Friday, December 30, 2005
Just a short note to say that I am unable to update my blog frequently these days, as I'm busy baking Christmas cookies (above), enjoying saunas and hugging snowy trees in Viru bog on the Northern coast of Estonia (below). I'll be back in the new year to tell you all about the copious Christmas eating and cooking, and will try to answer all those memes I have been tagged for during the last month or so.
Thanks to all of you who have made keeping this blog so enjoyable during the last 6 months. I hope you will continue to come back next year!
Head vana-aasta lõppu ja toredat uut aastat!!!
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
I had planned to make another cranberry cake for the Christmas dinner, but on the day I did the shopping, I had a choice between imported American cranberries or local Estonian lingonberries. As both berries are tart and sour, I opted for the berries that hadn't been on a long-haul flight, and I also picked up a jar of fresh lingonberry jam (IKEA sells a nice one). I used curd cheese - kohupiim - that is very common in Estonia, but feel free to use cream cheese - the texture is slightly different, but both should work.
350 grams plain chocolate biscuits
150 grams butter, melted
400-500 grams plain curd cheese or cream cheese
400 ml whipping cream
400 grams sweetened lingonberry jam
50 ml sugar
12 gelatine sheets
Crush the biscuits and mix with melted butter. Press the mixture into a baking sheet (I used 22x32 cm, cover with a large piece of baking paper) and put into a fridge.
Whisk whipping cream with some sugar until soft peaks form.
In another bowl, mix the cream or curd cheese with lingonberry jam.
Mix whipped cream and creamed cheese.
Is using gelatine sheets, soak in cold water for 5 minutes, then squeeze dry, mix with 50 ml boiling water and mix, until gelatine has dissolved.
Add to the cream cheese mixture, mixing vigorously, so you wouldn't end up with any lumps. Throw in few generous handfuls of berries, if you wish.
Pour the cheese mixture onto the crushed biscuit base and put the cake in a fridge for at least 4-5 hours or until the following day (or two).
Before serving, lift the cake out with the help of the baking paper. Decorate with lingonberries and cut into small squares.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess is probably one of my most cherished cookbooks – though having acquired a number of delicious books recently, it has quite a few competitors. I’ve already written about the delicious yet simple Chocolate & Orange Cake and delicate Pistachio Macaro(o)ns, and I’ve tried her recipes for Norwegian Cinnamon Buns, Nigellan Flatbread, Snickerdoodles – some once, some more often. A South African friend of mine swears by Granny Boyd’s Biscuits, also in the book. Another favourite of mine in that book is the Cranberry Upside Down Cake.
I tried the cake some 2 years ago. Although I remember it tasted lovely, it was slightly sad looking affair. I had used one of those cheap square cake tins, which obviously did not distribute the heat evenly and burnt half of my cranberries. Judge yourself:
Determined to give it another go, I bought a Silverwood tarte tatin dish in early December. I still had some cranberries left since I made a cranberry orange loaf few weeks ago, and the rest of the ingredients are typical store cupboard stuff anyway.
Cranberry Upside Down Cake
4 Tbsp butter
150 ml sugar
200 ml cranberries
200 ml self-rising flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
125 ml sugar
125 ml butter, cubed
2 large eggs
50-100 ml milk
You start by melting the butter on the hob. Add the sugar and stir, until sugar has dissolved. Now stir in cranberries and mix, until cranberries are covered with a lovely glossy sugar and butter mixture.
Now mix the batter ingredients and pour over the cranberries. Nigella uses a food processor - then you need much less milk. I rely on muscle power, so I mixed the dry ingredients, chopped in the butter and then added the eggs and milk.
Bake in the middle of 180˚C oven for about 30 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and well risen. Can you see the pink hue of cranberries at the edge of the cake?
Cover the tray with a serving plate and flip the tatin dish around – carefully, so you wouldn’t burn yourself!
Serve. Isn't it pretty and oh so Christmassy in colour!?
