Saturday, October 28, 2006

SHF#24: Little Bites of Delight

Petit four. A petit four is a small fancy cake, biscuit, or sweet - such as a piece of marzipan or a crystallized or chocolate covered fruit - typically severed nowadays with coffee at the end of a meal. The term is French in origin. It means literally 'small oven', and may have come from the practice of cooking tiny cakes and biscuits a petit four, that is in low oven, at low temperature'. It was adopted into English in the late nineteenth century.
An A-Z of Food & Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 252)

The latest round of Sugar High Friday is hosted by Jeanne and she wanted us to make Little Bites of Delight. To be really honest, tiny fiddly sweet thingies aren't really my cup of tea. Don't get me wrong - I love eating them, I do. But to prepare them seems like too much fuss for too little. I'd rather bake a cake a la Nigella with oranges, cherries or cranberries or bake my apple cake. K, on the other hand, enjoys preparing fiddly food. He even made me look up a book that I hadn't looked at since I inherited it from a colleague some eight years ago (aitäh, Ave!). Whereas I hadn't bookmarked a single recipe in "The Book of Chocolates and Petit Fours" by Beverley Sutherland Smith (HP Books, 1986) , K. got all excited, like a small kid in a candy store, listing a recipe after recipe to try.

In any case we made four different little bites of delight last night. I had for a long time wanted to make Pierre Herme's chocolate dipped mint leaves that I've mentioned here. Now was my chance, but sadly I couldn't find fresh mint leaves in the supermarket. However, they did stock fresh lemon balm, a great favourite of mine. So I used that instead, resulting in a lovely alternative to after dinner mints - crisp and light and fragrant.

K. contributed the other three petit fours: candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate, chocolate disks infused with chilli syrup and covered with candied red chillies, and finally some delightfully tiny cranberry and almond macarons.

Mmmm, I'm off to try some of those little bites of delight now. Again..

PS I've previously written about spicy sugared almonds, which would also make perfectly nice little bites of delight, especially as we're getting closer to the mulled wine season..

UPDATE 30.10.2006: Here's Jeanne's roundup!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wild Mushroom Hunt: My mushroom bounty, vol 2

I enjoyed hunting for mushrooms so much in September, that I spent another three hours in a forest last Sunday looking for the last of season's wild mushrooms. We didn't get into the forest until 1pm, and for a moment I thought our trip will be fruitless (mushroomless?), as it was incredibly difficult to tell a mushroom amongst all those yellow and brown and pumpkin-coloured fallen leaves that thickly covered the ground. However, after some visual adjustment and careful and systematic observation, I began to see the mushrooms again (I lost the skill again after some 2,5 hours, but being a lazy urbanite, I eventually simply got tired and wanted to get back home. Or at least to my savoury muffins that were at the back of our car). Back in my new kitchen later that night, I brushed all the mushrooms clean, sorted them into categories (straight onto the frying pan / soak-cook-fry / soak-cook-pickle / soak-cook-brine). This is what K. and I had found:

Starting from the top left corner, clockwise (sorry for the slight redness of the colours): ugly milkcaps/Lactarius turpis/tõmmuriisikad (photo) ; various ceps/porcini/puravikud; Lactarius scrobiculatus/võiseened; the slightly greenish ones are saffron milk-caps/Lactarius deliciosus/kuuseriisikad - very delicious mushrooms that can be thrown straight onto your frying pan (photo); rufous milkcaps/Lactarius rufus/männiriisikad that must be blanched once or twice to rid them of their bitterness; wonderful (though rather unexpected this time of the year) chantarelles/Cantharellus cibarius/kukeseened; as well as three handsome Pied Bleu or Wood Blewits/Lepista nuda/lilla ebaheinik that I preserved in brine. And finally some light pink russulas/pilvikud (in the middle, next to that lonesome green russula on the left) that must be cooked in water before they can be fried or sauteed.

The yellow chantarelles and saffron milkcaps were each fried in butter and then used as a topping for simple bruschette.

