Beer risotto with chanterelles and bacon

This weekend I had culinary holidays. Mr. No Onion Please disappeared in a cottage among woods with his friends and that meant only one for me – FREEDOM!!! I could eat whatever I want, without murmurs and complaints – pancakes as a main dish of the day? Yes, please! But, but, but…. the centerpiece of my celebrations is here, a dish that revolves around 2 most hated ingredients of his, onions and mushrooms (on the other hand it also includes 2 of his favs – beer and bacon ;) ). The autumn is inevitably approaching, and as much as my mood suffers from upcoming darkness, my belly wildly celebrates, as my favorite culinary season begins. There are still some berries and currants available, capsicums, eggplants and courgettes are at their best, first mushrooms appear and soon the pumpkins and my beloved root veggies will star in my dishes! The recipe for basic beer risotto comes from THIS book. I pimped it up with adding some pancetta, thyme and of course chanterelles!!! It is absolutely delicious, it’s such a pity that those great mushrooms are in season for such a short time :( The amounts make a generous portion for 2 people. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

butter

250ml risotto rice (eg arborio)
130ml dark, rich beer
80ml double cream
roughly 500ml chicken stock
onion, finelly chopped
2 garlic cloves, finelly chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper
a handful of grated mature cheese such as grana padano, parmiggiano reggiano, pecorino etc

1,5 liters of chanterells, bigger ones cut to pieces, smaller ones left whole
150g of pancetta
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
5-6 tbsp of beer

1. Heat up a tbsp of butter in a pot. Add garlic and onion and saute till golden in colour. Add the rice and mix until it becomes slightly transparent from the fat.

2. Add the cream and simmer slowly, stirring continuously. Once the cream is nearly absorbed add the beer and stir. Yes, risotto is all about stirring – the more you stir the better it is, because the more starch is released. Once the beer is nearly absorbed start to add the chicken stock in small amounts and stir. You will need around 500ml and 15-20 min till rice absorbs everything. So in the meanwhile you can make the mushrooms.

3.  Melt a tbsp of butter in another pot. Add pancetta and cook till crispy. Add the mushrooms and thyme, saute for 3-4 min till the mushrooms soften yet stay tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Fish out the mushrooms and add to remaining sauce beer. Heat up till boiling and reduce the sauce.

5. Once your risotto looks ready add the thyme, cheese and 1/3 of the mushroom/pancetta mixture into it, stir for a minute or so.

6. Serve risotto on a bed of mushrooms sprinkled with sauce.

Finnish blazing salmon and Demon’s Gate

Last weekend we went to visit Mr. No Onion Please parents. They live in North Karelia region of Finland, a truly beautiful land that I find so peaceful and relaxing. One evening we enjoyed blazing salmon (scroll down for the recipe), a Finnish way of preparing fish, where it is part cooked part smoked in indirect heat from the open fire. It is a really simple dish, just fish and salt, but the flavour is really superb. But, before we shoveled those delicious calories down, we “worked” hard to deserve them ;) We went for 21km hike through the Finnish wilderness.

On Saturday we travelled roughly 80km North to another region called Kainuu, which i have always thought of as the Kingdom of Bear (I have no idea why, though, but I think they really have a huge bear population there). Just next to the border with North Karelia there is an area where 3 nature protected areas merge and several hiking paths are established. We decided to visit two of those places – the Teerisuo-Luososuo reserve and Hiidenportti National Park. We set off with 11km trail in Teerisuo.

The trail winds through spruce forest, an area where the forest transforms to mire and the open mire.  The forest is plentiful in mushrooms, billberries (wild blueberries) and crowberries (anyone of you collecting those?). In the transition area we found quite many cloudberries. I’ve mentioned already HERE how difficult it is to collect those, and actually this year is the first time since I live here that I’ve found them on several occasions! Once the path enters the open mire, there is nothing to forage on, but the views are really pretty.

What I really admire about Finnish hiking paths is that basically there is always a set place to barbecue or even a small shelter to sleep. Look, they even prepare and store chopped wood for you!!! One just needs to take the sausages and matches :)

Once we came back, we jumped into our car and drove around 20km further to hike on a 10km trail in the Hiidenportti National Park. Hiidenportti means Demon’s Gate and the name comes from an old folks tale. Basically, the gorge, which is a centrepiece of the park, was supposed to be a retrieval of Hiisi demon. The gorge isn’t big, it’s only 20m deep, but it’s quite picturesque.

