Thursday, 28 November 2013

Comfort food at its best

This British classic is comfort food at its best. The way mash always is. It wraps its arms around you, placing a soothing kiss on your forehead and promises that tomorrow everything will be better again. Shepherd's pie, ladies and gentlemen. A meaty version of the fish pie

As simple as the ingredients really are, the combination is still too complicated for my legendarily fussy Niece and Nephew. "Did you see that? She put carrots into it. Carrots! Who does she think she is?!" Yeah... but that's what traditionally goes into this. Depending on the gastronomic limitations of the diners you could hide other veggies into this too. In order to smuggle a bit more nutrients into the mix you could also substitute some of the potatos with other root veggies or pureed white beans.

Traditionally the dish is made with minced lamb, but of course you can make it using any mince you can get hold of. In that case it just isn't shepherd's pie as The Gentleman never tires of pointing out...

I pimped my lamb mince with some cranberry gelée seeing how well it worked with lamb tongue and reindeer burgers too!

Serves 4-6

The mince:

500 g (lamb) mince
2 onions
2 carrots
2 large garlic cloves
a couple of dl strong stock (game if you have some)
1 heaped tsp ground cloves
6 allspice peppers
salt, black pepper
1 generous tbsp cranberry gelée (lingonberry jelly would probably work too)

The mash:

1 kg potatos
200 g butter
2 egg yolks
salt, white pepper
a big pinch of cumin seeds
(hot) milk

Peel the carrots and cut into small cubes. Peel and chop the onions finely and sauté them in a bit of oil. Add mice and brown it. Then add carrots, stock, cranberry gelée and cloves. Cook over moderate heat, covered, until the carrots have softened. Stir every now and then to make sure it doesn't burn and add more stock as needed. Season and spread on the bottom of an oven-proof dish. 

Peel and steam/ boil potatos until done. Mash them with butter and add milk if needed. Once its cooled a bit add yolks. Add milk if needed for the right consistency and season. Spoon over the mince- For a smooth finish use the back of a spoon dipped in hot milk. If you want, decorate with either a piping bag or fork. 

Bake at 200° until nicely browned.




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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Festive treats

Families, eh?First few decades they do your head in as they're just so... annoying. And then slowly, you start to appreciate them. Miss, even! And then you find yourself feeling genuinely happy at the family getting even bigger as new members either join or are born into it. I've had my Niece and Nephew to bring me joy (and grey hair) for a while now, but now, in addition to that I also have my Goddaughter. And the latest addition: My British Brother's girlfriend Mane Magician! Oh, joy!

A little while back we threw together a birthday party for my brother - here are some of the treats we rustled up (fresh out of the Wine Expo, no less...!) . This is the season for endless cocktail parties anyway! And soon there's Hanukkah and Thanksgiving and Christmas and Kwanzaa and then it's time to start planning the New Year celebrations!

We had those mini quiches with fennel infused cold smoked reindeer that we probably should have made double the amount of. These little babies are also competing in a a fellow blogger's game challenge  - feel free to cast your vote here!

Using the soft flatbreads I fell in love with while making that un-Baba Ghanoush we made these roulades that have proved to be a massive hit at every single party. We spread some cream cheese flavoured with sun-dried tomatos on a flatbread, topped it with pastrami, black pepper and a layer of rucola. 

The fish version was made by using cream cheese with chives, finely grated lemon zest, cold smoked salmon and a layer of spinach leaves. Then just roll them tightly, wrap in foil or cling film and let rest in the cold for a couple of hours (not much more or they'll get soggy) before cutting them to bite-size pieces. Not only are these tasty, they're also easy and plentiful - one roll makes at least 8-10 pieces!

You'll find more inspiration for cocktail parties here. How about minilatkes with scallops and minty pea pure? Or scallops with Serrano ham - as simple as they are divine? Or Cuban meat-filled croquettes? Or another crowd pleaser: prawns with chorizo?

You can turn everyday staples to fancier treats too. A slice of toast can be turned to these Skagen cups.

We also made Spanish potato omelette Tortilla Española, but cut it to bitesize pieces and served with a slice of good chorizo.