The russula mushrooms were blanched twice and were used for mushroom sauce late last night (fry with some onions, top with cream, serve with mashed potatoes). The ugly milkcaps and Lactarius scrobiculatus mushrooms were first boiled twice, and then preserved in salty brine (after soaking, these can be used for sauces, quiche filling, salads), rufuous milkcaps were pickled in marinade (can be eaten as a snack or used for salads).

Again, I'm rather pleased with my bounty, and am looking forward to using all those mushrooms during the coming autumn and winter.

Oh, and did I mention the cranberries? I've got enough for at least 10 cakes now:)

I've been eating a lot of chocolate lately ...

... and how could I've not to, when Nash (on behalf of himself and his beautiful wife Guro) brought me this box of Plaisir du Chocolat chocolates as a goodbye present. Plaisir du Chocolat was set up by Bertrand Espouy and Heather A Kiernan few years ago in Edinburgh, and they've now opened branches also in Manchester and Melrose. Do check them out if you're in the neighbourhood. If neither Manchester, Melrose or Edinburgh are in your future itinerary, then you can peruse their online store. If you're not convinced, then take Melissa's word for it - she's sung praise to Plaisir du Chocolat here.

Their exquisite chocolates - look at the picture! - are best consumed within a week, so I've been dutifully eating them together with K. every night. All of them have been absolutely delicious, with an exception of one or two (Manosque didn't appeal to me, for example). Plaisir du Chocolat produces two 'collections' per year - one for Christmas and one for the Edinburgh festival season. My box of chocolates are from the Collection Winter 2005-2006. Here's what we had:

Top row from left to right:
Sacher (dark chocolate, bitter almond, apricot), Mesopotamia (dark chocolate, liquorice), Sheherazade (dark chocolate, pistachio), Laphroaig (dark chocolate, malt whisky), Bounty (white chocolate, coconut)

2nd row from the top, from left to right:
Spekulatius (dark chocolate, Christmas spices, citrus fruits), Khartoum (white chocolate, hibiscus), Vienne (dark chocolate, coffee, marzipan), Brazil (white chocolate, passion fruit), Agen (dark chocolate, prune, Armagnac)

Middle row, from left to right:
Szechuan (dark chocolate, Szechuan pepper, pear), Bergamot (Single origin Java milk chocolate, Earl Grey tea), Schwarzwald (dark chocolate, Cherry and Kirsh), Addis Ababa (milk chocolate, cardamom and pineapple), Indochine (single origin Java milk chocolate, green Vietnamese tea, lotus flowers)

2nd row from the bottom, from left to right:
Tombouctou (dark chocolate, cinnamon), Zanzibar (Single origin Java milk chocolate, cloves, orange peel), Java (single origin Java milk chocolate, green Jasmine tea), Persephone (milk chocolate, pomegranate, orange), Arabesque (white chocolate, rose buds)

Bottom row, from left to right:
Sologne (dark chocolate, fresh mint leaves), Manosque (dark chocolate, dried lavender), Antilles (dark chocolate, spices /vanilla, cinnamon, citronelle, cardamom, lemon, orange, elderberry, tonka, cloves, star anis, bitter orange leaves/, Martinique rum), Piemont (gianduja hazelnut), Guérandes (soft caramel made with salted butter mixed, white couverture, vanilla)

Thank you, Guro & Nash!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Savoury muffins with beetroot and blue cheese

I've been thinking about beetroot a lot lately. Weird, eh? I don't really know why, but suddenly I browse my cookbooks for beetroot recipes and make lists of various beetroot recipes to try. I've already posted plenty of beetroot recipes on this blog: beetroot & goat's cheese sandwiches, beetroot & garlic salad, beetroot & feta salad, filo tartlets with beetroot and three types of cheese. Yet I still long for more, and there are so many delicious-looking beetroot recipes out there in the blogosphere that I simply have to try: Anne's beet risotto with fava beans, Bea's beetroot ravioli and beetroot tabouli and dark chocolate and beetroot brownies (there's a foodblogger to my heart!), Alanna's wholegrain bread with beetroot, Clivia's beetroot cake with saffron glaze. I could go on and on..

