A year in review- Tuesday night cook book club 2019

20200104_125754Last year I started a cookbook club.  I think the name came to me as I wanted to find like-minded food obsessed people who loved food and cooking as much as I did.

Tuesday night seemed like a good night as there was not a lot happening in town that night.  Living in a small country town which attracted city visitors for long weekends made sense.

Keeping it simple was my mantra and ironically  ‘ Simple’  the sellout cook book from Yothan Ottolenghi was my choice to start.  If you didn’t already have a copy borrowing from the local library or friends was easy enough and the recipes were not too challenging and they were delicious!  Some of the ingredients were new to us but with some research one could locate ‘ burrata’ and ‘rose harissa’

Six to eight seemed a good number and one prepared one dish to share with the guests.   I did a little research here a few days before would call and check to see what people were bringing so there were four tomato dishes or three desserts. And looking back on the year every meal came together very well.

I liked to have the table set in advance and provide chilled water and suggested that the group bring a bottle of what they would like to accompany the food.  Come at 6.45 for 7 pm start and aim to wind up @ 9pm (though often it would be later).

A few left and new ones joined but I was happy to accommodate six (limited dining table) most evenings but it was a fun and entertaining evening.  Choosing a recipe from a particular cook book often pushed one outside of one’s comfort zone but several months the cook/chef had released not just one but several books with a common cuisine so sharing cook books had been fairly easy….and there is always the internet for additional browsing.

One of the group fondly called it ‘ the best restaurant in town’!  Thinking back I feel two of the most interesting meals were our first and last for the year.  The first was exciting and new and was it going to work curiousity….especially with new ingredients (mentioned earlier).  And our last was the most challenging as it was Russian food as i had just returned from a food trip there.   Russian cookbooks …written in English…were not so easy to find (but we did) and it was we agreed the better food than we had in Russia! Perhaps it was enhanced by two of my fellow travellers on that trip who made the journey for the meal made it more special.  I have blogged about this meal and the others in earlier stories.

What is ahead for the New Year?  Firstly we are doing a CWA evening which will be a retro night with recipes from cook books my mother produced many years ago when she was involved in the organisation. With the bush fires destroying our country at present I think,it timely we salute the CWA (Country womens association) who provide sandwiches and drinks for the firefighters and volunteers at this crucial time and hopefully we can add to their coppers.  The 20200105_171644main book I have in mind for this is ‘Farmer Recipes and Stories from the Land’

Other cook books I have in mind are from the former USSR including Jewish cooking.  And Italian food…just because I am doing a food trip there in June!  And a vegetarian night too. Do you have any suggestions or if you would like to start your very own cookbook club and need inspiration let me know.  Oh and I went to a

charity for glasses and some jugs for water.  Keep it simple. And keep cooking! Pictures from our wonderful Russian night!

 

 

 

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Tuesday night cookbookclub – Russia

When I announced to family and friends alike that I was going on a food trip to Russia there were some raised eyebrows.  ‘Russia!  Oh to eat potatoes and cabbage, rye bread and drink poor quality vodka!  Beetroot soup’ were some of the comments I received.  But Russia has changed since the USSR broke up in 1991 I think it was.  What was I doing then I tried to remember?  Oh yes a baby, a toddler and a three year old!  No wonder I think I was in a fog for a few years.

Admittedly the best food we ate in st Petersburg was at Georgian restaurants with their delicious katachupuri and pelmini, but food in Russia was changing!  Our guide Ksenia told us that going out to eat at a restaurant did not happen when she was growing up.  One grew as much as they could in their gardens no matter how small and vegetables were pickled and preserved for the colder months.   In one home we visited there were huge jars and bottles of preserved summer vegetables and maybe some homemade vodka stored in an underground cellar.  Resourceful certainly!

20191210_112903And to prove it I selected Russian food from the only two cookbooks I could locate for our Tuesdaynightcookbookclub.  With some online browsing for additional recipes we ate a feast of Russian food that was second to none.

But yes we did eat some delicious food in Russia…from the honey cake, to the mushroom soup, to the potato pancakes and lovely pies we did not starve.  Buckwheat was delicious and the dark rye bread with fish.

I started Tuesdaynightcookbookclub earlier in the year with the loose idea of choosing a cookbook each month and making a dish to bring to share with a small group of like minded friends.  A simple idea.  Bring a bottle to share and I would set a table and we would eat and talk essentially about the food, and the book.

