Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Drink your carrots!

I simply love these summer mornings. First a run in the sun, then radio playing in the kitchen, watching people walking by in the street as I'm having a light breakfast... Really, what could be better? Sunbathing in the garden? Smelling grilled meat and fresh cut lawn while walking along streets in the evening?

As I have stated before, I love carrots. But it's true it's the first time I've actually drunk them. A milkshake is a perfect start for a day. More honey (or sugar instead) may be added for a sweeter drink, but how much sweetness does one need when there are birds singing, even shouting, outside and the sun touches the cheeks through the kitchen window during breakfast? Moderate sweetnees is very fine with me!

Carrot and orange milkshake
(serves 1)

50 g boiled carrots
1 dl milk
1 dl orange juice
1 tsp honey

1. Puree the carrots.
2. Add milk and puree until the mixture is smooth.
3. Add orange juice and honey.

The milkshake's texture is really silky. The flavour of orange juice is the one that strikes first, but the aftertaste of every sip is definitely the one of carrot's. The drink is just moderately sweet and really refreshing, a little bit foamy. It would go well as an evening 'snack' as it is healthy as well. A strawberry or an orange slice and some almond slices make a good presentation - for the milkshake to be as lovely as the weather outside.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Fruit stuffed fruit

...stuffed marzipan stuffed chocolate.
Ooh. Today I'm proud of myself. Just like for the first time in my life I had prepared something...elegant. If that's the word. I wasn't sure what I was going to make or how I was going to make it, but I took out a can of apricot halves, some chocolate, marzipan and dried apricots. And then I stared at them, just stared at them for a little while before my mind cleared up.
And that's what I got.

Chocolate balls filled with apricots and marzipan
(yields six balls)

12 canned apricot halves
6 dried apricots
120 g marzipan
100 g dark chocolate

1. Drain the apricot halves on paper towels so that they're quite dry.
2. Place dried apricots between two apricot halves.

3. Roll marzipan into a thin sheet and divide it into 6, then wrap each 'apricot' into marzipan. Be sure there are no holes in it.
4. Melt chocolate over a waterbath and dip the marzipan covered apricots into it to be wholly covered with chocolate (I found the best way to do so was to use a tablespoon to roll them around in chocolate). Place them onto baking paper or foil and then into the freezer at first so that the chocolate would quickly harden.
5. After about 5 minutes you can put them into the fridge to keep them there.

The inside of the treats is flavoured by marzipan that has turned soft due to apricot juice. When broken, marzipan flavoured juice flows out just like a sweet sauce. And chocolate melting into marzipan when bitten...could it get any better? I believe it's possible to add even more twists to the dessert. What about adding a bit apricot jam between the dried apricots and apricot halves? Or what about adding almond slices instead? Adding them would enrich the treat with yet another different texture.

With this post I'm also joining the fabulous event Waiter, there's something in my... stuffed fruit/vegetables! hosted by Jeanne of Cook Sister

Head isu!

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Coffee, cocoa and lemon meringues

My meringues made the sun come out, so there's probably no doubt at all if they taste good or not. Sunshine somehow goes well with crunching light crispy meringues, doesn't it?
Even although my oven kind of fell apart when I had finished with them. With utmost rumble of course. Luckily I survived, the meringues survived and the oven did too. I'm not that bad of a repairwoman after all!
But let's talk the talk. Meringues.

Coffee, cocoa and lemon zest meringues

5 eggwhites
3 dl sugar
1 tsp fine instant coffee powder
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp grated lemon zest

1. Whip the eggwhites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form, then gradually beat in sugar.
2. Near the end of whipping add instant coffee powder, cocoa powder and lemon zest.
3. Line two baking trays with baking paper and pipe or spoon small portions of the eggwhite mixture on them.
4. Bake at 110C for about 2 hours with the oven door slightly open, then let them stay in the oven until it has completely cooled.

It's intriguing how mixing three different flavours already makes the mind puzzle about it a bit. 'Now what's this taste?' Slightly sour, slightly bitter, but at the same time very sweet and deep-tasting. All three flavours are recognizable in the overall image.
But even if those were the best meringues in the world, I'd still rather go out to enjoy the sunshine. It's here at last.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Khachapuri - the Georgian cheesebread with Suluguni

It made my meals when I was in Georgia. Always freshly baked and warm, really soft and full of melting local Suluguni cheese, salty enough to awaken my senses - khachapuri - I swore to myself I would make it.
Buying cheese at the market in Tbilisi was an experience. As I had promised myself to only buy the best, I ended up with more bits of cheese between my fingers and jaws than I would have liked. You can't throw a half eaten bite onto the ground, can you? Oh you can't! When I asked for Suluguni, I was directed to one certain seller and I got to try cheeses with different saltiness - I finally settled with one with average salt level. And boy was I happy - although Suluguni is the most famous among Georgian cheeses, It had not been served to us often.

