Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tamales

Today we made and ate tamales.

This is, apparently, a big thing.  Making tamales is apparently an all-day affair; a family activity; a festival-like atmosphere should permeate the kitchen as the little cornhusk-wrapped bundles steam their way to goodness.

Well, maybe in Mexico...not necessarily in northern Michigan.  Then again, we had three more children than anticipated today, a total of nine people in our small-ish house, so things were more than a little bit crazy.  The adventure has a happy ending, though.

Actually, the work started Friday night.  When I got home a pork was simmering in the crock pot, and somewhere after 11pm, Angel pulled it out and shredded it, and started a pot of corn husks soaking over night.

Today, after lunch, Angel started making the masa for the tamale shells while I started stemming and de-seeding chili pods.  After hydrating the chilis, they were blended into a sauce and the pork was started simmering.  At this point we made our real concession to the children who'd be eating the finished products -- we used eight chili peppers instead of the 18 that the recipe called for.  The cookbook advised that I should wear rubber gloves for the stemming and de-seeding, but they were dried and aside from a little oily residue, I didn't notice anything on my fingers.  I just washed my hands and kept going...until the first time I rubbed my nose, 10 minutes later, and it burned a lot more than I expected.

When the meat was ready, we started the tedious-ness of assembling the tamales.  A layer of masa is spread on a cornhusk, a gob of meat is spooned on it, and the whole thing is rolled up and the ends folded over, except for when the husk decides that it wants to remain flat and unfolded...frequently, whereupon they need to be tied with strips of cornhusks...that would really rather rip their ends off so they're not long enough to tie, or that would prefer to remain straight and not form knots at all.

 As I said before, the family event...wasn't.  Angel and I did everything while the kids did whatever kids do, and it made the process tiresome, tedious and unpleasant -- rather solidifying the opinion that whatever the tamales turned out like...it wouldn't be worth it to ever make them again.


Next, the tamale bundles needed to be steamed for an hour...standing on end.  We experimented with different options for making a large enough steamer involving colanders, mixing bowls and plates, but settled on an overturned cake pan on the bottom of the pot, with an ovenproof plate on top of that.  We packed in the bundles, poured in water, and turned up the heat.

Tamales in Process

An hour later we had tamales.  Angel brought the first one over -- as I was typing yesterday's Eating Like The World entry, actually -- unwrapped it and broke off a piece.  She popped it expectantly in her mouth and I watched as she made an expression of...disgust.  "Are they supposed to taste like that?" she asked.

At this point, let me say that I made the mistake of saying that I'd eaten tamales before -- Hormel tamales, in a can.  Really, they're more like extruded beef and masa that get blown out of a machine into parchment wraps and canned.  Angel kept asking, during the entire day, "Is this how you remember them?" and "Is this how they're supposed to look," and I kept saying.... "I ate Hormel tamales, from a can!!"  Oh, it was fun, I tell you!

Tamales

And in reality, the only one of us (the nine of us yesterday) that didn't like them was Angel.  I thought they were bland almost to the point of being flavorless...but only in comparison to what we've been having all week, and the port was at least moist and palatable.  The masa coating was just as it should be, and once we heated up some mild enchilada sauce we had from earlier this week, the tamales soaked it up and were close to wonderful.  Our earlier concession on the amount of peppers we used paid off, and the kids (and I) went nuts on 'em and polished off an impressive pile of tamales.  Angel gave it a valiant effort, trying sauce and sour cream, but in the end, she just couldn't get past the slightly gritty texture of the masa and the mostly flavorless meat and pronounced them "disgusting."



Recipes:

Tamale Dough
2 cups Instant Corn Masa Mix
2 cups lukewarm broth or water
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup lard or vegetable shortening

Combine masa, baking powder and salt in a bowl, work broth or water with your fingers to make a soft, moist dough.  In a small bowl, beat lard or shortening until fluffy, add mas and beat until dough has a spongy texture.  Prepare tamales with desired filling.  Makes enough dough for about 16 small tamales.

Tamales (makes about 16 tamales)
1 1/4 lbs boneless pork loin or shoulder (or chicken or beef)
1 1/2 oz chile pasilla or California pods
1/8 cup cooking oil
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
16 corn husks
2 1/2 lbs prepared masa (above)

Cover meat with water, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until done, about two hours.  Lightly saute clean chile pods (removing stems and seeds) in cooking oil.  Place in blender, add water and blend until smooth.  Cut meat into small pieces, and cook in cooking oil until browned.  Add chile mixture and slat to meat, cook for approx. 7 minutes.  Soak corn husks for a few minutes and rinse well.  Spread masa evenly over corn husks, place a Tbs of meat mixture in the center.  Fold all sides to the center, place in steamer.  Cover with a wet cloth and steam, approx. 1 hour.


Notes:  We upped the recipe to make 60 to 80 tamales.  We made several batches of the masa dough, rather than one large one.  We simmered a 5-1/2lb pork roast.  We actually had enough to make 120 tamales, but we reached a point where we threw up our hands and said "check please," and were done -- our largest pot was packed at that point anyway.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Days That End In "Y"

So, the last real entry I made was for our pre-week, and Monday, with our empanadas.  Moving on to Tuesday, then.  Angel says "Aw...that was a good meal" with a faraway look in her eyes.  The menu was for enchiladas verde, refried beans and Mexican rice.

This time around, the Mexican rice was awesome, not bland and sticky.  It was flavorful, with roasted tomatoes and chunks of peppers, and seasoned rice -- oh man.  For a main dish we had chicken enchiladas with queso fresco, cilantro and a spicy jalapeno/tomatillo sauce.  Also awesome.  We then had refried beans made from scratch -- simmered all day, mashed and fried, with monterey jack cheese melted on them.  Not bad, but a bit bland and totally overshadowed by the rice and enchiladas.

Enchiladas Verdes, Mexican Rice, Refried Beans & Cerveza

Overall, Angel had been scared of this meal because everything she'd read had said that it was uber-hard to cook but she says that it was actually a really easy meal.  In retrospect, she wished she'd de-seeded the peppers in the sauce, because it was pretty darned spicy.  We know all about the seeds and veins in chili peppers, and capsicum and Schofield units and so on.  Angel admits she simply forgot.  Still, the kids liked the rice and the beans, even if they didn't go for the enchiladas.

Wednesday was crazy.  Angel worked and got home at almost seven p.m. after a truly hellacious day, so we had to scurry and toss together our recipe for enchiladas with chicken, spinach, mushrooms and onions, and we went without side dishes because we were pushing the kids' bed-times.  We did use the leftover sauce from the night before as the base for a similar tomatillo/jalapeno sauce.  I think that the enchiladas this night were even better than the night before.

Chicken, Mushroom, Spinach & Onion Enchiladas

The recipe was easy enough -- we used pre-sliced button mushrooms and a bag of spinach readily available at the local supermarket, same with pre-made tortillas -- and they were pretty darn good, if in need of a bit more spice.  The kids hated 'em of course...they had mushrooms.

Thursday was sort of a cheat night -- Angel went on our son's 4th grade field trip and didn't get home until late.  We were supposed to have Swiss chard tacos and caramelized onions with cheese and red chilis, but I got a call from her on her cell...and let me tell you that the background noise when someone calls from a crowded school bus sounds exactly like they're calling from a school bus.  "Can we just do leftovers tonight?" Angel asked.  And that was just fine, I think, since they were all Mexican food leftovers.  We feasted on rice, empanadas, soup, enchiladas and beans.

And that brings us to Friday.  This is the day I went on our oldest daughter's 2nd grade field trip (all 2nd-graders are completely insane, by the way) and when I got home, Angel drove into town and picked up the three kids of someone we know so they could spend the night -- making the total in our house into seven children and two adults.

For Friday night, Angel found a recipe that is supposedly a staple -- Chilorio, pork with chili sauce, in tortillas.  We roasted a pork (or some piece of one, anyway) and shredded it, and made a chili sauce in the blender which the meat got simmered in, then fried.  Holy Lord, talk about delicious.  Everyone liked it, including kids which weren't even ours. Gable said it was too hot, though it was tasty, but it was well received, and actually pretty simple.  Savory, spicy and a little bit hot in that "bite the back of the throat" way.

