Thursday, September 22, 2005

Mexico, here I come!!!

I'm off to my very first cross-Atlantic flight early tomorrow morning and I'm heading to Mexico City. Over the years I've met many lovely Mexicanos & Mexicanas in Edinburgh, and got numerous invitations to visit. As this time one of my Edinburgh friends of 1998/1999 vintage, R, is getting married, I decided to take the plunge and go. I'll be gone for 11 days. The wedding - a 650-people Mexican soap-opera affair!!! - is the night before I return, so I am not sure how soon after getting back to Edinburgh I'm able to blog again;) We'll see.

But it suffices to say that I'm very much looking forward to the trip. I'm staying with my dear friends Angeles & Rafael in Mexico City. Angeles is a very good cook. She has a food technology degree and worked in a small bakery while Rafael was studying in Edinburgh - and I enjoyed many a nice meal at their place in Edinburgh 2000/2001. I'm sure I will be pampered this time as well.

I also anticipate couple of nice meals at Ada & Mauricio's place, my friends of 2001/2002 vintage:) Ada is a professional chef who has contributed to a cookbook about Veracruz food, and she was entertaining quite a lot when her hubby Mauricio was studying for an MBA degree here in Edinburgh. On the side, she also consulted some ready food suppliers on Mexican food, and refreshed and spiked up the menu for one of Edinburgh's Mexican restaurants, Viva Mexico - she even made it to the national newspaper!!! Apart from the numerous dinners at their home, I had also the pleasure of being one of the 'guinea pigs' that was invited to the 'main preview' of the new 3-course menu back in Viva Mexico in August 2002. It was absolutely delicious - and how could one not like it when the chef has taken the concept of 'personal touch' so far:

I will be staying in Mexico City most of the time, and unfortunately cannot travel out of town with neither Angeles or Ada - both of them have just had a baby (first and second child, respectively - and in the first case only last Sunday!). But some of my other friends have volunteered to show me around and maybe even take me to the coast for a couple of days. Who knows, I may be able to recreate the tan on the above picture - acquired during a 2-week conference/holiday on Santorini and Sifnos in Greece in 2002 in time for the wedding:)

But I'm pretty sure I will have lots to write about when I get back! Hasta la vista, amigos!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Estonian Recipes: kamakäkid or kama and mascarpone truffles

Photo updated in June 2009.

Here's a recipe for sweet tidbits made with mascarpone and the ubiquous Estonian ingredient kama. (I've written extensively about kama earlier here). Last night I made kamakäkid - a term that's not easy to translate, so I call them kama mascarpone balls.

Every country probably hopes that visitors will try some of their local traditional foods and fall in love with the cuisine. So lots of Estonian ethnic eateries would have a roasted and ground rye-barley-pea-oat mixture (alias kama) mixed with curdled milk on the menu. Alongside thick fried blood pudding slices, hearty sauerkraut stews and pickled cucumbers. Whereas this all sounds rather divine to me, to slightly more refined taste buds all that rusticism may seem a bit too much. They'd probably finish their dish, but would order something 'safer' and lighter next time.

Hence the attempt to lighten up and 'Westernise' the local food, sometimes quite successfully. In stead of fried black pudding slices you get dainty blood pudding chips, for example. Here is one such attempt to adjust a very traditional ingredient for Western - or even modern Estonian - palates. Instead of eating kama with fermented milk, it's mixed with mascarpone cheese, rolled into small balls and eaten with coffee.

For those of you who can't get hold of kama (eeh - that's all of you then:), try using oatmeal instead, as texture & flavour wise this is rather similar. If you do so, you may want to replace the cream liqueur with whiskey/whiskey liqueur (Drambuie). In which case you'd probably call them Cranachan mascarpone balls:)

Kama & mascarpone truffles
(Mascarpone-kamatrühvlid ehk peenemat sorti kamakäkid)

250 grams of mascarpone
3 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp raisins
2 Tbsp chopped nuts (I used walnuts, though hazelnuts would have been more 'authentic', as these are the only nuts that are native to Estonia)
3 heaped Tbsp kama flour
a generous dash of cream liqueur (I used Vana Tallinn cream liqueur, but Bailey's would do)

Mix everything together, put into the fridge for a while. Form into small balls, roll in kama or cocoa powder and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

UPDATE 16.1.2006: Anne of Anne's Food successfully tried my recipe for kama truffles:)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Something fishy: small tuna patties

I had the simplest supper last week - tuna patties, and very simple kind of tuna patties at that. For those moments when you need to a hot bite in a flash, but the fridge and kitchen cupboards aren't exactly full of food. If that sounds familiar, then here's what I did..

In order to make them, you drain a can of tuna chunks in sunflower oil, flake the tuna with a fork, add one egg and 2-3 tbsp plain flour.
Season with salt and pepper, and a sprinkle or two of your favourite herb seasoning.
Form into 6 small patties, slightly dust with flour and fry gently in oil (I used the drained sunflower oil) until golden brown.
Drizzle some lemon juice on top and garnish with dill.

