Archives for posts with tag: cooking

 Inspired by my friend Chloe’s monthly food favorites, I’m going to start profiling my favorite new things in Georgia each season. See my post of fall favorites here. I’ll try to focus on things, people, places, and organizations that are brand new, but it’s possible that I’ll be late to the party on something, or there’s something that’s just new-to-me and so amazing that I’ll still choose to include it. 

Winter was off to a terrible start, but things have been less terrible in some dimensions lately. Nonetheless, I had some good discoveries.

Clockwise from top left: ქართული წინდა, Ambrosiano, Chikori chocolate-covered dried apricots, Big Smoke BBQ

Ambrosiano: I wasn’t expecting much from a pizza place outside the fancy neighborhoods (I was mostly hoping the tomato sauce wouldn’t be ketchup), and I was blown away by how good the pizza was here. Real gooey melty mozzarella, authentic Italian charcuterie, and delicious truffle sauce all atop a serviceable crust. And the staff were really nice! This tiny place near the hospitals is a real gem.

Big Smoke BBQ: There are lots of nice restaurants on Beliashvili Street, but one of those things is not like the others. Amidst all the Georgian party restaurants is an American BBQ joint. Everything was good, but the pulled pork sandwich, mozzarella sticks, and berry lemonade were big hits. I’ll be back for them soon!

Chikori Chocolate-covered dried apricots This company has narrowly missed the favorites list a few times in the past–their prunes are the best I’ve ever tasted, and the dried watermelon is fascinating; good in a very odd way. The chocolate-covered apricots, though, are out of this world! Dried apricots are my favorite ჩირი (chiri=dried fruit) to start with (well, it’s a toss-up with dried persimmons), so adding some chocolate to them was bound to be a win. Add some cute packaging and a local company working to improve food safety and employ women in the regions, and I’m sold! Chikori products are available in most grocery stores, but not all of them carry the chocolate-covered apricots specifically. In my experience, the “2 Nabiji” chain most reliably stocks them.

ქართული წინდა (qartuli tsinda–Georgian socks): thought they’re not as cute as AlterSocks (a summer favorite) they come in a wider range of sizes, and are lovely and soft. They also have a line that is infused with silver and claim that it will cure what ails you (it should keep the smells down, at least). Widely available at pharmacies and supermarkets.

my oven: Though my move was in fall, I’ve only recently been getting back into using the oven again. Cookies (of course!), muffins, roasted veggies and baked potatoes are all back in the rotation!

finding people from home: in the past month, I’ve met two people from my area–one a fellow alumna of my (small town) high school, and JenniGoesGlobal, from a neighboring town. The world is small!

Dishonorable mention(s): too many to mention; it was a long winter

If you have any suggestions for something new and great in Georgia, let me know–I’ll try to check it out, and perhaps it will make a future favorites list.

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I was back in the US for the holiday season, and one evening my Mom and I cooked a full-on Georgian feast (though by Georgian standards the table looks quite empty).

Georgian Dinner in America (January 2014)

Georgian Dinner in America (January 2014)

We made lobio (ლობიო beans), using the recipe from “Please to the Table” which is fantastic (though they erroneously call it lobiani).  I quickly threw together some mchadi (მჭადი corn bread) using regular American cornmeal–just add water, squeeze into fritters, and fry.  It wasn’t too noticeably different from real Georgian mchadi, and I really like having it with my lobio.  We roasted some red bell peppers, and stuffed them with Georgian walnut paste for a vegetable side, a preparation that can be done with pretty much any vegetable (I do love the eggplant version).  These were particularly tasty, though.  The most important part of the meal were the khinkali (ხინკალი Georgian dumplings) that I taught my Mom to make using my host mother’s technique (and a little help from Darra Goldstein for the proportions of the dough).  They turned out really well, but these are not an easy thing to make–they’re very labor-intensive. Using high-quality American meat really boosted the flavor of the filling, though, and they tasted wonderful, despite that fact that I didn’t add enough water to the filling to make them properly brothy.  Dessert was a repeat of the very well-received gozinaki (გოზინაყი honey-nut candy) that I had also made the previous week.  We were also able to wash our dinner down with a very nice Georgian wine– Marani’s Saperavi-Cabernet blend, that a friend gave my family as a holiday gift.  Even though the table wasn’t groaning under the weight of the food, we all ate more than our fill and had plenty of leftovers ready.  (Pro tip–refry leftover khinkali for the next morning’s breakfast).

