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Sylvia’s Plăcinte

Mmm… plăcinte.  Having to give these up has been one of the hardest things about going gluten-free in Moldova.  The flaky crust, the warm oozing filling… you just really can’t beat a good plăcintă.  Today, I’d like to share with you the recipe that Sylvia, our school cook, uses and shared with me.

But first, let me pause for a quick Romanian lesson.  Plăcintă is singular for pastry and is pronounced “pluh-chin-tuh.” Plăcinte is plural and is pronounced “pluh-chin-tay.”  Actually, the most common translation of plăcinta is “pie,” but I am here to tell you that plăcinte are NOT pies!  They are pastries!  Let’s see some examples:

This is a pie:

My first (and possibly only) apple pie. Made to impress my starving fiancee.

These are pastries:

Assorted pastries

These are plăcinte:

 

Beautiful plăcinte with sesame seeds.

You tell me which word is the more accurate translation.

Anyway… back to the recipe.  There are probably as many ways to make plăcinte as there are Moldovan gospodinele (housewives), which is why I call these “Sylvia’s Plăcinte,” and not just “Moldovan Plăcinte.”

Ingredients:
1 liter (about 4 ¼ cups) water
25 grams (or one packet) yeast
3 grams (about half a teaspoon) salt
flour*
oil
desired filling (I’ll get to this in a bit)
sugar (granulated or powdered, see step 10)

*Sylvia didn’t tell me exactly how much flour she uses because she doesn’t know.  She just adds flour until it looks right (as described in step 2).  I’ve made these once but didn’t measure my flour either.  Other recipes I’ve seen say 8-12 cups… so… use your best judgment.

Directions:
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2.  Combine all ingredients, adding as much flour as needed until dough feels sticky but not too dry.
3.  Cut dough into baseball-sized pieces (my description, not hers), generously flour your workspace, and roll out pieces very thinly with rolling pin.

Rolling dough for plăcinte

4.  On a different workspace, cover the counter with oil and stretch dough until very, very thin.  It’s okay if it tears a little.
5.  Take ahold of the end of the dough closest to you, and bring it up and away from you to fold it in half.

Iuliana folding the thin plăcintă dough.

6.  Place a generous spoonful of filling on one end.

Folding a plăcintă with brînza filling.

7.  Fold triangularly until it is all folded up into a nice little triangular pocket.

Sweet little raw plăcintă ready to be baked.

8.  Place evenly on greased cookie sheet.
9.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden.
10.  Boil sugar and water to make a glaze and brush on top while plăcinte are still warm, or simply sprinkle with powdered sugar.

I can’t believe I’ve never taken a picture of freshly baked plăcintă.  You’ll have to trust me, they are so flaky and golden and amazing!

There are several different kinds of fillings that Moldovans use in plăcinte.  The most common are potato, brînza (a soft, salty homemade cheese), cabbage (which is better than you’d think- it’s Josh’s favorite), fruit butter or jam, and pumpkin.  My favorite would probably either be apple butter or pumpkin.  Below are some instructions for making your own plăcintă fillings, borrowed from a 2005 Moldova Peace Corps cookbook, or you could just use your favorite store-bought fruit butter or jam.

Potato filling: Boil 4 peeled potatoes and 2 chopped onions.  Mash and season with salt and pepper.  Let cool.

Cheese filling: Mix 2 cups cottage or ricotta cheese, 1 egg, chopped dill, salt, and pepper.

Cabbage filling: Sauté 2 cups shredded cabbage and 2 chopped onions in oil until limp.  Season with salt and pepper.  Let cool.

Apple filling: Peel and grate 4 apples.  Sauté over medium heat with ¼ cup sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Let cool.

Cherry filling: Mix 1 pound sour pitted cherries and ¾ cup sugar.

Pumpkin filling: Boil and mash 500 grams (about 4 1/3 cups) of raw pumpkin.  Add 2 tablespoons of butter, spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, ground cloves, and ground ginger… or just pumpkin pie spice) and sugar to taste.

You can find another good plăcintă recipe at the Gourmandine blog (the link is to the google translate version of the website, since it is written in Romanian).  There, she has also posted a lot of step-by-step pictures that are similar to the way Sylvia makes plăcinte, except that she doesn’t stretch her dough out so thin and then fold it in half.  If you want to do it this way, it would be a lot easier, but your final product will just be thicker and not as flaky.

Well, I hope this is enough to get you going on some authentic Moldovan plăcinte!  If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or email me.

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My Gluten and Dairy-Free Adventure

Around the first of March of this year, I finally made the decision to try a gluten-free diet.  I’d read things about gluten intolerance here and there for a while, and I had several of the symptoms- the most significant ones being chronic, horrible, embarassing gas (people who know me well can attest to that) that recently had seemed to get even worse, and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS.

I had a few encouraging moments early on—a big one being when we moved back to Moldova and were still recovering from jetlag and a baby whose sleep was all messed up.  Josh, knowing how tired I usually was at the end of a normal day (and this particular day had brought us very little sleep and a very grumpy, demanding little boy), commented that he was really tired, so he knew I must be miserably exhausted.  I thought about it for a second, and to both of our surprise, responded that no, I actually felt pretty good!

