Monday, 28 September 2015

Spece të mbushur- Albanian stuffed peppers and Hispano+Suizas Bassus Pinot Noir

Stuffed peppers are a popular dish among the Balkan and Mediterranean countries and one that you're pretty much guaranteed to find in any tavern in Albania.  I've heard they're actually Zlatan Ibrahimović's favourite, too. Each country (and Mum and food blogger...) has their own recipe for these. Zlatan, in case you're reading this, just know you're welcome to try mine any day. I promise I'll behave. And hide all my Manchester United paraphernalia...

Mine get their lovely warmth from all those spices I've come to associate with the region and perkiness from fresh herbs. You can use any meat you want, but I prefer either lamb or a blend of beef and pork as pork gives the mixture some much-needed fat. Fat, you see, means flavour. No getting around that one. 

I love mint, which is widely used in Albania, too. It gives its own unique twist to dishes but I know it's not to everyone's liking. So, feel free to omit it altogether or substitute it with dill, another herb used in Albanian (meat) dishes. 

Serves 4

Spece të mbushur - Albanian stuffed peppers:

4 green peppers

1 large onion
a couple of tbsp oil
3/4 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground allspice
400 g ground meat
2 large tomatos, blanches, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp tomato concentrate
3/4 dl raisins
3/4 dl rice
3/4 dl water
bunch of parsley, finely chopped
2 tsp dried mint (or 4 tbsp finely chopped fresh one)
salt, pepper (to taste)

Pre-heat oven to 200°. 

Sauté onion and spices in oil. When the onion is translucent, add meat. Brown well and add raisins, tomato cubes, tomato concentrate, rice and water. Cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes. 

Add herbs, check the taste and season as needed.

Remove the top of the peppers and scoop out the seeds and membranes with a teaspoon. Divide the meat and rice mixture into the peppers, place in an oven-proof dish and pour a little water (about 1 dl should do it) in the bottom of the dish (the steam will finish cooking the peppers and rice).

Cover the dish and cook for 30-40 minutes until peppers are soft and rice is cooked. Remove the lid and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. 

Serve. For instance with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

It was clear from the start that when trying to find a wine pairing for these Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours I love so much I'd turn my eyes to Pinot Noir, a grape I love equally much.

I want to encourage you readers to join me on this never-ending enologic excursion into the world of wines, try new varieties and along with me, learn what makes certain wines work with certain foods. While I normally keep the budget reasonable, this time I splurged a bit (you know, in case Zlatan would turn up...!)

Hispano+Suizas Bassus Pinot Noir comes from Spain, region west of Valencia and theirs are the only Pinot Noir vines in the region. Their winemaker, Pablo Ossorio was even awarded as the best winemaker in Spain in 2010. Bassus is a very interesting wine full of personality so yes, go ahead and spoil yourself a little bit every now and then!

Even the bouquet is complex: notes of liquorice and even orange blossom. The fuitiness of the wine really matches the sweetness of the filling, courtesy of raisins whereas the spicy notes complimented the warmth of the spices I used. It's got richness that makes for a very versatile wine for a variety of meaty dishes (game, game birds and even liver!) and a great companion for tapas and antipasti platters featuring some of the fattier, spicier sausages.




Sharing is caring Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Albania for foodie - what to eat and where to eat in Saranda

Already at out first dinner the travelling companion at my recent trip to Greece and Albania picked up on my love of food. She stared at me, head tilted and observed how "I really, really love my food". Towards the end of the holiday (after my week of octopus orgy) the interest gave way to stunned curiosity. "What on Earth are you going to be eating when you go back to Finland and can't have octopus every day?" she asked me. Well, maybe not every day, but I can tell you I do have a couple of kilos waiting in the freezer...!

The best thing about travelling is all the ideas and inspiration one gets to take home. And hey, can you think of a better way of holding onto the holiday mode than bringing those flavours alive in your own kitchen and having your friends over to feast on them?

I've already shared with you some of souvenirs from Greece: garlic and potato dip skordalia, Greek meatballs keftedakia, Mediterranean rice pilaf and Corfiot specialty of sofrito.

Now it's time to direct our hungry eyes towards the other destination of the trip, Albania

Albanian cuisine is a mixture of Mediterranean and Balkan traditions. There are differences between different parts of the country, too: in the South one gets to feast on fresh fish and seafood whereas in the North one gets to tuck into gjellës ja tavës, all those wonderfully comforting stews.

Italia has also left their influence on Albanian culinary legacy. Especially in the Southern Albania (like Saranda), popular among Italian tourists, British pubs with their English Breakfast Served All Day Long- menus are nowhere to be found. Pizzas and pastas on the other hand are everywhere.

Fish and seafood:

The beach boulevard in Saranda is full of restaurants of varying quality, invariably geared for the tourists. Though the prices are inexpensive, I recommend you skip them. 

If fish and seafood are what you're after, head over to Gërthëla, located on Rruga Ioanianet street adjacent to the boulevard. Selection is mind boggling even for an aficionado like yours truly. So, what did I do? Went for seconds. And thirds... 

Out of the city centre you'll find peshkaterias, taverns specialized in fish and seafood. One worth recommending is Taverna Peshkataria, located on Rruga Peshkatari, departing from the corner of Rruga Mitat Hoxha and Rruga Idriz Alidhima. The venue is very popular among the locals, so especially for lunch arrive early.

Closeby there's also Fish Land, another cheap and cheerful (though not particularly attractive) joint. 

Lamb, lamb, lamb:

Lamb is something that is consumed in Albania a lot. And damn, it is gooood. Tavë kosi, melt-in-your-mouth lamb and yogurt stew is one of the dishes worth a try. 

Offal is not awful:

Albania is one of those countries where the history has taught people to be frugal and make the most of every part of the animal.

So, the menus boast offal as well. Lamb liver is one of the staples that you can get either grilled (mëlci të skuqura gengji) and stewed in a clay pot (tavë dheume mëlҫi qengji). 

Another local specialty is kukurec, a porchetta-like roll of meaty deliciousness, stuffed intestines and spit-roasted into a glorious meat-lover's feast.

For (meat-eating) vegetarians:

Veggies are widely used in Albania, too but mostly they're pickled of stuffed with a meat and rice mixture, so vegetarians aren't really in for a treat. Stuffed peppers (spece të mbshur) and aubergines (patëllxhan të mbshur) are the most popular ones and can be found practically on every menu (and yes, soon on the blog, too!)

Cheese is another source of joy for the locals and they seem to have hundreds of varieties (to the eyes of a non-cheese-eater anyway...) so maybe it's possible to just eat that?

Traditional taverns are not easy to find in the Saranda city centre, but it doesn't mean they don't exist. I had a hunch and sure enough it didn't fail me this time either. In the corner of Rruga Ismail Tatzati and Rruga Abedin Dino you'll find Leo's Tavern, the highlight of my Albanian getaway. Blog's Instagram-followers (surely you are one of them?) have already been introduced to this gem. 

It's a family restaurant that ticked all my boxes: great, authentic food at amazingly cheap prices. Even with beverages the total of the meal will come to about €10.

The tiny restaurant has an even tinier yard that opens right next to the pavement and in the corner there's an open BBQ, which the Granddad would get going every evening with the help of a blow-dryer (!). Just imagine the scent wafting in the air...! This is one of those places where absolutely everything is delicious, but their lamb ribs (brinjë gengji zgare), grilled lamb liver and qoftes, the local take on meat balls are particularily delicious.

Somewhat confusingly all the restaurants seem to use the same photos on their menus. Another confusing thing was the pricing: with meats and seafood the price is listed per kilo, yet no-one would ever clarify how much I'd like to order. The serving size is about 300-400 grams. 

For our foodie trips for the first leg of the journey please see the following:




Sharing is caring Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Selfies, selfies, selfies! Me, me, me!

My recent selfie stick-induced rage at people's insufferable self-centeredness elicited a lot of conversations. Both on the blog and outside of it. And yes, I realized it was time to take a good look at myself. Sans the iPhone, though. 

The attraction of blogs is their personal take on things: the fact that the bloggers open and share their lives for the readers (in my case that's sharing my monstrous misfortunes in love, those not-so-stellar moments in the kitchen, the occasional bouts of existential crisis...) - offering the reader something to relate to. Or aspire to. Or, as I suspect is the case with my blog: something to roll one's eyes at.

There's one thing chronically missing on this blog and the newsfeed of its social media outlets. Something that I've been told all bloggers just loooove. Selfies. 

I've always loved being behind the camera and in front of it I feel just about as comfortable as Kim Davies at a gay orgy. And in a rather naïve way I always assumed that when reading about my travels, people would be interested in seeing pictures of... say, the places I've been to. But nooooo: the world wants selfies. 

So, let's fix that once and for all. Dear readers: here's your blogger. Travelling the world!

(My apologies for the quality of the photos: most of them are from an era when phones were used as media for verbal communication and even cameras only had like, three pixels in them)

* * * 

As the unnatural position of the left arm and the suffering look on my face would imply, this is a 100% genuine selfie. Though taken at a time when the word hadn't even been invented. So, we just called them photographs.

Göreme, Turkey

But then along came selfies. Followed by belfies (which, I understand, are pictures people take of their bums (What the hell is wrong with this planet?!)

