Thursday, May 31, 2007

Festive Menus: the Emperor of Japan in Tallinn

Photo courtesy of Office of the President of Estonia

I'm always curious to know what some high-ranking foreign dignitaries get to eat in Estonia. How does Estonia want to represent itself to visitors through the food? Is it Estonian, international, fusion, simple, rustic, fussy, modern, traditional? The choice is endless. Therefore I've shared with you what President Bush had for lunch back in November, and what Queen Elizabeth II had for dinner in October.

The Emperor of Japan, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito, and his wife, Empress Michiko of Japan, visited Tallinn last week, and they had an official lunch at our new art museum, KUMU.

According to the PR of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the festive lunch consisted of the following:

Pike-Perch & Snow Crab Tortellini with Pureed Black Salsify and Wood Sorrel Salad
Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, 2005 (France)

Main course:
Fillet of Veal with Porcini Sauce, Young Asparagus and Beetroot
Irancy, 2005 (Burgundy, France)

Rhubarb Carpaccio, Strawberry Bavaroise, Mascarpone Ice Cream
Põltsamaa Kuldne, 1992 (Estonia)

Food by Roman Zashtsherinski (the winner of 2006 best chef award, and the chef who was in charge of the menu for this year's SilverSpoon Gala Dinner), catering by Carmen Catering.

Sounds pretty good to me, especially as pike-perch (Sander lucioperca, also known as Zander) recently _almost_ won the title of our national fish (yep, we've got one - I'll tell you more soon), so that's quite representative of our cuisine. Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella, known as jänesekapsas or rabbit's cabbage in Estonian) is a typical wild salad leaf (and apparently foraged by Roman, the Chef, himself), and beetroot a popular root vegetable, so assuming the rhubarb and asparagus were local, I'm happy with the menu. The only 'outsider' is the snow crab, which was caught in Kamtchatka. Notice that they serve a local dessert wine, too.

The Emperor began his tour in Sweden (where they had a luncheon with the Swedish government hosted by PM Reinfeldt), then visited Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and ended their tour in the United Kingdom.

I wonder what they were served on official occasions in these countries?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Rhubarb & coconut cake - or is it a coconut & rhubarb pie?

Last Thursday, my Edinburgh friends Dianne & Peter came for dinner. They're the lovely couple that gave me a roof over my head during the last two weeks in Edinburgh, so when they told me they'd be in Tallinn, I quickly grabbed the chance to reciprocate their kind hospitality. We had a joyous meal together, catching up about the life in Edinburgh - much appreciated, as I'm off to visit my old hometown next week! Foodwise, coconut was the dominant theme. For starters, we had local, Estonian asparagus with coconut milk and lime. For main course, there was salmon with lots of coriander/cilantro* and quinoa (no coconut there, but coriander goes well with coconut milk, so it still counts:), and for the dessert, I served a rhubarb & coconut cake with whipped cream.

I used some rosy pink rhubarb bought at the local market (yes, I finally ran out of the farm-sourced rhubarb), and the cake didn't only taste wonderful, but it also looked lovely pink (see the flecks of rhubarb?) - white (the coconut filling) - yellow (the pastry base). And it tasted even better on the day after, as the coconut flavour was much more pronounced then..

Rhubarb & coconut cake*
Serves 8

200 grams plain flour
2 Tbsp sugar
a pinch of salt
100 grams butter
1 medium egg
a dash of cold water

Rhubarb layer:
400 grams rhubarb, chopped

Coconut topping:
75 grams butter, at room temperature
200 grams sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
250 grams natural yogurt or thick sour cream
2 medium eggs
200 grams grated coconut
2 Tbsp plain flour

For the pastry, mix flour, sugar and salt, add the butter and work with a knife until you've got fine crumbs. Add the egg and combine - if necessary, add a bit of cold water. Wrap into a cling film and put into the fridge for 30 minutes.
Butter a 24 cm springform tin. Roll out the dough into a slightly bigger circle than the cake form, and line the cake form with the pastry. Pierce with a fork, and blind bake at 200C oven for 10-15 minutes, until golden.
Meanwhile, cut the rhubarb into 1 cm slices (there's no need to peel your rhubarb, as long as it's young and slender).
Mix the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add yogurt/sour cream, vanilla extract, eggs, then add coconut & flour (I combined used the flat beater of my KitchenAid for this).
Spread the rhubarb slices on the pre-baked pastry case. Pour over the coconut filling and bake at 200 C oven for 30-35 minutes, until the cake is slightly golden.
Cool a little, remove from the cake tin and serve with whipped cream or some vanilla ice cream.

* I'm still to figure out what's a cake and what's a pie. I blame my mother tongue - they're pretty much all 'cakes' ('kook' in sing., 'koogid' in pl.) in Estonian :)

Other coconut recipes @ Nami-nami:
Coconut brownies (February 2007)

Other rhubarb recipes @ Nami-nami:
A creamy rhubarb pie (June 2005)
Moist rhubarb muffins (May 2007)
Rhubarb crumble (May 2007)
Rhubarb jam with ginger (May 2007)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Spring in Paluküla

Paluküla is a small village where my mother was born and raised, and where I spent all my childhood summers. It's about 80 km from Tallinn, and it just happens to be adjacent to the village where K. spent all his childhood summers. Nope - we had never met until we bumped into each other at a reception in Edinburgh, which led to a cup (or two) of mulled wine in Tallinn during Christmas 2005, a date in Paris, and a reunion in our childhood villages last summer, picking honey-coloured cloudberries, sweeter-than-sweet wild strawberries, cranberries and a range of wild mushrooms that some of you would describe as 'exotic', and finally me taking the plunge and moving back home and in with K. after seven years in Edinburgh (where, incidentially, I'm off again next week, but this time as a tourist).

We went back in early May, to celebrate my uncle's 50th birthday, and while there, we decided to take a walk. The path alongside the small stream was so tranquil and beautiful, and the sides of the stream full of cowslips/marsh marigold/kingcups (Caltha palustris) which were so bright yellow in colour that it hurt!

