Friday, November 28, 2008

Waiter, there's something in my ... Pork Pot-Roast

It's been a while since I've participated in a WTSIM event. I've somehow missed all the topics that I liked etc. (excuses - excuses). But this month's WTSIM just fell on my lap. I had just made this pot-roast when I read on The Passionate Cook's blog that a roast-related topic was advertised. So here's my entry.

Juniper berry and thyme Pork-Roast with glazed root-vegetables (Kadakamarja ja tüümiani marinaadis seapraad glasuuritud aedviljadega):

The meat:

- pork tenderloin (appr. 1 kg)
- 2-3 tsp of crushed juniper berries
- 2-3 tsp of dried thyme
- 2 tsp of ground ginger powder
- 1 tbsp of sea salt
- some freshly ground pepper
- 3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 glass of hot water
- 2-3 tbs of tomato paste

The vegetables:
- 3 small beets
- 3 average potatoes
- 3 large carrots
- 1/2 of white radish
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 tsp Worchester's sauce

Crush the juniper berries, mix them with thyme, ginger powder, salt and pepper and garlic. Pat the meat with the mixture on all sides and leave in the fridge for about 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 200 C.
Use a roasting-pot with a lid (glass, clay or ceramic) and put the meat in the oven. After about 20 min - half an hour pour on the glass of water which you've mixed with tomato paste. Cover up again and return in the oven.

It should stay in there for 1.5 hr - 2 hrs depending on the size of the roast. The internal temperature of the meat should be appr. 75 -80 C when it's ready.

Peel the potatoes and carrots and cut into sectors and halves. Pre-boil until almost tender. Scruff the beets and cut off the tails and pre-boil them as well. Then peel them and also cut into sectors. Peel the white-radish and cut into thin chips (no need to pre-boil them).

In a small bowl mix together the oil, the vinegar, the soy sauce and the Worchester's sauce. Cover an oven-tray with some baking paper or tin-foil. Dip each sector of pre-boiled vegetable into the mixture and lay the veggies out on the tray. Sprinkle on the white-radish chips.

Bake in oven (using the fan + grill function) for about 10 minutes or until the veggies look nice and glazed.

Serve with the pork cooking stock as the sauce. I has a nice wintery flavor to it and the juniper-berry and thyme marinade makes it resemble a wild game roast a bit. Yet it is very soft and tender.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Czar of Soups - Russian Borscht Recipe

(Above pic from here)
Borscht was a staple at our house when I was growing up. My mom regularly made it and with good reason. It is truly a wonderful soup. Super-tasty, nutritionally ingenious and very healthy. It took growing up and quite a bit of travelling til I realized that there is the Russian Borscht - the one I consider the REAL one - and then there's a bunch of others as most of the Slavic cultures have one of their own. For example the Poles have something that's basically just clear beetroot-broth that is then served over pierogi (tiny dumplings) - wonderful for hangovers as it's really sour. Lithuanians have a cold version with sour-milk. Ukrainian version is pretty similar to the Russian version. And although I like many of the others as well, I'm sticking with the one my mom made.

Borscht has also always (at least from the Soviet era) been really big in Estonia. To this day it is usually the one soup that you can find on every small cafe's or pub's menu. They make a canned version of it, to which you just have to add water. Whenever there are big outdoor events - song and dance festivals, some military things etc - then they always serve the canned version. It's not bad either, but actually very very different from the real thing.

It's kind of the same thing as with pelmeny (the Russian meat dumplings). Everyone in Estonia has had them plenty of times, but you really should decide on whether you like them or not before trying the home-made stuff. The same with borscht.

The correct way to pronounce it is without the T in the end [borsch]. But it seems that the spelling version with the T is more preferred when I look around online.

Russian Borscht (Beetroot and Veal soup) - Peedi ja vasikaliha borsh

- a veal shoulder blade roast or shoulder blade arm steak piece (with bone), appr 300g (you can also use beef)
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and black peppercorns
- water
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 onion
- 1 large carrot
- 2-3 beets
- some white cabbage
- 2 small or 1 large potato
- 1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 300g chopped and canned tomatoes or tomato paste

It's really not a hard soup to make, but it takes time. So the most human way to make it is to divide the tasks in two. Boil the meat-broth on the previous night and then make the soup on the next day after work.

Boil the veal in a large pot and a lot of water with the bay leaves, some black pepper corns and salt. Scrub the beets, cut off the tails and put them in the broth (with skins on). Boiling the beets with their skins on will make sure they'll keep their lovely color. Fish them out once they're soft when poked with a fork. The meat should be loose on the bone and soft. Fish out the bay leaves and set aside the stock and the meat until you start making the soup.

Peel and chop the other vegetables. Sautee the carrot, bell-pepper and onion in the sunflower oil.
Bring the broth to a boil and add in the carrot, bell-pepper and onion mixture. Then add in the thinly chopped potato. After 4-5 minutes the cabbage.
Cut up the meat, peel the boiled beets and cut them up as well. Add in about 10 minutes after adding in the cabbage (the other vegetables should be basically tender). Finally add in the tomatoes or the tomato paste. Stir, boil for 4-5 minutes and your borscht is ready.

Serve with sour-cream, garlic and black bread.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Banana skit - Banana bread recipe

I'm continuing to discover my new Nigella book (well actually, it was quite some time ago I made this banana bread, but I've got a bit of a back-log of stuff that awaits posting) and it was now banana-bread's turn. I'm not a great lover of loaf-cakes or sponges with (dried) fruit, but I do like bananas (more and more lately) and I've been meaning to make banana-bread for a while. After all, it has also made it's appearances in some books plus a friend of mine just recently advertised it as really yummy.

I did make some changes in the recipe however. Don't get me wrong - I like raisins, but only when they're exactly that - raisins i.e. dried, cringed grapes. Not when the process has been violently reversed, by soaking them in a liquid, so that they start looking like - well - really old, abused, half-dead grapes again.
So I kicked out the sultanas (the original recipe asks for 100g that are sauteed in 75 ml bourbon or dark rum) and instead used 50 gr of dark (70%) chocolate, broken into chips.

I didn't have the heart to kick out the alcohol as well (after all, bananas seem to ask for some fragrant hard liquor in desserts). So I kept that (not, rum though, I used Xante (a 38% pear and cognac liquor).

And I used large bananas instead of small ones (the more banana the better I say, especially when it's banana bread we're talking about).

Banana bread with dark chocolate and Xante (Banaanileib tumeda shokolaadi ja Xantega):

75 ml Xante
175 g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
125 g butter, melted
150 g white sugar
2 eggs
4 big bananas, the riper the better
100 g chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla sugar

Preheat the oven to 170 C, line a lasagna tin / loaf tin with some baking-paper and grease the paper.
Peel the bananas, cut them up an mash them using an old school potato-masher (so that they're in a gooey mash, but not completely blitzed to oblivion).

Melt the butter and mix in the sugar, beat until blended. Beat in eggs one at a time.

Now pour in the mashed bananas and beat (or stir) until well mixed.
Chop the walnuts and stir them in.

And then stir in the alcohol.
In a separate bowl mix the flour with the baking powder (and vanilla sugar if you're using that, if you're using liquid extract, add it to the eggs-butter and a banana mix).
Start mixing in the flour 1/3 at a time, stir well after each bit.

Scrape the mixture into the tin an bake for an hour or an hour and 15 minutes. Let it cool (at least a bit) before serving. Serve in thick slices (those who drink milk claim that itäs fabulous with a glass of cold milk - you know, Santa Clause style).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Turkish food in Tartu - a restaurant review for 'Istanbul'

It's been a while since I've written a restaurant review. For some reason I either forget my camera when I go out to eat in Estonia or I just don't get around to posting the emotions I get from there. I find it so much easier to comment on restaurants and food when travelling.
It was the same with this - a new Turkish restaurant called Istanbul that was recently opened in my home-town Tartu - plus the emotions weren't all that good. But then again - bad reviews might be even more useful than good ones, they can spare someone a mediocre experience.

So Istanbul - I've complained in this blog a couple of times, that it is very hard to get decent ethnic (fast)food in Estonia, as the society is quite mono-ethnic, or if not that (we do havw a large russian minority) then at least predominantly white - so every time a new ethnic eatery opens I get my hopes up. And Turkish - let's face it - you can get very very lovely Turkish food and Turksih fast food in many places in Europe, some not even that far away (Berlin, Prague, etc). So I was readying myself for a mouth-watering Döner kebab at least.

The place itself is on the main street of Tartu - Rüütli 2 - it's pretty small and the interior desing / atmosphere is nothing special. It's not bad, but it's not good either. And as it's one room that you step in directly from outside - the eaters are constantly interrupted by gusts of freezing wind as new people come in, go out or smokers go for their regular dose of nicotine.

