Darra Goldstein’s Mussels in Aquavit in The Norwegian American

Mussels in Aquavit

Mussels always take me back to that summer in Oslo, the first time I visited the country where my dad was born. Norway had been a place with almost a mythical quality, someplace alive and real in my mind but also distant and seeming quite idyllic. Arriving by air that summer, a quarter of my life having heard about Norway but never traveling there, I felt a deep sense of home, one that has morphed over the years into a place of longing. There, on the waterfront at Aker Brygge, my husband and I ate steamed mussels with fries, commonly known as moules-frites, while the midday sun forced us to squint and the marine air wound its way through our hair. Something that I had previously associated with an August spent in Normandy years before, due to those signs advertising it outside of beachside cafes, had now become a thing of Norway to me. So now, these little shellfish prompt memories of that special time.

This summer I made a recipe for mussels steamed in aquavit with horseradish from the lovely cookbook Fire and Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking by Darra Goldstein. Released last fall by Ten Speed Press, the book has quickly become one of my favorites in my collection, one that’s as gorgeous to look through as satisfying to cook from (all the recipes I’ve tried are delicious). I interviewed Goldstein for The Norwegian American recently, and she agreed to share her recipe for these mussels with readers. I hope you’ll click on over to the paper’s website to check out the recipe along with my latest story.

The Nordic Cookbook’s Finnish Spinach Pancakes (Pinaattiohukaiset)

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I’ve been sitting with the book for quite some time now. Perhaps you’ve seen it around, maybe even have a copy of your own. The Nordic Cookbook, by Magnus Nilsson, came out last fall, and ever since it’s become my primary resource in my Scandinavian and Nordic cookbook library. I had a chance to meet Magnus Nilsson—two star chef of Sweden’s celebrated restaurant Fäviken—at the Nordic Culinary Conference in Seattle this past spring. There, I found out just why this five-pound, 768-page hardcover is such a gem.

Personally, I have appreciated the context in which Nilsson puts many of the recipes, with headnotes that are meatier and more relevant than ones in many other cookbooks. But the extent of research that went into the book is what lends it something of incredible significance. Nilsson spent several years traveling throughout the Nordic countries, documenting stories, and collecting recipes. While he initially turned down the book when the publisher proposed it, wanting rather to write a Swedish cookbook, he realized eventually that there was a need: Most people don’t really know much about Nordic food culture, let alone what defines the Nordic region or the differences between “Nordic” and “Scandinavian.”

While there’s a lot of talk about Nordic food, it’s not really a homogenous region or one with dishes that exist throughout,Nilsson shared in a lecture that weekend in May. Rather, it’s a vast area, and what people eat in one part of the region differs from what people eat in the another. He didn’t want the book to be an idealized version of Nordic food, with Dala horses and gingerbread cookies, he said. Instead he wanted to reflect what people really eat—both today and traditionally.

Nestled among the approximately 700 recipes from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland are stunning photos of the region’s landscape, producers, and citizens—photos that Nilsson, who’s enjoyed photography since he was a child—took during his travels. This is one of those books that reflects history, culture, and a sense of place. As a food writer, for me The Nordic Cookbook is one of a handful that I reach for time and time again. For the recipes, of course, but also for the history and context Nilsson provides.

LingonberriesAndPancakesDiptych

Nilsson is open about the fact that it would have been impossible to put the book’s 700 or so recipes through extensive testing. So while I keep The Nordic Cookbook within easy reach, I use it mostly as a guide in the kitchen, adding my own touches as I go or merely using it as a starting place. The Swedish tiger cake, for example, was good but not spectacular–the next time I made one, I created my own recipe and bumped up the chocolate flavor considerably. That said, the recipes are traditional and are largely collected from people throughout the Nordic countries who shared them with him. I’d like to think that if I were sending a recipe to a world-class chef, it would one I’d be proud of. The Finnish spinach pancakes I’m sharing with you today are an example of that. While I altered the instructions to make them more clear, the recipe itself was sound and lent itself a sweet and savory treat. While Nilsson suggests serving these with sugared lingonberries, if you don’t have access to fresh or frozen berries, lingonberry preserves will work as well.