There were two elegant white storks (Ciconia ciconia) slowly wandering just behind the house, in what used to be the sheep garden when my grandma still kept these furry animals:

Their nest is on top of the lamp post next to the main house, but the storks probably decided to take a walk, too, to avoid the thirty-odd persons who had suddenly decided to turn up in their courtyard. On the way back home in the afternoon, we also spotted a much rarer Common Crane (Grus grus) on a field, a protected species in Estonia.

A truly tranquil and captivating place... I just wanted to share the photos with you, especially as there are few other food-related posts related to this place coming up on my blog soon :)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Waiter, there's something (stuffed) in my ... tomatoes with two types of filling

Waiter, there is something in my ... - a wonderful food blogging event organised by Johanna, Jeanne & Andrew - has reached it's fifth instalment: stuffed fruit/vegetables, hosted by Jeanne.

My entry for this round is stuffed tomatoes with two kinds of salad fillings. It's not really a recipe, just a tip for serving nice small tomatoes. The first filling is a cod liver salad that I have written about before. The 'recipe' is my mum's, and this is how cod liver has been eaten in our family for decades. I thought that was the only way of serving this particular fishy preserve, until K simply put a canned cod liver on the table. Apparently his family simply spread the liver on a slice of bread, straight out of the can. I prefer my way, and as far as I've understood, have converted him, too :)

The other recipe for wild garlic & cucumber salad is from my local bus stop. Yes, you read it correctly - bus stop. I knew that wild garlic (Allium ursinum) grows somewhere in our neighbourhood, but I had never seen it wild, nor had I ever picked it. One late morning in early April I was standing in a bus stop, waiting for the bus to take me to town, and next to me were two elderly Russian-speaking women, or babushkas:) My Russian is very rusty, so I didn't understand much of what was said, but my sense of smell seems to work just fine, as I suddenly realised that something was smelling very fragrantly and faintly garlicky. I turned to the women and asked them about the smell, and they kindly showed me their bounty. Eventhough I had never seen 'uncooked' Allium ursinum in my life, I recognised the green leaves immediately from photos - it was wild garlic! I was given a large bunch to go with, and two recipes to boot. One of the women claimed that the best way to eat it is with some cucumber, sour cream, and salt & pepper. The other swore by wild garlic, boiled egg, sunflower oil, salt & pepper. As they both seemed to be very knowledgeable about wild garlic, I took their advice seriously and have been religiously following it. I can tell you that after I found the secret hidaway near my house, I've been eating a lot of the first salad since. I'm yet to try the other..

Stuffed tomatoes with two types of salad

about 20 small ripe, but firm tomatoes

Cod liver salad

1 can of cod liver chunks, drained (reserve the oil)
1 small shallot, chopped
1 pickled cucumber, finely chopped
1 boiled egg, chopped
black pepper

Mix all the ingredients, add some of the reserved oil to make it moister, if you want.

Wild garlic & cucumber salad

a bunch of wild garlic, washed and roughly chopped
a small cucumber, washed, quartered or halved lenghtwise, and sliced
sour cream

Mix the cucumber, wild garlic and enough sour cream to bind everything together. Season with salt, if necessary (I haven't done it, as the salad has plenty of freshness and taste without any).

Now comes the tricky part. Halve the small tomatoes, scoop out the flesh and drain the juices. Stuff tomato halves with above-mentioned salads. Voila!

Other stuffed fruit & vegetables @ Nami-nami:
Baked red onions stuffed with mushrooms, feta cheese & pine nuts (March 2006)
Oven roasted pears with caramelised oats filling (November 2005)
Red peppers stuffed with spinach & mushrooms (April 2006)
Red peppers with cumin-scented halloumi cubes (November 2006)

Here are links to my previous Waiter there is something in my ... entries:
April 2007 (BREAD): a traditional Estonian quick mushroom bread, Seenekarask
March 2007 (EASTER BASKET): a selection of various Easter delights.
February 2007 (PIE): a great Russian puff pastry and fish pie, Salmon Kulebyaka.
January 2007 (STEW): my version (in collaboration with Anthony Bourdain:) of the French classic Boeuf Bourguignon.

UPDATE 1. June 2007: Read Jeanne's roundup here

Friday, May 25, 2007

Copycat: Johanna's omelette and smoked salmon stack

On our recent trip to London, K and I stayed with my friend Johanna's for a weekend. During that time we had the pleasure of feasting - literally - every morning. We had eggs benetine or florendict on Saturday (great poached eggs!) an omelette layer cake with smoked salmon and rocket on Sunday (an impressive-looking layered affair), and a savoury clafoutis with cherry tomatoes and rocket on Monday (a 'requested breakfast' dish - I had the pleasure of eating this on the morning after Jeanne's & Johanna's blog birthday bash in June 2006, and couldn't wait to have it again). Each one of those breakfasts sounded & looked fabulous and tasted een better. But it was the omelette layer cake with smoked salmon & rocket that kept haunting us long after we were back home in Estonia. So it happened that we recreated Johanna's omelette layer cake at home last Sunday, when my friend Liis came for a Sunday brunch with her family. We followed Johanna's recipe to the letter as far as the omelette pancakes were concerned. Our resident pancake-expert (that's obviously not me, but K) did a good job and cooked no less than seven thinner-than-thin omelettes, six of which were perfect (and the seventh one had few beauty shortcomings).

The rocket leaves were picked from our windowsill garden, and partially replaced with some young spinach leaves. I also used salt-cured sliced trout, which I quickly pan-fried on a dry frying pan and drained on a paper towel to rid of excess oil. I then simply crumbled the fish between omelette layers, interlacing them with green leaves.

We served the omlette and smoked fish layer cake with a herby sour cream sauce (sour cream, mayonnaise, dill, salt), which nicely complemented the saltiness of the fish. And for the garnish, few extra rocket leaves from the window sill..

