tableofcolors

Simple pleasures

Spring is in the Air

I have been hearing rumors and even seen some photos shared on facebook that there is snow in Minnesota. I’m hoping that it might have melted by the time I come. Spring is in the air here in my kitchen. The cranes have returned and can be seen flying over the house and feeding in the field in the back and dancing their mating ritual. Their call could not be called beautiful as it is a raw sound just as the cold spring breeze often feels quite biting even if the sun is starting to warm the ground. But the call means spring has arrived.

cranes2In my kitchen are spring green sprouts that carry the promise of summer and bounty. This gentleman has been regularly visiting our yard and one morning was stepping regally on the patio right outside of the kitchen.

 

In my kitchen April

Our kitchen is really never a place of just cooking and eating. It is a place to spend time together. Some of our kids are quite into crafts and since we had leftover paint from the piñata project from the previous week they were looking for a way to use it up. Someone suggested painting shoe boxes. I agreed that it might be a good idea and actually look cute in their rooms. It would be a place to keep their treasures. You know, the diamond rock found in the driveway or favorite sticker that really isn’t sticky anymore or a frayed friendship bracelet that keeps falling off but cannot be thrown away.  Often when one is enthusiastic about something, there is soon a few more involved as well and a total of seven boxes were made, some pink and some black. So this week in my kitchen we made treasure boxes.

painting boxesOf course we need to eat in the midst of all of the other activities. We had wokked chicken and vegetables and Tahini noodles. The Tahini noodles have become a favorite with the kids. The Tahini sauce received its inspiration from a post by REMcooks.

tahini noodles
Chicken Wok with Tahini noodles

This dish perhaps mixes the flavors of cuisines, but it worked and was quite tasty.

Tahini noodles
6 circles (300g) of whole wheat noodles (I used Blue Dragon)

Sauce
2 heaping tablespoons of Tahini sauce
clove of garlic minced
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1/2 dl / 1/4 c olive oil
black pepper
salt
I mixed the tahini sauce with my immersion mixer until it was smooth. Set aside and place a large pot of water to boil for the noodles. While waiting for the water to boil prepare the chicken wok

Chicken wok Indian style

3 chicken breasts
1 onion
1/2 leek chopped (I used frozen leek from a friend’s garden)
20 g/0.7 oz fresh or frozen kale finely chopped with the tough stalk removed
20 g/0.7 fresh or frozen spinach, chopped
1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1-2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
olive oil
NoMu Indian spice mix (includes: coriander, chili, cumin, fenugreek, turmeric, ginger, caraway, cloves, bay leaf and cardamom oil)

Pour the olive oil on the pan along with the chicken breasts, garlic, onions, and leek. Cook at low to medium heat for about five minutes and turn the chicken over and continue cooking until the chicken is done. Add in the rest of the vegetables and remove the chicken and cut into bite size pieces. Return back into the wok pan and mix.

By this time the water will have boiled. Cook the noodles according to package instructions and drain. Mix the tahini sauce with the noodles and combine with the chicken wok. Add a drizzle of olive oil.

tahini noodles3In my kitchen in April are butterflies…in my tummy. It won’t be long and I will be flying to go visit dear family and friends in the USA. My blog might not have as regular posts for a couple of weeks but I will post pictures and thoughts of the trip on my facebook page. Click on the link below to follow if you wish. And as usual I will be accompied with my littlest one. The photo below is from one of my previous trips.

flyingReally, it doesn’t matter if there is snow still on the ground in Minnesota. It will be nice to see you all.

 

This post is part of Celia’s In My Kitchen series. Check out her blog for links to kitchens all around the world.

A Perfect Ten

party treats3We have a tradition that the morning of your birthday starts with a song and gifts. Everyone else is woken up and we quietly make our way to bring the well-wishes for the coming year to the lucky birthday kid. A few weeks back when Marian turned ten our Erik had told me that he had a special congratulation to make, “On hienoa olla täysi kymppi!” or “It’s great to be a perfect ten!” A perfect ten has other implications in the Finnish language and culture. It means a perfect score. In school the grading scale goes from four to ten with the ten being the best grade. pinata collage Turning ten in our house is little bit of a bigger deal than turning nine. It is the last year that they get to have a large children’s birthday. Of course they may celebrate their birthdays in succeeding years but they are a bit smaller in proportion; perhaps a few friends over for a sleepover or a picnic at the beach. The kids often spend all year planning theiry birthdays. They think of the cake that they would like to have or the games they might like to play. The plans and flavors change quite a few times before the year is up. But I think that dreaming about their party is almost as important as the actual party. Whenever they say that they can’t sleep or have a bad dream I tell them to think of their birthday and what kind of party they might want to have. They then drift off to sleep dreaming of friends, the cake, piñatas and games. The newest introduction into our party traditions is the piñata. After visiting their cousin’s birthday party, they have all put it on their wish list. I started by making one, but having a houseful of helpful hands we soon were making three and in each stage there was someone participating. It was the perfect group project as it involved nearly everyone. And I think we will be making a record amount of piñatas this year! Afterall this was only our first birthday for the year and there are five more to go and while we are at it, I’ll have to ask if my husband would like one too!

