31 October 2010

"Knask Eller Knep" (Trick or Treat)

Halloween is a relatively new phenomenon in Norway. It was almost unheard of to celebrate All Hallows' Eve here until probably the late 90s. But it has rapidly caught on as a tradition and it's now quite common (at least in Oslo) to see groups of kids going door-to-door saying "knask eller knep", and shops are full of pumpkins and all things orange and black at this time of year. Not everyone seems to quite understand the tradition, though, as you'll often see kids trick-or-treating a few days either side of Halloween itself; close but no (chocolate) cigar.

Like it or loathe it, when you have kids in the house, Halloween can serve as useful entertainment for their hyperactive little minds. The eldest Nibbler girl will soon be four-years-old so she's at the age where this sort of thing appeals immensely. I can just imagine the thought process and the startling realisation of the implications of this day: "You mean all I have to do is ask for sweets? And then people give me some." I am really thinking of getting her into a 12-step programme for sugar addiction.

So, this year we kept our lights on and actually answered the incessant buzzing of the doorbell for once. It's for the kids, innit. For our first Halloween proper in Norway I decided to make cupcakes. I've had a craving for these things since seeing the glorious cupcakes at Sprinkles in Chicago this summer. I bought some food colouring, hoping to make the icing in lurid, unnatural colours. However, it didn't quite turn out as I hoped for, and instead I ended up with pastel shades of green and yellow. Oh well, they still tasted good.

Ingredients (makes 18 cupcakes)
  • 250g unsalted butter, softened a touch
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
For the icing:
  • 200g unsalted butter, softened a touch
  • 400g icing sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • a few drops food colouring (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 170°C (fan oven 150°C)
  2. Line cupcake tray with paper muffin cases
  3. Mix together all cupcake ingredients in an electric mixer until light and fluffy
  4. Spoon mixture into muffin cases and bake in oven for 20 minutes
  5. Let cool slightly in the tin then place on wire rack to cool
  6. To make the icing beat the butter and a third of the sugar in a mixer
  7. Add the next third of the sugar along with a tablespoon of milk and the vanilla extract
  8. Add the final third of the sugar and another tablespoon of milk, adding more milk if needed, and continue to beat until smooth
  9. If using, add the food colouring until you have the right shade of colour
  10. When the cupcakes are cool, pipe the icing on the cupcakes

26 October 2010

Tagliatelle with Mussels from Snadder & Snaskum

I am Nordic Nibbler and I am a cookbookaholic. There, I've said it. Rarely can I browse Amazon without falling spectacularly off the wagon, and I am now on first name terms with the UPS guy. Does anyone else get that giddy sense of excitement as you carefully prise open the cardboard box, guffaw at the mildly ridiculous air-filled plastic packing pillows, and then smile at the heady scent of freshly printed books? No? Maybe it's just me then.

One of my latest purchases was Theo Randall's fantastic book, Pasta. For those that don't know, Randall shot to prominence as head chef of the legendary River Café in London's Hammersmith where he worked for 17 years. This iconic restaurant has probably done more to introduce sublime Italian home cooking to the UK than any other. Its alumni include Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and April Bloomfield (of Spotted Pig fame), and it is still seen as the benchmark for Italian cooking in the UK. In 2006 Randall set up his own restaurant at the rather anonymous Intercontinental Hotel in London's Park Lane, where you can taste his food today.

As its name suggests, the book is an ode to pasta, comprising of over a hundred recipes for dried and fresh pasta. The book is divided by main ingredients: seafood, meat, cheese, mushrooms, etc. It's a very accessible and easy-reading book and is packed with useful tips on preparing and cooking pasta.

Given that I had just bought some mussels, a recipe that stood out for me was one for tagliatelle with mussels and saffron. This is an amazingly simple dish to make but, as always with simple dishes, the key is to use the very best quality ingredients you can get your hands on. If you like, you can make your own fresh pasta, but I don't think it's necessary here - I love the al dente chewiness and bounce of dried pasta, and my favourite brand is De Cecco.

