Celebrating the Kräftskiva: a Swedish Crayfish Party Tradition

Swedish Crayfish Party

A few weeks ago, before the season began its visible transition from summer to fall, I took part in one of the most charming of Scandinavian celebrations, the kräftskiva, or Swedish crayfish party. A tradition every August in Sweden, it’s one that I’ve tried to embrace here in Seattle over the past several years. This year, in addition to hosting my own, I had the opportunity to be a guest at a very special kräftskiva hosted by Old Ballard Liquor Company.

As the summer sun glowed golden over Ballard, a neighborhood rich with Scandinavian history, I crossed the old railroad tracks, past the main streets, and made my way into a shipyard where relics of the old neighborhood were displayed as if it were a museum. Lights and signs from shuttered Ballard bars and restaurants (including one of my favorites, the old Copper Gate) brought back memories of old times. An old newspaper vending box displaying a 2009 issue made me do a double take (the headline announced the demise of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer print edition, an event that as a journalist I remember vividly). The sun cast a radiant tint over everything, and if one had entered the scene after putting back a few shots of aquavit, one might wonder if they were really seeing things for what they were.

Tumble Swede Swedish Crayfish Party

Swedish Crayfish Party

With live music, lanterns, and plenty of aquavit flowing at Pacific Fishermen Shipyard, we made fast friends with our fellow diners and dug into the meal. With crustacean juice and the wild-fennel-and-beer poaching liquid dripping from our lips, we shared tips for how to break into the crayfish and extract as much of the meat and goodness as possible.

My neighbor, nostalgic for a time when she had lived in Sweden, focused on the crayfish, savoring the eat-with-your-hands meal and her own personal aquavit carafe frozen in a thick sleeve of ice. Less sure of the crayfish, the woman across from me made a meal primarily out of the mini onion and mushroom cheese pies (it’s typical to serve Västerbotten cheese pie at such dinners, as crayfish themselves are hardly enough to fill one up and soak up all the aquavit consumed). Rounded out with new potatoes tossed with butter and dill, rye crispbread to slather with butter, and an elderberry ice cream topped with stone fruit compote, the meal was distinctly Nordic—with a Pacific Northwest touch.

Tumble Swede Swedish Crayfish Party

As the sun set, I couldn’t help but think about the Friday-night revelers that would be gathering along the strips of bars and restaurants in the heart of Ballard. They would be oblivious to this quirky, cultural tradition taking place on just the other side of the old railroad tracks. With a full stomach and happy with the warm glow of celebration and community, I knew just where I would rather be.

Swedish Crayfish Party

The Nordic Cookbook’s Finnish Spinach Pancakes (Pinaattiohukaiset)


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.


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.


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
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

A Vintage Norwegian Cod Dinner: Prince Fish with Asparagus and Wilted Cabbage with Bacon and Dill

Norwegian Prince Fish - DSC_3258

The book smells of old cabin wood, dusty, stale, with a hint of cedar. Printed back in the 1960s, it’s more than a half century old, in pristine condition apart from the torn corners of the jacket. Flipping through the unmarked, thick creamy pages and the still-crisp yet rustic deckle edge, I can’t help but wonder if had been forgotten on a bookshelf decades ago.


Norwegian Cabbage and Bacon - DSC_3243

I love old cookbooks, and have collected many Scandinavian and Nordic ones throughout the years. They offer clues to another time, often in subtle ways, and I can’t help but wonder how these might provide clues into what life must have been like for past generations of my family. I found my copy of The Complete Scandinavian Cookbook by Alice B. Johnson at Powell’s Books in Portland a while back. Nestled among Scandinavian and Nordic cookbooks both old and new in the high, crowded shelves, it made its way to mine, where I had all but forgotten again until this spring. With recipes grouped by country, it made it easy for me to go straight to the section on Norway and draft a menu for a vintage Norwegian dinner featuring one of the country’s most beloved fish: cod.

Norwegian Prince Fish - DSC_3257

Gently poached and then dressed in a creamy white sauce accented with a hint of mustard, the cod is simple yet flavorful. Vibrant asparagus gives the otherwise pale dish a splash of color. I served it alongside a dish of wilted cabbage with pieces of crunchy bacon and flecks of fresh dill.

I’ve preserved the essence of both recipes but have tweaked them a bit to reflect my tastes–primarily with the addition of a little mustard in the white sauce, a touch that livens it up and makes it something I can’t get enough of. There’s something deliciously old-school about both of these recipes. They’re neither new nor inventive, rather traditional and just the things to trigger nostalgia in each and every bite.

