Shaindel Ruskin-Berger had never thought she would grow into a particularly gifted cook, given her family background. Growing up in Long Island, New York, Shaindel was more accustomed to watching her mother order dinner in than see her patchke around in the kitchen. The appliances were all Kenwood, state-of-the-art and hardly ever used. Unlike most Jewish girls in her neighborhood, Shaindel (then Sara) never learned how to cook from an encouraging mother or aunt. Her avenue into the world of culinary arts began at her public high school and where she was enrolled in a home economics course. "My teacher, Mrs. Brown, was not used to having students be so enthusiastic about the subject and she lavished a great deal of attention on me to better develop my talents in the kitchen." Shaindel got her BA in English literature from Hunter College in New York. She would prepare an enormous amount of goodies to distribute during study sessions, and as a result she became a popular study partner with her fellow students. "In addition to all the work I had to do to get my BA, I was always on the hunt for really great recipes. I think that by the time I graduated, my bookshelf was lined with scrapbooks full of recipes." Shaindel's ancestry is Franco-Russian, and the recipes that she has provided include the best of both worlds. From the era of Catherine the Great, Russian cookery began its own revolution from peasant fare consisting of plain, inexpensive ingredients, to opulent dishes which required a great deal of meticulous preparation and attention to detail. European influences, particularly the techniques of the French chefs who were under the employ of the Russian aristocracy, infiltrated the local food culture and gave birth to some truly inspired dishes. Simple, hearty stews were replaced by beef Stroganoff and veal Orloff. Shaindel's mushroom Stroganoff is a kosher variation of the traditional beef Stroganoff. A sumptuous sauce of mushrooms simmered in cream, this dish works well when served with brown rice or pasta. SHAINDEL'S MUSHROOM STROGANOFF
500 gr. chestnut or white button mushrooms, sliced
200 gr. wild variety mushrooms
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 celery sticks, chopped
1 tsp. paprika
150 ml. white wine
200 gr. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
salt and pepper
Using a large frying pan, gently heat the butter and oil.
SautÃ© the onion, garlic and celery until soft and translucent.
Sprinkle the paprika on the sautÃ©ed vegetables. Next, add the mushrooms and white wine. Put the flame on a medium-high heat until the contents of the pan are bubbling. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Then, add the heavy cream, parsley and chives. Stir and season to taste.
When the mushrooms are cooked through and have acquired the taste of the herbs, the dish is ready to be enjoyed.
When Shaindel made aliya in 1996, she knew that there were things that she would have to leave behind, including certain comfort foods. Although she never had, as she affectionately calls "a cooking Bubby," there was one dessert that her grandmother Sonia would prepare which was a much loved part of Shaindel's childhood.
Sharlotka, also called Charlotte Russe, is a magnificent dessert created for Tsar Alexander I by the French chef Marie Antoine CarÃªme.
There are many variations on how to serve Charlotte Russe; Grandma Sonia would serve hers topped with warm apple slices.
1 cup thick whipped cream
1 cup rich sweet milk
28 gr. gelatin
1 cup pulverized sugar
3 whites of eggs, well-beaten
Vanilla or almond extract for flavoring
Heat the milk in a 4-liter pot, taking care not to let it boil. Dissolve the sugar and gelatin in the milk, stirring continually.
Pour the mixture into a dish set in ice-cold water. When nearly cold enough to harden pour in half the cream and beat for 10 minutes.
Whip the egg whites and fold them in, beating gently for five minutes longer.
Add the vanilla or almond extract.
Fill a glass dish or mold with slices of sponge cake or lady-fingers, then pour in the prepared cream.
Beat the remaining half cupful of cream and spread over the top.
Chill in the refrigerator before serving. n