Thursday, July 28, 2005

A list of ten most useful cookbooks

Many British newspapers reported today on a list of ten most useful cookbooks, as compiled by Waitrose Food Illustrated. The panel consisted of restaurateurs, chefs and consumers, among them Aldo Zilli, William Sitwell, John Torode, Sophie Grigson.

Here are the ten most useful cookbooks:

1 Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham

2 Delia's Complete Cookery Course by Delia Smith

3 Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater

4 The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

5 A New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

6 Leith's Techniques Bible by Susan Spaull and Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne

7 Elizabeth David Classics by Elizabeth David

8 Rick Stein's Seafood School Cookbook by Rick Stein

9 Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook by Alice Waters

10 The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander

And the most useless cookbook? According to the panel, this title goes to the Larousse Gastronomique. Apparently it's "overrated, esoteric and stuffy" as well as "heavily biased towards all things French."

The list may seem a bit surprising, considering that many best-selling cookbooks (f. ex. by Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Mrs Beeton) are absent, but apparently the jury panel was looking for durability, reliability and not celebrity.

Any comments on the above list from well-read foodbloggers?

If you're interested in more detail, check out the Waitrose Food Illustrated, or Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, London Evening Standard for instance.

Lovely Greek(ish) meatballs

This is a very simple recipe for very tasty meatballs. It's adapted from a Finnish journal Herkkutori (10-11/1999), and is called kreikkalaiset lihapyörykät or Greek meatballs. My culinary Greek 'guinea pig' wasn't sure about the Greekness of those (Greek meatballs usually contain lots of bread and herbs), but they were tasty and easy to make and disappeared very quickly. So who cares whether they're Greek or not. I did add some Greek oregano to the mince mixture in order to give at least some element of Greekness to my meatballs..

Greek meatballs with chilli sauce, mustard and oregano
(Kreeka hakklihapallid)

400 grams of lean steak mince
1 onion
0.5 Tbsp olive oli
1 tsp salt
0.5 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 Tbsp mustard
1 tsp dried oregano

Mince the onion and cook in microwave for a minute or two. Mix all ingredients thoroughly for 2-3 minutes. Form into 30 or so small walnut-sized meatballs. Fry gently in oil.

You want them to be nice and golden. Stop eating them before they reach the table!!!

I served them with green beans and some crusty bread, but they would be lovely on a meze table.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Reading about food: Eat Me

I picked up a copy of Alexandra Antonioni's Eat Me at a bookstore last Thursday. The book, bylined 'Love, Sex and the Art of Eating', is a pink girly paperback and I guess I was tempted by the luscious-looking cake on the cover. I fancied some light reading and light it was - I finished it in less than 2 nights. So it's not exactly a brainteaser, but it was entertaining, enjoyable and fun. Here's the synopsis:

Sex and the City meets the culinary goddess within, in this delicious offering on love, sex and the art of eating.
Let Alexandra Antonioni take you on an entertaining journey through the highs and lows of modern-day relationships, set against a backdrop of culinary flirting and romantic probability. From first-date dinners to post-coital snacks and comfort food when it all goes wrong, this book is interspersed with delicious recipes as well as relationship advice, personal anecdotes and the author's own dating distasters.
An ideal read for those who appreciate the mouth-watering marriage of food and love.

The synopsis is pretty accurate. There's also an element of Bridget Jones' like musings, so overall it felt like reading someones romantic love-cum-foodblog:)

I did skip some of her recipes. As I don't eat seafood other than fish (long-long story)*, Antonioni's recipes for oyster and prawn dishes to be eaten in bed wearing close to nothing left me cold. But I did made a mental list of many delicious-sounding dishes that are provided in the book, e.g.

Alex's Love Juice (a Thai soup to be eaten in sickness and in health)
Bellini Cocktails (esp good in moments of thunder and lightning)
Chicken with Goat's Cheese and Roasted Vegetables (Meet Me After Work and Bring Your Toothbrush dinner)
Chicken Liver Parfait (to be served at your first joint housewarming cocktail party)
Chocolate Dacquise (see Bellini cocktails)
Chocolate and Raspberry Log (meeting La Famiglia)
Cigliege Sotto Spirito (Boozy Cherries are good for any time)
Risotto with Taleggio and Pumpkin (see Chicken with Goat's Cheese)
Seared Duck Breast with Sour Cherry Sauce (should re-spark the relationship)
Watermelon Margarita (see Chicken Liver Parfait)

She inserts lots of amusing food and love-related aphorisms and statements from various literary heroes (from Shakespeare to Woody Allen to Homer Simpson), and also suggests what music to listen while eating her recommended dishes (Leonhard Cohen when you're heartbroken for instance).

And I just realised that I must be an advertisers' dream. How the hell did I manage to buy another Nina Simone and Edith Piaf album when shopping for a new suitcase last weekend? Was that because Antonioni recommends them both for romantic dinners or was it just a coincidence???

* Alexandra Antonioni quotes Woody Allen saying I will not eat oysters; I want my food dead, Not sick, not wounded ... dead (page 42). Maybe I should use it next time instead of explaining and justifying my aversion for shrimps, oysters, calamari, octopus, mussels, crayfish etc etc etc...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A touch of Perestroika: Spagetti Gorbachov

I met my Russian friend Galina for lunch today, and we chose an Italian place called Ti Amo, as it was pretty much equal distance from our respective offices, and they do a lunch deal for less than six quid (two courses plus coffee). We had a really lovely asparagus soup to start with, and a reasonable chicken with mushrooms.

