Sunday, 22 April 2012

A Visit to Russia and a Russian Inspired, Mushroom Stroganoff Pizza...

A few years ago I was very fortunate indeed, to be able to visit Russia and the Ukraine and was a guest for a lovely time at the British Embassy in Moscow. The stay in the British Embassy was amazing... 

They looked after us so well and it was such a treat and a privilege to stay in their lovely high-up penthouse apartment and each evening to sit outside on the decking with a glass of Russian champagne in hand and take in the sunset and surrounding vistas of the fascinating city of Moscow. 

An early evening view of the city of Moscow from our penthouse apartment at the British Embassy,

The view takes in one of the famous Moscow Seven Sisters, seen here on the left, part of the neo-classical buildings build in the Stalinist era and now, ironically, part of the Radisson Hotel group whose HQ is based in the USA.

And a few minutes later when the sun set, the lights shimmered across the water...

The Russian and Ukrainian cultures were so exotic and different from our own.

The local markets were not only full of stalls selling both the familiar and the unfamiliar vegetables and flowers but also selling amber jewellery, painted religious icons, fur hats and Matryoshka dolls...

The buildings in the cities were also amazing...

The interiors of the large churches we visited were on the whole, rather dark and gloomy and it was difficult to see around but when you came across a lit area, the views were incredible, with the walls covered in vibrant colours and gold leaf...

Each time you turned a corner inside these buildings, there were yet more beautiful views...

The sights we visited and saw were fantastic.

The weather, however, was not that good-frequent very heavy rain and even an unexpected mini tornado in the heart of the city of Moscow on one very, very scary occasion. And many thanks indeed to some gallant Russian policemen who saw us hanging onto to some spindly trees for dear life as the tornado suddenly hit and enabled us to take shelter in their local police station whilst the tornado passed by!

Afterwards it was really scary to see the devastation and debris on the path we would have been walking down. Huge billboards, fences and trees had been torn down and were strewn across the very path we would have been walking...

On other days it was much more peaceful...

There were some lovely sights to behold at the end of the day, when miraculously the weather would be calm and there would be a lovely pink sunset.

Even off the usual tourist trail there were incredible places to see, though we were usually the only English speaking people to be visiting...

You could turn a corner and just literally gasp at what you saw...

And just through an open doorway would be another incredible view...

Wedding parties would also visit the scenic spots-it was not unheard of for them to visit 12 places on the day of the wedding to get those all important photo opportunities-we saw many such couples...such as this one at The Hermitage in St Petersburg.

Just wonderful sights on every corner, but I won’t go on as I would be here all day...

Gardening wise I did not get to see many home gardens. Most of the local professional people I met, lived in very tiny city apartments and found the fact that I lived in a house with more than one bedroom and with a garden-albeit small-truly amazing indeed...The more well off i.e. consultant doctors had a second home in the countryside-a Dacha-here they would grow lots of fruit and vegetables which they would bring back to their city home. The Dachas though were far from being opulent, summer homes. Many were very simple and basic, lacking electricity etc and situated right next to main roads but were still considered a ‘luxury’ by Russian standards...

Food wise I had a ‘few’ problems as I do not eat meat...Much of the Russian cuisine revolves around meat for the well-off as it is considered a luxury. Trying to say I did not eat meat was difficult as that could be construed as an insult implying I did not think the host could afford meat... 

Luckily I eat fish, and one of the favourite dishes on offer was ‘fish and chips with champagne’.  The fish although called Salmon, was usually roast Sturgeon and served with fried potatoes coated in herbs and spices and the meal was accompanied with copious amounts of Russian champagne-which, I have to say, was dramatically cheaper than even the imported Pepsi or Coco cola!!!

In the Ukraine, there were many dishes with peppers, cream and paprika. We were advised though, by The British Foreign Office, to avoid dishes including mushrooms when visiting Kiev because of the resulting nuclear fallout from Chernobyl which still affects mushrooms even then, grown in the vicinity.

And as for Russian Vodka...well don’t get me started...I am a complete and utter novice, and even after many, many ‘lessons’ I am still an utter, lemon, lime, frozen, partly frozen, shots, mixers etc..
but I did enjoy those lessons...

Back to the food...

Continuing on the Russian theme...

Mushroom Stroganoff Pizza 

Many years ago I had the sublime pleasure of enjoying a Mushroom Stroganoff Pizza-not in Russia ironically but whilst visiting Swansea in Wales of all places...

Not your usual pizza I admit. The base was thin and crispy with a tangy tomato sauce overlaid with a scrumptious, creamy, mushroom stroganoff topping. The result was truly delicious....

Since then I have tried and tried to reproduce that fabulous pizza. I offer this version but it is still not quite search will therefore continue...

For the pizza base-and my thanks to my good friend Wobbly Mouse for the original recipe for the base which I have adapted slightly...

Pizza base
275g Flour (I used on this occasion a mixture of Welsh Oak Smoked flour and Spelt flour-both from the Bacheldre Welsh Flour mill)
1/2 sachet easy blend yeast
1 tsp British Extra Virgin British Rapeseed oil
200 ml hand hot water

For the topping
450g Mushrooms-torn into chunks
2 Onions-sliced
3 fat garlic cloves-finely crushed
 1 TBSP finely chopped fresh Thyme
2 tsp Sweet Spanish Paprika
 110g Crème Fraiche-I used Rodda’s Cornish Crème Fraiche
A small glass of Vodka
A small glass of white wine
140g Tomato puree
1 ball of Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella cheese-sliced
Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
 A little butter
Little British Extra Virgin British Rapeseed Oil

Sieve the flour into a large bowl, stir in a tsp of salt and the easy blend yeast.
Make a well in the middle, stir in the oil and water with a round bladed knife
Mix to form a soft, slightly sticky dough
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 15 minutes until a smooth, elastic dough is formed.
This will make one large pizza or two 25 smaller thin pizzas.

To form the base, stretch the dough out as thin as possible on a parchment lined tray.  Leave to rise in a warm place for 30/40 minutes.
Whilst the dough is rising, make the filling.

Thickly slice the onion and mushrooms and very gently fry in a little butter and rapeseed oil. Add the chopped garlic and finely chopped fresh thyme. Add the small glasses of vodka and white wine and burn off the alcohol for a couple of minutes.

Add the tsp of paprika and the Crème Fraiche, season with salt and pepper and very gently simmer until all is unctuous, creamily thick, and bubbly...You want the resulting mixture to be quite thick so it does not make the pizza base soggy when added. Once it has cooked, turn off the heat and allow it to cool slightly.

Heat the oven to 210C.

Once the base has risen cover it with the tomato puree. Make sure you spread the tomato right to the edges of the pizza. Add the cooled mushroom topping and spread evenly across the whole pizza. Top with thin slices of the mozzarella cheese.

Place in the top of the hot oven for 25 minutes until all is hot, bubbling and slightly golden-usually about 15 minutes or so.

That’s all for this post. I would be happy to post some more on my trip to Russia and the Ukraine and some more Russian inspired recipes if anyone is interested...

Apologies also to those that were expecting a post on wild food and wild garlic. It will be coming, but unfortunately I had a fall this week and severely injured my knee and, consequently, my mobility is somewhat impaired.

Plus it is pouring with rain this weekend-not my favourite weather to go walking in the woods-and considering last year I ended up scrabbling up steep banks of slippery clay slopes and even at one point having to climb a tree and edge out along a branch to return to my garden, I feel somewhat constrained this weekend to stay close to the house!!

Until next time, enjoy your evenings...wherever you may be...

A Moscow evening...


  1. I truly enjoyed your pictures of Russia although I would have loved to see more country pictures as well. Still they were not what I expected. What beautiful places!
    The pizza sounds very nice as well. I happen to love mushrooms so even without meat, I could thoroughly enjoy a mushroom pizza.

    1. Hi Becky,

      Thanks for stopping by. I think I have a few photos of the countryside which I could put on another post. We had to take care taking photos as The British Foreign Office warned us that areas away from the usual tourist spots are not used to strangers taking photos and it could be misconstrued-either by the locals or the Russian police-neither of which did we want to unintentionally upset!

  2. Sorry to hear about your fall. Hope you have not damaged yourself too seriously. Coincidentally my MIL had a fall last week too and is still in hospital as a result, but then she's 86 and not as agile as you!
    BTW the reason you can't quite get the Mushroom Stroganoff recipe right is porobably that it lacks one vital ingredient - radiation! I propose another visit to Kiev... :)

    1. Hi Mark,

      Well I was doing well...until lunchtime today when I slipped on the wet decking and fell after popping outside to cut some fresh herbs for lunch. Knee now swollen back up again and I’m hobbling around the house like an old crone!!

      Love your comment about my Pizza!!

  3. Oh how very annoying about your knee, I hope you feel better asap. Love the pictures of Russia. I went to Moscow on a school trip when I was 15, having just read War & Peace and was completely enamoured of the place. It's very different now of course. There were very few shops to be seen and many were not even 1/4 stocked - there was also much less traffic. I fell in love with Borscht which we had every day and some sort of fizy pear juice, but I don't remember much else about the food - I expect it was very plain. Even though I wasn't a vegetarian then, I was never very keen on meat or fish, so can only assume we didn't get very much of it.

    Slightly worried about your mushroom pizza after the radiation warning, but it sounds delicious. And if you'd achieved perfection this time, you'd have nothing left to strive for ;-)

    1. Hi Choclette,

      Moscow is wonderful being so different. I also loved St Petersburg and Kiev. Whilst in Kiev we stayed at a self catering apartment so visited the local markets which had a good choice of fruit and veg and the little grocery stores which even had the ubiquitous tins of Heinz baked beans!

  4. Your photos of Russia are so beautiful. That tornado sounds terrifying though. I did not know they got tornados in Russia. And what a shame about the food and the way the poor Russians live. It's such a beautiful country and it should be so wealthy and be able to offer its citizens a much better standard of living, but for politics! Great post xx

    1. Hi Charlie,

      I’m afraid the quality of the photo is not the best as it was my old camera which only took photos at a low resolution but thank you for your kind words!

      Yes it was a ‘mini’ tornado and the force was incredible. We were virtually lying on the ground hanging onto the tree trunk for dear life to stop being blown got to the point when we were having difficulties breathing as it felt the very air was being sucked away-luckily at that point the local police station over the other side of the road spotted us and came to the rescue!

  5. Thanks for the tour, your photos are stunning. Glad you were not hurt by the tornado. Hope your knee is better. Pizza sounds delicious.

    1. Hi Norma,

      Thank you so much for stopping by and your kind comments. In recovery mode now-hopefully-with the knee. Have a very colourful eight inch long bruise and a rather ‘puffy’ looking knee but I can hobble around in less pain now so things are looking much more positive!

  6. well i really enjoyed looking at pics of Russia, what lovely architect! and as im a veg im looking forward to making the mushroom dish. thanks for sharing :) x

    1. Hi Button Wilde-thanks for popping by here-loved looking at your blog too with your lovely knits!

  7. I really enjoyed going through the pictures. MY favorite is the view through the arched doorway. It really is great photography.

    P.s. The pizza looks delicious. A great post altogether.

    1. Hi Sri,

      Thank you so much indeed for your lovely kind comments-I have been very touched at how well the post was received! Thank you.

  8. Your posts still aren't updating on my Fav blog list - weird eh? I really enjoyed the Russia photos. I've never been but wish I went when I lived in Europe. I grew up with stories of my grandmother's trip there in 1969 and it sounds amazing. Hope your knee is improving.

    1. Hi Liz,

      Yes I noticed that too-and also not just on your blog. Which post it shows seems to be rather random...I have no idea why this happens. Perhaps if you delete then reinstate me it will correct itself-just a thought...

      I bet your grandmother’ trip to Russia was fascinating-especially in 1969 when there were a lot less tourists then.

      My knee is getting better thank you-it hasn’t given way at all today which must be a positive sign.

  9. I'm always mystified when friends would use the word "Russian" as an adjective, as in, "Well, his interpretation was very Russian." I think they mean "enthusiastically emotive," as your photos capture so well!

