Sunday, 31 March 2013

Lemon and rosemary pudding cakes

I have a very special relationship with rosemary. I still remember the intoxicating scent of it lingering in the evening air in the summers close our apartment in Jerusalem. I simply cannot imagine life without it. In Hebron, West Bank, locating some was a bit trickier and required a 10-person impromptu seminar and a couple of conference calls to Canada. But I did find some in the end...

With lemon it's a combination that's hard to beat. Garlic completes them so wonderfully. Like any concerned parents we have followed closely the growing pains of our own lemon tree and it seems to be going through some complicated and anxiety-ridden years. The annual production is around five fruits. Luckily the trees in Mother-in-laws garden provide us an endless supply.

Our rosemary on the other hand performs very well. I've tried to pace myself and stop myself from using it in absolutely everything. But I suppose it was only matter of time before it found its way to a dessert...

The original recipe is probably from Food & Wine and has been much loved in our kitchen. Though of course that one day you need to get that perfect shot of the perfectly puffy and gorgeously golden pudding for your blog is the day it fails to (ahem) rise to the occasion.

The measurement below have been converted from the original, American cups, which is why they might strike a bit odd.

Serves 6

1,85 dl 
0,85 dl flour
3 eggs, separated
2 tbsp room temperature butter
1,5 tsp grated lemon zest
the juice of 1 lemon (appr. 5 tbsp)
1/4 tsp salt
2,5 dl milk
1 heaped tbsp chopped rosemary

Whisk the egg yolks with butter. In another bowl mix together the dry ingredients (apart from salt). Add lemon juice, zest, rosemary and milk into the yolks and mix well. Then add this to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Whisk the egg whites with salt until the foam is stiff and then gently fold this into the other ingredients. Pour into 6 ramekins that you're buttered lightly and place them in a baking tray. Pour hot water into the tray so it comes to halfway to the ramekins. Bake in 175 ° for 35 minutes or until they're puffy and golden on top. Try not to open the oven until they're ready to be taken out...

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Saturday, 30 March 2013


Sabayon, Zabaglione... Many names and many ways. And in case you have left over egg yolks in your fridge, wondering their next destination, this makes a great one. One that's also a good way to use up any leftover wine (I've heard that does happen in some households...). Traditionally the wine used for this is a (sweet) white wine, but I've also heard of versions with sparkling wine. I made mine with rosé as I love the subtle berriness it brings. Adjust the amount of sugar based on the sweetness of the wine you use.

Any berries are fine for this, but I particularly like the red ones. Today I used strawberries. But for instance grilled peaches (maybe with some raspberries) would be good too. Ooooh, perhaps with some rosemary!

This is a great way to get rid of the frozen berries as you get ready for the season of the fresh ones. If, however, using fresh berries, you might want to sprinkle them with some sugar (and perhaps your favourite tipple such as Cointreau) and let them macerate for an hour.

Serves 4

3 egg yolks
3 tbsp sugar
3/4 dl rosé-wine
1/4 tsp grated orange zest
1 tsp orange juice

Heat some water in a pan and place a bowl on top of it so the bottom of the pan won't touch the water and only gets the heat from the steam it creates (today's lesson in the Learn it the hard way-cooking school: make sure the bowl really can take the heat. Mine didn't...)

Put the ingredients in the bowl and start whisking. Once the mixture is billowy and has at least doubled in size, it's ready. Spoon over fruits or berries. 

You could also place the sabayon under the grill for a minute or 2 (or use one of those fancy blow-torches?) - just keep a close eye on it.

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Friday, 29 March 2013


Just like Finland, overwhelming majority of the Spanish are Christian. But here the  (Catholic) religiousness is visible in a completely different way. There are altars devoted to different saints embedded in the walls of ordinary homes. Every village seems to have their own patron saint that they celebrate and commemorate in the form of festivals. In close-by Mijas there's even a chapel marking the place where Virgin Mary herself is said to have lived for 500 years, inside a rock no less. At least that's what she had told to the couple of local children she had appeared to.

And if this doesn't feel freaky, then that's what the local Easter celebrations feel like - in the eyes of yours truly anyway. During the Holy Week, Santa Semana there are processions where the men walk around dressed in pointy hooded- robes. The robes cover their faces so that only eyes are visible through the holes cut in the fabric. 

