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Of those well-to-do folk of St. Petersburg and Moscow who spend their time in considering what they shall eat on the morrow, and in composing a dinner for the day following, and who never sit down to a meal without first of all injecting a pill and then swallowing oysters and crabs and a quantity of other monsters, while eternally departing for Karlsbad or the Caucasus, the author has but a small opinion. Yes, THEY are not the persons to inspire envy. Rather, it is the folk of the middle classes—folk who at one posthouse call for ham, and at another for a sucking pig, and at a third for a steak of sturgeon or a baked sausage with onions, and who can sit down to table at any hour, as though they had never had a meal in their lives, and can savor a soup with burbots and milt, followed up with a catfish kulebyak, and guzzle and chew it with a view to provoking further appetite—these, I say, are the folk who enjoy heaven’s most favoured gift.

Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls, 1842

Dobro pozhalovat’.

Your hostess grew up in Russia in the last days of the Soviet regime, when there were no microwaves, when fast food was limited to suspect-looking pirozhki sold at the train station, and when frozen dinners were unheard of. There was no catering, no take-out. Almost everything had to be cooked from scratch, with the aid of only the most basic kitchen implements, and a stove that was about as well-behaved and reliable as Russian weather in mid-November. It was also a much more traditional society, where it was unthinkable for a young woman to not know how to cook — and so, like other girls in that era, I was trained in-depth, not for cooking as a hobby, but for cooking as a daily necessity.

After immigrating to the United States as a teenager, I became interested in gourmet cuisine, first exploring French cooking, which gave me an appreciation for the importance of techniques and consistency in cooking, and then expanding my interests to include Spanish and Portuguese cooking, which gave me an appreciation for fresh and vibrant ingredients. For years, I enjoyed making wonderfully complicated dishes and I still own an impressive collection of specialty cookware, including several terrine molds. I can make a world-class bouillabaisse and whip up the most delicate and fickle of creamy sauces (if I can say so myself). I’ve made pates encased in deboned poultry and cascades of tapas.

But as time went on, I increasingly began to feel that less is more, and I gradually regained my appreciation for the simple, familiar cuisine that I grew up with. Perhaps it’s only nostalgia — but my renewed interest in traditional Russian cooking eventually led me to start this blog.

I owe a special thanks to my mother and grandmother, who taught me all these recipes and who occasionally suggest certain useful changes to adapt these recipes to Western palates.

A note about my commenting policy. Criticism and suggestions for improvements are welcome, as long as they are constructive and realistic (sorry, I am not a professional photographer, and it’s far too much hassle to photograph every ingredient and every step in the process).

Comments on politics are generally not welcome. I’ve spent some time on both Russian and English-language cooking message boards, and I was consistently shocked by how innocuous discussions of recipes can devolve into competing rants about the Russo-American rivalry, cultural imperialism, communism, Obama and so on. As your hostess, I reserve the right to occasionally preserve and respond to a political comment if I so choose; but for the most part, these will be deleted.

Racist, sexist, and otherwise hateful comments and those making them will absolutely not be tolerated. Talk to me after you’ve had time to relax and have a good meal.

Priyatnogo appetita.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jordan
    Oct 01, 2012 @ 18:34:51

    Cool blog! As a historian of Latvian, German and East European/Russian history, I, too, am quite fond of the simple yet delicious foods in that part of the world. In what part of the Soviet Union did you reside? I recently lived for a year in Riga while doing some research. What a fantastic city and country. Anyway, you wouldn’t happen to have a recipe for so-called Korean carrots (or at least that is what they were called in Riga)? I’ve tried to make them here in the States and the flavor just isn’t quite right. Maybe I need some of that unfiltered sunflower oil?

    On another note, I discovered your other blog thanks to the Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks for Sept. I enjoyed many of your posts, but most of all I liked the one titled “Academic Navel-Gazing.” You are quite right about Americans’ obsession with the Self. I, too, find it odd and discomforting (in an atomizing sort of way) and I think that is in part why I am so interested in the cultures of Central and Eastern Europe, which, at least in my estimation, are more rooted in collective identities. But anyway, I guess that young professor did indeed get what he was looking for: an articulate, well-reasoned response. And in many ways you actually did answer the question, so I guess I didn’t find your essay overly rebellious. To paraphrase the late Andy Griffith, what it was, was extremely thoughtful, and thus maybe the prompt wasn’t so ridiculous after all… I look forward to your future posts!

    Reply

  2. 3olotko
    Oct 01, 2012 @ 19:26:39

    Привет )) красивые картинки)

    Reply

  3. Maria Lafont (@morethanred_)
    Oct 15, 2013 @ 13:49:40

    Great blog. I have just started a web-site and blog http://www.morethanred.com and I’m looking for red recipes. I really loved your borscht recipe and would love to republish it in my blog if you agree. Let me know what you think. Thanks.

    Reply

  4. Dayna
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 20:33:52

    Dear Hostess and Chef:
    I came upon your blog after spending the afternoon drooling at “Brighton Bazaar” in Brooklyn, and wishing I could read and/or speak Russian since no one there spoke English or French, and even all the signs over the exotic looking foods were handwritten in Cyrillic.

    I came home with a variety of cheeses, herring, frozen pelmeni, and a beet/bean salad, all of which were delicious, and thanks to your blog, I was able to prepare the pelmeni somewhat authentically.
    I wish you would continue this project, but I know how time-consuming it must be. Your notes on background of each food are so helpful and fascinating!

    Reply

  5. yaya
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 01:49:49

    Thank you for taking the time to post your family’s Russian recipes. I am always looking for authentic recipes of all cultures. I pined some of your recipe post to pinerest so they can be shared with others.

    Reply

  6. sara
    Jun 18, 2014 @ 00:16:13

    dear hostess, i found you from your other blog, the one illustrated with allegorical Flemish art, which i too love. Love your writing on food, and on culture, and on politics. So very nice to have found your pages!

    Reply

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