Tag Archives: Christmas Food

Gravad Lax: Buried Treasure

Gravad Lax with creamy dill sauce

A Christmas Cracker

I love trying food from different cultures, especially as a different take on Christmas food, such as our Aussie Christmas dinner. I guess that by now, Swedish food isn’t so different for me, but I thought I’d share a favourite recipe of mine.

A traditional Swedish julbord, or “Christmas table” is a pretty meat-heavy affair, eaten at 4pm on Christmas eve, after the nation has sprung to life again following their Disney favourite; “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” or “Donald Duck And His Friends Wish You Happy Christmas”. It is always the same clips, and this is one Christmas tradition I’m not overkeen on, but when in Stockholm…

Anyway, back to the julbord; it groans under a ham, which for me this year was a wild boar one, because the out-laws know I don’t like to eat factory farmed meat; various kinds of inglagd sill ; cold cuts; sausages; lutfisk; spare ribs; and Janssons Frestelse.

In my family, we also often have gravad lax. Also known as gravlax, gravlaks, graavilohi, or graflax depending on where you are in Scandinavia. In any country, it means buried salmon. In times before refrigeration, especially in northern European countries where snow covered the ground for a good part of the year, curing and burying meat was a great way to preserve it. Originally, people would use spruce or pine needles in the cure, but the balance needs to be perfect if your fish is not to end up tasting of a certain kind of disinfectant.

These days, everyone can make this easy recipe; you don’t even need a spade! In fact, you still have time to make it in time for a new year’s gathering, if you are having one. It looks impressive, for relatively little effort, and it is a big hit.

Organic Farmed Salmon

Organic Farmed Salmon

One thing I must urge you is to source your fish well. The increase in popularity of salmon in the last decade or so is concurrent with fish farming, most of which causes horrible environmental damage, due to over feeding and routine, excessive use of antibiotics. At the same time wild stocks are seriously dwindling, due to overfishing, ocean acidification and habitat destruction. In my opinion, salmon should be a treat, eaten very occasionally, so that we can afford to eat the best organically farmed salmon we can, meaning there is no unnecessary antibiotic use, and better care is taken to ensure that the fish are not over fed. This cure also works well for other types of fish, so you could still enjoy the recipe with cheap and plentiful fish, such as mackerel, or herring, so do feel free to experiment.

I made this amount of salmon for a large party, so you can also reduce the amounts of fish you use, but you must have enough cure to really cover the fish, so make a little more of that than you think you might need for the amount of fish that you have.

Recipe: Gravad Lax With A Creamy Mustard Sauce


For the Salmon:
100 g demerera sugar

75 g sea salt

100 g dill

1 tbsp juniper berries crushed

1.5 kg salmon fillet, halved

3 tbsp brandy

3-4 bay leaves

For the Sauce:
250 ml crème fraîche

2-3 tbsp finely chopped dill, depending on how much you like it

2 tbsp wholegrain mustard

1 tbsp runny honey

Salt and pepper to taste


Gravad Lax mix

A Fitting Salmon Send Off

Mix together the salt and sugar until really well combined. Remove the stalks from the dill and chop the rest finely. Mix into the cure with the juniper berries. The cure needs to look pretty green and herby, because you want to get a lot of flavour in there.

In a shallow dish, get some cling film or a cheesecloth, and coat with about a quarter of the cure. Press one half of the fish down well into the cure, skin side down. Rub the cure into the skin, and leave skin side down on the wrapping.

Then you need to load the flesh with the cure. Do this by brushing the flesh with half the brandy and laying about another quarter of the cure over the flesh. Lay a few bay leaves over the fish.

Repeat the brandy and cure on the flesh of the second fillet. Once it is well covered, then lay it on the first fillet, so they are flesh to flesh. If the cure falls out, tuck it back between the fillets.

Rub the last of the cure into the skin of the second fillet. Wrap the fillets tightly together. If you are using cheesecloth, bind it with a series of butcher’s knots, as tight as you can get. The fish will lose liquid as it cures, so it is best to keep it in the shallow dish, unless you really like cleaning the contents of your fridge.

Weigh down the fish, by piling a load of tins on top of a baking sheet on top of the fillets, and placing the whole lot into the fridge. Leave it to cure for 3 days, turning once each day. Rinse off and pat dry with kitchen towel before serving.

What Gravad Lax Should Look Like

The Finished Product

To make the sauce, simply mix together the crème fraîche, dill, mustard and the honey. Season to taste.

