Early on in this program, the seven of us heading to Uppsala for our first semester decided that we would have to have some group dinners. Ideas abounded: we would each cook something from our country! We’d have cocktails to match! It probably won’t end up being so fancy, but nonetheless we started our adventure on Sunday. Naturally, I volunteered to be the first cook. Really I don’t have many surprises up my sleeve.
I cast about for something suitably American, but was at a loss for what to cook. Hamburgers? Everyone has those. Fried chicken? I can’t cook that. I gave up on the all-American theme more or less.
It was a rainy day and after getting coffee for a long time around lunchtime, a few of my classmates came over to our dorm, eagerly awaiting dinner already. As I began preparing food, they sat at our table drinking tea and playing cards and chess. I kneaded bread; Katie taught some friends Fan-Tan, which she called “sevens”. It’s a favorite game of my family and I was so happy to hear that someone else knew what it was. I joked that if you cheat you’ll get thrown in the river, but nobody apparently knows the game’s (possibly revisionist and made-up) history so I drew no laughs.
It was my first time baking with fresh yeast rather than active dry, and I was totally winging it. The bread rose fast, much faster than expected; I tried to warm up the oven, but it is a tiny oven and took forever so it wasn’t quite warm when I put the bread in. Then, the stove’s periodic electrical mischief kicked in and the oven turned off completely for a decently long period of time. When I finally noticed, I had to turn on the other range and move the bread around. It never cooked at full temperature, but turned out okay, despite having a rather burnt bottom from all the preheating…. I’m learning. Use less fresh yeast, and be careful in the ovens.
Next I tackled pastry for an apple pie. Once again, I was guessing at proportions; things are measured in liters and grams here, not cups and tablespoons and pounds. The dough was wet. I put it in the fridge and then managed to roll it out without sticking too much to the counter. Into the pan it went, apples on top, crust on the very top, and into the wildly-fluctuating oven. It was a long-baking pie.
And all this time, people were trickling in and out of my kitchen. I was asked if I wanted help, but I didn’t; I just wanted to continue to be entertained by my neighbors and classmates as I worked. The atmosphere inside could not have been more different than the dreariness we saw out the window.
Finally, dinner. I put together a simple salad and boiled some potatoes before seasoning them with butter and dill. And I took the two massive, but cheap (sometimes I really love you, Sweden) slabs of salmon out of the refrigerator and slathered them with a homemade mustard glaze (more on that later). Why salmon? Well, as mentioned, it’s cheap – one of the cheapest protein sources you can find, although they do sell whole chickens for 37 crowns, about 1/4 of what you’d pay for a pair of chicken breasts. Secondly, I thought it would be fun to make some nod to the local cuisine. And finally, back when I was swinging through Colorado this summer, my friend Ed found an amazing salmon recipe which we cooked for my aunt Liz and her partner Paula. It was easy and delicious, and so it seemed perfect for me to cook for a crowd.
Into the oven it went. I joined a card game while it cooked – Uno, or what had to be the longest game of Uno in history, actually. We played with a single deck of regular cards, with aces reversing, kings meaning draw four, queens draw three, and jacks as wild cards. We would go through long stretches where there were no cards in the draw pile because they were all in our hands. A few people got down to Uno but would then shoot back up to 20 cards in their hands. We had to take a break for dinner.
Once again the salmon was a hit – as I said, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with drowning your dinner in a sauce that’s essentially butter and brown sugar – so thanks, Ed, for stumbling across such a great recipe on the internet.
One of the funniest things that happened was that I had asked whether anyone would be willing to bring drinks – of any sort, booze or not. Daniel offered to go to the store on his way over and arrived with a bottle of wine. When we opened the bottle of wine… it wasn’t good. Sweden has strict laws about who can sell strong alcohol, and normal grocery stores can’t sell beer or wine over 3.5%. (Hi, Utah!) When we read the label more closely, we saw that Daniel had bought non-alcoholic wine. Truly, it was disgusting. The Spanish and Portuguese members of our group were particularly appalled, but I certainly couldn’t drink the stuff either! It’s still on our windowsill, getting more and more foul.
After dinner, we finished our card game and then ate apple pie. It was well-received, even by Romain, our very pickiest eater. I was extremely flattered that he even agreed to eat a piece of my pie, quite frankly.
We finished by playing a few more card games; we didn’t want the evening to end. Despite only having known each other two weeks, our little group is coalescing very strongly and we get along so well. If the first supper was any indication, it’s going to be a very lovely term here in Sweden. I can’t wait for next week’s cook.
Salmon with Brown Sugar and Mustard Glaze
Adapted from Bobby Flay; original recipe here
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 shallots or 1 onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup yellow mustard
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- Vegetable oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 one-pound+ thick fillets of salmon
In a pan, melt the butter and then saute the onion and garlic until soft, five to ten minutes on medium-low heat. While they are cooking, place the salmon in a 9×13″ baking dish that has been lightly greased with vegetable oil. You can also grill the salmon, if that’s your thing; in either case, also rub the salmon with salt and pepper.
To the saucepan, add the brown sugar, honey, mustard, and soy sauce. Continue to cook for roughly a minute, stirring, then remove from heat. Let cool slightly then pour over the salmon. Cook at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes (actually, maybe don’t believe this time estimate: my oven was messed up), or until the salmon is cooked through and the juices run more or less clear.