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Posts Tagged ‘cheese’

I’m sure we’re not the only ones this happens to: we’re eating out somewhere (usually on vacation), something delicious crosses our lips, and we look at each other and say, “We should totally make this at home.” More often than not we realize that the components would be easy to find (and if not, then we immediately start thinking of reasonable substitutes that would be available in Estonia). Such was the case with poutine*, which J tried for the first time when we were in Montreal in September. I mean really, can it get any simpler? Traditional poutine has only three components– french fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds.

The poutine we shared in Montreal… delicious.

In our first-ever at-home poutine attempt, we decided not to go totally traditional. Although we could have found a reasonable substitute for squeaky cheese curds in Estonia, we found ourselves drawn to the smoked cheese corner of the dairy case and decided that a smoky-flavored cheese would suit poutine just fine (if the Canadians can create variations on the classic, then so can we!). I also must confess that we bought frozen french fries, which I am usually categorically against because potatoes are so much cheaper. But for the sake of texture and consistency we baked frozen french fries in the oven until crisp and they were perfect (though next time I may make my own oven fries).

Chopped smoky cheese

What I did make from scratch, however, was the gravy. I’d wanted to make a nice toasty roux ever since my New Orleans cooking class, so I combined my fat and flour and then stirred my little heart out. I was thrilled when the roux actually started taking on a nice brown/beige tint, but I didn’t push it too far after that since I was afraid of burning it. Still, it smelled delicious and definitely enhanced the flavor of the gravy.

Waiting for gravy to thicken…

I cooked the gravy for quite some time and it still didn’t get quite as thick as I’d hoped (I feel like this always happens to me! What’s the secret to thick gravy? Do I have to add starch?). I knew it would thicken up a bit when I took it off the heat, plus we were getting impatient, so we went ahead and dished up some (mostly) homemade poutine.

You can see from the picture how the gravy is lighter and more liquid-y than the gravy we had in Montreal, but the flavor was great! It was all there– crispy fries soaking up the salty gravy (I actually like it when the fries get soggy!), with creamy smoky cheese bits mixed in. Certainly not an everyday food, but so. very. good. I think this “recipe” could come in handy next time we have hangovers…

* J insists on calling it “Putin”. Does anybody else do this?

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Yesterday J and I went with some friends to the annual Christmas bazaar held by the International Women’s Club of Tallinn. I wrote about it two years ago when it happened to fall on a day with extremely windy and snowy weather, and when the Estonian community abroad found that post and circulated it this little blog set its record for number of visits in one day. This year’s post probably won’t draw as much attention (even though there was snowy weather for it this year too), but we still had a wonderful time at the bazaar.

The bazaar is great because many of the embassies in Tallinn have tables where they sell food and drink from their country. It’s easy to make your way around the room and have a very multi-cultural lunch, which is exactly what we did.

The first thing I sampled when we got there was actually Chinese flower wine and Chinese vodka, which was offered for tasting in mini shot glasses (don’t worry, it was after noon already). The flower wine was very sweet and reminded me of sake, and the vodka was really unique– super-strong (56%!) and yet the alcohol taste wasn’t too powerful; I sensed a strong fruity taste and my friend said it was like cognac, but clear. J was intrigued enough by it to buy some small bottles to take home. It’s not every day you get to drink Chinese booze, right?

After that J, who hadn’t eaten breakfast, snagged a hot dog from the American embassy’s table (they were selling Starbucks coffee beans as well!), and I got a recommendation to try some of Turkey’s offerings. For less than a euro I got two lentil koftes, which were slightly spicy and had a fresh tang from green onions. Very yummy and they seem simple to make– I may have to try my hand at Turkish cuisine. Our next nibble after that was from the Russian table, where J and I shared a slice of thin pancake (blini) rolled up with cured salmon. Can’t go wrong with salmon, or pancakes for that matter. It was a delicious little snack.

After that I was ready to move onto sweeter things, so I got a glass of warm German glühwein and started looking for dessert. I was very tempted by the scones at the British embassy’s table, but as I just made scones myself recently, I wanted something different. The small Moldovan table was offering squares of a flat yellow cake that they said was “made from corn and cheese” but was still sweet, so I decided to go for that. The cake was only very subtly sweet, made of polenta with a layer of some kind of farmer’s cheese in the middle. It was probably my first-ever experience with Moldovan food! They had also offered us some Moldovan grapes to taste, which were deep purple and so sweet.

