Finnbiff – Norway’s oldest fast food

Finnbiff is one of the classic Norwegian dishes with a long tradition.  Six thousand years to be exact! Simple to make but still luxurious,  this  flavor-packed creamy game stew from the indigenous Sami people of Norway,  is one of those every day meals you can make without stress and still impress.  The standard meat used for this dish is reindeer,  as this is the animal most closely connected with the nomadic Sami people.  They move with the reindeer throughout the year  and adjust to their rhythm, as these animals are their most important source of livelihood.   Reindeer have in fact lived in Norway longer than people themselves, and were the first animals who began utilizing the land after the ice melted 10,000 years ago. Despite the dish being thousands of years old,  it has now grown in popularity and has been one of the top 10 most requested dishes in searches on food sites on the internet.

reindeer
Image source: aperitif.no

In most other non-Scandinavian countries,  reindeer will naturally be difficult to get a hold of, so using any type of lean  meat will do if you would like to try this dish out.  I actually used some really nice skirt steak in my recipe, and it ended up tasting incredible:

skirtsteak

In its true form, the reindeer stew or finnbiff, consists of thinly sliced reindeer meat, in fact you have to freeze the meat in order to slice it thin enough.  This was the way the Sami people did it, because they would preserve the meat by freezing it to last through the winter.   Another theory is that the meat was sliced so thin so it would easily and quickly be grilled over the outside fire, or even eaten raw.  Since the meat is sliced so thin, it takes no time to cook, can in fact be dropped straight into the pot from the freezer, and hence sometimes is labeled “fast food” (my kind of fast food for sure!).   Reindeer is perhaps the most exotic type of meat we have in Norway,  produced in extreme weather conditions in rough nature. Considering the meat is so lean,  the amount of flavor it produces is amazing, and is also a very popular choice because it’s healthy and its taste appeals to both the young and old.

finnbiff1

I should mention that finnbiff is actually not the name of a dish, it refers to the meat being used in the dish and how it is prepared.  So in essence you can serve finnbiff any way you want, with pasta, rice or mashed peas, etc… the alternatives are endless!  Another important thing I should add is that probably the more appropriate and politically correct name for this meat would be “reinskav”, as “finnbiff”  literally means “steak from the ‘Finns'”, where “Finns” is a name used to describe the Sami people. There are ongoing debates in Norway today about whether or not to re-name this popular dish.

samedrakter

If you would like to try and re-create the flavor of the food coming from the colorful and intriguing Sami people, I have included a great recipe below. The stew does not require any stock or thickening agent but rather is a quick pot of meat, bacon and mushrooms and the liquid used is water. I have added some heavy cream and onions to my stew because I just like to be a bit decadent and also like the taste of the onions with the mushrooms and bacon.

FINNBIFF STEW

Serves 4

1 lb lean meat such as venison, bison, buffalo, cut into 2 inch cubes

20o grams/7 oz bacon, chopped

250 grams/9 oz wild mushrooms or chanterelles, sliced

1 small Vidalia onion, halved and sliced thin

3 tbsp butter for sauteing

1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half or a mix of water and heavy cream

2 tbsp flour

1 1/2 cup good sour cream

1/2 cup milk

3 slices ‘geitost’ / Norwegian goat cheese

2 tbsp black currant jelly

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

about 6 or 7 juniper berries, crushed

salt and pepper to taste

Broccoli or brussels sprouts as a side

To prepare:

Season the meat with salt and pepper. In a large heavy duty sauce pan, add the bacon over medium-high heat, saute the bacon bits until golden and crisp, reserve. Then add meat in same pan and brown about 1 min on each side, reserve. In same pan, add onions and mushrooms and saute until nice and golden, then add in the butter and flour and make sure vegetables are properly coated.

mushroomsonions

Add in the cream or half and half with a little splash of water, as well as the milk and stir.  Finally add in sour cream, geitost,  black currant jelly, juniper berries and thyme and whisk constantly over medium heat until starting to thicken.  Finally, add in the meat and bacon and adjust seasoning as necessary.

finnbiffpot

Let simmer for a few minutes to let the flavors blend.

Serve the finnbiff with mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli or brussels sprouts and lingonberry jam or ‘tyttebær’.

finnbiff

Tjukkmjølk: A historic Norwegian dairy product with the taste of summer

I love discovering food products from my own country with a long history and tradition. Something that is unique to my culture,  although variations of every food is likely to be found in all countries around the world.  Norway is known for its fondness of dairy and has in turn, a rich dairy industry.   Today, many artisan producers are prioritizing staying true to Norwegian roots and maintaining the country’s traditions by making old-school, wholesome and organic products.  I came across an article today that prompted me to do some more research on a cultured milk product called “tjukkmjølk” or “tettemelk.”

