Cooking Up the Past

In the years since I started Outside Oslo, I’ve taken not only to cooking Scandinavian food in general but also to preparing some of my family’s old recipes. When it comes to learning about my family’s history, genealogy seems a bit daunting, at least at the moment, but preserving memories and history through food just requires some enjoyable time spent in the kitchen. I wrote about my experience in my latest column in the Norwegian American Weekly, and included a recipe for Grandma Agny’s Bryte Havrekaka (oatmeal cookies).

Grandma Agny–my dad’s mom–gave few recipes to us. Among those I wish I had are her raspberry jam, various cookie recipes–including the one I’m documenting the search for here–and rice pudding. I have found a few recipes, however, in an old church cookbook, including one for Bryte Havrekaka. With just four ingredients–oatmeal, sugar, butter, and an egg–these cookies are much different from the chewier, denser American oatmeal cookies. These are at once decadent and delicate, with the flavors of the oats and the butter being allowed to shine. Click over to the Weekly for the story and recipe!

Cod in mustard sauce with pickled beets

When it comes to special events, what menu items come to mind? Dry-aged steak grilled to perfection? Truffles? Foie grasor another rich and fancy hors d’oeuvres? I’m guessing that cod, beets, bacon, and eggs don’t make the list. Don’t be deceived, however; this meal I’m about to share with you is something remarkable.

The other day I was looking for something to serve for dinner. We were having my father-in-law over while my mother-in-law was out of town. Cod was going to be the centerpiece of the meal, but I needed to come up with the rest of the menu. Flipping through a Scandinavian cookbook, I found a recipe for “Cod with mustard sauce and condiments.” On the page next to it was a beautiful spread of five distinct food items arranged artfully on a plain white plate: cod with a pale mustard-dotted sauce, fingerling potatoes, half of a medium-boiled egg, pickled beets, and crispy diced bacon. I decided to give it a try, swapping out the original pickled beets, which required a week of marinating, with a quick version that could be made the same evening, and adding some sautéed beet greens.

The recipes are simplicity at its best, with each item prepared simply and allowed to shine. The dinner is a composition of Scandinavian flavors that lend themselves perfectly to the hospitality that corner of the world has so perfected.

Everyone loved the meal, especially my Scandinavian-born father-in-law. I’ll be keeping this recipe around for the future.

Cod with Mustard Sauce and Condiments
Adapted from The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann

This recipe, as detailed below, will serve four people, with leftover beets, potatoes, and mustard sauce. Feel free to increase the quantity of fish as needed to serve more people.

24 oz cod fillets
Salt and pepper
1 bag fingerling potatoes, boiled in salted water until tender, and kept warm until ready to serve
4 medium-boiled eggs, peeled and cut in half (these can be prepared in advance and served cold or room temperature)
4 slices thick-cut bacon, preferably uncured, diced and pan-fried until crispy
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
Quick pickled beets (recipe follows)
Sautéed beet greens (recipe follows)

Prepare all condiments except mustard sauce in advance.

Season the cod with salt and pepper and poach in a large pan with water until just cooked through. Reserve 1 3/4 cups of the water, then cover the cod to keep warm until ready to serve.

To make the mustard sauce, melt butter over low heat in a small pan. Add the flour and stir constantly until it’s incorporated and forms a smooth paste. Gradually add the reserved cooking liquid from the cod, stirring constantly and making sure that no lumps form. When you have a smooth liquid, add the cream and mustard and continue to stir until the sauce starts to reach a boil. Remove from heat and taste to see if it needs any salt or pepper–this will depend on how seasoned the reserved water from the cod was.

To serve, arrange all the condiments on a plate around the cod as shown in the photo above, and spoon the sauce over the cod.

Quick Pickled Beets
6 medium-large beets, greens reserved for the following recipe
2 cups red wine vinegar
2 medium red onions, cut into halves and sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
3 star anise
10 peppercorns

Trim the beets by cutting off the stems, but make sure to leave the thin stem and the very end of the stalks–these will help seal in the nutrients when cooking. Cook the beats in a pressure cooker, according to the cooker’s instructions. (Mine says to place beets on the trivet with a half cup of water in the pressure cooker and bring to a boil, then add lid and cook at the second red line for 13 to 16 minutes. Cool using the quick release or cold water method.) When the beets are cooked, set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the brine. Put the red wine vinegar, onions, sugar, star anise, and peppercorns in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the onions have softened slightly, about 6-7 minutes.

