Saturday, 24 October 2009

Scandinavian Meatball Menu

For those who have been following the Scandinavian meatball banter on Twitter and are curious about next week's dinner at Madsen here is the menu courtesy of owner Charlotte Kruse Madsen:

to choose from
Onion marinated herring with Akvavit jelly, curry cream and rye bread croutons
Toast Skagen - Greenland prawns in house dill mayonnaise served on toast with lumpfish roe

Main course:
served on trays at the table so people can pick their meatballs and sides

Danish and Norwegian meatballs served with gravy and small potatoes, red cabbage and mashed root vegetables. Homepickled beetroot and cucumber.


"Rodgrod med flode" - Danish red porridge with cream

Price per person is £28.50 incl. service charge.

There are still some places left so email me or if you are on Twitter, send me a DM @scandilicious and I'll get back to you with confirmation of a place. Please let me know by Monday the 26th October if you are coming, and any last-minute flakeouts expect rustication from future meatball dinners. Just kidding (not really)

It promises to be a fun evening, and hopefully the start of many a meatball-themed dinner :D

If you'd like to know more about Madsen, Matthew Fort wrote a review in the Guardian here and The Epicurean wrote one here

Friday, 23 October 2009

Bye bye baking...

Hello cooking and feasting with Scandinavian flair

Yep, change is afoot folks. I've been mulling over the remit of this blog and came to the conclusion that baking with Scandi flair has run its course. Much as I love whisking and folding in my Bloomsbury kitchen, certain baking tropes seem to have reprised themselves in past weeks - this month has seen several cinnamon loaves and two batches of very gooey brownies baked, and that's it. The oven in my flat is temperamental which precludes me from baking with any sort of flair at the moment and you really don't want a grumpy Scandinvian baker sharing her thoughts on her demented oven

So from now on Scandilicious will be broader in scope - I'll be foraging and featuring recipes inspired by the seasons and the outdoors. My Scandi roots lie in nature as we Johansens seek fresh air like junkies seek their next fix so I'll be fishing and hunting - though I am prone to clumsiness so hopefully won't shoot my foot off - and cooking Scandi favourites such as meatballs, venison stew and grilled crayfish whilst scoffing the occasional Scandi Kitchen hot dog for sustenance when lack of time mandates it :D

Channelling my nerdy love of fermentation I'll also be curing fish and experimenting with bacteria. Nothing untoward with bacteria of course - just making yogurt, cheese and other dairy treats. As my friends will tell you I'm an insufferable curd-nerd so expect to see more recipes featuring cheese here. There will of course be baking recipes, especially for bread and buns, but fewer recipes for cakes and other sweet things - scroll through the blog and you'll find 70 baking recipes from the past year

Needless to say the Scandi open sandwich will feature on occasion, an example of which you can see here:

And finally one of the things I loved most about training as a chef at Leiths and subsequently as a stagiere at the Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen was the honing of technique, so there will be more emphasis in future blog posts on the skill and technique involved in cookery. That may sound boring and tedious but real cooks will know what I'm on about - I'll be sharing tips and techniques I picked up from both my formal training and subsequent work in kitchens and as a freelance caterer. Cooking is what makes us human and as a food anthropologist I'm interested in the crafting of skills in cookery so expect some quasi-anthropological musings thrown in blog posts here and there

That's all for the time being, let me know what you think as suggestions and advice - however critical - are always welcome and I hope you like the new Scandilicious. If you are in London next week there is going to be a meatball dinner at Madsen, a Scandinavian restaurant in South Kensington and there are a few places left so do get in touch if you're curious about sampling true Scandi fare

As we say in Scandinavia, velbekomme!

