Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fluff: or how to bribe a small child

Living abroad can be hard. My sister Merle has two gorgeous boys - a six-year old Tomi and 2-year old Ahti, and I truly miss not being around more and seeing them grow up. Whereas I have somehow secured a fixed place in the head and heart of the older boy (regular phone calls and gifts seem to do the trick as well as going out of my way trying to find something fun to do while he was in Edinburgh), getting re-acquainted with the younger one is usually a bit trickier. He's always a little shy of me in the beginning. And I also shouldn't take Tomi's attention for granted.

So what do you do to make sure they're relaxed and happy around you when you re-appear after a six-month absence? You bribe them. A bit like in action movies, when the intruder gives a biscuit or a juicy bone to the scary dog, who then forgets all about his supposed role as a house-protecting animal and lets the intruder sneak into the house..

Couple of months ago I spotted a big glass jar of something called FLUFF in the local Mexican-and-all-other-exotic-food-product-stocking-shop Lupe Pintos in Edinburgh. It's white and sticky, and it's basically a spreadable marshmallow. It also comes in rosy pink raspberry or pink strawberry flavoured version. I am not sure why I picked it up in the first place, as I don't really like marshmallows. Marshmallow cakes were very popular back home in 1980s, and I always found them sickly sweet. And I always have my hot chocolate with cream, but without marshmallows. But in any case I picked one up and brought home.

And forgot all about it. Until late June, when my family was visiting and my nephew Tomi, who is unfortunately quite a picky eater, refused to have his usual four-cereal porridge for breakfast one morning. As were had planned lots of walking around Edinburgh for that day, we were quite keen on him eating something, so I remembered the Fluff and offered him that on toast. It was an instant hit. Well, anything sweet and sticky would be with kids, I guess, wouldn't it? And to be honest, even I liked it, though in moderation. I gave the glass jar of white stuff for my sister when they were leaving.

And I was told just a few weeks later that it was finished. So day before going home in August I bought another 6 jars (!!!) of the vanilla-flavoured stuff from Lupe Pintos (I actually had to call few days before to make sure they have so many in stock and they kindly brought some from the warehouse). This time my family and friends did not get Scottish, or even British goodies from me (apart from my friend Anu, who had specifically asked for a jar of lemon curd). They got a jar of American stuff called Fluff. And it was a smart choice. Apart from my nephews, even some of my friends' kids can now say 'tädi Pille' or auntie Pille (like Mikk Hendrik on the right:). Quite an achievement, considering they only meet me once or twice a year:)

Thank you, Fluff, for securing my place in some kids' heart!

Above photo is from and you can read much more and all about Fluff here. Although I have a suspicious feeling that every other foodblogger has known about Fluff since they were wee kids. No?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Salting cucumbers in a flash

Freshly salted cucumbers - soolakurgid - are one of the nicest late summer delicacies and I had the pleasure of eating through three (!!!) batches of these during my recent trip home. They're yummy, crunchy, just a bit too salty and very refreshing. And a doddle to make. If you have the ingredients that is. I must admit I've never come across those short cucumbers in Edinburgh - all you can find here are the long varieties, and these simply wouldn't do for this particular 'recipe' (but check out Zarah Maria's recipe for a Danish agurkesalat if you want something sour and sliced). Neither have I spotted blackcurrant leaves or overgrown dill here, though I guess a friendly farmers market stall would probably provide these if asked beforehand.

Anyway - here's what to do. You start by covering the bottom of a largish bowl with rinsed blackcurrant leaves and overgrown dill. Then you start layering the cucumbers. The cucumbers should be carefully washed beforehand, and if you want extra crunchy salted cucumbers, you could soak them in ice cold water for a couple of hours beforehand.

If you wish, you can throw in some sliced horseradish as well as garlic cloves - or garlic buds* as well. My Mum had loads of the latter in the garden just now, and I used these. The buds consist of hundreds of miniature garlic cloves, that would usually be used as seeds to grow more garlic. But they are deliciously mild and tasty like that - no need to peel or chop before throwing onto the frying pan.

When you're finished with layering, you cover it with boiled water, dissolving about a tablespoon of coarse salt and a teaspoon of sugar per one litre of hot water just before pouring over cucumbers. Cover, and keep in a warm room temperature until following day, or until cucumbers start to turn just ever so slightly sour (frequent tasting is needed:) It can take anything from 12 hours to 48 or so - depending on the room temperature etc. You want the cucumbers to taste just slightly sour and have turned a wee bit green-yellowish instead of bright green. Small bubbles on the surface of the brine are acceptable as well.

Then you move the bowl into your fridge - that reduces the speed of becoming even more sour** - and start eating. Sliced on your open sandwich (that's the only one we eat back home, although ours are not as elaborate as the Danish ones). Sliced into a summery tomato-cucumber salad. Sliced as a garnish on your dinner plate. Sliced length-wise to be nibbled at a BBQ party. Or in front of telly. The choice is endless and it's entirely yours.

