Monday, February 27, 2006

Well hung ... and tender: butter braised beef, Dutch style

I had heard about Well Hung & Tender and their award-winning Aberdeen Angus beef from the Scottish Borders before. After all, their steak beat Jamie Oliver's 21 day matured beef at the nationwide "Battle of the Beef Challenge". I had certainly noticed their eye-catching logo during my trips to the Edinburgh Farmers' Market. But the whole idea of cooking beef intimidated me, and I had not actually bought anything from their weekly stall.

Until last Saturday that is. I had spotted a highly praised and simple beef dish over at eGullet that I wanted to try. I had also invited 3 friends for a meal that night, and although you shouldn't really use your guests as Guinea pigs for new recipes, I was feeling quietly confident about the recipe, and the meat.

I told Sarah MacPherson, one half of the Well Hung & Tender team, and personally in charge of the stall last Saturday, about my planned dish. She suggested their best braising steak and gave me some helpful hints for cooking. The average hanging time for retail beef in the US is 19 days, and just 5-10 days in the UK. Well Hung & Tender, on the other hand, hangs their grass-fed and sufficiently "beefed up" Aberdeen Angus carcasses for between four and five weeks. This gives extra time for the enzymes to break down the muscle fibres, resulting in particularly tender and flavoursome meat. More importantly, it also means that this particular meat takes considerably less time to cook than similar cuts that are, well, not so well hung:)

And if you have such a great piece of meat, you don't really want to mess it up or get too fussy about it.

Butter braised beef - 'draadjesvlees/sudderlapjes'
(Imehõrk veiseliha)
Source: Butter braised beef, Dutch style by Chufi at eGullet
Serves 4

~ 500 grams of good quality braising beef
Maldon sea salt
crushed black peppercorns
75 grams butter
boiling water
2 bay leaves
2-3 cloves

Cut the meat into the same amount of pieces as you have diners. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat the butter in a wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Add the meat in one layer, brown on both sides on a gentle heat. Be gentle.
Pour over the water, just enough to cover the meat.

And now I have to quote Chufi, the eGulleteer, as she puts it very nicely:

"Now add 2 bayleaves and 2 cloves. And here comes the most difficult part.. (for me at least..) don't add anything else. Not a splash of wine, not a sliver of onion or garlic, not a whiff of any other herb or spice. Nothing. Really."

Simmer the meat at a very low heat for 2-3 hours, depending on your beef. My meat was done after 2 hours, but that's because it was a well hung piece of beef. The original recipe prescribes 3 hours braising time.

I found the whole process of braising fascinating - for the first hour and a bit more the meat was simmering away and looked rather tough. I even managed to start to worry whether I'll be done before my guests arrived. And then suddenly, the meat softened and turned flaky, making the task of transferring the meat onto a plate quite a task..

The taste was amazing. The meat was absolutely gorgeous, melting in your mouth and really lovely flavour. I will definitely cook this dish again and cannot recommend it enough.

I served this with a garlicky potato mash and roasted cauliflower, drizzling some red wine sauce on top. Very happy diners and clean plates all around.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Cooking Estonian: moorapallid

Yesterday was Estonia's Independence Day, celebrating the declaration of independence in 1918. Traditionally I would have cooked something Estonian to mark the occasion (like barley porrige or curd cheese patties or something with kama or maybe a fancy sandwich cake). But as my flu dragged on until much longer than I had hoped (I guess eating ice-cream to cool down the body temperature and soothe the sore throat was maybe not such a good idea after all:), I hadn't done any shopping for almost a week, so no proper cooking either.

Instead I share with you a recipe for a popular sweet at Estonian children's parties. Not exactly a healthy snack, granted, but perfectly acceptable every now and then. I imagine these would look quite nice next to the slightly healthier kama & mascarpone truffles. Make sure you don't put liqueur into the truffles if you're catering for kids though. Or - if you're catering for adults only - feel free to add some rum to the biscuit balls.

