Norwegian Inspired New Years Eve menu

The last day of the year is almost here, and if you are anything like me, you will give some thought to what you are going to eat and drink to ring in the new year.  Norwegians typically spend all Christmas week indulging in rich dishes such as pork belly, cream cakes and more sweets, and by the time New Years Eve comes around, most people choose lighter fare to celebrate the last holiday of the year.  Seafood is a popular choice, so is turkey. I don’t need to give Americans another recipe for turkey, as I believe this will remain a specialty of this country, so I decided to give you an alternative menu showcasing the foods native to Norway – after all this blog is mostly  about Norwegian cooking! Hopefully you will find some ideas here, and although you may not be able to locate all these ingredients on such short notice, remember recipes are for inspiration only, not to be taken literally. You can substitute ingredients, sides and flavors – after all, it is your New Years and you should spend it eating and drinking whatever your heart desires!!

nyttarsfeiring
Menu below is estimated for 4-6 people.

ARCTIC CHAR CARPACCIO

Arctic char, called ishavsrøye in Norwegian, is similar to salmon but less fatty and milder in flavor but can be treated the same way.  Arctic char is Norway’s oldest fresh water fish, and also the fish that lives the furthest north.  Available all year long, it can vary in color from dark to light red, is rich in protein and B12 vitamins. Delicious as carpaccio, you can flavor it with anything you like but don’t forget the acid (lime or lemon juice!) to “cook” it!

1 lb filet of arctic char, boneless

fresh dill and chervil

juice from 2 limes

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Sauce:

½ cup Greek yogurt

4 tbsp fresh dill, chopped

juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp sugar

salt, pepper

Place the arctic char in the freezer for about half an hour so it becomes very cold (but ot frozen). Pull it out and slice filet very thin, place on a plate, season with salt, and pepper. Combine olive oil and lime juice and pour over the fish.  Place the plate of fish in the firidge for about ½ hour or so before serving. Garnish with dill and chervil and serve the yogurt sauce on the side (mix all the ingredients in bowl).

 

SAUTEED KING CRAB LEGS W/SHELLFISH VINAIGRETTE

Here I went for a simple preparation of the king crab, served with a clean tasting shellfish dressing/vinaigrette, to let the crab shine.  Serve with some garlic toast.

Serves 4

1 lb king crab legs, cut into 6 inch pieces

¼ cup olive oil

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 lemon, juiced

2 tsp Pernod

a pinch of sugar

1 tbsp fresh tarragon

1 tbsp fresh parsley

1 tbsp fresh chives

1 tbsp butter

salt and pepper to taste

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the king crab legs, and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the mustard, fresh herbs, and Pernod and cook until reduced about 1/3, about 5 minutes. Then add in the lemon juice and cook for another two minutes. Stir in butter, and season to with salt, sugar and pepper. Serve right away, with sauce poured over crab legs or on the side.

1 baguette

2 cloves garlic

2 tbsp olive oil

Slice the baguette into toast pieces, toast in the oven or in toaster, rub with garlic and drizzle a few drops of olive oil on each piece before serving.

kongekrabbe

HALIBUT W/BEET SAUCE AND PAN ROASTED HERBED POTATOES

What is a Norwegian inspired menu without halibut… luxuriously delicious, light and pairs easily with a wide variety of sides.. it remains one of my favorite meals to this day. Try it with a colorful beet sauce and some roasted potatoes – Norwegians love potatoes, and most people feel the dinner is incomplete without them! So here I pay homage to our potato obsession, while keeping it classy 🙂 If you don’t care for beets, you can just melt some butter and pour over the fish – equally tasty!

2 lbs halibut, divided into four pieces (boneless)

For the cod, bring a quart of water up to a boil and add about ½ cup of kosher salt.  Bring heat down to a simmer and place the halibut in the water. Let the fish poach gently for about 8-10 minutes, be careful not to let the water boil.

Beet Sauce:

1 beet, chopped small

½ cup white wine

2 cups fish stock

4 tbsp corn starch

2 stick unsalted butter, cube

lime juice

salt, pepper

In a medium sauce pan, add some olive oil and sauté the beet. Add the white wine and reduce to half the amount, about 10 minutes. Add the fish stock, and cook until the beets are tender (about 5 minutes).  Add the cornstarch and whisk until smooth and combined, add some butter during the whisking. Don’t continue cooking the sauce after the butter has bee added. Taste to with salt, pepper and lime juice.

 

Potatoes:

4 Yukon Gold potatoes

1 stick unsalted butter

Fresh Rosemary or Thyme

Salt, pepper

Dice the potatoes into quarters then again (into 2-inch cubes). Parboil the potatoes in a pot of salted water for about 5-10 minutes, drain and dry them well. Place an oven proof sauté pan over high heat o the stove, add a tbsp of oil , and add potatoes in one single layer (don’t overcrowd or they won’t crisp up). Saute for 5-10 minutes until brown on one side, then flip potatoes over, and place in a 400F with the butter and fresh herbs in the oven for another 10 minutes.  Keep basting the potatoes with the butter and herbs, pull them out when the potatoes are golden brown and crisp.

Serve with your favorite root vegetables such as parsnips and carrots or sautéed greens (swiss chard or spinach).

kveite  (photo from alleoppskrifter.no)

 

ROAST GROUSE W/JUNIPER INFUSED CREME FRAICHE SAUCE

Grouse brings me back to the times spent at our cabin in the mountains about 1/2 hour from my childhood home, where my dad and his friends would go hunting for grouse. They brought back the birds and my mom would cook it that very same day for us. Served with an earthy, creamy sauce accompanied by mushrooms, brussels sprouts, lingonberry or rowanberry jam, this meal is the epitome of mountain living in Norway and the taste of nature! The meat is dark and very flavorful, but can easily be overcooked so be sure to pay attention! Grouse remains the most hunted game in our country, as it is found in nearly every mountainous region in Norway and therefore plentiful and easy to come across.

