Monday, July 31, 2006

Passionate cantucci with almonds, pink peppercorns and ginger

I first came across these cantucci with a kick exactly a year ago, when I received a European Blogging By Mail parcel from Johanna of The Passionate Cook. They were absolutely gorgeous - crunchy and bravely flavoured with ginger and pink peppercorns. I printed out the recipe straight away, but somehow I didn't manage to make these until last Friday. Silly me!

May I proudly present you with:

Johanna's cantucci* with almonds, ginger and pink peppercorns
(Roseepipra-mandliküpsised ingveriga)

I took these along to a dinner party on Saturday night, where - following a very tasty Sri-Lankan meal - we dipped them into coffee and/or cloudberry liqueur from Lapponia. I am so making these again soon. So should you, so go and get that recipe from Johanna's blog a.s.a.p! Or, if you're looking for something more lemony and are not too keen on almonds, then try these Pignoli Cantuccini with pine nuts from Delicious Days.

* You Say Biscotti, I Say Cantucci (a la Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong)
Note that there is some cross-Atlantic confusion about the name here. Italians call this type of crunchy cookies cantucci (meaning 'little stones' in Italian). In North America, on the other hand, these cookies are known 'biscotti'. These particular cantucci would hence be called almond, ginger and pink peppercorn biscotti across the Atlantic. The explanation? Biscotti means 'cooked twice' in Italian, suitably describing the way these cookies are prepared. However, the word 'biscotti' has later extended to a generic name to describe pretty much any cookie in Italian (a bit like the word 'biscuit' in British English).

Click here for a very informative post about cantucci/biscotti.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Swedish wedding lunch: so Nordic, so nice

2006 is definitely a good year for weddings. I've got no less than six wedding invitations this year, and have agreed to attend four of them. I already missed one in Estonia, as I was travelling to Sweden (sorry, Eve & Risto). I've decided to skip the one in Colombia in December (apologies, Sara-Jane & Hernan), as last time I went to a wedding in Latin America, it was called off in a true telenovela fashion just two days before. So far I've been to two weddings already - the one in Santorini at the end of June, and Annika's & Ben's wedding near Stockholm in early July. Two more to go - one in Brussels in August, and another in Tallinn in September..

Here are some pictures of the Swedish wedding lunch, which, let me tell you, I enjoyed immensely. I felt like I'm at home in Estonia, which, suddenly, is a very delicious prospect... It was a small, intimate affair with some 55 guests from Sweden and the UK (the bride was Swedish and groom British, and they both work and live in the UK). The wedding ceremony itself took place next to Djurönäsets Båthus or boat house (above is the picture taken of the girls on the pier) in Stockholm Archipelago, less than hour's drive from Stockholm city centre. The lunch and party afterwards were at Seregården restaurant at the nearby Djurö Kursgård.

The Starter:

A slice of toast with "löjrom" (vendace roe*, Coregonus albula) and garnish. I'm not a big fan of caviar - probably ate too much of it as a child growing up in the Soviet Union:) I find caviar usually too, well, fishy, and way too salty. I must admit I was somewhat disappointed when the starter was brought to the table. But I decided to put on a brave face and wear my foodie hat, squeezed some lemon juice over the tiny orange-pink eggs and reluctantly had a forkful. Hmmm. Not bad at all, I thought, and had another. And then another. My plate was spotlessly clean just five minutes later, and I ordered a löjrom dish in a fancy restaurant in Estonia just a few days later.

Sometimes it pays to overcome one's prejudices :)

The Main Course:

Pan-fried trout fillet with steamed green asparagus, dill sauce and boiled new potatoes. Lovely and very summery.

The Dessert:

Flaky butter pastry with vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries. Served with a glass of honey-coloured cloudberry liqueur (on the right). Absolutely divine (both the dessert and the liquer:)

I must give special thanks to bride's cousin Yann for being so nice and swapping his dessert for mine. He had at least twice as many strawberries than I did on his dessert plate, and he quickly realised the unfairness of this. Such a gentleman;) Tack så mycket, Yann!

The Wedding Cake:
An impressive-looking five-tier chocolate mousse cake with raspberries. A bit too sweet for my liking, but delicious nevertheless. This was a small, intimate wedding, with just about 55 guests, but the cake was finished very quickly.

The lunch and cake were followed by joyous dancing and some more food (buffet-style, including tacos with chilli and a choice of toppings, various Swedish fish dishes, as well as wraps with reindeer meat) just before midnight.

