With cooler weather finally approaching, I thought I’d post about one of my favorite stick-to-your-ribs fall dishes: vareniki.
What are vareniki, you ask? They’re Russian potato dumplings, kind of like pierogi, and in this context they’re adorable!
I was introduced to the world of tiny Russian dumplings when I was throwing a Russian-themed 35th birthday party for a friend, and was immediately hooked. I’m all for carbohydrate-laden goodies, so potato dumplings served with butter and sour cream sounded amazing. Add in a neat gadget for making dozens of itty-bitty dumplings at once, and it was a given that I’d be making them ASAP!
To be fair, the plastic dumpling thingie is actually used to make pelmeni, meat-filled Russian dumplings that I don’t like as much because they’re not different enough from the meat-filled Chinese dumplings I get all the time, but the tool is still a ton of fun to use here!
I found a dough recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen (a very useful blog for anyone trying to get into Russian cooking), and basically threw together a filling based on my own personal tastes. Potatoes, of course, with cheese (whatever I had in the fridge) and browned onions because they’re more flavorful than raw onions. Plus bacon, because potatoes and onions just cry out for bacon, am I right? The finished dumplings are tender and delicious whether boiled or pan-fried, and when served with a little sour cream and dill they’re fantastic comfort food.
In case you haven’t noticed, I have a lot of baking pans. All different shapes and sizes. I have round pans and square pans, three different sizes of bundt pans, loaf pans, madeleine pans, and sheet pans galore. And I have muffin pans in jumbo, standard, and mini. So you’d think I’d be all set when it comes to baking pans. And I was. Until I encountered this:
It’s a micro-mini muffin pan, and I was instantly smitten. See how tiny the wells are? So cute!!!
But what to bake in it? I’m fairly sure that a dense batter will always be necessary, because overly fluffy cakes would have no substance and might be too airy to release cleanly. For my inaugural bake, I decided to go straight to the densest type of recipe– a brownie from my favorite chocolate author, Alice Medrich. To give it an extra jolt of flavor (got to go intense for such tiny bites!) I added instant espresso powder to the mix. And then some chocolate ganache. And then coffee beans on top, because why not?
I think I may have mentioned before that I love appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. Just love them. My favorite kind of work event is one where they serve drinks and “heavy appetizers” or “passed hors d’oeuvres,” because I know that there’ll be something involving cheese, bacon, or some kind of pastry… sometimes all three. So naturally I like to have a few recipes for similar items in my repertoire for when I want to host my own delicious event.
This particular recipe was born out of the need to come up with something that I could make ahead of time and that would be able to survive for several hours in a hot car before being served at a casual barbecue. That meant most cheese- or meat-based items were out, and any fresh vegetables were similarly not going to work. I decided that the best option was something with puff pastry, and once I noticed the half-empty package of fresh baby spinach slowly wilting in my refrigerator, the decision was made!
I’ve always wanted to try making “The Amazing Chocoflan” that I keep seeing online, but the time never seemed right. Recently, however, I was invited to a last-minute potluck and it seemed like as good an occasion as any to give it a try!
That being said, I was kind of in a hurry and was actually (gasp!) short on flour, of all things, so I pulled out a chocolate cake mix to use as the base and never looked back. Besides, I figured that using an oil-based cake recipe was better for a cake that would be chilled before serving, since butter-based cakes tend to go a little stiff in the refrigerator.
Anyway, I doctored up the cake mix with a little sour cream for richness and some coffee for flavor, and in the end it turned out pretty well. The flan itself was absolutely amazing– the insulation from the water bath and the cake batter made it incredibly creamy, and it was perfectly sweet without being too sugary. It was definitely my favorite part of the dessert, and if I didn’t think that the cake batter played a major role in preventing curdling I’d try making it on its own… maybe I’ll try anyway, it was that good.
It’s peach season, and as much as I enjoy eating them straight out of hand, I do on occasion like to use them in desserts. Tarts are a particularly good way to show off gorgeous produce, so it only makes sense that I would end up making a peach tart someday.
I was initially inspired by this recipe from Food52, which was intriguing in that the crust used oil (vegetable and olive oil) rather than butter, and that the fruit itself was topped with a sugar/flour mixture rather than being mixed in with it before baking. The finished tart wasn’t bad, but the crust had a sandy, crumbly texture that didn’t hold together all that well. I thought I could do better.
I made it again, substituting in a crust that uses melted butter but keeping the remaining parts of the recipe, which were pretty darned good. The crust recipe is similar to one I’ve used before, but it includes extra water and oil along with the butter, which seems to work pretty well! Best of all, I made it in one bowl and pressed it directly into the tart pan– no rolling or chilling!
The finished tart is beautiful (but rustic– this is not a pristinely perfect French-style tart), with the crumbly topping melting into a gorgeous bubbly glaze. I like it best served warm with vanilla ice cream, but I’ve been known to eat it with vanilla yogurt so I can call it breakfast.
So at last my 1860s ballgown is finished! I got to wear it, hoop skirt and all, to a Victorian ball this summer, and it was a hit! It took a little getting used to, dancing with such a gigantic skirt, but it was just so much fun!
Besides my floral hair wreath, I accessorized with some simple pearl earrings (leverback, so not technically historically accurate, but close enough) and a blue cameo strung on a black velvet ribbon. I also had short white gloves, but had abandoned them by the time these pictures were taken– just as well, they kind of made my hands blend into my skirts, which looked weird.
All in all I’m very happy with the dress– it’s got just the right silhouette and the embroidery makes it extra-special. Looking forward to wearing it again sometime!
The last thing I made for this outfit was a floral headpiece to wear with it– during the 1850s and 1860s it was popular to wear floral crescents for eveningwear, so I got out my paper-covered floral wire from my daughter’s flower girl wreath and went shopping for artificial flowers. I purchased several different shades of blue, with some ivory thrown in for good measure.
First I made a ring out of wire, twisting the ends under, then figured out a general idea for how I wanted my flowers to be placed. After that it was just a matter of hot-gluing things down one by one!
I painted the visible brown parts of the wire with black paint, just to make them blend into my hair color better.
When it came time to wear the wreath, I twisted my hair into a low-rolled updo, and pinned the wreath to the rolls.