A dinner inspired by spring, the weather, Scandinavian design, great quality ingredients and sharing ideas and recipes with great friend, food writer Mary Cadogan.
This spring is cold and wet and reminds me very much of the year we arrived in France from Sydney in 2013. We landed in May expecting balmy days and cool but pleasant evenings, but instead it was cold, wet and very grey. Not quite what we had expected but then not much one can do about the weather but get on and do what you love doing best – cooking, eating and sharing meals with friends.
For me inspiration comes from many different things. Travel, shared stories, design, colour, books and loads more. This menu came to Mary and I over a cup of tea (and one of Mary’s delicious ginger cakes) in her kitchen back in early 2014. We decided to collaborate on a Scandinavian inspired dinner and so together we set about creating a meal full of exciting flavours, colours and textures that we felt were all synonymous with the Scandinavian culture.
We start with an apero. Mary’s delicious red currant vodka served with my take on cured herrings. Steep red currants and sugar in a good quality vodka for 2 weeks, turn the bottle and gently shake every few days to help disperse the flavours. The resulting liqueur is vibrant red, slightly sweet and reassuringly warming.
Making the most of the terrific mini blinis so readily available in the supermarket I topped them with smoked herring, creme fraiche, shredded apple and poached quail’s eggs. I like the smoky richness of the fish and the eggs balanced with the freshness of the crisp apple.
The first course is one of my favourite ways of serving a young goat cheese like the Chabichou from the region. Lightly whipped with a little buttermilk and a good fruity extra virgin olive oil. I then serve it with homemade crisp breads flavoured with dill seeds or anise. The flavours combine well and the starter is light. I love the contrasting colours here too with nigella seeds and a touch of summer with nasturtium petals and a few salad leaves. It tastes as fresh as it looks.
For the main course we opted for a meat and a fish dish, either as a sharing course, or for those who have a preference for one or the other. Mary’s marinated salmon (barbecued on a cedar plank giving the fish a lovely deep smoky flavour) is served with pickled vegetables to offset the richness of the fish – it is a fabulous example of a well balanced dish.
Cooking on cedar planks is is actually an ancient way of cooking something that needs to be protected from the fierceness of the flames or heat, as in indirect grilling. The Finnish have loimulohi (blazing salmon) where the fish is nailed to a plank and cooked over coals and the North West coast American Indians used red cedar planks to cook pacific salmon on. Today you can buy varying sizes of cedar planks online or make your own. The wood is pre-soaked in water to prevent it from catching fire. It is fun and does add a light smokiness to the fish.
Spring heralds the arrival of young lambs born over winter and fed on the tender sweet grass shoots that give the meats it’s lovely flavour. Lamb works well with fruit and although fresh red currants are out of season, they are a fruit that freezes exceptionally well, even still on the stalk (as a stylist every summer I buy excess berries to keep in the freezer for any out of season photo shoots, pictured here). Here though the flavour in the dish comes from redcurrant jelly echoing the Scandinavian love of paring meat with fruit. A side of mesclun and radish salad and baby new potatoes in a dill dressing round of the dish perfectly.
Wheat berries are packed with fibre, protein and iron, so not only do they add a distinctive nutty flavour and texture to a dish, they are very healthy too. I love the pickled onion and dried cranberries here. The salad is sweet, tart and nutty all at once.
Queen of baking and desserts, Mary triumphed with two sensational desserts to round off a very wonderful meal. Swedish pancakes are smaller than their European and American counterparts. They are particularly light too and not dissimilar to the French crepe. The ice cream is incredibly simple (Lingonberry jam is available online or from Ikea and some specialist food shops).
The Norwegians call this cake The World’s Best Cake and they may well be right. A layer of sponge, covered in meringue with toasted almonds, filled with cream and berries – sounds pretty amazing and it is! And just when you thought that sounded good, it even has a tablespoon of vodka in the filling.
This is quite an involved meal so if it seems a daunting task pick and choose the dishes that inspire you the most. There should be something for everyone here. I hope we did Scandinavia proud, I know not everything is authentic but we made avery effort to be as true as we could to the cuisine of the Nordic countries whilst use those ingredients that we could find locally.
Smoked herring blinis
100 g smoked herring
12 quails eggs
1 tsp white wine vinegar
12 mini blinis
2 tbsp crème fraiche
a little watercress
extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle
Make the topping. Cut the herring into small bite size pieces and reserve. Very gently crack the quails eggs into small dishes. Poach the eggs in gently simmering water for about 1 minute until soft set. Remove with a slotted spoon and cool in cold water. Transfer to kitchen towel to dry and set aside.
