Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Go Olli, Go!

Today is the start of the Global Chefs Challenge Northern Europe Final. Competing from Finland is Olli Kolu. Good luck, Olli!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Finnish Almond Cookies

Time for another cookie recipe - it's getting cold outside and baking is a good thing to do. One of the ingredients in this Finnish Almond Cookie recipe is candied pineapple. This is an item I had never used, so I scoped out the candied fruit situation at the supermarket. The clear plastic containers of candied fruit in the produce section had vivid, unnatural colors (bright green, red, yellow) and when I looked at the pineapple, it was bathed in a viscous, yellow syrup. I decided I would try dried pineapple instead. Dried pineapple is very sweet and it has a nice chewy texture -- how could it be worse than the manufactured candied stuff? I was also puzzled by the "small can" of candied pineapple. How much is a small can? I estimated that it would be about 1/2 a cup of dried pineapple.

The jar of cherries, too, put me off a bit. I wasn't sure that I wanted to use maraschino cherries with their bright red dye, festive though that might be! I had some dried cherries on hand and figured that I would try using those to top one portion of the cookies, as an experiment. And I liked the idea of using ground almonds, rather than almond extract.

I'd say overall, the experiment was a success! These are fairly dense cookies with a cake-like texture. I liked the ones with the dried cherries on top -- the cherries gave a nice tart taste, in contrast with the dried pineapple chunks that are mixed into the cookies. Now, whether this revised recipe bears any resemblance to a true, Finnish cookie - I have no idea. However, I will say that it is tasty and all natural!

The Revised Recipe: Finnish Almond Cookies
Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup, plus 2 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried pineapple, cut into small cubes
Around 24 Dried cherries (one to top each cookie)
3/4 cup finely ground almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Line cookie sheets with baking parchment paper. In a bowl, sift together the flour and salt - set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together thoroughly. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the ground almonds and beat until light. Stir in the dried pineapple and gradually add the sifted flour/salt mixture.

Drop the batter by teaspoonfuls onto parchment lined baking sheets and top each cookie with a dried cherry. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown.

The Original Recipe: Finnish Almond Cookies
source: Recipes and Finnish Specialties, St. Paul Lutheran Church - Gloucester, MA

1/4 c. butter
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. plus 2 tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 small can candied pineapple
1 medium jar cherries
3/4 c. finely ground almonds, or 1 tsp. almond extract

Cream thoroughly butter and sugar; add egges one at a time, beating hard between additions; add almonds or extract, beat until light. Stir in pineapple and gradually add sifted flour and salt. Drop by teaspoonfuls on greased baking sheet and garnish with cherry. Bake in 350 degree oven 7-10 min., or until light golden brown. Makes 2 to 2 1/2 dozen. If desired in bar form, put dough in 8 x 12 pan, add cherry about every 2". Cool after baking and cut so each bar has a cherry.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Notes from an Authority...

I received a great letter from Liz N. today -- she grew up in Lanesville with my mother -- she provided me with further information about Finnish food.

Her daughter made a Punajuurisalaatti a few years ago for a family gathering. "Punajuuri" is the word for "beet". The salad contained boiled potatoes, cooked beets, diced apples and cucumber. Similar to the Sillisalaatti, but no fish.

Liz's cousins in Finland go mushroom hunting every summer and salt their finds, so they can be used in the months to come. Very consistent with what I read about mushroom foraging in Finland! Also, she said that they use lots of fresh dill in Finland. However, that practice didn't make its way to the Lanesville Finnish community. Strange, since I think dill is pretty easy to grow in this area.

And the answer to the question of how to make the hole in the center of the Reikä Leipä rye bread. Cookie cutter? Bottle? No, of course not -- with your fingers! Logical. Liz uses Beatrice Ojakangas' "Finnish Cookbook" (she is now the second person to mention that book to me!). This cookbook describes how Western Finnish flat rye bread is about 8 to 10 inches in diameter, with a hole about two inches in diameter in the center. The hole is made with the fingers :) Reikä Leipä was mostly made decades ago when the Western Finnish housewife made about 100 loaves at one time! Can you imagine? There was a mass baking spree once in the Spring and once in the Fall. Then, the loaves were stored on a pole near the ceiling, as I noted in an earlier entry.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Finnish Wafer Cookies

After making various breads, croquettes, and vegetable salads, I thought it was time to try more of a dessert-oriented recipe. This time - Finnish Wafer Cookies. The recipe looked quite straightforward -- butter, sugar, egg whites, flour and vanilla. Mixing the batter was simple. As I spooned the batter onto the cookie sheets, it reminded me of French tuile cookie batter -- fairly thin, sticky with sugar and egg whites.

