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Archive for the ‘Something to Eat’ Category

Candy update

Easter was pretty much a non-event around here– we went out to dinner the night before and spent Sunday mostly packing and doing other practical things. However, it was a special day because I was able to eat candy again. And these things?

Sooo good. I wouldn’t say they taste like cake so much as they taste like the ganache you’d put on a cake. They’re rich with well-balanced sweetness, and even though they taste like chocolate ganache they’re more firm– like a chocolate truffle without the slick, melty texture. I picked up another bag today to share with my family in the States :).

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Cake-flavored

I’m not going to lie– I am really excited to be able to eat candy again this weekend. I could continue to live without chips, crackers, burgers, and packaged cookies, but candy… I just can’t quit it.

Yesterday I was doing some shopping to buy gifts for our upcoming trip to the States. Feeling somewhat frustrated (my mother has requested several CDs that nobody is selling anymore), I ducked into the Kalev candy store in one of Tallinn’s main shopping centers, Viru Keskus. Kalev is the biggest and most famous Estonian candy company and they make some delicious confections. I promise I’m not just saying that because I’m biased in favor of all things made in Estonia– their stuff really is tasty and of good quality. Anyway, in my shopping-frustrated and candy-deprived state, I was a candy marketer’s dream. As soon as I saw this package, I knew it would make the perfect Easter gift… for myself.

These cake-flavored chocolates are brand new, but part of the Désirée line, from which I’ve tried other products. Initially the line consisted of bars with coffee-flavored fillings– the dark chocolate bar was Espresso and I believe the milk chocolate bar was Cafe Latte, which would make sense.

So having tried (and loved) the creamy, rich Espresso bar, I’m really curious as to how these cake-flavored chocolate candies are going to be. The flavor strikes me as kind of funny– somehow making something cake-flavored seems so American, and yet I don’t believe there are any cake-flavored candies in America (but who knows– I’ve been gone for so long, maybe there are now).  If these really good, I may have to “export” some over there myself.

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No-junk Lent

So, how has Lent been going? Thanks for asking :). This year for Lent I was inspired by one of Michael Pollan’s food rules to give up all junk food, except for the stuff I make with my own two hands. I must admit that I haven’t been perfect. I’ve eaten fries once or twice and candy on two or three occasions (each time just one piece, not the whole bag). I’ve also eaten a few slices of cakes that were homemade by other people (people always bring cake to work on their birthdays!). In general I don’t consider homemade baked goods “junk food” (even if they are unhealthy) since they’re not processed like store-bought sweets, but since my rules for myself stipulated that I have to make the things I eat, it was still technically a violation. All these things happened when I was out and with other people– situations where maybe I didn’t feel like explaining why I was turning down something I’d usually eat. Oh, and in my original post I wasn’t sure whether I’d be cutting out gum– I didn’t. No, it’s not “real food”, but I think it helps me more than harms me, so I let it stay.

Homemade muffins? OK for Lent.

One area in which I’ve been very successful, though, is grocery shopping. It’s actually so nice to go to the store and breeze past the shelves of cookies, crackers, chips and candy because I know I can’t buy any right now. Even though I always try to eat healthy, I think everyone understands how tempting those shelves can be at times, especially if you make the mistake of going to the store hungry. With my “rule” to back me up, it’s so much easier to resist their siren song.

I actually haven’t been cooking or baking as much as I thought I would, because I realized I don’t really need to create “substitutes” for tasty junk food. We’ve made homemade pizza once (I still love that crust recipe, by the way) and one time when J got a burger and fries, I roasted some potatoes for myself so I could also have something yummy to dip in ketchup. If I crave something sweet after a meal, I usually seek out something quick and easy like a date or a handful of raisins rather than baking up some cookies.

So I haven’t been perfect, but I’d say that overall my eating has definitely been cleaner. I hope that after Lent I can sustain these habits, eating french fries just once or twice a month rather than every week, and not buying processed snack foods. As I’ve said before, I fully believe in “everything in moderation”, and as long as my diet’s healthy overall allowing the less-healthy stuff now and again is totally OK. One food I’ll be welcoming back with open arms is chocolate, but I’ll do my best to enjoy it in moderation rather than making it one of my major food groups ;).

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Happy Shrove Tuesday, or as the Estonians say, head vastlapäeva! I last blogged about this day a few years ago when we made pea soup, which is one of the foods traditionally eaten on this day in Estonia. The other food associated with today is the vastlakukkel — a lightly sweetened yeast bun with the cap sliced off, topped with a hefty swirl of whipped cream and a dusting of powdered sugar. Some of them also contain jam under the whipped cream, like this one I picked up on the way home from choir rehearsal this evening. Yum.

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I’ve never read Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules, but I have heard some of his rules and love how simple and straightforward they are. His first rule regarding food and eating, which some of you may have heard before, is as follows: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Pretty simple, right? I saw an interview with Pollan on TV during which he spoke about another rule that got me thinking: Eat all the junk food you want, as long as you cook it yourself. I believe the example he used was French fries. Americans (and people all over the world) eat tons of French fries because they’re so accessible and cheap. But what if you had to make them yourself? What if you had to scrub the potatoes, peel them, cut them into thick matchsticks, heat a large pot of oil, and make a big splattery mess in your own kitchen, rather than just rolling up to the McDonald’s drive-thru and shelling out a dollar? Clearly we’d all be eating a hell of a lot fewer French fries.

