Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Back Home after the FoodBuzz Blogger Festival

I guess I have arrived.

The weekend before last, I attended my first FoodBuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco.

In the photo above you can see some of the spoils, after my husband and I spent an afternoon grazing our way around the Taste Pavilion.  Fresh endive, salted caramels, healthy fruit-and-nut mixes, wines, and many other goodies to sample.  Wholesome and indulgent all jumbled together, with the focus on local products from Northern California.

We live in nearby Berkeley, so most of this was familiar to us.  But to have it all gathered together in one place was quite something.   Trick or treat for the adult foodie.  Much better than Halloween.

Later, we savored an elegant cocktail hour and then dinner, in the beautiful coral reef exhibit at the San Francisco Academy of Sciences, with a few hundred other attendees.

It was an exotic outing.  A treat for the senses.  Food as an art form.  And everyone snapping photos. Constantly.  Including me.  (The cameras drove my husband a little crazy!)

But did I really belong there, among the foodies?    It seemed far removed from my passion for resurrecting the cooking of an Eastern European immigrant community from the last century.

In some ways, I did feel like the proverbial fish out of water. But I'm glad I went.

To read more about the Festival, you can take a look at my blog on Red Room, here.  More thoughts and reactions will follow!

Update:  I have posted more thoughts and photos on my December 5 blog entry, here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 40, a Pumpkin Odyssey in Three Acts: Flesh, Oil, and Seeds

Pumpkin Seed Oil Cheese Spread with Pumpernickel
Pumpkin Beef Hot Pot with Kale
Green Salad with Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seed oil is a traditional specialty of Styria, an Alpine region that includes parts of present-day Austria and Slovenia.  The oil, which is sometimes referred to as black gold, is also a major export in both countries.

The pumpkin reached Europe by way of Christopher Columbus, who discovered it in North America.  So it is ironic that pumpkin seed oil has only recently started to become known in the United States.  

Pumpkin seed oil has become a staple in my kitchen, now that I have begun to venture outside my vintage Slovenian American cookbook collection.  This delicacy was probably unavailable, and perhaps unknown, to working class ethnic families in the 1950s.

I have found many uses for this exotic oil. In vinaigrette dressing, of course.  As a marinade for chicken.  In kasha Mediterranean salad and tuna salad.  In an original biscotti recipe.  Even on ice cream. But I have never made a Slovenian dish that included the pumpkin itself.

So I set myself a challenge this week: To use pumpkin in every course.  And to use it all: flesh, seeds, and oil.

It started with a trip to the organic produce market around the corner.  I was tempted to scale the giant mound of pumpkins the market sets out each fall, for the amusement of climbing children.  But I thought better of it.

Off to the side, I found a display of small, sweet pie pumpkins.  I picked out a nice specimen.  I also bought some toasted, shelled pumpkin seeds in the bulk nut section of the market, along with the fresh vegetables I would need for dinner.

Back home, I already had some pungent Styrian pumpkin oil.  This one was bottled in France and produced in Austria.

The appetizer course would be easy.  I had already come across a number of simple recipes for cottage cheese-pumpkin seed oil spread, a popular starter in Slovenia as well as Austria.  Even the official Slovenian government tourist website offered a recipe.  I combined a few to come up with my own version.

The salad course would be simple. A green lettuce salad, with cherry tomatoes and olives, tossed with an oil-and-vinegar dressing, along with a touch of pumpkin seed oil.   I planned to top it with whole, toasted seeds from that pumpkin I bought at the market.  (My husband ended up taking charge of the seed-roasting and salad-making.)

The challenge? Finding a main course with fresh pumpkin.  I couldn't seem to find any Slovenian recipes. Finally, I  found something called pumpkin hot pot, on the website of a pumpkin seed oil company in Austria.

(Here is a similar site, for a Slovenian company.  And here is the website for the first American producer of pumpkin seed oil.)

This dish sounded intriguing: chunks of beef, pumpkin and tomatoes, combined with greens, scented with basil and garnished with a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil.  I suspected that kale would be the perfect choice for the greens.  I was right.

The verdict?  This was one of my most successful dinners so far!

I had made the salad before.  My husband's version was especially tasty.

