RULES OF SUBSTITUTION

Last weekend I decided to make dinner. If you know me personally, you might be laughing out loud right now. If you do not, I will bring you up to speed: the last time I prepared a multi-course meal was 8 years ago; my favorite utensil is a microwave; boiling water and making toast in a toaster qualify as ‘cooking’; in New York I used to get regular inspection notices from ConEd because they did not register any gas usage for my apartment for months in a row, and were afraid the stove and pipes might be faulty  (this is also why I am so dependent on round-the-clock dining establishments).

Cooking my trademark salad. One of about 7 times in as many years in the city that my NYC kitchen was used as intended (and not to store boots in the cupboards).

Making my trademark salad. One of about 7 times in as many years in the city that my NYC kitchen was used as intended (and not just to store boots in the cupboards).

So, cooking is more of an ambitious creative undertaking rather than a quotidian means of sustenance for me, so I was not going to cut any corners.

For the Sunday dinner I decided to make Anna’s Special Garden Salad with Italian dressing, Jenna’s Famous Double-Breaded Chicken and linguine with home-made pesto.

I picked my dishes based on what I wanted to eat and not the local availability of ingredients, so Moscow grocery stores decided to teach me a lesson. Although I had no problem getting pine nuts and excellent Parmesan cheese for the pesto, and even though there were dozens of sauce varieties on the shelves – including many brands and creative variants of soy, ketchup and teriyaki concoctions – there was no fresh basil, Italian dressing, or iceberg/romaine lettuce available (save for the really old, pre-chopped- and -bagged kind). 

Russian stores are not lacking in selection  (Image credit http://an812.ru/) ...

Russian stores are not lacking in selection (Image credit http://an812.ru/) …

A friend coming over for dinner could not find it at his mega-market either – and keep in mind that those supermarkets can rival any suburban Stop&Shop in size and variety of products. So, I had to improvise, on the spot. While this might be ok for an experienced cook, I was basically shooting in the dark.

...or size. This is a floor plan for one of the mega-marts, Auchan. Anything that's not dark blue or really dark green is grocery and kitchen/cooking-related sections. Image credit Auchan.

…or size. This is a sample floor plan for one of the more popular mega-marts, Auchan. Anything that’s not dark blue or really dark green is grocery and kitchen/cooking-related sections. Image credit Auchan.

My substitutions: balsamic vinegar and EVOO for Italian dressing (I whisked the two together with some dried basil, salt and pepper at home); Chinese cabbage for lettuce in the salad (chopped into 1 x 1 inch pieces, along with similarly sized pieces of cucumber and tomato, plus copious amounts of sweet corn and grated Parmesan; in America I used to add a bit of red cabbage but I was pretty sure I would not find it here, at least easily); fresh dill for basil in the pesto sauce.

They sort of look alike. Image credit Dole & Harvest To Table.

These sort of look alike? Image credit Dole & Harvest To Table.

I am pretty sure I did not invent the wheel with any of these interpretations, but bear in mind that I had never even tasted Chinese cabbage,  and bought it on hunch that consisted of ‘it kind of looks like lettuce?’.  Having never used a blender/food processor of any kind before that evening, I had no idea if it was even going to be possible to turn dill into pesto – what if, not being leafy, like basil, it just wrapped around the blade and got stuck?

These kind of do not.

These do not. Image credit Precision Nutrition & Thompson-Morgan.

Thankfully, nothing nearly that dramatic happened. In fast, the Chinese cabbage salad turned our very fresh and crispy, and the dill pesto – very fragrant. The chicken – coated in a crispy breadcrumb blend I made myself by liberally dipping into my sister’s seasonings stash – was also a great success. I have already been asked for a repeat culinary performance. I’m thinking… some time around 2021.

Getting started

Getting started.

Using a blender for the very first time. Pressing buttons is fun!

Using a blender for the very first time. Pressing buttons is fun!

Ta-dah!

Ta-dah!

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5 thoughts on “RULES OF SUBSTITUTION

    • Welcome! I am actually a bit jealous – I always wanted to go to Sweden, and I have some (old, old) roots in that area. I look forward to reading your posts!

  1. Pingback: THE COST OF STAYING IN | Home & Away

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