Beluga Lentils with Pistou

Williams-Sonoma is a beautiful, dangerous place.  A couple weekends ago, when I was wandering the streets of downtown Chicago, I happened across their store on the Magnificent Mile.  I, of course, needed to go in.  About half-an-hour and several laps around the store later, my lovely, bestest food-studying-shopping-comic-aficionado companion Tor purchased a cake pan with molds of the faces of six Marvel characters (you'll probably witness the christening of this pan in the near future).  I myself left contentedly with a box of Italian 00 flour and a bag of wonderful beluga lentils.

In Europe, flour is classified by the grind, with 00 being the finest, followed by 0, 1, and 2, which is the coarsest.  Additionally, these numbers refer to the ash content of the flour, but I am not as familiar with this subject... All I know is that 00 has the lowest ash content, and 2 has the highest.  In America, we classify our flours by gluten content.  Pastry flour has less gluten than all-purpose, which has less than bread flour, and so on.  This is not the whole story, however.  American flours tend to be derived from red wheat, which has different texture properties than durum wheat, from which most European flours are ground.  Generally, American flour is "chewier" than European flour due to the differences between these wheat varieties.  Thus, the common assertion that all-purpose flour has more gluten than 00 flour, which renders the "chewier" texture of all-purpose, is a food myth.  Yes, gluten level does contribute to "chewiness", and is a useful comparison between American flours, such that products made with bread flour will be "chewier" than those with all-purpose, for example.  But gluten level is not a precise way to compare American and European flours.

Now, let us talk about beluga lentils.  The little guys are just so darn cute!  These small, black spheres look strikingly like caviar... And surprise surprise, they are aptly named after beluga caviar.  I would go on a rant about how good they are for you, but then, you've probably already heard this about lentils in general, and this variety is certainly no exception, so I shall refrain.  What I would like to rant about, however, is the fact that Hyde Park Produce (where I do most of my grocery shopping) is out of pomegranates.  Oh, the humanity.  This salad would have been absolutely perfect adorned with those crimson seeds, crunchy like a nut and sweet like a fruit at the same time.  Alas, it was not to be.  Green grapes provided a lovely substitute, but I was missing the crunch that I craved.  Some toasted almonds would have been excellent on this, to balance the soft textures of the lentils, goat cheese, and smoked salmon and to highlight the flavor of the pistou.  The recipe below will feature pomegranate seeds because that is what I had intended, but if you want to use green grapes and almonds then please do.

What is pistou, you may ask?  Short answer is pesto minus pine nuts (traditional versions also omit the parmigiano reggiano, but this cheese makes appearances in more modern renditions).  Longer answer is that pistou means "pounded" in Provençal; moreover, this notion became most strongly associated with the combination of basil, garlic, and olive oil after contact with the Genoese people and their traditional pesto.  But one could make a pistou of, say, tomatoes, or arugula, so the term doesn't strictly apply to basil.  I am a firm believer that pistou, and pesto for that matter, is absolutely best made by hand, with a mortar and pestle.  There is no other way to extract that same sensation of essential oils bursting from crushed leaves, permeating taste and olfaction with utter basil in its purest, most exquisite form.

Beluga Lentils with Pistou (for two)

2 cups water
1/2 cup beluga lentils
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and divided 
~2 ounces basil leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 ounces goat cheese
~1 pomegranate's worth of seeds
4 ounces smoked salmon

In a saucepot, bring the water and 2 whole garlic cloves to a boil.  Add 1 teaspoon salt, then the lentils, and cook ~20 minutes until tender.  Meanwhile, with your mortar and pestle, crush the other clove of garlic.  Add the remaining teaspoon of salt (it's very important that it's coarsely ground, because the sharp granules will help the pounding process), then the basil in batches depending on the size of your mortar.  Use the pestle to mash the leaves and garlic together into a paste.  Once this has been achieved, mash the olive oil into the basil-garlic mixture.

Drain the excess liquid from the lentils, remove the garlic cloves, then combine with the pistou.  After this mixture has cooled slightly, crumble in the goat cheese and fold in the pomegranate seeds.  Finish with shards of smoked salmon, and dig in.

Sweet Potato Scones

Every time I pass up a pumpkin scone at Starbucks, I die a little inside.