* The last three months of foodblogging alone have been very educational for me. Until June I had only used plain garlic cloves. Since then I've discovered the joyous taste of garlic scapes and now garlic buds. Well, my gastrology entry did say that as a Taurean, I would be forced "to broaden [my] gastronomic world in 2005" - I guess I've done that in the world of garlic at least :)

Back in the kitchen

I've been back in Edinburgh for over a week now, but have hardly done any cooking. A Malta-based Estonian friend was visiting and as it was the last week my Greek sweetheart was in town, I had most of my meals out. Had a lovely & elegant breakfast at Centotre, a proper British fry-up at Native State, a leisurely Saturday morning breakfast and paper in Double Dutch, a Turkish meze-dinner at Nargile, another (sixth in 2005?) yummy meal at Jamaican Coyaba, a tasty, if slow, dinner at Peckham's Underground. I enjoyed them all, although I'm not really looking forward to receiving my next credit card statement at all..

The only 'cooking' I did at home during the week was smearing some Finnish herby or Estonian mushroomy cream cheese on some Estonian rye bread, covering it with Estonian smoked salami and Estonian cheese, sprinkling some Greek oregano on top and grilling these in the oven. An accompaniment: some flash-salted cucumber. And I did that not once, not twice, but thrice. But that's hardly cooking, at least in foodblogosphere..

Pasta with blue cheese

(Seene-sinihallitusjuustukaste makaronidele)

I did finally cook something on Sunday night. Before my friend Ingrid caught her flight back to Valletta, we had a quick pasta supper - gemelli pasta with Roquefort, and shiitake and oyster mushrooms. It was tasty, and it's one of my staple suppers nowadays, as I like both mushrooms and blue cheese a lot.

PS Remember the list of ten most useful cookbooks? Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories is currently No 1 on the bestsellers' list at my local Blackwells. So if nothing else, these lists make a fortune for some of the authors:)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Two ways with a glorious pile of chantarelle mushrooms

I sneaked out of the post-symposium summer course one day, and my sister was kind enough to drive me (and mum and both nephews) out of town, to Lahemaa. Lahemaa is a beautiful nature reservoir on the North coast of Estonia. While taking a stroll towards the sea in Võsu, I spotted some chantarelle mushrooms at a small stall and was glad to realise they're about 25% cheaper than in Tallinn (that's about 3 quid instead of 4 per kilogram then - a bargain by any standard). I'll buy some on our way back, I said to myself. However, as we ended up really lingering over our 'ethnic' lunch, and then driving to one of the beautiful manor houses in search of a perfect carrot cake, we were too late for the mushrooms - the "market" would have been closed. As would have been the markets in Tallinn by the time we got back. My dream about a nice family dinner with new potatoes and mushroom sauce was about to remain just that, a dream. Sulk.

I comforted myself a little with buying couple of wooden spoons from the local handicraft shop just outside Sagadi manor house. While we were heading back to our car (quite time-consuming process, considering that the kids were determined to get touchy-feely with every single item on display in the shop), an elderly local woman approached us and asked quietly, if we'd like to buy some chantarelle mushrooms. As the last few days had seen too little rain, she had only managed to pick about a kilogram of mushrooms, and didn't think it would be worth to head to the local market in the following morning to sell them. And as she was keen to get rid of them, she offered them for just about 30 kroon (that's about £1.50 for a kg!). I couldn't believe my luck - especially as I had already given up hope of having mushrooms that evening!!!

We headed back to town, and enjoyed a very simple but oh so delicious meal of boiled new potatoes and thick-ish chantarelle mushroom sauce with loads of herbs from the garden (parsley and green onions on this occasion, although I had used dill couple of days earlier for - surprise, surprise - the very same dish when I had picked up some mushrooms from the market). That generously fed 4 adults and 2 kids, with plenty of mushrooms left for the following day.

Although chantarelle sauce is my favourite use for these particular funghi, I also really like a chantarelle quiche. And that's what I made the following night, to be eaten before another sauna session by my parents, my mum's youngest sister and her friend, and myself.

This was a very simple quiche - I used a potato shortcrust pastry again, although I replaced the potato with instant mash that was somehow hiding in the cupboard. But any shortcrust pastry would do, just remember to prebake it slightly.

For the filling, I chopped the mushrooms finely and dry-fried them on a non-stick pan. I added some minced onion, fried a little more, and then scattered the whole lot on the prebaked pastry case. I then topped with some cubed cheese (should have been grated, but couldn't locate a grater in my Mum's kitchen:). And then some single cream and eggs, seasoned with salt, pepper and some herbs again.

Baked the whole thing golden brown in the oven, and then served on the terrace with some white wine. Very-very nice and summery!!!

Kukeseenekastme retsept
Kukeseenepiruka retsept

Thursday, August 25, 2005

MEME: Childhood memories

Melissa of The Traveller's Lunchbox has tagged me for the latest meme sweeping through the foodblogging community and it's a real pleasure to take part. I enjoyed reading the cookbook memes and the cook next door memes of fellow foodbloggers when I started in June 2005 - it was fascinating to get a small glimpse into the lives of more experienced bloggers. Although quite a few of my friends are very good cooks, I'm probably the only one verging on the obsession (you know, buying yet another cookbook, reading all food magazines, getting out of bed early on Saturday morning to go to the farmers market, getting excited about good/new/interesting ingredients, and gleaming proudly at everything she cooks), so it was comforting to find out that I am pretty normal after all..

Here are some food-related bits and pieces from my childhood - not strictly five, but a few more:

1. I have quite a few childhood food memories related to my grandparents farm in Paluküla, some 80 kilometres south from the capital Tallinn. I spent about one month there every summer, alongside with a varying combination of my 11 cousins. It was quite a large farm with cats, dogs, cows (in addition to my grandparents' cows, there were several collective farm cowsheds at the farm), sheep, chicken, and orchards, fields after fields of potatoes and other vegetables etc.

There were lots of forests near the farm and one of the most vivid memories is of going wild mushroom picking with my grandfather. He was a big, untalkative and somewhat scary man, who died when I was 7. Although I can't remember ever playing with him (he was probably too busy working for that) or chatting with him, I remember following him into the forest, where he'd show us the mushrooms to pick and the ones to leave behind.

There were lots of wild strawberry fields at the farm and at the nearby hillside. There's nothing better than grabbing a small jug or plastic container and heading for the fields. The first few handfuls would end up straight in our mouths, of course. After couple of hours in the sun, we'd head back, crush the strawberries at the bottom of a glass with some sugar, pour over some freshly milked cow milk and enjoy. Blissful..

I remember picking cloudberries, blueberries/bilberries, bog bilberries, cranberries, wild raspberries and lingonberries with my grandmother, Mum, aunties and cousins - whoever happened to be at the farm.

Making apple juice was always lots of fun. We'd spent all day collecting ripe apples from the orchard, washing them, squashing through the big wooden chopper/presser, and then drinking as much freshly squeezed apple juice as we could handle. This was an elaborate affair, often taking more than a day.

2. For whatever reason I used to dip tomatoes into sugar when I was younger. And I don't think it was to compensate for the lack of sweetness, as I did it with bright red and ripe tomatoes grown in my grandmother's greenhouse. Now I eat tomatoes with coarsely ground black pepper. Talk about changing tastes.

3. There was a childrens' TV programme, Kass Artur - about a cat called Arthur - in our only Estonian language TV channel back in 1980s. In one of the programmes, the 'cat' gave a recipe for a sickly sweet concoction involving toffees, butter and puffed corn. Almost 20 years on, this is still one of the favourites at children's parties and can even be bought in shops - and it's known as 'Kass Arturi kook' or the cake of cat Arthur. Here's one I made couple of months ago - my nephews absolutely adored it.

4. Chicken neck soup (kanakaelasupp) is one of the food memories I'd rather forget. In the Soviet Estonia of 1980s, the shops got pretty empty, and I've mentioned the need to be self-sufficient already. But despite of the empty shops, we never went hungry. Potatoes and other vegs came from my grandparents' farm, mum grew various fruit, berries and vegetables in our garden. Meat was slightly more difficult to get hold of, but my grandmother slaughtered a pig every now and then (yep, have witnessed this, too), and one of my Mum's younger sisters knew people in a chicken abattoir, so we were not on a totally vegetarian diet. Auntie Valve brought us some chicken necks (cleaned and gutted, obviously) every now and then, which my Mum used to make soup. And I hated it. There was no meat to talk about - just loads of tiny bones that you were expected to suck to get out the meaty juices. Not really my cup of tea. Chicken gizzard stew (kanapuguhautis), on the other hand, I quite liked and wouldn't mind cooking myself again in the future...
(Auntie Valve also brought us some smoked chicken roulade every now and then, which was absolutely delicious and a staple at any festive table).

5. Another sad food memory involves rabbits. It must have been in early 1980s, when my parents had got hold of two rabbits that were put into a special shed in our back garden. The aim - to raise two big rabbits for a stew later in the year. It was my sister's and my chore to feed the rabbits grass and salad leaves during the summer. Unfortunately, we both picked and bonded with 'a pet rabbit' over the summer. You can imagine our sadness when my Mum announced then that poor rabbits are at the end of their lives soon. And indeed, they ended up as a rabbit stew one after another. I remember not eating a single spoonful of rabbit stew made of _my_ rabbit. And my sister refused a single spoonful of a rabbit stew made of _her_ rabbit. We had no problem whatsoever eating the other stew though.. Life can be so cruel sometimes..
Come to think of that, I now also remember protesting once with my cousins when my granny made a big pot of veal stew. We thought it was slightly cruel of her to use the baby cows we used to go and pat and play with every now and then...

6. I have already mentioned kama 'chocolate' bar - this is also one of my childhood sweets.

7. There's another food memory that always brings a smile at my face. Roasting potatoes in the dying ashes of a midsummer bonfire, and then eating them with nothing else but a sprinkling of salt. This was pre-foil era, so our hands would always end up smeared with dark grey ash dust. But it was always a cosy and romantic affair, even as a kid..

8. Strictly speaking, this is not a childhood memory, as I have no recollection of it whatsoever. But my grandmother insists that I used to sneak into the larder and pick out all fatty pieces from the mortadella-type sausages when I was a kid - see those tiny white speckles on the right? I think she's lying. As I said, I have no recollection of that activity and in any case, I always choose the sausage from the shop with no visible fatty speckles. So it couldn't have been me, could it?
(Or maybe I did go OTT with eating fat from sausages as a kid and now avoid it at some unconscious level??)


