Cookbook Review: “Kitchen of Light”

Every once in a while you come across a cookbook that you feel you would like to live with exclusively for a few weeks, cooking obsessively through the mouth-watering recipes and discovering the full range of the author’s palate. For me, one of those cookbooks is Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas Viestad.

In this colorful book, Viestad, a Norwegian food writer and TV host, takes hungry readers on a culinary tour of Norway through his eyes. Viestad’s essays take readers to big cities like Bergen–which boasts northern Europe’s largest outdoor fish market (he also shares a recipe for the classic Bergen Fish Soup)–as well as to remote parts of the country that few of us will ever see. For example, as the host of American Public Television’s New Scandinavian Cooking, Viestad has had the opportunity to tape an episode in Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island well north of the mainland and less than 750 miles from the North Pole. He calls it “the last frontier,” and “one of the few remaining areas of totally unspoiled wilderness in Europe, even the world.” Not many of us will ever step foot on its snow- and ice-covered ground, but thanks to Viestad’s book we can get a taste of what it must have been like to be a trapper or hunter living on a chilly island, the “northernmost inhabited place in the world,” over a century ago; with his accompanying recipe for Svalbard Beet Soup with Goose Stock, we can imagine what it must have been like to eat a steaming bowlful of soup made with goose meat when the geese arrived in the spring.

What I love about this book–well, one of many things that I love–is how Viestad manages to modernize Scandinavian food while staying true to its roots. While you won’t find recipes for rømmegrøt, lefse, or many of the other dishes my grandparents would have cooked, you will occasionally find other traditional dishes, including Viestad’s lovely herb-scented Traditional Yellow Pea Soup (I recently featured the recipe here) and the classic dessert called Veiled Farm Girls. The recipes are based on ingredients commonly used in Norway, including cod and pollock and berries such as lingonberry.

While much traditional Scandinavian cuisine is hearty, such as porridge or lamb stews, and sometimes consists of preserved foods like lutefisk or gravlax, Viestad shows readers the fresh and seasonal side of how Norwegians eat, highlighting the sun-kissed berries ripened to perfection in the long summer days and the wild mushrooms found in late summer (I made his New Potatoes with Chanterelles and Dill a few years ago, and loved it).

It’s rare to find a Scandinavian cookbook published recently that doesn’t veer from the traditional and include recipes that look nothing like the Nordic food of days gone by–Kitchen of Light included. But Viestad includes notes throughout the book on how his recipes fit into Scandinavian cuisine. For example, accompanying his recipe for Slow-Baked Salmon with Soy Sauce and Ginger, he points out that soy sauce and ginger have been known in Norway for centuries but have recently been popularized by Asian influence on Scandinavian cuisine. However, I still have no idea how Viestad’s recipe for Broccoli with Capers, Garlic, and Anchovies, while delicious and full of flavor, relates to Scandinavian cuisine.

Kitchen of Light, is a lovely book that’s so much more than cookbook. Viestad’s essays on places and products–with beautiful photos by Mette Randem–will make you want to visit Norway and discover its food. If I haven’t sold you yet on checking out this book (I have no incentives to do so, other than wanting to share something delicious with you), let me offer a few recipe titles to entice you. Here is a sampling of what you’ll find in Kitchen of Light: Rosemary Cod with Vanilla-scented Mashed Rutabaga; Salt Cod with Peas, Mint, and Prosciutto; Mussels with Aquavit, Cream, and Tarragon; Juniper-Spiced Venison with Brown Goat Cheese Sauce; Onion Pie with Jarlsberg and Thyme; Summer Berries with Bay Leaf Custard; and Cloudberry Cream with Rosemary and Vanilla. Enjoy!

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Kitchen of Light from the publisher. However, I made no promises to give a positive review, and am sharing my honest opinions of this book.

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Another way of enjoying sun-ripened fruit in the fall and winter

I’ve been hearing a lot about canning lately. I’ve never done it, and, honestly, it seems a bit daunting to me. Those bacteria to worry about, the process, etc. But this summer, I did preserve some fruit–the flavor, at least–in alcohol. That counts, doesn’t it?

DSCN1500There’s nothing like freshly-picked, sun-ripened raspberries. As a child, after I had picked raspberries at Grandma H.’s, I would get a bowl of raspberries sprinkled with sugar and doused in milk. What a delightful treat for a child! My other grandma used to give my family lots of her homemade raspberry jam. She grew raspberries, gooseberries and tomatoes in her backyard. Apparently both grandmas were on to fresh, local produce way before I was even aware of the concept!

The week after Grandma D. passed away in July, I found myself trying to soak up as much as I could of Scandinavian life and culture. I visited a Scandinavian food and gift store, the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, tried to find a Norwegian perfume I knew about, etc.  Scandinavian cookbooks, in particular, caught my eye, and I bought Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit.  That same month I picked raspberries from my garden and turned them into berry aquavit, the recipe for which I had seen in Samuelsson’s book.

If you haven’t taken a look at Aquavit before, please do. It’s a beautiful, hardcover cookbook with nearly 300 pages of recipes, beautiful photographs, and more. I still have yet to try most of the recipes, but someone I know says the Swedish meatballs and garlic mashed potatoes are wonderful. She also ate at Aquavit in New York city, and says it’s the best meal she’s ever had. I want to experience a meal there for myself. In the meantime, I have more recipes than I have time to make them. Plus, the aquavit is delicious, and a happy reminder of summer days past.

Glimpses of Norwegian culture, one recipe at a time

We’re having a lazy afternoon, the cat and I, hanging out on the couch on this hot late-summer day. The sun has been magnifying its heat through the westward facing window in the living room, and although I’m home sick while my family’s enjoying an outing on the lake, this is a nice way to spend one of the last summer days of the year.


I just picked up a bunch of Scandinavian cookbooks from the library and am perusing them for Norwegian recipes I might like to make sometime.

You’ll probably start to notice soon that I’ll be writing a lot about Scandinavian food. As I’m exploring my Norwegian heritage, the cuisine of Norway–and Scandinavian in general–is of particular interest to me. One can get a lot of perspective from the food of a particular time or place, and I’m enjoying getting to know this part of Scandinavian culture better.

Growing up in a Norwegian family, I spent many holidays at my grandparents’ house, eating food traditionally seen on tables in Norway during Christmastime. Sadly to say, I didn’t appreciate it fully while I was growing up. But when I went to Norway last summer for the first time, and was able to put my grandparents’ holiday meals in perspective, I realized how truly special it was to have had that opportunity.

Well, that’s it for now. Back to the recipes!