On top of all that, we also sampled some cheese at the British and Dutch tables (J took more than just one of the Dutch samples– you know how much he loves his aged Dutch cheese!)

I apologize for the lack of pictures; the bazaar is always so crowded so it’s just too much to try and juggle a purse, plateful of food and camera all at once. But it was a fun couple of hours, and of course it was nice knowing that the money we spent there would go to a good cause this holiday season.

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Never too late: Flashback to London!

I was looking at photos from my trip to London in November and I realized that there are some things I never posted about, as the holidays were quickly approaching and my blogging pretty much ground to a halt. Tragic! But I feel it’s never too late to share these delicious treats and fun memories from my London trip. Enjoy!

I insisted that we go to Borough Market sometime during the long weekend, since that was something I had missed when I visited London in May with J (well, we did walk past it one day, but just as everyone was packing up and leaving). Siret, I believe, had also never been there, so she and her mother were happy to go check it out with me. Borough Market, located near London Bridge off the Borough High Street, is really quite lovely. If you read reviews of it, you’ll see that the locals complain it’s become too tourist-y, but as a tourist, I didn’t mind one bit. It’s filled with a huge variety of sweets, produce, meats and prepared foods, everything from chocolates to veggie burgers to mulled wine.

Unfortunately when we went it had been a while since I’d read up on the market, but I hazily remembered that there was one thing that many, many reviewers raved about. Some kind of cheese sandwich, but I couldn’t remember what it was called, or the name of the stand that sold it. Siret and her mother opted to get veggie burgers wrapped in cabbage leaves with various toppings for a snack, but I was determined to keep looking.

Veggie burger

And then– I FOUND IT. The stand is called Kappacasein and it’s surrounded by the rich, heavy smell of cheese and garlic. I knew it must be the place. They sell both raclette (check out this link to see how it’s made) and their famous toasted cheese sandwich. I eagerly forked over a few pounds, took a number, and proceeded to watch the sandwich-making process as I waited for my toasted treat. A few minutes later, I was the proud owner of a giant cheese sandwich.

This is like no other grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had. The sourdough bread is sturdy, pressed and toasted to a satisfying crunch, and while the pungent Montgomery cheddar cheese is the star of the sandwich, it’s tastefully accessorized with a garlic and leek mixture. It’s a grilled cheese for grown-ups.

It is also, as you might imagine, very, very rich. I ate about 3/4 of it, which was probably a few more bites than I should have, but luckily I felt fine afterwards (I rarely eat such greasy food), and Siret helped me finish the rest. I think this sandwich could be shared among as many as four people, if you want to have space in your tummy to taste some other treats at the market as well (and the sandwich-maker will cut it into smaller pieces, if you ask). I also recommend having water around if you get this sandwich, because grease + garlic stuff + bread + cheese = salty salty salty. But I totally enjoyed it– it was the epitome of a vacation treat, something unique to the location that I would never eat on an everyday basis.

The other food highlight I failed to share previously was the dinner Siret and I had on our last night at Giraffe. Giraffe is a chain of restaurants in London, and I really liked everything about it. I liked the decor, the atmosphere (the place was busy and we were extremely lucky to get a table in the corner, where nobody was shoving past our table. I may have felt differently if we were seated in the middle of the dining room), the friendly atmosphere and the food. We had glasses of wine and the hummus appetizer, and for my main course I chose from the list of specials: the BBQ duck “huarache”. I wasn’t sure at the time why “huarache” was in quotes. After looking it up, I found out that huarache is usually served on a base of fried masa, and mine was served on a tortilla. At any rate, I had nothing to compare it to, so if it lacked authentiticty I was none the wiser.

It was delicious. The duck pieces were just meltingly soft, much more tender than chicken. I added a little hot sauce to the sweet fruit salsa on top to give it more kick (which, to me, feels necessary for foods wrapped in tortillas) and proceeded to devour the whole thing. Once again, a nice treat that I can’t get at home, as I’m pretty sure duck on an Estonian menu would be quite expensive. And of course, the food and fun atmosphere were made even better by endless conversations with an old friend, someone with whom I already share countless memories from all over the world (from Sweden to Fiji!) and, no matter where we are, I can always pick things up with exactly where we left off.

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Suomalaisten ruokaa (Finnish food)

One thing I love about going to Finland is that I’ve never had to make plans to have an authentic experience, to make an effort to find something non-touristy or off the beaten path. During all my trips to Finland, I’ve been generously welcomed into somebody’s home and led around by friends, so although I’ve been a tourist in Estonia’s northern neighbor, I’ve never really felt like one.

