Friday, 30 January 2015

Dining and w(h)ining in Helsinki: Sasso

Italian restaurants are something there's no shortage of Helsinki. Some of them are actually ok, too. Sasso was opened in 2004 (where does the time go?) and is specialized in the culinary legacy of Northern Italy. This year marks Milan World Expo and Sasso celebrates different regions in Northern Italy all year long. First stop is Venice, which is the theme until April, followed by Milan, which features on the menu in May and June. August through November it's Piemonte's turn (look out for those wines!) and the rest of the year is spent paying homage to the rustic comforts of Bologne.

I checked out the Venetian delights over a press lunch a couple of days ago.

The neo-Renaissance features of the house restaurant is located in offer (especially the Venetian theme) rather suitably spectacular setting.

The wines for Venetian weeks are sourced in collaboration with Pasqua, the largest privately owned winery in Italy. This year also marks their 90th anniversary. Harmless, easy-to-approach wines all throughout the meal. 

The first course on Venice menu (59 €, wine package 48€): deep-fried soft shell crab with poached egg and spinach. Much of the crab's taste was lost in all the deep-frying, but the crisp exterior created a nice contrast for the rich creaminess of the egg. The egg, I'll have you know, was perfect to a point of magic: a mere nano second would have been too much. 

You might be able to imagine how much I looked forward to the next stop: black risotto with grilled octopus (!!!). The octopus was cooked beautifully but I did not care for the Parmesan in the risotto. Cheese lends it mustiness that overpowers the subtle oceany taste of squid ink. The lemon zest could have brightened the dish with freshness but failed to push through.

Wine pairing was nice. No fireworks, but did the job just fine. 

And from octopus to another big favourite of mine: duck. Honey-glazed duck breast was cooked beautifully and accompanied with sauce that got polished away with bread everywhere I looked. Not a whole lot of gingeriness though - apart from a couple of thin flakes. Delightfully light dish nonetheless and did not need any coma-inducing starch.

At this point we moved on to Cecilia Beretta branch of Pasqua, which produces a bit better quality wines. Sure enough Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2012 was the best of the meal. Not very complex, but well-balanced. Full-bodied, velvety smooth with (surprisingly) soft tannins. Hints of vanilla and red berry tones were a great pairing with duck. 

(Always on the look out for even more dishes for my staging cuopboard) I couldn't help admiring the crockery. Such beautiful dishes!

For afters there was fritole, Venetian carnaval treat of deep-fried beignet filled with cardamom cream. Cream was good and there was lots of it. Molto, molto bene.

Recioto di Soave is one of the oldest wine-making styles known to Italy (it's mentioned already in 7th century!) but for my taste (and for the dessert) the dessert wine (90% Garganega, 10% Chardonnay) was too dry, oaky and raisin-like. Too reminiscent of sherry, really. 




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Thursday, 29 January 2015

The game is on!

Though I have more friends with dietary restrictions than I have patience, is The African Cousin (blessed with the looks of Mike Tyson and the physique of Mariah Carey's body guard) always a grateful dinner guest. He. Eats. Everything. And is particularly famous his endless appetite for meat. "Sometime's you've just gotta have some!" he explains, gesturing with his hands and making sounds I can only imagine a bulimic hyena, ravaging a three-legged antelope would emit. And sure enough, I understand. 

A little while back as I was doing the Saturday shop at Hakaniemi Market (my favourite in Helsinki!), I found myself in the throes of even more selective craving: that for game. The idea of tearing into a chunk of meat from, say, a wild boar got me all... well, wild. Couldn't get my hands on any though, so I had to make do with ground venison. Though.. these babies were so good "having to make do" just won't do at all.

Eggs as a binder tend to result in a hard texture (as does frozen mince), so I used cream in mine to give the venison (lean as it is) more richness and moisture with cream. Fresh rosemary and dried cranberries give it a little bit more of a wintry oomph.

Start the prep from the cranberry sauce that you'll need later on for glazing the balls, though, if you want to cook the balls in the sauce (as you would with these Spanish meatballs!), go ahead and double the amount. 

