Simple pleasures

Category: Main dishes

Carrot top pesto

by tableofcolors

girl and organic garden produce

One thing leads to another. The past several years these little black bugs have eaten our cabbage and kale seedlings. And the end result is that these only the tough middle stem is left standing with a leaf that looks like lace as it is mostly filled with holes and turning whitish and sorry looking. This year my husband put a garden fabric on the planting box out back and the outcome has been completely different. I would have never thought that such a simple solution would yield such a change! Now they are vibrantly growing. Fortunately the kids love kale chips! We have several different kinds of leafy greens that all belong to the cabbage family and we totally forgot that we had planted broccoli as well, until this morning we spied small broccoli forming amongst the dark green leaves. We had accidentally taken a few of the bottom leaves and added to our cabbage stew yesterday. But I don’t think any harm was kale

Yesterday we decided to make a lightly sautéed garden stew. Cabbage soup raises mixed feelings amongst the public, especially if the cabbage has been cooked for a very long time. That is why I decided to lightly sauté all of the vegetables and brown the meat before putting it all together and finishing it off with a short cook time. I thought it was delicious.

garden fresh produce

Lightly sautéed kale stew

a variety of kale or cabbage
5-6 carrots, grated
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic
olive oil
1 vegetable bouillon cube (I used an organic bouillon cube that has many garden varieties of herbs in it)
1 liter/ 2 pints of water
salt and black pepper to taste
fresh parsley, roughly chopped
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
400 g/ 14 oz minced meat (We happened to have fresh ground horse meat on hand, so that is what we used)

Mince the onions and garlic. Set aside. Grate the carrot and chop the kale. Brown the minced meat along with the onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. In the same pan lightly sautée the kale and carrots for a few minutes in a bit of olive oil. Set aside. Put all of the sautéed vegetables and browned minced meat into a large pot. Pour the water over it along with the vegetable bouillon cube. Bring to a simmer. Season with fresh parsley and salt and pepper. Finish with the apple cider vinegar and check taste. Allow to simmer until preferred level of doneness. I preferred my soup to have a bit more texture and for the kids I cooked it a bit more. Total cook time was about 20 minutes.

cabbage stew

I had a large bunch of beautifully green carrot tops in wrapped up in a paper towel and tucked in my fridge. Ann from Eat Simply Eat Well suggested that I use them for a pesto. I did a little research online and found the most lovely recipe for a grilled cheese sandwich with roasted carrots and carrot green pesto inspired by the Happyolks blog. It was so delicious that I have not had such a good sandwich in a long time. Even the kids loved them.

garden fresh carrots and sourdough bread

Grilled Cheese sandwiches with roasted carrots and carrot green pesto

You will need:

Good quality sourdough bread and good quality cheese. I used Oltermanni which is similar to the Danish Havarti in texture and flavor.

Roasting the carrots:
Wash about 4-5 small carrots per sandwich.
Leave a bit of the greens on them, as they become delicious and crispy in the oven.
A drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Roast in oven for about 20 minutes at 160 C/320 F or until the tip are crispy and the carrots have a bit of color.

organic carrots

While the carrots are roasting, make the carrot green pesto.

Carrot Green pesto

a couple of large bunches of carrot greens, washed
2 cloves of garlic
juice of one lemon
salt and black pepper to taste

Cut the stems of the carrot greens and use only the leafy parts. Place them into a blender of food processor. Add in the garlic and olive oil. Blend until smooth. Add in the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Blend for a few more seconds. Check flavor.

roasted carrot and carrot top pesto sandwich

Slice thin slices of bread. The bread I used was a homemade sourdough with about 60% wholegrain making the texture of the bread somewhat heavy. That is why I opted for thinner slices.

Butter the outer side of the slice and smear some of the carrot green pesto on the other side. Place butter side down onto a pan that is medium hot. Add a layer of cheese and then 4-5 roasted carrots. Place another layer of cheese before placing the second slice of bread, pesto side down. Fry until golden brown and the cheese has started to melt. Flip over and continue to fry until the other side is a golden brown. Enjoy!