The star of this dish, though, is the mussels, and here I'm using something rather special: Norwegian mussels from the fantastically named Snadder & Snaskum which are farmed in the Verrasundet Fjord, not far from the West Coast town of Trondheim. I first came across these at my local fishmonger and then again at the recent Matstreif Food Festival in Oslo. They are quite simply some of the best mussels I have every tasted. They look so beautiful - vibrant, iridescent blue shells, like glistening lapis lazuli gemstones. They have won awards as Norway's best mussels and I can clearly see why. The cold, salt water currents of the Verrasundet Fjord provide ideal growing conditions for mussels. The result is a mussel with plump, soft meat that has a sweet and slightly salty taste to it. They are just superb specimens, and real showcase for the quality of seafood Norway has to offer.

The combination of wine, cream, saffron and shellfish is always a winner, and this dish is no exception. This recipe would make a perfect light lunch, or late supper. It would also be ideal in smaller portions as a starter.

Ingredients (serves 4)
  • 1kg fresh mussels
  • 250g tagliatelle (fresh or dried)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • a pinch of dried chili flakes
  • a glass of dry white wine
  • a pinch of saffron strands
  • 1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 75ml double cream
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Scrub the mussels and remove the frilly 'beards', discarding any mussels that don't close when lightly tapped
  2. Put the oil, garlic, and chili into a large sauce pan and cook for 1 minute
  3. Turn the heat up and add the mussels and cover with a tight fitting lid
  4. Cook the mussels for 2 minutes then remove the lid and add the white wine
  5. Cover and cook for another 2-3 minutes until the mussels have opened
  6. Drain the mussels, keeping the cooking liquid, and remove from their shells, discarding any closed mussels
  7. Cook the tagliatelle in plenty of boiling salted water until 'al dente'
  8. While the pasta is cooking, put the cooking liquid from the mussels, saffron, and cream into a saucepan and simmer gently for 3 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly
  9. Add the mussels and parsley to the sauce and warm through for a few seconds, taste and adjust the seasoning 
  10. Drain the tagliatelle and toss the pasta in the sauce (you can add a few spoonfuls of the cooking water from the pasta to loosen the sauce if needed)
  11. Serve in warmed bowls, perhaps with a glass of wine - anything cold and white would be appropriate here

22 October 2010

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, Chicago

Perhaps no two cities in the US share the same intense rivalry that New York and Chicago do. There's no getting around it; whether it is in the field of literature, architecture, or... er... women's roller derby, these two great cities love to compete. Naturally, this competition extends to food. And, while I've written about a couple of excellent Chicago-style hot dog experiences I had (here and here), I wanted to tell you about the other great food rivalry that the Windy City shares with the Big Apple - pizza.

I love a good pizza. As a European, I'm more familiar with New York's Neapolitan style of pizza; a thin crust, topped with a smear of tomato sauce, two or three toppings, and a sprinkling of mozzarella (as a European, though, I'm less familiar with the sheer size of these things, where a single slice can be as big as your head). However, I had never tried a traditional Chicago-style deep-dish pizza before. On a recent trip to Chi-town I got the chance to try some from Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, one of the oldest names in Chicago pizza.

The deep dish pizza was apparently invented in Chicago in the early 1940s. The term 'pizza,' though, is a bit of misnomer when it comes to describing a Chicago-style deep-dish. In fact, the term 'great big gigantic pie' would be more appropriate. In typical contrary fashion the Chicago deep-dish is made 'upside down'. First, a crust is placed in a pan, followed by slices of mozzarella, then the filling (meat and/or vegetables), and finally a layer of chunky tomato sauce. The whole caboodle is then baked in an oven for 30-40 minutes.

The hotel we were staying in wasn't too far from a Lou Malnati's restaurant and, after a few nights of excess in some excellent Chicago restaurants (here, here, and here), Mrs. Nibbler and I fancied a quiet night with some trashy TV and a quick take-away. Except it wasn't so quick, as all Lou Malnati's pizzas are made fresh to order, meaning a 40 minute wait for it to be cooked (not that we minded as we had plenty of trashy TV to keep us entertained). When we finally got our pizza, the first thing we noticed was the sheer weight of the box - my arms got tired carrying the thing back to our room. On opening the box we stood stunned, gaping in awe at the sheer size of the thing. Knives, forks, and lots of paper towels were going to be needed!

