Pannekaker–Norwegian Pancakes–For Dinner

Norwegian Pancakes

There’s a retirement home in Seattle overlooking Puget Sound, where western-facing residents watch the sun set over the Olympic Mountains in one of the best views the city has to offer. Scandinavians founded the community in the middle of the 20th century, and walking into the beige midcentury building today you’ll still feel like you’re entering an expansive version of your Norwegian relatives’ living room. My grandma Agny lived there for a while after my grandfather died, and she would occasionally have my parents, husband, and me join her for a Scandinavian pancake brunch.

Scandinavian pancakes–why not Swedish or Norwegian? Most other places around Seattle served what they called Swedish pancakes and back then my family didn’t know the distinction. I only knew they were warm and comforting, the sort of eggy yet carb-filled food that tasted like dessert but for some reason counted as a real meal. I’ve since learned quite a bit about them, and I had the opportunity to share the enthusiasm and knowledge in a pannekaker cooking class at the Nordic Heritage Museum this winter.

“Mama gets to make pancakes for work,” I told my toddler son as I prepared for the class, researching and analyzing recipes as I developed my own version with the right balance of delicacy and toothsome bite, and with plenty of flavor. We ate plenty of pancakes the week of the class, and I can imagine few better jobs to have during a chilly Seattle winter.

If you have Nordic roots or at least live in a place like Seattle with a rich Scandinavian background, chances are you’re familiar with the pancakes I’m talking about. Much thinner than the ones Americans typically eat for brunch, slathered with pats of melting butter in a pool of maple syrup, pannekaker–Norwegian pancakes–are much thinner, more like a crepe. As for the Swedish distinction? Pannekaker are a little thicker and eggier than pannkakor, but they’re really quite similar. Oh, and about that mention of brunch–you wouldn’t typically serve these in the morning hours. Instead, they’re about the most indulgent dinner I can think of. (Yes, dinner.)

The Scandinavians have a tradition of eating the pancakes with soup–sometimes a yellow pea soup, other times a version studded with little pieces of meat and vegetables. While the idea of eating pancakes with pea soup originated in Sweden, many Norwegians have adopted the tradition, making the combination comfort food to people in both countries.

In the (sold out!) class, I taught about 20 students how to make pannekaker and yellow pea soup. Since the pancakes are really quite simple but rely heavily on practice and technique, I wanted everyone to have a chance to make as many as possible. While I can’t replicate that experience in a blog post, I do want to share the recipe with you today along with detailed instructions and a number of tips to help you successfully make pannekaker for your family.

First of all, be aware that practice makes perfect. As I told my students, don’t be afraid to just start cooking–the first ones will be imperfect and might even tear while you’re flipping or rolling them. That’s okay–it’s part of the process, and each one will turn out better than the next as you get the technique down and adjust the heat of your pan to the right temperature. Also, I like to take a cue from cookbook author and food writer Signe Johansen who starts the process with a mini test pancake to check the flavoring of the batter and then adjusts accordingly.

Finally, when it comes to serving, lingonberry preserves are a popular condiment, and some people like to top their pannekaker with both fruit jam and sour cream. Butter and sugar is a classic combination, and whipped cream or honey are also options. Sunny over at Arctic Grub loves to eat them with bacon and blueberry jam.

I hope you’ll give these a try. They’re really quite easy to make, and once you’ve prepared a batch or two, you’ll feel confident enough to work these into your weeknight dinner repertoire.

Norwegian Pancakes

Norwegian Pannekaker
When developing this recipe, I noticed a lot of similarities between the ingredients in other ones. Basically, if you have flour, salt, sugar, eggs, milk, and butter, you can make pancakes. The differences come from the flavorings–which can include cardamom, lemon zest, and vanilla–and the ratios. Through analysis and testing I came up with my ideal ratio, which turned out similar to some others, and it results in a texture that’s just right, in my opinion. Of course, feel free to tweak it if you’re trying to replicate ones you remember eating–perhaps an extra egg or less flour? More liquid will result in a thinner pancake. I also added Scandinavian vanilla sugar, which lends a touch more sweetness and a pleasant vanilla flavor to the batter. You can find this at Scandinavian speciality stores, or you can use a little more sugar and some vanilla extract instead, although I have yet to exactly mimic the results of the Scandinavian vanilla sugar through substitutions.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon Scandinavian vanilla sugar*
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan

Mix all ingredients except butter in a medium-sized bowl using a whisk or fork until the batter is smooth and you have no lumps. Stir in butter. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to let the batter rest.

