Bratislava, Slovak wine country and Vienna

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Bratislava’s beautiful Old Town, close to the decently good and well located Crowne Plaza Bratislava where I stayed.

Last weekend I visited the Slovak capital of Bratislava. I’ve been wanting to visit the city for quite a while, and finally it was time. The easiest way to get there, at least from Stockholm, is to fly to Vienna in Austria, situated about 70 kilometers from Bratislava. Bratislava actually have its own airport, but there aren’t that many flights, and no direct ones from Stockholm. So instead we flew Austrian Airlines, which was a nice airline with free drinks and friendly staff.


Bratislava castle. The Bratislava weather in mid September was in the high 20’s Celcius with about 28-29 degrees and great clear blue skies.

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Bryndzové Halušky is the national dish of Slovakia and consists of gnocchi like potato dumplings served in a creamy sauce of bryndza sheep’s cheese. The dish is additionally topped with fried bacon and in our case chives. A surprisingly delicious dish. We tried it at Zylinder restaurant in central Bratislava that was very nice.

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The second day we went to L’Olive at the five star Arcadia Hotel. This was supposed to be the highlight of the trip, but unfortunately the food was quite bad. It tasted like it had been kept warm for a couple of hours, and the experience was borderline disaster even though the staff were friendly, the wine good and the restaurant itself nice. But it all comes down to the food for me, and it wasn’t good, at all.

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One day we took a day trip to the small city of Modra in the foothills of the “Small Carpahtian” mountain range. The area is a wine region and we visited the Ludvik Winery for lunch and a wine tasting. We were also able to visit the vineyards, situated a couple of kilometers from the vineyard on a hill overlooking Modra.

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Hearty but delicious lunch at Ludvik Winery. Pumpkin puré, slow-cooked beef cheeks, vegetables and jus.


We tried five different of Ludvik’s wines. All were delicious, but the cabernet sauvignon rosé and the pinot gris were extra good. Had to buy all of them except for the grüner veltliner (also good, but not as spectacular as the others) with me home. Slovak wines were surprisingly delicious in my mind.


A quick visit to the mini-cellar at Ludvik (they have their big one outside of the winery).
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We also had time to try the delicous ice cream at Luculus in Bratislava.
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Last dinner in Bratislava. Another hearty but quite nice meal at Modra Hviezda. A large piece of deer served with purple potato mash and a cognac-caramel sauce. Not very refined, but totally edible, and a very nice atmosphere in the restaurant.

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Then a quick hop over to Vienna, Austria. A very nice thing in Vienna is that if you’re using the airport train, you can check your bags in at the train station (like in Hong Kong for instance), and then you won’t see your bag before you’re back home again. We had a couple of hours to spare before our flight from Vienna and was happy to not have to drag our bags around while exploring the Austrian capital.
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When in Vienna, eat Wienerschnitzel. We tried it at the famous Figlmüller that’s been serving up schnitzels for the last 110 years. The veal schnitzel was delicious, but I actually liked the cheaper pork schnitzel more. It was juicier and had more taste. Shame on me, I guess. The schnitzel came with no condiments, but we ordered the field potato salad that was really good.

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Another must do for me in Vienna is pastries. We had the above creation, a raspberry white chocolate cream sort of thing, and a delicious cappuccino at Vidoni, close to were the airport express leaves at Wien Mitte. It was really good and pretty much everything I hoped for in a Viennese café.

So, that was a weekend of eating in Bratislava, Slovakia and Vienna, Austria. Both were very nice cities, and I can really recommend Bratislava. Inexpensive, beautiful and easy to navigate.

The Finnish 110 year party, Ravintola Olo and Helsinki


Helsinki Cathedral in the central parts of the city.

Spent another weekend in Finland recently. The reason for the short trip was that my two aunts turned 60 and 50 years old, and thus they held a 110 year birthday party in the Finnish woods. Since the party venue lacked running water and electricity, we thought that we should start the trip the opposite way, staying at boutique hotel Klaus K in central Helsinki and have dinner at one michelin-starred Ravintola Olo.


Cosy but viewless room at Klaus K.

Above average breakfast buffet at Klaus K. Not a huge amount of food, although decent, but quality was high and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as much at a breakfast buffet before.