We started with Yotham Ottolenghi and moved to the Rick Stein with Indian food and last month Rachel Khoo and her newly adopted home of Sweden.  But Russia was more of a challenge.   An American friend recommended a cookbook with origins from a Russian restaurant in Portland Oregon.   Another source of information came in the form of a Siberian born English educated with Jewish ancestry woman in her cookbook.  And a friend gifted me a copy of a Russian food book purchased from a second hand store.  All three books were also a source of information in Russian history so well as food.

But let’s cut to the chase and see what was on offer at this month’s feast.  I had also invited two of the group of the Russian food travellers who made the trip with a dish to share and a bottle of wine (not Russian).

So we have a smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber crepe stack to start.  There was a delicious chilli, cucumber salad with garlic.  The dish with pine nuts on top was a eggplant salad or dip.  On the next row we had a yeasted pirogi with mushrooms or cabbage.  Eggplant again with walnuts and stuffed eggs with beetroot.  Of course lots of dill and parsley.

A beef stroganoff was next which should have had buckwheat but after two failures to make a satisfactory dish I made mashed potatoes.

And as if that wasn’t enough a semolina cake to finish with whipped cream and strawberry compote.

Yes it was a challenge but it was a fun and memorable evening.  And yes I am going back to Russia next year to explore more of it…starting in Moscow this time and heading towards Kazakhstan…a few long train journeys included.  And then onto Uzbekistan for some more adventures.  Maybe this time next year out a Tuesday Night Cookbookclub will offer food from Tashkent.

 

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Vodka, brandy and wine from Russia, Armenia and Georgia….and then chacha!

If anyone asked me what I thought of cha cha I would immediately thought of the dance!  That Cuban dance with great rhythm and wonderful to watch.  But then there was talk of the drink called chacha so it was time to try it.  It is a drink from Georgia with 40 % alcohol (or 65 % home brew) made from grape residue.  Sometimes referred to as Georgian vodka or grape vodka.

20190831_031248But first things first and that was Russia! What is it renounded for?  Well vodka would be close to the top of the list surely and by the look of the varieties and prices of the drink in supermarkets you can be sure there is one for every taste.

Sadly I am not into spirits as I prefer wine but when in Russia do what the Russians do.  Vodka was not sipped it seemed as we do in the west…with a meal or snack but with a toast at the beginning of the meal.  Our first experience of this was when we were entertained in Moscow who provided us with lunch (yes you guessed it with bortch and a meal of tough meat with a lot of boiled potatoes).  We were instructed with the history of toasting with two types of vodka….one plain and the other a herbed one which was also drunk for its ‘health’ benefits.

But our real introduction was perhaps in Moscow which I feel could only be called a ‘ vodka crawl ‘.  A night where we visited three different establishments serving vodka of course.  The first one was an underground bar with history and memorabilia from various wars in the time of USSR.  Had it not been in Russian it would have made an interesting historical lesson.  But we were here to try different flavoured vodkas.  Small tastes fortunately as we were in for a long night.  There were fruit flavoured vodkas – raspberry, blackberry, etc before we struck one almost undrinkable we concurred.  Someone said it tasted of paint stripper but who had actually painted this.  It was from pine cones!  Ones with ginger, garlic, horseradish, onion were those apparently used for health benefits.  This would have been obvious in the past living in Siberia with a cold, sore throat or illness but fortunately not for us.  Our second tasting was in a bar/ restaurant next to a group of tourists from Odessa  who enjoyed singing traditional songs.  Here our vodka was matched with food. Fortunately just two different types.   Some pate with fish,  cream cheese with herbs,  and sliced meats (horse, bear or deer we were unsure).  An eggplant dip, some cucumbers, dark rye bread.  Nice dishes actually and possibly my favourite part of the night.

Our final vodka tasting was underground as well in a bar where there were art creations from a well known Russian artist or satirist.  Although our guide gave us his name it has been lost in translation.   More vodka with herring, sliced onion, horseradish or mustard on dark bread.  There was a band playing and couples dancing.   But we were exhausted by now and were keen to head off to bed when a hearty and tasty dish appeared…a generous meaty, mushroom serving with mashed potato which we just could not do justice to.  When we made the suggestion to our guide that perhaps it needed to be served earlier in the night, she said this is the way in Russia.  Now I reflect on it I can imagine in the hard winters this is probably the dish one needs before venturing out in the snow and cold to travel home.  It was an interesting evening.  No one needed to be carried home as a result of the consumption of alcohol!

And I have been asked if it was ever served as a long drink as we do in the west ….say with tonic or orange juice!   I think not!