Realizing that grouse can be difficult to get your hands on in this part of the world, you can use squab or any other type of small bird, or even duck if you wish to. Just make sure to adjust cooking time according to size of the bird.

Serves 4

4 small grouse, cleaned

butter for sautéing

salt, pepper

1 ¼ cup water or stock

1 ¼ cup milk

bunch of fresh thyme

3-4 juniper berries

 

For the sauce:

1 cup stock from the grouse pot

1 cup crème fraiche or sour cream

rowanberry jelly (available in specialty stores)

salt, pepper

1 tbsp cornstarch for thickening, mixed with 1 tbsp cold water

Rinse the grouse and pat dry with paper towels. Tie them up so the thighs are neatly tucked in under the body. Season with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan and brown the grouse on all sides, about 1-2 minutes each. Place them in a large pot and add the water, milk and herbs/spices until the liquid covers the grouse by ¾. Bring to a boil and turn down, simmer under a lid until the grouse are tender, about 40 minutes (varies depending on size of grouse).  Alternatively you can place the birds in the oven at 400F for about 9-10 minutes. Remove the grouse from the liquid when done and keep warm. Take the stock and boil down until about 1 ¼ cup remains. Strain into a new pot and whisk in the crème fraiche.  Bring to a boil, add salt, pepper, rowanberry jelly and more spices if needed. Add the cornstarch mix. You can also melt in a couple of slices of “gjetost” (the Norwegian brown cheese) to the sauce, it gives it a nice, rich flavor!  Some people prefer a port wine sauce with the grouse, there are certainly many alternatives – although this is regarded as the most traditional method of preparing grouse.
Serve the grouse along with the halibut – you can use the pan fried potatoes, and also serve the grouse with Brussels sprouts, pancetta and caramelized apples. Alternatively, sautéed chanterelles are also a delicacy, sauté them in a good amount of butter and add some thyme or rosemary, whisk in some heavy cream and season well with salt and pepper.

rypemiddag

AQUAVIT SORBET

(adapted from Andreas Viestad)

Andreas is a fellow Norwegian who has had great success with his PBS cooking show “New Scandinavian Cooking”. I admire his talent as a storyteller and how he showcases the beautiful nature of Norway in each episode. I hope he doesn’t mind me including his delicious recipe for aquavit sorbet in this post.  After all the food we’ve enjoyed this holiday season, what could be more perfect than a light, tasty sorbet with a hint of Norway to finish the year off?

Serves 6

1 cup  superfine sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1 star anise
2  cups water
the juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cup Linie aquavit

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon zest, star anise and water and bring to boil over high heat. Boil over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and set aside to cool.

Strain the syrup into a bowl. Add the aquavit and place the bowl in the deep freezer. Take out and stir energetically with a fork every 30 minutes until completely frozen.

aquavit-sorbet

 

Trilogy of Flatbreads: Part Three

LEFSE

Lefse is without doubt the Norwegian flatbread most well known to the international world. Whenever I mention to people that I’m Norwegian, I’ve had numerous “ah, I love lefse!” outbursts, as lefse seems to be a culinary item most folks can agree is a great invention. Lefse is a soft flatbread made from either potatoes or flour, milk, cream or even sour cream, sugar and butter. It is spread with butter, sugar and sometimes cinnamon and folded up and eaten at room temperature. The making of lefse is incredibly laborious, and a reason why very few choose to make these from scratch anymore. Much like many  foods from the old days, it has experienced a come back and younger people today have thankfully taken an interest in bringing back the tradition of baking lefse.

lefselaging2

Lefse is baked all over Norway, and the ingredients and variations are too many to count. As with most food items I choose to cover in this blog, Norway has a long history of making lefse. Today we see many lefser made from potatoes, but in the beginning, lefse was normally made with flour.  In the 1800s, potatoes started to get used, particularly in the south-east, and later, the lefse has typically contained a mixture of potatoes, flour and cornstarch. On the west coast (known to many as the best coast) the common ingredients are flour, sour cream and kefir or buttermilk.  The kefir was in essence, “sour milk”, and was used in the lefse before the milk went bad.  The use of the potatoes and flour mixture were probably  a result of the housewives having to use whatever they had left on the farm. While the “flatbrød” covered in part one of this trilogy, was considered an every day bread, lefse belonged to special occasions and holidays, such as Christmas.  As lefse baking is an involved process, they were kept dry and then patted with some water right before being spread with a combination of butter and sugar, or filled with savory items, and served.  Lefse can also be frozen and kept for months this way.

lefsebaal

Some special equipment is needed to make lefse, but luckily we can easily find this even in the U.S. these days, and at a reasonable price. My favorite online store for all things lefse is www.lefsestore.com where the below photo is borrowed from – illustrating the items useful in lefse baking: the patterned rolling pin, the special griddle (on which you can make all the flatbreads I’ve written about these past few days), a cloth with measurements used to gauge how large the rolled out circles of lefse should be to fit the griddle, a potato ricer if potatoes is included in the dough, a cloth to moisten and cover the rolled out  pieces with, and finally the wooden pin used to flip and transfer the lefse circles with.

lefsekit

As we have talked about, there are endless variations of this traditional flatbread, and although I’ve always preferred my mother’s version, it is worth giving a quick description of some other popular lefse types:

Tjukklefse (“Thick lefse”): This is a variety I’ve often seen made by Norwegian-Americans, and perhaps not what I personally assosicate with lefse, but it, as the name implies, a thicker variety, most often made of potatoes but can also be flour, and usually spread with a cinnamon sugar mixture. I also find this a bit drier and not as delicate as the flour version.

