Sunday, August 09, 2009

The White Meal

"White on white" was the theme for this meal . . . yes, it tasted as exciting as it sounds.

That photo is a mere foretaste of the feast to come. But first: some words about the daughters.

They've been s' social this weekend! After swimming at the Community Center Thursday, the girls waited in the lobby for me to finish my shower and come out of the locker room. I found Suzanna seated next to Andrea, a friend with whom she wanted to spend the night. On the telephone later that night, though, Andrea reported that she had since learned from her parents about a planned weekend outing at the lake, so that put the kibosh on a sleepover. For Suzanna, at least.

On Friday Hillary's friend Lexi phoned to invite Hillary over to spend the night. Then Abigail's friend Cailie phoned to invite Abigail to spend the night. So Suzanna had a quiet Friday evening at home with her parents, but then on Saturday her friend Sheena phoned to invite Suzanna over to play in the afternoon. Suzanna rode her bike over there and, a short while later, Sheena's little brother Reese phoned to invite Hillary over to play with him. Sheena and Reese's dad picked up Hillary while Abigail spend a quiet Saturday afternoon at home with her parents, and then Hillary and Suzanna came home together (Hillary on foot, Suzanna on her bike).

Got all that?

Besides Sheena and Reese's dad, Susan did most of the hauling to and fro; but Suzanna and I did pick up Abigail from Cailie's yesterday, and then I took them both grocery shopping for last night's Scandinavian Saturday meal. It was Susan's turn in the rotation to be my cooking partner, and she agreed to my proposal: to cook an all-white meal.

That's what often comes to mind anyway when people think of Scandinavian cuisine: bland colors (mostly white, except for the browns of bread, coffee, and cooked meat and the faded-by-boiling colors of cooked vegetables) and a bland palate (although salt is usually paired with its spicy partner: ground black pepper!!). It suits the stereotype of the Nordic appearance: pale skin, light eyes, blond hair.

Now, just as there are brunettes and people of all skin colors in Northern Europe, there are also some fantastic flavors in Scandinavian food. But for last night's supper, I was inspired by a few recipes that seemed to perpetuate the stereotype, and Susan played along.

røkesild ["red herring" or kippers]

Susan has been told that, as a wee tyke accompanying her parents to the grocery store, she used to request kippers as a snack (whereas most children might ask for a cookie or a candy bar). She doesn't remember that, but I thought we'd have kippers for an appetizer in honor of Susan's being my co-chef last night. Kippers are salted, cold-smoked herring that have been cleaned and canned. Susan removed them from their tin and served them on whole-wheat crackers. Tasty! (The brown tones don't strictly adhere to the white theme--but brown is about as exciting a food color as white, so we went with it.)

main course
blomkål med reker ["cauliflower with shrimp"]
torsk i fløtesaus ["cod in cream sauce"]

Susan cleaned and steamed the cauliflower while I cleaned and chopped the shrimp. Then I made the sauce, which consisted of such bold flavors as flour and butter, cream and vegetable stock, and salt and white pepper. This dish could have been even whiter had I boiled the pink out of the shrimp and used fish stock instead of vegetable stock (fish stock is not available in our grocery stores, and I wasn't about to make it from scratch--get real!). But I love that the recipe itself called for white pepper--wouldn't want diners to be shocked by the presence of black flecks in their creamed cauliflower!

The cod recipe called for the fish to be poached and then covered in what amounted to a Béchamel sauce. Susan microwaved the cod instead and then set to work on the sauce, which required lots of stirring until brought to a slow boil. The sauce ingredients even sound "white": butter, flour, oil, white wine, white onion, milk, white pepper, and salt. The non-white ingredients were nutmeg and "a very small dash of cayenne pepper" (I love the sense of caution that tempers the addition of such a daring ingredient!). The recipe suggested giving the sauce "extra zip" by adding chopped green onion or chives (both of them quite bold flavors, no?), so that explains the vibrant green floating atop the bowl of otherwise white cream sauce. The cod is in there, too . . . it's just submerged beneath an ocean of sauce. The recipe made approximately 37 times the amount of sauce necessary for the portion of fish that it was meant to accompany.

This photo will allow you to appreciate the sight of the grayish-white cod in its cream sauce, the white cauliflower in its pale sauce, and the brown kippers and crackers, all on a white plate, of course:

The only real stand-out flavor in the meal came from the smoky kippers. Everything else had flavors that were, shall we say, on the "subtle" side. The fish was good, and the wine and onions were distinct flavors in the sauce. The cauliflower was fine, and the shrimp tasted like shrimp. And it was all predominantly white, so let's call it a success.

sandbakkeler med honningost ["sandbakkels with honey cheese"]

Next Saturday, August 15, our family will participate as Sons of Norway members in the Northern Plains Heritage Festival (called the "Northern Plains Ethnic Festival" by the local newspaper--hmmm). Members of our local Sons of Norway lodge have been asked to bake and bring either sandbakkeler or krumkaker to be sold at a booth of Scandinavian treats. A krumkake ["curved cake"] is a thin cookie made in a hot specialty iron (that presses a delicate design into it) and then rolled up onto a dowel to cool into something that resembles a waffle cone. Recipes vary, but butter, white sugar, eggs, flour, cream, vanilla extract, salt, and cardamom are typical ingredients. Time-consuming but not difficult to make so long as you have the requisite krumkake iron, which we don't.

A sandbakkel ["sand tart"] is a thicker cookie pressed into a fluted tin to come out, once baked, as a star or diamond or any number of other shapes. Again, recipes vary, but it's essentially a buttery sugar cookie with almond flavoring (either almond extract or almond flour), although sometimes I've had sandbakkeler with cardamom in them. Again, time-consuming but not a difficult cookie to make so long as you have a set of sandbakkel tins, which we don't.

However, another member of our Sons of Norway lodge offered to lend Susan some of her own multiple sets of sandbakkel tins! So yesterday morning Susan and Suzanna baked about six dozen sandbakkeler--and they turned out just like my grandmothers' and my mom's used to. Susan set aside several to serve as last night's dessert.

A sandbakkel is not frosted or powdered with sugar or decorated with sprinkles or any such thing; and, although it is cup-shaped, it is not filled with anything, either. It's just served plain with black coffee (which, in many Scandinavian-American homes--and certainly in most Lutheran churches in this region--amounts to brown hot water with just a hint of coffee flavor). But I had to jazz things up while still retaining the whiteness of the overall meal. I made a filling by whipping together mascarpone, honey, vanilla extract, cream, and white sugar and added a dollop to each sandbakkel. I made coffee for Susan and me (using an appropriate amount of grounds--my coffee tastes like coffee, thank you very much) but whitened it by adding Irish cream to each cup.

Should we ever wish to repeat the "White Meal" theme for a future Scandinavian Saturday, I'm certain that we could find numerous other options from the cookbooks of my Norse ancestors (and the abundant resources of the Interwebs). But, as expected, last night's supper wasn't bursting with flavor--and we're a family who enjoys a flavorful meal. Still, it was an interesting chapter in our weekly ethnic food experiment. And next Saturday (as mentioned above): The ethnic/heritage festival! Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. I also appreciated the fact that all of the recipes were basically easy! The most "difficult" thing to do was get the cookie dough into the tins, and that was more "tedious" than actually difficult.