Unfortunately I can't spoil you with photographic evidence of this Ku Klux Klan- like tradition, as this year we're spending Easter in Finland. With no religions shenanigans whatsoever. 

I don't celebrate Easter anyway but it's always nice to have some time off and enjoy getting together with friends around long meals (ok, so that's maybe not so different from our everyday life after all...) And it's a great time to celebrate the humble egg that so prominently symbolizes the resurrection and the circle of life in the Greek Easter tradition. 

And meringues are probably one of my favourite eggy treats. And since I realized I'd never made them myself, it was time to fix that. With that famous "how hard can it be" spirit. And true enough, hard it wasn't. As long as you remember a couple of things. Do not even attempt to whisk the egg whites by hand. Save your biceps and tears and use an electric mixer instead. The bowl and the mixer must be clean and dry. The egg whites should be slightly older and room temperature. The sugar (little by little) shouldn't be added into the egg whites until it forms stiff peaks. Oh, and if it rains you shouldn't be making meringues at all. Well folks, that's it really.

In case you, instead of free-form spooned ones, decide to pipe them, make sure you use a good quality piping bag. Not the sort of self-exploding one I used. Another equally bad idea is  panicking and trying to destroy the evidence by eating it all. Result: a very nauseous cook.

Both egg whites and yolks can be frozen, so in case you have left over egg whites (say, from penne with chorizo) this  is a great way to use them up. And the yolks left over from this operation can be utilized for crème patisserie, which you can use to fill the meringue nests. That too is nothing to fear, in spite of its high maintenance-sounding name. And it's a good recipe to have in your arsenal - this is said to be for pastry chefs what cement is for builders.


3 egg whites
1.5 dl sugar

Whisk the egg whites until the foam is firm. Then add sugar, little at a time whisking the whole time until the mixture is thick and glossy. If you want to colour the meringues with food colouring or flavour them with something, this is the moment to do that. Spoon (or pipe) the mixture onto a baking sheet and bake in 90° for 45 minutes until the meringues are dry. They might get a bit of colour, so for the last 10 minutes keep checking on them. Turn off the oven and let them dry in the residual heat.

Crème patisserie:

3 egg yolks
4 tbsp sugar
the seeds scraped off 1 vanilla pod (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
2 .5 dl milk
1 3/4 tbsp flour
1 3/4 tbsp corn starch

Mix yolks and sugar. Heat milk in a pan with vanilla. When it's come to boil, pour into the yolks mixing vigorously. Pour back into the pan and bring to boil, stirring continuously. Cook for at least 5 minutes (stirring) so the flour cooks and the mixture thickens. Let cool and. Fill the meringue nests with the cream and fresh berries.

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Thursday, 28 March 2013

Penne with chorizo

Since on top of everything else it was also free, I had to admit I'd ran out of excuses and agreed to got to the gym with my friend. It'd been years since the last time. But I can tell you distance hadn't made my heart grow any fonder...

But my aimless wondering around the equipment must have burnt at leats three calories and I emerged from the place not lookimng like a supermodel, but feeling hungry. And carbs are just what the athletes need, right? Especially since I haven't cooked any pasta in this blog yet!

This is the pasta I used to make with the local merguez back in Tunisia. Close to my home there was a synagogue and across the street from it a kosher butcher selling kosher merguez. I wanted to find a way to make the dish kosher too, so inspired by pide, I replaced the cream with an egg. And lo and behold, I saw it was good. You could also just use the yolk and save the egg whites for meringue (recipe to come shortly!).

The star in this act is a good, spicy fresh sausage. In case yours isnät very spicy or you just want  more kick, add 1,5 tsp chopped fresh chillies, 1 tsp pimiento and 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic.

In all its versatility pasta is an amazing thing. And quick one too: unless you start slowcooking a rustic ragu, just about any sauce will be ready in the time it takes to cook the macaroni. Fast, fabulous and fuss-free!

This is also our entry to Moko's best pasta- competition in Finland.