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Finnish Spinach Pancakes with Lingonberries (Pinaattiohukaiset)
Adapted from The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson

5 ½ ounces spinach
2 eggs
15 fluid ounces whole milk
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
Salt
White pepper
Freshly-grated nutmeg
Butter, for frying
Lingonberry preserves or sugared lingonberries, for serving

Chop the spinach as finely as you can, set aside.

In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the spinach, milk, flour, salt, white pepper, and nutmeg and stir to combine.

In a small cast-iron, melt a pat of butter over medium heat. Ladle in the batter to create thin pancakes roughly 4 inches in diameter, and fry until the underside has turned a light brown. Flip and finish cooking on the other side, then transfer to a plate to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Serve with lingonberry preserves or sugared lingonberries.

Serves 4

Swedish Sailor’s Stew (Sjömansbiff)

Sjomansbiff

If I could live in the pages of a Scandinavian cookbook, I might. Photographs of snow-kissed mountains and reflective fjords as dark as their chilly depths draw me in, and the food beckons as invitingly as the dinner bell my grandmother would ring when it was time to come to the table.

Some people daydream of sundrenched beaches while others find beauty in the mørketid. I’ve yet to experience a time and place in which the sun never or barely rises above the horizon, but it’s in my family’s blood. Scandinavians celebrate the darkness and embrace the cold. These inevitable parts of the season are merely what support the cozy atmosphere and active lifestyle they crave. (Think cozy, candlelit evenings and brisk jaunts on skis.)

The recipe I’m sharing with you today would warm one up even on the coldest of days. Called sjömansbiff, or seaman’s/sailor’s beef stew, it’s the sort of fare that I can imagine sustaining and nourishing countless Nordic sailors through grueling days battered by frozen winds.

Sjomansbiff

Sjomansbiff

The dish is the sort that fills you up and leaves you extremely satisfied. I haven’t seen as much of this dish as I’d expect (I first learned about a version of it in Trine Hahnemann’s The Scandinavian Cookbook from 2008 but have mostly seen it in the older, more traditional cookbooks I’ve collected; The Art of Scandinavian Cooking by Nika Standen Hazelton, from 1965, calls it a popular Scandinavian dish that is great for informal buffet entertaining). Sjömansbiff is a hearty Swedish stew made with beef, onions, and potatoes that have nearly melted into themselves. Served with some punchy condiments like pickled beets and whole-grain mustard, it’s a great mix of flavors and colors, and perfect for winter.

This is the sort of meal that complements the stunning landscapes and dramatic skies that illustrate some of the most authentic Nordic cookbooks. I think it’s time for it to have a comeback.

Sjomansbiff

Sjömansbiff
Some of the older or perhaps most traditional of the recipes I’ve encountered call for thin slices of beef, maybe pounded flat. I’ve taken cues from more modern recipes and used cubes of meat instead. Even with the traditional layered assembly, this approach is a bit more approachable while preserving the integrity of this very classic Scandinavian dish. This recipe comes from no single source, but rather embraces elements from The Art of Scandinavian Cooking by Nika Hazelton (republished in the 1980s as Classic Scandinavian Cooking); The Scandinavian Cookbook by Anna Mosesson, Janet Laurence, and Judith Dern; The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trine Hahnemann; and this recipe from The Boston Globe.

3 pounds chuck or round beef roast
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup flour
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
3 large thinly sliced onions
6 bay leaves
12 ounces ale (a Belgian-style beer is good here)
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced
3 sprigs thyme
Pickled beets, for serving (I have a recipe, if you need one)
Whole-grain mustard, for serving

Cut beef into 1- or 1 1/2-inch pieces. Toss with salt, pepper, and flour. Heat olive oil and butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the beef, working in batches in order to not overcrowd them, and brown until they’re deeply golden, a few minutes on each side. Remove and set aside.

Using the same pan, lower heat to medium and cook the onions with the bay leaves until golden and soft, about 20 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping up the brown bits as you go. Reglaze with the beer and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter a 2 1/2-quart casserole with lid (cast-iron works great here). Layer a third of the potatoes on the bottom, followed by half of the meat and half of the onions (separated from the beer with a slotted spoon), another third of the potatoes, the remaining meat, onions, and finally the rest of the potatoes. Nestle 3 sprigs thyme throughout.

Pour the reserved beer over the layers. Cover and place in the oven until the meat and vegetables are cooked and tender, 3 to 3 1/2 hours, giving it a gentle stir from time to time. (They should almost melt into themselves when you take a bite.)