Just before serving very finely julienne the apple and toss with the vinegar. Spread each blini with a little crème fraiche and top each one with a slice of herring, a poached egg and garnish each with the apple and watercress . Season with salt and pepper and serve drizzled with a little oil.
To make red current vodka
Layer 250g red currents and 175g caster sugar in a bottle and pour in 1 litre of vodka. Screw tight and leave to infuse for 2 weeks, gently turning and shaking the bottle from time to time.
Dill crisp breads with goat cheese
150 g soft goat cheese
3 tbsp buttermilk
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
a handful of nasturtium flowers (optional)
a sprinkling of nigella seeds
a few salad leaves
150 g plain flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp dill seeds or anise seeds
50 ml cold water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Make the crisp breads. Preheat the oven to 200c/fan-forced 180c and lightly oil 2 large baking trays. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a food processor and stir in the dill seeds. Add the water and oil and process until the ingredients just come together. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead dough into a ball.
Wrap in cling wrap and chill for 15 minutes. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a large thin rectangle about 2 mm thick. Cut into long thin triangles. Transfer to the prepared trays and bake for about 15 minutes until crisp and lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack.
Combine the cheese, buttermilk, oil and salt and pepper in a bowl until smooth. Spread on a plate and scatter over the nasturtium flowers, salad leaves and the nigella seeds. Drizzle with a little oil and serve with the crisp breads.
Plank barbecued salmon
You will need a thin cedar plank 30cm x 20cm for this recipe, these are available from specialist cookware stores or online.
800g salmon fillet, skin on
2 tbsp sea salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp white peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
large bunch dill
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 tsp each dijon and wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
100g crème fraiche
2 tbsp roughly chopped dill
Line a dish with cling film, large enough to take the salmon. Mix the salt and sugar. Crush the peppercorns and fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar or spice mill and stir into the sugar mix. Finely chop the dill stalks and reserve the fronds for later.
Sprinkle half the salt
mixture over the cling film, then scatter over half the dill stalks. Put the salmon on top and sprinkle with the remaining salt and dill stalks. Cover the fish tightly with cling film and put in the fridge overnight.
The next day, soak the cedar plank in water for 2 hours. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Combine the mustards, lemon juice and sugar in a bowl with a little salt. Stir in the crème fraiche and dill. Chill until required.
Unwrap the salmon and brush off most of the marinade, pat it dry with kitchen paper. Brush the salmon lightly with oil on all sides and place on the prepared planks, skin side down. Cook the salmon for 12-15 mins over hot coals or on a heated griddle pan, covered with a tent of foil, or the barbecue lid. Serve on the board scattered with dill sprigs with a bowl of sauce on the side.
Swedish pickled vegetables
400ml white wine or cider vinegar
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tsp white peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 tsp allspice berries
2 cinnamon sticks
250g baby carrots or carrot sticks
250g baby beetroots
1 head fennel
half a cucumber
Put the peppercorns, bay leaf, allspice and cinnamon stick into a large pan and dry roast the spices until they give off their perfume. Add the water, sugar, vinegar and onion and bring to the boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Peel and trim the carrots and trim the beets. Cut the fennel into wedges. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and have ready a large bowl of iced water. Cook the vegetables one type at a time, the beets for 15-20 minutes, the carrots and fennel for 5 minutes. As they are cooked scoop from the water and cool quickly in the iced water. Cut the cucumber into sticks and keep these raw.
When the vegetables are cool transfer to four jars and cover with the pickling liquid. Leave to marinade for 24 hours and eat within 3 days. To serve, drain off the pickling liquid and serve with the mustard cream (recipe above).
Roast glazed lamb with herb flowers and red currants
2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary with flowers
2 tbsp dried oregano flowers (or fresh from the garden)* available from specialist stores or online
1 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed
4 whole all spice berries, crushed
1.75 kg boneless leg of lamb, butterflied
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp red current jelly
mesclun, radish and hazelnut salad
3 handful mesclun leaves
6-8 radishes, very thinly sliced
50 g hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
a few red currants, optional
3 tbsp hazelnut oil
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp whole grain mustard
1 tsp clear honey
salt and pepper
Combine the rosemary, oregano flowers, crushed fennel and crushed allspice in a bowl and add some pepper. Place the lamb on a board and using a sharp knife score the flesh in a diagonal pattern all over. Brush with oil and rub the herb and spice mixture into the lamb, cover and leave to infuse overnight.
