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Meatballs with Rice in Tomato Sauce

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

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The basis for this meatball recipe is how my mom prepares them: the meat is combined with rice instead of other fillers like breadcrumbs, and the meatballs are stewed in low liquid for 45 minutes to one hour.

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The problem was I had been cooking French-inspired meals for a few days before I made this dish. With several different recipes beginning in the same way (sauté shallots in butter, add wine and herbs ...), I became quite accustomed to it and these steps somehow found their way into the sauce here. I found that the meatballs were much improved by this method of preparing the sauce.

Meatballs with Rice in Tomato Sauce
(Makes about 12 meatballs)

You will need:

For the meatballs:
1 cup uncooked white rice
Dash of salt
1 lb ground turkey
1 lb ground chicken
1 shallot (or 1/2 small onion), chopped
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp black pepper
Dash of paprika

For the sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot (or 1/2 small onion), chopped
1 tbsp parsley
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups vegetable stock
6 oz can tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
1. Fill a medium pot with 1 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Add a dash of salt and the uncooked rice. Cover and let simmer on low heat until the water has evaporated and the rice is almost done, 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 10-20 minutes.
2. To make the meatballs, combine ground turkey, chicken, shallot, egg, and the cooked rice in a large bowl. Add salt, oregano, pepper and paprika. Mix well. Form into large meatballs (about 2 1/2 inch in diameter); cover and refrigerate.
3. To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large pot or a tall-sided pan. Add the shallot and cook 2-3 minutes until softened. Add parsley and cook for 30 seconds more. Then add the white wine and quickly bring to a simmer; cook the onions in wine, stirring, for about one minute. Add the stock and bring to a simmer, and mix in the tomato paste. Wait until the sauce starts to simmer again, and season with salt and pepper.
4. Carefully place the meatballs into the sauce and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and let simmer, spooning the sauce over the meatballs occasionally, for 40-45 minutes, until the meatballs are fully cooked. Serve in a shallow bowl with the sauce.

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Gløgg

Friday, December 23, 2011

Residents of Northern climates know not to fool around with the elements.

If you live in a region where the winters are mild (to me, 15 - 32 ºF average is mild), imagine cold. Really cold, when the cold air feels like invisible needles piercing through your exposed skin. Then imagine: colder. So cold, that when you speak (which is unwise), the air from your mouth is steaming the air around you, and your lips and jaw begin to numb so that you find it hard to form words. Imagine flurries and icy wind. Then imagine: even colder. In the midst of winter, even in southern Norway, it gets so cold that if you bring a jug of boiling water outside and throw it up in the air it will immediately turn to ice.

As a child, having spent some time vacationing at my grandmother's who lived in the Ural region of Russia, I was no stranger to cold winters. When I was growing up, in addition to wearing animal skin and fur, tied up in a bundle with a scarf around your mouth and nose, a popular means to warm up, for adults, was a shot of hard liquor.

With the mild mid-Atlantic winters, I had forgotten just how cold it can be. I was reminded of it again in Norway.

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So there we were in Oslo, wondering around in the beginning of December, watching the sun set at 3 pm, and feeling the already-freezing temperature descend in the lingering rays of the low, cold Northern sun which soon disappeared completely. It quickly turned from being slightly unpleasant to walk around outside, to slightly unbearable. We were shopping for gifts to bring back home and I took off a glove to try on a knitted mitten, when I dropped both. I asked Tony to pick them up because I was unable to do so: I could not move my fingers, which became numb as soon as they came in contact with the air. (For the Norwegians out there reading this and laughing, to my defense, I have poor circulation and I have problems keeping my hands warm when it's much below 70 ºF).

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We came into an open-air Yule market and, with me remembering the Russian way of warming up quickly (it was a necessity at that point), veered toward the stand serving alcohol. I had a cup of gløgg, he had a cup of Jæger tea. We warmed up enough to try some moose sausage infused with red wine at the next stand, before going home.

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The point of this tale, my friends, is this: cold weather and spirits go hand in hand. Take this piece of knowledge from the Russians, and take it from the Scandinavians: they know winter, and they know alcohol. So on a cold winter night, when the days are short and the mood is cheerless, try a spice-infused, warm gløgg to lift your spirits and warm the soul.

Below is our version of gløgg, which is the Scandinavian mulled wine (also known as glögg in Swedish, and glühwein in German). In this recipe, the spice and alcohol proportions very closely approximate the taste of the gløgg we sampled in Norway on that cold December day. There are several ways of preparing it, which vary between a cold extraction (the spices are soaked in alcohol for some time) and a hot extraction (the spices are heated in the alcohol). We opted for a combination of the two, for optimal infusion in a short amount of time.

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We find that cardamom and cloves are essential (our first try was without them and the result was mulled wine but not gløgg), as is the orange peel.

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We make ours with dry, cheap red wine and aquavit, which is a Scandinavian spirit, about 40% alcohol, distilled from potatoes and infused with flavorful spices, including anise, and then aged in oak.