Semi-homemade poutine (with frozen fries, not homemade)

I got to thinking about Pollan’s rule recently when I made these delicious sesame wasabi crackers and realized I rarely feel compelled to buy manufactured cookies or crackers anymore because the ones I make at home are so much better. I hope it doesn’t sounds like bragging when I say that– my point is that foods made with real ingredients according to simple recipes are usually superior to their processed counterparts in terms of flavor and nutritional value, no matter who makes them.

Stovetop popcorn with Old Bay spice

I decided to challenge myself to cut out even more store-bought junk/fast food and have fun creating real-food substitutes at home. So, this year for Lent I am giving up all junk food… except for that which I make myself. What counts as junk food? Burgers, pizza, fries, pelmeni, chips, candy, ice cream, microwave popcorn, any mass-produced sweets and anything fried. I think this will be a great way to clean up my diet a bit without deprivation and will inspire me to try some new recipes. Just to be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean no eating out– restaurant meals are still ok, just no fast food or ordering anything fried. I’ll stick to things like salad, soup, chicken or fish when eating out. Oh, and this challenge is only for food– I’m not planning to cut out alcohol (or attempt making my own at home!). The beverages that I think of as “junky” (soda, energy drinks, sugary juices) I don’t drink anyway, so that’s a non-issue.

Something that I failed to think about before this moment — I generally chew 1-2 pieces of gum a day. Is gum junk food? I would argue that it’s not because you don’t actually eat it, but it is still a processed product. What do you think? Should gum go out the window during Lent too?

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Trader Joe’s

Do you know Trader Joe’s? I’m sure my American readers have heard of it, but European readers probably haven’t. Trader Joe’s is a chain of grocery stores in the United States that sells a lot of gourmet foods, organic products, vegetarian foods, prepared foods and interesting snacks. Prices are kept low because the chain buys products and sells them under its own brand name. In addition to that, it’s  just a fun place. They often come out with new products so you never know what you’ll find when wandering through the aisles of brightly-colored packages.

Now I must confess that I haven’t actually set foot in a Trader Joe’s in years. J and I wanted to visit one during our last trip and ran out of time. (We almost went into one that we saw in Philadelphia, but we couldn’t find the door. True story). Luckily I have a wonderful friend who likes to keep us well-stocked with Trader Joe’s treats, so here are a few of their delicious products we’ve been able to try recently.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from these Lime & Chile Mixed Nuts. They’re a little scary– look at those chunks of dried chili peppers!

While they do have a kick, they’re nothing that two spice-lovers like J and I can’t handle. The nuts are perfectly toasted and the flavors (tart lime and hot chili) are potent, making this a unique and delicious snack. A little handful goes a long way.

And the dark chocolate-covered edamame? These might just be the perfect chocolate-covered snack. In case you didn’t know, edamame are soybeans, in this case dried and roasted (I think). The edamame are crispy and nutty, less dense than peanuts, and lightly salted under the chocolate coating. I think what really struck me was the quality of the chocolate layer— it’s pretty thick, not too sweet, and just delicious. And look, 7 grams of protein per serving!

One other product my friend gave us (but I don’t have a picture of) was the Chili-Spiced Mango— dried mango slices dusted in a chili spice powder. While dried mango is probably my favorite dried fruit, I wasn’t a fan of the sweet-spicy combination in this snack. However, J loved them and I can vouch for how quickly the bag disappeared!

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I’m sure all 20-something of you who read this blog have been waiting for me to finally write about the third restaurant we visited during Tallinn Restaurant Week (over two months ago…), Neh. The restaurant’s focus is on the cuisine of the islands in the Baltic Sea, like Gotland, the Åland Islands, and Estonia’s own Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. Also, their head chef is kinda hot.

This was the two-course lunch menu, taken from the Restaurant Week site (although edited by me because some of their translations sucked):

Pan-baked bread

traditional Saaremaa dish, pan-baked bread, made with Koplimäe farm barley and smoked sauna ham served with lingonberry-apple chutney and caraway tea

Neh´s wild boar sausage

lightly smoked artisanal sausages, caramelized onion & vegetable mash

I loved the first course, pictured above. The pan bread was chewy from the barley and contained chunks of the most delicious smoked ham. The rustic bread was nicely complimented by the tart fresh lingonberries and and the creamy sauce on top (unfortunately I can’t remember what was in it, but I think maybe fresh dill?). My only negative comment is that the lingonberry puree flourish on the plate looks like a blood spatter from a crime scene.

The sausage was fresh, rich and perfectly meaty, no unappealing chewy bits. The accompanying roasted beets, vegetable mash, and mustard added variety but the star was definitely the sausage. It was very good-quality but also rich and fatty, so this portion was honestly a bit much for me.

The restaurant itself is extremely cozy and charming. It’s in an old renovated house near the harbor, but the decor is simple and modern. Where we were sitting on the first floor there was a total of only 4-5 tables in the room, so it almost felt like we were guests at somebody’s house. I also love their focus on “local” cuisine and ingredients (not just focused on Estonia, but on the surrounding Baltic Sea area as well). The “eat locally” movement hasn’t become a trend here in Estonia yet, but I’m glad at least one restaurant is drawing attention to it. And in case you’re wondering, I was too shy to ask whether the head chef was in that day (typical!) so that means I just may have to go back another time :).

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