But once I give in and eat one I'm just like I remember this being better.  Oh it's tasty alright, sweet and a little cinnamon-y... It's also crumbly and barely tastes of pumpkin, and this makes me sad.  I want so desperately for it to be the scone of my [constructed] memory.  So I keep eating it, thinking that impossibly it'll become deliciously tender and sparkling with spice and radiantly, unequivocally pumpkin.  I end up not entirely satisfied, and with crumbs in my lap.

But what does this have to do with sweet potatoes?

Well, for one thing I love the little guys.  Sometimes I'll eat one as a snack (or meal if I've got one leftover and I'm rushing off somewhere), having become caramelized from the roasting process, with tender flesh inside and crisp, earthy skin outside.  It's also because pumpkin recipes can be great applications for sweet potatoes.  When I want to make, say, pumpkin pie, I feel compelled to stay away from canned pumpkin (it's not that canned pumpkin is a bad product, it's just not fresh, which I find always tastes better)... But dealing with a squash like a pumpkin is a much more daunting task than dealing with a lil' old sweet potato.  For one thing, sweet potatoes are easier to find.  For another, you just have to wash them and throw it in the oven for a while to cook - but with a pumpkin, you've gotta cut off the ends, scoop the seeds out, bake it for a long time, and then scrape the flesh off of the skin.  Sweet potato skin practically falls off once you've finished cooking it (and then you've got an extra snack right there).  Also, I find that the flesh of a pumpkin is a little stringier than that of a sweet potato, so if you're using it fresh in a dessert you've gotta put it through a food processor or blender (you can just mash up sweet potato flesh easily enough with a fork).  I do go through the trouble of working with pumpkin when I feel that it is necessary for a certain recipe; however, I find that the wonderful natural sweetness of sweet potatoes, in addition to their ease of preparation, often make what was once a pumpkin recipe into something truly dessert-worthy.  Or in the case of these scones, breakfast-worthy.

Since I wanted to make a better-than-Starbucks-pumpkin-turned-sweet potato-scone, I wanted to start with a Starbucks-inspired pumpkin scone recipe.  I stumbled across one from Inspired Taste which looked promising, so I rolled with it.  I substituted some oat flour, added more squash (well, potato), and adjusted some of the spices, and there you have it, sweet potato scone.  Even two days later, my leftovers are still soft, tender, and flavorful.  PSA: The dough is very soft, so be gentle and use lots of flour.  Also, I recommend popping them in the freezer for a few minutes before baking to make sure they don't go all wonky (this is a technical term, of course).

Sweet Potato Scones

1 c oat flour
1 c all purpose flour
1/3 c brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ginger
3/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
2/3 c mashed sweet potato
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices.  Using your fingers (I suppose you could use a pastry blender or whatever, but those really annoy me... For one thing, the butter keeps getting all stuck and you have to stop and get it unclumped, and for another, it's another thing to wash), blend the butter chunks into the flour until they're about the size of small peas.  Try to work the butter as little as possible (the butter being cold is what creates a flakey, light texture).  Pop the mixture in the freezer while you work with the wet ingredients.

In a small bowl, combine the mashed sweet potato, molasses, buttermilk, egg, and vanilla.  Fold these wet ingredients into the dry, mixing as little as possible.  Dump onto a well-floured surface and pat down gently into a circle, 1-2" thick (depending on how you like your scones).  Carefully cut the circle into 8 equal triangles (the dough will be sticky), then transfer them onto a parchment-papered or greased cookie sheet.  While the oven is preheating to 400° F, keep the formed scones in the freezer (you could make them a day ahead if you want, and bake them directly from the freezer, you'll just need to add a little bit to the cooking time).  Bake them for 15-20 minutes until firm, then serve warm ane drizzled with honey (or maple syrup would be delicious also).    

Carrot Cake Pancakes

Alas, I have returned.  To school, and to talking to you lovely people on the interwebs.  Hello.  Bonjour.  Здорово (Russian for sup, or if you place the accent differently, then it means cool).

I don't know if you've noticed that I've been absent from here for about two weeks now; if you have, I apologize.  I haven't really done much in the way of cooking recently - well, not interesting cooking anyway.  I've been a busy bee since I got back to Chicago, you know how it is.  And the weather is starting to be... Well... Wintry.  Finally.  Most people don't really view this as a desireable turn of events, but it's just not winter if there aren't snow and blustery winds whirling around.  Since snow-pocalypse occurred the year before I matriculated at UChicago, I feel like I missed out on something wonderful.  I've been waiting for my Chicago winter experiences to live up to such a legendary event, and I shall keep waiting.  In the meantime, awaiting Boreas' wrath, I might as well enjoy the luxury of being able to leave my dorm and go to the grocery store without struggling to surmount ten-foot piles of snow.  

My mom was the first guinea pig for these pancakes, adapted from Ellie Krieger's whole wheat pancakes from The Food You Crave.  I've only attempted a couple recipes from this book, but they've both been successful.  I've made the aforementioned pancakes as well as her apple muffins, which have become a favorite of my dad's... They'll probably appear on this site at some point.  In any case, I don't know what got me thinking about carrot cake that morning when I was home over break, puttering around the kitchen, since I've only eaten it a couple times and it's not my favorite (I'm not a huge fan of regular raisins in my desserts, or in my granola for that matter).  But it occurred to me that this cake's flavor profile would make so much sense as a healthy-ish breakfast (I say -ish, since I can't really overlook the cake part of pancake...). Maybe the amount of carrots in here, in addition to the walnuts, oat flour, molasses, and honey, qualifies these pancakes as wholesome, as far as breakfast treats go.  Maybe.  I hope so, because they're yummy... I mean they're clearly delicious, since I made them again to photograph and tell y'all about them.  

As one of my taste-testers, and future roomies (holler at you, Alexander), pointed out, the batter looks kind of unappetizing, but the pancakes turn out real puuuurdy (I mean, I think they're purdy).  The carrots soften, the batter rises up and caramelizes, and the butter bubbles away pleasantly - then you pour honey or maple syrup all over... *Lips smacking*.  When I made these at home I cooked them in coconut oil, which I really liked with the spices, but you could use canola oil or butter too.  I considered making a sauce using cream cheese, like the traditional cream cheese frosting, but I wanted this recipe to stay in the breakfast realm rather than crossing farther into dessert (but if you want to experiment, please, and let me know).  The batter is barely sweetened, so you'll really want a sweet drizzle-able something to go with it... I just had a if you give a mouse a cookie moment there.  You may also want a glass of milk to go with it...

Okay.  You get it.  Just make these and be happy that you're having healthy cake for breakfast that's got a lotta carrots in it.  Or you can have them for dinner, like I did.

Carrot Cake Pancakes

3/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 c oat flour (basically just ground up oats)
1/2 c all-purpose flour
**you can make this with just 3/4 c whole wheat flour and 3/4 c all-purpose**
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 eggs
1 c lowfat buttermilk
1/4 c freshly squeezed orange juice (one orange)
1/2 c lowfat milk
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 c chopped walnuts
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated (about 1 c, maybe more)

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk and milk, orange juice, molasses, and honey.  Add in the flours, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices, then whisk to combine.  Stir in the carrots and walnuts.

Cook in a small fry pan or on a griddle over medium-low heat.  You know it's ready to flip when, having checked the underside gently, it's lightly browned, and bubbles have formed little pockets on the uncooked side.  Flip, then finish cooking another couple minutes.  If you're making them in batches but you want to serve them all at once, keep the cooked pancakes warm in a 200° F.  I just eat them right out of the pan, dunking them in maple syrup.

Wonton Soup

Happy New Year, kids.

The advent of 2013 came and went quietly for me - quietly, and pleasantly, snuggled up on a couch in Vermont.  It was lovely to escape up there to Stowe, if only for a couple days, so that I could ski for the first time in a couple years.  My family used to go up to Smugglers Notch every February break, but scheduling got more complicated as I entered high school and Daniel (i.e. Brother) was off being all smart and stuff at RPI.  Upon going off to be all smart and stuff myself at UChicago, I didn't really get the opportunity to ski at all.  Chicago is a wee bit flat.  Anyway, skiing = outside in the cold for a long time = cold and hungry = hot and steamy and delicious noms = soup.  But oh, this isn't just any soup.  This is make-your-own-take-out Chinese food, people!

