Monday, September 30, 2013

Russian Room Service

Believe it or not, here in central Moscow it's easier to find a pizza than a good bowl of borscht. Oddly enough for a taste of something local i searched the "Russian Specialties" section of the Golden Ring Hotel's room service menu and came up with pelmeni, small round (often) meat filled dumplings floating in warm salty broth. Considered a treasure of Russian comfort foods, regional variations abound but pelmeni are thought to have originated in Siberia (no doubt with the influence of surrounding Asian and slavic dumplings) as a way to preserve meat (within the frozen dough) through the winter.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Art Nouveau Luxury

 Yeliseyevsky's Food hall, officially known as Gastronome #1 (or delicatessen #1 in some reports) though no one calls it that, has survived in opulent luxurious style since 1901. A mansion designed in neo-classical style for Yekaterina Kozitskaya, widow of  Catherine the Great's state secretary,  the building dates back to  the 1790's when it was a private home.
St Petersburg millionaire Grigory Yeliseyev purchased the mansion in 1898 and spent three years renovating to create his emporium of  food and wine specialties.
Caviar, vodka and a dizzying array of prepared dishes from beet salads to sushi temp shoppers with very deep pockets while tours of school children wander through to marvel at the elaborate decor.
A true survivor,  Yeliseyevsky's has steadfastly maintained an elaborate selection in the height of luxury through a revolution, shortages, and even nationalization and today offers a brief glimpse of a Russia that used to be or an emblem of the new glamocracy.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Little "Viilage" Called Genatsvale

Near the end of one of Moscow's most touristy streets after the Starbucks and the Dunkin Donuts and the Cinnabon (not to mention the TGI Fridays and Pain Quotidian and Wendy's) is a curious ethnic restaurant part Disneyland and part refuge for homesick Georgians. Genatsvale's decor is an entire rustic village complete with ponds, dangerously uneven cobblestone floors, ramshackle fences and waiters armed with guitar and accordion singing folksongs that touched the heart of my Georgian companion.
Georgia and the Ukraine boast more moderate climates than the other nations that once made up the Soviet Union and have long supplied fruit and vegetables across the region. Specialties rely on fresh ingredients and a variety of flavorful sauces (served with meat and fish) of tomato, plum, pomegranate and more. These thin slices of eggplant were rolled around a tasty creamy walnut paste. One of many typical combinations of nut meats and vegetables.
Several regions have their version of Khatchapuri, a tasty cheese filled bread. But this was my first time tasting the Georgian version, Adjarian Khatachapuri. Tender dough holds a lake of melted cheese (and probably oil) with a raw egg in the center. As instructed by my friend I rubbed the supplied pat of butter over the dough and then tossed the remainder in with the egg and gave the center ingredients a good stir with my fork. Then you dip torn pieces of the surrounding dough into the creamy sauce created in the middle. A new benchmark for world bread and cheese cuisine and the start of my Moscow ethnic eating tour.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Touch Of America

Part of a Moscow mini-chain, Breakfast -- which is open until 11 pm and seems busiest for dinner -- features retro American style baked goods, sandwiches, salads and yes Russian interpretations of breakfast items to stylishly clad young professional patrons following up their very California style arugula and chicken salads with mountainous plates of fluffy banana pancakes.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A La Russe

I've wandered into Maison Paul, a downtown Moscow coffee bar and bakery. In the twenty years or so since the iron curtain fell (or maybe it was just pulled back) Russia has invited the world in. Where once the upper classes spoke French as a status symbol today they flock into French (and American) themed cafe's. The grocery stores stock borscht and caviar and smoked fish of every variety but the streets are full of frothy lattes (even in French cafe's the coffee is "Italian"),  bagette sandwiches, and croissants.
I'm still searching for my stroganoff and a glimpse of what I though Russia would be, but for now the coffee is pretty darned good.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

One Last Project Before I Go

I came home to a rainbow of tomatoes waiting, some just ready (above) and some a little past ready. I hate to let anything go to waste, especially not my beautiful homegrown tomatoes. I could have canned up jars for winter (I usually do a dozen jars or so --we're not big canned tomato eaters -- each summer)  but inside today I was dreading all that blanching and peeling.
Last year I put up a few jars of sauce and they came in handy over and over again adding flavor to soups and stews and braises and sauces. I decided on an easy cook batch of Sicilian style tomato sauce.
First I chopped up my beautiful tomatoes, not too small just enough to get them all into the pot. I added in dried parsley and basil along with oregano, crushed red peppers and 4 bay leaves, then sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme. Usually when I can sauce I make a less herby more basic version but today a little extra flavor felt right. I poured in 1 cup of olive oil and 3/4 cup of red wine and brought everything to a boil, pressing down the  tomatoes slightly to start them breaking down.  The pot simmered for 2 1/2 hours until I could see a thick sauce forming. I removed the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves then passed the remaining sauce through a food mill to separate the tomato skins and seeds.
I was feeling pretty lazy by the time my sauce was ready to jar. I thought about just pouring some into freezer containers and tucking them away. But my sauce was so thick and beautiful (and tasty), I knew I would miss seeing the filled jars on the pantry shelf and hearing the satisfying thunk of a hot jar's seal setting. Out came the canning pot.
I processed the jars for about 10 minutes, wiped them clean and tucked them away for future meals. I had just a bit of sauce left in the pot with dinnertime on the way. I started a pot with olive oil, garlic, onions, and finely chopped peppers (there were fresh ones calling my name in the garden). As the aromatics sautéed I mixed up some easy meatballs. Ground pork and beef, eggs, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, chopped garlic, chopped shallots, basil, parsley, oregano, S&P and crushed red peppers, rolled around fresh cubes of mozzarella. A plain meatball with a surprise. I browned the meatballs in the pot with the onion mixture, poured in a little red wine and the leftover sauce and let everything simmer for about 30 minutes. The sauce was thick and rich and meaty. Just right for a cool fall evening. A perfect last meal at home (for a while).

