Cucumber and Daikon Radish Salad

When I was in the grocery this week I spotted some daikon radishes and picked one up. I was impressed that the young man who rang up my groceries recognized every item of produce in my cart, including the radish. He went on to tell me he collects fruit and vegetable seeds from around the world and attempts to grow new, interesting varieties in his own garden. Daikon, in Japanese, means “big root” and that’s just what it looks like. The greens had already been trimmed away but I understand they are also good eating. Unlike the red bulbous radishes we are all familiar with, these are white and their shape resembles a large carrot. They are high in potassium and vitamin C and very low in calories. My husband just read a book that talked about the health benefits of turmeric so good to know this recipe also calls for turmeric. There are countless recipes for both cooked and raw daikons but I wanted them for a salad. I used my spiralizer to make the salad but you can also thin slice the vegetables on a mandolin. Basically what you are doing is pickling the vegetables. It’s a refreshing salad with a nice crunch.

Vegetables:

1 daikon radish (12-16 oz)

1 English cucumber

1-2 carrots

Medium size sweet onion

1/4 cup pickling salt

Pickling Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 cup rice vinegar

1/2 tsp turmeric

Combine the sugar, vinegar, water, and turmeric in a sauce pan and cook over medium heat until all of the sugar has dissolved. Set aside and allow to cool completely. While the pickling mixture cools prepare your vegetables.

Use a spiralizer or a mandolin to prepare your vegetables. The spiralizer is so much fun!

Once all of the vegetables are prepared put them in a mesh colander and sprinkle with the salt. Allow the vegetables to sit for about an hour, tossing occasionally.

Give them a couple of thorough rinses to remove the salt before putting them in a sterile glass jar.

Pour the cooled pickling liquid over the vegetables. The vegetables should all be submerged.

Refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving.

Now all you have to do is dish some up and enjoy. We each had a plate for lunch today.

NOTE: You can use more cucumber, red radishes, more carrot. Whatever appeals to you. I used half rice vinegar and half brown rice vinegar because that is what I had on hand. Be sure to allow the salt ample time to draw out the liquid in the vegetables so they have a nice crunch to them after brining.

Borscht

A few days ago we got the little glossy magazine that our electric company sends out each month. The magazine always includes some recipes that people have submitted. This issue was all soup recipes, and one of them was for Ukrainian Borscht. My husband frequently mentions that he enjoyed borscht growing up. This is new to my wheel house, but I love beets and all of the other ingredients in the soup so I decided to try it. I found a recipe in one of my Jewish cookbooks, googled more recipes, and finally came up with a meld of several recipes including the borscht in our electric company magazine. I called my sister-in-law to see if she remembered how my mother-in-law made hers, but she said, at the time, she didn’t take an interest in the cooking. I think we all wish we had taken more interest and made notes on how our mothers and grandmothers prepared some of our favorite dishes. Borscht is a sour soup common to Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. It is often liked to Jews, the group that first brought it to this country from Europe. Borscht comes directly from Yiddish as the dish was first popularized here by Yiddish speaking Ashkenazi Jews. I don’t find mine to be very sour so I did a little research to see where the “sour” comes from in the references. Apparently the tart taste is traditionally obtained by adding beet sour to the soup. And beet sour is made by covering sliced beets with lukewarm preboiled water and allowing bacteria to ferment some of the sugars. The liquid becomes viscous. This process takes 2-5 days. The liquid is then strained and added to the soup near the end of the cooking time so as to not let the sour dissipate. No beet sour in my soup, and my mother-in-law probably did not use it either. Instead I added the juice of one lemon.

The soup can be served hot or cold, and the list of accompaniments is seemingly endless…from rye bread to hard boiled eggs, to boiled potatoes, to pierogis. This soup can be made vegetarian by using a vegetable broth, or by preparing a broth with beef, pork, fish, or a bone broth. Polish Christmas Eve borscht is ladled over dumplings made from pasta dough and filled with meat. Russian borscht might be served with round, cheese-filled tarts or small pancakes with cheese mixed into the batter. In East Slavic countries “memorial borscht” is served as the first course of funeral dinners. So many traditions are associated with this dish and several ethnic groups claim this as their own national dish. The history of borscht, as well as many other ethnic dishes that have been around for centuries, is very interesting.

