Well, it’s been an eventful past two weeks. There were school field trips, filing taxes, and I accepted a job as a reporter for a commercial real estate media and promotions company. I’m kind of nervous about it — I hope I can pull this off. I just really wish I could jump ahead to where it’s old hat, and I’m super comfortable with it.
|Looks can be deceiving. It looks nice, but I think I overbaked it slightly. And of course, I didn't have an actual sourdough starter in it. But, it would make a good bread to dip in soups.|
But anyway, today is Valentine’s Day, and what better way to celebrate the people I love than with Lithuanian comfort foods? I started with making Lithuanian Baltic Rye bread. Right away, I know this won’t be as good as it could be because I was supposed to make a sourdough starter a couple days ago, and I totally forgot to do that. The past couple of days were so busy with starting my new job that it completely slipped my mind. So, we’ll see how this turns out without it being completely fermented. I did proof my yeast in ½ c lukewarm water with 1 tsp sugar. Then I poured 2 c of hot coffee into a pot, boiled it, and dropped in 1 oz of baking chocolate into it to melt. (The recipe actually calls for “leftover coffee.” I didn’t even know there was such as thing. Apparently, some people don’t drink all eight cups of coffee in the morning. I also learned there is such a thing as “leftover wine” too. Such as weird thing, indeed.) Then I added in ¼ c molasses to it and let it cool to lukewarm. Once it was cool, I poured in my yeast mixture into the coffee mixture along with my fake sourdough starter (1 1/2 c flour plus 1 c water that I let sit in a covered in a probably not quite airtight bowl for about two hours). Then I added in 2 Tbsp caraway seeds, 2 Tbsp salt, 2 c ground bran (I actually used steel cut oats since I somehow had no clue my husband hated steel cut oats with immense fervor), and stirred in about 4 c rye flour cup by cup. Once I got it mixed together, I put it on a floured surface and kneaded it until it was more elastic-y. Then I put this bread in a buttered bowl, covered it with a towel, and let it rest for about an hour. At the end of this time, I kneaded it again, divided it in half, and shaped them into round loaves. I covered them again and let them rest for another hour. Then it came time to put them into a 375ºF oven for 50-55 minutes until it sounds hollow on the bottom. I left mine in the oven for about an hour, which was about five minutes too long. Although I used parchment paper, the bottoms were quite browned. And it was quite hearty. The outsides were pretty difficult to cut through but the inside was soft.
|My husband and I agreed it almost tasted like a dressing you'd eat at Thanksgiving.|
I decided to make my two side dishes first. I started with Kugel, a Lithuania potato cake with pork. I grated five potatoes and squeezed out as much liquid as I could. Then I brought 1 c milk to a boil and mixed in my grated potatoes along with two beaten eggs, ½ tsp marjoram, a little salt, and about a half of an onion chopped. In a separate skillet, I browned some cubed pork fillet (ok, I actually used a bit of country-style ribs). In a baking dish, I spread a layer of the potatoes on the bottom, then a layer of the cubed meat, followed by another layer of the potatoes. I baked this at 350ºF for about an hour. This could probably be used as a main dish as well. I enjoyed this, although I may have used just a little too much marjoram because it definitely had an “herb” smell and flavor to it, almost smelling of sage or thyme in a way. I liked it, but the kids weren’t quite fans of it.
|What's not to love about this. I love the flavors, the colors... it was wonderful.|
The second side dish I made was Lithuanian cabbage. In a large skillet, I cooked my chopped onion and chopped bacon together. When the bacon and onion was finished, I added some chopped green and red cabbage along with a little brown sugar. I thought I had a small can of sour kraut, but I didn’t, so I added in a little El Salvadoran curtido to it along with a little of the juice. Then I stirred everything together and let it cook down for about 20 minutes or so. I really liked this, and so did my daughter. My son gave me the thumb to the side (neither good nor bad). He told me he doesn’t like “floppy bacon.” But I thought it was wonderful.
|Clearly, the winner tonight, along with the sauce...|
Finally, today’s main dish: kuldunai (Lithuanian meat dumplings with bacon sauce). I first prepared the filling. I beat two eggs and mixed them with salt, pepper, a little chopped onion and some ground beef (already browned). For the dumplings, I beat three eggs and added in salt, water, and some flour to make a soft dough. I had trouble with getting my dough to act right; it was too crumbly. I still wasn’t satisfied with it, but I did get it to become workable. Then I rolled the dough out to an 1/8” thick (probably a little thicker). Taking a large cup, I cut out 3” circles and filled each with some of the filling. I folded them in half and pinched the sides together to seal it. Then I put these into boiling salted water. When they float, they’re done.
|This right here. This is the best thing ever.|
For the bacon sauce, I fried some chopped bacon in a skillet and then added in some chopped onion, some flour, and some milk. I stirred until it started to thicken like a gravy. This is a simple sauce with a lot of flavor, and it certainly went well with the dumplings. Those Lithuanians know what’s up. This was fabulous. Clearly, this was the best part of the meal.
|I loved this meal. Such comfort foods and perfect for this cold, snowy day.|
So once again, I have one more country that I must add to my bucket list of places I want to visit. I have a thing for the countries that aren’t high on places tourists want to visit. France or Italy or Spain often rank high on places people want to visit, but if I could visit anywhere, I’d pick places like Croatia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Dominica, Chile, Czech Republic, Kenya, Cabo Verde, Botswana, Lebanon, and others. I’m so glad that I finally cooked from Lithuania. My friend was right: it’s such an amazing country. And maybe one day I’ll make the trip there.
Up next: Luxembourg