Chilorio and Frijoles


Recipes:

Tuesday:

Enchiladas Verdes

Ingredients

  • 2 bone-in chicken breast halves
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 white onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed
  • 5 serrano peppers
  • 1/4 white onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup crumbled queso fresco
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

Directions

  1. In a saucepan, combine chicken breast with chicken broth, one quarter onion, a clove of garlic, and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, and then boil for 20 minutes. Reserve broth, set chicken aside to cool, and discard onion and garlic. When cool enough to handle, shred chicken with your hands.
  2. Place tomatillos and serrano chiles in a pot with water, enough to cover them. Bring to boil, and continue boiling until tomatillos turn a different shade of green (from bright green to a dull, army green). Strain tomatillos and chiles, and place in a blender with another quarter piece of onion, 1 clove garlic, and a pinch of salt. Pour in reserved chicken broth, so that liquid just covers the veggies in the blender by about an inch. Blend all ingredients until they are completely pureed. Pour salsa in a medium saucepan, and bring to a low boil.
  3. Pour oil in a frying pan, and allow to get very hot. Slightly fry tortillas one by one in hot oil, setting each on a paper towel afterwards to soak some of the oil. Finally, dip slightly fried tortillas in low-boiling green salsa, until tortillas become soft again. Place on plates, 3 per person.
  4. Fill or top tortillas with shredded chicken, then extra green sauce. Top with crumbled cheese, chopped onion, and chopped cilantro. 
--from the Allrecipes website

Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans)

Though refried beans can be bought in cans in the grocery store, homemade Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans) are much more flavorful.

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe Frijoles (above)
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup white onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Procedure

  1. In a large bowl, coarsely mash the Frijoles with a fork or wooden spoon.
  2. In a large frying pan or skillet, heat the oil for about 30 seconds over medium to high heat.
  3. Add onion and sauté for 5 minutes, until onion is golden but not browned.
  4. Add the mashed beans and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Salt to taste.
  5. Scoop the beans onto a warmed corn tortilla, and add a bit of shredded cheese (such as Monterrey Jack or mild cheddar).
Serves 4 to 6.
--from the Food By Country website

Authentic Mexican Rice

Ingredients (use vegan versions):

    1 cup uncooked rice -- your choice
    2 cups cold water
    2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
    olive oil
    1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
    small roma tomato, chopped into about 4 pieces
    hot pepper of your choice, sliced lengthwise (I use jalapeno)
    tomato sauce (id say a little less that 1/4 cup)
    1 teaspoon comino seeds (cumin) ground into powder
    1 tablespoon vegan chicken bouillon
    salt, to taste

Directions:

This is an authentic recipe (other than the vegan chicken bouillon) passed down to me by my boyfriends mother, a mexican american who grew up in Texas right on the border with Mexico.  Its as authentic as you can get!  this is the type of rice I was raised on, and it is wonderful.  Some people expect it to be spicier or richer.......I wouldn't call it bland but it is a main staple simple dish, but it can be spiced or dressed up if you want, according to your taste.  its versatile!

Put a little olive oil (tbsp or so) into a medium-sized pot and heat to a medium temp.  add the rice, uncooked, and brown in the oil.  Make sure all the rice is lightly coated with the oil.  you do not have to stir the rice around very much at first, while browning, but as the rice becomes browner you want to be stirring it around to make sure it all browns evenly and doesn't burn. It will turn BROWN....its not burning unless its turning dark/black.  Towards the end of the browning, add the garlic so that it is sort of sauteed/browned.

Next, dump the water on the rice (it will steam up loudly) and add the remaining ingredients.  Stir well and cover (with a small air escape).  Reduce heat to medium-low to medium, and let cook for 20-30 minutes.  (cooking time and temp varies with your stove....check after 20 min to make sure you don't burn!)

The essential part of this recipe is DO NOT PEEK while the rice is cooking

When it is ready, all the water will be absorbed, the rice will fluff, and each grain will be split open because of the browning.  It should be dry, not saucy.  You can adjust the spices/peppers to your taste.  The recipe can be changed by keeping with the 1 cup rice/2 cups water ratio, and adjusting remaining ingredients.

Goes great with any manner of mexican beans or as a side dish to mexican entrees such as tacos, enchiladas, burritos, etc.  Also great by itself!

This dish is a staple in my house!  it is cheap, easy, and yummy!

Serves: 6 large servings

Preparation time: 30-45 min
--from the Vegweb website (though we didn't 'go vegan' for this)

Wednesday:

Tomatillo-Sauced Enchiladas with Spinach and Mushrooms (Enchiladas Verdes de Espinacas y Hongos)

3 garlic cloves, peeled
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (I like 2 serranos or 1 jalapeno), stemmed and quartered
1-1/2 lbs (10 to 12 medium) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
3/4 cup (loosely packed) roughly chopped cilantro, plus a few sprigs for garnish
3 Tbs vegetable oil or bacon drippings (divided use) plus some for the tortillas
2 cups chicken broth
8 oz mushrooms (button, oyster or shiitake are good) stemmed and sliced.
1 lg. red onion, thinly sliced
10 oz (about 10 cups) spinach, stems removed
1 cup shredded cooked chicken (about 1/4 of a large rotisserie chicken) or cubed ham (optional)
Salt
12 corn tortillas, preferably store-bought (!)
3 Tbs Mexican crema, sour cream, heavy cream or creme fraiche
1/2 tsp sugar (optional)
1 cup (4oz) crumbled Mexican queso fresco or other fresh cheese such as feta or goat cheese

Turn on the oven to 350 degrees.  With a food processor or blender running, drop in the garlick and chiles one piece at a time, letting each piece get finely chopped before adding the next.  Add the tomatillos and cilantro; process until smooth. (note, to this point we used leftover similar sauce from the previous nights Enchiladas Verdes)
Heat 1 1/2 Tbs of the oil in a 3-qt saucepan over medium-high.  Add the puree and cook, stirring nearly constantly, until the mixture has reduce dto the consistency of thick tomato sauce, about 7 minutes.  (The more you cook down this base, the richer and sweeter the tomatillo sauce will be.)  Add the chicken broth and simmer over medium heat for about 10 min to blend the flavors.
While the sauce is simmering, heat the remaining 1 1/2 Tbs oil in a very large 12-inch skillet over medium-high.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring nearly constantly, for a couple of minutes, until they begin to brown.  Add about 3/4 of the onion (reserve the rest for garnish) and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for another minute or two, until the onion looks translucent.  Add the spinach and optional chicken or ham and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or so, until the spinach is wilted.  Season with salt, usually a scant teaspoon.  Cover to keep warm.
Lay out the tortillas on a baking sheet and spray or brush lightly on both sides with oil or bacon drippings, then stack them in twos.  Slide the tortillas into the oven and bake just long enough to make them soft and pliable, about 3 minutes.  Remove from the oven and stack them in a single pile; cover with a kitchen towel to keep warm.
Stir the crema (or stand-in) into the sauce.  Taste and season with salt, usually about 1 tsp (add the sugar if the sauce seems quite tart to you).  Holding a tortilla by one edge, dip most of it into the sauce, then lay it on a plate.  Spoon a heaping 2 Tbs filling down the center, roll up and lay seam side down on a dinner plate.  Repeat with 2 more tortillas, arranging them on the same dinner plate.  Douse the enchiladas with about 1/4 cup of the warm sauce, sprinkle with a quarter of the crumbled cheese and garnish with some of the reserved onion and cilantro sprigs.  Assemble the rest of the servings, and carry to the table without hesitation.
--from Mexican Everyday, by Rick Bayless


Friday:

Chilorio -- Pork with Chili Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds boneless pork
  • 4-5 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup lard (oil can be subsitituted with different results)
  • 3-4 dried ancho chiles (or other similar chile)
  • 1/2 of an onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preparation:

In a large pot, simmer the pork in the water or broth, covered, for 2 hours. During the last 20 minutes of cooking time, ladle out enough liquid to cover the dried chiles in a bowl. Let the chiles soak in the liquid until they are soft then remove the stems and seeds. When the pork is done simmering, drain off the liquid, but reserve 1 cup. Pull the pork into bite-sized chunks Heat lard in a large pan until melted. Fry the pork in the lard until browned. Remove the pork and set aside. Then cook the onions in the lard until translucent. Remove them from the pan and set aside to cool.
In a blender, add the chiles, onions, spices and reserved liquid. Blend until smooth. Drain most of the lard from the pan and put the pork into the pan with the blended chile sauce and simmer for 10 minutes to thicken the sauce and bring the flavors together.
--from the Mexicanfood.about.com website

Friday, May 28, 2010

Stay Tuned...

Not a real post, I guess, but another place-holder.  It's late Friday, and I know that I'm way behind with posts from our week in Mexico.

Maybe you didn't know this, but each post takes a solid hour to create, and that's if the photos are already uploaded, which can take an extra hour and a half sometimes.  Well, this has been a crazy week of T-ball games, work at 6am one day, and work until 7pm another day, dinners pushed back to 9:00 p.m., and the omni-present studying that graduate school requires.

