My Italy

My Italy doesn’t have anything to do with the sandy beaches, vineyards on sunny slopes, Caravaggio’s Bacchus or Brulov’s Italian Midday, tourist crowds in Rome and the carnival in Venice, vine-ripe tomatoes and vacations on a Tuscan farm. I may see this sunny Italy some other time. For now, my Italy is icy winding mountain roads, an alpine village, enveloped in a blizzard, valleys so deep and mountains so high that it makes you wonder what people thought of the outside world before car and air travel; endless pistes and shoulder-deep powder off-piste; piercing icy wind in the streets of Torino; ancient castles on mountaintops; hot wine and a laconic, thin and crisp pizza with nothing more than cheese and tomato sauce on top, in front of the fire in a mountain hotel; my family on skis and snowboards making it down in time for dinner at our cabin; my sister-in-law and I taking turns shaving the fennel for the salad real thin with my folding knife. I like my Italy.

Borlotti beans and shaved fennel salad

The bean recipe will yield more cooked beans than you’ll need for the salad. Store the extra beans in their cooking liquid in the refrigerator for up to a week, serve as a side dish to meat and poultry, over pasta, or toss with sautéed sausages or ham and some greens

Serves 6

2 cups dried borlotti (cranberry) beans
1 medium onion, sliced
1 medium carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig sage

2 large fennel bulbs
Juice of 1 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt, pepper
Shaved Parmesan

Cook the beans:

Cover the beans with 1 gallon of water; let sit 4-6 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse the beans. Cover with 1 gallon of fresh water, bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low/medium low to maintain a slow simmer. Add onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, thyme, and sage. Cook until almost tender, 30-50 minutes, depending on the quality and age of the beans. Salt liberally (taste the water, not the beans; it should be a little too salty). Finish cooking until the beans are tender, 10-15 minutes. Remove vegetables and herbs, let the beans cool in their cooking liquid.

Assemble the salad:

Allow about 1/2 cup cooked beans per serving. Rinse the beans, arrange on the salad plates. Trim the fronds and stalks from the fennel bulbs (reserve a few fronds for garnish). Using a mandolin or a sharp knife, shave the fennel paper-thin, starting at the top, so that the root end holds the bulb together as you cut it. Toss fennel with the lemon juice. Arrange fennel on top of the beans, season with salt, pepper, and olive oil, garnish with shaved Parmesan and the reserved fennel fronds.

Pappardelle with rabbit ragu and wild mushrooms

Serves 6

For the pappardelle:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour, plus more for dusting
16 quail eggs, or 4 medium chicken eggs

For the rabbit ragu:
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
Salt, pepper
1 rabbit, cut up
1 large onion, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 large carrot, sliced
3 large cloves garlic
1 large can San Marzano tomatoes, or 6 very ripe Roma tomatoes, peeled
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken (or rabbit) stock
2 sprigs thyme
1 small sprig rosemary
2 bay leaves

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 Tbsp olive oil

Shaved Parmesan
Parsley leaves, for garnish

Make the pasta:

Combine the flours in a large bowl, make a well in the middle. Break the eggs into the well, mix to incorporate and make a stiff but still pliable dough. If the dough is too wet, add more semolina. If it’s too stiff to knead, add a few drops of water. Knead for 5-7 minutes. Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30-60 minutes. Using a pasta machine or a rolling pin, roll out the dough as thin as possible. Cut into 1-inch wide strips. Dust with semolina, hang over a back of a chair, or on a pasta-drying rack to dry a little.

Make the rabbit ragu:

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Place the flour in a plastic bag, season with salt and pepper. Put the rabbit pieces into the bag, toss to cover, remove from bag, shake off the excess flour, sauté until golden on both sides, 10-15 minutes. Remove to a plate. Add onions, celery, carrot, and garlic to the pan. Sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, with their juice, wine, and the stock to the pan. Using a wooden spoon or a silicon spatula, scrape all the golden pieces from the bottom and the sides of the pan to incorporate into the liquid.

Arrange the rabbit pieces in a large Dutch oven or a slow-cooker pan. Pour the vegetable, stock, and wine mixture on top. Cook on the stovetop, at a low simmer, 3 hours, or in a slow cooker, at a low setting, 6 hours or overnight.