In Armenia we visited a brandy tasting establishment with a tour and a tasting.  It was a professional and well run tour with a tasting of two brandies at the end …one aged and one newer.  I have mentioned previously that small chocolate drops were given as an accompaniment which provided some confusion.  The company was also proud of the illustrious visitors who had visited the factory previously as walls were decorated with photos of well known politicians, actors, dignitaries and ‘ important people.’  George Clooney was the only one I recognized (have I lead such a sheltered life?)  But I do understand that his wife has contributed to the education of girls ìn a school in Armenia.

With the help of our excellent guide I purchased a bottle of what was the most popular brandy.  Well it was in a lovely box so I figured it should travel well.  It did and remains unopened in storage waiting for a special occasion or more likely cooking!

Georgia is fast becoming popular for its wine and history goes back to the thousands of years where the wine has been made and kept underground in large clay pots.  Most wine is fermented in these pots without any additives which make it considered ‘ natural wine’.  I remember reading that that well known writer of my favourite cook books Yothan Ottolenghi’s wine of choice is from Georgia.  Georgian wine is exported to many parts of the world but not to Australia.  I did mention in an earlier blog that our Russian food guide told us that wine in Georgia is almost cheaper than water after we commented that Georgian wine in Russia was expensive.  During the Soviet era only a few varietals of over the 500 types were allowed to be grown in Georgia.

We made two visits to wineries in Georgia which were very different. The first was very professional and well patronised.  After a tour of the winery with great history and knowledge we sampled six types (three red and three whites) all with matching cheeses.  This is the first time I had seen this.  Often wine and cheese are shared with other foods (olives, pate, vegetables etc) but this was exclusively with cheese.  Needless there was a rush to purchase for the remainder some bottles to share or take home as not only were they excellent but competitive prices.  And then was the chacha which we did not sample but were encouraged to take home. My bottle too remains unopened but is a souvenir of a trip well enjoyed.

The other winery was more home grown and wine was served directly from the underground clay pots (called qvevris).  This was a more robust wine and was sold to visiting tourists our guide told us.  It was an interesting visit however and a very different type of wine.

I have since seen exclusive wine tours from Australia to Georgia which makes me ponder of the growing interest of wine production.  And as much as I would love to join this trip I plan to head back to Russia for a visit to a different area (after all it is such a vast country) and follow it with a tour of Uzbekistan.  I love this part of the world which is now opened up to the rest of the world.  Now doubt with more tastes to enjoy.

 

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Bird Seed Crackers

This recipe comes to you from Quite Good Food ‘ homemade five seed crackers’ via my friend Sally Rose who was kind enough to gift me the recipe after I scoffed half a tray.

Ingredients

1 cup sunflower seeds

3/4 cup pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup chia seeds

1/2 cup sesame seeds ( a mix of black & white if possible)

1/4 cup linseed (flaxseed)

1 1/4 cups water

1 teas salt

1 Tbs dried herbs (I used oregano but thyme is nice)

1 teas chilli flakes (optional)

Method

Preheat oven to 170C

Mix all ingredients together and leave for 10 -15 minutes so water will absorb the chia seeds.  Mix well and pour the mixture in 2 trays or as I did a large one lined with baking paper.  Spread thinly but evenly.

Bake for one hour but switch tin around so it cooks evenally until crisp and golden brown.  If not crisp give them another 5 or so minutes.  All ovens are different!

Remove from oven, cool and break up into shards and keep in an airtight container.

Yum!

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Underground….st Petersburg or Russia?

 

The Metro system in St Petersburg and Moscow impressed me before we visited the well known beautiful decorated stations.  To compare them is impossible as they were stunning.  But what was also impressive was the cleanliness of the stations with no graffiti or litter.  The regularity of the services was extraordinary…..every ninety seconds our guide told us.  One price per journey regardless of the distance. The escalator ride to the actual station varied from in seconds to minutes.  In st Petersburg our guide advised that it was because of the number of waterways.

Perhaps what was a surprise was being offered a seat the moment you stepped on the train regardless of your sex or age.   This was done as a perfectly gesture and one that we were not expecting.

We visited both undergrounds in these huge cities and although very different were  spectacular.  Tours were offered but we managed to create our own tours with help from our mobile phones.  Whilst we may have missed out on history of the various stations we still appreciated on their grandeur and made sure our tours did not have to compete with rush hour!

Here are just some of the stations we visited.  Whilst Moscow has the reputation of having a perhaps a more grand metro I loved them both.   After all it is like choosing a favourite child!   You adore them both!

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