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As a result it complements the other ingredients in the gløgg quite well. If you cannot find aquavit, we recommend brandy, which has a similar alcohol content, and a rich oakey flavor. In a pinch, plain vodka will do, but we find that it lacks flavor and the complexity of the other spirits.

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You can serve gløgg in a mug or a double-wall glass, with some added raisins and nuts. Before taking the first sip, raise your glass and look into the eyes of those around you. Skål!*

*Skål means cheers! Once again, as a simplification, you can imagine the letter å pronounced as "awe" in a New Jersey and/or Brooklyn accent (you can read more in this post).

Winter Night Gløgg

Part 1

In a measuring cup, combine the following:

1/2 cup aquavit
1 whole star anise
2 crushed cinnamon sticks
6 crushed cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp grated orange peel
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp grated ginger root

Stir for 5 to 10 minutes.
Then cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour.

Part 2

Add the “tea” from above (including the solids) to a pot.
Then add the following to the pot:

1 bottle (750 mL) red wine
1/2 cup port

Heat this mixture until warm, then add:

1 ounce fresh orange juice
4 tbsp brown sugar

Continue heating until bubbles just begin to form, and no more.
Let it sit several minutes, so that the sediment settles to the bottom.

Part 3

Without disturbing the sediment, take the gløgg from the top with a ladle. Alternatively, filter the entire batch through cheesecloth or a mesh (discarding the solids). Serve in a mug with added raisins, cranberries, or nuts of your choice. Skål!

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Kale Slaw with Cherry Tomatoes

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

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Ever since making the dinosaur kale and radish salad, I was left intrigued and dissatisfied. I was intrigued because I like the taste of kale, it belongs to the cabbage family and I'm familiar with various ways of preparing cabbage, and because kale has many great nutritional qualities (it is rich in vitamins and has anti-cancerous properties). I like it much better than lettuce, because let's admit it, lettuce is a tasteless, bland salad filler. A salad containing lettuce is centered around other ingredients. Kale on the other hand is much more flavorful, and can stand on its own in a salad. But I was dissatisfied because kale is tough to chew on. Even the dinosaur kale, which is considered more tender than other kale, was quite an exercise in mastication.

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I therefore decided to borrow my mom's cabbage salad recipe (in which cabbage is tenderized with salt to make it softer and more palatable) and apply it to kale. I sliced kale in long shreds as one would cabbage for a coleslaw, and tenderized it with salt. I added sugar to cut the bitterness. I then marinaded the kale in lemon juice for one hour to soften it further.

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Right before serving, I added cherry tomato halves (I used orange cherry tomatoes which are more tangy and sweet, complementing the lemon flavor), and young radish sprouts. The radish sprouts taste sharply just like the radish root, providing an interesting taste contrast, but you can use alfalfa or other less strong-tasting sprouts. With time to marinade, the toughness of the kale all but disappeared, as did the bitterness. The salad became a tender, savory combination of citrus taste of the lemon, sweetness of the tomatoes, slight sharpness of the radish sprouts, together with a gentle reminder that one was still eating kale.

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Kale Slaw with Cherry Tomatoes
(Serves 4)

You will need:
3 cups fresh kale, bottom stems removed, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
2 medium carrots, grated
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 tbsp green sprouts (such as radish sprouts)
Black pepper, to taste

Directions:
Place sliced kale in a large bowl and add salt and sugar. With your hands, in a swift motion begin mixing the salt and sugar into the kale, squeezing the kale as you do so. Continue squeezing the kale a few more times, until it is fairly moist with its own juices and reduced in volume by about half. Add grated carrots, scallions, and lemon juice, and toss well. Mix in the olive oil. Cover and let stand refrigerated for one hour. Just before serving, mix in cherry tomatoes, sprouts, and black pepper.

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Gluten-Free, Vegan French Onion Soup

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The French onion soup is typically served with toasted baguette slices and grated cheese. Whenever I had this soup at a restaurant, two things struck me: its taste was extremely good, and it was extremely heavy. To me it was a meal in itself, with little hope of fitting much else (one time after wandering around the Louvre, I did appreciate the extra calories, however). I was wondering if it was possible to make the soup lighter, without sacrificing its wonderful, hearty taste.

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The secret to the onion soup is, as it turns out, onion. Onion and alcohol. With those two ingredients intact, the taste is retained. It otherwise makes little difference whether the onions are cooked in melted butter or oil (although butter will arguably let the onions brown more). I used gluten free, vegan stock and I simmered the onions in wine just before adding them to the stock to extract more flavor. I thickened the soup with corn starch instead of flour. And I've omitted the cheese and bread entirely. When I told my mom I was making a vegan onion soup, she said "that's great, just remember to add lots of brandy!" As a result, in this recipe there is just as much, perhaps even more, alcohol content.

