Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lazy lunch - warm pesto potato and chicken salad

It's getting colder so it's the season for warm salads, and luckily they're also the best way to imaginatively utilize various left-overs from the fridge. Here's a quickie lunch-salad I threw together last week that I really enjoyed.

Warm pesto potato and chicken salad (Soe pesto-kartuli ja kanasalat):
serves 2

2 medium boiled potatoes or 4 small ones, cut into chunks
1 pot of lettuce, torn
1 tsp olive oil
8 - 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 generous tsp of pesto
1 small onion, sliced
1 orange bell-pepper, sliced
1 baked chicken breast or some left-over roast / grilled chicken
salt and pepper for serving
chopped spring-onions and a little bit of grated Parmesan for serving

Heat a tiny bit of olive oil on a pan (I used the olive oil from the sun-dried tomatoes jar, it gives a nice extra kick) and toss on the potatoes, onion rings and julienned bell-peppers. Stir-fry for 1-2 minutes until golden brown. Add pesto, stir, in about 30 seconds add cut up chicken, turn off the heat and in about 30 more seconds add the halved cherry tomatoes. Stir again.
Arrange the lettuce on a plate, cover with the mixture from the pan, serve with Parmesan, spring onion and salt and pepper sprinkled on top.

I think it will also be good without chicken, in a veggie version, just add more cheese.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Good food and good friends (with guns) - Wild deer dinnerparty

I have a friend who enjoys shooting stuff. And he's good at it too. Clay pigeons for the medals and wild animals for the joy of his gluttonous friends :). It's deer season, so recently he went deer hunting and invited some friends over for a dinner party. It had been quite some time since our last one so it was that much more fabulous. Another friend usually shows up to those things and right before we start eating, tells something we call a 'Bambi-story', on how the meat we're about to eat was some cute forest-dweller's relative. But we've all grown a thick skin by now. I was temporarily even considering embedding a Bambi clip, that's before I found them on YouTube and remembered how sad it all was. If you're chocking up, open a good bottle of wine and read on, the recipe should melt your carnivorous heart (apologies to the vegetarians).

For a starter he served oven-roasted beetroot with goat cheese.

Another friend of ours imports wines, so she took care of the wine list. The Henkell Rose went very nicely with the appetizer

And here is the recipe (I'm reciting it from the memory, so I hope I remember all the details) for the:
Wild deer pot-roast with rice and vegetables a'la Tõnu.

- sirloin cut of fresh wild deer (roebuck)
- 4-6 limes
- olive oil
- peppermint and thyme
- salt and pepper
- 500 ml cream(10%)
- rice
- carrots and broccoli

He cut up the deer into small pieces (3x3x3cm), mixed the juice of three limes with some olive oil, peppermint, thyme, salt and pepper and covered the meat with the marinade and left it overnight. The next day he said he thought there was not enough marinade, so he used the juice of three more limes with some more olive oil again and left it overnight again (so marinated on Sunday, cooked on Tuesday).
He then cooked the meat in a roast-pot (covered) for 1.5 hrs, added the cream (as now the marinade seemed a bit too sour) and cooked for half an hour more.
He pan-fried the pre-steamed carrots and broccoli and mixed it with boiled rice.
And he served it all with an oak-leaf and romaine lettuce salad with oranges.
It was really lovely, the meat was super-soft, almost crumbling and the freshness of the oranges in the salad played very well into the notes of lime in the marinade.

We had a 2002 Terra Andina Cabernet Franc-Merlot and a Michel Picard Bourgogne Pinot Noir to go with the main course.

Now that's what wonderful friends I've got. :)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Dying Swan with a meringue side please - my first Pavlova

I've wanted to try Pavlova and try making a Pavlova for a long time and the latest issue of the Estonian version of the Good Food magazine (Oma Maitse) ran an article on it, which just signified, that the time had come. So my mind was set, but it did seem like a bit of an overkill to whip up a Pavlova for just the two of us to snack on in the evenings. And again - divine intervention - a friend of mine shot a deer on a weekend and invited us over for a dinner party (I'll do a separate post on that later on). So, the Pavlova was to be prepared and taken to the dinner party.
I used the recipe from Oma Maitse as a base, but did some additional research on the web, as it appeared that they, for example, had forgotten a crucial ingredient - vinegar. And one does not mess with the chemical reactions of something as delicate as a perfect meringue base.

Raspberry and mascarpone Pavlova:

3 large egg-whites or 4 smaller ones
175 gr sugar
1 tsp potato or corn starch
1 tsp of white wine vinegar
vanilla-sugar or extract (optional)
300 gr frozen raspberries (you can use any other fruit, the more sour ones as strawberries, kiwis etc are preferred)
50 g powdered sugar
300 ml whipping cream
250 gr mascarpone cheese

Blend the raspberries and mix in half of the powdered sugar, set aside. Whip up the whipped cream with the rest of the powdered sugar and then mix in the mascarpone.
Put a layer of mascarpone cream in a tupperware, then a layer of the raspberry-mix, then again a layer of cream and so on until you've used up all of it. Cover with a lid and stick in the freezer for 2 - 2.5 hrs.
I think the freezing bit is really important as the coldness and the ice-creaminess of the consistency really adds a lot to the Pavlova. Plain, warm whipped cream takes half of the joy out of the cake.

