If you told me that Russians had the most wonderful little dumplings I would have been skeptical. I mean, I've never heard of Russian dumplings. Hearty foods to make it through tough, cold winters yes. Soups and stews and pastas, yes. And if I had thought of a dumpling from Russia I would have figured thick, heavy dough. But delicate little dumplings? Never crossed my mind. Well I was wrong. I was so gloriously, wonderfully wrong.
Mr. L and I were both surprised when we walked into The Russian Deli that there were lots of options for dumplings (also known as Pelmeni or Pelmeny). There were not only different brands of frozen versions, there were homemade versions with no labels tied up in plastic bags. So Mr. L and I decided to try one of the pre-packaged frozen brands and one of the homemade brands (more on that in part 2).
I couldn't tell you why I picked the Popkoff's brand. I know that there were different types, this one being pork and beef (I think there were vegetable and chicken versions), along with different manufacturers. The ingredients listed the filling as "ground pork, beef, water, onions, all natural pork fat-no artificial ingredients, minimally processed". And they looked like little dumplings. Little tortellini. Except the dough wrappers seemed to be much thinner than regular pasta based dumplings. More like a thin pot-sticker wrapper.
After bringing them home I admit, I had no idea what to do with them. I figured I wouldn't be putting a lot of red italian pasta sauce on them LOL. Maybe use them in a soup? But it turns out, after doing some checking online, that they are usually cooked and then finished off with butter, sour cream or vinegar. So after cooking up a batch (takes 3-5 minutes after adding them to boiling water) I served them up with some butter. I also had a little bowl of vinegar and a bowl of sour cream ready, just so we could try the dumplings with those.
Oh. My. Lord. Best damn thing since sliced bread. I kid you not, they were incredible. Loved them. Loved them with butter. Loved them with sour cream. Loved them with vinegar. Loved them with butter, sour cream and vinegar mixed together! Seriously, I'm totally hooked on these dumplings. I crave them. I dream about them. I'd run several miles to get some exercise just so that I can eat a ton of them without guilt. Mr. L felt pretty much the same way. We ate the whole 16 ounce batch in one sitting. And wanted more.
The dough on these are pretty thin, you don't want to cook them in a rapid rolling boil, use more of a gentle boil. And you'll want to be careful taking them out of the water...don't dump them into a colander, take a slotted spoon and transfer them. There seems to be more filling than dough which I understand is pretty typical for pelmeni and what makes them a bit delicate.
I don't care that these weren't homemade (they actually came from Popkoff's Frozen Foods in San Francisco), I plan on making sure my freezer is always stocked with a package or two (or twelve). I think the cost was about $6 for the 16 ounce package. And as an aside, I actually liked these better than the homemade ones we bought (Mr. L loved these as much as I did but he ended up preferring the homemade version). Thank you Russian Olympics for bringing me my latest food obsession!
As I continue posting about the Russian foods we had during the Olympics I come to the strudel. Russian strudel? Who knew! We picked this up at the Russian deli because, well, Mr. L pretty much likes anything cherry flavored.
This was made locally at a place called the Cinderella Bakery & Cafe in San Francisco. Alas the strudel seemed to us to be a bit stale. Had great flavor, but I would love to try some fresh. I'm not a strudel connoisseur so I can't tell you if this is anything like regular strudel, but I'm willing to try more strudel to find out!
Ingredients for this were puff pastry, raisins, cherry filling, walnuts, lemon, sugar, and cinnamon. 1 slice was only 80 calories...made for a good little snack after dinner.
The Cinderella Russian Bakery and Cafe (the back of the packaging didn't have the "Russian" in the name) sounds like a wonderful place to go try out some new to us foods. It looks like they have some amazing Easter goodies. Hopefully Mr. L and I can stop by the next time were in San Francisco.
One of the first things I did when looking for Russian type recipes to make during the Olympics was check Eat Your Books to see if I had any non-russian cookbooks that might have Russian recipes. Not many came up. One that did was this soup from Americas Test Kitchens Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2. Not exactly authentic but the dish sounded appealing and the fact that it used a slow cooker meant more time for me to watch Olympic events.
If you take a look at the ingredients you'll notice there is no cabbage listed. The recipe calls for sauerkraut. I admit at first that using sauerkraut instead of some fresh cabbage sounded like something that wouldn't normally be done, but in reading some of the Russian cookbooks I bought, sauerkraut was used in the old days due to the fact that fresh vegetables weren't always available. Americas Test Kitchen said that they used sauerkraut as a way to get around prepping fresh cabbage.
And gnocchi? Well, it seems Russians do make their own versions of gnocchi, though the authors of the cookbook said they used the packaged version so they didn't have to make the gnocchi from scratch. Hardly authentic but I said what the heck, and I decided to give this recipe a try.