From Stockholm, I flew straight home to Estonia, so I start looking for wild strawberries and cloudberries. Lovely..

* There is some confusion about the correct English term for that fish. The room service menu in my hotel translated löjrom as 'bleak roe'. I'm relying on a very comprehensive Finnish source, Raholan syötäviä sanoja. The site claims that löjrom isn't roe from a fish known as 'löja' in Swedish (Alburnus alburnus alias bleak, also known simply as 'whitefish', or powan or lavaret, which is the French term), but from 'siklöja' (or 'mujka' in Finnish-Swedish), known as Coregonus albula in Latin, Maräne/ Zwergmaräne/ Marenke/ Zollfisch in German. How would you translate this popular caviar, dear Swedish bloggers?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Picking cloudberries in Estonia

After forageing for wild strawberries in Paluküla, we headed into the bog forest to look for cloudberries. Cloudberries are definitely one of my favourite berries - another berry strongly reminiscent of my childhood, and last August I breakfasted on delicious cloudberry & cream cheese yogurts, and I regularly stock up on cloudberry jam at my local IKEA store. Even if you're unfamiliar with the berry, you have probably heard of it. , the queen of nostalgic and sultry cookbooks, has a beautiful book called Falling Cloudberries - though I was somewhat puzzled by her choice of title - the cover image depicts cranberry sorbet and there isn't a single cloudberry recipe inside, just a brief mention on p. 69.

Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) is a member of the rose family. It is also known as baked-apple berry, especially in Canada, although I'm not sure about this name - I can't see the similarity between baked apple - another great yogurt flavour! - and cloudberries; it is one of the species of salmonberries (probably called so for its colour and not for its taste!). They're related to raspberries, but taste anything but, being much more exquisite in flavour, with a slight hint of honey. Cloudberries grow on mossy and boggy land in the cold northern climates of Scandinavia (apparently very abundant in the bogs of Lapland, though I cannot confirm this myself. Yet.), Finland (where it even decorates the back of the 2 EURO coin), Estonia and other Baltic countries, Siberia and Canada, as well as near the Arctic Circle. As there is just one berry per plant and the growing area is very limited, they are rather costly. Certainly, cloudberry jam in IKEA costs thrice as much as other jams! Indeed, cloudberries are so costly that they can trigger wars among the usually calm Scandinavians: cloudberries are
"so valued in northern Scandinavia where Finland, Sweden, and Norway meet; the cloudberry has long been the cause of "cloudberry wars". These otherwise peace-loving countries have been known to become quite territorial when it comes time to harvest this berry, causing the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs to develop a special section just for cloudberry diplomacy."
(Alan Davidson. 1999. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Just like looking for wild strawberries requires a good and attentive eye, forageing for cloudberries needs patience and a sharp vision. Here's what you do. You arrive at your secret cloudberry spot and look around. Carefully. Look at the various green-yellow bumps of grass on the ground, trying to spot a golden-pink berry amongst the dark leaves. Voilà! After spotting a berry, you go, bend your knees and pick it up, twisting the berry off its stalk. Stand up. Repeat. Very good exercise, both for the body and the mind!

As it's been a particularly dry and hot summer in Estonia this year, with temperatures reaching mid 30s Celsius, the bog was rather dry. This wasn't all bad, as it meant I could look for cloudberries without getting my toes wet. But it also meant that cloudberries were rare, and the ones that did exist, tended to be on the small side.

This was one of the few cloudberries in the bog that was ready for eating then and there. A ripe cloudberry is orange-yellow in colour, and very juicy. Pop these straight into your mouth.

This is another close-up of the cloudberry. Pretty, isn't it? This one is slightly underripe though (hence the reddish hue). You would have to leave it at room temperature for a few days to ripen. However, it is in the perfect stage for jam-making.

Again, between three of us we managed to collect a small glass of cloudberries, so no jam-making followed. Instead, we ate the ripe ones then and there, and left the rest on the kitchen table to ripen for a few days.

I had couple of my girlfriends over for a drink and some nibbles on my new balcony at my parents' house few days before my trip to the strawberry fields and cloudberry bogs. One of the canapes I served was inspired by this recipe from the Swedish Arla website. Very Nordic, slightly unusual and oh-so-tasty. Even the only man in the company (Siim Oskar, aged 10 months) had a few.

