For my family, it’s all about the eating at Christmas time. This year, I’m in Vancouver with my father and I’m finding it quite a challenge not overdoing the cooking for two! Like last year, I cooked a Chinese meal for Christmas Eve and this year, there was a steamed fish again – and this time, this was a brilliantly fresh giant trout my father found at a local supermarket. I feel like I’m starting a new tradition with the Asian Christmas Eve meal.

Steamed Trout

And for dessert? A big bowl of jelly, tinned fruit and some honey and walnut frozen yoghurt.

And last night's jelly, tinned fruit and honey and walnut frozen yoghurt...

On Christmas day, there was steak! Steak with a mushroom and pepper sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potato fries. I do believe I’ve converted my father to sprouts! It’s not a conventional Christmas meal but steak’s great for smaller parties.

Steak, Sprouts and Sweet Spuds

For dessert – homemade sherry trifles. These were supposed to be individual serving sizes until my brother pointed out that they were huge. Oops. Yup, that’s a pint glass. And yes, they were extremely rich and definitely filled us up!

Trifle

What did you have for Christmas?

Wherever you are this year (I’m in Vancouver!), I wish you and your loved ones a very merry Christmas! Happy eating!

Last year, my friend Roxanne and I managed to visit four Nordic Christmas markets in one day and only missed out on the Danish Christmas fair. This year, we vowed to visit the Danish one to finally tick that off our list! On the same weekend as all the other Scandinavian markets (it happens on only one weekend each year – keep an eye out for next year’s!), we made our way to the Danish YWCA near Finchley Road. It’s a beautiful grand building and yes, that day there were a lot of Danes about. This Christmas Bazaar cost £2 per person for entry.

Danish YWCA

There were not one, not two, but three eating ‘zones’ interspersed between the craft and grocery rooms and raffle tables. The first was outside with the wreaths and evergreen branches for sale. There was a Tulip hot dog stand!

A Tulip Hot Dog Stand

I loved all the hot dogs I ate in Copenhagen oh so many years ago and here was my chance to get one with the full Danish works again: ketchup, mustard, remoulade, diced raw onions, crispy fried onions, sliced pickles. And I even went for the bright red sausage (the rød pølse)!

Hot Dog!

Inside, we found rooms of traditional Danish Christmas crafts and even a groceries room full of Christmas goodies. The crafts were indeed very beautiful and I yearned for a reindeer head to decorate my living room.

Inside

Crafts

The Head of Rudolf

I didn’t buy anything major this year but I did leave with a few packs of Danish Christmas biscuits – mmm, such buttery buttery biscuits.

Outside in the back garden, a marquee had been set up as a sort of cafe serving drinks, meatballs and aebleskiver, the Danish spherical pancakes. Aebleskiver are delicious! They’re have a much more tender crumb than I imagined and they’re just perfect with jam and powdered sugar.

Æbleskiver

Everyone seemed to be drinking either gløgg or these yellow cans of chocolate milk. I had to try one of the latter and it is very moreish!

Chocolate Milk

Back inside the building, we finally made our way to the last room for eats – the YWCA’s canteen turned into a cute and cosy cafe where one could have various savouries, sandwiches and pastries.

I had to try the liver pate smørrebrød after one woman waxed poetic about hot liver pate. This was some good pate and I bet it would have been even better if it had been served hot.

Liver Pate Smørrebrød

Chicken and mushroom puffs were very generously filled and served hot.

Chicken and Mushroom Puffs

We finished with a slice of Christmas kringle – a puff pastry with plenty of dried fruit and spices of the festive season.

Christmas Kringle

We were stuffed by the time we left. Highly recommended! Keep your eyes peeled for when the 2014 weekend is – this year, I also reported the dates on Twitter.

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas! We’re not religious at all but I’ve embraced the whole idea of Christmas and the fact that we get an enforced break from work and well, all of that eating, of course! Our feasting started Christmas Eve with a big Chinese meal for the three of us (Blai joined us this year for his first Christmas in London).

Christmas Eve Dinner

My brother had brought over a roast duck from Four Seasons (our usual duck of choice comes from Gold Mine but they had closed early the day before!) and I added a steamed fish, wontons in chilli oil, kai lan with oyster sauce and mapo tofu (I added some pork to that last recipe).

Mapo Tofu

A couple of the recipes came from Fuchsia Dunlop’s book Every Grain of Rice – and I highly recommend this book! I feel I ought to be cooking more Chinese food and I’ll certainly be using her recipes often.

