My mother's mother was a Stroganoff," said Russian-born Mrs. Lester Armour of Lake Bluff, Ill. as she prepared to serve her own delicious version of beef Stroganoff. "I think the dish was either an invention of, or was named for, a cousin, Count Paul Stroganoff."
Outside the window the snow was piled as deep as it might be in Novgorod, where "Aleka" Armour started life as Princess Alexandra Galitzine. I asked her if she had been taught to cook in her native country. "No," she explained. "We escaped to England when I was a child, in 1923. But nearly all White Russians love food and have learned, as refugees, to cook well." She finds the classic beef Stroganoff an easy dish to make. [Thin slices of tenderloin are sautéed with chopped onion and combined with sautéed mushrooms and sour cream. The whole can be heated conveniently in a chafing dish for immediate serving, as shown on the opposite page.]
Aleka Armour was previously married to Prince Rostislav Romanoff, and her son Rusty, a junior at Yale, is the great-grandson of Czar Alexander III. Her present husband, Lester Armour, is board chairman of the Chicago National Bank. Their house in Lake Bluff, recognizable as one of the more grandiose conceptions of that palazzo-minded architect, the late David Adler, has been the scene of many splendid entertainments.
But both Armours are happiest when they can escape to their cottage at Pebble Beach, Calif., where they go very frequently and where they play golf all day, every day. Here Aleka loves to plan meals, to fetch crabs from the local fishing wharf and to shop for chickens and fresh vegetables in country markets. And here she does all the cooking, "in a wonderful kitchen with all the gadgets."
"I have thought of all the short cuts," she told me, "so we can be on the golf course as many hours as possible. For instance, there is a variant of Stroganoff that I invented. I make it in the morning, up to the point of arranging everything in a casserole, and set it in the icebox. We play golf all day and eat lunch at the Cypress Point Club (there is such a good French chef there). When we come in I simply put the dish in the oven for about an hour and it is ready to eat by the time we have changed our clothes and had drinks. I serve it with rice cooked in chicken broth or with frozen whipped potatoes or buttered noodles—all of them quick to make."
If there is a friend or two staying for supper, she often adds a dish of baked tomatoes and finishes the meal with an easy dessert, such as lemon ice with cr√®me de menthe poured over it at the last minute. But to return to the main course—here is Mrs. Armour's sporting adaptation of a great dish:
EASY BEEF STROGANOFF (a supper for two hungry people)
¾ pound beef tenderloin
½ can consommé
½ pint sour cream
Salt, pepper, mustard
1 onion, diced
½ pound mushrooms, unpeeled, cut in small pieces
Cut the beef in strips½ inch thick. Place between layers of wax paper and beat till very thin with a potato masher or some other flat instrument. Toss the pieces of meat in a paper bag with a little flour. Brush off excess flour. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown pieces in butter in a hot iron fry pan, then remove from pan and reserve.
Pour the consommé into pan and scrape to collect the "browning" and make a sort of gravy. Add a pinch or two of dry mustard or a teaspoon of prepared mustard. When bubbling, stir, mixing well, into the sour cream placed in a bowl. Pour mixture back into fry pan to heat for a couple of minutes, but do not boil. Turn off heat.
Meanwhile, you have browned the onion in butter in another pan. Add the mushrooms and cook them four minutes, stirring. Add 1 teaspoon salt, which brings the juice out of the mushrooms. In another minute stir in 2 tablespoons of the hot sour-cream gravy and remove from heat.
Now, in a small baking dish, make a layer of meat pieces, cover with a layer of the mushroom-onion mixture and repeat, spooning a little gravy over each layer, till dish is filled. Over the top pour the rest of the sour-cream gravy.
Cook in a medium oven, covered, for¾ hour, removing cover for the last few minutes to brown the surface. If dish is made in the morning, kept in icebox during the day and reheated at night, it will take about an hour to cook in the oven.