Archive for December, 2011

December 15, 2011

Modified for Moscow

Every Tuesday I have been volunteering at a local church ( with a group called Pelmeshke Na Pleshke ( We put together a simple meal for the homeless and distribute it near a metro stop along with donated clothes, basic meds and documents for work.

While preparing the meals we also share food with each other. People bring soup, leftovers, tea, biscuits etc for everyone. My husband’s namesday (the day the church celebrates your saint) was last Tuesday, so I decided to make a special dessert and share it with the group (since many of the boys are named Andrei as well!).

As it is still lent I chose to make Vegan Peanut Butter Cups from a recipe that my sister-in-law shared with me. I had to modify the recipe to fit available ingredients in their available weight units and of course my kitchen limitations.

Below you will find first the original recipe followed by my revised version.

Alicia Silverstone’s Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

1/2 cup Earth Balance butter
3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter (preferably unsweetened and unsalted)
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs or 10 graham cracker squares
1/4 cup maple sugar or other granulated sweetener
1 cup grain-sweetened, nondairy chocolate or carob chips
1/4 cup soy, rice, or nut milk
1/4 cup chopped pecans, almonds, or peanuts

1. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. (If You Care makes unbleached liners made from recycled paper.) Set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
3. Stir in the peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs, and maple sugar and mix well.
4. Remove the mixture from the heat. Evenly divide the mixture, approximately 2 tablespoons per cup, among the muffin cups.
5. Combine the chocolate and milk in another pan. Stir over medium heat until the chocolate has melted.
6. Spoon the chocolate evenly over the peanut butter mixture.
7. Top with chopped nuts.
8. Place in the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours before serving.

Olya’s American-Moscovian Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites (Double the original recipe)


*an eyeballed and estimated 216 grams ‘Kazhdei Den” margarinebased on the google search “how many grams are there in a cup of margarine?”
*24 tablespoonsbecause all I have is a set of measuring spoons I brought from home and I’m hoping that it’s 16 tablespoons for one cup of any ingredientsALGOOD Peanut Butter. This is only available at the enormous grocery store Ashan because no one eats peanut butter in Moscow. Note to self: don’t forget to post about grocery stores
*24 tablespoons ‘K Posty’ Lenten Tea Cookie crumbs or a little less than one pack
*8 tablespoons sugar in the rawconveniently the exact amount leftover over in this apartment from the previous guest. Not sure if it was up for grabs, but I completely forgot to buy some and was NOT about to make ANOTHER trip to the store. For further explanation, see next ingredient
*350 grams Russian Gorki/Tyomni (Bitter/Dark) Chocolatenot the chocolate pictured. Why, you ask? Because when they restock aisles at Ashan they yell and scream, kick everyone out of the aisle and close it. This happened as I was browsing chocolate. Too bad ‘K Posty’ doesn’t have a chocolate line to accompany their lenten cookies so that my choice could have been simpler and easier to find. I tried as long as possible to pretend I couldn’t hear or understand the aisle police, but the fear of being arrested or deported for dilly-dallying in the chocolate aisle of a grocery store made it impossible to read Russian ingredients quickly and thoroughly. I ended up grabbing 400 grams of whatever chocolate I was holding at the moment. When it came time to top the peanut butter mixture with melted chocolate I reread the ingredients in peace and realized I bought a brand with milk fat! So back to the store I went (one closer and more expensive) and had to buy only 350 grams of a bitter chocolate that was in fact vegan. I managed to forget the sugar again and was NOT about to go out for a third grocery store trip. What happened to the original chocolate? …We are still eating it. Can’t let it be wasted – another lent loophole!
*7-8 tablespoons olive oila recommendation from my sister in law. Also because I have yet to see soy milk here
*I forgot to buy any nuts for topping


1. Crush the cookies with a potato masher. After most of the cookies are crushed, use a colander over a bowl to sift out the pieces that are still too big and crush them again.

2. Line a baking dish with foil. (Have not seen cupcake paper liners, let alone eco-friendly ones) Set aside.

3. Melt the margarine in a small saucepan over medium heat.
4. Stir in the peanut butter, cookie crumbs, and sugar and mix well.

5. Remove the mixture from the heat. Spread the mixture into the baking dish and put it in the fridge.
6. Melt the chocolate in an improvised double boiler and stir in the oil.

7. Spoon the chocolate evenly over the peanut butter mixture.
8. Place in the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours before serving. Cut into bars and share the joy.

I presented the bites to the volunteers. They were a hit! A new guy, named Andrei (surprise, surprise), asked someone else what they were made of. “Peanut butter,” they answered. He then replied (without knowing where I am from), “Hm…only Americans eat peanut butter”

December 9, 2011

My Tiny Kitchen

So I used to think my kitchen (or at least counter space) in West Orange was a bit on the tiny side. Until I had to cook in a hallway. I’m not even kidding, our kitchen in Russia is the hallway from the front door to the living room. See:

It’s an interesting challenge to cook with the most basic tools – and not good ones at that. Additionally, we still aren’t eating meat or dairy. But I managed to make a pretty delicious lentil soup the other night.

Now, shows on Food Network and any basic cooking class will stress the importance of cutting the vegetables for soup (or any dish) the same size. I am not that good at this with my nice Henckels knives, so you can imagine my problem using really cheap knives from Ikea that all have a bit of a serrated edge. Plus I have no vegetable peeler for the carrots and potatoes, so I had to use a knife.

