The Scandinavian Cookbook Hardcover – Mar 1 2009
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About the Author
Trina Hahnemann hails from Denmark where she created, owns, and runs a cafe in Denmark's House of Parliament as well as several large company cafes. She is a chef, food writer, and published cookbook author. Lars Renek is one of Scandinavia's leading food photographers with more than 20 published books.
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I couldn't choose which dishes to try first so used a common tactic I often resort to when perusing menus in a new restaurant. Someone told me years ago the quality of a restaurant is directly proportional to its ability to produce a good roast chicken. So the roast chicken made the cut along with the summer green salad and apple trifle. Ms. Hahnemann gives menu recommendations with many of the dishes and makes planning easy. Being a bit of an explorer, I added the pickled beets and rye bread to my list. Surprisingly, my grocery list was short as each recipe is straightforward with few ingredients, allowing the primary flavors of each dish to shine. The salad was light and flavorful, the chicken moist and tender. My family raved over the roast vegetables and they were a welcome change from the standard potatoes. I made the apple trifle in individual glasses and the vanilla added aroma and smoothness to the dish. The croutons were great but next time I make this (and I WILL make it again!) I will crumble palmiers from my local bakery to save time. I also added some nice vanilla and sweetened the whipped cream.
Ms. Hahnemann has done a lovely job of incorporating Scandinavian flavors for those of us in America while using ingredients that are found locally. I am not sure how the Waldorf salad made the cut (it originally was made in New York by a Swiss maitre d'hotel!) but this proves to be a minor distraction. She has arranged the cookbook based on seasonal recipes so although I miss my beloved Aebelskivers in the December section, I cannot wait for currants to come into season so that I may try the beautiful red currant and strawberry smoothies in July!
I like the way the cookbook is arranged, by months of the year. This is quite practical and encourages you to use seasonal ingredients. You should have no problem finding the majority of the ingredients in this book. The recipes themselves are very organized and easy to read. The author precedes each one with a short background of the dish, which makes interesting reading. This is not a cookbook you will open to make only one or two dishes. This is a cookbook which will encourage you to cook.
Not only are the recipes practical and simple enough to make for an informal family meal, but many are also appropriate to serve at a fancy dinner party. Your guests will be impressed. The recipes are not difficult to make and even the novice cook can prepare an extraordinary meal. The majority of the recipes are geared towards dinner, but there are many that could also be appropriate for a light lunch or brunch. Most of the desserts are also appropriate for an afternoon tea.
I recently prepared a three course dinner for my husband using the recipes in this cookbook. For the first course I made the Cauliflower Soup with Grilled Scallops. The soup had a nice creamy consistency with hints of garlic and curry. The scallops had a nice lemon tang. For the second course I prepared the Lamb Shanks with Apricots and Spices and Parsley Mashed Potatoes. The recipe is amazingly easy and in no time I had a delicious smelling meal simmering on the stove. The lamb was amazingly tender and the spices and apricots complemented the lamb perfectly. My husband absolutely loved it. Since we are getting fresh CA strawberries here now, for the final course I made Meringues with Strawberry Mint Salsa. The meringues were light and airy and the strawberry mint salsa very refreshing and a perfect ending to a perfect meal.
I can see that this cookbook will easily become one of my favorites. I have over 540 of them and I have been impressed by the quality of the recipes and the ease of preparation. The pictures of the dishes are absolutely mouthwatering, and the Scandinavian landscapes so serene and inviting. If you can't visit Scandinavia, the next best thing is to enjoy this cookbook.
In all, this is a delightful book, one that you will use again and again.
Trina Hahnemann's cookbook is visually stunning and a very diverse introduction to Scandinavian cooking as a whole. The book is designed to be a seasonal cookbook, so recipes are presented in a monthly format with attention paid to the shifting weather and moods.
