Practicalities

Doing life right, at home and away

Category: Eating (Page 1 of 2)

Of making a traditional German Rumtopf

This year, I am finally making a Rumtopf – or a Rumpot, in English. Rommiruukku, in Finnish.

It’s a traditional German fruit preserve/beverage and there are as many variations as there are makers of it. Because you can vary the recipe in so many ways, consider these just overall guidelines.

The Rumtopf has been a culinary classic in the past, but become unfortunately untrendy in the last 10-15 years, though I am hoping for it to make a comeback.

Where did this all begin? Rum imports began in the 18th century. Close to the Danish border, Flensburg was where the West Indies fleet offloaded it’s boozy cargo and, from there, it was transported around Europe. The legend has it, that the rum importing sailors accidentally dropped some fruit into a barrel of rum which quickly developed into a way of transporting exotic fruit back to Europe – and a tradition was born.

Ye Olde way of making this starts in late spring when the first fresh fruit is in season and ends in autumn when the fruit season is ending – typically with pears, or apples or plums and such. However, these days you can probably make it all at once sometime in the middle of summer, when the fruit season is peaking and the ripe fruit times are overlapping. I’m making mine in two steps: I’m still going to add pears later in autumn.

To make a Rumtopf, you will need a large-ish container, depending on how many people you intend to feed with it. Mine is 4 liters and it’s definitely quite large. You can also use a couple of smaller jars, if you don’t want to opt for a big one.

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Of oven baked avocados

I rarely share just random recipes here, but today’s delicacy is such a quick and easy treat, and somehow a little unexpected, I thought it might be worth a share!

Bizarrely, I think this is originally some kind of a paleo recipe and there are as many variations on this theme as there are people in this world. You can try replacing coriander with parsley, basil or chive, throw some lardons on the top or cover the hot-from-the-oven avocados with some fresh tomato salsa. Regardless of how you make this, it’s gastronomic bliss!

I eat these for breakfast, as a part of brunch or as an afternoon snack. They are also a super quick but impressive starter if you’re serving a multiple course meal!

  • Avocados (BIG, perfect, ripe ones if available) 
  • Eggs
  • Coriander
  • Lemon or lime
  • Salt & pepper
  • Chilli sauce (I recommend sriracha or a tangy variety, such as tabasco)

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  1. Heat the oven to 250C.
  2. One avocado makes two servings and you need two eggs per avocado. Cut the avocado in half, take the stone out. Carve some extra space for the eggs with a spoon.
  3. Put the avocados in a small-ish baking dish where they can’t move too much. This is where I already sprinkle some salt and pepper and squeeze lemon/lime.
  4. Break eggs into the cavities – they’ll surely go a bit overboard but don’t mind it, it’s fine.
  5. Sprinkle a little more salt and pepper on top and give it a last squeeze of lemon/lime.
  6. Bake the avocados for approximately 6-8 minutes, depending on how cooked you want your eggs to be. I like them to be quite raw, but so that the egg white has already set.
  7. When ready, chop some fresh coriander (or other herb of your choice), throw some sriracha, tabasco or other salty/tangy chili sauce on top.

It’s the definition of tasty.

Even Nano – my assistant – was into them.

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Of sima and fermenting drinks

Yay! It’s May and it’s time to make some mead! This beautiful fermented nectar – sima (pronounced for English speakers like see-mah) – is traditional to the Finnish 1st of May bacchanals.

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One of the BIG FOUR Finnish celebrations in the calendar year, the 1st of May celebration – Vappu (pronounced kinda as vah-poo) – celebrates the spring, Saint Walburg (along the lines of Walburgsnacht) and whathaveyou. Labour movements as well as university students have all alike appropriated this beautiful spring party day.

In Finland, sima  – this often home-made, low-alcohol lemon mead – is one of the most prolific signs of Vappu. It is an important part of my favourite Vappu tradition: the big, even lavish picnics, especially popular in Helsinki.

Other typical things related to Vappu are: carnival-style festivities, all imaginable varieties of alcohol and drinking them aplenty.

While Vappu/Walburgsnacht is of religious origin – for centuries if not millenias have pagan prehistoric Finns been chucking down pints of sima and dancing the night away in the gleaming light of spring bonfires.

While a strong and potent alcoholic beverage in the past, sima of today is kind of a party drink for the whole family due to its low alcohol content. This is my mother’s recipe, that we have used for years and tweaked it a bit to our taste.

Here, I’m going to tell you how to make it – it’s super easy and so tasty!

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Of wild garlic and spring foraging

Ah, the spring, the greenery, the herbs, the foraging. 

Starting from some time in March, until May and even beginning of June, Leipzig is filled with the distinct aroma of wild garlic. (Maybe you call it ramsonsbuckrams, broad-leaved garlicwood garlicbear leek or bear’s garlic, or just Bärlauch, if you’re German…)

It is perhaps the easiest and the most versatile herb to forage and, perhaps most importantly, it grows in heaps throughout Central Europe. 

Kind of a chive, the name in many languages comes from the brown bear’s liking to it and the bear’s habit to dig up the ground to eat the bulbs. Brown bears have great taste.

How to find it and identify it?

Wild garlic is so common at least in Central Europe and the UK, you’ll unlikely struggle to find it. 

Go to the nearest (semi) deciduous forest. Smell the air. The dead giveaway of wild garlic is the scent. You’ll smell it miles before you see it – as mentioned previously, the whole city of Leipzig smells of wild garlic for weeks. 

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Wild garlic tends to grow in low, bushy foliage, with quite long, thin stems and long, gently tapering leaves. The individual little “bushes” have each long and thin stems in the middle with one single flower bud growing on each stem.

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However, the strong smell is such a clear way of identification that if ever in doubt, just rub a leaf between your fingers to break it and trust your nose – it will smell like a strong chive/spring onion and distinctly garlicky. There is no way to mistake wild garlic for anything else if your sense of smell has not been compromised!

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Of butter

I love butter.

I have always loved butter, but my love has deepened even further in recents months.

I like my butter nice and salty and, since moving to Germany, I’ve had trouble finding a good salted butter. Back in Karlsruhe, I’d pop over the border to France and grab several kilos of Normandy butter with flaky sea salt. But since coming to Leipzig, I’ve had extremely slim pickings. So, the inevitable result was hatching this plan: making my own perfect butter, to perfectly suit my needs.

So, I’ve slowly started, over a week or two, to build the habit of making butter. I’ve had some time to experiment a little with different recipes and styles. If you like a perfect, creamy and tangy butter on your bread, read on to find out how to make it yourself!

You’d think BUTTER would be a relatively simple and straightforward product, right? You could not be more wrong! When starting to write this post, I considered myself quite well butter-educated. I was proven profoundly wrong. And I paid the price – by staying up until the wee hours of the morning – reading more and more about this delicious spreadable fat.

First of all – butter is cultural, super complex and slightly confusing. There are large differences in butter making and taste between countries and continents. It does not stop there though: the differences can be seen in how the entire concept of butter in perceived! This is mostly due to history, but those nuances have, with time, become genuine cultural differences and expectations regarding how butter is: how it looks and how it should taste. To some, these may seem like minute and inconsequential details, but for a butter lover like myself, they are fundamental.

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Of my favourite winter fruit: the lychee

Lychees – “The Kings of Fruits” – are now in season.

I’m squeezing my entire face together, trying to remember. As if somehow bringing your eyes, nose and lips closer together would help your memory.

I’m trying to remember: when was the first time I ate a lychee.

I’m almost certain it was in Vietnam. Let’s say 2008. It had to be. I remember the feeling, the taste, the novelty, the dripping messy juiciness running down my chin and my fingers, the crisp sweetness with a sudden perfumed tang. The skin of the fruit – red and rough textured, like a dragon’s scales. But I can’t grasp the details, the surroundings, the people. They remain fuzzy and deliciously formless.

I’m tempted to say lychees are my favourite fruit altogether.

In Paris, lychees were my wintery delicacy, something I’d indulge in after long, tiring days at work. I’d buy them in huge heaps from the fruit & vegetable market on my street, where the Moroccan sales men knew me almost by name. (“Bonsoir, mademoiselle Finlande! Ca va aujourd’hui?” – For clarification: my “name” abroad rarely is Sara, it’s “the Finnish girl”, la finlandaise, die Finne. True to form.)

I prefer lychees to rambutans and longans. You know rambutans? They’re like lychees who need a haircut. And longans, they’re like the lychee’s bald old uncle with liver spots.

