News from the Norwegian American Weekly (plus Kaffefromasj)

Kaffefromasj

We’ll get to the dessert in a moment. But first I can’t wait to announce that I’m the new food editor for the Norwegian American Weekly! Starting this week, I’ll be shaping the paper’s Taste of Norway section, sharing everything from traditional recipes and stories about the connection between food and heritage to interviews with chefs and features on modern Nordic cooking.

I’ve been contributing to the publication for a few years, and it’s exciting to now be able to take on this role. The paper has some great existing writers, and I’m also seeking new contributors. I’m looking forward to seeing the coverage unfold. But first, I’m settling in with kaffefromasj–basically a Norwegian coffee mousse. It’s no surprise that Norwegians–well, almost all Nordics–love their coffee, and this recipe celebrates that bold, bitter flavor with a creamy, not-too-sweet dessert.

Head over to the Norwegian American Weekly’s website (it’s subscription-based; subscribe here) for my first article as editor–and the recipe for kaffefromasj!

Kaffefromasj

Norwegian Coffee Mousse (Kaffefromasj)
Visit the Norwegian American Weekly’s websit for the recipe

Kaffefromasj

 

Norwegian Coffee Treats: A Class at Nordic Heritage Museum

Norwegian Coffee Treats - 20150124_143116

When we bake with love, that’s when beauty comes into our creations, I told a sold-out crowd of students at the Nordic Heritage Museum on a recent Saturday. They were there to learn how to make a variety of Norwegian coffee treats, each one of the recipes beautiful or intricate in its own right. My objective in teaching is for students to leave a class with the confidence and ability to recreate the dishes at home. Teaching the steps of a recipe is only part of the equation. One of the most important parts, I believe, is the heart.

But until that Saturday in January, I hadn’t been able to fully articulate what makes a recipe work. Butter, sugar, flour, eggs–I had been playing around with that mix of ingredients in the weeks leading up to the class, making heart-shaped waffles (vaffler), prince cake (fyrstekake), and sandbakkels. I had studied how a handful of simple ingredients could yield such dramatically different results with just a few variations of ingredients.

In class I kept encouraging the students to just give it a try. Just put the batter in the waffle iron and practice–you’ll soon get a feel for how much to spoon in and how long to cook the waffle. Just make sandbakkel after sandbakkel, getting used to the feeling of pressing the dough into the crevices of the little tins until it’s as thin as you think it can be. Then when it was time to talk about the fyrstekake–an almond cake with a shortbread crust baked in a tart pan–I assured everyone that it really is easy.

Don’t stress out, I told students time and time again as they oohed and ahhed over the cake. Baking isn’t fun if you do. When it comes to crafting the crisscross or lattice topping that gives the fyrstekake a hint of elegance, you can get frustrated when the soft dough warms up too much and sticks to your work surface as you cut it into strips. Or you can roll with it, doing the best you can, and putting your heart into what you’re doing. Nothing about Norwegian cooking is fussy, as far as I’m concerned. Even the beautiful fyrstekake allows for grace, the filling puffing up into the top layer and rounding out the rough edges.

When you bake with love, that impacts the way you approach the food. It works its way into each cup of flour measured, the care taken in beating sugar into eggs, the way the dough is manipulated into something of beauty. I’m as much of a perfectionist as the next person–it was my downfall as a child trying to strike a balance between booksmart and just being a kid–but when it comes to baking, I do it because I love it, because I love people. I do it because I love watching how a few simple ingredients can be transformed into something that feeds and nourishes others–their stomaches and their souls. Sure, care and precision are important. But love is essential.

Thanks to each of you who attended the class last month–it was a joy to teach you to make some of my favorite Norwegian treats. I enjoyed meeting each and every one of you, and I hope I inspired you to work some of these recipes into your own homes.

If you’re in the Seattle area and interested in learning more about Nordic baking, be sure to check out the rest of the Nordic Heritage Museum’s coffee treats series. I kicked it off last month with Norwegian coffee treats, and the museum continues with recipes from the other Nordic countries in the months to come.

Norwegian Coffee Treats - 20150124_155350 Norwegian Coffee Treats - 20150124_154300 Norwegian Coffee Treats - 20150124_144811 Norwegian Coffee Treats - 20150124_143906 Norwegian Coffee Treats - 20150124_142931

 Photos courtesy of Jeremy Ehrlich / Nordic Heritage Museum

Nordic Rhubarb and Strawberry Jam

Rhubarb and Strawberry Jam with Bread

Mornings are slow, quiet times in our house most days. I sip my coffee in slow minuscule amounts at first, drinking a little more quickly as it cools. Still, I rarely find myself finishing an entire cup before it’s gone tepid and I must either reheat it in the microwave (which never yields satisfying results), drink it quickly so I can refill my mug with hot coffee from the machine (an approach requires mentally turning off my tastebuds for a moment), or simply drain out the cool remnants and start fresh (which is my preferred, yet slightly wasteful, method).

For most of my adult life I’ve treated breakfast as optional, but coffee has always been a necessity: something warm and bitter to savor as I ease into the day. Until I became a parent, brunch was reserved for a rare weekend, making it somewhat of a special occasion. These days, though, with a child, breakfast is a daily event, whether I take part in it or not. So with that in mind, I’m trying to find new ways to elevate the meal into something enjoyable and delicious, something that feels almost a little decadent while remaining nutritious and balanced. One way is by spreading a hearty slice of toasted organic whole-grain or rye bread with a special preserve or jam, perhaps one brought back from a trip or something homemade.

Rhubarb, Strawberries, and Vanilla

Rhubarb, Strawberries, and Vanilla in Pan

With my seasonal fascination with rhubarb, I got to work one recent day, chopping the stalks into pieces an inch or so long, then placing them in a saucepan with some strawberries, sugar, and a whole vanilla bean. The recipe–adapted from The Nordic Diet–was about as easy as could be, requiring only a little bit of patience as I stirred the fruit over medium heat. The fruit quickly began to release its juices, helping to dissolve the sugar. As it cooked, the fruit filled my kitchen with a warm, strawberry-rhubarb scent, as though I were baking a pie.

The fruit broke down as it cooked, and in 15 minutes or so I had a luscious, warm sauce that was equally appropriate to treat as a jam for toast or a compote to spoon over rich, creamy, plain yogurt.

I’ll keep sharing more of my breakfast treats here in the future. In the meantime, what do you enjoy eating as you start the day?

Rhubarb, Strawberries, and Sugar

Rhubarb and Strawberry with Bread for Breakfast

Nordic Rhubarb and Strawberry Jam with Vanilla
Adapted just barely from The Nordic Diet by Trina Hahnemann, this recipe is good just the way it is. However, next time I will use only an inch-long piece of vanilla bean, splitting it open before adding it to the fruit. The original recipe calls for an entire bean, left whole, which lends just the slightest hint of flavor to the jam and seems extravant for such a precious ingredient.

11 ounces rhubarb, cut into inch-long pieces
2 cups strawberries, halved or quartered
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup raw organic sugar

Place rhubarb, strawberries, and vanilla bean in a 3 quart saucepan and toss with the sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently as you bring the fruit to a boil. The fruit will release its juices as it cooks, so you shouldn’t have any problems with it drying out; however, Hahnemann says adding a little water would be fine if that should happen. Boil for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, then cool. Store in the fridge.

Yields about 1.5 to 2 cups.

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