A great dish, believe me, and I heartily recommend that you go and check out that recipe yourself!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

More asparagus, this time with pinenuts, lime and browned butter

Those fresh asparagus from Uus-Kongo farm at the Central Market have become popular. For example, there was none left when we made it to the market on Saturday morning. Granted, we got there shortly after noon (well, not exactly a morning, I know), and considering the market opens at 7am, the chances we'd find anything so special and delicious were small anyway. Same with fresh morels and new season's beetroot. None left.. But at least I managed to put an asparagus order in for Tuesday (Monday's crop was already counted for). Yesterday morning I got almost a kilogram of beautiful, fresh asparagus, so last night we had another asparagus meal. The dish is inspired by this Arla recipe, but ended up being something rather different, as I remembered the ingredients and the process wrong (used pinenuts instead of sunflower seeds, and blanched the asparagus instead of frying), which I realised only afterwards. I liked my unintentional creation, however, and would happily make it again..

Asparagus with pinenuts, lime and browned butter
(Sparglid laimi ja seedermänniseemnetega)
Serves 2

Lovely, perk asparagus spears :)

300 grams young fresh green asparagus
2 Tbsp pine nuts
2 Tbsp butter
half a lime
sea salt

Toast the pinenuts on a hot non-stick pan, until they're all nutty-smelling and slightly golden. Take care not to burn! Put aside.
Melt the butter on a small frying pan on a moderate heat, and cook, stirring frequently, until the butter has browned slightly.
Snap off the hardened lower bits of the asparagus. Place in a pot of salted boiling water and simmer for approximately two minutes (test for doneness with a small knife). Drain thoroughly and place on a plate.
Squeeze the lime juice over asparagus, pour over the melted butter and scatter toasted pine nuts on top.

Other asparagus recipes @ Nami-nami:
Roasted green asparagus with feta cheese (May 2007)
Roasted green asparagus with Parmesan cheese (May 2006)
Wild asparagus with butter / Wild asparagus with pasta & garlic (May 2006)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Alain Passard's Strawberries in Hibiscus & Vanilla Syrup

I saw an interesting recipe for a strawberry dessert over at Chez Pim the other day - Strawberries in Hibiscus & Vanilla Syrup. I bookmarked it with a view to try it when Estonian strawberries come in season, which is usually in late June/early July. However, when browsing the Tallinn Central Market on Saturday morning, I saw loads and loads of rather fragrant strawberries imported from Spain. What a heck, I thought, and bought a small box. The recipe was really easy to make, and we enjoyed it with some softly whipped cream, seasoned with vanilla extract.

There's really no need to change or improve Pim's recipe, it's brilliant as it is. I'll add the amounts I used below, but feel free to visit Pim's blog for the original recipe and even more, her home video demonstration. But what I'll tell you is that the hibiscus syrup gives the strawberries a most beautiful deep red colour (see above), without ripping them of the strawberry flavour. I'm so going to make it again, and again, and again, when local strawberries become available..

Hibiscus, by the way, is also known as roselle, red sorrel, karkade and flor de jamaica. Its Latin name is Hibiscus sabdariffa. If you're ever been to Egypt, then you're bound to have a large bag of dried hibiscus somewhere in your cupboard, and this is a great opportunity to use them..

Strawberries in Hibiscus & Vanilla Syrup
(Hibiskisiirupis maasikad)
Alain Passard's recipe, here adapted from Chez Pim

500 grams strawberries

Hibiscus & vanilla syrup:
500 ml water
100 ml sugar
200 ml dried hibiscus flowers
1 tsp good quality vanilla extract

Mix water and sugar in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes.
Turn off the heat, add the hibiscus flowers and let them infuse the syrup until cooled.
Drain, pressing as much liquid as possible out from the hibiscus flowers.
Season the syrup with vanilla extract.
Meanwhile, wash and drain the strawberries, remove the stems and quarter the berries. Put into a wide bowl.
Pour hibiscus syrup over and let the berries macerate in the syrup for about an hour*, refridgerated.
Divide into dessert four glasses, and spoon some softly whipped cream on top. Enjoy!

* We had some strawberries after an hour, and some after three hours. The flavour of the one-hour strawberries was much better, as the berries tend to get a bit too soggy after three hours of soaking (sorry, macerating).

Other strawberry recipes @ Nami-nami:
Strawberry & Hibiscus Sorbet (July 2007)
Strawberry Ricotta Cakes (April 2006)
Strawberry Shrikhand or spiced yogurt with strawberries (October 2005)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Blueberry Pancakes for a Sunday Brunch

We had another beautiful and sunny Sunday here. As I've told you before, no Sunday morning should start without pancakes. A fortnight ago we had golden saffron pancakes, last Sunday plain 'normal' pancakes (with last of the Moominmamma's rhubarb & ginger jam). Today we opted for blueberry-studded ones, which were wonderful. Ideally I would use freshly picked wild blueberries, but if these are not available, then frozen ones will do, too. Remember not to add blueberries to the batter, as this will probably colour the whole batter into an unsightly shade of purple (though it wouldn't affect the flavour, obviously).

We ate these thick small pancakes with a generous drizzle of Canadian maple syrup, but a runny honey would be just as good.

Blueberry Pancakes
Serves 4

300 ml plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
300 ml milk
1 egg
2 Tbsp melted butter
100 grams blueberries (frozen are fine, as long you defreeze them first)

To serve:
pure maple syrup or runny honey

In a mixing bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
Mix milk, egg and cooled melted butter in another bowl, then add to the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Add vanilla extract.
Heat a frying pan on a low to moderate heat, add some oil or butter.
Drop a small ladleful of pancake batter into the pan, scatter some blueberries on top. Cook until it's golden brown, then flip over and fry the other side, too.
Serve with maple syrup or runny honey.

