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.)

Fyrstekake, an All-Time Favorite Norwegian Dessert

Fyrstekake Slice on Plate with Crumbs

I have the feeling that when I look back at this summer in the coming years, this time will be defined by food and family. Between cooking for the family, developing recipes for an article I can’t wait to tell you about, and testing recipes for a gifted cook who recently landed her first cookbook deal, I’ve been spending a lot of time walking up and down the aisles of the grocery store and whipping up drinks, dinners, and desserts in my kitchen. Never mind that the weather in Seattle has been full of sun, sun, sun!

Even though I have to be disciplined and make myself get outside and enjoy the sun at times, this has been a special summer, and one that confirms my belief that food is one of the most effective ways to bring people together.

In celebration of those special times we spend in the kitchen with those we love, connecting over a shared task and sitting down later to enjoy it together, I would like to share a recipe for fyrstekake, a classic Norwegian tart flavored richly with almond. Growing up eating it with my mom frequently, it remains one of my favorite Scandinavian desserts to this day.

Fyrstekake and Coffee

Fyrstekake Slice Horizontal

Fyrstekake is also known as Royal Cake or Prince’s Cake. Though it calls for only a handful of ingredients, the results are decadent and somewhat regal in their simplicity. As a classic dessert, it makes sense that many variations exist. Some are spiced with cardamom and other flavors, and some let the almond shine. This particular recipe resembles the one I grew up eating, and I love the soft, almost-toothsome texture of the filling with the crisp cookie-like crust.

Enjoy!

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Fystekake and Coffee Spread

Norwegian Fyrstekake
Adapted from Norwegian Cakes and Cookies by Sverre Sætre, this recipe gets its rich flavor mostly from the ground almonds, but also from the slightest touch of almond extract that I added. If you enjoy marzipan candy, you’ll love this dessert.

For the crust:

2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
14 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 egg

For the filling:

1 3/4 cups slivered almonds
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg yolk
1 whole egg
1/4 cup whipping cream

For topping:

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water

To make the crust, combine flour, powdered sugar, and butter in a food processor until crumbly (alternately, cut ingredients together by hand). Add the egg and continue to process until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and cover it well, and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Grease an eight- or nine-inch tart pan with removable base. Roll out the dough on a lightly-floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Place in the tart pan and work it in evenly in the crease and up the sides. Put the crust–and the remaining dough–back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.

Preheat the oven to 335 degrees.

Whirl the almonds in the food processor until fine, then add the sugar and pulse some more until combined. Melt the butter in a small bowl and pour it into the almond and sugar, along with the egg yolk, egg, and whipping cream. Process to blend, and then pour the filling into the prepared crust.

Remove the remaining dough from the fridge and roll it out on a lightly-floured surface. Working quickly so that it doesn’t warm up too much and become difficult to work with, cut the dough into thin strips and arrange in a lattice or crisscross pattern on the top of the filling.

Mix the remaining egg yolk with a tablespoon of water and brush this over the top of the cake.

Bake approximately 40 minutes, depending on the size of your pan, until golden. Cool, then remove tart from pan.

Serves 8-12.

Fyrstekake and Slice

 

Bergen Fish Soup (Bergensk fiskesuppe)

Bergen Fish Soup

Everyone has their own idea of a place, a snapshot memory encapsulating the scenes, smells, and moods they experienced there. One person’s Paris is different than another’s. A visit to Seattle might be dreary for one and vibrant for another. With that in mind, let me take you to my Bergen–not the rain-soaked city you may picture, rightfully so given it rains there more than 260 days a year, but the place that exists in my personal catalogue of memories.

Golden skies bathed in sun-drenched heat. Chilled rosé in the cool, dim cave of our hotel restaurant. Seagulls perched on the roofs around the famous open-air seafood market. Bergen was alive when I visited in the summer of 2008. Ski boats ferried joyful passengers in the harbor housing Bryggen, the Hanseatic wharf. A biker could comfortably break out his ride with no concern of rain. Any restaurant with patio seating was the place to be.

