A Little Bite of Finland

Remember that Finnish cheese I told you about, Juustoleipä? I snacked on it every day while I was there and I knew I’d miss it once I got back home. Of course, this is New York City, a place where you can find pretty much anything, and this is the age of Google.

I turns out there’s a company out of Wisconsin that makes Finnish style “Bread Cheese.” So last weekend I paid a visit to New York City’s Mecca of cheese, Murrays, to pick some up.

Tytti, my Finnish colleague, had mentioned the cheese to me before my trip, which was what prompted me to try it. It’s common in Finland to eat this cheese warmed with some kind of fruit preserve so Tytti had recently made my recipe for Strawberry Balsamic Sauce to pair with Juustoleipä. Of course now that I had the cheese in my own kitchen I had to try it!

The cheese itself was wonderful with that same great texture I’d come to love, but I’d say the flavor was slightly milder. This may be all in my head because nothing ever tastes as good as when you’re on vacation or it may be because in Finland Juustoleipä is often made with Reindeer milk and obviously it’s American counterpart is made with Cow’s milk. The Bread Cheese definitely sated my cravings thought and I’d definitely buy it again.

Once I heated it in a pan for a couple of minutes and paired it with the sauce though, it really elevated the whole thing. I loved home the tartness of the sauce cut through the creaminess of the cheese and the basil I’d torn on top added a certain freshness. Delish!

Apparently Bread Cheese is made by a few companies in the US, some of whom call it Juusto, and it’s not all that difficult to find. If you see some near you I’d highly recommend picking some up and giving it a taste.

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N is for… Nigeria; Through Every Fault of My Own

Hello

Nigerian Flag

Last week I was tired. Tired and lazy and forgetful. Without a doubt the worst part of vacation is the part where you have to return to real life which has, shockingly, continued along in your absence. On the one hand last week I was busy playing catch up; on the other hand I was wistfully longing to be back on vacation.

I had picked up some great looking eggplant at the farmer’s market on Thursday. I threw in a green pepper for color and decided to grab some carrots too and I’d make a nice saute with herbs and spices to have a hearty vegetarian week. I forgot to get the carrots. FAIL

I’d serve my hearty, now carrot-less, vegetable saute with my Nigerian recipe, Jollof rice as in my research I’d learned that the dish is served with either chicken, mixed seafood or just vegetables. I didn’t pick up any fresh ginger, but I could just use the ground. FAIL

Even though I had little success leaving my hot peppers whole in my Haitian dish, I just was not in the mood to get out rubber gloves so I decided to just cut a few slits in the peppers and throw them in. This time it would be better because I’d be throwing them in boiling liquid. FAIL

Ok so last week was not my finest, but I promise you that I plan on coming back strong soon!

Vegetarian Joloff Rice

  • Neutral flavored oil for sauteing (peanut is traditional, but because of my nut allergy I used vegetable)
  • 1 medium onion; roughly chopped
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes; roughly chopped
  • 1 6oz can tomato paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1-2 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero peppers (don’t be a wuss like I was, cut them in half first)
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 32oz low sodium vegetable broth

In large pot, heat oil. Add onions and saute 2-3 minutes until onions just begin to soften. Then add tomatoes and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have softened and started to break down. Add tomato paste.

Stir in salt, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

Using an immersion (stick) blender or transferring to a regular blender, puree until smooth.

Toss in rice and stir to coat with tomato mixture. Add hot peppers and broth, stir.

Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until the rice has absorbed the liquid and is fully cooked.

Love love love my immersion blender!

FINAL VERDICT: C

While I admit that much of went wrong with this recipe was my own fault, most of the recipes I saw out there weren’t that much more exciting than this. I definitely should’ve cut the peppers because the dish ended up having no heat and I actually sprinkled some cayenne in to it after the fact. I also should’ve used one less tomato and a bit more ginger.