Sig x

Thursday, 15 October 2009


Chocolate week is in full swing and the quality of real chocolate now available in the UK - like the hilarious Boris Johnson - is really something to marvel at

When it comes to real chocolate my adopted home has advanced leaps and bounds since I first arrived ten years ago. As evinced by the plethora of chocolate brands at last weekend's Chocolate Unwrapped event and a dizzying array of chocolate tastings and events taking place across Blighty this week, there is much to rejoice about if you're a committed theobromine addict. With the likes of Paul A Young and Chantal Coady of Rococo flying the flag for real chocolate this country is finally on the right track chocolate-wise, even if the postal system is a complete shambles. Perfidious old Albion still has some way to go with real bread too but that's another blog post in the offing

Musing on chocolate recently I found myself nostalgic for Norway. This often happens when I hear Peer Gynt, eat gravad laks or reminisce about skiing - that is until I remember my propensity to ski into trees

Visits in the past week to the Scandinavian Kitchen and Scandi restaurant Madsen have ostensibly triggered my most recent bliss point of 'Weegie nostalgia. I picked up Scandi chocolate confection Kvikk Lunsj and Daim from the good people of Great Titchfield Street, and tried to excavate memories of skiing that did not result in spectacular crashes with the woods and wildlife of Oslo

For the uninitiated, Kvikk-Lunsj is akin to a Kit-Kat but addictive as crack. The Kvikk-lunsj fan page on facebook boasted 15,907 fans when I last checked, a measure of how damn good this biscuity milk chocolate is. 'Weegies take with us a bar or three whenever we go on long hikes through forests and mountains, and on wholesome ski trips in winter. We don't really get fat because we're outdoors so much. Needless to say the clever marketing department of Norwegian chocolate brand Freia play on our love of outdoor frolics and romanticize kvikk-lunsj to the Nth degree - as you can see in the first photo above and if you click on that last link above. I'm a sucker for buying into it of course, but this chocolate so good who cares if I'm being duped

So imagine my total horror when I arrived in October 1999 to discover most chocolate here was crap. It was like something out of Hogarth. Norway's pulchritudinous populace may have prejudiced me somewhat, but I was literally surrounded by pasty, spotty, gin-soaked urchins who thought Cadbury's dairy milk constituted real 'chocolate' and booze was more important than food. It was a culture shock one step too far and I confess the first taste of Dairy Milk one of my mates shared still haunts me. Suitcases of kvikk-lunsj and other Freia confection were ferried over and distributed to my friends as a humanitarian act, rescuing them from purple brand addiction

Perhaps my British grandmother had convinced me everyone knew and understood food in this country. She cooked roast beef every Sunday so why wouldn't every other Brit do the same I assumed. Yorkshire pudding and bramley apple crumble were not part of my mates' repertoire I soon discovered, and when I bought organic milk and waxed lyrical on the joys of good butter this elicited some very quizzical looks from fellow students, not to mention when I subjected one poor soul to a rant on the evils of homogenized milk

Apparently Welsh rarebit at Fortnums was not considered integral to every eight-year old girl's visit to London and few of my peers really rated PG Wodehouse. Honestly, I felt like Alice peering through the looking glass - the Britain I had been shown by my beloved Nana was not quite what I imagined and being resolutely contrarian I refused to snap out of my sheltered little existence, digging my heels in further after some snot-nosed little neo-Marxist called me a "posh foreign snob"

And therein lies the rub. It's still hard today for even the most committed fairtrade, organic and sustainable food-supporting eater in this country to shake that subconscious fixation with class. Sometimes in those sunny and cool autumn days of October '99 I wondered whether Britain was still languishing in its Victorian past and if I wasn't just an insufferable brat for being so judgmental. Plus ca change!

Thankfully a delicious Scandi lunch at Madsen and a previous visit to meet owner Charlotte Kruse Madsen helped alleviate the worst of the nostalgia pangs I was experiencing earlier in the week. When Charlotte presented me with a fresh piece of kransekake, a classic Scandinavian dessert, I knew I had an excellent reason to visit South Ken, other than to see the dinosaurs and the new Darwin centre at the Natural History Museum

Scandinavian kransekake: a baked marzipan-rich biscuit

What do you think? Am I imagining things - does food trigger nostalgia or is it all nonsense? The best answer gets a couple of kvikk-lunsjes in the post. Remember, you must be over 18 and recognise the addictive qualities of said chocolate. After all 15,907 fans can't be wrong...


will winter 2009 be the year I cease to crash into trees? watch this space...