I won't lie, filling and folding all those little wontons takes some time, but it's totally worth it.  And I even cheat by using store-bought wonton wrappers.  Dear readers (whatever little following I have), you probably know by now that I'm someone who values homemade to the extreme, short of milking and butchering my own cows.  Maybe someday I'll have my own little farm and such a wonderful fantasy will become real.  Until then, I tend to make as much of a meal from scratch as I can.  But there are some nights, when I'm feeling particularly lazy, and I don't want to make fresh pasta.  That's really all a wonton wrapper is - it's pasta, and super easy to put together.  It just takes time, and since it takes long enough to fill and fold the wontons themselves, I used this shortcut.  I don't feel as badly about it, however, since store-bought wonton wrappers aren't dried (i.e. they're less processed).

I clipped this recipe from Saveur magazine about five years ago, but hadn't gotten around to cooking it until now.  I have a whole box full of recipes torn from Bon Appetit, Saveur, Whole Living, Food & Wine, La Cucina Italiana, Cook's Illustrated... The product of eight or nine years of collecting.  You can tell which ones I've prepared most often by the amount of splatters and smears on the glossy pages.  The broth of this soup is so bright and crisp, having been infused with ginger, a tonic for the sniffles and cold bones.  I happened to have ground turkey in my fridge for a different recipe, so I used it in place of the traditional ground pork - but by all means, use pork instead if you prefer.  This soup is a panacea for what ails ya' this winter.

Wonton Soup

8 cups chicken stock
4 cups plus 1 tablespoon water
3 inches ginger root, peeled (2 inches sliced into medallions, 1 inch finely chopped)
3 whole scallions plus 1 tablespoon, minced
1 tablespoon mirin
2 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 pound ground turkey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 1/4 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
~30 square wonton wrappers
~handful spinach leaves

Bring chicken stock, 4 cups water, sliced ginger, and whole scallions to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cover.  Let the broth simmer for ~10 minutes.  Remove from the heat while forming the wontons.

In a medium bowl, whisk the mirin and 1 tablespoon water into the cornstarch.  Combine the remaining scallions, remaining ginger, turkey, soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil, handling the mixture as little as possible.  Fill a small bowl or cup with water, and place a damp cloth over the wonton wrappers.  To fill the wontons, dip your finger in the water and moisten the edges of the wrapper.  Place ~1 teaspoon of filling in the center of the wrapper, then fold one corner to its opposite to create a triangle and press firmly to push out the air and seal the wonton.  Then, moisten the left and right corners of the wonton, and press them together firmly.  Keep the formed wontons under a damp towel while filling and folding the others.

Remove the scallions and ginger slices and bring the reserved broth to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, then add the wontons.  Cook, ~5 minutes, until the wonton wrapper is soft and the filling is cooked through.  Turn off the heat, then stir in the spinach.  Let the spinach wilt ~1 minute, then ladel and serve.

Mint-Brownie Gelato

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Io Saturnalia, Happy Solstice, Happy Kwanzaa, et cetera

It's almost the new year.  I remember when the years seemed to slug on and on forever, how it seemed I would die of anticipation before another Christmas rolled around.  Not to be melodramatic, but I've been feeling old lately - not middle-age-crisis old, but old enough that my little cousins are beginning to consider me more of a grown-up now.  But at least I can still play hide-and-go-seek with the best of them (I had to be summoned by olly olly oxen free from one of my hiding spots this year) even with my nineteen-year-old, nearly six-foot frame (darn that last inch >.<), I still host the post-Christmas sleepover with my younger cousins, and I still run around with them and allow them to pummel me (while their parents chat and drink downstairs).  

So Christmas came and went as it always does, with me feeling just a wee bit older than usual.   We host my mom's side of the family for Christmas each year, with a sit-down first dinner (i.e. around two o'clock), see-what-else-you-can-eat second dinner (i.e. leftovers from first dinner plus really awesome ribs which my dad makes), and let's-commence-with-the-final-food-coma dessert (i.e. ice cream sundaes and various other pastries provided in a pot-luck style).  Now, I do help my dad with first dinner, especially with the side dishes.  He does most of second dinner, since I'm usually chasing small children around and trying to prevent them from drawing with Expo markers on the walls (this goal was not achieved this year... we have some lovely black scribbles in the study now). But dessert, the sundae bar of wonders: this is my arena.  

