Sunday, 28 September 2014

Lamb chops with persillade crust

One's relationship with one's butcher is a lot like one's relationship with one's hairdresser. It's based on admiration and appreciation for his/her talent, but also a little bit on fear.

You can't really go anywhere else because that iron-clad trained eye immediately notices it. "What's been going on over here? Who's in charge of these highlights?"

We have two vendors at Hakaniemi market hall that we rely on for our meat. And the other one sure isn't shy about reminding us we've not been seen for a while. So, sure we'd do our bit in spreading the gospel of vegetarianism... but the butcher.

A little while back we picked up some lamb to be the star of our very British Sunday lunch. Though in a very un-British way we left the very rosé. In case that looks just a little too pink for you, cook them in the oven for 20-25 minutes instead depending on the desired doneness. Do allow them to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into chops though!

Our rack of lamb got a lovely herby crust from persillade left over from the summery salad with marinated octopus. For the recipe please see here.

Serves four (at least)

2 racks of lamb (total weight 1 kg)
salt, pepper
persillade sauce
butter and oil for frying

Take meat into room temperature well in advance. Season it and fry in a mixture of oil and butter until it's got a lovely brown crust. Transfer into an oven-proof dish, spread persillade on top of it and bake at 160º for 15 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes and cut into chops.

Serve with salt & vinegar potatos and garlicky cashew sauce.




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Saturday, 27 September 2014

Vegan-raw food-garlicky cashew sauce

I. Love. Sauces. (and dressings and dips and spreads and gravies and well, you get the drill) I'm one of those people who lick the plate should the fellow diners' eyes look away for just one second. During the BBQ season though they tend to be of the cold, mayo and / or Greek yogurt-based variety.

But if you follow kosher (the rules broken conveniently down for you here) you can't have dairy products with your meat. Every now and then readers come forward with wishes (yes! I have readers! Actual readers that aren't my Dad!) and my dear friend, Yiddishe Mama has been asking for dairy-free recipes. On a couple of occasions I did try and suggest substituting dairy product in the recipe with a soy alternative. Until I was told that soy, too, was something she couldn't eat. So, I came up with this creamy cold sauce without a drop of cream. Nuts and roasted garlic lend it lovely toasty sweetness. And lo and behold - not only can this sauce be made totally vegan, it's raw food, too! No wait, it isn't. The garlic is roasted in the oven... Oh, well. That would have been just too good to be true.

But let's not get too giddy over there - in order to stop this from going all too trendy and healthy, I did serve these with herby lamb chops, the recipe for which you'll get tomorrow!

You do want to take your time soaking the nuts. Overnight is good, but at least 4 hours anyway. See, the softer the nuts, the smoother and less gritty the end result will be.

Serves 4-6

375 g cashews
water for soaking

The sauce:

4-5 dl soaking water (half or whole quantity can be replaced with milk)
7 roasted garlic cloves (instructions here)
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp mustard
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp sesame oil
pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1/2 - 1 tsp pepper (black or white) 

Pour enough water on top of the nuts to cover them. Be generous with water as the nuts swell as they soak. After you're done, drain the nuts and reserve the liquid.

Dump the nuts into a food processor/ blender and keep adding soakig liquid (and/or milk) a little at a time until you've reached the desired consistency. Squeeze in the paste from the garlic cloves and blizz until smooth.Add the remaining ingredients and let the flavours come together by resting it in the fridge for half and hour or so. Check the taste, season as needed and add more liquid (soaking water or milk) if you want it runnier (it does set a bit in the cold). Serve. On bread, as a dip (with root veggie crisps this would kick some serious ass - I can't wait to try this with beets!) or with grilled meat.

I don't even care if the following qualifies as blasphemy, but Jesus Christ this was good!




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Friday, 26 September 2014

Salt & Vinegar potatos

As a kid I could not get the grown ups' fuss over the new harvest potatos and their idea of summery lunch. When ever I would ask "what's for lunch?" I would get told "ah, but we have those new potatos! And dill! And butter!" I couldn't understand what was so great about those -  I mean, we had potatos and butter in the fridge all year round!

And though the turmoil that was my teenage years led me to believe adults were daft and just didn't get stuff (oh the timeless elegance of fundamentalism of adolescence! I would, however, like to point out that occasionally there were other, more pressing issues behind the angst than just potatos, mind you...) I can see that a quarter of a century has done its job. More often than I care to count I found myself sighing joyously over the summer, uttering those very words "aaah, we have new potatos! And dill! And butter!"

