Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Seenepirukad or hundred tiny mushroom pies

There's a young man in Argentina who knows the perfect pronounciation for two Estonian words. One of them is 'sünnipäevakringel' and the other is 'seenepirukad'. The first is a large sweet yeast kringel served for birthdays, and the other means 'mushroom pies/pierogi'. He really liked both of them, so he made a special effort and learned these two words, enabling him to ask for them. That's quite an accomplishment, as it's not the easiest language to master, apparently..

This Argentine guy said that these remind him of empanadas. I don't know about that - these are as Estonian to me as you can get. You can make one large pie (in which case you call it 'seenepirukas', of course:) or medium-sized ones. I like to make them small (as you could figure from the title of this post), so you could finish them in two-three bites. That's a lot of extra work, as small dough circles are more fiddly to fill and pinch (and as you can see from the picture, I could still improve my pinch-the-edges-technique, even after all these years). The soft yeast dough encases a flavoursome and salty mushroom filling, which I simply adore..

The picture below is taken in early November (I mentioned making these during my apple cake season) . I've made them a few times since. Most recently I served them at a party last Thursday, when I used half of the dough for small Turkish lamb and pomegranate 'pizzas' - I'll write about these scrumptious things soon..

And yes, you need to knead this dough. I know that every self-respecting food blogger has recently been at least trying to make the new wonderbread that you don't have to knead. I haven't and as I find kneading dough rather relaxing, I doubt if I will..

Seenepirukad or wild mushroom pies, Estonian style
(Seenepirukad pärmitainast)
Adapted from Eesti rahvatoite by Silvia Kalvik (1981)

500 ml lukewarm milk
25 grams fresh yeast
a generous pinch of sugar
1 tsp salt
2 to 3 Tbsp butter, softened
1.2 to 1.5 litres plain flour

300-400 ml chopped mushrooms (if using salted mushrooms, then soak first)
1 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, minced
sour cream
dill, either fresh or dried

First make the dough. Crumble the fresh yeast into a large warm bowl, add the sugar and let it stand for 5 minutes, stirring through, until the yeast 'melts'. Add milk, salt, most of the flour and stir until combined. Knead in the soft butter, adding more flour, if necessary. Knead for 5-10 minutes, depending on your patience. You should end up with a soft dough that doesn't stick too much onto your hands. Cover the bowl with a cling film and leave to double in size in a warm draught-free place. That should take about an hour. (If you're not ready to bake after an hour, then knock the dough back when it has rised and leave to rise again for a bit more).

For the filling, chop the mushrooms finely and fry in melted butter together with the chopped onions for about 5 minutes. Cool, add some sour cream to combine (a Tbsp or two is enough, you don't want the filling to be too wet). Season with salt - the amount depends on whether you're using fresh or salted mushrooms - and lots of dill.

When ready to bake, then take about a third of the dough at a time, and roll it out on a floured tabletop until about 3 mm thick. Cut out small circles (I use a 5 cm glass), put about a teaspoonful of filling in the middle*, and pinch the edges firmly together, so you have half-moon shaped pies.

Put onto a baking sheet, brush with egg and bake at 200C for 15 minutes, until the pies are lovely golden brown. Transfer to a metal rack to cool. If you prefer your pierogi really soft, then cover with a clean towel to keep the moisture in the pies.

* If you have some mushroom filling left over, then add some extra sour cream and use as a salad on crostini or vol-au-vents or on rye bread.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Copycat: Molly's wonderful chocolate & nut blocks

Here's something you simply MUST make for your Christmas table: Molly's Chocolate & Nut 'blocks'. They're wonderfully tasty, really-really simple to make, and quite elegant. One of those take-five-ingredients type of recipes. They also went down a treat at the party yesterday, and I'm entertaining naughty thoughts of leaving work early today, so I could rush home and quickly devour the few that were left over..

Happy holidays, everyone!

Molly's chocolate and nut 'blocks'

If you prefer to use imperial measurements, then please check out Molly's original recipe. Here's an approximated and metrified (is that a word?) version. Aren't they pretty? :

500 grams of good-quality bittersweet chocolate (I used Bitter from the local Kalev company)
100 grams dried cranberries
100 grams seedless raisins
100 grams salted peanuts
100 grams salted pistachios

Line a 20 cm square dish with parchment paper and brush slightly with mildly flavoured oil. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a metal bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring the chocolate occasionally, until melted and smooth.
When chocolate is melted, stir in the nuts, raisins and cranberries until combined. Pour into the prepared pan, spread evenly and smooth the top. Put into a refrigerator for an hour to harden slightly.
Remove from the pan, place the chocolate block on a cutting board. Cut into small 2 cm squares with a sharp knife.
Keep in a cool place, but bring to a room temperature about 30 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Peppermint dragées with chocolate

There's lots of pre-Christmas baking and candy-making taking place in our kitchen at the moment. During the weekend, K. made pistachio & dark chocolate truffles as well as saffron & white chocolate truffles. I tried Anne's peppermint patties. Last night I whipped up a batch of dough for the traditional Estonian gingerbread - piparkoogid - that I'll be baking on Sunday morning when my nephews come over for the big Christmas meal that night. As I'm still over-excited about the newest addition to our household - I'm talking about the beautiful red Kitchen Aid mixer, obviously - I whipped up another batch of raspberry marshmallows, but this time using the eggless version from Cooking for Engineers (Michael attributes his recipe to no other than Thomas Keller himself). And if that wasn't enough, I made a batch of lovely Molly's even lovelier chocolate & nut 'blocks'.

Let me tell you, the house smells heavenly.

And it's snowing outside, for the second day already. We're going to have a beautiful, white Christmas..

Here's a very slightly adapted recipe for Anne's lovely peppermint patties. There are ideal for popping into your mouth (either one-by-one, or by handful) after a meal..

Chocolate-covered minty dragées
(Piparmündidražeed šokolaadis)

1 medium egg white
300 grams icing sugar, sifted
3 to 5 drops of peppermint oil*
0.5 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

dark chocolate to cover

In a big bowl, beat the egg white until frothy. Mix in the icing sugar, little by little (I used the flat beater in my new KA mixer), until combined and you've got a thickish paste. Add peppermint oil and vanilla extract, if using.
(I used a lot less than Anne's recommended 1.5 tsp, and the dragées were definitely minty enough. Maybe it's the specific brand I used (see below)? The shopkeeper warned me to use only a few drops, too)
Roll the sugar paste into small balls, lay out to dry overnight on a metal rack (see photo on the right).
Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler, dip dried sugar balls into the melted chocolate and let them harden in room temperature.
Keep in a air-tight jar for up to a week.

* I got mine from Specialkøbmanden in Copenhagen last month - thank you, Zarah Maria, for the tip!

Monday, December 18, 2006

A dessert of squeaky cheese and cloudberries

Now that I've settled into my new house and life in Estonia, the entertaining season has truly began. After a succession of housewarming parties, we've moved on to dinner and cocktail parties. We had a dinner party in our house last Friday. There's a cocktail party this Thursday where I'll meet some more friends of K. For Sunday afternoon we've invited our respective families* over for a large Christmas meal, featuring the traditional Estonian festive fare. Next week there will be two more parties and so on, and so on. Lots of cooking, which is great, of course.

On Friday, we had K's friend Meelik and his US-born wife Siobhan over together with their two lovely bi-lingual children. The husband is an old friend and one-time colleague of K., the wife is a sociologist like me, so we were off to a good start. But as this is a foodblog, after all, then I'm supposed to talk about what we ate. K. had been to Israel with Meelik a few years ago, where they had obviously had humungous amounts of hummus. Hummus, the famous chickpea spread, is virtually unknown here in Estonia. When I enquired about any special dietary requirements before the dinner, they replied that they want hummus. It was supposed to be a joke, but then we decided to turn the joke into a reality, and served them some home-made hummus as a starter:) This was followed by another regional dish, a wonderful lemon & sesame chicken, served with rice and vegetables, prepared according to a recipe from a Israeli cookbook I found at home.

The dessert, however, was very Nordic. We served some squeaky cheese with cloudberries and mascarpone cream. I had seen the recipe on an Estonian blog, and as I hadn't had squeaky cheese for a while, decided to go with it. Plus we have a huge jar of preserved cloudberries in our fridge waiting to be proudly served (yes, home-made from cloudberries we picked ourselves).