We've had time to eat like the world...I just haven't had time to blog about it, and I apologize.  That's all I can really offer.  That, and a teaser photo of what dinners have been like this week:

Enchiladas Verdes, Mexican Rice, Refried Beans

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Buenas Dias! Donde Esta La Biblioteque?

Okay, so I don't know very much Spanish.  But...this week we are in Mexico, so I thought that something would be better than nothing.

This has been a hard country to work with, actually.  Harder than the previous two countries -- they were hard in the sense of, "Do you want to eat knuckles and sauerkraut stew?"  This time, things are hard for two big reasons.  First, everything looks good!!  It's been a bear of a time whittling down all of the yummy-looking recipes into seven nights of dinners.  Honestly, I wish we had this problem every week.

The second problem, though, is stickier.  Mexican food has been integrated into American life to such a degree that it's hard finding authentic Mexican recipes.  We dismissed any "Mexican" recipe that contained Velveeta, for starters.  I mean, that's just common sense.  Next, after gleaning information from the few books we could find that were helpful -- finding that chicken and pork are much more common than beef, say -- we could discern the recipes that were almost authentic, or "adapted for our modern life."  Phrases like "use 1lb of hamburger...chicken can be substituted if desired"  are a clue.  Still, "Mexican" food is so prevalent even in Northern Michigan that finding the real stuff is hard.  Kind of like hiding something in plain sight, I guess.

Handy's Market

Naturally, we had the hunt for obscure ingredients.  I took a tour through the "interesting" part of Lansing in search of queso fresco cheese and epazote leaves.  I found "Handy's Market," which is touted as small, but carrying everything Mexican...which is totally true.  I also picked up a carton of salsa "hand-made by Carol."  And it was awesome!!  As an aside...is "Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd" in the bad part of town in every city that has one?

Anyway, we started out our week with tortilla soup, portobella empanadas and  Mexican rice, on a 95-degree day in Northern Michigan.  When I got home from work, Angel had had the soup simmering, and the kitchen was like a sauna -- the Eating Like The World Kitchens do not have air conditioning, you see, so we got a glimpse of what it probably feels like to cook a full dinner on a hot Mexican evening.  At least, it felt like we did.

As the chef's prep cook, I was tasked with simple things like scalding and peeling tomatoes, and dicing an avocado.  And...I got to make the tortillas for the empanadas from scratch.  Masa harina, water and salt...that's it.  No utensils, even...my childhood joys were revisited as I squooshed my fingers through the dough.

Empanada, Mexican Rice, Tortilla Soup

The soup was a beautiful thing -- almost nothing was in the broth, a seasoned chicken broth, more or less -- but you pour it over a bowl full of chicken, avocado, tortilla strips and (for us but not the kids) a single hot chipotle pepper.  It was delicious.  The kids thought it was delicious.  My wife deemed it the best Mexican tortilla soup she's ever had, bar none.  The pepper, from a can of "chipotles en adobo sauce," added a wonderful smoky flavor and a growing sense of heat as it steeped in the broth.  I was dubious about the avocado, but they merely added creaminess.

On the other hand, the Mexican rice was a bust.  Unlike the Mexican rice or Spanish rice I've had before, this was just white rice that was simmered in a tomato puree and water.  It was bland, it was sticky, it was -- to quote a mushroom field guide -- edible but not choice.  The kids, on the other hand, liked it and had seconds.  Go figure...but at least they ate it.

The main course was a toss up among the family members.  With portabella and epazote leaves, we didn't really think the kids would like the empanadas, and we were correct.  Angel and I thought they were crispy and delicious, though.  The gouda inside them melted into the mushrooms, and mixed really nicely.  I had one later at night, and it was darned good cold...and I had them them for lunch the next day and they were just as good.


Recipes:

Mushroom Empanadas (Empanadas de Nanacates)
2 Tbs butter or oil
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1/2 lb nanacates or portobello mushrooms, finely chopped
7 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 Tbs finely chopped epazote leaves
Salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 lbs prepared masa for tortillas, or 3 cups masa harina for tortillas
10 oz quesillo, manchego, Gouda or Muenster cheese, shredded or grated.

In an 8 inch cast iron frying pan, heat the butter or oil over medium heat and fry the onion until transparent, about 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and garlic and continue to fry 10 to 15 minutes over low heat.  If you need to , add a bit more butter or oil to the pan to keep the mushrooms from sticking.  Add the epazote, 1/2 tsp salt, and the pepper and stir well.  When the mixture is dry, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Preheat a 10-inch clay comal, griddle or cast-iron frying pan over medium heat.

If using prepared masa, place in a mixing bowl, add 1 Tbs salt and a few sprinkles of water, and knead to a soft dough.  If using masa harina, place in a large mixing bowl and ad 1Tbs salt and 2-3/4 cups water.  Knead until the dough is soft, about 1 minute.  Allow dough to rest for 15 minutes.  Divide the masa into 10 balls.  Roll into a ball, then shape into a log 5 inches long and 1-1/2 inches wide.

Place a log between two sheets of plastic placed inside a tortilla press** and press down.  An oval shape will appear.  Rotate the oval and press again.  Remove the plastic from the top and place 3 to 4 tablespoons of cheese in the middle.  Top with 2 Tbs of the filling.  Place a little bit of water around the edge of the tortilla with your finger, fold the empanada over, and press to seal it closed.

Lift the empanada from the plastic and place in the middle of the heated comal, griddle or crying pan.  Cook about 3 to 5 minutes on each side, or until it starts to brown and removes easily from the comal without breaking.  Turn it over and cook on the second side.  Serve at once or continue with all the balls until all the masa is gone.  If you must, keep the empanadas warm, wrapped well in a cloth napkin, until serving time.

** since we don't own a tortilla press, I used the bottom of a large, metal mixing bowl to press on the masa, and a light once-over with a rolling pin to smooth out the divots from the edge of the bowl's flat bottom.  Worked like a charm without spending $40 on a kitchen tool that'll gather dust after this week.

Country-Style Tortilla Soup (Sopa de Tortilla)

1-1/4 lbs tomatoes (3 medium-large round or 10-13 plum)
1/2 cup peanut, sunflower, or vegetable oil
4-6 tortillas, cut into strips (about 2 cups)
1 medium white onion, chopped
1/2 head of garlic, cloves separated and finely chopped
12 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
10 chiles chipotles en adobo
1 avacado, peeled and cut into chunks
1/4 lb queso fresco, cut into 1/2 inch chunks.  manchego or Muenster may be substituted
1 cup shredded, poached chicken
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves

On a 10-inch dry comal, griddle, or a cast-iron frying pan, roast the tomatoes over medium heat 10 to 12 minutes until soft and the skin starts to slough off. Allow to cool, then peel and discard the skins.  Puree the tomatoes in the blender until smooth.

Heat the oil in an 8-inch cast-iron frying pan until it smokes.  Add the tortilla strips.  Fry for 3 to 5 minutes over medium heat or until brown, and drain on paper towels.  Remove the remaining oil, reserving 2 Tbs.

Put the 2 Tbs oil in a heavy 4-qt stockpot and saute the onion in the oil until clear, about 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and continue to cook 2 minutes longer.  Add the tomato puree and fry well, about 10 minutes.

Add the chicken stock, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, for 1/2 hour.  Add salt and pepper.

Put chile chipotle, a few avocado chunks, some cheese cubes, shredded chicken, chopped cilantro and fried tortilla strips in each bowl, add the soup and serve.
-- Both recipes from "Seasons of My Heart," by Susana Trilling

Arroz A La Mexicana (Traditional Mexican Rice)

The traditional preparation of Mexican style rice flavored with tomatoes, onion, garlic and simmered in broth. This recipe is from The Art Of Mexican Cooking, Diana Kennedy.

1 1/2 cups (375 ml) long-grain white rice or medium-grained rice.
1 cup (1/2 lb) tomatoes, un-skinned, finely chopped
1/4 small white onion, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1/3 cup safflower oil, melted chicken fat or melted lard
3 1/2 cups chicken broth (fresh is best)
1/3 cup carrot rounds (optional)
1/2 cup fresh peas or diced zucchini (optional)
1/2 cup chopped giblets (optional)
salt to taste

Pour hot water to cover over the rice and let it stand for about 10 minutes. Drain the rice and rinse well in cold water, then shake the colander well and leave the rice to drain again.

Put the tomatoes, onion, and garlic into a blender jar and blend until smooth. Set aside.

Heat the oil. Give the rice a final shake and stir it into the oil until the grains are well covered, then fry until just the grains turn a light brown color. This process should take about 10 minutes. Tip the pan to one side and drain off any excess oil.

Stir in the tomato puree and fry, scraping the bottom of the dish to prevent sticking, until the puree has been absorbed--about 8 minutes.