I’ll be back someday

by tableofcolors

norwegian fjords fauskeThis time for In My Kitchen, I thought to share a bit of our trip to Norway. While we were in the wilderness in Sweden (previous post) and camping in Norway we used a Jetboil that boils water very quickly to which it is easy to add dried packaged food or oats for oatmeal. I was actually a little worried if we would have enough to eat as my husband can go for hours between meals, but I usually eat every few hours to keep my blood sugar in balance. We did have a trailmix with that we made before we left and I had bar of good quality of dark chocolate as well as some hearty rye bread and butter. Beyond the pictures are the inspiration that I felt once returning to my own kitchen. You may indeed be surprised. I made English muffins and they were delicious even though they did require a bit of effort.

We arrived into Norway in the evening and the sky was taking on shades from the setting sun. We drove to Fauske, visited a grocery store and even found some lefse. Certainly not quite as good as the homemade ones that Gramma Renie would make for Thanksgiving and Christmas when I was a child. Once I find her old recipe or another one that works great I will share. Since we were camping and have a big car, we decided to pull over at a rest stop for the night and sleep in the car. Not necessarily the most glamourous way to travel but we were on a budget and our scenery was certainly beautiful. My sister and her family lived in Norway for a couple of months this past summer and she had told me before hand that Norwegians are really into their hi-tech sports gear and you will see people walking around town in good quality sports wear. I figured we might just fit in.

norwegian fjords fauske 2There was something so peaceful in the shapes of the fjords and the water nestled right next to each other. I could just feel my soul rest.

2015-07-22 07.38.00

Morning sun in Fauske, Norway

The next morning, there was hardly a cloud in the sky and the soft pastels of the evening before had changed into intense blues and greens.


We drove to the small coastal city of Bodø which is on the Artic Sea and was about an hour away from Fauske.

bodø harborI could have easily spent a few more days or a week here if we would have had the time. On the other hand this just whetted my appetite and I certainly would like to go back.

Artic Sea in BodøWe didn’t go swimming in the Artic Sea, as the water was quite chilly and air was cool, but we did dip our hands in the water. Perhaps if the day had been different we might have attempted swimming.

old train station and bridges in Fauske

It would be interesting to know the story behind the boat that was situated behind what looked like an old train station used for industry.

scandinavian mountains CollageI was quite ready for a hearty meal after eating our camping foods. In Finland they do not sell ready made English muffins and for some time I had been toying with the idea of making of my own. So one Saturday I set out to try my hand at it and the result was delicious even if the process was quite tedious. Next time, instead of doubling the batch I think I will quadruple it so there might be some for the freezer as this time they were all gone by the next day, except for two which I stashed away. I was pleasantly surprised by how well they kept until the next day. Nearly as good as on the first day.

I used the recipe for my English muffins from the Food52 website and tutorial was great. If you would like step-by-step photos of the whole process visit their site. My recipe is slightly changed below and mainly because I did not have buttermilk in the fridge so I substituted it with yoghurt (which in Finland has a very buttermilk-like consistency, in other words it is drinkable). Many recipes that I found used milk, but I preferred the slight tangy sourness the buttermilk or yoghurt brought to the dough.

  • 2 1/3 tablespoons active dry yeast (a little less than the contents of two 1/4 oz packets)
  • 1/2 dl/ 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 4 dl/ 1 3/4 cups buttermilk or yoghurt
  • 9.5 dl/ 4 cups bread flour, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 dl/1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 2/3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 70 g/5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Nonstick vegetable spray
  • Cornmeal or polenta

english muffins going into the ovenCombine the yeast and water into a bowl of a standmixer with a dough hook. Mix until yeast is dissolved. Microwave the buttermilk or yoghurt for about 20-30 seconds, just so it loses it’s refrigerator chill. Add it into the water and yeast mixture. Add in the flour, sugar and salt and mix until it becomes a droopy dough.  Add in the room temperature butter a tablespoon at a time. Make sure the butter is room temperature so that you do not need to overwork the dough. At this point it will not form a ball. Knead for 7-8 minutes until is starts to hold its shape but is still tacky.