A while back, I received The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto as a gift.  Since then, when I feel compelled to break out my ice cream maker, I almost always turn to this compilation of gelatos, sorbettos, sauces, and pastries.  Gelato differs from ice cream in terms of ratios: the former tends to have more egg yolks and milk, and less cream, than the latter; moreover, gelato does not involve the incorporation of air like ice cream does (aside from the small amount introduced during the churning process), making for a denser product.  Premium ice creams only contain a small amount of air, while cheaper products contain large amounts (so you're not necessarily getting more ice cream, just more volume).  Anyway, with gelatos and ice creams, your base ingredients consist of egg yolks, milk, cream, and sugar.  You can make a pretty darn tasty vanilla by adding a little extract to this (real vanilla extract, if you please), or you can get fancy with orange zest, cardamom, star anise, and cinnamon.  I made this combination for the Christmas sundae bar this year by infusing the milk and cream with whole cardamom pods and star anise, then making the custard with the zest and cinnamon added in.  

I think the orange-cardamom gelato was pretty successful, but it would've been better with less anise (I should've used only one star, or pericarp, rather than two to perfume the milk-cream).  My mint-brownie gelato concoction, however, was wildly successful - it was a struggle not to eat the whole batch myself.  I spied the recipe for mint-chip gelato in Ciao Bella, which was simply the plain base spiked with mint extract and laced with chocolate chunks... And for some reason, I imagined the chocolate chunks as brownie chunks instead.  Genius.  I'm sure it's been done before, but I was very pleased with myself for thinking of it.  Ciao Bella has a wonderful recipe for brownies, and it makes a ton of them - I was left with two-thirds of them for munching.  This summer I found a lovely chocolate sauce recipe that I used to make chocolate milk after crew practice, and this is what I used for this year's sundae bar.  In the past I've also made the caramel sauce from Ciao Bella, but this year I decided to forgo that addition considering the gelato offerings.  With a little homemade whipped cream, and maybe some shards of peppermint patties if you're feeling adventurous, this hot fudge mint-brownie sundae is heavenly.    

Mint-Brownie Gelato

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon mint extract

2 sticks unsalted butter
8 ounces semisweet baking chocolate
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar

Combine the milk and cream in a heavy-bottom saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat until it reaches 170° F.  If you don't have a thermometer, this is when little bubbles begin to form - so you don't want it to be boiling, or even simmering really.  Be sure to stir occasionally to prevent a skin from forming or the bottom from burning.  While the milk is warming up, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until smooth, then slowly whisk in the sugar until the mixture is smooth and pale yellow.  

Once the milk has come up to temperature, turn off the heat and temper the yolks.  This just means that we want to add, slowly, some of the hot liquid to the eggs in order to bring them up to temperature.  We do this to avoid scrambling the eggs, since we want to thicken the custard with them, not have pieces of them floating around.  I usually put my bowl of yolks on a towel to prevent the bowl from moving around while I simultaneously whisk and pour (if you have an extra pair of hands lying around, its owner could hold the bowl for you).  So, begin whisking the yolks, then start pouring in a ladel-full of hot milk-cream while you keep whisking.  Add another ladel-full, then slowly pour this egg mixture into the milk-cream pot while whisking.

Now that you have the milk, cream, eggs, and sugar in your pot, turn the heat on to low and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the custard reaches 185° F.  If you don't have a thermometer, check the custard's doneness by dunking your wooden spoon into the custard, holding the spoon with the convex side facing you (so the edge is facing down at the pot), and wipe your fingertip horizontally through the middle of the custard on the spoon.  The remaining custard should not begin to drip or slide when you do this, and it should leave a definite line where your finger had been.  This means it has thickened sufficiently.  Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer, then cool completely in the refrigerator, ~4 hours.  

While that's cooling, jump on those brownies.  Preheat the oven to 350° F and chop the chocolate into small shards.  Either in the microwave or a small saucepan, melt the chocolate and butter together, then let cool slightly.  In a small bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, and salt together.  In a large bowl, beat the eggs on low speed until smooth, then slowly add in the sugar until incorporated.  Beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed until the mixture is pale yellow and thick.  Reduce the speed again and add in the butter-chocolate mixture.  Now mix in the flour, cocoa, and salt until just combined.  I was able to fill one 13x9 inch pan and one 9x9 inch pan, but you could try other sizes.  Bake ~20 minutes (depending on your pans) until set, then cool completely.  

