A little of what's in the fridge.
Sometimes, as I prepare for this newsletter, I have a firm idea of where I’m going – what I want to cook, what dishes, flavors, cuisines I want to feature. Other times, I admit, my decision is driven more by what I’ve got in the fridge than what I’ve got in my brain. This week is one of those times.
Sequestered by the cold, the pandemic, and current events, I looked into our fridge and pantry and – mostly because I had beets and cabbage – decided it was time for some, well let’s call it pan-Eastern European comfort food. And of course, every course has a story to tell.
As always, if you enjoy The Weekly Menu, please share it, and be sure to check out my other project, The Chicken Thigh Guy for a whole flock of chicken thigh recipes, tips, trick, and equipment and book recommendations.
This bread includes a potentially divisive ingredient. It’s flavored with fennel seeds, which gives it a slight licorice flavor. Americans do not like licorice. I don’t really like licorice, but I’ve come around to anise flavors in all sorts of things: Fennel has become one of my favorite vegetables; I use Star Anise liberally; and I’ve got a soft spot for a cool glass of nearly pearlescent green Pastis and water on a hot summer afternoon. This bread is soft, dark, keeps for a few days, and a great accompaniment to a rich soup. A warm slice smeared with butter is just … [Homer Simpson Drool Face]
Note: I didn’t have black cocoa powder in the pantry this week, so the bread you see in the picture is made with simple normal everyday cocoa powder. It works just fine and doesn’t have a lot of effect on the flavor – though there is some. Some recipes will also include a small measure of espresso powder. It darkens the bread somewhat, and adds a bitter note that can be nice, but as it’s not a common ingredient, I’ve left it out.
300 g water
300 g whole wheat flour
200 g bread flour
25 g black cocoa powder
25 g neutral oil
50 g molasses
10 g salt
7 g yeast
½ tsp fennel seeds, crushed (opt)
Add the water and yeast the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
Allow to rest 10 minutes.
Add the molasses and oil to the water and yeast mixture.
Add flours, cocoa powder and fennel, if using.
Add the salt on top of the flour so that it doesn’t touch the yeast and process until a smooth dough has formed, about five minutes.
Cover, and allow to rise until almost doubled, 1-22 hours depending on your room temperature.
Punch down the dough and divide in half.
Shape each half into a rectangle and roll into a long cylinder. Pinch the long seam together and turn the ends under to form a loaf.
Cover with a damp towel and allow to proof for 30-45 minutes in a warm place.
Preheat your oven to 375°F.
Spray the loaves with a little water, and bake 30-40 minutes, or until tapping on the loaf yields a hollow sound.
Allow to cool. Enjoy with salted butter or – seriously, I’m not kidding – whipped bacon fat.
Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Dill
I love quick-cured cucumbers. They’re a fast, refreshing, crunchy bite that balances out all sorts of things. I often make garlic and rice vinegar-cured pickles as an accompaniment for fatty rich roasted or fried meats, and yogurt or sour cream-dressed cucumbers to accompany a lot of dishes with “Middle Eastern” or Eastern European flavors. People tell me they’re great. I’m mildly allergic to cucumbers, so generally I only have a bit or two myself, but I can tell you I’ve had to make a second batch mid-meal more than once.
2 cups sliced English seedless cucumber
½ cup Greek style yogurt
1 tbsp chopped fresh baby dill
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp kosher salt
Toss sliced cucumber with salt.
Allow to sit 5-10 minutes.
Add yogurt, dill, and black pepper.
Mix well to coat the cucumber.
Allow to rest, refrigerated for 1 hour before serving.
Borscht Belt Borscht
For a lot of my childhood Borscht was a threat. I grew up on the tail end of the worst of the cold war. We still had a fallout shelter in our Elementary school and I honestly can’t remember if we were shown the “duck and cover” films as instructional content – or history. But either way, sooner or later someone was going to say something like “You’re gonna be eating Borscht three meals a day if the Russians invade!”
They clearly didn’t. I probably would have. Borscht is good. Like really good. There are any number of variations on this soup, from any number of countries – many of them amongst the former Soviet states. If this recipe isn’t the one your grandmother made, don’t @ me. This particular recipe originates not from any single country or tradition, but from any number of places along the Borscht Belt – that stripe of Great Lake adjacent eastern and midwestern where so many immigrants from eastern Europe settled.