Tjukkmjølk  (literal translation: thick milk) is a traditional milk dish from the area of Røros  with over 150 years of history.  Røros is a town in the county of Sør-Trøndelag.  Røros is known for being a mining town due to its historical copper mining business, and is one of two towns in Norway  that have been historically designated as mining towns (Kongsberg being the other).   The town is scattered with 17th and 18th century buildings with dark- pitch log facades, giving it a medieval appearance, which  led UNESCO to name it a World Heritage Site in 1980.

røros2

The name ‘tjukkmjølk’ refers to the thick and rich consistency of the milk, which originally was produced from the butterwort (“tettegras” in Norwegian) plant.  The Latin name for this plant is Pinguicula Vulgaris, where  “Pingus” means ‘fat’, and refers to the shiny leaves of the plant.  ‘Vulgaris’ means ordinary.

butterwort

The leaves of the butterwort plant were rinsed and placed in the bottom of a wooden bowl.  Slightly warm and fresh milk was poured over the leaves, and the bowl was then placed in a warm spot.  When the milk firmed up, it looked almost like yogurt, and was ready for use, and referred to as  “tette”, meaning the starter culture for producing tjukkmjølk, also called ‘tettemelk’.   This starter was used again and again in the old days,  and can be likened to making of sourdough breads today, where a small portion of starter is used to produce loaves of bread.  Some say the “tette” culture lives forever.   The taste of tjukkmjølk cannot be replicated anywhere else, and has been said to have the flavor of summer.  The fresh, tangy flavor of the milk combines well with the  summer berries found everywhere in Norway during this time of year and makes for a perfect light breakfast, snack or dessert.

Think yogurt is healthy and good for you? Try tjukkmjølk!  Because the fat particles are not separated during the gentle heating process, i.e. the milk is not homogenized,   the good fat will remain intact, a layer of cream will generate on top of the milk.    Tjukkmjølk also contains living lactic acid bacteria.  During the souring process, the casein (milk protein)  is broken down – we do not see this in any other milk products (yogurts, cottage cheese, etc).

tjukkmjølk2

Image from beskyttedebetegnelser.no

Tjukkmjølk is now a protected geographical name from the region of Røros in Norway, and was in fact the first food product in Norway who received this protection.   This means that the milk has to be produced locally, and that the production, based on the long traditions of milk production from the Røros area,  has to take place in the county of Røros.  The milk used has to be organic and is produced on dairy farms in the northern Østerdalen and the Røros area.

tjukkmjølkkartonger

Tjukkmjølk is considered a summer food and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.  Many people use it instead of yogurt, milk or heavy cream.   Eat it with some fresh berries and granola on top, add it in a smoothie or into a dressing as well as waffle batters and desserts like mousse and panna cotta.  By pureeing it in a blender you can make it into a healthy, drinkable yogurt if you add a banana, avocado and perhaps a scoop of protein powder.

tjukkmjølkImage from melk.no

Below is a recipe adapted from the website of Rørosmeieriet,  the only dairy company in Norway that is 100% organic and also the only ones producing  tjukkmjølk today. For those of you who are lucky enough to get a hold of this product, try this one out or substitute with kefir if you cannot find tjukkmjølk.

This wonderful dairy product definitely has the taste of summer, but I would say above all, represents the taste of Norway!

TJUKKMJØLKSPUDDING MED RØRTE BÆR (Tjukkmjølkspudding with marinated berries)

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 1/2 cup tjukkmjølk

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Juice of 1/2 orange

1/2 vanilla bean pod

100 grams 0r about 1/2 cup granulated sugar

5 cl or 2 oz Cointreau or other orange liqeur

8 sheets gelatin

Marinated berries:

200 grams/1 cup cranberries, blueberries or cloudberries

150 g/ 0.75 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

1 cinnamon stick

2-3 star anise pods

Directions:

Place the gelatin sheets in a little water. In a sauce pot, add sour cream, heavy cream, lemon and orange juice, vanilla bean pod and sugar. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and stir in the gelatin. Whisk in the tjukkmjølk and Cointreau. Pour into a bread pan or other dessert pan and place in fridge for a couple of hours until set.

To make the berries:

Bring sugar, water, cinnamon stick and anise pods to a simmer in a sauce pot, stir and cook until sugar is completely dissolved. Add in the berries and remove from heat, stir to combine.

Serve the pudding with the berries still slightly warm spooned over.

tjukkmjølkspudding

Image from stoltmat.no

A flavor-packed Nordic burger for Memorial Day: Karbonader

Memorial Day weekend is here, and although it doesn’t look good for any outdoor barbecues here in New York, I am sure that in the rest of the country there are those of you who will fire up that grill and enjoy time off outdoors.  I love this weekend because it is sort of a ribbon-cutter for the beginning of summer;  time to shed some clothing, go to the beach and enjoy a slower tempo overall.

Norwegians love to barbecue – they will pull out their grill if the temperature stock goes slightly above 5-6 degrees Celsius (yes, I do like to exaggerate a bit).  Being outdoors is really important for people who go through a long, dark and cold winter.  Summers are short, so every day has to be taken full advantage of, and not a minute is wasted being inside.

I decided to feature karbonader today, because this is a recipe you can prepare and enjoy both inside and outside.  Karbonader is a very classic, Norwegian meat patty traditionally made from 100% ground pork, but sometimes half pork and half beef or veal is used.    Karbonader is equally popular in Denmark, where it is  regarded as a typical Danish dish.

What makes karbonader different from a regular meatball you ask? First of all,  its oval shape. Secondly, the meat used in karbonader is much less fatty,  on average the fat content should only  be about 6%.  Because of its low fat content,  the meat mixture tends to be heavily with salt and pepper and add flavor in other ways such as different spices, although traditionally the patty is supposed to be about the meat flavor and not any additional flavors.  Karbonader also do not contain a lot of liquid, although egg is an acceptable binder.

karbonader

Image source:  roarstang.no

This dish is incredibly versatile in that it can be served warm with mashed peas and potatoes for dinner, and it also makes for a delicious open face sandwich served cold:  topped with caramelized onion and sliced cucumbers.  Even more luxurious: Top with a sunny side up egg, now we’re talking!

karbonademedegg

Image:  ooop.no

Karbonader is often seen on the Norwegian koldtbord (smorgasbord) at festive occasions, and in my family we even serve them with our big Christmas meal alongside the pork belly, pinnekjøtt (cured/dried mutton) and sausages.  Karbonader were traditionally reserved for Sundays only, as it was viewed as a luxury because meat was rare to come by, and consequently very expensive.