The squeaky cheese I'm talking about is of course the Finnish squeaky cheese or leipäjuusto (literally, 'bread cheese'). It has become popular in Estonia during the recent years, and there are couple of local producers now. The milk is curdled and then either baked or grilled, which gives the cheese its traditional dark dots. And it really does squeak under your teeth - hence the English name.

[If you live in the US and would like to try this particular Finnish cheese, then try Carr Valley Cheese Company in La Valley, WI]

Baked squeaky cheese with cloudberries and mascarpone cream
(Grillitud leibjuust murakate ja toorjuustukreemiga)
Serves 6

300 grams squeaky cheese
200 grams mascarpone
2 Tbsp icing sugar
0.5 tsp vanilla sugar
half a lime, juice and zest
200 grams cloudberries (fresh, compote, jam - it's up to you)
lemon balm leaves to decorate

Cut the cheese into six large wedges and place on a lined baking tray. Bake at 200C for about 15 minutes, until the cheese softens.
Mix mascarpone, icing sugar, vanilla sugar, lime zest and juice until creamy.
Plate the baked cheese wedges with mascarpone cream and a spoonful of cloudberries.
Dust with icing sugar, garnish with lemon balm and serve.
Best eaten with a small dessert fork.

* There's a bit of an unequal exchange here. 'Our respective families' means K's mum and auntie from his side, and my parents, sister, her partner and 2 sons from my side. I'm keeping the dinner a secret from my aunties and cousins, as I couldn't possibly fit them all in the house, too:)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Raspberry marshmallows and lime meringues

K. made 15 creme brulees for a housewarming party recently, and we were left with fifteen egg whites. Usually this would have resulted in A) eggwhites thrown simply to the bin (K's usual - shocking! - method); or B) eggwhites being put into a bowl and away in the fridge for later use (and eventually into the bin a few days later; my occasional method). But as there's a beautiful early Christmas gift in our kitchen now, there was no excuse for not doing anything useful with those eggwhites.

After some late night and last minute discussions (it was nearly 10pm by that time), we decided to friendlily divide the egg whites into two batches (approximately-exactly seven and a half egg whites each:) and proceed each with our own recipe.

After all, co-habiting is all about sharing, isn't it?

K. whipped up a batch of egg-white based marshmallows, using the Polish raspberry syrup that Dagmar gave me as a surprise gift when I was in Stockholm in July. It was the first time that either of us had tackled marshmallows, and we were very pleased with the result. There will be surely lots of various marshmallow recipes tested in our kitchen, including one without eggwhites.

I, on the other hand, made lime meringues with half of the eggwhites. I used a recipe for wedding meringues from Nigella's Feast, calling for nothing but egg whites and caster sugar. I gently folded in a finely grated zest of one lime, and the resulting meringues were beautifully crisp on the outside and just a wee bit marshmallowy-chewy inside, with a nice citrussy kick to them.

Lovely. Both of them.

[Liisu - beseeküpsiste retsept on siin, vahukommide oma tuleb siia]

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A presidential lunch

Photo by Tiina Kõrtsini, SL Õhtuleht
First it was the Queen of England, then the President of the United States. Estonia has been receiving more than its fair share of high-profile visitors this autumn. Last week Mr Bush popped by in Tallinn on his way to the NATO Summit in Riga a fortnight ago. Again, there was a high-profile lunch, this time prepared by Chef Imre Kose of Vertigo.

Here's a copy of the menu, served to the 70-odd guests, including the American president George W. Bush and Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

28 November 2006

Whitefish tartare with autumn apples and rye bread tuille (picture

Glazed duck breast with beetroot and Merlot gravy

Kama and cream cheese cake with pumpkin marmalade



Grans-Fassian Riesling Mineralschiefer 2005 (Germany)

Chateau Les Barraillots, Margaux 2002 (France)

Dessert Wine Põltsamaa Kuldne 1992 (Estonia)

I'm very pleased to see a dessert using the Estonian ground meal mixture, kama, on the menu, as well as the inclusion of some local dessert wine.

By the way - Bush isn't drinking bubbly on the above photo, but non-carbonated non-alcoholic apple cider :)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Warm and spicy fried quail eggs, from 780 years ago

You know how you sometimes read a book and see a recipe that captivates you, yet looks only half tempting? That what happened to me when I flipped through the pages of recently acquired book and spotted a recipe for Baid Mutajjan, or fried hard-boiled eggs with cumin. I like eggs, and I do like the listed spices (cinnamon, coriander, cumin), but somehow spice-fried chicken eggs sounded less than perfect. I guess I just cannot imagine biting into a full boiled egg, seasoned or not, fried or not, elsewhere than at a breakfast table. And then I want my boiled egg plain, with just a dot of butter and a sprinkle of sea salt. No cinnamon, cumin nor coriander in sight. But then, I thought, as a little light started flashing in the back of my head, this recipe would work so much better with tiny quail eggs, wouldn't it!?

It did. A perfect little quail egg mouthful doused in warm and subtle spices would make a wonderful addition to a drinks party. I'm sure children would welcome new spices when served like this. And we simply nibbled them while waiting for our main course to be done..

By the way - if this source is to believed, then this is a truly old recipe indeed. A very similar recipe for Baid Mutajjan is to be found in Muhammad bin hasad al-Baghdadi's 1226 cookbook al-Kitab al-Tabīh ('The Book of Dishes') . If my math is correct, then that's 780 years ago!!!

Spicy fried quail eggs
(Vürtsikad vutimunad)
Adapted from Ghillie Basan's The Middle Eastern Kitchen

12 quail eggs*
1 Tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
Maldon sea salt

Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Add quail eggs, boil for no more than 2 minutes, drain and quickly rinse under cold water. Peel the eggs carefully.
Grind cumin and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar (or use an old electric coffee grinder), mix in cinnamon.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan, add the spices and stir for a few seconds to release the aromas.
Add peeled eggs, stir gently, until the eggs are covered with a spicy oil.
Serve warm, sprinkle with salt flakes.

* Feel free to use only 10 eggs. It's just that quail eggs come in packets of 12 in Estonia :)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Moro's chickpeas with pomegranate seeds

I had another housewarming party last week, this time for my university girlfriends. There were 14 adults and 3 kids in the house on a Friday night, and we treated them to a buffet style table (known as rootsi laud or 'Swedish table' here). There were some stuffed Turkish-style aubergines, stuffed peppers with Suluguni cheese (i.e. the same cheese I used for making hatchapuri), and this chickpea salad with home-made pomegranate molasses (recipe below). Additionally, K. made creme brulees for everyone, which were wonderful (though I must admit I felt somewhat intimidated the butane torch he used, as it was definitely not intended for kitchen use!) As a result, we had 15 egg whites left over, half of which I turned into lime meringues, whereas K. used the other half to make some raspberry-flavoured marshmallows (he used the Polish raspberry syrup I got from Dagmar in July). It was a lovely party indeed.

Here's the recipe for chickpeas with pomegranate seeds and molasses, adapted from my signed copy of Sam & Sam Clark's Casa Moro. Apparently it makes a lovely side dish to fish.

Chickpea salad with pomegranate molasses
(Kikerherned granaatõunasiirupiga)

250 grams dried chickpeas*, or 450 grames canned chickpeas, rinsed
4 Tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp pomegranate molasses**
200 ml boiling water
about 1 scant tsp safron threads, mixed with a little of the hot water
a generous handful of fresh coriander, chopped***
1 large pomegranate, seeds only
sea salt
black pepper

If using dried chickpeas, then soak and boil them first (read below*). If using canned, just drain them.
Heat oil in a large saucepan on a moderate heat. Add garlic and fry gently (do not burn!). Add the drained chickpeas, pomegranate molasses**, water and safron-infused water. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated.
Add coriander/parsley, season with salt and pepper.
Transfer into a serving bowl, scatter pomegranate seeds on top.

