My BFF, Salo the Vodka Pig

"Russe? Deutsch?"

Once again we found ourselves shaking our heads and shrugging.

"English?" I say, hopefully"

"My English is... ok" the hostess says through her thick Ukrainian accent.

For months of honeymoon planning the thing I was most excited about doing in Lviv (aside from eating varenyky until I popped) was visiting the Salo museum. I had tweeted about it, shared posts on facebook. I was all about seeing sculptures made from the pig fat that is a traditional accompaniment to vodka in Ukraine but then we got to Lviv and... it was hot and we'd been eating rich, central/eastern European food for almost a month. I just didn't wanna. On our last day we dragged ourselves over, knowing we'd be kicking ourselves and full of regret if we didn't go.

"This is museum" She walks around the small room of sculptures unsure of what we want. We are also unsure. The room is a million degrees, only the sculptures are refrigerated in their glass cases. We stare at a huge mechanical heart made of Salo.

"Chocolate?"

We take one each, they cost about fifty cents but we don't have any appropriately small bills and the hostess looks confused again. She guides us into the restaurant where there are smaller sculptures available for eating but there's only two of us and Putin looks like he requires at least four people to consume him completely.

We shake our heads and suddenly she has a realization. She pulls us back into the front room and pulls out two wooden tokens.

"Jeton! Jeton!" she exclaims while gesturing up the stairs.

We stare at her confused like she's the crazy one, not us two Americans who have decided to go to a pig fat museum in a country that's possibly on the brink of civil war for our honeymoon.

She grabs my hand and runs up the stairs, pulling me behind. At the landing there's a pig sculpture with a slot in its snout.

"Jeton!" and she puts the token in the pigs mouth before running back down the stairs.

A kinectic sculpture begins moving and a boombox begins playing a dance song with a chorus of "I love salo" that to my great disappointment I cannot now find on the internet.

"Now we dance! DANCE!" she says, looking at us quite sternly and demonstrating shimmying her shoulders and moving her arms in the air.

We dance.

Pistons move in the sculpture and a shot glass is filled from two different pipes.

"Salo Vodka" she says, proudly handing us the shot.

Salo vodka is nothing like the bacon infused vodka I've had before. There's none of the overpowering fake smoky flavor that seems de rigueur. Instead it's smooth and rich. To eat with our vodka shot is black bread with herbed salo. It's slightly salty and creamy. All of this costs about seventy-five cents.

"Again!"

Dan takes another jeton and runs up to the pig and then back down. The music begins to play and once again we are commanded to dance, it seems that no matter how many times we do this, dancing is always mandatory.

Two women and a group of young children come down into this museum of pig fat penises and dancing Americans. They seem bewildered. The hostess speaks to them in Russian for a few minutes and they leave.

"Again!" we exclaim much to the hostesses chagrin.

We are still not excused from dancing.

Despite the salo toast, we are very quickly getting tipsy in this hot room of venting refrigeration units. We spend the rest of our money on postcards and magnets. We eye the bottle of salo infused vodka longingly. The next morning we'll be on our way to Istanbul and we're not sure we want to risk bringing our pork liquor through customs our continue lugging it around until we're permanently settled in Korea.

A year later, we'll still have regrets about that decision.

You can read more about the Salo Museum on Trip Advisor, The Kyiv Post or Lonely Planet.

Salo Lviv Modern Art Museum is located in the basement at Svobody Ave 6/8 Lviv, Ukraine.

Veronika Varenyky

or The Best Damn Potato Pierogi

Lviv Veronika Varenyky

Now look, I'm not trying to insult anybody's Bubbi, but last week I wrote that I thought the best potato varenyky (pierogi) in the world came from Veronika in Lviv, Ukraine and it's a statement I stand by. I thought I had had decadent varenyky. I'm the woman at the Ukranian East Village Restaurant (no, I don't mean Veselka) ordering the varenyky fried with butter, caramelized onions and sour cream. I don't mess around. At Veronika the varenyky are always boiled but it doesn't make them seem less over the top. Instead of caramelized onions on the outside, the potato filling tastes like it is mixed with sour cream and caramelized onions and the varenyky themselves are then drenched in clarified butter. Don't worry, if that all still sounds too tame to you, you still get more sour cream for dipping the final product. Even though we were eating it July, this is the kind of food you crave in the depths of winter so it makes sense that it took me until December to work on what I think its a pretty close copy of those little pillows of potato-y heaven.

