Baked Vareniky (Ukrainian Pocket Pies)

Baked Vareniky

At the library, we picked up a copy of The Best of Ukrainian Cuisine which we thought would be fun. We looked through it, found that many of the recipes sounded good and decided to try their recipe for vareniky with meat and cabbage (вареники з м'ясом та капустоіо) today.

Vareniky can be described as large "pocket pies" or "hand pies". Similar to ravioli, pelmeņi or pierogi, they're popular in many Eastern European countries. They can be filled with just about anything -- cheese, meat, cabbage, poppy seeds, mushrooms, fish or liver -- or any combination thereof. There's even a version with cherries that I'm very tempted to make later this week.

Vareniky, which means "boiled things", are quite often boiled, though they can also be steamed (some parts of the Ukraine), boiled then fried in butter (Poland) or baked with an egg wash (Latvia). We went the Latvian route (unsurprisingly) and baked ours.

Vareniky waiting to be filled

Vareniky, like pelmeņi, are "fast food" meaning they can be prepared well ahead of time, frozen and then boiled for 3 - 4 minutes to make a fast, easy meal. Plus, they can be stuffed with just about anything whether savory or sweet.

Baked Vareniky (Ukrainian Pocket Pies) [printable recipe]

Adapted from The Best of Ukrainian Cuisine
Serves 4


  • 1/2 lb flour
  • 1/2 c water
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp salt


  • 3 cups cabbage, shredded
  • 1/4 lb beef1
  • 1/4 lb pork1
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 carrots, grated
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 slice bread (if grinding)
  • 1/2 tsp each thyme, oregano, marjoram, crushed red chili flakes
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder or cumin
  • salt, pepper
  • nonstick spray

Preheat oven to 425F.

Prepare the dough: Mix together all ingredients listed under dough, knead well, adjusting quantity of flour or water as needed to form a stiff, pliable dough. Roll out to 1/4" thickness (or thinner, if you can). Using a large cookie cutter, cut out rounds, re-rolling dough until used up. Allow to rest while working on the filling.

Prepare the filling: Cut up beef and pork into chunks. Using a meat grinder or food processor, grind meat and onion to a fine mince. (If using a meat grinder, put a slice of bread through last to push out any remaining meat.) Stir in spices, carrot and crushed garlic. Over moderate heat in a large, oiled skillet, brown meat mixture well.

Remove, drain any fat if necessary. Mix in cabbage and grind mixture again. Let cool.

Prepare the vareniky: Add a heaping tablespoon or so to each dough circle. Dampen edges with a fingertip and press dough together to form a half-moon shape. Place on a foil or silicone-lined sheet pan.

Spray tops of vareniky lightly and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve with sour cream.


  1. Any cheap meat works here. You can buy already ground beef or pork or the cheapest cuts at the market and grind them yourself. I used a hunk of beef tip roast and a couple of boneless pork chops that were on sale.

Royal VKB Garlic Crusher [Review]

As you might have already guessed from the recipes I've posted so far, my husband and I go through a lot of garlic.

Neither of us are fans of mincing garlic with a knife. The minced garlic in a jar isn't that fresh though I confess to using it before I was married just because it was easy. And grating it using a Microplane gets old fast when you have half a dozen cloves to get through.

My husband, Artis, had picked up the habit of using a garlic press so when he moved here, we did some research and decided to buy a new one here that hopefully didn't have the problems of his old one (separate cleaning thingie, small chamber). Unfortunately, the one we first went with broke at the hinge after only six months.

We quickly found out how difficult it is to pick a new press that wouldn't suffer from the same problem and remained affordable. ($40 for a press seems steep to me.) Eventually, we found and settled on the Royal VKB Garlic Crusher, designed by Ineke Hans.

Even comes in a nice box, no clamshell packaging!

There are no moving parts -- it's just a solid fluted 7.5" stainless steel rod. It takes a little more time to crush garlic cloves but it's easy to clean and fun to use. It's also efficient, leaving nothing uncrushed, provided you don't miss something. And the price is on par with the mid-range presses -- we paid about $20 on Amazon.

We received it a few days ago and immediately tested it out. The first reaction? "It really IS fun to use!"

Two cloves to crushThwacking the cloves to start offQuickly reduces garlic to itty bitty bitsAll that's left of two cloves is a pile of nicely minced garlic

It does take longer, but I don't think it's possible to break. It's fun to whack the clove and split the skin off easily then roll around on the clove. (I disavow any knowledge of any "vroom-vrooms" or "die you garlic fiend!" outbursts.)

What I like: Crushes very efficiently and releases more garlic juices than most presses. Easy to clean. No moving parts to break. Stainless steel.

What I don't: I keep forgetting to use this on a polypropylene cutting board (my wood board soaks up the juices). You have to clean the garlic pieces from the grooves (fingers work best) during and after crushing to get everything.

Biggest Drawback: If you're not a fan of garlic or dislike having garlic pieces/juices on your hands, this is not the tool for you.

Final Verdict: Definitely a product I'd recommend to anyone in the market for a garlic press.

Find the Royal VKB Garlic Crusher at

Why am I writing this? Because of a dearth of reviews about this very interesting garlic crusher. It would have made our purchasing decision easier if we could have seen better pictures and read more about its use than we did. Last but not least, I think this is a very cool product that deserves a mention.

Menu for July 19 - 25

Despite all of the great produce, we had a hard time sticking to the plan for last week. On one day, my dad didn't want to eat alone, so we went to dinner with him, while another day we were in absolutely no mood to cook (if only that had happened on the same day!).

We have a few rollovers this week though we did manage to use almost all of our produce last week that wouldn't last. The last of it (tomatoes and eggplant) will get used up tomorrow in Eggplant Parmesan. I'm definitely looking forward to working with phyllo dough for the first time as well this week, including introducing baklava to my husband.

This week...

    - Eggplant parmesan
    - Turkey Tortilla Soup
    - Plovs
    - Spanokopita with mixed bean salad and baklava
    - Vareniky with leek-apple-walnut salad
    - Fish with rice-orzo mix, salad
    - Daring Cooks Challenge


What is ratatouille?

A. A famous movie B. Remy's signature dish C. French Provençal peasant food D. A dish I've never had E. All of the above

I love Ratatouille; it's my favorite Pixar film. In fact, Remy is on my desktop wallpaper right now, staring towards Gusteau's. (The title of this blog, however, isn't related to the film but if I could get away with it, I'd use that chef-hat-and-whiskers logo in a heartbeat.)

According to what I've read, Thomas Keller of the French Laundry was responsible for the layered version Remy would present, called a confit byaldi. I don't have a mandoline and while I'm passable with a knife, I'm not good enough to hack my way through a bunch of veggies, leaving only a trail of perfect 1/8" slices behind, so I opted to simply dice them all.

Preparations for Rataouille

Ratatouille can be simple or complex, cooked solely on the range or layered as a casserole, left on its own as a main with bread or served as a side, even made into fillings for crepes. During my research, I was extraordinarily tempted by this Ratatouille and Goat Cheese Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette at The grocery budget started groaning in dismay at the quantity of chevre needed, so I reluctantly set that recipe aside for when I start making my own.

Traditionally, ratatouille contains some or all of the following: tomatoes, squash, eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers (red and green), plenty of onion, and basic herbs such as thyme, marjoram, basil and parsley. Some chefs like to make a sauce out of the herbs, onions and tomatoes, then layer the other vegetables into a casserole which is then baked, others simply throw it all into a pan (at varying intervals, of course) which is what I opted to do.


I'm glad I finally made this. It was excellent, the flavors melded beautifully... Still, I keep thinking this needs a nice lemony vinaigrette to really round it out. Maybe you might disagree, but have it on hand, just in case.

Ratatouille [printable recipe]

Serves 4 - 6 as a side

  • 1/4+ cup olive oil (add additional oil as needed)
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 medium shallots, minced
  • 1 small eggplant, skin on, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp thyme (1 tbsp if fresh)
  • 1 tsp herbes de provence (if available)
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 yellow squash (such as crookneck), diced (optional)
  • 3 small tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt, pepper - to taste

In a large, deep saute pan over medium heat, add olive oil. When hot, add onions, shallots and garlic. Saute, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to caramelize, about 5- 7 minutes. Add eggplant, continue cooking for about 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper, zucchini, squash (if using), and thyme. Cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients: tomatoes, salt, pepper, parsley and basil, and once again cook for about 5 minutes.

Notes: 1. This can be made well in advance and reheated or served at room temperature.

Baked Egg Rolls with Two Sauces

Baked Eggrolls

I love egg rolls and spring rolls of all varieties, but I don't really care for deep-frying them. I'm not much of a fan of the process of deep-frying, to tell the truth. (I'll happily eat someone else's cooking however!) When I had a craving for egg rolls, I had to find something that was baked and still good.

These egg rolls are crunchy enough to be interesting, easy to make and (most importantly) good. Since they're baked, sealing the filling inside isn't as essential -- I'm fairly loose on my wrapping myself.

Baked Egg Rolls [printable recipe]

Serves 2 as a main, 4+ as an appetizer or side
Adapted from Cooking Light

  • 2 cups shredded Napa or China cabbage (or bok choy)
  • 2/3 cup shredded carrot (about 2)
  • 2/3 cup shredded onion (about 1/2 medium)
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast1, ground/minced (about 1/2 pound)
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce, divided
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red chili flakes
  • 8 - 16 egg roll wrappers2
  • cooking spray
  • Basic Dipping Sauce (recipe follows) and/or
  • Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 425F.

Shred cabbage and carrot together using the grating disc of a food processor. Remove to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, vent, and microwave for about 5 minutes. Drain.

Shred onion in food processor, remove. Switch to the chopping blade and chop up chicken until minced finely.

In an oiled medium skillet set over moderate-high heat, saute onion, garlic and ginger for about 2 minutes. Add chicken, pepper, chili flakes and 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce and continue to saute for about 3 - 4 more minutes until cooked through. Remove from heat and stir into cabbage mixture. Let cool slightly.

Place a wrapper in front of you so it looks like a diamond. Spread about 2 - 3 tbsp chicken mixture in the center horizontally. Fold in right and left corners over the filling, bring up lower corner. Moisten top corner with water, roll up towards the top (as a jelly roll). Place seam-side down onto a lined sheet pan. Repeat.

Lightly spray egg rolls with cooking spray. Bake at 425F for 18 minutes or until golden brown.


  1. Have leftovers? Use shredded chicken from a rotisserie chicken or leftover meat from another meal instead of ground chicken. Throw all of the veggies through the shredding disc of a food processor and microwave them with some soy sauce for five minutes. Stir it all together and get the rest of the family involved in rolling up wrappers. You should be able to get dinner on the table in under 30 minutes this way with little fuss.
  2. Look for the refrigerated egg roll wrappers. They're often in the deli section of grocery stores and can be frozen for later use. One packet usually makes at least two meals worth of egg rolls, sometimes more.

Basic Dipping Sauce [printable recipe]

From Cooking Light

  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 6 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 2 green onions, sliced thinly

Combine all.

Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce [printable recipe]

  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp crushed chili flakes
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tbsp teriyaki or soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce

Combine all in a small skillet or saucepan over low heat. (Don't let it boil, just warm it up.) Taste, adjust spice as necessary, then serve.

Rīsi ar tomātu sviestu (Tomato-Butter Rice)

Rīsi ar tomātu sviestu

Every week, I post one recipe from Latviešu ēdieni.

This week, we decided to pick a recipe at random that neither of us had had before. (Okay, that's not so difficult for me, since I've only lived in Latvia for 4 months.)

I have to say, I'm very happy with this one. It's a variation on fried rice that tastes sweetly of tomato with a buttery finish. It's definitely a keeper.

Rīsi ar tomātu sviestu (Tomato-Butter Rice) [printable recipe]

Adapted from Latviešu ēdieni
Serves 2 as a side

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup uncooked rice
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt

Cook rice with salted water (a healthy pinch or so will do). In a medium skillet set over moderate heat, melt butter. Stir in tomato sauce and a pinch of salt. Add the cooked rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the grains have soaked up all of the sauce and begun to brown on the edges. Sprinkle over with fresh parsley and serve.

Spaghetti (Squash)

For those of us on a diet, whether it be low-carb, low-cal or gluten-free, giving up pasta can be very difficult. There is, however, an alternative: Spaghetti squash.

Spaghetti squash is an interesting variety of winter squash that forms strands once cooked and scraped. It's low-calorie, about 75 calories per 8 ounces (cooked), plus it looks and acts just like spaghetti (but crispy!).

To select a good squash, pick one that's even in color, heavy for its size, with no soft spots or green. You can store it on the counter for about a month, but once it's cut, use it within 2 or 3 days. A 4 pound squash will yield about 5 cups.

Spaghetti Squash Seeds

You can steam, boil or bake this squash, even microwave it. To do this, halve the squash and scoop out the seeds, just like any other squash. Make sure your knife is sharp and it will go much easier because this squash is HARD! Discard the seeds and innards or keep the seeds to make Roasted Squash Seeds later.

How you halve it determines the length of the strands. If you halve it from stem to blossom, like I did, the strands will be cut in half. If you halve it along its equator, you'll get much longer strands.

Cooking Methods: Microwaving: Place half a squash, cut side up, in a microwave-safe dish, add 1/4 cup of water and put it in the microwave. I like to sprinkle some salt on mine too. One half squash takes about 8 - 12 minutes on HIGH.

Baking: Put the squash into a ovenproof dish, cut side down, add 1/2 cup of water, and bake for about 30 minutes at 350F/180C. (You can also do this with a whole squash!) Test it like a potato -- if you can slide a fork in easily, it's done.

Boiling: Put the squash into a deep pot, cut side down, add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Boil for about 20 minutes. Test it as for baking.

Take the squash out carefully, it'll be hot. Now, with a large fork, gently scrape down the flesh of the squash. It will fall away in strands. Be careful of the steam and use a towel or mitt to hold the squash steady instead of your bare hand.

Creating Spaghetti from a Squash

Portion it out and toss it with your favorite sauce. You can serve this versatile squash as a side or a main, hot or cold. I like to have it as a main with lots of sauce, a side salad and sometimes a bit of chicken or garlic bread.

If you want, you can freeze cooked squash is freezer bags and save it for later. Just defrost and steam for about 5 minutes.

Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti Squash [printable recipe]

Serves 3 - 4 as a main, 6 - 8 as a side

Cook squash via any method described. Let cool slightly.

Cooking Methods: Microwaving: Place half a squash, cut side up, in a microwave-safe dish, add 1/4 cup of water and put it in the microwave. I like to sprinkle some salt on mine too. One half squash takes about 8 - 12 minutes on HIGH.

Baking: Put the squash into a ovenproof dish, cut side down, add 1/2 cup of water, and bake for about 30 minutes at 350F/180C. (You can also do this with a whole squash!) Test it like a potato -- if you can slide a fork in easily, it's done.

Boiling: Put the squash into a deep pot, cut side down, add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Boil for about 20 minutes. Test it as for baking.

Rake flesh with a fork to create ribbons, toss with heated sauce in a large bowl. Portion out into pasta bowls, garnish with Parmesan and parsley to taste.

Recommended accompaniments: Side salad, garlic bread, grilled chicken breast.

