Saturday, March 31, 2007

A year of Yulinka Cooks

The other day I realized that my blog is a year old. Although I’m not really cooking or blogging these days, I thought I’d commemorate this anniversary with a timeline of the past year’s highs and lows.

March 2006: I write my first post. Hi, everyone!
April: I cook sirniki, take a picture and post my very first recipe. I write my seminal guide to making farmer’s cheese. (Many new readers find Yulinka Cooks through this post.) I bake vatrushki mostly so that I can write about them here. I’m an enthusiastic newbie and post something at least three times a week. Haverchuk, one of my favorite food blogs, links to me! I have five readers. Whoo! Hey, blogging is fun!
May: I dabble in food politics. I still don’t have many readers or commenters, which disappoints me. I develop a marketing scheme: I will post lots and lots of comments on other food blogs. I embark on stealth comment-posting, and check for comments left on my blog first thing every morning. There are very few. I quickly tire of writing forced missives like “Yum!” or “That looks good!” I write a “why aren’t you reading this blog, damn it?” post, which receives 10 comments. From people like the Wednesday Chef! It’s working! I have readers! A book deal is sure to follow!
June: My enthusiasm for blogging begins to wane. My (now ex) boyfriend reads my blog. “I’d like it more if you didn’t have crappy pictures,” says he. Ouch.
July: A more fruitful month. I discover farmer’s markets. My pictures aren't any less crappy.
August: I dabble in DIY projects—pickles, kvass—with varying success. I have a handful of readers.
September: I begin grad school and cook very little. I write about my thoughts on tea and seasonal cooking.
October: I discover and play around with Google Analytics. I can finally join other bloggers in giggling over crazy search terms that bring people to my blog. "Uzbek porn video," tee hee! But really, most people find me when searching for eggplant caviar or farmer’s cheese recipes. My readers are boring.
November: I talk up homemade sauerkraut, but something goes wrong during fermentation. I end up tossing it and feel guilty for wasting food. “Where’s that bucket of sauerkraut you made?” asks my mom in December. “It’s in a better place now,” I mumble. “It’s in cabbage heaven,” she surmises. I don't blog about this at the time.
December: Nothing much. I write about kasha. Readership wanes.
January: I write about borsch and Russian New Year’s food. I get comments! I still haven't been offered a book deal or quit my job to embark on a career as a freelance food writer.
February: The boyfriend and I split; I’m busy with work and grad school; and I’m trying to lose some weight. I call it quits for a while.
March: Hey, how about some kharcho?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Vote for Yulinka...Again

My hiatus didn't stop MKE, the local lifestyle weekly, from nominating Yulinka Cooks for its local blog of the week contest. I've been nominated once before, last June, but lost.

So please vote for me. If I win, I will actually cook something Russian, take pictures of it and write it up.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


I’m not really back from my hiatus, but I want to sneak in a write-up of the kharcho I made last weekend. Kharcho is a Georgian lamb (or beef) and rice soup, rich with herbs, spices, tomatoes and sour plums. I’ve never had authentic kharcho prepared by someone who knows Georgian cooking, but I thought that my version was quite passable. The recipe is from Anya von Bremzen’s Please to the Table.

Some notes:

-I used beef for my kharcho. Anya’s recipe calls for cooking boneless beef—flank or brisket-- in pre-made beef stock, which seems convoluted. I simply made beef stock, which was very good, by the way—much better than my somewhat watery borsht stock. I covered 3 pounds of beef chuck, 1.25 pounds marrow bones, 1 pound shank bones, an onion, a couple of carrots, a couple of bay leaves and a handful of black peppercorns with 3 quarts of water. I brought the pot to a gentle boil, and then turned the heat down to a simmer. I had to skim off the scum with a slotted spoon for the first half hour or so, and then I let the stock simmer on very low heat for 3 1/2 hours.

I ended up with more stock and meat than I needed for this recipe; so I used the leftovers to make…more soup (beef-barley). The stock is flavorful and would work nicely with just some sautéed vegetables and rice.

-Tklapi—dried sour plums used in Georgian cooking—are hard to come by in the U.S. Substitute tamarind concentrate or lemon juice for kharcho. By the way, if you don’t already have a jar of tamarind concentrate in the pantry or don’t plan on using it in other recipes, don’t bother buying tamarind for the two teaspoons used in this one. Lemon juice will work just fine here.

-This soup is better on the second day, but the flavor really improves if you add a healthy squeeze of lemon juice while heating it up.

-The recipe calls for half a dozen spices in very small quantities. I’d up the spices next time. One-fourth teaspoon of dried basil won’t do much for a huge pot of soup.

Make beef stock as described above; chill it overnight; degrease it; remove the cooked beef and cut it into bite-size pieces (See my borsch recipe for details.)

Bring 8 cups of stock and ½ of the cooked beef to a simmer in a stockpot.

Dice 2 medium onions. Peel, seed and chop 6 large tomatoes (or use good canned tomatoes—I used a 14 oz. can of Muir Glen). Melt 3 tbs. butter--I used butter and olive oil--in a skillet, and sauté the onions until golden (10 mins. or so). Add 2 tbs. of tomato paste and the tomatoes to the skillet, and whisk in ¼ cup of stock. Add the onions and tomatoes to the stockpot. Add ¼ cup long-grain rice to the pot (I’d add a little more—1/3 cup, maybe). Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add ¼ tsp. dried tarragon; ¼ tsp. dried basil; ¼ tsp dried mint; 1 1/2 tsp. sweet Hungarian paprika; ¼-1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes; ¾ tsp. crushed coriander seeds; and ¼ tsp. ground fenugreek to the pot. (I'd up the spices 1/4 tsp. each.) Dilute 2 tsps. tamarind concentrate in ¼ cup of stock, or just use 3-4 tbs. fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Add to the pot. Add 3 crushed garlic cloves and ¼ cup crushed walnuts to the pot. Salt to taste.

Simmer 15 mins., until the rice is cooked. Remove soup from heat and add a handful of fresh chopped herbs—dill, parsley, basil, cilantro, etc. (I only had dill on hand—for shame. The soup was good, though, so I’d imagine it’s even better with more herbs). Let the soup stand 10 minutes (don’t ignore this part—you want the flavors to settle).

Add more fresh herbs—up to 1 cup--before serving.
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