The word “karbonade” comes from the Italian word carbone or carbonata, which translate into a meat patty   prepared over hot, glowing coals.   “Carbo” is Latin for coals.   Which proves my point that they are perfect to prepare for a barbecue, although this may not be very traditional in Norway. Let’s start a new trend, shall we?

grill

The word “karbonade” can also refer to a seafood patty (fiskekarbonader). In this instance, the fish is roughly ground up rather than fine,  and no liquid is added, as opposed to ‘fiskekaker’ (fish cakes) which are also a very popular Norwegian food.

Whether you are barbecuing or just want to prepare a tasty Norwegian inspired dinner or snack, try out the karbonade recipe below.  The classic accompaniment is caramelized onions, and in my mind is what makes this dish. I suggest you try this combination for maximum effect! 🙂

KARBONADER MED STEKT LØK  (Karbonader with Caramelized Onions)

Serves 8

1/2 lb ground pork

1/2 lb ground beef or veal

2 slices white bread, torn in pieces

salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 egg

2 tbsp fresh thyme, oregano or sage, chopped

* 2-3 tbsp heavy cream *Only if you want to add some fat/richness to the karbonader

Caramelized Onions:

2 large Vidalia onions, peeled and cut in half, then thinly sliced

2 -3 tbsp butter

salt and a dash of sugar

Hamburger buns or baguette

Lettuce leaves, tomatoes, cucumbers

To prepare karbonader:

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, season generously with salt and pepper. Form into oval patties, and lightly score them on one side (this creates a really nice surface when cooked), add a bit of oil in a  saute pan and saute the patties on both sides until golden brown, about 1-2 min on each side. Place them  in oven and let them finish cooking, about 8-10 min.

To prepare the caramelized onions:

Add the butter to a large saute pan over medium heat.  Place the onions in the pan along with the salt and a bit of sugar.  Let them cook until dark brown and caramelized, about 20 minutes. (Resist the urge to move them around too much)

Place the karbonader in a hamburger bun  or on top of a baguette or good bread with the caramelized onions, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber, and garnish with any other items you may like (mustard, relish, etc).  I like to enjoy them with a nice green salad.

karbonadesmorbrod2

Image:  matfokus.no

Wine pairing suggestion:   Odfjell Orzada Carmenere 2011

This wine has lots of red, juicy ripe fruit like cherries, raspberries and plum coupled with spice, tobacco and vanilla. A complex, powerful wine with smooth tannins that is sturdy and can stand up to strong, smoky barbecue flavors. Retails around $18.

odfjellorzadacarmenere

The World’s Best Cake Part Deux

I have previously written about Norway’s popular Kvæfjordkake, otherwise known as the “World’s Best Cake” among Norwegians. You can read all about the history and get my first recipe here so I won’t repeat myself with the background of this creation.

This cake deserves multiple entries, not only because there are a gazillion different versions and recipes of it out there, but also because I quite possibly had the BEST EVER example two weekends ago when I was home.   Impressive looking and more importantly, incredibly tasty – I was inspired to ask for the recipe from one of my sister’s friends who made it.   Baking and cooking is, after all, trying and testing out many versions of one recipe,  to be able to blend the various elements of each recipe into one and make it the perfect one!

There have been a lot of cake entries lately, both on my blog and on my Facebook page, but that is only because t’is the season once again in Norway; the month of May has lots of celebrations and holidays, which means plenty of cakes on our tables.

This meringue cake with a fluffy cream filling blended with creme anglaise or a vanilla pudding, looks as divine and impressive as it is gratifying to eat, but is surprisingly easy to put together.   Festive and delectable with layers of flavors and textures, it is extremely difficult to be neutral about this cake!

Thanks to Aslaug Kvalsvik from my hometown of Sykkylven, for the inspiration and generous contribution of this recipe.  This woman is a real pro as it takes a lot to impress me!

kvaefjord3

KVÆFJORDKAKE  – VERDENS BESTE   (The World’s Best Cake)

Sponge Cake:

200 grams / 7 oz butter, unsalted and softened but still cool

200 grams / 7 oz granulated sugar (about 1 cup)

8 egg yolks

8 tbsp milk

265g / 9.5 oz all purpose flour (about 1 1/4 cup)

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

2 1/2 tsp vanilla sugar (or vanilla extract)

Meringue:

8 egg whites

330g / 12 oz / 1.5 cup sugar

100 g/3.5 oz/0.5 cup almonds,  chopped

Filling:

1 1/4 cup heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla sugar

*1 cup vanilla pudding (make your own – see below recipe, or use packaged)

To make sponge cake:

Preheat oven to 350F (170C).   Line  a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with parchment paper and spray it lightly with Pam or other cooking spray.

In a stand mixer whip the butter and sugar until light yellow and airy. Add in one egg yolk at the time, mixing well in between each addition. Combine the flour with the baking powder and vanilla sugar in a small bowl, and add into the egg mixture interchanged with the milk until it is well intermixed. Pour the mixture into the baking pan.

To make meringue:

Whip the egg whites until soft peaks – add the sugar and whip until stiff.  Spread the meringue on top of the cake mixture in the pan, and sprinkle with the chopped almonds.

Bake in oven on the lowest rack for about 20-25 minutes until the meringue has achieved a golden color. Remove and let cool while making the filling.

To make the filling:

Whip the cream with a bit of vanilla sugar, and fold in the vanilla pudding.

When cake has cooled, divide it in half, spread the filling over one half, and place the other half on top. And voila! you have the world’s best cake ready to become someone else’s best ever cake too! 🙂

Doesn’t this look good??

kvaefjord1

 

And here it is half eaten (only takes a few minutes for that to happen!):

 

kvaefjordhalf

 

 

To make your own vanilla pudding:

3 tbsp cornstarch

100 g/ 0.5 cup sugar

1 1/4 cup heavy cream

4 egg yolks

1 vanilla bean, cut in half, with seeds scraped out

50 g /1/4 cup butter

In a pot over medium heat, add in the cornstarch and sugar and mix , add in half the cream and stir. Add in one egg yolk at a time, while constantly whisking. Add in the remainder of the heavy cream and the vanilla seeds. Keep whisking until the mixture thickens, lower heat if necessary.  Whisk in the butter at the end, and let chill.

kvaefjord2

Daim Ice Cream Cake; the perfect summer dessert

One of things I most look forward to when going to Norway is being able to enjoy all the delicious chocolates. There simply isn’t any chocolate in the world better than the rich, creamy, light chocolates of Norway. Whether it’s the superior milk there or their secret recipe,  I am not sure, but during every visit I overdose on all and any type of chocolate I can get my hands on.  It’s as if I have to make up for lost time, “suffering” through the rest of the year among the American chocolate found  in the grocery isles here.  I secretly feel sorry for American kids who think a Hershey bar is the best thing ever.  They don’t know what they are missing!

daim

One of my old time favorites is Daim.  This toffee candy is crunchy and creamy and covered with the most delicious milk chocolate, and has now become more widely available (thank God) in other countries as well.   I love it because it offers different textures and seems lighter than other chocolates, but still contain so many layers of flavors.  There now is Daim in all forms:  Streusel (to put on top of ice cream, cakes  and other desserts),  bite size Daim,  ice cream bars, and Daim biscuits among other things.  Clearly people love this product, and will invent any excuse to add Daim into any and all foods if they can!

dajmkjeks

daimcandydaimstrossel

Last week I was fortunate to have tasted a homemade Daim ice cream cake made by one of my sister’s friends, and although it has now become quite the classic in Norway,  served at confirmations, christenings, weddings and holidays, I was simply astounded once again by how delightful this cake is.  With the weather reaching record temperatures in Norway this past week and it certainly has started getting balmy in NY as well as we move towards summer, I thought it fitting to include a recipe for this cool dessert.

This recipe is stuffed with Daim chocolate – a sort of super charged Daim ice cream cake made for someone who just can’t get enough of this flavor.  Because you can never have too much of a good thing, right?  Try it out and let me know!  Maybe it will inspire you to make other desserts with Daim as well, I know I certainly have been bitten by the bug and will most likely post another recipe featuring this mouthwatering ingredient soon!   P.S. No ice cream machine needed!!

daimiskake

DAIM ISKREMKAKE  (Daim Ice Cream Cake)

For the meringue bottom:

4 egg whites

3/4 cup confectioners sugar

4 oz almonds

*2 large Daim chocolates  (or roughly 1 1/2 cups chopped)

For the ice cream:

4 egg yolks

2 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups heavy cream

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp cold strong coffee

*2 large Daim chocolates  (or roughly 1 1/2 cups chopped)

6 1/2 oz milk chocolate (if you can find Melkesjokolade with Daim – perfect)

*see note at bottom for where to purchase Daim chocolate

Decoration:
Daim streusel (if you can’t find this, just grind up some regular Daim chocolate)

To make meringue:

Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray a 10 inch spring form cake pan and line with parchment paper.

Whisk the egg whites and confectioner sugar until stiff peaks form.  In a food processor, place the Daim and almonds and grind them up (not super fine but like coarse meal).  Fold it into the egg white mixture.  Pour into cake pan and place in the middle of the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.  Cool cake on a rack, and carefully remove the spring form around it and clean it.

To make ice cream:

Whisk egg yolks and sugar until light yellow and airy.  Whisk the heavy cream until soft peaks form and fold into egg mixture.   In a small bowl, mix the vanilla extract together with the coffee. Chop up the Daim chocolates and add into the egg-cream along with vanilla-coffee liquid.   Melt the milk chocolate carefully in a bowl placed on top of a pot on the stove filled with a little simmering water, and when cool fold into the ice cream mixture.    Place the spring form pan around the cooled meringue, and pour the ice cream mixture on top of the meringue.   Place in freezer. Decorate with the Daim streusel or chopped Daim when the ice cream cake has been in freezer for a couple of hours and have been able to set.  Serve with a good, strong cup of Norwegian coffee!

daimiskake1

*Note:  You can purchase Daim chocolate at the following online stores:

Ingebretsenshttp://www.ingebretsens.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=Daim

Here you can even find the milk  chocolate with the Daim pieces in it!

Scandinavian Specialtieshttp://www.scanspecialties.com/proddetail.php?prod=D10

Nordic Delihttp://nordicdeli.com/chocolates/chocolates.htm

Sockerbithttp://sockerbit.com/productdesc.html?id=157

Celebrating Pentecost with a light dessert

Pentecost, or “pinse” in Norwegian,  is an official holiday weekend in Norway, and is celebrated the seventh Sunday, or the 50th day following Easter Sunday.   The name “pinse” stems from the Greek word “pentekoste”, which means the fiftieth.

