There’s Nothing Like a Faberge!

Get ready to go breathless! One look at these gorgeous eggs and other objets d’art from the house of Faberge and you’ll gasp. At least check out the exhibit, physically located in Montreal, Canada in the Museum of Fine Arts:

Imagine getting one of these pieces as an Easter surprise or a present for some special occasion. You’d spend at least the rest of the day checking out the detailed, beautiful work. Jewels, set like none other. The aura of Faberge persists to this day.


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Macaroni Mirabel, the Perfect Match to Memorial Day

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend by cooking ahead or cooking big. In the 1930’s the first wave of post-revolutionary Russians living in San Francisco chose the Russian River area for recreation and relaxation. Most did not have a nickle to their name, so they had to cook food that would feed many without robbing the bank. My mother and her teenage friends would head for Sonoma county – by ferry in those days- with a soup kettle full of some dish to share with a crowd of friends.  No one ever went hungry! That’s when she created what I named Macaroni Mirabel because Mirabel Park and Vacation Beach, CA were the places to hang out.

Recipe: 2 – 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 large onion, chopped, 3 cloves garlic, minced, 1 – 2 pounds ground beef, ½ cup water, optional, 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds, 5 tablespoons fresh dill, 1 teaspoon salt for each pound of meat used, freshly ground pepper to taste, 1 small package (1 pound) macaroni, 5 tablespoons soy sauce, or more to taste.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and brown the onion. Add the minced garlic and fry for another minute.  Add the ground beef.  Mash it with a fork and move it around until the meat is browned but not dry. Add the water and work it into the ground meat as it cooks. This will make the dish juicier. Steam the carrots for 5 minutes. Add them to the meat in the pan along with the dill. Salt and pepper the meat. Adjust your seasonings, if needed.

ScanCook the macaroni in four quarts of salted water until al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Drain, and add it to the prepared meat. Mix well together to distribute the meat and carrots evenly throughout the pasta. Check seasonings again. If you need more salt, sprinkle soy sauce over the meat and blend in. Serves 8 as a main dish. (Selected from Beyond Beef Stroganoff.)

Photo courtesy Maria Lobanoovsky archives. Mama canoeing on the Russian River, 1933.

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When a Burger’s Not a Burger…

For the last couple of weeks we had the barbeque going and enjoyed classic American burgers and traditional Serbian sausages. This week we’re back indoors and to my Russian roots with Kotleti. Barbequing is not something Russians do a lot of, unless it’s Shashlik (shish kebob), and that’s Caucasian anyway. No, Russians love their “burgers” cooked on the stove and gussied up to something between the American and Serbian versions. The meat is not as spiced as Chevapchichi nor as bland as plain ground beef. If there’s any spice, it’s the (optional) mustard condiment that can put stars in your eyes and clear sinuses faster than any inhalers! (P.S. no medical advice here, just an image.) Russians like their mustard hot, sweet and exciting. Without further ado, try this recipe and compare.

IMG_0699Kotleti can also be served with mushroom sauce. Often the sides are macaroni and vegetables or a nice simple green salad with sliced tomatoes and radishes. The recipe that follows is for basic Kotleti as given me by Lubov Chekene, an angel and an inspiration.

Ingredients: 1 pound ground beef (chuck or round), 1 teaspoon sea salt, ¼ teaspoon ground pepper, 1 clove garlic, crushed, 1 small onion, grated or 1 teaspoon powdered onion, 1/3 cup water,1 egg, slightly beaten,½ cup bread crumbs.Mix the ingredients in step one until well blended. Divide the meat into eight large balls.

Step two, forming and frying: 1 cup bread crumbs or Panko, 2 -4 tablespoons vegetable oil. Roll the balls in breadcrumbs or Panko and shape into ovals. Place the kotleti onto a baking sheet lined with waxed paper and flatten slightly. Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan and fry the kotleti until browned on both sides, about four minutes per side. Do not over cook or kotleti will be dry.

More details and my recipe for Mama’ Supreme Russian Mustard are available in Beyond Beef Stroganoff. A word of caution if you make the mustard…good tastes come in small quantities! Enjoy!


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With Bay Area weather forecasters predicting three-digit temps, abandoning the kitchen sounds like a good idea! I vote for another barbecued meal since we already dusted off the grill last week for burgers. Here’s an easy, mouthwatering recipe for traditional grilled Balkan specialty sausages called Chevapchichi from Beyond Beef Stroganoff.

