For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

March 22, 2011

    The Mayo That Raped The Tonnato

A week ago my Dad came to visit me. Because my home is by now known as probably one of the best restaurant in town, I knew that my Dad expected to have a delicious meal together with me and my flatmates on the first evening. Once again, like always, I was banging my head against the wall to come up with something that I haven't already served him on some other occasion. Fortunately, I had it narrowed down to a pork fillet mignon that my flatmate had in the freezer. That's something I find very helpful, putting limits on my food related ideas, otherwise there's a very high risk of me sailing off into the wilderness of the wonderful world of tastes, never to be seen again.

So there I was with 500g of pork fillet mignon. What to do with it? Marinading it and cooking it in the oven – been there done that. Cutting it up to steaks and simply frying them in a pan with a tasty sauce – not exiting enough. Now what? No ideas? That's not possible. Think woman, think! A trick that I often use when I'm out of ideas of my own is that I take a trip down culinary memorylane and teleport myself to some of the exquisite Italian trattorias I've had the enormous privilege of getting acquainted with. Now, the essential idea with a trattoria is that the food is honest, simple,traditional and regional. There's no point in going fishing further than the sea, as we say in Finland. That's my kind of thinking right there! Use what you have, use what the season you're in gives you, don't overdue it, make food with love and care e basta!

A dish that I simply adore and that You can almost always get in a Piedmontese trattoria is Vitello Tonnato or Vitel Tonnà in Piedmontese dialect. I'm sure it's an Italian antipasto classic that needs no further introduction, but to make sure that none of You continue living Your lives after reading this post without knowing what it is, I feel that I owe it to my Piedmontese kitchen adventures to describe this mouthwatering cold veal appetizer with a few sentences. Alright, I admit that when You read “cold veal” it might not turn You on that much. My bad. Let me put it in another way. As all Italian dishes, also Vitello Tonnato is prepared with heaps of love and care from only and I mean only out of fresh ingredients. This dish like many others should be done at least a day in advance. Vitello, the piece of veal is first marinated in white vine. It is then braised along with the marinade until fully cooked. After that the veal is left to cool down and then cut into thin slices. Nothing fancy pansy, nothing complicated, simply a nice piece of veal with perfectly matching seasoning. Tonnato stands for the creamy tuna mayonnaise sauce/paste that is poured and spread on top of the veal slices. A splash of extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, capers, salt and pepper sprinkled on top... Buonissimo! The ready made dish can refrigerate for a period up to a week to fully develop the exact right flavor.

By now You're probably thinking that what has a piece of veal got to do with my pork fillet mignon, right? You think I forgot my point with my story getting all excited describing an Italian antipasto. Not entirely, even though I feel I got a bit carried away. Any way, thanks to my personal kitchen God Jamie, I decided to make a pork tonnato instead. Perfect, I thought! Pork is as good as veal, isn't it? Alright it's not, but still, why not, so I went for it. With Jamie's back-up I did everything accordingly. I felt confident and knew exactly how the tuna paste ought to taste like. Because I wanted to show off a bit to my Dad, I even decided to make my own mayonnaise. Plus I hate the dreadful and nasty ready made mayonnaise found in supermarket. That stuff is so packed with additives and other bullshit that I wouldn't even go anywhere near it. It was also the perfect opportunity to try out my Brother's mayo recipe that he taught me a few weeks ago. Besides, I've always thought that people exaggerate the challenge and difficulty of making homemade mayo. I've done it a few times and it was really a piece of cake.

As I knew how delicious and close to perfection my Brother's mayo recipe is, I of course started bragging about it and my mayo making skills to boost the excitement level and tingle everyone's taste buds. “I mean, seriously, why on earth would anyone buy ready made, industrial mayo?! It's so easy to make it yourself and it's so much better. If you have to eat mayo than make it yourself...” I said, lifting my right eyebrow with an overconfident sneer.

One hour, SIXTEEN eggs and one litre of oil later, I was as low as low gets. By then I had made a few emergency phone calls to my beloved Brother: “Why is this happening to me? Why? I don't understand? Is this a conspiracy? I did everything right!”. Yes, very dramatic indeed. It sure was. The mayo simply didn't thicken up! I started over and over again and every time I ended up with this thin greasy liquid thing. The kitchen was a mess. A real crime scene of a violent egg massacre. I was devastated and tormented. Of course my Dad was sitting there trying to comfort me: “I'm sure it still tastes good...”. I guess I don't need to tell You what I answered to that, do I? Time was running out and my Dad was getting hungrier minute by minute. Even my flatmates started to walk around restlessly in the kitchen in the hopes of having dinner sometime soon. Usually people are smart enough to avoid stepping into the kitchen when I've screwed up soemthing. They know that it's best to just leave me there alone banging plates and pans in my frustration... So now what? 1. Serve the raped tonnato or 2. Call off the dinner and send my Dad and my flatmates to the pizzeria next door. Where's the third option when I need one? Merde!

I decided to try one more egg and hope for the best. I knew that once you get one egg going you can add some of the failed mayo liquid little by little and it should thicken up. It didn't really look like it should, but at least it wasn't totally liquid and it tasted like mayo. So I gave up (something I never do) and mixed the wannabe mayo with the tuna to prepare the tonnato. It looked like the real thing, but I knew it wasn't even close. Filled with shame I poured the tuna paste on top of the pork slices. When I called my dinner guests to the table I felt like crying. I was mortified! I didn't even want to taste it myself, it would've been so wrong. Luckily only one of my flatmates had tasted Vitello Tonnato before and even he was a good sport eating everything that was served to him.

After the dinner, I still wasn't over my mayo misery. I decided that I wouldn't stop googling before getting to the bottom of it. I checked all dos and don'ts, but I couldn't find anything that could've explained my failure. I was sure that it had to be some very easy and small detail. Something so evident that it must've just slipped my mind. And then I found it: “Make sure the yokes aren't cold. Take the eggs out on the fridge a few hour before.” What an idiot I had been! Of course! That's basics!

March 11, 2011

Family Food Loving

  • 1 chef big brother
  • 1 gourmande little sister
  • 3 plastic bags filled with fresh products
  • 2 bottles of full-bodied red wine
  • 3 empty bellies

    Mix all ingredients well. Make sure the wine glasses are filled at all times. Leave to simmer in a well equipped kitchen for 4 hours. Remember to forget all worries. Prepare with care and respect. Serve with loads of love and joy!

Impossible is truly nothing when me and my Brother step into a kitchen together and let the collaboration begin. Going on strong since more then ten years now, an intensive cooking session has become a ritual every time we meet up. When we're done, pans and casseroles still pipping hot, the masterpiece steaming on the table and no clean inch to be found in the kitchen, we're like two warriors in slow motion in a war movie standing high and tall with a few cuts on our fingers, bleeding slightly, but still fully invincible with some dramatic classical serenade playing in the background. Get the picture?

This time was very special though. It was the first time Siblings Salminen Magic was to take place at my Brother's and his fiancé's brand new house they had bought a few months ago. As a Christmas present they got me the tickets to come and visit them. I accepted their invitation with utmost respect and gratitude. My first attempt to get there backfired though due to a heavy snow storm three weeks earlier. Now that I finally would be going, I had to make sure that my bag would be packed with special treats and goodies. Unfortunately, my Empty Wallet Syndrome just keeps on getting worse, so I really had to challenge my creativity or alternatively seek for sponsors for this amazing occasion. I decided to do both.

I already knew one crucial element on my list of goodies: red wine. I think I stepped in front of the “SEK100 - och up” section at the Systembolaget (Swedish alcohol store) with purchasing purposes for the first time. What an amazing feeling! This was where the sponsor would come in, I decided. Without hesitations and with great pride, I picked a 2005 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. Perfetto! Heading to the cashier, even though I knew I had the backing of generous sponsor, I still felt chills going down my spine. When I inserted my bank card into the pay machine, only one thing was to be said: ouch!

Next stop: The Market Hall – Cheese Section – to give You the exact location. I had high hopes of buying the exact same cheeses that I had carefully selected and bought for the failed weekend three weeks ago. In the hopes of doing so, I gave the cheese man my best smile and most loving eyes – as if it would somehow make a difference. By now, he was surely aware of my almost exaggerated love for food, so I saw on his face that the bad news he was about give me would crush me. Before he uttered a word, a painful cry-out from the bottom of my heart echoed in the hall. How could my goody bag possible be complete without the little, stinky and feisty French Roccamadour, the velvety and sensual Italian Robiola and the rare and pungent Swiss cave aged Weissensteiner? I had to get centred and be more creative. Apparently the Universe thought that it was way too easy for me to repeat the same idea, so it pushed me to come up with something different. Thank You Universe, I appreciate it! I apologized for my dramatic reaction at the cheese counter, made a stupid joke and ran off to realize the new idea already building up inside my head. As I was still kind of stuck in the Turkish cuisine mode due to the baklava that almost killed me, I sought inspiration from the photos my Turkish friend showed me as to get me more acquainted with Turkish food. Sarma! Yes! I remembered seeing brined vine leaves at the Arabic food store. Home made sarma a.k.a vine leaf rolls, yes, yes, yes! My Brother would love that!