Tjukklefse

Potetlefse (“Potato lefse”): Made from potatoes, and has a thickness between the tynnlefse and tjukklefse. It is a bit smaller and often round, and sometimes used as a hot dog  bun to roll up the dog (called “pølse med lompe”, another popular food item in Norway which I will touch upon in a different post).  I’ve seen these also used as a wrap, either in the version of a sandwich or “pin wheel” appetizers, both savory and sweet.

potetlefsepotetlefse2

Møsbrømlefse: This is a version popular in northern Norway,  made of half water and half brown cheese that is mixed with flour to create a thick sauce. When cooled it is smeared on to the lefse and is topped with butter, sugar and sour cream before being cooked on the griddle.  When the butter is melted and “møsbrømen” is warm, it is ready; hence this lefse type is served warm, and wrapped up to look like an envelope.  Ice cold milk is the preferred drink with the møsbrømlefse, sometimes topped with syrup. It has a strong taste, and is considered more a meal than just a snack.

mosbromslefse

Hardangerlefse (Lefse from an area in Norway called “Hardanger”): A thin lefse, rolled out with a pin that has ruffled patterns on it, creating a grid in the lefse which helps prevent air pockets in the dough while baking.  The lefse is left to dry, and can keep for about six months as long as it is properly stored. When dipped in water, it regains a bread-like texture and the water is even said to enhance the flavor profile of the lefse.  Often savory items such as herring, salmon and eggs are folded in the lefse.

hardangerlefse

Tynnlefse (“Thin lefse”): This is my mother’s recipe, and perhaps the more common version found on the west coast of Norway; it’s soft, light and thin, flour or potato based, and spread with a butter, sugar and vanilla mixture and folded up and cut into about 7-inch size pieces. In my house you never eat these without “søst” (pictured with my mother’s lefse below), a traditional condiment from Sunnmøre, the region where I grew up.  Whole milk (preferably milk which has not been homogenized) and kefir is brought to a boil, syrup is added and the mixture is slowly boiled down until it separates, darkens and start forming lumps. The whole cooking process can last an entire day.  A sample recipe of søst has been included below my lefse recipe at the end.  Søst can also be called “gomme” in other parts of the country.

Lefse og søst

While I’m saving my mother’s recipe for another time (some things have to stay a secret), I’ve chosen to share another really great recipe which I hope you will all want to try out!

1 recipe makes about 25 “lefser”:

2 sticks butter, unsalted and softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs1 quart buttermilk or kefir

3 1/4 lbs all purpose flour

2 tbsp hornsalt (or baking soda if you can’t find hartshorn/horn salt)

To spread lefse with:

3 1/2 sticks butter, room temp/softened

1 1/2 cup sugar

2 tbsp vanilla sugar (you can  make your own vanilla sugar, by adding a couple of vanilla beans to confectioner sugar in an airtight container for about 1 -2 weeks)

Directions:

Whip butter and sugar in kitcen aid with paddle attachment until light yellow and fluffy.  Whisk the eggs and kefir together in a small bowl and add to butter-sugar mix inter-chcanged with the flour and hornsalt. Don’t overmix the dough as it will become too elastic and difficult to handle! Let dough sit in a cool place for a couple of hours before handling.  Divide the dough into pieces of about 100 grams each. Start rolling them out using your rolling pin and measurement cloth. The element should be shaped into about 15-inch circles.  When rolled out, bake on griddle until light brown, place the baked circles on top  of each other to gently flatten them out.

Spread: Whip butter, sugar and vanilla sugar together until combined.

When ready to serve the lefse, moisten them lightly with water before spreading them with the butter-sugar mix. Spread the mixture on half the circle, and fold it in half or fold each side in so they meet in the middle and fold again.  Cut into serving pieces and enjoy!!

SØST

10 quarts milk (preferably not homogenized)

3 quarts kefir or butterilk

1 cup dark syrup

1o tbsp barley meal

2 cups raisins

3 tbsp cinnamon

2 tbsp ground cardamom

1 tbsp unsalted butter

Heat a big pot over medium heat and add the butter. Pour in the milk and bring to nearly a boil.  Add in the syrup and whisk until combined. Add the kefir/buttermilk and stir a few times before letting it sit until the mix separates. You will see the white “cheese” clump up and the liquid will turn yellowish and a bit dark because of the syrup. Bring the mix up to a gentle boil again.  the liquid is supposed to now steam away while the content in the pot will get darker (it’s the sugar in the milk which causes the darker colorization).  You don’t need to stir much during this time, but if the mix starts to boil or simmer too hard and the liquid becomes light brown, stir more often.  This entire process will take about 3-4 hours. After this, add the barley meal to add some consistency to the ‘søst”. Mix the flour in properly, followed by the cinnamon, cardamom  and raisins. Cook for about 10 minutes while stirring continuously. This completes the cooking process at which point you can pour the mixture into a wide bowl and continue stirring until it cools down.  If you prefer big lumps in the søst, make sure to only carefully stir now and while cooing on the stove, if you want it finer in consistency/less lumpy, stir a bit harder. When the søst has chilled down, it is ready to be served, or packed away.

Sveler – the famous ‘ferry food’

SVELER

This has got to be one of the foods from my part of the country with the best reputation throughout all of Norway. You simply don’t visit the north-west of Norway without tasting one of these delicious, fluffy pancake-looking cakes!  I sell them weekly at farmer’s markets in New York through my company, Fork and Glass, previously was a catering company, which I’ve now turned into a personal chef service and teaching institute where I give classes on food and wine. Whenever people taste “sveler”, they get this dreamy look on their faces and more times than I can count, I hear “this is the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my LIFE!!”  Not a bad compliment to get, and I owe it all to my beautiful county of Møre og Romsdal 🙂 I will dive into the history and geography of this gorgeous region in a later post, but for now let’s focus on more important things:  Sveler!!

