Thursday, May 29, 2008

The simplest soup on the planet

I've ranted of my love for soups a lot here, but you know those days when you're too lazy to prepare even the simplest of meals and you long for something that tastes clean and a little bit like childhood?
Well this is a perfect soup for those days.

Simple clear minced meat soup:
300g beef mince
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large peeled and thinly sliced potato
1 large peeled and thinly sliced carrot
1 sliced baby zucchini
1 chopped onion
sea salt
dill weed - fresh or dry

Lightly brown the minced meat with salt and onions on the bottom of a pot. Add water and the vegetables. Bring to boil. Ready in about 7 min :)

Sorry for the relative boring-factor, but trust me, this soup will be your friend on one lazy, late morning - ahem-noon :)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Season's picks

They've opened a bunch of new restaurants in Tallinn that I haven't been to yet. DaDa (the same one they have in Riga, I've been to that one); one with traditional Estonian cuisine in a fancy suit - Kaera-Jaan; a fancy Asian cuisine one - Chedi. The list goes on and on.

But the new IT place of the spring seems to be a humble little eatery on the outskirts of Kadriorg. Tucked away in a small, unnoticeable street in an unremarkable wooden building near the Balley's Casino is a little cafe / shop called NOP (sorry the web-page is in Estonian only). The name derives from the Estonian word 'noppima' which means to pick (things like berries). It's a combined cafe and a shop for organic food, not vegetarian, just fresh, local, organic. The menu is tiny and constantly changing but they have their classics all figured out and add surprising twists to some.
I had a Ceasar salad - with the real Anchovies dressing and with additional Anchovies on the top (they're very accommodating and changed Anchovies for chicken for anyone who wanted). But I also got a bite of a divine tasting tomato and Brie risotto. Have been meaning to make risotto ever since.

Anyways, If you're looking for a nice lazy weekend lunch - NOP is the place to go. And after you're done, make sure you stop by the shop bit for fresh veggies or different spices and condiments that are otherwise really hard to find. I stacked up on wasabi nuts, tamarind paste and Cashew nuts.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Eager Beaver

Have you ever had beaver?
No seriously?

Well, up until recently, neither had I. It's actually pretty nice.

This particular specimen was shot near Aegviidu, then marinated in apple-juice and then smoked in a hot-smoke oven.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Leftover Song

What would you do if you had 1 slice of streaky bacon, 1/2 pack of already sliced white mushrooms, 5 chicken meatballs and a 7 cm piece of Chinese cabbage in your fridge that all needed using up?

Here's what I did and I recommend it :)

Egg-noodles with a mix and match broth:
serves 3

1 slice of streaky bacon fried and dried
1/2 pack of sliced white mushrooms
5 chicken meatballs quartered
some Chinese cabbage, sliced
100 g egg noodles
1/2 fresh chilly, sliced
1 clove of garlic, sliced
~2 cm2 knob of tamarind paste
some green onion, chopped
5 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 lemongrass stick
1 chicken-stock cube or 1 l chicken-stock

Boil water and the cube (yes, they're evil, but we all have these days) or the chicken stock. Add lemon grass, tamarind, chilly, garlic, mushrooms and Chinese cabbage. Boil for 5 minutes. Remove the lemon grass stick. Add the meatballs and egg noodles (break the block into four). Bring to boil, stir. Break the bacon up into pieces add the tomatoes and the green onions.

It's really nice, quick and easy and you can fill up your fridge with nice, new, fresh stuff without the guilt of being wasteful :)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Woof-woof

This is a very classic Estonian dessert, not classic in terms of like centuries of peasants eating it, but classic in terms of a couple of generations (dating back to Soviet times still) have grown up on it. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the general lack of decent sweets in the stores and the abundance of butter-biscuits, cocoa and hard-marmalade. I'm pretty sure everyone’s mom has made it (again, I don't know what's up with these 'everyone’s mom made it' recipes lately:). And everyone has a different way of making it and adds different things. Sort of like potato salad. That one's also completely different in different households.

Behold, my childhood favorite 'cake':

The Spotted Dog:


400 g cottage cheese paste
2 x 70 g dark chocolate (75%)
1/2 pack of Digestive biscuits
1 pack (~150 g) of marmalade-candy (hard marmalade, the type you can cut with a knife)
50 – 75g butter
dried strawberries

Crush the cookies (not to oblivion, leave some chunks) and cut the marmalade candy into smaller chunks. Melt the chocolate and the butter and add the cottage cheese paste. Mix. Add marmalade and dried fruit to the cookies and mix (if you mix the marmalade into the cookies when they're dry, they'll spread more evenly). Then add the chocolate-cottage cheese mix. Use ceram-wrap; a plastic bag or tinfoil to make a 'sausage' (about 5 cm in diameter) and refrigerate for at least 1,5 hrs before serving.