Lightly spray a large mixing bowl with oil and move the dough to it and cover with cling wrap and allow to rise for one hour. After if has risen, place the bowl into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill. This will make the dough easier to handle. While the dough’s resting, line a couple of baking sheets with baking paper and then generously cover with cornmeal or polenta. Next, very lightly dust your work surface with flour. Turn the dough over on your work surface and knead it a few times to remove the air bubbles. Form it into a fat log. Pinch of pieces about he size of a handball (60 g) and roll into a ball. Once it has formed into a ball, transfer on the baking sheet with cornmeal and slightly flatten and then gently flip it around so the other side gets a coating of cornmeal as well. At this point you may cover the baking pans with cling wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutesif you like, for easier handling and if you do not have time to bake the English muffins at the moment, they keep in the fridge up to three days.

Heat your oven to 120 C/250 F and take out your cast iron skillet. In the photo above the four on the right have been toasted on the cast iron skillet and are ready for the oven and the row on the left are still waiting for the cast iron skillet treatment.

The original recipe recommends baking them in the cast iron skillet for 4-5 minutes on one side until it domes on very low heat and then flipping them over for another 4-5 minutes and then continuing at a higher heat, flipping every 2-3 minutes. I did not skillet bake them as long, as my skillet is fairly small and a double batch would have taken all day. Instead I opted to for the first stage of skillet-baking for 4-5 minutes per side and then moving them back onto the baking sheet and baking them in the oven for a longer time of 15-20 minutes instead of the 10 minutes prescribed in the original recipe. Do as you feel is convenient in your kitchen.

Fortunately I had a Sloppy Joe filling ready to go in the refridgerator that had been leftover from our dinner the night before, and so we had Sloppy Joes with our English Muffins and everyone loved them.

sloppy joes

Sloppy Joe filling
500 g/18 oz ground beef
1 onion
5 dl/2 c broth (or you may substitute with one package of organic onion soup and 5 dl/ 2 c water)
300 g/10 oz crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the ground beef with onion. Add in the broth or onion soup, crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. Allow to simmer until the consistency becomes thicker. Mix in the balsamic vinegar and season to taste. Spoon a generous spoonful on an English muffin half, garnish with grated cheese and put the top into place. Enjoy with a freshly tossed garden salad.

diy egg mcmuffinWhen I was a teenager, I worked at McDonald’s for about three years. I must say that it was a great job that taught me lot about producing food that always had the same consistency. And while some may scoff at a job at McDonald’s I feel that the training I received created a base for the work I am doing now. I haven’t had an Egg McMuffin for years. I’m not even sure I had one when I worked there but I thought to make my own DIY version. The stash of two that I had stuck quick into the freezer became a lunch for me and snack for my son after he returned home. And he ate the whole thing even if he is not real big on eggs (unless they are hardboiled) and cheese.

DIY Egg Mcmuffin
Split two English muffins and toast (butter is optional, I didn’t miss it at all)
Slowly cook two eggs, sunny side up
sprinkle the eggs with salt and pepper
slice two slices of good quality cheese of your taste
a few leaves of spinach and parsley for garnish

Put your sandwich together with the cheese on the bottom and next the warm eggs and finishing off with the spinach and parsley. Enjoy!


owl eyes eggs in a panSo this month in my kitchen I had a set of owl eyes in my cast iron pan, a bit of adventure and comfort food for the days that are whispering fall. (And since I only had one egg form, I used a cookie/pastry cutter for the second one and it worked quite well.)

Travel expands your horizon a little wider

This post is a part of Celia’s In My Kitchen series that she hosts each month allowing readers peeks into kitchens around the world.