Asparagus - DSC_3230

Norwegian “Prince Fish” with Asparagus and White Sauce (Prinsefisk)
This recipe and the following are both adapted from The Complete Scandinavian cookbook by Alice B. Johnson (1964).

For the fish:
Approximately 1.5 pounds of cod fillets, skin and bones removed
Salt and pepper

For the Asparagus:
1 bunch fresh asparagus
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pat cod dry and season with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Place asparagus spears in a baking dish and toss with olive oil and salt, then roast until tender, 10-15 minutes depending on thickness. Cover and keep warm.

While the asparagus roasts, place the cod in a large pan in a single water and pour water around to just cover. Gently poach until just cooked through. Reserve a cup or so of the water and drain, covering the cod to keep it warm.

To make the sauce, melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stirring constantly, add flour until it seizes up, then gradually pour in the milk while continuing to stir until it thickens a bit. Pour in the whipping cream and add mustard and salt, continuing to stir until it starts to reach a boil. Taste and adjust the salt as needed. If you need to loosen it up a bit, add a little of the reserved water, starting with a tablespoon or two, until it reaches the desired consistency.

Arrange the asparagus on a platter. Place the cod on top, then generously pour over the sauce. Boiled potatoes would be a perfect accompaniment.

Serves 4.

Wilted Cabbage with Fresh Dill and Bacon (Kål med Dill og Flesk)
A study in contrasts, the softness of the cabbage–which has yielded to the heat–gets livened up with crunchy bacon and the herby flavor of fresh dill. Do be careful with the amount of salt–you may need more or less depending on the saltiness of the bacon.

1 large head cabbage
4 slices bacon (I used uncured applewood-smoked bacon)
1 leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
A handful of chopped dill, plus more for garnish
Approximately 1/2 teaspoon salt (see note above)
Freshly-ground pepper, to taste

Slice the cabbage into 1-inch strips, discarding the core.

In a large pan, fry the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp, then remove to a paper towel-lined plate and pour off all but a tablespoon of the fat. Add the sliced leek to the fat and cook over medium heat until lightly browned, about a minute or so. Add the cabbage, and scatter over the dill and the salt and pepper. Add about 1/2 cup water and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer until the cabbage is tender, stirring it occasionally and adding additional water as necessary. Place in a serving dish and crumble the bacon over the top. Garnish with extra dill.

Serves 4.


Norwegian Rømmegrøt (Sour Cream Porridge)

Rømmegrøt - DSC_3138

My bookshelves sag with stories—literature in the form of recipes, memories formed between batter-spattered handwritten lines. I’ve said for a long time that I care so much about Scandinavian food because of the people. My grandparents loved me with medisterkaker med surkål and fresh berries dressed in the fine silk of cream. They shared the family’s heritage with bowls full of riskrem drizzled with vibrant raspberry sauces and paper-thin potato lefse spread with butter and a dusting of sugar.

I started exploring Norwegian recipes as a way to grieve after my grandmother Agny died. Throughout the years, as I baked my way through Scandinavian cookbooks and coordinated frequent baking sessions with my mom and Grandma Adeline, I understood more deeply that food is so much more than sustenance and pleasure. It is about love. Reading about rømmegrøt recently, I realized that this old-fashioned Norwegian sour cream porridge is the perfect food to illustrate this idea.

Rømmegrøt Diptych

Rømmegrøt is the type of food that in old times you might bring to a new mother, to nourish her body after she gave birth. Ingrid Espelid Hovig writes in The Best of Norwegian Traditional Cuisine that you also might serve it to celebrate the harvest or to feed your neighbors who helped out at busy times. You might eat it at weddings and funerals, those events that would bring you and your community together to either celebrate or to grieve. The composition itself, a thick, rich cream porridge, would be the sort to nourish the body and nurture the soul—especially when served with its traditional accompaniments of cured meats and salted fish. These days the thought of something so rich often makes people worry about calories and fat, an enemy of the waistline, but I think that’s missing the point. This is celebration food, food with history, food that would bring people together and provide a way to show love.