Serve with pickled beets and whole-grain mustard, removing the thyme sprigs. Scandinavian cucumber salad and knäckebröd/knekkebrød would be very typical and pleasing accompaniments.

Serves 6-8.

Nordic Roasted Cauliflower Soup (Blomkålsuppe) with Brown Butter and Cardamom

Nordic Roasted Cauliflower Soup

The house feels bare this week. Freshly cleared of Christmas decorations, the rooms seem more spacious, cavernous even, as the furniture and ordinary décor settle back into their normal positions and I adjust to the amount of physical space that the Christmas tree and festive ornaments had swelled to fill.

January has always seemed to me a month of quiet, pale in contrast to the luster of the holidays. I am trying to learn how to recast it as something different, a month in which I celebrate the space while creatively considering ways to preserve the warmth and the feeling of hygge or koselig that December so naturally fosters. That might mean soft blankets draped on seating areas throughout the house, ready for impromptu snuggles, or perhaps remembering to light the candles I’ve purposefully left scattered on shelves and windowsills. And of course there should be soup.

Having been out of town for half of the month of November and sick for much of the month of December, I’m still trying to get back into routines, especially in the kitchen. Breakfast and lunch are always easy; these early meals almost always seem to take care of themselves with items that are regularly on hand—milk, eggs, bread, peanut butter, jam, cheese, fruit, and the like. But dinner is another story. As much of the recipe testing and development that I’m doing doesn’t translate to a well-balanced dinner (we need much more than cardamom boller and various Scandinavian sweets in our diet), dinnertime rolls around and even though I may have spent plenty of time in the kitchen that day, I don’t exactly have much of nutritional value to show for it.

That is perhaps reason enough to embrace soup. Scandinavian cooking is full of them, from creamy yet light Bergen fish soup to hearty yellow pea soup that clings to the spoon, meaning I can call it “work” and still feed my family something nutritious. This week’s choice was blomkålsuppe, a classic throughout the Scandinavian countries.

Juniper and Caraway

Cauliflower

With an almost-embarrassing level of access to a wealth of produce at local grocery stores year-round, I have to admit that I’ve long thought of cauliflower as an ordinary, everyday vegetable. It turns out I was wrong.

“Cauliflower has always been considered a fine thing, even by the rich,” writes Danish cook Camilla Plum in her book The Scandinavian Kitchen.

With its pale color and plentiful florets, cauliflower was a vegetable to be praised and celebrated. Its origins go back to the Middle Ages when, according to Plum, it was a cabbage chosen for its enlarged flowers. It had spread to Northern Europe by the 17th century.

Just the thought of cauliflower brings sweet memories to the minds of Scandinavians. Norwegian cookbook author Astrid Karlsen Scott writes with nostalgia in Authentic Norwegian Cooking about how she remembers the feeling of summer breezes rustling the kitchen curtains while her mother simmered cauliflower soup. Magnus Nilsson, chef of the celebrated Fäviken in Sweden writes in The Nordic Cookbook about the pleasures of steaming a head of cauliflower straight from the garden, perhaps served with salted butter and lemon for dipping. Reading his words I can’t help but picture that garden and taste the sun and the Nordic air absorbed into the cauliflower’s very cells.

Nordic Cauliflower Soup Diptych

Roasted Cauliflower Diptych

At its simplest, cauliflower soup might look like steamed cauliflower pureed with broth and swirled with cream, but it invites so much more. Some recipes call for steaming the cauliflower first, while others panfry or roast it. As for flavorings, one recipe includes Danish blue cheese, while another source says that in Denmark people sometimes add a shot of sherry. Andreas Viestad, host of New Scandinavian Cooking, adds dry white wine and a generous splash of aquavit in his recipe in Kitchen of Light, saying the traditional Scandinavian spirit adds a nice spiciness. He garnishes the soup with fresh chervil, a lovely, delicate, and feathery herb that’s as useful for its beauty as well as flavor. Nilsson writes that he likes to garnish his with bacon, chives, and a halved hard-boiled egg. While some recipes call for garnishing the soup with small prawns or shrimp, Danish chef Trine Hahnemann tops hers with grilled scallops in The Scandinavian Cookbook. Sunny at the blog Arctic Grub features a dairy-free version, optionally spiked with curry powder.