When the beets are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and the very end of the stalks. The skins will come off very easily–just hold the beet in one hand and lightly pull the skin off with the other hand. Cut each beet in half lengthwise and then into 1/4-inch slices.

Place beets in a bowl, and pour the onions and brine over them and stir. Allow to marinate for at least a half an hour. These should keep for about a week.

Sautéed Beet Greens
Beet greens (use the greens from the pickled beets)
Olive oil
1 clove garlic

Heat olive oil in a pan and add garlic, sautéing briefly, then add beet greens and cook until tender.

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The return of Scandinavian food, and a traditional yellow pea soup

When it comes to comfort food, one needs to look no further than Scandinavia for inspiration, with its array of root vegetables, meat stews, cured and pickled fish, and soups such as the traditional yellow pea soup. Yet despite its warm culinary traditions, Scandinavian food is much less common among restauranteurs in America than the more popular cuisines of France, Mexico, China, and the like.


Mazarin Torte

Even in Seattle, which boasts a rich Nordic heritage, the presence of Scandinavian-related businesses has thinned in recent years. However, the food of that region will hopefully make a comeback in 2012.

Scandinavian cuisine is projected to be one of the top ten food trends of 2012, according to The Telegraph. Plus, in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, a couple of restauranteurs are opening a restaurant called Queen of Norway this winter. Before that, the neighborhood’s Copper Gate bar declared itself “Seattle’s only surviving Scandinavian restaurant and lounge,” though one could also get coffee and a pastry at Larsen’s Danish Bakery up the street or smørrebrød (open sandwiches), lefse, and other items at the cafe inside Scandinavian Specialties, less than a mile away.


I had the opportunity of picking up Grandma D. some years ago and bringing her to Scandinavian Specialties for lunch. I wish I remembered more about that visit, and that I had done that with her more often. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember reading about my regrets about not asking Grandma to share some of her stories–stories about her youth, what it was like to live in Norway during the Norwegian resistance movement in World War 2, her experience as an immigrant coming to the United States in 1956.  I’m now determined to capture whatever family memories I can, and as food is such a great connector, my mom and I are putting together a book of family recipes and stories. I have dreams of publishing a cookbook someday–a gorgeous photo-heavy book that weaves together food with the memories that surround it–but in the meantime the important thing is preserving my family’s history and recipes. What a fun project to work on with my mom!

I also brought my other grandma to Scandinavian Specialties a while back, and it was there that I learned–after all these years–that she grew up speaking Norwegian and learned English as a schoolgirl. Grandma H. lived in North Dakota at the time, and to this day has never traveled to Norway, so it surprised me that Norwegian was her first language. It’s amazing what stories are there within our loved ones’ lives, just waiting to be uncovered!

I believe it was during that visit that we had a cup of yellow pea soup, which is traditionally served on Thursdays in Sweden and Finland. Grandma H. enjoyed that soup so much that when I saw a recipe for traditional yellow pea soup in a review copy I had just received for Kitchen of Light: The New Scandinavian Cooking by Andreas Viestad, I decided to make a batch and share it with her. It’s a big deal making a traditional dish for a veteran cook who knows all about the cuisine, so when Grandma approved, I knew this recipe was one to keep around.

Traditional Yellow Pea Soup
Adapted from
Kitchen of Light: The New Scandinavian Cooking

This soup, served hot with a dollop of sour cream, truly is comfort food, with its thick, porridge-like texture and hearty flavor–think split pea soup with a Scandinavian twist.

10 ounces dried yellow peas, soaked in cold water overnight and drained
2 thick slices of bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
6 cups low-sodium beef stock, plus more, if needed, to thin soup
1/3 cup finely chopped celeriac
1/4 cup fimely chopped leek (white and pale green parts)
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped thyme, sage, or rosemary (optional)
Sour cream for serving

Fry the bacon in a pot until it turns golden and somewhat crispy. (The original recipe calls for frying the bacon in a tablespoon of butter, which just seems excessive. I followed the instructions, but in hindsight should have omitted the butter.) Add the chopped onion and sauté until it starts to turn golden as well. Add the yellow peas, 6 cups of beef stock, celeriac, leek, rosemary sprig and bay leaf. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce heat, allowing it to simmer for about an hour. This step is complete when the peas are soft and starting to break apart. Give it a good stir to further dissolve the peas, and add more stock if necessary to thin the soup to your desired consistency. It should be the thickness of split pea soup. Remove the bay leaf and rosemary sprig, adding chopped herbs if desired. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and serve with sour cream.

Serves 4.

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Outside Oslo: A Scandinavian food blog

It’s a new month, and a new season for Outside Oslo. After a four-month hiatus, I started writing again last weekend, and I’m back with a renewed focus. I’ve been doing some thinking about Outside Oslo and what it’s really all about. To put it simply, it’s a Scandinavian food blog. When I started it back in September 2009, that’s really what I wanted to make it, but I just wasn’t brave enough to call it what it was. For one, there were already so many food blogs out there–excellent ones, I must add–so why should I think I could start one that people would want to read? Plus, I wanted to explore my Norwegian heritage, and was scared to limit myself to one category too much. But even as I wrote about my Norwegian heritage, I ended up doing most of it in the context of food. So from here on out, I’m calling it what it is: a Scandinavian-inspired food blog.

To kick off a new chapter in Outside Oslo, here’s a look back at a few of my favorite Scandinavian recipes since 2009. Check back again soon for more!

Tosca Cake

Coconut Cookies

Swedish Brandy Cake

Please remember to check back on Monday morning for a recipe for mazarin torte, or subscribe using the tab on the right to get notices of future posts delivered to your inbox!

Inspiration & asparagus

As I mentioned the other day, my head and notebook are brimming with inspiration for all sorts of things to cook this spring and summer. Just one and a half weeks in Europe will do that to one with a penchant for good food.

One of the great meals my husband and I enjoyed was at Hotel Collin in Bastogne. Having heard about the wonderful asparagus in season in Europe, the specials on the menu caught our eyes. I ordered escalope de veau aux asperges and he had asperges aux deux jambons. The thick, tender white asparagus was beautiful and had the most delightful texture.

While delicious, the green asparagus I picked up at the grocery store the other day doesn’t even close to what we had that afternoon. Plus, this recipe only reflects part of the asparagus dish my husband ordered. But trust me, if you haven’t already tried the delicious combination of asparagus with prosciutto, you’re in for a treat.

Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto
This is hardly a recipe; I won’t even bother with quantities. But it’s delicious.

Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Prosciutto, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus by holding the stalk near the end in your left hand and bending it, allowing it to break where it wants to. In a baking dish, drizzle olive oil over the asparagus and sprinkle with kosher salt, then roll the asparagus around to coat.

Roast until asparagus are tender, about 15 minutes. Once cool, wrap asparagus with prosciutto, allowing three to four stalks of asparagus per slice, depending on how thick they are.

Missing cooking

I love being on vacation–who doesn’t, right? To be honest, a week and a half hardly seemed like enough time. But as we were nearing the end of the trip I realized I missed cooking. Cooking of all things! Never mind the cat, the beautiful Seattle landscape, or all the other wonderful things about home.

Yes, I missed cooking–whether it were being able to flip through a cookbook and try a new recipe or bake a cake on a whim. Not enough to want to come home. But still.

My husband and I had some great food in Europe, and while I’m still processing the trip–all the things we saw, experiences we had, and food we ate–here are some of the culinary highlights. This list hardly encompasses all the delicious dishes we enjoyed, but it’s a snapshot.

  • sandwich au thon (baguette with tuna, hard-boiled egg, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise) with a tarte aux fraises and a soft drink from a boulangerie in Sainte-Mère-Église. The entire lunch was only €5–for both of us–and was one of the most satisfying meals of the trip. (The church in the picture to the right is where an American paratrooper got caught on a spire on D-Day. You can see the memorial on the right. We ate lunch on a bench in the sunny plaza outside.)
  • breakfast at the hotel in Bastogne. Any breakfast that includes smoked salmon, prosciutto, coffee and champagne–yes champagne–is a winner to me.
  • cheesecake and cappuccino at Soluna Brot und Öl in Berlin. For breakfast. I can’t tell you how smooth and delectable that cheesecake tasted. After reading what David Lebovitz had to say about Berlin recently, I had to experience for myself the cheesecake, or käsekuchen, that the city has to offer. Now I want to track down some quark and try to recreate the wonder. The pain de campagne, salami, and cheese we took with us for lunch were excellent too. I wish this bakery were in Seattle.
  • steak-frites in Paris to celebrate the end of a wonderful trip. Le Relais de l’Entrecôte is excellent. Trust me. Just look at the steak in that delicious, buttery sauce, and the mound of frites big enough to conceal the steak on my plate in the background.

After a week of being home, the jet lag is gone, I’ve gone back to work, and life has returned to normal. But having chronicled virtually every meal and snack we had while in Europe, I have plenty of inspiration for what to cook this summer. In the meantime, I’d like to share one of my favorite recipes, a staple I turned to the other day upon needing a trusty side to bring to a family dinner. This chickpea and feta salad is extremely easy, but it does require some time to chop and prep all the ingredients. So remember one thing: mise en place. Once you’ve prepped everything, it’ll come together quickly.

Chickpea and feta salad
Adapted from Falling Cloudberries

2 (14 or 15 ounce) cans chickpeas
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for dressing
1 large red onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, pressed
1 serrano chili (1 jalapeño would work, too), seeded and finely chopped
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
4 scallions, chopped (white and light green parts only)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
freshly ground black pepper

Make sure all ingredients are prepped. Sauté onion gently in 3 tablespoons olive oil until cooked through, then add garlic and chili and cook briefly to take the edge off the flavors. Let cool.

Meanwhile, toss the chickpeas, feta, scallion, cilantro, parsley, and lemon juice in a large bowl and season with pepper, to taste. When the onion and olive oil have cooled, mix it in and add enough additional olive oil to moisten.

Serves 6.

Your signature dish

What’s your signature dish? That recipe you pull out when you’re having company or need something to bring to a dinner party?

A pumpkin pie with the perfect crust? Steak frites to rival the best in Paris? Or maybe the best curry outside of India? It may be as simple as perfectly grilled salmon or as complex as Oaxacan black mole, but whatever it is, you know it’s going to shine.

For me, it’s a tarte Tatin. (Molly of Orangette has a fantastic, virtually fool-proof recipe. In fact, I’m making it for Thanksgiving!)

For Grandma H., that signature dish is lefse. She may have another opinion, but she can’t argue about her reputation as a master lefse baker!


Lefse is a Norwegian flatbread that resembles a tortilla, but is made with potatoes. It’s often served with butter and sugar, and is sometimes used as a wrap for pølse, a type of sausage similar to a hot dog.


Grandma had been wanting to teach me how to make lefse for quite a while, and although she had given me a lesson in rolling the dough before, this month we did the whole process together for the first time, from making the dough to finishing the lefse. (Though one could probably make it in one day, it’s really helpful to split it into two.)


By the end of the second day, we had about three dozen of these delicious treats, and had consumed a number of them in the process. (Did I tell you how wonderful they are hot off the griddle with butter and sugar?)


Most of them are tucked away in the freezer now, waiting for the perfect opportunities to serve them. I’m thinking of pulling some out for Thanksgiving, and I’ve already promised my book club that I’ll save some for our meeting in a few weeks.


In any case, the thing that makes baking lefse the most special to me is the time spent with loved ones. Grandma, Mom, and I had a great time making lefse together earlier this month, and I hope we can do it together again soon.

Good books and good food

I love to read. I’ve been keeping most of the books I’ve read this year stacked side by side in my bookcase, and the distance between the beginning of the first one and the end of the last one make me happy. I know, it probably sounds silly, but seeing how many great books I’ve gotten to read this year gives me a sense of satisfaction.

I also love to cook. And eat. Well, honestly, the normal night of cooking—when it’s just done as a necessary step toward having something to eat—can get old sometimes. But I love those nights when I can cook something special and maybe a little more complex because I have the time and that’s how I’m choosing to spend it.

That said, I’ve come to enjoy reading blogs, particularly food blogs—a natural connection, right? And since starting Outside Oslo, I’ve found some food blogs from Scandinavia that I enjoy, and I’d like to share them with you here:

The Transplanted Baker
A Cat in the Kitchen
Anne’s Food

If you know of any other Scandinavian food blogs you enjoy reading, please let me know; I’d love to check them out!