Porcupine Meatballs

Porcupine Meatballs

I admit it, I'm somewhat of a snob when it comes to food. When I can afford it, I buy local or organic. I don't buy items containing high fructose corn syrup if I can at all avoid it (and have been duped by products that I didn't think could possibly have it*). I read labels religiously and try to buy minimally-processed products with a minimum of chemicals and preservatives.

And then we get to rice. I find plain white rice boring after growing up with it and think parcooked rice is an abomination. When I moved out, I bought a box of jasmine rice on a whim because it was on special. The light, floral fragrance that wafted from my rice cooker entranced me. I had no idea plain rice could be so good. A little salt and I ate rice for dinner happily.

Jasmine is still my favorite rice, but I soon started trying more: Calrose, Bhutanese Red, Javanese, brown Jasmine, Arborio, and my husband's favorite, Basmati. Central Market in Seattle, with its bulk bins of neat little foods to try, supplied with me with many varieties to taste.

But I have a guilty little secret hiding on the top shelf of my pantry.

Instant rice.

Why? It's for one specific recipe: porcupine meatballs. My stepfather used to make this for my mom and I long ago. I could use cooked rice but I never seem to have leftover rice in the fridge. Or maybe I'm just being sentimental.

In any case, these little guys get their name from the grains of rice that stick out all over. It's a fairly classic American recipe but one which I really enjoy.

Porcupine Meatballs [printable recipe]

Serves 2

  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/3 cup instant rice1 (or 1/2 cup cooked regular rice)
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 dash powdered ginger
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp teriyaki sauce

Preheat oven to 400F.

Mix all ingredients together well. Form mini-meatballs (about a teaspoons-worth) and drop on a foil- or silicone-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes.

Notes: 1. For best results fast, use Minute Rice or another “instant” rice that cooks in 5 minutes. My generic “instant” rice cooks in 10 and needs to be cooked about halfway so it doesn’t add the crunch of raw rice. Otherwise, use leftover cooked rice from another meal.

  • What on earth am I going to do with an entire jar of pickles doused in high fructose corn syrup? They're so sweet, it's painful. I don't dislike many foods but sweet pickles are firmly in the "Blecch" category.

Sauerkraut Soup

When we went to Warsaw to acquire my husband's visa from the consulate (it's a long story, but in short, the US Consulate in Rīga does not do fiance visas, forcing us to go to Warsaw) we had the great fortune eat at a wonderful traditional Polish restaurant called Chlopskie Jadlo.

Chlopskie Jadlo, which we found by virtue of its being quite close to a popular biergarten-style restaurant around the block from our room at the MDM Hotel (I also highly recommend this hotel if you're unfortunate enough to go to Warsaw*), serves up traditional cuisine for reasonable prices. There isn't much English spoken by the staff (or Russian, or German, as we found to our dismay), but English menus are available. The food is worth it and it's worth the wait you can encounter at dinnertime. Hands down, this restaurant is one of the best I've been to anywhere in the world.

We ordered a flight of soups to maximize our short window of opportunity. We were served a clear borscht (beet soup), a woodland mushroom soup, a rye flour soup, and a sauerkraut soup. All of them were fantastic, but the sauerkraut soup was my favorite. Included with our meal was a quarter of a large rye loaf, garlic butter and dradži**, which I simply fell in love with. My heart, not so much, and I fear my cholesterol count skyrocketed after that meal, but it was worth it.

One day, we'll make our own versions of all four of the soups we had. I made a mushroom soup a few weeks ago that came out beautifully. We're still looking for a starting point for the rye flour and will get around to the clear borscht after making a traditional borscht. This week, however, it's time to make a sauerkraut soup.

This one is based on a traditional Latvian recipe. It's meatier and hardier than the version we had in Poland, making it a better candidate for a main course.

Sauerkraut Soup

Sauerkraut, which is fermented cabbage, is cheap and easy to come by. It's great as a side to bratwurst, delicious on burgers, and makes a wonderful soup. I served this with a side of mini baguettes I baked from some french bread dough I made earlier this week.

Sauerkraut Soup (Skābētu kāpostu zupa)[printable recipe]

Adapted from Latviešu ēdieni by Ņina Masiļūne
Serves 3 as a main course, 6 as a side

  • 200 - 240 g trimmed pork1, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 liter water
  • 300 g sauerkraut2 (drained weight)
  • 30 g pearl barley
  • 80 g (1 medium) carrot, julienned or grated
  • 60 g (1/4 medium) onion, finely diced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 green onions, chopped (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)

If using fresh pork, brown in skillet first.

