Wednesday, May 12, 2010



This, my little cheese volcano, is a minimally tamer version of what is often dubbed as a “heart attack on a plate.” Please meet khachapuri, a traditional dish in [the Republic of] Georgia. It’s my invitation to you, a cultural free pass, if you will, to eat a half-pound of cheese. Other regional versions are shaped like boats and topped with egg (don’t worry, you’re not missing out on any calories--this one is painted with butter), and I’ve read that some even come with bacon baked inside. I first ate khachapuri at a Georgian restaurant in Russia, and have since found it at bakeries in Chicago and San Francisco (and, oddly, a chain of restaurants in Krakow, Poland).


I’m conflicted about sharing this recipe, as it is not entirely authentic. Usually this would not bother me, but khachapuri without the right kind of cheese is perhaps not worth pursuing very far. Georgian khachapuri is filled with a pickled cheese called suluguni, and since I cannot find it near me, I followed Gourmet’s suggestion of mixing Havarti and mozzarella. The combination was “eh,” and I would recommend seeking out suluguni if you are considering this dairy monolith. I ate (shared) my khachapuri on its own since I made it for a project in Russian class (sometimes grad school is awesome), but to round out the meal, you could find a Russian/European grocery store and buy some frozen khinkali (Georgian dumplings), sour cream, and search online for a dish with walnuts and eggplant. Or make shashlik (kabobs)!


My babushki, the two old women I lived with in Russia, were proponents of the eat-more-butter-because-you’re-not-going-to-be-a-ballerina-anyway approach to eating. They suggested (actually, yelled) to me that butter is an absolutely integral part of maintaining internal health, as it lubricates your veins and lets your blood flow without any hindrance. This one goes out to them.



From Gourmet, May 2008


2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast (1/4-oz package)

7 tbsp warm water (for this I like to do the “Would you feed this to a baby?” test. If the answer is “I don’t know,” you can run the water against the back of your wrist; it should feel neutral--not hot or cold. Now you know how to be nice to yeast and babies!)

1 2/3 c unbleached all-purpose flour, set 1 tbsp of this aside

¾ tsp salt

1 large egg

¼ lb Havarti cheese, grated

¼ lb salted mozzarella, grated (if your mozzarella is not salted, you will have to play around with the added salt proportions)

1 tsp unsalted butter, melted


Mix yeast into warm water and add 1 tbsp of flour. Let stand until yeast is activated (the mixture will look creamy and bubbly).

Stir flour and salt together in a large bowl, add egg and yeast and stir to form dough.

Flour a surface in your kitchen (I just used a cutting board), and knead the dough until elastic. When I made my Russian presentation on khachapuri, I found a baking phrase that means “until the dough is ready for further manipulation,” which I liked a lot.

Form dough into a ball, dust with flour, and let this sit in a bowl for approximately 2 hours, punching down twice within that time period.

Preheat oven to 475.

Turn out dough onto your baking pan and flatten into a disk, approximately 7 inches across.

Take your grated cheeses and press into a tight ball. Place the cheese ball in the center of your dough disk, gather the dough up around the ball, and twist into a knot. Push down on the center of the ball with fist, and continue to spread the cheese out with your hands until you have a dough disk that is approximately 8 inches across. I used a rolling pin after the cheese was evenly distributed so ensure a smooth, round disk.

Cut an X through the top of the dough to expose cheese. Be careful not to cut through the whole disk! Put in the oven until lightly browned, for about 10 minutes. Brush dough with melted butter and cook for 5 minutes more.

The cheese is molten at this point, so let the khachapuri cool until it won’t burn your mouth. Cut into wedges and serve.

Note: Gourmet calls for a floured pizza pan of at least 12 inches or a large, floured baking sheet. I used (surprise) my roasting pan, which was a good call, since the khachapuri turns into a veritable hava-rella eruption in the oven. If I were to make this again, I would not flour the entire pan, as the flour not covered by the dough ended up burning in the 475 degree oven.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Roasted Potatoes with Garlic, Tomatoes, and Green Beans


My dad likes precision. If I do not give a straight numeric answer to questions--how many miles to the hotel from Nevsky Prospekt, how many rubles for a taxi--he will protest with, “Well is it more than one, or fewer than a thousand?” Eventually I’ll reach a satisfactory number--fewer than two miles, forty dollars if you’re lucky--and I’m reminded that what is familiar to me needs concrete grounding in order to be understood.