Afterwards, there were slices of Heston’s Black Forest Buche (bought at Waitrose) for dessert. We’re still eating our way along the length of this excellent chocolatey buche.

Cross Section of the Buche

On Christmas Day, we rose late and started with a breakfast of smoked salmon and crème fraîche on blinis along with scrambled eggs.

Smoked Salmon and Scrambled Eggs

Soon after breakfast, I set out a few bites while the main course was cooking. A bit of cheese, A bit of charcuterie, a bit more salmon. It’s what the Catalans call pica pica, all these little bites.

Untitled

And the main course? Well, we can’t go wrong with another slab of pork belly – it always goes down well in this family. This year, I roasted it with apples and onions and I loved the sweetness and slight tang the apples gave. For a recipe, start with this one and instead of fennel, use a couple of sliced onions and a couple of sliced, peeled green apples and a bit of dried or fresh thyme.

Slow Roast Pork Belly with Apples and Onions

Very buttery mashed potatoes, pigs in blankets, sauteed sprouts, roasted carrots and parsnips and, of course, that pork and there’s my first plate made.

My Plate

And now it’s Boxing Day and that’s all about using up the leftovers… but first, I’d like to hear what you’ve been eating this Christmas! Have you tried new recipes this year or is this a time for sticking to tradition?

I didn’t know much about the Swedish smörgåsbord tradition and even less about the Christmas variant, the julbord. What I’ve been told is this – everyone in Sweden sits down to at least one julbord every year, once with family on Christmas Eve and possibly another with work. It’s quite the institution and one that I hoped to experience while I was in Gothenburg.

As if they were reading my mind, the Gothenburg Tourist Board very kindly arranged a julbord dinner for both me and Jeanne on our second night but the restaurant they’d booked wasn’t actually in Gothenburg but on an island in the Gothenburg archipelago – on Styrsö. It sounded like a bit of an adventure involving a tram ride from the centre of Gothenburg to the end of the line and then a ferry (all transport covered by the Gothenburg Card). It did turn out to be a bit nerve racking to get there with everything being quite dark and the ferry running late but the restaurant at the Pensionat Styrsö Skäret was lit up like a Christmas tree, making it easy to find on the island.

We received a warm welcome inside and after being shown to our seat, we were offered hot glögg (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions were available) and pepparkakor. Raisins and slivered almonds had already been set out on the table to place in your hot glögg – the plumped up raisins and crunchy almonds making the drink, well, more than a drink. That warmed us up nicely and got us ready for the eating.

Glogg and Pepparkakor

To drink with our julbord meal, we were offered Christmas beverages – Julmust is a Christmas beverage like a spiced Coke while the Christmas beer was a dark ale and both are only available at this time of the year. I knew Sweden took Christmas seriously!

Julmust Christmas Beer

There is an order in which a julbord (or smörgåsbord in general) is tackled and it’s probably best to follow the rules (I also noticed that the julbord was cleared in this order too…so don’t follow the order and you risk missing out on a whole course!). The restaurant was packed that night but seatings had been staggered, making trips to the julbord not overly crowded.

The first round should be the herring and gravadlax and other cold seafood. I’ve got a book on Scandinavian cuisine dating back to the 1960s that states that herring should be a course by itself, followed by the rest of the fish and seafood. I don’t know what approach is more common today but there’s nothing stopping you from just eating lots of herring.

Of the herring, my favourites were in a creamy white and dill sauce, one with lingonberries and another in mustard. Some preparations were a bit too salty but most were excellent. I can never turn down gravadlax too but I passed on most of the fish mousses. This being the west coast, there was a good variety of shellfish on offer too (prawns, crabs, langoustines) and we were most taken with the smoked prawns. In addition to the fishes, there were eggs topped with caviar, baked herring, hard cheeses, boiled potatoes and breads and whipped salted butter.

Herrings

Seafood Eggs and Cheese and Bread

Gravadlax and Other Fishes Fish Things

My Seafood/Herring Plate

After you’ve had your fill of foods from the sea, move on to the cold meats. Salamis, sausages, pates, hams and other cured meats were all laid out invitingly. And as there should be on every julbord, there was julskinka, a Swedish Christmas ham, already sliced up. Pork, beef, lamb, duck – almost all the major meat groups were out in force on the table. In addition, there were lots of condiments – pickles, chutneys, a whole array of mustards and a mysterious mimosa salad, which I discovered later was mainly fruit in mayonnaise.

I loved the julskinka with its coating of mustard and breadcrumbs and also the sliced cooked pork belly. My favourite though was a smoked duck “ham” that had been cooked with cinnamon and cognac – gorgeous! And their red onion confit was wonderful.

Salamis and Pates Hams and Meats

Meats and Hams Cured Meats and Hams

My Meats Plate

The hot foods are the last savoury course. Swedish meatballs, pork ribs, prinskorv (little sausages like Vienna sausages), boiled sausage, creamed spinach, brown cabbage, green cabbage, lutfisk and poached fish with all the fixings (peas, bacon, melted butter, white sauce) and, of course, Janssons frestelse (Jansson’s temptation – a baked potato gratin with Swedish anchovies). My book from the 60s suggests that one should eat Jansson’s temptation with the first herring course but I pay attention to this combo on anyone’s plates that day.

Our lack of vegetables had us hitting the peas, spinach and cabbage pretty hard – the spinach and cabbage were sweetened. The Jansson’s temptation was delicious though salty and the lutfisk was jellylike and flavourless, necessitating the stuff on the side. Strangely, this was the least exciting course to me – I think the strengths of the julbord and smörgåsbord lie in the cold and room temperature courses or perhaps my thoughts were a bit skewed because I was already quite full by this point.

Hot Foods Jansson's Temptation

My Hot Foods Plate

Finally, the desserts and sweets. Swedish cakes and desserts aren’t particulary sweet and these were no exception. I skipped the ris à la Malta (a creamy rice pudding) and tried a dry cheese cake (it tasted like unsweetened pressed ricotta), an almond biscuit that I topped with cream and preserves and my favourite, a delightfully light and crisp fried biscuit topped with sugar. There were a few other biscuits and a selection of soft cheeses but those I skipped.

Desserts and More Cheese

My Dessert Plate

I was really saving myself for the sweets! There was a whole cupboard full of bowls of the most delectable looking titbits. There were homemade fruit jellies, chocolates, truffles, marshmallow santas (they appear to be very popular in Sweden at Christmas time), candied nuts, caramels and knäck (a Swedish Christmas toffee). The variety was enough to make anyone gasp in awe.

My Sweets Plate

We were utterly stuffed after making our julbord rounds (there were definitely some repeats) but saved room for some tea and coffee to aid digestion. More popular in the room was the drinks trolley that was making the rounds.

Drinks Trolley

Pensionat Styrsö Skäret

It was a fantastic experience. The staff did everything to make us feel welcome, explained to us how to approach the julbord… and my apologies for rushing them at the end! We were having such a fab time that we almost lost track of time and found that we only had 10 minutes to run to the dock in time for our ferry. We made it!

I would definitely highly recommend everyone going to Sweden to try a julbord (or at any other time of the year, a smörgåsbord) – it’s very obviously a big part of Swedish culture and it’s good fun! It’s not cheap (this one was 535 SEK, not including drinks – and we were invited) but I’d definitely save up to have one. but Reservations are essential at this time of the year – book in advance.

Pensionat Styrsö Skäret
Skäretvägen 53
430 84 Styrsö
Sweden

Thank you again to the West Sweden Tourist Board (Facebook page, Twitter, Blog) and Visit Sweden (Facebook, Twitter) and also to the Gothenburg Tourist Board for organising this wonderful Christmas trip for us. Our flights were provided by SAS and a return trip to Gothenburg from London Heathrow is £103 including all taxes and charges.

That brings my Christmas in Gothenburg series to an end – all my photos from Gothenburg can be found in this Flickr photoset. Now it’s time for Christmas in London. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Christmas is taken very seriously in Sweden and luckily, Jeanne and I were able to experience it in Gothenburg when the weather cleared the next day. Absolutely everything was decked for the holidays, even our hotel (the Hotel Royal – highly recommended for their excellent breakfast, warm rooms and friendly staff) had numerous jultomten (Christmas tomten) scattered about and gingerbread scenes (including the front desk!) next to the breakfast buffet. Gingerbread features heavily everywhere and the most common Swedish form is pepparkakor, the thin ginger snaps you can get easily in Ikea. Every shop, hotel, market counter seems to have an open tin of them for their customers (um… I ate a lot of them). Every cafe and bakery seems to sell their own homemade pepparkakor and gingerbread.

At Stora Saluhallen, the city’s centrally located covered market hall, patisseries, bakers, butchers, fishmongers, and grocers were all arranged neatly in stalls while that day, farmers set up smaller stands outside. There were lots of Christmas goods inside and Christmas trees and plants available to buy from the stands outside.

Stora Saluhallen

We found very good chocolates at Flickorna Kanold, including special Christmas season flavours. I took a boxful of them back to Blai and we loved the saffron one and the cinnamon and orange one but haven’t yet tackled the cuteness that is the Jul Marsipan chocolate.

Jul Marsipan

Every sweet shop and patisserie was also selling marzipan pigs, which I think are associated with luck. These ones were my favourite as they looked somewhat insane.

Marzipan Pigs

We were actually in Gothenburg just before St Lucia’s feast day (13 Dec) and a saffron bun called a lussekatt is traditionally eaten on this day. These were gorgeous and tasted even better – it’s made with a rich brioche-like dough flavoured with lots of saffron.

Lussekatter

On St Lucia’s Day, one girl is chosen to be Lucia for the city of Gothenburg (and other cities in Sweden and even in homes and other smaller community events). In the spirit of all things modern, you could vote for the one you wanted – the photo below was taken the next day in Nordstan, a shopping mall in Gothenburg. The Lucias wear a candle wreath in her hair and from what I understand, there’s a procession involving other girls and boys and singing.

Göteborgs Lucia 2011

At the nearby Feskekôrka (fish church – nothing religious about it apart from the market’s resemblance to a church), we gawped at the marvellously fresh fish and seafood on offer and sampled all variety of pickled herring. I wonder if some of that seafood will show up on Christmas tables. It was here too we discovered the combination of pickled herring and gingerbread – it sounds a bit odd but they really are delicious together (I’ve been recreating it at home with soft gingerbread and mustard herrings I brought back from Sweden).

Feskekôrka

Inside

A stand had been set up in the middle of the hall with glögg and Christmas treats for shoppers and vendors alike.

Christmas Glogg and Treats

We strolled over to Haga, a particularly pretty district of Gothenburg and found a Christmas Market taking place on the main street (Haga Nygata). There were lots of craft stands and food vendors set out along the cobbled streets and it is certainly good for Christmas shopping. We were surprised to see that everything sold was beautiful and of good quality, not like the tat commonly found at Christmas markets in London (wooden ties, anyone?).

Pastries

There was quite a bit of music too that Saturday with carollers setting up along the street and a grand ol’ marching band complete with festive cheerleaders and flag girls continually marched and played up and down between the stands.

Cheerleaders

The biggest and possibly most famous of the Christmas Markets in Sweden can be found in Gothenburg and it’s at Liseberg, the big amusement park in the city. Using our Gothenburg City Cards (provided by the Gothenburg Tourist Board), we hopped on an old-fashioned wooden tram in the centre of town that took us directly to the park and then gained entry to Liseberg. This was exciting – both Jeanne and I are big fans of Christmas markets and here we were at Sweden’s largest. It was hard to get in the festive spirit with everyone else there equally excited.

Liseberg Entrance

Most of the rides were closed but a few were still open for those who enjoy being flung about in the cold.

The whole park looked wonderfully festive with its beautiful lights and Christmas goods on sale. While it took a lot of willpower to not buy a little candle powered angel chime, we happily handed over our money after sampling some gorgeous hot smoked salmon.

There were even reindeer and a whole section of the park dedicated to Lapp culture (they had the most delectable looking flatbreads and reindeer kebabs). They say that almost 5 million lights are strung up in Liseberg at Christmas time; I believe them. I’d recommend going when it’s dark as it’s difficult to see them during the day and also make sure you allocate at least a few hours to see everything!

Lights

I was particularly tickled by the numerous Wheels of Fortune in Liseberg. I’m not sure if giant bars of chocolate and humongous bags of crisps are normally the prizes at other times of the year but they were out in full force at Christmas and people were going crazy over them. You buy a number or range of numbers, wait for the wheel to spin and if your number comes up, you win a prize – I only saw regular sized bars of chocolate being handed out. I suspect that you must collect quite a few of these before you can trade them in for a giant bar. There were a surprising number of people with multiple giant bars – I don’t even want to think about how much they must have spent on the wheels. It became my mission to take photos of all the wheels we encountered and this is just a selection of them. And no, I didn’t have a go at them.

