Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chicago & Vegetarian Russian Food

*I love grocery shopping on Chicago’s Devon Avenue. The Indian and Pakistani groceries always yield fascinating and reasonably-priced spices and vegetables. Another favorite store is the City Fresh Market (3201 W. Devon Ave.), which carries lots of Eastern European and Russian foods. The produce is cheap. I came back to Milwaukee with four bags of groceries. I know I should get excited about Chicago’s museums or nightlife or something, but I always look forward to Devon the most. (For more on Devon Avenue, go here.)

*It’s true that Russians think vegetarianism is loony. It’s also true that traditional Russian food is often labor-intensive. Yet it’s possible to have a quick, vegetarian Russian meal, like the one I made after a day in Chicago. For example: potatoes, boiled or fried, with chopped dill and sour cream; sautéed mushrooms and marinated vegetable salad. You could also open up a jar of lutenitsa or eggplant caviar or any kind of pepper-eggplant-tomato appetizer (check out the selection at your local Eastern European grocery, like, say, Fresh City Market, above).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lagman (Uzbek lamb stew)

I originally started this blog so I could explore Russian food that I don’t know much about—food like plov, lagman and hachepuri. That is, food from the former Soviet republics that’s often made in Russia, but that isn’t Russian (Slavic) at all. Prov and lagman are Uzbek dishes; hachepuri is Georgian. The foods of former USSR satellites such as Georgia, Armenia and Uzbekistan are fascinating and overlooked.

This weekend I made shurpa lagman. Shurpa and lagman are actually two different Uzbek dishes, but both are variations on lamb and vegetable stew or soup, spiced with cumin and coriander. Lagman is typically served with thick, handmade noodles. I studied three different versions of the recipe—one from an Uzbek immigrant, as published in the New York Times, the other from Anya von Bremzen’s Russian/Soviet cookbook Please to the Table, and the third from my Uzbekistan-born friend Anna.

My shurpa lagman wasn’t exactly authentic—I left out some common ingredients, like eggplant and daikon—but it was still a great success. It turned out like a cross between stew and soup, with thick chunks of carrots, peppers and lamb in a spicy, rich broth. I even served it with homemade noodles (although dried pasta like fettuccine would work fine).


Heat some oil in a heavy skillet. Salt, pepper and brown 1 pound boneless lamb, cut into 1-inch chunks, for about 10 minutes. Place in a bowl and put aside. Drain the fat from the skillet; heat some more oil and sauté a large, chopped onion until it’s soft and golden. Add to the lamb; then sauté 2 large chopped bell peppers (I used green and red) and 1 large, diced carrot. Add 1 tsp. each freshly-ground cumin and coriander, ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes, a couple of bay leaves, 1-2 dried, hot chili peppers, and a healthy shake of kosher salt and ground pepper.

Place the lamb and vegetables in a Dutch oven, add 4 cups beef (or chicken) stock and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to a simmer and cook 1-1.5 hours, until the lamb is soft. Toward the end of cooking time, add 1 cup chopped tomatoes, 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas, and ½ tbs. white vinegar. Taste for seasonings (I needed to add a bit of sugar). Add a minced garlic clove and a couple of handfuls chopped parsley and cilantro

Serve with noodles. I decided to make my own on a lark, and they turned out surprisingly well. I’ve never made fresh pasta before, and I half-expected a disaster in which the pasta dough falls apart or tears into useless bits. I used an okay recipe from the Please to the Table book—the noodles were a little bland. Next time I’d go to the experts (like Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks) for instructions on making fresh pasta.

For the noodles, my recipe had you put 1.75 cups flour and ½ tsp. kosher salt in a large bowl. Then you make a well, and add 1 slightly beaten egg, ¼ cup water and 1 tbs. oil. Mix with your hands until the flour and liquids are combined. On a floured surface, knead the dough with the backs of your hands for at least five minutes.

