Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A risotto to celebrate fall

Although Tallinn is not the best place on earth to enjoy the benefits of fall (it's horridly windy hear nearly every day), we do get the lovely moments where the world seems to have turned into one, big, soft, golden tunnel of leaves. Leaves still on trees and leaves already on the ground. And the freshly hatched, glistening chestnuts. Now what's better to celebrate a day like that than a lovely pumpkin risotto. We had some friends over and I made one based on Gordon Ramsay's recipe from "A Chef for all Seasons".

Butternut squash and smoked ham risotto (muskaatkõrvitsa ja toorsuitsu singi risotto):
serves 4

1 butternut squash
200 g risotto rice
600 ml chicken tock
100 ml white wine
a good glug of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
50 g of smoked ham (the kind that's been smoked while still raw and that has no fat on it).
2 tbsps of creamed cheese (I used Philadelphia, I like the sourness and the fact that it's not 80% fat, as the mascarapone that Ramsay uses)
a knob of Parmesan, grated
freshly ground black pepper

Put the chicken stock on the stove and make sure that it's hot or even slightly simmering (but not boiling with big bubbles).
Peel and dice the pumpkin so you're left with small cubes.
In a large saucepan heat the olive oil and gently fry the onions and the pumpkin cubes for about 5 minutes.
Add the risotto rice and toast for about 2 minutes and stir to make sure that all the grains are coated with oil.
Pour in the wine and cook until reduced.
Now put in about 2-3 ladlefuls of the hot chicken stock. Make sure the heat under the rice is medium-low and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has been absorbed.
Stir in another 2-3 ladlefuls of stock (you should run out of your stock in about 3-4 go's).
Keep cooking, stirring and adding the stock until all is gone and the risotto grains are just tender.
Cut the ham into thin strips.
Stir in the ham, the creamed cheese and 1/2 of the grated Parmesan. Season with black pepper. You probably won't need salt.
Let it heat through and serve with the extra Parmesan sprinkled on top.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A classic pair

The first day of summer vacation and champagne before noon, ice-cream and hot fudge topping, a newspaper and a latte, prawns and white wine, a day foraging at the bog and new rubber boots, black olives and sun-dried tomatoes, etc, etc. Things that always go together do that for a reason - they just fit. So sometimes it's best not to experiment with the classics.

We had friends over last weekend. I had goat's cheese and wanted to use it for a starter.

Warm goat-cheese with honey-balsamico glaze (Soojad kitsejuustusaiad mee ja palsamiäädika glasuuriga):
serves 4 as a starter

1/2 of a fresh white multi-grain bread
1 large tbsp of honey
a good glug of olive oil
a good glug of very good Balsamic vinegar
a small handful of walnuts, coarsely chopped
5-7 fresh sage leaves
a pack of firm goat's cheese (about 150-200g)

Preheat the oven to 180 C.
Cut the bread in 4 thick slices and arrange on a parchment-lined oven tin.

Chop the sage leaves.
Put the honey, the olive oil and the Balsamic vinegar into a sauce-pan and onto low heat.

Stir occasionally or just shake the pan as the honey melts and everything combines into a lovely deep-colored glaze.

Add the sage leaves, stir and remove from heat.
Cut the cheese into 4 thick slices and arrange on top of the bread.
Carefully spoon the glaze over each piece of cheese (make sure as much as possible stays on the cheese or seeps into the bread rather than runs down the edges and all over the baking-paper).

Bake with the grill on for about 15 minutes or until the edges of the cheese melt a bit and everything turns lovely golden brown.
Serve with crushed walnuts sprinkled on top.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A new favorite in Tartu

We've officially found a new favorite restaurant in Tartu and we've been there three times already. It's called Moka and it's smack in the centre, really close to the main building of the University of Tartu.
It's been around for a year or so already and I'd heard good things about it, but something about the logo or the exterior just didn't make me want to go in. For some reason I thought I'd find a crowded and stuffy small cafe that offers boring cakes. Oh how wrong was I. I mean it is a bit on the stuffy side in terms of ventilation when it's jam packed with people and the tables would benefit from being slightly more apart, but otherwise it is just splendid.
The first time we went there it was still OK to sit outside. I ordered a tempura-shrimp dish from the starters and S ordered the lasagna. Our boy enjoyed one of the freshly baked warm dinner rolls they brought out. So there we were, sitting, enjoying our drinks and the last bits of nice weather when our food arrived and my mouth literally fell open. The presentation was IMPRESSIVE. Really, really beautiful and so unexpected for this relatively understated cafe-like place.
We took our first bites and the initial amazement quickly morphed into outright delight. The food was great. Tasty, thought through in terms of intermingling flavors and contrasting textures, etc. Super. And the prices are regular cafe-prices, very reasonable.
My shrimps were coated in the most delicate tempura and came with super generous dollops of cream cheese, a nice and spicy mango chutney and lovely beetroot crisps.

