Monday, 31 March 2014

Minty raspberry crème brûlée tart

Santa clearly reads my blog. And isn't even terribly bothered by the fact that I don't celebrate Christmas. Or, how else do you explain the fact that last Christmas the parcels under the tree yielded pasta machine and a blow torch. Pasta machine is still looking for its introduction to the society as with my patience (non-existent), hand-eye coordination (see before) and the capacity of my current 1,5 square metre kitchen that would probably result in bodies rather than, say, pappardelle. That, and a long-awaited kitchen renovation...

The blowtorch finally got taken out of the box as I was designated to the dessert duty at a recent girls' night with The Wine Merchant and The Chocolate Manufacturer. Inspired by my favourite bakery in Tallinn I made this créme brûlée tart for which mint brings a little certain  jenesaisquoi.

Initially I made small tartalettes which got their finishing touches at the dinner table with Wine Merchant's kids. They were thrilled to get to burn stuff. Naturally I refuse to take any responsibility should they grow up to be arsonists...

The crust was ye olde and faithful recipe I now know by heart. This time, instead of regular sugar I used demerera sugar which gives the crust a darker colour and a mildly toffee-like flavour. You'll find the recipe here.

The recipe for the crème brûlée you'll find here. My tin was 28 cm in diametre which called for 1,5-times portion of the original recipe. After blind baking the shell I let it cool, scattered 100 g of fresh raspberries on it along with 20 finely chopped mint leaves and poured the cream mixture on top. Then I baked it 150 for about 30 minutes until the filling set (it will firm up even more as it cools).

Let the tart cool. Then sprinkle demerera sugar on top (be generous) and blow yourself away!

Other combination that would work are blueberries and cardamom. Oooh, I wonder how strawberries would behave with, say, basil...?

And in case you're having people over to celebrate the anniversary of that Jesus' resurrection this tart its creamy richness this would make a great ending to your Easter lunch!




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Saturday, 29 March 2014

Bloggers galore

One sometimes hears criticism about bloggers and how, based on what they write, they seem to live in a bubble that is in no way in touch with reality. They just run from one press event to another, hoarding goodie bags, pose for photos at Champagne launches, enjoy free dinners and then paint a rosy picture on Instagram and Twitter on how everything is so easy and fun. And sure, occasionally there are days when life is just so much fun it's hard to believe it's really happening. Overwhelming majority of the days, however, consist of curse words, chain smoking, exploding cake batters, broken ovens, lack of time, bad light, computer problems and bread experimentations that would warrant a chain saw.

Last week's Wednesday luckily wasn't one of those days. The day started with dining at The Chef of The Year competition and continued with a blogger meet at Scandic Hotel Marski, sampling their new menu. There were all sorts of bloggers and plenty of laughter and talking (over each other). Catching up, planning next get-togethers and celebrating each others' successes. The Boy Next Door came as my obliging plus one and got his first exposure to the world of Food Blogger's Significant Others. As he listened to tales of the other halves and the names they are known by in the blogosphere he couldn't believe his ears: "what? There are more of us out there?". Christ. Next he'll probably go and set up a union or something...

Oh, and of course there were the treats. They've been working on the menu, known as Nordic Bistro for a while now and felt they were ready to share the fruits of their labour.

Elk salami. Loved that!

Some of the delicacies are available on the new menu as well. Such as that dreamily light pannacotta with oven roasted apple compote. Unfortunately pig cheeks (slow roasted for 24 hours) along with slowly braised lamb entrecôte weren't quite as melt-in-you-mouth-tender as we were hoping.

The menu itself is classic and fuss-free and there's bound to be something for everyone. The fact that they're part of a chain brings with it certain commitments, but they also aim to live according to the seasonal produce and local specialties, which is something for instance their selection of cheeses reflects.

Hartwall's representatives were at hand to give us the lowdown on the differences between wines from the Old and the New World. We also got a chance to put everything we'd learnt to test as we drank our way through the house wines, selected from Chile and Italy. Antares Sauvignon Blanc charmed with its floral bouquet and was well received by everyone. Perlage Merlot delle Venezie Organic with its mellow tannines on the other hand proved to be surprisingly good match with cold smoked salmon of all the things.

Wine list is fairly vast and varied. I was delighted to notice attention had been paid to dessert wines too, which is something Finland still has some catching up to do. My heart melted as I spotted Pedro Ximenes' Pemartin Cream on the sherry selection...

When you bring some of the country's most prominent bloggers together, you can only have a good time. Good luck trying to get them to leave though...!

Our goodies bags featured bottles of the house bubbly (René Barbier Brut Reserva) with which we also kicked the evening off. Our bottles barely had time to chill as only a couple of days later they were popped open to celebrate some good news the blog's Facebook followers have already been revealed. We got engaged! And in case you even need to ask: with a sabre, of course!

A big thanks to Scandic Marski for a great night - we had a blast!




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Thursday, 27 March 2014

Asian mussels

An age-old adage states that mussels and oysters should only been eaten during months that have letter "R" in them. According to some this instruction can be traced to ancient Latin, but in 1599 at latest it was documented in "Dyets Dry Dinner",  a cookery book by an Englishman called Henry Butte.

There are many reasons given for this. One is the warmer temperatures of the summer months, which, before the Phillips Whirpool era would have been a hazardous combination with fresh seafood. The warmer conditions also apparently increase the toxins in the waters where those delectable delicacies reside and dine themselves. Especially for oysters summer months also the season of procreation so most of their energy is taken up by the starting the family-business (well, we all know how exhausting dating can be...) so the meat is often thin and bland.

Season continues through April so do make the most of it! Even the Finns have truly discovered mussels, I've noticed - more than once I've had to do some serious detective work in order to get my hands on some as they've been sold out everywhere. I've therefore had to learn to plan ahead and make some calls - thank goodness for Anton & Anton's superb customer care!

So far during the mussel mania my absolute favourites were those Spanish ones with saffron, chilli, Serrano ham, garlic and sherry. Probably one of the best things I've ever made, actually. This time, inspired by laksa, I whipped up a coconut milk-based sauce and this too is a tough contender for a spot in the Top 3!

Serves 2-3

1 kg mussels
1 generous tsp lemon grass paste (or a couple of stems of fresh lemon grass)
1-2 chillis (depending on their size and the stamina of your palate)
3 large garlic cloves
5 cm piece of ginger
1 can of coconut milk
1/4 dl fish sauce
1/8 dl soy sauce
1/4 dl cane sugar (or palm sugar)
2 shallots
oil for frying

to serve: fresh coriander leaves, lime wedges

First make the broth. Measure finely sliced ginger, chilli, garlic, lemon grass paste and coconut milk into a pan. If using fresh lemon grass, trim the ends and bruise it by bashing it with the back of a knife to release all the flavours. Bring to boil and let simmer over moderate heat, covered, for 20 minutes. Strain. 

Heat some oil and sauté finely sliced shallots. Return broth into the pan and bring to boil.

Brush and rinse the mussels. Add into the pan and cook, covered, for about 5 minutes. Shake the pot on a couple of occasions. Discard the ones that haven't opened. Sprinkle some fresh chilli and coriander leaves on top and serve with lime wedges.




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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Cheesecake with pear and cardamom

Right on then. The new love has brought many things into my life. Such as those guitars and amps. It's unfathomable how many cables and leads and chargers can live in one tiny flat! Luckily we're only a few weeks away from moving to our new home (with a proper kitchen! Big enough to accommodate a dining table! And a dishwasher! And a real oven! I can't stop squealing!) so sooner or later this, too, had to happen: Meet The Parents.

The fear was evidently mutual. The Mother in Law is apparently one of those rare people who actually read this blog. And consequently was concerned as to "what to offer a food blogger?" In the end she, too, had worked herself into such frenzy that she'd started questioning whether she even knows how to make coffee properly (!)It's not the first time I've encountered reactions like that, though it's not often it takes on proportions quite like that. And anyway - there's no need for that. When food is made with love, it's bound to be good. And I doubt any Michelin chef could knock my Dad's Spag Bol out of my favourite foods ranking (though if any of you are reading this blog - I'm more than willing to give you guys a try. You can contact me here.)

And must-have accessory to any visit to the future in-laws is a cake in your hand. After a quick consultation I settled for a cheesecake. The crust gets its (Christmasy) flavour from gingerbread crumbs and browned butter, which lends it lovely nutty notes. You can make the cheesecake mixture using only cream cheese or Greek yogurt too. If you want to kick up the peariness, you can marinate the slice for a bit in a dash of Xanthé. If you make this put of apples, Calvados is the go-to-tipple. Pear and rum might be another combination worth a try...!


300 g gingerbread
115 g browned butter

Finely blizz the gingerbread in a blender. Melt the butter and let it brown so it starts emitting nutty aromas. Mix with the gingerbread so you're left with a mixture reminiscent of wet sand. Line a 20 cm loose bottom cake tin with parchment and press the mixture ontp the bottom and the sides (about 5 cm high) into a thin sheet. Let set in the fridge for about half an hour. Then bake at 175° for about 10 minutes and let cool. In the meanwhile make the filling.