Remove the meat from the ragu, take the meat off the bones, discard the bones. Using two forks, shred some of the meat. Return the meat to the ragu.

Cook the mushrooms:

Put the dried mushrooms in a small bowl, cover with hot water, let sit until softened, 15-20 minutes. Squeeze the mushrooms dry (strain and reserve the soaking liquid for another use, or add it to the ragu). Heat the oil on a small pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt, sauté until the mushrooms are dry and golden.


Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until a’l dente, 2-3 minutes. Remove, drain, place in individual pasta bowls. Top with rabbit ragu and sautéed mushrooms, garnish with shaved Parmesan and parsley.

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Russian food. Pelmeni

I am moving the post about this very wintery dish to the top of my blog now, in the middle of the summer, for my friend B. from Terra Linda Community Pool, who tried the “Russian ravioli” years ago in a Russian restaurant in San Francisco, and now wants to try making them herself. Enjoy!

These pot-stickers probably came to Siberia from China. Then they spread all over Russia, and became a favorite winter food. If the temperatures stay consistently below freezing for 3-4 month, you can invest into making a few hundreds pot-stickers, freeze them outside, put them in a bag, and hang it outside of the window, to be cooked as needed. They cook from frozen in about ten minutes. They are economical, easy to cook, and oh, so tasty! Shaping them is labor-intensive, but if you live in a region with freezing winters, or in a house with a large freezer, you only need to make them once a year.

In Siberia, they make pelmeni with all types of filling: mushrooms, potatoes, cabbage, grains, fish, meat, poultry, or any combinations. In Moscow, where I grew up, pelmeni are always filled with mixed meats, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and minced onion. The usual filling is half ground beef (not too lean) and half pork. Whenever we had venison, we would always mix ground venison into pelmeni filling (1/3 beef, 1/3 pork, 1/3 venison)

In my family, we would spend the afternoon before the New Years Eve making pelmeni. Mom made the filling, dad rolled out the dough, and we all shaped. The first hundred or so would go on our holiday table, the rest froze on all available surfaces out on the balcony, for winter dinners to come. We would put a whole peppercorn into one of the pot-stickers. The lucky recipient could make a wish that will come true in the new year.

In California, I like to make pelmeni for our Tahoe ski trips. After a day of skiing, they cook fast, and they taste great! Rolling out the dough is physically demanding. My dad (who is very good at it) being 9000 miles away and my boyfriend not being part of the culture, I replace them both with my pasta machine, on it’s thinnest, ravioli setting. I then cut out dough circles with a 3-inch round cutter. A glass with a thin edge, or a cut tin can can do fine. Pelmeni should be a little larger than ravioli, but smaller than most Chinese potstickers, about 2 inches across.

Serve pelmeni in beef stock with a little white wine vinegar, straight with butter and
a lot of fresh ground black pepper, with sour cream with minced garlic and scallion, or even with mayonnaise!

Makes about 200, serves 10-12

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2cup water

for the filling:
1.5 pound mixed ground meats (3/4 pound beef and 3/4 pound pork; or 1/2 pound beef, 1/2 pound pork, 1/2 pound venison)
1 large onion, minced
1 tsp salt
1 (generous) tsp fresh ground black pepper

Make the dough: sift flour into a large bowl. Mix in salt. Make a well in the center. Pour egg and water in. Mix, gradually incorporating the flour from the sides, to make very stiff dough, knead. At first it will look like it’s too dry and not coming together. Do not despair, keep kneading. If after five minutes of kneading it’s still not coming together, add a few drops of water, repeat (you can skip the gym that day). Cover with plastic, let rest 30 minutes.

Make the filling: combine ground meats, onion, season with salt and pepper, mix well.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough as thin as possible, using a rolling pin and a lot of elbow grease, of a pasta machine. Cut out 3-inch circles. Put together the leftovers, and roll out again.

Place about 1/2 tsp of filling in the center of each circle. Pinch the edges together tight. Connect the corners to make a neat ring. Place on a floured plate or cutting board. Repeat 199 times, or so. Freeze. Put in ziplock bags, keep in the freezer for up to 6 month.