The first tray baked without problem and I removed the cookies to a wire rack to cool. The cookies on the remaining trays, however, stuck to the nonstick surface like a very strong glue! About half of each cookie was left on the cookie sheet. As for the flavor/texture, I expected them to crisp up like tuiles. But, they remained kind of spongy and moist in texture. I used salted butter, which I think was a mistake. There was a slightly salty flavor.

After my mixed results, I decided to take a look at a tuile recipe to see how it compared. In the tuile recipe, there was about twice the amount of sugar, half the amount of eggs, and about the same amount of butter, flour and flavoring. The butter, however, was melted rather than solid. Also, the other key instruction was to heavily grease the baking sheet or to line it with parchment.

I decided to retry the recipe, this time using parchment, more sugar and fewer eggs, but leaving the butter solid. The flavor was better, however, the cookies did not crisp up. These cookies are best served soon after taking them out of the oven.

The Revised Recipe: Finnish Wafer Cookies
Makes approximately 3 dozen

1/2 cup sugar
4 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 egg whites
1/4 cup plus 1.5 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Line cookie sheets with parchment. Cream sugar and butter together, along with the vanilla. Little by little, add the egg whites. Mix in flour. Do not mix too much. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto the lined baking sheets, forming small dots. Leave three to four inches between cookies, as the batter will spread when it is baked. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes, or until delicately browned. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for two to three minutes before removing to a wire rack. These cookies are best eaten the same day they are baked. They do not keep well in a sealed container.

The Original Recipe: Finnish Wafer Cookies
source: Recipes and Finnish Specialties, St. Paul Lutheran Church - Gloucester, MA

4 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
4 1/2 Tablespoons butter
4 egg whites
5 1/2 Tablespoons flour

Cream sugar and butter together, with a dash of vanilla. Then add, little by little, the egg whites. Mix in flour. Do not mix too much. Drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet in small dots. Bake in a moderate over 350 for 5 min. or until delicately browned.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Some Historical Research...

Today, I went to the Cape Ann Historical Museum in Gloucester to see if I could find any historical information about the Finnish community in Lanesville. The librarian at the archive was helpful and pointed me to some resources.

The first was a paper called "The Finns in Lanesville, Massachusetts", by Helen Babson. It appeared that this paper was published in October 1919 in the Studies in Sociology - Social Monograph No. 13, Vol. IV, No. 1. The age of the paper did not surprise me when I came upon the publication date at the end of the document -- the tone of much of the paper is what I would describe as patronizing - talking about how best to "Americanize" the Finnish immigrants, etc.. You can read the paper here, if you like.

But getting beyond the superior tone of the author, there was some interesting information. It seems that the first Finnish settlers on Cape Ann were two fisherman who arrived in 1885. They heard that work was available in the quarries, so they abandoned their ship and made their home in Gloucester. They wrote to their friends back home, who spread the word and began to immigrate to Cape Ann.

Between 1892 and 1900, 1400 Finnish people were living in Lanesville. The author suggests that almost all of them came from the Vaasa region. Vaasa is a coastal city which is considerably farther south than Haapajärvi, where my great-grandmother came from. Here is a link to the Vaasa Tourist Board -- guess what - it is the sunniest city in Finland :-)

Single women who came over from Finland would most likely have been employed as a maid. In fact, some of the Finnish women who first came to Lanesville established informal "employment bureaus" with housekeeping jobs for single women. In 1895, a Finnish woman employed as a maid would make $1 to $2 per week initially. If she learned English, her wages might increase to $3 per week. But, most women got married before they fully learned English.

Many of the men had been quarry workers in Finland, so it was natural that they would bring their skills to Gloucester. The quarry employees worked 10 hours per day and they made 13.5 cents an hour! Now making $1.35 a day does not seem like very much money -- but, compare it with the women maids who might only make $1 per week.

The stone workers were an enterprising bunch. Apparently in the late 1800's, the demand for granite changed from very large blocks which could be used to construct buildings, to small paving stones that might be used to build roads. The Finnish stone cutters left the quarries and went out on their own. They would find boulders and rock outcroppings in fields and open land in Gloucester, cut paving stones, and then sell them to buyers, thus cutting out the quarry from the transaction. By 1907, however, demand for paving stones declined. At that point, the stone cutters returned to the quarries or they went to work in mills in Worcester or Pittsfield.

There was a short piece in Babson's paper about food. She indicates that fish was the principal meat and was usually fried. She also describes the Reikä Leipä rye bread. An interesting line is: "These loaves are made in large numbers with a long time between bakings, and to the American palette, are sour and disagreeable in taste." What was it about how the rye bread was made which made it sour? Perhaps they used a sort of sourdough "starter"? I wonder what Reikä Leipä tastes like today in Finland?

The Museum Library had a small collection of cookbooks. They had the Lane's Cove Cookbook and the Recipes and Finnish Specialties Cookbook which I have been using. The other local cookbooks did not have any Finnish recipes, so alas, no new material to try!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Finnish Mushroom Croquettes...Or Not All Experiments Can Be a Success

When I saw the recipe for Finnish mushroom croquettes, I must say that my interest was piqued. My mind conjured up memories of ham and chicken croquettes that I had eaten as tapas in Spain. They were among my favorite Spanish foods -- so much so that at one point in the past I was referred to as a "croqueta monster" :-)

In reading about modern-day Finland, I learned that mushrooms are a key local food. There are hundreds of edible mushrooms that grow there. Laws called "everyman's rights" are in place -- this means that people can pick mushrooms and berries with no permits -- even on privately owned property. I was amazed to learn that identifying wild mushrooms is still a skill which is taught in Finnish schools. Cepes seem to be one of the most common and prolific mushrooms -- check out this graph.

With all that as a backdrop, I read more carefully through the recipe. I was expecting the process to be something like creating a thick mushroom batter, forming into croquettes, breading and frying. But alas, there was the unexpected step where the cook is instructed to simmer the croquettes in salted water for 15 minutes. Wouldn't they fall apart in the water?

So, I set about my task. I ground the mushrooms in the food processor -- now perhaps I ground them too much? They were almost a mushroom paste. I mixed together the bread crumbs, milk and eggs, and added the mushrooms and salt/pepper. The batter was very liquidy, so I added in some more breadcrumbs to give the batter more substance. With trepidation, I formed some squishy croquettes and then slipped one into my pot of boiling water.

As predicted, the croquette disintegrated. Hmmm...maybe the water was boiling too vigorously. The recipe did say to simmer. I turned the heat down and the water bubbled in a more relaxed manner. I put in three more croquettes. They shed a bit of their outer layer, but then they kept their shape in the water. I turned the timer on for 15 minutes.

When the buzzer went off, I carefully lifted the croquettes out of the pot with a slotted spoon. I had a plate of rather unappetizing, boiled dumpling like balls. Determined to forge ahead, I rolled each in beaten egg and then put more breadcrumbs on. Into a fry pan they went with some melted butter. They browned up nicely. However, they seemed quite greasy. I gingerly tasted one. The filling was fairly light and fluffy, but overall - not a success. Which, of course, makes me ask myself several questions:

(1) Did I make the recipe, as it was made "way back when"? If anyone out there has any insights into this type of recipe, I'm all ears!

(2) What types of mushrooms did people use? Did the Finnish folk in Gloucester forage for mushrooms in the wild, as they may have done at home? I'd be interested to know.

(3) How finely were the mushrooms "ground"? What kind of breadcrumbs did they use? I used the purchased, fine plain bread crumbs.

All I can say is that not all experiments come out as we might expect or want! A couple of people said that I should not post this particular incident to the blog. However, I think that I need to record the good and the bad. Also, if anyone out there remembers how these were made years ago, and whether they were good or bad, I would love to hear. Unfortunately, this time I don't have a revised recipe to share with you!