There are bees in my kitchen

by tableofcolors

It is a clear sign of August when the bees take over. In July, they leave us alone and mind their own business but it seems as if they know the calendar. As soon as the August arrives they come in if the patio door is left open and I end up chasing after them with my vacuum cleaner. It is the most efficient way to dispose of them. When I went to go pick a few sprigs of mint for the photos this morning, the mint flowers were covered with bees. They had decided that the mint belonged to them and so I, ever so cautiously waited for a bit of a flower to free up and slipped in my scissors to claim a sprig. The other day I made a mint pesto for a potato salad inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi. He uses mint often and I find his cooking to be quite ingenius. So I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try a new flavor combination. It really worked out quite nicely and the mix of mint and peppermint from my patio planting boxes brought the perfect amount of freshness. I actually got enough of the mint pesto to freeze some of it in a penguin shaped ice cube tray for later use.


mint pesto CollageI just recently had a birthday and the potatoes were from my neighbor next door from their own potato patch. Another friend had brought over some the fresh produce from their garden as a gift. In my kitchen is trayful of fresh, organic treats waiting to be used. Both gifts were perfect for a foodie like me.

fresh produceMy next day after my birthday turned out to be quite exciting in more ways than one. It had been quite windy all morning and afternoon and the weather forecast was promising thunderstorms. We had been planning a kayak and canoe excursion with some friends. My husband who had made all of the arrangements decided that we are not going to give up and cancel. Afterall, it was my birthday present. Sometimes the thunderstorms pass over and may be quite local. And sometimes the weather forecast may be inaccurate. We loaded up in our van to pick up the trailer with the kayaks.

kayaking and the storm CollageAs we arrived to the rental place, the wind picked up and the storm arrived. A tree right behind the trailer came down and it rained so hard it felt like we were in a car wash. Finland usually does not have very strong storms. This storm was quite strong. I really wasn’t sure what we should do. We had all hire babysitters and made arrangements. My husband was still going kayaking. We waited out the storm and headed to the river a few kilometers aways. Good thing for axes and saws. We had to clear the road. Along the way we saw trampoline that had flown across a field and was bent in an arch. My neighbors trampoline was scooted across the yard and taken a gooseberry bush with it. All over there were trees knocked over and back home the electricity was out. After the storm passed, everything seems calm. And so we went kayaking and the weather was perfect.

kayaking CollageAround the same time I visited the Saturday morning outdoor flea market and found a lady that was selling vintage clothes and accessories. Everything was so well taken care of, clean and pressed. Then she told me that in the local old paper factory area called Taideruukki, is a cluster of creative businesses. Some of them sell local crafts and jewelry, vintage clothes and things, a photography studio and even a little coffee shop. What a find! And to think that I had not realized that it was in operation while it was nearly under my nose. I had to go visit to see for myself. I took with me our Isabella and her friend.

ruukinportti collageFrom there I found a creamer made by Opa. I used it to hold the mint pesto for my potato salad. The reason I was so pleased with my find was that it held a bit more than just 1.5 deciliters. Traditional Finnish coffee cups are very small but we tend to use larger mugs and so a larger creamer had been on the list for a couple of years.

mint pesto potato salad2Fresh potato salad with Mint Pesto
1 kg/2.2 lbs new potatoes, cooked until just tender and then cooled
600 g/21 oz oven roasted or grilled chicken cut into cubes
1 red onion
three handfuls of fresh peas
a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach
a small bunch of fresh chives and parsley

Mint poppy seed pesto
a large handful of fresh mint leaves, stems removed
(I used a mix of mint and peppermint)
generous dl/ 3/4 c olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tbsp sunflower
1/2 dl/ 1/4 c poppy seeds
black pepper

Boil the thoroughly scrubbed potatoes until just tender and allow to cool. Prepare the pesto by placing all the ingredients in a blender or in a tall cup and mix with an immersion wand. Set aside.
Cut the cooled potatoes and chicken into bite size pieces. Chop the onion into thin rings. Finely chop the herbs. Roughly chop the spinach and toss in with the potatoes, chicken, herbs and onions. Dress with the mint pesto and garnish with the fresh peas. Fresh the left over pesto in an ice cube tray for later use.

mint pesto potato saladThis post is a part of Celia’s In My Kitchen series for August. On the side bar of her blog is a list of kitchens from around the world.