But what caught my eye was a dish called 'Spagetti Gorbachov' on their menu. It was otherwise similar to Pasta alla Vodka that I wrote about the other day, but it had smoked salmon in it, as well as a spoonful of caviar thrown in for an extra presidential touch, I guess.

Quite amusing. Pasta alla Vodka is tasty without caviar, but maybe I could try it with some caviar on a more festive occasion then..

Monday, July 25, 2005

Green bounty

I acquired a very-very green catch at Edinburgh Farmers Market last Saturday. Not sure how or why, but while unpacking my shopping I realised that pretty much everything I had bought was green - with the exception of some blackcurrants. I'm not complaining though, and I am happily trying to eat myself through this fresh produce.

On Saturday evening I threw couple of handfuls of onion greens into egg fried rice (leftovers from Friday night's salmon and rice meal).

On Sunday night I stuffed the courgettes - both the more usual oblong ones and the cute courgette canonballs (partly pre-baking the latter) - with slowly simmered beef steak mince and tomato sauce, using a recipe for paputsakia stuffing from Susanna Hoffman's The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking - much to the delight and firm approval of my Greek sweetheart.

And I've eaten the cucumbers raw on their own - the crunchiness and flavour make you think how could you ever settle for the supermarket film-wrapped namesakes.

My mission tonight - something nice and light with those runner beans. I'm thinking slightly blanched beans á la Bolognese, i.e. with melted butter, chopped boiled eggs and loads of fresh parsley. Should be good.

Just hoping there are no side-effects from consuming so much green in such a short period:)

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Cooking Scottish: Cranachan

Following Friday night's salmon with a creamy orange sauce, I served a very Scottish dessert - Cranachan.

I almost gave up the idea. While shopping for fish (and the elusive rosemary) on Friday morning, I was also looking for raspberries. Unfortunately my local vegetable shops only stocked imported French raspberries, which seemed a bit exhausted of the trip across the Channel and looked a wee bit unappealing. Half an hour later, sipping my usual late-morning latte at Peckham's deli in Newington, I saw those most beautiful, plump Scottish organic raspberries on the shelf. And even more beautiful was the price - they were almost half price compared to the regular price. How often does it happen that you go to look for some special product and the shop has kindly discounted the price for your pleasure!? Not often, I guess. I was happy though.

(Cranachan ehk 'Purjus kaer')

Cranachan is a very simple - and as it turned out - very tasty dessert. And it's very Scottish. It's sometimes also known as Tipsy Oats or Cream Crowdie. To make cranachan, you toast medium ground oatmeal (and what can be more Scottish than oatmeal?) slightly under the grill or on a dry frying pan, taking care not to burn it. You then pour over couple of dashes of Scottish whisky over the roasted aromatic oatmeal and stir - you should end up with slightly crunchy whisky-infused oatmeal. Leave to infuse for another 10 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, whisk some whipping or double cream softly with sugar to taste.
Now mix the cooled whisky-oat mixture and sweetened whipped cream. Layer into glasses with some (preferably fresh Scottish) raspberries. Put into the fridge until ready to serve.
Serve and enjoy.

Well - how easy is that?

(In case you are wondering about the amounts, then ca 100 grams of oatmeal, 3 tbsp of whisky, a pint of cream, 100 grams of sugar and 450 grams of raspberries should be enough for 6).

The whisky I used was The Smokey Peaty One from Jon, Mark and Robbo's Easy Drinking Whisky company. I thought the peatiness of this whisky went really well with the whiff of roasted oatmeal. You can replace the whisky with Drambuie (the Scottish whisky liqueur) if you wish. Although traditionally pinhead or coarse oatmeal is used, you can also use oats. Some recipes suggest adding some honey to the cream mixture (and it should be heather honey then).

After the first mouthful, my friend Maarika announced that it tastes like kama - the ubiquous Estonian roasted grain mixture that I wrote about the other day. I totally agreed with Maarika - while roasting the oatmeal, I thought exactly the same thing. There's something to try next time. But cranachan in its traditional form will remain in my dessert recipe repertoire as well.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Salmon with a creamy orange sauce

Photos updated in January 2008

I had invited two Edinburgh-based Estonian friends - Maarika and Merilin - for dinner last night and I was craving fish. Luckily girls didn't mind fish. My usual 'casual dinner with friends' fish dish is an oriental salmon with honey, soya, mustard and ginger, but this time I was craving something far more subtle and more summery (not sure why, but honey-ginger combo seems a bit wintry to me?). And something that would be simple to make.

Michele of Oswego Tea mused recently about why it is good to eat rosemary (my memory fails me why exactly:) I remembered this thou when looking for a new way to spice up some nice salmon fillets I bought in the morning from my favourite fishmonger, Eddie's Seafood Market in Marchmont, Edinburgh. I finally chose this simple recipe for Apelsin- och rosmarinlax from the Swedish dairy conglomerate Arla.

