Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Sun rises from Middle East: Shakshouka

Even if the night out in Tel Aviv runs a little late, the help is always near. At the corner of Allenby street and Bialik street to be precise. There, in the neighbourhood of Carmel market is one of my favourite cafés in the world: Cafe Bialik. It is open from early morning to late evening and comes with an eclectic clientele. At the same time you'll have people nursing themselves back to life after another Tel Aviv night out at one table, ladies who lunch at another and constructions workers enjoying their first beer of the day at the third.

Sometimes they do jazz clubs. Sometimes poetry recitals. But most of all they do breakfast - served all day. And not just any breakfast: shakshouka - the ultimate cure-all remedy. Cafe Bialik is the place where I had my first ever shakshouka all those years ago and it's become a bit of a  must have for me, especially with spicy merguez sausage.

After I found those luscious merguez sausages at Roslund I didn't have to think twice what to do with them. Sure you could skip the sausages and make this all vegetarian... or you could use some other, equally potent variety such as chorizo. Or, use a good fresh lamb sausage and add 1-2 tsp harissa paste into the tomatos.

Boker tov, dear friends!






Feeds 2

100 g (merguez)sausages
1 small onion or 1/2 of a bigger one, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp pimentón/ paperika powder
1/2 tsp cumin, ground
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, ground
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 green pepper, in 1 cm dices
1/2 yellow pepper, in 1 cm dices
1/2 -1 tin crushed tomatos
2 eggs
handful of parsley
salt, pepper


Squeeze the sausages out of their skins and brown in a pan in a little bit of oil. Cut the sausages into slices and brown. Then add onion, garlic and spices. Let it all soften a bit in the sausage fat. If the sausages are very lean, add some oil to stop the goodies from burning. 

Then add peppers, leaving them to often for a couple of minutes, too. Toss them around with the rest of the ingredients for a while and then stir in the crushed tomatos  (the exact amount depends of the exact size of the peppers and sausages) and, if using, harissa. Let the peppers cook in the sauce under the lid until they've softened, for about 10 minutes. If the mixture is very liquid, increase the heat and cook without the lid. 

Make 2 holes into the mix and break the eggs into them. Cover with lid and cook over moderate heat until the eggs start to set. You could also finish cooking the dish in a pre-heated oven (200).  Cook until the eggs are done to your liking and season. I like it when the white has started to set but the yolk is still gloriously golden and runny as you cut into it (about 5 minutes).

Sprinkle some parsley on top, serve with bread to soak up every last morsel and feel the energy slowly but surely being restored...




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Monday, 29 April 2013

Incredible Israel

Israel is another country I've spent quite a bit of time in. It is an exciting, exceptional, exhausting and, at times, extremely frustrating country. But since this is my blog through which I try to maintain and cherish things that bring happiness to my life, I'm not going to get into politics. There are other platforms for that. And people more patient than me.




In spite of everything I have witnessed in that country (war, evacuation, occupation, a couple of bomb threats) it keeps pulling me back over and over again.


Jerusalem is in all its crazy and occassionally absurd religiousness (there's an entire hospital specialized in treating people who think they're Messiah) holy. It's impossible not to feel it.


And the variety of ways it's manifested in an area as tiny as Old City in Jerusalem... it is incredible. At the same time you can hear the Hebrew prayers at The Western Wall, prayer calls echoing from minarets and bells from the churches nearby.


Then there's Jaffa - a short walk away from the neighbouring Tel Aviv but a totally different world. Friday's flea market is worth seeing and experiencing, though it has been known to lead to some serious lapses in judgement.


Last time I was there I found myself haggling over a gorgeous antique kilim rug that was bigger than my entire flat, twice the price I could have ever afforded and had a hole the size of an elephant.


But Jaffa is also full of charming little restaurants and tranquillity that Tel Aviv simply doesn't do.

 



But Tel Aviv... Oh, Tel Aviv. I don't think I've ever made it back home before 5 am. The energy in that city is just something incredible.




