Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Delicious Beetroot Pesto Recipe

If there's somebody who is into beetroot as much as I am, then it's Alanna of A Veggie Venture blog. Alanna has got an impressive 41 beetroot posts on her blog already, which is way more than I've got (11 at the last count). But then, you see, Alanna has been blogging for 2,5 months more than I have, so I've still got time to catch up :) Another fellow beetroot admirer is Bea of La Tartine Gourmande, who's also got 11 beetroot recipes on her blog. If there was a Beetroot Appreciation Society, then we three should be honorary members from the beginning. (If you'd like to join, then give us a shout - we'll consider everybody's beetroot credentials!)

Last month Alanna posted a recipe for beetroot pesto that I adapted for last week's movie night. I had lots of leftover odd beetroot pieces after making those cute beetroot and blue cheese mini tartlets, so this recipe was brilliant. It was a tasty and gutsy and hearty vegetable dip that was very well received, especially by my dear friend Kadri, so this post is dedicated for her :)

And thank you, Alanna, for another keeper beetroot recipe!!

Beetroot Pesto
Makes about 1,5 cups

(Photo updated in September 2008)

500 grams roasted beetroot , peeled
2 fat garlic cloves, peeled
a small bunch of fresh coriander/cilantro
50 grams pinenuts, toasted
1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
grated parmesan cheese, optional
sea salt

Grind beetroot, garlic, toasted pinenuts and coriander in a food processor (I used my Kitchen Aid's food grinder) until you've got a coarse puree. Add some olive oil for a smoother texture, and grated parmesan cheese, if you wish. Season with salt and vinegar.

Use as a side salad (middle photo), spread of toasted rye bread (below) or stir into cooked pasta (above photo). Although I liked all the uses, the pasta sauce was my favourite - it coloured the pasta instantly into a beautiful shade of beetroot purple, and certainly brightened up simple boiled farfalle that night.

Keeps well for a few days in the fridge, covered.

A year ago I made Johanna's wonderful cantucci with almonds, ginger and pink peppercorns. I think it's about time I made them again :)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Strawberry Mirror Cake

If my first task as a Daring Baker was to make Jewish Purist's Bagels, then my second task was to make a Strawberry Mirror Cake. The cake was chosen by Peabody, and you can find the recipe (which is rather lengthy!!!) here on her blog. I had never seen or heard of a strawberry mirror cake before, but apparently it's a classic fancy cake. It's also on the menu of Ritz Carlton Hotel in Bahrain, if you cannot be bothered to make one yourself :)

Well, the point of being a Daring Baker is to bother to make a cake even if the recipe seems a bit daunting. With 4 full pages of instructions, a frightening Bavarian cream and lots of gelatine, this recipe definitely scared me a bit. Yet I made it, and despite of some cursing and swearing in my kitchen (not a frequent sight, believe me), I ended up with a huge multi-layered strawberry mirror cake. Our friends Kristiina, Gretel, Peter and Kristel came to judge the cake (thank you for your help!!!), and everyone seemed to like it. K. thought it looked really professional, with nice and neat layers. I must admit I was a bit disappointed, as I expected the cake to have a much more pronounced strawberry flavour than it did. After all, I had used the last of seasons strawberries for this cake, and wanted it to be a true homage to those wonderful summer fruit.. I really liked the sponge, however, which had a delicious flavour and good firm texture - possibly because we used eggs from these really happy chicken again.

Anyway, here are some pictures. I'm not giving you full instructions below - you'll find them over at Peabody's blog - but I'll give you the metric measurements with my minor adaptations.

Strawberry Mirror Cake
Adapted from Cakes and Pastries at the Academy (California Culinary Academy, 1993)

The biscuit sponge
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
175 grams sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2 Tbsp sugar
100 grams sifted cake flour
125 ml water
75 grams sugar
2 Tbsp Kirsch or strawberry liqueur

Strawberry Bavarian Cream
2 ½ Tbsp unflavored gelatin* (I used 6 gelatine leafs instead)330 grams strawberries, pureed and strained
5 egg yolks
150 grams sugar
250 ml milk
1 Tbsp lemon juice
several drops of red food coloring (I didn't use any)
400 ml whipping cream

Strawberry Mirror
1 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp kirsch (I didn't use any)
1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp unflavored gelatin (I used 6 gelatine leafs instead)
Few drops of red food coloring (I didn't use any)

Strawberry Juice
500 grams strawberries
175 grams sugar
200 ml water

I baked the sponge at 200 Celsius (instead of the recommended 230 C, which seemed a bit high for me).

Garnish with whipped cream and strawberries:

*I had struggled with powdered gelatine way too much while making the mirror (I even had to dish one portion of the mirror mixture), then I used my tried and trusted leaf gelatine instead! If you read instructions on Peabody's blog, you're supposed to sprinkle gelatine over strawberry puree and simply let it expand there. This didn't work for me at all, so I did the 'usual' thing of soaking gelatine leaves in cold water, squeezing them dry and then mixing with some hot strawberry juice..

Overall I'd say that although it was fun taking part and I was rather pleased with the result, I can think of quite a few cakes that taste at least as good, if not better, are much less of an hassle to make, and don't require to use a whopping 11 eggs!!! I might consider making it again if K. really-really-really requests it. On the other hand, he's quite a skilled pastry chef, so he can just make his own strawberry mirror cake if he feels like :-)

Thank you, Peabody, for this challenge! You can see a list of other Daring Bakers here, with links to their Strawberry Mirror Cakes.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Zucchini Carpaccio, two versions

Last night a group of friends came over for some food and watch a great film. We were 13 in total (plus 5-month old twins and a 7-month old girl), and I wanted to food to be light and summery. I served them Johanna's wasabi and caviar potatoes, a version of Alanna's beetroot pesto, my small beetroot & blue cheese tartlets, and blue cheese and raisin Danish pastry rolls, and two versions of zucchini carpaccio. As for sweets, I had made a version of Dagmar's mocca pavlovas, and K. made a large batch of his brilliant canelés. We also had five types of frozen desserts: Vietnamese coffee ice cream, Gooseberry sorbet, Coconut sorbet, Blackcurrant sorbet and Watermelon sorbet. All home-made :)

I'll share the frozen dessert recipes soon, as well as wax lyrical about Alanna's beetroot pesto (I simply cannot have two beetroot posts in a row, can I?) and Dagmar's choco-coffee pavlovas. Here are my versions of zucchini carpaccio. Although the zucchini carpaccio recipe de jour - according to Kalyn - is Clotilde's version with crumbled goat cheese and poppy seeds or Courgette au Coquelicot en Carpaccio, I relied on a recipe from Food Network. I had two medium sized zucchinis, one green, one yellow, and both pretty gorgeous. I went Mediterranean with the green zucchini, and slightly Arabic with the yellow one and liked them both equally (using sumac instead of lemon for the required sharp element). Which one would you prefer?