Salmon with a creamy orange and rosemary sauce

It's incredibly simple to make and the result is delicious. Here's what you need to serve 4:

4 pieces of salmon fillets (ca 500 g)
1 tsp salt
pinch of black pepper
1 tsp chopped rosemary
2.5 dl single cream
2 Tbsp orange juice

Put fish fillets into an ovenproof dish, season with a mixture of salt, pepper and rosemary.

Let to marinate for half an hour or so, if you wish.

Mix the cream with orange juice and pour over the fish. Grill in a pre-heated 225˚C oven for 15 or so minutes, until fish is cooked and the creamy orange sauce has thickened a little.

I served it with boiled plain quinoa, seasoned with some butter and black pepper. That's all. Very easy and very tasty, especially with copius amounts of white wine:)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Cooking Estonian: KAMA

What is kama?

Kama is one of the oldest dishes in Estonian kitchen. People either love it or hate it. Non-Estonians are usually extremely suspicious of it, at least if they're not from Eastern or Northern Europe. But it's popular amongst Estonians, especially in the summer.

So what is it? Basically it's a mixture of various roasted and ground grains that are usually just mixed with sour or curdled milk or kefir or such like. I used to translate it as a 'flour drink' when I was younger, which obviously didn't win it any more friends. The product packaging says: "Kama flour" healthy and natural product made of Estonian crops. A meal from kama flour will provide you with a healthier diet option. Kama flour is a product rich in fibres and minerals* and a valuable source of B group vitamins. Use kama flour with fermented milk products, it will double the healthy impact.'

Making kama
To make kama, one needs to boil the grains separately in a slightly salted water and then dry in the sun/dry place. The grains are then roasted in the oven, and then ground and mixed. The most common kama in Estonia is a mixture of peas, rye, barley and wheat. It's not unique to Estonia though - in Finland they have a similar product, called talkkuna or mutti, depending on the region. The Setus in South-East Estonia and the Finns of Häme region in Finland like oat kama, Karelians prefer barley kama. Finnish talkkuna is usually a mixture of roasted and ground barley or oat, with an occasional addition of peas.

Eating kama
The simplest - and most traditional - way of serving kama is mixing it with curdled or buttermilk. Depending on the amount of kama you end up with a 'külm kört' that can be drunk or with thicker 'kamakäkk' that can be formed into small balls and eaten with hands. If you don't like the idea of curdled milk, then you can mix kama flour with fresh milk and season it with salt and some sugar. Mixing kama flour with sour cream and seasoning with sugar results in another tasty option.

On the picture above I mixed some yogurt, sugar, fresh strawberries and kama in a blender, which resulted into a really yummy, refreshing and filling summer drink. I like the way you can taste something 'grainy' in the mixture. If left to stand for a while, the kama flour thickens considerably and the result is more suitable for eating with a spoon than drinking.
For a slightly modern and more 'internationally agreeable' version, I've mixed kama flour with mascarpone cheese, nuts, some cream liqueur (a la Bailey's) and sugar and rolled into small balls that you put into fridge for a while before serving. (Recipe here)

Kama flour can be used in baking and for making various desserts (I will surely blog about some desserts in the future). There's even a breakfast cereal - kamapallid or 'kama balls' in Estonia know made out of kama flour.

Kamatahvel or kama 'chocolate'

Source: AS Kalev
You can even find kama in 'chocolate' bars - and this product is unique to Estonia. Namely during the Soviet era in 1970s, the price of cocoa beans increased and these became almost unavailable in Soviet Union. The main confectionery factory in Estonia, Kalev, had a witty worker who tried replacing cocoa flour with kama flour. The result was obviously not a chocolate, but it was nevertheless delicious and became very popular in Estonia. I remember buying it as a school kid - it was a lot cheaper than some of the other chocolate bars available. In early 1990s the product was discontinued, as shop shelves in Estonia were flooded with Fazer chocolates from Finland, Marabou chocolates from Sweden and every other chocolate from around the world one can imagine. Capitalism was in full bloom and no-one thought that such a humble product as kama chocolate would have any commercial appeal. However, in 2001 the 'chocolate' was reintroduced. The wrapping paper looked exactly the same, apart from the disappearance of the word 'chocolate' (aargh, the joys of EU regulations;) - now it is marketed as kamatahvel. There was no advertisement campaign whatsoever. But the nostalgia can be a powerful marketing tool - and within months the newly introduced kamatahvel was one of the top-selling 'chocolates' in the market.

If you're curious to try kama, then drop me a line - I'm happy to send you some. Kama is sold in 400 g packets. I can also send you some kama 'chocolate'. I'm a patriotic blogger, you see:)

* Just FYI: nutritional values for the most common kama flour sold in Estonia (produced by AS Cibus) per 100 grams:
Energy 341 kcal, Proteins 15.6 g, Carbs 63.6 grams (of which sugars 1.0 gram), Fats 2.7 grams (of which saturated fatty acids are 0.4 grams), Fibres 14.1 grams, Sodium 0.04 grams, Vitamin B1 - 0.51 mg, Niacin 3.0 mg, Pantothen acid 1.5 mg, Phosphorus 340 mg, Magnesium 115 mg, Iron 8 mg

Update: 22.3.2006 - Manne of Tummyrumble took up my offer and has written about what he thinks of the kamatahvel here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Opera Cake @ Plaisir du Chocolat, Edinburgh

