Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Swapper Profile: Olga Trusova + Borscht Recipe

I am so happy to introduce Olga Trusova with our next swapper profile! Olga is a one of our star swappers who has been attending our swaps right from the beginning. After our first event, she offered up her fabulous garden with an unbeatable view where she and her boyfriend Jim hosted our second swap last June. I'm always excited when I see her name on the registration list — not just because I will be delighted to see her again — but also because you can count on Olga to bring something that is both very unique and very delicious! Some of her past swap items have included Candy Cap Mushroom Sugar Cookies (foraged from an undisclosed CA location), Rugelach and Farmer's Cheese. Read on to learn about some traditional Ukrainian dishes including her recipe for borscht, what inspires her in the kitchen, and her biggest (yup, it's actually big) food surprise.

Olga showing off the latest in headwear
Name: Olga Trusova (@olga_t)

Home (+ hometown swap): San Francisco / SF Swappers

Profession: Designer

How did you first get involved in food swapping? How long ago? 
I came to the very first food swap thanks to my neighbor, Chef Stephanie, who is one of the SF food swap organizers. Stephanie and I met in Bernal Heights last year and had an instant connection around our passion for food. I offered my house for the second food swap and it was a blast! Now I'm a regular.

What did you make for the last food swap and what inspired your choice?
My mother and I made traditional Ukrainian dumplings ("vareniki") with potato-mushroom filling. We are both originally from Ukraine and decided to share one of the most popular winter dishes from that region of the world. Winter is actually one of my favorite seasons, in part, because of Ukrainian Christmas - the biggest holiday of the year for us. On Christmas Eve, twelve meatless dishes are prepared and served to family and friends with the first rising star (read more about it in my guest post on The Pickle Project blog).

Making vareniki, Ukrainian dumplings

Vareniki at the December food swap

Olga & her mom Luda at the December swap

What’s your favorite thing about swapping? Food, of course! And people :)

Who or what most influences your cooking? My heritage, but also traveling. A while ago, my boyfriend and I took a year off to travel around the world, and that has become an endless source of inspiration for our cooking. 

Have you tried Ca cuong?
What’s your favorite kitchen tool? Whisk. 

Your current flavor or ingredient obsession? Nutmeg.

Biggest food surprise? Ca cuong (I first tried it in Thailand): 

If the Rapture came tomorrow, what would your last meal on earth be? Ice-cream!

When I'm not in the kitchen… I'm working on my startup: http://gratitude.is

Favorite local food experience: A small "no-name" taqueria on 24th St. (yummy horchata and freshly-made guacamole)

Recipe by Olga

Here is a recipe for borsht (you can make it veg or non-veg; I think beef-based borscht is the best :)


1-2 Russet potatoes
1 large onion
2 large carrots
2 medium size beets
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cabbage
1-2 tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 bay leaf
a few celery sticks
parsley, dill, cilantro
salt, pepper
1 tbsp brown sugar
1-2 cans of vegetable or beef broth (if you want to make your own beef broth, rinse and boil a few chucks of meat on the bone, remove the meat and use the liquid, add small chunks of meat back into the borscht when ready to serve)

Saute onions, garlic, celery; add pureed tomatoes (without the skin), sugar, and tomato paste - mix well and add to a large stock pot. Finely slice carrots and beets like matchsticks, add to the pot. Fill the pot with vegetable or beef stock and water. Bring to a boil. Add the bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Simmer on medium. Peel and cube the potatoes, add to the soup. When beets and potatoes are almost done, add finely chopped cabbage. After the soup is ready (basically, when all the vegetables are cooked - but not overcooked!), add parsley, dill, cilantro. Serve hot with sour cream and garlic bread rolls (just brush warm dinner rolls with a garlic-oil mixture - 4 cloves of pressed garlic + 2 tbsp canola oil + salt). 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Homemade Spätzle - Cook It 2012: January Resolution

Freshly made Spätzle
I've never been very good at making resolutions for the coming year. Never mind about keeping to them. It isn't that I don't try new things or get a lot done, because I do; but let's just say my creative eye tends to wander in new directions. Constantly.

So I was charmed by Grow It Cook It Can It's simple approach: to master a new kitchen technique each month of the year. I eagerly hopped on board Cook It! 2012.

The cold nights of January definitely deserve pasta, so the first month's challenge was a shoe-in. In fact, I had been thinking about and pinning lots of homemade pasta recipes already. Ravioli, paparadelle, linguine.... I had visions of dough dancing in my head. But, I decided to go with something a little closer to home for my first fresh pasta foray: Spätzle (also Spaetzle, the 'ae' being a written substitute in German for the umlaut).

Zum Wohl! Family gathering in Germany (mit Bier u. Spätzle)

My mother is from southern Germany—Swabia to be precise—where Spätzle reigns. My Oma (grandmother) and virtually all my relatives regularly made it as a side dish, and you could always bank on it being there on the plate with Schnitzel for special occasions.

I've helped make it countless times in my mom's kitchen, but I am embarrassed to say even though my mom sent me home a Spätzle press as a gift direct from the homeland a couple summers ago, I had yet to use it for Spätzle in my own kitchen. Though I have used it as a potato ricer a time or two.

Beckoning to be used

Though my Mom's typical presentation at home is with goulasch (this has remained my chosen birthday meal since childhood), I'm just covering a recipe for the noodles here plus a couple simple ways to serve them.

It takes just four basic ingredients!

Mix in the eggs stirring from the center out

Slowly add in milk or water as you beat the batter

Once consistency is smooth & somewhat stretchy, it's ready to go

Filling the press

Make sure water is rapidly boiling before adding noodles

Spätzle in the making

Noodles are ready when they rise to the surface

Repeat with rest of batter

Two batches of Spätzle

Beautiful bowl of freshly made pasta

Mom's Recipe for Spätzle
(Proportions adapted from metric measurements, there is room for experimentation if you want)

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk (or water), plus 1-2 tablespoons as needed to reach right consistency

Optional: A small pinch or grating of fresh nutmeg can be added to the flour mixture before mixing in the wet ingredients.

Sift flour into a large bowl. Stir in salt. Make an indentation in the middle of the flour and add eggs.

Stir from center out and add liquid gradually to avoid clumps. You want consistency to be moist but not wet, so gauge your milk/water quantity accordingly. If you your dough seems too moist, just add a bit more flour, or vice versa if too dry, add more milk.

Beat batter with a wooden spoon until smooth and it begins to stiffen up. (Spätzle stirring was hands-down my favorite kitchen job as a kid!) Let dough rest for approximately 5 minutes and spoon into Spätzle press. Drop noodles into large pot of rapidly boiling water. The Spätzle will rise to the surface when cooked. Remove them and place in a sieve or collander to drain. Repeat until all Spätzle are cooked. If serving plain you can drop the entire batch into boiling water very briefly to warm up, but not for too long or they will get soggy. Strain and serve.

Serves 2-4 generously

Simply delicious!
If you are going to eat the Spätzle as a side dish, depending on what they are accompanying you can leave them plain (best if serving with rich sauce or meat) or top them with a bit of butter, salt and pepper to taste, and serve. You can also lightly pan fry them in a little oil or butter and top with fresh herbs such as parsley and chives or dill.

I tend to like them plain or more simply prepared, but if you prefer you can saute thinly sliced yellow onions until golden brown and lightly carmelized and then bake the noodles with cheese (Emmenthaler or similar, or Quark if you can find it from a local cheesemaker) and onions for a German-style cheesy casserole dish: Käsespätzle. Peas can be a nice flavor addition too, or you can add chard or zucchini. Really, have fun with them the way you would another type of pasta and find the way you like them best.

