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Eating Sweden for Eating Eurovision

eurovision!

In the BBC, drinking prosecco having just witnessed the spectacle that is the Eurovision semi final, 20 + food bloggers gathered around Andrew Webb, brainchild of this fun project. Yielding a canvas I love Peckham bag full of ping pong balls, I anxiously awaited my turn to choose a ping pong ball with a country name on it. Portugal! I really wanted Portugal. I hoped and watched everyone draw a country. It was still in there! I know a great local community Portugese off licence come greasy spoon and I wanted to go there.

Andrew Webb

I didn’t get it. I got Sweden.

Which left me slightly flummoxed knowing nothing whatsoever about Swedish cuisine, save what I’d experienced in IKEA (not bad!). Naturally, my earliest initiation to Swedish Cuisine as the Swedish chef on the Muppet Show. I loved him. But that’s not really exploring cuisine, or is it?

swedish-chef

So, I arrived home, my brain whirring and got on google, facebook, twitter (hello @swedishmike!), and gathered as much information as I could, armed to make a decision on Friday evening.

It was so much fun. The more I read and the more I interacted with Swedes online, the more I found to like. They love the Eurovision! They seem to like comfort food. They liked the Irish entry! They love meatballs. I love meatballs! They like random meats. I want to try some of that! Elk, reindeer, I want to try it. They bury herring and eat it. I’ll leave that one alone. Sorry, I’m sure it’s lovely but I need to build up to that one.

So, what did my investigations reveal? Little Sweden! Little Sweden? Yes! It exists. Not far from Edgware Rd lies a Swedish Enclave with a Swedish Church, a Swedish pub (The Harcourt Arms), a Swedish shop (Totally Swedish), a Swedish Restaurant (Garbo’s), the Embassy of Sweden and the Swedish Chamber of Commerce. Well, that was where I needed to be!

Garbo's Swedish Restaurant

I rang Garbo’s to make a reservation and the owner, answered. I asked if I could reserve a table for half an hours time. He said I could. I asked if he wanted my name? He said, oh, ok. And then he hung up. Informality! I love it.

We arrived, and it was quiet for a Friday evening but I had read that lunch time is their best time and also their busiest. It’s a very cute white restaurant with an enormous stuffed elk head on the wall wearing a viking hat. This was perfect.

We started with some cocktails, Wolf Paw and Valhalla, well, how could we not? Very nice they were too, Wolf Paw the favourite, vodka with lingonberry juice. To start we had Janssen’s Temptation, a rich and unctous creamy potato dish laced withr anchovy. It was enormous and I was glad we had decided to share. Next up was our very meaty main courses, Kåldolmar, a stuffed cabbage dish that I had been told to try, cabbage leaves are stuffed with beef and pork and served with a sauce, and Kötbullar I Gräddsås, Swedish meatballs in a creamy sauce. We didn’t try the braised elk on this occasion, as I was keen to try everyday food, but I’d like to go back to try it. The cabbage dish was a bit sweet for my taste but the meatballs were tasty and good solid comfort food, I think I will have to make them this week. After all of this meat and cream there really was no room for dessert.

Janssen's Temptation

I had a chat with the owner, a really friendly and approachable man, to get his thoughts on the Eurovision. We had a fun chat! He’s less than enamored with the current effort, but the glory days were good, and we chatted at length about Abba, Fabba (yes!), Roxette and Ace of Base, all of whom (excl. Abba) had eaten at his restaurant. Indeed, Roxette had an album launch there. Brilliant! There was also a photo of him with Sven Goran-Eriksson on the wall, and the Irish connection, a photo of him with George Best.

Next, we careered to the Harcourt Arms. A very lively spot, full and buzzing, selling the usual tipples and Swedish cider Kopparberg and Swedish beer. I like Kopparberg, although be warned, it’s deceptive, a very fruity and unalcoholic tasting mixed fruit cider is a dangerous 7%! Dangerous when you don’t know, that is, which is how I found myself drunker than pals in a round one Christmas some years ago. I quickly partook of some water. The Harcourt Arms do food too, I’ll be sure to go back to try it. They had a big Eurovision party last night and it would have been so perfect it I could have gone, but a friend was getting married, and that trumps Eurovision.

So, that was it. A great couple of days, investigating, interacting with random Swedes I’d never met before, finding Swedish food bloggers and exploring Little Sweden. It was brilliant and I am going to make a point of exploring in this fashion. London is such a great city, and has so much to offer, and this reminded me how good and surprising it can be!

