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.

Inspired by Saag

I’ve been so in love with exotic spices recently so I’ve been trying my hand at food that’s not traditionally in my family and I’ve got a couple of restaurants that will soon be burning holes in my pockets. Since these aren’t flavors and smells I’ve worked with for years and years, I still need to work on calibrating my nose a little and so I follow recipes and recommendations a little more closely. For this post, I used two articles for guidance: AllRecipes Indian Saag and Whats4Eats Saag.

The focus is on greens. One of my oversights was how few I had on hand. When those recipes call for two pounds, they really mean it. As they cook, they really loose volume and when there are more, it helps promote more of a saucy texture. I had one of those tubs of mixed greens, and I should have gotten 2 or 3, but it was still tasty. Many versions of this recipe also call for a blender, but since I don’t have one, I stuck with chopping.

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I’ve been told that I made a Saag Aloo, because of the potato, but I believe in the spinachy spirit of this dish and will leave it up to y’all to customize it and name it what you wish. This was an experiment of mine and I hope you find inspiration from it like I did those other articles.

 

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No two articles I found had the same spices, or even the same proportions, so I played around based on my tastes and what I had available. Slowly I’ve been splurging on spices, and it’s been nice having a variety on hand.

 

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Saag

 

  • Spinach
  • onion
  • garlic
  • potatoes
  • cream
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbs niter kibbeh (or butter, or oil)
  • 1tbs coriander
  • 2 tbs turmeric
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt

 

  1. Par boil the potatoes in a separate pan.
  2. Cook onion in the niter kibbeh, on medium, until translucent.
  3. Add garlic and spices, then saute for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add spinach and water. Simmer for about 15-25 minutes. (4 1/2 would be blend it if you got it)
  5. Add chickpeas, potatoes, and cream.
  6. Return to a brief simmer. Finish cooking the potatoes.

Baked Spanish Tortilla, an experiment

I was given a bunch of fresh squash and zucchini the other day. Living in an apartment, it’s very nice knowing people who have gardens and small appetites. Lucky me!

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For a long time, I always made basically the same thing with squash and zucchini–a delicious stewed concoction with tomatoes that could go well with pasta or in lasagna–but this time I wanted to do something different. I’d also been craving a quiche or something eggy, so one fateful night, I decided to embark on a Spanish tortilla. The first night I had a Spanish tortilla was very eventful for me. It was the first night I found out that beer could taste good and it was my first college party, so this dish has an interesting place in my brain/heart.

Before I’d only had it with onion, potato, and egg, but I thought the squash and zucchini double whammy would work out well. I recently bought pounds and pounds of potatoes and have a ridiculous amount of good olive oil (thanks mom!), so I went to town.

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Since I don’t have a very good skillet for a traditional Spanish tortilla, I decided to try baking it, which thankfully, turned out very well.

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Baked Spanish Tortilla!

Garlic, Salt, Pepper
3-4 medium golden potatoes
4-5 squash and/or zucchini
I think I used around 8 eggs?
And probably about 1/4 cup olive oil (that’s why it’s important to have one that you think tastes good)

1. Preheat oven to 375
2. Slice the garlic (of course), potatoes, zucchini, and squash (and onion if you remember) into thin slices of equal thickness. Mine were about 1/4 inch.
3. Oil the bottom of a 9 x 13 and begin layering the potatoes and squash/zuchs, starting with potatoes on bottom. Add a little Salt/Pepper/Garlic/Olive oil at each layer.
4. Crack some eggs into a separate bowl and whisk, then pour over pan. You want it to fill to only about half full. I started with only a few but kept adding more until it reached the level. (My pan isn’t 9 x 13, it’s something weird like 10 3/8 x 14 1/4, so I needed about 8 eggs, but you might need a different amount)
5. Cover pan with foil and bake for 45 minutes.
6. Check on it–test fluffiness of eggs. It might need 15 more minutes without the foil.

Honey Jalapeno Chicken

So recently I’ve learned a few things. One, roasting chickens is awesome. It’s cheap, easy, tasty, and impressive. Two, allspice is delicious.

I’ve been trying to save up money because I’m going to Costa Rica in August, so I’ve been eating a little cheaper (hah) but still pretty well. Chicken’s a good way to go with it, especially when you buy whole ones. They also give you a pretty good chance to experiment with flavor. Every time I’ve prepared chicken this way it’s been completely different, and it’s not hard to be creative.

This time honey jalapeno was the start.

Ingredients:
Whole chicken, thawed and innards removed
5 jalapenos
~2/3 cup honey
~3/4 cup water
~1/8 tsp allspice, ground
black pepper

The first thing I did was cut up the jalapenos and push them under the skin of the breasts and thighs. All five didn’t fit in there. The rest I put inside the cavity, save one which I used for the sauce.