* I used dried chickpeas, which I first soaked overnight in lots of cold water, with a couple of teaspoonfuls of baking soda thrown in (cannot remember where I read it, but apparently it helps them to soften). I then boiled them, first on a high heat, then reducing the heat, for about 90 minutes in plenty of fresh water, skimming off any foam that appeared on the top.
** I slowly boiled 1 litre of pomegranate juice for 30 minutes, until I was left with just over 100 ml of thick pomegranate molasses. A bottle of very good pomegranate juice (no added sugar!) from Azerbaijan costs just under £1.50 at the market here, which is a lot cheaper as the small plastic bottles that were available in the UK.
*** I couldn't find coriander - apparently it's not in season (asking for it at different stalls selling herbs at the market caused lots of amused looks) - so I used flat-leaf parsley instead.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Canteen classics: azu, the Tatar meat stew

I'm bold enough to suggest that azu is a dish familiar to pretty much every resident of the former Soviet Union. That's a lot of people (291 million just before the Soviet empire vanished into the thin air in 1991)! It's definitely a canteen classic, alongside beef stroganoff, goulash, solyanka, hartcho, rosolnyk, borshch and numerous other dishes that I hope to cook and write about during the coming months.

Azu is a dish from the Tatar kitchen (Tatars being Turkic speaking people on the Russian territory), though that's all I know, as online enquiries and my cookbooks gave very little information on it, just an odd recipe here and there. In any case, I remember this dish being served at our school canteen rather frequently. I remember it being cooked up by lovely dinner ladies at pioneer camps during summer. I have memories, if somewhat vague, of eating this at the student canteen during my university years at Tartu. Day after I served this at home last week, K. came home to announce he saw azu on the menu of the small canteen where he usually grabs his lunch.

However, the dish is probably unknown to you, hence the recipe. While a combination of beef, fried potatoes and sliced pickles may sound, well, a bit odd, I urge you to try it. Unusual it is, granted, but simple and tasty as well.

Canteen, by the way, is söökla in Estonian. There's a mouthful :)

Azu, the Tatar meat stew
Serves 4

400 grams beef (I used a lean back piece)
2 Tbsp oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 Tbsp tomato puree
1-2 Tbsp adjika, optional
some chopped garlic
1-2 pickled or salted cucumbers, sliced
400 grams of potatoes, chopped and fried separately
salt and black pepper

Cut the beef into 1 cm slices first (across grain) and then into thick 'fingers' (ca 1x4 cm). Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and brown the meat.
Add the onion and fry for a few minutes.
Add the tomato puree, and the spicy Georgian paste adjika. (This is not traditional, but it does add a lovely depth to the sauce. I buy mine from my local market. You can substitute the Balkan pepper relish ajvar for adjika. Ajvar is widely available in the UK, for instance) .
Add enough boiling water to barely cover the meat. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40-45 minutes or until the meat is almost tender.
Meanwhile, fry the chopped potatoes until golden brown (you can use either raw or boiled potatoes, the important bit is to fry them before adding to the stew).
Add the fried potatoes, sliced cucumbers and chopped garlic to the saucepan, stir gently, and simmer for another 5-10 minutes.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Georgian cheese bread: Hatchapuri/Khachapuri

Hatchapuri / Hatšapuri
Photo from April 2008

I - finally - made some hatchapuri. Hatchapuri, for those of you who don't know it, is a famous Georgian cheesebread. Somehow - not sure where I got the guts to do that! - I ended up wholeheartedly defending Georgian cuisine in general and hatchapuri recipe in particular over at Kuidaore during my very early blogging days. Il Forno's Alberto wrote about hatchapuri (or khachapuri, as he spells it) already in early 2004. More recently, my fellow Edinburgh blogger (until I moved back home, that is) Melissa so eloquently wrote about it on The Traveler's Lunchbox. There's a recipe in the latest Nigella book, as well as Darra Goldstein's almost scholarly book The Georgian Feast. This very cheesebread is positively 'in' at the moment. However, as both of these books of mine are still in sort of transit from Edinburgh to Tallinn and I won't get my hands on them until Christmas, then I had to look elsewhere for a suitable recipe. The simple recipe below is adapted from an Estonian food enthusiast who writes under the name of Volks Vaagen, who has got it from a Georgian lady called Natalya.

Now, before we proceed, remember that just like there are loads of different pizzas, there is a huge range of hatchapuri breads out there. The type and name of your cheesebread depends on where in Georgia you're trying to bake and/or eat it. There's Imeruli hatchapuri (flat, round bread, using imeruli cheese), Acharuli/Adjaruli hatchapuri (a suluguni cheese bread 'boat' topped with raw egg and then cooked; sometimes also referred to as Georgian pizza), Achma hatchapuri (a very rich and layered cheesebread) , Megruli hatchapuri (has cheese both inside and outside the bread), Svanuri hatchapuri (also known as chvishtar), Rachuli hatchapuri, Phenovani/Penovani hatchapuri (with a flaky pastry, formed as a triangle), Ossuri hatchapuri (filled with cheese and mashed potatoes), Guruli hatchapuri (thick and crunchy, with lots of cheese, formed as a log).
I'm pretty sure the list is not exhaustive (I'll report back when I compile a definitive list of various hatchapuris:)

You should really use imeruli/emeruli cheese or suluguni cheese for this recipe, although brynza cheese would work, too, as it is similarly salty. I used suluguni here. Suluguni is a whole milk cheese from Georgia (as in the Caucasus, and not in the US, obviously) , which can be grilled (I'm thinking of using suluguni instead of halloumi in the recipe for roasted red peppers with cumin-scented halloumi). Luckily, there's a considerable Abkhasian Georgian community in Estonia, and they've set up a small suluguni cheese factory in Kehra near Tallinn. It's not readily available in supermarkets, but you can easily buy that at local markets here. If you live in the US or UK, then try the Russian stores. Or see what alternatives Melissa and Alberto recommend.

I'm pretty sure it would be a fantastic accompaniment to Chakhohbili, the Georgian chicken stew with loads of herbs and wine. There's garlic in the cheese filling of this hatchapuri, which gave a real extra kick to the flavour. Feel free to leave it out, if you prefer a milder taste sensation.

Georgian cheese bread Hatchapuri
Yields 6 generous wedges.

For the dough:
250 grams sour cream
150 grams butter or margarine, melted
1 egg, slightly whisked
350 g plain flour (or a bit more, if necessary) (about 600 ml)
a pinch of salt
0.25 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sugar

For the cheese filling:
200 grams suluguni cheese, coarsely grated
1 egg, whisked
2 Tbsp sour cream
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (optional)

Mix sour cream and melted butter. Add salt, baking soda and sugar, whisk in the egg and add flour in installments. Knead slightly, until you've got a soft & pliable dough. Divide into two, roll each into a large circle (25 cm or so).
Grate the cheese, mix with egg, sour cream and chopped garlic.
Place one dough circle on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Spread the cheese filling on top, leaving about 1 cm from the edges clean. Cover with the other dough circle, press the edges firmly together.
Brush with egg or sour cream, pierce with a fork here and there. Bake at 200C for 20-30 minutes, until hatchapuri is lovely golden brown colour.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Some onion recipes at Nami-nami

I'm a great fan of onions, so I was sad to realise that I missed the one-off Onion Day organised by Zorra of 1 x umrühren bitte. I was away in Denmark when she announced the event, hence the delay. However, until I write another proper blog-post, I leave you with two of my favourite onion recipes from the recipe archives:

In January 2006 I wrote about Nigella Lawson's upside down red onion pie, which I had spiked up with some crumbled Irish Cashel blue cheese. A wonderful, heartwarming and successful recipe, like pretty much everything I've tried from the books of the Domestic Goddess.

In March I posted a recipe for stuffed red onions with feta cheese and wild mushrooms, a simplified version of Paul Gayler's recipe for Greek stuffed onions in a feta cheese custard (I skipped the custard bit and changed the stuffing a little).

And soon I'll write about my Danish hostmum's bacon and onion quiche that I became to love while spending almost a year in the little town of Svendborg. Here's a sneak preview:

UPDATE 30.11.2006: Zorra was kind enough to include me in the Onion Day round-up. Read here for a full report - there are 40 onion recipes!