The Original Recipe: Finnish Mushroom Croquettes
source: Recipes & Finnish Specialties - St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Gloucester

1 lb mushrooms
4 Tablespoons melted butter
2 eggs
4 Tablespoons bread crumbs
4 Tablespoons milk or beef stock
Few drops of onion juice

Grind mushrooms. Mix bread crumbs, milk and eggs together. Add mushrooms and seasonings. Stir together thoroughly. Form into croquettes. Let simmer in salted water 15 minutes. Dip in egg, dredge with bread crumbs, fry rapidly in butter. Serve with brown sauce and vegetables. Cooked and grated potatoes may be used instead of bread crumbs.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sima - Finnish Mead: An Interview with Michael Fairbrother of Moonlight Meadery

When I found this recipe for Sima (see below) in the “Bicentennial Cookbook – Some Old, Some New”, its English title was “a refreshing summer drink”. As I read it over, the ingredients looked a lot like a fermented beverage to me, given the hops and yeast. In fact, the Finfood web site indicates that Sima is a sparkling wine or Finnish homemade mead, which is typically drunk during picnics on May Day or “Vappu”.

When I read that Sima is considered to be a mead, I knew that I had to contact Michael Fairbrother , owner of Moonlight Meadery and a New Hampshire homebrewing authority. Michael is a wealth of knowledge on both mead and beer, and I was sure he could provide me with some insights on the recipe and also give me more information about how Sima can be made safely by today’s home cooks. Here is the conversation that Michael and I had about Sima.

I see that Sima is made with white and brown sugars. I thought that mead was always made with honey. Is there a broader definition of mead drinks?

Mead by definition means a fermented beverage whose base ingredient is honey. I have found several references that say that Sima is Finnish for mead. My guess is that honey was originally used in the making of Sima. However, honey tends to be expensive – people likely looked for less expensive alternatives and ended up substituting white and brown sugars instead.

One unique thing about the recipe is the fermentation time – it is quite short. A week of fermentation will result in a carbonated, lightly alcoholic beverage. The lemons will contribute citric acid, which will give the Sima a zesty flavor.

The hops are an interesting ingredient, as well, in the recipe. Hops serve as an anti-bacterial agent and help to preserve the beverage. When Sima was made by the Finnish immigrants in the United States, they likely used fresh, whole flower hops.

When the Sima is bottled, the yeasts attach to the raisins (a source of sugar). As fermentation continues with the sugars from the raisins, carbon dioxide is produced and this causes the raisins to float.

Where can a home brewer buy or order fresh hops?

There are several homebrewing stores which may have or can order hops, as well as online resources like Fresh Hops . Brewers measure ingredients by weight, not by volume. So, a quarter cup of fresh, whole leaf hops equates to about 0.125 ounce. Hops may not really be a critical ingredient in Sima – there are other Sima recipes which do not use hops. Based on the recipe I don’t think they will add any particular flavor to the beverage. (Note: Here is a link to Michael’s web page with a list of homebrewing stores)

If a home cook wants to try making Sima, what type of yeast should they use? Regular baker’s yeast, like one would use to make bread? Or are there special types of yeast that should be used for home brewing purposes?

In fermented beverages, yeast is used to control the flavor and aroma. Baker’s yeast can be used and is probably what the originally recipe was based on. However, the home brewer could upgrade to a different type of yeast for the Sima and obtain a completely different flavor and aroma. For example, there are different types of yeasts which are used for red and white wines, beers, and meads.

Are there tips that you would recommend for making Sima safely at home? Where would a home cook get bottles and caps for the recipe? Can you re-use bottles that other types of drinks have been bottled in?

No pathogens can grow in a fermenting liquid. However, it is important to sanitize the container in which you ferment the Sima and also to sanitize the bottles that you will use for the Sima. Sanitizing is not the same as sterilization. To effectively sanitize use 2 oz. Bleach (non-scented) per five gallons water and allow 10 min. contact time, then rinse thoroughly. Everything that will come in contact with the Sima (spoons, fermentation container, bottles, caps, etc.) should be sanitized.

Because this recipe for Sima uses hops, it is important to use brown glass bottles. You can re-use clean, sanitized beer bottles. Green and clear glass bottles are not suitable for beverages with hops – the light affects hops and can make the beverage smell like a skunk.

Caps and a capping tool can be purchased at a home brewing store.

Why do you think the recipe calls for fermenting the drink in an enameled pot?

You definitely wouldn’t want to ferment a beverage in an aluminum or copper pot – the metals would leach out into the liquid – that’s probably why the recipe indicates that an enameled pot should be used. Today, you would be fine using a stainless steel pot, or even better a clean, sanitized plastic bucket. You can place a lid loosely on top of the bucket or pot during the fermentation phase. You could also invest in an “air lock” – this will allow carbon dioxide to pass out from the fermentation bucket, but it will not allow air to get into the container.