Seafood for Bergen Fish Soup

I’ve been reliving that trip this past week since cooking a batch of Bergen Fish Soup (Bergensk fiskesuppe). The soup is one of the best fish soups in the world, right up there with bouillabaisse, according to chef Andreas Viestad. Some say the absolute proper way to make it, Viestad writes Kitchen of Light, is to purchase live pollock at the fish market–which is one of the biggest and best-known outdoor fish markets in northern Europe–and make the stock the same day. It’s possible to bring the taste of Bergen home, however, with quality fish stock, such as the halibut variety from our neighborhood fishmonger.

As with most classic dishes, the recipes and styles vary. One cook might choose to use only white fish while another might add salmon or perhaps scallops and prawns. Some add dumplings while others omit them. One person might ladle thick, chowder-like portions into bowls while a neighbor makes it on the lighter side with the seafood surrounded by a creamy broth.

No matter the style, the soup allows the flavor of the seafood to shine, proving that a handful of quality ingredients simply prepared can go a long way.

Prawns for Bergen Fish Soup

Bergen Fish Soup and Crispbread

Bergen Fish Soup (Bergensk fiskesuppe)
This version is on the light side, which makes it perfect for dinner on a late spring evening when you need a little warming. Adapted from Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking by Signe Johansen, this recipe veers slightly from the traditional by adding a small amount of spices and giving sweetness with white wine and brandy rather than an abundance of root vegetales and a touch of sugar. Johansen grew up in Bergen, however, so she knows the essence of the soup and has created an elegant recipe that comes together so quickly it can easily be a weeknight meal. The mix of seafood is flexible; use whatever is fresh and available. 

6 1/3 cups quality fish stock
1 bay leaf
1 handful flat-leaf parsley stems, plus additional leaves for garnish
12 whole peppercorns
2 carrots, roughly diced
2 celery stalks, roughly diced
1 leek, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup brandy
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3 1/2 ounces salmon fillet, cubed into 3/4-inch pieces
3 1/2 ounces prawns, shells removed
5 ounce cod fillet, cubed into 3/4-inch pieces
8 ounces clams, with shells
Finely-chopped chives, for garnish

Heat fish stock, bay leaf, parsley, peppercorns, carrots, celery, and leek in a large pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the wine and brandy and simmer for five more minutes, then add the cream. Once the soup has returned to a simmer, add the salmon, cod, and clams and cook for a minute or two before adding the prawns, which should only take an additional minute or two to cook.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with additional parsley leaves and chives. Serve with crispbread.

Serves 4.

Bergen Fish Soup

A Nordic Twist on a French Favorite: Pain au Chocolat a l’Ancienne

Chocolate and Crispbread

At one of my favorite cafés in Seattle, it’s possible to order one of the simplest yet most satisfying snacks. Pain au chocolat a l’ancienne, as it’s called, is nothing more than a sturdy baguette with crisp brown crust sliced in half and oozing with warm, melted chocolate. A l’ancienne, or old-fashioned, indicates Café Presse’s rustic and simple variation on the pain au chocolat made with puff pastry that’s invariably found in French bakeries today.

No matter how careful you are when biting into the baguette, you’ll end up with stray chocolate in the corners of your mouth like a little kid. And by the time you’re done, your white cloth napkin will be coated in brown smears. I’ve eaten more of these rustic treats than I can recall–both at Café Presse and at home–and they’re filled with associations and memories.

There was the time my friend’s husband took the inevitable mess a step further and spread chocolate all over his face. He’s actually a very fine, upstanding and respectable man who just gave into a moment of giddy bliss (it’s a good thing we were all dining in the back room…).

And then there was the time when I had just lost my wedding ring. Upon returning to the car after a Sounders game on cold March evening, I took off my gloves and felt piercing shivers bolt through my body as I sensed the absence of the ring on my finger. Searching the car and retracing steps in the stadium turned up nothing. Unable to do much more, we drove up to Café Presse and ordered pain au chocolat. I asked the waitress if I could have mine with extra chocolate since I had just lost my ring. (There’s a happy ending here: We found the ring the next day.)

