Easy as 1-2-3: Swedish Hardtack

I have to admit I know very little about Scandinavian cuisine, and when we decided to feature it during our Around the World Summer Camp, I was nervous and skeptical.  In my mind, the food in the countries that comprise Scandinavia was bland an uninspiring.  Having grown up in Southeast Asia, one can probably understand the origin of my bias, but that is exactly what it is.  A bias.  Something I needed to get over.  And boy did I get over it :)!!  Rosie the Program Director at 18 Reasons and a co-teacher at our summer camp would be proud of me.  I have been pinning a bunch of recipes on our Scandinavian Food Pinterest Board and even bought a cookbook.  There’s no stopping us now – we’re hooked.  So stay tuned for more recipes and ideas from Northern Europe.

The Swedish hardtack recipe below is delicious and easy, even for a phobic baker like me.  The kids at the camp made it virtually by themselves and tremendously enjoyed the end product with sliced cheese and pea soup.  A very satisfying school lunch with cheese and salami or after school snack.  And a much healthier baking project with the kids compared to ubiquitous cupcakes and cookies.

Swedish Hardtack (from Beatrice Ojakangas)

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 ½ cup buttermilk
1 ½  cup whole wheat flour
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
3 cup finely ground oats (finely grind the oats in a food processor before you begin)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease the bottom of 2 11×17 inch cookie sheet (or whatever size you have)
  2. Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Set aside to cool briefly.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter and buttermilk. Add remaining ingredients to make a stiff, sticky dough. Let stand for 10-15 minutes so that dough becomes less sticky.
  4. Divide into four parts and place one part each on greased bottom of two cookie sheets,
  5. Roll dough with rolling pin all the way to edges of cookie sheet. You want a very thin dough — less than ¼ inch. If it breaks, that is ok. Just press gently back together and smooth. Trim edges to make a neat rectangle. Pierce all over with a fork (all over!).  Score dough into 2”x4” rectangles, or the shape of your choice! Bake for 20-25 minutes until dark golden (but not brown) and crisp.
  6. Let cool for a few minutes, then break apart on score lines and let cool on cooling rack.
  7. Makes approximately 110 crackers. They will keep in tightly sealed container for about a week.

PS – The winner of our giveaway of Suz Lipman’s book – Linda who writes the blog – A Nature Mom

Where Have You Been All My Life – Instant Chocolate Cake in a Mug?

Not much has to be said about this.  The title says it all.  This is perfect for a late night dessert craving that you really shouldn’t give into.  Ria and I made this together for breakfast (please don’t call child services!), primarily because I could not wait to try this recipe.  We were so excited that we dug in immediately and I almost forgot to take the “blog photo”.  Hence the partly eaten cake photo below :).  It was topped with chocolate chips for us chocolate fanatics and next time are going to add nuts, ice-cream and/or raspberries.

Pure Genius.

Instant Chocolate Cake from Food Network Magazine’s Great Easy Meals

Whisk 1/4 cup flour, 5 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, 1 egg, 3 tablespoons milk, 3 tablespoons vegetable oil and a dash of vanilla and salt in a large mug until smooth.  (we used a fork)  Microwave until puffed, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.


The Easiest Chocolate Chip Cookies

I watched in awe as my friend Ann, made these cookies while we were just standing around.  I always think of making cookies is a “massive undertaking” with the dirtying of too many dishes and cooking tools.  These cookies come together in a jiffy and are a fun, yummy and easy recipe to make with the kids.  Great eaten warm with some ice-cream!  If I can make them, anyone can make them. 🙂

Aunty Ann’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes 3-4 dozen

Mix in a bowl

  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 – 2 tsp vanilla

Incorporate in 4-5 batches:

  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt (optional)

Mix in

  • 1 cup (or more) chocolate chips

You can add nuts, oats or anything else you like at this point.

Drop by tablespoonful onto baking sheet (ungreased) and bake in oven set to 375F for 8-10 minutes.

A Quick Dessert: Caramel Flan

If you ever come over for a dinner party at our place, you are likely to be served flan for dessert.  I am not an enthusiastic maker of desserts primarily because I end up eating most of what I make…so I just don’t go there.  The flan recipe below is great for a small dinner party or even the end of a special meal at home. Dessert leftovers are not a good thing.

Interestingly enough, my mother who is also not much of a dessert-maker (massive dessert-eater though) would always make creme caramel to finish off her lavish and abundant Indian buffet dinner parties.  I do not know how anyone even ate dessert after all the food she forced them to eat.  With my mother, if you are lucky enough to score an invite to one of her dinner parties, the best strategy to survive is to say you are full when you are just halfway full.  I used to “die” of embarrassment when she would insist in a very pushy manner that each guest eat more.  No amount of protesting would stop her from just dumping more food on your plate, which if you did not finish would end up causing offense.  Indian hospitality at it’s best (or worst).  I know one day I am going to be exactly like her and Ria is going to be in the corner rolling her eyes.  Life is strange like that.  We are all like our parents when they aren’t in the room.