Green Zucchini Carpaccio with Rocket

1 medium-sized green zucchini
Maldon sea salt
black pepper, coarsely ground
extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice
parmesan shavings
rocket leaves, torn into pieces

Slice zucchini into very thin rounds either with a sharp knife or mandoline (the latter is much easier). Overlap the zucchini disks in one layer, season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Garnish with parmesan shavings and rocket.
Serve immediately.

Yellow Zucchini Carpaccio with Sumac & Mint

1 medium yellow zucchini
Maldon sea salt
black pepper, coarsely ground
extra virgin olive oil
fresh mint leaves
Parmesan shavings

Slice zucchini into very thin rounds either with a sharp knife or mandoline (the latter is much easier). Overlap the zucchini disks in one layer, season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sumac, garnish with parmesan shavings and fresh mint leaves.
Serve immediately.

A year ago I wrote about forageing for honey-coloured cloudberries. Two years ago I reviewed reviewed Alexandra Antonioni's book "Eat Me: Love, Sex and the Art of Eating" and was amazed to see that the author herself popped by to leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Small beetroot & blue cheese tartlets

Me and my never-ending supply of beetroot recipes, eh? Here's an incredibly simple recipe that I made on Monday night, when a computer guy came to fix some issues with our wireless rooter. These were perfect, as he could munch on those while fiddling with the router - they're just a mouthful or two each, you see. I'll be making them again for a movie night with girls on Thursday..

It's best to use those oblong red beets for this recipe, as they slice into even and beautiful thin slices. To bring out the natural earthy sweetness of beetroots, wrap them in foil and roast them rather than boil them. Assembling and baking the tartlets takes just under half an hour, as long as you remember to roast the beets in advance.

I'm using one of my favourite blue cheeses here, Finnish Valio Aura, which is a strong-flavoured blue-veined cow's milk cheese that has been aged for 6 months.

Beetroot & blue cheese tartlets
(Väikesed peedi-sinihallitusjuustu pirukad)
Yields about 20 small tartlets

300 grams ready-made yeasted puff pastry (i.e. Danish pastry)
1 to 2 medium red beets, oblong type
100 grams Valio Aura or other strong-flavoured blue cheese
fresh thyme
egg, for brushing

Wash the beets and wrap in foil. Roast in a pre-heated 200 C oven for about an hour, checking for doneness by piercing a beetroot with a small knife. Cool, unwrap and peel (using your fingers, not a knife). Slice thinly.
Roll the Danish pastry into a rectangle, leaving it about 4-5 mm thick. Cut into small 5 cm/2 inch squares, then press a light circle inside the square (do not press too hard; I used a small shot glass - see photo here).
Place a thin beetroot slice inside each circle, top with a chunk of blue cheese and garnish with thyme leaves. Brush pastry edges with whisked egg.
Place the tartlets on a lined baking sheet and bake in a pre-heated 200-210 C oven for about 10-15 minutes, until the pastry has risen and turned golden brown.
Cool and serve.

A year ago I wrote about smoked salmon & spinach quiche that was inspired by my date with K. in Paris earlier last year. Two years ago I mused about the green vegetables I bought at Edinburgh Farmers Market - rather appropriately, as K. and I picked up a lot of wonderful fruit, berries and vegetables at Tallinn Central Market today.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Estonian egg & smoked ham sauce (Muna-pekikaste)

UPDATE 10.8.2007 - you can read Andrew's saucy sauce round-up here.

For the seventh (already??) installment of Waiter, there is something in my ... foodblogging event, Andrew has chosen SAUCE as the theme. And there's a catch, you see. Andrew wrote:

"A wide open theme I hope you agree. Plenty of room for experimentation, family favourites and the tried and tested. You can use fruit. You can use meat. You can serve it over meringue or pasta or even splash it over a chunk of juicy steak. They can be tart and fruity or mellow and creamy. It can be ethnically Estonian or lip-smackingly Kiwi; 'Sauces' - versatile and delicious. What can you come up with?"

You see, he has specifically mentioned that the sauce can be ethnically Estonian. How could I be expected to make anything else then? I mean, coming up with a delicious Caribbean rum sauce or a classic French velouté would be bound to disappoint Andrew, don't you think? I therefore present you with a truly 'ethnically Estonian sauce' - munakaste. Munakaste translates egg sauce, it reminds me of very smooth and fluffy scrambled eggs. It is usually served with boiled new potatoes and rye bread. Although I remember eating it a lot as a kid, there has been a certain absence of it from my kitchen for the last few (oh well, maybe even ten?) years. And suddenly, out of the blue, I had started developing cravings for this eggy sauce. In mid-June I had some delicious munakaste at my high-school reunion weekend away (15 years!?), and when I saw Andrew's WTISIM call, I knew this is gonna be my entry.

Easier said than done. I couldn't find a suitable recipe for Estonian egg sauce it in any of my cookbooks - and there's many of them! I guess a sauce consisting off eggs and smoked greasy bacon isn't trendy at the moment, and it clashes with some healthy eating guidelines (one recipe for munakaste stated that 'obviously modern women use oil as a basis of the sauce and not smoked fatty ham', which totally misses the point, as it's the smoked ham that gives a wonderful flavour to the sauce). Eventually I called my maternal grandma Senta, who at the respectable age of 86 is a living proof that a diet consisting of frequent munakaste cannot be too bad for you (at least when combined with hard farm labour). This is her version, and mine from now on.