Lovely in your lunch box sandwich on the following day.

Easy, isn't it?

Tuunikalakotlettide retsept

Monday, September 19, 2005


No, I'm not talking about the Worcestershire Sauce, although according to Lea & Perrins (and common sense), Worcestershire sauce indeed originates in this small English cathedral town that lies about an hour by train from Birmingham. I was in Worcester to give a paper at a conference at the University of Worcester last weekend.

After checking into my hotel on Friday night, I went to look for a place to eat. Just behind my hotel was Friar Street, packed with all kind of lovely small eateries. I finally opted for a very cosy-looking Italian place, Puccini's. The place, run by Arvin & Therese Gautama, looked busy with regulars - always a good sign - and I was given a table on a condition that I vacate it again in an hour. As I was dining solo, I didn't mind that. The menu - divided into starters, pizza, pasta & puddings - looked tempting, and I chose Puccini's Cannelloni from the pasta column. After 15 minutes I had a large plateful of piping hot cannelloni in front of me, filled with spinach, ricotta, mushrooms and tarragon. The latter was quite an unusual herb, I thought, but it definitely made the dish very interesting. I managed to fit a cup of coffee and some tiramisu into my one-hour dining slot as well, and left with a full stomach and a pleased palate. (And just about £15 poorer).

Remember I mentioned a few posts ago that I am a faithful type of customer? Well, I am. After the one-day conference ended on Saturday evening, I teamed up with a fellow presenter Eri from Japan and headed back to the centre of Worcester for dinner. As both our hotels were near Friar Street, we inevitably ended back near Puccini's - and then inside Puccini's. This time we got a table for 1,5 hours - I guess by now you've figured out that if you want to have a leisurely meal at that small Italian place, you'd be wise and book ahead.

Eri and I both had salads for starters, followed by fusilli with vegetables and tagliatelle with spinach, mushrooms and Gorgonzola, respectively. For dessert, a very generous portion of Gelato Affogato for Eri and a lovely panna cotta with forest fruits for me. Mmmm. (My bill, incl. a glass of house white - £16).

12 Friar Street
Worchester WR1 2LZ
Tel. +44 (0) 1905 27770

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Orange-chocolate mousse

My sweetheart's favourite cake is chocolate-orange cake - and Nigella's simple and heavenly storecupboard chocolate orange cake is one of my staples here. However, I wasn't on a cakey mood last weekend, so I followed the Greek hob-to-table moussaka with chocolate orange mousse. Yummy.

Again, the original recipe comes from a Finnish website - this time from their biggest dairy producers, Valio. I did adjust it a little - replacing lemon juice and vanilla extract with orange juice, as well as using orange chocolate (well, I was trying to 'replace' a chocolate-orange cake here, remember:) I also slightly played with the amounts this time, upping the amount of cream cheese. Here's my version. Second time I made it, and still pleased with it.

Orange chocolate mousse
Serves 4.

150-200 grams of plain cream cheese (low fat is fine)
100 grams of dark chocolate (I used Tesco Finest with orange bits)
1 Tbsp of sugar
100 ml whipping cream
some freshly squeezed orange juice (0.5 - 1 fruit)

Cream the cream cheese with a mixer or a wooden spoon, season with orange juice (and a dash of Grand Marnier, perhaps?) .
Whip the double cream/whipping cream with sugar, fold into the cream cheese mixture.
Melt the chocolate (leave a small piece aside for garnish) in a microwave, cool a little and stir into the cream cheese mixture.
Put into small glasses. Grate some chocolate on top.
Put into the fridge until ready to serve.

NB! Strawberries go nicely with this!

Šokolaadivahu retsept

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Deconstructing moussaka

Susan Hoffman writes in her The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking that moussaka

"comes in two versions: with an inner tier of saucy and succulent meat between layers of vegetable, and purely vegetarian. The two versions, of course, have many small variations, almost as many as there are Greek cooks. More white sauce or less. An eggplant with no potato, or a layer of potato as the foundation. A long-simmered meat center or a quick dash of meat and spices. (p. 313)"

Thus every Greek cook has their special moussaka recipe. Hoffman says that for the topping, 'redolent nutmeg cannot be bettered as the spice to accent curdy kefalotyri cheese'. Theodore Kyriakou uses cinnamon and kefalotyri in his version. Whereas Hoffman suggests either lamb or beef, Kyriakou prescribes lamb alone. Where Kyriakou layers both aubergines and courgettes (or eggplans and zucchinis:), Hoffman prefers the former alone. This is 'my' version - and remains so, until I feel confident enough to tackle the 'proper' version.

