Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Go Green!

So as I've already mentioned, I'm going through a bit of a spinach phase right now. I'm sure it's mostly thanks to the fact that they're now selling very decent looking fresh baby spinach in most of the supermarkets and whenever I pass it, I can hardly stop myself from throwing a pack or two into the cart.
Now being as it is one of the 14 superfoods that allegedly will change your life for the better (beans, blueberries, broccoli, oats, oranges, pumpkin, wild salmon, soy, spinach, tea, tomatoes, turkey, walnuts) (but I've also seen avocado on many of those lists) and that it supposedly decreases heart disease and makes your eyesight good even when you're old (age-related macular degeneration they call it :P), I'm thinking it's an OK phase to go through.
Plus there's a lot of fun and joy in it for me as I grew up in a spinach-free environment and the first time I knowingly had any was about 8 years ago in Prague when my friend ordered a wilted spinach with butter and garlic as a side dish and dug in with such enthusiasm, that I had to ask for a bite. After that there were a couple of sad years of trying to recreate the same thing from nasty frozen pellets they only sold here for a while and now, voila, I can wilt all the spinach I want. And I want a lot, on pasta, on gnocchi, with potatoes in a salad. Yay!

So recently I've made pasta with wilted spinach (but I've apparently deleted the photos (a pity as they were really nice) and I can't therefore post it. But I also made a batch of spinach pesto and a pasta dish and a chicken dish with that. So here they are. Anything to avoid that macular degeneration, eh?

Fresh Spinach pesto:
2 packs of fresh baby spinach (appr. 150g each)
a generous knob of nutty Parmesan (about 50 g)
a good glug of extra virgin olive oil
a good handful of pine nuts
3 garlic cloves
salt and black pepper

Rinse the spinach under cold running water and spin dry.
Combine the spinach and the walnuts in a blender and pulse a couple of times.
Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until smooth. If necessary scrape the sides of the blender and pulse again.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Will keep in a sterilized jar in a fridge for about a week.
It's tangy and has a bit of a bite to it. Plus the traditional nutty and earthy and rich aftertaste that you get with the real (Basil) pesto.

Super simple spinach pesto pasta: Serves 2

1/2 pack of spaghetti
2-3 tbsp of fresh spinach pesto
6 pieces of sundried tomato
1/2 - 1 red bell pepper
1 egg
some oil from the sundried tomatoes jar

Cut the bell pepper into small chunks and chop the sundried tomato.
Boil the pasta according to the instructions on the pack.
Heat the oil on a large pan, then add the tomatoes and the bell peppers, sauté for a minute or two. Add the drained pasta and mix in the spinach pesto. Stir until all the spaghetti are coated and it's heated through. Whisk the egg with salt and pepper. Add it to the spaghetti and stir again (like when making carbonara).
Serve. You can serve with cheese, but I didn't and it was fine like that (I just read this book by Dr.Fuhrman who basically says that dairy is the root of all that's evil, so I was under the influence at the time I was making this and though that there already is a bit of the evil in the pesto and that's quite enough.

Filled chicken-breasts with red-lentil puree:
serves 4

4 chicken breasts
6-8 small balls of mozzarella
8 pieces of sundried tomato
3-4 tbsp of fresh spinach pesto
2 slices of ham, bacon or prosciutto
some oil from sundried tomatoes

about 150 g of dried red lentils
1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro
2 tbsp of sour cream
Salt and pepper, preferably freshly ground

If you have time soak the lentils for about an hour, if you don't no harm done, you're making puree.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Heat the oil in a large pan. Sprinkle the chicken with salt. Quickly fry the chicken breasts on both sides until golden.

Set aside and let them cool until you're able to handle them.
Chop the sundried tomatoes.
Bring the red lentils to a boil with about double the quantity of water to the quantity of lentils. Add some salt.
Chop the cilantro.
Cut the ham into strips.
When the chicken breast have cooled enough, make a cut into each of them so you have a nice pocket to stuff.
Take a large piece of baking paper and crinkle it up under some running water. It will turn softer (or just use foil). Lay it out on an oven tin.
Stuff each chicken breast with sundried tomatoes and some torn up mozzarella. Slightly squeeze them shut. Lay them on the baking paper.

Smear the tops of each fillet with the spinach pesto and sprinkle with the strips of ham. Bring the corners of the baking paper up and fold them together so you end up with a pouch.
Bake with the fan on for about 20 minutes.
The lentils should boil into a mush in about 15 minutes. Stir to further break them into a puree and let them boil until the consistency is right. Stir in the chopped fresh cilantro, heat through, turn off the heat and stir in the sour cream.
I served it with some green salad.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


So it seems that I'm going through a gooey phase :) Sounds good, doesn't it ? ;)
As you've seen in this blog, I've recently made my first houmous (and I've made it two or three more times after that, so it's quickly becoming a staple). I've also been making guacamole, although that is something I've been making for a while. And now I've made my first home-made fresh spinach pesto (yes, all you purists, I do know that technically only basil pesto is called pesto, but it's just so much easier to call it that, than to go into the whole "fresh blended green sauce" explanation) and my first baba ganoush (or Baba Ghannouj, if you so prefer). And they were lovely!
As I've made and photographed different pasta dishes and salads with spinach, I'm not going into the details of the spinach pesto here (and they're pretty basic anyways) as I'll probably do it later.

So here goes, Baba Ganoush

2 whole eggplants
2 large tbsp of tahini
3 cloves of garlic
a good glug of olive oil
juice from 1/2 lemon
a bunch of fresh cilantro
chili flakes (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C.

If you have a gas stove or some kind of flambee'ing equipment, char the skins of the eggplants. If not, no worries.
Prick the eggplants with a fork and lay them on a paper-lined baking tray. Cook until soft inside (a knife or a fork goes in easily), about 30-40 minutes.

