Rhubarb Balsamic Reduction

This reduction is the result of some experimenting with rhubarb without using a lot of sugar. The rhubarb cooks down quickly if it’s diced finely, helping thicken the reduction and adding a rich, smooth texture. It’s slightly sweet, mostly tangy and peppery, and is wonderful as a sauce for pork or duck, or as the base for a vinaigrette.

  • 2 ounces fresh or frozen rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  1. Chop the rhubarb into small pieces. (about 1/2 cup)
  2. Stir together all the ingredients, except the pepper, in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Heat over medium heat to a simmer. Cook until reduced to 1/2 cup, using a liquid measuring cup to check. Adjust heat if necessary to maintain a simmer. Allow to cool.
  4. Process in a food processor until the mixture is smooth and blended. Stir in the black pepper.

Curried Chickpea Vegetable Soup

Serves 4

  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon za’atar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup diced carrots
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced Swiss chard stems
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped Swiss chard leaves
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup minced cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  1. Stir together the yogurt and za’atar in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, carrots, celery, and chard stems to the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and lightly browned.
  3. Add the garlic, ginger, tomato paste and curry powder to the pot, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and darkened, about 1 minute.
  4. Stir in the chard leaves, chickpeas, and broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat, and stir in the salt, cilantro, and lemon juice.
  6. Serve with a dollop of the spiced yogurt on top, and warm naan bread alongside.

Onion Mushroom Dal with Sri-Lankan Inspired Seasoning

This recipe features MOLA Foods‘ Sri-Lankan Inspired Seasoning Blend, and while traditionally served with rice, it is also great with a piece of firm whitefish, like halibut or cod.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 medium onion
  • 8 ounces portobello mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon MOLA Sri-Lankan Inspired Blend
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro

Method:

  1. Cook the red lentils as the package directs, until they are tender. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, peel and trim the onion, cut it in half root-to-stem, then lay flat side down and thinly slice root-to-stem.
  3. Clean and trim the stems of the mushrooms. Slice into 1/2-inch slices, then chop into bite-sized pieces.
  4. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the Sri-Lankan Blend, stir it into the oil, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Add the onions and mushrooms to the pan. Stir to coat evenly, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring and scraping the pan frequently to prevent burning, until they are soft and browned.
  6. Add the lentils and 1/2 cup cooking liquid to the pan, and stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen all the browned bits, and blend everything evenly. Stir in the salt. Remove from the heat.
  7. Top with the cilantro.

Serve with rice.

Ethiopian-Seasoned Chickpea Vegetable Soup

serves 4

Here’s another recipe using one of Mola’s seasoning blends. While I chose the Ethiopian-Inspired Blend, it would work well with almost any of Mola’s blends. If you like things really spicy, garnish with one of Mola’s Chili Relishes. (This is an excellent time for you to jump over to Mola’s website and see what they have on offer. 😉 )

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup diced carrots
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons MOLA Ethiopian-Inspired Blend
  • 5 ounces baby kale
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetarian broth
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  1. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat until it’s shimmering. Add the onions, carrots, and celery to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and lightly browned.
  2. Add the garlic, ginger, tomato paste, and Ethiopian-Inspired Blend to the pot, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is fragrant and darkened, about 1 minute.
  3. Stir in the baby kale, chickpeas, and broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, and the kale is wilted.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat, and stir in the lemon juice. Serve with your favorite flatbread.

If you try out this recipe, please consider donating to one of the food insecurity organizations at the link below:

Pantry/Freezer Vegetarian Pasta Sauce

serves 4-6

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup frozen chopped onions
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon jarred minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 x 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 x 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 8 ounces frozen pepper strips, or chopped peppers
  • 1 x 4-ounce can mushrooms, drained
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

***Measure out all your ingredients before you start cooking. You will be a calmer, more focused cook. (This is also known as “mise en place”.)***

  1. Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until it is shimmering.
  2. Add the onions, basil, garlic, oregano, paprika, and red pepper flakes to the skillet, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to prevent the mixture from burning.
  3. Add both kinds of tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms to the skillet, stir to combine, and bring to a simmer (small, frequent bubbles). Adjust the heat as needed to maintain a simmer, and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thickened a bit, and the herbs have softened and released their aromas.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and taste. Add a bit more salt and/or pepper if you like. Remove from heat. Serve over hot pasta or polenta.

