Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The end of a chapter

I have finally finished reading Scarlet & Black some 16 or 17 years after starting it. I think this is some sort of personal record and a good way to bow out of 2008. I recommend it to anyone who wants a challenging yet satisfying read (and who has the time to read it).

I have a feeling it will be slightly difficult to celebrate a new year in a fitting manner when you emerge blinking into the 21st Century from the pages of a romantic French novel from 1830 and find yourself surrounded by Finns. However I intend to give it a go!

I won't offer any opinions or historical revisions to 2008 or any predictions for 2009. If you want those they can be found in many other places. I will just thank those who read the blog and wish you all the best for the future and if what we've made in the kitchen for the party tonight is good I will show you where I found the recipe!

Tonight was going to be me and the boss at home with a nice meal and a couple of bottles of champagne. This will have to wait until tomorrow night now and I cannot say how grateful I am that, while I am working on Friday, there will be no early alarm call as I am working the evening shift.

Plus ça change?

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Carrot and bean soup

Winter is slowly becoming the norm in Finland. We still lack snow but the temperatures are now properly below zero and sticking there stubbornly. Yesterday was Finnish independence day and therefore a day off from work. Myself and the boss had a quiet day, we took a trundle down to Munkkiniemi area of Helsinki and just walked around for half an hour. Very nice and one to explore again in the summer. Alvar Aalto had his house there and his studio. You can visit both but at a price; 17€ per person. Maybe if we get a committed architect come and visit us we will take the plunge. Apart from that we might confine ourselves to just looking in from the outside.

Today it was back to work and it was a busy day. I was back on the bike & it was clear that I have been a bit of a waster recently and that stamina and fitness quickly drop away if you don't keep it up.

Once I got home and got myself cleaned up it was time for tea. This evening we made a rather nice white bean and carrot soup. This is a very simple to make supper and can be taken in many different ways. Enjoy.

White bean and carrot soup
150ml dried white beans, soaked overnight and cooked, drained with the cooking liquid reserved
3 large carrots chopped, boiled in salted water and drained
Chicken stock
Red Onion chopped
3 shallots chopped
2 cloves of garlic
Balsamic vinegar
Chorizo chopped

Gently heat the chicken stock in a saucepan
In a blender puree the carrots and all the beans apart from a handful
Add the pureed vegetables to the stock and mix together
In a separate pan fry the onions and chorizo, while they are frying give them a good dousing with some balsamic vinegar. Mine had lovely bits on the bottom so I deglazed the pan with some vermouth.
Once cooked add the onions to the soup
Season with salt and pepper
Serve

Heat up and serve with a sprinkling of freshly chopped basil or a swirl of olive oil.

*****
I have to make sure I give credit where it is due and my sous chef prepared the beans to perfection. Obviously without this the soup would not have tasted as good. Thank you sous chef!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Turkey leftover risotto

Our thanksgiving dinner was excellent, we all had a great time, the food was good and the company was better. A few days later we are still working our way through the left overs. The carcass was duly boiled for stock and before we start to freeze it up we decided to make a risotto as it is a wonderful combination of stock and rice.

While I was idly preparing the soffrito I heard from the TV someone (OK it was Anthony Bourdain) talking about Moroccan cooking and the use of Paprika and Cumin in their cooking and being a suggestible fellow I immediately added these two ingredients to our risotto taking it off in an unexpected, but gutsy and pleasant direction.

Please remember that you have to careful with these two spices in a risotto: less is definately more here and as the result will be rumbustious this dish is best suited to a winter's day when you need food to warm you to the core. I am also taking huge libertys with a risotto here, but it is a dish I love to make and to eat and it's ability to be many different things is one of the things I love about it. Right, speech over. To the food.

Serves 2-3
1 Onion finely chopped
2 celery sticks finely chopped
1 garlic clove
1/4 of courgette finely chopped
100ml risotto rice
Dollop of vermouth
Leftover turkey roughly chopped
Warmed turkey stock 350ml
A dollop of double cream
1/4 white cabbage roughly chopped
1 small dried chili
Handfull of chopped chorizo
A good handful of freshly grated parmesan
A knob of Butter
Salt & Pepper

1) Make the sofrito,
Put a little olive in a pan and warm it through, fry the onion, celery, garlic and courgette. Fry gently for a few minutes until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and fry for a minute further. Then add the vermouth and let the alcohol evapourate.

2) Add the first ladleful of stock, stir constantly and as it reduces down top it up with more warm stock. Keep adding the stock until the rice is cooked. Towards the end add the turkey.

3) In a separate pan fry the cabbage in a little olive oil, chorizo and chili.

4) Once the rice is cooked, combine the cabbage with the risotto. Remove from the heat, add the butter and cheese, put the lid on and leave for two minutes.

Serve.

Of course there will be left overs! Enjoy.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Chelsea Girl

A few weeks ago we were at C's for some knitting and food. She was working her way through CD's alphabetically and we were treated to what could charitably be described as repition therapy to persuade us of the merits of A-Ha. However she had also discovered that she had a few duplicate CDs and I came home with a copy of "Celebration" by Simple Minds. I have to say I haven't listened to their early work for many years now. Readers of this blog will know that as a teenager their work from 1979 to 1982 was part of my life.

So despite it being a few weeks since dinner I finally had a few minutes to myself the other day and popped the CD into the computer while I was messing around at home on my own. I have to say that after a gap of many years some of it has dated. However I defy anyone who listens to Chelsea Girl not to come out of it with a big stupid grin on their face. How did a punk band produce such a great pop single as only their second single?

I was also amazed at how well the song "I Travel" has lasted. It is such a shame that they went so bad by 1985.

In other news life in Helsinki is good at the moment, OK so the economy has gone to hell and that brings loads of stress at work but there is Moles Beer to drink in town and the car is working well and there is a little bit of snow on the ground. All we need is the temperature to get above freezing now, which isn't forecast until well into next week and maybe not even then. Good that the firewood for the winter is coming tomorrow.

Tomorrow evening we're going around to T&H's for dinner and meeting Charlie the dog. Apparently he's old enough now to have visitors, why do I think we might need some help?

Friday, 14 November 2008

Moles

Moles beer has finally come to Helsinki. When I came to Helsinki a year ago I had an afternoon before my interview to wander around. I was lucky enough to find a pub called Black Door that had real ale on tap which after the beer desert of Trondheim was wonderful in itself and as I enjoyed a beer I noticed that on their wall several Hand Pump Tags from the Moles brewery. Now after a year of waiting for it to put in an appearance it has finally come back. Happy happy days!

Yesterday was meant to be a day off but I ended up at work for most of the day, however in the late afternoon I managed to escape in town, did some foraging in the oriental supermarkets in Kallio and as I was heading home I popped into the Pullman Bar at the Railway station and had a pint of Moles Landlord's Choice. It was excellent and tasted as good as I remember. The even better news is that the brewery has obviously sent a few barrels over as I have seen that it will be featured in a couple of other pubs that sell real ale around town so I know it will be a good few weeks!

Afterwards the Boss and I went to see the new Bond film. While I enjoyed it I have to say that 24 hours later I find myself refering to it as "The Bourne Redundancy". I still enjoy Daniel Craig as Bond and I approve of his hard portrayal of the character but in this film it seemed as if he kept the character in too tight a straight jacket and it eventually served to make him seem less of a man and more of a terminator.

So today has been my catch up day off and a chance to play in the Kitchen. We've been out and foraged successfully and I feel inspired about all the opportunities to cook again. I think I suffered a bit in the week after Barcelona in respect to cooking. If you have to eat out every night, coming home to a Kitchen can be a bit of a come down. Especially if you get caught in the circle of the same ingredients prepared in the same way. Sometimes it can be comforting but last week it was a bit of a dead end. However this afternoons dinner put paid to that.

Tuna steak with deep fried julieened leeks & red pepper served with sticky jasmine rice and a pea and mint puree. When I write it out it sounds very posh but trust me it wasn't actually very complicated to put together.

It takes about an hour to cook everything so maybe it is not a weekday supper but it isn't so difficult to do.

Serves 2
2 tuna steaks
110g rice
4 handfulls of julieened leeks
half a red peper sliced into strips
Seasoned flour

Pea & mint puree
250g peas
1 sprig of fresh Mint
A pinch of sugar
Creme Fraiche

Boil the peas in water with a sprig of mint and a pinch of sugar until just cooked
Puree
Add a few spoonfuls creme fraiche until you get the consistency you want
Add salt & pepper and a spoonful of freshly chopped mint

To cook the vegetables, dust with seasoned flour and cook very quickly in oil heated to about 140-160C

Cook the rice

Cook the Tuna on a hot griddle, max 3 mins pers side but it will depend on how thick it is.

Once everything is done arrange on a plate and enjoy!