Preheat the oven to 230c/210c fan-forced. Arrange the lamb on a rack set over a roasting tin with 150ml cold water in the bottom of the pan. Combine the red currant glaze with a little salt and brush all over the top of the lamb. Transfer to the oven, immediately reduce the temperature to 190c/170c fan-forced and roast for 30 minutes until browned. Remove the lamb to a platter and wrap loosely in foil. Transfer the pan juices to a small saucepan, reducing slightly, if necessary and keep warm.
Just before serving, arrange the salad leaves in a bowl and scatter over the radishes, hazelnuts and a few red currants, if using. Blend together the oil, vinegar, mustard, honey and salt and pepper. Drizzle over the salad leaves and toss lightly. Slice lamb and drizzle over the pan juices. Serve with the salad.
Potato salad with dill salsa
1 kg baby new potatoes, scrubbed
1/2 bunch fresh dill
1/2 bunch fresh flat leaf parsley
150 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp caster sugar
2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
Scrub the potatoes and place in a large saucepan of lightly salted water. Bring to the boil and cook for 10-12 minutes until tender.
Meanwhile, place all the remaining ingredients in a food processor or blend and blend to form a smooth green sauce.
Strain the potatoes and return to the pan, add the pesto and stir well until coated. Serve with the lamb.
Wheat berry salad
300g wheat berries
1 red onion
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp rapeseed oil
100g dried cranberries
50g pistachios, roughly chopped
handful baby spinach leaves
Cook the wheat in plenty of boiling salted water for 25-30 minutes or follow pack timings, then drain well and leave to cool. Peel and thinly slice the onion and mix with the vinegar.
Add the cranberries and pistachios to the wheat berries and mix well. Pick the leaves from the mint and snip the chives, then stir in thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to the onion, then mix in the oil. Tip onto the wheat berries, add the spinach leaves and toss everything together until the berries are glistening.
Lingonberry and cardamom ice cream with Swedish pancakes
4 cardamom pods
400 ml double cream
400 g jar lingonberry preserve
3 large eggs
350 ml milk
150 g plain flour
50 g butter, melted
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
butter, for cooking the pancakes
icing sugar for dusting and clear honey for drizzling
raspberries to serve
Make the ice cream. Put a plastic food container into the freezer. Split the cardamom pods, remove the seeds and crush them to a powder in a pestle and mortar. Whip the cream to firm peaks.
Tip the lingonberry preserve into a bowl and fold in the cardamom cream. Transfer to the chilled container and freeze for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Make the pancakes. Mix the eggs with about ¼ of the milk in a food processor. Add the flour and process again until smooth. Add the remaining milk and all the ingredients and process briefly to mix. Pour into a jug.
Heat a knob of butter in a small pancake pan. Add a tablespoon of batter and cook until the edges turn brown, then flip and cook again briefly.
Keep warm while you make the remaining pancakes. Serve warm with lingonberry ice cream, a drizzle of honey and a light dusting of icing sugar.
Norwegian cloud cake
100 g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
100 g caster sugar
100 g softened butter
4 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk
4 egg whites
100 g caster sugar
100 g icing sugar
2 tbsp flaked almonds
500 g summer berries
1 tbsp icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
1 tbsp vodka, optional
300 ml double cream
1 sachet vanilla sugar
Heat the oven to 180C/fan 160C. Line two baking sheets with baking paper and draw a rectangle on each, 10cm x 22cm. Turn paper over and fix to the baking sheets with a little butter on the corners.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl, add the remaining cake ingredients and beat for 2-3 mins until light and fluffy. Spread half the mixture evenly over each rectangle.
To make the meringue, whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until it forms stiff peaks. Continue whisking while adding the sugars to make a stiff heavy meringue. Spread half the meringue over each cake mixture, spreading it over the edges to enclose it. Smooth one meringue flat and form swirls and peaks with the other. Sprinkle the almonds over the peaks.
Bake the cakes for 30 minutes until the meringue is golden and crisp. Leave to cool on the baking sheets.
Tip the berries into a bowl, halving any that are large and sprinkle with sugar and vodka if using. Stir well, then leave to macerate until the juices flow, about 1 hour.
To assemble the cake whip the cream with the vanilla sugar (or 1 tsp vanilla extract) to stiff peaks. Set a sieve over a bowl and strain in the berries, reserving the juices. Invert one flat meringue cake onto a wire rack, peel off the paper and put the cake on a platter, meringue side down. Spread with the cream and then cover with berries. Invert the other cake, peel off the paper and put on top of filling, meringue side up. Dust with icing sugar and serve cut into thick slices.