Daim Wheel of Fortune! Plopp Wheel of Fortune!

Toblerone Wheel of Fortune! Marabou Wheel of Fortune!

Estrella Wheel of Fortune! Kex Wheel of Fortune!

Sadly, we didn’t eat much while inside as we had a big dinner that night and we had to leave the park early when we were hailed on but the Swedish are tough! We passed lots of them watching a outdoor show on ice, paying no attention whatsoever to the rain and hail.

That night, we sat down to one of the most epic of Swedish Christmas feasts – a julbord. That’s in the next and last post on our trip to Gothenburg.

We made it to Barcelona! There was no trace of snow on the runways or near the terminals at Heathrow when we left and when the plane made it off the ground (only one hour delayed), there was indeed a sigh of relief from me. This year, we were joined by my brother and it being Christmas, there was much family feasting together. I’m still trying to recover from all the wonderful overeating.

I just asked Blai’s mother about what is traditionally eaten here in Catalunya over the holiday season; this was only my second Christmas in Barcelona as I usually visit for New Year’s. Well, Christmas Day eating traditionally includes escudella i carn d’olla, a two part meal that comprises the first part of the meal. Part A is the escudella, a rich meaty broth in which galets, the traditional pasta shape, are cooked; Part B is the boiled meat and vegetables that were cooked to make the broth. The second course is usually a roast bird of some sort. The next day (that’s Boxing Day to most of us but it’s also the feast day of Sant Esteve – aka St Stephen), the meal would include canalons, a dish of Italian origin that the Catalans have taken to their hearts, and the filling would be made of the leftovers from the day before. I was looking forward to it all!

On Christmas day, the big lunch was with Blai’s extended family in their village outside Barcelona; Blai’s aunt had gone all out for the delicious meal. We started with homemade wild boar fuet (a type of dry cured sausage particular to Catalunya) and home cured olives (I think they were arbequina, judging from their size).

Wild Boar Fuet Home-Cured Olives

For the first course, there were the most delicious canalons (yes, on Christmas Day. This family switches things up!). The Catalan canalons are always served in bechamel – there’s no tomato sauce here. The filling is of meat lightened a bit with bechamel. It is rolled within canalon wrappers and then drenched in plenty of bechamel; Blai’s aunt added fresh wild mushrooms to the topping. Gorgeous!

Canalons

For the second course, a roasted bird; that day, it was a duck, served with delicious pan-fried pears, plump prunes and toasted pinenuts.

Roast Duck with Pears, Prunes and Pinenuts

Finally, for dessert, among all the other sweets was a large platter of torrons. I always overdo it with torró (the very sweet and rich confections made mainly with almonds) in Barcelona and so never bring any back to London!

Torrons

The next day, St Stephen’s Day, or Boxing Day, was celebrated back in Barcelona. As we had canalons the day before, this was the day we would have escudella i carn d’olla. The delicious broth with galets was made all the more exciting by its being served out of a tureen that was at least 150 years old.

Escudella

Escudella

That was swiftly followed by the carn d’olla (the literal translation is meat of the pot). The huge platter of boiled meats included chicken, pork, lamb, botifarra negre (black/blood sausage) and a huge pilota (a big meatball of pork that’s divided up between the diners). The equally huge platter of boiled vegetables held leek, carrot, turnip, parsnip, potato, cabbage and chickpeas. Boiled meat may sound boring but it’s all quite delicious and I love the variety involved.

Carn d'Olla

That’s my serving there.

Carn d'Olla

The second course (though it already feels like the third by now!) was a most delicious vedella amb suc, a kind of beef stew. Here, Blai’s mother stewed roast beef slices with the most meaty mushrooms I’ve ever encountered, all in a gorgeous thick sauce. I must learn to make Catalan stews!

Vedella amb suc

Vedella amb suc

A fruit I always seem to associate with Catalan winter feasts is pineapple; slices of the most perfectly ripe pineapple always seem to end most Christmas meals. That and torrons, of course. One is never far from torrons during the festive season.

Pineapple and Fork

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas celebration too, wherever you were. Now, what are your plans for New Year’s?

ETA: If you’re in London and are keen to try escudella i carn d’olla, Rachel of Catalan Cooking is hosting a pop up supperclub event on January 15 where you can try it. The menu looks good!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,956 other followers