I had loads of pea puree left over so will be using it in some soup in the next few days.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Barcelona

Our week in Barcelona is over and we are home. I had a fabulous time with the boss. We spent a whole week in the city and certainly feel that we got more from it than is possible from the usual long weekend. We ate, we drank, we walked, we saw, we talked, we stayed up late, we walked through some of the seedier parts of town, we looked in the windows of some of the most expensive shops, we admired achitecture from many different epochs, we drank beer by the sea, we climbed hills, we laughed, we were silly, we were always curious about what was around the next corner and we always tried to take the road less travelled.

We came home with many many photos, some are classic tourist photos and some are a little bit special, some were taken by me and some by the boss. The best may even make it onto the wall at home one day soon.

I think over the next few days we will begin to coallate a few favourite moments and add a few more photos to Flickr. Life will return to normal and we will get ready for the coming winter.

Two questions are on my mind as I get ready to go back to work tomorrow: Where next & when?

*****

Update. I think I owe an explanation for the photo above. I took it in a quiet back street in the old city on our last afternoon just wandering around and in quite a bit of pain due to a sore back. It was an impromptu shot because I liked the shape of the people in the sunlight. I took two photos pretty much without thinking about the composition, I just checked the exposure settings. As soon as I saw it I know I'd struck gold. I am very proud of this one. The best of the photos are now up on Flickr. I will continue to add to the set on it but am being as critical as I can so only the very best of the 300+ we took make it up there.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Scoundrel Days

A wet sunday afternoon in Helsinki, the day after the night before. The iPod is playing the Doves, the boss is knitting and I've been learning how to conjugate Finnish verbs. At times like this you have to believe that the fun never stops in the Monkey House Kitchen.

Last night we were at C's for an excellent evening and a made up Japanese style dinner. It was a lot of fun but we did experience at first hands C's decision to listen to all her albums alphabetically. I have to say, her commitment to the ordered nature of alphabetism is remarkable as only a true devotee can go from "A flock of seagulls" to "A-ha". Unfortunately this is where my particlualr problem kicks in. Having waded through 5 a-ha albums I feel like a walking compedium of all their music and I had a hard time kicking their music out of my head last night. The extra hour in bed was hijacked by the 3 boys from Norway playing on heavy rotation. Even our act of rebellion late in the evening by jumping ahead to S and the excellent Floodland by the Sisters of Mercy didn't/hasn't prevent(ed) an ongoing outbreak of A-haness.

Anyway in the Kitchen we cooked a chicken, greenbean thing. Very easy so enjoy:

Serves 4
2 chicken breasts
250g of green beans, topped and tailed
2 garlic cloves100ml soy sauce
100ml rice vinegar
50ml sake
1 hard boiled egg per person
Rice

Gently brown the chicken so that it is about 2/3rds done, add the beans and garlic and continue to cook. Add the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sake and eggs. Cook until the sauce has reduced to about half. Serve with sticky rice.

Today we have sat inside watching the awful weather and the film Once. It was very nice and managed to avoid being twee which is a good thing. Definately one for a wet sunday afternoon. I have no idea what we're eating for dinner tonight but I have a feeling it could be some egg fried noodles. I aslo have a whole chicken I'm going to cut into pieces and some friends from the UK are going to call on skype this evening. Then it is back to the grindstone of work this week for 2 days and then I am away on a "living in change" course. It should be interesting but I have already noticed that the only constant in the universe is change so I hope I get some deeper insights from the course than that. Once that is done then it's time to pack and head for Barcelona. Yay!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Sangria in the park

Yesterday was a well deserved day off. Although the weather wasn't brilliant and we slept in we decided to take a road trip to Hämeenlinna anyway. I am really pleased we did. Late October is not the most obvious time to be a tourist in Finland and we seem to be masters at avoiding high season. The town of Hämeenlinna is about 100km from Helsinki up the main highway to Tampere. Nice easy driving through the same unending scenery for little over an hour brings you to the town and its castle. The guidebook we have lists other things to do in the town but we decided to visit the castle and go onto the village of Iittala. The castle was excellent and well worth a visit. Iittala was less so although the factory shop there does offer some excellent bargains.

For me though the best thing about it all is the sense of making the most of our time here in Finland and of not falling into the trap of being lazy arses.

The photo above was taken in one of the rooms in the castle. I love the simple white wash of the walls and the contrast with the tiled floor both in terms of colour and geometry. I also took some black and white versions of this while lying on the floor but they were not as good. Just as well we visit places in off season as all the other tourists probably wouldn't appreciate a ginger haired english man sprawled on the floor getting all arty in the quest for an interesting photograph!

Today the kitchen will be on location in Tapiola. The original plan to cook some fancy Thai food is fast being dumped as it is getting too complicated to carry a heavy pestle and mortar and food processor round Helsinki while hunting for authentic ingredients! We may retreat to the simplicity of something Italian but I like the idea of chili and rice today so who knows what we'll be cooking. The chef certainly doesn't!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Sunday night and pasta

I've written about pesto before. It was last year and I was experimenting with Avocado pesto which was an excellent. As I'm blogging twice in one evening I'm going to make the assumption that you've read the earlier post and know we had a load of basil leaves to use up.

The trick with pesto is the order: Garlic, basil, cheese, oil & nuts. Elizabeth David says it is OK to use butter instead of oil but I remain an unbeliever and as yet have not experimented with it. If you have and it works let me know.

We made plenty of pesto, after all if you're going to make a small quantity you might as well make a large quantity right?

That is only part of the story. I was also pleased with what I did with it so here is my sunday chicken, pesto and pasta recipe.

The trick here is to cook things gently. It is really important.

Serves 2
Olive oil
2 chicken breasts cubed
1 chili
1/2 onion finely chopped
1/4 red pepper chopped
1 large mushroom chopped into small pieces
Penne
Pesto

In a frying pan heat some olive oil and gently fry the onion and chili
Add the chicken and continue to cook.
Then add the pepper and mushroom.

Put the pasta in a pan of salted water at a rolling boil.
When al dente, drain, return to the pan and add some olive oil.

I served it by putting the pasta as a base, adding the chicken and putting a huge dollop of pesto on top to allow the diner to choose how to use the pesto. What made the dish for me was that the pesto had all the requisite flavours, the chicken was nicely cooked and every now and then there was a little bite of chili that came in and out to add to the flavours of the dish.

Enjoy.

Pasata sunday

Thank goodness that is over. The major international review has passed without incident. I came out the other end still claiming to have a grip on my sanity and have had the opportunity to relax with the aid of alcohol. It was an illuminating week and the old adage that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger is true. However it is over and thank goodness remains the key feeling. The reason is that I hope to reduce the imbalance in my life at work and away from it.

So last night we invited the neighbours around for dinner and had a very pleasant evening feeding them typical English autumn food. We served a cottage pie with cumin carrots followed by an apple crumble. The recipes for the main course came from Tamsin Day Lewis' book Simply the Best. I'm not sure I approve of the awful title of the book and sometimes her prose is overwhelming however it is a book that has proved its worth time and again. The carrots were even grown in tins in our garden this year and apples for the crumble came from our neighbours tree.




Today has been an equally busy day as we have finally harvested the plum tomatoes the boss has been growing in the Finnish Monkey House Kitchen Garden and made some pasata from the same recipe we used last year. Lucky this time we managed to get two jars instead of last years solitary jar. One important ingredient in a pasata is basil and the boss was sent to the shops with the imprecise instruction to get 'a lot' of basil. This she duly did but with only two jars worth of pasata we are left with a glut of basil left over. This is of course a gift as dinner tonight will now be some gently grilled chicken served with some fresh home made pesto and accompanied by some pasta. Maybe there will be a vodka gimlet served with it, to make it all grown up.



The week ahead should be relatively straighforward. We're off to movies on Thursday and I have Friday off making a nice long weekend. I am wondering whether we will try and make a trip to somewhere like Hammenlinna on Friday or we will just be enjoying being in Helsinki. After that our week in Barcelona is coming up fast, we've been good today and sketched out a first rough itinerary. I do not want to have a relaxing week ruined by an excess of pre planning but a little thinking in advance will mean that we should use out time well. If there comes a time to tear up the plan and head off on an unscripted adventure well who cares?

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Fennel Pasta

This evening the Kitchen was lucky enough to put together this little Sunday evening delight.

1 fennel bulb
Half an onion
A couple of sticks of celery
1 dried chili
Mushrooms
200g cherry tomatoes
Basil
Oregano
Pine Nuts
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil
Vodka

Spaghetti
Chopped coriander

Set the oven going at about 175C
Chop the fennel, celert and onion
Pop in the tomatoes, mushrooms and pine nuts
Add a some basil, oregano and chili
Give it a dash of vodka (white wine or vermouth is also good)
Then add in plenty of olive oil
Finally add some salt & pepper

Pop it all in the oven for at least an hour

Then put the pasta in a saucepan of salted water that is at a rolling boil.
Once it is al dente, drain and add the coriander.

Serves 2.