S's lasagna was far too great a piece for him to manage, but was wonderful in every aspect and came with an obscenely large Parmesan crisp.

We went back the next weekend with some friends, S and a friend of ours had quesadillas (filled with smoked chicken, accompanied by onion rings and some kind of nice wafer/ bread stick thingies that had obviously been deep-fried.


I had the salad "Supreme" (shrimp, meat scallops, potatoes, pine-nut vinaigrette etc).

That weekend we also noticed that they have a 'National cuisines' thing going on every weekend. That weekend was dedicated to the States, but none of us took advantage apart from our friend's baby brother, who had a brownie (alas, a bit disappointing as it wasn't moist enough) for dessert.

However the rhubarb-espresso Alaska, that our friend had was very nice. Especially the Alaska bit. The rhubarb-espresso (a sauce that was basically blended rhubarb in espresso) was a bit over the top.

And then just the three of us went back the following weekend for the Belgian weekend. As expected I found both the mussels and the French fries on the menu - surprisingly in one dish, so that's what I ordered.

The mussels came in a lovely super-rich white wine/cream sauce, but the fries were a bit boring and I would have expected something more from this place. To be honest, I think they might have been frozen fries from a bag. But the mussels were fantastic.

S had Viking pork with vegetable duxelle and that was finger licking good to the last morsel. And impressively presented again.

For dessert we shared a slice of insanely rich Creme Brulee cake.

The long story short, if you're ever in Tartu, GO to MOKA. I can't wait to go there again.
Oh and I almost forgot, chef de cuisine Andrus Vaht came out to chat with us one time we were there and was most charming. Now what else can you ask from a nice visit to a restaurant.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Muffin Madness

I've been playing around with muffins again. I've made pear and cognac (sadly, no pictures so I'm not posting them); marzipan muffins so full of blueberries that they're dark as night and super smooth apple muffins with the secret ingredient of left-over baby food (oh do read on, it's much less yucky than it sounds). As always, many cooking-related ideas come around from necessity. I had left over apple-puree that I'd made for my son but I didn't want to give it to him after I had transported it in a car on a warm day. And I'm still on the mission impossible of clearing out my freezer, that’s how the blueberry muffins ended up literally stuffed with berries. I think the apple muffins are my all time favorites from all the different veggie and fruit muffins that I've made. They were even better than the banana muffins.

Double-apple muffins (Muffinid topeltõunaga):
makes 12

4 large tablespoons of rice-molasses
50 g of butter (use 4 tbsp of vegetable oil for a dairy free option)
150 g of plain flour
~200 ml apple sauce / apple jam (in that case reduce the amount of molasses unless you're a major sweet-tooth) or, in my case - self-made apple-puree I made for my son (sweetened with raisins and no sugar).
4 small sour but ripe apples.
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 180 C.
Peel, core and dice the apples.
Melt the butter on low heat, add molasses.
Set aside to cool slightly.
In a separate bowl mix the flour, soda, baking powder and cinnamon.
Mix the apple sauce into the butter and molasses mixture. Add the diced apples.

Then mix in the flour.
MAKE SURE YOU DON'T OVERMIX. Just stir it a couple of times.

Divide between muffin-tins, sprinkle with sugar and bake for ~15-20 minutes.

Marzipan and blueberry muffins (Muffinid martsipani ja mustikatega):
makes 12

2 large tablespoons of brown sugar
50 g of butter (use 4 tbsp of vegetable oil for a dairy free option)
150 g of plain flour
200-300 g frozen blueberries
100 g marzipan
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp soda
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 180 C.
Melt the butter on low heat, add the sugar.
Set aside to cool slightly.
Transfer the mixture into a blender, add the egg and crumbled marzipan. Whizz until smooth.
In a separate bowl mix the flour, soda, baking powder.
Now combine the flour mixture and the egg-butter-etc mixture plus the blueberries.
DON'T OVERMIX. Just stir it a couple of times.
Divide between muffin-tins and bake for ~15-20 minutes.