Something as humble as the archipelago bread can be elevated to a very street credible cocktail delicacy too: Cut the slices with a little cutter (such as a shot glass you nicked from a bar during your reckless teenage years) and top with lemon herring or lobster herring!

We already have our New Year celebrations sussed out, by the way. Inspired by the demonstrations we witnessed at the Wine Expo, we'll be giving the art of sabrage a go! We've already familiarized ourselves with the theory bit , all that's left is sourcing a sword. Santa, are you listening...?




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Monday, 25 November 2013

Dining and w(h)ining in Helsinki: Skiffer

Our restaurant club has lost yet another member to Rovaniemi. Luckily there are airlines and train companies that make visits back to the Real World a lot more efficient that, say, teleporting and magic carpet rides. But when an impromptu visit like that falls into your lap on Monday night of all the nights, that opens a whole new can of worms. Where of all the restaurants you've been dying to try will you go? And where can you even get a table the same day without a reservation? And which ones of them are even open on Mondays? Surprisingly many restaurants tend to be closed, you see.

In the search of gourmet pizza (rumoured to be among the absolute best in town) we ended in Skiffer at the trendy neighbourhood of Erottaja. In its trendy minimalism the industrial decor won the companion over immediately. In yours truly that set off a hipster alarm. To the eyes of someone living in the establised and traditional neighbourhood of Töölö the staff (very minimalist too) seemed suspiciously...well, hipster. The impression was not helped by the fact that in the Skiffer language they have their own world for pizza named so after the island restaurant they have in the summer in Liuskasaari in front of Helsinki: liuska.

The menu too was (wait for it) minimalist. There's the snäki of the day, some bread (such as pan con artisokka), the salad of the day and 7 different sorts of liuskas. I probably don't have to elaborate whether Fantasia of 4 toppings of your own choice was on the menu (that would be a resounding no). 

Though... while the menu (like the rest of the restaurant) might be all about less is more, that's one thing I'll never be. Remember that epic trip to Hanko where I couldn't settle for just one (or two or three) pasta? Yeah. Well, have I learnt anything since? Well, even if I have, moderation isn't that: not being able to decide, we decided to have three pizzas (sorry, liuskas). An endeavour that was as massive as the size of these babies.

The companion was puzzled by the combinations, especially goat cheese-strawberry-pine nut one - the most popular item on the menu by the way. As recommended by the waiter we went for Surf & Turf (fresh chorizo, crayfish and chilli) and then for Fisherman's Friend (fried European cisco, smoked salmon, fennel and poached egg) and then for Tomppa (banana, chilli and bacon) , seeing how that met all my criteria: sounds weird and has bacon in it.

Baked in the stone oven of the tiny open kitchen the liuskas had a delightfully thin and crispy crust, though it was so thin and dry it was bordering on too thin (yes Wallis Simpson, a woman might never be too thin but a pizza sure can). Tomato sauce and cheese were nothing special, but a cheese phobe like me reveled in the fact that like with proper Italian pizzas, there wasn't too much of cheese.

Chorizo in Surf & Turf was good, but we couldn't really taste the crayfish. Coriander was a nice addition though.

Fisherman's Friend echoed delightfully all things and flavours Finnish, though the fennel was so very bland. Smoked salmon also made it very salty.

The companion found Tomppa simply too weird. I on the other hand fell instantly in love with the way the saltiness of the bacon worked with the sweetness of the bananas.

Wine list is thought through with emphasis on organic wines. The beer menu also boats some lesser known treats such as this clean and crisp Rosita from Spain.

The prices range between €14 and €17, so they do cost more than your average pizza. Owing to the creative combinations and quality ingredients though they are a far cry from those average pizzas. Service was quick, friendly (in that minimalist way, obviously!) and knowledgeable. Töölö approves!




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Sunday, 24 November 2013

Soup Sunday: taco soup

This week's Soup Sunday got off to a reckless start: I started my morning by opening a bottle of beer. Strictly for staging purposes, of course... And I can tell you all the chilli-infused fumes of this morning's cooking did wonders to my lungs - no congestion here! Much like laksa this is guaranteed to keep flu at bay!

This too is all about minimizing food waste - though this time in a totally topsy turvy manner - for the actual dish this was born out of you'll have to wait until next Friday!