Meanwhile, warm a pan over medium heat. I prefer a well-seasoned cast-iron pan, which minimizes the need for additional butter to keep the pancakes from sticking. Melt a little butter in the pan and make a small test pancake like Signe Johansen recommends–this will help you gauge the heat and adjust the flavors if necessary–giving it a minute or so on each side to cook.

To get started on your first pancake, pour in enough batter to thinly coat the bottom of the pan–I find that a 1/3-cup measure is just right for my 10-inch pan. Twirl the pan around to coat the bottom, and when the top starts to set and the edges begin to color slightly, carefully but confidently and swiftly slide a heat-safe silicone spatula under the pancake, jiggling it slightly as you do, and flip the pancake. It will probably need about 2 minutes on the first side and a minute or so on the second. When done, use the spatula to roll the pancake in the pan and transfer to a plate.

Repeat until you’ve used up all the batter, adding a little butter to the pan between pancakes if necessary. Cover the pancakes with a tent of foil paper as you go to keep them warm. You may even wish to place them, covered, in a warm oven, but I find that if I’m going to serve them as soon as they’re ready, they retain heat well enough that keeping them tented near the ambient heat of the stove keeps them hot enough.

Serves 2-3.

Coming Up: Cooking Class in Seattle

One of the things I love best about food is how it brings people together. That’s certainly the case for family meals and socials with friends, and also with the news I’m excited to share with you today. In just a couple of weeks I’ll be leading my first cooking class at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle. The Museum has scheduled a fun lineup of pancake classes–one for each of the Nordic countries–this winter and spring and they’ve asked me to teach the Norwegian one that kicks off the series this month.

If you’re in Seattle and have an interest in cooking alongside other people with a passion for Nordic food (particularly pancakes!), I hope you’ll consider coming out for the class on Saturday, January 25, from 10am to 12:30pm. We’ll gather in the kitchen for some hands-on time making pannekaker and a hearty Norwegian soup then sit down to brunch.

The class is just $30 ($25 for museum members), and there’s a discount if you sign up for the five-class series. Find out how to register–and see the whole lineup–on the museum’s website. I hope to see some of you there!

Two Red Cabbage Salads for Your Christmas Table

Red Cabbage Salad

The Christmas tree stands unadorned in my living room where it’s taken residence since the Sunday before last. The strings of lights and masses of translucent, opaque, and metallic red bulbs are ready to be strung and strewn throughout its natural, Douglas fir branches–waiting, just waiting, for the right time. As I scroll through Instagram during the quiet moments I see home after home decked out in an abundance of decorations. One person remarked on how she was taking a relaxed approach to decorating this year and had taken a week to trim her tree–she’d probably be shocked to see how much I have her beat!

The days of December and the weeks of Advent are passing by more quickly than I anticipated, and I’m choosing to be okay with that. I won’t manage to set up the entire ceramic Christmas village that has been in my family for years. I won’t bake as many cookies as I had hoped. I won’t be able to squeeze in every single Christmasy activity that I enjoy. December snuck up on me this year (perhaps due to a late Thanksgiving) and rather than trying to catch up, I’m choosing to relax and be okay with a calmer, quieter season. What I am striving for is a month full of special moments, quality time with loved ones, sweet activities at home with my family, and reflection on the reason we celebrate Christmas to begin with.

As I’ve worked through my calendar and my thoughts to come to that conclusion, I’ve reflected on the stress, frenzy, and overcommitments that might otherwise permeate the too-few minutes and hours of this short season. Rather than worrying about the faint dust that’s inevitably gathered on my bookshelf or whether I’ve put away the toys scattered around the family room (which are still in use into the evening) before guests come for dinner, I would prefer to do my best: to offer hospitality by warmly welcoming friends and loved ones through my door, ushering them into a peaceful and tidily lived-in home, and feeding them well.

Red Cabbage Salad

That was the case with the lutefisk feast I served my parents and grandma last week. What I really wanted that evening was to treat those dear people to a meal full of tradition, memories, and love. There were still dishes in the sink when they came (I would have needed two dishwashers to keep up after that day of cooking!) and the table had yet to be set. But the food was coming together, and it ended up filling each family member with not just the satiation of a good meal but with the warmth and love that I had so hoped. There was the julekake that Grandma loves so much and the Norwegian rice cream with raspberry sauce that my dad’s late mother always served at Christmastime. I served lutefisk with melted butter for my family and with cream sauce for my husband who remembers eating it that way while visiting relatives in Sweden. Looking back at how content and joyful everyone was at the end of the evening, I wouldn’t have prioritized anything differently.

