Scandinavian Comfort Food
Embracing the Art of Hygge
by Trine Hahnemann
I have spent a lot of my holidays in Denmark, one of my best and oldest friends is Danish and the sister of the Danish Queen lives in my home town, so my connection to the country has been quite strong from when I was a teenager, but I have to admit, Scandinavian cuisine was never really on my radar and bright red pølser (sausages) are one of my earliest Danish food memories. Saying that, I had one of my most memorable fish meals in a little harbour restaurants in the town of Skagen, in the far North of Jutland. Herrings, done in three different ways – pickled, fried and baked. They were excellent.
Scandinavian cooking has become very popular (along with Scandi crime, both written and on TV) and the last few years have seen the opening of successful restaurants and bakeries.
Trine Hahnemann is one of the authorities on Scandianvian food, she cooks, writes and lectures on the subject around the world. Her latest book ‘Scandinavian Comfort Food’ is a beautifully illustrated book full of recipes that will take you from breakfast to dinner, Easter to Christmas, and it covers everything from soups and salads to bread baking and jam making. The recipes range from very easy to advanced, but the instructions are easy to follow and most of the ingredients are easy to come by.
I tried my hand on the ‘Rye Pancakes with Blueberries and Golden Syrup’, the rye flour gives the pancakes a much more robust flavour which I like, just like I prefer dark rye bread to white bread. This is going to become one of my staple weekend breakfast/brunch dishes. Next time I will try it with bacon and maple syrup.
On Friday I cooked the fishcakes from the book. I love the fact that the recipe doesn’t use potatoes as filler, they are made with fish, eggs, cream, dill, lemon, spring onions and just a small amount of flour to bind the ingredients together. The fishcakes, or fiskefrikadeller, to give them their proper Danish name, turned out beautifully, light and delicate, and they even tasted great cold the next day, making them an ideal candidate for picnics. In the book the recipe is paired with fried mint potatoes, a herb sauce and a cucumber salad. I decided to combine all three into a herby potato & cucumber salad, which worked really well.
I love a good meat loaf, so couldn’t resist to try out the recipe in the book. This one calls for a mix of chopped mushrooms and beef mince covered in bacon slices, making the loaf moist and just a little bit crumbly, just the way I like it. It’s also really quick to prepare and needs just 30 minutes in the oven, which also gets my vote. Trine pairs the meat loaf with small baked potatoes, but as I only had large ones at home, I quartered those and prepared them the same way with lemon, rosemary and garlic. She also recommends the Danish Raw Salad to go with it, but I made the Tomatoes with Goat Cheese Dressing, flavoured with fresh tarragon and served with croutons, which is really a summer dish, but I love tomatoes all year round. The meat loaf should be served with lingonberry sylt, a much beloved condiment in Scandinavia, but I had to substitute the lingonberries with fresh cranberries, their distant relative. I used less sugar than in the original recipe and added a bit of orange zest and freshly milled black pepper and was very pleased with the result.
My next projects from the book will be baking some of the breads, which look amazing and I am really keen on some of the jams and preserves, like the four ways of preparing rhubarb, which I love. I’ll let you know how I get on.
The book’s subtitle is ‘Embracing the Art of Hygge’ and I have to say hyggelig has always been my favourite Danish word, long before it became popular in the UK. I always associate it with the German word of ‘Gemütlichkeit’, which has a similar meaning, but doesn’t sound as much fun as hyggelig. Trine explains in the book at length what ‘hygge’ really means to Danes and it is so much more than sitting with a couple of candles, wrapped up in a blanket, in front of a roaring fire – it’s a way of life, deeply embedded in the Danish culture. Hygge means spending time with your friends and family, cooking, eating, drinking, laughing, whether in your dining room or at a picnic on the beach; being happy in that particular moment in time and enjoying the company you have. Also, having a home that feels lived in, welcoming and warm, is hyggelig.
In that sense I hope you all have a hygge time with your loved ones.