Mom’s creme caramel recipe is complicated – it somehow requires a pressure cooker.  I have pressure cooker phobia (visions of it exploding), so I satisfy myself with the recipe below.  I can make this dessert in my sleep and I suspect Ria can as well since she has assisted me on many an occasion.  Only catch is that you have to make it the day before or at least six hours before you serve it. If you could make it and serve it right away it would be the perfect, quick dessert.

Caramel Flan (adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

Makes 1 eight-inch flan and serves 8.  I make mine in a loaf tin which means a unique rectangular flan.


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/3 cups whole milk
  • 3 large eggs


  1. Fill a roasting pan with 2 inches of water. Transfer to oven; preheat to 325F (Be careful transferring in and out of oven)
  2. Cook sugar in a small heavy bottomed saucepan.  Stirring until sugar melts.  Continue cooking and stirring until sugar turns a dark caramel color.  Careful with this – sugar burns terribly and will get to the terribly stage in a hurry
  3. Pour caramel in baking dish you are using (8 inch cake pan or loaf tin)
  4. Blend condensed milk,  milk and eggs in a blender.  (I just use a med sized bowl and a whisk).  Pour into baking dish.  Transfer to roasting pan, placing it in the water
  5. Bake flan until just set – about 50 min to an hour
  6. Transfer to wire rack and cool
  7. Chill at least 6 hours or preferably overnight

Tis’ the Season for Fava Beans

I have always shied away from fava beans – too much work for too little yield.  I love them but never buy them for home consumption.  We finally ordered some from Eating with the Seasons and I had Ria help me with the shelling project.  I had a tough time convincing her that unlike peas which you can eat as you shell, fava beans need to be boiled and peeled again.  Besides, if you could eat these as you shell them you will have nothing left for your crostini.

Here’s how to prep fava beans:

Remove beans from pods (involve little hands).  Blanch the beans for 3 -5 minutes in boiling water to soften outside tough peel.  Wash with tap water and peel to reveal moist, bright green little nuggets.

I rough mashed the precious nuggets with salt, pepper, goat cheese and some parmesan.  Use any cheeses your munchkins like (triple creme!…anything will be good).  We did not have any baguettes or bread so I served the mixture on wholewheat muffins.  Or add mixture to boiled pasta as a mac and cheese variation.

We recently found fava beans growing in a community garden we visit and it was fun for Ria (and me) to see , in their natural state, the favas beans we so lovingly shelled together.

Easy-peasy Dumplings

Stuck at home on a rainy day with our play date canceled, we decided to occupy ourselves by making some dumplings (or little parcels of love as I like to call them).  It seems like a daunting task to take on but these dumplings are low on ingredients, high on child involvement and disappear ridiculously fast.  The sweet, salty dipping sauce is a perfect complement except my genius daughter decided to eat hers with ketchup.  “Do you have to eat them with ketchup?”  “Yes.  It’s good for me.”  Okay then.  I tried half a dumpling with the daughter’s choice condiment and it wasn’t bad!!  She may be on to something.  As a child, I too was a ketchup fiend.  So much so, I used to say that when I grow up, I would marry a guy who owned a ketchup factory.  Sometimes the best laid plans go awry.  I have graduated to Sriracha – maybe one day Ria will too.

Easy-peasy Dumplings

Make these super easy dumplings with your little ones or for a kitchen play date instead of the usual cookies or cupcakes.  Have the kids help with beating the egg, brushing the egg wash to help seal the dumplings and even folding the dumplings into little triangles.

Makes 15-18 – you decide how many that serves


For dumplings:

½ lb ground pork, chicken or turkey

2 scallions finely sliced

1½ tsp soy sauce

¼ tsp white pepper

½ tsp sesame oil (optional)

1 egg beaten

store bought square wonton wrappers (usually available next to tofu in most grocery stores)

For dipping sauce:

2 tsp soy sauce

¼ tsp sugar

½ tsp rice wine vinegar (optional)


  1. Mix the minced meat with the scallions, soy sauce, white pepper, sesame oil and half of the beaten egg.  Reserve the rest of the egg for sealing the dumplings
  2. Combine the ingredients for the dipping sauce
  3. Arrange several wonton wrappers with corners facing you and place ½ a tablespoon worth of meat mixture in the center of each wrapper.  Use a pastry brush or your fingers to brush the edges with the beaten egg.  Fold the wrapper in half and form little triangular parcels.  Repeat till meat mixture is used up.
  4. Steam for 5-6 minutes (do not forget to grease the steamer basket with cooking oil if using a metal steamer).  Alternatively, you can cook the dumplings in boiling water which is easier and takes about 3 minutes.
  5. For pot stickers, if you want more calories and crunch, pan fry the cooked dumplings in a little oil, 2-3 minutes on each side. Serve warm with dipping sauce and watch them disappear