Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What we had for X-mas - a Stuffed Duck Recipe

This year our X-mas meal was not traditional at all, we were holding out on the Estonian X-mas classic - the pork-sauerkraut-black pudding concoction - until my sister and her boyfriend would arrive. So on X-mas Eve we had duck that my mother prepared using a classic Russian recipe that was often used in her house by her mother when she was growing up.
The situation with getting any other kind of fresh meat than pork or beef is pretty pitiful in Estonia. There seems to be no market for goose, duck, rabbit and so on. But sometimes, if you're lucky you can find it. Usually not freshly butchered but freezed, but oh well.
So my mom found a frozen duck after some well executed detective work in the supermarkets. I'm not a great specialist on duck, but it seemed as if the freezing didn't really hurt it at all, probably as we cooked it whole (not those fatty breast fillets that you usually get in the restaurants).

Duck stuffed with apples and prunes served with potato and chanterelle mash (õunte ja mustade ploomidega täidetud part serveeritud kartuli ja kukeseenepüreega):
serves 4-6 people (depending on the size of the duck and the appetites)

1 whole duck (OK if frozen), keep the liver, the heart and the kidneys
4-5 sour apples
a large handful of dried prunes
thyme (can be dried)
freshly ground salt and pepper
~6 potatoes
1/2 glass of warm milk
a generous knob of butter
300 gr fried chanterelles or 600 gr fresh ones
if you're using fresh chanterelles 1 medium onion and 1 tbsp of butter

1. Defreeze the duck. Pat it with salt and pepper on the outside.
2. Wash and if possible soak the prunes for at least an hour (there's all kinds of nasty chemicals used for drying and preserving them nowadays).
3. Peel, deseed and cut up the sour apples.

4. Preheat the oven to 175 C.
5. Mix the apples and prunes with thyme, salt and pepper and stuff the duck with it.
6. Bake in the oven for 1.5 - 2 hours depending on the size of the duck.

Make sure no blood comes out when you pierce it. Bake the liver / kidneys / heart as well.

7. Peel and boil the potatoes.
8. If you are using fresh chanterelles, wash them, chop them and the onion. Fry the onion with some butter until golden then fry the chanterelles. We used the chanterelles we picked ourselves in the summer (my mom then fried and deep-freezed them).
9. Drain the potatoes, add the butter and the warm milk. Mash. Season. Add the chanterelles and mix.

10. When the duck is ready, scrape out the stuffing and blitz it with the baked internal organs and if it seems as it needs it some other trimmings.

11. Serve over the potato and chantarelle mash, with the stuffing on the side, decorate with orange or tangerine slices.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A meal or a side order? Who cares, it's delicious - Ukrainian knedliky recipe

The holidays are passing under the flag of excessive eating and cooking. Probably the same for everyone. I already have a camera full of pictures of wonderful meals I've had, so in order not to completely loose track, I decided to try and stick to the order of preparing.
So here is one of my childhood favorites. I made it about a week or a week and a half ago for the first time after at least 10 years if not more. When I was a kid my mom used to make them often. She has a Ukrainian friend who introduced us to the dish and to the recipe. As it usually is with Slavic cuisine, it is a major pain to prepare (time consuming and handicraft-heavy - I think I've already introduced my theory of the Slavic cuisine as an element in the larger system of suppressing the unnecessary free will of Slavic women in this blog, haven't I? :) ), but oh so worth it.
They're mashed-potato dumplings (basically similar to Italian gnocchi or German spätzle) called knedliky or kniedliky and it's a little hard to place them in terms of whether they're a full meal in themselves (a vegetarian, but very filling one) or a side dish for some meat. Works both ways, but beware, they're quite filling on their own.

Ukrainian kniedliky and two typical ways of eating them (Ukraina knedlikud ja kaks moodust, kuidas neid süüa):
makes two trays (serves 4 people at least twice)

One usually uses some leftover mashed potatoes to make kniedliky, but of course you can preoare the mashed-potatoes from scracth.
6 medium to large waxy potatoes
2 large carrots (optional)
a large knob of butter (1 tbsp)
1/2 glass of warm milk
freshly ground salt
2 tsp of olive oil
2 eggs
~6-10 tbsp flour

for serving:
chopped and fried onion
sour cream

or:
fresh cucumber and tomato
sour cream

Prepare the mashed potatoes, boil the potatoes and carrots until tender. Drain the water and steam away all the remains of it. Add the butter and mash the potatoes. Add the warm milk and season with salt. In the end drizzle in the olive oil and mash some more until smooth and silky. It should be of the consistency of regular mashed potatoes you'd serve with a meal (in case you use an electric whisk or blitz the mash into a puree, make sure it is not too runny).
Add the eggs to the mashed potatoes and mix thoroughly. Start adding the flour and mixing it in. The secret to good kniedliky is that they have the least possible amount of flour in them. That way they'll be silky and soft after cooking. Yet in order for you to be able to roll and prepare them they have to have enough flour in them not to break and not to be insanely sticky. So it's a balancing act.
When you think you have enough of flour - the dough seems like you can roll it with your hands without it hopelessly sticking to your fingers sprinkle some flour on a counter top and some on a tray.

Take about 1/5 of the dough - a good handful - and roll it into a fat sausage (diameter about 3-4 cm) with your hands. Then place it on te floured counter-top and slightly flatten with your hand. You should have a roll that is about 4-5 cm wide and about 1 cm thick. Start slicing it into about 1 cm slices. Roll each slice so it will look like a finger or a mozarella-stick. Place the dumplings on a floured tray, the looser they're placed the more likely it is that you'll be able to detach them from the tray without mutilating them when it is time to cook them.

When all the kniedliky are ready, bring a pot of water to a boil and add some salt. Start boiling the kniedliky in batches, at one time you can boil approximately so many as it'd take to loosely cover the bottom of the pot. You know that they're ready when they float on top. When they're ready, take them out and place them in a bowl, if you're not eating them immediately, it's good to smear them with a knob of butter stuck on a fork, this will make sure that they don't stick to each other.

There are two ways of eating them. One is freshly boiled served with sour cream and fresh veggies (or no veggies).

The other typical way is to chop an onion and fry it until golden, then add the pre-boiled kniedliky to the pan and fry until golden. Serve with sour-cream again.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Food that's good to eat in Tartu, Estonia - restaurant reviews

Finally some luck in the good eat's department in my home-town Tartu. Have been to two new(-ish) restaurants recently and both were really good. And what's even more important, one of the two is a sushi place! So finally, FINALLY, after all those disappointments Tartu has a decent sushi place.


A decent sushi place for Tartu - Planet Sushi in Tasku shopping centre


Planet Sushi - or Planeta Sushi as it says on some of their corporate materials seems to be a part of some sort of a chain. Apparently they're also present in Riga, Latvia and probably in some other places as well. And good for them, their menu is very extensive and looks very beautiful and I think it's highly important for a sushi place to have a glam looking, glitzy menu with lots of mouth watering picks. As long as they don't have a rolling sushi-line at least.
The head-chef they introduce on the menu is Kasajima Shigeru, who's been born in Japan, so seems that he's done a good job on putting the wholething together. They have sashimi, nigiri, gunkan and maki sushi. They've assembled bento.box lunches and then they have some noodle and rice dishes on the menu as well. And a bunch of sushi-sets.

That's what we went for - a moriawase set called Matsuri to be shared by two for lunch. It was more than enough, I think it could be shared by 3 people as lunch easily. It consisted of Philadelphia Maki (with Philadelphia cheese and salmon), Unagi Onigara Maki (smoked eel, Philadelphia cheese, Takuan, Unagi sauce and sesame seeds), California Maki (Crabmeat, mayo, avocado, cucumber, fishroe), Caterpillar Maki (smoked eel wrapped in avocado with tobiko and unago sauce), Kappa Maki (cucumber), Osinko Maki (Japanese marinated radish), Planeta Maki (salmon, Iceberg lettuce, Takuan, Philadelphia cheese).

A romantic villa that is just so Tartu - the cafe and restaurant at Villa Margherita.

