Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year!

This is a time when Christmas trees are hitting the curb and holiday celebrations are winding down for most Americans. For Russians, however, the party starts on December 31. In the Soviet times, New Year's Eve became the big winter holiday, complete with the many trappings of Christmas, but with none of the religious connotations. (Think New Year trees and "Father Frost" bearing gifts; more on this below.) I'm off to celebrate with friends and traditional Russian New Year's Eve food (recipes below). Have a wonderful New Year's, everyone. Thanks for reading all year long.

From the archives:
More on New Year's, and a recipe for "herring in a fur coat."
The New York Times on New Year's in the Soviet times.
More on Russian New Year's history.

New Year's Recipes:
Mushroom deviled eggs
Oliver salad

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mushrooming Forth

I'm back to my old tricks--pickling and marinating vegetables. This time, I'm trying a recipe for pickled mushrooms from Anne Volokh's The Art of Russian Cuisine. I've been looking for a good recipe for Russian-style pickled mushrooms for ages, but I've never found one that was really satisfying (this attempt is the closest I've gotten).

Volokh's recipe is different from my past attempts because it doesn't call for any liquid or vinegar--just mushrooms, aromatics (garlic, dill) and salt. You weigh down the mushrooms with something heavy (like my big bottle, above). The mushrooms release liquid, which becomes the brine. They're properly pickled in 10 to 14 days. Stay tuned for an update.

From the archives: A recipe for marinated mushrooms from Anya von Bremzen's Please to the Table

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Some Notes on Russian Cookbooks

Move over, Please to the Table; I’ve got a new Russian cookbook to play with. It's Anne Volokh’s 600-page The Art of Russian Cuisine, published in 1983. (Anya Von Bremzen’s 1990 Please to the Table, by the way, has been my main inspiration for this blog.)

I haven’t had a chance to try any of Volokh’s recipes, but I’m impressed by the scope of her book. All the usual Russian foods (borsch, pelmeni) are well-represented, but so are lesser-known dishes such as seledka pod shuboi (herring in a fur coat) and Napoleon (tricky but popular layered cream cake). The chapters on making your own rye bread and pickling and preserving fruits and vegetables are extensive. Volokh’s recipes are more detailed than Von Bremzen’s, and she included handy diagrams for work-intensive dishes such as vareneki (dumplings) and multi-layered pies.

If there’s a downside to the book, it’s that Volokh spends a bit too much time on 19th-century Russian haute cuisine. (The amusing author photo in my edition shows Volokh wearing what looks like a 19th-century hat and gown.) Has anyone in Russia cooked dishes like poached sturgeon with cream sauce and Veal Prince Orlov between, say, 1920 and 1995? There’s little from the former Soviet republics with the exception of the most well-known dishes like plov, the Uzbek lamb and rice stew.

Von Bremzen, too, includes grouse and such in her book, but she also extensively covers the foods of every USSR satellite nation from Estonia to Tajikistan. I like that she notes Soviet-era food shortages and adaptations 20th-century home cooks have had to make. Unfortunately, Von Bremzen's recipes often need some tweaking and her ingredient proportions tend to be off.

I've heard from blog readers that Volokh's recipes are more precise, so I'm looking forward to perusing her book and trying some of her recipes, starting with pickled mushrooms.
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