Time for dinner at Ravintola Olo. A very cool feature of the dinner was that our bread was already waiting for us, unbaked, raising at the table. Later on they took the raising bread to the kitchen, then returned it baked together with “country style” butter, garlic soup and a delicious Finnish craft beer. The entire dinner felt very Finnish, in a fancy restaurant sort of way. Olo was probably one of my favourite meals ever. And at just €69, the small tasting menu – the shorter way – was very worthwile. Three glasses of wine (and a glass of beer) was only €39 more. Great value for the high quality, service and ambiance.

First up was “finger food”: baby turnips with black currant leaf emulsion.


Second was semolina porridge with trumpet mushroom, quinoa and smoked reindeer heart. A very innovative dish that was so good. Great textures with silky smooth “porridge” and crunchy quinoa making a great contrast. Also very deep rich flavours from the broth, mushrooms and reindeer heart.


Pikeperch with Finnish cucumber, scales, roe and dill sauce. Again, very Finnish in a refined fine-dining way.

Hand-cut beef tartare under an egg yolk with sour cream, poppy seeds and custard seeds. The thing that looks like a ravioli is actually the egg yolk forming a thin crust around the delicious beef tartare.

Veal sweetbreads with chanterelle puré, fried chanterelles, fried kale, black currants and jus. Again, delicious flavours, although I could’ve passed on the black currants, though I understood their purpose in the dish.


The dessert was very cool: juniper, birch syrup and spruce shoots. Pretty much the taste of a Finnish forest incorporated into a dessert.

As a fin(n)ish: cake pops:y chocolate truffles on small tree sprigs. A great end to a fantastic meal. Visit if you can when in Helsinki.

Then it was on to the Finnish woods and a long night of Finnish beer, sauna, meeting relatives and enjoying the scenery.

The day after a 110 year party, you’re entitled to pig out at Finnish burger chain Hesburger. Keros Ateria or “floor menu”, their version of the big mac with fries, onion rings and garlic mayo. Good stuff.



Into the sunset during the 1 hour flight from Helsinki back to Stockholm.

Homemade spaghetti bolognese recipe


If I were to spend the rest of my life on an island, eating only one dish of my choice, it would almost certainly be a classic spaghetti bolognese. Most people are very aware of this Italian classic (although they call it ragu) and there are probably almost as many versions of this dish as there are people cooking it each day. Anyway, this is my version of spaghetti bolognese.

If I cook a bolognese or “spaghetti och köttfärssås” as we say in Sweden, during the week I usually skip both bacon, red wine and finishing butter. So feel free to do the same if you want the dish healthier or for instance without pork. This is a dish that’s almost required to be accompanied by a glass of red wine while you cook and then eat it. But only almost.

What you need (for roughly four persons)
500 grams of minced beef
1/2 package of bacon (or pancetta if you feel fancy)
2 carrots
1/2 small head of celeriac
1 onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 can of finely crushed tinned tomatoes (I usually use Mutti brand)
2 cubes of chicken stock (or substitute with your own)
3 tablespoons of dried oregano
2 teaspoons of tomato paste
Spaghetti (I usually use De Cecco or Martelli – but eg. Barilla is fine too)
Parmesan cheese
Olive oil for frying
Red wine, about a large glass

Salt
Sugar

How to cook it

1. Start with the chopping. Peel and finely slice garlic and onion. Also peel and dice the carrots and celeriac into small cubes, about the size of a pea. Slice bacon or pancetta into quite thin slices.

2. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan. Add the bacon/pancetta and let fry until browned, but not crisp. Add the beef mince to the bacon and let fry until it begins to brown as well.

3. When beef has cooked, using a different pan if possible (otherwise just add into beef pan) fry the garlic, onion, celeriac and carrots until soft.

4. If not in the same pan already, pour the fried veggies into the beef and bacon pan and add red wine, tomatoes, oregano, stock cubes and a pinch of sugar. Cover with a lid, add low heat and let simmer for 2-8 hours, occasionally stirring and adding water/wine as the sauce reduces.

5. About 15 minutes before the sauce is ready, boil the pasta in plenty of salted water. Remember to keep some of the cooking water  before draining the pasta as it is needed to finish the dish.

6. When pasta is cooked, set aside some cooking water and add a knob of butter into the meat sauce. I usually also add some extra oregano as this stage, about a teaspoon or two.

7. Add spaghetti and about half of the meat sauce into a pan together with about a deciliter of the cooking liquied. Stirr over heat until the water has reduced and the spaghetti is covered with meat sauce.

