Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A delicious weekend with Johanna

A view from the Edinburgh Castle, September 2006

One of the unexpected, joyful and most rewarding 'side-effects' of foodblogging is the number of new friends I've made, not talking about widening my culinary horizons, knowledge about food and recipe repertoire. Johanna of The Passionate Cook is one of these friends. I first met Johanna, who is originally from Austria, at the 'tiny' gathering of foodbloggers in London in March, kindly organised by Andrew. This was followed by Johanna's and Jeanne's blog birthday party in June, where, after a great evening, I was also treated to a fantastic brunch on the patio the following morning. It was then that Johanna told me she had never been to Edinburgh. As I'm soon leaving Scotland, she thought it would be a good idea to pop up before I go.

And so it happened that Johanna was in Edinburgh just over a week ago, and we spent a wonderful food-packed weekend together. In less that 48 hours we managed to have a cuppa at The Elephant House (supposedly the place where J K Rowling wrote the first of her Harry Potter books), drooled over the amazingly decorated chocolates at Plaisir du Chocolat, stopped for another coffee and lemonade at VinCaffè, and had an enjoyable dinner with Melissa at (the fair-trade/free range/organic/local sourcing restaurant) Urban Angel, followed by a visit to the quirky whisky haven, The Canny Man's, in Morningside. On Sunday, we had a brunch at Centotre (their Cenerentola, a fresh fruit drink made with freshly squeezed orange juice, passion fruit & pineapple is my huge favourite), marvelled at the bounty available and had another cup of coffee at the oldest Italian deli (established in 1934) Valvona & Crolla, stocked up on Scottish cheese at Ian Mellis Cheesemonger and checked out the Mexican delights at Lupe Pintos deli. And finally, after having covered many kilometres by foot walking around Edinburgh, we had a most delicious and luxurious meal (and a great value one at that, £12.95 for the 2-course pre-theatre menu) at The Witchery, the restaurant underneath acclaimedly one of the most romantic and decadent hotels out there.

I didn't take any pictures - Johanna had a great camera with a fancy objective, so I kept my wee baby-cam firmly inside my handbag. But do check out the the pictures and read Johanna's post about The Witchery instead. There is, indeed, so much more to Edinburgh & Scotland than deep-fried Mars bars and haggis, neeps and tatties.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Five Things to Eat Before You Die

Melissa of the wonderful The Traveler's Lunchbox recently called all foodbloggers to share their five things to eat before you die. I was tagged first by Jeanne of the Cook Sister and then by Johanna of The Passionate Chef (thank you, both), but as I was busy travelling to Belgium and Estonia in August and early September, I didn't get around to it until now. Apologies for the delay.

There are many food-related things I'd like to tick off before I die, many of them listed in Melissa's ever-increasing list (1400 responses so far!). I do expect to have a loooooooong time to do that. Meanwhile, I'll stick to what I know. Here's my list of suggestions:

Go and pick wild berries - either cloudberries (left), cranberries, wild blueberries, lingonberries, wild strawberries or anything you wouldn't easily find in your local supermarket or grocery store and grow in your area. There is something extremely liberating and exciting about picking tasty and luscious berries out in the wild and popping them into your mouth. Believe me, a cultivated blueberry is an immensely poor representative of the real thing.

The same goes for wild mushrooms. Go and forage your own, and enjoy the huge variety of flavours, textures, and looks. Although the 'exotic' enoki, shiitake and shimeji mushrooms available in upmarket grocery stores are more flavoursome and interesting than your average cultivated white or chestnut mushroom, there are still so many mushrooms worth discovering. Have you ever tried milkcaps, various ceps, grogers, puffballs, russulas? Yellow chantarelles? Black trumpet chantarelles? Cutely-named blueish pied bleu mushrooms? They're all worthy of your attention, believe me. Just make sure you handle them appropriately.

Greece - and its people - have been good to me, so I cannot not recommend a bowl of thick and creamy Greek yoghurt with fresh fruit and honey, and a cup of strong frappe. Preferably with a view of the Aegean sea.

Having lived in Scotland for the last seven years, I must promote their infamous national dish of haggis, neeps & tatties. If you use good-quality haggis (I'm partial to MacSween of Edinburgh), you're guaranteed to like it. If you're a bit squeemish, then at least give their vegetarian version a go. Oh, and obviously follow that with a wee dram of whisky.

And last, but not least, you must promise me that you try some delicious Estonian sourdough rye bread one day. It's the best rye bread out there. Take my word for it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

An Anglo-Irish wedding dinner in Brussels

Here is the third installment of my 2006 wedding reports. Earlier this summer, I went to a wedding in Greece and then in Sweden. Just under a month ago, my English friend Helen and her Irish fiance David, whom I met during my first year in Edinburgh (i.e. in 1998-1999), finally took the step into marital bliss after almost 10 years together. Or, as the Best Man said at the wedding, David finally made an honest woman out of Helen:) They have been living and working in Brussels, Belgium, since completing their postgraduate degrees in Edinburgh, and therefore decided to get married in Brussels, too.

I've mentioned Helen on my blog before. She was the first person to tell me about celiac disease. I had never heard of gluten intolerance before, and Helen gave me a crash course in what she can eat and what she cannot. In late 1990s, I was still more of a baker than a cook, and realising I cannot bake my favourite cakes for my new friend (yes, that included my Canadian apple cake) was frustrating. I had to think of flourless cakes to bake, but that's how a rather nice and rich whisky & chocolate roly-poly found a way to my kitchen, so I'm not complaining. I also had to learn how to look for traces of gluten in the unlikeliest places - most soy sauces, for example, are out of the question. I remember being surprised that Helen had to go to pharmacy to pick up her special gluten-free pasta, and she had to consult a little book to see which potato crisps were acceptable and which not.

Anyway, back to the wedding. Helen and David had a civil ceremony, which took place at their local commune, Maison Communale de Saint Gilles. This was followed by dinner & dancing at L'Abbaye de Nizelles (above), a lovely mansion a short drive from Brussels. And the food was delicious. Here's what we had:

We started with Ballotin de sole et homard à la nage - a lovely sole and lobster dish:

This was followed by Magret de canard au miel d'acacia, sauce vinaigre de framboises:

Finally, we had a pudding suitable for a gluten-free diet, Vacherin glacé, fruits frais et coulis de fruits de l’été:

And later on, after some coffees, more drinks, and lots of dancing, we were served a festive cheese course (photo above).

Definitely a night to remember. Thank you, Helen and David, for inviting me, and Rob and Mig for hosting me!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

My mushroom bounty

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Estonia seems to trigger the hunter-gatherer in me. In July I took pleasure in looking for wild strawberries and cloudberries. This time around I was fighting prickly fallen branches and annoying deer-flies, while trying to tell an edible mushroom from a non-edible or even poisonous one. This was harder than I thought. Although forageing for wild mushrooms was something I did often as a child, I've led a rather urban life for the last decade or so. So no wonder I greedily managed to gather a whole lot of non-edible brown roll-rim mushrooms (Paxillus involutus) in my basket, before I was told to discard them then and there. Ouch. Embarrassing. But then these fungi were probably too plentiful and suspiciously pretty and, well, simply too good to be true.

The summer in Estonia was very hot and very dry, seriously affecting the wild mushroom harvest this year. Althought the last few weeks have seen some rain, we weren't too optimistic when we drove to K.'s secret forest last Sunday. However, after just a few hours in the forest, I had nevertheless amassed a rather respectable pile of mushrooms. As you can see on the top picture, I collected some grogers (Lactarius deterrimus), woolly milk caps (Lactarius torminosus), ugly milk-caps (Lactarius turpis), tiny puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum), orange-capped boletes (Leccinum aurantiacum), gypsy mushrooms (Rozites caperata), russula mushrooms, and many more. I, for certain, was pleased with my beautiful and colourful bounty.

Here's a picture of me picking up another rufuous milkcap (Lactarius rufus) - a delicious mushroom that is poisonous when eaten raw, edible when par-boiled couple of times and turned into a sauce, and very delicious when pickled. If you click on the picture to enlarge, you can try to see how many other mushrooms can you spot.

The gypsy mushrooms were simply fried in butter, seasoned with basil and eaten for lunch with mashed potatoes straight after getting home - such a fragrant mushroom, with a beautiful flavour and slightly meaty texture. The various boletes and puffballs were pan-fried, mixed with some cream cheese and garlic and used as a topping for a earthy and rustic mushroom quiche on the following day (I used the same rye flour crust that I use for salmon and cream cheese canapés). And the milkcaps and russulas were par-boiled and pickled, to be consumed as condiment and garnish during winter (like in this salad cocktail).