Crispbread and Chocolate

Whether for date nights with my husband or outings with friends, a pain au chocolat with a demi pichet of French red wine has to be one of my favorite food-related experiences. These days, however, I don’t eat nearly as much bread. And if I buy a baguette, chances are we won’t actually manage to eat it all before it goes stale. So I’ve given this somewhat decadent, if simple, snack a Nordic twist by placing chocolate on crispbread and heating it in a moderate oven until the chocolate melts to a consistency that can be spread smoothly. The results are just as satisfying, perhaps even more so in different ways. The crispbread lends more of a crunch than the baguette, and the higher chocolate-to-bread ratio means, well, more chocolate. If you’re so inclined, you could even sprinkle a little flaky sea salt on top to give it an extra-special touch.

Chocolate-Covered Crispbread

Crispbread with Chocolate (a.k.a. The Nordic Pain au Chocolat a l’Ancienne)
An Outside Oslo original

3 to 4 squares of good-quality dark chocolate, 70 to 75 percent
1 piece of crispbread
Sprinkle of flaky sea salt, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange chocolate on crispbread and place on the top rack of the oven. Heat for 2 to 3 minutes, watching carefully so that the chocolate and crispbread don’t burn. When the chocolate is soft but still intact, remove from the oven and spread chocolate across the surface of the crispbread with a knife. Sprinkle sparingly with flaky sea salt if desired. Serve with a glass of milk or red wine–your choice.

Serves 1.

Sweet-and-Sour Red Cabbage (Rødkål)

Rødkål Red Cabbage

Do you remember when I shared my grandma Agny’s recipe for surkål–Norwegian sauerkraut–a few weeks ago? That’s just one type of Scandinavian cooked cabbage that has been part of my family’s holiday menus in years past. Another is rødkål, a sweet-and-sour red cabbage that’s prepared basically the same way and with similar ingredients yet yields very different results.

Rødkål Red Cabbage

Whether your Christmas meal involves roast pork or medisterkaker–Norwegian pork meatballs–rødkål will add a festive yet homey touch to your Scandinavian holiday menu.

Rødkål Red Cabbage

Rødkål

1 (2 pound) red cabbage
1 apple
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons currant jelly
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons salt

Core the cabbage and shred using the slicing disc of a food processor. Core and shred the apple (it’s okay to leave the skin on).

Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot, then add cabbage, apple, and remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 90 minutes to two hours, until the cabbage has softened. Serve.

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Rainy Night Dinner: Norwegian Sauerkraut (Surkål)

Umbrella

I don’t know whether it’s a sort of crunchy pride not unlike machismo or whether it has something to do with apathy and resignation to the rain, but true Seattleites tend to balk at using umbrellas.

Until a few years ago, the only ones I had were souvenirs from vacations–cheap or touristy emergency purchases to help me stay dry during unexpected rainstorms away from home. After living in Seattle for long enough (my whole life), however, I decided that it was time to break away from the norm and buy an umbrella I would actually use.

I’m proud to say I managed to find a beauty–one that’s chic enough to almost make me hope for rain. Almost. With an oversized canopy and a pretty wooden handle, opening it as I step out into the rain is always a treat.

Rain on LeavesThe rainy season has officially begun here in Seattle. It seemed to start on Friday evening, just as my son and I were walking to the car after a book signing with Aida Mollenkamp at Book Larder in Fremont. It continued today, with a sky so clouded that the view from my bedroom of the hills not too far in the distance was invisible.

We had such a beautiful summer and early fall that I forgot what it feels like to live in a rainy city: persistent raindrops poking me all over as I rush back inside to find my umbrella, soggy cuffs smearing water on the hardwood floors, and cold, damp jeans sticking to my legs.

On the other hand, rainy days are perfect for making cold-weather food, the kind of dishes that make you feel warm and cozy just eating them. I didn’t know when I started cooking a pot of Norwegian sauerkraut on Friday that we were entering a period of rain.