*****
Life has been busy of late - too much work and not enough cooking. However today has been a nice day off where we have done very little. We swept the deck for leaves which looked great for about 2 seconds before the trees in the garden took the opportunity to cover it all again. We planted some bulbs in the lawn which should make the garden look pretty next spring. We also took a drive around Helsinki which was looking pretty in the late autumn sun this afternoon. There has been cheese and sweet chili sauce while reading Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries which has provided some much needed inspiration for next weekends dinner when our Finnish neighbours are coming for dinner and we would like to cook them something English.
We also started planning our trip to Barcelona. I picked out museums and design shops to see, explore and experience. The boss chose a bar that serves Gimlets. Hmmm.

Next week is the big work review. It's been a long few months getting ready but it has been really nice to actually take a day out and just relax. All the preparations are done and there is no point in stressing anymore. Actually the only approach is to go out and enjoy the week (if such a piece of positive claptrap is actually possible...). Ask me on Friday.

After that I'm looking forward to getting back into the Kitchen, getting out to the movies again and enjoying life in Helsinki.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Hiroshige


Last night the boss and I went to see the exhibition of Japanese woodcut prints at the Ateneum in Helsinki. It was the one evening the exhibition was free and while the star of the exhibition was "The Great Wave" we were particularly impressed with the many prints that make up Hiroshige's "100 views over Edo." For the record there are 116 views.

Today while out shopping for the Boss' birthday next week I found a book in Stockmann's Akademisk Bokhandel containing all of them in a beautiful volume for the giveaway price of 33 €. I have on occasions in my life come across beautiful things that for one reason or another I have decided not to buy and later regretted. I actually put this book down and then came back to it and let me tell you I am so glad I did. If you live in Helsinki you have to see this exhibiton. Then go and buy the book! I do think that the 13€ ticket price to the exhibition is expensive (probably explains why it was so packed) but it is worth it. Go. Open your mind.

After I left the boss to go to her knitting group I made my way up to Hakaniemi to the Asian stores as we needed a few bits. Although it was getting close to closing time I was lucky enough to get to the market and find a squash for Saturday. Quinn is coming over while I am at work and staying for dinner. Cooking for vegetarians is always fun as it is a good challenge to make a balanced meal from a broadly similar range of ingredients. OK without unduly igniting the debate I think it is pretty obvious that cooking with meat gives you another clearly different element whereas cooking without meat forces you to be more creative. The boss has sugested some kind of spicy roast squash which is an excellent idea. All I need to know now is what we serve it with and how.

The kitchen has been busy and this evening dinner was a simple affair using leftovers in a good way. A few noodles fried with garlic, chili, mushroom and courgette. Then a little beaten egg and some soy sauce to make a tasty and quick supper.

I extended our lease on the house today for another year. I guess we're not going anywhere. That is a good thing!

Sunday, 28 September 2008

A postcard on autumn

Autumn is well and truly here in Finland. The trees are turning yellow and we are enjoying bright sunny, breezy days that make it a pleasure to be outside. The Boss and I went off towards Sipoo today and have spent an excellent few hours pottering around the forest finding edible mushrooms. We got a good haul compared to our last few outings. We have a box full of Hedgehog fungus a couple of chanterelles and some suspected wood blewits and millers. The last two need testing to confirm our guess but otherwise all will end up in the pot this evening!

Last night there was a staff party which involved quite a lot of (free) beer and I enjoyed myself a lot. I had been quite quiet during the day and had been feeling the party might be a bit of chore but in the end there was a good atmosphere and I relaxed a lot.

At work it has been busy and in the kitchen it has been busy. We've been using the usual mix of everything and left overs. The chilis are ripening nicely and so are the tomatoes so I expect lots of them will be used in ever more inventive ways over the next few weeks.

Blogging will be light for the forseeable future as we have a(nother) major international review at work in 3 weeks time and I intend to be a very focused work bunny until it comes to its (successful) conclusion.

******
After performing spore print tests on the unidentified mushrooms we are able to say the blewits are definately not blewits. The Miller remains unidentified as the spore print was so poor.

Friday, 12 September 2008

The water knows

It’s been a busy few weeks since the last post. I am within a couple of pages of finishing Ovid and finally after wading through all the incest and homosexuality his final flourish appears to be to promote vegetarianism. Odd. Yet rewarding.

We had a fantastic weekend in Tallinn. The old town is as impressive as it’s reputation. It is full of old buildings and narrow streets that provide a real contrast to Helsinki. It was slightly interesting in that I was lucky enough to be in Tallinn as the only boy on a girls knitting (& drinking) weekend. The price I paid for such a blessing was to accompany the girls to every knitting shop in town. The most bizarre was the one out from the centre which was two floors up a dingy staircase and guarded by a thick metal door that was accessible only by buzzing and being OK’d by the CCTV. Needless to say I am now an expert on the best bars beside the best yarn shops in Tallinn!! My facebook friends can see the moment I snapped in a Greek restaurant full of burly Russians here.

Then this week we were lucky enough to see REM. I love this band and they did not disappoint. I first heard their music while I was still at school (sometime after 1985). I finally got my first ticket to see them on the Monster tour and after queuing for hours on a Sunday morning to get the best seats in the house. That concert was cancelled and then fate has conspired against me until this week. As I said they were excellent. The weather did us no favours as it rained incessantly all day and all the way through the concert. I was dressed for a day on the Brecon Beacons in January than a gig but they played some great songs that were treated to my very special form of dancing. I was asked before the concert by Cecilie which songs I hoped they played and I duly managed a list but I cannot believe I didn’t mention “Find the River” which is my all time favourite REM song. Thankfully the band saved me and performed a cracking version.

The support bands were good: I had heard good things about the Editors and while I enjoyed their set I worried at times that they were veering dangerously close to Coldplay territory. Their lead guitarist has appaling taste in knitwear but there is something there that warrants closer examination. The Disciplines were excellent, lunatics and very "rawk". I loved them.

Due to the demands of work I have been slacking in the kitchen and the boss has been doing sterling work providing fantastic food. However I hope I made amends tonight by creating out of nothing a lovely little Spanish dish – perfect for a weekday.

1 chicken breast cubed
1/3 of chorizo sarta sliced
3 garlic cloves finely chopped
A pinch of pimenton
A couple of large mushrooms chopped
A couple of small onion sliced
Some peas
A glass of red wine
A glass of peas
Olive oil

Heat the olive oil gently in a frying pan
Cook the onions slowly
Add the garlic, the chorizo and the chicken
It may get a little dry depending on the chorizo so don’t be afraid to add a splash of red wine here if needed.
Add the mushrooms and the rest of the red wine
Continue to cook gently
Add the peas

When it’s all done serve. I used a few boiled potatoes as an side this evening and was pleased with the results.

I also managed quite a nice Asian style noodle dish using some left over duck this week. As with all Asian dishes you have to pay attention to how you cut up the ingredients so the final dish looks as appealing as it is tasty. I am struggling to remember what I did but I know I used an unashamedly strong combination of ginger, garlic and chilli. Then I had some left over duck that I shredded, sauted it all up with some courgette and mushrooms towards the end I added in some roast beetroot, which worked really well together. I made some scrambled egg and cut it into the noodles. The best thing it was all made from left overs from other dishes we’ve been making.

Tomorrow we're going to take on Coq au Vin in a serious way and on Sunday we should be out collecting mushrooms in the woods weather permitting.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Ch-ch-changes

So where has the kitchen been recently? I’m still working my way through Ovid; I’ve managed to get past the part where he suddenly takes a detour into incest and female homosexuality. Interesting to note that in Ovid’s world it is OK for boys to love each other and gods to marry their sisters but it is wrong for women to love each other or desire their brothers! However the way that this world view does not sit comfortably with our own more “enlightened” 21st century views has been good for me as at it has prompted me to question my own blithe assumptions on a range of subjects about what is right, wrong or socially acceptable in this world.

When theoretical philosophy hasn’t been claiming my attention I have been in the kitchen. We did manage to steal a BBQ last Saturday. It was excellent to still get one more chance to eat out as the year wanes before us. Indeed our lucky and opportunistic al fresco dining was balanced by a Sunday indoors watching the rain come down. We cooked some steak, some pork skewers and some prawns. The pork was marinated in some soy, garlic and chili and worked very well. The meal was topped off with corn which is a staple at our BBQ’s as the Boss is very fond of it.

I seem to be drifting towards voluntary quasi-vegetarianism which is an unusual place for a lover of meat. I only ever order my steak rare or blue and see no problem with killing an animal in order to eat it. If that is what it takes I can do that. Meat is meat there is nothing wrong with being willing to kill the animal you want to eat. However having set up that straw man we can return to my growing vegetarianism. It should be clear by now that it isn’t ethically driven, it is more to widen how I see food and what I want to cook. I make no claims for any systematic exploration either, I am afloat in the stream and going with the flow, my journey is no more than that.