I met a Greek Cypriot friend of mine, Zenon, for a coffee this lunchtime. He's leaving Edinburgh after studying here for 2 years and it was probably our last coffee before he's off. We therefore agreed to meet at a slightly "upmarket" coffee shop, namely in Plaisir du Chocolat. Melissa of the lovely The Traveller's Lunchbox has already written about this cute French coffee place, so I will be brief.
We went to the small coffeeshop (just across the "big sister" that sells an impressive range of chocolates in every possible guise) and had coffee and cakes. The coffee was really good, the place is cute in a very French way (no pictures, sorry, as I forgot my camera in the office). Zenon had a huge and tasty slice of strawberry & clotted cream cheesecake. And I had my first ever slice of Opera cake! I first read about that cake in Keiko's visually stunning Nordljus blog, and then also in A La Cuisine! I had been keen to try it ever since, so I got quite excited when I spotted it on the display, amongst the green tea loaf cake, pear and chocolate cake and other goodies. It was quite a big square piece, decorated with a single golden sugar pearl. Very rich and oh-so delicious. Mmmm!
I've added it to my "try to recreate soon" list of cakes (probably starting with this recipe from Epicurious). Which, by the way, has already become quite a lengthy list, as visiting other foodblogs has been a great inspiration. Thanks.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


The January 2005 issue of delicious.magazine has a section on gastrology, where ‘top astrologer Shelley von Strunckel explains how star signs influence your tastes and cooking style’.

My entry states:

Taureans are all about delicate colours, fresh scents and the glowing light of an early spring day. They’re sensual and adore luxury but retain the practicality of a sensible Earth sign. They love the good life and most feel good food is a big part of that: rich cream, fine meats, aromatic spices and, most of all, sweets.
Classic French cuisine – with its complex sauces, extravagant desserts and elegant presentation – is pure Taurus. They also obtain exactly the right ingredients, know and adore fine wines, have the best in kitchen equipment and know how to use it – many may have done cookery courses.
Although Taureans devise delicious menus, a large proportion have a particular resistance to trying anything unfamiliar, and this particularly applies to Taurean children. Still, even the pickiest buckle when faced with a luscious pudding, particularly if it’s rich in chocolate.
Circumstances will force most Taureans to broaden their gastronomic world in 2005 – possibly through travel for business, a friendship that brings new flavours or even health concerns. It’s a rare Taurean who embraces change with gusto but, once interested, they’ll become enthusiasts.
Key flavours: sensual, sweet, flavourful
Traditional herbs and aromas: sorrel, rose, sandalwood

There are couple of things to say about this ‘gastrological’ statement, but not now. I'll be back.

Meanwhile, I know there are some other Taurean foodbloggers out there who might want to comment:)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Cheesy Spinach Mini Quiches

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I prepared two mouthfuls for the Paper Chef #8 Holiday Edition, which this time around asked for Cheddar cheese, olives, spinach and either cream or potatoes.

My entry for the competition was Potato Shortcrust cases with Cheddar cheese, topped with garlicky spinach and olive filling. But the other mouthful I prepared was also delicious, and I share the recipe with you here. It’s a slightly modified version of pienet pinaattipiirakat from the web-edition of a Finnish recipe magazine Herkkutori, published by one of their supermarket chains, K-Market.

Here’s what I did:

Cheesy spinach pies
(Väikesed spinatipirukad)

The cheesy crusts:
125 g butter
2.5 dl plain flour
0.25 tsp salt
1 dl grated cheese*
0.5 dl cold water

Mix flour, salt and grated cheese with soft butter. Add the water and mix into a dough. Roll the pastry thinly and cut out 24 smaller or 12 larger rounds (depending on the size of your muffin tins - I prepared 24 mini pies). Press them into muffin tins and put into the fridge for 15 minutes.**

Creamy spinach filling:
250 g fresh spinach
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp plain flour
1-2 dl single cream
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp salt
0.5 tsp black pepper

Wash the spinach carefully, remove thicker stalks and heat in a pan until spinach has wilted. Rinse quickly under cold water, drain thoroughly and choproughly.
Heat the oil in a pan, add the chopped spinach. Heat for a couple of minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon.
Then add the flour and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add the cream and sesame seeds, season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the spinach mixture has thickened a little.

Meanwhile, put the cheesy pastry cases into a preheated 200˚C oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Put the creamy spinach filling into the half-baked cheesy pastry cases (sprinkle with some more grated cheese, if you wish) and continue baking for another 15 minutes, until the filling is slightly set.

To incorporate the olives required for the Paper Chef #8 Holiday Edition, I spread some tapenade on half of the pastry cases before adding the creamy spinach filling, which added a nice salty touch to the pastries, but they're nice without this addition as well.

* I used Cheddar cheese, but I believe this recipe would work better with some slightly less crumbly cheese, as my pastry cases ended up almost too flaky. The original recipe suggested Emmental cheese and I'd go for this next time.

