Sunday, September 9, 2012

Karelian Rice Pies (Finnish)

Karelian Rice Pasties (karjalanpiirakat)

These delicious pies were an experience the first time I visited Finland in 2004.  My friend took me to a farmer's market, and she bought one for me to try.  The traditional version has rice in the middle, but you can also make them with a potato filling.  The last time I was in Finland, I discovered that you could buy them in the grocery store.  Though not quite as good as the memory of the first time I tried them, they were also pretty good.

 I loved them from the first bite, but never ventured to make them until now.  I had heard they were difficult to make and time consuming.  When I read through the ingredient list, I realized they needed very few ingredients to make them....basically water, salt, flour, milk, rice, and butter.  Really it isn't very many ingredients, but the way they are cooked that makes everything so delicious.  The simpleness of the ingredients would lead you to believe that it cannot be all that great, but it reminds me of sourdough bread which again has few ingredients, but creates a product so delicious!

While these little, wonderful pastries are so good, it does take some time to prepare the rice filling.  The rest of the process is relatively quick.  Give them a try!

Karelian Rice Pasties (adapted from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas)

Makes 16 pasties

1 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups rye flour
1 cup all-purpose flour

 Rice Filling:
1 cup water
3 cups milk
1/2 cup rice
salt and butter to taste

1 cup milk, heated to boiling
1/4 cup butter

Start the rice filling first.  Combine the water, milk and rice in a heavy saucepan.  Simmer for an hour or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid.  Add salt and butter to taste.

While the filling is cooking, prepare the pastry.  Mix together the water, salt, and two flours.  Roll into a log about 2 inches in diameter.  Cut into 16 pieces.  Shape each piece into a flat round disc about 6 inches in diameter.

 Cover your baking sheets with parchment paper.  (Prevents a mess and makes transferring the pies easy.) Preheat over to 500F.

Fill the center of each circles with rice filling and fold over the edges of each pastry.  Place pies on prepared baking sheets.  Prepare the glaze.  Brush the glaze on each of the pies and bake for about 8 minutes, or until bubbling.  Remove from oven and glaze again.  Return to the oven until the pasties are golden brown.  Remove and brush one last time with the glaze.  Serve cooled.  In the morning you can reheat them in the toaster.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Chocolate Babka

Chocolate babka....I don't remember where I first read about it, but I do remember when I first tasted it.  It was almost Christmas one year and I was out running errands.  I wanted to buy some fresh bread because back in those days I was afraid of yeast since I had disastrous results when trying to use yeast.  I was in love with a sunflower bread that I discovered at one of the bakeries near my university.  So I stopped in the bakery, and every day during the week they would bake a specialty bread and that day was chocolate babka.  Oh, how I love chocolate and I remember the days when I was first introduced to nutella so I could eat chocolate and bread every day.  I remember in the summers during middle school where I would live off of chocolate and toast.  But this day in the bakery where two of my favorite things to eat came together, I was in love.

Eventually, I got over my fear of yeast, but I don't know why I never tried to bake a chocolate babka before now.  The scent of the bread and chocolate is still wafting through my house.  The loaves are left on my counter waiting to be eaten.  Now my task has been completed, and I will have chocolate babka for the next few days though my idea had been first to have it for Easter.  I may even freeze one for guests who will be coming soon.

Chocolate Babka
1 1/2 cups warm milk, 110 -115 degrees
2 (1/4 ounce each) packages active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups plus a pinch of sugar
3 whole large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus more for bowl and loaf pans
2 1/4 pounds semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped*
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Pour warm milk (from 110-115F) into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over milk; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.  While the yeast is developing, in a small bowl whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, and egg yolks.  After the yeast mixture is frothy, add the egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour and salt whisk quickly and then add the egg and yeast mixture.  Mix until flour has been incorporated.  Use the dough hook and add 2 sticks room temperature butter, and mix until flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, and a smooth, soft dough that’s slightly sticky is formed, about 8-10 minutes.

Pour out the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead to renew tension in the dough.  Place in a buttered bowl (large enough for it to double).  Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm spot.  I use the oven at about 75-80F.  This should take about an hour.

Place chocolate, remaining 1 cup sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Cut in remaining 1 1/2 sticks butter until well combined; set filling aside.  Grease three loaf pans (9x5inches).  Beat the last egg with 1 tablespoon cream and set aside.

