Herring-Stuffed Small Potatoes

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My favorite thing about New Year's Eve is the food.


In Eastern Europe, the New Year is particularly special, as it was a holiday that replaced Christmas during the Soviet era. As a result, people would enjoy a big feast on New Year's Eve. Meals would often begin with a choice of appetizers and salads (followed by the main course and then dessert, both of which often went neglected as you'd be quite full after the first course). And, of course, herring, which would be served on a separate plate sliced, with onions sprinkled on top.


This year I decided to make an appetizer using herring. That way, those unaccustomed to the fish can enjoy a noncommittal bite. I've talked about salted herring before here, however for this recipe I simply used a jar of pickled herring slices I found at Whole Foods. This type of herring is sweeter and slightly more pungent because of the vinegar, but it works well with the potatoes.


If I can get away with it, I'll eat nothing but appetizers on New Year's Eve or at any other holiday. And if on no other occasion, New Year's is definitely the one to stuff yourself full of them. Try this herring appetizer or any one of these: salmon tartare on cucumber slices, deviled eggs, bloody mary shrimp cocktail, and mozzarella-stuffed tomatoes.


Happy New Year!

Herring-Stuffed Small Potatoes
Makes 10

You will need:
10 baby red potatoes
1/3 cup pickled herring slices, chopped
2 tsp finely chopped scallion
1 tsp capers
sprigs of dill for garnish (optional)

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the potatoes, whole and skins on, and boil until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain and cool under cold running water until potatoes are cool enough to handle.
2. With a paring knife, carefully slice 1/8 of an inch off the bottom of each potato, so that it can sit flat on a plate. Slice the tops of each potato and carefully scoop out the middle to make potato "shells;" discard the rest.
3. In a small bowl combine herring, scallion and capers. Fill the potatoes with the herring, distributing evenly among them. Serve on a serving platter garnished with sprigs of dill or refrigerate until needed.


English Mulled Cider: Wassail

Friday, December 21, 2012

Last year around the same time we were making some Norwegian mulled wine or gløgg. As the weather turned colder this year, I was on the lookout for another warm, spice-infused drink to warm the soul (and body temperature) in these dark, chilly months.

Not wanting to do a mulled wine variation again, I opted for some wassail.


Wassail (rather than wass-AIL which is what I was calling it, it is more commonly pronounced as WAH-sl, although the former version is not incorrect), is an old English mulled drink. It can be made using a variety of things, and there are many versions of it. Some use beer, others wine, with spirits sometimes added. I employed Tony to research the drink thoroughly and come up with the best version of his own.


Although there are many variables in wassail, there are some constants. One is cider (of the hard variety). The drink is said to have originated as part of a winter ritual to ensure that the next year's apple harvest would be plentiful (and hence yield more cider). It is therefore the base for the drink. Another is spices, so that the resulting cider is "mulled." It is sometimes strengthened by brandy, port, or both. Some versions add an egg, which we opted not to use. Similarly to a punch, wassail can be served with fruit floating on top, such as baked apples or oranges.

Historically it is served with toast, which is soaked in the drink and then muddled in it. The entire mixture is then consumed (presumably while toasting "wassail" or wæs hæl, which means be healthy).


There is something about the aromatic, pungent smell of nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon together with the warmth, sweetness and fruitiness of the drink that is extremely comforting in the winter.

The apples are baked slightly ahead of time, so be sure to start at least an hour before you are planning to serve it. If you're short on time, you can dispense with the apples, and add a splash of apple juice to the drink instead, together with some orange wheels to float on top. And remember Julia Child's wise advice, "always start out with a larger pot than you think you need."

As a serving suggestion: have it with some shepherd's or meat pie. Or toast. Wassail!