Rye bread canapés with blue cheese and cloudberry jam

cloudberry jam (I used Meie Mari murakamoos, but IKEA sells a decent one)
blue cheese (I used Dolcelatte)
crisp bread or rye bread

Cut the rye bread into small squares (4x4 cm), or break into similarly-sized pieces, if using crisp bread.
Spread with blue cheese and top with a small spoonful of cloudberry jam.
Garnish with small basil leaves or blue borage flowers (above).

Monday, July 24, 2006

Inspired by Paris: smoked salmon and spinach quiche

On our first morning in Paris back in May, K. and I stopped for breakfast at Bread & Roses near Jardin du Luxembourg. It is a boulangerie-cum-café, selling a wide range of fresh bread & pastries as well as having couple of tables in its front section for a more leisurely break. It was quite busy with French-speaking locals, which was an encouraging sign. As it was almost noon by that time, I needed something much more substantial than just a coffee and a croissant to wake me up, so I opted for a smoked salmon and spinach quiche instead. It was a wise choice - the quiche was tasty and filling, and carried me through until our late night 'hotel picnic' of various goodies from La Grande Epicerie de Paris later that night.

I recreated a similar quiche a few weeks later in Edinburgh, to take along for an impromtu office lunch with some colleagues in Stirling (alongside Clotilde's chocolate & ginger tartlets; both went down well). I was very pleased with the result, so I'm sharing the recipe with you here.

On my next trip to Paris (soon, I hope:), I'll make sure to try Bread & Roses' fresh raspberry & basil macaroons, as so kindly recommended by Philippe Tailleur, owner of the boulangerie, in his comment left on my blog.

Smoked salmon and spinach quiche
Serves 6

3oo ml plain flour, sifted
100 grams butter
a pinch of salt
2-3 Tbsp cold water

150 grams sliced smoked salmon
300 grams fresh spinach, washed & drained
3 large eggs
300 ml sour cream or creme fraiche
0.5 tsp ground white pepper
0.5 tsp salt
100 grams grated cheese (Cheddar, Gruyere, ...)

For the pastry, mix flour and salt in the bowl, add cold cubed butter and mix with a knife until you have fine crumbs. Add cold water, little by little (you may not need it all) and bring the pastry quickly together with your hands. Roll on a slightly floured worktop and line a 20-23 cm tin with the pastry. Put into the freezer for about 15 minutes (this reduces the shrinkage while baking).
Pierce the pastry with a fork at some places, and bake at 200C for 15-20 minutes, until the pastry is golden.

Meanwhile, rinse the spinach carefully, drain just lightly and put into a large pre-heated saucepan for a few minutes. Heat, until the spinach wilts, then quickly refresh under cold water and drain very thoroughly. Chop finely.
Mix chopped spinach with chopped salmon, grated cheese, eggs, sour cream and season with salt and pepper. Pour into the pre-baked pastry case and continue baking for 30-40 minutes, until the filling is set and the quiche is nicely golden brown on top.

Serve hot with a green salad, or take along to a picnic when cool.

Bread & Roses
7, rue de Fleurus
Paris (6ème)
Tél: 01 42 22 06 06

Friday, July 21, 2006

A perfect holiday & a nostalgic hunt for wild strawberries

Once again, I'm back in Edinburgh. I had a lovely weekend in Stockholm - starting with a very sweet surprise, and then spent some wonderful days back home in Estonia in the company of my family and friends. The only downside is that it will be at least another six weeks before I'll go to Estonia again!

I will tell you all about the delicious wedding lunch in Stockholm (and that unexpected surprise from a fellow food blogger) soon, as well as about my first dinner at Stenhus (a restaurant based in the cellar of a 13th century building; voted the Best Gourmet Restaurant in Estonia last year), some lovely dishes that were lovingly prepared for me, as well as about my hunt for cloudberries in Estonian bogs. But I start with some pictures from Paluküla, a sleepy village in Rapla parish in Estonia. My mum was born and raised in Paluküla, and I mentioned that place when sharing my childhood food memories with you almost a year ago. As kids, we (me and my numerous cousins) used to spend several weeks in Paluküla each summer with my grandparents, but I hadn't been back for almost a decade for various reasons (the main one being that the house that I remember from my childhood sadly burned down in early 1990s).

When meeting K. for a glass (or maybe two) of mulled wine in Kehrwieder café around Christmas last year, it emerged that his childhood summers were spent in a nearby village just 5 kilometres from Paluküla, in a farmhouse aquired by his great-grandparents. Quite a coincidence, eh:) In any case, I spent last weekend near Paluküla, re-visiting my old haunts and relatives, and picking wild strawberries in Paluküla once again. Paluküla is a rather tranquil place, yet many Estonians have heard of the place. It is the location of Paluküla Hiiemägi, or the Sacred Hill of Paluküla that is considered a sanctuary place for Estonian pagan/nature believers. The hill is 106 metres from sea level at its highest - not much on a global scale, I know, but it's the highest point of north-west Estonia:) And it is definitely noticeable on the photo:

Picking wild strawberries is a job demanding full attention - as you can see from the picture here. Strawberries are hidden under grass and leaves, so one needs to look hard for them. Yet, the berries are definitely worth it - popping some wild strawberries into your mouth results in the one of the loveliest and sweetest summery taste sensation imaginable!
(My bright red top is to make sure I won't get lost in my childhood forests and to make it more difficult for mosquitos, horse-flies and other annoying biting insects to reach my skin (it almost worked!), though I couldn't avoid being stung by stinging nettles over and over again!)

Between three of us we ended up with almost a litre of wild strawberries, which wasn't bad at all, considering that it had been scorchingly hot and dry in Estonia for weeks, and many of the wild strawberries were, well, dried up.. As for eating, well, then the best way to enjoy wild strawberries on a Sunday morning is obviously simply sprinkled with sugar on some crepe-style pancakes made with super-organic and fresh eggs from the farm across the road:

I also took a small glass of wild strawberries - metsmaasikad - to my mum and one of her sisters. Apparently they smelled exactly like strawberries from their childhood - literally:) - and were much appreciated. It is true - though you can buy wild strawberries from the market, they do taste so much nicer when picked by yourself in a good company in a place that used to play such an important role in your past..

I also managed to find some cloudberries on that very day in a nearby bog, but that is another story:)

Friday, July 07, 2006

One state visit and one pub night

I briefly hinted in a previous post that somebody important was coming for a visit and that I was looking for a suitable venue with some Edinburgh-based Estonians. Well, that important visitor was our head of state, President Arnold Rüütel. Queen Elizabeth II will be on a state visit in Estonia in October, but apparently Her Royal Highness cannot visit a state if the head of that state has not visited her beforehand. So Estonian President Arnold Rüütel came to meet Queen Elizabeth II at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh. And what does the president of Estonia do on a night before having tea with the Queen? He's going for a pint in a pub with a bunch of local Estonians, of course.

Here is a picture of my friend Kerttu, me, President Arnold Rüütel and his wife Ingrid at Tolbooth Tavern, Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh. There were just over 20 of us - MacEstonians - present, plus the President's entourage, and the president spent an hour in the pub before returning to his hotel.

This is Doug, the very friendly publican with a choice of five beers (my personal degustation session on previous Thursday).

You can see some more pictures of President's visit here.

Vacation alert 2006:2 - Sweden & Estonia:
I'm off again. On Friday night I'll fly to Stockholm, where my Edinburgh-based Swedish friend Annika is getting married on Saturday. I'll wander around th Gamla Stan during Sunday, before flying to Estonia in the evening. I cannot wait - I haven't seen my family and friends since early January, and K. since our trip to Paris in May. It's a short trip - a weekend in Stockholm followed by just nine days at home, but I hope to find time to do some of the usual stuff - beating myself with fresh birch branches, eating wild yellow chantarelles and wild strawberries to my heart's content, driving around the beautiful countryside and that kind of things..

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Cafés with a view: three breakfasts on Santorini

I will write soon about my three days in Volos, Greece, but here are some pictures from Santorini. I spent 3 days and 2 nights on the island, where my friends Annemieke (Scottish) & Georgios (Greek) got married in a beautiful ceremony on Saturday night. Three days on the island also meant three breakfasts with gorgeous views in the capital, Fira. Now - this being Santorini - the views are always gorgeous, especially if you're eating on the Caldera side of the island. However, you do pay a premium for those vistas. While I'm sure we could have had a breakfast for a fraction of the price on the other side of the town, we were actually happy to splash out a bit for a the visual privilege. It's not every morning that I can sip my frappé while watching cruise ships, ferries and yachts passing by below.

In the interest of research, I had a coffee (cappuccino freddo on day 1 as featured on my new profile photo, frappe on days 2&3) and yogurt with fruit & honey for every breakfast.

