People who know me well won’t be surprised that I sometimes wish I was Scandinavian. In fact, I pass many an idle hour thinking about whether I would rather be Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish or Danish (on balance: Danish. I love their design and food, their beer and the fact they love cycling. But Icelandic is a close second – I’ve been writing about the country professionally for the past ten years after all…).
So when Matt arrived home with this luscious book, a present from work colleagues promising to spill the beans on the secrets of Scandinavian cooking (thanks guys!) I fell on it and immediately planned a Scandinavian food night at our house.
Written by Leith’s-trained Signe Johansen, the first thing that strikes you is that it’s a beautiful book, and she’s a beautiful cook. The food styling is gorgeous, with retro crockery and hand-drawn illustrations – there’s even a page dedicated to where to find the same style retro ceramics at the back of the book. Recipes are divided into breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon cake, dinner and dessert and I love that! So many books neglect brunch, and so many cooks put cakes into the dessert section: for me, having them divided up honours the fact that they are, in my opinion, the most fun meals of the day to eat!
Signe’s introduction covers the fact that most non-Scandinavians think that Scandi food is all about the meatballs (or, if they’re real foodies, all about Noma) but actually it’s about simple, stress-free food with seafood, fish, waffles and berries as hero ingredients. Her style is home cooking, influenced by her Norwegian grandmother, and feels very Food for Friends Yeah: great dishes to share and food you want to invite friends over for if you’re hosting an informal supper. Brunch classics include cinnamon spelt pancakes, eggs norwegian and roast asparagus with Vasterboten cheese – yum! And cakes include spiced apple cake, Danish coconut dream cake and Daim cake.
For our Scandinavian night, I made a Bergen fish chowder, Bergen being one of those cool Norwegian places I’ve always longed to visit (apparently it’s so rainy that you can buy umbrellas in on-street vending machines) and a Norwegian cheesecake with tipsy strawberries to follow. The recipes were simple and easy to follow – I’m really glad I did follow them to the letter too, including the suggestion to eat the chowder with crispbreads, because those little additions were perfect and really improved the dish. We’d never have looked twice at crispbreads otherwise! It was easy to make and really delicious, reminding me of the incomparable creamy cod soup that we had at Hotel Budir in Iceland once, and have never yet been able to recreate. It looks like the answer is to add brandy, wine and cream to the fish to make a rich soup. It’s good to note, too, that the measurements were spot on – it was a dish for four, and it served four with decent sized portions. It gets on my nerves when dishes are made for eight or 12, or are mean in their proportions.
The cheesecake was equally sensational. Regular readers will have spotted that I just posted a recipe on New York Cheesecake last month, but Signe’s is far better. She achieves it by using ginger biscuits (or Swedish peperkakar, which you can buy at IKEA) as the base and in separating the eggs and whisking the egg whites to stiff peaks before combining them. It’s a great way to get a light and fluffy cake. And the best thing of all are the tipsy berries – basically, you soak some strawberries in brandy, and make a reduced sauce. They offset the sweet vanilla-flavoured cheesecake perfectly.
I can’t wait to use this book more. The photography is great, the style is charming and the food is fab, so far as I’ve tried it. Signe has another book out this year, all about baking, and I’m sure that’s going to be a real hit too. I’d now like to get Matt to put himself on the work transfer list for Copenhagen, as well as New York and Melbourne ; )
To visit Signe’s website go to signejohansen.com and to buy your own copy of the book click here.