Doing life right, at home and away

Tag: food

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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!


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.

Read More

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

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!

Read More

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.


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.

Read More

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?

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

copper tray with coffee

Of coffee, food and Sarajevo

Sarajevo surprised me with all its lovely restaurants, cafés and bar offerings. Especially the cafés – Sarajevans are café people and lounging around in one of the many coffee spots and sweet bakeries seemed to be a typical activity for an afternoon in Sarajevo. The city centre is full of cafés and they have adopted the coffee cultures from every historic influence: traditional Bosnian, Turkish, Viennese and Italian.

Foodwise, the city seems to be slowly incorporating some aspects of modern, international cuisine to its variety. The traditional “ašćinica” canteens are the places where most locals eat, and they are – in practical terms – similar to the old fashioned family taverns also found elsewhere in the Balkans, Greece and Turkey. Many ašćinicas mainly serve lunch and close some time in the afternoon. Bosnian traditional foods are hearty and tasty, incorporating influences from the wider Balkan, Turkish and even Mediterranean cuisines. In the traditional restaurants, the foods of the day are on display behind the counter, you can go look at them and then order what looks best.

The cuisine is very meat-focused, with relatively few vegetarian options, other than as side dishes. Alcohol is a little difficult to find in many restaurants, although not impossible!

And – oh yeah – you should also read my other post about Sarajevo.

Some typical foods you should eat when in Sarajevo

Bosanski Lonac – A must-eat! Bosnian stew, made of meat chunks and vegetables. The stew varies a lot depending on personal preferences, family recipes and regions, as well as historically societal class. The stew is prepared by alternating layers of vegetables and meat, until the pot is full.

Sarma (meat) & Dolma (vegetarian) – Filled grape leaves. Sarma tends to have a  rice & mince meat filling or dried smoked beef – dolma usually just has seasoned rice.

Prebranac – Made across the Balkans, Bosnian baked beans. The beans are soft yet still with a bite to them. Flavoursome, rich and savoury, like a warm hug.

Read More

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén