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Mushroom Soup Russian Style

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The first rays of the sun are piercing the crowns of Siberian pines...  A mооsе family trotted afar, and disappeared in the morning fog... An early lizard darted onto the stump, and froze, catching the sunshine... The air is fresh and brisk...  I am walking along the path overgrown with blue moss... I am looking for something. I am hunting, without a gun or a bow, armed with my eyes, a knife, and a basket. Here! Here they are! I see the brown velvet caps of my prey!
Some of you might think, is this woman going nuts today, but this is how I remember our trips to the forest to pick up porcini mushrooms (also king boletus) that are known in Russia as white mushrooms (bielye griby). It was a real hunt, with all the excitement and passion of the game. The reward was a few baskets of one of the best mushrooms.
We dried them for winter use, mostly for soups. You can also make a soup of fresh porcini, but dried mushrooms acquire a unique scent, and these two soups are quite different in taste and flavor.
Today's recipe is for dried porcini mushrooms. To me, this soup  holds the second place after borsch in Russian cuisine. It is rich and aromatic, and can thoroughly warm up one's body and soul on a cold winter day.

Spiced Lamb Chops

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spices were never used a lot in my cooking, with the exception of black pepper and salt, which I do not even consider spices. That's how I grew up - in my mom's kitchen where wonderful things were cooked, we didn't use unusual stuff. Spices like coriander or cumin could be bought only at the farmer's market (bazaar), where numerous merchants from Asian Soviet republics brought a lot of interesting exotic things. Only in America I learned many new things about international cooking and many new exciting  ingredients (Martha was my first great teacher).
Recently, on our trip to an Indian store we bought a lot of spices, the packages were so big that Masha and I shared them. Now I have a few glass jars of different spices in my pantry, so last Sunday I decided to be bold and used a lot of them. It produced a beautiful result: spices being in abundance did not overpower the lamb, just added to the richness of its aroma. Now... please follow me to the kitchen.

Cookie Cake

Monday, January 24, 2011

Exhausted by two major storms last week, I was not inclined to stand long hours in the kitchen on the weekend. But the cold weather and snowy surroundings called for something sweet. When shopping at my favorite Russian market, I glanced at a shelf with plain Russian cookies, cookies that I remember since my nursery school days. Indeed, there are some products that live decade after decade, and their popularity doesn't wither... Looking at these cookies, I remembered a simple recipe of a desert that I offer to your attention today. Let's get started...

Cinderella Almond Pear Tart

Monday, January 17, 2011

This weekend I got to enjoy a glorious event that only happens once in a blue moon: my parents drove over to New York to visit me. This was a perfect occasion to seek out the imaginary pear tart that has been haunting me. I exploited my imagination and several cook books at once, and lo and behold - the tart of dreams rests on my plate.
The idea here is a simple one: a pie shell is covered with a custard-like almond topping that prevents the liquid from the fruit from seeping into the dough. The pears themselves are fried with sugar and rum to create a lovely burnt sugar taste. Complemented with crème fraiche, this is as close to a perfect dessert as I can imagine.
I named this tart "Cinderella" precisely because it locks you up in the kitchen for a while. So I must warn you: if you are out for an easy victory, this tart is not for you. It is time-consuming (takes about 4 hours), and will satisfy only those cooks craving cooking itself in addition to something sweet.
Read on, brave chef...

Beer-Braised Lamb

Monday, January 17, 2011

Do something new with your porter: succulent, flavorful, lick-your-fingers lamb... Ladies and gentlemen, I have done it: beer-braised lamb on Monday night. Yes, braising does take about an hour and a half or more. Vacation must have left me with some extra energy, or hunger, or desire to stay up later... Whatever it was, I invited beer to my kitchen, and it graciously accepted.
Cooking with beer has a long tradition, but for some reason appears less often in the kitchen than wine. Just like wine, beer works well as a deglazing agent for a pan sauce and is also a great liquid for braising because it has a degree of acidity that helps tenderize the meat.
Braising is a technique that involves first searing the meat and then letting it simmer in liquid for a long time. As the result, even the toughest meats taste tender when braised. When picking meat for braising, the less expensive cuts will likely taste just as well. Ready to try it?

Cloaked Herring

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

This Holiday Season was marred for me by a nasty flu that has been keeping me disabled in terms of elaborate cooking. Alas. I will see better days... Only Masha's presence and inspiration made it possible to create something worth mentioning.  The herring dish I am sharing with you today  is one of the favorite and  ever-present viands on a Russian festive table.
Today I am sitting at home since our house and driveway  is cloaked with 15" piles of snow brought by a major storm of the East. Hence I got a suitable English name for the dish, which literally translates from Russian as herring under fur coat. And what a colorful "fur coat" this is...