Serve with the thinly sliced gravad lax on bread, melba toast or knäckebröd, as a delicious starter or hors d’oeuvre.



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Merry Christmas and Tarted Up Mince Pies


Merry Christmas


Well, It’s been a long time since I fired up the old blog. I haven’t gone away, but things have changed a little. Not least, WordPress have been messing about with the software, and the photos upload differently, so sorry if they look a little bit weird, until I can get used to the new  way.

Anyway, since I posted last I had a bit of computer trouble, so I know that I may owe a few of you e-mails, and I have some catching up to do for Seedy Penpals.

I also have a little news, that is probably exciting for me, and not for many others, but I’m going to tell you anyway. After a lot of deliberation, I decided to take a role as the Campaign Manager for the Land of Promise Campaign to get better working conditions and the use of fewer pesticides in the pineapple industry in the Philippines, and three weeks ago I signed a contract with Fairfood International. I am excited because it is combining my skills of campaigning, and food, and I’m helping Fairfood plan and deliver a new campaigning strategy.

I have dived right in, with planning for the campaign, which has taken all of my head space, but now I have done the background reading, I am hoping to get back to blogging regularly. It does mean that I need to settle into a different posting pattern, but for the time being I have a bit of a backlog of posts to catch up with, which I’ll schedule in the coming days and weeks.

But that’s enough about me. I am with my family, and have just finished the preparations for tomorrow’s food. I have also managed to squeeze in some jam making. I haven’t had as much time this year as I normally would to make all the preserves ready for Christmas, so I haven’t made my own mincemeat. The mincemeat that I picked up on Saturday is at the more mediocre end of the spectrum, and I am not one to compromise on quality that much, so I thought that I would also share my tarted up mincemeat recipe.

And of course, I wanted to wish you all a very merry Christmas, Great Yuletide, and a Happy Winter Solstice, whichever you celebrate.

Mince pie with tarted up mincemeat

Tarted up!

Recipe: Tarted Up Mincemeat


50 g dried fruit, I used a mix of cranberries, raisins and golden sultanas

Port to cover the fruit

1 jar mincemeat

Zest of a lemon

50 g of almonds and hazelnuts, chopped

Sweet shortcrust pastry I added lemon zest to this

Milk or egg wash


Soak the dried fruit in the port until the fruit is plump. This will take at least an hour. Stir in the mincemeat, and lemon zest, and allow to soak together with the fruit.

If you are making your own pastry, make it now using the method here. Wrap it up and let it rest in the fridge for about an hour.

Tarted up mincemeat

Mincemeat Plus

Add the chopped nuts to the mincemeat just before rolling out your pastry. By using shop bought mincemeat, you are taking advantage of the pulped fruit (usually apple) and the spices. Normally mincemeat has to mature for at least a month before use, so this is a shortcut to tasty, fruity mincepies, without compromising on flavour.

Heat the oven to 160°C.

Roll out your pastry to about 3mm thick. Use two cutter sizes, one slightly larger for the base, cut an even number of bases and tops. Grease some tart tins. Cover with the bases, then press down gently with some dough offcuts.

Add a heaped tsp of the mincemeat to each base.

Brush the rim of one side of the top with milk or egg wash, cover the tart, wash side down, and either crimp or press gently with a shot glass to seal the pie.

Mince pies

Cheating Tarts

Brush the pies with more milk or egg wash. Put in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown.

Serve them to your friends and guests and no-one will tell that you cheated a little bit.


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Swedish Starters

Inlagd Sill

Swedish sill

So, the Sunday after the Mince Pie and Mulled Wine party saw me once again cooking for friends. This time, it was an international Christmas Dinner, at which we had guests from Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the USA. However, the dinner itself was an amalgam of British and Swedish traditions, so I guess we had the best of both.

Traditionally, Swedes are pescatarian in nature, particularly when it comes to starters. I am sure that you have heard of the notorious Surströmming, which is the fermented variety, reputedly so smelly that you have to eat it outside. I have never had the pleasure, myself, so I am unable to report what it is like.

They also love all manner of fish eggs from actual caviar, through Löjrom (from the Vendace, or Cisco), to the particularly nasty Kalles Kaviar, which is about as far from caviar as you can get, and is available in an Ikea near you, you lucky people. Can you tell that I am not a fan of fish eggs?

