Sunday, March 30, 2008

Walk like an elephant

One of my favorite restaurants in Tallinn is Elevant (Elephant). It's an Indian restaurant, with a really good atmosphere and really good food. As I've never been to India I kind of expected it to be an Estonian take on Indian food, but I took some very well-travelled colleagues there once, and they were very impressed, so I guess it has a wider stamp of approval than just me.

We went there today with a bunch of friends for a really nice, slow Sunday lunch.
I had a Bada chingra kathi kabab (a kathi kabab with tiger prawns), which was really good, although too big, so I ended up eating only the filling. But who needs the bread anyways.

A friend of mine had Machi pakora (salmon in chick-pea batter), which she also liked a lot. With extra mint-sauce.

Another friend had a very impressive looking Paneer dish (soft Indian cheese). And then a classical Chicken Tikka Masala and Machi dahi (white fish in a yoghurt sauce) were also had, but those pictures weren't any good.

In any case, if you're hungry in Tallinn, Elephant's your friend.

Pump it up

There's this thing called spring fatigue, that everyone who is from a cold and dark country always starts talking about in late February or March. Along with taking vitamins and visiting tanning salons.

So let's call this a Fight Against the Spring Fatigue Salad [FASFS] (even though it's actually a Thai / Korean salad and has a name in the local language(s), that I currently can't remember.


2 big carrots, grinded
1 clove ov garlic, crushed
1 tsp of oilive oil
some drops of sesame oil
chilly flakes
juice of one lime
chopped spring onions

Mix the carrot, garlc, oil, lime juice and pepper. Add in the chilly flakes and as the last thing a couple of drops of sesame oil. Let it sit for a while (or refrigerate for ~half an hour (but cover, otherwise your entire fridge will smell of garlic)).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Parental love

My mom is a wonderful cook (as is my dad, which, I guess, should be obvious:) and even though she lately claims that she's gotten a bit bored with cooking and when it's just the two of them they eat deli food half the time, when we go over for a long weekend, she always whips up some of the classics.
And the Easter was a very, very long weekend. So there were some classics and some newbies in her kitchen.
Here are some of the highlights.

Blini (thin Russian pancakes):

These are classic Russian blini, ultra thin and buttery. When I was a kid, she used to have a piece of fat on a fork and she'd glaze each pancake she'd take off the pan with it. By now it's butter. But you get the point.
It's a classic pancake dough but very thin, approximately the thickness of a drinking yoghurt or syrup.

2 eggs
fine flour

Cook on both sides on a large pan. Make sure they are as thin as they come.
Serve with trout or salmon fish-roe; pate; cream cheese or, if you're the more conventional type, with home-made strawberry jam.

Vinaigrette salad:

finely chopped boiled beetroot
finely chopped boiled potato
sauerkraut (with carrots)
green onion or spring onion
sun-flour oil
salt and pepper

Chop, mix, dress, mix. Enjoy. It's always hard to stop before all of it is gone. And it's so pretty looking.

Mom's mustard chops:

Pork-chops (~1,5 - 2 cm in thickness, cut from the back)
mustard for marinating
1 egg
2 - 3 cloves of crushed garlic
salt and pepper
1 - 2 tbs of flour

Smear the pork with mustard and leave over-night. Cut into chops and beat with a meat hammer or a glass bottle (beat with the mouth of the bottle, so it leaves nice tidy ring-shapes, it works even better than a hammer).
Prepare the batter - whisk the egg, add the garlic, salt, pepper, flour and milk. Use the leftover mustard from the bowl / plastic box you used for marinating the meat.
Dip each chop into the batter and fry on low heat on both sides.
Serve with boiled potatoes and home-made pickles.