Our recent trip to visit J’s parents in Liminka was, of course, no exception. We did very Finnish things and, even though I wasn’t going out of my way to make it a fooding trip, I had a lot of new Finnish food experiences.

Walking around Oulu on our first day, we stopped at a fish counter in the marketplace by the waterfront. (Random thought—Oulu’s position by the sea and its general feel remind me a lot of Baltimore). We needed a snack, so we got a little sack of fried salmon nuggets, which J said he used to snack on all the time as a student. It was a very handy way to have a protein-filled snack.

From there, we headed to Stockmann to check out candy (since there’s plenty of stuff you can get in Finland but not in Estonia). I spotted a package containing large foil-wrapped mounds and exclaimed, “Wow, those candies are huge!” My next thought, which was also expressed aloud, was “And that package is so racist!” J replied, “They used to be called ‘Neekerin Suukot’.” (Neekeri is a somewhat archaic but not inherently offensive Finnish word for dark-skinned people. Suukko is a kiss).

Hmm…

J also mentioned that the candies were one of his favorites as a kid, so we decided to get a package so I could try one too. Each “kiss” is a mound of marshmallow-like fluff on a plain wafer base, covered in a thin layer of dark chocolate. The fluff wasn’t as sweet as I expected it to be, and the chocolate was actually pretty good. I finished off one, but it’s not something I’d eat every day. Still, it was fun to engage in a bit of nostalgia with my boy.

That night, dinner was a kirjolohi (rainbow trout) J’s father had smoked himself that day, along with potatoes, white asparagus, dill sauce, and a lovely salad. J’s mother seriously makes the prettiest salads I’ve ever seen (you can see it in the picture), and that night’s had hard-boiled egg, tomato, tiny shrimp, and avocado. Mmm. And the fish was amazing as well. I’ve had similarly smoked salmon at restaurants in Tallinn, but this was better.

Pretty salad, cute wine glasses… look, the butter even has a parsley garnish!

The next day, J’s mother wanted me to try something new, so she made some Juhannusjuusto for dessert after lunch. Juhannus is the Finnish word for Midsummer and juusto is cheese, so this is a food associated with the summer holiday, but people eat it all year round. It’s made by simply adding some rennet to milk, and if I understood correctly (my Finnish is a little rusty), she said it’s supposed to be cooked for a long time. The curds that develop from the milk were kind of firm with an ever-so-slightly squeaky texture and mild taste, and they were sprinkled with sugar before eating. Upon his first taste, J’s dad reported, “This isn’t good.” But after that he changed his mind, since he ended up eating three servings :-).

Milk lumps are not terribly photogenic

On our final morning, J’s mother put something out for breakfast that I’ve eaten before, and it’s one of my favorite Finnish foods—Karjalanpiirakat (Karelian pies, which I wrote about before) with egg butter. Alongside them were little pies I’d never seen before called rönttönen, made with the same dough as Karjalanpiirakat but filled with a mixture of potato and lingonberries. The filling is sweet, with a tart kick from the berries. It’s soft and almost creamy, and I never would have guessed it was potato-based. Plus it’s a lovely purple color. It was really pleasant, and I kind of wish I could have something like that around for breakfast more often. Perhaps I should learn to make them…

I also got some Karjalanpiirakat to take as a snack on my flight back to Tallinn. They were the best travel snack ever, covered with a healthy dose of egg butter and a thin slice of reindeer meat (like a cold cut, but made of reindeer). As I nibbled on them during my trip back to everyday life, I felt happy and very well cared for, because truly, I was. Kiitos kaikesta (thank you for everything)!

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My apologies, this post is very late. Internet was down for a week in the apartment in Brussels, and then time was scarce.

I’m taking advantage of my one-month stint in Brussels to travel to other exciting locales nearby. And luckily, I’m not traveling alone—J joined me on June 27, so I have a partner in exploring and eating. Excellent. Let’s get started, shall we?

