Here is the interview that Chef Garbo did with me for the Personal Chef magazine:
 – Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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

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Summer menu today

I met my client’s father when he was visiting from Europe almost a year ago. He loves soups, and when he learned that I am from Russia, he said I should make a borscht. I promised.

When I put borscht on the menu this week, I didn’t know that the client’s parents are coming to visit again. But here they are, and the borscht, Moscow style, is on the menu. I hope the old man enjoys it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Bacon-wrapped sea scallops
Creamed spinach

Heirloom tomato tart
Greek salad

Pork and vegetables stir-fry
Wild rice with mushrooms

Beef ragu
Fetucchine with garlic and herbs

I am very happy with this ragu: the quality of the stock that you use to deglaze the pan matters as much as the quality of the meat. Since I was making a rich beef stock for my borscht right here on the next burner, this ragu, made with grass-fed ground beef and bits and pieces of USDA Prime steak, also got fresh homemade beef stock. Other ingredients: olive oil, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, white wine, tomato paste, strained tomatoes, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, thyme, sea salt, fresh ground black pepper.

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Location:Palo Alto, CA

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.

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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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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.

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Location:Redwood City, CA

A menu and pictures from the last week

Last week was very busy. I was trying to squeeze in a dinner party in the late afternoon after a full-size family meal service, driving to serve clients from San Rafael to Cupertino, and everywhere in between. I did take a few pictures with my iPhone in the process, and here is one of my menus from the last week, illustrated:

Corned beef and cabbage soup
Zucchini and daikon, lemon vinaigrette
Poached sturgeon
Ham, mushrooms, and Manchego frittata
Duck legs with figs and port
Beef and cabbage rolls

Wild rice
Sautéed potatoes and mushrooms
Beans and peas ragout

Cauliflower gratin

Cauliflower gratin. I steamed cauliflower florets until almost tender, seasoned with salt and white pepper, added cream, topped with parmesan, baked at 400 degrees until golden.

Duck legs with figs and port. I made a lot of them recently. This is a delicious dark meat, a revelation for those tired of the omnipresent chicken. To melt out some of the fat, I first sauté the legs over medium-low heat, then pour off the fat, add sweet onion, figs, port, and herbs, and open-braise the bird in a 375 degree oven until melting-tender, about 1 hour. Open-braising preserves the crisp skin.

Ham, mushrooms and Manchego frittata. This dish is equally good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I’ve added pea greens in this version, for color and texture.

Beef cabbage rolls. Russian classic, from my childhood.

Another Russian classic – sautéed potatoes with mushrooms. The simple secrets of sautéing potatoes are to cut them into uniform pieces, turn often, and salt only when they are almost done. Sauté the mushrooms separately. Salt at once, give them enough time to release and evaporate all the water, add minced garlic and thyme leaves. A drop (just one!) of truffle oil won’t hurt.

Young fava beans just hit the market. Now they are so tender that they don’t need to be double-shelled. Other participants in this emerald green spring ragout are pea greens, snow peas, blue lake beans, English peas, red onion and purple garlic.

I poached sturgeon and turbot steaks in court bouillon, strained the bouillon, poured it over the cooked fish, topped with steamed julienned carrots, celery, and leek.

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Location:San Francisco Bay Area

Using kitchen technology, today’s menu

My Burlingame clients love a good kitchen gadget even more then I, and I get to play with their gadgets on a regular basis.

Besides the Tec super grill that I use in summer to prepare whole menus, they have a bread machine and a VitaMix blender. And of course they have a microwave oven, that most people use just to reheat food, but in fact it’s an excellent tool for steaming small amounts of vegetables too.

Today’s menu was prepared with extensive use of their kitchen technology.

The menu:

Borscht; whole wheat piroshki with mushrooms

Garlic shrimps
Quinoa pasta with chicken, mushrooms, and vegetables
Pork tenderloin roast
Beef stir-fry with spring vegetables

Roasted beets
Sautéed greens
Broccoli salad with cranberries and hazelnuts
Brown rice with garlic and herbs

Borscht is a delicious, but very labor-intensive soup, and using VitaMix to prep the ingredients cuts the manual work by 50 %.

The bread machine kneads and raises the whole-wheat dough for the piroshkis, while the blender chops the mushrooms, garlic, and onions for the filling.

I blanch broccoli, green beans, asparagus, and other green vegetables in the microwave to make them soft without losing their vibrant green color before adding them to the stir-fry, pasta sauce, etc.

Recipes to follow.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Burlingame, 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

More pelmeni

I am still dealing with 200 pelmeni from one of my December posts. Well, I guess they are down to under 100 now.

Cooking pelmeni in a clear broth and serving them with it makes a fast and warming one-pot meal (Hello, ravioli in brodo, meet wonton soup!)

Any tasty homemade stock will work. I used my fresh made chicken stock, but beef stock would be even better, and vegetable broth or, in a pinch, salted water, are good. I never use store bought stocks for clear soups. They may be OK in sauces or pureed vegetable soups, but in a clear soup you taste the broth straight, and the packaged stocks never taste right. Also, in a clear soup the broth should be clear and beautiful, I haven’t found packaged stuff that’s perfectly clear.

So, bring your homemade stock or lightly salted water with a bay leave in it to a boil, drop frozen pelmeni in, bring back to boil, reduce the heat, simmer until pelmeni float, then two more minutes. Ladle the soup into deep bowls, garnish with herbs of your choice – parsley, dill, green onions are mine – and tons of freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy in front of a fireplace, with a shot of ice-cold vodka.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Rafael, CA