Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I love our new citrus juicer

Our KitchenAid stand mixer is still my favourite kitchen gadget, but the recently acquired Philips food processor has a very efficient citrus juicer attached. So apart from drinking copious amounts of freshly collected birch sap, we're also drinking lots of freshly squeezed orange juice..

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Salmon en Croûte Recipe

On our resurrected Scrabble night some 10 days ago (after a 3-month gap since the birth of our daughter), we had this Jamie's dish on the table. Well, almost his dish, as I made several improvements to it, you see :) For the original version, see Jamie's Ministry of Food. I thought it was quite a looker, and would happily make it again. My much-less-tapenade and cherry-tomatoes-instead-of-regular-ones version, that is...

Salmon en Croûte
(Lehttainas küpsetatud lõhe- või forellifilee)
Serves 4

500 g puff pastry (I used yeast puff pastry)
600 g trout or salmon filet (skinned, if possible)
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp tapenade (I used Belazu)
a small bunch of fresh basil (just leaves)
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
150 g mozzarella cheese
1 egg, for brushing

Carefully remove all pin-bones from the fish filet. (I like to cut off the thin side of the salmon filet and use that for another dish - perhaps soup - on the following day. I think the thick part of the filet looks much more festive, plus you it's easier to cook the fish uniformly). Skin the fish, if you wish.
Roll out the pastry into a 30x40 cm rectangle, transfer into a lightly floured oven tray.
Place the fish filet on top, right in the middle. Season the fish with salt and pepper, drizzle with some olive oil.
Spread the tapenade thinly on top. Place halved cherry tomatoes, cut-side down, over the fish. Top with basil leaves (I left them whole). Finally, shred the mozzarella cheese and place on top.
Fold the pastry over the filling, leaving an opening in the middle to show off some of the filling.
Lightly whisk an egg and brush the pastry with it.

Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 200 C/400 F oven for 30 minutes, until the fish is cooked and puff pastry lovely golden brown.

Serve warm, with some green salad.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What we are drinking right now

Collecting fresh birch sap in our back yard.

For a few days now, we've been drinking lots of freshly collected birch sap instead of table water. It's very refreshing, and tastes like a mildly sweetened water. According to folk medicine, birch sap helps to combat 101 illnesses. It's detoxifying, contains C and PP vitamins, carotene, various sugars and malic acid.

But most importantly, it tastes good.

Friday, April 24, 2009

It's my day today

Photo by Krista Kõiv, taken a fortnight ago.

It's my birthday, again :) After a few chilly days and frosty mornings, the sun is suddenly really shining and it's lovely and warm outside. K. stayed home late this morning, giving me a chance to enjoy a leisurely breakfast consisting of a cup of coffee and a whole tub of Fage Total Greek yogurt topped with homemade sour cherry jam, while admiring the gorgeous birthday present he gave me. I'm baking a strawberry cake for the party tonight, and then head off for a walk with Nora Adeele, who has doubled her birth weight already (she was 2456 g when born and is now, at 12 weeks, around 5300 g). Our little girl surely has a good appetite :)

Right now, there's nothing to complain about - life's beautiful :)

Normal food postings resume next week.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Zucchini Rolls with Goat's Cheese aka "Makis" au Chèvre

One of the items served at the Nami-Nami 2009 Easter Brunch were courgette/zucchini rolls stuffed with goat's cheese. The recipe is adapted from a French food magazine that we get by subscription, Régal, and it was K. who made these. However, he's authorised me to blog about making these :)

They're really quick to make, and the unusual stuffing really works.

Zucchini Rolls with Goat's Cheese aka "Makis" au Chèvre
(Suvikõrvitsarullid kitsejuustutäidisega)
Makes about 3 dozens

300 g creamy goat's cheese
4 medium-sized courgettes/zucchinis
6 dried soft figs
50 g hazelnuts, peeled, toasted and coarsely chopped
a large handful of fresh mint leaves
2 Tbsp good-quality fruity extra virgin olive oil
a good pinch of Maldon sea salt flakes
freshly ground black pepper

Wash the courgettes/zucchinis. Take a vegetable peeler* and cut thin long strips of the courgette, first along the lenght of one side, when seeds appear, then another side. Put aside.
Make a filling. Chop figs finely, toast the hazelnuts, cool and chop. Chop the mint leaves.
Mix the goat cheese, figs, hazelnuts, mint and olive oil in a bowl, season with salt and pepper.
Take a strip of zucchini, place a teaspoonful of goat's cheese filling at one end and roll tightly. Repeat.
Place the zucchini rolls alongside each other on a plate.

Will keep for a few hours in a fridge.

