Tuesday, June 28, 2011


As I have explained in the past http://alwayspassionateaboutfood.blogspot.com/2011/03/perfect-egg.html, my love affair with the egg began many moons ago. I must admit however that I share the same affinity and obsession for potatoes as I do for eggs. I apologize to the egg whom I adore, but the truth had to come out....there is someone else. POTATO. I am sure the egg will forgive as I am Russian after all and you know what they say about Russian's and potatoes, right? Well in case you didn't, here it goes.

Potatoes are an integral part of Russian cuisine. I grew up on potatoes cooked in every way, shape and form, as most Russian's do. The potato is practically part of almost every meal. Be it boiled, fried, mashed, baked, etc. Often it is served along side a slew of cold and hot appetizers, or part of a stew, soup and MY FAVORITE, boiled and then pan sauteed until crisp with mushrooms and onions!

Like a good friend, potatoes are reliable, comforting, solid and always there for you. The number of ways to make potatoes is infinite and it is not often that I come across a potato preparation I am not familiar with. Which is exactly what happened the other day while reading the following blog I really enjoy http://lickmyspoon.com/recipes/baked-chicken-recipe-tuscan-style/. The chicken recipe was phenomenal as is but then something caught my eye. The writer suggested serving the chicken with something called "potato smashers". Here is when things came to a sudden stop. I literally heard the breaks inside my head.

I backed up very slowly and clicked on the link she provided to an earlier post. Here is when it happened. As I read the recipe for potato smashers http://lickmyspoon.com/recipes/potato-smashers/ I salivated. Saliva actually dripped from my open mouth and on to the keypad of my lap top. I kid you not, I was so happy no one was there to see this as my husband would have mocked me for weeks to come had he witnessed it. The recipe by the way was awesome! I have made them 4 times since and served the smashers alongside chicken stew, broiled fish, with a salad, and on their own! They are such a crowd pleaser every time and disappear within minutes. Garlicky herby goodness, with just the prefect bite and crunch, these smashers are so yum!

I also love a great potato salad. I make one using red potatoes and serve it warm or room temperature with a tangy Dijon vinaigrette. The dressing is so good and the crunch from the bell peppers and celery I add to it goes so well with the moist potatoes. Again, no matter how you look at it potatoes are just the best. I can truly eat them every single day.

14-16 small red potatoes
1/2 green bell pepper cubed small
1/2 yellow or red bell pepper cubed small
2 celery sticks cubed small
1/4 of a red onion cubed small

For The Dressing
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red vine vinegar
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Whisk the Dijon and red vine vinegar together until combined and the slowly add the olive oil. Season the dressing with salt and pepper and set aside.
Cook potatoes until fork tender. Drain, wait until they slightly cool so you are able to handle them and cut each one in half. In a large bowl, using your hands gently toss the potatoes with the bell peppers, celery, onion and the dressing. Serve warm or at temperature. If you'd like for added protein, sprinkle with 1 chopped hard boiled egg on top just before serving...you see I can never fully let go of the egg!

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Russian Roots

A few weeks ago I promised my girlfriend Sabina who shares my passion for Russian food, that I would write about about a favorite of ours...Kartoshaka and Silodka, translation: Potatoes and Pickled Herring. Not exactly a complicated dish, bur rather a tradition, a way of life even as some may say. A staple in Jewish cuisine, and quite popular all over Eastern Europe actually.

Its been 22 years since I came to the United States immigrating from Kiev, Ukraine with my parents when I was 8 years old. By way of Brooklyn, NY where we lived until I turned 10 and eventually ended up in Sunny Southern California. So although the majority of my life and growing up happened here in the USA and I consider America my home, my food preferences, tastes as well as style of my own cooking is deeply rooted in and influenced by my Russian Jewish heritage.

I have tons of memories watching my grandmother cook when I was just a little girl. And helping her set up a multitude of family style feasts at an uber long communal table in her living room. This sort of entertaining is a given at any Russian gathering be it a festive occasion or not. Until today some of my favorite dishes are and will always take me back to that time.

Bulls eye! There it is. The MAMA of it all. The essence of my existence. The salty briny fish that I cannot live without accompanied by the one constant of my rough Russian childhood....POTATOES. To me this is not just a dish it is the ultimate. Nothing can or ever will replace "kartoshka and silyodka". If asked to choose my last meal on earth I would not hesitate to say this would be it. Well maybe not quite the last meal, as there are wayyyyy to many things amongst them sushi and my famous katletki (a Russian lightly fried meat patty) the recipe to which I promise to share with you sometime soon.

Pickled Herring
This is the dish of my childhood. It is filled with tradition, history and customs that have transcended time and place. This is a dish I and many others eat until this day despite having lived away from its origin for decades. I've even managed (initial objections and confused looks on their faces aside) to introduce my own American-Born children to it, who are slowly gaining as much appreciation for it as I have. Tradition plain and simple. I ate this every single Sunday morning when I was a kid. These days, french toast and pancakes definitely rule in our house on Sundays BUT I still turn to my salty favorite at least once every two weeks for sure!

Not Quite A Recipe for Potatoes and Pickled Herring-Serves 4

1. Cook 10-12 red potatoes in lightly salted water until fork tender.
2. Remove from heat, drain and toss with some butter, 2 crushed garlic cloves, and sprinkle with handful of fresh dill. (You may choose serve the potatoes plain, simply boiled with just butter)
3. Get yourself some delicious pickled herring. Los Angeles (West Hollywood in particular) is full of Russian Grocery stores where "silyodka" is sold in every way, shape and form. Preferably you can by a whole pickled herring and fillet it yourself. I warn you it is messy, takes practice, patience and rubber gloves, BUT so worth the effort. There are however a million wonderful options sold as fillets packed in oil and spices. The possibilities are endless and readily available at most grocery stores.
4. Serve the herring with a few sliced raw onions on top and the HOT potatoes.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Real People Eat Meat...At least in TEXAS

Last Friday we flew down to Austin, TX for a quick weekend visit with my father in law. Eight months ago he moved there "for the river and greenery" as he says. But after this weekend I suspect the real reason for his move may have been the meat. BBQ in particular and Rudy's Country Store BBQ http://www.rudys.com/ to be exact.

I am obviously joking as it seems he did relocate mainly to get away from the big city feel of LA. I do not joke however when I say that I CAN in fact see someone moving to Texas for the Meat, I sure would. And although I've not had much experience with real southern BBQ nor have I ever been down South, I know enough about food to understand that what happened at Rudy's was magical. A rite of passage of sorts for all involved and that included my husband, my kids, my father in law and his girlfriend (I was shocked they hadn't tried BBQ since they moved).
At first site Rudy's is an unassuming joint adjacent to a shell gas station, but upon entry you immediately realize that that is so not the case (they have a few locations throughout Texas, I only had the pleasure of visiting this one). First you are taken by the incredible smokey smell of meat. And as you enter the humongous interior filled with communal tables and peek to the outdoor seating with sprawling green pasture and even peacocks walking around, you know instantly this place is special. Oh and special it was.

We quickly skimmed the menu, decided on the chicken and "cutters choice" brisket (combo of extra moist and lean). Grabbed a tub of coleslaw, and within minutes were carrying a box filled with fine smelling meats, sides and a loaf (yes loaf) of sliced white bread. That's how they do it in Texas Y'all....a LOAF of white bread to wrap up your succulent, perfectly smoked and seasoned BBQ. DANG it was GOOOOOOOD!

Rudy's BBQ Chicken

Rudy's Brisket

Rudy's Coleslaw

Our Tray of Goodness

From here things moved really fast and the actual events are a bit of a blur as I was smiling like the village idiot and snapping pictures between bites, finger licks and occasional sips of cold beer. Now, about the white bread, here is what I learned. Apparently there is an actual process to eating at Rudy's I would like to outline for you in a few simple steps. Luiza (my father in law's girlfriend's daughter who brought us to Rudy's) kindly showed me THE WAY, and for this I will forever be greatful. Trust me you'll thank me for this should you ever come face to face with a loaf of white bread and meat that looks so good you don't know what to do with yourself.

Step 1
Grab yourself some onions, pickles and as much BBQ sauce
as you want. Grab extra! For there is nothing that should interrupt your eating once you start and
that includes getting up for more sauce.
Step 2

Take a piece of the soft white bread and pour some of the
tangy, spicy fluid perfection that is Rudy's BBQ sauce on it. I actually
drank a bit of it at one point the stuff was so good.
Step 3

Add the meat!
Chicken, brisket, whatever. Just take that moist, orgasmic goodness
and top the white bread with it.

Step 4

Add some onions, pickles and more of that tangy, spicy, peppery
BBQ sauce.
Step 5

Fold the edges of the bread in like a taco, careful not
to drop any filling!
Eat, chew, don't chew, swallow, moan, groan,
stomp your feet, hit the table with your arms, ooh, aah, mmmm,
mmmm, do whatever is necessary to get you
through step 5.

Step 6
Repeat steps 1-5 as many times as you wish.
There is a reason after all they give an entire loaf of bread.

What a fabulous time in Austin, TX. Thanks to all who hosted us, you are wonderful and we loved your hospitality. We'll definitely be back for more of Austin, more of your kindness, and Rudy's of course!






Monday, June 6, 2011

Farm Fresh-Broccoli Rabe

Broccoli Rabe
 My husband is one of those people who simply cannot say no to door to door solicitors. He has no problem hanging up on cold callers, and tossing away mail advertisements. However, in the event that someone should knock on our door and he is face to face with a solicitor, its over. He'll sign up for newspapers, magazines and once even fell for a car wash scam. He generously wrote a check to two boys as donation for their "new baseball uniforms". They were to return and wash our cars in the morning. Needless to say they never came. I sure hope they're enjoying those uniforms! We found our later this is a scam and there was no team or car wash. I promise there is a point to this.

The other day his naivete or we can call it "kindness" paid off however. A knock on our door led to him surprising me with yet another subscription except this time (before I had a chance to intervene and prevent him from being taken yet again) it was for this http://www.farmfreshtoyou.com/index.php. A service thanks to which I now have a gorgeous box of organic fruits and vegetables dropped at my door at 7am every other Wednesday! Finally, he fell for something AWESOME vs ridiculous. For once I was happy he opened the door when I was not around to protect him.

Farm Fresh Strawberries
 The best part of Farm Fresh To You, is that all the fruits and vegetables seriously taste like fruits and vegetables should AND they are 100% certified organic. Huge difference from the local supermarket produce that is often so bland and tasteless it makes me want to cry. You can choose the exact items you wish to have or you may order the "mixed" box. I ADORE the surprise element of the mixed and find myself getting so excited about what will be in my lovely brown box next. Not to mention the health benefits for our family as well as the endless possibilities of cooking with certain vegetables I've never used before. Just awesome.

Sweet Peppers and Radish

The most sweet blueberries I have EVER had!
Yesterdays box contained blueberries, red grapes, carrots, radishes, sweet peppers, butter lettuce, fuji apples, asparagus, avocados, mushrooms, corn and the STAR broccoli rabe aka rapini amongst a number of other names it can be called. I was so thrilled to see the rapini. I've tasted this wonderful vegetable in pastas and soups, but have never had the pleasure of cooking with it. So I decided that this evening I would experiment with broccoli rabe for the first time and use it in pasta with sun dried tomato and spinach sausage, garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

The result was a colorful, spicy, tangy and rich dish that was full of bold flavors. Very comforting and warm dish. The rapini did shine as the star for nothing could overpower its gorgeous color and spicy alive flavor. By mixing a bit of the water I boiled the rapini in prior to stirring it in to the pasta, with the pan juices from the sausage and garlic, a silky sauce was born. The parmigiano tied everything together and as most cheese does, elevated the dish to great heights. YUM!
Rotini with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage