Friday, November 30, 2007

Fun Online Advent Calendars by Finnish Artists

If you have kids, or are just a kid at heart :), you may enjoy these online Advent calendars by Finnish artists. The "Kidzone Finland" Advent calendar includes brief Christmas stories for each day. A fun way to measure the days, as the light gets briefer. Take a moment out of the hectic holiday craziness to enjoy the quietness outside, even if it may be cold where you are!

Virtual Finland Online Advent Calendar

Kidzone Finland Online Advent Calendar

Some Finnish Christmas Recipes to Contemplate

Believe it or not, at this time tomorrow, I will be in Italy for two weeks! That will be a whole different type of food adventure - especially our visits to Bologna and Parma in the Emilia Romagna region. I am looking forward to seeing the Christmas markets and enjoying the country at a quieter, less touristic time of the year.

While I am away, I will leave you with some Finnish Christmas recipes to contemplate... The Virtual Finland web site has posted their Christmas site, including a page of recipes, which you can find here.

The measurements for these recipes are in cups, teaspoons and tablespoons, so there is no need to do metric conversions. Some that look particularly good to me include:

Glögg -- This warm, mulled wine always reminds me of the wonderful Christmas Eve parties at the home of a family friend, complete with an authentic Swedish smorgasbord

The dark, Christmas bread which includes rye and graham flours, as well as caraway seeds, orange peel and "dark syrup" (which I am assuming is molasses)

The Gingersnaps or "Piparkakut"

and the Prune Christmas Tarts or "Joulutortut"

On the savory front, the freshly salted salmon looks interesting -- a sort of gravlax, I would say. And of course the baked ham.

I think I will stay away from the Baked Lutefisk and the Liver Pate, even if they are traditional! When I return, my kitchen will become busy once again! Enjoy the quiet days of Advent... Peace.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Finnish Gifts for the Holidays?

Dear readers - I will warn you now that this post has nothing to do with food. I have had a horrible cold for the past week and have had no desire to do anything in the kitchen! However, I have had lots of time to contemplate the impending holiday season and gift shopping. In an effort to support independent artists more and "big box" stores less, I am trying to buy as many handmade gifts as possible. There are a number of Finnish crafters who sell through a web site called etsy. There's still time to have items shipped from Finland for the holidays! Here are some of my favorite items and artists...

Who could resist a charming print like this by Terese Bast. Terese is a illustrator located in Jakobstad, Finland. Her etsy online store is filled with wonderful and whimsical prints, as well as postcards and magnets. And all are very reasonably priced.

Are you looking for a special place to record your thoughts in a journal? How about a beautiful handmade notebook from Paperiaarre? Paperi means "paper" in Finnish and aarre means "treasure". In addition to lovely journals, at the online shop you will find unique jewelry with botanical and abstract designs.

Happy shopping!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Christmas in Finland

After all the Thanksgiving cooking and eating, I am not quite ready to start cooking again for the Christmas holidays. As I mentioned, I do want to try the traditional Finnish prune tart cookies -- here is a picture of the pinwheel cookies. In the meantime, here is some information about Christmas in Finland.

Independence Day in Finland coincides with the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas -- December 6. We always associate our Independence Day in the United States with warm, summer weather, along with cookouts and fireworks. It must be interesting to have Independence Day be an introduction to the holiday season!

On the Christmas tree, it is traditional to have an ornament in the shape of an apple. According to the Finnish calendar, December 24 is the name day of Adam and Eve. Christmas dinner includes pickled herring, rosolli (a salad with beets, carrots, potatoes, and pickles), raw salmon, turnip casserole, and ham. On Christmas Eve, gifts are delivered by "Joulupukki" or Santa Claus. Then the gifts are opened!

After the excitement of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day is more relaxed. Visits to family and friends are made on December 26.

Here is a charming web site with a pancake recipe by Santa's elves.

And just for fun, here is a site which has webcams of various highways in Lapland, the land of Joulupukki!

