tableofcolors

Simple pleasures

Tag: anticipation of christmas

Christmas is coming in my Kitchen

by tableofcolors

On top of our wood buring oven is a pile of chocolate advent calendars and each morning the children open another window in the calendar and savor their piece of chocolate. Our two-year old had shaken his calendar at the store with so much vigor that most of his chocolates have dropped out of their allocated spots and are sitting at the bottom of the calendar causing it to bulge. He just wouldn’t give it up and insisted on holding it all the way to the register. I didn’t feel like arguing over such a minor detail. In the end, it probably does not really matter to him if the chocolates are not all in their places as long as he gets one everyday. It is countdown to Christmas, and everyday the children ask if we will be putting up a new decoration or Christmas light or perhaps do a little Christmas baking.

making christmas ornamentsThis year we decide to make ornaments out of salt dough for the teachers. First of all, almost all kids love playing with dough and so this was the perfect way to let them become involved. Our two-year old sat at the table perfectly entertained for probably an hour shaping his own piece of dough. Other than a bit of effort, these ornaments are easy on the pocketbook and you can let your imagination run.

Salt dough

3 dl/1 and 1/3 c flour
1 dl/ 1/2 c salt
1.5 dl/ 3/4 c water

Mix all the ingredients and allow to rest for a bit wrapped under cling film. Gently sprinkle the counter top with flour and using a rolling pin an cookie cutters make different shapes. We used clean letter stamps for the words and a dinner knife to cut around them. Remember to make a hole through which a piece of string or twine may be later pulled through for hanging.

Bake at 100 C/210 F for a couple of hours. A couple of days later we painted ours white with acrylic paint that had been thinned with a bit of water. Spray paint might be even easier for an even and thin coat of paint.

The idea for these came from a Finnish women’s magazine Kotivinkki, but the original Finnish recipe that I used can be found here. The internet is full of salt dough recipes, some that have a bit of oil and some that do not. I noticed that best results are had when the oven is not too hot.

christmas ornaments made with salt dough

christmas ornaments made with salt dough 2During the past few months we have had a facebook group in the Kouvola area that organizes that local food producers are able to sell their products directly to the consumer, similar to a farmer’s market. It takes place about twice a month. So far we have tried out an ostrich egg, which really peaked the interest of the children. The past time I bought different kinds of flour from a local mill with the intention to do a bit of holiday baking.

raussilan myllyn jauhotpiparitalkoot making gingerbreadHere is the recipe for my classic gingerbread cookies. Next time I will share a recipe for rye gingerbread cookies that have a bit of almond flour in them. Definitely delicious!

I would like to share a bit of the sounds of my kitchen. Yesterday was the 150th birthday of the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. The other week we visited a Jean Sibelius recital put on by young music students. The children and youth were all dressed in the time period and represented children of Jean Sibelius and their various cousins. Their teacher played the part of Aino Sibelius, wife of Jean and told little historical stories along with photos and between each bit one of the children would perform a short piece by Sibelius.

 

terveisiä ainolasta

And what was even better was that the children have started recognizing the music of Sibelius when it is played on the radio. They might come up and say, “I think this is Sibelius.” The following piece is one of their favorites.

This post is a part of Celia’s In My Kitchen series that she hosts every month. Be sure to drop by her blog for a reference list of bloggers all around the world and their kitchens.

 

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Being thirteen

by tableofcolors

Finland is full of Christmas parties or as they call them, pikkujoulu. Our children love organizing a pikkujoulu and last night we had a houseful of thirteen year-olds. Watching your own children grow up often brings me back to when I was the same age. There is something a bit beautiful and at the same time a bit awkward about being thirteen. They are trying so hard to be grown-up and at the same time they aren’t quite there yet. Privilege and responsibility go hand in hand and it is a steep learning curve for the parents to find the fine balance between the two. I notice that it is easy to expect responsibility and at the same time I need to learn to let go and give the opportunity for a little freedom. They don’t learn without practice. How were your teenage years? I remember that the spoken opinions and just as importantly the non-verbal opinions made by my friends were very important. I was very much a goody-goody-two-shoes, which I am sure, annoyed some, and in general wanted to please everyone and never wanted anyone mad at me. While I still am that way deep down, I would like to believe that I have learned that not everyone can be pleased and unfortunately you can’t be everyones’ best friend.

