Saturday, June 30, 2007

Presidents who lunch: Toomas Hendrik Ilves & George Bush's luncheon menu at the White House

Klõpsa siia, kui soovid lugeda eestikeelset menüüd.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and US President George Bush shaking hands in the White House, June 25, 2007.
Photo: Mike Theiler, courtesy of
the Office of the President of Estonia.

Well, if George Bush had lunch with Toomas Hendrik Ilves in Estonia (that was in November 2006), it was only a matter of time that Toomas Hendrik Ilves would fly to the US to have lunch with George Bush in return (as he did early this week). Ilves and Bush actually met over two days, which was quite amazing considering that the first leds a country of barely 1.4 million people and the other a country of more than 300 million.

Anyway, here's what they had for lunch:

Click on the photo to enlarge. Photo courtesy of Eesti Ekspress.

I'd be interested to hear what American foodbloggers think about this menu. Was it seasonal? Was it representative of 'American cuisine'? And if yes, was it representative of modern or new or traditional or particularly regional American cuisine?

PS Curious to know what the Queen of England or the Emperor of Japan were served on their official visits to Estonia? Click on the Festive Menus label on the right hand side to find out.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Food Bartering: Wild Strawberries for Freshly Smoked Flatfish

Careful readers on my blog may have noticed a discrepancy in my strawberry posts. I claimed here to have picked a good kilogram of the best and sweetest strawberries in the world (this doesn't include all the berries - and there were many, oh so many, let me tell you - that ended up straight in my mouth as opposed to the basket), yet I only used 750 grams to make wild strawberry jam.

What happened to the rest? Well, we bartered them for 8 gorgeous fresh hot-smoked flatfish on Sunday night. And not just any flatfish, but eight lovely specimens of European flounder (Platichthys flesus trachurus), to be more precise:

Aren't they gorgeous? They're picked by a fisherman in our suburb, and hot-smoked by a kind friend who lives just around the corner. They're still small, as their peak season is only in August.*

I'll be eagerly waiting for August, as 'suitsulest' (that's smoked flounder for you) is the smoked fish with the softest, tenderest, tastiest and most delicate flesh imaginable..

* Which means that the special foodblogger who's coming for a visit in August is in line both for a jar of wild strawberry jam, a guided tour to pick her first ever cloudberries and some unusual edible wild mushrooms, as well as eat some freshly smoked flatfish when they're at their best. Lucky her, let me tell you :)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bagel is a doughnut with rigor mortis?*

* p. 90 in Claudia Roden's book The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand and Vilna to the Present Day (Penguin Books, 1996). Sounds cool, doesn't it?

My first challenge as a new member of the Daring Bakers was to make bagels. Not just any bagels, but Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels according to a recipe chosen by Jenny of All Things Edible and Freya of Writing At The Kitchen Table.

Bagels, in addition to being a doughnut with rigor mortis (alias chewy and dense and just a bit hard), were the staple bread of the Jews in Eastern Europe, especially in Poland (though they originate in Southern Germany). Since then bagels - especially lox and bagels - have become the most famous Jewish food in America, and a popular breakfast dish for non-Jews as well. I've never had the New York bagels, which are supposedly the best in the world (something in the water, apparently), but I did have some in Scotland over the years. I began with the six-packs available at one of the large supermarkets (not too bad to my novice bagel-tastebuds), and during my last year in Scotland I often picked one up from the Bagel Factory kiosk at the Waverley train station (so much better that the supermarket ones; I always opted for the salt beef & gherkin topping). Until I've tasted the NY bagels, I rely on Clarissa Hyman's description of a perfect bagel in her The Jewish Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Around the World (Conran Octopus, 2003): "I am a purist when it comes to bagels: they should be crisp and glossy on the outside, soft but still satisfyingly chewy inside".

How did mine compare? They're far from perfect, I must admit, but then we have both eaten quite a few of them, so they're far from disaster as well. They're glossy alright, and definitely chewy. But shapewise, I found them a bit flatter than I remembered, and they weren't as smooth as I wanted.

May I present my first ever bagels - vesikringlid alias 'water kringles' in Estonian - with four types of toppings:

Starting from the top left corner, moving clockwise: caraway seeds, Maldon sea salt, Kalonji black onion seeds (also known as nigella seeds, read more here), sesame seeds.

The shape of the bagels - a small circle with no beginning and no end, and with a hole in the middle - represents the eternal circle of life. There are two ways to get the all-important hole: a dough-centric (you roll the dough into a long 'snake', then press the ends together) and a hole-centric way (roll the dough into a small ball, press your finger through to make a hole). I used the hole-centric way of making holes:

Then you boil the bagels first in some water which has been seasoned with syrup or sugar (malt syrup would be the first choice, but I used dandelion syrup instead; mine were all 'floaters', I must admit), then brush with egg wash and sprinkle with your chosen topping (see first photo above), and then bake until golden in the oven. (And then cool, halve and schmear with your choice of topping).