Pan-fried pollack with basil and green onions:

1 pollack fillet
a bush of fresh basil, chopped
a generous bunch of green onions, chopped
freshly ground black pepper and salt

Remove the fish from the skin (if hasn't been done in the supermarket). Cut it into about 5 cm wide pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fry on medium heat on one side. Turn, cover with chopped green onions and basil and squeeze on some mayo. It's wonderfully light and yet pollack has a very nice, strong taste for a white fish.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Take it easy

Overdosed on food, cooking etc? Here's a solution, something that's ready in 15 min-s, is relatively light and very tasty.

Salmon and shrimp soup:

300 g salmon fillet
a jar of shrimps in salt water (or a pack of frozen shrimp)
1 big potato, peeled and thinly sliced
1 very big carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 celery stick, thinly sliced
1 onion sliced
celery leaves chopped
fresh dill chopped
2 bay leaves
a pinch of safran
a splash of kitchen cream before serving
salt and rose pepper

Boil the potato, carrot, onion, bay leaves, rose pepper and celery for ~7 min. Remove the bay leaves. Add chunks of salmon. Add the chopped herbs, the safran and the shrimp. Stir in some cream (if you like it lightly creamy) before serving.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Eggs or bunnies?

We're not very big on bunnies and hiding chocolates, but we're manic Easter-egg painters. We always boil about 30 eggs and it takes me, my mom and my sister about half an hour to go through them. Then my dad shows up and paints another 5 using the onion peelings and other traditional ways.

I have no idea who eats all these eggs every year :)

How to paint eggs using onion-peel:
a lot of onion peel (all of the loose dry golden stuff that you can get off them, if you don't have a lot of onions at home try getting some from the onion-basket at the super-market)
a pair of stockings or some rice-cloth
yarn for tying
if you want, some colourful yarn for extra patterns

Wrap each egg in a lot of onion-peel (the more you use the darker the color and the more contrasting the patterns), then in a piece of stocking or some rice-cloth. Tie it tightly. Boil for 10 minutes at least.
To get an even brown color, add in some eggs without wrapping them.

Chocoholics unite

We've managed to get our family together for this Easter but as it's snowing again, we've spent most of the past three days inside - painting eggs, taking naps with our cats, overindulging on everything and laughing hysterically on sugar-rushes.
Since my sister is a self-processed chocoholic, it seemed like an appropriate moment to try Gordon Ramsey's Chocolate Fondant recipe.

Hot chocolate fondant:

makes 10 big ones or 20 small ones.

250g unsalted butter;
250g good quality bitter chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
5 eggs
5 egg yolks
300g caster suga
250g plain flour

Vanilla ice cream to serve

Preheat oven to 160˚C. Butter ramekins or muffin tins, then dust liberally with cocoa, shaking out any excess. Or use muffin-papers inside the muffin-tins, then you can skip the buttering / cocoa-dusting. Slowly melt the chocolate and butter, then take off the heat and stir until smooth. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.
Whisk the eggs and egg yolks and sugar together until pale and thick, then incorporate the chocolate mixture. Sift the flour over the mixture and gently fold in, using a large metal spoon. Divide between the ramekins and bake for 12 minutes (8 minutes if your tins are small enough for the dough to make 20). Serve with vanilla ice-cream.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

In the Herbarium

When you're a kid, summer is all about camps, right? Band camps, girl-scouts, or just summers at grandmas. When I was a kid, I spent many a summer at a camp with first and second year Biology or Geography students who had to determine random plants found in the fields and forests of bountiful Estonia. I guess my parents brought me and my sister along for educational purposes, some of the Latin names of the plants rubbed off on us, but mainly we had a really annoyingly educational effect on the college students. We loved running off to the far-away corners and showing up with the rarer species, that my mom could then hold up and ask: "Who can tell me the Latin name for this." Later on all of these would have to be carefully dried between sheets of newspapers to then end up in the beautiful herbariums.

This week in Warsaw, my dearest colleague took us to this really cute cafe in Warsaw. It is called Zielnik (Odyńca 15, trams 4, 18 and 36 go there, it's about 4 stops from Centrum), i.e. herbarium in Polish. It has herbarium pages all over the walls, the music is silent enough so you can talk and the chairs are really comfortable. A perfect place for a long, long dinner and some girl-talk that draws on for hours.

