King Cake – Personal Kitchen Challenge #13

It was recently Mardi Gras season, and you know what that means?  King Cake!  In the past, I’ve made “fake” king cake (canned cinnamon rolls formed into a ring), complete with baby, but I’ve always really wanted to make a real King Cake for the season.  Oh, but that required yeast!  And kneading!  So much to get wrong!  However, at this point, I’ve had plenty of yeast and kneading experience, so I was willing to give it a go.  And a gathering of friends just before Fat Tuesday was the perfect opportunity to do so.

First problem, of course, is deciding on which recipe to use.  There are a million versions of King Cake – cream cheese filled, jam filled, raisin filled…oy.  I decided on this recipe, because it seemed somewhat simple.  Except…raisins – Yuck!  I left those out! (Cue my husband’s outrage…)

Second problem – Did you know you can’t find half-and-half in Finland?  The first time I went to the store, I forgot to look up the translation.  I had to go back to the store the next day, checked the Finnish Food Glossary and got the translation:  kermamaito.  But I couldn’t find it at the store.  So I went online and asked around.  And apparently, half-and-half doesn’t exist in Finland.  So I made my own…after deciding which of the four substitute amounts I found online to use.

(Seriously, how the hell would I ever make it here if this was pre-internet?)

So I put it all together, let it rise, and threw it in the oven.  The recipe said for 30 minutes – I wanted to pull it out at 10 because it looked brown enough to me.  I let it go, but I did pull it out 5 minutes early.

Of course, I had to color my own sugar – not my first attempt at that, it was easy enough.  And since I didn’t have a baby (left those in storage), I used a Worther’s Originals toffee.  Hey, beggars, choosers.

The final product:

King Cake 1

King Cake 2

I made King Cake from scratch!

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.


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Salmon – Personal Kitchen Challenge #12

I heard once that your taste in food changes every seven years.  If you used to love licorice, you may now hate it.  If you hate asparagus, maybe one day you’ll love it.  That’s why it’s important to keep trying things, even if you’ve already tried them before.

I used to hate salmon.  I used to hate all fish, actually, except shrimp.  Then I started eating sushi.  And I liked fish as long as it was raw (but I didn’t like raw shrimp).  In fact, raw salmon was my favorite.  But the minute you cooked it, I wanted no part of it.  Then I liked whitefish, like tilapia.  Then I liked lightly smoked salmon.  Then I liked barely cooked salmon.  And even though now, I still say I don’t like salmon, the truth is…I don’t hate it.  I don’t love it, but I can eat it.

So it stands to reason that I’ve never cooked salmon before, right?

The Pioneer Woman shared a recipe of a friend of hers, a simple salmon prepared in the oven.  You put it in a cold oven, turn the oven on, cook it for 25 minutes, and that’s it.  No “bake for 20-30 minutes until done.”  I hate recipes like that.  How am I supposed to know if it’s done?

Back to the salmon.

Since I’ve never cooked salmon before, I’ve also never bought salmon before.  And here I am, in a foreign country, with no clue what the packaging says.  I can pick salmon out of a lineup, but I’m not sure what it is I’m buying.  I’ve bought what I think was smoked salmon, several times, but I’m never sure what kind of smoked salmon.  You know my motto in the grocery store:  “What’s the worst that can happen?”

So I decided this time to go to the fish counter and actually get fresh salmon.  Less chance of getting the wrong thing, right?  But there are several kinds there, and I’m not sure what’s what.  The lady behind the counter speaks a little English, but not enough to communicate.  I ask her for salmon.  She points to two different fillets, one a deeper pink than the other.  I ask what the difference is.  She really can’t tell me, at least in English.  So I just point to the one that’s the size I want and go with it.

What’s the worst that can happen?

It was super easy to make, and it tasted fine.  I’ll make it again, although next time I’ll probably add some lemon and garlic on top.  I might also try to determine what kind of salmon I should get at the store before I go.  That’s always helpful…

Of course, Stephen let me know that he doesn’t like salmon.  But he ate it.