Many believe that Jollof rice is the grandfather of jambalaya, a dish that I love, but other than the use of rice and tomatoes I didn’t see (or taste) much of a resemblance. Honestly even if I make all those tweaks I listed above, I can’t imagine this dish ever being more than just ok. It’s just not that exciting.

With the eggplant and peppers mixed in.

Bon Appetit!

Hoboken Pilsener Haus & Biergarten

I hate Hoboken

Hoboken is absolutely awful

Last night I journeyed to the depths of hell

Last night I made my way out to Hoboken to see my friend Karen. To say that Hoboken is not my scene would be putting it mildly. The only thing that could possibly get me there is Karen, who, for those of you who know Hoboken, sticks out like a sore thumb there as she does not work in Finance and has interests other than making as much money as possible during the week while still acting as crude and immature as a college kid on the weekends by getting as drunk as humanely possible, throwing up, hooking up and then not remembering any of it the next day. Karen is actually the polar opposite of that which is why she’s the one and only thing I actually like about Hoboken.

Karen took me to the new(ish) Hoboken Pilsener Haus & Biergarten, which was really nice. (Hoboken actually has really great restaurants, it’s just the patrons that kill it.)

Beer

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We split the pretzel to start.

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For the main course Karen had the Chicken Paprikash

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And I had the Beef Goulash.

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So much like a flower can grow through trash, even in a place like Hoboken if you have great friends, good food and beer; a great night is assured.

The NoMad

So I’ve been back from Europe for a couple of days now and I’m just playing catch up. I wish I could tell you that I love being back to reality, but I don’t. Send me back on vacation any time!

Anyway, the Saturday before I left for my trip we celebrated my dad’s birthday at The NoMad, the hot new restaurant in The NoMad hotel. We’d been wanting to try it for some time and when I found out my friend Thomas, who I know from his time at another of my favorite restaurants, was now the Wine Director at NoMad I was even more excited.

Of course, as always, I’d called ahead to let the kitchen know about my allergies. After we were seated our waiter assured me that he and the kitchen were both aware of my needs and would have no problem accommodating me. Unfortunately, when I asked after Thomas I found out that he was out giving a lecture and wouldn’t return until much later in the evening. Oh well, that just means I’ll have to make another visit to NoMad!

I always check the online menu’s of any restaurant I’m going to because it gets me even more excited. I noticed on The NoMad’s cocktail menu they also serve “soft cocktails.” I love the concept because of course some people don’t drink (generally people who I have nothing on common with…) and it’s nice to have something special for those guests. Generally the only soft drinks I enjoy are water, milk and black tea, having never developed a taste for most others, but when I noticed the Basil-Fennel “Soda” on the menu, a mix of basil, fennel, lemon and sparkling water; I knew I had to try it!

Tart and delicious, but don’t worry I drank plenty of wine too!

When the waiter brought over our menus, he let me know that the kitchen would be happy to make a modification to any items on the menu, for example omitting the cherries from the pork dish or the beans from the lobster. Score! I love it when restaurants are so accommodating because I’m not being picky, I have a health issue.

After we ordered we were presented with a warm loaf of rustic bread with zucchini on top and the waiter assured me it was safe for me. Heavily flavored with rosemary, the bread was pure comfort on a plate (well wooden cutting board, but you get what I mean).

For my appetizer I ordered the Tagliatelle with King Crab Meyer Lemon and Black Pepper.

As soon as the dish was placed in front of me the amazing scent of meyer lemons wafted up to my nose. The crab was plump and sweet which paired perfectly with the acidity of the lemon and the spice of the pepper. My dad had the same appetizer and we both agreed that it was perfection.

My choice for main course had me at hello, Bone Marrow Crusted Filet Mignon! Of course I ordered it medium rare and waited for the magic to happen. When it arrived I was not disappointed. The steak was cooked perfectly and the richness of the marrow was cut by just the right amount of garlic. The dish was served on a bed of whipped potatoes that felt like silk on your tongue and one of my favorite elements of the dish were the green onions that were served whole, roots and bulb and all, and pan fried crisp. I have a weird relationship with mushrooms, not usually loving the “fancy” kind, but even the mushrooms in this dish were great.