This was the very well-received welcoming dish on Friday night. It is from BBC Good Food April 2004 issue, where it is called Hob-to-table moussaka. So don't think of the heavy, but flavoursome, oven pie dish* that is served in many a Greek restaurant. It's not the traditional layered affair at all, but cooked in the frying pan on the hob. Think of it more like deconstructing the Greek national dish, and serving it in a much lighter and simpler way. That is, omit the Saltsa Besamel and kefalotyri cheese, which have been replaced with feta cheese. May not necessarily be lighter, but it is definitely simpler.

Hob-to-table moussaka
Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, minced
2 minced garlic cloves
500 grams minced lamb
400 grams chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp concentrated tomato pure**
2 tsp cinnamon
200-300 grams of roasted eggplant/aubergine slices in olive oil, roughly chopped
black pepper

To garnish:
200 grams feta cheese
fresh mint

Heat the olive oil on a big saucepan (feel free to use the oil drained from the eggpants). Add onion and garlic and fry gently, until soft.
Add the mince and fry until the meat is browned.
Add chopped tomatoes and tomato pure, season with cinnamon and generously with salt and pepper.
Simmer on a low heat for about 20 minutes***, adding aubergines half way through.
To serve, sprinkle with feta and mint (I used basil mint from my window sill).
Serve with fresh salad and toasted pita or plain naan bread.

Simple, delicious, aromatic, and very very Greek:)

Kali orexi!

* Susan Hoffman writes that 'The word moussaka refers to any layered vegetable casserole - only with tourism has the term become synonymous with the meat and eggplant version' (p. 316).

** Or replace chopped tomatoes and tomato pure with tomato perasti, if available (it's kind of thick and intensely-flavoured Greek tomato passata).

*** I cook the sauce for 30-40 minutes, stirring regularly and adding a bit of red wine/stock if necessary. I like the extra depth that slow cooking gives to tomato-based sauces.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Suggestions, suggestions

Like many other foodbloggers, I have a list of favourites on the right hand side of the screen: other foodblogs I visit, favourite places to shop, books I like, books I want etc. Mainly it's a way to provide shortcuts for myself - I find it's easier to click from my site than to go to the favourites' bar in my browser and look up bookmarked websites. It's also a sneaky way to suggest what to get me if someone is struggling with birthday/Christmas/random gift ideas:)

My Greek beau moved to Amsterdam to start his PhD at the end of August, and came over for a visit last weekend. Few days earlier I had received a parcel from Amazon. I was a bit confused, as I hadn't ordered anything from them recently. At least I couldn't remember ordering anything from them lately. When I opened the parcel, I realised immediately what was going on, and it brought a big smile to my face. The parcel contained a book I've wanted for a while, The Real Greek at Home. My Greek beau claimed that he only ordered it because it was at the top of my Books I Want list, although I suspect he had some alterior motives. I think he was suggesting what I should/could cook this weekend. Just in case I was struggling with the idea:)

I must admit that although my usual food repertoire includes some Greek dishes (my feta-spinach pie has been one of the favourites for almost a decade now and I'm quite a fan of tzatziki), my love affair with a Greek food is new. I went to Greece for the first time in July 2002, to attend an IVSA conference on Santorini (see the pic on the right). And to be honest, I didn't eat much. It was 40 degrees Celsius, it was hottest and sunniest place I'd ever been to and, to be frank, I was struggling to stay alive (interestingly, dipping in and out of a 100˚C sauna doesn't seem to drain me as much. Maybe it's the sun?) In any case, food was the last thing in my mind, and I was on a diet of frappes and gallons of water for two weeks, having some light nibbles in the evenings when it was cooler. And even then I was on a self-imposed diet - as most of my friends were keen to try various seafood dishes in various seaside establishments - deep-fried squid, grilled octopus etc - I was inevitably left with another plate of horiatiki. I don't eat shellfish & molluscs, you see.

I spent another few days with a Greek friend on Sifnos after the conference, where I had a pleasure of trying his Granny's fabulous meatballs and a traditional Sifnos chick-pea dish - tsoukali revithia alias 'revithia se sifniwtiko tsoukali'. My friend Stam (who was also a student in Edinburgh, but always returned home for summer) mixed chickpeas, oil and seasonings in a special clay pot - tsoukali revidion, which he then took to a communal oven in the evening (see pic, it's hard to see but all clay pots have family names written on them), where it slowly cooked over night. Apparently it's done every Saturday night, and the chickpeas are then picked up on Sunday morning and eaten during the day. I also brought along some really tasty almond and nut biscuits from the local bakery which I still miss occasionally.

But overall the culinary side of Greece remained somewhat unexplored back then. I did buy a Greek cookbook on the way back in the airport, but that turned out to be utter crap - for instance, it has a taramasalata recipe that forgets to mention fish roe etc, it's full of typos and it annoys me more than educates me.