There are very different kinds of khachapuri that are of different shapes and use different fillings and vary according to region. As I have understood, the dough is usually made without yeast, but I'd really like to try out a recipe using it too. The curiosity! I believe I added a bit too much flour when rolling the dough this time - don't do that mistake or the bread will turn numb! If possible, use Suluguni cheese when making the bread. It may be substituted with Georgian Imeruli or Bryndza. As it has quite a high melting point too, I believe Halloumi would do as well.

(from the Estonian food magazine "Oma Maitse")

2 1/2 dl milk
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking powder

300 g Suluguni cheese
1 egg

1. Mix together milk and the egg, add salt (you might not want to add much as the cheese is quite salty).
2. Add flour until you have a soft rollable dough (According to my measures I added about 350 g) and then knead it thoroughly.
3. Add a bit oil and let the dough stand for about 10-15 minutes.
4. Grate the cheese and mix it with beaten egg.
5. Divide the dough and cheese mixture into portions - I divided them into three and got khachapuris that were just a bit smaller than a regular pan.
6. Roll one portion into a thin circle and cover it with cheese mixture. Gather the edge together to the middle and press the surface of the circle even so that the filling doesn't show.
7. Heat oil in a pan and fry the khatchapuri, same side up, covered, until golden brown. Then turn it over and fry uncovered until done.
8. Serve warm

Yes, do serve it warm. You may re-heat it afterwards on a pan, in the oven or in the microwave, but it tastes a bazillion times better when served fresh from the pan. When eating it for the first time in Georgia, I made the fatal mistake of trying to eat it with a fork and a knife - just be civilised, okay? This is eaten between your fingers. Take some salad beside it - that you may eat with a fork. "She'll learn," I sensed my companions thinking. Well I did.

Friday, 18 May 2007

TGRWT#2 - Bacon wrapped bananas with parsley filling

TGRWT or They Go Really Well Together is a blog event originally created by Martin of Khymos.org and is this time hosted by Tara on her blog Should you eat that. This month's stars banana and parsley are chosen because they have similar volatile aroma compounds - this was probably first discovered by Heston Blumenthal who scented banana while throwing a handful of parsley into rabbit stew.
I love the idea of letting chemistry use its magic in my dishes. And although this is kind of what it does all the time, I took the challenge with curiosity.
Knowing that curiosity killed the cat. Oh my.

I rembebered seeing a recipe for bacon wrapped bananas. How cool is that? Sometimes sweet is just the essence of savoury food. Now I fetched a proper handful of parsley from the garden too to hide it in the bananas.

Bacon wrapped bananas with parsley filling

3 bananas
1 dl chopped parsley
1 1/2 tbsp cream cheese
9 slices of bacon
salt, white pepper

1. Cut the bananas into three and then lenghtwise into two so you have every banana cut into 6.
2. Mix the chopped parsley with cream cheese and season the mixture with salt and white pepper.
3. Divide the mixture between the slices of banana, so it is possible to reunite the halves.
4. Wrap every parsley filled banana section into a slice of bacon and fix with a toothpick.
5. Grill the bananas until bacon is crisp (or almost crisp, as the moisture from the bananas won't let it turn completely crisp). This took me about 15 minutes in the oven.
6. Serve warm.

Now this was interesting! And that in a good way. Bananas are sweet and one can't fight that fact, but sweet is just okay here. Their texture, and of course the influence of bacon around, made me think of potatoes - really sweet...tasting-like-banana potatoes. With the inside a bit creamy.
So it's clear that bacon and banana completed each other's tastes, but what about parsley? Although there seemed to be a whole bunch of it at first, the taste didn't burst in the mouth screaming 'I'm parsley! In a banana!' This dish was rather about banana, with additional parsley too improve the taste, to freshen it. Just as pizza isn't about the marinara sauce, it's about the topping. But thumbs up for the combination from me, I'd say!

I served the bananas over potato puree (you can imagine the overall potato feeling). It was okay, but made me wish for a green salad instead. So as summer is still on its way here, we have time to get our grills ready - this is a dish for a summerly afternoon grill!