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The soup is not at all difficult to make. As with many French recipes, however, it simply takes time. The onions are slow cooked and then fried for a total of forty-five minutes (some prefer to cook them even longer). The onions are then added to an already-made (or bought) stock, in which they simmer for half an hour to forty-five minutes more. A splash of brandy is added right before the soup is ready to be served.

The soup turned out to be delicious, slightly lighter, but just as hearty and flavorful. It is salty and sweet, with a caramel-like taste of the browned onions and a bit of acidity from the wine. The taste of the soup itself (naked, as it were) is so complex that I did not miss the cheese or toasted bread. So if you happen to have more onions on hand than you know what to do with, this is a great, lighter alternative to the traditional onion soup recipe.

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Adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

French Onion Soup (Gluten-Free and Vegan)
(Serves 4)

You will need:
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups yellow onions (about 4-5 medium), thinly sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp brown sugar
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp corn starch
4 cups vegetable stock (vegan and gluten-free)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 tbsp brandy (such as cognac)
4 tbsp finely chopped green onion stalks, for garnish (optional)

Directions
1. Heat oil in a large pan on medium heat. Stir in onions, mixing well to coat in the oil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, until onions are softened and fragrant. While the onions cook, heat the stock to a simmer in a medium sized pot.
2. Add 1/2 tsp salt and brown sugar to the onions, and increase the heat to medium. Cook onions, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes. As they cook, the onions will turn translucent to pale gold to gold to slightly browned; they will also reduce substantially in volume.
3. Increase the heat to medium-high and add white wine to the onions. Stir well, scraping any onions stuck to the bottom. Wait until the wine begins to simmer, then add corn starch. Mix rapidly, until the wine is reduced slightly and the onion mixture begins to thicken, about one minute.
4. Add the onions to the simmering stock, stirring well. Bring to a boil, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in brandy. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped green onions for garnish.

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Smoked Salmon Tartare and Cucumber Appetizer

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lately we've been experimenting in our kitchen quite a bit. The best way to do that, is to simply get your hands (and kitchen counter) dirty. Remember the ingredients and the steps. If it works, write it down, if it doesn't, figure out why and try again. This makes cooking scientific (and now that science is involved, more fun for my husband).

I started out wanting to make something involving smoked salmon on cucumber slices. I've had cucumber and smoked salmon with some sort of white base variant (cream cheese, greek yogurt, sour cream) in-between on several occasions. And while I like the idea, I wanted to do something differently.

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There was a lone avocado aimlessly rolling around in the fridge drawer. It reminded me of the raw salmon tartare served on avocado we've had as a sushi appetizer with a soy sauce based marinade. We decided to make a similar marinade for the smoked salmon, and tried several different versions. One was simply soy sauce, lime juice and brown sugar (brown sugar canceled out the salt of the soy sauce, and we were largely left with taste of the lime juice). Another involved hot sesame oil, which was too distracting. The recipe that seemed to work the best was lemon juice and soy sauce mixed with the salmon first, followed by toasted sesame oil after the fish has had a chance to absorb the first two ingredients. If the sesame oil was added first, the chemistry goes, it would have simply coated the salmon and blocked the lemon juice from getting into the flesh.

We made this recipe to our taste, so feel free to adjust it to your own.

Smoked Salmon Tartare and Cucumber Appetizer
(Makes 12)

You will need:
4 oz smoked salmon, finely chopped
2 tsps fresh chives, finely chopped, plus more stalks for garnish
1 tsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tsps freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 avocado, peeled and mashed
1/2 of long cucumber, sliced into twelve 1/4 inch thick round slices

Directions:
In a bowl, combine smoked salmon, soy sauce and lemon juice. Let stand for a minute, then mix in sesame oil and chives. Adjust ingredients to taste, as suitable for your own palate. To assemble, place cucumber slices on a serving platter and spread a small amount of the mashed avocado on each slice, enough to cover it. Carefully spoon the salmon tartare on top of each slice. Top with chive stalks for garnish. Serve or refrigerate up to one hour until serving.

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Eggplant and Zucchini Lasagna

Thursday, December 8, 2011

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With the price of meat increasing at an exponential rate, I've been exploring ways to have more meatless but filling meals. This resulted in an added benefit of having a greater budget for vegetables, which no matter how fanciful, are still cheaper per pound than most meats. As a result, when I decided to make a lasagna, instead of the meat, I used a greater variety of vegetables, differing in texture, flavor and quality.

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This recipe is for a meatless lasagna made with eggplants, zucchinis, baby portobello mushrooms and peppers. Baby portobello mushrooms have a meatier texture than white crimini mushrooms, and together with eggplants provide enough density and flavor so that not even a seasoned meat eater will be left unsatisfied. Without the greasiness of sausage or ground meat, this lasagna is filling without letting one feel weighed down.

I used regular lasagna noodles in the recipe, however whole wheat noodles, which some might find too heavy in a meat-based lasagna, would work well in this recipe.

