Monday, 30 November 2009

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans

So said John Lennon and in one sense I really agree with him, you need to live each and every day. However the boss & I have been making plans today and I am rather pleased with them. OK maybe plans is too grand but decisions from which plans will spring.

Initially we had decided to have a holiday in the Peak District next year but have today decided that we will be based somewhere in Sussex or Kent.

I am of course sad to be losing out on opportunity to add 3 more mountains to my list but as I was out posting a card to some friends who have just had twins a happy thought occurred to me: With a 9 month old daughter in tow the most arduous thing that will be required of me on this holiday will be to sit in an english pub garden and supervise her. Now just imagine if that pub served Harvey's bitters....


We're also going to be in Gotland with friends in August. Am quite excited about this, there is something about watching the sun set over the Rauks on the northern part of Gotland that captures my imagination. That together with a simple cabin and plenty of BBQ's and time to relax and unwind with friends that makes me feel these last few weeks of increasing darkness will be manageable and the corner of the year is not as far away as it seems.


Last week I did a strange thing: I volunteered to make Moussaka. My wife could be described, without exaggeration, a being something of a moussaka fiend. She loves it. I am somewhat ambivalent about it, mostly because I don't get aubergines. I know people rave about them, and I know in Southern Spain they deep fry them in batter and serve them with honey and they are lovely, but somehow the ones we buy and cook here in Finland seem to be missing something. Or maybe how I am cooking them is wrong? I should qualify further and say I love how they look - they are definately one of the cooler vegetables but somehow there is something lost between the time I begin chopping them and when they arrive on the plate.

However to come back to the moussaka, I was pre baking the aubergines in the oven and I had sliced them in the mandolin but they were too thin when they were finnish cooking. So my tip to myself and to whoever reads this is to be brave when making moussaka and slice thise aubergines thicker than you initally feel is wise.


Today is a day off and I have some serious menu planning to do. There is, of course, this week and as an extra I have to organise next week as well because I will be in Stockholm with work. She will have her hands full with the baby but will still need to eat while the chef is away! I cannot let her eat her standard Pasta Surprise for 4 days for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So I will use this week to make some good food that can be used next week. I suppose that one advantage of not speaking the language of the country you live in is that is makes her ordering take away pizza by phone nearly impossible...


We have some cracked wheat sitting in the cupboard so I think I am going to have a crack at some tabbouleh as hopefully it's Mediterranean flavours will freshen up the dark days we have as we wait for the shortest day. I think that will be the theme of the menu: sunshine and warmth.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Thursday musings

I have a bottle of Hoisin sauce my father bought when he came to visit a few weeks ago and it is calling to me, wanting to be used. Life has been busy and opportunities to use it have come and gone. Other things needed eating up, I fancied making other dishes, you know how it is. The balance between work and life have been muddled (what else is to be expected with a 10 week old baby in the house?) so the bottle has been left alone.

The thing is I don't know what hoisin sauce is, what it is used for and why you might want to use it. As someone who loves to scratch cook I even enjoy making my own sauces and stocks so am innately suspicious of shop bought sauces like this. I even bought and used, in extremis, some minced garlic made by the same company and found it to be disgusting and lacking in any kind of garlic taste. And yet. And yet the hoisin calls to me still.

So we have a situation where I don't know what to do with it and I'm not sure I like it anyway. It's going to be a great meal when it comes out! This is the essence of the kitchen, getting the best out of what you have around you to feed body and soul.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Bacchus and the meal

Finally a story. When we lived in Helsinki a neighbor of ours told us about how the people who work in the Alko are trained to give recommendations about which wines can go with which foods but most of the time they only get to point people to the Korsenkorva. He then went on to relate how he went into his local Alko and the sales assistant's eyes lit up when asked to advise on wine. So I decided to put this to the test.

I had sketched out doing something with chicken and chili and inspired by my neighbours tale I went into the alko and got my recommendation despite delivering one of my worst performances ever in the mangling the Finnish language. The recommendation was this Allora pictured above.

Needless to say I never cooked anything with chili and chicken and the bottle was just enjoyed at some other time that seemed right.


Two months later I decided to see if this wine really went with chili and chicken, did the lady in the Helsinki alko get it right?


Serves 2
1 bottle of allora negroamaro (Alko product code 409797)

1 chicken breast cubed
3 dried red chillies crushed, flaked or otherwise made small and bitty
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp green peppercorns
Sesame oil
1 dash of sake

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and marinade for the whole day. When ready stir fry in a hot wok and serve immediately.

To serve I decided to cook some sticky rice and peas and a little side of yellow peppers and mushrooms with chopped ginger stir fried. You can increase or decrease the amount of ginger used to taste but I decided to do this because ginger does have a heat that compliments the chili. The only other thing to note is I served this side in a little dish separate from the main to make sure the flavours had some integrity.

