Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Beef Stroganoff, or Stroganov, is a dish most of us are probably familiar with. It seems to me to have been particularly popular in the 1960s. Although maybe that’s just because my mom loved it and we had it fairly often when I was a kid growing up. In case you’ve never had it, Stroganoff consists of sautéed pieces of beef served in a sauce with sour cream. It originated in mid-19th Century-Russia and has become popular around the world, with variations as numerous as the countries in which it appears.

We know the name derived from the Russian diplomat and minister of the interior, Alexander Stroganov, but how it came about and why is still mystery. The recipe appeared for the first time in a classic Russian cookbook in 1871. Over time, the dish changed from containing floured beef cubes sautéed and sauced with mustard and bouillon and finished with a small amount of sour cream, to include onions and tomato sauce and sometimes mushrooms.

Traditionally in Russian, Beef Stroganoff is served with a side of crisp potato straws. In the UK and Australia the dish is usually served over pasta, and in the U.S. over egg noodles. Definitely my favorite way to eat it!

The “Bible” (Larousse Gastronomique, published in 1938) lists Stroganov as a cream, paprika, veal stock and white wine recipe. And many of the recipes I looked up for Beef Stroganoff contain most of these ingredients or a version therefore. But I make mine a little differently.

In fact, I don’t use beef at all!

Consider this meat-free version containing mushrooms instead. It makes for an excellent vegetarian lunch served with a salad. Or, serve it alongside a steak or some roasted chicken for a heartier dinner. This recipe will serve about 3-4.

Mushroom Stroganoff

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound mushrooms (I like using a combination of a few dried wild mushrooms such as porcini, which I reconstitute in some hot water for about 20-30 minutes, as well as mostly fresh mushrooms, preferably the darker Italian crimini mushrooms and portobellos and a few of the regular white).
1 good sized shallot, minced
2 or more garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp dry sherry or white or red wine (whatever you have open)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 - 1 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
fresh chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the mushrooms gently, stirring occasionally until they are softened and just cooked. If you have a cast iron pan, cook until they are a little browned. This will add some additional flavor to the final product.
Add the shallots, garlic and sherry/wine and cook for a minute more. Season well.
Stir in the sour cream (start with 3/4 cup and see if that’s enough for you) and heat to just below boiling. Stir in the thyme, then scatter the parsley on top. Serve over egg noodles, rice, pasta, or boiled new potatoes.

Wine recommendation: I would open just about any red wine to go with a Stroganoff especially something hearty, like a Zinfandel or Syrah. In fact, I think the pepperiness of a Syrah/Shiraz would be ideal.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

What to Cook this Week - Brussels Sprouts

While I’m all about starting the new year off with healthy food, especially after the excesses of the holiday season, I’m not above reaching for comfort food when I need it. And, to be completely honest, I could use some this week.

Casseroles are the very definition of comfort food, aren’t they? Warm and delicious, they soothe both the soul and our stomach.

On this week’s menu is the following “casserole”, if you will. In French, it would be called a gratin, which basically means “to grate”, such as in grated cheese. But this is not what the word originally referred to. Instead it meant something more like “scrapings”. This referred to the browned crust that would develop either on top or on the bottom of the dish as it baked, which would at some point during the cooking process be stirred back into the dish.

Over time though, we’ve come to call a gratin a dish whereby a crust forms on the top of something we bake, whether this crust forms by itself, through the addition of breadcrumbs or cheese on top, or is accelerated by passing the dish under a broiler. And we don’t stir it back into the dish anymore, because, why would we?  It’s so much better left on top. It makes for a beautiful presentation, when finished cooking.

A “gratin” can also simply refer to the type of cookware in which the dish is cooked. Typically gratin baking dishes are oval (see photo, right), but they can also be round. The dish is typically of a clay-based ceramic, but can also be metal or oven-proof glass. Regardless of what sort of dish it’s in  I suggest you give this recipe a try.

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

1 Tbsp butter
2/3 cup heavy cream*
2/3 cup milk*
3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (saving 1 Tbsp for the end)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced**
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Preheat your oven to 300F.