The service was crap - at least for us. We waited for more than an hour for our dishes, they didn't all come at the same time and we had to remind the waitress of some of our drinks. Although Tartu is not very well known for speck-less service (it's a university town so you get a lot of new waitresses/students who start every fall, are clueless and leave every spring), but you usually don't mind, as the staff are friendly and trying hard. So was this girl, I got the feeling that the hold-ups stemmed from the kitchen.

The food - was a real disappointment. I can't say that it was bad, it tasted like average home-cooked stuff in an average household who is not all that inspired by food. But to do that to Turkish food. My heart bleeds. Really.
I had something that was called a beef kebab, but that was more like a bell-pepper, egg-plant and beef (dry and chewy) stew. The dominant taste was sour and it was oddly served with little, ugly, boiled Parisian potatoes.

Other people had 'young lamb shish-kebab' - dry fried pieces of lamb with the odd potatoes again.

My dad had something they called a 'peasan't dinner', the presentation was impressive - it came in a shallow clay dish and was still sparkling-hot. But again, nearly no meat, the meat that was in it was dry and chewy (beef).

S had something that was called an egg-plan kebab (was to be with beef) - and again the same - a flat, sour tomato sauce, chunks of egg-plant and a tiny bit of meat.

And the side salads were just pathetic. I mean, take a look yourself.

So all in all it made me sad. I really was hoping for some decent kebabs. Don't know if the people in the kitchen didn't know how to cook, weren't Turkish (although I've read in the papers that the chef's supposedly Turkish), neither, or they just really had a spectacularly bad day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Back to breakfasts - A three cheese omelette

(above picture from here)
I never used to like omelettes really, especially the very fluffy and thick kind. It always seemed like a good way to ruin perfectly nice eggs that could instead be cooked over-easy or poached or something like that. But I've realized now that it's those silly people who use flour and too much milk in an omlette, who were responsible for my low opinion of the dish. And I've now changed my mind. Here's an easy protein-filled breakfast option.

Three cheese omelette: serves 2 generously
4 small eggs
1/2 glass of milk
salt and lemon-pepper
~50 gr Feta cheese
1 tbsp cream cheese
either grated Edam or Parmesan
1/2 large red onion, chopped
2 tsp butter
some spring onion, chopped

Whisk the eggs with milk, salt and lemon-pepper. Heat the butter on the pan and lightly fry the onions (until glassy and tender, not brown). Pour the egg-mixture into the pan and throw in some pieces of feta and some little knobs of cream-cheese. Cover and let it cook for 3-4 minutes. Uncover, add the grated Parmesan or Edam on top and cook for 2-3 minutes more until it is completely set.

Use a relatively large pan so the omlette will be thin.

Serve with fresh vegetables or cottage cheese.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

First one from my new Nigella-book - heavenly chocolate loaf-cake

(above pic from here).

My lovely co-workers gave me 'How to be a domestic goddess' by Nigella Lawson. It's my first Nigella-book and it's filled with insanely delicious looking cakes, pies, cookies etc cover to cover. So after some days of continuous drooling and a complete chocolate-themed brain-freeze (the book has a separate section on chocolate, very, very hazardous to venture into) we went to visit my parents last weekend and me and my mom decided to make the very first of the chocolate cakes in that book - the 'Dense chocolate loaf-cake'.
Nigella has written that this is 'the essence of all that is desirable in chocolate: it's dark intensity isn't toyed with, nor upstaged by any culinary elaboration. This is the plainest of plain loaf cakes - but that doesn't convey the damp, heady aromatic denseness of it.'

And every word is true. I had never had a chocolate cake quite like that, it's not sticky like the good brownies (and I love those) and it's not gooey like a fondant (which I also love), yet it is so far-far-far from a boring, dry chocolate cake they sell in the stores or serve in the cafeterias. It is just gloriously soft, supple and moist throughout. And - as it doesn't actually have a big quantity of chocolate in it (compared again, to say brownies) - it kind of spares you from the sucker-punch to the liver after your second piece :).

The most wonderful damp chocolate cake a'la Nigella Lawson:

225 g soft butter
375 g dark muscovado sugar (I think I'll actually use a bit less next time, maybe 325 - 350 g).
2 large eggs
1 tsp of vanilla extract or vanilla sugar
100g dark chocolate (I used the 70% one)
200g flour
1 tsp of baking-powder (baking-soda)
250 ml of boiling water

Beat the two eggs.
Cut up the butter and let it soften for a while. Then add the sugar and mix well with a wooden spoon or an electric hand-mixer until it is creamed.
Turn on the oven to preheat to 190C.
Melt the chocolate over some boiling water.
Add the beaten eggs and vanilla to the butter-sugar mix and beat them in well. Now fold in the melted and slightly cooled chocolate and blend well (it has to be nicely combined, but not 'an airy mess').
Add the baking-soda to the flour and get your boiling water ready, now start adding in flour and water, alternately spoon by spoon until you have a smooth and liquid batter.

Line the oven-tin with baking paper and butter the paper. Pour in the batter and bake for 30 minutes, then turn down the heat to 170C and bake for 15 more minutes. It has to be a little squidgy inside.
Leave the cake to cool in the tin before turning it out.

My mom didn't have a loaf-tin then (she's now of course bought it), so we made it in a regular cake tin and as it wasn't as deep, we reduced the cooking time to 20 minutes at 190C and 10 minutes at 170 C and it came out perfect.

Um... just writing this up has given me a major chocolate craving again...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More red foods - beetroot and feta risotto

My love of beetroot has been manifested here many times so I'll not go into another ode to the beautifully colored, magnificent tasting and super-healthy root vegetable here.

Beetroot and feta risotto served with spinach (Peedi ja fetarisotto, serveeritud spinatiga):
Serves 4 as an appetizer

3 small beets, boiled and coarsely grated
100 g feta cheese
1 tbsp cream-cheese
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 shalott, chopped
1/4 glass of mirin (rice wine) (2-3 tbsp)
1/4 glass of water (2-3 tbsp)
500 ml chicken or vegetable stock
100 - 150 gr risotto rice
1 tbsp olive oil.
3-4 sundried tomatoes, chopped

Heat olive oil in a deep skillet; add cumin seeds, after 30 sec add shallots. When shallots are tender and glassy, add the rice and mix so all the grains are coated. Mix the mirin with water and add it to the rice, cook until completely reduced. Then add a ladleful of boiling stock and stir well, cook until the liquid has been absorbed, then add more stock. You should use up your stock in 4 - 5 times. The risotto grains should be tender by then.

Stir in the creamed cheese, the beetroot and the chopped sundried tomatoes and finally most of the feta-cheese (leave some for serving).

Taste, season (usually doesn't need any additional salt as the stock and the cheese are salty enough).

Serve with some feta crumbled on top.

I also served it with some garlic-spinach:
200 gr fresh spinach leaves
1 clove of garlic, chopped
Knob of butter

Wash the spinach and put it on a frying pan (with the water that remains on the leaves from washing) on medium heat. Cover the pan and leave the leaves there for 3-4 minutes. If there is any water on the pan, throw it away (can be bitter). Add the butter and the garlic. Fry for 1-2 minutes until the spinach is coated with butter.

I found that mirin was really good for risotto, especially with the beetroot, as it is sweeter than regular wine and brought out the deepness and the earthiness of the beets.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My bow to Murakami - Udon noodles with chicken and vegetables

I love Murakami's books and in them he pays such attention to cooking, his characters always go grocery shopping and cook to then slowly and purposefully enjoy their meals, usually with some beer.
This is how I first heard of Udon noodles, via Murakami's books. I bought a pack when I was last in London and visited Japancentre. I haven't looked now, but I'm hoping that maybe it's already possible to get them here as well, the selection of 'world cuisine' ingredients has remarkably improved recently. And they really are lovely, so I'll want to be buying more of them.
The recipe is a random result of my imagination and not really Japanese - Murakami does not pay THAT much attention to detail as for me to be get a recipe out of it.
But it was a lovely bowl of noodles and S's new favorite.

Udon noodles with chicken and vegetables in a spicy broth (Udon nuudlid, kana ja aedviljadega, vürtsikas puljongis):

serves 2

1/2 pack of Udon noodles (they're usually bound together into per person bunches)
2 chicken breasts
olive oil
250 gr sliced vegetables (thinly sliced carrots, mangetouts, mushrooms, scallions) - can be a frozen 'wok' mix (but not spiced)
1 red onion
1 clove of garlic
1 cm slice of chilli (no pips)
2 - 3 tbsp mirin (rice wine)
2 star anise pods
3 cloves
a big knob of tamarind (2x3 cm)
750 ml chicken stock, or 1 cube of organic vegetable broth and 750 ml water
fresh tomatoes for serving

Bring stock to a boil (or prepare stock from the cube). Add star anise, cloves, chilli and tamarind. Bring to a boil. Taste and either simmer some more or remove the spices (esp. the chilli) from the broth. Turn off the heat. Thinly slice half of the onion and add the slices into the broth.