Eggplant and Zucchini Lasagna
(Serves 9-12)

You will need:
5 tbsp olive oil, divided
12 oz lasagna noodles (3/4 of 1 lb package)
1 medium white onion, peeled and sliced into strips
1 red bell peppers, sliced into strips
1 green bell pepper, sliced into strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 green zucchinis, sliced into rounds
2 Italian eggplants (or 2 small eggplants), sliced into quartered rounds
1/2 lb baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3 tbsp chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
15 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 tsp dried oregano
hot pepper flakes, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and a 1 tbsp olive oil. Cook lasagna noodles until al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Strain and fill the pot with noodles with cold water; let stand until ready to assemble the lasagna.

2. In a medium pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil on medium heat. Add onion, and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add green and red bell peppers. Season with salt, pepper, and oregano. Cover and let cook, stirring occasionally, until peppers are soft, 15-20 minutes.

3. In a large pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil on medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add zucchinis and mushrooms, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add eggplant slices, 1 tbsp chopped basil and 1 tbsp parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and the mushrooms are tender, 25-30 minutes.

4. To make the tomato sauce, combine crushed tomatoes, 2 tbsp basil, salt, pepper, and hot pepper flakes in a medium bowl. Set aside.

5. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a lasagna dish or a disposable lasagna pan with 1 tbsp olive oil. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce evenly on the bottom of the dish. Place a layer of lasagna noodles on top. Spread 1/2 of the ricotta cheese evenly on top of the noodles. Follow with 1/2 of the eggplant mixture, and half of bell pepper mixture. Ladle 1/3 of the remaining tomato sauce on top, followed by 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese. Place another layer of lasagna noodles on top. Spread the remaining ricotta cheese over the noodles. Top with the remaining eggplant mixture and the remaining bell pepper mixture. Ladle 1/2 of the remaining tomato sauce over the vegetables and sprinkle with 1/2 of the remaining mozzarella cheese. Place another layer of noodles on top, and ladle the remaining tomato sauce over the noodles.

6. Cover the lasagna with foil, and place in the oven. Bake at 350 for 1 hour, until lasagna is steaming and starting to bubble. Carefully peel back the foil and sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top. Cover and let cook about 5 minutes more, until the cheese is melted. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve garnished with fresh basil.

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Raw Kale and Radish Salad

Monday, December 5, 2011

This salad was a complete spur-of-the-moment. I went to Whole Foods and ended up coming out with things entirely different from what I had in mind, which sometimes happens to me (I get easily distracted by interesting ingredients, especially when I'm hungry). As I veered towards the fruit and vegetable section, I was intrigued by the dinosaur kale.

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I was also attracted by the daikon and red radishes, the latter always my favorite, which looked freshly picked. And I'm always a sucker for the smell of fresh parsley (it reminds me of my grandmother's vegetable garden). Because the kale and roots looked so beautiful, I wanted to preserve their freshness and use them raw. This can be tricky with things like kale (which can be quite chewy, grassy and sometimes bitter), and radishes (which can be quite sharp). But always a lover of interesting flavor combination, I decided to make a salad using these ingredients. I used lemon juice and olive oil as a dressing, together with salt and pepper, with just a small sprinkle of sugar, to help tenderize the kale a bit.

It worked out well. Though this salad, using two different radish types plus kale, demands quite a bit of mastication, it presents an interesting combination of flavors and texture. The young cherry tomatoes, which I added for color contrast, serve as a sweet and welcome treat from the other ingredients. The salad is also quite filling and can make a wonderful lunch.

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Raw Kale and Radish Salad
(Serves 4-6)

You will need:
2 cups dinosaur kale, sliced into edible pieces
1 medium daikon radish, top and root whisker removed, sliced into rounds
4-5 red radishes, tops and root whiskers removed, sliced into rounds
1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 tsp sugar

Directions:
In a large salad bowl, combine kale, daikon and red radishes, and tomatoes. In a small bowl or measuring cup whisk lemon juice, olive oil, chopped parsley, salt, pepper and sugar. Pour the salad dressing over the salad. Toss and serve.

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Friday Happy Hour: Quelque Chose de Nouveau

Friday, December 2, 2011

There are two things that are new. First, gooseberry mooseberry now has its very own domain name! So welcome, readers old and new. We hope you like the change.

Second, something new to celebrate calls celebrating with something new. Today the Friday Happy Hour returns with a Beaujolais Nouveau (if slightly belated).

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We usually like to get Georges Duboeuf as our Beaujolais Nouveau. This year we decided to try a different one: Pascal Chatelus Beaujolais Nouveau 2011.

I look forward to the release of Beaujolais Nouveau, which goes on sale the third Thursday of November, when it is typically just 6-8 weeks old. I love fruity, fresh flavors of this young wine. Some discount this wine as immature, others (like my mom) say even a glass gives them headaches. I generally disagree.

Pascal Chatelus Beaujolais Nouveau is a beautiful plum color, dark but still transluscent. The aroma is savory, fresh, very mild, and reminds me of sour cherries. I was having a hard time articulating any particular flavors upon taste. I detected light notes of oak, and, as an afterthought, very slight hints of sour cherry or red currants. But I was missing the usual freshness and fruitiness of the wine. Overall, it struck me as immature, as if it were still developing, promising to get better with age.