“Sveler” is a batter based baked item often referred to as ‘ferry food’ on the north-west coast of Norway, because we so often see these mouthwatering batter cakes sold in the small cafeterias on the ferries that run between the fjords.  Many people live on small islands or villages spread throughout the fjords in this area, and are dependent on this method of commuting to their jobs,  to shop, visit family, go to the hospital, airport, and so forth. While the travel on the sea can be grueling sometimes, it all seems to be worth it just to get a bite of the famous “svele”. Typically the sveler will have a simple sugar-butter spread, and folded in half like a crescent. They are eaten room temp, but are even more delicious warm, right off the griddle.  There are as many recipes for this as with any other type of popular food, you can imagine a lot of discussions go on as to who has the better one.. of course I think I do.  There are competitions nationwide every year where chefs showcase their idea of the best svele, but the main ingredients are always eggs, sugar, flour, baking soda, hartshorn, kefir (or buttermilk / some type of tangy milk product) and melted butter.

When you get on a ferry in Norway, try going downstairs to the little coffee shop, order a svele and a cup of coffee. You will be considered a true local, not to mention get a culinary experience you are not likely to forget!

 

ferge

This is usually how they will look on the ferries:

Uke ,Svele

Sveler is traditionally accompanied with coffee, most often in the afternoon or evening.  When Americans see “sveler”, they think of pancakes and are likely to think of breakfast. Not so in Norway!  The sveler are typically baked on a special “sveletakke” or griddle, the same kind used for flatbrød and lefse, but a regular non stick frying pan can also be used.

sveler2

As mentioned previously, the recipes differ greatly from village to village, they can also have different names as well as thickness depending on where you are.  When invited to someone’s home, these cakes will be “dressed up” and the gourmet edition consists of strawberry jam with a dollop of sour cream. The sweet and tangy together works beautifully, I’ve converted many a skeptic to enjoy this version! Other toppings I’ve seen include butter and gjetost (The famous Norwegian brown cheese) with berry jam, mascarpone and lingonberry jam,  cloudberry jam and whipped cream, cinnamon sugar, and vanilla yogurt with fresh berries.  At the markets I even experiment further and add savory items into the batter while I bake it on the griddle, like cheese and bacon, caramelized onion and mushrooms – the sweet and savory really work, try it out!

I should mention there are also several names for sveler – in the eastern part of Norway they are called “lapper”, but don’t get it confused: The best kind you get on the MRF ferry in Møre og Romsdal!! 🙂

A recipe that is guaranteed to please many follows below…shhhh! It’s a secret!!

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 quart kefir  (or buttermilk)
1 lb all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp horn salt/hartshorn

2 tbsp vanilla sugar (specialty Scandinavian item or substitute vanilla extract)
1 ½ stick butter, melted

Whisk together eggs, sugar and buttermilk/kefir. Combine the dry ingredients in separate bowl and fold into the liquid mix.  Add the butter last, and let sit for 30 minutes before baking.

sveler

You can get vanilla sugar at Ikea in the States or buy it online from www.ingebretsens.com.

Fish Soup from Bergen

With all the heavy dishes of fatty meats and sweet, baked goods during the holidays, it’s sometimes nice to ‘ease up’ on the diet with some seafood. My mom usually will always serve halibut on Christmas Day, served with boiled potatoes, pickled cucumbers and a nice, fresh salad – a welcome change from the day before when most of us have indulged way too much.  I will cover this dish in a later post, but today I was tempted to re-create the Bergen Fish Soup, a delicacy and classic dish known to most Norwegians.  The French have their bouillabaisse, New England has their clam chowder, and San Fransisco proudly serves its cioppino – but the Bergen Fish soup will always be close to my heart. The soup gets its name from the beautiful city of Bergen on the west coast. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway, known for its seafood and maritime industry and gorgeous, multicolored buildings, and is situated among a group of mountains known as the Seven Mountains.  Bergen is also one of the more cultural cities of Norway and an absolute must to visit should you be in my lovely country!

bergen

It is no secret that Norway has some amazing seafood due to its large coastline, and the Bergen soup celebrates many of the delicacies found in our oceans. While you can find this easily in ‘ready to cook’  packages in the supermarkets across the country,  as a cook, I naturally find much more satisfaction in creating this soup from scratch with all the wonderful seafood I can get my hands on.  Not unlike a classic seafood chowder, with potatoes, cream, sour cream or creme fraiche , it is perfect as a light dinner, served with a good, crusty loaf of bread and of course… a crisp white wine! Chablis is my favorite…Try Christian Moreau 1er Cru Vaillons 2010,  this domaine is always a winner in my book.

chablismoreau2010

Below is one version of a recipe for Bergensk Fiskesuppe – but you can play around with it, and add or substitute your favorite fish or seafood. I typically like to add different colors of fish, for variety in both flavor, look and texture.

Here is a recipe that has made me happy many a times:

3 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
4 -5 cups fish stock or vegetable stock
1 cup whole milk
1 medium carrot, diced small
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-2 inch cubes
12 peeled medium shrimp (raw)
12 mussels  or small scallops
6 ounces halibut (or fish of your own choice)
4 oz salmon (or fish of your choice)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
1/4 cup creme fraiche
parsley, dill and/or chives, chopped for garnish
Directions:Melt 1 tablespoons of the butter in a large soup pot, saute the leeks and carrots, then potatoes until tender or about 10 minutes. Add add the remaining butter, let it melt, then add the flour, stir for about 2 minutes without browning the flour – this will be your roux or base for the soup.
Heat up the fish stock in a separate pot and gradually add to the vegetables, stirring all the time, let it simmer gently for 5-10 minutes.
Add the fish first, then after a couple of minutes the shrimp and then lastly the mussels, cook for a couple of minutes,  and finish with adding the milk and heavy cream.
Simmer for another minute or so until heated through.
Finish by adding the parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve garnished with creme fraiche and chopped dill or chives or more parsley.There is a version that also adds about 1 tbsp of sugar and some vinegar or a squeeze of lemon in to the soup and whisk in 2 egg yolks at the end (take some stock out of the soup and whisk in the egg yolks in a small bowl and add it back to the soup) to make the soup even richer/thicker. You can experiment with that as well should you wish – the options are endless!Bergenskfiskesuppe

Trilogy of flatbreads: Part Two

HARDE VAFLER

Harde vafler, is, as the name suggests, “hard waffles”.  Instead of creating a batter, this recipe turns into a dough, which is rolled out, measured and baked in a special heart shaped waffle iron. The harde vafler can last for a week or so when packed in a tin, like regular cookies, and are delicious with butter, strawberry jam and the Norwegian ‘gjetost’ (brown cheese or goat cheese). I haven’t seen these much in other regions other than my own (west coast of Norway), and none of my friends’ parents used to make these when growing up. Thus, I feel they are very special and I feel lucky to be able to continue this tradition in my own family.