Another lovely dinner we had at Villa Marghareta, it's a small Art Nouveau style hotel, newly renovated that's about 5-10 minutes of walking from the city centre of Tartu. It's just adorable, a perfect place for a family dinner during Christmas. The atmosphere is very warm and cozy, the staff are welcoming and try hard. They actually gave us a tour of the entire building and showed us the rooms in the hotel bit as well as told us the story behind the building. How it was initially built for this lady Olga Natalia Margharita and she moved in 1919 and sold it on to a rich Estonian business man in 1924, who started a bakery there etc. The house is truly lovely. It is under the historic protection so they had to be really careful when renovating it but the results are remarkable. It is just so cute.
And the food was lovely as well.
I had marinated and grilled tiger shrimps, which I had hoped would be warm but weren't, but this didn't diminish their enjoyability.

My parent's had lamb-cutlet's with Dijon mustard potatoes. They both liked theirs as well.

S and his mom had chicken with spinach ravioli and mango-orange sauce and that was good as well.

For dessert we had creme brulee cheese-cake, gingerbread ice cream and Villa Marghareta ice cream and everyone left really happy.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

More Sunday lunch - oven-salmon recipe

Salmon is an easy choice for a Sunday lunch. It always turns out good, it's really easy to make and it's not all that heavy. And S always likes it.

Oven-salmon with capers, bell peppers and carrot served with potato-broccoli mash (Ahjulõhe kapparite, paprika ja porgandiga, serveeritud porgandi ja brokkolipüreel):

1 salmon fillet (1/2 of a fish)
2 tbsp of marinated capers
2-3 stalks of fresh green onion
2-3 stalks of fresh dill
1/2 - 1 yellow bell pepper
1 medium carrot
salt and pepper
1/2 lemon
4-6 medium potatoes
1 medium broccoli
1 tbsp butter
some milk
sour cream


Preheat the oven to 180 C. Season the fish fillet with salt and pepper and squeeze on the juice of the lemon.

Transfer the fish fillet into an oven-bag and onto an oven-tin.
Peel the potatoes, cut them into small chunks, floret the broccoli and boil with salt.
Chop the capers, dill, green onion and bell peppers and generously cover the fish with this mixture.

Julienne the carrot and sprinkle the carrot sticks on top of the fish.

Close the bag, cut off the corners and put in the oven for about 25-30 minutes.
When the potatoes and the broccoli are tender, drain the water, add the butter and mash. Add the warmed milk.
Serve with sour-cream and freshly ground black pepper.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The most important meal of the day - home made granola recipe

I guess it's a good indicator that one has too much free time on their hands when one starts making odd things from scratch. Things that there is really no good reason to home-make as the store-bought versions are just fine.
I do have a bit of time on my hands right now. Or maybe I've just reached the higher level of foodieness :)

This way or another, I made some home-made granola. The reason's were quite prosaic although. I forgot to buy some and had all the ingredients so I decided to have a go.

Home-made honey roasted granola (muesli?) with pumpkin seeds and raisins (Meega röstitud müsli kõrvitsaseemnete ning rosinatega):

2 tsp butter
1-2 tbsp honey
2 good squirts of golden syrup
a big handful of raisins
a handful of pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp cinnamon
some nutmeg
~ 1,5 - 2 cups of golden oatflakes (rolled oats)

Heat the butter and sprinkle the pan with the oats. Slowly roast until the color changes to more golden.

Add the honey (in small chunks if it's hard or just squirt on) and mix. Add the syrup (actually you could substitute the syrup with honey or just use less, it seemed as if it would not be sweet enough while I was making it, but after it had cooled it could have even been a bit less sweet). Keep roasting and stirring - the oats will be coated with the sweetness that will later turn into crispy caramel coating. Add the cinnamon and scrape some nutmeg. Add the pumpkin seeds.

Roast for 2-3 minutes more then add the raisins. Let it cool. Store in a plastic container.

It was enough for one person for 3-4 mornings.
And it was actually a good change from the million store-bought varieties.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Italian food in Tallinn - restaurants

Italian food is probably the most popular choice for an 'ethnic' meal in Estonia as well as everywhere else. And the quality varies from restaurant to restaurant a lot.
I've been to a couple of different Italian restaurants in Tallinn in a row recently, so I thought I'd give a short overview. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera to some of them.

Absolutely fabulous - and quite pricey - Bocca:

Bocca is in the Old Town and it's one of the nicest ones. They serve high end Italian cuisine and everything I've ever had there had been fabulous. Apparently they're also internationally appreciated - Restaurant Magazine UK placed them as number 15 amongst the 50 of the worlds most prestigious and respected restaurants in 2003.

Every time I go there I order Cozze verdi gratinate con burro e Parmigiano (Green Mussels gratinated with Parmesan cheese) as a starter. I always think I should try something else, but I just can't bring myself to. They are SO good. The secret of lot's of butter kicking in there :).
From their pasta's my favorite is the Spaghetti al nero di seppia con polpa di gamberi in salsa di vino bianco e pomodoro al peperoncino rosso (Black spaghetti with grilled prawns and scallop in spicy fresh tomato sauce). The spaghetti wasn't all that black last time (looked rather green), but they were still wonderful.
My co-diners went for Orata arrosto con intingolo di aglio fritto funghi e peperoncino rosso (Grilled royal seabream with red chilli in mushroom sauce) and Filetto di angus alla griglia con fegato grasso d`oca su salsa di vino porto (Tenderloin of Angus beef with foie gras and port wine sauce), and those got good reviews as well.
The only meal that was a bit of a disappointment was the Mozzarella di bufala con pomodori estivi rucola basilico e radicchio rosso (Buffalo mozzarella cheese with fresh tomatoes, rocket, basil leaves and radissio rosso salad) - an Italian kitchen starter-staple - but the Mozarella texture was kind of crumbly and the taste watery.

Cozy, rustic and very very good - Controvento

Controvento is another Italian food place in the Old Town. If I remember correctly it is owned by Italians and the chef(s) is/are Italian as well. It's impossible to get a table when you just walk in on a Thursday - Sun afternoon or evening, but on Monday - Wednesday you may get lucky. The price range is reasonable for the old town and the food absolutely never disappoints.
Their bruschettas are the best I've ever had.
Cozze all`aglio e vino bianco* - blue mussels in white wine sauce - are a bit too acidic in my taste but then again there is a wonderfully generous portion of them. The pasta's and pizzas are just so straightforwardly good.
One of the few pictures I did manage to take is of these yummy spinach and ricotta filled tortelloni in sage and butter sauce (tortelloni al burro e salvia).

And the desserts - the Tiramisu was very good,

whereas the ricotta and chocolate cake was not all that interesting and far too rich to consume after an Italian meal (beware!)


A new angle - Vapiano

This year they opened the first Vapiano in Estonia (apparently it's a chain and there are a bunch in other countries). I was really impressed. The way they've mixed and matched the traditional Italian cuisine and the simplicity of the menu with a very modern approach to the service is ultra cool. Basically, if you've never been to one - it looks like a modern lounge like eatery. You go in and get a swipe card. The whole back wall is filled with cooking stations, I think there are about 20 there (at least). It's cooking down to the basics. There is a pasta section and a pizza section. In the pasta section you can choose between about classic pasta sauces and all the typical pastas. All the pastas are fresh. Everything one needs for a recipe is layed out in little dishes, so whipping up your penne alla arrabiata is just the matter of combining 10 different little boxes. It's ready in the matter of minutes.
Wonderful for lunches (although you have to then deal with the 'falling asleep after consuming all the carbs for lunch' factor). And the pasta is always cooked right and the sauces fully meet the standards.

Meditterranean garden in the cellar - Sisalik

Sisalik is another one in the Old Town, we've been there twice now. The first time we really weren't impressed (as many of the Old Town places it is in the cellar and those tend to work better in the winter compared to the summer). But the second time we went very recently and everyone was satisfied.
Here's what we had:
I had seafood pasta and was very happy with it. It came with a creamy tomato sauce which was neither too pricey nor too rich.

Other people went for:
A grilled duck-breast with foie gras and black-currant liquer sauce - a dish that made S change his mind about Sisalik and about ducks. It was very good ( I got a bite). It came with a potato and apricot (I think, can't remember now) gratin.

Another friend had the grilled beef tenderloin with cheese-cream and thyme sauce and some chips. It was also very nice.

And the chicken and black plum pasta as well as the creamy beef and thyme sauce pasta also had great reviews.