The path follows the edge of the gorge occasionally passing through spruce forest or small mires. Once the gorge ends, there is a bridge, a bbq place and then the path follows back on the other side of the gorge. We had a really great time, but got back to Mr. No Onion’s Please parents quite tired and hungry. Fortunately they planned sauna and bbq for the evening, so our Saturday was really fabulous.

Now back to the blazing salmon. The preparation is quite simple. You need a piece of the fish, wooden plank, wooden pegs (ehem, or nails if pegs can’t be found around ;) ), some salt, water and open fire. You place the fish filee on the plank and attach it with the pegs.  Dissolve some salt in a glass of water and brush the fish with it. Then attach the plank vertically, 30-50cm from the open fire. Brush the fish with salty water every now and then. It is important that the heat isn’t direct, the fish is supposed to cook very slowly, just as the warm smoky air passes next to it. It took us around 40 min before the fish was ready. Best to check with a toothpick if it’s ready.

Prawns in garlic butter sauce

Yesterday I read in the news, that we are enjoying righ now the most beautiful summer for the last 23 years! That was quite a shock for me. True, the summer is really lovely this year, with few occasional showers and temperature often in it’s mid 20s, but still for me it’s a kind of “average” summer, the one I was used to enjoy as a kid in Poland. Though the weather is definitely better in my homecountry, I much prefere the summer time here in Finland. I really adore how much it is able to transform throughout the year. While in the winter time it looks as if everything has frozen and died for good, now the land is thriving with vibrant green colour, spotted with blue lakes all around. Summer means for me lot’s of dishes with seasonal fruits, vegetables, fish and seafood. This lovely, fast, slightly changed recipe comes from Bajaderka. I’ve made a small mistake and was close to burn the garlic, fortunately nothing really happened apart from the colour change ;) I’ve figured out I’ll fry the garlic first and once it is ready I’ll fish it out and throw the prawns in. Unfortunately the butter started to foam and I couldn’t do that, I just quickly threw the prawns in. Phew. No more modifications, next time I’ll follow the recipe straight :D

INGREDIENTS

25 large prawns
3 tbsp good quality virgin olive oil
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp chilli flakes
6 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
50 ml white wine
2 tbsp provencal herbs
salt and pepper
lemon juice

1. Wash and clean your prawns. Rub them with a bit of salt.

2. Heat up oil and butter on the pan. Add pepper flakes and garlic, fry for 1-2 minutes.

3. Add the prawns, saute for 2 minutes. Add the wine and provencal herbs, turn the prawns on the other side and saute for 1-2  minutes more.

4. Remove the prawns from the pan. Heat up the sauce till it boils. Season with pepper, salt and lemon juice. Serve with baguette.

Scallops on a bed of passion fruit hollandese and wilted ginger spinach

Once in a while, when we want to enjoy ourselves, yet not go out, we decide to have a slow Friday evening, with a bit more fancy food. We open a bottle of wine and start to prepare a three course dinner, that usually lasts for several hours. Mr No Onion Please is responsible for the main course, as for him the proper main dish consists of a good quality steak ;) I focus on appetizer and dessert. This is a starter from one of such evenings. I found the recipe in a fantastic book of Gary Rhodes – 365/One year. One book. One simple recipe for every day. It takes a while to prepare, but is really worth it. It was the first time I’ve used passion fruit in combination with seafood and I must say it’s absolutely fabulous, particularly now, in the summer time!

***

PASSION FRUIT HOLLANDAISE

175g butter
3 egg yolks
juice of 1 small lemon
salt
pinch of pepper
3 passion fruits

Melt the butter. Place the egg yolks and lemon juice in a blender and while at maximum speed slowly add the melted butter, continuing to blend until thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Halve the passion fruits, scooping the seeds into a sieve over a bowl. with the back of the spoon press and scrape all of the juices and pulp from the seeds. Add the juice to the hollandaise along with spoonful of the seeds. Put the sauce to one side and keep warm.

***

WILTED GINGER SPINACH

200g young spinach, trimmed
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
(2 shallots finelly chopped)

Fry the ginger (and shallots) in a bit of butter. Throw in the spinach and saute till wilted.