Husband says: "There is nothing that strikes me about it. It is typical in a good way."

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Norwegian Lamb in Cabbage Stew

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This dish is called fårikål in Norwegian (å is pronounced like awe said in a New Jersey accent). Fårikål, which means lamb or more precisely, mutton, in cabbage, is the national dish of Norway. It is typically enjoyed in the fall months.

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Traditional Norwegian cuisine is simple, hearty, and filling. To sample traditional cuisine of any region, is to realize that people consumed what their land provided. Before technology developed to the extent that for instance, tomatoes, could be grown to mathematical precision any time of year in greenhouses, food was seasonal. People ate what was available at a particular time of year, which in the colder months in northern countries in was not much. Cabbage. Potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables. Mutton. Salt and pepper for spices.

As a result, fårikål is a simple, unassuming dish. It requires a total of four ingredients (five if you count tap water): lamb, cabbage, salt and pepper corns. It is made not to impress a gourmand's palate but to satisfy. To warm. And to cozy oneself in the colder, darker months. In Norwegian, the verb "å kose seg" literally means to cozy oneself, and can be used to express that moment when you snuggle under a warm fleece blanket in the evening, in front of a fireplace, perhaps with a cup of cocoa or a glass of gløgg (mulled wine), as the cold wind howls outside.

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Lamb should be on the bone. Cabbage is sliced into wedges, starting from the core, so that they are held together to prevent the cabbage from falling entirely apart as it stews. After placing all of the ingredients in a pot, the dish is cooked for two hours and requires little attention.

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One thing that nobody ever tells you in a recipe, is the cabbage can get quite stinky as it cooks. But the end result is worth it.

Fårikål, Norwegian Lamb in Cabbage Stew
(Serves 4-6)

You will need:
1 1/2 lb lamb stew meat on the bone (such as neck or shoulder), the more fat the better
1 1/2 to 2 lb head of cabbage
2 tbsp whole black pepper corns
1 tbsp salt
1-2 tbsp flour (optional)
Water

Directions:
1. Slice the meat into large chunks. Slice the cabbage head in half, then slice each half into six or so wedges or "boats," starting from the core, so that the leaves are held together. Place the meat and cabbage in a layered fashion in a large stew pot or a Dutch oven, starting with the meat (pieces with the most fat should go on the very bottom, fat side down). Sprinkle salt and pepper corns in-between each layer. As an option, if you prefer to have a thicker stew, sprinkle a bit of flour in-between each layer.

2. Fill the pot with water, until the meat and cabbage are almost covered. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Skim any foam that forms and reduce to a simmer, adjusting the lid to let some of the steam escape. Simmer for two hours. When the dish is ready, the meat should be falling off the bone. Serve in a shallow soup plate over boiled young or fingerling potatoes.

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Whole Wheat, Pecan & Chocolate Chip Cookies

Monday, November 7, 2011

Over the weekend, after a run, I suddenly had a sweet craving. But we had no sweets (made or bought). So I ran through what we had in the kitchen in my mind, to see if I could make something on the spot. Then I thought of cookies. I like chocolate chip cookies, but I don't like them to be overly sweet. I also realized we didn't have any all-purpose flour, but we had an entire bag of organic whole-wheat pastry flour.

I looked at the bag of whole-wheat pastry flour (Bob's Red Mill). There was a note on the bag that the flour, which is organic and stone ground, was absolutely perfect for cookies. I had never used it for cookies before, but Bob looked so reassuring on the picture on the package that I decided to give it a try.

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The results were sublime. I used bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao) and pecan nuts, and added just a dash of cinnamon and a bit extra salt to turn these chocolate chip cookies slightly less sweet, perhaps ever so slightly more sophisticated (or as sophisticated as chocolate chip cookies can get). The cookies came out a little thinner than when I use regular flour, but the taste was far superior. To quote my husband, these are "chocolate chip cookies for adults."

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Whole Wheat, Pecan & Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Makes about 2 dozen cookies)

You will need:
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup), softened
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 large brown egg
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecan nuts

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheet with foil.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. In a medium bowl, mix butter, vanilla, granulated sugar and brown sugar with an electric mixer until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and mix until well blended. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture, scraping the sides with a wooden spoon, and mix until combined. With a wooden spoon, fold in chocolate chips and pecan nuts.

3. Divide the cookie dough between the baking sheets to form two dozen cookie dough balls. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until a rich golden brown (the flour will make the cookies slightly darker than if made with all purpose flour). Remove from oven, let harden slightly, peel them off the foil and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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Steak and Jalapeno Chili

Thursday, October 27, 2011

When we were discussing dinner the other day and settled on chili, my husband mentioned having a chili with slight hints of chocolate at a restaurant. We had some unsweetened cocoa which I use for baking, so we decided to add it to our chili recipe.

