Ruisleipä Frustration

On the return journey of my recent Finland trip I had to pay an excess baggage fee.  I looooove Finnish design and so  had treated myself to a Marimekko umbrella to brighten up grey mornings, a couple of Pentik wooden butter spreaders and a super sharp Fiskar cheese slicer.  I also bought a limited edition Moomin mug to add to my collection.  Yet all of these together weighed perhaps 2kg and, even though I had off loaded all the gifts of books and toys and food that I’d brought across with me,  I was 4kg overweight on my way back.

Dodgy scales?  Nope.  Rye bread.  Ruisleipä, to be precise.  I love the stuff so much I crammed as many bags of it as I could fit into my suitcase, hand luggage and coat pockets.  And ended up paying an excess of £40.  Totally worth it.

My freezer currently looks like this:

But, as I eat a lot of rye bread when it’s available, I know it won’t look that way for long.  So I’ve been trying my hardest to make my own ruisleipä these past few weeks and have failed, failed, failed.

Finnish rye bread (the western kind) is different to other rye breads.  It has a slightly sour taste and looks like this:

My own attempts (which I really should have taken a photo of) have been the wrong colour, the wrong taste and the wrong texture.  I’ve tried the recipe from this website and from a Finnish cookbook.  Neither worked.

Gah!  Frustrated!

Do you know any Finnish bakers?  Are you a Finnish baker?  Are you not a Finnish baker but know the secret?  Can you help me?  At my last count I only have 29 pieces of rye bread left.  I’m desperate.  :(

Baked Ameretti Peaches

Can I sneak this idea in before the last of the summer peaches disappear?  Hope so.  It’s a lovely, lovely dessert for a late August evening.

Simply pre-heat oven to 180 oC.  Cut each peach in half (one per person) and take out the stone.  Crumble an ameretti biscuit into each half of the peach, add a sliver of unsalted butter to the top and sprinkle with brown sugar.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and pour a teaspoon of brandy over each peach.  Bake for 10 mins more.

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Mustikkapiirakka (Finnish Blueberry Pie)

Admission – the pie in the above photograph is not one that I made myself.  It was baked and served by my friend, Mari, and her partner, Janne,  when I visited them in Tampere last week.  As I’ve said many, MANY times before, I am not a dessert person.  Give me savoury every time.  This pie, however, had me converted.  It was delicious and I (blush) had not two but three portions of it.

Tried making a version myself earlier this week and failed miserably.  Too much baking powder and too many eggs led to an odd tasting, puffily deformed pie that ended up in the bin.  This afternoon’s attempt, on the other hand, might not be as pretty as Mari’s pie but it tastes frickin’ amazing.  This one (that’s it below) shall end its days in my tummy.

Mustikkapiirakka (Finnish Blueberry Pie)

(serves 10-ish)

150g soft butter
150g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
200g plain flour
1 tspn baking powder
400g blueberries
250ml sour cream
50g caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla essence

  • Preheat the oven to 200 oC.
  • Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Mix in the egg thoroughly then sift the flour and baking powder into the bow.  Mix together until a smooth batter forms.
  • Spread the batter over the bottom and up the sides of a greased 10″ flan dish.  Bake for 10 mins in the oven then remove.
  • Tip the blueberries onto the pie base and spread out.
  • Whisk together the sour cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla essence until just combined.  Pour over the blueberries.
  • Bake for 30 minutes then turn off the oven.  Leave the pie in the cooling oven until the surface firms up (10 mins was fine for me).
  • Cool and serve with ice cream or cream or on its own.

Cookbooks

This weekend The Observer published a list of the top 50 cookbooks ever.  Compiled by regular Observer Food Magazine contributors and a host of well known chefs, it made for interesting and (as many books in the selection I had never heard of and I am always open to a new cookbook suggestion) potentially expensive reading.

Now, I’ve just moved house and can frequently be found gazing at the lovely new space I created to host my own collection of cullinary tomes.  Decided to put this gazing to good use, follow The Observer’s example and list my own favourite cookbooks.

The Observer’s aim, it seemed to me, was to recognise a selection of ground-breaking/original/esteemed publications.  Fair-do’s.  My list is a bit different.  The following ten cookbooks might not in some cases be unique or critically admired and they really don’t make for a spectacularly exciting list but they have been my most used, most beloved cookbooks in recent years.  And that’s what I wanted to share with you.

1.) Real Fast Food – Nigel Slater

Novel sized, unfussy and without pictures, this was one of my first cookbooks and it is still a firm favourite.  So many simple ideas.  If I find myself with the bare minimum in my cupboards/fridge or if I’m a bit tired or if I can’t remember how to make the perfect omelette (I forget), this is the book I turn to.

2.) Leith’s Vegetarian Cookbook

It’s like the Mary Poppins’ bag of cookbooks.  Every time I open it, I find something different and delightful.  Huge.  Encyclopaedic.  Classy.

3.) The Essential Madhur Jaffrey

There are larger Madhur Jaffrey books (including the fab World Vegetarian) but I really like this little book.  It has all her classics along with some staples and stunning side dishes.

4.) Jamie’s Dinners – Jamie Oliver

I don’t actually use this cookbook very much any more as I know lots of the recipes by heart.  It had to be on the list though. David gave me this for our first Christmas as a couple and many of the dishes have become staples in our household.  The pasta recipes in particular are spectacular.

5.) Kitchen Diaries – Nigel Slater

Nigel?  Twice?!  Well, yes.  He’s wonderful.  I gave this book to a friend of mine in Finland last time I visited (three years ago) and when I returned this summer it was still sitting on her bedside table.  Before going to sleep each night, she reads what Mr Slater made on that day of the year.  I’d do the same but my own copy is splattered with a vast variety of liquids, crumbs and gloop.  Think it smells a little too, so much has it been used.

6.) Roast Chicken and Other Stories (1&2) – Simon Hopkinson

Simon Hopkinson disappointed me greatly with his vegetarian cookbook.  It was so utterly bland.  Yet, both of his Roast Chicken books are fabulous so I forgive him always.  Everything I’ve made from them has turned out perfectly.  Possibly because his instructions are so meticulous.

7.) Cafe Paradiso – Dennis Cotter

Not an every day cookbook.  This is the book I cook from when I have a whole afternoon to potter about in the kitchen.  There are some cracking basic recipes but my favourites are the stylishly fussy dishes with multiple elements and paragraph sized names.

8.) Everyday - Bill Granger

An Aussie Jamie Oliver, I think.  Big flavours, easy recipes and big on the inclusion of vegetables.  Again, many of his recipes I know by heart and are eaten frequently in this house.

9) The Cook’s Companion – Stephanie Alexander

Another Australian.  An enormous book featuring all of the most common main ingredients in a cook’s kitchen.  Endless recipes under each section and, rather cleverly, a list of other ingredients that compliment the featured food.

10.) Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook

I’d love to visit Sarah Raven’s garden sometime.  She grows the most amazing fruit and veg.  Her cookbook is based around the seasons and the produce from her garden.  The pictures are beautiful and the recipes make me want to cook for others.

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What are your favourites?

Please Don’t Go

Hello!  I’m back from my holiday in Finland.  It was a jam-packed week filled with travelling around the country, eating rye bread upon rye bread upon rye bread and catching up with friends.

I have oodles of photos  from my travels to share with you and more than a couple of recipes too.  But I’m feeling pretty tired today after all of the excitement and movement of the past eight days so I’ll leave the Finland post until tomorrow, if you don’t mind.

Until then, here’s one of my pup and my suitcases taken just before I left home.  Think he knew what was going on?

Fresh Tomato and Basil Soup

Don’t you think tomatoes this year are fantastic?  Are they always this red and round and shiny?  Are they?  Has it just been such a long time since last summer that I don’t remember how great they were last year too?  Perhaps.

Maybe I’m just so excited about them this year because I’ve discovered the joys of fresh tomato soup.  It had never really occurred to me to make it: Covent Garden do a nice one and I think, subconsciously, I considered tomato soup to be a little prosaic.  Well, it’s not.  It’s ridiculously good.  And I now take offence at my past self for thinking otherwise.  Sniffy cow that she was.

Fresh Tomato and Basil Soup

(serves 6)

Drizzle of olive oil

2 onions, chopped finely

1 clove of garlic, chopped finely

1.5 kg fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped roughly – I do it like this though in a slightly more messy fashion and I reserve the seeds then drain the juice off them in a sieve to add to the pan too.

2 tablespoons tomato puree

Chicken or vegetable stock

Handful of basil leaves, chopped roughly

  • Sauté the onion in the olive oil in a large pan until softened.  Add the garlic and cook for a minute more.
  • Add the tomatoes and tomato purée to the pan and stir well.  Cook for 10 mins over a medium heat.
  • Add enough stock to cover the tomatoes by a couple of centimetres.  Simmer for 15 mins.
  • Stir through the basil then liquidise the soup with a hand blender.  Add more stock to thin if necessary.
  • Season with salt and pepper and heat through again before serving.