Usually, I just eat all the lychees I have. Fresh and right away. I have no patience or self-control and, quite genuinely, they really taste best just the way they are. However, if you’re new to lychees, I do recommend experimenting with them a little. Frozen lychees are wonderful – if you’ve ever eaten frozen grapes, lychees have a similar, fine and tender sorbet-like texture without any loss of flavour and fragrance. You can also mix some mean drinks: lychee martinis are usually made with syrup, but a lychee margarita put through the blender will hit the winter drink jackpot. You can even make a salsa with them, or chuck some in a stir-fry.

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Of autumn hobbies and picking mushrooms

All mushrooms are edible. But some, you can only eat once.

– Old Finnish proverb

I’ve been holding on to this post for quite a while but somehow struggled to get it finished. Today I went out with Musti and found such a nice mushroom harvest, I knew I had found the last pieces to this puzzle. I had to finish it.

So, I go to the forest quite often.

Some nice green forest in Leipzig

I don’t actually consider going to the forest exceptionally calming per se – I just like it that there are no other people there. I like the feeling of temporary, fleeting isolation. If you go deep enough, you can almost not hear the motorways.

I go all year round, but autumn is my favourite time – there are no longer so many mosquitos, it’s not that hot – the air has that crisp autumn smell – and, if you are lucky, you can find mushrooms.

Sara in the forest with Musti dog

Top Samuji (2015) // Jeans H&M (2015)

Picking mushrooms is in Finland like a national hobby: when autumn arrives, every social media channel fills with pictures of mushrooms, foods made with mushrooms and a lot – I mean A LOT – of the conversation with people revolves around these special fruits of the forest!

Chanterelles on a wooden chopping board

Plus, mushroom hunting is incredibly fun! The joy of the discovery, the warm satisfaction of feeling so capable and self-reliant is almost intoxicating. Here we are back in Finland, a few years ago, when we found so many black trumpets, we still eat them to this day! The smiles tell it all.

Apparently mushroom hunting is not as common elsewhere as it is in Finland. Ever since I moved abroad, I have not found a single mushroom hunting buddy! I’ve found that a lot of people are, first of all, confused about identifying mushrooms but also not sure what to make of them and how to really get started. So, I’ll gently take your hand and hold it through the basics of mushroom picking: presenting 3 + 1 of the easiest mushrooms to pick in central Europe and a couple of nice easy recipes to complete your first foraging adventure!

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Of housewarming garden parties

We had a housewarming party. Ten things I learned:

  1. The best grills are cast iron.
  2. Try not to let the fire go out if you have hungry guests.
  3. Making your friends perform engineering tasks before the party officially starts is a great way of making everybody mix & mingle. In our case, a sun/rain cover needed to be assembled.
  4. If you want the best taboulé & hummus of your life, ask if your Syrian friend is up for the task.
  5. Avalon also makes a great punch that will gather dozens of compliments.
  6. There can’t be too many light garlands and twinkly lights.
  7. The steak recipe my high-school boyfriend taught me still works.
  8. A little rain won’t ruin a good party! Just be prepared. See number 3.
  9. In the end, you might be so busy hustling with everything that you might not really have time to eat yourself.
  10. And if you are so positively busy with your party – eating, drinking, socialising, laughing – that you have don’t even have time to even put on make-up or comb your hair, it’s a great party!

Food

I’m planning on writing a whole post about BBQ and grills and equipment and such, as the art of BBQing deserves some special attention. So here I’m just gonna share our recipes for the salads and side dishes – which go together with EVERYTHING grilled.

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Bills restaurant and bar in Brighton

Of short and sweet in Brighton

We only spent two days in total in Brighton but, as I had been yearning to visit the city for so long, we really tried to make the best of it in such a short time.

Shops at dusk in Brighton

Now, if you are staying in Brighton for longer, I’m sure you can explore some other locations, but for benefiting from the best in the centre, I think we did a pretty good job. I imagine the secret locations, hidden gems are a bit farther outside the centre. But on such a short notice, we had no chance to look into them. So if you’re looking to have it short and sweet in Brighton, then look no further!

We stayed at the Ibis Hotel at the train station (as they are very dog friendly!), which is right around the corner from The Lanes; a shopping, eating and drinking area well known for it’s narrow lanes and quirky offerings.

