Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Seenepirukad or hundred tiny mushroom pies

There's a young man in Argentina who knows the perfect pronounciation for two Estonian words. One of them is 'sünnipäevakringel' and the other is 'seenepirukad'. The first is a large sweet yeast kringel served for birthdays, and the other means 'mushroom pies/pierogi'. He really liked both of them, so he made a special effort and learned these two words, enabling him to ask for them. That's quite an accomplishment, as it's not the easiest language to master, apparently..

This Argentine guy said that these remind him of empanadas. I don't know about that - these are as Estonian to me as you can get. You can make one large pie (in which case you call it 'seenepirukas', of course:) or medium-sized ones. I like to make them small (as you could figure from the title of this post), so you could finish them in two-three bites. That's a lot of extra work, as small dough circles are more fiddly to fill and pinch (and as you can see from the picture, I could still improve my pinch-the-edges-technique, even after all these years). The soft yeast dough encases a flavoursome and salty mushroom filling, which I simply adore..

The picture below is taken in early November (I mentioned making these during my apple cake season) . I've made them a few times since. Most recently I served them at a party last Thursday, when I used half of the dough for small Turkish lamb and pomegranate 'pizzas' - I'll write about these scrumptious things soon..

And yes, you need to knead this dough. I know that every self-respecting food blogger has recently been at least trying to make the new wonderbread that you don't have to knead. I haven't and as I find kneading dough rather relaxing, I doubt if I will..

Seenepirukad or wild mushroom pies, Estonian style
(Seenepirukad pärmitainast)
Adapted from Eesti rahvatoite by Silvia Kalvik (1981)

500 ml lukewarm milk
25 grams fresh yeast
a generous pinch of sugar
1 tsp salt
2 to 3 Tbsp butter, softened
1.2 to 1.5 litres plain flour

300-400 ml chopped mushrooms (if using salted mushrooms, then soak first)
1 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, minced
sour cream
dill, either fresh or dried

First make the dough. Crumble the fresh yeast into a large warm bowl, add the sugar and let it stand for 5 minutes, stirring through, until the yeast 'melts'. Add milk, salt, most of the flour and stir until combined. Knead in the soft butter, adding more flour, if necessary. Knead for 5-10 minutes, depending on your patience. You should end up with a soft dough that doesn't stick too much onto your hands. Cover the bowl with a cling film and leave to double in size in a warm draught-free place. That should take about an hour. (If you're not ready to bake after an hour, then knock the dough back when it has rised and leave to rise again for a bit more).

For the filling, chop the mushrooms finely and fry in melted butter together with the chopped onions for about 5 minutes. Cool, add some sour cream to combine (a Tbsp or two is enough, you don't want the filling to be too wet). Season with salt - the amount depends on whether you're using fresh or salted mushrooms - and lots of dill.

When ready to bake, then take about a third of the dough at a time, and roll it out on a floured tabletop until about 3 mm thick. Cut out small circles (I use a 5 cm glass), put about a teaspoonful of filling in the middle*, and pinch the edges firmly together, so you have half-moon shaped pies.

Put onto a baking sheet, brush with egg and bake at 200C for 15 minutes, until the pies are lovely golden brown. Transfer to a metal rack to cool. If you prefer your pierogi really soft, then cover with a clean towel to keep the moisture in the pies.

* If you have some mushroom filling left over, then add some extra sour cream and use as a salad on crostini or vol-au-vents or on rye bread.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Copycat: Molly's wonderful chocolate & nut blocks

Here's something you simply MUST make for your Christmas table: Molly's Chocolate & Nut 'blocks'. They're wonderfully tasty, really-really simple to make, and quite elegant. One of those take-five-ingredients type of recipes. They also went down a treat at the party yesterday, and I'm entertaining naughty thoughts of leaving work early today, so I could rush home and quickly devour the few that were left over..

Happy holidays, everyone!

