Saturday, 30 April 2016

Fakeout Chinese: sesame chicken and broccoli

While I love my neighbourhood, it has its flaws. Like the total lack of decent ethnic restaurants. Especially Chinese (oh, the shock and horror - a food blogger who has to make her own food!!!).

Luckily this fakeout Chinese dish is ready in less time it takes to go through the menu, finally reach the decision, pick up the phone, dial the restaurant, place the order and wait for yet another delivery guy to get lost in the maze that is the courtyard if my building (seriously, the whole point of ordering in is the overwhelming reluctance to leave my bed - having to leave my bed and venture out onto the streets in search of the lost lamb sort of defeats the whole purpose...)

If you can get your hands on broccolini, use that. It had sold out in all the shops I tried... so I had to make do with regular broccoli (oh, the misery that is my life!)

Serves 4:

Chinese sesame chicken and broccoli:

450 g chicken,in 1-inch-cubes


1,25 dl (low sodium) soy sauce
0,75 dl honey
1,25 tbsp finely chopped ginger
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp red chilli flakes

1 tso corn starch mixed with 1,5 tsp cold water

1 broccoli, cut into similar sized florets
4 spring onions

To serve: a couple of tbsp sesame seeds

Combine the ingredients for the marinade and pour over chicken cubes. Leave to marinate while you prep the rest of the ingredients. 

Drain the chicken (reserve the marinade!) and pour the marinade into a small pot. Bring to boil and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Then add corn starch mixture, whisk until smooth and bring to boil again. Add a couple of tbsp of water if needed.

Steam broccoli florets for a couple of minutes. Heat at a couple of tbsp of oil in a pan/ wok and cook the chicken until browned all over and just about cooked through. Then add the white part of spring onion (leave the green part for serving) and broccoli. Heat until everything is piping hot and pour over the sauce.

Sprinkle the spring onion and sesame seeds on top and serve with rice. 





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Sunday, 24 April 2016

Andalusian sun and sherry country calling!

Hola! On this side of the blog a long-awaited holiday has begun and I'm back under my beloved Andalusian sun.  This time I'll be exploring a region I'm not yet familiar with: sherry country, the region of Cadiz and Jerez.

It's been a good couple of years since my last trip to that part of the world, but I (and my heart) are finally ready for a comeback.

For the next week I won't even think about cooking - instead I plan to eat my way through every single (ok.. maybe... every other...?) tapas bar.

Octopus! Iberico! More octopus!

Do join me on FacebookInstagram and Twitter ! 

Any of you familiar with those places? Recommendations and tips you want to share? 





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Friday, 22 April 2016

Gobi pakora - Indian cauliflower pakoras with lime, jalapeño and coriander dip

Intia has taught me two things: to eat cauliflower and understand the genius of Shah Rukh Khan.

Before my first trip to India I didn't appreciate either. With cauliflower that is understandable to say the least: I mean, it does look like something out of the STD section of a medical encyclopedia (yes it does. I should know - those books were my main enterntainment when staying at one of my aunts as a kid). 

The over the top drama and overwhelming display of larger than life emotions that is Bollywood only made me break out in migraine. 

India changed both of these. That's where I got to know aloo gobi (how can something that simple be that good - it's just potatos and cauliflower, really) and Shah Rukh Khan - the biggest Bollywood megastar there is (well, not personally, I regret to inform you). The man has become a living legend because of his portrayals of characters whose luck in love is even more disastrous than mine. 

I don't think I've ever seen a movie where he'd actually get the girl of his dreams: in every single one of them either he or she dies, prompting another 15-minute scene that is the reason I keep going back for more: Shah Rukh Khan crying.  His absurdly over-dramatized displays of emotions are so incredible there are several compilations available on Youtube alone (don't believe me? Just check out this one). 

Each autumn Helsinki hosts an international film festival which invariably also features series of Bollywood films. Hoardes of Indian people turn up for them... just to laugh at these scenes. In my biggest Bollywood favourite, Om Shanti Om, SRK's (yes, that's how we aficionados call him) character explains to a journalist sent to interview him how the more he dies in his films, the more popular they seem to become. So, in this particular one the script has him die a whopping nine (!) times. 

Pakoras or bhajis, crisp veggie fritters coated in chickpea flour and then deep-fried, are a popular street snack in India. They're particularly popular during the monsoon season, which is when I went to India, too. As the long-awaited rains finally came, I had just(in the most dramatic manner possible - that's India for you...) broken up with my boyfriend and had loaded all my belongings into a rickshaw in the middle of the night. I was crying, the driver was crying... and soon the entire Indian sky was crying, too. (Though the reason for the driver's tears was the way I had furiously made him drive up the one-way street... to the wrong direction.)

