Sunday, August 29, 2010


I’ve always been fascinated by this word “Gingerbread”, and why it is so popular in America, while the rest of the world seems to be not aware of such a marvelous dessert. Honestly, I never tried gingerbread before (so, I have no idea how it is supposed to taste!) until I found a recipe in Cook's Bible this summer. So, I tried the suggested recipe once, then several time with different modifications. Yesterday the gingerbread emerged from the oven so perfect, that I decided I have to write the recipe down while I remember all details.

· 2/3 cup (160 g) whole milk

· ¾ cup (160 g) dark brown sugar

· 2 tbsp molasses

· 2/3 cup (170 g) unsalted butter

· 1 egg

· 1 & 5/8 cup (200 g) all purpose flour

· 30-50 g fresh ginger root peeled

· 2 tbsp baking powder

· 1 large apple peeled, chopped and coated with 1 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC.

In a small saucepan, over low heat, melt the butter, sugar and molasses.

Grate the ginger finely in a large bowl. Add in the bowl flour, baking powder, the milk and egg. Stir well.

Add buttery mixture, stir.

Add apples, stir.

Grease the baking dish with butter. Pour the mixture in the dish.

Bake 35-45 minutes or until brown on the top and done (check with a knife inserted in the center)

Serve hot, warm or cold with whipped cream (1 cup of heavy whipped cream whipped with ¼ cup sugar) as in Inglourious Basterds.

Note: Apples are better to use firm and not too sweet. Lemon is necessary for keeping the gingerbread from excessive moisture.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bell pepper stuffed with meat

This is one of my favorite dishes, and one of my most refined and researched (in terms of how much and long I experimented with ingredients and proportions) dishes. In Russia when bell pepper was available only in fall and was expensive, we usually cooked this dish for the occasions. When pepper is large and ground meat can be bought (back in home I always ground meat by myself), it becomes very easy and fast to prepare dish; it takes me usually 15-20 minutes to do so. I cook it often; it is nice as everyday meal as well.


· 1 lb (500 g) ground meat (lamb, beef, pork or their mixture, coarse-ground is better than fine-ground)

· ¼ - ½ large finely chopped onion, white or yellow

· 1 tsp salt

· ½ tsp black ground pepper

· ¼ cup white round rice (medium grain)

· 1-2 tbsp parsley, dill or cilantro finely chopped (optional; I like dill and parsley for beef and cilantro or basil for lamb, but do not recommend to use cilantro and dill together)

I like it fatty (for Russians, fatty = filling) and often use 30% fat ground beef from Ralph’s. But the major trick is not in fat but in the moisture of the stuffing; it should be moist, very moist -- just add water. Rice is raw, and I usually don’t rinse or soak it; I also found out that round rice, called medium grain, works best for this dish.

I just thought that it would be interesting to try ground chicken, turkey, or mixture of chicken and meat. Then I would add in the stuffing my favorite dry poultry seasoning (salt free, from The Spice Hunter company, it contains basil, rosemary, sage, marjoram, thyme and oregano).

I need to say a word about garlic here. I like garlic, and at the same time I hate it, because it is more often overused then underused, and it can easily ruin any dish but a roasted chicken and salsa. In San Diego, there is one very expensive and fine restaurant with a chef, who loves garlic and uses it in all entries – to my taste it is disastrous, and I didn’t like all dishes I tried there. After that experience, I always think twice before using garlic, and in most cases I prefer to avoid using it as in this dish.

The other ingredients:

· 6 large meaty bell peppers (I like red (a pack from Costco), but green or orange can be used as well)

· 2 tbsp olive or any other oil

· 6 tbsp sour cream (optional)

· Parsley, dill or cilantro (optional)

· 2 large or 4 medium size carrots, cut in round (I usually do that) or squared pieces or shred (long thin pieces)

· ½ large white or yellow onion chopped or 1 white chunk of leeks cut in round pieces

· 100-500 g fresh tomatoes (optional), chopped finely or coarse large tomatoes or cherry tomatoes whole or cut in halves or quarters

· Celery (optional), cut in large pieces (I do that) or chopped

· ½ - 1 large bell pepper (optional), chopped or shred

· Mushrooms dry or fresh (optional)

In the casserole or other large enough pot to accommodate 6 peppers (or whatever number of small peppers) standing in one row on the bottom of the pot, preheat the oil. Sauté (on high/medium heat) carrots, onion (or leeks), and other optional vegetables: celery, mushrooms, pepper, tomatoes.

Add in the sauté ¼ tsp salt, black pepper and other dry or fresh herbs. I like to use tarragon (this is my second favorite herb after dill, the third will be cilantro) and oregano; if I use lamb for the stuffing, I might be in the mood for basil or rosemary and thyme.