Some of the food was really good and some was just OK. I had sizzling prawns with roasted garlic and a goat's cheese salad. The latter was a bit boring (and the cheese was a bit overcooked), but the prawns were nice. I was told that the pierogy with veal were really good (Polish dumplings served with melted butter)and the three of us shared two desserts - a meringue layered caked (good but gives you a sugar induced twitch) and a Charlotka (Polish version of apple-pie) with ice-cream. The latter was a roaring hit.

All in all I really recommend it, for a nice tete-a-tete or a dinner with a bigger group of people.

Raspberry Warsaw

Dinner with colleagues is usually rather uneventful, right? Not very likely that you'll start making (luckily not drinking)layered shots with hard liqueur and violent names? Well, think again. After a very civilized dinner of Chinese take-away and a wonderful raspberry crumble prepared by our hostess, a colleague introduced the rest of us to the wonders of Polish drinking. Her story was from an anima-festival opening in, if I'm not mistaken, a city called Lodz. The drink comes very patriotically in the colours of the Polish flag (red and white), is ominously called "The Rabid Dog" and we managed to convince another colleague, for whom it was only his third night after moving to Warsaw, that he needs to give it a go :) This is how we got to me putting my old-times bar-tendering skills to use again. But let's start the raspberry-story with the crumble.

Yolanda's raspberry crumble: 3 sour apples, peeled and chopped juice of 1 lemon 1 pack of frozen raspberries 1 cup flour 1/2 cup unsalted butter 1/2 cup sugar Stew the apples with the lemon juice and some sugar, mix in the raspberries and then transfer the mixture to a buttered pie-dish. Prepare the crumble topping by mixing the flour, butter and sugar (with a fork or using a food-processor) and sprinkle the mixture over the fruit. Bake at 190C for 25 minutes and serve with the best vanilla ice-cream. YUM.

The Rabid Dog (serves 1): 2 cl raspberry syrup 2 cl vodka 4 drops of Tabasco Use a shot glass, or if you don't have one, an old-style vodka glass will do. Pour in the syrup. Take a teaspoon and slowly pour the vodka into the glass so it doesn't mix with the syrup (pouring the vodka on the spoon so that it slows down and slides down the edge of the glass until it meets the syrup). Add a couple of drops of Tabasco. Tell the person drinking it to down it quickly. They were quite convincing in saying that it was good. So I guess here starts the new drinks section :)
Here's how you do it:

Saturday, March 15, 2008


It's been snowing today. We didn't get any snow throughout the entire winter and today, Mid-March, just when I was about to dive into the closet for some lighter clothes and fish out the sun-glasses, nasty grey slush started falling from the skies. And what else is there to do on a day like this, than to turn to some good, home-made food for comfort.

I made our long-time favorite meatballs and also finally got around to trying the Treacle tart. It was recommended to me by a friend, who claimed it was his favorite pie and it really was very, very good. (So thanks for the tip, Richard :).

Horseradish meatballs: ~600 gr. top quality minced beef (I usually use the half and half mince from pork and beef, but this time I wanted to try the new mince, from the happy meat-cows)
4 slices of fresh white bread
1 egg
1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 tbsp horseradish
1/3 glass of milk
oil for frying

Put the bread on the bottom of a bowl and cover with milk. Add onion, garlic, horseradish and egg, mix. Add the minced meat, kneed. Make meatballs, I like them oval and slightly flat (not completely round). Heat the pan, add some oil and place the meatballs on the pan. Reduce heat (to around 7 from 10) and cover. Turn only once.

2 tsp flour
1/2 glass of milk
1/2 glass of hot water
1 tbsp horse-radish

When the meatballs are ready, remove them and use the same pan for the sauce. A simple white sauce goes really well with this family-classic. Sprinkle the flour on the pan; mix with the frying-oil. Add the milk and the water, then the horse-radish. Reduce. Served it with boiled potatoes and some fresh veggies.

