I can’t believe it is already February… which also means Valentine’s Day / Alla Hjärtans Dag is right around the corner! To be completely honest, my husband and I aren’t big on celebrating Valentine’s Day. We started dating about 12 years ago around this time of year, so we usually just lump our anniversary and Valentine’s Day into one special date that can happen anytime in the month of February. Definitely takes the pressure off of booking a table in some fancy restaurant well in advance!
One of our favorite things to do together is cook… this has basically been true ever since we started dating (some day I’ll show you the cookbook we made together during our first year together). So it shouldn’t be a surprise that we normally celebrate our fancy-February-date with cooking something special together. This has definitely included cooking steak back in the US, but the rareness of eating steak in Sweden has brought it to a whole ‘nother level of elegance for us. When we bought the steak for this recipe, we were both cringing a bit at the price-tag, but also chuckling when we had to ask the man at the meat counter to give us the un-cut hunk of meat so that we could cut our own steaks at home. The reason? All the steaks here are cut incredibly thin, at least compared to American standards… and gosh darnit, if we were going to splurge on steak, we were going to have it done right! I think the man at the meat counter even chuckled when he asked and we told him we were from the US… he knew what we were thinking :).
Before I get too far into the recipe, I wanted to also make this post a bit about some of the fun and wonderful things to do around Stockholm that are free or cheap. This could be for those of you out there trying to plan a special date (maybe for Feb. 14?) or someone who just wants to enjoy this city without breaking the bank! I have to throw in a disclaimer that these are just the things that I have enjoyed (and Chris too), and I am sure there are tons of other free/cheap activities out there. But for now…here are some of our favorites, in no particular order:
- Free Museums: We are so lucky in Stockholm that the government has recognized the value of subsidizing public museums! There are tons of free museums throughout the city (full list here), but my favorite is the Historiska Museet (History Museum). If you love history (like I do) then this is the perfect museum for you! It is actually fairly large and full of Swedish historical artifacts from a range of time periods… from the Vikings all the way to present day.
- Djurgården: This is the name of an island, but also a gigantic park right in the city which spans around 11 square miles / 27 square km. My favorite part about walking through this park is that you can feel as if you are in the middle of the countryside without having to leave the comforts of the city. There are bike paths, walking paths, and you’ll even see horses from time to time. You can walk along the canal, hike through the forest, stop and admire the royal sheep (yes, you read that right), or even take a break in some of the small cafes along the way. There are also some really cool historical houses scattered throughout the park.
- Kaknästornet: This is a tall tower that sits within the park mentioned above. It is a bit over 500 feet / 155 meters tall and you can ride an elevator to the top to get a beautiful view of the city. It costs about 50 sek ($5) to ride up to the top, so it is not free, but the view is worth the small price. If you want to spend a bit more, they also have a bar and restaurant at the top where you can enjoy some refreshments with a view.
- Ice Skating: This is one of those “it’s sort of free” activities, because many of the ice-skating rinks around the city are free…if you bring your own skates. However, many of the skating rinks have rentals for a reasonable price, so you can still make this an affordable activity. Or why not buy a pair of skates at a second-hand shop and pick up a new hobby? The best and most romantic rink is probably the one in Kungsträdgården, but I have also seen little rinks in places like Medborgarplatsen (although they did not have skate rentals).
- Cheap (and Delicious) Restaurants: Although it is typically VERY expensive to eat out in Sweden (we almost never go out to eat anymore), we have found a few affordable places to grab a good meal. A favorite for us since we moved here is the Turkish restaurant Amida Kolgrill. At this place you get to choose your main dish (I usually go for falafel and my husband gets the lamb) which comes with a GIANT plate of other sides… flavored green beans, couscous, pickled cabbage, salad, delicious sauces… one plate can easily turn into two meals! Another new discovery (and possibly our new favorite restaurant) is Mama Wolf, a Japanese Restaurant that serves Okonomiyaki (think crab cake but with cabbage instead of crab). You pick the type of Okonomiyaki from their daily specials and they have a range of sides to choose from including fried chicken and edamame… and it is definitely enough to fill you up! Plus the atmosphere is really fun (sort of punk Japanese theme) and they have Japanese treats and drinks, like sake, available too.
Of course, another cheap date/activity is to cook dinner together! My husband introduced me to this recipe for coffee crust a few years ago, and it has been my absolute favorite way to eat steak ever since. The coffee and the brown sugar adds a delicious, caramelized taste, which combined with the black pepper also gives the steak a bold, crunchy crust. But do not be fooled by the dark color on the outside! The inside is still pink and juicy as ever…
We wanted to add some vegetables to this meat-heavy meal, so we halved some tomatoes and seared them in the pan with the meat juices. Super simple, and super yummy! We used The Flavor Bible, a gift my husband got years ago, to help us think of flavors for the salad that would go well with the coffee and steak. Turns out they go really well with vanilla and apricots, so we created this unique salad to go on the side. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out (experiments are like that sometimes) but we were both blown away…we even made the same salad again later in the week!
So I can highly recommend all three recipes in this post as a perfect opportunity to make a special meal… for a loved one, a friend, or even just for yourself. Happy February!
Coffee Crusted Steak, with Vanilla-Apricot Salad and Seared Tomatoes
- 2 one-pound sirloin steaks / 450g ryggbiff
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil / matolja
- ¼ cup ground coffee / 0.5dl kaffe
- ¼ cup coarse ground pepper / 0.5dl grovmalen svartpeppar
- ⅛ cup salt flakes / 0.25dl flingsalt
- ⅛ cup brown sugar / 0.25dl mörk muscovadorörsocker Vanilla-Apricot Salad:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil / olivolja
- ½ teaspoon vanilla / vanilj
- 1½ teaspoons honey / honung
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar / äppelcidervinäger
- salt / salt
- spring greens / sallad
- dried apricots / torkade aprikoser
- shaved parmesan / parmesanost
- shaved almonds / mandelspån Seared Tomatoes:
- 2 tomatoes / tomater
- Pre-heat oven to 425° F / 220° C.
- Pour rub ingredients (coffee, pepper, salt, brown sugar) together in a clean jar and shake well, until mixed. 3. Rub both sides of each steak with the rub, avoiding the fatty side of the steak.
- Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat and wait a few minutes for the pan to get hot.
- Start by searing the fatty edge of the steaks first, holding them up right with tongs for a few minutes until some of the fat has rendered and the edge is crispy.
- Then sear each flat side of the steaks for 1-2 minutes per side.
- Place the steaks, still in the cast-iron pan, in the pre-heated oven for around 5 minutes for a medium cooked steak (depending on the thickness of the steak). Vanilla-Apricot Salad:
- While the steak is baking, whisk together the salad dressing ingredients (oil, vanilla, honey, vinegar, and salt to taste).
- Top spring greens with shaved almonds, shaved parmesan, and sliced apricots and then toss with dressing. Tomatoes:
- After steaks have finished baking, place them on a plate to rest.
- While steaks are resting, place halved tomatoes flat-side down in the hot pan (with meat drippings and seasoning).
- Let tomatoes cook about 4-5 minutes, until they have a little blacked sear on the bottoms.
- Serve with steak and salad, and enjoy!