Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cookbook Review: The Scandinavian Cookbook

Half of me is Scandinavian, (Danish & Swedish), but I do not know much about the food or the culture around food in these countries. Besides the occasional meal of Swedish pancakes or Swedish meatballs and the few times the Danish Ebelskiver pan was brought out and we enjoyed the little stuffed pancakes, we didn't eat many Scandinavian dishes. Because of this I was very excited to receive a copy of The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann to review. This is a gorgeous book that not only explores the food from Denmark, Sweden and Norway, but also celebrates the culture of these countries. Trina Hehnemann is a chef, food writer and published cookbook author who lives in Denmark. She started out catering for rock stars like Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones and today owns and runs cafes in Denmark. 

The book has 115 recipes divided by months and grouped into seasons to make the most of the local foods available in the Nordic region. The photography is gorgeous, (done by Lars Ranek, one of Scandinavia's premier food photographers), and features beautiful shots of the recipes, the ingredients and the countries themselves, making this the kind of cookbook you want to read and enjoy. Each recipe or grouping of recipes has notes about the history and customs of the dish, so I found myself learning a lot going through the book and selecting recipes to try. Hahnemann set out to show that modern Scandinavian cooking has "evolved" from the more traditional recipes and many of the dishes take inspiration from other countries and cultures while making the most of local ingredients.

Having a busy few weeks, it took me a while to work myself through this cookbook, selecting recipes that were appropriate for the season and the ingredients I have available here in Hawaii. Asian ingredients are no problem here and I can do fairly well in Mexican and Indian products, but you start getting into the European countries and sourcing recipe components gets a bit more challenging. None the less, I manged to cook a variety of dishes, most all very successfully and I found a few new favorites. 

The first recipe I chose to make was Meatballs in Curry Sauce, where small meatballs of pork and veal are boiled, then simmered in a curry cream sauce with leeks, carrots and apples. Being a huge curry nut, I liked the change from my usual curry recipes to this one. It was hearty, nicely spiced and delicious. 

Loving smoked and cured salmon, I thought it would be fun to try the Marinated Salmon recipe in the book. Cured in the refrigerator with sugar, salt and citrus zest, then frozen, defrosted and sliced thinly, it has a slightly sweet and citrus taste. In addition to snacking on it and eating it on bagels and toast, it found its way into an open-faced "Smorrebrod" sandwich that you will see below.

The only recipe I really struggled with was the Rye Bread. As I frequently lament, "I AM NOT A BAKER! (or apparently a bread maker either), therefore I am more than willing to shoulder the responsibility of my bread turning out to be a hard, slightly too salty, somewhat funky tasting lump. I did follow the recipe but more detail and specific instructions would have helped a bread-making neophyte like myself. For example, "Cover with foil and let stand for 3-4 days at room temperature (77 to 86 degrees F.). And there you have a sourdough starter," didn't give me enough direction to really know if my starter was ready. A description of what my starter should look like when ready to use and more technical details would have helped me, but of course, a more experienced baker might have been just fine. I did save out some of the starter and may try it again, although it was a bit high-maintenance for me. 

I had better baking luck with my old nemesis...yeast, in the wonderful Brunsviger, a soft, bread-like cake from Denmark with a brown sugar-butter glaze. 

It was good that I halved this recipe and made just a small Brunsviger as this tender cake and it's sweet topping are addicting. I enjoyed it with some mango-ginger black tea; not necessarily a traditional pairing but oh-so good! 

For the Smoked Salmon and Horseradish Cream with Crunchy Cucumber and Caraway Seed Salad, I used some really good smoked wild Alaskan salmon. The revelation on this one was the dressing, which with the light sour cream and kick of horseradish was delicious. The combo of flavors in this salad was right on and I loved the caraway seeds. A simple, light lunch or dinner, I will make this one often I think. The leftover dressing ended up on my new passion the "Smorrebrod" too.

A couple of other salads caught my eye; the Cauliflower with Coarse Almonds, where raw cauliflower is cut into small florets and tossed with a dressing that includes whole almonds that are coarsely ground, garlic, lemon and fresh chervil or parsley. Yum! The Carrot Salad with Parsley and Pine Nuts was also quite good and simple with its shaved carrots and toasted pine nuts dressed in lemon juice and olive oil. Both are perfect with a sandwich and great for a hot day.

Finally my new favorite thing....the Smorrebrod, which the author defines as "open-faced sandwiches made with rye bread, and preferably served with aquavit and beer. In the old days people ate very simple ones, such as rye bread with a slice of cold meat, and took them to work as a packed lunch. In the early twentieth century, decorated smorrebrod became fashionable as a late dinner, after theater, or in dance clubs where the guests did not want to spend hours sitting down to a meal and instead wanted to spend their time dancing. Smorrebrod are delicious and luxurious but do not take a lot of time to eat." 

I started with one of the recipes: Smorrebrod: Open-Faced Sandwiches with Flounder, Shrimp, and Basil Dressing. Not able to find flounder here, my Whole Foods fish guy led me to the closest thing he had, Dover Sole. The fillets are breaded in rye flour, cooked and placed on a slice of rye bread covered in lettuce, then topped with creamy basil-lime dressing and cooked shrimp. Delicious. 

I liked it so much that I used the leftover basil dressing to make my own Caprese Smorrebrod, using the tomatoes I picked up on the North Shore and some fresh mozzarella and basil. Again...Yum!

And of course some of my other leftovers, the Marinated Salmon and Horseradish Cream made an excellent Smorrebrod with some capers and green onions. 

Quick to make, easy to eat and a perfect light lunch or dinner, I foresee a lot of Smorrebrods in my future!

I have a bunch more recipes tagged to make in this book; everything from Captain's Stew to Lemon Mousse, Fish Cakes with Herb Remoulade and Dill Potatoes, Oxtail Ragout, Skagen Fish Soup and maybe even some "Glogg" for Christmas this year. A beautiful book that is a delight to read and full of great recipes, The Scandinavian Cookbook would be perfect for the experienced Scandinavian cook or for anyone who wants to learn more about the food and culture of these countries. With the beautiful photography and delicious recipes within, I am happy to have a copy on my bookshelves.


  1. Wow, did you put in a lot of effort! Those pictures are beautiful. I'm really intrigued by the curry meatballs, a definite change of pace, for sure. I have Tina Nordstrom's New Scandanavian Cooking book and there is a similar open-faced shrimp sandwich that I really like so it must be a popular idea. Thanks for posting all this!

  2. What a lovely review and what good eats you have been having! I have never had Scandinavian food of any type and it's interesting to me how diverse it is. I wouldn't have imagined that curry would have been endogenous to that area. Everything looks great, though. I may have to see if my library has that book.

  3. If ever I write a cookbook I want you to be the reviewer who appears on the back cover. You do a really, really nice job. Scandinavian food has been buried by that of other cultures and that's a shame. It really is far tastier than most image. Blessings...Mary

  4. I'm rather embarrassed to admit that most of my Scandinavian food experiences have come from the IKEA cafeteria! 8-(

    Your review is so informative and best of all, you made the dishes! Most reviews just 'talk' about the recipes but it's nice to see them actually executed. Too many national cuisines are overlooked, often because they're unfairly dismissed as limited, bland or derivative of another. But each place has a way of making food its own. I'll have to check out this cookbook and get myself acquainted with Scandinavian cuisine.

  5. A wonderful and very thorough review! I haven't made much in the way of Scandinavian food, thank you for the introduction.

  6. everything looks delicious. this was a great review, you amaze me. :)

  7. what great recipes you tried! while learning more about your culture too :)

  8. this was a neat post to learn about scandinavian food


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