Tag Archives: Cooking

Anya Von Bremzen – Mastering The Art of Soviet Cooking (2013)

51M7OxYdMNL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_In this book, part memoir, part cookbook, Anya Von Bremzen traces her family’s history living in Russia (then the Soviet Union) by discussing the type of food they ate. She starts with her maternal grandparents living in Russia in the 1920s but jumps back and forth in time and space between her homeland and 1980s Philadelphia where she and her mother immigrated to. At the end of each chapter Von Bremzen depicts a dinner party her mother is hosting in the present day, where she and Anya are attempting to cook through the history of Soviet food.

Unsurprisingly there is a lot of hardship throughout the book, especially when Anya is discussing life in the Soviet Union during the Second World War. In addition to the food rations, Von Bremzen also discusses the indoctrination of Soviet youth and how her mother was once a proud Soviet citizen before becoming disillusioned with the system. The depictions of the meals are vivid, although I could have definitely used a glossary; I had a hard time keeping all the Russian terms straight and knowing what was what.

At the end of the book Von Bremzen has included a number of recipes discussed in the book and I am looking forward to trying my hand at at least one of them. I had been familiar with Russian cuisine from its imperial age (Thanks Anna Karenina), but know less about Soviet cooking. I love food and think that cooking another culture’s cuisine is the perfect way to get to know them.

Recommended Listening:

This podcast from The Table Set that discusses hosting a Russian themed dinner party. 

Recipe To Try:

An adaptation of Anya Von Bremen’s pirozhki recipe from the tasting table.

A video showing the AV Club sampling Soviet Sodas.

 

Michael Gibney – Sous Chef (2014)

18142414Continuing with my love of food writing I picked up Michael Gibney’s Sous Chef and liked it almost immediately. Gibney blends his journalistic style of writing into the Anthony Bourdain-world of being a chef that Gibney inhabits. This is by no means the first account of what it’s like to work in a kitchen of a restaurant, nor do I think it will be the last, but Gibney presents his story in a creative way telling the story in the form of “24-hours on the line.”

Gibney takes the reader through every stage of his day from ordering food to kitchen prep to staff tastings and finally closing and after work activities, giving a glimpse into the effect that the job can, and does have, on his personal life. Working such insane and unpredictable hours make it difficult to maintain friendships with people who don’t work in the industry. As Gibney writes however, he enjoys the people he does work with and the strong sense of camaraderie comes through in his writing.

The only complaint I have is the overuse of jargon. I can forgive this though, Gibney is a chef and writing with the terms he uses on a daily basis makes this an authentic experience. There’s also a glossary of terms at the back which was helpful. While this book isn’t a huge game changer it’s a quick paced and enjoyable look at the life of a sous chef.

Michael Pollan – Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (2013)

CookedHaving been a huge fan of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I decided to read another book penned by Michael Pollan. While his previous work was more of an investigative piece, this book is more about the history and science surrounding the way we eat. Split into four section, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, Pollan speaks about how important these four elements are to the way we cook our food.

He begins with fire, writing about the ways in which humans learned to cook with fire and the religious importance that fire held in traditional societies, especially when it came to animal sacrifice. He mentions the cooking hypothesis, the idea that cooking is what makes us different from animals, and talks at great length about the history of BBQ, from the racial tensions imbedded in the idea of “Southern BBQ,” to the ethical treatment of pigs, tying this work to his research in The Omnivore’s Dilemma,

While cooking with fire, especially smoking meat and BBQ with the highly ritualized pitmaster, has a more masculine tone, the second section of this book looks at the types of cooking deemed more feminine, mostly cooking with water. Not only does cooking with water often take more time (braises, stews, and other slow forms of cooking), but it is also more often then not carried out within the confines of a kitchen, as opposed to cooking with fire which takes place outside. The use of pots and pans for cooking is an important step in human evolution, but also brought cooking into the feminine domain.

The last two sections of Air and Earth focuses more on the science of food and how the food we eat embodies both life and death. With Air Pollan talks about making bread and how tricky it is to develop a “starter” in order to bring bread to life. This section also got very scientific dealing with the differences between whole grain and white grain, to how gluten intolerances work. Since I am obsessed with fermentation, I loved the Earth section, especially when Pollan learns to make cheese with the cheese nun. Foods like cheese and yogurt and other things created from bacterial cultures are essentially decaying, and remind us of our own mortality.