Tasting it was even more amazing. It was ridiculously good. Pure, unadulterated comfort food. The crispy, and surprisingly light outer crust was buttery and flaky (apparently the recipe's a secret), and this yielded to chewy, fresh mozzarella and slabs of dense Italian sausage and mushrooms. The tomato topping consisted of chunks of plum tomatoes, which tasted fresh and zesty. The whole thing was crowned with grated parmesan. Mrs. Nibbler managed almost one slice, while I gobbled up two before having to lie down, the pull of gravity on my burdened belly making it physically impossible to get up. It was almost even better eating the leftovers for breakfast the next day. Shameless, I know, but we were on vacation.

So which is best? New York or Chicago pizza? Well, the two are so different that I can safely say this is one battle neither city will win. Both have their merits and I will happily tuck in to either. But now, dear reader, I will sign off as I simply have to find some pizza. But let me know, do you have a favourite style of pizza, or perhaps some strange and secret topping you adore?

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria
439 North Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60610
Tel: +1 312-828-9800

Lou Malnati's has various locations across Chicago and its suburbs.

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria (River North) on Urbanspoon

19 October 2010

Bakeriet i Lom (The Bakery in Lom), Norway

Tucked away in the small village of Lom, in the foothills of Norway's majestic Jotunheimen Mountains is a little secret. In an unremarkable building on the banks of the river Bøvre lies arguably Norway's finest bakery, Bakeriet i Lom.

The man behind this remarkable bakery is Morten Schakenda, one of Norway’s leading chefs. Schakenda has cooked at some of the finest restaurants in Norway, including the much-missed two-Michelin starred Restaurant Bagatelle. He also spent eight years heading up the prestigious Gastronomisk Institutt in Stavanger, as well as representing the Norwegian national culinary team with much success in competitions across the world. He then decided to become a baker and spent almost three years as an apprentice at the fantastic Åpent Bakeri in Oslo, learning the mysterious secrets of combining flour, yeast, and water. In 2004 he branched out alone and opened this, his first solo venture, in the achingly beautiful village of Lom. It's an unusual location, but the crystal clear mountain air, the roar of the nearby waterfall, and the backdrop of the mighty mountains make for such a unique setting for this truly unique bakery.

Before you enter the bakery, the first thing you're aware of is that exciting and comforting smell of freshly baked bread. You then notice the stacks of wood piled up outside. Bakeriet i Lom's ovens are exclusively wood-burning and, as such, there's something fantastically primal about the place. Bread, the 'Staff of Life', is one of man's oldest prepared foods, and here in plain view it is reduced to its simplest components: flour, water, and fire. No preservatives or additives are used. In fact Schakenda is an exponent of the slow food philosophy of using the best local ingredients in an unhurried manner, and it shows in the sheer quality of the bread produced here.

The bakery is housed in a grey brick building right in the centre of Lom, next to the 900-year-old Lom stave church, and it is clear that it is a focal point of the community. The bakery's two giant wood-fired ovens weigh 40 tons and are made from stone and sand, which act as a heat reservoir. The ovens are fired up in the evening, when the majority of the baking is done. It is said that the doors of the bakery are hardly ever locked - such is the round-the-clock life of a baker.

I was here off-season, but it was still very busy and I gather that in summer the queues for bread snake out of the door. Above the counter is a blackboard displaying a range of seventeen different breads and buns. There are also various cakes and sweet pastries to enjoy. In Norway, where there is bread and pastry there has to be coffee, and Bakeriet i Lom is no exception, serving good Italian-style coffee from its on site café. The café also offers freshly made sandwiches, pizzas and other simple warm dishes to be eaten in the cosy indoor dining room or on the outdoor terrace. I had a delicious sandwich of sliced salami served in some crusty white bread with a glass of apple and raspberry juice. I couldn't resist a cheeky little Norwegian rosin bolle (a traditional sweet cardamom-scented bun with raisins) and a strong cappuccino to finish. It was a perfect little lunch.

I bought a few different loaves to take home with me. The sourdough bread had a thick, crisp crust, which yielded to a chewy interior that had a pleasingly sour, acidic tang to it. Poilâne eat your heart out! This stuff is amazing. The Dansk Rugbrød was broodingly dark and dense with a pleasing malty flavour. I ate a slice of it topped with some sweet Norwegian prawns and a dollop of mayonnaise. There was also a fruit and nut loaf packed with hazelnuts, dried apricots and sultanas. It was perfect toasted with some goats' cheese and fig chutney.