The version I’m featuring today gets its start with the cauliflower and juniper soup in The New Nordic: Recipes from a Scandinavian Kitchen, a beautiful new book by Simon Bajada. I’ve added cardamom, which I find gives a subtle warmth to cauliflower. Flecks of spice dot the soup, a whisper of the flavor infused in each bite. But rather than dominating the soup, the spices, you’ll find, are subtle and nuanced, lending a gentle warmth to a classic, comforting dish.

Soup is always cozy, warming the body while going down. Even when it’s too hot to eat immediately, the pleasure of holding a spoon to the lips and blowing off the soft rising swirls of steam hints at a slower pace, of savoring the moment. It’s a step, I think, toward preserving the warmth of the holidays even in the sparseness of the new season.

Nordic Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Nordic Roasted Cauliflower Soup (Blomkålsuppe) with Brown Butter and Cardamom
Adapted from the cauliflower and juniper soup in The New Nordic: Recipes from a Scandinavian Kitchen by Simon Bajada (Hardie Grant Books, 2015)

1 head cauliflower, leaves attached
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried juniper berries
½ teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 tablespoon canola or rapeseed oil
20 ounces chicken broth or stock
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup sour cream
Ground white pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rinse the cauliflower thoroughly, then snap off the thick outer leaves, leaving the small, tender ones attached. Using a sharp knife, cut off the stem, leaving a flat base on which the cauliflower can rest. Place the cauliflower on a baking sheet. Pour the oil over the cauliflower, using your hand to rub it in.

Using a mortar and pestle, smash together the salt, juniper, and cardamom, thoroughly crushing the herbs. Sprinkle it over the cauliflower in a generous, even layer (you may not need it all).

Slide the tray into the oven and roast for about 40 minutes, until a knife easily pierces the stem. (After 40 minutes, if the cauliflower is not tender yet, the original recipe suggests turning down the heat to 340 degrees to finish roasting—this took me an additional 15 minutes.) At this point, the cauliflower will be deep golden and richly fragrant, almost nutty.

When the cauliflower is still warm but cool enough to handle, cut it into rough florets, reserving the leaves, and place in a blender. Blend, gradually adding chicken broth, until as smooth as can be. You only want to add as much broth as necessary to make it a luscious, spoonable soup—it took me 15 ounces.

In a medium pot, melt butter over medium heat. Continue heating until the butter starts to brown. It will crackle and release an intoxicating aroma into the air. Carefully swirl the pan until the milk solids separate and the butter is golden brown. Promptly remove the pot to a cool burner to stop cooking, then pour the pureed cauliflower in, taking care as it will sputter dramatically when the cauliflower hits the hot butter. Stir in the sour cream. Taste and season with additional salt and white pepper if necessary.

Return the pot to medium heat and cook, continuing to stir occasionally, until the soup is heated through. Serve, garnishing with the leaves, which are now curled, warmly colored, and almost translucent.

Serves 4.

New Potatoes and Chanterelles with Lemon and Dill

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As a Seattle-born Norwegian-American, a woman once removed from the country of her father, my way back to my heritage has been through its food. I’ve always loved being Norwegian. Dressing up in a child-sized bunad for Syttende Mai parades in the Scandinavian-rich neighborhood of Ballard, eating the traditional feasts my grandparents would serve us on holidays, listening to the heavy and melodic accent that wove its way through my relatives’ speech–this was my upbringing and I loved it. But there’s a difference between the cultures in which we’re raised as children and the ones that we embrace as adults. I grew out of the black and red bunad. My paternal grandparents aged and passed on. The adults who kept their heritage alive so vibrantly and shared it with me faded into memory. The culture was no longer handed to me and it started to become peripheral.

Grandma Agny’s death five years ago was a big turning point for me. I think I’ve mentioned before that I was going to ask her to start telling me her stories the day I got the phone call saying she had died. Grandma had been a young woman during the German occupation. She had a baby during the war, and she later uprooted her family and moved them to the United States. During my first trip to Norway in 2008, I became intrigued about her life–and the corresponding Norwegian history–and I wanted to know more. But I waited too long. Grandma’s death left me feeling a profound sense of loss, and in response I found myself seeking out elements of my heritage.

And that’s where the food comes in.

