Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Spening most of July in Helsinki, instead of the archipelago, is not all bad. Yes, it gets too hot and no, you can't go swimming and sunbathing whenever you like. The good part is that I have the opportunity and company provided dining vouchers to try new places and old favourites.


Today we decided to go for after work dinner to an old favourite on Uudenmaankatu. Bar No. 9 is really an old favourite, since it has been my father's too (a few years ago though). Bar No. 9 is one of the most laid back and Southern European like bars that you'll find in Helsinki. The best thing is food. They haven't changed their menu too much throughout the years, which proves to be their strength, still serving their customer's favourites from the 1990's. To mention some of the Bar No. 9 all time classics - Chicken Coriander Wok and Pollo Limonello. I decided to have the Chicken Coriander Wok this time, since I always tend to go for the unconventional Chicken and Lemon Yoghurt Pasta. So one of my next targets is to make Pollo Limonello and share the recipe. The chicken wok was as good as it has always been, but for some reason it seemed that the portion size has been on a diet...


Later in the evening I ended up in Kafe Mockba on Eerikinkatu next to Corona Bar. To be honest, the former USSR charm did not work for me and the beer was stale and overpriced. But I guess that's the whole idea of the place. Apparently their slogan is something like "cold beer and even colder service." If you want to get the good old Soviet Union atmosphere in Helsinki, this is the place to go. Would recommend to watch a few Aki Kaurismäki's films, so you'll understand what the owner is going after with the place. Corona Bar next door remains a more pleasant and relaxed place to go for a beer or two.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Soulful Food for the Soulful Ladies

I got inspire by the fact that the two lovely ladies who were joining me for dinner last night had spent the past year in America. Not exactly in Southwestern America, but nevertheless I decided to go for a New Orleans inspired menu. I have had this craving for Jambalaya, although I would never normally eat it, especially because you would not get it in Helsinki.

Jambalaya is one of the most distinctive dishes of the Louisiana Creole cuisine, which is a blend of French, Spanish, Portugese, Italian, Greek, Native American and African influences and the general Southern cuisine. This jambalaya is a "red jambalaya" or a New Orleans jambalaya - since the closer you get to New Orleans, the more tomatoes there is in the jambalaya.

So I got inspired by recipes from Budget Bytes and decided to make Jambalaya and Oven Roasted Corn with Honey Chili Butter. For the corn I did it pretty much by the Budget Bytes recipe. It's refreshing to cook something else than burgers from the Northern American cuisine. Here in Europe we often forget how diverse and colofrul the different Northern American cuisines are. For the chicken I used ready roasted chicken breast and leg from the butchers, but this recipe is perfect for leftover chicken roast. This is the sort of recipe that you can add in pretty much anything. Remove the prawns if you're afraid of the meat and seafood combo or add some different coloured peppers and celery if you like. Actually celery should have been in this jambalaya, since it is part of the holy trinity - onions, bell pepper and celery as a base of a dish, in the ratio 1:2:3, similar to the French mirepoix.




JAMBALAYA

1 roasted chicken breast
1 roasted chicken leg
3 small chorizo sausages or a 30 cm piece
180 g frozen prawns
4 garlic cloves
1 green pepper
2 red spring onions
250 g long grain rice
2 tbsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp tomato paste
350 ml water
1 tin chopped tomatoes (200 g)
a few handfuls of fresh flat leaf parsley
salt and black pepper

Slice the sausage and cook in a large pot (I used a tagine dish) until cooked. Add the green pepper, spring onion and garlic cloves and cook on low heat until soft. Add the shredded chicken meat. Let cook for a while and then add the frozen prawns. When the prawns have defrosted add the tomato paste, cayenne pepper and the rice. Let the tomato paste caramelize and the rice to toast. Add water and diced tomatoes and let it simmer until the rice is cooked (approx. 30-40 minutes). Add salt and black pepper to taste once the rice is cooked. Stir in the chopped parsley and serve.




Me and Miss D tried a new sushi place in the city centre. Itamae Sushi is a small place next to the thai restaurant Tamarin in Forum. We both had the same set 10€ menu that included three salmon nigiris, two inari nigiris, one ebi nigiri, two kappa makis, two California rolls and two very suspicious maki rolls - I think it was crab meat in thai red curry. For the price it was quite good. The fish tasted fresh, but the thai crab thingy maki rolls really were a disappointment. Also the rice was not exactly what it should be. Would go again for a quick lunch, but wouldn't say it is one of the better ones in Helsinki. Plus you had to pay for tap water! Umeshu in Töölö is my local sushi restaurant and still my favourite, although a bit too expensive for my budget.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Scandinavian Crêpeness

I am on my own again, since the Family has gone to our island and it is just me in roasting hot Helsinki. Trying to avoid cooking at the moment - it is too hot and there aren't enough people to eat my foods. Getting over the fact that I am cooking just for myself, I decided to try an idea that I saw in a magazine. Dill Crêpes with Gravlax and Smetana is the perfect Scandinavian summer dish. I had never knew dill crêpes existed before this, but they actually taste quite delicious! If you are not prepared to make your own gravlax or it is not available, some smoked Scottish salmon will do perfectly! The same goes with smetana, just substitute it with sour cream.




DILL CRÊPES WITH GRAVLAX AND SMETANA

For the crêpes:
3 eggs
300 ml white flour
400 ml milk
1 tsp baking powder
a handful of dill
a few good pinches of sea salt
To serve:
gravlax or smoked salmon
smetana or sour cream

Mix the eggs, flour and baking powder together. Add the milk and whisk into a smooth batter. Season with dill and sea salt. Let the batter rest for a while, before frying the crêpes in butter.



The weather has been truly amazing. I have spent my precious day off work sunbathing in Töölönlahti, cooking some healthy Sweet Potato Soup for work lunches, cycling to Seurasaari and swimming and sauna at the gym - pretty good I would say! I am really looking forward for the Boyfriend to arrive to Finland next Wednesday. We have quite a few things to anticipate. One of my dear friends is getting married on the Saturday and then I was able to get four days off from work, so a trip to the archipelago it is! That means some more Scandinavian summer dishes...

Monday, 4 July 2011

Comfort-Me-Food

After a dreadful day at work, some serious comfort food is needed. This might come as a surprising one. I have some serious cravings for some German and Austrian foods. I am a devoted fan of sauerkraut and bratwurst and I absolutely adore wiener schnitzels. Wiener schnitzels have a bit of a bad reputation in Finland, mainly because a dish reminiscent to the original has been on the menus of diners and gas stations since forever. Nothing beats the original made of veal fillets, served with capers and lemon slices. Unfortunately, my comfort food version is made of pork fillets - due to the poor supply of meat in food shops on a Sunday night. So I shall call it Wiener Schnitzel Vom Schwein, not to be confused with the original. I served it with roasted new potatoes, which were surprisingly delicious - a bit like mini baked potatoes. It is not the most summery dish, but a sort off equivalent for Sunday pork roast.


WIENER SCHNITZEL VOM SCHWEIN

For the schnitzels:
pork fillets, thinned
white flour
1 egg, beaten
breadcrumbs
salt and black pepper

To serve:
capers
sliced lemon

If the pork fillets are not ready thinned, do so with a mallet. Take out three plates, the size of the fillets. Cover one with 1 cm of white flour, the next one with the beaten egg and the last one with 1 cm covering of breadcrumbs, seasoned with salt and black pepper. First cover the pork fillet in white flour, then dip it in the beaten egg and then into the breadcrumbs. Fry in a mixture of oil and butter. Serve with capers and lemon slices.

There are some comfort foods that make you feel better year after year. For me it is usually a big serving of Fiery Bacon Pasta Bake, Feta Pasta Salad, some Homemade Chilli with baked potatoes and a generous dollop of sour cream or the queen of all comfort foods Banoffee Pie. Comfort food was actually first used as a word in Webster's Dictionary in 1977. Who knew!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Film Food, Midsummer Madness and New Friends in the Helsinki Food Scene...

It is time for a long update once again. This is what working life does. No time for cooking or blogging.

In the past few years Helsinki has turned into a true summer paradise, with temperatures hitting +30 celsius. Last night I finally got inspired by the heat and made a big jug of Gazpacho, sunk on the sofa and turned on Pedro Almodóvar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The film is an absolute classic and this Gazpacho is made in the film by the leading lady Pepa, who wants to murder her ex. Just to clarify - I left the sleeping pills out of this recipe.




PEPA'S GAZPACHO

3 ripe tomatoes
1 yellow onion
1 red bell pepper
1 clove of garlic
1/2 cucumber, peeled
5 tbsp good extra virgen olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and black pepper

Cut the ingredients into chunks and blend them smooth with a hand blender or food processor. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Let the gazpacho cool down in the fridge for a few hours.

The main was Falafel with Yoghurt Dip and Halloumi Salad. It was tasty in the end, but I still need to practice with the consistency of the mix! I got inspired by a vegan fast food restaurant and I have to admit that they how to make them better.




I would have written about juhannus earlier on, but as I mentioned before I have been stuck in an office counting currencies.

There has always been something mysterious and special about juhannus - Finnish midsummer celebration of the "nightless night". In folklore juhannus (without a capital letter according to Finnish grammar) is a celebration of the longest day in a year and of fertility. Juhannus festivities and preparations hold many ancient traditions, such as juhannussauna, juhannuskokko (bonfire) and many magical myths to reveal the identity of your future husband. Nowadays juhannus is an anticipated family and friends get together with endless food and of course, alcohol. Usually we get the big table out on the terrace and cover it with food. This time we had a Tex-Mex theme with a Jamaican twist. Quite sure the king of the evening Jamaican Jerk Marinade will soon make an appearance on this blog.




Celebrating juhannus always beholds a recollection of the magical childhood midsummer parties, with spells and ghost stories. Only during juhannus were we aloud to stay up until dawn. Living away from Finland for most of the year, juhannus is always an important moment in a year - the begginning of the summer. Some things do last in life and this is certainly one of them.

Lately I have also started a journey back to my roots, well if not exactly my roots, then back to the roots of Finnish food culture. I was jumping with joy at juhannus lunch, when Mom had made my favourite - pickeld herring. I will definitely be exploring more of my food heritage this summer.

I have also been trying out new restaurants and cafés in Helsinki. Gran Delicato on Kalevankatu was a pleasant new acquaintance. They had a lovely selection of filled baguettes, ciabattas, salads, pastas, etc. I had a ciabatta filled with mortadella, marinated aubergine, feta and rocket. It was a mix I have never tasted before and it was good! 

The German chain Vapiano, which offers "fast casual Italian food", has opened its first restaurant in Helsinki. I am always apprehensive towards chain and franchise restaurants, but Vapiano was a pleasant surprise. The fact that they have a wholewheat pasta in a few shapes is a plus and you can get Montepulciano D'Abruzzo there for a relatively good price. I tasted Ravioli Con Carne, which was special as a dish, but the fact that you can get nice pasta for under 10€ in Helsinki is quite rare. You could see it as a pro or a con that you have to order your food from the kitchen, drinks from the bar and pay to a separate counter, but everything was priced well.

One quite surprising new favourite (as a meat lover) is Vegemesta, which offers fast vegan food. Vegemesta has earlier only been in Kallio, but has now opened a small place on Pikku Roba. They offer everything from vegan burgers to kebabs to schnitzels. I had Falafel in Pita Bread. It tasted very homemade and nice, but I would have wished for some sort of spicy sauce with it. And I probably should have asked the hippie guy making it, why was there sauerkraut in my pita? I would still strongly recommend Vegemesta to all those, who wish to keep up with a vegan diet even after a night out or if you just want a healthier and tastier option for McD's or Hesburger.