I got 22 reasonably-sized bagels instead of the 15 prescribed ones:

Although the Daring Bakers were allowed to get all creative with the fillings, we opted for the popular lox & bagel topping (bagel, smoked salmon, cream cheese and a sprig of dill). Note that this is not the 'traditional' bagel filling. Quoting Clarissa Hyman again, "The bagel met its life partners, smoked salmon and cream cheese, in the New World. ... [this is] a marriage made in heaven. Which is why the egg and bacon bagel will always end in divorce". I wanted to be on the safe side, so smoked salmon and cream cheese it was:

Clarissa suggests few other schmears in her book, which I'll keep in mind for the future bagel-baking extravaganzas: avocado & egg schmear, cheese & dill schmear and Liptauer schmear.

Now, I wonder what the next Daring Baker challenge - hosted by Peabody - will be like?

I'm a Daring Baker

Yep, I've joined the ranks of the Daring Bakers. Couldn't help it. Back in November 2006 they all made pretzels, in December 2006 tried their luck with biscotti. I noticed them in January 2007, when they all made croissants (What a coincidence, I naively thought, all those bloggers suddenly making croissants. I wonder why?) In February 2007 it was Chocolate Intensity, in March 2007 the Red Velvet Cake. That's when I finally understood what's going on. I followed the evergrowing list of daring bakers replicating Martha Stewart's Chocolate Crepe Cake in April 2007, and the challenging Gateau Saint Honore in May 2007. The idea of everybody following exactly the same recipe and then showing off their more or less successful (usually the former) results became irresistible, and I inquired about the 'club' and was graciously admitted.

Here's a logo for the Daring Bakers - done by the ever-talented Ximena, who's also the author of my new fabulous banner.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wild strawberries, 2007

Have you ever had wild strawberries*, also known as woodland strawberries? No? Well, imagine the best-tasting, ripe and just-picked strawberry you've ever had, just in a very concentrated form. That's how wild strawberries taste like - like summer heaven :)

In July 2006, K. and I ate wild strawberries to our heart's content; this year we were determined to do the same and even more. In the few hours before St John's bonfire we made a quick trip to our wild strawberry fields. After just about an hour and a half we had about 1 kilogram of tiny wild strawberries between us - not bad at all, considering that we covered a very small patch of land. There were just so many strawberries around.

And here's a tip to any future wild strawberry foragers: make sure to look inside larger bunches of grass and nettles - we found the 'hidden' strawberries to be considerably larger than the ones growing in sunny open spots (I guess constant sunshine - which we've got plenty during the summer - dries them out a bit).

When you look hard enough, you'll see lots of wild strawberries (click on the photo to enlarge).

* I must admit that I'm a bit confused about the relationship between wild and Alpine strawberries. However, based on this Finnish source, I suspect that Alpine strawberries are a semi-cultivated 'close cousins' of wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca L). They're sweet and tasty, but the flavour is somewhat more diluted; they're slightly bigger and more oblong than your average wild strawberrys (see Clotilde's picture here and compare the oblong berries with this round berry here). In Estonia they're known as kuumaasikad alias 'moon strawberries' (Fragaria vesca var. semperflorens, c.f. kuukausimansikka in Finnish, Monatserdbeere in German). Another difference is that whereas wild strawberries only bear fruit in June-July, then you can harvest Alpine strawberries in your garden until early Autumn (hence the English synonyms 'everbearing strawberry' and 'perpetual fruiting strawberry', Spanish 'fresal de las cuatro estaciones'). But, as I said, there's lots of confusion on this matter, so I still need to do some research into this..

By the way - wild strawberries are high in carbohydrates and contain fibre, minerals (iron, magnesium, calcium, among other things) and vitamins (B, C, E vitamins, pholic acid and carotene). So they're not only tasty, they're also very good for you. I've even read that wild strawberry face masks help to reduce lines, but as I so don't have to worry about that any time soon, I just keep eating them for their taste :)

Wild strawberries are best eaten as they are picked, but they also make a lovely jam. BUT - don't try to make a traditional boiled jam with wild strawberries. The tiny seeds outside the berry may turn any cooked jam bitter, and basically spoil it. Therefore wild strawberries are preserved in uncooked, 'raw' jam.

Wild strawberry jam
(Metsmaasika toormoos)

750 grams freshly picked wild strawberries
750 grams caster sugar

Pick through the strawberries to make sure there are no tiny bugs or ants among them. This is best done by pouring a cupful of strawberries onto a large plate covered with a clean (paper) towel, sorting through and then spooning the strawberries into a large bowl.

Add sugar (take equal quantity - in terms of weight - of sugar to berries) and then stir with a wooden spoon, squashing berries every now and then, for about 20-30 minutes, until sugar has dissolved.
Ladle into small sterilised jam jars and close them immediately.
As this is an uncooked jam, then keep in the fridge or in a very cold larder.

We got exactly 1 litre of wild strawberry jam or metsmaasikamoos - 5 small jars a´ 150 ml and 1 larger jar a´ 250 ml. One of these jars will be waiting for a certain foodblogger who will be visiting in August, the others we'll enjoy with our traditional Sunday pancakes..