pony cake collage This year the birthday girl wanted a pony cake that she had found from the book Deanna F. Cook’s Family Fun Birthday Cakes or Lasten omat synttärikakut. So with the idea in mind we made our own version. I used a double batch of Jamie Oliver’s Simple Sponge as the cake.

Pony Cake

Filling

3.3 dl/1.4 c heavy whipping cream
100 g dark chocolate

Make the two sponge cakes and set aside to cool, preferably overnight. Split the two cakes and cut the second cakes as shown the picture above. Melt the dark chocolate in the microwave at twenty second intervals, stirring between each time. Be careful to not overheat the chocolate. Set aside while the cream is being whipped. Combine a couple of large spoonfuls of the whipped cream with the melted chocolate and then pour the chocolate mixture with the whipped cream. This allows for a smoother chocolate cream. Mix until evenly combined and a spread onto the first layer.

Place the second layer on the chocolate filling and prepare a buttercream frosting. You may color it as you wish, I used two tablespoons of dark cocoa powder this time. Frost with buttercream and use candies to decorate. I used black marzipan for the nostrils, mouth and eyelashes, but liquorice cut into thin strips would have worked just as well. Use your imagination with what your local grocery has available.

bella jumpingI must say that at times the house was nearly quiet even if we did have seventeen children. They were playing charades. At other times our house sounded like a football stadium.  The piñatas offered the most entertainment. They were cheering each other on and even jumping up and down at times. For the first turn they were blindfolded but then we decided to make the task a bit easier as a couple of the parents had already arrived to pick up their children. The piñatas were of a sturdy nature as we had used the classic newspaper and wallpaper glue. Each child had numerous turns (multiply that by seventeen) before we had all three down. With all of the glee, I really couldn’t help myself but to join in with their spontaneous laughter.

pinatacorkscrew cookies collageSince this was a children’s party, they also helped decide on the menu. The recipe for these Corkscrew cookies is from our all-time favorite children’s baking book, Suomen Lasten Leivontakirja by Ulla Svensk.

Corkscrew cookies

250 g/8.8 oz softened butter
1.5 dl/0.6 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking powder
5.5 dl/2.3 c flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder

Mix all of the ingredients except the cocoa powder together. Divide the dough into two parts and add the cocoa powder into one part. Wrap the dough in cling film and place into the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. If the dough is in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight allow it to soften just slightly. If it is too hard or too soft it may be tricky to handle.

After removing the dough from the refrigerator, roll into long bars and cut into 32 pieces. Roll the pieces until they are about 1 cm thick. Take a rolled piece of dough of each color and pinch them at one each and twist them around each other. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in the oven for about 8-10 minutes at 200 C/390 F. After removing from the oven allow to cool a bit before placing on a cooling rack to cool completely.

pussy willowsDo you remember when you turned ten?

Homemade yoghurt

When I was a girl, we had a brown piano in our living room. My Mom had a collection of glass birds of different sizes that resided on the piano. Some of them were from Finland and had been designed by Oiva Toikka. I remember dusting all of the nooks and crannies of the piano and the birds when it was my dusting turn. On Saturdays we would have cleaning day and everyone had a couple of jobs. Today the piano is still in the same spot but I think the birds have been put some place else and there are photographs on the piano of children who do not live at home anymore. Some years back, when I was a girl, I took piano lessons every week from Susan. I always really liked Susan and felt that she was an adult that I could really relate with. Once we had a recital and if I remember right, I think I may have played the Tarantella Spider Dance from the Michael Aaron Piano Course Book.

Some time ago, Susan mentioned on facebook that she had made homemade yoghurt. She shared her recipe with me. It was delicious. The recipe she sent had two methods, one using the slow cooker. I used my Crock pot but if you prefer, you may make it using the other method.

Since we have been getting our milk straight from the farm, the milk I used was whole milk. Because of the this, the fat rose to the top forming a slightly yellow layer that I mixed in with a whisk when the yoghurt was done. You may use milk that has a lower fat percentage if you wish. The recipe is quite large, feel free to make a smaller quantity.

milkAnnika’s Yoghurt–from Susan
3.8 l/ 1 gallon milk
seeds from 1/2 of a vanilla bean,
2dl/ 3/4 c sugar/honey or according to taste (optional)
(the original recipe called for 3.5 dl/1.5 cups of sugar)
1.5 dl/ 3/4 c plain yoghurt (I used Turkish yoghurt)

Directions for the Crock pot

Place the milk into the Crock pot and set on high for two and a half hours so that it reaches 75 C/170 F. Let cool until it reaches 38-40 C/100 F. Add the vanilla to the milk. If preferred, whisk in the sugar or honey. Take a cup of hot milk aside and mix with the plain yoghurt and then add into the hot milk mixture. Wrap the Crock pot with towels and allow to rest at room temperature for eight hours (mine was overnight). Remove the towels and place the pot into the refrigerator for six hours. Whisk out any possible lumps. Enjoy with berries, muesli or perhaps a little drizzle of honey.

making crockpot yoghurtFor the more conventional version heat the milk to 75 C/170F. Cool the milk down in a cold water bath to about 38-40 C/100-105 F. Remove a cup of warm milk and mix with the yoghurt. Add in the sugar and vanilla. Place into an oven that is warmed to 43 C/110 F. Turn the oven off, leave the light on and allow to rest for eight hours. If your oven does not heat to such a low temperature turn it on preheat for about three minutes and then turn off. After eight hours place the yoghurt into the refrigerator for six hours to chill. Whisk out an possible lumps.

crockpot yoghurtyoughurt parfaitOur family goes through several liters of plain yoghurt a week and this option is rather budget friendly although it does of course require a little initiative. The flavor was quite mild. This time I added a bit of sugar. I think that this recipe may become a regular at our house.

Goexpo Helsinki

Last weekend we visited the Helsinki Goexpo Fair at the Helsinki Messukeskus or Convention Center. It is Finland’s largest sport and outdoor event and there was something for everyone. There was bikes to try, volleyball, soccer, golf, hunting, fishing, photography, horses, rock climbing, fitness, running, nordic walking, and sailing amongst others. On the day we visited it was open from 10 am to 5 pm. We were there the whole time and probably would have been even a bit longer if it would have been possible.

goexpo helsinki 2I’m usually not such a convention or fair person but this time it exceeded my expectations. It was very reasonably priced as everything except for the rock climbing was included. For our family of eight it was 37 euros. Not bad.

goexpo helsinkirock climbing2We had packed lunches and the horse show was the perfect place to sit down and eat.

police horse show speedThe police horse show was quite impressive. They showed how they train the horses for possible protest and demonstration situations.

police horse showAfter the busy day full of noise and activity it was nice to visit some family before heading home. On the drive home, the car was silent. Just about everyone fell asleep. A calming drink was in order. My sister’s recipe was perfect for the occasion.

moomins

Tin’s Lemon and Ginger Concoction

for one cup

1/2 lemon, squeezed
1 cm/ 1/3 inch fresh ginger, roughly chopped
1-2 tsp honey or according to taste
boiling water

Place the lemon juice and roughly chopped ginger into the cup. Pour boiling water over and allow to seep for about five minutes. Remove the pieces of ginger and add honey. Stir and enjoy immediately. It is claimed that both lemon and ginger may help with digestion and helps flush out toxins. Those claims are not perhaps scientifically proven, but I did find the drink to be the perfect way to end the day. Tart and calming.
vikellysThis post is a part of Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday series.

Fiesta Friday Badge Button I party @

In My Kitchen, March sweetness

I had been desiring something sweet. Shrove Tuesday had been on Tuesday and traditionally in Finland we would enjoy the laskiaspulla along with sledding in the white banks of snow. This year nature has not been following traditions and neither did I as we do not have any snow and really only got a few inches all winter. I found a recipe and video tutorial by Jamie Oliver for his simple sponge cake. I have been a fan of Jamie Oliver for some time. Maybe we have some things in common. We’re about the same age, he’s a dad of four and I’m the mom of six. We’re passionate about food. Perhaps we don’t agree on all political questions but we do agree that kids should be offered healthy meal options at school. Quite often, children are offered highly processed food. In Finland, we are lucky that our school meals are generally fairly healthy and strawberry or chocolate milk is not an option. Actually at our house we had a small episode over hot chocolate. I really don’t have anything against hot chocolate. I love a good cup myself occasionally. To me it becomes a problem when the kids are drinking it every morning and evening and they would regularly fill the cup half way with the powder and the rest of the way with hot water and some milk. It would turn into a thick slurry of hot chocolate. I tried my best to supervise, but they are quick. So we instituted Hot Chocolate Sundays. Every Sunday we make hot chocolate and we make it the real way with milk straight from the farm and occasionally with some whipped cream that had be skimmed off of the milk. Once we even made our own homemade marshmallows and they certainly tasted better than the store bought version. It has become a family ritual that everyone looks forward to and no one even asks for hot chocolate during week anymore.

hot chocolate collageSo this month in my kitchen to satisfy my sweet tooth is Jamie’s simple sponge cake to share.

sponge cake sliceJamie’s Simple Sponge Cake (slightly altered)

250 g/8.8 oz unsalted butter, softened
250 g/8.8 oz sugar
250 g/8.8 oz flour
2 tsp baking powder
vanilla bean
pinch salt
orange zest
4 eggs

Filling
2 dl/1 c heavy whipping cream
250 g/8.8 oz marscapone cheese
3 tbsp sugar
2-3 tbsp orange juice
blueberries
150 g/5.3 oz lemon curd

powdered sugar

simple sponge CollageMeasure the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, and the seeds scraped from one half of a vanilla bean into your stand mixer or food processor. Allow to mix until combined. Add room temperature eggs into the batter one at time, beating strongly after each addition. Line the bottom of the spring form with parchment paper. Pour the batter into the form. Place the cake form into the oven that is heated to 170 C/340 F and bake for 20 minutes. I used a smaller 20 cm/8 inch form for a taller cake and the bake time was about 45 minutes. Bake until a test skewer comes clean. Allow to cool.

sponge cake filling

For the filling, whip the cream and combine with the marscapone cheese. Flavor with sugar and orange juice. I used the juice of one half of an orange. Slice the cake into two so that the bottom is clearly thicker than the top. Spread two-thirds of the lemon curd on the bottom and one-third on the top layer. Next spread the marscapone cream filling on top of the lemon curd. Finally sprinkle the berries on the cream filling. Carefully flip the top of the cake on top of the filling and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

jamie oliver sponge cakeAnd it just so happened that on that day there was a pleasant surprise in the mailbox, the March issue of one of my favorite interior design magazines. So many new ideas and color combinations. Perhaps some ideas will be put into practice. So there I was in my kitchen. Outside the day was somewhat gray but quite spring-like for the beginning of March. Inside there was a freshly made cake, a large cup of hot tea, a new magazine and a moment of peace. Perfect for a name day celebration.

This post is part of Celia’s In My Kitchen Series.

Light as a feather, stiff as a board

“No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.” –Robert Southey

Around the time when I was about ten or twelve, my friends and I would get together with irregular frequency for sleepovers. I’m not sure how much we actually slept since we tended to stay up quite late playing, “Light as a feather, stiff as a board”. It was around that same time that I would love reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Perhaps those mystery stories fed our imaginations. Marijo was always the best at telling the stories. “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” was played in the following manner. One person would lay as stiff as they could on the floor or mattress with the other participants surrounding her. The storyteller was situated next to the head of person laying down. In the beginning of the game, the storyteller would say the magic words, “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” and everyone would lift the laying participant and return her back down. Then the storyteller would proceed to tell a scary story from her imagination while rubbing the temples of the voluntary participant. After the story came to a close the storyteller would once again repeat the words, “light as a feather, stiff as a board” and we would all lift the participant once again. She always felt so much lighter the second time, and it worked everytime! As you can imagine, this simple game had just enough suspension but was relaxing at the same time that we could easily play this game for hours.

light as a featherI was looking though an old album today that my friends made for me when I moved to Finland. It is full of photos and memories and quotes. Quite nostalgic. We all have narrow, child-like faces and in one photo we are posing next to the Easter Bunny at the local mall. The photo makes me smile. Before the photo was taken we had had an earnest discussion of whether we were too old to pose with the Easter Bunny. It was probably one of the first times that we went shopping without adult supervision and we felt quite old.

mexican curry2“Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments.” –Rose Kennedy

One of the homes we quite often frequented was Sarah’s. Countless times did we sleep over and spend time downstairs in the basement room. The house had three floors and everyone else slept in on the third floor. It was like our own space, to chat and share and do all of those things that girls do.

One of the dishes that Sarah’s Mom made was Mexican Curry and it was a favorite of mine. It can be easily made in the crockpot and allowed to simmer for a couple hours on low. The recipe below is made stovetop. The recipe may not be identicle to her’s, but to me it had the flavor that I remembered.

Mexican Curry

one large onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 kg/ 1 lb ground beef (I used minced venison)
(2 tbsp olive oil, optional if using a low-fat meat such as venison)
1 can crushed tomatoes (370 g/13 oz)
2 cans water
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
salt
black pepper
oregano
1 dl/ 1/2 c uncooked rice

tortilla chips
chopped lettuce/spinach
tomatoes
avocado
cheese, grated
salsa of your choice

In a heavy pot, brown the meat with the onion, garlic, celery and seasonings. Once browned add the crushed tomato and water. Add the uncooked rice and allow to simmer for about 20-30 minutes on low so that the rice is cooked. Serve with chopped lettuce, grated cheese, avocados, tomatoes, tortilla chips and a salsa of your choice. The left over meat and rice could be used as a tortilla filling the next day.
mexican curry1“All in all, it was a never-to-be-forgotten summer–one of those summers which come seldom into any life, but leave a rich heritage of beautiful memories in their going–one of those summers which, in a fortunate combination of delightful weather, delightful friends and delightful doings, come as near to perfection as anything can come in this world.”

excerpt from Anne’s House of Dreams, L.M. Montgomery

We had some of those summers, my friends and I.

This blog post is part of The Novice Gardener’s blogging party, Fiesta Friday. For a collection of posts by various authors click on the link.

The Swedish Lapland and the heart of a moose

Little by little we have been eating the contents of our freezers. This year we were lucky to have a fairly large quantity of game meat. As nature goes through cycles, so does our freezer. Some years it is better for a population of a species to grow and flourish and then if there is too many for the ecosystem, it provides a window of opportunity to hunt. Since I grew up in the city and my family did not have hunters, I really did not understand the essence of hunting. I have been learning. Since my husband is a passionate hunter, I get regular lessons. If done correctly, it is about following the cycles of nature, protecting the wildlife and also conserving areas so that wildlife might have a refuge. Although every hunter would like to at least occasionally catch some game, the most important part is being in the quiet forest and observing nature. Often the reward from an early morning venture is only a healthy amount of exercise and fresh air. And sometimes there might be a story to tell and some fresh game. I would like to believe that hunters truly want their game to be wild and free and if they would be caught, that their death would be quick and painless as possible. The photos below from the Swedish Lapland are from last fall and are taken by my husband. Every year my husband and a few of his close friends and brothers drive to northern Sweden. If you have been following tableofcolors for some time, you may recall the post on the nordic fell. It was a hunting adventure that included the ladies. The pictures from the trip below was for the gentlemen and four dogs, and I would like to share some of their experiences and stories they brought back. Their trip was for grouse but the recipe I will be sharing below is for moose heart, a delicacy rarely had.

latoAll alone in the middle of the wilderness was this old barn and farm. The closest road was twenty kilometers away. The people who had inhabitited the farm had used a boat to reach it. It had no road or path leading up to it, perhaps at one time there had been a small path. Most likely it was now overgrown with grasses and shrubbery. It makes one wonder who built this farm so far from the towns and villages. Maybe the children grew up and left for the cities as so many others and so it now stands alone.

lato2landscapeThe landscape is scarce of people and it is easy to see how the mythology of elves has evolved. The Finnish elves or tonttu often protect a home or sauna. Perhaps the abandoned farm has it’s own elf, protecting it in the middle of the wilderness.

The heart of the moose or deer is a rare treat. Sometimes when we have had some on hand it becomes an evening snack after the kids are in bed, quickly fried on the pan so that it remains very tender. We always eat it fresh and this time we did share with the children and it was a weekend meal served with sweet potato and potato mash.

moose heart sweet potatoThe heart of the moose

Trim away all valves, connective tissues and papillary muscles and cut into slices. Using a mortar and pestle grind a mix of peppers and a few chili flakes. Rub the ground peppers on the meat and fry on a hot pan for about two minutes per side and season with sea salt.

moose heartSweet potato mash

1 large sweet potato
8-10 floury potatoes
about 7-8 dl/3-3.5 c hot milk
about 70 g/2.5 oz butter, melted
salt
black pepper