Other blueberry recipes @ Nami-nami:
Blueberry tart (April 2006)

Other pancake recipes @ Nami-nami:
Buttermilk pancakes with sliced bananas, toasted nuts and warm maple syrup (March 2006)
Golden saffron pancakes (May 2007)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Nami-Nami In Print: London Borough Market @ Eesti Ekspress

Ka selle nädala Eesti Ekspressis (17.5.2007) on minult väike kirjatükk - seekord kirjeldan Londoni suurel Borough turul nähtut-kogetut ning mõtisklen veidi turu- ja söögikultuuri teemal üldisemalt. Huvilised leiavad artikli ja fotod taas tagantpoolt lapates 5. leheküljel. Nii et kohe lähimasse ajalehekioskisse ;-)

Somehow my blog posts are lagging behind these days. I've been back from London for almost a month now, and I have only just blogged about the fabulous meal I had with K, Johanna, her husband and the wee boy at the Petersham Nurseries Café. Note that I had a full-page restaurant review published in a major Estonian weekly newspaper _before_ I wrote about it here on my blog. And now - déjà vu! In this week's copy of the same newspaper, Eesti Ekspress, there is an article where I write about the London Borough Market, and about food markets and food culture in general (and yes, that's me buying cheese on the photo you'll see if you click through). It should have been other way around, surely, shouldn't it?

Anyway - the Borough Market was exactly as exciting as I expected it to be. We had the most knowledgeable tour guide with us, The Passionate Cook Johanna herself, who expertly took us through the must-sees, like Brindisa, Neal's Yard Dairy, Booths Mushrooms, the Monmouth Coffee and such like.

The picture at the very top is of Australian finger limes (Citrus Australasica, you can read more on Wikipedia). These unusual citrus fruits come in a range of gorgeous colours (incl. green, yellow, orange, red, purple, brown and even black), with matching insides (that is to say that green finger limes have green pearls or 'citrus caviar', pink ones have pink pearls inside - I checked it:) The stall holder proudly informed us that El Bulli's chef Ferran Adrià buys finger limes from him as well. But of course there was much more than just finger limes at the market. We had a great day out, taking in the market buzz and stocking up on British cheese, truffle salami, Brindisa's membrillo & fig wheels, buying argan oil, nibbling on various roasted nuts, tasting cutely-named vegetarian dishes (Hallou Gorgeous, Quinoa Superstar, Silly Sausage, Kiss Kiss Salad, anyone?), trying to tell a differece between variously seasoned foie gras, sniffing the aromas of chocolate, apple & pineapple mint, studying the displays of goji berries and green barley grass powder, and eventually trying the ubiquous wheatgrass shot (mmmh - interesting).

Thanks again, Johanna! You can read more about the Borough market here and here and here and here and here (in the words of Johanna x 2, Jeanne x 2 & David, respectively). And if you speak Estonian, then from this week's Eesti Ekspress, obviously :)

View all our photos from London Borough Market.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Simplest is the best: fresh local asparagus, roasted with feta cheese

I had the most exiting discovery at the Tallinn Central Market (Keskturg) yesterday morning - fresh, local asparagus. Having got used to eating fresh and seasonal asparagus during late Spring/early Summer in Scotland, I was not inspired - not even a little bit - by the sad-looking Dutch specimens on offer here. As far as I was concerned, asparagus wasn't grown here in Estonian. Or let me refrase it - asparagus is widespread in Estonia, but as in asparagus fern you see in flower arrangements, and not as a vegetable. It was to my great delight then that I read from the May issue of Oma Maitse that one of the farms near Tallinn grows this delicate vegetable. The Uus-Kongo talu - that's how the farm is called - has a stand at the Central Market, so early yesterday morning I decided to pop over to check if the rumours are true. And they were!!! Just before 9am, there were only few 100gram bunches of asparagus left, as one keen asparagus lover had bought 4 kilos of precious spears at 8am! I was immensely happy about my purchase, as I hadn't thought you can get fresh & local asparagus in Estonia and eat it within 24 hours from picking. I was in asparagus heaven!

The asparagus season in Estonia - (who knew I'd ever get to use such a term!?) - only started last weekend, so there's 5-6 more weeks of asparagus eating ahead. Move over, rhubarb, I've got a new seasonal favourite!

PS Uus-Kongo talu lett asub Tallinna Keskturul, tagumisel turuplatsil. Lisaks müüvad nad linna parimat hapukapsast, samuti kõiksugu krõmpsuvaid salatilehti ja hõrke ürdipotte. Nende sparglit peaks hea õnne korral leidma ka Stockmanni kaubamajast. Aga hooaeg on lühike, nii et püüdke kindlasti lähinädalate jooksul jaole pääseda. Hetkel maksab sparglikilo 200 EEKi.

You don't want to mess around with such great produce - the simplest treatment is the best. A classic way to serve fresh green asparagus would be steamed with hollandaise sauce. But if you love feta cheese, then this is the dish for you. The recipe is from Epicurious, and has been approved by the Queen of Vegetables, Alanna. Although the original recipe scatters feta cheese on top after roasting the asparagus, then I followed Alanna's advice and added the cheese before that. Feta cheese melts into most fantastic gooeyness on top of those herby-tasting asparagus spears.

Roasted asparagus with feta cheese
(Röstitud spargel fetajuustuga)
Serves 2

300 grams of fresh asparagus
1 Tbsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
75 grams feta cheese, cubed or crumbled

Break off and discard the lower woody parts of asparagus spears. Place asparagus in a single layer in a small oven dish (no need to blanch them first, providing they are fresh and not too thick). Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in a 220 Celsius oven for 7 minutes.
Scatter feta cubes on top and return to the oven for another 3-7 minutes, until cheese has started to melt a little and asparagus has softened enough.