But the key to a good Pavlova is clearly the meringue base and it is important when making any meringue that the egg whites reach maximum volume, so here are a couple of tips I picked up from various postings online and found really helpful:
- take the eggs out of the fridge for at least an hour before beating them or put the eggs into some warm water for about 10 minutes. It's best if the egg-whites are at room-temperature when you start beating;
- make sure your mixing bowl and whisk are clean and free of grease.
- castor sugar or superfine sugar will dissolve faster when making the meringue, so you might want to process the regular sugar in a food processor before starting.
- make sure you bake it slowly on a low temperature and let it cool of slowly

Preheat the oven to 140 C. Beat the egg-whites until they hold soft peaks. Start adding the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. Make sure the sugar has dissolved (it doesn't feel gritty between your fingers). Sprinkle the vinegar and cornstarch (and optionally the vanilla) over the top of the meringue and fold in. Adding these is absolutely crucial - the starch will give the base a crust that is dry and crisp and the vinegar will make the insides soft and marshmallow-like.

Draw a circle on some baking paper using a dinner-plate. Gently spread the meringue inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper one spoonful at a time. Make sure the edges of the meringue are slightly higher than the center.
Bake for 1 hr 15 minutes or 1.5 hrs until it's dry and crisp.
Let it cool with the oven door open.

You can make the base in advance, it will be fine in a dry place (covered) for at least 2-3 days.

Before serving take the mascarpone-cream out of the freezer and mound spoonfuls of cream carefully on the base. Decorate with berries.

It is SO worth the trouble. The sweetness and the texture of the meringue against the mellow cream with sour stripes. Fantabulous.
One of our friends who is usually not all that excited about food had two pieces and ended up taking the leftovers (there was just 6 of us and this cake easily serves 10) home with him. I'm still to make sure he didn't eat it all that night...

Oh, and the word to the wise - it is not the best choice of a cake to take somewhere. Quite the balancing act. But that was the only glitch in my otherwise perfect plan :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

E=mc2 or What to do when apples fall on your head? Oat and Apple dessert

This is an ultra-easy apple dessert that is a nice change from all the apple pies and cakes you get this time of the year. And it is much friendlier to the waist-line, despite the fact (or thanks to the fact?) that apples and oats are the common denominator for humans and horses (a commonly used example for a Venn Diagram) :). And it makes you eat milk (which is something to appreciate when you don't like milk but have no good reason's (as being intolerant) not to consume it).
So lot's of pro-s and no con-s.
Apparently it is something of a classic in some Estonian households, but I had never heard of it or had it before. Our bread-pudding episode refreshed S's memory to other childhood desserts and that's how it came about, it's his mom's recipe.

Apple and oat-crumble dessert (Õuna-kaerahelbe magustoit).
serves 4-5

4 large sour apples, peeled and deseeded
1 glass (~200 gr) of oat-flakes (oatmeal), better if you use the full-grain
knob of butter
2 tbsp of lightly packed brown sugar
4 tbsp of white sugar

Preheat the oven to 175 C.
Peel and deseed the apples and cut them into thin slices. Mix the apples with 3 tbsp of white sugar and some cinnamon. Slightly grease the bottom of an oven-tin and cover it with apples.
Melt the butter on a skillet and add the oatmeal. Stir occasionally (keep on medium heat) until the flakes become golden-brown. Add I tbsp white sugar if you want them to be more crunchy.

Cover the apples with the oatmeal and sprinkle with brown sugar on top.
Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the apples are soft.
Serve with milk.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fill 'em up: stuffed bell-peppers

Stuffed bell-peppers are something that my mom used to make a lot when I was a kid and I always liked them. However this time I made some impromptu additions myself and I must say, I managed something I didn't think was possible. The new version was even better.

Minced-meat and beetroot stuffed bell-peppers. (Hakkliha ja peeditäidisega paprika).
(serves 4)

4 large bell peppers (different colors)
500 gr minced lean beef
1 medium beet-root
1/2 sachet of boiled wild-rice
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 glass of tomato juice
ground Parmesan
1 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
cumin seeds
vegetable oil for frying
sour-cream for serving

Cut the tail-ends off the bell peppers, clean out the seeds and submerge the peppers into some boiling water. Keep them submerged for about 3 minutes (the color should change slightly and the flesh becomes a bit more tender). Boil the unpeeled beets until they feel soft under a fork. Cool and peel, grate using a coarse grater.

