All posts filed under: Europe

Swedish Cheese Custard Recipe

Swedish Cheese Custard

“Winters are long in Sweden,” Alex reminded me. I’d just flipped to the Swedish Cheese Custard in my 100-year old copy of the “Pan Pacific Cookbook” and lifted my eyebrows. My eyebrows lifted further as I scanned the main ingredients – cheese, eggs, and milk. She laughed and nodded. Turns out Cheese Custard is a dairy farmer’s happy place. Perfect after a casual ski through deep snow. But one question remained… Is cheese custard good? Cheese custard is a question mark on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. We don’t typically eat savory chilled custards. But Swede’s know it is a silky, indulgent affair. It’s as if someone took the ingredients to a quiche and mixed them up – there’s fewer eggs, more cheese and much more milk. All that milk? It makes for a delicate spoonful. The most fun? As the custard cools the cheese creates a soft, flaky crust. The golden top looks similar to the crust of France’s often swooned over crème brûlée. My friend recommended using Jalsburg cheese – unless you can find Sweden’s whiskey-cured Prästost. Jalsburg gives the custard a mild, nutty flavor with a little extra …

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Mary Poppins Birthday Party

A Very British “Mary Poppins” Birthday Party

Why stay home for your child’s birthday party when you can “journey” to 17 Cherry Tree Lane with a very magical Mary Poppins Tea Party? I began reading Mary Poppins to my daughter earlier this year and we soon found ourselves delighted by the adventures. It wasn’t long before Ava asked me if she could have a Mary Poppins themed birthday party. The more we read of the 1024 page story, the more ideas we got. Here are the highlights of my daughter’s Mary Poppins Birthday party. Set the Tone with Floating Invitations Mary Poppins is associated with unexpected, magical adventures. To set the tone, I made “floating” invitations a few weeks before the party. Make it a Costume Party Everyone loves an excuse to dress up! We invited Ava’s friends to wear a costume inspired by the movie, book, or tea parties in general. They did not disappoint! There were several Chimney Sweeps… An adorable Bert in red stripes… And, as is to be expected, several Mary Poppins! We assembled Ava’s costumes from items found at second hand shops, …

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Victoria Sponge Cake Recipe inspired by Mary Poppins

British Victoria Sponge Cake

Imagine a cake good enough to eat upside down. This Victoria Sponge Cake is 100% inspired by Mary Poppins – that lovable British nanny at the heart of  countless quirky adventures – and, yes, it’s that good. The recipe is mentioned in Mary Poppins: 80th Anniversary Collection, which I gave my daughter for Valentine’s Day. A note on these books: P.L. Travers’s collection goes well beyond the parameters of the Disney movie – the floating tea party scene at the heart of the film can be found on page 42, barely cracking the spine of this 1024 page classic. Every night at bedtime we settle into a new chapter, following the 5 Banks children on another adventure. They paint the sky, eat gingerbread stars, hang out with the constellations at a circus in space, and travel the world with a compass – and all that within the first few hundred pages. Mary Poppins not only never explains their adventures once they’re over, she insists she has no idea what the children are talking about. More than buttoned up, Mary Poppins is flat out strict, yet the children always have fun when she’s …

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Russian Cabbage Pie

This much Russia knows: the chilly, early days of spring go hand-in-hand with cabbage. Throughout the countryside, rows of cabbages can be found poking through the ground even as the last freeze thaws. The tough, squeaky heads are impenetrable to all but the peskiest of creatures, but give them some attention with a sharp knife and persistent flame and you’ll see why cabbage is the pride of Russian home cooking. From cabbage rolls to borscht, Russian cookbooks are fat with ideas to use up the spring harvest – and at a mere $2-$3 per head at the market, it’s tempting to attempt them all. But if I had to pick just one, cabbage pie seems to shows off the humble vegetable’s truest potential. Cook it up with little more than butter, a smattering of onion and lay it between sticky spoonfuls of sour cream batter… bake, then slice into neat squares and you’ll have a feast fit for any potluck. (We took it over to our neighbor’s potluck party; the casserole was cleaned out in mere minutes!) The ingredients …

