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.
I fried up a bunch of bacon last week to make a savory bread pudding (for the record, it was kale/bacon/onion bread pudding and it was amazing), and found myself with almost half a cup of leftover bacon fat. I poured it into a ramekin to chill in the fridge, and set about trying to figure out what I could use it in.
With the advent of chillier weather, biscuits seemed to fit the bill nicely. I decided to substitute chilled bacon fat for butter, and to punch up the flavor with some wilting green onions and some cheddar cheese I found in the fridge. Basically these biscuits were a delicious way to use my leftovers, and they turned out wonderfully!
So I mentioned the post-Christmas brunch we hosted earlier– along with sweets we also had several savory items, including a trio of delicious savory tarts. I was originally only going to make two– cauliflower and onion, and apple and fennel– but ended up having extra cauliflower, onions, and pie crust, and didn’t want to let it go to waste. The tarts didn’t turn out perfectly (cracks in the crusts allowed egg to leak through, making the bottoms soggy), but they were pretty tasty and provided inspiration for future recipes!
Let me be upfront with you– this is not a pretty dish. It’s beige and sloppy-looking and won’t win any beauty contests. It won’t amaze your tastebuds with new and exciting flavors, either. But on the plus side, it’s reasonably healthy, quick and easy to make, and is basically the epitome of comfort food for a wintry evening. Also, it’s delicious, so you should make it.
While I’m sure the combination of beans, bacon, and cabbage has been around for a while, I somehow didn’t “discover” it until recently, when I was googling dinner ideas and came across a recipe in the Washington Post. I’ve adapted it to drastically increase the cabbage (and thus my perception of its healthiness), but aside from that it’s good as-is. The smokiness of the bacon combines with the creaminess of the beans to give it a really hearty flavor, and the cabbage just kind of melts into the dish, adding bulk but not hitting you in the face with cabbage-y flavor or odor. With plenty of black pepper and parmesan cheese, I’ve eaten this repeatedly this past winter, and regret nothing.
As fall finally gets into full swing, my dinner preferences are slowly switching over from refreshing, crunchy foods and sharp flavors to more mellow, filling dishes like casseroles and risottos. This one is rich, creamy, flavorful– and full of vegetables, so you don’t need to feel guilty about enjoying it. And with ingredients like bacon, onions, Parmesan cheese, Brussels sprouts, and white wine, what’s not to enjoy?
The best part (well, other than the bacon) is that the recipe skips the tedious “add a ladleful of stock, stir until absorbed, add a ladleful of stock…” steps that you usually get with risotto, and instead utilizes the oven to make the whole process a snap. This is a great weeknight meal or side dish, and I definitely foresee myself making it (or variations of it) again and again.
Sticking with the classics, my next trip down memory lane is Almanzo Wilder’s fried apples n’ onions from Farmer Boy. This book is seriously FULL of good eating– I came across a website that quoted every meal he ate in the book, and was drooling by the end of it. It all sounded amazing, but it’s too hot this summer to be roasting spare-ribs and cooking baked beans with salt pork, so I decided to go with something simpler: fried apples n’ onions.
This dish is just what it’s named– apples and onions, fried together. I don’t understand why most recipes online make it so sweet, adding tons of brown sugar and cooking until the apples and onions turn into mush. This is not apple pie we’re talking about here, this is a side dish, and Almanzo states in the book that he ate four helpings in one meal! If it were sweet I’m not sure that even I (with my notorious sweet tooth) would’ve been able to eat that much…
So I had a lot of extra bacon, and with its expiration date fast approaching I didn’t want to let all that salty, smoky, fatty goodness go to waste. What to make? Bacon jam. And it’s AMAZING. Seriously, I’ve tried other bacon jam recipes before, but this one was a standout– I tasted it and immediately declared it one of the best things I’d ever made. It’s incredibly delicious, and while it may seem like a lot of work for a condiment, this is no ordinary jam! This sweet-savory spread (with a hint of spice at the end) goes on anything, from grilled cheese sandwiches (my favorite) to crackers and peanut butter.* Try it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it!