Saturday, April 18, 2009

Vin Santo and Versinthe

I trust you will forgive my friend - the wines were too various... This classic line from Brideshead Revisited always runs around in my head after a good party. Good Friday was no exception. As the red wine ran out, Dagfinn Skoglund reached into his collection of wines and spirits and found one bottle of Vin Santo and a bottle of Versinthe.

Villa Puccini Vin Santo

My first encounter with Vin Santo was during a visit to Italy in the year 2000. We stayed in Florence, and my fellow traveler bought a bottle of Vin Santo. At that point I had not learned to appreciate the sweet richness found in dessert wines. As my love of foie gras and blue cheese has grown, so has my passion for rich sweet wines.

Vin Santo - or holy wine as it translates is a sweet wine perfect to a dessert or even to strong blue cheeses as Stilton, Gorgonzola or Roquefort and to foie gras, ofcourse. Dagfinn Skoglund served it to his delicious passion fruit mousse. He did, however, especially recommend it to the sweet Italian specialty the biscotti or cantucci.

Villa Puccini Vin Santo originates from the city of Pontedera in Tuscany.

Of colour it resembles wines as the Sauternes or the Tokaji, a brilliant topaz to antique gold, orange color.

When you take the first sip, you are struck by the intense, nutty fragrance. A harmonious concentrated creamy taste with nuances of caramel and a memorable finish. This is absolutely a wine to fall in love with.

The producer recommends it as an aperitif with or before appetizers, except oysters!

Versinthe au plantes d'absinthe

Dagfinn is a designer, and what better to drag out in a designer den, than a bottle of versinthe - a French liquor inspired by the bohemian favorite, the Absinthe. The silver cardboard box contained a Versinthe made from 20 different plants and roots.

The real thing became a controversial drink and was banned in many countries, due to the effect it had on those enjoying it. It was blamed on the main ingredient - the Artimisia - the wormwood. The fact, though, is that the real absinthe was insanely high in alcohol. As most absinthes sold today, really is a kind of pastis, the good ol' stuff had 70% or more alcohol. These insanely strong absinthes are still sold in Europe. I saw one brand sold in Barcelona, containing 85% alcohol!!!

The Versinthe pictured here was rather harmless, though. With a percentage close to regular strong liquor , it would do as much, or as little harm to you as a glass of whisky. It still had the small spoon compulsory to mix your own absinthe attached to the box.

Versinthe is produced by Liquoristerie de Provence , that specialize in liquors inspired by the absinthe. - Venelles Pays d'Aix en Provence, a small community close to Aix en Provence.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Good Friday Dinner

At Good Friday at 7PM we assembled at my friend Dagfinn Skoglund's flat in downtown Oslo for a commemorative Easter dinner. We were served drinks and dinner. As usual he did not disappoint us! Her is my short account of the evening.

What to eat at such a day. Lamb, naturally, and more. Here is the evening's menu.

African lamb stew

The main course was African lamb stew with carrots, tomatoes and peanut sauce. Homemade mashed potatoes with fresh rosemary, Parmesan cheese and creme fraîche.

My friend Dagfinn is a cook after my taste. We are both highly experimental, and Dagfinn had set his own mark on this dish. This was a recipe modified from one he had found in a magazine.

Four large chunks of lamb had been cooked in the rich sauce until mouthwatering tender. The carrots provided sweetness and the tomatoes a slight bitterness to the sauce and a delicious nutty finish was provided by the peanuts.

Home made mashed potatoes is a great choice to such a dish. Dagfinn had added fresh rosemary that he had found his local Turkish green grocer, and creme fraiche.

Salad of bitter herbs and red vinaigrette

It is a good idea to enjoy a salad after a large meal, and Dagfinn had mixed a range of salad leaves with a strong or a bitter taste as endive, rucola and corn salad.

It was served with a homemade red wine vinaigrette. Dagfinn claimed that the bitterness, aside from the taste, also provided relief for our digestive system after the rich meal.

”Pudim de Maracuja” (Passion fruit Mousse)

Shared by Enjoy Food & Travel co-writer Dagfinn Sigridsson Skoglund

Delicious stuff, creamy pudding with crunchy passion fruit seeds. Dagfinn has kindly given me the recipe to share.

For 6 portions you'll need

6 leaves of gelatin
3 eggs
10 cl / 4 oz castor sugar,
4 passion fruits
30 cl / 11 fluid oz double cream

Soak the gelatin in cold water.

Slice passion fruits in two and scoop out juices and seeds. Stir lightly to dissolve the pulp.

Whip 3 eggs and the castor sugar into an airy mix. Whip the double cream in a larger bowl into a thick cream. Use different whisks.

Dissolve gelatin in a few tbsp hot water. Make sure that all gelatin is dissolved. Mix the gelatin with the passion fruit and fold it into the egg and sugar mix. Then mix it with the whipped cream. Place in a large bowl or in small dessert bowls. Allow to cool in the fridge over night.