Käsespätzle with a chicken breast "Schnitzel"
Don't own a press? No problem. It's traditional to hand-cut Spätzle, though it does take a bit of getting used to since the dough is moister and stickier than Italian pasta, and therefore cannot be rolled out. It's simplest to spread the dough on the edge of a wooden cutting board (use one with a handle if you've got it), and while resting the board on the edge of the pot, cut and swipe pieces of dough directly into the boiling water. You can experiment with the ratio of ingredients a bit to get the consistency you find easiest to work with - generally batter with more eggs is a bit fluffier in the finished product but more flour makes easier work of cutting it.

Guten Appetit!

Next up, February's Cook It! resolution is bread. I have yet to decide exactly what type I'll be tackling, but it will most likely put my sourdough starter to use.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Dynamic Duo: Meyer Lemon Curd & Cardamom Rose Meringues

Citrus season is upon us! If you are lucky enough to have a Meyer lemon tree in your yard (or a neighbor's) I highly recommend making some Meyer Lemon Curd.

Freshly scrubbed organic Meyer Lemons 
The homemade stuff is beyond compare. Fresh lemon (or other citrus) curd is like a flavor bomb for your palate and its creaminess is something the store-bought versions will never, ever deliver. Plus, since you will end up with extra egg whites from your curd, why not double up and make some meringues?

I recently discovered my love for citrus curds, so already knew that's what I wanted to do with the Meyers procured from the last swap. But I was surprised to learn just how easy lemon curd is to make.

Essentially all you do is zest and juice the lemons, add eggs and butter, cook, strain and put it in jars. If you can wait that long. Fair warning that you may just start eating it from the bowl directly!

Mmm, zesty.
Straining your lemon curd
Cooling jars
Eat it by the spoonful if you like!

I used My Pantry Shelf's Meyer Lemon Curd recipe and loved the results! That said, I have a few notes based on my wayward recipe-following ways...

By accident I grabbed the wrong measuring cup and didn't figure it out until later, so my curd had only 3/4 cup sugar which left it on the tart side, but still plenty sweet for my liking.

My lemons were a variety of sizes, so it took 6-7 of my lemons to produce the required 1 cup of fresh lemon juice. Also, I used 4 oz. jars so I adjusted the processing time to 10 minutes. Yield was 5 jars.

After this success, I was motivated to put my four extra egg whites to use. Meringues immediately came to mind. A quick recipe search resulted in countless options, but I was looking for one that would put ingredients I already had in the house to use. (Well, actually in full disclosure I did borrow cream of tartar from my neighbor since I didn't want to break my stride and make an excursion to the store just for that. I repaid her in merigues so it all worked out. Thanks Betsy!). Even better when I landed upon one I could adapt to use my rose water in. Enter Cardamom Rose Meringues.

My only variations here were doubling the recipe and using rose water instead of rose extract. Based on substitution proportions I found online, I substituted 1 tablespoon rose water for 1 teaspoon rose extract and reduced the amount of water in the recipe. (I did some calculations on how much to reduce the water, but can't make much sense of my math scribbles, so will leave that in your undoubtedly capable hands if you wish to go the same course).

I let my inner perfectionist go...
Again, even though everyone always says meringues are tricky, I found them remarkably easy and satisfying to make. Which doesn't mean they were a treat for the eyes...

I don't own any piping equipment, and though I knew you can jerry-rig your own with a ziploc bag, overconfidence had me thinking, "I can do this with spoons like the recipe says. How hard can it be?".  Well, judging by the photo shown here, it's pretty darn hard. I realized this after just one or two attempts, but I just decided to kind of go with it.

Did they end up looking more like crazy sand sculptures or Gaudí-esque creations than the quintessential merigue drops? Yes. But more importantly everyone I gifted them to said they were delicious! And their imperfection kind of made me smile.

Next time around I probably will try to make them prettier, and I'm going to make some of this homemade natural food coloring so I can dose them with color too.