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Around dinner time, as I got distracted with making a pumpkin pie, my husband took over making the chili entirely. Using our regular chili recipe, he added chopped jalapeno and poblano peppers, more garlic, and cinnamon which I don't usually add. He added the cocoa and substituted black pepper with cayenne. 

We love the complexity of the taste of this chili. The hot peppers add a hint of heat without being overpowering. Cinnamon, cocoa and cumin blend well together, each taking its turn with the taste buds. And steak and vegetables add greater texture to the dish than ground meat.

Steak and Jalapeno Chili
(Serves 6)

You will need:
1 tbsp canola oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed 
1 lb steak, such as flank or London broil, sliced into small cubes (1/3 inch)
1 small red onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 poblano pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 15 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Cayenne pepper to taste
Salt to taste

Directions:
1. Heat oil in a large soup pot or a Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add cubed steak and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is slightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Add onion, celery, bell and poblano peppers, and jalapeno and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften.

2. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and beans. Cover and bring to a boil.  Season with chili powder, cumin, cocoa powder, cinnamon, oregano, cayenne pepper and salt. Stir well and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes or until all the vegetables are cooked through. Remove from heat, and serve with sour cream or shredded cheese.

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Spicy Steak Burritos

Friday, September 9, 2011

As mentioned before, we love spicy food. And once one's palate becomes accustomed to to the slow, growing burning of the taste of hot peppers, it becomes a never-ending quest of trying to recapture that sensation one experiences when taking the first bite, where the lines between pleasure and pain are blurred, and which acts as a fierce reminder of being very much alive. But with taste buds developing more tolerance with each sprinkle of chili seeds, each drop of hot sauce, it leaves one craving for more.

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Which brings me to this recipe. We use chili flakes in the marinade, in addition to fresh serrano or jalapeno peppers which are cooked until they've just begun to soften but still retain their crunchiness and much of their spice. They are added to the meat and wrapped snugly inside a giant burrito wrap. Sour cream is recommended. Eat at your own risk, as the burritos will be quite spicy. For a gentle palate, follow the asterisks to a milder or a non-spicy option.

We've omitted rice entirely from this recipe as we find that tortilla wraps provide sufficient amount of starch. Use corn tortillas for a gluten-free option, or replace flour tortillas with whole-grain tortillas for a healthier option. We love these burritos with refried beans, sour cream, fresh salsa and guacamole.

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Note on the peppers: Poblano pepper has a mild heat (among the mildest of all the hot peppers). Serrano chiles are hotter than jalapenos (about twice as hot according to the Scoville scale), so use one or the other depending on the level of hotness you want. Both serranos and jalapenos vary in their spiciness. You may get a batch that adds plenty of flavor to your dish accompanied by a mild heat, or you may get a batch that burns your tongue. When cutting fresh jalapeno or serrano peppers, I recommend using latex gloves; if you do get a hot batch, your fingers will burn for hours if they are not used to the heat of the peppers.

Spicy Steak Burritos
(Serves 4)

For burritos you will need:
1 to 1 1/2 lb steak, such as flank or London Broil, cut into thin strips
1 Poblano pepper, cored and julienned*
1 red bell pepper, cored and julienned
2 serrano chiles or jalapenos, cored and julienned*
1 tbsp canola oil
4 burrito wraps

For steak marinade you will need:
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tbsp canola oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp dry oregano (or 1/2 tsp fresh)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dry chili pepper flakes (optional)*

*These ingredients are optional; use them only if you prefer a "hot" option as the dish will be quite spicy. For a medium option, omit serranos or jalapenos and simply use poblano and red bell peppers, using chili pepper flakes at your discretion in the marinade. For a mild option, omit serranos or jalapenos and the poblano pepper, substitute with sweet bell peppers in different colors (green, red, and yellow); omit the chili pepper flakes from the marinade.

Directions
1. Place steak strips into a medium bowl. In a measuring cup, whisk together vinegar, canola oil, garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt and chili flakes (if using). Pour over the steak strips and mix well. Let marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Heat canola oil on medium-high heat in a large pan. With tongs, cook the steak strips in small batches, flipping constantly until no longer pink, 3-4 minutes per batch. Remove the meat from pan and place into a bowl, retaining the juices in the pan . In the meat juices, sauté the peppers until you can break one down with a wooden spatula, but before they turn soft, about 5-6 minutes.

3. Serving suggestion: Place the steak and peppers on a burrito wrap, add refried beans and sour cream as additional toppings, wrap and serve. You can also try our guacamole and fresh tomato salsa recipes as toppings or tasty sides.

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Fresh Tomato Salsa

Thursday, September 8, 2011

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This fresh tomato salsa is extremely easy to make and goes well with our guacamole recipe. I love using on-the-vine tomatoes in this recipe, as they are just bursting with flavor (even if they are a bit too juicy).

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Onion and vinegar provide the requisite piquant kick. If you want the salsa spicy, use a fresh jalapeno pepper, otherwise adjust to your own palate with a sprinkle of hot pepper flakes.

