Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Estonian Gastronomy Awards, 2006

Late last Friday I had a chance to put on my prettiest frock and highest heels, adjust K's tie and sit in a cab that took us to the annual (the first for me) Silver Spoon gala dinner hosted by the Gastronomy Society of Estonia. The show began at 11pm and lasted until the wee hours of the morning. We enjoyed a lovely five course meal with matched wines (see the menu further down) and only left a little before 3am!!

Here's a list of winners and nominees - might come handy for those of you planning to visit this little country of mine in the near future:)

SilverSpoon 2006 winners

Egoist, Tallinn - nominee
Stenhus, Tallinn - winner
Pädaste, Muhu - nominee

Bocca, Tallinn - nominee
Gloria, Tallinn - winner
House, Tallinn - nominee

Cafe Truffe, Tartu - winner
Müüriäärne kohvik, Haapsalu - nominee
Cafe Angel, Tallinn - nominee

Amps3, Tallinn - nominee
Scotland Yard, Mere pst, Tallinn - winner
Madisson, Tallinn - nominee

Dimitri Demjanov, Egoist & Gloria, Tallinn

Balthazar, Tallinn

Lucca, Tallinn

Stereo Lounge, Tallinn

Pegasus, Tallinn


Although I still think that the best cafe in Tallinn is the delicious Chocolats de Pierre (at least that's where I meet various visiting bloggers - I met Doughboy's Antti there in December and my reader and frequent commenter Pene last Sunday), then I agree with the choice of best gourmet restaurant. I had a pleasure of eating in all three nominated places during the last six months, and although the recent meals at Pädaste and Egoist were wonderful, my meal at Stenhus was most exciting and memorable of the three).

It is a tradition that the winner of the best chef's award will cater for the next year's gala dinner. So the winner of 2005, the British-born Michael Bhoola (Pegasus), cooked the delicious offerings in January 2006, and last year's winner Roman Zashtshersinski (restaurant Ö) prepared the feast this year.
Dimitri Demjanov, who is known as the grand old man of Estonian haute cuisine, was declared the winner of the best chef's award this time around. That means he will be in charge of the gala dinner in January 2008. I cannot wait what's he got in store (yep, he's the guy on the small photo - courtesy of Postimees - holding our 'national' fish, räim alias Baltic herring).

Silver Spoon Gala Dinner 26.1.2007

Amuse bouche
Kir Royal Torres Brut Nature
Creme de Cassis, De Kyper
Moet & Chandon, Rose

Jerusalem artichoke cream soup with vanilla oil
Bernard-Massard Auxerrois, Luxemburgh 2004

Tuna tartar with wasabi and miso sauce
Zweigelt Classic, Johann Strauss 2003

Foie gras baked in puff pastry with Tokay and raisin sauce
Tokay Pinot Gris 2005

Tournedos of salmon with mandarine and vermouth sauce
J. Drouhin Chablis 1er Cru 2004

Milk chocolate and praline cake with macerated raspberries
Pineau des Charantes Ch Montifaud

Petit fours
Saint Christeau XO, Vintage 1992

Friday, January 26, 2007

Smoked salmon & dill tartlets

Some ten days ago I had invited a friend of some friends and a young American colleague over for dinner. I wanted the dinner to be slightly Nordic in honour of our overseas guest, who was also a fish-eating vegetarian. The main dish was a beetroot and blue cheese risotto (beetroot qualifying as the 'Nordic' element there:), and we started the meal with small smoked salmon and dill tartlets. Dill is one of the most-loved and most-used herbs in Estonia, and as the country is surrounded by water on three sides, then fish is a suitably suitable main ingredient, too.

A note on smoked salmon. Here in Estonia, you can buy either hot-smoked salmon or cold-smoked salmon. When I moved to Scotland, I found it confusing when recipes just asked for 'smoked salmon' and didn't specify which type of smoked salmon they're talking about. Eventually I learned that 'smoked salmon' always indicates 'cold-smoked salmon' and 'hot-smoked salmon' always says so on the tin/packet..

