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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mama Masha's Kitchen - Is that garbage on your plate or are you just happy to see me?

There are many strange, wonderful and even creepy dishes out there. The French frog legs and escargot never leave anyone feeling indifferent: people either love them or loath them. The soft shell crab sandwich is delicious, but many do not get to experience it, because they cannot get over the weirdness of the crab’s claws and eyes peeking out between the buns. At Halloween, one can always count on numerous web sites posting lists of scary-looking snacks (deviled egg eyeballs, anyone?). Needless to say, the further you get outside of your zip code, the more you must be prepared to step outside of your comfort zone, as far as food is concerned. In many countries, traditions associated with food are ancient and carefully observed. So, as a visitor, you wouldn’t want to show up and disrespect your hosts by making a face at a local delicacy.

Fortunately for the more culinary timid of us, not nearly all fun and interesting dishes out there are as jarringly bizarre for a common-fare eater as, for example, the Chinese roasted tiger penis. Some of them you can even prepare at home and have some fun in the process.

The Garbage Plate

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Maine is famous for its lobsters, Louisiana is famous for Cajun cuisine and Rochester, New York, having looked around and found nothing else suitable, decided to become famous as the place where the Garbage Plate was invented. While variations on the dish exist all around Upstate New York, the name “Garbage Plate” is actually trademark and only used at Nick Tahou Hots – the restaurant whose owner came up with the dish.

The original Garbage Plate includes a choice of hamburger or hots (hot dogs that is), fish, fried ham, grilled cheese, or eggs, two sides, and a choice of sauce. Not surprisingly, with this list of ingredients, this culinary delight holds the record as the fattiest dish in New York state. While it is hailed by the fans as utterly yummy, even the hard-core admirers agree – this thing needs to come with a complimentary 911 call due to a high likelihood of instant artery clogging and heart attack.

That said, nobody is stopping you from inventing your own garbage plate. The beauty of it is that it can include absolutely anything. It works great as a cookout offering, the added bonus being that you don’t have to make it look pretty as you serve, in fact, the sloppier the better and stuff dripping off the edges is totally in keeping with the tradition. Just be sure to provide plenty of paper towels. The garbage plate is also an awesome way to get rid of leftovers that seemingly don’t go with each other. You simply pile them on – those that need to be heated first – nuke them in the microwave, then add the cold components.

Here is my personal version of the garbage plate – the main point being to get the sloppy things to mix really well so that you can have something truly yummy to sop up with a piece of bread afterward.

Components (I can’t call them ingredients, because these are things that are already cooked and have a few ingredients of their own):

•Cole slaw, potato salad or pasta salad (you can pick one or several – doesn’t matter as long as you can fit it all onto one plate).

•Cooked ground beef, a hamburger patty, or a couple of hot dogs (Hebrew National are my favorites).

•Cubed fried potatoes.

•Sauteed onions, mushrooms and whatever other veggies you want to throw in.

•Several slices of cheese.

•A mix of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.

Building the plate:

•Start with the starch – fried potatoes go on the bottom.

•Layer the meat on top of the starch.

•Cheese on top of the meat.

•Sauteed veggies on top of that.

•Nuke it all together, once everything is hot and cheese is melted, add the slaw or salad wherever you can squeeze it on the side.

•Squeeze the fresh sliced veggies in the space left after that and drizzle with a bit of olive oil, whiskey salt and balsamic vinegar.

•Grab a fork and go for it!

•For an additional dose of fun and sloppiness, you can have some ketchup and barbecue sauce on the side to dip things into. Don’t forget to have a slice of really good bread on hand to wipe up the plate.

Herring in a Fur Coat

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I am not sure why so many people here in the United States dislike herring. Growing up in Ukraine, herring was one of the few things that were fairly easy to get: pickled, canned or smoked. Many people prepared and preserved herring their own way. In any case, it was a popular meal component, especially during big family gatherings. My favorite part was decorating the herring platter. The herring was already pre sliced, and laid out neatly – head to tail. My job was to surround it with neat round slices of onions with a pickled pea in each one, representing sea pearls. Then, just for fun, I would stick a sprig of green onion or parsley into the herring’s mouth.

Herring in a Fur Coat is another favorite for a celebratory table, and, despite of what you might think (“Ugh, salty, slimy herring…”) it is not only yummy but is also comparatively nutritious.

Ingredients:

•Pickled filet of herring. Filet costs more, but trust me – you’ll thank yourself later, when you don’t have to deal with the tiny snappy herring bones. The quantity depends on the container, in which you buy it and on how salty you want the dish to be. Let’s say get enough to fill a small mixing bowl – about two cups’ worth.

