Archive for the ‘Kids’ Category

Lost childhood recipe – soda bread rolls

Friday, March 6th, 2009

During a recent conversation with a high school friend, I rediscovered a favorite recipe from my childhood – the first that I loved making by myself. I must have been around eight years old when I first kneaded dough and baked my first soda bread rolls. After that I would often sneak into the kitchen and bake these treats, to be devoured dripping with butter, honey and Bulgarian feta cheese.

Bulgarian soda bread rolls

I loved home baked goods since my early days and would constantly nag my sleep-deprived and overworked mother to bake for me. She would give in sometimes, but after I learned this recipe I became our family’s baker. I was enchanted by the sifting of the dry ingredients, the squishy sound the dough made when getting it together, the squeaking of my grand mother’s table when I was kneading it, and the amazing smell of freshly baked bread.

Since then I’ve learned many more complicated bread recipes, but the soda bread rolls have a special place in my childhood memories. I haven’t done them for years, replaced by British scones and American biscuits when the urge to bake something fast came along. But when my friend said that she had baked them for dinner, memories started pouring over me. My parents’ old kitchen came to me with the aged oven, the battered baking pans, the shaky table with the red and white checkered plastic cover and the scent of soda rolls. I could see my long-dead cat sleeping on the window sill, the small fridge mounted over the washing machine and the chestnut tree that was the first to bloom in the spring in the whole city.

There is no window in my kitchen here, no blooming trees either, only snow covered roofs and yards. But my eight-year-old daughter is as enthusiastic about baking as I was at her age and eager to help me. Together we made a batch of my childhood’s favorite delight, both eight years old and happy.

Soda bread rolls (makes eight):

  • 2 ¾ cups all purpose unbleached flour plus extra for kneading
  • 1 cup natural yogurt (buttermilk)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut in 8 pieces

Preheat oven at 450°F (230°C) with racks positioned in the middle. In a big mixing bowl sift the flout, salt and sugar. In a smaller bowl mix the yogurt with the baking soda, olive oil and vinegar. Stir well until the mixture starts bubbling – very important otherwise the dough could turn bitter from the baking soda.

Make a well in the flour and pour in the yogurt mixture. With a circular motion start incorporating the ingredients with a fork until soft sticky dough forms. Add a little flour at a time when kneading until the dough is not so sticky, but still soft. Let it rest for 15 minutes.

With a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil smear eight circles about the size of an ordinary glass on a baking sheet, spacing them 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Don’t simply oil the whole surface or the oil might start smoking in the hot oven.

Divide the dough into eight parts, roll them into balls and place on the oiled surfaces. Make an indignation in the middle with your index finger and push in a knob of butter. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the rolls are golden brown. Serve warm with butter, jam, honey or cold cuts and cheese. The rolls make a great part of brunch or a light supper during a never-ending Chicago winter.

The ultimate weekend breakfast – homemade pakcakes

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

I love pancakes, crepes, thick buttery Bulgarian katmi, but making them always turns into a nervous nightmare. I can’t even be around in the kitchen when somebody else is flipping the batter. I have fought this curious malady, but so far with no success, and so I was happy to surrender to my husband’s willingness to take over this part of our diet. Over the years we spent in Poland with no commercial pancake mixes he developed a recipe that makes great fluffy cakes, which we devour at least twice a month. Some of our American friends were shocked to find out that pancakes could be made without any help from Aunt Jemima. Even now in the States he uses this simple recipe much to my delight.

The greatness of pancakes is that they are the base for so many yummy condiments. I usually eat them savory with feta or goat cheese, sun dried tomatoes, baby green salad, but the rest of my family is more orthodox and goes for good quality jam or maple syrup. Even if you are a pancake mix devotee, try this courtesy of my other half and you’ll see how easy it’s to make them by yourself. Our kids love to help during the process, something we are happy to oblige.

Here’s his recipe:

Buttermilk pancakes (serves four)


  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 3 eggs

Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the salt and sugar, then the eggs and buttermilk. Mix lightly until large lumps disappear, but don’t overmix if you’re not a fan of flat, rubbery cakes. The batter should be of a thick but flowing consistency – add a bit of water if it becomes too thick. Fry over a medium flame until golden on both sides. Serve with maple syrup, or whatever you have at hand – I’ve seen good use made of all kinds of jams and preserves, but also of goat cheese and pickled onions, not to mention a variety of cured meats.