So here goes, Sara’s Top Whatever “less-than-24h-in-Brighton-or-maybe-48h-depends-on-how-you-count-it” tips to Brighton! (but actually mostly just The Lanes)

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Dieppe harbour by night

Of lovely Dieppe and hidden treasures

Dieppe, what a great little find!

We had the loveliest of accommodations: Le Grand Duquesne, a mini-hotel with only 12 cosy and adorable rooms. There is a bunch of these real big, resort-y sea side hotels on the shore, but we thought that this intimate and picturesque hotel right at the square would be more to our taste. The staff was incredibly friendly, flexible and accommodating and it was right at the heart of the town, next to the cathedral and the market place. Also, apparently their restaurant is great! We didn’t want to be those people who both stay & eat at their hotel, but quite frankly, I’m sure that would’ve been a great call. It was packed on both the nights that we stayed there.

Le Grand Duquesne in Dieppe

A harbour town for over a thousand years, regardless of its small size, Dieppe has been largely involved in European history, in both war and trade. It was also a trendy and a hip place in the 19th century as a seaside beach resort, before the “beaching industry” bloomed in the more bourgeois (and warmer) Deauville and Trouville. But what is especially appealing, is that Dieppe is a great place to eat sea food, all year round. For example, it’s the best place in France for fishing scallops!

Dieppe town centre

So sea food is Dieppe’s pride and on our way back, we ate at this spectacular yet simple restaurant La Cale, which was so good it deserved its own post. We were waivering between La Cale and a way fancier, better known and popular alternative, Comptoir à Huitres, but finally decided on the former. The sort of restaurants as Comptoir à Huitres tend to be great, but always risk the possibility of being also a little (or a lot) overrated and overpriced – even when they are really good. If me and W have a “restaurant type”, it’s the sweet spot between the high end of the low end, and the low end of the high end.

But okay, say you’re a twat who doesn’t like sea food – what does Dieppe have for you? CALVADOS, MY MAN – that’s what.

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chalkboard menu at le cale in dieppe

Of eating in La Cale

We spent some good time trying to pick a restaurant in Dieppe. There is plenty of choice and it’s a little challenging to find the optimal one. If you’re in Dieppe right now, you should also check my other tips for the town.  After careful research, we picked La Cale.

Interior of La Cale in Dieppe

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, our sweet spot is at the low end of the high end and the high end of the low end.

Now, La Cale is a restaurant which celebrates seasonal, local ingredients and simplicity. That’s why the general layout of the food in the photos doesn’t look like much, but I can assure you it was absolutely fantastic – winter potatoes, sweet winter carrots and other root vegetable purees on the side. Nothing we ordered was out of season and the menu elaborated in detail most of the local suppliers and the waiters explained the rest. The food was very carefully flavoured – not over-spiced or over-garnished. Everything had this balance, bringing out the natural flavours of the ingredient in question. While I love complex and spicy foods, I appreciate this sort of approach. It’s sometimes the simplest things that work the best and I think it requires skill to recognise those situations.

Have you ever eaten in France in a good restaurant? Well, it’s often absolutely obligatory to reserve a table beforehand, if you don’t want to get hammered on apéritifs at the bar before dinner while waiting for a table. We did this faux pas : it was a Saturday and we had no reservation. We decided to go really early, right when it was opening to secure us a table.

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Some british cheddar

Of British food and unfortunate history

I actually don’t really understand why Britain has a reputation for not having good food. Traditional British food is wonderful!

I’m probably a bit biased, having a Scot as my lover, but I genuinely think that the “bad British food” rap is quite unfair and not even true. (I don’t mean to diss, but come on – Germany & the many variations of the dreadful Wurstsalat, the Swiss who mainly just melt cheese and the Dutch with – I don’t even know what any of that is)

In my opinion, if compared to France, nobody comes off too good in Central/Northern Europe. That is regarding contemporary cuisine – during Edwardian era Britain, gastronomy and the culinary arts, particularly amongst the upper class, were at an all time high. You might be familiar with this, if you’ve watched these guys eat & dine & drama all the livelong day:

The cast of Downton Abbey

What changed the course of British gastronomy were the World Wars. Accoring to Ivan Day, a British food historian who runs historic cooking classes (!!!), the cook books of the Edwardian era are high quality with stunning and complex recipes – for the middle- and upper-classes, of course.

My personal favourite being these “fancy ices” – as in ice cream cakes (???) in ludicrous forms, made with copper and pewter moulds, without any electric refrigeration.