How long will this type of drink keep, before it spoils? Should it be refrigerated?

In terms of the fermentation and chilling process, the colder the liquid, the slower the fermentation will occur. Once the Sima is bottled, I would not refrigerate it immediately – that could slow or even prevent the fermentation. I would bottle it and leave it at room temperature for a day. Then I would move it to the refrigerator. As I mentioned, this is a lightly fermented beverage. It should be consumed fairly quickly after the raisins have risen. I would recommend that this beverage be consumed in less than a week’s time, to prevent the yeast from fermenting all the sugars in the Sima. The recipe makes a pretty large quantity of Sima – you could scale it down to make a smaller amount.

Many thanks to Michael Fairbrother for this interview. Michael can be reached by email at

The Original Recipe: Sima Recipe (A Refreshing Summer Drink - Finnish)
source: “Bicentennial Cookbook – Some Old, Some New” (St. Paul Lutheran Church, Gloucester)

10 pints water
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups brown sugar
¼ cup hops
¼ tsp. yeast
1 lemon
Sugar and raisins for each bottle

Put the grated lemon rind, sugar, hops and boiling water in an enameled pot. Cover with a lid. When the water is cool enough to touch, add the sliced lemon and the crumbled yeast. Cover again with lid and leave in warm room until the following day, then strain the Sima. In each bottle put a couple of raisins and 1 tsp sugar and fill with Sima. Seal the bottles and store in a cold place. Sima will be ready in about one week’s time, when the raisins have risen to the surface.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Nisu - Coffee Bread

Growing up, I used to hear about Nisu, or Finnish coffee bread. I had never tried making it, but a few weeks ago, decided that it was time! I am making a batch today and I will say that it is the "third try". But, in the time that has passed between the first attempt and today, I have learned a great deal of useful information.

Now one of the characteristic ingredients of Nisu is cardamom seed. While you can use purchased, ground cardamom, I think the "secret ingredient" is using fresh cardamom. These little beige, dry pods are fragrant and alluring, even before you break open their shells and free the seeds themselves. I will say the seeds are rather homely, but they do smell wonderful. The first time that I tried making Nisu, I used some ground cardamom - it was blah and lacking in flavor!

I empty the seed pods onto a cutting board, cover them with a paper towel, and then hammer away with a piece of wood. You could, of course, use any sort of mallet or hammer. The 1954 Lane's Cove Cookbook says, "When the Finnish people first came here to Lanesville, no one could guess what that early morning hammering in the kitchen was for. Now they know it was just Mother or 'Aiti' pounding up the cardamom for a new batch of nisu."

In my first attempt at Nisu, I knew that the loaves should be braided, but I wasn't sure how to bake them. I put them into glass loaf pans - only to discover that the baked bread looked done, but was in fact raw and gooshy in the middle! My husband G. thought it was good - and made quite delicious French toast from it. However, I knew this format for the bread was not right. So, I requested information from my "secret weapons" in the Nisu baking field - Liz and Ted Natti. Liz and Ted both grew up in Lanesville with my mother and they kindly sent me very detailed instructions on how to bake the bread properly. I have incorporated their instructions into the revised recipe below. The Nattis are truly the secret to my success! In the picture here, the eggs are resting on my cardamom seed "hammer".

The Revised Recipe: Nisu - Coffee Bread
Makes 2 loaves

1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups milk - scalded and then cooled to lukewarm
2 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled to lukewarm.
2 packages dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees Farenheit)
1 tsp crushed cardamom seed
Approx. 6 cups flour - enough to make dough firm.

Measure out 1/4 cup of warm water -- try using an instant read thermometer to ensure that it is between 110 and 115 degrees Farenheit. Sprinkle the yeast in the water and stir gently to mix. Wait a few minutes to confirm that the yeast has been activated.

Beat the eggs, sugar and salt together using an electric mixer. Mix the scalded milk and melted butter together. Then add the milk/butter mixture to the egg/sugar/salt mixture and blend together with the mixer. Next add the yeast, cardamom seeds, and flour.

Before we continue with the recipe -- a couple of notes:
(1) Before adding the yeast to the mixture, be sure that the milk/butter/egg/sugar/salt combination is cooler than 140 degrees Farenheit (try using an instant read thermometer). If yeast is subjected to liquids that are as warm as 140 degrees, they will die and the bread won't rise. Trust me, I've made the mistake before.