While the vegetables sauté, I prepare pepper (wash it and remove using the paring knife the stalk and seeds, trying to leave as much pepper flesh as possible), then stuffing. I mix stuffing by a hand (left), and then use the same hand to put the stuffing in the peppers, distributing it equally among 6 peppers. The stuffing shouldn’t be pressed inside, but gently put; so there is a lot of room for juice and rice to pop up.

Place stuffed peppers in the casserole above sautéed vegetable, season generously with fresh herbs, and optionally pour a table spoon of sour cream on the top of each pepper.

Put the lead on the casserole, make the heat on medium, and cook for an hour. If in an hour the peppers are still too firm, cook another 20-30 minutes.

One pepper with vegetables makes 400-500 calories (kcal) and it supplies a day norm of vitamin A and 4-days of vitamin C!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cherry & Coconut Clafoutis, or a few words about inspiration

Today was the day of the clafoutis.

To make it, I got an inspiration from the cherry contest I read about at This recipe is my slight modification of this recipe submitted to the contest (Thank you, thank you!) and the recipe from The Food of France, which points out that traditionally the clafoutis should be prepared with unpitted cherries. So, I used unpitted cherries, and we liked it a lot! This clafoutis was our main dinner meal today – I think such a good desert is worth to rule the dinner in solo, considering calories and nutrients it provides. Next time, I want to try the same recipe without coconut to see the difference.

This clafoutis is moderately sweet despite very sweet cherries and sweetened coconut; therefore, if someone likes really sweet pies, more sugar can be added or whipped cream can be prepared with sugar.

I provide ingredients in both cups and grams, because I like to use grams when I mix ingredients in the large bowl instead of using a new cup for each ingredient: I just place the bowl on the scale and add ingredients when needed resetting the scale to zero.


· ½ cup (120 g) whole milk

· ½ cup (120 g) heavy cream

· ¼ cup (50 g) sugar

· a pinch of salt

· 1 vanilla pod (or ¼ tsp vanilla extract)

· 3 eggs

· 2/3 cup (85 g) all purpose flour

· 1 lb (500 g) large sweet cherries, unpitted

· 50 g sweetened coconut (from Vons or Ralph's) or unsweetened (from Jimbo's or Whole Foods)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC.
  2. Place the cherries into the baking dish (they will cover in one row the bottom of the 8-9 inch oval or round baking dish).
  3. In a medium saucepan, heat slightly the cream, salt, and vanilla pod splited in two. Remove from the heat, add milk, and remove vanilla pod.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with sugar, using the electrical mixer. Add flour and continue mixing with the mixer. Then add the cream and coconuts, mixing constantly.
  5. Pour the warm custard over the cherries. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until golden on top. (To make sure that the pie is ready, use a knife to stick inside, if the knife goes out clean, then the pie is ready. It is OK to open the oven and even remove the pie from it, and if it is not ready yet, to put it back in the oven.)
  6. Serve warm with whipped heavy cream. Remember about the cherries pits!

Another book, Culinaria France, suggests using 5 eggs and 1 cup (150 g) flour and 1 cup milk (not a mixture of milk and cream); no coconut and unpitted cherries, of course, and 75 g sugar; the amounts of all other ingredients are the same as in my recipe.

If you use unsweetened coconuts, then a little bit more sugar can be used (60-70 g instead of 50 g).

Roast Chicken, or Casserole Magic

To become a master cook and wow your family and guests, all you need is a large (5 liters) cast iron casserole with lid, like this one sold in IKEA.

I think this is the essential and can be the only pot in the kitchen. Because it works for almost any way of cooking: boiling, frying, roasting, name it. It is equally nice for frying eggs, fish or meat, making soups, sources, boiling potatoes, cooking kasha, stews, stuffed vegetables, and of course roast chicken.

Roast chicken is the easiest and fastest in preparation dish to cook. And it is equally nice for every day breakfast, lunch or dinner and for the occasion. It also doesn’t require any attention in the process of cooking.

Recipe #1 (basic)

All is needed:

· 1 prepared cleaned (empty inside) chicken of about 4-6 lb (2-3 kg), better fresh, organic or natural

· Salt (about ½ tsp)

· Pepper (about ½ tsp)

Preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC. Salt and pepper the chicken inside and outside. Place it in the casserole (a little bit oil can be put on the bottom) by the breast up and put the casserole (without lid) in the oven. In 1h30min look at the chicken, if you want it browner, leave it in the oven for another 15-30 min. The chicken is ready!

Recipe #2 (stuffed roast chicken)

Now is the time to improvise and stuff and season the chicken with whatever you want and have, so every time you can prepare a unique roast chicken depending on your mood and occasion.