I'd like to tag Johanna and Moira for this meme, who were my blogging by mail buddies recently. I also tag Paz for this meme, as a thanks for being such an avid visitor of my blog.*

That's the meme tree at the moment: -- when it's your turn, simply move down the list, dropping number one from the top spot, moving the numbers down, and placing yourself in the number five spot (and of course, linking to each):

1. Cuisine et Compagnie
2. Chocolate and Zucchini
3. A Finger in Every Pie
4. The Traveler's Lunchbox
5. Nami-Nami

* I would have really wanted to tag Anne of Anne's Food as it would have been interesting to hear if there're any other Estonian food memories apart from 'pelmeenid' - but then she has already participated in this meme:)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Media alert: 'Sweet heat'

I picked up a copy of instant café culture lifestyle magazine's August/September 2005 Edinburgh issue when sipping my coffee at Peckham's this morning. Under the 'news bites' section it had a small entry that caught my eye:

Spiced up. Food consultants at this year's International Food Exhibition claimed that 'sweet heat' combinations, such as sweet chilli sauce, chilli jams and chilli chocolate, are one of the biggest growth areas in flavours. Other flavour trends were the use of lavender in dessert sauces and marmalades, green tea in ice cream, cereals, soft drinks and even crisps and the use of flavours such as hibiscus, lychee and myrtle (blueberry).

Here you go. Seems that foodbloggers are a trendy and happening bunch of people, as I have spotted lots of recipes using lavender and green tea recently for instance. Always ahead of the game:)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Fighting over cheesy feet

I hinted that I'll be writing about cheesy feet again. This is gonna be a very brief post, but I thought it was worth sharing.
I took my recently acquired feet shaped cookie cutters along with me when I went home a fortnight ago. My sister threw her own and her two boys' birthday party in our parents house on the following evening. And I proudly showed off my new cute biscuit cutters to my Mum. As we were busy preparing the traditional Estonian birthday party fare - that means loads of cakes and the obligatory potato salad alongside my dad's grilled meat as well as cold meat and cheese platters - I decided not to start baking any cheese biscuits that night.
But my Mum had another idea - why not cut the cheese into slices and these into feet shapes with my new cutter. That sounded good, as there were quite a few kids at the party and we could see that cheese-feet would probably look appealing to them. And that's how indeed it turned out to be.
However, before we managed to serve the feet-shaped cheese, I had a small "fight" with my Mum. While I was happily slicing and cutting away the cheese, my mum suggested that I could find something else to occupy myself with in the kitchen. "Why don't you go and check that everything is fine with the table outside" she told me. I replied nicely that I was perfectly happy with slicing the cheese and she can do it herself. My Mum repeated her request. And then it dawned upon me. I looked at my Mum and saw this look of envy at her face and I realised that she was keen to get me out of the way, so she could slice and cut the cheese into cute feet shapes herself. I obliged, of course, and found the situation quite hilarious.
Before I left Tallinn on Sunday afternoon, I spotted my Mum cutting slices of rye bread and cheese with my feet-shaped cookie cutters. Apparently couple of her colleagues were due to come to visit on Tuesday night. Which means that there is a group of middle-aged women this very moment at our back garden giggling over feet-shaped bread and cheese. Who would have thought that these cookie cutters prove so versatile and popular:)
Suffice to say that I grabbed the cookie cutters along at the last moment and brought them safely back with me to Edinburgh. I may need them to cheer me up on a cold, dark and rainy autumn night..

Monday, August 22, 2005

Back in town

I am back in Edinburgh after a very nice, if hectic 10 days at home. It wasn't really a holiday in the first place (I gave a paper at a small symposium, so I spent a few days preparing for my talk, giving it and listening to other papers), but I did manage to put my feet up and relax a little. I managed to meet up with lots of my family members (some of them I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time, like this little fellow, Erkko Villem, who is my latest second cousin) at my sister's and my two nephews' birthday bash day after I arrived. I had the pleasure of catching up with many good friends. I got to enjoy sauna twice. I even managed to dip my toes (and those of my younger nephew, Ahti) into the North Sea, though it was a bit chilly for a proper swim that day.

Foodwise, the trip had a rather dissappointing beginning. This is what I was served on the early morning Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt - a lousy and extremely boring and unappealing cling-film wrapped sandwich. I know that economy class airline foods aren't usually anything to brag about, but this was an especially meagre offering. I'll know better next time and force myself to eat something more substantial and tasty before leaving home at 4am...

But things improved quickly when I got home. I ate loads of fresh and ripe berries at my parents' garden - raspberries were at their best (yes, Paz, even the yellow ones:), as were blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries. I was there just in time for the first ripe apples from the big "Valge klaar" tree outside my bedroom window - I had them raw, hidden in a cake and as a fresh jam on breakfast toast. My dad was showing off his skills with the grill on a couple of occasion. I enjoyed the new cloudberry&cream cheese yogurts for breakfast day after day without getting bored. I spent hours relaxing in the hammock outside the house.. What else could one want, anyway?

Here's what I'll be blogging about in the next few days or weeks, once I've settled back into my daily routine in Edinburgh and finished writing my next conference paper:

What do you do with such a large and unexpected pile of glorious chantarelle mushrooms?

Lazy hours in old and new cafés in Tallinn and why I miss them so badly in Edinburgh.

How to flash-salt cucumbers? (This is one of the nicest delicacies of late summer months).

Going ethnic - eating our way through the old Estonian manor houses and taverns on the north coast.

Product curiosity: Fluff or how to bribe your nephews in a flash..

The best 'pelmeenid' in town?

