Monday, November 28, 2005

(Non-)Canadian apple cake

Photo updated in August 2008. I've also added gram measurements for dry ingredients in addition to volume measurements.

This is my most faithful apple cake recipe – a recipe that has been with me for a lot more than a decade. Despite having tried numerous other apple cake recipes – some fancier, some humbler, some trickier, some simpler – this is the recipe I come back to most often.

In 1978, a book was published in Estonian, called "Maailma toite" or "Dishes of the world". It was a collection of numerous recipes collected from various sources and a small number of pictures. Chapters were listed according to regions or countries, each beginning with a small introductory paragraph about what people eat in the given country. I loved the book – I liked the descriptions of foods from faraway places that I could never visit in person (or that’s how it seemed behind the Iron Curtain at the time), and reading about these foods gave me a sneak preview into the lives on the other side of than notorious ‘invisible but definitely there’ Curtain..

Once I reached my early teens, I had somehow already been bitten by the foodie bug, and I attempted cooking a number of the dishes. Some where huge successes, some were not. I can still remember the reserved enthusiasm that my Austrian carrot pure soup was met with. However, under the section "Canada" I came across a recipe for apple cake – Kanada õunakook. I fell in love with it then and there – and as I said, this has proved to be a long-term relationship. This is the cake that I bake most often. This is the cake that is often requested when we go to visit friends and relatives. This is also the cake that has caused me most embarrassment. I remember early on, my uncle J. had asked me to bring along my delicious apple cake to his birthday party. Somehow I ended up using only a third of the flour in the batter that time, but too inexperienced at the time to see that something was clearly wrong with it. The resulting cake was dense, hard and utterly bitter (the cinnamon overkill) and was sitting still pretty much untouched on the table at the end of the party. Luckily, I seem to have redeemed myself since then and restored my Domestic Goddess reputation.

As I said, this recipe was called “Canadian apple cake” in my book, and that’s how my family knows it back home. During my years in Edinburgh, I’ve shared a kitchen with quite a few Canadians (Hi! Amanda!!! :), and although they all loved it, they couldn’t really see why it was Canadian. Canadian or not, it’s a delicious apple cake..

Canadian apple cake
(Kanada õunakook)

300 ml plain flour, sifted (165 grams)
0.5 tsp fine salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
100 ml sugar (85 grams)
1 large egg
50 grams of butter, melted
100 ml milk (100 grams)
ca 2-3 large apples, cored and cut into small cubes

4 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp plain flour
1 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp butter

Mix the dry ingredients. Mix the butter, milk, and egg, pour into the dry mixture and mix. Fold in the apple cubes. Pour the batter into buttered loose bottomed cake tin.

Mix the crumb ingredients with a knife, sprinkle over the cake.

Bake at 200-210˚C for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean and the cake is nice golden brown.

Let it cool slightly (although it’s beautiful hot with a cold glass of milk). Sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve with vanilla ice cream, creme anglaise or on its own.

The moist apple pieces in the cinnamonny cake? And the cinnamonny caramelized crunchy topping?

Mmmmmmm!! I just thought of a way to Canadize this cake a bit, and maybe even make it live up to its name. What if I’d replace the brown sugar in the crumb mixture with maple sugar??? There’s an idea for next time...

UPDATES: here are links to some other foodbloggers who have kindly tried - and liked - my apple cake:

4 December 2005: Anne over at Anne's Food

12 December 2005: Drstel at Baby Rambutan

14 December 2005: Zubaida over at Kitchen Culture

16 January 2006: Shalimar over at Wanderlust

16 January 2007: Joey over at 80 Breakfasts

14 April 2007: Nupur over at One Hot Stove

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Scottish supper

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had another Estonian friend visiting and I treated Margit, her colleague and another MacEstonian to a Scottish meal. The Estonian visitors had heard rumours of haggis, the Scottish national dish of lamb bits and other things, so I decided to make some exactly a week ago. My choice of haggis is MacSween of Edinburgh, and I bought both a vegetarian and traditional version. These were served with neeps (alias mashed turnip, seasoned with butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg) and tatties (potato mash, seasoned with salt, pepper, milk and butter).

We drank my current favourite whisky and Whisky Mac cocktails. For the latter you mix 1.5 oz Scotch whisky and 1 oz green ginger wine. I suspect my ginger wine (not easy to find!) wasn't the green one, as the cocktail was way too sweet compared to the one I usually get served in pubs (which I love).

And for the dessert, I made cranachan again, this time adding mascarpone cheese for the mixture.

Apart from mishaps with the whisky cocktail, the meal was lovely. My visiting friend was surprised that mashed turnip tastes so sweet and nice, and both of them bought some haggis to take home with. And they know where to find a recipe for cranachan..

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Poppyseed lemon loaf

After making the delicious cranberry orange loaf the other day, I realised I needed to invest in a slightly larger loaf tin. It’s just that the one I had until now was a very small one, and although the cranberry loaf raised to the occasion, I could see that it was struggling for space. So I got a larger one from Tesco that looks sturdy and solid enough to last me for a while. This poppyseed lemon loaf was the first cake to be baked in my new loaf tin.

A recipe from the ‘White Christmas’ special issue of Estonian family journal Pere ja Kodu (December 2001). This indicates that it’s highly suitable for Christmas table (we’re supposed to have seven different cakes on Christmas table traditionally). However, I cannot think of a single reason why it wouldn’t be a nice addition to any other coffee table. The lemony tartness is universally tasty, even in the middle of the summer.

Poppyseed lemon loaf
Serves 10

125 grams of butter, room temperature
250 ml sugar
2 eggs
350 ml plain flour, sifted
3 Tbsp poppy seeds
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp baking powder
0.25 tsp salt
50 ml milk

Lemon syrup:
75 ml sugar
5 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Cream the softened butter with sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, incorporating them into the batter by whisking.
In a separate bowl, mix flour, poppy seeds, lemon zest, baking powder and salt.
Add milk and dry ingredients to the sugar and butter mixture.
Stir into a dough, pour into a buttered and floured (I use semolina for this purpose) 2 pound loaf tin.
Bake at 160˚C for 60 minutes.

For the syrup, heat the sugar, lemon juice and zest in a small saucepan on a low heat until boiling. Stir, until sugar dissolves and you get slightly sticky syrup.

Test if the loaf is baked, using a wooden stick. If it’s done, take out of the oven.
Now make ca 12 holes into the cake with the wooden stick, all the way to the bottom. Pour over the lemon syrup. Leave it to cool for half an hour.

Remove the cake from the tin and let it cool completely. Wrap in a foil and leave it for at least overnight, so the flavours could develop.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Political interlude and émigré goodie bag

United Kingdom is currently the presiding country of the European Union. Apart from the UK attempting to solve lots of worthy worldly causes (agree on the next EU budget, eradicate world poverty and provide more trade opportunities for Africa), this has personal implications for me. You see, lots of EU meetings take place in the UK, and some of these take place in Edinburgh. And that means that some of my friends inevitably end up in Scotland sooner or later discussing important EU matters.

So it happened that a good university friend of mine was in Edinburgh on a business trip from late Wednesday night until Saturday morning. I only got a final confirmation about her arrival on Tuesday morning. This was followed by a prompt email to my Mum, who compiled a quick goodie bag for her émigré daughter. This was picked up by my friend on Tuesday night, and gratefully accepted by me at a hotel lobby in Edinburgh late on Wednesday.

Here’s a typical Estonian émigré goodie bag:

On the top right there’s a huge 300 gram bar of Kalevipoeg chocolate. This is a lovely darkish milk chocolate with large hazelnut chunks. Very suitable for émigré Estonians, as it depicts the hero of our national epic, Kalevipoeg (Son of Kalev), making it a prime example of a patriotic chocolate. Similarities to the Finnish national epic Kalevala are purely coincidental, of course...

Then there are two pink bars of Geisha chocolate from the Finnish Fazer company. These are utterly delicious, with a soft nougat filling. Not really Estonian, but Helsinki and Tallinn are just 80 kilometres apart, so that’s close enough and shows strong Finno-Ugric unity…

Then three packets of hõõgveinimaitseaine alias mulled wine seasoning. It is getting unusually chilly in Edinburgh – there’s been frost for few mornings in a row now. And mulled wine is absolutely essential for survival in colder climates and mulled wine seasoning mixture is therefore part of any survival kit...

In a proud centre position is a huge loaf of sour rye bread. As Estonians, we have a very special relationship with our bread. We honestly and truly believe that it’s the best bread in the world. I am no exception. This is a fine example of the light rye bread with caraway seeeds – Tallinn’s fine bread - named after the capital of Estonia.

Next to the bread, a small packet of sweets. Well, those of you who read my story about the ubiquous Estonian roasted and ground grain mixture, kama, know about the kama ’chocolate’ bar – indeed, at least 2 other European bloggers have by now had a chance to taste kama ’chocolate’ bar. You may also remember my recipes for kama truffles and kama mousse. But that’s not all. We can stretch kama even further. Here’s a packet of kamabatoonid, alias chalky textured kama flavoured sweets. Definitely a very acquired taste and texture :), but again, totally essential in a goodie bag sent to any young Estonian abroad...

A loaf of white bread with sunflower seeds, päevalilleseemnesai. Not essential, but a nice touch from my mum.

Two packets of sliced Estonian smoked sausages. Go very well with Estonian rye bread (see above).

October-November issue of Vikerkaar, the official monthly magazine of Estonian Writers’ Union (a bit like Granta in Britain). Included in the goodie bag as it has my name on the cover page (the dark bit on the third line, you see) and an Estonian de-academised version of the conference paper I gave in Estonia in August printed inside. Very pleased with that one, as it’s nice to have something published in my mother tongue for a change.

There you go. It would be fun to read what other dislocated and displaced foodbloggers would (want to) find in their goodie bags. Maybe I should start a meme...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

What I Had For Breakfast MeMe

A one-off meme started by Andrew of Spittoon, exploring the eating habits of food bloggers across the world.

My breakfasts are quite varied, depending on my appetite, day of the week, time of the day (it can be anything from 8am to noon, even on weekdays), time of going to bed night before etc etc. There is no fixed Sunday breakfast - apart from the fact that I tend to have it outside and it tends to be accompanied by newspapers. So instead of blogging only about what I had on Sunday, here are snapshots of some of my breakfasts this week...

Breakfast (almost) in bed. Had a leisurely breakfast sitting on the floor next to my bed, basking in the winter sun and listening to BBC Radio 4's Women's Hour..

A big cup of wild strawberry flavoured black tea from Fortnum & Mason. A tub of Tesco Finest Swiss Black Cherry Yogurt. A clementine. A slice of cranberry orange loaf. A piece of yummy Turkish feta and spinach pie baked by my temporary flatmate. Mmmm...

Got up at 8am. I am teaching on Thursdays, so I need to get up far too early for my liking – too stressed to stay in bed anyway. A tub of above yogurt in the kitchen, followed by a cup of latte and chocolate croissant in Peckhams, my favourite deli that is conveniently on my way to work.

After a long night in (a Scottish meal of haggis, neeps & tatties, cranachan and wine and whiskymacs at my place, story to follow), I get up very late on Saturday. Head for a latte and blueberry muffin at BeanScene, where I am greeted with this gorgeous smiley face.

Have another Estonian visitor in Edinburgh, this time a friend studying in London. Head for a proper Scottish fry up at Native State on Bristo Square. Not really my kind of place in the evenings – lots of pre-club drinkers, huge TV screens showing sports and loud music. But years of testing and tasting have shown their fry up to be one of the best and I come here about once or twice a month. You get a huge meal, glass of juice and a cup of tea or coffee for £4.50 as long as you order before 11am. Good incentive to get out of bed early :)

I am not vegetarian, but I don’t really fancy loads of meat first thing in the morning. So I usually go for the vegetarian breakfast. And although I quite like haggis, both in its traditional and vegetarian form (especially McSweeney’s of Edinburgh haggis), the Native State own recipe haggis isn’t for me. So instead of haggis I usually ask for an extra sausage. Scrambled eggs, baked beans, tomato, mushrooms, hash brown, potato scone, toast and butter. Orange juice and cafetiere coffee.

Friday, November 18, 2005

At a Mexican market

I have been back from Mexico for over a month now, but still have lots of pictures and stories to share (so there is more to come). I have already posted a story about shopping for exotic fruit in Tepostlán. Here are pictures from one of the numerous travelling food markets in Mexico City. This one makes an appearance literally outside my hosts' window every Monday morning. It was a maze of colours, smells and unusual fruit.

On the above banner you can see red bananas on the right - I had never encountered these before. They had brownish-red skin, and the flesh was slightly pinkish. Tastewise they were a bit sweeter than 'normal' bananas (though not as sweet as the little 'dominican' mini bananas I've managed to leave out of the picture).

As it doesn't happen every day that an exotic food market camps outside my house, I went to buy some fruit and vegetables with my host Ada and kids. Poor vendors, they must have been very confused about this shy Estonian trying to take sneak pictures of them or their produce. Although this pulse&rice seller started arranging his hair in order to look nicer:)

Here are lots of different chilli peppers:

The dark brown ones on the left are ancho peppers, which are called poblano peppers when fresh and dark, almost purply green. As these are comparatively mild chillies, they are the most popular ones for stuffing:

Nicely arranged citrus fruit. My host Ada explained to me the difference between Mexican limes - which are tart, but mild & sweet enough to eat as they are - and the sour lime known as lime elsewhere..

Here are tuna-fruits or cactus fruits. They can be either red:

with this gorgeously red flesh:

or they can be green:

This is cherimoya, which has huge black seeds in it and very juicy and tasty pale flesh:

And here is dragon fruit, also known as pitahaya or strawberry pear. I didn't think it had a particularly interesting flavour, as it was bordering on watery. But it does look beautiful:

Some tiny citrus fruits:

And finally, a happy vegetable family, the Chayotes or the Christophenes:) Here is the hairy father:

the glossy mother:

all together now, with the little one as well:

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Two ways with cauliflower: Spicy cauliflower with tomatoes & Cauliflower with sage butter and eggs

I cooked cauliflower two nights in a row, and would probably do it again tonight, if it wasn't for dinner plans with some friends. On Monday night I feasted on sage-flavoured cauliflower (see below), and last night I had an even more delicious cauliflower dish, again nicked from a fellow foodblogger.

Spicy cauliflower with tomatoes
(Vürtsikas lillkapsa-tomatiroog)

Vürtsikas lillkapsa-tomatihautis
Photo updated in June 2009.

Ilva - a Swede living in Tuscany with her Italian family - posted a recipe for cavolfiore piccante on her food and photography blog Lucullian delights just yesterday. It looked delicious and I couldn't help but buy another cauliflower on my way home and follow Ilva's instructions. Here's what I did:

1 cauliflower, divided into florets
250 grams of ripe mini plum tomatoes, halved
2 cloves of garlic, halved
a generous pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 tsp of dried oregano
1 generous tbsp of chopped parsley
Olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add chilli flakes and garlic halves. Fry gently for 1-2 minutes.
Add cauliflower and chopped tomatoes (if the latter are not particularly sweet and ripe, add a pinch or two of sugar).
Add oregano and salt.
Simmer on a low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring every now and then (I needed to add a wee bit of water towards the end - I guess Italian tomatoes are way juicier than the Scottish ones:)
The dish is ready when tomatoes have become mushy and cauliflower is 'al dente'.
Garnish with parsley and serve.

Ilva mentions that this would make a nice sauce for pasta - I enjoyed it with some parmesan crusted chicken fillets with sage.

Utterly delicious.

My other cauliflower dish of the week was

Tasty cauliflower with sage butter and eggs
(Salveiga maitsestatud lillkapsas)

I'm not very familiar with sage. I use dried sage in my herbal infusion du jour, but fresh sage makes a rather less frequent visit to my kitchen. My mum grew some in her garden, and complained a year later that she probably won’t do it again as she didn’t know where to use it. I vowed to explore other opportunities for using this herb. I now know it goes well with pork (apparently it reduces the fatty flavour of pork) as certified by my tagliatelle in sage and garlic butter. And I plan to make some saltimbocca soon.

But Monday night I tried a lovely and simple vegetarian dish with sage. It’s more or less a variation of the sage butter theme again. A recipe is from the Finnish site.

1 large organic cauliflower

For the sage butter:
50 grams of butter
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 boiled eggs, chopped
12 fresh sage leaves, shredded

Salt and pepper

Cut cauliflower into florets and boil in a slightly salted water for 5-10 minutes, until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a small saucepan. Add garlic, after few seconds sage and finally chopped boiled egg. Stir gently.

Drain the cauliflower and arrange on a warmed serving plate.
Pour sage butter on top, sprinkle with Maldon sea salt flakes and freshly crushed peppercorns.

Serve at once.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Cranberry orange loaf

This is another recipe “borrowed” from a fellow foodblogger. I had bought a packed of large fresh cranberries a few weeks ago, planning to make Nigella’s up-side down cranberry cake. But I realised I don’t have a suitable baking pan, I chucked the cranberries to the bottom drawer of my fridge, and forgot all about them.

And then I came across this gorgeous photo and recipe of cranberry orange nut bread at Culinary Fool. It's a rather dense loaf, with lots of flavour and plenty of beauty. Here is my very slightly modified version, with metric measurements.

Cranberry orange loaf
(Apelsinimaitseline jõhvikakeeks)
Serves 10

500 ml plain flour
175 ml sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder
0.75 tsp salt
0.5 tsp baking soda
4 Tbsp softened butter
200 ml good quality orange juice 'with bits'
1 egg
300 ml chopped cranberries
125 ml chopped nuts

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Add butter and pinch with your fingers until crumbly.
Add orange juice and egg, mix until flour mixture is moistened.
Add chopped cranberries and nuts (I used sliced almonds and chopped pistachios).
Pour into a buttered 9x5x3 inch loaf tin (see banner above).
Bake in the middle of 180°C oven for an hour.
Check if the loaf cake is ready by inserting a thin wooden pick inserted in centre.
Cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then remove and let it cool completely.

I thought the ruby cranberries and green pistachios made for a beautifully coloured loaf:

Monday, November 14, 2005

Italian meal with a Nordic touch

Photo updated in April 2009

Pretty much every time I browse my favourite foodblogs – daily then - I see something that looks gorgeous, seems reasonably easy to make and the recipe tiltillates my tastebuds. I often leave a comment saying that the dish looks tempting and make a mental note to myself to go over to blog A and try dish B asap. Sometimes it works. I’ve made Pertelote’s tuna and chickpea salad thrice; prepared chocolate chilli muffins and cinnamon tomato marmalade to recipes from Chocolate&Zucchini; got inspired by the blue potato dishes at Lex Culinaria and Delicious Days; and Gluten-free Girl's roasted basil peaches have been successfully served at many a dinner party in my house, to name just a few.

But more often than not I realise weeks, if not months, later, that I still haven’t got around to trying something yummy that caught my eye. The list of dishes belonging to the latter is endless sadly. So when I saw the crispy pork chop recipe at Anne's Food last week, I was determined to _really_ try it sooner rather than later. I was almost discouraged from doing so, as my favourite butcher wasn’t at the Edinburgh Farmer’s Market last weekend. And I’m a creature of habit – I _always_ get my bacon and pork from that guy, so I was quite upset not to be able to do this. However, the meat I got from one of the other stalls turned out to be almost (though not quite) as nice…

Anyway – Anne had bookmarked a recipe for crispy parmesan coated chops in Nigella’s Forever Summer, using pork chops as opposed to lamb chops prescribed by the luscious cookery writer. I’m not really keen on lamb, so I used pork too. I used crushed rye crispbread instead of breadcrumbs/panko (this is the Nordic touch:), and I never have any breadcrumbs in my house anyway). I omitted the ‘dip the chops in the egg’ part, as suggested by Raquel. And one of her readers suggested using sage, a herb I subsequently incorporated into the side dish.

It was really nice and easy meal that generously fed 2 Estonian lassies. No leftovers though.

Italo-Nordic pork chops

2 de-boned pork loin chops
4 crushed rye crispbreads (thin type, Finncrisp is good)
25 grams grated parmesan
black pepper
olive oil for frying

Pound the pork chops thinner between two sheets of cling film.
Mix breadcrumbs, parmesan, salt and pepper, press pork chops into the mixture.
Fry in olive oil on both sides, until golden brown.

To serve with:

Sage pasta

250 grams fresh tagliatelle
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp oil
2 sliced garlic cloves
3-4 shredded fresh sage leaves
some grated lemon zest

Boil the tagliatelle al dente.

Heat oil and butter in a saucepan, add garlic, sage and lemon zest. Fry gently, until garlic is slightly golden. (If you have any seasoned bread crumb and parmesan mixture left, you can throw that into the pan as well, like I did).
Drain the pasta, mix with the sage and garlic butter.

Serve parmesan crusted pork chops alongside tagliatelle in sage and garlic butter.

Photo updated in April 2009

Oven roasted Conference pears with a caramelised oats' topping

Recipe from October 2005 issue of the Finnish foodmag Ruokamaailma

The dessert was also Nordic: oven roasted Conference pears with a caramelised topping of oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter. The filling is simply mixed, the pears are covered with it and then baked in the 200C oven until soft & golden.

Served with Green&Black’s Vanilla Ice Cream..

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Yet another load of nut cookies

Remember the peanut butter cookies from the other day? Well, I spotted a chunky jar of hazelnut paste in a local Turkish shop (new, so I had to check it out after numerous praises from my Turkish flatmates). It contains 75% of chopped hazelnuts and 25% of sugar.

And once again I made cookies. I added one egg and reduced the amount of sugar, using just over half a cup for the 360 gram jar of nut paste.

Dead simple again, resulting in yummy, nutty and very chewy cookies. Mmmmm.. If I could only find pistachio paste somewhere now...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Nigella's chocolate & orange marmalade cake

Chocolate and orange cake / Šokolaadikook apelsinimarmelaadiga
Photo updated in February 2010.

This is a very special birthday cake to a very special person. Unfortunately the birthday person is far-far away, so I have to deliver my cake virtually - but it's the thought that counts, isn't it:)

It's umpteenth time that I make this cake and it's still yummy and tempting. It is a doddle to make, smells divine, and it's really tasty. The recipe is from Nigella's How To Be A Domestic Goddess bible. I've reduced the amount of sugar in the recipe, but otherwise follow it.

A good thing about this cake is, that there are just three items to wash afterwards - the saucepan, wooden spoon and the baking tin..

Store-cupboard Chocolate-Orange Cake
Serves about 8

125 grams of unsalted butter
100 grams of dark chocolate
300 grams of good quality orange marmalade
100 grams of sugar (Nigella uses 150 grams)
a pinch of salt
2 large eggs
150 grams of self-rising flour (or 150 g all-purpose flour and 1.5 tsp baking powder)

Melt the butter slowly in a heavy-bottom saucepan. When it's almost melted, add chocolate pieces, stir and take off the heat. Stir with a wooden spoon, until chocolate has melted.
Add the marmalade, sugar, salt and eggs. Stir thoroughly (it's okay to leave small visible chunks of marmalade in the batter).
Add sifted flour, stir and pour into a buttered and floured 20-22 cm loose bottomed cake tin.
Bake at 180˚C oven for 45-50 minutes, until the cake has set (test with a knife or wooden stick).
Leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then slide onto a plate.