Edwardian fancy ices

Ta-daa! I want the pineapple for my birthday. Picture courtesy of historicfoods.com

Due to the strict British class society, much of the culinary mastery and special skills vanished already through the casualties of WWI. With lack of skill and shortages in imports and thus supplies (Britain is an island, after all), many of the lavish foods prepared just a couple of decades earlier throughout the country, disappeared completely from the tables of the British upper-class. And of course, rationing both during the war as well as during the aftermath for the whole of Europe and the US, shrunk the post-war menus even further. (buh-bye, sugar and cream!)

And although Britain was not the only country rationing during the wars, after the Second World War they kept rationing longer than most of continental Europe: the scheme was lifted slowly and gradually after the wars, finally ending entirely in 1954. (In France it ended a couple of years earlier and in Germany in year 1950 – naturally excluding the DDR, they kept on trucking with their rationing cards until 1958) 

Somehow, through earlier implications from the industrialisation, the wars and undoubtedly some series of unfortunate events, Britain did not really recover and regain the skill, flavour and complexity it had before – and the reputation of bad British food is actually a remnant of the bland and poor, austerity ridden post-WW era. If you want to read more about this, NPR interviewed Mr. Day in 2012 about this topic.

Beyond the aristocratic food bacchanals, a heart breaking example of the impact of the Wars in British food culture is the case of the British cheddar and artisanal cheese. The whole artisanal cheese scene was completely wiped out due to rationing: most of the milk produced was directed to making “Government Cheddar” (as ALL other cheese was banned between 1940-1954!!!), leaving Britain stranded in the 70s with only 33 farms making quality cheddar, down from a whopping 514 farms before the war. 

Anyway, today in Kirkwall, we ordered meals which incorporated two of the possibly most misunderstood staples of British cuisine: fish & chips and haggis (served as part of a chicken supreme, though). The actual haggis is even better, or deep fried as a drunken snack from a Glaswegian hole-in-the-wall and surprising as it may be, even the canned haggis we have back in Karlsruhe, isn’t half bad!

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Dry stone wall in Thurso

Of Thurso: sea-sides and small-town boys

Thurso is a fascinating little town.

W is from Thurso – the Northernmost town of mainland Scotland. I actually challenge you to check on Google Maps where it is. Nah, nevermind, I’ll just add a link here.

Caithness coastline

I cannot get enough of these views, their majestic rawness, their almost inexplicable beauty. Brace yourselves – there will be plenty of adjectives in this post. There is something to the smell of the sea in the air, the distant yet distinguishable Orkney silhouette in the horizon, the wild grey sea and the overarching grey sky.

Drystone wall with lichens

Every time I walk out to the street from our friend’s place and get a view to the sea, I feel a sense of relief. I could live for these landscapes – maybe that’s why people stay here, or come back. Quite a few of W’s friends who left to big cities for university, eventually came back. Quite genuinely – I can understand why. How do you get used to not seeing this every day? Do you not feel completely suffocated in a land lock city?

Thurso beach

When we go for a walk closer to the shore, where the river meets the sea, it’s hard to tell exactly where the sky begins and the water ends.

I’m not gonna lie to you, there isn’t much to do or see in the traditional sense of touristic activities. But that’s sort of the beauty of it: you walk at the beach, you stare in the distance and breathe in the salty air, you have a pint or ten in the pub. You go home. Rinse and repeat. You can go to the movies though. And to the only night club in town. (they’ve got a wikkid  website, too) There are also quite a few standing stones you can visit.

I have a sense for rugged aesthetics. I choose a winter holiday in northern Scotland over a beach holiday in Southeast-Asia any day. At face value, Thurso is this grey, grim looking windy town made of  sandstone. But somehow, there is just so much more to it. Probably the best people I know come from Thurso. I often wonder, if the nature and our surroundings shape our characters.

So what should you do once in Thurso?

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Inverness near the castle

Of taking trains north (to Inverness)

We left Portsmouth with a Southwest train heading to London King’s Cross, with Inverness as our final destination.

We had gotten a fabulous deal with an early booking and travelled first class from London to Inverness. Though it’s perfectly okay travel in the standard class with a dog, we thought that investing in both our and other passenger’s comfort was well worth the extra 20 quid and it turned out to be an excellent decision when travelling with a woofer.

