Russian Mushroom Soup

There is a surprisingly tasty and enchanting restaurant downtown. It feels like your European grandma’s house–full of lace, fancy cabinets and glassware (though mismatched), and creepy/homey/charming trinkets. Although my grandmother isn’t Russian, I could see elements of her European roots here.

I realized the first time I ate there that I didn’t know what to expect of Russian food. I patted myself on the back for recognizing some of the names, but by no means could I expect what flavors would work together, which pictures matched up with the food, or most important of all–which infused vodka to accompany everything.

To introduce myself, I got a few smaller dishes, and the crowd I was with was down with sharing, so we all got to taste some of each others’. What left the strongest impression on me was the mushroom soup. It felt like hunter-gatherer food. Light and refreshing, but also somehow sustaining and filling. The broth wasn’t thick and the ingredients hadn’t been stewed down, but the flavors somehow worked together marvelously.

Now that I’m on this mushroom kick and the cold weather swooped in for a visit, we tried to make some at home.

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Russian Mushroom Soup

  • 2 morells (feel free to skip this expensive ingredient that we bought on a whim)
  • handful of woodear mushrooms
  • handful of oyster mushrooms
  • 1 cup or so of porcini mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup pearl barley
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 bunch of fresh dill
  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 med onion
  • 2 med potatoes
  • 1/2 of a celery root
  • 1/2 of a fennel root
  • 1 parsnip
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tbs peppercorns
  • 1/2 tbs whole allspice

 

  1. In a skillet, saute the mushrooms and onions. If you’re using fresh everything, great, if not, rehydrate the dried ones first.
  2. In a separate pan, cook barley as per package instructions.
  3. As the mushrooms approach done-ness, bring to a simmer 4 – 6 cups of water with the roughly chopped celery root, fennel, carrots, parsnips and bay leaves in a separate soup pot. After about 10 minutes, add the potatoes as well.
  4. Once the mushrooms have lost all their moisture and have gotten somewhat mushy, add them to the soup pot. Let simmer for about 10 minutes
  5. Add nearly the rest of the ingredients : barley, peas, garlic, peppercorns, and allspice. Let simmer for 10 minutes
  6. Add the parsley and dill.
  7. Let stew until the flavors have melded beautifully, about 10 more minutes.

I found the whole peppercorns and allspice lent a good flavor to the soup, but I got tired of crunching down on them. Now, I wish I had used a cheesecloth or something to keep them in the soup. I’ll experiment with that and let you know, but if you have any suggestions for me I’d be very appreciative! For added flavor, you could use broth instead of water.

Hatch Pain Perdu

The pain perdu I’ve been exposed to is hard to find. When I search for the phrase, I come across “that’s just French for French toast!” or crusty, fried, maybe baked bread recipes with sauces. What I’m used to is stale bread, thrown in an oven pan, drowned in broth, cream, cheese etc etc etc and baked until the bread absorbs it. If y’all know a better name for it, let me know, otherwise I’m gonna keep calling it what I know.

In Texas around August, hatch peppers are a big thing. Grocery stores will have roasting parties, restaurants will bust out seasonal menus, city blocks will erupt in hot sauce festivals.

I caved in the grocery store and bought a loaf of the hatch cheddar bread. Although I’m an eater, I do still not have any roommates, so bread will sometimes go bad at my place. After nomming through half the loaf, I decided this would be a great way to use and keep the old bread.

To make it complete, I bought fresh hatch peppers and some hatch sausage to go with it. Hatch 3 ways.

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The end result isn’t the most photogenic, but it’s very tasty.

 

Hatch Pain Perdu

  • enough hatch bread to fill your baking pan
  • heavy whipping cream
  • broth
  • fresh hatch peppers
  • cheddar
  1. Chop bread and peppers. Mix roughly and layer into baking pan, while putting cheese between the layers.
  2. Fill the pan half way with a mixture of broth and cream. I used a bit more broth than cream, but the proportions are up to you
  3. Bake at 370 for 30 minutes, then check on it.

Lemon Couscous

A few years ago I found out that my grandpa’s grandpa was Moroccan. I had already been into Middle Eastern food for a while, but that got me pretty revved up about it. I learned a few things, my favorite of which were preserved lemons and tagines.

 

These days, many of my coworkers come from Africa, so I get to eat all sorts of tasty food. We love potlucks and I feel very blessed. When one talented lady brought in her couscous, that sparked in me the desire to try it out. I had some lemon-marinated chicken in the fridge and ran with that. I searched the internet for couscous recipes that used the ingredients I felt like using, then came up with this mash-up of my favorites.

