Monday, 27 July 2009

Into the fire

It is at times like these you wish you had an organised food/life blog. On Saturday night some friends came around and we BBQ'd again. If I had been organised there would have been photos. As it is you will have to use your imagination.

This summer is definitely turning into a personal best for getting into the garden and cooking stuff over the coals. It has also been a summer virtually devoid of burgers and sausages. It seems the more we BBQ the more we work with normal everyday food and all that is different is the heat source.

Anyway this time we took about 300g of boneless pork loin, marinated all day in olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary and thyme. When we ready we simply seared the outside on the hot coals, them we put the meat in some foil, poured over the remaining marinade, wrapped it all up tightly and popped it right in the coals. Carried on cooking all the other stuff and about 20 minutes later is was perfect. Still wonderfully moist. So easy, so good.

It's almost getting to the stage where I'm about to dispense with the grill part of the BBQ and start popping pots into the coals to boil something away and sticking vegetables onto stakes and letting them cook that way. I can see that the next challenge will be to do this while out camping. Bring it on!

Today the sun is shining and I think it might be time to make the first gazpacho of the season for lunch!


Update: the gazpacho was lovely if I say so myself! Best of all it was easy. However no recipe this time because I didn't follow one and just went with a bit of this and a bit of that attitude.

After lunch we were feeling rather full so we went for a walk and we found the pea field.
Now before I go further I should explain this. The taxes we pay to the city of Helsinki are in part spent on farming and one example is the fields of peas the city grow and you can just go and pick them. For free. As a Brit living in Helsinki I laugh every time I imagine this being done in the UK. People would think the council were mental.
So anyway, we came home with a bag full of peas and well they needed to be eaten so I put them in with some cooked rice and served it with some nice pork chops cooked in a ratouille of vegetables. My secret ingredient was to fry the onions in some sherry vinegar and olive oil and they kept their sweetness all the way through. Even better it was a two pan supper so washing up was easy!

Thursday, 23 July 2009


We were away at the weekend on a much-anticipated Finnish odyssey. Our grand plan was to take the train from Helsinki to Kuopio, the boat from Kuopio to Savonlinna and then the train back to Helsinki. The flaw in the grand plan was that it required early mornings but this is summertime in Finland so at least they are light! So with a pregnant wife in tow I set off on an adventure that was suited to her tastes and pace.

This was our first trip to Kuopio and I have to say we liked the town, my only gripe is the quality of beer was appalling. It is a Carlsberg town! On the other hand it is the home of Kalakukko. This is a traditional finnish food which is essentially a loaf of rye bread with fish baked inside it. While it may sound odd and even unappetising I can assure you that tasting it is another matter. It was a revelation. Ours was made with Perch and was beautiful.

As the weather was beautiful we did skip some of Kuopio’s indoor attractions and instead concentrated on walking our way up to Puijo and the famous tower. The views from the top, were excellent. It is to be recommended. The only thing to note is the lifts have limited capacity so time your trip to miss a busload of tourists!

The following morning we headed off early on the boat to Savonlinna. The journey takes 10 ½ hrs and travels through some of the loveliest and quintessentially Finnish Lakeland scenery to be had. Luckily for us the day was divine. The sun shone from journey’s start to journey’s end. We sat on deck and just let the world pass us by. It was a slightly strange trip insofar as we seemed to be the only non-Finns on board so we encountered some of their stranger cultural quirks. The most obvious was the family boat trip where dad starts on the beer before 9.30am in the morning and nobody blinks an eyelid. I have been known to enjoy a beer now and then but even I remember quite clearly my lessons on knowing when the sun had crossed the yardarm!!

Our arrival into Savonlinna was dramatic as we raced past the castle in the fast flowing narrow channel as the sun turned the stone walls red. We were unfortunately too late to get to the opera festival so consoled ourselves with a trip to the excellent Gastropub.

Sunday morning dawned early again and we headed off to the train station. Our train whisked us along the famous Punkkuharja esker towards a small village of Parikkala (population seemed to be no more than ½ goat!) but is bizarrely has a railway station that serves as a major jumping off point in the Finnish railway system.

Safely back in Helsinki on a hot day we wandered down to Pikkukoski swimming beach and I enjoyed a refreshing dip in the river Vantaa while the Boss (aka pregnant wife in tow) watched my madness from the side. The water temperature was described, as 21C and I have to say it was lovely. There was a much colder current running through the mid stream but if this is swimming outside in the Nordic countries in summer then I want to do it again.

The other thing we learnt on our return to Helsinki was that our washing machine had died while we were away. All our efforts to revive it were in vain so on Monday we headed off to get a new one. In this we were successful so we headed off to the Savoy restaurant to celebrate! OK this is not true as anyone with even the smallest knowledge of restaurants in Helsinki will know that this one is just in the toppest most top top tier. We were there on a special value menu and were trying to enjoy the high life for a normal price. If money is no object we recommend this place. The sommelier is excellent and his wine list will turn a humble cook like myself green with envy. Such is life. We did finally come to an agreement that did not involve me paying 250 euros plus for a bottle of wine and I very much enjoyed washing their dishes for them!