So, here's one of those, then.

Calahonda, Spain

Ooh, what do you know! I'm a lady...!

Malaga, Spain, wait, no I'm not.

Malaga, Spain

Another thing I'm not is an advocate for vigilance when it comes to applying sunscreen. But hey, check out my bling!

Benalmadena Pueblo, Spain

Here are some examples how shots of some of the most iconic scenes are not made better by slapping my face onto them.

Tallinn, Estonia

Cappadocia, Turkey

Jerusalem, Israel

Alhambra, Spain

Petra, Jordan

And this photo is a holiday snapshot classic: absolutely no esthetic value or any sense what so ever

Warsaw, Poland

Based on this pic I've also gone through rather a questionable phase in my life... as a guerilla in a Nicaraguan resistance? As a mercenary in Congo?

Somewhere in India

This on the other hand is a scene that plays out on all my travels. Several times a day. You know how Kim Kardashian, the queen of selfies, is made fun of because of being an ugly cryer? Well, I'm an ugly eater

Rome, Italy

Here's another example of a yours truly in her natural habitat. Shoe shops and gay bars - those are the two things my genetic GPS never fails to locate.


And here I am, literally in my natural state. Another week of Greece and I would have blossomed into a full-blown 'fro. 

PS. Do notice the body language, reminiscent of being strapped to an electric chair. A dead giveaway of how relaxing I find it to have my photograph taken...

Corfu, Greece

Next you'll see photos I could never, ever feature on an online dating website. That would make those poor bastards think I'm, well... athletic. Can't have that.

Kusadasi, Turkey

Pamukkale, Turkey

These following photos are so much closer to the reality. Which is probably good news for any prospective suitor, struggling body image issues. See, the only six-pack I care about is in the fridge.

Tel Aviv, Israel

Though... can anyone get this giddy over beer? Just look at that manic gaze!

Arroyo de la Miel, Spain

Oh, yes. I seem to be all about healthy choices (though in all honesty, there's a good chance that actually is just tobacco...!)

Oh, and do note how I dress for my nights of nocturnal naughtiness: a pussy bow blouse and pearl earrings. Mrs. Thatcher would be so proud.

Tunisia? Egypt? Palestinian territories? Poland...?




Sharing is caring Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This

Friday, 25 September 2015

Sofrito, a Corfiot classic: beef braised in garlic, parsley and white wine with Piccini Memoro Bianco

Just about anywhere else in the world sofrito would refer to mixture of onion, garlic, celery, carrot, peppers and/or tomatos, sautéed together and forming a base for a host of sauces, soups and stews. But not in Greece. In Greece, and especially in Corfu, it is a name for a local signature dish: beef (or veal) braised on parsley, garlic and white wine. Then again, just about everywhere else in the world you wouldn't expect government salary to keep on running even after the death of a civil servant... which apparently has not been the case in Greece...!

Traditionally sofrito is made using veal (in which case the cooking time is shorter), but my favourite has turned out to be beef. It's also more convenient in that it's a lot more readily available in the shops. 

Serves 4

Sofrito - Corfiot beef cooked in parsley, garlic and white wine:

800 g beef (rump etc)
flour for dredging (gluten-free if needed)
salt, black pepper
oil for frying 

1 smallish onion, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large bunch of parsley, finely chopped, stalks and all (reserve some for serving)
(a couple of sprigs of fresh marjoram)
2 dl dry white wine
3/4 dl white vinegar

Cut the meat (against the grain) into 1 cm thick slices. Using a met tenderizer pound a little thinner (or flatten with your fingers). Dredge in flour and season generously.

Brown the meat in a couple of batches in oil. Move aside. Add more oil into the pan if needed and sauté garlic, onion and parsley. Once onion is translucent, add vinegar and wine. Stir and continue cooking for a couple of minutes. Add marjoram (if using) and meat into the pan. Add enough water to barely cover the meat. Cover and simmer until meat is tender (depending on the meat and size of the slices about 1,5 hours. Especially towards the end check every now and then that there's still some liquid left.

Check the taste and season as needed. Serve with boiled potatos, roasties, rice, this fruity couscous or this Mediterranean rice pilaf.

Summer seems to have depleted the white wine reserves here chez food blogger, but luckily I did find a match for this dish, too.

Italian Piccini Memoro Bianco comes from under the Tuscan sun and is a blend of Viogner (40%), Chardonnay (30%), Vermentino (20%) and Pecorino (10%). Its dry acidity and oakiness make it a versatile wine to pair with variety foods. I'd try it with rich creamy dishes (pastas). Oakiness gives it body that sees you through even red meats.