Panna cotta was very well received.

The lime tart got the 'average but decent' marks.

That's it for Italian in Tallinn for now :).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chocoholics unite - again. A recipe for glorious brownies

I've become a chocoholic it seems. I mean I didn't mind a piece of nice chocolate now and then before, but now I just have this indefinable passion for it. The kind known from cartoons, you know, when something desirable starts twirling in front of a characters eyes. Well, I get twirling chocolate quite often. And it seems that the newfound passion kind of engulfs other cocoa based stuff as well - stuff I used to hold in contempt. I never picked cocoa / chocolate ice-cream or custard over vanilla or caramel. Apparently, however, in terms of world history, what I've got is not a new thing :)...
... Chocolate is made from the seeds of the tropical tree, Theobroma cacao. Theobroma is the Greek term for 'food of the gods.' In Aztec society chocolate was a food of the gods, reserved for priests, warriors and nobility. The Aztecs used cacao beans to make a hot, frothy and bitter beverage called xocolatl. Xocolatl was a sacred concoction that was associated with fertility and wisdom. It was also thought to have stimulating and restorative properties. The bitter drink was first introduced to Europe in 1528. However, it was not until 1876 that milk, cocoa powder and cocoa butter were combined to form what we now know as chocolate.

(above pic from here)
Anyway, I'm hoping the whole sweet-tooth thing is temporary and will pass, but until it does, here's another chocoholic pleasing post.

Of-course it's a well known fact that in terms of baking and hot desserts - chocolate is nye impossible to beat. There was a good column on food envy once in Olive magazine, where the author explained it nicely. Nothing can beat a whiff of hot chocolate coming from the kitchen. And brownies, if they're the right kind (moist, chewy, dark and not messed with by adding unnecessary distractions as nuts or fruits), are reigning the universe of the choco-desserts. Of-course fondants are great, as are chocolate loaf-cakes and the like, but it's hard to beat a brownie.

So far - from my experience with brownies - I believed, that they are the only type of food that is better when they're made from a store-bought pack than from scratch. But now, it seems I've found a recipe that makes brownies, that are AS GOOD AS (mind you, still not better) than the ones that come from the sachet (and are no doubt filled with most of the Mendeleyev's table).

It all started with my ever-growing trust in Nigella. So far every cake I've tried from her baking book has been a great success. So I went for her brownies recipe as well but made some adjustments. She used plain white sugar, I divided the amount up into three and used white sugar, molasses and dark sugar-syrup. I thought it'd add chewiness and stickiness and I think it did. And I skipped the nuts. They just take up space where there should be more chocolate.

Really, really good brownies:
(makes a huge amount, good for a party of 10)

375 g butter
300 g dark chocolate
6 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract or vanilla powder
150 gr unrefined molasses sugar
200 gr white sugar
1 dl dark sugar syrup
1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 180 C and line the brownie tin.
Melt the butter and chocolate in a pan or a pot, add in the molasses when melted. Beat the eggs with the white sugar and vanilla. Mix the flour with salt.
Let the chocolate and butter mixture cool a little, then beat in with the eggs and then the flour-mix. Add the syrup and beat to combine smoothly, scrape into the lined brownie tin.
Bake for about 25 minutes. The top should have dried a bit but the middle should still be dark and dense and gooey. They will keep cooking for a while when you take them out, so better a bit earlier than later. Dried up brownies are murdered brownies.

Serve with vanilla ice cream and send an apology note to your liver :)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Brainfood - Oven baked bream-rolls, recipe

As for most of the people in Estonia (at least my age and older) (and I'd expect also in Sweden), Astrid Lindgren's books played a significant part in my socialization process :).
I think it was in "Meisterdetektiiv Kalle Blomkvist" (Kalle Blomkvist the Master Detective - and I just realized from Wikipedia, that for some insane reason in the English translation they've changed his name from Kalle Blomkvist to Bill Bergson - what a sacreligious thing to do), where the kid's had a discussion on the supposed benefits of eating fish. One of them claimed that eating fish supposedly makes you smart to which the other one ( I believe it was Anders) said, that the first one would clearly then need a smaller shark to meet the need.
Eating shark-meat is apparently deeply immoral in the modern world, as they're about to die out. Eating red fish that is so rich in the brain-powering omega fatty acids, can be a tricky thing, as they also often store mercury and other nasty tings in their fat cells, so one shouldn't indulge very often.
So more and more I try to test out our local and / or fresh water fish.
Bream is a very common fish in Estonia. It is the most common fish one can buy as smoked and it is very well loved. I had never bought and cooked it raw, so it was swimming in uncharted waters for me. Here's what happened.