Cocoa & biscuit balls

180-200 grams of crumbly biscuits
50-75 grams sugar
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
150 grams jelly candies, chopped
100 grams of butter, melted

Crumble the biscuits into a bowl.
Add the sugar, cocoa and chopped jellies.
Add the melted butter and mix thoroughly.
Put into the fridge to cool and harden a little.
Form the mixture into small balls, roll in cocoa powder and keep in the fridge until serving.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

How a luscious mushroom tart turned into a humble mushroom soup

My regular readers must by now know that I love mushrooms. A lot. So imagine my joy when I spotted a delicious looking mushroom tart recipe over at 80 breakfast last weekend. I printed out the recipe, studied it a bit, tweaked it a bit, deciding to use a mixture of cottage cheese and blue cheese instead of ricotta. On a way back from work on Monday, I diligently stocked up on mushrooms, three types of cheese (cottage and blue cheese for the filling, Cheddar cheese for the pastry), and butter. Little did I know that the constant sneezing I took for innocent cold at the time would turn into a feverish flu. On Tuesday I could only muster up enough energy to pop into the kitchen every now and then to boil the kettle, make two slices of garlicky cheese bread for lunch, and mix an avocado with some cottage cheese for my TV dinner session of 3 food programmes.

This was a bad idea. It started all well enough with the MasterChef Goes Large programme, which I quite enjoy watching (especially the contestants who decide to 'experiment' with an unfamiliar novelty dish in the final round!?!?) , and it ended with another enjoyable episode of The Hairy Bikers cooking in various parts of Romania. However, between the two programmes I saw Dr Gillian McKeith doing her miracles on another oversized victim. This was the end of my mushroom tart plan. Even though I admire her mission - and results, she somewhat terrifies me with her stern glare and strict dieting and exercise (sorry, lifestyle) regime.

Suddenly I got scared about the effects a triple-cheesed mushroom quiche will have on me before the quickly approaching beach season and on my health in general. Just thinking about the tart made me see my arteries clogging and cholesterol-levels rocketing. I quickly put the tart recipe aside (sorry, Joey) and reached for WeightWatchers' pure points 2 cookbook hidden in the far corner of my bookshelf. The book fits rather uneasily between the inspiring and mouthwatering tomes of Nigella, Nigel, Tessa, Claudia, Jamie and others, but I had picked it up at the local supermarket few years ago because it cost next to nothing, and now I badly needed it.

Flipping through pages and pages of various 0-point soups and stews, I decided to make a mushroom and thyme soup. I had all the ingredients on hand, and I prepared this soup to try to nurture myself back into life over the course of Wednesday (un-weightwatching it first).

Mushroom and thyme soup
Adapted from pure points 2 by Becky Johnson for WeightWatchers

olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 fat garlic cloves, crushed
250 grams fresh field mushrooms, sliced
a small glass of white wine
2 Tbsp of lemon thyme leaves
500 ml Marigold vegetable stock
black pepper

Heat the oil in a large (non-stick) saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and fry gently on medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until onion has softened.
Increase the heat and add the mushrooms. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent sticking.
Add the wine and cook for few minutes, until the alcohol has evaporated.
Reduce the heat, add the thyme and vegetable stock. Season with salt & pepper, bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes.
Pureé with a hand-held blender or in a food processor.
Serve garnished with extra thyme leaves.

The soup was actually very nice and easy, with a strong earthy mushroom flavour. If you like, you can add some blue cheese to the soup for extra flavour, or a dollop of cream to make it smoother. Still being aware that Dr Gillian McKeith is watching (she is Scottish, so she might just lurk around the corner), I did none of that of course. Because you can never know...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Infusion du jour # 2

Having consumed this drink non-stop* for 2 days now, I decided it's about time to share the recipe with you.

Blackcurrant infusion
Serves 1

750 mg Paracetamol Ph. Eur.
10 mg Phenylephrine Hydrochloride BP
60 mg Ascorbic Acid
Blackcurrant extract
sugar to taste
boiling water to fill the cup

If you prefer your infusions on the sharp side, then you might want to replace the blackcurrant with squeeze or two of lemon (top, on the right).