Heat the oil on a pan and add the cumin seeds, after 30 seconds add the chopped onion and then the minced meat, just before the end add the garlic. Brown the meat and then mix it with the grated beetroot and the boiled rice, Finally mix in the Parmesan and the Balsamic vinegar. Taste, season as necessary.

Preheat the oven to 175 C and stuff the bell-peppers with the mixture tightly. Put the peppers into a deep oven-tin. If you have any mixture left over put it on the bottom of the oven-tin. Pour some tomato juice into each pepper. Cover with tinfoil. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, remove the foil and bake for 10 more minutes.

The beetroot, the cumin, the Balsamic vinegar as well as the tomato juice and the Parmesan was what I did differently, and it made a world of a difference, especially the beetroot I'd say. It compliments the taste of the bell-peppers nicely and they both go really well with cumin. The vinegar brings out the inherent sweetness and the texture of the beetroot makes sure the stuffing isn't too dry. And tomato juice helps that cause as well.

Serve with the juice that's on the bottom of the pan and with some sour-cream on top.

Will definitely make it again before the fall is over.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Have your way with bread - Estonian bread-soup (dessert)

Bread - dark, rye bread - is the cornerstone of the Estonian cuisine. During Soviet times (although it might actually be a traditional dish, I'm not sure) bread-soup was often prepared as dessert. My theory is that there were two main reasons for it - first, they only sold bread by the big loaf, so there was often bread left over, kind of on the border of going stale and no Estonian's conscience would ever allow you to throw away bread. And second - you couldn't really buy desserts or sweets or nice pastries and probably many of the ingredients for fancier cakes.
So everyone who's lived at least some bit of their conscious age in the Soviet Union has had plenty of bread-soup. For my generation it's probably a childhood memory, mom made it, it was served in the kinder-garden and in the school cafeteria.

So recently we decided that it was time to try and make it ourselves. As we didn't have any left-over bread we went and bought different kinds - the very dark black bread and some of the more sour traditional rye bread, just to make the bread-soup. This is how I made it (everyone makes it in a different way).

Estonian black bread soup. (Leivasupp).
~400 gr of dark rye bread (or combine sweeter black bread and more sour rye bread)
500 ml of plum juice
500 ml of cranberry juice
500 ml water
150 ml brown sugar
fresh milk for serving
nuts and dried prunes for serving

Toast the bread in the oven and then soak it in hot water and the juices until it's all mushy. Set aside some of the juice (about a glass) Blitz the mixture in a blender or using a mixer until it's all nice and smooth. Mix in the sugar and transfer the mixture to a pot and slowly bring it to boil. Keep stirring it all the time as otherwise it will burn. Also beware of the bubbles, as it boils, some big bubbles burst on the surface and it's VERY painful to get hit by a small gob of boiling bread, trust me. Add some more juice and simmer for about 7 minutes.
Let the mixture cool.
Serve with milk and some dried prunes and nuts on top.

It's very common to add dried fruit and especially raisins into the pudding, but I personally don't like any desserts where the raisin's have a chance to suck up the moisture as it gives them this toad-like quality that I'm not particularly hot on in food.

It's a really nice dessert and a relatively healthy breakfast choice as well.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hearty and healthy for when the weather turns - lentil and bell-pepper soup

I've not prepared a lot of lentils in my life although I like them. First of all there isn't a strong lentil-eating tradition in Estonia and secondly, I don't remember my mom ever making anything with them. But growing out of your primary influences is a sign of growing up, no? :)

Anyway, to head into the increasingly gray fall with something really healthy (and to counteract a real chocolate and cake-bindge we were on) I came up with this very simple but nice and filling soup.

After all Health Magazine did pronounce lentils one of the 5 healthiest foods on earth.

Red lentil, carrot and bell-pepper soup. (Punase läätse, porgandi ja paprikasupp.)

1 green bell pepper, chopped
red lentils, ~ 1 generous handful
3 medium or two large carrots, coarsely grated
1 white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tsp nigella seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
300 - 400 gr pumpkin puree or raw pumpkin - optional (I had some left over from the pie)
1 tbsp corn-flower oil
1 organic vegetable-stock cube (optional - the soup will be fragrant enough without it, but depends on your taste)

Heat the oil on the bottom of a pot and add the nigella seeds and turmeric powder. After 30 sec. add onion and garlic and cook until tender and golden.
Add lentils and cook for 2-3 minutes and mix so that lentils are coated with oil. Add chopped bell-pepper, reduce heat and saute for 5 minutes.

Add water (or vegetable stock), salt, coarsely grated carrots and the pumpkin puree (optional, will make the soup smoother if that is what you like, if you'll end up blitzing the soup into a puree it's definitely a good idea, if you'll keep it as is, then it'll be good without).
Cook for ~7 minutes.
Serve with sour-cream or as is.

This time I didn't turn it into a pureed soup as I usually do (Siim doesn't really like those) and it was a nice change. As the carrots are grated the textures all match nicely.