Stir in the broth, vegetables and giblets (if used) add salt to taste and cook over fairly high heat, uncovered until all the both has been absorbed and air holes appear in the surface.

Cover the surface of the rice with a towel and lid and continue cooking over very low heat for about 5 minutes longer.

Remove from the heat and set aside in a warm place to allow the rice to absorb the rest of the moisture in the steam and swell--about 15 minutes. Dig gently to the bottom and test a grain of rice. If it is still damp, cook for a few minutes longer. If the top grains are not quite soft, sprinkle with a little hot broth, cover and cook for a few minutes longer.

Before serving, turn the rice over carefully from the bottom so that the flavored juices will be distributed evenly.
-- From the Gourmet Sleuth website

Monday, May 17, 2010

Воскресенье (Sunday)

Tonight's dinner (Monday, as I type this) was such a let-down -- chicken nuggets, pizza rolls, and cheesy tater-tots, all poured out of a bag and baked in the oven...and a lone can of corn as a salute to the need for vegetable matter in our diet.

I say a let-down, because Sunday night's dinner was AWESOME!!  Even the kids -- yes, the same kids upon whom I unloaded just yesterday -- found things to like in last night's dinner.  We had Borscht, Chicken Kiev, Rice Pilaf and Zucchini-Cheese Patties with Yogurt and Garlic Sauce.

Okay, we can dismiss the rice pilaf out of hand.  It was a last-minute toss-in, and Angel found a recipe that included orange-peels, and thus...tasted like oranges to an overpowering extent.  It wasn't wretched, but nobody liked it.  Since we hadn't been planning for it, I've omitted the recipe from this site.

Next, though...we spent the week in Russia, how could we NOT have the single food that everyone.. EVERYONE associates with Russia?  No, not vodka, that's a drink, and that's after the kids go outside to play after dinner.  I meant Borscht.  The traditional beet soup, which is about as much as anyone I've run into knows about it.  I'll own up to having eaten Borscht once before -- in a Russian-styled deli in Sitka, Alaska while on our honeymoon.  I liked it...but I didn't think it was stringently authentic, in a deli that served cruise-ship patrons on shore-leave.  During the cooking process, Angel and I were pretty dubious about the aromas coming from the pot.  I thought it was pretty strong and earthy.  Angel was of a mind that the smell was a short word, and rhymed with "comet."

Borscht

In the bowl, though, the soup was totally un-"comet"-like.  Savory, somewhat pungent broth, with generous chunks of potato, beet, carrot, green pepper and cabbage.  With a dollop of sour cream mixed in, the borscht transformed into creamy goodness as the pungent-ness was cut way down.  Evie ate hers, the twins turned up their nose and Gable actually gave it a valiant effort but was defeated.  Angel liked it enough to pronounce it a "make again," and it might even mark the first dish ever with green peppers in it that she's eaten and not been revulsed.

Kotleta po-Kievski, Risa Plov, Kabak Mucver i Sikhdorov Madzoon

Angel's chicken Kiev was Angel's chicken Kiev -- read the notes on the recipe and you'll  understand.  We'll just say that Angel's made it before, and it was good...all the kids ate their chicken.

But the star, the real STAR of the table was the platter of zucchini-cheese patties, redolent in crispy, golden goodness.  They used the kassari cheese for which I had quested across Lansing, Michigan.  They were deep-fried.  They ended up much like potato cakes -- crispy around the fringes, yet delectably soft in the middle, with creaminess and a hint of tang from the cheese, and an almost eggplant-like taste from the humble zucchini.  We dipped them in a Yogurt-Garlic sauce with cilantro leaves in it -- I think Angel actually shed a tear, they were so good.  The kids could've cared -- that was fine...more for us!!

Kabak Mucver

Russia has not been an easy week.  We had mutineering children, I battled the flu, and Angel spent upwards of two hours every day in the kitchen, cooking.  Work has been busy, school (for me) has been busy, life has been busy for both Angel and me.  We have not wavered on our commitment to this project, though -- we are going to see this out for the whole year.  Not for the kids or for any noble reasons.  No...for us.

Ellie picked our next country.  In a week's time, we go to Mexico.  Remember what I said about Taco Bell a bit before?  Yeah, we'll see who's sent on a run for "tortadas" and Burrito Supremes somewhere around Thursday. ;^)



Recipes:

Borscht (Beet Soup)

Ingredients

  • 3 cans (14 ounce) beef broth
  • 2 medium beets
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 3 potatoes
  • ¼ head of cabbage
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ green pepper
  • ½ fresh parsley
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Vegetable or olive oil
  • Sour cream as garnish
  • Sugar, to taste

Procedure

  1. Prepare onions and carrots by chopping them.
  2. Pour a little vegetable oil into a skillet and add the carrots and onions. Cook until softened, and set aside.
  3. Peel the beets and chop or slice both into small bite-sized pieces.
  4. Remove the seeds from the green pepper and chop.
  5. Put the chopped beets and green pepper into a small saucepan and add about ½ cup of broth and the tomato paste. Cover the pot and simmer the vegetables for about 30 minutes until the beets are tender.
  6. While the beets and peppers are cooking, pour the remaining broth into a large saucepan and heat it almost to boiling.
  7. Chop the cabbage and add it to the broth.
  8. Peel the potatoes, cut them into bite-size pieces and add to broth.
  9. Add cooked onions and carrots to broth. Simmer the soup for about 20 minutes.
  10. When the beets are tender, add them to the broth. Add lemon juice, salt, sugar, parsley, and garlic cloves.
  11. Simmer 10 more minutes, and serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream in each bowl.
Serves 10 to 12.
-- from foodbycountry website

Zucchini-Cheese Patties (Kabak Mucver)

3 zucchini (about 8 oz. each), peeled and grated
Salt
1 1/2 Tbs unsalted butter
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
6 oz kasseri cheese, grated (we had to mail-order this...for a substitute, think soft & white like Provolone, with some fresh Parmesan tang to it)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
Black pepper to taste
Light vegetable oil for frying
Yogurt and Garlic Sauce (see below)

In a colander, toss the zucchini with 1 tsp salt.  Let stand for 30 minutes.  Rinse thoroughly under cold running water.  Drain and squeeze the zucchini to remove the excess water and pat dry on paper towels.  Place the zucchini in a bowl.  Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute', stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes.  Cool slightly, then add the onion and cheese to the zucchini in the bowl.  Stir well to combine.  Beat the flour together with the eggs and add to the zucchini mixture.  Mix well and season with salt and pepper. Measure enough oil into a large skillet to come up about 1/2 inch.  Heat the oil until very hot.  Drop about 1 1/2 Tbs of the batter into the skillet for each patty, spacing them about 1 inch apart.  Pat the patties lightly with a spatula to flatten.  Fry until golden on both sides.  Cool and serve with the Yogurt and Garlic Sauce.  Serves 6

Yogurt and Garlic Sauce (Sikhdorov Madzoon)
1 cup plain yogurt
2 medium-size cloves garlic, crushed in a garlic press
Salt to taste
3 Tbs finely chopped fresh cilantro or mint, plus a sprig of either as garnish

In a small bowl, stir all of the ingredients to mix well.  Refrigerate, covered, for at least 12 hours.  Garnish with the herb sprig and serve.  Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
 -- Patties and sauce from "Please to the Table" by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman

Chicken Kiev
Okay, this one is almost cheating.  Chicken Kiev has been my wife's "signature dish" since before I met her.  She cooked it for me when we were dating, in college.  When we invite guests (rare rare rare!) she uses Chicken Kiev as a safe, "fall-back" dish.  Just sayin'. 
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 lb)
1 Tbs chopped green onion
1 Tbs snipped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 of a 1/4-lb stick of butter, chilled
1 beaten egg
1 Tbs water
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs cooking oil

  1. Rinse chicken; pat dry.  Place each breast half between 2 pieces of plastic wrap.  Pound lightly into a rectangle about 1/8-inch thick.  Remove plastic wrap.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Combine green onion, parsley, and garlic; sprinkle on chicken.
  2. Cut chilled 1/2 stick of butter into four 2 1/2 x 1/2 inch sticks.  Place a stick of butter in center of each chicken piece.  Fold in sides; roll up jelly-roll style, pressing edges to seal.  Stir together egg and water.  Coat rolls with flour, dip in egg mixture, then coat with bread crumbs.  Cover and chill 1 to 24 hours.
  3. In a large skillet melt the 1Tbs butter; add oil.  Add chilled chicken rolls.  Cook over medium-high heat about 5 minutes or till golden brown, turning to brown all sides.  Transfer to a 2-quart rectangular baking dish. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.  Spoon drippings over rolls.  Makes 4 servings.
 -- from The Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Kids Have Cashed Out

Our week in Russia has not been a fun and uplifting week -- one may have already reasonably inferred this from the lack of blog posts from Tuesday until...what is today, Sunday?  Sunday.

Our frustration level with the kids on this project has grown to epic proportions -- Angel spends at least two hours per day cooking these meals, and sometimes a LOT more.  This week, the kids have been at  best taking one bite and declaring the food to be nasty, ugly, bad.  The waving of downturned thumbs and cacophony of "blech, ugh, boogfh, YUCK" has become too predominant to ignore.

And when I said "at best,"  I meant it.  More often, a child will take one LICK of a dish, or a sniff, and declare that they hate it.  At the worst, one of our twins has said a couple of times that she liked a dish...but when her older sister starts screeching "it's terrr-rrrible!" she changes her tune to match.

We offered our kids the "PBJ back-door" at the start of the project -- if they completely couldn't stand dinner, they had the option of eating a peanut butter'n jelly sandwich.  Unfortunately (for them) they have blatantly abused that option, and there's a very good chance that it no longer exists for them.  It's not like we didn't talk with them before starting this, and ask them if they were behind us, and if they would be adventurous and try new foods.  It's not like they didn't all nod in agreement, all wide-innocent-eyes, that yes, they would try new food and join in the excitement of discovery.

Yeah, now they won't eat potatoes, because they're so foreign.  Puh-leeze.

So without much further ado, here's what we had this week:

Wednesday was an awesome beef stew and rye bread:

Beef Stew & Rye Bread

Thursday we had yogurt soup, pork chops with apples braised in beer, with sour cream new potatoes.

Pork Chops, Yogurt Soup, New Potatoes

Somewhere in there, Angel opined that:
"After eating boxed mac and cheese for lunch I can't help but realize that most Americans really don't care what they eat (cereal for dinner, boxed mac and cheese . . . etc) while it seems like meals in both Poland and Russia are filled with lots of care and pride. Hmm."

Friday we had Moscow-style cod, cabbage baked with feta, and strawberry kisel for dessert. 

Moscow-style Cod

Cabbage Baked With Feta

Unfortunately, I was sick Friday, and while I thought that dinner was absolutely delicious...it came back up again an hour later -- in no way to be construed as a statement or implication about the quality of dinner.  I went to sleep for 13 hours and was functional again for Saturday.

Saturday was a "day off" from Russia -- Gable's 10th birthday.  He had a box of mac'n cheese for breakfast (don't ask me, I don't know why!) that his little sister had gotten him for a birthday present. (don't ask me about that either, I really don't know!)  We had PBJ's for lunch, and dinner was out at Taco Bell.  I'm not sure if anyplace is less Russian than Taco Bell.  It's like Mexican food that's been Americanized, so it's neither.  It's food that's from noplace -- at least McDonald's is firmly American.

I'll leave you with a picture of the aftermath that is our kitchen on every single night of these meals from other countries.  I personally think this picture makes it look pretty lightweight, but take it from me, by the time dinner was on the table every horizontal work surface had been used, and Angel had to use the floor to hold pots while she added final ingredients.

Kitchen/Blast Zone




Recipes:

Wednesday:
Beef & Potato Stew (Podzharka)
2 1/2 lbs bone-in chuck steak
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled, cut lenghwise in half, then sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
1 Italian (pale green frying) pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into strips
3 large cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp sweet Hungarian Paprika
1/3 to 1/2 cup boiling beef stock or canned broth
5 large boiling potatoes, peeled and quarted
2 Tbs chopped fresh dill
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley

Trim the meat of most of the fat.  Cut the meat into 1 1/2 inch chunks, leving some meat on the bones.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute' until it begins to color, about 10 minutes.  Add the carrot and Italian pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are nicely browned, about another 10 minutes.  Stir in the beef, garlic, salt and pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of the paprika.  Cook, stirring, over medium heat for 15 minutes.  The meat and vegetables should be richly browned.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, stirring often, until the beef is tender, about 50 minutes.  While the beef cooks, add stock, a few tablespoons at a time, only if the beef and vegetables stick to the bottom of the Dutch oven.  Add the potatoes, dill, parsley, more salt and pepper, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon paprika.  Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.  Add just enough boiling stock to barely cover the potatoes.  Let boil for a few minutes, then cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.  Let the stew stand for 10 minutes before serving.  Serves 4.
-- from "Please to the Table, The Russian Cookbook" -- Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman

Thursday:
Yogurt Soup (Matsunis Shechamandi)
1 Tbs flour
1/8 Tsp salt
2 cups plain yogurt
1 cup water
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbs butter
2 eggs, well beaten
1 Tbs minced fresh mint (we omitted)
2 Tbs minced cilantro
1/4 cup cooked rice

Stir the flour and salt into the yogurt, then add the water and beat well.  In a stockpot, saute' the onion lightly in the butter, then stir in the yogurt.  Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  Carefully stir a little of the hot liquid into the beaten eggs, then whisk the eggs into the soup.  Simmer a few minutes longer.  Just before serving, add the minced herbs and rice.
-- from "The Georgian Feast, The Vibrant Culture and Savory Food of the Republic of Georgia" Darra Goldstein

Pork Chops with Apples Braised in Beer (Svinina s Yablokami v Pive)
4 center-cut loin pork chops cut 3/4 inch thick (about 6 oz each)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbs unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp all purpose flour
3/4 cup light beer
pinch of granulated sugar
1 Tbs grated lemon zest
2 cloves
1 medium-size onion, sliced and separated into rings
1 small tart apple (Granny Smith), peeled, cored and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1 1/2 tsp (packed) dark brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Remove the excess fat from the pork chops and rub them generously with ground ginger, salt and pepper.  In an ovenproof skillet just large enough to accommodate the pork chops in one layer, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat.  Dust the chops lightly with flour and brown in the butter for about 10 minutes, turning once after 5 minutes.  Remove the chops from the skillet and set aside.  Pour the beer into the skillet and bring to a boil.  Stir in the granulated sugar, lemon zest, cloves, and additional salt and pepper.  Return the pork chops to the skillet, cover and bake for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion rings and saute', stirring occasionally, until golden, about 15 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the oven and uncover.  Arrange the sauteed onion over the chops and top with the apple slices.  Spoon over some cooking liquid.  continue to bake, uncovered, until the apples are tender but not mushy, another 20 minutes, basting with the cooking liquid from time to time.  Preheat the broiler.  Sprinkle the brown sugar over the apples and place the skilled under the broiler for a few minutes, until you get a good glaze.  Place the pork chops, topped with the onions and apples, on individual plates and spoon some cooking liquid over them to serve.  Serves 4
-- from "Please to the Table"

New Potatoes Braised in Sour Cream (Molodaya Kartoshka Tushonaya v Smetane)
2 lbs new potatoes, the smaller the better
1/2 cup chicken broth or water
1 cup sour cream
salt to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

Parboil the potatoes in salted boiling water for 8 minutes.  Drain thoroughly.  Transfer the potatoes to a heavy heatproof casserole.  Add the broth, sour cream and salt and bring to a gentle boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer, uncovering to stir occasionally, until the potatoes are very tender.  Five minutes before the potatoes are finished cooking, stir in the garlic.  Toss with the dill and serve.  Serves 4.
-- from "Please to the Table"

Friday
Cod, Moscow Style (Treska po Moskovski)
2 lbs cod fillets, cut into 8 pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
5 Tbs unsalted butter
All-purpose flour for rolling the fish
2 large onions, cut into rings
1/2 cup mayonnaise, preferably Hellman's (Why?)
3/4 cup grated Gruyere or white cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh parsley and dill for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Rub the fish fillets with salt and pepper and place in a shallow dish.  Sprinkle with lemon juice and let stand for 15 minutes.  Melt 3 Tbs of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Roll each fish fillet lightly in the flour and fry until just opaque, 3 to 4 minutes on each side.  Transfer the fish to an ovenproof casserole.  Wipe out the skillet and melt the remaining 2 Tbs butter over medium heat.  Add the onion rings and saute, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 20 minutes.  Spread the mayonnaise on the fish with a rubber spatula.  Place the onions on top and sprinkle with the cheese.  Bake until the surface is well browned and bubbly, 10 to 15 minutes.  Serve hot or cold, sprinkled with fresh herbs.  Serves 4 to 6.
-- from "Please to the Table"

Cabbage Baked with Feta (Verza cu Brinza)
1 firm head green cabbage (about 2 1/2 lbs) cored and finely slivered
3 Tbs unsalted butter
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/3 cup finely crumbled or grated feta cheese, preferably Bulgarian. (why?)
1/2 cup unflavored, coarse, dry bread crumbs
1 to 2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
5 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

Blanch the cabbage in boiling water for 2 minutes.  Drain and pat dry with a linen or cotton (not terrycloth) kitchen towel.  Heat the 3 Tbs butter and the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the cabbage and saute, stirring and tossing frequently, until the cabbage is nicely browned, 15 to 20 minutes.  Cool the cabbage until it is easy to handle.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and eggs.  mix thoroughly with the cabbage.  Add dill, if desired, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Transfer the mixture to an earthenware casserole dish.  Combine the feta with the bread crumbs.  Sprinkle the mixture over the cabbage.  Sprinkle with paprika and melted butter and bake until bubbly and the top is browned, about 15 minutes.  Serves 6
-- from "Please to the Table"

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Russian Tuesday

I just finished having lunch, leftovers from last night's dinner, and while trying to compose this entry in my head I realized that I really had no anecdotes or funny realizations to share.  We cooked meatloaf stuffed with boiled eggs and green onions, chicken soup with dumplings, and "Georgian" green beans -- sauteed with egg, green onion, a dash of red wine vinegar and a bit of cilantro.

