Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Reindeer herder's pie

Finland's Finest (Hyvää Suomesta)- campaign invited bloggers to share stories about their relationship with Finnish food and come up with the recipe for the best home cooked dish. I myself spent my childhood up North where no-one would even hear of exotic treats such as dim sums and bagels. The shops didn't even know what Serrano ham was - any given body part of cold smoked reindeer on the other hand was never in shortage.

Those early years still managed to ignite my love of cooking and my warmest childhood memories are firmly linked to food. I can still remember the scent of onions being sautéed which always started my Dad's cooking sessions. And the freshly baked buns that greeted us on his days off as we got back from school. In the pickiest of families his role as the Masterchef of his own life, yearning to fulfill his culinary potential wasn't an easy one and often I was the only one who'd even touch any of his cooking. I left North to conquer the world as soon as I could and since then my love of food has only grown. I have gotten to enjoy the local culinary concoctions in more than 20 different countries and even feasted in Michelin-starred restaurants.

With each year both my palate and appreciation of good food has evolved and food has become a passion that eventually led to food blogging. These days a great meal means a successful combination of food and accompanying wine, balance of tastes and textures and aesthetic presentation. But I've also come to appreciate other aspects too: the origins of the ingredients, the conditions they were produced in, employment issues, carbon foot print and through all those, Finnish produce. Locally grown and produced ingredients and making the most of seasonal treats. Oh, the joy when the asparagus first hit the shelves! And the excitement before each mushroom season! And is there anything better than Finnish strawberry? And that reindeer... now I can't get enough of it.

And all the traditions and memories food transports! Women in my North Eastern family have a recipe for Nordic flat bread that has been passed on for generations. I too have gotten my hands on that and have made it my own: sometimes spiked with with sun dried tomatos and fresh basil. As well as dim sums my fingers have learnt to crimp traditional Carelian pasties too. And those bagels have found their match in the family recipe that I inherited from my larger than life great aunts from my Carelian side of the family.

As I've grown, I've also discovered the world of less used, cheaper cuts which, with a bit of time, produce amazingly tender treats. And offal of course! And Finnish fish... Herring for instance has been frowned upon, yet it's incredibly versatile! They can be turned into tapas treats, but just as well they work with now so trendy Asian flavours.
One thing hasn't changed though. Still today the best food is made by my Dad. Nothing comes close to the comforting embrace that is a plate (or three...!) of his mashed potatos with sausage gravy. And going back home wouldn't be anything without his spaghetti with mince sauce. And there it is, the most secret and carefully guarded ingredient in any chef's kitchen: love. When food is made with love, it can only be good.

And food - it is the language of love. And that's what home cooking is all about. Rounding up your nearest and dearest around the kitchen table. Switching off TV, leaving the phone on mute and logging off Facebook. Enjoying. Both food and being together. Taking one's time. And even humble home cooking is easily elevated to a whole new, more festive level with a little attention to the ingredients and presentation (and which one of us couldn't use a bit of sparkle in the middle of the mundanity of the everyday life?)

And so my entry in the contest, Reindeer herder's pie, is a tribute to my roots. My dad's mince gravy, his mashed potatos (the best in the world, people!), England - a country I've over the years come to regard as my other home and reindeer. Oh, and that pickier than thou family of mine, who, as I've come to finally understand, is the best family for me.

Reindeer mince sauce:

500 gr reindeer mince (lamb would work well too!)

1 large red onion
2 generous tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 dl lingonberry jam
10 whole allspice peppers (or 3/4 tsp ground variety)
1 large sprig of rosemary
1/2 l boiling water
1,5 tbsp game fond
salt, black pepper
for frying: butter

Finely chop the onion and sauté in butter until soft. Then add mince and brown it well. Depending on the pickiness of your dinner guests you could also add into the pan  a large carrot finely cubed. (Wild) mushrooms would work beautifully too. 

Sprinkle flour on top and mix. Let them cook for a while and then add boiling water that you've combined with fond. Mix until smooth, toss in the allspice, rosemary and lingonberry jam. Let simmer, covered , over medium heat for about half an hour until the sauce has thickened  a bit. Scoop out the rosemary sprig, check the taste and season as needed. Spoon into an oven-proof dish or 4 small bowls. Top with mashed potatos.

Mashed potatos:

1,2 kg potatos
150 g butter 
1 dl milk, hot
2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
1 tsp garlic powder
salt, white pepper

Boil or steam the potatos. If you boil them, steam them for a bit after you've poured put the water to get rid of all the moisture (this way you don't end up with glue-like mash). Mash (I like to use potato ricer). Heat butter in a heavy-based pot or pan until it stops bubbling and starts browning and emits a toffee-like scent. Stir into the potatos along with milk. Season. 

Spoon the mash on top of the mince to a smooth layer. If needed, use the back of a spoon dipped in hot milk to get it as even as possible. Decorate either with a piping bag or with a fork. Bake at 220° until the mash gets a gloriously golden colour.

*In collaboration with Hyvää Suomesta - campaign*

You get to vote for your favourite and let your voices and opinions (I know you've got them!) be heard. Voting starts today and ends on April 24th. There are prizes to be won, too! You can vote here!




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