Beef Kebab with Onions and Apples

Making kebab is almost a cult experience.  I am far from a member, but I enjoy making and eating my version.  I've had a variety of versions of this dish and I can't say which I like better.  I am an equal opportunist when it comes to any dish where the cook is passionate about its preparation. 

2 lbs beef tenderloin (disclaimer: typically the best meat for kebab is pork or lamb.  If you use pork, you should also stick to tenderloin.  )
2 medium / small onions, cut into rings
2 medium apples
1/4 c vinegar
1/4 c cognac
1 tsp salt
20 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves

Cut meat into cubes, they don't have to be perfect but try to keep them consistent in size, about 1.5 inches.  Salt the meat and place in a gallon sized zip lock.  Mix the other ingredients in a small bowl and add to the bag.  Close the bag and place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.  When ready to cook, cut 2 medium apples (skin on) into thick wedges, removing the seeds.  Skewer meat, onions, and apples in a repeating pattern.  This should make about 6 skewers.  Grill (on a charcoal grill if available), rotating frequently, until golden on all sides.  Enjoy outside with an ice cold beer and at least one friend!

Short Rib and Prune Stew

Another classic dish from my hometown, though with roots from Georgia; short rib and prune stew is an amazing combination.  Buttery, fall-off-the-bone meat is complimented with sweet and tart sauce from the slow-cooked prunes. 

3 lbs short ribs (bone in)
2 c prunes
1 large onion
1 quart of chicken stock (low sodium)
3 carrots, peeled and shredded
bay leaf
salt + pepper
olive oil

Pour hot water over prunes in a small bowl.  Allow to stand while you continue with the recipe.  Braise the short ribs on medium-high heat in olive oil, in a dutch oven.  You may need to do a few batches to allow for plenty of space for browning.  When they are well browned on all sides, add in the onion cut into small wedges and the shredded carrots.  Let cook mixing occasionally, until the onions start becoming soft (about 7 minutes).   Add in the drained prunes.  Add in the chicken stock.  If the stock doesn't cover the meat fully, add some boiled water to cover.  Cook on medium/low heat, covered, for about 1.5 hours.  Check about 1 hour into the cooking process to assure you have enough liquid to avoid burning your stew.  This is a good time to add your bay leaves and salt to taste before you add any additional liquid (you don't want to salt at the begining as the liquid will cook down).


Crunchy Cabbage and Carrot Salad

This salad is in the repertoire of many USSR expats. Fresh, crunchy and great as salad but also inside a roast beef wrap.

1 head of cabbage, shredded ( same width as the carrots)
3 carrots, peeled and shredded
4 tbsp dill, chopped


1/2 c white vinegar
1.5 tsp sugar
3 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Mix the vegetables and dill. Pour over the premixed Vinegarette. Let stand for 5 minutes, then squeeze the salad with your hands several times. The purpose here is for salt and acid that were just added to wilt the cabbage strands a bit. They will still be crunchy, but will act like a sponge and take on the mixed flavors in the salad.

Toro-style Corn Salad

Toro is a great little tapas place in town, serving an unusual tapas menu when compared to restaurants with a similar cuisine. No, you won't find pato braseado on their menu, but you'll have a great short rib and plum stew. It is there where I found the inspiration for this salad (read: copycat), because imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

My version differs from that of the restaurant but the final result is similar and ranked highly with friends.

3 packages of fire roasted corn kernels (Trader Joe's; if you can't find there BBQ 10 husks of corn and take the kernels off when it cools off)
1 round of queso fresco (South American style cheese, with a high melting temperature; Toro uses cojita instead)
5 heaping tbsp of Crema Mexicana
4 cloves of garlic
3 limes
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp olive oil

Shred queso fresco and mix with Crema Mexicana. Press garlic and add to the mix. Add in sliced limes, cut into 12 wedges. Roast frozen corn kernels in olive oil, mixing frequently, until the corn is hot. Sprinkle with chili and mix in the queso fresco dressing. Serve immediately.