Cut half of the brownies from the 13x9 inch pan into small chunks, about 1/2 inch cubes, then put them in the freezer until they've hardened.  Remove your chilled custard from the fridge, then add in the mint extract.  Churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Once it's almost done, ~1 minute left, slowly add the frozen brownie chunks and let the ice cream maker churn them into the frozen custard.  Freeze until solid, then serve with hot fudge and whipped cream.  


Ukrainian Babka

About that Russian-Ukrainian dinner party on Saturday... It went swimmingly!  There was a lot of cooking to be done, so I won't post all of the recipes (after all, some of them are family secrets); however, I'll give you a little cultural-gastronomical explanation for each item on the menu, and include some pieces of Zaharchuk family tradition too.  Also, I'll have a hand in preparing Christmas dinner in a couple more days, so there will be plenty more posts to come about that.

To provide context for this meal, you must know that I am of Ukrainian origin; however, my great grandparents [on my dad's side], who arrived in America from Ukraine, spoke Russian, not Ukrainian.  My desire to connect with these cultural roots compelled my decision to study the Russian language in college.  I derive personal significance from both Russian and Ukrainian food, music, mores, et cetera, even though some animosity has existed (and probably still exists to some extent) between the two countries.  I really enjoyed cooking and presenting this meal (I made everything myself, except the pierogies and the kielbasa with kapusta; my dad is responsible for those) not only because I clearly love to cook, but also because it constituted a rite of passage for me.  In a way, I am now the keeper of the family history.  These aren't simply recipes: they capture that which defines me, and the rest of my family, as Zaharchuk.

The Menu:

Borscht - You're probably familiar with this beet soup.  Ukrainian borscht always has meat in it, while the Russian version doesn't.  I made Russian borscht from Natasha's Kitchen, with a couple adaptations, and I'm smitten by it.  I shall be eating the leftovers for the next several days with a lovely dollop of sour cream (we all know how I feel about this condiment).  Also, please don't pronounce the at the end of borscht, which in Russian characters is борщ, and there's certainly no sound.

Blintz (Ukrainian) - These are a Zaharchuk family classic.  I actually wrote my college essay for the common app about making these with my dad, and specifically about the pan we use to cook them.  They're little crepes filled with a cheese mixture and baked, served with sour cream and/or strawberries.  To give you an idea of what this pan, and this recipe, mean to my family, let me give you an excerpt from that essay:
The blintz pan found its way into my family in 1951, a gift at the wedding of my grandparents Evelyn Lukashewitz and Alexander Zaharchuk.  Together they carried on the tradition of Russian Orthodox Easter.  Grandma Z made all the classics[...] When she passed away, the tradition continued through my father.
Keep in mind that this pan probably cost 75 cents back then, and maybe 10 dollars now; but man, this charred, warped little pan sure cooks a crepe better than any Teflon one could.

Salmon Kulebiaka (Russian) - I'd never made this dish before, but we had a pescatarian among us so I was obliged to make something with fish.  It's sort of like a beef wellington, with lemon-mushroom rice, salmon, and hard-boiled eggs wrapped in puff pastry and baked.  I used Michael Symon's recipe... He's an Iron Chef, so I trusted him, and to great success.

Pierogies/Vareniki/Pelmeni (Ukrainian) - These are another Zaharchuk family tradition, and what's not to like about them?  Pasta stuffed with cheese and potatoes, and panfried with caramlized onions and butter.  Come on.  Then you eat them with sour cream!  They're delightful.  The reason why I have several names listed is because, well, they have several names.  Pelmeni is the Russian name for these dumplings, and they can be filled with a myriad of fillings.  Vareniki is what they're called in Ukrainian, but some dialects refer to them as pierogies, which is what my grandparents called them most often.  No matter what you call them, they're delicious.

Roasted Root Vegetables - Not too much to say about these, just a variety of root vegetables (turnip, butternut squash, sweet potato, carrot, and parsnip) roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Russian cuisine makes use of a lot of these hearty veggies, since it's relatively easy to grow them and keep them through the harsh winters.  Fun fact: the most commonly used cooking oil in Russia is sunflower oil, which I haven't seen in the states.

