Tag Archives: cheese

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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Spinach and Artichoke Dip on bread. Dip in bowl. Dip da dip dip dippity do

6 Apr

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Ohhhh my goodness. I am finally done with the season of Girls on GIRLS. Although we will be rolling out cocktail-making segments soon.
And in between doing a bunch of live shows that ran the gamut from improv to sketch to contortion for comedy, I decided to pull out some of the posts I had had in my drafts for a while. This is one of them. A recipe I’ve enjoyed enough to make more than once. That’s a big compliment from me because having to vet new cookbooks leaves little time for old favorites. The genius work of Joy the Baker keeps me coming back.

Here’s the deal:
I LOVE a sandwich. I cannot dislike anything involving ample carbohydrates.

Here’s the other deal with a sandwich though:
I only love it if I can eat it on a plate with a knife and fork so I can deconstruct and reconstruct as I like. Here, a bite of the whole sandwich, there, a forkful of filling. Then a leftover bit of bread from where I swiped the filling. That I may butter.

The third and final deal with a sandwich is that I rarely actually eat things that are supposed to be served on carbs ON the said carbs. I devour bowls of spicy salsa with a spoon pretty much daily. It is not so different from gazpacho right? Then I butter the chips.
And I rarely eat the cheese on cheese plates atop the slices of baguette that come with it. I nibble each bit of fromage individually. The better to really taste the cheese, my dear. Then I butter the baguette.

So I made this dip and enjoyed deconstructing a sandwich made with it, and still had leftover dip to gobble from a bowl. And at some point I ran out of bread but I always keep back-up butter.

Take home lesson from this blog post is this: ALWAYS HAVE BACKUP BUTTER.

Spicy Spinach and Artichoke Dip/Spread adapted from this recipe by Joy the Baker
Olive oil spray
1/2 tsp. chopped garlic
A few handfuls if baby spinach
2 pieces of whole wheat bread
1 Tbsp. cream cheese
2 oz. Swiss cheese, shredded
3/4 c. Chopped artichoke hearts
Pinch of fleur de sel
1 heaping Tbsp. Cottage cheese, mashed with a fork until relatively smooth
1 1/2 tsp. Sriracha
Butter
Spray a pan with the oil and sauté the garlic a bit then add the spinach, an cook just until wilted. Take off heat. Spread the bread slices with the cream cheese. Stir together the spinach mixture, Swiss cheese, artichoke hearts, fleur de sel, cottage cheese, and Sriracha. Heap as much as you want on top of cream cheese on one piece of bread, (save the rest for another sandwich, or if you are like me, eating out of a bowl) and top with other slice of bread, cream cheese side down. Spread outside of sandwich with butter and cook Ina skillet on each side until browned to your liking. Because it is all about you.

Stupid simple

15 Aug

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Simple as in every summer shalt have a stupid simple recipe.
This one uses more of that half n half you bought for the Colorado Bulldog and probably did not use for the Frostbite. Because I said it sucked.

This salad is best accompanied by last summer’s stupid simple: the stupid-simple-summer-sippable taught to me by Sheila.

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It looks like wine, tastes like ginger heaven.
Incidentally, a splash of the ginger juice to an iced coffee with a dash of cinnamon and a bit of sweetener is wicked delicious.

When it comes to a simple salad, everyone has preferences that are different so this is barely a recipe because I keep saying “whatever you prefer”. I do tell you what I like so you can make me a salad properly. Someday. Some summer. Suddenly?

The salad snob may want to wield a pepper grinder over this, but taste the dressing first, it packs quite the pepper punch.

My, but I’m into alliteration aujourd’hui.

I tried this salad several ways: one time constructed with slices cheese, one time tossed with Romaine with the cheese shredded. I think like the sliced better, but shredding and blending the cheese certainly made for a more creamy situation. That sounds weird.
But it looks better.

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I got all inspired one night and did a poached egg/shredded cheese rendition.

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The almost-winning combo, seen at the top of this post was verging on not so simple. Arugula for the greens. Half the cheese shredded and tossed with some dressing and the greens. The remainder sliced. Egg poached. Extra dressing on the side.
And only almost a winner because I missed the refreshing crunch of romaine.

I’ve no pictorial evidence but I put an eggs-in-a-nest on it once.

So shred, slice, poach, boil, hell, scramble if you must. But try the dressing. Make yourself a simple salad.
It’s gosh-durned good eating.

Oh, and for a little while I’m only posting once a week, unless major things happen and I feel the need to put up another post. And I may go back to twice a week at some point. But otherwise it’s going to be Wednesdays. Carry on.

Creamy Swiss Salad(adapted from the Betty Crocker published…I’m not sure when. It’s old)

A big bowl o’ salad greens, whichever you prefer. For this salad I like butter lettuce, romaine, spinach, arugula…
2 ounces cubed or sliced reduced fat Swiss cheese
1 hard-boiled egg, cut however you prefer, hopefully not sieved. I despise when they crumble the egg
OR poach that sucker
4 Tbsp. reduced fat vegan mayo
1 Tbsp. half n half
1/2 tsp. dry mustard powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Put yet greens in a bowl or big plate. Whichever you prefer. I like a big plate.
Either toss eggs and cheese with greens or arrange them on top. I prefer on top. Whisk together mayo, half n half, mustard powder, salt and pepper. Add dressing to taste. If you are me realized you wanted to mix in some dressing first and then arrange the cheese and egg on top so you may have to take them off, toss, then rearrange.
It’s a pain in the ass to be a finicky food separatist.

Bittman time

16 Feb

In honor of Valentine’s Day I had to visit the cookbook of my true author-love, Mark Bittman:

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It’s another simple dish.

Can I bore you with another acting tale? Cause acting is the reason I’ve been resorting to the quick and simple.

I am busy this week trying to find a shot from my last headshot shoot in which I have “ice in my eyes”. My agent’s words.
Ummmm, yeah.

Here is what my agent picked out of the options I gave him:

Am I icy? I dunno.

In between actual jobs, auditions, mailings and class, finding an appopriate photo out of the hundreds taken that day took the rest of my time. My eyes are rarely icy, apparently.

Woe is me, having to look at myself all day. That’s enough of that.

On to food.

Again with the dishes with nationalities. This one is “Swiss-style”, according to my love, Mark Bittman. At least, the original recipe made with potatoes and other vegetables was. I made the variation on this bake.

Bake means casserole. But sounds fancier.

This is so simple it seems silly to post it, almost. It’s basically a mound of cheese and some peppers on bread.
In the future I want to make a version with cheddar and pimientos.
That would no longer Swiss.
More Southern like pimiento cheese?
Pimiento cheese is the shiz-nit, incidentally.

What are your favorite cheese/veggie combos? I want to know!

Swiss-style Bake(based on Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)
Several slices of whole wheat bread
Freshly ground pepper
Freshly ground sea salt
2 cups reduced-fat mozzarella, shredded(but really I’d use full-fat in the future as this was a bit dry)
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
I cup chopped jarred roasted red peppers
Preheat oven to 375.
Layer bread, salt and pepper, then cheese, then peppers in an 8×8 pan. So hard. Cover with foil and bake around 15 minutes, then uncover and bake til cheese is browned n bubbly. Kind of how you want your champagne to be minus the brown part.

Bitt me, Bayby

20 Nov

Mark Bittman recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian for Baked Macaroni and Cheese=delicious.
Nothing makes a white sauce based dish better than infusing the milk with a bay leaf. Seriously. One tiny leaf and the sauce will sing. It might even take requests.
I confess I made this months ago. I was in the middle of a passionate affair with everything Bittman. Thought I posted it. I did not. Which is dandy considering that working like a fiend has left me with little time to do much beyond shake a jar once a day.
What reminded me to post this mac and cheese was an evening containing both a delectable dish and an epic fail. It all started quite normally, wandering downtown Culver City in search of a nosh. We eventually settled on Bottlerock. I noted the “mystery wine” option on the menu. If you guess the grape and region you get a free glass. Aha! I could show off my wine smarts-not that it really mattered to partner in crime who claims that every wine tastes “exactly the same” to him. Clearly I was going to be on my own for this one. So I went with the mystery white and ordered a smashlingly good Albarino for him(I waited and tasted after I thought I’d identified my mystery drink). I took a sip of mystery wine. First thought? NOT a chardonnay. It was a light, easy-going wine without a lot of depth or frankly, personality. Quaffable, but not complicated or oaky. So not a chardonnay. My guess was pinot grigio. Wrong! The sancerre? Nope. Third desperate try: a northern climate sauvignon blanc? Not even close.
The answer: A Chilean Chardonnay.
WTF?!! NO!!! Just….NO!
I felt like a huge loser. Fail!
HOWEVER! The truffle mac and cheese was we ordered was the delectable part of the evening and kept my spirits high. So there you go. A good mac and cheese saves the day.
One last note. On the way out the waitress confessed it was indeed an unusual Chardonnay. It was aged in a steel barrel. No oak. AHA! I felt much better hearing this. Validated. If it were a typical Chard and my taste buds couldn’t pick it up I’d feel pretty lame.
Anyway. Screw Chard. Get yourself a Sancerre. Love me some Loire valley goodness. Or an Albarino. Go Rioja region. Make this mac n cheese. Or if you are feeling lazy go to Bottlerock, get their truffle-y goodness, take the mystery wine challenge and let me know what wine shenanigans the staff is up to this week.

What is your favorite wine grape and region? Do tell.

Rotini and Cheese(adapted and healthified from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman love of my cookbook life)
1 1/4 cups skim milk
salt
bay leaf
8 oz. rotini
2 Tbsp. light smart balance
1 1/2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup grated cheese, your favorite(I used reduced fat)
freshly ground black pepper
1 piece of bread turned to crumbs(rip it up!)
Preheat oven to 400. Cook pasta just to al dente. Drain and rinse. In another small pot cook the milk and bay leaf on medium-low heat til little bubbles appear along the edge. Wait 5 minutes then turn off heat.
In yet another small pot melt the smart balance add flour and mash the stuff in like crazy, let mixture brown just a tiny bit then slowly, slowly add the milk(sans bay leaf, it’s done its job) and stir it up til smooth. Then stir in cheese.
Spray a 9×5 pan, put noodles in it, then mix in the sauce and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake til it looks like bubbly goodness. Consume. Sip Sancerre. Enjoy the good life. That would be my choice, anyway.

sinful fruit, i.e., the apple

12 Jun


Forget the biblical references. Doesn’t this apple, this almost heart-shaped beauty bathing in a reduction of red wine and its own natural juices, look downright erotic? At least as erotic as produce can get?
This is another gem of a recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. It’s pretty much just an apple baked with a bit of butter, some wine, cheddar cheese, thyme, and salt and pepper. There are all sorts of variations given for the recipe I’d like to make, like using port wine, blue cheese and sage. SO good. SO simple. SO sexy. Seriously. Sexy food. You know you want it.