To cook: in a large pan bring water to boil over high heat. Add frozen pelmeni, bring back to boil. Reduce heat to medium, cook until pelmeni float to the surface, 5-10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Serve with:
– sour cream and black pepper
– sour cream + minced garlic + minced parsley or scallion
– white wine vinegar and fresh ground black pepper
– beef stock + dash of white wine vinegar
– melted butter + a lot of fresh ground black pepper
– 1 cup sour cream blended with 1 cooked carrot and 2 minced garlic cloves
– (I didn’t say this) mayonnaise

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Winter menu for today

Our winter is mild, there is no snow, the mimosa is blooming, and we get a couple of hours of short sleeves almost every day. But by the dinner time it’s usually cold and dark. Dark, cold, and windy. Cold.

So here is a comforting winter menu that I cooked today. It’s full of hearty meats, mushrooms, citrus fruits that are natural antidepressants and are in season right now, and it even includes my Grandma’s meat pies, directly from Russia, recipe follows.

The menu:
Roasted vegetables soup

Salmon with lemon and parsley gremolata
Fennel gratin

Farfalle with creamy chicken and mushroom sauce

Roasted pork loin with honey and orange glaze
Braised red cabbage

Meat pies
Spinach salad with walnuts, orange, and goat cheese

The meat pies are based on my grandmother’s recipe for Tartar belyashi, or peremyachi, with a few changes made to accommodate modern Californian ingredients. They are a perfect accompaniment to any winter soup.

Meat pies
Makes 12

For the dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 packets active dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg
1-1/2 cup of warm water, or enough to form a soft, pliable dough

For the filling:
1 lb ground grass-fed beef
12 oz ground lamb
2 medium onions, minced
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, minced
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
Sea salt, fresh ground black pepper to taste

For cooking: 1/2 cup grape seed oil, or other high temperature, neutral-tasting oil

In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast, sugar, salt, egg. Add water, a little at a time, and mix with your hands to make a soft dough, about the texture of pizza dough. Knead for 5 minutes. Form the dough into a neat ball, put in the bowl, cover with a napkin, and set in a warm place to rise. After about 1 hour the dough should double in size. Pinch it back and fold 2-3 times. Let rise and double in size again.

Combine ground beef, ground lamb, onions, parsley, and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Fry a bite-size piece of the filling and taste for seasoning. Adjust the seasoning. Divide the filling into 12 more or less equal portions.

Remove the dough onto a surface dusted with flour. Cut the dough into 12 equal portions; roll each portion into a ball. Roll out each ball into a 6-inch disc. Place a portion of the filling in the middle of a disk, gather the sides and pinch them together to enclose the filling, leaving a small opening in the middle. Flatten the pie with your palm into 1-inch thick disk. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Let the pies rest 20-25 minutes.

Divide the oil between two large frying pans. Heat the pans over medium heat. Place the pies, open side down, into the pans. Cook until well browned. Turn over, baste with hot oil from the pans, cook until golden on the other side and cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Remove the pies to a paper towel covered plate. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Palo Alto, CA

Sautéed potatoes with mushrooms

This is the ultimate Russian winter comfort food, and it’s very easy to make. The only secret is, the potatoes and the mushrooms have to be cooked separately, then combined just before serving. Why can’t we make it a one-skillet meal? Because the mushrooms need salt early, to help them release their water and become crisp; the potatoes, on the other hand, cook best without salt, that will make them break down and lose their shape, if added too early.

Here I made this dish with store-bought crimini mushrooms. Back in Russia we used any type of foraged forest mushrooms, with even more delicious results, or, in the middle of the winter, when no fresh mushrooms were available, we would rinse pickled mushrooms to remove the brine, and then proceed with the recipe.

I like to season my mushrooms with a little thyme, garlic, and fresh ground pepper. Most Russian cooks go for sautéed onions, and leave out the pepper. Try it both ways. Both are good.

Sautéed potatoes with mushrooms
Serves four

For the potatoes:
2 Tbsp olive oil
5 large Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Sea salt

Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, cook, stirring occasionally, until almost tender. Season with sea salt, continue cooking until cooked through.