Serves 2

150 g penne
1 large red onion
200 g chorizo (or merguez, kielbasa or any spicy fresh sausage of your choice)
(1,5 tsp chopped fresh chillies, 1 tsp pimiento and 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic)
1 green pepper, chopped
2 (small) eggs
salt, pepper
3 handfuls of roughly chopped fresh parsley

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box. Slice chorizo and fry on the pan. As the gloriously flavourful fat starts seeping out, throw in the peppers. Let cook on moderate heat until peppers have softened - 5-7 minutes. Especially if the sausages you're using are lean, you might want to check occasionally that there's still some fat left in the pan so they won't burn. Add some oil if needed. If your sausage isn't very spicy, add the spices now. A couple of minutes before you're donw, add the sliced red onion. This way they still retain some of their crunch. Then toss in the drained pasta and lightly beaten eggs. Remove from heat and keep stirring so the residual heat cooks the eggs. (If needed) season with salt and pepper, add a generous sprinkling of parsley and enjoy!

I'd also like to remind you all that voting in the Finnish foodblogger's monthly food challenge is now open and will go on until Saturday March 30th. The theme was apple and our entry is walnut and apple loaf ("pähkinäistä omenaleipää" in Finnish)...

...and you can cast your vote here!
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Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The unbearable lightness of being heavy

There are a number of obstacles standing in between me and a thinner me (that might fit into that wedding dress). Many of them in my own head. Here's a sample of some of them.

The diet

If science with all its progress and astonishing achievements can produce three-headed sheep and seedless watermelons, then why not a carrot that tastes of bacon?

And everybody who's ever felt down knows carbs are an essential ingredient of comfort food. Sucking on the stem of a steamed broccoli just won't produce the kind of feel-good-hormones necessary. Oh, no.

Sure there are those who can eat anything they want and never put on weight; claiming they are "naturally thin". But you know what? There are even more people who are "naturally bulimic". And "naturally liars".

And I mean it's not like I don't watch what I eat. Because I do! First on my plate, then through my viewfinder, then on the computer screen and then as I blog about it.

I don't have anything against it. It just makes you sweaty. And hungry.

And it won't guarantee results, you know. I once bought a Pilates DVD - the advert promised results in the first week. That DVD has now been (the plastic wrapper still intact) in my bookshelf for four years. And the only pounds I've lost are £29.90 I paid for it.

The appearance

If black has a slimming effect, then white must do the exact opposite, right? Which means I haven't gotten fatter, it's just an optical illusion created by my white jeans.

And even if the waistband might feel loose some days, I have no difficulties convincing myself it's because I have magically and effortlessly lost loads of weight. And not because I left home in a hurry and forgot my belt.

All I really need is a 12ft man. Next to something like that I'd look so slim and petite!

And anyway, I come from a sturdy Carelian-Lapland stock. My people weren't meant to run marathons barefoot in the scorching desert sun. We we're created to survive inhumanely cold conditions. That and to flee Russians, while holding on to our heirlooms.
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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Country on the brink of bankruptcy

Before heading home from Malaga we found ourself ssmack in the middle of a demonstration where people had taken to the streets to protest corruption and the power of banks. It did (once again) remind me that the bubble I exist in in Spain, filled with love, cooking and gushing over glamorous ingredients is just that: a bubble.

The reality outside it is a lot less pretty.

There's no end in sight for the recession. Last year Spain had to resort to a bailout from EU, worth over €100 billion. Unemployment and poverty are rising and the future is bleak at best.

Reruns on English TV channels from years ago keep banging about the cheap property and are full of people who, with their heads spinning with heady promises take the plunge and chase their dream of living in the sun.

Only few of my friends who came here after that very dream still remain. For many the dream came to an abrupt yet somewhat inevitable end. Life requires money - even here.

The property bubble has bursted a long time ago. Everywhere you go, you see for sale- signs. Costa is littered with developments that the developers didn't have money to finish and people don't have money to buy - not even with the 100 % mortgages the huge billboards advertize. Even my financially fuzzy brain can't help but think there might be a connection with the general recklessness with money and the situation this country finds itself in.


Companies go bust every day. One of the latest victim was the organization behind Miss Spain pageant. Last year they didn't even have money to organise the contest.

This country's finances are even bigger mess than mine. My road will soon take me back to Finland - for work. I can't wait to get back here though. Money won't buy you happiness... but it can take you a lot closer.

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Monday, 25 March 2013

Shopping and siesta

Owing to the domestic production Spain makes a great shopping destination, especially for shoes. Particularly the area around Calle Nueva is great for this. And they all seem to have sales all the time. This whimsical shop had just been opened on Calle Nueva too - I know exactly where my niece and nephew are going to get their souvenirs...!