I was again in Athens in October 2003, this time attending a really beautiful and romantic wedding of my friends Anna & David. As it was much cooler - the temperature was a very agreeable 20˚C or so - my appetite was much bigger. And I got to try some really lovely Greek dishes at the banquet and dinner.

Since early this year I've been flirting much more regularly with all the delicacies Greece has on offer. I've read a lot about Greek food, and tried out several dishes. Mostly with a great success. Only my Cypriot halloumi & mint bread got a lukewarm reception, but I think this had more to do with personal politics than my cooking skills, as the bread was finished quickly by non-Greek eaters:) I made tsoureki and stifado for Easter, and have cooked spanakopita, moussaka, gigantes beans, paputsakia, Greek meatballs, roasted feta with olives and red peppers, on other occasions. To sum up - feta cheese and Total Greek Yogurt are some of my kitchen staples nowadays. And last weekend saw me preparing another Greek meal. For inspiration, I scanned both The Real Greek Food that suggestingly appeared in my mailbox, as well as the fabulous The Olive and the Caper that I had bought few months ago. Eventually, as I was running out of time and could not lovingly simmer a tomato sauce for an hour before baking it for yet another, I stuck with an old and tested favourite - hob-to-table moussaka. And I'll tell you all about it soon.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Foodie postcards: Culinary Daffynitions

No cooking today, but I wanted to show you a sweet postcard I picked up the other day:

Culinary Daffynitions postcard is by a well-known English cartoonist Annie Tempest, and the postcard is printed by Caspari Ltd, Saffron Walden, Essex CB11 3Ap.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The best 'pelmeenid' in town?

Here's another post I hinted about earlier. The answer is, I have no clue. I simply do not know..

Several weeks ago, Anne of Anne's Food wrote about her love affair with pelmeenid. It turned out that Anna's Dad is from Estonia (which makes Anna almost a fellow national - certainly some of our food memories are similar:) and was often making pelmeenid for his family when Anna was younger. Basically, pelmeenid are small, usually meat-filled dumplings or ravioli that have travelled to Estonia from the East - Russia. Although they're not strictly our 'national cuisine' they're extremely popular. There are loads of different varieties of frozen pelmeenid available in supermarkets - you can choose pelmeenid stuffed with minced beef, lamb or pork (or a combination of these), with mushrooms, with quark etc. They're real convinience food - you bring them home, throw into salted boiling water, boil for a couple of minutes until they raise to the surface, drain them, drown them in sour cream and enjoy. Chopped green onion would be a nice garnish. Or you can dip them in vinegar. Or souse in ketchup. Or deep fry in oil, sprinkle with paprika powder and dip in sour cream. If you're especially studious and good, you make them from scratch - just like Anne did. We tend to be more lazy, especially as the shop-bought ones aren't usually too bad (though they don't compete with good and proper home-made ones obviously). I guess the best pelmeenid I've ever had, were made by my dear friend Galina's mum few years ago, when she was visiting her daughter in Edinburgh. Galina's mother made trays and trays of these dainty little dumplings and these were absolutely divine. She called them 'pelmenyi' of course, and not 'pelmeenid'.

Back to my recent trip to Estonia and the question posed in the title. I think every time I've been home during the last few years, I've had these dumplings in a place called Troika. I _know_ that dumplings are on the menu of other popular Russian restaurants as well, but I've always had very-very-very good dumplings in Troika, so I head back. Maybe I'm a loyal customer type of girl? Or maybe I am just resistant to trying anything unfamiliar? A friend of mine in Edinburgh, K., says I have a peasant mentality when laughing about my persistance of sticking to safe choices (cafes I know, restaurants I visit regularly, dishes I order etc.) Thus although I may come across even better pelmeenid at some other place, I tend to go back to Troika. 'Why risk it?' I'm thinking. And hence I don't know if they actually serve the best pelmeenid in town. But I assure you they serve very good ones...

It's a cheerful place at the Town Hall Square, and the restaurant is on two floors. The ground floor serves slightly more casual fare, whereas the lower ground floor has the main restaurant with a Russian balalaika band, brightly decorated walls etc. The waiters and waitresses are dressed up in Russian folk dresses, and you get a sakuzki basket with rye bread, coarse salt and green onions while you wait for your order. Another popular starter includes salted cucumbers with honey and sour cream for dipping. And they do a fancy thing with vodka - they deep freeze the bottle, and then pour by now the very viscous vodka from high up into your shot glass - quite a spectacle!

Here's an essential vocabulary for visiting a Russian restaurant - a postcard I picked up from Troika few years ago. It's trilingual - the top word is Russian, with Estonian translation in the middle and English equivalent at the bottom:)

There are three different pelmeenid on the menu: the cheapest ones are simply boiled and served with a choice of cold dips (including the compulsory sour cream). Then there's a slightly pricier option of pelmeenid with mushrooms under a pastry lid (my choice always, and the waiter does an macho move with a knife on the table when removing some of the pastry lid). And finally, the priciest ones (at about 4GBP) are stuffed with lamb and come with blackcurrant jam, sour cream and dill sauce. All are equally nice and worthy of the trip to the establishment.

