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soviet cuisine

23 Mar

  
World history has never been my forte. Art history? Sure. Food history? Heck yah. Political movements? Not so much. It is not that I don’t get concepts-it is just that I am terrible with names and dates and I have a sneaking suspicion that what I am taught has been passed through a misogynist and Anglicized filter.

Oddly, I can recite recipes for chocolate chip cookies and umpteen cocktails, complete with amounts. And yet I cannot for the life of me remember years that things happened and then I get historical events out of order. Save remembering that WWI was before WWII. Got that one down.

So I’ve been gravitating towards cookbooks that teach me a bit of history too because where there is food involved I am more likely to remember. The CCCP Cook Book: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine deals with Soviet cuisine which is fascinating. The regime in power tried to promote an official cookbook and way of cooking for the all of the Soviet Union’s restaurant and catering businesses in order to get everyone serving exactly the same food everywhere, I suppose. That “official” cuisine seemed to veer towards Russian dishes, but the Soviet Union (aka USSR or CCCP) was pretty vast. The recipes that represent Soviet cuisine found in people’s homes ranges from Russian to Georgian to Tatar.

It is also interesting how much the the economics of the time drove the dishes. There is a reason for all those breadcrumb coated dishes. Meat at the time was scarce and the quality of what was available was poor. Crumbs disguised mystery meat. The lack of meat is the same reason there were so many canned fish, and varying patties of chopped meat.

Scarcity can also lead to remarkably good dishes. Eggplant “caviar” for instance. I’m not making it to replace real caviar. I’m making it because it is pretty dang delicious. Which I found shocking because rarely do I care for eggplant dishes.

The book is full of stories of dictators being jerks (to put it mildly) and the government being corrupt. The stories are alternately funny and sad. For instance the regime would champion eggs as not being so good for you when eggs were not readily available. When eggs finally were available in some abundance the government “realized” that eggs were in fact delicious and nutritious. Mmm, the tasty tales of executive power. By the time I finished reading and cooking through this book, I will be nourished both in body and mind.

As I mentioned, there are quite a few chopped meat recipes. There are some classics like sauerkraut, chicken Kiev, borscht and stroganoff. The recipe I am sharing is a sweet and spicy beet broth eaten with a toasted cheesy bread. Think of it as a variant of the classic pairing of grilled cheese with tomato soup. The topping on the toast is positively addictive. If you don’t like spice, you may wish to cut down the cayenne but being a nut for heat, I went all in.

The story behind this dish is about a chatty lil’ supper meeting between Stalin and Mao. Stalin steered Mao towards the soup because Mao grew up in southeast China, where the Hunan cuisine was full of the spicy flavors. Apparently at this dinner there was some wine drinking too, and Mao asked why Stalin liked to mix red and white wine. Stalin’s answer was that he liked creating his own bouquet of wine flavors. Now, I don’t recommend being like Stalin in general, and I REALLY don’t recommend mixing your red and white wine. But should you be into historical reenaction feel free to pop a couple of bottles open to wash down this meal. Just don’t reenact anything else the dictators might have been up to.

Borschtok with Spicy Toast adapted from The CCCP Cook Book by Olga and Pavel Syutkin

For borschtok:

2-2 1/2 liters meat stock (being veg, I substituted vegetable stock)
400 g (around a pound) beets
3 Tbsp. vinegar
1 egg white
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. sugar
For the toast:

2-3 slices white bread
25 g (almost 1 oz.) butter, plus some extra for frying
200 g (around 1/2 pound) semi-mature cheese (I used cheddar)
2 eggs
50 g (almost 2 oz) tomato puree or ketchup (I used tomato paste)
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
For the broth:

Add the beet, finely chopped, and the vinegar and egg white to the stock. Place over low heat and simmer 15-20 minutes. Add the cayenne and sugar and simmer another 5-7 minutes. Skim off any fat (if using meat stock) then run through a sieve (I lined mine with cheesecloth).

For the toast:

Heat the oven to 180 celsius or 360 Fahrenheit. Cut the bread into rectangular slices and fry in some butter. Grate the cheese and mix it with the tomato concoction of choice, eggs, butter and cayenne. Spread on the fried bread and bake in oven 10-12 minutes. Serve with the broth. Dip it. Dip it good.

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Gazpacho and

22 Aug

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Yeeeeaaaaah summer food. This is worth it. Worth buying the fresh herbs. Worth getting good feta.

And you can even make it with a handicapped right arm, if you have a food processor. Although to be honest I made this about a month ago.

And hey, you will probably have leftover V-8 so there may be a Bloody Mary in your future.

Here’s the update on my arm. I had a follow-up appointment and was told that apparently they took all the metal out. That complicated matrix of plates and pins I thought was holding me together is no more. The bionic arm is no more.

On one hand I feel bereft. The last three years it has been like a shield. A guardian. Don’t fuck with my arm, it’s full of metal.

On the other hand, I feel reborn. With the guidance of that metal, my bones knit themselves back together. I no longer need that metal. The baggage is gone. My bones are stronger than their technology.

My arm is all MINE again.

On the imaginary third hand. The “it was surgery, not a suicide attempt” scar that had faded so nicely over the years will be back, and probably a bit bigger.

I’ll just look at that as a badge of honor.

Food!

Daphne Oz’s book, “Relish” is both adorable and obnoxious. If you have time to curate your closet, good for you. Goooood for you.

I lie. I totally curate.

I curated the shit out of that metal in my arm.

Watermelon and Jalapeño Gazpacho with feta adapted from Daphne Oz’s Relish
1 big chopped tomato (1 1/2-ish cups)
1 heaping cup chopped watermelon
1 peeled, chopped cucumber
2 Tbsp. jarred pickled jalapeño slices
1/4 c. chopped shallot
Juice of one lime
2 Tbsp. parsley
2 Tbsp. mint
1/2 tsp. chopped garlic
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 c. V-8
Pinch kosher salt
Garnishes
Feta
Hot sauce (Chipotle Tabasco!)
Vegan Worcestershire
Combine all but the garnishes in the food processor. Make as thick and chunky or thin and blended as you like. Garnish with the fixings. I didn’t think it needed almost any of the hot sauce or Worcestershire but they play well with the feta.

For one? Second Annual Pumpkin Week in Spring Day Three

25 Apr

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Welcome day three of the Second Annual Pumpkin Week in Spring!
Boo-yah. Merriment, etc.

Let us get started.

I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been dating my career this year, and she is one foxy wench.

Demanding. She consumes my mind, body and soul and I love her.

So clearly, I want to keep her. So I cook for her.

Fortunately she’s a small eater. I can cook for one person who has a big appetite and it is enough. Which is good because I spend a lot of money on her for other things,

This recipe, which I reduced to be “for one” was also actually a request of my friend. She wanted to see soup on the pumpkin week menu. It is thanks to this friend I made this Indian Potato Salad so when she requested that I make a soup part of Pumpkin Week in Spring, I obliged.

My woman got jealous, but I soothed her with a good staged reading, so that saucy minx career of mine would shut the hell up.

Here you see the romantic candlelit dinner I made for me and my work:

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Note that we share a spoon. We’re that close. As one. She completes me.

I consulted a few recipes for this but decided on using the basic recipe from The Joy of Cooking and elaborating. To make it more trendy-um, I mean vegan, I used almond milk instead of broth or cream. I wanted to get my date hot so I added some hot sauce. Then just a dash of my favorite spice, cumin. Topped with a smattering of cilantro.

Pumpkin Soup for you and your not-too-hungry Love(adapted and reduced from The Joy of Cooking)
Olive oil spray
1/3 c. chopped onion
a couple Tbsp. celery, chopped
1 c. pumpkin
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. almond milk
1 tsp. sugar
salt
freshly ground pepper
Dash of hot sauce(I use Bufalo Chipotle)
Pinch of cumin
Cilantro
Spray a small pot and heat over medium. Add onion and celery and heat until translucent. Stir in pumpkin, then remaining ingredients except the cilantro. Break out Bad Boy, I mean your immersion blender, and blend that sucker up. Get as hot as you want(delicious both hot and chilled!), garnish with cilantro and serve to your lady.

It ain’t pretty…

3 May

Not only is it not too pretty but the angle I took this photo at is making me dizzy. Honestly I did not love this. I used a very dark miso and it was just a wee bit strong for me. And, try as I might, I just don’t care for plain tofu. This was Mark Bittman’s basic miso soup recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I made an all-day dashi, where you soak a piece of dried kombu all day to infuse the water with that seaweed taste. I think I prefer the dashi made by boiling kombu briefly with ginger. In fact I may try this whole recipe again and use ginger in the dashi and the option of adding garlic to the soup. Then I’ll post the recipe. In the meantime don’t let the picture of my miso make you dizzy.

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