The simple starter was so easy, it was hard to believe it was so good.  The mixture of white cheese and green-black pumpkin seed oil created a fascinating alchemy.  The spread turned light green and it had a delicate tang.  The seeds added a nice crunch.

But the real standout was that pumpkin hot pot.  It was pure Central European umami! Pungent and nutty, sweet and tart.  Musky.  My husband and I could barely stop eating it.  

Fortunately, we did, because it was even better the next day.

A pumpkin-themed dessert might have been gilding the lily.  But the only reason we skipped it was practical: no vanilla ice cream.  The market was out of it.

Otherwise,  I would have made the traditional dessert we had enjoyed a few months earlier: Ice cream topped with homemade pumpkin seed brittle in syrup and a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil!

The recipes follow below.  Enjoy!

Pumpkin Beef Hot Pot with Kale 

1 lb. beef stew meat
1 large bunch kale
 6 c. water
1 small pumpkin, about 2 lbs.
3  medium onions
2 T. olive oil
 salt and pepper
1 lb. tomatoes, halved if small, quartered if large
2 T. fresh basil leaves, sliced
2 T. red wine vinegar
pumpkin seed oil for garnish

Trim, cut and rinse/soak kale. Drain. Put in large kettle or Dutch oven with beef and cover with 5-6 c. salted water. Simmer for 1 hour.

In the meantime, peel and cube pumpkin.  (Save seeds to roast for salad.)  Slice onion into thin rings.  Brown in olive oil in skillet until starting to carmelize.  Add pumpkin cubes and cook 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes and basil.  Cook 5 more minutes.  Add to beef,  after it has been cooking for 1 hour.  Simmer another hour.  Add vinegar to taste.  To serve, ladle into flat soup bowls and drizzle with pumpkin seed oil.

Pumpkin Seed Oil and Cheese Spread

4 oz curd cheese or cottage cheese (I used Cowgirl Creamery clabbered cottage cheese)
1 T. pumpkin seed oil
1 T. shelled toasted pumpkin seeds, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of paprika

Mash cheese with fork.  Add remaining ingredients. Garnish with a few more pumpkin seeds. Chill. Serve with thinly sliced pumpernickel or crackers.

Green Salad with Pumpkin Seeds

salad greens of your choice
cherry tomatoes
black olives
dressing: olive oil, cider vinegar to taste, 1 t. pumpkin seed oil
salt and pepper to taste
topping: whole roasted salted pumpkin seeds

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 39: Pierogi Lasagna (or Žlikrofi Deconstructed)

Pierogi Lasagna (Žlikrofi Casserole)
Sausage with Red Cabbage

Pierogi Lasagna. Lazy Pierogi.  Polish Lasagna.  Pierogi Casserole.

However you name it, the dish comes down to this: Potato lasagna.  Not so appealing, at first blush.

I discovered Pierogi Casserole on the website of an ethnic radio station in Cleveland.  It sounded like a bland, white-on-white, carb-heavy nightmare.  And even though it was identified as Slovenian on that website, and on a few of the others, I had my doubts.

But it turned out to be more than I expected—and more traditional than I realized.

Most of these recipes are simple:  Lasagna noodles are layered with a filling of mashed potatoes, enhanced with cheese and onions, and maybe a little garlic.  It does sound like the casserole approach to pierogi, the popular Polish boiled dumpling that commonly features a potato filling.

But this dish could just as easily be considered the deconstructed version of a famous Slovenian speciality, Idrija-style žlikrofi.

Žlikrofi are the Slovenian version of boiled, filled dumplings.  Sometimes they are referred to as ravioli. I had already made a meat version, as well as a tasty buckwheat-cheese variation.  I had been planning to try the popular version from Idrija.  It is made with a unique potato filling, a little more complex than the Polish style.  So this would be the perfect opportunity.

To come up with the recipe below, I combined a few different recipes for pierogi lasagna. The herbs and the bacon are the special Slovenian touches I added, inspired by the traditional filling for Idrija žlikrofi.

A word about the pasta: I had planned to use the  conventional variety, which requires boiling in advance.  But I came across a no-boil version, which I had used once or twice in the past.  Since I was pressed for time, I decided to give it a try.