Cranberry sauce:

1 dl red wine (soft, with some berriness)
1 sprig of rosemary
the juice of 1,5 oranges (1,5 dl juice)
220 g frozen cranberries 
4 tbsp brown sugar
50 g butter

Measure red wine into a pot with rosemary. Bring to boil and cook for a couple of minutes. Pour in the orange juice, sugar and cranberries. Simmer over gentle heat for about 20 minutes until the sauce has started to reduce. Drain (don't forget to scoop out the pulp from underneath the sieve). Add butter whisking until the sauce smooth. Check the taste and add more sugar if needed.

Cranberry, rosemary and venison meatballs (makes 20)

1 thick slice of white bread with crust removed (or 1 dl bread crumbs)
1,5-2 dl cream (depending on the amount and dryness of the bread - if using bread crumbs, go for 2 dl) 
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped (fresh) rosemary
0,75 dl dried, soft cranberries, roughly chopped
500 g ground venison
2 tsp salt
1,5 tsp black pepper
pinch of allspice

Soak the bread (crumbs) in cream until soggy and soft. Sauté onion in a bit of butter/ oil. Combine with bread mixture and pour in cranberries and rosemary. Knead in meat and season. If you have the time, let rest in the fridge for half an hour, but if you don't, go ahead and start rolling away.

Roll into 20 meatballs and cook either in a mixture of oil and butter on a hot pan or in the oven at 200 for 10 minutes. Then good thing about the oven is that all the balls will be ready at the same time. Then pour them into a pan, top with the cranberry sauce making sure all the balls are covered and finish cooking in the sauce. Keep an eye on it to make sure it won't burn as it reduces.

Serve with creamy root veggie hash.

Lately (simply as a token of our solidarity with freedom of speech!) we've been going through French wines. For this dish we tried Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Moulin Teyroud) which is always a classic choice with anything gamey and Le Grande Noir's Cabernet-Syrah.

Though a fine wine (isn't CdP always?) you're better off reverving for something more robust and gamey. Great wine nonetheless - much like that Dom Perignon, this was enough to make us forgive France for Vichy government, crimes of colonial era and Johnny Halliday. 

The juicy berriness of Cabernet-Syrah on the other hand complimented the red berries in the sauce and in the balls and worked with the gentle gameyness of venison, too. Such soft tannins I would even recommend it to someone normally hesitant about reds.




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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Creamy root veggie hash

For a gourmand aiming at any level of sustainability and ethical choices shopping is one continuous minefield. Which one is more ethical choice: domestic veggies grown in green houses outside their natural season or fresh produce flown in from abroad? How much meat is it ok to include in one's diet? Is imported organically reared chicken more informed choice over a domestic chicken produced in dubious conditions? Is it ever justifiable to buy seafood flown in halfway across the planet even if that's the only way to ever get one's hands on any? There are so many things to take into consideration: taste, price, carbon footprint, ethics... But how is one to choose which one to value above the others when the time comes to make a choice?

Root veggies are luckily a relatively hassle-free zone. A turnip doesn't evoke the kind of passions that make the masses take to the barricades and I doubt a humble carrot has ever inspired any kind of a liberation movement. They are locally produced and often a very affordable choice, too. They also possess the kind of gentle sweetness that I've learnt to appreciate lately and so this root veggie hash has been a frequent guest at our dinner table. 

As a side dish this feeds four

1 large onion
3 garlic cloves
650 g root veggies (this one had carrot, parsnip and swede in equal measures)
1 tsp mustard 
2 dl cream (or 200 g tub of crème fraîche)
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
salt, white pepper

For cooking: 1 generous tbsp butter and another one of oil

Peel and dice the root veggies. Peel and roughly chop the onion. Finely chop the garlic cloves. Sauté the onion and garlic in a mixture of butter and oil for a minute and then topss in the root veggies. Season and cook, covered, over medium heat until they're al dente - depending on the size of the cubes 10-15 minutes. 