We’re slowly bringing out the decorations. The stockings are hung, the Advent candles on the dinner table. When I start to feel antsy about the progress–what seems like slow momentum relative to so many other households–I reflect on my goals for the season and remember that for many families in Scandinavia, the Christmas tree wouldn’t be decorated until Christmas Eve. This year I’m trying just to savor. My attempts will be imperfect–that is just inevitable–but it feels good to know that I’m trying.

Red Cabbage Salad

Two Red Cabbage Salads for Your Christmas Table

I served the following two salads for last week’s lutefisk feast. While I love rødkål–the slowly-simmered sweet-and-sour red cabbage that’s a traditional Scandinavian Christmas side dish–I wanted to add something fresh and raw to what was otherwise going to be a rich and hearty meal. These two recipes have three things in common: red cabbage, apple, and walnuts. The first has a creamy dressing and the second is sweetened with lingonberry preserves. For either salad, you could certainly prepare the vegetables easily by shredding the cabbage using the slicing blade of a food processor and switching to the shredding disk for the apples as I did, which will result in a slaw-like consistency. Next time, though, I’ll try slicing the cabbage thinly using a sharp knife and cutting the apples into matchsticks. The latter approach is more work, but I think the vegetables will stand up better to the dressings.

Creamy Red Cabbage and Apple Salad
Adapted significantly from the Rødkålsalat in Ekte Norsk Jul Vol. 2 by Astrid Karlsen Scott. 

2 cups shredded or thinly-sliced red cabbage
2 cups shredded or matchstick-cut apples (peels left on; 2 small apples or 1 1/2 medium apples)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup plus 1-2 tablespoons roughly chopped toasted walnuts, divided
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Salt and pepper to taste

Place cabbage and apples in a medium bowl and toss with lemon juice to prevent the apples from discoloring. This will also help season the salad. Stir in 1/2 cup of the walnuts. Mix sour cream, mayonnaise, and kosher salt in a small bowl. Add just enough of the dressing to coat the salad. Taste, and season with salt and pepper if you’d like. Place in a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining walnuts.

Serves 6-8.

Red Cabbage Salad with Green Apple, Lingonberry Preserves, and Toasted Walnuts
Adapted from Bon Appétit, January 2010, from Chefs Andrew Chase and Erwin Schrottner. The original recipe calls for blending part of the lingonberry preserves with part of the dressing, then stirring in the rest of the preserves later. I followed those steps and included that below, but next time I’ll try blending all the preserves with the dressing–that will make it easier to adjust the ultimate seasonings to taste.

4 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1 large Granny Smith apple, coarsely grated
1/2 cup toasted walnut halves, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons lingonberry preserves, divided
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup canola oil

Place cabbage, apple, and most of the walnut halves in a large bowl, reserving about a tablespoon or two of the walnuts for the garnish. Toss with lemon juice.

Puree 1 tablespoon of the lingonberry preserves with the mustard, vinegar, and salt in a blender. With the machine running on the slowest speed and a hand guarding the hole in the lid to keep the dressing from splashing out, slowly add the oil until incorporated. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.

Add the remaining preserves and about half of the dressing and toss to combine. Add additional dressing until you have enough to coat the salad–be careful not to overdress it. Season with salt and pepper if you wish, transfer to a serving dish, and garnish with the remaining walnut halves.

Serves 8.

A Lutefisk Feast

Lutefisk Feast“My mom would have been proud of you,” Dad told me from the place where he rested, post-meal, in my kitchen.

As I sealed plastic wrap over bowls of medisterkaker, potatoes, red cabbage, and riskrem to refrigerate and Mom filled my dishwasher with the plates, utensils, and serving dishes from the night’s lutefisk feast, I reflected on what my dad was saying. Words so necessary–both comforting and bittersweet. My paternal grandmother never got to see this side of me–the grown-up Daytona who had settled so fully into life as an adult with a husband and son and who was now trying to keep our family’s Norwegian heritage alive through its food. She had lived to see me get happily married and work to establish a career as a journalist–a dream she had had for me many years before–but this, this part of life with a little family of my own and with a passion for Norwegian food, is where I think we would have connected best.

There was a day in the summer of 2009 that was going to change everything. Standing in the little white-and-beige bathroom in my first house–a mid-century brick home not far from where my grandparents once lived–I looked in the mirror and guided the black pearl studs into my ears. Almost ready to leave, all I had to do was make a stop to buy an almond- and raisin-studded kringle to bring to Grandma’s home for a lunchtime birthday celebration. I was going to propose something to Grandma that day, ask her if we could start talking–truly talking–and if she would tell me about her life and about Norway. I stepped out into the sun-drenched wood hallway to answer my phone and heard my mom’s still-shocked voice: “She’s gone.”