•Two medium-size potatoes.

•Three large carrots.

•Two large beets or two cans of pre-sliced canned beets (not pickled – just the regular canned ones).

•One large onion (I prefer Vidalia).

•One large apple.

•Mayo

Prep:

•Cook potatoes, carrots and beets (if using raw beets).

•Let the veggies cool and then peel (much easier once they are cooked).

•Chop the onions.

•Chop the herring as finely as you can.

•Shred potatoes, carrots and beets on the finest side of your shredder (for the uninitiated – that’s the side with the smallest holes in it).

•Peel and core the apple, then shred it on the medium side of the shredder.

•In a large flat serving dish, lay out the shredded potatoes in a nice even layer, then smear with a thin layer of mayo.

•Add a layer of herring, smear with mayo. (Are you getting a hang of this yet?)

•Add a layer of onion. Nope, no mayo – not yet.

•Add a layer of carrots, then smear with mayo.

•Add a layer of apple, smear with mayo.

•Add a layer of beets, and spread it to cover both the top and the sides, if possible.

•Decorate any way you want – with some peas and carrots, with sprigs of parsley or other herbs.

•Place into the fridge for three hours to chill. You can eat it right away, but it is so much yummier when all the flavors had a chance to sort of merge together.

•Serve as you would a layered cake – with a large spatula or actually with a cake server.

Dimlama

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My parents were fun adventurous people – yes, even my dad, despite his extremely even-keeled temper and perpetually serene demeanor. They had a way of attracting interesting people, objects, jobs, books and projects, so our house was never dull. Naturally, the spirit of adventure was well and truly a part of our culinary atmosphere.

Mom was the one to seek out weird and interesting facts about foods and edible substances. For instance, it was my mom who taught me to dip a straw into an ant hill and then lick off the formic acid, which is a fancy name for ant spit. Gross, I know, but it actually tasted much like lemon, and, as far as I was concerned, it was worth trying just for the sheer weirdness factor.

Dad’s job as a commercial pilot took him all over the former Soviet Union. While it was tough being on the road all the time, he took it as an opportunity to expand his already massive recipe library by making a point of picking up a popular local recipe, be it Vladivostok, Riga or Alma-Ata.

He picked up one such gem during a trip to Uzbekistan – a dish called Dimlama, which rapidly became a huge party favorite with friends and family, so much so that they specifically requested it well in advance of the next gathering, so that Dad would have time to get the necessary ingredients.

You will notice that, like other dishes described here, Dimlama consists of layers, but, despite the seemingly large number of ingredients, is actually not difficult to make.

One thing you will need is a large deep cast iron pot. You may actually need a cooking buddy just to ge t this thing on and off the stove. Pots like that are heavy on their own and become truly unwieldy when filled with ingredients.

While Dimlama is not at all as time-intensive as Thanksgiving turkey, you will want to start all the slicing and dicing well in advance, as the cooking part takes up to 2 hours.

Ingredients:

•One pound of beef sliced into small cubes.

•Three medium-size onions.

•Two large carrots.

•Three large bell peppers. Make it fun, get one in each color: red, green and orange or yellow.

•Four medium-size potatoes.

•A small cabbage head.

•Two cloves of garlic.

•Three sizable tomatoes.

•Your favorite green herbs, like green onions, parsley, or dill, salt and spices like black pepper, paprika, chili, etc. Note: the easiest way to pick, which herbs to use together, if you want to use more than one, is to mix a small pinch of them in the palm of your hand and then smell it. If it smells good – go for it. But if the smells are conflicting with each other, then try another combo.

Prep:

Note: do not place the pot onto the stove, until I tell you to. Pour enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom and a little bit of the walls of the pot.

•Place the meat in a layer at the bottom of the pot.

•Add a little bit of salt and pepper, but not too much, because you’ll be adding some to other layers. If you are using any herbs, this is a good time to add some as well.

•Chop the veggies coarsely and layer on top of the meat as follows: onions, carrots, bell peppers, potatoes, cabbage, garlic, tomatoes, the remainder of the herbs.

•Place the pan uncovered on high heat for 2-3 minutes.

•Cover tightly, reduce the heat to low-medium and cook for 1-1/2 – 2 hours. Check on it periodically but do not mix.

•Serve straight out of the pot with two long spatulas, so that each portion would have all of the layers.

•The adventurous types can try experimenting with other veggies, like cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, and zucchini, as well as with fruit, like dried apricots, plums or raisins.

Now go have some fun. If you have to be weird, kitchen is the perfect place to do just that.

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