Divide the dough in two rounds. Cover with a moist towel and let rest 30 minutes. Flour a rolling pin and roll out one of the rounds to a 1/8-inch thickness. Carefully roll up the dough like a jellyroll; check to make sure the layers doesn’t stick. With a sharp knife, slice the roll into ¼-inch strips; unravel them; and let dry 10 minutes or so. (I froze the other dough round for future use.) Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the noodles 5 minutes. Serve the lagman over the noodles.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Potato Magic, Updated

In my last post, I wrote about a delicious potato-mushroom-cheese casserole that I had in Tallinn. A few weeks ago I e-mailed the restaurant, Kuldse Notsu Kõrts, and asked if they could share the recipe. Some time passed and I really didn't expect to hear back, but then, lo and behold, the manager e-mailed me the recipe!

I liked Kuldse Notsu Korts when I ate there, but now it gets my wholehearted recommendation; if you're ever in Tallinn, go there for traditional Estonian food.

Should you make this casserole at home, try to get your hands on some chanterelles (nearly impossible in Wisconsin, unfortunately) and use plenty of butter and cheese as directed. This makes a real difference in the flavor. I halved the recipe and used a mix of button, shiitake and portabello mushrooms.

Here's the recipe:

2 kg Potatoes
0.5 L milk
70 g butter

1 big onion
1 kg chanterelles
50 g butter
Salt, pepper
50 g flour
0.5 L milk
100 g cheese-I used swiss and provolone
Mixed herbs (parsley and dill)

Peel, boil and drain the potatoes. Mash them slightly; add warm milk and butter, then beat well.

Fry the chopped onion and chanterelles in butter for about 10 minutres, season with salt and pepper, add flour and milk, and stir until the mixture thickens.

Slightly butter a large casserole pan or dish. Fill the dish with potatoes; pour the mushroom sauce on top. Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake for 20 minutes at 425.

Serve with chopped green herbs.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Leftover Potato Magic

If you have leftover mashed, boiled or baked potatoes, please don’t toss them. Yes, I know, leftover potatoes are less than sexy. They’re pale and watery; they don’t reheat well. With a bit of work, however, they can make a tasty meal in a new guise.

Here’s what you do: Preheat the oven to 425. In a bowl, combine your (peeled) leftover potatoes with ½ cup to 1 cup warm milk. If you’re starting with mashed potatoes, add less milk; if you’re working with whole potatoes, add more milk and mash until you have a chunky puree. Add kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Sauté some mushrooms in a bit of olive oil or butter. Add to the potatoes; mix. Butter a pie pan, add the potato-and-mushroom puree, and smooth it out with a spoon. Top with shredded cheese—what kind and how much is up to you. I used provolone and Swiss, which worked fine. Bake 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes are heated through and the top layer is golden-brown.

This is an easy, weeknight version of the potato-mushroom-and-cheese casserole (photo above) that I had in Tallinn last summer. I’ll soon make the real version, with wild mushrooms and about 20,000 calories worth of cheese and butter.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Spice Cake with Jam and Baked Apples

One of my favorite blogs is The Other Side of the Ocean. Madison law professor Nina Camic travels all over the world, takes great photos and updates daily. Study Ocean for a lesson on how to write a personal blog without oversharing. Nina—when you follow someone’s personal blog, it seems okay to use first names—knows good food, and I often get ideas from her holiday meal lineups. A spice cake looked tempting, so I e-mailed Nina and asked for the recipe, which she graciously supplied.

I made this cake a few days ago when my parents came over for dinner. We ate the cake with lingonberry jam and baked apples, but it would also go well with whipped cream or crème fraiche or ice cream. I liked the recipe, but next time I’d add ¼ tsp. black pepper for a spicier kick.

The baked apples proved popular, too. I cored and sliced 4-5 apples and placed them in a foil-lined pan. In a small saucepan, I melted a couple of pats of butter with 2 tbs. brown sugar and a splash of milk (use cream if you have it). I poured the liquid over the apples, mixed in some diced, dried fruit (raisins, apricots, plums), and baked this at 400 for about 45 minutes, until the apples were soft and saucy. Sometimes I like to add nuts or granola. This tastes best served warm.

Spice Cake. This recipe is slightly adapted from the All Around the World cookbook by Sheila Lukins.

