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Food Fridays: Martha Stewart; Food in the USSR; Picking; Please Explain

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Today: the return of Food Fridays—our weekly series about food and how we cook it! Martha Stewart talks about enjoying the good things in life—like dessert—well into old age. We’ll learn about food in the Soviet Union, and how dinner was packed with meaning at a time when there were bread shortages, rationing, and even state-run lessons in table manners. Jack Bishop from America’s Test Kitchen teaches us how to pickle. And this week’s Please Explain is about calories—what they are, why they matter and whether you should bother to count them.

Martha Stewart: It's a Good Thing

Martha Stewart gives advice on how to live the good life—from the best ways eat healthy to tips for organize your home to protecting your mental health as you age. Living the Good Long Life: A Practical Guide to Caring for Yourself and Others is a handbook for living your healthiest life after 40—with expertise from doctors and specialists on eating, exercise, wellness, and caring for others.

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The Art of Soviet Cooking

Anya von Bremzen, a James Beard Award-winning writer, describes life in the USSR. Born in 1963, in an era of bread shortages, Anya grew up in a communal Moscow apartment where 18 families shared one kitchen. Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is about feasts, famines, and three generations of her family, and how, in the USSR, every edible morsel was packed with emotional and political meaning.

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Join the Pickling Project!

As the weather starts to get cooler, canning and pickling season begins. Jack Bishop, editorial director of America’s Test Kitchen, walks us through the basics of pickling and how to get creative with pickles.

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Please Explain: Calories

Food is measured in calories. People sometimes count calories and cut calories, and this week’s Please Explain is all about what calories are, how they’re measured, how we burn them, and if they differ from food to food. Joining us are: Dr. Kelly D. Brownell, Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy and Professor of Public Policy at Duke University. And Russell Rising, Research Associate in the Metabolic Laboratory at the Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital.

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Recipe: Salat Olivier - Russian Potato Salad with Pickles

Sine qua non of socialist celebrations, this salady Soviet icon actually has a fancy, bourgeois past. The name?  Derived from one Lucien Olivier, a French chef who wowed 1860s Moscow with his swank L’Hermitage

restaurant. The Gaul’s original creation, of course, had almost nothing in common with our Soviet classic. His was an extravagant still life of grouse, tongue, and crayfish tails encircling a mound of potatoes and cornichons, all doused with le chef ’s secret Provençal sauce. To Olivier’s horror, Russian clients vulgarized his precious arrangement by mixing up all the ingredients on their plates. And so he retooled his dish as a salad. Then came 1917. L’Hermitage was shuttered, its recipes scorned. All Soviet children knew Mayakovsky’s jingle:  “Eat your pineapples, gobble your grouse / Your last day is coming, you bourgeois louse!”

The salad gained a second life in the  mid-1930s  when Olivier’s old apprentice, a chef known as Comrade Ivanov, revived it at the Stalin-era Moskva Hotel.  Revived it in Soviet form. Chicken replaced the class-enemy grouse, proletarian carrots stood in for the original pink of the crayfish, and potatoes and canned peas took center stage—the whole drenched in our own tangy, mass-produced Provansal mayo.

Meanwhile, variations of the salad traveled the world with White Russian émigrés. To this day, I’m amazed to encounter it under its generic name, “Russian salad,” at steakhouses in Buenos Aires, railway stations in Istanbul, or as part of Korean or Spanish or Iranian appetizer spreads. Amazed and just a little bit proud.

At our own table, Mom gives this Soviet staple an arty, nonconformist twist by adding fresh cucumbers and apple, and substituting crabmeat for chicken (feel free to stay with the latter). The ultimate key to success, though, she insists: chopping everything into a very fine dice. She also obsessively doctors Hellmann’s mayo with various zesty additions. I think Lucien Olivier would approve.

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Recipe: Kotleti - Mom’s Russian “Hamburgers”

Kotleti for lunch, kotleti for dinner, kotleti of beef, of pork, of fish, of chicken—even kotleti of minced carrots or beets. The entire USSR pretty much lived on these cheap, delicious fried patties, and when

comrades didn’t make them from scratch, they bought them at stores. Back in Moscow, Mom and I harbored a secret passion for the proletarian, six-kopek variety produced by the meat-processing plant named after Stalin’s food supply commissar, Anastas Mikoyan. Inspired by his 1936 trip to America, Mikoyan wanted to copy Yankee burgers in Russia, but somehow the bun got lost in the shuffle and the country got hooked on mass-produced kotleti instead. Deliciously greasy, petite, and with a heavy industrial breading that fried up to a wicked crunch, Mikoyan factory patties could be scarfed down by the dozen. Wild with nostalgia, Mom and I tried a million times to recreate them at home, but no luck: some manufactured treats just can’t be duplicated. So we always reverted back to Mom’s (far more noble) homemade version.

Every ex-Soviet cook has a special trick for making juicy, savory patties. Some add crushed ice, others tuck in pats of butter or mix in a whipped egg white. My mother  likes her kotleti Odessa-style (garlicky!), and adds mayo as binding instead of the usual egg, with delightful results. The same formula works with ground turkey or chicken or fish. Buckwheat kasha makes a nostalgic Russian accompaniment. Ditto  thin potato batons slowly pan-fried with onions in lots of butter or oil. I love cold kotleti for lunch the next day, with some dense dark bread, hot mustard, and a good crunchy dill pickle.

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Pickled watermelon rind

Recipe: Pickled Watermelon Rind

Try this recipe for pickled watermelon rind! They're ready in just 10 days and make use of something we normally throw away.

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Recipe: Sour Dill Pickles and Bread and Butter Pickles

Try making pickles at home with these recipes for sour dill pickles and bread and butter pickles.

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