Among our friends, this has been a big year for birthdays. Many of us have turned 30 and we've made a real effort to get together and celebrate each person's birthday. Shane is one of the last to hit this milestone and I definitely wanted to throw him a terrific party to mark the occasion. When my friend Lauren suggested a Norwegian-themed party, I knew it was the way to go. Shane is Norwegian and he's very passionate about Norway and its food. Since we couldn't travel to Norway to celebrate his birthday, the next best thing was to bring Norway to our house! Before I met Shane, I didn't know anything about Norwegian cuisine. Over the past 6 years, I've gained some familiarity and I thought it'd be fun to share with our friends and family!
I was fortunate to be selected to participate in Foodbuzz's 24, 24, 24 - a culinary event in which 24 food bloggers around the globe host unique meals during a 24-hour period. I always look forward to reading about this event each month so I'm especially excited to be participating this go-round.
On the Menu
Nønge Ø Pale Ale
Nønge Ø Saison
Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast
Smoked Fish Platter with Mustard Sauce and Cream Cheese
Norwegian Cheese Platter
Fiskeboller (Fish Balls)
Kjøttkaker (Norwegian Meatballs)
Pølse (Norwegian Hot Dogs)
Lefse (Norwegian Flatbread)
Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Smør Bukk (Norwegian Caramels)
The menu came together fairly easily, as Shane has a few Norwegian favorites I knew we'd have to incorporate. I supplemented those favorites with just a couple of additional items I could obtain in local markets or make at home. Shane's dad informed me about a great Scandinavian store close by my house so I took a trip there and made some really fun purchases which helped me to feel like the event was more authentic.
I'm glad to say the party was a success! Shane had a fantastic time and he was so excited that so many of our friends were able to celebrate with him. I was glad Shane's parents were also able to stop by, as no one is better qualified to evaluate a Norwegian-themed party. They've told us they enjoyed themselves and deemed all the food "delicious!"
(It didn't occur to me until it was too late that it would be completely dark outside by the time the party started. So, when it came to getting great photos, it was a bit tricky with the fluorescent lighting in our house. Shane's dad let me borrow his dSLR camera, which totally rocked and yielded better pictures than my point and shoot could have!)
(There was some late night Rock Band in our basement. It really doesn't have anything to do with our Norwegian-theme but the Norwegian birthday boy loves playing with his friends and was glad to have an opportunity to do so!)
Finding and purchasing Norwegian beer wound up being one of the most difficult parts of planning Shane's party. The two beers I'd hoped to get, Hansa & Ringnes, weren't available from any of the liquor stores in our area. We were able to secure a few options at the last minute fortunately! Here's a quick rundown of the offerings:
Nønge Ø Pale Ale - Both the pale ale and saison are made by Nønge Ø, a Norwegian microbrewery started by two home brewers and Norway's largest supplier of bottle conditioned ale. The pale ale was a refreshing light and hoppy ale. It disappeared quickly and I didn't get to try any, but I heard from a number of guests that it was really good!
Nønge Ø Saison - The saison was an especially refreshing beer, the type you'd really enjoy on a hot summer night. Shane rated it just slightly better than the pale ale.
Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast - This beer was a hearty, oatmeal stout brewed with coffee, which explains its label as a "breakfast beer." It had a wonderfully strong aroma upon pouring and the coffee taste was prominent but not overwhelming.
Linie Aquavit - Though aquavit is available throughout Scandinavia, the Norwegians make a special variety called "linie aquavit." Linie is the Norwegian word for "line," referring here to the equator, as linie aquavit is shipped from Norway, across the equator, down to Australia, and back again in sherry casks. Many say the liquor gains a richer flavor as it sloshes around in the barrels over the course of the trip. The aquavit was described as potent and fiery and Shane commented that it reminded him of Norwegian moonshine.
Vikingfjord Vodka - Vikingfjord is a variety of vodka distilled using only water from the Jostedal glacier in Arctic Norway. It is a bit stronger than typical vodka and has a clean, smooth taste.
Viking Blod - Viking Blod is the oldest fermented beverage made from honey and is based on a recipe from the year 1700. Honey is the major ingredient in the recipe so not surprisingly, this beverage was described as sweet, fruity and floral by guests. It was probably the most popular of the six described here. The Viking Blod is technically not Norwegian but rather a Danish mead but it caught Shane's eye in the liquor store so we decided to include it.