Dagfinn Sigridsson Skoglund is 49 years old (forever) and is living in a studio apartment in downtown Oslo. He is working as a designer and art teacher, and is an excellent cook.

Dagfinn is a passionate lover of music, botany and is an experienced traveler - and he hates popcorn!

(The cross depicted on the top is carved into a wall of the medieval church at Ringsaker, located by Lake Mjøsa in the Eastern part of Norway. Read the story on this ancient historic sight here

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fisketorget in Bergen

The obvious place to go to look for what the deep waters of the West coast of Norway has to offer is Bergen Fish market. Located at the inner part of Vågen, it has turned into a major tourist attraction, or tourist trap as some would say. Whatever, just walking around among the stalls you may see what you could have enjoyed if you had lived here.

Fisketorget is one of the most important outdoor markets in Norway. This market and the meat market - Kjøttbasaren show Bergen as an important culinary centre.

In 1276 city laws decided in what areas of Bergen selling of fish and meat could take place. As Vågen was much deeper, these market were located further into the old city centre.

The market's existence has been threatened several times during the 20th century, but it has luckily survived and is thriving to the joy of the citizens of Bergen and tourists. Up to 40 different stalls offers a wide variety of fish, crustaceans and mussels, and even products made from deer, venison, and moose.

Norwegian lobsters

Lobsters are not found in the abundance by the Norwegian coast. In fact our lobster are under threat due to two different factors. The most important threat is overfishing.

To prevent depletion of the local lobster fishing is only allowed from October 1st to November 30th from the Swedish border to the border of Møre og Romsdal county. There are limitations on size as well, as the young ones are allowed to grow up and breed before being caught.

The second threat comes from its cousins, the North American lobsters. There are a large import of live lobsters from Canada and the US. Some of these have been released into the wild, and has later be found to have thrived in our waters. The North American lobster is larger and more agressive, and may during time take over the area of our native lobster.

Let us hope this will not be the case, as our native lobsters are delicious. They are very sought after during the season and people pay up to €70 per kilo

It is very aromatic and should not be messed with. Less is more. I love it served cold with mayonnaise, a squeeze of lemon and good home made bread.

Kamchatka Crab or Red King Crab

Another delicacy seen on the stall is the Kamchatka Crab. A native of the Pacific, it was introduced to the Barents Sea in the 1960. Since then it has spread to most of the Norwegian coast and is regarded as an invasive species.

In spite of this, it is highly priced and regarded as a blessing for parts of the Norwegian fisheries, thus it is widely available on the Norwegian market.

It is a delicious treat. It has a hard shell, but inside you find the most delicious sweet meat.

Delicious Norwegian Prawns

The lobster and Kamchatka Crab are highly priced delicacies. There are, however, seafood at affordable prices available. One of my favourites are large Norwegian prawns.

They are found in abundance in the Northern Atlantic, and you can get them freshly boiled or frozen. The fresh prawns are certainly the best, but I often buy frozen, and they are of excellent quality.

A good open prawn sandwich is a Scandinavian specialty. A large heap of peeled prawns on a large, buttered slice of fine bread topped with a generous amount of mayonnaise, garnished with a twig of dill and a slice of lemon.

This is indeed something to try when visiting Norway.


Large brown crabs are an important commercially species, and are found in abundance along the Norwegian coast. In my hometown, Arendal, fishermen arrive at the harbour to sell freshly caught boiled crabs.

They are available as whole crabs, crab claws (as quite a few prefer the meat in the claw to the meat in the shell), or as "Krabbeskjell, i.e. crabs that has been completely cleaned and all the meat placed back in the shell.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mac'n cheese - three variations of an American specialty

I just had to try to make a collage from the signs at Quincy Market in Boston. The signs reflect its international character. From Noodle and Rice from the Far East and steaming hot curries for the Indian subcontinent to the the poultry and seafood of the Eastern coasts of the US. This is the America and the World of today - the global village.

As I walked through the market I was given a few tastes of what was under offer. What struck me was all the impressions as Quincy Market is a haven for the food lover. So much to see, and taste from all four corner of the world.

Do you like mac'n cheese? Here are three different variations of this American dish offered at Boston Chowda' Company.

Lobster Mac and Cheese!!!!?

Macaroni and cheese is a dish rarely connected to luxury. In New England, however, where large lobsters are found in abundance it is a completely different story.

The lobster Mac and Cheese reminds me of my cousin Billy Eastman, a lobster fisher in New Hampshire. He once told that he brought so much lobster home to his wife, that she got fed up. After preparing lobster in any thinkable or unthinkable way, she ended up releasing them into the sea.

Whether Stephanie may have ended up preparing a lobster macaroni and cheese, like the one found in Quincy Market, I do not know, but the ingredients are good, so why not? And $10,99 is a decent price.

And then to something completely different - lobster macaroni and cheese pie

Lobster and macaroni and cheese pie? Only in America!!