Once the dough has double in size, punch it down and transfer to a lightly-floured surface. Let rest 5 minutes. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Keep 2 pieces covered with plastic wrap while working with the remaining piece. On floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be 1/8 inch thick.

Use 1/3 of the chocolate mixture and spread onto the dough, leaving about 1/4 inch border. Brush the edge with egg wash and then roll up the dough.  Pinch the dough together to seal it along the seam and ends.  Twist the dough about 5 times.  Brush the top with more egg wash and crumble 1-2 tablespoons of chocolate mixture on half of the loaf.  Fold the half without the chocolate crumb over the other half and again pinch together edges and then twist the dough once or twice.  Place dough into prepared pan and repeat with the next two pieces of dough.

Heat oven to 350F. Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash.  Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes.  Bake leaves for about 50 minutes at 350F.  Then lower the temperature to 325Fand bake the remaining 20 minutes until the loaves are a deep golden brown.   Remove from oven and cool on racks.  Loaves will freeze well for one month.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Homemade Granola - Chocolate, Cherry and Pecan

This is another wonderful recipe from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark.  Not only do the flavors go well together, but the granola ends up crunchy, with a slight taste of salt and sweet to it all.  Since I have made this granola even my fiance has been eating it and not eating his usual cereal.  I have a desire to change up some of the items to experiment and try other flavor combinations, but it will just have to wait.  I have already made a second batch and we still cannot stop eating it by the handful.
 It is sweet and savory at the same time and you too will not be able to stop munching on these delicious treats for breakfast...or snacking....or anytime really.  Who really can resist chocolate and cherry together?

Homemade Chocolate, Cherry and Pecan Granola
3 cups oats (not quick cooking)
1 3/4 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
1 cup chocolate chips (more if you like it very chocolately)
1/2 pure maple syrup
1/2 virgin coconut oil
1/3 packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly ground is best)
1 cup dried tart cherries, chopped

Preheat oven to 300F.  Mix all of the ingredients, except cherries.  Pour onto a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake for 40- 50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.  Removed from oven and let cool.  Add a few more chocolate chips if desired.  When cool add the chopped cherries and mix.

I have made this with hazelnuts, almonds and apricots as well.  Mix it up depending on your tastes.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rhubarb Muffins

Since I started growing my own rhubarb, I have collected many recipes to try out.  I have only made a few of them because the few recipes I made went over so well, I didn't need to experiment further.  I had an urge to make muffins one weekend and pulled out a Minnesota cookbook and found this recipe for rhubarb muffins with a crackly topping.  They were cooling on the counter when a friend came over for dinner.  Drawn not only to my cooking, but baking as well, he asked if he could have one on his way out the door.  The answer of course was yes!  They were also shared with my coworkers as they too benefit from my overcooking for a two person household.

Rhubarb Muffins
(adapted from Always Superb by the Junior League of Minneapolis and St. Paul)

Yield: 16 muffins

2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Mix the flour, baking soda and salt together.  Combine 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, oil, buttermilk, egg and vanilla in a separate bowl and mix well.  Stir in the flour mixture just until moist.  Fold in the rhubarb.  Fill prepared muffin cups 3/4 cup full.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup brown sugar over the tops of the muffin batter.  Bake at 325 F for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove from pan to rake for cooling.

Oven Pancakes - Scandinavian Style

When I was in high school, two of my friends worked for a restaurant called Pannenkoeken Huis, which basically meant Pancake House.  They had to wear uniforms which made they look like Dutch girls, and anytime anyone ordered a pannenkoeken they had to call it out while they were delivering it to the table.

At any rate, I don't think these pancake restaurants are around any longer, but when I saw the recipe in my Scandinavia cookbook, I knew I needed to make it.  I invited some friends over for breakfast and as I pulled it from the oven, everyone was shocked at the pancake I had produced.  None of them had seen a puffy oven pancake before, so it was to great acclaim when I served the pancake.

This recipe is adapted from Scandinavian Feasts by Beatrice Ojakangas.  It has a great presentation and it is best served hot from the oven, so be prepared and have your toppings ready!