Monday, November 19, 2007

What to Cook Next? Soon It Will Be the Season for Joulutortut or Christmas Tarts

With lots of things going on recently (shows for my quilted accessory business satch'elle, Thanksgiving planning, preparations for our trip to Italy), I haven't been cooking any Finnish recipes. However, I have a number of things I want to try.

It's hard to believe that Christmas is right around the corner. I definitely want to try making the traditional Finnish prune tarts or Joulutortut - these are a pinwheel type of cookie with a prune filling. I have a recipe from the Gloucester cookbooks to try for this cookie. Gingersnaps or Pipparkakkuja sound like another good Christmas cookie.

Also, I've gotten some recipe ideas from some of my blog readers. Jim in Maine regularly makes the Sour Rye Bread or Ruisleipä recipe from Beatrice Ojakangas' The Finnish Cookbook. I'd like to give that a try - it requires a sour rye starter which takes a couple of days to make.

Another reader told me about her grandmother's Finnish community in Fairport Harbor, Ohio. She remembered her Grandmother going to the Finnish bakery and buying what she called Skorpuu. This was a sliced bread baked with a sugar mix coating both sides of the slice. These sound similar to the Cinnamon Korppu (or Rusk) recipe in Beatrice Ojakangas' cookbook - the Finnish name is Kanelikorppu.

So, lots of ambition - but probably no new recipe experiments until next week, after Thanksgiving is over. Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday!

Finnish Turnip Casserole (Lanttulaatikko) for Thanksgiving?

It's been a while since I cooked and posted. However, I have not abandoned this project! With Thanksgiving coming around the corner, I suspect that no experimental Finnish recipes will be made in my kitchen this week. But never fear - my cousin married a man of Finnish descent and he usually makes Finnish turnip casserole for our family Thanksgiving dinner.

I did a bit of research about yellow turnips, which are also called rutabagas. It turns out that the yellow turnip is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. The word "rutabaga" is derived from a Swedish word "rotabagge" which means "root ram". This is probably why yellow turnips are also called "Swedes" in places like the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia. Today, however, turnips are called "kålrot" in Sweden today. While some think that rutabagas are native to Sweden, others believe that they were introduced to Sweden from Finland or Siberia.

Here is John's recipe -- it is similar to the "Rutabaga Casserole" or Lanttulaatikko recipe from Beatrice Ojakangas' The Finnish Cookbook. Beatrice indicates that this is an old, traditional dish that was commonly served with Christmas dinner.

Finnish Turnip Casserole (Lanttulaatikko) courtesy of John Ahonen

Cube and boil a medium sized yellow turnip until soft. After cooking, mash the turnip.
Add 2 tbsp. of butter
Add 2 tbsp. of milk
Salt, pepper
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 beaten egg
2 tbsp. of bread crumbs
2 tbsp. of molasses

Mix all together and put in a casserole.
Bake at 350 for 1/2 hr.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Suomalaiset Puikot: Finnish Coffee Fingers

As the days get shorter and colder, it is nice to bake. Today, I decided to make a shortbread type cookie. The original recipe was called "Finnish Coffee Fingers". It closely resembles a recipe in Beatrice Ojakangas' "The Finnish Cookbook" called Suomalaiset Puikot. She notes that this type of cookie is one of the oldest types in Finland.

In reading through the recipe, the amounts of certain ingredients seemed odd -- for example, 7/8 cup of butter or 2 5/8 cup of flour? Perhaps the recipe used metric measurements and it was converted to cups and teaspoons? I decided to round the butter up to a full cup. The next curious thing was the six bitter almonds that were to be grated. Since I had no source for bitter almonds specifically, I decided I would use about two tablespoons of ground, regular almonds.

As I added the flour, the dough became very stiff and crumbly -- not surprising for a shortbread. I ended up using 2 1/4 cups flour. If I had added more, the dough would have become too dry and unworkable. And the "bake until golden brown"? I estimate that to be about 14 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees Farenheit.

The final product? A faintly sweet shortbread cookie with a pleasant almond taste from the ground almonds on the top. Nice and crisp from all the butter! :) Would be a nice addition to the "coffee table". I think next time I will try Beatrice Ojakangas' version -- her recipe has an egg in the batter, more sugar, and uses almond extract instead of ground or grated almonds.

The Revised Recipe: Suomalaiset Puikot or Finnish Coffee Fingers

1 cup unsweetened butter, softened
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons finely ground almonds
2 1/4 cups sifted flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Topping -- 1 beaten egg and 1/2 cup finely ground almonds

Cream butter and then gradually add the sugar, and 2 Tablespoons of ground almonds. Gradually add the flour, mixing after each new addition of flour. Form into a ball and chill for one to two hours. After chilling the dough, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit and line cookie sheets with baking parchment paper. Roll the dough out to 1/4 to 1/2 inch in thickness. Cut into strips about 1 1/2 inches wide and 2 inches long. Brush each cookie with beaten egg and roll in the ground almonds. Place on the parchment lined cookie sheets and bake for 14 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges.

The Original Recipe: Finnish Coffee Fingers
source: Recipes and Finnish Specialties, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Gloucester, MA

7/8 c. butter
2 tbsp sugar
6 bitter almonds, grated
2 5/8 c. flour, sifted

Coating: beaten egg
1/4 ounce almonds, finely chopped

Cream butter, gradually add sugar, almonds; then flour and chill for 1 to 2 hours. Roll out to finger thickness, cut into strips about 2 in. long, brush with beaten egg, roll in almonds, place on baking sheet and bake in 350 degree oven until golden brown.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Köyhän Talon Joulu Kakku: Poor Man's Fruit Cake

In the United States, we often joke about fruit cakes that make the rounds from person to person, uneaten for months after they are given at holiday time. Fruit cake is definitely not a glamourous dessert. So, I wondered what "Poor Man's Fruit Cake" would be like. I was not able to find the word "Talon" in the online Finnish English dictionary, so I'm not 100% sure what that means. And I think the English title may be more accurately stated as "Poor Man's Christmas Cake".

After lunch, I took the first step of cooking all the ingredients except the flour on the stove. Today was a very dark, rainy November day. The mixture, with its cinnamon and cloves, gave the house a nice fragrance and made it a little more cozy. It reminded me of holiday things, like mincemeat pie or Christmas Glögg. I was not sure what type of brown sugar (dark or light) to use, so I used 1/2 a cup of each. And since I had some golden raisins on hand, I used half golden raisins and half brown raisins.

Later, after the cooked mixture had cooled, I mixed in the flour and the 1/2 teaspoon of hot water (that teensy bit of hot water seemed somewhat useless). Despite having read the recipe in advance, I came to the realization that there were no ingredients to leaven the batter -- no eggs, no baking powder or soda. Must be why it is called "poor man's" fruitcake. I started to become more dubious about what the final product would be like.

The type of pan to use was a bit of a mystery. I looked at fruitcake recipes on Some used bundt or tube pans, some used loaf pans, and some used springform pans. The batter volumes of those recipes all seemed greater than my Poor Man's Fruit Cake. In the end, I elected to use a 9 inch round cake pan.

As the cake baked, it made the kitchen smell good -- warm and spicy. The result -- a very thin cake -- rather like a pannukakku :) The texture and flavor is kind of like a raisin "Fig Newton" -- chewy, dense, fruity tasting. Is it an elegant dessert? No way! However, it could be a good food for hiking or taking on an informal picnic. While the ingredients are sparse in this recipe, its sensory value is high from beginning to end!