(2) While you are mixing the dough, pre-heat the oven to 100 degrees Farenheit and then turn off. This will create a nice toasty environment in which your bread can rise. This is a great tip from Ted N.

Okay - back to the recipe...

Add the flour gradually -- I add the flour two cups at a time and mix them in, before adding more. You can mix the flour into the bread dough using an electric mixer. I prefer mixing the flour in by hand, with a mixing spoon. It's a matter of personal preference -- I feel like I have a better sense of the dough's texture when I mix the flour in using a spoon.

You want the dough to barely stick to the fingers -- this may require more than six cups of flour. Add the flour gradually until you get this consistency. Knead the dough on a floured board until the dough comes off your hand. Note that if you mix the flour into the dough with an electric mixer, you do not need to knead the dough.

Place the dough into a bowl, cover with a tea towel, and then put it in the slightly warmed oven to rise. The dough should rise until it is double in size. This will take around two hours.

After the dough has risen for the first time, turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead. Next, divide the dough into six equally sized pieces and pull them into long strips (around 15 to 16 inches in length). Using three strips, braid the dough into a loaf. Repeat braiding to create a second loaf.

Place the loaves on cookie sheets. Note that insulated cookie sheets will prevent the bottoms of the loaves from burning, when they are baked. Alternatively, I stack two cookie sheets with small sides, thus creating a sort of improvised insulated pan. Cover with a tea towel and return to the slightly warmed oven to rise again -- to double in size. This will take an hour or two.

After the second rise, remove the breads from the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Bake for approximately 30 minutes until golden brown. Then brush with a mixture of cold, brewed coffee and sugar, and sprinkle the tops with sugar.

An Original Recipe: Coffee Bread (I say an original recipe, because there are several in the old cookbooks - all slightly different)

source: Lane's Cove Cookbook

1 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
2 eggs
2 yeast cakes
2 cardamom seeds, crushed
6 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter

Heat milk with butter. Cool. Beat eggs, add sugar and salt. Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Combine milk and yeast mixture with egg batter. Add seeds and flour. Knead until smooth. Let rise 3 hours, then divide and braid into loaves. Bake in moderate oven. When coffee bread is done, brush top with coffee syrup and sprinkle with sugar.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sillisalaatti - Herring Salad: Part II

Here is a revised recipe for Sillisalaatti (Herring Salad) or in this case Lohisalaatti (Smoked Salmon Salad). Photo of verrine coming soon...

The Revised Recipe: Sillisalaatti/Lohisalaatti
Serves 4

1 Four ounce package of Smoked salmon – chopped into small bite sized pieces. (note that pickled herring can be substituted for the salmon)
2 Yukon gold potatoes – boiled and cubed
2 carrots – boiled and either sliced or cubed
4 to 5 fresh beets – see directions below for roasting
3 Finely chopped kosher dill pickles
1 minced shallot
Reduced fat sour cream

Roasted Beets: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Wash and dry beets. Cut off beet greens 1 inch from top of beets. The beet greens may be reserved for another use. Rub beets with olive oil and place in a roasting plan. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Cover pans tightly with foil and roast until beets are just tender, about 1 hour. Cool and chop into dice.

Mix the diced beets with two to three tablespoons of sour cream. Mix the cubed potatoes with two to three tablespoons of sour cream.

In four decorative, clear glass bowls or glasses, layer the ingredients. For example:

A thin layer of the beet/sour cream mixture
A thin layer of the smoked salmon (or herring)
A thin layer of the potato/sour cream mixture
A thin layer of the carrots
Another thin layer of smoked salmon (or herring)
Sprinkle the top with the chopped pickles and minced shallot

Regional Food Differences...

As I have been starting my research into Finnish cuisine and my great-grandmother's immigration to this country, I've discovered some interesting things. I think that we Americans tend to homogenize cultures -- for example, for a good many years I think people viewed all "Italian food" as more Southern Italian cuisine - lots of marinara sauces, Neapolitan pizza, etc. As for me, I always just figured that all the people from Finland tend to eat the same types of food. But, of course, that is not the case...