New ways with cheesy feet again:)

And possibly some more. Hope you'll be back reading soon. Until then, I leave you with the image of my home town, Tallinn, as it looked from the sky yesterday evening:

Saturday, August 13, 2005

How to roast a (food)blogger

Pre-heat the oven* to at least 100 degrees Celsius (that's about 225 Fahrenheit)**. If dealing with a very tough and experienced blogger, a higher temperature may be needed. For the young, pregnant, sick and elderly, 80 degrees or even less may suffice.
Take a foodblogger, peel off all protective layers. It is especially important to remove all decorative metal bits and pieces. Rinse thoroughly under soapy running water.
Roast in a pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. Take out and quickly rinse under cool running water [in winter, a quick dip into snow can be used instead. If roasting takes place near a natural water reservoir - sea, lake, river - these are preferable for the running indoor water].
Put back into the oven. Roast for another 10 minutes, then quickly cool down under the water. Repeat roasting and cooling as many times as deemed necessary (the process takes considerably longer time, if there are many roasts taking place at the same time, as communal beer or water drinking usually takes place between roasting sessions - to keep the moisture - and usually only 2-3 roasts fit into the oven at any one time, so they must take turns).
The preferred flavouring is birch - slightly dried birch branches are soaked in hot water, and then used to sharply hit the back, thighs and other parts of the (fellow) roast(s) repeatedly to tenderise the meat and get the juices flowing [don't ask, but it improves the end result, believe me].
At the end of the roasting session there are two options one can take:
1) after the last roasting, wash the blogger very thoroughly. Smear with plenty of (Body Shop Nut) butter. OR
2) before the last roasting, wash the blogger very thoroughly. Smear with special sauna honey and put back into the oven for another 5 minutes or so, until the honey has melted into the skin (we're aiming for baby soft and not crisp skin here obviously!) Do NOT rinse with water after this!
Wrap the slow-and-soft-roasted blogger into a towel. To preserve the rosy complexion, leave to cool slowly at room temperature.
Enjoy the post-sauna bliss. (I am currently:)
Repeat the whole process in a couple of days.

* A proper wood-heated Finnish/Estonian sauna (we are still arguing about the origin here) - the dry and very hot type. Read what a Wall Street Journal wrote about Estonian sauna customs.
** That's about the temperature required to bake marengues or oven-roast tomatoes:)))

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Recipe for Carrots with Rosemary and Orange

Wondering what to do with those lovely bright orange carrots that you bought at the Farmers Market last weekend? Well, what about this side salad of carrots with rosemary and orange? The recipe for rosmariinimarinoidut porkkanat is from Finfood - a Finnish state-supported agency whose sole purpose is to promote good food, local produce, and healthy eating. Sounds nice and virtuous, doesn't it! The joys of Nordic welfare state..

I followed the recipe to the letter to start with. Next time - and as long as I have some nice organic carrots there will definitely be a next time - I'll add a bit less oil and sugar, otherwise I'll stick to it.

Carrots with Rosemary and Orange

500 grams of carrots
1-2 onions
300 ml water
1 tsp sea salt
3 Tbsp sugar
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
grated orange zest (optional)
100 ml orange juice
3 Tbsp rapeseed oil* or light olive oil
black peppercorns, slightly crushed

Peel the carrots and onions and slice both thinly. Put into a large saucepan, add water, sugar, salt, rosemary and some orange zest.

Bring to the boil, covered, and simmer until carrots are done, but still a bit crunchy (al dente then:)
Let it cool a little, remove the cooked rosemary sprig. Add the orange juice, oil and some fresh chopped rosemary.
Put into jars and let it stand for at least 24 hours in a fridge, so the flavours could develop.

Rosemary flavoured carrots would add a nice tough to poultry, meat, grilled goat cheese etc. I can personally add that they are also absolutely delicious for nibbling on their own (you just need a fork to get them out of the jar and into your mouth). Here's a near-perfect late night dinner I had on Sunday:

Near-perfect, as I couldn't find any crispy baguettes at 10pm in Edinburgh - not surprisingly, as I must have been the only person in the Scottish capital craving for crispy carbs late at night. But I had got peckish after seeing a fantastic Omid Djalili show at the Fringe - and as there were no baguettes at sight, I had to go for some rather bland pita bread instead. Not bad, actually, but I think the rosemary carrots are definitely more crispy-baguette-kind-of-carrots than toasted-pita-bread-kind-of-carrots (even if the latter are organic etc..)

Consume within a week.

* Rapeseed oil is grown locally both in Finland (rapsiöljy) and Estonia (rapsiõli) and it's being heavily promoted these days. It's the only oil plant (Brassica rapa var. oleifera) that thrives so high up in the North (so it's local), and it has a very balanced fatty acid combination, containing more saturated (good) fats than olive oil (so it's also healthy), making it suitable both for using in salads and mayonnaise as well as for frying and baking (so it's also versatile). The cold pressed rape oil is often referred to as 'virgin oil' in Finland, a title that is usually reserved for cold pressed olive oil...

UPDATE 30.8.2005:
See how fellow foodblogger
Paz recreated this recipe.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Preparing for winter: Redcurrant Jelly, Tomato & Cinnamon Jam, Green Tomato Chutney

I am yet to have my scant 10-day summer vacation in Estonia when British food magazines headline with stories like "Jamie's Cool Dinners: It's not just up to schools to give kids healthy food", "Lesley's lunchboxes: back-to-school ideas from Ready Steady Cook regular Lesley Waters" and such like. It dawned upon me that although the various festivals have just started and the weather is still untypically warm(ish) and sunny here in Edinburgh, the summer is slowly, but steadily, drawing upon its unwelcome end. Scary. Toooooo scary..