It turned out to be an ideal choice for this particular dish. The noodles were thin and flat. The brand I used was Barilla Oven Ready Lasagna.  Afterward, I discovered that this company's style is different on two counts: the pasta is rolled rather than extruded, and it includes eggs.  So it results in a thin, delicate noodle that is much like the homemade noodle dough you might roll by hand.

The one caveat about using no boil lasagna is that the filling needs to be moister than usual.  Since this potato filling is fairly dry, you will probably need to add some potato liquid before baking, as I suggest below.

Pierogi Lasagna ( Žlikrofi Casserole)

1 large or 2 small onions, to make 2 c. thinly sliced onion
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 slices thick bacon, diced
4 c. mashed potatoes, skin on (about 2 lb.)
1 c. grated cheese (I used smoked gouda)
¼ c. light sour cream
salt and pepper
fresh chives, minced, 1-2 t.
fresh  marjoram, minced, 1-2 t.
additional sour cream, chives, and grated parmesan cheese for top
lasagna noodles (I used Barilla's Oven Bake style)

Cut onions in half vertically, then cut each half into thin slices. In a skillet, brown the onion slices  in olive oil until almost carmelized. Add the garlic and bacon. Continue to cook, stirring, until bacon is cooked.  Let cool.

Meanwhile, wash and halve the potatoes, leaving skins on. Cook in boiling salted water until tender.  Drain.  Be sure to save liquid.  When cool, mash the potatoes,  adding a little potato liquid if needed.  Stir in the onion-bacon mixture,  grated cheese, sour cream, and seasonings. If needed, add more sour cream or potato liquid to make filling spreadable. Taste and adjust seasonings. The filling should be highly seasoned, for the dish to be a success!

If lasagna noodes require pre-cooking, prepare according to package directions.   I used the flat, no-boil lasagna noodles made by Barilla, which I recommend.  You will need about ¾ lb.

Oil a 9 x 9 inch casserole dish.  Alternate 4 layers of noodles with 3 layers of filling, beginning and ending with noodles.  Top with a thin layer of sour cream.  Add a sprinkle of  parmesan cheese and chives.

Can be refrigerated, covered, until baking.

Bring to room temperature.  If lasagna appears too dry, pierce noodles with a sharp knife and add some potato water.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.   Cover with foil if top becomes too brown.

Let cool and cut into squares to serve, with additional sour cream if desired.

For the final verdict, scroll down to the end of the photos.

carmelized onions and bacon

bottom layer of potato filling
ready for the oven

The surprising verdict: Delicious!   One of those more-than-meet-the-eye dishes.   I did work hard to make the potato filling highly seasoned, which I think makes all the difference.  My husband thought I could have added even more bacon.

Was it a little carb-heavy?   For an entree, probably so.  But it is easy enough to add another protein source, like the leftover sausage with red cabbage we had on hand. (Remember, it's all about portion control!)   I expect to make this unusual dish again.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 38: Turkey Cevapcici and Tuna Tomato Salad, A Healthy Summer Meal for a Hot Fall Day

Turkey Cevapcici
Tuna and Tomato Salad
Whole Wheat Pita
Ajvar and Greek Yogurt

Fall in the San Francisco Bay Area can feel like August.  This was one of those days.  It was early October, but we were having a heat wave.  By mid-afternoon, the temperature would be over 90 degrees.

“Maybe we should grill outside,” my husband suggested, as he headed off to work in the still-cool morning.

Maybe.  It was definitely a day for cooking light and avoiding the oven at all costs.

I was torn between two entrees.  Cevapcici had become my tried-and-true favorite for grilling.  I had made it three times so far. But I had never made a healthy light version with turkey, so maybe this was a good time to give it a try.

But I had just found the perfect summer entree salad in my latest cookbook:  Slovenian Cookery by  Slavko Adamlje, published in Ljubljana in 2001. I had spotted this book in the library at San Francisco's Slovenian Hall, where we had just attended the yearly grape harvest festival, or Trgatev.

The salad was a refreshing mixture of  tuna, tomatoes, peppers, peas, and basil.  This had to be an example of the “modern” style of Slovenian cooking I had read about.  I liked the idea of shopping for all those nice fresh vegetables at the organic produce market just around the corner.

Since I couldn't choose between these two tempting summer dishes, I decided to make them both.