Kohlrabi and Apple Slaw

Those Saturn-like vegetables I've walked by in the store so many times were kohlrabi. I took a bunch home to experiment with and ended up making an apple and kohlrabi slaw, which was crisp and crunchy. No cooking required.

2 peeled kohlrabi
1 large cored and peeled apples
2 scallions
2 tbsp white vinegar
3 tbsp water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp hazelnut oil
1 tsp black sesame

Slice the kohlrabi and apple into similar sized strips. Chop the scallions and add to apples and kohlrabi. Mix the other ingredients into a vinegarette and pour over the salad.


Spring Chicken Stew (for Fall)

My mom used to come home with some goody in her bag almost every day when I was little. Mostly because it was hard to shop by "shopping list" on a designated "grocery shopping day" before the 90's in USSR. Stores had limited supply of products, and if anything of interest was available, it usually disappeared before ever making its way to the shelves. Primary source of shopping was the Northern Bazaar down the street...but I digress. While the daily scavenger hunt for food, was not exciting for my parents, the nightly discoveries in a shopping net in the kitchen were thrilling for me.

My mom and grandmother would masterfully convert these lone articles into flavorful dishes, that made the shopping challenges seem improbable to a guest. In early spring, when young potatoes became available and so did peas, we used to enjoy a bright stew, unlike those with heavier flavors in the winter.  It was comforting, yet bursting with fresh flavor, with promise of more fresh vegetables and fruit.

This is my version of that stew, recognizing the luxury of having it mid-autumn.

2 leeks, trimmed
2 cloves, garlic
1 lb young creamer potatoes
1/4 lb fresh peas
1 corn
5 chicken thighs, bone in
2 cups, chicken stock
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp hot mustard
olive oil

1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp hot mustard
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp olive oil

In a dutch oven, roast diced leeks and garlic, on medium heat. Add in the potatoes and corn, chopped into about 6 sections, when the leeks begin to turn golden. Salt to taste. Roast, mixing repeatedly to prevent leeks from burning. Grill chicken thighs smothered in the marinade, about 3 minutes on each side. Add the grilled chicken and fresh peas into the pot and stir in. Mix chicken stock, mustard and maple syrup and pour over the contents of the pot. Cover with lid. Cook for 20-25 minutes, checking to mix and add more chicken stock if needed, until the potatoes are cooked.

Almost Borscht

It was a typical New England day, when you need a jacket in the shade and a bikini in the sunshine when we took a drive to Drumlin Farm, a Mass Audubon property. Left with hay in my sweater and a biodegradable bag full of organic vegetables, I decided on a warm soup.

I haven't made borscht in a while, nor was this a typical preparation. It's meat and cabbage free. Now, purists would say it isn't borscht then...in which case they can just refer to this as a beet soup.

4 carrots, peeled
5 small to medium beets, peeled
1/ 2 yellow onion, cleaned
4 medium, red potatoes, peeled
2 cloves garlic
1.75 quarts organic chicken stock
2 cups tomato juice
3 tbsp olive oil + 2 tbsp butter
4 tbsp crushed seedless tomatoes (canned)
15 sprigs of dill
Sour cream, for serving

Chop onion. Slice garlic cloves. Grate 2 carrots, using a box grater. Slice the other two carrots in half, parallel the length. Chop into half-moons, about 2mm in width. Cut peeled potatoes into about 6 cubes each.

In a tall, thick bottomed pot, roast the chopped onion in olive oil and butter until just turning golden. Add grated carrots and garlic. Mix occasionally, until carrots are starting to brown. Add in the rest of the carrots and potatoes. Stir in about .75 quarts of chicken stock, crushed tomatoes, and tomato juice. Add in the whole beets. Let cook on medium heat for about an hour, or until the beets are soft.

