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.

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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.

 


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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

it’s beginning to look a lot like christmas

I cannot believe that it’s Christmas on Saturday! I know it sounds like such a cliché, but this year has really gone by so fast. I feel like it was only a few weeks ago I moved back to Stockholm, not almost nine months. 2016 is almost over and I don’t even feel like it ever really began.

 I guess part of the reason why the year feels like it’s gone by so fast is because since April the weeks have only been the transport route to the weekends, when I get to see S. I haven’t been doing much during the weeks (mainly work and gym) so leaving home just before 8 am and returning around 8-9 pm 2-4 days a week kind of turns it all into a blur.

 But now I’m looking forward to a few days off. S is coming here on Friday and then we’ve got all the days between Christmas and New Year’s off. We’ll be doing Christmas at home (so for the next few days I’ll be really busy with food prep for Saturday) and for NYE his family is coming over – so I’ll be cooking a NYE feast.

 I’m planning on doing a lot of good stuff for Christmas and NYE, so there should be some good recipes coming up here in the New Year. For Christmas there’s going to be gravad lax (Swedish cured salmon), Christmas ham, meatballs, mini sausages, potatoes, cheese and bread, English rice pudding, as well as gingerbread, saffron buns, knäck (Swedish almond toffee), Rocky Road, and maybe some other chocolates. I won’t make everything myself though, but the ones I do I’ll post about. For NYE I’m thinking some sort of beef wrapped in Parma ham served with a potato gratin of sorts and then a take on Eton mess for dessert. Pleasing the in-laws in the food department isn’t always easy, but a nice piece of meat with potatoes and an English dessert should do it!

 What’s really disappointing though is that it’s not looking like we’re going to get a white Christmas. The snow chaos in the beginning of November was getting my hopes up for a white Christmas, but after the initial chaos and some one-day followers, the temperature has steadily risen above freezing and none of the (sporadic) snow has stuck. Today is due to be 8 degrees and Saturday 5 degrees. So not looking hopeful there.

 I’m still excited about my first Christmas really being at home again though. No feeling like you have to cram so much in because it’s the longest consecutive period you’ll be home all year. Not sleeping on a blow-up mattress in my mum’s living room/kitchen. Not living out of a suitcase. And being able to decorate our home the way we want. Having our own Christmas tree, advent stars and advent candlesticks in the windows, and the four advent candles present in many a Swedish home at this time of year.

 I’ve always liked Christmas. Going down to my grandparents’ (though we’re not doing that this Christmas Eve), sticking to the tradition and always having the same food and watching Donald Duck, year after year, even though we’re all adults now. I think I must have got the whole Christmas gene in my family because my brother couldn’t really care less (he’s been working on Christmas Eve the past few years – great overtime pay) and for my mum it’s been kind of a case where the older we get the less traditional she is. She definitely used to go all out when we were little, even when we were teenagers, but when we started getting older and more independent she started scaling it down. S doesn’t really feel the same way about Christmas as I do either, so three out of five years we’ve spent Christmas at my grandparents’. (The first year together we spent Christmas apart – had only been together about two months – one year my mum and brother came over to London, and last year we stayed in London because he wasn’t allowed to fly.) This year we wanted to be at home though, seeing as it’s the first time we have our own place, so we’ll go down and see my family in the days after Christmas instead.

Which means I have to cook. I’m looking forward to it though. I’m going to make my own gravlax (not very difficult, just time consuming) and I’m going to make a Christmas ham for the first time, using my brand new slow cooker I got as a Christmas present from the MIL. (I got it early because it had to be delivered to my house.) The ham needs to boil for 9 hours in the slow cooker and then go in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, so I’m planning on boiling it overnight. Then I’m also attempting to make an English rice pudding rather than the traditional Swedish risgrynsgröt (rice porridge) on S’s request. Though I think they’re very similar – the rice pudding is thicker due to being made with cream instead of milk and baked instead of boiled – he doesn’t like the Swedish version very much, so I promised I’d give it a try. Can’t be that difficult, can it.

It’ll only be a small gathering and we’ll end up having leftovers for weeks, but I’m really looking forward to it. To use the favourite word of the Swedish nation, I think it will be cozy.

/t

lussebullar

Today is Lucia, which is an old Swedish tradition. Surprisingly, it’s technically the celebration of an Italian saint, but in true Swedish fashion we’ve thrown in some pagan associations too. You don’t need to look far to find pagan celebrations in Sweden – just look at Valborg (Walpurgis Night), Midsummer, and even Easter and Christmas. (On the Thursday before Good Friday children in Sweden dress up as Easter witches and go knocking on doors to get sweets, and Christmas is commonly said to be celebrated at the end of December because we already had pagan celebrations then that the Christians wanted to replace.)

