A Moscow Mule and Pickled Beets

This round of Cook the Books is hosted by Simona (briciole) and features Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food & Longing by Anya Von Bremzen.

“So what happens when some of your most intense culinary memories involve  foods you hadn’t actually tasted? “(2).  You listen to your mom reading Proust endlessly simply because it’s about really delicious palatable cookies.

On page two, Anya Von Bremzen sums up her family tradition of  longing for food and growing up in the USSR where communal kitchens with multiple pots of bubbling, collective, meager, mystery soups were the norm.

My sister and I both read this book.  She loved it and thought it was hilarious.  I wanted to love it and think it was hilarious.   Although I enjoyed the book and am glad it was a CTB feature, I felt like I was reading more of a history book than a memoir of “food and longing.”   The food described in Von Bremzen’s book is not only from the Soviet era, but also examines Tzarist Russia.  Van Bremzen includes recipes from each era of Soviet history starting with the 1910s  and she does include personal family hednotes for many.

I had a difficult time perusing through the first few chapters of the book as Von Bremzen retells the stories of her grandparents and mother.  It might have been the third-party retelling or it might have been the more than dismal portrayal of WW II, but I couldn’t connect with the author’s tale.

As her story becomes her own and she and her mother emigrate to the US, I became more responsive.   I even thought her description of her early childhood in the USSR as a bit witty, ironically enough.  There were moments where I still thought I would love the book.

I could have done borscht or madeleines  or gefilte fish or a number of the other recipes mentioned in the book.

But instead….drum roll, please….you know I made a cocktail.   (How many times have I written that?)

I also couldn’t get past the need to make something with beets, hence the following Red Wine Pickled Beets recipe.

Notice the play on RED?


For the Moscow mule, you must first make the Red Pepper Infused Vodka.

Red Pepper Infused Vodka


Besides making Moscow Mules with a kick, use this for a spicy Bloody Mary.


  • 2 c. vodka
  • 2 dried Thai chiles, broken up a bit
  • 1 pint size mason jar with lid (sterilized)


  1. Place vodka and chiles in the jar and screw on lid.
  2. Put jar in a cool dark place (like a cabinet) for at least 3 days and up to a week. Shake once every day.
  3. After 2-3 days, strain the vodka. You may place the strained vodka back in the same jar.

I was at the liquor  store counter with our favorite local (sort of) vodka when the owner told me she had a sale going on another vodka that the staff enjoyed much more—Hammer & Sickle.

How could I refuse and what serendipity.

After your spicy vodka is infused, whip up your cocktail.  (For the skinny on the Moscow Mule, check out John’s (Kitchen Riffs) history lesson on the marketing ploys to increase vodka and copper cup sales.)

Moscow Mule with Red Pepper Infused Vodka


This mule packs a kick. Tired old joke I know….how about “You can’t have just one, comrade.”


  • 2 oz. Red Pepper Infused Vodka (see above recipe)
  • 1 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 3-4 oz. ginger beer (The hard kind.)
  • garnishes: lime slice and dried chile pepper


  • Add ice to a copper cup (or whatever serving vessel you desire).
  • Add the red pepper infused vodka and lime juice.
  • Then top up with ginger beer.
  • Stir.
  • Add the garnishes.
  • Drink

За здоровье!

I was going to leave well enough alone with just a cocktail for this round of CTB, but I could not get beets out of my mind.  I had one lone jar of pickled beets left in the pantry that needed used up and I did want to share this fantastic recipe.  (In fact, I’m not sure why I hadn’t shared it before.)

Red Wine Pickled Beets with Rosemary

This is a slightly adapted recipe from The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant.


  • 3 lbs. beets
  • 2-3 T. olive oil
  • fine sea salt
  • 2 c. red wine vinegar (at least 5% acidity)
  • 1 c. red wine
  • 1/2 c. filtered water
  • 1/4 c. local honey
  • 1/3 c. brown sugar, packed
  • 1 T. Kosher salt
  • 2 t. black peppercorns
  • 4 rosemary sprigs (about 3 inches long)
  • 4 pint jars with lids, sterilized


  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Wash and dry the beets and trim away the greens. Toss the beets with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Place in a 9 x 9-inch baking dish and cover with foil. Roast 1 hour or until tender. Let cool.
  3. Once the beets are cool enough to handle, rub off the outer skin and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices or wedges. (Your preference).
    Prepare a water bath for canning.
  4. In a saucepan, bring the vinegar, wine, water, honey, sugar and salt to a boil. Make sure the sugar is dissolved. Keep hot.
  5. Remove sterilized jars from oven or boiling water (your preference on sterilization). Place 1/2 t. peppercorns and 1 rosemary sprig in each jar. Pack in beets. Carefully pour the hot brine over the beets, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Check the jars for air bubbles and use a wooden skewer if necessary to remove air pockets. Add more brine as needed.
  6. Wipe the rims clean, seal with the lids and bands.
  7. Place the jars in a water bath, covered by 1 inch of water. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the jars in the water for a few minutes.

You can use any leftover roasted beets that might not fit into your jars for a salad.

I know my sister (a Poli-Sci professor AND someone who actually traveled to the USSR when it was the USSR) is more cerebral than I and perhaps that is why she enjoyed this book so much.


As for me, I’m glad CTB and Simona (briciole) introduced me to the material, but I just couldn’t connect with the author.  Instead of a personal journey, I felt like I was reading history, even as she was telling her own tale.

I will also fully admit that I copped out in some ways with my cocktail and beets.  As I finished the book and read of Van Bremzen’s father heroically inviting her and her mother (the ex) to a soirée of gratinéed  cheese toast with adzhika ( spicy Georgian chile paste), satsivi (creamy walnut chicken),  and borscht “painstakingly” extracted from the fresh juices of beets and carrots, I felt a little bit remorseful I didn’t do something more authentic and challenging.

But still, I present a cocktail and pickled beets.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking closes out this round of selections for Cook the Books.   We have chosen the next four books for August 2017 through March 2018.

For the announcement post, click here.  Please join us!

I’m also linking up to Foodies Read for July.

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