Here’s the recipe, abbreviated from my book:IMG_0784

RECIPE: Three pound portion: 1 pound ground beef, 1 pound ground lamb, 1 pound ground veal, 1 small onion, grated, 3 teaspoons salt, ground pepper, to taste, 3 cloves garlic, crushed, 3 teaspoons paprika, 1 cup water, approximately.

Mix the meats together with the onion, salt, pepper, garlic, paprika and water. When thoroughly blended, make small sausages, about four inches in length. You can put the meat through your mixer’s sausage attachment for faster production. Or, a two-inch scoop is another tool to use to make uniform sausages. Makes about 28 sausages; serves six.

Cook the sausages on a barbeque (or under the broiler) for about four minutes per side, turning over once in the cooking process.

Serve with the following garnishes, served in separate bowls, with yogurt sauce. The quantity will vary depending on the number of guests. Diced bell pepper, diced cucumber, diced fresh tomatoes.

Cucumber sauce: 1 cup (or more) plain yogurt, mixed with ¼ – ½  cucumber, grated; 1 clove garlic, crushed, salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice, to taste.

Bon appetit! Goes splashingly well with Sebastiani’s Gravel Bed Red 2012.




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Get the Barbeque Ready!

The somewhat off-season yet gorgeous weather we’ve recently experienced reminded me to dust off the barbeque. Normally, it’s a Memorial Day chore. Not this year. So while you’re trying to figure out how to water your garden or vegetables most efficiently in a drought year, do it over the Best Burger you’ve ever had. (Recipe #2 from Beyond Beef Stroganoff).IMG_0608



½ pound (or more) flat, lean meat, such as hanger steak, tri tip, or top sirloin, ½ pound marbled meat, such as from short ribs, 1 teaspoon salt per pound of meat, freshly ground pepper, to taste, vegetable oil for frying, 4 round hamburger buns (suggest brioche or whole wheat), 1-2 tablespoons butter for browning the buns

Purchase equal quantities of flat and marbled meat. Cut the meat off the short ribs and cube both the lean and marbled meats into 1½ inch pieces. Place on a baking sheet, leaving a little space between each one and freeze for about 25 minutes till firm but not frozen.

In a food processor, equally distribute the lean and marbled cubes. Pulse until it is the texture like ground meat. Dump the ground meat back onto the baking sheet. Lightly push the meat into piles to form 4 burgers per pound. Handle as little as possible.

Heat a frying pan with a 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil. When hot, place the burgers in the pan. Heavily salt and lightly pepper the exposed side. Cook for 4 minutes. With a spatula, flip the burger, salt and pepper the other side and cook another 4 minutes. Serve on a Best Bun with the Best Trimmings!

Best Buns:In a separate pan, melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter. Place the buns flat side down into the pan, and toast the buns to a golden brown. They need to dry out a bit to hold the juicy burger and not fall apart. Best Sauce: Make your favorite hamburger sauce with any of the following ingredients: ketchup, mayonnaise, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and finely chopped shallots. Brush the inside of the bun with the sauce before garnishing your burger. Best Garnishes: Lettuce, Bermuda onions, Sliced tomatoes, Dill pickles

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Time to renew!

Spring, renewal, Passover, Easter. What they have in common is lamb. It’s the time these adorable little bleatters are born and a time when we vow to do that extra special house cleaning! As a symbol the lamb is used throughout the Passover and Easter celebrations, though its meaning differs. The early Christians retook the image from the Hebrew culture and used it as a symbol of Christ, renewal, and victory over death.

As  must-have on our Easter table, my mother always roasted a beautiful leg of lamb, and there’s no finer lamb to be had than what is produced in Sonoma county. My aunt, on the other hand, usually featured a lamb salad on her buffet. For your enjoyment, here is recipe #3, Delectable Lamb Tongue Salad,  from Beyond Beef Stroganoff, my latest book on Kindle.IMG_1253

RECIPE: 6-8 lamb tongues (about 4 cups, cubed), 6 peppercorns, 1 bay leaf,  1 carrot- scrubed and coarsely chopped, 4 cups cooked baby peas, 1 cup Best Foods Mayonnaise, 1 cup Knudsen Sour Cream or Crème Fraiche, 2 teaspoons creamed white horseradish (or more to taste),  ¼ teaspoon white pepper, or more to taste, dash of salt (or to taste), 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh dill weed, parsley, optional.

