Great Grandma Sally’s Borscht + Bonus Chilled Cucumber Soup

I love beets. My husband love beets. Every time we eat beets we wonder to ourselves, “Why don’t we eat more beets?”. It’s that rich, earthy, dirt flavor that drives us crazy I guess. Hot, cold, pickled, roasted, raw. Ugh, just shut up and give me some beets already!

We also love soup. I take great pride in my soup making abilities and boast the title (bestowed upon me by Seth) of The Soup Ninja. I can literally make soup out of anything but can’t write a recipe for soup to save my damn life. Because really, how the hell do you even write a recipe for soup?! Just keep adding stuff in random quantities until it tastes good… that’s my motto (which should get you really excited about the soup recipes I am sharing today)!

So between our love of beets and our love of soup, of course one of our favorite ways to eat beets is in borscht! Seth (being lactose intolerant… sad face) prefers clear borscht served hot and I’m a fan of cold, dairy borscht with a big fat dollop of sour cream on top.

Summer Borscht

Last fall I got to dig through my Great Grandma Sally’s recipes and found a recipe for borscht amongst the many other Eastern European/Lithuanian/Probably Jewish dishes she made regularly.

Sally's Borscht Recipe.jpeg

So I find this borscht recipe and I get all excited and then I actually read the thing and can’t help but laugh because it is EXACTLY how I would write a soup recipe. No quantities, vague directions, random additions that may or may not be necessary, and a clear lack of some very important elements… namely, a shit ton of fresh dill.

Unintimidated (and having made borscht, or some hodgepodge version of it before), I set off to re-create Great Gram’s Beet Borscht.

Borscht

Here’s what I did/an example of how bad I am at writing soup recipes:

  • 3 Large Beets w/ stems + greens
  • 1/4 Cup Red Onion cut into large chunks
  • 1 Fat Clove of Fresh Garlic cut into large chunks
  • 1-2 tbsp(ish) Knorr’s “Caldo (Con Sabor) De Pollo” seasoning
  • A shit ton of Fresh Dill
  • Buttermilk to taste (lol)
  • Sour Cream to taste + to serve (lol)

Remove the stems + greens from the beets and wash thoroughly. Cut up.

Wash beets and cut in half or quarters.

Cut red onion into large 1″-2″ chunks + Cut garlic clove into 1/2″ chunks.

Add the beets + stems + greens + onion +garlic to a pot of water and bring to a boil. The water should cover all of the beety goodness by about 2″ it might end up being about 8 cups but I can’t be sure because I paid no attention. You’re basically making the base for a broth while also cooking down the beets.

Boil the beety goodness until the beets are tender (check with a fork). Remove the beets, set aside and peel (the skins should just peel right off). Add a tablespoon or two of chicken or vegetable stock to the pot with the stems, greens, onions, and garlic… this just kicks up the flavor and adds some saltiness. I put “Caldo de Pollo” in every soup I ever make because I am a really good vegetarian.

Stir + strain the broth, reserving all the liquid and discarding the mushy stuff. Bust out your Ninja Blender and add the broth (6-7 cups). Chop up some fresh dill (I swear I use like 1/2 cup of dill… add as much or as little as you want) and add to blender.

Now you get to decide how much buttermilk and sour cream to add. I add probably a cup of buttermilk and 3/4 cup sour cream and mostly go by color which I feel is a good way to feel it out. Start off with smaller quantities of dairy and add more to your liking.

Once you have skinned/peeled the beets, Cut up 2 of the beets into small 1/2″ chunks and set aside. Take the remaining beet and cut up into manageable chunks to throw in the blender. Rev that Ninja up and blend until smooth. Remove the liquid beet goodness from blender, add beet chunks and chill to serve.

Borscht Soup Cold Dairy Borscht.jpg

I like to store my borscht in mason jars for easy access so I ration out the 1/2″ chopped beets amongst 4 regular sized mason jars and then top them off with the blender mix.

When it is time to serve I either just drink right from the jar (no joke) or pour into a bowl like a civilized lady and top with sour cream and more dill.


 

Another cold summer soup that I love is chilled cucumber soup. It’s like borscht’s cousin. I’ve been making this stuff for years but don’t have a recipe for it (of course) so I tried my best to make one to share with you but I’m not making any promises here, people.

