It may be a consequence of practicality ("Our forefathers used what was available to them in this cold and unforgiving land") and, by now, tradition ("But those are comfort foods; my grandma used to make them every Christmas!"); but it's a bum rap. The more that I prepare Scandinavian foods with my family each week, the more I discover a variety of interesting flavors that I didn't experience while growing up and eating the cooking of the Norwegians and Swedes of northwest ND. Yep, the palates of most of my relatives would never identify as "Scandinavian" what Suzanna and I served tonight for Scandinavian Saturday!
Suzanna lit the candles for ambiance.
These were the dishes that disproved the "bland" reputation, burning my family's tongues, slowing down their eating pace considerably, and increasing their milk consumption during the course of the meal.
Norwegian: Ost Suppe med Øl ["cheese soup with beer," our take on Wisconsin beer cheese soup]
We diced and sautéed onion, carrot, celery, parsnip, and garlic in oil and seasoned the vegetables with cayenne pepper, hot pepper sauce, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Then we added chicken stock and brought it a boil. We reduced it to a simmer and added beer. In another pot we melted butter and whisked in an equal amount of flour to brown. Then we whisked in whole milk and half-and-half and heated it until thickened. Then we added tons of grated cheese: Gruyère, sharp cheddar, and (for that Scandinavian touch) Jarlsberg [a mild Norwegian cheese similar to Swiss] and gjetost ["goat cheese," a brown and fudgy Norwegian cheese with a distinctive flavor]. We whisked the cheese mixture into the soup and added Dijon mustard, dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and more hot pepper sauce. We topped each individual serving with a handful of cheddar kettle corn. It was very good (and a good way to use up a block of leftover gjetost), but the girls noticed the cayenne and pepper sauce more than I did.
Norwegian: Brennende Kjærlighet ["burning love," which was so spicy that I understand now why it's called that!]
When we had brennende kjærlighet at Norwegian camp this past summer, it was not spicy at all. The cooks had made mashed potatoes in one pot and boiled ring sausage in another, then removed and cut up the sausage, and finally stirred the chunks of meat into the mashed potatoes to serve as one dish. An alternative way to serve brennende kjærlighet is not to stir the meat into the potatoes but to use the mashed potatoes as a base upon which to serve a spicy sausage mix, which is how Suzanna and I did it. Quite a difference from what we ate this summer!
Suzanna made standard mashed potatoes, cleaning and peeling and cutting the potatoes (which I then boiled and drained) and then using a hand mixer to whip them with cream, butter, salt, and pepper. I fried scallions and button mushrooms in butter and added chili powder, coriander, cumin, hot pepper sauce, lemon juice, chili pepper paste, and Fargo Shake (a "sweet and spicy" spice blend created for the eponymous ND city by Wayzata Bay Spice Company). After the mushrooms had released their moisture, I sprinkled in some potato starch to tighten the sauce and then added grated carrot and chopped smokey ring sausage.
The spice mix worked with the sausage to add the "burning" to "burning love," and our tongues were grateful for the bland potato base to counter the spiciness. My own mother's version of brennende kjærlighet (although she never called it that) would have been mashed potatoes with creamed corn used as a gravy over it and boiled ring sausage served on the side. And her spices? Salt and pepper added to the creamed corn at the table. So bold!
Norwegian: Stekte Epler med Kremfløte ["fried apples with whipped cream"]
Suzanna was the queen of prep work for tonight's meal, grating all the cheese that went into the soup, washing and chopping all the mushrooms, slicing the sausage, peeling and cutting the potatoes, and coring and chopping all the apples for dessert. At the grocery store we selected six different types of apples for a variety of skin colors from pink to red and pale green to lime. This afternoon Suzanna washed and chopped them and tossed them in the juice from a lemon and put them in the fridge. At the same time, I whipped some heavy cream, white sugar, and vanilla extract into a thick, glossy, decadent topping for our dessert. That, too, spent a few hours in the fridge.
After supper (while Susan and I waited for the girls to finish their spicy food), I fried the chopped apples in butter, adding brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom. Before taking the apples off the heat, I added a few shots of brandy. Each person then spooned the colorful apple mixture in its warm caramel sauce into his/her bowl and topped it off with a generous dollop of whipped cream. It was really delicious and, although spicy from the cinnamon and cardamom, certainly a cool-down for our tongues after the soup and sausage dishes.
I'm not generally so good at making just enough of something to last only one meal; there are always leftovers. So I'm not sure how we managed to have only one serving's worth of leftovers of the brennende kjærlighet after supper. We do, however, have a full gallon of ost suppe remaining if any of you, Faithful Readers, would like to swing by and sample it. (Maybe it should be called brennende ost suppe ["flaming cheese soup"] instead!)