Making memories

by tableofcolors

On Sunday we drove to the cabin. In Finland everything stops in July and a pilgrimage to the cottages begins. Bureaus and offices are usually open but temporary personnel fill in and most things happen at a sleepy pace if at all. Most paperwork sits and waits until August and the return of the permanent personnel. At first I had a hard time adjusting to the idea of a nation in which everyone vacations at the same time. Vacation and free time is a significant part of the life style here. Common questions asked upon seeing an acqaintance in the summer is about vacation. Have you been on vacation yet. How long was it this year. And if it was under three weeks, you might hear condolences about how short your vacation was. But I have become used to this land of people that all down-shift at the same time and look forward to a slow-paced month where only the absolutely necessary errands are made. All other time is spent enjoying summer even if the weather has not been quite as summer-like as usual.

boat house collage

Finland has over 180,000 lakes. The shores of these lakes are dotted with summer cabins and cottages. Many are the traditional mummonmökki or a small grandmother’s cottage with just a room or two and often do not have running water or electricity. Cottages often have a history and you might find things that are tens of years old and full of stories to be discovered. The toilet paper holder might have be whittled out of wood at the end of the dock on a breezy day, or the matchbox holder might be a from a wood shop class in the city. In the bedroom there is a chest full of old Donald Ducks, some of them as old as your dad. The beds are covered with heavy and well-made spreads that would probably be considered vintage. Then there are the cabins that are large and contemporary and have all the conveniences of city homes. The blueprints might have been made by a well-known architect and the windows have Marimekko curtains. Both of these cabins dot the shores side by side. Some new and some old. One thing they all have in common is the sauna. The sauna is usually in it’s own small building close to the lake. When we visit the cabin, we take a sauna every evening. The sauna is the place to relax and socialize. Sometimes with a group of women we have been in the sauna for two or three hours. In the soft heat of the large sauna, the world has been made a better place and problems solved. Every once in a while we wrap ourselves in towels and sit outside or go for swim before another round of steam in the sauna.

choosing a boatPappa made sailboats out of thick slabs of pine bark. One for each grandchild. Then he made little wood chips that each had a number. Each grandchild drew one chip and had a turn to choose their boat according to the number they had on the chip. The kids all went on the dock to send their boats off to America. A little while later Pappa took the rowboat and gathered each one. They were brought to the city as souvenirs of times spent at the cottage.

setting the boats off collage

Our Erik decided that fish soup is now his favorite food. It even passed up macaroni and that is quite an accomplishment. Mummo made fish soup on one of the days while we were at the cabin. After returning home our refrigerator was completely empty except for a jar of relish, some eggs and some apricot marmelade. I ventured to the store and decided to indulge Erik and make a soup with rainbow trout. The store was full of fresh local produce. I had a hard time limiting myself. I would have liked to bring it all home.

vegetablesSoup made with salmon or rainbow trout is a very traditional dish in the nordic countries. Many grow their own dill and I really think that the fresh dill is the perfect match with the fish. I tried to keep my version fairly simple, as often at the cabin the selection of seasonings might be not be as large. Many towns have little outdoor markets once or twice a week and larger cities have them daily, and so fresh produce is readily available during the summer.

rainbow trout soup 1

Rainbow Trout Soup

knob of butter
onions, three small spring onions or one large onion finely sliced into rings
3 carrots, peeled and cut into cubes
2 small turnips, peeled and cut into cubes
600 g/21 oz peeled waxy potatoes, (I used new potatoes)
generous 1 liter/ 1 quart of water
black pepper
white pepper
1/2 tsp mustard powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
sea salt
small bunch of chives, finely chopped
handful of fresh dill
1 kg/ 2 lbs filé of Rainbow trout or salmon
3 dl/ 1 and 1/3 c heavy cream

Place the peeled and chopped vegetables, except for the potatoes into a heavy bottomed pot with the knob of butter and turn to medium heat. Allow to sauté until just slightly tender. Add water, potatoes, black and white pepper, mustard powder, lemon juice and salt. Allow to simmer at very low heat until the potatoes are tender. While the soup is cooking, remove the skin from the fish and any pin bones that might be remaining. Cut the fish into small bite-size cubes.
rainbow troutOnce the potatoes are tender, add the salmon, cream, fresh dill and chives. Allow the soup to come to boil. Check the flavor and adjust salt and seasoning if needed. Serve with a dark rye bread.

