the protein bar djungle

Since I’m almost always working out after work I often don’t get home until 8-9 pm. Having had either nothing to eat or just some fruit since lunch and then exercised (often vigorously) on top of that you can imagine how I was feeling. Spent and hungry. But at that time in the evening I don’t particularly feel like a huge meal, and the energy to cook is even less existent.

So in the last few weeks (since early December really) I’ve been taking to having protein bars in my bag for those days I’m doing something vigorous – like boxing – straight from work. That way I can eat something before my workout that’ll make me feel full and isn’t as bad nutrition wise as that pastry or snack I might reach for otherwise. But it also works out well because having eaten something beforehand I don’t feel as hungry when I come home, which means that I’m more likely to actually have the energy to heat up my already prepared meal and not just stuff my face with sandwiches (I love sandwiches).

However, the thing about protein bars are that they’re quite expensive and it’s really hit and miss with the way they taste. I usually only buy them when they’re on offer, which means that I often end up with different brands. The brands I’ve learned I quite like are Gainomax, Swebar, and ProteinPro. But then even within those there are ones I tried and really disliked, for example Gainomax’s blueberry yogurt and ProteinPro’s toffee caramel.

It’s not easy to know which protein bar will taste nice and which will taste like an explosion of artificial chemicals, but there are a few signs to look out for IMO.

You’re usually safe (ish) with chocolate. Cocoa powder is a good flavouring tool and easy to work with, and the flavour usually stays ‘authentic’. Fruit is trickier. My favourite bar so far is the Swebar raspberry and liquorice and in that the raspberry flavour works really well. On the other hand, today I had the most disgusting bar – a pear and vanilla flavoured bar I bought at Lidl. Maybe I should have been clued in by the fact that I got it at Lidl, but oh well.

Caramel/toffee ones are also a tricky on my opinion, because they can go either way. Sometimes they’re really nice but other times they have a sickly sweet taste to them.

I did end up getting a strawberry bar from the same brand (2 for 1 deal) which maybe (I’m hoping) won’t be as bad as the pear one. Either way I’ll be continuing to try and navigate the protein bar djungle.

/t

Advertisements

chokladbollar – an old post

I found one of my old cooking blogs I started while I was at uni on Blogger a few weeks ago. It was quite fun to read my old posts, though there weren’t many of them, and remember when I wrote them.

I had planned on sharing my first slow cooker recipe with you this week, but the week just ran away with me and I’m going snowboarding over the weekend, which means I won’t have time to write anything then. So I thought that I’d share one of my blog posts written in 2012 (for fun). It’s a quite brief post but it’s still better than just an apologetic post saying sorry I won’t post – right?

*****

Chokladbollar is Swedish for chocolate balls (yeah, I know, super tricky translation there!). Now don’t be fooled into thinking they’re like those healthy protein and date balls people seem to be making all over the internet though! These are proper sweet treats.

Chocolate balls are a staple in most Swedish homes, cafés and even supermarket bakeries, and are so easy to make. A favourite with children around the country – particularly as they’re easy even for little hands! The staple ingredients are oats, cocoa powder, and sugar. If you don’t want them as chocolatey you can opt for their cousin havrebollar (oat balls) which are made with Nesquick-style chocolate drink powder (O’Boy) rather than cocoa powder – and a lot of the time they leave out the coffee.

Anyway, the reason these balls of deliciousness are so easy to make is that there’s no baking involved. So even the least accomplished baker can have a go. The only thing that needs adult supervision (if your kids are involved) is melting the butter.

Now if you’re not Swedish (or Scandinavian) there are a few things here that may throw you off a bit.

First; my recipe measures solids in ml. Sugar, flour, oats, etc. etc. is measured in Sweden in decilitres, and one decilitre is 100 ml. So when it says ‘100 ml sugar’ that means take out the measuring cup and measure up 100 ml as if it was a liquid.

Second; vanilla sugar. In Sweden, we don’t really use vanilla essence. We have vanilla flavoured powdered sugar instead. If you want to make your own you just put one vanilla pod (seeded and cut in half) in 200 ml granulated sugar and leave until the pod has dried out. Once this has happened, run all the sugar through a food mixer until it’s a fine powder and sieve it to get rid of any leftover pieces of pod. If you can’t get hold of vanilla sugar and can’t be bothered to make your own – vanilla essence will do just fine, just put in a bit less.