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I still remember scanning the spines of books at Barnes and Noble shortly after Grandma’s death. I had come up with the idea of looking for Scandinavian cookbooks, as though the food between their pages might provide some comfort or solace. I found just a couple: Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine by Marcus Samuelsson and The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas. My journalistic tendency to research things in detail came into play and I started seeking out as many Scandinavian cookbooks as I could find. Nordic cooking wasn’t as much of a trend in the U.S. then as it is now, and it took a little digging. But I wanted to know more, to understand more. And it was becoming clear to me that the way in was going to be through the food.

As I explored my Norwegian heritage, I started Outside Oslo as a way to document what I was discovering. Although Scandinavian food had always been in my family’s repertoire while I was growing up, I was discovering it for myself. I was finally starting to get a sense of its origins, a sense of place. In the process, I was also beginning to understand my late grandmother more deeply.

Things look a lot different now, five years later. My grandparents’ generation is fading fast, but the opportunity I lost when Grandma Agny died is not entirely gone. I will never get her back, but I’m learning more about my family and its history as my father helps me fill in the gaps. I’ve heard stories of my other grandmother’s life and created countless sweet memories with her as she’s taught me how to make sandbakkels, lefse, krumkaker, and other Scandinavian treats. And now it’s my turn to share the heritage that my grandparents so graciously shared with me. As I’ve studied Nordic food and worked it into what I cook at home, I know that the culture that my family brought with them to America will continue to live on. I have two kids of my own now, and they will grow up knowing the pleasure of eating pannekaker for an occasional dinner, the taste of sweet heart-shaped vaffler served with gjetost (Norwegian brown goat cheese), and all the warmth and love that surround meals shared together at the table.

I never expected five years ago, in the darkest days of grief, that such richness was in store. But Grandma Agny had given me a gift by keeping her heritage alive and sharing it with me through all those Syttende Mai parades, traditional Norwegian meals, and with her generous heart.

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Today I’m still cooking my way through various Nordic recipes, sometimes returning to family classics, other times trying something new. Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas Viestad was one of the early books I discovered, and to this day it is one of my favorites. (I wrote a review a couple of years ago; despite receiving a copy from the publisher, I can say genuinely that this is an excellent book.) I had found it at the library while researching Scandinavian food, and this dish–chanterelles and potatoes with lemon and dill–was one of the first recipes I featured on the blog. I made it this week for my parents and was reminded of how just a few simple ingredients can be so satisfying: just new potatoes and chanterelles, flavored intensely with lemon, garlic, and dill. The season for chanterelles is fleeting, but if you can still find some, I hope you’ll give this recipe a try.

New Potatoes and Chanterelles with Lemon and Dill
Adapted from Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas Viestad

2 pounds new potatoes
½ pound (or more) chanterelle mushrooms
3 tablespoons butter
3 garlic cloves, pressed
Salt
Small handful of fresh dill, coarsely chopped, plus a few sprigs for garnish
Small handful of flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Lemon

Cook the potatoes in a pot of salted boiling water until tender, then drain. While the potatoes are cooking, trim the mushrooms and cut them lengthwise into halves or quarters, depending on their size. I like to keep them as large as possible, so I halve most of them, only quartering the really thick ones to make their size even with the rest. Melt the butter in a large skillet and add the mushrooms, stirring from time to time, until tender. Add garlic and a dash of salt, then cook for another moment just to take the edge of the garlic’s flavor. Add the mushrooms to the potatoes, making sure to spoon up all the flavorful butter from the pan. Add the dill and parsley, along with the juice of one lemon, and stir to combine. Add a little more salt if necessary, then transfer to a dish, garnish with dill sprigs, and serve.

Serves 4-6

Swedish Mazarin Torte with Nectarines (Mazarintårta)

Mazarin Torte with Nectarines IMG_9537

A spider web hangs below the eaves, suspended from various points along a string of patio lights. I can see it glistening in the sun outside my window as I write, trembling in the gentle breeze. Autumn has long been one of my favorite seasons, and this one might go down in my memory as one of the best.

As I creaked my way to the kitchen this morning to start making breakfast, the light of dawn eased me into wakefulness, diffused by a blanket of steel blue fog. By the time the coffee, hot and black, and a steamy shower had loosened up my tight muscles and it was time to leave the house, it was warm enough to head outside with just a light sweater. Now this afternoon the sun shines brightly, reflecting on all those vibrant multicolored leaves. Though the sun sets much earlier now, it’s as though summer won’t quite let us forget the long, radiant days of the months before.