In an instant, everything changed. There would be no kringle, no birthday greetings, no feeling the softness of Grandma’s warm hug as she welcomed me into her home. Grief, mixed with regret, would come flooding in and filling the crevices that I had dreamed of filling with stories and more memories with my grandmother.

What I had wanted was time, time with someone dear to me yet generations apart, someone with whom I was ready to deepen a relationship. I’ve thought about that often throughout the years: Am I spending enough time–quality time–with my other, still-living grandma? With my loved ones? With my friends? Am I hearing the stories of farm life in North Dakota during the war, when my maternal grandparents were falling in love? Am I savoring the feeling of my Grandma Adeline’s shrinking shoulders when I hug her, realizing that each day with her is a gift?

What I’ve long wanted is time–more time with loved ones, more time to get things done. Reading through a  chapter in One Thousand Gifts before bed the other night, I discovered that maybe it’s not more time that I need and necessarily wantbut enough time–enough time to use it well and to the fullest. Though I hadn’t thought about that distinction in the way author Ann Voskamp put it, I’m realizing that that’s how I’ve been trying to live my life this year. Time and time again over the past few seasons I’ve thought to myself, this is when you’ll stop waiting, stop just dreaming and planning, and start doing. That might look as small as ordering a book about food photography for professional development or as meaningful as planning something like the lutefisk dinner my husband and I hosted for a few family members the other night.

The idea of a lutefisk dinner came up a couple of weeks ago and I remembered how much Grandma Adeline loves the preserved, gelatinous fish. While I grew up eating it with the family on occasion, I had never felt compelled to incorporate the dish into my own repertoire. But I realized that I’m blessed enough to have my 94-year-old grandma in my life right now, and while she’s here I want to treat her to a lutefisk dinner.

Soon the date was set. I had developed a menu and found a source for lutefisk (in Seattle, a city with a rich Scandinavian history, you don’t have to look far). As I sat next to Grandma at the candlelit dinner table on Wednesday night I watched as she chose an assortment of dishes, focusing mainly on filling her white plate with lutefisk and the potatoes. “That’s all I need,” she said. She’s a true, old-school Norwegian-American, and a representation of what I’ve read: that a traditional lutefisk feast needs nothing other than white food, simply lutefisk, potatoes, and perhaps lefse. Grandma, with her shrinking appetite, ate steadily and enthusiastically, agreeing to a second portion of lutefisk and leaving nothing on her plate. “I’m never coming to your house again for dinner–you make me feel miserable,” she joked as she commented on how her stomach ached with too much good food.

I’ve worried too often over the years about having enough time with Grandma–I suppose some of that fear comes from unexpectedly losing my other grandma before I was ready to say goodbye–but there’s a difference between an anxious, reactionary life and one that’s sensitive to the uncertainties of life and seeks to treat each day as a gift, living it to the fullest. The latter is what I’m striving for, and it’s with that in mind that I organized the lutefisk feast.

As the evening wound to a close I saw my family members so happy and content and I experienced what some of you mentioned in the Facebook discussion about lutefisk last week–that you love it for the warmth and love and memories that surround these meals. Prior to this week I assumed that it would be a tradition I’d carry on for Grandma as long as she’s alive and then probably cease it (I’ve never been one to seek out lutefisk), but now I understand why so many people hold fast to the tradition. Almost everyone at the table–including my husband and me–had seconds of the lutefisk, which was some of the best I’ve ever had with a pleasant, consistent texture and a delicate flavor accented by melted butter and cream sauce. Who knows, we may just keep up the tradition.