Adapted from NY Times
(Serves 6-8)

You will need:
5 Fuji apples, or another sweet, crisp variety
4-6 tbsp brown sugar, divided
1 large orange
2 tsp whole cloves, more if needed
Two 22 oz bottles of hard, dry cider
1 3/4 cup Madeira
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 stick of cinnamon
1/2 cup brandy

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Core the apples, then fill the middle of each apple with one teaspoon of brown sugar. Cut the orange in half. Insert cloves into one half of the orange, spaced about half an inch apart. Reserve the other half for garnishing drinks. Place the apples and the cloved orange half into a ceramic baking dish and fill with cold water about 1/4 inch deep (approximately 1 cup). Bake uncovered for 1 hour, until apples are softened. Remove from oven.
2. In a large stock pot, stir in cider, Madeira, nutmeg, ginger and the cinnamon stick. Add the baked apples, cloved orange, and the liquid from the baking dish. With heat on low, heat until the mixture is just starting to simmer. Stir in the brandy. Add the brown sugar, one tablespoon at a time, stirring to dissolve; adjust to taste. Wait until the mixture starts to simmer, then turn off the heat so as not to evaporate the contents.
3. Ladle the wassail into mugs or double-walled glasses. Garnish each drink with an orange wedge pierced with whole cloves. Serve hot.


Norwegian Chocolate Buns (Boller)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

While browsing around at an antique shop I stumbled upon the ephemera section. There was a fairly large selection with postcards from every state as well as some international ones.


I found a box, stacked somewhere between Poland and Switzerland, labeled vaguely as Scandinavia. It was separated into two sections for Denmark and Sweden. I looked through the several dozen cards and found a few from Norway. The one in the photo was sent to someone in South Amboy, NJ. The only message was “Hilsen fra” the person named, “Juleaften 1920” (Greetings from... Christmas Eve 1920).


There were a few others, black and white photographs of famous places in Oslo. One of the ski jump explained the sport, “You should see them jump. They glory in winter sports, just as we delight in baseball and football in the States.” It was sent in 1919. It reminded me of how I was when I was there, writing back to explain what was to me as a foreigner curious peculiarities or something notable.


One notable thing was bread. Baked fresh daily, it was supplied even to the smallest of grocery stores there before they opened each morning. We got into the habit of getting a loaf each time we stopped to pick up some food. Fresh, thick, hearty, soft with deliciously crispy crust, I couldn't help but tear pieces of it off to snack on during our walk home.


And boller (buns). These buns, perfectly sized to fit in your hand, can be found almost anywhere there. We stumbled upon them by accident when we were out exploring just a few days after our arrival. We started to feel slightly hungry and stopped at a newsstand for some good, black Norwegian coffee and found these buns.


Some were with raisins, others with chocolate. We bought five of the former and gulped them down immediately, splitting the fifth. They were fresh, soft, fluffy, sweet, infused with a spice that complemented them perfectly, yet gave them their particular flavor. The next day, as we were deeper into our exploration of the city, we bought ten. We each swallowed five. They were even better than the ones the day before - they were with chocolate.


The secret spice is cardamom, which is not an uncommon addition to baking around Scandinavia. In Norway, the buns are so popular that you can buy a prepared mix of them in stores. They are also very versatile. These can be had for breakfast or as a snack. The chocolate can be replaced with raisins. Or they can be baked without either and be turned into dinner rolls (without the sweets, they can be enjoyed with ham and some cheese).

Norwegian Chocolate Buns (Boller)
Makes 20

You will need:
4 cups (500g) flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cups (100g) sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
7 tbsp (100g) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) milk
1 package (0.3 oz or 8.75g) active dry yeast
1/2 cup (85g) chocolate morsels
white of 1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom, and salt in a large bowl. In a saucepan on low heat, melt butter, then add milk, and heat to about 100-105ºF (37-40ºC), stirring constantly. Sprinkle a bit of sugar and mix until dissolved. Remove from heat and pour over the yeast in a medium bowl. Stir until the yeast is fully dissolved.
2. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until uniform and dough starts to form. Cover the bowl with a towel and stand for 30 minutes to allow the dough to rise and roughly double in size. Then, stir in the chocolate morsels.
3. On a dusted surface, knead the dough a few times until smooth. Divide it into four equal pieces, then roll each piece into a sausage shape and cut each shape into 5 pieces, to have 20 equally sized pieces of dough. Roll each piece into a smooth ball between your palm and the dusted work surface. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover the buns with another sheet of parchment paper and let stand for another 15-20 minutes to allow the buns to rise more.
4. Preheat oven to 425ºF (220ºC). With a pastry brush, brush the top of each bun with the egg white. Bake until the buns are golden brown, about 12-14 minutes. Remove from oven onto a wire rack. Once the buns are slightly cooled, separate them from each other. Enjoy with a glass of milk, a cup of black coffee, or a glass of gløgg.