Here is my dear friend-since-we-were-seven Liina on a glorious August day sitting on Troika's terrace in the centre of Old Tallinn and waiting for her pelmeenid. Note the waitress in a Russian costume on the background. And there are no pictures of food this time, as I had forgotten to charge the camera battery:(

Raekoja plats 15
+372 627 6245

Friday, September 09, 2005

In search of a perfect carrot cake: Sagadi mansion

After a long and leisurely family lunch at Altja, we headed for a dessert some 7 kilometres away. The destination: Estonian National Forest centre at Sagadi manor complex, where the Forest Museum, located in one of the side buildings of the manor also houses a lovely restaurant-café. According to my friend Edith, they do a mean carrot cake at that place.

As we were rather full after our Estonian blood pudding and mash-with-groats lunch, we only ordered what we were looking for - a cup of coffee and a slice of carrot cake.

The coffee was very good, and the cake was tasty and moist, covered with a cream cheese icing and roughly chopped hazelnuts:

I wouldn't go as far as say that this was the best and/or perfect carrot cake - I have few rather tasty versions in my cake repertoir, I must say. But it was definitely tasty, and enjoyed by everyone.

And after a lovely ending to our long and leisurely lunch, we did some shopping in the local handicraft shop. Leaving the shop, we were approached by a quiet old woman, who asked us if we'd like some mushrooms. More specifically, she was wondering whether we'd be kind enough to buy a kilogram of freshly picked chantarelle mushrooms for about £1.50. And how can one say no to such a bargain, especially if I had been dreaming about these mushrooms all day? The rest is history - or should I say - the rest is mushroom sauce and chantarelle quiche?

Sagadi mõisa hotell-restoran
Sagadi küla
Vihula vald 45402
+ 372 325 8888, +372 515 7788

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A simple cheesy tart

My Japanese friend Ryoko came over for a light supper and a DVD last night, and I made a simple cheese tart with the Dorset Pastry puff pastry in my freezer (Ingredients: organic flour, organic butter, water, organic eggs and sea salt).

I prebaked the puff pastry in a hot oven - not entirely happy how the edges broke slightly - and covered with slices of courgettes and tomatoes. Then I crumbled over some Roquefort cheese, drizzled the tart with some olive oil and seasoned with black pepper and Maldon sea salt and a sprinkling of sweet marjoram:

I put it back into hot oven for another 25 minutes or so:

The resulting tart was rather nice. I liked the fact that it didn't require any egg/cream mixture to bind the filling - which made the meal much lighter (if you can say that about a puff pastry tart, of course:)

For dessert we had some chocolate eclairs that Ryoko brought along, as well as some strawberries and honeydew melon. The dessert was consumed in front of the telly, watching Wong Kar-Wai's 2046. Whereas the 'prequel' In the Mood for Love is one of my all-time very favourite movies (saw it in the cinema several times, the soundtrack is one of my staple background CDs and got the DVD with all the extra features as soon as it was out), I still haven't made my mind up about this one yet. Too confusing, this travelling back-and-forth between 1960s and 2046. I guess I must watch it again..

Meanwhile, have to think of something to do with that big chunk of Brie now that I bought for the tart yesterday and didn't use...

Brie juustu piruka retsept

UPDATE 12 September 2005:
This post was mentioned as one of the Posts of the Week over at Too Many Chefs (THANK YOU, BARRETT!), together with a cheeky link to my Estonian site. You may have noticed that I provide a non-comprehensible link (i.e. in Estonian to an Estonian-language site) at the end of some of my posts. This is to make life easier for my few Estonian readers, especially my Mum (who speaks no English, but pops by occasionally to make sure I've been eating properly) and my sister (who speaks some English but would never try to cook something following English-language instructions). If there is a recipe to share, it's included in my post in lingua franca of foodbloggers, English.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Tallinn Café Scene: Kehrwieder cafés

This is my last installment about various cafés in Tallinn. Kehrwieder is actually a chain of very cosy cafés in my home town, and the pictures here are from Saiakangi Café & Chocolaterie, on a small sidestreet just off the Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats). As I went to school within the walls surrounding the Old Town, I walked on this street often. And I still remember when it used to be a florist during the dark Soviet years:)

It is still dark - though nowadays not because of the Soviet shadows, but because it is located in a basement floor. This dark cosyness/cosy darkness is characteristic of Kehrwieder cafés as they tend to be tucked away in medieval courtyards and behind thick medieval stone walls. Another favourite of mine is their Tristan & Isolde café, which is under one of the vaults of the Town Hall itself. And believe me, there's something very romantic about sipping your coffee* surrounded by 14th century walls.. Especially during dark cold winter nights, when your table has nothing else than a candle on it - how romantic is that?? However, should you feel like reading a book in solitude for a couple of hours (and I've done that in many a Kehrwieder café), then the tables have discreet desktop lamps, so you don't have to strain your eyes too much. This is something I don't understand about Edinburgh cafés - they're either too bright to be cosy, or then they are strictly candlelight only, so it is your own interest not to read anything..

