Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pirozhki - Lamb (or Boca) Filled Rolls

Pirozhki are a staple of Russian street food -- whether you're in a cafe, literally walking home from the metro station or at one of the many historic sights, there will be someone selling pirozhki. If I were preparing these for my friends I would use Boca Burger crumbles; if you want to make them authentic style, as my stepdad prefers, use lamb. Don't use beef or you won't get the real flavor.

If you do choose to use Boca crumbles, add 3-4 tbsp of oil to the pan before cooking the crumbles and 1/3 cup of mock chicken or beef broth to the mixture after the onions cook and before the cabbage goes in.

Ingredients for filling:

3/4 lb thawed Boca Burger crumbles or ground lamb
1 onion, finely chopped
2 small cabbages (size of softballs) or 1 large one, finely shredded
3 tbsp salt, or to taste
pepper to taste
1-2 tbsp dried dill

Dough and cooking:

1 packet yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup milk
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4-5 cups all purpose flour
3 eggs
1 quart of oil

To begin, start with the dough. Dissolve the yeast into the water and set aside until frothy, about ten minutes. In this time, take a large skillet or pot and begin to cook the meat aspect. Once cooked, throw in the onions and seasonings. Get back to the dough and whisk in the liquid ingredients. Add the sugar and salt then the dry ingredients. Knead until smooth and elastic and set aside in an oiled bowl in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.

Once the dough is kneaded the onions should be thoroughly cooked. Add the cabbage and broth if necessary. Cover and allow to simmer for around half an hour, coming back frequently to stir so one side doesn't get burnt. Once the cabbage is tender, set aside to cool.

Once the filling is cooled the dough should be ready. Set the oil to heat to 375 degrees in a large pot. Flattening small handfuls at a time, wrap the dough around about 2 tablespoons of filling per roll and pinch the ends back together. They will want to pull apart once they hit the hot oil, so make sure you pinch thoroughly and reinforce any weak spots. Set aside on an oiled cookie sheet and repeat until all are done, or the first batch has been resting for approximately ten minutes. Slide them into the oil and cook until light golden brown, remove onto paper towels or another device to drain any excess grease. Repeat until they're all done. As with the pierogies, these can be frozen before frying for later cooking.

These are best served hot and on their own. Enjoy!

Vereniki (Non-Meat Pierogies)

My stepfather grew up with two nationalities -- German and Polish. His grandfather on the German side was a baker, but every time he mentions a dish he wants my mother and I to attempt it's something from his Polish grandmother's repertoire. The famed cheesecake recipe is coming soon!

Anywho, his birthday runs dangerously close to Christmas day, so my mother and I typically plan a larger celebration on the birthday than on Christmas. This year we went totally Polish and because we made several things, I'm adding that as a tag on my recipe collection. My stepfather's primary request was pierogies -- or vereniki in Russian -- which are essentially wheat pasta pockets filled with some variation of mushrooms, mashed potato, onions and cheese. The following recipe includes the ingredients for all of the aforementioned fillings.

These can be prepared several ways. A lot of people boil their pierogies, but this detracts from the flavor in my experience, as well as causing the homemade variety to fray apart and become pierogie soup. Therefore I recommend a method quite similar to cooking potstickers, which begins with steaming and ends with a short pan fry.

Ingredients for dough:

2-3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp full fat sour cream
1 egg
1/3 c warm water

This is easy -- knead the dough together until smooth and elastic, adding flour as needed. Roll into a ball and place under an upside down bowl for an hour.


2/3 c mushrooms, chopped finely (you may want to use a food processor for this)
4 tbsp chopped leeks
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb boiled potatoes
3-4 tbsp heavy cream
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups finely cubed cheese of choice (fontina works well)
2 containers, 1/2 cup water in each
4 tbsp butter
large skillet with cover

Boil the potatoes until tender. Mash with the salt and cream until all but the smallest lumps are gone. Heat the oil, mushrooms and leeks over medium heat with a dash of salt and continue to cook until well browned, then set aside. Roll the dough out in small handfuls to about "1/8 and using a "3 cookie cutter, cut pieces of dough and set them aside. Heat the skillet over medium high.