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Lemon Couscous

  • 2-3 chicken breasts
  • 1 -2 boxes of couscous (2 makes a surprising amount. it’s what I made, but you can probably get away with 1)
  • 3-5 carrots
  • 1 medium – big onion
  • 1/4 – 1/3 head cauliflower
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • tomatoes
  • about 4 cups veggie broth
  • cumin
  • pepper
  • allspice
  • lemon zest
  • tomato paste
  • turmeric
  • celery salt
  • bragg’s liquid aminos
  • celery salt

 

 

  1. Chop up all the veggies into stew-sized chunks, except for the tomatoes
  2. Slice chicken into bite sized pieces
  3. Cook chicken and onions for about 5 minutes on medium heat.
  4. Add the carrots and a 1/4 cup broth, if it’s not juicy enough. You basically want something to help stew, but not quite simmer, the carrots in.
  5. Add spices, cover, and let cook for about 10 minutes. The carrots should soften slightly.
  6. While this is going, cook the couscous. It happens pretty fast, so it’s easy to do while waiting between steps.
  7. Add cauliflower, cover and let cook for 10 minutes more.
  8. I let mine stew for about 30 minutes, but if you’re hungry you could eat it sooner.
  9. Slice fresh tomatoes and serve on top.

Turkey and Andouille Gumbo

Every year I get a turkey for Thanksgiving. This is the first year I actually used it for Thanksgiving, but that’s for a different article. What I always use the turkey for is awesome Louisiana food–namely, gumbo and jambalaya. Right now I’ve got a batch on the stove, and I think I’ve made it enough times to write a good article about it.

Although it’s kind of intimidating, it’s not too hard. For the longest time, making the roux was the scariest part. It’s that essential first step that either makes or breaks your gumbo. I come from two different methodologies when it comes to making a roux, which didn’t help things either. Basically, there are two ways to do it: low and long or hot and fast. But whichever way you choose, the most important thing is that you don’t burn it. I used to be a fan of long and low, but as I got more used to making a roux, my impatience came to take over.

I guess gumbo is one of those foods that I love–the kind you can play with and make your own. I have a recipe that I forced out of my mom written down, but I’ve made so many adjustments and make so many non-measurements that having a recipe has become a little silly. But it is a good starting point. So for those of you who would like a starting point, here you go:

First, here’s what you need:
1/2 cup fats (I use a mix of butter and olive oil–it all depends on your own flavor preference)
1/2 cup flour
2 stalks celery
2 poblano peppers (this is my first year using these, normally I use green bell peppers)
1 yellow onion
11 cloves garlic (Cajuns love them some garlic)
8 oz okra (this is the first time I’ve used this too, I just used half a bag of frozen)
7 cups home-made turkey stock (another super-easy thing to make with leftover turkey bits, article coming soon)
~1 1/2 cup turkey
4 links andouille sausage

It’s true there’s a lot of waiting for this, but in the beginning it’s a flurry of activity, so it’s best to be well prepared before starting anything.

So, first things first, begin by chopping up the sausage and veggies. Put the veggies in a bowl and set aside. You will need them suddenly, so keep them handy.

Then–and this is important, but I always forget to do it–brown the sausage in the same pot you’re going to cook everything else in. It saves you a pan and also helps the delicious sausage flavor permeate everything.

Once they’re done, remove from pot and set aside.

Now it’s time for the roux.

That is your desired end result, but it’s going to start off more like this:

Combine the flour and oil/butter and combine. A french whisk is my favorite tool for this, but a normal whisk or a wooden spoon will get the job done too.

If you want low and long, keep it around 3 and stir forever. This method could take most of an hour but it’s safer in that you’re less likely to burn it (yet more likely to succumb to a murderous rage induced by impatience and slight arm fatigue).

The method I tried out today and which I vastly prefer is hot and fast. I started around 5 and progressively got more impatient and ended around 8 1/2. You definitely have to pay attention to your stirring and make sure nothing sticks to the bottom and burns. But it’s worth it.

Once your roux is a delicious chocolatey brown, take it off the heat and–quick!–add the veggies. They help cool off the roux, which is very important at this stage.

Since gumbo itself takes so long to cook, I didn’t see the need to cook the veggies for too long, though you can if you want on a low heat. Now it’s time to add the stock (should be warm) and meat.

