finnish finds part 1

This summer I took a trip that was about 15 years overdue. I went to Finland to visit my best friend. When she married her Finnish sweetheart more than 15 years ago, I promised to visit. And after years of child bearing and procrastinating, I finally splurged and traveled to the Scandinavia for a week. By myself. Ahhhhhhhh.

I probably would have not visited Finland were it not my friend’s home, but I learned several things on the trip and tasted some beautiful food.

First, my friend Cyndi and I spent a few nights in Helsinki, staying at a fabulous and reasonable hotel. Helsinki is a small city, by New York standards, and is extremely pedestrian friendly. Within the first day, I noticed that all the women were tall and blonde, and to smile or speak to strangers on the street is considered weird. Some of the city highlights were the open air market, the shopping (pricey but beautiful clothing and home goods) and the museum. Here are some pics:

We also ate at several bistro-like places for lunch where you go through a cafeteria-style line and order already prepared salads and sandwiches. Prices for these meals are much more reasonable than the sit-down restaurants, which we discovered when we dined at Grotesk (I know, weird name) one night.

The starters at Grotesk were stunning – I think one was a fish terrine salad and mine was a soup with a towering crouton covered with chorizo foam. Sadly, the entrees failed to impress us. But our wine, the beautiful outdoor patio and our incredibly witty conversation buoyed the evening.

After a 4.5-hour train ride north, we stumbled off the train (very clean and comfortable) to find Cyndi’s husband waiting for us with a much-needed drink. Love him.

My first meal in the countryside was smoked fish. Anyone who knows me understands that I’m not crazy about fish, particularly the smoked or raw kind. However, this fish was caught and smoked the day we ate it. Cyndi’s husband Sixten told us as he prepped for dinner that the fish was still warm when he purchased it from the local smokehouse. And it was delicious. I even had seconds. The delicate fish had a salty and obviously smokey flavor with a tender texture.

These experiences were just the beginning of my Finnish adventures. Our culinary wanderings extended to pastries the next day, which opened up a whole new world of tasty possibilities. Too many for this post.

about the garden

With our whirlwind summer, which is definitely over despite what the calendar says, I have not posted any photos of our pride and joy: the garden.

You’d think that because G is a horticulturist we would be showing off some beautiful potted annuals, perennial beds and lush landscaping. Maybe someday.

As for now, we’re putting our energy into our vegetable garden. The dividends are a little tastier. So here it is, from start to almost finish, in all of its glorious color.

The early days included spinach, cilantro, lettuce, radishes and strawberries, some of which were camera shy, so this is all I got!

Then came the sugar snaps, while we waited for the peppers and tomatoes.

But they were worth the wait.

The kids all fight over who gets to dig for potatoes first. They ended up taking turns. And being totally fine with it because they were actually being told to dig in the dirt. Sorry, soil. As my husband reminds me, it’s supposed to be called soil. Dirt is what’s hiding (or obvious) in the corners of my house.

And just to show you what we’re up against as far as flowering plants go, check out our once beautiful hostas. Which is literally one foot from our door. Those deer have no shame.

thanksgiving color

My favorite recipe from this Thanksgiving was the Cranberry Orange Sauce.  I adapted this from Martha Stewart by adding candied instead of fresh ginger (by the way, if you want to make your own candied ginger, here’s a recipe).  There weren’t too many takers—most of the kids liked the canned jellied cranberry sauce—so I had quite a bit left.  This sauce was delicious atop my Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Puree and dabbed on mushrooms stuffed and baked with Cambozola cheese.

Cranberry Orange Sauce with Candied Ginger

adapted from Martha Stewart

[print recipe]

  • 3 cups (12 ounces) fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped candied ginger
  • 1 navel orange, peel and pith removed, flesh cut into segments with a sharp knife
  1. Stir together cranberries, sugar, and ginger in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved and cranberries begin to pop, about 7 minutes.
  2. Add 1 cup water; simmer until thickened slightly, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in orange. Let cool.

easy and delicious Italian vegetable soup

I don’t pay much attention to recipes that are part of magazine ads.  It bothers me that these recipes are pushing specific products.  However, this one is worthy.  I don’t remember what magazine (hopefully it was mine) or when, but I ripped out this recipe years ago and have been enjoying it ever since.

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This soup lends itself well to create with little helpers.  Most of the work involves prepping the veggies and measuring seasonings, which my kids love to do.  I also find that when my foodies get involved in a recipe, they can’t resist at least tasting the outcome, which comes in handy with those picky eaters (of which I have two).

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Serve this rustic soup with a sprinke of grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, along with some crusty ciabatta.  Heart warming on a chilly November night.

Bertolli Ribollita con Crostini di Pane

by Bertolli

[printable recipe]

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (and more for serving)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fennel bulb, trimmed of the feathery fronds
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 6 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
  • 1 (28 oz.) can Italian plum tomatoes, cut up
  • 2 cups peeled and diced russet potato
  • 1 1/2 cups canned cannelli beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup finely shredded Savoy cabbage or Swiss chard
  • 1 cup diced zucchini
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley (if dried, use less)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil (if dried, use less)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
  • 8 slices Italian bread (1/2-inch diagonally sliced), one per bowl
  1. Combine the 1/4 cup olive oil, fennel, celery, onions, carrots, garlic, and thyme in a large heavy saucepan. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables are very soft, about 15 minutes. Do not brown.
  2. Stir in the broth, tomatoes, potato, beans, and cabbage or Swiss chard. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes.
  3. Add the zucchini, parsley, and basil. Cover and cook 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
  4. Remove from heat. Refrigerate for 24 hours. (We usually don’t wait, but the flavors do blend more if you let it sit overnight.)
  5. Just before serving, heat to boiling. Place a piece of bread in each of 8 soup plates. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Ladle soup over the bread and allow to soak up the soup.
  6. Serves 8.

try this: cuban black beans

Every time I go to Trader Joe’s, I leave wondering what what goodies I should have bought but didn’t.  I’m always trying their new products, but I only go once a month, so I know I’m missing out on something.  So in case you are a curious foodie who happens to live near a TJ’s, here’s one to try.  Cuban Black Beans.  What are they and how do you use them?  I wasn’t sure, but by the time I found out, my whole family had devoured a spontaneous meal that I mistakenly thought would last two nights.

These beans need no other seasoning.  They are spicy but not fiery hot. In addition to being mixed with rice, they would be an excellent side dish with pork or chicken or tucked in a taco or quesadilla.

black beans

blk bean plate

For more Works-For-Me-Wednesday tips, check out We Are THAT Family.

Rice with Steak and Cuban Black Beans

from foodie plus 4

[click for printable recipe]

  • cooked Basmati rice
  • leftover steak, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 small yellow or purple onion, sliced
  • 1 avocado, pitted and chopped
  • 1 can TJ’s Cuban-Style Black Beans
  • salsa
  • sour cream
  1. Sauté the onions and peppers in a tablespoon of olive oil.
  2. Warm the beans in a pan.
  3. Mix together the rice, beans, steak, and onions and peppers.
  4. Serve on plates with chopped avocado, salsa, and sour cream.