Witnessing all this and more is about to get a lot easier and more convenient after Finnair will start direct flights from Helsinki to Tel Aviv.
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Sunday, 28 April 2013

Soup Sunday: beetroots with goat cheese

After the latest dinner party I found goat cheese in my fridge. I suspect a conspiracy aiming at changing my approach to all things cheese. Apparently the classic companion to goat cheese is beetroot so that's how (once again) I attempted the mental makeover. I roasted the beets in the oven as it does provide depth and certain sweetness to them but you could also grate or cube them and boil them to save time. Depending on the size that would take 20-30 mins. If you're not a fan of rosemary, you could also use dill or thyme.

For 2

6 beets (around 550 g)
1 small onion
1 green apple
6 dl vegetable stock
1 generous tbs finely chopped rosemary
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
salt, pepper

Cut the beets to slices of about 1 cm thickness and place along with the onion into an oven dish. Sprinkle olive oil on top and season well. Roast at 200° until done - 45 mins- 1 h. 10 minutes before the end add the sliced apple. Blizz in the blender with vegetable stock and season to your liking. If you're after sweeter, more mellow taste, add 2 dl of cream or Turkish yoghurt. Goat cheese aficionados would probably want to add some at this point. Serve with goat cheese that you've whisked to runnier consistency.




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Saturday, 27 April 2013

Lamb tongue



The selection in the shops and at markets in Helsinki is so different compared to Spain, and as a result of that lately I haven't been getting giddy with octopus, mussels and other staples of my Spanish cooking. Instead I have been broadening my culinary horizons to and making gastronomical excursions to the wonderful and not at all awful world of offal.

I know I have eaten tongue before and I remember liking it. I had, however, never actually prepared it myself. But Saturday just isn't Saturday without a trip to the markets. And the trip to the markets isn't anything without going just a little bit giddy. So, a little while back I returned home armed with, among other things, lamb tongue.

Having stared at it, somewhat startled, it was time to get down to business. That kind of cuts are cheap so should be braved more often, especially since the right method of cooking actually produces delightfully delectable delicacies that just melt in your mouth. But there is a certain threshold to get over first. Tongue for instance really looks  like what you'd expect: something out of someone's mouth.

But have no fear and get cracking, dear! The end result is so dreamy tender. The instructions I got at the market were: water, lemon, whole allspice peppercorns, bayleaf and 3-4 hour cooking time. This makes either generous starter for 3 or, if you add more salad leaves, a light lunch for 3.  The memories of Pure Bistro were still vivid in my mind. The ket to the fabulousness of those dishes was the outstanding balance of contrasting flavours and textures, so I paid special attention to that. Piquant capers, peppery rucola, slightly start sweetness of cranberry jelly, richness of the potatos, tender tongue and crisp crunch of the fried onion rings.





Tongue

3 lamb tongues
1 l water
10 allspice peppercorns
2 bayleaves
1/2 lemon
2,5 tbsp salt
(I also added 1 star anise but that is optional as its liquoriciness is not for everyone)

Add spices into the water and bring to boil. Add rinsed tongues and boil in simmering water for a couple of hours until the tongues are done. This you can tell by testing with a skewer:  they should feel soft. Lift the tongues out with slotted spoon and peel while still warm - that way you can just pull the skin off. Strain the cooking liquid and let the tongue cool in the reserved liquid. I kept mine in it for 4 hours but you could leave them in overnight too. Slice the tongues when cooled and serve cold. Today they were served with warm potato salad.
Crisp onion rings

1 largeish onion
2 dl buttermilk or Turkish yoghurt that you've diluted into a runnier consistency with a splash of water
salt, pepper
3 dl flour

Cut the onion into 1/2 cm (or as thin as you can go) rings. Remove the translucent membrane inside the rings as it tends to stick out and burn. Season the buttermilk/ yoghurt and add the onion rings. Let them soak and marinate for half an hour. Then shake off the excess buttermilk and drench in flour until thoroughly coated. Shake off the excess flour and fry in hot oil until golden brown and crunchy. If you want them extra crunchy, you could repeat the process and after the first flour coating dunk them back into the buttermilk and then again into the flour. Apparently corn meal gives extra crunch and a lovely colour. Drain on kitchen towel and serve.