Another white that might well work with the tanginess of the dish is this Semillon Chardonnay I paired earlier with Veal Piccata

But if you long for red, I suggest New World Pinot Noir, which is a classic pairing for dishes with acidic or tangy components. One of my favourites is this New Zealand wonder




Sharing is caring Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Mediterranean rice pilaf

You know us food bloggers, right? Always spot on. Night and day always scouring the net for the next Big Thing; continuously dining at the latest restaurants sniffing our for the up and coming trends? And even at home, we never eat the same thing twice. Oh no. Instead we spend our days confiting duck legs and extracting tomato water for that elusive Peruvian tomato risotto that only takes 2 days to make? 

Yeah, that's us. Let's take the week gone by. Yes, I've survived the nastiest break-up yet (better than I ever expected, I must say!) and rediscovered my appetite again. And yes, I've been going back to the same dish over and over again. Here it is. I've been having it with the Greek meatballs and sofrito, that Corfiot specialty that will be featured on the blog next. And on its own. And yes, there might have been days when it was the thing that saved me the day after a very heavy night before... (in case you're a Mormon, that means wine. A whole lot of it.) And it never fails to comfort.

Depending on your mood, the spices of pilaf will instantly transport you to East. Whether it's Middle of Far, is up to you. Therein lies the genius of this dish. Feel free to go crazy trying different variations and throwing in what ever left over veggies or herbs you might have lurking at the back of your fridge. Grate in a carrot, squeeze out he moisture and throw in the pan with the onion (coriander or mint really, really love carrot!)  That's the beauty of cooking:take a recipe and make it your own!

Personally I prefer the texture of basmati rice, but any long grained rice will work. Just make sure you follow the instructions on the packet as the liquid needed varies from one variety to another. 

As far as herbs go, use either parsley, coriander or mint. Or all of them. Let's face it: fresh herbs are like... well, sequns. Or re-runs of How I met Your Mother. Of bigasshairheavyrockstadionballades. We just can't get enough of them right?

Serves 4-6

Mediterranean rice pilaf:

1/3 dl oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
2,5 dl Basmati rice
5 dlchicen (or vegetable) stock
1,25 dl raisins
salt (to taste)

to serve:

100 g pine nuts
a large handful of parsley leaves, chopped (or coriander. Or mint. Or my fave: A large handful of chopped parsley leaves and half the amount of that finely chopped mint leaves)

Sauté chopped onions in the oil in a pot. Then add the spices and let them come to alive for a couple of moments. Add rice and, stirring every now and then, let it toast until the kernels start getting a bit of colour and start releasing that nutty aroma (that will take about 5-7 minutes). Add raisins and then the stock.

Bring the heat down and leave the rice to cook (covered) until the liquid's been absorbed (12-15 minutes).

Remove the pot from the heat, fluff with a fork, add the pine nuts and the herbs, cover with a tea towel and then top it of all with a lid. Leave to sit for another 10 minutes.

Check the taste,season as needed and serve.

Makes an excellent side dish for Greek meatballs, stifado, lamb chops Al-Andaluz or Marka hloua, that Tunisian classic. Or hey, for sofrito! Recipe for that one coming up next so stay tuned!




Sharing is caring Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Keftedakia - Greek meatballs

Meatballs are like football. Both bring all corners of the world together in a way religion or politics can only dream of. They are the universal language of love, employed by Grannies everywhere. In Middle East the local variety, köftes, have a lovely warmth courtesy of the use of spices like cinnamon, allspice, coriander seeds and cumin. On this side of the Mediterranean keftedekia (or, depending on their size keftedes), their Greek cousins, get their distinctive taste from fresh herbs. 

And for all those with no Grannies, luckily there's Ikea. Their 313 stores worldwide sell on average 1 836 000 meatballs a day. Every day.

And hey - how many dishes have an internationally celebrated theme day named after them? Meatballs do - March 9th!

Keftedakia- Greek meatballs

makes 20 (golf ball sized ones)

1/2 dl breadcrumbs (gluten-free if needed) 
3/4 dl milk (can be substituted with stock)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1,5 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
3/4 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint (if using dried, half of that will do)
400 g ground lamb
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
pinch of allspice

Combine breadcrumbs with milk and leave to absorb. In the meanwhile chop and sauté onion and garlic.

Add the remaining ingredients into the breadcrumbs and work into a smooth mixture. Cover and leave to set for an hour in the fridge (you can easily prep this day in advance).

Roll a ball, fry it and check the taste. Add more seasoning if needed. 

Roll into balls of preferred size and fry either on a pan or bake in the oven.

Serve. For instance with tzatziki. These are good both warm or at room temperature. On their own or use them to stuff pitta bread!

PS. Can't get enough of mezes? Look no further - more ideas and recipes right over here!



Sharing is caring Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This