I really love the way Pollan writes, and his breakdown of this book into four elemental sections works to his advantage. Each section is accompanied by its own list of resources and recipe, which I will be trying soon. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in the history or science behind the way we cook.

Recipes – New England Fried Clams

Empire Falls by Richard Russo might be one of my favourite, if not absolute favourite, summer reads. Russo is a great story teller, and the setting of a sleepy New England town combined with flashbacks to Miles Roby’s summers with his mother in Martha’s Vineyard make this novel well suited to beach reading.

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In the flashback scenes Mile’s remembers eating steamed clams at a diner and how they were unlike anything he had ever had before. As summer is winding down I decided to try my hand at making New England style fried, rather than steamed, clams. I followed a recipe from this site, but used evaporated milk rather than buttermilk as I find it coats things better.

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Recipe

For the Fry Mix

  • 1 cup corn flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

For the clams

  • 1 1/2 pounds of shucked whole-belly steamer clams
  • About 6 cups peanut, canola, or other vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • 1 cup evaporated milk

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Directions

To make the new england style fry mix, combine the flours, salt, and both peppers in a large mixing bowl and mix well.

Fry the clams

  • Heat 3 inches of oil to 375°F in a frying pan oven over medium heat.
  • While the oil is heating, pour the evaporated milk into a large bowl, and put the fry mix in another.
  • Drop the clams into the evaporated milk and stir gently.
  • Use a slotted spoon to lift the clams out of the evaporated milk and into the fry mix. Toss gently to coat.
  • Fry the clams in batches, about 1-2 minutes a side or until golden brown.
  • Serve with tartar or cocktail sauce.

Recipes – Dauntless Chocolate Cake

“At the end of the hallway she turns and says, ‘Have a piece of cake for me all right? The chocolate. It’s delicious.’”

Anyone who pays close attention to food mentioned in books will definitely have made a note of the Chocolate Cake that is the “official” food of those belonging to the Dauntless faction in Veronica Roth’s Divergent. There are a number of recipes out there on the web, but I was curious about the recipe from the “Unofficial Divergent Cookbook,” by Megan Parker.

There’s a link to the book here, but I decided to buy the cookbook for 99 cents on my Kindle. I was somewhat disappointed to find that the recipe was fairly simple. It looks like a perfectly respectable chocolate cake, but nothing really makes it special; there is nothing Daunting about it.

So I decided it needed a little something. The first thing that came to mind was that the cake needed a bit of a kick, something unexpected, something spicy. I did a quick search for chocolate cake inspired by Mexican drinking chocolate and came across a number of recipes that were spiced with cinnamon or cayenne pepper. I also liked the idea of having a very rich, or moist Devil’s food cake, and did some experimenting with different levels of butter, and cocoa.

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“’Let’s go to the cafeteria,’ Will says, ‘and eat cake.’”

Lacking an occasion to serve a cake I made a small batch of cupcakes as a portable, easy to store treat. Hopefully I captured the essence of the Dauntless and especially Triss’ spirit with these cupcakes and that you all enjoy them as well.

This recipe only makes six cupcakes but you can easily double, or triple the recipe.

½ all purpose flour
½ cup white sugar
1 egg
¼ cup unsweetened Dutch process Cocoa Powder
¼ cup vegetable or canola oil
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons boiling water
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or less depending on taste)
3 tablespoons milk (or water if lactose)

  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees
  2. Mix dry ingredients (flou, cocia powder, baking soda, sugar, and spices) together in a bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl combine the egg, oil, water, vanilla, and milk
  4. Combine wet and dry ingredients and divide batter between six cupcake liners in a muffin tin.
  5. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

For the icing I bought a can of chocolate icing and added ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper. A recipe for the same kind of icing made from scratch can be found here.

Recipes – Adventures in Crisco

A few weeks ago I posted about a great vintage cookbook I found published by Proctor & Gable from the 1930s. It featured Crisco as a prominent and versatile ingredient and I promised to try out some recipes. I keep a separate blog for my food related adventures so if you’d like to check out my attempts at making Crisco Biscuits as well as Crisco Sandwich Spread you can on that site.

Overall cooking with Crisco was similar to cooking with margarine, only slightly more greasy and messy. I really had to soak everything to get it clean. Taste-wise there’s a bit of a difference. The biscuits were flaky and tender but lacked that buttery-taste. While it makes sense to use Crisco for pastries when flakiness is a desired trait, but I don’t see Crisco Sandwich Spread becoming a household staple any time soon.