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

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

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.


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
200g cherry tomatoes
Pine Nuts
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil

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


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!