Third; pearl sugar. Unfortunately this isn’t really something you can make yourself (a far a I’m aware). As you can see from the picture below, pearl sugar is larger pieces of sugar that the chocolate balls are rolled in after they’re made. If you can’t get hold of pearl sugar you can roll your balls in coconut flakes or even sprinkles.

So, onto how to make them!


Ingredients:

100g butter

100 ml sugar

1 tbsp vanilla sugar

3 tbsp cocoa powder

300 ml oats

3 tbsp cold coffee

pearl sugar (or coconut flakes or sprinkles)


 

Melt the butter in a pan and leave it to almost simmer for a little while.

Meanwhile, mix the oats, sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla sugar in a bowl. Pour over the melted butter and cold coffee.

Now I like my chocolate balls a bit ‘grainy’, so I like it when they have large oats. However, if you don’t, you can combine the mixture with an electric whisk. Otherwise a normal spoon will do. Once all is combined, put the bowl in the fridge.

When your mixtures has cooled and solidified, take it out of the fridge and roll into balls. I like them a little bit smaller (then you can have two if you want!), so I used about 2/3 of a tablespoon to roll one ball. Then when it’s round enough for you – roll it in pearl sugar /coconut flakes/sprinkles and you’re done! Easy as that.

They really are a super easy treat that anyone can make. And they’re so adaptable. If you don’t like coffe – take it out. If you love coffee – add more. You can add cinnamon for a more Christmassy feel, or a splash of alcohol for an even more grown up treat. Your imagination is the limit.

*****

It really is a very easy and child-friendly recipe and I remember making these with my mum when I was little. They’re so good as well, and if you make them a bit smaller you can have more of them, haha!

/t

your body can stand almost anything, it’s your mind you have to convince

I’m one of those people who you (if you don’t like to exercise) probably find really annoying, because I actually really like exercising. Of course I don’t like all kinds of exercise – for example I find running very boring – but I’ll try anything you throw at me at least once, and often find myself surprised that I like (sometimes even love) it. I’m guessing this has something to do with the fact that I was basically raised in the gym, with the weekends spent in the forest.

My mum started working as a group training instructor a few years before I was born and before I started going to kindergarten she would often bring me along if she had a class. Back then the gym didn’t have the babysitting facilities they have today, so I would be playing outside the hall while the receptionist kept an eye on me. (To this day if I go places with my mum I still meet people saying “I haven’t seen you since you where this small and were crawling around the gym!”. I’m almost 30 now.)

I find this sign very annoying..

We often spent our weekends at different sporting events, be it football games, orienteering competitions, or other running competitions my mum was participating in. I played football (soccer to you Americans) and did horse-riding for ten years, but I also tried my hand at basketball, orienteering, and street-dance. Adding to that, we would go ice-skating on the frozen lakes and go skiing/snowboarding in the winters, and obviously had to try out a load of different sports during our school’s PE-lessons. So I guess it’s not that odd that I turned out a relatively sporty person.

The thing is that really liking exercise doesn’t always make it easier to continue doing it – unless you love running because then you don’t need much to be able to do it. So what happened in my case was that I moved to Italy to be a nanny and basically stopped exercising completely. There wasn’t a gym I knew of anywhere nearby and it was really difficult for me to make friends since the Italians barely spoke English and I didn’t speak Italian. So I got demotivated and fell into the trap of Italian fast-food; pasta, pizza and ice-cream. I gained about 5-6 kg (11-13 lbs) in weight and felt quite bad about it.

I then worked in two more families, worked in Sweden for a year, and went to uni. I became somewhat of a yoyo-dieter at this time, with shortish periods of feeling good about my weight and longer ones where I wasn’t satisfied. Apart from getting a lot of ‘everyday exercise’ from working in a shop (10-15,000 steps per day average) I didn’t do much exercise at this time, because it just wasn’t very convenient. I did get back into it the last two years at uni, because I lived near a hotel that had a good gym. But moving to London after uni then undid that for me. At first I managed quite well and I went to the gym several times a week, but once we were married (my goal I was working towards) and I was working longer hours all motivation just drained out of me. I’d managed to get down to my ‘happy weight’ for the wedding, but afterwards I gained it all back, and a few additional pounds. I think that was the heaviest I’ve ever been.