I’ve been making this recipe for years (more than one, fewer than a thousand), and have never written it down. I use enough potatoes to fill the pan without overcrowding, as many tomatoes as will fit, and a few fistfuls of green beans. (I’ll confess to looking back at the pictures and counting tomatoes and green beans so I could capture this recipe.) It’s extremely flexible to what you have around you, and I bet it would be delicious if you substituted other herbs (or vegetables, but then you’d have to change the title…)


Roasted Potatoes with Garlic, Tomatoes, and Green Beans


Olive oil

Small potatoes (about a pound and a half)

Cherry tomatoes (one carton, or approximately twenty)

Green beans (thirty-one?)

2 garlic cloves (or more!) (or fewer!)

Basil (optional, but when you use it, a fourth cup of chopped basil is usually enough)

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste


Set oven to 400 degrees.

While the oven is heating, slice cherry tomatoes in half. Crush and mince garlic (give them a good whack--unpeeled--with the flat your knife blade, take off the peel and mince them). Put tomatoes in a bowl with garlic and mix.

Slice potatoes thinly--approximately ¼ inch thick. Throw them into a bowl with a few glugs (enough to coat, or about three tablespoons) of olive oil and salt those guys. Scatter potatoes onto a rimmed baking sheet (sprayed with nonstick spray if you want; I didn’t and everything turned out okay) and put in oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until potatoes are starting to crisp. Make sure you mix the potatoes approximately every ten minutes so they get evenly cooked.

Cut the ends of the green beans and boil them until they are fork-tender. Drain and put aside (this works nicely if you start the beans and time them to finish around when the potatoes are almost finished.)

When the potatoes are crispy and brown (but not all the way done), take the roasting pan out of the oven and mix in the tomatoes and green beans. Put back in the oven until everything is warm (ten minutes or so). Salt and pepper to taste, and top with chopped basil.


You should scale the recipe down if you’re eating for one. The leftovers are never as good as the first day.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

No recipes yet, just a pan.

Hi, I’m Lauren. How do you start a blog? I can already tell that the hardest part about writing to empty space is the trepidation I feel in every word I type. If it’s like a letter, then dear who? Dear anyone? (Desperate!) Dear someone? (I don’t have anyone in mind!)

Let’s go with:

Dear friends,

Tonight I baked banana bread so mindlessly that I poured the melted butter into a bowl of cold ingredients and it seized into tiny butter pieces. It’s for reasons like this that I haven’t written before. I’ve been waiting to start writing about food until I had a nicer camera, better lighting, more experience, a kitchen of my own, but that’s a long way off, and that bread was still delicious. I am eight weeks from finishing graduate school, and dinner still has to happen here about sixty more times.

I moved here with two suitcases and no kitchen utensils for the year (I suppose that’s not much of a testament to my interest in food; my hope chest of kitchen-goods is in hibernation in my parents’ basement). Here is where blogs get tricky; I can’t talk about food without getting autobiographical, but how much do you get to know?

Let’s start with what I have:

One roasting pan, prone to warping.

That is all I bought because I live with three girls who have their own kitchen supplies (thank goodness (but: have you seen a refrigerator shared by four people who don’t share food?)). My kitchen experiences have almost uniformly been those of adaptation and simplicity. I had some good years of kitchen access in college, but when I lived in Russia, I didn’t have access to a refrigerator and created a makeshift one with plastic bags and a rope thrown out my window into the St. Petersburg January. (Here is my most developed recipe from that winter: one finger, one jar of Nutella. And I guess I should add that the two old women I lived with fed me, but more on them, and everyone, later.)

Every time I lose space and comfort in the kitchen, I return to the kitchen refrain of salt and roast.* Why boil or steam when you can get the crispy and caramelized glory of a high-heat oven? Show me a vegetable you can’t roast, and I’ll show you a vegetable I won’t eat…okay, I will, if it’s not a red onion.

My hope for these entries is that I will be able to cultivate the hobbies (namely, writing and cooking) that often lose when put up against the prospect of an afternoon nap. I will share with you cardamom bread, roasted tomatoes, and fruit crisps, but also the reassurance that no matter where you are, with some salt and a misshapen pan, you can make something good.

*This is like the part in movies where the title is unabashedly mentioned.