rainbow trout soup 2

canoeing on the lakerocking the dock

Little Islands at High Seas

by tableofcolors

A few weeks ago, right after schools were out my husband went on a trip with six other hunters. The male Common Eider or Haahka in Finnish, were migrating back to the south as the females remain in the north to take care of the young. The males leave as soon as the the ducklings have hatched. The females and their young will migrate at the end of September or in October. The Common Eider is a rather large sea duck that breeds in the Artic or northern temperate regions. So these photos are my husband’s and I suggested that perhaps next year I might come along and be their photographer. The scenery is quite beautiful and untouched. The rock islands with their round forms are shaped by the sea and the Ice Age. They protude out of the Baltic Sea. The men had the most perfect weather. Some years I have heard, it has not been so and the coast guard has been needed to escort on the way back home.

sea marker on the balticOn the island is a tiny white brick cottage and a large sea marker that looks like light house. A little way aways is another small island that has another sea marker. Together, these two markers showed the way in past days for sailors, as on one side of the islands there is a deep passageway and on the other side it is rocky and shallow. white cottage baltic seaThe only problem with me coming along is that the small white cottage was already at full capacity with seven gentlemen. I might have to take a tent with so that we would all fit but I promise to not bother their hunting during the days.

hunting at sea 2On their trip the men made soup using the Common Eider and some wild chives that could be found growing amongst the rocks. What a sturdy plant to survive such harsh conditions. I’m sure it tasted wonderful after being out in the wind and sun for the day.

haahkakeitto ja villi ruohosipuliLast weekend, my husband suggested that he make a stew with the Common Eider. I don’t mind letting others having a turn in the kitchen. Sometimes it is nice to eat a meal made by someone else. Everyone loved it. The children had sleepover guests that day and even they helped themselves to seconds. Children do not feign being impressed. They usually give the straight truth, either in their expressions and sometimes verbally. There is a trick when cooking the Common Eider. It needs to be boiled in a pot a water for fifteen minutes three times, pouring the water out each time and replacing with fresh water. The fat of the bird has an unpleasant flavor. After this has been done the flavor of the meat is wonderful. The recipe below is an traditional recipe used by the people living on the islands and Finnish coastline. Antti did make slight alterations with the herbs and spices he used but otherwise he followed the recipe quite closely. The original recipe in Finnish can be found here.


Common Eider Stew, to be served with boiled potatoes

Two Common Eider breasts
curry, according to taste
NoMU Spanish spice mix (paprika, chili, sugar, black pepper, cumin, oregano, basil, parsley, turmeric, cinnamon, mustard, garlic,cloves)

The original recipe says to boil the meat in water for fifteen minutes two times, pouring out the water after the time is up and replacing with fresh water. The third time the water may remain and the meat is simmered at low heat for three hours. Skim of any foam that forms. After the meat has simmered for three hours and the foam has been removed the meat may be removed from the bones. The broth can be saved for later use. Cut the meat into chunks.
In another sauce pan, brown the meat adding herbs, vegetables and spices. The stew is ready once the vegetables have gently softened, about fifteen minutes. Add cream if desired but do not let it come quite to a boil. Remove from heat and serve with potatoes.
common eider stewNow it is midsummers here in Finland and the other nordic countries. Not only is it a religious holiday to remember John the Baptist but is also a time of spending time with family. I remember one friend telling me of her childhood memories. At midsummer, her and her siblings would row across the lake as the sun was low in the horizon at their cabin. Everything had been cleaned, even the sauna which is traditionally cleaned for midsummers or Juhannus. Small birch trees brought from the forest roots and all are planted in pots and placed on both sides of the doorway. It is also a time of old tales, traditions and a few superstitions. There is an old tale that says if young girls gather seven flowers of different kinds and place them under their pillow they will see in their dreams who their spouse to come is. I suppose it might work with just as much success for boys as well if they care to try.

rock formationsHappy Midsummers!

Spring is in the Air

by tableofcolors

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)

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
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.

Light as a feather, stiff as a board

by tableofcolors

“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
black pepper
1 dl/ 1/2 c uncooked rice

tortilla chips
chopped lettuce/spinach
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

by tableofcolors

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
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.



by tableofcolors

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
smoked paprika powder

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

by tableofcolors

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!