Kielbasa with Kapusta - Kielbasa is an Eastern European sausage, which I've found either fresh or smoked.  For this dinner, my dad cooked the smoked version, but both are scrumptious.  Kapusta is braised, pickled cabbage which sometimes becomes a pierogie filling in my family.  I didn't used to like this, but it's grown on me over the years, and it's not very difficult to make.  It's pretty time-consuming to make, but not compared to the babka!

Babka with Cinipaska (Ukrainian) - Babka is a Ukrainian sweet bread and another Zaharchuk favorite.  Apparently, babka is meant to be flavored with saffron (which is one of the most expensive spices by weight in the world, if not the most expensive); however, my dad didn't discover this until last year or so, since my grandmother's recipe didn't have any mention of saffron.  Neither she nor her mother could afford such a luxurious spice, so after all these years my dad and I have been trying to figure out the proper amount to add into our recipe.  We serve it toasted with cinipaska, which is a sweet cream cheese spread.  I personally like it toasted with jam, especially raspberry jam, but the cinipaska is also delicious.  My dad came to the realization that it's basically uncooked cheesecake, so he's kind of a huge fan.  The recipes for both of these are below.

Rogaliki (Russian) - I'd never heard of these darling cookies until I found them on Natasha's Kitchen while in pursuit of Russian desserts.  They taste yeasty like crescent rolls, but with the toothsome texture of a shortbread cookie, and have a little pocket of fruit preserves in the middle.  I made mine with cherry preserves.

Morozhenoe (Russian) - This is the transliterated word for ice cream, but this Russian verison is made differently from American ice cream.  Essentially, you make a very loose whipped cream, and once the cream starts to thicken, you add in a can of sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, and lemon zest, then freeze it in a mold.  After a stir two hours into the freezing and another eight hours to solidify, I just removed it from the mold and sliced it into rectangles.  The texture is slightly more icy than the American version, but it's darn tasty, and it doesn't even require an ice cream machine.  I found this recipe in Russian and tested my language skills by following the instructions with using a dictionary as little as possible.  I think I was successful.


1/2 cup warm water (90-100° F)
1/2 teaspoon and 3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 1/2 packs (3 3/8 teaspoon=3/8 ounce) active dry yeast
3/4 - 1 cup golden raisins, depending on your taste
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 ounce (a pinch) saffron (optional)
3 large eggs
1 stick butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

Warm some water in a kettle or the microwave until it reaches 90-100° F.  If you don't have a thermometer, dunk your finger into the water to test it (it should feel like the temperature of hot tub water).  Stir in the sugar and yeast, then let it proof for ~15 minutes.  Meanwhile, boil ~3/4 cup water and soak the raisins.

While the raisins are soaking and the yeast is proofing, scald the milk over medium heat (this just means bringing the milk up to a simmer) and be sure to stir frequently to keep a skin from forming and the bottom from burning.  If a skin does form, it's not a big deal, just stir it back into the milk.  Once it's simmering, add the saffron and let it purfume the milk.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, butter, salt, and vanilla.  Once the yeast has proofed and the milk has cooled to 90-100° F, whisk these into the wet ingredients as well.  From here I usually use a wooden spoon to add in the flour, one cup at a time.  After the first three cups, drain the raisins and stir those in as well.  Continue adding the flour until it's completely combined.

On a clean counter or cutting board, generously dusted with flour, knead the dough.  You'll end up adding ~1 cup of flour during this kneading process, so keep your flour container handy.  Alternately, you could knead this dough in a mixer fitted with a dough hook, but I really enjoy the process of kneading bread.  It does take ~15 minutes to knead the dough properly by hand, so get those muscles ready.  You'll know it's done when the dough is tacky, but not sticky, it's soft, and when you tear off a small piece and stretch it with your fingers, it doesn't rip (this is called the window-pane test).  Place the dough into a well-oiled bowl, turn the ball of dough around in the oil to coat.  Cover with a towel and let rise 90-120 minutes in a warm place (I set my oven to 90° F).