Anyway, back to today. Lucia is a Catholic saint from Sicily who lived during the late 200’s, and the story is that she was persecuted for being a devout Christian. As a young girl she had taken a chastity vow, but her mother – not knowing about the vow – arranged for her to be married because she herself was sick. When Lucia found out, her and her mother travelled to St Agatha’s shrine to pray for a cure. The mother was cured and agreed that Lucia would not have to be married, but her intended husband was not please by these news, and so he reported her to the Governor of Syracuse who ordered her to burn a sacrifice to the emperor’s image. Lucia refused and was then ordered to be defiled in a brothel, but when they came to pick her up they could not move her. Eventually she was killed with a sword.

St Lucia’s day became 13th December, which before the calendar reformation coincided with the Winter Solstice. The Swedish Lucia tradition is therefore thought to stem from that. There are Swedish versions of the legend saying that St Lucia would bring food to prisoners, and that to be able to carry as much as possible she would put the candles on her head, but reference to this is not commonly made in the English articles about her. What is more likely is that we put Lucia onto our pagan tradition to be able to ‘Christianise’ it. According to folklore, 13th December was a dangerous night on which many supernatural beings moving about, and it was thought that animals could talk on that night. Because it was a dangerous night, people should try not to go to sleep, and some would walk the towns with torches to bring light on this darkest night.
13th December was also the day on which all the Christmas celebrations should be finished, and when the Christmas pig should be slaughtered. People would therefore often have a small feast, and some even called it ‘mini-Christmas’.

And there you have it. This mix of pagan tradition and a Sicilian saint has brought us today’s Lucia celebrations, where a girl with a crown of candles leads a procession of boys and girls in white gowns, singing Lucia songs and handing out gingerbread and lussebullar (saffron buns) to people – which neatly brings us onto the recipe of the day.

Lussebullar, or lussekatter, are a Swedish Christmas food strongly associated with Lucia. ‘Att lussa’ is the verb used in Swedish for describing partaking in a Lucia train, so lussebulle technically means ‘Lucia bun’ and lussekatt means ‘Lucia cat’. Apparently the latter is because the lussebulle came about in Germany, where the devil, in the form of a cat, beat children while Jesus, in the form of a child, gave out buns to children who were good. To keep the devil away the buns were coloured with saffron – since the devil had an aversion to light. You learn something new every day!

Either way, lussebullar are one of my favourite things, and I always get that giddy feeling when they start selling them in the shops. But what’s great about them is that they’re actually not very difficult to make, you just need some patience, and they usually turn out so much greater than the store-bought ones.


Ingredients
50g fresh yeast

100g butter

500 ml milk

250g quark

1g saffron

150 ml sugar

0.5 tsp salt

ca 1.7 l flour

raisins

1 egg / some milk

First I want to emphasise again how much I prefer fresh years to dry. I know everyone can’t get their hands on fresh yeast, but if you can it’ll so be worth it.

Start by crumbling your yeast in a big bowl.

Melt the butter in a pan and add the milk. Heat to max 37 degrees Celcius. The easiest way to know that it’s right (if you don’t have a thermometer) is to do the finger test. Just dip your finger in there and if you basically can’t feel the liquid (i.e. it’s neither hot nor cold) it’s good to go. Make sure your finger doesn’t just graze the top though – the bottom could be hotter which would kill the yeast.

Pour the liquid over the yeast little by little until it dissolves. Add saffron, sugar, and quark and dissolve. Then add almost all of the flour, tip the dough out of the bowl and knead until smooth.

Leave to rise for at least 30 minutes.

Once the dough has almost doubled in size, tip it out onto a floured surface and cut into smaller pieces. I usually do this by halving the dough and then halving each bit as I go, which I believe gave me 36 buns.

To make the buns, take one piece and roll it out into a long, thin(ish) strand. Then grab the ends and roll them up opposite ways until it resembles and S. If you want to (I don’t like raisins) garnish by putting one raisin at each end of the S.

Leave to rise for another 30 minutes.

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Again, this step is up to you. You can either glaze the buns with a beaten egg before baking, or do what I do and brush them with some milk after. I prefer the milk after, because it gives the buns a soft exterior, but others prefer the top to be more bread-like.

Either way, bake the buns for 5-10 minutes (depending on the size) at 225 degrees Celcius, then why not enjoy them while they’re hot with some glögg or julmust.