** It is crucial to do the rolling first and cooling later. Absent-mindedly I put the pastry into fridge before attempting to roll it and badly hurt myself, when the dough refused to bend under the rolling pin – which I then, under my full body weight, ‘pressed’ onto my fingers. Ouch. Just shows you how differently potato and cheese shortcrust pastries work, as the potato shortcrust pastry was very malleable and easy to roll when taken out of fridge, whereas the cheesy shortcrust pastry hardened too much.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Baking: Mint and Halloumi Bread

I bought Paul Hollywood’s 100 Great Breads few months ago when I was in a serious bread-baking mood. I had used his recipe for the Greek and Cypriot Easter bread Tsoureki during the Orthodox Easter this May, though back then I didn’t manage to find mahlepi (sour cherry pits) nor mastic (gum resin from mastic tree) anywhere in Edinburgh. I’ve since then managed to buy some in a small Greek shop in London, Bayswater* and am looking forward to baking with these unusual spices (Hollywood has recipes for Cypriot village bread koulouri, and Cypriot Laganes Bread, and I’m also looking forward to trying tsoureki again, this time with all the seasonings; I’ve found several recipes using mahlepi and mastic in Susanna Hoffman's The Olive and The Caper, and Claudia Roden mentions these as well).

Paul Hollywood’s book is alright, with quite a few interesting looking and unusual bread recipes that I’m tempted to try. It has a short introductory chapter about the history of bread and some useful breadbaking hints and tips, but it’s a book for wide rather than specialist audience. I suspect lots of the recipes have been simplified, which is good, especially if you’re looking something easy to bake on a spur of the moment late at night. However, I have a feeling that recipes have not always been properly tested and the editing is poor as well. Think of the above mentioned mastic and mahlepi. On page 78 Hollywood specifies that ‘mastika and mechlebe are spices and seeds used in many Greek/Cypriot dishes. They have a similar flavour to fennel or aniseed, which you can use to replace them. However, most good health food shops will stock them’. But in the Index of the book there are entries for ‘meclebe’ and ‘methlepi’!?!? How did they get the spelling wrong twice and didn’t it occur to them that ‘meclebe’ and ‘methlepi’ are the same thing and should actually be spelt ‘mechlebi’, as it was in the recipes? Or maybe mahlepi, as it is usually spelt in English.

Incorrect spelling and amounts aside, the recipes are tempting. The first recipe I tried was Halloumi and Mint Bread (p 80). I quite enjoyed the recipe, though again, I think the recipe wasn’t correct. Trying to mix 2 packets – that’s 500 grams – of chopped halloumi cheese into a dough made with 500 grams of flour is ambitious. I also think that 20 grams of dried mint (that’s 4 commercial glass spice pots!!!) is outrageous, especially as on the accompanying photo the bread is anything but full of mint (I simply omitted the ‘0’ from the recipe). I’ve also more than halved the amount of salt in the recipe, as cheese is quite salty already**. I suspect that Paul Hollywood’s recipe was originally for more than 1 loaf and while reducing the amount of flour, amounts for some of the other ingredients have remained unchanged. But the bread itself is easy and tasty, soft and dense at the same time and duly recommended. I think I’ve got the amounts correct here.

Halloumi and Mint Bread
Adapted from Paul Hollywood's book 100 Great Breads

500 g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp olive oil
30 g fresh yeast
2-3 dl warm water
250 g halloumi cheese cut into small pieces
a generous tbsp of dried mint

Mix flour, salt, olive oil and yeast in a big bowl, adding water gradually (you may need less, as you’re just trying to bring the ingredients together). Knead for about 8 minutes (or 5, if you are using a mixer). Cover the bowl with a clean towel or clingfilm and leave to rise for 1 hour.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Add the cheese and dried mint to the dough and shape into a longish loaf. Lift to the baking tray and leave to rise for another hour.
Dust the top of the loaf with some flour and bake in a preheated 220˚C/425˚F oven for 25-30 minutes. The bread should be golden brown and crisp on the top.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool, and cover with a kitchen towel if you want just slightly softer top.

Here’s a version I made in early June – with 2 packets of halloumi cheese trying to escape the bread :)
And here’s a slightly modified version I made yesterday – using mint as well as some Greek oregano, 1 packet of halloumi cheese (that proved to be more than enough) and some pitted Greek style black olives that I had in my cupboard after making my entry for the Paper Chef # 8 (therefore the dark speckles that you may have mistaken for burnt cheese):

And finally a close-up of the bread – note the salty white dots of halloumi cheese:

It's almost time for lunch now, so I'm going to have some of the halloumi, olive, mint and oregano bread with some tea..

* Athenian Grocery, Greek-Cyprus & Continental Specialities, Wines and Spirits, 16a Moscow Road, Bayswater, London W2 7AX, Telephone 020 7229 6280
** I also had to modify his recipe for Tsoureki considerably, as I was reluctant to use 30 grams of _dried_ yeast and 15 grams of salt per half a kilo of flour again:)

Monday, July 11, 2005

What to do with Cioccolato con Peperoncino

In the summer of 2003 I spent a beautiful week in Italy. I had flown from Edinburgh to Naples, where I met up with my friend Ruxandra. After wandering around in Naples we took a train to Aquafredda di Maratea on the following day – a picturesque small town between Maratea and Sapri in Southern Italy – to attend a conference. The hotel Villa del Mare fed us enormously well, just like expected – I had been to another conference there in May 2000, also organised by ESF – and knew that we’d be pampered with spectacular food in even more spectacular surroundings.