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What’s the difference? Tasting Ceylon Teas

English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, English Afternoon… Why so many names when they’re all “100% Ceylon Tea”? My husband gave me a box set of black teas for Christmas. I poured intently over the dozen-or-so varieties only to discover that, while the tea names varied, the labels all listed the same ingredient: 100% Ceylon Tea. The issue came up again this month: I am fueling my book tour with gallons of tea … and yet every cuppa is little more than a brew of 100% Ceylon Tea. Isn’t the definition of insanity Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results? I had to find out what was going on. My next move? A literal “pouring over” with hot water. Every morning I sipped a different tea only to remain perplexed: I couldn’t detect a noticeable difference in the teas. Feeling more and more duped, I decided to host an official tea tasting.  And, since I wanted to be sure of the results, I did it with my husband and friend. How to set up an accurate tea tasting: Whether you’re …

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O’Hara’s Irish Red Velvet Cake with Bailey’s Buttercream

Think you need to eat green this Saint Patrick’s Day? Think again. Come Saint Patrick’s Day, few desserts can stand up to the mighty Guinness Chocolate Cake – until now.  Irish Red Velvet Cake is as cheery as a wee leprechaun’s cheeks and as fiery as his beard. The crimson batter contains a dusting of cocoa and is bound with buttermilk – both characteristics of a traditional Red Velvet Cake, popular in the American South. But a few glugs of O’Hara’s Irish Red Ale gives this otherwise ordinary cake Celtic edge. This delightful Irish-American fusion makes an ideal dessert for the 40 million Irish Americans who celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day every year. (And, since Saint Patrick’s Day is more widely celebrated by Irish Americans than the Irish, this fusion turns out to be quite apropos.) What is an Irish Red Ale? Irish Red ales are reddish-brown in color and full-bodied. In the case of O’Hara’s, toasted malt sweetens the drink, while a bit of hops deepens the finish. Too much of the bubbly brew can give the Irish Red Velvet Cake a yeasty, bread-like flavor – a modest 1/2 cup does the trick. Cutting back on the …

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Salad Niçoise

There’s nothing like a mid-winter picnic, especially if Salad Niçoise is part of the equation. The other day my daughter asked if we could eat dinner outside. It was sunny, the temperature in the mid-sixties. My answer? Most definitely. We bundled up – each in a cozy sweater – and set up our colorful spread on the scraggly winter landscape. For the Salad Niçoise, I took my inspiration from Julia Child and piled on delicately steamed French beans, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, and everything deliciously funky: Tuna, olives, capers and a few anchovies (for salty chew). A handful of crackers with cheese completed dinner (though a hunk of crusty bread would be nice, too). My husband flashed us all back to his “Mr Picky” days as he struggled to down one solitary anchovy. He did the work but remains unconvinced of their merits. My daughter escaped the challenge since she’s a self-proclaimed vegetarian, focusing her efforts instead on the vegetables and cheese (for protein). As for myself, I ate everything. While we enjoyed our meal, the sun sunk behind our neighbors’ rooftop (taking the warmth with …

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Kir Impérial

In honor of Valentine’s Day – and being one month away from the release of my new memoir (Eeee!!) – I went to the “way back” machine and dug up what I consider to be the most romantic of all French drinks: a Kir Impérial. There are only two things you need to know about Kir Impérial. #1 It bubbles. #2. It tastes like love. But… since I’m a front row kind of gal… The Story Behind Kir Once upon a time the Kir was actually called “vin blanc cassis” – which just means “white wine currants.” According to Larousse Gastronomique, this was a specialty drink from Burgundy, France. It mixed two of the region’s best drinks: an Aligoté wine (dry white wine) and cassis (black currant liqueur). After World War II everything changed. A priest, who helped 5,000 people escape a prisoners of war camp, was knighted and elected as the mayor of Dijon. He always served vin blanc de cassis during official meetings and celebrations, in part because there was a red wine shortage. His name was – you guessed it – Felix …