Besides marmalade and dried fruit you can use anything as the filling. Crushed caramel, nuts (I don't like it, as the cake has this nice smooth texture and I feel hard pieces would disrupt the general smoothness), marshmallows, chocolate etc. Or you might skip the chocolate and go for 150 - 200 g butter + sugar + cocoa powder - this is how we used to make it, the color is much darker then.

I also found that using the dark chocolate made it a bit too strong. So next time I might go for one dark and one milk-chocolate.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The hat is off to the national fish

So at some point in 2007 the Estonian Ministry of Agriculture and an institution called the Estonian Fish Association organized (and the EU supported) a big public campaign to get people to vote on the national fish. And people did. About 50 000 of them. And about 18 000 picked the Baltic Herring as the most worthy contender. So the Baltic Herring is now our national fish.
The Ministry probably didn't have to try so hard, as it's been a staple meal in the Estonian cuisine for ever. And the current statistics say that they catch approximately 140 000 tons of Baltic Herring in the Estonian waters every year. Apparently an amount that still lags behind the demand.

Everyone's mom made fried Baltic Herring. Absolutely everyone's. Some even marinated it after it was fried. Or pickled it in tomato sauce. But the first step is familiar to all.

I've never done that myself. But one day Siim went out and bough 1 kg of Baltic Herring, came home and called his mom. Instead of getting all paranoid, as the "boyfriends mom being dragged into my kitchen matters" tradition suggests, I laid back and gratefully accepted the offerings of nice, fresh herrings, boiled potatoes, my moms tomato-carrot-bell pepper preserve and sour cream. I licked the plate.

The classic fried Baltic Herring:
1 kg of fresh cleaned Baltic Herring (heads and intestines removed)
2 eggs
3 tbsp of flour
salt

Salt the fish and refrigerate for an hour. Then toss them in the flour, after that in whisked egg and fry.
Serve with boiled potatoes and sour-cream.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Up and down Potemkin steps

Lard on bread:


I've been to Odessa once before, but I was probably 8, or maybe 6 and we were passing through to go to a Black Sea resort, so I don't really remember anything.
This time I took pictures. And apparently, I'm now eligible for the Odessa passport, as everyone who will go up and down the Potemkin stairs(192)earns that right :)

The food in Odessa was really really good, both the traditional stuff (they're lard and fat lovers, quite like the Polish) and the modern eats.

First night in town we went to a cafe called Fanconi (8/10, Ekaterininskaya St) and I had some very nice sushi.

The California rolls were with actual crab-meat, not the surimi stuff so often used. And the Miso soup was good as well, although I would have skipped the mushrooms in it.


The second night we were taken to a traditional Ukrainian restaurant called Khutorok, (Lanzheron Beach, Shevchenko park, Tel: 380-487 35-38-73 / 380-487 35-43-28, Open daily: 12 a .m. - 12 p.m.) it's near the Black Sea and basically looks like a farm-house. In the little courtyard they even have some cages for bunnies, chicken and peacocks (!). And inside, on the walls they have photos of various Ukrainian and Russian superstars that have come to visit. Alla Pugacheva, of-course, her ex-boyfriend Filip Kirkorov, the new Russian media-darling Maxim Galkin etc. The night started with the unavoidable shot of honey and pepper vodka that was to be followed up with some fat on rye bread. Then a table full of starters - cold cuts, salads, spiced lard on bread, etc.(after which, let's be honest, it would have been reasonable to stop eating). Apparently Odessan cuisine is influenced a lot by the Jewish cuisine, that’s how things like farshmak (chopped herring, eggs, onions, with mayo or vegetable oil) or baked chicken pate that are now considered traditionally Odessan have found their way on the tables.
Farshmak:

The main course was a salmon that was baked in the salt crust and then set in flames right before serving and some shashlyk (beef shish-kebabs, so soft and tender that they almost melt in your mouth) with roasted veggies.
Salmon in salt crust in flames:

And then, for desert, as if a test if you really deserve to be visiting Odessa, were blini (very thin pancakes) with cherry or apple filling an sour-cream (I swear it was at least 30%).
The cherry and apple filled blini:


On our last day we went to a very cool and cozy restaurant called KlaraBara (apparently the owner is a lady called Klara), where I had the comfortably familiar herring with boiled potato and onion, but most of the people at the table went for another Odessa classic - 1/4 of a chicken in a cheese-crust.

We washed this all down with a Soviet-time classic Zhiguly beer :).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Cleaning up the country

Like 50 000 other people we put together a team to go and participate in this big forest cleaning campaign called Teeme Ära 2008 (Let's do it 2008).