***

SCALLOPS

12 scallops
butter

Fry the scallops on a smoking hot pan for 2 minutes on one side, then turn and cook for further 1 to 1,5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

***

Flammkuchen and Luxembourg trip

I guess you already know we love to travel. I wish I would also love to write about it and share the amazing places we’ve been with you, but I’m kind of lazy, and since I’m making thousands of pictures on holidays (yes you read that correct, I go into THOUSANDS and it annoys even me a lot ;) ) it’s pretty difficult to choose what I would actually like to show you in a tiny space of a blog post.  Fortunately, that’s not always the case. At the end of  June we went for a long weekend to visit our friends in Luxembourg. Short trip + lot’s of time spend on chatting = few photos ;) Yes, finally manageable enough for me to finally write a post ;) Luxembourg welcomed us with rain. Fortunately, we were unlucky with the weather just for a single day and enjoyed hot sunny days for the rest of our trip. I must say I was quite surprised how tiny yet international is the City of Luxembourg. It has only 80 000 of citizens yet it bursts with energy.

Somehow, I had an image of Luxembourg as a country that looks just like Netherlands, and I have never even thought that we will see charming villages hidden in the valleys surrounded by forests. I was really enchanted with tiny old towns full of cafeterias and craft shops – that’s the thing I really miss in Finland. And another reason to visit Luxembourg are lovely vineyards  spreading along picturesque Mosel river scenery, a true lifelong memory for me. I must say I’m really positively surprised how much this petite land has to offer! Sadly, I guess at the same time, it is the least traveled country among Benelux area.

Luxembourg is a really tiny country. I guess it’s a bit difficult to talk about the traditional cuisine there as all the German, French and Belgian culinary influences pretty much mingle together. Thanks to our trip, I have fallen in love with a traditional dish from this region – the Flammkuchen, a kind of  crispy peasant pizza that is topped with fresh cheese or cream instead of tomato sauce (it is also called tarte flambee on the French side). The traditional Flammkuchen is made with onion and bacon cubes, but since I have Mr. No Onion Please at home, I made a bit more modern and lighter version of it. From the amounts given below, you’ll get 2 Flammkuchen. The recipe  for dough comes from  Linda Collister’s and Anthony Blake’s “The bread book” and I found it on CinCin forum. The dough is absolutely fantastic! Comes out crispy and it’s so easy to work with – a must try!

INGREDIENTS

455 g flour (about 12% protein content)
1,5 tsp salt
15 g fresh yeasts
1 tbsp olive oil
280 ml luke warm water

200g creme fraiche
4-5 tomatoes, thinly sliced
salt & pepper
2 handfuls of rocket
10-12 slices of dried ham

1. Dissolve the yeasts in luke warm water and leave them aside for 5-10 min.

2. Combine flour, salt, yeasts and oil and knead a ball of dough. Let it rest under cover for 1,5-2h until it doubles it’s volume.

3. Hit the dough with the fist to release the air and divide it in half. Roll the dough very! thinly (I additionally stretch it in the air, to make it super thin), you should get 2 pieces roughly of the size of your baking tray.

4. Spread the creme on top, leaving some free space on the sides. Put tomato slices on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in 275C till golden brown (remember to preheat not only the oven but also the tray you’ll put the Flammkuchen on!)

5. Spread rocket and dried ham on top. Serve with well chilled white wine :)

ENJOY!

Lavender and lemon creme brulee

- NO!!! I don’t want it!

- But….

- NO! Don’t spoil it with some freaking flowers!!!! For that matter I WON’T EAT ANY FLOWERS!!! Make the one I like, you know the chocolate one? Mmmm… chocolate….

Well, that’s kind of our standart conversation, when I try to introduce a novel, “suspicious” ingredient in our kitchen. It’s like a tiny little war that I nearly always win (yes, yes, I know…. the infamous onion problem…). Fortunately the “war times” are basically over, for the last 5 years we went through most of the things you can buy here up North, as well as some that you actually can’t. With a touch of  nostalgy I remind myself of the times when even a simple broccoli was an enemy on the plate. Nowadays, though, those talks don’t happen anymore, or so I though, cause last weekend we just had one.

And all that fuss about lavender, you say? I know that for many of you lavender is a kitchen staple, yet I have never seen it on sale in Finland. Even more, I brought mine from the USA just a couple of weeks ago, so I guess it’s a kind of exotic ingredient here. Anyway, over the years, I acquired a perfectly working strategy, that let’s me push through whatever I want to be cooked the kitchen (yes, yes…. apart from onion). I like to call it the “peaceful diplomat” strategy ;) As an answer to Mr No Onion Please poison accusations, I simply murmur “aha, yes, yes, uhumm” and slowly walk away to proceed with my plans anyway. Once I’m done, I approach him joyfully, pretending to suffer from a severe dementia and say in delight:

- Looooook! It worked!, Look what I managed to cook!!!