Pentecost is regarded as the birthday of the Christian Church, because during this time, the Holy Spirit visited the apostles to give them strength and words to go out and spread the word of Jesus.

pinse

Pentecost was originally a Jewish autumn festival, also called the corn fall festival, when Jews from all over the world went to Jerusalem to take part in the Pentecost celebration in the temple.

Norwegians observe the second Pentecost day (the Monday after the Pentecost) as well, making it an official holiday. This weekend, pinse fell on the same weekend as the May 17th celebration, which makes it an extra long holiday for the lucky Norwegians.  Many people go away, either to their cabins in the mountain or away on a hotel vacation for the extended weekend.  My niece told me last week that in the month of May, there is a public holiday every single week…. so why am I not living in Norway?  There seems to be more vacation days than working days,  and although Norwegians aren’t particularly religious, they sure find a way to observe all the religious holidays 🙂

With this largely “unknown” holiday, the choice of celebratory food is not as set in stone, and you can really get more creative and experimental than on other more traditional holidays.  As this year, the pinse holiday becomes an  extension of our National Day, I still felt it was important to keep it somewhat typical Norwegian.  As we move into summer in Norway, berries are starting to come into season and the red currant berries are something I always think of as very Nordic.  As I’ve mentioned before,  berries are some of the few fruits that are able to thrive in our cold climate.  We use to grow tons of   redcurrants in our backyard when I grew up – my dad even made wine from red currants, or “ripsbær”  or “rips” as we all them in Norwegian.

rips

When I was at home last week, I tasted this wonderful red currant dessert called “ripsfromasj” (red currant mousse) that I wanted to try and recreate for the weekend.  After the huge smorgasbord and all the cakes, ice cream, hot dogs and other heavy foods on Constitution Day, a light mousse dessert seemed appropriate. Colorful and tasty – it will brighten up your table as well as your mind when you taste it!  The tangy flavor of the red currants makes this dessert really refreshing, and not overly sweet. Try it out when you have some red currants handy, it may become your new favorite dessert!

ripsfromasj2

RIPSFROMASJ  (Red Currant Mousse)

Serves 4-6

4 eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 3/4 cup heavy cream

8 sheets of gelatin

1 cup red currants + additional for decoration

Place the gelatin sheets in cod water for 10 minutes.  Whisk the eggs and sugar until light yellow and fluffy. Whisk the heavy cream until soft peaks form, and fold into with the egg-sugar mix along with the red currant.   Strain the cold water off the gelatin sheets and place them in 1/3 cup hot water to dissolve them.  Pour the gelatin into the egg-heavy cream mixture. Pour the mousse into a glass bowl, decorate with red currants and “pikekyss” (meringue candies).

ripsfromasj

Happy May 17th: Celebrate Norway’s Constitution Day with a mouthwatering cake

When you ask a Norwegian what the typical food they serve on this very special day, you are likely to get a wide variety of answers, depending on what region of the country you’re in. There seems to be as many opinions and customs as there are people in Norway, but the common foods you may hear repeated are hot dogs, ice cream, rømmegrøt (sour cream porrdige) with “fenalår” (cured leg of lamb) and our well known “koldtbord” (similar to Sweden’s smorgasbord) with many delectable cold dishes. This day is perhaps the biggest celebration of the year for our country, where the unity of the people’s nationality is marked and the Norwegian flag is seen everywhere. This is also when we wear our national costumes, the “bunad”. Here I am in my “Sunnmørsbunad”:

sunnybunad

The 17th of May is our Constitution Day and a day of enormous pride for the Norwegians. The constitution was signed on this day in Eidsvoll in 1814, which declared Norway to be an independent nation, despite that the nation was still under the rule of Sweden, and the king of Sweden actually forbade the Norwegians to celebrate this day for many years. Not until 1836 did it become a national holiday and this is when the Parliament officially celebrated 17th of May.

Here’s a more current photo of the huge parade on the main street of Oslo, Karl Johan:

17.mai

The first official children’s parade took place in 1870, and initially consisted of only boys. Girls were included from 1889, and in 1906, our royal family started the tradition of standing on their balcony greeting people walking in the parade on Karl Johan.

kongeparet

Because Norway’s history of always being under another country’s rule or in a union with their neighboring countries as well as being under German occupation during World War II (when celebration of May 17th was forbidden), this day is particularly special for the Norwegian people. While many people may look at waving their flag is nationalistic and not necessarily a positive thing, there is a completely different sentiment in Norway. This is a day of happiness, sense of belonging and community, and of course… FOOD!!

Since I have already written about a lot of the traditional foods in previous posts, I’ve selected to include a recipe for an incredibly delicious cake I tasted last week in my niece’s confirmation in Norway called “Ari Behn kake”. Ari Behn is a Norwegian author, and is also married to the princess of Norway. Since this day includes our royals, I found it fitting to incorporate this cake, also because cakes are such an important food when Norwegians celebrate anything or get together in a crowd.