Other asparagus recipes @ Nami-nami:
Asparagus with pinenuts, lime and browned butter (May 2007)
Roasted green asparagus with Parmesan cheese (May 2006)
Wild asparagus with butter / Wild asparagus with pasta & garlic (May 2006)

Green asparagus recipes @ other foodblogs:
Alanna's asparagus eggs benedict and roasted asparagus with lemon
Bea's strawberry asparagus country tart
Elise's asparagus frittata and ham & asparagus quiche
Heidi's savoury asparagus bread pudding and asparagus & brown rice
Johanna's asparagus risotto and Asparagus with poached egg, pecorino and truffle oil
Kalyn's asparagus with basil pesto and roasted asparagus with garlic
Molly's asparagus flan and asparagus vinaigrette

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Restaurant Review: The Petersham Nurseries Cafe in London (aka what dreams are made of)

It's been a while from my trip to London and a fantastic lunch at the Petersham Nurseries Café. Last week I wrote about it in a major Estonian newspaper, so it's about time to share some of the photos and thoughts with you, dear readers of my blog. Here we go...

Of course I had read about the hottest (or should it be coolest?) new chef in Londontown, Skye Gyngell, in the British media when still living in Edinburgh. But with London being so far away, and me having way too many cookbooks already to read, I didn't really register the information, nor did I order her book, A Year in My Kitchen. But when Keiko blogged about this unusual restaurant in July 2006, I got curious - the place looked so romantic and out-of-this-word. And when Keiko wrote about it again this March, I was sold. K. and I had already bought our tickets to London, and we were trying to decide where to go for a lunch with Johanna. Some other fancy and exciting options had been discussed in the process earlier, but after seeing Keiko's breathtaking photography, we knew where we wanted to lunch - The Petersham Nurseries Café in Richmond, near London. Johanna kindly booked the table and on a fine spring day - on April 15th, exactly a month ago - we went for a lunch there.

The place was truly like no other place I've been before. I've been to nice restaurants, and I've been to gardening centres, but this tiny restaurant in a plant nursery greenhouse was different. The entrance to the restaurant is through a shop selling antique garden furniture, expensive horticulture books and extensive range of seeds and plants. The tables are located between lush exotic plants, evocative of far-away warm and dreamy places. You notice that the waitresses (yes, they were all women) wear flipflops or dusty wellies, and that surprises you a little, but then you realise that there is no floor to speak of and that explains the choice of footwear.. Aaahh - how romantic! Instantly relaxed, you sit on one of the tables. The dining area - 15 tables at most, maybe - is full, and the air is buzzing with joyous chit-chat. You simply know that you're about to have a relaxing, and pleasing time here..

On the busy, warm Sunday afternoon we were at the Petersham Nurseries Café, its chef, Australian-born Skye Gyngell, was running back and forth in the dining area, greeting familiar customers, so even humble diners like us got a glimpse of her. Furthermore, she was chatting to Rose Gray for a few minutes, standing just beside our table. Rose Gray, by the way, was also wearing wellies :) (Rose Gray is one of the women behind the two-woman River Café team; her daughter Lucy Boyd, by the way, is in charge of Petersham Nurseries herb & vegetable garden that provides a lot of the ingredients for the restaurant on a daily basis). Talk about culinary star-spotting!

The menu was short, fresh and definitely seasonal - Skye Gyngell changes the menu every Tuesday, although there are some signature dishes that appear more permanently. As Johanna wrote in her review, we pretty much ate through all the dishes available. We started with their signature aperitif, Petersham Rose Prosecco, which was a good and festive start to the meal to follow.

For starters (£11.50-£13), Johanna chose the Salad of Fennel & Crab with Lemon Mayonnaise, her husband had the Carpaccio of Sea bass with Preserved Lemon, Chilli & Purslane, I opted for the Salad of Sheep's Milk Ricotta, Speck, Camone tomatoes & Basil Oil, and K. chose the Little Plate of Mezze. All good choices, and enjoyed by everyone. The basil oil on my salad is one of Skye's toolbox items, i.e. one of the nuts & bolts of her cooking, as she states in the book. K's mezze plate, consisting of generous dollops of roasted tomato and red pepper purée, beetroot purée, chick pea purée, wild greens & herbs (dandelion, rocket, ruby chard or bull's rocket, mint, basil, chevril), slow roasted tomatoes, and goat cheese, all drizzled with some basil oil again - was a huge hit. Luckily to us, the instructions for making this plate are also included in the book (p 66-69), and we've already replicated the chick pea purée at home.

For the mains (£16-£24), Johanna ordered the Monkfish & Clams with Saffron & Rosemary Aioli, I went for the Chickpea Curry with Bhatura, and the guys both ordered the Slow Cooked Lamb with Wild Garlic & White Beans. (The fourth item on the menu was Rabbit with Red Wine Lentils, Trevisse & Horseradish Cream, which sounded good, but unfortunately didn't make it to our table this time). Johanna's monkfish & clams dish is another long-time favourite of the Chef (and diners, obviously), having been on the menu since 2004, and although I didn't try that (remember my strong mental allergy to seafood other than fish), Johanna was ecstatic. I was immensely satisfied with my chickpea curry, which even on a really hot spring day managed to be heartwarming, but not overly so, and the bhatura must have been the best bread I've ever had in an Indian restaurant. Bhatura, for those of you who are not familiar with Indian cuisine, is a fried flatbread, which in Petersham Nurseries came studded with fragrant fennel seeds. Beats your average naan bread any time! The simplicity of the slow roasted lamb was a clear winner as well - just meat, beans and wild garlic, and although I intended to nibble only a little bit from K's plate, I ended up eating many more forkfuls - that's how tender and delicious it was.

Finally, the desserts (£7-£7.50). There was a 'walking dessert menu' (see here) with four choices. Again, although Pecorino with Raw Peas and Lemon Sorbet (probably made from the very Amalfi lemons above) sounded interesting, we ended up ordering two portions of Chocolate Mousse with Burnt Caramel and Fleur de Sel (Johanna & K), and a portion of Syllabub with Rhubarb Poached in Verjuice (me). The chocolate mousse was served as a large dollop of chocolatey goo on a plate, covered with cream and caramel, yet tasted so much better than any delicately and artfully layered patisserie cake I've had. It was rich and intensely chocolatey, had a perfect balance of sweet and salty, and yet it was also light and delicate. And my syllabub with verjuice poached rhubarb - well, let me just tell you that we've recreated that at home as soon as we had unpacked our stuff. So good - sharp, yet subtle, sour, yet sweet!

