Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Salted Herring, Estonian Style

Did you know that Estonia has a 'national fish', in a similar vein to countries having chosen a 'national flower', a 'national drink', a 'national bird' etc? Well, we do since 2006 and it's a Baltic Herring (Clupea harengus membras). However, the big cousin on that tiny fish - Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) is very popular as well, and here's the most popular way of serving Atlantic herring in Estonia. You need salted Atlantic herring filets for this dish, available either at deli or fish counters or in a canned versions in your supermarket aisle. If the fish is too salty, then soak it in milk or several rounds of cold water first.

I must admit that I'm not a big fan of 'raw' fish, and salted herring belongs to that category of fish, too (I know it's cured, but it's hot heat-treated). But I served this at our Christmas Eve Dinner, where it was universally praised and finished very quickly. You cannot beat an old traditional favourite, can you..

PS I warn you, there are some pretty strong flavours combined in this dish, so it's not a dainty and elegant fish first course, but a full-on one!

Salted Atlantic Herring, served Estonian style
(Heeringas hapukoorega)
Serves 6-8

4 lightly salted Atlantic herring fillets
3 shallots or 1-2 medium onions
a scant cup of sour cream
2-3 hard-boiled eggs
fresh dill, finely chopped

Cut the herring filets into 1x2 cm pieces and place on an oblong shallow serving dish (it's usually fish-shaped, though ours wasn't).
Peel the onions and slice very thinly. Spread over the herring pieces.
Spoon the sour cream on top.
Peel the hard-boiled eggs, chop the egg whites and yolks separately.
Garnish the dish with lines of green dill, yellow egg yolks and white egg whites.

Keep in the fridge until serving with slices of rye bread as part of a Nordic buffet. Though you might prefer it as an accompaniment to boiled new potatoes (also a very Estonian thing to do). 


Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas 2008

It's the 2nd Christmas Day already, and finally I've got a spare moment to wish you all a Joyful Christmas and tell you a little about our Christmas meal. In Estonia, we celebrate Christmas Eve - that's when Father Yule (Jõuluvana) brings us presents (I've added a photo of my two nephews opening theirs a year ago). For a third year already, K. and I have had our families over for a big traditional Christmas meal. That's 10 persons altogether - my parents, K's mum and auntie, my sister with her family, and us two. Luckily we've got a big enough table to seat us all comfortably, and as we both enjoy cooking to our loved ones, hosting a Christmas dinner has been a pure pleasure.

This year we decided to start with some fish dishes. There was salmon in a red wine vinegar (a Finnish recipe that translates as 'Glass-blower's fish'), as well as lightly-salted Atlantic herring with sour cream and onions (a VERY Estonian dish that I'll tell you more about later). For those of us not too keen on fish, there were also devilled eggs on the table. These three dishes were eaten with dark rye bread and accompanied by a very nice Swedish-produced Blossa glögg (a special Christmas drink).

For the main course I roasted a big piece of marbled pork shoulder (Boston butt is the name of the cut, if I'm not mistaken. Definitely the best-selling cut here in Estonia, but not widely known outside I'm told) that I rubbed with a mixture of rosemary, garlic, Dijon mustard, honey and salt, and roasted at 160 C for a couple of hours. Very juicy and tasty - and a big hit with my pork-loving dad :) This was accompanied by the usual Estonian Christmas trimmings: oven-baked potato wedges with caraway seeds, sauerkraut braised in dark beer, black pudding, oven-baked carrot sticks with cumin seeds (well, not strictly Estonian, but these were a great addition), lingonberry jam.

[Here we had a small - but welcome - pause, opening the presents under the Christmas tree, citing poems and singing some Christmas carols].

For dessert? I made a very-very nice - and rich - Marbled Blackcurrant and Chocolate Mousse Cake, followed by coffee and tea, and piparkoogid aka gingerbread, of course, using the same recipe I did last year.

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas with lots of good food and loved ones! Häid jõule!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Something Danish for your Christmas table? Risalamande or Rice and Almond Pudding with Warm Cherry Compote

Risalamande / Danish rice pudding with cherry sauce / Taani riisipuder sooja kirsikastmega
October 2012, photo by Juta Kübarsepp for the December issue of Kodu ja Aed, 2012

From the recipe archives (originally posted in January 2007)

At the tender age of 18 I moved to Denmark for a year as an exchange student. Wide-eyed and over-excited, I enjoyed the experience a lot. It was quite a life-changing experience. I didn't see my friends and family for almost a year, so I had to adjust to the new environment, make new friends and generally grow up quickly. At the age of 18, this was definitely something to cherish.

A new country meant lots of new foods, too (and over 10 kg extra weight upon return, sadly). Usually, the Danes would try to impress the exchange students by introducing them to 'typical' Danish items of kartofler med frikadeller (potatoes with meat balls) and rugbrød og leverpostej (rye bread and liver pate). Although delicious, these didn't impress me as such, as they're staple foods in in Estonia, too. But I had my first quiche, my first hotdog, my first spring roll and my first lasagne while in Denmark.