*Update – I made it again with some lemon pepper and lemon slivers on top, and I do think it was just a bit more flavorful.  Regardless, definitely a keeper recipe!

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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Homemade eggnog – a forgotten Personal Kitchen Challenge!

Homemade Eggnog

Homemade Eggnog

Oh my gosh, you guys, I completely forgot I did this challenge!  At Christmas, I had a real hankering for eggnog.  For whatever reason, I thought we couldn’t get it here…I didn’t even bother to look.  Instead, I decided to make my own!

Most recipes for eggnog call for raw eggs, which I don’t really have a problem with.  However, I was planning on serving it to others, and the last thing I wanted to do was chance getting other people sick from raw eggs!  So I followed this recipe from Epicurean Mom, which calls for the eggs to be par-cooked.

You guys, this eggnog was so freaking good!  I just wanted to drink all of it myself and not share.  But I was good, and filled a 2 liter Coke bottle (cleaned, I swear) to take to Christmas dinner with friends, and kept the rest for us.  Everyone loved it!

As it turns out,  they do apparently sell eggnog here in Finland, as someone said they saw it at the grocery store.  But I don’t care – I’ll be making another batch (or two!) of homemade eggnog this year.

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French Fries in the oven – PKC #11

Crispy french fries, minus the frying part.  The ultimate dream.  Well, okay, maybe not ultimate, but still, it would be nice, wouldn’t it?  Oven fries often turn out either thick and dry, or thin and soggy.  I have yet to find a middle ground.

So when I saw a pin on Pinterest promising crispy, “awesome oven fries,” I put it on my Kitchen Challenge list.

And guess what?  They weren’t awesome.  They tasted fine, and some of them crisped up nicely, but a lot were still soggy.  I’m not sure how, exactly, to get a happy medium.

crispy?  well, some are...

crispy? well, some are…

The original pin I used actually linked to Martha Stewart’s recipe for Italian fries, but I went with a basic salted fry.  One could say I didn’t follow the recipe directions, but I followed the prep directions, just not the flavoring directions.  I seriously doubt a lack of oregano and thyme caused the problem of soggy fries.

So, I decided to try again, doing a search online and using this recipe.  The results were a little better, but I still had some sogginess.  And I’ll tell you why.  It’s two-fold, really, although the second issue ties into the first.

  1. I think the true secret to crispy oven fries is that no one fry can touch any other fries.  Fries must be single layer, not touching each other.
  2. Fries must be turned.  And once turned, must remain in the single layer, not touching each other.

I succeeded in lining the fries up single file, not touching.  I resigned myself to having to bake the fries in two batches…as if that’s not a hassle.

The real problem came when it was time to turn them.  Individually.  And not have them touch.

I turned the Stephen and said, “This is summed up nicely by a certain meme going around:”


Seriously, who the hell has the time and patience to turn 100 french fries over individually and ensure they don’t touch?

Crispy oven fries will be forever out of my reach, as long as that’s the secret.

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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Flour Tortillas – Personal Kitchen Challenge #10

I keep hearing how easy tortillas are to make.  I remember once, probably 20 years ago, making homemade tortillas using a store-bought mix – and they were terrible!  Super thick, very dry, with tons of flour coating both sides.  I’m sure it was user error, but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that tortillas were difficult to make.  But I figured, let’s try it again.

Problem 1 – Most of the recipes I found included lard or shortening, neither of which I can get here.  I’ve substituted butter for shortening before, but wanted to see if I could find a recipe that didn’t include those ingredients.

I found this one, which used Olive Oil.  I love olive oil, so decided to try it.

Tortilla dough swimming in oil...

Tortilla dough swimming in oil…

After letting it sit for 30 minutes, I came back to discover a very wet roll of dough surrounded by a pool of olive oil.  I figured that was a bad sign, but decided to forge ahead.  I cut the dough into equal peices, rolled them out (I don’t have a tortilla press), and used the cast-iron as suggested to cook the tortillas.


The verdict?  Not…great.  Not terrible, but not something I want to make again.  They came out rather flavorless, a little brittle, and were not really great to use for burritos.  They actually reminded me a lot of the mandarin pancakes I made a while back.

Mexican food in Finland is…not great.  Finding Mexican food seems easy enough – there’s half an aisle dedicated to salsa and tortillas and tortilla chips and spices.  But one of the key ingredients – Monterrey Jack Cheese – doesn’t exist here.  I briefly considered trying to make my own, but I couldn’t even get the ingredients I needed to make my own.  I went to the local health food store, and the owner was incredibly helpful, even calling a local cheesemaker to find out where I could get the ingredients, but one or more of the chemicals or whatever (either the calcium chloride or the rennet tablets) do not exist here.  So I made do with kermajusto, a soft white cheese, for a while.  Lately, I’ve been able to get real, honest-to-God red-wax yellow cheddar at the market (harder to get than you might think!), and I’ve been doing about half and half of the cheddar and the kermajusto.

Even with the wrong cheese, salsa that never seems quite right, and store-bought tortillas, the Mexican food I make at home is fifty times better than the “Mexican Food” they serve in the restaurants around here.  Still, I’d love to make my own tortillas, tortillas that taste great.

I figure I’ll try making tortillas one more time, using a different recipe.  Anyone have any winners?  How about you, Tracie?  I know you make your own, care to share the recipe?

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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Slow cooking without a crockpot – Kitchen Challenge #8

We didn’t bother moving any of our 3 crock-pots over here (yes, 3, sm/med/jumbo), because we knew the power conversion from the US to Europe wouldn’t work.  To my surprise, slow cookers don’t exist in Finland.  Completely unable to find one.  What’s a girl to do?

I started looking into ways to cook slow cooker recipes in the oven.  I figured it had to be the same concept, right?  I figured it would be about the same amount of time, but I had no idea what temperature I should set the oven at.

Internet to the rescue!

Well…sort of.

I looked around at several sites, but found varying advice.

  • 2 1/2 hours on high in the crockpot = 30 min at 300 in the oven
  • 300 in the oven for 2 hours less than the crockpot time
  • 250 in the oven for the same amount of time as in the crockpot
  • 3 hours on high in the crockpot = 1.5 hours at 325 in the oven
  • 7 hours on low in the crockpot = 2-3 hours of simmering on the stovetop

I also found varying suggestions to keep the liquid amount the same, to reduce the liquid amount by half, by 1 cup, by a can…

In addition, to slow cook in the oven or on the stovetop, a Dutch oven is highly recommended.  Yet another thing I don’t have.

So I experimented.  I did a pork roast for carnitas in the oven, in a stainless steel pot.  It turned out…okay.  I think I had it in at 300 for approximately 4-6 hours.  Next I tried a beef stew on the stovetop (same pot).  I kept the heat on low for about 3 hours.  The meat never really got tender.

In other words – not much success here.  I though about buying a slow cooker from (which offers free shipping to Finland – Bonus!) but at this point, it just doesn’t seem worth it, to buy a new slow cooker I’ll only use for another year.

What I really want is a Dutch oven.  Scratch that.  What I really want is this:

Finnish Sarpaneva cast iron pot, sold by Finnish Design Shop

Finnish Sarpaneva cast iron pot, sold by Finnish Design Shop

You would think that living in Finland, I’d be able to find this fairly easily.  Not so much.  And it ain’t cheap!  So I’ll just keep filing away crockpot recipes for future use, and look forward to getting my crockpot out of storage when we move back to the States (and buying a Dutch oven).


I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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Thanksgiving – Personal Kitchen Challenge #9

(Did I mention I’m behind on my PKC posts?  Like, by 2 months?)

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner is difficult enough as it is, but it’s made particularly hard when you have a small kitchen, a European oven (small!!), and no access to Stovetop Stuffing, Pumpkin Pie filling, or canned cranberry sauce.  To add to those challenges, I’ve only ever cooked a turkey once in my life, almost ten years ago.

The first and only time I cooked a turkey for Thanksgiving, I had just moved across the country to a new city.  My family drove in Thanksgiving day just in time for dinner, which meant I couldn’t count on my mom to Save the Day.  It was all on me.  I had never cooked a turkey.  I had never made mashed potatoes.  And I decided to make cranberry sauce from scratch.  No pressure.

The day did not start out well – I unwrapped my turkey and went to pull out the neck and gizzards, having read that it was important to do so.  I looked inside the turkey and found…nothing.  Actually, I found no inside.  I looked at it in confusion.  Why was there no inside?  It should be right there, between the legs…….

Where are the legs?

I called my mom, who was somewhere in Tennessee at the time.  “Mom, my turkey doesn’t have any legs.”

“Did you just get a breast?”

I stared at the turkey, completely ignorant.  “I got…a turkey,” I said, shrugging.  Was there a difference?

I’m pleased to say everything turned out well that day – the turkey got cooked, the potatoes got mashed, and everyone was happy…except my dad, who wanted a turkey leg.

We decided to do a big ex-pat Thanksgiving dinner here in Finland, and I volunteered to cook one of the turkeys.  I poured over recipes and techniques – I knew cooking it in the tiny oven would be difficult, but what else could I do?  I read about spatchcocking, and decided to give it a go.  What’s the worst that could happen, right?  (That’s usually my motto in the kitchen, but this time, the worst could be that I give food poisoning to 50+ people and send them to the hospital where the nurses and doctors speak a foreign language.  No pressure.)

For those who don’t know, spatchcocking means removing the backbone and flattening the turkey, breast up.  I dug out my kitchen shears and started cutting, but Stephen had to do most of it, as I simply didn’t have the strength to cut through the bone.  As it was, I needed a new pair of kitchen shears when I was done.  When they say you need sharp shears, you need sharp shears!

The backbone - Ick!

The backbone – Ick!

Besides having a small oven, I have a small kitchen.  Actually, it’s not that small, there’s just no counter space.  I have about 2 feet of counter space.  I use the kitchen table as a prep area.  So this is what my kitchen looked like while preparing food for Thanksgiving:

That space right there, between the fridge and the sink?  That's all the counter space I have.  :(

That space right there, between the fridge and the sink? That’s all the counter space I have. 😦

I made do, though, and got the turkey in the pan with only minimal fuss (although I’m still not sure I actually managed to break the breastbone and fully flatten my turkey).

Spatchcocked turkey, ready for the oven

Spatchcocked turkey, ready for the oven

The turkey turned out beautiful, but the taste was nothing special.  (Someone smoked one of the turkeys, and that was fabulous!)

Beautifully roasted

Beautifully roasted

Along with the turkey, I also made this apple quinoa salad, which was a hit, some pesto pasta salad, a pesto chicken pasta casserole, and (not my) Aunt Lois’s Broccoli Cornbread.  It required Jiffy corn muffin mix, which (surprise) I can’t get here, but I found this recipe online to make your own mix, so I was in business!

Broccoli Cornbread

Broccoli Cornbread

Trying to catch up on kitchen challenges, I promise you’ll see more soon!

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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DIY Bisquick – Kitchen Challenge #7

I’ve now made pancakes from scratch and biscuits from scratch, so what use could I possibly have for Bisquick, right?  Well, I’ll tell you.  One of Stephen’s favorite foods is Poppyseed Rolls, which his mother dutifully shared the recipe for.  I’ve been wanting to make these for Stephen since we moved here (and God knows he’s been asking me to), but I didn’t have Bisquick, which is a key ingredient.  I figured there had to be a simple recipe for it – flour and baking soda and what else?  Thank you, internet, for providing the answer.