Not a cheap place to eat, but neither did we feel reluctant to part with our money at the end. Skye even signed a copy of her book for us at the end, and we left the place with happy smiles and content stomachs. And a bag of broccoli rabe seeds for my garden, of course. It's a gardening centre, after all..

You can buy Skye Gyngell's first cookbook buy clicking on the cover image on the left, and I definitely recommend the book. As you can gather from the title of the book, it is arranged by seasons, as many cookbooks these days are (Nigel Slater's captivating The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchencomes to mind). It starts with a thorough introduction to Skye's cooking philosophy, including a detailed overview of her 'kitchen toolbox'. The toolbox, alias the 'nuts and bolts of her cooking', contains ingredients and techniques like tea smoking, base note herbs and top note herbs, roasted spice mix, stock, braised lentils, toasted nuts, roasted red onions and slow-roasted tomatoes, flavoured yogurts, mayonnaise bases (incl the saffron mayonnaise mentioned above), flavoured oils and vinaigrettes, etc - all aimed to enhance the cooking and 'bring out the full natural flavours of seasonal ingredients.'

PS I had other lovely meals in London, including a dinner with Johanna & Jeanne at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, an afternoon tea with Johanna at Brown's English Tea Room and another lovely meal at yet another French restaurant, Magdalen, with a London foodblogger with an Estonian connection, Howard of Food and Drink in London. And then there was a fabulous Lebanese feast at Levantine in Paddington with my friends Annika & Ben. Who said that there are no good places to eat in London?!?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Copycat: Alanna's spicy carrot salad spoonfuls, or it's all in the presentation, isn't it?

About a fortnight ago K. and I went to a carrot farm, where I was given about 10 kg of crunchy, flavoursome carrots and where I also picked up a huge bunch or rhubarb. As it happened, a few days later I had to entertain and feed a hungry army of aunts and cousins. When you've got lots of visitors coming, but no time to shop (it was a weekday night, after all), you build a whole menu around things on hand - in this case carrots and rhubarb.

One of the dishes I served was based on Alanna's great recipe for carrots with African spices - a heartwarmingly spicy concoction of carrots and, well, various warm spices - that I blogged about back in January. I treated my excited extended family to a slightly adapted version of Alanna's carrot salad, but this time served it on my newly acquired Chinese spoons (the spoons are from Jamie Oliver's new Easy Entertaining range, thank you, Jamie!). There were minor changes to the recipe. For example, I didn't have any nice-looking garlic at home, so I skipped the garlic as well as parsley, and used finely chopped fresh wild garlic instead; I replaced the lime juice with lemon juice; I diced the carrots instead of cutting them into chunks, and blanched them for about 8 minutes only, so they'd have still quite a bit of bite. Instead of a simple and heartwarming side dish I ended up with a pretty elegant mouthful.

In addition to these spicy carrot salad spoonfuls, there was a sunny savoury carrot pie. I almost made a carrot & orange soup as well, but then I really ran out of time. There were also few non-carrot dishes, like Johanna's mini potatoes with wasabi cream and veggie 'caviar' (yep, again), and Molly's bouchons au thon (I know, third time already!), deep purple pickled red beet eggs (you don't need to wait until the next Easter, you know), as well as other bits and pieces. The dessert focused on rhubarb - I made a huge pyramid of these super-moist rhubarb muffins (a great recipe - I've made them thrice in a fortnight!).

It worked. My aunties want to know when's the next party :)

As you can see, half of the dishes I served were inspired by fellow food bloggers. What would I do without you, Molly, Johanna, Alanna and others? Thank you all, for being such a good source of great and inspirational recipes!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Rhubarb crumble

I hope you're not tired of my rhubarb posts just yet? I know you've had juicy rhubarb muffins, rhubarb & ginger jam and a creamy rhubarb pie already, but as there is still quite a lot of rhubarb left - no wonder, if you look at these pictures - then I've got a few more rhubarb recipes up my sleeve. Here's a crumble to you. You can add grated ginger, finely chopped rosemary, any other nuts (hazelnuts, pistachios, maybe even grated coconuts), a dash of orange juice to the crumble - you name it. Sometimes I add some grated nutmeg to the filling. And over the years I've realised that there's no need to crumble the crumble topping either. You just mix the oats, sugar and almonds, sprinkle on rhubarb and top with butter slices.

This crumble is especially delicious with softly whipped cream, but melted good vanilla ice cream would be a good substitute, too. If you're feeling really decadent, then you can add some freshly grated nutmeg to the cream.

Rhubarb crumble
Serves 6

500 grams rhubarb
100 ml sugar (white or demerara)
2 tsp cinnamon
some grated nutmeg (optional)

My 'lazy' crumble topping:
250 ml (1 cup) porridge oats
100 ml (almost 1/2 cup) sliced almonds
100 ml (almost 1/2 cup) sugar (white or demerara)
75-100 grams butter, thinly sliced

Wash the rhubarb stalks and cut into 1 cm chunks. Place into a buttered oven dish, add sugar and cinnamon and mix. (If you want to add some orange juice or zest, then now is the time).
For the crumble, mix oats, almonds and sugar and sprinkle evenly over rhubarb.
Dot small butter slices evenly over the crumble topping.
Bake at 200 C for about 20 minutes, until the topping is golden brown and rhubarb has softened.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Nami-Nami In Print: Petersham Nurseries @ Eesti Ekspress

Armsad Nami-nami blogi ja retseptikogu lugejad!
Kui keegi soovib lugeda mu mõtisklusi ja muljeid hiljutisest külaskäigust Petersham Nurseries restorani Londonis, siis ostke kindlasti tänane (ehk siis 10. mai 2007) Eesti Ekspress. Artikli leiate tagantpoolt lapates viiendalt leheküljelt.*

Sorry, this was in Estonian. I wanted to tell my dear Estonian readers that there's an article about my recent visit to Petersham Nurseries Cafe in London in today's Eesti Ekspress, a popular weekly newspaper. I'm yet to blog about my impressions of this fantastic restaurant, but you can read Johanna's review of our visit, as we had the pleasure of lunching there together. The article is a full-page spread, with three lovely pictures taken by K (you can see only one photo on the online version).
That was the first piece of paid food-writing I've done, so I'm very excited. More to come next week!

* Kärsitumad lugejad võivad piiluda ka siit, aga paberlehel on veel paar imeilusat pilti, nii et tasub ikka pärisleht endale muretseda :)

UPDATE 15.5.2007: You can now also read my blog post in English about my visit to Petersham Nurseries Cafe exactly a month ago.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Komm Morgen wieder: savoury pancake rolls that make you want more

I've always called savoury filled pancakes just 'filled pancakes' (well, or the Estonian equivalent, which is 'täidetud pannkoogid'). Very unimaginative, I know. When I once browsed a bilingual "Eesti Kokaraamat/Estonian Cookbook", published by the American Estonians in 1976, and came across a recipe for filled pancakes called 'Tule homme jälle', or 'Come again tomorrow', I was utterly amused. I was convinced that it was some kind of Americanism and nobody in real life would call pancakes like that. Imagine my surprise then when K. said that 'Come again tomorrow' is how these have always been known in his home, too. I guess the idea is that these pancakes - although incredibly easy to make - are so satisfying and tasty, that you'd want to return for more on the following day.

The recipe is adapted from the above cookbook - I've added some cheese and fresh herbs, and given them a quick moment in the oven. There's not much that isn't improved with addition of some cheese and herbs, don't you think?

Savoury Pancake Rolls
(Täidetud pannkoogid 'Tule homme jälle')
Serves 2

3 eggs
100 ml plain flour
300 ml milk
a pinch of salt

1 Tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
450 grams minced meat
100 ml beef stock
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
salt, black pepper

50 grams greated cheese

Prepare thin crepe-style pancakes (use the recipe above or your favourite crepe recipe, omitting sugar). Whisk eggs until broken, stir in salt and milk, then add the flour. Fry thin crepe-style pancakes (2 per person).

To prepare the filling, saute the onion in oil until golden on a medium heat, then add minced meat and brown. Add the stock and simmer, until the liquid has more or less evaporated again (it makes for a moister filling). Season, add the parsley.

Place a tablespoonful or two of filling at the centre of each pancake, and wrap the edges over the filling, so you end up with a roll (or roll's look-a-like). Place in a oven-proof dish, sprinkle with cheese and bake at 200C oven for 5-7 minutes until the cheese has melted.

Serve with a fresh salad and a sprinkling of herbs.

NB! Can be made ahead. Keep in the fridge. Before serving, heat in a 200C oven for about 15 minutes, adding the cheese after 10 minutes.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Moominmamma's rhubarb and ginger jam

Tove Jannson's Moominmamma (that's Moomin's mother, of course) apparently made a delicious rhubarb jam with ginger. So when I found myself with lots of rhubarb the other day, I decided to make rhubarb & ginger jam, just like Moominmamma. I've made it few times before, and really like it. It's a slightly tart rhubarb jam, where ginger leads exactly as much zing as you choose, and it's not overly sweet (we've reduced the amount of sugar a bit). We enjoyed it with golden saffron pancakes yesterday morning, and have a jar in the fridge for the coming weeks...

Moominmamma's rhubarb and ginger jam
(Muumimamma rabarbrimoos)
Adapted from Sami Malila "Muumimamman keittokirja" WSOY 1993
Makes one 500 g jar, plus a bit more

1 kg rhubarb
400 grams sugar
100 ml water
a thumb-sized piece of ginger (or a bit more, or less, depending on how much ginger zing you want)

Wash the rhubarb, and peel if you feel like (I never peel young or early rhubarb, as it'd reduce the lovely colour). Cut into 2 cm chunks and place in a large pot. Add sugar, mix. Add some water and and the knob of ginger.
Cook on a very low heat until rhubarb has softened (i.e. the jam should barely bubble when cooking), mixing thoroughly every now and then to avoid sticking to the pan. Remove any scum that appeares on the surface.
Scoop out the knob of ginger and divide the jam between sterilised hot jars. Place the lids on top. Keep in a cool and dark storage room.

Other jam recipes @ Nami-nami:
Fake Cloudberry Jam (August 2006)
Clotilde's cherry tomato jam with cinnamon (August 2005)
Delia's redcurrant jelly (August 2005)
Wild Strawberry 'Fridge' Jam (June 2007)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Golden saffron pancakes on a sunny Sunday morning

We always have pancakes for breakfast on Sunday mornings. I don't know if we can call it a tradition yet, as we've only lived together for just over six months (I moved in with K. upon my return from Scotland in mid-October), but we've surely had loads of pancakes during that time. If we're not having pancakes at home, we enjoy them at either my parents' place or at K's mum's place. Not having pancakes for Sunday breakfasts seems almost wrong.. I wonder if "Sunday pancakes" might be an Estonian thing, as I know many-many other families who start their Sundays with pancakes and some jam. Any thoughts?