Other great sauce ideas:

  1. Crushed garlic, butter or olive oil, parsley
  2. Alfredo or other cream sauce
  3. Carbonara
  4. Any jarred sauce or sauce recipe you prefer
  5. Cold with a nice vinaigrette
  6. Substitute for macaroni in mac & cheese

Slow-Simmered Chunky Tomato Sauce [printable recipe]

Serves 4

  • 1 can diced Italian-style tomatoes1
  • 1 cup leftover red pasta sauce, any variety or recipe
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup beef or vegetable broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced or 1 tbsp dried
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, sliced or 1 tbsp dried
  • 1 tsp oregano or marjoram
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • olive oil
  • water, if needed

In a saucepan, saute onion and garlic in olive oil over moderate heat. Add wine and simmer for 30 - 45 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, sauce and beef broth, followed by bay leaves and herbs. Simmer on low for about 3 hours2, adding additional water occasionally to keep it from burning or becoming too thick. Taste, adjust seasonings as necessary.


  1. We happened to have a can left from a case lot sale. You could also use two to three Roma tomatoes, diced and tossed with basil, oregano and thyme.
  2. The sauce can be eaten long before the 3 hours is up but it won't have the depth of flavor that the long cooking process gives it.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee

It's been a tiring day.

My feet hurt from standing too long in heels in a parking lot in front of a storefront my father's looking seriously at renting for his business. All I wanted to do was go home, put my feet up and finish off the book I'm currently reading.

However, to do that effectively, a cold drink, alcoholic or not, is almost required in order to truly relax.

And it just so happens that Artis had brewed up an extra cup of "Vanilla Biscotti" coffee the other night so I could make a drink of it when I chose.

Tonight was definitely the right night.

You probably know this one already. It's similar to Thai Iced Coffee, which happens to be one of my favorite drinks. Too tired to get out the evaporated milk and the coffee strainer to really do it up right, however, so that one will wait for another day.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee [printable recipe]

Serves 1

  • 1 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
  • ice

While the coffee is hot, stir in sweetened condensed milk. Chill until nice and cold, add ice and enjoy.

(Yes, I take my coffee very sweet and light.)

Edited to note this is best known as Vietnamese style coffee (Thanks Ivars!)

Summer Veggie Fun -- Menu for July 13 - 19

I love summer for only one reason: Produce.

It's cheap, abundant, delicious and everywhere in the summer with produce stands, farmers' markets and neighborhood dabblers. We found great produce at Sunflower Farmer's Market on Sunday and with so much great produce to eat, who needs meat? This week, it's mainly vegetarian fare or a minimum of meat.

Cooking One's Way Through a Cookbook

On my bedside table, I have The Julie & Julia Project by Julie Powell, which I just finished. I was too late to reading blogs to read hers as it happened, unfortunately. I grew up with Julia Child explaining how to cook to my mother and I on public television, usually just before my other great culinary hero, Martin Yan. It was a fun read that I'd recommend to anyone who likes food blogs and, since I'm also a fan of Nora Ephron, I'll definitely be checking out the movie from Netflix later this year.

When it comes to making every recipe in a cookbook like Julie did with Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I'm in awe. I've come across a few others who have undertaken the task; Nose to Tail At Home is one that makes a recipe from Nose to Tail each week, while the lady who wrote French Laundry At Home (making her way through the French Laundry's cookbook) finished successfully and moved on to Alinea At Home.

I've always wanted to try doing that myself. I'm not fantastic on completing projects but I think it might be worth a shot. This isn't to say I'll successfully make every recipe in the book -- some have ingredients I simply can't obtain here and aspic was never a favorite of mine -- but I can certainly try to make most.

To that end, I'll be making one recipe from Latviešu ēdieni by Ņina Masiļūne each week. Our copy is about 25 years old, published during the Soviet occupation of Latvia. Unlike the related Latvian National Cuisine which focuses solely on dishes thought to have originated in Latvia, this book contains the common everyday recipes eaten regardless of origin.