Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Dining and wining in Helsinki: Jamaican Mamas

Sunshine.Light. Colours. Reggae. Helsinki might not seem like the place for those, but they're there if you know where to look for!

The quality of this food blogger's life has been shaken to the core. First my oven broke down and then the computer died. As all bad things come in threes, I've decided it's best to stay away from the camera for now. In case that too broke down... I'd seriously have to reconsider my career choices.

So, while I've been waiting for the new oven (and the estimate on the computer repair people) I've been relying on food cooked by others. This lady has been lunching at Hodari & Hummeri, Zaafran Deli and Twisted Street Kitchen. As street food is proving to be the biggest foodie trend around (you have heard about Streat Helsinki- food festival, right?), I also tried Jamaican Mama's, a Jamaican restaurant that, after months of work in progress, finally opened in the Hämeentie district in Helsinki - centre for all things ethnic. Their Facebook page has somehow managed to amass more than 17 000 followers!

The restaurant, brain child of Hazel, who's made her name with her cooking classes serves Caribbean street food / home cooked meals including classics such as saltfish and goat curry - both of which I absolutely must try!

 The atmosphere and decor are as fuss-free as the food. And the service - at least as sunny. This is a place where food is made and served with love.

Luckily I had The Boy Next Door in tow - otherwise I might have come across all... greedy as of course I just had to try just about everything. First we had dumplings that came with the jerk sauce they make from scratch. It wasn't as spicy as I expected, but so good I'm dying to know when they'll start bottling it and selling it.Yummee!

I myself haven't really had much experience of Jamaican produce in, you know, culinary sense, but even I had heard about the patties. The crust is clearly home-made, though a bit dry. The filling was beef - seasoned to perfection.

For main I went for Jerk Chicken wrap. I would have loved for the wrap to be home-made too as I just can't stand the plastic tatse of the store-bought ones. The chicken too could have been a bit spicier for my taste, but the date liked it. And let's face it: that little paper parasol did put a smile on my face in the middle of all the gray sleetiness!

The Boy had Reggae Chicken with traditionally cooked rice (with coconut milk and beans), but regular rice is available too. This had taste. We liked it.

The restaurant doesn't have a liquor licence, but their home-made ginger beer has become a hit. Unfortunately that meant it was sold out and the next batch was brewing. The alternative (something with ginger, too) was delicious though. The desserts are baked by Hazel's friend. There wasn't really any room for one but... just look at that gooey chocolateyness!

Less would have sufficed, I'm sure - the total came to about €50. Since we're both only familiar with Caribbean... herbs (!) I can't really pass any judgement on the authenticity- But it's always good not to have to limit the culinary travels to greasy neighbourhood Chinese or pizza-pasta-burger-kebab- places. Way to go, Mama Hazel!

The restaurant also sells a cookery book Hazel has put together, illustrated with wonderful photos so you can keep the Caribbean Sun shining even at home!



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Sunday, 23 February 2014

Dining and wining in Helsinki: Zaafran & Co

So, a vegan and a Jew were looking for a place for a lunch in Helsinki. No, this is not a joke. As personally I prefer the setting of an Irish bar and a rabbi...!

Fafa's, a slightly better fast food place in Helsinki specialised in freshly made, quality Middle Eastern fare (the best falafels in town!) just opened third venue in Helsinki, but they're not the only ones in that line of business. Just a couple of streets away from their joint in Kamppi there's another contender for a great lunch: Zaafran & Co kosher deli. Located next to the synagogue in Malminkatu this deli offers a delightful lunch for anyone looking for kosher feast, vegan lunch... or just fresh, well-made Middle Eastern food.

I happily accepted an offer from theowner, lovely Lee to come check out the selection.

The venue used to house another kosher deli, but in its current form Zaafran has charmed those in the know for over 3 years now.

Zaafran serves lunch, but also has a shop stocked with kosher goodies imported for instance form Israel and they are the only place in the country where you can buy kosher meat. Finland doesn't have a kosher butcher, so the meat is brought in from mainly Central Europe. As mentioned before, the trial slaughtering turned out to be such a success, that soon they will carry kosher reindeer , too!

Zaafran's feast reflects its owner's Moroccan roots. Everything but the bread is made from scratch on the spot and you can taste the freshness. The use of spices and fresh herbs instantly makes holiday mood kick in, but Lee, who, in addition to freshness and taste also focuses on the healthiness of the food reminds of the health benefits certain spices and herbs have.

The name Zaafran by the way means saffron.

The bread comes from Fafa's own bakery, with some special tweaks required by the kashrut regulations.

My lunch got off to a good start with Moroccan style olives in tomato sauce, slowly stewed eggplant and peppers and (well, how else!) hummus and pita. I've OD'd on hummus to the extent I've not felt any temptation to even try it since my last trip in the region but the distance has definitely made the heart grow fonder - I actually bought some to take back home, too.

In accordance with kosher regulations (kashrut) the food served here is either meat, fish or veggies - dairy cannot be served with meat. So overwhelming majority of the food is also suitable for vegans and/or lactose intolerants.

My meze platter had all sorts of goodies. Like home made lamb kebabs. And excellent, wonderfully spiced tuna-veggie patties (gluten-free, too!). But the best part were probably the vegetarian choices. They were balanced, well seasoned and genuinely good and fresh - not some bland afterthoughts. But then again, Middle Eastern dinner tables are famous for their abundance of fresh salads.

There were aubergine slices drenched in flour and fried in oil, very reminiscent of those Andalusian specialties Berenjenas Fritas which in that part of the world are served with local cane honey. So good! Quinoa salad was wonderfully nutty and herby. Tabbouleh was fresh and Israeli couscous... like coming home. Coleslaw and red cabbage salad are staples in my kitchen too and will, without a doubt, eventually make it on the blog, too. 

The pasty's puff pastry shell hid an excitingly sweet and spicy onion and pepper filling - this is I've got to learn to make myself, too!

The shop stocks all sorts of treats to medicate home sickness/ longing back to Middle East like pickles, juices and jams. And Bambas; wildly popular (and only marginally weird) peanut snacks. And other pantry necessities (right?) such as gefilte fish, rugelachs and chocolate-covered matzo.

There are plans about Mediterranean cooking classes and you can count on me signing in as soon as they'll be launched. Zaafran offers catering services too, around which that Israeli friend of mine for instance built his trip to Finland. And, seeing how they're the only kosher deli in Finland, they also deliver their goodies to customers all over Finland. 

Stomach full of home-cooked love I headed back home. With bags full of Bambas and matzos and fig preserve and kosher pastrami and kosher salami and quinoa salad and veal hot dogs and a fresh batch of pita breads... oy, what a Shabbat Shalom I had!




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Thursday, 20 February 2014

Dining and wining in Helsinki: Hodari & Hummeri

I'd soooo like to think I've been able to shed (at least some of) that black and white know-it-all unconditionality. I'm fairly certain one of my marketable skills in all my job applications (of which there are hundreds!) is flexibility. And sure, occasionally that's actually true. I have a set of socks that has specific socks for each day of the week and once I wore Friday socks on Tuesday. And got through the day (almost) anxiety-free.

But oy, vey what a different story it is with food. As The Boy Next Door has been forced to realize very early on as he delved into the psyche of yours truly. When you want pizza, nothing less than Putte's, the best in town, will do (ok, with the possible exception of  Skiffer). And if it's burger you're after? Only one place you can go, young man: Roslund. And sandwiches anywhere don't have anything on Street Gastro's masterpieces. And everybody in Helsinki knows what is the home to the best falafels in the country: Fafa's.

So far hot dogs haven't evoked any Grand Emotions in me, but as Henri Alen, the master mind behind ventures such as Pastis and Muru opened his latest joint, a tiny hot dog place next to Pastis on Tuesday, that settled my plans for lunch for Wednesday. And what ever he dies, he does it with flair: as the name, Kaartin Hodari & Hummeri ( "Hot dogs and lobster") suggests, this place takes those street food classics very seriously. And to a whole new level.

I came prepared, having already learnt that the buns, soft and deliciously brioche-like are made specifically for them. And the perfect texture of the dogs is the result of a lengthy research.

Of course I just had to have chorizo and octopus (€8.50). Luckily the hilarious spelling of their website (Chorizo and Octopussy) had been corrected at the black board in the restaurant. Though it did evoke some giggles in me and The Mane Magician that I'd stolen away in the middle of her well-deserved day off. Oh, it's good to be this mature and worldly...!