Bread is such a simple and honest food, yet so often it is overlooked and becomes the victim of egregious culinary crimes. I'm thinking of those perfectly formed, crustless, pre-sliced loaves of Wonder Bread or Mother's Pride that appear to last indefinitely and taste of, well, not much really. So it takes an experience like this to remind you just how simply wonderful bread can be when made with time and effort in abundance. Yet you sense that for Schakenda, this is about more than just baking good bread; it is a total way of life and a chance for him to excel in something as seemingly mundane as baking bread. Schakenda himself has a saying, "en liten glede i hverdagen," or "a little joy in everyday life," and I, for one, left Bakeriet i Lom with a very big smile on my face indeed.

Bakeriet i Lom
2686 Lom
Tel: +47 61 21 18 60

16 October 2010

Tubes of Food

Processed cheese in tubes (bacon, ham, sun-dried tomatoes, pepperoni, jalapeno, salami, and prawn)
If you've ever been to a supermarket in Scandinavia you can't help noticing row upon neat row of metallic tubes. This is actually food. In tubes. As a 10-year-old boy I would have found this monumentally exciting; the staple nourishment of any Mars-bound astronaut should, of course, be served from a tube. Yet somehow I feel that no self-respecting adult should ever eat food from a tube. Unless, of course, you actually are an astronaut, in which case take me with you please, I'll bring the tubed food.

Here in Norway, the shops stock a wide variety of tubes. Much of their contents look, and probably taste, like over-processed excreta. However, kids seem to adore the stuff, and the two little Nibbler girls are no exception, so we always seem to have some random tubes of gunk lurking in the fridge at home.

Here are some more tubes for you to peruse:
There is one exception to my 'no tube' rule, however, and that is kaviar. Of this, I cannot get enough. Norwegian and Swedish tubes of kaviar are national institutions, and Scandinavians have been known to take the stuff on holiday with them. Kaviar is a paste consisting mainly of lightly smoked cod roe that has a salty/sweet/fishy taste and a lurid pink/orange colour. Sounds revolting, but it is utterly delicious.

Kaviar can be eaten at anytime, although it is typically consumed for breakfast or lunch on slices of knekkebrød (crisp bread), with perhaps some slices of boiled egg. Most people never spread kaviar with a knife; they just squeeze it straight from the tube and make satisfying arcs of pink goodness on pieces of crisp bread.
The main ingredients are smoked, salted cod roe; oil; sugar; and potato flakes. Although quite fatty, it is packed full of omega-3 goodness.

In Norway the most popular brand of kaviar is Mills, although Stabburet tried to muscle in on this lucrative market a few years ago. The two brands are currently slugging it out for market share and each has attracted its own band of loyal followers (think of it as Norway's Pepsi/Coke battle, but on a much, much, much, much smaller scale). The newspapers here even speak of a bitter "kaviar war". Stern stuff indeed. There is also the Kavli brand of kaviar, but I have yet to meet anyone that eats it.

In Sweden, they swear by Kalles kaviar, and the Danes, who are not as fanatical about kaviar, have to make do with imports from their more committed Scandinavian neighbours. There's much debate about who makes the finest kaviar, but let's just say that Norway's Mills is the best. This is an actual fact.

If you have a craving for kaviar, and you're not in Scandinavia, I am informed that the ubiquitous IKEA stock tubes of Swedish Kalles. But be warned, it can be quite addictive.

13 October 2010

Restaurant Oscarsgate, Oslo - Review [Now Closed]

Every now and then you have a dining experience that is so wonderful and so unexpected that you're left in an almost bewildered state. You wake up the next morning asking yourself whether you had indeed just experienced some of the finest cooking of your life, or whether it was part of some hazy wine-fuelled dream that your overactive mind had just concocted. My recent dinner at Restaurant Oscarsgate in Oslo was one such happy event and, like most of the best dining experiences, I never saw it coming.

Oscarsgate is the creation of Björn Svensson, a young Swedish chef who honed his craft working for culinary luminaries such as Ferran Adrià (El Bulli), Gordon Ramsay (Royal Hospital Road), and Eyvind Hellstrøm (Bagatelle). Svensson opened this, his first restaurant, five years ago in a pleasant enough corner of town, a javelin's throw from the eyesore that is Bislett Stadium. Its mundane location (next door to an execrable "Pizza & China Express" delivery shop) belies the culinary heroics going on inside. Oscarsgate gained its first Michelin star in 2008, which it has held ever since, and surely it's a matter of when, not if, it gains a second.