And I don’t have a finished picture yet because it’s still going! But once the rice is done I’ll enjoy a bowl and let you know how it came out.

Beef and Two Mushroom Soup

…or stew, I’m not quite sure.

We weren’t feeling well the other day, plus it conveniently rained, so I decided to make a hearty soup. Soups are really easy to play with and they’re hard to mess up.

Following my wont, I made a pretty freaking huge batch. But that’s ok, ’cause I like it so much.

I used:
Two 32 oz containers of beef broth
About a pound of potatoes
1 yellow onion (cut to your liking)
3 stalks celery
About a pound of meat (optional, personally I’m not big on meat in soup for some reason–but if you still want the protein, toss in an egg or two)
Button mushrooms
Wood ear mushrooms
Salt
Pepper
Nutmeg (it works really well with savory beef dishes)

Start by cutting your veggies. I diced the onions, cut the potatoes into 1 inch ish cubes, the baby carrots in half, and the celery into 1/2 inch ish slices. And toss them into your soup pot with your seasonings. If you want it to be thick, you can add some corn starch here. A few teaspoons should do.

Now pour in your broth, stir, and start cooking. I covered the pot and warmed it to a 7 for 15 minutes. When I checked on it to stir, I lowered it to 5 for another 15 minutes. (I have a crazy powerful stove and was worried about the veggies on the bottom.) You basically want to make sure that the potatoes are as soft as you want them. (The other veggies are going to be super soft too, so if you want them a little crunchier, add them at the half way point.)

While the soup’s warming up, prep your mushrooms. (Pretty much just slice them.)

I just used some normal button mushrooms and some dried wood ears. Normally you’d have to reconstitute the wood ear mushrooms because they’re dried up, but not so much when you’re adding them to soup. (Although, I did the first time I made ramen.)

With the mushrooms in the pot, add the beef, cover and cook for another 10 minutes.

The mushrooms will have changed size and color, and that’s a tasty thing. And now just serve when you’re ready.

Hot Chocolate

This is something good for how cold it’s been lately, and you can get pretty creative with it. I made three different flavors using candy. I’m not sure which was my favorite between cinnamon imperials and peppermints, but the peanut butter was good too. It’s a little heavier but still tasty.

All three start with the same idea, get the candy into tiny bits. Cutting up the peanut butter cups does alright, and for the dry ones, a mortar and pestle set works well.

Next you need to melt it. I highly recommend a non stick pan for this job. Also, a little bit of milk helps. Not too much, you just want barely enough for the candy to dissolve in.

And once that’s ready, start adding chocolate. Only a little at first, though.

I guess you want about equal parts candy and chocolate to start with, but definitely add more before it’s over. The amount of chocolate you need will change based on how many people will be drinking it and by how strong you want it to taste. If you’re not afraid of having left overs, add extra.

For both of these melting processes, I just used a pan on the stove. But if you’re worried about burning it, set up a double boiler system. I did it when I made fondue a while back. But like I said, this time I didn’t bother. I kept the fire on a med-low heat and moved the pan around–when I was worried, I just took it off the stove. I also stirred constantly. The double boiler system is less demanding. But it’s harder to set up and there’s more clean up, so it’s a trade-off.

Once the chocolate is completely melted, add your milk. This should also be done a little at a time and you should constantly taste it to make sure it’s warm enough and has the right flavor.

I like mine to be served a little too hot to drink, that way it warms your hand and builds anticipation, but you don’t have to heat it quite that long if you don’t want.

And there’s tons of extras you can add at the end. Marshmallows or whipped cream on top are always favorites. Or you can put some of the whole candy in the bottom of the cup. It’ll slowly melt and strengthen the flavor. (By the way, peppermints make popping noises when you do this, it’s kind of neat.) One thing my mom used to do was make milk ice cubes before hand, that way if it was too hot, we could drop one of those in without messing up the flavor. It was a great idea and I think I’m going to experiment with those and frozen drinks once it warms up…

My take on real ramen

I made sure to say “real” ramen because I wanted to emphasize that I didn’t use the instant noodles or powdered broth. This was an attempt to recreate deliciousness I’ve had at Japanese noodle shops.

Based on the times I’ve been to such restaurants, it seems like there’s a wide variety of toppings. For this I used some of my favorites: boiled eggs, garlic, wood-ear mushrooms, and bamboo shoots.