You know how I take my chorizo very seriously. So, this didn't quite live up this name. The texture though was excellent. And the squid... being such a rare treat up here in the North how could it not be lovely!

The Ox (€8.50) was trimmed to perfection with Osso Bucco. Juicy, meaty and the absolute favourite of both of us. The crowing glory? Truffle mayonnaise. Ox rocks!

But c'mon - we had to give lobster a go, too, right? Lobster is available both with Parmesan crust (€50 for a whole one, €29 for half) and in Lobster dog (€20). The fruitiness of the mango relish was an absolute treat.

For sides we had chips with black trumpet mushroom salt (€4.50) and coleslaw (€4.50). Chips were good, but not quite as good as the ones I've had at Roslund. Coleslaw was crunchy and fresh.

You can tell (and taste!) these guys take the quality of the ingredients suitably seriously. The cheeses consist of manchego and treats from small, local producers. The lobster is wild and brought all the way from Ameerica. To wash down these delicious dogs you can have beer, wine or (what else!) Champagne.

If you're in town, you should definitely check this out. The place only seats 15 and won't take reservations, but you can get the dogs to go, too. And these babies are some serious hunger-killing machines. If you do pop in, do try and get the table at the window!

As with Muru, Henri Alen has lucked out with the staff, too. They are friendly, efficient and know their stuff.

Now I should meditate myself into state of zen and brave the queues (which I've been told go around the entire quarter!) at Döner Kallio, the destination for gourmet döners... Maybe next week...? Stay tuned!




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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Chorizo a la Cidra

Much like everything else that in the recent times has left my kitchen this tapas treats is quick and easy. And this time I mean so quick and easy it's sort of embarrassing trying to even write down a recipe for this. Seriously. As the name suggests, this treat really only calls for 2 ingredients: chorizo and cider. Yet somehow those two; the dry acidity of the cider and the fatty spiciness of the chorizo, just compliment each other so well. 

Cider is drunk and used in cooking especially in Asturia. You've already been introduced to one of the regional classics: Asturian sausage and bean stew Fabada Asturiana. Asturian cider is dry and not very alcoholic. Outside Spain this could be substituted with French cider: especially the sort they produce in Brittany is very similar.

In the out with the old and in with the new- spirits I used the last of the fresh chorizo I'd brought back from Spain, but you can use cured one, too, the way they made these at Goce.

As a tapa, this is enough for 2-3

400 g chorizo
300 ml dry cider

Heat the pan over moderate heat. Pour in cider and then add chorizos. Let simmer (uncovered so the liquid reduces) for 15-20 minutes. Slice the chorizos, return the slices into the an and continue cooking for another 5 minutes and serve with the juices that by now should be thickened and wonderfully seasoned by the chorizo.

In case the chorizo you're using is the cooked variety, slice them, brown gently in a little bit of oil and then add cider.Let simmer for about 20 minutes and serve.




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Sunday, 16 February 2014

Halloumi, cranberry and pistachio salad

Life behind this blog has been going some strange times. Organizational skills and planning ahead, hinting at the existence of any kind of discipline have taken a holiday. Shopping list for weekend, meticulously drafted at Wednesday at latest, maximizing the natural light I only get for a couple of hours during weekend, writing down recipes promptly while I cook... all that has been replaced with aimless loitering and evenings that continue into the early hours of next morning.

I've spent time in restaurants and living on meals prepared by others. Reports of those, too, have only been updated on the blog's Facebook page with a camera phone (!). The posts I have managed to get published have been waiting in the publishing queue for weeks. Day trips. Cafés. Gushing over neighbourhood specialty shops. Pondering why now it's so hip to look like the girls we used to make fun of back in school over pizzas unanimously voted as the best in Helsinki.

My thoughts have been all over the place. None of them kitchen. On my way home I've found myself at metro stations across the town, not having even realized I'd taken the wrong train. Instead of parsley I've brought home coriander in some serious need of palliative care. And I didn't even curse. Photos, too, are all over the place and I can't even seem to be able to focus on editing. The angle of the fringes of the napkins are all wrong. Cutlery doesn't match. I have actually even cooked dishes that have not been photographed, you know, simply out of pleasure of having someone to cook for. What is going on?

And so my latest ventures in the kitchen have really only produced material for the blog's "quick and easy"- section. Though some of them have been veritable triumphs. This halloumi salad is one of them. Halloumi has recently had another coming in my kitchen (cheese! Cheese in my kitchen!) and in this salad was accompanied with spring onions left over from the Spanish mussels, pistachios left over from Moroccan orange salad, dried cranberries that were part of a Christmas present from my out-of-this-world-adorable god daughter and that sweet, thick balsamico I brough back from Spain (that was also featured in the beet root risotto). Or... could it be it's the company that just makes everything taste so good? You try and tell me!

Serves four

2 packets of halloumi
100 g box of rucola
a generous handful of chopped spring onions
a generous handful (about 100 g) dried cranberries
a generous handful (about 100 g) unsalted pistachios
good, thick, sweet balsamico

Spread the rucola leaves and chopped spring onions on the serving plate. Scatter cranberries and pistachios on top. Cut halloumi to slices (about 3/4 cm in thickness) and fry them in a little bit of olive oil in hot pan so they get a beautiful golden colour. Place on the bed of rucola and drizzle balsamico on top. 




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Friday, 14 February 2014

Spain on a plate

Last weekend's pilgrimage to Museokatu produced a bag of mussels. Big, meaty... and cheap - a kilo will set you back less than €7! It'd been a while since my last foray into the magnificent world of molluscs so I dived right in. I highly recommend you do too as though they might seem exotic and high maintenance, they're everything but. Serve them as tapas, have your friends over to share a pot or make them the centrepiece of a romantic dinner for two...! And no matter how you prepare them, they take practically no time at all - you'll have a steaming pot of delicious treats at your table in under 15 minutes!

Sherry is used for cooking in Spain especially around the regions of Cadiz and Jerez - that is the sherry country where this nectar is produced too. Much like with flan de naranja, idea for these came from Rick Stein's tour of Spain, though I did have something similar at the dinner at Goce.

But you've come to know me enough to guess I wouldn't stop there. I got a bit carried away and the result was my personal love letter to everything Spain is to me. Jamón Serrano, garlic, chili, saffron, sherry, orange... Just look at the list - could that even be bad?

The party we gathered around the pot to enjoy a leisurely Sunday lunch certainly didn't think so.

As tapas this is enough for 8-10, as a meal this feeds about 4-5

1 kg mussels
100 g Serrano ham
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
a pinch of saffron
1 chilli
finely grates zest of 1/2 large orange
1 dl (Olorosa) sherry
3 dl cream
black pepper, (salt)

to serve: spring onions/ parsley

Rinse and clean the mussels. Slice the ham into strips. Heat some oil or butter in a pan and let the ham crisp up a bit. Then add orange zest, finely sliced onion, garlic and half of the chilli. After a minute or so pour in sherry and saffron. 

Cook over high heat for a couple of minutes, add cream and keep cooking a little while longer. Season with pepper, but like always with mussels - hold the salt until after you've cooked them as they do add a fair bit of brininess. Add mussels and cook, covered for 3-5 minutes. Discard the ones that haven't opened. Scatter rest of the chilli on top along with parsley (if you remembered to buy any) or spring onions. Serve with good, chilled white wine, rustic bread and your loved ones. Happy Valentine's day everyone!




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Thursday, 13 February 2014

Fabulous Fiskars

Over the weekend we fled the gray and rainy Töölö to... an equally gray and rainy Fiskars, a small village about an hour away that is home to all sorts of artisans and crafters and which this years celebrates its 365th anniversary.

Much like the previous road trip destinations Hanko and Tammisaari, in the summer it too becomes one of those ridiculously cute summer paradises, but there's some magic there off season too.

There's nature...

... such as duck confit in its original form. Loud buggers, I'll tell you that. And much like their cousin Donald, these too have opted out of wearing trousers in public. Tut tut.

There are adorable little shops...

And even more adorable little cafés. Remember Petris Chocolate Room that I gushed over in Töölö? There's one here too!

I mean, cute, right? I can't wait to return here over the summer - for a mini-break in the too-cute-for-its-own-good Fiskars Värdshus...!




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