It also turned out to be generally the best and the smartest thing ever, as Network Rail had been working on the tracks over Christmas (when the railway is closed) but had not gotten it done on time. All trains from London to Scotland were cancelled on the 27th, meaning that nobody who had to go north that day was able to go north that day.

These rail work delays were actually anticipated beforehand, so for two days we stalked some wonderfully, painstakingly detailed train discussion forums to get some insight on whether we should even bother going to London. I mean, if there was a chance that our reservation wouldn’t be valid due to the cancellation.

seat reservation ticket

Well, everything turned out just fine, reservations were valid and all – though even first class was fully booked. I don’t want to know how it would have been in the standard class with a dog. Someone probably would’ve punched us in the face.

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truffle shavings

Of cooking with a truffle

As you might remember, I have transported a jar of rice (with a truffle in it) from Strasbourg to Karlsruhe to Portsmouth with me. W’s dad is so into cooking it has actually been a little hard to push for a meal WE can cook!

fresh truffle shavings

Today though, we managed to negotiate for a lunch spot, so it was obvious that we were going to finally use the truffle. I had spent a good deal of time figuring out what would be the best way to use it. I wanted something easy and simple, yet hearty as it was to feed five people. I also wanted it to be sort-of foolproof, without too many bells or whistles – as truffle on its own is already rather exotic – ideally something that doesn’t require acquired tastebuds. Compared to other truffle types, such as Black truffles (French Périgord) and White truffles (Italian Piémontese), which practically need to be consumed raw, Meuse truffle puts up well with heat and cooking. However, I wanted to rather enjoy the raw taste of the product.

I decided to go with a truffle risotto – by just topping the delicious risotto with thin shavings of raw truffle. Risotto is such a basic, beautiful thing, filling and hearty, yet serves as base for a variety of other complex flavours.

I was still a little worried about having stored the truffle in rice, but upon taking it out from the rice jar, the truffle seemed to be in perfect condition and was still strongly scented and very aromatic when I shaved off a sliver to taste it.

A simpler than simple risotto for showcasing the flavour/aroma of a Meuse truffle:

You need:

  • Risotto rice
  • Olive oil
  • Salty butter (50-70g)
  • Vermouth (preferably) or white wine
  • Finely diced onion (shallots or normal ones, 2-3 according to taste)
  • Finely chopped garlic (to taste)
  • Finely chopped celery (which we didn’t have as we forgot to buy some – but it belongs to the perfect basic risotto recipe)
  • Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 liter stock, approximately (chicken or vegetable, for example – though I would definitely recommend home made stock but sometimes you have to rely on stock cubes – like we did here)
  • Parmesan or other flavoursome hard cheese, plenty of it
  • Truffle (obviously)
  • Parsley to garnish

1. Heat the stock in a pot. In another pan, heat the olive oil and butter, add the onions, garlic and celery, and stir them until soft, careful to not let them brown or burn. Turn up the heat and add the rice.

2. This is when you can’t leave the stove for even a few seconds. Keep stirring the rice, so it doesn’t get any colour on it. Pretty soon the rice will start to look slightly translucent. This is your cue to throw in the vermouth or the white wine – all the while keeping the rice moving at all times. The rice will suck up the wine quite quickly – keep the rice moving and breathe in the wonderful aromas.

3. Once the rice has sucked up the liquid, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. The secret of good risotto is to keep it slowly simmering, so the rice cooks evenly throughout. If kept boiling on too much heat, the risotto will cook way too much from the outside, but the grains will have a hard core. So: turn down the heat to a simmer and keep slowly adding ladlefuls of stock. Stir and turn thoroughly, and allow all the liquid to be absorbed in the rice body before the next. After 15-20 minutes, check if the rice is cooked and if the seasoning is balanced. If not, keep adding the stock in the similar manner. When ready, the rice should be soft and lovely, but with a bite – we’re not trying to make porridge! Taste the rice — is it cooked? Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water.

4. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter and parmesan (or equivalent). Allow the risotto to sit under a lid for a couple of minutes. This will let all the liquid and flavours to really set and results in a wonderfully creamy, perfect risotto.

5. Eat.

For this truffle risotto and serving – we just shaved some thin truffle slices, chopped parsley and a pinch of black pepper on top of the risotto. Ta-daa!

It was delicious.