Molly's chocolate and nut 'blocks'

If you prefer to use imperial measurements, then please check out Molly's original recipe. Here's an approximated and metrified (is that a word?) version. Aren't they pretty? :

500 grams of good-quality bittersweet chocolate (I used Bitter from the local Kalev company)
100 grams dried cranberries
100 grams seedless raisins
100 grams salted peanuts
100 grams salted pistachios

Line a 20 cm square dish with parchment paper and brush slightly with mildly flavoured oil. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a metal bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring the chocolate occasionally, until melted and smooth.
When chocolate is melted, stir in the nuts, raisins and cranberries until combined. Pour into the prepared pan, spread evenly and smooth the top. Put into a refrigerator for an hour to harden slightly.
Remove from the pan, place the chocolate block on a cutting board. Cut into small 2 cm squares with a sharp knife.
Keep in a cool place, but bring to a room temperature about 30 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Peppermint dragées with chocolate

There's lots of pre-Christmas baking and candy-making taking place in our kitchen at the moment. During the weekend, K. made pistachio & dark chocolate truffles as well as saffron & white chocolate truffles. I tried Anne's peppermint patties. Last night I whipped up a batch of dough for the traditional Estonian gingerbread - piparkoogid - that I'll be baking on Sunday morning when my nephews come over for the big Christmas meal that night. As I'm still over-excited about the newest addition to our household - I'm talking about the beautiful red Kitchen Aid mixer, obviously - I whipped up another batch of raspberry marshmallows, but this time using the eggless version from Cooking for Engineers (Michael attributes his recipe to no other than Thomas Keller himself). And if that wasn't enough, I made a batch of lovely Molly's even lovelier chocolate & nut 'blocks'.

Let me tell you, the house smells heavenly.

And it's snowing outside, for the second day already. We're going to have a beautiful, white Christmas..

Here's a very slightly adapted recipe for Anne's lovely peppermint patties. There are ideal for popping into your mouth (either one-by-one, or by handful) after a meal..

Chocolate-covered minty dragées
(Piparmündidražeed šokolaadis)

1 medium egg white
300 grams icing sugar, sifted
3 to 5 drops of peppermint oil*
0.5 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

dark chocolate to cover

In a big bowl, beat the egg white until frothy. Mix in the icing sugar, little by little (I used the flat beater in my new KA mixer), until combined and you've got a thickish paste. Add peppermint oil and vanilla extract, if using.
(I used a lot less than Anne's recommended 1.5 tsp, and the dragées were definitely minty enough. Maybe it's the specific brand I used (see below)? The shopkeeper warned me to use only a few drops, too)
Roll the sugar paste into small balls, lay out to dry overnight on a metal rack (see photo on the right).
Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler, dip dried sugar balls into the melted chocolate and let them harden in room temperature.
Keep in a air-tight jar for up to a week.

* I got mine from Specialkøbmanden in Copenhagen last month - thank you, Zarah Maria, for the tip!

Monday, December 18, 2006

A dessert of squeaky cheese and cloudberries

Now that I've settled into my new house and life in Estonia, the entertaining season has truly began. After a succession of housewarming parties, we've moved on to dinner and cocktail parties. We had a dinner party in our house last Friday. There's a cocktail party this Thursday where I'll meet some more friends of K. For Sunday afternoon we've invited our respective families* over for a large Christmas meal, featuring the traditional Estonian festive fare. Next week there will be two more parties and so on, and so on. Lots of cooking, which is great, of course.

On Friday, we had K's friend Meelik and his US-born wife Siobhan over together with their two lovely bi-lingual children. The husband is an old friend and one-time colleague of K., the wife is a sociologist like me, so we were off to a good start. But as this is a foodblog, after all, then I'm supposed to talk about what we ate. K. had been to Israel with Meelik a few years ago, where they had obviously had humungous amounts of hummus. Hummus, the famous chickpea spread, is virtually unknown here in Estonia. When I enquired about any special dietary requirements before the dinner, they replied that they want hummus. It was supposed to be a joke, but then we decided to turn the joke into a reality, and served them some home-made hummus as a starter:) This was followed by another regional dish, a wonderful lemon & sesame chicken, served with rice and vegetables, prepared according to a recipe from a Israeli cookbook I found at home.