I usually serve it warm-ish, dusted with icing sugar. But it's also delicious on the day after.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Cooking Hungarian: Kolbászleves

Last night my kitchen smelled very Christmassy, as I made Hungarian sauerkraut soup. Not that Hungarian sauerkraut soup is something that you’d find at Estonian Christmas table, but sautéed sauerkraut is definitely there. I don’t exaggerate when I say that I had sauerkraut every day for two weeks during my last Christmas holiday at home. I had got to Estonia on December 17th, and my mum had lovingly made me a welcome meal of black pudding, roast pork and sautéed sauerkraut. Her rationale was that I probably had missed that food, which was true. I had missed it and it was delicious. But then I continued to have pretty much the same meal with minor variations (as in: sometimes with lingonberry jam on the side, sometimes with pickled pumpkin on the side) until I flew back to Edinburgh on January 1st. You know, Christmas meals at home, at paternal grandmother’s, at maternal grandmother’s, at friends’ places – you cannot avoid eating sauerkraut. And as you usually make a huge potful of the stuff, you eat leftovers for ever. Very tasty, but it can get a bit repetitive at the end :)

So when I opened a jar of sauerkraut or sour cabbage last night, the initial waft of sauerkraut instantly reminded me of Christmas. And as I added other ingredients, including smoked Polish sausages, the smell got more and more wintry and Christmassy…

Back to the soup-making now. According to my source, this is Hungarian sausage soup – Kolbászleves. I am not sure if Szofi of Chili&Vanilia agrees, but the author of the Estonian language book ‘Ungari köök’ (that’s ‘Hungarian kitchen’ for those of you who don’t speak the language:), Peeter Kard, is considered to be an expert on that particular cuisine back home. Although I have been to Hungary, I haven’t had kolbászleves there, so I have to believe Mr Kard’s claim for authenticity.

The soup is easy to make, and tasty addition to any winter menu. Serves 4.

Hungarian sauerkraut and smoked sausage soup Kolbászleves
(Ungari hapukapsa-vorstisupp)

450-500 grams sauerkraut (canned is fine, I used Polish Krakus brand)
100-200 grams smoked sausage (I used Polish Krakow sausage)
1 tsp of caraway seeds
0.5-1 chopped onion (I used 1 red onion)
40 grams of lard (I bet Hungarian chefs would use the special smoked and paprika-cured Hungarian fat, whereas I used plain butter)
3-4 Tbsp plain flour
1-2 tsp Hungarian paprika powder
sugar, if necessary

To garnish:
Sour cream or crème fraiche

Drain the sauerkraut and add enough water to the drained liquid, so you’d end up with 1 litre of liquid. Bring to the boil, add sauerkraut, sliced sausage, and caraway seeds

Simmer on a medium heat, until cabbage is almost tender. Taste – if the cabbage is too sour, add a generous pinch or two of sugar. (Sauerkraut is inevitably sour. But then there is sour sauerkraut and very sour sauerkraut. Too sour sauerkraut is not so good :)

Heat the lard/butter, add chopped onion and sauté until soft. Add flour, paprika powder, mix thoroughly. Then add another cup of water, and heat through. You end up with a reddish-brown roux.

Simmer, until cabbage is soft and tender.

Garnish with a dollop of sour cream, and enjoy with sliced sour rye bread.

UPDATE 14.1.2007: Elise of Simple Recipes mentioned this recipe, too.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Infusion du jour

When the days get darker (alias now), I crave for more hot drinks, especially in the evening. I drink lots of tea, but in the evenings I want something without caffeine, so I usually go for various herbal infusions. I know these are not proper 'teas', but that's how they were called at our house, and I find it difficult to call them otherwise. My favourites are peppermint tea (from my mum’s garden), camomile tea and linden tea – all at various times. I can happily have peppermint infusion for breakfast, which seems a bit odd to some of my friends. Camomile obviously helps me to unwind and calm down, and mixed with honey this is the ‘first aid’ remedy against colds. Linden always reminds me of the huge linden tree at my grandparents house and collecting its crop with my cousins...

