Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving Scenes

I did very little cooking this Thanksgiving but I dutifully chronicled dinner at my parents'. Those not in on my blogging were amused that I took pictures of food instead of people.

Making seledka pod shuboi--herring in a fur coat. This may be the Russian version of seven layer salad. Diced smoked herring is on the bottom, topped with diced cooked potatoes, carrots, and beets, hardboiled eggs, a tart apple, and mayo/sour cream dressing.
The sides: marinated tomatoes, homemade sauerkraut (my parents' was better than mine), cranberry sauce, and pickles. The marinated tomatoes were awesome; I always buy them at the Russian store. I can't remember the name of the brand I like best--it's the one with a red-nosed, drunken-looking babushka on the label. I could eat these sweet and spicy tomatoes like candy.

The beast:

Does this say Thanksgiving to you? That's smoked mackarel, part of the appetizer spread. Fatty and yummy.
Dessert: An apple charlotte and curd cheese cake with grated apples (pictured below), recipe courtesy of the blog Nami-Nami. The curd cheese cake was excellent: light, fluffy, not too sweet; a great use of farmer's cheese.
After dinner entertainment: Russian pop songs. The only one I recognized was Dark Eyes.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sauerkraut in Action

Above is a photo of sauerkraut-making in action. Helen of Beyond Salmon tipped me off to this recipe, helpfully reviewed on her blog. My sauerkraut is currently on day three of fermenting, and I’m excited to think that it could be done as early as Friday. Never having pickled anything besides some super-easy pickles, I approached this first sauerkraut-making venture with trepidation. I called my parents for guidance. My sauerkraut-making worried them. "Did you chop the cabbage before putting it in the bucket?" was my dad's first question. "Did you remember to salt it?" my mom wanted to know. They insisted that I’m making a big mistake in not following their recipe. What’s my parents' recipe? It’s sort of like Helen put it:

“Take lots of cabbage, sprinkle with some salt, put in a bucket, and wait for
it to ferment.”

Except after tossing the cabbage with salt, my parents pour in a little warm water mixed with sugar into the bucket to start the fermentation. The recipe I’m using calls for cold water with salt. Whose recipe will yield crispier, crunchier, tangier kraut? Time will tell.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Peanut Butter Bread

I just caught on to National Blog Posting Month, when bloggers are encouraged to post every single day during November. I'm now all excited about blogging more often, although I will probably come to my senses tomorrow. In the meantime, I'll play around with this mini-post approach:

I say peanut butter bread is a great idea. I like peanut butter but I hate how it's used in baking--usually as part of sugary sweet slop involving chocolate. What a revelation this bread was!

I made two small changes in the recipe--I reduced the sugar to 1/4 cup and baked the bread in a 9" by 11" cake pan instead of a loaf pan. The final result is slightly sweet, fluffy, and nutty. This bread was a great addition to my weekend breakfast of yogurt and tea. It was also good smeared with plain cream cheese or drizzled with honey.

The recipe comes from Cooking With Yiddishe Mama. New food blogger Alla Staroseletskaya posts Eastern European and American recipes in Russian and English. I can't wait to try this farmer's cheese apple cake.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Fast Food

When I started grad school is August, I planned to blog about quick, easy meals. A month later, after a dozen quick dinners of pastas, eggs and sandwiches, my enthusiasm waned. That’s not to say that fast meals weren’t good—they were—but after a while they were unsatisfying. When I came home from long day of work and school, I looked forward to eating a sandwich about as much as I looked forward to reading 80+ pages of dated communication theory. Fast food*--even good fast food--is tiring after a while. Why is slow(er) food, which can be as simple of a soup or a stew—so much more filling and satiating?

For me, hot food that takes a bit of effort to prepare is almost always superior to a sandwich. Maybe it’s the way I was brought up—until my parents moved to America, real food was a three-course meal consisting of soup (such as borsht), a main dish (meat & starch), and a dessert (fruit-based). Sandwiches and quickies like eggs were considered food for bachelors, students and the lazy. My mom still wrinkles her nose at the thought of sandwiches as a meal. “That’s not food,” she says. “You eat a sandwich and you’re hungry an hour later!” These days, of course, my mom hardly ever serves the Old-World three-course meal. Sandwiches, however, are still frowned on at her table.

I myself have nothing against sandwiches, but I do prefer to cook something when I’m short on time. ( I could get so much more done if I just ate some yogurt while getting a head start on my reading.) I present the following quick meals, which range from perfectly acceptable when you're hungry to totally satiating and satisfying.

*Pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes, leeks and a poached egg. Roast some tomatoes and leeks for this tart. Realize that you will not be making a tart anytime soon. Cook some pasta while gently heating up the veggies in a skillet. Poach an egg, keeping in mind that you want a runny yolk. Drain the cooked pasta, add it to the vegetables, put the egg on top, mix the whole thing up with a fork, and eat. Time: 15 minutes, not including roasting.

*Tilapia roasted with Asian-style vegetables. Stir-fry some vegetables. I used green beans, red peppers, julienned carrots, mushrooms and garlic. Add some Asian sauces--soy sauce, hoisin, sweet and sour sauce, etc. Put the veggies in a baking pan. Sear a couple of tilapia fillets on both sides; then place the fish over the vegetables and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Roast until the fish is done. Eat with rice. Time: 30 minutes, tops.

*Creamy tomato soup, based on this recipe. This is the closest I’ve gotten to slow food in a while, but this soup is delicious and satisfying. It sates hunger; it fulfills the desire to cook. I warmed up a hodge-podge of aromatics—a chopped onion, half a leek, a couple of shallots, a small carrot, a couple of garlic cloves--in olive oil in a dutch oven. I added salt, thyme, dried basil and some red pepper flakes. Then I added a splash of white wine, two chopped, peeled fresh tomatoes and a 15-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes, as well as the chicken stock—2 cups, maybe. I brought the soup to a boil and then reduced it to a simmer .

The above recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, but my soup needed about 2 tablespoons of sugar to cut the acidity. I added the sugar bit by bit, simmering and tasting. When the soup was almost done, I pureed half of it in a blender, then added it back to the soup pot along with 1/3 cup of half and half and a couple of tablespoons of sour cream. Time: 1 hour, including prep time.

*When I pick up lunch at work I always get suckered in by the “fast-casual” places. I’ve got no axe to grind against McDonald’s, that affable grease pit. It’s the Paneras of the world that get me down. The earth tone decor and promises of “fresh” and “natural” cleverly obscure the mediocre food served in these places. After two lunches of artificial-tasting, scalding hot soups from Bruegger’s Bagels and a $7+ Panera chicken Caesar salad that included some greens and a couple of chicken chunks coated in what tasted like dry Italian dressing, I’ve stopped eating lunch out. My fast-casual food is so much better.
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