And I was wondering if I should start preparing for the winter by stocking up my larder. Not that I have a larder in my rented Edinburgh flat, and my shared fridge is on a small side as well. But stocking up for winter must be in my genes. I grew up in Tallinn in a house with a big garden, and I remember how every July-August-September we were busy preparing for the winter. Our larder and basement storage was always full of jars and bottles of different shapes and sizes, containing various goodies for later consumption. We pickled cucumbers, tomatoes and mushrooms, made juice, jams and marmalades, cooked different chutneys and relishes - you name it. To a certain degree it was a necessity - growing up in a Soviet era meant a miserable choice of food products - and later a lack of food products - in shops, so people learnt to become self-sufficient (vegetable patch in the back garden or summer house, bulk buying fresh fruit and veg at the markets to prepare at home etc). Nowadays there's no urgent need for preserving food for winter - you can buy pretty much everything in shops and some of the (local) shop-bought preserves and jams aren't bad at all. And in the era of deep freezers, most fresh fruit gets mixed with sugar and simply defrosted as needed over the winter. But people still do. Maybe there's a domestic goddess hidden in many more of us than we acknowledge..

Luckily my close and extended family hasn't given up on home-made jams and preserves and pickles. As everyone has their "best-selling" products, there's even some kind of division of labour going on. My mum makes really nice pickled cucumbers, pickled winter squash and various chutneys and relishes that figure heavily throughout the winter months. My paternal grandmother, Mamma, makes the best tomatoes in brine one can dream of (she adds loads of fully grown dill flowers to the saucepan which definitely helps). My maternal grandmother, Vanaema, makes lingonberry jam that's absolutely must-have at any Christmas table, and a lovely old-fashioned sticky strawberry jam (and while she was still living in a countryside, we got our year's supply of potatoes from her, as well as helped to make tons of apple juice from the crop of her orchard). My aunt Vaike knows the whereabouts of best mushroom foraging forests, and makes a wide variety of delicious pickled, salted and marinated mushrooms (come to think of that, my god-mother Aime's mushrooms aren't bad either). My uncle Jüri makes delicious sauerkraut in a huge wooden barrel on the balcony of his tenement flat. Whenever relatives visit, they swap preserves and condiments with each other (apparently some pickled mushrooms from my auntie are already waiting for me). It's almost like blogging by mail, isn't it:)

On Saturday I had another lovely trip to Edinburgh's now weekly Farmers Market, and this time my shopping bag was much more colourful (last time it was slightly on a green side, if you remember). As I'm leaving for Estonia on Wednesday morning, I wasn't really stocking up on fresh fruit and veg, but rather just enjoying the atmosphere before sitting down comfortably with a coffee and a weekend newspaper in a cafe. Well, that was the plan.

However, I couldn't really restrain myself and ended up buying 6 pots of herbs from an Aberdonian herb grower for my new windowsill herb garden (celery, English lavender, lovage, Vietnamese coriander, sweet marjoram and basil mint), some gorgeously red redcurrants, bright orange carrots, sweet Scottish mini tomatoes, and a big bag of green tomatoes, among other things.

As there was no way I could eat through all those vegetables before heading home for some truly home-grown bounty, I started preparing for the winter, just like in the old days. After couple of hours in the kitchen I ended up with the following (from top left to the right on above picture):

A jar of deep ruby red and absolutely delicious redcurrant jelly, following a very simple recipe from Delia. It was extremely easy to make, the jelly set very easily, and had a lovely balance of sweetness and tartness.
I didn't strain my jelly through a double-thickness muslin cloth as prescribed by Delia, just because 1) I didn't have one at hand and 2) I wasn't after a chrystal clear jelly in the first place, so a fine sieve did the job just as well.

A jar of very cinnamonny tomato jam following a recipe from Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini. This fancy-sounding Confiture de Tomates Cerises à la Cannelle was also utterly delicious (I used very sweet Scottish-grown mini plum tomatoes) and I don't think I'll manage to leave it in peace and let it 'ripen' in my fridge for too long before I feel the urge to spread that very jam on my toast in the mornings. But then, the cinnamon smell made me feel very Christmassy, so maybe I can exercise self-control and wait until then. (Taste-wise, the recipe was perfect. If I'm fussy, I may skin the tomatoes next time, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary.)

There are two larger jars of green tomato chutney/relish with onion, red peppers, black peppercorns, mustard seeds, bay leaves, olive oil and white wine vinegar, that I plan to use as a condiment to various meat dishes and cheese later during the year. I combined couple of recipes to make these - I was looking for something with slightly less sugar and more 'savoury' spices (i.e. pepper and mustard seeds as opposed to raisins, cinnamon, cloves and ginger). I may have added just a dash too much white wine vinegar to the marinade in the recipe converting and adaptation process, but I am hopeful that the vinegar flavour mellows after a while.

And then there are two jars of sliced carrots in a rosemary and orange brine, which I will write about separately soon, as these are for consumption within a week and thus do not fall into 'preparing for winter' category:)

Kirsstomatimarmelaadi retsept
Punasesõstratarretise retsept

Friday, August 05, 2005

Chocolate and Raspberry Muffins

One of my favourite deli shops in Edinburgh, Peckham's, is still stocking some gorgeous Scottish raspberries from Bruce's of Balmyle. Apparently Scotland is rather good in growing raspberries - the fruit seams to agree with the Scottish weather - and who am I to argue. (The ones in my mum's garden come close though, and I miss the pretty yellow variety she grows). I reckon I've bought a box of those raspberries every other day, usually popping them into my mouth when watching news or reading. They're so tasty and full of flavour that it'd be pity to cook them.