Treacle Tart:

I used a BBC recipe that Richard sent me a link to.

350 gr. short-crust pastry
9 tbsp golden syrup
9 tbsp of white breadcrumbs
grated rind of a lemon and juice of one lemon
1 tsp ground ginger
egg wash

Roll out the pastry and line a pie tin. Put the pastry into the fridge while preparing the topping. Warm the syrup, add the breadcrumbs, grated lemon rind and the juice, and the ginger. Pour into the pastry case.
Roll out the pastry that’s left over and cut into strips; create a lattice design on the top of the tart.
Brush the pastry with the egg wash and bake in the oven at 190C for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden. Can be served with ice-cream but is good without as well.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Go British - Sunday Lunch

I promise, I'll get over Gordon Ramsay soon :)

But after watching two seasons of Hell's Kitchen and two seasons of the F-Word AND going to his restaurant in Prague (where, for some odd reason, he didn't serve the Wellington, which seems to be his THING)I just had to try making Beef Wellington.

Beef Wellington and chips a´la Gordon Ramsay:

I made it to serve 4 (2 wellingtons) although it really serves more.

800 g beef fillet
500 g Portabella mushrooms, chopped and blended to a puree while raw
peppered beef-ham (didn't find Parma, but this one worked very nicely)
400 g puff pastry
2 eggs
potatoes (waxy kind)
dried thyme
chilly flakes
olive oil
salt and pepper
green onions

Cut the beef fillet in two, season with salt and pepper and quickly sear on a very hot pan in oil. Set aside to rest and then cover with mustard.
Heat the mushroom puree on a dry pan until it becomes thick and sticky (water evaporates).
Roll out some cling-film, put 4 slices of ham on the plastic, cover with mushroom paste then place the mustard covered fillet in the middle and roll up. You'll end up with two "sausages" in plastic. Put those in the fridge for ~15 minutes.

Roll out the puff pastry (I bought ready made puff pastry and still rolled it to be thinner, but actually rolled it too thin, might have been thicker), egg wash one edge of the pastry, remove the meat from the plastic and place it in the middle. Roll up the pastry and egg-wash the top. Put the rolls back in the fridge for 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C, place a baking tin in for it to heat (for the fries). Bake the wellingtons for ~30 minutes (mine was medium-rare in the centre after that, just the way I like it (pure luck) but I guess it depends on the diameter of the fillet, mine was quite thick - about 10 cm - and on the oven).

Don't peel the potatoes, wash them, cut them in sectors and boil them with salt for about 3 - 5 minutes. Drain, season with thyme, salt and chilly flakes and drizzle with olive oil. Then transfer them into the pre-heated baking tin and put in the oven for about 20 min.

I served it on a salad of lettuce, chopped capers and green onions with Balsamico.
And it was really, really good. I bow to the Chef with the temper.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Thai food in Tallinn

There's a new(ish) Thai restaurant in Tallinn and we went to check it out Saturday. It's called Bangkok. Unfortunately it's another one that's in a basement, we, Estonians sure seem to like to eat in the cellars. I wonder if the modern anthropologists are developing a theory on that. Something on the lines of a miserable history of stealing food from the cellars of the estate owners. Also the interior design was a bit schizophrenic. It was mostly bamboo and other oriental elements and then for some inexplicable reason, the door and the railings were hand-made metal and looked a bit like an S&M dungeon.

The food was also neither here nor there, some things were very good.

For example my som tam (spicy carrot) salad and my friend's tom kha pla (fish, mushroom and coconut milk) soup. At the same time our khao pad goong (rice with prawns) and the pad see-iew moo (fored rice-noodles with pork and veggies) were really very average at the most.

