Friday, February 29, 2008

The first one

I've been telling my friends and colleagues in other countries to share their food-high's and recipes with me for a while now, and here's the first bird.

We had this whole discussion on breakfast with Ki, you know, fried versus cold, healthy versus tasty etc. And one of his favorites was scones, which I, again, had not tried. Now I have a recipe and all I need is an undisturbed Sunday morning at home (lately those are much harder to come by than you'd think) to try it.

Ki's scones:

50 gr butter
4 dl flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 dl milk

Mix butter, flour, baking powder and salt.
Add milk.
Bake in oven 225 deg C for 10-15 min.

Enjoy with butter (or clotted cream) and jam :-)

Thank you Ki.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Spoil'em rotten

I went to see my parents this weekend (well technically I just saw my mom for most of the time, as my dad had gone off to do another skiing-marathon (yes, that's like 50 - 70 km on skis).

So I decided to spoil my mom rotten with food and whipped up a three-course meal:
- mussels in Rose sauce
- poached chicken-roulade with pine-nuts and feta
- a chocolate-fudge brownie with vanilla ice-cream

Mussels in creamy Rose sauce (for two):

- 350 gr fresh mussels (cooled, not frozen)
- 1/2 sliced leek
- 1 chopped shallot
- chopped lime-peel (not the inside and the juice)
- Rose wine (150 ml)
- chicken stock (200 ml)
- sea-salt
- 2 bay-eaves
- 1 big knob of butter
- 150 ml double-cream
- curry
- tiny pinch of saffron (not powder, the dried petals)

Melt the butter in a large pot; add the leek, shallots, bay-leaves, chopped lime-peel. Shake the pot to cover everything in butter and heat through for 2 minutes. Add the scrubbed mussels (only the closed ones). Shake the pot now and then and keep on the heat for 2 more minutes. Add the wine and the chicken-stock, the curry and the salt. Let it simmer for 2 - 3 minutes. Add the double-cream and the saffron. Pick out the mussels and strain the broth through a sieve. Serve the mussels with a generous amount of broth.

Poached chicken roulade with pine-nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and feta-cheese, served with mashed potatoes and fresh-salad:

- chicken thies (500 gr)
- feta cheese 2 tbsp
- chopped sun-dried tomatoes (5-6)
- pine seeds (2 handfuls)
- black-olive paste (1 tbsp)
- potatoes
- butter
- milk
- Chinese cabbage
- sliced red bell pepper
- cucumber (sliced into sticks)
- sun-flower oil
- chopped fresh parsley

Beat the chicken thies with a meat-hammer on a chopping board. Cover with food-plastic and flip over (the meat should end up on plastic in a big thin square layer). Cover with black-olive paste, sprinkle on the pine-nuts, the chopped sun-dried tomatoes and the broken up feta cheese. Roll up (like you make a sushi-roll using the plastic like you would use the bamboo mat). Wrap the plastic tightly around the meat and tie the ends. Poach for 15 - 20 minutes.

Prepare the mashed potatoes and the salad - toss the sliced Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, fresh chopped parsley, bell peppers, season the salad with just olive-oil and salt).

Unwrap the chicken from the plastic, fry on a hot pan real quick (it will brown very quickly as it is already hot). Slice the chicken-roulade into thick slices and serve over the mashed potatoes.

And the brownies - alas - I made from a box. I would be ashamed, but to be quite honest, most of the "from-scratch" brownie recipes end up with dry, bland, unconvincing light-brown stuff, that doesn't come near the American box-version. But I'm happy to be proven wrong :).

Comfort food

When I was a kid, and pizza was not something you could buy in a restaurant or frozen in a supermarket or god-forbid get on the phone and have it delivered to your home in ten minutes, my mom used to make it almost every Sunday. It was a deep-dish, thick crust pie, made in a round dish and served in sector-slices like a cake. And it was absolutely delish.

I like to make mine on thin-crust, but still never skimp on the toppings. I hadn't made a pizza in quite a while, but this weekend I went to see my parents and made one. Such savory comfort-food it is.

Mix-and-match pizza:

25 gr. yeast
1/2 glass of warm water
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp sugar, 2 tsp salt

Crumble the yeast into the bottom of a large bowl, add sugar and salt, mix. Add the water and the oil, then flour and mix with hands until it stops sticking to your fingers.

sliced slightly fried mushrooms
sliced slightly fried ham
sliced leek
tomato paste
shredded mozarella
finely diced canned pine-apple
diced crayfish
sliced black olives
basil (fresh or dry)

Cover the bottom of the baking tray with vegetable oil. Stretch the dough with your hands as much as you can (so it remains even in thickness). Then use a rolling pin or press it with your fingers until it covers the entire baking tray. Cover with tomato paste. Then cover with mushrooms and ham --> leek --> olives --> crayfish --> pineapple --> basil and finally mozarella.