Rømmegrøt (rømme translates to sour cream, and grøt to porridge) is pretty simple, really—it’s mostly sour cream, milk, and flour. But I found myself overwhelmed and honestly a bit intimidated as I set out to make it. Being so tied to tradition–it’s said to be one of Norway’s oldest dishes–I wanted to represent it well. But I quickly discovered that true rømmegrøt is difficult to make in the United States as our sour cream is much different than that in Norway, containing much less fat than needed, and also containing stabilizers that prevent the fat from leaching out, which is an important part of the dishAs I made an initial batch, experimenting with conventional sour cream and pouring over additional melted butter at the end to serve, and then trying it again with homemade sour cream, I began to wonder if this might be something best left to hands-on instruction, a recipe passed down by one generation teaching the next.

Though my relatives made rømmegrøt back in the day and my mom remembers eating her grandmothers’ as a little girl in North Dakota, the porridge had disappeared from the family’s repertoire by the time I was born. It wasn’t passed down by my dad or paternal grandparents–who were all born in Norway–either. I was an adult the first time I tasted it, so it should make sense, then, that I was a bit intimidated to try making it. But I did. Food has been my way of learning about my heritage, about the people who came before me and the place where we have our roots. Rømmegrøt is a big part of that. The taste of the porridge, warm from the pot, is of nurturing cream, thick with comfort. I can almost imagine the nursing mothers feeling its nourishment spread through their bodies, almost hear the guests who’ve come to celebrate a wedding. Yes, my bookshelves sag with stories. Even if rømmegrøt has not been part of my own story until now, it has a history I’m so glad to have learned.

Rømmegrøt - DSC_3160

Norwegian Rømmegrøt (Sour Cream Porridge)
The recipe I’m sharing with you today comes from the Sons of Norway online recipe collection. After reading many versions, I figured that if I’m going to traditional, that’s as good of a source as any. I’m sticking to the recipe pretty closely here, sharing what I experienced in the process. Considering how rich it is, this recipe can serve a lot of people. Cookbook author Signe Johansen writes in Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking: Scandilicious that rømmegrøt freezes well; if you have extra and wish to do this, just reheat using a little extra milk or water after defrosting, she instructs. Also, be prepared to stir relentlessly to minimize lumps. I’d love to hear how you make rømmegrøt too!

1 cup heavy whipping cream (at least 35%)
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 ¼ cups flour
5 cups whole milk
¾ teaspoon salt
Sugar, for serving
Cinnamon, for serving
Melted butter, for serving (optional)

To make the sour cream, in a medium saucepan, warm cream until it’s about body temperature. Pour in the buttermilk, give it a quick stir, and let it sit in the pot until it thickens, which should take at least 8 hours. I probably let mine sit 10 hours or so.

When you’re ready to make the rømmegrøt, bring the sour cream to a simmer, covered, in the same pan. Meanwhile, in another pot heat the milk so it will be ready to bring to a boil when you need it. After 15 minutes of simmering the sour cream, sift about a third of the flour over the cream, stirring constantly as you add the flour. Simmer for a few more minutes, until the fat has separated and you can skim or pour it off. Reserve the fat. Bring the milk to a boil in its pot. Sift the remaining flour over the porridge, stirring constantly as you go. (At this point, the original recipe said to bring it to a boil, but neither time I’ve made it—according to this recipe or another—was the porridge liquid enough to do so.) With the pot over heat, add milk a little at a time, stirring constantly, until you have the consistency you want. I used all the milk, knowing that the porridge thickens as it cools. Transfer the porridge to the larger milk pot if you need for space. Whisk vigorously until the lumps are gone, and continue to simmer for another ten minutes. Stir in the salt. To serve, divide the rømmegrøt between bowls. Add the reserved fat to each (I didn’t end up with much, so would probably add a bit of melted butter as needed), then dust with sugar and cinnamon.

Pickled Herring, Egg, and Radish Smørrebrød

Herring, Egg, and Radish Smørrebrød

I read some years ago in The New Yorker about an elderly woman who attributed her longevity to eating herring. I’d like to think she was onto something. Nordic cooking was the underdog of fine dining until restaurants like Noma and Fäviken started popping up throughout the region, but those who had tasted its wealth of flavors knew that the rest of the world was missing out.

I interviewed a Nordic cookbook author last week for an article I am writing. She pointed out something I’ve long known and have tried to articulate, that Nordic food is not the bland cuisine that so many people think it to be. We talked about the stereotypes, and how many people associate the food with the mild flavors of potatoes and lutefisk. I’ll be honest, I had that misconception for a long time, too, despite growing up tasted some amazingly flavorful Scandinavian dishes and foods, including smoked and cured fish, pickled vegetables and herring, and an array of spices present in Scandinavian cooking thanks to the trading of centuries past. Biff à la Lindström features the bright, punchy flavors of capers and pickled beets. The Swedish meat-and-potatoes stew known as sjömansbiff gets a lively pickup from those same beets and some pats of whole-grain mustard. Showers of fresh dill brighten many dishes. And then there’s pickled herring.

