Summer salad memories are made of …

… tomato and onion.

One of my earliest summer meal memories is my grandmother’s tomato and onion salad. The other main memory refers to my brother falling asleep face first into a plate of pickled beetroot. I’m pretty sure the tomato-onion salad featured at that table too!

So back to the salad in question. This is how I prepared it yesterday. Sliced tomato, sliced onion. One layer of tomato, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. Cover with a layer of onion and the next layer of tomato. Repeat seasoning and layering operation, ensuring the last layer is tomato. Season! Mix white wine vinegar and sugar to taste. (Hint: just enough sugar to help take the edge off the vinegar, it should be a little bit tart, yet not so tart that your lips curl up and your eyeballs cross!) At this stage you can either serve immediately or let it develop some flavour.

Tomato & Onion Salad Marinating

Tomato & Onion Salad Marinating

Last night I took the latter option and layered everything in a storage container for an hour or so. Every time I walked past I flipped it over and back again.

Tomato & Onion Salad: Ready!!!

Tomato & Onion Salad: Ready!!!

Now for the big question! How is it that The Engineer and I share this same memory? The same salad? The same “only in summer” salad? Two continents, seven or nine time zones depending on the time of year, 15750 + kilometres and we were both enjoying a dish so simple, we felt sure was unique to our part of the world.

It just goes to show our worlds have far more in common than we ever imagined.

Potato cooking… again!

My iPod is always on shuffle and these last couple of weeks I’ve been getting plenty of 80’s tunes popping up. Mr. 12 hates it because I am much more likely to start singing (or wailing!). Anyway, Monday was Mayday Eve and while I was preparing potato salad, this came along. Talking Heads on that Road to Nowhere.

Mayday has its own word in Finnish: Vappu and a great many traditions also. Earlier it was a day of celebration for workers and in more recent times, students have turned it into a day of revelry. Actually, the most action seems to take place on the eve of Mayday, when statues around Finland are ‘crowned’ with white cap that students receive once they have successfully matriculated. If you are game, do a Google picture search using key words Vappu and Helsinki!

There are some dishes that are also traditionally served at this time: sima, which is an home-brewed soft drink, similar to ginger beer, very low in alcohol so children are able to partake also. The first year I brewed sima I was a little heavy with the yeast and we had exploding sima! One year I made munkki also, and although they looked and tasted great, the house smelt like deep-fried food for days afterwards. Once was enough to prove that I could do it. Potato salad and nakki (frankfurters) are also traditional Mayday fare.

My potato salad comes from this fantastic book, based on the TV show of the same name. (In English it’s called Surfing the Menu, by Ben O’Donoghue and Curtis Stone.) If it comes to a small screen near you, take the opportunity to watch an episode or two. Good looking chefs, great scenery and yummy food, what more do you need?

Surfing The Menu (in Finnish)

I’ve been making this salad for three years now. It’s especially good if you don’t enjoy mayonnaise based potato salad. The finished product looked like this:

Potato Salad

We bent the rules a little and had some bubbles (from Tasmania) to go along with our dinner:

Jansz Sparkling

Fridays…are special

Naturally I have to share The Cure and Friday I’m In Love. This was really easy to pick although now I’m wondering how many happy Friday songs there are out there? Read on to find out why…

Friday evening is a sacred time for our family. Even if there is swimming at 0800 on Saturday morning, or The Engineer is travelling from some exotic (or not so exotic location). It’s movie night. It’s good food night. If you have a good imagination, it could even pass muster as date night. There could be a glass of wine for the grown ups. There may be some cola product for Mr. 12.

The probability of dessert is quite high. Usually ice cream. Alternatives could be an individual tiramisu or cheese platter. Main course is generally something a little bit special. Good steak with a simple sauce. Asparagus with home-made hollandaise. Time consuming, yet oh so good. Oven roasted vegetables with some balsamic based sauce. Salmon steaks gently pan-fried with caper-lemon sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking about all this food.

We don’t make arrangements to go anywhere on Friday nights. We’ll do anything or go anywhere on any other night of the week. Just not on Friday. I try to leave work early. Lately it’s been quite late as Mr. 12 has training Friday afternoons. 

From work we hit the supermarket and from the supermarket we head to the  video store to browse for a nice movie to watch. Due to the large amounts of testosterone in our house chic-flicks are ‘once-in-a-blue-moon-I’m-on-my-own for-a-change’ event. From memory Bridesmaids was the last girlie movie I saw. Last week we saw Contagion (highly recommended) and as The Engineer is in another time zone I’m presuming that there’ll be action or comedy on the menu tonight.