But, I think I did ok. The veggies weren’t all the same size, but they cooked well in the broth. Don’t tell the Top Chef judges, but I think in this recipe I didn’t really have to worry about knife skills and size. The recipe calls for chicken broth, but I used some water with all-purpose seasoning made of vegetables to keep it lenten (vegetable stock isn’t that readily available at any grocery store around here). The flavor was great!

We ate the soup with a mushroom kulebyaka (a thick pastry dough with a mushroom filling) that I bought at a great cafe called Shtole. A friend of mine took me to one by her apartment and then I found one by ours! It is so delicious! The cafe has Russian meat and vegetable pies and other Russian food. It looks a little more like a French cafe and plays jazzy music. I could eat this kulyebyaka every day.


  • 2 russet (baking) potatoes
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound lentilles du Puy* (French green lentils), picked over and rinsed (about 2 cups)
  • 8 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • Garnish: chopped fresh parsley leaves


Peel potatoes and cut into 1/4-inch dice. In a 5- to 6-quart heavy kettle cook potatoes, carrots, celery, garlic, and onion in butter over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 4 minutes. Add lentils, broth, and salt and pepper to taste and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and soup is thickened. Serve soup garnished with parsley.

December 6, 2011

This is Your Brain. This is Your Brain on Lent.

I will take a moment here to acknowledge my ridiculous hiatus from posting on this blog! It seems fitting to get back in the game during another lent – this time the one before Christmas. Much has happened since I last wrote – the most significant being that my husband, Andrei, accepted position through his work in Moscow, Russia! So we are living back and forth between Moscow and New Jersey for a year or possibly two. Currently we are in an apartment with a tiny kitchen which should spark some interesting stories.

I want to first catch up on some dishes that I was making back when my sister and I began writing the blog.

I will start with the Tomato, Fennel and Crab soup:

To make this dish vegan, skip the crab.

This is part of the heading for the recipe. I made this during my experiment of avoiding imitation meat and dairy products for the Great Lent before Russian Orthodox Easter. It makes me chuckle because in a Russian Orthodox person’s loose definition of vegan, this is a perfect dish for lent!

A quick explanation of lent: Basically, we do not eat meat or dairy products the entire duration of lent. Many times oil and fish are to be omitted from the diet as well, except on special days. Most people will just stick to avoiding meat and dairy and will explain that they are vegan (however, shellfish like shrimp, clams, mussels etc are allowed).

There are four main lenten periods. Two are in the summer – so thanks for the BBQ invite, neighbor, do you mind grilling up this tasteless garden burger I brought for myself? The four lents add up to about 17 – 21ish weeks depending on the year. Every Wednesday and Friday during the year is a lenten day as well. So really we are vegan except the days we aren’t.

And even on the days when we aren’t vegan, our food choices reflect the participation in this practice. If you want to know whether your Russian Orthodox friend sticks to lent or not, suggest sushi on a Monday or Tuesday evening. If they say yes without suggesting a steak house alternative first, and it isn’t one of the above mentioned lenten periods, then they do not do lent. I can’t tell you how many times I have been to a restaurant on, let’s say, a Thursday, and I keep eyeing the ‘Fettucine with Shrimp in a Creamy Tomato Sauce with Pancetta’. What torture. How can I possibly order that on a Thursday?! I don’t want to eat shrimp today, but I can’t have that dish tomorrow. I will never eat that dish. “I’ll have the filet mignon please, rare – extra meat on the side”.

If you really abide by the rules of lent, then the only time you will truly enjoy a tuna melt, shrimp or mushroom risotto, and a omlette without meat, will be the week before Great Lent starts (before Easter). This week is called Maslenitsa (Cheesefaire) and you can have everything but meat. Don’t try to lie and tell me you would eat a tuna melt on a random Sunday. As good as it sounds, you won’t want it.

A few years ago my husband and I were going to a friend’s BBQ in the summer during lent. We agreed that given most of the food would not be lenten, we would allow ourselves this one party to break lent (So as not to offend the host – a lent-loophole that we Orthodox tend to take advantage of). On the way I wanted to stop for coffee. Starbucks at the time was one of the only coffee places with soy milk. We found one on the gps and headed to it. We managed to get lost and ended up adding about an hour to our trip…so I could get the soy misto…so I could drink it on the way to the party where we would stuff our faces with mac ‘n cheese and buffalo wings.

…this is your brain on lent.

I found the tomato, fennel and crab soup easy and delicious. If you are making a lot I suggest sticking to making it for lent. Don’t even get me started on lenten leftovers during a week where only two days are lenten.

Tomato, Fennel & Crab Soup – Bon Appetit, January 2011


  • 1/4cupolive oil
  • 3 1/2cupschopped onions
  • 2medium fennel bulbs with fronds; bulbs cored, thinly sliced, fronds  chopped and reserved
  • 3large garlic cloves, minced
  • 214 1/2-ounce cans diced tomatoes  in juice
  • 2cups(or more) vegetable  broth
  • 8ouncesfresh crabmeat, picked  over
  • Additional olive  oil
  • 41/2-inch-thick slices pain rustique or rustic whole wheat bread,  toasted


  • Heat 1/4 cup oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add  onions, fennel slices, and garlic; sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté  until onions and fennel are tender, stirring often and adjusting heat to medium  if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice and 2 cups  broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until flavors blend and  vegetables are very tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in crabmeat and add more  broth by 1/4 cupfuls to thin soup, if desired; simmer just until heated through,  3 to 4 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper.
  • Divide soup among bowls. Sprinkle each with chopped fennel  fronds. Drizzle each serving with oil. Serve with  toasts.

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