For the mushrooms:
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced 1/8 inch thin
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
2 large garlic cloves, minced
5-6 thyme sprigs, leaves picked, stems discarded

Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, season generously with salt and pepper. Cook until the mushrooms release the liquid and it evaporates. Add garlic and thyme. Continue cooking until mushrooms and garlic are browned.

Combine potatoes with mushrooms, serve as a side to braised meat, or on their own.

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The island feast

It’s always hard to come back from a vacation, especially one so perfect and food-centered as this one. Here are a few pictures from our South Pacific island feast.

Our destination was Tonga, an island kingdom located between Fiji, Samoa, and Cooks Islands, a short three-hour flight from New Zealand. From Auckland we took an Air New Zealand flight to the Tonga capital Nuku’alofa, then a charter flight in an antique 1944 DC3 airplane to the Vava’u island group, where we chartered a sailing catamaran to sail between the islands.

Picture a perfect tropical island, with a coral reef, a sandy beach, and coconut palms swaying in the warm breeze, surrounded by deep blue waters, full of fish, dolphins, and whales. Now picture sixty of these islands, a few of them with little native villages or fishing resorts, most of them uninhibited, within one-hour sail from each other. This is Vava’u island group.

Tongans love their food, and are very proud of it. The local diet is based on tropical vegetables (taro, sweet potato) and fruits (coconut, pineapple, bananas), with a lot of fresh fish and shellfish, and some pork, with some potatoes, tomatoes, chili peppers, and lettuce thrown in. At the farmers market in the main town Neiafu you get a large basket of coconuts for $7 paangas ($1 paanga roughly equals 60 US cents), and a bunch of bananas or a pile of pineapples for $3 paangas.

Farmers market in Neiafu:

This is what we were using for snacks while sailing. Our regular afternoon after diving and snorkeling snack consisted of New Zealand cheese, salami, and crackers with bananas and pineapple slices, and a drink of an unripe coconut with a shot of rum poured in.

For breakfasts, I made simple omelets with bacon and cheese for those who were hungry in the morning; those who were not subsided on instant porridge, bananas, Turkish coffee and green tea.

Our divers and fishing lines proved to be useless in the South seas: the fish shied away from the divers, and it never got the lure. I had to go fishing at the farmers market. Fortunately, the local fishermen they sell them (cheap) at the farmers market: spiny lobsters, barracuda, Pacific snapper, grouper, parrot fish, jacks, etc., come in fresh every morning. We grilled the snapper and trevally on board on our gas grill, and I pan-fried parrot fish fillets with fresh coconut flakes – all delicious, accompanied with a rice and vegetable pilaf, green salad, or boiled potatoes.

Parrot fish:

Cutting up a trevally:

Spiny lobster:

The highlight of the island cuisine is ota ika – raw fish – bite-size pieces of firm white fish, marinated with lemon juice, coconut cream, and vegetables, served with potato fries. This is addictive! Their fish soup is also coconut-based and delicious.

Ota ika:

Fish coconut soup:

Back to New Zealand, it was a completely different food experience. The country’s main feature is rolling green hills, where they raise sheep, cows, and deer. New Zealand lamb feeds the world, but it tastes the best in New Zealand in spring. Beef and venison are fresh and tender. Even in the most touristy places you get a tender cut of meat, cooked to perfection and plated beautifully.

Rack of lamb:

Lamb chops:

Venison cooked on a hot stone:


Fish and seafood:

In Auckland, fish and seafood are great, and they do mind the presentation.

Street sushi is a Southrn Hermispere exotic, and, surprisingly, they are edible, and tasty.

Breakfasts and snacks:

Our captain’s birthday falls on December, 1st. The International Date Line is set up all crooked and twisted in the South Pacific, to make sure that all the island nations are on the same time and date. So, after celebrating our captain’s first ever summer birthday in Auckland by bar-hopping, we got on the plane to San Francisco on December, 2nd, and we flew into December, 1st and back into December 2nd, three more times. The turbulences didn’t allow for a proper celebration on the plane, but we held tight to our wine glasses, and we toasted every one of our captains birthdays in and out!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Kingdom of Tonga; New Zealand

Indian home cooking, Part III

Today in my Indian client’s kitchen we were cooking some exotic vegetables that Alaka, her mom, bought at an Indian grocery store, and showed me how to prepare.

