Monday, April 30, 2012

Simple Shiitake Appetizer


This recipe is from one of my favorite cooking books "Japanese Food and Cooking" by Emi Kazuko.

What it is
It's a dry shiitake, soaked and cooked with a minimal quantity of ingredients.

What I like about this recipe
# 1 - it's healthy.
# 2 - simple preparation with minimal list of ingredients.
# 3 - it's a basic dish which can be served in endless ways and combinations with another products or eaten just "as is".
# 4 - I was trying several recipes for dry shiitake and didn't get 100% satisfaction with any of them. This one is the first one with a rave reviews from all of my folks who tried it, including myself.

Next day, I sprinkled shiitake with roasted sesame seeds and enjoyed it with plain white jasmine rice - it was another great use of these shiitakes.

If you are not ready just yet to work with your soaked shiitake - put pot with shiitake and soaking liquid in a fridge for up to 24 hours.

Simple Shiitake Appetizer
20 dry shiitake mushrooms
2 tbs light olive oil
3 tbs shoyu (or soy sauce)
1.5 tbs sugar
1 tbs toasted sesame oil

- Place shiitake in a big pot with cold water, cover them with a small plate to make sure they are submerged. Soak overnight.

- Set aside 1.5 cups of soaking liquid from the pot to use later and drain shiitake into sieve.

- Remove and discard the stalks. Slice mushrooms into a medium size pieces.

- In a pan, heat the oil and cook mushrooms, stirring for a 5 minutes until golden-brown.

- Reduce heat to the lowest setting, add saved soaking liquid, shoyu and sugar. Cook until almost all liquid evaporates. Add sesame oil, stir and take off the heat.

- Serve with white rice, or as I ate them - on a cheese-toasted bagel, western style! I hope you will like it - we lo-o-o-oved it!


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Garlic Zucchini Fried with Queso Blanco Cheese

This is my own recipe, inspiration for which has come from fried Queso Blanco cheese I was enjoying very much during my recent stay in Mexico. This dish turned out so-o-o-o tasty that I just could not hold it to myself. So, make yourself a favor - try it, you won't be disappointed.

What it is
Cubed cheese and zucchini thrown together and fried with some garlic make the dish. Zucchini become tender and very flavorful from garlic, cheese is beautifully chewy and stretchy and juices of both are yield in a great deliciousness.

Taste Description
Juicy, chewy and flavorful with a soft and silky taste.
What I like about this recipe
# 1 - fast
# 2 - easy
# 3 - tasty
# 4 - healthy. What to ask for more?

For a kick, some fresh jalapeno can be added along with zucchini. Or sprinkle some red pepper flakes at the end if you feel so.

Queso Blanco is inexpensive cheese that many stores here carry. I buy mine at Costco. Its melting cheese a lot like mozzarella but more chewy (which in my humble opinion just adds up to the cheese quality). While melting it releases a lot of juices unlike mozzarella.

Garlic Zucchini Fried with Queso Blanco Cheese
3 zucchini, diced
1 lb Queso Blanco, diced in 1/2" cubes
4- garlic cloves
pinch of salt
3 tbs light olive oil

- In a heated skillet with olive oil, toss zucchini and cheese cubes all together.

- Cook stirring for 1 minute. Cheese will melt.

- Add grated garlic, salt and stir to incorporate it evenly throughout the cheese and zucchini.

- Cook on a medium heat, occasionally flipping over parts of the skillet content until cheese gets some brown crusts and zucchini become soft and slightly crusted.

- All cooking process will take no more than 15 minutes. Enjoy with good country style crusted bread or on a top of steamed rice.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Homemade Cottage Cheese

Everyone who was growing up in USSR knew how important cottage cheese is for child's development. In our childhood, resisting to eat it, we all being told that "If you are not going to eat cottage cheese you will lose all your teeth very early". And our parents were using all their creativity to stuff us with dishes which had "undercover" cottage cheese in it. Here are were all those sweet cheese patties, noodle cheese kugels or cheesy cream-of-wheat bakes come from. Almost everyone of us now, in adult life, just loves homemade cottage cheese. By the way, it is totally not the same as store bought one. Try to make it and you will see it by yourself.

What it is
It is dairy curd made of milk fermented with buttermilk cultures.

