Monday, November 30, 2009

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Last night I attended my first ever Thanksgiving dinner. Few days late, I know, but for various logistic reasons, our Tallinn-based American hosts, Rachel & Stefano, decided to throw a party on Sunday night instead. Four couples, four kids and lots of good food (including a locally sourced non-frozen 8 kg turkey!). Rachel had asked me to bring along a Pecan Pie, and as I couldn't decide which recipe to choose, I decided to make a non-traditional pie instead. I liked it - a pre-baked pie crust is covered with dark chocolate ganache that hides a cup of caramelized crunchy pecans - an idea I got from a Finnish Ruokamaailma magazine. Truly chocolaty - and thus a 10-inch cake easily feeds a dozen!

Chocolate Pecan Pie
Serves 10-12

100 g unsalted butter, softened
85 g caster sugar (100 ml)
200 g all-purpose/plain flour
1 large egg
a pinch of salt

For praline:
100 g pecans, very coarsley chopped
4 Tbsp muscovado sugar

300 g dark chocolate
150 ml whipping cream
100 g unsalted butter, softened

Using the food processor, blend butter, flour, sugar and salt until fine crumbs form. Add the egg, pulse couple of times. Then press the dough into the base and sides of a 24 cm springform tin.
Blind bake in a preheated 200 C oven for 15-20 minutes, until the dough is baked and nicely golden brown.

For the praline, mix the sugar and nuts on a frying pan and heat on a moderate heat, until the sugar melts and sticks onto the nuts. Remove from the heat.

For the ganache, bring the cream almost to a boil. Add chopped chocolate and stir, until melted. Stir in the soft butter. Stir, until combined and uniform, then fold in the pecan praline.

Pour the ganache over pre-baked crust (decorate with some toasted pecans, if you wish). Place into a cool storage or fridge for at least 4 hours for the chocolate pecan filling to harden.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Empanada Gallega de Atun

Ever since I enjoyed my first tuna-filled Galician turnover, empanada gallega, on a hillside picnic about an hour's drive from Madrid last Spring - in a lovely company of Ximena and her hubby J - I've been wanting to make these at home. I have been waiting for Ximena's special recipe to appear on Lobstersquad (soon!), but meanwhile I came up with this version of the famous Spanish pastry. I must admit I was thoroughly satisfied with the result - and I hope that my Spanish friends approve.

Basically, it's a yeast pastry (tinged slightly red with the help of the very special and wonderful smoked Spanish paprika powder, Pimentón de la Vera) that's encasing a moist and flavoursome tuna, egg and tomato filling. Although we had small turnovers on that memorable hillside picnic - empanadillas gallegas - then it's more traditional to make one large pie that's cut into wedges.

Empanada Gallega de Atun or Galician Tuna Pie
(Galiitsia tuunikalapirukas)
Serves six to eight

Yeast pastry:
500 g plain flour
300 ml warm water (42 C)
100 g olive oil
1 sachet of active dry yeast
1 tsp smoked mild Spanish paprika (Pimentón de la Vera, dulce)
1 tsp salt

2 cans of tuna chunks in brine (a 200 g), drained and flaked
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
200 g chopped tomatoes (half a regular can)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
a handful of chopped fresh parsley
salt, black pepper and smoked paprika powder, to taste

For brushing:

First, prepare the yeast dough. Mix flour, active dry yeast, paprika powder and salt in the mixing bowl. Stir in the water and oil and mix and knead until a uniform ball forms. (I use my KA mixer for this). Cover with clingfilm or a clean kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour.
For the filling, you start with sofrito. Heat olive oil on a sauté pan, add onion and bell pepper and sauté for a few minutes. Add garlic, sauté for another few minutes. Then add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper. Simmer on a low heat for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the sauce has thickened a little.
Season with smoked paprika powder, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in drained and flaked tuna, chopped hard-boiled eggs and parsley.
Divide the yeast pastry into two more or less equal pieces. Dust your worktop with some flour and using the rolling pin, roll one piece into a large circle, about 5 mm thick. Transfer onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Spread the tuna, egg and tomato filling on top, leaving about 2 cm edge.
Roll out the other half of the pastry, place that over the filling. Crimp the edges together (see below).
Using a sharp small knife, cut couple of "breathing holes" on top of the pastry.
Brush with a whisked egg.
Bake in the middle of pre-heated 200 C oven for about 30 minutes, until the empanada is lovely golden brown on top.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool a little before cutting into wedges and serving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Easy Canapés: Medjool Dates with Goat's Cheese

Here's another canapé idea that I brought back from London. Simple, yes, but with good creamy'n'tangy goat's cheese and soft'n'sweet Medjool dates it's an excellent combination. Although dried dates can hardly be called seasonal, then there's something very Christmassy in them, in my opinion, so this would be an excellent hors d'oeuvre with a mug of hot mulled wine or glögg between now and Christmas.

Medjool dates stuffed with goat's cheese
(Kitsejuustuga täidetud datlid)
Makes 12

12 large soft Medjool dates*
100 g creamy and tangy goat's cheese
couple of sprigs of fresh thyme

Using a small knife, carefully make a slit into each date and remove the stone.
Cut the goat cheese into 12 disks and insert a piece of cheese into each date.
Place on a serving tray, garnish with fresh thyme and serve.

* I haven't seen Medjool dates anywhere in Estonia, so I bought couple of packets in London. You could use the dried dates available here, but these are about 3 times smaller than Medjool dates and nowhere near as soft.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Easy Canapés: Salmon Appetizers with Lemon Pepper

We spent a long weekend in London in the beginning of November, mixing work with some pleasure. The latter part included spending two full days with the always lovely Johanna and her family in Kingston. Johanna is the Queen of Canapeś, and I used the opportunity to browse through her library of canapé and fingerfood and appetisers cookbooks, looking for simple and delicious ideas I could manage myself. We're likely to host a number of festive buffets over the next few weeks, so I could do with an extra idea or two.

Here's one super-simple canapé idea that I served to a bunch of my girlfriends last Sunday. You need good-quality smoked salmon for this, as the salmon is served almost au naturel. I spotted this in Canapeś (sold as Hors d'Oeuvres in the US). You need small cocktail sticks for this appetizer.

Smoked Salmon Canapés with Lemon Pepper
(Suitsulõhesuupisted "sidrunipipraga")
Serves a dozen

100 g smoked salmon*
half a lemon, preferably organic
freshly ground black pepper

If necessary, cut salmon slices into thin, long strips (about an inch wide). Weave each slice onto a cocktail stick, as seen on the photo above. Place on a serving tray.
Wash and dry the lemon thoroughly, then grate generously some lemon peel/lemon zest over the salmon slices.
Finally, season with black pepper.
Serve at once or cover with clingfilm and keep in the freezer until needed. Let the appetizers come back to the room temperature before serving, as the flavour of the fish is better when not cold.

* I used "Saare Hõbe" cold smoked salmon strips from Ösel Fish.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chocolate Cheesecake Recipe

My dear K. celebrated his umpteenth birthday last Friday. He wondered if I'd bake him a cake that he could take along and share with his colleagues during the day. At first he asked me to bake my Manhattan cheesecake, but then we remembered how much his colleagues had enjoyed a dense chocolate and lingonberry cake I made few weeks ago, and decided to try a chocolate cheesecake instead. The recipe below is based on a chocolate cheesecake recipe published in the November issue of Food & Travel, but I've changed the base completely, as trust me, there is such thing as too much chocolate :)

It was delicious, very rich and dense. It's rather sweet, so you should serve this with some nice raspberries or perhaps a generous spoonful of spicy crab-apple marmalade (on the photo) to counter-balance the sweetness a bit.

Chocolate Cheesecake
Serves 10 to 12

Crumb base:
175 g Digestive biscuits
2 Tbsp cacao powder
75 g butter, melted

4 large eggs
100 g sugar
800 g full-fat Philadelphia cream cheese, at room temperature!
1 tsp vanilla extract
200 g dark chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids)

Process the cookies until fine crumbs, mix with cocoa powder and melted butter. Press onto the base of a lined 26 cm springform tin.
Cut the chocolate into small pieces, then melt in a bowl set over a barely simmering water, until chocolate is melted (stir every now and then). Cool a little.
Whisk the eggs and sugar until thick and pale foam forms. Then add the soft cream cheese, vanilla extract and finally stir in the melted chocolate. Stir, until combined, then pour over the crumb base.
Bake in a prehreated 160 C oven for one hour, until set.
Remove from the oven and let cool completely before serving.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving in Estonia: baking a pumpkin pie without Crisco and canned pumpkin

A selection of pumpkins at Tallinn Central Market, September 2007

Last week I got an email from a young American women who had recently moved to a small town in South-West Estonia. She wants to host a Thanksgiving dinner to her family and local friends, but didn't know where to get a whole turkey (not the most popular poultry bird here in Estonia) nor did she had a recipe for pumpkin pie that didn't use canned pumpkin and Crisco. I promised to post a recipe for an "Estonian" version of the American pumpkin pie, using the widely available yellow pumpkin, just like the one pictured above on the left.

This is for you, Laura W. :)

Pumpkin Pie
(Ameerika kõrvitsapirukas)
Serves 10

For the pie crust:
175 g plain flour
2 Tbsp sugar
125 g butter
1 egg yolk

300 g coarsely chopped yellow pumpkin
2 eggs
175 g caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger
a pinch of salt
2 Tbsp plain flour
200 ml whipping cream (35%)

For serving:
whipped cream and cinnamon

Make the pie crust first, by mixing flour, sugar and butter with a knife until crumbs for. Add egg yolk and knead until the pastry forms a ball. Line a 24-26 cm pie dish with the pastry (either rolling the pastry and transferring to the pie dish, or simply pressing it into the dish with your fingers). Place to the fridge for 30 minutes to relax.
Place cubed pumpkin into a small saucepan, pour over enough water just to cover. Add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft. Drain thoroughly!!! Cool a little, then pureé with a blender.
Whisk the eggs slightly, then mix with cooled pumpkin alongside with other ingredients.
Pour the filling onto the pie crust.
Bake in the lower part of a 200 C / 400 F oven for 40-50 minutes, until the filling is golden brown and almost set.
Cool completely before serving with some whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Salmon Confit Recipe

Salmon confit / Aeglaselt küpsetatud lõhe

Looking for a new way of preparing salmon?

I (and several other Estonian foodbloggers) have discovered a delightful recipe from the 7th issue of the always beautiful and inspirational Finnish food magazine, Glorian Ruoka & Viini (Gloria's Food and Wine). Whereas confit, the old French cooking and preserving method, usually describes food (traditionally goose, duck or pork) that has been salted and then slowly cooked in its own fat, then here's it's a fillet of salmon that has been cured in a sea salt mixture and then slowly cooked in olive oil. The resulting dish is dark opaque pink, extremely moist and delicious both hot or cold. In the magazine, the salmon was served cold on a bed of lentil salad. We enjoyed it both hot and cold, simply with some good home-made mayo.

Salmon Confit
(Aeglaselt küpsetatud lõhefilee)
Serves 4

Salmon confit / Madalal temperatuuril küpsetatud lõhe sidruniga

500 g salmon filet

Salt cure:
2 Tbsp flaky sea salt (I used Maldon)
1 tsp caster sugar
0.25 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For the confit:
2 organic lemons, thinly sliced
250-300 ml olive oil

Mix sea salt, sugar and pepper and spread over the fish fillet. Cover with clingfilm and leave to season in a fridge or cool place for up to 3 hours.
Wipe off the salt mixture, and place the cleaned fish fillet into a small oven dish, where it fits snugly (the better the fit, the less olive oil you need).
Layer lemon slices over the fish, then drizzle enough olive oil on top, just to cover the fish.
Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the fish fillet.
Cook in a pre-heated 75 C / 167 F oven for about 40 minutes, until the internal temperature reads 38 C / 100 F.
Remove the fish from the oven, cool until it's reached the room temperature. Serve at once or cool completely in the fridge.

Salmon confit / Madalal temperatuuril küpsetatud lõhe sidruniga

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Banana muffins with pecan nuts

Banana muffin / Banaanimuffin

Have you ever bought a bunch of bananas that, well, just don't taste right?

This happened to me last week. I had bought a small bunch from a local supermarket, so I could give some to our daughter and eat some as a quick afternoon snack. However, these tasted extremely bland, somewhat mushy and rather floury, and were just left hanging in the kitchen. Still, I didn't want to throw them away, so I compared some of my muffin recipes and banana bread recipes, and ended up making these banana muffins. Surprisingly, these tasted really well, so I'll keep that recipe on hand for next time I need to get rid of some bananas and want to eat some muffins.

I used pecans, but walnuts would work just as well (for the fraction of the cost)!

Banana Muffins with Pecans or Walnuts
Makes 12

3 medium-sized ripe bananas, peeled
2 large eggs
175 g plain/all-purpose flour
100 g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract or sugar
a pinch of salt
100 g unsalted butter, melted
50 g pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped

Mash bananas in a large bowl with a fork. Stir in the eggs.
Measure flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and vanilla sugar into another bowl, stir and then add to the banana mixture together with cooled melted butter.
Fold in the chopped nuts and stir until just combined - DO NOT OVER-STIR!
Divide into lined medium-sized muffin cups.
Bake in a pre-heated 200 C / 400 F oven for about 20 minutes, until muffins are golden brown on top and cooked.
Transfer to a metal rack to cool.