So what have we been cooking? We seem to be working towards a cycle of pasta, potato, pulses and rice which gives us a variety of things to play with. This week we have enjoyed vegetable moussaka and a fine miso soup using home made dashi stock and some carrots from the garden that needed thinning out. I’ve commented before on how soups can make excellent quick evening meals as they can be as chunky or as light as you want them to be. We made so much Moussaka that it was good enough to eat two nights on the trot and then we played with some sweet potatoes and lentils as detailed below.

Although last night was movie night and I did want to start going again we never made it to as the weather was atrocious and by the time I had finished work, been drowned riding my bicycle home and dried myself out I just wasn’t motivated enough to go out to the cinema.

So despite all I’ve said about not eating meat above this is what we pulled together the following elements to make a satisfying dinner for 2.

*2 small baked sweet potatoes
*About 150ml of red and green lentils cooked and seasoned with salt, pepper and butter
*A small frying pan of mushrooms and bacon sautéed with some chili, cayenne pepper and oil.
I think we will have a lazy weekend, I’m certainly feeling the need for it. Although there are plans afoot to try and make some duck spring rolls or something along similar lines.

By the way one thing I discovered last week was triangular tofu. It is of course just a case of cutting up a normal block of tofu in a clever way but it adds something to appearance of the dish and that is also good for the soul. If it looks good you will think it is good and it will be good. Positive claptrap as the boss would say.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Metamorphoses


Classical literature. I'm reading Ovid's Metamorphoses at the moment and it is a curious thing. God's change their names mid sentence and keeping up with who is who and changing into what can be a challenge. A repeating motif is the (male) God who falls in love with a human beauty, deceives her in some way to get his wicked way with her, leave her with child and leaves. Later the God's wife finds out about her husband's infidelity and wreaks revenge on the girl. How morality has changed in a few millenia! However it is an enjoyable romp through classical mythology which is filling in the gap in my knowledge. Afterwards the Finnish national epic the Kalevala is next on the reading list. Maybe after that I will turn to something more contemporary.
However the constant nature of change that Ovid chose as his theme is apt as I noticed the sun was lower behind the trees that stand behind our house this evening. The year is clearly marching on. Yet it still time to be a vintage one.
At the weekend we were in France and had a great time out at a house called La Rogiere. We camped in a field next to our friends house. We lived off pain au chocolat, BBQ sausages and red wine. I ended up running the BBQ for 45 people on saturday night including Monsieur et Madame Le Mayor. It was great fun to cook over half an oil drum filled with a large bed of coals.
I think it is not duly unkind to describe La Rogiere as very close to derelict. To the casual observer it doesn't look so good. However on closer inspection the roof beams have been completely redone and are ready for the new tiles. This would be a major step towards being a watertight building. Then can come a real kitchen and the serious work of decorating the inside can begin. I have volunteered (in all seriousness) to go back next year and to put the roof tiles on. It should be fun.
While we were out and about we discussed where we could go on our adventures. So many places came out: Avingnon, Carcassonne, Rioja, Sevilla, Namibia, New York, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Japan and the list goes on. I notice that Finnair is offering a special deal to New York this week. Tempting. I also want to go skiing next spring and am trying to convince the boss to go on a road trip round the USA.
The kitchen has been doing well, I made a chili sauce for some tofu last night and served in some noodles. It was good although I could have made a bit more sauce. I cut the tofu into triangles which was an innovation for me. I was pleased with how it looked. Then tonight we made a simple tomato and bacon sauce with basil and served it with some pasta. Maybe if the weather is good over the weekend we can squeeze one more BBQ out of the waning year.
Let the days keep rolling.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Behind the corner

It's all been too busy, too fast. I had a horrible hissing fit in the Fazer cafe when it all got too noisy and chaotic on friday. Last week was the work week from hell where I did too many hours, didn't get enough sleep, drank too much and got up the next day and tried to do it all again.

That's not to say it didn't have highlights: Visiting Kallio church for the first time, getting a great bargain when buying mushrooms at Helsinki Kauppatori, wandering around the woods on Sunday, a nice glass of wine and some lovely egg fried noodles.

Tonight has been another chance to relax in the kitchen and the chance came around to cook a risotto. Tonights version was

Chanterelle and Pea risotto

This is one advantage of living in Finland: fresh peas and fresh chanterelles in the market. No one in England is going to be able to make this dish so improvise.

I cooked the mushrooms slowly in a little olive oil and garlic and added the fresh peas to cook them lightly. Once done I set aside. Then I made the risotto in the usual way except I added sme chilli to the sofrito which it must be said should only be used in an extremely limited way as it can easily overwhelm everything else. Then I added a good dollop of creme fraiche towards the end and a small handfull of fresh mint from the garden. This could have been a lot bigger especially I was borderline generous with the chilli. The result was very pleasan and very easy.

*****

There's a list of movies building up to be seen - one disadvantage of being so busy is you just don't go often enough.

*The Dark Night. I still can't stop laughing everytime I think that the Finnish title translates as The Night Knight.
*Once
*Wall E - I wasn't interested but the reviews have been good so maybe I could do with a bucket of schmaltz?
*X Files - yes a trip down memory lane and a guilty pleasure. Anyway David Duchovny was always nice to look at.
*The Clone Wars. I'm of that generation. Full Stop.

However with movie nights back on a Thursday I'm not sure when I'll get to see any of these. Hmm. A puzzle.

****

Am off to France at the weekend and hope to be able to drink some nice French wine and maybe bring a few bottles home....

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The choice is made



I feel kind like some sort of Ghostbuster this evening. I am not standing on top of a smoking New York building ready to face down the apocalypse armed only with a sarcastic sense of humour and a funky coloured laser. However the parallels are apt. For a while the boss has been dipping in and out of a book called "Japanese women don't get old or fat: blah blah blah." It's not a bad book in itself. It offers a few points of interest on the differences in our diets, lifestyles and how they affect health. No rocket science here but no hokum either. Anyway there was an article in a British newspapre recently about a book in a similar style about Chinese food. I remember very little about it except that it said rice was important to the Chinese and that it was OK to have a vegetable as the main course. (I suspect many vegetariams may have grasped that point but us omnivores are a little slower). As soon as I read it I thought "some green beans and rice would be nice." A bit like the fateful choice that brought down the apocalypse in the shape of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man and our brave Ghostbusting heroes.

That was last week sometime. Since then I have not lost sight of that dish in my head but time has got in the way. I have been to England, seen friends, family, visited my grandmother's grave (or the hillside where her ashes are scattered and it was a good feeling to be there). I ate some good food, I drank real ale and came home tired but pleased. I finally got my chance to make my dish this evening so here it is and enjoy. It only took as long as the rice takes to cook so it is a perfect after work weekday meal.

To a certain Norwegian friend of mine I have to admit now that this is not a recipe for dry fried beans but I blame you anyway, in a good way, for my chinese green bean thing.

Green Beans and Rice (Serves 2)

300g green beans

3 cloves of garlic finely chopped

1 knob of ginger finely chopped

2 chillis finely chopped

1 small onion finely chopped

50g rice per person, washed thoroughly

Vegetable and sesame oil

Instructions

Parboil the green beans, for 1 and half minutes, refresh immediately in cold water. Shake off the excess water and dry with a kitchen towel.

Put water (approx 2 and half times the volume of rice ) into a saucepan containing the rice and bring to the boil. Boil hard for 2 minutes, reduce heat for about 10 minutes, put the lid on and leave off the heat without touching the lid for about 15 minutes. The aim is that if all the starch is out of the rice it will be nice and sticky.

Heat the oil in a pan, gently fry the onion for about 5 minutes. Add the green beans and stir fry. I kept them moving as much as possible. After a few minutes add the garlic, ginger and chilli. Cook for a further 5 minutes or until you are satisfied with the texture.

Serve with soy sauce.

If it is nice and spicy a nice fresh mango will make an excellent desert.

We cooked way too much rice so now have 3 lunch sized portions. On Thursday night we will be experiencing the delights of a Helsinki Island restaurant and trying fresh crayfish for the first time. Should be a good evening. Hopefully we will also get the chance to catch up with friends so blogging might be light.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Ship ahoy


On Saturday, under glorious skies we took the boat to Porvoo. Getting there took a couple of hours and it was enough to enjoy the company of friends, talk, drink a beer (or two) and just contemplate the ocean, the sky, the world or whatever. I enjoyed being able to dip in and out of my own company and into the company of the usual suspects who were all on good form. Unfortunately the Cathedral was closed in Porvoo (that is the second time in two vists) but the weather more than compensated. The return journey was also a pleasure and despite the excess of drunk Finnish people in the same confined space as me it was enough for me to be out, under a warm sun and on the water.

