Friday, 23 January 2009

Handbags and the Gladrags

We left the UK two and a bit years ago and came to live and work in the Nordic countries. Part of what I hoped we would experience was a proper winter. The first two winters were memorable only for their lack of snow and how dark and vaguely depressing they were.

Yesterday the boss & I were out in Helsinki visiting the Natural History Museum and it started snowing. Really snowing. This snow was on top of a good base of ice and a few centimetres of snow we already have. After we finished in the Museum (free on a Thursday between 16:00 – 18:00) we headed off to the Nanking restaurant on Kalevelakatu. I had heard good things about this restaurant through and was keen to try it. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised and slightly disappointed. Firstly the good things: the service was friendly, the restaurant was clean, the rice was tasty and plentiful, the price of my bottle of Tsingtao wasn’t exorbitant and my chicken noodle soup was really really tasty. However my main course of Beef with chilli and garlic was a disappointment. Not because they packed it full of interesting vegetables that added to the dish but because they had altered the dish to suit the taste buds of the Finns so it lacked any hint of garlic and chilli. The boss had a citrus chicken which while it was too sweet for my tastes managed to be both crispy and full of citrus flavour and quite wonderful. My over all view is that I will give it another go but talk to them about wanting a more authentic version of the dish on the menu.

This morning when I got up I realised it had snowed a lot during the night so I took myself off to Paloheinä to do some training for the Finlandia race next month. I thought I had done well yesterday when I skied over 14km for the first time in my life but today in fresh snow I took myself off alone through the snowy forest and went around the 7.5km track a couple of time and stopped after 2hrs and 18km. I have to confess that it was very tiring as the track I was following was a very hilly course but to be alone in the silent forest, making the first tracks on fresh snow made me so very happy to be out in the world and I have to say that my tired legs seem a small price to pay for the privilege of being outdoors on such a day.

After getting home I wrote myself a spectacular jobs list so as not to get under the boss’ feet and while I was busy doing them (including washing a sheep fleece rug….oh my goodness that is a job I recommend you avoid!) I put together a dish that is currently cooking in the oven that we’re going to enjoy in an hour or so.

Slow cooked oven Lamb shanks

I have to say that when I started this, I did so without a recipe, just a basic idea of slow cooking some lamb shanks in the oven in some garlic, rosemary and red wine. A couple of times when I spoke to the boss I mentioned other ingredients like pearl barley and when I came to preparing the dish I had some Spanish dried peppers out on the countertop as well. The point I want to make is that sometimes with these dishes that look after themselves it is as important to decide what to leave out as it is to decide what to leave in. I hope you enjoy the recipe.

By the way I bought the Lamb shanks in Hakaniemi kauppahalli and the four or five butchers there are the real deal. They know meat and they have most of what you want. I have even heard rumours they can get fresh blood which means home made black pudding which would be amazing. Anyway back to the recipe.

Serves 2
2 lamb shanks
3 cloves of garlic
2 good sprigs of rosemary chopped
1 red onion chopped
Half a courgette slices
1 red pepper chopped
2 large mushrooms sliced
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
Half a bottle of red wine
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C
In a heavy cast iron pan heat the olive oil and brown the lamb shanks.
Once they are mostly browned add the chopped garlic and rosemary. If it looks like they might burn add the wine, if not, let them brown a little and then add the wine.
Add the other vegetables and then the tin of tomatoes. Fill the tin with water and add that to the dish.
Season with salt & pepper
Put on the lid, let it come to the boil and transfer to the oven.
Cook for 3 –4 hrs or longer if you wish.
When serving add some more freshly chopped rosemary.

I am going to serve this with mashed potatoes and broccoli. However I am going to roast some garlic in the oven and add this to the mashed potatoes to give it a pleasant extra little taste. I hope you enjoy it.

Tomorrow I am back to work during the day but then off to a real ale festival with some friends that I have been bad at catching up with (sorry!) in the evening & then I have another couple of days off to practice my skiing. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

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