TIP: One of my Estonian readers suggests grilling the zucchini strips lightly before using, as otherwise they might taste 'raw'. If you like the taste of fresh and raw courgette, there's no need to do that. If you dislike the flavour, then grill the vegetable strips first.

* I like the V-shaped vegetable peelers, something like this.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nami-Nami Easter Brunch 2009

Here are couple of photos from our Easter Brunch 2009. We've had friends over for Easter brunch before, but never so many at once. But K's colleagues were keen to greet our little daughter Nora Adeele, and so it happened that last Sunday we had 14 adults and 5 children (incl. our own) over for some food.

In Estonia, Easter is all about eggs and curd cheese/farmer's cheese. And I mean real eggs, not the chocolate ones (as far as I remember, all British food magazines were focusing on chocolate at this time of the year. Not here, luckily). So our table was laden with curd cheese and eggs, and we tried to keep the colours spring-like (green and yellow).

To start with, we had Mimosas with freshly squeezed orange juice and some Cremant:

K. had contributed two dishes to the buffet table, both from a French food magazine Regal that we get by subscription. First bright green Pea Soup Shots, served, appropriately, in small shot glasses:

His other dish was also beautifully green: Courgette 'Maki' rolls, stuffed with goat cheese, hazelnuts, dried figs and chopped mint:

I made a peppered beef filet, using whole black, white and pink peppercorns. I must admit I was pretty pleased with the result - the meat was perfectly pink, and oh-so-meltingly tender (I served it thinly sliced, and the dish was cold):

There were two types of marbled eggs. My old favourites, beetroot-marbled eggs (the purple ones), and an idea that I got from the above-mentioned Regal food magazine, marbled eggs dyed with turmeric:

More nibbles - small pieces of feta-spinach frittatas and Molly's tuna bouchons (not photographed):

There was a layered salad with surimi ('crab noodles'), eggs, onion and cheese:

And of course there was Pashka, the traditional Easter dessert made with curd cheese. I made two pashkas for that brunch - my usual one (still a favourite), as well as a chocolate pashka. The first is garnished with chopped lemon balm and orange zest, the second one is decorated with candied kumquats:

The very yellow dessert was sort of pineapple 'carpaccio' sprinkled with mint and sugar:

And the green dessert was: Matcha Madeleines:

Here's another view of the whole spread:

And of course, there were the Easter eggs, lots of them:

What did you have on your Easter table? It'd be nice to read about that (you can leave a comment with the menu or a link to your blog post).

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Easter, everybody!

My Easter Chick and a tray of beautiful Easter eggs, naturally dyed with yellow onion skins.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Nami-Nami @ El Bulli: the first 10 dishes

El Bulli dining room.
All photos by Pille & K of Nami-Nami

The surprising thing about El Bulli is that despite of their fame and the number of dishes served each night, they still take great interest in each diner's special wishes. While there is no traditional menu to choose from as such, they do want you to be able to enjoy all 30 dishes. When confirming our booking, they wanted to know about any food allergies or dietary considerations (yes, you can order a vegetarian or even a vegan meal). When we were seated, the waiter told us that the Chef has designed a 30-course meal for us, and that each dish will be explained as it is served. He then informed us that some items might be a bit unusual and off-putting - in our case razor clams and veal marrow - and could be changed for something more preferable. (I must confess I wasn't too keen on the razor clams, so I got an alternative dish. Funny enough, they forgot to mention that sea cucumber was on the menu as well. More about it later:)).

Ready? The menu could be split into five parts - savoury snacks, tapas, main tastes, (pre-dessert), desserts and morphings. However, I've opted to split the menu into three posts, explaining the various phases as we go.

Tangerine / Mandarina

The first dish we were served consisted of two parts. On a small black folded square paper were two tiny rose-scented granules. We were instructed to pop the rose granule into our mouth, and then drink the slightly foamy tangerine drink. As a result, the whole tangerine drink tastes strongly of rose :) 

Spherical Olives / Aceitunas verdes sfericas

I was so excited to see this dish! The spherical olives is probably one of the best known dishes on El Bulli's menu, and it was cool to have a chance to try them ourselves. It's an encapsulated pure olive pureé, marinated in olive oil, garlic, thyme and rosemary. We got two olives each, served with a special tiny spoon. You put the 'olive' into your mouth and when gently pressing it with your tongue, it bursts, leaving you with the taste of the best olive you've ever had. Very intense, very tasty. 

El Bulli/Ferran Adria is famous for playing with textures, tastes and temperatures. The spherical olive is a great texture-teaser - you expect it to 'feel' like an olive, and although it tastes like one, it feels totally different.  

