23/05/2009

Cookbook review: The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann

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While there are no specifically Icelandic recipes in this book, there are enough dishes in it that have passed into traditional Icelandic cookery (taken from Danish and Norwegian cookbooks of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries) to include it here.

Author Trina Hahnemann has, in co-operation with photographer Lars Ranek, produced a gorgeous tribute to Scandinavian cookery. The book is divided into chapters by month, and each month includes recipes made from local ingredients that are fresh at the given time of year. The recipes, when they aren't pan-Scandinavian, are mostly Danish and Swedish, with some Norwegian ones. My native Iceland isn‘t included, as while the culinary tradition is firmly Scandinavian, the country isn‘t actually a geographical part of Scandinavia. I did find several recipes that are very familiar to me, like fish cakes, gravlax, pickled cucumbers, marinated herring and Christmas pudding, to name a few.

The recipes are a mixture of familiar traditional recipes, variations on the traditional (like fish cakes in curry sauce), and new recipes using traditional Scandinavian ingredients. There are photographs of almost every dish, interspersed with photos of the raw ingredients and cityscapes, landscapes and people, all of them in glorious colour. The abundance of photographs means that this is not just a recipe collection, but actually a gorgeous coffee-table book as well. The recipes are, for the most part, easy to make, and most of the ingredients easy to find, although substitutions may sometimes have to be made, e.g. if one can‘t get hold of moose, reindeer or flounder.

At the back of the book there is a handy glossary of ingredients and a list of websites that will provide those interested with more information about Scandinavia and its foods. The author is a well-known chef and food writer and already has several cookbooks under her belt, published in her native Denmark.

While I have not yet tested any of the actual recipes given in the book, I have cooked a number of the dishes (from other cookbooks) and tasted several more. There is a good variety of recipes, for appetisers, main courses, soups, desserts, drinks and baked goods, and as I have already mentioned, many of them are ideally suited to the season the chapters cover.

All in all, I think this is a gorgeous cookbook that will give non-Scandinavians a good overview of Scandinavian food and cookery, and the photographs will certainly arouse an interest in visiting the region.

Finally, here is a recipe from the book that I plan to try soon:

Grilled leg of lamb with garlic and tarragon (serves 8)

1 boned leg of lamb
Salt and pepper
10 tarragon sprigs
6 cloves garlic

Heat the grill to medium.

Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste over the leg of lamb, the cover with the tarragon and garlic. Fold up the meat and tie it up with kitchen string to help it keep its shape.

Lay the meat on the grill and close the grill. Cook for about 2 hours, or until an instant read meat thermometer reads 160 to 175°F (70 to 80°C). Take care that the underside of the lamb does not burn.

When the meat is done, let it rest for 10 minutes before carving. Serve with potato salad and green cabbage salad with dill and peas (both are included in the book).

01/05/2009

Quick and easy bread casserole

Hot bread-based dishes like this one are a popular party food in Iceland. I have rarely attended a birthday party, graduation, or other get-together in the last 10 years or so where the hosts didn’t serve at least one hot bread dish, either a stuffed bread roll or a casserole.

These dishes generally contain cheese, usually either mushrooms or asparagus (often both), and sometimes chopped bell peppers or crushed pineapple. In the beginning the sauce was usually a can of Campbell’s condensed mushroom or asparagus soup mixed with cream, and the dish was topped with cheese, but these days the sauce is usually made from scratch, using some combination of:
  • melted white or blue mould cheese (e.g. Camembert or Brie), or
  • melted flavoured block cheese, or
  • cream cheese, or
  • cheese spread
mixed with cream and/or mayonnaise and the liquid from the mushrooms and/or asparagus.

Protein is usually provided in the form of ham or shrimp, but chicken can be used as well.

The spices vary. I have seen recipes that use sweet paprika like this one, but also curry powder, Season-All, or garlic. This is the first and only dish of this kind I have tasted that uses mustard as a flavouring, and I have to say it stands out for that reason, especially if you use hot Dijon-style mustard. However, not everyone likes hot mustard, so if you want a crowd pleaser, use sweet mustard instead, or leave it out altogether.

Fresh substitutions can be made for the canned mushrooms and asparagus, in which case don’t forget to prepare some mushroom and asparagus stock to replace the liquid from the cans. Water will not do as a replacement for the liquid, and you will lose some flavour if you use extra cream or milk instead of the liquid.

The recipe:

  • 50 ml cream
  • 200 g mushroom-flavoured cheese spread
  • 1 tbs mayonnaise
  • 1 small can green asparagus, liquid included
  • 1 small can mushrooms, liquid included (looks better with whole small button mushrooms, but the big sliced ones taste the same)
  • 2 tbs mustard. The original recipe says to use sweet mustard, but I like the bite Dijon mustard adds to the dish
  • 3-4 slices of bread. I prefer whole wheat, but white is fine too. Crusts may be kept or removed according to taste.
  • 150 g chopped ham (vegetarians can use tofu or just leave it out altogether)
  • Sweet paprika powder

Mix everything together in a saucepan except the bread, ham and paprika. Heat through (do not boil) and stir to mix well. Tear the sliced bread into pieces and put in the bottom of a casserole dish or small lasagna pan (don't line it completely, just sprinkle the bread over it). Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the ham. Pour evenly over the bread, sprinkle a little paprika over the top, and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes at 200°C (180°C if you have a convection oven). Serve in the casserole dish/lasagna pan.

This dish also makes a nice little meal for 2-3 people, served with a fresh salad.

Variation:
You can use the sauce as a filling for a bread roll, in which case substitute the roll for the sliced bread, spread the slightly cooled filling on the roll and roll it up, then mix together:
  • 2 stiffly whipped egg whites,
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (e.g. Gouda or Monterey Jack)
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika powder,
and spread over the top and sides of the roll and bake at 180°C until the cheese is golden and bubbly.

This dish can be frozen before baking and popped in the oven when needed.