Logs blazed in the fireplace, guests sipped straight shots of aquavit, and the buffet table was laden with Norwegian salmon, roast venison and other dishes prepared by one of Norway's leading young chefs, Arne Brimi.
The location, however, was not Norway but Los Angeles--the Hancock Park home of Norwegian Consul General Per A. Tollefsen. Brimi, 32, was there to talk about his simple, natural approach to Norwegian cuisine and to introduce the English-language edition of his cookbook, "A Taste of Norway."
"My philosophy is to keep the natural flavor. I try to show people that everyone can do this," he said. Devoted to the outdoor life, hunting and fishing, Brimi cooks at the Fossheim Turisthotell in Lom, Norway.
Like contemporary American chefs, Brimi emphasizes fresh, local ingredients and is developing new interpretations of Norwegian cuisine while preserving old ways of cooking. He has done this with such success that in 1985 he was named Norway's chef of the year. Two years before, he was chosen game chef of the year. In 1987 Brimi took part in the World Championship of Chefs in Lyon, France. And in 1988 he was a member of the Norwegian team that won a bronze medal at the International Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt.
For the Los Angeles buffet, Brimi prepared two versions of marinated raw salmon (gravad lax), one flavored with dill and the other with juniper berries. He also set out two styles of salmon mousse and sliced smoked salmon accompanied by a platter of chive-topped scrambled eggs. Crisp pea pods accompanied a hot dish of salmon in a light sauce based on salmon juices.
At the Fossheim Hotel, Brimi has a cure house where he hangs hams and sausages, including venison pepperoni. Brimi brought some of the pepperoni to Los Angeles and served it thinly sliced with a sauce of sweetened lingonberries and aquavit. Pears stuffed with lingonberries garnished a platter of cold roast venison, and a sauce of lingonberries and creme fraiche went with cold venison that had been marinated with juniper, thyme, mint, red wine and red wine vinegar.
Following his light and natural theme, Brimi served two fruit desserts--pears cooked with lingonberries and a bowlful of raspberries and strawberries topped with caramel sauce. Both would be ideal for rich holiday dinners.
In Norway, a typical Christmas menu includes roast pork ribs--not spareribs but pork bacon with the ribs and rind attached. Dessert could be cloudberries folded into sweetened whipped cream, Brimi said.
The following recipes for holiday desserts include the caramel sauce for fruit that Brimi prepared in Los Angeles. The other recipes appear in his cookbook, which has a section devoted to Christmas foods.
"A Taste of Norway" was initially published in Norway two years ago by the Norwegian University Press. The English translation can be ordered from the American distributor, Pennfield Press, 215 Brown St., Iowa City, Iowa 52245-1358. Send checks or money orders for $22, which includes postage and handling. For more information, call (319) 337-9998.
1 pound frozen lingonberries, thawed, or cranberries
3 cups water
8 pears, peeled but with stem attached
Combine berries and water and stir in sugar to taste. Bring to boil. Add pears and simmer until just tender. Cool in cooking liquid in pan. Remove pears from pan. Cut in half to serve, if desired. Strain cooking liquid and serve with pears. Accompany with ice cream and cookies, if desired. Makes 16 servings.
FRESH FRUIT WITH CARAMEL SAUCE
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream
Assorted fresh fruit such as raspberries and halved strawberries
Combine syrup, sugar and cream in saucepan. Bring to boil and boil 5 to 10 minutes, until slightly thickened. Cool. Arrange fruit in serving bowl. Spoon over sauce just before serving. Makes 1 1/2 cups sauce.
Note: As variation, substitute 1/2 cup Port wine for 1/2 cup whipping cream.
1 2/3 cups whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups cloudberries or other berries
Whip cream with sugar and vanilla until stiff. Reserve few berries for garnish and fold remainder into whipped cream. Serve in bowl, garnished with reserved berries. Makes 4 servings.
8 egg whites
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups thawed frozen lingonberries
Beat egg whites with sugar and vanilla until stiff. Fold in berries. Makes 8 servings.
Note: Although many recipes call for uncooked eggs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found them to be a potential carrier of food-borne illness and recommends that diners avoid eating raw eggs.
1/2 cup plus 3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups milk
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Orange or banana slices
Shredded orange peel
Heat 1/2 cup sugar in small skillet until melted and browned. Coat bottom and sides of 8x4-inch loaf pan with melted sugar. Set aside.
Scald milk and cream in saucepan. Beat eggs lightly with remaining 3 1/2 tablespoons sugar. Gradually stir milk into egg mixture. Add vanilla. Turn into prepared loaf pan. Set pan in baking pan 1/3 filled with hot water.
Bake at 250 degrees 1 hour or longer, or until sharp knife inserted in pudding comes out clean. Remove pudding from water bath and cool in pan, then invert onto serving dish. Garnish with whipped cream, fruit slices and orange peel. Makes 4 servings.