Also known as Coldrex or Lemsip:)

Am feverish, sniffing and sneezing and sweating and coughing in my bed, having finally caught the flu bug from somewhere. So no cooking (and thus blogging) - I'm surviving on the above infusions and Geisha chocolates. Oh well, at least I have Nigel Slater's the kitchen diaries to read, home-delivered courtesy of Amazon..

* No more than 4 times a day, of course. The rest of the time it's a version of infusion du jour # 1 of one kind or another..

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Oriental salmon with honey, mustard and soy sauce

Photo and post updated in October 2010.

The recipe is from an Australian guy Emlyn, one of the first friends I made when I arrived in Edinburgh back in 1998. It is effortless and easy and a wee bit different, successfully combining the sweetness of the honey, the warm heat of the ginger, the saltiness of soy sauce, the kick of the mustard and the sharpness of the garlic. Very tasty indeed.

Oriental salmon á la Emlyn
(Idamaine ahjulõhe mee, sinepi ja sojakastmega)
Serves 4, can be easily halved

Photo and post updated in December 2008.

4 skinless salmon fillets, á 125-150 grams

For the marinade:
2 Tbsp mustard (I use Coleman's English mustard, but any strong mustard would do)
2 tsp minced fresh ginger or a teaspoon of ground
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
4 Tbsp runny honey
2 Tbsp Kikkoman soy sauce

Mix all the marinade ingredients in a small oven dish. Add the fish fillets, turn to cover and leave to marinate for 20 minutes to 1 hour.
Bake in a pre-heated 200˚C oven for about 20 minutes, until the fish is cooked, but still nicely rosy pink in the middle.

Serve with boiled basmati rice and sliced courgettes sautéed in butter and olive oil and a bit of garlic (add one whole clove to the pan), with a generous handful of chopped fresh basil thrown in at the end. Season with salt and pepper. I can't really explain why, but whereas I usually prefer my vegetables still a bit crunchy, then this courgette side dish I like to be almost mushy (texture-wise, not look-wise).

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cheese sandwich, anyone?

Triggered by Pete Wells' article on foodblogs in the March issue of an American food magazine, today is the official Cheese Sandwich Day, where foodbloggers post their favourite cheese sandwich ideas.

My contribution to this foodie event is a simple Scandinavian- influenced open sandwich with beetroot* and goat's cheese that I've been making recently, where the sweetness of the beet and sharpness of the cheese complement each other perfectly.

We don't really do the "sandwiched sandwich" in the Nordic countries at all. The Danes are famous for their opulent open sandwiches that feature on the famous smørgåsbord, whereas the Estonians often serve small simple open sandwiches as part of a coffee table - or then decide to go all festive with a fancy sandwich cake.

Beetroot and goat's cheese sandwich

sour rye bread
olive oil
boiled beetroot, sliced
goat cheese, sliced (Chevré or something similar. I used Somerset Capricorn cheese)

Cut the rye bread into thickish slices, drizzle with olive oil. Cover with beetroot and goat's cheese slices.
Grill in a pre-heated oven until the cheese is golden and slightly melted.
Decorate with a (lemon) thyme sprig and enjoy.

* This particular cheese sandwich was also chosen because I had some beets left over from my Paper Chef # 15 entry.

Read what the legendary American food writer Ruth Reichl thought of the British cheese sandwich

UPDATE 17.11.2006: Teadmiseks eesti lugejaile, et kitsejuustu võib siinkohal edukalt asendada nt suluguni juustuga (Kehras tehakse, turgudel üsna vabalt saadaval).

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Paper Chef #15: Limes, beetroot and pears?

The latest edition of Paper Chef - # 15 to be precise - is hosted by MagicTofu and the required ingredients are limes, beetroots, pears and aphrodisiac of your choice. My first beetrooty idea is either bortsch (no, not the noodles, but the delicious Eastern European soup) or then a simple beetroot salad. But however happily I'd cook that soup or salad, I'm not prepared to incorporate pears and limes into either of these dishes. Some dishes are best as they are.