The restaurant is tiny, with eight tables seating only 18-20 covers each night. It's a claustrophobic L-shaped room that you'd struggle to swing the proverbial cat in. But, like the best Scandinavian designs, they have managed to make the most of the space available while keeping it uncluttered, and the overall feel of the dining room is of understated luxury.

We were shown to our table and eased into the evening with a glass of excellent Pierre Péters Champagne Blanc de Blancs. The waitress then proceeded to tell us about the evening's menu. There is just one menu available here: a nine-course tasting menu for NKr 1,150 (€141/$197). We also opted for the matching wine menu at NKr 950 (€117/$163). There are no printed menus at Oscarsgate and none online either so, as I'm loath to take notes in a restaurant, I'm left to describe the components of the meal from memory. So forgive me if there are any glaring omissions.

First, the amuse bouches. We started in classic Scandinavian style with a plate of three small smørbrød (open faced sandwiches). On the left was salmon in a mustard and sour cream dressing topped with a slice of apple and a smattering of caviar and dill, in the middle was a foie gras terrine, and on the right prawn and fish roe on a slice of dark and dense rugbrød.
Next were some thin, crisp slices of flatbrød that were served with a tube of homemade truffle butter. I loved the way the waitress opened the butter, piercing the top like a new tube of toothpaste. The butter was gloriously rich and steeped with pungent black truffles, whose aroma lingered pleasantly in the air. I had to ration myself as I could have happily munched away all night on these and there was, of course, the rest of the meal still to come.
The first course proper was a colourful arrangement of salmon (farmed, unfortunately) cooked two ways. A carpaccio and a thin cylinder of barely poached salmon were served with small balls of cucumber, mango, and avocado in a ponzu sauce. This was accompanied by a shiitake-filled wonton and a quenelle of coconut and lime sorbet. Crystal clear balls of salmon roe were scattered over the top and looked like glistening jewels. The flavours were astounding - so vibrant and fresh that they seemed to fizz on your tongue.
This was followed by another visually stunning dish. A layer of dark green ravioli blanketed pieces of perfectly cooked scallop and lobster. This was topped by a jerusalem artichoke sauce and some shellfish foam. This dish had such an intense ozone-rich aroma of the sea, with a taste to match.

Then something richer and earthier. A poached egg from the extraordinary Ramme farm was served on some potato cream, and was topped by luxurious slices of black truffle, sautéed wild mushrooms, and potato crisps. This dish was full of those powerful, dense, autumnal flavours and it was fantastic. My only gripe was that the poached egg was a tad overcooked for my liking and, disappointingly, the yolk didn't ooze over the plate as your knife cut into it.
A little intermezzo next of crisp bread, leverpostei (liver pate) with a slice of apple jelly, and homemade butter.

Next we were served pan-fried brill and prawn with a shellfish foam. This also came with something breaded and fried. I can't recall what it was, but it was delicious nevertheless. Accompanying this was one of Ferran Adrià's most famous dishes: spherical olives. This was clearly chef Svensson's homage to the great chef from his stint at El Bulli. Adrià's version is based on green olives, whereas here Svensson creates two different versions; one with black olives and the other peas. Each wobbly sphere had a very thin outer layer that would explode in the mouth to release a flood of flavour. The black olive one in particular was outstanding – a concentrated briny and sour hit of umami-rich olives.

Another little teaser dish was next. This time a smoked eel mousse was served with toasted seeds. I love the taste of eel, and here it was intensely smokey and creamy, with the toasted seeds giving some welcome bursts of crunchiness.
For the first of the main meat courses we had guinea fowl. Judging by its tenderness, I'm guessing it was cooked en sous vide. It was served with apple purée, beetroot, potato, and a little filo pastry triangle that had been stuffed with some unknown goodness. It was definitely a contender for star dish of the night.
Then there came a little palate cleanser. I almost though this was a tub full of caviar, but alas it was not to be the case!
Instead, we were served a slightly savoury pumpkin sorbet that was laced with giggle-inducing amounts of popping candy.
For the final main course we had perfectly pink lamb from Jæren that came with a foie gras topped boulangère potato, mushrooms encased in spinach, onion foam, and I'm pretty sure some truffles were thrown in for good measure. I'm running out of superlatives now, but it was very good.

The cheese course was next, but it was served with a twist; a warm, fluffy blini was topped with pungent raclette cheese and sprinkled with chopped nuts and dried fruit. It was quite a refreshing change from the standard type of cheese course and I enjoyed it immensely.
The first of two desserts was next. We were served a soft honey biscuit filled with thick eggy custard, yoghurt, raspberry sorbet, and mango foam. There were many other elements on the plate, and the dish just erred on the right side of confusion. Every ingredient seemed to have a purpose, and every flavour combination worked beautifully.

Our final dessert was equally complex and equally well executed. A Valrhona Manjari choc mousse was served with plum sorbet, cinnamon, powdered chocolate, a square of salted caramel chocolate, and a warm berliner (a beignet-like pastry). The whole lot was drizzled with a rich crème anglaise. I had to resist the urge to lick my plate clean.
To finish, some petit fours of mini vanilla ice cream cones with cloudberries, raspberry macaroons, and spun sugar.
To go with the coffee we were offered chocolates and madeleines. How could we refuse?
The service throughout the evening was faultless; efficient and attentive without being overly formal. Testament to the quality of the service (and the prowess of the kitchen) was the fact that when we suddenly mentioned that one of our party suffered from a gluten allergy – a fact we had totally failed to mention when reserving the table – no one batted an eyelid, and of course they could accommodate that request. Without skipping a beat, the kitchen provided our dining companion with gluten-free food that was every bit as good as that on the regular menu.

As we were leaving we were given a goodie bag to take home that contained an apple, a bag of chopped nuts and dried fruit, and a pouch of thick apple purée. I felt virtuous the next day as I ate this for breakfast with some plain yoghurt. It was so simple, yet so delicious, and put to rest any doubts I had about the previous evening meal's existence.

Dinner at Oscarsgate has to be one of the highlights of my year. Björn Svensson's cooking is layered with a myriad of flavours, and it really is an assault on the senses. On paper this shouldn't work; every dish is such a complex construction, each plate a riot of different colours, flavours, textures, temperatures, with most displaying a liberal use of the oft hackneyed foam. That it not only works, but also leaves you in awe is testament to maestro Svensson's prodigious talents. No element on the plate is without purpose, and the combination of each ingredient sings on your tongue like a Beatles harmony.

When Eyvind Hellstrøm's exquisite Oslo restaurant, Bagatelle, closed at the end of 2009, there was a collective sigh of sadness from Oslo's food lovers. With it went not only Norway's sole two-Michelin Star restaurant, but also some of the most sublime cooking I have ever tasted. In Oscarsgate and Björn Svensson, Oslo has a restaurant and chef that give cause for food lovers across Norway to rejoice again.

(13.09.11 Update: It was announced that Oscarsgate will close its doors at its current location at the end of June 2012. The plan is for it to reopen under new ownership in different premises in September 2012. What will happen to its Michelin star is unclear, but this is good news as I feel the one thing holding the restaurant back is the tiny and cramped dining room).

(23.08.12 Update: It seems like the restaurant's plans to move locations is still ongoing. In the meantime their website states that Oscarsgate will be open as normal in their current location until at least the end of 2012. So watch this space for news of their move).

(22.12.12 Update: Well it looks like plans to relocate the restaurant didn't materialise and sadly Oscarsgate has now closed for good. I'm not sure what Svensson has planned for the future but I do hope he continues cooking in Oslo – the city needs more chefs of his calibre).

(June 2013 Update: Hurray! Svensson and his Oscarsgate team are finally back. Their new venture is called Fauna located in Oslo's Frogner area and it promises to be very different to Oscarsgate. Joining Björn in the kitchen is Jo Bøe Klakegg, a young chef with experience from Noma, Marque, and Bagatelle).

Food:             9 / 10
Service:       10 / 10
Ambiance:     7 / 10

Oscarsgate 3
0350 Oslo
Tel: +47 22 46 59 06

10 October 2010

Fru Ingrid's Brunost Is (Brown Cheese Ice Cream) - Recipe

"Brunost ice cream. Are you sure?"

Oh yes.

"You're going to put brown goat's cheese in ... er ... ice cream?"

Indeed, I am.

"And then eat it?"

You bet.