If culture is your thing, another place worth visiting is Malaga's Picasso museum. The biggest and most famous of his work are the naturally hanging on the walls of big museums and personal collections of famous gazillionaires, but if you're into Picasso, this museum dedicated to Malaga's marvel is worth making time for. Another museum Malagueñas are proud of is Carmen Thyssen, named after its baroness founder.

One thing worth taking into consideration when planning visits is the opening hours. Biggest tourist attractions are usually open all day during summer, but off season they too might close for siesta.

At lunchtime majority of the shops here close their doors to reopen after siesta, around 5pm. That used to get on my spreadsheet-filling, overachieving personality's nerve. These days though... it's muy bueno, actually.

One simply has no choice but to slow down and take the time to enjoy lunch.  Though... one never hears warnings about the perils of drinking and shopping. Once you've taken the time and truly enjoyed your lunch (and the wine) , the judgement can become somewhat impaired...


There's the risk of the colourful and not-always-age-appropriate elegance of the Spanish señoras rubbing off on one. Though... mint green patent leather (with leather soles! LEATHER soles! In Finnish spring?!) are probably just the thing that's been missing in my wardrobe? And leopard print is... a timeless classic? Especially if one plans a career pulling pints at Rover's...

As far as local produce is concerned, Malaga's most famous product is probably their sweet and strong wine. Especially Malaga Virgen is something one can't escape during fería, the fair celebrated in Malaga every July.

Some of the wines are quality stuff, as our dessert wines in Ronda showed. Some on the other hand... are downright dreadful. Or an acquired taste I just haven't yet acquired? You choose.

A great way to end a grand day out is visit to the newly renovated marina. The sunset looks particularly magnificent with a drink in hand.

Bar Kaleido spoils G&T aficionados big time. There are about 20 different gins and just about as many tonic varieties. And when you add to those the different available flavourings (lime? cucumber? grape fruit? rosemary?) settling for just one drink can be hard.

And even if the lunch gets stretched a bit, no worries. The last train towards Fuengirola even on Saturdays doesn't depart until 1030pm. And missing that isn't the end of el mundo either - taxi back to Arroyo is still less than €30.

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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Tapas bar-hopping in Malaga

The Gentleman is definitely my deserted island person. With him everything just is so much more fun. And one of the most fun things with him are our downright legendary lunches in Malaga.

The tapas of San Sebastian are widely considered the best. But for tapas bar-crawl Malaga is pretty damn fantastic. The streets around Calle Granada and Calle Calderería are perfect for it. One tapa here, another one over there and - what was that? More wine, you say?  Claro que si!

This time we were after a new kind of tapas experience though. Dani Garcia is a legendary chef and runs a Michelin-starred restaurant in Marbella. He is the ambassador of new Andalusian cuisine and has a tapas bar called Manzanilla in Malaga, where he reinterprets traditional Andalusian delicacies with a modern and innovative twist.

How would you like foie gras and goat cheese millefeuille with apple crisp and grape yoghurt? Even crisps here are served with truffle mayonnaise...

Restaurant's cherry gazpacho has reached a cult-like status and has actually been trademarked. The innovative streak is evident in ingredients, but also in presentation. What a brilliant excuse for the foodblogger to go crazy with her Canon! And I wasn't the only one... "Doesn't anyone just eat anymore?" The Gentleman exclaimed, exasperated.

These chocolate truffles were in fact croquetas made with squid cooked in its own ink and came with yuzu mayonnaise.

These olives, presented in a quail egg container were stuffed among other things with salmorejo, cold, garlicky tomato soup.

Overall the flavours were in perfect harmony. From Vietnamese-inspired lettuce rolls I initially expected a bolder bite, but the spiciness and mild mintiness surprised the palate just a second later. Tuna had unfortunately already run out in this wildly popular restaurant, so tataki with soy and grated tomato  and tuna tartar with passionfruit juice were treats I had to go without. Maybe next time...

Señor Garcia had just opened another Manzanilla in New York and coincidentally we found ourselves sitting next to a New Yorker who had just visited the place prior to getting on the plane to Spain. "This one is miles better" was her verdict.

We ate more than we intended and drank more than we remember, but the bill still came at under €50. And they say good doesn't come cheap...