I also generally try to be economic in my cooking: as little leftovers as possible and maximise repurposing – be it boiling bones and vegetable cut offs for stocks, or making truffle oil with the leftover truffle! We chopped – extremely finely – the end of the truffle we could no longer use for the risotto and put it in a jar with extra virgin olive oil. It needs from a few days to a week to properly infuse it.  Works great with pasta and salads. Another possibility is making truffle salt: also chopping it fine and mixing it with rough sea salt, himalayan salt, etc. Seal it in a jar for some days so the truffle bits emit their remaining aromas in the salt. Enjoy with everything.

(A tip from a friend: for super fancy margaritas, use truffle salt to salt the rim of your margarita glass. I hear it’s insanely good.)

Of gingerbread, gingerbread

In Finland, it’s quite common to make your own gingerbread every Christmas, young and old alike. Somehow I’ve gotten the impression it’s not such a popular tradition elsewhere. That does not mean that it should not be endorsed, however.

gingerbread ingredients

I don’t like the readymade gingerbread cookies sold in shops. They are almost always sickly sweet and hardly taste of anything else than sugar. So, if you are like me but don’t know how to go about making your own gingerbread cookies, I can assure you my recipe is great, tried and tested!

I would point out that this recipe requires some knowledge of spices – the ingredient spreads are indicative. Apart from citrus zest and cinnamon and maybe black pepper, I think the spices should be of equal amounts so they don’t overpower each other. I would also be quite careful with the black pepper – while some like spicier cookies, the pepper should complement the treacle and the sweetness, not taste strong and hot. If you are unfamiliar with mixing the spices in question, I would recommend sticking to smaller amounts. If ,however, you are into some spicier gingerbread, they can quite well be adjusted to taste.

Gingerbread!!!

It’s not the world’s simplest recipe, but every step is very straightforward. The dough is mixed from four parts which are first assembled separately: the butter-sugar mix, the treacle-spices mix, the sour cream-bicarbonate mix and the egg-sugar mix.

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pickled herring from above

Of pickled herring

It had never occurred to me that pickled herring was somewhat of a thing of “an acquired taste” – until I well, met other people for the first time.

My family is very, very fond of pickled herring and I love them more than it is sane. It’s something about all the tastes meeting the right way: it’s always wonderfully salty but also sweet, it’s vinegary and tangy but smooth.

So anyway, pickled herring is also a Finnish Christmas classic. Some of my friends have eaten my herrings before and I know that at least a couple have grown equally fond of them. Without further ado, may I present: glassblower Tefke’s herring  – for my foreign friends!

Glassblower Tefke’s pickled herring

May I start by saying that when it comes to pickled herring – anticipation is a virtue. Gold. I almost never remember/bother to make the herrings properly in time. They are always all good and swell and tasty, but the leftovers eaten a couple of weeks after Christmas, are always the real-er deal, the way the herring is really, truly supposed to taste. So consider entertaining the idea of anticipation. Maybe YOU have got what it takes to make the herrings early enough? Maybe YOU won’t find excuses and procrastinate when it comes to pickling your herring? When the push comes to shove, can YOU grab the bull by its horns, and pickle your herring early?

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Cute old houses in France

Of Karlsruhe-Paris-Rouen-Dieppe

As you might know, I do not enjoy air travel. Never mind the environmental things, the actual process of flying is just utterly terrible!

So whenever I have the chance to take trains I jump at the opportunity. Luckily as new dog owners, the dog offers the perfect chaperone/security blanket/something so people don’t think we are completely insane.

While I could never call myself a “train enthusiast”, I do enjoy trains as machines, the whole history of the transport, their particular qualities.

We are spending Christmas in the UK with W’s family and decided also to go to Scotland to his hometown for the Hogamanay (that’s Gaelic for NYE). We decided to go by train. Soon emerged that also ferry is obligatory, as EuroStar doesn’t take pets.

Neither does almost anyone else and boy did we have trouble finding out who will. Our whole lofty plan almost got cancelled because it’s so damn hard to cross that petty little canal with a pet.

The train from Karlsruhe to Paris was simple as always: comfortable, quick and hassle-free. Amazingly enough, when crossing the border over to France, you do not need a dog ticket (???).