But the sunny moments of starchy happiness have not been entirely without dark clouds. More than once I found myself bringing haplessly home bags labelled as "new harvest potatos". Small there were sure, and covered in soil. But the taste just wasn't there. See, even the scent they emit when being boiled is something very particular (oh my freaking God - have I actually become a potato fanatic?!) and the taste... something worth the months-long wait. These on the other hand had neither. I was shocked. And braced myself for the evening papers' exposé on the shameless spud scam. But no. Then siikli (ok, so I might be a bit of  potato buff), the Rolls Royce of the potato varieties (think of it as a Finnish equivalent of Jersey Royals) hit the shelves. Oh yeah. Now that's what I'm talking about!

Even though the consumption got totally out of hands this summer, I still couldn't get enough. We've been having them on their own, with herring and in salads. But these crunchy salt & vinegar potatos I picked up on Bon Appetit sounded so tempting I just had to give them a go. Anything reminiscent of a proper English pub must be good, right?

They got just about the most highly sought after nod of approval (right after Queen Elizabeth II and Hyacinth Bucket, of course) from my British Brother who turned up for Sunday lunch. He actually took everything that was left to go.

As a side this is enough for 4-6

1 kg new harvest potatos
2,5 dl strong vinegar (+ 2 tbsp for serving)
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp butter
freshly ground black pepper

to serve: 

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives (rosemary and dill work well, too!)
fleur de sel

Rinse the potatos and, if on the large side, cut into quarters. Combine in a pot with salt and vinegar. Add enough water to cover the potatos by a couple of cm. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and cook over medium heat until potatos are done. Drain and steam until dry.

Heat butter in a large frying pan over medium heat (you don't want it to burn). Add potatos  and season with salt and pepper. Fry, shaking every now and then, until golden and crunchy (8-10 minutes). Drizzle with the remaining vinegar and serve with chives and a pinch of fleur de sel. 

Oh, and what else did we have? Well, practically-raw-food-vegan-cashew-sauce-just-about-to-die-for and some persillade-crust lamb chops! Recipes for these in the following posts! Oh, you're in for some serious treats...!



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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Gourmet fast food: duck confit pizza

At an interview a little while back I was asked what my favourite food was. How can anyone give just one answer to a question like that? It depends on so many things: the time of the year (and month...), your mood, the country you're in... everything! But yeah, pizza is one thing I can't imagine ever getting tired of. 

One of the very first things I remember noticing about The Boy Next Door during one of our very first dates was the fact that he ate his pizza just right. First he cut the pizza in slices, which he then lifted off the plate with his fingers, curving the slice just a little and into the mouth it went. "But pizza should be eaten with bare hands" he said, puzzled, as I studied all this with a smile on my face. Damn right it should!

So, I knew straight away what our entry would be for OivaPari recipe contest Pernod Ricard just launched for Campo Viejo Reserva 2008. The first three legs of the contest this spring were such a blast I couldn't wait for the next ones - especially after learning that the theme for the next three legs is that oh, so trendy fast food. But with a gourmet twist. You just watch this space - there are some serious treats coming your way later this year!

We paired the wine, medium-bodied with gentle spiciness and cherry and fig notes, with pizza. Not just any old pizza though, but pizza with stewed fennel, red onions and (wait for it...) duck confit! (I suppose it was only a  matter of time before my beloved duck found its way into a pizza, too...) And a fine pair it was, too. 

The dark, spicy notes of the pizza sauce add a little sharpness to the fatty richness of the duck, compliment the spicy notes of the wine and the pomegranate seeds add a nice burst of fresh berriness. 

You'll find the recipe for the crust here. I made a double dose this time, so depending on the size you'll get 4-5 large pizzas.

Prepare the dough and leave to rise in the fridge. You make the dough up to 3 days in advance. 

Pour onto a lightly floured surface and punch away the air bubbles. Divide into 4 and roll into balls. Brush with oil, cover loosely with cling film and a tea towel and leave to rise for another hour in a warm, draft-free place. In the meanwhile make the sauce and prepare the toppings. 

Pizza sauce:

2 dl red wine
2 tsp Chinese fivespice ( a blend of ground ginger, anise, fennel seeds and cinnamon bark) 
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp finely grated orange zest
3/4 dl good cranberry jelly
1 tbsp brown sugar
500 g passata
salt, black pepper

Measure wine into a pot with fivespice, orange zest and cloves. Bring to boil and cook for 5 minutes. Then add cranberry jelly and let it melt. Then add sugar and passata. Cook over medium heat for half and hour. Let cool. Check taste and season with salt and pepper (and more sugar if desired).


