Norwegian Bacalao Stew
Scandinavian Coconut Cookies with Sea Salt
Syttende Mai: Seattle, 1980s
Gluten-Free Scandinavian Almond Cake with Rhubarb Compote

Lemon-Scented Riskrem (Rice Cream) with Raspberry Sauce

Riskrem

The blog has been sleeping, in a state of early winter hibernation these past few weeks. But on the other side of the screen things have been brewing, dreams being wrung out and filled back up, taking wing. A new year symbolizes a blank canvas, and while ultimately it is nothing but a new set of dated pages in the same life, it offers a chance to reflect on the past 12 months—their blessings, trials, successes, and struggles—and then to give oneself the freedom to boldly move forward without judgment into a new season, believing that the days to come are filled with potential.

I began my own process of reflection and planning sometime back in early or mid December—it feels like so long ago now—and have given my heart the time and space it’s needed to make sense of the thoughts and ideas about the writing life that have been bubbling to the surface and challenging me to take notice: ideas bold and brave and utterly surprising; a challenge to turn all my creative and professional pursuits on their heads and shake them out to see what happens; an urge to stop the inward battle between the typical shoulds and expectations of today’s professional writing life and the musts of my own.

I have rarely picked up the pen to write and have neglected the camera over the past few weeks. The timing has not been right. It’s as if the words and visual compositions inside of me have urged me to wait, to let the creativity rest and ponder. Christmas meals with family and New Year’s celebrations with friends have punctuated the stillness, along with deep heart searching to uncover my ultimate priorities and goals for this moment in life and check my past progresses against them. Rather than planning and documenting recipes and meals for the blog I have cooked solely for the purpose of feeding my loved ones well. I have savored time spent alongside them in the kitchen and at the dining room, the camera serving only to take a few snapshots for the sake of memories.

Riskrem

And now a week into the new year I have come out ready to begin again, pursuing the same ultimate goals but with clarity and purpose, without the periphery work that I now realize is serving as a distraction. The words feel rusty but ready. The eyes are refreshed and prepared to look through the camera lens with a new vision. The heart? Well, that heart is almost overflowing with excitement for what is to come, grateful for the freedom to shake everything up and rediscover and declare its motivation and focus.

Rather than make resolutions, I set goals, dream dreams. They’re flexible, open to modification along the way, but they provide a vision for the year to come and direction for the days that make up that time. They give me a framework to work with, a sense of how I should use my time. Far too often this past year I found myself frustrated with the industry expectation of social media success and bogged down by the ever-growing email inboxes filled with too much clutter amidst the messages of true meaning. This year I’m committing to using social media as a necessary tool but never letting it steal from time better spent elsewhere in my writing life. As for email? I’m taming it, slowly but surely, and hope that in good time I will have freed up that space to be used for enriching communication—and that includes my own responsiveness, as I can’t tell you how many emails I have left unanswered, despite my best efforts, throughout the years. As I’ve learned from Emily Ley and Lara Casey—a couple of entrepreneurs and moms with hearts for encouraging others to live rich, meaning-filled lives, and whose planners and goal-setting tools I love—a little structure, evaluation, and planning can go a long way in freeing up time and space so that we can focus on what matters most. For me, that’s my family, friends, faith, and writing dreams. I’m looking forward to what 2014 holds and am trying to savor each and every day as it unfolds.

Riskrem

Lemon-Scented Riskrem (Rice Cream) with Raspberry Sauce
While Norwegian riskrem is very much a Christmas tradition in my family and for many others, I’m going to be bold and say I see no reason why it shouldn’t be brought to the table on other occasions as well. As I have worked to recreate some of my late Grandma Agny’s recipes over the years, riskrem is the first that I succeeded at. Now that I’m comfortable with the recipe, I feel free to tweak it, adding various amounts of sugar and cream and even modifying the flavors. This one–with the zest of a lemon–is fresh and not too sweet, while maintaining the delicate nature that I love so much about the dessert. Enjoy!

1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Arborio rice
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar plus 3-4 tablespoons
Seeds from a vanilla bean
Zest from one lemon
1 1/4 cups cream
12-ounce bag frozen raspberries, defrosted

Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan and stir in the salt. Add rice and simmer, covered, about 20 minutes until the rice absorbs the water.

