Sunday, 16 September 2012

Cooking in Kiev, Part 2

Cooking in Kiev, Part 2:

We were fortunate to have someone who left the school this summer leave us a lot of household items, so we didn’t have to buy much. However, our kitchen is microscopic compared to what I’m used to.

Our stove is a gas stove that must be lit with a match. I’ve lit more matches in the past 4 weeks than I do in a typical year. I haven’t singed my skin yet, but I’ve come close. The oven dial has no temperature markings, so it’s all guesswork until I find and buy an oven thermometer. Even then, I’m guessing I’ll have to tape a metric conversion chart to something nearby so the temperature will mean something to me.

Our oven is about the size of an “Easy Bake Oven”. I’m hoping someone invites us over for Thanksgiving because there’s no way I can make a turkey in it! The first time I put our cookie sheet in the oven, I discovered that it’s too big and you can’t quite close the door. I made a pizza on the bottom of a cake pan last week because it fit, unlike the cookie sheet.

The successes: the apple crisp I made turned out better than it ever has at home. I just have to be sure to ration the 6 pounds of brown sugar that I brought with me.  The homemade pizza (see above) turned out great too (just don’t buy a frozen pizza here…yuck…we won’t do that again). We used some sort of frozen dough that makes a flaky croissant like thing for Stromboli and it was excellent. My first ever peach pie? Made in a casserole ‘cause I don’t have a pie pan, but it turned out great too, I just wouldn’t use as much sugar next time.

The failures: Muffins…they burned on the bottom and wouldn’t come out of the cups and the blueberries they have here are sour. Pancakes…we need an electric griddle. Making them in a small, warped frying pan and trying to regulate the gas burner so they turn out just right has proven to be a challenge.

School lunch: we have an amazing lady named Zoya who cooks homemade Ukranian food four times a week. We had hot lunch two of the days last week and it was amazing. The “meatball, rice, sauce and salad” that we had one day was seriously the yummiest thing Bill or I have ever eaten. The kids even loved it!

The water: undrinkable. We’ve had a water cooler so far with water from a company. We brought a distiller with us, but left the cord in Minnesota. Oops. A new one will be shipped to us soon…

The dishes: we happen to have a dishwasher and discovered that the detergent that we were told to buy by someone who has been here for a while is actually for laundry. Our sink is also very small, so we have a dish tub on the counter and rinse the dishes in the sink.

Interesting facts:
-Eggs come in 10s instead of dozens…metric system!
-Lots of things are sold by the kilo or gram here that aren’t sold by weight in the US. Even soft serve ice cream cones say how much they cost for 100 grams, or whatever amount.
-Chips: they have typical flavors, as well as mushroom and ham flavors, but  no tortilla chips.
-Ketchup and other condiments come in a bag instead of a bottle.
-Ice cream comes in a bag.
-Milk comes in a small bottle or in shelf-stable cartons, in 1.5, 2.5, 3.5 and 4.5% varieties. You can get milk in a bag too!
-The macaroni I found is about twice the length of American macaroni and kind of spirals around…I love it! There are no boxes of mac-n-cheese or tuna helper though.
-Spices come in little envelopes instead of plastic containers. It’s kind of nice that you can buy one envelope for maybe 20 cents instead of a whole bottle if it’s something you don’t use much of. On the other hand, it’s easy to spill them!
-I found some German redi-whip type stuff called "Schlag Wunder" that is amazing. It actually stays puffy and doesn't "melt" quickly like redi-whip does. 
-Vanilla comes in a little packet and is called "vanilla sugar" or something like that. It's a powdered flavoring or some sort.
-Sugar and salt are much coarser ground in Ukraine than they are in America.
-Most bread comes "open stock" on the shelves. The loaf Bill bought this morning was still warm!
-Things they don't have here (or at least not in many places): chocolate chips, tortilla chips, cooking spray, baking powder, brown sugar, ranch dressing, pancake syrup (I made my own from sugar, brown sugar, vanilla and water and it is amazing!), sliced lunch meat and pre-shredded cheese. We'll have commissary privileges at the American Embassy soon to be able to buy some of the above items. I'm sure things will be expensive, but it will be nice to perhaps buy a bag of chocolate chips or tortilla chips, or maybe some cooking spray.

After four weeks, I’m feeling like I’m getting the hang of “cooking in Kiev”. I made a devil's food cake from scratch today (no cake mixes here!) and it turned out great, although I don't think they have powdered sugar, so I didn't make frosting. When we come home, I’m be excited to have items that I’ve missed, and cooking will certainly be easier, but I know there are new items here that I’ll miss too…maybe I can have you all over for some Ukrainian dishes that I’ll learn to cook this year.

Until then, have some ranch dressing and chocolate chip cookies for me!


Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Cooking in Kiev, Part 1

Different cooking equipment, different ingredients…some days, I feel like I’m learning to cook all over again. Most things have turned out great so far, a few not so good. I hope you’ll enjoy a bit about my experiences with grocery shopping and cooking in Kiev (which by the way is pronounced KEY-ev—a two-syllable word with the stress on the first syllable. I heard Ki-EV, Keev, Cave and finally asked what was correct and found out that you take the typical American way and switch which syllable is stressed).

The hot dogs were individually wrapped within the package.
 Part 1: Grocery Shopping:

The market is a lot of fun, and forces you to attempt to communicate with people more than you need to at the grocery store, where you can pretty much say nothing, unless you’re going to the deli or meat counter.

All sorts of produce are available inexpensively in the market, as well as dried beans and fruit, honey, etc. Then there’s the meat. As an American, I can’t stomach buying meat that has perhaps been sitting out all day without refrigeration. If you want to buy a pig’s head, no problem…you can buy one in the market. Bill came home from the market today with what must have been a 30-pound watermelon, based on the price per kilo and walked up the steps to our 7th floor apartment with it.

You can also stop at all sorts of stands selling cell phones, electrical cords, plumbing supplies, dishes, or pretty much anything else you may need to pick up. It’s a fun experience and I look forward to trying to patronize the same stands so I can get to know the merchants a bit.
Ketchup Aisle
Domino's delivers

The grocery stores have a lot of familiar and unfamiliar products. What they don’t have is tortilla chips (having to have potato chips with fajitas are a little weird!), chocolate chips, sliced lunchmeat, salsa, marshmallows and peanut butter. Oh, and syrup, ranch dressing and brown sugar and probably other stuff I haven’t missed yet. Fortunately, I’ll be able to get a pass to go to the commissary at the American Embassy to buy some of the above items (for a price, I’m sure) when I really want them.  At least I can make my own salsa and I made my own syrup from water, vanilla, sugar and brown sugar (that I brought with me).

What there’s a lot of: a whole aisle of various types of ketchup. In America, there are like 3 brands of ketchup plus the generic in various sizes. It’s all just ketchup, or maybe catsup just to give it some variety. Here, there are probably dozens of varieties of ketchup filling up an entire aisle. I bought Mexican ketchup last week, hoping it might be like taco sauce. It’s pretty much ketchup with a tiny taste of Mexican seasoning. There is also an entire aisle of different types of oil and another entire aisle of types of yogurt. The new yogurt varieties I’ve tried so far include kiwi-wheat and apple-cinnamon.

Oil Aisle

Lemon Juice
Another item that I love is the great variety of vegetable sauces that are available. There was one we had with pelmini (ravioli type things) last week that was AMAZING. I don’t know what’s in it ‘cause I can’t read the label, but it was wonderful. Tomato based sauces may never “cut it” again.

Unlike American grocery stores, the cereal section is very small. There are probably more choices for hot cereal, but for cold cereal, there’s a very small section with small boxes--no Malt-O-Meal large bags.

In fact, most things come only in small quantities. It’s hard for me to get used to, since I like to buy one big package of something and then not buy it again for a long time. It makes sense though that things are in small quantities. A lot of people don’t own cars, so they are walking home or taking public transportation with their purchases. Buying a 24-pack of toilet paper wouldn’t leave you much carrying space for other items that you had to carry home.

Grocery stores are relatively new to Ukraine. There are definitely elements of the stores in America that I miss, but there area few things that are different in the stores themselves that I love. First, the carts: all four wheels turn in all directions so that you can go sideways, as well as forwards and backwards. It’s SOOOO much easier to navigate crowded areas with these carts.
My favorite chocolate so far

Secondly, the cashiers all sit down. It may be more efficient to have standing cashiers, but I’m guessing the cashiers here appreciate not being on their feet all day. They probably get tired of the sitting. Maybe a happy medium between American and Ukranian checkouts would be the idea.

Finally, they are geniuses in the produce sections and other areas where things have to be weighed. In the produce area, you put each item on a scale with a worker who hits the appropriate code and puts a sticker on your bag. She is VERY efficient with this task since it’s all she does. When you get to the checkout , it goes much faster because everything is scanned and there is no looking up of codes by cashiers. It probably saves money too to not have scales built in to all the checkout lanes.

Yogurt Aisle 

Shelf Stable Milk
Now if they would only print their labels and signs in English just for me, then it wouldn’t take me so long to figure out what I’m buying. At least there are a lot of items with multiple languages. Sometimes, there’s English, sometimes German or something else that is easier to figure out than Russian is. I’m even discovering that when I sound out Russian words that there are a lot more cognates than I ever thought there would be. Even so, until they change the labels just for me, I guess I need to keep studying Russian.

Mushroom flavored chips
Vegetable sauce
Check back for part two in this series: Cooking in Kiev.