As it’s now officially Friday night, I’m out of here! I hope you have a special Friday night too. See you on the other side…

Pea Soup: A recipe

Further to my previous posting, here is the (metric) recipe.

Pea Soup (serves 4)

2 l water
4 dl dried peas
750 g pork shank or blade / chuck (on the bone)
salt to taste
2-3 medium-sized carrots.
(1-2 meat or vegetable stock cubes)

Soak the peas overnight.
Add meat and carrots to the soaking peas.
Gently bring the broth to the boil, remove the scum as it rises.
Simmer until the meat is tender and falling from the bone. (1.5 – 2 hours).
Reduce the heat.
Remove the carrots from the soup and discard.
Remove the meat from the soup, shred / slice into bite-size pieces and return meat to the soup. Discard the bones.
Serve with finely diced onion and strong mustard to taste.

(If you are lucky enough to have a pressure cooker, reduce time by half)
(If you are using a regular saucepan, you may need to top up the liquid occasionally)

Adapted from Sata soppaa , Riitta Pojanluoma, 1995 (ISBN 951-26-3912-2)

Pea Soup….

Recently The Beader posted about how she doesn’t really ‘get’ pea and ham soup. She would have a tough time in Finland, where pea soup is regularly served up for school lunches, at lunch restaurants and many dinner tables on a Thursday night. Wikipedia has this to say on the matter 🙂

It’s been a while since I cooked up a pot. Mr. 12 had swimming practice that finished quite late. I figured an early departure from work would give me just the right amount of time to get a big pot of soup on the table just in time for his return.

This version I found in a recipe book imaginatively titled ‘Sataa soppaa’ (100 soups) and from memory was probably one of the first finnish books that I borrowed on my then new library card!

This is a real slow food type of dish. It all starts the night before when the dried peas are put to soak.

From this ...

24 hours later the peas (still in their soaking water) are put to slow heat, a nice chunk of pork shoulder on the bone (repeat on the bone!) is added along with a few carrots. The above chunk was not the best cut, serves me right be being slow on the shopping. Early shoppers get the best cuts.

The next part is removing the scum. Depending on the meat, it may only take a few minutes.

is that scum I see?

Once the scum is gone, let the soup simmer for an hour and a half. Stir occasionally and top up the liquid if the level starts falling. Sometime you can add up to an extra litre.

Watch the meat and if it starts falling off the bone, it’s time to turn the heat down low. Pull the meat from the soup and shred / cut into small chunks and put the meat back to the soup. Stir slowly to mix the meat thoroughly through the soup and then you are ready to serve!

The end result

Finely diced onion and mustard to taste are the finishing touches. I’m a big mustard fan, so that’s why it looks like a heavy-handed serving. The proof they say is in the eating, and Mr. 12 expressed regret that I don’t make this nearly often enough… Well I would, except I’ve learnt from previous cooking streaks that too much of a good thing becomes boring after a while 😉

Hyvää ruokahalua / bon appétit!

My first restaurant review

There’s an old saying that if you  have a good experience you tell 1 person and 5 people if it’s a bad experience. Well I thought I should do a little research and it turns out that these numbers aren’t so exact. Rule of thumb seems to be that you’ll pass on the good news to one or two people and anything from 5 – 10 will hear about the bad experience.

Well, I’m here to turn that around. I had a great experience at Ravintola Motti earlier this week. The head chef I’ve known for the past 6 years (his daughter and Mr. 12 have been classmates during that time) and he’s also known from TV appearances. Before that, Risto has been a great  contributor to our class events! Guaranteed, if we arrange for everyone to bring a plate, his plates are always empty first. For a little taste of Risto, you can find his blog (in Finnish) here.

So, my colleague K and I had a girls night out. Well, not really. We spent the whole night talking. I was home by 22:00 (10 pm). (Come on!  it was a school night).

The food was sublime. Swede Cappuccino with this fantastic fennel foam. Potato macaroni and a white current dipping sauce. Crab ice-cream for K and a reindeer roulade for me. Melt in the mouth stuff. Beetroot and chévre mini tartlets. Beetroot is one of my favourite vegetables and I will eat it whenever it’s on the menu. Tarte Tatin for dessert, with creamiest apple ice-cream I’ve ever tasted. This is Finnish food at it’s best. Silvio Berlusconi  and Jacques Chirac were mistaken. Badly.