Oven baked bream-rolls server with potato and white raddish mash (Ahjus küpsetatud latikarullid kartuli ja valgeredise püreega):
serves 4

4 bream fillets
some fresh savory (Satureja hortensis L, e.k piprarohi)
3-4 strips of bacon
3-4 pieces of sundried tomato
freshly ground pepper
salt
4-5 medium waxy potatoes
1/2 large white radish
some milk
a knob of butter
~100 gr sour cream
1-2 tbsp of marinated green capers

Preheat the oven to 170 C.
Fry the bacon and then drain the fat on some paper towels. Crumble it up into small pieces. Thinly chop the savory and the sun dried tomatoes and mix together.

Line an oven tin with some baking paper and lay out the fish fillets. Put some of the bacon-savory-sundried tomato mixture on each fillet (a generous table spoon) then add salt and pepper and roll up the fillets.
Put them in the oven.

Peel, cut and boil the potatoes and white radish. Drain the water, place the pot back on the hot stove without a lid so you get rid of all the water. Heat some milk and add it in, mash with a hand-masher. Add butter and salt and blitz with an electric beater. Season to taste with salt.

Chop the capers and mix them with the sour cream.

Serve with a fresh garden salad, place the bream-roll on top of the mash and add a generous dollop of the sour-cream and caper sauce.

This dish was surprisingly light. As I said before, smoked bream is often eaten here and in that form it is quite fatty. However what I didn't think of was that the fat is stored near the edges of the belly under the skin and the fillets are stripped of all that. So the actual meat of the fish was very light and actually not all that exciting. Luckily I had intuitively picked a strong-tasting filling which with the caper-sauce saved the day.
Also - beware of the small bones.
So a pretty looking, light and healthy dinner option but not something to impress your guests with.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Warm puy lentil salad - recipe

Back to lentils, I'm still on my journey of discovering what you can do with them. Excellent source of fiber as they are – the more ways to eat them, the better – I say. There are more and more health-food or eco-food shops opening in Tallinn and I bought a pack of Puy lentils in one of them recently. According to my research puy lentils are considered to be one of the better ones. Their skins will hold nicely after cooking so they look pretty and don't fall apart as easily - this means they can be used for things that won't end up mashed or pureed or otherwise a bit of a mess. Like salad's for example. So this is what I went for, a nice cold-weather salad.

Warm salad with puy lentils, mushrooms and ham (Soe läätse, seene ja singisalat):
serves 3 as a main course

100 gr green puy lentils
~200 gr fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 large or 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium red onion, chopped
6-7 cm of leek, thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
100 g ham, thinly sliced and cut into ribbons
1 small or 1/2 medium iceberg lettuce
1 tsp of baking soda
olive oil
sea salt
dried thyme
black pepper

Bring a pot of water to the boil, but don't add salt. Saline water makes most legumes, including lentils tough. Once the water is boiling add the baking soda, this will trap the green color of the lentils that would otherwise seep out into the water. Add the lentils, stir well and turn the heat to a simmer.
Peel, cut, chop and dice all the veggies and ham.

Heat a frying pan to a medium temperature. Add the 2 tbs of olive oil, and follow with the onion and the carrots. Cook for 1 minute, and then add the mushrooms and the bell peppers.. Cook gently, stirring occasionally for about 5 or 6 minutes, and then add the thyme and the ham. You want the vegetables to be tender, but not too soft. Remove from the heat.

After 15 minutes, check the lentils. They should hold their shape and be firm to the bite, but soft enough to eat. Once cooked (usually around 20 minutes) drain and immediately place under cold running water to stop them cooking.

Add the drained lentils to the other salad-toppings on the pan and mix. Serve over some crushed iceberg lettuce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.