My one and only experience of Scandinavian food was as an accidental tourist.
On my first trip to Europe, after various delays, disruptions and late connections the plane, unable to land in fog-bound Frankfurt, was re-routed and we ended up in Copenhagen.
When we arrived it was dark, very cold and I was bleary eyed and somewhat disorientated. Exhausted, I crashed, and early next morning we were called to get ready to return to the airport.
The most extraordinary breakfast smorgasbord was on offer. My stomach turned. Pickled herring, gravlax salmon, all manner of unidentifiable fishy things, meats cured and chopped, some with raw egg, smelly cheeses and hard dark breads - it seemed too much early in the morning.
Time has moved on and thinking back I would love to get another chance at that table. I would be much less squeamish now.
What do we know about the cuisine of Scandinavia? We are familiar with the term smorgasbord, although here it has little to do with its authentic origins. Swedish food we've adopted include meatballs, roll mops, aquavit and probably the open sandwich.
The past few years have seen Nordic cuisine appear on the food radar. NOMA, a Norwegian restaurant has ranked among the best in the world. Scandinavian food is ticking other global food trend boxes: foraging, emphasis on indigenous ingredients and the renaissance of old time dishes. You can now find Swedish cookbooks for sale.
I have recently become friends with a lovely Swedish woman, Asa Löfvendahl. Knowing very little about the cuisine of her homeland I have been talking to her about typical Scandinavian food. She reminded me about the open sandwich , a good subject for a Savour column, I thought.
These treats taste delicious, are simple and quick to prepare and look great on the table. After the photo shoot, a few friends came around, we whipped up a few more sandwiches from the ingredients we had on hand and everyone had a bit of everything. And a very nice lunch it turned out to be.
Asa used good white and grain breads for the bases, some of which she toasted. You can also crisp up bases to build on by frying the bread in a little oil and butter and draining them on a paper towel as they cool.
Once you have decided on the bottom bread layer, take the crusts off and halve the slice to make an oblong shape.
Now get some toppings. While there are some traditional combinations, your imagination is the limit as to what can be used to build these sandwiches.
It might even be a way of using up a few leftovers from the fridge.
2012 food trends
While Scandinavian food is trending in the world, it's not the only stream. My predictions for what will be hot this year are, in no particular order:
* Food blogs: Sharing the love.
* Cheap eats: Casual, tasty, ethnic places often in hidden away spots.
* Real butchers who cure, smoke, age and cut to order.
* Cooking classes: Food-based team-building. Everyone wants to play MasterChef.
* NZ artisan food: A whole world of the most amazing small producers.
* Pacific influence: We'll become more real about where we are in the world and Pacific producers will become more savvy with their marketing. Check out the True Pacific site.
* Vegetables are the new black: Watch out for an increase in variety as we get into our gardens more, including heritage fruits and vegetables. Smaller growers will grow special crops for Farmers' markets.
* Farmers' markets: Kiwis' enthusiastic uptake of this way of shopping and selling will continue to increase.
* Ethical food: The RNZSPCA is leading the charge.
* Pop-up restaurants: Spontaneous eating out in random places. Restaurants will offer alternative formats to the a la cate menu formula.
Savour on the web
You can find all my recipes previously published in Herald on Sunday's Living magazine on the nzherald.co.nz website. Search for "Grant Allen". It's always great to get feedback and share ideas, such as this comment I received from Nat about last weekend's recipe for pasta sauce: "Sounds VERY similar to my Mama's Italian pasta sauce. Although we grate the garlic instead of chopping it. It's SO easy and soooo yummy ... This is real pasta sauce like they eat in Italy."
I love Nat's tip about grating the garlic. No more chopping for me, especially if you have a micro-plane. If you do grate, do so over the dish you are making because the garlic juice and oil carry the flavour.
If you have specific cooking queries please email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try and answer them.
* Grant Allen, a former restaurateur, runs an Auckland bespoke catering service called COOK. Check out Grant's Facebook page here.