Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Kale carbonara

I stumbled upon half a bag of kale hiding at the back of my fridge. Resilient rascal, I must say - I don't even remember buying it! Not wanting to waste anything I had to think of something to do with it. And since I haven't made pasta in a while either this dish took care of both of those problems. It's not quite carbonara, so technically I shouldn't call it that. That was the inspiration though, with notes of that kale quiche. So, I also used some of the thyme that's still defiantly sitting on my window sill, having outlived its life expectancy by miles. Usually my herbs tend to lose their will to live quicker than their gardener. 

Would you believe if I told you that I made my own pasta again? Ok, neither would I. But I will tell you this: it did not come from Barilla. After the recent management level brain farts I'll happily leave those for the superstraight and übermacho Italian mama's boys.

If you have some, you could add Parmesan ( 1 dl) into the yolk- cream- mixture too in which case you can probably omit the cream entirely

A generous portion for 2 or a slightly more reasonable one for 3

2 portions of pappardelle or tagliatelle

4 leaves of kale
140 g bacon
2 large garlic cloves
2 yolks
2 dl cream
1 tsp mustard
A handful of thyme leaves
(salt) pepper

Cook pasta according to the instructions on the packet and in the meanwhile prepare the sauce.

Chop bacon into strips or chunks of your desired size. Fry on a pan until crisp. Lift out of the pan with a slotted spoon. Leave some of the bacon fat (a couple of tbsp) into the pan, lower the heat and fry thinly sliced garlic in it. 

Trim the kale: remove the hard stalk in the middle and if needed. any other harder core bits. Slice finely and add to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes (or longer if you want yours really soft).  Add some of the cooking liquid from pasta if needed. Then add thyme leaves. 

Whisk the yolks and add mustard, cream (and cheese if using). Season carefully as bacon in itself is very salty.

Drain pasta reserving some of the cooking liquid. Dump them into the pan, toss around for a bit until done and then pour in the yolk-cream- mixture. Remove from the heat - this stops the yolks from scrambling. The residual heat will cook the yolks. Serve. Like carbonara, I served mine with cracked black pepper I'd toasted on a hot pan. 




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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Caponata, capisci?

So that life wouldn't be all cakes and pies and buns, one has to make some real food every now and then. I saw some gloriously dark purple aubergines in the shop that found their way to caponata. And whaddayaknow - we have yet another vegetarian recipe in the blog! Not to mention one that's gluten-free and has no carbs!

Caponata is an Italian tomato bake/ salad, which is traditionally served at room temperature. Either as is (with wonderfully rustic, albeit white and therefore not terribly healthy bread...) or as a side dish or part of an antipasti spread. The ingredients and the cooking are simple, but like with so many simple dishes, the catch is the time it takes. See, first you have to sweat the aubergines, then fry them and then stew with tomatos. 

Without a doubt this is one of those classic recipes for on which everyone has their opinion and favourites, so feel free to work your own twists into it. Though, at least Jamie in Italy- series showed Italians are a rigid nation, stubbornly sticking to the way things "have always been done" so they wouldn't be getting too crazy with their classics. I don't even want to know what the mammas and nonnas would say about my use of cinnamon. But one of the things I have learnt in other Mediterranean cuisines is that cinnamon hearts tomato. 

As a main (perhaps with some green salad on the side) this would be enough for 2, as a side dish for 3-4

1 large (about 500 gr) aubergine
2 onions
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
3 large garlic cloves
400 g crushed tomatos
1 heaped tsp red wine vinegar
1 heaped tsp sugar
1/2 jar black olives
1 dl pine kernels, toasted
salt, pepper
big bunch of parsley

Cut the aubergine to slices of about 1 cm thick. Sprinkle liberally with salt and let them sweat for half and hour. Wipe clean and turn around. Repeat. Then cut each slice into 4 and fry in a  little bit of oil in batches. Drain on kitchen towel. Cut the onion into thickish slices and sauté until soft. Then add finely sliced garlic and cinnamon. Toss around a bit and add tinned tomato along with vinegar mixed with sugar. Then add aubergine and stir so everything is evenly coated. Keep cooking on low heat without a lid until the mixture is fairly dry - close to an hour. 

After about half an hour add the olives, rinsed and drained. Once it's ready, let cool . Before serving add pine kernels toasted lightly on a dry pan and the parsley leaves and check the taste, adding seasoning as needed (careful with salt - olives are salty!).




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Monday, 28 October 2013

Egg custard tart

When it comes to puddings, The Gentleman's opinions can be quite ruthless. Though nothing if not consistent. I don't think I've ever made anything that wouldn't have been greeted with "with custard it'd be even nicer". No wonder then that one of his all time favourites is this tart (no, I'm not referring to myself). Baked egg custard. Or, as it's known to some, egg custard. The ingredients are just that simple: Cream and eggs. And there you have it. 

Much like clafoutis and flan there are two schools when it comes to eating this: others like it while it's still a bit warm and jiggly. Others prefer it cooled and fully set. 

