i am the keeper of the family tree. some are stories, passed down through rumor and gentle memories - others are uncovered through research. faded birth records, death certificates.
my family came through ellis island in the late 1800s, just a few miles away from my tiny kitchen. i do not know them beyond their names and the small treasures secreted away, like the hope chest lined in norwegian newspapers, the black and white photograph of a man with an oversized handlebar mustache and the name 'thor' written in a tight scrawl on the back. they did not speak english and misunderstood the question for their last name, writing their hometown instead and forever altering the family name from johannsson to nordberg. they were northerners and chased the winter, like most displaced scandinavians, to the midwest. my father's norwegian family settled in iowa and the dakotas, while my mother's swedish family came through to illinois and michigan.
the upper midwest has the largest settlement of scandinavian-americans in the united states and i grew up on dishes very much norse by midwest. there, you can't get far away from a wedding or a funeral (or any block party) without a casserole or someone passing you a bag of venison jerky. i keep my treasures, as any daughter does, like my great-grandmother's plattar pan with the wooden handle barely held on by tape.
in russia, christmas is celebrated on new year's, so we decided to incorporate that and blend both of our families' traditional spreads. anna prepared several salads - salad olivier, a traditional potato salad with peas, carrots, boiled eggs, and diced ham; garlic-carrot salad, and a sweet carrot dessert salad. i brought my own history to the table, with jansson's temptation, a casserole dish traditionally found on the julbord table made of thinly-sliced potatoes, cream, pickled sprats, and breadcrumbs. i also prepared my favorite dish, sillsallad, made of mashed beets and potatoes, flavored with minced cornichons, dill, and sprats. for a bit of sweet, i also baked lussekatter, saffron-cardamom hot buns.
the swedish christmas is always celebrated with a julbord, a table laden down with salads and dishes and so many options it'll make your eyes cross. here, several generations removed, i can still see echoes in my childhood. every christmas eve, we never made a large dinner but made dozens of tiny appetizers and ate and drank all night long, until it was dark and santa crept over the roof. christmas, to me, is my mother standing at the sink and peeling eggs under running water, mayo and hungarian paprika at her side, ready to devil.
so, i'm giving you my three favorites, lussekatter, janssons frestelse, and sillsallad. make your own adjustments - add more cream or dill, maybe something new like pork belly or celeriac. make it your own tradition.
potatoes with spiced anchovies and cream
6-7 peeled potatoes, sliced thinly
1 cup heavy cream
1 leek, sliced thinly
1 white onion, sliced thinly
1 can pickled sprats
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
preheat oven to 350. in a medium skillet, saute onions and leek over med-high heat until soft. reduce heat to low and allow to caramelize slightly, about 15-20 minutes. add chopped sprats and stir until thoroughly combined.
grease a casserole dish with butter and layer sliced potatoes with the onion-sprat mixture until both are exhausted. in a small bowl, combine cream with allspice, salt, and pepper and pour over casserole.
cover with foil and place on center rack for 40-50 minutes, or until potatoes are tender enough to be pierced by a fork. remove foil and sprinkle with breadcrumbs, allow to continue baking for 5-7 minutes, until breadcrumbs are golden brown. serve hot.
beet & potato salad with cornichons, dill, and sprats
4 beets, boiled and peeled, diced
2 waxy potatoes (such as red or yukon gold), peeled, boiled, and diced
1/4 cup diced cornichons
2 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 cup minced dill
1/2 cup diced white onion
1/4 cup diced granny smith apple
1 tbsp grated fresh horseradish
4 oz pickled sprats, minced
Salt & pepper to taste
add beets and potatoes into a pot and mash until thoroughly combined and evenly distributed, should be the texture of mashed potatoes. add all remaining ingredients, top with sliced hard-boiled egg and dill and serve.
saffron-cardamom buns with currants
200 g butter, unsalted
300 ml whole milk
200 ml heavy cream
20 g active dry yeast
1 lg egg
180 g sugar
1 tsp salt
t tbsp cardamom
1 tsp allspice
1 g saffron
300 g cake flour
700 g all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dried currants (or raisins)
Egg white, for wash
in a small pot, combine milk, cream, butter, and saffron. heat slowly, until butter is melted and all are combined. remove from heat and allow to cool until mixture is room temperature. add yeast and bloom in milk mixture.
in a large mixing bowl, combine milk mixture, egg, sugar, cardamom, salt, and allspice. slowly add the flours until they are fully incorporated and mix, with a dough hook, for about 2-4 minutes, until a smooth dough forms. cover with a towel and place in a warm area for one hour or until dough has doubled in size.
punch dough down and form buns by rolling dough into strands with your hands and curling into an s-shape. allow to rise a second time - for 20-30 minutes. brush with egg wash and press currants into the center of the ends, as pictured. bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees.