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Monday, October 17, 2011

Rye bread -- Ruispalat

There is a type of rye bread in grocery stores in Finland that I have never eaten home made.  According to Wikipedia:  

"Vaasan Ruispala, a brand of rye bread by Vaasan & Vaasan, is Finland's "most popular bread" according to the company. It is otherwise similar to reikäleipä, but is more consumer-oriented. It comes in single portion size, it mixes condensed rye bread taste with zero-day delivery, it borrows from the German rye bread tradition in keeping a more humid, greasier texture than is traditional in Finland, and it makes the best of the humidity preserving qualities of traditional rye bread by serving each piece of bread as a pre-cut pair of two halves, which protect each other but can still be easily separated."  

I've been looking for the recipe for a very long time, I've found a lot of posts online where expatriate Finns stuff their suitcases full of this bread and store it in the freezer.  The only recipe I've found is here.  The main problem is that the recipe calls for rye bran, which doesn't seem to be available in my area or online.  

Other problems with the recipe are the color and the shape.  To get the color right, I think it would be necessary to add a bread colorant, Beatrice Ojakangas talks about these in her bread baking books.  I haven't seen these in stores, but plan to order some and retest the recipe.  To shape the bread, I am looking for the right pan(s) but haven't found them yet.

Anyway, here is a post of what I've come up with so far, it is not exactly like ruispalat, but I think you will enjoy the results!

Stir together:

2 cups warm water (not too hot or the yeast will die!) (5 dl)
2 Tablespoons dark syrup (I used beet syrup from Ikea which is what is available in Finland...dark corn syrup is more common in the U.S.  Don't use pancake syrup!  You could substitute honey or molasses).

2 Tablespoons salt 
1 packet of active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

Then stir in:

1 2/3 cups rye flour (4 dl), I used dark rye flour from Hodgson Mill...I grew up near that mill in the Ozarks!  They don't actually make the flour there, but it is a beautiful place to visit, you can see photos of it and other area mills here.

2 cups bread flour (5 dl).  Since this recipe calls for so much whole grain flour, it is important to use flour that has a high gluten content here.  I actually tried whole wheat flour once--the bread was so hard that even the dogs couldn't eat it!

2/3 cup of wheat bran (1.5 dl)  In the Finnish recipe, it calls for rye bran, but I haven't found this.
1/4 cup of oil (0.5 dl)

The dough should be very sticky, a little thicker than cake batter.  

Pour the dough out onto a jelly roll pan which has been lined with parchment paper.  The parchment paper is VERY important, otherwise the bread won't release.  I used wet hands to pat the dough out smooth.  Sprinkle a little flour on top and cover with a towel.  Let it rise in a warm place for 40 minutes.  

Bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit (225 Celsius) for about half an hour.

After the bread cools for a bit, it can be cut into squares.  Split each square in half before eating, these pulled apart easily.

The top half of this bread was very much like ruispalat, but I think I need a heavier pan to bake it in because the bottom half was a bit bland and didn't have the right texture.  The wheat bran changed the taste a little, too.  I might try making this with oat bran next time to see what happens, and maybe I'll make it into three loaves in cast iron skillets.  A circular shape would be nice, then it could be cut into wedges to serve.  I'll continue experimenting and posting, check my Facebook page for more frequent updates.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

African style braised chicken

For dinner tonight I made African style braised chicken, nothing Finnish about this recipe except that I've adapted it from a cookbook written by Judith Finlayson!  I think it must be possible to find a Finnish connection to most things, if you try hard enough...

Speaking of Finlayson, I would love to be in Tampere at the Finlayson outlet right now, we really need some new towels.  The ones I bought there in 1993 just wore out!

You can find the original recipe here.  I found it in the Chicago Tribune a long time ago, it is one of my kids' favorite dishes.  I don't really follow the original recipe, though, so I'll post what I do here so my kids can make it, too.