The Revised Recipe: Köyhän Talon Joulu Kakku or Poor Man's Fruit Cake

1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup regular raisins
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Grated rind and juice from one orange
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon hot water

Combine the first ten ingredients (light brown sugar through orange rind and orange juice) in a saucepan. Heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Set the mixture aside and let it cool thoroughly. After the sugar/raisin/spice mixture has cooled, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Grease and flour a 9 inch cake pan. Into the sugar/raising/psice mixture, stir in 1 1/2 cups flour and 1/2 teaspoon hot water. Bake in a 350 oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

The Original Recipe: Köyhän Talon Joulu Kakku or Poor Man's Fruit Cake
source: Recipes and Finnish Specialties, St. Paul Lutheran Church - Gloucester, MA

1 c. brown sugar
1 c. boiling water
1 c. raisins
1 tbsp. shortening
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 orange rind and juice (optional)

Cook 5 min., cool until cold and add 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp. hot water. Bake in a 350 oven for 45 minutes.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Cloudberry Preserves and Hard Tack

Yesterday, we went to the closest Ikea store to look for a couple of things for the house and to do some gift shopping (both Christmas related and other). Of course, we had to stop at the food market which is just outside the cashier area. G. is a huge herring fan, which I may have mentioned before. He bought a couple of jars of pickled herring. You can be sure that I will not be sampling those! We had eaten lunch earlier in the cafeteria. Along with my Swedish meatballs, I had a multigrain hard tack type cracker which I liked a lot. I decided to buy a package, only to discover that they are manufactured in Finland. How about that!

In the food market, they also had cloudberry preserves, which I decided to buy. These were manufactured in Sweden -- however, cloudberries are a popular Finnish berry, as well. And what better chance would I have to try cloudberries!? The Virtual Finland web site notes that cloudberries are highly prized and they grow in boggy areas in Northern Finland. Cloudberries may be served at special occasions -- for example, a cream cake with cloudberries. Perhaps I will make some Nisu dough later this week, but I will form it into round buns, rather than braiding it. Then we can try the cloudberry preserves spread inside. A variation of the Shrove Tuesday buns.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Kropsua or Pannukakku: Finnish Oven Pancake

On a cold November morning, what could be better than a hearty Sunday breakfast? I decided to try a recipe for "Finnish Kropsua" from the Lane's Cove Cookbook. I cannot find the translation for the Finnish word "kropsua", however, the recipe appears to be very similar to other recipes for "Pannukakku" or oven pancake. Kropsua or Pannukakku appears to be a close cousin to the German apple pancake -- a puffy pancake, baked in the oven, with a kind of eggy flavor.

This recipe calls for melting the butter in a deep dish pan, then pouring the batter into the melted butter and baking. As you may note from the first picture, my Kropsua finished with a large amount of melted butter pooled in the middle. That was kind of unappealing -- I spooned the butter out into a small dish.

The consistency of the baked Kropsua was very dense. We put some maple syrup on it, as one would with a "regular", flat pancake. It seemed much denser than the German Apple Pancake recipe that we have tried from "Cook's Illustrated". It made me wonder how the recipes are different from one another. And also how this recipe differs from other Pannukakku recipes.

Our Cook's Illustrated German apple pancake recipe has considerably less flour -- 1/2 cup, as compared to the 2 cups in this recipe. It also contains 2/3 cup half and half, to lighten the batter. I think perhaps that I should have used a larger pan when I made this recipe -- I used a tall sided Corning dish which was perhaps 8 inches in diameter.

The Pannukakku recipe in Beatrice Ojakangas' "The Finnish Cookbook" does not call for any butter, and considerably less flour too -- just 1/4 cup. I think that reducing the amount of flour in the future will made the dish less heavy and dense. I will need to try the recipe in "The Finnish Cookbook" to compare.

The Original Recipe: Finnish Kropsua
source: The Lane's Cove Cookbook, 1954 - Gloucester, MA

2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tb. sugar
3 Tb. butter

Beat eggs, add milk. Combine flour, sugar, and salt. Sift together and then then add egg and milk mixture to the dry ingredients. Beat with egg beater. Melt butter in deep dish pie plat, and pour above mixture over it. Butter will come up along sides and on top of batter. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 35 minutes. Serve plain or with maple syrup.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Kahvi - Finnish Egg Cleared Coffee

A couple of weeks ago, my mother came over for dinner and we started talking about coffee. As an adult, I have become a coffee addict - must be my Finnish heritage coming through! She mentioned that my grandmother, for special occasions, would add an egg to the mix when making coffee. G. and I both thought that sounded strange and even a bit disgusting. Imagine my surprise, when I was looking through my newly acquired copy of "The Finnish Cookbook" and discovered a recipe for Kahvi or Finnish Egg-Cleared Coffee. Apparently, my grandmother was following a Finnish tradition, but we didn't know it.