In any case, I baked these savoury muffins with beetroot and blue cheese last weekend. On Sunday, K. and I headed to the forests and bogs again to gather wild mushrooms (we got loads!) and pick cranberries (I've got enough for some 10 cakes now). These muffins were ideal when we re-emerged from the forest - exhausted, dirty, wet, yet happy and content - three hours later. A lovely combination of moist'n'sweet beetroot and salty'n'tangy blue cheese.

Savoury muffins with beetroot and blue cheese
Adapted from Valio
Makes 12 large muffins.

5oo ml plain flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 tsp dried basil
150 grams blue cheese, crumbled
100 grams boiled beetroot, grated or cubed
200 ml single cream
3 eggs
3 Tbsp olive oil
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Mix flour, baking powder and basil in a bowl, add blue cheese and beetroot. Stir gently.
Mix cream, eggs and oil in a jug and stir quickly into the batter.
Pour into lined muffin cases and bake at 200C for 18-20 minutes.

They're best eaten warm, but are also great for lunchboxes. If you want, put into a microwave for 20 seconds to heat through.

UPDATE 7.11.2006: If you read Finnish, then read what Pastanjauhantaa thought of these muffins:)

Friday, October 20, 2006

A royal dinner

Photo courtesy of Postimees

Remember when the President of Estonia came to Edinburgh to have tea with the Queen and then enjoyed a drink in a pub with local Estonians? Well, since then Estonia has got a new president and I have moved back home. I'm slowly settling into my new life, new house and new kitchen. But first I'm sharing some royal news with you. Yesterday the Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrived in Estonia, where they visited the official residence of the President (Kadriorg palace), our new art gallery (KUMU), and then attended an official dinner at Mustpeade Maja. This very moment the royal family should be meeting and greeting people at Raekoja plats, before returning to the UK later this afternoon. I even got a glimpse of the royal family yesterday, as the royal cortege passed me when I was walking to my office (to be really honest, I only saw Prince Philip, as HRH must have been sitting on the other side of the car:)

I thought I'd share the menu with you. The rumour has it that the meal was prepared by Tõnis Siigur, Chef of Stenhus - a truly enchanted restaurant that I had a pleasure to visit in July.

Estonian feast
Green salad with Estonian porcini/cep mushrooms and Gruyére cheese
Roasted filet of Saaremaa lamb with roasted peppers
Chocolate cake with Nougatini dressing and citrus fruits
Coffee & tea

Wines & champagne
2003 Pouilly-Fumé les Charmes Chatelain AC, Loire, France
2000 Château Cassagne Haut-Canon la Truffière AC, Bordeaux, France
1992 Põltsamaa Kuldne, Estonia

Sunday, October 15, 2006

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go...

Indeed. All of the sudden, my seven years in Edinburgh have come to an end. When I first arrived in Scotland to do my Master's degree back in 1998, I came for a year. When I returned for my PhD in 2000, I came for three. But some things take time, sometimes you do things you didn't intend to, and one thing leads to another. My PhD led to a post-doc and then to another. In January I began another three-year research post here in Scotland, so I would have had to be here until the end of 2008. Yet, once more, things took an unexpected turn. Out of the blue (well, almost) I got homesick, began missing my friends and family, plus I met K. Though there are still several items I haven't ticked of this list of 'Things for a foodie to do in Scotland', there's a lot waiting for me at home. It's time to go.

I've had wonderful time here in Edinburgh. Yes, the weather sucks, but at least the winters are really mild. I've met some wonderful people from all over the world, and made friends for life. I've had my fair share of haggis, neeps & tatties, learnt to tell my Gay Gordon from The Dashing White Sergeant at a Ceilidh. As an icing on a cake, I've now even tried the infamous Scottish delicacy, deep-fried Mars Bar (see photo above). The latter was offered in one Edinburgh chippy for £2.50 for a big portion with chips, £2.30 for a small portion with chips (not sure if the brown sauce and ketchup were included in the price), or if you're really mean, then you can just order the deep-fried Mars Bar for £1.00. Don't ask..