One thing I did know:  We would be opening a bottle of imported Slovenian wine my husband had bought at the grape festival.  It was a nice Pinot Noir called Mea Culpa.

Tuna and Tomato Salad (adapted from Slovenian Cookery, by Slavko Adamlje)

2 c. sliced assorted peppers
2 c. sliced tomatoes
½ c. freshly shelled English peas, cooked and cooled
¼ c. fresh basil, sliced
1 large can Italian tuna in oil, drained
salt and pepper to taste

Dressing: Olive or safflower oil, rice vinegar, 1 t. pumpkin seed oil, 1 clove garlic, salt and pepper

To cook peas: Cook in ½ inch of boiling salted water for about 3 minutes, or until crisp but tender.  Drain and cool.

Mix peas with remaining salad ingredients.

Make dressing, using quantities of oil and vinegar you prefer.  Toss dressing with salad. Refrigerate before serving.

Turkey Cevapcici

1 lb. ground turkey
1 egg white, lightly mixed with fork
4 small cloves garlic (or 2 large), minced
1 t. salt
2 t. black pepper, freshly ground
1 t. cayenne pepper
½ t. smoked paprika
½ c. minced onion
2 T. bread crumbs, combined with 1 t. baking soda

I adapted this recipe from a version I found on the Internet.  The bread crumbs were my own addition, since the ground turkey seemed too liquid-y to be easily shaped into those little skinny sausage shapes.

For detailed directions about how to prepare, shape, and grill cevapcici, see my earlier posts, here or here or here.  Remember that it is best to mix the meat in advance and let sit in the refrigerator for flavors to meld, before shaping. And be sure to use the traditional toppings: ajvar (red pepper relish) and Greek yogurt, a healthy substitute for kajmak.

The verdict?

The tuna salad was good, but a little mild, at least for my taste.  Next time, I might use a stronger vinegar.  The tomatoes I used seemed watery.  My husband suggested that I should have seeded them first. But he thought the salad was just fine.  It was certainly a light, healthy dish.

The turkey cevapcici recipe was a pleasant surprise.  I was afraid it would be too mild, or that the poultry flavor might be obvious.  But it wasn't.  I noticed that this recipe was more peppery, and heavier on the garlic, than my previous versions.  If the goal was to disguise the turkey, it worked.

And the Slovenian wine was the perfect final touch!

Slovenian Dinner Week 37: Chicken Rižota, Before the Yom Kippur Fast

Chicken Rižota
Green Salad

Tuesday of Week 37 fell on the evening of Yom Kippur.  For Jews, sundown would mark the beginning of a day of fasting and repentance.

Although the Yom Kippur Eve meal doesn't have ritual significance, some foods are traditionally chosen.  Simple, mildly seasoned foods are said to make the fast easier.  In many communities, chicken and rice are favored entrees.

I wanted to make a meal that would fit within these two traditions, Slovenian and Jewish, that are a part of my family life.

I immediately thought about rižota.  Slovenian risotto. Months earlier, I had made a delicious meat version. In doing research for the dish, I recalled some mention of substituting chicken for the more usual beef, veal or pork.   But I wasn't sure.

So I went back to the handful of recipes I had found in my vintage Slovenian American cookbooks.  Yes, one of those recipes made a passing reference to using chicken instead of meat.  But I had completely overlooked the one recipe that was designed with chicken in mind.

The Progressive Slovene Women of America had a recipe they called Chicken and Rice. In parentheses, they mentioned the proper Slovenian name.  Rižota.

So I was on solid ground.  It seemed like an ideal dish for Yom Kippur Eve.

I followed the same recipe I used for that Week 21 Dinner, with a few changes:

Instead of the beef-pork mix, I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut up.

I added a few more vegetables:
-1 carrot, cubed
-1 stalk of celery, sliced
-1 tomato, diced, instead of canned tomatoes

This time, I remembered to use the short-grained Arborio rice.

And at the end, I splashed in a little white wine

There was one other change:  No parmesan cheese on top.  That would be very untraditional, even for Jewish families who don't strictly observe the Jewish dietary laws.

A reminder: Boneless chicken cooks more quickly than beef or pork, so don't overcook.