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This was to be for two people, so I only bought one box of broth and one package of noodles. It was very very filling, so I’d say that it could easily be stretched to feed three to four people.

I started by boiling the eggs, because it took the longest. You need them to be hard boiled, not soft, unless you trust the freshness of your eggs and like a runny yolk.

While that was going, I had to reconstitute the mushrooms. I bought them dried, so they had to rehydrate in boiling water for 5 minutes. I seasoned the water with some soy sauce. One thing I’ve noticed that the broth is often seasoned with soy or miso. Once the mushrooms were done, I added them to the broth, with their own broth included.

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And, as recommended, I boiled the noodles in water, separate from the broth. Once drained, I put them in the the broth, along with the bamboo shoots, sliced boiled eggs and some garlic.

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The hardest part was distributing the soup and extras into the bowls. It all just barely fit.

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It was very warm and very filling. It’s also highly customizable, so have fun with it. I was able to get all of the ingredients at my local grocery store, including the authentic noodles.

Lasagna

This was my first time making lasagna, so I did cut some corners, like buy oven ready pasta and jarred sauce, but it came out good.

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I wanted to try a double meat/double cheese thing to try to get more than one flavor so that it wouldn’t just taste like stacked spaghetti, so I bought both ground beef and ground pork as well as ricotta and asiago. Also, as previously mentioned, I got the no-boil lasagna noodles and jarred sauce. I’ve never made my own tomato sauce and I imagine that it would take quite a while. Also, I’m not familiar with as wide a scope of seasonings as I would like, so I figured a premade sauce might taste better.

To start, I cooked the meat. The pork was already seasoned, so I didn’t do anything special to it. But the beef was plain, so I chopped up some onions and garlic and threw them in alng with some basic seasonings like dried basil and pepper–I avoided salt because I figured the cheese would add enough.

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There are two ways to go about preparing the onions and beef. If you want them to maintain their texture and crunch, add them at the same time as the beef, but if you want them to disintegrate, then sweat them first with a little olive oil. I left them crunchy. But I think it would have been better to cut them a little smaller than I did, but I forgot about them until after I had started cooking the beef, so I was in a rush to get them cut.

Once the meats are ready, you need to prep them to go on the lasagna. Talking to people, many told me that it would be a good idea to mix the meat with the sauce, to act as a binding agent–otherwise it makes the lasagna unstable and crumbly. But, I had two types of meat. I ended up mixing the beef with the whole jar sauce (if your beef has too much fat, drain it off before this step) and the pork with the ricotta. You can do this either way. And something you can try is actually cooking the meat with the sauce, that way the meat itself picks up the sauces flavor. I didn’t do that, and it came out fine, so don’t feel obligated.

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Now it was time to prep the pan. The oven should be preheating at 375. First, I put down a layer of pasta. At first I tried to cover the whole bottom–the pasta didn’t cover the bottom lengthwise, there was about an inch and a half of empty space. but I gave that up after the first layer of filling.

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For the first layer of filling I used the ricotta-pork mixture because it seemed like a sturdier base. It was kind of hard to spread, but I bet had it been a little warmer (not microwaved, but sitting on the oven warm) it would have been easier to deal with.

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Next, another layer of pasta and on top of that, a layer of the meat sauce. If you remember, I mentioned asiago earlier. This is where it comes in. Sprinkle some on before adding on the next layer of pasta. But not too much because you want to save enough to cover the top at the very end–the last five minutes of baking.

You will probably have more sauce than ricotta, and feel free to fill the empty spaces in your pan with it, that is, if you have any. I ended up with two layers of ricotta and two layers of sauce. Mine looked like this before putting it in the oven.

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You’ll notice that I put a last layer of pasta on the top, lightly covered with more sauce. That ended up burning. I don’t know what I could have done to prevent that, but I just peeled it off and the rest of the lasagna was fine. My theory is that I put it on a shelf too high in the oven. Or maybe it was too hot in there.

I baked for 25 minutes at 375 before checking on it.

The agonizing wait...

At that 25 minute mark, I opened the oven, peeled off the burnt pasta with some tongs, and covered it with cheese. Then I let it bake for another 2-3 minutes to get the cheese all melty and delicious. Luckily asiago isn’t too oily.

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Once out of the oven, I let it sit for 10 minutes before cutting it. I used my stoneware pan, which is knife proof, so I didn’t have to worry about damaging it. If you’re using a nonstick pan, try a spatula. Good luck with that.