When I asked the lovely woman who made the cake why it is called Ari Behn cake, she did not have a clue, and neither did anybody else I attempted to ask. The quest for more info continues! In the mean time – enjoy making this cake, as it is incredible! Thanks to my sister’s amazing, beautiful friend and talented cake maker, Unni Haram, for contributing this wonderful recipe!

aribehn2

ARI BEHN KAKE

250 grams (9 oz) hazelnuts, toasted lightly on a dry skillet and chopped

4 egg whites

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp baking powder

2 bananas

2 Dajm chocolates (or you can substitute “SKOR” chocolate, a similar chocolate more readily available in the U.S. – alternatively other toffee candy)

2 1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped

Fruit of your choice (sliced strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, kiwi, etc)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celcius).

In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until a rough chop. Add in the baking powder and set aside. Whisk the egg whites with the sugar until stiff peaks, and fold in the hazelnuts. Pour into a 13 x 9 baking pan (spray it first) and bake in oven for about 50 minutes. Cool and divide in half.

Meanwhile, mash up the bananas in a bowl, crumble up the Dajm or Skor chocolates and add to the bananas along with half of the whipped cream. Spread the mixture on the first cake half, place the other half on top and spread the remaining whipped cream on top. Decorate with your favorite sliced fruits and serve! Look how pretty! Hurra for 17.mai!!

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Paying tribute to Mexico

As we celebrate Cinco de Mayo today, I must devote a post to Mexican food, even though this blog largely centers around Norwegian food.   Not only is Mexican food one of my all time favorite foods, but I have a close connection to this country and its cuisine.  During my time in culinary school I also had an opportunity to assist the amazing Diana Kennedy, who, despite being a native of the United Kingdom, is largely considered the authority on Mexican food and cooking (she has lived in Mexico since 1957).  In one of her books she comments, “Mexican food is earthy food, festive food, happy food, celebration food.  It is in short, peasant food raised to the level of high and sophisticated art.”  How true that is!

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My first encounter with Mexico was through  my very first roommate in college,  Andrea, who is Mexican- Norwegian. Yes, that’s correct! Faith had it so that we would meet and live together, despite our vastly different backgrounds.  A true friendship was created, and we are still close friends to this day.   I spent my first Christmas ever away from Norway in Oregon, where her parents lived at the time,  and they would observe Norwegian traditions like prepare lefser and lutefisk.   Andrea’s Mexican father would douse the lutefisk with about half a gallon of hot sauce, commenting “It’s the only way you can eat this stuff!”   Not a fan myself, I silently agreed with him but was simultaneously impressed he would even go near this gelatinous dish.

One summer,  Andrea and her family graciously invited me to Andrea’s father Raul’s homeland of Mexico, where we would spend three weeks divided between Raul’s tiny hometown, Tlaquiltenango,  Mexico City and  Acapulco. I truly had the best time of my life there, experiencing the authentic culture of this extraordinary country, and of course… enjoying the most amazing food.  The smell of fresh, home made corn tortillas that greeted me in Andrea’s grandmother’s kitchen every day has forever imprinted in my mind. The meat for dinner were literally being butchered in the back yard,  and later transformed into the most wonderfully aromatic stew that would fill the entire house.  Eating at Mexican restaurants in the U.S. following this trip never quite became the same, and it was during this summer I truly fell in love with Mexico; its food, its beautiful people,  stunning scenery and incredible history.

Andrea and I in Acapulco back when:

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Later on in life, faith struck again, as I met the love of my life; my husband Mark, who so happened to be Mexican-American. Born and raised in Texas, and a chef by trade, he was the only one who could replicate the tastes I so vividly recalled from my summer with Andrea’s family.  After we married, we ran a catering company together up until last year,  and we would also participated in local farmer’s market where we would sell Mark’s fabulous tacos.  This must be the most brilliant food ever invented – so simple but so flavorful – a food that truly exhibits the love and care of who prepared it.   Today I want to share our recipe for pulled pork tacos – a best seller at all the markets we did.   I have a hard time limiting the post to one recipe because let’s face it:  Is there another country in the world who can match Mexico’s culinary diversity? I have a hard time thinking of any.  Rest assured I’m not referring to the Americanized burritos, chimichangas and quesadillas!

This food is not about fancy tricks and new twists,  it’s about simplicity and being able to taste the authentic flavors of Mexico.   We top our pork tacos with green sauce (salsa verde), chopped onion and cilantro and a nice slice of avocado. That’s all this dish needs! Start the dish a couple of days before you will serve and eat it – the meat needs time to marinate and cook slowly in order to extract as much flavor as possible.  The time it requires will more than worth it in the end!  Happy Cinco de Mayo!

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PULLED PORK TACOS w/SALSA VERDE

1 x 8 lb pork butt shoulder

*Taco Seasoning (you can buy this in the store but see below for a recipe to make your own)

1/2 cup brown sugar

3-4 tbsp smoked paprika

kosher salt

To prepare pork:

If the pork as a very thick fat side score it.  Rub the pork generously with kosher salt, Taco Seasoning, smoked paprika and brown sugar.  Place in a bowl in refrigerator and let sit overnight or at least 5-6 hours.

Place in slow cooker with about 1 cup water and cook for about 12-15 hours.  Once done, let cool slightly in the juice and the pull the meat.

*Taco Seasoning Recipe

2 tbsp onion powder

1 tbsp garlic powder

1 tbsp ancho chili powder

3 tbsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

2 tbsp paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in a jar, shake well and reserve until using.