*****

On Sunday we did some experiments in the kitchen and we can confirm the following

*Deep fried plantains are excellent in salt and chilli powder
*Deep fried radish does not work

*****

On Thursday we will be in the UK briefly so the kitchen will be closed. I hope to drink some champagne on Brandon Hill in Bristol with some friends on Friday evening.

See you on the flip side.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Tramps like us part II


"I want to sleep beneath peaceful skies,
in my lover's bed,
With a wide open country in my eyes
and these nomadic dreams in my head"

No retreat, no surrender - Bruce Springsteen

If there was ever a way of summing up how I view the world anyone who reads this would underestimate those lines at their peril.

Last night I finally saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play for the first time. The venue was the modern architectural classic Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. For those of you who are set list nerds you can see what he played here. The show was just over 3 and a quarter hours long and 31 songs. Here is the Kitchen's verdict: Almost amazing.

The good news is that the classic material is even better live: If anyone seriously doubts that Born to Run is a classic, worry no more - it is. It sounds as good now as when it first came out in 1975. The bad news is that the good material came over as only OK.

Bruce spiced things up by taking requests from the audience. It added a pleasing wildcard element to the show, but it did mean that the show as a whole lacked consistency - energy and pacing were sometimes lacking and with the bands ability to finish and start songs on a hairpin you sometimes went from way up to way down in a second. The upside of this was it's spontaneity and the way it showcased the classics. The downside was that sometimes things seemed to sag too much even if we were being treated to sincere and emotionally literate Bruce.

However to tip it over into good concert territory was: the olympic stadium itself, the great weather (walking home at 3am in the first light of dawn was a nice end to the evening), and the fact Bruce played "Santa Claus is coming to town" as a treat for the Finnish audience because after all everyone knows Santa is Finnish. Right?

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Tramps like us

Oh has the world been a busy place recently. The kitchen has been jumping with activity and some of it has been very good. Haven't been able to get a table? Sorry, you'll have to bribe the nice lady who knits down by the entrance. Get on her good side and you can have the best table in the house.


We've been cooking some very good dishes:

Thai red curry with chili tofu & sticky rice
Penne all' amatriciana
Chicken piri piri with tortilla and salsa
Risotto with borlotti beans served with cranberry and cumin mushrooms
Vegetable and tofu stir fry

All have been done simply with the minimal ingredients and leftovers. I'm pleased because a lot of the ingredients I managed to buy in the market without resorting to English (although amusing the stall holders with my rubbish grasp of their language) and nothing has been wasted. I don't like to bring politics into this blog but the recent "advice" of the British prime minister to the rich west to not waste food before sitting down to a multi course G8 super meal has left me a little angry that politicians think we are that stupid.

I have been working very hard recently in my real life job so am very happy that the kitchen has been so productive. I'm equally happy that the weather forecast for the Springsteen concert on Friday night is now very positive. I've never seen him live and am not by any stretch a huge fan but it's live music and the vibes coming from the reviews I've read are good. The band seems to have ditched promoting the new album and under the influence of our beautiful Nordic sun seem to be playing for the pleasure of playing.

We're busy plotting all sorts of things as well. We're off to the UK at the end of the month and have been sorting train tickets which has proved a nightmare. Why is it that UK rail companies cannot post a ticket within the EU? I could get on my soap box and complain about how the UK rips off its citizens and tourists but I won't (oops!). We're also off to France in August and have been buying tickets on the TGV. 1st class darling - well for £3 difference wouldn't you? Finally we're also planning a week in Barcelona in October for my dear lady wife's birthday. Oh did I mention we're going to Tallinn with friends in September. Blimey it's all getting too much.

My bike rides back and forth to work have been adventures as I try and find new ways and lose myself amongst the twisting turning lanes of Puistola. Today I had to follow a light aircraft from Malmi airstrip to get back on track.

The songwriting is also going well, if slowly. I have 6 workable (if still, but only just, incomplete) tracks and one song title (Killer psycho hero). My myspace page is still sitting there gathering dust waiting for tracks to be put up there. They will come I just don't know when. Maybe that could be a project for the long Finnish winter.

Only one more day until my day off. This stretch has been too hectic by far. I was thinking today that we are working at an insane pace, more hectic than when I was working for Carl Taylor in Bristol and he knows how to crack the whip. Then I realised the problem. Me. I'm the boss now and I'm the one dictating the pace. Think it might be time to pause and take stock.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Archer


We cycled yesterday from Pukinmäki to the Didrischsen Art Museum on Kuusisaari Island to see their Henry Moore exhibition. I had no idea what to expect. I knew the artist's name and had even seen one or two of his pieces up close and not understood what the fuss was about. However yesterday I spent a very pleasant hour examining his works up close and by seeing so many of them together I caught a glimpse of something exciting and interesting in his work. The picture above is of a piece called the Archer or more soberly "3 way piece number 2 LH535". At the Didrischsen they have The Archer (LH536) in white marble and walking around and around it I was able to see all the graceful curves and arches that occupy every facet of the piece and I found myself to be very impressed by it.
The museum itself was interesting but I felt the 8€ entrance price was a little on the steep side.
We cycled home in glorious sunshine and as it was a day off we played in the garden. The boss at gardening and me at learning Finnish. I'm sure it will all pay off one day.
We ate out in the garden using the BBQ again. Taking some inspiration from Moro East (Rob & Rach - thanks for buying us this book, it has been a revelation, it took me some time to get into it because it seemed overly fiddly on first glance but now it seems a little more straightforward and we're enjoying using it for ideas and places to begin) we had put some chicken in a Red wine, olive oil, garlic, thyme and pepper marinade before cycling off to the sculpture exhibition earlier and had decided to cook it with some cous cous. To add a salad to the plate I picked some cut and come again salad leaf from the garden, added a few tomatoes and some salad onion that I then drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
To cook the cous cous I used part of my old Trangia set as it seemed like the kind of pot that would be quite happy on the BBQ. I don't want to be limited to just grilling food. I want BBQing to be about cooking complete meals. It shouldn't just be about men burning flesh! The pan worked well and I will be gradually taking frying pans and other paraphenalia out into the garden when it is time to cook outside again.
Now for the chicken;
Once the coals were giving off a nice heat deeply score the chicken & put it on.
Have spare marinade ready to baste regularly to keep it moist.
Cook for somewhere between 15 - 20 minutes turning regularly.
A man who can incinerate food on a BBQ to a carbon crisp is a waste of space - the whole point of the exercise is to cook edible and very tasty food. Fortunately for me the chicken was OK. Phew.
We have some of the marinade left over which we will use to make a gravy for another dish in the next few days.
Waste nothing and enjoy the summer.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Vertigo

Yesterday I went to the Anton Corbijn exhibition at the Tennispalatsi in Helsinki. I am of that generation musically speaking that became aware of rock photography in about 1987 with the release of The Joshua Tree by U2. Musical tastes develop from all sorts of starting points and mine now take in artists as diverse as Joy Division and Miles Davies amongst others. So it was great to see so many iconic images in one place and perhaps the best part of the exhibition is when Corbijn pretends to be many of his rock n roll heroes himself in a well executed series of self portraits. Not then for me the iconic images but the pastiches of them.

******

My Finnish classes have started again and after been really lazy with it for the last month I was pleased by how much I remembered and frustrated by how little I can actually communicate! However I know I am near some sort of the threshold (utterly useless to just plain bad? It's all progress!) so am wanting to put some effort in over the coming weeks.

*****

The weather seems to be holding so we're cooking out again and tonigh we're doing Pork Ribs which have been marinading all day in a mixture of

White wine
Olive oil
Garlic
Salt
Pepper
Coriander Seed
Cumim Seed
Paprika
Lemon Juice
A Dried Chilli

There are no hard and fast rules for how much or how little you use of each of the above ingredients. It's just fun to play.

*****

I fancy a swim in the sea or a lake...the time is coming.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Busy summer

Apologies for been so quiet - I've been busy at work and a little under the weather. I missed the chance to see Dogville this week as I simply wasn't up for it. Which is a shame as I missed some good company and what everyone tells me is an excellent film. Hopefully I'll be back to my movie going and sociable best next week. I've also been doing very little cooking but am much happier now and am looking forward to the weekend and catching up with some friends.

However last week the boss and I managed to get into the garden for a BBQ and so here is a great way to cook some pork.

BBQ'd Pork
Pork loin
2 Apples cored and roughly chopped
3 large cloves of garlic –smashed and roughly chopped
A large teaspoon of grainy Dijon mustard
Salt & Pepper
2 onions roughly chopped
A good lug of Apple schnapps
Olive oil

2 whole onions for roasting on the BBQ
Sweet potatoes

Take a small roasting tin that will fit on your BBQ and will take the loin of pork.
Put in the Pork, apples, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, mustard, oil, schnapps and give a good shake and make sure everything is well coated.
Cover with foil. Make sure it is on really tightly. Now add a second layer of foil and make sure that is tight.

Put this on the BBQ and cook for up to an hour

While that is cooking put your onions on a skewer and BBQ them so that they are sweet. They should take about half an hour to cook.