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The crafting of chocolate: Paul A Young

Thought you were getting a recipe for sea salted caramel truffles there didn't you?

Or perhaps some tips on decorating truffles?

Marzipan: the way to a Scandi's heart

After an extended hiatus from posting recipes a mea culpa is due: I've hardly baked since the reine de saba featured here last month. But if you're a regular reader you might have spotted I have something of a predilection for all things theobroma cacao. This post is inspired in part by a recent tasting at Paul A Young - virtuoso chocolatier and impassioned defender of orangutans - and by the imminent arrival of Chocolate Week Britain's biggest celebration of real chocolate

I love chocolate so don't expect any high-minded objectivity here. The smell of it renders me giddy and grinning dementedly like a Cheshire cat - who needs opium when you can have chocolate I say. Having written features on tea and chocolate pairing and wine pairings for a chocolate-themed dinner party it's safe to assume I would be happy if every week were a celebration of chocolate and since Paul opened his chocolate shop in 2006 I would occasionally pop in whenever I happened to be in Angel, which sadly wasn't that often. His marmite chocolate truffles are manna from heaven for a marmite fan, and you don't need me telling you his salted butter caramels (pictured above) are so moreish that all you really have to do is close your eyes and purr

My musings on matters theobromine boil down to the profound dichotomy of "yum" and "yuck", hence this is really a cursory introduction to one of the great fermented foodstuffs in existence besides my other favourites gravadlax, sourdough bread, Riesling, anchovies, and of course cheese...

Imagine my excitement when I saw this on display at Paul's tasting two weeks ago:

Chocolate and cheese may sound bonkers, but it's an umami bombshell of a combination, think of Ella Fitzgerald singing a fine romance when you pair chocolate and cheese and you know what I'm on about. Paul isn't the only advocate of unusual pairings with chocolate, food scientist and "curious cook" Harold McGee has a killer recipe for chocolate and cheese truffles Try it, you'd be surprised what a natural affinity good dark chocolate has with Stilton and indeed unpasteurised Stichelton

As a Scandinavian I grew up with good chocolate. It's our vitamin shot during long, dark winters and Norway's biggest chocolate company Freia is still my favourite source of milky chocolate confection that hits a certain blisspoint. Pangs of nostalgia occur whenever I eat a Kvikk-Lunsj, Freia's answer to the Kit-Kat and nothing really says weekends spent Nordic skiing, frolicking in the snow and steamy saunas like a bar of the stuff

So when American Kraft bought Norwegian Freia back in the mid 1990's there was a national outcry. Sound familiar? Kraft of course now have their eye on Cadbury's, that beloved British institution whose source of popularity has always eluded me. Cadbury's isn't real chocolate. They may have highly commendable Quaker ideals and social programs but they produce what should be more accurately called vegelate that masquerades as chocolate, replete with startling amounts of bleached sugar and some vague notion of cocoa. Yuck. Nothing, we discovered, makes Paul quite as hopping mad as people who claim chocolate is fattening. Cheap mass-produced chocolate is full of sugar, and that's what is so addictive, not to mention fatal to one's waistline

The heady aroma of real chocolate suffuses Paul's shop when you enter, and this is deliberate. He wants chocolate to be a sensory experience, and since all his chocolate is hand-crafted on site there is no other escape for the intoxicating aromas unleashed by tempering chocolate and freshly baked brownies. Automation is strictly verboten. Instead marble slabs are used downstairs in the kitchen for tempering, and there is no outsourcing at any stage in the chocolate production