Lutefisk Feast

Our Lutefisk Feast
Though this post is about so much more than just lutefisk, I wouldn’t be able to sign off without including some details about our dinner. Though the food was entirely authentic in its inspiration, purists will note that our feast incorporated both Norwegian and Swedish traditions to honor my family’s Norwegian heritage and to remind my husband of the lutefisk (or lutfisk in Swedish) that my husband ate while visiting relatives in Sweden for Christmas when he was young. Looking back at it, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Lutefisk with Melted Butter and White Sauce: There’s a reason lutefisk is such a polarizing food amongst Scandinavians: With its preparation (it’s basically dried or cured cod that’s been soaked in lye and then rinsed for several days before baking) and the gelatinous texture, it sounds strange and can be an acquired taste, but those who love it are passionate about it. If prepared well, lutefisk can be enjoyable. My husband sprinkled ours with salt and pepper and baked it at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. We served it with melted butter–the Norwegian way–and Swedish-style with a white sauce. To make the white sauce, melt 3 tablespoons of salted butter in a saucepan over medium heat and then add 3 tablespoons flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and adding a little more flour if necessary to form a roux. As soon as the mixture thickens and forms a light roux, slowly begin to 1 1/2 cups of whole milk: Start with 1/4 cup and stir until the roux seizes up and all the ingredients are well-mixed and smooth. Keep adding the milk in small quantities, stirring until incorporated and smooth each time (as you get close to the end of the milk you can start adding it in more quickly). Stir in 1 cup of whipping cream and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and continue to heat until the sauce thickens and reduces to the desired consistency. Keep in mind that it will continue to thicken as it cools, and you don’t want it so thick that you can’t pour it from a little pitcher or gravy boat. (As a guide, I used proportions from a little book called Scandinavian Christmas that Penfield Books sent me last year and created the sauce from that.) 

Mashed Potatoes with Butter and Parsley: My mom’s simply-boiled new Yukon Gold potatoes roughly mashed and strewn with melted butter and chopped parsley were a perfect accompaniment for the lutefisk.

Green Peas Sautéed with Onions: Peas were a distinct part of the lutefisk meals my husband remembers eating in Sweden. This quick version from Simply Recipes gives an ordinary bag of frozen peas a special touch by starting with sautéd onions and seasoning the dish with chicken broth, salt, and a pinch of sugar.

Medisterkaker and Lingonberry Preserves: One of the many things I love about Norwegians is their hospitality, and in a similar fashion I served plenty of medisterkaker–spiced, fatty pork meatballs–to round out the meal for those who weren’t interested in eating much lutefisk. Grandma Agny always used to serve these for holiday meals, and I grew up loving them. Lingonberry preserves pair well with medisterkaker, accenting the rich, savory morsels with their tart bite.

Two Red Cabbage Salads: Sweet-and-sour red cabbage, slowly simmered, is a common Scandinavian side dish during the holidays, and while I love the delicate and comforting quality of traditional rødkål, I also enjoy a combination of flavors, textures, and temperatures in meals. I decided to balance this particular feast by making a couple of cold, raw red cabbage salads: one creamy salad inspired by Ekte Norsk Jul Vol. 2 and another with a lingonberry-based dressing. I’ll be sharing both recipes on the blog soon.

Riskrem with Raspberry Sauce: I don’t remember there ever being a time when Grandma Agny didn’t serve riskrem–rice cream–with raspberry sauce for Christmas dessert. I always loved the combination of the delicate, barely-there flavor of sweetened rice and the bold, sweet-tart raspberry sauce. I added a twist to the classic this year by scenting the rice cream with lemon zest. (Recipe coming soon.)

Food Lovingly Prepared and Joyously Served

Old Family Photo in Grandparents' Dining Room

I miss them. It hit me one night as I sat at my desk in my office, suddenly thinking about my grandparents. In an instant it was like I was back there at their house overlooking Puget Sound, so many years ago, as a child. I miss them, I kept whispering to myself, tears coming to my eyes as I reflected on those two people now long gone.

It wasn’t long after my grandmother Agny died in 2009 that I started this blog. As I tried to cope with the dark shroud of grief messing with my heart on those sunny days of July, I browsed the bookstore shelves looking for Scandinavian cookbooks. Soon I started trying out the recipes and looking for even more sources of this food that somehow fed my healing heart.

The cuisine of my heritage was a way to feel closer to my grandmother, a dear woman who seemed in some ways, even in her nineties, like she would never die.

Now as I think about why I keep writing about Scandinavian food–here on the blog and for various publications–I keep coming back to one thing: It’s all about the people. Sure, we eat for survival, for sustenance. But it goes so much beyond that. We cook to feed ourselves, to feed our soul, and to feed each other. We eat because we need to live and survive, but we also need to thrive and to connect.

Rice Cream

I’m not just talking about Scandinavian food. I’m talking about family. About people. Love. Connection. Hospitality. A life fully lived and shared with others. That is what my grandparents gave to me, what they shared with my parents and me whenever we would visit. Three of my grandparents are gone, but I hold onto their memory, as well as the promise that I will someday see them again on the other side of eternity.