Next I made a sauce to baste the chicken with as it was cooking. I combined the jalapeno, honey, water, allspice, and pepper in a saucepan and cooked on medium to start, then kept it on 2 as the chicken was cooking.

To go with the chicken, I scalloped some potatoes and put them in a pan under the chicken, to catch the drippings. Don’t cut them too thin, because they’ll just cook too fast and stick to the bottom if you do.

As for baking, there should be instructions on the packaging. I think it was 350 degrees for 20 minutes/lb. Mine was a five-pounder so it took a while. I started the chicken off with a little sauce, and every 15-20 minutes I brushed on some more. The whole process is very easy to walk away from, so long as there’s a timer going.

When there was only 20 minutes left, I opened up a can of chestnuts I had in the pantry and threw them in with the potatoes. (Chestnuts are amazing. If you’ve never had them, I highly recommend you do. They go really well with chicken and potatoes and drippin’s.)

With the chicken done and the oven on, I decided to make some asparagus to go with it. The timing worked out perfectly because by the time the asparagus was done, the chicken was cool enough to cut.

And wa-bham–cheap, easy, tasty dinner.

Spanish Tortilla

From one country to another, a single word can mean very different things. Tortilla is a good example of that. In Mexico and Central America, a tortilla is made of flour or corn and houses delicious, delicious tacos. In Spain it is more like an omelet. Also very good.

I had this dish for the first time at a friend’s pot luck and really liked it. In fact everyone did–it was one of the first dishes to vanish. So I decided to try to make my own.

What you need is:
2-3 baking potatoes
1-2 yellow onion
garlic
8 eggs
olive oil
paprika
salt and pepper

One of the key things here is to slice your potato consistently.

If the slices aren’t the same, they won’t cook the same and you’ll end up with some overdone, some raw, and a couple perfect ones. If you have a mandolin, now would be the time to use it, but if you don’t, a good knife will get the job done just fine.

You need to cook these in a good amount of olive oil, so coat the bottom of the pan then let it warm on medium. Once the pan’s ready, cook the potatoes until soft and delicious.

While the potatoes were cooking, I sliced the onions. After taking out the potatoes, I tossed the onions in the pan with some garlic, salt and pepper then let them cook until soft.

In the meantime, whisk together the eggs in a bowl on the side.

Once the onions are done, toss the potatoes back in and mix together. Next, pour on the eggs and let cook on a med to med-low heat for a few minutes.

Once the bottom’s cooked comes the challenge of flipping it. It helps to have two people, but it is possible on your own. There is a technique to it, which helps a lot. For this you’ll need a flat plate that fits perfectly within the pan or is slightly larger. Put that plate upside-down over the pan, then holding the plate, flip the pan over. This is kind of hard because of the awkward weight distribution, but not impossible. Once that’s done, put it back in the pan, raw side down, to finish cooking.

After a few minutes, take it out the same way you flipped it, and voila!, delicious Spanish food.

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.

Double Feature: Asparagus and Potatoes

So here are two things people at home wouldn’t normally bake, but turn out so good when you do. I say this, because most of the time I just microwave my “baked potatoes.” And I’ve never even made my own asparagus before this (but when my parents did, they steamed or boiled them).

And what’s nice is that you only need three ingredients to season them:

Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper

I only have normal table salt, but if you have something with more texture, like kosher salt, that would be even more awesome.

Also, you only have to use one pan, And! you leave the oven at the same temperature the whole time–350 degrees Fahrenheit.

So start by preheating your oven to, you guessed it, 350 degrees. And while that’s warming up, prep your pan and wash your produce.

I put foil down so that the pan would be easier to clean, but if you don’t have any lying around, don’t worry about it. Now focus on the asparagus while the potatoes dry.

Start by pouring a little olive oil on the pan, then role the asparagus around so the whole stalk gets a light covering in oil. I just used my hands, but if you have a brush, feel free to use it.

Now sprinkle on however much salt and pepper you want. Set those aside and move to the potatoes. Basically, do the same with them; cover them with oil completely, then pat on the salt and pepper until you’ve got a nice coating. Also, don’t forget to poke holes in the skin for good ventilation.

The potatoes should be higher up, on the rack itself, with a pan beneath it to catch any drippings. And since you’re making asparagus, that pan can catch the drippings.

The asparagus will be done in 10 minutes.

So just pull out the pan and move the asparagus to a plate with some tongs or a heat-resistant spatula. This should be done quickly so that you can put the pan back in the oven. (There’s not a whole lot of drippings, but it’s good to make sure your oven doesn’t get dirty.)

The potatoes will take about an hour total (but this depends on the size and number, so I’d recommend checking on them after the first 30 minutes).

Even though it’s much faster to microwave them, they taste so gooooood baked… Mmm… The skin comes out so crispy and there’s a slight crust of salt and pepper on the outside. It’s incredible. Do be careful though, because they’ll be hot for a little while (but they’re perfect for melting butter or cheese).