Friday, November 24, 2006

SHF#25, for adults only: dark chocolate & matcha truffles

Indeed. Although most kids I've met love chocolate and anything with chocolate, then I doubt if they'd like these. The bitterness of powdered matcha tea would probably be too 'adult' for their tender tastebuds. But then, these are so lovely that I'm not sure I'd want to share them with any kids in the first place:)

These decadently dark and devilishly bitter truffles are my contribution for the latest edition of Sugar High Friday, hosted by wonderful Johanna of the Passionate Cook. She's chosen truffles as a theme. I wanted to use some of the matcha powder my dear Edinburgh friend Ryoko had given me, and inspired by the Mont Fuji cake I enjoyed in Paris in May, I decided to make dark chocolate and matcha ganache truffles, rolled in matcha powder. When you put one of those truffles into your mouth, then first the somewhat bitter, powdery matcha melts onto your tongue, giving way to a sweet and creamy chocolate. Deliciously adult delight indeed.

Dark chocolate & matcha truffles
Adapted from Epicurious

100 ml double cream (I used 38%)
1 Tbsp good-quality butter (slightly salted is fine), chopped
2 tsp matcha powder, plus a lot more for rolling the truffles
100 grams dark chocolate (I used 72% chocolate from the Estonian company, Kalev)

First make the ganache. Heat the cream and butter until almost boiling. Take a spoonful or two of the mixture and stir into the matcha powder. Return this green paste into the hot cream, whisking vigorously, until combined. Remove from the heat.
Add chopped chocolate, and stir until it melts.
Cover and leave to cool in the fridge for 2-3 hours.
Take teaspoonfuls of the set ganache and form into round-ish shapes. Leave to cool in the fridge again for an hour.
Roll in matcha powder, place into small paper cups and keep in a cool place until serving.

These truffles keep up to a week, if kept in the fridge.

UPDATE 29.11.2006: Here is Johanna's round-up - check out all the mouthwatering truffles!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A vacation alert: Denmark

My adorable new Moomin mug, a present from Emma & Michael who stayed with us last week. Tänan väga!

Although I've only just got back from Edinburgh, I'm already on my way again. I'm leaving my newly-found domestic bliss tomorrow for five days, in order to attend a 3-day workshop in Roskilde, dine with Zarah Maria in Copenhagen and visit my host parents in Svendborg. Denmark, here I come! I spent a wonderful year in Denmark as an exchange student at the tender age of 18. Despite the geographical proximity (map), I haven't been back, unless you count the frequent stopovers at Kastrup airport. I almost went to Copenhagen in early 1998, but sadly ended up having an emergy appendicitis at a hospital instead. Bugger!

There's an ever-increasing backlog of blog posts that I've yet to publish. Here's a sneak preview of what to expect from Nami-nami in the near future:

- my entry for the Sugar High Friday #25
- a recipe for Georgian cheesebread hatchapuri
- a recipe for hundred tiny mushroom pierogis (mentioned here)
- a recipe for my Danish hostmum's ('mor Kirsten') delicious bacon and onion quiche
- two more apple cakes (yes, I know!) - one with a light sponge topping, the other with a toffee and cranberry twist
- one more wedding report - the last one for 2006 (or not, dear EE & MO?)
- two reports from fine restaurants in Tallinn
- a post on making pomegranate molasses
- another post on turning fragrant quinces into delicious membrillo
- a recipe for Chinese lemon chicken

... and that's just the non-complete list of backlog posts. A lot more to come, so please stay tuned. Meanwhile, I'm off. I've got some shopping and packing to do :)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cooking for kids: Salmon fishcakes with green peas

Just a child-friendly recipe for a change. I made these while staying with Dianne & Peter and their children Maarja-Liis (8 yrs) and Maarek (12 months) in Edinburgh just before leaving. These were especially popular with the wee boy, though the adults (including me) ate them just as happily.

The recipe is adapted from a recipe in BBC Good Food 'Fresh family food' supplement, November 2006. I don't like canned salmon, and didn't want to use tartar sauce, so replaced them with fresh salmon and cream, respectively.

Salmon Fishcakes with Green Peas
(Lõhekotletid hernestega)
Serves 4

400 grams of potatoes, boiled and mashed (or use leftover mash)
400 grams of salmon filet
100 grams frozen green peas, defrosted
a generous handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 Tbsp cream
salt and pepper

4 Tbsp semolina or plain flour (I prefer the former), for forming the cakes

4 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil, for frying the cakes

Put the fish filets into a glass bowl and microwave for 4 minutes at 600W, turning them around after 2 minutes, until cooked. (Alternatively, poach in little water). Mash with a fork.
Mash the boiled potatoes in a big bowl. Add the cooked fish, peas, chopped mint and cream, season with salt and pepper, and mix until combined.
Form the mixture into small fishcakes, dip these into semolina or flour. Shallow-fry in hot oil for 3-4 minutes until cooked through.
Serve with a fresh green salad and a slice of lemon.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I think you're beautiful: autumnal cabbage salad

On Monday night K. and I took my Edinburgh friends Emma and Michael, and my cousin Ingrid for a meal in Olde Hansa, a fabulously cosy and atmospheric Medieval restaurant right in the centre of Tallinn's Old Town. The meal isn't really the right word - it was more of a feast. You see, Olde Hansa aims to imitate a rich Hanseatic merchant's house, so the portions are huge, generously seasoned and substantial; just as importantly, their light cinnamon, dark herbal and dark honey beers extremely drinkable. By the end of the meal we were absolutely stuffed, unable even to think about the dessert menu*. As Emma & Michael popped over to Helsinki for a night yesterday, K. and I wanted a light and simple dinner, to counteract the indulgent medieval feast from the night before.

Salads are handy for moments like that, so I made a salad from organic red cabbage, crisp and fresh, that I had bought from a small organic food store on Sunday. Red cabbage is such a visually beautiful vegetable, and went well with sweet and juicy pineapple and crumbly cottage cheese. The resulting salad was tasty, light and healthy, and oh-so-pretty - a perfect partner to crusty rye bread.
A keeper.

Red cabbage salad with cottage cheese and pineapple chunks
(Punase kapsa, ananassi ja kodujuustu salat)
Serves 2-3 as a light meal or more as a side dish

one small red cabbage, thinly sliced
200 grams cottage cheese
one small can of pineapple chunks in pineapple juice, drained (but keep the juice)
lots of chopped fresh parsley
Maldon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Cut the cabbage into thin slices (I guess a kitchen Mandolin would speed up this process).
Mix the cabbage, drained pineapple chunks and cottage cheese in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper, mix in chopped parsley.
Moisten with some pineapple juice, if necessary (if your cottage cheese is moist, this might not be needed).

* I didn't even buy a packet of their spicy sugared almonds on the way out - that's how full I was!

Monday, November 13, 2006

I show you mine, you show me yours: my new apron

Here's my new apron - a goodbye-present from my Edinburgh colleagues Margaret, Lindsay, David & Paddy. Cheers!

What's your apron like?

UPDATE 25.6.2007: Check out Kalyn's apron post on Blogher. and Ilva's Show Us Your Apron one-off event (deadline 15.7.2007).

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Choux pastry roll with smoked chicken

My parents finally came over for the housewarming visit on Wednesday, or soolaleivale (salt & bread), as it's known in Estonian. They brought us some rye bread, salt and a fancy marzipan tart. We treated them to a choux pastry roll with smoked chicken (a chicken version of the choux pastry roll with smoked fish that I wrote about last week) and chocolate and cherry cake (the cherry version of Nigella's chocolate and orange marmalade cake I wrote about exactly a year ago). As Wednesday is a weekday night, it wasn't a long sit-down meal. That'll come later. But I think my parents approved, both of my new home as well as the food:)

The good thing about this roll is that it can be made night before and kept wrapped in foil in the fridge.

Choux pastry roll with smoked chicken
Serves 6

For the choux pastry follow the recipe and instructions here.