Peel sweet potatoes and potatoes. Cut the sweet potato into large chunks and potatoes into fourths. Place into a large pot and add water so that it just covers the potatoes. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender. Pour out the water. Place the milk and butter into a microwave proof bowl and heat until the milk is hot and butter is melted. Using an electric hand mixer, mix the hot milk mixture into the potatoes and whip until desired consistency. I usually prefer mine to have a few lumps. Season with salt and pepper. If the mash is too stiff for your liking add a little bit more hot milk or some of the cooking water to thin it out.

riekko

Cousins

When I was a kid, the cousins and aunts and uncles and of course the grandparents would get together at Thanksgiving and Christmas and sometimes on Mother’s day and Easter. I think we all have special memories from those times at Gramma’s house. We would always eat well, create music and have old-fashioned quality time together without mobiles phones, iPads or even the internet. I’m not necessarily criticizing todays instagram world since I admit that I am an avid user of social media. In fact, today “the cousins” are spread around in different parts of the globe and facebook, whatsapp and instagram offer the best way to keep up with their lives and their interests. Last Sunday had a some of the same feel as we got together at my sister’s house to celebrate our nephew’s birthday. We had a total of ten cousins together.

pinata2They live in the Puu-Käpylä area of Helsinki which is a fairly quiet and quaint neighborhood tucked in amongst busy roads. The houses have been built in 1920-1925 and are designed by Martti Välikangas. I love the cozy neighborhood with its red orche houses and small gardens. Originally they were built for the working class but today all types of people live there. But more important than the houses are the special people inside. Happy birthday to our Godson!

birthday boyWe were treated to a delicious lunch with homemade potato salad, vegetable sticks and dip and hot dogs. Perhaps my sister will share the recipe to her salad. Her cupcakes were decorated with a marzipan hockey stick and candy puck. The buttercream on the cupcakes had less sugar than normally and it had a rich flavor that both children and adults liked. It was a good way to start the day. The temperatures had warmed up and outside there were puddles and wet snow, but a five minutes walk away was the Käpylä rink with synthetic ice. It was the perfect outing for the cousins…and aunts and uncles after all of the treats.

hockey player Collagekids on the iceThe breeze did not have a sting since it was quite balmy for our circumstances (+2 C). Really where ever you might reside, there usually are those little hidden gems and treasures to be found nearby that make everyday life that much more enjoyable. We had an ice rink just down the block when I was a kid. It was one of the hidden gems of my childhood neighborhood in Golden Valley.

mexican lasagne2This recipe is for the balmy winter days. It has has enough heat in it to remind of warmer temperatures. The name, Tortilla or Mexican lasagne, might cause shudders in true Italian or Mexican connoisseurs. In reality it is a Tex-Mex style dish that has taken a bit of inspiration from the layered form of lasagne. It was quite tasty and tasted even better the next day. So even if it is not a genuine original of any cuisine I give it my recommendation.

Mexican Lasagne

400 g/14 oz ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 stalks of celery
1/4 leek, chopped
2 large handfuls of spinach, chopped (I used frozen spinach, from last summers bounty)
1 paprika, chopped
1 can crushed tomatoes (I used the last of my tomatoes from last summer, blanched, peeled and frozen)
400 g/14 oz refried beans
1/2 dl/1/4 c salsa
200 g mozzarella
3 large whole wheat tortillas
sea salt
black pepper
cumin
smoked paprika powder
oregano

Brown the ground beef and add vegetables except for the spinach and crushed tomatoes. Cook until the onion is opaque. Add the refried beans and stir until combined. Next add the tomatoes and spinach and seasonings. Allow to simmer so that the excess moisture evaporates. Take a tart pan the size of the tortillas and lightly spray with oil. Lay the first tortilla on the bottom and spoon one third of the filling on top and sprinkle with one third of the cheese. Continue alternating with the rest of the tortillas, filling and cheese. Bake in the oven at 200 C/390 F for about 15 minutes or so that the cheese has some color. Serve with a spicy chipotle salsa.

mexican lasagne

Lunch for two…or for eight

The other day I was just thinking about years past and about us. Our fairytale started when we were both in our late teens, the world was wide open with options. It was a lovely time. We’ve had fourteen quite extraordinary years together. There has not been a boring moment. Our six beautiful children make sure that everyday is full of activity. Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs and crash courses as well. Now as I look back, I feel like we got married as kids and grew up together. Legally we were definitely adults and not in our teens anymore, but just barely. For the most part, we get along great even though we are both the first born children from large families. I guess in theory it shouldn’t work since we are both used to bossing directing people around, but fortunately that is just a theory. In reality, we rarely argue although we do get into very animated discussions. Ultimately, we want to get along.