Shane's parents host a Christmas eve get-together every year and I remember the first year I attended and was introduced to smoked and pickled fish. I wasn't interested then and suffice it to say, I'm still not a fan many years later :) Shane, however, loves smoked fish and he doesn't have it very often, so it's a real treat for him. The platter I made included (from left to right) smoked trout, smoked salmon and smoked & peppered mackerel. I also put out capers, red onion, lemon, dill, parsley, lemon, sour cream and a mustard sauce (see below for recipe) as accompaniments. The smoked salmon was definitely the biggest hit among the guests - there was very little left at the end of the night. Not as many people were adventurous enough to try the mackerel or trout, but Shane gave a big thumbs-up to both!
Though I didn't eat any of the smoked fish, I tried this mustard sauce when I made it and even though I'm not a huge fan of mustard, I really enjoyed the sauce. I'm hoping to find other uses for it besides an accompaniment to smoked fish, so I can make it again!
from Ina Garten (via FoodNetwork.com)
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground dry mustard
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Combine the mustards, sugar, and vinegar in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil and stir in the chopped dill.
I was excited to discover three Norwegian cheeses to serve on our cheese platter. The first was Jarlsberg (top left cheese in the photo above). Jarlsberg, which is readily available in most markets, is one of Norway's biggest exports. It is similar in texture and consistency to a Swiss Emmental but with a sweeter, more nutty flavor.
The second cheese offered was Gjetost (top right in the above photo). Gjetost, is a unique brown cheese from Norway with a fudge-like texture and a sweet caramel flavor. It is made from a combination of milk, cream and whey which is slowly cooked until the naturally occurring sugars are caramelized, giving the cheese its distinctive color and sweet taste. I was curious about how many people would be open to brown cheese. It turns out the answer was quite a few! I was completely surprised by the crowd of people I saw slicing and eating the Gjetost. Not only did they try it, but I think everyone I talked to enjoyed it.
The final cheese offered was Gulost (the bottom cheese in the above photo). The Gulost was another pick-up for me at the Scandinavian store. I was told that it was a Norwegian-style Gouda, a mild cheese that would probably be a good option for kids and folks who weren't adventurous enough to try the Gjetost. That opinion was pretty much spot-on and echoed by the guests who tried it.
Shane adores his mother's Norwegian meatballs and I was tempted to ask for her recipe, but I ultimately decided to be adventurous and try finding a new recipe to test. I was a bit concerned about this recipe living up to Shane's expectations but I knew as long as I didn't try to sneak any veggies in them, he'd probably be perfectly happy!
I love that these meatballs are baked and not cooked on the stove-top. The process of making them went fairly quickly, though I will warn that this recipe makes a lot of meatballs (I think I got around 75) and shaping them can be time consuming. I found it was easiest to use my smallest cookie scoop to speed the process along. The meatballs were very well received by everyone and Shane thought they rivaled his mom's. The gravy, however, was not nearly as successful. It was a bit bland so though I'll almost certainly make the meatballs again I will go in search of a different gravy recipe.
For the Meatballs:
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup minced onion (I omitted and used a bit of onion powder instead)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 pound ground pork
For the Gravy:
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons minced onion (I omitted)
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups beef broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
dash cayenne pepper
1 dash white pepper
In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk, bread crumbs, onion and seasonings. Let stand until crumbs absorb milk (I let it stand for about 10 minutes). Add beef and pork; stir until well blended but be careful not to overmix. Shape into 1-in. meatballs. Place meatballs on greased jelly-roll pans. Bake at 400 F until browned, about 18 minutes. Set aside.
To make the gravy, melt butter over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Saute onion until tender. Stir in flour and brown lightly. Slowly add beef broth; cook and stir until smooth and thickened. Blend in cream, cayenne pepper and white pepper. Gently stir in meatballs; heat through but do not boil.
Lefse is a traditional potato-based Norwegian flatbread. I added it to the menu for a few reasons. We were planning to make knockwurst, as an homage to Norwegian pølse (hot dogs) (which, unfortunately I did not get a shot of), and I figured the lefse could be used as a roll for the pølse. Also, I wanted to challenge myself by seeing if I could make them from scratch. I did pick some up pre-made so I could compare my results with store-bought and, in a worst case scenario, have some to offer if I couldn't successfully make them. Lefse can be used in many ways and one of the best ones I read about was spread with melted butter then sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar and rolled up - yum!
