Archive for the ‘Ukrainian’ Category

OK, Gang, here’s one for you. I know some of my regular readers get as much entertainment from my posts about recipes that don’t go well for me as about those that do. That’s fine: I learn something every time, whether the trouble comes from the recipe, my ingredients, or myself. This time, I don’t think it was me.

A recent spell of damp, chilly weather induced me to take a piece of beef brisket out of the freezer and browse my cookbooks for something new to do with it. In The Veselka Cookbook I found a recipe for boiled beef with horseradish sauce – a specialty of the iconic NYC Ukrainian restaurant – that called for brisket and was a bit different from the boiled beef I usually make. I’d try it.

To begin, the meat had to go into a heavy pot with a dose of ground allspice, water to cover, and salt and pepper “to taste.” That was a little odd: It seemed too soon to know how much salt and pepper it might want.

I brought the pot to a boil and skimmed off all the foam that arose – which pretty much took all the pepper and allspice with it. Hmm.

The next instruction was to reduce the liquid to a simmer and add roughly chopped carrot, roughly chopped celery, and a chunk of onion.

Now, my notion of “roughly chopped” is pieces less than an inch across, and that direction intrigued me because the vegetables weren’t to be pureed at the end but simply served along with the meat. I figured they’d make a sort of vegetable hash. Tom, however, who had obligingly offered to cut them up, didn’t like that idea at all. The carrot and celery went in as good-sized chunks, since they would cook long enough to give plenty of flavor to the broth and still be of a forkable size for eating.

The pot then had to simmer two to three hours – until the brisket was tender enough to pull apart with a fork, the recipe said. I had some difficulty keeping the pot at an even simmer, so it took about an hour more than that for me. In fact, I had to scoop out the vegetables for a while so they wouldn’t fall apart. I put them back for the final quarter hour to reheat.

The white stuff in the little bowl you see in the photo is the horseradish sauce, which I made while the brisket cooked. That involved simply whisking together equal parts of sour cream and buttermilk and adding prepared horseradish to taste.

So here is the brisket, served:

The meat was chewy and almost flavorless. Utterly impossible to carve in ¼-inch slices, as the recipe directed: it fell apart in uneven lumps. You might think it had given up too much of its essence to the broth in all its long cooking, but the broth was still thin and watery. So was the sauce, none of which made it onto our plates. It looked like skim milk, and the two dairy components somehow canceled each other out while also muting the horseradish’s tang. But the meat was the great disappointment: it was the sine qua non of the entire recipe, and non was what it provided.

The mashed potatoes and vegetables were OK, and fortunately I had a jar of good commercial horseradish sauce to bring on as a substitute, but all in all it was a very indifferent dinner. No respectable piece of brisket should be that flavorless, even this one, which had come from from a nearby grocery store, not from my reliable Bleecker Street butcher, Ottomanelli. I also question whether the recipe writer was playing entirely fair with the book’s readers: There’s no way this dish, made exactly as directed, could be a favorite at the restaurant.

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Today marks my completion of a decade of writing this blog. The culinary adventures (both successful and not so) about which I’ve told stories each week have given me great pleasure. To celebrate my tenth anniversary, this post will be a retrospective of some of the dishes I’ve most enjoyed making, eating, and writing about – one for each year.

You’ll notice a strong Western European emphasis in the choices here. That’s a reflection of Tom’s and my general eating preferences, but I’ve actually written about dishes from 24 countries in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. I could have featured many of those others among these favorites.

Clicking on an image below will open the full post about the dish.


Prosciutto-wrapped Broiled Shrimp

My first blogging year was devoted to one new recipe a week from one of the 200+ cookbooks in my collection. This one, from Ada Boni’s classic Il Talismano della Felicità, makes as good an appetizer as it did a main course.



Plum Cake Cockaigne

From my second year, I began including posts about recipes I’d previously known and loved. This one, from Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, has been a late-summer favorite in our household for more years than I can remember.



Traditional Paella Valenciana

I found recipes for this relatively simple paella in two cookbooks: Penelope Casas’ Food and Wines of Spain, and Teresa Barrenechea’s Cuisines of Spain. Both looked good, so I drew steps from both recipes.



Bluefish Gravlax


Here, I adapted a salmon gravlax recipe from the Cooking of Scandinavia volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series for local bluefish. I also made the book’s cucumber relish and mustard-dill sauce.



Tripe in Golden Fontina Sauce

This is my own version of trippa alla valdostana, from Tom’s and my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. It makes a remarkably rich, mellow, elegant dish – if I do say so myself.



Pheasant Pie with Noodles and Mushrooms

Under this pastry crust is faisan à la vosgienne, made from an Alsace recipe in Anne Willan’s French Regional Cooking. Pheasant, noodles, mushrooms, sauce, and pastry were all lavishly endowed with butter.



Chickpea and Cuttlefish Stew

Penelope Casas’s book La Cocina di Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain provided the recipe for this Andalucian dish intriguingly spiced with hot red pepper, sweet smoked paprika, and garlic.



Poulet Marengo

Anyone familiar with my food preferences will know I couldn’t let this retrospective go by without including at least one chicken dish. This is a classic from Robert Courtine’s The Hundred Glories of French Cooking.



Veselka’s Borscht

The Ukrainian restaurant Veselka, in NYC’s East Village neighborhood, serves the best borscht I’ve ever tasted or can imagine tasting. Making a batch of it from the place’s own cookbook was a major accomplishment for me.



Apple-Stuffed Pork Roast

Apples, bacon, butter, mushrooms, onions, sage, a pinch of sugar, and a touch of wine vinegar made a delightful stuffing for roasted pork. It’s a recipe I clipped from Saveur magazine and pasted in my big recipe binder.


So:  10 years, 512 posts, recipes from 120 cookbooks, as well as a few from magazines, newspapers, and the internet. I’ve learned a lot about food and cooking from all this. Now I plan to take the month of January off, to think about how I’d like to position my blog for the coming years.

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I never considered myself the kind of person who’d spend almost a whole day in the kitchen making borscht. I didn’t even like beet soup. But that’s what I’ve just done, and I loved it.

My change of heart came about, improbably, because I attended a pierogi making event for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, held at Veselka, a venerable and venerated local Ukrainian restaurant. In its basement, more than 3,000 of these traditional stuffed dumplings are made by hand every day. Early one evening, 20 GVSHP members trooped downstairs, watched a demonstration, and then were invited to make some pierogi ourselves. That’s me in the purple sweater.

After our lesson, we all climbed back up to the dining room and sat down to what turned out to be almost a full meal: cups of the restaurant’s signature borscht, its homemade bread, three kinds of pierogi – potato and farmer cheese, goat cheese and arugula, and beef short rib – plus sour cream, applesauce, and fried onions.

Everything was good, but what blew Tom and me away was the borscht. It was brilliant: rich and meaty, thick with vegetables, and with an intriguing interplay of beet sweetness and vinegar sourness. Like no borscht either of us had ever tasted before.

As we left the restaurant, everyone received a copy of The Veselka Cookbook, of which the dust-jacket picture and very first recipe was that borscht. I had to try making it.

When, out of curiosity, I compared Veselka’s borscht recipe to others, it was clear that this was the borscht to end all borschts. The soup is made in two major stages, each with multiple preparation steps. Here are the components of the first stage:

  • On the left, 2 pounds of beets to be shredded and simmered in 10 cups of vinegared water for 2 hours to produce what Veselka calls “beet water.”
  • In the middle, 1 pound of beets to be boiled whole in plain water until tender-firm.
  • On the right, 2 pounds of boneless fresh pork butt, to be simmered in 8 cups of beef stock, 1 tablespoon of peppercorns, 1 teaspoon of allspice berries, and 1 bay leaf, for 2 hours or until the meat is beginning to fall apart.

When all that was done and everything cooled down, the second stage began with more preparation of ingredients:

  • In the rear 1 pound of shredded green cabbage, 4 cups of strained beef and pork stock, 3 large celery stalks, sliced, and 3 large carrots, sliced.
  • In the middle, 1 can of lima beans, rinsed and drained, and 2 russet potatoes, cubed.
  • In the front, 4 cups of beet water, the whole boiled beets, peeled and grated, and the pork butt, shredded.

All those ingredients began to come together in a single stockpot: first the carrots and celery, simmered in the broth for 8 minutes; next the cabbage and potatoes, stirred in and simmered for 20 minutes; then the lima beans, for 5 minutes more. Finally I had to taste the soup and add up to 7 tablespoons of white vinegar.

At this point I was able to set the soup aside and start washing the many pots and dishes I’d used! As dinner time approached, I stirred the beet water, grated beets, and shredded pork into the soup and heated it all together. It certainly made a lurid concoction.

But it was a truly delicious one, as we discovered when we sat down to our bowlfuls. The meaty broth and shredded pork gave heft and depth to the soup, the flavor of each tender vegetable could just be distinguished in the medley, and it had the same overall tangy sweetness – or sweet tanginess – that we’d marveled at in the restaurant’s version.

(I didn’t top my borscht with sour cream and bits of fresh herbs, as is shown in the picture on the cookbook’s cover. Those were apparently a food stylist’s trick – they aren’t in the recipe.)

By the way, the recipe says it makes “about two quarts” of soup. Something went wrong there, because I measured my quantity at four quarts. But I’m not complaining, because my freezer  now has containers of luscious borscht to carry us through the ragged end of winter and the damp chills of early spring. Thank you, GVSHP and Veselka!

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