What’s difficult for me about going to the gym is not the being there but the getting there. Especially when it’s cold and dark out, or if I get home late. Once I’m at the gym and working out I always feel happy (well ok, sometimes the happy feeling doesn’t come until I’m done and no longer feel exhausted!). So now I’ve taken to going to the gym straight from work. I bring a backpack with my gym clothes and then either leave work and go straight there, or go to somewhere nearby and have a look around the shops – depending on the time and the location of the gym. It really helps a lot, because not stopping at home in between keeps me from crashing on the sofa and looking out thinking it’s too late/dark/cold/whatever. And I’m always happy, if tired, when I get home.

Since I got my membership here in Sweden at the end of May I’ve been to the gym 118 times – for 126 hours in total. That’s an average of one workout ever other day, or around 32 minutes per day. And that includes a ten day hiatus over summer and a week long one over Christmas. One of the things that helps as well is that my ‘new’ (can you call it new if it’s been almost eight months?) gym has a great selection of classes, which is what I prefer to do. Also, if you don’t cancel an hour before the class you get a ‘point’ in the system if you don’t show up, and if you get points you can’t book classes online for a while. When classes book up full within five minutes of being able to book, that’s quite a hassle.

So what’s keeping me at it now is partly that I don’t have anyone waiting for me at home – meaning I’d rather spend time doing things away from home so I don’t feel so lonely – and partly the fact that I’ve found a few classes that I want to do every week. My favourite is a 90 minute long hot yoga called Hot Mojo, which is performed in a room that is 38 degrees warm (Celsius) and has a minimum humidity level of 60%. Unfortunately there’s only one 90 minute class in the entire city and the instructor is on holiday at the moment, so for the next two weeks I have to make do with the 60 minute class.

This post has gone down a different road than what I was thinking when I started out, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that even if you’re raised sporty and like to exercise, it’s not always easy to find the motivation to get there. We all need a little help now and then.

/t

julskinka (chistmas ham)

In the UK, the star of the Christmas dinner is the turkey. Everything else (well, apart from the rice pudding) is just an accompaniment really, a side dish. In Sweden I wouldn’t say that there’s that one centrepiece. Since Swedish Christmas dinners often have the three parts – fish, cold cuts and hot food – each part has their own pièce de résistance. (I should probably add a disclaimer that this is just my personal opinion.)

But if I were to choose the nearest Swedish counterpart to the turkey it would have to be the ham. I have always loved Christmas ham (there’s something special about it just coming from it being called ‘Christmas’) and it’s one of those leftover foods you don’t mind having every day until New Year’s.

I also can’t think about Christmas ham without thinking about my mum. Pretty much every Christmas we’ve spent at my grandparents’ the story about when my mum tried to make Christmas ham has come up. My mum – not having the slightest interest in cooking really – didn’t realise you need to boil the ham, so all she did was cover the raw joint in the mustard mix and breadcrumbs and place it in the oven for 15 minutes. I guess this sets the prelude to why she some years later told her friend they should bring a grilled chicken to a barbecue, hehe. (You know I love you mum, even if you can’t cook.)

Anyway, I’ve never made my own Christmas ham, since my grandma or aunt always makes it, so as we were doing Christmas at ours this year (well, last year technically) I thought it would be the perfect time to try out the new slow cooker my MIL had given me as an early Christmas present. However, the smallest joint they had in the shop was 2.5kg, so it didn’t even fit in the slow cooker! I had to use my 6 litre stew pot and even then I had trouble fitting enough water in to cover the whole joint. A bit of the top was left above the water, but it worked out ok in the end.

In comparing my slow cooker recipe with the regular recipe I noticed that all of the ‘condiments’ were missing. The regular recipe just called for the ham joint to be covered by water and left to boil, where the slow cooker recipe added spices and vegetables to the water. Because I’d already bought everything, and because I thought it sounded nicer, I still added the condiments to the water despite not using the slow cooker – so if you want to simplify this you can remove all the spices and vegetables and just cover the ham with water and boil as specified below.

20161225_111842-2

Ingredients

2.5 kg ham

1 carrot

1 yellow onion

1 tsp whole allspice

1 tsp whole white pepper

2 bay leaves

0.5 tsp salt per litre water

 

1 egg

2 tbsp mustard

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp sugar

100-150 ml breadcrumbs

corn flour or maize starch


Rinse the ham joint in cold water (leave the netting on) and stick a meat thermometer in it. Place it in a large pot.

Chop up the carrot and onion and add to the pot with the allspice, pepper, and bay leaves. Add enough water to cover the ham, and then 0.5 tsp salt per litre water.

Cover the pot with a lid and bring to boil. When it starts boiling, bring it down to a simmer and leave to cook until the thermometer shows 70-75 degrees Celsius. The estimate is 1 hour per kilo of ham – so in my case that was 2.5 kg.

If you instead want to use a slow cooker, cook on low heat for 9 hours.

Once cooked, leave the ham to cool down before taking off the net and cutting off any excess fat you don’t want.

Then mix together the egg, two mustards and sugar. Put some starch or corn flour on the top of the ham (this helps to keep the mustard mix from sliding off too much) and cover with the mustard mix.

Pour the breadcrumbs over the mustard mix, then grill in the oven at 225 degrees Celsius for 10-15 minutes.

 


20161224_132536-2

Again, this is a Christmas recipe that isn’t very difficult. It just takes a bit of time. But since you’re going to serve it cold it’s perfect for making a day or two in advance – if you can keep your hands off it in the meantime – so you don’t have to stress on the day.

My Christmas was actually very relaxed cooking wise. I had made the gravlax and the ham in advance so they were ready to serve. I got up around 9 am to roll up some meatballs to be ready to fry later, and then just boiled some eggs and potatoes, fried the meatballs and sausages, and cooked the sausage meat and pigs in blankets (S’s additions) in the oven. The bread and cheese and ready-bought sauces obviously didn’t need any preparations. So the only thing that was a bit of a hassle was the rice pudding, and that was mainly because I’d picked a bad recipe since I’d never made it before – so I had to make a second batch following another recipe, which turned out much better.

/t

swedish meatballs

Swedish meatballs must be one of the most famous things to come out of Sweden. If you ask people what they know about Sweden the list usually goes; Abba, IKEA, Volvo, Swedish meatballs. If they’re into football, music, films, or Scandi noir, the answer might stretch a bit with things like Zlatan, Swedish House Mafia / Avicii / Red One, Alexander Skarsgård / Alicia Vikander / Ingemar Bergman, or The Bridge / The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – but those first ones are usually the first four mentioned. I mean who’s been to IKEA and hasn’t had the meatballs?

Here’s where it gets interesting though – because what I’m guessing that you don’t know (unless you read The Local Sweden) is that most Swedish people wouldn’t have the IKEA style meatballs the way they’re served in IKEA. This is because we have a division of how you serve ‘good’ and ‘bad’ (or ‘posh’ and ‘non-posh’ if you like) meatballs. And don’t get me started on meatballs with fries. Unless you’re buying them at a street vendor / kiosk / petrol station during a drive (and even then they often have mash as an alternative) or you’re a toddler, you do not have meatballs with fries.

So, as you may deduct from the above, the good, or posh, meatballs are the homemade kind. The ones your parents or grandparents used to make for you when you were little. The ones that are hand-rolled with love. These are (always) served with potatoes or (homemade) mash, cream sauce, and lingonberry jam. They are traditionally made from mixed mince – half beef half pork – but can also be all beef, moose, boar, deer, or whatever else your family is in to. In my family it was moose.

The bad, or non-posh, meatballs are the factory-made kind you buy in the supermarket – or at IKEA. In Sweden these are usually served with pasta (often snabbmakaroner, i.e. ‘quick macaroni’ which takes about 2 min to cook) and ketchup. I know! Ketchup. This is what we used to get in school when I was little and we were served meatballs. It’s also what my mum used to pack in my food thermos (that or pancakes) when we were going on outings with school.