Wedding Day with Grandma

The next night, after that one in which my grandparents’ memory came back to me so strongly, I sat in my office again, sorting through papers, organizing stuff, making sense out of the piles that accumulate so often. As I opened an old greeting card I saw my grandmother’s handwriting–elegant cursive, at a slight diagonal, with a trace of a shaky hand that still carried with it so much grace and dignity despite age and frailty. I skimmed that note, and the other ones I came across. Mentions of love, how happy she was that I had found such a good husband, thanking me for a recent visit. I did not read them in detail, not yet. But they are there on the floor right now, organized by year with other greeting cards and mementos. They are calling out to me in some ways, to read them and reflect and remember such a beautiful woman whom I miss so much. One of these days I will bring myself to read them again.

If I am honest, Outside Oslo is very much a legacy of a memory, something that grew out of grief, as a way for me to cope. But it ended up blossoming into so much more and helped me to connect with my heritage and to better understand somebody I still love to this day and will always be thankful that I was able to call Grandma.

That woman gave me the gift of love and showed me how to quietly and humbly serve someone with hospitality. She demonstrated how food can be a means of communication, a way to share something in a way possibly more profound than words. As I photograph Norwegian cakes and Swedish cookies and write about them here, I’m doing more than swapping recipes. I’m trying to tap into the rich connections that we make when we sit down to share a meal lovingly prepared and joyously served.

Norwegian Heart Waffles Horizontal

It doesn’t really matter whether it’s Scandinavian or French, Mexican or Chinese–the experience is universal. That’s why it all matters, why I took so enthusiastically to writing about food. It just so happens that I am Norwegian, and so that is the cuisine that speaks most clearly to me. So whatever cultural background or interests you have, I hope you’ll keep reading Outside Oslo–for the food, of course, but also for the essence of why it all matters. It’s not just a pretty photo or a mouthwatering recipe. It’s a way to silently and subtly show love, to feed each other well, and to foster the rich connection and conversations that our hearts so desperately need.

May your relationships be enriched this week as you connect over food.

Until next time,

Daytona

“Nordic in the Northwest”: My Article and Recipes in The Oregonian

Daytona with Oregonian Article

So, here it is: the article I have been longing to tell you about! Published yesterday as the centerpiece food piece in The Oregonian (with a front-page teaser!), “Nordic in the Northwest” examines the similarities between the way of eating in the Nordic countries and the Pacific Northwest, especially each region’s emphasis on local, seasonal foods.

I started working on this piece earlier in the summer, interviewing experts on Nordic cuisine, researching immigration to the Pacific Northwest from Scandinavia, and developing five original recipes. If that weren’t exciting enough, I got to do all the photography, with three images used in the package.

I designed the recipes to work together as an entire late-summer menu, though you can certainly pick and choose which ones to make. They honor traditional Scandinavian cooking while reflecting modern influences. With salmon, blueberries, and an assortment of produce figuring heavily in the menu, the recipes also emphasize eating local and seasonal as much as possible and in such a way that is relevant in the Pacific Northwest and the Nordic countries this time of year.

I’ve included some outtakes from the photo shoot here in this post. Please do feel free to pin them on Pinterest–in fact, I’d be honored if you did!

Grilled Salmon with Lemon Horseradish Cream

Seasonal Greens Salad with Cucumber

Rye Berry Salad with Mushrooms and Goat Cheese

Blueberry Fruit Soup

Creamy Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Spice

Creamy Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Spice

There is a rolling continuum of the ingredients I cook with throughout the year, mounds of rhubarb in late spring toppling into the berries of summer, mingling on occasion in recipes like Nordic rhubarb and strawberry jam. In this way, fruits and vegetables help mark the changing seasons, ushering one gracefully into the next. Around this time each summer, when the midday sun begins to compete with the moist marine air around Seattle and the leaves begin their gradual display of changing colors, I feel compelled to embrace tomatoes, still vibrant and full of flavor, as often as I can and buy corn to grill for an outdoor meal, even if we must pull a sweater up over our shoulders while we dine.

This time of year, we do a lot of grilling. My husband prepares good quality meat or fish, seasoning it simply with olive oil and sea salt and maybe a little pepper and puts it on the grill while I make the side dishes and set the table. On Friday evening we needed little more than lamb chops and a couple of simple salads to make a meal.

Creamy Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Spice and Tomato Salad

Cucumber salads have figured prominently in my home in recent months, with the sweet-and-sour cucumber salad and cucumber salad with dill that I made for June’s Midsummer picnic and a creamy salad of cucumber and radish. There are any number of varieties in Scandinavian cuisine, and even with similar ingredient lists they can taste much different, depending on technique, the palate and taste preferences of the cook, and the seasonings. I veered away from the traditional Nordic varieties this past weekend, taking cues from David Tanis’ Heart of the Artichoke instead. Peeling the cucumber and slicing it into half moons, I dressed it with yogurt seasoned with garlic, fresh dill and mint, and drizzled olive oil and sprinkled red pepper flakes over the top. Adding a simple salad of heirloom tomatoes, we were set.