Chilled Cucumber Soup.JPG

Cold Cucumber Soup

You’ll need:

  • 3.5 Cups Buttermilk
  • 1 Cup Sour cream
  • 1 Small/Medium Clove Garlic
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Dill
  • 3 Large Cucumbers
  • 1/2 Medium Sweet Onion (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 Tbsp Kosher Salt

Peel your cucumbers and cut into 2″ chunks (just to be more blender friendly). Cut up your onion and garlic into smaller chunks as well and mince your dill a bit.

Add your peeled cucumber, onion, garlic, and dill to a Ninja blender. Top with buttermilk and sour cream. Blend until smooth.

Add salt to taste and chill to serve.

Cucumber Soup.JPG


 

Summer soups are ideal with crusty bread to dip or nothing at all. I love being able to drink lunch on super hot days and both the borsht and cucumber soups are superbly refreshing ways to have a healthy lunch and not feel like you are going to explode.

If you have some fun summer soups to share I’d love to hear about them! I’ve never made gazpacho so I feel like that will be next on my list of summer soups to explore!

MY FAVORITE MEATLESS MEATLOAF

This meatless “meatloaf” recipe is my go-to meatless main course. It is everything you crave in a meatloaf – a hearty, savory loaf that is perfect with mashed potatoes and your favorite gravy. It somehow manages to achieve a “meaty” flavor and even looks pretty “meaty” when you slice it up + serve it!

I’ve brought this bad boy to family dinners, holidays, and potlocks and usually end up giving out the recipe to at least half the people who try it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve made this loaf and it seems like everytime I whip up the recipe it gets better.

I’m going to be blunt and point out that this is not a very photogenic loaf (or recipe!). It honestly looks like a bowl of… well… puke before it hits the oven. But make it for yourself and then judge- I promise that the flavor is so satisfying you’ll forget what the mixture looked like before baking.

Another note, this is one of those dishes that is always always better the next day when everything gets a chance to firm up and all the flavors really mingle but it’s great right out of the oven too!

Ingredients:

  • 16 ounces of cottage cheese (full fat is best)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 (1 ounce) packet of onion soup mix
  • 1 generous cup of finely chopped walnuts
  • 2 cups of corn flakes
  • 1 small onion (finely chopped… about 1/2 cup or more if you love onions)
  • Pepper to taste

You Will Need:

  • A loaf pan (I use my Pryex pan most of the time but one time I made this recipe in my MIL’s Pampered Chef stoneware loaf pan and it made the edges of it so crispy!)
  • A Ninja or food processor (I LOVE my Ninja… but we can talk about that later. You can’t really chop your walnuts or onions fine enough by hand so having the help of a chopper machine is definitely the way to go!)
  • An oven… obvs.

Meatless Meatloaf Ingredients Recipe

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Prep/ pre-measure all of your ingredients if you are feeling fancy. It sort of helps the mixing process along.

Start by adding your packet of onion soup mix, oil, and eggs to your cottage cheese. Mix all of that yummy stuff up until it basically looks like barf. I’ll add a couple turns of pepper into this wet mix.

Step 1 Meatless Loaf Recipe Vegetarian Meatloaf

Step 2 Vegetarian Meatloaf Cottage Cheese Loaf Meat Free Main Course

Once all of your “wet” ingredients have been mixed up, throw your walnuts into your Ninja or food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped but not mushy. Here is a really appetizing photo for reference of the level of crumb you’re going for.

Step 4 Chopped Walnuts Meatless Walnut Loaf Vegetarian Meatloaf Recipe

I always chop my walnuts first and then chop my onions separately using the same container. If you pulse the two ingredients together it will make the walnuts all wet and they can get soggy. Do your walnuts first, remove them from the chopper machine, then chop up the onions. There’s no need to clean the bowl/container in between… the wetness of the onions actually helps get some of the little bits of walnuts out!

Step 5 Chopped Onions Vegetarian Meatloaf Meatless Meatloaf

After chopping the walnuts + onions add them to the wet mixture and fold in. The only thing left to do now is add the corn flakes! It seems totally counterintuitive but you don’t crush or crumb the corn flakes at all… you just leave them in their full flaky glory and pour/fold them into the wet mix to evenly distribute. The corn flakes are what give this loaf such a great texture so try to keep them intact while mixing. Don’t smush the flakes!

