Monday, 30 June 2014

Instagrams of fun

Last weeks have seen changes in my life that have left my head spinning (and my smoker's lungs swiftly approaching middle age gasping for air). I've graduated to shooting in RAW, moved to Lightroom and fallen head over in heels in the new toy The Boy Next Door insisted on getting me: a professional quality tripod. I've even settled on which lense to get next. If all that won't result in good photos... I don't know what will.

But the biggest change by far is joining the smart phone era. Yep, I, too, finally gave in and am desperately trying to climb on the very edge of technology. And as a result of iCandy The Boy Next Door has configured for me (even my vocabulary has evolved into using words the existence of which I didn't even know about!) I have even joined the Instagram. One of the last people on the planet, apparently... But there's no denying it - the quality of my life has dramatically improved. I've even managed to take a selfie! 

So, in case there was ever any fear of having any spare time left from all the cooking and blogging and Facebooking and Pinteresting, Instagram ought to take care of that one. Do join! Like! Follow! Over here!

Oh, and yes, I promise. No bikini-bum-selfies. Promise.

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Friday, 27 June 2014

Vietnam on a plate

As the weather consistently fails to get even remotely summery I've been poring over a fellow blogger's photos from her recent trip to Vietnam and dreaming of a holiday. A long one. Somewhere far away. But I've got a while to go before my summer holiday so I have to make do with travelling on a plate instead. Luckily there has been progress in this part of the world too and you can pick up ingredients for all sorts of exotic dishes at your own supermarket!

In Vietnam these crunchy pancakes are known as banh xeo and make for a wonderfully summery street food treat. The pancake batter is gluten-free and you can get as creative as you like with the filling. Like, skip the prawns and go all veggie! Wrap them in a salad leaf, dip in the bright (sweet and sour and hot all at the same time) Nuoc Cham- sauce and enjoy! Or, as they say in Vietnam (according to Google Translate anyway...): tận hưởng!

Depending on the size of your frying pan this makes 4-6 pancakes

Hoi An- pancakes:

2,5 dl rice flour
a little less than 2 dl cold fizzy water
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp salt

Combine the dry ingredients, pour in water and mix quickly to a smooth batter. Let rest in room temperature for an hour.


250 g (king)prawns
1 small chilli
the juice of 1 lime
2 cloves of garlic
salt, black pepper

1 small carrot, peeled and grated
½ box bean sprouts
3 spring onion stalks, chopped

to serve: fresh herbs (coriander, mint and/or Thai basil), salad leaves

Thaw and peel the prawns. Cut them in half lengthwise and remove the vein if needed. Combine the ingredients for the marinade and let marinate for about half an hour. Drain, season with salt and pepper and quickly fry them. Peel and grate the carrots and squeeze out excess liquid. Chop the spring onions. 

Heat a couple of tbsp oil in a pan. Pour in 1/4 (16 if using a small frying pan) of the batter to an even layer (mix the batter between batches as it tends to separate!). Fry for about 5 minutes until the edges start getting crispy and curly. Then spoon 1/4 (or 1/6) of the filling and continue frying until the bottom is golden and crunchy. Fold the pancake in half and, if needed, drain on kitchen towel. Cut in slices and serve wrapped in a salad leaf with soe fresh herbs.

Nuoc Cham- dipping sauce:

1-2 small red chillies (depending on how fiery you like yours)
2 cloves of garlic
a couple of cm opiece of ginger, grated (generous t tsp)
3 tsp sugar
the juice of 2-3 limes (generous 3/4 dl )
generous ½ dl fish sauce

Combine the ingredients and check taste. Add more sugar or chilli as needed.




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Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Porchetta! Prego!

Midsummer celebrations are out of the way for another year. And my, how we stuck to the Finnish traditions: wellies, jumpers and woolly scarves galore... We had fun though. We didn't drown, break up, cheat, fight or even land in jail. Even our wine consumption bordered on moderate. Crikey - is this what it feels like to be a grown up? But before we dive into the culinary extravaganza that was our Midsummer, let's get cracking with the ones in the queue first. And first up is this treat from our recent leisurely Sunday lunch. For the teasers as to what's coming up, don't forget the blog's Facebook-page!