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Saturday, 23 March 2013

Market in Malaga

Swiftly approaching middle age, stubbornly perched on my shoulder like organ grinder's monkey, once more reminded of its existence. "Whaat?! The price has gone up again?!" I found myself moaning out loud as I was buying tickets to C1- train operating between Fuengirola and Malaga.

The line is one of the busiest in the country and the journey from our station of Benalmadena-Arroyo de la Miel takes less than half an hour.

As soon as one leaves Malaga's central station on Almeda Principal street there's the market of Mercado de Atarazanas. Though there are supermercados at every street corner, the market culture is very much alive. And there are few things this little piggy loves as much as going to the market!

There's fish...

and meats...

and cheeses...

And mushrooms...

and nuts galore...

and dried fruits of all sorts...

and about 600 different sorts of olives...

and at least as much variety when it comes to spices...

and don't even get me started on the vegs!

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Friday, 22 March 2013

Gambas pilpil

Early spring in Andalusia can be every bit as fickle as a woman. In the throes of PMS. At the Boxing day sale in Harrods. 

In the morning there's a promise of summer in the air: freshly cut grass and all sorts of scents that one normally has to wait until June to have in Finland. Then, towards the evening  the air is heavy with the sort of misty goodbyes that I associate with late autumn evenings when it's time to realize that summer is once again well and truly gone.

So, in the course of one day it's perfectly possible to burns one's face in the sun and come down with a flu. As yours truly did just the other day, having sweated through my PJs, Gentleman's robe and the thick down-filled duvet under which I had fled in my Eskimo gear.

 And condition like this calls for chilli. And garlic. Gambas pilpil to the rescue!

This is one of the most legendary tapas classics and one of our all time favourites. At least as crucial an ingredient is a huge pile of bread with which to mop up every last drop of the garlic and chilli- infused oil. This is a great opportunity to put those Godfather-taught lessons on slicing garlic to use...

Dieters, those of nervous disposition and anyone inspired by the Twilight trilogy and dreaming of career in vampyrism look the other way. This treat isn't for you. But if you want to find something good about this, it's the flavour. Dios mios, it's gorgeous!

And anyway- I wouldn't make much of a girlfriend for a garlic-phobe anyway...

Since I was home alone and not looking to get any hot French kisses from anyone anyway... I went crazy with these. Under normal circumstances this portion feeds to as tapas.

12 king prawns
4 big cloves of garlic
2 tbsp pimiento or any other mild paprika
2 heaped tbsp butter
6 heaped tbsp oil
salt, pepper

Peel the prawns. Pat them dry, season generously with salt and pepper and keep in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Heat oil and butter in a pan. As it starts bubbling, add paprika, thinly sliced garlic and chilli. Keep stirring so the garlic won't burn and turn everything bitter.

As the garlic has softened and gained a bit of colour throw in the king prawns. Let cook stirring the prawns and making sure the prawns are coated in oil - for about 5 minutes.

Enjoy with or without... no, make that with bread. 

Normally these would be cooked and served in a terracotta dish.
But that would just be too authentic for our Scandinavian aesthetics...

And today's valuable lesson was: really make sure you wash your hands after handling chilli. Really. They really don't feel nice in your eyes. Or ears. Or any other orefices.

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Thursday, 21 March 2013

Pork stuffed with apricots

Bigger meat-preparing-ventures are The Gentleman's domain. Barbecue, man and a stupendous slab of meat are just one of those things that belong together.

And he does a mighty fine job at it, too. Duck is cooked to perfection every time. Once to a point it actually reduced yours truly to tears. Though work-related exhaustion might have had something to do with it.

Today, however, I took over. And made pork. Probably for the first time ever. The sauce was so good I actually licked the pan.

For 2


appr. 500 gr pork fillet
12 dried apricots, halved
1 heaped tbsp butter
1 tbsp thyme
the paste squeezed out of 1 large clove of garlic (or 2 small ones)
(instructions here)
salt, pepper to taste

Apricot sauce:

6 dried apricots
2 dl stock
the paste squeezed from 2 large cloves of garlic
dash of white wine
1 tbsp butter
0.5 tbsp rosemary (or thyme)
2 heaped tbsp cream cheese/ Turkish yoghurt/ appr. 1 dl cream
salt, pepper to taste

Cut the pork fillet open to a sheet- I do it by taking the knife to about 1,5 cm deep and then following the form. Mix together butter, roasted garlic paste and thyme and spread the paste on the pork. Season with salt and pepper and roll tightly. Season the outside too and sear it on the pan in a butter-oil-blend to give the exterior nice, golden colour. Toothpick and butchers string are without a doubt a lot handier tools than say, bare fingers...

Then wrap the pork in foil, bake in 200 for 20 minutes. After removing from the oven, let rest in the foil for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile make the sauce. Cook the apricots in the stock for a little while until they soften and plump up a bit. Keep an eye on the pan, as the sugar from the apricots will give the liquid a syrupy consistency which can easily burn. Blizz with a blender together with the roasted garlic paste. Add butter into the pan you just used and then the white wine to get all the flavours out. Then add the apricot paste and mix until smooth. Add the herb and bring the heat up. Then add the cream cheese/ cream/ yoghurt and mix well. Let simmer for about 5 minutes. Season as needed and serve with the pork.

Slice the pork and pour any juices left in the foil into the sauce.

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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Picnic rolls for the early bird

Our corner of Spain is apparently the windiest place in Spain right after the southernmost tip of the country. And when the wind blows, my God, it blows. The noise is enough to keep a grown man awake. And if it isn't the grown man's snoring is enough to keep everybody else awake... So, sometimes one just has to give up on the dream of a good night's sleep (the other alternative would involve an axe, so getting up just might be the more sensible thing to do) and find something else to do. Such as baking and bread-making.

The Mother-in-law is always puzzled witnessing this. "Doesn't she know shops sell bread?" she keeps asking.

And sure they do. But there's something so magical and comforting about the smell of freshly-baked bread straight out of the oven that it's well worth the effort.

This time the plan was to bake that much-beloved serrano ham into rolls. But then the idea (sleep-deprived, hyper) took on a life of it's own and I got thinking that with the same effort I could just bake the entire antipasti- selection in the fridge into the rolls. You know, to make the kind of ultimate picnic roll! And sure you can do that. But in the name of aesthetics, purism and the ease of the actual rolling... there's nothing wrong with just settling for the ham.

makes 12 rolls

The dough:

2 dl warm water
12.5 g yeast
4,5 - 5 dl all purpose flour
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
(if you want, you could add 1 tbsp of herbs of your choice: rosemary for one would be lovely)


6 slices of serrano ham 
1 tbsp pine nuts
(and/ or olives, pickled pearl onions, sun-dried tomatos... anything you want)

For brushing: 


Let the yeast dissolve in warm water and mix in sugar. Let rest for a little while while the yeast activates. Then add 1 dl of flour and mix. Then add salt and the remaining flour. When the dough starts to form a dough that won't stick to your hands add oil and form into a smooth dough. Place it in a bowl and cover. Let rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour).

Knead the dough getting rid of the air. Roll out to a sheet (30 cm x 30 cm) on floured surface. Transfer to a baking sheet. Sprinkle the pine nuts on the sheet and then place the ham evenly on top. Roll fairly tightly. Cut in 12 and place the portions in a muffing tray the cut side up. Cover with a cloth and let rise for around half an hour. Brush with oil (this is a great way to use up all the oil leftover at the bottom of sun-dried tomato jars and the like. Never throw the oil away after you've eaten the goodies - the oil, having soaked up all the flavours is just divine!) Bake in 200 for 15-20 minutes.

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Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Croquetas de jamón - simply the best!

In all their simplicity croquetas are one of my all time favourite tapas. Perhaps one of my all time favourite foods. There's saltiness, crunch, ham... and deep-frying - what's not to like!

And though you can use just about anything to stuff these, it's probably the very ham that makes the biggest treat. The Gentleman on the other hand loves croquetas I've put together using leftover mince. Personally I like frying the chopped ham first (no fat needed) to give it extra crispiness and bring out the toastiness that strenghtens the flavour of the ham. But you do as you see best.

Making these is not difficult, but it does take some time: the bechamel sauce should be made a day in advance and kept in the fridge to help it set. If that takes too much patience, try to let it cool and set at least for a couple of hours.