When I got home, a Finnish friend of mine was there with my flatmate. When she heard me come in, she ran to me and pulled something out from her bag... I bursted into a joyful cry. Leipäjuusto! I had totally forgotten that I had ordered the biggest slice of the amazing Finnish “bread cheese” knowing that she would be in Finland for a couple of days. Now for those of You who aren't familiar with this Finnish squeaky cheese, I simply have to enlighten You because it's one of the rare Finnish specialities that I'm extremely fond of. It's a type of fresh cheese traditionally made from cow's beestings – the rich milk from a cow that has recently calved. Reindeer or even goat milk can also be used. It has a wonderful golden brown skin because it's actually oven baked. The taste is very light and soft, kind of like mozzarella, but still totally different. The structure is gummier and more flexible. Nowadays it's rare that leipäjuusto is home made as it's easy to find a pretty decent leipäjuusto at any super market in Finland. Leipäjuusto fried in cream and served with cloudberry jam simply makes one speechless. Into the goody bag the leipäjuusto went.

To finalize my goody bag, I poured some of the Pink Himalaya salt that I got for Christmas from my Dad into a little plastic bag. Sharing is Caring. Excellent! Now I was all set for the journey. Friday came. A flight to Stockholm, another flight to Sundsvall and before I knew it I felt my brother's strong and loving embrace. Heaven on Earth! After a quick chat about the latest, our conversation turned into a friendly debate on food. With my bag filled with goodies we headed to the supermarket to complete the menu.

Back home my Brother's fiancé was already waiting for us (and the food). After squeezing her tight, the first out of many cooking sessions began. I pulled the vine leaves and immediately caught my Brother's attention. A thing that both me and my Brother love about cooking is to try something totally new and go for it “blind folded”. (Of course internet is always there as a back-up in case things slip out of control.) Even though I was slightly out of my comfort zone as I hesitantly opened the vine leaf package, I felt brave and well prepared for the challenge having my Brother watching over my shoulder.

Another thing I love when trying out new recipes, is the tranquillity and calm I feel when I'm preparing something completely unknown. One would think it's the exact opposite, but not for me. Normally I'm the crazy, all over the place maniac, knowing my way around the kitchen by heart in the organized mess, throwing, smashing and mixing stuff as I go. I'm always very concentrated and I often seem pissed off and extremely stressed out. When I'm on unfamiliar culinary soil, I observe, feel, sense, taste, smell and touch all the precious ingredients in a whole different manner. Sometimes in these situations I even catch myself having my tongue sticking out from the corner of my mouth, exactly as I used to have it when I was a kid carefully colouring in my colouring book and making sure I stay inside the lines. So, there I was, under my Brother's watching eyes, carefully and delicately handling the fragile vine leaves, gently moulding the stuffing so as to fit perfectly in the rolls. It moved me the way the shimmering, drab-ish, dark olive green leaf with the help of my hands enfolded the filling. The filling, so soft and easily harmed was all safe and secure inside the protecting and juicy vine leaves. Simply beautiful. I placed the rolls one by one, side by side in a pan along with some butter and water. My Brother had heated up the old school wooden-heated stove specially for the occasion. Magnificent!

And once again, the hardest part, the waiting, was ahead. At that point we were all three like cats on hot bricks, hungry as hell. Something had to be done! We needed a teaser, a little appetizer, something to put off the burning hunger and craving for sarma. I had totally and utterly forgotten that I had prepared a mouthwatering, exquisite ceviche a few hours earlier. BINGO! What a wonderful thing to discover something forgotten! Like finding money (or a banana) in the pocket of an old coat! Ceviche on table, fork in hand, fresh and spicy fish in mouth, FOODGASM straight up! When there were no more salmon pieces swimming in the delicious lime marinade, I just had to grab the bowl between my two hand and take a sip. I couldn't possible let it go to waste. I have to admit, I felt a bit ridiculous after drinking the ceviche juice, but it was so worth it!

And it I assure You, it only got better. The climax of the meal was yet to come. Before I knew it, my Brother brought the steaming sarma on the table. “Dig in!” he commanded. And oh boy, I sure did! It was lovely, perfect and scrumptious! The filling was juicy, spicy and refreshing all at once. Of course the flavours only maximized when the rolls cooled down and sucked it the juices in the pan.
Nevertheless, nothing could top one thing: I got the biggest satisfaction when I saw my Brother's eyes closing, his happy face, and his pouting lips as he savoured my creation. After all, he's my absolute truth, my oracle, my source of inspiration. If my Brother likes my food, my mission is accomplished.

Like Brother Like Sister