As it happens, I'm preparing the dish on the über-sweet Valentine's Day, and thus a dessert would be more appropriate anyway. The aphrodisiac I chose was chocolate, or more precisely, white chocolate. After the ultimate chocolate blogger David Lebovitz himself praised this particular type of chocolate recently, I picked up a bar of Green & Black's white chocolate with Bourbon vanilla.

Here's my entry:

Mascarpone mousse with white chocolate and lime juice, topped with candied pear and beetroot

The mousse is a mixture of mascarpone, whipped double cream and melted white chocolate, seasoned with freshly squeezed lime juice. Topping - beetroot and pear slices that I first cooked in sugar syrup (separately, of course), and then dried in a very cool oven. The idea for candied beetroot slices came from here.

My previous Paper Chef #8 entry

MagicTofu's round-up of Paper Chef # 15

Tagged with:

Monday, February 13, 2006

Restaurant review: Coyaba, Edinburgh (aka Defeatism or how I can't resist you, chicken ku-ya)

Last Friday night. A Swedish friend of mine, Annika, has invited me and her friend Sarah, who is visiting from Aberystwyth, for a meal. We agree to go to one of my favourite places in town, a Jamaican restaurant Coyaba in Edinburgh Southside. Since I first went there for the departmental Xmas lunch in December 2004, I've been back pretty much every month. I'm literally looking for excuses to go there - a celebration of one kind or another, a visiting friend, meal out with colleagues - anything will do. The place is atmospheric, food tasty and different from my everyday fare. Granted, the service can occasionally be somewhat on the relaxed side, but it is only part of the Jamaican experience.

The menu is tempting, the reviews positively raving. And yet, all but once I've had exactly the same main dish: Chicken Ku-ya, described on the menu simply as "Stewed until 'oh so tender' in a rich brown tomato, onion and garlic gravy". The one time I didn't, I ordered Jah Bless Tofu (seasoned tofu, sweet pepper and mushrooms cooked with coconut milk), which was tasty (though how come I ordered a tofu dish at a Jamaican place is a bit unclear). I've had various bites off the plates of kind friends, and can testify that Escoveitch Fish (fresh catch of the day marinated in chef's special spices, pan - fried and served with a tomato, honey, and scotch bonnet pepper escoveitch sauce) is flavoursome and crispy, Jerk Chicken (marinated in special jerk sauce with pimento and thyme. Authentic Jamaican fare) kickingly hot, Traditional Curry Goat (goat cooked slowly until tender, rich and spicy - one of our favourites) indeed rich and spicy. The starters I've had - Festival & Callaloo (truly Jamaican special light bread with spicy Ital greens) and Ackee & Saltfish (Jamaica's national dish cooked in olive oil with tomato and served with a light corn dumpling) - especially the latter, are substantially filling and heartily recommended. I cannot comment on the puds, as I've never had any space for one left. And I'm definitely a pudding girl..

All these dishes have been absolutely delicious. Yet, as I said, I've had the same chicken dish every single time (but once). Each time before going to Coyaba, I decide to behave as appropriate to a true foodie and order something new from the menu. Use the opportunity to broaden my culinary horizon*, to tiltillate my tastebuds with something different.

Last Friday was no different. I promised to myself before leaving my place that I'll have something new.

After a five minute brisk walk across the Meadows, I am seated in the intensely deep red dining room, listening to the reggae soundtrack. The place is buzzing with satisfied diners. I nibble on the plantain crisps, sip my glass of Ruby Cabernet and glance at the menu, avoiding looking at any items containing poultry. Yep, this time I'm gonna be different and decide to go for the Fenky Fenky fish (fresh catch of the day - seabass on Friday - lightly poached in coconut milk with okra and sweet peppers and a little chilli). My friends opt for Jerk chicken and Escoveitch Fish. I'm pleased with myself. I'm gonna try something new.

So how, oh how, I end up ordering Chicken Ku-ya just 2 minutes later? Again? For the 10th time? Within one year?

I admit defeat..

* Maybe it's not my fault. My gastrological statement clearly reads that "a large proportion [of Taureans] have a particular resistance to trying anything unfamiliar."

Jamaican Restaurant
113 Buccleuch Street
Edinburgh EH8 9NG
Phone: 0131 662 9111

Valik jamaika retsepte

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Cod with a creamy citrus sauce

Photo by Juta Kübarsepp

One of my recurring new year resolutions is to eat more healthily - meaning eating more vegetables and oily fish, and less - a lot less - chocolate. However, I must confess that I'm still in the process of learning how to like fish. As a child, I was a very - and I mean VERY - picky fish eater. I'd refuse any fish on the table, apart from freshly smoked flounder, still hot from the smokery. When I grew a bit older, I allowed canned tuna & canned mackerel in tomato sauce onto my plate. Few years on, and I'm still reluctant to eat fish with lots of bones and served with the head still attached. And I will not touch herring, which is a staple back home and which caused me many an embarrassing moment when I was an exchange student in Denmark in 92/93. I swear, every single dinner I was invited to during that year began with a plate of cold herring..

But I'm trying, even if it sometimes means disguising the fishiness. Here is an easy and tasty dish with orange and lemon, which is not too fishy and would also suit picky eaters like me. This is not the first time I'm using orange to brighten up my fish - I also have a recipe for salmon with rosemary & orange. Both are delicious.

Cod with creamy citrus sauce
Adapted from a recipe in a Swedish magazine Hemmets Journal.

Serves 4

(Photo updated in August 2008)

500 grams cod (fillet or loin piece)
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp plain flour
200 ml hot (fish) stock
200 ml single cream
0.5 lemon, juice only
1 orange, juice and finely grated zest
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
a generous handful of finely chopped flatleaf parsley
crushed black pepper

Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the flour and stir until combined.
Add the stock (I made mine from Marigold Vegetable Stock Powder) and cream, mixing thoroughly to avoid any lumps. Let the sauce simmer for 3-4 minutes.
Add the lemon and orange juice, bring the sauce to simmer again. Season with salt and pepper.
Cut the cod fillet or loin into chunks and add to the pan, spooning some sauce on top of the fish. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer on a low temperature for about 5 minutes, until the fish is cooked through.
Add the garlic, parsley and orange peel to the saucepan and stir very gently - you don't want the fish to break into too many pieces.

Serve with boiled potatoes and any other vegetable(s) of your choice.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sunny brunch: Bill Granger's potato & feta pancakes

After couple of bright and sunny mornings in Edinburgh, today was positively miserable. The sky was overcast - a starck contrast to the blue morning skies earlier this week. It was drizzling with very wet rain. It was cooooooold. Dreich, as the Scots would say. The only way I could get myself to wake up on a morning like this was to drag myself out of my bed, and head for a caffeine kick at a nearby cafe. It helped - a lot actually. Before I headed out though, I leafed through bills Sydney food, just to remind myself that there are places in the world that are always sunny, whatever the season.. Oh, and pick a recipe idea for brunch.

One latte, almond croissant and morning papers later, I was back in my kitchen. It was still drizzling outside, the rain ferociously beating at my window. But it didn't matter as much anymore. I was grating potatoes, mincing spring onions and crumbling feta cheese, trying out an Australian (= sunny) recipe for a Greek (= sunny) dish. On the menu:

Potato and feta pancakes
Adapted from Bills Sydney Food by Bill Granger*

500 grams potatoes, peeled and grated
5 spring onions, white parts only, chopped
2 eggs
2 tsp dried mint
2 Tbsp chopped flatleaf parsley
100 grams feta cheese, crumbled
4 Tbsp plain flour
salt and black pepper

Vegetable oil for frying.

Mix the grated potatoes and chopped onions with a pinch of salt, put into a colander to drain for 15 minutes.
Beat the eggs lightly in a bowl, add the herbs, feta cheese and flour. Squeeze the excess moisture from the potatoes and add to the egg mixture. Season and mix to combine.
Heat a little oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Take 1 Tbsp of mixture and dip into the hot oil, press to flatten. Fry on both sided on a medium-low heat until golden brown (if the heat is too high, your pancakes will brown before the potato is cooked).

Think of this as a Greek version of the British brunch staple hash brown, with herbs and salty speckles of feta cheese. Just a bit brighter and warmer and sunnier..

* Bill's recipe included 1 small onion, 2 Tbsp of mint, and parsley to serve.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Chocolate & rice, anyone? Pierre Hermé's chocolate rice pudding

I recently exchanged some cookbooks with a kind fellow foodblogger Melissa. One of the books I got on loan was Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé. The book is written by Dorie Greenspan and contains beautiful recipes & pictures of amazingly tempting desserts. It's definitely a gorgeous coffee table book - you can read the recipes, daydream over the photographs and almost satisfy your chocolate cravings by just imagining how the cakes, pastries, creams and puddings would taste like.

However tempting though, many of the desserts seem too much of an effort, involving usually quite a few separate steps and very long ingredient lists. Not really suitable for your easy midweek sweet. I'm convinced the desserts would be divine, but as my tastebuds are reasonably easily pleased with less effort as well, then most of Pierre Hermé's creations remain untackled by me at the moment. Maybe in the future, when I have more free time to play with my rolling pin and cookie cutters, I'll return to the book.

There are couple of interesting ideas (f. ex. Chocolate-Dipped Candied Mint Leaves as an alternative to After Eight mints) that I'll definitely keep in mind. And before I return the book to Melissa next week, I decided to try one of the more easy desserts: chocolate rice pudding.

Remember the rice pudding from your childhood? Well, according to the writers, this is

'Not your grandmother's rice pudding. Not even your mother's. This has all the cuddly, cozy warmth of a childhood dessert and all the sex appeal of a sweet for the raffiné crowd. Yes, it's creamy rice pudding as we know it, but it's made with Arborio rice - small, round risotto rice whose kernels stay firm at the core even when cooked through - plump golden raisins, and bittersweet chocolate, the ingredient that transforms this pudding, making its flavour deeper, its texture denser, and its character stronger.'

The dessert was incredibly easy to make and it's one of the few recipes in the book that covered less than 3 pages and required less than 20 ingredients:) Whole milk, Arborio rice, sugar, salt, butter, raisins and bittersweet chocolate (Hermé suggests Valrhona Guanaja, I used Green&Black's bittersweet dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids) was all that the recipe asked for.

Chocolate rice pudding
Source: Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
Serves 6

950 ml whole/full-fat milk
100 grams arborio rice
2.5 Tbsp sugar
a pinch of salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
200 grams bittersweet chocolate, melted
125 ml/60 grams plump golden raisins

Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the rice, sugar and salt. Bring to the boil, stirring frequently (NB! the milk boils over very quickly, so pay attention!). When boiling, reduce the temperature and simmer slowly for about 15 minutes, until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter. When the butter is melted, fold in the melted chocolate, stirring gently. Finally stir in the raisins.
Pour the chocolate rice pudding into individual serving glasses. Cover the glasses with clingfilm, cool to room temperature and then chill until ready to serve.

It was simple to make, and the resulting dessert was luscious and flavoursome, intensely creamy and chocolatey with al dente Arborio kernels giving a bit of texture. I ate the pudding plain, but authors suggest caramelised Rice Krispies, or raspberry coulis. I think a simple drizzle of single cream would also be nice.. And maybe finely chopped dried apricots instead of raisins.. Or raisins soaked in some rum for an extra kick?

Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Tasting notes: bortsch noodles?!

UK-based blogger Nathalie was recently intrigued about a Polish-Mexican Bistro in Mayfair, London, asking how multi-culti can you get. You must admit that Polish-Mexican fusion sounds, well, intriguing.

But what about this: bortsch flavoured instant noodles - barszcz czerwony - courtesy of my local Polish deli*:

Most interesting. Not comparable to the real (soup) thing, obviously, but as far as instant noodles go, it's no worse than the more common varieties.

Culinary multiculturalism rules?

*Bona Deli, 86 South Clerk Street, Edinburgh

Monday, February 06, 2006

An ode to wild mushrooms

I have posted quite a few recipes and stories about various mushrooms since I started this blog, so it's probably not surprising to anyone when I say that I'm quite fond of my mushrooms. I like the musky and earthy smell of proper mushrooms that evoke childhood forest adventures; their slightly meaty, yet smooth, texture that gives a nice bite under your teeth; the way how they happily absorb any flavours of the dish, if you're looking for something to bulk up your dish without lots of extra calories. Unfortunately it's a fondness that is quite difficult to satisfy here in Scotland. Yes, I've spotted chantarelles in some of the upmarket delis in Edinburgh, but until I remain working in academia, their price is prohibitive. And although dried porcini is a brilliant standby and meaty shiitake mushrooms irreplacable when I'm making my staple blue cheese and mushroom sauce to douse into my pasta, the choice here is generally meagre.

Back home the situation is luckily still a bit better. I've mentioned going forageing for mushrooms with my grandparents when I was younger, and although I sadly haven't done that for years now, my relatives still provide us with a choice of varied forest mushrooms. In late summer and early autumn you'd be able to pick up wild mushrooms from elderly - mostly Russian, whose love for mushrooms is quite wellknown - women at any of the marketplaces in Tallinn. And if you fail that, then you can just pick some pickled or salted mushrooms in most supermarkets. So you can leave those handy, but disappointingly bland cultivated mushrooms on the supermarket shelf instead..

I brought back 3 packets of mushrooms during my last trip home - pickled chantarelles (kukeseened), salted woolly milkcaps (kaseriisikad) and salted rufous milkcaps (männiriisikad). I've been lovingly looking at them in my fridge for weeks now, and last weekend devoured the wooly milkcaps. The didn't need any cooking - only soaking in water to get rid of the excess salt. I made a simplest of salads, where the earthy mushroom flavour could deservedly dominate.

Mushroom salad
(Soolaseene ja kodujuustu salat)

300-400 ml salted mushrooms, soaked, rinsed and chopped
2-3 salted cucumbers, chopped
1 red onion, minced
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
300 grams cottage cheese
fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
green onions, chopped
crushed black pepper

Just mix all the ingredients, season to taste. I had the salad with toasted rye bread, but you can use it as a filling for jacked potatoes.

I had a handful of mushrooms left over, which I pan-fried later with some boiled potatoes and sprinkled with herbs. Also delicious, with intense mushroom flavour..

That is if you can get hold of some flavoursome salted wild mushrooms then..

Friday, February 03, 2006

On rosy cheeks

Yesterday was Candlemas alias küünlapäev. For the old Estonians, küünlapäev marked the midpoint of cold harsh winter, the day when winter's backbone was broken, its heart was crushed. Candlemas was also considered to be a good day for making candles - apparently these would burn extra brightly then.. Substinence wise, half of the human and animal food was supposed to be left on this day, as it was still a long time before the fields would yield any food again.

Well, winters are considerably milder these days (although it was minus 30˚C in Estonia just a few weeks ago, but this is increasingly rare). And there is no need to ration your food so that at least half of the meat and grain would still be in storage on February 2nd - you can always pop into the supermarket. But this doesn't mean that you can't eat the traditional foods on that day - pork hocks, head or side, barley porridge, red beer and liqueurs. During the 20th century, red berries and fruit were added to the list of required foods of the day. I decided to skip the pork hocks and head, but made the other traditional dish of the day - barley porridge.

Most importantly, küünlapäev was a festive day for the women. This was the day when the rough Estonian peasant men were stuck in the kitchen and farm, doing the women's work. The women went to visit each other and then for a drink in a pub - kõrts. Not exactly a full-blown emancipation of women, but heading on that direction. You see, it was important to consume some red wine or liqueur on that day, so the women would have lovely - and healthy - rosy cheeks for the rest of the year.