Gozinaki

გილოცავთ შობას! (gilotsavt shobas! Merry (Georgian) Christmas!)  I’m sneaking this post in just under the wire in my current timezone, but since I’m in America for the holidays, I decided to mark Orthodox Christmas with a little bit of festivity (aka food).  გოზინაყი (gozinaki Georgian honey-nut candy) are a traditional winter holiday treat in Georgia, but somehow I’d never managed to have them for the holiday itself.  It seemed like an easy enough recipe to re-create in the US.

My parents’ town is in a pecan-producing area, and I really prefer pecans to walnuts, so I Americanized my gozinaki by using them rather than walnuts. I looked at these two recipes before I got started (Planes, Trains, Marshrutkas: GozinakiGeorgia About: Gozinaki with Walnuts) and then I sort of winged it with my Mom’s advice on what seemed correct.  We mostly followed Sabrina’s method, but I did add a bit of sugar, as suggested in the other recipe–not because the honey wouldn’t be sweet enough, but to help the candy harden and stick together.  Things turned out just fine.  Since I had access to lovely American amenities, I simplified the flattening stage by making my candy on a sheet of parchment paper instead of a cold, wet cutting board.  The traditional diamond shape is not a particularly efficient way of cutting the sweets, but they do look pretty on the plate that way (I left all the misshapen triangles and pentagons on another plate and only photographed the pretty ones.)

Gozinaki were a hit here–pecans and honey: what’s not to like?

Well, this is CookiesandtheCaucasus.  Last week I finally baked up a batch of cookies to encourage my students to stop by and practice speaking.  That didn’t really work, but the cookies were a big hit, and some of my co-workers asked for the recipe.  So, I updated my old standby to make it easier for my Georgian colleagues to follow (ie…metric) and added some notes on ingredients.  I hope this is helpful for others trying to bake American things in Georgia.

Hillary Clinton’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (Em’s adaptation)

Ingredients:

  • 170 grams all-purpose flour
  • 6 grams salt
  • 5 grams baking soda[1]
  • 227 grams unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 200 grams packed brown sugar[2]
  • 115 grams white sugar
  • 15 ml vanilla extract[3]
  • 2 eggs
  • 180 grams oatmeal
  • 365 grams semisweet chocolate chips (2 regular size dark chocolate bars of your choice, roughly chopped)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (If you have one of the glorified Easy-Bake Ovens so popular in Georgia, I highly recommend an oven thermometer). Rub a bit of butter on the baking sheet. Cream together butter, sugars and vanilla in large bowl until creamy. Add eggs and beat until light and fluffy.

Gradually beat in flour, salt, and baking soda. Stir in oats and then chocolate chips. Drop batter by rounded spoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Cool cookies on sheets for 2 minutes. Remove to wire racks (or a colander turned upside down)  to cool completely.

 


 

[1] Georgian baking soda is chemically the same as American baking soda, but it seems to work differently. I’ve been told you need to activate it with vinegar..

[2] American brown sugar isn’t readily available in Georgia (I’ve heard rumors they have it at Ozzy’s in Dighomi and some baking place in Vake).  You can substitute in regular white sugar, or German brown sugar (at most of the big supermarkets), though it won’t taste exactly the same.  German brown sugar is better than white sugar.

[3] American vanilla extract is liquid, not powder.  It’s no problem to use the powdered vanilla, but you’ll need to compensate with slightly less flour or more butter.

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Georgian dinner in America. I’m getting better at this!