Remove the beets, and grate (they will be hot!), and return them into the soup. Add the rest of the chicken stock and tied dill. Let the soup return to boil and remove from heat. I didn't think any additional salt was necessary, the stock was enough. Serve with sour cream.


Roasted Delicata Squash with Ricotta Stuffing

A little surprise for E, who's very excited about every pumpkin sighting - roasted delicata squash filled with whipped ricotta and pumpkin seeds.

1 delicata squash
3 tbsp ricotta
2 tbsp Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla sugar
handful of pumpkin seeds
olive oil

Cut the delicata squash into rings, and clean out the middle. The rings should be about 1/2 inch wide. Roast, sprayed with olive oil, at 425 for 30 minutes. Turning once during the cooking cycle. In the meantime, whip ricotta with greek yogurt and vanilla sugar with a whisk for about 5 minutes. Scoop ricotta mixture into slightly cooled squash (set in the serving platter) and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.


Salmon Kulebyaka

Pot luck holiday dinners with family always mean two things - 1) delicious food and 2) tons of leftovers. Responsible for the entree, I decided on something festive, yet very homey.

I made a Kulebyaka. What's that you may ask? Well, think a giant, stuffed...um, pie? I found a brief history which may be a bit more eloquent.

2 large shallots, minced
1 tbsp butter, unsalted
1 package of baby bella mushrooms
3 tbsp flour
2 tbsp sour creme
1/4 lb young fontina
about 9 asparagus spears, peeled and trimmed (florets cut off)
1.5 lbs salmon
1 package of puff pastry
olive oil

Roast shallots in butter until golden. Set aside. Roast sliced portabellas in a little olive oil, until most of the liquid is gone. Remove from heat and mix with the shallot mixture. Add flour and sour cream. Season to taste and set aside to cool.

Cut the fontina cheese into slices. Salt the peeled asparagus and dust with flour, shaking off the excess.

Roll out the puff pastry on a floured surface, about 4mm thick. Spread the mushroom mix over the pastry at the center (see pictures below), layer with fontina, seasoned salmon and asparagus. Fold pastry and pinch to close. Flip over onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. If you had pastry leftovers, you can decorate, preferably with the help of a willing child.

Bake at 375 for about 35-40 minutes, or until the pastry is golden in color. Let cool slightly before moving to a serving platter and cutting with a serrated knife. 

Note: my fall theme of leaves and acorns was critiqued, E. wanted a doggy.....right in the center.


"Fast to Feed"

Pondering the Yom Kippur dinner menu, I am already looking forward to breaking a fast that has not yet started. Those of us that observe this holiday with a fast, to focus on the year past and the year ahead, know it's much more then getting together at the dinner table as soon as the sun is out of sight. But, there is no better way to close out the day then with those most important to you, sharing food from a menu that has become a tradition of its own.
With the choice to fast being my own, it's difficult to consider what if it were not. Sarah from Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) reached out to me about the "Fast to Feed" fund raiser; which is focused on helping to fight hunger in the Greater Boston area. They are asking everyone to consider donating the money you would have spent on a day's worth of food to help feed those that struggle to feed themselves, regardless if you observe Yom Kippur.

Some facts from CJP:
  • "1 in 10 families in Massachusetts can’t afford sufficient food. 
  • Family Table, a program of Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS), saw a 20% increase in demand for services during the last year. 
  • The Lucy & Joe Food Pantry, a program of Jewish Family Service of Metrowest (JFS), saw a 50% increase in demand for services during the last year.
  • 100% of all donations to CJP’s “Fast to Feed” Initiative will directly support Family Table and Lucy & Joe’s Food Pantry."
For more information on the fund raiser please visit: http://www.cjp.org/page.aspx?id=245692
To donate to go: http://www.cjp.org/feed



I have never made a round braided Challah, mostly because I thought the braiding required the dexterity, that I don't have. Lucky for me, the bread dough is more forgiving then say...a three-year-old's hair.

