Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pause for a new beginning

Hi all,

as our family has greeted it's newest member, this blog will go on a holiday until I manage to find more time for food, cooking and blogging in my re-prioritized time schedule :).

But we will be back shortly.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Easy-peasy satisfaction for a sweet-craving: A Marzipan Cake recipe

This is a beautiful little cake, it's another one from Nigella Lawson's cake book that's inspired me so much recently. If anyone is trying to lose weight though they shouldn't get that book, that's for sure.

I hadn't seen any of Nigella's TV shows, but I have now, one of the girly TV channels (11) here has them on on Sundays (although at some absurd hour, like 1 or 2 p.m, so you're usually never around to watch). But I have seen an episode or two now and it's made me like her book and herself even more. Apart from the fact that she's such a MILF as S is always compelled to remark when he passes the TV while she's on, I feel that I share her attitude to cooking and her appreciation for food almost a 100%. You know how there are all these different celebrity chefs and TV chefs, and you kind of like some and totally dislike others, well I'm not the Heston Blumenthal kind of anal-retentive foodie, but rather more in the easy-going school of Nigella, where measuring and methodology takes a bit of a backseat to tasting, sampling, smelling and just enjoying preparing something.
And she is such a hottie too :)

But to the cake.

Nigella's Easy Almond Cake (Nigella lihtne martsipanikook): and you can find the original recipe here.

Having already learned from my previous experience with Nigella's recipes (and having ended up with a humongous batch of brownies that I ended up devouring for a week at least - not that I really minded), I cut the amount of ingredients in half as it was just for the two of us.

- So I used 3 eggs, 125 g butter etc.
- I used proportionately more marzipan than in her recipe. I think I had a chunk that was about 200 g (instead of 125 that the 1/2 recipe called for then).
- I didn't have self-raising flour, so I used the usual plain flour and added 1 tsp of baking powder.
- And I didn't have almond essence, so I used 1 tbsp of cherry syrup. This meant that while the batter did smell almondy, the cake, after baking, wasn't all that almond-like. But it was wonderful nonetheless, so no complaints from me.
- I also added some chopped almonds on top for a crunchy coating.

It's fantastic when it comes out of the oven and it is perfect when it has cooled down. It's quite sweet, but not overbearingly so and the texture is lovely. It is moist, soft just lovely. And very difficult to stop eating.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Wine and dine at the beautiful synagogue - a restaurant review for Moses

They built a new (although I don't think we'd had an old one for decades either) synagogue in Tallinn in 2007. It's a beautiful modern building and architecturally just splendid. From the beginning they also promised to open a kosher restaurant there, but it took them a while to build the kitchen and find a chef who knew what had to be done.
Although I'm not Jewish myself, I've always been fascinated by the traditions and peculiarities (probably again something that I can blame on books like Portnoy's Complaint etc), so after they did open the restaurant I've been meaning to go.
But as the opening hours are as they are (closed on Fridays, only open on Saturdays after Sabbath) it took us a while. But we finally went and it was nice.

The restaurant is called Moses and it's relatively small. It has a nice festive ambiance, white sheets on the tables and the good and evil apple-tree motif that starts on the front door of the synagogue is followed throughout.

The music was a bit weird, I think it might have been modern Jewish music, so at points it was kind of brain-damagingly clubby. The service was nice and friendly, but surprisingly to me the waitress had almost no command of Estonian. There is a big Russian minority living in Estonia and Tallinn, but usually when people work in customer-service their command of the official state language is satisfactory. This girl got confused at sparkling water.

But the food was very nice (not mind-blowingly good, but really nice) and the Ridge White Zichron wine was a positive surprise. I'm not sure whether I'd had Israeli wine before, but will definitely try it again.

We ordered 'Assorted Israeli appetizers for two' to start with, as we were really hungry. It was a very pretty looking plate of hummus (it was a very good), falafel (look like meatballs at first but then turn out to be dry chick-pea balls, didn't really like those), baba ganush (baked eggplants, really, really good), tahini sauce (a bit on the bitter motor-oily side), fresh vegetables, olives, a herring-salad (I think chopped herring with egg, something to spread on bread, it was nice) and egg salad.
It all came with a basket of freshly baked small sweet little rolls that were very good as well.

For a main course I had Israeli style potato salad with spicy olives (parve), which was again pretty looking and I liked it (but it being a meatless potato salad with an oil-based dressing, it obviously isn't the kind of dish that brings on massive waves of food-envy from the co-diners :).