pikkujoulu collage

recipe for the date cake treats can be found here

I remember going to the mall with my friends when we were about twelve or thirteen. It was right before Easter. We spent a good amount of time discussing if we were too old to take our picture with the Easter Bunny. Someone might think that we actually still believed in the Easter Bunny and…Gasp! That would have been disastrous! In the end we decided that we could take our photo with the Bunny and I have a copy of it in my album as a keepsake. So glad we dared!

The evening was fun and even our little ones joined the games. At first our Erik was complaining why the whole house was full of girls and no boys but he was satisfied after he was able to have first dibs at the table. Later when they played a game where one had to keep a straight face, he told me “Easy, I can do it no problem” and so I told him to go join. He is used to girls and so he had no qualms joining in and pretty soon everyone else was laughing but him. I had a hard time keeping a straight face as well.

pizzas in a tin collage

These pizzas-in-a-tin work great with the younger crowd but you could serve them just as well to youthful adults. I thought they were pretty good if I may say so myself and at the party they disappeared quickly. The dough is soft due to the mashed potato flakes.

 

Pizza-in-a-tin (makes about 35)

Crust
6 dl/2.5 c warm water
1 block of fresh yeast (50 g) or one sachet of dry yeast
2 dl/just under 1 c potato flakes
generous 1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 dl/ 1/2 c rye flour
about 9 dl/3.8 dl flour
2 tbsp olive oil

Sauce
500 g/17.5 oz pasta sauce (homemade or if you’re in a pinch ready made from the store)
500 g/17.5 oz crushed tomatoes
1 package (170 g/6 oz) bacon
1 onion, finely chopped
pepper, salt, oregano, basil

Grated cheese (I used a mix of mozzarella and emmental)

pizza in a muffin tin

Pour the warm water into a large bowl and add the yeast and brown sugar to it. Allow it activate for a few minutes. I usually use frozen fresh yeast and I just put the frozen block into the warm water and wait for it to thaw out (about 5 minutes). I use the dough hook with my kitchen aid but you could knead the dough by hand just as easily. Next add the salt, potato flakes, rye flour and half of the flour. Knead the dough for a few minutes. Add more flour and continue kneading. I never add all of the flour at once. If the flour is drier it will absorb more liquid than if it contains more moisture. The dough will be slightly sticky but still workable. As the dough is forming elasticity add in the oil. As I was in a pinch for time I did not allow it to rise, rather I rolled it out immediately and cut circles out with a cutter. I let them rise once in the tin.

I made the sauce while the kitchen aid kneaded my dough, but if you may let the dough to rise while making your sauce. Fry the bacon and chopped onion on medium heat until cooked but not crisp. Add the sauce, crushed tomatoes and seasoning. Allow to simmer on low so that some of the liquid has evaporated and it has slightly condensed. Remove from heat.

Spray muffin tins (I had three on hand) with non-stick spray and place the circle of dough on the bottom. Next spoon one tablespoon of sauce in each muffin tin and a sprinkle of grated cheese. Bake at 175 C/350 F for about 8-10 minutes or so that the bottom of the mini pizza has slight color.

Enjoy warm!

blue moment

blue moment–sininen hetki

 

Six nights until Christmas Eve

by tableofcolors

There is not too many days left in the countdown. The mornings are dark and I find that an extra hour of sleep would feel nice but the children get up easily when they know that it is their turn to peek into the advent calendar. Of course the older children do not believe in Santa Claus and elves anymore and the middle kids waver in between. They would like to believe but yet at the same time they have picked up on the fact that magical creatures live in the world of storybooks. Our four almost five year-old who told me that “Elves are magical creatures” also told me once that, “they are just normal people dressed up as elves” when I said the elves might be watching. I had been quite exasperated with him that day. Take that, Mom!

advent calendarBut no hard feelings. He is also the kid that will come give me a hug or rub my shoulders if he thinks I am tired.

2013-12-17 11.17.46-2Little by little the holiday preparations are done. Some of them are done together like baking gingerbread and some are done by the elves late at night. The household is full of little mysteries and even the littlest ones wrap toys into blankets and bring me gifts. With bright shining eyes they wait for you to open their gifts of love and your exclamation of delight.

The date cake is perfect for the days of waiting. You may eat it on its own with a morning cup of coffee, or if surprise guests walk in the door, it can be easily dressed up with a dollop of equal parts of whipped cream and Greek yoghurt and a drizzle of caramel. My mother would make date cake when I was still living at home and it is a favorite. This recipe is slightly altered from the one found in the book, Hyvää Ruokahalua, kotikokin parhaat leivontaohjeet, edited by Anna-Maija Tanttu. It is the kind of recipe that needs no special equipment: a bowl, a pot, a wooden spoon and a bundt pan.

date cake

Date Cake

250 g/8.8 oz chopped and pitted dates

3 dl/1.3 c water
200 g/7 oz soft butter
2 dl/1 c sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 dl/1.7 c flour

Place the chopped dates and water into a medium sized saucepan or pot and allow to boil for about 4-5 minutes so that it thickens just a bit. Take off from the heat and stir in the soft butter. Add the sugar and vanilla next. Then add in the eggs mixing them in well with a wooden spoon. In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Pour the warm date mixture into the bowl and combine with the flour. Pour into a greased and floured (I like to use wheat germ or wheat bran for the flouring) bundt pan and bake in the oven at 175 C/350 F for about 40 minutes or so that a test skewer comes clean when inserted in the middle. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes before flipping the cake over onto a plate. The flavor of the cake improves with time, if it lasts that long and freezes wonderfully.

mixing the batter

For the cream dollop, mix equal parts of whipped cream and Greek or Turkish yoghurt and sugar to taste. Drizzle with caramel sauce.

laila wuollet uljasphotograph by Noah Photography

Hoping your holiday season is a peaceful and festive one.

Christmas 2013

After dinner Pavlovas

by tableofcolors

Today has been a baking day since the rainy, wet weather did not entice me to go outside. Our road and driveway had turned into a literal skating rink and the kids did go boot-skating and came in very wet. Yesterday when I went on a little stroll for fresh air I had to be extra careful to not fall. The three kilometer little loop went fine but just as I was taking the shortcut to the door across the yard, I stepped on a patch of ice hidden under the snow. Down I went. No broken bones, perhaps a little bruise on my knee. Nothing serious. The picture of the branches below is from a week ago. So quickly the landscape changes.

2013-12-08 14.13.37-2And since the weather was dreary, we baked. We baked gingerbread, and made gingerbread trees, caramel sauce and made these dainty little pavlovas. Holiday dinners are usually so filling. The traditional Finnish dinner that we have on Christmas Eve is no different. It includes a salted ham that is baked on the hearth overnight and casseroles made from root vegetables. I had been flipping through a Pirkka magazine the previous week and found this recipe that served as my inspiration. The servings are intended to just give a little sweet flavor to end the meal since Christmas coffee with its abundance of treats is served later in the evening.

mini pavlovaMeringues

makes about 18  (6 cm/2.5 inch meringues)

4 egg whites

2 dl/0.8 c sugar

Beat your egg whites until a light foam and start adding the sugar in little by little. Continue beating until it is firm enough that it will not fall out of the bowl if you turn it upside down. By the time all of the sugar is added, it will be quite glossy.

2013-12-16 12.17.08

Scoop the meringue into a pastry bag and and make little nests by starting in the center and working your way around creating a round shape. Finish by adding one extra layer on the outer edge to create the nest.

2013-12-16 12.23.50Bake in a preheated oven at 125 C/250 F for about one hour. Allow to cool. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container. Sprinkle the bottom of the container with cornstarch to absorb any moisture.