8. Serve spaghetti, with extra meat sauce on top. Of course a generous serving of Parmesan cheese is also required. A glass of red, a tasty bread and a simple salad dressed with balsamic vinegar and good quality olive oil is almost mandatory.

Enjoy my favourite dish!

Vegetarian cauliflower curry


The other day it was Monday again. Monday usually means vegetarian for me. It all started with the ‘meatless Monday’ concept a couple of years back, and then I kind of got use to eat only vegetarian (all rules with exceptions though) on Mondays. This week I felt like curry, Indian curry, and thought roasted cauliflower should work well with it. It did…

What you need
1 head of cauliflower
2 cloves of garlic
1 red onion
2-3 fresh finely chopped tomatoes or a can of tinned tomatoes
3 tablespoons of cream (or substitute with yoghurt)
1 red chilli
1-2 tablespoon each of garam masala, cumin and turmeric
Neutral cooking oil for frying (or Indian clarified butter – ghee, if you’re very ambitious)

Serve with
Fresh coriander/cilantro
Basmati rice

How to cook it

1. Start with the cauliflower. Cut it down to bite-size florets. Then slice the red onion into “half moons” and finely chop the garlic and red chilli.

2. Heat the oil in a cooking pan (I actually used a wok to get it all to fit). When the oil is quite hot, add the cauliflower florets and fry them until the are starting to brown. When that happens, reduce the heat a bit and sprinkle over half of the garam masala, turmeric and cumin.

3. Continue woking the cauliflower until the spices are starting to toast and the florets almost look charred. Then remove the cauliflower from the heat and puts in a bowl or similar, cause you’re continuing using the pan/wok.

4. Add some extra oil if needed and fry the red onion on quite low heat until it starts to brown. Then add garlic and chilli and let fry until soft, but not browned. Add the remaining garam masala, turmeric and cumin and let toast for a minute or so before you quite quickly (so it doesn’t burn) move on to next step.

5. Add the tomatoes to the onion, chilli, garlic and spices. Stirr and add some water if needed. Let simmer on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and possibly some sugar depending on how tart the tomatoes are.

6. Add cream or yoghurt to the curry, continue to simmer for a few minutes. Meanwhile, roughly chop a bunch of fresh coriander and then add that, and the now cooled roasted cauliflower florets to the curry. Let simmer for a minute more or so. Taste, and if all’s well – serve with steamed rice, and a knob of butter, if you feel that you deserve it.

Crayfish season


Above: non-traditional crayfish party spread with the addition of moules frites and garlic bread.

August in Sweden means (hopefully) dark but warm summer evenings, usually the first chanterelles (at least for me), and first and foremost: kräftor, meaning crayfish.

The crayfish season is mainly in August with a couple of jumpstarters in July and then a late season continuing into September. What happens in August is the kräftskiva which pretty much is a crayfish party. You eat crayfish, a few condiments and sidedishes. You also drink beer, schnaps, sing songs and, at least according to tradition, you wear silly pointy hats.

Being slightly allergic to shellfish I usually focus on a couple of crayfish tails as well as on the sidedishes. My favourite is the Västerbottens cheese pie, a high calorie delight comprising of aged cheese from Västerbotten in Northern Sweden not surprisingly called “Västerbottens cheese”. The pie also include onions, dough and eggs. Here is a recipe I wrote a couple of years ago.

Apart from pie you usually also find bread, I usuallt serve good quality baguettes. There should also be butter, more aged cheese (go for the Västerbottens cheese if available) and perhaps some kind of sauce. We usually make lemon mayo which goes well with the crayfish meat.

Kräftskiva is definitely one of my favourite Swedish festivities. So if you find yourself in Sweden in August, try to join one. Skål!

Spicy coconut pulled chicken


The other day I was craving beef rendang, an Indonesian dish I sampled while at Bintan Island a couple of years ago. We thought that we should try to combine the yumminess of pulled chicken with the flavours of rendang and ended up with the above. Not so rendangy as I’d hoped, so let’s call is spicy coconut pulled chicken instead.

What you need (serves 3-4)
500 grams of chicken thighs
2 shallots
2 cloves of garlic
1 stalk of lemongrass
4-5 kaffir lime leaves
ground cloves
ground cinnamon
ground cardamom
1 chilli
1 can of coconut milk
Water
Jasmin rice
Cooking oil

How to cook it

1. Start by frying the chicken thighs until browned, set aside. Slice shallots and garlic. Pound and cut the lemongrass in a couple of chunks, keep count on the number though as you’ll discard them in the end.

2. Fry garlic and shallots in the same pot as the chicken. When softened, add all of the spices and let fry on medium heat for a minute or so. Add the chicken and water so it covers the ingredients and let simmer in a stewing pot for about an hour.

3. Check the chicken, if its soft enough to be pulled, remove it from the pot, but don’t throw out the juices as the chicken’s soon going back in.

4. Pull the chicken by using two forks. It should have a stringy texture.

5. When chicken is pulled, remove any bits of cartilage, sinews or similar you don’t want to chew on, and put back in the cooking liquid in the pot.

6. Add coconut milk to the pulled chicken and reduce until almost dry. You’re done.

7. Serve, preferably with steamed jasmin rice.

Thai first class in pictures

We were most fortunate to have saved up on our Eurobonus (Scandinavian Airline’s frequent flier programme) miles last year, and using them we booked a trip that was really, really something. The trip started in Stockholm and continued on to Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Bangkok and finally Manila, Philippines, where our first stop was. We then returned home by flying from Singapore to Bangkok, Paris and finally Stockholm. Without further elaboration (if you want to find out how to do it, read up on Flyertalk.com, Businessclass.co.uk or Swedish version Businessclass.se) below are the pics and some comments from the flight. Read here about the actual trip to Manila, Boracay and Singapore.

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Early morning in Copenhagen, waiting to board Lufthansa’s flight to Frankfurt.
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Tasty breakfast in Lufthansa’s business class.
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Fast forward to Frankfurt airport and a glass of champagne in the Lufthansa Senator lounge.
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Hello spaceship seat. Thai’s A380 first class offer large seats that are converted into a bed when it’s time to pass out after the free-flowing Dom Perignon 2004.
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Decent leg room.
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Small lounge area for first class passengers. No one really used it except for us.
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This friendly guy was head of cabin on both Frankfurt-Bangkok and then Bangkok-Paris on our trip back.
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Starters. Cheese and crayfish mini sandwiches. Crayfish were good, bread a bit soggy.
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The traditional caviar serving. Very delicious.
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Without a doubt is this the best thing I’ve ever had on a plane. Lobster with linguine pasta and cream. The lobster wasn’t even remotely dry, which really surprised me. Washed down with Dom Perignon it was spectacular.
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Dessert.
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Bed’s made, time to pass out.
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After a quick change of planes in Bangkok, we boarded Thai Airways’ Boeing 777 in business class.
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Book-the-cook meal of pad krapow gai wasn’t that exciting.
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Manila, big city.
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After two and half week in Asia it was time to fly back. First up was Singapore Airlines in business class.
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Seats.
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Singapore Airlines intra Asia business class cabin on Boeing 777-200.
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Champagne (the very delicious Charles Heidsieck), water and a Singapore Sling.
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Book the cook lobster thermidor.
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Decent views.
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Thai Airways’ royal first class lounge in Bangkok.
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First class passengers have access to a complimentary 1 hour massage at Bangkok Airport. Opted for a one hour foot massage that was great.
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The first class lounge have an a la carte restaurant that serves a decent club sandwich, among others.
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Cheese platter on the Thai First leg to Paris. In general this flight was less good than the one from Frankfurt to Bangkok. No idea why, but food was mediocre and service not as good.
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Coffee and dessert.
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Went for the eggs benedict for breakfast. A quite hideous experience with eggs so hard boiled/poached that the yolks were crumbly. The hollandaise was some kind of sauce base with artificial lemon flavour, the bacon were fatty and oily, I guess the English muffin was edible. Barely though. I should’ve understood this though, eggs benedict are easy enough to mess up as it is.

All in all though, it was a fantastic experience and I’m hoping to do this as soon as I’ve saved up on the miles again. Won’t be anytime soon though I’m afraid.

Larb gai recipe


Last year I visited Thailand, and for the first time I tried the dish larb, something I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. Larb is a salad common in Northern Thailand as well as in Laos. It contains ground toasted rice and herbs and can be made with several proteins. Some use raw beef, some use pork mince, I had it with guinea fowl in a spectacular version at Nahm in Bangkok, and you could also, like me, use chicken for this fresh tasting flavour explosion of a dish. A salad in my taste.

What you need
Minced chicken/chicken chopped finely
Fresh mint leaves
Fresh coriander/cilantro
1 Green chilli (or use chilli flakes – or like I did, both)
3 stalks of spring onion (the green stuff)
2 shallots
3 deciliter of jasmine rice (get Thai long grain if possible)

For Thai salad dressing
2 limes
2-3 tablespoons of Thai fish sauce
1-2 teaspoons of caster sugar

How to cook it
1. Start with the salad dressing. Roll the whole limes for a bit against the table, this will make it easier to squeeze out the juice. Then cut limes in half and press the juice into a bowl. Add fish sauce and caster sugar. Stirr with a spoon until the sugar has dissolved.

2. Time to toast the rice. Toast a deciliter of rice in a dry pan until it’s is quite brown but not burnt. When it smells toasty it’s probably about done. Ground the rice in a blender or by using a mortal and pestle.

3. Continue with the chicken. Fry the mince or the chopped chicken until done. Set aside.

4. Roughly chop mint leaves, coriander and spring onion stalks. Finely slice the green chilli if you’re using one. Then mix everything together and pour over the dressing. Let rest for a while and then served together with steamed rice and possibly a cold beer.

Creamed mushroom soup with fried chanterelles


August is here, meaning autumn in Sweden is approaching. Fortunately, being in the final month of summer isn’t all sad, as we are able to sample autumn delicacies such as chanterelles. Today we had this delicious little mushroom in a soup and on a sandwich.

The soup is actually a mushroom soup topped with fried chanterelles since we were too cheap to buy only chanterelles (the price is approximately $30 a kilo). Anyway, here is the recipe. Serves about two persons.

What you need
About 500 grams of button mushrooms
1 onion
1 garlic clove
about 5 cls of Whiskey (or white wine, or just leave it out)
3 stock cubes, I used chicken
100 grams of Celeriac
Olive oil for frying
1 deciliter of cream
Tomato pure
Thyme
Salt
Blackpepper

How to do it
This soup is supposed to be mixed, so no need to fancy it up with nice little cubes or similar. Just peel everything and then roughly chop it.

1. As mentioned above, peel and roughly slice mushrooms, the onion, garlic and celeriac. Fry the vegetables until browned. Add the thyme, salt and pepper and stirr well.

2. Add tomato pure to an empty spot in the pan and let it roast for a little while (maybe 30 secs). Then add the whiskey/wine and use it to de-glaze the pan, eg. get all the burnt stuff in the bottom to let go. Stirr everything well once more.

3. Add water and stock cubes until it covers the vegetables. Then let simmer for about 30 minutes before you add the cream. Let reduce for a couple of minutes. Taste, and season if needed. Then remove from the heat.

4. Mix the soup in a blender or with a hand blender. Serve topped with butter-fried chanterelles, finely chopped parsley and a few drips of olive oil.

The above chanterelle toast is great as a side with the soup. It’s made with more butter-fried chanterelles on top of a grilled slice of sourdough bread.

Sunday breakfast: ‘smashed avo’, feta and chorizo on grilled sourdough


One of my favourite breakfast dishes is the, at the moment (and for some time) quite trendy, ‘smashed avo’ sandwich.

In this weekend’s version I used fried chorizo “crumble” to add some fatty, spicy and meaty crunch to the dish.

What you need (for 2 persons)

1 fresh chorizo (remove the casings)

2 eggs

about 100 grams feta cheese

2 quite thick slices of good quality sourdough bread

1 avocado per person

Fresh Coriander/cilantro

Blackpepper

Salt

How to make it

Fry the de-cased chorizo in olive oil and use a wooden spoon to divide the sausage into small pieces like minced meat for the chorizo crumble. When it’s crisp, turn off the heat and set aside.

Use a griddle pan or an actual bbq to char the sourdough bread. It should have nice char marks but not be too crisp, so a minute or so per side depending on the heat should do the trick. Of course you could just toast the bread as well.

Poach the eggs by adding cracked eggs to just boiling water (with salt and vinegar in the cooking water). Let boil for a minute and a half, then pick them up with a slotted spoon or similar. Set aside while making the final preparations.

Take the pit out of the avocado and mash the flesh together with a little bit of salt. Put the mix on the grilled bread. Crumble feta cheese on top of the avocado and finally a poached egg. Top with the chorizo crumble, coriander and chives.

Serve with a cup of coffee, a bloody mary, or why not a glass of bubbly – it’s still weekend after all!