Kale Salad with Artichokes, Chèvre, and Cranberries

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Kale is one of my favorite leafy greens, especially in the colder months. It is very nutritious, cabbagey, and is a rather sturdy plant as it is one of the few ones that can grow well into the cold.


It is perhaps also fitting for the colder weather that the other ingredients in this salad are preserved in one form or another: goat cheese, dried cranberries, and marinated artichoke hearts.

The flavors are strong too. I have only recently began to appreciate the complexities afforded by the goat cheese, which can be quite pungent. But in this salad, the gentle, buttery flavor of the artichokes help offset it, as does the kale, tenderized by the lemon and salt. And cranberries add a requisite mild sweetness to the plate.


The salad came together one evening as I was going around a grocery store, inspired by my mom who always combines goat cheese with some sort of berries in salads. And with December just around the corner (I don't know about you, but right now the Christmas music seems as absurd as the smell of coffee in the evening, or perhaps I'm just in a time warp), the combination of ingredients seemed appropriate.

Kale Salad with Artichokes, Chèvre, and Cranberries
Serves 6

You will need:
2 cups red kale, middle stem removed, chopped
2 cups lacinato kale, middle stem removed, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 marinated artichoke hearts
1 oz goat cheese, or to taste
2 tbsp dried cranberries
Pepper to taste

Place the kale into a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Rub the leaves with your fingers until they become moist. Mix in the lemon juice. Then add artichoke hearts, goat cheese and cranberries. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.


Roasted Acorn Squash with Mushroom Stuffing

Sunday, November 18, 2012


The idea for this recipe has been in the works for some time in one form or another. I've been wanting to make a stuffed roasted vegetable dish for a while. As we entered November, I started mulling over stuffing recipes for Thanksgiving. And now that we are three days away (a fact which I am still trying to process) I settled on acorn squash stuffed with bird stuffing.


The stuffing I used here one of my favorite stuffing recipes which I've adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It is a favorite because it's flavorful, it provides some variety from the ordinary stuffing recipes (it is heavy on the mushrooms rather than bread), and it makes good use of the organ meat from the bird which is sometimes discarded.


I am a proponent of the idea that if you are buying a whole bird, you should find a way to use everything that comes with it, including the liver, gizzard, and the neck, the latter of which I usually use for stock. As I mentioned in this duck recipe, liver can be used to make a wonderful pâté which you can serve as an appetizer for hungry guests. Or, as here, you can use the liver along with any other organ meat in the stuffing itself, providing a nice compliment to the bird.


Acorn squash comes in a variety of sizes. For this recipe my intention was to serve them as an appetizer, or something you can put on your plate along with the bird carvings and a side. As a result, I used the smallest acorn squash I could find, and the ones I used here were about the size of a tennis ball. The stuffing amount was perfect to stuff eight halves of the squash that size.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Mushroom Stuffing
(Makes 8 stuffed acorn squash halves)
Recipe for the mushroom stuffing adapted from Julia Child

You will need:
4 small acorn squash (10-14 oz each)
3 tbsp canola oil, divided
gizzard and liver from 1 bird, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
10 oz button mushrooms, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
2.5 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1/2 tsp sage leaves, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
4 tbsp sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line a baking sheet with foil. Slice each squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place the squash halves on the baking sheet and use about 2 tbsp canola oil to lightly rub the inside of each half with it. Place in the oven and roast until softened, about 20 minutes.
2. In the meantime, heat the remaining 1 tbsp canola oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add the gizzard and the liver, and sauté until no longer pink, about 7-10 minutes. Add the wine, increase the heat to medium high and sauté until the wine is almost evaporated, about 5 minutes more. Place in a bowl, reserving any liquids in the pan.
3. In the same pan, sauté mushrooms and the shallot until the water from the mushrooms has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Add to the bowl with the gizzard and liver along with parsley, sage, bread crumbs and sour cream. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Remove the squash from the oven, let cool slightly and stuff each half with the mushroom stuffing. Increase the oven to 400ºF, and roast for 10-15 minutes, until the top of the stuffing is crisp and golden brown. Serve and enjoy.