Indian eggplant is a cute little eggplant the shape and size of a small egg, deep purple color. Alaka got a dozen of them, we stuffed them with a mix made of grated peanuts and spices, and cooked with some water added to make a sauce. Here is a catch: Alaka uses her own goda masala spice blend, that she brought from home, and I don’t have the recipe for it. She promised to email me the recipe after she gets back home and gets it out of her files. For now, we tried to find an Indian store that carries this wonderfully aromatic blend of warm spices, and we failed so far… So here is the partial recipe, pending the recipe for goda masala to follow next month:

Stuffed Indian eggplant
Serves four to six

12 Indian eggplants, leaves removed
1 cup roasted peanuts, ground in a blender or food processor
1-1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
1-1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp goda masala
1 tsp salt, or to taste

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 medium onion, minced
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp jaggery (raw sugar)

Chopped cilantro, to garnish

Cut eggplants crosswise into quarters, leaving the stem ends attached. Make the stuffing: mix ground peanuts, ground coriander, ground cumin, goda masala, and salt. Open each eggplant like a flower, and put a little of the stuffing inside. Press closed.

In a heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add mustard seeds and heat until the mustard seeds start to pop. Add cumin seeds, turmeric powder, and onion. Brown lightly. Add stuffed eggplants, water, and leftover stuffing, season with jaggery. Cover and cook until the eggplants are very tender and the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Bottle gourd, or white gourd resembles a large pale zucchini. The simple preparation that we did is very characteristic of Alaka’s style of Indian cooking, and can be used with other vegetables as well. It starts with making tadka, the traditional flavor base of brown mustard seed, cumin, and turmeric. Then the vegetable is seasoned and cooked until tender.

Indian white gourd
Serves four

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
4 white (bottle) gourds, cut into small dice
1 cup water
2 tsp goda masala
Salt to taste
2 Tbsp jaggery, or to taste
Chopped cilantro, to garnish

Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add mustard seeds, heat until the mustard seeds start to pop. Add cumin seeds, turmeric, gourd, water, goda masala, season with salt and jaggery. Cover and cook until the gourd is very tender. Serve sprinkled with chopped cilantro.

Bitter melon. This one is really, seriously bitter. They say it’s very good for you, and can be addictive. This recipe balances the bitterness with the heat of the chili and the sweetness of the raw sugar, which makes for a very strong and complex taste. It’s more like a condiment than a dish. It’s traditionally eaten with roti.

4 small bitter melons
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1-1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp jaggery (raw sugar)

Cut the ends off the bitter melons. Cut them in halves lengthwise. With a spoon, scoop out and discard the seeds. Chop into 1/4-inch pieces.

Make tadka: heat oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add mustard seeds, heat until the mustard seeds start to pop. Add cumin seeds and turmeric.

Add the bitter melon, chili powder, and salt. Stir-fry until the bitter melon is tender and begins to brown, about 10 minutes.

In a mortar, break down jaggery into very small pieces. Add jaggery to the skillet, stir, and let it coat the bitter melon and caramelize.

Menu today:
Curried carrot soup

Stuffed Indian eggplant
White rice

Pacific snapper with mango-tomatillo salsa
Bean salad

Scallops with feta and spinach
Roasted butternut squash

Mushroom and asparagus frittata
Heirloom tomato salad Caprese

Chicken roasted with fennel and apples
Fennel gratin

Indian bottle gourd

Bitter melon

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Francisco, CA

Indian home cooking, Part II

A few more recipes that I learned from my Indian client’s mom, not all of them spicy.