On the way back to the UK we spent another 2 days in Napoli. We had pizza in the claimed birthplace of Pizza Margarita. The pizza was good, but as every other tourist was trying to eat pizza at the same place, the service was extremely slow and a bit on the rude side and the pizza we had in an unnamed pizzeria in the maze of Naples streets a week earlier was just as good. I remember the ridiculously overpriced cocktails in Naples marina. The freshly prepared lemonade outside Pompeii. The exciting buzz of the Napoli market where I admired – and bought - fresh pasta in all shapes and colours and encountered stalls offering an extensive range of fresh fish totally unknown to me. And then there was the visit to Gay Odin chocolate shop.
I cannot remember where I read about Gay Odin, but it was jotted down in my notebook as ‘definitely try to visit’. Apparently they did a mean Cioccolato con Peperoncino – chocolate with chilli – and I was determined to try that. I found the shop – with its dark old-fashioned wooden interior and its huge array of flavoured chocolate and I was charmed. Now, I’m a self-confessed chocoholic (you know, "a chocolate a day keeps a doctor away" kind of girl) which means that I could have spent lots of time and money in that shop. However, as it was in the height – and heat - of July and I still had a whole day worth of sightseeing ahead of me, I opted for one fat 200 g bar of the very same Costa d’Oro Cioccolate con Peperoncino that was the reason for visiting the shop in the first place. The wrapping depicted an African girl with big golden earrings, a desert landscape, a palm tree and some cacti (?):

It also states “Ingredienti: pasta di cacao, burro di cacao, zucchero, aromi naturali, peperoncino”. And a sticker emphasises that it’s “tavoletta piccante”, though I didn’t pay much attention to that warning at the time. I had it wrapped in extra parchment paper and tried to avoid the direct sun all afternoon, so the chocolate wouldn’t melt too much.

Back in Edinburgh I opened the chocolate bar with excitement. I didn’t mind that the chocolate bar had lost all its indented lines in the Naples heat after all. I had a big bite of my self-bought food gift. And that was it. You see, Estonian food is tasty, but very bland. We use mostly salt and pepper, plus herbs. If we want some spice with our food, we add a sprinkle or two of sweet Hungarian paprika powder (well, I’m slightly exaggerating here, but you get the point). My years in Edinburgh have familiarised me with a wide range of different spices that I had previously only heard or read about. I still remember my first visit to one of the Mexican restaurants here where I couldn’t eat more than half of the enchilada on the plate in front of me, as it was simply far too spicy. I’m glad to say that as long as I stay away from the _really_ spicy-hot dishes, my taste buds are fairly spice-loving by now. But nope, that chilli-flavoured chocolate just wouldn’t agree with me.

I tried to use it couple of more times – in a Mexican-style hot chocolate and threw a piece into the saucepan whenever I made chilli. But most of the time that big fat chocolate bar was hidden away in my store cupboard. Somewhere in a big plastic box together with all other odd bits and pieces that you don’t really need or use, but can’t throw away either, should they come handy one day. For almost two years it didn’t.

Until last week. Being very new to the food-blogging world, I was going through the archives of Chocolate & Zucchini trying to learn from the masters when I came across Clotilde’s recipe for Chocolate Chilli Bites. Heureka! The fate of my Cioccolato con Peperoncino was sealed. On Friday evening I rummaged through my cupboard, retrieved the long-forgotten chocolate bar and started baking. I halved Clotilde’s recipe, and omitted the chilli powder.

Clotilde's Chocolate & Chilli Muffins

100 g unsalted butter
100 g Cioccolato con Peperoncino (alias chocolate with chilli)
125 g superfine sugar
2.5 eggs (I used 2 eggs and an egg yolk)
just over 0.5 tbsp of plain flour
a pinch of salt

I melted the butter and chocolate over a low heat, added the sugar, then the eggs one by one, and finally salt and flour. After mixing everything thoroughly I divided the mixture between 24 paper-lined mini muffin cases, and baked the whole lot in a 200˚C pre-heated oven for about 10 minutes.

There was a distinct smell of chocolate and a waft of chilli in the air. The tiny – but fierce – chocolate muffins raised nicely to the occasion and resulted in a batch of beautiful moist muffins with just slightly crisp tops.

After letting them cool on a metal rack for a while, I had a bite. Slightly suspiciously, as my previous encounters with the given Gay Odin chocolate were not too positive.

Well, what can I say. As Clotilde wrote, the initial taste is just of rich chocolate. And then – slowly, but steadily – the chilli starts tinkling your taste buds. The muffins have almost brownie-like consistency – glossy and moist. Beautiful. And I’m proud to report that there are none left – and that’s me writing less than 24 hours after baking them. Given, I had some help, but if I’m in Napoli any time soon again, I will very probably look up that Gay Odin chocolate shop again.

Gay Odin
Fabbrica di Cioccolato
Via Vetriera 12, Napoli
Napoli: Via Cervantes 37, Via Toledo 214, Via Toledo 427-428, Via Colonna 15/B, Centro Direzionale, Via Luca Giordano 21, Via Cilea 189
Roma: Via A. Stoppani 9

Friday, July 08, 2005

Paper Chef # 8: Potato shortcrust cases with Cheddar cheese, topped with garlicky spinach and olive filling

This is my first ever blogging event, so I'm quite excited about it. Hosted by Tomatilla!, the ingredients included spinach, olives, cheddar cheese and choice of either potatoes or cream (read more about the requirements here). The judge is Sarah of the delicious life.
I like cheese. I love spinach. Olives are new in my kitchen, but I almost like them a lot already. Potatoes (together with rye bread) are the founding blocks of my native cuisine. How to combine these all?