I like the following mixture as a stuffing (it is lovely for duck, turkey and goose too!):

· 1-2 sliced apples (any sort, sweet or sore, Fuji or Ambrosia is good)

· a half of an orange or one tangerine (optional)

· ½ -1 tbsp nuts, raw, toasted or caramelized (pine nuts, chopped walnuts, pecan, cashew, almond)

· 1 tbsp dry or 3 tbsp fresh berries (cranberry, strawberry, cherry, or other, or mixture) or chopped fruits (apricots, prunes; I do not recommend to hurry experimenting with pineapple, kiwi, lemon and lime – they can ruin everything by softening the meat too much or becoming the prime note in the dish, while the idea to make the chicken the king!)

· ½ tbsp dry poultry seasoning (salt free, The Spice Hunter company makes a good one, it contains basil, rosemary, sage, marjoram, thyme and oregano; it can be bought in practically any supermarket) or some of these dry herbs (sage and thyme is especially good for chicken) or some of these fresh (1-2 tbsp) herbs (other herbs and spices can be used as well, but be careful in using something else besides the mentioned six herbs if not sure, because they can work the same way as kiwi or lime since the chicken meat is so tender and its aroma is not very strong)

· Garlic can be added as well (1-3 cloves, finely chopped)

· ¼ tsp salt

Mix everything, and since you don’t know if the whole mixture will fit the chicken, put at the beginning only a portion of the stuffing in a separate dish, so you can add more when necessary and use the rest for eating or serving with the chicken. The issue is that you need to use hands to put the stuffing inside the chicken and if you don’t want to throw out the leftover, don’t touch it by hands after touching the chicken (be afraid of

Put the stuffing inside the chicken densely until it fits. Since the chicken will be by the breast up, there is no need to cover or stitch the body cavity.

The chicken can be rubbed additionally to salt and pepper by dry seasoning or a mixture of seasoning with chopped garlic. If fresh herbs are used, it is nice to use a mortar (or a deep dish instead of a mortar and a cap instead of a pestle) to finely mix garlic with fresh herbs. To make the seasoning stick to the chicken skin, put a little bit oil on the hand and rub the chicken before seasoning.

The oven temperature and time is the same as in the Recipe #1.

Recipe #3 (stuffed roast chicken a la Cook's Bible)

Follow the recipe #2, prepare additionally for this recipe in the mortar the mixture of 1 garlic clove, 1tbsp of fresh chopped parsley and 3 tbsp chopped walnuts or other nuts. This mixture needs to be put between the breast meat and skin by loosening the skin from the breast carefully. It is the most difficult part to figure out how to do that.

Roast chicken goes nicely with sweet potato or yam (it can be sliced and roasted in the small oven separately or in the microwave). I served the roast chicken with, and we all liked it! It needs about 30 min to cook on a low heat; use 2 caps of water for 1 cap of grain.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why this blog?

I've been mastering the art of cooking for 25 years, deliberately and passionately. I love to cook; this is my second favorite activity after sleeping. I never regretted time spent in the kitchen. To me, cooking is the form of art.

My first cooking experiments started when I became a university student. I didn't know the elementary things. And my university roommates were as illiterate as I was. When for the first time, we decided to cook pasta, we vote 3 against 1 that pasta needs to be put in cold water. So, on my first fall break, I interviewed my mom and wrote down a small notebook of recipes. I still keep that book and for 25 years added my recipes to it. When 10 years ago we moved from Russia to the U.S., I started collecting and writing recipes in English.

I should say that cooking in this country is very easy and interesting because of so many ingredients available that I never saw or heard of in Russia. I thought of keeping this blog in two languages, but haven't decided yet if this is a good idea, because here I started using many ingredients and even ways of cooking that were (and still) impossible to use in Russia. At the same time I stopped cooking many dishes that I mastered for perfection, like pirogies small and large, sweet and not, because they are too fatty, contain too many calories but not nutritious. My idea of cooking that dishes should be healthy and fast and easy to master and cook, however, when you need to feed a whole family for little (that is what I did for many years in Russia), you might opt for more calories...

The idea to keep this blog came to me today when I decided to roast a chicken after reading an interesting and new (for me) recipe in Cook's Bible. This is a very good book, and I bought it for my daughter, so she can survive through college. I like reading culinary books; that is amazing reading, I can imagine what a dish will look like and think how I would modify it. If I can imagine the final dish and if this is something new and unusual, that means for me a good recipe and I buy a book for my collection and future inspiration. But I almost never follow a recipe exactly, because it is practically impossible. Why do we have so many culinary books printed every year? Because it is so hard to explain in words and even pictures how to cook. Because this is art, because you need to know many little secrets and have a lot of experience. So, I roasted the chicken and realized that my daughter would never be able to read the recipe and follow it. And I thought that I might start writing about all those little secrets that I’ve learned and use when I read recipes and cook. When she is out in college, she can use this blog to read my advices and ask questions. So, my next post will be about today’s chicken.