Erm... you know how a little while back I was all giddy with spring and summer and all the fresh produce and how it was time for "rich, meaty dishes to take back seat for a while"? Right on. Seems to fall into the same category as meeting a friend for a drink. It just never pans out that way.

Pork - I just can't get enough of it. And once we're through with +3°c weather (yes, for real) and get to kick off BBQ-season... what's there not to like! Especially pork belly has become a firm favourite of mine. After Filippino-style lechon liempo and Andalusian chicharrones it's time to pay homage to Italian traditions: porchetta, per favore!

Porchetta is a delicacy of Central Italy and Rome in particular and that's where I, too, discovered it. It's good both warm and cold (try in on a slice of ciabatta!) so get a piece as big as you can possibly carry home - you'll keep on wanting more. Lemon zest can be substituted with orange zest too. And with herbs you can't be too generous!

Serves 4-6

2 kg (organic) pork belly, boneless
6 cloves of garlic
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fennel seeds
8 sprigs of rosemary (about 2 tbsp when chopped)
1/2 bunch of thyme, leaves chopped (about 2 tbsp)
handful of sage leaves (about 2 tbsp when chopped)
the zest of 1/ 2 lemon
2 tsp dried chilli flakes
black pepper

Using a pestle and mortar crush the garlic with oil and salt to a paste. Toast fennel seeds on a hot, dry pan (careful they don't burn), crush and add into the garlic paste with finely grated lemon zest. Chop the herbs. Rub the garlic paste on the pork flesh and spread the herbs on top of that. Roll tightly and secure with butcher's twine.

Let season in the fridge (uncovered) for at least a good couple of hours or overnight. Take into room temperature a couple of hours before roasting it. Dry the skin and rub some salt on that side too. Drizzle a little of olive oil on top of the roll and place into a roasting tin. Roast at 180° for half an hour, turning halfway through. Then lower the temperature to 160, cover the roll with foil and continue cooking for another 2-3 hours until the temperature is 75-78°c. 

(Foil prevents the crackling from forming which makes this easier to cut into thin slices).

Let cool and cut into slices.

PS. Oh, remember how I was told I and my Italian-inspired menu had put a curse on the England- Italy game? Well, we'll just have to see what happens next: over the weekend I made GERMAN potato salad...!




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Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Watermelon, feta and mint salad

A long wait just came to an end as England started their campaign at World Cup. They faced one of the toughest countries in the tournament: Italy. As is to be expected, England had their asses kicked, though apparently this time it wasn't down to poor timing and hapless defence - it was me. Yeah, me.

A little while back we hosted yet another one of our Sunday lunches and took our time enjoying the Italian feast. Ever greedy for more pork I had made some porchetta (yep - on the blog soon!)  - that Roman specialty. Already this resulted in minor eyebrow-movement signalling mild disapproval. Ciabatta (totally store-bought - I've never had much luck with that one. Though... should any of you have a foolproof recipe I'd be happy to take it off your hands!) brought on the eye-rolling. And then, as I carried out Caprese, mozzarella, basil and tomato salad, its gloriously Italian colours were met with exasperated cries. Apparently I had single-handedly torpedoed the entire tournament and put a curse on the opening game. Me! The person who doesn't dare to leave the house on a match day without the lucky underwear!

This salad continues with the same colour scheme (no, I never do seem to learn). Odd as it may sound, it's become a bit of a classic in its own right. The sweetness of the watermelon combined with saltiness of feta and the freshness of mint leaves... it just works. And watermelon with black pepper... aaah.

You can skip the olives and mint can be substituted with basil or coriander. Grilling the water melon brings a whole new dimension to the salad. Just remember: like with anything this simple you want to make sure the few ingredients that are needed are good. So, do go for a good, soft, crumbly feta and leave those rubbery squeaky toys in the super market, ok?