When Trina says in the introduction, "I still strongly believe that you should try to buy as much local produce as you can..." there should have been stress placed on the quality of ingredients as well as seasonality. In cooking through a few of these recipes, one thing became abundantly clear - Scandinavian cooking relies heavily on the base flavor of the ingredients. Seasoning was minimal and relied heavily on salt and pepper and little else. If a dish called for a side condiment or pickled something, this was generally a well-called for spark of flavor.
Of the recipes, we tried in the book:
Caraway Seed Bread: Easily made in an evening with quick-rise yeast (this cuts rise time in half). The superfine sugar is easy to locate in grocery stores. The buttermilk base helped create a dense, sweet loaf and the caraway flavor was prevalent.
Wienerschnitzel with braised potatoes: It's admitted upfront that although this dish originated in Vienna, it's become a classic throughout Europe. This version took no time at all to put together and cooked easily on a weeknight. The seasoning is incredibly light, but when you serve with anchovies, capers and lemons, the flavor comes together.
Captain's Stew: A comfort food that will become a staple. Best described as a mashed potatoes and chuck steak, this does have a healthy dose of black pepper, but is again, lightly seasoned. We served with pickled beets and found the flavor combination to be really good.
Baked Trout with New Potatoes and Smoked-Cheese Cream: The vegetables and trout were perfect. The potatoes called for rygeost or smoked ricotta cheese - neither of which were available locally. We ended up improvising by taking cream cheese and mixing in a bit of liquid smoke after reading up on the consistency. We're not sure how close it was, but the side dish was really good and something we'll make again.
Chicken Liver Pate with Aquavit: Aquavit was not available locally after checking at three different liquor stores. So for a week, I made my own Aquavit using vodka and a spice mixture. The chicken liver pate was still lightly seasoned, which did not work in this dish's favor. The homemade Aquavit flavor was there, but it mostly tasted of chilled chicken liver and a hint of sour cream.
There are other recipes I'd like to try, which definitely holds favor with this book. I have two bits of criticism to offer. The first is that the glossary is incredibly light and concentrates on the wrong ingredients in many cases. While time is spent ingredients like Beer, Beets, Mustard and Salmon, ingredients like rygeost never make the list. The second is that the book is missing is a good substitute/how-to list - for ingredients that may be difficult to find outside of Scandinavia (homemade Aquavit is mentioned in the glossary but no recipe is offered). Substitutions are mentioned occasionally, but are rather hit-or-miss and sometimes make little sense. (Under Creme Fraiche, she says, "In the United States, reduced fat sour cream is used instead." - I found this rather odd since I can get Creme Fraiche in the same space as sour cream at any mega-mart nowadays.)
The book is of the coffee table kind with outstanding pictures. Around 2/3 of the book consist of scenery and food pictures. The book would be a great present to somebody who wants to know a little bit about food in Scandinavia. As a cookbook I'm not too impressed.
UPDATE: I would really recommend The Scandinavian Kitchen: Over 100 Essential Ingredients with 200 Authentic Receipes both for cooking and as a gift.
The recipes are clearly written and take you through the months via recipes. They are accompanied by a brief paragraph either about the recipe or the region that the recipe is from. I really like this, as a collector of cookbooks I feel that they are a like a culinary time capsules taking us to other places and timse. Also, since this book is in English it will be used by people not necessarily familiar with Scandinavian customs or eating habits so this `extra' information is helpful.
We immediately made the Mint apricot and celery stuffed lamb (sans the potatoes and spinach since that would have required going to the grocery store.) It was wonderful. The Medeljer, spelt buns, cardamom buns and Jerusalem artichoke soup are the next recipes on the list. And I am thinking that next Sunday will be Braised stuffed pheasant with savory cabbage, gravy and potatoes. The pheasant gets wrapped in bacon and everyone knows - everything is better with bacon! Caramel potatoes are also on the list of we have to try it, if only to bring them into work to have everyone try them. I work at a potato processing plant; our R&D tech said that caramel potatoes just seemed wrong, which of course means that we have to try it.