After consulting an atlas, I discovered that Haapajärvi is in the Western portion of Finland. It is inland, farther north than a coastal town called Kokkola and south of a larger city called Oulu. It is a five to six hour train ride from Helsinki.

Because of where it is located, the food from Haapajärvi tends to be influenced by Swedish cuisine. Other parts of Finland (e.g., the more easterly regions) have dishes that are influenced more by Russian cuisine. The FinFood website indicates that in the Oulu area, it is traditional for some foods to be flavored with tar! I can't quite imagine what that would be like. It would be interesting to learn more about that.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Reikä Leipä - Postscript

I discovered that my rye bread should have been formed in a circle with a hole in it -- see the picture at this web site.

Makes sense since "Reikä" means "hole"... I have revised the recipe in the entry below.

Apparently in the "olden days", these breads would be threaded onto a horizontal pole and then the pole would be hung up under the ceiling in the farmhouse.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reikä Leipä - Rye Bread

After baking Nisu last weekend, I decided to try another type of Finnish bread. This time -- Reikä Leipä or rye bread. For me, baking bread seems like a very involved, complicated procedure. It is hard for me to imagine my great-grandmother, Amanda Maliniemi, baking bread and all kinds of other foods in a coal fired stove. I think one thing that has become clear to me from reading the old cookbooks, is that there was a great deal of cooking knowledge that people just "knew". I won't say that they knew this information instinctively, but I'm sure that it was passed down from mother to daughter, sister to sister, friend to friend. Now that our lives are so automated and mechanized, we've lost a lot of that cooking and food knowledge. But, the chains of wisdom still exist -- for example, my mother's friends L&T sent me a detailed letter with their steps for making nisu. Those tips made all the difference -- and I applied many of them to the Rye Bread experiment.

I'm sure that my great-grandmother would laugh to see me with my digital, instant-read thermometer, making sure that my water is the right temperature to activate the yeast while not killing it. And the microwave to melt the butter, the digitally regulated oven thermostat, and the digital timer on the stove. All the steps that came so naturally to her are completely foreign to me!

The first step was actually finding rye flour -- I could not find it at our local supermarket or at Trader Joe's. So, I took a trip to Whole Foods and found a bag of organic rye flour. When I got back home, I set to mixing up the dough. I decided to make half the recipe, in the event that my experiment went awry! The dough was much stickier than the Nisu dough. The next time I make Reikä Leipä I will add more flour -- probably a 50/50 mix of white flour and rye flour.

I will also grease the bowl before I put the dough out to rise. When I removed the dough from the bowl after the first rise, it stuck pretty uniformly to the interior of the bowl. I kneaded the dough again, formed two roundish loaves on a cookie sheet (two stacked together to make a more insulated bottom -- thanks T. for the insulated pan tip!) and let it rise a second time. Then in to bake.

A slice of rye bread, hot from the oven with butter -- Hyvä! I also enjoyed it later for dinner -- with smoked salmon, diced roasted beets, and chopped kosher dill pickle, mixed with about 1.5 teaspoon of sour cream.

The Revised Recipe: Reikä Leipä - Rye Bread

Makes two loaves.

1 package of dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water (110 to 115 degrees F)
2 T sugar
1 T salt
2 T melted butter
2 c. rye flour
2 c. white flour
1 3/4 c. warm water (no warmer than 115 degrees F)

Measure out 1/4 cup of warm water -- try using an instant read thermometer to ensure that it is between 110 and 115 degrees Farenheit. Sprinkle the yeast in the water and stir gently to mix. Wait a few minutes to ensure that the yeast has been activated.

In a large bowl, add the sugar, salt, rye flour and white flour. Mix the dry ingredients together to blend. Add the yeast mixture, the 1 3/4 cup warm water, and the melted butter. Stir together to blend. If the dough is very sticky, continue adding flour (use a mixture of 50% white flour and 50% rye flour, if you add flour). When the dough is no longer sticky, turn out onto a floured board and knead.

Place the kneaded dough into a greased bowl, cover with a clean tea towel, and place in a warm place to rise. (Note: While I mix the dough, I heat the oven to 100 degrees Farenheit and then turn it off. I then let the dough rise in the warmed oven. Again - thanks T. for the baking tip!) The dough should rise to double in size -- this will take around 2 hours.

