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Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking - Signe Johansen

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Genre: Cokking / Author: Signe Johansen / Publisher: Saltyard Books / Released: 12.05.2011

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      10.01.2014 13:33
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      Living the Scandinavian Dream!

      A look along my shelf of cookery books would show anybody (anybody who cared) the changes in fashion for cookery writing and recipes. Some of them contain fairly homely, luridly coloured pictures that I could have taken myself, some (not my favourites) are without pictures at all, and I do like to see what they think the food should look like, even if it tends not to turn out like that for me. My modern acquisitions have beautiful photographs: clear, appealing and obviously "styled." Scandilicious is a step on from that - the beautiful pictures of food are there, but so are more general, atmospheric photographs and line drawings.

      This is because the Scandilicious book is selling you more than just Scandinavian recipes (back to them in a moment) it is also very cleverly and sensibly tapping into the fashion for all things Scandinavian that has been around for a few years now (the book was published in 2011) and the appeal for a clearer, brighter approach to life that this seems to exemplify. Don't get me wrong, I like the style as much as anyone, and I was one of the first purchasers of the book. However, this does mean that the book is, in my opinion, a little light on substance compared to style.

      On to the substance, the recipes. rather than being divided by type, as in the majority of cookery books, they are divided up by meal, including the all-important "Afternoon Cake" section! This is largely useful, as if you have a particular meal in mind you know where to look, but on the other hand can sometimes be less helpful - for instance if you are looking for pancakes you will find one recipe in the Brunch section, but the others are classed as "evening pancakes," so you will find those in "Dinner." This can be overcome by using the very comprehensive index, but takes a little bit of getting used to.

      All in all, the recipes are divided into 7 categories: Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, Afternoon Cake, Dinner and Dessert, and they include a wide range of appetising recipes and ideas. I should declare now that we don't eat meat, so I can't comment on those recipes (other than to say that they look appealing) but there are quite a few fish options. We particularly like the Bergen fish chowder and Swedish anchovy and potato gratin, and all of the recipes that we have tried have been clear and easy to follow and produced the expected outcome.

      Some of our very favourites are the baking recipes, and I would possibly have been better off with Signe Johansen's Scandinavian baking book instead, but that hadn't been published at the time that I bought this. Among the best of the baking, I would recommend the blackberry, almond and cardamom cake (there's lots of cardamom in these recipes, which is great) and the lemon, currant and almond cake, both of which are moist and delicious, although we did find the spiced chocolate cake to be a good balance of flavours but a little dry.

      As you might expect with northern European cuisine, the recipes are not light on butter and cream, so this is probably best not used as a book for everyday, but many of them would make a delicious addition to your repertoire. Most of the ingredients are not particularly hard to find. The most notable difference is the use of spelt flour (white and wholemeal) but I find it possible to get these in the local supermarket, and there is a list of suppliers contained at the back of the book, for any items you may find more difficult to source, but this is not one of those books where you buy the book and then you have to spend the same amount again on a range of esoteric items that you may not find much use for.

      This is a beautiful book, well photographed and presented. It clearly celebrates the whole Scandinavian zeitgeist but it looks "real" at the same time - the food isn't necessarily perfect, just appealing. There is detail before each recipe explaining a little bit about where the recipe comes from, and how Signe Johansen likes to serve it (interestingly it says on the dust jacket that she is not "just" a cook, but also a food anthropologist). As well as being interesting, this also helps to promote the authentic Scandinavian motif that we are buying here.

      I have to admit, some of the "recipes" I would consider to be little more than a serving suggestiong, for example the banana and cinnamon crispbread, but even so, there are enough good, interesting, very usable recipes in this book for me to recommend it as an addition to your kitchen bookshelf. Being so beautiful, it would also make an excellent gift for a foodie friend. It is currently (August 2014) on sale for £22 from Amazon, although you can also download a Kindle edition for £8.96.