Everything should be finely chopped so you can easily scoop up all the goodness with a tortilla chip. For salsa, an efficient way to finely chop tomatoes is to slice each tomato in half, then slice each half into thin slices lengthwise, then repeat cross-wise, to form small cubes.

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Fresh Tomato Salsa
(Serves 4)

You will need:
2-3 on-the-vine or plum tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp cilantro sprigs, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, cored and finely chopped (optional)
2 tsp white vinegar
Salt, to taste
Chili pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

Directions:
Place tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and jalapeno pepper (if using) into a medium bowl and mix. Add vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper flakes (if using). Mix well. Place into a serving bowl; chill until ready to serve. Enjoy with tortilla chips or as a topping for tacos.

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Guacamole

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

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This is our favorite guacamole recipe, which has evolved over the years in our kitchen. We started out with adding lots of spices and garlic but over time decided that simpler is better. Fresh cilantro, fresh lime juice and coarse salt is all the seasoning this mole requires. I also like a sprinkle of chili powder.

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Make sure the avocados are ripe: if they are too hard, you won't be able to mash them; too soft means they are rotten. They are just ripe when they give in a little when pressed with a thumb.

Guacamole
(Serves 4)

You will need:
2 ripe avocados
1/2 plum or on-the-vine tomato, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp white onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, cored and finely chopped (optional)
1/2 lime
1/8 tsp chili powder
Salt, to taste

Directions:
1. Slice each avocado in half, lengthwise. Remove the pit. Scoop out the avocado flesh with a spoon into a medium bowl, discard the peel. With a potato masher or a fork, mash the avocados to a consistency of a puree.

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2. Add tomato, onion, cilantro and jalapeno pepper (if using). Squeeze juice from 1/2 lime and season with chili powder and salt. Mix well. Place into a serving bowl and serve with tortilla chips as an appetizer or as a topping for tacos.

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Red Cabbage Coleslaw

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I love the color of this salad, which turns a basic coleslaw salad into something a bit more cheerful and different from the ordinary, green, sloppy slaw. And all it takes is simply changing the color of a few ingredients.

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True to a classic coleslaw salad, this recipe still uses cabbage, carrots, mayo and vinegar, except I substituted ordinary cabbage with red, and added a red bell pepper for greater color contrast. Maybe the color is just an illusion, but the salad seemed somehow tastier.

Red Cabbage Coleslaw
(Serves 4-6)

For the salad, you will need:
1/2 head of red cabbage, shredded
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped

For the dressing, you will need:
1/2 cup mayonnaise (low fat or canola-based)
1 tsp white vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Place cabbage, carrot, bell pepper and scallions in a bowl. In a measuring cup mix mayo, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add the dressing to the vegetables and mix well. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Serve chilled.

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Borsch

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Borsch is Ukrainian in origin, but it is also well known and eaten in other countries of the former Soviet bloc, including Russia. As with many Russian and Ukrainian dishes, there is no one recipe for Borsch. The recipe varies by region, and then by family.

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To pronounce the word Borsch, say "bohr" and then make an abrupt "shh" sound. Although common English transliteration is Borscht, there is actually no T or T sound in the Russian/Ukrainian word борщ.

Borsch is a hearty, filling, vegetable-rich soup. The broth is usually pork or beef based. Beets are an essential ingredient to borsch and are what gives borsch its rich red color.

Meat selected for the broth can be inexpensive, and it should be on the bone. My selection of meat for borsch has varied depending on what's available and what's cheap. My past borsches have been made with beef ribs, pork ribs, ox tails, pork neck bones, etc. But stay away from pork meat with skin as it will ruin the taste.

Although I typically use ordinary green cabbage for the borsch, this time I made it with a red cabbage. I noticed that it gave the soup a richer, deeper burgundy color.

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Borsch
(Serves 8)

You will need:
1 1/2 lb pork or beef on the bone
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1 parsnip, peeled and grated
1/2 head of small cabbage, shredded
2 red potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 small beets, peeled and grated
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 small white onion, peeled and chopped
2 med. tomatoes, blanched and skins removed, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Bay leaf, a few pepper corns, and other herbs (e.g. marjoram, sage, oregano)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill, parsley and scallion or chives
Sour cream (if desired)

Directions:
1. Place the meat in a large soup pot or Dutch oven, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Pour off the water and rinse the meat. With the meat still in the pot, fill it with cold water again, about two-thirds full, and bring to a boil on medium-high heat.

2. Once the water is boiling, add carrots, parsnip, cabbage and potatoes. Wait for the soup to start simmering and add beets and celery. You should instantly see the beets color the soup a deep red. Wait for the soup to simmer once more, then add onion, tomatoes and bell pepper. Squeeze the lemon into the soup and stir with a wooden spoon. When the soup starts simmering again, add bay leaf, pepper corns, other herbs you have on hand and season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Partially cover the soup and simmer on low heat for about one hour. Taste and reseason if needed. Turn off the heat and let stand for about fifteen minutes. The color will deepen as the soup rests. Serve hot, with dollop of sour cream, sprinkled with fresh parsley, dill and scallion.

