Monthly Archives: January 2011

dags för dunderglögg! (…more or less)

Many weeks ago, I promised you a recipe for Gothenburg, Sweden’s favorite glögg. Please don’t blame my friend for the lag; she sent the recipe to me long ago and then Christmas happened and then I must have fallen asleep for four weeks. Anyhow, technically it’s not Christmas anymore, but it’s still winter in most parts of the United States (or so I’ve heard tell), so I’ll go ahead and post the recipe. That way it’ll be handy next fall when it’s time to start the arduous process of dumping all the ingredients in a bucket and then twiddling your thumbs for six weeks.

My parents' backyard in Ohio last winter

The recipe comes to us from Karin who lives in Sweden (and is, conveniently, Swedish) via her local paper, the Gothenburg Post, which publishes it every October so everyone can have a batch of dunderglögg ready by the first Sunday of Advent which is apparently when all of Sweden hauls out the Christmas lights. It’s one of those recipes that I haven’t made but plan to try next year for the holidays, assuming I can get my hands on one of the main ingredients, svagdricka, in Tucson.

Svagdricka is a very low-alcohol, mildly sweet malt beverage popular around the holidays in Sweden. I’ve seen it called a beer, a near beer, a “primitive beer”, a soft drink, and a beer/soft drink. What many internexperts (“internet experts” aka “people who write sh** on the internet. Like me. I’m an internexpert”) agree on is that it’s something of an acquired taste. I’m not hopeful about finding it around here, but I’ll think harder about it in a few months when I become start to become desperate. According to the glögg man at the Gothenburg Post, there’s simply no replacement for svagdricka. I’ve found, however, suggestions for substitutions in cooking that may or may not work well while making the glögg below. You could try a low-alcohol, malty, not-too-hoppy beer or look for Malta, which is a sweet, non-alcoholic, carbonated malt beverage that originated in Germany and is popular today in the Caribbean, areas of Africa, and parts of Europe. Malta may be as hard to find as svagdricka, but you might try your local Latin market.

Once you get past the whole “finding svagdricka” problem and the conversion of the ingredients (which I have done for you – score!), the rest of the recipe looks like a snap. You just need a bucket and some patience.

(Translated from the Gothenburg Post)
Makes: several bottles

Note that you must begin this recipe at least three to six weeks in advance of when you want to drink it. Don’t feel you have to follow the measurements exactly – add what you think will taste best to you. “ …it’s fun to make, it smells nice, and I’ve never heard of it turning out badly, no matter what you put in there it always turns out good,” says our informant, Karin. “As a matter of fact I think I’m going to go heat up a cup of that stuff right now and see if it helps warm my feet up. It’s been snowing a lot lately and my apartment is kind of cold…”

5 liter svagdricka (1.5 gallons)
5 raw potatoes, sliced
50 gr baking yeast (about 2 ¾ Tablespoons)
1 bag of cloves (about 11 grams) (about 2 Tablespoons)
1 bag of cardamom seeds (20 grams) (scant 3 Tablespoons)
about 5 cm fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick
2 boxes of raisins (about 500 grams) (3 1/3 cups)
2.5 kilograms sugar (10 to 10.5 cups)

Mix everything in a 10 liter (probably about a 3-gallon) bucket. Cover with plastic wrap, make tiny holes in the plastic, and let sit in room temperature for at least three weeks, preferably six. Pour onto clean bottles using a siphon. Be careful not to get any of the sediment in the bottom of the bucket into the bottles.


good neighbors & strong, strong coffee

The other day (way back in 2010), we stopped by our neighbors’ house to invite them to a little Christmas Eve gathering, and they invited us in for coffee. But not just any coffee. Rafael is from Mexico, and Milagros is from Cuba. She is a wonderfully exuberant person who hates to wait in lines and who loves to talk and who wants her coffee to yell back at her and maybe even cuss her out, just a little. So what they offered us was coffee Cuban-style – also know as Cafe Cubano – with plenty of sugar and enough caffeine to keep an unsuspecting American girl like me on a buzzy kind of sugar-high for upwards of hours.