I can't take all the credit for this unusual, but insanely delicious, invention. In fact, I can't take any credit, as it is the creation of Ingrid Hov Lunde from the wonderful Røisheim Inn in Bøverdalen. I admit I was more than a touch sceptical when this dish was first presented to me there, but Fru Ingrid had prepared a truly astounding dessert of marinated wild berries that was served with brunost ice cream. It was utterly gorgeous.

For those that don't know, brunost (also known as geitost) is a traditional Norwegian cheese that is made from the whey of goats' milk that has been boiled until the sugars have caramelised, giving it its distinctive brown colour. It has an unusual salty and sweet flavour to it, and tastes nothing like cheese (for more on brunost you can read my earlier post here).

The more I thought about it, the more I realised how perfect the confluence of these flavours is: vanilla ice cream mixed with salty, caramelised 'cheese', with notes of burnt sugar and even the merest hint of coffee. In fact, it is very similar to the well-established and equally delicious salted caramel ice cream. So when I received a belated birthday gift of a much wished-for ice cream machine, I knew exactly what I was going to attempt to make first.
Ingrid has her own recipe for brunost ice cream in her excellent cookbook, Fru Ingrid på Røisheim, but I decided to improvise and make my own, using a standard vanilla ice cream recipe as the base. I used an extra rich brunost called stølstype, which is a dark, traditional style of brunost and resembles that which would have been made on old seter (a summer farm house). Ingrid also lists the recipe for the marinated berries I originally had with it, but I skipped that this time, preferring the pure hit of brunost ice cream instead. It's quite rich, so a little goes a long way. For variation you could also add some crushed green or brown cardamom pods to the milk at the steeping stage.

Ingredients (makes about 1ltr of ice cream)
  • 250ml whole milk
  • 200ml cream (around 40% fat)
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 130g caster sugar
  • 100-120g brunost (Norwegian brown cheese)
  • ½ a vanilla pod
  1. Put the milk and cream into a saucepan and add the sliced brunost to it
  2. Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and place seeds and pod into the milk/cream
  3. Gently heat the milk/cream until it has almost boiled and the brunost has melted. Stir constantly.
  4. Remove from the heat and leave for half an hour to let the vanilla infuse into the milk
  5. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolk and the sugar until pale and fluffy
  6. Sieve the milk/cream mix and slowly pour onto the beaten egg yolks, stirring constantly
  7. Place the mixture into a clean saucepan and heat gently until it has almost boiled, stirring constantly so the mixture doesn't curdle. The custard should thicken and it is ready when it coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  8. Place the mixture into a pouring jug and put in the fridge until it is cool
  9. Slowly pour the mixture into an ice cream machine (make sure you have turned the machine on before you start pouring) and churn until almost frozen but still smooth (around 30 minutes)
  10. Eat straight away or keep in freezer until needed

7 October 2010

Matstreif Food Festival, Norway

One of Norway's largest annual food festivals, Matstreif, took place in Oslo the other week. This is the sixth year it has been run, and such was the popularity of last year's festival (over 120,000 people attended last year) that this year it was held over three days.

So it was that I found myself on a chilly October day in front of the austere looking City Hall, with Oslo Fjord acting as a beautiful backdrop, ready for some culinary exploration. The festival is sponsored by Innovation Norway, who help promote Norwegian business and, as such, the festival is a real showcase of the very best of Norwegian cuisine.

I only had a couple of hours there, which was nowhere near enough time to fully explore everything. This was a truly huge festival and I could have easily spent a whole day wandering round and stuffing my face. There was so much to see and do and eat. Artisan producers from all round the country were represented, there were live demonstrations from chefs, presentations, competitions and, of course, lots and lots of fantastic Norwegian food to try. Many of the same producers that attended the Oslo Farmers' Market were there and they were joined by dozens of others. In total there were about 140 exhibitors and over 3,000 different products.

So here's a quick snapshot of the food festival. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but I think I managed to capture most of the main highlights.

Here's a burger stand Norwegian style: elk burgers from Ommang Søndre, a bio-dynamic farm in Løten! I've eaten elk before so I thought I'd save myself for something else. But if you're wondering what it tastes like then think of a less gamey tasting venison with the texture of very lean beef.

