Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Roasted Eggplant Sandwich

Eggplant is one of the favorite vegetables in the Russian cuisine (yeah, yeah, it's not all about beets and cabbage). The most common way to cook it is Eggplant Caviar, which can also be canned and preserved for the winter. The second favorite way to cook eggplant, I would say, is to saute it in oil and then roll up into appetizer rolls with garlic and ground walnuts, or to stack slices of it with fresh tomatoes and mayo/garlic/dill sauce. It is very, very tasty, but also very, very fatty. Due to eggplant's spongy texture it absorbs a huge amount of oil. To make the dish more figure friendly I roasted the eggplant instead of frying.

I used the idea of garlicky eggplant in sandwiches. I am not a vegetarian, but sometimes it is nice to have a simple, meatless meal. And these - oh, I can eat BOTH of these sandwiches by myself.

I found these gorgeous dill blooms for sale at a farm not far from our house. Dill is the most popular herb in the Russian cuisine. (I still remember a pizza covered with a thick carpet of chopped dill, served to my American boss at a Russian restaurant... and the man hated dill!) Oftentimes I have trouble finding fresh dill in supermarkets. These remind me of my grandmother's vegetable garden, where they were plentiful in the summer. Their fragrance brings back memories of the slow days of summer, the sun, the break from school, doing nothing... being bored even. It's great to be a kid :).

Roasted Eggplant Sandwiches

For 2 sandwiches:

1 eggplant, cut across into 1/2 inch slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh chopped dill
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced
sea salt
4 slices sturdy crusty bread, toasted if desired

Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Brush both sides of eggplant slices with olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Put 2 garlic cloves through a garlic press and spread over the eggplant slices. Roast until browned and soft, about 20 minutes. Cool on the sheet.

Press the remaining garlic clove though the garlic press and mix with mayonnaise and dill. Spread the mayo over 2 slices of bread, then stack eggplant and tomato slices on top. Season with sea salt and cover each sandwich with the remaining slice of bread. Serve.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Quiche Lorraine

Quiche. I know, I know - not new, not exciting, not glamorous. Tasty, however. This consideration alone should trump everything else, in my opinion.

A good ratio of eggs to milk/cream is 2 eggs per 1 cup of liquid. In this particular recipe I use the classic ingredients for Quiche Lorraine: bacon and Gruyere cheese. But, of course, the beauty of quiche is that it is a vessel for all things delicious that you can find in your fridge: ham, spinach or, for example, grilled asparagus or other vegetables left over from last night's dinner.

As always, my favorite crust is the one developed by Rose Levy Beranbaum: it works great in both sweet and savory recipes. But if you think you can take a shortcut and use a store bought crust - who am I to tell you no? :)

Oh, and before I move on to the recipe, check out another breakfast favorite of mine, Farmer Cheese Pancakes with Berry Sauce.

Quiche Lorraine

Quiche Lorraine

Serves 4-6

For the crust:
1 stick butter, cold
1 1/3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons heavy cream

For the  filling:

8 strips (approx. 200 grams) bacon, diced and sauteed until browned
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3-4 oz (approx. 100 grams) grated Gruyere

9-in (23 cm) tart pan with removable bottom
Make the crust:

Divide butter into 5 and 3 tablespoons. Cut into 1/2 in cubes. Freeze the smaller portion; refrigerate the rest for half an hour. Put flour, salt and baking powder in a large Ziploc bag and also freeze for half an hour.

Pulse the flour mixture in the processor to mix (do not discard the bag). Add the refrigerated butter and process for about 20 seconds, until crumbly. Add frozen butter and pulse, until pea-size pieces form. Add cream and pulse about 6 times, until dough holds shape if pressed between fingers.

Place the dough in the bag and knead a few times, until it holds shape. Shape into a disk and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to 24 hours.
Roll the dough out into a disc large enough to line the tart pan. Fold dough into quarters or draper over a rolling pin to transfer to pan. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 425F (220C). Line the pan with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (I just use a mix of dry lentils, beans and rice) to keep the sides from falling. Bake 20 minutes.

In the meantime, make filling: whisk eggs with milk, cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Remove partially baked crust from oven. Remove parchment paper and weights. Decrease oven temperature to 350F (180C).

Sprinkle bacon over crust, then grated cheese, reserving a handful of cheese. Pour in the egg mixture, then sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake until browned on top and set, about 35 minutes (mine came out pretty brown). Serve warm or at room temperature. Quiche goes will with simple green salad.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Saffron and Cardamom Panna Cotta

Winters in Russia are really, really cold. And snowy. And dark. All shots below were taken "in broad daylight," in the middle of the day in January. That's the thing that always gets me down in winter: not the cold or the snow, but the constant twilight. Bright, white sunny days also happen but they are rare.

On a day like this (or any other day if you ask me) this saffron and cardamom panna cotta will be perfect. On a day like this, you want to eat the food that requires a spoon. Not so much a fork.

Cardamom and saffron are two of my favorite spices (see my Cinnamon and Cardamom Rolls and Upside Down Plum Cake). They are sunny and exotic yet homey. I found the saffron panna cotta recipe in Alice Medrich's book Pure Dessert and knew immediately: this is it. The recipe is very forgiving; you can vary the spices and even the milk-to-cream ratio to suit your taste.

Cardamom and Saffron Panna Cotta

Serves 6

3 3/4 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon saffron, rubbed between fingers
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup milk
2 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
chopped pistachios (if desired)

Six 6-oz cups or ramekins

In a small saucepan, combine cream, sugar, salt and spices. Heat until nearly boiling. Remove from heat, cover and let steep half an hour.

In the meantime, pour cold milk into a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin on top. Let stand about 5 minutes (do not stir).

Combine milk and cream and heat again until close to boiling. Make sure the gelatin is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally. Transfer to ramekins, cover with plastic and refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours.

Serve in ramekins or invert onto plates. To do this, place ramekins in hot water for a couple of seconds to loosen.

Decorate with saffron threads and chopped pistachios if desired.

Sunday, January 6, 2013



Today is Christmas Day in Russia. Russian Orthodox calendar is 2 weeks behind the secular calendar and so all religious holidays are observed later than in the rest of the Christian world.

But, as I mentioned earlier, it is New Year's, not Christmas, that is the biggest holiday in Russia. It is on New Year's that people exchange presents - although this holiday is much less about presents and more about the general excitement and festivities. Also, what is interesting is that Russian kids dress in cosumes for New Year's parties at school much like US kids do on Halloween. They are not rewarded for their costumes with candy, though. The costumes are to impress their friends and also Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz), who attends school parites with his graddaughter the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka). When I was growing up, almost all costumes were home made. On different years, I was: a snowflake, a gypsy fortune teller, and a matryoshka doll. I remember my sister being a little fox one year, complete with a home made cardboard mask and a tail from mom's fox coat collar. Boys all wanted to be Musketeers.

One cannot imagine the New Year's table without Olivier, also known as "the Russian salad." The salad has been around since 1800s, and its original recipe is hotly debated. Over the decades it has evolved into what we have today: potatoes, hard boiled eggs, green peas, beef/chicken/bologna and pickled cucumbers, all bound together with mayonnaise. I love this stuff. In fact, I can eat it all year long, why wait for New Years?

By the way, another traditional winter salad is vinegret, made from diced beets, sauerkraut, potatoes and green peas.

Olivier (The Russian Salad)

Serves 4 as a side dish

2 medium potatoes
1 medium carrot
4 eggs
2/3 cup frozen peas
3 medium dill pickles
4 slices bologna (or 1 cooked chicken breast)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (or more, to taste)
fresh ground black pepper

In a medium pot, combine unpeeled potatoes, carrot and eggs. Add just enough water to cover and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove eggs and let them cool in ice water. Continue cooking until carrots, then potatoes are soft if pierced with a fork. Cool completely then peel the skins off. Cook frozen peas in microwave until hot, then let them cool. Dice eggs, potatoes, carrots and bologna (or chicken) into 1/4 inch cubes. Mix all ingredients until well combined.
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