Add the milk, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla seeds, and about half of the lemon zest and stir to combine. Bring almost, but not quite, to a boil, stirring occasionally, and cover, simmering until the rice has plumped with the milk and the pudding has thickened. Taste at some point and add more lemon zest if you wish–it should taste a little stronger here than you’d like in the finished dessert, since you’ll be folding in whipped cream at the end. Remove from the heat and let chill thoroughly.

When ready to serve, whip the cream with one to three tablespoons of the remaining sugar, depending on how sweet you like your riskrem–the pudding that’s a base is only moderately sweet. Starting with 3/4 of a cup, begin to fold the cream into the pudding, adjusting the amount until you have a consistency you like.

Make the sauce by pureeing the raspberries with a tablespoon of sugar. Pour raspberry sauce over each portion of riskrem and serve.

Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread)

Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread)

This morning I woke up to the sight of freshly-fallen snow. I snapped a quick photo through the window in the blue-tinted light just to capture the moment for myself. As I excitedly looked from one window to the next, I took in the images of the smooth white surfaces covering my neighbors’ roofs as perfectly as the icing on a gingerbread house and of the snow on the driveway untouched except for a row of dainty little paw prints.

As is usual in Seattle, the snow didn’t last and by mid-afternoon, when the setting sun had turned the gauzy sky a light dusty rose, the snow was gone. But it was enough to call for a snow day. Appointments canceled, my son and I cuddled fireside to read books while warming up from a brief time outside. As he continued to play I savored the still, quiet morning hours–such a rarity–and settled in, knowing we had absolutely nowhere to go.

Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread)

That reminds me of a recent cozy day when I baked this julekake, cardamom-scented Norwegian Christmas bread studded with raisins and candied citron. There’s something about the process of baking bread that creates a steady, still rhythm to the day. Mixing the dough in the morning, I let it undergo multiple rises throughout the day, monitoring the temperature as I went along.

The scent of woody cardamom and yeasty bread is one of the quintessential marks of Christmas time in my memories. Mom would butter slices of julekake and top them with slices of geitost for snacks during this time of year and I loved the sweet-savory elements of both the bread and the brown goat cheese.

Our julekake tended to be dotted with an assortment of candied fruits in black, green, yellow, and red. This year however I decided to bake a batch of my own and follow a Norwegian tradition of including only raisins and citron, candying the latter myself.

Candied Citron

Citron

The bread, though shaped differently than the julekake of my youth, was just as I remembered it: warming, aromatic, festive, and just right for eating with thinly sliced geitost. 

The sky has darkened and night is almost here. The tree is lit and a fire flickering in the fireplace. The snow may be gone–just like the julekake–but that little bit of snow this morning was the perfect way to usher in the last weekend before Christmas, full of holiday parties and just the tiniest bit of last-minute shopping. However you are spending the days leading up to Christmas, I wish you the coziest, merriest, and blessed time possible. God Jul!

Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread)

Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread)
Adapted from Ekte Norsk Jul Vol. 2 and Ekte Norsk Mat, both by Astrid Karlsen Scott. Be sure to use freshly-ground cardamom. Next time I’ll increase the amount of candied citron.

3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup salted butter, cut into dice
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (75-80 degrees F)
3 eggs, divided
5 cups flour, sifted, divided
1-2 teaspoons freshly-ground cardamom
1 1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup candied citron (see David Lebovitz’s recipe, or use store-bought)

Warm milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. When bubbles begin to form around the edge, remove from heat and stir in sugar, butter, and salt, stirring to melt the butter. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir until dissolved. Add the lukewarm milk, then stir in two beaten eggs. Add 2 cups of the flour and the cardamom and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth. Stir in raisins and citron. At this point you’ll want to stir in just enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough–I used about 2 1/2 cups. Let rest, covered with a towel, about ten minutes.

For the first rise: Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes, then transfer to a large, lightly-greased bowl. Turn it so that the oil coats the entire ball of dough. Cover with a towel and set in a warm place, about 85 degrees F, to rise until it’s doubled in bulk. (In the conditions in my home, this took about 90 minutes.)

For the second rise: Punch down the dough and divide in half, forming the dough into two balls. Cover them for ten minutes, and prepare baking sheets by lightly greasing them. Place a round loaf onto the baking sheets and let rise again in a warm spot, covered with towels, until they’ve doubled in bulk, another 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Toward the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When ready to bake, beat the remaining egg in a small bowl then gently brush it over each loaf, taking care not to press down on the dough too much. Bake for 20 minutes, then cover with foil and bake until done; the original recipes suggest the second period should take about 25 minutes, until the bread is deep golden brown. Mine–which I baked in 2 ovens–took about 17 or 18 minutes for the second part. Immediately transfer to wire racks and cool.

Makes 2 round loaves.

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.)

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

Cardamom Thumbprint Cookies with a Scandinavian Touch

Cardamom Thumbprint Cookies

They’d all be here in 15 minutes, my mom alerted me in a text message. My mom and dad, grandma, uncle, and contingent of cousins were on their way, the first arrivals of a 21-person Thanksgiving feast. I reflected on the progress, what still needed to be done, and felt a sense of calm.

The tables were set, the turkeys in the oven and rotisserie, the soup simmering on the stove. Despite a short period of feeling pressured to get everything done a half an hour prior, my husband and I were ready to welcome the first of our first guests.

We’ve hosted feasts in the past–large groups of so many people that we’ve made big batches of chili or ribs and let our guests serve themselves with paper plates and plastic cups. But being our first sit-down meal with more than about 15 people, this event required quite a bit of extra preparation. So off I headed to Ikea for a ridiculous amount of plates, utensils, water glasses, and wine glasses (and a necessary serving of Swedish meatballs in their cafe), and I braved the pre-Thanksgiving holiday rush at the mall to find linens. And then there was the food. Last Sunday I realized that I could minimize my time at the grocery store–guaranteed to be crowded any time in the following days–by ordering most of my groceries online. By the time Tuesday rolled around, I told the women in my Bible study that I was feeling strangely relaxed about hosting such a feast–perhaps that was cause for concern?

Cardamom Thumbprint Cookies

But before I knew it my house was full of relatives from both sides of my husband’s and my family, who were happily mingling and sampling from bottles of bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau, Côtes du Rhône, Grenache, and Tempranillo. Soon the dining room was full of relatives hungrily eating a first course of butternut squash and chipotle soup garnished with cocoa-toasted pumpkin seeds and served with aged-cheddar biscuits. While the bowls were emptying, my husband carved the turkeys and the side dishes were passed: Mom’s sweet potatoes in orange cups and her classic sausage dressing, my mother-in-law’s creamy mashed potato casserole, a perfectly sweet-tart cranberry sauce from my sister-in-law, and a squash and radicchio salad from my brother-in-law.

The calm I had felt in the days leading up to the event had not been the calm before the proverbial storm, but rather a sense of peace and confidence that everything was under control, that the day would turn out to be what it should be: a time to spend with loved ones and to reflect on all the things we have to be thankful for.

Cardamom Thumbprint Cookies

A few days ago I even managed to bake a batch of cookies–not for Thanksgiving, but just for fun. I had seen a recipe for cardamom thumbprint cookies in Food & Wine and wanted to give it a try, adding lingonberry preserves to the mix for an extra-Scandinavian touch. We certainly didn’t need any more sweets–we had more pies, cakes, and cookies than we could eat–but baking these amidst all of the holiday preparations gave me a chance to do a little something for myself and it also resulted in being able to send home a box of treats with some family members last night.

With Thanksgiving in the past and the countdown to Christmas now here, I’d like to share with you the first in a series of cookie recipes I’ll be featuring on Outside Oslo in the coming weeks. Whether your Christmas preparations include making the traditional syv slags kaker–seven sorts of Norwegian Christmas cookies–or perhaps making just a few batches of favorite family cookies, I hope you’ll find ideas and inspiration here on the blog. I’m aiming to share seven cookie recipes in the weeks to come, but even though I’ve read that it wouldn’t be a proper Norwegian Christmas without at least seven types, I’m modifying the tradition for my family and choosing to do as many–and only as many–as we can make while still maximizing a sense of togetherness, fun, and holiday cheer. Whether that ends up being three, four, seven, or ten types, I’ll be happy with the results.

I hope that you all had a good Thanksgiving and that you have a blessed holiday season.