Paul and his business partner James Cronin's enthusiasm for teaching us about real chocolate is clear as soon as we arrive. A tasting programme is planned for the evening in which we methodically work our way from bean to bar. Everything from malty Valrhona milk chocolate to silky 75% Amedei 9 and fiendishly tart and bitter 100% Valrhona manjari pate is sampled, the latter resolutely my favourite. Akin to a wine tasting, we diligently take notes and compare thoughts on what each chocolate evinces in terms of nuance, texture and aroma. Ultimately whether we like it or not is to some extent irrelevant. Real chocolate is an education in taste, not an exercise in expressing opinions of "yum" or "yuck' as I normally do

James Cronin talking to us about the business of chocolate

True chocolate lovers will already know the three main cocoa beans are Criollo, Trinitario and Forastero, Criollo being the elite bean and Forastero being the banal bean used in Cadbury's, Nestle, Kraft, et al. or as part of a blend. Being a fermentation nerd with an acidic palate I was intrigued to learn fermentation determines the acidity of cocoa beans, and if done properly releases all the inherent aromas of the bean. As Paul told us, it can be tricky discerning which bean is used for which chocolate with the Big Three Amadei, Valrhona and Michel Cluizel diverging in the way they reveal the bean's provenance, or what blend of beans they use

What struck me about Paul and James is how passionately they believe chocolate is a craft. Craftsmanship is not really part of the noughties' vernacular - we live in an age of instant gratification and mastering a craft requires a singular attention to detail, not to mention years of training, experience and embodied knowledge. Paul told us he had trained under Marco Pierre White, a chef who certainly does not suffer fools lightly. I can only imagine how character-forming it was to work for Marco, and as Paul told us the most salient lesson he learnt from him was that the product is king. To some extent I agree and I appreciate that Paul and James are running a business so the product is key, but the anthropologist in me would of course argue the product is nothing without the people. Cooks, chefs, chocolatiers, cheesemakers, winemakers, brewers all practice a form of craftsmanship, and you can't divest what they make from who they are. I suspect we'll be hearing more about this subject in the coming years as artisanal food producers hit their stride. At any rate, if you're a craft nerd then have a look at Richard Sennett's inspiring book 'The Craftsman' for more profound observations on the matter

Paul and James wrap up the tasting by introducing us to San Francisco-based chocolate brand Tcho, a company channelling the terroir of beans into their chocolate. By breaking down each variety to their flavour profiles of nutty, fruity, chocolatey, earthy, citrus or floral, you have a clear choice depending on your own taste in chocolate. It's a fascinating concept, and certainly the first of its kind amongst the elite chocolate brands. With Paul being the first retailer to stock them in Britain, Tcho are a brand to watch

To complete the evening we're given a tour of the kitchen downstairs, as spotless and spatious as they come. In the photo above is Paul clutching a delicious block of pure cocoa butter, chocolate's most prized ingredient. Remember that. As Paul explained, cocoa butter is the key to real chocolate, and ersatz ingredients such as palm oil are to be avoided at all costs - not merely for fiscal reasons but for conservation ones. The demand for cheap palm oil leads to serious deforestation of rainforests, the natural habitat of both cocoa bean trees and the mighty orangutan. Eat cheap, mass-produced chocolate and not only will you get fat but you'll be contributing to the decline of rainforests and orangutans

If you love proper chocolate, start reading the ingredients on the back of the label. Go to tastings, masterclasses, be a nerd and start swotting up on the subject. There is a Chocolate Unwrapped event in London on the weekend of October 10/11 where you can sample a whole range of brands, beans and varieties of chocolate.

Honestly, if you like eating chocolate it is worth investing a bit of time and effort in learning the whole ecology of chocolate-making from bean to bar, and I can't recommend Paul's tasting highly enough

On that note, I leave you with a word of advice: theobromine is a stimulant so as tempting as it is to make hot chocolate before bedtime you'll find yourself rather more wound-up than wound-down

Doesn't stop me from dreaming about that fiendish Valrhona 100% manjari pate though...

Paul A Young
33 Camden Passage
London N1 8EA

'Adventures with Chocolate' by Paul A Young published by Kyle Cathie 2009