I had been thinking about my late Grandma Agny’s surkål, a Norwegian sauerkraut that my grandmother always made for special dinners, and decided to try my hand at it. The recipe is about as simple as can be, requiring the cook only to shred the cabbage, then simmer the handful of ingredients together in a large pot for about an hour and a half. It’s extremely economical, as well, as cabbage feeds a crowd for only a couple of dollars.

CabbageGrandma published her recipe in an old church cookbook, and the directions are limited to three sentences, 36 words:

Shred cabbage; peel and shred apple(s). Put butter in saucepan; mix all ingredients together in saucepan and cook over low heat until color darkens. Serve in a nice looking dish; garnish with apple wedges and parsley.

I love the way that Grandma kept details to a minimum, except when it came to how to serve the dish. That, to her, was worth a third of the small recipe, which hints back at her career in hospitality. I can picture Grandma’s surkål on the table so many years ago in a gold-rimmed porcelain or china serving dish and garnished with bright green curly-leaf parsley chopped, I imagine, by hand. She would have carefully placed the parsley onto the bland-colored caraway-flecked sauerkraut, taking care to present us with an attractive and appetizing dish.

My husband and I ate a late dinner of surkål and medisterkaker–Norwegian pork meatballs–after the book signing on Friday night, and it was the perfect meal to warm us up on a chilly, damp evening. Now that I’ve become reaquainted with these two welcoming Norwegian foods, they will be autumn and winter mainstays at our house.

Surkål

Agny Danielsen’s Surkål

750 grams cabbage
1 or 2 apples, cored
75 grams butter
1/2 liter distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon caraway
2 teaspoons salt
Curly-leaf parsley, chopped, for garnish

Shred the cabbage using the slicing disc of a food processor, then switch to the shredding disk to shred the apple (it’s okay to leave the skin on).

Melt butter in a large, heavy pot, then add remaining ingredients (except parsley) and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 90 minutes, until the cabbage is soft and has darkened and the vinegar has reduced and softened in flavor. You may need to increase the heat near the end to finish reducing the vinegar.

Remove from the heat and, as Grandma Agny indicated, “Serve in a nice looking dish; garnish with apple wedges and parsley.”

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Norwegian apple soup

It’s a quiet Sunday morning here at my house. Birds are chirping outside and I hear the quiet hum of the computer and refrigerator, but all is still. I’m still in my pajamas, sipping a cup of coffee, and I have a baby all bundled up in the softest little blanket you can imagine. If that’s not cozy, I don’t know what is.

Before the day starts, I want to take a moment to share a recipe with you. I made this dessert soup on a winter evening when my parents were over for dinner, and then I forgot to post it for you.

The beautiful thing about this soup is that you can serve it warm or chilled. Imagine sitting at the candlelit dinner table on a winter evening, content and relaxed after a hearty meal. Conversation is pleasant, no one is in a hurry, and while it’s raining or snowing outside, you’re warmed by the fireplace crackling in the living room and by luscious spoonfuls of hot apple soup. Wouldn’t that be a lovely way to spend a winter evening? Or, in the late summer when apple season is just beginning, you could serve this soup cold at an outdoor afternoon lunch with the first apples of the season. Either way, this simple dessert is the perfect way to showcase the dependable apple.

Norwegian Apple Soup (Eplesuppe)
Adapted from Authentic Norwegian Cooking

2/3 cup sugar
1 stick cinnamon (or a few dashes of ground cinnamon)
4 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons potato starch flour
5 apples, peeled, sliced, and cored
3 teaspoons lemon juice
Butter cookies, for serving (optional)
Whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add apples and cinnamon and cook until the apples are tender but still holding their shape. Remove the cinnamon stick, if using, and discard. Reserve one quarter of the apple slices and puree the rest in a food processor, then add the puree back in the saucepan. Mix potato flour and a little water in a small bowl to make a thin paste, and then add to the soup in a thin stream, stirring to incorporate. Bring the soup to a boil, stirring constantly, then remove from heat and stir in the reserved apple slices and the lemon juice. Allow to cool with the lid on. Serve warm or chilled, with butter cookies and whipped cream if desired.