Another use for the non-posh meatballs is on a traditional Scandi-style open sandwich, together with what we call beetroot salad (which is essentially small cubes of beetroot mixed with mayonnaise).

The other use for the posh meatballs is of course at the Christmas table and Christmas dinner – served besides the sausages and other hot foods – and that brings us neatly on to today’s recipe, because after Christmas we had loads of meatballs left. Feeling slightly tired of Christmas food, I suggested we could make meatballs with mash and cream sauce.

The recipe below is a very basic meatball recipe. My nan and my dad always used to put onion in theirs, but since I’m not a fan of onion (I can do it in stew where I can pick it out or soup where it’s blended) I don’t. Some people put garlic in theirs, others allspice. And like I already mentioned before, people use all kinds of meat. Even chicken and turkey, but then I don’t think it would go too well with the sauce. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that if you want to experiment – go nuts! You can also replace the milk with cream if you want a heavier feel.

20161225_174956 (2).jpg


Ingredients

500g mince (I use lean beef with 5-10% fat)

50 ml breadcrumbs

100 ml milk

1 egg

salt

pepper


Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk for about 10 minutes, until they have swelled and soaked up all the milk.

Mix in the egg.

Add the mince and salt and pepper. Mix together (best done with a fork or your hands).

Roll out the meatballs by taking a piece of mince mixture and putting it in between your palms, moving them in opposite directions.

Fry in butter on medium/high heat for 5 ish minutes, until cooked through.


For the cream sauce to go with it, I usually improvise. The way I go about it is: add a small piece of butter to a pot, then pour in 300 ml cream. Add 1-1.5 beef stock cube and stir until dissolved. Then add a splash of soy sauce, some white pepper and, if necessary, some flour to thicken. If it’s too thick, add some milk. Not enough saltiness, add more soy sauce. And so on. However, this doesn’t make for a very good recipe for someone who doesn’t know what they’re after in the taste and texture department, so I’ve Googled a recipe for you and adapted it slightly to go better with my version.


Ingredients

1 tbsp butter

300 ml cream

1 stock cubes / 1-2 tbsp concentrated stock

1 tsp soy sauce

white pepper

flour


So as stated above, melt the butter in a pot. Add the cream and a teaspoon of flour. Whisk until there are no lumps.

Crumble the stock cube (or pour in the concentrated stock) into the pot and stir until dissolved (combined).

Add the soy sauce and some white pepper.

Leave to simmer until slightly thickened.


This should be served either with a creamy homemade mash or with boiled potatoes, and then lingonberry jam. I know we haven’t talked that much about lingonberry jam before, but I think I’ve made it clear that this is a staple in the Swedish kitchen? We eat it with meatballs, with potato pancakes, with our macaronilåda pastabake, with oven-pancakes (pancake batter cooked in a large tin in the oven, often with bits of bacon in it), kroppkakor (Swedish potato dumplings with pork filling) and so on. If you really want to do these good meatballs justice, you should have rårörda lingon (which translates as raw-stirred lingonberries) because they have less sugar in them and are less jelly-ish in texture. But lingonberry jam will do. (It always does.)

So now you know that Sweden has a tier system in place when it comes to their meatballs, and how to serve them depending on which tier they belong to! You can of course do it differently, but once you’ve had a good, homemade, meatball, mash and sauce meal you will never be able to look at the IKEA version the same again

/t

gravlax with beetroot and gin

No Swedish Christmas dinner is complete without gravlax. Chances are you might have come across it, at least if you’re in Europe, because it’s actually quite popular in other countries too. It’s basically cured salmon – traditionally just sugar, salt and dill – and for you English people out there it’s similar in texture to the Scottish smoked salmon you can buy in M&S etc.

It comes from the times when we had to cure our food in order for it to keep beyond a few days and originally it was made by placing it in a hole in the ground – so it was really more fermented than cured.

20161224_132542-2

Gravlax (or gravad lax) is one of those foods that is really easy to prepare, but very time-consuming (not the preparations but the curing). To make proper gravlax you need to buy the salmon at least three days in advance – six if you want to be on the safe side (three for freezing and three for curing). When I told my brother I had made my own gravlax for our Christmas dinner and that it took three days he told me I was mad. But like I told him; once you’ve put it in the fridge 90% of the job is done, if not 95%.