2 smoked chicken breast fillets, finely diced
100 grams soured cream/creme fraiche/thick plain yogurt
100 grams good-quality mayonnaise
2 tsp curry powder or paste of your choice
lots of chopped fresh parsley

Mix all ingredients, spread on the choux pastry sheet and roll up from the long end.
Leave in the fridge for at least half an hour, so the flavours could develop.
Serve with salad leaves.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Three girls and a a lot of whisky

Just few days before I left Edinburgh, my friends Oxana and Galina took me to The Vaults, the members' rooms of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Leith, Edinburgh. I hadn't managed to go there during my seven years in town, but had been curious since I read Melissa's post on whisky tasting notes. Luckily, Oxana was a member and offered to take me there and sample some of the current society bottlings. During the few enjoyable and merry hours we spent in the grand surroundings, we tried quite a few whiskies, as you can see from the picture*. Four Scotch, one Japanese whisky.

Society bottlings, if you're interested, are single malt and cask strength (that means very strong!), and come with curious tasting notes. Here's how the Society describes them:

The Society exists to celebrate variations from the norm, so members can enjoy the individual characteristics each cask has to offer in terms of distillery, age, finish etc. Once the Society has bought single casks from the range of distilleries, the respected Tasting Panel is responsible for quality control and takes the decision as to which casks should be bottled and when. From there, the Panel writes the Society's lyrical and often humourous (even controversial) Tasting Notes.

Below are the 'official' tasting notes for the whiskies we tasted that night. We had real fun trying to smell and taste the 'fruity toffee', 'white wine vinegar, matches and glue', 'peat dragon', 'sultana loaf', 'carpentry shavings, barbecue sauce and bacon fat' etc in our chosen whiskies. I wish I could be a fly on the wall where the honourable Tasting Panel meets and comes up with those descriptions!

As I said, we tasted four Scottish and one Japanese whisky that night. Four of them were wonderful, all in their distinct ways. Only one I couldn't drink, however much I diluted the whisky. Some things, it seems, are best left to the original masters...

Strawberry bon-bons sprinkled with white pepper
Cask No. 22.22
"Being a ‘Classic’ we don’t see that much of ‘The Edinburgh Malt’, from Pencaitland; this example is surprisingly big and complex for a Lowland – a first-rate aperitif. Full gold in colour (from a refill hogshead) this has a fine mature nose, with vanilla and fruity toffee (strawberry bon-bons: toffee centre, fruity coating, powdered sugar dusting), traces of mint and very faint hessian. The unreduced flavour is hot and peppery, with toffee notes. These elements come through on the nose with water, but with bubble-gum and moss. Now the flavour is soft and full; sweet and fudge-like, but with chilli-pepper, and a medium to long finish."
Age: 18 Years % Alc: 53.5% Proof°: 93.6 Date Distilled: October 1987 Outturn: 178 bottles

Cigar boxes and flying saucers
Cask No. 9.38
"James Grant built this Rothes distillery in 1840 and today it is one of the best selling malts in the world. A golden syrup colour from a refill butt, the unreduced nose has strawberries, cigar boxes, wine gums and flying saucers (sherbet wrapped in edible polystyrene). The taste neat is thick and weighty with melted chocolate and creamy toffee. It lasts well with a dry, woody finish. With water the nose, though still sweet, has white wine vinegar, matches and glue, while the flavour is sweet and salty with some soap on a cereal background."
Age: 17 Years % Alc: 54.9% Proof°: 96 Date Distilled: April 1988 Outturn: 552 bottles

Nettle chocolate
Cask No. 48.9
"Situated in the Haughs of Cromdale, this distillery takes its water from the Cromdale Burn. Unreduced, the nose has unusual notes of smoked sausage, paprika and pepper gradually becoming toffee, vanilla, malt, mint, grass and sherbet. The taste is chocolaty and sugary with sweet sherbet lemons and the sourness of cranberries. Reduced, the nose is dominated by nettle, followed by grass, hay, mulch and notes of wet leaves on a tree. This is a cooling, refreshing beginners’ whisky – ideal for lying in the garden with a slab of mint chocolate on a summer’s evening!"
Age: 18 Years % Alc: 50.1% Proof°: 87.6 Date Distilled: March 1988 Outturn: 298 bottles

Old but still bright
Cask No. 58.11
"This sample, from the oldest distillery in Speyside, is mahogany in colour from a sherry hogshead. The oak has left its mark – polished furniture, tea, spice – yet it remains bright! The neat nose has sweetness (honey, toffee, caramel, candy floss, brown sugar) balanced by fruit (orange, pears, prunes, raisins, dates and sultana loaf) with a sniff of smoke and some rum notes. The palate is dry, sweet and spicy with pepper, burnt sugar, marmalade and cola. With water, the nose finds a tingle of tar which eventually turns to buttery toffee, while the palate remains sweet and fruity. An outstanding dram."
Age: 33 Years % Alc: 51.4% Proof°: 89.9 Date Distilled: April 1973 Outturn: 352 bottles

From Madeira to the Caribbean
Cask No. 116.9
"This northern Japanese distillery continues to employ coal-fired stills. This sample is ginger gold from a refill hoggie. The nose, with its Muscovado sugar, treacle and rum, orange, plum and toffee in wax paper, evokes Caribbean trade winds and bronzed, oiled bodies basking in the sun. Diluted, it has vanilla, barley sugar, candied Angelica and papaya with exotic floral scents reminiscent of a Funchal market. The taste has both briny notes and peat smoke, which are beautifully balanced by a headier atmosphere of vanilla and orange peel. Water sweetens it and draws out the peat dragon at the same time. This is an outstanding whisky."
Age: 18 Years % Alc: 55.2% Proof°: 96.6 Date Distilled: April 1987 Outturn: 229 bottles

* Before you jump into conclusions about my drinking habits, then we ordered five different whiskies and split each of them between three glasses:)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Take three ingredients: red peppers, salty halloumi cubes and a pinch of cumin

Peppers with halloumi / Halloumi-täidisega paprikad

That's the whole recipe. Just three ingredients (plus some olive oil), ca 20 minutes and you've got an unusual and flavoursome dish on your plate. I've already blogged about the wonderful mint-infused and very salty white cheese, halloumi, that hails from Cyprus. I first wrote about Paul Hollywood's Cypriot mint and halloumi bread, and more recently about fried halloumi slices with chilli oil a la Nigella Lawson. Few days ago I came across a tempting recipe at the Finnish Herkkutori website (click on the last recipe link), that stuffed raw red peppers with fried halloumi cubes and served them alongside bean stew. I'm not too fond of raw bell peppers, so I decided to roast them first, and serve them with halloumi as a meal on its own.

A wonderful dish - if you like halloumi cheese, then do give it a go!

Red peppers with cumin-scented halloumi cubes
(Hallumi-juustuga täidetud paprikad)
Serves 4

4 small red bell peppers, halved and deseeded
250 grams halloumi cheese, rinsed, drained and cut into 1 cm cubes
1 Tbsp of olive oil
1 tsp of cumin seeds

Roast the red peppers in 220˚C oven for about 20 minutes, until they soften.
About 5 minutes before the peppers are ready, heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Add cheese cubes and cumin and fry, turning cheese cubes to brown evenly, for about 5 minutes.
Arrange the peppers on a plate, fill with fried halloumi cubes.
Serve with some rocket salad.

A beautiful combination of salty and squidgy halloumi cheese, soft and sweet pepper and bitter salad leaves.

UPDATE 16.11.2006: Andrew of Spittoon Extra tried this recipe, too. Check out his post. Mia Maailm was also inspired, and made a similar dish using green peppers and mozzarella, but her post is in Estonian :)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Copycat: Stevi's Dreamy Carrot Soup, with adaptations

It's been snowing for a few days in a row now, and I'm getting slightly worried for my first visitors from Edinburgh, Emma & Michael, who will arrive this Sunday. I don't think they are really aware how cold it is here in Estonia compared to Scotland. In any case, I've already warned them to pack their woolen socks, winter hats and thermal underwear, and have been thinking of comforting and heart-warming dishes to prepare while they're here..

Emma is a vegetarian, so when I saw Stevi's recipe for a dreamy carrot soup, I quickly realised this could be served one day, maybe after a brisk walk in the blizzard one afternoon (evening walks would obviously be followed by a few leisurely hours and lots of cold Estonian beer in sauna). I made this soup for lunch on Monday, and it's indeed dreamy, with a lovely sweet taste which is emphasised by the addition of orange juice. I adapted the recipe a little to include some swede/turnip, as I didn't have enough carrots in the house and I had bought an organic swede from the market just a few days ago.