I made a meat broth for my soup base by cooking pork ribs with half of a large onion (skin on), carrots, celery, and bay leaves. The broth simmered for a couple of hours. I strained the broth, shredded the meat, and discarded the vegetables. You can choose to use canned meat or vegetable broth or make your own.

Ingredients:

8 cups of broth

5-6 medium size beets peeled and diced

1 large onion diced

3-4 cloves of garlic minced

1-2 carrots shredded

2 potatoes peeled and diced

1/2 head of green cabbage shredded

3 T tomato paste

2 T of butter

Juice of 1 lemon

2 T sugar (optional)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Peel and dice the beets. I wore disposable gloves. You might want to also.

Shred the carrot and dice the onion and mince the garlic.

In a fry pan over medium heat melt 2 T of butter and sweat the carrots, onion, and garlic.

Peel, dice, and rinse the potatoes and shred the cabbage.

Using a large soup pot or a Dutch oven, begin heating your broth over medium heat. Add the shredded meat (if you’re using) and all of the vegetables.

Bring the soup to a boil, reduced the heat, and cover and simmer for about an hour or until all of the vegetables are tender. Add the sugar and lemon juice.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and fresh dill.

NOTE: You can substitute cider or wine vinegar for the lemon juice. As mentioned, any kind of broth will work including a vegetable broth. Some of the recipes I reviewed suggested shredding the beets but I like more texture in my soups.

Limpa (Swedish Rye Bread)

Another pandemic baking experiment. Yesterday I made a loaf of Swedish limpa, not to be confused with Finnish limppu. Bread is a Finnish staple. There is always bread on the table for every meal and I’m sure the same is true for the Swedes. My grandmother made limppu, occasionally wheat bread, and, of course, the sweeter cardamom braids on a regular basis. I have my grandmother’s bread bowls and I always use them when I make bread. I like to think they give me an edge. I grew up in a household of bread lovers. My grandfather and my dad had bread with every meal. Some of my brothers still carry on that tradition. The Finnish limppu is always baked in a round loaf, is dark, dense, heavy, and on the dry side. A little bakery near my hometown in the UP of Michigan, the Trenary Home Bakery, makes a great limppu bread. My dad liked his limppu toast in the mornings with his coffee and I would frequently buy a loaf or two to bring home when I visited. The recipe that I used yesterday is another King Arthur bread recipe and it is for Limpa, the Swedish Rye. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever had the Swedish variety before. The consistency is moister and lighter than the Finnish bread and, since it calls for currents, dark beer, and molasses, it has a sweeter, malty flavor. Neither the Finnish or the Swedish rye is what you would imagine for a Reuben sandwich, but the limpa tasted great this morning with a little smoked salmon. After baking all of the sour doughs that require a couple of days to completion, this loaf came together rather quickly.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup orange juice

1 cup currants

3/4 cup lukewarm water

1/2 cup dark beer at room temperature

3 T molasses

2 tsp instant or active dry yeast

1 T grated orange zest

2 T unsalted butter at room temperature

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp fennel, anise, or caraway seeds

1 1/2 cup (156g) rye flour

3 cups (361g) AP flour

Pour the orange juice over the currants and let them soak while you measure the remaining ingredients. In a large mixing bowl combine water, beer, molasses, yeast, orange zest, butter, salt, ginger, and seeds. Add the rye flour and mix thoroughly. Pour in the orange juice that the currants were soaking in. Set the currants aside for now.

Add the AP flour, one cup at a time, mixing until the dough thoroughly absorbs the flour. If you are mixing by hand set aside 1/2 cup of the flour for your work surface and hands as you knead. Mix in the currants. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl.

Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours or until puffy. Deflate the dough, reshape it into a ball, and place it in an 8” round cake pan that has been generously greased. Allow the dough to rise for 45 minutes to an hour until puffy but not doubled in size. Halfway through the rise, preheat the oven to 375. Whisk an egg with 1 T of water and brush the loaf with the egg wash. Make a 1/2” deep cross in the top.

Bake the loaf for 40-45 minutes, tenting loosely with foil after 20 minutes, to prevent it from browning too quickly. When a digital thermometer inserted into the center reads 190 degrees remove it from the oven. Tip the bread out of the pan and place it on a wire rack to cool.

Once the bread has cooled, slice and enjoy.