I'm not going to lie to you, making varenyky is a not difficult but pretty time consuming process. Like, a "set aside a whole Sunday afternoon" sort of process. The good news is this recipe yields about 60 and they freeze very well, so unless you're an Olympian or competitive eater, all that hard work should last you a few meals.

Ingredients

For the Dough:

  • 1 Egg
  • 2 tablespoons Sour Cream
  • 1/4 cup Whole Milk
  • 3 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the Filling:

  • 1 and 1/2 Yellow Onion (medium dice)
  • 3 ounces (3/4 stick) Butter
  • 9 medium Russet Potatoes
  • 3/4 cups Sour Cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Salt

For the topping:

  • 4 ounces (1 stick) of Butter
  • Alllllll the Sour Cream

First things first, let's make the potato filling so that it cools all the way by the time you need it.

  1. Start a large pot of water boiling. Peel your potatoes and cut 'em into big chunks like you would for making mashed potatoes (side note: you can also just eat this filling as amazingly decadent mashed potatoes if you add a splash of milk). Once the water is boiling, cook the potatoes until they're tender and can be easily pierced with a fork, drain.
  2. While you're waiting for the water to boil or while your potatoes are boiling, start your caramelized onions in a small to medium sautee pan. There are two secrets to caramelized onions: don't skimp on the fat and slow and low (also known as FTP or forgotten to perfection). For a truly even and delicious caramelization, you either have to have a lot more patience than I have or will yourself to actually ignore the onion. Put the onions and the butter in the sautee pan over low heat. Throw in a pinch of salt. Walk away. Don't be like me and stand there constantly nudging and stirring and creeeeeeping up the heat just a little. It's not the way. Do check your onions occasionally to make sure they're still simmering in a pool of butter. If there's no more butter in the pan, add more. I know what the recipe says, it's ok, add more. The onions are done when your whole house smells like heaven and they're a lovely golden brown. Pour the onions and the butter into a bowl so they stop cooking.
  3. Next you're going to want either a stand mixer or hand mixer. If you're using a stand mixer, you're probably going to have to do this in two batches. Put half the potatoes, half the onions and the butter they're swimming in, half the sour cream and half the salt into the mixer bowl. Paddle until smooth and creamy. You can add a little more sour cream if it's not smoothing out but this mixture should be dryer and firmer than you might want mashed potatoes. Taste. Add more salt if it needs it. Scrape out the bowl and repeat with the remaining half of the ingredients. Mix everything together in a big bowl and give it one more taste. Cover and chill in the fridge.

Next let's show this dough who's boss. In an ideal world, we'd do this in the stand mixer but don't do that, this dough needs tough love and you'll burn out your stand mixer's engine.

  1. Put your flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and make a well. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, mix together your milk, egg and sour cream. Pour the liquids into the well and use a wooden spoon to stir into the flour. When it gets too hard to mix with a wooden spoon, switch to your hands and bring it all together. Dump out onto a counter and knead until smooth. It's going to take some elbow grease. This dough is much much more like a very stiff pasta dough than a bread dough.
  2. Cover in plastic wrap and let rest one hour. If you don't let it rest a full hour, it's going to be impossible to roll out. Trust me.
  3. Uncover the dough and portion into thirds (do not ball or work the dough). Take one third to roll out and cover the remaining two thirds with plastic. Roll the dough as thin as you can, ideally about 1/8th of an inch thick*. Use a round cutter 3 inches in diameter to cut out as many circles as you can. Set the circles aside in a single layer and loosely cover with plastic wrap.
  4. Take all your scraps from the first third of dough and incorporate into the next third as you roll them out. Again cut out as many circles as you can. Place on top of plastic wrap in a single layer and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining scraps and one third of dough. I managed to get 60 circles all told.