Bake in a preheated (175C) oven for 15 - 20 min (until the sides of the crust are golden and the cheese is all melted).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Guessing-Game

This morning I had to buy some cake, so I went into a little German bakery in the old town and discovered that they also sell different kinds of hand-made bread. Big scary loaves with nuts and fruits and spices and small cute loaves with unidentifiable names. This is how it all started. With this cute-looking and aggressively named Cossack Bread (turned out to just be a decent sour rye-bread).

Or, to be more honest, it all started with a dinner at Manchester Airport about a week ago. One of my colleagues ordered a burger with haloumi and made our pretty waitress and her heavy accent all giggly when he asked for extra bacon on it ("Reeeely? Baacon on vegetaarean burger?" she said.) But it sparked a conversation on haloumi, which I, regrettably, had almost no experience with. So I got a bite, was reasonably impressed and reassured that it is surely to be found in Estonian supermarkets.

Alas, and not to a great surprise, in my home-supermarket there was absolutely no haloumi. After pestering a couple of sales-ladies I finally identified a weird, plastic packed Finnish-produced cheese, which to my eye, looked like haloumi might. It was called "juustoleipää" which translates into bread of cheese (or loaf of cheese?) and unfortunately is not made neither from goat nor sheep-milk, but you have to be flexible in terms of ingredients in this country.

And now here I was, with my cute little bread and my odd cheese and a vivid mental-picture of how it should taste, smell and look before consuming.

Posh grilled cheese:
2 thick slices of bread (I used my Cossack-bread but Bocatta would also be good)
honey (in liquid form)
1 baby-zucchini
1/2 glass of tomato-juice
1/4 clove of fresh chopped garlic
chopped parsley
~10 leaves of Oak Leaf Lettuce
2 pieces of chewy cheese (Haloumi or fake-Finnish stuff)

Mix some Balsamico and honey and sprinkle the bread slices with it on both sides. Slice the baby-zucchini with a peeler; quickly sear the slices with olive oil in a pan. Add the tomato juice, garlic, parsley and sea-salt. Keep on the heat (toss now and then) for ~5 min. Toast the bread (in oven or in a toaster). Cover one side of the cheese with honey and fry on a hot pan with the honey side down. When the honey starts caramelizing, cover the top side with honey and turn.
Serve the bread on top of the zucchini bed. Cover the bread with the lettuce leaves and then put the cheese on top.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thai musings

It's not very original, but I really, really feel I could do with some sun and warmth right about now. But the spring is nowhere to be seen and my plan to escape to some far-away sunny corner of the world does not seem to be coming to life. So I do what I can to battle the sadness that wants to creep in. And soups, nice, fragrant, warm, spicy soups is what I can.

Shrimp-broth a'la Thai:

chicken stock (from a cube or, if you're good then from pre-made and frozen chicken stock (I really am gonna get around to making some soon)).
1 star-anise pod
1 lemon-grass
3 tsp red thai curry paste
knob of fresh ginger root
iceberg-lettuce, sliced
green peas
1 medium tomato, peeled and chopped
6 sliced mushrooms
1 tsp of sesame seed oil

Boil the ginger, lemon-grass and anise in the chicken stock for ~7 min, then remove. Stir in the curry-paste and add mushrooms, shrimp and green peas and in the end the lettuce and tomato. Simmer through. Drizzle in the sesame-oil. Serve over egg-noodles or wild-rice.

Easy like Sunday morning

Vertigo is one of my favorite restaurants in Tallinn, but so far, I'd only been there for lunch and dinner. Turns out they also have a special Sunday brunch service; a good friend of mine invited me today. It was great. Outside it was cold and windy, but since the sun was shining, we got the maximum kicks out of the view high up above the city in our warm glass box.

I'm on a good-Sunday streak it seems, last one was perfect as well. I went to see a wonderful photo-exhibition by Arne Maasik, he's an architect and a photographer and he's taken some breath-taking shots of Chicago architecture and printed them on velvet, which is a genius idea for anything that needs extra texture to it (like say, buildings made of different stone).