Salsa Verde:

3 lbs tomatillos

2 onions, cut into 2 inch thick slices

3-4 jalapenos

1 bunch cilantro

Juice of 2-3 limes

salt to taste

pinch of sugar

First, place the tomatillos in a bowl of water – this makes it easier to remove the husks.

tomatilloswashed

Next,  place the tomatillos on a sheet tray in one single layer and roast them in the oven at 400F or alternatively place them in the broiler, for about 30 minutes or so until they are charred and soft:

tomatilloscharredAlternatively, you can boil the tomatillos –  place them in a large pot of water and cook for about the same time (3o minutes). This produces a bit of a different flavor – my husband seemed to prefer them boiled at one point but you can experiment with both methods!

Simultaneously,  place the onions and jalapenos on a sheet tray, coat with a bit of oil and sprinkle with salt and roast in oven for 30 minutes until charred.

In a blender, place the tomatillos, onions and jalapenos (be careful if they are piping hot, don’t fill it all the way to the top), and puree for a few seconds.  Add in a handful of cilantro, season with salt and a dash of sugar and lime juice and puree again until fairly smooth.  Do this in batches until everything is done.  Cool and quart up the sauce.

Other ingredients:

1 vidalia Onion, diced finely

1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped

1-2 Haas avocados

1 pack corn tortillas (I like the Guerrero brand – if you don’t want to make your own)

Mix the onion and cilantro together and place in a container.

To assemble tacos:   Heat up tortillas on the gas grill and char them lightly on both sides, place in a towel to keep them warm.  Place a handful of pulled pork in taco, top with salsa verde, then onion-cilantro mix and an avocado slice on top and sprinkle with a bit of salt.  Serve with a slice of lime and watch people gobble these up!!

Later this summer I will share my recipe for skirt steak tacos with home made pico de gallo made from heirloom tomatoes from the farmer’s markets!  Follow me on Facebook!

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Chicken Fricassee – Norwegian soul food

Whenever I’ m home in Norway, I’m always horrified at how expensive chicken is at the store.  The Norwegians will disagree, who think that $8/lb is cheap.  All is relative, I suppose… Regardless, I don’t see chicken represented as much in Norwegian cuisine as elsewhere in the world.  A theory I have is that Norwegians, traditionally big fish eaters,  prefer a lot of flavor once  they turn to meat, and go for a big, juicy steak or their beloved lamb or mutton.

Chicken fricassee, or hønsefrikasse as we call it in Norway,  is an exception, and despite the French sounding name, this truly is a classic in the Norwegian kitchen. It is no secret that Norway is influenced by the French, especially in restaurants – both when it comes to food and wine.   When I visited Burgundy a couple of years back, I learned that the Burgundians were in fact vikings who emigrated from Scandinavia!  No wonder we feel the connection, their wines are my favorite in the world.

Hønsefrikasse  consists of portioned chicken, carrots, parsnips, leeks and potatoes, cooked in a roux of butter and flour with chicken broth and finished with a little cream. Thick and creamy with mild, pleasant flavors so characteristic of Norwegian cuisine, the chicken is the star here.  Hønsefrikasse is what I call “Norwegian soul food”.   One cannot help but feel sheer happiness eating this dish, and the challenge is to not go back into the kitchen and sneak additional spoonfuls while no one is watching!

It should be mentioned that the proper bird for this dish should be a “hen” (høne), meaning a female chicken –  hence the word “hønsefrikasse”. The taste is better than regular chicken and so if you can find a hen – go for it!

This is definitely  another one of those dishes that will be remembered as being served when visiting your grandmother’s house for Sunday dinner;  old fashioned in style but possess those rich, satisfying flavors that bring out the most wonderful memories from childhood.  Sometimes referred to as “husmormat” (housewife food), the dish is not nearly as popular as it used to be, which is sad to see because this truly is one delectable meal! I have seen some chefs bring back this  classic, updating it and lightening it up to become more of a broth like soup,  which is also nice but I still prefer the original recipe.

Below is an absolute gorgeous recipe for chicken fricassee, as classic as you can get it.   Decadent flavors with a rich mouth feel, this will soothe your soul while being gentle on your wallet.   I have added in some additional herbs because I feel this will add some depth of flavor and make your tummy even more satisfied! Make this for your guests on a casual night and I guarantee they will  leave your house impressed – and full!

HØNSEFRIKASSE  (Chicken Fricassee)

1 whole chicken

4 bay leaves

10 peppercorns

6-7 fresh parsley sprigs

salt

1 Vidalia Onion, peeled and quartered

green tops off one leek, roughly chopped

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

water

60 grams (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

50 grams (1/4 cup) all purpose flour

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1-2 sprigs fresh sage or 3-4 sprigs thyme

2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch circles

2 large parsnips (or rutabaga), peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch circles

5-6 Yukon gold potatoes, cubed into 1 inch cubes

1 quart chicken stock

1/2 cup heavy cream

parsley, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Portion the chicken into 8 parts. Place in large pot,  add the quartered onion, bay leaves, leek tops, carrot, peppercorns and parsley sprigs along with a bit of salt. Pour enough water to sufficiently cover the chicken and vegetables. Bring to a boil and lower heat to simmer for about 2 hours. Skim off fat throughout.

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Pull out the chicken and let cool on a platter. Strain chicken stock and reserve. Once chicken is cool enough to handle, dice into nice bite size pieces.

In a heavy pot (cast iron is great), melt the butter over medium high heat, add in the fresh herbs (rosemary/thyme/sage) and leeks, carrots, parsnips/rutabaga and potatoes.

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Saute for a couple of minutes and add in the flour make sure it’s incorporated, then add in the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes or so.  Add in the chicken and cream, combine and simmer for a couple of minutes to let flavors blend.  Season with salt and pepper again to taste. Add in the chopped parsley and garnish with a parsley sprig.