*My husband's family actually uses a pasta roller for this part. If you've got one, there's no shame in making this recipe a little less work.

Now it's time for assembly and cooking.

  1. Get your chilled potato mixture out of the fridge. Get yourself a small bowl or ramekin of water. Line up five dough circles. In the top half of each dough circle put about a heaping spoonful of filling. I just used a regular spoon, not a measuring spoon or anything fancy. The next part is partially up to preference. I found my dough mostly stuck together fine without wetting it, but if your dough is starting to dry out or your just concerned you're not getting a good enough seal - wet one finger and trace around the edge of one half of the circle. Pick up the dough in your hands and fold the bottom to the top. Firmly seal all around the edges. Repeat until your out of filling or dough or both. Once you start getting fast, try lining up ten at a time. If you're a speed demon, maybe even twenty.
  2. Decide how many varenyky you plan on eating. Freeze the rest of them in airtight containers with double layers of parchment between each layer to prevent them from sticking together.
  3. Bring a medium sized pot of water to boil.
  4. While you're waiting for the water to boil, place one stick of butter in a small sauce pan, melt over low heat skimming off the foam. Cook just until it starts to smell nutty. Set aside.
  5. Once your water has come to a boil, gently drop the varenyky into the pot. After they've floated to the surface like raviolis, let them cook 2 minutes more. Spoon a small pool of your buerre noisette onto a plate. Use a slotted spoon to removed the varenyky and put into the pool of butter. Drizzle with more butter and enjoy with copious amounts of sour cream. You earned it.

Let Them Eat Cake

Between leaving America and arriving in Seoul, Dan and I spent five weeks traveling through Central/Eastern Europe and Istanbul. Almost every time we'd tell people our trip plans the response would be "Oh, going to visit the motherland?" and yes, I am Ashkenazi and Dan is Ukranian but we don't have any family we know of in our respective motherlands. The truth is, we were going to visit food. Dan wanted Varenyky every day and I wanted Dobos and Sacher Tortes, Retes and Rugelach. With moderate success, we tried to hit at least one bakery or cafe a day for my ongoing pastry education. Here are my favorites by city.

Prague

Mistral Cafe Prague

We were only in Prague about 60 hours so we didn't manage too much in the way of dessert but what we had I loved. These are traditional pancakes with cream cheese and raspberries from Mistral Cafe. The pancakes were yeasty, not too sweet and had a bit of a sourdough flavor. I really need to do some research on how to make these. The cream cheese was more like creme fraiche and in July the raspberries were perfect. The contrast of the sweetness of the raspberries with the tart creme fraiche and pancakes made for a great Summer time dessert. I'd love to go back and eat some of the other pastries at Mistral Cafe.

Vienna

DEMEL. We went to Demel twice in our five days in Vienna. We would have gone more but on our first trip the service was so slow that I think we were there for almost an hour for just coffee and pastry. I recommend sitting inside if there's room as the service on our second visit was much faster. Of course the reason we went back a second time is quite simply that Demel really is the best. Having had many an apple strudel in Vienna, I feel confident in saying that the one at Demel is the only one where the price matched the quality. The apples weren't overly sweet or mushy and the pastry was flaky and crisp. The poppyseed strudel was also quite good but it's almost like a poppyseed cake wrapped in strudel pastry which wasn't quite what I was expecting. On our last day in Vienna I felt like I just couldn't leave the city without having at least one cake from Demel. I opted for Black Forest Cake which I believe had a generous soaking of both rum and kirschwasser, a very nice, light chocolate sponge and perfectly smooth mousse and cream. It might actually be the platonic ideal of a Black Forest Cake.

Obviously, a pastry chef cannot visit Vienna without an obligatory visit to Cafe Sacher. I would not recommend getting anything on the tourist priced menu other than Sacher Torte. It is definitely worth the visit to this piece of culinary history but its efforts to appear frozen in time come across as a bit staged and stuffy. The cake was light and not too sweet. I found it a bit dry but you cannot argue that a Sacher Torte at Hotel Sacher wasn't made exactly as it should be.

