Arctic Grub selected as one of the top 60 Scandinavian blogs on the web!

I am thrilled to announce that my blog, Arctic Grub, has been selected as one of the top 60 Scandinavian blogs on the web!!

The criteria for making the list were:

  • Google reputation and Google search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
  • Quality and consistency of posts.
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

You can read the post and see the other bloggers who made the list here

I started this blog back in 2012 because I felt homesick not only for true Norwegian food and recipes, but also I had grown increasingly curious and interested in learning more about my own country’s culture and history and why we eat the way we eat.  I managed to find a lot of articles on the “how” to make a dish, but never the “why” behind it. This is what inspired Arctic Grub, and I started to blog about the foods from the fjords of Norway, where I’m from.

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My readers have been very loyal, with me since I created my blog almost six years ago and wrote about the classic dishes of røykalaks (smoked salmon), rømmegrøt (sour cream porridge), bløtkaker (cream cake) and beyond.

In late 2013 I decided to go vegan, and announced that I was no longer going to be writing about animal based dishes, but rather find a way to veganize all the traditional Norwegian recipes I grew up with.  It was a big decision, and  I was nervous I would lose a lot of followers, but I’m happy to say most of you stayed, and for that I am forever grateful.  I’ve put so much work into this blog – hours and hours upon research, recipe tasting, marketing on social media and more, but my followers make it all worth it.

Arctic Grub will always be a labor of love for me, first and foremost. I don’t make any money off my blog (yet), I write from the heart, and only when I feel inspired.

Thank you to all my wonderful readers for your amazing support – I appreciate every single one of you! I hope you will be inspired to remain with me in the years to come as I am planning many exciting posts and projects in the near and far ahead future!

Thanks also to Anuj Agarwal and feedspot.com for including me in this exciting list of incredible Scandinavian bloggers!

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Fiskegrateng, Norwegian fish au gratin sans the fish

Fiskegrateng is a classic dish most Norwegians remember from childhood, aimed to please both adults and kids, even those that wrinkle their nose when they hear “we’re having fish for dinner”.  Fiskegrateng is what I call true Norwegian comfort food, and a dinner I always looked forward to when I was growing up.

The traditional version is based on a creamy white sauce with dairy and eggs, macaroni and flaky fish that are put in a baking dish, topped with breadcrumbs (and sometimes cheese) and baked in the oven.   As with so many Norwegian dishes, this was created to utilize any leftovers (in this case, fish) from previous meals.  It’s also a super easy dish to throw together but will look really impressive on the dinner table.  Many of my friends remember their moms buying a ready-made fiskegrateng at the store, but when you realize how easy it is to put together (not to mention how much better it tastes), you’ll never buy store versions again.

I’ve successfully veganized dozens, if not hundreds of dishes containing dairy, cheese and eggs. Flaky fish proved to be trickier, however with a little bit of creativity, thinking about the texture I wanted to mimic as well as the flavor, I landed on: wild mushrooms!

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I used a mixture of hen of the woods, oyster and trumpet mushrooms. The latter two proved to be incredibly similar in texture; slightly chewy and ‘meaty’, with a mild flavor and a perfect companion for the macaroni and creamy sauce.

The addition of elbow pasta shows that this is a relatively “newer” creation, as I can’t imagine Norwegian using pasta in the 19th century, but I wanted to showcase a dish that is also very common in today’s Norway.  Not to mention many plant based eaters have been begging me to recreate this dish, and so I took on the challenge, of course!

Fiskegrateng is what we call “husmannskost”,  which is a common term used for traditional Norwegian dishes, based on inexpensive whole ingredients like potatoes and root vegetables, corn products, and often some version of pork.   Other examples of ‘husmannskost’ include meatballs, or kjøttkaker, with potatoes, pancakes, lapskaus and porridge, or grøt.

The word “husmenn”, is a word used to describe those people that had to rent land and houses from other farmers.  This term started going into use around 1650,   although the husmenn were largest in nuber around the 19th century.  Husmenn were the closest we came to the working class before the industrialization of the country, and has been a very popular subject for radical historians.

Ironically, husmenn didn’t eat “husmannskost, at least not the way we think of these dishes today.   Most of them could only dream of eating the dishes described above, in fact we know very little of what they actually ate.   Husmannkost more correctly describes the food you would find on Norwegian tables in the 1950s… More on that in another post!

If you don’t want to add pasta in this dish, you can easily replace the macaroni with cut up veggies like carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, etc., it will taste equally delicious.

I made the creamy sauce with cooked cauliflower instead of using the traditional roux base of flour and butter. Using cooked cauliflower to make cream sauces is a common trick us vegans have,  and you get a cheesy flavor by adding nutritional yeast.  You won’t believe there is no dairy in this!