The final mixture is a sort of terrifying chunky savory version of a special k bar but don’t think about that too much… just get it into a well greased loaf pan and pop it in the oven!

Loaf Pan Meatless Meatloaf Vegetarian Loaf

Your loaf will bake for about 60-70 minutes. Remove the loaf from the oven when the top is slightly browned and the edges are getting a little crispy. Let your loaf sit for 10 minutes before serving and like I said before… wait until the following day or a few hours after making for optimal loaf-i-ness.

Meatless Meatloaf Vegetarian Meatloaf RecipeMeatless Meatloaf Recipe

I will usually serve this vegetarian loaf with mashed potatoes and green beans – it’s such a comforting meal and it’s so easy to make! We usually keep the ingredients around the house (we buy walnuts in bulk because Seth is a walnut freak) and I stock up on onion soup mix packets – the only ingredient I ever find that I have to run out for is the cottage cheese. The leftovers are delish and can be reheated in the microwave for a few minutes before eating.

I hope you give this vegetarian loaf a try the next time you’re entertaining guests or having a “Meatless Monday”…. just don’t let anyone see the loaf “in progress” since they might wonder whether or not your serving them up a hot dish of upchuck.

COOKIES + A CARLDEDINSON CHRISTMAS

We had a very white and relatively quiet Christmas up here in North Dakota. This year I realized that there are a few things which really put me in the Christmas spirit (besides the obvious classic movies + music):

  1. Baking/decorating cookies
  2. Frantically crafting my gifts at the very last minute.

I had already binge watched The Santa Clause 1, 2, and 3 (don’t judge me) but making a batch of Molly Yeh’s sugar cookies really got me feeling festive. We hosted a few private holiday parties at Dakota Timber Company and one of our parties was for our local Home Builders Association so these little house cookies were the perfect treat.

Sugar Cookie Dough My Actual BrandJoanna Gaines Cookie CuttersHouse Cookies My Actual Brand

I realized a few months ago that I only owned ONE cookie cutter! A little bunny one that I got from a thrift store (of course). So I headed to Target at the advice of Molly to check out the new Magnolia Home collection of cutters. These little houses were definitely calling my name and I immediately imagined them all decorated with royal icing in an illustrated style.

Christmas Cookie DecoratingDecorated House Cookies My Actual Brand

Molly’s glaze recipe is amazeballs. I had so much fun mixing up colors and dipping the cookies and letting the glaze spread evenly over the surface.  I LOVE the way the frosting dries sort of matte-glossy – it was the perfect background for little line decorations. I used Alton Brown’s royal icing recipe and piped line drawings on the face of the cookies – one (okay maybe two) of them ended up looking like grain bins which was not a bad deal.

We had Christmas out at Seth’s dad’s house. It was kind of a special Christmas because our nephew got to spend it with us (which we know probably won’t happen very often since his dad’s a military man and they move quite a bit!).  He did an awesome job as Santa and handed out everyone’s presents while still in his adorable Christmas pjs. Christmas is pretty fun when there are little ones involved.

Santa Chase

My sister-in-law (who also loves to bake) brought over some krumkrake that she made which was out of this world. Cardamom is the king of Christmas spices if you ask me. Even though I will always love pizzelles + the nostalgia they bring – I definitely have to add krumkake to the repertoire next year.

krumkakeKrumkake King

I dubbed Seth the Krumkake King this year… mainly (and only) because I took this ridiculous picture of him in his new Christmas socks munching on a cone. That might have to be a thing next year too- whoever can eat the most krumkake can be the Krumkrake King!

A MAGICAL LEFSE MAKING NIGHT

Does doing something two years in a row make it a tradition? Probably not… but this is my second year making lefse with my dear friend Alex who is definitely a seasoned pro. The tradition has a long history in his family and he has been making lefse – the Norwegian dessert made from potatoes and topped with butter + sugar – since he was probably old enough to hold a rolling pin.

Alex was kind enough to share the tradition with me again this year and Randi joined in on the fun. She will be sharing highlights from our magical lefse making night on her podcast along with Alex’s grandma’s recipe in the new year!