Store, well wrapped, at room temperature for three days or freeze for longer storage.

NOTE: I thought I had currants but did not so I substituted golden raisins. Research told me I could have also substituted pitted, chopped dates or soft prunes. If you don’t like dark beer (I do not) it’s fortunate a lot of groceries and party stores, at least in Michigan, sell beer by the bottle.

Coconut Macaroons

The Spring 2021 issue of Cuisine at Home had a great macaroon recipe. What made it different than macaroon recipes I’ve used before is the chocolate kiss you put in the center. In addition to subscribing to a few cooking magazines I also like to watch the cooking and baking shows. On the baking shows they frequently make macarons pronounced mack-a-ROHN, not the coconut variety pronounced mack-a-ROON. The former is a cookie, French in origin, that has a meringue-like consistency and is made primarily with egg whites, confection sugar, and almond flour. They are usually tinted in pastel shades and made into sandwich cookies with a creamy filling. When they make them on the baking shows the judges always talk about how perfect the “feet” are on the macarons. I have never made them, but I’ve eaten them, and prefer the less sophisticated coconut macaroon any day. And I don’t have to worry about them having perfect feet. This recipe is embarrassingly easy and everyone I shared the cookies with loved them.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut (7oz)

2 egg whites lightly beaten

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 tsp pure almond extract

1/8 tsp kosher salt

24 Hershey’s kisses

4 oz bittersweet or semi sweet chocolate finely chopped

1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Using a whisk or a hand mixer lightly beat your egg whites.

Add the coconut, almond extract, sugar and salt to the egg whites and stir until well combined and the coconut is evenly moistened.

Take about 2 teaspoons of the coconut mixture using a small cookie scoop or teaspoon and insert a kiss in the center until enclosed on all sides but not the bottom.

Put the macaroons on a parchment lined cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake about 20 minutes, rotating the cookie sheet about halfway through.

The macaroons will be a golden toasty brown when they are baked. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the macaroons are cooling heat the chocolate and cream in a double boiler stirring until smooth.

Drizzle the ganache over the macaroons and let it set up before serving.

I made a double batch. The recipe said it would make 24 macaroons. Each batch that I made yielded 16 cookies. Maybe I was a little heavy handed. But I got no complaints from any of my cookie eaters.

Enjoy.

NOTE: You could also make these without the kisses in the center. I don’t eat chocolate so I made a couple for myself chocolate free. My dear friend Joyce makes macaroons and drizzles them with a sweet orange glaze which is excellent.

If you don’t have a double boiler put the chocolate and cream in a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Works perfectly.

Chicken Pot Pie Soup

Soup is always a good choice for cold weather dinners. I love chicken and matzo ball soup but have never been a big fan of chicken noodle or chicken rice soup so I don’t make either. Maybe I had too much canned chicken soup as a child. We do like a good, homemade chicken pot pie so I decided to make it into a soup. I made my favorite pie crust recipe (part of my Meat Pie blog post if you’re interested), and made cut outs to put on top of the soup bowls. Because who doesn’t love flaky, buttery bites of pie crust! A couple years ago I spotted this cutter with the little chickens, and bought it for the express purpose of using it on individual pot pies. A few days ago I found it searching for something else in a drawer, and it’s what gave me the inspiration. This morning a friend asked me where I find all of the ingredients for my exotic dishes. Most all of my cooking uses basic, ordinary ingredients. Particularly in this pandemic I try extra hard to make things appetizing and fun to eat. And fun to cook. I must admit, I have had a few failed, lets not make this again, dishes!

For the soup I pretty much used all of the ingredients I would use when making pot pies except I added more broth. The soup would have been even better if I had made my own broth, but I used the Roasted Chicken Better than Bouillon which is an excellent substitute. You could also use boxed or canned broth.

Ingredients:

One package chicken thighs or breasts diced

1 T olive oil

3 T butter

1-2 russet potatoes peeled and cubed

1 medium onion diced

2-3 celery ribs chopped

2 medium carrots thin sliced

1/2 cup flour

1 tsp sage

1 tsp garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

5-6 cups of broth

1 cup of frozen peas

1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half

Season the chicken cubes with salt and pepper. In a dutch oven heat 1 T of olive oil and cook the chicken bits until they are no longer pink. Remove them from the pan and set them aside. Add the butter to the dutch oven and sweat the onions, celery, potatoes and carrots over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the flour, garlic powder, and sage. Add the broth and chicken and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are fork tender, 10-15 minutes. Add the peas and heavy cream and heat thoroughly. Serve with the pie crust bites. I made hearts (it is Valentine’s month) and the discs with the chickens.