Heirloom Tomatoes on Board

Soon enough the tomatoes will make way for the foods of autumn. Apples are already making their way into my baking, and soon artichokes and Brussels sprouts will take up significant parts of our meals. And don’t forget the squash and root vegetables that conjure up all the cozy nostalgia of autumns past. One season is beginning its gradual roll into the next, but I’ll hold onto every last bit of summer as long as I can.

Tomatoes and Summer Dinner

Creamy Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Spice
Inspired by the Cucumbers and Yogurt in Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis

1 large cucumber
Salt and pepper
1 cup whole milk yogurt
1 garlic clove, pressed
1-2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped dill
Red pepper flakes

Peel the cucumber. Cut it in half lengthwise, then slice into half moons about 1/3-inch thick. Place in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add yogurt, garlic, olive oil, mint, and dill, and stir. Refrigerate while you’re preparing the rest of your meal–try to give it at least a half an hour. Check the seasonings and add more salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with red pepper flakes and drizzle olive oil over the top.

Serves 4.

Kräftskiva, Swedish Crayfish Party

Swedish Crayfish Party with Dill

It’s been a quiet week here in my little corner of the world, and to my dismay a quiet one on the blog as well. I have spent the entire week sick, and while it hasn’t kept me from working toward essential deadlines, I’ve had to take it easy and also decline invitations for some quintessentially summer events in Seattle (boating? On a sunny summer evening? I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to miss that).

As August nears a close and I reflect back on the summer, however, I have to say that it’s been a good one. My husband’s MBA graduation, a Midsummer picnic out of town, picking berries and freezing them for special treats as the weather cools down, the majority of dinners eaten outside on the patio, and plenty of writing, recipe development, and recipe testing to keep me inspired–I can’t complain. To top it off, last Friday I hosted a kräftskiva-inspired crayfish dinner for the family, complete with the requisite aquavit and Scandinavian beer.

While my own roots are entirely Norwegian, there are some Swedish connections on my husband’s side, so I enjoyed researching the traditional Swedish crayfish party and holding one of my own.

Swedish Crayfish Party Sides

Lemon and Crayfish

Kräftskiva–as the parties are called–typically take place in August as a throwback to the times when crayfish were limited to this time of year. Sweden used to be the world’s biggest crayfish exporter, I read in Scandinavian Classics by Niklas Ekstedt, but now–nearly a century after the crayfish plague there–the country is now the world’s biggest importer. An interesting turn of events, to be sure. Much of the crayfish now comes from China, but that doesn’t stop people in Sweden from going all out and enjoying a Scandinavian feast as festive and abundant as any other.

The menu typically features crayfish cooked in a brine flavored with crown dill, served with a variety of cheeses, bread, flatbread, pickled herring, potatoes, beer, and schnapps (aquavit). We took some liberties with the traditional menu, extending the country of origin for some of our items to neighboring Norway and Denmark (even in Seattle, a distinctly Scandinavian city, we do have limitations in what’s readily available). We also served the crayfish alongside Alaskan salmon, freshly caught by my father-in-law who had just returned from vacation (it’s hard to make a meal out of crayfish alone, after all). I should add that if you don’t know where to find fresh crayfish, I found mine frozen at Ikea last week.

Before August comes to a close, I thought I’d take a moment to share with you my menu from last week, along with links to the recipes that I used. Next year I’ll do it up a little more, adding the crayfish streamers lanterns, and other trappings that traditionally accompany these events. But I have to say, the menu was a success, and people were talking about the event for days.

Outside Oslo’s 2013 Kräftskiva Menu
Crayfish with Lemony Mayonnaise and Lemon Wedges
Fresh Alaskan King Salmon
Green Bean Salad with Lemon-Dijon Dressing
Assortment of Scandinavian Cheese
Various crispbread and bread
Pickled Herring
Linie Aquavit
Karlsson’s Gold Vodka
Carlsberg

Swedish Crayfish Party Feast with Salmon

Easy, Elegant Shrimp Smørrebrød

Shrimp Smørrebrød Vertical

The art of the Scandinavian smørrebrød reflects something of abundance. Not gluttony, but rather a sense of appreciating the fullness of life’s blessings no matter the times, circumstances, or resources.