4 pounds (1.8 kilos) of  boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 onions  (I used 2 tablespoons of dried minced onion this time)
4 garlic cloves (I used 2 tablespoons of dried minced garlic this time)
1 bay leaf

1/2 cup (1.25 dl) of tomato sauce
1/2 cup (1.25 dl) of water
1 chicken bouillon cube

peppers and vegetables

1/2 cup (1.25 dl) of peanut butter
juice of one lemon

First, I browned about 4 pounds (1.8 kilos) of  boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  I used a heavy pan to do this, cooking slowly until the thighs were browned well on all sides.  If I had used fresh onions and garlic, I would have cooked it with the chicken, but all I had was dried so I added it later.  If you use fresh, add 2 chopped onions and 4 minced garlic cloves.  Make sure and turn the chicken and cook it slowly so it doesn't burn.  Then I took them out and drained them on paper towels and also wiped most of the oil out of the skillet.

I deglazed the pan with 1/2 cup (1.25 dl) of tomato sauce and 1/2 cup (1.25 dl) of water.  To deglaze, just pour in all the liquid and scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the dried-on bits off.  Season with a bay leaf (take the bay leaf out before serving, you can't eat it!), one chicken bouillon cube and pepper.

I put the chicken in the bottom of a crockpot slow cooker and poured the sauce over it.  Then I added some vegetables that I found in the garden...a few green beans, some cherry tomatoes, and a variety of peppers, both hot and sweet.  It is easy to adjust the heat of the dish by omitting the hot peppers.  I leave the vegetables whole when possible in case one of the kids wants to sort them out.  I also added a generous two tablespoons each of dried minced garlic and dried minced onion at this point.

This cooked on low for about 3 hours (if you don't cook the chicken as well in the skillet as I did, you should cook it 6 hours on low or 3 hours on high).  When it is done the chicken will shred easily with a fork.

Just before serving, add the juice of one lemon and 1/2 cup (1.25 dl) of peanut butter.  Stir well and serve over rice.

If for some reason you couldn't add peanut butter, this dish would still be delicious without it, but I would still add the lemon juice and maybe a tablespoon of brown sugar (to taste).

My family loves this dish, and I hope yours will, too!

Baked Salmon with Lemon and Cream--Uunissa Paistettu Lohi Kerma ja Sitruuna Kastikessa

This is the second time I've posted about baked salmon, you can find the other post here.  I just can't resist buying Norwegian salmon when I find it fresh, it really is so much richer than the Chilean salmon we usually have at the grocery.  Scandinavia has the most delicious fish!  This beautiful 3 pound (1.5 kilo) fillet came home with me from Sam's Club yesterday, and I wanted to cook it right away.  

This time I baked the salmon in cast iron, I love to cook in cast iron when I can.  I have to admit that this is a fairly new cast iron pan, none of my Grandmother's pans were large enough to hold this much fish.  But I've used the pan enough that it is well-seasoned.

First, I rubbed the pan with olive oil (you could use any vegetable oil if you want, I don't really think it matters as much as the chefs on TV would like for you to believe!).  I stuck the pan in the oven and preheated it to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (that is about 230 degrees Celsius).  Be careful taking cast iron out of the oven when it is that hot--and NEVER use a damp potholder because the dampness will conduct heat.

While the pan was heating, I cut the fillet in half so it would fit an rubbed both sides with smoked sea salt.  I've tried a lot of the different sea salts available now, and smoked salt is definitely my favorite for meat.  It is a little hard to find, but worth the effort.  I also sliced two lemons to put on top of the fish.

After the pan was heated, I took it out of the oven and put in the fillets, it started to sizzle immediately.  I quickly put the lemon slices on top and poured just a little cream around the edges, as is typical in Finnish cooking.  When you bake a big piece of fish, it is important to have some kind of liquid in the pan, this helps the fish cook more evenly. 

The fish was perfectly baked after 15 minutes.  Be careful, salmon gets dry if it is overcooked.  The thickest parts of the fillets should be slightly raw looking in the middle when you take it out of the oven, This will go away when it sits for five minutes before eating, especially if you are using a heavy pan like this.

I sprinkled capers over the salmon, and we ate it with potatoes and mixed vegetables cooked with a little chicken bouillon.   Would you hold it against me if I admitted that the "potatoes" were actually french fries?  The cream sauce around the fish would be incredible over pasta.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Like" Cooking Finland on Facebook!

Seems like there are quite a few people who would like some input into what I cook, so I've created a page on Facebook where we can have an ongoing dialogue on Finnish food.  Click here if you have a Facebook account, then click on the "like" button to be able to post comments.  I hope everyone enjoys this new feature...and I'll have some exciting new posts in the very near future!