butternut squash and sweet potato

One of our first crash courses was learning how communicate. He came from a family where everyone is very direct and I came from a family that was not so direct. He was used to receiving and giving direct commands and I was not. I was more used to reading between the lines and he was not. I would like to think that through these years we have found a middle ground that works for both.

squash and sweet potato

We have some standard topics that we discuss with irregular frequency and feel quite strongly about, one of them being immigration policy. See, in the end we usually actually agree with the ultimate goal or solution but our ways of achieving the goal differ quite often. He is soldier and I am a political scientist. If all else fails we just agree to disagree. I personally don’t think that we need to agree on everything in order for our marriage to work. We like to give each other a little space. For us it works.

spelt breadWe’ve also learned how to genuinely support each other. In the early years, we might have claimed that we support each other but we didn’t really know what it was in practice. We might have counted dish or diaper changing turns back then and said that we support each other with our career plans. In reality, we had to learn how to put those words into actions. We were learning how to be a mother and father. It is a whole process of growth. We’re still not done growing. We don’t count dish turns or anything else anymore, we try to help out where we can and if one is a bit tired the other ones cuts some slack. My husband is not the type to bring flowers. But sometimes when I am a bit tired he will tell me to go out and do whatever I would like to for a couple of hours. After skating 10K and enjoying coffee at a local place, coming home feels great. Especially since the house has been cleaned while I was gone. He gets the kids organized and moving, faster than I am ever able to and they produce magic. These are his flowers.

squash soup eggs in the basket

Anne from Life in Mud Spattered Boots inspired to make these Eggs in the Basket toasts. They turned out perfect with the whole grain spelt bread that I had made earlier in the day. The trick that I learned from Anne is that the piece of bread needs to be thick enough. I had tried sometime earlier with thinner slices and ended up having egg all over the frying pan.

Egg in a basket

Slice thick slices of bread and butter on both sides lightly. Press a cookie cutter in the middle. Place both the pieces separately on a frying pan at low heat. First toast one side and then the other. After the bread is flipped, carefully break one egg into the hole and allow to cook until the egg white is set. This took several minutes for me. Enjoy with soup with someone special.

Whole-grain spelt bread

The trick to making a bread with spelt is to keep the dough moist and a bit sticky. This way your end result will be loaf with a soft texture.

0,5 l/2 cups warm water
one block of fresh yeast (50 g) or one package of dry yeast (11 g)
1/2 tbsp sea salt
1 generous tbsp brown sugar
1 dl/ 1/2 c wheat bran
4 dl/1.7 c whole-grain spelt flour
5 dl/ 2 c flour
3 tbsp olive oil

I used a stand mixer with the dough hook, but you may knead the dough by hand as well. Place the warm water, yeast (I often use frozen fresh yeast that I just place directly into the bowl and allow to thaw), brown sugar and salt. Mix and allow to sit for a few minutes. Continue by adding the wheat bran and spelt flour and one third of the flour. Knead the dough and continue adding the rest of the flour in small increments. The dough should not be too dry. Allow to rise until doubled and split into two. This amount will make two loaves that have a raw weight of about 570 g/20 ounces. Work the dough on a well floured surface so that the air bubbles are released. Shape into loaves and place into bread pans or in a long shape on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 200 C/390 F for about 18-20 minutes or until the bread sounds a bit hollow and it has a nice color on the bottom as well.

Butternut Squash Soup

3 tbsp olive oil
700 g/2 lbs sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 onion, chopped
1.2 kg/2.6 lbs butternut squash
water to cover the vegetables (about 1 and 1/2 liters/1.6 quarts)
0.5 l/2 c stock
250 g/8.8 oz marscapone cheese
sea salt
black pepper
dash of nutmeg

Peel and cut the vegetables into large chunks. Place into a large pot with the olive oil and sautée for a few minutes so that the vegetables release some of their flavors. Pour the water and stock over the vegetables and allow to simmer until tender. Remove from heat and using an immersion mixer, purée until smooth. Return to the stove top and add the marscapone cheese. Simmer until smooth, mixing at the same time. Take of heat and serve.

soup and sandwichThis could be a lunch for two or it could be for eight. For us, it was a table with eight, including all of the special people in our house. Today I feel that there is a stronger bond of love than ever before. May your adventure called life continue in a pleasant way. Happy Valentine’s Day!

