Today is independence day in Finland. We would not normally celebrate this but one kind friend has sent me two biscuit cutters in the shape of Finland and I needed an excuse to use them, so yesterday we made a few batches of butter cookies and iced them with Finnish flags. My youngest has been sent in to school with a box full and a map of Finland. We primed her with a bit of Finnish history beforehand and lots of practice in saying itsenäisyyspäivä. We also spent the afternoon making riisipiirakka (Karelian rice pies). These are real peasant food that come from the region of Finland that we lived in. They are served hot or cold with hardboiled egg and butter or smoked salmon or ham. We love them and I have not made them for a couple of years as I found them so difficult, but yesterday's batch went very well and I am inspired to make them again.
Sadly, I was not taught to make these by a Finn, but by an Australian whose Finnish mother-in-law taught her. None of my Finnish friends made them, only their mothers or grandparents, which is sad because there is nothing like home-made ones hot out of the oven.
One small bit info that might be a little too much knowledge but riisipiirakka have been described as looking like a certain part of a woman's anatomy. I'll let you be the judge of that!
Ok so this week I have gone over for the first time and I still need to buy chicken and milk later in the week, so I have failed in my challenge this week. However, in defence I did have to buy all my washing powder, liquid and fabric conditioner plus toilet roll and kitchen roll. Normally I would spread these across a couple of weeks but needs must.
Just a little note about cheese at Tesco: we have started buying Tesco Organic Farmhouse Mature Cheddar (240g) as it is cheaper than all but the really nasty cheap cheeses. It costs €10.59 per kilo in comparison to Tesco own mature at €11.95 per kilo. This is great as I would like to buy more organic products but the expense usually puts me off, but this one is a winner! One slight problem is that my husband and I love the strong taste of it, but the children are not so keen. Oh well I can't always get it right.
You can use the sour-dough starter for this bread to make two types of bread, a Finnish flat sour dough bread (you will know what I mean if you have ever visited there), or a San Fransisco-style sour dough bread.
You need a 100% rye-flour. I use the flour from Doves Farm, but have used others in the past with the same results.
The starter is a frothy, sweetly-pungent mousse that you keep in a cool part of your kitchen, ready to be called-upon to make the most delicious bread. The basic idea is that you regularly (every day if you can) take out a bit of it to use as the raising-agent in your bread dough. You add an equal amount of rye-flour and water (say a cup of each) to top it up -- to feed it.
Once you have created your starter, the idea is that you keep it forever, like a pet. Starters can be shared amongst friends (and perhaps bred -- who knows?).
Creating your starter -- do this at least 10 days before you want to start making bread this way.
Make a starter by mixing a cup of rye flour and a cup of water and leave it in an open pot to let it collect the wild yeasts and bacteria that float around your kitchen.
Add more flour/ water every couple of days until you have a bubbly concoction that smells of fermenting apple juice -- this might take a week or more. If the pot fills up then take-out some of the starter.
You will need to feed the starter every couple of days, otherwise it will consume all of the carbohydrate in your flour and become less active. I do not know too much about the science of this and, of course, you might not harvest the same micro-organisms from your kitchen as me. As far as I know, the starter can be frozen (although I have failed when trying this before).
Finnish ruis leipää
There are all sorts of claims for the health-giving properties of this bread, but, while there is no question that rye-flour should be good for you, and there is nothing else added, for me it is all about the flavour and chewiness of this bread that takes me back to five very happy years living in Finland. This, with lots of butter and marmite, is the best cure for a hangover that I know of -- and one that came in very handy at times.
You will probably find that this is the easiest bread that you have ever made, once you have a good starter on the go, as it doesn’t have to be kneaded.
rye starter (see above)175 g
rye flour 175 g
Mix all of the ingredients together to make very, very sticky dough (almost a paste). (Don’t forget to add a cup each of rye flour and water to the starter)
On a lightly floured surface, flatten it evenly to the size of a dinner-plate and leave to rise on a buttered and floured baking-tray for at least 9 hours (e.g. overnight). It should by now be about ⅓ thicker than it was.