Again - there is a wide array of really yummy seasonal cakes and tarts in this place (behind the glass display) in addition to the usual range of yeast pastries (the basket on the left). I also like their salads - these come with either tuna or smoked chicken, and are light and cheap, perfect for a quick lunch. Also a wide choice of teas and coffees, as well as wine or spirits. A small class of liqueur with your coffee is quite common in Estonia:)

The main downside - I don't comprehend it, but for some weird reason they use UHT milk for making coffee. And that's not good. But for their cakes and general atmosphere - recommended.

* Or hõõgvein (mulled wine/glögg) which is the choice of hot drink once it's dark outside again..

Kehrwieder Cafe & Chocolaterie
Saiakang 1
Open: Sunday-Thursday from 8am until 11pm, Friday & Saturday from 8am until 1am

Monday, September 05, 2005

Weekend copycatting: Chinese chicken stir-fry, Roasted peaches with basil, Tuna & chickpea salad

No, I'm not writing about Weekend Cat Blogging, hosted by Clare at Eat Stuff, where foodbloggers show off their adorable cuties. I managed to do quite a lot of cooking this weekend, including 2 dishes I've spotted at various foodblogs. I feel much better for it - both for cooking something nice and for finally managing to cook something other foodbloggers have suggested. There are so many tempting recipes around, and I'm keen to try them all, but there's just not enough time and energy always available.

I hosted a small casual dinner on Friday night, attended by two Edinburgh based Estonian friends and two visiting Estonian friends. We skipped the starters bit and headed straight for the chicken&greens stir-fry that I also cooked for my family in June, then with an addition of garlic scapes.

The recipe comes from February 2001 issue of BBC Good Food magazine, where it is called Chinese chicken stir fry. I guess all 5 of us thought it was a Chinese dinner enough (cooked in a wok, seasoned with soy sauce and eaten with chopsticks:) but again, am not sure whether anyone more familiar with the versatile Chinese cooking would agree, as it didn't seem to be very Chinese to me. But it's tasty and easy, very bright and colourful, and I also suspect it's reasonably light and healthy, and I have cooked it many a time since I saw the recipe few years ago.

Chinese chicken stir-fry
Serves 4 or so, depending on the amount of noodles/rice.

25 grams butter
450 grams sliced chicken fillets
3 tbsp dark soy sauce (I used Kikkoman's)
350 grams broccoli, cut into small florets
200 grams green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
a bunch of sliced spring onions
2 tsp corn flour (Maizena/corn starch)
freshly squeezed juice of 2 oranges
a handful of fresh basil

Heat a large wok, melt the butter.
Add chicken fillet strips and a dash of soy sauce. Fry for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until chicken starts to brown.
Add broccoli florets, green beans and about half of spring onions (the whiter parts). Fry for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
Mix corn flour, orange juice and rest of the soy sauce. Add to the wok and heat for another 1 minute, until the sauce thickens a little.
Add the rest of the spring onions and basil.

I served it with some egg noodles tossed with a dash of sesame oil.

Peaches Roasted With Brown Sugar and Basil
(Basiilikuvõiga küpsetatud virsikud)

There have been lots of lovely recipes using peaches recently (check out the fabulous creations at Kuidaore and another lovely peach dish on The Flying Apple blog). I then came across a very tempting and oh-so-simple peach recipe at Gluten-free Girl (originally from NY Times (25.8.2005)) and decided to go for it. This is my first copycat dish of the weekend.

A dessert simply cannot be any simpler - you halve the peaches and remove the stones, fit the peach halves snugly into a baking dish. You fill the peaches with some fresh chopped basil (I'm happily using the crops of my herb 'garden'), some brown sugar, a tiny piece of butter and sprinkle the whole lot with cinnamon:

I was even so lazy as to skip the bit where you're supposed to mix sugar, mint and butter into a paste - it worked perfectly well without that preparatory step as well.

Then you bake the whole lot in a pre-heated 225˚C oven for about 15 minutes, until the peaches have softened, the butter has melted and sugar caramelised.

I served it with my favourite ice-cream - the sticky toffee one from a Scottish organic dairy Cream O'Galloway.

Pertelote's tuna and chickpea salad

On Saturday morning I had another nice and hearty fry-up at Native State (well, I must introduce my visitors to the local food culture!), and thus skipped the lunch. I later attended a lovely BBQ at my friend Helen's place (another local Estonian), where I brought along Pertelote's fantastic tuna and chickpea salad. I should probably say that I made this salad again (photo above) - and this my second copycat dish of the weekend (and a recurrent one).