WHB: This is also my entry to the Weekend Herb Blogging, this time hosted by Kalyn herself.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Jaaniõhtu 2007 - St John's Night 2007

The shortest night of 2007 is behind us, and I'm pleased to say I had a lovely time in Lalli village in Raplamaa. Before the night's festivities began, I found my first porcini mushroom of the year (above) - an early brown birch bolete (Leccinum scabrum, Birkenpilz) and between the two of us managed to pick a good kilogram of wild strawberries in just over an hour. Wild strawberries vol. 2007 deserve a separate post of their own, so click here to read :)
After visiting my uncle in Paluküla and one of my first cousins in nearby Kädva, we returned to Lalli just in time for the traditional village bonfire celebrating the shortest night of the year, The bonfire was held on their traditional bonfire site - Sonni hill. Not the most dramatic location, but extremely peaceful and beautiful nevertheless. The party began around 9pm, and there were 14 people in total, aged 9 to 90, with couple of dogs to boot. Here's a picture taken from the bonfire site from 9.30 pm, and it's still rather light:

And almost the same view half an hour before midnight:

Dark, but still not too bad, is it? As we walked home across those fields around 1am, without any flashlights, and I was giggling when I saw my sneakers in the dark. Althought summer nights in Scotland are light compared to the ones in Southern Europe, I had still forgotten how much lighter they are at home in Estonia..

There was some singing, and lots of chatting and catching up. And of course there was lots of food. I had made a selection of small sandwiches to take along: small rye bread squares with garlicky cheese filling, classic sandwich triangles with egg & cress mayo, and some with tuna & tomato filling. Additionally, I brought along two types of muffins, adapting my recipe for moist rhubarb muffins to make pear & ginger muffins and apple & cranberry muffins. From the market, we picked up some day-old salted cucumbers and a huge Italian watermelon, and other people had brought along lots of different sausages for roasting over the flames. Our 'BBQ' was one of the very rustic ones:

You see the two sticks on the right, with chunks of meat stuck on them? Well, that's my improvised rosemary-lemon-honey lamb, which seemed to be much more popular than the various sausages, I'm pleased to report :)

And here's what's left of the big fire at 1 am, just before we left..

BLAST FROM THE PAST: A year ago I spent St John's Night on Santorini, in Greece, where my friends Annemieke and Georgios got hitched. You can read about breakfasts with fabulous views here and dining on Santorini here. Two years ago I was hosting my parents, sister and older nephew in Edinburgh, as they had flown over for my graduation ceremony.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

5 kilos, 7 jars, 3 different jams and a dessert to boot

I bought 5 kg of Hungarian sour cherries from Tallinn Central Market on Monday, which K very kindly stoned for me, making a horrible mess in the lounge! Not that I'm complaining, as wiping those red stains off the floor was a considerably easier task than manually picking through million juicy cherries.. On the other hand, he got to eat all the cherries he fancied, so he didn't complain either..

We made three types of jam: 2 jars of cherry compote to K's liking (300 grams of sugar per 1 kg of stoned fruit, simmered for 20 minutes on a low heat), 3 jars of cherry jam to my liking (400 grams of jam sugar per 1 kg of stoned fruit, simmered for 20 minutes on a low heat; photo below) and 2 jars of cherry marmalade with Amaretto and almond slices (400 grams of jam sugar per 1 kg of stoned fruit, 50 ml Amaretto, 100 grams almond slices, simmered for 15 minutes on a low heat). As the cherries were really juicy, we didn't bother adding any water to them. The jars were 500 ml on average.

All experienced jam-makers know, of course, that you're supposed to skim off the foam that appears on the surface of the simmering jam. What some of you may not know is that this foamy cherry infused liquid can be used to make a super-über-delicious roosamanna or whipped semolina mousse:

Note my new pair of Moomin spoons - a gift K. brought back from his latest business trip to Finland. Can you guess the characters??

Have a lovely weekend! We're off to Paluküla to celebrate summer solstice - jaanipäev - tonight and pick wild strawberries, which, as you can see here, are already ripe!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Marzipan cake with strawberries and cream

Pretty, isn't it?

I guess you're not really surprised that I'm posting a recipe for a strawberry cake just a day after I posted a photo of local Estonian strawberries which are finally on sale pretty much everywhere (though I did notice - still!?! - some imported Southern European ones in some stores. Why, oh why?). K's mum's half-brother Ülo turned 60 yesterday, and K's mum threw a small party for him. I've never met the man before, but I still offered to make a birthday cake for him. He's a lone bachelor, you see, and I doubt he gets home-made, specially-for-him, cakes very often.

As strawberries are currently at the peak of their season, I decided to make a strawberry cake - you cannot be more summery & festive than that, can you? The base is sponge-like, but enriched with 200 grams of one of the best marcipans available here. Ren Rå Marcipan ('clean raw marzipan') from the Danish Odense Marzipan company contains 2 parts almonds, 1 part sugar; the almonds hail all the way from California, which is supposedly where the best almonds grow. The base cooked beautifully, filling our kitchen with a strong and pleasant almondy smell.

The cake went down a treat. I got a phone call from K's mum in the early afternoon, where she praised the cake, and then the phone was handed over to the birthday 'child' Ülo, who claimed it was the best strawberry cake he has ever had. I don't know about that, but it was definitely pleasing to my tastebuds (K. popped by his mum's place again on the way back from work, and brought back the cake stand with a tiny slice of cake for us to share in the evening).

Marzipan Cake with Strawberries & Cream
Adapted from Odense Marcipan, Denmark
Serves 8-10

Marzipan sponge:
3 eggs
200 grams sugar
150 grams plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
200 grams marzipan, coarsely grated (I used ODENSE Ren Rå Marcipan, 60% almonds)
1 tsp pure orange oil or zest of 1 orange

To moisten:
75-100 ml of milk or orange juice

To decorate:
300 ml whipping cream
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

To garnish:
fresh strawberries
green pistachios
shredded fresh lemon balm leaves

Using an electric mixer, whisk eggs with sugar until pale and frothy. Add the sifted flour and baking powder mixture, then fold in the grated marzipan and orange oil/zest. Mix gently until combined, pour into a buttered 24 cm springform tin and bake at 175 Celsius for about 30 minutes, until the cake has risen and turned pale golden.
Remove from the oven, cool a little, then transfer the cake onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Before serving, moisten the cake with orange juice or milk, cover with whipped cream and garnish with strawberries, pistachios and shredded lemon balm leaves.

UPDATE 25.6.2007: As you can see, then sweet Zarah Maria did bake this cake for her Martin's birthday, as she said in the comments :) It looks gorgeous, Zarah Maria, and I hope that Martin liked it!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Strawberries & Cream ;)

I couldn't resist buying that mini colander in creamfrom Nigella, it was simply too cute (and no, I didn't need another colander..)

And the strawberries are Estonian. Finally!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Oven-roasted salmon with coriander/cilantro

How time flies!! Remember the asparagus with coconut & lime starter and rhubarb & coconut pie dessert I served at a dinner party in May? Well, between these two courses I served a rather tasty and healthy oven-roasted salmon with coriander/cilantro. I wanted something that would connect the coconut & lime starter with the coconut & rhubarb dessert. As Dianne, one of the guests that night, doesn't eat red meat, then I knew it had to be a fish course. At the end I came up with this recipe - combination of various coriander/cilantro salmon recipes in the web, and lime is the ingredient that appeared both in the starter and in the main course dish. Coriander is not a very widely used herb here in Estonia, though it is increasingly available at some supermarkets, and can be found under the name kinza at the markets, where Russian-speaking ladies sell it (it's widely popular in Caucasus, for example - Georgian chakhohbili wouldn't be the same without it). I hated coriander in the beginning, but have grown to like its piquancy over the last few years, and now grow some on my windowsill.

I used salmon steaks, but it would work just as well with fillets. Also, I served it with quinoa, which worked well, but steamed rice or boiled new potatoes would go well as well. Or simply a nice crusty bread, if you prefer.

Oven-roasted salmon with coriander/cilantro
Serves 4

Click on the photo to enlarge

4 salmon steaks or fillets

Coriander/cilantro marinade:
100 grams fresh coriander, chopped
2 fat garlic cloves, chopped
the zest and juice of 1 lime
5 Tbsp olive oil
sea salt
coarsely ground black pepper

few tomatoes on the wine, optional

Mix all the marinade ingredients together. Season salmon steaks lightly with salt and pepper on both sides, place in a greased oven dish. Spread the coriander marinade over, tuck the squeezed lime halves in the dish as well. [This can be done few hours earlier; cover the dish with a clingfilm and place in the fridge].
Add few smaller tomatoes for extra colour. Cover with foil and roast at 225 Celsius oven for about 15 minutes, depending on thickness, until fish is cooked. Avoid overcooking, as overcooked salmon is simply dry & nasty. (You may want to remove the foil about 5 minutes before end, just to get some golden colour).

Other salmon recipes @ Nami-nami:
Creamy salmon & potato gratin (February 2007)
Oriental salmon with honey, mustard & soy sauce (February 2006)
Salmon fishcakes with green peas (November 2006)
Salmon kulebyaka (February 2007)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A simple recipe for using neeps, swedes, rutabagas & yellow turnips: rutabaga & pineapple salad

Who would have thought that a simple root vegetable, Brassica napus var. napobrassica can cause so much confusion? According to wikipedia,

- in Southern England and most Commonwealth countries, it is known as swede or Swedish turnip
- in Northern England, Ireland and Cornwall, as well as Atlantic Canada it is called turnip
- in Scotland, it's called turnip or neeps (and yes, it is served with haggis & tatties)
- in the United States, you'll know it as rutabaga or yellow turnip

In Estonia, it's called kaalikas - not to be confused with naeris, which is turnip in the US, Southern England and most Commonwealth countries, white turnip in Cornwall and swede or tumshie in Scotland. And to confuse the matters even more, it seems that what is known as turnip in Malaysia, Singapore, and Philippines, is actually a jicama (at least in the US), known as yam bean in Southern England and most Commonwealth countries, and mehhiko naeris in Estonian. Got that??

Me neither..

In any case I picked up couple of new season's neeps at the Tallinn Central Market yesterday morning, and made a very simple but delightful side salad with them in the evening. Whereas I'd usually cook neeps, then young and small neeps are sweet, crisp and juicy and excellent raw in salads.