Potato salad

3 medium size oblong potatos
15 capers
rucola
oil
salt, pepper

Cut the potatos to 1/2 cm slices. Boil until done and steam until dry. Toss in a little bit of oil seasoned with salt and pepper. Place on top of a pile of rucola - the warmth from the potatos softens the flavour and texture of the leaves too. Then add the onion rings, sliced tongue and capers. A classic combination with tongue would be mayonnaise jazzed with horseradish but since I'm so in love with that cranberry mayo I've been serving with both reindeer and lamb sausage, I made some to go with this one too. And slam dunk - it works.


Cranberry mayonnaise

1 dl good mayonnaise
little less than 1 tbsp good cranberry jelly

Mix thoroughly and serve.




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Friday, 26 April 2013

Dining and w(h)ining in Helsinki: Pure Bistro

So far our restaurant club, with its members scattered between Helsinki and Rovaniemi have made the most of our reunions by checking out chef Tom Björck's restaurants. Our verdict from the experiences so far:

Farang: superb
Gaijin: watered down version of the previous establishment but still very ok
Bulevard Social: Place that mostly seems to ride on the reputation of the previous places. In its inconsistency it doesn't really nail it and is by far the weakest of these three.


The menu, trying to stretch all over the Mediterreanean it really doesn't get anything just right and is lacking the authenticity that Farang with its South East Asian cuisine does so fantastically. And those watered down Asian flavours seemed totally out of place here.


But until Björck & Wikberg open their next restaurant we had to think of something else. And what a difficult choice that was! Ask, Spis, Pure Bistro, Luomo, Pastis, Meche... There are much more places to try that the waistbands of our jeans (or our wallets!) can accommodate.


Inspired by the Tyreman's travel guide's latest edition we ended up somewhere none of us had yet tried: Pure Bistro at Pohjoisesplanadi.










Located on the picturesque tiny alleyways in from if the Cathedral Pure Bistro promotes itself as a modern bistro and surprised with the Scandinavian minimalism that it took to a whole new level.



Like the restaurant itself, the menu was equally compact. Three choices (vegetarian, fish and meat) for the starters and mains and two choices for dessert. And what do you know: the first thing that caught my hungry eye was Pulpo a la Gallega - that Spanish treat that in this blog has been featured both in a restaurant and in the test kitchen. But Dios mios what pulpo it was...

 

Accompanied with bay leaf mayonnaise the dish came with roasted potato and smoked paprika, capers, perfectly juicy and tender pieces of octopus tentacles and crispy roasted onion to give the dish a wonderful texture.




Upon its arrival the dish evoked admiration but also serious (and well deserved) envy. Others had chosen lamb with grilled cucumber and fennel-infused sour cream. The lamb was incredibly succulent and perfectly seasoned, but in the fellow diners it didn't evoke similar passions.  






For mains we had all of the options. My pot au feu was extremely deconstructed version of this usually very rustic and robust French stew. The stock was excellent, though at times the meats were missing the succulent, melt-in-your-mouth tenderness that slow cooking usually lends these cuts.




The vegetarian option, linguine with smoked mozzarella and artichoke was rich both in its size and flavours. Simply superb. Though at first glance the dish with its pesto and sun-dried tomatos might not seem very original it did manage to create buzz and a lively conversation on some of the components on display such as tomatowaterjelly.




The unequivocal winner of this round however was the fish: Arctic char with blood orange and mushroom dashi. The stock that accompanied the soba noodles and fantastically meaty shiitake mushrooms was in all its spiciness so beautifully balanced. Juicy char, just like everything else on the menu was cooked to creamy, perfection and again the roe made sure that the texture was varied and interesting.




We didn't waste any time choosing the desserts. I simply had to have the one with milk chocolate, salted caramel and yoghurt ice cream. Milk chocolate, the consistency of which reminded melted chocolate ice cream,  seemed perhaps a tad redundant but salted caramel at the bottom of the bowl, in its gooey gorgeousness was pure gold.