One could say that it is the biggest grass-root initiative after the Baltic Chain. And taking into account that the population of Estonia is 1.3 million, then 50 000 people who volunteer to go and pick up garbage that other bastards have illegally dumped in the forests is not half bad.

As we did it near Haapsalu, where my friend Tõnu is from, his mom had prepared a real feast of these great traditional dished you can only get in a house where people both hunt and fish.
She served:
Fried Baltic herrings in tomato sauce

Battered pike (just fished out of the sea the previous day)

Meat-rolls made of moose-calf meat served with boiled potatoes and a beetroot-cumin salad.


Yum!

Unfortunately I didn't get the recipes, so this will be a mood setting post, more than anything else. And my virtual homage to the Teeme Ära campaign and everyone who participated.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Pow-pow powen

Powen (or is it whitefish, I have no idea, how to pick the right name for the particular variety available in Estonia) is a "famous" fish in Estonia. There is a legendary old movie, where one character says to another: "I love you as much as I love powen-fish".
Usually you can get it smoked, and it's heavenly. But last week the supermarkets had gotten a batch of fresh powen, so I tried to make that. The results were, as to be expected, very nice. It is a truly marvelous fish, albeit a bit bony.


Oven powen with a Meditteranean twist:
1 powen (whole fish), cleaned, de-scaled

For the taste-paste:
1/3 red bell pepper, chopper
10 Kalamata olives, pitted, chopped
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 slices of Parma, cut up
small chunk of Parmesan, shaved up

Cauliflower-potato mash:
1/2 fresh cauliflower
4 medium potatoes
knob of butter
sea-salt
spring-onions, chopped

Roasted zucchini:
1 baby zucchini, sliced
freshly ground salt and pepper
olive oil and Balsamico to drizzle

Wash the fish in cold water and get rid of the scales under running water (this way they don't end up all over the place so you can find them (say in your hair) a day later).

Prepare the taste-paste. Fry the onions until golden, add the bell-pepper and olives. Transfer into a food processor, add the olive oil, the Parma and the Parmesan and blitz.

Smear the fish's inside with the paste generously and pat some one both sides. Wrap in tinfoil and bake in the oven for ~25 min.

Prepare the potato- cauliflower mash, season the zucchini slices (laid out on an oven pan over a strip of baking paper) and drizzle with olive oil and Balsamico. Put in the oven (using the fan) for about 10 min.

We had some friends over and almost everyone went for seconds.
The picture is by my friend Rene.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Arigato

I was looking for a birthday present for a friend when I stumbled upon this beautiful little book on Japanese cooking by Joakim Lundblad, Bruno Ehrs and Dag Hermelin. "Japanese food through the eyes of three Swedish guys?" I thought with moderate suspicion. But it turns out that for someone living in Estonia, it is a gift from heaven. They approach all the ingredients with the awe that comes from living in a culture where most of the people have never heard about them, not everything can be bought in the shops etc. Where possible, they suggest what one or the other thing can be substituted for.
I've made so much sushi already, that my fingers were itching for some of the other variations of the Japanese cuisine.

So here's my first go at it, didn't stick to the recipe entirely, but I liked the result:

Bibinba:
boiled Japanese rice (or porridge rice - small, round)
450 g thinly sliced pork
200 gr thinly sliced bamboo shoots (was supposed to be bean sprouts but the particular supermarket I went to that day didn't have any)
~20 mangetouts

marinade for the vegetables:
1/2 tsp of sesame seed oil
1 tsp of sesame seeds (better if it is a mix of the dark and the light ones)
salt and white pepper

broth:
4 cm knob of ginger
1 clove of garlic
2 1/2 dl water
1/2 of a carrot
some leek
1/2 of a bell pepper
1/2 of a green apple
1 1/2 dl soy-sauce
1 1/2 rice vinegar
2 1/2 tbsp suga3

Boil the rice without salt and without stirring. First wash it until the water is clear, then cover it with water so that the water line is about 1 cm above the rice, bring to boil, then reduce heat for 20 minutes and then take off the heat and cover with the lid for some more time.

Boil some water with salt and add the mangetouts for about 30 seconds. Discard the water and cool in cold water. Then cut the mangetouts into thin slices.
Prepare the marinade by mixing all the marinade ingredients and then toss the mangetouts and bamboo shoots in the marinade and set aside.

Prepare the broth, chop everything up and boil for about 30 minutes. Let it cool a little and blitz in the blender.

Brown the pork on a hot pan, transfer the meat to a pot, add the broth, bring to boil and in a couple of minutes you have your bibinba. Serve over rice with the mangetouts and bamboo shoots.