What didn't I make?
I didn't make banana bread with parsley.
I didn't bake chicken with bananas under a parsley crust.
I didn't make a fresh green salad with banana and yoghurt-parsley dressing.
I didn't prepare banana soup with parsley (although I did discover I had a recipe for American savoury banana soup)

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Sweet bread puddings with condensed milk, peanut butter and plums

Making the Estonian bread pudding Saiavorm has certain rules for me.
It's half soft. It's half crunchy. It's got something with sour taste in it. It has sugar sprinkled on it. It is flavoured with vanilla (is there something that ISN'T flavoured with vanilla at this house?). Its top is golden brown. It's eaten with cold milk poured over it. Its serving size is really big just big enough to fill the belly.

But who actually cares? I may add berries, pears or even salted fish into my bread pudding if I want to (the salted fish was a metaphor, really). I do love to add some curd cheese, cream cheese, sour cream or yoghurt to the egg and milk mixture to make the lower part of the pudding taste more than just...divine tasting soaked bread. This time the quantity of bread is much smaller than usually as I used a muffin pan, but at the same time the dessert has a gourmet-like twist in taste. I'd call it progress, wouldn't you?:)

Sweet bread puddings with condensed milk, peanut butter and plums

100 g white bread
100 g plums (fresh/frozen)
1 tbsp peanut butter
3-4 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 dl milks
1 egg
1 yolk
sugar for sprinkling

1. Chop the plums and divide the pieces between muffin pan holes (there's no need to melt frozen plums - they'll do just fone on their own).
2. Dice the bread and add to the plums.
3. Mix the rest of the ingredients (except sugar) together and pour onto bread.
4. Sprinkle the puddings with some sugar and bake at 190C until baked from the inside and golden brown on the top, circa 25 minutes.
5. Serve warm with cold milk.

The sweetness of the puddings comes from the condensed milk, but as there's not much of it, you may add sugar to taste. Peanut butter mysteriously makes the taste better from the background, it can't be noticed right away, but makes its every effort to improve your eating experience. And yes - half soft, half crunchy. Easy, it is, but someone should explain that to the cooks of the school diner too - there's so much more to saiavorm than just soaked bread (and they should know that for heaven's sake!).

I'm only worried about one thing. The only peanut butter that is sold in every bigger store here in Tallinn was peculiarly runny this time. There's nothing written about it on the jar, but if they're adding more oil to it now...

Monday, 14 May 2007

A tricolor cake for patriots of Estonia

Either thinking about Estonia's recent experiences during street riots or Eurovision song contest - the time's never wrong to think about my home country while cooking. No it's not going to be about sauerkraut in the middle of may! But who cares about the weather, one's mood or current prime minister - there's always room for sweet bites.

My idea was to make a flag cake. A simple, yet...special. Different sponge cake recipes can be used here, but I preferred to make one without eggyolks to maintain the white colour (which I...almost did). The amount of batter I made would have never fitted into my cake mold, so I reduced the recipe to 2/3. To keep it simple.

Estonian flag cake

120 g soft butter
200 g sugar
290 g flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/5 tsp salt
1 1/2 dl milk
2 eggwhites
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
blue food colouring

1. Beat together butter and sugar
2. Mix flour with baking powder and salt. Add the mixture, in turn with milk, to butter until smooth. Add vanilla.
3.Beat the eggwhites stiff and gently mix them into the batter mixture (first mix only some of it to make the batter more fluffy).
4. Divide the batter into three equal parts
5. Grease a loaf pan and pour in 1/3 of the batter. Bake in a middle osition for about 10 minutes at 180C.
6. Add cocoa powder to one part of the batter and pour it onto the first layer. Bake for another 10 minutes.
7. Add blue food colouring to the third part of dough and after pouring it onto the cake, bake for additional 30 minutes.

The taste of the sponge cake is mildly sweet, cocoa gives the middle stripe a strong flavour. The crust is quite hard, so it's actually better to eat the cake using one's hands. Leave your spoon behind! I'd add vanilla sauce or ice cream. Oh yes I would.

But the visual effect kicks ass. It caught my eye every time I passed the kitchen counter (Which I do and do and do and do) and would catch the guests' eyes even more when served as dessert at a party. OK, so these arent' the REAL flag colours...but the cake is blue-black-and-white enough to wait for the Independence Day to come again.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

My culinary travelogue of Georgia

საქართველო or simply Georgia - in addition to fabulous experiences related to culture, mountains and loads of snow I experienced a culinary shock there. Though in the beginning I might have thought that the ever welcoming Georgians just wanted to introduce their traditional cuisine, I realised the next moment that this was the only cuisine there was. There are places that offer international cuisine in the capital city, but these can be counted on one hand's fingers rather than visited on every corner. But not seeing that fact - the dining table will be full of traditions from morning till evening, from evening to morning.

We escaped the capital. But wherever we went, alcohol was always an important part of meals. Wine is so much more than just wine there - it's sunlight caught into a bottle, it's energy. Weaker than we Estonians are used to, their wine is served in large jugs. The red one I liked, but only sipped the white one with politeness as Georgians were saying passionate toasts again and again. Oh and once as we were eating breakfast in some small place on the road, a whole bottle of cognac (or more probably brandy) was emptied. I took three men and driving continued afterwards without any hesitations. It's safer outside cities, I was told... But I was actually present when our host invited a bunch of friends over one evening (it was an honor being there, beacuse women don't usually sit at the table on those occasions) and can honestly say that these men were drinking intelligently, although jars of wine were filled and filled. If they go to extremes with something, it's not alcohol - it's sometimes rather their talk (although I was rather confused after that cognacy breakfast).

So, a look onto the table. There was always the 'green bowl' full of spring onion, parsley, tarragon and radish. These traveled straight into one's mouth between fingers or were first dipped into salt. Yes, I was constantly being taught to eat with my fingers. Almost every dish in Georgia seems to have tarragon in it (including the notorius lemonade Tarhun) and salt was used quite much.
Fresh salad always contained tomato and cucumber - if seasoned, then with tarragon, onion and parsley. Marinated tomatoes, cucumbers or green peppers were also often on the table.

As for bread they have lavash and cornbread in every shape and size. My absolute favourite is khachapuri filled with Suluguni cheese - a must-try and must-make. Though, yes, the cornbread's taste was quite numb.

Shashlik was the usual meat dish and once we tried kabab - seasoned with barberry and rolled into thin sheets of lavash.

The Georgians seem to love their chakapuli - it's very basically a meat stew containing, among other things, three piles of coriander. Although interesting in the beginning, I didn't want to eat the herb afterwards. At all. It had been everywhere.
It was a really shocking experience when we stopped beside a shepherd on the road when with our hosts one day. They had the idea of cooking goat for supper. So one goat was chosen, the shepherd killed the animal just some meters away, hung it on a tree by its hind legs, removed the skin and some organs and then threw it into our luggage room. We had chakapuli that night.

Is there someone who hasn't heard about the Georgian hinkalis? Well shame on you! These pockets of dough are usually filled with minced meat mixture and served with black pepper. And here's another lesson about eating with hands - hinkalis have to be eaten with too hands, carefully trying not to spill the broth that has stayed inside them. The top may be left uneaten, but doing that is tricky itself at first..:) When we stayed in Gudauri (over 2 km above sea level), I quietly went peeking into the kitchen of the restaurant where we dined to see how hinkalis are really made. Surprising. These are a must-try and believe me this time!

What I found interesting as well were aubergine slices with greek nut topping (which was a bit bitter and had quite much garlic) and a garlic sauce made only of garlic and water. So very simple, but great on meat.

And mineral water could be drunk fresh. As fresh as it's possible - with useful minerals, gas and everything. There were sometimes places like the one on the picture beside the road. Of course we also visited the park in Borjomi where the famous mineral water was still warm on its first moments above the ground.

As for desserts, we settled with orange and kiwi - the locals didn't seem to love deserts much when there was a chance to eat savoury dishes. So an Estonian sweet bar Mõnus Maius that we had accidentally taken with us, almost saved the lives of me and my father.

The Georgian market is already another story for another day. So cheese is yet to come and so are my first experiments with Georgian cuisine.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Quince jam with cinnamon

What should I do with my first quince?

Quinces are usually cooked before serving. As they're high in pectin, quince jam and paste are its common uses. Or maybe quince jelly? These fruits also make a good substitution for apples in almost any kind of recipes or give them a little twist by adding some into a cake or whatever dish made with apples.

My first quince wanted to become jam.

Quince jam with cinnamon

250 g quince
250 g sugar
1/2 dl water
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1. Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stir until sugar dissolves.
2. Peel quince and cut out the core. Puree it.
3. Add pureed quince and cinnamon to the syrup and boil for about 5 minutes
4. Pour the mixture into a small jar and let it cool - first at room temperature, then in the fridge.

I'm not really a jam-person. But I guess the cinnamon got me fooled, because this was good! Cinnamon gives quite much taste in here. We ate it on cookies, bread, stirred it into yoghurt and jabbed onto porridge. Mixing the jam with some cream cheese makes a delicious spread.

Now what should I do with my second quince?

P.S. I'm leaving for Georgia today and will be away for a week. So get ready for Georgian cheese, because I'm getting ready for Georgian SPA!