Going East – Won ton with minced pork and fresh herbs

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

These little bundles stuffed with meat, vegetables or shrimp are my favorite Asian food. I can have them steamed, fried, boiled, in soup, with dips, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. A restaurant devoted only to those parcels of joy would be my ultimate dining heaven. Toss in Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, Chinese dim sum and Japanese gyoza and I will move to live there, wherever it might be.

Won ton

For years I was deprived of Asian dumplings and had to do with Polish pierogi (not that I don’t like them) and the occasional tired won ton or pot sticker in some mediocre eatery in Warsaw. I would have loved to make them myself, but the ingredients were hard to get, and it looked a bit too complicated. Well, not any more. The Asian stores in Chicago are amazing and once I found them my won ton obsession blossomed once more. With frozen pastry for all kinds of wraps and rolls, exotic herbs, vegetables and fresh shrimp cheaper than a pound of nuts, I was indeed in dumpling heaven. And it all was in my own kitchen.

The best won ton wrappers I have found so far are Dynasty brand – 3.5X3.5 inch (8X8 cm) in about 12 oz (340 g) packs. As for spring rolls – I use  Spring Home brand Tyj spring roll pastry – also frozen 5.5X5.5 inch (14X14 cm), 50 sheets. Those come with very helpful picture instructions on how to proceed. As for the filling – the sky is the limit. The best meat is fresh minced pork that is well marbled (lean is no good – it will be too dry once cooked). Napa cabbage, been sprouts, cilantro (coriander), Asian mint and basil can add a brighter flavor.

My kids love rolling spring rolls and fight over the limited counter space. I’m always amazed by the quantities they can eat in one sitting, and all that without complaining about the weird greens. Won tons are also on their favorite list, though they yet have to master the wrapping technique. It took me almost an hour the first time I made them, but now I’m pretty good, though not yet as good as an Asian chef. As with any other dumplings, once you get to it it’s better to make at least a double batch and freeze the extras, as you’ll probably have your fill of stuffing, folding and shaping for some time.

Won ton with minced pork

makes about 48 dumplings

  • 1 lb (500 g) minced pork
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ½ cup shredded Napa cabbage
  • ½ cup been sprouts, chopped
  • ½ cup fresh mint, cilantro or Asian basil, chopped, loosely packed
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • ¼ tsp sesame oil
  • 1 pack 12 oz (340 g) 3.5X3.5 inch (8X8 cm) won ton wrappers – about 50, defrosted for about an hour
  • cup with water and a brush

In a bowl combine all the ingredients and mix well. On a clean surface place one wrapper. Spoon 1 teaspoonful of the mixture in the middle. Brush all the edges with water. Fold in half to form a triangle. Starting from the filling, squeeze the air out gently by brushing with your fingers towards the edges, then press to seal the won ton.

Now wrap one end around your finger, brush with a little water and press the other end to seal:

There, your won ton is ready. Place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper to prevent the dumplings form sticking to each other. Repeat with the rest.

The first few will be hard, but once you get it, it’ll be easier. Don’t overlap the won tons on the sheet and be careful to dry your hands and work surface – the wrappers get sticky when wet and they are hard to take back apart. You can make this few hours before cooking. Cover with foil and let stand at room temperature. Count the amount you will need and freeze the rest on a metal sheet, then transfer to freezer bags or containers. When needed take them out and lay on flat surface for at least an hour. Use in aromatic clear Thai soup or fry and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

We love them the pot sticker way:

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat with ½ cup (125 ml) water and 2 tbsp vegetable oil for each 16 dumplings. Cover and cook for 6-8 min. They should be cooked through and have brown crispy bottoms. This is the side you should be serving them on. The taste explosion when you bite one is tremendous. They are great dipped in Chinese black vinegar or soy sauce, but I like to complicate things. My favorite is Vietnamese soy sauce recipe given by Trieu Thi Choi and Marcel Isaak in their Authentic Recipes from Vietnam.

Vietnamese soy sauce:

makes ½ cup

  • ¼ cup (60 ml) soy sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp sugar (palm sugar preferable, but any will do)
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 small red chili, deseeded and minced (or ½ tsp chili garlic sauce)
  • 2 tbsp lime juice

Combine everything in a bowl and mix well.

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