Lemon pie with tuttifrutti sorbet and meringue was an absolute delight - both with the play on textures and flavours bursting with fruitiness.




Three course dinner costs €44 and is well and truly worth every euro. The flavours in each dish are so beautifully balanced and the textures keep them intresting on so many levels. The wine list too, is interesting and carefully selected.




And the service... the service  is professional and outstanding. It is such a joy to discover places like this (some others worth trying are Kolo and Ateljé Finne) where the passion for quality ingredients and healthy pride over own expertise is so tangible - both on the menu and in the staff. Definitely worth the visit!







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Thursday, 25 April 2013

Turkish delights: tzatziki


We don't really ever use cream. Greek yoghurt on the other hand is a totally different thing - that we always have lying around. In huge pots. The Gentleman loves it, you see. Perhaps he thinks it's going to help him live to be 100 like the man whose weathered face is plastered on the side of the pot? No complaints there - I want to keep him around for as long as I possibly can!

One thing I've learnt from one of the guests, the tzatziki champion is that there is Turkish yoghurt. And then there are the thin, sad-looking, watery, non-fat varieties that have no place in this.

Tzatziki is one of the staples that we make so often it almost makes itself by now. So writing down the exact recipe is surprisingly tricky. But these are the ingredients.




500 g good Greek yogurt
1/2 big cucumber
1-2 tbsp mint, finely chopped
dash of lemon juice
2 big cloves of garlic
salt

Split the cucumber lenghthways and spoon out the seeds with teaspoon. Grate the cucumber on tea towel and squeeze the liquid out. Add to the remaining ingredients and let rest for half an hour in the fridge before serving. Check the seasoning, adjust to your liking and serve.




In its versatility tzatziki is a sweetheart. Use it as a dip, serve with meatballs, with burgers, as a dressing for potato salad, in pastry fillings...


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Turkish delights: Icli köfte

Food sampled during each of my travels have taught me something new. In Greece one of the lesson the local food taught me was that cinnamon is not just for apple pies - it also lends wonderful depth and earthy sweetness to meat, especially lamb. These icli köftes are a fine example of that.

Elsewhere in Middle East this Turkish treat is also known as kibbeh. It's a meatball encased in a shell made of bulghur and minced lamb and is one of my all time favourite street foods (meat wraped in meat - how could it not!) . I did not have bulghur, but I did have couscous so I took the liberty of using that instead. The guests at the Turkish night loved them and one of them - Tunisian himself - actually guaranteed that these would get me married in Middle East...!




 
makes 15 or 7 big ones

shell


2,5 dl couscous
150 g minced lamb
1 onion, grated
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp tomato paste
1,5 tsp allspice

filling


1 small onion
100 g minced lamb
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp clove
3/4 dl beef stock
2 tbps pine nuts
1,5 tbsp mint, finely chopped
1,5 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
salt, pepper


Cook couscous according to the instructions on the package. Steam until dry. Mix with the rest of the ingredients into a smooth paste. Season well and let rest in the fridge for an hour.
For the filling soften the onion in a little bit of oil. Add spices followed by lamb. Brown. Add stock and cook until the mixture has slightly damp, paste-like consistency. Add pine nuts and herbs. Let cool.

Divide the shell mixture into 3 and each portion into 5. Roll into a ball and against the palm of your hand, smooth into a disc. Add a few teaspoonfuls of filling in the middle and fold the sheet around it. Smooth over any cracks with a finger dipped in water. This seals the surface and helps keep the filling in.  Another method of filing the shells is rolling the filling mixture into little kebabs, forming an oblong ball out of the shell mixture and with a finger puncturing a hole in the middle of which into which the "kebab" is then inserted, smoothing over the ends of this cylinder to seal it.

Keep in the fridge for an hour or so until ready to fry. Heat some oil in a pan and fry in batches until golden brown - a couple of minutes should do. Mine got a bit too dark. That's what multitasking (a.k.a. drinking and cooking) does to you...