Oven Pancake

4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick butter (or 1/4 cup)

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk , flour, sugar and salt.  Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes before baking.  Preheat oven to 500 F.  Melt the butter in an oven safe skillet as the oven preheats.  Remove just when butter is nearly melted.  Make sure to coat the sides of the pan with the butter.  Pour in the pancake batter and bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed up with a set center.  Serve immediately.  I served with lemons and powdered sugar as one option.  Another option was fresh blueberries and strawberries with vanilla whipped cream.  (Do not mix the two.)

Serves 4.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Making Homemade Cheese

Homemade cheese is something I never thought I would be doing or that I could do without a lot more things which I don't already have in my kitchen.  However, I was happy to find a couple of cheese recipes which do not require anything out of the ordinary.  This recipe for a simple cheese comes from a cookbook I recently purchased called Home Made by Yvette van Boven.  I was excited to read through this book as I love to make things from scratch.  Her photos and procedures are easy to follow and several of them have step by step procedures like the one for making the cheese.

The recipe is simple....4 cups milk and 4 cups buttermilk. Plus a few drops of lemon juice and a teaspoon salt.
 This is what is looks like as you heat the milk, buttermilk and lemon juice.  You can see the edges starting to separate into whey and curds.  Once they have separated you have curds.
 These are the curds which are left behind.  They are better known as ricotto cheese.  To continue to a block form, add the teaspoon salt and stir.  This is now lightly salted fresh cheese.

To actually make the form you will need a can with both ends cut off and cheese cloth.  You place the curds into the cheesecloth and place a weight on the can (with a plate below).  Keep the weight in place for about 12 hours and you will end up with a small block of cheese.  You can even see the pattern from the cheesecloth on the cheese.
 It makes about 8 ounces of fresh cheese.  I served it with the artisan bread that I have been making consistently now for a year.  It went vary well with the sesame version of it.  Enjoy!

Pineapple Cakes

Last year I traveled to Asia for the first time.  As in traveling to any new place, I was excited to see my family, but I was also excited to have a new place to explore.  Not only would I see a great deal of Hong Kong during my stay there, but I was also fortunate enough to be able to travel into China and see a small piece of the mainland.  In addition to seeing a bunch of new places, I was able to try a lot of new food.  While the sweets are not as sweet as they are in the U.S., they were still present and very good.  Once of my favorites was a pineapple cake.  You could find them individually packaged in a sort of bakery just for these types of sweets.  I didn't think that I would be able to find them in the U.S., but they are available in Asian grocery stores....the unfortunate part was they didn't taste the same.  So in my nature is to find something which I would be able to make at home and here it is....this recipe is adapted from two I found online.  This version has a crumbly almost pie like outside instead of a firmer more cake-like texture.  Both are delicious as once you bit into the pineapple, all the flavors meld together.

Pineapple Cakes
Makes 24 pineapple cakes.
2½ cups flour
⅛ teaspoon. baking powder
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons nonfat milk powder, sifted to break up lumps
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup shortening (I used butter flavored)
½ cup powdered sugar
2 egg yolks
1 recipe Pineapple Paste (recipe follows)
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and milk powder together in a medium bowl; set aside.
  2. Place the butter, shortening and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg yolks and beat on medium-low speed until just combined, about 1 minute.
  3. Stop the mixer and add half of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until most of the flour has been absorbed. Add the remaining flour and beat until all of the flour has been absorbed, 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and beat 1 minute. Divide the dough into 2 even pieces and roll each piece into a 10-inch log. Wrap each log tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 1 hour.
  4. Cut each log into 12 even pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Use a tablespoon measure to divide the pineapple paste into 24 evenly sized 1-tablespoon balls.
  5. Place a dough ball in the palm of your hand and flatten into a disk.  Divide dough in half and flatten each part.  Pat into a small tart pan.  Place a teaspoon or more if you wish of pineapple paste in the center of the disk, place the other half of the dough on top and pinch shut
  6. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.. Place the tart pan on wire racks to cool 10 minutes before transferring the cakes to the racks to cool completely.  They can be tricky to remove from the tart pans.  After letting them cook thoroughly they are easier to remove.
Pineapple Paste
Makes 1½ cups pineapple paste

12 oz. (weight) peeled, cored, diced pineapple (from 1 pineapple)
1 pound, 4 ounces of peeled, seeded, diced winter melon (from about 2½ pounds winter melon wedges)
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup agave syrup

  1. Finely chop pineapple and melon.  Pour into a dutch oven.  Cook the combined mixture over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the winter melon begins turning translucent, about 20 minutes.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium, add the sugar, and cook until the mixture has thickened, about 8 minutes.
  3. Stir in the agave syrup and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is very thick, sticky, and uniformly light amber in color, 10 to 12 minutes.
  4. Transfer mixture to a shallow bowl and refrigerate until cool.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


When I lived in Germany, I loved the soft pretzels from every bakery on every corner.  I ate them so often that I was convinced that they were not the same outside of Bavaria.  When I came across this recipe, I knew I had to try them to see if I could recreate the flavors and memories of Germany in my own kitchen.

The thing that amazed me the most was how incredibly simple the recipe is and how much they taste just like the ones you can buy.  The dough is easy to roll out and isn't sticky at all like many are as you are working with them.  The hardest part is waiting to put them in the oven and then again waiting until they are baked to eat them!

You can make them in any shape or size.  You can put anything on them you can think of that would taste great with bread.Keep in mind they will puff up like any other bread.
I really like the pretzel bites because they filled you up quite quickly!

1 package instant yeast
¼ cup warm water (about 80 F)
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon salt (yes it is a lot)
5 ½ cups flour
Baking soda for boiling
1 beaten egg to spread on pretzels before baking.

Place the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water and let it sit for about 5 min or until frothy.  Then add 5 ½ cups flour, 2 teaspoons brown sugar, and 1 Tablespoon salt.  Mix together by hand.  Add about 1 2/3 cups water and knead until the dough is not sticky.  It should take about 5 minutes with a dough hook, but I like to knead by hand until everything is incorporated and not sticking to the side of the bowl.  Let rise in a warm place (about 80F) for about an hour or until about double in size.

While the dough is rising pull out sesame seeds, fennel, cheese and sea salt (or kosher) to decorate the pretzels with after their baking soda bath.

Once the bread has doubled, prepare the baking soda bath.  Pour the baking soda into the water (ratio 1 cup water to 1.5 tablespoons baking soda).  I used 9 tablespoons of baking soda for a 6 cup of water bath.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Work the dough into pretzel shapes, pretzel bites, or whatever shape you would like.  Drop into the baking soda bath and remove once the dough is floating gently on the top of the water.  This should take 30-60 seconds.

Preheat oven to 425 F.  Place pretzels from the baking soda bath onto parchment paper.  Brush with the egg wash and decorate with salt, cheese or whatever you would like.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Port Wine-Braised Short Ribs, Roasted Potatoes

I rarely need an excuse to cook, so when my fiance asked me to cook dinner for a few of his friends I wasn't going to say no.  Instead it was an excuse to try out several new recipes from Cook this Now by Melissa Clark.  I don't think cooking new recipes for a dinner party is something most people would attempt on a regular basis since you never know if what you are making will turn out the way you would like it.  However, I think of it as a challenge and since I love to experiment while I cook, I am never quite sure the result until it is all done.  For example, I made the white bean stew before even knowing if I would like it.  And, while I was cooking it, I discovered it didn't have a lot of flavor.  It turned our great however, and I continue to cook from the cuff of my sleeve. Fortunately also, I think my fiance's friends are easy to please and I have never had a meal that was a disaster.

So this evening I decided to make Port Wine-Braised Short Ribs, Whatever you've got salad, Skillet-Roasted Potatoes and Turnips and Bakes Apples with Fig and Cardamom Crumble.

I have discovered in the Port Wine Braised Short Ribs that I really love the way the meat cooks in braising.  I definitely have to do more of this in winter when you have some time to let the flavors soak into the meat as it cooks for a few hours. 
Fortunately, I had enough room in the oven to also roast the potatoes and turnips.  The dinner came together well and I don't think there was anything left over except some of the dessert, but only because we had eaten everything else up and the portion for the dessert was bigger than the rest.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


I never have eaten a Mallobars before I made this recipe, but I can say they remind me of smores.  Basically, the ingredients are similar...graham cracker crust, marshmallow center and chocolate on top.  All good things come with chocolate, right?  When I saw this recipe from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark, I knew I had to try it.  I had not seen a recipe for graham crackers before and knew at least this part was something I had to make.  Besides, at the end of each recipe Melissa give additional sources for some ingredients or alternative ways you can do things.  This one had the suggestion of just making the graham cracker portion to eat as regular cookies.  When I lived in Europe I despaired at the thought of not having a graham cracker crust for the cheesecakes that I made there.  If I had only found this recipe then my world would have been complete, but alas at least I have it now.