      Star rating: I have given this 4 stars as a recipe book, because I bought it for myself, and therefore they were my prime motivation. As a beautiful gift I would probably have awarded it 5!

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      18.10.2012 09:02
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      Beautifully illustrated Scandinavian cookbook

      Nigella Lawson revealed recently in an interview that she owns about five thousand cookbooks; I don't own close to that but I could imagine having a good stab at it if I had the space to keep them. Some of mine have been 'coffee table' purchases, acquired purely for the pleasure of looking at the gorgeous pictures and reading lists of exotic ingredients with scant expectation of ever trying one of the recipes myself. Others have been well used and as a result the pages are spattered with splashes of sauce and daubed with greasy finger-prints.

      Signe Johansen's 'Scandlilicious: The Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking' falls somewhere between the two. I love things Scandinavian: I'm really into Nordic ceramics and glass and adore those pale, seas-sidey Scandinavian interiors you see in design magazines. I also love Scandinavian food: Scandinavian cooking uses some of my favourite ingredients - beetroot, fish, cinnamon, shellfish - in simple but exciting recipes. I coveted this book for a few weeks before finally making a purchase so when it arrived I was dying to dive in.

      Our eating/cooking habits in the UK have been heavily influenced and inspired by groups of immigrants who have come to our isles, and by food we've tasted on our travels. Somehow, though, Scandinavian food hasn't really entered our consciousness in the way that Mexican, Chinese or Indian foods have. It's a shame because most of the ingredients are ones we already use, and the types of dishes are really familiar to us even if the flavour combinations are not. The title of the book is a little misleading. It implies that we are familiar with these dishes but don't really know how to make them; in fact, there's nothing mystifying about these dishes and the recipes presented here are straightforward. Author Signe Johansen may have worked in Heston Blumenthal's Experimental Kitchen at his headquarters in Bray, but you won't need any specialist equipment to make the dishes in this book.

      The recipes have been beautifully photographed by Debi Treloar. Scandiphiles will be delighted to see that many of them have been presented on the kind of beautiful tablewares and linens that Scandinavian design is known for. All of the photographs show finished dishes; there are no illustrations included to demonstrate special preparation or cooking techniques although there are a few arty shots of individual ingredients.

      The recipes are divided into sections: breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon cake, dinner and dessert. It's simple and it works very well; if I go to the fridge to look for ideas for lunch and what I find there makes me think 'Scandinavian', I know that I can turn to the brunch or lunch sections of the book and find recipes for dishes I'd want to eat at that time of day. (I do have books that suggest the most complicated and time-consuming recipes that seem unlikely lunch options for most people.)

      The breakfast section includes lots of tasty and fairly healthy recipes for things such as fruit compotes, rye granola, make it yourself yoghurt, Nordic porridge and 'egg and anchovy soldiers'. I haven't tried anything from this section yet; this is not because there's nothing that appeals to me, but more to do with my own lifestyle which rarely provides the opportunity to do much in the kitchen at that time of day.

      From the Brunch section I've managed to make quite a few dishes. The Jarlsberg and fennel muffins are delicious and simple to make. The cinnamon spelt pancakes are also great but if you aren't someone that does a lot of baking (and healthy baking at that) you will have to plan in advance to ensure you have the spelt flour in the house. It would have been a terrible omission not to have tried the Scandinavian Bloody Mary which is made using aquavit. We did try it using the dregs of a bottle of aquvit and it was very good but it's perfectly possible to use vodka because the additional ingredients like dill and horseradish sauce do impart that Scandinavian flavour.

      My particular favourite from this section is called 'Arme riddere' which means 'Poor knights' and it's the name used throughout Scandinavia that we know as French toast (the bread is dipped in a mixture of sweetened beaten eggs and fried); here it's served with strawberries in a light syrup and minted natural yoghurt; this recipe is really easy and could be good for kids to make with supervision.