UPDATE: Gracianne of the French-language Un dimanche a la Campagne baked this cake in March 2006.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
I guess it is too late to put forward my penne alla vodka - very popular in my kitchen during 2005 - or ubiquous Estonian kama truffles seasoned with our national creamy liqueur. Assuming it has to be something recent and seasonal, I put forward our Christmas food staple: sauerkraut. And instead of cooking it simply with a large chunk of pork, I made a delicious hotpot with beer.
(Õlles hautatud hapukapsad)
Source: Postimees, December 2005
1 kg fresh sauerkraut
100 grams of sugar or honey
1-2 tsp salt
300 ml porter or other dark strong beer
300 ml apple juice
a generous pinch of caraway seeds
50 grams butter
Mix all ingredients in a large saucepan and put on a medium heat. Simmer, stirring every now and then, until the cabbage is slightly golden and soft.
Serve with fried or roasted black pudding/blood sausages and pork roast and roasted potatoes. Or turkey, if that's what you usually have on your Christmas table.
Head over to SlashFood for the round up of the Spirited Cooking event!
Monday, December 19, 2005
One of my favourite restaurants back home is Olde Hansa, the Medieval Restaurant of Tallinn. The name highlights that Tallinn used to be a member of the Hanseatic League, a medieval network of trade towns in the Northern Europe. Olde Hansa is a fun and wonderful restaurant in a huge medieval warehouse, just off the Town Hall Square in Tallinn's Old Town. I like the candlelight medieval atmosphere, I like the music, I like the food (their thick mushroom soup is divine!), their slightly OTT medieval pub style service. I simply love the place and it's one of the restaurants I always try to visit when at home.
Few years ago they started selling spicy sugared almonds outside the restaurant (above), and public events around the town. These have become a huge success both among the numerous tourists as well as locals. The almonds come in small paper cones, and cost just over £1. Not bad at all for something so delicious. I've been thinking of recreating these at home - not because I wanted to save the money, but simply out of culinary curiosity. And then you can't get Olde Hansa sugared almonds in Edinburgh anyway..
I spotted a recipe for spicy sugared almonds on a Finnish website a while ago, and tried them earlier this week. I'm very pleased with the result. The Olde Hansa sweet masters may use a slightly different amount of various spices, but I confidently say that my spicy sugared almonds were at least as good as theirs!
Spicy sugared almonds to accompany your cup of mulled wine on a cold snowstormy night when you are sitting in front of fireplace
100 ml sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
0.25 tsp ground cloves
0.25 tsp ground ginger
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
a tiny pinch of Cayenne (optional)
0.5 tsp fine salt
1 egg white
1.5 Tbsp water
300 grams whole almonds (blanched or not)
Mix sugar, spices and salt in a bowl. Whisk the egg white with the water, add to the spice mixture together with almonds. Mix thoroughtly, then spread the mixture on a cooking tray that has been covered with parchment paper.
Roast at 150˚C for about 30 minutes, shaking the almonds every now and then, so they wouldn't stick too much to the paper and would cook evenly.
The almonds are ready when they are slightly golden brown - do not burn them! Let them cool a little and then start nibbling!
PS I tried the recipe with blanched almonds as well, as suggested in the original recipe, but I must admit I prefer using non-blanched almonds - they seem to have more taste and bite to them!
Friday, December 16, 2005
This is a lovely banana cake that would suit perfectly any cake table during the coming holidays. The cake is moist and tasty, and the use of cinnamon, cloves and ginger automatically give it a very Christmassy flavour. The recipe is from the Finnish Valio site and I made it twice in a row in late November. It is a rather large cake that should yield about 20 servings. Here's the original recipe:
Christmassy banana cake
250 ml sugar
100 g melted butter
500 ml plain flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla sugar
2-3 ripe bananas, chopped
200 grams plain yogurt
Whisk eggs with sugar, add melted butter.
Mix the dry ingredients.
Puree bananas, mix with the yogurt.
Add the dry mix and banana mix to the egg and sugar mixture.
Pour the batter into a buttered round bundt tin and bake in the middle of the 175˚C oven for 60 minutes.