The Mallobars turned out good, but since they are rather time consuming in that you have to make each layer and wait until you can make the next one, I don't think they will become a frequent creation in the kitchen.  I do however want to experiment with more homemade marshmallows as they are fabulous made at home, but I feel I need more practice with them.  At any rate, even is just one piece is made (like the graham cracker crust or just the marshmallows) I think there won't be a problem with anyone eating them up!

Stuffed Peppers

Sausage, Potato and Onion Stuffed Peppers

I have to admit I am a little bit crazy when it comes to collecting recipes.  If I find something that looks or sounds like it would be good, I have to get the recipe or keep the recipe.  More often than not, I find that cooking is not difficult and I can't understand people who don't like to cook or have never learned to cook.  Personally, I think about half of any type of cooking, is preparing the ingredients which anyone can do.  The more difficult part is actually cooking the ingredients in a way that showcases the flavors of the dish.  This takes some practice and skills, but there are so many great dishes that anyone can prepare without much time or effort.  Home cooking is the only way to go in my opinion and if I had sufficient time every day, I would cook every day.

Sausage, Potato and Onion Stuffed Peppers

1 14.5 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher salt and pepper
4 large bell peppers
1 small onion, chopped
1 small potato, diced
1 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 pound spicy Italian sausage

In the bottom of a casserole dish, combine the tomatoes, oregano and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and pepper.  (I used the tomato mixture to help the pepper remain upright.)  If the peppers do not stand up, slice a little off their bottoms to make it even.  If you chopped off any of the pepper, finely chop it and place it into a medium sized bowl.  Add the onion, potato, parsley and crushed red pepper.  Mix together, and then add the sausage and mix again.  Cut off the tops of the peppers.  At this point you can choose to chop them up and add them to the sausage mixture or leave them to cover the peppers during baking.  Discard the seeds from the peppers.  Spoon the sausage mixture into the peppers.  Arrange the peppers into the baking dish.  Bake at 350 F for about 50 minutes or until the sausage stuffing is sizzling and cooked throughout the pepper.

New Year, New Food - White Bean Stew with Rosemary, Garlic and Farro

The New Year brings new things to do and try for the upcoming year.  Plans are made, and fresh starts are started.  In December I came across a cookbook that I decided I could not live without, and so I have purchased Cook This Now by Melissa Clark.  Not only have I fallen in love with the recipes in this cookbook, but I have decided like many others, to try and cook every recipe in the cookbook.  I love how it is divided into months.  Each month has a focus on foods which are available at that time of the year.  Not only will this widen my horizons with foods I would not have tried before now, but it is a challenge to see if I can attain the delicious flavors which come together in ways I have not tried.  So in reference to this so far wonderful cookbook, I will not be posting the recipes in this cookbook.  If you like what you see, I encourage you to also get the cookbook.  Happy New Year!  Happy Cooking!

Cook This Now 
White Bean Stew with Rosemary, Garlic and Farro
This recipe is a simple stew with tremendous flavors, which you might not think when you read the recipe or even if you taste it while it is cooking.  The key to this is not the stew itself, but the finishing pieces of olive oil, flaky salt, red pepper and parsley.  These finishing ingredients make the stew what it is.

This recipe does take a while to cook, so prepare for it when you have a lot of time at home.  However, it does not require a lot of attention, so you do not have to be in the kitchen the entire time.  Plus, as it is simmering away it send delicious smells of garlic, onion, rosemary and thyme through the kitchen.  I let the stew simmer through the day as I intended to eat it for dinner instead of lunch, though it would have been ready earlier.  The only consequence was that the rosemary and thyme cooked off of their stems, but did not diminish from the flavor.  Also, note make sure if you are going to simmer all day that you will need to remove the onion, celery and garlic before they disappear into a mush that used to resemble what you put in the pot.