Good old Norwegian tradition was to have your cake table be abundant and stacked  during holidays and special occasions. The custom of plentiful cake platters has remained until today.  What we call the “iron cookies” (meaning cookies you bake in an iron, such as waffles, goro and krumkake) are among the oldest types of cookies.  There are irons so old ruin scripts are engraved in them.  The reason why the hard waffles were invented, was so that they could last a longer time than the soft, more perishable waffles we know today. Hence, no leavening agent or eggs were to be found in these batters.

I love how these old recipes and methods of baking have survived for so long; the recipes I’ve collected from my own family date back hundreds of years.  An important  reason these foods have stayed in families is the fact that Norwegians are very fond of tradition and extremely proud of their country. Preserving methods and ways of cooking from the old days is a sign of showing respect for our ancestors while staying close to our beloved relatives who made it possible for us to enjoy the privileged lives we lead today.

Here’s a standard recipe for harde vafler:

2 cups sugar

1 cup potato starch (or use cornstarch)

2 sticks of unsalted butter, melted

2 cups whole milk

2 eggs

2 teaspoons hartshorn (available online through Ingebretsens or King Arthur Flour or you can use regular baking soda)

2 cups all purpose flour or enough to make a sufficiently firm dough plus extra to roll out dough

Whisk together milk and eggs in a bowl. Melt butter in a pot and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients, and add into milk mixture. Mix in butter at the end, and add enough AP flour until dough is appropriately firm and smooth to be rolled out. Roll out elements big enough to fit in waffle iron, and bake the regular way. Cool on rack before eating or storing.

Here are some hard waffles with our very special brown cheese, “Gjetost” – sweet and tangy makes the most delicious spread!

IMG_1876

Scandinavian food items such as hartshorn used in the above recipe can be purchased online through the following companies:

Ingebretsens (www.ingebretsens.com)

Willy’s Products (www.willysproducts.com or http://www.scandinavianfoodstore.com)

Scandinavian Specialties (www.scanspecialties.com)

igourmet (www.igourmet.com)

Norwegian “Tapas”

What I love most about Christmas time in Norway is how people celebrate for an entire week, or even as long as 10 days. The holiday starts with Little Christmas Eve on December 23rd, and ends January 1st.    Some people may work during this period even if only for a few hours (days are usually shorter) but many Norwegians take this time off completely to just relax, enjoy good food and the company of family and friends.  Considering how rich our Christmas meal is on Christmas Eve, many people opt to go a little lighter the days following the big celebration. Hence, we have started to refer to these small dishes as “Norwegian tapas”, perhaps lending the term from our Spanish friends but serving traditional, ultra Norwegian plates!

Below are a couple of examples of dishes you may have the pleasure of tasting during our “romjul” (term which refers to the time between December 27th and New Year’s Eve). “Romjul” comes from an old Norse term “rumheilagr”, which means “which does not have to be kept strictly holy”. This period is spent eating lots of tasty food, but also to relax, visit family and spend time reflecting.

GRAVLAKS

This is a dish common all over Scandinavia, and is raw salmon that is cured in salt, sugar and dill. “Grav” means either to “dig” or a “grave”, and laks is salmon.  The dish was so named because the salmon was dug into the ground to ferment it. These days fermentation is not done, rather just covered in a dry marinade of the salt-sugar mix to cure it. This extracts moisture and is usually performed on mostly fatty fish, but salmon is more common.  These days, chefs and home cooks get creative with the marinade, and add fennel, coriander, aquavit, peppercorns or horseradish as seasoning agents.  The gravlaks, when ready, will be thinly sliced and put on pieces of bread or crackers, and served with either eggerøre (recipe to follow), a mustard-dill dipping sauce, boiled potatoes or potato salad.

This recipe below is adapted from New Scandinavian Cooking, of course one of my favorite shows! 🙂

Two 3-pound salmon fillets, skin on, scaled
1/3 cup salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 tablespoons aquavit or brandy

Combine the salt and sugar, and rub the flesh side of the fish with the mixture. Place one fillet skin side down in a deep dish. Add pepper, fresh dill, and caraway seeds. Place the other fillet skin side up on top. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place a weight on top of the fish. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 days, turning the fish every 12 hours and basting it with the brine that accumulates in the dish.

To serve, discard the brining liquid and brush off the dill. Slice the fish into thin slices. Serve with a mustard sauce or your favorite condiment.

Gravlaks

I enjoy curdled eggs with my gravlaks, in Norwegian called “eggerøre”. This is slowly cooked in a skillet, and should not brown, but in fact barely gather together before being served. It is typically more delicate and “luxurious” than traditional scrambled eggs and is often served cold. Extremely diverse, people eat it for breakfast, with charcuterie or small dishes such as with gravlaks, and is commonly placed on a spread like the “smorgasbord”.  When estimating quantity for your party, count on about 1 egg per person.