Serve the fiskegrateng with shredded (or boiled) carrots, boiled potatoes and drizzles of melted vegan butter.  My mom also used to chip some chives from our garden and add into the butter which added a nice touch.

Norwegian comfort food at its best! Velbekomme!

 

FISKEGRATENG (vegan, “FRESH” AU GRATIN)

1 1/2 lbs (600 grams) mixed mushrooms (I recommend oyster and trumpet mushrooms)

2 garlic cloves

2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme

olive oil for sauteing

12 ounces (350g) macaroni

1 small cauliflower, cut up into florets

1/2 cup (125 ml) almond or other non-dairy milk

1/4 cup (65 ml)  cashews, soaked in water for at least 2 hours

1/3 cup (1dl) nutritional yeast

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

juice of 1/2 large lemon (about 1-2 tbsp)

pinch of nutmeg

salt, pepper

1 cup (250ml) panko breadcrumbs, unseasoned

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

pinch of salt and several rounds of freshly cracked black pepper

Lightly grease a 13×9 baking dish with oil or vegan butter.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celcius).

Place the cauliflower florets in lots of salted water in a medium pot and boil until soft, about 20-25 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the panko breadcrumbs with the onion powder, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, salt and pepper and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta/macaroni according to the package direction and set aside (use a little oil to prevent pasta from sticking).

Clean and dice mushrooms; I halved and thinly sliced the trumpet mushrooms, and just cut the oyster mushrooms in half. I also used hen of the woods, which I diced thin as well.

In a large saute pan, heat up a little olive oil, add in a couple of cloves of garlic with some fresh thyme sprigs and saute for 30 seconds or so until fragrant. Add in the mushrooms and saute over high heat until they start to shrink and get soft. Add a couple of pinches of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Set aside.

When cauliflower is cooked, drain and place into a high speed blender with the almond (or other non-dairy) milk, drained cashews,  nutritional yeast, Dijon mustard, lemon juice,  nutmeg, salt and pepper and puree until smooth.

Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta, fold in the mushrooms and pour the entire mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Evenly spread the seasoned panko breadcrumbs over, and drizzle with a little melted vegan butter.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes on the bottom shelf, until nice and golden up top.

Serve with shredded carrots, boiled potatoes and lots of melted butter!

 

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Dronning Maud’s dessert – a royal experience

When I surveyed my readers and followers a while back about which Norwegian dish they would most like to see veganized,  Dronning Mauds dessert (or Queen Maud’s Mousse) was right up there with “brunost” (the widely popular and unique Norwegian goat cheese).     I had to start recipe testing right away, as I have yet to see a non-dairy, eggless recipe of this dish.

Queen Maud was born in London in 1869, and her parents were the later King Edvard VII and Queen Alexandra of Great Britain.   Through visiting relatives in Denmark, she got to know her cousin Prince Carl, they married in Buckingham Palace in 1896, and settled down in Copenhagen. When the Norwegian government offered Prince Carl the throne in 1905, he accepted, and the British Princess Maud became the first Norwegian Queen following the dissolution of the union with Sweden.

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Image from kongehuset.no

Queen Mauds dessert, also called Queen Maud’s Mousse, or Haugesunddessert, was created when she and King Haakon visited Haugesund during the coronation expedition in 1906.   The dessert was named after her in honor of their visit.   It is common knowledge that Queen Maud had a tiny waist, so not sure how much she ate, but the story goes she liked the pudding very much!

I’ve yet to meet a person who isn’t absolutely in love with this dessert.  I like to think of it as Norway’s response to tiramisu, and although the ingredients differ, the texture and flavor reminds me of the Italian classic.    The pudding is more commonly seen in the western parts of Norway,  though I wouldn’t count on seeing it at every table any longer.  This dessert is one of the old, classics I’ve loved to revive and bring back, in an even better form!

Before I went vegan, I published the traditional recipe for this dessert, which contains egg yolks, whipped cream and gelatin.  Yes, not exactly a dish for those watching their weight, much less their health, as both egg yolks and dairy, with their high content of cholesterol, saturated fat and hormones, antibiotics and other additives you find in these animal products, are less than ideal for your body. You can go here to read my original post where I also detailed who Queen Maud was and what her place is in Norwegian history.

Substituting heavy cream is no problem at all.  Full fat canned coconut milk makes a wonderful whipped cream, when the can is placed in the fridge overnight, allowing the fat to solidify as a “lid” on top of the can.  This part is what is whipped, and the liquid is reserved for later use.   For more detailed info on how this works, I like this article.

Gelatin is also super easy to swap out. I use agar agar, a much healthier alternative.  Let’s just say, there’s a reason gelatin rhymes with skeleton, as that is really what gelatin is; animal bones (along with animal skin, hooves, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage all boiled together into a goo).  Yuck, I just don’t want that in my dessert or my candy thank you!

Agar agar is a flavorless gelling agent, derived from cooked and pressed seaweed, is available flaked, powdered, or in bars.  In Japan, agar is referred to as kanten. Agar agar is a good source of calcium and iron, and is very high in fiber. It contains no sugar, no fat and no carbohydrates. It is known for its ability to aid in digestion and weight loss, helps reduce inflammation and it carries toxic waste out of the body.  Not bad for an additive in this dessert, right??

Agar is very powerful, so you don’t need a lot – I found that 1 tsp was really enough for this recipe.  You can play around with amounts, there are a million different directions if you google it, but I found mine worked well.  I also am not sure you necessarily need it although it helps set the pudding if you leave it in fridge overnight. I found that the longer you leave the mousse to chill, the better the consistency.

So now we arrive at the trickiest ingredient to sub out: egg yolks. There are many ways to sub out whole eggs in baking, but not that many that describes the yolk itself.  In any event, I tried two versions; one with the VeganEgg, a powder when mixed with water, makes perfect scrambled eggs, frittata and also wonderful in baked goods, and silken tofu.   The tofu also produced a very tasty result, although had a somewhat “soupier” texture, and I found it a bit lumpy and not as smooth as the Vegan Egg.

You can find the Vegan Egg in most health food stores and Whole Foods, and I’ve seen it more and more in regular stores as well, as people are becoming more preoccupied with leaving animal products off their plate.

When my husband tasted the dessert, he said it tasted like a regular mousse or custard, that he would never guess it didn’t contain regular eggs. Since he works as a chef for a living and has the most discerning palate of anyone I know, I will take his word for it. Also because I know he doesn’t tell me things to be nice, he is honest.  I hope you will agree with me.  The recipe might look intimidating but it’s really super simple once you’ve got the steps down, and it’s sure to please anyone with a sweet tooth!

 

QUEEN MAUDS DESSERT (vegan)

6 tbsp VeganEgg mixed with 1 1/4 cup (300ml) ice cold water, quickly blended in Vitamix
6 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste
1/4 cup (0.5 dl) port wine
1 can whipped full fat coconut milk, placed in fridge overnight
2-3 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp agar agar mixed with 1 cup (250ml)  water (you probably won’t need more than half of this mixture)
3 oz (85 grams) shredded dark chocolate (or semi-sweet, make sure it’s vegan)
Directions:
Dissolve the agar agar in the water in a small pot, place it on the stove over medium heat, and keep whisking over heat for about 5-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool.
In a high speed blender, combine the veganEgg with the ice cold water, vanilla paste/extract and the confectioners until it has the thick consistency of whipped egg yolks.
Pour the mixture into a bowl  and fold in the chilled agar agar.  Add the port wine (port wine is optional, you can omit if you don’t drink alcohol).
Scoop out the solids of the coconut milk and whip it either with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer.  Add a couple of tsp of vanilla paste and confectioners sugar once the cream starts to thicken.  (I feel that when the bowl you whip it in is chilled, it works a bit better, so I place the bowl in the freezer for a few minutes before I whip it.).   When thick and cream starts to form peaks, it is done.
Carefully fold the whipped coconut cream into the vegan egg mixture.  Layer the cream mixture into a nice glass bowl with the shredded chocolate and garnish with some fresh raspberries.  Place in fridge at least for a few hours, preferably overnight, before serving.
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Polarbrød; Scandinavia’s pita bread

In January most people are swearing off bread and other carb laden foods, but that doesn’t have to include healthy, whole grain breads such as polarbrød. These fluffy, pillowy creations have been popular for quite a few years as an alternative to the traditional, whole grain loaves so commonly eaten and see around Norway.  They are similar in look to pita bread, except Norwegians tend to eat these for breakfast or lunch, topped with whatever smears or other “pålegg ” eaten during these meals.  (“Pålegg” is essentially anything you could possibly put on a sandwich).

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What makes these breads unique is that they typically are frozen immediately after being baked, following the original method of how they came about.  Read on…

Polarbrød (Polar Sandwich) is actually a Swedish brand of breads sold in stores in Norway and has a long history in Scandinavia dating back one hundred years. Johan Nilsson was the founder, and when he started his bakery back in the late 19th century.  He didn’t have much capital, and while he had ingredients like flour and spices, he lacked yeast.  He solved this by trading his “spark” (pictured below) for one kilo of yeast.

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Image from polarbrod.no

In the 1950s, the business was taken over by Johan’s grandson, who started a bakery and cafe with his wife Greta.  The couple saw huge possibilities with this bread.  But in order to scale the business and sell to the entire country of Sweden, they had to find a way to distribute it. How could they keep the breads fresh when they were to ship it all over the country?  To avoid spoilage, Greta tried freezing the already prepared sandwiches, and it became a huge success. She baptized them “Polar Sandwich”, and the rest is history.

Today, the business is run by Greta’s granddaughters, Karin Bodin and Anna Borgeryd.  They are 5th generation and plan to continue the family business for generations to come.  In Norway, polarbrød has been sold since 2002, and the family business Findahl & Krogh AS is responsible for sales and marketing of this bread.

The details above were translated from the website polarbrod.no

Instead of buying the already made polarbrød in the stores, many Norwegians opt to make their own.  Super easy to make and they are quick to bake too, I can see why this tradition is so popular in many modern homes.

There are a million varieties of polarbrød using different flours and the ratios vary as well.  You can add seeds like chia or flax for added texture and  I hope you will try mine out, I also use these as pita breads and serve them with hummus and other dips.

WHOLE GRAIN POLARBRØD

Makes 16-20 pieces

4 tbsp or 50 grams vegan butter

1 1/4 cup (300 ml) non-dairy milk

1 cup (200ml) water

2 1/2 tsp (1 packet) dry yeast

2 tbsp maple or brown rice syrup

2 tsp salt

1 scant cup (200 ml) quick oats, roughly pulsed in blender

1 1/4 cup (300 ml) whole wheat flour

1 scant cup (200 ml) rye flour

2 1/2 cups (600 ml) all purpose flour

Melt the butter in a small pot, add in the milk and water and combine. The temperature should be around 110F, then drizzle in the dry yeast, let sit for about 5 minutes.

Place yeast mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer and add the remaining ingredients, and knead on medium for 5-6 minutes until you have a smooth dough. Add more flour or liquid as you see fit.

Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let rise until double in size, about 1 hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (250 degrees Celcius).  Place a baking sheet in the oven.

Divide the dough in half and roll each half out to a link. Cut each link into 8-10 pieces, shape the pieces into a ball, then with a rolling pin form a circle that’s about 1/2 inch thick (1cm or so). Use a chopstick or a fork and prick some “holes” on top of each circular piece.

Cover the pieces with towels and let rest for about 15 minutes.

Place 4 or 5 pieces in the oven on the baking sheet at a time, and bake for about 3 minutes.  They should be slightly puffed up and light brown on top when done. Quickly remove them, add another 4-5 pieces and repeat until you have all the breads baked. Cover them with a clean towel while they cool off, this will help them stay moist.

These breads should be enjoyed right out of the oven, or wrapped up and placed in freezer as soon as they have cooled off.  They will thaw in about 30 minutes and will taste just as good out of the freezer as fresh.  Top or stuff with your favorite spreads, like vegan cheese, lettuce, sliced peppers, cucumbers, bean pate or even hummus!

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Sirupssnipper; a spiced and uniquely shaped Norwegian Christmas cookie

Have you ever wondered what exactly the origins of Christmas cookies are? And perhaps, even more specifically, the traditional Norwegian Christmas cookies?

Many of the cookies we bake today weren’t even Christmas cookies originally.

By the 19th century, ovens were commonplace in almost every household in Norway.  This is also when cookbooks were written and published for the general masses, the term “Christmas cookie” was originated and the list of which cookies to bake for the holidays was formed and started to look like the ones we have today.

The Christmas cookies we have today can be divided into three categories:

The oldest cookies we know are the “iron” cookies.  They are baked in different irons, like goro and krumkaker.  It’s unclear how long these irons have been used in Norway, but in Europe we can trace it back to the 15th century.

Another form of cookies are the “smult”, or lard, cookies, like smultringer and fattigmann.  Lard cookies most likely stem all the way back to the Middle Ages. Fattigmann arrived in Norway and the end of the 18th century, or beginning of the 19th century.  The name is misleading, (fattigmann translates to “poor man”) because the ingredients to bake the cookie were both expensive and exclusive.

The last type of cookies are the ones that require an oven to bake them. Pepperkaker, sirupssnipper, berlinerkranser and sandkaker are in this category, and they arrived in Norway around the 17th century.  Before ovens were commonplace in people’s homes, these kind of cookies had to be bought in bakeries or were made on farms that had big ovens.

Today I wanted to give you my family recipe for sirupssnipper, which of course, I’ve veganized.  They are a unique looking triangular shaped cookie that uses a specific pastry wheels to arrive at the jagged edges.  Of course, no self-respecting Norwegian Christmas cookie is without an almond, which is placed whole in the center.

Sirupssnipper was a staple in my childhood home in Norway growing up, my mom always had dozens and dozens of them, and they were always part of the multi-layered cookie tray.  This is also the first time I’ve covered them on my blog, so I’m excited to bring you my version!

Happy baking and as always, let me know what you think if you decide to give them a try!