2 c flour
1 3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 TBSP ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
[I’d also add ¼ tsp. ground black pepper]
1 1/2 c whole milk
1 1/2 c granulated sugar [I used 1 ¼ cups]
8 TBSP (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces
1/3 c molasses
2 large eggs, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 325 F. Lightly butter 9 inch round cake pan. Line bottom with round of waxed paper cut to fit and butter the paper. [I didn't do this, but it's a good idea if you want to invert the cake onto a plate later on. My cake almost broke in half when I tried to shake it out of the pan!] Sift the dry ingredients into large bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside.

Combine milk and sugar in saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in butter and molasses.When butter is melted, quickly whisk the liquids into dry ingredients.

Whisk in the eggs. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until toothpick inserted into center of the cake comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Cool in pan; then invert onto rack and cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar.

Friday, January 09, 2009

30+ Minute Meals

The mess after a simple dinner.

I made a quick and easy weekday dinner last night: broiled chicken thighs, steamed rice, and sautéed broccoli with cherry tomatoes and feta. I used wholesome ingredients and avoided the canned “detritus” shortcuts that Mark Bittman slams in this article. It was a dinner worthy of Living Simple.

Now, here’s the planning and work it actually took:

-The night before, I removed some chicken from the freezer and put it in the fridge to defrost (30 seconds, but quite a bit of foresight).

-The next evening, I washed the chicken, which hadn’t fully defrosted, and soaked it in cold water for a while (the fastest way to defrost something). Then I trimmed the fat and prepped the meat for broiling (25 minutes).

-While the chicken was in the oven, I made steamed rice, which took little work on my part (2 minutes).

-In the meantime, I washed and chopped the broccoli, halved the cherry tomatoes, minced the garlic and crumbled the feta (12 minutes).

-When the chicken was almost done (30 minutes in the oven), I sautéed the broccoli and tomatoes in olive oil, 7 minutes.

-The meal took about 10 minutes to eat.

-Afterward, the cleanup effort: 15 minutes to wash the dishes; 10 minutes to clean the oil-splattered stove and tea kettle that’s on the back burner; 7 minutes to clean the counters; and 5 minutes to sweep the kitchen floor.

Here’s the tally. It took 34 minutes of active time to prepare this quick, simple meal, and then 37 more minutes to clean up. That’s more than an hour in the kitchen, not including eating time.

I cook because I like it.* I make my own chicken stock, I avoid canned ingredients, and I never, ever, eat frozen dinners. But I have to admit that even simple weekday cooking can take a hell of a lot of time and effort. Let’s take 30-minute/quick-and-easy meal advocates with a grain of kosher salt.

* No, I don’t like cleaning, but I stick to a “if you want something done right, do it yourself” philosophy in this area.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sugared-lemon vodka cranberry & other notes

*I often make sugared lemons to sweeten my tea, but lemon syrup works just as well in cocktails. Here's a little drink I came up with a few days ago: one part vodka, two parts cranberry juice, a tablespoon of sugared lemon syrup, and a slice of lemon. Tastes like a $10 foofy cocktail.

*Read about Ukrainian chef Vasyl Lemberskyy, who runs Transfer restaurant in Milwaukee. I've heard good things about Transfer, a pizza place.

*Anyone got a good recipe for Russian marinated mushrooms? I've searched high and low, but nothing I've tried tastes quite right.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Mushroom-Deviled Eggs

I don’t know about you, but I’m done with the holidays. I’ve had enough rich food, desserts and bubbly for a few months. Well, okay, truth is, I’ll probably be in the mood for these addictive little mushroom-deviled eggs in a few weeks.

We had these as part of our New Year’s Eve Russian appetizer dinner, but they’d also work well as dinner starters or snacks.

These are super-easy to make and lighter than traditional, mayo-heavy devilled eggs. Hard-boil a dozen eggs. Let cool, slice across horizontally and remove the egg yolks. Saute 8 ounces of finely chopped mushrooms in some olive oil; salt and pepper to taste. Let cool for a few minutes.

Add a tablespoon of finely chopped parsley. Finely dice the egg yolks, and add to the mushrooms; mix. Stuff the eggs with the filling. Pop the eggs in your mouth, one after one.
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