Friday, January 24, 2014

Cevapcici Meatloaf, a Balkan-inspired Original

One night in mid-December, I had an urge for cevapcici, but I was pressed for time.  I didn't want the fuss of shaping and grilling a bunch of little sausages.  I had a brainstorm: Why not turn it into meatloaf?

So I mixed up a double recipe of my salt-free cevapcici. This time, I used a beef-turkey mix instead of lamb.  I also added an egg and a teaspoon of salt-free seasoning mix.

The result?  Instant slice-and-serve cevapcici!  It was an easy shortcut that had the characteristic taste and texture of cevapcici, especially with the traditional garnishes of ajvar (red pepper relish) and Greek yogurt.  It's hard to believe that no one else has thought of this before.

The cevapcici meatloaf made a perfect dinner with some tasty leftovers: two kinds of slaw (kale and cabbage) and my husband's vegi-millet soup.   For an even more traditional dinner, serve with pita or the Serbian flatbread known as lepinja.  (My salt-free version is here.)

The recipe follows.  Feel free to use your own favorite cevapcici mix.  I would recommend that you add an egg and liquid smoke, as I did, to provide some moisture and simulate that "just-grilled" flavor.

Dober tek!

Cevapcici Meatloaf (low sodium)

1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground turkey
6 large cloves garlic, minced
4-6  T. parsley, minced
1  t. cayenne
1 T. smoked paprika
1 T. hot paprika
 1 t.  black pepper
4 T. seltzer water mixed with 1 t. liquid smoke
1 t. no sodium seasoning mix (or 1 t. salt)
1 egg

Mix all all ingredients together.  Form into 1 large loaf or 2 small loaves.  Line rectangular baking pan with foil or parchment paper.  Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes, depending on size of loaves.  Slice and serve with ajvar and Greek yogurt.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Domači Prijatelj: The New Improved Slovenian Biscotti Recipe (And a New Challenge)

I have been trying to perfect my recipe for domači prijatelj, the Slovenian version of biscotti or mandelbrot.  I like the concept as well as the name, which translates as "domestic friend."  According to some sources, it has a slightly risqué connotation.

I have made a couple of tweaks to my earlier recipes.  This latest version is the best yet, with an airy texture and just the right amount of crunch.

First change: I added the nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit AFTER the flour, rather than before.  It seems to result in a lighter product. Most cooks, Slovenian and otherwise, do suggest this, but I had been intrigued by the couple of recipes that did it the other way around. In this case, I think the majority view is right.  Save the mix-ins until the very end.

Second change: I finally learned the proper Slovenian pronunciation, thanks to a new challenge I have taken on this year. I am (finally) trying to learn the language of my ancestors.

Last week, I enrolled in a Slovenian language class, with a wonderful teacher at San Francisco's Slovenian Hall. This step is long overdue. I am the only beginner in the class, so I have some catching up to do, as well as some bad habits to break.

The day before I made biscotti #3, I had been reviewing some practice dialogues from the upcoming week's Slovenian lesson in our textbook. One of the dialogues involved "moj prijatelj Stefan." My friend Stefan. Finally, I thought, a familiar word!

But when I listened to the audio version on the CD, I got a little surprise.  That final "j" in "prijatelj" is silent.  I had been pronouncing it in the usual Slovenian way, like the English "y." This was just one of many fine points of Slovenian pronunciation I had managed to overlook, in my casual attempts to learn a little bit of the language on my own.  

So here is the new improved recipe, to go along with my slowly improving language skills. Eventually, I hope to be able to use Slovenian recipes without the dubious assistance of Google Translate :-) 

Domači Prijatelj (Domestic Friend), The Final Version

3 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1-2/3 c. flour
1 t. low sodium baking soda and 1 t. cream of tartar (or use 1 t. regular baking powder)
1/2 c. chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips
1/2 c. sliced almonds
1/4 c. dried cranberries
1/4 c. dried apricots, diced
a little brandy for soaking the fruit (optional)
1 t. vanilla extract and/or 1 t. almond extract
lemon rind, grated
cinnamon (optional)
(dash of salt is optional)

Note: Any combination of nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate can be used, but the total amount should be about 1-1/2 c.

Measure the flour and combine with leavening agents. Set aside. If you are using dried fruit, place it in a small bowl and add a little brandy to moisten. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and any flavorings or extracts you are using until the mixture is thick and lemon-colored.  Blend in the flour until you have a stiff but sticky dough. Stir in nuts, chocolate and dried fruit.

Spread the dough in an oiled, parchment-lined 7 x 9 inch rectangular pan.  Or form the dough into two long loaves (about 3 inches wide) on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes until brown and firm.  Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.  Cut into 1/2 inch slices. If you have baked the dough in a rectangular pan, you will want to cut the slices in half.

Now there is a choice.  How dry do you want the slices to be?  Most Slovenian recipes suggest a simple air-drying.  But I continue to be a fan of the twice-baked approach.  So, if you like your "domestic friends" on the firmer side, put the slices back in the oven for 10-15 minutes.  (For additional crunch, let them sit in a cooling oven overnight!)  When done, let cool on a rack.  Store in a covered container.

Dober tek!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Ajdovčki, or Buckwheat Thumbprint Cookies

After my success with domači prijatelj, I wanted to add another Slovenian cookie to my holiday dessert plate. So I returned to the Slovenian cooking site Kulinarika and discovered an intriguing recipe for ajdovčki  ("little buckwheats"), a rich butter-nut ball that included buckwheat flour and cocoa.

I don't know whether this is a traditional cookie, but in recent years it seems to have become quite the thing among Slovenian food bloggers. I found a particularly nice bilingual version on this blog. The blogger had provided a fitting English name, jam thumbprint cookies.  She even used a cranberry jam filling.  That caught my eye, because I still had some tart homemade cranberry compote left over from Thanksgiving.

I did hesitate when I read the part about about making holes in the cookies with the handle of a wooden spoon. The last time I tried that, when I attempted a very odd buckwheat dumpling called žganci, the result was a disaster.

I made a few changes to the recipe: almonds instead of walnuts, a little more spice, and cognac instead of rum.  To save time, I bought fresh almond meal at the produce store around the corner.

Ajdovčki, or Buckwheat Thumbprint Cookies

2/3 c. white flour
1/2 c. buckwheat flour
3/4 c. almond meal
1/4 c. cocoa
7 T. butter (1 quarter-pound stick, less 1 T.)
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 egg yolk
2 pinches cinnamon
2 pinches cloves
2 T. cognac (or rum)

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Rub in butter with your fingertips. Mixture will be crumbly. Beat egg yolk and cognac together and sprinkle over mixture. Work with hands until mixture holds together.  If necessary, add a little more cognac or water until you have a stiff, dense dough.

Form dough into small balls, about the size of a walnut.  Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Make a depression in each ball with the handle of a wooden spoon, a chopstick, or your finger.

Bake at 330 degrees for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Enlarge hole with your finger and add a bit of jam.  Reduce temperature to 300 degrees and bake for 5 more minutes. Let cool.

Many recipes suggest a chocolate frosting, but that seemed liked overkill to me. I added a light dusting of powdered sugar before serving.

For the verdict, read on.

I had high hopes when I tasted the raw dough.  (Yes, I know this is a reckless move! I do not recommend eating raw egg.)  That compact brown dough looked and tasted just like the uncooked rum balls we often make for Christmas.  For those who don't know: Rum balls are a heavenly mix of ground walnuts, vanilla wafer crumbs, sugar, cocoa, and plenty of  rum.  This dough tasted very much the same.

The cookies looked pretty when I took them out of the oven. The first sign of trouble came when one of them crumbled in my fingers when I picked it up.  Naturally, I tasted it. It was dry and not very sweet.  With baking, that buckwheat flavor seemed to have become more pronounced.

I gave the cookies a good sprinkle of powdered sugar and let them cool.  The extra sweetening helped a little, but it still seemed that something was missing.  The cookies tasted almost aggressively bland.

In fairness, I made a number of departures from the original recipe.  My substitution of almond meal for walnuts probably accounted for the increased dryness.  Another possibility: my conversion from the original metric measures might have been a little off.  I baked the cookies at an initial  temperature that was a little too high, and I forgot to turn down the oven for the last five minutes in the oven.  I also chose to skip the frosting that many recipes suggest. (From the discussion on the Kulinarika cooking site, it appears that some of the Slovenian cooks also had problems when they made significant changes in the original recipe.)

I am tempted to say that these are cookies that only a Slovenian could love.  But my husband liked them.  And the flavor and texture did improve with age. They are definitely for buckwheat fans.

If I were to try these again, I would follow the original recipe exactly, including those "by weight" metric measures. I would also use an actual sweet jam, and more of it.  And probably a drizzle of white icing, or at least a serious roll in a dish of powdered sugar.

Update:  I made the new improved version for my Slovenian language class.  They were a success! To see the recipe, go here.