 

SIRUPSSNIPPER (vegan)

1 1/4 cup (250 g) sugar

2 sticks (200 grams) vegan butter

2 tbsp ground flax seeds mixed with 6 tbsp water (2 flax ‘eggs’)

1 cup (250 g) light syrup

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1 1/4 tsp baking soda (or if you have “hjortetakk salt add 1/4 tsp of that plus 1 tsp baking soda)

about 1 lbs (500 grams) flour

a scant cup (100 grams) blanched almonds

a little non-dairy milk for brushing the cookies

Directions:

Whisk the sugar and vegan butter  until light and fluffy in a standmixer. Add the flax eggs.
In a small pot, gently heat up the syrup, mix in the spices and add to the sugar-butter mixture and fold in.  Finally, add in the baking soda and flour until you have a firm dough.   Cover the dough and place in fridge for several hours, preferably overnight.

Prepare a couple of cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper or lightly oiled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celcius).

Roll out the dough until it’s about 1/2 inch thin.  Using a ruler and a ribbed pastry wheel, cut out cookies into triangles, about 2 1/2 ” x 2 1/2″ (5x5cm) in size.  In Norway you have a special cookie cutter called trinsle that cuts on these triangles for you:

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Place a blanched almond in the center of each cookie and brush them with a little non dairy milk:

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Bake the cookies in the oven for 5 minutes.  The cookies will keep about a week in an airtight container preferably made of metal and stored in a cool, dark place.

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Homemade caramels to bring you holiday happiness

Most of the time I’m happy to share the recipes I come up with on the blog, but this time there was something in me that thought I should just keep this one a secret and perhaps profit off of starting a caramel business. The caramels came out that good.  I didn’t exactly re-invent the wheel with my recipe, however I was just amazed at how amazing the caramels turned out, and no “real” butter or cream was used.

You might ask “why bother making my own caramels when I can buy delicious ones in the store? I’m here to tell you: bother. There’s nothing more satisfying than to see that sugary liquid turn into a golden brown and the liquid magically transform into chewy, delightful caramel.  Making your own candy for the holidays is magical; it brings extra joy to the house and since it’s not perfect looking or uniform in size, extra charming too!

I used my tried and true Earth Balance for butter and to replace the heavy cream I used full fat coconut milk. For those of you who are not crazy about coconut don’t fret, there is absolutely no coconut flavor left in the finished product, only the creamy, rich thickness reminiscent of cream.

Norwegians have a love for many things caramel flavored.  Of course we have the best chocolate covered caramel candy, but there is also “karamellpudding”, our flan /creme caramel/creme brulee, and all kinds of caramelized almonds and fudge we put on our decadent cakes.

During Christmas,  it’s customary in many homes to make your own caramels. It wasn’t in my house growing up, but it’s a tradition I’m happy to adopt.  While I’m not one to eat candy on a weekly basis, I allow myself a little extra during the holidays and I also think it makes for a wonderful gift.  Personally I find it much more touching to get a gift that somebody took time out to make rather than get a gift gard or some other no name present. Then again, it’s also the thought that counts …

You can flavor the caramels with chocolate, vanilla, cardamom and anything else you desire… I decided to just make them plain this time and topped them with some coconut flakes and walnuts.  Yum!

For the below recipe you will need 2 sauce pans; a smaller 2 quart pan (2 liters), and a larger 4 quart (4 liter) pan., as well as a candy thermometer or an instant thermometer you can read the temperature of the sugar mixture. This is important for the success of the recipe!  Here’s my candy thermometer at work:

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VEGAN CHRISTMAS CARAMELS

1 x 13 oz (about 400g) can full fat coconut milk

4 tablespoons vegan butter

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 cup (3.5 dl) organic sugar

1 cup (2.5dl) organic light brown sugar

heaping 1/3 cup (1 dl) organic light corn syrup

1/4 cup water

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla pasta

Directions:

Dress an 8×8  baking dish with parchment paper, leaving some paper hanging over the edges. Brush the paper with a little oil and set aside.

Heat the coconut milk, butter, and salt in the 2-quart saucepan until the butter melts. Remove from heat.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in the larger 4-quart saucepan, and stir until the sugar is blended in and you have a thick grainy paste.  Clip the instant-read thermometer to the side of the pan so that the heat sensor is immersed in the sugar. Don’t stir the sugar after this point.  (Note:  The sugar will bubble up and increase in volume when you add the cream which is why you use a larger pan.)

Place the pot with the sugar mixture over medium to medium-high heat.  Let the sugar syrup come to a boil without stirring.   When the syrup reaches anywhere between 250°F and 325°F (125-165 degrees Celcius), turn off the heat and carefully pour in the coconut milk-butter mix while whisking. Once it has been added, return the pan to medium-high heat and let the caramel come to a boil without stirring.   Remove from heat when caramel reaches about 245-250 Fahreneheit (120-125 degrees Celcius) and quickly whisk in the vanilla before pouring the caramels into the prepared baking pan.