Apple Charlotte: Easy Spice Apple Cake

Monday, November 12, 2012


When making this dish I was sure I was making an authentic Russian dessert. I had grown up hearing about it and eating it only at Russian tables. In Russian this dish is called Charlotka (phonetic: Sharlotka) which is the "familiar" version of the female name Charlotte. But upon further research I learned that, as with a number of dishes, its origins are a little more complicated.


According to the Wikipedia page on the dessert Charlotte, it is of vaguely Franco-Anglican origins. Presumably the dessert originally referred to some actual Charlotte or another. According to the same source, it was either Queen Charlotte, Queen consort of King George III or the daughter of King George IV, Princess Charlotte. There is also an old English word "charlyt" which refers to a custard-based dish.

There is a French version of this dessert, called "Charlotte Russe" (which translates to Russian Charlotte) that is made with ladyfingers and sweet custard or cream.


The way it is made varies. According to my mom, in Russia a more traditional older version involves bread that is soaked in an egg and sugar mixture, then mixed with chopped apples, baked and inverted onto a serving plate. However later versions are sometimes made with flour rather than bread.

Charlottes in general can be made with soaked bread, with a sponge cake base, or even a biscuit base along with fruit or cream, such as apples.


Rather than delving further into historical details, which are for the most part inconsequential, more important are the cake's practical qualities.

It is remarkably easy to make. The Russian version of Charlotte is made with only four ingredients: either bread or flour, eggs, sugar, and apples. Because the holidays are fast approaching, I made it with seasonally appropriate spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and a little bit of cardamom. The latter I borrowed from Norwegian baked desserts, which are known to use healthy helpings of the spice, especially in the winter.


As a result, the cake is perfect for the upcoming holidays. The apples are chopped and the eggs beaten with sugar for two minutes. Afterwards everything is dumped into a springform pan and put in the oven for about one hour, during which you can be free to focus on more important matters.

The cake can easily double not only as a dessert, but also breakfast for the next day. It is just as delicious cold as it is when it's warm.


Apple Charlotte
Serves 6-8

Butter for greasing
5-6 Granny Smith apples
1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9" springform pan with butter. Peel, core and slice the apples into 1/2 inch pieces. Add to a bowl and toss with lemon juice to prevent from browning.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and salt. In a separate  large bowl, place sugar and eggs and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture is roughly doubled in size, about 2-3 minutes. Turn off the mixer and gently whisk the flour mixture into the egg mixture until well blended. Fold in the sliced apples. Scoop out the mixture into the springform pan; even out the top with a wooden spoon.
3. Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour, until the top of the crust is golden brown and the top springs back when pressed lightly. Place on a wire rack to cool slightly. Run a knife along the edges of the cake to help separate from the sides of the pan. Carefully release the springform band and lift to remove. Run a knife between the bottom of the cake and the base of the pan. Let cool on a wire rack for 15-20 minutes longer before removing from the bottom of the pan and removing the cake onto a serving platter. Serve warm or chilled.


Pumpkin Patch Cupcakes for Postponed Halloween

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The night before Hurricane Sandy arrived, the transit workers started shutting off the subway system in the city and the commuter rail lines. That's when I started to take this a little more seriously. That night, I was finishing up left over blog posts on pumpkins and making cupcakes. One thing that you should know about me if you don't already, I make cupcakes whenever I'm nervous or stressed. I find it calming.

Since it was the weekend before Halloween it seemed appropriate to make Halloween-themed cupcakes. And as we had just been to a pumpkin patch the week before, I decided to make pumpkin patch themed cupcakes.


