Chanterelle, Fig, and Blue Cheese Salad in The Norwegian American

Chanterelle, Fig, and Blue Cheese Salad

It was some years ago when I realized I loved September. I don’t think I had actually thought about it until I was an adult, but Septembers have been peppered with sweetness throughout my entire life. Some people gravitate toward the warmest months, while others among us lean into the slower, calmer time, the quieting into autumn. September, to me, means a new school year (oh how I loved this time of year when I was a student!), shopping for pencils and notebooks, gentle breezes rustling a symphony of newly-colored leaves, and my wedding anniversary. It alternates between blue skies and rain showers, flip flops and a mental note to start wearing my boots. September exists in a place in between–neither summer nor fall, warm nor cold, entirely rainy nor dry.

The salad we’re talking about today reflects that transitional nature. Its very ingredient list celebrates a slight window of time in which figs and chanterelles mingle in season, those sensual bites of fruit nestled among forest gold. I created this chanterelle, fig, and blue cheese salad in September a few years ago and am sharing it this week in The Norwegian American. The produce itself is luscious enough on its own, and a scattering of blue cheese crumbles elevates it to something extra special. It’s substantial enough to be a light meal in itself, perhaps with a little protein on the side if you’re so inclined. Head on over to The Norwegian American for the recipe. I hope you’ll give it a try!

Chanterelle, Fig, and Blue Cheese Salad

 

Chanterelle, Fig, and Blue Cheese Salad

 

Chanterelle, Fig, and Blue Cheese Salad

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.

Venison:
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

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

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

Sauce:
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.

New Potatoes and Chanterelles with Lemon and Dill

Chanterelles and Potatoes - IMG_9893

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

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

And that’s where the food comes in.

Chanterelles and Potatoes - IMG_9887

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

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

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

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

Chanterelles and Potatoes - IMG_9897

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

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

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

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

Serves 4-6

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