A very simple barley porridge
(Sõmer kruubipuder)

200 grams pearl barley
25-30 grams of butter
600 ml meat or chicken stock

Wash the barley groats with hot water, drain thoroughly.
Heat the butter in a heavy saucepan, add pearl barley and sauté for a few minutes.
Add the hot stock, season with salt and stir gently.
Cover the pan with a lid and simmer on a medium low heat for about 30-40 minutes, until barley has swollen and is 'al dente' or almost soft, with a bit of bite. You can also bake the porridge in the oven.

To serve
75 grams cubed pancetta
2-3 small shallots

Slice the onion very thinly. Heat a non-stick pan on a medium heat and dry-fry the pancetta cubes until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon, add a splash of oil to the pan, if necessary, and reduce the heat to minimum.
Add sliced onion and fry very slowly until golden and caramelised (about 20-30 minutes).

There was also a small bowl of sliced salted cucumbers on the table, as well as some sour cream.

If you're brave and adventurous enough, then the porridge is best served with some soured milk, like kefir or buttermilk. We had the latter, courtesy of the recently opened Polish deli nearby.

Although extremely humble and cheap, the barley porridge is actually very nice. The groats have a nice crunchy bite to them, and the fried pancetta and caramelised onions add slight sophistication.

A simple cherry and chocolate tart
(Lihtne kirsitort)

As for the red berries, I served these in the form of cherries:) I tried a simple version of the Black Forest Cake, recipe courtesy of Jamie Oliver. But as the Estonian forests would have all still be covered in snow in early February, I made a white forest cake instead*.

A small loaf cake, sliced lenghtwise into 2 or 3
A tub of whipping or double cream
A dash of kirsch
A can of pitted cherries
A zest of one orange
Grated chocolate

Slice the loaf cake lengthwise into 2 or 3 layers, depending on the size. Lay onto a serving tray.
Drain the cherries slightly, add the kirsch and let the flavours mingle for a few minutes.
Whip the double cream until soft peaks form, add most of the orange zest.
Drizzle the boozy liquid from the cherries onto the cake base.
Cover with orange zest flavoured whipped cream. Cover with cherries, sprinkle with some orange zest and grated chocolate.

And to drink - a bottle of red wine. We don't usually drink much alcohol, but there were three Estonian girls around the table last night and we were just trying to follow old Estonian customs:)

* The 'black forest' cake was replaced with a 'white forest' cake mainly because I couldn't find a chocolate loaf cake in any of the shops on the way from work to home. Yes, I know that a true foodie would bake their own loaf cakes - and usually I would - but I had about an hour to prepare the porridge and the cake, so couldn't make it last night.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

And again: a creamy mocca apple pie

I know I said the Canadian apple cake is my very favourite apple cake, but this doesn't mean it's the only apple cake I ever make. I also have a simple weekday apple cake and few other recipes up my sleeve. And this creamy mocca-flavoured one is one of these.

A creamy mocca-flavoured apple pie
(Kohvimaitseline õunakook)
Source: "100 kooki Pereköögist"

200 grams butter, softened
200 ml sugar
1 egg
100 ml potato starch
250 ml plain flour
1 tsp baking powder

200 ml strong coffee
1 Tbsp dark muscovado sugar
3 large apples, cored and sliced

Mocca topping:
100 ml sour cream/creme fraiche
1 egg
50 ml strong coffee
75 ml dark muscovado sugar
1 tsp vanilla sugar

Start with the filling: mix coffee with sugar, add apple slices and set aside to infuse a little.
For the base, cream softened butter and sugar, mix in the egg. Sift flour, potato starch and baking powder into the batter and mix. Smear (that's the best word, as it's too soft to press and too thick to pour) the batter, using your hands, into a buttered 24 cm pie dish.
Cover with coffee-infused apple slices and bake at 200˚C for about 20 minutes, until the batter isn't wet anymore and the cake looks just slightly golden.
Mix the topping ingredients (you can use the same coffee you soaked the apple slices in) and pour evenly over the cake.
Bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the cake is lovely golden brown.
Let it cool and serve.