Personal Kitchen Challenge

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!)

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Mandarin Pancakes – Kitchen Challenge #5

This actually didn’t start out as being a challenge.  It started out with some leftover pork and a desire to do something other than pork fried rice.  In my search for possible uses, I stumbled upon moo shu pork in Mandarin pancakes.  So I thought, why not make that the latest challenge?

It seemed easy enough.  2 parts flour to 1 part boiling water.  Stir to mix, then knead.

I don’t know that I had ever kneaded dough before making the pizzas a few weeks ago.  Since I’ve never made biscuits or pie or bread from scratch, I doubt I’ve done it, although I may have helped my mom a time or two.  It’s funny how certain things just come naturally from simply watching people in the past.  Often, when sewing, I flashback to watching my grandmother sew, and I apply those memories to what I’m working on.  The same goes with kneading dough – folding it over onto itself, pressing it together, over and over again.  I didn’t even think about it this time, so much so that I left my ring on.  Oof – love getting dough worked into the setting…

Anyway, in searching for a recipe, I found many different variations.  I ended up melding three or four recipes together, so I have no idea what recipe I came closest to following.  One recipe said to roll out the dough into pancake shape before pressing them together with sesame oil, but most of the others said to form the dough into thick 2″ round cakes, press them together, then roll them out thinner, so I opted to follow that method. 

The final project turned out well, if a little rubbery.

One recipe I looked at came from The Way the Cookie Crumbles, who said her boyfriend called this a Chinese burrito.

Well, guess what Stephen called it?

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Biscuits from scratch – Personal Kitchen Challenge #4

Making things from scratch is something Americans don’t have to do.  Everything can come out of a box, can, or tube.  Cakes, pancakes, soup.  Biscuits.  When someone actually makes something “from scratch,” everyone else is suitably impressed.

Here in Finland, however, it’s quite difficult to find pre-made things like that.  You can find some in the “American Aisle” of the grocery store – Betty Crocker cake mix and American Style Pancake mix for 9€.  Lest you think I’m exaggerating…

American Style Pancake Mix, 8.95€

Betty Crocker Brownie Mix, 8.95€

So, I started making pancakes from scratch.  Which is ridiculously easy.  But I was scared to make biscuits.  They’re a bit more difficult – they need to be flaky, fluffy.  You have to work the dough a certain amount.  There’s more room for error.  At least, that’s what I thought.

I don’t know, maybe it is hard.  But once again, I found that making biscuits from scratch was amazingly simple.  I used this recipe from Alton Brown, but had to make one substitution.  The recipe calls for 2 Tbsp butter and 2 Tbsp shortening.  Well, shortening is one of those things I can’t get in Finland.  So I used 4 Tbsp butter.

What goes with biscuits?  Sausage, of course.  And that’s where I ran into problems.  I found this at the grocery store:

“Saturday Sausage”

Looks like sausage.  Wanhan ajan Lauantai makkara translates to “old fashioned Saturday Sausage.”  Well, that sounds…like it might be what I needed?  What’s the worst that could happen?

Stephen called it.  “It looks like spam.”  Mm-hmm.  And then, “It tastes like hot dogs.”  Yep.

I may have failed on the sausage, but the biscuits?  Were awesome.  I’m very happy with my success!  🙂

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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Frozen Limeade Concentrate – Kitchen Challenge #3

I don’t really classify this one as a challenge so much as a necessity.  Frozen limeade concentrate, like you find in those little Minute Maid cans in the frozen section of the grocery store, doesn’t exist here, at least not that I’ve found.

One night not too long ago, some friends decided to make margaritas.  I had seen a pin on Pinterest on how to make your own limeade concentrate, and figured this would be the perfect opportunity to give it a try.

Let me tell you, without a juicer, this was a pretty tough task.  My hands and fingers were worn out after squeezing 14 limes to death.  As one of my friends said, it’s a good thing I didn’t have a paper cut.  The task would have been impossible.

After squeezing 14 limes, I had a double batch of lime juice ready to go.  I made the simple syrup, mixed it all together and started freezing it.  I couldn’t freeze it all at once, so poured some into a water bottle and stuck it in the fridge, to be frozen later.

The limeade concentrate made great margaritas, I’m pleased to say.  I have several 6 oz increments in the freezer now for future use.  Other than squeezing the limes, it was a simple enough task, although pretty much everything was a sticky mess afterwards.

Oh, and remember that water bottle in the fridge?  Stephen drank out of it twice.  Oops.  (But, heehee!)

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Homemade Pizza – Kitchen Challenge #2

There are two dishes that Stephen’s mother makes that he absolutely loves.  One of them is Homemade Pizza.  He’s wanted me to make it pretty much since we moved in together, but yeast is one of those ingredients I’ve always been scared to work with.

Challenge accepted!

We invited some friends over, although I warned them that we may end up ordering out.  One friend is on a gluten-free diet, which threw a little bit of a kink in the plans.  Since each recipe makes two pizzas, I decided to make four pizzas, two batches, one with regular flour, one with gluten-free.

The first batch seemed to go all right – the dough turned out okay and rose well.  The second batch, the gluten-free one, not so much.  It was really sticky, so I kept adding more flour, until it seemed to have the same consistency as the first one.  It’s a good thing I did the other one first, so I had an idea about how it was supposed to be.

With the regular dough, I made a pepperoni pizza and a ground beef and mushroom pizza.  With the gluten free dough, I made a Caprese pizza (tomatoes, mozzerella, and basil) and a Greek pizza (kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes, and feta cheese).

All the pizzas came out very good, I’m happy to say!

Half pepperoni and mushroom, half ground beef and mushroom

Half Greek, Half Caprese

The next night, since we had so many toppings leftover, I ended up making two more pizzas for Stephen and me, each half and half, the same toppings as the previous night.  I felt much more comfortable making the pizzas – I don’t know why I’ve always been scared to work with yeast!  At this point, bring on the bread!  🙂

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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Making Macarons – Kitchen Challenge #1

For my first Personal Kitchen Challenge, I decided to make macarons. Starting big, I know!

To be honest, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually eaten a macaron.  I was browsing Pinterest one day and found a wonderful step by step tutorial on making them, so I thought I’d try it.  As an added bonus, I kept seeing lemon curd in the store, and I was determined to find a recipe to use it in.  Complete serendipity that I could use it in this recipe!

Issue number 1:  Finding almond meal.  The Finnish translation is manteli aterian, but I couldn’t find it in the store.  I found manteli jauhot, which is almond flour, and after checking the faq I found that they’re the same thing.

Issue number 2: Sifting.  First, I don’t have a true sifter here, I have a sieve, and a very small one at that (I think it’s about Tablespoon size).  So sifting the powdered sugar/almond meal mixture took…a while.  And then, although she said there would be some meal left, I had a bit more than “some.”  I measured it – 35 grams.  I started with 125g.  So, more than some.  I ground it up again, sifted.  Ground again, sifted.  And got down to 13g left.  And then I was bad.  I gave up.  I took about half of the unground almond meal and dumped it into the mixture.  We’ll see what happens.

Issue #3:  I haven’t quite mastered the art of using a pastry bag without making a complete mess.  I just have to resign myself to having gooey hands as I pipe out the dough.  Whatever works, right?

As I wait for the macarons to “set” before baking, I lick the bowl.  I will say, it tastes good.  🙂

The macarons baking

The first batch came out a little gooey, and I ruined several caps trying to pull them off the paper.

Definitely no “feet” on my macarons

The second batch turned out much better, the caps coming off the paper a bit easier.  I think it still could have used another minute, but I was scared to leave them in.  The recipe said to leave them in for 12-18 minutes – that’s quite a time span.  The first batch I took out at 16 minutes.  The second batch I took out at the full 18 minutes.

I made them a bit too big, I think.  Also, I may have thin shells, which according to the FAQ, this is a result of overmixing, which I was afraid I had done anyway.  I also may have added the sugar to the eggs a bit too soon.

Bad on me, I didn’t watch the video until after I was done, and now I can see more that I did wrong, or actually, more that didn’t turn out right.  The eggs weren’t stiff enough, I can see now.  When I piped mine out, they were never fluffy, and in fact, they never even had a point from lifting the tip.  They smoothed right out.  They definitely did NOT come off the paper that easily, even on the second batch, and they didn’t really have feet, just innards.  And they were *definitely* not puffy enough.

So, next time – beat eggs longer, add sugar at the right time, make the caps smaller, and bake longer (maybe?).

I’ll try again soon.  In the meantime, they turned out pretty well, passed the approval of several people who have had macarons, and they tasted great!

The final product – Lemon Macarons

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