Cover with a chocolate glaze and chopped roasted hazelnuts.
This is exactly what I did in the first time, as can be seen on the banner (I baked it in a small rectangular cake tin).
However, on the following day (I was asked to bring a cake along to a dinner party with some university friends) I tweaked the recipe a little and I liked the new version much more. I chopped the banana instead of pureeing it, and added it to the cake mixture at the end, together with some chopped dark chocolate.
This was much nicer - I liked the small banana and chocolate spots in the final product. And this was served with a warm chocolate sauce á la Nigel Slater (Toblerone, cream and butter, although I replaced Toblerone with Tesco Finest Swiss milk chocolate with caramel pieces, as I could not find Toblerone anywhere in Edinburgh that night). Serving the cake with a hot chocolate sauce made it much more pudding like, so it was a lovely ending to a very nice meal cooked by my friends.
I will surely be making this for the Christmas table back home as well.
UPDATE: Paz of The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz and Raquel of Raquel's Box of Chocolate have both tried this cake as well.
Toblerone šokolaadikastme retsept
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Here is a tasty recipe for a Moroccan carrot salad with cumin and garlic, Jazar Bil Kamoun Wal Toum, from Claudia Roden’s beautiful last book, Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon. I only bought the book a fortnight ago, and it's full of really temtping and tasty sounding recipes. This was the first recipe I tried from the book, cooked in a flash for a light lunch on Sunday.
As I used smallish young organic carrots instead of older carrots, as recommended by Claudia Roden, I skipped ‘boil the carrots’ phase. And I used crushed cumin instead of ground.
Jazar Bil Kamoun Wal Toum
5 large carrots (about 600 grams)
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground or crushed cumin seeds
sea salt flakes
crushed black pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
Cut the carrots into four lengthwise, then into sticks. Boil until al dente. Drain.
Heat the olive oil on a large saucepan, add the carrot sticks and sauté on a medium heat for a few minutes, until carrot softens.
Add garlic, cumin, salt and pepper, and sauté on a medium-high heat until the garlic is slightly golden.
Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve cold.
I was quite hungry when cooking this, so I didn’t have the patience to wait for the salad to cool. And I couldn’t see why I should have – the ‘salad’ was very nice as warm side dish on its own.
PS It's also very nice with some crumbled feta cheese!
Monday, December 12, 2005
When you usually get a small tiny chocolate with your cuppa in a café, then these days back home it’s more likely to be a nice and crispy piparkook alias ‘pepper cookie’ (well, pepper cake, really, if you want a direct translation). Of course, these days it’s more likely to be a nice cup of hõõgvein or glögg rather than coffee that’s served in Estonian cafés, and a Christmassy cookie goes much better with that than a piece of chocolate anyway. Piparkook is a bit like gingerbread, just without ginger. And as other Nordic foodbloggers have started making their Christmas cookies, I decided to make some last weekend as well.
To be totally honest, I can't remember making peppercake dough myself before. I cannot remember a single Christmas when I haven’t been baking these cookies, usually few batches during each holiday season, filling the whole house with a gorgeous spicy cinnamon smell. It's one of the favourite Christmas activities with kids, who get to roll the dough, cut out the cookies and decorate them afterwards. But we used shop-bought peppercake dough in our household. These aren’t too bad and I’m sure there’s a debate going on at one of the Estonian internet message boards about which supermarket or bakery sells the best peppercake dough this Christmas… (just like they’re trying to figure out which brand of black/blood sausages have turned out really well this year…)
But again, the peppercake dough is not available in Scotland, so I had to make it myself. Making the dough was actually easy – I used a recipe from a 1999 issue of Kodukiri, the best-selling Estonian women’s monthly magazine. I added a pinch of pepper to make the cookies to live up to their name (there is a story about the name of the cookie – called peppercake in all Nordic countries – pepperkakor, peberkager, piparikakut, pepparkakor etc – but I cannot recall it at the moment, sorry). The addition of ground almonds is not typical, but it contributes to the airy and crispy character of these particular pepper cookies.