Cozy Christmas House Fargo

There’s something magical about baking during the holidays.  I think the magic gets elevated when you are making something that you know has been passed down for generations and when you are sharing those traditions with friends. Even though I didn’t grow up eating lefse during the holidays (I had NO idea what it was before moving to Fargo) I have grown to love my little “potato tortillas” during Christmas time.

Alex packed up his family lefse supplies, a special griddle, lefse sticks, lefse/pastry board, and fancy rolling pin and we headed to Randi’s to start the marathon of rolling and flipping and folding that is lefse making!

Lefse Rolling PinLefse SticksLefse Flour Griddle

Alex had already prepped the potatoes for the lefse dough – a process that involves boiling, ricing, and letting the potatoes cool. He brought two huge bowls of prepped potatoes that we had to finish turning into dough which involved adding flour, mixing well, and rolling up into cute little balls.

Lefse Making With Friends My Actual BrandLefse Making My Actual BrandLefse Balls My Actual Brand

Although I know that you can definitely make lefse solo (I am pretty sure that Alex has made a million pieces of lefse in his life, probably a ton of which he did all on his own) it is so fun to do with friends! 1. You can all wear your favorite Christmas aprons and 2. You can take turns forming the dough into balls, rolling out the dough, flipping, and folding and basically form a little mini assembly line.

Alex Rolling Lefse Fargo My Actual Brand

Rolling the dough nice and thin and flipping the delicate pieces of lefse on the griddle are probably the hardest parts but with a little practice Randi and I were doing pretty well by the end of the night. Even the mess-ups were fun though because we justified eating those pieces straight off the griddle (which is hands down the BEST way to eat lefse!).

Lefse Fargo Holiday Traditions My Actual BrandLefse Making Randi

When you listen to Randi’s podcast of the night you’ll likely hear the fun we had trying to guess what each lefse shape looked like. There were a lot of old witch/troll faces and random countries that I am pretty sure we made up. None of them turned out perfect but that is the charm of homemade lefse.

Flipping Lefse on Griddle AshleyLefse Flipping My Actual BrandLefse Norwegian Christmas Fargo

Randi’s ridiculously adorable pup Junebug kept us company while rolling. She just always has to be where the action is at. With a fire roaring in the other room and plenty of Christmas tunes playing it was the coziest of nights.

Junebug Lefse My Actual Brand

Cozy Fargo Fire

We ended up with two huge stacks of lefse, all neatly folded and wrapped up in a towel + grocery bag to sweat overnight. In the morning once our lefse cooled we could fold it once more and freeze them. I’ll be bringing mine to our family Christmas where we will let them defrost, slather them with butter and plain white sugar and roll them up to enjoy.

Lefse Sweating My Actual BrandLefse Norwegian Christmas Dessert My Actual Brand

Lefse is a simple little “dessert” (one that I literally laughed at the first time I had it) but once you realize the amount of time and love that goes into each piece it becomes something pretty special. Cooking is a hobby I usually do solo but there’s something to be said about spreading the love and spending time with your friends while making something yummy to eat – especially when you get to share the mess-ups and sing along to Christmas tunes together.

ON POTICA, PIZZELLES, HEIRLOOM BAKING, AND HERITAGE

My great grandma Mary passed away this October. She was the eldest link in the chain of 5 living generations in my family since my other great grandma (Sally) passed away a few years back. While all of the generations she left behind will surely miss her sass, her warmth, and her humor… Mary lived a long and full life. Nobody could say otherwise.

I’ve always been interested in my family heritage. My great grandma Mary was a proud Italian. Apparently the name on her birth certificate wasn’t the “Mary Louise” she always went by but “Maria Magdelena Carmella DeBortolo”. Her mother Tulia DeBartolo was apparently just as fiery and fierce – a trait that I am pretty all of the women on that side of the family directly inherited.

Great Gram Mary
My great grandma Mary (left) and my grandma MaryAnn (right). They are both such cuties!

I grew up as a proud “Italian”. (Despite the fact that the last four generations of my family were born in the USA.) Nobody would believe me because my last name was “Dedin” and my red hair seemed to betray me. Everyone at St. Pat’s (my Catholic grade/middle school) probably assumed I was Irish, and then I’d open my mouth and talk with my hands and everyone would shut up about it.

