Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Yulinka Cooks is Closed

It's been a good six-year run, but it's time to close up shop. Yulinka Cooks may come back someday in this guise or a different one (as it has at least twice since 2006). I'm still around on the interwebs, of course, so feel free to contact me with questions about anything on the blog: yulinkacooks at yahoo dot com.

Всего доброго! (All the best, see you, bye-bye, later!)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pie on the Fly

In lieu of proper blogging, I'm posting pictures of Russian pies this week. That's cabbage pie, a cheesecake-like pie called vatrushka and mushroom pie. My mom made these, I don't have the recipe, nor do I plan to recreate them myself since I'm not that into Russian baking these days. (I couldn't find many reliable-sounding recipes for Russian pies, so if you know of any, please share.)

However, to make this more of a proper blog post, I will share a few cultural factoids about Russian pies:

  • You may know about pirozhki (пирожки, plural; пирожок, singular), which are small, pastry-like pies.
  • A pizza-sized pie like the one above is called a pirog.
  • The Russian word pirog (пирог) stems from the word "pir" (пир), which means feast.
  • Popular pie fillings for Russian pies are cabbage (sauteed with onions and mixed with hard-boiled eggs), mushrooms, fish and rice, and for pirozhki, potatoes, ground beef, or fruit. I once blogged about making mushroom pie.
  • A vatrushka (ватрушка) is a pastry filled with farmer's cheese (also known as tvorog/творог). I made vatrushki (ватрушки, plural) back in the day.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Stuff Russians Like

Oh, hello! I'm taking another protracted blogging break while I figure out what to do with Yulinka Cooks. In the meantime, enjoy this read from a much-more frequently updated Russian girl blog: Why do Russians love Ferrero Rocher?  (Ferrero Rocher are those round little chocolates that come in a crinkly gold wrapper.)

Writes Vicki Boykis:
"If you’ve ever been to a Russian house, you know what I’m talking about. The tea set comes out, the fruits and nuts come out, and out comes the Ferrero Rocher."
What else do Russians like? Off the top of my head: jams of all kinds (eaten out of a saucer, with a spoon), honey, Russian ginger cookies (prianiki). Take it away, readers!

Monday, November 14, 2011

From Iron Curtain to Iron Chef: 20 Years in American Food

As of October 24, 2011, I have lived in the United States for 20 years. I’ll spare the reflections on growing up in two cultures, etcetera, suffice to say it’s been a pretty good run.
Let’s talk instead about these 20 years in food. My palate follows the typical immigrant child trajectory:  Instant infatuation with all things American; attempts to bring “American” food like tacos and lasagna into the immigrant household; followed by an eventual appreciation and nostalgia for the foods of the old country.  Let’s take a closer look:
1991: My family and I arrive in the U.S. from Russia.  The food we’ve known in the USSR is homemade and unvaried, made-from-scratch and pale in color. Fast food and snacks, wrapped in bright food packaging, are rare and expensive. Here, the sheer variety of food and its colors sends us spinning.  We eat our first American delicacy: Oreo cookies, purchased late in the evening from a hotel vending machine (we strategically go at night because we’ve never seen a vending machine and don’t know how it works). 
This is followed by daily discoveries: pink bologna wrapped in layers of plastic, tiny cups of purple-tinged yogurt with sprinkles, vanilla ice cream with strawberry streaks that make me think of marble, confetti-colored marshmallows in Alphabits cereal.  Life’s a kaleidoscope of color and gloriously artificial scents and flavors. My mom nearly mistakes a bottle of lemon-scented dish soap for lemon juice.
1991, later in the year: We acquire our first toaster and I spend an evening toasting piece after piece of Wonder Bread.
1992-1993: I’m mesmerized by the food American kids bring to school: diagonally sliced sandwiches that always include a piece of lettuce, pretzel twists in plastic baggies, Fruit by the Foot, gummy fruit snacks, fruit juice boxes with straws attached (“Americans think of everything,” my mom says!). Also, school pizza parties courtesy of Pizza Hut and classroom treats for every possible occasion, in an era before childhood obesity.  
1994-1995: I discover the microwave. My parents use it for reasonable purposes, like heating leftovers. I use it for eating my way through Pick ‘n Save’s frozen dinner selection. My favorite brand, for reasons that elude me now, is Kid Cuisine.  I ignore my mom’s borsch. Lunch is Lay’s sour-cream-and-potato chips, a box of Ocean Spray juice, and a Little Debbie brownie. My parents’ infatuation with American food is over. My mom declares that everything tastes like plastic.
1996-1997: Adolescent body image issues kick in: I decide I’m fat. It’s a good time to start eating “healthy,” since it’s the decade of low-fat everything: Snackwell’s, Healthy Choice, fat-free pretzels.  I oversee my mom’s cooking and complain every time she reaches for oil and butter. This causes some tension between us.
1997-1998: I dabble in cooking. Everything I want to make is “American”: lasagna, tacos, spaghetti. I’m not interested in borsch.
1998-2000: My infatuation with American food, both junk and home cooked, is ending. Weird, foreign food is kind of cool! Three cheers for multiculturalism. My mom goes on kick of Russian home cooking: pirozhki (little pies with meat, cabbage or mushroom fillings), pelmeni (Russian dumplings),  cabbage soups. I gobble it all up.
2000-2005: I continue to dabble in cooking, although my mom’s interest wanes. Food at home, and to this day, alternates between Russian basics like kotleti and the occasional lasagna. I watch the Food Network and read cookbooks.
2006-2007: Inspired by an explosion of food blogs and my very first kitchen, I launch Yulinka Cooks. My theme is Russian/Soviet food, and I stick to it, making vatrushki, tvorog, and kvass. Many of these multistep dishes are just okay and my photos are less than okay, but food blogging becomes my on-again-off-again creative outlet. 
2008-2011: Local and sustainable is big, and I dabble in some Milwaukee-area food coverage. I keep cooking and blogging, although with a bit less enthusiasm. I write about “American” food, which doesn’t resonate with readers—but Russian classics like kvass generate comments! 

Now: I’ve evolved into a decent cook and cook plenty, mostly Americanized basics, and mostly from scratch. I shop at farmer’s markets. I know better than to be impressed with Oreos—not local or sustainable!  
Still, at times I miss that fresh-off-the-boat innocence, that moment when packaged cookies falling through a vending machine seemed magical. (If I were making a movie, they'd fall in slow motion.) 
As my 20th Thanksgiving rolls around, I’m thankful that I’ve had the chance to experience both worlds—the dark one for a little while, and the colorful one for keeps.

Photos from ConAgra Foods and Nabisco

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Russian Grocery Store Tour: International Foods


I'm surprised that I’ve never reviewed International Foods--the original Russian grocery store in Milwaukee. Opened in the early 1990s during the post-Soviet immigrant wave, International Foods is really the only Russian grocery in Milwaukee that gets press or the occasional American customer. 

Location: 1920 E. Capital Dr.,  Shorewood, Wis., (414) 964-7115.

Atmosphere: The original, sparsely-shelved Eastern European grocery store.

Customer Service: Who knows? Known for both a brusque Soviet attitude and the occasional sweet cashier.
Product Selection: Good selection of deli specialties and ready-made Russian party food such as salads, herring in a fur coat, pastries, pickled tomatoes and cucumbers and much more. I believe International Foods does catering, too. Otherwise, a decent selection of Russian basics, plus a small selection of Russian-language books in the back of the store.

Pricing: On the higher side, but not shocking.

Buy: The homemade deli selections.

Avoid: Watch out for stale bread and cashiers who give you the cold shoulder.

Final Rating: *** 

Rating Key:
*Soviet cafeteria food
**Day-old buckwheat kasha
***Borsch made by a non-native
**** Babushka’s homemade pirozhki
*****Black caviar on a buttered baguette and a shot of chilled vodka

Other recommended Russian/Eastern European grocery stores in Milwaukee: Spartak, Parthenon Foods, and A&J Polish Deli.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Soviet Kitchen Items

The new book “Made in Russia: Unsung Icons of Soviet Design” has been getting some buzz. You can see a nice gallery of photos and stories from the book in Foreign Policy magazine. I can’t get my hands on a copy yet, but the preview inspired me to rummage through my parents’ kitchen in search of unsung icons of Soviet cookware design.

Perhaps the most iconic of my finds is this drinking glass—granyonyi stakan (гранёный стакан). This thick, 14-sided glass was manufactured and sold throughout the Soviet Union.
I’ve gleaned some factoids about these glasses from--where else?--Wikipedia (in Russian and English).

-These glasses are said to be designed by Vera Mukhina, creator of the famous Soviet sculpture “Worker and Kolhoz Woman”.

-They’re sturdy and made to survive falls on hard flooring, which is why they were commonly used on trains and in food service.

-Most importantly, according to Wikipedia: “An image of granyonyi stakan in popular culture is associated either with vodka and pickled cucumbers, or with tea and podstakannik.”

Speaking of which, this is the podstakannik (подстаканник), a glass holder, usually used on trains for serving hot tea.

Next find—a 1970s-era book called “Advice to a Young Housewife,” which contains recipes and good housekeeping tips. Check out the loopy illustration on the cover. (Previously, I blogged about Soviet recipe postcards from the '70s and '80s--canapes, potatoes and soups.)

An enamel camping mug—note the picture of black currants, the classic Russian berry.

If the above artifacts strike you as unironically stodgy, I must point out that not everything made in the Soviet Union was ugly. Check out these delicately painted porcelain tea and espresso cups, produced in the USSR in the 1960s.

The proof is in the logo--LFZ (ЛФЗ in Russian)--Leningradski Farforovyi Zavod, or the Leningrad Porcelain Factory.
Finally,  money. As my father noted, none of the above could be acquired without a ruble or two. Here, you can see one, five and ten-ruble bills, plus a ruble coin. I encourage you check out Wikipedia for on Soviet money Let me note that the paper bills include writing in the different languages of each of the Soviet republics—cultural sensitivity on the part of the USSR’s Department of the Treasury!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Rhubarb Pudding Cake

I’m always looking to expand my arsenal of simple fruit cake recipes (more on fruit cakes—not the Christmas kind). This recipe is a fast contender for a summer favorite. You beat together some butter, sugar, an egg and flour, and plop the batter over chopped fruit. The recipe calls for rhubarb, but this would work just as well with apples.  The batter spreads as it bakes, creating a cake layer to cover the jammy, pudding-y fruit.

Here’s the recipe, via the Journal Sentinel’s Sunday food section, with a few modifications.

Cube rhubarb or apples into ½-inch chunks—you should have about four cups. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine 1cup flour, 1 ¼ tsp. baking power and 1/8 tsp. salt; set aside. In a big bowl, beat 5 tablespoons unsalted, room-temperate butter with a mixer until smooth. Add 2/3 cups sugar, beat well. Add 1 tsp. vanilla extract, ¼ tsp. cinnamon and 1 egg; beat well. Add the flour and ½ cup milk alternately to the sugar mixture; combine until just smooth.

Butter an 8-inch baking dish and spread the fruit in the dish. Sprinkle with about 2/3 cup sugar (less, maybe ½ cup, if you’re using apples, especially if they’re on the sweeter side). 

Spoon batter over the fruit—don’t worry if it doesn’t cover all the fruit; the batter will spread and plump up while baking. Bake about 45 minutes, and let cool before eating.

Good with whipped cream or ice cream…but who am I kidding, perfect when eaten with a spoon right out of the pan.
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