4 mozzarella balls (á 125 g)
4 duck leg confits (recipe here if you don't want to use tinned ones)
2 bulbs of fennel
1 large red onion

To serve: coriander leaves, pomegranate seeds

Drain mozzarella and grate. Squeeze the grated cheese through some kitchen towels to get rid of excess moisture. Peel the leathery outer layers off the fennels, cut in half and remove the tough core. Cut into thin slices and sauté in a little bit or butter until softened. Add a little water and cook over low heat under the lid until soft - depending on the thickness 15-25 minutes. Drain and let cool.  Peel red onion and cut into thin slices. Drain the ducks (reserve the fat and use it for say, roasties!), peel off the skin and using your fingers, shred to chunks of desired size. Season with salt and pepper if needed.

Pre-heat oven to 250º. If using pizza stone, put it in the oven now. If you don't own one, leave the tray in the oven to heat. This helps the crust to get crisp. Once oven has reached the right temperature, keep the stone in for another 45 minutes. 

On a floured surface roll the dough into thin discs. Since I myself haven't mastered the art of pizza-baking and fail to get round crusts that would satisfy my OCD-like quest of symmetry I use a big plate and cut the dough around it with a pizza-cutter. Voilà! The leftovers can be worked together into another pizza. 

Spread a little sauce on the crust (go easy on the toppings to avoid a soggy, sad pizza!) , followed by cheese, then fennel shavings, red onion and finally duck confit (This way they'll get that lovely crust). Bake until cheese has melted and crust has a little colour on it - about 8-10 minutes. 

Before serving sprinkle some pomegranate seeds and/or coriander leaves on top. And enjoy. For instance with Campo Viejo Reserve 2008! PS. For this the wine is best served a little chilled.

*In collaboration with Pernod Ricard Finland and their Oiva Pari recipe contest*




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Monday, 22 September 2014

Red, red wine

Autumn is here. And with it the new season along with the changes it brings into one's diet. Wild mushrooms! Game! Slowly cooked stews! Meat!

And that means transition from light, crisp whites and bubblies and rosés to red. I got to sample Norex Spirits' new autumn/ winter collection (Fashion week - take that!) and oh, what a lovely afternoon that was.

Bar 7 Blings at Radisson Blu Plaza offered a nice venue for the event. 

I kicked the day off with Champagne. This summer I've really fallen for rosé - in Champagne, too, so Nicolas Feuillatte's Rosé Brut was a nice new acquaintance. My ablsote favourite though was Blanc de noirs, made entirely out of Pinot Noir, which lends it great body. Rosé and Blanc de Noir are sturdy enough to be served with food, too: Rosé would compliment lighter dishes with fresh tomato, whereas Blanc de Noirs could carry something more robust too. 

Feuillatte, founded as late as in 1976 is today the most popular Champagne in France, and #3 worldwide, too.

Then off to whites form Austria, one of my favourite white wine countries. The difference between these two was clear: as teh name would suggest Fortissimo was so much more intense, aromatic and as such, more after my own heart. This I would pair with fatty fish and it could take some smoky aromas too. The importer's website actually suggests it as a white alternative for duck.

Spanish selection was particularly inviting (claro que si!) and Parés Balta had some interesting stories in store too. Located in Penédes near Barcelona this family-owned vineyard's own story has just entered its 3rd century.

Since 1970's the winery's been in the capable hands of Cusiné family. Their women play a big role in the production and have had several wines named after them. The wines are biodynamic, too. 

Wines from Parés Baltà are typically very, very dry. This Gewürtztraminer is a fine example of that. The bouquet is typical to this grape, intensely aromatic and perfume-like but taste totally throws one: in its dryness one could easily mistake it for Chablis.

Ginesta is part of the winery's Microcuvée edition which only gets made the very best years. The number of the bottles is also very limited - this for instance was the bottle 2281 of the only 2586 they made that year.

Spain was also responsible for the most confusing bubbly I think I've ever tasted. Txapana Arzuaga is a blend of Pinot Noir (40%) and Chardonnay (60%) from Ribera del Duero's wine region in Northern Spain and represents "the old school cava-making". It is extremely dry, intense and very original - the spokesperson's described it as "pharmacy-like" and said it has a tendency to divide people firmly into two categories: people either really like it or really don't. I'm still not entirely sure which group I belong to...

Because the event showcased the new additions for the autumn and winter there weren't a who lot of rosés. There was this though and an instant favourite of mine it became too. Very balanced and elegant - only mild berry notes, none of that ickiness that too often accompanies these pink beauties and the wine, a Cinsault-Grenache-Mourvèdre-Syrah- blend is moderate on the acidity too. 

I was already feeling amorous and then I was introduced to these brothers. Full of love, these two. Then again, I don't think I've ever had a bad bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape... These are BFFs with stews and anything gamey. Ooh, autumn is looking a lot more bearable...!

