Thursday, May 31, 2012


Blog's Category: My Garden

I'm expecting the birth.. The birth of a rose. Not just a rose - the rose I really wanted and dreamed about for the last 4 years. It's Ispahan rose, damask type of rose which is very fragrant and which I used to have at my old house and used to make rose preserves (or call it jam) from rose petals. That rose jam was just out of this world, beautiful in its purple-pink color and very flavorful and just delicious.

Last fall, I ordered Ispahan rose from Antique Rose Emporium and planted it in my new, still "under construction" garden. It took off nicely this spring and since first rose bud appeared on it, I was watching it impatiently every day. Below is this "Expecting" day-by-day chronicles in pictures.

Right now, this rose bush passed its pick of flowering and, could you believe, gave me enough rose petals to try out again my rose jam!

As you see here, some bugs liked my rose as much as myself and took a bit of it without asking permission..

..Baby-rose is born - beautiful as I expected (wet in a morning dew..) Interestingly, it does not release any fragrance in a morning. On a picture below, warmed up in sun, it is full of mindblowing fragrance, can you smell it there? Pity that we can't transfer smell over the ww web, just yet..

Same rose, in its prime, bathing in a gentle sun rays.

Baby is not a baby anymore and is ready for harvesting.

..Gone for the better use - straight to my kitchen, for the rose jam.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eggplant Dip - Ikra

Blog's Category: USSR-Era Cuisine, My Staple Food

This is one of the two Russian versions of eggplant dip or saute called "Ikra" in Russian. This particular version of dip is made of raw vegetables (except baked eggplant) which makes it very healthy and nutritious dish. Another version is eggplant cooked with another vegetables - I will post this version later. Both variations are very popular in Russian community especially among those from south regions of former USSR.

What it is
It's a cooked (I prefer baking) eggplant mixed with finely minced/ground fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs.

How it's served
Traditionally it is served in a separate dish as appetizer meant to be eaten along with entree. By texture and consistency, it fits perfectly under definition of dip and, naturally, can be served with any kind of chips, crisps or crackers.

Taste Description
The dip is very flavorful because of herbs and garlic, with different taste undertones, slightly sweet-&-sour and mildly spicy. Texture is light and "easy-going".

Some side comments

This dish have heavy load of fresh garlic and may not be a great thing to take to work as part of your lunch. Although it is still goes great with your grilled meat on a sunny summer weekend.

How to store it
It will keep in a fridge for about 3-4 days.

There is a lot of them:

- any type of herb can be used - parsley is a traditional one but I like cilantro the most here;
- use any kind of vegetable oil you like, refined or not. Full-flavored, unrefined oils such as roasted hazelnut or walnut oil, extra virgin olive oil, etc. will work very nicely in here - any kind you like will do.

- If you do not have sweet onion on hand, use regular one but cut amount in a half.
- To make my life easier with "after-cooking washing", I always use foil whenever I bake something.

Eggplant Dip - Ikra

For about 1.5 quarts of final product:
2 medium whole eggplants
3 medium tomatoes, quartered or roughly chopped
1 medium sweet (Vidalia) onion, quartered or roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped
2/3 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbs vinegar
1 tbs sugar
5 tbs olive oil (or oil of your choice)

- On a lightly oiled baking sheet, bake whole unpeeled, uncovered eggplant until they are completely cooked - knock with your finger eggplant skin, it will feel stiff, thin and hollow. It will take about 40-60 minutes at 400-420F oven.

- Let cooked eggplants to cool down to be able to handle it. Cut them in half and using spoon, scoop out all flesh onto chopping board. Discard skins.

- Chop baked eggplant with your big scary knife - it will be easy and fun and will take just one minute. Transfer chopped eggplant in a big bowl where you will mix all ingredients together later on.

- Grind (or process) your fresh tomatoes, onions and garlic. Add all these to the eggplant.

- Add all remaining ingredients and mix everything nicely.

- Refrigerate for one hour to allow all flavors to marry and enjoy with nice crusty or toasted bread if you have nothing else to pair it with. I hope you like it, I'm sure your body systems will - it's very healthy stuff :).

After you take them out of oven, eggplant skin will "fall down".

Flesh has to be soft and fully cooked.


Layer of flesh close to skin will be brown - and that's the best part of cooked eggplant - scoop it out nicely, we want it :)

Eggplant will leak juices all the time - drain it out, we don't want our dip to be too liquid.

Chop-chop... Drain juice out..

Ground tomatoes, onion and garlic.

Before adding other ingredients, drain this extra liquid again.

..almost more thing..

chop-chop again...

..and done!

Test run - put small amount on a tortilla chip (or something else) ... Enjoy! Adjust seasonings if needed and enjoy even more!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Fried Red Pepper Eggs

Blog's Category: My Staple Food, Perfect Breakfast, My Successes

I grew up in an area of a south Ukraine where fresh vegetables and fruits where the best of quality I ever seen in my life. When I was a teenager I got the simple idea of this dish and since then it is one of my favorite ways of eating eggs.

What it is
It is as simple as it gets - fried red pepper + eggs. It is important to keep its simplicity intact - do not be tempted to add anything else, try it as I suggested and you'll see what I mean.

Taste Description
It is sweet and flavorful thanks to pepper and rich and luscious due to eggs. Red pepper is not exactly my favorite vegetable but in this specific application it's really great.

What I like about this recipe
It's always mouthwatering and awsome looking, and it never fails to satisfy your pickiest taste buds.

No variations. Period. It will be something else. Just try it as is.

- Eat it with a crusty country style bread, in a morning, listening birds, with a good cup of coffee on a side, optionally with a lousy conversation with a significant other.
- It is important to cook pepper to that right caramelized condition, no more, no less. I hope I didn't scare you away - it's easy.

Fried Red Pepper Eggs
2 eggs
1 fresh red pepper, thinly sliced
freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tbs light olive oil

- Heat skillet with olive oil and cook pepper until it starts to caramelize and becomes more orange in color with browned up edges.

- Immediately turn heat to its lowest setting. Crack eggs on a top of pepper, sprinkle salt and pepper and let it cook uncovered until whites are cooked but yolks are still runny. Take off the heat and serve with a best bread you can find. I ate my eggs (see picture) with baguette slices toasted with a little cheese - heavenly breakfast! Enjoy!

This is that cup of coffee I have mentioned above...When I'm in a sweet-mode I like my coffee with a spoon of sweetened condensed milk - try it, it has special flavor and taste.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My garden roommates

Yes, all below are my garden roommate. Some I like, some I hate, some I afraid, some I just accept.

I love birds - they are always welcome here, I plant trees and bushes for them also not just for myself. I afraid of spiders, and they must be affraid of me - so we try not to come across of each other. If it happens I'm not sure I'll stick to my pacifistic nature, so I'm not sure what's going to happen. I ignore bees and carpenter bees specifically unless they start to ruin my house making nest under the siding as happened last year. Or drilling tunnels in our brand new deck roof as happens second year in a row. In this case I am forced to act and start to clog holes with a foil. They fight back and make another hole right next to old one (picture's coming..:))
So, meet some of my roommates:

I think my peony looks even better with this bug.

Carpenter bee, attempting crime against my property.

I was fighting weeds around old juniper bush and found this cardinal's nest. I had no choice as to perform reverse job of putting weeds back to mask the nest as it was before. I hope it will work - I would hate to lose my cardinals around.'s not all of my roommates, more coming.. you know - they are shy :)

I try to stay away from this beauty. It was enough adrenaline just from taking picture of it!

Whole Tomatoes Fermented in a Brine

Translated literally from Russian it would sound more like "salted tomatoes" but it is, in fact, tomatoes fermented in a brine. This condiment-type food is the way how Eastern-European people were preserving tomatoes for centuries. Also this is a second favorite accompaniment to a shot of vodka. Why second? Just because first one, hands down, is a pickle, of course, according to Russian drinking traditions. Even if you don't drink, fermented tomatoes is a great addition to any meal, just ask my husband about it - fermented tomatoes is one of his all-time favorite food.

What it is
It is whole tomatoes kept in brine until they soften and acquire special sweet-and-sour briny tingling taste.

Per your taste, they can be more or less spicy. Traditionally, in Ukraine, we all add dill as a herb to a brine. Although other herbs, celery and peppers can be added.

How it's served
As a condiment, it is goes very well with any more-or-less mild food. For example, we like it with any type potato dishes or any meat, especially grilled one.

Some side comments
- It is acquired taste, but as soon as you really got into it, you'll love this stuff. Eastern-European cuisine, specifically Ukraine, where I'm from, has a long list of traditional fermented food - from cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes to apples and watermelons. All of them are important part of everyday meal for us who come from Eastern Europe and grew up on this type of food.

- Fermented tomatoes are at its best after about one week: after fermenting at a room temperature for 3-5 days and being in a fridge for a couple of days.

- My husband adores brine, left from fermented tomatoes - it has balanced sweet and salty taste enriched with tomato, herb and garlic flavors. For centuries, in Eastern Europe, this brine was the best remedy for vodka-intoxicated bodies and was the first thing in a morning as an after-party drink. Fortunately, it is not a huge importance for us personally, we just enjoy tomatoes, and brine in a totally sober condition :)

Here is slightly different recipe for fermenting tomatoes. In that recipe, I use plum tomatoes, cut in half and seasoned with a finely grated garlic. Those are for impatient people, like me, because tomatoes are ready in day or two. Downside - they keep in a fridge not as long as fermented whole tomatoes.

How to store it
It will keep in a fridge for a long time up to a few months. It will continue to ferment, even in a fridge and taste will change to a more briny.

- Smaller size tomatoes fit perfectly for fermenting. Although sometimes I cut tomatoes in a half if they are large. In this case they will start fermenting faster and already in 2-3 days jar can be transferred into a fridge.

- Best way to wash dill is to drop whole bunch into big pot with cold water and shake herb with your hand lightly - dirt and sand will fall on a bottom and all damaged leaves will float to a top. Pick bad leaves. Then, with hands, lift herbs out on a paper towel and leave them to dry a little bit. To store herb leftovers, wrap them in a dry paper towel, put in a plastic bag and place in a fridge - it will be ready for you and keep nicely for several days.

- I like to peel garlic this way - place separated cloves into small fold-in sandwich bag (no need for zip-bag!), twist the top and bang it several times off the counter or your husband (if he deserves it :); or rub bag between your palms. Garlic will release a bit of juice which will facilitate peeling. Now, just open bag, use knife to peel cloves (I still use knife because I like to cut off tiny woody end of clove). Get peels into the same bag and throw it away - nice and clean. 
Fermented Tomatoes

about 30 tomatoes (I used plum tomatoes but any will do)
1 small bunch of fresh dill
15 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
3 liters of water
1 tbs of whole black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
6 tbs kosher salt
9 tbs sugar

- To make a brine, in a pot, bring water to a boil, add salt, sugar, black pepper and bay leaves. Turn heat off. Let brine to cool down to a warm temperature. In an hour or two test water with your finger - it should feel warm.

- Meanwhile, wash your tomatoes. With a fork, make holes in a base of tomatoes for a brine to penetrate better.

- Pack tomatoes in a clean jars, fairly tightly. Do not overfill jar though, leaving area above jar's upper curve, below rim, free to be able to cover your tomatoes with brine without sticking them from a liquid. Please note, that on my pictures below, my jars are a bit overfilled - my fermenting experience allows me to step away from a rules, you know :), to have one extra fermented tomato to devour.

- Distribute garlic and coarsely chopped dill evenly between jars, right on a top of tomatoes.

- When brine is cooled down (about temperature of your shower :)), pour it in a jar, completely covering all tomatoes. 

- Make sure all tomatoes are covered with a brine. Those sticking out, will make your tomatoes prone to mold. If you've got some stubborn tomatoes, floating to a surface, cover jar opening loosely with a plastic wrap and place smaller clean glass jar, filled with a water, as a weight. Do not use anything metal, something made of non-reactive materials, such as glass or ceramic, would be appropriate. Make a couple of wholes in a wrap for fermenting gases to escape.

- Place jar lids on a top, if your tomatoes are completely covered with a brine and you are not using weight as described in a previous step. Keep lid ajar for fermenting gases to escape. 

- Let tomatoes seat on a counter for 3-5 days (depending of your room temperature).  On a second or third day you will notice that brine becomes milky - it is the way it should be. 

- On a third day you can try your tomatoes. Most likely, it won't be ready and will taste differently but not quite right, so let them seat in a room temperature more. As soon as you decide they are ready - transfer jars into a fridge. Next day, cold, they will taste amazing.

- Do not be afraid to error on either side deciding when to stop fermenting process by placing tomatoes in a fridge. Often it is matter of taste - some likes it mild, some likes it fizzy as carbonated water. Fermenting will continue in a fridge but very-very slowly, so eventually your tomatoes will become more fermented. Enjoy! When you will get used to its special taste - please, try to control yourself and do not eat tomatoes right from a jar, one by one, in a one seat! :)

Pot with a brine is cooling down.

Prickle your tomatoes with a fork.

Pack tomatoes into jars.

Washing dill...

Lower part of your dill bunch with a think stems is just perfect for brining tomatoes.

Nice and tender dill tops I'll save for my salads.

Pouring warm brine into jars.

Standing..Day 1.

Day 2... Not much of a difference.

Day 3. Note that brine becomes more cloudy - that's how it should be.

Day 4. Yes, it is definitely cloudy. Do not forget to flip over that upper tomato sticking out of a brine :). I decided to leave jars on a counter one more day. Tomorrow they will go to a fridge and tomatoes will be ready to eat.
Cold, juicy, right from a fridge it will go with anything - right now I'll be eating it with simple ciabatta bread and cheese.
Enjoy fermented tomatoes as is, whole, piercing upper end with your teeth, sucking cold refreshing juices out (have napkins handy!) and then biting into a glossy sweet&salty flesh.
Or cut them in a half for more controlled consuming :) Eat it with a skin - it's a fiber and good for you and you can skip on your artificial fiber drink today!

Day7... tomatoes are disappearing from a jar.

Isn't it pretty site?