Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cooking adventures

Recently I was planning on making a salad and asked Andrei to grate a little onion. I thought the flavor would be a little more subtle that way...who wants a mouthful of onion?

Ingredients mixed with care, I took a bite and got a blast of...bitter! The whole salad was bitter and the only thing I could trace it back to was the onion. Weird! And why?

When I have cooking mishaps, I often wonder where I went wrong. I've been trying to work on my "kitchen chemistry" skills lately to avoid the big no-nos. When I scoured the Internet a year or so ago looking for a good handbook, I came across Cook's Illustrated's "The Science of Good Cooking." It's organized around 50 "concepts" that cover a lot of the chemical reactions that occur in cooking. When I looked up onion in the index, sure enough, there was a page talking about oxidation, with accompanying experiments. Something about cell structure and bruising and so on. The bottom line is, when the recipe says to chop/ dice/ crush/ grate/ etc., you don't substitute one action for the other. You could end up with a flavor too defined (or too subtle). And you might end up having to throw out the whole thing, sigh.

More on The Science of Good Cooking

Whenever I'm curious about something cooking-related, it's definitely helpful to have this book in order to look it up. Each concept is accompanied by several recipes and then an explanation of why each recipe is destined to be successful.

I like reading the explanations, but I've been a little disappointed by the recipe assortment. I think it might be a regional thing as Andrei and I mostly eat chicken and pork and don't need all the recipes for steak, grilled items, turkey, vegetables that we can't buy here, etc. The reviews on Amazon at least say the recipes are really good, but I just don't see myself trying a majority of them, so I'll have to find other ways to use the concepts.

I can see myself getting into the baked goods, though. I need to hunt around for the ingredients, but there are definitely several recipes I'd like to try, like cheesecake. So far I've tried brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and banana bread. The recipes are pretty nit-picky and involve a lot of different steps such as browning the butter or softening the bananas in the microwave and then straining them. It's not so much hard to follow the recipe as it is to do the dishes afterward! I think I will make the brownies and chocolate chip cookies again, but the banana bread wasn't all that special for the effort involved...quick breads should be "quick" in my opinion. ;) And I already have a reliable recipe.

Some other sources for recipes I've used lately are below.

Natasha's Kitchen has lots and lots of Russian/Ukrainian/other types of recipes and it is just a really well-organized, high-quality blog in general. I went through putting a bunch of them in a Pinterest folder to try later. Tonight for dinner I made Chicken Mushroom Casserole, really good! Natasha also has lots and lots of desserts, but I've never actually tried making any of them! Many of them are elegant but a little bit complicated. Hopefully for a holiday or something I can try one.

Another good English-language blog with Russian recipes is Olga's Flavor Factory. She's got a nice-sized archive on there too and there are also posts with cooking tips like how to deseed a tomato, and the occasional sweet post about her faith and family.

In general it seems that the number of U.S. based blogs with Russian cuisine is growing. I think that's a really good thing as Russian cuisine definitely has some tasty dishes that deserve recognition. And it's nice to have an English-language version of the recipes with nice photography. The only problem is sometimes they are TOO Americanized and use ingredients and short-cuts I don't have access to here! Obviously there is going to be a lot of overlap within the content of these blogs, but I don't think that's a problem.

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