When it came time to order dessert I reminded the waiter again of my allergies which is an important tip. Remember that the people making and plating your desserts are rarely the same as those preparing the main meal. The waiter assured me he’d check with the kitchen again and wouldn’t bring anything unless it was absolutely safe for me. Yeah!

Feeling confident I ordered the Strawberry Shortcake with Lemon Foam and Strawberry Sorbet because once I see the word strawberry I never feel the need to look further. I don’t really know how you can go wrong with strawberry shortcake and this one was top flight. Perfectly tart strawberries, buttery flaky biscuits and airy lemon foam with just a touch of sweetness.

As usual I forgot to take a picture of dessert before digging in. The problem is I’m usually tipsy by the time dessert arrives.

The verdict:
Food rating: A+
Service/food allergy accommodations: A
Overall rating: OMG

Helsinki: Day 4

Well tomorrow morning I say goodbye to Helsinki. This is one cool city and I’ve really enjoyed my time here. Believe it or not I did do a lot more than just eat, but this is a food blog so that’s what I took time to talk about. Maybe when I get home and have time to concentrate I’ll post non-food pictures.

One of the nicest food related places I visited was Eat & Joy market which carries local organic foods in their 3 locations in Helsinki.

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The food I’ll miss most when I leave will most certainly be Juustoleipä, bread cheese, which I snacked on every day that I was here. It has a similar texture to Halloumi in that it squeaks on the teeth and, though I wasn’t able to try it warmed, it’s often served heated as like Halloumi it doesn’t melt. Unlike Halloumi it has a sort of creaminess to it reminiscent of fresh mozzarella and it’s not salty, but instead a bit sweet. Also because it’s baked it has these little charred bits that add a whole other layer of flavor.

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Finally today I took a ride on the Spårakoff, the pub tram. It’s literally a one car tram that’s been converted into a mobile bar so you ride in a loop around Helsinki taking in the city sights while drinking a nice cold beer. Definitely a great idea.

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Helsinki is an incredibly cool city and I’ll definitely miss it when I leave. Kiitos Helsinki!

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Helsinki: Day 3

A Finnish colleague at work, Tytti (Toot-tee) who is currently based out of Sweden, asked me if I’d like her to try and find some Finnish company for me one night in Helsinki. Of course I said yes as one of my favorite things to do while traveling is to meet locals. So tonight I met up with Tytti’s friend Juha (Yoo-ha) a fellow foodie who works in the restaurant industry. Juha made wonderful company and he took me to for a fantastic dinner at Kuurna restaurant which serves traditional Finnish food with a modern twist.

Both the food and company were great! Generally when I travel I can be very nervous about my food allergies, but Juha had called ahead to let them know and at the start of the meal the owner came out to talk to us and was clearly well equipped to handle my needs.

If you ever travel to Helsinki add Kuurna to your to do list.

Spinach “crepes” with black currant vinaigrette. Creamy on the inside, crispy in the outside with a slight tartness from the currants.

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Oven baked white fish with salsa verde. Wow! The fish had a sort of smokey flavor and was just so fresh. All the vegetables tasted like summer and sunshine.

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Dessert. O!M!G! Strawberry milkshake. I’m not generally a fan of milkshakes in the US because I think they’re usually way too think and cloyingly sweet. This, however, was my perfect dessert. You know that strawberries are my favorite food on the planet and this dessert was all about highlighting the flavor. The “milkshake” was smooth and creamy without being too thick. I could eat (ok drink) this dessert every day of my life!

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Helsinki: Day 2

Run Run Rudolph! You can’t be in Finland and not try Reindeer meat…

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I spent some time in Market Square before heading by boat over to Suomenlinna Island. The square is filled with farm stands and outdoor stalls selling fresh cooked fish and potatoes. It smelled delicious and I was sorry I’d already eaten.

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The day was capped off with a house beer at the Suomenlinna Island Brewery.

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