These pakoras might not get anyone in tears (though I would love to see SRK do just that) but good they are nonetheless. Serve them freshly fried to guarantee maximum crunch.

Serves four:

Cauliflower pakora

1 cauliflower, cut into similar-sized florets

Pakora batter:

2 dl gram (chickpea) flour (available at ethnic shops), shifted
1 dl rice flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
3 tsp garam masala
1 tsp chilipowder
1/2 tso turmeric
1/2 tsp bicarb
2 -2,25 dl ice cold (soda)water

For frying: 1 l oil

If you want the cauliflower to be really soft, blanch them in salted water for a couple of minutes. This is optional though, especially if your florets are on the small side.

Combine the dry ingredients. Then add water until you have a smooth, lump-free batter that thoroughly coats the florets.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based pot. Dunk the florets into the batter, fish out and fry, in batches, until golden and crisp. 

Drain on kitchen towels (replace the towel after each batch to keep it absorbent) and serve with lime, jalapeño and coriander dip.

Lime, jalapeño, coriander and garlic dip:

2 bunches of coriander
2 jalapeños
the juice of 2,5 - 3 limes
2 (large) garlic cloves
4 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar

Measure the ingredients into a food processor and blizz until smooth. Add more oil if you want a runnier  consistency. Check the taste and adjust by adding salt and/or sugar.

Other dips worth trying with these are tzatziki, Indian raitha or this mango, chili and ginger dressing.





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Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Comfort food from the Baltics - pork, pepper and paprika stew and Undurraga T.H. Carménère

I've totally fallen for Eastern European cuisines of late. They are exactly the kind of hearty, robust, soul-nurturing comfort food that I've been desperately needing recently. One thing that combines those countries with my old love Spain is their love of pork. And what a mighty animal that is!

On this side of the screen I'm already getting ready for the porky orgies that my up and coming trip to Andalusia will inevitably be, but before that, let's go live with this pork and pepper stew that we had for Sunday lunch a couple of weeks ago, inspired by the most recent trip to Latvia. Best comfort foods are usually results of hours of loving stewing and simmering, but this bad boy is in your table in half an hour. Serve it with potatos mashed with browned butter (this is not the time to skimp on that butter!) and hello world - aren't you looking better already!

Just like that puff pastry lattice covered chicken pot pie, this, too, evoked some deep sighs around the table and with them the best compliment food can get: "this tastes just like something my grandmother would make".

Serves four

Pork, pepper and paprika stew:

3 large red peppers
400 g pork strips
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp pimentón
1 tbsp tomato concentrate
1 tub (120 g) sour cream
1 tbsp pickle juice from gherkins
salt, black pepper
3/4 dl gherkins, chopped to 1/2 cm cubes
handful of basil leaves, chopped

a couple of tbsp oil for frying

Cut the peppers in half and grill under the broiler at 275° until the skin is black and blistering. Place them in a plastic bag until cool enough to handle. Remove the skin, purée two of them and cut the third one in strips. 

Heat some oil in a casserole. Sear the pork on all sides and transfer aside. Add a little bit more oil and sauté the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent. Then add pimentón and tomato concentrate. Continue to cook for a couple of more minutes.

Add puréed pepper, pickle juice and sour cream. Simmer, covered for half an hour. Then add the remaining papper strips, gherkin cubes and basil leaves. Check the taste and season. 

The toasty sweetness of roasted peppers is something that Carménère grape compliments. S, for this lunch we opened a bottle of T.H. Carménère by the same Chilean producer that made the Carménère I paired my lamb dhansak with. 

As the name suggests (Terroir Hunter), the grapes have been sourced from the best vineyards and for instance this wine they only made 1050 boxes of. 

Much like the previously seen colleague, in addition to notes of pepper this also boasts berry notes, which make this medium-bodied wine very easy-drinking and easy to pair with a variety of dishes. Anything with (roasted) peppers, stews, pork and BBQ. It's got smooth tannins which make this wine's overall appearance even rounder and as a result I would recommend pairing it with spicier meat dishes, sausages and charcuterie, too.





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Saturday, 16 April 2016

Restaurant Vincents, Riga, take 2 - can the second time ever live up to the first one?

For a while now I've been thinking about not publishing this post as I honestly still don't know what to make of the evening. But here it is - our experience in what was supposed to be the highlight of our girly getaway in Riga. Entries in cursive are written by the date. 

