Nordic invansion: the view from here

Since early October I've been traveling to libraries across Western Minnesota to speak about "Jul: Swedish American Holiday Traditions." It is a weekly (sometimes more often) trip into places I haven't explored before, and meeting the most extraordinary and enthusiastic folks around. In Cokato I met up with a childhood buddy from Gaylord. Sheila brought us to Bait and Hookk where we dined on the best lobster bisque I've ever tasted and shrimp and grits so good I nearly licked the plate. Occasionally we city folk think our restaurants can't be beat and that small towns just don't cut it when it comes to fine dining. I will never be so close minded again.

Speaking of small towns and dining... having never visited New Scenic Cafe in Duluth (I know, I know, I don't get out much), until last week I'd only heard about the amazing food happening there thanks to Chef Scott Graden. He taught a class at American Swedish Institute that still has me fantasizing about the dishes he put up. Gjetost creme brulee is my new favorite dessert.

Meanwhile, in the Twin Cities we've been enjoying a pre-Holiday Nordic invasion of sorts, with chefs from Denmark and Sweden launching new cookbooks and reveling with like-minded Nordic food lovers.

Chef Rene Redzepi of Noma came to American Swedish Institute to launch "Noma Fermentation." He evening included demonstrations and chocolate chip cookies topped with fermented yellow pea caramel.

Trine Hahnemann hung out at Ingebretsen's and Norway House with her stunning "Copenhagen." I've been a fan of Trine's for years. Her cookbooks are beautifully photographed with recipes that are delicious, straightforward, and representative of both homecooks and the restaurant scene in Denmark. 

The highlight of our Nordic invasion was this past weekend when Chef Magnus Nilsson brought his new "Nordic Baking Book" to ASI where about a dozen local chefs, pastry chefs, and me drew inspiration from the book and served 300 of our closest friends delicious breads and pastries. After our Fika I had the opportunity to interview Beatrice "Peaches" Ojakangas, and what a pleasure to hear from her about everything from appearing in Seventeen Magazine as a teen, to inventing Jeno's pizza rolls. Beatrice is as generous as she is smart, and we are all the better for having her join us in our kitchens.

And the Nordic invasion update wouldn't be complete without mentioning "The Great Minnesota Cookie Book: Award-Winning Recipes from the Star Tribune's Holiday Cookie Contest." Lee Svitak Dean and Rick Nelson (plus photos by Tom Wallace) outdid themselves with this compilation of extraordinary cookie recipes contributed by Minnesota bakers for more than a decade. Having been a part of the contest for two years, I was delighted when Karl from Cooks of Crocus Hill invited me to join Lee, Rick, and two other winning cookie bakers (two of us with Swedish cookie recipes!) at an event celebrating the book. It was one of the most unique and high energy events I've ever attended, with guests that were rowdy with excitement about cookies and baking. How do you top that?


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