(Chicken salad in a rice paper wrap.  It looks kind of funny, but it is a great alternative to bread.)

But after about two months, I was still having the awful gas.  Josh liked to say that I was “Gluten-free, but not pootin’-free.”  That’s when I read something that said that the gluten protein in wheat, barley, and rye, is very similar to the casein protein in dairy products, and that most people who are intolerant of one, often cannot digest the other either.

A vague memory came to mind of being told I was lactose intolerant when I was little.  I talked to my mom and she confirmed that I used to drink a lot of milk and started having bad stomach aches.  A doctor suggested that it could be lactose intolerance, and so I began drinking less milk and felt better.  I ultimately forgot all about it.

So I decided to try a dairy-free diet as well.  No milk, cheese, butter… it was hard!  Who am I kidding?  It still is hard!  Especially here where they don’t have all of the fancy gluten- and dairy-free alternatives like they have in America.   But I have managed to find a brand of gluten-free pasta, rice paper to make wraps, and a few other helpful things.

(My first try at gluten and dairy free baking- Apple Streusel Muffins.  They were a little dense, but not bad!)

At first, when I would “cheat” and eat something with gluten or dairy in it, I didn’t notice that much of a difference.  I actually wondered if all of this was in my head and I was depriving myself of so many yummy treats- pizza, ice cream, cold breakfast cereal, snickers bars, lasagna- for no reason.  But the farther I get into my new diet, the more affected I am by cheating.

Take last week, for example.  We were staying at our isolated northern camp for two weeks and eating camp food.  I’d brought some millet to make for myself, but it got pretty old after the first week and I wound up eating quite a bit of gluten and dairy.

I got the normal symptoms that I knew were related to what I ate- my stomach hurt, my body felt heavy and tired, and the poots returned- but I also discovered something surprising.  My head throbbed, my sinuses were bothersome, and my knees ached.  Once I noticed these, I realized that those are all things that haven’t bothered me since I went gluten and dairy-free.  Wow!  You mean that my old, arthritic knees (as I so fondly refer to them) aren’t a result of years of cheerleading and softball?  Almost daily headaches and stuffy sinuses aren’t normal??  And I don’t need medicines to fix them???  Inconceivable!

So that’s just a little about my gluten and dairy free adventure so far; I hope it encourages somebody out there.  Eating gluten and dairy free is not easy, but it’s not impossible either, and it is MORE than worth it for me!

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Beet Salad FAIL

I’ve posted several times now about my kitchen successes, so as soon as I realized what was happening with this salad, I knew that I had to blog about it as a total fail.

I found a delicious looking recipe for Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts and Goat Cheese on Tasty Kitchen and decided to give it a go.  All of the ingredients are easy to find here, and I only had to substitute coconut oil for the butter to make it dairy-free.

First, I spent 30 mins cracking walnuts, and then got distracted while cooking them and they burned.  Not about to waste another 30 mins, I replaced them with some cashews that I had on hand.  No biggie.

Then, when my beets were finally ready, I started to slice them and realized they were much larger than the ones in the picture, so I decided to cube them instead.  Not as pretty, but they will still taste the same, right?  Then, I added the nuts.

The true downfall of the salad, however, came when I added the goat cheese.  The cheese that the recipe’s author used is obviously a much firmer and crumblier kind of goat cheese than what I used, because when the soft cheese hit the still-warm beets, the whole thing turned into a big creamy bowl of purple goo.

Thinking that I could still salvage the salad, I went ahead and mixed up the dressing.  What the picture doesn’t communicate is the smell that was radiating from that bowl.  The balsamic vinegar was just too much combined with the warm beets and goat cheese.  I managed to choke down several bites… Josh didn’t even get that far.

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Moldovan Green Beans

I posted recently about my difficulties in finding a good way to season green peas, and I’ve had the same difficulty with green beans.  I’ve tried what seems like a million different ways to cook them, but they just never taste right.

There is a restaurant chain in Chișinău called La Plăcinte (pronounced “pluh-chin-tay,” plăcinte means pastry) that has a traditional Moldovan menu.  At La Plăcinte they have some of the most incredible green beans that I’ve ever tasted, so I came home and set about trying to figure out how to re-create them myself.  The recipe below is the result of my efforts, and I must say that they have gotten rave reviews from all three of us!

Moldovan Green Beans

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 400g package frozen green beans (I know, fresh is probably better, but frozen is all I have)
  • Bacon grease
  • Olive oil
  • 1 Medium onion
  • 1 or 2 slices of bacon (The bacon I get is in long round chunks and the lady at the meat counter slices it for me, so I just use the end pieces of that.  Something thick enough to cut into chunks is best, but regular bacon strips will do too.)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sweet Paprika

Instructions:

  1. Melt a couple of heaping tablespoonfuls of bacon grease in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Empty package of frozen green beans into skillet.
  3. Generously drizzle green beans with olive oil.  Very generously.
  4. Chop onion and bacon, add to skillet.
  5. Salt and pepper to taste.  I use a LOT of pepper in this- cover the beans with pepper, stir, and then cover them with pepper again.  Sprinkle with Paprika.
  6. Sautee until dark and soft, stirring often.  To cook from frozen, this takes about 30 minutes.  Fresh would obviously take less time.  Add more bacon grease or oil if it starts to get too dry.

