Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Hidden Almond

A few days ago I presented my readers (yes, that's you! pad yourself on the back if you will!) with a recipe for the Danish Christmas dessert, "Ris a la Mande" (pronounced "Rees a la mang") and I hope some of you tried it out and found it as delicious as I do.

However, there was something I completely forgot to mention. This dessert can of course be used any time of the year, although it doesn't happen often here in Denmark. And the reason would probably be that there is a certain tradition connected to it:

The Hidden Almond

The tradition of the Hidden Almond is a simple game and it has a great way of bringing people closer together during the Christmas Dinner or during any other gathering in the time of Christmas. 

Note: In Denmark we have a tradition for Christmas Lunch, were colleagues, the widened family or a circle of friends or neighbours get together and share a meal during those dark days around Christmas (if you've been to Scandinavia during December you know how dark it can be with the sun rising round 7.40 in the morning and setting round 5.40 in the evening)

The Hidden Almond goes like this:

Making the Ris a la Mande the cook saves a single almond after they've all been unskinned. This almond is not to be chopped like the others, but is instead put into the dessert whole. Be sure to stir enough so that even the cook doesn't know where the whole almond is.

The rest is very simple: everyone digs in and the one who gets the whole almond wins the Almond Prize, which can really be anything you can think of. When I was a kid, the Almond Prize was usually chokolate or something else for the sweet tooth, but in our family we usually get some kind of game and wrap it in neatly like you would a Christmas Present. We've had "Partners," a game of working together, "Donkey," which is an old game anyone can play from the 5-year-old to great grand-pa. In other families I've heard they have the Almond Prize be decoration for the Christmas tree or something creative to pass time together.

Really there are no rules. The prize can be anything you like. Still, I find that the game is most fun if the prize is something we can all share during Christmas.

As a little side remark I'd like to share with you this great idea for an Almond Prize that will be a great idea if you don't have small children in the house: A goat! - not for the winner, but for an African family, who really need it. I'll make a post on that in the new year, because it doesn't have to be something you do during Christmas...

Borrowed from (I'll try to find an international equivalent to this organization for a post on helping those in need)

Oh, yes, I almost forgot: 

One of the fun things about this tradition is if the winner can wait to reveal that he or she has won. Hiding the almond in your mouth while keeping on eating your Ris a la Mande can make the game quite fun, because everyone is waiting for the winner to reveal himself.

A little additional funny thing: not everyone likes Ris a la Mande, but I've never heard about anyone completely refusing to eat it - those, who don't like this dessert, usually have one plate full to participate in the game. My wife is one of those people and in her family only a few actually like the dessert. So... the first few Christmases I had with her family, they all stared as I went in for seconds - after the winner had been found - and then someone would say (usually my wife) "You do know the Almond has already been found, right?"

But the truth is: I simply love this dessert!

If you tried out this dessert, please leave a comment below and tell me about it - even if you hated it, I'd like to know...

If you already tried the game of The Hidden Almond, I'd be happy if you could leave a comment and tell me about it as well... ;-)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Recipe: Ris a la Mande

It's Christmas Morning where I live and I suppose I really shouldn't be blogging today. However, since the kids are entertaining themselves playing with their Christmas Presents, I thought I'd find a few moments to hand you all the recipe for a dessert, that has been a Danish Christmas tradition for I don't know how long: "Ris a la Mande" (prenounced "Rees a la mang")

The name suggests a French Connection, but that's completely off the main road. As it is often the case with Danish, we tend to use foreign terms for things that are meant to be of high quality. Typical Danish inferiority complex...

Anyway, this dessert is quite easy to make and in our house it's my job to make it. One of the advantages is that it's a two-step dessert that gives you an evening meal and from some of it you make the dessert. Ready? Here we go:

What you need:
500g Pudding Rice (Rice isn't just rice and if you use any other kind, you won't get anything that even resembles a dessert - or the evening meal, for that matter)
3,5 liters of high fat milk (app. 3,5% fat)
1/4 liter of cream (app. 38% fat - you need whipping cream at the least)
150g of almonds (hence "a la mande," which basically means "with almonds" - check your french vocabulary)
7,5 dl of water (a dl is 1/10 of a liter)
1/4 liter Cherry Sauce

What is nice to have, when making this dessert:
A towel
A bed (yes, that´s right: a bed. Just your ordinary bed, that you usually sleep in)
A sleeping blanket (the thicker, the better - multiple blankets is just as good)

What you do:
1: Put the water in a large cooking pot (I use a 5 liter pot, but it really can't be too big, unless you go into industrial mode)

2: When the water is boiling, put in the rice little by little while stirring (the stirring is very important, because if you don't stir, it'll burn at the bottom of the pot)

3: Let the rice boil for about 2 minutes while stirring (still very important - don't you ever let go of that cooking spoon)

4: Pour in the milk little by little, so that the pot will keep almost boiling (if it stops boiling, it really isn't a problem, it just means it'll take a little longer, before the temperature rises to the boiling point again and cooking this meal takes a bit longer)

Note: You need to be very careful with boiling milk, because it will very quickly boil over the top of the pot, if you're not careful - if this happens, there is only one way to stop the catastrophy: take the pot off of the stove to let the temperature fall.