Dinner at Vincents was the absolute highlight of my trip to Riga last spring. I left the restaurant practically moved to tears, in such bubble of happiness my feet barely touched the ground. The story made it to the the blog dubbed "the best dinner of my life"

Exactly a year later I made my way back for round 2. Did it live up to the (admittedly) high expectations? Or were they exceeded? Was this time, too, en  euphoria-inducing culinary masterpiece that catered to all the senses, making the evening utter Bliss with capital B? No.

Tasting menu itself costs €90, while the matching wines set you back €55. So far so (reasonably) good. The extras, however (Champagne to start with, bread basket, 2 bottles of water and coffees) added another €60 euros to the tally so that the total came to over €170 per head. 

You've gotta love fine dining.

Recipes mastered over time, unparallelled talent and love of good food can be tasted in each bite. Add to that professional waiting staff and carefully matched wines by the sommelier and you're standing at the gates of Heaven with a choir of hundred cherubs singing in the background.

That's what we came here for. 

Just like last time, we were greeted by the edible twigs.

Vincents is, without a doubt, a restaurant with cosy atmosphere. The staff is clad in head-to-toe black, reminiscent of 1960's beatnik joint. Sans the sun glasses and air, thick with cigarette smoke. Luckily. Minimalist and stylish. Points for that. 

Unfortunately the interaction with us somewhat automated, bordering on robot-like, which inevitably affected our vibe, too. One doesn't often stop to think what a huge part waiting staff plays in in the mix. The service did get better towards the end, so there were moments to smile about, too. 

And the food and drink? Well, there were both. 

The kitchen was clearly aware of the menu we had the last time, as our amouse bouche differed from that served to most of the other tables. They were served that giant hale that charmed the socks off us the last time around. But the wow factor of the first time was replaced by the lackluster way the schpiel was so clearly memorized and recited word by word. Also, this time the dish was not presented by the venerable Martins Ritins himself, but by a member of the waiting staff. 

Ours had some serious wow effect too, mind. And vendace roe, crème fraîche and maple syrup.

The evening started with Champagne served with kitchen's greeting called ”Vincents cornucopia ” which consisted of vendace roes and something salmony (salmon?) served in a cone with crème fraïche and maple syrup.

What a treat that was. I got a bit giddy indeed.

At this point we witnessed the table next to ours being served the spiel of tartar in a tin produced out of a crumpled brown paper bag... exactly like last year.

Our next amouse bouche, however was Oyster Rockefeller, lit up and cooked before our enchanted eyes. For video, please see blog's  Twitter-feed

Kitchen was feeling generous today, as the next thing we got was an oyster. IT was served in a scallop shell with parsley, bread crumbs and velouté. This also marked the beginning of Vincents Show: the shell was resting on a pile of salt and the whole concoction was lit in flames right in front of of us at the table. Impressive - you couldn't help but be in awe.

First oyster I've ever had, you know. Glad I got to eat it cooked. It tasted of ocean, alright, but not necessarily my thing.

It probably wasn't the last oyster of my life, but one of the few, anyway. The bread crumbs and the sauce were delish.

Then it was off to the actual menu. First wine poured was Italian white so we assumed we'd be served the delicate looking salmon dish we saw being ferried off to the tables around us. 

But instead a cart with jar of winter truffles was wheeled to our table...

... and freshly shaved truffle was sprinkled on top of our roll of Galician Blond Cattle carpaccio. The carpaccio was carried to the table practically frozen and though it was heated on the inside with a torch, the serving temperature of the dish was so cold, you couldn't really taste any of the flavours. Not the truffle or the foie gras shavings. 

The wine pairing seemed so off we couldn't help but wonder if it was in fact meant for the salmon. Something we just couldn't shake off. 

Then it was time to tackle the dinner itself. The wine suggested something fattier, but either the wine pairing was off or the food was: carpaccio with foie gras shavings and truffle was everything but a good match. 

The dish wasn't saved even by the torch that was used to shoot flames through the carpaccio roll. I mean, it was frozen. Even this  culinary amateur was puzzled. Not going to Hollywood, this dish!

Bread and butter selection were good (just like last time, these, too...) The note we found in the bread basket turned out to the be one of the biggest surprises of the evening. The note detailed the story of the butter and most importantly, the yeast used for the bread they call holy. It's 27-year-old natural yeast brought over from Tishbi Winery I visited only a couple of months ago! 

Next up was langoustine and snow crab tortellini served with langoustine bisque. The dish, containing some seaweed, too, was declared by the date as the best dish she'd had all trip. It was excellent and the bisque had lovely depth of flavour and gorgeous heat from the spices.

It would have been nice if we'd also been served a little bowl for discarding the langoustine claws' remains without having to specifically ask for one. 