Estonian Crispy Christmas Cookies
150 ml honey
200 ml molasses or dark muscovado or soft dark brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cardemon
2 tsp gound cloves
0.5 tsp fine salt
a pinch of finely ground black pepper
250 grams butter
700 ml plain flour
3 tsp baking soda
100 ml ground almonds
Heat honey, sugar and spices in a saucepan. When the mixture has amalgamated, add the butter and let it melt. Stir and cool.
Mix in the eggs, then add the sifted flour and baking soda and almonds. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon – the more you mix, the crispier the cookies. The dough should be quite thick and easily come off the sides of the mixing bowl, even if it sinks back when you finish stirring.
Let the dough to rest in the fridge AT LEAST for 1 day, longer, if possible. This allows the spicy flavours to develop and the cookies will be better in texture as well.
You can let the dough harden in a bowl for a while, then wrap into a cling film as a thick sausage for the professional, shop-bought Estonian peppercake dough look :)
Roll the dough out on a slightly floured board and cut into various cookie shapes.
(Just wondering here. The cookie cutters in Estonia are usually shaped like stars, Christmas trees, gingerbread men, etc. Why did I find a mushroom amongst my Kaiser Christmas cookie cutter set that I inherited from my Norwegian friend Guro few years ago? Is there a mysterious link between mushrooms and Christmas in Germany that I’ve missed? Or a little bird – not turkey/goose/duck, but something smaller looking? That was another mystery cookie cutter in my set)
Bake in a 180˚C oven for about 10 minutes, until cookies have changed colour and slightly hardened (they’ll crisp when cooling).
Decorate with a icing sugar and egg white glaze (up to about 400 ml sugar to 1 egg white)
You end up with a huge tray full of Christmas cookies, a selection of which can be seen here. I didn’t have any food colouring at home, so I used some liquid from a blackberry jam jar to tint some of the glaze. This resulted in a slightly pale lilac touches on some of the cookies (check out the first and third exclamation mark on the banner, for instance). But feel free to be way more bold with colours!
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Edinburgh, Southside, last week, early December 2005.
A view from my bedroom window circa 8am. Beautiful sunrise with a batch of overgrown rocket salad outside my window, that has bravely survived a few frosty nights.
I made a lovely Greek-inspired feta, rocket and tomato gratin a while ago.
Check out other weekend herb bloggers at Kalyn's Kitchen: Weekend Herb Blogging #10 Recap: Still Discovering New Herbs
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Until yesterday. I had - finally - bought a hand held electric mixer cum mini food processor. I had some leftover egg whites in my fridge. I had picked up a packet of green pistachios last weekend. And Nigella's How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking had once again found its way to my bedside table.
This could mean only only thing - pistachio macaroons á la Nigella:
"These are the world's most elegant macaroons. The colour alone, that waxy pale jade, perfectly matches the aromatic delicacy of their taste; and their nutty chewiness melts into the fragrant, soft paste with which they're paired." (p 53)
Tempting, isn't it?
Source: Nigella Lawson, How To Be A Domestic Goddess
For the macaroons:
75 g green pistachios
125 g icing sugar
2 large egg whites
15 g caster sugar
To make the macaroons, grind the pistachios and icing sugar in a food processor until you have a fine dust.
Whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff, add the caster sugar and whisk until very stiff. Fold the egg whites into the pistachio sugar and combine gently.
Pipe small rounds onto your lined baking sheet, using a plain 1 cm nozzle.
Bake in a 180˚C oven for 10-12 minutes. The macaroons should be set, but not dried out.
Remove from the oven and let them cool, still on their sheets.
For the buttercream:
55 g green pistachios
250 g icing sugar
125 g softened unsalted butter
To make the butter cream, grind the pistachios and icing sugar into a fine dust again.
Cream the butter, and continue creaming as you add the pistachio sugar.
Sandwich the biscuits with the soft buttercream mixture.
Makes 20 macaroons (i.e. 40 sandwiched together).
