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Happy New Year!

The Original Soupwoman apologises for her long absence – however, there is a fairly good excuse: she got a new job, and she and the Inhouse Food Critic moved, not only to another town, but to another country. From the old Blighty to the Emerald Island…

Getting settled has taken its toll, but hopefully she can find time and energy for active blogging very soon!

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The Orginal Soupwoman has been AWOL for some time now – apologies… First due to a holiday, then due to health issues. Still unable to do any proper cooking, soups or otherwise, so there will be no soups of the week in the near future, but reports of culinary adventures in NY are to follow soon!

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All quiet…

It has been quiet on the soup front – inspiration has abandoned the soupwoman momentarily. But I am sure it will return eventually, especially as the stress at work seems to be easing off a bit. I have a couple of ideas brewing already!

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“I really, really like Christmas food,” the Inhouse Food Critic declared as we were having our Christmas Eve dinner. Wonderful, I thought – except that very few items on the table were traditional Christmas fare.

We have been living abroad for quite some time, and as going ‘back home’ for Christmas holidays is – for various reasons – both impractical and very expensive, we have had the opportunity to create our own Christmas food traditions, to pick and choose only those traditional Finnish things we like and top up with whatever we fancied.

This Christmas, for example, our table was laden with dishes such as pheasant terrine, carrot pate, caramellised leek, gravadlax, pickled herring, gammon cooked in cider and baked rubbed with jerk spice mixture, rosolli and imelletty perunalaatikko, sticky toffee pudding for afters, not to mention our traditional ‘light’ lunch (on Christmas day or Boxing day, it depends) of buckwheat blinis with toppings such soured cream, lumpfish roe, smoked salmon, pickled cucumber and honey.

Rosolli – a cold salad of boiled carrots, boiled beetroot, boiled potatoes, pickled cucumber, apples and onion – and imelletty perunalaatikko – best described as sweet (!)  mashed potato casserole – are the most traditional elements of our Christmas foods, they are dishes you only make for Christmas. Rosolli is the Inhouse Food Critic’s speciality, so no more about that, but I am going to give you my special recipe for the perunalaatikko. It is somewhat unorthodox – I took inspiration from Heston Blumenthal and his tips for the ultimate mashed potato –  but the result is very tasty indeed.

Imelletty perunalaatikko

Ingredients
2000g even-sized potatoes, washed (a floury variety, such as Maris Piper)
100ml plain flour
100-400ml milk
1.5 tsp salt
50-100g butter
(grated nutmeg)

Put the potatoes on a baking tray, put it in the oven and set the temperature for 250C. Bake until the potatoes are soft (the flesh should be all fluffy),  let cool a little so that you can handle them, cut in half and scoop the potato flesh into a large bowl. Add the butter and salt, and mash until silky smooth (bamix or other hand mixer is good). Add about third of the flour and mix well.

Now is the tricky part, where no cheating is allowed, otherwise you will end up with just a loose, baked mash. The whole point of the dish is to get some of the starch turn into sugars, so that the bake will have a rich, slightly sweet taste. In order to get the process started you need to keep the mixture warm enough. Therefore, set your oven to 60-70C, which  is about ideal, cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and put it in the oven for a few hours, adding the rest of the flour in two batches. After a few hours, taste the mixture to ensure that there is distinct sweetness, if there is not, then add some more flour and put the bowl back in the oven for an hour or two, which should do the trick. After that you can turn the oven off and leave the bowl there, to allow the mixture to mature until the next day.

Now, the baking part. Set the oven to 160C. Grease a large, deep casserole dish – the mash mixture should come only around half way, as it may rise quite a bit momentarily while cooking. Then add the milk in the mixture in batches, mixing thoroughly. The mixture should be like normal mash that is a little bit too runny. Pour the mixture in the casserole dish, add some grated nutmeg  (if you like) and a few knobs of butter on top and bake in the oven until it is golden brown – for about 1.5-2 hours. To ensure it does not dry up it might be good to cover it with foil for the first 45 mins or so.

Serve as side dish with e.g. baked gammon.

Note: I have heard people using spices such as cinnamon and aniseed, but I cannot say whether they work well or not – in the spirit of the season of goodwill, I have not tampered with this tried and tested recipe which has been approved by the Inhouse Food Critic.

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Christmas came early to Finnish expatriates in the South-East of the  UK this year – the Christmas Fair 2009 at the Finnish Church in London was held 20–28th November. Last year, we attended the first weekend and had to queue for half an hour before even getting in, and the place was absolutely heaving. Not the best experience. Therefore the decision was made to go on a weekday this year.

And thus it came to pass that the Original Soupwoman, her inhouse food critic and the bosswoman (another Finn) embarked on their quest for authentic Finnish food on Thursday afternoon, straight after work. Luck was not on their side, though.  Inhouse food critic had cleverly checked for any traffic issues online, and decided it was best to avoid motorways, and thus TomTom guided the team via A roads. The journey would have been pleasant, if this route had not taken them through half a dozen roadworks, and they had not hit the suburbs of London just in time for the evening rush.

In the end, the trip took almost 3 hours, and the Tenacious 3 arrived at the Finnish Church with just 45 mins to spare before closing time.

And behold! There was no queue in sight, and there was plenty of room to browse the shelves leisurely. Soon their baskets were filled with tasty treats and vital ingredients from home: salmiakki, strong mustard, glögg, special pastry dough for Christmas tarts, Carelian pasties and aromatic sourdough rye bread to name a few.

Then the Soupwoman and her inhouse food critic took a well-earned break and enjoyed some hot glögg and kärkkäri style sausage with mustard in the conservatory/patio area. The simple culinary experience made the Soupwoman wax nostalgic – it had been a while since the last time she ate hot kärkkäri with her fingers outdoors.

The visit to the tills was less uplifting – the prices were steeper than steep even when taking the cost of refrigerated transport from Finland into account. But apparently, this Christmas fair provides most of the Church’s funding for the whole year, so the Soupwoman will classify this very expensive shopping spree as a source of some good karma. It is pretty nice when shopping becomes altruistic!

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No Soup For You!

The Original Soupwoman regretfully informs that there will be no “Soup of the Week” this week. The Soupwoman does not feel like having soup and does not want to publish any untested recipes.

The service will resume next week. Watch this space!

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