Archive for October, 2008

Blogging by Mail– What I sent

I can’t say too much yet, but here’s a sneak peak at what I put into my package for Blogging by Mail. You may spy some chocolate, some cookies, a kitchen tool, and a rather prominent bag of cereal. I hope the recipients enjoy it…

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I must have good Blogging by Mail karma. On Wednesday I was at the post office mailing my own package, and then the very next day I found a package slip in my own mailbox! I wasn’t positive that it was my BBM package, since I was also expecting a package from my mother. But as soon as the post office worker handed me a USPS flat rate box wrapped up in sushi-themed packing tape, I knew it was definitely not from my mother. It was from Stephanie— the very same one who organized this whole event!

How cute is this tape? I absolutely love it! Somehow J and I had the self-control to wait until after I had gotten home from work AND we had gone jogging to open it. The first thing we saw was an adorable puppy guarding the contents of the box. I don’t think I’ve ever even mentioned on my blog that I love dogs, but I do. 🙂

And the stuff he was watching over for me was so fun! The first thing I pulled out (after the dog and Stephanie’s note) was a tin of chocolate chip tea! I can’t wait to try this. I drink a lot of tea during the winter here because it’s so cold, and I’m sure this one will be a delicious treat with milk. (A few years ago a friend of mine got me hooked on some sugar cookie tea. Do you think if I brewed the sugar cookie and chocolate chip teas together, I’d get… chocolate chip cookie tea??).

There was also a box of NEWTREE Belgian chocolates that Stephanie says are amazing! There are three kinds, each with a different benefit– Pleasure, which is 73% dark chocolate, Vigor, which is 73% dark chocolate with coffee, and Tranquility, which is milk chocolate with lavender.

Then there’s a bunch of ingredients to cook with. I was amazed by the giant bag (7 oz, I believe) of cardamom pods. Cardamom here is sold in tiny envelopes! There was also a bag of methi (fenugreek) seeds and a bag of amchur (raw mango) powder. I have no idea what the last two taste like or how to use them, but I intend to find out. Stephanie said they’re all used in Indian recipes, and of course cardamom is also used in Scandinavian baking. Another ingredient, which I am sooo excited about, is a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce!

I’m ashamed to admit that even though I’ve been intrigued about this stuff for years, I never sought it out to use it while I was living in the States. I plan to make the most of this can. My only concern is that I will fall in love with it and have to find a way to get more of it to Estonia.

Moving on (yes, there’s more, I can hardly believe it myself), there was also a bottle of vanilla syrup, which made it across the Atlantic safely due to a healthy dose of bubble wrap. 🙂  It certainly seems like a versatile addition to the kitchen.

Then there was a bookStrawberry Shortcake Murders by Joanne Fluke. Stephanie says it’s “nothing life-altering,” but it does include recipes! It seems like a fun read, and definitely not something I’d find in a bookstore here. And it has strawberries! 🙂 And, as an added bonus, the pages smell of cardamom from being in the box with the spices.

Finally, there were sushi coasters that matched the packing tape. Once again, so very cute.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank Stephanie twice over– once for taking on the overwhelming job of organizing this fun exchange for so many bloggers, and a second time for sending me such a fun, multi-faceted package! I’m sure there will be future posts dedicated to using these things in the kitchen, so thanks for the inspiration as well!

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Jallu meatballs

The first time I ever showed this recipe for meatballs with Jaloviina sauce to my boyfriend, he was in awe. Jaloviina, or Jallu for short, is a Finnish cut brandy, which is a mixture of brandy and hard grain alcohol. J acknowledges the fact that it’s not actually very good, but it’s a Finnish institution. “It should only be drunk with Pepsi,” he says. Or straight.

But then I found this other fantastic use for Jallu on the Finnish food blog Doughboy– as part of a rich gravy to serve with meatballs and mashed potatoes. I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for ages, but wanted to wait for cooler weather to prepare the rich meal. I made a few substitutions. I couldn’t find onion soup mix to use in the meatballs (apparently they have it in Finland and not in Estonia), so I used mushroom soup mix, which I knew would add salt and some good flavor. Sour cream was used in lieu of creme fraiche. Also, I don’t have demi-glace, so I just added some more beef broth to the gravy.