Deep-frying is easy too, as long as you get the hang of it. Oil is like... an angry woman. It's hot and all over the place, but you have to learn to listen to it. If it's too hot, the croquetas will burn on the outside and the insides start exploding all over the pan and the kitchen. If it's not hot enough, the croquetas will just float idly in the fat and won't get that crisp exterior. And with this one too there's the danger that the longer they sit there, boiling, the interior starts to seep out. It's best to make sure that the temperature is right before each batch.

Another thing that should be remembered (when ever deep-frying anything) that they should be fried in (depending on the size of your pan) batches of few. In a crowded pan the oil will cool and ... well, the results are detailed in the previous sentences.

If you make your own breadcrumbs using old bread (as I do), make sure that the crumbs you use for these are finely ground.

This batch makes 24. During my calorie-conscious days I have tried to make just half a batch but I regretted it straight away.


2 tbsp oil
4 tbsp butter
3 heaped tbsp all purpose flour
3 3/4 dl milk, heated
6 tbsp serrano ham, chopped
salt, white pepper


2 eggs



In a pan heat the oil and butter. As it has melted, add flour and stir vigorously for a couple of minutes until the flour and fat are completely incorporated.

Add appr. 1 dl milk and crank the heat up until the mixture starts bubbling. Then add rest of the milk and keep stirring energetically until the mixture starts thickening - about 5-7 minutes. Turn the heat down and keep cooking so all the flour will cook. Keep stirring to prevent any lumps.

If you feel tempted to add more flour to expedite the firming up  of the mixture, the texture of the croquetas will suffer. Underneath the crisp coating the inside should be melt-in-your-mouth light. If you add too much g´flour, the texture will get a bit gluey. I should know. That's another mistake I have done so you won't have to...

Finally add the chopped ham and season. Be careful though as the ham is salty in itself. Cook for a little while longer and spread the mixture evenly on an lightly oiled dish. Let cool in the room temperature and then keep in the fridge until it has set, preferably the next day.

Using a teaspoon take out dollops of the mixture and form them into little balls. Toss them carefully in the breadcrumbs, then in the beaten egg and then for second time in the breadcrumbs. The easiest way is the conveyor belt method: work in the batches of few croquetas breading them all, then dunking them in eggs and then breading them for the second time.

After you're done with all croquetas, keep them in the fridge for at at least half an hour. AT this point you could also freeze them.

Then fry in hot oil in batches of few croquetas until gloriously golden brown. Drain on kitchen towel and enjoy. Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh.....

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Monday, 18 March 2013

Pigging out

No matter hoI make decisions to cut back on red meat and quit pork altogether, they never last here in Spain. They do like their pork around here.

So, when ever I return to Finland my suitcase, stuffed with chorizo, fuet, jamón iberico, paleta curada, pate jamón and longazina, smells like an Aberdeen abattoir.

During my first ever trip to Spain I was puzzled by the tennis racket-shaped bags the tourists carried around - I had always though golf was the game du rigueur in Costa. An incident involving an absent-minded passenger finally shed some light into the mystery:  they didn't contain rackets of any kind but legs of pork!

Spain's biggest contribution to the gourmands everywhere is that very ham. Spain is not just the biggest producer in the world, it's also the biggest consumer of this delicacy: the annual consumption is around 5 kilos per person. Even the local IKEAs offer - in addition to the classic (horse?)meatballs - serrano ham stuffed baguettes.

Kosher and halal dietary restrictions have often been explained with disease caused by Trichinella spiralis- parasite that can be found in uncooked pork meat. Iberico breed on the other hand is clean of this pest.

When The Gentleman first bought the house it was still work in progress and kitchen for instance was a far cry from what it is today. There were no appliances (hell- we didn't even have hot water!) but in the middle of the kitchen island there was a contraption consisting of two metal pieces. After a while of bewildered staring we were told it was a ham stand - claro que si!

In the Andalusia region the hams from Jabugo are widely considered the best. In the shops one can see two types of legs: paletas, which are the front legs, and jamóns, the back legs.

Paleta will set you back around €20. The prices for Serrano start around €50 and for iberico around €80.

Jamón Serrano is the "ordinary" cured ham. Jamón Iberico, also known as pata negra, is the ham from the black hooved iberico piggies.

Just like fine wines, this delicacy has its own Denominations of Origin. The supervising authorities dictate, that ham sold as iberico must be at least 75% iberico breed. The finest of the finest is iberico de bellota, pigs fed solely acorns (and occasionally lavender). The price per kilo for this treat can go into hundreds of euros.