Part of my prolonged absence this summer was due to a three-week vacation back home in America (thanks, bosses!).  When I’m back in the US, there are a few things I always must do: go to the public library and read all the books, go to the dollar store and be amazed by consumer culture and get some teaching materials, and go to the department store where I used to work and game their sales so I look less disheveled when I return to Georgia.  There are also always a few things I must eat: a few family favorites (pasta salad nicoise in summer, and pork, black bean, and sweet potato stew in winter), Mexican food, hummus, avocadoes, and Starbucks chai tea lattes.  Despite my glee at returning to American cuisine, I also start missing Georgian food.  Fortunately, my parents are also fans of Georgian cuisine, and my Mom has excellent kitchen skills and is often capable of turning my “Well, I watched my host mom make this by throwing X.Y, and Z together” observations into a cohesive dish.  Usually, we collaborate on one Georgian meal while I’m at home.  This year, our cooking efforts were improved by some functional souvenirs from Georgia.  I got my Mom a traditional Georgian tablecloth (სუფრა supra) as a Mother’s Day gift, and my Dad received mtsvadi (მწვადი Georgian meat on a stick) skewers for Father’s Day.  We made khachapuri (following G’s method and using a basic pizza dough recipe for proportions–it worked great!), beet pkhali (ფხალი vegetables pureed with nuts and spices) and a tomato-cucumber salad, and had pomegranate seeds as a garnish.  We also made meat on a stick, but since it isn’t possible to get proper mtsvadi meat in the US, we marinated it in pomegranate juice as suggested in “The Georgian Feast“.  We cracked open a souvenir bottle of tkemali, and enjoyed our Georgian meal served American style.

My roommate S and I have been wanting to learn to make Georgian food for ages, but our host mothers took hospitality seriously and we had to fight our way into the kitchen, making cooking lessons a bit tricky.  Fortunately one of our Georgian friends, G, agreed to teach us how to make khachapuri.
If you want to actually follow a recipe for khachapuri, try my recipe adapted for American kitchens.  Making khachapuri in Georgia is far easier–Georgian flour is very different from American flour, and with Georgian cheese available, the filling is just cheese.  That being said…there is no way I could replicate the process again without a Georgian tutor.

G and S get started on the khachapuri dough

As I understand it, these are the steps for making khachapuri:

Step 1: Be Georgian.

Step 2: Throw some flour, salt, sugar, yeast and warm water in a bowl. (“But how much, G?  –Some”)  Mix together, the longer the better.  (The dough will still be  super sticky).

Step 3: Let the dough rise. Skype your friends.

Step 4: Grate the cheese.

Step 5: Press out the dough. Make sure you flour your hands and the board very, very well.  Put a pile of cheese in the middle, fold it up like a khinkali, and squish back flat. (“Does this look right, G? –Yeah, sure. Why not?”)

Just a few steps away from eating

Step 6: Cook. Most people use an oven, but G uses a frying pan/griddle, and I think I like that better.

Sorry that I can’t give you better information on how to really make khachapuri without a Georgian mentor, but I can assure you that our efforts were fun and delicious.

Homemade khachapuri!

My host brother helping make cookies.

I finally got to bake cookies!  As you might gather from the name of this blog, I’m a fan of cookies.  For American Mother’s Day on Sunday (Miss you, Mommy!), I told my host mother I would like to make her some “American cakes”.  I gave her my list of ingredients (there was some confusion over why I wanted oatmeal but not yogurt), and rummaged around under my bed to retrieve my brown sugar, vanilla extract, and American baking soda, and was ready to go.  The rest of the family were out of the house when I was scheduled to bake, so I made my host brother help me.  Turning on the oven was the biggest challenge; I don’t think I could ever manage to repeat the process.

Em baking cookies

Basically, my host brother and I both poked at it until it did something.  Once we were sure we would be able to bake the cookies, I set my host brother to chopping up the chocolate bars since I didn’t bother carrying chocolate chips with me  (that’s a good manly task, right?) while I mixed the dough.  Our cookies turned out excellent, and my host family has a good impression so far of American food.  (In addition to cookies, they’ve also been introduced to the joys of chili, Doritos and salsa, and French toast).  Here’s my trusty recipe (OK, Hillary Clinton’s recipe) that has yet to fail me.

The final product.

Eastern Orthodox Easter this year fell on April 15, so I have been relaxing and enjoying a long weekend.  My host family does celebrate Easter, but not as robustly as some Georgian families.  Traditionally, Easter marks the end of the fast for Lent, and so the Easter supra is quite a big one.  We did have a supra, but it wasn’t the biggest one that my host family has had while I’ve been here—the Ninoba supra was far more of an event.  From my understanding, it wasn’t determined if we would be hosting the supra or attending another one until mid-afternoon on Easter Sunday.  This meant that my host mother had quite a bit of cooking that needed to be done, and not a lot of time to do it in.  My host sister was out of the house for part of the afternoon visiting other family members.  In short, this meant that I got to help cook!  I wasn’t in charge of anything critical—chopping the onions, frosting the cakes, and plating the side dishes, but I got to see some real Georgian cooking.  I helped with the lamb and the cakes, so here are some recipes/techniques for them:

Lest you think my host mom isn’t a good hostess–these are just the side dishes!