The table setting was simple, classic crockery and glassware. The bathrooms are really cool without being ‘too cool’. The service was attentive, the wine was paired very well and I’m sure I know the head waitress from somewhere. Two days later and I’m none the wiser. It will come to me eventually.

I like open kitchens.  Even though it was a quiet night, the kitchen noises weren’t loud or disturbing during service and we could go to say thank you and farewell to Risto and his team.

One of my favourite finnish words is suosittelen or I recommend. Absolutely I recommend! As Molly Meldrum was in the habit of saying: ‘do yourself a favour’ and check this place out. One day when I’m free in the middle of the day I’m going to check out the lunch offering.

PS: Remember my two little words post from earlier in the week. Well, Ravintola Motti will get one of my cards too!

Election time is looming…

In two weeks time we go to the polls for round one of the Presidential elections! This is the first time I’m able to vote in the Presidential elections, second time to go to the polls (we had parliamentary elections last April). The presidential term is 6 years long. My first visit to Finland coincided with the inauguration of Finland’s first female president. She was re-elected in 2006, and as I wasn’t voting, I didn’t really follow the candidates so closely. This time I’ve been following the media coverage, and this afternoon finally sat down to do a little research. I’ll put up more in a separate post – who the candidates are and what the president means to Finland. There are some interviews in English that I’ll try to post also.

The rest of the weekend has been very domestic. One of the book club members sent a link for an apartment in our complex that was for sale. The Engineer and I looked at the photos and decided that we should do some furniture rearrangement! Now the desk has turned 90 degrees, the dining table has moved into a window corner and the plants shifted to the right. This morning felt a little odd sitting so close to the window sipping my tea.

Friday was Epiphany and a holiday here in Finland. I visited the office for some quiet work time and managed to buy some last-minute dinner ingredients from the supermarket. Previously, Epiphany has been a day of no shopping. However there have been great improvements in shopping hours. The large influx of Russian tourists celebrating their new year helps.

Friday night is traditionally ‘good food night’ at our place. As The Engineer is off at the shipyard this weekend, I invited girlfriend ‘A’ to dinner. ‘A’ has lived as many years in Australia as I have lived in Finland, so we have plenty to talk about. Mr. 12 watched Mr. Popper. Jim Carey & the penguins – recommended, although Mr. 12 correctly predicted the ending. A K3 rating guarantees that some of life’s harsh realities are given kid glove treatment! Anyway, back to the food: mustard chicken with spinach and good old-fashioned mashed potato. Plus wine. I’m sure Saturday’s head-ache was a result of the hefty swig that went into the chicken!

Now it’s late Sunday afternoon, and we’re preparing for back to school and a new work week. Some clothes to wash, report card signed off, backpack stocked, calendar checked for appointments. The first school information evening is scheduled for this week already.

Hope you’ve had a relaxing weekend and are recharged for the new week coming! Have a good one 😎

New pages

I’ve added two new pages 🙂 What’s for dinner ?! I’ll update with my culinary efforts. Some will be pretty pedestrian and others… well you be the judge!

My other new page relates to the trip we’re undertaking in February. It’s called Once in a lifetime trip – again because, well we’re doing the same trip again! The Engineer has a work trip onboard a ship on it’s delivery voyage and family are encouraged to tag along. The crew get passengers to train on and make sure all systems are good. We get to be guinea pigs 🙂

Sandwich makers and rescuing Sunday dinner

We have one of these nifty multi-tasking sandwich makers. We bought it maybe 4 years ago at about this time of the year. 3-in-1: waffles, toasted sandwiches (toasties) and then a grill plate for baguette or pieces of meat, vegetables etc.

When I was a student the sandwich maker was a kitchen essential. Perfect for quick snacks   in between finishing studies and work, or work and playing or lazy Sunday dinners when the thought of preparing food was just too hard. As a parent, I’m not entirely convinced of their usefulness in the kitchen.

Mr. 12 would be happy eating waffles breakfast every day! My husband rolls his eyes every time the word waffle is mentioned. I like eating toasties, although I always feel bloated and ugh afterwards. I’m thinking that large amounts of melted cheese probably has a lot to do with it.

Sad to say, we have never used the third grill plate option. I have a perfectly good oven to do that. The other two plates have had their fair share of use, so I’m prepared to go out on a limb here and say it probably has paid for itself by now.

Tonight I’m scouring the web for a neutral waffle mix recipe, not sweet, not savoury. Something that I can serve under baked beans or raspberry jam or honey and lemon.

Tonight it’s all about an easy dinner, it’s been a long week and the upcoming one is shaping up to be more of the same.

Enjoy your Sunday evening 😉