I think this was the Valentine's Day special at Vertigo, they offered heart-shaped cup-cakes, but otherwise the menu was nice. The slight draw-bakc was that many of the "Estonian babe + foreign balding guy" couples had turned out with their kids, but luckily the kids weren't too loud and stayed far enough for us to be able to enjoy our Mimosas :-)

They served sushi, frogs feet on a bed of Asian noodle mix, a wonderful potato salad with pancetta and home-made mayo, a fresh salad with prawns, some cocktail salads (herring, beetroot, mayo and quails eggs; beef, mango, bell-pepper), grave salmon, quiches, boef a'la tartar etc.

A very nice way to spend most of your Sunday.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Carbs'n carbs

I consider myself lucky not to have a major weakness for pasta. To be honest, it's difficult for me to see, how anyone, who doesn't have the genetic predisposition evolved through centuries (like Italians), could regularly enjoy pasta (tasty pasta, i.e. with nice rich sauces) and not get FAT (here, I've finally said the F-word in a food-blog).

So I don't do pasta that often. But sometimes I get a craving, or more likely, Siim comes home and describes, what he has munchies for. A couple of days ago he said, that he'd want "penne with white sauce and pieces of chicken", which I translated into Chicken Alfredo. And I hope to quickly forget how good and creamy it was, so I don't go back to making it too often :)

Penne with chicken, mushroom and caper Alfredo
penne (3 handfuls)
2 chicken breasts
200 ml double cream
~20 wine-vinegar marinated capers
1 box of fresh white mushrooms, 2/3 chopped,1/3 sliced
olive oil
150 ml white wine
500 ml chicken stock
1 onion, finely chopped
fresh parsley, finely chopped
freshly ground salt and pepper

Fry the onion in some olive-oil until it gets some color. Add the chopped mushrooms and fry until golden, then add wine and reduce by half. Add the chicken stock, reduce and add chopped capers. Simmer. Add cream and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the fresh parsley. Transfer into another pan or a sauce-pot through a sieve. Blend the mushrooms and capers left on a sieve and add the puree to the sauce.
Preheat the oven to 200C.

Boil pasta according to the instructions.

Fry the sliced mushrooms.

Fry the chicken breasts with salt and pepper on both sides until golden. Wrinkle up some baking paper with water and put the chicken breasts into the oven for ~10 min. wrapped in the baking paper.

Reheat the sauce. Mix some of the sauce with the pasta. Slice up the chicken and put it on top of the pasta. Cover with sauce, sprinkle with mushrooms and parmesan shavings.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Back to basics

Last week, at hotel Intercontinental in Warsaw (where they serve a truly, truly amazing lunch of sushi and stir fries for which you hand-pick the ingredients and creme brulee - don't know why I didn't take pictures, must be better next time) they served, among a million other things, some Polish sauerkraut soup. This got us talking food with some colleagues and it turned out that Finns, for example, don't do sauerkraut in soup.
This resulted in two things, me having a crazy craving for the traditional Estonian sauerkraut soup (not very glamorous, but I blame it on the Estonian % of my genes) and me promising to send a recipe. Two in one solution is this blog-entry.

Traditional Estonian sauerkraut soup (meatless version): - 400 gr sauerkraut
- 2 potatoes - sliced
- barley (a handful)
- 2 carrots - sliced
- 2 bay leafs
- cumin seeds
- 1 onion - sliced
- fresh dill, chopped

Usually this soup is done with meat, it can be done with pork or beef or some smoked meat, like say spare-ribs. In that case the recipe starts with boiling the meat off the bones. But it's quite heavy without the meat and since there is no snow, no minus-degrees and generally no winter, I didn't really feel like a pre-hibernation meal and went for the lighter version.

Bring water to boil with some salt, add barley. Slice potatoes, carrots and onion and add to the water. Add sauerkraut, cumin, bay-leaves and dill weed. Boil until all is nice and soft. If the sauerkraut is not sour enough (sometimes happens), squeeze in half a lemon.

Easy-peasy. Good for hangovers and pregnant people :)

And talking about Estonian, traditional, sauerkraut and non-glamorous in one sentence gives me no other choice but to share with you the inside joke Estonians decided to send to the Eurovision song-contest this week :)

Courtesy of Youtube:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Elegantly wasted, vol 2.

Yesterday was a dinner-party day again. It seems we really, really need to move to a bigger place and get a bigger table. But it was fun as always, I made a really ambitious dish of three types of meat - wild bore and elk (first time to cook it in a none-mince format) and pork. And I set up the fire-alarm for the first time in my life (although nothing was burning, really) and later on won at poker, again. So a good night all around.