I did many many many things wrong during my first macaroon baking attempt. My pistachio dust had quite a few crumbs in it. I should have whisked the egg whites patiently for another 5 minutes (but as I was simultaneously making some Hungarian gulyas soup for a friend who was coming for dinner, I got distracted). I used greaseproof paper instead of parchment paper and hence half of my macaroons remained stubbornly stuck on the paper (so I ended up with just 10 macaroons and loads of pistachio roll-ups:) I didn't pipe the mixture onto the baking sheet, but used a teaspoon, so the macaroons were unevenly sized and shaped.
But - they were delicious. They maybe didn't look perfect, but they looked cute enough. They were very very pistachio-nutty and beautifully green in colour. Just-barely crisp outside and mouthmeltingly chewy inside. Sandwiched with the pistachio buttercream, these were very elegant biscuits indeed.
UPDATE 15.2.2007: Although I didn't have much success with these macaroons in terms of looks, then Annie of BonAppeGeek was brave enough to try out this recipe after all. And at least one of her macaroons turned out perfect. Read her post here. I think I need to give those macaroons another go, too :)
Monday, December 05, 2005
Photo updated in June 2010.
Somewhere in Toronto lives a lovely Canadian Estonian woman, Liisa. Every now and then Liisa and her husband John (an American Estonian) take their 4 children and move to Estonia for a while, where I've had couple of chances to meet up with her - we belong to the same student organisation, which is how we met. Many years ago Liisa served us a very yummy feta spinach pie at one gathering, where it was a huge success. Many asked for the recipe, but I was the only one to get one. I don't know whether it was because Liisa's middle name is Pille, or whether she could see that I really really wanted the recipe much more than others:).
Just like I've remained loyal to my first apple cake recipe, I'm loyal to my first feta spinach pie recipe. I've changed it a bit over the years (omitting the milk from the filling, using fresh spinach instead of frozen and using less puff pastry), so it's not strictly Liisa's feta spinach pie any more. But I still owe her a huge thank you for sharing her recipe all those years ago.
As most of you know, a proper Greek spanakopita is made with filo pastry. I admit, all in shame, that I have never cooked with filo pastry in my life. I did once buy a packet, but I have no idea what happened to it (the joys of living in shared university residences?) Also, more often than not, I use one of those tetra pack feta-type or fetaki cheese and not 'proper feta cheese'. So it's a cheat's spanakopita throughout. But many Greek friends have announced that this spanakopita - spanakopita a la Pille - tastes just as good, if not better, than their mothers. Or even grandmothers. And that's a creme de la creme compliment from any Greek person..
Spanakopita á la Pille
500 grams of puff pastry
200-225 grams fresh (young) spinach leaves
1 large onion, chopped
500 grams feta or fetaki cheese
a generous Tbsp of dried Greek oregano
Wash the spinach leaves, removing any large stalks. Drain slightly, put into a large frying pan and heat until the spinach has wilted. Quickly refresh under a cold running water (see the banner). Press dry, chop roughly.
Heat the olive oil on the pan, add the onion and fry gently for 5-10 minutes. Add chopped spinach and feta cheese. Stir, until the mixture is even. Season with oregano. Let cool a little, then add the egg.
Roll out the puff pastry, cover with the feta spinach filling and roll up into a large fat sausage. Criss-cross slightly with a knife to make a nice pattern, brush with egg and sprinkle with Maldon sea salt flakes and/or dried oregano.
Bake in the middle of a 200˚C oven for about 30-45 minutes, until the pastry is nicely golden brown (dark rather than light, to be sure that it's properly baked throughout).
I find this makes a perfect dish for a buffet table (when cold, it can be cut into small slices quite easily). It's great as a snack. Very very good as a late night nibble. Goes down well for breakfast. Universally delicious..
And I am yet to meet a Greek person who:
A) doesn't help himself/herself for a 2nd or 3rd or even further slice;
B) points out that this is not like the spanakopita their grandmother or mother makes (alias questions the authenticity of my version despite of this obviously being a rather non-authentic version; I consider this quite a compliment!);
C) doesn't ask me if this is on the table when they're invited around (read: are suggesting that they wouldn't really mind having some of my spanakopita).
If you fancy some feta and spinach, but don't feel like baking a whole pie just now, then you can always try these lovely mini spinach & feta frittatas/omelettes.
Friday, December 02, 2005
I entertained two nights in a row last weekend and although I hadn't planned so, the menu was the same both nights. On Sunday night I had the pleasure of hosting my former supervisor and now colleague Michael and his girlfriend Emma. And as Emma is a vegetarian, I had to come up with an autumnal Nordic vegetarian meal plan.
On Monday, I was supposed to cook a casual pasta supper for 2 friends before going salsa dancing. But on Monday afternoon I got a phone call from a Brussels-based dear friend of mine, Helen, who happened to be in Edinburgh for the night. Rather than trying to find a time for a quick coffee during the day, I invited Helen along that night, which meant that my plan of a casual pasta supper was out of the window. As a celiac, Helen has been on a strictly gluten-free diet since her childhood. Until we met in Edinburgh in 1998, I had never even heard of that condition. Since then I've baked flourless chocolate whisky roly-polys on several occasions and have became much more aware about special diets. Luckily, I still had all the ingredients from the previous night, so I just recreated all the dishes once again (no, I was not serving leftovers, there were none on either night).
Here's the menu - slightly Nordic, slightly late autumnal/wintry.
Starter: Mushroom salad cocktail
When the British hostesses served prawn cocktails in 1980s, the Estonian hostesses had to settle for the non-prawn versions. Various salad cocktails served in small glasses were very popular back home and I can still remember eating them as a kid. Flipping through various cookbooks from 1980s provide a range of recipes for salad cocktails, and here is one of them.
I returned from Estonia in August with a jar of mushrooms - rufous milkcaps - picked and pickled by my auntie Vaike. I layered these with some grated Norwegian Jarlsberg cheese (in terms of texture, this is closest to the type of cheese we eat back home), cubed English apples and topped with a dollop of sour cream seasoned with hot mustard and salt and sugar.
For the garnish, I used some dill and a tiny pickled milkcap. Isn't that tiny tiny mushroom just adorably cute?
Main course: garlicky and creamy potato gratin with various salads
The main course was a simple potato gratin: sliced peeled potatoes, onions, garlic, single cream, chopped chives.
This was baked (covered with a piece of foil) for almost an hour, then topped with grated cheese and grilled until golden brown. On Monday I served some grilled chicken mini fillets with the main dish (marinated in yogurt and Arabic Masala Mix brought by my friend Guro from Lebanon).
The potato gratin was accompanied by various 'raw salads':
Sliced organic cucumber, sprinkled with Maldon sea salt flakes, drained and mixed with chopped dill (both Sunday and Monday).
Grated raw carrots and apples, seasoned with sugar and garnished with parsley.
Boiled grated beetroot (vacuum packed, make sure it's not doused with vinegar by the producers!), seasoned with crushed garlic, salt and mayonnaise and garnished with chives. This was on the table on Sunday only and was the favourite with my guests that night:)
Dessert: banana and coffee concoction
Even the dessert was the same both nights. But you see, I was so pleased with it on Sunday, that I simply had to have it again on Monday. Just to make sure it really was tasty despite of being so deceptively easy and effortless to make.
I came across the recipe in a Estonian-language cookbook "100 puddings" (well, "100 magustoitu") and although I did change to ingredient amounts a little, it really didn't need to be improved at all..
Take some ripe bananas (1 medium sized banana per eater), mash with a fork. For 4 banananas, add about 100 ml strong coffee (season with some sugar).
Now layer the banana-coffee mixture with thick and creamy Greek yogurt (sprinkle each banana layer with some soft brown sugar). Garnish with some roasted almond slices. Serve at once.
Really really easy. And as one my guests on Monday said, this would make a delicious and show-off breakfast in bed (coffee, yogurt and a banana, anyone?) Just that you know..
Have a great weekend! Oh, and just in case you were wondering - the beautiful red maple leaves are from my trip to Göttingen in October.