Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A trip to Norway's southern tip

This weekend I travelled down to our summer home, close to Arendal on the south eastern coast of Norway. Here my family has lived here for seven generation and our history in this house goes back to 1773. This is my hideout, far away from the city. I travelled with good friends and we enjoyed good weather, and I will give you a report on how you may enjoy a weekend by the seaside in august.

I stay in this old house between the small town of Tvedestrand and the larges city of Aust-Agder county, Arendal. This area called Sørlandet (The South Country) , with its numerous small islands, is a favourite destination for holiday guests during the short and hectic Scandinavian summer.

Nobody knows how old this house may be, it probable predates 1600, meaning that parts of this structure was built during the reign of Elizabeth I of England and the colourful king Christian IV of Denmark and Norway.

My kitchen is a rather small, and impractical room, dominated by an enormous fireplace and baking oven. This house has in fact two kitchens, one for regular cooking and this room used to bake and do heavier kitchen work.

First day we did the easiest thing, bringing large Greenland prawns, and enjoyed the seafood on Danish rye bread and lemon and mayonnaise. It tasted delicious with a dry white wine, Jurassique 2005/2006, a chardonnay originatin in Burgundy, as the August sun poured in the windows of the dining room.

A visit to Arendal, the Venice of the north

Saturday we enjoyed the day in Arendal, the once so wealthy maritime city dating back to 1528. Being the oldest city on the south eastern coast you find a large number of old buildings, as this, dating back to 1658.

I always bring my guests to lunch at Lindvedske Hus, Arendal Art Society, an old 18th century house with a fabulous restaurant as well as galleries displaying contemporary works of art. Here you can get sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, good coffee, beer and wine. The best place to drink the brew from the renowned Nøgne Ø (Naked Island) Breweries. Sadly this time they were out of many of the brands I like, but you could get Imperial ale. Be aware, though, it contains 16% alcohol.

I chose my favourite, the tuna sandwich - actually a tuna melt with cheddar, and as there was no local beer, I chose a Weltenburger blonde, a great German brew that you can also get in a dark variety. As I forgot my camera (it was, in fact lost all the time) there are no snap shots from our lunch, but believe you me - go there and enjoy their sandwiches.

Saturday - a whole fillet steak for dinner!!

I rarely buy a whole fillet of steak. Why? I often find the cheaper cuts taste better, well prepared, and I have experienced several times that this prime piece of beef has been tough.

But this time I bought a fillet, weighing 960 grams or 2 pounds. The idea was to prepare it whole, serve it with (frozen) dauphinoise potatoes, caramelized onions, baked asparagus and Bearnaise sauce made from scratch with tarragon from the garden.

Be sure that you seal the whole fillet properly as I did, and allow it to rest before you place it in a hot oven (200C or 400F) for 10-15 minutes.

If any of you guests do not like it medium rare, the tip opposite the Chateaubriand will be well done at this temperature and the Chateaubriand itself may be quite bloody, but that is the way I like it.

And the veggies? I love gratin potatoes and asparagus baked in the oven, but to such a dish you need a rich sauce - and that is where the Bearnaise sauce comes in.

The Secret is in the Sauce - the Art of making Real Bearnaise

For those of you concerned with your cholesterol or if you are on a diet, the Bearnaise sauce is out of bounce. For the rest of us, harakiri gourmets, this rich sauce is the perfect company for a fillet steak or another piece of impressive red meat.

Making Bearnaise is an art, and the artiste here, is Bjørnar, currently an officer but with a varied working experience including serving as a cook in the UK.

"A Bearnaise sauce is simply an egg yolk, a shallot, a little tarragon vinegar, and butter, but it takes years of practice for the result to be perfect," wrote the restaurateur Fernand Point (1897-1955) in Ma Gastronomie.

But Bjørnar had the skill, the sauce ended up on our table, saffron coloured, with the aroma of fresh tarragon from my garden. And the steak was tender, you hardly needed to use a knife.

And now to something completely different - Moscow Mule!

Moscow Mule! Great stuff!! Ice, Absolut vodka, lime-juice and ginger ale served with a thins slice of raw cucumber.

This was a completely new experience, very refreshing, interesting with a distinct taste of cucumber.


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