Friday, September 20, 2013

Two Weeks Away, Looking At Two More

I just made it home -- long enough to wash clothes, snuggle with the dogs and gather an armful of kale for a quick soup. Loosely based on Portugal's Caldo verde I sauté smoked sausage (usually linguica) along with onions, peppers, and loads of garlic in olive oil. After the veggies are soft I toss in loads of cubed potatoes, give them a turn in the flavorful oil and pour in chicken broth, along with the flesh of a few grated tomatoes. I usually open a can of beans but our garden offered some oversized Romanos that I can chop up and add into the stew. I bring it all to a boil and let the soup simmer for about 15 minutes. Then I add plenty of shredded kale. After another 15 minutes soup is ready.
Because the girls have been busy while I was away I poach a fresh egg in the bubbling broth and serve everything with a sprinkled of parmesan cheese. Everything is better with cheese.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Bright Green Tomatillos

Nearly ready to pop their papery husks, these tangy orbs are on their way to batches of tasty salsas and piquant stews.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

San Marzano Tomatoes

 The Italian sauce tomato. Long a treasured heirloom, the San Marzano is also (and has been for nearly a century) the most important commercial tomato in Italy. Thick flesh, few seeds and a distinct full flavored almost bittersweet taste these thin red fruits are the only ones "allowed" to sauce "true Neopolitan pizza." Though my garden can't match the unique terroir of Campania's volcanic soil, I'm still looking forward to canning and making my own sauce with these lovely red heirlooms.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Persian Cucumbers

One of James' favorites -- crunchy, thin-skinned, gently sweet Persian cucumbers put American slicing varieties to shame. I make sure our trellis has at least a few plants every summer.
Equally good fresh or pickled when our vines are most prolific I preserve our harvest by making several jars of Joan Nathan's Hungarian cucumber salad. It keeps for a couple weeks even and makes a great side for sandwiches or grilled meats.
Slice cucumbers very thinly, about 1/4 - 1/8 inch on a mandolin  -- and layer the slices, sprinkled with plenty of salt -- into a colander. Nathan calls for two cucumbers ( regular sized cucumbers, Persians are smaller) and 1 tsp salt. I always at least double or triple the recipe and generally use closer to 1TB of salt (or even a touch more) for each 3-4 Persian cucs. After the cucumbers have sat (weighted with a heavy dish or pot) for about an hour, I squeeze out the excess water (if there is any that didn't drip through the colander) and combine them with one large onion sliced as thinly as the cucumbers. Next I mix together 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1/2 cup water, a pinch of sugar, and a healthy grating of black pepper and pour the liquid over the cucumbers and onions and let the salad marinate for a few hours. The result is pickle-y and bright and summery. A great make ahead salad for picnics and parties and guests.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Nebraska Wedding Tomato

This is my second try but my first success with this beautiful yellow orange tomato. A once much more common heirloom, seeds of Nebraska Wedding are said to have been carried by covered wagon from Minnesota to the cold windy plains of Nebraska where they thrived and became a popular wedding gift for young brides. Hence the name.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I Love Leftovers

I hate to admit it but some of you may remember I made a pork roast last week that just was not so good. Oh it was edible but certainly not the dinner I'd hoped for and not one James would be anxious to see again.
And yet --as it goes with dinners that aren't so good -- we had a lot left over. Originally when I looked at that pork roast I thought tacos and veered away thinking it was too easy and obvious an answer. This time tacos would save me. The first time around the meat was tough. In its second time around I knew slow cooking with lots of liquid would help turn that leftover roast into tender taco morsels.
I started with onions, hot peppers and garlic in a pan with hot olive oil and let them cook until a bit soft. Then I added in the roast, now cut into smaller than single bite cubes, along with chili powder, chili peppers, oregano, cumin and paprika. After just a few minutes I added in 1/2 a jar of tomatillo salsa I found in the fridge,  about 1 cup of chicken broth and a splash of hot sauce and let everything simmer slowly until the now tender pork was coated with a spicy, flavorful sauce.
Resting in a warm tortilla, topped with onions cilantro and cheese a past pork mishap quickly became second helping tacos. Taco salvation.