Drain on kitchen towel and serve. Naturally these are best served in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the alleyways around Istanbul Grand Bazaar... but the combination of Helsinki, fabulous friends and tzatziki isn't too bad either.


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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Turkish delights: Sigara börek

We have already before touched upon the very dark secret of this foodblogger: I don't eat cheese (I can practically hear the readers' eyes rolling furiously: "what kind of a foodie does not like cheese?!") And I do acknowledge how shameful that is. There's an entire culinary universe there I haven't explored yet.

One of the most memorable meals ever was the dinner at Chez Dominique, the only ever 2-star restaurant in Finland where The Gentleman took me for my 30th birthday. And words fail to describe how embarrassing it was to have to refuse the cheese patter they carried to the table as part of the 6-course meal...

Yet... I can' get enough of cheese doodles. I have even learnt to eat halloumi. And mozzarella. As long as it's not melted. And in Turkey, as I've told before, one my all time favourite mezes is sigara börek: filo pastry roll stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. So... perhaps there's hope for  me yet?

Obviously those cigar-shaped fried goodies found their way onto the menu of the Turkish night.

I conveniently forgot the fact that I had never made anything out of filo pastry before. I can't say I was terribly impressed. After having seen it being used on so many cookery shows I expected to have an idea of what to expect. But the ready made triangular shape sheets I bought at the ethnic shop in Hakaniemi were nothing like it. They were thicker. And drier. And they categorically refused to roll into neat, tight, narrow cigar-like parcels. Perhaps the pastry wasn't good? Perhaps you really can't substitute melted butter with oil when brushing the sheets in order to make them pliable? Perhaps I just... suck?

My impaired cigar-rolling skills probably mean I'd never impress a potential husband in Turkey. Though, that would probably be the case in Cuba too... Boy, am I lucky to have found The Gentleman! The guests loved these though. A lot. And apparently it really pays off to get good feta for these- none of those squeaky rubber toys.

 



makes appr. 18

265 g spinach (lacking fresh one I used tinned spinach leaves)
good feta cheese (my cube was around 10 cm x 15 cm x 4 cm)
lemon juice
filo pastry sheets
clarified butter

oil for frying


Keep the filo pastry sheets covered as you're working with one - otherwise they dry. I used ready made triangle-shaped ones sized appr. 20 cm x 25 cm, but if using the big ones, cut them into obling pieces of desired size. Brush the sheet with clarified butter and spread 1,5 tsp crumbled feta on the other end. Add 1,5 tsp spinach and a dash of lemon juice, fold the long edges on the sides on top of the filling and roll it tight lengthwise  to a cigar-like parcel. Keep the stuffed parcels covered too until ready to fry. Heat oil in a pan, deep-fry in batches, drain on kitchen towel and serve. Some recipes use parsley instead of spinach - you decide which you prefer!





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Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Turkish delights: kisir

Because of the vegetarians joining us for the Turkish night I had to make food that might go down their throats as well (dear me. I sound like a right bitch - making vegetarian sound like a curse word). Food such as kisir, Turkish tomato and couscous salad.

But  some of them couldn't even eat that as it's made of grain. Luckily my friends have redeeming qualities that infinitely improve the quality of my life as a result of which I'm even willing to accommodate their culinary restrictions...

 




4 dl couscous
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp cinnamon
the juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
6 tomatos
1 generous handful of spring onions or chives
couple of handfuls of parsley
salt

Split the tomatos, scoop out the seeds and cube them. Fry the onion and garlic in a bit of oil until soft and transluscent. Add tomato paste and couscous. Then add 4 dl of boiling water and turn the heat off. Let the couscouls cook under the lid until it's done (around 5 minutes) and then fluff it with fork. Add lemon juice, tomatos, pine nuts that you've toasted on a dry pan until they get a bit of colour, spring onions/ chives and parsley. Taste and season as needed. Serve at room temperature.




EDIT: Normally this dish is made of bulghur, but since we didn't have any, I took the liberty of replacing it with couscous which we did.