The three meat feast

wild boar (~400 gr)
elk (200 gr)
pork tenderloin (~ 900 gr)
potatoes (8)
carrots (2)
olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
cream of mushroom soup

for the boar marinade:
1 lemon
dried ginger powder
dried rosemary
dried oregano
juniper berries

for the elk marinade:
dark soy-sauce

for the pork marinade:
2 star anise-pods
1 chopped lemongrass

I searched the web for the boar and elk recipes and was initially a little worried that I wasn't gonna have enough time for marinating and / or cooking them, but it ended up working nicely. The elk could have been a bit juicier.

For each of the meats I mixed all the ingredients for the marinades (crushed them first in the case of the boar) carefully coated the meat with the mixture, then covered it tightly with cling-film (I read that it accelerates the marinating process significantly) and let it sit in the fridge for 2 hours (1 in the case of the pork).

I pre-heated the oven to 200 C and put the wild boar in a baking-dish, covered it with the cream of mushroom-soup mixed with some hot water. It ended up spending about 1,5 h in the oven, but was nice and soft as a result.
The elk I cut into chunks the size of a small fist (mine :), wrapped in bacon, fixed with toothpicks and then wrapped in tin-foil. They spent around 40 min. in the oven.
With the pork I took the classic route, cleaned off the rough bits of lemon-grass and star anise, seared it on a hot pan with butter and then stuck it in the oven under a sheet of crumpled wet baking paper for ~10 minutes.

The sauce was the cream-of mushroom mixture that the boar was in. I strained it to get rid of all the herbs and berries in it and added in the juices from cooking the pork. It was super tasty and went nicely with all the meats and the asparagus. Who knew that juniper berries compliment asparagus.

I boiled 2 cloves of garlic, 1 lemon-grass and the zest of half a lemon in some water for 10 minutes, then got rid of the stuff and then boiled the asparagus in it. Also something I read online. So lot's of learning-points for me yesterday :)

And I made a potato-carrot mash. I used some tricks I saw in a cooking show, but I don't remember the name. The host is an Australian woman and she often invites her mom in. In the episode I saw, they both made their mashed potatoes and then let some kid pick which one was the best. That lady's trick was to make sure the potatoes were completely dry before mashing them, adding butter and war milk (as per usual) but she also added in a swirl of extra virgin olive oil just in the end, to make it super smooth and silky.

So only after about 4 hours of non-stop cooking it was all done and ready, I put on some make-up and proceeded to getting elegantly wasted :)

Compliments to John Montagu

We don't really do breakfast, not on weekdays. Even my big love for food doesn't supersede the need to sleep just a little bit more. But we compensate for this on weekends.
We do huge breakfasts - pancakes, eggs, oatmeal or sandwiches (not all at the same time of-course, not yet at least). Often sandwiches, Siim is a self-pronounced reincarnation of 4th Earl of Sandwich :). He builds his sandwiches with such impressive care, precision and imagination.
And sometimes we go all out with sandwiches and I make the kiddie-favorite - the sandwich-cake. That's a lot of effort for some bread, especially taking into consideration that no-one in this household is 7 years old :) The last one we made was a seafood sandwich-cake.

Seafood sandwich-cake:
black multi-grain bread (4 slices)
white bread (8 slices)
salted salmon
smoked bream
lettuce leaves
sliced cucumber
chopped fresh dill
grated cheese

And then it's just down to layering it out. It's nice and juicy if you cover both sides of the bread with something creamy. It get's a bit too heavy for my taste if both sides are covered with cream-cheese or mayo, so I use sour-cream on one side and cream-cheese on the other. Black bread should go on the bottom to keep the whole thing nice and firm. I think it's typically made with only white-bread, but again, I think that one layer of black-bread just makes it tastier.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Meet-cute food - Cherry-cheesecake

I think I have a fairly reasonable taste in movies and books (who wouldn't think that about themselves), but once every two years or so, I fall hopelessly in love with some super-sweet, girly-to-the-bone, romantic movie that I watch far too many times. Latest one of those is "The Holiday" and my absolutely favorite character there is Arthur Abbot played by Eli Wallach.

"Say a man and a woman both need something to sleep in and both go to the same men's pajama department. The man says to the salesman, "I just need bottoms," and the woman says, "I just need a top." They look at each other and that's the 'meet cute.'"