The verdict:  Delicious!  A simple dish, made even more flavorful with the inclusion of additional vegetables and a little wine.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Slovenian DInner Week 36: Bograč II, or Perfect Make Ahead Goulash Soup

Bograč II (Slovenian Goulash Soup)
Cabbage-Beet Slaw
Cooked Greens

I had made my first version of bograč, or Slovenian goulash soup, just four weeks earlier. Normally, I wouldn't be so quick to repeat a dish.  But that Week 32 Dinner had been a success and I had discovered that bograč could be made in advance. If anything, it had improved with reheating.

I needed a make-ahead dish today, because I had to go to my office in the afternoon, instead of working  from home.  So I started the goulash soup in the morning, cooked it for about an hour, and then refrigerated it.  When I returned home, I cooked it for another hour.

There are many approaches to making bograč.   So now I had the chance to experiment with a few variations.

Bograč II (Slovenian Goulash Soup, all beef, with some flavor additions)

The basic recipe is here.  This time, I made the following changes :

I used all beef stew meat, instead of half pork.
I used 2 peppers (1 green and 1 red) instead of just 1.
I added part of a small hot red pepper, minced.
I skipped the tomatoes. Instead,
I added 2/3 c. dried mushrooms, soaked and sliced, along with their liquid.

And this time, I remembered to add two important seasoning boosts:

1 t. fresh rosemary, minced
1/4 cup of red wine

For the verdict, scroll down.

preparing the vegetables

fresh rosemary from the garden
bograč, starting to cook
ready to serve!

So how did Bograč II compare to the first version?  I did like the seasoning additions. Next time, I might go back to using some tomatoes.   I do think the dish is better with two different kinds of meat.  And pork is more tender than beef, I am coming to realize, so I will probably go back to the beef-pork mix.

The bottom line is that you can't go wrong with bograč!

Slovenian Dinner Week 35: Ljubljana Egg Dish, A Touch of Old World Elegance

Ljubljana Egg Dish (Ljubljanska Jajena Jed), or Mushroom-Asparagus Souffle
Green Salad with Asparagus, Tomatoes, and Radishes

I found this unusual mushroom-asparagus souffle in a contemporary source:  The Food and Cooking of Slovenia (2009), by Slovenian professor and cooking expert Janez Bogataj, Ph.D.

This beautifully produced book has received much attention, at least in Slovenian American circles. So I was excited to discover that I could browse through the online preview.  But I promised myself :  I wouldn't add it to my cookbook collection just yet.  For now, I wanted to retain my focus on vintage Slovenian American cooking.  I assumed this glossy book was a modern take on Slovenian food.  But I was wrong.

Take this egg dish.  It definitely qualifies as vintage.  It first appeared in 1868, in a book by Magdalena Pleiweis.  This was one of the earliest Slovenian cookbooks, and the first one to be copyrighted.  It was also the first dish to be named for a particular place: Ljubljana, Slovenia's largest city and now the small nation's capital.

I was intrigued by this dish, which sounded like a cross between a mushroom-asparagus omelet and a souffle, partly because it had such a contemporary feeling.  It was hard to believe that a delicate, elegant-sounding brunch dish was in vogue in 1860s Slovenia, even among city-dwellers.  I doubt that it had a place in the kitchens of my own peasant ancestors, and it doesn't seem to have become a part of the Slovenian American cooking repertoire.

Subsequently, I found a version of the recipe in a Milwaukee newspaper article about Slovenian cooking and Dr. Bogataj's book.  This recipe, presented with the American cook in mind, looked even easier to follow.  So I made a mental note to come back to it, when the time was right.

On Tuesday of Week 35,  the time felt right.  My husband and I were feeling drained after a weekend trip to Chicago, where we had attended another memorial service for our friend who had died in the summer. We came home to more sad news, the death of my husband's stepfather.

The thought of a light, meat-free souffle for dinner seemed appealing.  So I went back to that newspaper article and followed the recipe, making just a few small modifications.   I also expanded the directions.  To follow this recipe, which was more elaborate than I realized,  read on.