Day 1, Friday: Café del Mar e Sol

Best - though priciest - breakfast of the three. The yogurt was thick and creamy, accompanied by lots of fresh fruit and a generous drizzling of honey. Exactly what a girl needs after floating on the sea for 12 hours.
Frappe €4.50, Cappucino freddo €6.00, Ice tea €4.50 Yogurt with fruit & honey €9.00

Day 2, Saturday: Café Ocean

Most disappointing - if cheapest - of the bunch. The fruit salad had obviously been made in advance (or maybe it was me having a particularly late breakfast?), and the bananas had become all mushy. Nice sprinkling of nuts though.
Frappe €3, Yogurt with fruit & honey €6

Day 3, Sunday (morning after the Greek wedding party): Hotel Enigma Outdoor Café

Though the yogurt only came with apples and bananas, these were freshly chopped and the breakfast was a very good value for money, especially considering that the café is part of the pretty expensive Enigma Club entreprise.
Frappe €3.50, Yogurt with fruit & honey €6.50

Now. I'm still not sure which view did I like best. Which one would you choose?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Bakewell Pudding & falling in love with Mr Darcy

Update 5.7.2006: Read Andrew's write-up of Blog Save Our Tart.

The Independent published an article on the last day of May about Britain's food under threat. Apparently Cromer crabs from East Anglia, Bakewell tart from Derbyshire, Kentish apples from South of England, Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs from Gloucestershire, Crimbsy cod from Humberside, blackcurrants from Herefordshire and Worcestershire, Scottish wild salmon from Scotland, Stilton from the Midlands, eels from Somerset and Norfolk black turkeys from East Anglia are all on the verge of duying out and slowly disappearing from the British tables. To rectify the situation, Andrew of Spittoon Extra decided to save the Bakewell tart by organising a one-off blog event, and this is my humble contribution.

Although I had heard of Bakewell tart and seen small cherry-topped versions at my local supermarket, I hadn't yet tried one during my seven years in Britain. Just days after the newspaper article, an opportunity to try one arrived. Together with three Estonian girls, I was checking out various Edinburgh establishment for an important visitor from our homeland (more about it next week), and we ended up at The Scotsman Hotel bar , where I had my first ever slice - and very good one at that - of Bakewell tart. The tart (above) was topped with sliced almonds and served with ice cream, vanilla custard and some fresh blueberries.

My recipe is adapted from Jane Grigson's book English Food. There is some confusion about the name - is it Blackwell tart of Blackwell pudding?; filling - should one use raspberry jam or strawberry jam?; and about the use of almonds in and on top of the cake. Derbyshire pastry makers insist on calling it Bakewell pudding; Jane Grigson uses raspberry jam; although the original Bakewell pudding had no almonds, most popular versions include some on the topping.

Oh, and Mr Darcy? Well, Jane Grigson kindly points out that in Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet (alias Emma Thompson) and her uncle and aunt had driven over from Bakewell on a way to Pemberley in Derbyshire, where Mr Darcy's (alias Colin Firth's) estate was situated. Upon reaching a top of the hill, she was very impressed with the view of Pemberley House across the valley. 'Elizabeth was delighted' and soon afterwards realised how much she loved Mr Darcy. Who knows, maybe it was Bakewell pudding and not the view that triggered that romantic realisation?

Bakewell Pudding
(Bakewelli kook)
The filling from Jane Grigson's English Food (quantities slightly reduced)
Serves 6-8

Sweet shortcrust pastry:
200 grams plain flour
100 grams butter
2 Tbsp caster sugar
4 Tbsp cold water

good quality raspberry jam - I used Waitrose Organic soft set Raspberry Conserve

100 grams butter, melted
3 large eggs
100 grams caster sugar
100 grams ground almonds

Roll out the pastry and line a 20 cm tart tin*. Pre-bake at 200˚C for about 15 minutes, until the pastry is slightly golden.
Spread raspberry jam over the base.
Beat eggs and sugar until you have a pale and fluffy thick cream. Pour in the cooled melted butter, stirring slowly. Fold in the ground almonds, pour into the tart tin.
Bake at 200-220˚C for about 30 minutes, until the filling is golden and looks set.

I served mine with some icing sugar, Greek yogurt and fresh raspberries. I liked the cake (as did my two Guinea pigs), though next time I might try with a layer of fresh raspberries and reduce the amount of butter in the frangipane topping.

* The traditional Bakewell tins are oval with sloping sides and about 7 cm deep.