We arrived in Amsterdam Friday night, and unfortunately didn’t have a chance to explore the city, since we had to go straight to our guest house a bit outside the center. We were starving, so after dropping off our things, we set out to see what food options were available in the cute suburb at 10 pm. Then we saw it, rising like an oasis before us—a “snack bar” serving pizza and kebab! The employees were sitting and relaxing at the two small tables in front, but they immediately ushered us in and handed us menus. It wasn’t until after we had ordered our food that we noticed the place technically closed at 10 o’clock, and now, at nearly 10:30, a guy was in the back preparing döner durum and shawarma for us. Man, I LOVE that guy. No pictures of the food, but I can tell you that I inhaled my döner wrap and J finished off a giant mound of shawarma and fries.


Saturday morning, our first official stop was the Albert Cuypmarkt, since I had read good things about the food available there. When we finally reached it, after walking across town, we were not disappointed. First stop was a cheese stand, where J blindly picked out a hard cheese called brokkelkaas, which apparently had been aged for three years. We immediately unwrapped it to try a bite, and it was AMAZING. Although it’s a hard cheese with a little bit of crunch to it (I have no idea what it’s called, but it’s like there’s little pockets of crystallized cheese), it tastes immensely creamy and slightly nutty. And something else too. It’s complex and wonderful. For the rest of the day, J was pulling the chunk out of his bag, peeling back the wrapper, and taking a bite, as if he was eating a sandwich. But there was no bread, no mustard, no meat to interfere—just pure, unadulterated cheese.

Soon after, I located my main reason for seeking out the marketplace—a fresh stroopwafel, warm from the iron. The two waffles seemed thinner and crisper than in packaged stroopwafels, and the taste of cinnamon was much more pronounced. The molten syrup in the middle slowly slid to the bottom (since I was holding it vertically), so that the last few bites were tooth-achingly sweet, but still sooo good. I could barely focus on my surroundings as I enjoyed the treat I’d been so eagerly anticipating.

We also drank a few Heinekens. Big surprise, right? It was always on tap and the cheapest option. We laughed at the fact that a kleine (small) beer was 25 cl and a groot (large) beer is 50 cl, since in Estonia 50 cl is standard, and sometimes you have the option of ordering a large 1-L mug :-D.

On Sunday we took a trip to the grocery store to purchase some Dutch snacks to bring back with us. I craved something sweet, so I picked up a package of two round, slightly domed cookies with almonds on them from the bakery section. They were awesome—the slightly browned, firm edges tasted like a cookie-type pie crust, and the center was extremely soft and moist and tasted like almonds. There had to be some marzipan in there somewhere. After doing some research, I’m pretty sure what we ate was gevulde koek, or a shortbread cake filled with almond paste. Fortunately, the recipe appears quite simple… I may have to add these to my repertoire.

Overall, I gotta say that the snacks we had in Amsterdam outshone the sit-down meals (pancakes, sushi). The meals weren’t bad, but the snacks were more memorable, maybe because we were able to enjoy them while we wandering around, getting to know the iconic city.

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Brussels

So… I’m in Brussels! I arrived yesterday morning after a night of about 3.5 hours of sleep and went straight to work, but luckily the people I’m working with are really nice and helpful and didn’t seem to mind that I was functioning on a less-than-optimal level. Last night I got a good night’s sleep in the wonderful apartment I’m staying in, and today was a full day of work followed by a trip to the grocery store. I’m getting good at asking people if they speak English when I answer the phone at work, but the grocery store still offers up a challenge. Sometimes it takes time to figure out what I’m looking at. I can understand a bit of the French because it’s similar to Italian and of course a lot of food words are French, and the Dutch offers up some clues because it’s a lot like English, but still, it’s an adventure.

Now I’d like to present some of the interesting goodies I picked up today:

This Cote d’Or Noir spread looked so amazing. And the selection of spreads here is incredible too– not just Nutella, but chocolate spreads, nut spreads, fruit spreads… I need to take more time to examine them all, and I imagine some will come with me back to Estonia. This Noir reminded me, quite honestly, of the chocolate cream in Golden Oreos, just a bit darker. It was actually really good when I mixed it with some plain yogurt I got, since that added bitterness and actually made it seem richer.

Both of these cheeses are actually French. I’ll try to get some Belgian stuff next time. I hadn’t had goat cheese in a really long time, and the other stuff just looked good– it’s soft and mild (sorry for the lame description).

And finally, some beer. I know some hard-core beer lovers consider fruit beers sacrilegious, but I love lambics. I drank the St. Louis Kriek tonight and enjoyed the sweet flavor followed by a more sour finish. The Belle-Vue one is probably better, though; I seem to remember a more sour, refreshing taste throughout. I’ll let you know later :-).

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