But at this point those hundred cherubs settled on my shoulder and started their symphony. Crab tortellinis in a this crayfish sauce (or soup? Well, bisque, anyway) was pure foodie heaven. To a point that I was ready to propose to the dish. Which I actually did, too. I'm still not quite sure of our marital status, but I'm still dreaming of this dish. And that wine will most definitely be invited to the wedding, too. 

One of the best dishes I've ever eaten in my life. 

Wine pairing was spot on.

We continued with seafood (yes, please!) next stop was hand dived Norwegian scallops with cauliflower puree and velouté with crispy pancetta shavings. At this point a spoon would have come in handy to make the most of that velouté. 

The dinner continued with fines the seas have to offer: Norwegian hand dived scallops were served with cauliflower mash and sauce. Dish was good, though no cherubs were singing during this course. Scallop has such a delicate flavour, that the cauliflower sadly overpowered it. 

Loimer's Grüner Veltliner is one of my old favourites and worked its magic this time, too. 

At this point a cart surrounded by mysterious cloud was wheeled to the table and sure enough, (just like last time) it was time for the palate cleanser: a bergamot sorbet lollipop dusted with matcha powder. For a video of this, too, see Twitter

Next we were brought a cart with a smoking pot on top of it. In that pan were made a palate cleanser using liquid nitrogen out of bergamot and pineapple sorbet, 

The operation wasn't quite the success it could have been and one of the lollipops refused to stay together. He got there in the end and we both got to sample the lolly, which was refreshing and got us ready for the next treat.

The main course was roasted goose. In addition to the goose itself, there was a sauce made using red wine and pressed remains of the duck (giblets and such). The absolute star of the evening and beautifully complimented by the accompanying Pinot Noir.

Here's my ode to the goose. Goose, both in confit and roasted was to die for. Yes, cherubs turned up, too. The red wine sauce was a feast for mouth as much as it was to the sould. Definitely the second best dish of the dinner. 

Meat was tender and the accoutrements were full of surprises yet worked in perfect harmony.

Oh and the wine? Ah, the wine. 

Before the dessert all the other tables were served a pre-dessert. Every other table but ours. Why that is, we still don't know. Was our dessert wine somehow exceptionally exceptional that maybe others were not served? That was deemed to make up for it? We still don't know. Should we even have to ponder this kind of things? Again, we don't know. 

The wine was crazy good, though. Crayzeeeeee. 

Another thing we found puzzling was the way staff insisted we take their car. Having other plans, we turned it down for the first 3 times but as the fourth staff member insisted we let the driver drive us where ever we needed to get to, we gave in.

The whispering sommelier approached our table and with him, a bottle of French dessert wine you can only by a container load (?) at a time. Apparently it's only served for the very best customers. And good it was. So very, unbelievably good.

The only damper on the things was the pre-dessert we for some reason were not served. Maybe we were the only ones who got served this wine rarity? But still, everybody else got that funky looking white marshmallowy lollipop that was then torched to its final serving glory. It looked like so much fun. I was disappointed. As were the cherubs. 

The dessert was a feast of innovation, aesthetics, flavours and textures: a combination of refreshing kaffir lime, cookie crumbs and gel-like jelly and berry sorbet.

The dessert was the Paradise apple. The dish looked like a study of a lonely apple in the woods. The soil was made using Vincents' chocolate, featuring (among other things )honeycomb biscuits. The apple itself was something wonderful in gel form containing something wonderful that was white. Some cherubs turned up for this one, too, though just a few. 

As we were asked about coffee, we both ordered espressos. For some reason they were served before the dessert (which came with its own wine anyway) and far too early as far as the chocolates were concerned. By the time chocolates turned up, the coffee was long gone. 

With the meal we also had some bread that came from Israel. There were three different types of butter, all made at the premises (of course). Coffee was brought before the dessert and chocolates which was weird. Then we were practically forced to accept their driver to take us back to the hotel. That was a bit weird, too. 

The total came to about 173 euros. 

That is (especially in a country like Latvia) a lot of money, so when you're shelling that kind of money on dining out, you expect everything to work smoothly. I for one want the staff to create a contact with me from the start.

To err is human, but you shouldn't have to pay 173 euros for them. I personally think two especially stood out: carpaccio and wine and the sorbet gate. And three, if you're counting the missing pre-dessert. 

Water for 2 people alone added 11 euros on to the bill. €11! For water! I sure expect it was squeezed out of a rock by a bunch of virgins as that's the only way it can be excused. 

Service was good. Water glasses were continuously topped up. A napkin fallen on the floor was replaced in seconds. Dishes turned up and empty plates removed without a glitch. Just about everything was timed well, too.

Upon departure were given small boxes to go. We thought they might be chocolates, but they weren't. They were organic biscuits. With Parmesan. So cheesy and so bloody good. 

Was the dinner worth every penny? No. Would I go again? Yes. But with my own money? I'd rather not.

The contrast to the euphoria that enveloped me after the last time was tangible. We were both quiet and a bit confused. What just happened? Why aren't we feeling more.... well, elated? 

Vincent's is, without a doubt, still the best restaurant in the country and as far as technical excellence goes, firmly in a league of its own. This time, however, didn't have a patch on the last time. Was it us? Or was it the restaurant? Have I eaten so well over the past year it would take something truly extra ordinary to impress me? I seriously doubt that.

Though the food was (for the large part) without a flaw, in order to be a success a dinner in a place like this requires all the other parts to come together in a similarly seamless fashion (converted into Finnish prices we are talking almost €1000 a head, after all) and the innovation, wow factors and elements of surprise (as opposed to, all that thing, again) are integral parts of that. As is the floor staff. 

One can't also forget the fact that people like me travel to these restaurants for the chefs, the true rock stars of our lives. So, it's only natural that actually meeting them takes the whole experience to a whole new level.

Would I go for third time? I'm sure I would. But with my own money? I doubt it.

For the full story of the first time, just see here.





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Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Bacon and whisky marmalade - best of both worlds

They say (who are they, anyway? What do they know?) old dogs don't learn new tricks. hah, say I. Last weekend alone I learn a bunch of stuff. Like the fact that

- my phone has an operating system
- operating systems require updates
- I'm not cut out to even update my hairstyle
- cooking in demo kitchens in front of total strangers is soooo much fun
- professionals do that leaving behing soooooo much less mess than us bloggers...
- bacon well and truly makes everything better (can I get an amen?)

And while bacon making everything better is already a bit of a universally acknowledged fact, when you add whisky... Enough to reduce a grown man into tears. 

Last weekend I did two demo kitchens. At the first one I made shakshuka (and  I can only imagine, a total ass out of myself) and on Sunday I was at an organic food fair promoting a wicked artisan cheese (yes, cheese. My old nemesis.) To go with the grilled cheese I made , I cooked this condiment. I wasn't sure what to expect but the feedback I got from the crowd (yes, there was one. And it wasn't even roped in by Dad, my #1 fan) was that the recipe needs to go on the blog ASAP. So, dears, here it is. 

This portion was enough for about 60 sample portions and makes about 7 dl of marmalade. In an air tight container it keeps in the fridge for about 4 weeks (bet your sweet ass it won't!) but sure, you can go ahead and halve it for smaller needs (you'll regret it, though), in which case it takes less time, too. 

Bacon, whisky and onion marmalade:

850 g bacon, cut to 1/2 cm strips 
6 largeish onions (total weight 1,4 kg), peeled and chopped into 1/3 inch cubes
2 dl brown sugar
0,5 dl (maple) syrup
6 tbsp (0,75 dl)  whisky (can be omitted or substituted with cognac)
1,25 dl cider vinegar
3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
(salt, black pepper)

Roast bacon strips on a dry pan or in a big coated pot in a couple of batches over medium heat for about 10 minutes until the colour is dark but they haven't quite gotten crisp yet and are still chewy. Using a slotted spoon, remove from the pan and drain over kitchen towel. Pour out the rendered bacon fat, reserving 3 tbsp. 

Sauté the onions in bacon fat, stirring every now and then until it's soft, golden and starts caramelizing - depending on the size of your marmalade batch this takes 20-50 minutes. Add sugar and increase the heat a bit. Once the sugar has completely dissolved, add the remaining ingredients (save the salt and pepper).

Let simmer over low heat until liquid has evaporated and mixture has thickened to the consistency of marmalade (depending on the size of your batch 20-60 minutes) - as it cools it sets even more. 

Check the taste and season as needed. Let come to room temperature before spooning it into jars. 

Great accompaniment with cheeses (yes, cheese!), on bread... or wolfed down straight out of the jar (what do you think I'm doing at this very moment?). 

I served with grilled cheese. Take two slices of good bread (such as this no knead bread) , scatter generous amount of grated cheddar on one of them, sprinkle some fresh thyme on top and press the other half on top of it. Fry over medium heat in butter on both sides until the cheese has melted and the bread is golden and crunchy.

Store the marmalade in fridge, but take into room temperature about half an hour before (or blast it in the microwave for a couple of seconds) to allow it to soften. 





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