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There always has to be a close-up.

It ended up being very structurally sound; it didn’t smoosh out of the sides after being cut and was very easy to handle. I’d have to say it was pretty successful.

UPDATE:
Last night I had some friends over to celebrate the release of a new game and to see everyone after being out of town. I tossed together some tasty lasagna because it’s cheap and will feed a lot of people, but I did it a little differently this time.

I used turkey and sage pork this time. Neither was very fatty, so I combined the turkey with the ricotta, and added some chicken broth to make it easier to spread. To the pork and pasta sauce, I added some fresh, raw spinach (frozen would probably work really well too). Then layered and cooked it like usual.

Pumpkin Soup

This is probably something that most of you haven’t had outside of a Thai place. This doesn’t have coconut milk like the Thai one would; it’s just pumpkins and some seasonings. This was another attempt to recreate something my host mom would make fairly often for dinner. She was kind of afraid of spices, so there’s not much in here, but I do have some suggestions.

First of all, you need at least one potimarron. I don’t know the exact translation for that, as far as specific species goes, so I just bought three of the only edible pumpkins my grocery store had. They called them pie pumpkins. (Most of the pumpkins for sale were for jack-o-lanterns.)

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They weren’t very big, so I bought three. But, it ended up being only one roommate and I who actually ate it, so two might have been better. They were kind of hard and tedious to cut up, but I’ve never dealt with pumpkins before so I don’t know any special methods to make it faster. (If you do, totally let me know.) But I can show you things that did make it easier for me.

First I cut the pumpkins into quarters and started taking out the seeds.

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I wanted to save the seeds because I’m going to try roasting them, but without the extra care of separating them out, this process would be a lot faster. But if you’re interested, I started by making cuts around the seeds and general innards, just to make it easier to pull out in one chunk.

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Next I pulled it out all at once–and don’t worry if there are some that just stick behind–and started “plooping” out the seeds into an empty jar. It would have been easier if I had a bigger target though.

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After that I set myself to cutting the pumpkin into small chunks. I went through a couple different methods. The first involved peeling off the outside with a vegetable peeler and scraping off the rest of the tendony stuff with a paring kinfe.

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That was the most time consuming and least effective method. What I ended up doing was, after removing the seeds, I went ahead and cut the pumpkin into smaller pieces from which I removed the outside and inside nastiness. Though it may seem like that would be the longer method, it actually went a lot faster and got all of the extra stuff off. And because this whole process took so long, I stored the already cut chunks in warm water so they wouldn’t dry out and would possibly soften a little.

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Next I sweated half an onion and some garlic in the pot I planned on cooking the soup in. That gives a little extra flavor to the whole thing. Because you sweat them, they get really tender and disintegrate by the time the soup’s done, so there’s nothing left but flavor.

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Sweating veggies is really easy. All you have to do is cut them into smallish sized chunks and throw them in a pot on med-low heat with some oil. Stir occasionally so they don’t burn, and add water once they turn translucent. It around 10 minutes, but it’s not the sort of thing you want to walk away from.

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Once the onions and garlic are good, add enough water to cover the bottom, just to cool them off. Then start adding the pumpkin bits. After that, add enough water to almost cover them. This would be a good point to add any dried herbs you might like. I think rosemary is really good, but feel free to experiment.

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Next, cover and cook on high, checking on it every 10 to 15 minutes to stir. I didn’t need any more water than what I added in the beginning, but that’s something to keep an eye on too, when cooking. It’s neat that every time you open the lid, you’ll see that they’re more and more broken down.

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After about 40 minutes of cooking, the soup was still a little too chunky for my taste, so I whisked it around to break up the last of it and it came out fine. There’s always the option of a food processor, but that might end up messier than you were intending.

Next I cut up some emmentaler into small cubes and put them in the bottom of the bowls that would soon hold soup. You can do this with a lot of different cheeses, it’s just that emmenthaler is relatively cheap and tastes good.

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Next ladle and enjoy!

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Perry Cider

Speaking of cider…

This isn’t something I’ve made, just something I found at my grocery store that turned out to be really awesome. It’s a cider made of pears as opposed to apples.

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It’s made in California, and they have their own website: Acecider. They apparently have more than just pear cider, but that’s the only one I’ve found. This drink is really tasty, and even though I’ve been drinking it cold, it warms me up. It is alcoholic, so if you’re not 21, then you’ll have to wait, but it is definitely worth it.