I'm moving photos of all of the previous posts over to Facebook in order to use the page as a visual index for this blog.  That way if you really are just looking for bread, for example, you don't have to dig through all of the delicious dessert photos...unless you want to, of course!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


With Oktoberfest celebrations all around, we have really been in the mood to eat German food.  Both of my older kids are studying German in school, and enjoy all of the food-based celebrations.  In Finland, schnitzel or weininleike has been a popular lunch dish at restaraunts, usually served with lemon slices and capers and mashed potatoes or french fries on the side.  My husband has really been missing this dish, he ordered it at a German restaurant the other night, the most expensive dish on the menu!  Of course, the German restaurant served veal schnitzel, but in Finland it is most usually made with pork.  I prefer pork for many reasons.  

I started with a whole pork loin that I bought at Sam's club for about $16.  I usually buy the smaller ones, they come from smaller animals and are generally more tender.  I cut the loin in four big pieces and refroze each piece individually--each piece is enough for one meal for our family of big eaters plus plenty of leftovers.

To make the loin into pork chops, I thawed it until it was still slushy and frozen in the middle, partially frozen meat is much firmer and easier to cut up.  I used a very sharp serrated knife to cut the thin pork chops.  I cut them fairly thin so the schnitzels wouldn't be too big when they were pounded out.  

The serrated knife I used is really a bread knife, but I think it cuts partially frozen meat much better than my other knives, the teeth really dig in.  After the chops were cut, I laid them on a metal cookie sheet to quickly finish thawing (about 5-10 minutes).  Everything thaws quicker if you lay it on metal--the metal conducts heat away from the food.

Next, to pound out the chops, I've been using my heavy rolling pin, but today I used my new meat mallet that I bought just for this (my family has been wanting schnitzel every night lately!).  The rolling pin works fine, but it is sometimes hard to get the chop as even with it.  Cover the chop with plastic wrap before pounding it out, otherwise the kitchen will be splattered!  After pounding out the chops, I salted them a little and put them in the refrigerator until closer to dinner time.

About 45 minutes before dinnertime, I prepared the coating.  On the first plate, I put 1.5 cups of flour (3.5 dl) and seasoned it with salt and pepper.  In the bowl, I mixed 3 eggs and 1/4 cup of milk (0.5 dl).  On the last plate, I put about 2.5 cups of bread crumbs (6 dl).  I make my own bread crumbs from all the odds and ends that the kids don't eat--I keep a bag of bread bits in the freezer and when I have enough I run it through the food processor.  You could also use any dry bread crumbs--panko Japanese bread crumbs would be delicious.  I based this recipe on one by Tyler Florence, you can find it here.  Lightly season the bread crumbs with salt and pepper, too.

Coat the chops completely in flour, then carefully shake off the excess.  Dip the chop in egg and coat it liberally in bread crumbs.  At this point, I laid them in individual layers on cookie sheets.  Letting them rest for 10 minutes is supposed to help the coating stick better.

After 10 minutes, I heated olive oil and a little butter in a cast iron frying pan.  Cast iron is great to cook in because it holds heat so well and heats so evenly.  I put in a few sprigs of thyme and was really careful not to overheat the butter.  Burnt butter is not a good flavor!

At this time, I preheated the oven to 400 Fahrenheit (200 Celsius).

I took out the thyme and put in the schnitzel two at a time.  I barely browned them on each side and then put them back on the cookie sheets.  I had to add olive oil and butter to the pan as I added more schnitzel.  When all of them were browned, I put the cookie sheets in the oven for about 20 minutes to finish cooking.  That way all my schnitzel were done at exactly the same time.  You could also cook them completely in the skillet, but for a big family, it is so much easier to use the oven.

I used the drippings from the skillet and the left-over flour to make a pan gravy.  First, I browned the flour in the pan, then added milk, stirring rapidly.  I added a little Knorr beef bouillon and pinch of brown sugar.  The gravy was delicious on mashed potatoes, but I also baked a few french fries for my husband...

Don't forget to give everyone a slice of lemon to squeeze over the schnitzel.  And a few capers make this dish authentically Finnish.  I've made the pork version twice, and last night I made it with boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  

My husband said it was just like in Finland.  The kids just wanted to know if they could have it again tomorrow...and the teenager even smiled.  No better compliment than that!