Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking… Scandilicious by Signe Johansen, Saltyard Books, 2011
When I was a child there was a very popular series for children, My Home in… The first one in my collection was No. 16, My Home in Norway. Perhaps that is where my fascination with the Nordic countries began. And of course Hans Christian Andersen. My mother bought the complete works in two volumes when she visited Denmark in 1956 and I have read all the stories many times. As an adult I found new favourites. Knut Hamsun’s story about a village in Norway, The Women at the Pump, Cora Sandel’s Alberta trilogy, Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow and my all-time favourite, Jane Smiley’s The Greenlanders. I can’t resist a Nordic detective story and their tv adaptations. I have just finished watching both series of the Icelandic mystery drama, Trapped.
It comes as no surprise then that when, about ten years ago, I stumbled across a television series called New Scandinavian Cooking I was intrigued. I was charmed by the host, Andreas Viestad cooking outdoors, in all weathers. In one of my favourite episodes, Andreas is cooking beside a lake in the snow. I cannot tell you the dish, but I was mesmerised by the snow floating into the frying pan, while Andreas continued his dialogue without missing a beat.
It was around this time that I discovered Scandilicious at the library and subsequently ordered a copy from Unity. I cooked a couple of things but as you know I have too many books and it got lost in the forest of books.
The book itself is quite beautifully laid out and I can’t help but be charmed to discover on the frontispiece of the brunch section, the beautifully laid rustic table includes my own Siirtolapuutarha patterned Marimekko cups. It’s also arranged by meal – breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon cake, dinner, desert. This is actually quite challenging because many of the dishes found in the dinner section, we would eat for breakfast or pudding. The other challenge is that many of the ingredients are unavailable to us, lingonberries, moose, ekte geitost (Norwegian brown goat’s cheese), chantarelle mushrooms.
Breakfast covers fruit compotes and jams, porridge, smoothies and a boiled egg with anchovy soldiers. Drottningskräm (Queen’s compote), is what Hugh Fearnley Whittingtsall refers to as fridge jam, a sort of fruit sauce with less sugar, therefore shorter shelf life, than jam, which you can whip up in a few minutes to serve with your porridge or toasts, or in fact to serve with your rice pudding after dinner. There are three compotes in the book, the Drottningskräm, p10, a rhubarb and orange compote, p12 and a spiced prune, p14. I can make these very quickly at breakfast and they are definitely keepers. To make the Drottningskräm, gently heat 400g berries with 100ml water in a pan and simmer 3-4 minutes. Add 70g sugar and stir to dissolve. Add a squeeze of lemon juice. It’s that simple.
Rømmegrøt (porridge) is, rather interestingly, apparently served as a light evening meal (kveldsmat), however a simple version using oats is provided in the breakfast section, presumably to suit non-Nordic tastes. For two, bring 200ml whole milk, 150ml sour cream, 50g porridge oats and 50g wholegrain oats to a simmer and gently cook for five minutes. Add a pinch of vanilla salt. I think this is salt which has been infused with a vanilla pod. I don’t have that in my cupboard, so I added a pinch of salt and a few drops of vanilla essence. I’m not really keen on porridge but this is delicious served with any of the compotes. I think it’s the sour cream. There is a lot of sour cream in this book.
I took Jarlsberg and fennel muffins, p63 for a picnic at the botanic gardens and they were delicious. I don’t have spelt flour at the moment, so I just used regular wheat flour and of course I substituted vegemite for the marmite. I can usually get Jarlsberg cheese locally but I think that imported goods are harder to source at the moment so I used a locally made Meyer gouda cheese. I really recommend this one. The recipe recommends using an ice cream scoop to fill the muffin pans. I didn’t bother and I wish I had. These are quite firm and don’t rise up into a nice shape on their own. Mine were a bit ugly and misshapen. Grating extra cheese onto the warm muffins is inspired.
The Lunch section is where this book really comes into its own. Smørbrød is the classic Nordic open sandwich. I got the idea of eating radishes on toast for breakfast in summer from the recipe on p 80. This recipe spreads goat’s cheese on rye bread, drizzles over some rosehip syrup and tops with slices of radish and chopped chervil leaves. I spread my sourdough toast with cottage cheese or ricotta and top with sliced radishes. Sometimes I mix it up with slices of cherry tomatoes or if I am feeling indulgent sliced strawberries with a generous grind of black pepper, maybe a little balsamic vinegar. I think of this as primo and dolce breakfast.
Looking for new ideas, I discovered crushed pea, bacon and tarragon on p 91. Blend frozen peas and tarragon with a little melted butter, salt and pepper and lemon juice. Spread on toast and top with slices of crispy bacon. I had a little of the mix left over and the next day I mixed it with avocado and served on toast topped with a poached egg.
