This blog has moved!

Hi!
I’ve been thinking about moving the blog for quite a while, so last weekend, I finally purchased a URL and started the long, tedious, and mostly uncertain process of moving the content. I’m still working on finalizing the set-up, but please visit me at http://annasrecipebox.com.

Does anyone know how to make it redirect automatically?

Cookies

Cookies

Cookies

You all know I’m not a baker and might be surprised by this post. Don’t be. I had very little to do with these cookies. Just added a stick of butter and an egg to a gloriously yummy Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate cookie mix. A fabulous Costco find.

Cookie

Cookie

I’m taking these to work as a “Thank You” to a co-worker who let me use his parking space for a whole week while he was on vacation. You see, I typically take a bus to work because it’s so expensive to park downtown as well as a hassle looking for free parking. And free isn’t always free, such as when you get a parking ticket. 😦

Chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies

So for a whole week, I had the pleasure of driving to work headache free because I knew I could park in a specific spot and I would not get a ticket. I love piece of mind. And I want to be able to do it again, the next time he goes on vacation or isn’t using his parking spot.

Cookie face

Cookies

It was also a good excuse to practice macro photography. Doesn’t this cookie look like a smooshed face? I see it. The chocolate eyes, the upturned nose from the tip of the chocolate chip, the mouth from the crease in the dough…. see it now? So cute. I just had to have it. And a few of his buddies…. I promise, the rest go to work. Tomorrow.

Cookie dough

Cookie dough

See the butter melting in one of the cookies? At the bottom of the cookie ball? This really does use a whole stick of butter. What can I substitute instead? But for about 2 dozen, one stick doesn’t sound too bad. Does it?

Mastava – Uzbek soup

Mastava - Uzbek Soup

Mastava - Uzbek Soup

After our last visit to Chaihana, I’ve been wanting to make this recipe and I was lucky enough to have a recipe handy.  As a matter of fact, I actually have two.  One is from Lynn Visson’s book and one is from a Russian-published book.  This attempt is from the Russian-published version and I don’t know how authentic it is.  Anyone with such knowledge, please let me know if this is even remotely authentic.

Russian Recipe Book

Best Recipes of the Uzbek Kitchen

Russian Mastava Recipe

Russian Mastava Recipe

That’s the book and the page with the recipe. If you can read Russian, please take a close look at it. For those who don’t read Russian, here’s the rundown of issues with this recipe:
1. It’s not clear enough in directions; it refers to “spices” but doesn’t define what it means. Is it like mirepoix, is it something else? I interpreted that as “use whatever you want” and I used freshly ground back pepper and cumin.
2. It doesn’t specify all the quantities (how much water do I need?)
3. It doesn’t specify how long to cook it for, it just says “until done”. Is that 5 minutes or 50? How do I know? I’ve never made this before.

But I just happened to have two carrots and 3 potatoes, the exact quantities the recipe is calling for. I love it when a plan comes together.
And since you already know I’m not good with directions, you should also know I’m really not good with metric values. I know, I could look it up. But I was lazy and didn’t. So here’s what I used.

mastava-ingredients

Mastava ingredients

Ingredients:
1 lb of lamb diced in bite-sized pieces (had it in the freezer since last summer, figured I should use it)
2 medium-large carrots, cut up in bite-sized quarter-moons (the recipe says to cube it, but I’m just not into all that chopping at 8PM)
3 small-medium potatoes (cut the same size as the carrots)
1 large onion, diced
1.5 cups of washed rice (the recipe calls for 300 grams and I don’t have a scale; but 1.5 cups was waaay too much, made it more like a stew; I think 3/4 cups would be better)
6-9 cups of water (I lost track after 6, but I think I used close to 8 or so; the recipe has no quantity specified for water)
1 can of tomatoes (the recipe actually calls for 3 tomatoes, but I didn’t have any and improvised; this gave the soup a much darker and redder look than is typical, I think)
olive oil (the recipe calls for fat, but I assume it’s calling for lamb fat and I didn’t have any, so olive oil it is)
spices: salt, black pepper, coriander, cumin (to taste)
cilantro and scallions (to garnish, optional)

* A note about washing/rinsing rice. I don’t know for sure, but I think it removes some of the starch and quickens cooking time. It somehow makes a difference.

Steps:
Season throughout the cooking process
1. Brown the meat.
2. Add onions and let cook with the meat for a few minutes.
3. Add tomatoes and cook for a few minutes.
4. Add carrots and potatoes and cook for a few minutes (5-10 minutes)
5. Add water (depending on how much you use, but start with 5 cups) and let boil for about 20 minutes.
6. Add rice and cook “until done”; if you rinse the rice, it’s about 10-13 minutes (probably less if you use less rice)

Mastava lamb

Brown lamb

Added tomatoes

Added tomatoes

Added carrots and potatoes mastava

Added carrots and potatoes

Added rice to mastava

Added rice

finished mastava

Enjoy!

Orzo with Veggies and Feta

Orzo with Feta

Orzo with Feta

I’ve been thinking about making something with orzo for a while, and saw a good recipe on Tasty Kitchen and thought I’d give it a try.  But you know me, I can’t follow directions when it comes to food, so, as always, I added my own touch on the recipe.

The asparagus I had was already roasted (LOVE! roasted asparagus) so that was one variation from the original recipe.  Another was the tomatoes.  I love tomatoes, and Sendik’s had cute little cherry tomatoes on sale.  These aren’t good enough to eat on their own yet, but are good enough to cook with (the added spiced and other things in the dish help out the paper-like taste of winter tomatoes).

Ingredients:
1/2 cup orzo
1/2 lb spinach
1 cup cherry tomatoes (halved)
1/2 cup roasted asparagus (sliced on the diagonal in bite-sized pieces)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
Feta (as much as you like)
2 TB olive oil
Salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder to taste.

Steps:
1. Cook orzo according to package directions
2. Let the minced garlic infuse the olive oil on relatively low heat, so it doesn’t burn, until you can smell it (or about 5 minutes)
3. Add the spinach and cook down a bit
4. Add the tomatoes, season, and cook together for about 5 minutes
5. Add the roasted asparagus and orzo
6. Add the feta

Garlic infusing oil

Garlic infusing oil

Cooked spinach

Spinach cooked down

Tomatoes

Added the tomatoes

Orzo

Added orzo and asparagus

Added feta

Added feta

Food-related goals

I’m a big fan of goals.  I love New Year’s resolutions, personal goals, career goals, reading goals, traveling goals, etc.  This year, I’m adding a food goal to my list.  This might sound funny to some of you, but yes, I’m adding a culinary goal to my life.  You see, I have an absolutely unnatural and irrational fear of baking.  I know, strange.  No good reason for it.  Other than perhaps the fear of the mess I’d make, but my kitchen always looks like a tornado went through it after I’m done cooking.  But baking towering cakes doesn’t really appeal to me and I’ve never been a dessert person (well, until a few years ago).  So I figure I’ll try something rustic/easy/something I have space for in my kitchen.

So, here are my culinary goals for this year:

  1. Learn to bake one kind of bread
  2. Learn to make a baked dessert
  3. Learn to make yogurt
  4. Cook more Uzbek food
  5. Cook more soup

I know yogurt isn’t a dessert, but it is often an ingredient in dessert.  Yeah, that’s it.  That’s a good reason to learn making it.  Oh heck, I just want to learn to make my own yogurt, something that will be creamy, sweet, thick and luscious, and won’t cost an arm and a leg.

And after the Chaihana post, I’d imagine the Uzbek food goal is self-explanatory. 😉

As I’ve started cooking soups, it seems fairly easy and healthy.  Should be a good match for the bread.

As the year goes on, I’ll update this page.

*Update on 5/9/2010
I made Mastava, which goes towards goals #4 and #5.
I’ve also been working on making yogurt and bread, but no success with yogurt yet, and gotta figure out this yeast thing for the bread….
Stay tuned.

Chaihana Continued…

Ok, as promised, now to the food….

Lagman

Lagman

My dad ordered Lagman. I love lagman (pronounced: lah-g-mahn, with emphasis on the last syllable). I subconsciously tried making it when I was adding my own twist on a chili recipe I read on the back of a can of beans. And I’ve made it myself quite a few times and you can check out my version. It has carrots and celery (though I don’t know how authentic the celery is and I never use it) and noodles and red bell peppers and lamb. Dad liked it.  And it had scallions as a garnish.