For 4 people:

4 eggs

4 tablespoons milk, half and half or water (depending on how rich you want it)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

1 tbsp chives, minced

1 tbsp butter

Whisk eggs in bowl with the milk/water, chives, salt and pepper. Melt butter in a saute pan over low-medium heat, and pour in the egg mixture. Let sit in pan, swirl a couple of times until the eggs just start coming together in big lumps. The eggs should not brown.  Decorate with extra chives or a parsley sprig on top.  Delicious with salty partners such as the gravlaks or cured mutton.

eggerore

Trilogy of Flatbreads: Part One

FLATBRØD

Today we start a ‘trilogy’ of the flatbreads of Norway. While there are many more, I chose three, and will cover flatbrød today, hardvafler tomorrow, and the more widely known lefse on day three.

Flatbrød (literally “flat bread” in Norwegian) is a very traditional, unleavened bread served with many types of dishes; from charcuterie to soups, porridge, and with the big Christmas meal.  Made from various types of flour (barley, oats or rye being more common), water and salt, the ingredients are few but the methods of making the bread vary across the country as much as perhaps there are ways of making pasta sauces in Italy and crepe batters in France.

Once the ingredients are mixed (be sure to use a very large bowl to enable sufficient kneading), the dough is rolled out preferably in a barley type flour.  One has to be careful not to use too much flour in the dough, as it will ‘shrink’ and make it difficult to roll out.  The rolling out is the trickiest part that requires the most skill. To help, a large table is needed and a rolling pin with patterns in it, as the patterns will ‘grab’ the dough better than a smooth pin.

kjevleruter

The pieces of dough start small but become large and almost transparent once they are done.  The importance of a thin enough loaf is crucial for the flatbrød to become porous and perfect when baked on the griddle.  For each element rolled out, a damp cloth is placed over each piece (my mom used old bed sheets!) to keep them moist and prevent them from cracking and keep the nice patterns on the surface. When ready to be baked, the individual pieces are then rolled on to the pin and placed on the takke (griddle).

flatbrodbaking

The actual baking process can be equally challenging. In the old days, it was crucial to have good quality fire wood that would be dry enough and give a long lasting fire to ensure the griddle would keep an even heat throughout the entire baking process. If the griddle was too hot, the flatbrød would naturally burn or become dark brown (it is supposed to have a very light brown color when done), and while an expert baker could just feel with her hand on the griddle whether the temperature was right or not, a more inexperienced person had to test the griddle by sprinkling a bit of flour on top of the griddle. If the flour turned brown within two minutes, the temperature would be correct.
After the loaves were baked, they were placed on a rack or on a big piece of paper to cool, one on top of another, and a heavy object was placed on top of the stack so the flatbreads would stay, well – flat! In the old days, big pieces of rock were placed on top to make the loaves really tight to prevent any rats from chewing through the stacks.

In the western part of Norway, where I grew up, it was considered a poor state of affairs if households ran out of ‘flatbrød’ Basically a home was empty of food if they didn’t have reserves of flatbrød.  There was a saying in Norway that went “a girl was not marriage material could she not bake flatbread, spin and weave”.  Tough conditions to live by!

Why was flatbread so popular in old times? Well, for starters, it could keep forever. Women would keep flatbrød in their “stabbur” (by now folks, you should know what I mean by this word since you’ve been reading my blog religiously! ) for years, it was also made my barley and oatmeal, both wheat types commonly found in Norway. There were also varieties of flatbreads – you could make them super thin or thicker, heartier versions.

flatbrød

In modern Norway, you will be hard pressed to find people who actually make their own flatbrød from scratch anymore. So easily purchased in attractive packages in the stores, this labor intensive, old food tradition nearly vanished years ago. However, I’m happy to report that the flatbrød is experiencing a revival, though most households lack the “takke”, a special vessel used to bake the flatbread on. It can however, be made on top of an electric stove as well.

sveletakke

In the old days, days were especially reserved for baking flatbrød and these were considered days of hard labor on the farm. Most often the women baked the flatbread in the fall to last through the entire winter.  I should correct myself in writing “women”, because incidentally in many homes it was the man, the head of the household, who did the actual baking of the flatbread. This was because it was the man who provided for the firewood used in the baking. The firewood was separated from the main lot of wood and stored and reserved for this special use many weeks ahead.

As mentioned previously, the dough would consist of oatmeal or barley meal, or a mixture of both.  This ensured a nice and tasty flatbrød, but could be a dough that was difficult to handle should the person not have the necessary experience.  For this reason, regular all purpose flour or rye flour were sometimes added into the dough. In the eastern part of Norway, one could also see pea flour added to the flatbrød.
While it is difficult to give ONE recipe for a great flatbrød, typically for the traditional barley or oat version, approximately two pounds of flour is used for every 2 ½-3 cups of water, adding 1 tsp of salt.  Here’s a sample recipe:

2 lbs barley meal

3 cups hot water

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup barley meal for rolling out the dough

Mix the barley meal and salt together in a large bowl, and pour the hot water over the mix.  Cool a bit and knead to a smooth, firm dough. Wrap the dough in plastic and place in the fridge until completely chilled, for a few hours or overnight.  When ready to roll out, divide the dough into several small pieces (usually about 200 grams per piece for a 60 cm diameter takke).  Form each piece into flat, small rounds and cover with plastic while rolling out each piece.  Sprinkle flour on the baking surface and roll each piece out, starting from the middle and going out, into large, thin loaves.  Roll onto the pin and place on the griddle. The piece that was facing up on the table should face down on to the griddle. Make sure to brush off excess flour, and pat the loaf across with the rolling pin to make sure it does not shrink. Bake until the surface starts to dry out, then turn it and bake until brown spots start forming. Be sure to watch the heat to avoid the loaves from burning. Continue this process until all your pieces are done. Make sure to keep the flatbrød in a dry and cool spot – humidity creates mold but if stored correctly, these delicacies can last for a very long time!