Herring, Egg, and Radish Smørrebrød

Even as a child I appreciated the bold flavor of pickled herring, plucking little oily bites of herring out of smorgasbord bowls with toothpicks, savoring them like fish candy. (Come to think of it, that doesn’t necessarily sound appealing, though you may understand what I mean if you also have a taste for pickled herring.)

But while the punch of salt-and-vinegar may be pleasing, Scandinavians also value balance and restraint, as demonstrated in this smørrebrød. As the sun began to fade one recent afternoon, I hurriedly mixed up a simple egg salad and carefully mounded it on slices of buttered rye bread. Even in Seattle, where we don’t truly experience the mørketid, I find myself craving the sunlight and celebrating the longer days that come in the spring. Arranging bite-sized herring pieces on top, I finished the sandwiches with paper-thin slices of radishes and feathery sprigs of dill. I had just enough time to capture the last of the afternoon light through my camera lens and then take a bite. The intense flavor of pickled herring was there, as bold as ever, but softened, more refined, on the bed of soft eggs. Fresh radish and dill pointed to the changing seasons and offered a contrast–not only in texture and color, but also in fresh versus preserved, a signal that winter is transitioning to spring, a time in which nature relaxes and unfurls, allowing even the more delicate of plants to flourish and thrive.

I’m not sure if there’s anything to that elderly woman’s story of herring granting her longevity, aide from the fish’s healthy oils, but I’ll keep eating it–with hopes for health and long life, of course, but mostly because I love it.

Herring, Egg, and Radish Smørrebrød

Pickled Herring, Egg, and Radish Smørrebrød
Adapted from Simon Bajada’s lovely book, The New Nordic: Recipes from a Scandinavian Kitchen (Hardie Grant Books, 2015)

6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped
3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
Salt, to taste
2 Tablespoons butter
4 slices rye bread
8 ounces pickled herring fillets, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces, onions reserved if possible
4 radishes, sliced paper thin
Fresh dill, for garnish

In a small bowl, mix the chopped eggs and mayonnaise together with a fork. Give it a taste and add a little salt if necessary. Spread butter on the slices of bread. Spoon the egg salad evenly over them, then top with the pickled herring, including some of the sliced onion from the jar if you have them. Arrange the radish slices over the top, and garnish with dill.

Serves 4.

Scandi-Style Salmon Burger in the Norwegian American Weekly

Scandi-Style Salmon Burger

A taste for the sea must run in my blood. Wild salmon grilled, cured, or smoked; oily silver-blue mackerel salted and grilled; humble cod, elegant with its understated opaque white flakes–these are foods my kitchen knows well. Most of the time I prefer fish cooked simply, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt to accent the taste of its native waters. But every once in a while a recipe or idea comes along that warrants playing. Such is the case with the Scandi-style salmon burger I’m sharing today in the latest issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. This recipe is packed with the traditional Nordic flavors of salmon, dill, and rye, and its open format is a nod to the traditional Scandinavian smørbrød. Bright and flavorful, it’s a perfect transitional weather meal as we eagerly await the arrival of spring. Head over to the Norwegian American Weekly for the recipe.

Scandi-Style Salmon Burger Scandi-Style Salmon Burger

Swedish Sailor’s Stew (Sjömansbiff)


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.



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.


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.

Biff à la Lindström

Biff Lindström

It occurred to me the other day as I set to work in the kitchen making an early dinner that the days are getting longer. Though afternoon, it was still light enough to snap some photos of the food, with hopes that the biff à la Lindström (piquant little Swedish meat patties) I was making for my family might be as appetizing to you as they were to me.

Some days it feels like we’re trudging on through the grey days and the dampness that forces its way through our clothes and skin down to the bones. While the darkness and the cold are nothing like the polar nights that my friend Dianna who lives in Tromsø has been experiencing, and while I do in fact love the winter and the coziness that it inspires, it can take some effort to break out of the weather-inspired lull and celebrate the season’s merits instead.