De Bartolo Family
My great great grandma Tulia & Pa (front) on their wedding day.

I grew up naively believing that I was somehow “pure” Italian… or at least “mostly” Italian and I am sure a large part of that is because I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. We ate pounds of pasta, enjoyed our Italian beefs, made our lunch sandwiches out of stinky deli meats and were all Catholic.

Our holiday treats were not the lefse & krumkrake of the Scandinavian Plains but potica and pizzelles of the suburbs. It turns out that while I do have a ton of Italian ancestors (De Bartolos, Musaracas, Olivos, etc)… I am also a good chunk Lithuanian and a little Polish as well!  I had no idea how much my understanding of heritage was really tied to food until I started making it myself.

Vaitkus
My great grandma Sally (2nd from right), her sister Adeline, her brother Albert, and their father Frank.

A few years ago I decided to tackle pizzelles, the crisp wafer style cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar and often flavored with anise. My grandma Judi always made them during the holidays and I got my recipe from her. They were a simple bake, and apart from figuring out the perfect amount of batter to put on the iron-  they turned out just like grandmas!

Pizelles
My first batch of Christmas pizelles ready to package and gift to family & friends.

Last year I borrowed from my husband’s heritage and made lefse for the first time with my friend Alex. Lefse is a Norwegian treat made from potatoes mushed up (with a potato ricer) and rolled out paper thin… cooked on a hot griddle and flipped with a long lefse stick. You eat these bad boys with heaps of butter and plain old white sugar. Yep. That’s how Norwegians do dessert apparently… a sweet potato tortilla. I had never heard of lefse before I moved to Fargo and it isn’t part of my heritage… but in the 8 years I’ve lived here it has become dear to my heart.

lefse
Borrowing on my husband’s heritage and trying my hand at lefse last year thanks to Alex.

This year I knew I wanted to tackle potica. This sweet, rich, dense, nut loaf was a real Christmas treat.  If you could score of a loaf of potica back home during the holidays your celebration was complete. It turns out that potica is actually a Slovenian treat but for some reason it is super popular among Italians and hey, the two countries are sorta neighbors, right?

Good potica is so dense and so rich you can only handle about a 1/2″ slice of it. Bad potica is basically cinnamon swirl bread. It’s an intimidating bake especially when you grew up with stories about how your great grandma would roll her potica dough as big as the kitchen table and so thin you could read a newspaper through it!

I knew this was a recipe I wanted to revive and a tradition I wanted to bring to my family in Fargo and to future generations. Because I knew this wasn’t something I’d get right on the first try I wanted to start practicing before December. Naturally I decided a Tuesday night in early November was the perfect time!

POTICA
My very first potica! It looks pretty close to the potica of my childhood (but that stuff was definitely wetter and the dough a bit thinner). The taste is 100% there though!

The component parts of potica are simple… it’s the assembly that takes practice and skill. You really do have to roll that damn dough out thin as hell. I could have probably gone a little thinner with my dough but that’s something I’ll do on my next try! Since there wasn’t a recipe that got passed down in my family I used this one. It was simple and easy to follow and even has a companion step-by-step tutorial!

I was surprised that there was no cinnamon in the recipe because I was sure that was a flavor I recalled w/ potica but I followed the directions and to my surprise the taste was totally on point. I’m sure you could add a little cinnamon to the mix but it honestly doesn’t need it at all.

My favorite part of this process was rolling out the dough… it sort of gave me goosebumps. I thought back to my great grandmothers and their ancestors rolling out potica dough as thin as they could – a skill that requires patience that doesn’t necessarily come easily to fiery tempered gals like us. I have to say my first loaves turned out WAY better than I could have imagined… the roll was tight, the filling was the right consistency and I got the signature brown gloss on the exterior that comes from brushing on a nice egg wash before baking.

Potica Closeup
Nice thin dough, a tight spiral and evenly spread filling are key to the perfect potica… I think I am well on my way!

Next time I’ll be sure to roll my dough a little thinner (as big as my kitchen table will allow!) and to seal the ends of the dough a bit better (there were quite a few explosions of filling). It’s hard to describe the feeling that I get when I bake or cook something from my heritage but it’s a powerful, visceral sense of connection to my past that makes me willing to try even the toughest tasks in the kitchen!