Note that many of the dishes were to be consumed with our hands - utensils were rarely seen. Knife, for instance, was only brought to the table once (and I didn't really know how to use it then anyway :))

LYO Fruits / Frutas LYO (Pineapple chips)

Pineapple chips came on a typical plate that looked a bit like crunched sheet of metal. LYO is short for lyophilization aka freeze-drying. The freeze-dried pineapple chips look like your regular chips, but taste like pineapple and have a very fragile and slightly flaky texture.

Salty 'catanias' / Catanias saladas

Toasted walnuts covered in walnut praline and dusted with bitter cocoa powder. These managed to taste sweet and salty at the same time, and were apparently a play on a much-loved Catalonian chocolate-almond bon-bon.


Lightly salted and creamy black sesame paste filling, wrapped into a fragile-crispy nori sheet.

Tomato cookie / Galleta de tomate

Intensely tomato-flavoured crispy cookie, garnished with a gold leaf and wasabi dot. Very interesting texture.

Beetroot coral / Coral de remolacha

Slightly similar to the tomato cookie texture-wise (a bit crunchier, perhaps), but intensely beet-flavoured. First the crispy beetroot 'coral', then a spoonful of beet juice :)

The above small dishes fell into the savoury snacks category, and were served several at the time. The following few dishes are the tapas-dishes, served one at the time.

Shiso flexia caramel with its own soft candy / Shiso caramelo flexia sus gominolas

This was one of the trickiest dishes to eat. The soft candies were VERY soft, and almost burst between our fingers (our only 'utensils' at this point). The 'flexia caramel' contained flecks of shiso (leaf? flower?) that were prone to fall all over the place when not eaten carefully. But flavour-wise, it was a lovely combination of mildly sour and sweet.

Pistachio sponge cake with acid milk mousse / Bizcocho de pistachios con mousse de leche acida

At first we thought this is the same pistachio mousse dish that Ferran Adria shares in the Foams and Espumas chapter of The Cook's Book (a brilliant book, by the way!) - we had tried that at home. However, it wasn't - the visual similarity was all that was common. This pistachio cake was dry and fragile - as a result of lyophilization - and not moist and sponge-like. The pistachio cake was served with acid milk mousse (photo below) and we were given a tiny spatula for scooping up the mousse.

That red tome? Oh, that's their modest wine list :)

Black sesame sponge cake with miso / Bizcocho de sesamo negro y miso

This was one of my favourite dishes - with a cool texture and lots of flavour. Toasted black sesame seeds have been ground into a paste, mixed with egg and flour, pressed through an ISI Gourmet Whip and then microwaved until cooked and fluffy. (We had tried a similar recipe with pistachios, printed in The Cook's Book: Step-by-step techniques & recipes for success every time from the world's top chefs). We were instructed to devour the sponge in two mouthfuls, starting with the miso paste part. Again, a great combination of textures (remember, we were holding the 'sponge' with our fingers) and flavours.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Nami-Nami @ El Bulli: Prologue

5 April 2008, 

Better late than never, they say.

Yesterday exactly one year ago K. and I had a chance to have lunch at El Bulli. A spectacular lunch. A long lunch. A very tasty lunch. A memorable lunch. I-so-have-to-tell-everyone-about-this lunch. Funny enough, it took me a whole year to actually blog about that. When we got home from our 10-day Spanish road trip early last April, I had several deadlines looming. Some at the University, plus I had been commissioned to write some articles about our visit to El Bulli*. I wrote a short piece (one page) for the biggest-selling Estonian food magazine Oma Maitse (May 2008). Then a whole A3-size spread for the main weekly newspaper Eesti Ekspress (22 May 2008). And then a richly illustrated detailed review of the menu spread over six pages for the other local food magazine, KÖÖK (Summer 2008). But somehow I didn't get around to writing about it on my blog.

Well, until now. To mark the one-year anniversary of our visit to El Bulli, I'm gonna give you four blog posts over the next week detailing what happened when Nami-Nami went to El Bulli :) (I could do one long post, but considering we had 30 dishes that all looked fabulous, it's easier to split the post into four).

Before we got to El Bulli, we decided to 'get into the mood'. Ferran Adrià is from Emporda in Catalunya, which is (in)famous for its harsh tramontana-winds that blow from the Pyrenees. The Spaniards believe that these very tramontana winds make the locals a bit funny. Who knows. The world's best known Surrealist, Salvador Dalí, is from the region as well, so it might just be true. In any case, as El Bulli is just an hour's drive from the Dalí Museum in Figueras, we decided to visit the museum first and set the mood :)

The road from Roses (the nearest town) to El Bulli is a spectacle of its own. It's narrow and high and zig-zags alongside the coastline (I wouldn't want to navigate it after a merry meal at the restaurant, that's for sure!). The restaurant itself  is surrounded by cypress and pine trees, and overlooks a beautiful Cala Montjoi bay.