He doesn’t have much choice at this point and that’s why it’s a perfect way to make him try new things. Yes… so this is the peaceful diplomat strategy… I have a feeling our governments are also pretty fond of it ;)

This lavender and lemon creme brulee was an instant hit, and it surprisingly dethroned even the current favourite – the chocolate creme brulee! It is a definite must try! Mr No Onion Please reccomends, and that means a lot ;)

***

INGREDIENTS:

500ml cream (30% fat)

1 tbsp vanilla paste or seeds from 1 vanilla pod

finelly grated zest from one lemon

2 tbsp lavender

60ml caster sugar

6 egg yolks

some more caster sugar for carmelising on top

***

1. Heat the oven to 150C. Assemble six shallow ceramic tarts in a roasting pan.
2. Stir the yolks to homogenise, beware not to incorporate air into the mixture.
3. Slowly heat up the cream with sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and lavender. Bring it to simmer and keep for several minutes. Set aside for 10 min and let the lavender infuse the cream. Strain through the sieve.
4. Slowly add small amounts of cream to the egg mixture. Mix well and repeat till you incorporate everything. Try not to make any air bubbles
5. Pour the mixture between the tarts, tapping the roasting pan gently on the counter to settle the custard and remove any air bubbles. Pour hot water into your roasting pan so it comes up roughly as high as the custard.
6. Transfer to the oven and bake till they are set for 20-25min (for my size of ramekins).
7. Take them out, once they are cooled down to room temperature, transfer to the fridge (I find it is best to keep them overnight before you eat them).
8. An hour before serving toss some sugar on the top of each creme brulee and carmelise it with kitchen torch. Cool it down in the fridge again before serving.

Pimp up your porridge I – the youth serum

I thought of making a short series of fast and tasty breakfasts that are packed with nutrients. You see, Finland is THE country when it comes to porridge love. No, I can’t tell any statistics here, but I bet that puuro, as it is called here, is actually the most commonly eaten breakfast in this part of the world. And yes, it’s very healthy and yes, it is hated by many as they were forced to eat it as kids.  But believe me, you just need to spice it up with some seasonal additions to actually like or WHOA, even love it (and add even more nutritional value to your meal). In many countries porridge is simply called oatmeal, and as the name says it’s made of oats. Here though, an addition of rye is very common, that’s why I’ll be talking always about porridge on my blog. No matter if you just eat oats, or just rye or combination of those two or any other grains, porridge is one of the superfoods to bring you health and wellbeing.

To pimp up your porridge you really don’t need much, a handful of seasonal fruits plus a complementing spice is already plentiful. Here I combined cherries with cinnamon – those two fit so well together! Do you know that cherries are packed with vitamins, antioxidants and can even assist in regulating the blood pressure, not to say how darn tasty they actually are. Cherries have hit the list of so called superfoods and they are so valuable that a glass of cherry juice is said to be equivalent of 23 fruit portions! So, eat cherries and make your momma proud ;)

You thought I would stop there? Ah, life with me isn’t that easy ;) To boost the antioxidant levels even more, I added several spoons of Goji berries. Have you heard of those yet? They are the new craze among the superfoods fans. I’m quite sceptical to call them wonder berries, yet  no one can deny they are tasty and full of “youth chemistry” we are so much for in this porridge. Oh, and did I already mention that even cinnamon is  plentiful in antioxidants and antimicrobial agents? Yes, search no more for the youth serum, just pimp up your regular porridge ;)

***

INGREDIENTS

rye and oat porridge

milk

2 handfuls of cherries, halved and pitted

4 tbsp goji berries

1 tbsp cinnamon

1-2 tbsp demerara sugar

pinch of salt

***

Prepare your porridge on milk (a portion for 2), add cinnamon, salt and sugar and slowly simmer till ready. Just before taking it off the heat, throw Goji berries and cherries in.

Spaghetti with creamy salmon sauce

Right now in Finland we enjoy a truly lovely, sunny weekend, with temperatures going up to 27C in Helsinki! Such weather is not very common here and it makes me appreciate cloudless sky more and more the longer I live here. As much as  the sun awakens my inner resources of energy, it makes me a bit lazy when it comes to cooking. The summer days definitely require light and quick dishes,  made without the necessity of  tedious standing by a burning hot cooker. I made this dish for the first time as a way to clean our fridge from some leftovers, yet the sauce came out so tasty and easy to do that I repeat it from time to time, particularly during hot, lazy days. I prefer to use cold smoked salmon or gravlax, as the fish flavour is more intense, yet any leftover salmon will do, let it be hot smoked one or even oven baked one. It’s a lovely summer lunch dish, to be made in no time. The amounts given below are enough for 2 people.