The soup came out decent. The meat, though very tender was a little dry (more on that in the notes). Mr. L asked for seconds, which is always a good sign. I liked the bit of tang that the last bit of sauerkraut gave the soup. There wasn't an overwhelming sauerkraut flavor so don't be afraid of that. The soup heated up really well the next day and became much more flavorful.
1. Microwave onions, garlic, tomato paste, oil, and thyme in bowl, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to slow cooker. Stir in broth and 1 cup sauerkraut. Season beef with salt and pepper and nestle into slow cooker. Cover and cook until beef is tender, 9 to 10 hours on low or 6 to 7 hours on high.
2. Transfer beef to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-size pieces. Using large spoon, skim excess fat from surface of soup.
3. Stir in gnocchi, cover, and cook on high until tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in shredded beef and remaining 1 cup sauerkraut and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in dill and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with sour cream. Serves 6 to 8
Notes from the recipe: *Use a 5 1/2 to 7 quarts slow cooker *Be sure to rinse the sauerkraut well or the soup will become too sour *Do not use refrigerated or frozen gnocchi, it will turn gummy in the soup
NOTE: I asked my butcher about "steak tips" and he said use either a sirloin steak (which I did) or to use stew meat. I chose the sirloin because the butcher said it would be more tender (and of course it did cost more). The meat was a bit dry for my taste. It was very tender so maybe less time in the crockpot next time? Or maybe I figure out what steak tips are?
NOTE: Part of the recipe explains about smart shopping for sauerkraut. I agree that the canned versions are horrible. There are some great versions in jars or vacuum-sealed bags (check the refrigerator section). Or if you're lucky, you might be able to find a farmers market like the one locally here where the guy sells some awesome homemade sauerkraut.
NOTE: As per instructed I used vacuum packaged gnocchi. There were several brands available at my local supermarket and I know you can buy them at Cost Plus World Market. I was surprised how well they held up and how tasty they became in the soup.
NOTE: I cooked this for a bit over 9 hours and then the addition 30 minutes.
NOTE: The sour cream actually added a bit of richness which I really liked so I'd definitely add that to the finished dish.
All in all, not a bad soup. Though the taste didn't blow me away, I'd make it again if I had someone who liked sauerkraut. Can't say it's even close to any real Russian dishes, but it was nice to serve during the Olympics while watching all those folks in the snow (of course it was pretty warm there though LOL).
SLOW COOKER REVOLUTION VOLUME 2: The Easy-Prep Edition by America's Test Kitchen
This cookbook has a copyright of 2013. I bought this off of Amazon during the recent Christmas holidays for I think under five bucks. I have never cooked from this cookbook before.
There is a volume one to this cookbook which from what I understand, has recipes that take a lot of prep time. I was looking for recipes that I could get up in the morning and maybe throw together before I head out to work. Though I do understand that to get good flavor and not have slow cooker dishes full of canned and packaged foods, getting up at the crack of dawn to spend 45 minutes prepping food to put in my crockpot sort of completely defeats the purpose of the machine for me. I bought this book in the hopes that it really would be easy-prep.
If you own any America's Test Kitchen cookbooks, you'll find that the general layout of each book is pretty much the same. There are a few pages of introduction. There are several pages explaining how to use your slow cooker; keeping foods safe (it takes about 2 hours in the slow cooker for poultry to reach the safe 140 degree temperature); tips and tricks like add delicate vegetables to the recipe at the end so they don't get mushy. There is also some information about buying a slow cooker and it gives the typical recommendations on brands to buy (or not). While that's great if you buy this book now and are looking to buy a slow cooker (perfect weeding present to buy the cooker and the book to give), five years from now, that part of the book will be worthless. There is a general conversions and equivalent section at the back of the book.
Chapters consist of Appetizers; Soups; Hearty Stews, Curries, and Chilis; Chicken; Steaks, Chops, Ribs and More; Big Roasts and Whole Birds; Pasta and Pasta Sauce; Casseroles; Vegetarian Dinners, Cooking for Two; Easy Sides; and Desserts. Not every recipe has photos but there are quite a few full page photos of dishes. Interspersed through out the book are a few "All About" pages which goes into more detail about products or techniques (different spice blends to have on hand or how to cook pasta in the slow cooker - shape matters). Every recipe has a "why this recipe works" at the start...it's a condensed version of the tests that they did to get the dish to taste good. The end of each recipe has some sort of tip whether it be shopping (how to pick the best whole-grain mustard); a quick prep tip (freezing and defrosting tortillas for the Mexican Lasagna); On The Side (what to serve with the recipe). The recipes are really easy to follow.