The dessert, however, was very Nordic. We served some squeaky cheese with cloudberries and mascarpone cream. I had seen the recipe on an Estonian blog, and as I hadn't had squeaky cheese for a while, decided to go with it. Plus we have a huge jar of preserved cloudberries in our fridge waiting to be proudly served (yes, home-made from cloudberries we picked ourselves).

The squeaky cheese I'm talking about is of course the Finnish squeaky cheese or leipäjuusto (literally, 'bread cheese'). It has become popular in Estonia during the recent years, and there are couple of local producers now. The milk is curdled and then either baked or grilled, which gives the cheese its traditional dark dots. And it really does squeak under your teeth - hence the English name.

[If you live in the US and would like to try this particular Finnish cheese, then try Carr Valley Cheese Company in La Valley, WI]

Baked squeaky cheese with cloudberries and mascarpone cream
(Grillitud leibjuust murakate ja toorjuustukreemiga)
Serves 6

300 grams squeaky cheese
200 grams mascarpone
2 Tbsp icing sugar
0.5 tsp vanilla sugar
half a lime, juice and zest
200 grams cloudberries (fresh, compote, jam - it's up to you)
lemon balm leaves to decorate

Cut the cheese into six large wedges and place on a lined baking tray. Bake at 200C for about 15 minutes, until the cheese softens.
Mix mascarpone, icing sugar, vanilla sugar, lime zest and juice until creamy.
Plate the baked cheese wedges with mascarpone cream and a spoonful of cloudberries.
Dust with icing sugar, garnish with lemon balm and serve.
Best eaten with a small dessert fork.

* There's a bit of an unequal exchange here. 'Our respective families' means K's mum and auntie from his side, and my parents, sister, her partner and 2 sons from my side. I'm keeping the dinner a secret from my aunties and cousins, as I couldn't possibly fit them all in the house, too:)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Raspberry marshmallows and lime meringues

K. made 15 creme brulees for a housewarming party recently, and we were left with fifteen egg whites. Usually this would have resulted in A) eggwhites thrown simply to the bin (K's usual - shocking! - method); or B) eggwhites being put into a bowl and away in the fridge for later use (and eventually into the bin a few days later; my occasional method). But as there's a beautiful early Christmas gift in our kitchen now, there was no excuse for not doing anything useful with those eggwhites.

After some late night and last minute discussions (it was nearly 10pm by that time), we decided to friendlily divide the egg whites into two batches (approximately-exactly seven and a half egg whites each:) and proceed each with our own recipe.

After all, co-habiting is all about sharing, isn't it?

K. whipped up a batch of egg-white based marshmallows, using the Polish raspberry syrup that Dagmar gave me as a surprise gift when I was in Stockholm in July. It was the first time that either of us had tackled marshmallows, and we were very pleased with the result. There will be surely lots of various marshmallow recipes tested in our kitchen, including one without eggwhites.

I, on the other hand, made lime meringues with half of the eggwhites. I used a recipe for wedding meringues from Nigella's Feast, calling for nothing but egg whites and caster sugar. I gently folded in a finely grated zest of one lime, and the resulting meringues were beautifully crisp on the outside and just a wee bit marshmallowy-chewy inside, with a nice citrussy kick to them.

Lovely. Both of them.

[Liisu - beseeküpsiste retsept on siin, vahukommide oma tuleb siia]

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A presidential lunch

Photo by Tiina Kõrtsini, SL Õhtuleht
First it was the Queen of England, then the President of the United States. Estonia has been receiving more than its fair share of high-profile visitors this autumn. Last week Mr Bush popped by in Tallinn on his way to the NATO Summit in Riga a fortnight ago. Again, there was a high-profile lunch, this time prepared by Chef Imre Kose of Vertigo.