These lovely dishes and plenty of entertainment made me happy and kept me busy and retained me from missing people who are not around at the moment too much. As for the weekend entertainment - you can't go wrong with some salsa dancing, BBQ, shopping and a highly entertaining La Clique show. PS Aussie bloggers - I thoroughly recommend the latter show, coming to Melbourne in October!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Tallinn Café Scene: Cafe Peterson

I'm continuing my overview of various cafés in my home town, Tallinn. Cafe Peterson was close to Tallinn University, where I attended a symposium and summer school back in August. Maybe that explains why most of the time it was full of bohemian university types, many of them English-speaking. The building it's in is one of those big ugly office blocks, but I didn't let myself disturb by it, and I am happy I popped in.

It's light and airy, and has a Parisian feel to it. Although, having never been to Paris, I cannot be sure, but that's how I imagine the cafés to be like.

There's a morning menu (delicious yeast pastries, and even porridge of the day between 9-11am) and afternoon à la carte menu. There's a wide range of teas and coffees as well.

I stopped there both for few quick breakfasts, as well as lunch with fellow symposium attendees, and a weekend lunch with my Mum and auntie Helgi few days later. I especially enjoyed their blue cheese and ham quiche (had it twice;), whereas my Mum had a tasty and substantial salmon soup for lunch.

Here's a picture of my typical breakfast: a milky coffee and a cinnamon roll. Mmmm. And while enjoying the breakfast, I was catching up with Estonian women's glossy magazines. The cover story in this particular magazine was about a very beautiful and very talented young jazz singer Helin-Mari Arder whom I have the pleasure to know:)

Cafe Peterson
Narva mnt 15
Open: Monday-Friday 8am-11pm, Saturday 10am-11pm, Sunday 10am-10pm

Saturday, September 03, 2005

'Going ethnic' or eating Estonian: Altja tavern

Remember the unexpected pile of chantarelle mushrooms I came across when daytripping in Lahemaa, Estonia? Well, here are some pictures of the lazy lunch we enjoyed on that day. Which was the reason why I was about to miss a lovely mushroom dinner that night, had we not come across that lovely mushroom lady..

We had driven about 100 km out of town towards St Petersburgh, to Lahemaa. After catching up with my friend Edith and her lovely daughter Liisu (usually residents of Edinburgh, but spending the summer in most idyllic settings of Northern Estonia) in Võsu and spending some time on the beach, we headed for some lunch at Altja kõrts or Altja tavern. This is a traditional Estonian tavern house that has acted as a national restaurant for quite a few years already. It features in the news regularly as various visiting dignitaries (anyone from the President of Germany to the Queen of Denmark) are brought here, and it is also the place where busloads of tourists get their crash course into Estonian cuisine. We arrived just when two buses left with German tourists - the latter apparently provide 80% of the business!

Maybe living abroad makes me more nostalgic, or maybe the food was extremely nice on its own right, but I had a thoroughly enjoyable meal. It was a beautiful and sunny day, and we took our lunch outside:

For starters, we shared a plate of blood chips. Yep, you read it correctly. There isn't a single Christmas meal in Estonia that wouldn't feature blood sausages (verivorst) or black pudding, as it is known in politically correct English. Although you can buy blood sausages throughout the year, the preferred alternative during summer months is blood pudding (verikäkk) - slightly firmer in consistency and thicker in diametre. Traditionally it is fried in thick slices and eaten with a sour cream sauce. In Altja, however, they served delicious paperthin slices with a sour cream dip - kind of modern take on an old classic:

Extremely tasty. I later found the recipe for veritsipsid or blood chips in a new Estonian national cookbook published last year. And I have a whole black pudding in my Edinburgh fridge waiting to be baked into thin chips in my oven:)

Veritsipside retsept

For the main course, we all opted for mulgipuder, which is a traditional dish of mashed potatoes cooked with some pearl barley from Mulgimaa in South-Western Estonia. Mine came with a wild mushroom sauce:

The others opted for mulgipuder with fried baltic herring (praetud räimed).

I was a bit reluctant to order the fried fish myself, as I was sure that I'd be forking out fishbones from between my teeth. But I shouldn't have - the mouthful (alright, actually the many mouthfuls) I nicked from my Mum's plate were absolutely delicious - thick well-seasoned fish fillets.

Note that all plates come garnished with pickled beetroot and salted cucumbers. I said it's very popular back in Estonia!

Even the children's options were above the ususal mash-and-sausages habit:

They did get mash, granted, but it was accompanied by tasty olive & grated carrots meatballs. And none of the picky eaters said a word, as they were happily munching their way through the plate!

To wash it all down - some home-made root beer (kali) for the adults and plum (not prune!) juice for the kids.