Boil the udon noodles according to instructions on the package (should be 7-8 minutes). Season with some salt. Rinse them off with cold water after boiling. If you serve them quickly they'll still be hot. If they'll cool down too much you can re-heat them by rinsing them once with boiling water.

Chop the other half of the onion. Heat some oil on a pan and lightly fry the onion, then add chicken that's been cut into 1.5 x 3 cm chunks. Fry quickly on maximum heat until golden on both sides. Reduce the heat a little and add the mirin. Fry for 2-3 minutes then cover and leave on medium to low heat for 5-6 minutes (check that pieces are not pink in the middle, before serving). The chicken should be moist and tender. The mirin will turn into a syrup.

In another pan (preferably a deeper and wider one, a wok-pan if you have one) heat some more olive oil and add the vegetables. Season with some salt and quickly stir-fry (max 5 minutes).

Heat the bowls if you can, put half of the vegetables in a bowl, add in half of the noodles (use a fork and a ladle so you'll have a nice rolled 'nest'). Top with chicken pieces and a spoonsful of the mirin syrup and finally pour in some of the stock. Serve with fresh tomatoes if you wish.

It's really quick and easy, the only hassle is that you'll need 2 pans and a small pot / sauce pan to make it. And the Udon noodles have a really lovely, clean taste of their own.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Finally made them - Profiteroles

I think it was in the beginning of this summer when I was in Prague for work again and a co-worker hosted a party at his place that was catered by this old Czech lady, who apparently has catered for our office-parties for decades.
The food was nice but my knees didn't start trembling until it was dessert time and they brought out the profiteroles. I'd never had one before (although my mom did make a lot of eclairs when I was a kid and they're pretty similar.
Anyway, this lady's profiteroles were fantastic (probably a large part of her everlasting success as our Prague caterer, as I understand that they're always prepared for dessert) and I've been meaning to make them ever since.
For a while, before I had actually looked into how to make them, I was under the impression that it'd be quite a hassle. Which it's absolutely not. Choux pastry is one of the easiest ones to make and I have a long-standing relationship with it. I don't know if I've confessed this here, but I've always liked eating raw dough. Cookie dough, gingerbread dough, short-crust dough, but most of all choux. To be quite honest, there was a period in my life when I made it in little batches after coming home from school just to eat it. Weird, I know.

But back to the profiteroles now. I decided to fill mine with custard - actually the milk-based dessert they sell in yoghurt jar's over here under the name 'pudding'. I really like it, it's relatively light and I didn't feel like filling them with whipped cream or some cream-cheese / cottage-cheese cream.

Toffee-custard filled profiteroles (Karamellipudingiga profiteroolid):
makes 20 - 30 (serves 4 generously)

Choux dough:
125 ml milk
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
50 g real butter (80%)
60 g sieved flour
2 eggs

250 ml of cream / custard.
I used the custard / pudding they sell here, but it is very similar in taste to vanilla-sauce or custard.
Can be filled with whipped cream (season with vanilla or whatever else you like).
Mascarpone cream (mixed whipped cream + mascarpone + spices)
Cottage-cheese cream (paste of cottage cheese + spices)
Or you can make them savory by using a salty filling, but let's leave that for another time.

Heat the oven to 200C.
Whisk the eggs and set aside.
Combine milk, sugar, salt and butter in a saucepan. Heat gently until the butter has melted, then quickly whisk in the flour. The flour will start clumping and will very quickly end up a big, smooth ball that cleanly comes away from the sides of the pan.
That's when it’s time to remove the pan from the heat and slowly in 2 or 3 batches, beat in the whisked eggs into the still-hot dough.

Put the dough into a plastic bag (good if you have a nozzle - I didn't) and squeeze out balls of dough onto a baking pan lined with baking paper. One ball should be with the diameter of 2-3 cm.

Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, so they're golden-brown and crisp. Cool. They should be hollow inside.

To fill them, but small hole in each choux bun with a tip of the knife.
Heat some chocolate over some boiling water.

Fill another plastic bag with whatever filling you're using and fill each choux-pastry with the filling and then cover it with chocolate (if you're making sweet ones that is).

They're fabulous. And depending on the filling, not really that sinful in terms of the calories (the entire 250 g jar of that custard/pudding I used is 230 kcal and that's enough for all of those 30 lovely profiteroles).