5: When all the milk is in the pot and it is boiling, you have two options:

5a: Finish cooking on the stove
You can either leave it on the stove simmering with a lid on for about 30-45 minutes while constantly making sure that it won't boil over the top or stop simmering (not the option I would recommend, unless you're in such a hurry, that there is no other way to get it done)

5b: Finish cooking in bed
The better option might seem a bit strange, but I assure you that not only does it give the best end result. It also has these rather nice benefits:

1. It saves you a lot of grief
2. It saves you a lot of time
3. It saves you a lot of energy and thus it saves you money

Option 5b is this:
a. Put a lid on the pot

b. Wrap a towel around it (this is mostly to make cleaning an easier task - you will find out why)

c. Put the towel wrapped pot in your bed (yes, that's right: put it to bed)

d. Tug it in like you would a child and make sure the blanket(s) are covering the pot and towel completely

e. Leave the pot in bed for about 4-5 hours, but stir every hour or so

Note: What happens when you tug in the pot, is that the heat is kept in by the blanket(s) but the temperature never rises - this means that the meal will slowly cook and you don't have to worry about burning it. Stirring every hour ensures that every little grain of rice is cooked properly.

f. The Rice Pudding is done when it has the consistence of an old fashioned oat meal.

Note: If you just want to serve the Rice Pudding, all you have to do now is add a bit of salt (careful, it really doesn't need all that much and you can easily destroy it if you add too much - and if you do, it's impossible to save it!)

If you want the dessert for the next day, put aside some of the Rice Pudding and put it in the fridge and then follow these instructions the following day:

1. Put the kettle on
2. Put the almonds in a container that can take boiling temperature
3. Pour the boiling water in with the almonds
4. With a spoon, take a few almonds and put them on a plate
5. Take the almonds one by one and press with your thumb, index finger and middle finger with one hand. This will pop the almond out of it's skin (be sure to catch them with your other hand)
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 till all the almonds are skinned
7. With a large and sharp knife, chop the almonds to small pieces about 3-6 mm
8. Whip the cream
9. Put the almonds into the Rice Pudding and stir
10. Put in the whipped cream little by little and carefully stir (if you're not careful enough, you'll kind of "unwhip" the cream, which is not what you want)
11. Finally, you heat up the cherry sauce and serve

That's it!

This is what it could look like:

If you try this out I would be thrilled to hear about your experience with it... So, please feel free to leave a comment...

Note: There is a great game connected to this dessert - read about it here

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Schoolyard Shootdown

"Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

We've heard this argument being used from NRA and others whenever there is been a debate on the use of firearms in the USA. Being from Europe I know I might be under then influence of a culture different from the American, but there is one thing I don't get:

Why would increasing the use of firearms ever solve the problem of kids being gunned down?

Do the NRA really think the solution is to give the kids a firearm of their own?

If every single kid in that school in Newtown had a rifle in their schoolbag, I seriously doubt the shooter would've been stopped by a 6-year-old girl pumping him full of lead with a Kalashnikov.

Of course, the above statement is correct: people do kill people and guns aren't guilty of anything, because they must be held by a human to be of any use. But the same thing can be said about cars, bombs and even weapons of mass destruction.

Will the NRA any time soon promote the idea that every nation in the world should have weapons of mass destruction? Why not go all the way and pass a bill to let the government equip every school kid with a nuclear arsenal? I mean: if the basic idea of having firearms widely spread among the population is to demotivate villains from using firearms, surely the knowledge that every school kid can press a button to obliviate those villains with a nuclear device would make any gang member think twice about going on a drive by shooting? Not?

Probably not...

The simple fact is that if that crazy guy had a knife instead of a semi-automatic, the death toll would've been much lower. Lives could've been saved. Lifes of children could've been spared. Is the right to have firearms really so important that it's worth the lives of defenseless children?

I don't think so... Do you?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Remote that will not disappear!

If you have kids, you may just recognize how the remote control for the TV can be a source of eternal conflict and suffering?

The everlasting fighting over TV-power can really rip a family apart and change an otherwise relaxed weekend to outright war between family members - especially if the kids get into the fight as well (joke...)

In this struggle for power my kids have a tendency to hide the remote in a place where other members of the family won't find it. Quite often they succeed so well that even the one hiding the thing can't remember where they put it.

This power struggle will probably always be there and I seriously doubt we can do away with it. But I actually think my wife found a solution to that other problem of the remote disappearing.

She bought us a JUMBO remote - and when I call it a JUMBO remote, I'm not just talking about the name of it. I'm giving you a very precise description of the thing.

I'm telling you: that remote is HUGE!

With a size of nearly 4" by 8" I can't even cover it using both of my hands!

This remote is NOT going to be lost any time soon!

The struggle for power will still remain. It's not an easy problem to solve, but at least now we can turn up the volume on the TV when the kids start arguing... Well... not really...