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Monday, 22 April 2013

Turkish delights: fava take 2

There are days when nothing works out. Days, when one should just stay away from the kitchen and accept the fact that ordering a pizza is a sufficient culinary attempt. But when one of those days collides with one of those days friends coming over for Turkish feast they've been promised... then it's best to just get with the program. Fuelled by the wine the friends bring. Pressures ran high, seeing how two of the guests were vegetarians. And third makes tzatziki that is widely hailed as the best tzatziki in the world.

And this is what we ended up with: Sigara börek, fava, kisir, tzatziki and icli köfte. But I'll tell you this: in a kitchen the size of a stamp cooking, fotographing, drinking that wine, enjoying the company of friends and writing down the recipes is pretty challenging...

But we tried and the results will be posted here in the coming days!












The whole night started with fava. That failed paté that refused to set bothered me so much I had to have another go at it. I fried a small onion in a little oil until it was soft, added 400 g  of fava beans (that the clerk told me were not cooked, but which turned out to be cooked anyway) and boiled them until soft and piping hot in a little bit of water, making sure every now and then that the water hadn't completely evaporated.


Then I drained the mixture and puréed it in the blender (which, judging by the sound, really went through a workout without any liquid to ease the pain), seasoned with salt, pepper, a little bit of sugar and mint (1 tbsp). I think I preferred dill though.


Then I spooned the mixture into a rectangular dish (12 cm x 22 cm) lined with cling film and let it cool in the room temperature. Then I covered it with cling film and kept in the fridge until next day.


And hamdulillah - it set. Following day cut into desired shapes with an oiled knife and serve. Depending on the size of your slices this makes 12-15 pieces.


Blizzing might be easier with a handheld device. And in order to get achieve silky, smooth consistency you might want to run it through a sieve too.



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Sunday, 21 April 2013

Soup Sunday: beans and bacon


You all know guilty pleaseures, right? Things we take great pleasure of but do not dare to confess them to anyone (especially in a food blog...) Tinned beans are one of the treats on my list (which, as you can imagine, is loooong)

Today beans were the star of the Soup Sunday test kitchen. But without the tomato sauce. Or tins. White beans are surprisingly versatile and lend themselves to many purposes. I have used them (among other things) to substitute some of the potatos in mash-requiring missions such as shepherd's pie. 





Today's soup is so easy it's virtually recipe-free. White bean is such a grateful ingredient - it provides such a perfect canvas for so many spices ad herbs. Especially when puréed, it has the earthiness that makes you immediately think of cumin and coriander seeds. As far as herbs go, rosemary and parsley would pair well with this. But because of that very earthiness, a dash of lemon juice (or some grated lemon zest) does wonders as it perks up and lifts the flavours.


Just like with any pulses it pays off to cook a big batch and then freeze them in suitable portions. Or you can buy ready-cooked ones. Those are available at least in ethnic stores specialized in Middle Eastern fare as pulses are widely used there. Unlike bacon used in this recipe. But let's face it - when has it ever made anything taste worse?





Obviously you could make this without bacon and using vegetable stock - I just always seem to reach for chicken stock when making soups...


For one:

1/2 smallish onion
the paste of 1 large, roasted garlic
(or more, depending on how much you like garlic)
appr. 2 dl chicken stock
1 tsp thyme (mine was dried)
1/3 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp (ok, 1 tbsp) chopped bacon
salt, pepper


Fry the onion and garlic in oil/ butter/ mix of those two. Add the beans and toss around for a bit. Then add the stock and cook until the beans are piping hot. Blizz in a blender until silky smooth - add more liquid if needed for desired consistency. Pour back into the pot and season (be careful with salt - especially if using bacon) and add the herb of your choice. Add the lemon zest (or juice) and serve.

Fry the bacon cubes in a pan. Start out with moderate heat to get to fat out which helps the bacon get so gloriously crispy without burning. Sprinkle on top of the soup and vrooom - in less than 10 minutes you have food on the table!







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Saturday, 20 April 2013

Tropical chocolate


Around Easter we had friends over for dinner on a couple of occasions (yes, out of that kitchen of mine...) And at that time of the year, either as a result of the approaching spring or the excessive use of colour yellow everywhere, the thoughts turn to tropical fruitiness.