Our afternoon continued with a Grand Cru tasting showcasing Wolfberger's wines from Alsace , another firm favourite of mine. The tasting was superb and taught me so much about terroir (yep - I just used an actual wine term instead of my own silly make-believe ones!) and how much the terrain and the conditions contribute to the complexity of the wine. 

Wolfberger's representative was tangibly proud as she talked us through the production of their wines and how a minimal intervention is needed as the product itself is so good. Finnish palate is apparently very appreciative and their wines are very popular here - especially now during the crayfish season...!

The first up was the wine we chose for our crayfish party. Every bit as good as I remembered. It's aromatic and well suited for (white-fleshed) fish and crayfish, though the citrusy notes did get us thinking about vegetable dishes and Asian cuisine, too.

The next sample took a wild leap forward. From the hot and dry microclimate of Pfersigberg this Grand Cru had those familiar petrol notes in its bouquet, followed by a longer and more intense flavour. 

This is the wine Wolfberger's representative felt was "in culinary terms most interesting".

Then it was off to Steingrubler regions Grand Cru. Even more intense with interesting, oceany, briny breeze, courtesy of the limestone terrain. 

Then we moved on to Gewürtztraminer, that Alsace darling. Intensely aromatic with floral notes that are begging for Asian, spicy food. Strong cheeses and fruity, not too creamy desserts were other suggestions around the table.  According to my tasting notes (yes, I actually made some!) this was my personal favourite. 

The word "Gewürtz" means spice - no wonder then it makes such a great match with all things spicy. "Traminer" refers to the village of Tramini in Italy where this grape originally hails from. "And that" as Oz Clarke would put it, "is a wine fact."

Pfersigberg's Gewürtztraminer (no, I'm not even going to try to say that out loud) had a less intense bouquet, but grew stronger as we swirled our glasses a bit. This had a lot more sweetness to it and a beautiful evolution is expected in the coming years.

Steingrubler's Gewürtztraminer (seriously, who comes up with these languages?!) had an intensely yellow colour and very strong petrol notes. The taste was sweet to the point of sharp. Other qualities (look at us go...!) were certain oiliness and gentle smokiness, again courtesy of the terrain. This became evident in Steingrubler's Riesling too as it had had time to breathe a little. 

What a journey!




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Friday, 19 September 2014

Roadtripping: the weird and the wonderful

I can't even remember the last time I spent the entire summer in Finland. So, much of this summer holiday was spent on the road. In awe of the abandoned sheds, fields that seem to go on forever and mist that wraps its arms around them at nightfall. This endless space, silence and nature that we have in this country. And all the weird and wonderful one encounters...

Since planning ahead (or map-reading skills for that matter...) doesn't seem to be either one of our fortes, we got lost a lot. Though... did we? We did stumble upon so many little gems that otherwise might have gone undiscovered.

One of the first (and weirdest) was a shop called Kasvihuoneilmiö ("the green house effect" in Finnish). Located on E18 road, halfway between Turku and Helsinki this place must be seen to be believed. Build in what looks like a massive green house it's a phenomenon, restaurant, cafe and a shop. And Lord, what kind of a shop. They've got everything. And I mean, everything. Like a herd of reindeers made of brass (yours for a mere €1000 a head), 4-metre flower vases (I know where I'll get my supplies in after my offer on Versailles goes through...) and Italian police uniforms form 2nd World War (?!). Crazy. And I went a little crazy, too. 

What seemed like hours later I emerged with staging equipment: some old cutlery (can't have too many of those, ever!), a gardener's box (no, I don't do any gardening...), sea shells and the absolute piece de resistance: a Moroccan lantern. Which The Boy Next Door turned into a lamp for our living room. The light is so whimsical we're bound to be raided for cannabis plantation soon...)

We also made some finds at the  antiques flea market in Nauvo, where The Boy Next Door bought a smoker, made by Abu in 1970's. Still in perfectly working condition, I was told. And why wouldn't it - it's got royal warranty an all! (yes, the following conversation actually happened in my best Patricia Routledge voice: "Richard, dear, it's got a royal warranty! We shall only smoke our fish using the most executive standard fish-smoking equipment and surely there's no higher authority than the Royal Family of Sweden, dear! That princess of theirs, Madeleine, used to be a chain-smoker after all!" )

I on the other hand fell immediately in love with a 3-metre chaise longue. For which there was no room either in our Toyota or our living room - currently the kingdom of Frank Zappa and Lady Hjördis - our 100-year-old antique sofa and a rococo-armchair...