The result? Excellent, the wine held it's own against the strong chili flavours. It was just a shame that our daughter decided to cry her way through the whole experience meaning that we ate with more of a hurry than such a simple and straightforward yet pleasing meal deserved.

So if you are ever in the alko looking for a bottle of wine you should be confident that the staff will be able to recommend a bottle to go with your ingredients.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Across the universe

Cycling home from work tonight was like tumbling effortlessly through time. The rain and the wind pushed against me and yet the bike moved almost by itself as my mind allowed itself to wander. The weather was the catalyst for the strange place I ended up in. Although I actually managed to be on my way home before 4.30pm the dark and dank nature of the world made it seem like much later and by the time I got home one hour later I felt like I was awake in the middle of the night.

The original plan for tea revolved around a squash, some lemon grass and coriander and none of these were available in the supermarket today when the boss reported the results of her foraging expedition. So cycling home I decided to drop into the swankiest department store in town (Stockmann's for any Finns reading this) and while I found all three the recipe called for 250g of pumpkin and all they had was a 5kg pumpkin costing 18€! Next I tried the Kauppahalli but there was nothing and finally the eco shop which was just as fruitless. So I got home feeling like I had travelled much further across space and time than was usual.

a little baby and her mother helped me back to normality but we still had the challenge of dinner, so here is a simple way to save a Monday night supper using one pan. It is based on the gypsy eggs idea.

400g tomatoes
400g large white beans (this is cooked weight)
1 small red onion chopped
1 small red chili deseeded
Half an aubergine
1 carrot chopped
1 potato chopped
200g chorizo
2 eggs
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Warm the olive oil in the pan and gently fry the onion, carrot, chorizo and chili.
Add the beans and the tomatoes
Add water to take the liquid in the dish up to where you want it (less more a meal, more it's closer to a soup - it is your choice)
Add the aubergine and potato, herbs and salt & pepper.
Put the lid on and let it simmer for 20-30 mins
Break 2 eggs into it and let them cook in the juices

I sprinkled a little pimenton over it when I served it up which was a nice little touch. I recommend a lovely apple crumble with thick custard as dessert as well.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Vampires, Danes & Grandparents

I'm just back from a long long long wait at Copenhagen airport that stretched interminably. It got so bad that I bought Twilight and have been addicted to it ever since. The last time I checked I am not the target group for this book - 17yrs old, nope, female, nope....and yet and yet. I have to say it is for the most part poorly written but there are odd flashes of a well turned phrase and it did its job of keeping me amused as the hours rolled by as the story was well paced. The concept is also a good one. The question now is whether I go on and read the I have several encounters with Copenhagen airport coming up I fear I already know the answer.

This morning I have decided not to bother with the rest of the books but my curiosity did get the better of me and I read the precis of the rest of the saga on the internet. I have to say that what I learnt only confirmed to me that I made the right decision.

I have been thinking about this some more so this is kind of a second update here and I have to reflect back to when I read Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice many years ago and then went on to read other books in the series which were increasingly batty and bad. The law of diminishing returns applies. I think the same will be true of the Twilight saga.


My parents have been staying with us, spending time with their new grand daughter and as today is Fathers Day in Finland we made a lovely dinner of

Lamb shanks cooked in vermouth and cream with leek and mushrooms
Mashed potatoes
Honey glazed carrots and an onion sauce

This was followed by

Bread and butter pudding which with the addition of Baileys was quite magnificent.

It sounds kind of a simple Sunday dinner and in many ways it was but it was rich, and filling and the perfect thing to eat on a grey Sunday. We hadn't done much at all, enjoyed the baby's company, I had raked all the leaves up in the garden and we had all walked to the local cemetery to look at the graves in the late autumn light. Somehow the quietness of the day was balanced by the full, rich food as we all sat around the table. It was a meal as a moment, a meal as a celebration and a meal as an everyday happening. 3 generations, one table, one meal, one moment. How good is that?

Monday, 2 November 2009


Generally I am dead against writing in recipe books. Whenever I follow a recipe I only pay the minimal amount of attention to it, using it as a guide and not as something that must be adhered to at all costs.

However last week we dipped in Harumi Kurihara's Japanese Home Cooking to make her Tofu and Aubergine gratin. The six tablespoons of Miso paste left an incredibly salty taste on the final dish that I am moved to change my mind on writing in books and making a note so that I will enjoy the dish next time I make it.

However that is the point about cooking isn't it, especially when you use a recipe as a guide, trial and error. That may also be the strongest argument for making notes. Time to get out the pen.


Last weekend we went to the Herring Market in Turku. It was nice to wander along the banks of the river, eating freshly cooked herring and buying 3 day baked black bread from the Ă…land islands. There is something about food and travel that stir the mind in the right way, especially when the air is cold and the food is warm.