Thursday, March 28, 2013

Field Trip and a Feast!

First, the Field Trip...

I love the area we live in, not only is the weather pretty nice (sorry Midwest) but there are so many different ethnic shops and restaurants around.  I've visited places (again, sorry Midwest) where there was a severe shortage of ethnicity.  We went out FOR Mexican food in the small town in Wisconsin where my father lives and they served tater tots with spicy cheese.  I'll admit they were kinda tasty but we have much better Mexican food in California.  And we have Russian bakeries!!!! 

I took the kids on a little culinary field trip today.  After school we drove to San Francisco (Geary Blvd. if you are in the area) and found a whole area with Russian bakeries, a grocery store, and a gift shop and deli.  We found a great parking spot, paid our meter and went shopping.  We hit up the bakery first.  There were piroshkis, soups, pelmeni (very like ravioli), all types of breads and cakes.  A bad time to not eat wheat or carbs.  So I decided I would take one for the team for our Russian feast.  We got a few different types of piroshki- beef, mushroom, and cabbage. 
I got a bag of frozen pelmeni, a small loaf of bread and a few cream horns for the kids.  For those of you unfamiliar with piroshki, they are a filled type of fried bread.  The name means "little pie" in Russian and that is what they are, a meat (or vegetarian) handheld pie.  They are also delicious (and greasy)!  If you'd like to try to make some here is a recipe.

Pelmeni were new to me and I soon found out they were pretty much just raviolis.  These ones had a sausage filling and the internet suggested that they should be served with butter, sour cream and salt and pepper.  I might have been a little heavy handed with the salt (or they might have already been salty), but we all found these a little too salty, but still pretty tasty!  The bread turned out to be nothing special.  The lady behind the counter wasn't very helpful, even when I explained we were doing a project on Russia, so for all I know we just bought plain ol' wheat bread!  The cream horns must've been pretty good because we didn't make it out of the bakery before they were devoured!
Our next stop was a few doors down at Europa Plus, a Russian grocery store.  This time the salesperson was very nice!  She showed us some candies, tried to talk us into some caviar (ick), and explained how a few items were used.  By now, the kids were in "full sugar mode" and so it wasn't long before they were running up and down the aisles.  I tried to take pictures but the battery on my camera was dying so I just got a few things and took my screaming kids and our treasures home!  We bought an Easter bread, called Kuhlich, some half-sour pickles, a few different types of candy, and a soft drink that the lady assured me was "like root beer only not as sweet".  I'd love to go back and spend more time with someone who could answer my questions.  The problem with the ethnic shops is that they assume you must know what the stuff is or you wouldn't be going there- so everything was in Russian and I had to guess what it was.  The saleslady helped some, but the store was pretty busy so we were on our own a lot.  By the time we left our time on the meter was out and it was raining, so we didn't get to the deli or the gift shops but I'd love to go back and check them out!

So we took our big ol' bag of stuff home and had a feast.  Well, first we drove through Golden Gate Park and looked at the Bison.  Did you know there were bison in San Francisco? 

 While I was making the borscht for dinner (recipe to follow), we sampled the pickles, the Easter bread, and the candies.  Can you say tummy ache?  They were all delicious, but it might be just that I haven't eaten any bread or candy for 2 months.  I had never had such fresh pickles before.  They were still crunchy and cucumbery and had a much different taste than I'm used to.  My son and I both loved them and I think I will be sad when they are gone. The Kuhlich (recipe) is like Italian Pannetone.  Dense and slightly sweet, with a couple raisins.  Would I buy it again? Probably not.  The chocolates were good but not any different than other chocolates that I could tell.  The "root beer" was not good.  One of those things that you have people taste just so you can see the look on their face :)  It was made of barley and rye and kind of tasted like bitter beer (I was assured it was nonalcoholic).  Russia has some tasty treats amd some that are an acquired taste.  Here is a recipe for another one we tried - borscht!

Borscht is really just vegetable soup.  Bright red vegetable soup.  That's because it has beets in it, along with cabbage, celery, onions, potatoes and dill.  The recipes I loosely based this on also called for juniper berries, but I forgot to look at the Russian markets, so hopefully that wasn't an important flavor.  Anyway it's a healthy recipe that you'll feel good about serving to your family.  And if you're lucky they might even eat some :)

For the recipe you will need:
  • 10 cups water
  • 3-4 beets- peeled
  • 2 -3 carrots- peeled and sliced
  • 1 potato- peeled and cubed
  • 1 onion- finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk - chopped
  • 1 cup chopped cabbage (not in picture)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 bunch fresh dill- minced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic- chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 12 whole juniper berries (good luck finding those)
  • sour cream
  • pepper to taste
1. Start with a pot and add the water, onion,bay leaf, juniper berries, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, celery, about half the lemon juice, and the beets cut in half.
2. Cook on medium heat until the beets are able to be pierced with a fork- 15 minutes or so once the water heats up.
3. When the beets are soft take them out and either put them into a food processor and chop (clean way) or let them cool a minute and grate them on a box grater.  Wear gloves and old clothes because beets STAIN!!!  Add chopped beets back to soup.
4.  Let the soup cook about 5 more minutes then add dill and salt and pepper.  Taste and if too sweet, add more lemon juice.
5. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.  It can also be served cold.

I wasn't sure I was going to like this.  The only time I like beets are pickled beets.  I tried a bowl of the soup after the "photo shoot" and it was pretty good but I knew I was gonna be in trouble.  The trouble was that my picky eaters were going to be very turned off by the red chunkiness of the soup.  So I pureed it.  Now it was all about the flavor and no trying to pick out onions, or eat around the cabbage.  It kinda worked.  The kids each tried it.  A small victory, I know, but I'll take what I get. 

The adults ate theirs along with the piroshki and pelmeni.  Will I make borscht again?  No, probably not.  Would I order it at a restaurant?  Yeah, I just might.  But I know for sure I'm going back for those fresh pickles!!! 

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