When I was a District Exchange Officer for Rotary districts in Minnesota and Wisconsin, I helped coordinate exchanges for students coming to our area from Finland and students from Minnesota and Wisconsin going to Finland. It was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot. For instance, I learned right away why Finnish students were amused by Minnesota’s slogan, “The land of 10,000 lakes.” Finland has over 187,000 lakes!
Once a year my wife and I invited the exchange Students from Finland in our Rotary Districts to spend a weekend at our home. Since the students were living in cities that could be more than 100 miles apart, we tried to make the weekend an opportunity for students to get better acquainted.
The rules were simple. Students could speak Finnish as much as they wished. My wife cooked Friday dinner and I made breakfast Saturday and Sunday. The students could make whatever they wanted for lunch and dinner Saturday and a final snack at Sunday noon. My job was to get the ingredients they needed.
We had a lot of fun together and enjoyed many of their favorite recipes, some of which had been sent via airmail from mothers and grandmothers in Finland.
One popular dish nearly every year was Lihamakaronilaatikko (Lee-hah-mah-cah-row-nee-lah-tee-ko), which is a Finnish version of a macaroni and hamburger hot dish. Instead of a tomato-based sauce with mixed vegetables, Lihamakaronilaatikko has a cream sauce. This is comfort food for a cold winter evening.
2 cups uncooked macaroni
1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion
1 T vegetable oil
2 cups milk
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 cup grated Swiss or Jack cheese
1/4 cup bread crumbs
3 T. butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Finely chop the onion . Heat the oil in a saucepan and brown the ground beef over moderate heat. When the meat is nearly done, add the onion and continue cooking until the onion is translucent. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon white pepper. Drain the meat if necessary.
Boil the macaroni in salted water until a bit more than half cooked. Drain the macaroni and mix it with the beef, then pour the mixture into a greased oven casserole.
Grate the cheese and beat the eggs until they are lemon yellow. Add the milk, grated cheese 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon white pepper. Mix well and pour over the macaroni-beef mixture. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and add a few small pieces of butter on the surface. Cover and cook at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, remove the cover and continue cooking for another half hour or until the batter has set.
NOTES. Like many other Scandinavian dishes, this is a white mildly spiced dish. Ketchup is the condiment of choice, so put the ketchup bottle on the table when you serve Lihamakaronilaatikko. Some versions are made with beef broth, but our student guests preferred this recipe.