That’s it!  If anybody tries this, I hope your family enjoys these as much as we do.  It’s definitely not the healthiest way to eat your veggies, but it is quite possibly the tastiest!

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Simple, Yummy Green Peas

I’ve started to notice a lot of food/recipe posts brewing in my mind lately.  Hubs says it’s because I haven’t been sewing or knitting lately (although I’m currently scouring ravelry for new knitting inspiration), so cooking is my new craft.  I guess he’s probably right.

Okay, maybe peas aren’t the hardest thing in the world to prepare—you dump them out of the can or frozen bag into a small pot and heat them up… right?  But as easy as they seem to be, I’ve always found my peas to be lacking.  They are usually either totally bland or I try to season them and it just turns out weird.

So last night, I tried something new.  We knew that the particular brand of jarred peas that I was using had a good texture (a lot of the peas here are really tough, no matter how long you cook them), but were really salty.  Because of that, I strained the juice and rinsed them off before putting them in the pot.  Then, I knew I would need to add some liquid to them, but didn’t want to use plain water.  So I opened my fridge and there was the oh-so-yummy-looking jar of broth from the roasted chicken [insert link] that I had made just a couple of nights before.  I poured about half of the jar on the peas and brought them to a boil before turning off the burner and letting them sit while I finished the rest of dinner.

They were delicious!  Juicy and perfectly seasoned without any thought on my part about what I was doing.

Jude loved them too!

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The Easiest From-Scratch Dinner Ever

Okay, maybe not EVER, but it is pretty easy.  When we arrived in Moldova, I had never been a “real” housewife before.  I worked full-time up until I had Jude, and during that time we would eat easy meals like spaghetti with sauce from a jar or frozen dinners like Skillet Sensations.  After Jude was born, I had a long and difficult recovery, and only started to feel better about the time we moved to live with our parents for 3 months in preparation for moving here.  Suffice it to say that I had no idea how to cook.  So being here has been my initiation into housewifery.  And what an initiation it has been!

This is not like living in the States, where if I’m feeling lazy I can order Chinese or run to Kroger for a pre-cooked chicken.  I even have to cook my “lazy day” meals here, or else we don’t eat.  And now I present to you my favorite “lazy day” meal: roasted chicken.

Soon after moving here, Stephanie came over and gave me a tutorial on how to roast a chicken, and, although it defies every instruction I’ve read in cookbooks, it makes delicious roasted chicken, so I’m sticking with it.  I’ve added my own touches along the way, and here is what is currently my favorite way to do it:

Roasted Chicken

Ingredients:
1 broiler chicken (the ones I get are about 1.5 kilos, or 3 pounds)

1 red apple

1 medium onion

1 clove garlic

lemon juice, or an actual lemon, I suppose

spices (usually basil, thyme, and sweet paprika)

salt & pepper

water

1.  Preheat your oven to about 375 degrees F.  Cut up the apple, onion and clove of garlic (I usually do a large clove in 3 pieces).

2.  Wash off the chicken and cut off the fat around the butt.  Make sure all of the feathers are taken care of; you don’t want any of those getting in your teeth.

3.  Put the chicken in a roasting pan and cover it all over, inside and out, with salt, pepper, and spices.  Then squirt lemon juice all over it.  If you’re using a real lemon, you could just include it with step 4.

4.  Stuff the inside with the apple, onion, and garlic.  Leave remaining apple and onion pieces in the pan around the chicken.

5.  This is apparently upside down, but I like to roast my chicken breast-side-down because it makes the breast meat a lot juicier and more flavorful.  Now pour lots of water into the pan, but not directly onto the chicken or you’ll wash off all of your spices.  I usually fill mine between 1/3 and 1/2 full of water.  That way, you have no worries of your chicken drying out, and you have some really yummy broth left over.  (Though if you notice, the chicken in the picture above is neither upside-down nor swimming in lots of broth; it was the first chicken I ever roasted, and I have tweaked my techniques a few times since then.)  You can strain the broth afterward and save it for making soups, rice, casseroles, or whatever suits your fancy.

6.  Now put the lid on, put it in the oven, and forget about it for about 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes.  The longer it cooks, the more tender and juicy it will be.

That’s it!  If you want a really easy side for this, poke holes in some potatoes, roll them in salt, wrap them in foil, and stick them in the oven around the roasting pan.  They will be ready at the same time as the chicken.  Also with this meal, I will often steam some carrots and then drizzle honey over them.

So there you have it.  That is my “easy” meal in Moldova.  Maybe someday I’ll tell you about what all goes into making more time-consuming meals like sweet-n-sour chicken or lasagna from scratch.

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