At Stanford, after freshman year, you have to enter the “draw” – a lottery where you get a number, and get better or worse housing based on that number. Of course, the fun doesn’t stop there. You can draw with a group — which means even more anxiety trying to see if you have found a group with which you “belong”. Lucky for me, I found a wonderful group of friends in college, who have mostly stayed around the bay area as well. Here is the first of what will be several recipes from them.

Borscht (or borshe, as Jenn puts it). Jenn watched her mother-in-law Alla (who is from Belarus) make the borscht, and wrote down what she did. Which made for some stream-of-consciousness directions. I tried following as best as possible… and after several hours, something really good came out of it :). Who knows if it was anything like Alla’s.

This recipe isn’t fooling around. To start with, it involves essentially making a stock out of 6 baby back ribs (oh yeah!). I had bought a whole rack, so ended up cooking the other half in the oven to eat with the borscht (ginger chutney from the farmers market, a little honey, soy sauce and olive oil as a sauce… yummy). The other unique part is that in addition to cabbage, it adds all the beet greens, which made it a really hearty soup. I always thought that borscht was just a thin purple soup made out of beets with some sour cream. But, this recipe has substance — in addition to the ribs and beet greens, it has a wide array of purply foods in it. Beets, cabbage, kidney beans, potatoes (ok, those just turn purple). Anyways, definitely a full meal (especially with an extra rib or two on the side).

This is a completely random side note – and for the record, I do not know Coolio, so he did not give us any recipes for our wedding. But, I was listening to NPR one day before Thanksgiving, and apparently a woman named Susan Stamberg always shares her mother-in-law’s pepto-bismol pink (eww) cranberry sauce with someone over Thanksgiving and talks about it on NPR. This year, she shared it with Coolio – you can listen to it on NPR’s website.

Which, really begs the question… WTF? Well, apparently, Coolio *IS* the Ghetto Gourmet, and, well cooks food. And, it actually looks good (although, not for the calorie-conscious among us). You too can check it out here: Cooking With Coolio. While some of you might be able to get them on the streets, I get my “dime bag of pepper” from the grocery store. Or The Spice House, which is a great place to get spices – Kate and Josh, a couple who went to our wedding, gave us some amazing spices from them, and I am now completely hooked.

I decided to next do a recipe from my dad – basil chicken stir fry. To go with it, I had been craving pasta (hadn’t had all that many carbs that weekend), and pulled out my new-to-me Pestos! book I had picked up at the used book store to find something to go with it. We had cilantro from our box, and there was a recipe for “Chinese noodles with cilantro dressing”. Yummy – and herb-ilicious to go with the basil chicken.

Starting with the basil chicken, it was super simple to make — just make the sauce (including green chilies, which we had, and mint — more herbs!!), cook the chicken, combine. It called for 1/2 cup basil… I think we put in 2 cups (oops). Surprise, surprise, it didn’t seem to cause any issues, since basil is yummy. I threw in some broccoli “for color” (as my mom says), and also because otherwise it would be just chicken and pasta for dinner tonight. The end result was a wonderful dish – basil-y, spicy and fresh tasting. My dad must have been perfecting this recipe after I left the house, because I don’t remember it — though I do remember he always made really good stir-frys. They were his specialty, along with the grill and apple pie.

As I was poking around in the book that my brother-in-law gave us — “Farm to Fork” by Emeril Legasse — I found another recipe for cilantro pesto in that one. This one called for pumpkin seeds! Oh, that sounded really yummy, so I replaced the pesto recipe from Pestos! with that one. Well, mostly – of course I substituted pecorino for the cheese they suggested so my husband could eat it, left out the requisite garlic, and put in way less oil, as I could barely bring myself to add the amount of oil I did add to the pesto. As it was, between that and the additional oil in the noodles recipe, I felt like I had my oil quotient for a few days. It’s always amazing when you cook things yourself and *see* how much butter or oil go into recipes… wow. Though, for the cinnamon buns I did use all that butter — but those were supposed to be bad for you. This is, you know, healthy food. Anyways, by the time I was done it still resembled the initial recipe somewhat. We put it in the lovely bowl my great-aunt gave us, and snapped a pic:

The bowl is made by Ceramika Artystyczna – a polish ceramic company. It is really beautiful, and goes really well with the other pieces my mother also gave me from them – here is one with just the pesto in it, along with the wine we had that night – one of the leftover bottles from our wedding of Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc

Oh – and Pope John Paul II had a whole set of their dishes! Doing more digging, I found that they are lead-free, and oven, microwave, freezer and dishwasher safe! (see this Polish Stoneware site . I never thought to put them in the oven… now I need to find an oven recipe! Which, now isn’t all that hard — while it turns out most of my recipes are for stove cooking (I think because the oven always seems like it takes longer), many of our friends and family gave us recipes for casseroles and enchiladas. Did you know enchiladas are an entire class of cooking preparation? I think we received about 6 enchilada recipes… we will have to try them all!


3 or 4 Tbsp chopped California green chilies
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar and vinegar
½ cup chopped fresh basil
1 tsp chopped fresh mint
½ tsp cornstarch
~3 Tbsp salad oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 lb chicken breasts, skinned & boned, ¼ x 2” strips
1 large onion, cut in 1/4-inch slices

Mix together chilies, soy, sugar, vinegar, basil, mint, and cornstarch. Set aside. Place wok on high heat. When wok is hot, add 1 ½ Tbsp of oil. When oil is hot, add garlic and half chicken; stir-fry until chicken is opaque. Repeat with remaining chicken, adding oil as needed. Reheat wok and add 1 Tbsp oil. Add onion and stir-fry until limp. Add chilies mixture and return chicken to wok; stir until sauce boils and thickens slightly. Makes 3 or 4 servings.

