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Archive for the ‘The Cooking Poro’ Category

Tähtitorttu/Christmas stars

The photo I posted on Christmas was of tähtitorttu, a traditional Finnish Christmas pastry made with flaky dough and luumumarmeladi, a thick plum jam. Here’s a photo series of J making them a few days before Christmas:

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Basted with egg yolk

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There are these pastries you can buy in Estonian grocery stores called Dallase saiad (Dallas pastries, although sai also means white bread or rolls, and saiake usually indicates a small, sweet pastry). I have no idea why they’re called that or where they come from, but it’s a yeasted dough flavored lightly with cardamom filled with a sort of cream-custard filling. I guess more custard than cream, since it contains eggs and once baked it’s pretty firm. Wow, I am so not an expert when it comes to describing the anatomy of a pastry.

At some point during the spring, J picked up a few  of these pastries as a snack and was raving about them. Just a few days later I bought that month’s edition of the Estonian cooking magazine Oma Maitse , and was quite excited when I saw that it contained a recipe for those very same pastries! And so we decided to see how well we could do on our own.

While I’ve done a decent amount of baking, I rarely use yeast (although I’ve used it this year for pirukad and also pizza crust, which I’ll talk about soon as well!). I seem to remember that the yeasted dough for these  rose nicely but was quite sticky. We had to add some flour before we could roll it out into a rectangle, then roll it up from the long side and cut slices, which we then pressed down in the middle to make a receptacle for our creamy mixture (which included cream cheese, vanilla sugar, and a bunch of eggs). We realized we had quite a lot of the cream mixture, so J filled those dough bowls completely to the brim.

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Our anticipation was great. We both hovered around the oven, waiting to see how our bakery experiment would turn out.

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The result? Definitely yummy. Ours came out somewhat more poufed-up than the ones at the store, and the filling seemed to kind of meld with the dough so that it was slightly difficult to tell where the bready part ended and the filling began, except for in the very center. That was rather surprising, considering the amount of filling we poured in (on some of them the filling leaked out too). I think the bread part could have been slightly more sweet. But overall it was still greatly satisfying to make these ourselves, to know exactly what went into them and to try them when they were completely fresh. (J, if you remember anything else about the Dallase saiad , please comment, since that was a while ago and I’m sure I’m forgetting something. :-))

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(the second post from guest blogger J)

…diet (yeah yeah, I know) and I knew Marika was coming to spend the weekend at my place. I wanted to surprise her with a dinner, but since she is such an enthusiastic cook herself (like you probably know already), I didn’t want to serve her ground meat or canned tuna, nor beef jerky. I wanted to make something fairly light but still tasty, like… a normal dinner. I had cut more or less all the carbs from my daily diet, so that posed a slight problem, but I came up with a solution that would serve us both (not too much fat and low on carbs).

I was wandering around the grocery store and I got the idea of making some chicken breasts in the oven with some stuffing in them. I pondered different combinations I could stow in the breasts, with the only constant component being blue cheese. I mean, even that would have rocked, but still, I wanted to give her the impression (or maybe an illusion, more like) that I can actually cook. And score some points with that, of course… 😉 After more than a half an hours of mindless roaming in the shop I was ready. In my trolley I had pesto, a few pears, bacon and blue cheese. I had also found some wooden skewers, some frozen veggies including broccoli and some other… green thingies, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, and a bag of pre-made sauce with some random herb-taste. As for the drinks I had gotten a cheap, foil-packed carton of red wine, which was bad, but it didn’t matter ‘cause I ended up drinking more or less all of it while cooking. My diet is kind of a flexible one…

I made the chicken breast flatter so that I could put the stuffing inside and kinda roll the breast around it, but since I don’t own a steak hammer, I had to use a slightly more primitive way to flatten them: I put a chicken breast on the table, placed an empty casserole dish on it, and with a little help from raw muscle power and gravity I got the job done – I had three beautiful, flat breasts on my table waiting for me to give them some dimension. I cut some pretty thin slices of pear and placed them in the middle of the breast, covered the pear slices with chunks of blue cheese and lastly pour a pretty good amount of pesto on top of them. I guess I got too excited while filling the breasts ‘cause I had pretty hard time to “roll” them shut. The wooden sticks helped me on that and the result was tolerable. Finally I covered the chicken creations with bacon, and utilized the skewers to hold those chicken-thingies in form. Threw them in the oven and turned on the TV.

I continued sipping the wine while surfing the TV-channels (it was bad, but I was doing it for her – the more I drank before she arrived, the less she would have to deal with it). I have this one channel which shows music videos from the early 80’s, they were so ridiculously bad and tasteless that I just had to keep on watching… what they were thinking back then? At some point I managed to lift my ass from the couch to toss the frozen veggies into the oven and they served only a slightly shorter sentence in the heat than the meat. I also cut some fresh vegetables onto the plates to wait for the other stuff. I guess it took altogether something like ~40 minutes for the chicken to be serviceable, and just before I took them out from the oven, I simply heated up the sauce (water, sauce-flavor and some butter).

Look at the pretty bacon…

Just a few seconds after she came – I didn’t allow her to come to the kitchen – everything was set. I still had some wine left to serve with the meal, but politely she switched to water pretty quickly – so I had to deal with the rest of the wine. All in all, it was a success, in every sense. I even think I saw some elements of a positive surprise on her face, but might be she was just acting or I was hallucinating. Or drunk. I mean, she knows I can easily eat ground meat with macaroni and ketchup weeks in a row and live a happy life doing that, so I guess she wasn’t expecting anything so… different. It was a good dinner, the company was sweet, plus she liked it too – score! 🙂

-J, The Cooking Poro

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This is the first post from my new guest blogger, J:

Oh, Sweden… the land of happiness and tall, blonde women. In any part of their country, you encounter smiley faces and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. The nation that puts the individual before the system, gives men the right to paternity leave, where you don’t have to spend your teenage years in the army – how could you not like them? Sweden… probably even the grass is greener there.

There’s also an idiom, “The Swedish do it better.” Personally, as a born Finn, I doubt that. They just have this magical ability to get the credit for everything, even the stuff they have nothing to do with. They even had the guts to declare good ol’ Father Christmas as their own, bastards… As far as I know, the old man still has the Finnish nationality on his papers – keep it going, pops! You Swedes can keep ABBA, Eriksson and those damn rotten herrings you like so much (!!!), but don’t come across the border claiming something that is “legally” ours to be yours. Swedes… who likes them anyways!*

Nevertheless, it’s time to get down to business, and this time I thought to make some so-called Swedish meatballs. It has been many, many years since I last had some, so why not, I was hungry anyways. A quick glance in the fridge revealed some ground meat and cream, so I went to the shop on the corner and got some onions and tomato purée plus potatoes, carrots and beer to go with the balls. I didn’t have any breadcrumbs, but I thought to try to make them without that stuff this time. I used a tiny amount of flour though, but just to maintain the overall manageability of the meat-dough.

I mixed all the ingredients and spices (at that point only salt, black pepper and paprika) and let the ugly mass cool down a bit. While waiting, I refreshed myself with some beer – I especially liked that part of the process. Before I actually started to cook the balls I fried a tiny piece of the reddish bulk on the pan, just to ensure the taste. It was perfect. For a fraction of a second I traveled ~20 years back in time, all the way to my grandmother’s and the table served… a plateful of brown and greasy meatballs, peeking out from a steamy pile of mashed potatoes, grandmother’s familiar voice, persistently but lovingly telling me to take more, more, more… A sip of beer and the nostalgic moment was gone. Oh, the golden memories.

I made a panful of traditional meatballs without adding any other spices. The texture, even without the breadcrumbs, was all good and the taste was just what it should be. Then I thought to be a little more adventurous and separated a hunk of the meat-mass and added some extra-hot chili and Tabasco to it. Fried them up, and goddamn they were good! I fell in love with that stuff, I even wrote down the exact amount of the ingredients and spices I used for next time. With all due love and respect, Grandma (rest in peace), why didn’t you ever try that?!

As soon as I got the first batch of balls done and their remains were stuck to the pan, I started making the sauce. I used beef stock and flour mixed together with the leavings; the result was good but slightly lumpy. But hey, I’m no pro – taste is all that matters. As a final product, the meatballs were served with boiled potatoes and carrots and some delicious sauce splashed all over them. Oh, and I found some cucumber and tomatoes from the depths of my fridge, so I just cut those up to give the meal some healthiness and color. More beer was also involved while killing the dish. All in all, a nice’n easy improvisational meal. I guess I could call it Estonian meatballs. 🙂

P.S. Marika made some yummy cranberry jam, seen on the plate… mmm…

-J, The Cooking Poro

*All the Swedish readers, please don’t take it too seriously. The actual author of this blog has nothing to do with my individual opinions or criticism concerning the Swedes. You know how it goes… J

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