Ljubljana Egg Dish

½  “short loaf” (long roll) of French bread
1 c. milk
5 hard-cooked eggs
3 uncooked eggs, separated
2 T. butter, room temperature
1 T. chopped fresh marjoram
1 t. salt
1 lemon rind, grated
2 T. sour cream
½ to ¾ oz. dried morels or other wild mushrooms
2 T. fresh parsley, chopped
1 T. dry white wine
1 oz (or more!) fresh asparagus tips

First, prepare the mushrooms.  I found morels too pricey, so I used a small bag of mixed wild mushrooms. Rinse mushrooms and then either boil or soak in very hot water.  (Note: There are two schools of thought about this. Some argue that boiling creates a tasty broth, but is not a good idea if you want to use the mushrooms themselves in cooking.) Drain the softened mushrooms, saving the liquid for another use.  Slice mushrooms and set aside in a small bowl.

Crumble French bread or roll into a small bowl, add  milk, and set aside to soak.

Shell the hard-cooked eggs and separate whites from yolks.  Press the yolks through a strainer into a small bowl and set aside in a medium bowl.  Slice whites into thin strips and set aside in another medium bowl.

Squeeze milk from bread and discard.  Add half the bread to the sieved cooked egg yolks, along with 1 T. softened butter.  Mix, then add the raw egg yolks.  Mix well.

Beat the egg whites in a medium bowl until stiff, adding a pinch of salt if desired. Fold them into the egg yolk mixture.  Add marjoram,  the remaining salt, lemon rind, sour cream,  and the remaining half of bread.  Fold and mix until well combined.

In a skillet, saute the sliced mushrooms in 1 T. butter for two minutes.  Add parsley, white wine, and asparagus tips. (Note: the recipe considers the asparagus optional and calls for 1 ounce.  I consider it essential and used a good half cup, plus more asparagus in the salad!)

Now, assemble the dish:

Butter a souffle dish.  Spread one third of the egg mixture on the bottom.  Add half the mushroom-asparagus mixture and then half  the egg white slices.  Repeat, ending with a final layer of egg mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the egg dish is browned and set.

I  garnished the egg dish with a few branches of fresh marjoram and served it with a green salad, along with a few olives and some ajvar.

How did it taste?  Scroll to the end of the photos to find out!

dried wild mushrooms, before soaking

mushrooms, after soaking

lemon rind, marjoram, and parsley

the mushroom-asparagus filling

sliced egg whites and sieved egg yolks

before baking

Ljubljana Egg Dish, after baking

Ljubljana Egg Dish, side view

The verdict:   The Ljubljana Egg dish is indeed an unusual concoction. It seems to exist in a culinary border region, somewhere between an airy omelet and a dense souffle.  The elaborate preparation process does seem hard to justify, given the end result.  It is definitely another one of those Slovenian dishes with simple ingredients combined in complex ways.  It tasted fine but the texture was odd. Sliced cooked egg white, baked for the second time, is definitely an acquired taste.  I have to confess that I am not in a rush to make this again.

Still, I am very glad I tackled this intriguing dish. It was like taking a step back into Slovenian history.  It gave me a glimpse into a refined nineteenth century urban culture that I, like many Slovenian Americans, know little about.  So that is a good thing.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 34: Leftover Sausage Hot Dish, Saved by a Beer

Leftover Sausage Hot Dish
with Galuska

Before he left for work, my husband dropped me a hint.  We had three leftover sausages in the refrigerator, along with a nice jar of organic sauerkraut in the cupboard.

Normally, I would have rejected the idea of basing my weekly Slovenian dinner on leftovers.  But I was emerging from an intensive two-week marathon of ethnic cooking. Yesterday, it had culminated in my first-ever attempt at apple strudel, for the neighborhood Labor Day party.

So I was open to something simple, as long as it was Slovenian.

I found the perfect starting point on the English language version of Kulinarika, a Slovenian cooking site: Leftover Sausage Hot Dish.  The recipe had been submitted by an American reader, who said it was traditional Slovenian.

The ingredients were simple: Leftover sausage, cabbage, apples, onions, and spices. And one more thing: leftover galuska. Hungarian dumplings.

The recipe noted that sauerkraut could be substituted for cabbage. I decided to use my own well-seasoned roast sauerkraut recipe. I had everything else on hand except for the galuska, a dish I had never made before. I thought they were drop noodles, similar to German spaetzle. Woman's Glory, one of my vintage cookbooks, had a recipe.

It did seem a little odd to try a new recipe for dumplings, for the sole purpose of serving them as cut-up leftovers. On the other hand, I was glad that this week's dinner would involve at least a little real cooking.  Besides, those galuska would be easy, right?