Good question. I searched my Nami-nami retseptikogu for ideas (sorry, that's in Estonian!). I went through various Mediterranean cookbooks (spinach and olives automatically say 'Greece' to me, can't help it). I glanced at my pile of cookery magazines. Got several ideas, and after some tweaking of recipes came up with two canapes: Potato shortcrust cases with cheese, topped with spinach-olive stuffing and Cheesy shortcrust canapes with spinach and cream filling. My entry to the Paper Chef # 8 Holiday Edition is the first one. I really-really liked this one, though I hope to write about the other - also very tasty - mouthful in the near future.

Canapes with Spinach and Olive Stuffing

This one combines potatoes, spinach, olives and cheese - I've stuffed potato-shortcrust pastry cases with some cheese, and then topped with a garlicky spinach and olive filling.

I started by making a potato-shortcrust pastry - a recipe I've had for ages and which is lovely for making small savoury pastries:


200 g potatoes (about a size of a not-too-large baking potato)
125 g butter
200 g plain flour
pinch of salt

Peel the potato and cut into chunks. Cook in a slightly salted water until soft, then drain and mash with a fork. (You could use cold leftover potatoes, in which case you should grate them).
Mix with flour, salt and butter, until you get a soft and malleable dough.
Put the fridge for half an hour, then roll out to about 3-4 mm thickness between two sheets of cling film.
Cut into small circles of about ø 5-6 cm and press them into small muffin tins (I used a 24-whole mini muffin tin).
Crumble small pieces of greaseproof paper into small balls and put into the muffin tins (this will keep the crusts from rising too much).
Bake in a 200-220˚C oven until the edges are golden brown. Then take out of the oven and remove the paper balls. Put back into the oven and bake for another 5 minutes or so, until the bases of potato shortcrust cases are baked as well.
This can be made up do a day before.

The garlicky spinach and olive filling is inspired by a recipe from Epicurious, which I changed only a little:

250 g fresh spinach
large dash of olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves
1 dl pitted Kalamata olives
0.5 dl toasted pine nuts
a squeeze or two of lemon juice
salt and pepper

Wash the spinach thoroughly (I found a ladybird in my Tesco-bought spinach!), remove stalks and drain. Put into a big wok or frying pan, and heat until spinach has just wilted. Rinse spinach under cold water, then squeeze out as much liquid as possible and chop coarsely.
Heat some olive oil in the pan, add the spinach, garlic (I used 2 bullets of Very Garlicky Company's easy garlic again) and olives (I used so-called Greek style black olives that I pitted beforehand). Fry gently for 2-3 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, until garlic is soft. Now add the toasted pinenuts, a squeeze of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
Put some grated cheddar cheese into pre-baked cases (you can reheat the cases gently in the oven, if you prefer). I used about 100 grams of Pilgrims Choice's Vintage Extra Mature Cheddar cheese, though any strong cheese would do and blue cheese should be nice as well.
Divide the hot garlicky spinach and olive filling between potato-shortcrust cases (the heat of the spinach filling melts the cheddar cheese nicely).

Voila! Start nibbling.

The Paper Chef entry/entree is on the left - glossy green and black:) The lighter green canape on the right is the cheesy shortcrust case with tapenade, creamy spinach and some more cheddar cheese.

UPDATE: My first ever Paper Chef entry was awarded a Golden Tomatilla for Best Performance by Potatoes in a Supporting Role. Thank you, Sarah!!!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Cheesy Feet (aka feet-shaped cheese biscuits)

If someone has slightly 'aromatic' feet, then we call these 'juustud' or cheese(s) in Estonian (as in 'take your cheese away from me!'). Imagine my delight then when I spotted cheesy feet biscuits on page 253 in Nigella’s Feast: Food That Celebrates Life. As I like cheese – and cheese biscuits - a lot, I spent few frustrating hours in the web looking for such feet-shaped cookie cutters.

It wasn't easy – even the US websites were either out of stock or had only odd-looking and odd-shaped feet cutters available. I eventually managed to find the ones I liked from The Professional Cookware Company and in return for £6.95 plus £4.95 P&P (ouch!) I was sent a delightful ‘Feet Cookie Cutters 3 Piece Set’:

Last night I tried and tested my new cheesy feet cookie cutters, using a recipe for cheese and caraway biscuits from March 2003 issue of Elukiri – a monthly magazine for elderly Estonians :) Caraway is probably the most common seasoning for cheese biscuits back home and it's no wonder, as these two produce a very tasty combination indeed. The following recipe results in particularly cheesy and airy dainty biscuits:

Estonian Cheese Biscuits with Caraway Seeds
(Köömnesõbra juustuküpsised)

For the cheesy dough:
125 g (4.4 oz) grated cheese
2oo ml plain/all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
100 g (3.5 oz) cold butter

Grate the cheese, mix with flour. Add the salt and then mix in butter with a knife. Using your hands, bring everything together into a dough and put it into a fridge for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough out to the 3-4 mm thickness (this is easiest to do between 2 sheets of cling film) and use feet-shaped cutters to cut out lots of biscuits. Transfer onto a baking tray.

For the glossy top:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp milk or cream

Mix and brush thinly over the biscuits.