A dreamy carrot and swede soup
Adapted from Stevi over at Bread and Butter
Serves 2-3

2 Tbsp butter
3 large carrots, scrubbed clean and chopped
1 medium swede/turnip, peeled and chopped
1 litre of vegetable stock (I used 4 tsp of Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon and a litre of water)
zest and juice of 1 orange
sea salt and black pepper

Heat the butter in a large saucepan, add the onions and fry gently for 5 minutes.
Add chopped carrots and swede, stir and add the boiling hot vegetable stock. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.
Purée the vegetables in a blender (keep the stock!), return to the saucepan.
Just before serving, season to taste and reheat the soup gently. Stir in the orange juice and garnish the soup with grated orange zest.
Serve with a crunchy bread.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Copycat: Johanna's Roasted Pumpkin Quiche with Blue Cheese

Just before the annual pumpkinfest, Halloween, Johanna posted a recipe for pumpkin quiche with blue cheese and thyme that looked absolutely delicious. So beautifully orange-fleshed and creamy-textured that I simply had to give this quiche a go. I did. So should you. Everybody liked it, and I will certainly pick up another wedge of pumpkin soon.

The only departure from Johanna's recipe was that I used my own shortcrust pastry instead of shop-bought, consisting of 250 ml plain flour, 90 grams butter, a pinch of salt, 1 tsp of dried French herbs and 3 Tbsp of cold water. We sadly don't have butternut squash readily available in Estonia, which explains why my quiche looks like a pale cousin of Johanna's deep orange-yellow quiche. Oh, and I didn't have fresh thyme, but thought the dry herbs in the crust kind of compensate for this. It certainly tasted delicious.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Abundance of apples, and another apple cake

My mum has a big garden. The garden has several apple trees that seem to be especially 'fertile' this year. My maternal grandma has also a big garden, with yet more apple-laden trees. While doing my 'I've just moved back home' rounds, I've been sent away with bags and bags full of apples each time. Juicy, crisp, delicious, fresh, ripe, organic, home-grown apples...

So I've been baking apple cakes. To be more precise, I've baked four apple cakes since last Saturday alone. No more, no less..

In anticipation of visiting my parents on Sunday, I baked my Canadian apple cake last Saturday, using coconut milk instead of regular and adding some coconut flakes into the crumbly crust. It was a pretty large cake and smelled divinely. However, K. had invited three friends (a couple and their 5-year old daughter) over that night to help us eat some little bites of delight, preceded by some delicious coq-au-vin he had prepared. In a moment of madness, obviously, I asked our guests if they'd like to try some apple cake. A short while later, there were just three meagre pieces left, barely enough to go alongside our breakfast coffee on Sunday. We had to take a shop-bought cake along to my parents that night:)

[I took a break from baking apple cakes on Sunday. Instead I baked a zillion tiny wild mushroom pierogis to take along to a birthday party on Monday night. I'll blog about these soon.]

On Monday I baked my simple apple cake, which was gone by Tuesday lunch time. Couple of slices were eaten by my dad's cousin who's helping to redecorate our house, and another slice went to another cousin of my dad, who popped by to give me a lift to city centre.

On Tuesday evening, I tried my luck with tarte tatin, rather successfully, may I add. The recipe can be improved upon, but it certainly looked and tasted the part. I'm ashamed to admit that K. and I ate this on our own - half for dinner on Tuesday, half for breakfast on Wednesday.

And on Wednesday I tried another new apple cake recipe, using curd cheese and grated apples. Again, my dad's cousin helped us with a couple of slices last night, we had a few slices for breakfast today (one for me, three for K, who enjoyed his with home-made cloudberry jam), and there should be plenty left for after-dinner treat tonight. Here's the recipe. The cake is different because it uses grated apples, which give a very moist and light texture to the cake. I liked it sprinkled with icing sugar, but please feel free to serve it with a dollop of cloudberry jam instead;)

Curd cheese cake with grated apples
Yields 10
Source: Õunaraamat (100 rooga)

500 grams curd cheese or ricotta
200 grams sour cream or creme fraiche
15o ml semolina
100 ml caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla sugar
1.5 tsp cinnamon
4 medium eggs, separated
4-5 tart apples, quartered, cored & coarsely grated (unless shop-bought, then no need to peel)

Mix the dry ingredients (semolina, baking powder, sugar, vanilla sugar and cinnamon).
Mix curd cheese and sour cream (or ricotta and creme fraiche), fold in the dry ingredients.
Add egg yolks and grated apples.
Finally, gently fold in egg whites that you've whipped until soft peaks form.
Pour the batter into a greased spring form (mine was 26 cm in diametre).
Bake in the middle of the oven at 200˚C for 40-50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown on top.
Let it cool slightly before serving.

Now. It's only Thursday today. I wonder how many more apple cakes can (should?) I bake before the week is up?

UPDATE 21.11.2006:
SpitoonExtra's Andrew made this cake and seemed to like it, if you believe his Food Diary. He had "2 Bloody large slices" on Sunday apparently:)

UPDATE 1.12.2006:
Milwaukee-based Yulinka made this cake for her Thanksgiving table.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Choux pastry roll with smoked fish, in two different ways

Here's a simple choux pastry roll that would make a lovely dinner as well as suit a more festive occasion. I've made it few times as a light meal recently, but I can just as well imagine serving this alongside coffee when my friends will finally come and visit my new home, or as a starter with some salad. Here I've used the choux pastry roll as a carrier for various smoked fish, but feel free to stuff it with coronation chicken, egg mayo & watercress, tuna salad, chopped mushrooms or any other flavoursome and moist (sandwich) filling..

Choux pastry roll with smoked fish (or any other stuffing you like)
(Keedutainarull suitsukalaga)
Feeds 8

Choux pastry:
100 grams butter
150 ml plain flour
500 ml milk
0.5 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
3 medium eggs

Stuffing A (above photo):
200 grams hot smoked fish fillet, cut into small pieces (I used South Atlantic bream, Seriolella porosa, but mackerel, cod or any other oily fish would be fine)
150-200 ml thick sour cream or creme fraiche
100 ml chopped herbs (dill, parsley, chives)

Stuffing B:
200 grams cream cheese (natural or flavoured)
100 grams smoked salmon, chopped finely
a generous handful of shopped dill
1 bell pepper, diced finely

Start by making the choux pastry. Melt the butter in a saucepan on a slow heat, add flour and stir until combined. Add milk in 2-3 installments, stirring until combined after each addition. Simmer for a few minutes, then remove the saucepan from the heat. Leave to cool.
When cooled, mix in the salt and baking powder, then mix in the eggs one by one, beating vigorously after each addition (I use my electric mixer to do that, but it's not essential).
Pour into a lined Swiss roll tin (20 x 30 cm) and bake at 225˚C for 15-20 minutes, until golden.
Flip the baked choux pastry onto another piece of parchment paper, let it cool. Peel off the 'baked' parchment paper.

Choose your stuffing and mix the stuffing ingredients together. Spread over the pastry.

Roll the pastry into a roll, starting from the wider end. Keep wrapped in the parchment paper and let the flavours develop in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

To serve, cut into 1.5 - 2 cm slices.

Here's one I made earlier, using cream cheese, cold smoked salmon, green peppers and dill as a filling. This was actually the first dish I cooked to K. back in July, and I must have passed some test or another, as I'm now cooking happily in his kitchen:)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

SHF#24: Little Bites of Delight

Petit four. A petit four is a small fancy cake, biscuit, or sweet - such as a piece of marzipan or a crystallized or chocolate covered fruit - typically severed nowadays with coffee at the end of a meal. The term is French in origin. It means literally 'small oven', and may have come from the practice of cooking tiny cakes and biscuits a petit four, that is in low oven, at low temperature'. It was adopted into English in the late nineteenth century.
An A-Z of Food & Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 252)

The latest round of Sugar High Friday is hosted by Jeanne and she wanted us to make Little Bites of Delight. To be really honest, tiny fiddly sweet thingies aren't really my cup of tea. Don't get me wrong - I love eating them, I do. But to prepare them seems like too much fuss for too little. I'd rather bake a cake a la Nigella with oranges, cherries or cranberries or bake my apple cake. K, on the other hand, enjoys preparing fiddly food. He even made me look up a book that I hadn't looked at since I inherited it from a colleague some eight years ago (aitäh, Ave!). Whereas I hadn't bookmarked a single recipe in "The Book of Chocolates and Petit Fours" by Beverley Sutherland Smith (HP Books, 1986) , K. got all excited, like a small kid in a candy store, listing a recipe after recipe to try.

