John's Russian Birthday Dinner
On a snowy day a few weeks ago I got it in my head to make a Russian dinner. As my birthday was rapidly approaching and I would have to come up with a feast anyway, I decided to make it a Russian feast.
I don't know quite what put Russian food in my head that day. I have always enjoyed it, ever since first finding the excellent Please to the Table Russian cookbook, and cold weather makes those heavy dishes more attractive to me. I had most of the ingredients to make some of my favorite dishes, so...
Here's what we did:
The main course was Pork Chops with Apples Braised in Beer. This was naturally accompanied by chilled vodka! None of us are vodka fans, but a Russian dinner demands vodka, so I got a bottle of Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ice Glen Vodka and put it in the freezer. It was delicious! I must learn more about it. At least we did not kill the bottle.
We also had some Notch Session Pils, brewed by former Tremont brewer Chris Lohring in Ipswich. I could have found some real Russian beer at one of the Russian markets along Rte 128, but that beer is pretty boring. Chris spent a fair amount of time in Eastern Europe and he's a very skilled brewer, so his Czech-style local Pils was a better match for this Russian-style New England dinner.
The pork was also accompanied by Braised Sauerkaut with Bacon and Mushrooms. This recipe has great Russian flavor and is a fine partner to any winter pork dish that is not too fruity or sweet. I think it would be fine with barbecued pork that is not drowned in sweet BBQ sauce.
We also had Russian-Style Sauteed Mushrooms. This makes the trifecta of suberb cold-weather dishes. It includes sour cream and dill, and Madeira - a constant Russian companion to mushrooms, and now a constant fungal companion in my own kitchen. It is good with chicken, too, a real mainstay for winter cooking.
All of those dishes I had prepared at one time or another over the past two decades, multiple times. The dessert was the wild card. It looked good while reading it, but it was new to me. I am not a big fan of desserts, but this was to be my own birthday dinner so I needed something on short notice and I had the ingredients handy for the Cranberry-Apple Tart. It was wonderful! The pastry was a real surprise, and we all expected the filling to be tart, but it was attractive, tasty, and easy to make. Happy Birthday to me!
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