Milagros has some definite opinions about the whole thing and might chastise me for calling it coffee actually, because Cafe Cubano has little in common with the stuff we brew every morning as an incentive to get out of bed (even though we brew it strong – by American standards). Our initial conversation on the subject began as she stood with her back to us at the kitchen counter doing something magical with a bag of Cafe La Llave, some sugar, and an espresso machine. It went something like this:

Milagros (waving her arms around): Americans don’t know anything about real coffee!

Raphael: Really?

Milagros (more arm-waving): NO! They don’t know how to make coffee and they don’t know how to drink coffee! Their coffee is weak! Weak! Like babies!

Jenny: I like strong coffee.

Milagros: HA! You don’t know what strong coffee is, American-woman-neighbor! In Cuba, we like our coffee strong! And we drink it all day! Lots of times a day! Twenty-eight times a day! And it doesn’t keep us up at night like Americans say it does! We drink it in our sleep! We drink it while we are dead!

Something like that. There were a lot of words and the conversation occurred partially in a frantically rapid Spanish which I don’t understand, and so that’s really just my own general impression of what was actually said. The most important thing that happened that afternoon was that, after a small flurry of activity and rapid-fire Spanish and arm-waving over there at the kitchen counter, Milagros appeared with a pretty demitasse cup on a tiny saucer for each of us. The good cups, brought out for Christmas with little handles you squeeze delicately between thumb and forefinger. And each cup was filled with a creamy brown liquid that tasted not only like strong coffee, but also like sugar and bitter chocolate.

And she went a step further. As we sipped this sweet, almost chocolatey coffee, she stepped into the back room and returned with a stovetop espresso maker. I keep one around in case my espresso maker doesn’t work, she told us. That’s how important espresso is to her – she keeps a back-up espresso maker just in case. I was impressed. And then she gave it to us. Take it, she said. Make good Cuban coffee wth it.

The following day, when they arrived for Christmas Eve cookies and drinks, Milagros handed us a small gift wrapped up and tied with a shiny ribbon. It turned out to be a set of two espresso cups. You can’t drink Cuban espresso from big mugs, she told us. That’s not how we do it in Cuba.

It’s pretty easy to make good espresso, turns out. You can get a stovetop espresso maker like ours for around $15. Choose a dark-roasted coffee and grind it very fine. Milagros uses a coffee called Cafe La Llave which is pretty popular with Cubans in America, but we use whatever we have lying around.

A stovetop espresso maker like ours is comprised of three parts: a lower reservoir to hold the water, an upper reservoir that collects the brewed espresso, and a basket that sits inside the lower reservoir and holds the ground coffee. Unscrew the upper and lower portions of the espresso pot and remove the basket. Pack your finely ground coffee into the basket, filling it almost to the top. We use a spoon to pack it well. We’re not fancy around here.

Fill the lower reservoir with cold water. There’s a small screw near the top of the reservoir on ours and on many of the ones I’ve seen; fill it just to the bottom of the screw. Place the packed basket into the lower reservoir and screw the top reservoir on. Place the pot on the stove and turn the heat to high.

While the water heats, put about 1 teaspoon of sugar in a demitasse cup. As the water begins to boil, it will push up through the coffee and spill over into the top reservoir of the pot. Once you’ve got a little coffee spilled into the top of the pot, pour just enough into the cup to moisten the sugar. Return the pot to the stove where the water will continue to boil. Stir the hot coffee and sugar to make a paste.

When most of the water has moved up through the coffee and into the upper portion of the pot, fill your cup, stirring as you pour to mix the sugar paste into the espresso. People who are good at this apparently achieve a frothy, cream-colored cap on their drink. I’m not that good at it yet, but I so come up with something similar to Milagros’ Cafe Cubano – a sweet, strong, chocolatey cup of espresso.