For sprinkling:
Caraway seeds (my favourite!)
Poppy seeds
Sesame seeds

Bake in a pre-heated 200˚C oven for 10-12 minutes until biscuits and slightly golden. Enjoy.

PS You can obviously use more regular cookie cutters for these biscuits instead of feet-shaped cutters. Though I don't guarantee that they'll look as cute then:)

* It's Take 1 this time, as I plan to try and test (or should it be 'try and taste'?) other cheese biscuit recipes in the near future.

By the way – does anyone know where I could find cookie cutters shaped like these?

I spotted these lovely bikini clad ladies on page 61 of London Evening Standard on Friday 17 June 2005. Apparently these are served as part of Pret a Portea afternoon tea (£31) at the Berkeley in Knightsbridge, London and are designed by Cucci.
I can imagine making lovely Christmassy gingerbread bikini clad ladies cookie presents for some friends – just need to get hold of a cookie cutter like that.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Flowering tea

I was re-flipping through the pages of May 2005 issue of delicious. the other day when I spotted a short story ‘Green brews’ in the foodie file. section. The piece says: ‘You’ve got to be as mad as a hatter if you replace your builder’s for the pricey Anhui Jin Shang Tian Hua tea. The green tea leaves are steamed to make them supple, then hand-stiched into straw sunhats with a pod at the top containing dried chrysanthemums. The second infusion is better than the first as it’s more subtle. £47.50 for 125g, from Fortnum & Mason.’ Ouch. My dear friend Ryoko was teaching Japanese language to Chinese university students for the last two years, and has just brought me a lovely box of that very tea as a present after returning to Edinburgh:
I know that it was cheaper in China, but I’m nevertheless not sure if I dare to drink it just like this any more :) But it is stunning to look at when the tea leaves and the flower bud open in a teapot, and it tastes like a good jasmine tea does.

(Sorry, my only see-through tea pot is an ancient Bodum with a red plastic lid and is totally unsuitable for public showing. I’ve chosen the replacement (staying with sleek Danish design, it’s going to be an Eva Solo tea maker), but now need to wait for a flight connection at Kastrup airport in Copenhagen in order to buy it duty free…)

Saturday, July 02, 2005

And a dash of vodka, please, or Nigella Lawson's Pasta alla Vodka

While travelling or living abroad (including Scotland, although it feels more like home after six years) and telling people that I’m from Estonia, I am usually asked whether we drink lots of vodka in Estonia. I guess it’s because we’re neighbours with Finland and Russia, both known for their fondness of vodka (indeed, BBC Radio 4 stated yesterday afternoon that each Russian – including children and the elderly - consumes 15 litres of vodka annually!). I sometimes take offence to this question, as I don’t think that we drink lots of vodka back home. At least my friends don’t. We drink copious amounts of mulled wine – hõõgvein – during the dark long winter nights, cold beer during summer (and always after sauna) and wine on other occasions. But upon reflection, my parents’ generation probably prefers vodka to wine – out of old habit, as good wines were unavailable during the Soviet era and vodka was pretty much the only drink one could find in the shops. Though even vodka disappeared after Gorbatchev came to power in 1985..

Anyway, back to my own ‘vodka-fuelled’ weekend. On Saturday night my Japanese friend Ryoko came over for a chat and a light meal. I had been spent couple of leisurely hours at the Meadows at the G8/Make Poverty History event, and was too lazy to cook anything substantial. I also want to finish off the bottle of vodka in my cupboard ASAP to avoid questions about Estonians’ favourite tipple, so I made again – second time within a week - penne alla vodka from Nigella’s Feast. Or to be more precise, I made fusilli bucati corti alla vodka. It’s really easy to make and there’s something naughty about adding vodka to pasta. According to Nigella, the dish originated in Rome in 1960s, and though ‘it sounds the unlikeliest of inventions, but it works strangely well: the vodka gives a grainy depth balanced by the acid fruitiness of the tomatoes (think Bloody Mary), both mellowed by a slug of cream and the butter that is melted on to the pasta before it is combined with the sauce’ (p. 132).

Pasta alla vodka
Serves 4 as a light meal or 2 as a main course with some left over.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 chopped onion
1 chopped garlic clove
pinch of salt
400 g can chopped tomatoes
a pinch of chilli flakes
1 tbsp double cream
500 g short pasta (penne, fusilli)
4 tbsp vodka
2 tbsp butter
grated Parmesan cheese

Make the sauce first, as it can be easily reheated.
Heat the oil, add the onion, then garlic and salt, and sweat until onion is soft and translucent. Don’t burn.
Now add the chopped tomatoes, pinch of chilli flakes and simmer on a gentle heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
[Until this point the sauce can be made in advance].
Cook the pasta al dente.
Just before the pasta is ready, stir the cream into the [re-heated] tomato sauce.
Drain the pasta, pour the vodka and stir the butter into the pasta.
Mix with the creamy tomato sauce and serve with extra parmesan cheese.

My Romanian friend Ruxandra served it with creamy goat cheese instead of parmesan back in May, and it was delicious as well.

UPDATE 22.4.2006 Have swapped the picture for a nicer one. Also, I tend to add slightly more vodka nowadays, use mascarpone instead of double cream and sprinkle lots of fresh parsley on top. Still a real keeper, almost one year on:)