***

INGREDIENTS

spaghetti

250ml crème fraiche

a bunch of dill, finely chopped

5-6 slices of cold smoked salmon, sliced to small pieces

3 tbsp small capers

freshly ground black pepper – quite much

salt and lemon juice to taste

***

1. Cook the proper amount of spaghetti for 2 people. In the meantime, slowly heat up crème fraiche.

2. Add dill, capers, pepper and lemon juice and simmer for a minute or two.

3. Add the salmon and immediately take the sauce away from the heat. Season with salt.

Refreshing rhubarb kompot

Summer is now in full swing, the temperatures going over 20C mean that the hottest season of the year has finally arrived to the Northern latitudes! Nothing complements the lovely weather like a light, refreshing drink made from seasonal fruits or veggies. I have spotted this lovely rhubarb kompot on Around the kitchen table blog. Kompot (that has not much to do with a French compote) is a simple central European drink made most commonly from fresh seasonal fruits boiled with sugar. When I was a kid, my grandmum was serving all kinds of kompots luke warm, but I prefere it much more when they are icy cold. Yumm!

***

INGREDIENTS

500g of rhubarb
1.5 l water
4-5 tbsp Demerara sugar
a bunch of fresh mint
zest and juice of a big lemon
2 zest and juice of 2 limes
1 small piece of cinnamon bark
3-4 cloves
2 green cardamom seeds cracked
optionally 8-10 tbsp of pink wine
ice cubes
***
1.  Boil the water in a big pot, add a bunch of mint, spices and zest of 2 limes and a lemon.
2.  Boil for 5 min. Meanwhile prepare the rhubarb. Wash it thoroughly and cut into 2-3 cm pieces (leave the skin on, the more red it is, the more vibrant colour you’ll get).
3. Add rhubarb and sugar to the boiling water and simmer for 10 more minutes. Add the juice of lemon and limes, set aside to cool down. Transfer to the fridge and let it stay there overnight.
4. Drain the kompot through a fine sieve, pressing the rhubarb against the grid, to squeeze as much of the juice as possible. You may add a bit of pink wine if you wish.
5. Serve with ice cubes, garnish with mint and lime slices.

Finnish delicacy – leipäjuusto with cloudberries

Today I’d like to tell you a bit about two very typical Finnish products – leipäjuusto and cloudberries that can be married into a really fast and delicious dessert. Leipäjuusto is a kind of fresh cheese made of cow’s milk, or traditionally from cow’s beestings. Direct translation of the name means bread cheese and I guess the name comes from it’s looks – dark brown spots that appear after the cheese is baked. Or maybe from the simple, yet  unusual fact that it is put into stoves just like bread is. The texture is very firm, a bit rubbery, maybe somewhat reminiscent to halloumi in this sence, yet totally different. Because of it’s texture it is also sometimes called squeaky cheese as it makes really funny noises when you eat it warm. I love it’s texture and the sound it makes, it’s simply a part of the fun when eating this dessert, but I know many people, particularly foreigners might be a bit discouraged by it. The cheese is very mild in taste, milky with a hint of sweetness and it can be used in desserts but also appears often in salads.

Cloudberries are another very typical Finnish ingredient. I know, I know, I should put here a picture of a real fruit not just jam, but you see… I somehow never really went to pick them up ;) It’s a tricky business (or so I keep telling myself ;) ). The fruit might look a tiny bit like a yellow raspberry, but unfortunately it doesn’t grow like one. The raspberries grow on a tall bush, and they are lots, making it easy to pick them up. Cloudberries, are more like wild strawberry bushes and sadly one plant forms only one berry! What a job to fill in a basket with them! Even worse, they grow sparse, only in separated places (known to the avid cloudberry foragers, not lame couch potatoes like me ;) ) and preferentially in wetlands among hordes of mosquitos. Phew… does it sound like a good excuse? ;) Anyway, they are really delicious and both the leipäjuusto and cloudberries are a must try when you’re visiting Finland.

INGREDIENTS:

leipäjuusto

muscovado sugar

double cream

cloudberry jam

Cut the cheese into small pieces, sprinkle muscovado sugar on top of them. Pour double cream, not too much, it shouldn’t cover cheese. Put to oven under grill and heat up till the sugar is caramelised. Serve with cloudberry jam.