This is about comfort food, which came from an uncomfortable start. It’s an edible postcard of cosseting after awkwardness. If what you need right now is a trusty recipe for 80’s nostalgia, with a dairy free/ paleo etc hack then skip to the recipe at the bottom. Otherwise, read on.
My previous experiences of awkwardness and adventure involved procuring Russian visas without a travel agent (as stilted as Chekovian dialogue) , and toiling to find a restaurant in St Petersburg, when jet lagged, completely unable to read street signs (Cyrillic signs will do that to you) lost and befuddled by the eerie gleam of white nights. That first night in Russia we ended up having stroganoff, served in a boat of mashed potato, in a subterranean bar, while a hoard of Russian hipsters sang kareoke along to the theme music from Disney’s children’s cartoon ‘Duck Tails’ (woo hoo). I kid you not.
That was nearly four years ago. Our long weekend in St Petersburg involved vodka shots in a bar, which also had a sideline as both a laundrette and an art installation, plus the usual suspects of the Hermitage, the Bronze Horseman and the River Neva. It was one of the final items on our ‘baby bucket list’- that hedonistic collection of experiences we wanted to tick off before we became three.
It now seems that a long weekend in St Petersburg was a cake walk compared to taking a toddler to Melbourne for four days. I have yawning suitcases around me and a transfer arriving in 35 minutes. The plan was that after a series of adventures without us (Manila, KL, Bangalore, Delhi, Singapore, Jakarta)- this time when The Hungry One had to jet off for work, Will and I would tag along.
Will and I have simple objectives for the trip; get on a plane (he’s more excited about that than I am), drink some great coffee (or babycinos), eat some good food and see some old friends. I may have over sold the concept of a Melbourne babycino to him. Last night at 3 am I woke to hear him sobbing for ‘More ‘Cino!’ from his cot. I had to placate him with water and assure him that good things were not that far away.
For now there are bunnies and blankets and books and bottles and the brush that we use to clean the bottles and asthma puffers and spacers and raincoats (it is Melbourne) and snacks and activity books and ipads to gather.
As I said, a long weekend in Russia now seems like child’s play.
Luckily, there’s a batch of this stroganoff in the freezer, waiting to be devoured on our return. Going away is wonderful, but it’s also nothing quite like coming home.
This stroganoff is very similar to the stellar example that we ate that first unsettled evening when we didn’t know which way was up in Piterogi, St Petersburg. Be sure to use good quality beef, sliced thinly and sear it on a very high heat quickly. The same goes for the mushrooms. Give them space to breathe in the pan- this may mean doing them in two batches. You want some caramelisation on them, not a flaccid muddle. The spices are simply sweet paprika, black pepper and tarragon- though you could add some caraway or parsley if you fancied. The classic tang comes from adding sour cream at the end- when freezing the dish I tend to freeze it without the dairy and then add that in when I warm it- that helps prevent it splitting. For those who need a dairy substitute, I can happily report that cauliflower cream (made from steaming cauliflower until soft, then pureeing it until you get a velvety smooth texture) with a little lemon juice makes a fine alternative.
You can serve it on a bed of mashed potato, or white bean puree for a slow carb alternative. It’s also grand with ‘noodles’ made from sauteeing thin slivers of cabbage, courgette ‘zoodles’ , or over quinoa or cauliflower rice.
Comfort food at its best. (Wish us luck).
3 tbsp olive oil
500 g fillet steak, thinly sliced
400 g button mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 tbsp brandy (or beef stock)
1 brown onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp sweet paprika
300 ml sour cream (or 300 ml cauliflower cream with 2 tsp lemon juice)
2 tbsp chopped tarragon to garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Rice/Cauliflower rice/quinoa/noodles/rice to serve
Here’s how we roll
1) Add 1 tbsp olive oil to a fry pan and quickly sear the beef strips in batches, (if you add them all at once they will stew, not sear).
2) Remove the beef and sautee the mushrooms in any fat that remains in the pan for a few minutes until they gain some colour and begin to soften. Add the brandy to deglaze the pan and scrape up any residue with a wooden spoon.
3) Remove the mushrooms and combine them with the beef. Add the remaining olive oil to the pan as well as the onion and paprika and sautee for 5-7 minutes until the onion has softened.
4) Return the beef, mushrooms and any juices to the pan with the onions. Add the sour cream (or cauliflower cream and lemon juice), stir to combine over medium heat until it just begins to simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste and top with the chopped tarragon.