"A combination of our famous three cheese sauce with pieces of real Maine lobster with shell pasta and topped with our own bread seasoned crumbs"

A variation over a theme under offer at Boston Chowda' Company. Many of the fish pies in New England are not made with pastry, but prepared in a baking tray and covered with cracker crumbs. I make my own New England Fish pie with white fish and prawns. The end result is absolutely delicious.

Homestyle macaroni and cheese pie

And here we're back to the good ol' mac'n cheese.

"A combination of aged peccorino, sharp cheddar and monterrey jack cheese with shell pasta and topped with our own bread seasoned crumbs"

A pie made from three cheeses with character. Both Pecorino is an Italian sheeps milk used in the same way as Parmesan. Aged cheddar and Monterrey Jack cheese have strong tastes. So this pie is definitely packed with flavour.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Monument to Queen Caroline Amalie of Denmark

The monument commemorating Queen Caroline Amalie of Denmark is found outside Rosenborg Palace. Who was she, and what is the story behind it?

She was born 1796 as Caroline Amalia of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderborg-Augustenborg daughter of Frederik Christian II, Duke of Augustenborg and Princess Louise Augusta of Denmark. She was of royal blood, and was to wed a king that also played an important role in the Norwegian history. She could, in fact, have been the first Queen of Norway since 1349.

The first Norwegian National Assembly convened at Eidsvoll in 1814, and a Norwegian constitution was signed by its members May 17th. One of their members was my great-great-great grandfather Even Thorsen (1776-1867) that served as a sailor at a Danish man-of-war.

My ancestor and the other members of the assembly elected Christian VII to King Christian Fredrik of Norway in 1814. As the Danes, during the turbulent times, had chosen to support Napoleon, he was never to be the first king of a sovereign Norwegian state in a post-Napoleonic Europe. Instead the union with Denmark that had lasted from 1349, was dissolved, and another was formed with Sweden under the newly elected King Karl XIV Johan, né Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte.

Funny - my ancestor met Charlotte Amalies husband to be. In 1814 she was promised as wife of King Christian VII. She survived him for 33 years and died in 1881. The couple had no children, but the devoutly religious queen worked for welfare of children all her life. She founded children's homes as Caroline Amalies Asylskole.

The sculptor, Wilhelm Bissen, underlined her religious character in the sculpture ordered by Caroline Amalie Asylskoles Minde. He made her wear a collar as the one carried by priests, and firmly holding a bible.

Christian Gottlieb Vilhelm Bissen was born in 1836 as the son of Wilhelm Bissen, one of Bertel Thorvaldsen's pupils and continued his fathers workshop. He was heavily influenced by French naturalism seen in a number of sculptures, and also in this sculpture of Queen Caroline Amalie.

The monument of Queen Caroline Amalie was placed on its present location in 1896, 15 years after her death.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hôtel-Dieu, Lyon

On the Eastern bank of the Saone river, you find Hôtel-Dieu, serving as a hospital for the citizen of Lyon for 800 years. Here are details from its history.

A religious brotherhood founded a hospice in the Guillotièr quarter of Lyon in 1184. The brotherhood had stayed and worked in this area since the 10th century and had built the first bridges over the river.

In 1454 Maïtre Martin Conras, the first professionally trained doctor, was appointed to serve at Hôtel-Dieu. Another and more famous character arrived to serve as a doctor in 1532.

François Rabelais trained as a doctor at the universities of Poitiers and Montpellier and arrived this year to work as a doctor at the hospital. He left his post in 1535, possible due to the suspicion that he was involved in "l'affair de Placard", the spread of posters of anti-catholic character attacking the King and the French establishment.

The hospital has been continually extended during the centuries. In 1622 existing buildings were torn down, and a new cross-shaped complex was constructed. A new church was cobstructed in the late 1630's based on designs of Ducellet, under the supervision of Cardinal Richelieu.

The architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot (1713-1780) made the plans for the largest building works at Hôtel-Dieu, and a "large tempel" was constructed with a magnificent facade along the river bank from 1741 to 1761.

The main entrance is flanked by staues of King Childebert I and his wife queen Ultrugothe, that were said to have founded the first hospital here in the year 549.

The large dome was finished in 1755. It was severely damaged by the bombing of Lyon during the Second World War.

As for many old building, the French revolution was a disaster for Hôtel-Dieu. During the siege from August to October 1793, much of the buildings were destroyed. Many of the professionals were executed.

The hospital was rebuilt in the 19th century and was the scene of several breakthroughs in the treatments of cancer during the late 19th and early 20th century.

The first X-ray was performed here by Étienne Destot in 1896. An important radiological treatment centre for cancer was founded at Hôtel-Dieu in 1923.

The buildings still belongs to the University Hospital of Lyon but their history as hospital will come to an end in 2010 after 826 years (at least). A museum to celebrate its rich contribution to the progress of treatment are planned on the site.