Kuriniy Bulyon s Kliotskami

The soup was universally loved, Angel declared the green beans to be the best she's ever eaten in her life, and the kids were pretty balanced between thumbs up/down on the meatloaf and beans.

Farshirovanniy Rulet & Kverstkhit

Wait, I thought of something interesting.  Angel says we're going through more eggs than ever, and that she never realized how much of a staple eggs are for the rest of the world.

Okay, maybe that isn't quite as interesting as I thought.  ;^)

Dinner: Stuffed Meatloaf, Georgian Beans, Chicken Soup w/Dumplings



Recipes: 

"My Mother's" Chicken Soup with Dumplings (Kuriniy Bulyon s Kliotskami)
DUMPLINGS
1 jumbo egg
3 1/2 Tbs all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

SOUP
5 cups Chicken Stock or canned broth
2 medium-size boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
8 baby carrots, peeled
1 large rib celery, sliced
Pinch of black pepper
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh dill (optional)
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
Finely minced scallion for garnish
Finely chopped fresh dill for garnish

To make the dumplings, break the egg into a small bowl, then add the flour, salt, pepper and dill if desired, and beat with a fork until smooth.  Set the dumpling mixture aside.  In a soup pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil, then add the potatoes, carrots, and celery.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, for 15 minutes.  Dip a teaspoon into cold water, scoop about 1/2 tsp of the dumpling mixture and lower it carefully into the simmering soup.  Repeat with the rest of the mixture, dipping your spoon into cold water before you make each dumpling.  You should have about 8 to 10 dumplings.  Add the tomato, increase the heat to medium low and cook until the dumplings rise to the surface, 5 to 7 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with scallion and dill, and serve.  Serves 4 generously.

Stuffed Meat Loaf (Farshirovanniy Rulet)
3 Tbs unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 slices white bread, crusts removed
1/3 cup milk
1 3/4 lbs ground lean beef round
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup ice water
2 Tbs sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
4 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions (green onions), greens only
4 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbs mayonnaise
1/3 cup unflavored fine, dry bread crumbs, or more as needed
1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 tsp hot Hungarian paprika

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute' until lightly colored, about 12 minutes.  Meanwhile, soak the bread in the milk for 10 minutes.  Squeeze the bread to remove any excess milk and crumble into a large bowl.  Discard the milk.  Add the beef to the bread along with the onions and their cooking fat, eggs, ice water, sour cream, and salt and pepper.  Knead until thoroughly blended.  Set the meat loaf mixture aside.  In a second bowl, combine the hard-cooked eggs, scallions, and melted butter.  Season lightly with salt and pepper and mix.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Spread the meat loaf mixture out on a large piece of waxed paper into a 12x10 inch rectangle.  Spread the stuffing over the meat mixture, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides.  Roll up like a jelly roll, starting on one long side.  Peel back the waxed paper as you roll.  Place the roll, seam side down, on the prepared baking sheet.  Spread with the mayonnaise, using a rubber spatula, and sprinkle generously with bread crumbs and with sweet and hot paprika.  Bake 1 hour.  Cut into thick slices and serve at once.  Serves 6

Georgian Green Beans (Lobio Kverstkhit)
2 lbs green beans, trimmed**
Salt to taste
3 Tbs unsalted butter
1 large onion, cut into quarters, then thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
3 Tbs canned chicken broth, or water
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs finely chopped fresh cilantro
3 large eggs, beaten
Black pepper to taste
1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

Drop the beans into a large pot of salted boiling water and blanch them for 3 minutes.  Drain the beans and refresh under cold running water.  Drain again thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.  Melt the butter in a 9-inch skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute', stirring occasionally, until transparent, 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in the beans and saute', stirring, for 5 minutes more.  Stir in the vinegar, broth, garlic, and salt and pepper, and cook for another 10 minutes.  Add the cilantro.  Add half the eggs and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until they begin to set, about 2 minutes.  Pour in the rest of the eggs, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes without disturbing until the eggs are set.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve at once.  Serves 6 to 8.

** Note in cookbook: "The green beans common in the Soviet Union are slightly different from the common ones available in the United States.  They are flat, broad, and fleshy, with young beans inside.  This variety, sold frozen as "broad beans," is sometimes available fresh at farmer's and ethnic (Italian and Greek) markets."  My note -- we just used common American green beans, fresh, and they were delicious.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Welcome to Russia, Comrade!

Well here we are again:  Day one of a new country is done.  For dinner, we had cabbage pirogi and apple cake.  It seems that pirogi are a staple in Russia as well as Poland, but Russian piroghi are larger and like a pot pie while Polish pirogi (pirozhki in Russian) are more like, as we told the kids, Polish ravioli.  We actually found that Poland and Russia share many of the same dishes and customs, but at least slightly different.

As these things usually go, Angel had been cooking for several hours when I got home from work.  The sharlotka, apple cake, was finished and waiting on the counter, and Angel was fighting with the dough for the piroghi.  A rolling pin was thrust at me, and I was directed to make the dough 16x24".  Unfortunately, the dough was too dry, and became more crack-y and distorted the more I worked.  Eventually, Angel spooned the filling into it, and attempted to fold the dough over.  Whereupon it ripped.  She worked with it, and got it to fold over the filling, and crimped it, and we then needed to lever a 9" pirogi onto a greased cookie sheet.  I had the bright idea of just sliding the sheet under it, but that proved to be problematic.  Finally, it took three spatulas in concert to roll the food onto the pan, and it left a large percentage of crust on the counter.  We picked up pieces and packed them over holes and managed to craft a food item that was ugly, but more or less sealed.

Piroghi, Uncooked

Into the oven for a half hour, and when it came out, it'd baked together fairly well -- well enough to keep the contents moist, anyway.  We did, unfortunately, have to eat an accelerated dinner due to my oldest daughter's T-Ball practice at 6:30pm.  So, when the food hit the table, we all dug in.  Well, all but Allison who looked at the lump of crust, cabbage and other ingredients and pronounced, "I hate it" before taking a bite.  There proceeded to be crying, and extortion involving a sippy cup of milk, but in the end she tried it -- no doubt partially due to all of her siblings eating the piroghi with thumbs-up -- and found out it wasn't too bad.

In contrast to the Polish pirogi, I found this to be lighter by far.  Instead of heavy cheese, it was filled with a mixture of cabbage, onion, boiled egg and a bit of dill, and the crust was much thinner.  There was no bacon grease, no pork and no butter involved in the making of this piroghi, and while Angel still has a post-Poland aversion to dill, I thought it tasted wonderful.

Sharlotka and Piroghi

Next, the apple cake.  Angel said that in addition to the Granny Smith apples, it only had three ingredients.  It too, was delicious.  The apples' flavor came through the uncomplicated cake and it was a tart, juicy dessert.



Recipes:

Cabbage Pirozhki or Piroghi

This recipe involves three steps: making the dough, making the filling, and assembling the pies.