And I hope it's ethnically Estonian enough for Andrew :-)

My grandma Senta's egg & smoked ham sauce
Serves 2

1 heaped Tbsp plain flour
2 large eggs
300 ml milk
a pinch of salt
200 grams smoked & salted ham (see here), cut into small cubes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
chopped scallions/green onions

In a small bowl, whisk eggs and flour into a paste. Then add milk, little by little, whisking all the time. Season with salt.
Heat a frying pan or a small non-stick saucepan on a medium-high heat and add the cubed ham. Fry, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes, until the ham starts to brown and release plenty of grease. Now reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and saute them with ham cubes for about 5 minutes.
Now pour the egg and milk mixture into the saucepan and start stirring the sauce with a wooden spoon, waiting for the sauce to thicken - this could take up to five minutes. It's important to stir all the time, or you'll end up with scrambled eggs, which isn't the same thing at all!
When ready to serve, sprinkle with chopped green onions.
And serve with boiled new potatoes and rye bread, as I said above.

Here are links to my previous Waiter there is something in my ... entries:
June 2007 (DUMPLINGS): Vareniki dumplings with curd cheese filling, served with home-made apricot jam & pistachios.
May 2007 (STUFFED VEGETABLES): Stuffed tomatoes with two types of salad - cod liver salad & cucumber and wild garlic salad.
April 2007 (BREAD): a traditional Estonian quick mushroom bread, Seenekarask.
March 2007 (EASTER BASKET): a selection of various Easter delights.
February 2007 (PIE): a great Russian puff pastry and fish pie, Salmon Kulebyaka.
January 2007 (STEW): my version (in collaboration with Anthony Bourdain:) of the French classic Boeuf Bourguignon.

Two years ago I wrote about an essential Scottish dessert - Cranachan. Considering that raspberries are in season at the moment in many parts of the world, then this recipe is definitely worth checking out! And who wouldn't like a combination of raspberries, cream and whisky? There's even a delicious porridge version of Cranachan.

Monday, July 23, 2007

SHF # 33: Tropical Paradise and my Caribbean Banana Cake

Mary of Alpineberry is hosting the 33rd round of Sugar High Friday and she has chosen Tropical Paradise as the theme. And voila - I've got a delicious cake recipe I made earlier this year that I've wanted to blog about. I haven't been to the tropics myself (yet), so I don't have a first hand knowledge about the true nature of the tropical paradise, or what would the typical dishes be. But bananas are definitely tropical, and the Finnish recipe I used as a basis for my cake was called Caribbean Banana Cake, so that will have to do.

We loved it. The mixture is not so different from my moist rhubarb muffins, so I bet this recipe would work well as Caribbean banana & ginger muffins, too :)

Caribbean Banana & Ginger Cake
(Kariibi banaanikook)
Adapted from Pirkka 5/2004
Serves 12

3 over-ripe bananas
2 Tbsp lemon juice
200 grams sour cream or yogurt
300 ml sugar
3 eggs
400 ml plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp Buderim candied ginger nibbles (optional)

Peel bananas and mash bananas with a fork, sprinkle with lemon juice and put aside.
Whisk eggs with sugar until pale and frothy.
Stir in sour cream.
Mix dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger) and fold into the egg mixture together with the banana mush. Stir in candied ginger.
Pour the mixture into a prepared 1.8 litre bundt form and bake at 175 C for about an hour. Test for doneness with a toothpick - it should come out clean and dry.
Cake the tin out of the oven, let it cool for 5-10 minutes, then turn out the cake and cool it completely on a metal rack.
To serve, cut into slices.

Here's a close-up of a slice, where you can see tiny fierce candied ginger pieces:

UPDATE 3.8.2007: Click here for Alpineberry's round-up.

My previous SHF contributions:
# 15 Sugar LOW Friday: Parsnip & Ginger Cake (January 2006)
# 19 Ginger: Chocolate & Ginger Tartlets (May 2006)
# 22 Can You Can? Fake Cloudberry Jam (or gooseberry & carrot jam, if you prefer)(August 2006)
# 24 Little bites of delight: Pierre Herme's chocolate dipped mint leaves, candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate, chocolate disks infused with chilli syrup and covered with candied red chillies, cranberry and almond macarons (October 2006)
# 25 Truffles: Dark Chocolate & Matcha Truffles (November 2006)

Two years ago I shared a recipe for salmon with a creamy orange and rosemary sauce - a delicious dish, but the post is definitely in need of a new and proper photo!!!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Two years of KAMA promotion, and a new delicious kama dessert recipe

This Sunday is the second 'anniversary' of my kama post, the Estonian ingredient with a difference. Kama is an mixture of various roasted and ground grains & pulses - usually peas, barley, rye and wheat - that is traditionally mixed with sour or curdled milk or kefir or such like. Since that original posting I've been asked by various readers of Nami-nami to send them a packet or two, and I've happily obliged. Many of these recipients have had an Estonian connection, which explains their interest in kama. There's Anne, whose father is Estonian (she wrote about the kama delivery here and my kama & mascarpone truffles here). (And Clivia, whose boyfriend has Estonian roots, bought a bag of kama on her trip to Estonia last summer). Then there was an American-Estonian reader in Palo Alto, CA, who asked for no less than 4 packets of kama. This was followed by a daughter of an Australian-Estonian lady in Queensland, who asked for a packet on behalf of her elderly mum, who had suddenly got nostalgic cravings for kama with fermented milk. Another American-Estonian was missing kama and enquired about it on my blog. And just this month a comment was left by two Dutch girls, Elze & Ike, who had tried kama in Estonia few years ago and were keen to try it again (so much, that they'd really like me to send two, and not just one, packet of this grain mixture).. But it's not just expat Estonians or previous visitors who have been emailing me and asking me about kama. Last year one of the eGullet readers, Eden, asked me to send her a packet of kama and a bar of kama chocolate (and she sent me some amazing chocolates in return - I still long for those Smoked Salt Caramels by Fran's Chocolates!!) I think I could earn a nice little extra income if I'd open an official kama export business :)

Every single visitor from abroad has been served kama in one form or another in our house, and they've always asked for second helpings, so there's something in this very humble-sounding dessert after all. And it's not just domestic kitchens which are facing a kama revival. After years of suffering from the image of 'too humble to be served outside domestic kitchens', it's now making an appearance in many of the fancy restaurant menus (for example Pädaste Manor House on Muhu island, Egoist in Tallinn), as well as festive menus served to foreign dignitaries (George Bush, for example, was served a dessert of Kama and cream cheese cake with pumpkin marmalade last November). The Independence Day reception hosted by the president on 24th of February 2007 featured a dessert of sour cream & kama mousse with lingonberry jam and cornflower blossoms.

I thought it'd be nice to mark the 2-year 'anniversary' of my first kama posting by giving you a simple recipe for another delicious kama dessert.

Kama mousse with season's berries
(Kamavaht marjadega)
Serves 4

400 ml whipping cream
3 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp kama mixture
fresh fruit or berries, chopped if necessary

Whip the cream and sugar until soft peaks form, then fold in kama mixture. Finally, layer in glasses or dessert bowls with season's fruit or berries. On the top photo, the kama mousse is layered with sweetened strawberry puree. On the second photo the mousse is mixed with wild blueberries/bilberries.

And if you're lucky enough to have some of this kama mixture, then you can also try my recipe for kama & mascarpone 'truffles'.

Wish you all a lovely weekend! And of course, if you fancy trying some kama yourself, then leave me a comment stating so. I'll see what I can do :)

UPDATE 30.7.2007: You can see another beautiful photo of kama mousse here - Maarja has made a fabulous version with blueberries and raspberries.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The King of Spain and the President of Estonia do dinner

The President of Estonia went on a state visit to Spain earlier this month, where he discussed the establishment of a cyber centre in Tallinn, energy policies and the the strength of Europe. And of course, ate a lot and well. Below is the menu served at the official dinner hosted by the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, and Queen Sophia.

Let me just tell you that I've only got hold of the menu thanks to my 'best contact in Spain', Ximena. She had to mobilise her extended Spanish family and engage in 'espionage worthy of cold war days' in the process!

But here's the menu, for your perusal. Enjoy! Sounds pretty good, don't you think?

Photo by Erik Peinar, courtesy of the Office of the President.

Official dinner at Palacio de Real Madrid on July 9, 2007

Cold melon and raisin cream soup

Confit of sea bass with dill and summer vegetables

Poularde chicken, roasted with thyme and roast potatoes

Cold chocolate soufflé with caramel threads


Old Sherry

Martín Codax 2006

Grans Muralles 2000

Cava Freixenet

Here's the menu in Spanish for those of you preferring to read the menu in original:

Cena de honor que ofrecen Sus Majestades los Reyes al Presidente de la República de Estonia y Sra. de Ilves

Crema fría de melón y uvas pasas

Lubina confitada al eneldo con verduras de temporada

Pularda asada al tomillo con patatas al horno

Soufflé frío de chocolate con hilos de caramelo

Fino de Jerez en crianza

Martín Códax. 2006

Grans Muralles. Cosecha 2000

Freixenet. Gran reserva

Palacio Real, 9 Julio 2007

PS Curious to know what the Queen of England or the Emperor of Japan and other foreign dignitaries were served on their official visits to Estonia? Click on the Festive Menus label on the right hand side to find out.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Guess what we just had for dinner: Ximena's sausages in a balsamic glaze

Some real-time foodblogging here: we have literally just finished eating those sticky, glossy, fat wild boar sausages for dinner. They were lip-smackingly good. Very, very, very highly recommended..

Sausages (pork, wild boar, turkey, beef - it's your call) and balsamic vinegar - that's all there is to it. You'll find Ximena's auntie Begoña's recipe here.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Food gifts from all over the world, summer 2007

Being a foodblogger is a great. Not only do you learn to cook better yourself, you also meet wonderful people from all around the world, and you get given food gifts from all over the world, too. First there's European Blogging By Mail, which has brought me wonderful gifts from Johanna, Shalimar and Meeta. Then there were all those unexpected delightful gifts from Dagmar and Stevi and Eden last summer. And during the last few months I've received other numerous gifts.

To start with, there were those cans of sweet piquillo peppers from Ximena (who, obviously, is the author of that gorgeous postcard as well):

The peppers were wonderful. I didn't even try Ximena's recipe for slowly cooked piquillos, as I liked them so much just on a slice of bread..

Then there are all those gifts from Johanna. I received a much-wanted book, Kaffehaus by Rick Rodgers, some Belgian hot chocolate, fancy coffee spoons and some spices from her in return for writing a Culinary City Snapshot on Tallinn for her. (A rather good exchange, if I may say so. PS Johanna - if you ever need me to write another piece, just give me a shout! :)

I've since received another parcel from Johanna, containing an issue of Delicious magazine, some hand-picked, organic Hungarian paprika (both hot & mild), and some more exotic spices. She had very kindly even included a bag of cheeky peppers de padron, which we had enjoyed so much while in London.

Oh, and of course some Austrian chocolate, which sadly didn't make it to the photo session. Khmm..

AND - not to forget that unforgettable jar of home-made fig jam Johanna gave us in London(picture here).

When in Edinburgh in June, I met Melissa of the Traveler's Lunchbox again, to catch up on the recent gossip from my hometown of the previous seven years. I gave Melissa some suluguni cheese, so she could try my hachapuri recipe and judge how it compares with her previous version (favourably, apparently:). In return, I became a lucky owner of some Hawaiian pink salt (alaea salt), some luscious vanilla beans, and a small jar of ras-el-hanout she had picked up in Morocco recently:

I had a chance to catch with Keiko of Nordljus fame (what's not to like about her dreamy photography!?) and her husband during my trip to London in April. We met in Cambridge on a Sunday afternoon, chatted over a cup of coffee and a large piece of chocolate cake, and she gave me two types of Japanese tea to try:

My sweet Japanese friend from Edinburg, Ryoko, sent me a Japanese care packet, containing some matcha powder (which, you may have noted, I've put to a very good use over the last few months); some dashi powder, ume-cha tea, including English explanations as well:

Last but not least, my friend Liis picked up not one, not two, but three food magazines for me during her recent trip to the US - a copy of fresh (fine cooking), a copy of Australian edition of delicious. and GardenGate's special issue backyard retreat to help me design our 2000 m2 garden. Similarly, my former colleague and now friend Hille brought me a 1977 copy of Carolina Cooking , published by Charleston Post Card Co. Inc., from her roadtrip from Miami to New York earlier this year.

These all should keep me busy & cooking for a while (and I'll be referring back to this post as I work my way through all those gifts and reads).

Thank you, everyone, for making my cooking so much more enjoyable and exciting!!!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Beetroot & Potato Pie

UPDATE 22.8.2007
One of my Estonian readers tried this pie and really liked it. You can see her photo here.


I posted the above teaser picture yesterday and asked you to guess what it was. Well, I'm sorry to tell that none of the seven readers who left their guess in the comments got it right. It's not a cherry pie, nor raspberry pie and it's definitely not a rhubarb pie (we don't really eat rhubarb after St John's night over here). And there's no meringue involved either.

It wasn't even a sweet pie, but a savoury one. But even if I had told you that, I doubt that you had guessed the ingredients - it's a beetroot & potato pie :)

And what a brilliant pie it was. Apart from being tasty (though you do need to like beetroot to like a beetroot pie, of course), it also looked beautiful, and my whole extended family wholeheartedly approved. The recipe is very slightly adapted from the Finnish Herkkutori site and the recipe below will yield 6 generous slices. If you don't feel like making a pie, yet want something with lovely beets and new potatoes, then check out Alanna's recipe for Scalloped Potatoes with Beetroots.

Beetroot & Potato Pie
(Uhke peedipirukas)

For the pastry*:
50 grams soft butter, at room temperature
250 grams plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
100 ml milk

4 small beets
4 medium potatoes
3 eggs
150 ml sour cream or creme fraiche
150 ml milk
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

For brushing:
a small egg

First, prepare the pastry. Mix flour with baking powder and knead it into the soft butter, adding milk bit by bit (you may need a spoonful more or less, so don't rush). Press the pastry into a ball, wrap in plastic and put into the fridge for 30 minutes.

For the filling, boil beets and potatoes (separately) until almost done (for small beets, this would probably mean about 20-25 minutes). Drain and cool and peel. (You can obviously also use left-over boiled beets and potatoes). Cut into thin slices (about 3-4 mm thick).

Mix eggs, sour cream and milk in a bowl, season with salt and pepper. Put aside.

Divide the pastry into two pieces (about 1/3 and 2/3). Roll the larger piece of pastry into a thin disc to cover the bottom and sides of a 25 cm high springform non-stick pie dish. Press firmly onto the sides.

Now layer the potatoes and beets into the pastry shell, pour over the egg and cream mixture.

Roll the smaller pastry piece into a disc large enough to cover the pie, place over the filling and press edges firmly together.

Brush with an egg, pierce couple of holes into the lid and place into the lower shelf of a pre-heated 190-200 C oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the pie is lovely golden brown.

Let it cool a little, then remove the springform dish.

Serve with a herby yogurt or sour cream sauce. The pie is excellent when still warm, but can also be taken along to a picnic on the following day, as it doesn't loose any of the flavour when cold (and if you compare the second and third photo, then you can see that the beetroot 'leaks' into the potato layers overnight).

* I reckon you could also use the pastry I used for making hortapita or the Greek pie with wild greens to make this beetroot & potato pie.

Two years ago I posted a recipe for Paul Hollywood's mint and halloumi bread. Although I think Mr Hollywood got some of the quantities wrong (20 grams of dried mint is A LOT!!!), the bread itself is fabulous and definitely worth trying.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On growing zucchini and eating zucchini blossoms: a zucchini blossom frittata & zucchini blossom fritters

Our little 'garden' (alias numerous terracota pots just outside the back door) is doing well. We've picked our first strawberries, are keeping an eye on the growing tomatoes, and hope to harvest some baby beetroots soon. But most successful has been the zucchini container (or 'courgette container', as it would be known in the UK). I've got three yellow zucchini plants in one large container, and they obviously seem to thrive there. I've already harvested one good-sized zucchini (click here or see the photo on the right), and we've been eating quite a lot of zucchini blossoms. Whereas I've always known that young zucchinis are wonderful, then zucchini blossoms have been a new discovery for me. And what a delightful discovery they've been - they've got a delicate zucchini flavour, beautiful shape and unusual texture. We've only harvested male blossoms, as we want to harvest as many zucchinis as possible from our 'garden'.

Kalyn recently praised zucchini blossoms in her BlogHer post. Here's what I've been doing with them, over and over again.. (And if you've got a favourite way with zucchini blossoms, then please let me know. There are loads and loads of blossoms still to harvest!)

Zucchini Blossom Fritters
(Frititud suvikõrvitsaõied)

I made sure that all my zucchini blossoms were clean and dry, then dipped them into a batter made of approximately 1 part plain flour and 1 part water (aiming for the consistency of not-too-thick sour cream). After dipping them in batter, I deep-fried the zucchini blossoms in olive oil that I had heated in a small sauce-pan (about 1 inch/2-3 cm of oil), turning them once. Once the zucchini blossoms were golden brown, I drained them on kitchen paper, sprinkled with some Maldon sea salt flakes, and enjoyed them straight away.

Zucchini Blossom Frittata

Again, make sure your zucchini blossoms are clean.
Whisk some eggs (say, 2 per person) in a small bowl, add a dash of water, whisk again and season with salt and pepper.
Heat some olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat, add zucchini blossoms and fry gently for about 30 seconds. Pour over the egg mixture, reduce heat to low, and let it set for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir couple of times, sprinkle some chopped green onions and spring onions/scallions on top, top with a spoonful or two of grated soft cheese (mozzarella, feta, soft goat cheese or Cheddar - all would work).
Cover the frying pan with a lid and let the frittata set over a low heat. Alternatively, give it a few minutes under a hot grill.
Garnish with fresh herbs and serve with home-made rye bread. Oh, and the frittata gets its gorgeous yellow shade from using eggs from these very happy chicken. But usual free-range supermarket eggs will do as well :)

WHB: This is also my entry to the Weekend Herb Blogging, this time hosted by Susan of Food Blogga. You can read Susan's roundup here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Yellow chantarelle mushrooms, two ways of preparing them

Some of you may have noticed the above 'teaser photo' on my blog few days ago. Well, these tiny chantarelle mushrooms are not picked by myself. We tried, believe me. After spotting chantarelle mushrooms from Southern Estonia at Tallinn Central Market on St John's eve, we headed straight to the forest. Yet all we got was a lone porcini and a kilogram of wild strawberries (I'm not complaining, don't get me wrong:) We tried again last weekend, yet had to settle for some russula mushrooms, some wild blueberries and forest raspberries and then overcome our sadness by playing with small chicks. We did pick enough lime blossoms to comfort us through the winter, and spotted our first native orchid species, so it was quite a productive weekend after all.

Estonia is a funny place in that sense. It's small and compact (45 000 sq km), yet has such variations in climate. And mushroom seasons.. Southerners have been forageing for yellow chantarelles for weeks now, northerners like K. and I must settle for shopping at the market as for now.. We'll try again in a week or two..

Should the chantarelle season be there whereever you are, I share some of my favourite ways with those tantalising yellow mushrooms.

My very favourite way with yellow chantarelles is to fry them in some oil or butter, sprinkle with herbs and season with a pinch of salt. These are perfect for topping a slice of buttered home-baked rye bread (above), or as an accompaniment to boiled small new potatoes (you can always add some cream to fried mushrooms and let it reduce a little). Any leftovers (before sprinkling with herbs, that is) can be stored in the freezer for up to three months.

Here's another way of serving chantarelles: chantarelle-stuffed kohlrabis with a creamy blue cheese sauce. I had come across lovely kohlrabis at the market, and came up with a kohlrabi-chantarelle starter when cooking a dinner for our Norwegian guests just over a week ago (the same dinner where I served the apricot tartlets with pistachio paste, remember?) I scooped the kohlrabis and chopped the flesh, which I then simply sauteed in some oil together with chantarelles (yep, simply mushrooms and chopped kohlrabi; I didn't add any onion or garlic to the dish, although you're welcome to do that). I seasoned the mushroom mixture with salt, pepper and some chopped green onions, stuffed the pre-baked kohlrabi halves with the mixture and baked them in a 200C oven for 20 minutes. These were placed on a bed (puddle:) of creamy blue cheese sauce. I'd happily make this starter again, although I'd probably peel the kohlrabis first, as the 'skin' was too tough to be eaten.

Other chantarelle ideas @ Nami-nami:
Chantarelle Cappuccino (February 2007)
Chantarelle Sauce & Chantarelle Quiche (August 2005)

Two years ago I wrote about a bar of Cioccolato con Peperoncino I had bought in Naples and shared a recipe for Clotilde's Chocolate & Chilli Muffins with a kick.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Just for once: Weekend Chicken Blogging

Click on the photo to view the slideshow!

There's Weekend Herb Blogging, Weekend Cat Blogging and even Weekend Dog Blogging, so why not Weekend Chicken Blogging? Oh well, I gather that most foodbloggers don't keep chicken as pets, and neither do we. But we did go to K's country house again (the one in Lalli), where a neighbour has a huge flock of chicken. It's not a farm as such, as they don't keep chicken for commercial purpose, but we do get our eggs from them whenever we're visiting. The eggs are smaller than the ones available in shops, but they've got the deepest yellow yolks (just check out the colour of the frittata here), and taste wonderful.

Last Saturday, we paid a visit to the chicken as well. There were loads of them - the farmer was unable to tell us the exact number:) Also, they're various local old breeds, so almost each one is different and unique. And they're all happy and very much free-range - free to roam the grounds as they please. With the help of some bribing in the form of white bread, the chicken were happy to be photographed - just check out the slideshow, either by clicking on the photo above or here. You can also view the Flickr photo set here.

PS Eksootilistest kanatõugudest võite lugeda siit, maatõugu kanadest siit.

A year ago I was attending my friend Annika's wedding to her fiance Ben in Stockholm - you can read about the delicious Swedish wedding lunch here. Two years ago I wrote about my first ever foodblogging event - Paper Chef # 8 - where one had to combine spinach, olives, Cheddar cheese and either potatoes or cream in a recipe. I came up with these Potato Canapes with Cheddar cheese and Spinach & Olive Stuffing, which won a Golden Tomatilla from host Sarah for the Best Performance by Potatoes in a Supporting Role.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

HHDD # 13: Hibiscus & Strawberry Sorbet

In May I made Strawberries in Hibiscus & Vanilla Syrup, following a recipe from Chez Pim. I loved the dessert - just like Pim said, the hibiscus syrup gave a certain depth, an extra flavour dimension, to strawberries without interfering with the neat strawberry flavour. I also wondered back then, if I could use the strawberry & hibiscus pairing in other desserts, like ice creams or sorbet, for example. But, alas, as I didn't have an ice cream machine, I didn't do any further experiments with flowers (that's what hibiscus is) and berries.

I still don't have an ice cream machine, but will - if everything goes as planned - have one in a fortnight. Yet when I saw that Laura had chosen sorbet for the 13th round of Hay Hay Donna Day (as in Donna Hay, the Australian Kitchen Goddess who publishes impossibly beautiful food magazines), I wanted to take part. It would be a good opportunity to 'try' my sorbet version, and maybe - hsss! hope dies last - winning the top-notch prize in the form of The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz - a book that every foodblogger but me seems to have and enjoy*!!

The hibiscus & strawberry sorbet worked well, and it was definitely worthwhile. While my sorbet isn't as smooth-textured as I would have wanted, it tasted very strawberry-ish, looked much deeper red (and strawberry-ish, again) than it would have looked without the addition of hibiscus flowers. So here I am, pleased to present my hibiscus & strawberry sorbet as my first ever contribution to the Hay Hay Donna Day event! Keep your fingers crossed for me then :)

Hibiscus & Strawberry Sorbet
Based on Donna Hay's basic sorbet recipe and Chez Pim's recipe for Strawberries in Hibiscus & Vanilla Syrup

150 grams caster sugar
300 ml water
2 Tbsp of dried hibiscus flowers or 2 hibiscus tea bags
half a vanilla bean, cut open
750 grams fresh strawberries, pureed and strained
mint leaves to garnish

Bring water to the boil in a small saucepan, remove from the heat, add the tea bags or dried hibiscus flowers and let it infuse for about 15 minutes. Remove the tea bags, or strain the liquid and discard the soaked hibiscus flowers.
Add sugar to hibiscus infusion, place the saucepan over a low heat and stir without boiling until sugar is dissolved.
Increase the heat and bring to the boil for one minute. Stick the vanilla bean into the syrup and set aside to cool.
While the syrup is cooling, puree and strain the strawberries.
Combine the fruit puree and hibiscus-infused sugar syrup (removing the vanilla bean first), place in an ice-cream maker and follow the manufacturer's instructions.
If you don't have an ice-cream maker, place the fruit and syrup mixture in a metal cake tin, cover and freeze for an hour or until just beginning to set at the edge. Mash thoroughly with a large fork, breaking up the forming ice crystals. Return to the freezer. Repeat three times at hourly intervals or until the sorbet is thick and smooth.

* And a book that I so badly need, considering that I'll finally - after lots of trials - will be a proud owner of an ice cream machine in a week or so :)

One year ago I wrote how I was having a pint in a pub in Edinburgh with the then President of Estonia (as you regularly do, eh:) Here's the story and a photo to prove it.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Favourite Ways with Cauliflower: cauliflower with browned butter & breadcrumbs

With local vegetables ripening in my container 'garden' and appearing on every market stall, I'm trying to make the most of them. Among other new season's vegetables I've also bought some great cauliflowers from the market, and am looking for great new recipes. So far, I've tried cauliflower with sage butter & eggs and Ilva's spicy cauliflower with tomatoes. I've roasted cauliflower (wonderful!!) and I've given it an Indian touch in gobi matar (cauliflower & peas with cumin). Here's the simplest way of serving cauliflower - boil, drain, melt, pour & sprinkle kind of dish - very common here in Estonia. But with good young cauliflowers, this is divine (if you like cauliflower, that is).

What's your favourite way with cauliflower? And do you like cauliflower at all? I'd love to know!

Cauliflower with browned butter & breadcrumbs

cauliflower, cut into florets
couple of sage leaves

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, season with salt and add cauliflower florets. Boil for 5-10 minutes, until softened, but still al dente.
Drain thoroughly.
Meanwhile, heat butter in a small saucepan and simmer on a medium heat until it browns a little. Add breadcrumbs, stirring.
To serve, place cooked cauliflower florets on a plate and drizzle some browned butter with breadcrumbs on top.
Garnish with some sage leaves and serve at once.

Two years ago I had bought my first digital camera and these photos of CHEESY FEET alias footprint-shaped cheese biscuits with caraway seeds were the first photos I took with it. I think my teeny Casio Exilim will retire from now on, however, as K. got us a new camera today :)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Estonian desserts: Kaeraküpsised, my favourite oat cookies in the world

I've got a problem with most oat cookie recipes I come across. They are way too complicated and contain way too many ingredients, whereas I want my oat cookies to be simple, bordering on the plain. Also, I don't want my oat cookies to be dentally challenging, i.e. too crunchy or hard, as most of the commercially available oat cookies are. Finally, I like my oat cookies to be sweet rather than savoury, so as much as I love the sensible and healthy Scottish oatcakes, these are best suited to transfer a tiny chunk of cheese into my mouth, and not as nibbled when I feel peckish and want something sweet to satisfy my sweet tooth.

Here's my favourite oat cookie recipe that I've adapted over the years from the Finno-Ugric cookbook (Soome-ugri kokaraamat, 1995) that I've mentioned before. These cookies only contain the bare minimum of ingredients (no flour or baking powder in sight). They're crisp on the edges but with melt-in-your-mouth centres. And they are incredibly tasty as well. I love yellow raisins in my oat cookies as opposed to dark ones, but I think Buderim's candied ginger nibbles would work well, too. Or dark chocolate chips, if you're feeling naughty..

Pille's melt-in-your-mouth oat cookies
(Suussulavad kaeraküpsised)
Yields about 40-45 cookies

500 grams old-fashioned porridge oats
4 large eggs
150 grams sugar
170 grams butter, melted & cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
100 grams small seedless yellow raisins

Whisk eggs with sugar until pale and frothy, season with vanilla extract, then stir in melted butter, oats and raisins. Stir until combined. The mixture should be on the soft side.
Take scant tablespoonfuls of the mixture and transfer them onto a lined baking sheet. (You don't want to make your cookies too large, as egg is the only thing holding them together, and they'd collapse if they're too large).
Bake in a pre-heated 180 C oven for about 10-11 minutes, until cookies are baked and golden brown on edges.
Transfer gently to a metal rack to cool. Keep in a airtight container for a few days.

Other cookie recipes @ Nami-nami:
Crumbly pistachio cookies (March 2006)
Estonian Christmas cookies (December 2005)
Hazelnut butter cookies (November 2005)
Lemon & pistachio shortbread cookies (March 2007)
Mayonnaise cookies (August 2005)
Peanut butter cookies (November 2005)

Two years ago today I wrote about the expensive and beautiful flowering tea. Last year I posted some pictures about three fabulous breakfasts I had on the Greek island of Santorini and asked you to nominate your favourite :)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Apricot tartlets with pistachio paste

K and I were hosting a very sweet couple from Norway and their two adorable children, a 4-year old Hanna and a 7-month old Fergus, over the last weekend. They left today for a six-day break on Saaremaa/Ösel, after which they'll head to Latvia for a few days and then back to Norway. As far as I could tell, they had great time in Tallinn, and we enjoyed hosting them. And cooking for them, obviously. Here's one of the cakes we made last Friday that we all liked. Easy and quick to make, plus tasty.