Smoked salmon and dill tartlets
Source: BBC Good Food, July 2004
Serves 6

300 grams shortcrust pastry
150 grams cold-smoked salmon or trout
2 eggs
2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
200 ml single cream
freshly ground black pepper

To garnish:
dill sprigs and fresh lime or lemon wedges

Divide the pastry into six, roll into thin circles and line six individual Ø 10 cm pastry forms with them. Prick with a fork and put into a freezer for 15 minutes to reduce shrinking in the oven.
Pre-bake for 15 minutes at 200Celsius, until slightly golden. (If you prefer to blind bake your pastry cases, then cover with parchment paper and dried beans, bake for 10 minutes, then remove the paper&beans and bake for further 5 minutes).
Cut the smoked salmon into thin strips and lay on shortcrust cases.
Whisk the eggs with dill, add single cream and season with salt and pepper. Pour over salmon.
Bake for 15 minutes, until the filling has set and the tartlets are golden brown on top.
Serve at once, or wrap in foil and keep in the freezer. Defrost, and re-heat at 180Celsius for 4-6 minutes until warm.

Garnish with dill and citrus wedges.

Greek delights: eating peinirli in Volos

Imagine something that is very much like my mushroom pie, just a lot bigger and stuffed with cheese instead of mushrooms. Now heat it up, cut it half-open, so you've got a pocket. Fill it with French fries and your favourite ketchup or yogurt sauce. Got that?

Well done! You've just imagined a Greek fast-food called peinirli. It looks like this:

A peinirli from "Rainbow", Volos

Peinirli is what my friend Anna and I had for a snack in the port town Volos one afternoon just over half a year ago. Although the main reason for my Greek trip last June was a wedding on Santorini, I had arrived a few days in advance in order to visit my Edinburgh friend Anna and her young family. When I asked Anna to introduce me to something that is typical to this specific Greek town, she took me to a popular peinirli joint, Rainbow.

Peinirly derives from a Turkish word 'peynirli', meaning 'cheesy', and came to Greece in early last century with the refugees from Asia Minor. Peinirli always has a cheese filling (usually a mixture of kefalograviera and kasseri cheese), but only the sky is a limit. You can add bacon, eggs, ham, minced meat or anything else you fancy into a peinirli. Whereas usually peinirli is an open boat-shaped yeast pastry with a filling (see here), then the Volos version is closed a la calzone, baked and then filled with stuff to order (above). Quite interesting - not something you'd eat every day, but a perfect snack after promenading on the seaside.

If you're wondering how come I write about something so summery in the midst of January, then let me tell you. It's snowing so heavily outside at the moment, that I could hardly see where I was going when I returned from lunch an hour ago. I thought it's a perfect opportunity to blog about something so distant and different and out of my ordinary to bring some warmth and sunny memories to my day :)

Iasonos 135
Tel. 35557
Volos, Pelios

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Small Lebanese lamb 'pizzas' with pomegranate molasses and pomegranate seeds

Here's a recipe for some small lamb 'pizzas' that were on the table during yet another housewarming/welcome party back in December, alongside (though not necessarily simultaneously) with salmon & cream cheese canapés, grilled beetroot & suluguni cheese canapés (basically a non-rye bread no-goat cheese version of my contribution to the (in)famous Cheese Sandwich Day; Suluguni cheese was left over from hatchapuri), puff pastry sausage rolls with sesame seeds, small puff pastry & mushroom tartlettes, Molly's chocolate & nut blocks and raspberry marshmallows, among other things. These were really interesting - the pomegranate molasses adds a certain sweetness and depthness to the topping, and pomegranate seeds really make the dish sparkle. And believe me - cinnamon is the perfect pairing to the minced lamb..

The recipe is from one of the books by Sam & Sam Clark - the restaurateur couple I met in Edinburgh last March. It's a second dish from them on my blog in about a month or so - I also tried their chicpea salad with pomegranate seeds and saffron recently. Considering that I've bookmarked many other recipes, then the Clarks are probably going to make an appearance again soon:)

Small lamb 'pizzas' with pomegranate molasses & seeds
(Väikesed lambalihapirukad)
Adapted from Sam & Sam Clark's Casa Moro (p. 42, Flatbread with lamb, pine nuts & pomegranates)
Yields ca 40 small 'pizzas'

(On the top left corner you can see small salmon canapés that I first served on my birthday back in April; on the top right, small puff pastry sausage rolls with sesame seeds; at the centre at the far back, a bowl of wasabi peas)

The dough:
a batch of your favourite pizza dough or some other yeasted bread dough, using about 300 ml of liquid (I used half of the dough for my tiny mushroom pies)

The topping:
500 grams of lean lamb meat, ground
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
50 ml water
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

To garnish:
chopped fresh parsley
seeds from one large pomegranate

Prepare the yeast dough and let it rise according to your favourite recipe (or use half a batch of dough from here)

For the filling, grind the meat (I used the special food grinder attachment of the KitchenAid).
Heat the olive oil on a frying pan, add salt and onions and fry gently for about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic, fry for another 3-4 minutes, until transluscent.
Add the minced lamb and cinnamon to the frying pan, increase the heat a little, and fry, stirring regularly, until the meat is browned.
Season with salt and pepper, add the pomegranate molasses and water and simmer, until water has evaporated. Remove from the heat.

When you are ready to start baking, then roll the dough thinly (ca 4 mm) on a slightly floured worktop. Cut out small circles ca 5-6 cm in diametre (I used a smallish drinking glass for that). Place them on a parchment-paper covered baking sheet.
Place a scant spoonful of lamb filling on each dough disc, pressing down gently. Sprinkle with pine nuts.
Bake at 230C for 10 minutes or until they're cooked and golden on edges.
Transfer to a metal rack to cool, then sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and lots of chopped parsley to serve.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Cheap & quick entertaining: a curried parsnip soup

A cheap and quick starter wasn't intentional last night, it just kind of happened. We had four guests (well, five, if you also count my friends' 6-month old daughter Matilda) over for dinner on Saturday night, eating smoked salmon & dill tartlets for starters, beetroot & blue cheese risotto for main course & chocolate souffles for afters. These all required attention and some last-minute TLC. On Sunday we had some guests over again, but this time we couldn't afford any hectic last-minute running-around. We visited my parents in the afternoon, didn't get back until late and there was just an hour to prepare a dinner in the evening.

We needed something quick and preferably something that could be prepared ahead. K, the pastry chef of the house, made some panna cottas in the morning (plus the guests brought along a mascarpone & cherry cheesecake!). I quickly decided to make Rachel Allen's Moroccan Chicken Tajine as the main course, but couldn't really make up my mind about the starter. Until I remembered those three chunky parsnips that I had bought before (gasp!) Christmas but never got around to making anything with them.

A cheap & simple curried parsnip soup was the resulting starter. Quickly made in the late morning and simply re-heated for a few minutes later. The guests arrived in the midst of a minor snow blizzard, so this heart-warming soup was spot on.

If you cannot find parsnips, then try this dreamy carrot & orange soup instead.

Curried parsnip soup
Serves 6

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
3 medium parsnips, cut into smallish chunks
3 tsp mild to medium curry powder
1 litre hot vegetable stock (Marigold is fine)
100 ml single cream
freshly ground black pepper

To garnish:
fresh chopped parsley

Heat the oil, add chopped onion and garlic and fry gently for about 7-8 minutes, until the onion starts to soften. Add parsnip chunks, stir to coat with oil. Cover the saucepan and let the vegetables to sweat in their own steam for a few minutes.
Stir in the curry powder, add the vegetable bouillon and bring to the boil. Reduce heat, simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft.
Let the soup cool, then puree with a blender.
When you are ready to serve, add cream and re-heat gently.
Garnish with parsley.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Waiter, there's something in ... Anthony Bourdain's Boeuf Bourguignon

Making boeuf bourgoignon was one of my ten foodie resolutions for 2007. My dear Swedish friend Annika served a version of that French classic at a dinner party in Edinburgh early last year, and I decided then and there that I want to learn how to make it myself. So when Johanna, Jeanne and Andrew announced their new food blogging event, Waiter, there's something in my..., deciding that the first round is focusing on STEW, I knew this was the perfect moment to cross off one of the items on my to-do list.