Still, I used these raspberries in Cranachan few weeks ago, though this wasn't really 'cooking' the raspberries. This time I decided to make a batch of chocolate and raspberry muffins, as I had got a few requests for this from visitors to my Estonian language website and I thought to try them out.

Eventually I found and followed a recipe from Cadbury's website pretty much to the letter, although I slightly reduced the amount of cocoa (I reckoned my Green & Black's organic cocoa powder may be stronger than Cadbury Bournville Cocoa). I'm not too keen on chocolate muffins in general, so I was trying to be on the safe side.

Cadbury's Chocolate Raspberry Muffins

125 grams butter, softened
250 ml caster sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
375 ml self-raising flour
75 ml cocoa powder
0.5 tsp bicarbonate soda
250 ml milk
150 grams fresh or frozen raspberries

Preheat oven to conventional or 170ºC fan forced.
Combine butter, sugar and eggs in a bowl and mix until light and creamy.
Sift flour, cocoa, and bicarbonate soda. Add to creamed mixture with milk. Mix thoroughly until the mixture is smooth.
Spoon into greased 12-hole muffin pan.
Top all muffins with raspberries and bake at 190ºC for 20 minutes or until skewer comes out clean.
Cool and dust with icing/confectioner's sugar before serving.

The recipe was easy and muffins lovely. Although the recipe said that it would yield 12 muffins (using 1/3 cup muffin pan), then I ended up with 12 regular and 18 mini muffins. I used 3 raspberries to decorate the regular muffins and 1 to decorate mini muffins. I liked the way how the raspberries 'drowned' in the batter during baking.

And I enjoyed the end result - moist raspberry centre, not too chocolatey (I'm a self-confessed chocoholic, but I do _not_ like chocolate or cocoa in my muffins curiously). The raspberries nicely balanced the cocoa flavour. Even my Turkish flatmate, who dislikes chocolate muffins AND raspberries (apparently the latter isn't really to the Mediterranean taste buds), had one:)

Just wondering if it's correct to call these 'chocolate and raspberry muffins' if they don't contain any chocolate. Should it be 'cocoa and raspberry muffins' instead?

Kakao-vaarikamuffinite retsept

Thursday, August 04, 2005

EBBM1: Thank you, the passionate cook!

Well, well, well. Sometimes Royal Mail really excels. I posted my Europan Blogging By Mail on Monday afternoon (kindly hosted and coordinated by Andrew at Spittoon), and as I had a slight exchance of unpleasantries with my post office clerk I was thinking afterwards that I should have asked for a proof of postage, should the parcel mysteriously dissappear. But I was pleased to find out on Tuesday afternoon that my EBBM buddy Moira of beautiful Who Wants Seconds had received the parcel on that morning (click here for Moira's very kind write-up).

This was good news. And even better news was that I had been woken up by postman that morning, delivering a food parcel sent to me! Hurray! Excited like a small kid on Christmas eve (that's when we open our presents back home), I quickly took a snapshot of my parcel before tearing the wrapping apart.

My lovely-lovely parcel came from Johanna of the passionate cook and what a treat it was. All the three items in the parcel were delicious and I've already managed to taste everything! Johanna had also included a lovely note introducing the items in the parcel. Although an Austrian living in London, Johanna has an Italian grandfather, so the parcel was a nod to her Italian roots.

There was a jar of chilli & coriander pesto that I used to spice up my fresh (though not home made) mushroom tortellini - lovely. This shop-bought pesto was a last-minute replacement for the homemade cashew, rocket & chilli pesto. I'm looking forward to Johanna posting the recipe for the original pesto on her website soon, so that I could try that one as well:)

The other delicious item in the parcel was a bag of cantucci, the crunchy Italian biscuits. I nibbled on Johanna's really nice almond, ginger and pink peppercorn cantucci while drinking tea and watching a DVD with two friends. The cantucci were gorgeous - crunchy and sweet, with sneakily devillish pink peppercorns (see the pink dots on the picture?) giving some bite every now and then.

And finally, there was a lovely small jar of fragolaceto. I had never heard of that before, and it's was my loss, as it was gorgeous. Johanna describes it as 'strawberry jam with balsamico' and says that it is 'best consumed with (hard) cheese, like parmesan or old gouda. Some people even pour it over vanilla ice cream!'. I really enjoyed this preserve. You see, I had come across several recipes combining strawberries and balsamic vinegar before, but somehow they failed to entice and convince me. I am now so going to try that combination soon. Meanwhile, I ate a spoonful of fragolaceto with some sliced Estonian smoked cheese, suitsujuust. Lovely. And then I threw a spoonful to my Scottish strawberry + Italian mascarpone dessert (ehh - that's strawberries and mascarpone in a small bowl kind of dessert). Utterly lovely again. I really like the sweet-tangy flavour combination - no wonder it complements both savoury and sweet dishes.

PS The DVD I was re-watching while eating cantucci was Todd Solondz's utterly weird and disturbing Happiness from 1999. There must have been something in those yummy cantucci to spark my memory, as I actually rememembered what was going to happen every now and then despite of having seen it last time more than five years ago.. Or maybe it was the rosemary I had couple of weeks ago:)

Update 9 Aug 05: Johanna has kindly posted the recipes for fragolaceto and rocket & cashew pesto on her site, the passionate cook, now. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

There can never be enough food programmes?

Source: BBC website

Channel-hopping on a cold January evening in Edinburgh - if you can describe switching back and forth between BBC1, BBC2, ITV Scotland and Channel 4 'channel-hopping' - I came across some kind of food programme starring two middle-aged, beer-bellied, bearded English men, who were motocycling through Portugal and talking about food. The men - though neither looking particularly handsome - were really charming and sounded intelligent and fun. They were not chefs, but during the very laid-back and relaxed programme they were cooking up rustic and delicious meals on a beach or riverside. Not sure why, but I was totally captivated and hungry for more. I was rather annoyed that I had missed the beginning of the show, and very disappointed that I couldn't find it on TV following week - I had hoped that it's another regular food programme. But no..

Imagine my joy then when I spotted these two guys in The Independent last Saturday! The article by Indy's arts correspondent Louise Jury was called Move over, Nigella: TV's new chefs are hairy bikers. Turns out the guys are called Dave Myers (from Barrow-in-Furness, former furnaceman in a steelworks and now a make-up artist at BBC specialising in prosthetic limbs! He's also a keen sailor) and Simon King (from Newcastle upon Tyne, is an assistant film director). The episode I saw in January was a pilot for their new show, a cross between travelogue and a culinary programme, The Hairy Bikers. Apparently the public went mad and really liked it, so they've since been commissioned by BBC 2 to do a total of 12 shows, taking them to Portugal, Transylvania, Namibia, Mexico, Lebanon, Syria, Vietnam, Ireland among other places.

The first of the two Hairy Bikers' Cookbooks is due next Spring.

I'll be waiting. There can never be enough good food programmes..

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

CopyCat: Pertelote's tuna and chickpea salad

This is my - may I say, rather successful - attempt at Pertelote's lovely tuna and chickpea salad. The recipe is available on Pertelote's blog (scroll down to May 15th). I cheated a little and used canned chickpeas instead, and replaced sherry vinegar with a dash of wine vinegar. And this was not in order to improve on the recipe - it was flawless - just I had no time to soak and cook the legumes and I didn't have any sherry vinegar in my cupboard.

Tuna & chickpea salad

400 grams canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
a jar of roasted peppers, cut into pieces
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp wine vinegar
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed finely
0.5 tsp fennel seeds, crushed finely
0.5 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp smoked pimento paprika powder
250 grams canned tuna
a bunch of fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped

Fry the chopped onions in the olive oil until slightly opaque. Add the spices (reserving half of the smoked paprika for later) and heat gently to release the aromas.
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.
Serve either on a buffet table or as a light lunch with bread and salad.

Very, very nice.. I usually make hummus or spicy chickpea curry with chickpeas, and canned tuna to make quick sandwich filling with mayo or then pasta with tuna and tomatoes. I do occasionally combine these two for a sandwich filling that's ideal for tortilla wraps. This tuna and chickpea salad was a lovely and interesting way to combine these two ingredients. Definitely a keeper.

Thanks Pertelote for a fab recipe, and to the passionate cook for writing about the dish in the context of Twickenham foodbloggers' meeting and thus enabling me to find it.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Mayonnaise cookies

Mayonnaise cookies / Majoneesiküpsised
Photo updated in December 2007 

Last night I made mayonnaise cookies again. They’ve been popular for ages back home and it wasn’t my first time to make them. I believe the original recipe came with some cookie press manual couple of decades ago, and has since been circling the kitchens of numerous cookie-bakers. The recipe below is different and even easier though, and can be found on many English-language recipe sites.

They’re dead easy to make and to be honest, they’re really yummy. Crispy-crumbly, with a slightly savoury, almost mustardy, tinge. Definitely worth a try. Last time I made them was in December – as part of a Xmas gift for a lactose-intolerant friend in Edinburgh. I sprinkled some cinnamon on top to make them more Christmassy, but they’re tasty as they are.

Needless to say that you need a good-quality proper plain mayonnaise (I used Hellman's Real Mayonnaise here) – nothing too chemical or flavoured. Though lemon mayonnaise could do? I'll reduce the amount of mayonnaise next time - maybe only taking 2 dl - as the biscuits were a bit too greasy for my liking.

Mayonnaise cookies

200 g mayonnaise
170 g sugar
300 g plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
a pinch of salt

(or, if you don’t like the metric measurements, then take a scant cup of mayo and a cup of sugar, mix with two cups of flour, add a teaspoon of vanilla and another of baking soda).

Mix mayonnaise, sugar, salt and vanilla. Mix flour and baking soda, then add to the mayonnaise mixture. Mix thoroughly (you may want to add slightly more flour, or bran or oatmeal at this point).
Form into small walnut-size balls (roll in extra sugar, if you wish) and flatten slightly with a fork dipped into flour. (Or, if you're feeling adventurous, nick the idea from Nic of bakingsheet and press down with a ballon whisk. I did, though my whisk didn't make clear star shapes as Nic's.)

Mayonnaise cookies / Majoneesiküpsised
Photo updated in December 2007

Bake for 10-12 minutes in a pre-heated 180˚C/350 F oven.

Enjoy. And ask your fellow cookie nibblers to guess the main ingredient :)