Cook lamb tongues in salted water with peppercorns, bay leaf and a carrot, until done and easily pierced with a knife. Skin the tongues and cut into 1/2” cubes.  Add cooked peas. Mix the mayonnaise with sour cream, adding the horseradish and white pepper to the dressing.  Bind the salad with the dressing and check for seasonings. Add salt, pepper, or more horseradish if desired.

This salad should be moist. If more dressing is needed, mix up additional equal quantities of sour cream and mayonnaise, and add to the salad, adjusting the horseradish as necessary.  Garnish with parsley.

Happy Pay-sach, Happy Easter and Xhristos Voskrece! Lady Tessie, pictured below, adds that this year they are all within a week of each other!IMG_1464



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It’s Cold, It’s Hot, It’s Wet!

If you’ve figured out what the weather will do next, you’re miles ahead of the rest of us! Lately, the rotation has gone something like this: hot, cold (huge drops in temperature at night), wet (ending with a round of rain, sometimes pouring, sometimes drizzling). Makes it harder to plan menus around the season. It may be spring, yet heavy comfort food like a good stew may get more votes than a composed salad. IMG_0912

Which brings me to my next recipe posting from Beyond Beef Stroganoff, Ukrainian Pahlyobka or “Pop’s Lamb Stew.”

2 – 3 pounds lamb riblets, 1/4 cup pearl barley, rinsed, optional, 1 large onion, chopped, 3 cloves of garlic, chopped, 2 – 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1-2 potatoes, peeled and cubed, 2 ribs of celery cut into 1-inch pieces, 1/4 – 1/2 pound Italian flat beans or Blue Lake beans, cut into one-inch pieces, 2 – 3 carrots cut into medium rounds, 3 – 4 tomatoes or 1-8 ounce can tomato sauce, ¼ – ½ bell pepper, chopped (optional), 2 teaspoons salt, freshly ground pepper to taste, or a few whole peppercorns, 1 Tablespoon flour, optional.

Put the meat into a large stewing pot and cover with approximately a quart of water. Add the barley and bring to a boil. Then immediately lower the heat to simmer and cook, covered, for 1-½ hours. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a separate pan and lightly brown the garlic and onion. Add this, the salt, pepper and the rest of the ingredients to the stew during the last half hour of the cooking time. When done, adjust the seasonings as needed. If a thicker stew is desired, sprinkle the flour over it through a sieve, and quickly mix it into the sauce. Cook a few more minutes to thicken.IMG_0189

Blue skies ahead? Well, we’re all grateful for the much needed rain, but one can’t deny that spring is perhaps Sonoma’s most breathtaking time of year.



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Beef Stroganoff Beats Beef Stew!

Beyond Beef Stroganoff  just hit Amazon Kindle and promises to surprise you with some of the best meat dishes from San Francisco’s Russian American community.


Beef Stroganoff, named after Count Pavel Alexandrovich, may be the most well known entree in Russian cuisine, but there’s so much more. Check out to see for yourself. Meanwhile, in abridged form, the lead recipe from my  new eBook:

RECIPE: 1 Tablespoon Coleman’s mustard powder, 1 Tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, 4-6 tablespoons vegetable oil (not olive) or half oil and half butter, 4 cups thinly sliced,  white onions, 1 pound Crimini mushrooms thinly sliced, 2 pounds fillets of lean beef (flank, skirt or hanger steak), freshly ground black pepper, to taste, 1 pint crème fraiche, 3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped, 3 tablespoons Madeira or Marsala wine mixed with 1 Tablespoon flour.

Quick method: In a small bowl combine the mustard powder, sugar, a pinch of salt and one tablespoon boiled water to form a paste. Set aside. Mix the Madeira with the tablespoon of flour and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy pan, drop in the onions and mushrooms, cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Stir occasionally.  Simmer till soft about 20 minutes. Set aside.

With a sharp knife, cut the meat against the grain into thin, 2” strips like straw potatoes, never into chunks. This is not a stew.  Heat another 2 tablespoons oil over high heat, drop in half the meat, sauté for two minutes or until slightly brown and set aside. Continue cooking the rest of the meat in a similar way. Finally, over low heat, combine the vegetables, meat and mustard paste.

Finishing the Stroganoff: Stir in the crème fraiche. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the wine and flour mixture and the fresh dill. Cook a few more minutes to allow the sauce to thicken. Serves eight  – and quite likely would be approved by the Count himself! (See photo below right, courtesy Google Images.)

P.A. StroganoffTips: Substitute 2-4 tablespoons tomato paste or 1 small can tomato sauce for the wine. This version is not made that often today. Or, for a darker, traditional brown sauce, add 1-2 teaspoons Kitchen Bouquet.    Sour cream may be substituted for crème fraiche. However, crème fraiche is closer to real Russian sour cream than most American sour creams on the market. Knudsen makes the best sour cream without a lot of additives, which impede sour cream’s ability to melt smoothly when heated.

Wine Pairing: Cabernet Sauvingnon from Paso Robles’ Halter Ranch Vineyard is a great match for Beef Stroganoff Lobanovsky!


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Get Your Oats: It’s the Year of the Horse

Vets recommend adding oats in natural horse feed for optimum nitrition and health. With the Year of the Horse upon us (January 31st), I searched my favorite recipes so that we too can enhance our menus with this nutritious grain. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face, this one comes from Evy Berger, Sonoma, a former Alcalde (honorary mayor) who in her lifetime probably baked thousands of these gems, delighting scores of youngsters including her own four sons.Scan

Ingredients: 1 cup Crisco shortening, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup brown sugar, 2 eggs, 1 tsp. vanilla, 2 cups all purpose flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 2 cups rolled oats, 1/2 cup chopped pecans, 1 6-ounce pkg. chocolate chips.

Directions:Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In an electric mixer, cream the shortening and sugars. Add eggs, vanilla and beat until well blended. Stir in flour, soda, salt, and baking powder. Add the oats, nuts, chocolate chips, and mix until combined. Spoon the mixture onto a cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Hide some if you don’t want them to disappear too quickly!

Tips: I like to use the pillow-type cookie sheets (double layer) and line those with parchment. That pretty much prevents cookies from burning. I prefer sweet butter over Crisco but that’s a personal choice. Lastly, a 1″ scoop is great because your cookies will be more uniform in size. All right already, let’s get baking….Scan 1

Photo credits: Top, my grandfather Colonel Nicolas Mamontoff, in the Siberian forest, a la Zhivago, on his prize steed, Conqueror. Conqueror, along with his beautiful saddle was sold for 2900 gold rubles to a Chinese general when the Mamontoffs emigrated to America. Photo right: My great grandfather Jacob Urusoff, around 1912. Urusoff was a local Siberian mine inspector and village police chief who was shot by the Reds for not joining the Bolshevik (Communist) party.

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De’s Clay Pot Cookery

After a long and unanticipated break, I’d like to finish the year with a couple of wonderful recipes given to me recently by friends De and Alice. Both dishes would make a perfect light supper for New Year’s Eve.

Prior to the cooking lesson, De and Alice were gracious hosts and took us on a second tour of San Jose’s Vietnam Town, where we purchased our clay pots.  The tour of Vietnam Town underscored, once again, the diversity of the Bay Area , as this Russian American has now added a couple of Vietnamese dishes to her repertoire! Without further delay, here are:

De’s Fish Steaks

Heat 2-3 Tbsp. Wesson oil in the clay pot. Coat the bottom of the pot with Yoshida’s Original Gourmet Sweet and Savory Sauce (available at Costco).  Add 2 catfish steaks. Salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle with Pyramide Oriental Spices for Catfish Paste (a blend of onion, sugar, black pepper, salt, paprika and sugar powders).

Turn the steaks over in the pot to coat them. Pour more Yoshida sauce over as desired. Add a dash of fish sauce. Turn flame down to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Serve with steamed rice your favorite green vegetable. Serves four.

Asparagus Crab Meat Soup

Boil a crab in salted water and clean out the meat. Save the water. (De’s crab was about 1 lb. 8 oz.).

In a soup pot, dilute a large can of Swanson’s Chicken Broth half with one can of water. Bring to a boil. Add 1, 12-oz. jar of white asparagus, cut into pieces and some of the water from the asparagus (or some of the water from the boiled crab). Drop in the cleaned crabmeat.  Continue simmering and skim the scum, if any develops.

Beat two eggs in a bowl.  Bring the broth back to a boil. Create a vortex by spinning the broth in a circular direction. Add the eggs while continuing to stir until the eggs make into little strings. Optional ingredients to add at this stage are quail eggs and/or corn.

Dilute 2 Tbsp. cornstarch in 1/4 cup or so of water. Stir into the soup to thicken. You may add more depending on how thick you want the soup. Salt to taste.  Add mushroom powder to taste (about a teaspoon). Serves four.

Postscript: I found out that you can also purchase clay pots at Chinese kitchenware shops in San Francisco. Half the fun of cooking the fish was using a clay pot!)

Here’s wishing all a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!Maria at Cat's Birthday 12.2011


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