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


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.