Put sauerkraut into a 2 qt sauce pot, cover with water, stir in barley and pork then simmer until the sauerkraut and pork are almost tender (about 45 minutes). While this cooks, in a skillet set over medium heat, saute onion and carrot in oil until lightly browned. Once the pork and sauerkraut are nearly tender, add onions and carrots to the soup and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes, adding additional water if necessary. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Sauerkraut soup is often served with chopped green onion and sour cream.

Notes: 1. Use any kind of pork you have: fresh, cured or smoked. I used meat from a country rib cut. If you use fresh, brown the pork before adding it to the water so it has a bit more flavor. 2. My husband and I prefer a stronger sour taste from our sauerkraut, but if you're not familiar with it, Libby's is an excellent, inexpensive brand with a mild taste. 3. This is also a great soup if you're watching your weight. According to my recipe manager, this soup clocks in around 175 calories per serving with 3g of fat!

  • I even recommend the MDM's breakfast buffet, though I agree with Tony Bourdain in that the place you're most likely to get sick is NOT the popular street vendor but the hotel buffets. The MDM's buffet, however, had incredibly good food: fresh, piping hot and delicious.

** Dradži, as best as I can describe it, is rendered pork fat and onions with cracklins and salt. Once it cools and solidifies, you can spread it thickly on large hunks of bread. Sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen, doesn't it? Delicious!

Tahini Stirfry

Originally, this was to be a post about Tofu Stirfry with Tahini-Tamari Soybeans. Of course, originally, it was supposed to be made a few weeks ago too.

Out of three local stores, one carried an overpriced and unappetizing jar of tahini. Dried soybeans didn't seem to be available at any of them. The recipe had to wait until we could source the ingredients.

And so, a week passed.

We went to the downtown farmer's market and decided afterwards that we would go to Sage Market, a Japanese specialty store a few miles away. This turned out to be a great idea -- lots of great Japanese items I didn't think I would find here that I was used to getting from 99 Ranch Market in California. Also, dried soybeans for cheap. One down, one to go.

A few days later, we went to what is becoming our favorite store for produce and general organic/frou-frou ingredients: Sunflower Farmer's Market. They had a few to pick from, so we picked the cheaper can that I recognized from elsewhere. Sadly, unlike my favorite grocery in the world, Central Market, they didn't have it fresh in the deli. Now, we could make the recipe waiting patiently on the back burner.

The recipe is from The Rice Cooker Cookbook, and calls for, unsurprisingly, a rice cooker to cook the beans. The rice cooker they call for must be really different from mine as mine boiled over, then refused to stay on Cook, then boiled away all the water in a hurry (because we had to leave the lid open with the porridge lid to keep it from boiling over)... and after two hours had passed and we still had rock-hard beans, we gave up.

So, dinner tonight changed to Tofu Stirfry with Tahini-Tamari Sauce Over Rice.

Then I took out the tofu.


Let's just say, those leftovers were a bit longer ago than I realized.

Out came some frozen chicken and leftover frozen veggies and I set to work building a typical stirfry with a not-so-typical sauce.

It came out pretty well, actually. Tahini is a mild sesame seed butter, tastes a lot like really mild peanut butter, and produced a fairly bland-ish sauce because I trusted an unknown recipe with an abundance of an unknown ingredient. Now I know - 1/2 cup goes an awfully long way. I still prefer the stronger peanut sauces, such as those often featured with satays or Thai dishes, but it was good in a pinch. I'm definitely going to experiment further with tahini, especially with some hummus recipes.

Oh, and the beans? Still cooking away on the stove - four hours and counting and still not cooked. Beans annoy me.

Tahini-Chicken Stirfry with Rice [printable recipe]

Serves 2 - 3

  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced thin
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 4 Tbsp soy sauce, divided
  • 1 tsp hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper, divided
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1 package frozen veggies or random fresh veggies hanging out in the fridge
  • cooked rice

Mix together 2 tbsp soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper in a small bowl or glass.

In a small saucepan over low heat, combine tahini, garlic, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper and enough water to make a smooth, creamy sauce. Keep on warm.

In a wok or medium skillet on medium to medium high heat, saute onions until turning brown on the edges, remove. Add veggies, cook until done then remove. Add chicken, saute until half done, add sauce. Continue cooking until done (about 4 minutes all together), then add in veggies and onions.

Remove from heat, stir in tahini sauce. Serve over cooked rice.

What's for dinner? (July 5 - July 11)

This week...

  • Packet-grilled sole, steamed cauliflower, bacon & herb mashed potatoes
  • Chicken salad sandwiches, side salad
  • Sauerkraut soup
  • Porcupine meatballs with grilled corn on the cob, rice and peas
  • Tofu stirfry with tahini-tamari soybeans (boy, did this one get changed up)
  • Patty melts with salad and baked beans
  • Grilled teriyaki chicken, potato salad, side salad

Now that we were finally able to find tahini for a reasonable price, thanks to Sunflower Farmer's Market in Murray, we can finally make the tofu stirfry. Sheesh, I didn't think it would be that difficult!

Chicken with Pesto Zucchini and Noodles

Last Saturday, we went to the farmer's market and several of the vendors had started to bring in varieties of summer squash. One, in particular, had an interesting zucchini variety I hadn't tried: 8-ball Zucchini. They're cute, shaped like their namesake, and for the first fresh zucchini of the season, looked quite delicious.

But how best to use them, I wondered. A bit of research using foodieview led me to a recipe on RecipeZaar for "zucchini ribbons" that're quickly cooked in some boiling water from the kettle. A good start, but not enough for a meal for two. With some chicken and noodles, however, it shines.

For a fast, easy and just about foolproof way to make a great sidedish out of zucchini, pouring some boiling water over thin strips of zucchini for a minute, draining it and then tossing it with butter, cheese and pepper is hard to beat. The zucchini comes out beautifully green, perfectly al dente, and supremely tasty. This is definitely one method that's going in my standard rotation.

Chicken with Pesto Zucchini and Noodles [printable recipe]

Serves 2

  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 chicken breast, halved
  • 4 ounces fettuccine or other pasta
  • 2-3 tbsp pesto (your favorite)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red chili flakes
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • olive oil
  • Parmesan or other yummy cheese, grated, to taste
  • salt to taste

Start a pot of water boiling for the pasta. Slice zucchini into ribbons. (Easiest with a food processor and a grater or slicer disc.)

While it heats, heat a medium pan with some olive oil over medium heat. Sprinkle chicken with basil and salt, then saute. Remove and slice.

Cook pasta according to package directions. About one minute before al dente, add in zucchini. Stir, then remove after one minute. Drain pasta and zucchini.

Toss and combine well zucchini, pasta, butter, garlic powder, pesto, crushed red chili flakes and a pinch of salt. Divide into bowls, top with sliced chicken and some grated Parmesan. Enjoy.



Plovs, better known as pilaf, is a dish that convinced me to reconsider my stance on "stuff in rice".

For the longest time, I preferred my rice to be plain, or at most, containing some peas and orzo. Pilafs, which I mostly knew from the weird yellow concoction at Sizzler's, were not for me.

Then one night, my mother-in-law dropped off some plovs for us at our flat while we were out gallivanting around in the cold. On such a cold day, the steamy, savory mix of mutton, carrots, onion and rice was the perfect antidote to the freezing wind and rain outside.

It's been an unseasonably cold summer here in Utah. After a couple of days above 90F, today we were hit by yet another massive thunderstorm. Not that I'm really complaining, mind you, as our idea of a great place to live is Portland (where we hope to move in the next couple of years). Since we'd picked up some great lamb stew meat from Morgan Valley Lamb, the weather seemed to declare that today we would eat plovs.

And it was good. Damn good.

Plovs [printable recipe]

  • 1/2 lb trimmed lamb stew meat, diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced or grated
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp herbes de provence
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 3/4 c rice
  • 1 1/2 c water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oil

Over medium heat, saute lamb with herbs, salt and pepper until nicely browned. Stir in carrots, onion, and garlic, saute until everything is soft and beginning to brown.

Add rice and water to a rice cooker. Stir in lamb mixture, salt generously, and start cooker on regular white rice cycle.


  1. This one is from my husband and his family. It's simple, but it honestly doesn't need much to really shine.

Homemade Maple & Walnut Granola

There's really no reason to buy granola when the parts are so easy to come by and cooking it is so easy. Plus, even at places like Whole Foods and Sunflower Market, the bulk granola often is chock-full of chemicals, instead of just nuts. This way, you can exercise some control and make your own perfect granola.