    1. Glad you liked the post! It was a really interesting time there and I would love to do a return visit at some point.

  10. What a special place to visit - all your photos had me oohing and aaahing - The Hermitage, with the statues supporting the upper floors is without doubt my favourite - but then I go back and see the wonderful shapes and colours, the gold and the artwork in the others...
    Sorry to hear about your fall, I hope you are well and truly on the mend.
    Lovely mushroom recipe, like you I don't eat meat but I do eat fish.

    1. Hi Elaine,

      It was indeed a special place to visit as nowhere that I had been to before was quite like it. I couldn’t stop looking at the onion shaped turrets and the beautiful vibrant colours.

      The Hermitage Art museum in St Petersburg is truly huge and even spending the best part of two days looking around it was not enough to see everything. In each of the cities we visited there were some fabulous museums with incredible art collections. The staff in these places-especially the small out of the way museums were incredibly helpful and friendly to me as a non Russian speaking visitor and usually found an English speaking person to show me around and were clearly very proud of their history.

      Glad you liked the sound of the pizza! Knee doing much better today thanks!!

  11. What a wonderful trip you enjoyed! And staying at the Embassy sure did take the hassle out of trying to find accommodations that would be as good as advertised. You took some great photos and I'm sure you've many more. I imagine it would be hard not to try to capture everything when in a city so beautiful. On top of all that, you gave us this delicious pizza recipe that I'm sure I'll love. This was a great post!

    1. Hi John,

      Thank you so much for stopping by. Yes staying at the Embassy was fantastic! The other places we stayed at on that trip weren’t quite so grand...
      So glad you and everybody else have liked the post. It wasn’t the one I had originally planned but after injuring my knee I had to quickly put something else together but it seems to have worked out ok!

  12. The colors in those photos are just astounding. Tornadoes are common where I live (in the middle of the US), but I had no idea that they happened in Russia! As some of the other comments mentioned, I would also love to see pictures of the countryside.

    1. Thanks so much for leaving a comment. I’m just sorting out some of my photos of the Russian countryside for my next post-hope you will like them!

      Ps-hope all is going well with your new goats-little Eleanor is so sweet!!

  13. Loved the beautiful photos of Russia. I have always wanted to go there but my husband has no interest. The pizza sounds great! I hope you are on the mend.

    1. Hi Karen,

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope you like the new post with yet more photos!!

      Thankfully the knee is so much better now and almost back to ‘full working order’...fingers crossed...

  14. Fish and chips with champagne...? Haha, I love it! :D What an incredible trip - I've always wanted to visit Russia, and Belarus too. I had a friend there who I sadly fell out of touch with a bit although we sometimes mail each other from time to time randomly. Thanks for sharing the photos... staying in a penthouse in the British Embassy in Moscow? Now that's what I call "holidaying in style" :D

    1. Hi Charles,

      Yep-fish and chips with champagne is the way to go!! A bottle of Russian champagne was cheaper than a can of Pepsi! Not quite the same here now...

  15. Thanks for following me - am following back. Moscow looks amazing! It's nice that the pizza reminded you of your trip, it sounds like an interesting combination!

    1. Yes Moscow was amazing plus the cities of St Petersburg and Kiev. It was a fab experience indeed!

  16. What have you done to my pizza - mushrooms yuuuuuuuuuuk, they were right they should be avoided at all costs - nuclear fallout or not!!!!! No that's just me it looks amazing and if I couldn't eat them really yummy. The pictures are an ablsolute wow, what an amazing place so different to the architecture we see here or in our closest neighbours. The culture shock must have been great although I'm glad to see you tried hard to understand the Vodka!
    How's the knee now, hope you are well and truely on the mend now, if not let me know and i'll bring cake or I can just bring cake anyway?

    1. Oh I guess that’s a big no then if you come around for lunch and I do this pizza then...just teasing! Would I give you mushrooms!! Have to say your base worked a treat, mushrooms or no mushrooms...

      Knee behaving itself now-bruises at the delightful yellow/green stage but good news is that it hasn’t given way on me for 3 day now so big positive! However I’m convinced full recovery will only depend on administration of therapeutic cake...


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