(Note: This was written at the beginning of October, 2010. It just took us a while to get the blog actually up and running.)

When we came back from our honeymoon on Tuesday, I had taken the rest of the week off, and decided to get some serious cooking in.  I wanted to start with a recipe from the amazing family cookbook my Aunt Carmen put together, containing recipes from my aunt, uncle, and cousin, as well as my grandma and great-grandma!  Since I had the time off, I went big — cinnamon buns from my grandma!  These are the type of cinnamon buns where you knead the dough, let it rise, roll it out, make the buns, let it rise… a 4-5 hour process.  Definitely the right type of recipe for a day off work (and even still, I didn’t finish until 10pm).

In the meantime, we also needed to eat, you know, dinner, so I flipped through to see what sounded good for dinner as well.  My husband and I decided on the “family favorite” of Uncle Al’s split pea soup.  With barley and keilbasa in it, this is not your traditional boring split pea soup… it is really yummy.  Oh, and since I would be spending most of my time incanting “rise, rise, RISE!” to the cinnamon buns, the other nice thing is it is easy to make.  Throw half the stuff in a pot, simmer, throw everything else in, simmer.

When I got tired of whispering sweet nothings to both the buns and the soup, I realized I had “peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, 9 days old”  in my head.  So, I did what any wired cook would do… and looked it up on the interwebs.  It turns out, that “pease porridge” was a very common meal during the Middle Ages in England; it has lots of protein and fiber, and was cheap… and could be around for weeks without refrigeration (eww) (see information from Vegetarians in Paradise).

I also checked out wikipedia.  The best thing about wikipedia (Pease Porridge Hot), is that they throw random information into each article, and then link that random information, so that you can read more and more random information until you start to twitch like an addict.  Like, did you know that pease porridge was often eaten with faggots?  And, faggots, of course, are traditional meatballs made of pig’s offal (and, offal, for those of you who aren’t sure, are internal organs like hearts and liver — my husband assures me that anyone who listens to death metal knows the word “offal.”) Apparently, the best known brand of faggots are Mr. Brain’s (for those of you, like me, who know an amazingly smart Brian, and therefore often misspell Brian as Brain, that is not what happened here — it really is Mr. Brain).  Here is a commercial for Mr. Brains Pork Faggots. No, seriously, go watch it, it’s really short… Mr. Brains Pork Faggots. I am not sure whether to laugh or cry right now.

ANY-HOO… back to the food!  The split pea soup was yummy, and fun to watch turn from water and peas to thick creamy goodness.  Next time though, rather than choose a turkey keilbasa, we will try to find a low fat beef or pork keilbasa (the recipe just said a low-fat keilbasa, we picked the turkey).  The turkey didn’t quite have the richness that beef or pork would have.  It was still yummy though!

The cinnamon rolls turned out really well too (for those other 3 people out there with the family recipe book, we did “A real family favorite” – version 1).  I decided to ignore how much butter and sugar went into them, and just started at it.  We replaced the milk with soy milk for my husband (he can have some butter if he is careful, but milk will really get him).  Oh, and by “kneading for 10 minutes”, I assumed what that meant was “throw in the mixer for 4-6 minutes”.  Close enough, right? I got to use my new mixer!  When I read the instructions for the mixer, it looked like it didn’t need to be kneaded in there for as long as you normally do by hand, so, meh, I guessed.  They turned out fine. 

My favorite part about this recipe (and many of the recipes we received) is that halfway through it, you realize that there are a bunch of ingredients for the filling that aren’t at the top — luckily, we had brown sugar and cinnamon, and — who wants raisins in their cinnamon buns anyways?  Oh, and then the glaze is at the bottom of the recipe – and we had powdered sugar and, well, more butter.  I got to use 3 forms of sugar in one recipe!  Anyways, finally around 10pm, we were done — here is what they looked like: 

Yummy gooeyness in the middle!  I might add more glaze next time, because it is soooo good. Ready for the closeup?

And now, for the good stuff!

Uncle Al’s Split Pea Soup

16 oz. green split peas
1/2 cup barley
7 oz. diced low-fat smoked sausage or kielbasa
9 cups water
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 diced yellow onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Add the split peas, barley, and sausage to the water. Bring it to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer an additional 45 minutes. Stir occasionally. If desired, more water can be added to reduce thickness.

Grandma’s Cinnamon Rolls

2 packages dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup milk, warmed (or potato water with mashed potatoes)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 stick butter or margarine, room temperature
3 eggs, room temperature
5 1/2 cups flour (about)
1/2 cup butter melted

Dissolve yeast by sprinkling it over warm water in a cup. Stir, then let stand a minute or two to completely dissolve. Combine milk, sugar, salt, butter and eggs. Beat well. Then blend in the yeast. Add about half of the flour, beating mixture until it is smooth. Gradually beat in enough of the remaining flour until dough holds together. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured board; knead about 10 minutes. Let the dough rest about 10 minutes. Knead again, 8 to 10 minutes, sprinkling on additional flour if needed to prevent sticking. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Place dough in a large, greased bowl. Cover and place in warm place until it has doubled in bulk, about two hours. Do not let it over rise. Roll into a rectangle 12 x 30 inches 1/4 inch thick. Brush with melted butter. Filling: 1 cup brown sugar with 1 tablespoon cinnamon and if desired 1/2 cup chopped nuts or raisins. Sprinkle filling over melted butter on dough. Roll dough up and seal. Slice with sharp knife or string 1″ to 1 1/2″ slices. Place with cut side down on the well-buttered baking pans, rolls just touching. Let rise until double in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. Bake in a 350-degree oven 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Glaze with 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon softened butter, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, 2 tablespoons hot water.