Much more acceptable is their unfermented ways with herring, or sill as it is known. A really traditional starter, especially at Christmas is inlagd sill. You can also get this in various form from Ikea, but it is much, much nicer to make your own. It is basically herring that has been stored in a sweet pickling solution. I made the traditional version, but you can also make it with dill or mustard within the solution, and the Swede in your life would still be happy.

As with most fish dishes, they like to serve this with sour cream and finely chopped red onion. You can choose if you would like to have this with waxy potatoes, cooked with dill in the same way that Brits add mint to the boiling water; or with wholemeal toast or knäckebröd (a hard bread like Ryvita). We used up the last of the pink fir apple potatoes from our garden.

Recipe: Soused Herring


8 herring fillets (I had to cheat and buy Maatjes Herring, because there was no raw herring to be had when I needed it, I gave the fillets a good rinse, and we were good to go)

100 ml ättiksprit (strong pickling vinegar) or cider vinegar

160 g sugar

2 red onions

4 carrots

2 bay leaves

15 peppercorns


Cut one onion in half, and slice thinly. Slice up 2 of the carrots as well.

In a non-reactive saucepan (e.g. ceramic, stainless steel, preserving pan), put the sugar, chopped onion and carrots, bay, peppercorns and the vinegar. Bring to the boil, then set aside to allow it to cool completely.

When it is completely cold, strain it off, reserving the vinegar to use on the herring. Don’t throw away the vegetables, they are really tasty. One of our guests doesn’t eat fish, so we gave him some of these on top of a toasted goat cheese. I have to admit that I scarfed up all the carrots from the sieve, as they were so good. The rest I had as a pickle with the bubble and squeak I made with the Christmas Dinner leftovers.

Chop each herring fillet into 3-4 pieces, depending on the size. Chop the remaining onion and carrots as before. In a sterilised jar, layer the fish pieces, the onion and the carrot, then pour over the vinegar. Seal the jar, and leave for 24 hours or the flavour to develop.

This method of pickling will keep the herring for about 3 weeks. Please keep it in the fridge once opened.


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Mince Pies

And so we finally come to the stars of the party, my mince pies. If they weren’t, I would have had to call it a Mulled Wine and Some Snacks Party,and  to be quite honest, I’m not really sure it would have had the same draw.

Mince Pies are a traditional British Christmas snack. My best friend refuses to eat them, due to an early childhood disappointment when he discovered that they did not contain mincemeat, but rather that they had fruits and spices inside. Originally, they actually did contain spiced meat, which was a way of disguising the fact that by the middle of winter, the meat was not at its freshest. They also contained some dried fruits.

Mince pies have existed since about the 13th Century, when crusaders brought back the idea of mixing spice with meat from their trips to win the hearts and minds of the residents of the Middle East. They were considered symbolic of garish Catholic Idolatry by the professional miserablist Oliver Cromwell, but apparently it is quite difficult to come between us Brits and our little Christmas pies, so he was not successful in his attempts to ban them. Again, quite lucky for me and my themed parties.

There is something to be said for the traditional ritual of baking these little treats that I find really restful, but exciting at the same time, as it heralds the start of my Christmas celebrations.

I had made some Pear and Ginger Mincemeat back in September, which I got out. You can just use mincemeat to fill your pies, but I like to fiddle some more, for a more luxurious pie. To ordinary fruit mince, I would add nuts and port, and let them soak for a few hours. As this mince had ginger wine in, I let this one soak in a little brandy, although I did add more nuts, for some crunch.

I had invited some people to the party that are vegan, and so I made up a batch of the Vegan Shortcrust Pastry. Some people prefer puff pastry in their mince pies, but I really think this is pastry overkill. Shortcrust is traditional, and for me it is the best way to get the right balance of pastry to filling.

The best bit about making these pies is getting the right mix of the circles between base and lid, so as to maximise the number of them you can cut from a single roll of the pastry.

Making mince pies

Terrific Tessellation

Firstly, you need to get the right size of circle for your tins. I use muffin trays, because I like the added depth that you can get than with ordinary tart trays. Whichever you choose, you need to cut out 2 sizes of circles for the base and the lid. The base should be about 2 cm larger than the diameter of the “hole” in your tray – this is to allow the pastry to sink into the tray, and to come right up the side. The lid should be about the same diameter as the hole. If you are going to use pastry cutters, then choose the size down from the base. I have also used a variety of glasses, and find a wine glass and a shot glass is also fine to use.

Roll out your pastry thinly. If you can 2-3 mm is ideal. Cut out the same number of base and lids. You will be likely to need to collect up the offcuts and re-roll these. If there is any left over, you can make a pasty with your mincemeat, or fill it with currants, a little sugar and some lemon zest and make an eccles cake.