We enjoyed our dinner very much and headed home, tired but exhilarated by our trip around Finland. The thing about a list of adventures is it is never done and as this was probably our last trip before the baby arrives I look forward to making sure the adventures don’t stop here, rather that the fun increases! Right off to see if I can convince the boss about another one of my bright ideas…..

Monday, 13 July 2009

Summer salad

Yesterday evening we had a lovely salad in the back garden. After a day of rain it brightened up and we were able to escape before the rain resumed again.
I had found an unusual salad in a Finnish home interior magazine which blended leaf, basil leaf, cucumber, melon, strawberries and brie topped off with peanuts, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We accompanied it with some Spanish style new potatoes which means adding fried chorizo and bacon and plenty of rosemary.

The salad was excellent and the potatoes were also very good. I was also told that the potatoes were even better the day after as lunch.

Today it has rained and rained again which scuppered any idea of eating out so instead we raided Nigel Slaters' Kitchen Diaries and made his excellent Courgette Fritters. He uses dill but as we didn't have any we used coriander. Although I was initially sceptical about mixing feta and coriander I have to say that it wasn't a bad combination after all.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

It is official

It is official. On October 1st the Kitchen will be moving to Turku in western Finland. It has all been quietly going on in the background but now it is in the public domain. So for all of you who never made it to the Kitchen in Helsinki, now you have a chance to come to the Kitchen in Turku. I am looking forward to being based on the west coast if Finland, there are a lot of places to see and explore and having the sea nearby will be a good thing. I am planning on learning how to sail as this is going to be a golden opportunity for that.

We have nowehere to live yet, but are searching the internet everyday and I am sure we will find something. If we can remain car free I think that will be a positive thing but I do not rule out getting one if we need to! I also want to continue to learn Finnish and my employer in the real world outside the Kitchen is also talking about 2 demanding courses it is interested in me participating in. So with a bit of luck I will have a newborn to look after, a wife to support, a language to learn, a new skill to master (sailing) plus two work related courses! Where will I find the time for all that? Oh did I forget to mention training for the Kuopio Ice Marathon? Still it will be fun I am sure.

Yesterday the boss & I went to the Kalevala exhibition at the Ataneum in Helsinki. It was billed as the most comprehensive Kalevala show in donkeys years and I certainly agree that there was enough mythical art on display to satisfy the most demanding Finnophile. The stars of the genre were all present but the boss & I were particularly taken with the art of Joseph Alanen (unfortunately a quick search round the internet reveals that most of the information on him is in Finnish so I am not offering an English language link). However here is a picture to give you an idea of his style.
Today the weather is not the best and the boss would like entertaining. My cunning plan is to march her up to the supermarket to buy some cranberry juice. Either that or get her to test me on the formation of the imperative in Finnish. Either way I suspect that she may be somewhat dubious about my definition of what entertainment is!
We had a lovely sweet potato risotto on Tuesday evening with our friends and while I have the recipe I am not going to publish it for the moment as I think other blogs are so much better at that kind of thing, for example Vegan Yum Yum. Instead I would like to say that when I was cutting up the celery, onion, carrot and garlic for the soffrito at the start of the risotto I realised I had enough usable offcuts to make a drop (OK about 1l) of vegetable stock. So my tip to you is if you are making a risotto you can be smart and use some of the vegetables to make a drop of stock and even then you can still put the waste vegatbles on the compost heap. Brilliant!

Friday, 3 July 2009

You are cordially invited

When we awoke this morning it was grey and overcast. The first time in what seems like weeks. Then the rain came and cleared the air of it's oppressive heat. It wasn't a hard rain that scours the heat from the world but a gentle patter that wiped away the grime of the hot days we've all being enjoying here.

The boss and I used the change to be busy and to bottle the apple wine. A long overdue job and one that is good to get done. Now we have 15 bottles and one 5 litre container waiting to be enjoyed. At least one bottle needs to go to our neighbour who provided the apples last autumn. The rest? Well who knows.

As the sun is now shining again and the kitchen will be moving outdoors this evening and it will be our pleasure to offer

BBQ'd Entrecote of steak
Sweet potato baked in the coals
Greek style butter beans
& Tomato and feta salad

You know where to find us and there is still space around the table.


Update 8.30pm. We went over to the neighbours to deliver the bottle of apple wine, stayed to help them move their old washing machine out of the cellar and put the new one in place and then we all together decided that we should expand our BBQ and have them over to join us. It was an excellent meal made all the more satisfying by its impromptu nature. I was happy to share the grill and we added corn, courgette, Finnish sausage with barley and grilled sweet potato pieces rather than baking whole ones. The company was excellent and the weather kind.

I had hoped to be able to post a picture of the sweet potatoes nestled in the glowing coals but as it never happened you will have to take my word that it was all good.

By the way I did use an old French trick on the steak: once the meat was cooked I sprinkled it with salt and let it rest before serving it.