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A Polish lunch that’ll clean out your fridge

Whether your child is in a growth spurt or you just need a meal to satisfy you longer than the 20 minutes it takes to eat it, Polish comfort food is the answer. We ate ours back on December 23rd, three hours before locking up the house and flying to spend 11 days with more than a dozen family members (First stop: Cape Charles Virginia, to see one of my brothers and sisters, and their kids. Second stop: Martinsburg, West Viriginia for our cousin’s wedding and most of Keith’s family). In large part, this hurried meal was the kind of “cleaning out the fridge” and “pantry upkeep” situation I engage in every time I travel. It started because the potatoes threatened to grow legs and walk off while we were away.  In the fridge, I had a link of kielbasa sausage and package of fresh sauerkraut with imminent expiration dates, plus some carrots and Brussels sprouts that I just knew would be despondent upon our return. I pan-fried the vegetables and sausage while the potatoes boiled. As the components came together on our trays …

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Feast of the 7 Fishes | Linguine with Baccalà Sauce

A lump of salt cod (baccalà) just might be everything. To use the tough, leathery fillet – more hide than flesh – the cod must first be soaked in fresh clean water. Gradually the salt leaks into the water and clouds it. A change of water, then more salt comes out. Several more water changes. A couple of days go by. The cod becomes soft. Mild. Tender. Italians know: these steps cannot be skipped or the meal will be ruined. I find myself sifting around for meaning this year. Did you notice that Christmas came with Halloween and Thanksgiving was just a speed bump on the road to black Friday (which actually began before the dishes were done or the meal had settled)?  With all the fuss happening earlier and earlier in the year, the excitement of Christmas feels dilute. But as I sit with this idea, restless in my desire to make the holidays special, I realize dilution – as with salt cod – can be a benefit. As the holiday season leeches into the stores earlier, becoming increasingly consumer-based, it …

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French Around the World Lunch

Ava’s French Lunch

One of my favorite food memories from France was going out for couscous with my guardians. I was a wide-eyed teenager, happy to sit around a fragrant pot of stewed veggies and eat until my stomach ballooned. My favorite part was how the broth saturated the couscous, forming an unctuous gravy. The strong North African influence not only made its way into the restaurants  of Paris, but also into the home cooking – as I soon learned, couscous also makes a great base for ratatouille. Today I’ve combined my basic ratatouille recipe with plain couscous for Ava’s Around the World Lunch. Since ratatouille is often served room temperature, no microwaves will be needed at lunchtime. Perfect! To complete the meal? A miniature wheel of Brie and the cutest little pear you ever saw are shameless appeals to my daughter’s preference for anything “cute” (Which worked perfectly – I hear they were the first things to disappear at lunchtime). Tips: While Brie is one of the more mild French cheeses, sensitive eaters may want to swap the brie for a wedge of “Laughing Cow” …

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Nordic Around the World Lunch

Ava’s Nordic Lunch

Ah, winter. This week I took inspiration from the chill in the air and went Nordic with Ava’s Around the World Lunch (Nordic simply means the cultural part of Northern Europe that includes Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The Nordic menu is quite simple and can be assembled in about five minutes. For Ava’s main meal, I went Danish: A few slices of dark rye bread smeared with a bit of butter are topped with a translucent slice of smoked salmon. Two smaller slices of bread were topped with cheese – use any mild cheese you like, especially Jalsberg which comes from Norway. Essentially simple Smørrebrød, these open-faced sandwiches include other common toppers such as sliced cucumbers and radishes – which she can eat on their own or turn them into toppers – finger food like this is perfect my kindergartner. Dessert was a few raspberries and a squeezable tube of blueberry skyr, an Icelandic-style yogurt known for being super low in sugar and high in protein (a.k.a. my five-year old won’t have a post-lunch energy crash). Ava was SO excited about the Siggi’s – I have a feeling they’re going into the …

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