Again, I had picked up some really nice and plump Provencal apricots from the market. Most of them were made into apricot jam by K (3 jars are stored in the fridge, one was mostly used on Sunday pancakes and some ended up accompanying vareniki), but I managed to save some of the apricots for these tartlets. The original BBC Good Food recipe used marzipan, but as I had used up all the marzipan for the Marzipan Cake with Strawberries, I used some pistachio paste instead. And apricots and pistachios really do go well together indeed.

Apricots tartlets with pistachio paste
Adapted from BBC Good Food, originally from Olive Magazine
Yields 12 tartlets

300 grams store-bought puff pastry
100 grams pistachio paste (or plain marzipan)
6 large ripe apricots, halved and pitted
muscovado sugar for sprinkling
sliced pistachio nuts for garnishing

Heat the oven to 200C.
Roll out the puff pastry and cut 12 circles using a large glass (about 8 cm diametre). Using a slightly smaller glass, score a line about 1 cm from the edge (that will help the rims to raise). Place pastry circles on a lined baking sheet.
Place a spoonful of flattened pistachio paste or marzipan in the middle of the smaller circle.
Place an apricot half, cut-side up, on each marzipan spoonful, sprinkle with some sugar.
Place the baking sheet in the pre-heated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is puffed up (it's a puff pastry, remember:) and golden brown, apricots slightly caramelised and sugar melted.
Sprinkle with sliced pistachio nuts and serve with a spoonful of softly whipped cream or mascarpone cheese.

Two years ago I posted a recipe for Pasta alla Vodka, based on a recipe from Nigella Lawson's Feast. It's still one of my very favourite quick pasta dishes. Go and have a look - it's got a new photo as well!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Waiter, there is something in my ... dumplings! Curd cheese vareniki with home-made apricot jam

Oh, how time flies. It's already the sixth installment of Waiter, there is something in my ... foodblogging event, this time hosted by Johanna who, very appropriately for an Austrian, has chosen dumplings as a theme. Not any dumplings, but dumplings with filling that have been steamed, boiled or baked (but NOT fried). So dim sum, ravioli and tortellini were ok, but doughnuts, gnocchi or spätzle weren't. My instincts said that my favourite dumplings, pontšikud, wouldn't be ok, as a) they're boiled in oil, which Johanna might interpret as frying, and b) they've got no filling. To be on the safe side, I made a batch of vareniki - a popular boiled dumpling from Ukraine (read more here), stuffed with curd cheese cream and served with home-made apricot jam and pistachios. The name, vareniki, comes from the Russian verb 'to boil', so they're boiled dumplings. To me, they're big Ukrainian cousins of pelmeni, the small meat-filled Russian dumplings that I love. Although vareniki can be savoury, these particular ones are sweet - a lovely combination of vanilla-infused curd cheese filling and just a bit sharp apricot jam and ever-so-slightly crunchy pistachio nuts.

Now, the recipe below will be vague and incomplete - apologies for that. K. made the apricot jam from the Provencal apricots available at the market these days, and he wouldn't share his secret recipe (though I suspect it's something like a scant 250 grams of sugar to 1 kg of pitted apricots, boiled gently for 20 minutes until thickened). I wasn't too happy with the dough recipe, so I'll be working on improving that (it was a bit too tough to my liking, so I'll replace milk with water next time to start with). But you'll get the recipe for the filling, which was great.

Vareniki dumplings with curd cheese filling, served with home-made apricot jam & pistachios
Serves 4

Dough (work in progress):
400 ml plain flour
1 tsp sugar
0.5 tsp salt
1 egg
100 ml milk

250 grams quark or curd cheese (press through a sieve, if not smooth)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg

To serve:
home made apricot jam and pistachio nuts
any fruit puree of your choice (strawberry puree would work well)
icing sugar

For the dough, I mixed milk with egg, seasoned with salt & sugar and added the flour, mixing until combined. Then I placed it in the fridge, covered, for about an hour.
For the filling, I simply combined all the ingredients (you could also add raisins or candied ginger or grated lemon zest, if you're so inclined).
To make the vareniki, roll the relaxed dough onto a thin disk (about 3 mm thick), then cut into 8-10 cm circles. Place a tablespoonful of filling into the centre, moisten the edges with water and fold in half, so you'll have half-moon shaped dumplings. Pinch the edge together with a fork.
Place into a freezer for 20-30 minutes (vareniki can be cooked from frozen, so you can leave them in the freezer for longer, if you wish).
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil, add a generous pinch of salt.
Slip the dumplings into the boiling water, 3-5 at the time, depending on the size of your pot.
Boil for about 5 minutes or until the dumplings float (they'll definitely sink in the beginning).
Take out of the water with a slotted spoon, drain on a clean kitchen towel for a moment.
To serve, place on a small plate, spoon the apricot jam on the plate, sprinkle with pistachio nuts and dust with icing sugar.

Here are links to my previous Waiter there is something in my ... entries:
May 2007 (STUFFED VEGETABLES): Stuffed tomatoes with two types of salad - cod liver salad & cucumber and wild garlic salad
April 2007 (BREAD): a traditional Estonian quick mushroom bread, Seenekarask
March 2007 (EASTER BASKET): a selection of various Easter delights.
February 2007 (PIE): a great Russian puff pastry and fish pie, Salmon Kulebyaka.
January 2007 (STEW): my version (in collaboration with Anthony Bourdain:) of the French classic Boeuf Bourguignon.

UPDATE 05.07.2007:
you can read Johanna's round-up of all the different takes - sweet & savoury, familiar & exotic - on dumplings here.

A year ago I wrote about the English classic, Bakewell Pudding for Andrew's Blog Save Our Tart event.