The lefse proved incredibly challenging for me to make. There was a ton of moisture in my potatoes and I found that I needed to add a great deal of flour to prevent the dough from sticking to everything in sight. I did get a few made and I compared them to the store-bought (you can see mine on the left in the photo below and the store-bought on the right). When it came to texture, mine weren't as tender or thin as the pre-made lefse. I'm sure I overworked the dough so I wasn't surprised mine weren't as tender. The flavor was quite similar between the two, though I did prefer the store-bought. As you might expect, the lefse taste a lot like potatoes. A friend commented that they reminded her of potato pancakes and I thought that description was fairly accurate, at least for my slightly thicker variation. The pre-made were similar to wraps you might buy at the market for sandwiches. I'm glad I took a stab at making them but given the challenges, I'll likely stick with store-bought in the future.
10 pounds potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
In a medium saucepan, cover potatoes with water and cook until tender. Run hot potatoes through a potato ricer. Place 9 cups of the riced potatoes in a large bowl. Beat butter, cream, salt and sugar into the hot riced potatoes. Let cool to room temperature.
Stir flour into the potato mixture. Pull off pieces of the dough and form into walnut size balls. Lightly flour a pastry cloth and roll out lefse balls to 1/8 inch thickness.
Cook on a hot (400 F) griddle until bubbles form and each side has browned. Place on a damp towel to cool slightly and then cover with damp towel until ready to serve.
Ahhhhh, the fish balls. I'd have to say they were the talk of the party more than any other food item. On my trip to the Scandinavian store, the can caught my eye and I asked one of the employees about them. He told me he wasn't a fan of them because the texture was weird but that many of the Norwegians who came into the store were raised on them and swore by them. I called Shane to ask if he wanted me to pick them up and he said he was willing to give them a shot! As you can see, the ingredients are cod, water, tapioca, milk powder, soybean oil, salt and spices. I was told by the store employee to heat them before serving so that's what I did. Let me tell you, these things really stunk up the house! Friends of ours arrived just as we were taking them off the heat and I don't think they found the aroma very welcoming :)
Surprisingly, quite a few people were adventurous enough to try the fish balls. Almost everyone who tried them said the same thing: they were ok, but definitely not something they'd ever request specifically. Our friend, Lauren, however, had quite a strong opinion of them. I think the last picture explains her feelings perfectly...
I debated Shane's cake for quite some time. I kept changing my mind - first I thought I'd do a layer cake or a sheet cake but I kept coming back to the cupcake option. Since we'd invited quite a few people, I eventually decided cupcakes would be the way to go since they're easy to grab and eat without a lot of fuss or mess. Initially I'd considered decorating each and every cupcake with the Norwegian colors of red, white and blue, but in the interest of keeping my sanity, that idea was tossed. Instead, Shane and I worked together to create the Norwegian flag out of cupcakes. He arranged them, I frosted and I thought the result was a lot of fun! The only problem was people avoided eating the cupcakes because no one wanted to ruin the pattern!
I made the cupcakes with one of my favorite go-to chocolate cake recipes - Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake. I previously blogged about this recipe here, and it is also available on the Hershey's website. For the frosting, I used my favorite cream cheese recipe from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes book. I've probably made it 3 or 4 times in just the past few weeks alone. I love how easily it comes together and its lightness.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 lb (4 cups) powdered sugar, sifted
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy – 2 to 3 minutes. Add sugar 1 cup at a time, and then vanilla, beating until smooth and combined.
Makes 4 cups
Smør Bukk are Norwegian caramels. I picked them up on my trip the Scandinavian store as a fun item to throw in a candy dish. A couple of friends tried them and commented to me about them. There were two varieties in the bag and apparently one type was more well received than the other but both were deemed tasty! Everything on the packaging was in Norwegian (though my knowledge of Norwegian cuisine has grown, my grasp of the language is lagging) so I'm not sure what was different about the two varieties.
We also served pizza, which unfortunately, I did not remember to photograph. I wanted to make sure there was at least one menu option that people would surely recognize and welcome. I used this dough recipe for the pizza, which is one of my all-time favorites.