Garbo’s, 42 Crawford Street, Marylebone, W1H 1JW Tel: 020 7262 6582

The Harcourt Arms, 32 Harcourt Street, W1H 4HX

Read everyone elses adventures here: http://eatingeurovision.wordpress.com/.

See all my photos of my Eating Sweden experience on flickr here.

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Eating Eurovision Part 1 – the research

Well, I’ve not had much time to explore Swedish London, I work full time and that has its demands, but I sent some emails last night and did alot of googling before bed and I am quite excited about what I’ve found. Swedish shops, delis, pubs, restaurants, churches, a map of Swedish West London, Swedish people, on twitter and on facebook, and some Swedish food bloggers. Wow!

So, I’m all fired up and can’t wait to explore. Reading the others adventures is fantastic, but I want one of my own too.

In advance of my mini-journey, fellow blogger, Axel, and a Swedish one at that, wrote a digest on Swedish food for me. Brilliant. You should also read his blog AKIFOODWINE.

Swedish food is fairly diverse and is different from region to region. Along the coasts of Sweden a lot of fish is consumed and in the far north of Sweden a piece of moose or reindeer could end up on your plate. Swedish cuisine is mostly known abroad for meatballs which is traditionally served with boiled potatoes or mash together with cream sauce (basically a sauce made from beef stock and cream) and lingonberry jam (a tart jam made from lingonberries which are similar to cranberries). It’s a delicious dish which can be experienced abroad in for instance IKEA but that is unfortunately a far cry from the meatballs cooked by Swedish grandmothers.

A lot of Swedish food is based around the festive seasons. At Christmas the Swedes eat a lot of varying dishes like herring, meatballs and ham. This tradition is called “Christmas table” and it’s almost like a collection of tapas laid out on a table that the guests can mix and match. Lamb is a popular dish during Easter and lots of eggs are also consumed during this holiday. Another Swedish tradition is “kraftskiva” which takes place in August. During this tradition the Swedes often dress up in funny little hats and eat crayfish a long with lots of snaps. The Swedes like to get together to celebrate holidays with lots of food and drink – a piece of our heritage that is still very popular today.

Overall the holiday dinners are often accompanied with lots of snaps, aquavit or icecold vodka and of course singing and dancing – all in all it’s a lot of fun!

Thanks so much, Axel!

So, I’m off to investigate! Wish me luck and come back tomorrow to read all about it.

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We’re eating eurovision and I am Sweden

As part of a throughly fantastic and fun project – Eating Eurovision, I found myself at the BBC last night, with 20 + food bloggers and the online Eurovision people from the BBC, watching the Eurovision, drinking sparkling wine, and then choosing a country via a bag full of ping pong balls and… I AM SWEDEN!

Makes sense. I am tall, leggy and blonde after all, and I do sing beeeeautifully.

So… I would be most grateful for any of your tips on Swedish food and culture in London! Where are the best meatballs? What should I be drinking? Anything quirky I should know about?? Do I have any Swedish readers?! I want to hear from you!

It’s got to happen tonight to be blogged tomorrow.

More information here: http://eatingeurovision.wordpress.com/

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Asparagus and Truffle Carbonara

Asparagus & truffle carbonara

Life’s simple pleasures are the driving force for getting through each day with a smile on my face. Food, wine, music, friends, jokes, laughter, a good book, some occasional trashy TV, all contribute towards a day I brand a success, and one that makes me want to repeat the experience when I fall out of bed the next morning.

Some days need more than this, whether you’ve had a grim day at the office, are entertaining friends or simply require a dash of some decadence in your life, some extras are called for. When I have had a bad day I comfort shop and I comfort eat. The two are inextricably linked. I buy things that give me comfort: good food, new sheets, nice wine, something nice to wear. I am nice to myself, when for whatever reason, I feel the world is rejecting me or treating me with disdain. Bah!

This particular occasion I was in fine fettle and entertaining a good friend who happens to be a vegetarian, so no need to picture me with a cloud over my head and chocolate stains all around my mouth with a bag of crisps on my hand, running to the nearest department store with a bunch of notes in my hand. Dramatic, yes, but you’ll get used to that! I wanted to make something quick that was full of flavour and indulgent, allowing me plenty of time to catch up, drink wine and still produce a meal that I would enjoy and be proud to share.

truffle goodies

I also had a box of goodies to explore, truffle goodies from Savitar in Italy, the most decadent box I’ve ever had in my cupboard containing a range of superb products, including, for this dish, truffle pecorino (ewe’s milk cheese). I am a big fan of traditional dishes, and generally don’t like to mess with them. I stick faithfully to Marcella Hazan’s recipe for carbonara, it’s a lovely thing, but there are some twists on this that work, and one involves asparagus. I would often have asparagus and pancetta in this, but for this evening, meat was murder and I was temporarily veggie, so to spruce it up I used truffle pecorino in the place of the usual parmesan and pecorino mix.

truffle pecorino

This worked so well. The truffle was sublime and decadent but complimented the asparagus, which fresh and in season was full flavoured. The sauce was light and creamy and licked the linguine without being cloying. I’ll be making this again, although if for me and not vegetatians, I will include pancetta.