Friday, March 7, 2008

veg out

I have a tendency to buy a lot of different jars and cans of exotic and yummy stuff "just in case" and constantly hear how it's a horrible habit and that there's no room in the fridge for the good stuff (cheese and beer) because of my uncountable jars.
This week I had a craving for something spicy and asian tasting, but was too lazy to go shopping so I finally used up a whole lot of my cans.

Vegetables in coconut over wild rice:

1 can of coconut milk
1 can of water chestnuts
1 can of bamboo shoots
green beans
1 baby zucchini
1/2 red bell pepper
1 big tsp of red curry paste
some sliced iceberg lettuce
a knob of ginger, chopped
wild-rice, 1 sachel
1 tbsp olive oil
a drizzle of sesame seed oil

Boil the rice.
Combine the oils, heat in a deep (or wok) pan, add the ginger, the green beans, then the slicez zucchini, chopped bell pepper and the lettuce. Toss. Add the bamboo shoots and the water chestnuts. Toss again. Add the coconut milk, the curry paste and the chilly. Season with salt. Stir. Serve over wild rice. It's ready in 15 minutes (incl. prep time).

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

(A)mazed in Prague continued

The desserts, as promised.
Creme Brulee

Panna Cotta

Sticky Toffee


Hot Chocolate Fondant

(A)mazed in Prague

Another thing I can check off my food-related wish-list. A visit to Gordon Ramsay's restaurant - check.

Prague maze is in the Hilton hotel in the centre of Prague. The interior design didn't really impress me, but the "must-s" were all in order - the chairs were comfortable, the tables were not too close together, the bathroom was pretty and the service was really good. A little too good to be honest. The first course arrived before you had a chance to start missing it and a waiter was all over you the minute you took off your jacket. Just that the style (art deco) reminded me of the old Tartu University cafe before it was refurbished, so it didn't really make me feel all that glamorous. Plus, as a lot of the surfaces were dark and the lights were dim, the overall impression was greyish rather than softly-lit in a romantic way. Tut-tut :)

And now, to the food.

I started with a Poached lobster salad with apple and fennel. And was a little disappointed, it was a bit on the bland side and too oily for me (the dressing + the additional drizzle). But the lobster in itself was nice. And the lemon mayonnaise.

My main course (majority of the people in our table had that) was Steamed daurade royale with candied aubergine, bok choi and spicy tomato sauce. This was delicious. The fish itself was so tender but at the same time the taste was quite strong and with many nuances for a white fish. The candied aubergine I would have skipped or at least served in a different shape. The color, the consistency and the weird pile wasn't really aesthetically enjoyable. Bok choi had obviously been drenched in butter and was obviously gorgeous.

I also had a sample of the other main dish ordered at out table - Glazed pork belly with tempura of black pudding, apple, spiced lentils and crispy skin. This was also absolutely fabulous, but also super super fatty. Not an easy task for those worried about their cholesterol. But it really did melt in your mouth, and the "roses" they had made of the crispy skin were very pretty and quite nice in taste.

And then the dessert, in this one there was no commonalities among the diners, everyone had a different one. I had crème brulee (needed it for comparison purposes - it was royally good) with Granny Smith sorbet (too sweet). Other people ordered Sticky Toffee; Coconut Panna Cotta; Hot Chocolate Fondant and a Peanut and Cherry jam sandwich. (the dessert pictures are coming in the next post, as I forgot to reduce the size of the pics).

The portions are very well planned, you're just on the tipping point of being over-eaten when you are done with your dessert. Ofcourse then they bring these oven-fresh, hot biscuits with the cheque and bam, you're tipped over that point.

Happy drooling and if you're ever in Prague, definitely book a table there.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Vilnius in the rain + spoiler alert

I had to spend the weekend in Vilnius due to a relatively unfortunate sequence of events. I had never been before so I was mildly interested, but the weather was vile. So I sent a wingy SMS to my only Lithuanian friend, who is safely tucked away in some remote place in Sweden and got a recommendation for two places where I could spend a cosy afternoon with some nice food, a large glass of wine and my books.