Combine mustard with cream and thyme leaves. Pour into the pan. Continue cooking for five minutes or so until veggies are done and the dish is piping hot all the way through. Check the taste and season as needed.

This makes a quick and easy side dish for just about any meat. I've particularly love this with these cranberry, rosemary and venison meatballs!




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Sunday, 25 January 2015

Friday breakfast at Faro

No job seems to be safe these days. Unless, of course, you happen to be Arsene Wenger. Firing squads are wreaking havoc even in IT-industry. The Boy Next Door has, in the past couple of years survived 4 (!) collaborative negotiations (don't you just love how they make it sound like a mutual decision somehow?) but the 5th round turned out to be the fateful one. 

I wanted the start to his last day at the office to be be a good one so I surprised him with a breakfast at Faro, where, in addition to their weekend brunch, they now also serve a breakfast on Fridays. 

Can you think of a better way to start a weekend? And hey, it's the weekday mornings when getting out of the bed could use a little pampering, right?

(My seemingly innocent question about "how he'd like to start his last day" was met with hesitation though, until I clarified that I wasn't about to terminate him, too...)

I've already before admired the stylish feel of the restaurant and the views onto Ruoholahti Channel and yes, the restaurant provided a very peaceful setting for a breakfast, too.

The selection itself is a very traditional one. Tea and coffee, two different sorts of juices, charcuterie, some veggies, selection of breads, mini Karelian pasties and croissants. Croissants and Karelian pasties were not freshly baked on the premises, but good nonetheless. I would have loved some jam with croissants though.

At least in the beginning the Karelian pasties were warm, too. Went for seconds. 

There's also natural yogurt and, instead of sugar- and fat-encrusted cereal, a delightful selection of seeds and nuts.

Porridge and scramble were served to the table. I'm not a big fan of porridge (I know, I know, it is superfood and according to this 109-year-old woman, the secret behind her long age. That and misandry...!) but the companion couldn't praise his oatmeal enough.

Breakfast buffet is never the right place for scrambled eggs as the dried-up rubbery crumbs have absolutely nothing to do with what they're supposed to be like. Faro's scramble on the other hand was just perfect: loose, rich, comforting and lovely. Rather heavily salted, though.

For those on a lighter life there are fruits...

... and for the likes of me a little sweet treat. Today it was a banana cake served with strawberries. You guessed it - went back for seconds...

A wonderful way to start a day - no rush, just enjoying. Though daily papers would have made a nice addition...




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Friday, 23 January 2015

Veal T-bone Piccata

I have already preached about more sustainable consumption of meat: utilizing every part of the animal and favouring domestic, locally (and if possible, organically) reared meat. But I'm by no means perfect. Oh, no. I have my weaknesses and most of them meat-related. One of the biggest one is Iberico pork, Spain's gift to gourmands everywhere. Its texture, colour and taste are quite simply in a league of its own.

When Familia offered a selection of their products to try, I didn't have to think twice. Not after I saw Iberico on the menu. So, stay tuned for at least Iberico pork cheeks! This time up though: veal T-bone steaks. 

Familia sources ethically produced meat from all over the world, from Iberico to duck and game and for those in the market for something a bit more exotic: kangaroo!

Term piccata refers to the method the meat is cooked in: a boneless piece of meat (fillet) is pounded thin, drenched in flour, excess shaken off and then off to a hot pan (and oil and butter, of course) it goes. The flavours left on the pan are utilized by glazing the pan with with white wine and lemon juice after which the taste is rounded off with butter (and often with capers and fresh herbs) and the sauce is then poured over the meat. Quick and easy even for a weekday feast! T-bone steaks (as any meat with the bone still on it) are packed with meaty juiciness.

Instead of veal you could use chicken or fish.

Serves 2

Veal T-bone steaks:

2 veal T-bone steaks
salt, black pepper

For frying: 1 generous tbsp butter and another one of oil 

As with all the meat, take it into room temperature at least half an hour before cooking. Season generously and (is using) drench in flour, shaking off the excess. Flour helps the browning, gives the meat a crisp exterior and helps thicken the sauce, too. Heat oil and butter in a pan and cook the steaks over high heat, 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and keep covered while you make the sauce.