Vegetable curry

2 Tbcp olive oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1-1/2 tsp cumin seed
1-1/2 tsp turmeric
5 medium potatoes, cubed
1 large eggplant, cubed
1-1/2 tsp ground cumin
1-1/2 tsp ground coriander
1-1/2 tsp goda masala
2Tbsp jaggery
Chopped cilantro, to garnish

In a heavy pan over medium-high heat heat the olive oil. Add mustard seeds, heat until the seeds begin to pop. Add cumin seeds and turmeric. Add potatoes; cook, turning, until potatoes are browned and almost cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add eggplant, cook until both eggplant and potatoes are tender. Add ground cumin, ground coriander, goda masala, and about 1 cup water to thin the sauce. Season with jaggery and salt. Reduce heat to medium, cook 5 more minutes. Sprinkle chopped cilantro on top.

Chicken fried rice

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 spring onions, white parts chopped (reserve green parts for garnish)
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 inch ginger, grated
2 chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 green bell pepper, cut into short strips
1 carrot, cut into short strips
4 cups cooked rice

Heat oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add onions, cook until tender and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add black pepper, grated garlic and ginger, chicken. Cook until chicken starts to brown. Season with soy sauce.

Add green bell pepper and carrot. Cover and cook until the vegetables are crisp-tender, 7-8 minutes. Add cooked rice, stir, top with chopped green onion, cover, let stand 5 minutes.

Spinach salad

2 bunches spinach, chopped, cooked, drained
1 cup yogurt
1 Tbsp brown sugar
Tadka: 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp black mustard seed, 1-1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1-1/2 tsp turmeric, 5 large cloves garlic, chopped, 4 red chili peppers, broken down, with seeds.

Lightly mash the spinach with your hands. Mix spinach with yogurt, season with salt and sugar.

Make tadka: Heat olive oil in a small heavy pan. Add mustard seed, keep heating until mustard seeds start to pop. Add cumin, turmeric, garlic, cook to brown the garlic. Add chilies. Brown lightly.

Pour tadka over the salad.

Salmon Bhapey
1-1/2 lb. thick salmon fillet from the centre of the fish, skinned
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
½-1 fresh, hot green chilli, finely chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¾ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 oz. very ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
3 tablespoons mustard oil
1 tablespoon water

Cut the fish fillet into 2.5 cm (1 inch) squares. Grind the mustard seeds coarsely in a clean coffee-grinder or mortar.

In a shallow bowl large enough to hold the fish, combine the mustard seeds, green chilli, cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper, cayenne, tomatoes and mustard oil. Mix well. Add the water and mix. Add the fish and mix gently. Cover with a plate or aluminium foil and set aside for 10 minutes.

Place the covered bowl in the steamer, cover the steamer and steam gently for 10 minutes. Remove the bowl, toss its contents gently to mix, then cover the bowl and put it back in the steamer. Cover the steamer and steam for 10-15 minutes or until the fish pieces are opaque.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Francisco, CA

Learning Indian home cooking

This month I started cooking for one of your typical international Californian families: the husband is from Hungary, the wife from India. Both love their native cuisines, and want to share them at the family dinner table, but with two little kids and two full-time jobs they of course need help cooking.

I have an extensive menu of Eastern-European dishes, including a few traditional Hungarian recipes, so I was able to satisfy the Hungarian side of the family just fine. My ideas of Indian cuisine, on the other hand, are limited to the menus of the local Indian lunch joints, and Californian dishes with “oriental” flavors. Luckily, the visiting Indian grandmother agreed to teach me a few traditional homemade dishes.

Today we had our first hands-on lesson:
Stir-fried cauliflower
Chicken curry

I was about to get lost in the family’s well-organized spice cabinet (that takes up an entire floor-to-ceiling built-in closet), when my teacher showed me a tin box with a few spices that she uses in everyday cooking.

Clockwise from the top: cumin seed, ground cumin, turmeric, black mustard seed, asafetida, ground coriander; center, red chili powder.

Tadka, the traditional flavor base, is made of cumin, mustard and turmeric, cooked in olive oil.

1-1/2 cup yellow lentils

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp black mustard seed
2 tsp cumin seed
2 tsp ground turmeric
8 dried curry leaves
8 dried red chilies, with seeds, broken up
About 2 tsp (1-1/2 inch piece) jaggery (raw sugar)

2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped, to garnish

Cook lentils in pressure cooker with 3 cups water until very tender.