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Pelmeni (Russian Dumplings)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Pelmeni are perhaps as quintessential to Russian cuisine as Borscht is to Ukrainian cuisine (for those familiar with neither: it is something that you simply have to try in order to fully experience that cuisine - analogous comparisons would include haggis in Scotland or lutefisk in Norway). Pelmeni (pl. noun) are small dumplings said to have originated in the Siberia region of Russia. They are made with a very basic dough and a simple meat filling.

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The dough is made from scratch. Using only flour, egg, water and salt it is very easy to make. However the entire pelmeni-making process is very labor-intensive (it includes kneading and rolling out the dough, using a cutter to cut out rounds for the dumplings, and then assembling each dumpling by placing the meat filling inside and hand-molding it into its saucer-shape, one by one). The process can be simplified by a special pelmeni mold, which I don't have. To make a batch of the size the recipe calls for can take from one to two hours. This is why sometimes pelmeni making is turned into a family affair, where everyone helps assemble them. When frozen, pelmeni will keep for several weeks; as a result the pelmeni are typically made in very large batches and frozen for later. I usually double the recipe whenever I make them and freeze about three-quarters of them.

Traditionally the meat filling is a mixture of ground beef, pork and sometimes veal or lamb. We use ground turkey in our recipe to cut down the fat. If you want to try the more traditional filling, simply substitute the meat amount for 1/2 lb ground beef and 1/2 lb ground pork, or use an equivalent amount of ground pork/beef/veal combination.

Cooked pelmeni may be tossed with a bit of butter before serving to prevent them from sticking together. Serve them with a dollop of sour cream on the side for dipping, or any of your favorite sauces. My husband likes them with Tabasco or Frank's. 

Pelmeni (Russian Meat Dumplings)
(Makes about 50 dumplings or about 4 servings)

You will need:

For the Dough
1 1/2 cups flour, sifted, plus more for rolling out the dough
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 to 1/3 cup water

For the Filling
1 lb ground turkey meat (alternatively 1/2 lb ground pork and 1/2 lb ground beef)
1 egg
1/4 medium onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Prepare the dough. In a large bowl stir together flour and salt. Make an indentation in the flour mixture and pour the lightly beaten egg into it. Then using your hands, fold the flour mixture into the egg until uniform and crumbly. Gradually add 1/4 cup water. Mix using your hands until the dough starts to form. If the dough flakes, add the remaining water; if the dough is too sticky add a bit more flour. Knead the dough a few times and form it into a ball. Cover and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.

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2. Prepare the meat filling. While the dough rests, prepare the meat filling. Mix together meat, onion, egg, salt and pepper. Form about fifty meatballs (about 1 inch diameter) by rolling each into a ball between your palms. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

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3. Roll out the dough. Divide the dough into two halves. Have a small bowl of flour ready for dusting. Dust your surface (you can roll the dough out on a large sheet of wax paper or on a clean kitchen counter). Dust the rolling pin. Take one half of the dough and flatten it into a five inch disk. Roll it out with a rolling pin to about 14 inch wide circle.

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Using a 2 1/2 to 3 inch wide cookie cutter, make as many round shapes as you can. Peel off the remaining edges, form into a ball and roll the dough out again, using the cookie cutter to make more round shapes.

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You should have twenty to twenty five round shapes. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough, to make a total of about fifty.

4. Assemble the pelmeni. Cover a large baking sheet with wax paper and set aside. Take one dough round and place one of the meatballs you've prepared in the center.

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Fold the dough in half, and firmly press the edges together around the filling to seal the dumpling, creating a shape that looks like a half-moon.

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Then, take the two corners of the dumpling and seal them together, to make a saucer-shaped dumpling.

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One pelmen completed. Place it onto the baking sheet and repeat with remaining dumplings. Place the dumplings next to, not on top of, each other on the baking sheet. Then, refrigerate immediately.

7. Cook the pelmeni. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add a pinch of salt. Drop the pelmeni, one by one, in the boiling water. Bring back to a simmer and cook pelmeni for 7-8 minutes or about 10 minutes if frozen (always test one dumpling to be sure the meat and the dough are cooked through by removing it from the water and cutting it in half). Drain and serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream. Other possible condiments include ketchup, mustard, horseradish or hot sauce.

6. Tips. If you have any left over dough, you can make a dumpling with a "surprise" filling, which was sometimes done when I was growing up (e.g. grated cheese, chopped sausage, or chopped olives).

If you are not cooking the dumplings all on the same day, you can freeze the rest. Place the baking sheet with the remaining dumplings in the freezer for about one hour (freezing pelmeni on a flat surface will prevent them from sticking together). After they are frozen, place the pelmeni in a Ziploc bag, seal it and keep in the freezer for up to three weeks.

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