The sweet potatoes also need to be wrapped in foil and put on the BBQ. They take about half an hour but this can vary with the size of the potatoes and the heat from the BBQ.

Depending on how organized you are the BBQ’d onions can be served cold as part of a salad or warm with the rest of the meal. The reason to leave the Pork in there a bit longer is as the onions and apples cook and caramelize they become really really sweet and that gives a nice little gravy to go with the pork.

The good news of course is that whatever pork left over makes excellent sandwiches the following day.

I'm trying to hatch a plan for some BBQ'd chicken with cous cous and salad if the weather here improves. The summer in Finland has definately been on the odd side so far in June and I'd like it to be a bit more stable (and on the sunny) side so that all my little foodie plans can come to fruition.

Until next time make sure you wear flowers in your hair at least once.

Monday, 16 June 2008

After the summer break....

It is always a good thing to take a holiday. Even better when you go away to get married. I've had a great three weeks away from the kitchen, I've climbed over 30 english mountains and had a wonderful (if wet) week in Finland exploring my new home.

I don't really know where to begin but can promise that there will be one or two photos of the wedding (& I mean one or two - if only to show how pretty she looked) posted here soon, and can also say to all the friends who made it to our day it was amazing to catch up with you, and to those who couldn't be there we missed you.

*****

Back in Helsinki and the kitchen has re-opened, tonight's supper was BBQ'd salmon and corn and frankly I defy anyone not to enjoy this kind of combination. Just remember people a BBQ is a great, and forgiving, way to cook food - get those vegetabables on, get that haloumi cheese on, make a nice salad, give the salmon plenty of time to cook, give the corn even longer and you will be assured of a very pleasant weekday supper with hardly any bother at all. Even better the leftovers will taste better tomorrow.

*****

Last night we had some red thai curry which was excellent. As ever I made too much (make a good lunch or supper later in the week) but the little tip that set it up nicely was I used an upside down bowl to give the rice a nice shape and I put in some fresh tomato as I served up to give it a nice fresh taste - not magic, just easy everyday cooking.


*****

On honeymoon we went into the Finnish wilderness and camped. We had to carry everything into the wilderness with us and carry it out. It just proved how easy it is to cook good food with one pan if you want to. We had - Pork and Beans, Macaroni Carbonara and Cabbage and Rice. All simple (of course) yet none of that was at the cost of taste. If yu can cook good food in the wild, you can cook it every day in the Kitchen.

*****

Off to Oslo on Wed/Thu this week, should be fun to be back in Norway. It was good to see that coming back to Finland felt like coming home after two weeks in England. Always reassuring.

Waste nothing and enjoy the summer.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Sunday supper

After a fairly quiet day at work I came home to find the Kitchen needed to organise evening service. So with not a second to think we worked up this little gem. Enjoy.

Sunday night pork and potato

Olive Oil
Finely chopped onion
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 Red chili
Boneless pork cubed
Black Pudding
Vermouth
Chicken stock
1 medium Apple
Chopped mushrooms
100g Peas
Salt
Pepper
Worcestershire sauce
Sugar
Parmesan rinds
Thyme

Potato
Butter
Milk

Put the oven onto 200c
Heat some olive oil in a heavy pan
When hot enough fry the onions and garlic and chili gently
Add the cubed pork and black pudding*
Put a dash of vermouth in and let the alcohol evaporate
When the pork is a nice colour add the mushrooms, apple, peas and chicken stock
A dash of Worcestershire sauce, a teaspoon of sugar, a sprinkling of thyme and a couple of Parmesan rinds are good to add now
Put a lid on the pan and put in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour
Mashed potatoes - do I need to explain this?

*Here in Finland we use Mustamakkara which while are a little different from blackpudding are an excellent alternative

*****
In other news we saw "No Country for Old Men" on Thursday. Our hostess with the mostess was unable to join us (ironic considering how much work I had this week) and I am sorry for her that she missed one of the films of the year. It richly deserved it's awards and was an engaging piece of cinema. Offbeat as you would expect from the Coen brothers and yet accessible enough to give it an appeal to the many. The cinematography captured the huge expanse of the Texan nothingness and it's sparse beauty acted as a counterpoint to some amazing dialogue:

"If I don't come back tell my mother I love her."
"Your mother is dead."
"Then I'll tell her myself."

I urge you to see this movie.

*****
On Thursday next week the Kitchen will close for summer holidays and nuptials. We wish everyone a fantastic kitchen and ask you all to remember that you don't need to waste any food. It can always be used to make something good.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

When the chips are down

I apologise profusely for not posting sooner but the kitchen has been preparing for an international commercial review. The result was an almost unheard of 90% so a large quantity of cane spirit ( aka Rum) has already been consumed prior to blogging. I must, as a matter of public knowledge, thank the boss for keeping me fed on good food this week as I've concentrated more and more on the big task. Without her effort it wouldn't have happened. Thank you. So now you know who is the genius in the monkey house kitchen. Not me. The boss.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Control

We watched Control last week. Before I get to the movie itself I need to go back a few years. When I was 17 years old I was at boarding school in southern England and sharing a room with Tom Polo. I was in the throes of my Simple Minds phase. I started out with the Once Upon a Time album but by this stage I was into the much more interesting period that lasted from their frankly odd second album (Real to Real Cacophony) up to Sons and fascination. Tom was into a totally different type of music and the deal was whoever got back first from class got the record player and got to play what they wanted. So despite my best efforts I was frequently force fed Depeche Mode, The Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, New Order and Joy Division.

The years passed and my musical tastes grew wider and I discovered such crazy acts as Bob Dylan (I still remember the night I passed up the opportunity to listen to Blood on the Tracks while babysitting while raiding the neighbours record collection and missed out on it's wonders for nearly another decade but that is another story) and others I have come to love. Joy Division have been part of the journey. Never a comfortable travelling partner and at times neglected but there's always come a point when I've rediscovered them and been glad they're there. That is my Joy Division story.

As for the film it is quite superb. There's no getting away from Anton Corbijn's photographic pedigree. I remember one scene where the camera revolved around Ian Curtis in a dark room with a white door. It was like every second was like looking at a different photo. Sam Riley's portrayal was excellent and I wonder what someone like Daniel Day Lewis would have done with it. Samantha Morton's accent was perfect and the kitchen sink drama counterpoint she brought to the highs of the live performances gave the film real pathos. However the film's greatest triumph is that in taking such a sad story it doesn't miss out in the fact there was humour as well. The road to oblivion is often paved with funny moments. The film's greatest weakness is it's obsessiveness on Curtis and it misses out on fleshing out his relationship with the band. They were pretty much bit parts. However this is a minor quibble. This is a sad film but one you should watch.

*****

In other movie news I saw the very amusing Iron Man last night. Do not analyse this movie. It is dumb. However watch and enjoy. Just for the record Gwyneth Paltrow did not work as the pretty girl this time. Or as a red head.

*****
Today we have been in Fiskars and bought a waterproof bag for camping. I resisted the urge to buy an axe. I have to say that it gave me great pleasure to write that line. It was a beautiful day and it was pleasant to walk around. Tomorrow is a few wedding jobs and then I'm on duty tomorrow night saying thank you to all the people at work for their hard work recently at a party we're putting on for winning a global sales competition.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Beetroot Gazpacho

Yesterday friends came round for a BBQ which was admittedly a little on the rubbish side. The food was good and BBQ's brocolli definately has something to it worth exploring. However I wasn't thinking about what order I should be cooking things in, ratios of food so nobody got a nice, balanced plate of food. Still it seemed in keeping with the mood of the day. We did make a Beetroot Gazpacho which was excellent. The original idea was that I was going to make a salsa to go with the BBQ'd vegetables so I wanted to keep my tomatoes in reserve and that's when I had the idea to use beetroot instead. It is simple and very tasty. In addition the colour is simply amazing.

200g raw beetroot peeled
400g tomotoes
3 cloves garlic
Salt
Half a cucumber
Half a pepper (green or red)
100g Breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar (red wine will also do)

Put all the ingredients apart from the olive oil and vinegar into a blender and let it run until you have the consistency of a smootie
Check seasoning
Add oil and vinegar and pulse again
Check for taste
Refridgerate
Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and some nice fresh bread

Off out for a bike ride now.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Marie Claire

I saw the Darjeeling Limited on Thursday and really enjoyed it. It took me ages to decide I liked it (approx 2 thirds of the film) and then I made everyone stay until the very end in the hope of a great last shot that we'd already seen. In the way the Stones movie last week went straight to the stranger corners of my mind this one was the same and I now know that Adrien Brody is actually quite handsome and I need to be open about the fact that I love this gem of a song from my childhood. I've read another post which I wish I'd remembered to bookmark which talked about the use of colour in the film which I didn't get at all the first time round but now is blindingly obvious. Better than the Royal Tennebaums. Makes me want to see the Life Acquatic.