Cook simply, with creativity, quality ingredients, and love, and you’ll produce something elegant and you’ll be proud to bring to the table.

I’ve been thinking for several months about how the food of Scandinavia has long demonstrated elegance and hospitality even in tough times. Interviewing a cookbook author recently for an article confirmed that when she mentioned the food that Scandinavians would eat in time of poverty. The lesson I’m learning to distill from this: Cook simply, with creativity, quality ingredients, and love, and you’ll produce something elegant and you’ll be proud to bring to the table. And speaking of that table, dressing it with your finest linens and dishes can also elevate the experience.

This all brings me back to smørrebrød, or the open sandwiches that are popular in the Scandinavian countries. The word smørrebrød is so lively, conjuring up images of smearing soft, rich butter generously and evenly over a slice of bread. From there any number of toppings can be added, with shrimp, smoked salmon, and roast beef being some of the most well-known.

Assembling Shrimp Smørrebrød

Garnishing Shrimp Smørrebrød

…the sandwich takes on a civilized air and encourages the diner to slow down and enjoy the meal, to be in the moment with one’s company and to savor the food.

Though the smørrebrød pictured here appear simple–merely buttered bread topped with vivid green lettuce, a pile of shrimp, creme fraiche, cucumber, and lemon–the results are satisfying in a way that an ordinary sandwich, hastily thrown together and squished flat for transport to be eaten at work or on the go, isn’t. There’s an art to building smørrebrød, with rules for how they must be assembled, the care in presentation, and which type of bread must accompany a certain type of topping. Eaten with a fork and knife rather than held between one’s hands, the sandwich takes on a civilized air and encourages the diner to slow down and enjoy the meal, to be in the moment with one’s company and to savor the food.

Shrimp Smørrebrød Assembled

Going back to the idea of abundance for a moment, take a look at these sandwiches. Piled high with generous amounts of shrimp, they need only one slice of bread. Paired with a couple other varieties, they make a full, satisfying meal. And to think that they often require no cooking–just creativity, quality ingredients, and love.

Shrimp Smørrebrød with Lemon and Cucumber
This recipe is adapted from an NPR story, which itself is worth a read.  

2 slices hearty bread
1-2 tablespoons softened butter
2-4 leaves of lettuce
6 ounces shrimp
4 tablespoons creme fraiche
2 lemon slices
2 cucumber slices
1 sprig of dill

Smear the butter evenly over the bread, taking care to thinly and evenly cover the surface all the way to the ends. Cover fully with lettuce, then divide the shrimp between the two sandwiches, arranging them in neat piles in the center of the lettuce. Top each with a dollop of creme fraiche, and arrange a slice of lemon and cucumber on top. Garnish with dill.

Serves 2.

Shrimp Smørrebrød Horizontal

Gluten-Free Scandinavian Baking & Cooking (Your Feedback Needed)

blackberry and almond cake

While out walking with a friend yesterday, the topic of food came up. Specifically, gluten-free food. There was a time when I wouldn’t have given GF eating a second thought, having no known sensitivities myself. But then I started hearing more and more about it: Celiac disease and gluten intolerance seemed to be popping up more and more in people I know and on blogs I read.

I’ve come a long way in my understanding of how gluten affects people. I no longer take for granted the ability to order a pizza or sandwich or any number of items at a restaurant without having to scan the menu for special selections. Still, I have a lot to learn.

Though there are no dietary restrictions in my household right now, we eat much less bread and pasta than we used to. Dessert is a rare treat, despite how often I write about sweets here on the blog. We keep processed foods to a minimum.

I’ve been reading more about gluten-free cooking lately, especially after signing up for a food styling and photography class with Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle and Vanille and subsequently buying a copy of her “Small Plates and Sweet Treats.” Through her stories, recipes, and stunning photos, Aran showcases a lifestyle that—though avoiding gluten—looks as rich and abundant as any other. Her way of incorporating gluten-free flours into recipes sounds delicious rather than restrictive, and she and her family appear to be a picture of health.

I have been thinking about ways to make Outside Oslo accessible for those with gluten or dairy intolerance, as well as vegetarians, vegans, and people with nut allergies. But I need to hear from you. Are you interested in gluten-free Scandinavian baking? Dairy-free? Nut-free? What are the things that interest you most? Would you like to read about special adaptations of your favorite classic Scandinavian dishes? What about being able to search or browse the recipes by diet? Please leave a comment and let me know.

This blog is as much for you as it is for me; it’s a place where we can share our love of great food and connection to or appreciation of Scandinavian culture and heritage. I would love to hear what you think about these ideas.

Cheers!

Daytona

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