Friday, April 11, 2014

Finnish-Style Beef & Brussels Sprout Casserole

As I mentioned in the previous post, my Lenten abstention from personal social media has caused me to fall in love with my cookbooks all over again.  And there's one in particular that I've been meaning to explore much more because it's an entirely new realm for me -- The Finnish Cookbook.

1967 Edition

The Mister's paternal grandmother is 100% Finn, making that the bulk of his genetic makeup -- despite the fact he looks as blatantly Celtic as I do.  When we started dating I knew pretty much nothing about Finland other than where to find it on the map, what their flag looked like, and that I thought their capital city always had a cool name.  But once I heard the tale of great-grandpa Kantola carrying his wife AND a cast iron cook stove through deep snow, during a blizzard,  I knew I needed to learn more about the Finns on the whole.  So naturally, when I want to learn about a culture, I want to know what they eat, because what they eat, how they eat and the traditions surrounding food reveal a great deal about a people.  So I snagged a copy of the above cookbook on Amazon sat on my bookshelf for about a year.  I did try my hand at some dumplings and potato broth, that were both pretty decent, but then back to the bookshelf it went...until this week.  

I knew I wanted to make something with the Brussels sprouts, but after searching the index it was clear that they're not a part of traditional Finnish cuisine.  But cabbage is, and Bsprouts are like micro-cabbages, so I can make this work.  I stumbled across a recipe for a meat & cabbage casserole called, Lihakaalilaatikko, and after making my brain hurt trying to figure out how to pronounce entirely too many vowels and double letters, I decided this would be the one to try (if you want to practice a tongue twister, click the speaker on this Google translation of the word).  Looking over the ingredients, I was pretty skeptical as to how it would turn out.  The only seasonings were salt and marjoram, that's it, and you don't even season the beef.  Plus, it was 2 tsp of salt onto the Bsprouts, so I'm picturing a pile of bland meat layered between indelibly salty veg.  Goodie.  But I was already modifying it with the Brussels sprouts, and I had to do all our allergen swaps to make it dairy, egg & gluten free, so I felt I would stray way too far from the original if I started adding onion or even pepper.  As I went to layer the casserole I quickly realized I had way too few Bsprouts to make even two proper layers, which meant it was a smattering of veg with a loaf of meat in between.  It looked weird, but into my oven it went and then something magical kitchen began to smell amazing!  After about 50 minutes, I pulled it and dove in and oh holy night, it was DELISH!  A titch on the salty side for my tastes, but if I double the Bsprouts, it wont' be as concentrated, and perhaps I'll back the salt down by 1/2 tsp next time.  Otherwise, I would change nothing!

So if you still have Bsprouts left from last week's Crop Share, definitely give this a try!

Finnish-Style Beef & Brussels Sprout Casserole

1 bundle of Brussels sprouts, shredded    (if there's more Bsprouts at Nalls, grab another bundle as doubling this would make it perfect, or use 1 small head of cabbage in place of Bsprouts)
2 Tbsp butter    (used Earth Balance margarine for dairy-free)
2 Tbsp lite corn syrup
1 tsp salt    (use 2 or 1 1/2 tsp if doubling the Bsprouts or using cabbage, otherwise too salty)
1/4 tsp ground marjoram
1 lb ground lean beef
2 cups plain bread crumbs    (pulsed up 2 leftover gluten-free hot dog buns)
1/2 cup milk    (used plain rice milk for dairy free)
2 eggs, beaten    (used 2 egg equivalent of Ener-G egg replacer)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and butter a 2-quart casserole dish.

In the original recipe, it calls for boiling the cabbage/Brussels sprouts for 5 minutes and then tossing with other ingredients, but in thinking that this would come out horribly bland, I sauteed the shredded Brussels sprouts in the butter, corn syrup, salt and marjoram, cooking it over medium high heat for about 3-5 minutes.  Then set aside while you prep the meat mixture.  Also, the original recipe calls for dark corn syrup, so you can absolutely use that, I just had to play it gluten-safe when I saw "caramel-coloring" on the ingredients list of the dark stuff.  I'm sure you could also use agave or even local honey to get a very similar result, and if you cook it until the Bsprouts are golden and krispy, on it's own it would make a great topping for soup, steaks or even eaten as it like Brussels sprouts popcorn!  Yum!

In a medium sized bowl, mix together your beef, bread crumbs, milk and eggs until well combined.

Then starting with your Brussels sprouts layer the veg and the beef in alternating layers, starting and ending with the Brussels sprouts.  Now with just our usual Crop Share bundle of Bsprouts, you'll only have enough for a scant bottom and top layer, so either layer all on the top, or double or even triple the amount of Bsprouts so you can do proper layers.  Either way, it's going to be delicious, so don't worry so much about making perfect layers or presentation, the taste is all that matters here.

Bake casserole in oven at 350 for about 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until internal temperature of meat in the center of the dish is 160 degrees.

Serve with a side of fresh cranberry relish or even homemade applesauce as a way to balance the heavy meat with something bright and fresh.

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