrick Roger.
Really appreciate that you guys considered my blog for this inauguration!