Serves 4-5.

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Cookbook Review: “Kitchen of Light”

Every once in a while you come across a cookbook that you feel you would like to live with exclusively for a few weeks, cooking obsessively through the mouth-watering recipes and discovering the full range of the author’s palate. For me, one of those cookbooks is Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas Viestad.

In this colorful book, Viestad, a Norwegian food writer and TV host, takes hungry readers on a culinary tour of Norway through his eyes. Viestad’s essays take readers to big cities like Bergen–which boasts northern Europe’s largest outdoor fish market (he also shares a recipe for the classic Bergen Fish Soup)–as well as to remote parts of the country that few of us will ever see. For example, as the host of American Public Television’s New Scandinavian Cooking, Viestad has had the opportunity to tape an episode in Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island well north of the mainland and less than 750 miles from the North Pole. He calls it “the last frontier,” and “one of the few remaining areas of totally unspoiled wilderness in Europe, even the world.” Not many of us will ever step foot on its snow- and ice-covered ground, but thanks to Viestad’s book we can get a taste of what it must have been like to be a trapper or hunter living on a chilly island, the “northernmost inhabited place in the world,” over a century ago; with his accompanying recipe for Svalbard Beet Soup with Goose Stock, we can imagine what it must have been like to eat a steaming bowlful of soup made with goose meat when the geese arrived in the spring.

What I love about this book–well, one of many things that I love–is how Viestad manages to modernize Scandinavian food while staying true to its roots. While you won’t find recipes for rømmegrøt, lefse, or many of the other dishes my grandparents would have cooked, you will occasionally find other traditional dishes, including Viestad’s lovely herb-scented Traditional Yellow Pea Soup (I recently featured the recipe here) and the classic dessert called Veiled Farm Girls. The recipes are based on ingredients commonly used in Norway, including cod and pollock and berries such as lingonberry.

While much traditional Scandinavian cuisine is hearty, such as porridge or lamb stews, and sometimes consists of preserved foods like lutefisk or gravlax, Viestad shows readers the fresh and seasonal side of how Norwegians eat, highlighting the sun-kissed berries ripened to perfection in the long summer days and the wild mushrooms found in late summer (I made his New Potatoes with Chanterelles and Dill a few years ago, and loved it).

It’s rare to find a Scandinavian cookbook published recently that doesn’t veer from the traditional and include recipes that look nothing like the Nordic food of days gone by–Kitchen of Light included. But Viestad includes notes throughout the book on how his recipes fit into Scandinavian cuisine. For example, accompanying his recipe for Slow-Baked Salmon with Soy Sauce and Ginger, he points out that soy sauce and ginger have been known in Norway for centuries but have recently been popularized by Asian influence on Scandinavian cuisine. However, I still have no idea how Viestad’s recipe for Broccoli with Capers, Garlic, and Anchovies, while delicious and full of flavor, relates to Scandinavian cuisine.

Kitchen of Light, is a lovely book that’s so much more than cookbook. Viestad’s essays on places and products–with beautiful photos by Mette Randem–will make you want to visit Norway and discover its food. If I haven’t sold you yet on checking out this book (I have no incentives to do so, other than wanting to share something delicious with you), let me offer a few recipe titles to entice you. Here is a sampling of what you’ll find in Kitchen of Light: Rosemary Cod with Vanilla-scented Mashed Rutabaga; Salt Cod with Peas, Mint, and Prosciutto; Mussels with Aquavit, Cream, and Tarragon; Juniper-Spiced Venison with Brown Goat Cheese Sauce; Onion Pie with Jarlsberg and Thyme; Summer Berries with Bay Leaf Custard; and Cloudberry Cream with Rosemary and Vanilla. Enjoy!

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Kitchen of Light from the publisher. However, I made no promises to give a positive review, and am sharing my honest opinions of this book.

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A chocolate orange cake for your coffeetable

Kaffe?

I knew exactly what the flight attendant was saying. Though I speak virtually no Norwegian, that word transcends most Western languages. Though spelling and intonation may change, coffee, in a way, is almost a universal word in the Western world.