As a side dish this feeds about 6

1/2 watermelon (mine was 1,2 kg)
400 g good feta cheese
generous handful of mint leaves
generous handful of olives, drained
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
(lemon) olive oil

to serve: balsamico syrup (optional)

Cut the melon in half , remove the rind and then cut the flesh into 1 cm cubes. Cut feta into similar size cubes. Combine with melon cubes and mint leaves (and, if using., olives, cut in half). Sprinkle black pepper and a drizzle of oil on top.

Summery, fresh, quick and easy... if only the same could be said about the English football!




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Saturday, 14 June 2014

Taste of Helsinki 2014

I'm fully aware how my Helsinki might occasionally seem like a very privileged one and straight out of Visit Helsinki- advert. Sailing the archipelago, dining in fancy new restaurants, attending foodie festivals and oohing and aahing over speciality shops. But fear not - I won't let it go to my head. I know that like with any city, there's another side to Helsinki; one that's a lot more gruesome...

But right now my Helsinki is (again) a celebration of good food and wine - courtesy of Taste of Helsinki- festival. Organized for the first time in 2012 it was the first of its kind in the Nordics. Now Stockholm (usually the pioneer in all trends), too, has founded its own.

The festival goes on all weekend, so if you're in town, do not miss it! Much like Streat Helsinki- street food festival this makes Helsinki a little better place for a moment; making it a friendly, fun place where people feel at home and (strangely for notoriously retiring Finns) actually enjoy each other and strike conversations with total strangers!

Here's how we spent our day.

As we got to the festival area, these weary travellers (it had been almost half a kilometre-journey and it was almost noon, you know..) just had to have some bubbly to get us in festive spirits. Too hasty to find Champagne we settled for this cava which was recently voted as the best sparkling wine right now. And it is the fizz we celebrated our first kiss with...

Refreshed by the bubbles we kicked off our day with Hodari & Hummeri. Their hot dog with veal, white asparagus and king prawns along with Royal lobster risotto were good choices.

Though we came prepared and with a 14-point-plan, we too were spoilt for choice. Good job I had The Boy Next Door and his stomach with me - there's no way anyone could survive this kind of an extravaganza with just one stomach...

Next we moved on to Ravinteli Bertha, where we sampled Cod, bean and scallop and Pork cheek, soy and celeriac. Classic them continues - if there's pork, I'll have it. Cod croquet was a bit dry and the beans a bit bland but the scallop foam was good. Spring cabbage that accompanied the wonderfully meaty pork had delightful mustardiness that complimented the pork superbly.

Owing to the fantastic dinner we enjoyed there a little while back, we had high hopes for Emo...

..but their crab cake was on the dry side too. The date liked it though and couldn't get enough of the coriander mousse.

The next wine we had was an old favourite of mine, Kung Fu Girl Riesling. With that I introduced The Boy Next Door to Farang's caramelized pork with toasted coconut dressing. The dish was tasty even to someone who's had it in one way or another in every single one of the chef's restaurants. One of The Boy next Door's favourites all day.

Lately we've been exploring the world of rosés and this tickled us in all the right places. Light, crisp with good body.

Our most successful wine pairing was this though.

Together with Juuri's dessert (goat's milk yogurt parfait with liquorice, raspberries and fennel) was heaven. 

Juuri was, as I expected, my favourite. Organic Finn cattle nose to tail- dish was soooo gooood Spring spelt risotto with spring greens was soooo dreamily creamy. 

From Michelin-starred Demo we had everything on display. Lobster sausage was great, but the accompanying saffron risotto was too Parmesany for my fromagophobe palate. That Royal lobster risotto totally kicked this one's ass.

Veal, stewed spring cabbage and sauce made with fermented soy beans was a tad too salty.

Having heard everyone rave about the show-stopping production that is the Space cream we just had to have some. Overall impression was a bit dry though.

