Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Soviet Recipe Postcards--Cooking With Potatoes

“All in all, no other garden craze has been surrounded by so many legends, fairy tales, myths and fables as the potato….” So begins the introduction to this collection of potato recipes produced by Lenizdat, a Soviet publishing house. (I’ve previously blogged about their soup and sandwich recipe cards.)

Potatoes are indeed big in Russian cooking, but I usually think of them in simple recipes, like soups or maybe boiled or fried and served as sides to meat. Let’s go on a retro-photo tour and see just how much you can do with potatoes in Russian cuisine. Like most old recipes, these are vague about proportions and cooking times. Email me (yulinkacooks at yahoo dot com) if you’d like specifics, and I’ll do my best to translate and clarify.
Potato Kebabs--Who says there’s no vegetarian food in Russia? Granted, the editors suggest you deep fry the potatoes in lard before skewering them, but feel free to use vegetable oil.

French Fries!--Again, the recipe calls for lard, but these fries are to be served with cucumbers and pickles, tomatoes, sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, salad, mushrooms and pickled lingberries and apples. Take that, McDonald’s!

Soup With Potato Dumplings--called ooshki (ушки), or “little ears” in Russian, which aren’t unlike gnocchi. 
Waldorf Salad (from French cuisine—editor’s note)--Boiled potatoes, apples and walnuts, with mayo, lemon juice, salt and sugar for the dressing.

Potato and Meat Casserole--Call it Shepherd’s pie. You mix mashed potatoes with eggs, butter and sour cream, and place the mixture in a buttered pan. Top with browned onions and ground beef, and bake. Serve with pickles, sauerkraut, vegetables and “greenery” (zelen'/зелень in Russian, meaning fresh herbs like parsley and dill). This recipe, and the one below, make good use of leftover mashed potatoes.

Potato Roll Stuffed With Eggs--Make dough out of mashed potatoes, stuff it with hardboiled eggs and bake. Good with schi (sauerkraut soup), according to the recipe!

Beef and Potato Stew--I like this photo because it shows the essential condiments to the Russian stew—rye bread, pickles, sauerkraut, tomatoes, dill and peppers. And that’s probably kvass--rye bread beer--in the mug.

Other recipes included in this set are stuffed potatoes, deep-fried potato dumplings (smazhenzi/смаженцы, from Slovenia), and, from Belarus, potato dumplings with mushrooms and pork (kalduni/калдуны) and potato pancakes (draniki/драники, which I once made). Contact me for recipes.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Weeknight Dinner Diaries

Suggested ideas for weeknight dinners and a dessert, all made and enjoyed around these parts.

Monday: Tomato, cucumber and bacon salad. Slice up tomatoes and cucumbers and fry up some bacon.  Let the bacon cool, then add to the vegetables, along with some sliced onions, if you like. For the dressing, a bit of mayo and sour cream is good. Salt and pepper liberally.
Tuesday: I’m such a lobbyist for leftovers. Let’s say you have leftover pork loin (cooked in a crock pot with apple juice and soy sauce, surprisingly delish) and roasted potatoes from the weekend. Cut them up and sauté in a pan with some spinach. Add curry spices. Eat with dollops of sour cream.  

Wednesday: There’s more time to mess around in the kitchen mid-week, so make this zucchini-bacon-and-cheese goodness. Slice up 4-5 zucchini and sauté in olive oil for 10 minutes or so.

Place the vegetables in a foil-lined pan and grate some cheese over them—mozzarella and Parmesan are always good. Add some diced ham or bacon. Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes, and broil last five minutes. Let cool a bit before eating.
Thursday: If you’re running low on groceries by the end of the week, look around the pantry. You may be pleasantly surprised by the delicious things you can make using frozen, canned or jarred ingredients. For example: this posh-looking pumpkin soup had an unsexy start: an onion, garlic, canned pumpkin puree and chicken stock in a box.
Method: Dice and sauté a big onion in some olive oil and butter. Add a few minced garlic cloves when the onions are almost done. Sprinkle on some spices—I used Penzey’s Southwestern mix, but you can get creative here. A bit of curry spice is always good. Add the pumpkin, stock (I used about 12 ounces) and ½ cup milk, and bring the soup to a boil. Turn heat to a simmer and cook on low heat for 10 minutes or so.
Adjust the flavor to taste--I added 2 tbs. fresh lemon juice, 1 tbs. brown sugar, and ¼ cup plain yogurt. Play around until it tastes right to you. Add more stock or milk, if you like. Some diced ham or bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces and sautéed, is really good in this.  Eat with crackers or croutons, and extra yogurt.
Friday: Have dinner out but make dessert! Slice up some strawberries, sprinkle with sugar and top with sour cream. Some cookies or chocolate wouldn’t be amiss here, either.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cauliflower Not Mac-and-Cheese

Let’s do a quick focus group.

What comes to mind when you hear “cauliflower gratin”?

French. Butter. Cheese. Milk. Baked. Rich. Crusty. Yum. Yes?

The purpose of my research is to rebrand the cauliflower gratin. (A gratin, by the way, is a baked vegetable covered in a creamy cheese sauce.) Yes, this sort of thing is usually rich and fatty, but I like to think of my cauliflower gratin as a lighter version of mac and cheese—healthier comfort food for the winter months (or cold spring months, in these parts).

Baked cauliflower is naturally bland and creamy, kind of like noodles, but with far fewer calories and carbs. A gratin is hot and bubbly, the food equivalent of wearing a fuzzy, oversized sweater. So you can have your crusty, cheesy hot mess in a baking pan without the nutritional disaster that is traditional macaroni and cheese.

Here’s what I do, based on a recipe from the blog Chocolate and Zucchini: Preheat the oven to 425. Cut up a large head of cauliflower into small-ish chunks. Place in a foil-lined pan, and sprinkle with a bit of salt, black pepper and a dash of nutmeg.

Melt 2 tbs. butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir 3 tbs. flour into the butter and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1 cup of milk to the butter and flour, and bring the milk to a simmer, stirring to make sure the flour is dissolved.

When the milk has a thick, saucy texture, turn off the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Add cheese—I usually add 3 tbs. whipped cream cheese, and ½ cup of whatever cheese I happen to have on hand, as long as it’s a fairly mild variety. I’ve used mozarrella, provolone, etc., successfully. (Comté is traditional for gratin, but we’re rebranding here.) Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower.

Sprinkle with breadcrumbs (optional), and bake 25 or so minutes, until the cauliflower is soft; then broil for 5 minutes. Let cool a bit and dig in.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Five Years of Yulinka Cooks

So I’ve been food blogging for five years. The idea for Yulinka Cooks was hatched in 2005, when I discovered first-generation food blogs like The Amateur Gourmet and Chocolate and Zucchini. In March ’06, inspired by my first kitchen and armed with a $30 digital camera, I set up a Blogger account.

Since then, I’ve written 239 blog posts, read 1,224 comments and went through five kitchens. I abandoned Yulinka Cooks a few times but couldn’t break it off for good.

I made borsch, pickled mushrooms and herring in a fur coat. I rose to the top of Google search results for a  while with my recipe for homemade Russian farmer’s cheese. I earned a bit of beer money in blog ads before BlogHer kicked me out for failing to update. I dabbled in food-themed travel blogging and memoir-writing. I got myself into a real newspaper. I picked up some Photoshop tricks and spruced up the layout. I wrote snarky reviews of grocery stores. I met cool people who read and commented on this blog.

For better or worse, Yulinka Cooks has been the online backdrop to the better part of my 20s.

If you’re reading this, thanks. I raise five shot glasses of vodka to you.
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