My pie crust recipe makes two crusts so I couldn’t let the second one go to waste. Yesterday I bought raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries and made a rustic tart.

Bonus!

NOTE: I made my crust first, wrapped it in wax paper, and refrigerated it while I prepared the soup. While the soup was simmering I rolled out the crust and baked my cutouts. If you’re short of time you can use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery and just shred the chicken for the soup. Add any vegetables you like near the end of cooking…frozen peas, corn, green beans. Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust would also shorten your prep time, and you’ll still have an extra crust for a tart.

Pecan Pie Bars

My favorite slice of pie is pecan so I was excited when I found this recipe. It’s another wonderful King Arthur recipe. I’m thinking that one, or even two, pieces are less calories than a slice of pecan pie. So actually, I would consider this a lo-cal, diet recipe. Plus pecans have antioxidants, dietary fiber and so many vitamins and minerals that I don’t have time to list them all. So not only are these bars lo-cal, they are also healthy! It’s all about positive thinking.

We never had pecan pie when I was growing up. We had berry pies made from the berries we picked, apple pie, sugar pie, and raisin pie. If you asked my dad what his favorite kind of pie was, he would always add that raisin was his least favorite. I actually liked raisin pie. It is very similar to a mincemeat pie. Sugar pie had a graham cracker crust, a very, very sweet custard filling, and meringue on top. We all loved sugar pie. At least I certainly did. Haven’t made that in years but I have my mother’s recipe. All of our pies growing up were made with ingredients that were, at the time, relatively inexpensive. Pecans certainly don’t fall Into the inexpensive category then or now. You’ll see how simple these bars are to make. You may even have everything you need on hand.

Crust Ingredients:

18 T unsalted butter at room temperature

3/4 cup (160g) light brown sugar, packed

3 cups (360g) AP flour

1/2 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 325 F. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan and line with parchment paper leaving an overhang for easy removal from the pan. In a medium size mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour and salt to make a soft dough. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Lightly flour your hands and press the dough into the pan in an even layer making sure to get into the corners. Using a fork, prick the dough all over.

Bake until the crust is lightly golden, 14-18 minutes. Remove from the oven. While the crust is baking prepare the filling.

Filling Ingredients:

8 T unsalted butter

1/4 cup honey

6 T (80g) light brown sugar, packed

2 T heavy cream (or milk)

2 T granulated sugar

1/4 tsp salt

2 cups (227g) pecan pieces

Place all of the filling ingredients in a heavy medium size sauce pan.

Cook over medium high heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture is smooth and starts to boil. Remove from the heat.

Stir in the chopped pecans. Pour the filling mixture over the hot crust, letting it spread to the edges and corners. If necessary, use an offset spatula to smooth the filling into an even layer.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the filling is bubbling across the surface. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before lifting from the pan to cut and serve.

Cut and enjoy…this lower cal than a slice of pecan pie…treat.

NOTE: As with any recipe you can personalize these bars. If you prefer walnuts substitute them. If you don’t have light brown sugar dark would probably be fine. Likewise, milk would work if you didn’t have heavy cream. Whatever you do to these, I think they would still be delish!

Mustikkapiirakka Kukkaset aka Blueberry Pie with Flowers

One of the sites I really enjoy on Facebook is called Finnish Cooking & Culture. A few days ago I came across pictures and a recipe for these blueberry tartlets and decided I wanted to make them. I made a few modifications but the recipe was originally posted by Karoliina Reinkainen, truly a Finn. These gave me a couple of challenges, but once I got going I think I mastered flower pies. They are a perfect, two (or three) bite dessert. Most of the Finnish pastries and desserts that I’ve made and/or sampled are not overly sweet which is perfect for me. My husband’s general philosophy with regard to desserts is, the sweeter the better. But he did really like these.

When I was growing up, one of the things we did in the summer as a family was blueberry picking. My father worked for the US Forest Service and, while he was working in the woods, he’d come across these great blueberry patches. Then, on the weekend, we’d pile in the car with our coffee cans or little buckets and we’d go picking. Wild blueberries are much smaller than commercially raised berries so picking would sometimes be pretty tedious. And there were the mosquitos. But the picking had its rewards. When we got home we’d dump all of our containers into a sink full of water to wash them and remove stems and the occasional leaves that got in our coffee cans. Then we would each get a bowl of berries sprinkled with a little sugar and doused in cold milk. And then there were blueberry pies, and the blueberry fruit soup my grandmother would can and serve over her rice pudding. Those are all such good memories, even the picking.

Blueberries are a very tasty and also a very healthy treat. The wild blueberries we picked as kids boast twice the health boosting antioxidants as their commercially cultivated counterparts. Apparently the harsher the environment, the more potent the protection. Anyone who is familiar with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula knows that that environment can be pretty harsh. Eating a cup of blueberries a day is said to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 15%. They also contain flavonoids that can help fight inflammation. Regardless of the health benefits, they are awful good eating! And now we can all justify the caloric content of these little sweet treats.

Cookie Base Ingredients:

125 grams/4 1/2 oz room temperature butter

1 dl/just under 1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 1/4 cups AP flour

1/4 cup rye flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp vanilla

In a medium size mixing bowl beat the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. On low speed, or with a wooden spoon, stir in the flours and baking powder until well combined. Work the dough a bit with our hands and divide into two discs. Wrap in wax paper or Saran Wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the berries and the topping.

Filling Ingredients:

1 cup of blueberries (wild or commercial)

1 T corn starch

Sugar to taste

3 T jam (I used peach)

Gently stir all of the ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Topping Ingredients:

150 grams/5 oz of creme fraiche or sour cream

1 egg

2 T granulated sugar

Vanilla to taste

Lemon zest

In a small bowl whisk all these ingredients together and set aside. Preheat your oven to 375. Lightly grease a miniature muffin tin. Now you’re ready to start rolling out your dough. Remove one of the discs from the refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured surface. If you’re having a problem with the consistency work the dough a bit with your hands. Use a cookie cutter with a scalloped edge.

Drape your cutouts over the openings.

Gently press the cookies into the openings taking care not to tear the dough. I tore a few. Just gather than up and re-roll the dough.

Now you are ready to start adding the filling and the topping. My blueberries were good size and I put 3 or 4 in each cup.

Next, add about 2 tsp of the topping, taking care not to over fill them.

Now you’re ready to put them in the oven. I baked mine on the center rack for 14 minutes. Oven temperatures vary so check on them toward the end of the baking time. Once they are done cool them in the pan on a wire rack.

Once they are completely cooled you are ready to serve up and enjoy.

This recipe made about 34 tartlets.

NOTE: Take care not to overfill. You will notice I did that on a few tartlets. I also learned that it is much easier to remove them after they are completely cooled. I just ran an offset spatula around the edges.

I loved the little hint of rye in the cookie base but you can use all AP flour if you prefer. There is really no end to the variations on this treat. You could use whatever you have on hand; apple, raspberry, blackberry. You could also add a little seasoning to the base like cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom.

Japanese Milk Bread Rolls

I haven’t blogged any recipes in awhile, but it’s not because I’m not cooking. I’ve tried some new things, taken all the photos, made my notes, and the finished products were not worthy of blogging or ever even making again. I subscribe to a few food magazines. I tear out the pages with recipes that appeal to me and put them in spiral binders. I have a LOT of recipes in those binders. When I’m tired of cooking the same old things I get a binder out and go in search of something new. One such recipe I pulled out recently was for chicken and spinach calzones. Those took me an entire Sunday afternoon, came out of the oven looking beautiful, and they tasted awful! Last night I tried a new recipe for a Middle Eastern Chicken and Chickpea Stew. That recipe will not be going back into the binder. Maybe if I fussed with them and made modifications the second time around they would be good, but there are so many options out there I can always find something new. Failed dinners are so sad.

Last spring when the pandemic first began I, like so many other people, started making more homemade breads. When we couldn’t find yeast we made sour dough. Making bread, when it’s successful, is such a satisfying pursuit. And the smell of bread baking is one of the best aromas. There’s nothing like a cup of coffee and a slice of warm bread with butter melting on it, or a glass of wine and a slice of good crusty bread with a piece of cheese. Last spring my friend Jane and I experimented with a lot of bread recipes. Some were more successful than others. Each one was a learning experience. We all now have more bread making tools. We have lames and proofing bowls and baking steels and cloches.

While looking through one of my binders, the one with bread and breakfast recipes, I came across this recipe for the Japanese Milk Bread Rolls. It’s a King Arthur recipe. I love their products and I’ve had decent success with most of their bread and other recipes. My daughter had just sent me pictures on Sunday of these beautiful Japanese pancakes she had made. They were very light and puffy looking, kind of like a soufflé. So when I came across this recipe I found it intriguing and decided to give it a try. The flour to yeast ratio is different as is the addition of the ”tangzhong.” Tangzhong is cooking a portion of the raw flour with liquid until the starches in the flour gelatinize. The purpose of this technique is to produce a soft, fluffy bread. The rolls are very good and they remind me a little of potato rolls.

Ingredients:

Tangzhong (starter)

3 T water

3 T whole milk

2 T Bread Flour

Dough:

2 1/2 cups Bread Flour

2 T nonfat dry milk

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp salt

1 T instant yeast

1/2 cup whole milk

1 large egg

4 T unsalted butter, melted

First we make the tangzhong. Measure out the milk, water, and flour and whisk together in a small saucepan until no lumps remain.

Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until thick and the whisk leaves lines on the bottom of the pan, about 3-5 minutes.

Transfer to a small bowl and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Once the tangzhong has cooled to room temperature combine it with all of the remaining dough ingredients. Mix and knead until a smooth, elastic dough forms. Shape the dough into a ball and let it rest in a lightly greased bowl for 60-90 minutes. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel.

Dough will get puffy but won’t necessarily double in bulk. Gently deflate the dough and divide into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and place in a lightly greased 8” or 9” round cake pan. Cover the pan with a towel and let the rolls rest for 40-50 minutes, until puffy. While the rolls are resting preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brush the rolls with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 T cold water).

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown on top and a digital thermometer inserted into the center of the middle roll reads at least 190 F. Remove the rolls from the oven and allow them to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

Enjoy these with dinner or for a midnight snack with a slice of cheese and cold meat.

NOTE: I think these would hold up well as slider buns.

The recipe is actually very easy as yeast breads go. But you always need to be attentive to the process. I threw the first batch of dough away after forgetting to add the melted butter. I can assure you, once all of the other ingredients have been incorporated, 4 T of melted butter cannot be worked in.

Christmas Cinnamon Bun aka Joulu Korvapuusti aka Star Bun

I belong to a Facebook group called Finnish Cooking, and there were so many people posting pictures of this beautiful bread during the holidays, I felt compelled to try making it myself. I found a recipe on the site, however the recipe was written in Finnish. My first challenge. My Finnish vocabulary is limited . I know that muna is egg, voita is butter, and maito is milk. Much beyond that and I am guessing, a particularly bad idea when you’re baking. I have a friend that figured out how to get a copy of the recipe translated to English which was extremely helpful. The remaining challenges were measurements and my daughter helped me with the conversions. The first time I made this I think that a few things were lost in the translations and the bread over baked and was dry. Today I reviewed the recipe and compared it to my pulla recipe and my cinnamon roll recipe and made some modifications going in. The dough felt much better and the end result was much more eye appealing. And best of all, the bread is moist and tastes wonderful, especially fresh out of the oven.

This bread has the distinct taste and aroma of cardamom. There is cardamom in the dough and in the filling. While it was in the oven, the aroma was reminiscent of my grandmother’s kitchen when she was baking her cardamom bread. We all loved that bread. It made wonderful toast or French toast and was great dunked in your coffee with a good smear of butter. It just evokes the best memories.

The ingredients listed below reflect my modification of the original recipe.

Ingredients:

2 1/4 tsp dry yeast

4 T sugar

4 T melted butter

3/4 cup whole milk

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tsp cardamom

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg

4 cups flour

Combine the milk and buttermilk and warm to hand temperature. In a large mixing bowl combine yeast, melted butter, sugar, salt, egg, warm milk and cardamom along with 1 cup flour beating for a minute or two. Continue stirring, adding 1/2 cup of flour at a time. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead until you have a soft smooth dough. About 8-10 minutes. If necessary add a little additional flour. You can also do this in a stand mixer using a dough hook, but I like kneading dough by hand. Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl covered with a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise until it is double in size, 1 hour or so depending on how warm your kitchen is.