Ingredients for dough

  • 2½ cups sifted flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • Ice water

Ingredients for filling

  • 5 cups chopped cabbage (2 small heads of cabbage)
  • 2 Tablespoons salt
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 2 chopped onions
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 Tablespoon dill or parsley, minced
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs

Procedure

  1. Make dough: Sift dry ingredients together. Add shortening and butter into dry mixture, mixing with a pastry blender or a fork until the mixture looks like oatmeal.
  2. Beat the egg slightly in a measuring cup and add enough ice water to make ½ cup fluid. Pour egg and water into the flour mixture and mix well.
  3. Roll out the dough on a board or countertop dusted with more flour. If the dough seems sticky, sprinkle the surface of the dough and the rolling surface with more flour.
  4. To make piroghi (large pie): Roll dough into a rectangle approximately 24 inches x 16 inches. It is ready for stuffing.
  5. To make pirozhki (small pies): Take eggsized balls of dough, flatten, and roll out. Repeat with remaining dough. The small pies are now ready for stuffing.
  6. Make filling: Remove the tough outer leaves from 2 heads of cabbage, and cut the heads into quarters, removing the tough core. Chop the cabbage leaves finely.
  7. Mix cabbage with salt in a bowl and let stand for 15 minutes. Pour the cabbage into a colander in the sink and drain.
  8. Heat 4 cups of water to boiling and carefully pour boiling water over the cabbage in the colander. Let drain.
  9. Next, melt the butter in a large skillet and add the chopped onion. Sauté until softened (about 5 minutes).
  10. Add the drained cabbage to the skillet and continue cooking, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the cabbage is soft (about 30 minutes).
  11. While the cabbage is cooking, remove the shells from the hard-boiled eggs and chop the eggs.
  12. Add dill or parsley and chopped eggs to the cooked cabbage and cook for 2 or 3 minutes longer. Remove from heat.
  13. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  14. To assemble piroghi: Transfer the dough rectangle to the greased cookie sheet.
  15. Spread the cabbage mixture over ½ the dough, fold the dough over and pinch the edges together.
  16. To assemble pirozhki: Fill each pirozhki with about 1½ Tablespoons of the cabbage mixture.
  17. Pinch edges together and place on a greased cookie sheet with the seamless edge up.
  18. Bake the piroghi for about 30 minutes, until golden.
  19. Bake the pirozhkis for about 15 minutes.

Sharlotka (Apple Cake)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tart apples, such as Granny Smith

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine flour, sugar, and eggs, beating well to completely dissolve the sugar.
  3. Wash the apples, cut them into quarters, and cut away the core and seeds.
  4. Cut the apples into thin slices.
  5. Grease a round cake pan and dust it lightly with flour or plain, unseasoned white bread crumbs to prevent the cake from sticking.
  6. Arrange all apple slices on the bottom of the pan.
  7. Pour the batter mixture over the apples, spreading it gently with a rubber spatula.
  8. Bake for 25 minutes until a toothpick, inserted into the center of the cake, comes out dry and the cake is beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan.
  9. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, and place a serving plate over the pan. Invert the pan (turn the pan upside-down) onto the serving plate. May be served warm or at room temperature.
-- Both recipes from the "Food in Every Country" website.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Time Flies!

Wow.  It's been a whole week since the last blog entry.  For the entire week (which feels like it was about 2 days) I've been "meaning to" put up an entry.  Obviously, I failed.  I will get the recipe for the knuckle soup, at least.

So, when last we saw our intrepid family... heh, in my head that's in the best 1930's movie serial announcer voice -- different from radio-announcer-voice -- that ever existed.  Anyway, our next country is Russia, and Angel has done yeoman duty in finding books, sites and recipes for this week.  We seem to be visiting more of the U.S.S.R. (remember them?) than current-day Russia, as we will have some recipes from independent states like Georgia that used to be in the Soviet Union.

My best (and only) anecdote about the past week's preparations concerns the search for ingredients.  Angel couldn't find Kassen cheese, Sweet Hungarian Paprika and Hot Hungarian Paprika in Traverse City or Cadillac, and since I go to Lansing every other week for classes, I assumed there would be a gourmet- or specialty-food store or two in town.  I pass by an Asian market when I get off the expressway.  So as my economics class would down on Saturday, I hit up Google for "specialty foods: Lansing, MI."  For our purposes, I found zilch.

I did find "Signature Herbs" in a (no pun intended) seedy part of Lansing, but they turned out to be in an upstairs flat, in the back of another business, open from 9am-12pm on Saturdays, and closed that day for a funeral.  I wondered if I'd walked up the stairs and asked for "Sweet Hungarian Paprika," if the proprietor would've pulled out a big Ziploc of pot.

My next thought was that the Kroger and Meijer grocery stores in Lansing might have a larger selection of international foods, since there is a larger international population brought in by the university.  Sadly, that proved to be inaccurate, though while trolling along Lake Lansing Road looking for Meijer's, I did pass by a 13-year-old-looking kid being frisked on the sidewalk by police officers, next to a Saturn that had been pulled over by a pair of police cruisers.

And on that image, I'll leave you until the next time...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

We Ate Knuckles

Sunday.  Typically the day of the week for gigantic meals with family, the day for homestyle brunches and sitting around the parlor in your church clothes, sipping mint juleps and decrying the Northern industrial complex.  Well, maybe not all of that, but we did have the gigantic meals with family.  Ensuring that we ended Polish Week with a special bloated feeling, we had sweet omelettes for breakfast, leftovers for lunch and a dinner of stuffed eggs, "Hubert's Knuckle" pork knuckle soup, and Polish cheesecake.  I'm not sure how big the average Polish family is (in number and girth of individual members) but we fed eight people and sent home several pounds of leftovers...and still put pounds more into our refrigerator.

Starting with breakfast, it had become evident that the kids were pretty done with Poland.  They were declaring the food to be nasty before they even tasted, and the vocal portion was just an afterthought...case in point, the omelettes.  They were sweetened and had a bit of flour mixed with them, then served with preserves -- in this case with peaches that Angel had canned this past summer.  The kids gobbled the peaches, licked the egg and chorused "I'm done," with screwed-in faces.  I tasted the egg.

"It tastes like crepes!  You like crepes!" I exclaimed.
"I don't know what crepes are," Evie said.
"Yes you do...they're the thin pancakes I made for you, rolled up with jam in them."
"I don't know what those are."
"You ate seven of them."
"Well I don't like these.  I'm full."

They tasted like crepes, just a bit eggier, and I, at least, thought they were delicious.  So there.

We had a couple of hours after breakfast to relax -- or in my case to put up the entry of this blog for Saturday and try to do a little homework.  Only a couple of hours, though.  I'd say that by noon, Angel was back in the kitchen working on dinner, scheduled for five o'clock.

First was the unleavened bread.  It was made noodle-style -- pile of flour on the countertop with a hole in the middle for the milk and eggs.  You whisk the wet stuff together and gently scoop away at the flour-wall to mix it into dough...or at least that's how it goes in an ideal world.  In our case we had a core breach, immediately followed by an egg flood, and Angel mashed all the ingredients together with her bare hands.  It seemed to work, though, and the hot samples fresh from the oven were darn tasty.

Unleavened Bread

Shortly thereafter, I was pressed into service as Angel's prep cook, tasked with peeling carrots, parsnips and turnips for the knuckle soup.  Since I can't remember actually eating a parsnip or a turnip before, we tried samples while cutting them up:  Parsnips tasted like a mild, white carrot.  Turnip smelled and tasted like a mild radish.

Next, I was tasked with making the stuffed eggs, probably because they're similar to deviled eggs, which I've made before.  The recipe was substantially different, though.  No mayonnaise was harmed in the making of these eggs -- sour cream was substituted.  Also, a full pound of bacon was mixed in and the whole filling was seasoned with, guess what....dill.

Stuffed Egg Prep #2 Stuffed Egg Prep #1

After heaping the whites with filling, we stored them in the fridge until just before dinner, because the final step was to sprinkle them with breadcrumbs, drizzle them with butter and broil them for a few minutes to brown'em.  None of the eggs on this plate survived to see the morning.

Stuffed Eggs

At some point -- before the peeling and chopping, I think -- I helped make the cheesecake.  Given our lack of a food sieve, I pressed a pound of farmer cheese through a screen colander with a mixing bowl so it would be the right consistency for cheesecake filling, once mixed with freshly grated orange peel and mashed potatoes.  Yes, you read that right.

The real star of the meal, however, was the pork knuckle soup.  Gable was the real driver of this choice -- he was adamant that he wanted to eat knuckle soup, right from the beginning.  Angel had a bear of a time even finding pork knuckles, and ended up driving over an hour to "Ebel's," the only shop that would sell us less than a case of them.  To top it off, when Angel picked them up the store sold them to her at their cost, which cut the price from $40 to only $20.  Thank you!  Once in the house, the knuckles had to soak in brine that had been seasoned with pimento berries (remember them?) for a couple of days before they could be used in the soup. 

After the brining, the chopping and peeling and three hours of simmering, the soup was ready.  Angel had invited her mom and stepdad for dinner, so there were eight of us, as I believe I said earlier.  When five o'clock rolled around, we congregated, and started bringing food to the table.  First were the eggs -- which were mowed down to nearly the last man -- followed by bowls filled with soup.  The knuckle meat was so completely tender that it fell apart at the touch of a spoon.  Sadly, the parsnips and turnips had largely turned to mush, only a few recognizable pieces remaining.

"Hubert's Knuckle"

The flavor, though...holy wow!  Knuckle-meat tastes like any pork roast, only a tiny bit muskier, and after the brining was a lean, white color.  The broth was the ultimate in savory, and the vegetables had soaked up the flavor.  There were actually no complaints from the kids, and Gable declared that he wanted it for his birthday dinner in two weeks!

Evie and Grandpa Over Soup

Last, we brought out the cheesecake.  It was not like the cheesecake we're used to.  It was less rich and heavy -- surprising given the nature of the food we'd had for the past week -- and had a pleasant citrus-y flavor.



After dessert, it was time for the drawing of our next country.  I pulled out the official tin and mixed up the slips, making sure to separate them all.  Gable reached in to pull out our next destination.

"Please, just not Germany," Angel said, "Or Russia."  We'd been joking for the past couple of days about how it'd be nice to leave behind the heavy, Polish food for something lighter and maybe with less sauerkraut.  "What if we did Germany next, ha ha," we joked.

Gable pulled out the slip.  It was Russia.

We cried "foul," and a couple of other short words, and actually held a re-draw (it was Brazil) before we stopped and admitted that it was a random draw, and that we had committed ourselves to honoring a random draw.

And so, after spending the next week researching, (and eating much-missed hamburgers and mac'n cheese!) we're going to Russia.


Gable, Knuckle Soup and Unleavened Bread



Recipes:

Hubert's Knuckle


6qt water
6 pimento berries, dried
6Tbs salt
6 bay leaves
4 pig's knuckles
2 onions, chopped
soup vegetables (carrots, celery, parsnips, turnips)
1-2 bouillon cubes (optional)
salt
pepper

Add pimento, salt and 3 bay leaves to 3qt water to make a brine.  Rince knuckles well and place in brine, making sure they do not stick out of liquid.  Refrigerate for three days.  After that time, remove knuckles and rinse.  Fry onions on a dry pan until they are deep brown, almost black on both sides (this adds taste and aroma).  Add soup vegetables, optional bouillon, knuckles, salt to taste and pepper to taste in 3qt water.  Cook for about 3 hours, until knuckles are tender.  Serve with bread and either horseradish or mustard.  (note, we doubled the recipe)
-- From "Hungry Planet, What the World Eats," page 251.

Grandmother's Cheese Cake (Sernik Babci)

Dough:
1-1/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 egg
3 Tbps sour cream
1/3 cup confetioners sugar
Filling:
6 eggs
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 lb. farmers cheese or ricotta
2/3 cup melted butter
1-1/2 cups mashed potatoes (not seasoned)
          You can save the ones from the night before.
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup grated orange or lemon peel
For the dough, combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a fork.
Beat egg into the sour cream. Stir into the flour mixture then stir in the sugar. Knead the dough until well mixed and smooth.
Roll dough on a floured surface into a rectangle. Line a 13x9x2 inch pan with the dough and bring dough part the way up sides.
For the filling, separate 1 egg and reserve the whites, beat remaining yolk and whole eggs with the the sugar for 5 minutes at hight speed of a electric mixer. Add the vanilla, beat at high until the mixture is soft.
Press cheese through a sieve, blend cheese with butter add the potatoes, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. Stir in organge peel. Fold into the egg mixture. Turn into prepard crust in pan.
Bake at 350 degrees F for about 45-55 min. or until set. Cool well before cutting.
-- From Global Gourmet website.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hunter's Stew...Dun, Dun, Dunnnnn!

Saturday brought something I've been viewing with trepidation this entire week.  Hunter's stew.  One of the first recipes we found when we started looking at Poland was this strange sauerkraut soup with pork in it.  If I haven't mentioned my wife's aversion to all things pickled, let me say that in general, she can smell an open jar of pickles from 200 yards away.  I think she had a physical reaction to just the concept of a stew with four pounds of sauerkraut in the recipe.

Before that, though, there was breakfast.  I admit, I slept in until nine because it was Saturday.  I woke at about the time that Angel had the sour cream pancakes frying in the pan, and I hustled downstairs to partake.  I thought that they were pretty much like pancakes, just heavier.  They were sprinkled with powdered sugar, and it added just enough sweetness to enjoy the creamy cakes.  All the kids did was lament loudly about the lack of syrup on them until we relented, and then there was much scarfing of pancakes.

Following breakfast, Angel pretty much started cooking dinner -- Hunter's stew and onion rolls. According to Wikipedia, Hunter's Stew, or Bigos, is a traditional stew that might be considered Poland's national dish, and is often served on the second day of Christmas.  My wife says it takes three hours to cook; there's spare ribs and pork to brown, cabbage to chop, bacon to fry, mushrooms and onions to fry, more ingredients (including four pounds of sauerkraut) to mix, and a half-hour of simmering after all that.  As if that weren't enough, Angel made the first dinner rolls from scratch that she's ever made.

Elouise and Allison Helping #3

So how'd it go?  Well, after learning from the kielbasa and kraut that she liked cooked sauerkraut, Angel wasn't dreading the stew, and ended up liking it quite a bit.  I liked it -- the broth was savory, tomato-ey and salty, and complemented well by the meat and large chunks of wild mushroom.  The kids...they touched their tongues to the broth and immediately began waving around downturned thumbs and wailing "ewww," "gross," and "blech" in a disheartening chorus.  We got the twins to at least eat the meat, but Gable and Evelyn invoked our "PBJ back-door" and made themselves peanut-butter sandwiches.  Three hours of Angel's labor were rewarded by five seconds of tasting and a gale of complaints.  They're my children and I love them...but how disappointing.  If this is how relatively-familiar Poland goes, I can't wait to see them when we spend our week somewhere really exotic.

Bigos & Cebulaki



Recipes:

BIGOS (Hunter's Stew)
The secret of Bigos is that it gets better as it's reheated. The more it heated the better it gets. Serve with good bread.


4 lbs sauerkraut
1 cup apple juice
1 lb smoked pork
1 lb spareribs
1/4 lb bacon
1 can tomatoes (large)
2 cups water
2 bay leaves

black pepper

salt
4 lbs cabbage
1 lb pork loin chop or pork ribs
1 lb smoked kielbasa (sausage)
1/2 cup onions (chopped)
16 ounces mushrooms (fresh)
1 ounce mushrooms (dried)
2 tablespoons flour
1. Brown pork and spareribs in a large heavy pot.
2. Add smoked pork with 1 cup of water and simmer until 1 hour.
3. Add the sauerkraut and one cup apple juice.
4. Chop the cabbage fine and add to sauerkraut.
5. Add lots of pepper and salt cover and simmer 1 hour.
6. Remove lid and keep pot on a very low simmer.
7. In a pan, fry bacon until crisp, then crumble into sauerkraut mixture.
8. Remove most of the bacon fat and fry onions and mushrooms and flour until they just brown.
9. Mix into sauerkraut mixture.
10. Cut kielbasa into slices add to sauerkraut mixture with the tomatoes.
11. Bring to a boil, simmer 30 minutes and serve hot.
 -- from krykiet.com

Onion Rolls (cebulaki)
Before World War II, these zesty rolls were a specialty of Polish Jewish bakeries, but they continue to have many devotees to this day.  In small bowl, mash 1/2 cake yeast (equal to 1/2 pkt dry yeast) with 1t. sugar, add 3/4c. lukewarm milk, and 1/2c. all-purpose flour, sifted.  Mix well, cover with cloth, and let stand in warm place to rise about 10-15min.  Sift 2c. all-purpose flour into a larger bowl, add yeast mixture, 3T. cooking oil, 1 beaten egg, and 1/2-1t. salt.  Work by hand into a smooth, glossy dough. Cover with cloth and let rise in warm place until doubled (30-45min). Transfer to floured board, sprinkle with a little flour, and divide into 8 equal parts.  Between floured hands, roll each piece into ball, flatten with palm, and roll each into 1/4-inch-thick circle.  Place on greased baking sheet, leaving 1-1/2 inch space between rolls.  Cover with cloth and let rise in warm place about 60min.  Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice 4 onions and saute in 2T. fat (oil, butte,r oleo, lard) to a pale golden hue.  Ad 1T. water, cover, and simmer 1-2 min. or until liquid evaporates.  Salt and pepper to taste and set aside to cool.  When rolls have doubled, use floured bottom of drinking glass to make a depression at center of each and fill depression with fried onions.  Brush parts of rolls extending beyond onion filling with beaten egg and sprinkle with poppyseeds.  Bake in pre-heated 350-degree oven about 20-30 minutes or until golden.  These are good hot or cold.
--from Polish Heritage Cookery, Robert and Maria Strybel