I read a recent story about how people in northern Norway cope with the darkness of winter. While sunlight is important for one’s physical and mental health, there are months in which the sun never rises above the horizon there—and yet people thrive. A Stanford University PhD student on a Fulbright scholarship in Tromsø discovered that seasonal depression wasn’t as common as one might expect. She found that people there celebrate the winter. They find ways to enjoy it, such as skiing. They take in the physical beauty around them, and they embrace all those wonderfully cozy elements of winter, such as curling up with a fuzzy blanket and filling the house with the warm glow of candlelight. The takeaway from the story was that shifting the way we think about winter might really help.

I’ve been trying to do that, from leaving a bunch of candles scattered throughout the house after Christmas to frequently baking treats like cardamom boller that fill my home with the warm, cozy aromas of yeast and spice (being a food writer engaged in frequent recipe testing helps with this). Soon enough spring will arrive and we’ll stash away our cold-weather gear until the next winter. We’ll miss the fireplace and the comforting feeling of knits and wool grazing against our necks and skin. It’s going to come soon—sooner perhaps than I would like—as evidenced by the lighter afternoons. Thankfully I have these little meat patties to help remind me to embrace it while it’s here.

Biff Lindström

People in Scandinavia have been enjoying biff à la Lindström for potentially over 150 years, making it a true classic. There are a couple of stories about its origins, one being that Captain Henrik Lindstrom allegedly brought the dish from Russia to Sweden in May 1862 when he introduced it at Hotel Witt in Kalmar. Another story involves Norwegian chef and polar expeditioner Adolf Henrik Lindstrøm, who was involved in three famous Norwegian polar expeditions.

Whoever said that Scandinavian food is bland must not be acquainted with biff à la Lindström. The distinctive flavors are pickled beets and capers, which are bold and present enough to be interesting but without overpowering the overall meal. It’s commonly eaten for lunch; Danish chef Trine Hahnemann, author of The Scandinavian Cookbook, writes that these piquant little meat patties—which are sometimes topped with a fried egg—are also great as a hangover cure.

As with any classic recipe, variations for biff à la Lindström abound. It’s often made with mashed potatoes, though cookbook author Beatrice Ojakangas swaps breadcrumbs for the potatoes in Scandinavian Feasts, and Hahnemann doesn’t use either. Recipes sometimes include a liquid of some kind—heavy cream, or perhaps even the liquid from pickled beets—but this recipe shouldn’t need it. I researched a number of recipes to come to this one, and I trust you’ll be pleased with the results. It’s delicious alongside a simple green salad, or perhaps some new potatoes that have been boiled, smashed, and then roasted with olive oil and salt.

I managed to whip these up for an early dinner yesterday before the sun had even begun to set. The patties came together quickly, a combination of little more than lean ground beef, bread crumbs, onion, capers, and pickled beets, leaving me plenty of afternoon light. We’re still in the heart of winter, but spring will be coming soon. It’s the perfect balance–enough time to savor the season while looking forward to the next one.

Biff Lindström

Biff à la Lindström

1 pound lean ground beef
½ medium onion, finely chopped
¼ cup fine, dry bread crumbs
1 extra-large egg
½ cup chopped pickled beets, plus more for garnish (try mine, if you’d like)
2 Tablespoons capers, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt
a few grinds of freshly-ground black pepper
1-2 Tablespoons butter
Whole grain mustard, for serving (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, stir together beef, onion, and bread crumbs (I used my stand mixer for quick, thorough, yet minimal mixing). Add the egg, picked beets, capers, and Worcestershire, along with salt and pepper, and mix to combine well.

Using your hands, shape the meat into 8 patties, creating a little indentation in the middle of each one with your thumb to help cook them evenly.

In a large skillet, heat butter over medium heat. Add the patties, in two batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding, and cook, flipping once, until each side is a rich golden brown and the center is cooked as you’d like.

Garnish with additional pickled beets and a spoonful of mustard on the side for serving, if you’d like. Serve alongside small boiled potatoes and something green—a salad of baby arugula, simply dressed, is nice.

Serves 4.

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


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.

Venison with Parsnips and Chanterelles

Venison with Parsnips and Chanterelles

Food was how I found my way back, back to a time when someone dear to me was still alive, a time when my grandmother’s midcentury kitchen still churned out the hearty Norwegian dishes that were at once hearty and elegant. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you might know the story, how I came to love Norwegian food with such passion. I grew up eating it, but it was one summer in my mid-twenties when I realized just how much it meant to me. (This post in the archives sums it up pretty well.) Over the past six years it’s helped me to better understand the generations who came before me, ones who carried their heritage and traditions all the way across the Atlantic to America.