I like to use my grandmother’s bread bowls because I believe there is still some of her magic in those bowls. While your bread is rising you can make your filling. The original recipe called for hazelnuts but I used pecans. Pecans are one of my favorites for baking and hazelnuts are sometimes difficult to find.

Filling Ingredients:

5 T melted butter

3 oz sugar

1 T gingerbread seasoning

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground cardamom

3.5 oz ground pecans

Combine all of the filling ingredients and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 380 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Once the dough has risen punch it down, and dump it onto your baking mat. Divide the dough into four equal parts. I weighed mine and tried to keep the discs equal in size. Roll out your first disc of dough into about a 9-10 inch circle. Put the dough on the prepared baking pan and spread 1/3 of the filling on it.

Continue rolling, stacking, and spreading the filling until you have used all of the dough. Place a circular mold of some kind on the top center of the circle. Using a sharp knife cut into 4 quarters and cut each quarter into 3 wedges taking care not to cut past the mold in the center.

You should have a total of 16 cuts. Taking 2 claws at a time twist them outward 2 or 3 turns and pinch and bottom edges together. Repeat all the way around.

Cover the bread with your kitchen towel and allow it to rise for 20-30 minutes. Brush the bread with an egg wash and sprinkle a few chopped nuts in the center. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack. The bread tears easily into individual servings. Enjoy!!

NOTE: I did not have gingerbread spice so I had to make my own. 2 T allspice, 2 T cinnamon, 2 T ginger, 1 T cloves, 1 T nutmeg, and a pinch of fresh ground black pepper.

The first time I made this I over-baked it. Each oven is different, but be careful not to leave it in too long.

Note to self, I need to brush up on my Finnish.

Winter Vegetable Gratin

In my constant search for new things to cook, I found this recipe online at Kroger.com. I was attracted by the photo which looked just beautiful. It’s the perfect time of the year for preparing true comfort foods, and gratins are certainly one of those dishes. This is also a great example of how to take essentially healthy, simple vegetables and turn them into something rich and decadent. I had more than my normal mess in the kitchen while I was preparing this. All the peeling and slicing, the many separate bowls, and my hands in the cream and cheese tossing the vegetables. The end result was worth the mess and my kitchen smelled absolutely wonderful as it was cooking. I served this as a side with a pork loin, but this would be a perfect dish to serve as a vegetarian entree.

Ingredients:

1 pound of parsnips peeled

1 pound of butternut squash (neck only) peeled

1 pound of Yukon gold potatoes scrubbed (I only had russets)

1/2 pound Brussels sprouts stemmed

2 1/2 cups of heavy cream

6 oz of finely grated parmesan cheese

4 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves

1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper, plus more to taste

1 T butter

2 cloves of garlic (I used more)

1 large leek, white part only, finely chopped

3 oz gruyere cheese, finely grated

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Using the butter, generously grease a 9×13 baking dish. A mandolin is very helpful for making this dish. Thinly slice the parsnips, squash, potatoes and Brussel sprouts. Put each vegetable in a separate bowl.

Add one half cup of cream, 1 oz of shredded parmesan, 1 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper to each bowl.

Toss until the vegetables are all coated.

In your prepared baking dish, pour the remaining 1/2 cup of cream. Add in your chopped leeks and garlic along with one oz parmesan cheese and stir until evenly distributed.

Now it’s time to arrange your sliced vegetables, alternating rows. Continue until the dish is full. Pour any remaining cream and cheese from the bowls over the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and remaining one oz of parmesan cheese.

Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for 20-25 minutes or until vegetables are tender and sauce is thickened. Remove the casserole from the oven and sprinkle with the gruyere cheese. Turn your oven on to broil. Broil for 3-5 minutes until browned and bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow the gratin to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

This was seriously so good.

NOTE: Feel free to change up the vegetables. Rutabaga, sweet potato, turnips, cabbage. Just be sure that they are equal thickness and cook up at the same rate. You can also change up the cheeses. I actually used equal parts of shredded parmesan and shredded asiago.