As I had two afternoons, I went to both, they were strategically located on opposite ends of a large pre-Easter fair, consisting of loud music, dead-flowers sold on sticks and bagels sold on a string and which every single kid on the street had around their neck.

The places I went to were Zoe's Bar and Grill located very near to the Gedeminas avenue and the Cathedral (by the way, could someone explain to me, why is the statue on the far right (front of the Cathedral) sporting horns?) and a bar called Bruce Lee or Briusly as they call it, which was incidentally attached to my hotel.

Zoe's was very cosy indeed, I think I spent three hours there all together and not because the service was slow (which it wasn't) but because it was just genuinely chilled out. The food, however, I wasn't so impressed with. My medium-rare beef burger tasted funny. And from that word on, I am at a loss for adjectives. Really. It was funny tasting. It wasn't straightforwardly bad, but it was cold and oddly seasoned. I think the chef made an effort of being creative, but the result was just inappropriate.
But the presentation was nice (I didn't have my camera and my phone takes notoriously bad photos, but I'll try if they're worth uploading when I get home). It reminded me of the Pulp Fiction's Jack Rabbit Slim's burger, big, juicy with coleslaw and a huge pile of fries. As hard as you try, about a half of it will always remain uneaten.
BUT, I had the best grilled-banana dessert of my life there. It was perfectly grilled, nice and hot, but not murdered into brown mush. It was served still in it's peel that was beautifully streaked with the burns of the grill, some Kahlua, vanilla ice-cream and whipped cream.

Bruce Lee advertises itself for serving food with an attitude. I had a salad. It lay there meekly as I devoured it to the last bit. It was a bit boring in terms of just being made of Chinese cabbage and not a combination of different types of lettuce, but the honey-coated chicken was nice. However the creme brulee was horrible and I still smell like a wok-pan that has caught on fire. But if you're eating alone and you don't have a book, the place is well worth a shot as their English menu is quite entertaining. Would you like to try some "wasabi NUTTS" for a snack? What about a "chicken and SHCRIMP noodles"? :D

And finally for the spoiler. I can hardly contain myself. Gordon Ramsay recently opened a restaurant in Prague and I'm going tomorrow. I've been slowly falling in love with the man. Initially I thought that he's arrogant and that being mean to everyone is not a justifiable tactic even if you have Michelin stars. I much preferred Jamie’s soft-spoken, feed-the-gas-repair-guy style. But. I've been watching a lot of Gordon Ramsay shows lately and the F-word has swayed me. The turkeys, the pigs, the funny co-hosts and the cute youngest kid.
So tomorrow I'm going to maze Prague!

I don't know what the best practice is in this case, but the Pulp Fiction picture I got from here, the Bruce Lee one from here and the Gordon Ramsay one form here.

Kindergarten memories

Starting a food-related conversation or a blog-post with mentioning kindergarten is generally a bad idea. It takes people back to the realm of potatoes boiled blue, pale gravy with chunks of fat in it, gooey desserts that stubbornly cling to the plate or pop off in a single bowl-shaped chunk dangerously wiggling on your spoon as you helplessly stare. And the large women who's role was to do the dishes, with their big, puffy, chlorine smelling red hands.

But some dishes they served on the lunch-break, can be quite nice and comforting if you use the real ingredients instead of their cheap flour-based name-sakes. Like bread-pudding or meatball soup.

Simple meatball soup

Frozen meatballs (the small ones)
2 peeled potatoes, thinly sliced
cabbage, thinly sliced
red-bell pepper, chopped
leek, sliced
parsley, chopped
a large carrot, sliced
onion, chopped
1 tbsp red curry paste

Bring the water and the chicken stock to boil, add the meat boils and skim the foam. Add potatoes and carrots, then onion, bell peppers and the cabbage. Finally the leek, parsley and the curry-paste.
It's really simple, light and smells nice. Nothing like the kindergarten lunch-break :)