I worked off a modified recipe, that I changed as well. This makes a small challah, just perfect for about 8 people.

1 cup water
1 tbsp dry yeast
4 1/4 cups of flour
2 extra large eggs
3/4 cup of raisins
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup of honey
1.5 tsp salt
1 egg, for egg wash

Mix warm water with the yeast, let stand until it starts to bubble. For fresh yeast, typically 15 minutes. Mix flour and salt, add in the yeast mix, oil, honey and beaten eggs. Knead to incorporate and create a smooth, consistent dough.
Let sit for 10 minutes and flatten the dough. Spread raisins (plumped in water, drained) and fold dough several times to mix through. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with tea towel and let stand for about an hour. Punch the dough down and let rise for another 30 minutes.

Shape the dough (I did a 4 strand crown braid). Place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Paint with egg wash. Place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until golden and sounds empty when tapped.

L'Shana Tova!

Lamb Shank and Plum Stew

First occasional days of crisp autumn are enough to encourage me to bring out the dutch oven again. I bought a box of farm fresh plums, mostly for jam, but wanted to try using them in place of dry prunes in a stew for a sweet and sour sauce to add some brightness to the lamb.

2 lamb shanks
12 prune plums
3 carrots
1 yellow onion
1 quart of chicken stock
5-6 potatoes

Braise seasoned lamb shanks on all sides until just starting to brown. Set aside. Roast chopped onion and carrots until turning golden on high-medium heat, about 10 minutes. Add in the pitted plums, cut in half. Reduce the heat, add the lamb back into the pot and pour the chicken stock in. Cover and let simmer for 45 minutes. Turn the meat and add in the potatoes, cut into wedges. Cover and cook for another 45 minutes.

Season with salt, pepper and coriander.


La Mar Cebicheria | New York, NY

Among the traits that my friends have in common, other than enjoying great food and company, is their love for world travel. A few visited Peru at the beginning of the year and regaled us with their stories and pictures. Among some more obvious Peruvian travel destination, they visited a restaurant in Lima called La Mar, only to later find that it had US presence as well (in hopes to repeat the experience). At the time, there was a location in San Francisco and one coming in NY....which brings me to last week.

While staying in New York, a friend reminded me of La Mar, which coincidentally opened in the city just the week before. We snagged a late dinner reservation and took in the space formerly occupied by Tabla.

Alive with buzzing servers, busy bartenders and helpful hosts, it's a little bit of Lima in New York. Strong scent of citrus envelops the bar, with pisco sours being made at a twenty-a-minute rate, and entertainment provided by knowledgeable bar staff (Sal in particular). Though we went on to dine at a table, bar side service is also available.

The food is awesome with spot on, balanced flavors in ceviches. It's the perfect Asian meets Latin meets giant corn, I expected from Peruvian cuisine. Causas are also something to consider; Peruvian whipped potato topped with sashimi...so near and dear to a Russian's heart. Portions are small, tapa style for the ceviches, but entrees are perfect. We concluded with picarones for dessert -Peruvian fritters with banana purée and spiced chancaca honey per Sal's recommendation. He said it made him remember growing up over a bakery --- he was right. Though completely unrelated, this is what I'd hoped churros would be like before ever trying them.

I will be back.


Marmalade | San Juan, Puerto Rico

white bean soup shooter with truffle oil and panchetta dust
Seemingly a restaurant with the best reviews in San Juan, Marmalade, had to be tasted. We ventured out in the late evening and were promptly seated at a lovely table with golden chargers.

The service was effortless, especially compared to the horrible experience at Lost Cafe (no pun intended) in the morning.  Staff were happy to customize the drinks; no small feat for our somewhat rowdy bunch. I thank whomever made mine - it was a perfectly balanced pineapple mojito that I will remember for a long time.

The menu is diverse. Though the ingredients far from local, they are from sources personally known by the chef. As he put it, he can put a face to a voice on the phone line belonging to his Oregon mushroom forager (where by the way, morels are in season in August).

Chef Peter Schintler telling me about Oregon mushroom farming

We ordered a sampling from most of the menu. I tried the red snapper ceviche, Kobe beef cheeks with peas and morels, and the lamb tagine; as well as a sampling of the white bean soup infused with black truffle oil and pancetta, compliments of the house (twice). All of which were delectable.

Overall, this is not the place to go to try local cuisine. But if you want world-class dining, in a beautiful, loungy atmosphere, come here. Oh, and get a drink!

Photos: Courtesy of I.Z.

more photos coming...

St. Germain | San Juan, Puerto Rico

How great is it to be careless, in the company of friends and enjoying great food in an island atmosphere?! It's not often something I make time for, same can be said for my friends.  So when an opportunity to enjoy each other's company to celebrate a big event in a friend's life presented itself, we all gladly jumped at the chance. 

fresh squeezed orange juice

We took a day to explore the old town. On the walk down the hill from the El Morro Castle in the hot midday sun, we collectively followed our fearless leader to her Frommer's find.  Ducking from pigeons, finding a little breeze on shady side of scorching streets, we found St. Germain to be full. Drenched, we waited, in hopes of good food.  

We were seated shortly and took in the air conditioning with the lovely atmosphere and creative brunch menu.   High, beamed ceilings in this tiny spot give it presence and an airy feel.  Adorned with local art, playful antique picture frames, and farm-house tables, the place is full of locals. 

The preset brunch menu as explained to us by Paola, will not leave you wanting to eat/drink for some time! The service and food were both amazing.  Like several places we went to in PR, a mix cuisines: French, highlighted with seafood and some middle eastern flavors. Refreshing, creative, light, yet filling.  At the end of the meal, Paola sat with us to recommend places for dinner and dancing.  Overall, a wonderful experience with a soft samba in the background. I'd return with friends any day.

white sangria with apples and pears

the pre-brunch fruit salad with toasted granola

salmon eggs benedict

baked eggs with mint and goat cheese (they have several varieties)

collage by a local artist (very Frida Kahlo)


baked eggs with salmon and capers


Shaved Fennel Salad

Thanks to a friend talking about a lovely summer evening dinner, I dusted off Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day. I love discovering ways to eat things I love, that fit within my family's tastes. It can be very rare, especially with fennel. This was a great dinner on the side of pan roasted chicken.

I highly recommend this recipe. I am always grateful when I get to use my mandolin :-)
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Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

A trip to Carver Orchards proved to be fruitful. I was allowed to pick the flowers off the zucchini plants, which is rare...since ultimately each flower is an unrealized zucchini. This is what makes them so wonderful. I got hooked on these circa June 2007 in a little vegetarian restaurant in San Lorenzo neighbourhood of Rome, Arancia Blu. We didn't realize from the review that brought us there that it was a vegetarian restaurant (since we generally like to have a broader choice of proteins), but for some reason it remains one of the more memorable in Rome.
4 tbsp ricotta
zest of 1 lime
chopped fennel "dill"
1 smashed clove of garlic
sea salt

Mix the ingredients together and carefully fill the zucchini blossoms. I've heard a lot of recipes call for removing the pistil inside the flower, but I leave it intact.

Enjoy fresh or deep fried in thin batter; as we did, but you have to eat these immediately, thus no pictures ;-).

Pancetta Waffles

It was sad to see pancetta just laying in the fridge...it needed to be used. I baked it into the waffles this morning - think bacon-flavored waffle.

2 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 vegetable oil
4 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 cups of milk
1/2 vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
8 slices of pancetta

Mix all the ingredients (except the pancetta) together until smooth. Place a slice of pancetta onto a greased waffle iron, and ladle the batter on top. Close the waffle iron and cook until golden brown.

P.S. It's been proving more difficult to take pictures lately. ;)