The Kitchen will be hosting a BBQ today, the sun is shining so I have to go play out there.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Shine a light

Thursday's movie was Shine a light - the Rolling Stones concert film. I found it to be an odd affair with parts that were amazing, Ronnie & Keef's guitar playing switching between lead and rhythm like a magic trick you couldn't understand. However the overall impression I am left with is how skeletal Mick Jagger was. Sitting in the movie I was associating with what I was seeing on screen with the Mexican death paintings typified by artists like Jose Posada. Last night while out with some good friends the comment was made by someone not at the movie that Jagger was the most enigmatic performer he had ever seen. The movie, to me, at least exposed him to be anything but that. The titanic ego was there in plain view but some of his stage craft seemed more suitable to an American politician on the campaign trail. So a flawed but interesting piece of concert cinema. Pleased to have seen it, reserved as to whether I would say I enjoyed it.

Next weeks film is the Darjeeling Express and while I am also a little ambivalent about it I know these are the films that can take you by surprise. So I am looking forward to the experience, the good company and the opportunity to see something new.

*****

The kitchen has been busy as well. I'm just cooking some beans so that we can do some kind of slow cooked beef, aubergine and beans surprise for tea tonight. I know nothing more about it at this stage than that. On Friday we made ravioli which was excellent. The filling was sweet potato, red pepper and bacon with a lot of fresh rosemary and it was very very tasty.

I'm looking forward to BBQ season and cooking some lovely things, especially vegetables this year. We say a very nice gas grill in the Finnish Design Forum which may also help in the creation of Cecilie's dry fried beans.

*****

Off to get the boss a beer.

Remember waste nothing

Monday, 21 April 2008

Moving the castle

Howl's Moving Castle is a Japanese film about a Welsh book with American actors. We first saw it a while back and have had the DVD floating around so last night we watched it again and I really enjoyed it. OK except Bully Crystal not being funny. It came after a long day out riding our bikes. It also came with a nice glass of rum and coke which is definitely my poison.

The Kitchen has been a very productive place over the last few days and here is my recipe for Roast Red Pepper and Tomato soup. I must start by saying I got the idea from watching the BBC programme Masterchef. One of the competitors made this and I set out to give it a go. I worked out what I wanted to do and checked I was right by looking in a book called The Soup Bible.

Unsalted Butter
Olive oil
Onions
500g tomatoes chopped
3 large garlic cloves chopped
2 Red Peppers whole
Vermouth
600 ml of Chicken stock (preferably home made)
Fennel Seeds
1 tin of Pinto Beans
Chorizo
Salt & Pepper

Put the red peppers under a very hot grill and leave so that they blacken.
Gently fry the onions and garlic in a pan with some olive oil and butter. This is a slow process so don't worry about leaving them there for a while
When they are soft add a dash of vermouth
Add the tomatoes and leave to cook with the onions
Add the chicken stock
Check seasoning
Take the peppers out from under the grill, put in a bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool.
Once cooled remove the charred skin, tear up and add to the pan
Check the taste and the seasoning
If it's good put everything in the blender and whisk until it is whatever texture you like. I prefer my soups to be a little chunky. Smooth isn't so good for me.
Add the pinto beans, chorizo and fennel seeds.
Serve

Tonight we had a fun salad with Chicken fried in oregano, rice, lentils, romaine and salad leaves, tomatoes, carrots, mozzarella and watermelon, mung beans with a nice garlic vinaigrette.

I'm also thinking ahead to the good weather and starting to think about all the great things waiting to be bbq'd. I'm not just talking about meat - the ubiquitous sausages. No I mean corn, broccoli, aubergines, peppers, fennel, courgette and many more great things beside. It's going to be a great summer.

Remember get outdoors, cook out there and waste nothing.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Weekend noodles

At the end of a long week you want a good dinner that isn't so hard to fix. You want to sit back, relax and maybe enjoy a glass of wine. What you don't want to do is pop some ready made meal in the microwave. There is so much more to food than that and I make no apologies for promoting the real way here. Now to be clear I will not encourage you to be a gourmet or a chef. There are others who can do it better than me. I'm the person who reads that stuff and makes it in his own kitchen everyday. Sometimes I love to fuss over my food but sometimes it is fuel.
So if you make any of these dishes I'm going to have to trust you to use your own judgement on whether something is cooked or not. Just remember I'm doing this because want people to be practical and get more from their food. Better taste, less waste.

Yesterday I finally had a day off after a long week, we had planned to go out, do a load of jobs in town and eat at a place that puts garlic in everything (beer, ice cream etc etc) but the jobs were more complicated than expected and we ended up coming home instead and watching a movie (woo hoo how excting are we?). This sudden Plan B required us to raid the fridge and the freezer to rustle up dinner on the hoof. So I apologise for a lack of authentic flavours here but it tasted good. We used Pad Thai as an inspiration and then adapted it to what we had.

Weekend noodles
As ever all recipes serve 2.

Everything needs to be prepared in advance for this dish because it comes together very fast.

Vegetable oil
Sesame oil
Garlic plenty chopped very finely
Dried Chili chopped very finely
Prawns
Tamarind paste dissolved in hot water
Rice wine
Soy sauce
Broccoli cut into florets
Carrots sliced into thin strips
Mushrooms sliced
Palm Sugar
Lime juice
Mung beans
Peanuts crushed in a pestle and mortar
Noodles

Put on a pan of water. Let it come to the boil and add the noodles
In a separate pan warm a little vegetable oil and sesame oil
Add half the garlic and chilli and fry gently
Add the prawns – admittedly ours had come out of the freezer so I needed to be a bit patient while the water evapourated.
As they begin to brown add the tamarind water, a dash of rice wine and a dash of soy.
Add the vegetables except the mung beans
Add the remaining garlic and chili
Cook for a few minutes and then add the mung beans and cook for about half a minute to make sure everything is coated and finished cooking.

To serve put the noodles on a plate, put the prawns and vegetables on top, a quick dash of lime juice and then sprinkle with peanuts. Eat hot.

Friday, 18 April 2008

The joys of a new world

Today has been a good day. The boss has been bought a fabulous new coat and looks like the bee knees...everyone has to submit to being treated like a princess every now and then...but we also got tickets to see the Boss when he plays Helsinki.

Lunch was a simple salad but rather than the usual vinagrette I went for a sweet chilli dressing today which was made with a mixture of sweet chilli sauce, vegetable oil, mirin & soy. The Salad consisted of leaves, mung beans, carrot and avocado and if I'm really honest it was lush...maybe in retrospect a little salt would have upped the tastiness but never underestimate what a little inspiriation and stuff that needs using in the fridge can do. We're cooking a Pad Thai-esque meal tonight so watch out for more updates over the weekend.

When we moved to Finland we were told that we would have to wait 2 years to get a credit card. Today we needed one to book flights on line...55 euros per person difference between the office and the internet is a powerful incentive so I will see if I can get my employer to make a plea on my behalf. My employer has it's account with a well known Scandanavian bank and as the sales manager for that company earning good money (and a few solid months of receiving a salary into my account to show my contract was real not just a fake!) maybe they can consider issuing me a card sooner...

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Pasta a la Deb

The kitchen has been a good place to be this week. So far we've had great success with

Tuna steaks with spinach noodles
Pork chops with grainy mustard and cheese served with spinach
Pasta a la Deb

The second one was me reviving an old trick from university of grating some cheese and mixing it with some grainy mustard and then after the chops were cooked grilling the topping to give an extra flavour to the dish. It worked very well.

Pasta a la Deb was good if unusual. We used Chicken, bacon and pasta amongst other ingredients but we also added sweet potato to the mix which worked really well. I think the combination of the last two could make for a really exciting meal. It also got me thinking that sweet potato and chilli could also be an interesting combination.

*****

This week movie club was on Tuesday and was the nihilistic Funny Games. It was a disturbing film in many ways even if it fell into the unfortunate genre of movies featuring Naomi Watts in her underwear. While it was disturbing a few sequences did mean the overall effect wasn't as unnerving as perhaps was hoped for by the director. Still it was a good crowd of sickos out for the film...next week is the Rolling Stones movie so it will probably just be the diehards!

Writing of music the song writing is going well. I've finished one new song, am almost there with another (bizarrely chorusless but really works for an uptempo song), have two more sad slow ones for when I'm feeling melancholy and one more is waiting for some attention so I've gone from writers block to six good songs in a month. I'd like eight before I start recording which probably means I'll spend all of the Finnish summer holed up in the studio when I should be enjoying the nordic light.

Until next time waste nothing.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Rolling along

I would love to have been a jolly soul this morning but after last night's visit to the Helsinki beer festival I missed this morning and am struggling this afternoon. I drank way too much different stuff and am reaping the whirlwind. That is a good thing in a way.

Yet surprisingly my mind turns to my trip into town to meet Deb, Cecilie, Quinn Tom, Dave & Hanna. I'd been at work so they were ahead of me. The sun was shining, I had managed to dress myself to the point where I looked like I knew what I was doing (believe me that is an achievement). The train ride into Helsinki was OK but I wanted to close my eyes in the sun but as there was nowhere to sit I settled for resting my head against the door as we rolled along. As we pulled into the station the train for St Petersburg was flling up with people. I remember seeing that there was a member of staff at every door dressed in a very Russian way with enormous hats. Then the ride on the metro was uneventful except for the girl standing on the platform in front of me. What was strange about her was that the way she stood, forced by her odd shoes and the insane tightness of her jeans made it seem as if her knees bent the wrong way. Finally I remember the strong light as I walked down the street to the mamouth old cable factory. It was piercing and even from behind my sunnies it was too strong to really see what was in front of me. The wind was vigourous but I was happy.

*****

The movie last was week - Tha Band's Visit - was also good. I know the proposition of a film in Hebrew, Arabic and Englsih with Finnish & Swedish subtitles doesn't sound so good but it was nice little vignette and very in keeping with "If no one speaks of remarkable things" in so far as it saw the beautiful in the mundane and the two combined to make me quite sad.






*****


Today despite the way I am feeling the kitchen will be busy. I am going to make Mushroom and roast pepper risotto followed by baked rhubard. Risotto is an act of love and probably the dish I love to cook more than any other. For me the challenge with risotto is to continually simplify it. Less is more. So please make sure of a couple of things. Home made stock. Unsalted butter. Dry Vermouth. Remember there are 4 stages to a risotto.

1) Soffrito
2) Rice in
3) Other ingredients in
4) Butter and parmesan

If you use these 4 stages to know where you are a risotto is simple to make.

Serves 2
Olive oil
Garlic finely chopped
Carrot finely chopped
Celery finely chopped
Onion finely chopped
110g Arborio rice
350-400ml Chicken stock
Red Peppers roasted to intensify their sweetness and then cut into strips
Mushrooms finely chopped and fried in butter and with lots of ground pepper
Fresh Thyme
Unsalted butter
Parmesan grated
Salt, Pepper

Heat the oil in a pan, and gently fry the garlic, onion, carrot and celery for a few minutes. Add the rice and let it fry for a minute or so. Then add the vermouth, let it be absorbed and the harsh vapours to disappate. Now add a ladel full of stock and begin stirring. As the stock is absorbed add more one ladel at a time. As it cooks check the seasoning. Do not add to much salt too early as the cheese will add saltiness. Keep stirring. When the stock is nearly one ladle from been all added put in the mushrooms and the thyme. When all done remove from the heat and add the butter and cheese. Stir in and put a lid on the pan. Leave for two minutes. Check for seasoning one last time. Serve with the red pepper on top.

Update: The risotto was very good, however I think cracked pepper would be better than ground pepper with the mushrooms and we found out that we had no parmesan! However as those of you who read this blog no we try not to wasit anything so we had a stash of parmesan rinds in the freezer. They were swiftly pulled out, warmed up and enough cheese was coaxed off them to save the day.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

A wednesday supper

Life is busy at the moment. The days at work are getting longer and I was caught out this morning sending an e-mail before 7am. Still I came home prepared for tomorrow as opposed to running to catch up. So once home we made a simple midweek supper. I hope you like it.

Salmon with Red rice and vegetable medley
Serves 2

The idea with this dish was to have sort of Miso crust on top of the salmon and if I'm honest tonight's effort represented the first attempt. If you follow the instructions below you will get the miso flavour but not the crust. I need to work on in but I thought you should know. It falls nicely into three parts.

Salmon steaks deboned
Mixture of wild red rice and basmati rice 400g*
Garlic 2 cloves finely chopped
Half a pepper cut into strips
3 sticks of celery chopped
2 large mushrooms finely chopped
Miso paste
Soy sauce
Chinese rice wine
Vegetable oil 1 tablespoon

1)
Put the one and half times the volume of water in a saucepan with the rice.
Put on a ring and bring to the boil.
Boil hard for 3 minutes or so
Simmer on a low heat with the lid on for just over 10 minutes
Take off the heat, do not touch the lid and leave for about 15 minutes.

2)
Heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic, celery and fry gently. Add the mushrooms. Add a dash of soy sauce and rice wine.
When cooked remove from the heat and set in a bowl.

3)
Spread some miso paste on the side you want to be the presentation side.
Make sure the pan is very hot.
Put the salmon in miso side down and cook quickly.
Turn over and allow to continue cooking.

Just before the salmon is finishedon down add the vegetables and rice together.
Serve the salmon on the bed of rice.

*The reason for so much is the leftovers create a handy lunch.

*****
We also made some lovely chicken stock out of the bones from the chicken the other night which ended up as roast chicken with cheesey mashed potatoes, pesto and roast tomatoes. It was lovely. We used most of the chicken leftovers in a tasty minty meal last night but still have enough for one more meal. So one chicken has made 3 meals and provided stock for a lot more. That's the kitchen working the way we like.

*****
I have finished reading my book and enjoyed it very much. I look forward to putting some thoughts up here soon.

There's a beer festival in Helsinki on Saturday and I am very much looking forward to it.

Until next time, waste nothing, learn Finnish and play guitar.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

A river runs

News from New Zealand this morning on how small Neil Finn really is seems to be the perfect way to start the day. Yesterday we were in the company of good friends and the the day and the night flowed in a slightly offbeat fashion and I had the chance to let my more surreal view of the world out to play. I mentioned in a previous posting (here) that I had the first sentence to a novel in a dream. I think the humourous motif that ran through the day gave me a bit more of the story. Now I have some research to do. Then maybe one day I will write it.
We saw three football games, a grand prix qualifier and an ice hockey game almost simultaneously yesterday which may explain the enormous quantities of bad beer that was consumed. We also ate out at Dong Bei Hu and I enjoyed my food although I was told in no uncertain terms that it was not authentic enough. The, obvious, result of this disappointment was that a plan was hatched to take over my boss' flat (we need a gas stove and currently it's the only one we can get access to), heat a wok up to a temperature that will cause any alcohol vapours to ignite spectacularly and then cook the dish properly. It involves sustaining this kind of heat for 15 minutes. Even today the Kitchen thinks this is an excellent way to proceed short of going to China for 3 weeks which was also discussed quite seriously last night. I look forward to the results and keeping my eyebrows.

Finally we retired to the comfortable surroundings of Teerenpeli and talked life, love, movies, music and the universe until we all turned into pumpkins. Oh & I promised to take the boss to see the Boss much to her apparent disgust. I think she's going to have a great time at that Bruce Springsteen concert.

Today the Kitchen is meant to be cooking a whole roast chicken with pesto butter served with sweet potatoes and oven roasted onions and tomatoes.
However given our current energy levels this may not be a realsitic option and despite the rain I think we may go for a walk in the city centre. However I will have some preparation to do so here are is what I'm going to do with tomatoes:
Oven Roast Tomatoes
Preheat the oven to 120C
Slice the tomatoes in half and deeseed
Place on a tray and lightle oil and season
Roast for about 3 hours.

Friday, 4 April 2008

A salad for the day after the night before

This may seem obvious, it may not so I offer it here on it's own merits. When preparing your food think about how you want it to look when it is all put together and set on the table. Tonight's supper was a simple affair, the first salad of the spring and very lovely it was too. What elevated it over the humble was me thinking about how the ingredients were working out with each other.

I started out with the basic idea of doing something with Basil, Tomatoes and Mozarella. I knew that I was going to slice the mozarella and the tomatoes and once it grew into a bigger salad than that I knew the other elements should not compete with the big milky whiteness and the tomatoes. Make it and enjoy!

Various salad leaves
Tomatoes sliced
Mozarella sliced
Red Onion finely diced
Cucumber finely diced
Mushrooms extra finely diced
Parmesan - small shavings
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt
Pepper

I don't think I need to go into the intricacies of how to put this together but this dish lends itself to more or less love depending on your energy levels. I was out at the excellent Tapista last night and consequently wasn't feeling the most energetic. However I know that the mushrooms could be fried, bacon could be added, the oil and vinegar could be worked up into a real vinagrete. Let your imagination work wonders for your fridge.

*****

Spring is here and I enjoyed the long walk from the central railway station to the British embassy to lodge my passport application. The weather was glorious and to just enjoy the sunshine and look at the buildings was a treat. I was really struck by the number of buildings in Helsinki adorned by carvings of animals and I wonder whether there is a maybe a photographic project here for me. So many creative things going on at the moment is extremely exciting, a little hectic and a good sign about where life is.

*****

Tomorrow is football, beer, ice hockey beer and beer in town. Should be fun, I'm not a football fan but there will be good people there and that is good enough for me. I'm even going to miss American Idol for it. They must be good people!

Waste nothing and love living in Finland.