Just before it goes into the oven, pierce the dough several times with something sharp; this is to prevent the dough forming a large bubble and you ending up with a dark-brown uneven pitta bread. If you want, you can also score the surface with a very sharp knife, so that it can be torn into wedges for eating.
Bake in the hottest oven that you can (at least 220o C), with a tray of water evaporating in it, for about 15 minutes, reduce to oven temperature to 180o for another 25 minutes.
All done, I find that it’s best to slice it open (the bread you buy in Finland is usually already sliced like this) then toast and eat with butter and marmite or marmalade. Another classic way to eat this bread is with prawns and dill-sauce (you get the idea from this Finnish Blog).
I am a bit late with this week's posting as I was away enjoying the delights of the UK and doing a spot of Christmas shopping. I left husband and children in charge of the menu and shopping list. They have done pretty well, producing a menu and filling the cupboards with food, although not necessarily the food I need to cook with. So far I have had to hit the shops twice to buy the ingredients needed for the menu. Still it gave my brain a rest of trying to come up with a menu that suits everyone.
Also this week I have a "guest writer", my husband! He has a passion for baking bread, particularly rye bread. This is another Finnish influence as I think that Finland's best kept secret is their bread. It is gorgeous and there are so many varieties. My husband started to take an interest in baking bread when I was studying at University a couple of years ago. I took sandwiches every day, but discovered that I was getting terrible stomach aches in the afternoon, so he offered to make bread for me. Since then he has been constantly experimenting with recipes in search of the perfect loaf and we rarely buy any loaves of bread any more.
This week my husband offered to do the shopping as I was busy on Saturday morning. This meant that my shopping list had to be written clearly for his benefit, although he still missed a few items due to my "atrocious" handwriting. He did a great job, but my problem is that my shopping list has about 80% of the things I need on it and then the other 20% I remember when I get there. Consequently I have been to Dunnes twice since the first shop.
On the offers front I was taken in by Dunnes' Palmolive liquid soap offer. It was 4 bottles for €4 which seems excellent value until you realise that both Aldi and Lidl do bigger bottles for €0.99. I don't always feel the need to buy branded items but I fell into this trap.
I wanted to buy my chicken from Garetts butchers but I dropped by on Thursday to his Castletroy shop, but he had no whole chickens due until later that day. On Saturday afternoon my husband dropped by the Dooradoyle shop for a chicken and they had none. We were advised to email or phone ahead. I think Garretts is a great butchers, but I suppose that since I am not in the market for all his beautiful, dressed meats I am not the typical customer. I want meat to make stock from and to cook in stews, etc at home. So Dunnes got our custom for their free-range chickens. We looked out for chickens supplied by our friends, but they were not in this weekend.
It was Stir Sunday this weekend and I made our Christmas cake, plus 3 small ones in baked bean cans. I should have made the Christmas pudding as well, but that will wait until another weekend. Anyway all the family plus some friends who dropped by coffee had a stir and made a wish.
I have finally caught up with myself and am posting my menu the week that I am actually cooking it and can update with pictures and information as I go.
Went shopping to Tesco on Saturday morning and guess what I had to beg again for a till to be opened for me. The joys of shopping. This week my husband tagged along and he picked up Tesco Finest All Butter Croissants, described by Raymond Blanc as "The best croissants I have tasted outside my own kitchens." Really.....? They worked out cheaper than the Tesco loose ones, so we thought we would give them a go. As soon as you picked one up it felt too heavy to be light and crisp as described by the manufacturer Bakehouse.co.uk. They got a thumbs down in our house, the children commented that the normal Tesco loose ones were better.
Sunday was manic as we had 7 extra teenagers in the house to celebrate my middle daughter's birthday, a bit belated but no problem. We made 8 home-made pizzas with one over -cooked garlic bread and some salad. She requested the mocha cupcakes again so this time I made 30.
I used up my pork shoulder on Sunday and Monday, even though my middle daughter picked out all the meat from the lasagne I made from the leftovers on Monday.