IMG_1900

“Little Christmas Eve”

“Little Christmas Eve” or “lillejulaften” is an important evening of the Christmas celebration in Norway.  As Norwegians celebrate mostly on Christmas Eve (December 24th) and Christmas Day is more of an afterthought, this evening is either enjoyed at home with a nice charcuterie spread or spent out partying until the wee hours.  When I was younger I fell in the latter category although I equally enjoyed spending the evening at home with my family enjoying some tasty snacks while watching TV and anxiously awaiting the next big day. My niece just sent me the following picture from their table tonight – a classic image of what people might enjoy this evening:

julcharcuterieplatter

Cured, dried leg of mutton with a dried pork or mutton sausage specially made for the holidays, a typical Norwegian “flatbread” (recipe to come in a future post) and the highlight (for me); the delicious potato salad.  Our potato salad is tangier and more refreshing than the American version, as we add very little mayonnaise, and rather prioritize sour cream, pickle juice and fresh lemon juice. I’m going to give away our secret family recipe here – something I should charge for but won’t – as it will be my Christmas recipe to you all!! While my niece enjoyed her “julebrus” (Christmas soda), I most likely would have enjoyed a nice Norwegian Christmas beer or a fruity red wine such as a Syrah or Malbec for reds, or a nice, crisp Riesling – to each his own.

The dish can also include “eggerøre” – which is curdled eggs, basically eggs mixed with a little water (or milk), seasoned with salt, pepper and chopped chives cooked in a skillet over low heat.  Eggerøre is also a popular companion to smoked salmon, either on its own or as a topping on an open faced sandwich.

This platter is the closest we come to “tapas” in Norway and is definitely one of my favorite meals of the holiday!

NORWEGIAN POTATO SALAD

(Serves 4-6)

2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes

3 Cups sour cream

3/4 cup mayonnaise

Juice of 1-2 lemons

6-7 pickles, diced

1/2 cup pickle juice

1 bunch scallions, sliced thin

Fresh chives, minced

Boil the potatoes in salted water until done, about 20 minutes or until a knife inserts easily. Drain and cool.  Dice up into 1 inch pieces, and add into a big bowl. Add all other ingredients, mix until well combined.  The mix shouldn’t be too soupy but not too dry.  Serve chilled with your favorite charcuterie!

potatosalad1

Rømmegrøt – our special porridge

Rømmegrøt is a porridge where the base used is sour cream, and is a delicious, creamy sweet and tangy porridge which, in the old days, traditionally were served at special occasions such as the birth of a child, midsummer night and when the farmers would cut the grass in the early and late summer.  Porridge is the oldest hot dish in Scandinavia and it is also thought that the Vikings would eat porridge during midsummer.  While this type of food based on rich dairy product was considered a luxury in the 18th century, today we eat it more frequently, and is also a staple during the Christmas holiday, either for lunch on Christmas Eve or the surrounding days.  We tend to call this dish “julegrøt” (Christmas porridge) when it’s served in December, and it is thought that only about 6% of Norwegians do not indulge in some sort of Christmas porridge every year. Rømmegrøt would be put out for Santa the night before Christmas to make sure he was fed and ready for his journey delivering presents for all the kids, but he was also thought to take care of the barn on the farm.

nissegrøt

We find several Norwegian fairy tales where porridge is at the center of the story; “Askeladden” and the troll would compete as to who would finish their porridge first, and “Tommeliten” would drown in the butter drizzled in the center.

askeladden_kappaatbilde

October 23rd is our national porridge day, and while Norwegians eat porridge all year round, consumption doubles in the month of December.  Many people think porridge should become our national dish, as it has been a staple in Norwegian households for thousands of years.

The recipe for rømmegrøt varies greatly depending on where in the country you are; in western Norway where I grew up, we use semolina as a base, whereas in other parts of Norway you will see short grain rice being used. We also have another type of porridge called “risengrynsgrøt”, literally “rice pudding”, which is a dish most Americans would associate with either breakfast or dessert and not a main dinner course as is the case for the Norwegians.  Rømmegrøt is served drizzled with melted butter, cinnamon and sugar – in my house hold we would also sprinkle some raisins on top, but many “purists” see this as ruining the delicate flavors of the porridge… to each his own!   Different types of charcuterie/salty meats (we like to use cured, dried leg of lamb or mutton) is a great addition too, the salty and sweet flavors simply delicious when combined.

rommegrotspekemat2

Below is a recipe for rømmegrøt – this is definitely the taste of Norway! A few tips;  1) use low heat, to let the tangy flavors slowly develop, 2) carefully add the flour and keep whisking until desired consistency, 3) make sure to skim off all the fat and add more flour / as much as the porridge can take in, 4) save the skimmed off fat and serve on top of the porridge. We call it “smørøye”, meaning “butter eye”, and it’s placed in the middle of the porridge.

 

RØMMEGRØT

 

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups sour cream

½ cup (100g) all purpose flour

4 cups milk

½ cup semolina

1-1  ½ cup buttermilk

2 tsp salt

Bring the heavy cream and sour cream to a simmer in a pot covered with a lid, about 10 minutes. Whisk in the flour and let the mixture cook until butter generates on top. Skim off the butter.  In a separate pot, bring milk, buttermilk and semolina to a simmer and cook until a porridge is formed. Whisk in the sour cream mixture and bring to a boil. Add salt to taste.  Serve the porridge topped with melted butter, cinnamon and sugar, alternatively you can also add some raisins.

Rommegrot

Juleøl – a reason alone to look forward to Christmas!

“Jul (the Norwegian word for Christmas) stems from the old Norwegian word ylir, which translates into “the person who organizes fun parties”. ”

Around the Norwegian Christmas holiday, special “Christmas beer” selections start popping up around the country.  All different flavors, varieties and special editions get tested, tasted, reviewed and enjoyed by beer enthusiasts everywhere. Called “juleøl“, these types of beers are brewed especially for the holidays, and will contain additional ingredients than regular beer and most often be higher in alcohol.  The various brew masters with their different levels of knowledge,  will come up with a recipe for beer that will compliment the food of their region, as well as display local preferences.  An additional amount of specialty malt, caramel malt and colored malt will be used, all contributing to a nice, round and sweet flavor profile.  During fermentation, the beer will gain different levels of fruitiness, while the hops with its bitter characters, helps balance the sweetness.