Heat oil in a pot. Add mustard seed, cumin, turmeric, curry leaves, red chilies, cooked lentils. Add water to make soup consistency, season with jaggery. Bring to boil, add chopped tomatoes, bring to boil again, serve, garnished with chopped cilantro.

Stir-fried cauliflower:

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp black mustard seed
2 tsp cumin seed
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp asafetida
2 cauliflowers, cut into bite-size pieces
4 fresh hot green chili peppers, with seeds
1 tsp salt

Heat oil in a large sauté pan. Add mustard seeds, heat until the seeds start to pop. Add cumin seed, turmeric, asafetida; add cauliflower, chilies, season with salt. Stir for a while, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, cook until soft and dry, stirring occasionally.

Chicken curry:
For the curry paste:
1 small bunch cilantro
1 small bunch mint
1 medium onion
4 large garlic cloves
3-inch piece of ginger
1 medium tomato
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
1 Tbsp cumin seed

Roughly chop all paste ingredients, combine in blender, blend into almost smooth paste. Remove paste from blender; rinse the blender container with cold water, save the rinsing water.

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
1 Tbsp salt, or to taste
1 cup heavy cream

Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add curry paste, cook, stirring, until it starts to brown. Add chicken. Cook, stirring, until chicken pieces turn golden on all sides. Add 1-2 cups water from blender, scrape the pan to deglaze. Cook until the liquid thickens, 10-15 minutes. Taste, add salt. Stir in cream, cook 5 more minutes, serve over rice.

Menu today:

Chicken soup with wild rice and mushrooms

Stir fried cauliflower

Leek and potato frittata
Garlic green beans

Baked cod with tomatoes and bell peppers
Cannellini beans with kale and tomato

Chicken curry
White rice, flat bread (store-bought)

Cabbage rolls
Braised cabbage with caraway

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Francisco, CA

Magician’s Birthday

On a gorgeous summer afternoon friends and family gathered for a garden party by the pool to celebrate the birthday of a magical silk painting artist of international fame, tireless world traveller, and a beautiful woman Natasha Foucault.

Natasha’s art transforms everyone: the ladies were more beautiful than ever, wearing Natasha’s hand-painted silks, the men had her custom-made ties, and everyone was inspired by her art, her charm, and travel stories.

I had the honor to prepare the festive dinner for my art teacher and friend. Both Natasha and I were born and raised in Russia, and we love Russian cuisine, so we decided to start the dinner with zakuski, the traditional appetizer spread.

Natasha is a connoisseur of wild mushrooms, and an experienced mushroom hunter. She supplied a wealth of the finest wild mushrooms that she had collected in Northern California last season and saved in the freezer for the party.

Porcinis, chanterelles, slippery jacks – these mushrooms may seem rare and exotic to a modern Californian, but they are dear and familiar to any Russian mushroom hunter, and their aromas bring memories of childhood, of dark dense forest, sunny meadows, cool streams under shady trees, the far-away land that we still consider our own. It was such an exquisite pleasure to create both traditional and modern “fusion” dishes with these darling fungi!

For the main course we needed something simple, something that could be prepared and enjoyed while the temperature was still in the 90-ies. I opted for the grill. It is somewhat tough to grill meat, fish, and vegetables for 40 people in 95 degrees, with the sun shining straight on your back while the grill flares up in your face, but the pool made it much easier. As soon as everything was grilled and while the guests were helping themselves at my hot buffet, I got out of my chef’s coat and into the pool, and came to the table totally refreshed.

The tables were set on the lawn. While we were enjoying the meal, saying toasts and drinking wines from around the world to the health and happiness of our friend, the sun went down, the temperature dropped a little, and the host turned on the pool lighting to make our night under the stars even more magical. Then there was music, dancing, more wine, and simple and perfect seasonal fruits for the dessert.

Happy birthday, dear magician, happy birthday to you!