Filling

Equal parts of whipped cream and marscapone cheese, quark or Greek yoghurt (about 2 dl/1 c of each will probably be sufficient)

Sugar

Red currants, cranberries or lingonberries

First whip the cream. Add in the the desired choice or marscapone cheese, quark or yoghurt. The slight sourness of the cheese, yoghurt or quark gives a nice contrast to the otherwise very sweet dessert. I used a quark flavored with rum and added lingonberries to the filling as well as a garnish. Add sugar to taste and spoon about two heaping tablespoons of filling in each nest. Garnish with a salted caramel sauce. Serve immediately.

little toesNow these little toes are all tucked in for the night, I might just start elfing around a bit. And as our four almost five year-old told me today, “Elves are magical creatures”. I would like to think so too.

2013-12-15 11.29.11-2

My kitchen is filled with anticipation

by tableofcolors

December and snow has arrived. That means that there is a sense of waiting and electricity in the air. The little people are waiting for the right moment to bake gingerbread, to sew their teachers’ little gifts, hang up the stockings, make pinwheel prune tarts, and open their advent calendars each morning. This past Sunday we lit the first advent candle. Christmas is coming.
2013-12-01 11.01.09-2
Along with the first advent, the kitchen is filled with Christmas music. “Hoosianna” is traditionally sung during the first advent in Finland in both churches and schools. Below is a recording from the Tampere State Church.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcglATPatgU
I’m not so keen on the shopping frenzy that starts in December and so we did ours in November before the crowds arrived. Now there are only little things to find and those excursions can be quite relaxing since there is no long list in hand and perhaps there might be a minute to stop in a coffee shop. There is a silence outside as so many of the birds have flown south and ones that remained will start their concert again in the spring. This peace I would like to achieve in the kitchen as well; one of everyday tasks sprinkled with little special projects such as these gingerbread trees.
gingerbread trees2
In my kitchen is the cutest mushroom made by my daughter and it brings a little holiday color.
fly agaric 2
Now that winter has arrived it is time to start using all of those berries that we picked last summer. One evening we had french toast with a strawberry sauce. The key to the strawberry sauce is to make the sauce first using a good quality berry juice and potato starch (cornstarch may be used as well) and right when the sauce has been removed from the heat the slightly thawed or frozen berries are added. They will slowly thaw out in the hot sauce while keeping their shape and vitamins.
french toast 3
French Toast

French toast is a great way to use up day old bread. We happened to have some slightly dried out bread on hand and a freezer full of berries which became in turn the inspiration for supper of French toast and berry sauce.

half loaf of sliced light bread (a whole grain variety may be used)
5 dl/2 c milk
2 eggs
1 generous tbsp brown sugar
dash of salt
cinnamon
butter or oil for frying

Whisk the milk, eggs, sugar, salt and cinnamon together. Heat the frying pan or griddle and use a little oil or butter according to your preference. Dip the slices of bread in the milk mixture and allow to soak for a bit. Fry on the hot pan so that both sides are a nice brown color.

Berry sauce

This recipe works with any berries that you may have on hand. If using a more tart berry just increase the amount of sugar.

1 liter/4 c good quality berry juice
sugar to taste
5 dl/2 c frozen or fresh berries
4 tbsp potato starch
1.5 dl/generous 1/2 c water

Bring the juice to boil, adding sugar if needed. Dissolve the potato starch (or corn starch, follow amounts on package) into the water. Whisking constantly, add the potato starch water mixture to the boiling juice. Bring the sauce to a boil and remove from the heat as soon as it bubbles once. Add the berries and set aside for a few minutes allowing the berries to thaw out. A sprinkle of sugar will prevent a “skin” from forming on the surface.

Serve with the French toast or just on its own.

This snowman is not in my kitchen but I could not resist, so cute it is.
2013-12-01 11.43.15-2This post is part of Celia’s In My Kitchen Series from Fig Jam Lime Cordial.