Set to work on filling the pierogies -- we found it easiest and the most fun to mix and match fillings, since all the flavors were compatible. To do this takes practice with the dough but I will attempt to describe how I did it: taking the round of dough in my hand, I smooshed it down one last time to eliminate any large lumps and held it flat in my left hand. Using the right, I put fillings off center and rolled the unfilled end over. I pinched the sides together to get a small half moon. Repeat, setting the raw pierogies on an oiled cookie sheet once completed.

When you've assembled all the pierogies, it's time to cook them. Put 2 tbsp of butter in the pan and once melted, assemble approximately half the pierogies in the pan. Put in half a cup of water along with a dash of salt and cover for three minutes. After this, take off the cover and allow to cook until the water has evaporated. At this point, the side on the pan should be barely browning. Flip the pierogies and allow them to brown more completely on the other side, anywhere from three to seven minutes depending on your stove, so keep checking them.

Chances are with this recipe you'll wind up doing two batches in the pan. If you don't have a large party to serve or want to save some for later, they can be frozen before being fried for at least a month.

Once cooked, serve hot with sour cream on the side. Za zdarovy!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tangy Wild Rice with Ricotta Eggs

Don't skip over this one -- the title sounds like some terrible 70's diet cookbook dish, but this is honestly delicious and also quite healthy. I've noticed that in most culinary traditions there's a strong emphasis on mixing grains with protein and this is no exception. The ricotta makes the eggs fluffy and soft instead of rubbery and the rice adds a nice bite, along with the tanginess of the sauce. This is a great meal for when you have a long day ahead and needs something that sticks with you without too many calories. You could separate the eggs and leave out the yolks, the resulting texture would be more or less the same. Anywho, here's how you do it:

1 cup wild rice
3 cups water
dash of salt
3 tbsp tamari sauce
1 tsp lime juice
2 eggs
1 tsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup ricotta cheese

Bring the water and salt to a boil, add the rice. Cover and cook for around 45 minutes.

Toss the cooked rice with the tamari and lime juice and set aside. Over medium heat, melt the butter in a skillet. Beat the eggs with salt and put them into the skillet as well. Scoop the ricotta into a heap in the middle and start scrambling the eggs and mixing it together. Continue to cook for several minutes; you can cook them for a shorter period to get a creamier result but I like mine well done so they get slightly crumbly. Serve over the rice. Easy!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

As Irish As You Can Get: Potato Guiness Soup with Dubliner Cheddar

For those chilly days and nights there's nothing better than a nice, thick, filling soup or stew. Unfortunately, many of these winter stews involve red meat and aren't quite worth the calories they're cooked in, at least as far as I'm concerned. But this dish is a keeper -- it's simple, filling and rich with a deep savory flavor. Although the alcohol evaporates away during cooking this is a dish for adult tastes (although there's nothing wrong with giving some to the tykes in your household). So send the kids to bed, throw this soup together and curl up near the fire with any leftover Guiness.

You will need:

12 oz Guiness beer
2 lbs potatoes, peeled and chopped into small pieces
3/4 lb Dubliner cheddar
2 tbsp flour
6 tbsp butter
1 white onion, finely chopped
salt to taste

Boil the potatoes until a fork goes into them with no problem, usually between twenty and forty minutes. Mash the potatoes in the pot with a masher or in a separate bowl using a mixer; you don't want all the lumps gone, but you want to make a major dent in it. Return pot and potatoes to medium heat and add the Guiness; whisk together until even, expect to whisk through a bit of foam for several minutes. In the meantime, in a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat then add the onions. Cook them down as you cook down the potato mixture, probably about 10 minutes or until the butter turns a deeper golden and the onions are fully cooked. Add the onions and as much of the melted butter as you can get to the potatoes. Whisk in the flour. By this point the soup should be getting gradually smoother, and you can add the cheddar chopped into small cubes. Whisk constantly until all of it is melted and incorporated into the soup, probably five to ten minutes. After this, allow the soup to boil down a bit more and thicken up -- another five to ten minutes. Lastly, taste a very small spoonful to make sure it's salted to your taste, chances are you will have to add 2-3 tsp to the whole pot to get it where it needs to be. Serve hot, ideally with some bread for dipping.

Chicken Soup: A Vegetarian's Experience

I've mentioned that I am a vegetarian, which is the basis of this blog. I also admit to cooking for large numbers of people on a fairly regular basis, and especially when you're away from home you need something to take you back. One night in particular several guys from our student group in Moscow came to our dorm to attempt blini (Russian buckwheat pancakes). I had a whole chicken and some odds and ends around the kitchen and seeing as the blini weren't going as planned, I decided to try something new that would cure them of their homesickness.

What you need:

1 whole chicken, no innards, thawed
about a gallon of water
1 large onion, diced
4 tbsp fresh sage leaves, chopped
3 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp dried basil
3 bay leaves
3-5 tbsp salt, depending on taste
a few grinds of black pepper
1 lb spaghetti, broken into "2-3 inch pieces
3 cups shredded cabbage (optional)
sour cream

I never touched the raw chicken. It freaks me out. I don't even want to know what flesh feels like in that state. I will eat things made with broth but as far as the actual meat is concerned I usually pawn it off on someone else. I know, I'm weird. Anyway, I put a large stock pot with the gallon of water on to boil and stick the chicken in whole (after rinsing very well, of course). Add the salt, set the pot to simmer and put the lid on -- then just let that sucker cook for two to four hours. When you come back to it, lift the chicken out and allow it to cool for a few moments. Put the onions, spices, pasta and cabbage (if you're using it) into the pot and bring to a low boil. Pull bite sized pieces from the chicken and place in a bowl, adding them all once the chicken is bare. Put the lid back over it and boil for approximately 10-12 minutes. Take off the heat and pour into bowls. Serve with a dollop of sour cream on top and a shot of ice cold Russki Standart to get the authentic experience.

Potato Gnocchi Caprese

Seemingly out of the blue, I found myself with a craving for gnocchi a few weeks ago. Maybe it was the stress of final exams pushing me to consume nothing but carbs or that calm, nearly sedated feeling that arrives shortly after doing so. Either way I got to googling on how to make light-as-air gnocchi without a potato ricer or mill. Turns out there is a method using a fork, which I will detail in the instruction portion of the recipe. I reduced the flour a bit from the original since that's the key to keeping them light and fluffy. They didn't shape nearly as pretty as what you buy in the store, but they were much cheaper to make and tasted better.

As far as the caprese bit, it's a dish that's always befuddled me -- maybe that's because raw tomatoes skeeze me out. I don't know what it is, but something about the smell and texture of raw tomatoes drives me away almost as fast as green peppers. I had to make a dish for a class potluck and wanted to go with a balsamic salad of some sort and caprese was easy to make and transport. However, when I make something for a group, I don't scrimp. I cook to impress. So I got to thinking, how can I turn a caprese salad into something remarkable?

When I make a salad designed for sustenance, sometimes I put some hot pasta over the top to wilt the lettuce a bit and add some protein and carbs (whole wheat pasta has improved remarkably in the last few years, I must admit). That's where the thought of the gnocchi came in. The rest seemed to follow suit and the dish was a major hit at the potluck. Even if you've never made gnocchi before, with the right touch it can be done well the first time.

To make gnocchi:

2 lbs potatoes
2 eggs
dash of salt
3/4c whole wheat flour

Boil the potatoes until tender. Using gloves or some sort of protection from the heat, peel the potatoes while they're still hot. Take a fork and holding the potato in your left hand (if you're right handed) use your right to score the side of the potato. It should result in what I can only describe as soft crumbles; it should resemble streusel to an extent. Once you finish crumbing all of the potatoes, add the eggs and remaining ingredients. Mix gently until the dough is nonsticky enough to be handled, try not to overmix. Take small handfuls, roll them into snakes and chop into "1 sections. Set them aside and repeat until you don't have any potato dough left. Boil a large pot of water and add about a teaspoon of salt, throw in the gnocchis 10 or so at a time and let them cook for 2-3 minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and set aside. One thing I can't emphasize enough is not to overcook, otherwise you'll just have mushy potato water.