I wanted to keep the dessert simple, light and (and courtesy of the logistical challenges posed by the doll house-like dimensions of the kitchen) something I could prepare in advance. But c'mon - the only thing brains can process during Easter is...chocolate. So for coffees I made tropical chocolate.





In all its simplicity this is much like a slightly more sophisticated and grown up version of Rocky Road. This is also tremendously easy and grateful treat to make, as you can use just about anything you like in this. I like it best when there's a combination of something crunchy like nuts, something fruity and chewy like dried fruits or berries and something unexpected like candied ginger.




For these I used dried papaya and mango to give them some sweetness, pecans to give them crunch, dried coconut shavings to complement the tropical fruitiness, candied ginger to give them a bit edge and soft dried cranberries to balance the sweetness (a.k.a because I had some lying around and didn't know what to do with them...)

And in all its easiness this is how it goes: melt 200 g of good quality dark chocolate in Bain Marie (you could of course use milk chocolate or white chocolate of you prefer them, but then adjust the toppings to avoid things from getting too icky. For milk chocolate you might want to try salted nuts or broken down pretzels and raisins, for white chocolate pistachio and dried berries with a bit of acidity such as cranberry would work well). Do not add milk or cream - otherwise they won't set. Let the chocolate melt all the way and then, using a table spoon spoon the mixture on a baking sheet forming round discs (mine were about 5 cm in diametre) and sprinkle the toppings on top of them. Let cool in room temperature and then transfer to fridge. You can also just pour the mixture into an oven dish lined with parchment into one sheet and then break it into free-form artisanal looking pieces.

Since chocolate hasn't really been making appearances in our kitchen of late, this simple treat is also our entry to the Finnish foodbloggers' monthly food challenge where the theme this months is chocolate... Stay tuned for more information!




Candied ginger is available in stores but can also be made at home:

2 dl fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/3 cm slices
6 dl sugar
6 dl water

Bring water to boil. Add sugar and cook until it has completely dissolved. Add ginger and cook for 40-50 minutes until it's soft and sweet. Once it's done, drain the pieces (reserve the liquid!) and spread on a wire rack to dry. Sprinkle sugar on a baking sheet and toss the ginger in it. Let dry completely and then store in an airtight container.

Depending on the consistency after boiling the ginger (it might be done already), keep cooking the liquid until it has reduced and reached a syrup-like consistency. Cool and store in the fridge.


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Friday, 19 April 2013

Pelmenis

A little while back I read in one of the English weeklies published at Costa that these days Russians form the second largest expat- community around there. I don't like Russia. Or, more precisely, I don't like their perverted concept of democracy and human rights. But if one's hell-bent on finding something positive to say about them, there is their ability to make the kind of robust home cooked food that warms one's soul down to the murkies corners. So, today the test kitchen was overcome with decidedly Slavic sensations.

In its quirkiness and home-spun atmosphere that defies the trends one of my favourite finds in the last years among the restaurants in Helsinki has been Pelmenit in Kallio. I like dim sum, tortellinis, pelmenis and what ever dough-covered meat dumplings the cuisines of the world have come up with. So, armed with that delightful "how hard can it be" attitude I do so (un)well, I decided to give them a go myself. All that rolling and cutting and crimping takes quite a bit of time. But that's all, really. And the result... I dare say these were the best pelmenis I've ever had.



For these I used the remains of that much cherished reindeer mince, but you can use any animal you prefer(or can get hold of). Then I, in the name of all things Slavic, added some mushrooms into it. And in the name of robustness some side of pork. In an act of defiance I did add some thyme too. These were served with sour cream and lingonberries, but since a similar treat I've had in Poland, called pirogi, came with gloriously crunchy bacon bits, still swimming in their own fat... of course I just had to have them too. I grossly overestimated the need for the filling, so the portion below would be enough for 2 portions of the dough. But, since the first attempt went so well, I  made some more!