Rutabaga & pineapple salad
Recipe adapted from Ruokamaailma 9/2004
Serves 3-4 as a side dish. Can be easily doubled etc

2-3 small and young swedes/rutabagas/neeps, peeled and coarsely grated (about 250 grams peeled weight)
a small 225 gram can of pineapple chunks in pineapple juice
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt

Mix grated swede/rutabaga/neep, pineapple chunks and chopped parsley. Add a spoonful or two of pineapple liquid to moisten and season with sea salt.
Serve as a side salad to some grilled meat or as part of a buffet table.
Best eaten on the day it's made.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Estonian soups: nettle soup with eggs & herbs (or more wild food)

My mum has obviously realised that her older daughter (that's me) is 'into such things' - wild food & edible weeds, I mean. So when she saw stinging nettles growing in her vegetable patch, she left them there for me instead of throwing into compost pile like they have done for the previous decades. When popping by for our weekly cup of coffee last Thursday (I was at my high school reunion this weekend, so we went to see her a bit earlier), she gave me a bunch of chives, some beautiful pink peonies, and a large handful of stinging (and very much so!) nettles.

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is widely available in Estonia - though not in the shops. You'd find it growing in your back garden, on the meadows and fields, and alongside your fence. Contains plenty of vitamin C, carotine, vitamin K, and considerable amounts of E- and B-vitamins. Practicioners of herbal medicine know many uses for stinging nettles, but there's also a culinary aspect to this weed. There are 17 pages of recipes and tips for various culinary uses of stinging nettle in the book of wild weeds (see left). Another cookbook I've got, Soome-ugri kokaraamat alias a cookbook of Finno-Ugric people that includes recipes of Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Livonian, Karelian, Votic, Vepsian, Sami/Lappish, Mansi/Vogul, Udmurt, Komi, Mari/Cheremisic, Ingrian/Izhorian, Mordvinic, and Khanty/Ostyak culinary heritage, also contains a number of recipes using nettles. Nettle leaves can be added into soups, stews, salads, omelettes and meat dishes (add chopped nettle into the meatballs or meatloaf, for example); they can be used as a pie filling (like my ground elder hortapita) or even to make nettle wine. I opted for a simple green soup, which in one form or another appears in quite a few Estonian sources.

Eesti keeles võite nõgestest lugeda veel Thredahlia blogist.

Nettle soup with eggs & herbs
Serves 2-3 as a starter

100 grams of stinging nettle leaves*
500 ml water
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp plain flour
500 ml vegetable, chicken or beef stock, hot
salt & black pepper

To serve:
2 boiled eggs
finely chopped fresh dill & chives

Bring the water to the boil, add the nettle leaves and blanch for 2 minutes (THIS ELIMINATES THE STINGING PROPERTIES OF THE NETTLES, SO YOU CAN FREELY TOUCH THEM). Rinse quickly under cold water and drain lightly. Puree in a blender and put aside.
Heat olive oil in a saucepan, add onions and saute on a medium heat for 7-8 minutes to soften slightly. Add the flour, mix thoroughly and fry for 1 minute (do not brown!). Add hot stock, a little at a time and mixing thoroughly to incorporate the flour & onion mixture. Boil for about 3 minutes, then add the pureed nettle and heat through. Season with salt & pepper.
Ladle into small soup bowls, add a halved or chopped boiled egg and garnish with chopped herbs.

* Use a pair of rubber gloves to tear off the leaves from the stalks, as stinging nettles do really live up to their name at this stage.

WHB: This is also my entry to the Weekend Herb Blogging, this time hosted by Rachel of Rachel's Bite.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Nami-nami turns two and tells you which other foodbloggers make her think

It's exactly two years since I posted my first post on this food blog. Two years and some 300 posts later, I'm still enjoying blogging immensely. Through blogging, I've met a number of wonderful bloggers face to face, including Johanna, Jeanne, Antti, and Melissa, to name just a few. I'm due to meet another great blogger, and the author of my beautiful new banner, Ximena, later this summer. And 'virtually', I've come to know many more fabulous bloggers that I'd love to meet one day. Because of foodblogging, I've become much more reflexive about what, why, when and how I cook; I've become more aware of my food-shopping & consumption habits; and last, but not least, I've become a much more skilled, adventurous and knowledgeable cook during these two years..

Thank you all for keeping coming back for more, leaving comments, and generally being so supportive..

Coincidentally, I've been twice nominated for the Thinking Blogger Award - first by lovely Susan of FoodBlogga, and then by my dear long-time reader Joey of 80 Breakfasts. I'm really flattered, and honoured. I am also supposed to nominate five more bloggers for the thinking blogger award (and if you feel like, pass on the awards, though there's absolutely no obligation, of course).

So who are the five bloggers that make me think (particularly much)? In no particular order, I'd like to nominate:

Johanna of The Passionate Cook. I've met Johanna on several occasions now - she came to visit me in Edinburgh, I've stayed with her in London twice - in June 2006 and in April 2007, and I guess I can say that we've become pretty good friends through this foodblogging thing. Having seen her cook on several occasions, and tried her tasty food and successfully recreated many of her recipes, I'm amazed how she combines blogging about such delightful, tempting, beautifully styled and executed dishes, while also keeping tabs on a family of three kids - including a 3-year old and a few month old baby, and do contract catering every now and then as well! I hope this is a task I can cope with one day myself with such an (seemingly) effortless ease!

Bea of La Tartine Gourmande. I've learned (or I hope at least that I have) immensely about food styling and photography from Bea. More than any other blogger, Bea makes me think about the aesthetics of various dishes. Her way with colours and light are truly inspirational, and make me want to learn more about food styling and photography every time.