Over-excited as we were, K. and I arrived in our rented Mini Cooper (the best and cutest rental car ever!) a bit early. We parked the car and wondered around the garden. Spotted a group of young stagés chatting on the back of the restaurant:

And large canisters of liquid nitrogen - giving an indication of the type of restaurant we were about to visit:

Once inside, we were greeted by Señor Luis Garcia (what amazing blue eyes that man has!?!). He confirmed our reservation and asked if we wanted a small tour of the El Bulli service kitchen. Of course we did! Garcia assigned us a young waiter, who led us to the kitchen. El Bulli serving kitchen is large, some 130 sq m. It was divided into two - the hot and the cold section. We spotted Ferran's brother Albert working on some pastry (top left photo), and numerous young stagé cooks doing various prep work. Apparently there are 40 cooks taking care of the 50 diners each night - and given the number of people we saw in the serving kitchen, that's indeed very likely. Remember, each El Bulli meal consists of 30 courses - multiply that by 50 (the number of diners) - and you get 1500 dishes. No wonder they need such a huge number of cooks (plus waiters!). Compared to the tiny restaurant kitchen I've worked in (I've never really told you about my stagé at the top gourmet restaurant in Tallinn either, have I?), El Bulli's was huge, spacious and looked like something from a space ship - all shiny metal and a bit futuristic :)

Furthermore, the your waiter assigned to us asks if we want to take a photograph with The Chef? Of course we did!!! Here's our million-dollar picture (K's on the other side of Ferran Adrià, but he's camera shy, so I've promised not to show his face on the blog here ;))

After the short kitchen tour we were led into the surprisingly traditional-looking dining room. Luckily for us, we were seated at a small corner table just under the window, meaning we'd have beautiful natural light for taking pictures.

But more about that next time..

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Mussels in Apple Cider Recipe

Take note - this is the first time I've blogged about a mussel dish, as well as first time I cooked mussels. But the resulting dish was a great success, and according to everybody who tried this, the recipe is definitely worth sharing. So that's what I'm doing :)

I served this on one of our semi-regular Scrabble nights, and we drank regular and almost alcohol-free French cider alongside this. It was a very good night indeed..

Mussels in Apple Cider
(Siidriga aurutatud rannakarbid)
Serves 4 as a starter or a light meal

1 kg fresh, live mussels
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
50 g shallots, finely chopped
2 to 3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and cut into 1 cm cubes
1 lemon
300 ml (about 1 1/4 of a cup) dry French cider (we used Cidre Brut de Normandie)
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

Clean the mussels carefully under cold running water. Throw away any mussels that are broken or that don't close when tapped gently.
Heat oil and butter in a large wide saucepan. Add shallots and garlic and sauté gently, stirring all the time, for about a minute.
Add apple cubes and cook for another minute or two.
Add cider, the grated lemon peel and lemon juice and thyme. Bring to the boil (NB! no need to season with salt).
Now add the cleaned mussels, shake the saucepan a few times and cover with a lid. Cook for about 2 minutes, then shake the mussels again. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, until all mussels have opened (throw away the few stubborn ones).

Serve the mussels with the cooking broth, garnish with some extra thyme. Some white ciabatta-style bread would be a perfect accompaniment for mopping up the cidery juices..

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Ambrosia Cake Recipe

Have you ever heard of an Ambrosia cake? If yes, then what's the cake like?

It seems that there is no one single Ambrosia cake. When googling 'ambrosia cake', the Internet search engine returns a number of recipes that seem to contain oranges in one form or another. This version is a Finnish recipe, known as 'Ambrosiakakku'. It's a simple sugar cake that goes well with a cup of tea. Most of the Finnish recipes only use candied orange peel to garnish and juice to make the glaze. I've also added grated orange zest to the cake batter to make the cake even more fragrant and tasty.

Ambrosia Cake

Serves 8 to 10

150 g unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
200 g caster sugar
115 g plain/all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
grated zest of 1 orange

To glaze:
100 g confectioners/icing sugar
2 to 3 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

To garnish:
candied orange peel

Whisk eggs and sugar into a thick, pale foam. Add grated orange zest, slightly cooled melted butter, and baking powder mixed with flour.
Pour the batter into a 24-26 cm buttered springform. Bake in a preheated 180 C oven until the cake is done (test by inserting a wooden toothpick in the middle of the cake - it should come out dry).
Cool, transfer onto a serving tray.
Mix icing sugar and orange juice into a glaze and spoon over the centre of the cake, leaving about an inch from the edges clear.
Garnish with candied orange peel.