Michael Björklund from Åland is The Boy Next Door's TV chef favourite, so his place, Smakbyn was our next stop. Slow-cooked lamb (Åland, that island autonomy located between Finland and Sweden is famous for their lamb!) with Smakby's lamb sausage tasted... a bit musty though. Oj då.

At this point we got worrying. Too much good stuff? Were our palates getting too accustomed to all the delicacies? Would nothing impress us anymore? The answer, luckily, was a resounding "no" as the next restaurant proved. One of the restaurants I'd been most eagerly looking forward to, one recently awarded their first Michelin star: Ask.

Pork belly, new potato and onion was a dish where flavours and textures were in perfect balance. Rustic, yet light.

But the pud. The pud!!!! Sorrel & white chocolate. Mamma Mia. The best dish all day. "This is what Midsummer's night tastes like" The Boy Next Door sighed, eyes closed.

But all that wine and food wasn't enough - oh no. Yours truly got asked to participate in Electrolux's Chef's secrets - cooking school, hosted by members of Finnish national culinary team. Oh, and the chef's secret? Electrolux...

At this point camera was taken over by The Boy Next Door. And not with bad results, eh? Just check him out! "Eat, drink, enjoy", says his tattoo by the way. Gotta love him.

The starter was seafood tartare with home-made mayo. Some fared better than others...

Later we got asked to attend to dessert work shop too. This is what we made.

Weather could have been better...but hey ho - that's Finnish summer for you!




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Thursday, 12 June 2014

Visit Helsinki - visit Lonna!

For someone who's used to living her suitcase (at least mentally) always packed and ready to go and who's spent so much of her time (especially summers) abroad it is rather peculiar to find herself in Finland so all the time. But it does enable exploring, making new discoveries and falling even deeper in love with my chosen home town. And in summer this place rocks!

Visit Helsinki invited a bunch of bloggers to get to know the island of Lonna located in the archipelago in front of Helsinki. We started the evening off sailing on this schooner. S/V Linden positively oozes old-fashioned elegance.

The Hyacinth Bucket within could barely contain her excitement about the evening as it was: "Do wear something nautical, dear", I heard myself instructing sartorially ever so hapless Boy Next Door. "We're going boating!"

In addition to artsy-fartsy closeups of ropes, the chilled rosé and catching up with fellow bloggers we found time to enjoy the spread, too as we learned about our destination for the evening.

The tiny island of Lonna, previously in military use has an interesting history that I, offspring of a military family, was curious to learn about. As was The Boy Next Door, also the product of military family.

I found these tracks leading to the gates from the harbour a bit creepy. It's kind of hard to escape the obvious concentration camp associations, right? The end of the tracks, the end of all hope... But nope - these have a lot... well, merrier story to tell. They were used for transportation of mines!

I also learnt that some ships need to be demagnetized. You know, degaussed. Which is what the island was used for at its most recent phase. Because of those very mines. Not getting one of those boats, you know. Sounds like far too much work.

There are plans to turn Lonna into a summer paradise for the whole family to enjoy. There will be play areas for children and there's even station where you can build your own bark boat (!). For those of you born in the 90's: that's how we, the generations born before the Nintendos used to entertain ourselves. You know, back in the 19th century. 

The old mine storage will be open next year as a venue that can host events of upto 200 people.

And I mean - just look at it. Could it be any more adorable? The restauration of the area continues as Helsinki is converting this into an archipelago oasis just a hop, skip and a 10 minute ferry ride away from the city centre. More of the historic buildings are finding new uses and everyone's ideas are welcome!

From mid-June onwards the cafe and restaurant will be open during during the week, too (provided there are no storms and gale force winds!) and get this: they actually sell ready packed picnic hampers! Awwww!

Restaurant takes reservations, but some tables will always be set aside for walk-ins, too. Emphasis is on local, organic produce whenever possible.

On the way back it was time to enjoy the view of Helsinki. It is so beautiful, this city of mine. Especially in the summer, seen from the sea. Helsinki  ♥

For the schedule for the ferry to Lonna please see here.

*In cooperation with Visit Helsinki*




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