Trine Hahnemann is a household name in Denmark as a self taught food entrepreneur with a passion for Danish cooking. She has a number of Danish cookbooks under her belt, several successful catering ventures, and appears in TV and magazines on a regular basis. This is Hahnemann's collection of recipes for December celebrations, the time of year when she takes four weeks (!) off work to decorate the house and entertain family and friends.
Disregard the publisher's misleading blurb claiming this is your guide to a Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Danish Christmas (it's absolutely not), and a decorated holiday home (unless my book is missing a chapter). This book is no such thing. Instead, it is a great introduction to Nordic christmas flavours since many ingredients and some dishes are common to the whole Nordic region.
The recipes are mainly modern takes on traditional dishes or ingredients, such as kale bruschetta and orange pickled herring. Sometimes its the addition of a single flavour that upgrades a simple dish, such as the grated horseradish in the dressing for the root vegetable salad.
A closer reading of the recipes drew me in. I look forward to exchanging hot dogs for lamb stew cooked over open fire (see photo below) on a winter outing. Pairing brussel sprouts with chili and clementines sounds daring and fantastic. Exchanging the cured salmon for cured cod may also be a stroke of sheer brilliance.
The true test lies in whether this book can guide us to duplicate her results and so far the cookie and glögg recipes I've tried were easy to follow and delivered good flavours. It does seem as though the author assumes some familiarity with Nordic ingredients since the level of detail in the instructions is inconsistent, and at times lacking. Unless the kitchen is your gaming zone, you'll find yourself googling for explanations on how to roll a log of rolled pork belly, truss a goose, or how to handle raw fish when curing and salting salmon and cod.
Sea buckthorn vinegar, pickled herring, and liver paté may not suit the innocent novice palate nor children, but the brunch recipes featuring baked spinach omelette, kale, root vegetables, salmon and sweet rice pancakes are less intimidating.
Scandinavian Christmas is a great source of inspiration for "Scandinavians" wanting to update their winter menu. It's also a great gift to a "foodie" with a curious palate, who wants a modern take on Danish Christmas flavours without unnecessary elaborations on tradition. Lars Ranek's photography is wonderfully moody with a great dose of atmosphere and decidedly Danish styling. If only the publisher would have dared to present it as a unique peak into Trina's personal Danish holiday recipe box, instead of placing it in a broader Scandinavian lifestyle context, this book would have found its audience amongst international foodies with greater ease.
Scandinavian Christmas, Trine Hahnemann, Alhambra House, Quadrille Publishing Ltd, 2012, 144 pages, ISBN 978 184949 192 1. PHOTO CREDIT: COVER IMAGE QUADRILLE PUBLISHING, ALL PHOTOS ©LARS RANEK; USED WITH PERMISSION