Since it's Canada Day, I decided to make this sweet and crunchy maple walnut granola to swirl into some frozen yogurt and add to my breakfast cereal. Granola is just one of the many ways to use maple syrup, though I have to admit adding a splash of it to a glass of milk is a particular favorite as well.

Homemade Maple & Walnut Granola [printable recipe]

Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe from Good Eats

  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 3 tbsp sweetened coconut
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • a pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 250F. Combine oats, nuts, coconut, sugar and salt together in a bowl. Combine syrup and oil. Mix the two together well and spread out on a quarter-sheet pan in an even layer. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 10 - 15 minutes for even color. Remove, let cool, enjoy.


  1. If adding dried fruit, simply stir in once the granola comes out of the oven.

Speķa rauši - Bacon and onion yeast rolls

Speķa rauši (pīrādziņi)

I love speķa rauši.

My mother-in-law, without fail, would always set a huge clay bowl on the table at the holiday feasts filled to overflowing with speķa rauši.

At Christmas 2008, she and a close family friend decided to play a trick on the men. You see, neither my husband nor his father are fans of black pepper. Black pepper in any real quantity is incredibly spicy to them, and not in a good way. So, they took a bit of the dough, dumped a good tablespoon of ground black pepper in it, mooshed it around so it was all throughout and then formed it into some little rats, complete with nose and ears. (It was the year of the Rat coming up, you see, and they certainly didn't want to get one of them by mistake.)

Except, they put them in the big bowl and set it on the table for folks to nosh on while the rest of dinner was put together. My husband and I were already there, having been shooed off to sit and not get in their way. So, we started digging in.

I snagged a roll, saw it was a little rat and thought it was cute. I took a bite and wow! Pepper! But, you see, I love pepper. I'm quite happy having cracked peppercorn burgers and steak au poivre. To me, this little guy was spicy and delicious. So I asked if there were two types of speķa rauši today and both Mom and her friend went stiff.

Turns out I had gotten the rat when I wasn't supposed to as a guest. My father-in-law and husband both leaned over and whispered, "thank you!", as they fluttered about apologizing profusely.

Me, I loved it. Just wished they'd made more than two.

Anyway. Speķa rauši is a yeast dough rolled out and cut into circles, topped with fried bacon and onions, sealed into a half-moon shape, brushed with egg wash and baked until golden brown and delicious.

Waiting to become speķa rauši

This recipe uses a common yeast dough and lots of bacon. It's enough for a crowd, so if you just want to try it, make the dough, quarter it and freeze the rest. Six slices of bacon and half a medium onion will be enough for a quarter of the dough.

Speķa rauši - Bacon and onion yeast rolls [printable recipe]

Adapted from Latviešu ēdieni and family recipes Yield: Lots.


  • 250 g ap flour
  • 125 g milk (about 1/2 cup)
  • 40 g sugar + 1 tsp
  • 75 g butter (about 6 tbsp)
  • 1/2 egg
  • 3 g salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/4 c warm water (100 - 110F)
  • 2 egg whites, mixed with 2 tablespoons water (egg wash for brushing)


  • 1 lb smoked bacon, diced
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced

To make the dough:

Combine yeast with warm water and 1 tsp of sugar, stirring to dissolve, let sit for 10 minutes until doubled in volume. Mix in flour, half an egg, salt, butter and milk. Place in an oiled bowl on a rack over boiling/steaming water, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for 1.5 to 2 hours until doubled.

To make the filling:

Fry bacon until cooked but not crisp, remove to a bowl. Pour off most of the bacon fat, reserving about a two tablespoons. Cook onion in remaining fat until soft and beginning to turn brown on the edges. Remove to a bowl.

Assembling the speķa rauši:

Roll out the dough to about 1/4" thickness for more crunchy rolls, thicker for puffier rolls. Using a biscuit cutter or a glass whose rim has been floured, cut out rounds. I use a 78mm (3 1/16") cutter for traditionally sized rolls and a 68mm (2 5/8") cutter for two-bite-sized rolls. Roll out the leftover dough again and cut out more rounds. Repeat if necessary.

Top each round with a pinch of bacon and onion. Fold each little circle in half and pinch the edges shut. If the dough isn't too floury, the edges can be pinched together without needing extra water. If the edges don't want to seal or seal imperfectly, run a moistened fingertip along the edges before sealing. You should wind up with a little half-moon shape, like this:


Place the rolls on a baking sheet lined with parchment, foil or non-stick liner and brush the tops with egg wash.

Bake at 350F for about 10 - 12 minutes. Check on them periodically, they're done when the top has a dark brown patch and the roll is turning golden brown. Remove, allow to cool (they can cool in the serving bowl, no rack necessary) and enjoy.


  1. This is a basic yeast dough called for in many Latvian meals. Probably other cuisines too, but I'm not that familiar with common yeast recipes.
  2. Like Alton Brown, I prefer to use metric when baking. It's just easier to measure by weight.

Just What Are Garlic Scapes Anyway?

To be honest, before last week, I'd never heard of them before. Suddenly, now they're at every farmer's market stand, bloggers are putting them to creative use and I'm left standing on the sidelines wondering what they even are. Apparently, I'm not the only one as the newsletter from the farmer's market has a section on these strange little guys.

Garlic scapes appear to be a rising trend hitting the foodie scene. In botanical terms, a scape is a leafless, flowering stem. Garlic scapes are ordinarily removed to focus the plant's growth on the garlic bulb rather than flowering. Similar in flavor to green onions crossed with garlic, garlic scapes should be eaten when young and tender and are best sauteed or stir-fried.

A scape can be very curly and can grow up to a foot in length. Since these can be quite hard, they require a few extra minutes of cooking to "soften them up".

Garlic plus green onion certainly sounds like a winning combination to me. I decided to try these out and have a go at one of my favorite Chinese restaurant dishes: green onion beef. I know garlic beef is good and green onion beef is good, why not garlic scape beef?

As it turns out, it's pretty damn good. Both my husband and I adored them. I especially loved the flower section, it was soft, tender and very tasty. I wish scapes were in season longer than a few weeks as I would love to have them again this summer. By the time I'm able to go to the market again, they're almost sure to be gone.

Garlic Scapes & Onion Beef [printable recipe]

Serves 2 over rice.

  • 1/2 lb garlic scapes, chopped into 2" lengths
  • 3/4 lb thinly sliced flank steak, round steak, or other beef for stir-fry
  • 1 small yellow onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red chili pepper
  • dash of ginger

Combine soy sauce, oyster sauce, pepper, 2 cloves' worth of minced garlic, and ginger in a small bowl and add sliced beef. Stir well and let marinate for at least 30 minutes, overnight if possible.

In an oiled saute pan or wok set over medium to medium-high heat, saute onion until the edges turn brown and soften. Add remaining garlic, saute a minute more and remove all to a bowl. Add garlic scapes plus 1/4 cup of water, cover. Let steam for 2 - 3 minutes. Saute until tender, about 2 minutes more. Remove to the bowl with onion and garlic.

Add half a tablespoon oil to the pan and add beef, along with any remaining marinade. Cook well, stirring often, until beef is nicely done. Add in scapes, onion and garlic, cook for another minute before taking the pan off the heat.

French Onion Soup

I remember back when I was a kid, my parents would take me to T.G.I.Friday's on special occasions. I loved the place for two reasons: I could have a Shirley Temple, which always made me feel like I had a grown-up drink, and I could have french onion soup with my dinner (or as my dinner). Since then, it's always been my favorite soup.

French Onion Soup [printable recipe]

Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything
Serves 4 as a first course

  • 6 cups sliced onion
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp dried thyme (1 tbsp fresh)
  • 1 tsp dried parsley (1 tbsp fresh)
  • 8 thin slices garlic bread
  • 1/2 - 1 cup shredded italian cheese
  • salt, pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 stick butter

In a large stockpot over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add onions with a couple of pinches of salt and saute until lightly browned and soft, about 45 minutes or so, stirring periodically.

Sprinkle on thyme and parsley, grind some pepper over the onions, then add beef stock and soy sauce. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425. While the soup simmers, toast all eight slices of garlic bread. Chop four slices into rough cubes and divide evenly among four ovenproof soup mugs.

Ladle soup into the bowls. Top with a slice of garlic bread and plenty of cheese. Bake for 10 minutes to melt and brown cheese. Serve, carefully as it will be quite hot.


  1. I usually use shredded italian-blend cheese, but slices of provolone, swiss or other good melting cheeses would be delicious too.
  2. Garlic bread is great. You can make your own with minced garlic, butter, dried parsley and garlic salt.