It reminds me of my honeymoon, nine long-short years ago. Married on a clear, sunny day in late September, we boarded a plane headed to Rome the next morning and spent the following days in sun-drenched bliss as we sailed along the Mediterranean. It was autumn, but we never would have known it by the golden glow and warm kiss embracing all our surroundings.

This past week we’ve roasted hot dogs outside, made a cobbler with late-season peaches fresh from the farmer’s market, and baked nectarines into an almond torte. It baffles me that we’re still doing these things in October, a time I typically associate with simmering stews and fragrant braises. The cold will come soon, and with it darker days and the countdown to winter. But in the meantime I’m soaking in all the senses of this transition between seasons.

Mazarin Torte with Nectarines IMG_9531

Mazarin Torte with Nectarines
The classic Swedish Mazarintårta combines a shortbread crust with a luscious alnond filling. Somewhere along the line this recipe has roots in Beatrice Ojakangas’ The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, which is–as its title boasts–a great book. It’s one of the first Scandinavian cookbooks I bought back when my grandmother Agny died and I was trying to soothe my aching heart by clinging to our shared heritage. I wrote about Ojakangas’ mazarin torte a few years ago, but I’ve since shaken it up quite a bit, simplifying the preparation and adding fresh fruit. I hope you like the results.

Crust
3/4 cup unsalted butter
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup almond meal/flour

Filling
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup cup almond meal/flour
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 nectarines, peeled and cut into eights
Powdered sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the crust by creaming the butter and sugar, then adding the egg yolks and beating until light. Add flour, salt, and almond meal and mix until stiff. Press the dough into a 10- or 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, using your hands to create an even later across the bottom and up the sides. Set aside.

To make the filling, beat the eggs and sugar so they become light, then beat in the butter, almond meal, and almond extract. Pour the filling into the crust.

Arrange the nectarine wedges in a circular pattern on top of the filling. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden. Cool, then remove from the pan. Finish with a dusting of powdered sugar if you’d like.

Makes 1 torte.

Mazarin Torte with Nectarines IMG_9548

 

Note: Last month I attended a couple of sessions at IFBC, the International Food Bloggers Conference, in Seattle. The organizers offered steep discounts to bloggers for writing about the conference, so you’ll be noticing a few posts that showcase what I learned. For this one, I’d like to thank Shauna James Ahern for her session on professional recipe development. Authenticity is key, she said. Plus, creating recipes that work can be a long, tedious process, but the reward comes when a reader tries a recipe and it works. She’s right. I’ve been hearing from some of you lately about your success with the recipes here on the blog, and I have to say that each time you write, I get a little spring in my step.

The focus of this blog–the connection between food, family, and heritage–is very dear to me. I created the blog five years ago as a way to share my experiences as I explored my Norwegian heritage. My grandmother had just died and I was finding comfort in all things Scandinavian. Through this blog I have discovered a community of people who also share a love of Nordic food, and I’ve seen how food can bring people together. Occasionally the recipes are my own, but more often–as is the case with this Mazarin torte–they’re inspired by or adapted from other Scandinavian cooks. I might give them my own touch, as with the nectarines in this torte, or I’ll add my own experiences to the instructions, but often I’m simply another step in a long line of cooks sharing the coziness and hospitality of Scandinavian food with the world. I had no idea when I started this blog that I would find such richness in exploring a cuisine I had grown up eating but had seldom cooked. It’s been a gift to me, and I hope that the authenticity is apparent. I hope, too, that the recipes and stories here provide warmth and fond memories for you as they do for me.

An Evening with Noma’s René Redzepi

Rain on Tent

Raindrops pattered on the clear canopy above us, illuminated by the street lamps and Christmas light-wrapped trees in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square. The 150 or so of us had braved the cold, wet November evening to dine outdoors with René Redzepi, chef and co-owner of Copenhagen’s Noma–the renowned restaurant that has been named the best restaurant in the world three times in recent years. As we cuddled with the wool blankets provided at each seat, the guest of honor exclaimed his sense of surprise and honor: This never would happen in Denmark, he said.

With a multi-course meal by James Beard Award-winning chef Matthew Dillon of Seattle’s Bar Sajor, Sitka & Spruce, and The Corson Building and Noma-alumnus Blaine Wetzel, now chef of Willows Inn on Lummi Island north of Seattle, the event garnered extreme interest. Tickets–sold through Book Larder–were gone in just a few hours.

Redzepi Signing Books

Inside Dillon’s London Plane, just across the square from Bar Sajor, we sipped sparkling rosé while waiting in line to meet Redzepi and have him sign our copies of his just-released book, the three-volume A Work in Progress. We then headed out into the cold to find our seats, tagged by a fruit, vegetable, shell, or plant that had been assigned to us at the beginning of the event. (I’m still trying to figure out the name of my branch of burgundy-colored, woody buds.)

Redzepi Dinner Table Setting

Redzepi Event Dinner Table

Redzepi Dinner Centerpiece

Dinner started with a series of small bites, heavily influenced by the abundant seafood of the Pacific Northwest. Smoked mussels on the half shell and oysters garnished with fermented cabbage were nestled among the mossy centerpieces running along each of the two long tables. Puget Sound silver smelt rested on kelp. Slices of green alder-smoked sockeye as rich as candy were doled out–one per salivating palate. Other starters included smoked yogurt on rye bread with peppers in cider vinegar, pickled quince wrapped in air-cured pork leg, and crispy sunchoke tubers and “trumpets of death” mushrooms.

Redzepi Dinner

Oyster

Salmon

Quince

As we dined and sipped wine pairings provided by Syncline, Redzepi read from his book, which chronicles the Noma experience through a volume consisting of the author’s journal entries, a book of snapshots from the restaurant’s day-to-day operations, and a cookbook full of recipes (some of which he says are actually approachable to home cooks, unlike most of the recipes in his previous book, Noma: Time & Place in Nordic Cuisine).

Redzepi Introduction

Rene Redzepi Speaking

We ate fat slices of Dillon’s fluffy, chewy bread, accompanied by a trio of spreads: duck fat and rosemary, cultured goat butter, and sea urchin. Then up next came the first of three platters of main courses: raw Roosevelt elk with burnt celery root, cabbage baked in hay and horseradish.

The black cod from Neah Bay with salt-roasted pear and walnut oil, garnished with wisps of fresh dill, was one of my highlights of the evening. The freshness of the barely-ripe pears cut through the oiliness of the rich and flavorful black cod, and the walnut oil and dill rounded out the flavors just right. We then moved on to the leg of lamb served with slow-cooked root vegetables, preserved king boletes, and honeycomb.

Black Cod Lamb and Root Vegetables As is often the case with long dinners, dessert might seem optional for a satisfied and exhausted palate, but the little bites of flax seed caramels, buckwheat cookies, petit basque, and candy cap mushroom financiers were just right. Served with warm hazelnut milk and a black walnut liqueur, they warmed us up enough to head out from the cozy tent and into the evening.

Redzepi Event Desserts

As I’ve slowly worked on this post over the course of a couple of weeks, I’ve returned to a bit of the feeling of happiness and warmth of the evening each time I’ve sat down to organize the photos or write. What I haven’t mentioned as of yet is my enthusiasm for Nordic cuisine and how much fun I’ve been having watching from afar what chefs like Redzepi are doing. It’s exciting to see how the foods of both old Scandinavian and New Nordic cuisine are originating from the same traditions, readily-available ingredients, and cultures, making aspects of each similar yet so wildly different from each other. It’s a dream of mine to eat at Noma when I have a chance to travel to Copenhagen some day, but in the meantime it was so special to attend this dinner and meet René Redzepi (that’s me with the chef in the photo below). A big thank you to my husband for treating me to such a wonderful evening for my birthday!

Daytona with Rene Redzepi

Family Kitchen Advice From Celebrity Chef Tyler Florence

As the mother of an active boy who seems like he’s undergoing a growth spurt every few weeks, I know that one of my great responsibilities is feeding him well. I’ve read a lot on the topic, but as a writer I’ve also been privileged to interview some of the best resources on the topic. When it comes to feeding the family delicious, wholesome food, there’s no better expert than Tyler Florence, who’s a culinary entrepreneur and host of several Food Network shows. Florence–a father of three–is the author of eight books, including Start Fresh, which features recipes inspired by Sprout, a line of organic baby food he co-founded. I interviewed Florence last year when working on an article for Pregnancy & Newborn and I thought I’d share some of his thoughts with you today.

Florence is a great chef, plus he’s committed to feeding his family food that will nourish their bodies as well as tantalize their taste buds. Even when he was in the thick of the early days of parenthood, he and his wife, Tolan, strove to make healthy choices. But they also kept things simple.

“We didn’t really have a routine other than always trying to do the absolutely best thing for them as much as we could,” Florence says.

For Florence, doing the best thing means keeping only good, wholesome foods in the kitchen. That way, there’s no way they’ll fall back on something that’s processed or full of chemicals. In the Florence household, that has paid off: There’s not a vegetable that his kids won’t eat, he says, if it’s cut into pieces and roasted with some olive oil until it’s slightly caramelized—a process that’s simple and easy for even the busiest of parents, and which also brings out the delicious flavors of the vegetable. I’ve tried this technique on everything from broccoli to rutabagas and am amazed at how it makes the most humble vegetable shine.

When interviewing Florence, I appreciated his encouragement that no matter how overwhelmed one might be feeling as a new parent, it does get better. While there’s no magic way to make everything easier in the moment, what parents can do is to make a commitment to do the best for their children in how they feed them and prioritize it, even if it means that they might have to forgo something else that takes their time, such as a shower.

When it comes to feeding children, Florence says parents can’t compromise and that doing the absolute best thing for them now means the parents won’t have to apologize later. Find ways to make it work for you, he tells parents, even if it requires finding support from a relative or nanny. Buy only good, wholesome food. Then, “just grab a book … and then just make a decision you’re going to do it.”

“Our kitchen is a very wholesome place,” Florence says. “You could check off one thing from the angst of being a parent by just deciding you’re going to cook from a very focused nutritional point of view.”

It’s been a while since my interview with Florence, and it’s interesting to revisit our chat and compare where I was at in my parenting experience then versus now. Back then, my son still demanded most of my time whenever he was awake, plus I was still cooking separate foods for him. These days he can play independently a little more and he generally eats whatever we eat. In addition, he’s starting to get involved in the kitchen with me. Florence was right–it does get easier. I’ve tried to feed my son well from the beginning (even before interviewing Florence), focusing on organic ingredients and limiting sugar and processed foods. I’ve found that this approach has informed the eating habits of the entire family, which in turn has made it easy to integrate my son’s diet into the rest of the family’s mealtime repertoire now that he’s a little older. Thank you, Tyler, for taking the time to talk with me and share your perspectives. You are an inspiration.

Image is from an earlier Outside Oslo post in which I announced my article for Pregnancy & Newborn. The editors didn’t use Florence’s interview, unfortunately, but the chef had a great perspective that I wanted to share with you here.

Published: Creating the Family Cookbook in Costco Connection

Family Cookbook Article in Costco Connection

When it comes to creating a family cookbook, there are so many things to consider: how many recipes to include and what format it should take are just two of them. My mom and I are in the process of creating our own family cookbook, and so when an editor at Costco Connection asked me to write a story on the topic, I jumped at the opportunity. That article is published in the April 2013 issue, and if you happen to be a Costco member, you’ll find it on page 49. For the rest of you, you can read “Creating the Family Cookbook: How to Preserve Your Family’s History–One Recipe at a Time” in the online edition. You’ll find great tips and inspiration in the interviews with Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write For Food (a must-read for anyone interested in any type of food writing); Alice Currah, author of Savory Sweet Life and a blog by the same name; Terry Guzman, author of a self-published family cookbook called What Can I Get You; and Elise Bauer of SimplyRecipes.com. The article includes three recipes, including my Grandma Adeline’s peanut bars, which she’s been making since the middle of the last century when she baked them for a restaurant. I grew up eating these sweet and nutty confections, and I trust that you’ll love them as much as I do.

This article epitomizes the current phase of my career, a time in which I get to have my “dream job.” When I started my career as a journalist fresh out of college, I envisioned a future of covering the news, eventually moving from my role as a writer and producer to becoming an anchor and reporter. Little did I know that I would eventually find my ideal outside of the newsroom and in my own home. Since leaving the traditional working world in 2011, I’ve begun freelancing more and more, transitioning from general news and features to writing about topics I’m passionate about: primarily food, Scandinavian cuisine, and parenting.

Check out the article! I hope that you enjoy it and that if you’re working on your own family cookbook, that you find it helpful and inspiring.

Image used with permission from Alice Currah.

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