For the caprese:

4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp high quality extra virgin olive oil
3 or 4 whole sundried tomatoes, preserved in olive oil and finely chopped(don't use dried)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1 cup crumbled sheep's feta
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (to toss with gnocchi)
salt and pepper to taste
6-8 cups fresh greens salad

Put the salad in a large bowl or plate and drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper and top the salad with the crumbled sheep's feta. Add the rest of the ingredients to the gnocchi and toss gently, making sure to coat each dumpling evenly. Scoop the gnocchi mixture on top of the salad and serve warm.

Latkes: There Can Never Be Too Little, Too Late

Scrolling through my posts I realized I hadn't included one of the cheapest, easiest and oldest recipes in my repertoire: latkes. The pancakes themselves are composed of three to five ingredients, depending on just how good of a chef you are. This is a dish traditionally eaten during Hanukkah although it can be enjoyed any time of the year. Still, this is a wintery food to me, maybe because the potatoes and onions are sometimes all you've got to work with this time of year.

Despite my mother's near-neurotic insistence that potatoes are NOT truly Russian/Jewish/Ashekenazi fare, I'm classifying latkes under all three. She is correct, technically: potatoes were cultivated in the Americas and weren't brought to Europe until around the 18th century. Peter the Great can be credited with bringing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables into the Russian tradition, with potatoes becoming a staple due to their ability to grow in the harsh climate. Before potatoes, however, turnips and other similar root vegetables were used not only in Russian cuisine but in Western Europe as well. So while turnips have been substituted with potatoes, the dishes themselves and the methods used date much further back.

One word of advice before I bestow my recipe: if you're not familiar with using a grater, this will take you much longer than it should. I'm normally a do-it-by-hand girl but seeing as I have injured said hands on cheese graters way too many times in my earlier days, I recommend using a food processor with a shredder feature if you have one. If not, grab a cheese grater and start at it. With some practice you'll be safely shredding by hand in no time but don't rush things, lest the thought of grated knuckle in your potatoes is appealing.

You will need:

2 lbs potatoes, shredded (I leave the skin on, they're easier to grip while grating and add some nutrition)
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 medium onion, grated (this is harder to grate than the potatoes so leave one end intact to grip)
1/4 c flour
"1.5 of oil in a shallow pan

Shred the onion first -- its juices will stop the reaction that causes potatoes to turn pink when cut. Follow with the potatoes and mix well. Mix in the eggs and salt, then finally the flour. Heat the oil over the medium setting and, forming a round about the size of your palm and placing it on a spatula, slide it into the oil. I can usually cook 2-3 latkes at a time but remember that they will cook faster the fewer you attempt each round. Cook each side until browned and place on paper to absorb any excess grease. Keep adding, flipping and setting aside the rounds until you're out of potato -- there should be liquid left over. Don't be alarmed if you see it start to pool soon after mixing all of the ingredients. I just get rid of it once I'm done.

There are a number of condiments to serve these with; the traditional Hanukkah way is with applesauce, but that's not to everyone's taste, especially year-round. My personal favorite is sour cream and chopped pickles. Ketchup or pepper, salt and vinegar tend to be popular as well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Hawaiian Almonds and Herb Cream Sauce

Whenever I come home my mom and I usually bring out the pasta maker and allow ourselves to get creative. Sometimes we have additional help from friends who join us in our cooking ventures. This was one of those incidents where I took a well known favorite -- butternut ravioli with cream sauce -- and kicked it up with a few of my own ideas. We served this alongside lemon herb chicken and greens with garlic and olive oil. What really comes in handy is a hunk of sourdough to mop up the extra cream sauce, but that's just me and my family and our questionable way of thinking.

