Saturday, April 25, 2009

Accidental-Ricotta Flatbreads

The other day I accidentally made ricotta cheese.* I’m not sure what happened—I was trying to make farmer's cheese, using a technique I’ve got down pat, but the stars were misaligned or I failed to please the gods of food chemistry.

What to do with two cups of unplanned ricotta? I made ricotta-and-spinach flatbreads using this excellent dough recipe. Originally intended for cheese bread called hachepouri from the republic of Georgia, this dough is wonderfully versatile. I’ve rolled it out for pizza and stuffed it with filling for savory pastries.

This time, for the filling, I mixed ricotta with a few cups of sautéed spinach, some diced, cooked chicken, ¼ cup crumbled feta and an egg. I made half the above dough recipe, rolled the prepared dough into two rounds, and spread the filling atop each round. The edges of the dough I rolled up around the cheese, like for pizza. All this was baked at 400 for about 30 minutes until golden and bubbly. Give it a try sometime.

*I’ve made my own my own ricotta before, on purpose--pretty good, but takes a lot of milk to yield a little cheese.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Not Quite Frozen Dinner

If there’s one thing I never eat, it’s frozen dinners. Neither Lean Cuisine nor Amy’s Kitchen grace my table. It’s not that I’m a fresh food snob. Some of my best friends eat frozen dinners. It’s just that I like to cook even when faced with an empty fridge. Sometimes I roast whatever vegetables I have on hand and eat them with cheese and crackers. Other times I cut up some carrots and make a yogurt dip. It's nearly as easy as nuking a plastic tray.

I do, however, keep a freezer well-stocked with odds and ends that might make a good meal. Throughout the winter, I had chicken stock, leftover pasta dough and boneless chicken breasts in the deep freeze. Are you thinking soup? I thought chicken meatball and noodle soup. This isn't exactly fast food, but the soup comes together pretty quickly if you remember to defrost everything four to six hours in advance.

I work with different ingredient amounts each time I make this, so I can't share exact proportions. Eye it. Bring the stock to a simmer in a big soup pot. In the meantime, make the chicken meatballs. (You could, of course, use pre-ground chicken, turkey, veal, pork or beef if you like. I've got an overstock of chicken breasts.)

Run the chicken breasts through a food processor until ground but not pureed; mix with some bread crumbs, an egg, a few tablespoons of chopped parsley; add a good shake of salt and black groundpepper. I also like to add crumpled feta cheese.

Shape the meat mixture into meatballs that are about 1 inch in diameter, place them on a foil-lined tray and refrigerate. Roll out the pasta dough as described here. Finely chop and then sauté a carrot and a small onion in olive oil in a skillet for about 10 minutes until soft. Add the carrots and onions to the simmering stock.

Add the noodles to the stock and cook about 2 minutes, stirring to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Carefully add the meatballs and simmer until the chicken is just cooked, 3 to 4 minutes. Adjust the seasonings. Serve the soup in big bowls. I like it topped with chopped parsley, dill or scallions, and sour cream.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Three Years of Yulinka Cooks

March 27 was the third anniversary of Yulinka Cooks. Some people celebrate with cake; I celebrate with caviar canapes.* (Last year I rang in my two-year blog anniversary with a slice of herring in a fur coat.)

The past year has been pretty successful for this little blog. I got my first press clipping and made some money thanks to blog ads. Granted, my blog's return on investment is very low, but I still like cooking and coming up with engaging ways to write up my kitchen endeavors. With that, let's go on a tour of my third year in the blogosphere. (Go here for my first-year anniversary write-up and here for a two-year birthday post.)

In May, I had fun with leftovers, which earned me a mention in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In July, I went to Estonia and Russia. My travels inspired some reflections on what it's like to be Russian-American.
In the fall, I traipsed all over the Milwaukee suburbs in pursuit of local food. I also tweaked my borsch recipe.
When it got colder, I made schi (Russian sauerkraut soup) for the first time. Other successful first-time dishes were lagman, an Uzbek lamb stew, and an Estonian potato/mushroom/cheese casserole. One of the weirder recipes to appear on this blog was chicken stuffed with crepes.
I didn't blog much in February and March, but I did write up this blog's policy on freebies, samples and PR pitches. I also joined Twitter and was super excited to attract 53 whole followers, including the CEO of Lifeway, a company that makes kefir.
Thanks for reading, all. I really do appreciate it.
*My caviar canape recipe is here.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Russian fast food: Potatoes and pickled mushrooms

When I was growing up in Russia, there was no pre-made convenience food. The Russian food scene in the 1980s was still a long way from fast food and take-out. What we did have were potatoes and handpicked wild mushrooms, fried up and served with sour cream. In fact, this is very popular Russian food, practically a national dish. In her Russian cookbook, Please to the Table, Anya von Bremzen writes: "This is the quintessential Russian dacha [summer country home] dish...For me the dish never fails to evoke the happiest memories of childhood--of my last summer days at the dacha, the height of the mushroom season..."

Oh, man, this just makes me sigh. I, too, went mushroom hunting in the country as a child, a fact I love to romanticize. Who knows, maybe I hated mushroom-hunting as a kid. For all I remember, it could have been tedious or exhausting. Chances are, however, that I will never pick wild mushrooms in the Russian countryside again, so I'm entitled to a little faux-nostalgia. (As far as I know, good eating mushrooms don't grow in Wisconsin--and if they did, I'd be very cautious about picking them. I have no experience identifying American wild mushrooms. Seriously, don't eat wild mushrooms unless you can ID them and, you know, not poison yourself.)

These days I make a modernized version of this meal, making do with healthier roasted potatoes and store-bought white mushrooms. Anya recommends frying the mushrooms in butter for an authentic meal, but I prefer my mushrooms pickled. (Not fast, but convenient if you make a large batch.) I've been toying with pickling recipes for the past year, and I've come up on the best one yet. It's by Russian-born writer Julia Ioffe, as published in the fall/winter 2009 issue of Russia! magazine.

For the potatoes:
Preheat the oven to 425. Peel some potatoes--Yukon Gold work best. Slice lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick matchsticks. Place in a foil-lined pan, sprinkle with salt and ground black pepper and drizze with olive oil. Roast 20-25 minutes, turning often, until the potatoes are done.

For the mushrooms:
(Recipe modified from Julia Ioffe)

-1 pound white mushrooms (unless you're one of the luckies who has access to fancy-pants chanterelles, etc.)
-handful black peppercorns
-handful whole cloves
-2-3 bay leaves
-1 tbs. salt
-1.5 tbs. white vinegar
-1 tsp sugar
-1.5 cups water

Wash the mushrooms and scrub off the dirt. If the mushrooms are very large, slice in half. Place in a large pan, cover with water, bring to a boil; then simmer 20 minutes.

Drain the mushrooms (or save the mushroom stock for soup). Transfer the mushrooms to a clean glass jar.

In a small saucepan, combine the peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, salt, sugar, vinegar and water. Bring to a boil. Pour over the mushrooms in the jar. Toss in a couple of small, peeled garlic cloves if desired.

Let sit at room temperature for a few hours. Taste the liquid and adjust the seasonings. Then transfer the jar to the fridge and let the mushrooms marinate at least 48 hours. Mine were great after 72 hours.

Serve with roasted potatoes. Top with chopped parsley or dill, and sour cream.
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