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Tokaji Wine Review: Tokaji Sauska Aszú Essencia 2003

During numerous trips to the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in Hungary, I’ve had the opportunity to taste hundreds of Tokaji dessert wines, and I’ve managed to build a small personal collection. With no great claim to being a sommelier, I will share with you my impressions about the wines, and stories about the people who make them.

It’s been too long since my last Tokaji post, but I’ve got a great wine for you. This is not a wine I tasted in Hungary, unlike the others in most of my past reviews, but one that I acquired elsewhere. I tried contacting the winery to ask for photos, but unfortunately they never responded, so you’re stuck with me taking pictures of my Tokaji bottle around my apartment (next time it will be with my favorite Etsy planks, I promise).

Tokaji Sauska Aszú Essencia 2003 Continue reading

Happy 4th Anniversary, Food Perestroika!

Four years already! That’s 319 posts, including 167 recipes, 62 restaurant reviews / Red Alerts, and 37 travel posts.

Happy 4th Anniversary, Food Perestroika!

And if you want to know what others are reading, here are my 10 most popular posts (Home and About pages excluded):

Blini and Oladi, Russian Pancakes
Crème de Cassis and Black Currant Liqueur
Walnut-Stuffed Eggplant Rolls
Vladimir Poutine
Achma, Georgian Cheese Lasagna
Braised Lamb Tongues
Mors, Russian Berry Cocktail
Adjaran Khachapuri, or Death by Cheese
Zhingalov Khats, Herb Flatbread from Karabakh
Tarkhun, Tarragon Soda

Signature Sauce Base: Tomato Jus

When it comes to food photography, one thing you hear over and over is “natural light, natural light, natural light”. This is certainly true, but it doesn’t help me with shooting dinner in a Manhattan apartment. Maybe if I only cooked in July…

Anyway, I’m not alone, and I’ve found some useful, practical, and affordable tips from some bloggers like Pinch of Yum. So I recently acquired a Lowel Ego Digital Imaging Fluorescent Light and a piece of wood modestly called “Naturally Distressed Recycled Rustic Weathered Boards” on Etsy. To celebrate, I decided to do what a certain category of food blogs (usually the ones that swear only by natural light) seems to revel in ad nauseum: a pedestrian recipe with totally superfluous pretty pictures.

Well, not quite pedestrian. Even though you’ll find a few recipes elsewhere, tomato jus isn’t as hackneyed as cupcakes or cinnamon rolls yet. I’ve actually already blogged about it in my Russian pork shashlyk post, and I plan to use it some more. This version is extremely simple — no herbs, no garlic — but it tastes really good, partly because the jus isn’t mixed with stock or any other liquid.

Tomato Jus

Does the world need another picture of tomatoes on wooden planks? Of course it does!

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Bigos, Polish Hunter’s Stew

A national dish of Poland, bigos is a traditional meat-and-cabbage stew, often referred to as a hunter’s stew. The history of bigos stretches back to the 14th century: supposedly, Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila, who became king of Poland, served it to his hunting-party guests. The stew is also mentioned in Pan Tadeusz, an epic poem written by Adam Mickiewicz in the 19th century:

In the pots warmed the bigos; mere words cannot tell
Of its wondrous taste, colour and marvellous smell.
One can hear the words buzz, and the rhymes ebb and flow,
But its content no city digestion can know.
To appreciate the Lithuanian folksong and folk food,
You need health, live on land, and be back from the wood.

Without these, still a dish of no mediocre worth
Is bigos, made from legumes, best grown in the earth;
Pickled cabbage comes foremost, and properly chopped,
Which itself, is the saying, will in ones mouth hop;
In the boiler enclosed, with its moist bosom shields
Choicest morsels of meat raised on greenest of fields;
Then it simmers, till fire has extracted each drop
Of live juice, and the liquid boils over the top,
And the heady aroma wafts gently afar.

(You’ll notice that historically, bigos is actually more Lithuanian than Polish!)

Bigos, Polish Hunter's Stew

The recipe’s pretty flexible, but one requirement is that there should be lots of different meats — hence the figurative meaning of bigos in Polish, “big mess”. The more festive the occasion, the more varied the composition. Pork, beef, and lamb are all good, as well as game meats like venison or hare, on account of the hunting connection. Smoked meats are also welcome, whether sausages, bacon, or ham. As for the cabbage, sauerkraut and fresh cabbage, or a mix thereof, are all acceptable.

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Everything You Need to Know about Khachapuri on MUNCHIES

MUNCHIES just published my article on khachapuri: Georgia’s Cheese Bread Might Be Better Than Pizza. It covers all the various types of cheese breads you can find in Georgia, from the classic Imeretian khachapuri to the much rarer khabizgini.

To help you orient yourself, I’ve created a map of all the Georgian regions that claim their own local variations of the dish. As you can see, they are pretty much all located in Western Georgia, which makes me wonder if there’s a connection with the historical division between the kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia in antiquity. That is, I wonder if cheese breads descend only from the former.

Khachapuri - Georgian Regions

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Restaurant Review: Toné Café

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

Do you remember Georgian Bread? At a time when Georgian restaurants in NYC were a rarity (no Pepela or Oda House back then), this Brighton Beach bakery turned out good khachapuri made from scratch. Fast forward a few years: the former owner has retired, and the bakery, under new ownership (“your new taste”, as the facade brags in approximate English), was extended to include a sit-down restaurant and garden next door. The place is now called Toné Café, after the tandoor (თონე / tone in Georgian) that takes pride of place in the middle of the kitchen.

With all the recent competition, does this forerunner of the New York khachapuri fad still top the podium of cheese bread goodness? Does the place still justify the trek to Brighton? Read on!

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Grilling with Peat, Russian Pork Shashlyks and Potato Lyulya-Kebabs

I’ve been using natural wood for grilling shashlyks and other kebabs for quite a while now (I explained the process in my lyulya-kebab recipe post). The wood smoke certainly imparts some flavor, but the relatively short cooking time of a kebab means that the exposure, especially on an open grill, isn’t sufficient to achieve the same results as, say, traditional American barbecue. While I don’t want to turn my meat into something that only smells like smoke, I’ve been searching for some middle ground.

Looking at other smoked products, there’s one prominent example where tradition turned to a different combustible, more for reasons of availability than flavor in the beginning: Scotch whisky. You might not think of Scotch as a smoked product, and yet… Historically, peat was used in places where it was the only consistent source of fuel, such as Islay. The peat smoke would permeate the malted barley drying in the kilns, and the flavor of the whiskies produced owed so much to that smoke that distilleries retained the practice even after technology rendered it no longer necessary. The aroma of burning peat is so intense in fact that it’s called peat-reek. You can read more about the influence of peat on whisky here.

This is all well and good, but this is a Russian food blog, not a Scottish food blog. But wait — aren’t there other parts of the world that have peat?

Russian Cuisine - Pork Shashlyk Grilled over Peat Continue reading

Russian Waste-Not Burger

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen some recent tweets about my upcoming talk on the Future of Food at TED@IBM. One of themes I’ll be discussing is food waste, and how recipe-generating Chef Watson can help. About 1/3 of the food produced worldwide is wasted, and consumers have their share of responsibility. According to a recent article on Yahoo, the five most wasted foods at home are sour cream, produce (especially celery), fresh herbs (like parsley and cilantro), citrus, and bread. So I decided to give Chef Watson a spin. I tried to input all five ingredients and create something with a Russian influence. The system offered me a few options. Crostini was probably the most straightforward dish to use large amounts of these ingredients, but sandwiches and burgers seemed more creative to me. I went for the awkwardly named “Russian celery, parsley, lemon juice, sour cream and bread” burger.

Russian Burger - made with 5 most wasted foodsChef Watson got back to me with ideas that were both inspiring and slightly puzzling. I have to admit some of the ingredients aren’t all that quintessentially Russian. Fennel and olives, really? That might make sense in Bulgaria, but much less so in Russia. However, a) all the ingredients go really well together, b) I can live with a Russian-Bulgarian burger, and c) there are indeed many Russian elements: the tomatoes, pickles, sour cream, rye bread, and veal. Besides, all in all, this is a really good burger.

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