How it's served
In a simple way, it can be eaten with just a honey (think maple syrup, sugar, etc.) on top. My favorite way to eat it is with drop of sugar and dollop of sour cream mixed in. With a bagel or healthy-style cookie it would be a perfect breakfast.
Also there are numerous ways to bake or fry with cottage cheese - from cheese croquettes and dumplings to delicious cakes (you should try my mother-in-law cottage cheese cake).
Also there is one of my favorite savory dishes: cottage cheese garlic and dill pate. Sounds weird? Not at all for me - it's delicious.

Some side comments
Actually a lot of cultures have its own version of cottage cheese, or similar to it homemade cheeses - Indian paneer, Italian ricotta, Armenian string cheese, Latin America's queso blanco and so on.

How to store it
I store my cottage cheese in a closed glass container for 5-7 days, in a fridge. Make sure you use clean and dry spoon when scooping out of a container (as actually with any other food if you want it to keep longer in your fridge).

Each Eastern European grandma has her own favorite way to make homemade cottage cheese: one like to place pot with sour milk in a warm oven overnight to get curd separated; another one do it in a double boiler. I have chosen the simplest way which I'm about to describe below.

I use 2% fat milk to get low-calorie cottage cheese but keep in mind that the best tasting cottage cheese will come out of whole milk.

Homemade Cottage Cheese

For about 4 lb of cottage cheese use:

1 gallon of milk (your choice of fat %)
1/2 gallon of plain buttermilk (any fat% will work)

- In a large pot, stir together milk with a buttermilk, cover with a lid and leave it on your counter top for up to three days. Depending on your room temperature, it will ferment during this time period. When it will look like buttermilk - it ready for the next step.
- Place pot on a stove on a lowest heat setting and let it sit there for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
- When curds will separate from a whey, take pot off heat and let it stand for 20-30 minutes to cool down a little bit.
- Place large strainer steady into your sink and lay it with cheese cloth (make 3 layers or so). I use piece of thin cotton fabric that I have specifically for this purpose (on a pictures below - blue fabric)
- Pour pot content into the strainer to drain. Flip edges of fabric over to cover cheese and leave it alone for a couple hours.
- As optional step, you can place your cheese, right in a cheese cloth, under press (between two cutting boards for example) to get rid of extra moisture. Although I don't do this usually unless I need my cheese tougher for some reason.
- When cheese is drained, you can easily transfer it (just use your clean hands!) into glass dish, cover it and store in a fridge.
- Enjoy it as I did for today's breakfast (see picture on a top of this page): mix 3 tablespoons of cheese with 1 tablespoon of sour cream and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of sugar on top. For a leaner version just pour maple syrup of honey on top.


Buttermilk is added to the milk.

After couple days, mix is completely fermented.

After 20 minutes of heating it started to separate.

In about two hours of sitting on a stove, it's ready to be taken off the heat.

Draining into the strainer.

Just poured into the strainer.

Left alone for a couple of hours.
All ready to be transferred to a glass container.

It's easily come off the cloth and picked up with your palms and into the container. At this point sneak a piece into your mouth and taste a delicious piece of mother-of-all-cheeses.

Sweet and Sour Beef

This dish takes its roots from Eastern Jewish cuisine and was very popular in Kiev where I have spent a big chunk of my life.

What it is
It is beef, slow cooked with a fair amount of onion and prunes. Caramelized onions and overcooked prunes create luscious dark sweet and sour sauce that sticks to a softened from prolong cooking beef pieces.

How it's served
Because of a sauce it is great on  a top of mashed potato (choice # 1), or plain rice, or noodles. You can use it even in place of pulled pork in your Sloppy Joe sandwich. In any way, you will be enjoying it a big time.

Some side comments
There is nothing complicated in a preparation of this stew. Just be patient and don't be tempted to take it off the stove before sauce reaches its right consistency and taste. Make sure that onion and prunes are so soft that are almost disintegrated into sauce.

 How to store it
As for any stew, it will keep in fridge for a few days (no chance though, it will be consumed well before).

Pork or chicken can be used instead of beef, it will be still decent dish but it won't be exactly same level of deliciousness as with a beef. Also feel free to add chunks of carrot but I prefer it without carrot - with a  carrot it will lose its dark, almost black, velvety appearance.

Back in Ukraine, I used smoked prunes which give additional layer of smoky flavor to the dish. I was not able to find this kind of prunes here, in US, although regular prunes works just fine.
Whether to use pitted prunes or prunes with a pit, it is matter of personal preferences. I think if you plan to serve it to your guests it must be better to use pitted ones.

- Almost any beef cuts will work here but I like to use inexpensive pieces here, with a lot of connective tissue - it will give a great creaminess to beef texture.

Sweet and Sour Beef

For about 4 servings:

2 lb inexpensive cuts of beef, cut in 1" cubes
onions, chopped
1.5 cup prunes 
1/3 tsp salt (or to your taste)
3 tbs olive oil
2-3 bay leaves (optional)
black pepper to taste

- Place all your ingredients, except prunes, in a big skillet or sauté pan.
- Cook stirring occasionally, uncovered, on a medium heat until all juices evaporate, bottom of your skillet becomes dry and beef and onion start to brown up.
- Add prunes and water to cover all meat and simmer on a medium-low heat with a lid slightly ajar.
- Continue to cook for about 1.5-2 hours until thick dark sauce form. Stir couple times during this period.
- Feel free to add some salt, sugar or pepper at the end of cooking to adjust taste.
- Enjoy right away or next day - it won't lose it taste!


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What's for Dinner - Salmon Rice Salad

As for most our dinners on one hand I needed to use up something that already was screaming in a fridge "eat me up". On another hand I follow my inner voice transferring commands from my body's chemical processes with specific requests known as cravings. Today my inner scream was not very loud but pretty certain: Give me fish. Combined with voice from fridge, from rice cooked day before, it gave me this idea - rice salad with canned Wild Alaskan Salmon. So, here it is.

Salmon Rice Salad


Serves 2 as a main dish


1 can of Wild Alaskan Salmon (do not drain it just roughly smash it with a fork)
2 cups of cooked cold rice
10-15 baby carrots (finely diced or grated)
3 celery stalks (finely diced)
4 tbs of chopped chives or green onion
4 tbs finely diced sweet onion
4 tbs mayonnaise
1 tbs Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

- Toss all together and enjoy with something pickled - kimchi (as you see from my picture), or actual pickles. Something crispy as croutons or bread crisps (again, look at my picture above) doesn't hurt either! Enjoy!

Some Tips:

- do not discard liquid from canned salmon - mix it in a salad. Without this liquid you would need to put much more mayonnaise in salad to moisten your rice.

- chop celery leaves into your salad also, especially if it's young ones, from a middle of a celery bunch.

 -if you don't have sweet onion on hands, regular onion can be used. In this case, get rid of extra bitterness by placing diced onion in a strainer, blanching with a boiling water, then cooling it down with cold tap water.

- add some salt or spices if the salad is too mild for you.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What's for Dinner - Beans and Pepper Salad


Beans and Pepper Salad


Serves 2 as a main dish


5 sweet baby peppers, cut in rings
1 can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
4 celery stalks, sliced
10-15 baby carrots, sliced
1/2 cup feta cheese
croutons (optional)

3 tbs olive oil
salt to taste
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 tbs vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar

- I just toss all ingredients except croutons together including dressing ingredients - no need to wash extra dish after dressing preparation, right? Top salad with croutons and enjoy in tandem with Mushroom Bread Crisps (see recipe below)

Bread Crisps with Mushrooms and Cheese


Serves 2 as addition to the main dish


2 bread crisps

2 tbs of mushrooms fried with onion (it was among leftovers in my fridge). Any kind of leftovers can be used here :)
2 tsp shredded cheese

Top crisps with mushrooms, sprinkle with cheese and broil for minute or two until cheese melts. Enjoy with soup or salad or on its own!

Friday, April 20, 2012

What's for Dinner - Mexico Resort Food, Day 7

Why to do posts of my dinners? Just for fun... Foodies are interested in what other foodies eat on a regular day-to-day basis. I hope it will satisfy someones curiousity and you'll be returning again and again. I may miss day or two but, in general, l will be making short posts everyday. O yeaa.. also, thanks to my son's gift - Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate cell phone with a great buit-in camera, I can take decent pictures in a breeze no matter where I am at the moment. So, see you tomorrow!

Mexico Resort Food - Day 7


Cancun all-inclusive resort

Who's the cook?
Some Mexican chef :)


Picture # 1, clock-wise from deviles eggs:
- Devils eggs topped with black caviar (!) and smoked salmon
- Breaded potato croquetts in pear-shape
- Steamed broccoli
- Stewed seafood medley
- Grilled shrimp
- Russian potato salad (like regular potato salad but with peas)
- Surprisingly tasty toasted piece of brioche
- Assorted cold seafood - humangous shrimp, my lovely mussells, cocktail size shrimp.
- Fried tiny pieces of fish and vegetables.

Picture #2:
- Same plate, another view.

Picture #3:
- Same plate, yet another view.

Picture #4:
- Same plate, potato croquette split in half.

Picture #5:
- Beautiful swan made of cream puff pastry (looking better than tasting :().

Picture #6:
- Oops. Our tequila shots (successfully neutralized by great quantity of good food :))

Picture #7:
- "Sacraficio maya" cocktail on-a-rocks. Recommended by my daughter, but I suspect that bartender did not know exect recipe when I ordered that drink. Although whatever he did was awesome drink which inspired me for purchasing the main ingredient - Xtabentun liquor on my way back home, in a duty-free store. Xtabentun is rum based anise and honey liquor. Licorice haters (as myself) - wait a minute - it's a mistery but anise and licorice must be two different things. Turned out my newly aquired love to anise (fennel, anise liquor) lives side-by-side with my hate toward licorise! Mistery... - Hurray! No mistery - anise and licorice are two completely different species! I knew it! I love anise and hate licorice.

Potato croquettes - impressive in look but not tasty. Black caviar did not have that taste I remember from my Soviet's childhood which I actually did not expect to taste anyway - real stuff is way too expensive to be served there. I enjoyed a lot grilled shrimp and huge, cold one, also.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What's for Dinner - Mexico Resort Food, Day 6

Why to do posts of my dinners? Just for fun... Foodies are interested in what other foodies eat on a regular day-to-day basis. I hope it will satisfy someones curiousity and you'll be returning again and again. I may miss day or two but, in general, l will be making short posts everyday. O yeaa.. also, thanks to my son's gift - Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate cell phone with a great buit-in camera, I can take decent pictures in a breeze no matter where I am at the moment. So, see you tomorrow!

Mexico Resort Food - Day 6


Cancun all-inclusive resort

Who's the cook?
Some Mexican chef :)

Top picture, left to right:
- Lovely guacamole
- Marinated jalapeno with carrots and onion
- Fresh salsa
Bottom picture, clock-wise from center-bottom:
- Carrot puree
- Fried Mexican cheese
- Baked Salmon
- Grilled perch-looked fish
- Tomato baked tuna
- Stuffed fish roll (with shredded vegetables on top)
- Fish and pepper skewer
- Rice with mushrooms
- Peas and carrots risotto
- Stewed vegetable in tomato sauce.

As always, guacamole was great - I could live whole week on this guacamole alone. Marinated jalapeno with carrots and onion was another one of my favorite things there - on the edge of my spicyness tolerance, sour and strangely addictive. Salsa was simple and good enough.
From the picture in a bottom I liked the most risotto and fried cheese. Fish, as most of the dishes there, was pretty flavorless but I appreciated subtle natural taste and texture of all those variaties of fish.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What's for Dinner - Mexico Resort Food, Day 5

Why to do posts of my dinners? Just for fun... Foodies are interested in what other foodies eat on a regular day-to-day basis. I hope it will satisfy someones curiousity and you'll be returning again and again. I may miss day or two but, in general, l will be making short posts everyday. O yeaa.. also, thanks to my son's gift - Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate cell phone with a great buit-in camera, I can take decent pictures in a breeze no matter where I am at the moment. So, see you tomorrow!

Mexico Resort Food - Day 5

Cancun all-inclusive resort

Who's the cook?
Some Mexican chef :)

On a pictures, top to bottom:
- Seafood soup
- Guacamole
- Mango and strawberry ice cream with coconut sauce
- Coffee flambe (not pictured)

Soup was great, guacamole - out of this world, and ice cream duo was awesome too. Unfortunatelly I do not take picture of coffee flambe but have to meantion it because it was something that I was looking forward every day - it was served in a lobby in the afternoon hours. Coffee flambe was served in a cup with sugared edges, full of great freshly brewed coffee with a dollop of whipped cream. Then flaming mix of tequila and Xtabentun liquor was poured over -good stuff!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What's for Dinner - Mexico Resort Food, Day 4

Why to do posts of my dinners? Just for fun... Foodies are interested in what other foodies eat on a regular day-to-day basis. I hope it will satisfy someones curiousity and you'll be returning again and again. I may miss day or two but, in general, l will be making short posts everyday. O yeaa.. also, thanks to my son's gift - Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate cell phone with a great buit-in camera, I can take decent pictures in a breeze no matter where I am at the moment. So, see you tomorrow!

Mexico Resort Food - Day 4

Cancun all-inclusive resort

Who's the cook?
Some Mexican chef :)

On a picture, clock-wise, starting from the bottom-right:
- Deep-fried fish (unknown kind)
- Mexican-type of cheese fried with a cactus
- Salmon, baked with bechamel-type sauce on top
- Green beans sauteed with shallots
- Potato puree
- Baked broccoli with cheese
- Cheddar baked cauliflower

Everything was average. I expected much more flavor from cactus (never tried it before). Interestingly that all food was under-seasoned; must be meant to be eaten with various spicy sauces standing nearby. But unfortunately, I could not tolerate that level of spicyness - silly me I thought I like spicy food. Turned out I like "baby-level" heat :)

My Own Recipe

I was putting together and posting this challenge all the way from the Mexico while having one of the best vacations ever. I was battling internet speed badly while doing this so tried to trim content of this post to maximize chances of posting it at all.

Surprise - this time DK host gave us a pleasure and fun to be creative and invent our own recipe for specific list of ingredients. I could not ask for more fun - must be, in my previous life I was some kind of alchemist?! "Mystery box" of given ingredients consisted of:
List 1: Parsnips, Eggplant (aubergine), Cauliflower
List 2: Balsamic Vinegar, Goat Cheese, Chipotle peppers
List 3: Maple Syrup, Instant Coffee, Bananas

Discoveries Along the Way

I really like sauce I made for this dish. I carefully stirred together all condiment-type ingredients (note, all are the dark ones!) - coffee, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and ground chipotle pepper. Yes, I stirred carefully because I didn't want to disturb dark chocolaty color depth of mix by emulsifying sauce. Speaking of coffee, first, I dissolved 1/3 teaspoon of instant coffee in 2 tablespoons of hot water and then added other ingredients. To add richness and speckled pattern to the sauce I added 2 tablespoons of light olive oil (flavorless). In this sauce, I like the fact that I could taste / smell each ingredient and at the same time they were married together perfectly creating sweet & spicy lake around my eggplant rolls and risotto (see picture below).

Risotto & Eggplant On-A-Lake

1 small onion, diced
2 small parsnips, peeled and finely diced
1 banana, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cups cauliflower, split in small florets
2 cups of rice
4+2 tbs olive oil
1 cup white wine
4+ cups chicken stock
parsley (optional)

Eggplant rolls:
3oz goat cheese
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium size eggplants, sliced along 1/4" thick
olive oil for frying

Magie Noire sauce:
1/2 tsp instant coffee
3 tbs hot water
1 tbs maple syrup (real one)
1 tbs thick balsamic vinegar
1 tsp ground chipotle pepper


- On a medium heat, cook onion, parsnips and cauliflower for about 5 minutes, add banana and rice and cook stirring for 3 minutes.

- Add wine and let it cook 5 minutes, stirring couple times during this time.

- Add chicken broth by small portions and continue cooking, stirring often until rice is no longer hard, soft but not mushy in a creamy sauce. Add salt and pepper. Take off heat and add finely minced parsley (optional).

Eggplant rolls:

- Cook eggplant slices on a frying pan, in a couple tbs of olive oil, on a medium-low heat. Eggplant will absorb oil quickly but cooked on a low heat, they will not burn. Let them cook until soft and golden brown. Flip and cook on another side.

- Cool all pieces and let them to cool down a little bit.

- Meanwhile, stir goat cheese with garlic and salt.

- Spread cheese mix on a 1/3 part of eggplant, wider edge. Roll in up toward the narrow edge.

- With a sharp knife, cut each roll in three to get small "stumps".

Magie Noire sauce:

- In a small glass dish, dissolve coffee in a hot water.

- Add maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, chipotle pepper and a pinch of salt.


- on a rectangular dish, pile up risotto in a long strip imitating lake shore.

- place "stumps" of eggplant rolls in a random order by risotto "shore".

- carefully pour Magie Noire (lake waters) around eggplants.

- Done. Eat slowly making sure you get tiny amount of black sauce with each bite of "shore" or "stump". Enjoy it!

Blog-checking lines: Our April 2012 Daring Cooks hosts were David & Karen from Twenty-Fingered Cooking. They presented us with a very daring and unique challenge of forming our own recipes by using a set list of ingredients!