The menu:

Russian potato salad (Olivier)
Mushroom piroshki
Cabbage piroshki
Chicken liver mousse
Exotic mushrooms pate, porcini topping
Chanterelle, goat cheese, and caramelized onion tartlets
Assorted cold cuts
Breads, crackers

Grilled marinated beef tri-tip
Grilled Alaskan wild salmon
Assorted grilled vegetable skewers

Raw fruit and berry crumble with almonds

Chanterelles, goat cheese and caramelized onion tartlets
Makes 12

For the mushrooms:
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
8 ounces chanterelle mushrooms, fresh or frozen, thawed
salt, pepper
2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked and stems discarded

For the caramelized onion:
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

For the goat cheese filling:
4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1 egg

1 sheet of purchased frozen all-butter puff pastry (Dufour), thawed in the refrigerator

For the egg wash:
1 egg
1 Tbsp water

Heat olive oil and butter in a pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, add thyme leaves. Sauté until all the water released from the mushrooms has evaporated. Let cool.

Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onion; sauté till it starts to turn golden. Add balsamic vinegar, cook to reduce to syrupy consistency. Let cool.

Mix goat cheese with cream and egg to make the cheese filling.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out the puff pastry between two sheets of plastic wrap. Remove the top plastic, slice the pastry into 12 squares. Turn the squares oven onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, remove the plastic. With a 3-inch round cookie cutter, mark a circle in the middle of each square, taking care not to cut all the way through. Freeze.

Mix egg and water for the egg wash.

Remove the puff pastry from freezer. Spread some goat cheese filling inside the marked circles. Top with caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms. Brush the border with egg wash. Bake until the pastry has puffed and the border is golden, about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Redwood City, CA

Fish selyanka

Here is another Russian cold-weather favorite, fish selyanka. Russia’s beloved sturgeon and pickled vegetables come together in a tangy, rich, comforting soup, layered with subtle flavors.

The variations are as many as there are cooks. One version uses rinsed, chopped sauerkraut in addition to pickles, olives, and capers. In another version crayfish or shrimp shells are added to the stock, and cooked crayfish or shrimp tails are used to garnish the finished dish.

The rich fish stock for this soup can be made with any non-oily mild tasting inexpensive white fish, or with sturgeon heads and trimmings. Fatty fishes would add extra heaviness and too strong flavors to the stock, and should be avoided.

Fish that work well:
Striped bass
Sturgeon heads

Fish that don’t work:
Sea bass

If using small fish, ask the fishmonger to scale and gut it, but leave the heads and tails on – they contribute to the stock. After making the stock the fish is usually discarded. I was making mine with white perch, and the little sweet fishes from the stock actually made a very good snack; just have to be careful about the bones – they are numerous and tiny.

Fish stock is different from meat and chicken stocks because it cooks very fast. If you put the aromatic vegetables in it whole, they will just begin cooking by the time the fish is completely spent. So, to get the most out of the vegetables, we’ll chop them into large chunks.

Fish selyanka
Serves 4

For the stock:

1-1/2 lb small fish or fish heads and trimmings
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
1 whole parsley, with root, or 1 chopped parsnip and 1 small bunch of parsley leaves
1 cup white wine
Water to cover
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns

Place fish, onion, carrots, celery, parsley and parsnip into a pot. They should fit relatively tight. Pour in white wine and water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to achieve slow even simmer. Skim the stock, add bay leaf and black peppercorns. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, strain stock through a fine strainer into a clean pot. Discard the vegetables and fish (or, if the fish looks good, sprinkle it with sea salt and enjoy).

For the selyanka:

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 yellow onion, diced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 lb sturgeon, cut into four portions, skin and cartilage removed
20 olives, pitted and sliced
3 large kosher pickles, sliced
2 Tbsp capers, rinsed
1/2 cup marinated mushrooms (optional)
Salt, pepper
Lemon slices, chopped parsley (for serving)

Heat oil and butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté onions, stirring, until soft and beginning to turn color, 5-7 minutes. Add tomato paste, sauté 5 minutes more. Add 1 cup fish stock, stir well.

Bring 3 cups of stock to a boil. Add sturgeon, return to boil, reduce heat, simmer until sturgeon is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add onion-tomato mixture, olives, pickles, capers, mushrooms (if using). Heat through. Adjust seasoning. Depending on your ingredients, you may or may not need to add salt. Serve garnished with lemon slices and chopped parsley.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Rafael, CA