December 31, 2010

Leipäjuusto - Bread Cheese

Happy New Year's Eve everyone!

We are taking it easy this New Year's Eve and spending it here in Finland with my family. We are planning a selection of interesting nibbles for tonight, but I'll share more of that with you later ;-)

I couldn't possibly leave out a post dedicated to one of my favourite Finnish cheeses, leipäjuusto (leipä=bread, juusto=cheese), also known as Finnish squeaky cheese. I've made sure to enjoy this mild and highly addictive cheese daily while in Finland; either with a hot cup of coffee or with cloudberries. Inspired by our trip to Japan, I also paired leipäjuusto with kaki (or persimmon), and found it works surprisingly well!

I wish you the best of health for the upcoming year; eat well and enjoy!

Leipäjuusto with cloudberry sauce

Persimmon & Leipäjuusto with Cloudberry Sauce*
(Serves 4)

4 persimmons
leipäjuusto (about 50g)
150g cloudberries, pureed

Cut out the tops of the persimmons and scoop out the insides. Set aside. Chop the
leipäjuusto into small cubes and cut the persimmon flesh into pieces. Mix the cheese with the fruit and fill in the persimmon cups with the mixture. Drizzle the mixture generously with the cloudberry sauce.

*You can try replacing the cheese with another mild cheese and use cloudberry jam (made into a runnier paste with some water for example) as a substitute.
Cloudberry jams are available in most Scandinavian shops and IKEA.

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December 29, 2010

Reindeer Pies and Other Reindeer Dishes

As exotic as it may sound, growing up in Finnish Lapland meant that reindeer was always our number one meat to eat. During my years in Australia I've often been asked what is a common dish in my region in Finland, and I have always replied "reindeer". "YOU EAT RUDOLF??", has been the common response, and I suppose most people outside the Nordic countries would have the same reaction.

There are always large herds of reindeer wandering around my hometown. Reindeer are a common sight, so it may seem strange that we are also so fond of their meat. Traditionally, all parts of the animal were used, and you can still buy products made out of reindeer skin, bones and antlers. Reindeer meat has a delicious clean game taste and it's low in fat. I am not a fan of beef or pork, and hardly ever eat any meat when back in Sydney, but reindeer meat is something I grew up eating, and I find it a whole lot tastier than any other meat.

During our stay in Finland we've had reindeer meat in many different dishes including reindeer blood pancakes (my favourite), sautéed reindeer (which almost has a status of a national dish), reindeer and cheese soup, smoked reindeer on rye bread, dried reindeer heart and also reindeer and elk pies. There has certainly been no shortage of reindeer this Christmas!

Reindeer blood (available from the freezers in all supermarkets) is mixed with water and rye flour and made into crisp, crepe like pancakes that are served with lingonberry.

Top with lingonberries, roll up and enjoy!

Reindeer pairs well with strong cheeses such this soup

Sauteed reindeer with mashed potato and lingonberry is a classic


Reindeer Pies
(Makes 24)

100g butter, softened
95g plain flour
60g rye flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
50ml milk

Filling

100g strong cheese, grated
2 eggs
120g smetana
100g smoked reindeer, chopped
2 tsp plain flour
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 225C.

Mix the dry ingredients with the butter, add milk and mix to combine. Divide the dough into two and form into bars. Cut each bar into 12 pieces and roll the pieces into balls. Press the pieces into a muffin tin to cup shapes.

Stir together the ingredients for the filling and fill in the cups. Bake for about 15 minutes.

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December 27, 2010

Whipped Lingonberry Porridge

Remember the whipped berry rye porridge I made a few months ago? This lingonberry version is similar to that one, but much more traditional and one of my all time favourites in the Finnish cuisine. If you don't have lingonberries, you could use cranberries instead, I think that could work just as well. You can also make this porridge using berry juice or actual berries.

Lingonberries grow in abundance here in Finland, and my parents pick them every autumn by the bucketfuls. This is delicious eaten slightly warm with cold milk or cold the next day. In my family we often have it as a light meal, but you could try serving smaller portions as a dessert if you wish.


Whipped Lingonberry Porridge

700ml water
300ml lingonberry juice
sugar (to taste)
100g (dark) semolina

Bring the water and juice to boil. Add the semolina whisking continuously. Let simmer for about 10 minutes stirring every now and then. Let cool and whisk, using electric beaters, until light and fluffy. Serve with milk.

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Finnish Christmas Porridge

Christmas is all over again for yet another year, but I thought I'd share a couple of traditional Finnish Christmas recipes with you nevertheless. Last year I prepared a full Scandi feast in Sydney and posted quite a few recipes for dishes that always feature in Finnish Christmas meals.

In Finland we celebrate Christmas already on Christmas Eve. In my family the day usually consists of taking candles to the cemetery in the morning, then having a sauna and listening to the Declaration of Christmas Peace on tv or the radio and having Christmas porridge for breakfast or lunch. In the evening we enjoy a full Christmas dinner and unwrap all the gifts (that's right, we do that already on Christmas Eve!).

This year Christmas here in Lapland was quite cold, around -22C, and it is the perfect weather to be sitting next to a fire place sipping hot glögg (mulled wine). We've truly enjoyed our peaceful White Christmas!

Finnish Christmas Porridge

130g white porridge rice (short-grain rice)
water

1 litre full cream milk (in Finland full cream means 3,5 g fat)
pinch of salt

Rinse the rice in cold water. Place rice in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer for a few minutes or until the water has almost disappeared. Add milk and let simmer for about an hour or until the rice has cooked and the porridge is thick and creamy. Season with a pinch of salt and serve with the fruit soup.

Fruit Soup

1 litre water
dash of black currant juice concentrate
300g dried fruit (apple, prune, pear, apricots, etc)
cinnamon stick
1-2 tbsp potato starch (potato flour in Finland & Australia)
dash of cold water

Bring water and black currant juice to boil, add the dried fruit and the cinnamon and let simmer for 20 minutes or until the fruit has softened a bit. Mix the potato starch in a dash of cold water to form a runny but smooth paste. Mix the paste into the soup and bring to a "bubble" (don't let boil). Remove from heat and serve with the porridge.


At Christmas dinner we enjoyed a selection of fish; including three types of herring and delicious gravlax, Christmas casseroles (swede, carrot and potato), Christmas ham and Christmas salad (rosolli). Mum's prune tarts are another must at Christmas. They have a flaky buttery crust and a sweet prune filling. Perfect treat with a cup of Christmas coffee!

Finnish Prune Tarts

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December 25, 2010

Finnish Bread - Puolivahva and Rieska

Christmas Greetings from the Winter Wonderland!

We finally made it to Finland after travelling in Japan for 2 weeks (you might have seen some of my posts from our travels). It was snowing and the temperatures were well below zero degrees Celsius when we touched down in Helsinki, but we had one more flight to catch, followed by an hour drive until we finally reached my home town.

My 94-year old granny is always one of the first people I visit when I get home. This time mum and I packed our baking gear and headed over to granny's to bake some traditional Finnish bread. Granny has fed her delicious bread to the whole family for as long as I can remember, but this time we wanted to give the baking a go ourselves. Under granny's strict supervision, of course.

I would love to give you the recipes for these breads, but unfortunately there are no exact measurements. "How much flour do I add?", I tried asking granny. "As much as it'll need", granny replied. "How much salt?" "Enough so that you can taste it", and so on. There are no exact measurements, no recipe.

We made two kinds of bread: "puolivahva" (meaning "half strong", as in not too flat nor too thick but something in between) and "rieska" (flat bread). Puolivahva is made out of rye and wheat flour, and rieska is made using barley flour only.

Rieska - Finnish Flat Bread

1 litre ice cold water
barley flour
salt

Add enough barley flour to ice cold water to make a 'sloppy' dough (almost like thick porridge). Add salt. Bake into five flat breads and bake in hot oven (225°C) for a few minutes or until golden brown.

Puolivahva

starter (from a previous dough)
3 litres hand hot water
rye flour
50 g fresh yeast
dark syrup
salt
wheat flour

In a large bowl, dissolve the starter into the hot water. Add enough rye flour to make a sloppy mixture and leave the dough in a warm place overnight. The next day, dissolve the yeast into some warm water, add salt and syrup and then mix. Add enough rye and wheat flour to make a soft dough. Knead and let it double in size. Make into breads and prick. Leave to rise and prick again just before baking them in a hot oven.

"Puolivahva" on the left and "rieska" on the right, which is traditionally served with butter and gravlax.


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December 22, 2010

Kyoto, Japan

We left Tokyo on a bus to get a glimpse of the famous Mt Fuji. We had a couple of hours to walk by the lake and admire the majestic mountain, and we stopped at a wonderful cake shop to enjoy a serve of Japanese soft cheesecake before hopping onto a bus and continuing our trip.
From Mishima we took a shinkansen to Kyoto where we spent a few days browsing the gorgeous shrines and temples and eating hearty food, typical for the Kansai region.


Kyoto seemed much more touristic after Tokyo, but we still enjoyed the atmosphere and all the wonderful experiences we had there. One of my favourites was the Nishiki food markets where we walked from stall to stall sampling different foods and ate our way through the delicious local delicacies.

These wooden containers are used for delivering food

Roasted chestnuts are perfect winter food

Zenzai (red bean soup) was perfect for the cold weather

Nishiki Markets

We enjoyed a kaiseki type dinner at a beautiful restaurant with my partner's relatives and yet again got to sample some of the best this region has to offer. We were also offered lunch at a famous Rokusei restaurant that has been serving traditional Japanese 'bento' since 1899.

First course of our kaiseki dinner

Egg custard (chawanmushi)

I'm taking this idea home: okara served with vegetables

Beautiful serving bowls

More bento surprises

A cute parcel containing a yuzu flavoured wagashi


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December 17, 2010

Nikko, Japan


We made an overnight trip from Tokyo to Nikko, and splurged a little by spending the night at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. We arrived in the late afternoon and had time to enjoy onsen before a lavish kaiseki type dinner. Nikko is known for yuba (tofu skin), and I must say that they are incredibly creative using this surprisingly versatile ingredient.

Kaiseki is certainly an experience itself. Although being a bit on the pricey side, it is certainly worth the experience and we have been very fortunate to enjoy kaiseki type dining three times during our trip. Needless to say we are being spoiled rotten here ;-)

Dinner at the ryokan included small dishes of fresh local ingredients, tofu, fish, tempura, a hotpot and rice with various pickles. Cold soba noodles were served with condiments.

Seasonal and local ingredients are often served at kaiseki

'Making' your own tofu is part of kaiseki experience and in Nikko it started by heating the soymilk, then adding the coagulant, stirring and waiting until the tofu had firmed. Yuba, once formed is eaten with a citrus flavoured soy sauce. Ingenious!

Making tofu

Other ways of serving yuba

Fish with yuba

Cold soba with sauce

Tempura

Rice with pickles

A simple dessert was a perfect ending to our lavish dinner

Breakfast consisted of small dishes including unsweetened fresh soy milk, Japanese omelette, fish, miso, pickles, natto, umeboshi, salad and of course rice

Natto is so delicious!

Nikko is famous for its beautiful shrines and surroundings and it is certainly worth the visit. Staying at a ryokan is also an experience I think everyone visiting Japan should try at least once!

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