Beer has always been a very important beverage in Norway, and I wanted to understand why this was, and started doing some research. Most of my information I received from “Ølakademiet” (the Beer Acaemy) in Norway, an institution that provides information and education about beer. I really enjoyed the history behind this tradition and I hope you will agree it is a fascinating read!

Beer has been brewed for over 6000 years, and in the old age it was obligatory to brew your own beer, especially in time for Christmas.  In fact, people were fined if they didn’t brew beer for the holidays, and if people broke the law three years in a row, they would lose their farm to the king and bishop, and sometimes even expelled from the country. Juleøl however, is ‘only’ about 1500 years old, and the tradition of drinking this Christmas beer is older than the actual holiday celebration.  I read somewhere “you didn’t celebrate Christmas, you drank it!” Our ancestors celebrated the return of the sun with strong, good beer both for themselves and their Gods.  When the winter days were at their longest and coldest, beer was sacrificed to the Gods in order for the sun to return (of course, we always needed an excuse to drink!).

yule

There was  a saying that went “when the beer goes in, common sense goes out, but if you start drinking again, your common sense will return.”  Well, then! Why didn’t someone tell me this before??  Tradition read that the production of juleøl were to start 14 days before Christmas, and end on the 21st of December.  The best barley was to be used, and syrup, tobacco and sugar had to be added to make it extra strong.   Juniper berries and other spices were also included. One of the rules were that the amount of barley used were to equal the weight of the husband and wife combined.  I found that interesting.  Brewing good quality beer resulted in good standing and was a status symbol. People could gain a great reputation and attract attention for creating an original brew.  The brewer was free to experiment and use whatever spices and flavors he felt like adding, depending on what was available in his part of the country.  Every region had their unique food traditions and access to different ingredients.

Aass Bryggeri – Norway’s oldest brewery:

aassbryggeri

The requirements for what was deemed ‘decent’ beer were tough. If there weren’t at least two fights per liter of home brewed beer, the beer was deemed no good. If one fell asleep, it was a clear sign that the beer was not strong enough.

Our ancestors were known to be incredibly superstitious. To keep away trolls and other creatures, and to ensure that a strong enough beer enveloped, they had to follow a number of rituals:

– The brewing vessel was sanctified with a fire

– The first beer was thrown out to the troll powers – here’s yours!

– A knife was placed in the brewing vessel

– A piece of steel was placed outside the vessel

Additionally, the brewing process followed the weather, and warning signs like the moon, sun, wind, high tide and low tide were noted. When the yeast was added to the brew,  one had to scream into the vessel to “startle” the yeast into commencing.  The yeast was a mysterious product back then, people didn’t really know what it was, as opposed to hops, which were grown all over Norway.  The priests also had to drink beer, and if they didn’t get drunk, it was a disgrace for the farmer, and a sign that the beer was cursed and doomed.  The witches were often accused of having pissed in the beer (and hence, may be a theory of why we call weak beer “piss”).

vikingskaal

The strength of the beer also was a sign of how much people honored Christ and Virgin Mary – the stronger the beer, the bigger the honor.  Being drunk was a sign of showing how religious you were, imagine that! The heathen tradition of beer making was adapted by Christianity, and survived the christening of the country because people refused to give up beer and has since become a very important part of our customs in Norway.  Additionally, the beer making process was used to christen Norway and put into law by Olav Trygvasson.

olavtrygvasson

During Christmas, people were to keep peace and stay at home. The first part of Christmas was devoted to family, while the second day after Christmas Day marked the social and outgoing portion of the holiday. This is still tradition today with many families. I remember growing up not being allowed to visit any of my friends on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (oh the horror!).  Sometimes the Christmas celebration lasted all the way to Easter. As a result, we have a popular Christmas song today that goes “nå er det jul igjen, og nå er det jul igjen, og jula varer helt til påske!” (it’s Christmas again, it’s Christmas again, and Christmas lasts all the way to Easter!)  While Christmas naturally doesn’t last that long today, I do feel that Norwegians celebrate much longer than the Americans. That doesn’t take much, since Americans are known for their famous “one day” vacations that they stress about for weeks. At the least we take 10 days or so to relax and observe this wonderful holiday.

Here are three of my favorite juleøl – unfortunately they are not available in the U.S. but be sure to try some if you are ever in Norway in December. Maybe someone will like them so much they will start importing them here?! A girl can always dream… Juleøl is in my opinion a better match for our Christmas meal, which consists of very salty items such as the pinnekjøtt and pork belly as detailed earlier this week, making it difficult for any tannic wines to successfully match this type of food.

Hansa Ekstra Vellagret Julebrygg: Nice and fruity with a round, malty taste.  Christmas spices and herbaceous towards the end, with a balanced bitterness from the hops. Good length.

Hansa_vellagret

ÆGIR YLIR JULEBRYGG; Elegant aromas of cinnamon and dried fruit, flowers and malt. Similar notes on the palate with a long finish.

One of my favorite new breweries in Norway – as you may remember from earlier in the post, “Ylir” was the old Norwegian word for “jul” (Christmas in Norwegian) and “person who organizes fun parties.”

aegir-ylir-julebrygg

Berentsens Stelliger Divum Juleøl: I chose this mainly because I’m fascinated at the alcohol strength and still elegance of this beer (a skyhigh 15-19% – more than most still wines) and thought it was worth mentioning.  “Stelliger Divum” is latin for ‘starry sky’.  This beer has aromas of oak, hay and malt, with lots of  sweet flavors of licorice and intensely roasted malt. Complex and extremely concentrated, very nicely balanced despite the high level of alcohol.

stelligerdivum