Ilva of Lucullian Delights inspires me because her blog feels most seasonal and relaxed to be. I like her style of recipes - they're very much Nigel Slater'esque. You know, a handful of this, a drizzle of that, couple of these -you get the picture. Cooking by eye, intuition and gut feeling, I think, and not sticking religiously to a recipe. This is very much how I cook most of the time, and occasionally I find the need to write down exact - or even approximate - amounts frustrating. Ilva's posts encourage me and tell me that I must be doing something right, even if it is by intuition rather than precision.

Then there's a young Estonian foodblogger Merilin of Pisike ja Pisut Segi, who works as a food technology & safety scientist during the day, and blogs about food and the How? and Why? behind cooking during the night, and she does that in a language I understand (in all senses of the word). She's destined to become the Harold McGee of Estonia one day very soon, I'm sure about it.

And the joint fifth award goes to Alanna of A Veggie Venture and Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen for widening my horizon about different uses for healthy and tasty vegetables, and providing me with ever-so-nice supply of inspiring recipes to boot.

Thank you all - for making me think, and for making me blog! I'm off to celebrate this second foodblogging-birthday now :)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Wild mushroom Hunt: Morcella esculenta / Yellow morels

All my regular readers know by now that I love mushrooms, especially wild ones. And although you can easily buy various fresh wild mushrooms at the market or preserved wild mushrooms in supermarkets, I prefer forageing for my own wild mushrooms - see here and here, for example. There's something immensely gratifying and refreshing about those long and quiet walks in the forests, and the excitement about what and where and how much we'll find is fun.

In late April and early May, I came across few ladies selling morels at the Tallinn Central Market. There's nothing special about these mushrooms as such (they were on the menu in pretty much every restaurant in London back in April), although they tend to be somewhat unknown among urban fungiphiles here in Estonia. K and his mom, for example, know loads of autumnal wild mushrooms, but had never come across morels yet. They hadn't even looked for any. When in Paluküla in early May, I asked my grandma and uncle and other villagers about morel mushrooms, and they knew nothing. Yet, my recently acquired new mushroom forager's bible, 400 Eesti seent (400 Estonian mushrooms) had a picture of black morels (Morchella conica) on the cover and claimed that these spring mushrooms should be pretty common in northern Estonia.

I was convinced that if I just looked hard enough, I'd find some.

And so I did. In mid-May, K's mum - as I said, hitherto unfamiliar with morels - asked around in her village about some unfamiliar spring mushrooms, and soon enough one of the neighbours told her that there are funny-looking mushrooms growing on the grassy open field just outside their farm. She picked up the mushrooms (on the bottom left, see photo above) and brought them to us for identification. With the help of the trusty mushroom bible we easily identified them as Morcella esculenta, examples of one of the yellow morels (pallohuhtasieni in Finnish, rundtoppmurkla in Swedish, сморчок настоящий alias smortšok nastojaššii in Russian). A fortnight later we were in Paluküla area again, and K. and I headed out to the field where the mushrooms were found earlier. Nothing.. We wondered around for about half an hour, carefully staring at the open fields, trying to spot a precious morel, but without luck. On the way back to the house we decided to have one last look at a yellow-green open field surrounded by tall birch trees. And voilà - suddenly I spotted a huge yellow morel (bottom right, photo above). And another, and another and another. Four in total. Then my mushroom luck was over, but K. found four more mushrooms (- you see, there is justice and gender equality in the world, after all:) Quite surprisingly, we returned from our first ever morel forageing trip with eight succulent yellow morels (top left, photo above). We must have got a good nose for mushrooms, the pair of us :)

The mushrooms? Well, if you've got something so delicious, you don't want to over-handle them. We cleaned and sliced them, fried in butter with some salt and pepper and a dash of cream, and ate them with some fried garlic scapes and salad leaves (top right, photo above). Mmmmmm.

I've got a feeling that it'll be a good year for wild mushrooms...

PS You can read more about identifying morel mushrooms over at Only pick mushrooms that you are certain about!!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Osso Buco, as promised

Remember my list of foodie resolutions for 2007? Well, one of the items there was to make osso buco, the Italian veal shank stew*. I'm happy to report that I made osso buco about a month ago, and it was absolutely fabulous. It was just as juicy and sweet and meaty and melting and savoury and delicious as I had expected it to be. 'My' osso buco was heavily reliant on Clotilde's take on the French take of the Italian dish, with some tips nicked from Elise, some from The River Cafe Cook Book and some from "Daily Mail" Modern British Cookbook. Interesting mix of sources, eh :)

I served it with saffron-infused boiled rice, but the traditional accompaniment would be Risotto alla Milanese.

Vasikakoodid ostsin Viimsi lihapoest. Väga head koodid olid!

