entertainment on summer nights
The heat is really on, up here in the north of the world. For awhile now the temperatures has been rising from upper 30's to lower 40's in Celsius (that would be up to 108 Fahrenheit, and without air-conditioning!!) in Oslo. And when it is that hot, I loose appetite, and the last thing I want to do, is turn my stove or oven on, to heat up my home even more. But the warm evenings are inviting and lovely, perfect time to sit with family and friends in your garden, porch, or terrace and enjoy life.
On the evenings like this, my go-to solution is tapas. Tapas is a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks, and the origin comes from Spain, but there is no limits with the serving options, except our imagination. You can serve it as an appetizer, or make a full meal out of it. You can make a plated presentation for a sit down meal, serve it family style all gathered around the table, or set a buffet and let your guests stroll around, enjoy the evening, company, and delicious food.
I love putting together Prosciutto or Jamón Serrano ham, Chorizo sausage, and Sopressa Italian aged salami, on the meat platter. On the cheese tray I often put Manchego (firm cheese from the milk of sheep), Morbier (a semi-soft cows' milk cheese), and a good aged Brie (soft cow's milk cheese, unpasteurized in Europe). A mixed baby-green salad with arugula & Balsamic vinegar on the side is great addition, as well as choice of mixed olives, cut bell peppers, grapes, apple and/or pear slices, jellies made for cheese, nuts, honey, and pickled almost anything, and not forgetting a great selection of fresh bread -- and I have my table full of choices, colors, and tastes.
As you see, I'm very liberal with the selection of foods, and not containing it in Spanish cuisine nearly at all. So the choices and selection you put together is endless. If you have a grill for use or want to cook something, marinated chicken skewers, strip cut entrecôte after grilling, small spicy meatballs, potato wedges, new potatoes in a tomato sauce, marinated grilled vegetables, or spiced up file of fish, are just some ideas to prepare. Also, for example, a craw fish or shrimp salad, light pasta salad with pesto or other oil based marinade are great additions to the table.
So let your imagination run wild, put together a lovely combination of your favorites, set a big table outside on a warm summer evening, and invite your friends over for a delicious and pleasant evening. Voilà!
a little hole in the wall
Sometimes you get the best food experience in a restaurant, when you don't look at the outside appearance, but go by the word of month recommendation. I've lived this to be true in Rome, in Paris, and beginning of this month in Helsinki, Finland.
We had a table recervation at the place where my sister had eaten before, and told us the pizza was great. We, my borther and I, were a bit sceptic when we saw the place, but followed through.
From the door we were greeted by one happy Italian -- across the whole restaurant: "Reservation? How many? What name?" Ummmh, okay, all we could do was laugh.
We got a table right underneath the bar, or at least that's how it felt. There were laughing Italian men working in the kitchen, hanging over the bar, talking, living... It was obvious, this wasn't one of those restaurants that advertize to be Italian, and then is just trying to be one -- this was the real deal.
Everything in the restaurant was Italian, so we started with Procecco. Odered some nice Chianti and personal size, true Italian pizzas all around. Now, the pizza I wanted had 9 different ingredients. Out of the 9 I wasn't so found of three, and for a little time considered to ask to drop them from my pizza. Thankfully I didn't, since the combination of all nine was heavenly, one of the best pizzas I've ever had.
And here is the thing when eating out and selecting from the menu. On most accasions, there has been a group of profeccionals working and perfecting the combinations of tastes on the plate. They have put their skills, knowledge, experience, and possible education, all in line, and delivered the menu. Of course we don't all like everything, allergies etc play into the picture, but next time you sit in a restaurant and consider 'writing your own ticket', remember that the people who wrote the menu put the incredients together for a reason: harmony in taste and your enjoyment.
We ended our meal with Tiramisu. It was served in a glass, obviously been prepared in a big form, and portioned out of there with a spatula. No finesse, no play with presentaion, just the best tasting Tiramisu of my life. Yes. The best.
So next time you are out travelling, and you see a tiny little 'hole in the wall' restaurant full of people, step in, you might just have found the best tasting food in town!
SEASONAL & DELIGHTFUL
A week ago my cousin and I went to a restaurant called Solna, in Helsinki Finland, for a dinner. It is a nice 'white linen tablecloth' kind of place. For three years the restaurant was recommended by the Michelin guide, but they lost that recommendation this year, because of the pricing, said the waitress.
We both ordered the 'asparagus menu' with the wine package, and wanted to start the evening off with a glass of bubbly, after all, we were celebrating.
The first two courses we were served were beautiful and tasty. The first course was an asparagus soup, the main course Asparagus Hollandaise with crispy parma ham and melon. Very traditional and flavorful.
The dessert, Quark pannacotta with rhubarb was nice, seasonal, but a bit too bitter. They had worked with the presentation, but it was lacking color.
I believe dessert is the most important course of the meal that is often a bit overlooked (and that isn't only because my first love was baking and pastries, and nor course I hold a pastry chef degree). Dessert is the last thing you are eating during the meal. To leave a great, uplifting memory from the meal, it has to stand out, be something extravagant. If the feast hasn't been that great before dessert, it can save you. If the meal has been superb before, like we had in Solna, and then the dessert is a bit 'just there' - it will let the whole experience down. Just a little tip for when you plan a dinner party at home.
The wines we were served with the meal complemented every course in harmonious ways. Sometimes a pre-set wine package can have one wine, that you don't care for, but in Solna that wasn't the case. Great paring of lovely wines.
The server we had, had a great knowledge of the food and wines she delivered. She was personable, and knew her profession well. And she was fast. At the beginning, we had barely started with the aperitif, when the first wine was introduced, and shortly after that the first warm course arrived.
After we finished eating the soup, and were still enjoying the wine served with it, the second wine arrived. The waitress told us we were slow drinkers, to which we laughed and asked if we can get it in writing to our moms. But the truth is, as a customer, you can ask the waitstaff to slower your service. Tell them at the beginning that you want to eat with time, if that is the case. Often with wine package, they don't serve full glasses, but if the restaurant you are eating in does that (you can ask when ordering the package) you can tell to 'slow down' in complimentary way 'we want to enjoy the taste and time', so you don't end up with several different glasses of wine in front of you, or you don't feel pressured to drink faster than you would, to keep the pace of the service. Because the point of the meal is for you to have great, enjoyable, memorable time, not to keep up with the service.
Overall the evening in Solna was delightful, and I warmly recommend the restaurant, if you ever happen to Helsinki, Finland. Just tell the knowledgeable waitstaff to, well, wait, if necessary.
When we eat at a restaurant, we remember the event for different reasons: for the company we had, for the service we received, the ambiance, or the taste of the food. If we are lucky, we get to experience it all on one sitting!
Last summer, yes a year ago, I got just so lucky when I went to eat with my brother on Pure Bistro in Helsinki, Finland.
Picture it: beautiful summer day and an outside terrace on lovely courtyard. It was at end of the lunch rush on a Saturday, and we managed to get a table there. It was a bit pricey, as most restaurants close to tourist places are. We both ended up ordering the same thing:
Blueberry risotto with goat-cheese.
Yes, I know -- I ordered it just to see how the tastes would work together!
And it was lovely, I still remember the creamy taste...
The base was just basic white wine risotto, where at the end was added goat-cheese so that it had melted. On top of the serving there was a sprinkle of fresh, whole blueberries, roasted, halved sun-dried cherry tomatoes, springs of thyme, and few shavings of Parmesan cheese.
Compliments to the chef to capturing such a taste, that I still treasure it, a year after.