The original recipe came from here, though my own tart tin was so much bigger I had to multiply it by 1,5. This recipe did omit sugar entirely, so I too skipped it. The base turned out nice, but since it's missing the sugary sweetness, it does remind me of the buttery richness of puff pastry. Which is why I'm tempted to use this for savoury tarts instead. I'm already devising a recipe for a salmon tart...! Stay tuned!


3,5 dl all purpose flour
125 g butter
3-5 tbsp cold water

Rub the flour with butter to a crumbly mixture. This should be done as quickly as you can so it won't get too warm. Then add water 1 tbsp at a time until the mixture starts sticking together. Wrap tightly in cling film and let rest in the cold for half an hour.

Then roll it to a thin disc slightly bigger than the tart tin and, rolled around the rolling pin transfer to the tin. Trim the edges and let rest in cold while you're making the filling.

The custard:

4 eggs
2 yolks
3/4 dl sugar
7 dl cream
1 vanilla pod

Pre-heat the oven to 200°. Whisk the eggs and yolks lightly. Dip a pastry brush into the mixture and brush the base with it. This helps seal the surface - no blind baking needed! Split the vanilla pod, scoop out the seeds and combine with cream. Toss the skin in as well. Bring to boil and let cool. Then remove the skin of the vanilla pod. Whisk sugar into the egg-mixture and then, continuing to stir, add cream. Pour into the shell and carefully place the tin in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes at the lower part of the oven and then bring the heat down to 180°. Continue baking for 20 minutes until the filling has set. Let cool before serving.

Though this comforting pudding does have certain retro charm,
the Pacman-style staging was purely coincidental.

Had I had that blowtorch, I might have sprinkled some sugar on the ready, cooled tart and burnt the surfaced crème brûlée style. The crisp exterior would have complimented the creamy, rich interior pretty well...!




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Sunday, 27 October 2013

Wine, food and good life

Helsinki is currently hosting Wine, food and good life- fair. In case you're in town without anything else to do, you could do a lot worse.

At 10 am the only socially acceptable drink is Champagne, right? We kicked the day off with Mumm's Cordon Rouge and moved through Dom Perignon to Gratiot Pillière. But you know what? Carelia has totally ruined me. Big time. No other fizz gives me that buzz anymore. Lord (and my liver) knows I tried, but as I had to admit at Carelia's section, they just lacked that unicorniness. My profoundly professional analysis was greeted with an understanding nod: "unfortunately we only have Vilmart in the cellar right now".

And here we go... again.

Now that's a Christmas tree I'd highly approve!

We learnt a lot though. And launched a new word into our daily vocabulary: sabrage. Which, should you have a spare one just lying around, is performed with the back of the instrument. We got to witness Masutoaitemu- blog's delightful Riitta's performance. And coolly and ever so eloquently she executed it at her first ever try. Do pay attention how a blogger doesn't waste a single drop of this noble nectar!

After Champagnes we moved on to German whites and then on to the reds. One of the biggest surprises was this King we discovered at Californian wines. The wine delivers like the man in the white jumpsuit in his heyday - this wonderfully balanced Cabernet Sauvignon is well-rounded and full-bodied and would work with just about any food you can think of!

As the name of the fair would suggest, there was food too. Which is a core ingredient of that good life.

This sausage lover was in heaven.

Among the goodies I lugged back home were several treats from Tanninen. They didn't have the chilli- infused strawberry jam I've heard so many great things about, but smoked garlic jelly and sea buckthorn dressing gave me plenty of other things to focus on. 

Sweet tooth got taken care of as well. These orange- flavoured almond biscuits from Italy took my breath (and dreams of ever having a six-pack!) away.

Along with other gastronomical giants English delicacies were on display too - among other things in the form of these gorgeous jellies and marmalades  Pear and ginger chutney works like magic with the cheddar that the vendors advertised as "the best in the world".




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Saturday, 26 October 2013

Israeli salad

One of the things I miss tremendously from Middle East are the meze tables, heaving with all sorts of salads. Food there is so fresh and light! Which is a good thing - seeing how the bikini bodies on display on any given Tel Aviv beach are each more fabulous than the next.

In essence this is probably the most fundamental of all the salads and can be found just about anywhere in Middle East. Its roots lay in Turkish cuisine and a Shepherd's salad known as coban salatsi. Personally I've come to know as Israeli salad as it's hugely popular there.

Flavour-wise this is very much like tabbouleh: juicy, acidic and oh, so fresh, but without couscous this is even lighter (and carb-free and gluten-free and dairy-free and suitable for vegans and raw food fanatics!) The basic salad consists of cucumber, tomatos and onion, but avocado and watermelon would work brilliantly too. 

As a side dish this is enough for 4, as part of a meze table it serves upto 6

1/2 cucumber
4 tomatos
1 onion or the green bits of 4-5 spring onions
2 handfuls of parsley leaves, chopped
1 handful of mint leaves, chopped

juice of 1/2 lemon, olive oil, salt

Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop the seeds out with a teaspoon. Then cut into small cubes. Cut the tomatos in half, remove the seeds and cut into cubes of similar size. Finely chop the onion and, along with the herbs, mix into the salad. Season with salt, combine lemon juice with oil into a dressing and fold into the salad.

In the summer this is the #1 accompaniment with grilled  meats (if I just close my eyes I can smell the delicious aromas wafting out of the seaside restaurants in Jaffa...) - try it with Moroccan köftes or pinchitos. In the winter these provide a nicely balancing act for heavier meals such as stuffed cabbage.




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Friday, 25 October 2013

Stuffed cabbage with Middle Eastern twist

Stuffed cabbage. Just hearing the word takes my thoughts right back to my Nan's. And the school cafeteria. There is something so profoundly untrendy about them. They are well known dish in both Nordic and Eastern European cuisine, but because of their Torah scroll-like shape they are also a popular food during the Jewish celebration of Simchat Torah, which marks the completion of the annual reading cycle of Torah. 

With a little imagination these traditional treats, too, can be tweaked to a whole new glory. Today the inspiration came from Middle Eastern aromas I love so much. The earthy warmth of cumin and coriander seeds. Lamb, cardamom and cinnamon. You can use ready-made spice blends - for instance ras el hanout that I used for those Moroccan köftes would work well with these too.  If you don't like lamb or can't get hold of it, feel free to use any mince you want.

Instead of barley or rice that is normally used for stuffed cabbage I used bulghur to keep with the theme. Dark syrup glaze that usually accompanies these in Finland got substituted with pomegranate molasses that you've already encountered in Syrian chicken livers and fig and Serrano ham salad. I also sprinkled pomegranate seeds on top of the cabbage rolls - they're in season now and so juicy!

Since cabbage rolls are such a sturdy feast, I served them with tzatziki and Israeli salad, on which more tomorrow! 

I like my rolls with a generous amount of stuffing, so this recipe yields 16 rolls. With a little less stuffing this is enough for 20 stuffed cabbage rolls. 

1 large cabbage

1 dl bulghur

500 g lamb mince
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
generous 1,5 tsp cumin
generous 1,5 ttsp coriander seeds
generous  3/4 tsp cinnamon
generous 3/4 tsp cardamom
generous 1/2 tsp ground cloves
salt, pepper

For glazing: 

1/3 dl water
2 tbsp (pomegranate) syrup
a couple of knobs of butter or margarine

To serve:

pomegranate seeds

Cook the bulghur according to the instructions of the packet. Drain and let cool.

Heat some oil in a pan and sauté the onions until soft and translucent. Then add spices and toss the mixture in the pan until everything is well combined (add some oil/ water if needed).  Cook for a little while longer to really get the aromas going. Let the mixture cool and then combine with bulghur and mince to a smooth mixture. Season well and let it rest in the fridge while you prepare the cabbage leaves.

Scoop out the hard core from the cabbage and carefully remove the leaves you need for these (16-20 pieces). Trim the hard stalk running in the middle of the leaf at the core end of the leaf. You want it thin and pliable. Cook the leaves in a big pot of salted boiling water until soft. Drain.

Place the drained leaves in front of you with the core end towards you. Spoon the desired amount of filling on the centre of the leaf, at the edge closest to you, fold the sides on top of it and then roll into a tight parcel. Place into an oiled baking dish the seam side down. Mix the glaze and brush the parcels with it. 

Bake at 200° for about an hour. Keep glazing the parcels with the syrup-mixture collecting at the bottom of the dish.

And the rest of the cabbage? Of course it didn't go to waste - stay tuned for the next edition of Soup Sunday!




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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The fall of autumn

Though we did see snow for a couple of minutes in Helsinki as well,  so far we've been able to enjoy the most phenomenal of autumns. Glorious colours, sunny, bright days and wonderfully crisp evenings. There's no getting around it though - winter's coming. 

Autumn has always been my favourite season. It never fails to show how stunted my mental growth has been though: the huge piles of colourful leaves still make me want to run through them, kick them around and roll in them, giggling like a kid. The cool air makes me dream of plaid and chunky cable knits - a look I couldn't really pull of even quarter of a century ago.

And though there are still many great things about autumn, sun and warm climate have over the years become increasingly crucial to my will to live and overall mental health. Don't get me wrong - autumn is still ok, but its location, sandwiched between summer and winter doesn't really do it any favours. It's hard trying to rejoice over the beautiful sunny days when at the same time at the back of your head you're already fretting over when it's all going to end.

Having to say goodbye to the joys (and boys) of summer casts a nasty cloud over the joy of arrival of this glorious season. The darkness that follows just seems harder and harder to bear every year. And Lord knows I should be used to it - I come from Lapland after all! At its worst the sun won't come up at all over there! 

I should just try to focus on finding things that are good about this time. Like the we're months away from me having to even pretend I'm in bikini shape. Which calls for deep frying without a hint of guilty conscience. It also means stocking on candles and enjoying the cosy atmosphere they create. Which means a whole lot less cleaning  - nobody can see the dust in that lighting!

White wine will be traded in for red - just think of all the new varieties out there to discover! And with that my brain is already cooking up ideas for the months to come: slow-cooked casseroles, spices of the Orient that warm your soul and body, all the comforting pastas, game and traditional treats such as stuffed cabbage...

How about you? What do you have in store for autumn? What kind of food will you be turning to? And what would you like to see in the blog?




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