Cardamom Thumbprint Cookies Cardamom Thumbprint Cookies

 Almond-Cardamom Thumbprints with Lingonberry Preserves
Adapted from Food & Wine, December 2013

1 cup fine almond flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Approximately 1 cup lingonberry preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare two baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper or using a Silpat baking mat (I did the latter and baked the cookies in rounds batches).

Whisk almond flour, all-purpose flour, cardamom, and salt together in a medium bowl to combine. In a medium-to-large bowl, beat the butter and sugar using an electric mixer for about three minutes, until it becomes light and fluffy; scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary to fully incorporate the ingredients. Beat in the egg and vanilla extracts, then turn down the speed to low and mix in the dry ingredients, just until incorporated. Turn out the dough onto your work surface and knead it a few times, forming it into a ball.

Shape the dough into little balls using a tablespoon measure and arrange them on the baking sheets about an inch apart. Make an indentation in the center of each–Food & Wine suggests using a teaspoon for this–and bake until slightly firm, about 10 minutes. Reinforce the indentation in each cookie one more time and return the cookies to the oven until they start to turn lightly golden and feel dry to the touch. This should take about seven more minutes.

Immediately transfer the cookies to a rack. When completely cool, stir the lingonberry preserves in a small bowl to create a smoother jam (it’s okay to leave the berries intact), then carefully spoon a little into the center of each cookie.

Makes about two dozen cookies.

Celebrating a Family Tradition in Nordic Design’s Christmas Magazine

Nordic Design Christmas Magazine 2013 Cover

One of my favorite holiday traditions is baking with my grandma and mom. Each November we start a months’ long routine of gathering in the kitchen to bake through our family’s traditional recipes. There’s lefse, krumkaker, sandbakkelse, and much, much more. I had the opportunity to share a little about the tradition–along with my grandma’s recipe for sandbakkelse–in Nordic Design’s Christmas magazine this year (find my story on pages 73-76). In addition to my story and some other great recipes, editor Catherine Lazure-Guinard has put together a great compilation of gift suggestions, ideas for decorating, and more. I hope you’ll check it out as you prepare for your Scandinavian Christmas this year!

My Article in Nordic Design Christmas Magazine 2013

Recipe in Nordic Design Christmas Magazine 2013

Images are screenshots from the magazine. Read the story–and check out the whole issue–here.

Mor Monsen Kake – A Classic Norwegian Cake for Christmastime

Mor Monsen Cake

I’ve sat down twice to write this post—actually, I’ve sat down to write it more times than I can count, but twice I’ve drafted something and decided to start over. I’m in a dry spot creatively and I’ve struggled to find the right words to communicate the things I’d like to tell you. I’ve been sitting on this post for far too long, though—and the cake you’re looking like is already long gone—so it’s about time I stop worrying about telling the perfect story and just touch base here on the blog, even if just for a moment.

The cake I’m sharing with you today is called Mor Monsen Kake, or Mother Monsen’s Cake. It’s a classic Norwegian cake flavored richly with lemon zest and garnished with almonds, currants or raisons, and pearl sugar. Have you ever tasted it? It’s been a beloved cake since the 19th century since a Norwegian author wrote what is believed by some to be the first Norwegian cookbook. Hanna Winsnes, in her 1845 book, Lærebog i de forskjellige Grene af Huusholdningen (which Norwegian-born Sunny over at Arctic Grub loosely translates to A manual On The Different Household Chores), included a recipe for this cake, attributing it to Mor Monsen. That woman’s legacy lives on to this day in this popular cake, though we don’t know much else about her.

Mor Monsen Cake

I’m intrigued by the history of recipes—how they originated, what inspired them, who developed them. The mystery surrounding Mor Monsen is part of what draws me to this cake. Was she a friend of the author’s, or perhaps a relative? Did she attend the author’s church (Hanna was the wife of a priest)? What other recipes did she develop that may have been lost (or attributed elsewhere)? We’ll probably never know the answers, but I love that we have her name and that her recipe has stood the test of time: Her cake is still popular in Norway today.

I also wonder about the inclusion of lemon. Citrus is not native to Norway, so it must have been an expensive ingredient for housewives in the 19th century. Perhaps this is why Mor Monsen Kake is enjoyed during holidays such as Christmas, times in which families would work extra hard to provide a special, warm environment for their loved ones.