Georgian Easter Lamb (chakapuli ჩაქაფული):

Ingredients:
Lamb, cubed (we used bone-in)
Water
Onions
Tarragon
Cilantro
Preserved sour plums (like the ones used to make tkemali)

First, begin stewing the lamb in the water.  When it is mostly cooked through, add in the onions, tarragon, cilantro, and plums.  Allow to stew until ready to serve.  Make sure there’s bread to mop up the juices!

This recipe is really quite simple and delicious– is tastes like spring–but the key ingredient is preserved sour plums—not sure where you can get such a thing in the US.

Georgian cake frosting:

Although my host mother does bake homemade cakes from scratch on occasion, since she was in a hurry for Easter she bought pre-baked sheet cakes and we added our own frosting.  These cakes are far drier than those I’m used to in America, and got moister when we added the frosting.  We made two three-layer cakes: one with a carmelly frosting, and one with a plainer frosting topped with chocolate.  The technique for making both of our frostings was the same. For the plainer frosting, we mixed a can of (sweetened) condensed milk (сгущёнка–sgushchyonka, yes, that is a Russian word, not a Georgian one) with butter.  When the texture didn’t seem quite what she wanted, my host mom added a bit of flour in a paste with hot water to thicken it a tad.  For the carmelly frosting, we did the same thing with a can of “boiled concentrated milk” or what I would call dulce de leche (confused my host family telling them the “English” name of that one)

I put that food on those plates!

The only Georgian food I’ve been able to help cook so far is khinkali.  Khinkali are a favorite national dish of Georgia, and though they are very similar to the plethora of dumplings made all over the world, they have one particularly unique trait: they’re filled with broth.  I didn’t participate in the whole khinkali-making process, but since it’s a rather labor-intensive job I got to help with the filling and folding.  I don’t have a recipe, but I can tell you that the trick to broth-filled khinkali is to add lots and lots of water to the ground meat filling.

To make your khinkali in the traditional shape, you start with a fairly small circular piece of dough, and add the filling to the middle.

Dough for one khinkali dumpling.

You then pick up the dough at the back, and pleat the dough, folding such that you put the folds on top (I’m not sure why this is important, but my host mother says it is very important).  Keep holding the pile of folds in your hand, and continue until you have made it back to where you began.

Folding khinkali.

If you’re a pro at this or a generally tidy person, the folds should all be the same size, and you should have quite a lot of them.  You will now have a nubbin of pleated dough in your hand.  Pick up the khinkali by the nubbin and spin and pinch a few times to get the dough glued together.  Now you only need to do about 100 more…

Homemade Khinkali.

(Photos by my host sister, Ani)

My Mexican Dinner

An American friend came to visit recently and told my host mother how she had cooked Mexican food for her host family, and all of a sudden I was invited into the kitchen to cook something the next day.  I hadn’t had time to go to Tbilisi to try to find proper American/Mexican ingredients, so my recipe options were limited to what I could make with the chile powder and cumin I had in with me and ingredients available in Georgia.  So chili it was!  I didn’t make a proper Southwest Chile con Carne or an official Skyline chili or anything of the sort and went with my trusty non-recipe for chili that’s more a Southwest-spiced stew with beans, meat and tomato sauce.

I went light on the chili powder for the benefit of my host siblings and grandparents, but put in enough to make me feel like I was making proper chili. We used the traditional Georgian mixture of ground beef and pork, and some formerly fresh tomatoes and tomato paste, and lobio beans, and it all worked out great!  We served it topped with sour cream and cilantro (my host mother insisted that fresh cilantro make an appearance somewhere, though she was skeptical about how little salt I added).  I was pleased with it, and my host brother (who is a pro at not eating when he doesn’t want to) inhaled his and asked for seconds.

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