Grease the tart or muffin trays well using butter or olive oil, and put the oven on at 180°C. Then gently put the bases into the trays, and press down with a little offcut pastry.

Add a heaped teaspoon of the mincemeat into each base. It needs to be generous, but not too full, otherwise your pie will burst in the oven.

Take the lid, and brush round the rim of one side with a little water (if you are not making this for vegans, then you can use egg wash or milk). Place the lid, watered side down, over the pie. You will need to seal the pie, which I do by placing a glass that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the lid over the lid, and pressing it down to seal he base and the lid together.

Filled pies

Pies – filled and sealed

Brush with a little water and place into the oven for 20 minutes, or until the pastry is a golden brown.

Serve the pies warm with a little icing sugar sprinkled over the top. You can make these in advance, and warm then through in a low oven before serving.

Mince Pies

Mmm Mince Pies

Great on their own, or with cream. Best served with a glass of mulled wine!


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Mulling it Over

No Mince Pie and Mulled Wine party would be complete without some mulled wine. This spiced wine is traditionally flavoured with the Christmassy flavours of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.

I think the practice of spicing and warming wine is pretty international, and many European countries have a version of it, calling it Glühwein, Glögg, or Vin fiert. In the UK, we are also quite prone to mulling cider in a similar way, which is fantastic after a day in the cold. One of my friends brought some cider too, so everyone got to try out the traditional taste of the West Country.

The recipe for red and white wine is essentially the same, and don’t let either of them boil.

Recipe: Mulled Wine


1 orange (mulled red wine)

½ Orange and ½ Lemon (mulled white wine)


Cinnamon stick

Grated nutmeg

100 g lichte basterdsuiker or soft brown sugar per 2 bottles of wine


Stud the citrus fruit with the cloves. If you are mulling red wine, then halve the orange before you do so.

Put all of the ingredients in a saucepan, and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Don’t let the wine boil.

If you have time (and no thirsty guests already) you can allow the spices to steep for a few hours, and reheat before serving. It will also be fine if you serve it warm, straight away.

Bay leaves are also an interesting addition to mulled white whine, so bung a couple of them in as you heat it.


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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas?

Pear and Ginger Mincemeat

Yup, looks like Christmas to me

Now, don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand the commercial run up to Christmas, which seems to start in about July in some places. I think that all the Christmas stuff should start in December, so that we don’t all get Christmas fatigue by the time schools start back. However, there are a few things that you need to get ready in advance, and homemade mincemeat is one of them, as it needs time to develop and for the flavours to meld.

At a small food fair last weekend, we picked up a bumper load of pears for next to nothing. I poached some, while they were still firm, but there were too many to eat like this, or to have as a fruit on their own. We also had cakes, compote and so on, but what I really wanted to make with them was the Pear and Ginger Mincemeat that I had seen in Pam Corbin’s Preserves book.

I have been making my own mincemeat for a few years now, if only to prove that I can. Here in the Netherlands, it becomes necessary if you don’t want to add it t o the list of Stuff Visitors Have To Bring You. Our list is long enough, with English mustard, Pimms, Salad Cream, veggie suet and so on. The Big Guy also asks for Brown Sauce, despite being Swedish. I think he has assimilated.

This mincemeat ticks a load of boxes for me, since I love pears, I really love ginger, and we regularly host a Mince Pie and Mulled Wine each Christmas, and you can’t have that without sweet mincemeat.

I made a couple of amendments to Pam’s recipe. I have not yet seen cooking apples in the Netherlands, so I only used eaters, but I took half of them and stewed them until they were quite liquid. I think it needs to have some more liquid contents, as this mincemeat does not use suet (which I always substitute with vegetable suet, so that any veggie or vegan friends can also have some), so the stewing will prevent you having dry mince pies.

Secondly, instead of all of the sultanas and raisins she suggests, I added half sultanas and half dried cranberries. There is something great about dried cranberries, and they are traditional Christmas fare, albeit not in the sweet courses!

I also made my own candied peel – much nicer than the tacky shop bought stuff.

I cannot recommend enough trying this version for yourself. Just look how great it looks, and the smell is something else. I could not resist trying a teaspoon, and trust me, this is the best mincemeat ever, even before the flavours have had time to meld and develop.

Sweet, Sweet Mincemeat

Smells amazing, looks pretty, tastes delicious - sweet, sweet mincemeat

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