There are quite a few soup recipes and I made Mama Johansen’s vegetable soup, which is basically turning cooked vegetables left over from a previous meal into soup. I didn’t actually have leftover vegetables, so I made it from scratch. I did happen to have the vegetables she named in the fridge, and I added some swede. This is a great winter user-up.
I absolutely love potato salad, and I love eggs so I can’t go past a recipe called tangy egg and potato salad, p99. This has all the flavours of the best German potato salad with a Nordic touch. When I make a potato salad, I put everything in the bowl and then add the mayonnaise. What I like here was mixing the dressing ingredients – finely chopped spring onions, shallots, gherkins, (and I added radishes), with sour cream, a little mayonnaise, wholegrain mustard, dill, lemon juice and allspice, which is then stirred through the potatoes. Finally, the salad is topped with quartered hard-boiled eggs and a few sprigs of dill. Potato salad perfection.
The cabbage salad on p101 was far superior to soggy coleslaw. Finely shredded red cabbage, finely grated garrots and finely sliced fennel and combined with a dressing of sour cream, wholegrain mustard, lemon juice, horseradish cream and crushed fennel and coriander seeds. The recipe suggested including shredded kohlrabi, which I didn’t have, and apples, which I didn’t fancy, but I did add radish.
Last year, when we were given some home-smoked trout by a fisher friend, I made the smoked trout salad, p102, which was an absolute delight and sadly will not be repeated for a while. The recipe suggests you could substitute smoked salmon or mackerel, but I don’t think either of those match the delicacy of the trout. Toss some soft salad leaves, mint and finely chopped shallots with a vinaigrette of cider vinegar, rapeseed oil and horseradish sauce. Divide between plates and top with finely sliced cucumber and radish, and the flaked trout. I added slices of hard-boiled egg because I love eggs.
In the Afternoon Cake section there is a recipe for gløgg on p112. I did not make this but was fondly reminded of an evening spent at the Lucia Christmas market at Prinzlauerberg in Berlin. There are also several interesting cake recipes, many using the traditional spices of the region, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg. I made the saffransskorpor, p132, a Swedish version of biscotti. There are plenty of excellent baking ideas here.
The Dinner section was slightly more challenging. There are quite a few fish meals using fish like salted cod, that we don’t get here. I did make the delicious mussels with sherry, celeriac and tarragon on p159.
Our favourite dinner was Janssons frestelse, Swedish anchovy and potato gratin, p163. I even ordered a tin of Abba anchovies from Safka Continental Goods in Auckland because the book insists that Swedish anchovies are very different from the Italian we usually buy. And they were worth it for this dish, although quite extravagant at $13 a tin, plus postage. The dish itself is sublime. I didn’t have access to Krisprolls so used panko crumbs which were fine. I have since learned from my cousin, who lived for many years in Sweden, that we should only eat this dish at Christmas. I am usually a stickler for tradition however, I can’t fit this into my Christmas repertoire and it feels like a winter dish, so I will find a suitable date to have a bit of an annual winter Swedish meal. We also used the anchovies for egg and anchovy soldiers, p35 and I am planning to make baked eggs with anchovy and allspice, p 64 for a lunch soon.
Moose with chanterelles and lingonberry sauce was not going to be possible. I made venison fillet with Portobello mushrooms and redcurrant jelly which I served with mash and cabbage. I made roast allspice chicken but with bone-in thighs rather than a whole chicken. I rubbed the allspice/ coriander butter on the chicken and roasted with slices of lemon.
Our most ambitious dinner was Norwegian meatballs. I served these with mashed swede and potato and spiced lingonberry red cabbage. For the ekte geitost, I substituted vegemite and brown sugar and I replaced the lingonberry jam with redcurrant jelly. The next day we had meatballs on baguette sandwiches topped with redcurrant jelly.
From the dessert section I made Risengrynsgrøt (rice pudding), p200 which I served with Drottningskräm. The pudding is cooked on the stovetop rather than the British baked rice I usually make and has much less sugar. I added grated orange zest, cinnamon, saffron and nutmeg. The compote added the prefect degree of sweetness and was very popular with the youngest member of the family, who was head down in his bowl for some minutes, spooning pudding into his mouth as fast as he could. When he emerged from his bowl his little face was entirely covered with jam.
When I started out I felt there was probably not much in this book that I would regularly make, however after moving my focus from dinner to other times of the day the book is going back on the shelves and some of these recipes are already in my regular rotation. Apart from the potato gratin, I will probably not return to the dinner section, but the book will become a regular inspiration for breakfast and lunch.