I had lying around some miniature silicone pot-shaped containers, each about the size of a mini muffin, which were oven safe. So I figured, why not make mini-cupcakes in these pots, and then decorate them as pumpkin plants. Who wouldn't like to receive their own personal tiny pot filled with a chocolate mini cupcake, hazelnut crumbs, and a buttercream pumpkin plant on top?


So this is what I was doing before the storm. Then Monday came and everything was shut down, but nothing was happening weather-wise, the hurricane was still hundreds of miles away. Then, towards the evening, the wind started to pick up and that's when things got scary. We watched the news showing water levels rising, aided in part by the pull of the full moon. Then we lost power, as did most of everyone else in New Jersey and New York. We didn't regain it until late last night (just over 48 hours, which is extremely fortunate given that there are still thousands of people out of power).


For many work and school was cancelled. We got a few days off from technology as well and were forced to entertain ourselves without availment of the luxuries provided by electricity. So in case you're in need of any ideas of how to entertain yourself during a black-out, here is a recipe.

Stock up on items with a long shelf life, like beans and other canned food. Efficient flashlights can double as a light source when the sunlight starts receding and you realize how ineffective ten enormous candles can be in comparison to a single forty watt lightbulb. Then, come up with a list of activities. Ours were, in no particular order: a capella karaoke, reading a play out loud with funny accents and gender roles reversed, trying to make gourmet meals exclusively out of foods with shelf-life of one year or longer while holding a flash light, and charades.


Also, stuffing our faces with the mini cupcakes to prevent them from spoiling during said activities.

And so the blackout, while we made the most of it, swallowed Halloween whole. But it wasn't cancelled. Instead, in New Jersey Halloween got officially postponed to Monday, November 5th.


So folks, whether you've been affected by the hurricane or not, there is still time to make these cupcakes. Because cupcakes are bound to make things brighter, power or not.

Pumpkin Patch Cupcakes
(makes 12 regular or 24 mini-cupcakes)

Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

1 1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup soy or regular milk
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line 12 muffin pan, or two 12 mini-muffin pans with fluted liners.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl beat together butter and sugar until creamy, about 2-3 minutes. Carefully add one egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. With the mixer on low, add flour and milk in alternating batches, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat until just combined. Fold in the nuts. Distribute the batter evenly among the muffin cups.
3. Bake the cupcakes 25-30 minutes (20-25 minutes for mini cupcakes), until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

Buttercream Frosting

2 sticks butter, slightly softened
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
food coloring
1/2 cup hazelnuts

1. Beat together butter, confectioner's sugar and vanilla until creamy and stiff, about 3 minutes. Divide the frosting evenly among 3 bowls. Add orange food coloring to one, add greed food coloring to the second, and leave the third white. Cover each bowl with a moist paper towel (to prevent from drying) and plastic wrap until ready to frost.
2. In a food processor, process hazelnuts into crumbs.
3. To decorate the cupcakes, spread a bit of the white frosting on top of each cupcake. Sprinkle with hazelnut crumbs to cover the cupcake. Then pipe the orange frosting using a large rounded tip to form a small ball on top of each cupcake. With a tooth pick, draw lines to resemble segments of a pumpkin. Pipe leaves using the green frosting with a leaf tip. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Enjoy!


Roasted Pumpkin and Squash Soup

Monday, October 29, 2012


On our visit to the pumpkin patch, in addition to the ones we picked for carving, we also got a small sugar pumpkin for cooking. With pumpkins so plentiful this time of year, the farmer was selling them for three dollars apiece without regard to size. So I picked a healthy four pounder.


My first thought was to make some sort of baked dessert using a pumpkin purée. But as the weather turned sour towards the evening, we wanted to have the comfort of a hot, thick soup.


We had other squash lying around as well: butternut squash and some small yellow squash. And so I settled on a savory dish with the pumpkin and made a pumpkin and squash-based soup. As I was also trying to ward off a cold, I added some ginger and garlic. The end result was a golden-hued, delicious soup mildly spicy from the ginger, sweet from all of the squash varieties, and tantalizing with the flavorful aroma of leeks.