Osso Buco
(Itaalia veisekoodihautis Osso Buco)
Serves 6

1 kg veal shanks
3-4 Tbsp plain flour
salt & black pepper
2 Tbsp oil
300 grams onions, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, chopped finely
1 carrot, cut into small cubes
1 celery stick, cut into small cubes
400 grams chopped peeled tomatoes
200 ml dry white wine
300 ml veal stock
2 bay leaves
2 fresh sprigs of thyme
half a lemon
chopped flat-leaf parsley

Gremolata to serve:
finely grated lemon zest
finely chopped garlic
finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Dry the veal shanks with kitchen paper, then dredge into a seasoned flour (i.e. flour, salt, pepper) and shake of any excess flour.
Heat oil in a large saucepan and brown the shanks on a medium heat on both sides (about 8 minutes in total). Put the browned veal shanks aside (f.ex. on a deep plate).
Add onion, garlic, carrots, celery and a splash of water into the saucepan and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the onion softens.
Season with salt, add the chopped tomatoes, including the juices, and heat through.
Add wine and stock, thyme and bay leaves. Bring slowly to the boil, cover the saucepan firmly with the lid, and simmer on a low heat for 1.5-2 hours, until the meat is really soft and tender.
(If you prefer, you can make your osso buco in the oven. 2-2.5 hours at 200C should suffice).

Sprinkle with gremolata or the mixture of finely chopped flat leaf parsley, garlic and lemon zest, and serve.

* Osso Buco also featured on Zarah Maria's list, and I'm keenly waiting to read about her version :)

Friday, June 08, 2007

May 2007 DMBLGIT award for originality!

Hurray! Just to let you know that this photo of beetroot pickled Easter eggs (eggs & styling by me, shooting by K) won an award for Originality at the May 2007 Does My Blog Look Good In This contest. Thank you, Scott, Trig and other judges, for this great category award. It's an honour to be included in the same post with these other foodblogger/photographers! Make sure to go and check out all the other wonderful winners!

And greetings to all of you from bonnie Scotland! After enduring the cold & wet weather in Edinburgh for a few days, we arrived today to a sunny & warm isle of Arran where a friend of mine is getting married tomorrow night. Normal blogging will resume in a few days...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

EBBP: A Sweet & Scented Parcel from Meeta

I've taken part of the European Blogging By Post twice before. My first gift parcel in August 2005 was from Johanna of The Passionate Cook, who has since become a very good friend (and her cantucci with almonds & pink peppercorns have become a regular treat). My second parcel came all the way from Athens, from Shalimar of Wanderlust Sha, and contained some of the best ever λουκούμι or 'Turkish Delight' I've ever had a chance to try. Somehow I missed the next three rounds, but considering all the moving and travelling I've done, I'm not too surprised actually.

We've already reached the seventh round of EBBP. Johanna is hosting this time, and we were asked to include something related to our childhood sweets in the parcel. Just days after I had sent off my parcel to a foodblogger somewhere in Europe, I got a notice from the post office to pick up a parcel from ---- Germany!

This time I got a very sweet and very scented parcel from Meeta of What's For Lunch, Honey?, which I've been thoroughly enjoying and consuming over the last few days. I must apologise in advance, that some of the chocolates didn't make it to the photo, as some naughty sociologist ate them all in her office. In one go - how dare she!?!?

Anyway - the parcel contained some lovely food-scented candles - two red strawberry ones and two purple blackberry ones. Then there were some of Meeta's favourite chocolates reminiscent of her childhood - Mars, Bounty, Twix, Snickers and Milky Way, as well as a bar of Toblerone (which, as I've mentioned before, makes a lovely chocolate sauce together with cream and butter). The latter is also Meeta's real favourite from the lot. Additionally there was a packet of Original Halloren Kugeln with Waldfrucht-Joghurt in Vollmilch-Schokolade (alias chocolates with forrest berry & yogurt filling). There's a reason why I've taken a picture of the box rather than chocolates :)

Thank you, Meeta, for sharing your childhood sweets with me!

PS I'm posting this from Edinburgh, where I've got very erradic access to email & internet. I apologise for not responding to any of your comments until next week.

UPDATE: 08.06.2007: My EBBP parcel went to Dagmar in Stockholm, Sweden - you can read what she thought of it here (as well as see some really cute photos).

Sunday, June 03, 2007

It's a wild thing: hortapita or a Greek pie with wild greens

On a gorgeous Sunday in early May K. and I walked along the paths of my - sorry, our - childhood summers. Literally. And during that walk, we packed a small linen bag with young ground elder leaves. You see, ever since buying the book on the culinary use of wild herbs & weeds few months ago, I've been discovering new edible wild plants galore. Eating dandelion greens is almost conservative now. I've turned dandelion blossoms into dark and sticky syrup, thrown milk thistle leaves into my salads, and yes, eaten enough wild garlic leaves to provide me with vitamins for months, and yes, even made a pie out of ground-elder. I can see that not everybody gets excited about stuff like that - even my 87-year old grandmother was a bit suspicious of me collecting these weeds for human consumption. But luckily K. is very supportive, and doesn't mind being fed one 'interesting' dish after another.

Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria, also known as bishop's weed and goutweed in English, naat in Estonian) has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes, but it was also cultivated as a food crop in the Middle Ages, especially in Russia (and in Siberia in particular - the Russian Saint Seraphim of Sarov is said to have survived three years on eating mainly ground-elder while on self-exposed exile in a deep forest), Scandinavia, in Central Europe. Old Finno-Ugric peoples were keen consumers of ground elder, too. According to some sources, old traders wrapped their vegetables into ground elder leaves to keep them fresh looking and smelling - the leaves are high in essential oils and helped to keep the other produce fresh and aromatic, too. Young and tender ground-elder leaves can be added to soups, omelettes and stews. Blanched leaves can be mixed with cottage cheese and curd cheese. The leaves are high on Vitamin E, as well as vitamin C, they're rich in antioxidants, minerals, flavonoids and fibre. Dishes containing ground elder are easily digestible, and have cleansing properties - so they're good for that spring-time detoxing :)

A hortapita in Portaria, June 2006

I decided to make hortapita with my ground elder leaves. The wise Greek village women, you see, have been using wild greens - horta - for culinary purposes forever. I enjoyed hortapita in a shady cafe in Portaria (see the photo above) during my 2006 trip to Greece. Its slightly more elegant and modern version - spanakopita - is one of my favourite pies. Using my ground elder bounty for a Greek hortapita seemed like the most logical thing to do. The Greek villagers would use lots of other wild and bitter leaves for making hortopita (and other dishes too, obviously, like salads etc). Amaranth (vlita in Greek, one of the most popular horta's - rebashein), sow thistle (tsochos / piimaohakas), stinging nettles (tsouknithes / kõrvenõges), mallow (molocha / kassinaeris), dandelion, purslane ( glistrida or andrakles / portulak), wild carrots, as well as more familiar chicory, sorrel, mustard greens, rocket, endives and others. Ground elder makes as good a pie filling as any of the others mentioned - just a little bit bitter, gutsy and earthy.

The pastry recipe is from my friend Virve, who uses it to make a fabulously easy apple pie. It's the easiest pastry to work with and it tastes wonderful - it's easy, soft and pliable dough that procudes a flaky and wonderful pastry. The filling is inspired by my spanakopita recipe.

Hortapita or a Greek-style pie with wild greens
Serves 8

200 grams butter
200 grams sour cream
350 grams plain flour
a pinch of salt

3 Tbsp oil
200 grams young ground-elder leaves
100 grams onion, finely chopped
200 grams cottage cheese or feta cheese
1 egg
1 Tbsp dried oregano
salt and coarsely ground black pepper

First, prepare the pastry. Melt the butter on a medium heat, take off the heat and cool a little. Mix in sour cream, flour and salt. Knead until the pastry comes together - it'll be very soft and pliable, like plastiline. Wrap into cling film and put into the fridge for up to 30 minutes (leave it for much longer, and you'll have hard time rolling it!)
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Wash the wild greens, dry thoroughly. Heat a non-stick frying pan and 'cook' the leaves until they 'wilt'. Then quickly rinse them under cold running water to stop them from cooking further. Press until dry, and chop the cooked leaves coarsely.
Heat the non-stick frying pan again, this time with oil on it. Add the onion and cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes, until onion starts to soften. Take off the heat.
Now add the other ingredients, mix thoroughly.
Roll the relaxed dough to a large rectangle about 4-5 mm thick, cut into 2 more or less equally sized rectangles. Place the smaller one on a medium-sized oven tray, spread the filling on top, and cover with the larger dough sheet. Pinch the edges firmly together, pierce with a fork couple of times and brush with whisked egg.
Bake at 200C for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool a little and cut into squares.

Hortopita / Naadipirukas

Saturday, June 02, 2007

I've got a new banner!

As of today, my old and simple banner lettering NAMI-NAMI: a food blog about cooking and eating in Estonia and beyond is replaced by this gorgeous new banner drawn by the ever-talented Ximena of the Lobstersquad blog. I hope you like it as much as I do - and I personally think it's wonderful, depicting me and my hometown Tallinn just the way I like it!

I'm using a new blogger template now, so there have been other small changes to the layout. On the sidebar you'll find post labels now, as well as books I want and books I recommend. The recent comments cover now the whole blog and not just the front page entries, which is useful, as there are comments being added to archived posts, too.

Please let me know if something isn't working properly or should be changed.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

UPDATE 11.6.2007: Check out Ximena's post as well :)

Friday, June 01, 2007

A happy, if unusual, threesome: asparagus with coconut & lime

I hadn't planned to blog about this asparagus dish until next week, but then a loyal reader of mine tried my coconut & rhubarb pie, liked it, and wanted to try asparagus with coconut & lime, also mentioned in that post. Cannot keep your customers waiting, so here's the recipe. The combination may sound a bit unusual, but asparagus & lime make good friends, so do coconut & lime, and all-in-all this combination worked just well (a happy threesome, so to say). It definitely was a good choice to start a dinner which also consisted of coriander salmon and coconut & rhubarb pie.

Asparagus with coconut & lime
(Sparglid kookospiima ja laimiga)
Adapted from Swedish Arla site
Serves 4 as a starter

400 grams green asparagus
250 ml thick coconut milk
a scant teaspoon of Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon powder
grated peel of 1 lime and 2 tsp of pressed juice
a pinch of salt
coconut flakes

Snap off the woody bits of asparagus stalks, discard. Boil the asparagus in a slightly salted water for about 2 minutes, until cooked, but not soft. Drain and place on warmed plates.
Meanwhile, heat the coconut milk in a small saucepan to very slow simmer (do not boil!), season with bouillon powder, lime juice, half of the grated lime zest, and salt. Spoon over the cooked asparagus and garnish with the rest of the grated zest and some flaked coconut.

Other asparagus dishes @ Nami-nami:
Asparagus with pinenuts, lime and browned butter (May 2007)
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)