After the meal we spent another half an hour enjoying the sun and looking at the kids (see my sis?:) climbing the old carriage and flying back and forth on the swing.

And for the dessert? Well, that involves another beautiful manor house in Lahemaa and comes as a totally different story:)

Altja kõrts
Altja küla
Vihula vald
45501 Lääne-Virumaa
Summer opening hours: daily from 11am until 11pm (1 May-30 Sep)
Winter opening hours: Mon/Tue/Wed/Thu/Sun 11am-8pm, Fri/Sat 11am-9pm (1 Oct-30 Apr)

Friday, September 02, 2005

Tallinn Café Scene: Musi

Musi, which means 'a kiss' in Estonian (see the lips on the logo?), is one of the newest cafés that has recently popped up in Tallinn. In any case, it was my first time to visit the place, and I went twice during my recent trip home. To be precise, my first accounter with The Kiss was before I even reached home.

One of my best friends back home was due to give birth any day in early August, so we arranged to meet asap upon my arrival, just in case. As it happened, I saw her again just a few days later for a relaxed late summer BBQ in my parents house and she didn't give birth to her baby boy until the following week. But after meeting my parents at the airport and sending them home with my luggage, I met up in Musi with some university friends. There were five of us, and it was almost like an Estonian emigré gathering. I have lived the last 6 years in Edinburgh, one of us was visiting from near San Francisco, one from her secondment job in Brussels, one has been back in Estonia for a while now after a few years in Budapest, and my then still mother-to-be-friend is due to start working in Brussels once she returns to work when the baby turns one and a half. So you can imagine there was lots of catching up to do.

Musi is at a discreet location just opposite St Nicholas Church (Niguliste kirik) and somewhat hard to notice from outside. But I highly recommend it - it's cosy and very ambient, with a good selection of wine (the only alcohol served) and not too extensive, but very tasty selection of food - mainly cakes, quiches and salads. I had a chicken quiche on the first night, and it was yummy. When I was back in Musi the night before heading back to Edinburgh, I treated myself to some canapes with chicken and pesto that were nice as well. However, what I really recommend is their eponymous cake - Musi tort:

It was a really tasty layered sponge-cake with cream cheese and sea buckthorn (see those bright orange berries?) filling and drizzled with honey - absolutely lovely. And look at the plate it came on!

Lovely, lovely place. Just make sure you have plenty of time to enjoy your wine and nibbles, as the service is somewhat relaxed:)

Oh - and the place has probably the most gorgeous public restroom in town - a size/looks/smell of a small boudoir.

Niguliste 6
10130 Tallinn
Open: Monday-Saturday 2pm until midnight

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Cooking Estonian: buckwheat and mushrooms

To be really honest, this probably does not really pass for an Estonian national dish. It’s probably more typical of Russian kitchens. But buckwheat is quite a common ingredient in Estonia, as are mushrooms. And as it’s unlikely that any of you have come across something like this earlier (am I right?), and as it is introduced by an Estonian blogger, let's call it an Estonian dish:)

I had some mushrooms left over from the other day, and as I'm on a budget at the moment, I decided to use something that I already had in my cupboard for cooking and spotted a box of buckwheat flakes. A quick look into my Estonian language recipe site inspired me to combine these two in an oven pie. That’s what I had for supper last night and I enjoyed it. My Estonian friend Maarika popped by on her way home later and had 2 portions for dinner and approved heartily as well. It’s comfort food and not something you’d serve at a dinner party, neither does it lend itself for a romantic meal with your sweetheart (for the latter occasion, you may want to look for inspiration in this book). But as a lovely weeknight meal, it’s perfect.

It’s also suitable for vegetarians and those on gluten-free diet.

Buckwheat and mushroom oven pie

You need either buckwheat or buckwheat porridge flakes (on the right) for this. I used the latter – these are pre-cooked buckwheat flakes that only take about a minute or two on the hob when you make breakfast porridge. Buckwheat is a lovely versatile grain – it has a slightly unusual nutty flavour, and it’s full of all kind of nutrients. While buckwheat flour is probably widely available across the world so you could make Japanese soba noodles or Russian blinis, it’s unlikely you find buckwheat grain or flakes in your regular supermarket if you live outside Eastern or Central Europe. It took me a while to source some in Edinburgh, but most health food and ethnic shops would probably stock it.

That’s what you do:
Prepare a buckwheat (or buckwheat flake) porridge using a mushroom stock (I used a mushroom stock cube).
Fry a chopped onion or two and chopped mushrooms gently in oil.
Mix the buckwheat porridge, mushrooms and onions and put the lot into a greased oven dish (NB! Can be made in small ramekins for individual portions).
Cover with a layer of sour cream/crème fraiche/thick plain yogurt.
Sprinkle some grated cheese on top.
Put into the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the dish is lightly golden brown on top.

Garnish with a dill sprig or two and serve.