Here's a copy of the menu, served to the 70-odd guests, including the American president George W. Bush and Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

28 November 2006

Whitefish tartare with autumn apples and rye bread tuille (picture

Glazed duck breast with beetroot and Merlot gravy

Kama and cream cheese cake with pumpkin marmalade



Grans-Fassian Riesling Mineralschiefer 2005 (Germany)

Chateau Les Barraillots, Margaux 2002 (France)

Dessert Wine Põltsamaa Kuldne 1992 (Estonia)

I'm very pleased to see a dessert using the Estonian ground meal mixture, kama, on the menu, as well as the inclusion of some local dessert wine.

By the way - Bush isn't drinking bubbly on the above photo, but non-carbonated non-alcoholic apple cider :)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Warm and spicy fried quail eggs, from 780 years ago

You know how you sometimes read a book and see a recipe that captivates you, yet looks only half tempting? That what happened to me when I flipped through the pages of recently acquired book and spotted a recipe for Baid Mutajjan, or fried hard-boiled eggs with cumin. I like eggs, and I do like the listed spices (cinnamon, coriander, cumin), but somehow spice-fried chicken eggs sounded less than perfect. I guess I just cannot imagine biting into a full boiled egg, seasoned or not, fried or not, elsewhere than at a breakfast table. And then I want my boiled egg plain, with just a dot of butter and a sprinkle of sea salt. No cinnamon, cumin nor coriander in sight. But then, I thought, as a little light started flashing in the back of my head, this recipe would work so much better with tiny quail eggs, wouldn't it!?

It did. A perfect little quail egg mouthful doused in warm and subtle spices would make a wonderful addition to a drinks party. I'm sure children would welcome new spices when served like this. And we simply nibbled them while waiting for our main course to be done..

By the way - if this source is to believed, then this is a truly old recipe indeed. A very similar recipe for Baid Mutajjan is to be found in Muhammad bin hasad al-Baghdadi's 1226 cookbook al-Kitab al-Tabīh ('The Book of Dishes') . If my math is correct, then that's 780 years ago!!!

Spicy fried quail eggs
(Vürtsikad vutimunad)
Adapted from Ghillie Basan's The Middle Eastern Kitchen

12 quail eggs*
1 Tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
Maldon sea salt

Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Add quail eggs, boil for no more than 2 minutes, drain and quickly rinse under cold water. Peel the eggs carefully.
Grind cumin and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar (or use an old electric coffee grinder), mix in cinnamon.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan, add the spices and stir for a few seconds to release the aromas.
Add peeled eggs, stir gently, until the eggs are covered with a spicy oil.
Serve warm, sprinkle with salt flakes.

* Feel free to use only 10 eggs. It's just that quail eggs come in packets of 12 in Estonia :)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Moro's chickpeas with pomegranate seeds

I had another housewarming party last week, this time for my university girlfriends. There were 14 adults and 3 kids in the house on a Friday night, and we treated them to a buffet style table (known as rootsi laud or 'Swedish table' here). There were some stuffed Turkish-style aubergines, stuffed peppers with Suluguni cheese (i.e. the same cheese I used for making hatchapuri), and this chickpea salad with home-made pomegranate molasses (recipe below). Additionally, K. made creme brulees for everyone, which were wonderful (though I must admit I felt somewhat intimidated the butane torch he used, as it was definitely not intended for kitchen use!) As a result, we had 15 egg whites left over, half of which I turned into lime meringues, whereas K. used the other half to make some raspberry-flavoured marshmallows (he used the Polish raspberry syrup I got from Dagmar in July). It was a lovely party indeed.

Here's the recipe for chickpeas with pomegranate seeds and molasses, adapted from my signed copy of Sam & Sam Clark's Casa Moro. Apparently it makes a lovely side dish to fish.