Berry Syrups from Linnea Finnskogen
Lots of organic vegetables:

Striped beetroots, they look so beautiful!
I spotted what I thought was smoked trout and gleefully popped some in my mouth. I regretted it instantly. It turned out that this wasn't smoked trout, but was, instead, the infamous rakfisk, aka rotten fish. And it was... IN MY MOUTH. Rakfisk is fermented trout, and apparently people have gone blind and even been killed by badly prepared rakfisk. The sweet lady serving it smiled at me and expectantly asked me in Norwegian if I liked it. I didn't have the heart to say otherwise, so I swallowed the cold flaccid fish, grinned like a lunatic and said it was delicious, and then hurried to the fresh-pressed apple juice stall to try and get rid of the rancid taste in my mouth. It was singularly the worst thing I have eaten, with a noxious taste of rotten flesh and ammonia, and a smell like it forgot to wipe.

Rakfisk is perhaps one of Norway's oldest foods. The first record of it dates back to 1348, but the method of preserving fish by fermentation dates back thousands of years. Fish, usually trout but sometimes char or herring, is gutted, washed and soaked in vinegar for half an hour. The fish is then salted and placed in a bucket with a weighted lid for up to three months at around 4°C. In other words, the fish is allowed to rot.

Today, rakfisk is enjoying a resurgence in Norway, and it is considered quite fashionable to have rakfisk parties, where the fish is consumed with potatoes, onions, sour cream, flatbread, and plenty of akevitt. I think it's one of those foods that you have to have grown up eating in order to like it, as Norwegians seem to really enjoy it. It reminded me of the BBC TV show "Cooking in the Danger Zone", where the host, Stefan Gates, visits the Inuit in the Arctic circle and eats igunaq, which is rotten/fermented walrus. The sight of young Inuit kids gleefully eating igunaq made an amusing contrast to Gates, who was doing everything in his power not to throw up.

Rakfisk - looks so tasty, but packs quite a punch

More familiar territory now with some klippfisk, or salt cod. Although being one of the country's largest exports historically, it is not often eaten in Norway. For a quick and tasty klippfisk recipe, see here.
Klippfisk (salt cod)
I won't get into the whole whaling debate, but suffice it to say that Norway is a proud whaling nation, and there was plenty of whale meat on offer at the food festival. I tried some smoked whale meat, which was quite pleasant. It had a texture like tuna, with an unusual flavour of mildly smoked beef and fish. It's probably not something I'd jump at to eat again, but it was interesting nonetheless.

"Whale Wok": stir-fried whale
There were plenty of stalls that were cooking some amazing dishes, which created such a wonderful mix of aromas.
A hearty autumn stew with grilled pork loin
For my first lunch I had this delightful little plate of food, which comprised of a starter of pike mousse and smoked salmon roulade, meltingly tender roast pork from Brødr. Ringstad with herb butter and mashed potatoes, and a mousse of crowberries, blueberries and nýr (a sort of mild fresh cheese, like ricotta) from Grøndalen farm.

My second lunch was equally delicious; gratinated scallops served in their shells piping hot from the grill.

It doesn't get much better than Norwegian seafood, and there was plenty on display, including one of my favourites: arctic char from Vesterålen in the north of Norway.

Crab claws
Wonderfully sweet mussels from Snadder og Snaskum. Stay tuned for a simple pasta recipe in which I use these delicious molluscs.

This fella scared the life out of me. Not sure where it was caught though.

Come on in, the water's lovely!
Here is some cured mountain goat leg from Fjellgeit BA in north Gudbrandsdalen. Such is the craftsmanship that if it were 20 degrees warmer we could almost be in Spain eating jamón Ibérico.

Vinegars, jams, and honey
And now one of my favourites: warm svele fresh from the griddle, made by Anne Karins from Fagerstrand. Svele are thick, fluffy pancakes that are made with flour, eggs, sugar, buttermilk, and baking soda. They originate from the west coast of Norway, and if you ever take a ferry across one of the many fjords in this part of the country, you will invariably be served svele. Here they were served with sour cream and a blueberry jam. Soo yummy; I could have eaten many, many more.

Warm svele with sour cream and blueberry jam
Finally, what better to go with the svele than a luxuriously thick, dark espresso.

By all accounts, it seems that Matstreif 2010 was a resounding success, and the expanded format this year was a very welcome addition. This food festival was just the sort of thing that makes me so happy: seeing knowledgeable local producers and their delicious bounty of local food. Norwegian food often gets a bad reputation, and yes, sometimes it is justified, but I left Matstreif excited with the knowledge that with producers and products like these, Norway has so much good food to be proud about.