And I have contender for a "meet-cute" dish. Something that suits all types of "boy meets girl, boy likes girl" (and vice versa) situations. And as the Valentine's day is coming, I guess it is only appropriate. And let's face it - cherries are hands-down the most sexy fruit out there.

short-crust pastry
2 packs of frozen pitted cherries
180 g mascarpone
225 ml whipped cream
ground nutmeg
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
juice of 1/2 lemon
4 tsp of potato-starch
4 tbsp sugar

This can be prepared as a hot pie and then served with the mascarpone-cream on the side (or ice-cream) or made into a layered cold cheese-cake type of thing. I prefer the latter.

Combine one pack of cherries with some water on a sauce-pan, add the clove, nutmeg and cinnamon, bring to a boil. Simmer until it is reduced by half, remove the cinnamon and clove. Mix sugar and potato-starch and add the mixture to the pan. Stir, add the lemon juice. Add the rest of the berries and let it cool. This will result in a marvelous, shiny, juicy, brilliant stuff.

Prebake the pie crust. Let it cool.

Whip the double-cream, mix the mascarpone with vanilla-sugar and fold in the whipped cream.

Cover the pie crust with the mascarpone mix and then cherries.

All that's left to do now, is to go find that meet-cute and spoon-feed the cake to each other. Deliciously corny :)

The game is on

This week I was hosting an event in Tallinn, which meant a lot of eating out. I picked Balthasar for the official dinner and it was a good choice. People were happy, the wine list is impressive, the food is good, there is a lot of game on the menu and it's not in the cellar. Plus you can go into the whole "this used to be a Town Hall Apothecary in 1422".

You'd be surprised how difficult it is to find a restaurant in the old town that is capable of seating 20 people without pushing them half-way under ground. Ribe, C'est la Vie and many other newer ones that I've heard positive feedback on slipped off the list for that reason.

I had a lightly-smoked duck salad as a starter and honey-marinated venison in blueberry sauce with some fabulous garlic-potatoe gratin on the side for the main course. They didn't ask us about how anyone wanted their meat, mine was medium-rare and it suited me nicely. And the CHATEAU d´ARCINS, 2004 Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Medoc, they served with it, was very very good and a very nice suggestion for the meal, although blindingly heavy after 3 or 4 glasses.

But the sauce was stone-cold, as Mr. Ramsey would have said a minute before smashing the plate into someones face in the kitchen :) (I've been watchin a lot of Hell's Kitchen lately, I'm on season two now).
Take a look at the uncensored Foodchannel version of the 1 episode's highlights on Youtube

Friday, February 1, 2008

Carnivore's heaven - Prague

From Oslo, I went to Prague. For the first time in my life, I got confused in the airport, when the passport control guy asked me, where I was going. I had absolutely no idea. Luckily, after an uncomfortable 30 second delay of us grumpily staring at each other from the opposite sides of the glass, I remembered, and was let through. Only to terribly over-indulge on fatty and starchy foods for the following few days.

I used to think that going to Czech Rep. was just death by cheese and beer. This time, it was all meat. Meat, meat, more meat, some lard, some lard braised cabbage, and different types of "kniedliky" (dumplings) - made from white flour or mashed potatoes. All that washed down with some premium quality beer.

On the first night we went to a pub that has it's own brewery in the back, also a beer museum and a beer. Can't remember the name right now, will have to find out. I remember it was near Tesco's, because this was the point of reference in the directions given to us. There was five of us, we ordered something called the "Wedding feast" and we still couldn't finish it. It was a huge platter of pork, ham, duck, sausages, different types of dumplings and both white and red braised cabbage. H-U-G-E.

And the next night we were taken to a traditional restaurant, where everyone was stuffed already after the starters. Have you ever seen fried goose livers to be served in a pertty glass-jar 2/3 filled with thawed lard? Another noch in my Central-European Lard Trail Travellers belt :)

Takk Norsk-Form

For the past two weeks I have not cooked anything, I think. I've spent my time travelin, working, being sick and constantly eating out, all at the same time.

In the beginning of last week I went to Oslo for the first time in my life. Didn't really see much besides the inside of the Norsk-Form building (a very cool inside) and some famous grave-stones (one morning we were taken from the hotel to the venue through the graveyard where Munch and Ibsen are buried). But I think I'd like to go back. It looked pretty. A bit like a set and not like the real world, but pretty none the less.

And I had hands-down the best goat-cheese experience in my life there. Goat cheese is so trendy lately, that it's served everywhere, by everyone, with everything. At the Norsk-Form restaurant I had, by far the best, simple, Provance style "salad" of goat cheese, I have ever tasted. So briliantly far from the old dish-cloth experience goat cheese can sometimes offer.

I think the key was in the sauce (red-wine reduction with honey, I'd guess) and the fact that the bread was also honeyed. Nam.