And so I cooked a batch of boeuf bourgoignon, using a recipe from Anthony Bourdain himself. When searching through my cookbooks, food magazines and eGullet archives, I came across innumerable recipes, one more complicated than the other. Eventually I decided to go with a simple, and allegedly the authentic version of this über-French stew. That means no bacon and no mushrooms, though feel free to add those, if you're so inclined..

It's a pretty straightforward dish (unless you opt for Thomas Keller's version*, of course) - chop, fry, simmer, let cool, reheat and eat. Keep in mind that boeuf bourguignon, like many other stews, is considerably better on a day after, when the flavours have had ample time to mingle and develop. So if you want to serve this for appreciative guests, do some planning ahead and start the night before.

I didn't change much of the recipe, though I did simmer mine in the oven and almost doubled the amount of red wine. Please refer to the original recipe for the ingredients and process.

Anthony Bourdain's Boeuf Bourguignon, my wayAdapted from Washington Post 22 December 2004*
Serves 6

1 kg of beef shoulder or neck, cut into 4 cm pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 small onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp plain flour
500 ml red Burgundy wine
6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic
1 bouquet garni [a tied bundle of herbs, usually thyme, bay and parsley]

A little chopped flat-leaf parsley

Day One: cut the beef into chunks and season with salt and pepper.
On a heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat some oil on a high heat, then fry the meat in batches until dark golden brown all over. When browned, put into a casserole dish (see the picture on the right).
When you're done with the meat, then reduce the heat and fry the onions gently on the same pan until softened (about 10 minutes). Add them to the casserole, too.
Sprinkle the flour on the frying pan, stir to catch all the juicy meaty bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the red wine, stirring, and bring to the boil. Pour over the meat in the casserole dish.
Add the carrots, garlic and bouquet garni.
Pour enough water into the pot, so it covers the meat by few centimetres (you want about 3 parts liquid to 2 parts meat).
Cover, put into a 200C oven and simmer for about 2.5 hours. The meat should be more or less done by that time.
Take out of the oven, cool and and put the pot into a cool garage/larder/fridge overnight.

Day Two: about half an hour before you're ready to serve, put back into a 200C oven to reheat and finish cooking. The dish is ready when meat is really, really tender.

Before serving, remove the bouquet garni and discard. Add plenty of chopped parsley and serve with boiled potatoes.

The Chef suggests a bottle of Côte de Nuit Villages Pommard with this, but a more humble red would do, too.

PS: That's how break-apart-with-a-fork tender meat looks like:

* The same article "Boeuf Bourguignon, by Degrees" shares Boeuf Bourguignon recipes from Ina Garten (an American chef known for her Barefoot Contessa show at Food Network) and from Thomas Keller. Keller's recipe, as also printed in his book Bouchon, lists no less than 45 ingredients (thou some, like salt and pepper, occur more than once)!!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Copycat: Dagmar's spicy meatballs

I told you there's another copycat post on the way when writing about Alanna's wonderfully fragrant carrots with African spices. Well, Dagmar posted a recipe for spicy chicken meatballs in early January that caught my eye. It must have been the use of sumac in the meat mixture (apart from the tempting photo, that is). I've had a packet of sumac for the best part of the last year, and apart from sprinkling it on top of rice every now and then I haven't really used it. Now was my chance!

Sumac, for those of you who don't know, is the dried and crushed fruit of the sumac tree (Rhus coriaria L.) that grows wild in Sicily, Western Asia, and parts of Arabia and Central Asia. The dried fruit have a beautiful dark red colour, and taste slightly sweet and sour. Sumac is widely used in Turkish and Iranian cuisine, where it is used to season rice, meat dishes, döner kebabs, and salads. It's always added at the end of cooking process, as heating sumac dulls the flavour. In addition to being used as a seasoning, the red sumac flakes also make a beautiful garnish. It's also an essential ingredient in the za'tar spice mixture popular in Jordan. Think of it as dried lemon juice - you add just a generous squeeze (sorry, a sprinkle) to enliven the dish.

You can read more about sumac here (Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages).

Anyway - back to Dagmar's spicy meatballs. I've added some breadcrumbs to the mixture, as there's a man with a very big appetite in the house and this makes the meatballs go further without really compromising the taste. I've also enlarged the quantities a little to suit the local shopping habits (minced meat is sold in 500 gram packets). Dagmar used chicken mince, but as poultry mince is not really available here and chicken fillets are expensive (for mincing purposes), I used the more economical minced lean beef (first time) and minced beef & pork (when K. requested these again few days later). The recipe worked really well both times. The mixture of spices is wonderful - the warmth of coriander and cumin, the kick of Cayenne and the sharpness of sumac complement each other brilliantly.

When I made Estonian cabbage rolls the other day (seasonings: salt, pepper, a bit of dill), K. asked if I could spice them up a' la these meatballs:) Do try them, they're good!

Dagmar's spicy meatballs, my way
(Vürtsikad hakklihapallid)
Serves 4

500 grams mince (lean steak mince or a mixture of pork & beef)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 egg
5 Tbsp dried breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 tsp dried ground sumac
1 tsp cumin seeds, finely crushed
1 tsp coriander seeds, finely crushed
1 tsp ground Cayenne pepper
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

oil for frying

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Shape into 12 large 'sausages' or smaller patties (best done with slightly wet or oily hands to avoid sticking).
Shallow-fry in oil for 10 minutes, turning, until the meatballs are browned all over.
Serve with rice and feta-cucumber 'salad' (above) or with Alanna's wonderful carrots (below).

Monday, January 15, 2007

Work in progress: Tarte Tatin

No recipe, just a picture. Here's a Tarte Tatin I made in November during my apple-cake baking frenzy, using a recipe from Joanna Harris' book The French Kitchen. It was delicious, with wonderfully caramelised apples, and a melt-in-your-mouth crumbly shortcrust pastry. We finished it within 12 hours (the first few slices after dinner, the last crumbs for breakfast next morning). And that's just between two of us..

Yet K. insists the apple/crust ratio is wrong - he wants way more apples and a lot less pastry. Hence I'm looking for an even better recipe with more apples and less dough.

I'm thinking of trying Molly's good-looking one, especially as I've got a good bottle of Tokaji waiting to be consumed, and Molly claims it's a pairing made in heaven. However, I think I'd prefer one using shortcrust pastry instead of puff pastry.. Maybe I should attempt Clotilde's tarte tatin with salted butter caramel? What about this one from Epicurious using sour cream pastry?

Any other suggestions?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The final wedding report from 2006: Helen's & Duncan's affair with medieval flair

My regular readers know that I went to zillion, well, four weddings last year. At the beginning of 2006, I received no less than six wedding invites. As I'm not working in the City, but in academia, I couldn't possibly afford to attend all of them. However, I did manage to witness my Scottish friend Annemieke marry her Greek beau Georgios on Santorini in June. In July, I attended a lovely wedding in Stockholm, where my Swedish friend Annika said 'Yes' to her British fiance Ben. (And consequently missed my friends Eve & Risto's wedding in Tallinn at the same weekend). In August, I feasted, gluten-free, in Brussels to celebrate Helen & David's long-awaited marriage (note the unusual 'cheesy' wedding cake) , and in September danced away in Tallinn, at Helen & Duncan's wedding.

As the 2007 wedding season starts tonight with the wedding of my one of my best friends, Erika, then I better finish writing about the weddings from 2006 before I open the chapter of 2007 weddings.

In early September, my Edinburgh-based Estonian friend Helen & and her Scottish man-of-her dreams, Duncan, said 'Yes' to each other during a beautiful bi-lingual ceremony at Holy Ghost Church (Pühavaimu kirik) in Tallinn. We then descended along the Holy Ghost Street/Pühavaimu tänav to a champagne reception at The Scottish Club, a restaurant dedicated to all things Scottish. Quite appropriate, considering that the groom, the best man and half of the guests had flown in from Scotland!

After the reception, some of us popped for a quick coffee at the enchanted little café, Chocolats de Pierre - probably one of my favourite gems in Tallinn (I hope Doughboy agrees, as I dragged him there in late December:)

The wedding dinner & dance took place at the House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads, just weeks before the Queen of England dined there (you can read more about this medieval guild of unmarried merchants and ship owners here). As we had moved from a medieval church to a medieval courtyard to a medieval guild house, then it's not surprising that the catering was provided by one of the medieval restaurants in town. After all, Tallinn is very proud of its well-preserved medieval old town.

Here's what the menu looked like:

The Wedding Menu
The Brotherhood of the Black Heads

Cock-a-Leekie Soup (a traditional Scottish recipe)

Main Dish:
Oven roasted Norwegian Salmon fillet in the Bearnaise Sauce with favourite vegetable and rice casserole, fresh herbs - dainties of the honourable mayor of Rewal

Crispy pork fillet and mustard-green pepper reduction a la Grand Merchant Peppersack with favourite vegetable and fresh herb dainties of the honourable mayor Rewal

Selection of wholemeal bread and buns with Blackheads Brotherhood green cheese

Caledonian cream

Selection of fruits
Plateau de fromages
Coffee or tea

Celebration storied cake: cottage cheese cream, hazelnut and fresh fruits/with berry-Old Rewal reduction

Friday, January 12, 2007

Oops, I did it again: a sweet toffee apple cake with tart berries

There are at least three more apple cake recipes I want to share with you, which will bring the apple cake total on this blog to 6. Considering that I visit my parents every weekend and hardly ever manage to leave without yet another bag full of home-grown apples, I'll be baking apple cakes until ... well, until there's a new crop of apples next summer.

I might need to create a separate category for apple cakes on my blog recipe index:)

Anyway - here's another lovely apple cake. You can use shop-bought shortcrust pastry, or your favourite pate brisee recipe. The cake is filled with apples and cranberries and covered with a mixture of soft brown sugar, potato starch and butter, which melt into a delicious toffee-ish sauce. I've got a supply of cranberries in my freezer, picked by yours truly back in September alongside my latest mushroom gathering trip in September. If you haven't got any cranberries, then use lingonberries or just apples, although the tartness that the berries yield goes well with the toffee that miraculously appears on the cake.

Toffee apple cake with cranberries
(Karamelline õunakook jõhvikatega)
Serves 6

[In the oven, waiting to be baked. Click on the photo to enlarge.]

300 ml plain flour
100 grams cold butter
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp cold water

3-4 large apples, sliced
a handful or two of small cranberries
100 ml soft dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp potato starch/potato flour
50 grams butter

Mix flour, sugar and butter in a bowl, and cut into small crumbs using a knife. Add the water and quickly bring together into a ball. Press the dough onto the bottom and sides of a cake tin, and put into fridge or freezer while you prepare the filling.
Wash, peel (unless you use home-grown apples) and core the apples, then cut into thick slices.
Mix soft brown sugar with potato starch.
Take the prepared cake crust out of the oven, cover with apple slices and scatter cranberries on top.
Sprinkle the sugar mixture on top and finally lie small slices of butter onto the cake filling (it's the mixture of melted butter and soft brown sugar that results in a toffee-ish sauce on the cake, so be generous with both).
Bake at 200C for 25-30 minutes, until the cake is lovely golden brown on top.
Sprinkle with icing sugar (optional) and serve.

Other apple cakes @ Nami-nami:
Grated apple cheesecake
Canadian apple cake
Simple apple traybake

22.1.2007: Gracianne of Un dimance a la Campagne tried this cake and liked it.
05.2.2007: Dagmar of A Cat in the Kitchen liked it too:)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

This year I dare ... or my foodie resolutions for 2007

Ilva has done it. Again. Zarah Maria has done it. Anne has done it. So has Dagmar. And Sam.

Now it's my turn.

I'm not big on making new year's promises & resolutions, as I pretty much always fail to stick to them. I must have promised for the last 15 years to join a gym and go on a diet as soon as Christmas is over, but (irregular and occasional) weekly or fortnightly badminton session and some pilates classes are the most I can muster..

However, we're talking about my favourite pastime here - food. It must be so much easier to keep those promises, overcome those challenges and stick to the resolutions.

Here we go then..

1. I will try my hand at panna cotta. I've seen so many beautiful posts about this Italian pudding (see Ilva's panna cotta al caffe, Nicky's blueberry & buttermilk, Clotilde's strawberry ones for example) and I've been thinking of few interesting versions to make myself.

2. I will make a terrine/pâté or two, at least one using rabbit. (I know, cruel!) .

3. I will make gnocchi. I always ordered gnocchi at Italian restaurants in Edinburgh, as I loved them, was too lazy to make them myself, and the supermarket ones didn't really fit the bill. Time to make them myself!

4. I will make a rullepølse or the Danish cooked rolled pork belly. I've had a rullepolse press since 1993 - I got it as a gift from my host-brother Allan when leaving Denmark (he had made it at the crafts class at school). It had been lost in the depths of my parents' larder for way too many years. I rediscovered that Danish charcuterie item during my recent trip there, and then rummaged through my parents house until I found the wooden press. (Done in April 2007, but haven't yet blogged about it)

5. I will make osso bucco. I've seen some suitable cuts at my local supermarket, costing almost nothing. K. seems keen on the idea, too. (Done in June 2007)

6. I will make boeuf bourgoingnon. (Done in January 2007)

7. I will cook at least one new recipe from K's grandmother's and great-grandmother's handwritten cookbooks (written in 1934 and 1890, respectively) every fortnight.

8. I will eat more fish. And fruit & vegetables. And less, a lot less chocolate & pastries & cakes. (Cakes & pastries made of apples count, obviously, as fruit, as I do need my regular fix of various apple cakes).

9. The usual/typical foodblogger resolution for this year - I will try not to buy (too many) new cookbooks, as I've already got loads. Hey, K. had to buy a whole new bookshelf to accommodate my culinary-literary treasures (you can see it hidden behind the Christmas tree on the photo above)!

10. I will take steps to considerably improve my photography skills, focusing obviously on taking good food pictures. This will involve learning from the masters (you know who you are), acquiring a lightbox and possibly upgrading my camera..

That should do, don't you think?

Monday, January 08, 2007

A tasty salmon spread

A starter from a dinner party some 10 days ago. A smoked salmond spread/pâté that preceded a wonderful boeuf bourguignon and delicious risalamande. On the photo below you can see it being served alongside the first - and rather good - local Estonian blue cheese, Breti Blue, some rocket leaves and crostini.

Can be eaten standing up around the table (read: perfect for cocktail parties and such like).

Smoked salmon spread
Adapted from Rachel Allen's Rachel's Favourite Food for Friends (2005)
Serves 10

100 grams ('cold') smoked salmon
100 grams cream cheese
100 grams sour cream/creme fraiche
about a tablespoonful of lemon juice
couple of spoonfuls of finely chopped dill
freshly ground black pepper
Maldon sea salt

Chop the smoked salmon finely, mix with cream cheese and sour cream. Season with lemon juice, dill, salt & pepper.

Easy-peasy, I know.

UPDATE 14.1.2007: "Elust siin ja seal" also made this simple salmon spread and liked it!

Friday, January 05, 2007

A luxurious start to the New Year: Pädaste mõis

On New Year's Eve, K. and I went to my friends' place in Nõmme, Tallinn - just like a year ago. Back then we didn't know that our short aquaintance would lead to anything more than a friendship, but to my great (and hopefully his:) delight it has. A year on, I've moved back from Scotland and in with K., and I'm enjoying every moment of it.. Anyway, the New Year's Eve was a leisurely affair with some 15 friends or so, some good fingerfood and cakes and bubbly at midnight. We stayed the night with my parents who live nearby to save us an unnecessary trip across town in the middle of the night and back next morning. On the late morning of January 1st, we headed towards west.