After the first rise, the dough will have doubled in size.  Punch down the dough (basically just push the air out) and place on a clean, well-floured counter or cutting board.  Babka is traditionally made in a tall cylindrical shape.  My dad designated a large tin can, which used to contain tomatoes I believe, for this purpose; however, loaf pans are also perfectly fine.  This recipe yields two loaf pans and a large cylinder-shaped container.  Butter and flour your pans of choice, cut the babka to size, shape, and place into the prepared pans.  Let them rise again for 60-90 minutes until they double again

Bake the loaves in a 400° F oven for ~15 minutes, then turn down the temperature to 325° F for another ~30-45 minutes.  If the loaves begin to brown too much, tent them with tin foil (but don't seal down the foil, you'll prevent the steam from escaping, and you don't want a soggy loaf).  When you tap the top of the loaf with your knuckles, it should sound hollow when it's done.  Remove the loaves from the oven, let cool in the pans until you can handle them, then cool completely on a rack.  Meanwhile, pull together the cinipaska:

3/4 pound cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup golden raisins

Cream together the cream cheese and butter, then stir in the sour cream and sugar.  Once everything is combined, add in the golden raisins.  After the babka has cooled, rub the top with softened butter, then slice.  I like to toast the babka and spread raspberry jam on it, but it's also great either toasted or not toasted with cinipaska.


Butternut Squash Soup

This is Frankie (my cousin, he's 8), helping me cut out sugar cookie candycanes! 
I've done a lot of cooking and baking these past few days since I've been home.  I really missed my kitchen with all of its equipment and cleanliness (thanks mom) and granite countertops and space - all of the space I need to have multiple food projects going and watch movies/shows with my mom's iPad at the same time.  I've been testing recipes for her, since she and my dad participate in an international dinner "club" (she hesitates to call it a club but... it's a club) with their friends every month, and this Saturday it's their turn to cook the meal.  So you'll all be hearing about that later this week.  In any case, I've gone America's Test Kitchen for the past couple days.  But last night I slept over at my cousin Frankie's house with my Auntie Emy and Uncle Frank, so no more ATK for now; however, we did cook and bake a lot - Ina Garten's ginger cookies, sugar cookies decorated with royal icing, my Nutella cake, and my butternut squash soup (with grilled cheese to go with it, mmmm).

They're supposed to be candycanes but I made a dinosaur.  Rawr. 

The butternut squash soup is my own recipe.  I've been fiddling with different ingredients for a long time, and last night's version turned out really well.  I've tried such additions as cocoa powder (weird, but good), soy sauce, garlic, et cetera, but I found that orange zest and juice do the trick.  I usually don't like to post about recipes that require expensive equipment to which some people don't have access.  But this soup is such a favorite of mine that I had to share it... You need a blender or food-processor to purée the final product (I imagine a food mill would also work, but I haven't tried it).  Ginger and cumin are my two favorite spices, and they work well together here with the squash and hint of citrus.  If I'd had fresh ginger I would've used it in place of the dry by grating in a tablespoon-ish, so if you are a ginger fan like I am then I'd recommend that (my mom dislikes ginger but really enjoys this soup when I make it for her, so don't be discouraged from this recipe).  It also takes less than an hour from start to finish... Just be careful when you're loading your blender/food-processor (only fill it up 1/3 of the way at a time, and pulse it to purée... Unless you want molten-hot soup exploding all over your kitchen).

Unfortunately, I was so excited to eat the soup that I forgot to take pictures of it.  Yeah.  Oops.  Next time I make it, I will update with soup photos.  For now, enjoy the cookie pictures!

Update (December 30): I made this soup for Christmas dinner, so I've got a picture now

Butternut Squash Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 butternut squash (~2 lbs.); peeled, seeded, and diced into 1" cubes
1 onion, diced
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1" cubes
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 golden delicious apple, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4-8 c veggie or chicken stock
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground ginger (or 1 tablespoon fresh, peeled and grated)
1 orange, zested and juiced
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat.  Add onion, carrot, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste, then cook until the vegetables have softened.  Stir in the spices (cumin, coriander, and ginger), then cook a couple minutes more to perfume.

Add the remaining veggies, and enough stock to cover everything, then bring it to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the squash and sweet potato are fall-apart tender, ~20 minutes.

Adjust seasoning, add the orange zest and juice, then purée until smooth.  Serve with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream.