Cook of the Week: College roommates spread the smushie love

Have you had a hyggelig summer?

Hyggelig is a Danish word for the cozy feeling you get when you spend time with loved ones sharing a meal, and Annette Barnum Sindberg and Beth Fawcett are on a mission to spread that Danish concept and their unique versions of Danish smorrebrod — open-faced sandwiches crafted with precision.

The child of Danish parents who immigrated when she was a baby, Annette has traveled to Denmark frequently and has always felt an affinity to the country and its people.

“So much of me feels Danish; every time I visit I meet all these people who think like I think,” says Annette. For years, Annette dreamed of writing a cookbook with the Danish recipes used by her grandmother (Mor Mor) and her mother. Finally, she called up her former college roommate, Beth, and asked if she wanted to help and was born.

“She called me about doing a cookbook and the next thing you know we're testing recipes, having tasting parties and learning to navigate the publishing world,” says Beth. The women did not study culinary arts in college — far from it.

Beth's major was engineering and Annette's was computer programming, but they have both enjoyed cooking for their families through the years and are loving the time spent together concocting recipes.

“It's a lot of fun, but kind of messy! We use every cutting board and utensil in the kitchen!” Beth laughs.

The main inspiration for the women, the Danish “smushie,” is an abbreviated version of the larger smorrebrod sandwich.

“It's kind of a combination of a smorrebrod and sushi,” explains Beth.

Annette first saw the miniature creations at Aamanns, an exclusive restaurant in Copenhagen.

“They were really beautiful, fussy, little sandwiches. I'm a very detailed person — I design computer systems — but they were way too fussy for me!” Annette decided she wanted to bring the smushie idea to America, but to tweak the concept for the American palate.

“I wanted to use humble ingredients; I didn't want it to hurt! These are the everyman's version. They're not fussy.”

The traditional smorrebrod sandwich is compiled from a set list of ingredients that was formulated 100 years ago. Beth and Annette have modernized the list, while sticking to the true Danish method of building the sandwiches, supervised under the watchful eye of Annette's 100 percent Danish mother.

“You always start with buttered bread, usually a Danish rye. Then the lettuce, the main ingredient, a roasted meat, or fish, or shrimp, then you decorate it with vegetables, and maybe chives or horseradish. You use a knife and fork to eat it,“ Annette clarifies. A sauce is usually the final component, drizzled carefully, for artistic effect.

The appearance of the smushie is key. “The assembly process is a big part of it,” explains Beth. “The presentation — you want it to look just right — so that you can almost taste it just by looking at it.”

Annette agrees, “So much is in the presentation, it's enticing, not because you put a lot of fat on it, but because it tastes so good.”

In addition to the smushies, Beth and Annette plan to include salads and desserts in the cookbook that would make nice accompaniments to the miniature sandwiches. The salads and desserts are prepared with the same attention to detail and design.

While they continue to work on their cookbook, the friends keep busy testing recipes and staging impromptu tasting parties in order to get feedback and to spread hyggelig.

“It's all about being hyggelig — being with people you love,” says Annette.

There's still plenty of summer left. Isn't it time to get your hyggelig on?

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  Beth Fawcett of Wheaton, left, and Annette Barum-Sindberg of Chicago, show off their Danish smushi open-faced sandwiches, Strawberry Medallion Cookies and Eva's Mashed Potato Salad that will be part of their cookbook. Bev Horne/
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