In any case we made four different little bites of delight last night. I had for a long time wanted to make Pierre Herme's chocolate dipped mint leaves that I've mentioned here. Now was my chance, but sadly I couldn't find fresh mint leaves in the supermarket. However, they did stock fresh lemon balm, a great favourite of mine. So I used that instead, resulting in a lovely alternative to after dinner mints - crisp and light and fragrant.

K. contributed the other three petit fours: candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate, chocolate disks infused with chilli syrup and covered with candied red chillies, and finally some delightfully tiny cranberry and almond macarons.

Mmmm, I'm off to try some of those little bites of delight now. Again..

PS I've previously written about spicy sugared almonds, which would also make perfectly nice little bites of delight, especially as we're getting closer to the mulled wine season..

UPDATE 30.10.2006: Here's Jeanne's roundup!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wild Mushroom Hunt: My mushroom bounty, vol 2

I enjoyed hunting for mushrooms so much in September, that I spent another three hours in a forest last Sunday looking for the last of season's wild mushrooms. We didn't get into the forest until 1pm, and for a moment I thought our trip will be fruitless (mushroomless?), as it was incredibly difficult to tell a mushroom amongst all those yellow and brown and pumpkin-coloured fallen leaves that thickly covered the ground. However, after some visual adjustment and careful and systematic observation, I began to see the mushrooms again (I lost the skill again after some 2,5 hours, but being a lazy urbanite, I eventually simply got tired and wanted to get back home. Or at least to my savoury muffins that were at the back of our car). Back in my new kitchen later that night, I brushed all the mushrooms clean, sorted them into categories (straight onto the frying pan / soak-cook-fry / soak-cook-pickle / soak-cook-brine). This is what K. and I had found:

Starting from the top left corner, clockwise (sorry for the slight redness of the colours): ugly milkcaps/Lactarius turpis/tõmmuriisikad (photo) ; various ceps/porcini/puravikud; Lactarius scrobiculatus/võiseened; the slightly greenish ones are saffron milk-caps/Lactarius deliciosus/kuuseriisikad - very delicious mushrooms that can be thrown straight onto your frying pan (photo); rufous milkcaps/Lactarius rufus/männiriisikad that must be blanched once or twice to rid them of their bitterness; wonderful (though rather unexpected this time of the year) chantarelles/Cantharellus cibarius/kukeseened; as well as three handsome Pied Bleu or Wood Blewits/Lepista nuda/lilla ebaheinik that I preserved in brine. And finally some light pink russulas/pilvikud (in the middle, next to that lonesome green russula on the left) that must be cooked in water before they can be fried or sauteed.

The yellow chantarelles and saffron milkcaps were each fried in butter and then used as a topping for simple bruschette.

The russula mushrooms were blanched twice and were used for mushroom sauce late last night (fry with some onions, top with cream, serve with mashed potatoes). The ugly milkcaps and Lactarius scrobiculatus mushrooms were first boiled twice, and then preserved in salty brine (after soaking, these can be used for sauces, quiche filling, salads), rufuous milkcaps were pickled in marinade (can be eaten as a snack or used for salads).

Again, I'm rather pleased with my bounty, and am looking forward to using all those mushrooms during the coming autumn and winter.

Oh, and did I mention the cranberries? I've got enough for at least 10 cakes now:)

I've been eating a lot of chocolate lately ...

... and how could I've not to, when Nash (on behalf of himself and his beautiful wife Guro) brought me this box of Plaisir du Chocolat chocolates as a goodbye present. Plaisir du Chocolat was set up by Bertrand Espouy and Heather A Kiernan few years ago in Edinburgh, and they've now opened branches also in Manchester and Melrose. Do check them out if you're in the neighbourhood. If neither Manchester, Melrose or Edinburgh are in your future itinerary, then you can peruse their online store. If you're not convinced, then take Melissa's word for it - she's sung praise to Plaisir du Chocolat here.

Their exquisite chocolates - look at the picture! - are best consumed within a week, so I've been dutifully eating them together with K. every night. All of them have been absolutely delicious, with an exception of one or two (Manosque didn't appeal to me, for example). Plaisir du Chocolat produces two 'collections' per year - one for Christmas and one for the Edinburgh festival season. My box of chocolates are from the Collection Winter 2005-2006. Here's what we had:

Top row from left to right:
Sacher (dark chocolate, bitter almond, apricot), Mesopotamia (dark chocolate, liquorice), Sheherazade (dark chocolate, pistachio), Laphroaig (dark chocolate, malt whisky), Bounty (white chocolate, coconut)

2nd row from the top, from left to right:
Spekulatius (dark chocolate, Christmas spices, citrus fruits), Khartoum (white chocolate, hibiscus), Vienne (dark chocolate, coffee, marzipan), Brazil (white chocolate, passion fruit), Agen (dark chocolate, prune, Armagnac)

Middle row, from left to right:
Szechuan (dark chocolate, Szechuan pepper, pear), Bergamot (Single origin Java milk chocolate, Earl Grey tea), Schwarzwald (dark chocolate, Cherry and Kirsh), Addis Ababa (milk chocolate, cardamom and pineapple), Indochine (single origin Java milk chocolate, green Vietnamese tea, lotus flowers)

2nd row from the bottom, from left to right:
Tombouctou (dark chocolate, cinnamon), Zanzibar (Single origin Java milk chocolate, cloves, orange peel), Java (single origin Java milk chocolate, green Jasmine tea), Persephone (milk chocolate, pomegranate, orange), Arabesque (white chocolate, rose buds)

Bottom row, from left to right:
Sologne (dark chocolate, fresh mint leaves), Manosque (dark chocolate, dried lavender), Antilles (dark chocolate, spices /vanilla, cinnamon, citronelle, cardamom, lemon, orange, elderberry, tonka, cloves, star anis, bitter orange leaves/, Martinique rum), Piemont (gianduja hazelnut), Guérandes (soft caramel made with salted butter mixed, white couverture, vanilla)

Thank you, Guro & Nash!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Savoury muffins with beetroot and blue cheese

I've been thinking about beetroot a lot lately. Weird, eh? I don't really know why, but suddenly I browse my cookbooks for beetroot recipes and make lists of various beetroot recipes to try. I've already posted plenty of beetroot recipes on this blog: beetroot & goat's cheese sandwiches, beetroot & garlic salad, beetroot & feta salad, filo tartlets with beetroot and three types of cheese. Yet I still long for more, and there are so many delicious-looking beetroot recipes out there in the blogosphere that I simply have to try: Anne's beet risotto with fava beans, Bea's beetroot ravioli and beetroot tabouli and dark chocolate and beetroot brownies (there's a foodblogger to my heart!), Alanna's wholegrain bread with beetroot, Clivia's beetroot cake with saffron glaze. I could go on and on..

In any case, I baked these savoury muffins with beetroot and blue cheese last weekend. On Sunday, K. and I headed to the forests and bogs again to gather wild mushrooms (we got loads!) and pick cranberries (I've got enough for some 10 cakes now). These muffins were ideal when we re-emerged from the forest - exhausted, dirty, wet, yet happy and content - three hours later. A lovely combination of moist'n'sweet beetroot and salty'n'tangy blue cheese.

Savoury muffins with beetroot and blue cheese
Adapted from Valio
Makes 12 large muffins.

5oo ml plain flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 tsp dried basil
150 grams blue cheese, crumbled
100 grams boiled beetroot, grated or cubed
200 ml single cream
3 eggs
3 Tbsp olive oil
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Mix flour, baking powder and basil in a bowl, add blue cheese and beetroot. Stir gently.
Mix cream, eggs and oil in a jug and stir quickly into the batter.
Pour into lined muffin cases and bake at 200C for 18-20 minutes.