Wrong.  That preliminary step in this "easy dish" was almost my undoing.  Read on.

Hungarian Galuska

Hungarian Galuska

1 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 egg
1/2 c. milk
1 t. oil

Mix flour with baking powder and salt. In a smaller bowl, beat egg, milk, and oil together. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients.  Stir with fork until dough is stiff enough to drop from a spoon.  Drop spoons of dough into boiling salted water, cover, and simmer for 12-15 minutes.  Drain.

I assumed this recipe would be easy.  But the galuska were a disaster. They were gummy on the outside and barely held their shape.  At least half of them disintegrated in the colander.   When I cut one open, I discovered a hard lump of uncooked flour at the core!

(After the fact, I  have some idea of what went wrong.  I had added additional flour, under the assumption that the dough should be fairly stiff. In fact, as one set of instructions explained, the dough ought to be a "gooey mess."  Another problem:  I made the dumplings too big.  I should have dropped half-teaspoonfuls, at most, instead of the generous tablespoon I used.  This batch made 12 dumplings, instead of a bowl of little spaetzle-like squiggles.)

I salvaged about half the dumplings.  They looked like soggy anemic cauliflower florets. But  I pressed on.

Leftover Sausage Hot Dish
Leftover Sausage Hot Dish

2 c. sauerkraut
1 small onion, chopped
1 large apple, chopped
1 t. caraway seed
1/2 t. juniper berries
salt and pepper to taste
oil for browning
3 cooked sausages, sliced
1 c. cooked galuska, cut up (or use noodles!)
1/2-1 c. beer, white wine, or stock

Mix sauerkraut, onion, apple, and spices.  Let sit for flavors to mix.

Heat oil in a skillet. Add sauerkraut mixture and brown. Remove to bowl. Brown sliced sausage in skillet. Add cut up galuska or noodles.  Add sauerkraut mixture. Finally, add the liquid.  Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes.

The sauerkraut-sausage mixture tasted good.  But my heart sank when I mixed in the galuska.  The original recipe had called for two cups, but I had just one cup left.  Already they were starting to fall apart.  Just like this crazy leftover dish.

The last straw came when I looked around for some liquid to add.  No chicken stock in the cupboard. No white wine in the refrigerator.  Beer was the final option.  I wasn't optimistic, since we aren't big beer drinkers.  But when we have a Cajun music jam, someone will usually bring a six-pack.

As I searched frantically in the refrigerator, I almost passed by the goofy-looking bottle with the yellow label and the smiley face.  But Union Smile turned out to be beer.  At this point, I wasn't inclined to be picky.  So I snatched it out of the refrigerator, popped off the cap, and dumped a generous half cup into the mess simmering on the stove.

Then I took a closer look at the label.   I read the small print at the bottom.

"Product of Slovenia."

I had a good laugh. It was like a message from the source. Or at least from the folks in Ljubljana who make Union Smile Beer.

"Don't Worry!  Be Happy! It's only dinner."

I needed to lighten up.

I took a sip.  Mild, but not bad.   I added more to the dish.  As it cooked, the galuska seemed to get smaller.  I imagined they must be dissolving into the sauce.  So it would turn into a cream sauce.  Oh well.  It was only dinner.  I kept smiling.

Until my husband got home and saw that half empty bottle of beer.  Oh no!  That beer had tasted terrible, he said. It had probably gone bad.

But when I protested that it tasted fine to me, he took a sip and agreed.   Mild, decent. Acceptable for cooking.

And when we sat down to dinner, the final verdict was a surprise.

That leftover sausage hot dish tasted good.  In fact, my husband loved it.

"The flavor is great. One of the best dishes you've made so far."

You never can tell.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 33, a Meal to Impress: Buckwheat Struklji with Tarragon Cheese Filling, Rosemary-Paprika Chicken Breast

Buckwheat Struklji with Tarragon Cheese Filling
with Ajvar and Greek Yogurt
Rosemary-Paprika Chicken Breasts
Cole Slaw
Baked Flancati

I wanted to make an impressive Slovenian dinner for our son, who was visiting from Kosovo.  But I didn't want to take too many chances.  So variations on a previously successful theme seemed like a wise path.

Struklji immediately came to mind.  The rolled boiled dumpling is unusual, quintessentially Slovenian, and it offers many filling options. The dish was quite a success, the first time around, when I made a cheese-filled buckwheat version.   It was also one of the recipes featured in the Slovenian cooking article I wrote for Kosovo 2.0 magazine

Buckwheat Struklji, the first time

And just in case the struklji seemed too much like a side dish, I decided to add a meatier entree: a variant of the thin, grilled boneless smoked paprika chicken breasts I had made a few weeks earlier.

I had started to become curious about the herbs used in Slovenian cooking.  So this seemed like a good time to try out a sweet tarragon version of the cheese filling for the struklji.   And maybe I could add some rosemary to the paprika chicken breasts, along with a little pumpkin seed oil, for an extra Slovenian touch.

I already knew that a tarragon filling is traditional in struklji and potica.  But I wondered about rosemary with chicken.  Is that something that a Slovenian, or at least an ex-Yugoslav, might do?

In searching the Internet, I found my answer in an amusing essay called Dinner with Tito, in a blog called Palachinka.

Josip Broz Tito, the fabled Yugoslav strongman, had a mixed ethnic heritage that personified his country's vision of South Slav unity:  He had a Croatian father, a Slovenian mother, and a Serbian wife. His Croatian village, which we had visited on our trip to Eastern Europe, was shouting distance from the Slovenian border.

Tito was also “a communist with style,” according to the blogger. He was a World War II hero of the Resistance, a ladies' man and a gourmet.  Evidently, Tito's favorite dish was Russian Style Chicken.  It was a pressed boneless chicken, flavored with rosemary and cognac.  The other favorite mentioned in this blog post? A Croatian version of struklji.

So I had come up with a meal that would have impressed Tito.  But what would our Balkan journalist son think?

Rosemary-Paprika Chicken on the grill

Rosemary-Paprika Chicken Breasts

Follow the directions for Smoked Paprika Chicken Breasts, with the following change:

For 2 whole chicken breasts, make a paste with:

1 T. olive oil
½ T. pumpkin seed oil
2 t. seasoned salt (I used a Mediterranean blend)
1 t. smoked paprika
1-2  t. chopped fresh rosemary

Buckwheat Struklji, boiled

Buckwheat Struklji with Tarragon Cheese Filling

Follow the recipe for Buckwheat Struklji in Week 10, with the following change:

For the cheese filling, omit the chives and parsley.  Add 2-3 T. sugar and 2-3 T. chopped fresh tarragon.

Rosemary-Paprika Chicken, sliced and ready to serve

The chicken breast looked and tasted good. But I preferred the first version, which had a deeper paprika color and a crustier coating.  In this second version, the oil-spice mix seemed more like a conventional marinade. Perhaps it was the result of using less paprika, coupled with the addition of fresh, rather than dried, rosemary.

The struklji presented a challenge.  I'd had my doubts about the filling, because I associate tarragon with salad dressings and savoury dishes.  But I discovered that tarragon has a faint taste of licorice, which works well in a mildly sweet cheese filling. So the filling tasted just fine.

The problem emerged when I tried to unroll the long, boiled dumpling from the cheese cloth.  The first time, it worked like a charm.  But this time, the cheesecloth stuck.  It was as though the outer layer of dough had created a gummy glue.

My husband came to my rescue.  But the buckwheat dough still wouldn't come loose from the cheesecloth wrapping. Those mangled slices did taste good. But the brown-and-white spirals weren't nearly as pretty, this time around.

Buckwheat Struklji with Tarragon Cheese Filling, sliced

I don't know what created the problem.  Using farmer cheese instead of ricotta? Perhaps that created a moister filling.  Replacing an egg with two egg whites? Adding a little too much water to the dough?  Not wringing out the cheesecloth enough, or adding too few layers?  Cooking is always an adventure.

Despite my fretting,  the dinner was a success.

Our son seemed to enjoy it.  Of course, he couldn't resist a back-handed compliment.

“Good color, Mom.”

“Good color?”

“Yes.  It's pale.”

Just like authentic Balkan food, he explained.

Well, except for the bright red ajvar, I suppose the dinner was a study in pale earth tones.

Tito would have been easier to impress.