Note 1: It may also be good to add in a squeeze of lemon to brighten up the flavors.  For more depth of flavor you can add in some white wine to the dish also – after you add the flour on the vegetables, pour in 1/2 cup of wine and reduce before you add in the stock. You can also add in peas if you’d like – after tasting it, I think it may have been really nice with an addition of green peas.

Note 2:  If you don’t feel confident butchering a whole chicken and/or don’t want to spend time cooking it – you can always buy a rotisserie chicken and pick it, and buy store bought chicken stock. I do prefer the home made version though !!

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Rhubarb – a versatile fruit that welomes the Nordic climate

Spring is definitely here, and with that comes bounties of those gorgeous red and pink bunches, so versatile it can be made into both sweet and savory dishes.   Rhubarb reminds me of summer in Norway – my mom would have a small area behind our stabbur (outhouse) where rhubarb would grow like crazy.  Rhubarb thrives in a northern climate, and is one of the few fruits except berries we can successfully grow that far north. As kids, we were happiest just eating the rhubarb stalks picked straight from the ground, dipped in a big bowl of sugar.  An instant dessert,  it was a thrilling feeling to be able to create this treat ourselves, with no help from mom and no trip to the store needed!

rhubarb

Rhubarb has a very tart taste, making it necessary to add a sufficient amount of sugar to whatever you are making to offset the acidity in the plant.  While rhubarb is considered to be a vegetable,  in 1947 it was decided in the U.S.  that it should be counted as a fruit, because of the way it was used.

In Norway, the plant arrived in the 18th century from its original home of central Asia.  Norwegians initially utilized rhubarb as a medicinal plant.  The root was the most important part, and was dried for use both externally and internally.  Rhubarb was additionally used as a decorative plant;  it was only in the 19th century it entered the Norwegian kitchen.  The stalks were sometimes dried and preserved, but when fresh, they were diced into pieces and placed in mason jars with cold water.  Rhubarb was also boiled or cooked, and sweetened with honey or sugar or mixed with sweet berries and fruit, and canned.   Rhubarb today is a popular ingredient in wine making ! Since Norway’s climate is too cool to grow grapes we have to turn creative in our quest to make wine, hence utilizing berries, rhubarb and other fruit is very common. This is another large topic that I will reserve for a future post, but doesn’t that sound delicious??

There are many different varieties of rhubarb, and as mentioned above,  it can thrive during cool, wet summers (which is often the case in Norway) and is also a very productive plant.   The red stalks have a lower acidity level than the green stalks, which can be helpful when picking your rhubarb at the farmer’s market or in the store.  Norwegians make jam and “saft” (juice) from rhubarb, as well as putting it in cakes, compotes, puddings and even porridge.   In more recent recipes, I’ve seen sauteed rhubarb be served with pork and duck dishes, for instance – a nice substitution for tart cherries which is the more traditional condiment.

Rhubarb porridge used to be one of my favorites – served with milk it’s deliciously sweet, tart and creamy (recipe to follow in upcoming post):

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Photo Source:  Matprat.no

The season for rhubarb in this part of the world is mid-to late spring, while rhubarb can grow year round in warmer climates.  In Norway, we enjoy rhubarb more in the midst of summer, as the temperature is on average much cooler this time of year than in the U.S. and the plant needs the summer to come into full bloom.  I love the seasons and am happy to live in a place where we have  fruits and vegetables available at different times of the year. This gives me a chance to miss them and look forward to when they come back at the farmer’s market.  There is no doubt I get excited when seeing these colorful stalks pop up!

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Photo Credit: Baloncici

While most commonly seen in pies and crumbles, where it is often combined with strawberries and other sweeter fruit,  there are endless possibilities of how to use the rhubarb in your cooking.   I have a fantastic recipe for a refreshing soup I thought I would share with you – this is something you will see often in Scandinavian cooking and is very popular.  I have a feeling I will be back with many other recipes throughout the summer featuring this wonderful fruit – so stay tuned and be sure to follow my FB page as well for additional tips,  stories and pictures!

RABARBRASUPPE

2 quarts of water

750 grams (1 1/2 lbs) rhubarb

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cinnamon stick

Juice of one half lemon

Strawberries and fresh mint leaves for garnish

Sour cream (optional)

Using a potato peeler peel off the outer layer of the rhubarb (sometimes this gets stringy, just like celery). Cut the rhubarb into 1-2 inch pieces, and place in a soup pout along with the water and sugar and cinnamon stick. Cook until the rhubarb is soft.   Discard cinnamon stick, and puree mixture in blender until smooth and add lemon juice and adjust seasoning as needed.  Garnish with sliced strawberries and mint leaves and/ or a spoonful of sour cream that has been mixed with a little cinnamon. Serve room temp or cold.

* Note 1:   Some people like to add potato starch (or corn starch) to the soup to thicken it a bit.  If you want to try that, mix 1 1/2 tbsp of potato starch with 1 1/2 tbsp of water, and add to the soup once it has been pureed. Pour into a sauce pot and bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the soup thickens.

* Note 2:  You will see many people prefer to not puree the soup but leave the pieces intact in the soup.  This is perfectly fine – if you prefer to have something to “chew” on, just eliminate the step where you process the soup in your blender.

Tip: You can also serve the soup with a dollop of vanilla ice cream in the middle – particularly delicious and decadent!

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Image source:  Matprat.no