Now, I will say that I still think that adding an egg to coffee seems a bit odd and I am not going to try it out myself! However, here is the recipe, courtesy of Beatrice Ojakangas. She writes, "The egg settles and clears the coffee."

Kahvi -- Finnish Egg-Cleared Coffee

8 cups cold water
1 egg, well washed
16 slightly rounded teaspoons coffee, plus one for the pot

Bring the cold water to a boil in a coffeepot or saucepan. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, crush the egg (shell and all) into the dry coffee grounds and mix thoroughly. When the water has come to a rolling boil, add the egg-coffee mixture and stir quickly. Let it come to the boiling point, and remove from the heat. Repeat this twice more. Then cover and let stand about 5 minutes so the grounds can settle. Makes 8 cups.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Finnish Cookbook - Thanks to Liz!

Today in the mail, I received my very own copy of Beatrice Ojakangas' The Finnish Cookbook from Liz N. I do believe it is a first edition - I have been eagerly reading through the recipes.

Now that I have "mastered" the Nisu dough, it seems that there are all sorts of different shapes in which it can be formed for bread -- some interesting ones from the book include the "bishop's wig" (looks like a long wig with curls), "golden chariots" (vaguely resemble Celtic designs, and "Christmas Pigs" (basically dough in a curly S shape). Lots of new things to try!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Rieska - Finnish Flat Bread

This was a fun recipe to make -- not at all involved and time-consuming like the yeast breads. I looked up the word "Rieska" -- in Finnish, it means unleavened barley bread. Now the bread here is unleavened, in that it does not have yeast (it does have baking powder and soda). But, it is not made from barley.

I was not 100% sure what "graham flour" was. I was familiar, of course, with graham crackers - a favorite childhood snack. I looked at the King Arthur Flour online store and found that whole wheat pastry flour is also called graham flour. I did not have high hopes for finding it in my grocery store, but they did have graham flour in the organic section. I also had to go on a bit of a grocery search to find buttermilk - not that unusual an ingredient. Happily, I found it at the second store I looked at.

And the other question was this -- what temperature is a "hot oven"? I looked through some of the other recipes in the book -- one from my grandmother, in fact, equated a hot oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. So, that's what I went with! The results - a tasty flat bread. Crusty on the outside and a moist crumb inside. A nice, non-sweet snack with a cup of tea.

Here are the revised and original recipes.

The Revised Recipe: Rieska - Finnish Flat Bread
Makes 3 flat loaves

2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda, mixed with 1 Tablespoon hot water
4 Tbsp. melted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
2 1/2 cups graham flour
2 1/2 cups white flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Sift together the graham flour, white flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the buttermilk, baking soda in water, melted butter and sour cream. Gradually add the sifted dry ingredients and mix together. Do not knead. The dough will be fairly sticky. Separate the dough into three pieces. On a lightly floured board, roll each piece out to about 1/2 inch thick. Transfer to a baking sheet and prick the bread all over with a fork. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden brown around the edges and on the bottom.

The Original Recipe: Finnish Flat Bread (Rieskaa)
source: Recipes and Finnish Specialties, St. Paul Lutheran Church - Gloucester, MA

2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda, mixed with a little hot water
4 tbsp melted butter or shortening
1/2 cup sour cream

Sift together:
2 1/2 cups graham flour
2 1/2 cups white flour
3 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

and add to liquid mixture. Do not knead. Separate into 3 parts. Roll out lightly to about 1/2 inch thick and bake in a hot oven for 10 - 15 minutes. Prick with fork before baking. When baked, place one over the other with a towel between them to make crust soft.