Siim had Chicken schnitzel with garlic potatoes, Israeli style, which he actually liked so much, that I'm going to attempt repeating it today at home. Have never schnitzeled a chicken before, so should be interesting.

It's also nice that they have a good explanation of the kosher food's philosophy on the cover of the menu, and educational aspect. Although I always thought it also had a great deal to do with how the animal's were bread and killed and there wasn't a single word on this there...

All together I think I'd give it about a 6-7 from 10 as a dining experience. It is a cozy little place and good for an easy-going Sunday lunch. Plus, the synagogue is definitely worth going to as it is beautiful.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Detoxing after the holidays - Vegetable and beef stew recipe

Vegetable (mostly root veggies) and beef stew (called Ühepajatoit or 'One pot meal' in Estonian) is one of the staple meals of the Estonian cuisine. It's a quintessential Estonian meal one might say - rustic, simple to make, relatively bland etc. It is usually prepared in a large pot by boiling /stewing it slowly or a special slow-cooker or pressure cooker. And it usually isn't considered any kind of delicacy. It's the type of thing that was served in the kindergarten and school cafeteria and usually preceded by a whole day of yucky smells of cooking turnips that later on swam in a pale and tasteless broth with some fatty strips of meat.

And after this enticing introduction - I really felt like making it after the holidays. It seemed like a perfect wintery detox meal after all the overindulging. Obviously mine was nice - still rustic and still easy to make, but definitely not bland and I steered clear of smelly old turnips :).

Vegetable and beef stew (Ühepajatoit):
serves 6

2 medium potatoes
1 large carrot
a bit of cabbage (~ 1/6 of a smallish cabbage)
a potato-sized bit of wild parsnip
a potato-sized bit of wild celery (root celery)
1 big red onion
2 big cloves of garlic
1 tbsp of sunflower oil
a very generous bunch of fresh herbs - parsley, wide leaf parsley and dill
200 - 300 gr of strogonov beef strips
1 osso-bucco chop
sea salt and freshly ground pepper for seasoning
1/2 - 1 glass of tomato juice

Wash, peel and cut up the vegetables into relatively big (but similar in size) pieces.
Slice the onion and chop the garlic and the herbs.
Preheat the oven to 180 C.
Heat the oil on a large skillet and quickly brown the beef, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the chopped garlic.

Mix the vegetables and the herbs. Lay the beef on the bottom of an oven-pot and cover with the mixed vegetables. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour in 1/2 glass of tomato juice.
Cover with the lid and cook for 1 - 1 1/2 hours until the meat is completely tender and the osso-bucco falls off the bone. If necessary (looks dry) pour in the second half of the tomato juice while checking on it while it's cooking.

It's light, juicy, healthy, warm. Everything you'd want from a humane version of a detox meal after the holidays.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Emperor of Cakes - Napoleon (Mille-Feuille) cake recipe

This is my absolutely favorite cake in the world. My true love, when it comes to cakes - and true love lasts a lifetime. I have loved this cake since I was a child and my wonderful mom makes it for me at least twice a year - for Christmas / New Years (and since my sister's favorite is another cake in her repertoire, she always ends up baking two cakes) and usually also for my Birthday. And she used to make it even when there was no ready-made puff pastry that you could just buy in the stores and when she actually had to make her own.
Yes, there are many good cakes out there (as I've recently discovered more and more - I used to not like cakes and desserts and I didn't really enjoy making them, but as you can see from the increased sugar ratio of this blog, things are a'changin'), but Napoleon, ahh, it is and has always been heaven.

In our family it is called the Napoleon Cake (and apparently no-one knows if the name has anything to do with the Emperor or with the city of Naples, but who cares), but I guess the rest of the world knows it more by the name of mille-feuille or custard slice.

My Mother's Heavenly Napoleon (Ema taevalik napoleon):
1 good sized cake (serves at least 12)

- 800 g puff pastry (either self made or store-bought)

Here's a link to making your own puff-pastry from scratch (yields 1 kg). And here's Gordon Ramsay's version that's quicker and yields 700 g-s.