Pelmenis (makes 40)

1 egg
4 dl all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 dal water

Break the egg in a bowl. Add salt, flour and water and mix into a smooth dough. Wrap in cling film and let rest in the fridge for about an hour. In the meanwhile make the filling.

Filling:

4 large champignons (appr. 100 g)
around 200 g reindeer mince
5 slices of side of pork (or bacon rashers)
1 tsp thyme
1/2 onion
1/2 dl stock
salt, pepper

Chop the mushrooms and fry in a dry, hot pan. As the moisture has evaporated, add chopped pork (or bacon) and continue frying (under moderate heat) in the fat seeping out of the pork. Then add finely chopped onions and stock and cook until the onion is soft and the mixture has a paste-like consistency. Add thyme and season. Add to the mince and work into a smooth texture. Let rest in the cold for half an hour.

Divide the pelmeni dough into 4. Cover the remaining portions with cling filn and/or damp tea towel to prevent it from drying and work your way through one portion at a time. Rolling, cutting and filling just one portion at a time pays off because the discs dry easily as they're waiting for their turn and then the edges won't really want to stay closed. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface thinly and cut into discs of appr. 5 cm in diametre. Keep them covered until you're done with the whole batch. Then, using a tea spoon make small meat balls and fill the discs. Fold the dough around the filling, press the edges together and pinch shut. If you want, you can take the ends and fold them behind and pinching them shut too so you're left with a hat-like shape. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and keep covered until you're ready to cook them.

At this point you can also freeze them. You might want to lightly dust them with flour to avoid the whole batch sticking together.

Let rest in cold for about half an hour before cooking. Bring some good stock to boil (of, how I'd want to say I make my own but... I don't) and cook the dumplings until they surface - about 5 minutes. Lift out of the stock with slotted spoon, place in the serving bowl and (if you want) spoon some stock on them. Serve with sour cream. And gherkins. And lingonberries. And crisp bacon bits. Slavic melancholy you're going to have to source yourself, as at least around our table these evoked some very un-Slavic smiles all round...



In hindsight... I just might be fresh out of excuses now and will have to attempt making my own pasta dough now. AND dim sum wrappers...







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Thursday, 18 April 2013

Penne with ham and mushrooms



Selection at that market in Malaga got me excited about mushrooms again. But the selection back home isn't quite as magical... All I found were champignons. But you think I settled for that and actually produced a bona fide veggie dish? Ooh, no. Pork and mushrooms are just too damn good together. And when you add mustard and cream, you'll end up with a damn fine pasta. Don't believe me? Try it!
For mustard I happily used Finnish strong and sweet variety, but feel free to use any mustard you like. If you go for something as strong and vinegary as Dijon, adjust the quantity and if you like, add some honey to balance the sharpness.




For 2

150 g penne
12 champignons
1/2 smallish onion
appr. 70 g lardons (that's fancy word for bacon cubes)
the paste squeezed out of 3 large roasted garlic cloves
2 dl good stock
1 tbsp mustard
2 dl cream
handful of chopped chives (or spring onions)
3 slices of serrano ham (or Parma)
salt, pepper

Cook pasta in generously salted water according to the instructions on the package. Meanwhile make the sauce. Cut the mushrooms into thick slices - 3 or 4 per mushroom. Fry them on a hot, dry pan until the moisture has evaporated. Then add the lardons and let the mushrooms gain that glistening coating from the bacon fat (what a smell!). Make sure the pan isn't too hot as then the bacon will just burn.

Add the onions, finely chopped and fry until they soften a bit. Then squeeze the garlic paste out of teh cloves and into the pan, add mustard and the stock. Bring to boil and then bring the heat down. Add cream and chives. Let simmer for a while, season (but be careful, bacon and serrano ham add quite a bit of saltiness) . Add pasta and toss together. Slice the serrano lengthways in 2 and combine with pasta. Serve. Marginally pretentious basil branch so reminiscent of the 90's  optional.




And remember- there are differences in hams. If you have a choice, use younger and more pale-coloured ham that has a milder flavour. Aged, more mature iberico (or paleta) has a lot stronger flavour that for this dish might be a bit too leathery.
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