Somewehere in the region of Meriteijo we stumbled upon Mathildedal, an old iron works village. An absolute treat. We've already earmarked its charming inn for next summer along with a couple of promising-looking restaurants. There was also a delightful little cafe/ shop (like hotel, still owned by the family that originally built the factory!) that sells divine home-made fudge.

For a foodie our trips had plenty of goodies in store. Especially the coastal road has a lot of smokeries that are definitely worth a trip. In case you're on the move somewhere near Porvoo, you might want to pop over to Tyysteri smokery. Also keep an eye on the signs that advertize fish smokeries - some of them even have smoked tuna!

Our endless quest for carnal pleasures lead us to Pohja, home to Westchark deli. Unfortunately our favourite (ever since our first ever breakfast together!): the air-dried snow ham had sold out (again) but their country-style air dried ham was almost as good. And then we got some deer sausages. And wild boar paté which was even more delicious than the ones I've been known to hoard in Tallinn

In addition to food, we also found something to lubricate our throats with. In Fiskars we visited Rekola brewery. Judging by the smell something wonderfully dark and toasty is about to hit the shops...!

And lo and behold - we found ourselves on a vineyard, too! We'd bumped into Tammiluoto winery already at The Delicacies of Finland earlier this summer and were happy to survey their glorious grounds. The estate started out as an apple farm but in 1996 they added wine into their repertoir as well. We picked up a bottle of Tyyra - a semi dry white with a hint of seabuckthorn. 

But the award for the weirdest place goes to a restaurant we found lurking in the woods in the middle of absolutely nowhere, without even any signs to guide customers there. More on this in the next post...!




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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Feasting on Finnish archipelago's treats

Our precision attacks around the Finnish archipelago have left us with lots of lovely memories... especially around our waists. Oh, one eats and lives so well there!

Unfortunately we never got around to the girl's roadtrip (destination of which last summer was Hanko) but instead  I've been tripping (on and off the road) with The Boy Next Door. And eventually we made it to Hanko, too. Of course. It is one of those once in a summer things after all. (For snapshots of last year's trip to Hanko, pop in here.)

For The Boy Next Door the trip was first in nearly two decades, but a very familiar place form his childhood - the summers of which were largely spent there. And sure enough Hanko never fails. It's always as adorable as one remembers.

I did make it known that in addition to owning a boat (!) I also wouldn't terribly minding having a house in Hanko. You know, one of them ornate 150- year old villas that dot the promenade. Though he'd probably name it something like Aston Villa - just to spite the Manchester United loving me...

But what's a trip around the archipelago without the archipelago buffet? It was too late for that in Nauvo, but luckily there's always Hanko. I'd already eaten my way through På Kroken's very nice selection (€26) some years ago so this time decided to feast on Restaurant Origo's spread, located on the West side of the Hanko next to the other restaurants (remember last year's heroic lunch at Hangon Makaronitehdas?)

Because we we're still on our summer holiday, it was still technically summer. And since it was summer, it must be warm? And during warm summer one sits out on a terrace, right...?

And so we did. With two pints of Erdinger. Shivering, yes, but out on the terrace.

The decor of the restaurant borders on fancy.

The candles, placed in the nooks in the stone wall make for rather romantic atmosphere.

The sign advertizing the place as "Restaurant and music bar" didn't exactly impress me. The archipelago buffet (€29.80), luckily, did.

For those of you not familiar with this glorious archipelago tradition, archipelago buffet is something restaurants in the Coastal Finland (and archipelago, of course) often have in the summer. It's got everything to make a fish-loving Scandinavian very happy: several sorts of pickled herring, salmon (cold smoked, warm smoked, gravad...), roe with all the trimmings (hard-boiled eggs, sour cream, finely chopped red onions), shrimps, fish terrines... and usually some meaty choices too. Oh, and did I mention the best part? All. You. Can. Eat. 

And that. I. Did. 

Seeing its a buffet that is served all day long, the boiled potatos (gotta have those!) had transmogrified to rubber, but the taste (oh, the joys of new potato!) was nevertheless good. There wasn't much bread left though - just a couple of slices of the archipelago malt bread (can't have the buffet without that!)

Luckily there was plenty of fish in the sea. Smoked herring, mackerel and salmon. So many varieties of pickled herring The Boy Next Door improvised an ode to this humble fish. And a couple of terrines made of fish and/ or seafood. Oh, we liked. 

They didn't have those whole shrimps that I OD on every time I ever see them anywhere, but they did have some ready peeled ones in sort of Asian marinade that almost made up for it. 

For meat lovers there were some (dried up by now) pates with trimmings and slices of roast of some sort.

Did we get our money's worth? Think so. Once in a summer, people, once in a summer...




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