As for the freezing thing, the Swedish National Food Agency used to recommend that all fish that was to be consumed raw should be frozen for at least 48 hours before consumption to kill any parasites. And since you need to defrost the salmon before you can cure it that would add three days to the “cooking” process. Nowadays, however, they only say that you need to freeze wild caught fish (i.e. not farmed) and apparently 98% of the salmon sold in Swedish supermarkets is farmed, so if you’re in Sweden you should be fine. I still froze mine though – better safe than sorry.


Ingredients

1 kg salmon

100 ml sugar

50 or 100 ml fine sea salt

2 pcs beetroot

3 tbsp gin or vodka

20161225_112138-2

To get the most out of your salmon, the best bit to get is the middle bit. If you get a tail bit, the thinner part will cure faster and may not be very nice to eat. Unfortunately I had rather slim pickings, so I ended up with a tail bit anyway.Take your piece of salmon and place it skin down on a plate or in a dish. Pour over the salt and sugar.

Now there are two schools to the curing – the one that does half salt to sugar and the one that does the same amount. The recipe I followed used the half-method, but I wish I had used the equals-method instead. It depends on your tastes I guess – the half-method is obviously a bit sweeter.

Pour the gin or vodka over the salt and sugar mix and try to spread it out evenly. I used gin because we had an open bottle at home (I didn’t want to open the vodka just to take 3 tbsp for cooking) but the original version is beetroot and vodka.

Grate your beetroot and spread evenly over the sugar and salt mix.

Again you can choose how you want to do it here. Either keep the salmon on the dish and cover with cling-film or a plastic bag, or move the salmon into a plastic bag. I kept my salmon in the dish overnight and then transferred it to a bag. The reason I did it that way is that if you have it in a bag it feels like the juices that come from the curing cover it better.

Either way, place the salmon (still skin side down) in the fridge and leave it there to cure for 2-4 days, turning it a few times during that time (at least once per 24h). I cured mine for three days and turned it three times I think.

To keep the salmon as nice as possible, keep it in one large piece and only slice as much as you’re using at the time. It’s better to have to go back and slice up more than to slice up too much and try and keep the remaining pieces.

If you want to make the more traditional version, remove the beetroot, replace the gin/vodka with a splash of water, and cover with fresh dill.


See, I told you it was easy!

/t

2017

Happy New Year everyone! (Ok, maybe that’s a bit optimistic in terms of readership of this blog – but still.)

I’ve had a nice Christmas and New Year’s, but sadly still snow-less. I made some great food for Christmas (banging my own drum) and we had a quiet day with the obligatory Donald Duck and a few presents each. S and I then had three very quiet days on our own where we did nothing (I haven’t spent so much time in front of the TV in ages), then my mother-in-law came and then my brother-in-law, his girlfriend, and her son came. So it’s been a full house for the past four days and, to be honest, it’s going to be quite nice to come home tonight and not be surrounded by people. (Of course it would have been nicer if S was still here though.)

For New Year’s we did dinner in the flat and then went out on a hill behind our house to watch fireworks. It turned out to be a really good spot because you had a 360-view and there were fireworks in every direction. We then went back home and, because we’d all got up around 8 am due to a certain 6-yo, went to bed about 1 am. On New Year’s Day we went ice-skating in the city (because nothing in Sweden is open on NYD) and I thought it was a lot of fun. Haven’t been ice-skating in years and the more I do things I haven’t done since I left Sweden, the more I feel like I’m truly back again.

Today I’m back at work though, but Thursday is a half-day here and Friday a bank holiday, so I’m flying over to London on Thursday afternoon – meaning this work week isn’t really a week at all. I feel like I’m getting quite a bad cold though, my nose is all blocked up, my sinuses are sore, my throat is sore in the mornings, and I have a headache at the moment. Hopefully 90 minutes in a 38 degree room with 60% humidity this evening (hot yoga) should clear me up somewhat.

Since I’m going away this weekend I don’t know if I’ll have the time to type up some of my Christmas and NYE recipes for you, but I’ll do my best! Otherwise something will come up next week.

/t