As a New Year's treat, K. had booked us a suite at Pädaste Manor, a small luxurious resort on the island of Muhu. After a few hours (including a 45-minute ferry trip) we arrived at the premises, and checked into our room. [See the beautiful and inviting entrance - and the guardian Labrador dog, Prick, on the right]. We had a walk around the grounds of the estate, I treated myself to a one-hour spa treatment, and at 7pm we walked across the torch-lit courtyard to the restaurant at Meremaja or Seahouse. It's a small restaurant, seating just 18 persons, and specialising on new Estonian cuisine. It's extremely cosy, with its dark wooden decor, a huge flickering fire-place and understated romantic lighting. We ordered a glass of champagne (Ruinart) and studied the menu.

At this time of the year (i.e. during the low season), the Chef prepares a table d'hôte menu (click on the menu to enlarge), though special dining requirements can be adapted.

[Click on the image to enlarge & read the menu]

We opted for the three-course dinner, accompanied by a bottle of Barbera d'asti. My gazpacho was really delicious - with a distinct and pleasant spiciness, good texture and fresh taste. K seemed to enjoy his goat cheese salad. The Pädaste bread basket came with a choice of six different breads - two baked on premises and others made specially for them. All lovely.

The main course - a duck confit with roasted fennel, courgette and some potato rösti - was also delicious. The duck was local, i.e. bred & raised in Estonia, though not on the island. Dessert was nice, if a bit paler than the first two courses*. K had a cheese plate, like usual, and he wasn't overjoiced by it. My kama mousse was nice, but a bit 'homely' - not something you expect at a fancy restaurant. The plate of petit fours that came with a coffee was a positive surprise, however, containing various chocolate truffles, nougat, cookies and some fresh berries.

We returned to our suite happy and content. The breakfast on the following morning provided a lovely end to our stay. First there was a good choice of teas, a shiny samovar, ice-cold Spanish cava, a selection of hand-made jams & marmalades, local honey:

There was also a selection of cut cheese and charcuterie, eggs, sausages, yogurt, milk curd cream etc. Quite decadent:)

Overall - a lovely place and highly recommended. Definitely worth the trip across the sea, and I'm looking forward to going back during summer. The place must be even lovelier during the long, white summer nights, when you can dip into the sea after the meal...

* I'm not sure why, but this has been the case in all three fine restaurants we've dined during the last few months (i.e. Pädaste, Vertigo & Le Bonaparte - I'm yet to write about my meals at the last two). The starters and mains have been excellent, desserts somewhat a let-down. The delicious desserts at Stenhus - another wonderful restaurant - were an exception rather than rule..

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Takeaway Scottish porridge

If you're one of those persons that starts each new year with new and promising resolutions of eating more healthily, exercising more etc, then we're in the same boat. I haven't even thought of my list for 2007 yet, but one of the items on that list should be 'eating more porridge'. Firstly, a proper porridge is one of the healthiest breakfasts you can think of. It's warming properties make it especially suitable for chilly winter mornings. It's a real fast food, usually not taking more than five minutes to make. It's also really-really cheap, even if packed into fancy portion-sized sachets. It can be really tasty (I'm particularly partial to a local four-cereal porridge containing full corn rye, oats, wheat and barley), especially if served with a dollop of home-made jam.

Despite of this, I still grab a pot of yogurt or make a sandwich more often that I'd like to...

But let me tell you, I'd eat even more porridge, if there'd be Stoats Porridge Bar near me. These canny mobile porridge bars were found in early 2005 by couple of Scottish guys. They were rather conveniently located at the Meadows in Edinburgh, which is close to university. They also have a stand (sorry, a mobile porridge bar) at the Edinburgh Farmers Market on Saturday mornings as you can see from the picture below.

Basically, these guys have sexed up the humble porridge. They use the best type of organic oatmeal, and turn it into creamy and silky porridge. As if this isn't good enough on its own, they serve the porridge with fantastic optional extras. The menu reads like a cake selection in a fancy cafe: white chocolate & roasted hazelnuts; whisky & honey; chunky orange marmalade, etc. My favourite was Cranachan porridge:

Cranachan is a Scottish pudding I've mentioned before (here). For this porridge, creamy organic oatmeal was mixed with some cream, whisky toasted oats (they even use my favourite whisky from Jon, Mark and Robbo Easy Drinking Whisky) and topped with fresh raspberries.

As good as it gets.

I'm off to make my new year's resolutions list...