Potatoes O’Brian

This is one of my favorite thing to do when I have an abundance of potatoes. It’s so easy and you can do whatever you want with it. I know my grandma really likes it with green bell peppers. It truly is one of those left over dishes, where you look at what you have in your fridge and make something awesome out of it.

What you want to start with is,
a couple potatoes,
butter or olive oil,
and whatever you want to cook it with (seasonings, meats, veggies, etc).

I made more than one batch because I cut up more potatoes than what could fit in the pan. One of them was with bacon and green onions. In the other batch I dropped an egg and some onions on top of the bacon. I like bacon for this because as the fat cooks out, it makes the pan a little more non stick. If you don’t use bacon, make sure to use something else, like olive oil, canola oil, or butter–whichever you’re more comfortable with.

For this method, they come out soft. If you want them to be crunchy, cook them on a higher heat at the end and in smaller batches.

To start, cut up your ingredients. Smaller potatoes cook faster, but the main thing to keep in mind is to try to keep them about the same size overall. Inconsistencies may lead to raw potatoes being overlooked, which don’t taste bad, just a little weird.

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I kept the skin on because it doesn’t bother me, but if it happens to be something that gets at you, feel free to peel it off. It’s also a good idea to cut up the bacon before you cook it. It will cook faster, and you won’t have to deal with hot bacon.

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When the bacon is done cooking–not to the crunchy stage, still a little soft and delicious, add the potatoes. They are going to take a little while, so you may need to hold off on the other ingredients. If you add any veggies now, they will get really soggy and soft by the end. If you want them to keep their crunch, then definitely wait. When I used onions, I threw them in with the potatoes, but I waited when I used green onions. It’s all personal preference.

Also, if you plan on egging it up, this is the stage to do it. Depending on how much bacon you used or if you didn’t use any at all, you may need to add some butter or olive oil.

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Try not to overload the skillet like I almost did; it will make it hard for all of the potatoes to cook thoroughly–the ones on bottom will be a lot more done than those on top, and you’ll have to stir them frequently enough to make sure nothing burns or turns to mashed potatoes. This is where you add whatever seasonings you plan on using. I find Greek Seasoning to be excellent for this, along with some black pepper and garlic powder. If you felt like grating up some garlic or food processor-ing it, that would be awesome too. (Those are some of the best ways of having garlic’s flavor spread all throughout your food.)

Making sure they’re sufficiently hydrated, with either butter, olive oil, or even water at this point, you can cover them and walk away. Leave it on a just-below-medium heat and come back every ten minutes to stir. When you stir you really want to make sure you’re bringing the top ones down and vice-versa.

Test their softness every time you stir. You want to be able to mush them with your spatula. And keep in mind, for this, it’s better to overcook it slightly, than to undercook it. Also, they tend to be a bit translucent when done. It may be hard to see in the pic though.

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My roommate really likes it with cheese. But that’s not something I’d recommend throwing in the skillet–unless you feel like doing painfully dirty dishes.

One thing that’s super great about this is that you can make a whole bunch, and have awesome leftovers. When microwaved, they come out exactly the same as just off the stove.

French fries

So I had a healthy post, now I have to have something fried. I am from Louisiana after all. Albert, though, is the one that needs to get the credit for this one. He just came over with a big bowl of cut up, blanched potatoes.

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The process of blanching the potatoes makes the end result more crunchy–so it’s completely optional. Basically what you do is cut up your potatoes and fill their bowl with water. You change the water every 30 minutes or so. It gets rid of something that makes the fries soggy.

As for the oil, we used a mix of olive oil and canola oil.

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You definitely want more canola oil than olive oil; olive oil has a low smoking point, which means it starts smoking up at a lower temperature, and that’s not good. In the second batch we made, we used only canola oil, but I think it tastes better with a little olive oil.

It’s hard to tell when the oil is hot enough, so throw in a test fry!

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Albert ended up being happy with the one-ish-dot-past-medium temperature for the frying, but he had it on high to warm up the oil. That’s something you’ll have to experiment with a little bit. But there probably won’t be much variation. When the oil is really hot, the outside will cook very fast, whereas the inside will not cook. And if it’s too cold, it’ll just get really oil and unpleasant.

It took about 9 minutes for a batch of fries to be done. But you definitely want to keep your eyes on it–at least for the first few batches so you can get a feel for how things are going. They should be stiff to the touch when ready. As for utensils, don’t use plastic. Metal is handy, but if the handle is metal too, it might get really hot. What I used had a metal head and a wooden handle–perfect. Chopsticks work ok too, but if you’re only mediocre with them, don’t bother–dropping stuff in hot oil is a terrible idea.

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I didn’t get many pictures of the end result because we kept eating them as soon as they came out. They’re so good with a little kosher salt or Season All. Be creative with this part.