After the first rise, remove the dough from the bowl and knead a second time. Form into two round loaves (traditionally, the loaf has a hole in the middle - I am investigating how that was done - cookie cutter, perhaps?) and place on either an insulated baking sheet or on two cookie sheets stacked on top of one another. Put the baking sheet in a warm place to rise again -- about 1 hour.

Bake at 400 degrees Farenheit for approximately 35 minutes. When done, the bread will have a crispy crust and will sound hollow when tapped.

The Original Recipe: Finnish Rye Bread
source: Bicentennial Cookbook - Some Old, Some New. St. Paul Lutheran Church - Gloucester, MA

2 yeast cakes
4 T sugar
2 T salt
4 T butter or margarine
4 cups rye flour (2 medium and 2 coarse)
4 cups white flour
4 cups water

Knead and let rise double. Turn onto floured board and knead using enough flour to be the consistency of nisu. Form into four loaves. Can be baked on two cookie sheets - 2 to a sheet -- (11 x 17). Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes or until brown on top. This bread has the flavor and texture of "Reika Leipa". And the recipe was brought from Finland and contributed by Bertha Bulli of Stow.

Sillisalaatti - Herring Salad: Part I

Now if you live in Finland, or in Gloucester for that matter, it's almost expected that you will eat a lot of fish and like it. I think I missed out on that gene. There is something about the taste of most fish that I find very unappealing. I do like smoked salmon, however. So, when I read the Sillisalaatti (or Herring Salad) recipe and saw that smoked salmon could be substituted for the herring, I was thrilled!

My mother mentioned that when she was growing up, it was pretty common to eat dried, salt herring and cod. I think that these types of fish must be similar to the Italian baccalà. The salted herring is what the original Sillisalaati recipe calls for. "Silli" means "herring" and "salaatti" means "salad". I suppose, I should rename my recipe Lohisalaatti, since I am using salmon.

My intention with the Sillisalaatti remake is to create a layered, "verrine" type appetizer. I need to refine the recipe and I need to find a better verrine glass to use for my photo. However, some key revisions to the recipe (aside from using salmon) include:

(1) Roasted fresh beets -- I like the flavor and texture of roasted beets much better than flabby canned beets. And they are easy to make.

(2) Use sour cream, instead of mayonnaise

(3) Use a minced shallot, instead of the chopped onion, for a more delicate flavor

(4) Layer the different ingredients to show distinct, different colors -- such as the deep red/pink of the beets, the bright orange of the carrots, the pale pink of the salmon, and the green pickles.

I must say that my husband G. is quite a pickled herring aficionado (I think he must have some Scandinavian blood in him somewhere!). He tried Lohisalaatti Part I last night and thinks that it would work well with pickled herring too.

Here is the original recipe -- I will post my refined, revised recipe shortly.

The Original Recipe: Sillisalaatti (Finnish Salad)

source: Recipes and Finnish Specialties - St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Gloucester, MA. July 1955.

1 1/2 salted herring
2 cups diced cooked meat (optional)
2 cupst boiled diced potatoes
2 cups boiled diced carrots
2 1/2 cups diced beets
2 pickled cucumbers (optional)
White pepper
1/2 chipped onion.

Soak fish in water a few hours. Bone, skin and chop. Mix with diced vegetables and add French dressing or mayonnaise. Place in bowl, garnish the surface with hard boiled eggs. As a variation, smoked salmon may be used instead of the herring.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why Create This Blog?

Up until about three months ago, I worked in the software industry. Then I decided that I wanted more than an unsatisfying, mediocre work life. I have always been interested in cooking -- as a teenager, I subscribed to Gourmet and Bon Appetit, and subjected my family to various culinary experiments.

A few weeks ago, I had a strong desire to make "nisu" -- this is a slightly sweet, Finnish yeast bread with cardamom seeds. It is also known as pulla. I knew that my great grandmother had made this bread. In a coal stove with no thermostat, no less! So, I decided to try it. But not in a coal stove :) I had mixed results to start -- but more on that in another entry.

For the nisu, I used a recipe which I found in my grandmother's cookbooks. These were published in the mid-1950's by the Lutheran Church in Gloucester, as well as by the Lanesville community. There were many recipes contributed by the Finnish ladies in the village. I've decided that I am going to try to make some of these and to update them to be more "in keeping" with today's style and sensibilities.

I'm also interested in learning from food authorities in Finland whether these old, immigrant recipes bear any resemblance to Finnish cooking today. So, let the adventure begin!