Butter a shallow ovenproof dish.  Blend together the cream, milk, 2 Tbsp. of the cheese and seasoning.

Place a layer of Brussels sprouts in the dish and sprinkle with some of the chopped garlic. Pour over about 1/4 of the cream mixture. Continue adding another layer of sprouts, garlic and cream mix, building layers like a lasagne, ending with cream and milk and then another tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.

Cover loosely with waxed paper and bake 1-1/4 hours. Halfway through the cooking time, remove the paper and press the Brussels sprouts under the liquid in the dish. Return to the oven to brown.

* So here I would simply just use 1-1/3 cups of half and half, preferably organic.
** Sometimes you can find them already sliced, or “shaved”, ready to go, at your market.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

What to Cook this Week

Artichokes are strange-looking things and are in fact, thistles. Spiky, thorny plants, actually. They are not well-known in Germany and so I didn’t grow up with them. It wasn’t until I was introduced to them through my husband that I really started eating them. One of his family’s favorite appetizers is an artichoke dip that we’d see every year at Thanksgiving. There was MAJOR disappointment in fact if it didn’t appear on the table at every family gathering! Although I found them rather weird in the beginning, I took to them and have loved them ever since.

The artichoke is mentioned as a garden plant in the 8th Century by Homer and Hesiod. In fact, the naturally occurring variant for the artichoke, the cardoon, is native to the Mediterranean area. In its wild state it can also be found in Northern Africa. Improvements in the cultivated form appear to have taken place in the Medieval period in Spain, France, Italy, Holland and England. From Europe they were taken to the United States in the 19th Century; to Louisiana by French immigrants and to California by the Spanish.

There are several cultivars that consist of either green, purple, white and spined varieties. In the U.S., large globe artichokes are typically boiled or steamed. Each country prepares them differently: some in stews, some eaten as appetizers, as we typically do, by pulling off a leaf and dipping it into mayonnaise, butter or hollandaise sauce. In many countries, artichokes are served stuffed with fillings. In Northern Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and Armenia a favorite filling is made of lamb, spices, onions and raisins, each leaf acting as a scoop to get to the filling. I’ve never tried making them this way but am intrigued and have to give that a try some time. You just have to pry them open a little after lightly steaming them, I imagine, to get all that stuffing goodness in there.

If you do steam them plain, as most people typically do, here’s trick to keeping them green. Due to oxidation, artichokes can turn brown once cooked. To avoid this, place them in slightly acidified water with vinegar or lemon juice added to prevent discoloration. This helps them maintain that bright green color. Brown artichokes are not very pretty!

So, today I have an artichoke recipe I’d like you to try. This makes a great weeknight dinner that you can get on the table fairly quickly.

Chicken with Artichokes and Olives

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1 tsp olive oil
2/3 cup chicken broth
1 can artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup pitted nicoise olives*
2 Tbsp drained capers
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp dried organo
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
Lemon wedges

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place each breast half between sheets of plastic wrap and with a flat mallet or rolling pin, gently and evenly pound chicken to 1/4” thick. Peel off plastic wrap.

Pour oil into an 11-12” non-stick fry pan over high heat, and when oil is hot, add chicken in a single layer, without crowding. When edges begin to turn white, turn pieces and cook until no longer pink in the center, 3-4 minutes total. As chicken is cooked, transfer to a platter and keep warm. If you’re working in batches, cook the next batch.

Add broth, artichoke hearts, olives, capers, lemon juice and oregano to the pan; stir, scraping browned bits free, until mixture boils. Stir in parsley, and then spoon sauce evenly over chicken. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with lemon wedges.

If you eat noodles, this works over hot cooked capellini (angel hair pasta), otherwise lightly cooked zucchini “noodles”. Serve with a green salad with slivers of fennel.

I would serve this with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc or Fume Blanc.

* You can use kalamata olives, but they are a bit too strong for this dish. The Nicoise olives are a bit more subtle.

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