We arrived in Paris perfectly for breakfast time, and though there had been some showers earlier in the morning, the sun was shining like a bright, blinding spotlight. We walked all the way from Gare de l’Est to Gare d’Austerlitz and stopped in the middle for a sweet, French breakfast. While I do not miss Paris that much as a city – it has good sides and too many bad sides – visiting briefly and seeing some aspects of the culture that I miss so much in Germany (and actually, in most places), it made my heart ache a little.

From Paris we got on another train, with a stop-over in Rouen. Rouen was a picturesque, small northern town with a fantastic christmas market!

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Of storing truffles

I bought a Meuse truffle (also called Lorraine truffle, Mésentérique Truffle, or Bagnoli Truffle) from Strasbourg Christmas market. The Christmas market is so big, it has been spread across the city and the one in Place des meuniers is built around local products and delicacies. Oui.

So, I’m generally not the one to buy expensive or extravagant food items but when visiting a truffle region, it’s easy access and still (relatively, sort of) affordable. Also, even small amounts of truffle go a long way, so you don’t need to bust your budget to try it out.

I have only really eaten truffle once before and it was years ago. I think it was a Périgord style black truffle. I recall it being very tasty. So, I was quite intrigued by this Meuse truffle.

It has wonderfully strong though quite bizarre and peculiar smell: it’s intriguing and intoxicating, the kind you want to keep sniffing to figure it out and still can’t pinpoint exactly what it smells like. (I googled it though and it’s supposed to smell like “bitter almonds or apricot kernels”.)

A fresh, black truffle

Fresh truffles store for approximately one month if properly conserved in a cool environment. There are other ways to conserve them for longer, but they are the kind of special sorcery not featured here. However, storing truffles is a wonderful process to follow through in itself: the eggs, rice or salt used for conserving are flavoured by the truffle during the process and carry the rich aroma with them.

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Gourmet food at Chez Yvonne, Strasbourg

Of eating in Strasbourg

While there is a rather limited amount of things I miss from my time in Paris, there is the food. If you are interested in Strasbourg overall, you should also read my other post. 

But, overall, eating in France is great.

It was actually Paris (and France) that shaped my attitude towards food and cooking so significantly. Don’t get me wrong, my mother is an amazing chef and taught me well, but in France, such culinary wonders are right at your fingertips and the choices are so endless that it will change you forever. Of course rather ironically, when living in Paris, cooking was practically impossible because of the inexistent kitchens.

Alsace is an interesting region due to their complicated history, being kind of the buffer zone of whatever happened between France & Germany. If you actually look at the timeline of Alsatian rule, it’s been ping-ponged by nations and empires probably a dozen times! (actually more, but I got bored of counting)  

So while Alsace is arguably not French in the traditional sense of the word (or neither is it German – my friends from the region tend to say, smirking, that they are Alsatian, which in the historical context makes a lot of sense),  whenever I cross the border – the change in attitude towards food culture is immediate.

Alsatian food is relatively different to the rest of France, due to the German influence. Pork is more widely used and Choucroute – the local version of Sauerkraut – is a regional speciality, alongside some more German-style sausages.

One of the most famous local specialities is a tarte flambée (or a flammkuechen in German) – which apparently originates from some Allemanic German speaking farmers in the region, who would  use a thin sheet of dough to test the heat of their wood fired ovens.

Tarte Flambe in Alsace

An other – a personal favourite – is the Baeckeoffe, or “backer’s oven”  by the local dialect. It’s the epitome of what to make in an Alsatian clay pot in the midst of the winter. It might even be the reason I have Alsatian clay pots! It’s a multi-meat stew (traditionally mutton, beef and pork), seasoned with Alsatian white wine and juniper berries and a selection of root vegetables bringing it together. Other things, such as leek, thyme, parsley, garlic, carrot and marjoram (or oregano) are used to give extra flavour.

The legend tells, that the Baekeoffe is actually inspired by a traditional Jewish dish of Shabbat, the Hamin (also called Cholent). The original dish was developed over centuries to conform to the prohibition of using fire from Friday night until Saturday night. The trick was to prepare it on Friday afternoon, then give it to the baker, who would keep it warm (and kinda cook it) in his cooling oven until Saturday noon.  A super cool trick from the baker:  apparently, he would take a long piece of dough, kind of a “rope”, and line the rim of the pot, then get the lid seal extremely tightly and keep all the moisture in.

By now, I’m sure you are wondering about the alcohol situation. Well let me tell you.

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