In case you have aversion to shop-bought taco spice mixes, feel free to make your own. This is what I rustled out of the contents of my pantry. 

Oh, and in case you too are struggling to find ripe avocados, here's a tip I just picked up: wrap them in tin foil and bake at 100 for 10-15 minutes. Hey presto! 

Taco spice mix:

1/2 tbsp onion powder
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp caraway seeds, ground
3/4 tbsp cumin, ground
3/4 tbsp coriander seeds, ground
3/4 tbsp paprika
1/2 tbsp chilli powder
1/2 tbsp cayenne pepper
a little shy of 1 tsp cinnamon
a little shy of 1 tsp ground ginger
the zest of 1 lime

Serves 6

400 g mince meat
1 sachet of taco spice mix (or your own tale on it - adjust the quantities to your palate)
1 large onion
1 green pepper
1/2 red pepper
1 tbsp tomato concentrate
1/2 can of corn (á 340 gr)
1/2 can kidney beans
1 can brown beans
500 g crushed tomatos
3/4 l water
1 stock cube (chicken or beef)
suolaa, pippuria

to serve: lime juice, 2 avocados, nachos, coriander leaves and sour cream (or créme fraîche or Turkish yoghurt)

Brown the mince in a pan and add into it the spice mix. In a big pot sauté sliced onions and add chopped peppers into the mix. When they've softened a bit, add tomato paste. Then add mince, crushed tomatos and stock cube you've dissolved in boiling water. Bring to boil and add drained corn and beans. Keep cooking until everything is piping hot all the way through. Check the taste and season as needed. Divide into bowls, sprinkle over the lime juice and chopped coriander leaves. Crush some nachos on top and serve with sour cream and avocado slices - the creaminess of both helps to sooth the spiciness.




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Friday, 22 November 2013

Dim sums with pork

The approaching winter has not gone unnoticed by my body. Though in all honesty it seems to have lured itself thinking it belongs to a bear. No amount of sleep seems to be enough and there's no end to the allure of the carbs. It's not quite yet time for slow cooked stews yet, though the Facebook- followers of the blog have already been introduced to my latest flea market find - a cast iron pot from no other than Le Creuset. Some of that coming up soon without a doubt!

In addition to woolly jumpers and flannel PJ's I find myself turning to Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines for their spicy, warming comfort. So today was a dim sum day! Which in that charming waste not, want- not principle provided a convenient way to recycle mince left over from empanada and the herbs and spices left over from laksa.

Unlike last time I couldn't be bothered to stress over the perfect appearance so I pinched the dumplings in a very rustic (read: lazeeeee) fashion. For alternatives ways see the previous post

If you abhor the store-bought gyoza skins (available at the freezers at Asian supermarkets) and are a firm believer of making things from the scratch, here's a recipe I nicked from Food and Wine. Though pelmeni dough would probably work just as well.

makes 25

The dough:

3 1/4 dl all purpose flour
1 1/4 dl water

Add water into the flour in a thin stream until a raggy dough forms. Turn the dough out on a work surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the dough with flour, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. In the meanwhile make the filling. Divide the dough into 5 portions and keep rest of the dough covered while you're working on one. Roll into a rope and divide it into 5. Roll into thin discs and fill.

The filling:

200 g (pork) mince
a couple of cm piece of ginger
1/2 chilli
handful of coriander leaves
handful of spring onion 
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp fish sauce (or soy sauce) 
the zest of 1 lime

Combine the ingredients. Fill the skins (about 1 tsp/ dim sum) and pinch the edges shut. Steam until done (about 5 minutes) in that specifically purchased bamboo-steamer (your very limited kitchen capacity does not really have any space to accommodate) or in a steamer pot. Don't forget to line the basket/ steamer with a piece of parchment that you've punched holes into to allow the steam through.

Dipping sauce:

1 dl soy sauce
1 dl honey
the juice of 1 lime
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp sesame seed oil

Mix the ingredients together and serve with the dim sums. Works wonders as a marinade too!