      The Lunch section features some of the dishes that you might expect from Scandinavian cuisine: herring and potato, gravlaks and beetroot, Nordic meatballs and wild mushrooms with tarragon. Most of the dishes require bread, either as an integral component such as in the 'smorbrod' (Scandinavian open sandwich) or on the side, as for the soups. Two bread recipes are given at the beginning of the chapter, both of which can be made without a bread-making machine. If you aren't organised enough to get baking early enough to have some bread cooked and ready in time for lunch, you could used bought bread and add the Scandinavian toppings.

      I love this section because there are lots of recipes that can be put together from ready prepared items from the fridge (assuming that you fill your fridge with these ingredients, fortunately we do) and many of the ingredients crop up in several recipes but are accompanied by different herbs and spices to alter the flavour. Mackerel, fennel and horseradish on rye bread is brilliant but works just as well with trout, I've found. If you keep stocked up with soured cream, pickled beetroot, a jar of herring fillets, and horseradish sauce, and have fresh herbs to hand, you will always have the makings of a tasty Scandinavian lunch.

      The 'Afternoon Cake' section is one I have visited frequently. Sadly several of the cake recipes contain nuts and I haven't been bothered enough to think about what I'd replace the ground almonds with, but I have made the plum muffins on several occasions and they've come out a treat. Although some of the baking recipes specify a particular type of flour an alternative is also given in brackets if one is suitable. I've long been an aficionado of Scandinavian cinnamon buns (I almost made myself sick gorging on them in Norway) but I'd never heard of Scandinavian cardamom buns before reading this book. Apparently they're traditionally eaten at Lent and they're filled with cream and marzipan: I just leave out the marzipan and, to me, they don't seem to be missing anything.

      Fish features heavily in the 'Dinner' section but there are also chicken dishes, meat free option and recipes for side dishes. Within this section there's a mini guide to curing fish. Some of these recipes are ones where you do a quick cure, others are bit more time consuming and require some planning. For example, the pickled herring recipe isn't very difficult to put together but once you've layered the components in your Kilner jar, you need to leave it at least five days before digging in. That said, it's worth the wait; I've made several jars worth and mix it with potato salad, or have it on crispbreads or on rye bread for an open sandwich.

      There are lots of recipes that are variations on well known dishes such as macaroni cheese, omelette or roast chicken, made Scandinavian by the use of key flavours and ingredients. Most of those ingredients are store cupboard staples, only a few are harder to find. At the end of the book Signe gives a list of ingredients with brand names and suggests where you can find them in the UK. Several of the ingredients can be picked up in the deli section at IKEA so it may be worth stocking up if you happen to be in store. Additionally I have been able to pick up things like lingonberry sauce during promotional weeks in Lidl so it's worth looking out for that store's annual Scandinavian fortnight (sometimes they keep the non-perishable or long-dated stock until it sells out). Signe says that by using Waitrose, IKEA and local delicatessens, she manages to source most of the ingredients in the recipes listed here in the UK, with the occasional orders from online Scandinavian food specialists like Danish Food Direct and Scandikitchen.

      I love using this book and plan to try more of the recipes in the future. There's a good mix of cooking and preparation; there are plenty of dishes that are really just putting together components and that involve very little actual cooking at the stove, yet produce authentic dishes that look and taste great. To get the authentic flavours, though, the recipes do rely on key ingredients for adding flavour and therefore you do need to do some advance planning and shopping if you don't grow your own herbs as they do feature in many of the recipes and play an important part in creating a particular flavour.

      The only criticism I have is that there's no consistency in the number of people these recipes will serve: some are for two, some for four, others for six to eight. I most often cook for two so a recipe for four is easy to halve; recipes that need to be divided by three are usually more tricky and often result in me preparing way too much, or presenting meagre portions which make a main course look like a starter.

      The cover price of this book is £20. It is currently priced at £13.50 on Amazon which I think is a great price if you love a good cookbook and want something a little different.

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