So last night I had a big farewell do at Chai Teahouse for my friends in Edinburgh & Glasgow (thanks to everybody* who came!!!) . It was a great occasion with good fingerfood and great cocktails. Their Black Tea Martini was lipsmackingly good, and I really enjoyed the house cocktails consisting of vodka, lemon juice and green tea.

In just a few hours I'll be catching a flight home via Manchester and Helsinki. I'll probably take few days off to recover from the ordeal, but soon I'll blog again. From a new kitchen, from a new place. I hope you'll be still here..

* Emma & Michael, Antonis, Nash, Merilin & Dominic, Annika W, Annika B, Wilfried & Niranjan, Galina & Alexandr, Oxana, Adi, David, Risto, Lea & Helmi & Halliki, Helen, Kersti, Kerttu, Melinda, James O, James M, Ryoko, Dianne & Peter, Annemieke & Georgios, Hashemi, Siim, Gorev, Ceci, Nenya & Richard.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Turkish delight: Hanedan in Edinburgh

Gürsel Bahar, the chef & proprietor of Hanedan, July 2006

Hanedan opened in June 2004, yet it was imprinted in my head even before that. You see, it was exactly on my route from home to my regular breakfast-coffee place, Peckhams on South Clark Street, so I was passing it pretty much daily. Also, as I shared a flat with a Turkish girl at the time, a sign announcing "A Turkish restaurant opening soon" simply caught my eye. Quite soon afterwards, I realised that the chef enjoyed his morning coffee at Peckhams on a regular basis, too, and we began exchanging hellos and engaging in small talk. I found out that Gürsel had lived & worked in London for 16 years, where he worked 9 years with Sir Terence Conran at his Quaglino's Restaurant in St James. But as his wife was Scottish, it was inevitable that they'd move back to her homeland at one point.

Few months after befriending the chef over my breakfast coffee, I decided to pay his new eaterie a visit. I liked the food, and alongside with my other local restaurant, the Jamaican Coyaba, it quickly became my regular haunt. It was there that I took my parents, sister and nephew to celebrate my graduation last summer. I've had numerous meals there since, most recently last Saturday with my friends Michael & Emma. Hanedan has a lovely and inviting atmosphere, being obviously popular both with local Southsiders, as well as others, and it's always a pleasure to go back.

The first few times I opted for the mixed meze starter, lalezar (£6.75 per person), consisting of humuz (pureed chickpeas with sesame oil and lemon juice), herkez bayildi (roast aubergine, onion, tomato sauce and herbs), barbunya pilaki (olive oil braised red kidney beans), ispanakli yogurt (strained yogurt and spinach with garlic, served with a delicious pinch of sumac on top), firin kofte (oven baked mincd meat balls) and yaprak dolma (stuffed wine leaves). But the chef was 'complaining' that I'm not giving his other, 'proper' dishes a chance, so some time last autumn I 'upgraded' and began ordering mezes as well as main courses. I've never had to regret that, as the food has always been delicious, flavoursome and filling, and the service efficient and friendly (which cannot be said about another well-established Turkish restaurant in town, which I've stopped visiting since a rather unpleasant encounter in August).

If I am allowed to grumble just a little, then it's the limited choice of mains for vegetarians - Biberli makarna (pasta, red pepper sauce & feta cheese, £6.90) and Sebzeli musakka (vegetable moussaka, £7.90). And it would be also nice for his regular customers if he'd occasionally change his two-course menu offer (£7.95). That said, however, there are plenty of vegetarian meze dishes to choose from, with ispanakli yogurt (£2.90), herkes bayildi (£ 3.20) and helim izgara (perfectly grilled haloumi cheese, £3.60) being my favourites. And the main dishes are reasonably priced, too. His kuzu shish (a substantial portion of marinated grilled lamb on skewer, £7.90) simply melts in your mouth - I've never had meat so moist and tender before. Apparently the 'secret' to this dish is 'gentle massage' (though the Chef has now shared his recipe for the rub mixture with me:) My other favourites are tavuk guvech (sauteed chicken with onion, mushroom and tomato, £7.50, on the left), and tavuk shish (marinated grilled chicken on skewer, £7.75).