Place the caramels aside for at least a couple of hours or overnight.  Once the caramels have cooled down, you can cover the pan.  When the caramels have set you can remove it from the pan and peel off parchment paper and using a sharp knife, cut into small squares.  Top with anything you desire. Store in an airtight container – keeps for about 2 weeks (but I doubt they will last that long!).

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Peppernøtter; a Norwegian Christmas cookie with a deceiving name

Continuing my yearly holiday series of Norwegian cookies, I realized I have never shared my recipe for these delightful, two-bite sized cookies called peppernøtter.  Perhaps it’s not a coincidence, as they are a bit anonymous compared to the other famous seven kinds we insist on including in our baking repertoire every Christmas.  Which again is ironic, because they are just like potato chips; you can’t stop at just one!

Peppernøtter are in many ways similar to gingerbread cookies, or pepperkaker, as we call them in Norwegian.  I read somewhere it can be described as a smaller, angrier version of pepperkaker, which made me laugh.  Filled with the warming holiday spices of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove with a healthy dose of black pepper, they are positively addictive and easier to bake than pepperkaker.  While they may not be as popular as their cousin, they are certainly not less delicious.

Peppernøtter are also more doughy as opposed to crispy, and have a savory element to them which makes you not feel too guilty if you happen to eat them for breakfast… hey, I will definitely not judge you!

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The name of this cookie is quite deceiving, as the recipe doesn’t call for nuts at all (nøtter means nuts in Norwegian).   The cookies were so called, because when they were created back in the 16th century they were made without baking powder and consequently they turned hard as nuts.  The generous addition of spices was not done only to add flavor to the cookies, but also to symbolize wealth and power, which was common in the Middle ages.  Still to this today, the aromas of cinnamon, ginger, clove and cardamom is what signify Christmas.

Old fashioned they may be, but peppernøtter remain incredibly popular among Norwegians to this day.   They are also super simple to veganize, because the original doesn’t contain nuts, and substituting plant based butter and milk is as easy as a walk in the park and produces the same flavor and texture as dairy products.

(Shameless plug and gift suggestion: If you are interested in seeing how Norwegian dishes can successfully be veganized, I highly recommend getting my latest ebook which is a collection of my favorite Norwegian  recipes from this blogg and beyond. Makes for a perfect gift too and will turn any skeptic into a believer if you thought meat, fish and dairy was necessary to create authentic tasting Scandinavian food)

Don’t forget to enjoy peppernøtter with a glass of gløgg, it is guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit!

(P.S. they also make for a wonderful, edible gift! Just put them in mason jars and put a bow on it and voila, you’ve got a personalized, delicious Christmas present!)

VEGAN PEPPERNØTTER

Makes about 30 pieces

1 stick (113g) vegan butter (I used Earth Balance)

heaping 1/2 cup (150 grams) organic sugar

1/4 cup organic light corn syrup (50 ml)

1/4 cup (50ml)  coconut or soy based half and half

2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 cups (400 grams) all purpose flour (add more if dough looks wet)

Whisk together the butter, sugar and syrup in a small sauce pot and heat up until sugar is dissolved.  Add in the half and half, spices, baking powder, soda and flour and combine until you have a smooth dough.  Let rest in fridge for about an hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celcius),  Dress two baking sheets with either a silpat or parchment paper.

Using a tbsp cookie scooper, roll out the dough pieces in the shape of a small ball and place on cookie sheets.  Lightly press them down with the back of a fork.

Bake for about 15 minutes until lightly golden on top.

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A Mackerel-less spread perfect for your smorgasbord

I’ve been speaking of and writing a lot about baking, cookies and cakes around the holidays as being a very big Norwegian tradition.  But what about the savory dishes? Don’t they get any love?

Of course. In fact, this time of year, long, leisurely breakfasts we call “julefrokost” are cherished (we’re talking hours),  and nobody does breakfast spreads better than the Norwegians.  Well, maybe the Swedes and Danes are up there too, I guess you can say we just love this meal in Scandinavia!  We love our open-face sandwiches and get very creative with the toppings.   Savory spreads are typically preferred over sweet, and one of the classics are “makrell i tomat”, or “mackerel in tomato sauce”.  These are sold in stores in cans and are widely popular.  The production of this product started in 1950s, and several surveys have shown this is one of the most preferred toppings in the country.  Even small kids love it and ask for it in kindergartens.