I already said I chose this dish because I had beets in the fridge. know that beets are another divisive vegetable, but they’re sweet and hearty and make a great soup. They’re also supposed to be good for you, but if that was a reason to cook them, I’d probably be telling you to add them to a pile of kale.
Note: I’ve got a recipe for a kale and beet salad. It’s tasty. It has bacon in it. It’s probably not good for you on account of the bacon. I’ll include it in a future newsletter.
You can easily make this soup vegetarian by omitting the beef and bacon. If you do, use a very flavorful vegetable stock – I suggest making your own from very dark roasted onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, and mushrooms.
½ lb stew beef
3 medium beets
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 medium russet potato
4 cups beef or chicken stock
2 cups shredded or chopped red cabbage
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 piece fatty bacon or 1 tbsp neutral oil
2 bay leaves
1 sprig thyme
4 tbsp chopped fresh baby dill
1 tbsp kosher salt
½ tbsp fresh ground pepper
Sour cream or yogurt as garnish
Additional dill as garnish
If using bacon, add to the bottom of a thick bottomed pot and fry over medium heat until most of the fat has rendered. If using oil, simply add the oil to the pot.
Cut the beef into ½ inch or smaller pieces.
Add the beef to the pot, along with a sprinkle of salt, and cook over medium heat until browned on at least one side.
Peel, trim, and dice the onion.
Peel, trim, and dice the carrot.
Add the onion and carrot to the pot with the beef and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent.
Add the stock, salt, thyme, bay leaves, and black pepper, and bring to a low simmer.
Trim and peel the beets.
Using a box grater or food processor, grate the beets.
Add the grated beets to the pot and cook for 15 minutes.
Peel, and dice the potato.
Add the potatoes, shredded cabbage, and dill to the pot and cook until the potatoes and cabbage are tender, an additional 20-30 minutes.
Taste for seasoning, and add additional salt and pepper, if necessary.
Add the red wine vinegar just before serving, as the vinegar will cause the soup to lose some of its red color.
Serve topped with sour cream or yogurt and more chopped dill.
Pierogi with Cabbage, Onions, and Bacon
There are no dumplings that aren’t good. Sure, there are bad dumplings – meaning dumplings that are made poorly, or with bad ingredients – but it’s not their essential dumpling-ness that’s the problem. Dumplings, as a rule, are good. Dough filled with delicious fillings? Good. Pretty much good in all of its forms. Pierogi might be one of the simplest filled dumplings. That makes them all the better because they’re so versatile. They’re extra good.
I don’t know how familiar pierogi are to most Americans, but if you grew up or lived in an area roughly bounded by the Appalachian Mountains to the east, the Ohio River to the south, The Mississippi to the west, and well … Canada to the north, you’re definitely familiar. You can buy them boxed and frozen in the grocery, in bags from local church fundraisers, Pittsburg Pirates fans watch even giant mascot pierogi race along the base lines between innings… During one campaign stretch in the winter of 2005-2006, I think I possibly ate pierogi four nights a week, almost entirely at an amazingly perfect dive bar in Strongsville, Ohio.
I’ve included a basic recipe for homemade pierogi. While the ingredients are exceptionally simple, the result is entirely worth the extra effort. That being said, you can always substitute store bought pierogi. The cabbage, onion, and bacon is just … well, three of my favorite winter flavors, and all the different textures really make for a hearty and satisfying dish.
1 large russet potato
2 cups AP flour
3/4 cup water
1 tsp kosher salt
Make the pierogi dough.
Add 2 cups of AP flour and ½ tsp of salt to the bowl of a food processor, or a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
Start the machine and slowly add ¾ cup of water. Mix or process until a smooth dough has formed.
Roll the dough into a ball and wrap tightly or place in a zip top bag.
Allow to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t plan to make the pierogi right way, refrigerate the dough for longer rest times, up to 4 hours.
Microwave the potato, whole, for 5-6 ½ minutes – or until cooked through.
While still warm, remove the skin. (It helps to do this under running cold water.)
Remove any remaining eyes, skin bits, etc. from the potato. Mash the potato with a fork.
Add salt and taste, adding additional salt to your preference.
Unwrap the dough. Divide into 4 pieces.
Work with one piece at a time, while keeping the others covered with a damp towel.
Using well-floured hands, roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick cylinder.
Cut pieces approximately one inch long off the cylinder.
Using a well-floured surface and a rolling pin, roll into disks approximately 3-12-4 inches across.
Using a finger dipped in clean water, trace around the outside of the wrapper.
Place a dollop of potato in the middle of the wrapper.
Carefully pull the edges of the dough together, pinching the sides together along the previously moistened edges.
Place the pierogi on a flat surface, and use the tines of a fork to press down along the edge, further sealing the dumpling.
Repeat for the remaining dough, or until you’ve created enough pierogi for the batch you plan to make.
The pierogi can be cooked immediately in a pot of rapidly boiling salted water, or can be frozen in an air tight container for … well, until you need more pierogi.
Cabbage, Onions, and Bacon
6-10 pierogi (above)
2 cups shredded white/green cabbage
2 pieces fatty bacon
1 small onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the bacon into ½ inch pieces and fry in a pan over medium heat until the fat has rendered, and the bacon is beginning to crisp.
Peel, trim, and slice the onion from end to end.
Add the onion to the bacon drippings and cook until it begins to brown.
Push the bacon and onions to the side of the pan and add the pierogi.
Cook in the drippings until lightly browned.
Add the cabbage to the pan and reduce the heat, stirring occasionally and cooking until the cabbage is soft.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Burnt Honey Ice Cream
When I first moved to San Francisco, I lived in a tiny basement studio apartment with no windows, a stove in the trash alley under the stairs, and a cold-water sink bolted to the wall next to it. It was not the ideal situation for cooking.
Luckily, the neighborhood I lived in – the outer Richmond – had a couple things going for it. I could walk to the ocean – which for a kid from Ohio was practically magical – and there was a nearly endless array of amazing little unpretentious restaurants to try. Within a couple blocks distance, there were several Vietnamese places, an old school red checkered tablecloth pizza joint, Chinese places specializing in nearly every regional cuisine, a famous Dim Sum palace, and a Yucatan style Mexican place famous for the guy who spent all day standing in the front window squeezing limes for margaritas. There was also a small Russian community clustered around the ornately-painted, onion-domed edifice of the Russian Orthodox cathedral.
One of those little Russian shops introduced me to good caviar. Another introduced me to Honey Cake. Honey Cake takes a lot of work, but it’s delicious. I don’t have the patience or the skill to make it properly, but a few years ago, while messing about with a new ice cream maker, I made burnt honey ice cream. And it tasted like honey cake. This recipe is an evolution of that – and it takes me back to that neighborhood 20 years ago. You can try the ice cream on its own or garnish it with honeycomb cinder toffee (basically an aerated brittle), graham cracker or digestive biscuit crumbs to make it more like honey cake.
2 cups whole milk (divided)
1 ½ cups heavy cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup honey
Pinch of salt
4 tsp corn starch
Graham crackers or digestive biscuits, crumbled as garnish.
Honeycomb Cinder Toffee (see below)
Add 1 ¾ cup milk, heavy cream, salt, and sugar to a thick bottomed pot and bring to a low simmer.
Mix the remaining ¼ cup milk with the corn starch to make a slurry, and stir into the cream, milk, and sugar mixture.
In another pot, add the honey to the pan and cook until it begins to darken.
Add the “burnt” honey to the milk, sugar and starch mixture, and stir until fully dissolved.
Pour into a plastic bag and seal completely, then chill in a bath of ice and water.
Process according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.
Serve over crumbled digestive biscuits or graham crackers.
Top with crushed honeycomb cinder toffee.
Honeycomb Cinder Toffee
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup honey
1 tsp baking soda
Add the sugar and honey to a thick bottomed pot over medium heat.
Cook until a dark caramel is formed.
Add the baking soda and stir once with a dry metal spoon.
Quickly, pour the mixture out onto a silicone baking mat on a heat proof surface (I pour it out onto a matt on the marble pastry stone you’ve seen in photos).
Allow to cool completely. Break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.