There are some Turkish wines on the wine list, and Efes Pilsen is available. And their baklava (filo pastry with mixed nuts & honey syrup, £2.90) is mouthwatering, light and rich at the same time. Highly recommended, whether you're sipping Turkish apple tea or a strong Turkish coffee which is served in cheerful tiny cups. Or, if you're up for it, some raki. Or why not both...

I'll miss this place. But then I do have the secret recipes for some of Gürsel's dishes in my pocket now:)

Some useful Turkish phrases from their menu:
Bu aksham olmaz - Not tonight.
Bisiklet pompani alabilirmiyim? - May I borrow your bicycle pump?
Gunde bir paket sigara iciyorum - I smoke a packet a day*

Note that booking is pretty much essential during weekends - I've been turned away on many occasions.

41-42 West Preston Street
Edinburgh EH8 9PY
Tel. 0131 667 4242

Lunch 12-3pm, Dinner 5.30pm till late, closed on Monday

* Even if you do, don't try to lit your cigaret while in Hanedan. Like all other public drinking & eating venues in Scotland, it's been smoke-free since March 2006. Bliss!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Vacation memories: Dining on Santorini

I've already praised the breakfasts with wonderful views that I had a pleasure of enjoying on Santorini. But it wasn't just the breakfast that was noteworthy, the food in general was great. There was the wedding feast, of course, but I also had tasty Greek food in small restaurants on the island. I wish I had been able to eat at Selene (above), as its menu, focusing on local ingredients and modern takes on traditional dishes ('Favaballs stuffed with caper and tomato' and 'Baked mackerel with caperleaves and tomato wrapped in crepe of fava' especially tempted by tastebuds), but I guess I must wait for my professorship first :)

Still, there was great food to be had on the island. Here are some of the pictures I took.

Santorini at night, June 2006

You've probably all heard of Horiatiki, or the so-called Greek salad that appears under various disguises across the world (do you use lettuce as in an American Greek salad or not? Green or black olives? Red or yellow onions? etc.) Santorini salad is quite similar to its 'Greek' mother, but it uses local tomatinas, Chloro cheese, local capers and lettuce leaves.

We ate this fava in a small restaurant at the centre of Fira. Not bad, not bad at all, but my yellow split pea 'fava' tasted nicer (yellow split peas, as opposed to fava beans, are the closest substitute for famous fava lentils of Santorini). I bough a packet of real fava lentils, so I'll give this 'fava' dish another go soon and decide which version I like most:)

This roasted aubergine/eggplant dip, melitzanosalata, was wonderfully thick and creamy, with a strong smoky flavour. A clear winner in my eyes.

The famous tomatokeftedes or meatless tomato balls of Santorini. I remembered these from my previous trip, and was pleased to find them at the wedding table. I had also ordered tomatokeftedes at the restaurant on the previous night, but I really loved these plump and juicy specimens at the wedding.

Freshly squeezed watermelon juice, anyone? A truly refreshing treat after a substantial meal. If you fancy making your own, then check out Stevi's instructions. And just like you can enjoy fabulous views on Santorni in the morning, you can do that in the evening - the night-time photo was taken while sipping this watermelon drink.

Eestikeelsed retseptid:
Santorini läätsepüree
Santorini tomatikotletid
Kreeka pommusalat

Saturday, October 07, 2006

My Eggy Macaroni Cheese

As I hinted on my previous post, I am staying with friends with kids for a few days. So child-friendliness of the dishes I cook is important at the moment. Here is one of my favourites for moments like these - macaroni cheese. Very popular with my little nephews, as well as with friends longing for comfort food. I recently witnessed a rather huge young friend of mine (we're talking about almost 2 metres and 100 kilos here) eat a whole lot almost on his own!

It's a doddle to make, and you can also use up any leftover cooked pasta, slices of ham, chunks of cheese. Quite unusally for macaroni cheese, it uses eggs in the mixture, making the dish a bit creamier and lighter in texture in my opinion.