Budapest

Dobos Torte Gerbaud Budapest

Budapest is where my pastry and cake eating abilities were really put to the test. While my husband wanted paprikash for every meal I was trying to figure out how much pogaca could be worked into my diet. There were so many different Hungarian baked goods I wanted to try that I limited myself to one of each. So I was left with a conundrum, if I was only going to eat one slice of Dobos Torta, the most Hungarian of cakes, where would it be? Gerbaud's is to Budapest what Demel is to Vienna. If I was only going to have one Dobos Torta I wanted it to be the best. A bit on the pricy side, but well worth it, this Dobos Torta was fantastic. The sponge was light but with enough texture to not get lost between all the layers of buttercream. We also did a tasting menu at Onyx and in our small take home giftbox was a fresh mint macaron and a chocolate from Gerbaud's. The macaron was so lovely that even my sweets hating husband remembers it fondly.

One Kremes. One Flodni. Kremes is the Hungarian version of a Napoleon. Thicker layers of vanilla cream between flaky puff pastry and topped with powdered sugar instead of sticky sweet fondant. This one from Angelika Kavehaz was a fine rendition. When we went it had just started raining and the indoor dining room was a little stuffy for just coffee and pastry but the terrace overlooking the Danube seemed like it would be quite nice. Frohlich Cukraszda in the Jewish Quarter is the only place I saw Flodni, a traditional Hungarian Jewish dessert with layers of apple, walnut and poppyseed. We also had Dios Beigli (Hungarian nut roll) and Pogaca there. The Beigli was a little dry and the walnut filling was bitter but I loved the poppyseed filling in the Flodni and the Pogaca made excellent food for our overnight train trip to Lviv.

I don't have any good pictures because we ate outside in low light, but Elso Pesti Reteshaz (First Strudel House of Pest) is also well worth a visit. Dan did not like the Almas Retes here as much as the Alma Strudel at Demel because it was much more heavily spiced but I liked it quite a bit. The savory retes was good as well.

Lviv

Surprisingly some of our favorite pastries on our trip were from Lviv, Ukraine which we expected to be just a giant varenyky and stuffed cabbage fest. The desserts in this small town were unpretentious and highlighted the terrific berries that were in season. The first (poorly lit) cake is from Cukernia, a cake shop we found on accident thinking it was a coffee shop we had been looking for. It was packed and the coffee was not good but the roll cake was fantastic. My husband gave me some serious side eye when he thought that I had just ordered a cake with an insane amount of buttercream but the filling actually tasted like a lightly sweetened cream cheese and sour cream mix which contrasted fantastically with the sweet fresh raspberries. If we had not stumbled across this cake shop, I probably would've put far less emphasis on trying pastries in Lviv.

Lviv's Strudel Haus might actually be where we had our favorite strudel all trip. We had tried ordering sour cherry a few places before but each time were disappointed when the strudel would arrive with black cherries. Black cherries are good, but the Strudel Haus in Lviv had the only true sour cherry strudel. In Ukraine, Strudel is always served with sauce so at the Strudel house you choose your strudels and then self serve different sauces. The true way is to cover the pastry in sauce but wanting to keep the integrity of the pastry, I put my vanilla bean sauce on the side. The sauce was good but added more sweetness than I really wanted.

Our favorite coffee shop in Lviv, Cbit Kavy, had a small selection of fresh baked cakes every day. The coffee cake with fresh blackberries and raspberries and the blueberry version of the same were simple and delicious.

Veronika has literally the best Varenyky in the world and they left me so full I didn't have anything from their bakery until we were at the Lviv airport! This almond and black cherry tart was the perfect way to end our trip to Ukraine.

Now that I'm done drooling on my keyboard, I think I have some recipes I need to work on. Korea may be king when it comes to soft serve but if I want good cake, I'm going to have to make it myself.