100 g cream cheese
150 g Greek yogurt
3/4 dl sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
the grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp corn starch
2 eggs

2-3 pears, depending on the size

Beat the eggs lightly and then combine with rest of the ingredients. Using a mixer (for the silkiest, lump-free consistency) whisk until smooth and pour about 1/3 of the mixture into the cooled shell. Peel the pears, split lenghtwise and remove the core. Cut into 3 mm slices and, starting from the outer edge and making your way towards the centre of the cake, place them in same direction on top of the mixture, each slice overlapping the previous one. Don't lose your cool if the perfect rosette don't start taking shape immediately, it's easy to adjust it later on by tucking in more slices where they're needed.

The rosette is pretty enough on its own too, so if you want, you could leave it visible. In that case make the edges lower and cut the cheesecake mixture in half. Pour in rest of the cheesecake mixture on top of the pears and bake at 175° for an hour. About halfway through cover with foil to keep it from browning to much. After an hour turn off the oven and keep the cake in there for another hour. 

Let cool in the room temperature and then set in the fridge for a good couple of hours(or until the following day). And if your nerves don't have enough going for them already you could always break the cake during the photography session, go into psychosis ("there's no way I could ever offer that to anybody! ANYBODY! ESPECIALLY YOUR MOTHER!") steal some branches from the garden next door and desperately try to masquerade the damage. Then it's time to put on the dress, hyperventilate a bit, smile and hope for the best...!




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Sunday, 23 March 2014

Streat Helsinki 2014

Just like what felt like a million other foodies, we were there too. At Streat Helsinki 2014- festival, that is. Held for the very first time, this celebration of street food was a much anticipated one. 

And when, against all the odds, Saturday morning broke in the most glorious sunshine, my spirits were high. The map had been printed, the selection studied and a strategy devised.

To feed the hungry masses there were 37 stands. Some Helsinki restaurants you've already too been introduced too, some small producers from outside the capital and some food trucks had travelled all the way from neighbouring countries. Because of the limitations of our respective gastroenterological capacities we decided to skip the old friends such as Street Gastro, Twisted Street Kitchen, Cholo and Fafa's and instead explore the new ventures.

There was street food with Asian, Mediterranean and Mexican twist and every booth offered a vegetarian choice too.

Were kicked the day off at Liesikiesi with pike and crayfish slider followed by their beef slider. Especially the pike and crayfish one was so deliciously fresh!

To my great delight Salt, one of my favourite restaurant in Tallinn was there too. Cabbage stuffed with veal was Salt at their best: drawing from traditions, but executed with sophistication. Salmon stuffed spring roll was light and fresh. Should you ever find yourselves in Tallinn, I highly recommend you check them out!

My favourite was Skibibi Bros & Co  (how can I have never heard from them before?) who flew the flag for Finnish produce. Char grilled chicken heart, served with delicious sauce made with caramelized onions came with veggie muesli (!) made with kale among other things was a beautiful dish where tastes and textures were in perfect harmony. The Boy Next Door was absolutely floored by their Nordic flatbread with vendance tempura.

B-Smokery was one of the first places I had ticked as one to visit. And it didn't fail. Their sandwich with 10-hour-brisket had plenty of taste and size.

The day simply couldn't have been a greater success. Helsinki, basking in the glorious spring sun put on its best face. Both vendors and the laid back music blasting throughout the area made for a fantastic atmosphere that couldn't but rub off on the crowd.

As superb as the food was, that was the best thing on offer; that atmosphere of togetherness. The organizers set out to bring people together and enjoy. And that they did. People were on good mood and on several occasions we got to witness something utterly un-Finnish: total strangers striking a conversation with each other.

All the people we met loved what was going on though there was still certain level of skepticism. "I'm sure some jobsworth authority will come up all sorts of regulations and restrictions to keep this from happening again", muttered one man. That would be sad. And plain stupid. This was one of those days when Helsinki was at its best: a European, fun city where people enjoy themselves - this is exactly what Finland needs more of!

And my, how heart-warming it was to feel people's excitement. Who would have thought one would get to see people queuing for oysters at a Helsinki street food festival? I mean, oysters!

Richard McCormick, one of the masterminds in the foodie scene thanks to whom Helsinki gets to enjoy events like this had actually set up an oyster bar. 

"Unheard of!" a French man at our table laughed. "What is happening to Helsinki? We have a French man eating fish & chips and Finns queuing for oysters!" Something, absolument awesome, I say.

You didn't think we were done just yet, did you? Oh. No. There was Richard's other venture, Burger joint to go through. We went for Duck confit burger (duck confit! In a burger!) which was bursting with Mediterranean flavours. Ooh.

At this point even we had to bow out. And not because there weren't many, many more places to sample. Lamb head burger for instance we only heard of after rolling home and poring over others' reports. But hey Helsinki, let's do this again real soon, right?




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