Lemon, caper and parsley sauce:

1/4 dl dry white wine
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
25 g (small) capers
100 g butter
salt, pepper
1,5 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

After removing the meat, pour in white wine and lemon juice to glaze the pan. Bring to boil and then add lemon, capers and butter. Continue cooking for a couple of minutes after the butter has melted, which in parsley, check the taste and season as needed. Pour over the meat and serve. With pasta... or butter bean mash!

Butter bean mash:

75 g butter
2 tins (á 400 g) butter beans (also known as lima beans)
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
pinch of cumin
1,5 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
25-50 g butter (or 0,75-1 dl oil) for finishing
salt, black pepper

Heat butter in a small pot. pour in drained beans and cook until piping hot. Mash with your preferred method, add lemon zest, cumin and parsley and enough butter/ oil for the desired consistency. Check the taste and season. 

The most common wine pairings for veal piccata are light, citrusy, non-oaky Chardonnay or, if you want to go for red, Brunello di Montalcino. Instead of a trip to the liquor store we raided our own stash (which the recent holidays have seen being re-stocked!) and came up with these two instead. The acidity of Australian Jacob's Creek Semillon Chardonnay worked with the citrusy, acidic notes of the dish itself, whereas this French Pinot Noir from Les Carabènes balanced them, making the overall impression softer. I liked them both, The Boy Next Door didn't like either. I win. 

PS. All the efforts and money spent on my photography equipment is clearly starting to pay off: it only took one shot to get the photo for the recipe. Which means... wait for it... The Boy Next Door finally got to eat his dinner warm!

*In cooperation with Familia*




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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Mexican avocado and corn salad

I've already lamented the poor quality of figs and chestnuts sold in Finland. With avocados the situation has luckily vastly improved over the past years and even the smallest shops now seem to stock perfectly ripe avocados ready  to be devoured. Which is nice, seeing how I'm no longer able to nick source them directly from the neighbour's tree...

The vegan association in Finland is challenging people to take part in Vegan January (seriously, as if Dry January wouldn't be enough! Not that we're taking part in that one either...) so we, too, decided to go vegan. For one meal, anyway. A friend came over to get ideas as her daughter has become a full-time vegan so, the salad itself is vegan. In the end our  meal wasn't as we had it with garlicky tortilla crisps and some Greek yogurt sprinkled with fleur de sel and pimentòn. Oh, and coconut-crusted fish fritters based on this prawn recipe

Vegan challenge, attempt #1. Fail. This salad, luckily, not at all.

On top of everything else it's so quick and easy it's almost embarrassing to even talk about cooking - seeing how most of the ingredients come in a tin...

Serves 4, as a side dish 6-8

Corn, avocado and black bean salad:

2 avocados
1 tin (285 g) corn
1 tin (285 g) black beans
1 green pepper

1 red onion
the juice of 1,5  limes
1 tbsp brown sugar


the juice of 1/2 lime
the finely grated zest of 1 lime
1/ 2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
1/4 tsp pimentón
pinch of cayenne
1/2 - 1 jalopeño, minced (depending on the size, feistiness... and your palate)
1/4 dl oil

salt, pepper, large bunch of coriander

Start with prepping the onion. Peel and slice it. Squeeze the lime juice and which in sugar until it's completely dissolved. Pour over the onion and leave to marinate and soften while you prep rest of the salad.

Cut the avocados in half, remove the stone and scoop out the flesh. Cut into slices (or chunks, which ever way you prefer). Cut the pepper too.

Drain corn and black beans. Combine with red onion and rest of the veggies. Fold in chopped coriander leaves. Combine the ingredients for the dressing and toss into the salad. Check the taste and season as needed. Serve.

You could also serve this as a side with grilled chicken, fish or seafood or mix them directly into the salad.




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