The best days of winter

The best days of winter have arrived. The day is noticeably longer and in the morning when I come downstairs into my kitchen it is not quite as dark as it was just a month ago. The children are able to leave for school in the soft morning light and after they arrive home there is still some light to be outside. And in my kitchen there is a bouquet of yellow tulips reminding me that spring is on it’s way.

tulips 2

We have been skating quite often on the lake; just across the road and through the little patch of woods that line the shore. With the abundance of fresh air and exercise comes healthy appetites to match it. This month in my kitchen I have food that will hopefully satisfy the appetites. Not too long ago I made a discovery at the grocery store. I bought a package of crisp bread made by a local bakery, Leipomo J. Martin. I have a personal connection to the bakery as I worked there for a summer a few years back. After making the initial discovery of the crisp bread I have bought several packages. The flavor is wonderful as it is full of toasted seeds and whole grain bran. In fact, every year the Finnish food union hosts a contest for the most innovative and best tasting new product on the market. Five finalists are chosen from which the winner is selected. This crisp bread was one of the finalists for the Tähtituote award last year. In addition it was selected as the best crisp bread of the year by the Gloria Ruoka ja Viini magazine. Congratulations to the bakers!

skarppi näkkäriWe have been exploring the Suomen lasten leivontakirja cook book with my kids. They suggested the following Mimmi’s meat pie for supper and had intended to help, but something more interesting came up and so I found myself left alone in the kitchen. Jumping hurdles over the sofa pillows actually does sound like fun.

2014-02-03 18.15.20-2

I actually did not mind that I was left alone. The benefit of the kids disappearing from the kitchen at the critical moment was that I was free to adapt the recipe and add a generous amount of vegetables and seasonings. When baking or cooking with the kids, we usually follow the recipe quite closely so that it is easy for the kids to follow. Maybe it is a mother’s instinct but I do secretly try to add nutrients that the picky eaters might not so easily notice. Grated carrots is one that works in many recipes.

venison meat pie

Mimmi’s Meat Pie with Minced Venison

One of the benefits of having a hunter in the family is that we are able to enjoy truly organic meat. I used minced venison for the meat pie but you may subsitute with a ground meat of your choice. For a lighter version, make only half of the dough for the crust for a single crust pie. Place the filling in a lasagne pan lined with parchment paper and covering with the pastry. The recipe below is the traditional version.

Pie crust

250 g/8.8 oz butter, softened
1 dl/slightly under 1/2 c milk
1 egg
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 dl/1/4 c oat bran
5 dl/generous 2 c wheat flour

Filling
300 g/10.5 oz minced venison or meat of your choice
1 onion, chopped fine
two cloves of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, chopped finely
2 carrots, grated
1 tsp roasted pepper
freshly ground black pepper to taste
salt
1-2 tsp NoMU smokey peri-peri, contains a mixture of chili, paprika, garlic, coriander, black pepper, mustard, parsely, cumin, oregano, ginger and natural smoke flavor
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
8 dl/3 and 1/3 c cooked rice of your choice, I used a mixture of rice, barley, whole grain wheat, rye and oat kernels (or 3 and 1/2 dl/1.5 c uncooked rice)
meat pie fillingThis meat pie would be the perfect thing to make if you happened to have some left over rice from the day before. Feel free to add to the recipe those ingredients that you might have on hand. The filling can be seasoned quitely strongly since it loses some of its strength when put in between the pie crust.

If you do not have cooked rice on hand, start by cooking the rice and boiling the eggs. While they are cooking on the stove, start the pie crust. Beat the softened butter until it is fluffy. Next add the egg and milk. I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer. In a separate bowl mix the dry ingredients. Fold the dry ingredients in with the butter mixture. Do not over mix. Place into the refrigerator while the filling is completed.

For the filling, chop the vegetables. Place the onions, garlic and celery and minced meat of choice on a large frying pan. Cook at medium heat until the meat is browned. Add the seasonings and other vegetables and continue cooking for a few minutes.

In my kitchen I have a collection of seasonings that work great with this recipe. The NoMU seasonings are among my favorites as they don’t contain any additives. Their flavor could be described as East meets West in the culinary world.

nomu seasoningCombine the cooked rice, chopped eggs, and meat and vegetable mixture. Remove the pie crust dough from the refrigerator and roll out 2/3 of it on a floured surface. Place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Add the filling and roll out the rest for the top crust. I cut mine into strips. Lay the top crust on the filling and seal the edges. Prick holes to let the steam out if the top crust is made from one piece. Brush with an egg wash. Bake in the oven for thirty minutes at 200 C/390 F.

hockey playersSoon the little hockey players will be arriving in the kitchen. And they will have a large appetite.

This post is a part of Celia’s In My Kitchen Series that she host every month. Visit her blog to see links to other  kitchens from around the world.

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