Instead of giving three different detailed recipes for the ingredients involved in this process, I will summarize my own methods and highly recommend that you get comfortable with them before you try to serve this as more than a test. The first method is one I've mentioned before, getting the puree out of a squash or gourd. You want to slice it in half, remove the seeds and guts, place the halves cut side down in a large roasting pan with about an inch of water. Bake for around an hour at 350, remove from the oven and carefully scoop out the puree into a bowl. Mash it and you're set on that end.

As far as the pasta goes, I like to use a mix of bread flour and semolina -- 2 cups of each, 6 eggs, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a dash of salt. This yeilds enough to feed 6-8 people. You combine the two flours and salt, form a cavern in the middle of the flour and pour the eggs and oil into it. Mix it from the inside working outwards until the dough is an even consistency. Stick it into the fridge for anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, I always mix the dough before starting the rest of the recipe. When you're ready to work with the dough, take small handfuls at a time and knead them first. Once they're stretchy and able to withstand rolling out, either put them through a pasta mill to the next to thinnest setting or use a rolling pin to get the sheet as thin as possible. If this is too much or if you're crunched for time, many high end grocers sell prerolled sheets of pasta -- the only restriction is that it absolutely must be fresh pasta, otherwise the ravioli can't stay intact.

For the filling, you will need:

3 cups butternut squash puree
2/3 cup toasted Hawaiian almonds (cashews also work well), crushed finely
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp sage
dash of chili powder
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together and set aside, try to make it as smooth as possible.

Herb Cream Sauce:

1/2 quart half and half
1/4 cup flour
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp fresh chopped sage
1 tsp dried thyme
2 springs fresh rosemary, leaves crushed and separated
2 tsp fresh chopped oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the butter over medium in a saucepan until liquefied; add the flour and mix into a paste with a whisk extremely quickly. Add a cup of the half and half and, again, whisk extremely quickly to incorporate the flour-butter mixture into the liquid. Add the rest of the half and half once you've eliminated most lumps and add the salt/pepper. Keep an eye on it and whisk often, after the sauce starts to get hot youll notice it thicken a bit. Add the herbs at that point. Keep whisking until the sauce reaches the consistency of yogurt -- not as thick as pudding. Take off the heat and set aside.

You should have several sheets of pasta ready to work with. Take about a tablespoon of the filling and place it near an edge. Slice a square or circle around the filling, leaving about a half inch on each side for attachment. Slice out another piece the same size and put it over the filling on the first, fold the edges together. Square ravioli tends to make the best use of your pasta dough and is easiest to fold by far but with some practice, circular ravioli can offer a different aesthetic to the meal you're preparing.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and set aside a large plate or bowl for the ravioli. Putting about 8 in at a time, boil the raviolis for 2-3 minutes and scoop out with a slotted spoon. Do this repeatedly until they're all cooked. At this point you can arrange them on the plate and top with the cream sauce. Some people like this with a bit of shredded fontina, but when done right, the cream sauce provides plenty of flavor.

The Long Drive Home: Pumpkin Risotto

Whenever I have to drive somewhere over two hours away, I listen to audiobooks in the car. I realize that this is highly unusual behavior for a 23 year old, yet it is genetic seeing as my mother is the one who got me hooked on the habit. She can also be credited in part for my love of cooking and ever-increasing mastery of my own kitchen. It was inevitable that one of these days the book Julie & Julia would wind up in my queue amongst the historical fiction and political jabber.

Despite my rather spotty use of my blog, I think this book resonates with anyone whose started and attempted to maintain a cooking blog. We do this for relief from everyday stress, as something to break the monotony of our lives or just for the hell of it. Keeping this blog is one thing that has pushed me to cook things I never would have thought of in the past. So not only is it a blog for my friends and relatives to check in on to see what's going on in my kitchen, it's my way of preserving recipes that I hope will become a part of the family tradition. Listening to Julie Powell's story reminded me of why I started this blog a few years ago and inspired me to update it with several recipes I've tried lately.

I know I've written about risotto before -- the lemon chicken version with lots of white wine and herbs. A relatively light choice when the cheese is limited, but true Italian food doesn't abide by the rules of caloric dieting. However, its methods are simple and archaic at times and the food can be light yet flavorful or hearty and rich enough to bring about a post-dinner coma. Risotto can go in either direction, although the recipe I'm about to share would fit more appropriately into the latter category.

Pumpkin is seasonal, and while I won't hold it against the most practical cooks to use canned pumpkin pulp in place of the freshly made stuff, it does make a difference in my experience. So this is perfect for when those little soccer ball sized pie pumpkins go on sale in autumn.

To make your own puree, a pie pumpkin should provide somewhere close to the right amount. I tend to make a large pot of risotto at a time so I just add the entire contents of the pumpkin -- this is definitely a dish to be shared with guests! Anywho, you will need a small pumpkin, big sharp knife, large spoon, large deep roasting pan and a big bowl to put all the innards in. Some people save their seeds and roast them, but that's another entry and I'm no expert. Fill the roasting pan with an inch or so of water and preheat the oven to 350. Slice the top off the pumpkin, clean out the fibers and seeds and cut it in half. Make sure there are no dangling fibers before putting the pumpkins, rounded (skinned) side up in the pan. Bake for around an hour. Take them out and let them cool for about 15 minutes, then using a towel or potholder, hold the pumpkin in one hand while using a large spoon to scoop out the puree into a mixing bowl. Using either a mixer or pastry cutter, mash it until most of the lumps are gone. Set aside.

Once you have the pumpkin pureed, you will need the following:

3 cups of arborio rice
3-4 quarts chicken stock (I used mock chicken stock for this and it turned out just fine)
1/2-3/4 cup room temp lager (I used Baltika 7, a Russian beer)
3 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp allspice
3-4 tbsp oil or butter
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups roasted macadamia nuts, loosely crunched
Shredded parmesan cheese (1/2 cup to 2 cups is a typical range, it just depends on what you like and how many are being served)

Heat the stock in a pot until it reaches a slow simmer, you want it to remain quite hot but not necessarily boil -- otherwise it will reduce and you may wind up having to add salted water midway through the process. I like to put the stock pot on the back burner and the risotto on the front, which keeps the mess from repeated ladeling minimal. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium to medium high heat, depending on your stove.

Once the oil is hot add the onions and stir, cook them until the edges begin to brown slightly. I like to use a wooden spoon for this, as it helps agitate the arborio rice without breaking the grains. Add the rice and stir again, making sure to coat it evenly with the oil and mix well with the onion. Stir constantly until the rice begins to look slightly translucent, usually around three minutes. Take the beer and add it, if the pot is hot enough you will get a surge of steam and a hiss so stand back -- it shouldn't be so hot that the beer explodes on impact nor should it be so cold that it goes off without a hitch. Stir this concoction until the beer reduces and the rice appears to be creamier, usually 2-3 minutes. Using a ladle or heatproof measuring cup, add 1/2 to 3/4 cup hot stock and stir into the rice for a few minutes, until the liquid is gone and the rice appears creamy, about the consistency of a pudding. After youve done this two or three times add a cup of pumpkin puree instead of broth. Alternate the two until you have no more pumpkin left. Add your spices and stir very well. At this point you should use a fork to lift a few grains out of the pot and taste -- expect that they will have softened but will still be hard in the middle. Keep adding broth and stirring, tasting often to make sure it doesn't get overcooked. Once the rice is cooked all the way through but still firm, stop adding stock and give it one good last stir.

This is where I and most other people who make risotto differ -- they make smaller batches and add the cheese directly to the batch while I make a large pot and let guests put the desired level of cheese over their own serving. If you want to be authentic about it you take the pot off the heat, mix in the cheese and throw half a stick of butter over it and cover for ten minutes. If you're like me, you let it rest for a few moments before serving. Top each plate with the roasted macadamia nuts and you're ready to chow down! Just make sure you have a place to take a nap when you're done eating :)