All of this made me think: maybe this would be an idea in the world of international politics? Not mass producing JUMBO remotes of course, but when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, one of the major problems has always been the ability to hide the fact that you have them.

If the JUMBO concept was introduced for weapons of mass destruction, maybe things would be a bit easier? I mean, even Iran wouldn't be able to hide away a nuclear bomb, if it was the size of Texas, would they?

So, if Obama, Cameron (the prime minister of the UK, if you are in doubt) or any of the other big players in international politics are reading this blog (and of course I do expect at least one of them does!) Please feel free to grab the idea and make it your own.

I won't patent the idea. I wont even take my fair share of royalties for it. Hey, you can even take the credit for all I care...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Danish Christmas Cookies

In Denmark we have some proud Christmas traditions. One of them is baking cookies and today I want to give you one of the most simple recipes you will ever know. So, without further ado, I give you:

Finnish Bread

What you need:
250g Margarine (or butter, if you prefer)
100g Sugar
375g Flower

What you do:

1. Make sure your butter or margarine has room temperature
2. Mix all the ingredients using your hands. This is important, because the warmth of your hands is necessary to get the margarine/butter to melt just enough to make the dow stick together. Keep kneading till you get a smooth surface
3. Put the dow in the fridge for a half hour
4. Turn on the oven at 200 degrees Celsius
5. Use a rolling pin to get a flat dow
6. Cut the dow in squares
7. With your fingers squeeze the squares on the side making small sticks like on the picture above
8. Bake the Finnish Bread for 3-7 minutes depending on their height
9. When they're done, let them cool of a bit before serving

When you take them out of the oven, they should be a bit soft, almost as if they haven't been completely baked. When they cool of they will be just right.

If you want to add something extra, spreading a bit of pearled sugar on the top is a fine touch (for it to stick, you can put a bit of raw egg on the top and springle the sugar before baking them)

That's it! Enjoy!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Prob.Math. = Mental Torture!

I'm a word person. And even though I do like math, there has always been one branch of math that has the potential to push me into a corner: probabilities! I think the reason is that I want to be able to explain everything using words and with probability this usually presents somewhat of a problem.

I haven't thought about it for a while, but a few days ago the issue sort of slapped me in the face again. I was watching "21" on our national TV-station and in this movie a math problem is presented like this:

You participate in a game show where you must choose one of three doors. Behind one of these doors is a major prize and behind the other two there is nothing.

You choose one of the doors and now the game host presents you with an opportunity to change your mind. He opens a door behind which there is nothing and he asks you if you want to hold on to the door you already chose or you want to switch to the other remaining door.

What is the best choice? Well, the best choice is to change your mind, because the probabilities have changed. I never got my head around this. It doesn't make any sense, does it?

Actually, I was thinking about writing a post on how this math problem has a flaw in it.

Never the less, after thinking about it for a few days, it suddenly occurred to me why this statement is not a flaw. But the only reason, I suddenly understood it was the fact that I can now explain it in words. So, if you would like to understand it as well, hold on and read on:

The math problem presented here states that the first choice holds a 33.33% chance of winning the prize because there are three doors and only one of them has the prize behind it. Like this:

Probability(door1) = 1/3
Probability(door2) = 1/3
Probability(door3) = 1/3

But everything happening after your choice is completely different. This is where all probabilities changes and this is where it gets a bit nerd like, so try to hold on.

The host knows which door has the prize behind it.
The game host will not open the door you selected.
Neither will he open the door that has the prize behind it.

This means that if you chose the right door, you also have chosen to grant the host a free choice between the remaining doors AND that if you change your mind you will loose. In other words: there is a 1/3 probability that you have chosen the wright door AND that changing your mind will make you loose.

However, if you chose one of the wrong doors, you have also chosen to take away the free will of the game host. If you chose the wrong door, the game host can only open one of the other two doors: the one without the prize!

So, the probability that you've made the wrong choice is 2/3 and if this is true the game host could not have chosen any other door to open than the one he opened. In other words: there is a 2/3 probability that you have made the wrong choice in which case the prize MUST be behind the door that neither you or the game host chose. By changing your mind you have grabbed that 2/3 probability of getting the prize.

Still confused? Try flipping the scenario bottom up: instead of thinking about the first round as choosing a door, you should think of it as disregarding a door. If you disregarded one of the wright doors (that is: disregarding one of the doors with no prize behind) you have actually disregarded BOTH of the doors with no prize, because your disregarding of one of the doors forces the game host to disregard the other wrong doors. Having a 2/3 probability of disregarding ONE of these wrong doors, you have actually a 2/3 probability of disregarding BOTH of the two wrong doors. The choice is simple after that: there's a 2/3 probability that you have disregarded BOTH of the wrong doors in collaboration with the game host and a 1/3 probability that you have disregarded the wrong door, in which case it doesn't matter which of the other doors the host has disregarded.

Still confused? Then I'm sorry for not being able to explain this...

Probability Math will never be my strong side, but if the above helped you to understand this math problem, I'd love to hear about it... Maybe you could explain it to me and the other readers of this blog in a better way and we would all have a laugh?