Using this recipe from, I whipped up a batch of Bisquick one Friday afternoon.  I really wanted to surprise Stephen with the poppyseed rolls, so I premixed everything I could, then told him I was planning on making breakfast in the morning.  “Pancakes?” he asked.  “Yep,” I said, as innocently as possible, fingers crossed behind my back.

I got up the next morning and closed the kitchen door so that he could watch TV without me disturbing him with the noise (at least, that’s the impression I gave – I just didn’t want him to see what I was doing!).  I made the rolls, praying he wouldn’t come in, cut off the raw ends for him (as instructed…no, really, it’s part of the recipe, “save the cut off end pieces  for Stephen to eat raw”), and popped the rolls into the oven.  Then I carried the raw ends out to him with a smile.

Yeah, I’m an awesome wife.

Poppyseed rolls

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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French Bread – Personal Kitchen Challenge #6

After my first foray into yeast, I knew bread wouldn’t be far behind.  Most of the recipes I’ve seen on pinterest have included a breadmaker, which I don’t have, but I did see a recipe for quick French Bread, so I thought I’d start with that, keep things simple the first time around.

I ran into a small problem right away when I found out I only had one packet of yeast left, and the recipe called for the equivalent of two, and I really didn’t want to make a grocery store run.  So instead of making two loaves, I just split the recipe in half and made one.  Probably better that way, anyway – there’s no way we could go through two loaves before it went bad (although I did plan on making french toast…and croque monsieur…and bread pudding…if I needed to use up bread).

The recipe and prep was quite easy for this recipe.  Although I didn’t think the dough had risen much, the loaf itself looked great, so I must have done something right.  I boiled some pasta and we had the bread on the side for dinner.  Being incredibly self-critical, I thought it was a little chewy/tough (just a little) and a bit dense, but Stephen loved it, or at least said he did.

I think the bread turned out a little soft for croque monsieur and french toast, but maybe if I let it stale up a bit….

Bread 1

Bread 2

I’ve made this loaf several times now, and it is remarkably easy to make, but I think it’s nearly time to try a new bread recipe.  Anyone have any suggestions?  Please leave me a comment and share your favorite bread recipe!

(I am horribly behind on my Personal Kitchen Challenge updates.  I’ve been doing one every week, for the most part, I just haven’t posted any!  I’ll catch up soon, I promise!)

Categories: Food, Personal Kitchen Challenge | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

An American Thanksgiving in Finland

The holiday season is here, which makes being an ex-pat a little more difficult.  Without family and friends nearby to celebrate with, Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a bit sad.  So the best thing to do is plan a big party!

There are quite a few ex-pats here in town, working for The Company, so I checked around to see if anyone would be interested in having a big American Thanksgiving and renting out a place to do it.  The response was overwhelming.  We ended up having about 50 people, including a lot of the American ex-pats and some people of other nationalities who got to experience our traditions.  We had a ton of food, including 4 turkeys, and the location we rented was lovely.  It all went off without a hitch, and everyone was glad to have the chance to get together and celebrate.  There’s already talk of renting the space out again next year for a Fourth of July party, when we’ll be able to take advantage of the good weather and abundance of sunshine to enjoy the large yard included in the rental!

Did I mention yet how much food there was?  We kept having to add tables and move the dessert table down (then add a table to that) because there was so much food!  We had pretty much all the standard fare – besides the turkeys, there was mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, stuffing, pumpkin pie, deviled eggs…the list goes on and on.

It was great to get together with new friends and celebrate Thanksgiving in a big, traditional, ex-pat way!

Only a portion of the buffet table(s)!

Only a portion of the buffet table(s)!

Our decorative turkey, put together by a Brit!

Our decorative turkey, put together by a Brit!

Enjoying the meal

A portion of the dessert table!

A portion of the dessert table!

I’ll be blogging about the Thanksgiving Kitchen Challenge soon, so stay tuned!

Categories: Finland, Food | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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