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Cookbook review: 'Scandinavian Gatherings' provides delightful introduction to Nordic culture

Posted November 30

"SCANDINAVIAN GATHERINGS: From Afternoon Fika to Midsummer Feast — 70 Simple Recipes & Crafts for Everyday Celebrations," by Melissa Bahen, Sasquatch Books, $24.99, 231 pages

With any cookbook, it's easy to recognize how connected the author is with the recipes and how much love has gone into the project. For Melissa Bahen, who blogs as Lulu the Baker at luluthebaker.com, "Scandinavian Gatherings" is very obviously a passion project, one that takes the whimsy and joy of her Norwegian culture and places them on beautifully photographed pages for the world to recreate.

Bahen has provided not only recipes but also everything one would need to host a variety of Scandinavian-themed parties, from centerpiece crafts to linen recommendations.

"Scandinavian Gatherings" strikes a very difficult balance of making foreign cuisine accessible without dumbing down the recipes. While the recipes included are fairly authentic, they don't call for Nordic ingredients such as sea buckthorn or lovage. The aromas of cardamom, saffron and dill almost waft through the turning pages, but the sharp saline of freshly shucked oysters does not.

The recipes are simple to medium in their difficulty — a home baker won't be asked to laminate dough for Danishes — allowing anyone to safely try their hand at Old Nordic cuisine. The crafts are also very approachable and employ lush, natural elements as well as the bright, pastel colors and patterns typical to the region's culture.

Bahen's book is an absolute must-buy for Pinterest-inclined hosts with interest in the cultures of Norway, Sweden, Finland or Denmark.

***

Swedish Meatballs With Gravy

Swedish meatballs might be the most iconic Scandinavian meal in the world. They are sold at every summer Scandinavian folk festival, are served at Nordic community dinners all over North America and are as much a reason to go to Ikea as the affordable home goods. And they have all the hallmarks we expect from good comfort food: savory, rich and belly warming.

Makes: 3 dozen 1½-inch meatballs

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup finely minced onion (from about 1 small onion)

½ cup whole milk 


½ cup Panko bread crumbs


1½ pounds ground beef

½ pound ground pork


2 eggs


2 tablespoons flour


1½ teaspoons table salt

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice


Freshly ground black pepper 


For the gravy: 


2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup flour


4 cups low-sodium beef broth


¾ cup sour cream

Table salt and freshly ground black pepper

Finely chopped fresh parsley, for garnish 


Lingonberry jam

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onions and sauté them until soft and translucent, about
 5 minutes. Scoop the onions out, and set them on a small plate to cool.

3. In a large bowl, combine the milk and bread crumbs. Let it sit for 5 minutes.

4. Crumble the ground beef and pork into the bowl containing the milk and bread crumbs. Add the eggs, flour, salt, allspice, pepper to taste and the sautéed onions. Mix gently until the ingredients are evenly distributed.

5. Form the mixture into 1½-inch balls. Working in batches, in the skillet over medium heat, sauté the meatballs until they are browned on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Put the browned meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet.

6. When all of the meatballs are browned, put the baking sheet in the oven and bake until the meatballs are cooked through, about 10 minutes.

7. While the meatballs are baking, make the gravy. In the skillet used to brown the meatballs, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the beef broth, bring it to a simmer and cook until the mixture is thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the sour cream and cook for 8 to 10 minutes more. Add the salt and pepper to taste.

8. When the meatballs are done cooking, add them to the gravy, stir and serve topped with parsley and a dollop of lingonberry jam on the side.

— "Scandinavian Gatherings: From Afternoon Fika to Midsummer Feast — 70 Simple Recipes and Crafts for Everyday Celebrations," by Melissa Bahen; used by permission from Sasquatch Books

Jennifer Ball is a freelance journalist out of Los Angeles specializing in food criticism and LDS media.

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