DULUTH - Scandinavia is known for many things - cross-country skiing, wool sweaters, blond hair and ABBA. But, perhaps unfairly, the foods of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland are stereotyped as slightly uninspired, white and bland.
"It's not bland!" says Beatrice Ojakangas. "Maybe it's the way we've started to prepare it lately, but it's real, natural, good food, and it is so tasty."
And she should know. The Norwegian American, a newspaper dedicated to people with Norwegian heritage living in North America, calls the Duluth woman "one of the leading authorities on Nordic food in the U.S."
Ojakangas has written 31 cookbooks, impressive enough to get her inducted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame in 2005. Her latest book, "Breakfast with Beatrice," highlights Scandinavian breakfasts from Sweet Cream Waffles to Swedish Farmer's Omelets and is being released just in time for the Norwegian holiday Syttende Mai (Constitution Day) on Thursday, May 17.
Ojakangas is not Norwegian, but 100 percent Finnish. Nonetheless, her cookbook, which is available in Fargo at Zandbroz Variety and Barnes and Noble, features recipes from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. And she has friends who go all out for Syttende Mai.
"They put out a great big spread - salmon and cheeses," she said. "Friends of ours even have a parade and wave Norwegian flags."
Ojakangas said whether it's a holiday like Syttende Mai or any day of the week, breakfast can be party time, and her new book can provide the recipes.
"Breakfast entertaining can be great fun," she said. "We do a lot of entertaining in the summertime as people are passing through. What's nice about having people over for breakfast is you can get by with having just one dish on the table."
Ojakangas said some of her favorite recipes from the book include French Egg Casserole, Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake and Light and Crispy Waffles, which she said are the choice of some of her friends' children.
"These kids have been making the waffles since they were probably 4 years old, and they're graduating high school now," Ojakangas said. "They told me it's their favorite recipe. I love having that kind of support system."
Ojakangas said the book is full of recipes that have stood the test of time - simple, yet flavorful recipes she acquired from her many travels to Scandinavian countries.
"I think people will like the book because the recipes include down-to-earth basics," she said. "I believe in eating good food and that includes a good, healthy breakfast. It's still the most important meal of the day."
And it definitely doesn't need to be bland.
Light and Crispy Waffles
Yield: 8 waffles
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3 eggs, separated
1¾ cups milk
½ cup vegetable oil
Butter for brushing the iron
Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Beat egg whites until stiff. In another bowl, beat yolks with milk and oil. Add yolk mixture to the dry ingredients, blending well. Fold in the egg whites. Preheat waffle iron; brush lightly with butter. Spoon ½ cup batter into heated waffle iron and cook. Serve hot.
French Egg Casserole
Yield: 8 servings
4 hard-cooked eggs
4 slices bacon, cooked crisp
1 cup medium white sauce*
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Dash of garlic powder
Pinch each of thyme, marjoram, and basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
4 tablespoons buttered breadcrumbs
Peel the eggs and cut into thin slices. (Actually, you can use more eggs if you like, depending on how many you have on hand, but don't exceed 8 for this amount of sauce.)
Drain and crumble the bacon. Make the white sauce, and add the cheese, garlic
powder, thyme, marjoram, basil, and parsley to it. Pour a bit of the sauce into each of two individual casseroles,au gratin dishes, or 12-ounce custard cups.
Add a layer of egg slices, then a few bacon crumbles, then more sauce. Continue layering until ingredients are used up, ending with the sauce. Sprinkle the top with buttered breadcrumbs. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes or until bubbly around the edges and the crumbs are browned.
Notes: For a simple white sauce: Combine 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour. Stir together and add 1 cup milk. Bring to a boil, whisk, and salt to taste.
To make buttered breadcrumbs, heat 1 tablespoon butter until melted. Toss breadcrumbs
in the melted butter until evenly coated.
Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake
Yield: 12-16 servings
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar, divided
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups fresh blueberries
½ cup slivered almonds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan and dust with flour. In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour and ¾ cup of the sugar.
With a pastry blender or fork, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Reserve 1 cup of the mixture. Add the baking powder, salt, sour cream, 1 egg and the almond extract to the remaining flour mixture. Mix until a stiff dough forms. Press the dough over the bottom and 2 inches up the sides of the pan; it will be about ¼ inch thick on the sides.
In a small bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, remaining ¼ cup sugar, and remaining egg until well blended. Pour the mixture over the dough in the pan and spread evenly.
Arrange the blueberries over the top. Mix the almonds with the reserved crumb mixture and sprinkle over the blueberries.
Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until the filling is set and the crust is golden brown. Cool 15 minutes; then remove sides of the pan and finish cooling. Serve warm.
All recipes from "Breakfast with Beatrice: 250 Recipes from Sweet Cream Waffles to Swedish Farmer's Omelets"by Beatrice Ojakangas (University of Minnesota Press, 2018). Copyright 2018 by Beatrice Ojakangas. Reprinted by permission of the University of Minnesota Press.