Here’s what the cans look like, Stabburet is one of the most widely sold brands:

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Fish for breakfast you might ask? Hmmm…  Well, I participated in this tradition for a long time, but now I choose to leave the fish alone, as our oceans are severely overfished and also heavily polluted. Fish that once might have been nutritious are now riddled with mercury, bacteria and a number of chemicals that have been linked to numerous health issues. Fish is high in cholesterol and most of the fat in fish is not heart-healthy, despite popular belief.  I’m sure I’ll step on many Norwegian toes now, as mackerel in tomato sauce has been touted as one of the healthiest things you can eat… Well the research and scientific proof is there… If you are concerned about the environment and the rapid depletion of our oceans, I recommend this site.   But I digress…

I long have wanted to re-create many of the traditional spreads I grew up eating, like liver pate (leverpostei) and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs which I’ve done successfully,  but I never thought I would be able to find a vegan recipe for ‘makrell i tomat’.

That is, until I came across the ingenious recipe from my friend and fellow Norwegian vegan food blogger, Jane Helen, who runs the widely popular blog Veganmisjonen.  Jane is one of the most inspiring, positive and creative cooks I know, and she has done more for the food world and vegan movement in Norway than perhaps anybody else thus far.

Jane graciously agreed to let me translate and re-print her recipe for the vegan faux mackerel in tomato sauce which she cleverly entitled “Sprell i tomat”.     She replaced the mackerel with sun-dried tomatoes and red kidney beans, and uses nori flakes to re-create the “fishy” taste in the spread.  Along with some tomato paste, and adding a salty taste with soy sauce, I can tell you the result is amazingly similar to the original!

Jane also recently released a fantastic cookbook all about vegan burgers, here I am with her book that she so kindly sent me as a present!

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I will be cooking up a storm from this book, and will blog about one particular Norwegian Christmas inspired dish soon.

If you don’t feel adventurous enough to try the faux mackerel for breakfast, I suggest offering this as a pate or spread at a holiday party with some bread or crackers if you want to serve something different than the typical hummus or pate.  I bet people will love it!

Click here for Janes original recipe if you would like to check it out (in Norwegian), and I highly recommend exploring the rest of her blog out too!

VEGANMISJONEN’S “FAUX MACKEREL” SPREAD  (Sprell i Tomat)

Makes about 1 quart

3.5 ounces (100 grams) sun-dried tomatoes

about 1 cup (2.5dl) boiling water

roughly 1/3 cup (50 grams) raw almonds

3-4 tbsp nori or dulse flakes (less if you want less fishy taste)

heaping 1/3 cup (100 grams) tomato paste

6 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp onion powder

2 tsp chopped chives

1 tsp smoked paprika

pinch of chili powder

3.5 ounces (100 grams) canned water chestnuts, drained

7 ounces (200 grams) canned red kidney beans, drained

Directions:

Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a bowl and cover with the boiling water. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.  Drain.

Add the nori/dulse flakes, almonds and drained sundried tomatoes to a food processor and roughly chop a few times. Don’t over process as you want texture to remain.

Dump the mixture into a bowl, and add the tomato paste, olive oil, soy sauce, onion powder, chives, paprika and chili powder and combine well.

Add the water chestnuts and beans to the food processor and roughly chop them by pulsing a few times. Add to the rest of the mixture, combine and you’re done!   The spread tastes even better if you leave it overnight in fridge so the flavors have a chance to blend.

Spread on your favorite whole grain bread  and enjoy for breakfast, lunch or an afternoon snack!

Jane Helen is a vegan food blogger originally from Telemark but resides in Oslo where she works full time blogging and teaching cooking lessons around Norway. She is the author of two books, Veganmat På Sitt Beste (Vegan Food the Best Way) and  Kjøttfrie Burgere (Meatless Burgers).

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Serinakaker; one of the original Norwegian Christmas cookies veganized

Serinakaker is regarded as one of the original, classic Christmas cookies in Norway and are classified as “småkaker” (small cookies).  These are small butter-sugar-flour cookies with a ruffled pattern, topped with sliced almonds and sugar and are known as many Norwegians’ favorite among all the Christmas cookies baked during the holidays. They have been baked for over 100 years in Norway.

The term “småkaker”was not put into use until the 19th century, when it became more common for people to bake and ovens were introduced to the common household.   Whereas the classic cookies I’ve been sharing over the holiday period are considered classic Norwegian, many of the cookies we bake today in fact originate from other countries.   I will write more about this topic in a future blog

Before the 1800s, mostly breads, flatbreads and lefse were baked, and around the holidays people didn’t skimp on all the decadent ingredients that were otherwise used sparingly, such as sour cream and the best flour you could get.  Barley and oat flour were most commonly used, but in cookies wheat or rye was needed, which traditionally had to be imported. After 1880,  people got access to inexpensive Russian flour and this stimulated the interest and tradition of baking cookies.

Serinakaker have a generous amount of butter, and the traditional version has eggs, but I subbed a cashew based yogurt and with great results.   Eggs really aren’t needed in baking, as I’ve mentioned many times before, as it merely acts as a binder. I’ve used everything from applesauce to mashed bananas,  ground flax or chia seeds mixed with water, silken tofu and cornstarch to bind batters and doughs with the same exact outcome as when I used eggs.

This recipe was inspired by my friend and colleague, Mari Hult, who I’ve mentioned before and has one of the best vegan food blogs in Norway called Vegetarbloggen.

Thanks, Mari for spearheading making all the wonderful Norwegian Christmas cookies accessible to those who either can’t consume dairy or eggs or choose to be vegan!

Biting into these cookies really brings back fond memories of sitting around the coffee table with family and friends in a cozy, candle lit Norwegian home, drinking coffee and enjoying this time of year.  I hope I can bring a little comfort to your home too with this recipe!

If you love Norwegian food and are interested in a book that has a collection of all the classic dishes, including cookies and cakes for the holidays, don’t forget to pick up a copy of my latest ebook which as my favorite recipes. You can purchase it HERE.

Otherwise, I hope you enjoy the serina cookies as much as I do, I would love to hear your thoughts!

NORVEGAN SERINAKAKER

Makes about 25 cookies

  • 1 stick plus 2 tbsp (150 grams) vegan butter, cubed and room temp
  • 9 oz / 2 cups (250 grams) all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) organic sugar
  • 2 tbsp non dairy yogurt (I used Forager cashew yogurt)
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp potato or corn starch
  • 1/3 cup (1 dl) sliced almonds
  • 1/3 cup (1 dl) pearled sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celcius).  Grease two cookie sheets with a little oil or dress them with parchment paper.
Place the flour and baking powder in a big bowl, and crumble in the room temperature vegan butter with your hands.  Add in the vanilla extract and sugar as well as the non dairy yogurt and combine until you form a dough. If it’s a little wet, you can add a touch more flour and/or sugar.

Divide the batter into two and roll each part gently out to “sausage” looking links. Divide each link into 10-12 pieces or more, roll them into small balls, and place on the prepared cookie sheets.

With the back of a fork, press lightly onto each ball to flatten them, making a nice pattern.  Mix the potato/corn starch with the water in a small bowl and brush the top of the cookies with the mixture. Sprinkle with almonds and sugar and bake in oven for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden.

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A cake that smells like Christmas

“Krydderkake”, as it’s called in Norwegian, translates to “spiced cake” and is a juicy cake filled with lots of warming holiday spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom and all spice.  The cake is a welcome change to all the cookies we typically see on tables this time of year.

This is a very simple cake presented without fuss.  Typically it’s just sprinkled with powdered sugar or sometimes a light confectioners glaze .  Many people forget about krydderkake, which is a shame really, as there is nothing quite as delightful and satisfying as having a slice of this cake with a cup of coffee or tea, or even a glass of gløgg, especially on dark, cold winter nights.

Krydderkaker have been made for generations in Norway, some have raisins and a variety of spices in them, as with most other recipes – the cake ingredients from family to family.   What they do have in common are heaps of flavor that brings out a smile on people’s faces as soon as they bite into it. Thought of as festive and decadent despite its modest look, it’s a staple in many homes and a sign that Christmas is here.

Another great feature about this cake is that it’s just as appropriate on a festive table during Christmas as it is as a packed lunch or snack if you’re going hiking.  Perfect for a Sunday afternoon snack or when you are inviting people over for a dinner party.

Many people call it the ‘lazy man’s cake’, because it’s just so simple to put together, and I have to agree.  Make this for when you want to entertain, but really don’t feel like going all out in the kitchen yet still want to impress!

Whereas the classic recipe calls for eggs, I decided to replace them with homemade applesauce, thinking that apples are such a wonderful companion to all the previously names holiday spices. It gives the cake a really juicy texture, and you don’t have to worry about the cholesterol and saturated fat in the eggs, but I’ve added back some fat in form of a generous amount of vegan butter.

A cake like this makes both your body and soul feel happy.  Don’t think twice about attempting this one!

NORVEGAN KRYDDERKAKE

1 stick plus 1 tbsp (150 grams) vegan butter

1 1/2 cup  (300 grams) brown sugar (packed)

2 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup (180ml)  applesauce

8 1/2 oz (400 ml) all purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp allspice

1/2 cup (55 grams) chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F (180 degrees Celcius).  Prepare a loaf pan by lining it with parchment paper

Place butter, sugar and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer and whip until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the applesauce and combine well.   Add the rest of the ingredients and make sure they are well integrated.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake the cake for about 60 minutes.  Check the cake half way through, if it starts to get dark on the top, cover it with a little parchment paper.  Cake is done when a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before removing it from the pan and sprinkle with a little confectioner’s sugar if you wish.

(You can also bake this in a 13 x 9 inch baking pan or even a 9 or 10 inch cake pan, for a a different shape. I would reduce the baking time to 40 minutes or so. )

 

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