Vietnamese-Inspired Shrimp and Cabbage Salad

Recently I was invited by LaFortune Jeannette Djabea, the founder and owner of MOLA Foods, to develop some recipes for a cookbook inspired by her unique and flavorful bottled spice blends. The spice blends, cookbook, and other products are available at the MOLA website.

This salad is just what I’m looking for in these post-holiday days. It’s light and crisp, the opposite of most of what I’ve been eating lately. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, this salad is perfect for warm summer days, as the shrimp cooks quickly without heating up the kitchen. It is just as delicious cold as it is warm, and it is also good the next day. The Vietnamese-Inspired Spice Blend is refreshing, but potent; if you like a bit less spice or heat, feel free to use less of the spice blend in either the shrimp or dressing, or both.

For the shrimp:

  • 12 ounces 26-35 count shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons MOLA Vietnamese-Inspired Blend
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the salad:

  • 4 cups shredded Napa cabbage
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup sliced scallions
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons MOLA Vietnamese-Inspired Blend
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  1. In a medium bowl, mix the Vietnamese-Inspired Spice Blend and the oil. Add the shrimp, and toss to coat thoroughly with the seasoned oil.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the cabbage, carrots, cilantro leaves, and scallions until mixed.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the vinegar, spice blend, soy sauce, sesame oil, and vegetable oil until well blended.
  4. Pour the salad dressing over the cabbage mixture, and toss to coat evenly.
  5. Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp to the skillet, in a single layer, and cook just until pink and beginning to curl up. Turn over after 2 minutes, to cook evenly. Remove from the pan to prevent overcooking, and serve over the cabbage salad, with rice or noodles.

This dish can also be served chilled. Dress the salad before you refrigerate it. Refrigerate the cooked shrimp until it’s time to serve.

Baker’s Solstice Countdown: December 21: Mom’s Gingerbread

This is a perfect bake for Winter Solstice Night. This gingerbread is dark as the longest night and full of warming spices to make you think of the heat of the returning sun. It has a surprisingly light, delicate texture, even after it has completely cooled. It is very hard to only eat one piece. You can serve it with vanilla ice cream, like my mom does, but it truly needs no accompaniment, and is as good the next day for breakfast with your beverage of choice. It’s also amazingly easy and quick to make. You definitely don’t want to save it just for holidays.

Mom’s Gingerbread

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup light molasses (unsulfured)
  • 1 cup boiling water

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Grease a 13-inch by 9-inch baking pan. Put a kettle on to boil the water. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, beat the egg until well mixed. Add the sugar and beat until mixed and lightened in color. Add the vegetable oil and molasses, and beat until combined, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl very well.
  3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in two parts, beating and scraping well between additions. Be sure everything is combined completely before the next step. Also, be sure the oven has preheated to 350 deg. F.
  4. Add the boiling water. Starting at low speed, mix the water into the batter, and when it’s combined, raise the speed to medium for about 1 minute to finish combining everything.
  5. Pour the batter all at once into the prepared pan, give it a little shake to move the batter into the corners and level it off, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a couple of places in the center comes out clean. Remove to a cooling rack to cool. It is easier to cut and serve at room temperature, but it is wonderful served slightly warm, as long as you handle it gently.

Baker’s Solstice Countdown: December 20: Liisa’s Salmon Christmas Pie

The whole family loves this pie, which was a relief the first time I made it, because I didn’t tell them what the filling was until after they had eaten it. I love this pie for its appearance, its flavor, and how easy it is to make. The potato pastry is forgiving of the most wanton abuse, putting up with being squished together and re-rolled again and again, and it stays splendidly workable even as it warms up, which makes it perfect for giving all those fancy decorations a go. Be sure to allow it to bake long enough to go deeply golden, to be sure it’s baked all the way through. The filling is moist and flavorful, but not heavy, and it’s all pre-cooked, so you can taste it as you go, and add more lemon juice and pepper if you like.

Liisa’s Salmon Christmas Pie

Ingredients:

-Crust-

  • 3/4 cup dry potato flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup firm butter
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups ice water

-Filling-

  • 1 pound smoked salmon (I use smoked salmon lox)
  • 1 cup cooked medium-grain rice
  • 3 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons dried dill weed or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

-Glaze-

  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon water

Method:

  1. Combine the potato flakes, salt, baking powder, and flour in a bowl or in the food processor with the steel blade in place. Cut the butter into small cubes, add to the dry ingredients and cut in using a pastry blender or fork, or using on/off pulses of the food processor, until butter is in pieces the size of split peas. Add ice water just until dry ingredients are moistened. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 45 minutes.
  2. Flake or chop the salmon into small pieces, and place in a bowl. Mix in the rice, eggs, dill, lemon juice, and pepper, until all ingredients are well blended and evenly distributed. Honestly, the best tool for this job is your clean hands, but you can use a fork if you prefer. Mix in the heavy cream with a fork until well incorporated. Chill until ready to use.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 400 deg. F. Mix the egg and water glaze in a small bowl, and have a pastry brush handy.
  1. Divide the dough into two parts. Roll out each part to 1/8-inch thickness, then use a plate and a sharp knife to cut a 10-inch circle. Save any trimmings for decorations.
  2. Transfer one of the dough circles to the prepared baking sheet. Spread the filling in an even layer over this dough circle, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge, and brush the edge of the crust with the egg glaze. Cover the filling with the other pastry circle, completely encasing the filling. Brush the underside edge with the glaze, then press the edges together to seal, with your fingers, or with the tines of a fork make a pretty design. Brush the top of the pie with glaze, roll out scraps of dough and cut strips, hearts, stars, or whatever strikes you to decorate the top of the pie. Brush again with the glaze. You can wrap the leftover dough in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. It can be rolled out thin, pierced all over with a fork, cut into crackers, and baked until crisp in a 400 deg. F oven.
  3. With a toothpick or sharp tip of a knife, make evenly spaced holes in the top of the pie to vent steam. Bake until deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve either warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

Baker’s Solstice Countdown: December 19: Finnish Christmas Stars

These are a project, but they are worth every minute spent on them. The pastry is easy to mix and handle, forgiving of some abuse, and yet bakes up light, layered, and delicately crisp. The prune filling is fruity and pleasantly sweet, far more than the sum of its parts. I’m not sure whose idea it was, back in the day, to market prunes merely as a remedy for irregularity, because that is definitely not all they are good for, and these pastries let the prunes have top billing. The prune filling might be tasty in the Almond Tarts.

These are best made no more than a day or two before you want to serve them, as the pearl sugar tends to melt and disappear after a few days, especially in a humid climate, and they can go a bit stale. That has not stopped anyone in this house from eating them, however.

Finnish Christmas Stars

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (8 ounces) pitted prunes
  • water to cover
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter

Glaze:

  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 cup pearl sugar or crushed sugar cubes for decoration

Method:

  1. In a small saucepan, cover the prunes with water, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Simmer slowly until the prunes are very soft. In a food processor or blender, puree the prunes and water until completely smooth. Add the lemon juice and sugar and blend until combined. Transfer the filling to a bowl and allow it to cool.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder together. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks. Add the flour to the bowl, and stir to mix using a flexible spatula. This may not be something you have ever done before, but trust in the process, and you will see a dough begin to form. Do not worry about being careful with this, as it’s not like making meringue or a soufflé, you’re not trying to keep the air in the mixture.
  3. Add the butter in large pieces, and begin to mix and knead the butter into the dough in the bowl, with your hands. Keep kneading until you can’t see any big pockets of butter any more. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  4. When you’re ready to roll out the dough, preheat the oven to 400 deg. F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Mix the egg and milk in a small bowl, and have a pastry brush handy. Put the pearl sugar in a small bowl.
  1. Flour a large work surface (you’re rolling the dough out into an 18-inch square, which is bigger than you think), and press the dough out into a rough square shape, then roll it to 1/4-inch thickness, keeping the square shape as best you can. This dough has a lot of flexibility, so you can pull it into shape a little without it tearing. If it tears, you can pinch it back together, and roll it out to smooth it. Keep lifting and turning the dough, and flouring underneath it, so it doesn’t stick to the work surface.
  2. Fold the left third of the dough over the center, then fold the right third over the center, creating a long rectangle of dough. Roll the dough out to seal the edges, then turn it horizontally, and fold in thirds again, creating a rough square of dough. Roll out again, maintaining the square shape, lifting and turning the dough to keep it from sticking as long as it’s manageable, then continue to roll out until you have an 18-inch square.
  3. USE A RULER. Mark the edges of the dough every 3 inches with a sharp knife, then using the ruler as a cutting guide, cut from top to bottom with the knife, making 3-inch wide strips.
  1. Working with one strip at a time, mark and cut 3-inch squares of dough. Make 1 1/2-inch diagonal cuts from the corners towards the center of each square of dough. Spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling into the center of the square, and fold every other cut corner point into the center over the filling, forming a pinwheel shape. If you fold the wrong corner in, it’s okay to fold it back out and fix it. Gently transfer the pinwheels on the prepared baking sheets.

(I like to fill one sheet, get it into the oven with a timer set so I don’t forget them, and then go back to work filling the next baking sheet.)

  1. Brush the pinwheels with the egg mixture, and sprinkle generously with the pearl sugar. Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Use a spatula to check the bottom of a couple of pinwheels, to make sure the bottoms are browned and crisp.
  2. Remove the baking sheet to a cooling rack, and let the pastries cool for a few minutes, then transfer them from the baking sheet to the cooling rack to finish cooling. If you are going to use that sheet again, line it with a new sheet of parchment paper.

Baker’s Solstice Countdown: December 18: Christmas Cake (Joulukakku)

Here is an unassuming little cake, awaiting its star turn tomorrow, when it becomes a Finnish Christmas Cake.

I learned of this Finnish traditional cake in Beatrice Ojakangas’ book, The Finnish Cookbook, but the cake recipe is my own. I adapted my mom’s buttermilk cake to add some Finnish flair, with lots of freshly ground cardamom and finely chopped dried cranberries. It only makes one layer, which is just fine for my small family, but if you want more, make another batch. Doubling cake recipes is not always a good idea, as there is chemistry involved that may not perform the same way when doubled.

Cranberries are the American cousin to lingonberries, a berry native to Finland and the Scandinavian countries, which you can only get in the form of lingonberry jam here in the United States. I have talked about cardamom before, so you already know how I feel about that.

The cake is baked and cooled. Then, the day it is to be served, it is sliced into two thin layers, filled with damson plum jam, or prune jam, and whipped cream, and also topped with whipped cream.

This is an easy, lovely cake for anytime, not just Christmas.

Begin with all ingredients at room temperature.

Cranberry-Cardamom Buttermilk Cake (Joulukakku)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cup cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 deg.F. Chop the dried cranberries into small pieces. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan on the bottom and sides.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, cream the 1/2 cup shortening and the sugar on medium-high speed until they are light and fluffy. Add the egg, and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy again. Add the almond extract and beat on medium speed to combine. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the mixing bowl between each addition.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together with a whisk or fork. Add the chopped cranberries to the dry ingredients, and toss to coat and distribute evenly.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk, and beat on medium speed until combined and smooth. Scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl between additions.
  5. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared cake pan, and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Allow the cake to cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then carefully run a thin knife around the edge and turn the cake out onto the cooling rack to cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap if you are not using it right away.