Chickpea salad with pomegranate molasses
(Kikerherned granaatõunasiirupiga)

250 grams dried chickpeas*, or 450 grames canned chickpeas, rinsed
4 Tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp pomegranate molasses**
200 ml boiling water
about 1 scant tsp safron threads, mixed with a little of the hot water
a generous handful of fresh coriander, chopped***
1 large pomegranate, seeds only
sea salt
black pepper

If using dried chickpeas, then soak and boil them first (read below*). If using canned, just drain them.
Heat oil in a large saucepan on a moderate heat. Add garlic and fry gently (do not burn!). Add the drained chickpeas, pomegranate molasses**, water and safron-infused water. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated.
Add coriander/parsley, season with salt and pepper.
Transfer into a serving bowl, scatter pomegranate seeds on top.

* I used dried chickpeas, which I first soaked overnight in lots of cold water, with a couple of teaspoonfuls of baking soda thrown in (cannot remember where I read it, but apparently it helps them to soften). I then boiled them, first on a high heat, then reducing the heat, for about 90 minutes in plenty of fresh water, skimming off any foam that appeared on the top.
** I slowly boiled 1 litre of pomegranate juice for 30 minutes, until I was left with just over 100 ml of thick pomegranate molasses. A bottle of very good pomegranate juice (no added sugar!) from Azerbaijan costs just under £1.50 at the market here, which is a lot cheaper as the small plastic bottles that were available in the UK.
*** I couldn't find coriander - apparently it's not in season (asking for it at different stalls selling herbs at the market caused lots of amused looks) - so I used flat-leaf parsley instead.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Canteen classics: azu, the Tatar meat stew

I'm bold enough to suggest that azu is a dish familiar to pretty much every resident of the former Soviet Union. That's a lot of people (291 million just before the Soviet empire vanished into the thin air in 1991)! It's definitely a canteen classic, alongside beef stroganoff, goulash, solyanka, hartcho, rosolnyk, borshch and numerous other dishes that I hope to cook and write about during the coming months.

Azu is a dish from the Tatar kitchen (Tatars being Turkic speaking people on the Russian territory), though that's all I know, as online enquiries and my cookbooks gave very little information on it, just an odd recipe here and there. In any case, I remember this dish being served at our school canteen rather frequently. I remember it being cooked up by lovely dinner ladies at pioneer camps during summer. I have memories, if somewhat vague, of eating this at the student canteen during my university years at Tartu. Day after I served this at home last week, K. came home to announce he saw azu on the menu of the small canteen where he usually grabs his lunch.

However, the dish is probably unknown to you, hence the recipe. While a combination of beef, fried potatoes and sliced pickles may sound, well, a bit odd, I urge you to try it. Unusual it is, granted, but simple and tasty as well.

Canteen, by the way, is söökla in Estonian. There's a mouthful :)

Azu, the Tatar meat stew
Serves 4

400 grams beef (I used a lean back piece)
2 Tbsp oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 Tbsp tomato puree
1-2 Tbsp adjika, optional
some chopped garlic
1-2 pickled or salted cucumbers, sliced
400 grams of potatoes, chopped and fried separately
salt and black pepper

Cut the beef into 1 cm slices first (across grain) and then into thick 'fingers' (ca 1x4 cm). Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and brown the meat.
Add the onion and fry for a few minutes.
Add the tomato puree, and the spicy Georgian paste adjika. (This is not traditional, but it does add a lovely depth to the sauce. I buy mine from my local market. You can substitute the Balkan pepper relish ajvar for adjika. Ajvar is widely available in the UK, for instance) .
Add enough boiling water to barely cover the meat. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40-45 minutes or until the meat is almost tender.
Meanwhile, fry the chopped potatoes until golden brown (you can use either raw or boiled potatoes, the important bit is to fry them before adding to the stew).
Add the fried potatoes, sliced cucumbers and chopped garlic to the saucepan, stir gently, and simmer for another 5-10 minutes.