While the eggplants are cooking, chop the garlic, squeeze the lemon juice and finely chop the cilantro.

Let the eggplants cool slightly, then cut open and scrape the insides into a bowl or a blender.

Add the rest of the ingredients and blitz into a smooth puree.
Serve with corn-chips or bread or as a dip for veggies.
Mine kept nicely for about 5 days in an airtight container in the fridg (it does kind of leak juice, but that's fine).
And it's a nice variety to the houmous, it kind of tastes similar (the tahini element), but is much lighter and airier. Makes a lovely bread-spread for a good breakfast. I love to sprinkle it with alfalfa sprouts.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

First batch of ice-cream

As I already boasted, my lovely sister gave me an ice-cream maker for Christmas. I'm a huge ice-cream lover and when I was living in the States my all-time favorite was Butter Pecan, which, alas, cannot be found here in Estonia.
But butter and even pecans, can.
So oh so obviously my first batch of ice-cream was Butter Pecan.
My sis also gave me Ben Cohen's and Jerry Greenfield's Home made ice-cream book (have I already written that they only just started selling Ben&Jerry's here, like a couple of months ago, really. It's been an ice-cream lovers hell), so I used their recipe.

Butter Pecan Ice-Cream (makes ~1 liter):

100 g butter
150 g pecans
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
180 ml sugar
750 ml 10% cream (or use 250 ml milk and 500 ml whipping cream, as B&J suggest)

Freeze the ice-cream makers bucket a day in advance.
Halve the pecans.
Melt the butter over low heat, add the pecans and the salt and sauté until pecans start to turn brown. Stir constantly but be careful not to break the pecans up too much.

Drain the butter into a small bowl and let it cool.

Transfer the nuts to another bowl.

Beat the eggs until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar, a little at a time, until completely blended. Pour in the cream and whisk to blend. Then add the cooled butter and whisk to blend.
Cover and set aside in a fridge for 1-2 hours or overnight (this step is optional).
Turn your ice-cream maker on and transfer the mixture into the maker. Freeze following the instructions. Add the pecans about 1-2 minutes before done.

And it was exactly as I remembered it, well maybe a little bit lighter as I did use 10%. But it was fabulous. If I could, I'd just live off Butter Pecan for a month.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Another Russian classic

So here comes another one of my mothers recipes and a Russian holiday classic. My mom made these (my role was shamefully minor, I took pictures and helped in assembling the pies) lovely minced meat and yeast-dough pies over the holidays. As I've explained before, Russian cuisine (as a clever rouse to keep the ladies in the kitchen and out of every other aspect of life) takes making things from scratch to new extremes. Really, you can't go further than that if you don't grow your own crops and slaughter your own pigs and that would be in the realms of agricultural blogging anyway.

So here there are - pork and chanterelle mince pies with broth (Venepärased liha ja seenepirukad puljongiga):
serves 8 twice

For the yeast-dough:
200 ml milk
42 g pressed fresh yeast
1 tsp salt
1.5 tbsp sugar
100g butter
flour (my mom was unable to identify the exact quantity)

For the filling:
1 kg pork (thigh meat, no fat)
~200 g sautéed (with butter) chanterelles (we used the ones we had picked, sautéed and frozen in the summer). If using fresh chanterelles you'll probably need about 500 g. And some salt and butter for sautéing.
3 large onions
2 bay leaves
black pepper
a knob of butter or 2 tbsp of oil for sautéing onions
2 egg-yolks for brushing.

Put the meat in a large pot, cover with water, add some black pepper, salt and the bay leaves and boil until tender. Fish the bay leaves out and keep the broth.
Melt the butter and set aside.
Heat the milk in a saucepan until warm (not hot and far from boiling, otherwise you'll kill the yeast). Crumble in the yeast and add the 1 tsp of salt and the 1.5 tbsp of sugar. Stir until dissolved.
Add the butter and stir.
Add a handful (about 3 tbsp ) of flour, stir, cover and set aside to rise for the first time.
After it has risen, stir it and mix in the rest of the flour, knead, add flour. You need a dough that can be rolled with a pin and then cut into circles and knitted into pies between your hands. But you want as little flour as you can manage, then the pies will be more tender.
Now cover the dough again and set it aside to rise for the second time.
In the mean time chop the onions and fry the chanterelles with some butter and the onions if you're using fresh mushrooms. If you have sautéed ones just sauté the onions with some butter or a little bit of oil until glossy.

Also, while the dough is still rising, run the meat through a meat mincer. As we had prepared the duck confit a day earlier, we also had boiled two duck livers, two duck hearts and two duck craws with the pork and added that to our meat mince (yum at giblets:).

Knead the dough again after it's risen.
Cover, and set aside to rise for the third time.
Mix the minced meat with the sautéed onions and chanterelles. Add a little bit of the stock to make sure it's not too dry and lumps together nicely.
Now knead, dust a flat surface with some flour and roll it out (thickness of a thick coin). Cut it into circles (diameter about 6-7 cm), my mom has a special accessory for this that kind of gets rolled across and then cuts it into circles but a cup or a cookie cutter will do just fine.
Preheat the oven to 170C.
And then just sit down and do the tedious handiwork of assembling the tiny pies - you'll need to put about a tablespoonful of the filling in the centre of the pie and then knit together the two edges with your fingers so that the seam will end up in the centre. Lay the pies on an oven tin seam-side down.
Whisk the egg yolks and brush the pies so they'll be nice and shiny.
Bake for about 15 minutes (the filling is done anyway, so just keep an eye on the pies and take them out when golden).
Serve with a bowl of hot pork-broth.