Roasted Pumpkin and Squash Soup
Serves about 6

1 sugar pumpkin (4.4 lb or 2 kg whole)
1 butternut squash (2.2 lb or 1 kg whole)
8 tbsp canola oil, divided
3 leeks, greens removed, washed and chopped
2 small yellow squash, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 knob ginger, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups (9.5 dl) stock (chicken or vegetable)
3 tbsp fresh parsley leaves
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Wash the pumpkin and the butternut squash. Slice each in half and scoop out the seeds. Scrape away the fiberous membrane. Chop into 2-3 inch pieces and place in a bowl; mix with 5 tbsp canola oil. Place cut side down on a large baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Roast the squash and pumpkin pieces for 40-50 minutes, until soft when pierced with a knife.
2. In the meantime, heat 3 remaining 3 tbsp canola oil in a large stock pot on medium-high heat. Add the leeks and sauté until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the yellow squash, carrots, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened slightly, about 5 minutes more. Add the stock, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the squash and the carrots are cooked through, 15-20 minutes.
3. Once the pumpkin and the butternut squash are done, remove from oven and let cool slightly. Scrape the flesh from the rinds, discarding the rinds. Add the flesh to the soup, bring back to a boil and turn off from heat.
4. Strain the solids into a colander placed over a bowl, reserving the liquids. Process the solids in a food processor together with parsley. Add the pureed vegetables and the reserved liquid back to the stock pot. Bring back to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.


A Pumpkin Patch

Sunday, October 28, 2012

As we prepare for the storm that's about to wreak its havoc all over North East, I was glad that we chose last weekend to go pumpkin picking rather than putting it off until this one. When we went last Sunday, it was a beautiful sunny fall day. Today the sky is ominously gray.

I couldn't help but remember that last year's storm happened close to Halloween too. We were right about to carve pumpkins before the power went out. So we carved ours by the last remaining rays of sun, and then by candle light. Afterwards, to maximize the ghoulish effect, we red Poe aloud by holding up a candle next to the book. With another storm coming our way this year, this might be becoming a tradition. There are two perfect pumpkins sitting in our kitchen ready to be carved.

Last weekend we were on our way to a large farm, but put off by traffic and attracted by a small sign with a hand-painted pumpkin and an arrow on the side of the road, we found a tiny farm, hidden away from everything and accessible only by a dark dirt road through the woods. Spooky though the road seemed at first, when we finally got to the farm, it didn't disappoint.

The remaining photographs, including the cottage, are from the Wick House area at the Jockey Hollow national park.



Savory Pie with Meat, Rice, and Mushrooms

Friday, October 19, 2012

The idea for this pie arose largely from the fact that one night it was getting to be very cold. It was earlier in October, during the Columbus Day weekend, and the temperature dropped substantially below normal for the time. Our building was yet to turn on the heat (which normally occurs right after the holiday).

That Sunday, by the end of the afternoon, as the sun started to recede behind the horizon leaving a golden-silver cool glow at a sharp, low angle, my husband made a proposition: "let's make a pie."


There is one thing that you should know about my husband: while he appreciates a good homemade pie every once in a while, he almost never requests them because he doesn't have much of a sweet tooth. Therefore, for him to request a pie, and moreover, volunteer to make it with me (while he is an amazing cook in his own right, he doesn't bake) was doubly strange. He must have sensed the wonder in my face because he blurted out the explanation:

"I'm cold." He said. "Let's get the oven going and stay in the kitchen and hopefully the heat will warm this place up."

"Ah." I said. So we jumped into the car and went to a household goods store to get a space heater, and then to the grocery store to get ingredients for the pie.

"What kind of pie do you want?" I asked in the grocery store. "What type of filling?"

"Um." He thought for a second, realizing that perhaps after all he didn't want a sweet thing, before replying: "Meat?"


Immediately images of a savory meat and rice filled pie that my mom always makes around the holidays floated in my mind. And so we made one.

The idea of a meat pie is not as strange as it may sound. In England a mince meat pie is not unusual around the colder months. It is also no stranger to a Russian kitchen. Indeed, savory pie-type things can be quite delicious. A simple pie crust works well here. If no sugar is used, the pie crust itself is rather neutral, and it can lend itself equally well to both sweet and savory things.