It was something else that caught me off guard: how I was to respond. It was a word—a one-word question—so familiar, so intrinsically understood, even when spoken in a different language. Even the answer—a simple ja or no—would have been so easy for my unschooled tongue. Or so it seems.

Blonde and fresh-faced, a Nordic beauty, the woman offering me a cup of steaming coffee on the Scandinavian Airlines flight could have been my cousin. Perhaps that’s why I stumbled over my thoughts, unsure of how to answer. She was so like me—or, rather, I was so much like her—yet I had one big, shaming disadvantage.

At 26, I was a full-blooded American-born Norwegian who had never been to the fatherland, and had taken a less-than-helpful Intro to Norwegian class hoping to get a crash course in the language before visiting. The phrases I learned as a child—jeg elsker deg (I love you), du er en kjekk gutt (you are a cute boy), du er en gris (you are a pig)—weren’t going to cut it.

On that SAS flight, on a trip that took me around Greece, Turkey, and Norway, the flight attendant must have taken one look at me and identified me among many of the other blondes on the flight: a Scandinavian. What she got was a half-second-generation Norwegian with a surface-level grasp on the culture of her father and grandparents.

I fumbled for the correct response. At that point it wasn’t even a matter of whether I really wanted coffee or not. That was beside the point. Was she really offering me coffee, was it as simple as that? Would my yes or no or ja or nei be an adequate and correct response?

That was 2008. Today I still don’t speak Norwegian, but I’ve come to grips with it (at least until the next time I travel to Norway). What I’ve truly latched onto is the food of Scandinavia, and how it brings back fond childhood memories as well as furthers my appreciation of my heritage.

Since we’re on the topic of coffee, I’ve learned a lot about the significance of coffee among Scandinavians through The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas. I grew up witnessing a ritual of coffee in my family, but this book helped me to understand coffee’s place in the culture.

“Coffeetime makes up three of the six meals of the Scandinavian day,” Ojakangas says (page 67). “And what you eat with coffee… is a coffeebread. Coffeebreads are not served with meals, but accompany morning coffee, afternoon coffee, or evening coffee.” She goes on to describe the coffeetable that accompanies special events such as birthdays, name days, and anniversaries; the spread may include “cardamom-flavored coffeebreads, plus other special sweet yeast breads, plain as well as frosted cakes, and a variety of cookies” (67).

Though Scandinavian cuisine is generally less known than others such as French, Mexican, or Chinese, it offers no shortage of variety–from the caramel- and nut-topped Tosca Cake (one of my personal favorites) and an endless assortment of cookies to savory traditional dishes such as klüb. For today’s coffeetable, here’s a recipe for Norwegian Orange Cake.

Norwegian Orange Cake
Adapted from the Los Angeles Times

3/4 c unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
Grated zest of one orange
1/3 cup orange juice, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
1 1/3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 ounces dark chocolate (70%), finely chopped (or, if you have a 3.25 ounce bar, just go ahead and use the whole thing)
3/4 cup powdered sugar
Candied orange peel (optional), or fresh orange wedges

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a 9-inch bundt or angel food cake pan. Using a stand mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time, beating until incorporated before adding the next. Add the orange zest and 1/3 cup of orange juice and combine.

Sift together the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl. Slowly add it to the cake batter with the mixer running, beating just until incorporated, then add the chocolate and fold to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. It will only fill about a third or half of the pan–that’s okay. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan on a cooling rack before removing from the mold.

Meanwhile, sift the powdered sugar in a bowl and whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of orange juice to make the icing. When the cake has cooled, drizzle the icing over it. Garnish with candied orange if desired, or serve with orange wedges.

Serves 10-16.

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Britt-Arnhild for pointing out an error in my Norwegian–it has since been updated!

Norwegian holiday fare: Trondheim Soup and The Bishop

I’m so excited to try the recipes that Jenn of The Leftover Queen is sharing in today’s guest post. The Leftover Queen is all about eating well and frugally, and is packed with recipes and her experiences with food. Jenn lived in Norway for a while, and shares some traditional holiday fare here. Thanks, Jenn!