With each Scandinavian cookbook I read or recipe I cook, I glean a little more insight into where both sides of my family came from. I seem to gravitate toward the sweets, and I love creaming countless sticks of butter into glistening sugar and watching the simplest of ingredients transform into any number of different deserts. (Norwegian baking is remarkable in its simplicity and variety–the syv slags kaker, or seven sorts of Christmas cookies, are just some examples of what you can do with little more than butter, sugar, eggs, and flour.) But the savory dishes are just as good, and gravlax, fish soup, bacalao stew, and spiced medisterkaker meatballs nestled into surkål are my ideas of comfort food. Until recently, however, I had never cooked venison, a common meat in the Nordic countries.

Venison with Parsnips and Chanterelles

I’d eaten venison in Norway, of course, during one of those meals that stay with you and linger, even as the details get hazy. We had stopped at a lovely rustic restaurant along a cobbled street in Bergen, up a bit from the main part of town. There I remember eating red deer and drinking crystal clear aquavit that tasted purely like distilled dill. I don’t remember what we talked about (aside from that remarkable aquavit) or what we were wearing. But I remember sitting there with my husband and sharing a meal in a white-hued restaurant with light flooding in through the windows from the soft-bright day. I remember the way it felt to experience Norway for the first time and how much I loved being in that country.

When I cooked venison for the first time a couple of weeks ago, I rubbed it with crushed anise seed, salt, and pepper, and nestled it along with creamy pureed parsnips, buttery chanterelles, and a generous spoonful of lingonberry preserves. Though I was creating my own recipe, I was drawing from many of the preparations I’ve seen in Scandinavian cookbooks, from the anise seed that flavors the venison (a nod to Danish chef and author Trine Hahnemann) to the chanterelles and lingonberry preserves that accompany it (mushrooms and a little something sweet are very typical). Though I didn’t grow up eating venison (neither of my parents likes it so they didn’t cook it), the time I’ve spent exploring its uses in preparation for this recipe has deepened my understanding and appreciation of yet another facet of Scandinavian cooking.

Venison with Parsnips and Chanterelles

Venison with Parsnips and Chanterelles
I created this recipe as an entry in a recipe challenge for Marx Foods. They invited me to participate and sent me a couple of complimentary packs of Cervena Venison to work with. Voting takes place next week. You can learn more about the challenge on their website.

1 venison 8-rib frenched rack
1 Tablespoon anise seed, crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil

3 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
3 cups whole milk
1/2 Tablespoon kosher salt
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

3/4 pound chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and cut lengthwise into halves or quarters, depending on size
3 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons aquavit
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tablespoon juniper berries, crushed
Salt and pepper, to taste

Lingonberry preserves, for serving

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Pat the venison dry, then mix together anise seed, salt, and pepper and rub over the meat evenly on all sides.

Heat olive oil in an oven-safe large pan over medium-high heat. Sear the venison on both sides, allowing it to form a deep golden crust. Transfer to the oven to finish cooking. Timing will depend on how you’d like the venison cooked; due to its low fat content, you’ll want to make sure to not overcook it. (While the USDA recommends cooking farmed game meat to an internal temperature of 160°, the product information for this venison states the following recommended internal cooking temperatures: 104° for rare, 111° for medium rare, and 129° for medium.) Remove from the oven when the internal temperature is a few degrees below where you want it. Transfer the venison to a plate and cover with foil to rest while you finish the rest of the dish.

While the venison cooks, work on the vegetables. Place the parsnips, salt, milk, and thyme in a medium pot and bring to a vigorous simmer. Cook until the parsnips yield easily to a fork, then remove from the heat. Remove the thyme sprigs and discard. Transfer the parsnips to a food processor, along with enough milk to make a smooth puree. Be careful, as they’re hot. Process until as smooth as can be, adding more of the milk as needed. (Parsnips will retain some texture, so don’t overprocess them.)

For the mushrooms, heat butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté for a few minutes until they’re tender but still retain a slight bite. Season with salt.

To make the sauce, deglaze the pan with aquavit, using a wooden spoon to loosen all the brown bits. Add cream and juniper berries and cook for a few minutes over medium or medium-high heat until it thickens and takes on a pale golden color. Strain, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, spoon the parsnips on a platter, then top with the venison and chanterelles. Pour the sauce over the venison and add a generous dollop of lingonberry preserves.

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