I'll be back in that very forest for some more mushrooms and cranberries next month. Cannot wait!

Disclaimer: All photos here were taken by my personal photographer, K. His pictures will be featuring regularly on my blog from now onwards, and copyright is all mine;)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tallinn Café Scene: Chocolats de Pierre

Last summer I wrote about few of my favourite cafés back in Tallinn: Musi, Kehrwieder (which, to my great delight, has opened a small branch at my future workplace) and Café Peterson (this being just 100 metres from University, I'll frequent much more often - they serve wonderful soups for lunch).

Here is another gem worth visiting should you happen to be in Tallinn* - Chocolats de Pierre. Tucked away in one of the tiny courtyards in the Old Town, it's one of the most romantic places to drink hot chocolate during dark winter nights. It was also an ideal spot for a quick coffee on our way from the church to the wedding just a fortnight ago. We treated ourselves to a couple of Pierre's handmade chocolate truffles (their dark chocolate & chilli one was rather nice) and enjoyed the trio playing medieval music in the courtyard. Bliss!

Chocolats de Pierre
Vene 6
Open daily 9am -11pm

PS Proper blogging resumes tomorrow! There will be two wedding reports (from Brussels and Tallinn, respectively), some pictures from my wonderful mushroom bounty and my impressions of the current restaurant du jour in Tallinn. I'm also looking forward to hosting a very special foodblogger visitor from London this week, so plenty of things happening..

* And quite a few of you do - Doughboy's Antti, Clivia's Kristina, Il Forno's Alberto, Part-Time Pro Bono Baker's Gemma and Lobstersquad's Ximena are just some of the foodbloggers I can think of that have visited my home town during the last year.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Comfort food: Baked Semolina Pudding with Vanilla Custard and Blueberries

Greetings from Estonia! I'm at home again, although it's been only weeks since my last trip in July consisting of wild strawberries and cloudberries. This is still not for good - that will happen in October, so this is just another short visit. My older nephew, Tomi, started school today, and as a good auntie I had to be present on this important day. Tomorrow another friend of mine is getting married in Tallinn, bringing the wedding season of 2006 to a glorious end. And last, but not least, next weekend I'll help to celebrate my paternal Granny's 85th birthday.

I know my blogging has been a wee bit slow during the last few weeks, and I apologise for that. This is because I've been travelling (will report about the wonderful wedding in Brussels last weekend as soon as I find the menu and reformat the pictures:) I have also been busy packing and shipping my stuff in Edinburgh. And as if travelling and packing weren't disrupting my blogging enough already, then our internet provider disconnected us by accident a fortnight ago and then refused to reconnect us because we were soon ending our contract anyway. Just like that. Sulk..

While I search my luggage for my notes from Brussels, I leave you with another simple pudding. Yet again it uses this exotic childhood ingredient, semolina/cream of wheat featured in my whipped semolina pudding about a month ago. This time a simple semolina porridge is baked in the oven and served with some delicious berries, giving it a beautiful lift. Humble it may be, but it was well received by my guests and I was still eager to eat some more on the following morning. As there was none left from the night before, I made a fresh batch of semolina porridge for breakfast and served it with my fake cloudberry jam. And I made semolina porridge for breakfast yet again when my friend Ruxandra came over for a visit.

Yes, that's how good it was - it made you want to eat semolina not once, not twice, but thrice.

Baked semolina pudding with vanilla custard and blueberries
(Mannapannkook vanillikreemi ja mustikatega)
Slightly adapted from the Swedish Arla site again
Serves 4

800 ml milk
150 ml semolina/cream of wheat
0.5 tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly whipped
2 Tbsp sugar
1 lemon, zested

To serve:
vanilla custard
fresh blueberries

Butter Ø 22 cm oven dish and sprinkle with semolina. Put aside.
Bring the milk to the boil, keeping your eye on the saucepan and stirring regularly to make sure it won't boil over.
When it's boiling, remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in semolina and salt, stirring rigorously.
Put the saucepan on the hob again and heat for 4-5 minutes on a slow heat, stirring, until the porridge thickens. Remove from the heat again.
Stir in the eggs, sugar and lemon zest. Pour the porridge into the prepared oven dish and bake at the lower part of a 200C oven for about 35-40 minutes, until the porridge is golden.
Cool a little and serve with some vanilla custard and fresh blueberries.