Mastava - Uzbek soup

Mastava

This time around, I ordered Mastava (I think that’s how that soup is called and spelled and if I’m wrong, please let me know). It was delicious. The lamb was very well prepared, so tender it melted in your mouth as you ate it. No need to chew, really. Just inhale…. It had rice, lamb, carrots and other stuff I forgot about. And specks of emerald cilantro garnished the soup. Really good. Authentic. Notice how my sentences tend to shrink when the food is really fabulous. Probably because that’s all my mind is capable of at that moment and all the other mental powers are reserved to fully experiencing the decadence of the food. Love the flecks of cilantro garnishing most dishes. Just try it…Very yummy. I might have to try to make this at home one of these days. I wonder if I have a recipe somewhere… Hmmm. Oh, and this is a half-portion. Notice the difference between the full portion of Lagman and the half portion here. Not a whole lot of difference.

Manti - Uzbek food

Manti

Then we ordered manti. I’ve been wanting to try them here and so we did. There are several kinds on the menu, but we got the ones with lamb. Notice how huge these are; they were about the size of my fist, not like the ones we typically make. Also, notice that they’re served with sour cream and vinegar (the bottle behind the dish). You typically don’t mix the vinegar and sour cream, it’s either or. These were so right. I can’t say that about many places, but not many places claim to have Uzbek food. But these were sooooo good! And huge… The dough was a tad thick, but barely noticeable, and the meat was all good. The spices, meat to fat ratio, and all other aspects of manti were nearly perfect. I’d definitely recommend that dish to anyone.

Liver Shashlik - shish-kebab

Liver Shashlik - shish-kebab

We also ordered liver shashlik (shish-kebab). I think this specific type is called “djigar”, but I could be wrong. Someone correct me on this please. I don’t understand why it was served with the veggies. But ok. The onion is the authentic part of how it’s typically served. None of us liked this dish. It was too dry.

Liver Shashlik - shish-kebab

Liver Shashlik - shish-kebab

See in the picture how dry it was? It should be a lot more pink in the middle. It was like rubber; a workout for our knives and teeth. I hope they improve this. When it’s right, it melts in your mouth and has a very nice mouth feel, like pate. When it’s right even a baby/toddler could eat it.

Shashlik - shish-kebab

Shashlik - shish-kebab

Next, we tried “regular” shashlik. I must say that this is made from beef and not lamb, that’s why it’s in quotes. It’s as “regular” as you can have there. This is a hit or miss dish. The first time I had it I didn’t like because it had some weird spices. The server must have heard me describe that and had the kitchen leave it off this time so it was actually pretty good this time. It was seasoned and marinated properly and was very soft. Each skewer had plenty of meat and a serving is more than plenty.

Samsa - Uzbek dish

Samsa - Uzbek dish

The first time I was at this restaurant I also tried samsa. It was pretty good, but not how I remember, but then again, it’s been more than 20 years since I’ve had an authentic samsa. And this one was also very huge. These portions are very filling.
So let’s start at the beginning.

Samsa - inside view

Samsa - inside view

A samsa is a minced meat, fat, spices, and onion mixture that’s wrapped in dough and baked in a tandoori oven (tandyr). There are several kinds: rounds ones made from regular dough and triangular ones made of layered dough and not quite as tall as this one though they do puff up. This sucker was the size of my head! Not quite, but nearly. It also had more than onions for veggies but I couldn’t discern what all comprised the mixture. Still, it was very good. When made in a tandyr, the crust that forms on the bottom is very crunchy and the top is soft and when you bite into it, the juices run down your chin and the steam that escapes is like a sigh of contentment. I actually have a recipe that I’ve been thinking of trying for this.

Plov - Uzbek dish

Plov

And finally, what I always crave. Plov! This is definitely not for the weight-watching crowd. This thing is packed with most delicious calories. You got beef, fat, oil, rice, carrots, and other yummies. Don’t get me wrong, plov is worth it! This is my “holy grail”, something I really want to learn to make; I don’t have the correct pot for this (it’s cooked in a “kazan“, a cast-iron pot much like a dutch oven that’s not enameled). So if you know where I can get my hands on a kazan, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!
This dish alone is worth the trip (because I can’t make it home at the moment, not because it’s legendarily good). It’s the only consistently good dish I’ve had here (but I’ve only been here twice…) and I would go there just for it again, even if the meat was just a tad dry.  That they use beef instead of lamb is not authentic but that substitution is made often enough. It’s good, but don’t get me wrong, any competent home cook can make something far better. My grandma’s plov is hands-down a thousand times better; it’s legendarily good.  And I can’t even learn it (no kazan)!  Grrrr!  I tried a few times in an enameled cast iron pot, but everything sticks, so there’s burned rice on the bottom affecting the taste of everything else. But it was still edible.

