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eG Foodblog: Mjx (2012) – Elderflowers, Strawberries, and Game


Mjx
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It feels a bit strange to say 'Welcome to Denmark!', since I'm not Danish, did not grow up here, and find Danish food culture (my boyfriend, who is Danish, began laughing when I told him about wanting to reconsider traditional Danish food this week) kind of elusive. However, this is where I'm blogging from, so... welcome to Denmark!

I'm afraid that first teaser image threw people off track, although Kerry was right, it's a rape-seed field in bloom, the dominant note in the Danish landscape in late spring. I took the picture while sitting on the pillion; just leaned a bit to the side, so I could see around my boyfriend's helmet, and took the shot (that's his hand you see).

BrOlField.jpg

The second image is the Roosevelt Island Tramway station on the Roosevelt Island side: I was born in New York City (making me a third generation American/New Yorker), although my parents moved to Italy when I was a baby.

59.jpg

I grew up in Florence, and the Tempio Maggiore is one of my favourite buildings; we often walked around its garden, on the way to a nearby park.

CopperDome.jpg

Growing up in Florence had a major effect on my food preferences, the way I shop and prepare food, and the way I feel about food (having American parents who became vegetarian and inclined to health foods affected the way I think about food).

Next image: My boyfriend gave me Modernist Cuisine for my birthday! I've only had it for a month, and I'm still in the 'Oooooh, look...' phase (although the 'Holy crap, how do I afford even the smallest pieces of necessary equipment?!' phase has begun).

CookBooks.jpg

That's essentially my entire collection of cook books, there. I also have a stack of Cook's Illustrated, and some small books on Tuscan and Florentine cooking, but that's pretty much it. I have a really strong aversion to things that just take up space, so I don't get a cook book unless I'm quite certain I'll really use it.

The globule on the plate is one of the more successful 'spheres' from my first effort at spherification. Mostly I got a lot of weird looking slime, but it was fun, anyway, and I learned a something. I'm thinking of giving this another go, this week.

Prolate.jpg

The last image is from Grenen, up in Skagen, which it is the northernmost point of Denmark. Virtually every one of the people standing in the water got someone to photograph them standing approximately where the guy nearest the horizon is, then went home to show their friends and family, and explain that they were standing in two bodies of water at the same time: the Skagerrak to the north, and the Kattegat to the south (the turbulent area is where the two bodies of water meet). The two seasons in Skagen are 'inhospitable', and 'packed to the rafters with tourists'. Where I am is a good way south of here, on the east coast.

WatersMeet.jpg

My cooking tends to have Tuscan roots (simple, lean) overlaid by a thick slab of experimental geekery (currently curtailed because the kitchen I'm using is not my own), and adapted to accommodate local ingredients/conditions, sudden whims, and a complex array of food sensitivities and preferences (mine and my boyfriend's).

So that's the background. To fill in a bit more about where I am, Denmark runs to cool, wet summers, which means that things like home grown tomatoes are still off in the future. Our plants haven't even set flowers, yet (we did start them a bit late):

tomatoes.jpg

We also have a couple of chili plants. One seems to be going all out with blossoms and is setting fruit, the other has not a one, which may be entirely normal.

Chilies.jpg

The kitchen situation here is a little unusual. We're temporarily staying with my boyfriend's parents, since we sold our flat, but are still hunting for a suitable replacement. Here's their kitchen:

kitchen.jpg

I try not to take over the kitchen, so I plan around what and when my boyfriend's parents use it. Also, I mostly use my boyfriend's parents pots, pans, and utensils, since our own kitchen is mostly in boxes, apart from the little bit I've unpacked (there just isn't room to unpack much, and packing and repacking gets old really fast).

I tried to take some shots of the inside of the cabinets where I store the things I did unpack, then realized that I wasn't able to get more than about a half metre back from them, and couldn't get a clear shot (there's the also thing with needing a flashlight to see things in there).

This setup presents a few challenges, so most of what I cook these days is not particularly ambitious. To be honest, I've let myself fall into a rut, which I'm planning on hauling myself out of, this week.

You can probably count on at least one spectacular culinary disaster (if that doesn't happen, I will happily share my images of the apple pie fiasco of this past New Year's Eve <<<shudder>>>).

If you have questions or suggestions, fire away!

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Today makes for a quiet start, because my boyfriend went to Sensation Amsterdam with a friend of ours, and won’t be back until late this evening. When I’m on my own, I tend to wait until about 11.00 or so before having breakfast (and don’t usually eat lunch). Today’s breakfast, peas, duck breast, and arame:

DuckPeas.jpg

As usual, this was followed by a lot coffee, which I drink absentmindedly while I work (I’m self-employed, so if I’m at home, I don’t do ‘days off’, unless I have no work at the moment).

I bake bread about twice a week, usually spelt or spelt and rye, which began when I optimistically hoped that I tolerated spelt better than wheat. My boyfriend (now the principal bread eater) discovered that he actually preferred spelt bread, so I never switched back to ordinary wheat flour. Since we're clean out of bread, baking is on today's agenda.

Most of the time I use a reworked version of The Best Recipe’s sandwich bread recipe (since most of it ends up as sandwiches). I scrapped the sugar, since neither of us likes sweet bread, and either use no fat, or olive oil instead of melted butter (this is due to unrelenting sloth on my part). My basic recipe is 500g/17.6 oz. flour, a cup and half/355 ml of water, 3–5 g/0.1–0.18 oz salt, and 10g/0.35 oz fresh yeast. After proofing the yeast, I just mix everything together and let it sit about 20 minutes (a sort-of autolyse, but with all the ingredients), to give the flour time to absorb water, then use a hand mixer until the consistency feels right.

This gives me a very loose dough:

Dough.jpg

Once it’s risen, I transfer it to a loaf pan, oil the surface, and let it rise again. I slash the top with scissors, bake it for 20 minutes with a pan of water, then about half an hour longer (I really need to keep an eye on this oven, since it tends to have weird heat spikes than can char things in just a few minutes) with the convection on.

This is the quick-and-dirty version: often, I have to fit bread-baking around a tight work schedule, so this is pretty stripped down. When there’s time, I extend one or both rises, but even when that doesn’t happen, I’m surprised by how well it comes out, so I’m quite grateful to The Best Recipe for this one.

Bread.jpg

A bit of contortionism made it possible for me to get this shot of the cabinets (although the angle kind of makes it look like the shelves are melting):

Cabinet.jpg

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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A person who has peas and duck breast for breakfast and who was born in NY, raised in Tuscany and living in Denmark, should have many interesting things to show us and talk about! Looking forward to it! That photo of the rape fields is beautiful.

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I am right on board with your breakfast. Was the breast leftover or did you cook it specifically for that dish? The seaweed was for an umami hit? Is there a seaweed eating tradition in Denmark?

The bread appears to have a lovely crumb; interesting method.

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thank you for doing a blog. That bread does indeed have a lovely crumb. I take it its 100 % spelt? Ill put this on my To-Do list as soon as I locate some spelt. Whole Foods has taken all the 'decent' organic places over in the Boston area, and has little 'bulk' items as Bread and Circus did. but Ill try to find some 'fresh' spelt and give it a go. I take it you do not oil the pan, just the top?

Many thanks again!

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Hey, thanks for blogging, this will be fun. I'm looking forward to the obligatory market photos. Local food shopping is always fascinating.

I have hopes of the Wednesday/Saturday market :)

I am right on board with your breakfast. Was the breast leftover or did you cook it specifically for that dish? The seaweed was for an umami hit? Is there a seaweed eating tradition in Denmark?

The bread appears to have a lovely crumb; interesting method.

I cooked the duck breast for breakfast, and about half was left over, so that's going into tonight's dinner. The seawead was mostly for crunch; it's surprsingly neutral-flavoured. I was looking at the duck and peas, and thought 'Needs something', so I reached for the jar of seaweed. I get the impression that a long time ago, various seaweeds species were eaten in Denmark (pretty much as they were by a lot of coastal cultures), but no one does it anymore. No one I've asked really seems to know!

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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I keep meaning to buy spelt flour. The bread is "all the rage" in Italy now. Also thanks to a "celebrity" baker. I'm just curious, since you bake a bread a week, have you considered keeping a starter?

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Another bread question for you. I just finished reading Taste what you're missing by Barb Stuckey. In the

chapter about salt she mentions that Tuscan bread is made without salt. She calls is pale and bland and

lacking in flavor. She offers several theories as to the reason for saltless bread but no real answer. She

ponders why Tuscany is the only part of Italy to have this taste killing tradition. I'm curious to hear

your take on this! Looking forward to spending a week with you, most Danish food and customs will be

new ones for me.

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thank you for doing a blog. That bread does indeed have a lovely crumb. I take it its 100 % spelt? Ill put this on my To-Do list as soon as I locate some spelt. Whole Foods has taken all the 'decent' organic places over in the Boston area, and has little 'bulk' items as Bread and Circus did. but Ill try to find some 'fresh' spelt and give it a go. I take it you do not oil the pan, just the top?

Many thanks again!

Hm, well, this is actually being kind of fun (I was pretty nervous about this). Yes, that's 100% spelt, a 2:3 combination of sifted and semi-sifted flours, and only the top gets oiled.

I keep meaning to buy spelt flour. The bread is "all the rage" in Italy now. Also thanks to a "celebrity" baker. I'm just curious, since you bake a bread a week, have you considered keeping a starter?

A starter would be great if I knew I could always count on giving the bread a long enough rising time, but that's just not an option. What usually happens is one minute, there's about half a loaf, and suddenly, there's no bread, so I need to put together a loaf that doesn't demand more than a couple of hours, start to finish.

I'm curious, which celebrity baker is big on spelt?