But there's a pancake confession I need to make: I'm not very good in making pancakes. Althought I can make small, fat pancakes (dropcakes), I'm utterly useless in making thin crepe-style pancakes. K., on the other hand, enjoys making pancakes in all shape and form. Thin ones. Thick ones. Small dropcakes. Large crepes. Pancake batter made with milk, with buttermilk, with whipping cream, with curd cheese. You name it. So it's usually him making pancakes on Sundays, to my great delight. This morning he woke me up with a batch of saffron pancakes, served with freshly made rhubarb jam a la Moominmamma. I had bookmarked both recipes to make myself, but when K. offered to make these himself, I didn't complain. After all, it meant I could lie in bed for half an hour longer :)

These pancakes - a cover recipe of the 3/2007 issue of the Finnish food magazine Glorian Ruoka & Viini (see left) - caught my eye with their gorgeous golden colour. And it wasn't just a trick photography - in our kitchen the pancakes had a deep amber hue, and a definite whiff of saffron. The original recipe accompanied them with a jam made from berries (f. ex. raspberries, strawberries, cherries, apricots or such like), vanilla, star anise and rhum. That sounds good, but I've got loads of rhubarb just now, and I knew these would go well with Moominmamma's rhubarb & ginger jam. I was right.

Saffron pancakes
Source: Glorian Ruoka & Viini, Numero 44, 3/2007
Serves 4

400 ml plain flour (240 g)
2 tsp baking powder
0.75 tsp salt
4 Tbsp sugar (70 g)
2 Tbsp water, boiling
0.5 g saffran (a very scant pinch!)
300 ml milk (low-fat is fine)
3 medium eggs
50 ml butter, melted and cooled

butter or oil for frying

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt and sugar) in a bowl.
Pour boiling water into a measuring jug, add saffron and mix, until the water has coloured. Add milk and pour the mixture onto the dry ingredients.
Add the eggs and the melted butter and mix until combined (do not overmix). Add a bit more milk, if the batter feels to thick.
Heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan on a medium heat, add a bit of butter. Add a small ladleful of batter and fry pancakes for couple of minutes on both sides, until golden brown.
Keep pancakes warm under a piece of foil, while you bake the rest.
Serve warm with some home-made jam.

Other pancake recipes @ Nami-nami:
Buttermilk pancakes with sliced bananas, toasted nuts and warm maple syrup (March 2006)
Wild strawberries on pancakes (July 2006)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A lot of rhubarb, straight from the farm

May 1st is a day off here, and as the situation in Tallinn had been a bit tense for a few days, we decided to head out of town. It was a beautifully sunny, but really windy and chilly day, so a long hike in nearby forests wasn't in the cards. We wanted something warmer and more convenient :) K. had promised to visit his friend Endel for ages, so we finally paid a visit to his farm about 40 km from the capital. The farm grows carrots (a lot of them, and really tasty ones as well), but they also had a greenhouse full of rhubarb on the farm.

I have never seen so much rhubarb in my life, so naturally I went a bit grazy and left the greenhouse with a huge bunch or fat rosy stalks. I've already made some delicious cinnamon rhubarb muffins, and a gutsy rhubarb crumble with almonds. Last night K. poached some rhubarb in verjuice and spices and served it with a syllabub. Tomorrow I'll be making some rhubarb & ginger jam.

I leave you with a few pictures of me misbehaving in the rhubarb greenhouse. The guy in the picture is Endel, the farmer. You can see the individual pictures on my Flickr page.

Rhubarb recipes @ Nami-nami:
A creamy rhubarb pie (June 2005)
Moominmamma's rhubarb jam with ginger (May 2007)
Moist rhubarb muffins (May 2007)
Rhubarb crumble (May 2007)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

WIP: Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Tart

May I present you with a smoked salmon and cucumber tart, also on the table last Saturday (alongside the cute mini potatoes with wasabi cream and fake 'caviar' and the mocca cake with toasted almonds):

It's a bit like a sandwich cake, only that it contains no bread :) The dish is lined with thinly sliced cucumbers - pretty and spring-like. The recipe is still being developed - hence the WIP (work in progress) in the title of this post. It was tasty, but a bit too salty for my liking; the filling contains sour cream, cottage cheese, mayonnaise, cold smoked salmon, dill and is set with the addition of gelatine (thus not too dissimilar to the festive smoked salmon sandwich cake). I'm also not happy how the filling has leaked through the cucumber slices, so next time I'll double-line the dish with cucumber slices to make sure the upside down tart is perfectly green when I turn it around.

Otherwise not bad, not bad at all..

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Birthday cake, 2007

Same recipe - mocca cake with toasted almonds - just this time down-sized to feed 7 hungry adults and 2 ravenous kids. Oh, I did mix some milk curd cream into the filling, so it'd be healthier, sorry, tastier..

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Copycat: Johanna's wasabi and caviar potatoes

Last June, i.e. almost a year ago, I attended a blog birthday bash in London thrown by Johanna and Jeanne. We were treated to a line-up of wonderful fingerfood, and one of these was mini-potatoes topped with caviar & wasabi-cream. Johanna used small new season's potatoes, but as I'm now living much further up North, we cannot buy any new potatoes just yet. So instead I used something sold as 'Parisian potatoes' here - small, perfect potato balls.

We had some of our respective families over for a light late brunch on Saturday afternoon, and these were on offer. Went down a treat, may I say.

Johanna's wasabi and caviar potatoes (well, almost)
(Kartuliampsud wasabi ja kalamarjaga)

small potatoes
thick sour cream
wasabi paste
caviar or fish roe*
frehs chives, chopped

Boil the potatoes until almost tender, drain thoroughly and cool.
Mix sour cream and wasabi paste (about 0.5 tsp of wasabi to 2 Tbsp sour cream).
When potatoes are cooled, cut of a thin slice from the bottom (so they'd stand upright on your plate) and from the top (so that the topping would stay on the potato).
Top with a small dollop of wasabi cream and garnish with 'caviar'.
Serve on a bed of chopped chives.

* I actually used a vegetarian 'caviar', called meremari ('sea roe') in Estonian. It's made from nori/sea lettuce extract, salt and some other stuff, and makes a pretty decent-looking and so much cheaper garnish...

PS Thanks, YumSugar, for featuring this post at YumSugar and TasteSpotting. Much appreciated!