Whereas I broadened my international culinary horizons during that year, I also fell in love with one particularly Danish dish. You see, the Danes have the most delicious pudding for Christmas - risalamande or enriched rice pudding served with warm cherry compote. Risalamande contains either chopped or flaked almonds, and one whole almond is hidden in one of the bowls. The person who finds the almond will receive a special gift. You need to eat this pudding carefully, as you need to tell a whole almond from a chopped one by gently 'testing it' on your tongue. I guess you'll lose the gift if you can't show a whole almond, you see?!

I distinctly remember that when my host-mother 'mor Kirsten' served risalamande for the Christmas meal, every single child at the table found a whole almond in their pudding and none of the adults did.

What a coincidence, eh??

[PS Fancy a rice pudding and some chocolate? Try Pierre Hermé's Chocolate Rice Pudding (Feb 2006)]

(Mandliriis kirsikastmega)
Serves 8

Risalamande / Danish Christmas Rice Pudding / Õnnemandliga riisidessert
December 2009

Rice porridge:
1 litre of full milk (2.5% or 3.5% fat)
150 grams short-grain porridge rice
1 vanilla pod

To enrich the porridge:
500 ml whipping cream (35%)
100 grams of almond flakes (or blanched and chopped almonds)
1 whole almond (blanched or not; you may need more if you've got children eating)
2 to 3 Tbsp sugar

Cherry compote:
a large jar of stoneless cherries in syrup (370/680 grams)
1 heaped Tbsp cornflour/corn starch/Maizena
2 Tbsp cold water

First, make the rice porridge. Slowly bring the milk to a boil. Rinse the rice in cold running water, drain and add to the boiling milk together with the vanilla pod. Stir gently until the milk comes to the boil again, then reduce heat, cover and simmer gently for 45-60 minutes, until the rice has absorbed all the milk and become soft. Cool completely.

Whisk the cream and sugar, and fold into cooled porridge together with almonds. Add more sugar, if you wish.

To make the cherry compote, bring the cherries and syrup to the boil in a small saucepan. Mix the cornstarch with cold water, stir into the cherry compote and simmer for a few minutes, until the sauce thickens a little.

Serve the cold rice and almond porridge with a warm cherry compote. And remember the extra gift to the lucky one with a whole almond in their pudding!
  Risalamande: Danish Christmas dessert with rice and almonds / Taani mandli-riisidessert kirsikastmega

December 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Persimmon Dessert

Another extremely simple dessert idea.

Take a ripe and non-astringent persimmon/sharon/kaki fruit, peel (optional), cube. Layer with cottage cheese. Drizzle with maple syrup or agave nectar or honey. Enjoy.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Orange Cake with Dried Cranberries

Citrus fruit (especially clementines and mandarines, but also oranges) and cranberries are pretty Christmassy, don't you think? Last night I combined these two in a simple loaf cake, and we enjoyed it for dinner last night as well as for breakfast this morning. Very simple to make - and very satisfying. I loved the slightly sour-bitter flavour that dried cranberries (also known as craisins) provided in this otherwise sweet cake.

Orange Loaf with Dried Cranberries

(Apelsinikeeks kuivatatud jõhvikatega)
Makes 1 loaf cake

200 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
180 g (200 ml) caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 medium-sized orange (both grated zest and the juice)
220 g (400 ml) plain/all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
100 g dried cranberries

Cream butter and egg (using a wooden spoon and muscle power, or the paddle attachment on your KitchenAid).
Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.
Add orange juice and zest.
Mix flour and baking powder, stir in the cranberries. Fold the flour into the batter.
Spoon the batter into a buttered or lined loaf tin (1,5 litre capacity works well).
Bake at the 175 C / 350 F for about 50-60 minutes, until the cake is cooked (test for doneness with a toothpick).
Cool in the tin, then turn out and place on a serving dish.

TIPS: the cake will cut into nicer slices, if you wrap it into a towel or kitchen foil and keep at room temperature until the next day.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunday morning pancakes

I've mentioned before that every weekend we have pancakes for breakfast. I'm no good in making them, so I stay in bed until K. calls me to table. Here's a lovely photo of last weekend's pancakes - small and chubby farmers' cheese pancakes that we enjoyed with home-made lingonberry and pear jam (lingonberries were picked by K's mum, pears are from my parents' backyard and the jam was made by me). That's family cooperation, isn't it :)

Hope you've all had a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

An orange and fennel salad recipe

Looking for a light, quick and festive starter? Well, try this one :) It's a lovely Italian winter salad (Sicilian in origin, apparently), where fennel provides a lovely and slightly aniseedy crunch, orange provides the necessary sweet note, onion the sharpness and toasted walnuts add textural interest.

Orange and fennel salad
(Apelsini ja apteegitilli salat)
Serves 4

large handful or two of salad leaves (f.ex. lamb's lettuce)
1-2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
6 medium-sized (red blood) oranges, peeled and thinly sliced
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
walnut halves, toasted

Peel the oranges (remove as much of the white pith as possible) and cut crosswise into thin slices.
Remove the hard bottom part of the fennel bulbs and discard, cut the fennel into thin slices.
Peel the red onion, cut into thin slices.
Place orange, fennel and onion slices into a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Leave to stand for at least 30 minutes or up to a few hours at room temperature, mixing couple of times.
To serve, place some salad leaves (cos or lamb's lettuce) onto a serving plate, top with salad, including any juices.
Garnish with toasted chopped walnuts.