No real out there ingredients. But they do occasionally ask for canned and prepackaged stuff (a jar of alfredo sauce for the Tortellini with Creamy Wild Mushroom Sauce) or a packet of taco seasoning (for the Tex-Mex Meatloaf). There is liberal use of instant tapioca to thicken dishes. I was just happy that recipes didn't call for canned soup, canned mushrooms and canned vegetables all in one dish! There were plenty of recipes that used all fresh ingredients so I didn't mind the thought of using some convenience items now and then. There is a lot of microwaving ingredients together before putting them in the crockpot (like onions, potatoes or the meatloaf mix).
The one thing that is very odd to me about this cookbook is the short cooking times on most of the recipes. That Tex-Mex Meatloaf? Only takes 3-4 hours on low (only 2-3 on high). Smoky Roasted Red Pepper Strata? 3 to 4 hours on low. Pasta Puttanesca with Shrimp? 2 to 3 hours on high. Certainly not dishes I could put in the slow cooker in the morning and then have ready for me when I got home. I mean, I can make my own meatloaf in an hour, so why would I use the slow cooker to make it? I think it's the quick "prep" time which is supposed to be about 15 minutes that is the time saver...but having things done in just a few hours doesn't really help me on weekdays to get dinner on the table right after work. I'd have to make most of these dishes on weekends.
Recipes I'd like to try: Beer and Cheddar Fondue; Spicy Chipotle Chicken and Chickpea Soup; Old Fashioned Beef Oxtail Soup; Creamy Potato, Cheddar, and Ale Soup; Pork Vindaloo; Unstuffed Chicken Cordon Bleu; Rustic Braised Chicken with Mushrooms; Fig-Balsamic Glazed Chicken Drumsticks; Porter-Braised Beef Short Ribs; Game Day Brats and Beer; Penne alla Vodka; Pasta Puttanesca with Shrimp; Tortellini with Creamy Wild Mushroom Sauce; Shredded Pork Ragu; Cheesy Chicken and Frito Casserole; Cheeseburger Pasta Bake; Individual Ricotta, Spinach, and Egg Casseroles; new Mexican Red Pork Chili; Asian-Style Braised Short Ribs; Italian Style Braised Green Beans; Bourbon and Brown Sugar Mashed Sweet Potatoes; Corn Pudding; Fudgy Brownie Wedges; Warm Pineapple and Mango Compote; and Cherry Grunt.
I didn't see many of this years Oscar movies. In fact, I think in all the major categories, we saw only three of the nominated films. The annual Oscar party that we normally go to was cancelled. Which means my yearly cooking up Oscar foods and joining in the festivities of researching food from the movies wasn't a priority. On Oscar night I did make some Corn Chowder (sort of for Nebraska, not a movie I saw) and I made blue jello with whipped cream (for Frozen which I did see).
The one dish that I planned on making, if we had gone to an Oscar party, was Tang Pie, since one of the two movies we did see that was up for best picture was Gravity (the other movie was Dallas Buyers Club). I grew up with Tang being synonymous with space travel. Everyone wanted to be an astronaut growing up and everybody (yes adults) drank Tang just to be able to say that they were drinking what the astronauts drank. I can't remember really liking Tang back then, but I do know that I drank it.
I honestly didn't even know they still made Tang until my friend Pillownaut* who blogs for NASA came across a recipe last year and decided we should try it. She procured a container of Tang and we proceed to make Tang Pie which we figured was going to be too sweet and not that appetizing. Au contraire! The dang thing turned out to be quite tasty. Somewhat like an orange mousse with a tarter orange creamsicle flavor. And super easy to make. I think if anyone is having a retro party, a kids birthday party with a space theme or heck, just wants to make a conversational dessert, Tang Pie is the way to go! And congratulations to Gravity for it's many Oscar awards Sunday.
1 can sweetened condensed milk 3/4 cup Tang powder drink mix 1/2 cup sour cream 1 (9 oz) tub Cool Whip 1 graham cracker pie crust
Mix condensed milk and Tang. Add in sour cream until well blended. Then fold in tub of Cool Whip. Pour into pie crust and refrigerate for 4 hours until set and cold.
Note: You can read Pillownauts post about Tang Pie here. She said that if she was to make the dish again she would "cut the sour cream to 1/4 cup (it was too tasteable), and replace with ditto amount of whipped cream, or light cream cheese".
Note: We used a standard 9" premade graham cracker pie crust you can buy at the store. I had no trouble using a premade crust. I figured if we were using Tang, making your own crust from scratch was a bit ridiculous.
Note: I think the Cool Whip containers come in 8 ounce tubs these days so you may have to buy two tubs to make this dish. Just think...you'll have leftover Cool Whip to decorate that Jello dessert you'll also make.
Note: Don't worry about all that leftover Tang you'll have from the container you buy. You'll find lots of recipes for desserts, drinks and yes, savory dishes that use Tang as an ingredient!