Note: if you’re familiar with Indian cuisine, some things might look/taste familiar (like the use of lamb, rice, and spices).  Uzbek food is delicately spiced, but not spicy-hot; it’s heavy on the meat and very filling. (With all that we ordered, we had a lot of leftovers.)

Bring an empty stomach and an open mind if you’ve never tried these dishes before.

Chaihana

With my all-encompassing love of Uzbek food, I try to find every opportunity to sample it.  But sometimes, I have to make these opportunities.  So, a while back, the folks and I drove to the Botanical Gardens in Chicago and for lunch/dinner went to the Uzbek restaurant not too far from there.  The restaurant is called Chaihana (19 West Dundee Road Buffalo Grove, IL; 847-215-5044) and is in a strip-mall next to Rogan Shoes. Don’t let the location fool you, it’s an oasis where your hunger for scrumptious food and delicious drink will be fulfilled.  There were several articles written about it, and this one is probably one of the better ones.

Chaihana

Chaihana

This was my second trip to this restaurant and I wish it were closer to where I live. Not that absolutely everything was always fantastic, but it’s pretty great. Of course it differs from how we make this kind of food at home and how it was made in Tashkent, but it’s pretty close given the limitations (the lamb species here is different from the lamb in Tashkent, so it’s missing the proper fat, and there are no tandyr (tandoori) ovens).

Chaihana interior

Chaihana interior

The decor is surprisingly  nice. I like that there are crisp, clean, white table cloths and napkins; I like the little fountain, the murals, and the suzaneh (pronounced: soo-za-neh with the accent on the last syllable in this case) hanging on the wall. My grandma has one that was made especially for her at her work as a sign of respect and appreciation. It was given to her at her retirement party.

Suzaneh

Suzaneh

Here is a close-up of the suzaneh.
Seeing it in this restaurant just reminded me so much more of where I came from, made it feel more authentic, and I’m sure made the food taste all that much better.  Though our waiter was not an Uzbek, we learned that the owners have lived in Andijon (a city in Uzbekistan) for many years.  And no, I don’t have a suzaneh hanging on my walls, nor does anyone else in my family. It’s stored in some dusty suitcase somewhere…

But back to the food….

Tea in Piala

Tea in Piala

First things first…. We ordered hot tea. Remember that it was the middle if winter and cold and there’s nothing better than a steaming cup of real black tea. By real I mean loose leaf, not in a tea bag. See, you can even see the leaf floating in the cup. Oh, and these cups are called piala or pialushka (pronounced: pee-a-loosh-ka, with the emphasis on the “loo” part; with pialushki being the plural). The tea was good, so totally hit the spot. Ahhhh, bliss… And it helped that it was served in the traditional tableware. We have that same set at home, it’s what helped fill our crates when we came here (and if you know where we can get more, please let me know!) and the atmosphere was therefore so much more comfortable and homier.

Salad

Salad

Then we ordered food. It felt like we ordered half the menu, but the portions were very generous and we had plenty to take home.
We ordered salad (“achichuk“), like the one we typically make at home. But we (I) typically leave the cucumbers off. It was pretty good, and I was surprised since it was the middle of winter and the tomatoes were pretty good. You know me and tomatoes…  If you search online for this restaurant you’ll see other reviews and sometimes incorrect descriptions.  This salad is not pickled as others claim, and you can see that from the picture.

Lepyoshka - Uzbek bread)

Lepyoshka - Uzbek bread

We also ordered bread. It’s called a lepyoshka (pronounced: le-pyo-shka), and should generally be made in a tandyr, but this was done in a regular oven. It was pretty good, but of course, not like what you’d get in Tashkent pretty much at any bazaar, even the little sidewalk ones. The open fire really adds quite a bit of flavor and puts it over the top. I really like the sesame seeds on it; just adds a really nice hint of nutty-ness and changes the flavor profile of the whole thing. These are made from scratch daily and are served warm. YUM!

This post is getting pretty long, and I haven’t even gotten to the main course. So please stay tuned to the next post.