I used to cook a lot, mostly recipes from The Moosewood Cooks at Home, but sometimes fancier stuff as well. Over time, I became lazier and I seemed to have less free time and I spent a lot less time cooking and ate a lot more sandwiches and cereal. In Sweden last year I did cook quite a bit because we couldn’t afford cafes or convenience foods, and if there was one thing we did have it was free time, but the meals were pretty simple affairs, since we weren’t buying fancy ingredients.

Another problem I’ve had with cooking in recent years is that I was vegetarian when I was teaching myself to cook, so although I eat animals now (with a guilty conscience), I’ve been sort of wary of cooking meat. I wouldn’t mind cooking vegetarian all the time, but it’s hard to find tofu and wide varieties of beans in Russia. Furthermore, usually I’m not cooking only for myself, and Russian friends find this kind of food weird. 

Besides this, it’s also been sort of hard to motivate myself to cook in Russia because even when I think I have found the right ingredients, things don’t turn out right. I baked several cakes which tasted overwhelmingly of baking soda before giving up on baking in Russia – I think Russian baking soda must be stronger or something. And I think the flour is coarser.

While I was in the U.S. on vacation recently I had this idea that I should buy fancy Russian cooking magazines and follow their recipes. If they’re Russian magazines, the proper ingredients should be available in Russian shops, right? Plus, I might learn some new vocabulary, for obscure foods and verbs for cooking.

On Thursday during one of my runs to the airport to pick up my lost luggage, I bought a magazine called Gastronom. On Friday I read through it and dog-eared the pages of things I wanted to try cooking, skipping the large section on rabbit dishes because I just don’t think I’m ready to cook rabbit. I did learn lots of new words, like razrykhlitel (baking powder), gorst (a handful), tsukat (those nasty little green dried fruits that are in fruitcake, what are they in English anyway?), among others. One recipe called for a star of “badyan”, but nobody knew what that was, not Kostia, not Vadik, and not the woman working in the spice aisle at O’kay*. Now I see that it is a type of anise:

Star Anise

So yesterday I made a mushroom cream soup, a turkey stew with apples, apricots and carrots (minus badyan), and beet cake. Everything turned out fine, even the beet cake, the batter for which was quite shockingly pink, but turned out golden brown like any other fruit/vegetable bread, like zucchini or pumpkin or banana bread. (Any chemists reading this blog, can you explain what happens to the red pigment of the beets in the oven?)

Kostia nearly had a heart attack at the O’kay checkout. But really, half of the bill was for pots and pans, and the bulk of the food cost was the wine that Kostia himself picked out, plus there were things like spices and oils that will be used for many meals. The actual cost of the ingredients for the meal was less than $30, it fed three people, and we have leftovers. It was nice to cook a fancy meal again and I intend to continue the project.

*Some readers may remember that I started a one-woman boycott of the O’kay supermarkets two years ago because I was so fed up with their cashiers’ incompetence. I reluctantly went to the one on our bus line a few weeks ago and realized that it really does have the widest selection of products to please the expatriate palate. When I saw that they have frozen Swedish cinnamon buns I officially decided to end the boycott (I haven’t bought any yet, but I like knowing that they’re there). And the customer service has gotten better. This particular O’kay has 49 cash registers, so no more waiting in line for an hour and a half.