That night, as our kitchen filled with warmth and delicious smells, and as the space heater was warming the rest of the apartment, the building heat also came on.

Savory Pie with Meat, Rice, and Mushrooms
(Serves 6-8)


For the dough:
2 cups (270 g) flour
1 tsp salt
7 tbsp cold butter, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
3 tbsp sour cream
3-4 tbsp cold water

For the filling:
2/3 cup (145 g) uncooked rice
1 tbsp canola oil
1 lb (454 g) ground turkey (you can also use ground beef or pork)
8 oz (227 g) button mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
3 celery sticks, finely chopped
1/4 cup (60 ml) red wine (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 tbsp parsley
1/4 cup (60 ml) chicken broth, more if needed

White of one egg
Rectangular pie pan (11 by 7 inches or 27.5 by 17.5 cm)

1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC). Mix the flour and salt in a medium bowl, add the butter and quickly rub in the butter into the flour with the tips of your finger, until the flour becomes crumbly. Add the sour cream and mix well. Add the water, one tablespoon at a time, and mix until dough starts to form (if the dough is too dry, add a few more drops of water, if it is too sticky, add a bit more flour).  Knead it a few times then roll into a ball. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. While the dough rests prepare the filling.

2. Bring 1 cup water to a boil, add rice, cover, turn the heat to low and cook until the water is evaporated and the rice is fully cooked. Remove from heat.

3. Heat oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add the turkey and brown until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove to a large bowl, reserving the juices in the pan. To the pan with the juices, add onion, mushrooms and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and the water from the mushrooms has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add the wine, increase the heat slightly, and cook until the vegetables are fully cooked, 5-10 minutes more. Add the vegetables along with the cooked rice to the bowl with the meat and mix. Add parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the chicken broth and mix well.

4. Divide the dough in half. Roll each half on a dusted surface with a rolling pin into an oval shape about 1/8 inch thick. Roll the sheet over the rolling pin, lift the pin and unroll it over a buttered pie pan, molding the sheet to the pan. Spoon in the filling and cover with the remaining sheet. Fold in the edges. Pierce the top several times to make steam vents. Brush the top with an egg white. Bake at 425ºF (220ºC) for 10 minutes, then reduce to 375ºF (190ºF) and bake 30 minutes more, until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving.


Chickpea and Potato Salad with Cilantro Dressing

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Fall is in full swing here. Colder than last year's which sputtered along from warmish weather to a snowless, tepid winter. This year it is fall in the true sense, with cool, crisp air, temperatures dropping to freezing at night, leaving leaves burnt with hues of red and yellow and ochre. And with the onset of the cold, the need to pack on more calories seems more urgent.


At a nearby Middle Eastern restaurant, always eager to try new dishes, we ordered an appetizer that seemed fitting for the weather. It was a salad consisting of chickpeas and potato slices; its transliteration is Shor Nakhod, also sometimes spelled Souur Nakhod. The salad is marinated in a tangy dressing heavy with cilantro, which fills these otherwise mild ingredients with a hefty burst of flavor.


While I do not attempt to claim to have recreated the actual dish here, I made something in a similar style - a result of trying to discern the various ingredients in the dressing, and then making several different versions at home. I've used rice vinegar, together with a bit of lemon juice, along with a heavy dose of cilantro and chives.

Marinating the chickpeas and potatoes ahead of time in the dressing helps tenderize them and make them more flavorful.

Chickpea and Potato Salad with Cilantro Dressing
(Serves 4)

1 15 oz (425 g) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp salt, plus more to taste
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1 small red potato, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
Freshly cracked white pepper

1. Place chickpeas into a mixing bowl, add salt and rice vinegar, and toss well to combine.
2. While the chickpeas are marinating, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the potato slices and boil until soft when pierced with a knife, 5-10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool completely.
3. Add the potatoes to the chickpeas, along with lemon juice, cilantro, chives, and pepper. Mix well. Taste and reseason if necessary. Cover and refrigerate for half an hour to an hour before serving.

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