I put this together quite intuitively as I have made carbonara or versions many times. I cooked enough linguine for 3 people, about two thirds of a pack. Spaghetti is traditional for this dish, but linguine is a reasonable substitute should you have none, which was the case for me. As it was cooking, I snapped the woody tips from the end of some delicious English asparagus, and boiled thm for a couple of minutes until approaching tender. Place in a bowl of iced water or run under the cold tap to arrest the cooking process. I chopped these so that the stems were in centimetre chunks with the tips at full length.

The next step requires a little prep. I use one egg yolk per person from a large free range organic egg. Beat them with approx. 3 generous tablespoons of the truffle pecorino and one tablespoon of freshly grated pamesan cheese, season and leave to the side. Lightly mash a clover of garlic and fry until golden in some olive oil over a medium high heat. Remove the garlic, add the chopped asparagus and about half a glass of dry white wine. Fry off the alcohol, reducing the volume a little as you do.

When the pasta is cooked, toss in the egg and cheese mixture, and add the asparagus. Serve immediately with some freshly grated pamesan or for extra decadence a mixture of truffle pecorino and parmesan. Enjoy with a fine glass of wine and some good chatter.

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Twitter me this, my lovelies

Twitter! Everyone’s raving about it or moaning about it, and like all of the best things that this world has to offer, it polarises opinion. Love it or hate it, pointless or not, everyone has something to say.

What do you think? Love it? Hate it?

Me? I love it.

I was loathe to join the crowd and write about it, but it’s been an interesting place lately and deserves a mention. And only with regard to food, don’t worry. I care not about mrs kutcher’s bum or insert-random-celebrity’s-random-very-mini-adventure. At least not here.

Like most things I love, it drives me crazy. Crazy! It demands immediacy, and this I can’t provide. Like most bloggers, I work for a living, so twitter is not a space I frequent 9-5, save the occasional lunchtime for a browse. This means that I miss things. Lots of things. Events, gossip, you name it, if it’s interesting, it’s probably on twitter. I don’t like that.

It does demand separating the wheat from the chaff, as there’s lots of crap on twitter too, I’m no twitter evangelist and I see it for what it is, a useful space with manageable chaos full of interesting people and random scary ones. But, hey, that’s ok! It’s worth it, the good uns are keepers and the scary ones can disappear.

The good ones you say? Who are they? For me, lots of interesting food bloggers, producers, wine bloggers and suppliers. Lots of interesting folk with lots of knowledge, available within seconds of a tweet. It’s better than google, you’ve already done your  quality control, and just wait for the answers.

So, if you read my last post you will have read about my wild garlic adventures, where I met fellow food blogger, food urchin, in Borough to collect a plant that he’d dug up from his garden. Fantastic! How did that happen? All through twitter.

If you follow me on twitter or read the Times Online, you might have read about my rhubarb escapades with Celia Brooks Brown. Now, this is a funny one, as I’ve been aware of Celia’s cookbooks for years. Recently she started tweeting, and mentioned that she had lots of allotment rhubarb, would anyone like some?

Why, yes!

The best thing was it was only 20 minutes walk from my new house, how could I not pay a visit? A lovely visit it was too, Celia generously supplied me with lots of rhubarb and other treasures: rocket flowers, cavolo nero, purple sprouting broccoli and lots more. I got to try some asparagus, fresh from the ground and deliciously sweet. We also had a beer as it was cocktail hour at the allotment. Nice! A few days later Celia sent me a link detailing my adventures on Times Online, unexpected and a treat! You can read more about alloments and vegetarian food on her blog, and view more photos here if you’re interested: http://www.flickr.com/photos/niamheen/sets/72157617358540500/

It doesn’t stop there. Friendships are forged, like minded people discovered, seedlings and  restaurant recommendations shared and blogs followed. It’s a fantastic space, with a throbbing food community. If you’re reading this, I think you should be on there with us. Follow me at http://twitter.com/eatlikeagirl and come join the fun!