They're best eaten warm, but are also great for lunchboxes. If you want, put into a microwave for 20 seconds to heat through.

UPDATE 7.11.2006: If you read Finnish, then read what Pastanjauhantaa thought of these muffins:)

Friday, October 20, 2006

A royal dinner

Photo courtesy of Postimees

Remember when the President of Estonia came to Edinburgh to have tea with the Queen and then enjoyed a drink in a pub with local Estonians? Well, since then Estonia has got a new president and I have moved back home. I'm slowly settling into my new life, new house and new kitchen. But first I'm sharing some royal news with you. Yesterday the Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrived in Estonia, where they visited the official residence of the President (Kadriorg palace), our new art gallery (KUMU), and then attended an official dinner at Mustpeade Maja. This very moment the royal family should be meeting and greeting people at Raekoja plats, before returning to the UK later this afternoon. I even got a glimpse of the royal family yesterday, as the royal cortege passed me when I was walking to my office (to be really honest, I only saw Prince Philip, as HRH must have been sitting on the other side of the car:)

I thought I'd share the menu with you. The rumour has it that the meal was prepared by Tõnis Siigur, Chef of Stenhus - a truly enchanted restaurant that I had a pleasure to visit in July.

Estonian feast
Green salad with Estonian porcini/cep mushrooms and Gruyére cheese
Roasted filet of Saaremaa lamb with roasted peppers
Chocolate cake with Nougatini dressing and citrus fruits
Coffee & tea

Wines & champagne
2003 Pouilly-Fumé les Charmes Chatelain AC, Loire, France
2000 Château Cassagne Haut-Canon la Truffière AC, Bordeaux, France
1992 Põltsamaa Kuldne, Estonia

Sunday, October 15, 2006

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go...

Indeed. All of the sudden, my seven years in Edinburgh have come to an end. When I first arrived in Scotland to do my Master's degree back in 1998, I came for a year. When I returned for my PhD in 2000, I came for three. But some things take time, sometimes you do things you didn't intend to, and one thing leads to another. My PhD led to a post-doc and then to another. In January I began another three-year research post here in Scotland, so I would have had to be here until the end of 2008. Yet, once more, things took an unexpected turn. Out of the blue (well, almost) I got homesick, began missing my friends and family, plus I met K. Though there are still several items I haven't ticked of this list of 'Things for a foodie to do in Scotland', there's a lot waiting for me at home. It's time to go.

I've had wonderful time here in Edinburgh. Yes, the weather sucks, but at least the winters are really mild. I've met some wonderful people from all over the world, and made friends for life. I've had my fair share of haggis, neeps & tatties, learnt to tell my Gay Gordon from The Dashing White Sergeant at a Ceilidh. As an icing on a cake, I've now even tried the infamous Scottish delicacy, deep-fried Mars Bar (see photo above). The latter was offered in one Edinburgh chippy for £2.50 for a big portion with chips, £2.30 for a small portion with chips (not sure if the brown sauce and ketchup were included in the price), or if you're really mean, then you can just order the deep-fried Mars Bar for £1.00. Don't ask..

So last night I had a big farewell do at Chai Teahouse for my friends in Edinburgh & Glasgow (thanks to everybody* who came!!!) . It was a great occasion with good fingerfood and great cocktails. Their Black Tea Martini was lipsmackingly good, and I really enjoyed the house cocktails consisting of vodka, lemon juice and green tea.

In just a few hours I'll be catching a flight home via Manchester and Helsinki. I'll probably take few days off to recover from the ordeal, but soon I'll blog again. From a new kitchen, from a new place. I hope you'll be still here..

* Emma & Michael, Antonis, Nash, Merilin & Dominic, Annika W, Annika B, Wilfried & Niranjan, Galina & Alexandr, Oxana, Adi, David, Risto, Lea & Helmi & Halliki, Helen, Kersti, Kerttu, Melinda, James O, James M, Ryoko, Dianne & Peter, Annemieke & Georgios, Hashemi, Siim, Gorev, Ceci, Nenya & Richard.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Turkish delight: Hanedan in Edinburgh

Gürsel Bahar, the chef & proprietor of Hanedan, July 2006

Hanedan opened in June 2004, yet it was imprinted in my head even before that. You see, it was exactly on my route from home to my regular breakfast-coffee place, Peckhams on South Clark Street, so I was passing it pretty much daily. Also, as I shared a flat with a Turkish girl at the time, a sign announcing "A Turkish restaurant opening soon" simply caught my eye. Quite soon afterwards, I realised that the chef enjoyed his morning coffee at Peckhams on a regular basis, too, and we began exchanging hellos and engaging in small talk. I found out that Gürsel had lived & worked in London for 16 years, where he worked 9 years with Sir Terence Conran at his Quaglino's Restaurant in St James. But as his wife was Scottish, it was inevitable that they'd move back to her homeland at one point.

Few months after befriending the chef over my breakfast coffee, I decided to pay his new eaterie a visit. I liked the food, and alongside with my other local restaurant, the Jamaican Coyaba, it quickly became my regular haunt. It was there that I took my parents, sister and nephew to celebrate my graduation last summer. I've had numerous meals there since, most recently last Saturday with my friends Michael & Emma. Hanedan has a lovely and inviting atmosphere, being obviously popular both with local Southsiders, as well as others, and it's always a pleasure to go back.

The first few times I opted for the mixed meze starter, lalezar (£6.75 per person), consisting of humuz (pureed chickpeas with sesame oil and lemon juice), herkez bayildi (roast aubergine, onion, tomato sauce and herbs), barbunya pilaki (olive oil braised red kidney beans), ispanakli yogurt (strained yogurt and spinach with garlic, served with a delicious pinch of sumac on top), firin kofte (oven baked mincd meat balls) and yaprak dolma (stuffed wine leaves). But the chef was 'complaining' that I'm not giving his other, 'proper' dishes a chance, so some time last autumn I 'upgraded' and began ordering mezes as well as main courses. I've never had to regret that, as the food has always been delicious, flavoursome and filling, and the service efficient and friendly (which cannot be said about another well-established Turkish restaurant in town, which I've stopped visiting since a rather unpleasant encounter in August).

If I am allowed to grumble just a little, then it's the limited choice of mains for vegetarians - Biberli makarna (pasta, red pepper sauce & feta cheese, £6.90) and Sebzeli musakka (vegetable moussaka, £7.90). And it would be also nice for his regular customers if he'd occasionally change his two-course menu offer (£7.95). That said, however, there are plenty of vegetarian meze dishes to choose from, with ispanakli yogurt (£2.90), herkes bayildi (£ 3.20) and helim izgara (perfectly grilled haloumi cheese, £3.60) being my favourites. And the main dishes are reasonably priced, too. His kuzu shish (a substantial portion of marinated grilled lamb on skewer, £7.90) simply melts in your mouth - I've never had meat so moist and tender before. Apparently the 'secret' to this dish is 'gentle massage' (though the Chef has now shared his recipe for the rub mixture with me:) My other favourites are tavuk guvech (sauteed chicken with onion, mushroom and tomato, £7.50, on the left), and tavuk shish (marinated grilled chicken on skewer, £7.75).

There are some Turkish wines on the wine list, and Efes Pilsen is available. And their baklava (filo pastry with mixed nuts & honey syrup, £2.90) is mouthwatering, light and rich at the same time. Highly recommended, whether you're sipping Turkish apple tea or a strong Turkish coffee which is served in cheerful tiny cups. Or, if you're up for it, some raki. Or why not both...

I'll miss this place. But then I do have the secret recipes for some of Gürsel's dishes in my pocket now:)

Some useful Turkish phrases from their menu:
Bu aksham olmaz - Not tonight.
Bisiklet pompani alabilirmiyim? - May I borrow your bicycle pump?
Gunde bir paket sigara iciyorum - I smoke a packet a day*

Note that booking is pretty much essential during weekends - I've been turned away on many occasions.

41-42 West Preston Street
Edinburgh EH8 9PY
Tel. 0131 667 4242

Lunch 12-3pm, Dinner 5.30pm till late, closed on Monday

* Even if you do, don't try to lit your cigaret while in Hanedan. Like all other public drinking & eating venues in Scotland, it's been smoke-free since March 2006. Bliss!