Like I suppose all the bloggers I too am driving myself crazy fretting over the winter and the light-deficiency-related challenges it brings. The thing is, in case you lovely readers are willing to make time (which I'm sure no-one has enough of anyway!) to read my blog, I feel it's my duty to at least try and provide you quality content you can feel... well, content with. A trip to IKEA seems to be in order...!




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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Empanada de carne con chorizo

Lately, spurred on by the travel fever that I always get in the autumn, I've been travelling all over the world, in my kitchen anyway. There have been snacks from India, dips from Middle East, soups from Asia so I suppose I'd better get back to the blog's Andalusian roots and delights of the Spanish cuisine! Next up is one of the tapas favourites, empanada.

Empanadas are (usually meat or tune) filled pasties, the size, texture of the dough and the type if filling of which vary from one country to the next. In Spain these are typical to the Galician region but much like another regional speciality, Pulpo a la Gallega, has become a popular treat all over the country. I often get mine from a little bakery close to the railway station at Arroyo de la Miel as I'm getting the daily paper. 

There are two types of empanadas: big ones like this and smaller pasties. Some are baked, some are deep-fried. If you want individual-sized ones, puff-pastry-type dough is more suitable as it's less elastic and more manageable. Recipe for these too to come!


140 g chorizo
400 g mince (pork)
1 largeish green pepper
1 largeish onion
3 garlic cloves
1 dl (dry) white wine
500 g crushed tomatos
Handful of parsley
salt, pepper

Start by making the filling so it has time to cool. Peel and cube chorizo and finely chop the garlic, onion and pepper. Fry chorizo over moderate heat so it won't burn and starts releasing that delicious fat. Add garlic and fry it in the fat. Then add mince and let it brown. Then add onion and garlic. Stir and then pour in the wine. Cook for about 5 minutes and add crushed tomatos. Continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is almost dry. Fold in chopped parsley and season as needed. Let cool and prepare the dough for the crust.


7 dl flour
1 tl baking powder
2 tl salt
1 1/4 dl water
1 dl olive oil
1 large egg (or 1,5 regular sized ones)

For glazing: 1 egg (of that 1/2 egg left over from the crust)

Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet in another. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ones a little at a time and then knead to a smooth, elastic dough. Wrap in cling film and let rest for a good half an hour.

Divide the dough in half and roll them fairly thinly to 2 discs with diameter of about 30 cm (between two sheets of parchments is the easiest way). Keep the other half covered as you're working on the other. Then spoon the filling on the other one, leaving a couple of cm border. Then place the other half on top and crimp the edges shut. If you have a suitably sized pie dish, it's worth doing this in one - that way the dish will make sure the edges won't come undone even if the crimping starts opening in the oven.

Brush with egg, prick with a skewer and bake at 180 until golden brown - depending on the oven 30-40 minutes. Let cool before serving.




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Monday, 18 November 2013

Indiedays Blog Awards 2013

Bloggers have well and truly been celebrated of late. First there was Gloria Blog Awards and last weekend there was the first ever Indiedays Inspiration Blog Awards. As I was going over my wardrobe it became evident how that, in addition to the rest of my life, has divided into two very distinctively different(sized) eras: that before and after food blogging...

Inspired by the stuffed chicken perched atop one guest's head at Gloria Awards I figured that the bigger my head looks, the smaller my bum is bound to look, right? "Who's that fascinator by?" I got asked. Well, by me! I made it myself!

I and my plus one, The Mane Magician who was behind my amazing do at Gloria Awards really needed the night off (what's the point of there being just one weekend a week? And even that all the way at the end of a the week?!) so decided to grant one to my camera as well. A decision I bitterly regretted as I watched the other bloggers work their magic on theirs. So, you'll have to bear with me and some camera phone snaps. I'll never leave the house without my camera ever again. EVER.

As we were studying the rest of the guests we, in our miniskirtless, hotpantsless, stripperheelness, fakelashless and so very sequin-free attires felt awfully old. Luckily Chambord and Champagne cocktails soon put the spring into these chickens!

We got spoilt rotten with rest of the things on the menu too...

There were prizes to be won at lifestyle, fashion, beauty and food categories. The winner in the category I was nominated in was wildly popular KinuskikissaWe might have left the party empty-handed, but full of joy! 




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