The great thing about being an adult is that you’re free to either continue the traditions of your past, or to create totally new ones of your own design. I’ve started one that I call the “Mock Holiday.” It’s usually held the week after an actual holiday because it’s cheaper to rent costumes and they’re more available. Costumes, you say? Well of course! Holidays should be festive, and besides, it’s always better to overindulge and possibly have the contents of your just-eaten dinner magically reappear, while wearing someone else’s clothing. Our mock holidays are always planned around a lavish dinner prepared and contributed to by each member of the family. And when I say family, I mean a twisted group of like-minded acquaintances that meet on an annual basis to dine, drink and celebrate each others’ company, always at the expense of the poor bastard who has to host it at their place. Some of our past Mock Holidays have included a ‘Zombie Thanksgiving’ where each participate had to dress up in full pilgrim attire while sporting their best white-faced, brain craving makeup; ‘Super Hero Trans-Gender Christmas’ where everyone arrives dressed as their favorite opposite-sex comic book crusader, (you should have seen my She-Hulk); and our ‘Easter Playboy All-Nighter’ where all of the guys dressed in pajamas and smoking jackets, and the girls dress up as….bunnies!
Our one rule about following a traditional holiday with a mock holiday is that we can’t have traditional food like turkey for Thanksgiving or ham for Easter. Our Mock Holidays are just an excuse to get together and eat copiously, so it’s up to the current host to decide the menu. ‘Zombie Thanksgiving’ featured deep-dish pizzas while ‘Easter Playboy All-Nighter’ had lobster thermidor. Our only tradition is to be untraditional!
This weekend is no exception. To celebrate ‘Slave Labor Day’ (which is the buzz-kill of all holidays as it marks the end of summer), forget about brats and burgers and say hello to a traditional Russian feast featuring ice cold vodka, borscht and beef stroganoff! Why Russian? Hell, why not? Actually it’s where my finger landed when I closed my eyes and picked a volume from my cookbook library. And that’s the reason why I’m including my borscht recipe. It’s a little untraditional as I like to sear my beef cubes prior to boiling my stock, but then that seems to be the central theme here. So go forth and celebrate ‘Slave Labor Day’ in style! And help me make a decision here; should I go as a Chinese railroad laborer or an Egyptian pyramid builder?
2 pound boneless beef chuck roast
2 smoked ham hocks
6 slices of un-cured bacon
1 rib of celery with leaves
1 large parsnip (all vegetables should be cut into quarters)
3 dill sprigs, 3 parsley sprigs, 4 bay leaves, 10 peppercorns
4 cloves of garlic smashed
Salt to taste
2 large beets
2 large boiling potatoes
1 28 ounces can of crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
1//4 cup of canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large green pepper, cored and chopped
1 small head of green cabbage, chopped
6 pitted prunes, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley
3 tablespoons of fresh chopped dill
Before you start your stock, preheat your oven to 375. Wash and wrap the beets individually in foil and place them on a rimmed pan in the oven for an hour and fifteen minutes. (They should be ready right around the time that the stock is finished.) Take them out and let them cool, then peel them and coarsely chop.
To start the stock, get a large pot and fry up the 6 slices of bacon. Keep turning them so that they don’t stick to the bottom. Cut your chuck roast into cubes and then remove the cooked bacon from the pot and reserve. Turn the heat up to high and sear the beef cubes. I do them all at once instead of in batches because they release a little water and I want all of that in my stock. Once the meat has been browned, add the rest of the stock ingredients (not including the cooked bacon), and fill the pot with cold water up to about 2 inches from the top. Bring this to a boil and then turn it down to a rolling simmer for at least 45 minutes. Skim the foam at it rises to the top. Once the stock is ready, strain it and save the beef cubes and ham hocks and discard all of the other solids. Cut the meat off of the ham hocks and reserve with the beef cubes. Bring the strained stock back up to a boil.
Now I like to let my soup cook for a couple of hours at a slow simmer once all of the ingredients are in the pot and I don’t want my potatoes to break down into mush, so I usually add them at the end, about an hour before I’m going to serve the soup. If you don’t have that kind of time, add them last and let the borscht simmer for at least one hour before serving. I usually make this the day before and let it cool and then refrigerate it overnight, then slowly bring it back up to a simmer before serving it. Either way, this stuff is addictive!
So once the stock is boiling, turn it down to a rolling simmer and add the crushed tomatoes and their juices, along with the chopped beets, tomato paste and prunes. Get a large non-stick pan and add the canola oil and then cook the chopped onion, carrot and green pepper until they begin to soften. Add the chopped cabbage, stir and continue cooking. The cabbage will shrink as it softens. This usually takes about ten minutes. Add the cooked vegetables to the stock, along with the reserved beef cubes and ham hock meat. If you don’t have a lot of time, this is where you want to add the cubed potatoes along with the parsley, dill and garlic. Chop up and add the reserved bacon. Add salt and pepper to taste and let it simmer partially covered for at least an hour. Serve it with crusty bread and a healthy dollop of sour cream and pass the vodka!