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Another bread question for you. I just finished reading Taste what you're missing by Barb Stuckey. In the

chapter about salt she mentions that Tuscan bread is made without salt. She calls is pale and bland and

lacking in flavor. She offers several theories as to the reason for saltless bread but no real answer. She

ponders why Tuscany is the only part of Italy to have this taste killing tradition. I'm curious to hear

your take on this! Looking forward to spending a week with you, most Danish food and customs will be

new ones for me.

Dante complained bitterly of the salt-containing bread he had to eat when he was in exile!

Growing up, I heard various explanations for the lack of salt in Tuscan bread, but they seem to have gone in one ear and out the other; to me, it was ordinary bread, and the only reason I gave it any thought was because my parents insisted on only having the whole grain version, while I coveted the white bread. For me, the lack of salt emphasizes the wheaty fragrance, and it never strikes me as bland, perhaps partly because, like most Italians, I very seldom ate it straight. Usually, it was topped with something very intensely savoury (e.g. prosciutto, liver paste), for which it makes a perfect foil. On other occasions it appears in things (e.g. ribollita, panzanella), but again, these are so savoury that a saltless bread seems just perfect.

ETA: Curious, I looked to see what the Italian wikipedia entry had to say about the absence of salt in Tuscan bread, and it does in fact note that Tuscan food is very flavourful, hence a neutral bread that throws these flavours into relief (it also includes a link to the Dante quotation bemoaning the anguish of having to eat other bread).

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Thanks for answering the no salt bread question. What you said makes perfect sense and makes me wonder if the author

of the book has ever tasted Tuscan bread herself. I can't remember meeting a bread I didn't like and it shows!

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Most weekday mornings run along similar grooves. Usually, my boyfriend brings a packed lunch to work; these often show a certain amount of cultural cross-pollination:

Madpak.jpg

The use of margarine, the bread chocolate, and the leverpostej (liver paste) are traditionally Danish, and the bresaola and the Parmigiano (that block was brought back from our last trip to Florence, in March) bring Italy to the table. Normally, he has some sort of cold cereal for breakfast, but we ran out of milk, so today it is pretty much the same as his lunch:

BreakfastMon.jpg

As I mentioned, I’m not much of an early breakfaster, so for now I just had coffee. However, there are newly ripe red currants in the garden, and some Dutch bread chocolate to be sampled, so, about elevenish, I'll be making sure those don't go to waste.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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You have Penzeys, in denmark?

I too am intrigued by this

Nope. Or at least, not that I know of. I got the fennel seed (and a few other Penzeys items) in NYC, at the stand they had in Grand Central, to be exact, and I was not thrilled to discover that they're now gone. Especially since amazon doesn't seem to carry them, either (they show up in a search, but when you get to the page, it shows a brand called Ajika). A lot of herbs and spices are difficult or impossible to find here, and the quality isn't always what I'm looking for, so I tend to pick them up when I travel (on the other hand, things like vanilla bean and licorice powder are easily found in standard supermarkets, and that makes me pretty happy).

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Mjx, that would be Bonci. I have his book which I haven't decided if I like yet.

Is the book dedicated to baking with spelt flour? I've always treated it precisely the same way as plain wheat flour, although I'll if a recipe calls for cake flour, I'll cut it with a bit of rice flour, since the protein content is pretty high.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Mjx, that would be Bonci. I have his book which I haven't decided if I like yet.

Mjx, that would be Bonci. I have his book which I haven't decided if I like yet.

Is the book dedicated to baking with spelt flour? I've always treated it precisely the same way as plain wheat flour, although I'll if a recipe calls for cake flour, I'll cut it with a bit of rice flour, since the protein content is pretty high.

I don't know that Gabriele Bonci is that much of a celebrity outside of Rome or Italy. In any event, his pizza is great, and according to knowledgeable expat writer and Roman food guru Katie Parla, the book is worthy.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Mjx, that would be Bonci. I have his book which I haven't decided if I like yet.

Mjx, that would be Bonci. I have his book which I haven't decided if I like yet.

Is the book dedicated to baking with spelt flour? I've always treated it precisely the same way as plain wheat flour, although I'll if a recipe calls for cake flour, I'll cut it with a bit of rice flour, since the protein content is pretty high.

I don't know that Gabriele Bonci is that much of a celebrity outside of Rome or Italy. In any event, his pizza is great, and according to knowledgeable expat writer and Roman food guru Katie Parla, the book is worthy.

Weinoo, that's why I put celebrity in quotes, but since mjx has a connection to Italy, I thought she might know who he was. Sorry i wasn't clear though. :sad:

I am not convinced by some of his weird pizza topping combinations, but that's just me. For example, licorice on pizza sounds vile to me. I do however like a lot of what he writes about the process. (and some other yummy combinations. ) Like I said, only my humble opinion. Still love his pizza. Can't wait for his bakery. :) (p.s. he's on national TV in Italy every week so may be at least somewhat famous outside rome. )

Mjx, Not at all dedicated to the flour. but he recommends it a lot. I am dying to try it and you've just convinced me further. Your bread looked wonderful.

Edited by ambra (log)
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