To accompany our very competitive, NCAA-style tournament of cookbooks, we asked you—our readers!—to get in on the fun and test and review 15 cookbooks dubbed Piglet Community Picks. Read on for some of our community's reactions to Fire & Ice by Darra Goldstein—and keep up with all the reviews here.
I didn’t give much thought to Nordic countries beyond the occasional visit to Ikea until my sister moved to Copenhagen seven years ago. I would return from Denmark wishing I could embrace Danish culture in my everyday life, but it always seemed out of reach: The people and places manage to be both precise and laid back, warm and cozy, yet reserved and cool.
So I jumped at the opportunity to test out Darra Goldstein’s Fire + Ice, hoping that immersing myself in the cooking would bring me closer to this beguiling culture.
Goldstein’s love for the region, the food, and the people pours out on every page. Here is a woman who clearly did not find the culture and cuisine as difficult to crack as I have. I was reassured to have such a knowledgeable guide, and dove in.
The book is lovely. The size is welcoming and manageable. The pictures are beautiful. The book is organized by course, with sections throughout devoted to each of the countries represented in the book (Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden). The recipes are very straightforward and surprisingly simple, with almost no unusual ingredients to find. Each has a substantial headnote to provide the context I craved to place each dish in my imagination.
I organize a cookbook club in Vermont that meets monthly for a potluck-style meal all prepared from a single book. In January, eight of us each cooked one or two recipes from the book and gathered at my home, which I decorated with evergreens from my yard, candles, and little Danish gnomes for a cozy Nordic feast.
- vasserbotten cheese pie (although no vasserbotten cheese was available—a rare difficult-to-find ingredient)
- potato flatbreads
- chanterelle soup
- barley salad
- fish cakes with remoulade
- baked pike with mushrooms and spinach
- karelian stew
- rutabaga pudding
- pea and asparagus puree
- pickled beets
- veiled farm girls (a simple apple & cream layered dessert)
- cardamom-ginger schnapps.
Some of the recipes were so minimalist, we were concerned they’d be bland. This was not food that assaulted your taste buds with strong flavors, yet we all found them to be more delicious than we expected.
For example, the Finnish karelian stew has just cubed meat, onions, carrots, allspice and juniper berries, peppercorns and bay leaves. These ingredients are layered in pot, covered in water and baked in the oven for several hours, and then topped with some chopped dill pickles. No browning. No deglazing. Yet we all enjoyed the contrast between the sharp sourness of the pickles with the gentle comforting flavors of the stew.
Across all recipes, the distance from raw ingredients to finished dish was short. Individual components of each dish were given ample opportunity to shine. The chanterelle soup was one of the best mushroom soups I’ve had. The rutabaga pudding converted this rutabaga-hater. The cheese pie was rich, the baked pike full of umami. The pickled beets provided a needed counterpart to the other dishes.
In this way, the book was very much in keeping with the Scandinavian “law of Jante”: There were no dishes that stood out over and above the rest. Each contributed to our shared meal in its own way, so I was curious to try out a recipe on a weeknight, without having many other recipes accompany it.
A few days later, I made braised pheasant with juniper and cabbage, although I substituted Cornish game hens. This was described as a quick dish, and it was, but the weeknight was rushed. There were no freshly gathered evergreens or little gnomes at this meal. No smiling faces of friends eager to share in the pleasure of home-cooked food—just hungry, grumpy children. When we finally ate, the food didn’t sing the same.
The plain simplicity of the dish, a quality which had been so comforting and satisfying at my dinner party earlier in the week, fell flat. Or perhaps in my distracted state, I had not given the dish the attention it deserved. But the experience left me wondering if perhaps these recipes are best enjoyed in the context from which they arose, or a close approximation.
I will certainly return to the book in the spring and summer months when I can try the fresh rhubarb and cucumber salad, shrimp salad with an asparagus-dill terrine, nettle soup, and chilled blueberry soup. And there are many desserts I didn’t have time to try: caramel cream served with frozen cranberries, raspberry grottos, and Swedish cream. But will any of the dishes we tried enter my regular rotation? Maybe, but maybe not.
This is a book that I am glad to have. It provides a beautiful window into Nordic cuisine and makes what had seemed unattainable more accessible to me. I have already resolved to have at least one cozy Nordic feast each year.
What Other Testers Had to Say:
Fire & Ice makes authentic Nordic foods compelling and accessible for someone who’s done little cooking with lingonberries and herring, while also providing Nordic food lovers with a set of exciting recipes for any season.”
"Darra’s book is a friend and teacher, making a quick pupil of you in a concise yet romantic way."
"What I liked about the book:
- beautiful design
- great photos
- love the use of cardamom
- stories and background on each region
- salmon, yes!"