Macaroni Cheese with Mince and Eggs
Makaronivorm hakklihaga
Serves 4

400 grams short pasta
350 grams good quality lean mince of your choice
1 onion
1 to 2 garlic cloves
1 Tbsp oil
0.5 to 1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika powder
0.5 tsp salt
1 tsp dried basil or oregano

600 ml milk
2 large eggs
0.5 tsp salt
200 ml grated cheese
fresh dill or parsley, chopped (optional)

Cook the pasta al dente, drain.
Fry the onion in oil over moderate heat for 7-10 minutes, add garlic and fry for a few more minutes. Stir frequently to avoid burning.
Add the mince and fry, stirring frequently, until the mince is browned.
Season with salt, paprika powder and dried herbs.
Take a large oven dish, oil or butter it lightly. Add the pasta and fried mince into the dish and mix.
Combine milk, eggs and salt, add finely chopped herbes, if using. Pour over the pasta and mince.
Scatter cheese on top.
Bake at the lower part of a 200C oven until the eggy mixture has set and the dish is golden brown and slightly crisp on top.

Serve with salad (see here for a simple beetroot salad and crunchy carrot salad).

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Mama Who Cooks Likes My Blog

This Mama Cooks! Food Blog of the Week
This Mama Cooks is a US-based blog written by Anne-Marie, and she features her favourite blogs every now and then. A fortnight ago, her blog featured Johanna's wonderful The Passionate Cook, and this week it was my turn. Lucky me:) Go and check out Anne-Marie's blog.

Meanwhile, I'm cooking again:) For my last fornight in Edinburgh, I'm staying with my friends Dianne and Peter and their children Maarja-Liis (8 yrs) and Maarek (12 months). Yesterday I made some yummy salmon and green pea fishcakes (courtesy of BBC Good Food 'Fresh family food' supplement, November 2006), which were a great success with the two oldest 'girls' and the wee boy. I also baked Nigella Lawson's chocolate and cherry cupcakes again (smiling faces all round), and used up the over-ripe bananas for a banana loaf (thankfully I tried a tiny slice late last night myself, as there was none left when I got home today). For today's supper I contributed Greek meatballs (using turkey, as Dianne doesn't eat red meat) and some beef meatballs seasoned with paprika powder, followed by some of the cherry cake.

I simply love hosts who let you loose in their kitchen:)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Childhood nostalgy: tiny cheesy mouthfuls

When I was still young and beautiful, that is in 1980s, schoolkids in Estonia had their own newspaper, called 'Säde' or 'Spark'. I even have vague memories of attending their young correspondents’ school, where we were taught how to write newspaper articles. As it happened, I never became a journalist after all. The few pieces I’ve written for newspapers are outnumbered by academic articles, and I’m not sure how helpful my early journalism masterclasses have been.

However, the newspaper had a section called 'Kati köök' or 'Cathy’s kitchen', which published easy and childfriendly recipes. One of them was for small cheesy mouthfuls called 'küprukad'. There’s no such word in Estonian, really, it’s a combination of 'küpsised' (alias cookies) and 'pirukad' (alias pirogi). I guess the editor couldn’t decide which ones these cheesy mouthfuls are. I remember making these on quite a few occasions back then...

I made them again a short while ago. Cannot really give a recipe, as it uses a special pancake mixture from Estonia (flour, sugar, milk powder, whey powder, baking soda, citric acid, salt, egg powder) and I have no clue what would be the equivalent brand abroad. But you mix 500 ml of pancake mixture, 250 grams of butter and 250 grams of ricotta or quark into a dough, and after resting in a fridge, you divide it into 3, roll each into a thin circle and divide into 16 sectors. You then put a piece of cheese onto the wider end and roll each into a small crescent. And then bake them golden in the oven.

I like the way how the cheese disappears into the thin air, sorry, into the surrounding dough (as well as escaping the pastries, of course) (look at the last picture here to see what I mean).

Küprukate retsept

NB! Proper blogging - i.e. with nice pictures and delicious recipes - will resume in a fortnight or so. For the last few weeks I've been staying with various friends in Edinburgh, and haven't cooked at all (cutting tomatoes, cucumbers and feta cheese into chunks doesn't count as cooking, neither does microwaving soups, I'm afraid). Two more weeks to go before my big move, and I cannot wait to start cooking & blogging properly again:)