And my current favourite concoction is quite unusual but extremely pleasant. I mix couple of pieces of dried raspberry twigs and leaves, some sage and some lemon balm.

Again, as they are from my mum’s garden, it reminds me of home. And it is a perfect cure for any homesickness, should it occur. Believe me, give it a go!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Peanut Butter Cookies

I had never cooked peanut butter cookies before. Nor anything else using peanut butter as one of the ingredients. I can’t even remember eating peanut butter before, though I’m sure I must have encountered it at some point. But on Wednesday night I made a batch of peanut butter cookies – the super-easy kind of cookies at that. I came across the recipe a while ago on a website Bears In The Kitchen, and had copied it to my Estonian site. I’m glad I did, as this could be one of the easiest cookies to make in the world. Even easier than making mayonnaise cookies - and that's something.

Peanut Butter Cookies(Maapähklivõiküpsised)

One cup of sugar
One cup of crunchy peanut butter (preferably one with at least ca 95% peanuts, a pinch of salt and some oil, but nothing else)
One egg

Mix all ingredients. Take large teaspoonfuls of batter and put on a baking tray. Bake at 200˚C for about 12-15 minutes, until your cookies are aromatic and golden brown.
Leave to harden on the tray for 5 minutes, then move carefully onto a rest to cool.

Voila. That’s all there is to eat. Enjoy. If you prefer hazelnuts, then try hazelnut butter cookies.

Although I’m not particularly keen on peanut butter, these cookies were delicious - I liked the slight saltiness of these. And for the negligent effort that went into making these, I think I’m gonna keep that ‘recipe’ at hand for unexpected cookie eating and/or baking cravings...

UPDATE: One of my Estonian readers, Thredalia over at Pisike ja Pisut Segi tried these as well. She even made her own peanut butter!!!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Greek picnic with the F-word

Johanna wrote about what was going on at the back stage of the newest Gordon Ramsay show, F-word. Intrigued by Johanna’s entry, I sat myself in front of Channel 4 last Thursday night, accompanied by my friends Maarika and Age. As I’m on the mission of internationalising the palates of my Estonian friends (the Chinese meal, Indian feast etc), then this time I prepared a simple and easy Greek meze platter, served on a tablecloth on the living room floor – almost like a real picnic:)

On the meze platter were yet another load of Greek meatballs, this time with feta cheese and black olives, boiled Charlotte potatoes with herbs, olive oil and lemon, feta-spinach mini omelettes and mini plum tomatoes.

I was especially pleased with the mini omelettes. The recipe is from the Finnish foodmag Ruokamaailma (4/2004) and is very simple. Even simpler than the tomato, rocket, feta frittata I made a forthnight ago. Here’s a slightly modified version of mine:

Feta and spinach mini omelettes

5 large eggs
0.75 dl milk
0.5 tsp salt
a pinch or two of freshly grated nutmeg
1 dl (defrosted) chopped spinach
100 grams of chopped feta cheese

Break the eggs in a bowl with a fork or mini whisk, add milk, seasonings and spinach. Ladle the runny mixture into buttered muffin tins (I used a regular 12-hole muffin tray). Sprinkle feta cheese on top.

Bake at 200˚C for 20 minutes, until egg mixture has set. I was a bit suspicious, if they'd set easily, as the mixture was very runny (see above). But they turned out just beautiful!

Mini omelettes raise in the oven nicely, but will collapse a little when taken out of the oven.

Serve with a green salad. Or as part of a Greek meze. A definite keeper. If you like the classic Greek combination of feta and spinach, you’ll love this.

As for the programme, I didn’t enjoy that. I understand that Gordon is a talented chef and that many of you like his (dessert) recipes. And whereas I did really enjoy his programme Kitchen Nightmares, other programmes have left me cold. Talented or not, I’m too distracted by the arrogance and rudeness that dominate his programmes and end up overlooking his recipes and impressive cooking skills.. So no, I will not be having TV dinners in front of telly on Thursday nights...

UPDATE: here is another picture of these tiny omelets (click to enlarge)