Custard: 6 egg yolks
- 2 glasses of sugar (400 ml)
- 2 tbsp flour
- 750 ml (3 glasses) milk glass of milk
- 300 g softened butter
- 1 tsp of vanilla extract
- 100 g walnuts

Roll out the puff pastry into 4 thin squares. Poke each slice with a fork (not once, many times and evenly :) and bake until golden.

To make the custard:
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla. Add the flour and whisk again. Then add 1 glass (~250 ml) of milk and whisk so that it's nicely smooth and combined.
Heat 0,5 l of milk in a separate pot and just before it starts boiling, add the mixture of eggyolks and keep constantly mixing on low / medium heat until the mixture thickens.
Set aside and let it cool, when the mixture has cooled down almost entirely (is just slightly warm), add the softened butter and beat it in (the butter shouldn't melt).

Start building the cake, cover a slice of the puff pastry with a generous amount of the custard (the thinner the pastry slices and the more of custard the better), then add another layer of the puff pastry and another layer of custard and so on. Also do the sides with custard and then decorate with walnuts.

And now the hard part - it should sit somewhere cool for 24 hours before eating so that the custard can seep through the layers of puff pastry and the entire cake can become soft and moist.

Monday, January 5, 2009

ZipZap! A burst of vitamins and flavors for a winter day - A Thai Green Papaya Salad and Tiger Prawns recipe

My sister came to visit over the holidays and since she recently went on a vacation to Thailand, where she had lot's of nice things to eat and acquired a local cook-book, she came prepared. We made one of her favorite salads, something that seems to be the most simple and common side-dish or a starter there. A green papaya salad.
Living in Germany, she can actually get the things needed for it, so she came with an arsenal of stuff - a huge green papaya (by the way, does anyone know if it's a special species of papaya or just the same normal papaya raw?). And both mom and I got a special slicer (similar to a julienne slicer, but makes thinner ribbons).
This is one of those 'one eye crying, one eye laughing' situations, as the salad was so great, yet I have absolutely no way of getting green papaya here. So now I'm thinking what would it be possible to substitute it with, so far I've come up with baby zucchini or cucumber, but neither one of those is quite IT.
But enough of complaining, here's the recipe for this lovely salad that I accompanied with some lightly fried tiger-prawns.

Thai Green Mango Salad served with Tiger Prawns in Double Plum Sauce and Lime (Tai rohelise papaia salat ploomi ja laimikastmes tiigerkrevettidega):

For the salad:
1 large green papaya
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 red fresh chili pepper
2 medium or 1 large carrot
1-2 tomatoes
2-3 tbsp of fish sauce
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
salt if necessary

Peel the papaya and cut it in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds (they're lovely looking, like little pearls).

Use your new fancy slicer (or just a coarse grate) to get long and thin strips of papaya.
Peel the carrots and make thin strips out of them as well.

Deseed the chili pepper, cut it into thin strips and chop up the garlic. If you don't like things too hot or the chili is really biting use just one half of it.

Mash the chili and the garlic with some salt in a mortar. Set aside.
Start mashing the papaya handful by handful adding in the already mashed chili-garlic mixture. If you have a large mortar use that, if not you can just use a wooden potato-masher and a plastic bowl. It's important to mash the papaya as it infuses the spicy taste, releases the juices and changes in texture and color. The strips of papaya will end up looking shiny and glassy, kind of like rice-noodles.
Add in the carrots, then chopped tomatoes and season with the fish sauce + lemon juice + brown sugar.

For the prawns:
~24 cleaned and peeled tiger-prawns (or a sachet if you're using frozen ones)
2-3 tbsp of Double Plum sauce
juice of 1 lime
grated peelings of 1 lime
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp of freshly ground pepper
a splash of olive oil.

Mix the sauce ingredients and cover the prawns with it, let them sit for about 20 - 30 minutes.

Then quickly grill or fry on both sides.

Serve with the Green Papaya Salad.

It's really great, especially after all this heavy and hearty holiday food. It smells wonderful already when you're making the food, it is fresh and crunchy and savory. Yum, yum. I'm salivating :)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: A Traditional Estonian Feast

This is my first time to participate in a Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 event, so hope you'll like it :).
It's a traditional Estonian Christmas / New Years feast that is typically had all over Estonia either as the Christmas dinner or the New Years dinner or both.

Apparently the Estonian word 'jõulud' (Christmas) is of ancient Scandinavian origin and comes from the word Jul. In Scandinavia Christ's birthday is marked by the pre-Christian word Jul in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Jol in Icelandic, Joulu in Finnish and Yule on the British Isles. Kind of makes sense as Estonians aren't religious at all and have never been. Different countries have made more and less successful attempts at bringing Christianity to the Estonian pagan peasants, but not with overwhelming results :).

Before Christianity, Estonians celebrated winter solstice - the birthday of the Sun. Starting from winter solstice, the days grew longer and the sun rose higher in the sky. Jõulud was celebrated from St. Thomas's Day (December 21) until Epiphany (January 6) long before Christianity reached the region. Jõulud, which involved excessive eating and prohibitions on several types of work, was seen as a period of rest in the middle of the long dark winter.

As for the New Year's Eve traditions, then one of the most common ones actually has something to do with food. Namely it is believed that one should eat at 7 (or 9 or 12- according to other sources) times during the New Years Night in order for the coming year to be plentyful in food (or in order to have the strength of 7 men - again depends on the source). Nowadays this usually just takes the form of everyone preparing absolutely preposterous amounts of food, that can then be eaten for the best part of the night and for the following week.
Other typical New Years Eve traditions are telling your fortune from lead (melt lead and pour it into a bucket of cold water to then tell your fortune for the coming year off of the shapes the lead takes). And fireworks of course.
The president gives a speech on TV at midnight, usually everyone watches that as well.

Usually in my family we don't prepare the Christmasy main course of roasted pork, sauerkraut, oven baked potatoes and black-pudding sausages (blood-sausages) for New Years Eve but rather only for the Christmas. But this year my sister and her German boyfriend were not arriving till after Christmas and she had a craving for the traditional nosh, so this is what we did.
But before the main course there is traditionally a cold table that alone is enough to fill you up - a potato salad, cold-cuts, some people also make a rosolje salad (herring, beetroot and potato salad). We had all those as well.
As for the desserts - a must have during the holiday season in Estonia are decorated self-made gingerbread cookies - we had those and we had some brownies in addition :).

But now for the recipes.

The first course:

Potato salad:
makes a large batch that serves 6 people at least twice

Everyone in Estonia considers this to be a traditional party food. Rarely there's a children's birthday or a New Year's Eve, that passes without the potato salad. I think that it has come to the Estonian cuisine via the Russian cuisine where it has come from the French cuisine, as the Russians call it Olivie (according to them it was invented by a chef called Olivier).

- 10-12 medium boiled potatoes
- 4-6 medium boiled carrots
- 1 can of peas
- a bunch of fresh green onion
- 6 hard-boiled eggs
- 400 g of premium quality baloney or ham
- 4-6 medium pickles
- mayo
- sour cream
- salt and pepper

Chop everything and then mix generously with mayo and sour cream and season to taste. The trick is to have nice small pieces that are all the same in size and none of which are larger than peas. Some people also use apple in the salad, but I find it just gross.

Rosolje salad (beetroot, potato and herring salad): serves 6

- 4 boiled potatoes
- 2 boiled beetroots
- 2 boiled carrots
- 2 pickles
- 1 chopped onion
- 200 gr salted herring in oil
- 2 hard boiled eggs
- mayo and sour cream

Chop, mix, serve. Basically the same as above.

Main course:
This is all served together, but I'll divide it into three manageable chunks - pork and potatoes, as they're roasted together, the blood-sausages and then the sauer-kraut.
All the amounts are meant to serve a party of 6-8 people.

Roast pork with baked potatoes:

1.5 kg pork (neck)
salt and pepper and spicy mustard for rubbing
10 large potatoes
some potato-seasoning if preferred.

Buy the pork a day in advance and thoroughly rub it with salt, pepper and mustard. Keep it in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook it.
This chunk of meat along with potatoes will take about 2 hours to roast.
Some people lay strips of bacon between the potatoes, if you prefer not to go for such a greasy option you'll probably need to take your potatoes out a bit before the pork is done.

Peel and halve the potatoes and lay them on an oven tin around the pork. Cover it up with tinfoil for the first hour or 1.5 hrs. Remove the tin in the end and use the fan-function to make sure the roast is nice and brown on top.

The black-pudding or blood-sausages:

These are the must-have element of the meal. They're made from pig's blood, pig's fat and barley (and some other less important elements) and stuffed in natural pig intestines. Nowadays they're a big business in Estonia, during winter you can choose between tens and tens of different types that are made by different meat-companies. Small ones and big ones, dry ones and moist ones, spicy ones and fatty ones. Something for everyone's tase.

Only very few people who live in the countryside and have pigs make their own sausages, but for the sake of accuracy - I didn’t find a recipe on how to make them in a traditional cookbook, so if you want to know and have the spare 1 liter of pig's blood, drop me a comment :)

- 1 kg of blood-sausages
- 200-300 g fresh bacon

Cut the bacon in strips and lay it on the bottom of the oven tin. Place the sausages on top. Make sure you pierce each of them with a fork, this will keep them from bursting while they cook.
It's also possible to just cook them on a frying pan on medium heat and under a lid. Some say that they'll end up less dry this way.

I was very curious to see how my sister's boyfriend Steve (he's German) will react to the blood-sausages as many foreigners would rather stab themselves in the eye than try a piece of that. The rest of the meal is very obviously nicked from the German cuisine (although Steve said that for Christmas they don't really eat pork and sauerkraut). But he liked them very much and demonstrated no signs of weakness before digging in :).

Steamed and braised sauer-kraut.

- 1 kg sauerkraut (best if it is made with carrots)
- some vatty pork or strips of bacon (optional)
- caraway seeds

This is another time consuming bit about the meal. The sauerkraut needs to be steamed /boiled for hours and hours until it is tender, usually for about 3 - 4 hours. And then it should be braised. You can now also buy already steamed and braised sauer-kraut in a jar and then just heat it up on a pan, but usually those are more fatty than what you'd end up with if you make it yourself.

Serving the main-course:
As I've said before, the main course is served all together. So you take some potatoes, a nice juicy slice of pork, some 2-3 blood-sausages (if small, or 1 if large), a good dollop of sauer-kraut. Also some pickles or pickled pumpkin is a must. And most people like cowberry jam on their sausages (I don't).


Decorated ginger-bread cookies:

These are wonderful, they're tasty, they're pretty, they're great to give as gifts and they're a wonderful family past-time to make together, even if you're all grown up. As with the blood-sausages, it is possible to make the dough yourself, but as there is such great demand for it on the Estonian market, there are many providers who make it around Christmas time, so most people just buy theirs in the store. As do we. Usually the dough comes in a wonderful, glossy, dark-brown 1 kg pack that is good for at least 2-3 oven-tins of gingerbread cookies.

And it's the same with the frosting, when I was a kid you had to make your own ( the simplest kind, just mix egg-whites with powdered sugar and add colors if you wish), but now you can even buy the pre-prepared frosting in a nozzle-type plastic bag.

But here's the recipe for the dough for those of you who want to try these absolutely fabulous, fragrant, crispy cookies and can't buy the dough in the stores.

- 250 g dark sugar syrup
- 200 g sugar
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground clove
- 1 tbsp ground cardamom
- 250 g butter
- 2 eggs
- 600 g flour
- 2 tsp baking powder

Heat the syrup with sugar and the spices until it's boiling. Add the butter, mix and set aside. After it has cooled a bit, beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix the baking-powder with the flour and mix in spoonful by spoonful. Knead and wrap in plastic. It'd be good if you could keep it in the fridge for at least 24 hrs before cooking.

For the frosting beat:

- 1 egg white
- 4 dl powdered sugar.

Making the cookies will take quite some time and you have to be careful with the oven once you really get going (especially if you're using two or more oven-tins and are making a large batch). The cookies only take bout 6-7 minutes to cook at 170 C, as they're very thin.

Flour the counter-top and roll out the dough) depending on your roller or rolling abilities you can also roll straight to the oven-tin (add butter or oil first), this way it's quicker. The dough has to be about 3-5 mm thick. The thinner it is the crispier the cookies.
Then cut out the cookies using all kinds of differently shaped cookie-cutters.
Remove the in-betweens and roll them up with the remaining dough to be used for the next tin-ful.

Cook and immediately after removing from the oven scrape them off the pan (you can leave them on the pan, but just make sure you've gotten them loose before).
Decorate with the frosting using a thin pastry-nozzle or a plastic bag with a very tiny whole cut in the corner.
The frosting will dry on it's own, especially if the cookies are warm, but you can stick it back in the oven for a minute or so.

And this is it I think. It's turned into a ginormous posting, so seems that reading through it (and making all these dishes) is at least as much work as eating all that stuff in one night :).