As the ham cures and dries, liquid (fat) seeps out and during this process which takes months, the weight can drop to half of the initial weight. The ageing process then continues in the back rooms of bodegas and cocinas and just like men from Manchester, they only get better with time. 

The fat fanatics need not worry about the white fat trimming around the edges of the ham. I just read somewhere (10 hour flights have their perks- one really has no choice but to catch up on reading...) that as a result of the curing process the fat left in the ham is actually the good, polyunsaturated kind. So, get HAMmered!

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Saturday, 16 March 2013

Asian squid sausage

So far I've tried and failed at dry January and fasting February. So, in keeping with the theme, this month could have been meatless March. Which, without a doubt, I would have cocked up was well.

As you might have already figured out, I love meat. During our holidays The Gentleman takes pictures of sights representing mankind's significant cultural heritage. I... I glue my nose (and lense) to butcher's windows and admire... cold cuts.

When a sausage is good, it just is... something really good. When the quality (and quantity) of the meat has not been compromised, I'm game the way Rudolf the Reindeer could not have imagined.

The Gentleman owns a house in England too, surrounded with some veritable Emmerdale scenery. The butcher in the village is one of the best I've ever come across. Sure he's got your traditional pork sausages and cumberlands, but also chicken with ginger and lemon grass and some seriously spicy chilli sausages. And all meat- no flour, pink slime (or horse ) anywhere in sight.

In Helsinki my pilgrimage takes me to Hakaniemi market hall and to Hakkarainen's stall. Their selection  of fresh sausages is the best in the city. Perhaps in the whole of Finland...?

And as much as I would love to make my own, I lack the skills and this kitchen lacks the facilities. So, I'll just settle for stuffing those squids.

I've made them with a variety of stuffings: squid-spinach stuffing, prawns and even with chorizo. This time we did it the Gangnam style. Well, no. But with some Asian influences anyway. As the stuffing is, owing to the coconut flakes, pretty dry, you might want to use fattier mince such as pork for this. Or a blend of pork and beef. But there's nothing wrong with using just beef. In that case you might want to add a couple of teaspoons of tomato sauce to add a little moisture into the mixture.

And again, if squid is not your thing, you can use the mixture to roll some Asian-flavoured meatballs!

The best variety for these are calamari pequeño, the small ones. They're about 10 cm x 5 cm in size. I usually buy a bigger batch, clean them and then freeze in suitable portions. For instructions on cleaning squid, please see here.

This calls for intact tubes, but the broken ones are still good for plenty of other things. I freeze them (and the tentacles) for later use: Tunisian style stuffed calamari or marinated seafood salad.

Makes 6

6 cleaned small squid tubes
150 gr mince
2 tbsp coriander, chopped (as these are cooked, this is a fine way to use the stalks too)
1 heaped tbsp spring onions or chives, chopped
1,5 tbsp lime zest
the juice of 1/2 lime
1,5 tsp ginger, grated
1 big garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small chilli (or less or more, depending on your palate and the fieriness of your chilli)
1 tbsp coconut flakes
1,5 tbsp soy sauce

Mix the ingredients to a smooth paste. Let it sit in the cold for a while as this will help the flavours to come together. Shape into 6 kebab-like sausages (the tubes are easier to stuff this way). Pat the tubes dry and stuff with the mince. If needed, use your fingers to make sure the stuffing goes in all the way to the end of the tube. Don't overstuff, as these will balloon when cooked. 

The squid sausage before...

Close the tubes with a tooth pick, sprinkle some oil on them and cook in a grill or a griddle pan for a couple of minutes per side. Before cooking, you might want to pierce them with a tooth pick to help the steam get out without the whole squid bursting, as that is not a look you or your kitchen are going for this spring.

...and after the grill.

Today these were served with a minty (fresh from our own garden- oh, joy...) cucumber salad.

1 small cucumber 
handful of chopped mint leaves
appr. 1/2 lime, juiced
a sprinkling of garlic powder
another one of ginger
salt to taste

Split the cucumber in half lengthways. Scoop the watery bit in the middle using a teaspoon. Slice the cucumber lengthways into thin strips, using either a vegetable peeler or a mandolin. Mix with the rest of the ingredients and let sit and soften for about 10 minutes.

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