The meal came out beautifully. The meatballs were nice and tender, and baking is such an easy way to prepare them. My mashed potatoes weren’t as good as J’s, but they were OK, and anything would have tasted good with that rich Jallu sauce all over it. I mashed some of our lingonberries with sugar as an accompaniment. And J was definitely pleased– the combination of meatballs and Jallu sauce led him to declare me the “best girlfriend ever.” 😀

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Subject #3: Jyvashyvät Suklaapisara

No, I haven’t forgotten about the cookies, though I haven’t written about them in a while! And I definitely plan on making my own cookies following the recipe published by the New York Times during the summer, which advises that cookie dough be refrigerated for 36 hours before baking so that the flavor can develop. I was waiting to get a box shipped from Brussels that had some Belgian chocolate in it that I’d bought for baking. The box has now arrived, so it’s only a matter of time before I make these ultimate cookies.

Until then, I’ll continue to try other varieties. These are Jyvashyvät Suklaapisara, made in Finland but available in Estonia. They’re thin biscuits with dark chocolate pieces (hõrk šokolaad, or tasty chocolate, as the package claims). I know theoretically the words “biscuit” and “cookie” are equivalent, one British and one American, but I tend to think of biscuits as more thin, simple, and dry, and something big, soft or chewy is definitely a cookie. So anyway, to me, these are biscuits. I wasn’t expecting very much from them, but actually, I was pleasantly surprised. The product in the package looks exactly like the images on the outside. The cookie itself is fairly thin with a nice, slightly buttery flavor, and you can actually taste the chocolate pieces. It’s no replacement for a soft, warm cookie, but if you’re just craving something wheat-based with a hint of chocolate, it can satisfy. It’s also a good vehicle for a smear of peanut butter, and I imagine Nutella would be excellent on them too.

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Sesame soba noodles

My standard recipe for sesame noodles used to be one that I got from an episode of Rachael Ray’s “30-Minute Meals”. I’ve made the entire meal from that episode– seared tuna steaks, salad with wasabi vinaigrette, and sesame noodles— countless times. I love the combination of flavors, and everyone else my parents and J have always enjoyed it too. Especially my mother– she makes sure she gets the leftover sesame noodles the next day.

I bought a pack of soba noodles from an Asian market in Brussels during the summer. I don’t think I’d ever had soba before, but I seemed to read about it everywhere and wanted to try it myself. When looking for a recipe to try them in, I came across the peanut sesame noodles on Smitten Kitchen, which called for soba noodles. Perfect–sesame noodles are delicious, and I already had most of the ingredients on hand. I made a few changes– I couldn’t find scallions, and I didn’t want to buy fresh ginger so I just use powdered. Also, I used chicken breast instead of tofu, so they weren’t vegetarian.

The recipe makes quite a lot of sauce, so the noodles were much saucier than they were with my old recipe. Not that I mind, because the sauce was delicious. Overall the dish wasn’t perfect because I don’t really know how to cook soba noodles, so I boiled them too rapidly and they got a tiny bit slimy. Oops. Maybe I should try it with sturdier spaghetti next time. But other than that, this recipe is definitely a new standby. It’s quick and simple to make. Next time I’ll probably add even more veggies, since there’s plenty of sauce, and it would make the dish a bit healthier.

Not too pretty, but very good

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These are some interesting chocolates. I tasted them for the first time last winter when I was in Finland for New Year’s Eve. I think it was a fairly new product at the time, and my friend’s mother bought me a bar so I could try it. I was expecting it to be really odd and possibly even gross. I like a good sweet-salty combo as much as anyone, but Finnish salmiakki (salt licorice) isn’t usually paired up with chocolate (at least, I haven’t noticed very many instances where the two are combined).

It comes in both bar and candy form. Here’s one of the candies. The box and wrapper have a black-and-white diamond pattern on them. The outside looks like a nice, shiny, smooth milk chocolate (sorry it’s a bit blurry).

The chocolate is good– sweet, smooth and creamy. Fazer makes good chocolate. But what’s hiding inside that cute exterior?

Gray, viscous, sticky salmiakki goo! Somewhat shocking in appearance, but the bigger shock is that it’s actually good! The salty licorice– which usually isn’t found in “goo” form– melts and mixes nicely with the soft milk chocolate. It’s bold and definitely different, but it works.

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