First off, I would like to introduce you all to my super-awesome friend Ryan, who has just started his own food blog, FoodGrind! He’s been working in a Twin Cities restaurant for the past 6 months or so, and has a lot of downright useful tips for both creative cooking and the basics. Plus, you might be interested in a guy’s point of view… dirty jokes included. There’s no tofu, but he already has posted recipes for overnight pickles and bacon jam. Yeah, seriously. So I invite you to check out his blog!
So, Winter’s got me down. I think Seasonal Affective Disorder type things are taking a toll. When I was home, I went to the doctor, who said I am probably Vitamin D deficient; a blood test showed that my VitaD levels are pretty much in the toilet. And when there is sun here in Moscow, it is so cold that walking around outside isn’t very pleasant–not that my skin is exposed to soak up the sun anyways. Ick. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been feeling lethargic and unmotivated to do things. And super headachey (runs in the fam–lucky me, I get week-long cluster headaches) which has been making me grumpy, too. I cannot wait for it to warm up so that I can feel lively again. But I know I can’t mope around until March, so I’ve tried to be a little bit proactive about being active.
Even though I felt like butt over the weekend, I decided to bite the bullet and venture out to spend some time with Heazie B (aka Heather) in the big city. We decided to go to Le Quotidien, a French bakery chain that I guess is all over Europe. It’s no Pekarti, but I like it a lot because the atmosphere is really inviting and the food is of good quality. We sat and gabbed for a long time while sipping on coffee…
Eventually we got hungry, and ordered some food, too. For some reason, I got the Russian menu, and Heather’s was in English… I think I’ll take that as a compliment, and not a fluke. Anything to boost the ol’ ego, right?
I ended up getting a cup of potato leek soup that was served with brown bread. It was very tasty and filling. And according to the English menu, vegan? Mine just said vegetarian po-russkii.
After what must have been 3 hours, we finally left the cafe behind and ventured into the cold, cold streets. We wandered around looking for something intriguing to eat for dinner, but weren’t finding the right places. At some point, we didn’t really know where we were anymore, and were mighty thankful to finally come across a Metro (and a bit of warmth!). Since I was getting really hungry, really fast, I suggested that we go right into the center and eat at Okhatny Ryad, an underground shopping mall right outside of Red Square. At the very least, we would be able to find something reliable and affordable.
We ended up going to Il Patio, an Italian restaurant that has pretty decent dishes and prices. I started off with a nice leafy salad.
And then we carb loaded by sharing focaccia with a picante tomato sauce and a four-cheese pizza with walnuts. The last time we went to Il Patio, we ordered a veggie pizza that had no cheese, and this time we realized our pizza had no sauce! Man, we’ve got to read the menus more closely…
Finally, we decided to splurge all the way and get ice cream, too. (Are you really surprised? C’mon, people.) I got a treat called Peach Melba, which was vanilla ice cream with strawberries and almonds, topped with half a peach. It was delicious.
Back in the comfort of my own home, I’ve been eating some old favorites. I made a yogurt mess with tvorog (an acceptable substitute for Greek yogurt), warmed frozen blueberries with a sprinkle of sugar, and a few shakes of Saigon Cinnamon (if you haven’t tried this, go out and get it. For a topping, the flavor is so much richer. McCormick makes it).
I cooked up a lazy dinner of spaghetti (aka the ultimate comfort food) with tons of veggie-rific sauce…
And I’ve been reconnecting with an old friend, Carrot Salad.
And then yesterday, I made myself a little get-happy project: to cook up a pot of borsch! I’ve been meaning to make some for a very long time, but just haven’t got around to it. But yesterday was a perfect day to git ‘er done.
Borsch is very easy, and very easy to make “your own.” There is a saying that there are as many borsch recipes as there are kitchens in Russia (or, ahem, Ukraine. It’s actually a Ukrainian soup!) so it can definitely be altered to suit your own tastes. Here is the recipe that I learned from my host mother from study abroad in 2007. I made it vegetarian, here, but it is very good with meat or chicken, too. Just put it in the pot at the beginning, boil until tender, and skim off the fat as necessary.
To start, put about 2 liters of water in a pot to boil. Meanwhile, cut up 2 potatoes into bite-sized pieces and sliver 1/2 a small cabbage. Add them to the pot along with 2 bay leaves and a few peppercorns.
In a saucepan, melt about 1.5 T butter. Of course, you can use olive oil, but I think the flavor is better with the butter (actually, when my host mom taught me, she used a hunk of pork fat!). Saute 1 chopped onion, 2-3 cloves garlic until they’re starting to get soft. Then add a large, shredded carrot (if you have the time and skill to matchstick/julienne, that works even better), 2 chopped tomatoes, and 1/2 a shredded beet. In the US, the beets are teeny-tiny, I would estimate that 2-3 beets there are the same size as one here. Sorry I forgot to take a picture for size reference. But either 3 little ones or one huge one… Cook them in the butter and cover with the pan lid for about 10 minutes.
Add the veggies to the pot. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and dill (plus anything else you like). At this point, I added another t or so of butter to the soup. Let the soup simmer on low for about 15 minutes. Then, add the other 1/2 of the shredded beet to the soup. Cook for another five minutes and then serve with sour cream and fresh dill.
Two handy hints for working with the beets: First, to reduce purple hands, rub your hands with olive oil or butter, it really helps to prevent staining; of course, wipe up any beet juice that gets on the counter, and do not wear your favorite clothes while shredding beets. It’s just a bad idea :) Second, the longer you wait to add your beets, the more purple your soup will be. If you cook them for a long time, your soup will probably turn brown (if that’s okay, cool, but I like the reddish-purpley color, myself). If you have it as leftovers, you can toss in a tablespoon of reserved shredded beets while you warm up the soup, and it will bring back the pretty color.
Cooking that was definitely a mood-brightener! I swear, I’m gonna send some to the beet-hating Obama. This stuff is good to look at, and delicious to eat–how could anyone hate a beet?!?
Well, that’s all for now folks. Until someday soon!
My gratuitous picture isn’t that exciting… But I had to show you this ginormous carrot! Seriously, how big is this thing? I told you that US produce is little in comparison ;) I think it’s about 11″ long, and 3″ thick at the top. Sheesh.
Do you get the Winter Blues? How do you cheer yourself up? Mmhmm. I have to make myself little projects, like cooking or making something. Going out with friends helps, too!
What’s your favorite comfort food? Spaghetti. Love it. So much. And maybe chicken fingers. They’re pretty great, too, in my book.
Do you eat garnishes in restaurants? I don’t know if it is a faux pas, but I really like them… So yes, I eat the little leaves and fruit bits that come next to my meals. They’re refreshing!