With the all the questions I have about this cake, I do know one thing: You should make it part of your Scandinavian Christmas this year. The simplest cake batter, all it takes is creaming butter and sugar together and adding the lemon zest and other requite cake ingredients, then pouring it all into a pan. Sprinkle with almonds, currants or raisins, and pearl sugar, then bake. When it’s cooled, cut it into its distinctive diamond-shaped pieces, and you’ll have a cake that’s simple yet elegant, already cut into serving pieces making it great for transport, and that keeps well. I’ve heard that you can even freeze it—though you may not need to.

While we’re on the subject of Scandinavian Christmas, I have a number of recipes lined up for you this season, so I hope you’ll subscribe to the blog and follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. You can also access some of my past Scandinavian Christmas posts here. And now for the cake…

Mor Monsen Cake

Mor Monsen Kake (Norwegian Mother Monsen Cake)
Adapted from Authentic Norwegian Cooking by Astrid Karlsen Scott

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (salted) butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 eggs
Grated zest of one lemon (use an organic one if possible, or scrub thoroughly)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cups slivered almonds
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
3 tablespoons pearl sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 9- by 13-inch pan with parchment paper and grease it.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly into the batter before adding the next. Mix in lemon zest. In a small bowl, combine flour and baking powder, then tip into the batter and stir just until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan, scraping all the last bits from the bowl, then smooth it into an even layer with a spatula. Sprinkle the almonds, currants, and pearl sugar evenly over the top and press the garnishes gently into the top of the batter. You want to do this ever so slightly–Scott says to do this so the garnishes stick to the cake once baked.

Bake until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Cool on a rack until cool enough to handle, then remove the cake from the pan and let finish cooling (Scott suggests doing this by inverting the pan with a baking sheet). When cool, cut the cake into the signature diamond shapes, or into parallelograms if preferred.

Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars

Candied GingerSo many of the dessert recipes that find their way to the pages of this blog are traditional–old Scandinavian classics that have stood the test of time. But I love discovering new recipes, too, especially when they incorporate some of my favorite Nordic ingredients and flavors. Recently my friend Christy–a fellow Norwegian-American–sent me a recipe she had spotted for candied ginger-cardamom bars. I promptly printed it out and committed to baking them soon.

Cardamom, with its pungent perfume of sandlewood and a grandfather’s cologne, is one of the quintessential spices of Scandinavian baking. Its scent–earthy and exotic–conjures up childhood memories of visiting my grandparents’ midcentury home overlooking Puget Sound. Commonly used to flavor krumkaker, vaffler, cakes, and a variety of other traditional treats, cardamom holds a prominent place in the food experiences of most Scandinavians.

So while the recipe in my inbox wasn’t necessary a classic, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. But first things first: What was I going to do about the candied ginger?

Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars

Ginger Root

I have mixed feelings about the dry, crunchy, potent nuggets that reside in a canister on grocery store shelves: all at once too strong and sweet–yet strangely addictive. Not a fan of over-processed and preservative-laden food, I set out to make my own.

Candied ginger, it turns out, is easy to make. A little time-consuming, sure, but fun. Techniques vary. Some recipes call for slicing the ginger into coins. Other instruct a matchstick shape. Some cook the ginger in a sugar syrup immediately, while others have you simmer the ginger in fresh water once or twice before cooking it in the syrup in order to mitigate some of the overpowering flavor. The latter is extra effort, but it’s worth it. The resulting candied ginger is assertive yet refined, a more balanced and sophisticated version of its packaged relative.

Candied Ginger

So much of baking depends on quality ingredients, so when making a recipe like this in which the taste of the ginger will shine, I’m happy to put in a little extra effort. Plus, I now have a bowlful of extra ginger to keep on hand for future baking. It would be a nice addition to homemade granola or even a ginger spice cake. With Christmas coming up in a couple of months, the ginger would also make a welcomed gift for a food-loving friend. Come to think of it, Christy, if you’re reading this, you might just find yourself with some homemade candied ginger soon…

Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars

Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars
Adapted from Bon Appétit by way of The Oregonian

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 egg
3/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prep a 8-or 9-inch square baking pan by spritzing it with baking spray.

Whirl flour, sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt together in a food processor to combine, then add the butter. Pulse to work the butter into the flour, continuing until you have a course meal. Crack open the egg and beat it; add two tablespoons to the flour, reserving the rest. Pulse some more just until the dough comes together, then add the ginger, pulsing just enough to combine. Turn it out into the prepared pan and press it evenly across the bottom. Brush the top with the reserved egg.

Bake about 40 minutes, depending on the size of your pan, until the top of the bars is golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (it will be moist but should have no crumbs). Set the pan on a rack to cool.

When cooled, cut into 18 bars by dividing into three long rectangles and then cutting each of them into six bars. Stored at room temperature in an airtight container, these should last several days.

Serves 18.

Candied Ginger
Adapted from www.davidlebovitz.com

1 pound fresh ginger
5 to 5 1/2 cups sugar, divided
Pinch of salt

Peel the ginger thoroughly, then slice as thinly as you can. Follow the direction of the root’s growth when possible to produce coin-like shapes, but feel free to adjust the angle and slice into long, thin oval when the nubs taper down. Uniformity isn’t crucial here.

Place the ginger in a nonreactive pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. Drain the water (you could reserve it for another use if you’d like) and repeat with a fresh batch of water.

Once you’ve simmered the ginger in fresh water twice, drain and return the ginger to the pan with 4 cups sugar, 4 cups water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. David Lebovitz says to cook until the temperature reaches 225 degrees or until the liquid’s consistency becomes like thin honey. (I allowed the syrup to boil for about ten minutes, and then considered it done–the liquid seemed thin on the spoon but had the consistency of simple syrup when I cooled a little on a spoon in order to taste it.)

Remove the pot from the heat and drain the syrup well, reserving it for another use (hot toddies or herbal tea, anyone?)

Combine the ginger slices with the remaining 1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar in a bowl and toss until the sugar coats the ginger. Shake off the excess sugar (David suggests reserving it for another use, such as ice cream or batter) and spread the slices onto a cooling rack to dry.

If you’re planning to make the candied ginger-cardamom bars on the same day, then you can chop the ginger after a couple of hours. Otherwise allow the slices to dry overnight.

Store at room temperature.

Easy Lingonberry-Poached Pears

Lingonberry Poached Pears

I’d like to let you in on a little secret. We don’t actually eat that much dessert in my family. You’d probably think otherwise when looking at the recipe archives and scrolling through old posts. But although I bake a lot, most of the cookies, cakes, and tarts end up going into other people’s mouths. That said, the occasional dessert can be a satisfying end to a meal, especially if it’s made with fresh fruit–like the lingonberry-poached pears I’m sharing with you today.

Lingonberries are as much a part of Scandinavian pancakes and desserts as cranberries are to Thanksgiving meals here in the United States. The flavor of the Nordic berries is similar, too, though the tiny spheres contain a tart juiciness all their own.

This past weekend as I slowly simmered pear halves in a lingonberry poaching liquid spiced with cinnamon, a warming fragrance of fruit and spice filled my kitchen. It struck me how satisfying something so simple (just three ingredients, not including water!) can be. After the pears had softened, I set them aside to cool while I reduced the liquid into a lingonberry-studded syrup to pour over the top. The finished dessert was a refreshing, not-too-sweet end to an otherwise heavy meal.

Lingonberry Poached Pears with Cream

Lingonberry-Poached Pears
Though it’s possible to find frozen lingonberries at some specialty stores, it’s usually easier to purchase lingonberry preserves. Last spring someone asked me where to find the preserves, so I opened up the discussion on my Facebook page–just click here to read the comments and join the conversation.

2 pears
1 cups lingonberry preserves
1 cups water
1 cinnamon stick

Peel the pears and halve them lengthwise, leaving the stems intact. Remove the cores. Set aside.

Place lingonberry preserves, water, and cinnamon stick in a saucepan large enough to hold the pears snuggly in a single layer and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat and add the pears, adjusting heat as necessary to keep the liquid just barely at a gentle simmer. Cook until the pears are tender when pricked in an inconspicuous point but still hold their shape, about 20 minutes. Remove the pears and set aside. Bring the liquid back to a boil and continue to cook until it thickens to a syrup, about 15 minutes. Refrigerate the the pears and syrup until completely chilled. (At this point you can even leave them overnight.)

To serve, place each pear in a dish and spoon a little of the syrup over and around it. If you wish, you can pour a little vanilla cream sauce into the hollow of each pear, but the dessert is equally good without it.

Serves 2-4.

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