Over 10 years ago, I spent a year living in Norway in between high school and college as part of AFS (American Field Service). It was certainly a life-changing experience in many ways and a time I remember as one of my most fond adventures. Norway is still a part of me, and it is a place that is and always will be very near and dear to my heart. It was my first time away from home, in a brand new culture where I didn’t speak the language. I came home from that experience having learned a new language and culture, as well as so much about myself and the world.

I still have many friends to this day that I met when I lived in Norway, and I also enjoy learning more about Norwegian and Scandinavian cuisines. For me, keeping in touch with old friends, and cooking Norwegian food, is a way for me to keep a piece of my life in Norway always with me. For some reason, during the winter holidays, that urge to bring a little Norwegian flair to my cooking, trying new recipes, and re-creating recipes of foods that I enjoyed when I lived there becomes very strong.

Here are a few other posts that I have done over the years that focus on my love of Norwegian and Scandinavian cuisine:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Christmas Rømmegrøt
Winter Solstice Gløgg
Norwegian Farmers Market Finds

This year, I wanted to make some new things. I have made gløgg (a spiced wine with almonds and raisins) and rommegrøt (sour cream porridge) at winter holiday time every year since I have returned from Norway. In Norway there are often gløgg parties where people get together with their friends and family before Christmas, and it is served with either rommegrøt or a rice porridge called risgrøt. I loved rommegrøt when I lived in Norway; it is rich, flavorful, stick-to-your-bones kind of food. Perfect for cold weather! It is also a tradition in Norway for children to put out a bowl of porridge for the Nisser–the elves! Although these elves have nothing to do with Santa, they are associated with and originate from Norwegian farm life. These are the elves that look after the farm animals–and in return for their protection, they want their Christmas porridge on Christmas Eve!

For me, the holidays always mean porridge and spiced wine!

Gløgg is wassil; wassil is a broad term used for any wine or ale that is sweetened with sugar and spices, and served during the winter holidays. It is one of the oldest Christmas traditions there is.

This year, I decided to branch out a bit in my yearly spiced wine and porridge menu and check out a few different Norwegian recipes. For the spiced wine, I decided to try “bisp,” or in English, “bishop,” which is red wine flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, and peppercorns, swirled with aquavit (a Norwegian potato-based liquor, flavored with caraway ) and named after the red color of the bishop’s cloak.

Bisp

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups filtered water
1 vanilla bean
2 cinnamon sticks
12 whole black peppercorns
2/3 cups sugar
1 bottle (3 cups) red wine
3 ½ TBS aquavit

METHOD:

Bring water, vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, and sugar to a boil. Simmer over low heat for about 1- 1 ½ hours. Strain and reserve liquid. Add the red wine and aquavit to the sugar syrup. Serve in heat proof glasses. Bisp can be made also using berry wines – like cherry or blueberry. This drink can be made non-alcoholic using black currant or blueberry juices. Ingredients can easily be doubled for a larger batch!

I also decided to make Trondheim soup, which is named after the city in Norway that I lived in, the old Viking capital, which is over 1,010 years old. It is a sweet rice soup, not really considered a porridge, but along the same lines, flavored with cinnamon and raisins, and it is considered a dessert, unlike grøt.

Trondheim Soup

INGREDIENTS:

1 ¼ liters of water
¼ cup rice
1/3 cup raisins
1 cinnamon stick
1 TBS flour
1 cup whipping cream
4 TBS sugar
salt to taste

METHOD:

Combine water, rice raisins and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Simmer until rice is tender, about 20 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk cream and flour together and then add to the pot. Bring mixture to a boil, and simmer for 1-2 minutes until thickened. Stir in sugar and salt to taste. Serves 6.

I love introducing people to these Norwegian holiday traditions! Especially when the recipes are so easy and so delicious. So go ahead and during this season of celebrations, try having your own gløgg party where you can experience the flavors and customs of Norway! God Jul og Godt Nytt År!

Photos by Jenn of The Leftover Queen.

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