Monthly Archives: November 2012

Christmas Dinner {Part 2}-Potatoes a la Russe and a Love Story

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Before I share this recipe with you I would like to warn you that a floodgate of sentimental mush is going to come forth with it. It is not  just a recipe it’s a story of me and my then-boyfriend-now-husband Brad and our journey of bringing two very foreign lives together in order to make sense of our future.

When I moved from Russia to the States I often got asked what kind of food we ate back in the Motherland but if my answers didn’t include cabbage or vodka they only led to disappointment from my college classmates. To put an end to all the confusion I went to Barnes and Nobel one day and purchased a very thick and legit looking Russian cookbook-The Art of Russian Cuisine by Anne Volokh to arm myself with a variety of authentic Russian recipes to share.

Potatoes a la Russe was one of the them although I have to admit it existed in the book under a different name perhaps slightly more prosaic and much less French.

You are probably wondering where exactly love comes into all this food talk. Well, food and love are always connected- you can’t possibly cook great food without putting love into it AND everything tastes so much better when you are in love.

The story takes us to my college days when Brad and I were still dating . We were very young and in love and completely broke. We had no money to go on all the thrilling, mind-blowing dates we often saw in rom coms. We had to get creative! Cooking together in a small student kitchen on our college campus was one of our favourite pastimes. It was so much fun to “play house” with him and also introduce him to some of the dishes I grew up with, then watch his reaction. Thumbs up or thumbs down. Not all ethnic recipes translate well to North American tastes but this particular one I am about to share with you does. I am pretty sure Potatoes a la Russe made Brad fall in love and realize it was unlikely he could live the rest of his life without those potatoes…and me.

So be prepared this dish has magic properties. You can even say it’s a Love Potion of sorts. The most beautiful thing is that it’s dead simple and requires very basic ingredients.

potato bake ingredients

Ingredients:

Potatoes-4-5 medium

Onion-1 medium

Mushrooms- 100gr

Parsley-4-5 sprigs

Creme Fraiche or Sour Cream

Butter-3 tbsp.

Salt and Pepper

Hard and Sharp Tasting Cheese like Parmesan (I used Pecorino as that’s what I had in the fridge)

Method:

sliced potatoes

Preheat your oven to 350F/180C. Butter an oven proof dish and set aside. Heat your non-stick frying pan and melt a tablespoon of butter into it. I can already predict that people will want to substitute butter with oil or margarine and I am going to stop you in your tracks. Don’t do it! Butter is where your flavour comes from. Don’t mess with perfection!

Slice you potatoes (not too thin) and fry them in batches until golden, season with salt and pepper. Take them off the heat once they are nicely coloured even if they are still hard on the inside, we will bake them later till doneness.

sliced mushrooms

Now slice the mushrooms and fry them in the same pan over a medium heat adding more butter and seasoning them with salt and pepper. Chop up your parsley and sprinkle all over mushrooms and cook 2-3 min. longer until all the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates. Set aside.

sliced onions

Slice the onions and fry them as well. Now all of your ingredients are ready for layering.

The layering of this dish is very similar to lasagne, so I am confident you will master it. First arrange your slices of potatoes on the bottom of your dish and scatter onions on top of them. layering 1
Next layer mushrooms.
layering 2
And then repeat all the layers one more time finishing with a thin layer of creme fraiche.
layering 3
Finish it off with sprinkling of grated sharp cheese.
layering 4
Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until heated through and the cheese is golden.
potato bake final
Every beautiful thing is essentially simple but simple doesn’t have to be dull. This potato dish is a proof that a few great quality ingredients put together in a loving way can produce flavours that are far from plain. The mushrooms, potatoes, onions and butter together are so earthy, gratifying and deliciously nostalgic of childhood and simpler days you would want to eat it every time you are faced with the harsh reality of the world. Comfort food indeed!
P.S. In no way this post was promoting or supporting”emotional eating”:-). All the beautiful food should be eaten in moderation and enjoyed with friends and family, they are the “real” mood lifters, not butter!

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Chocolate Stout Cake – Sneak Peek

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I am literally bursting with all kinds of excitement and pride right now. I just cannot wait to blog about this cake! Chocolate +Stout =Match Made In Heaven! Its delicious chocolatey goodness is all I can think about at this moment… BUT I have a husband whose birthday is waiting to be celebrated and a scrumptious cake to be eaten, so excuse me for now and come back LATER!

Christmas Dinner- Roasted Pork Leg with Port Gravy {Part 1}

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Believe it or not but this entire post in 3 parts was inspired by my most recent acquisition from the Greenwich market- this antique meat carving set. The vendor kept warning us about the sharpness of the blade so I had very little choice but to buy a chunk of meat and test it for myself!

Also, I am becoming very keenly aware that Christmas is very fast approaching and I would love to offer you some wonderful options from the Vikalinka’s kitchen for your festive dinner. This post is all about the meat and gravy but in the subsequent parts I will be telling all about your sides like potato and stuffing. So stay with me for the whole run!

I don’t know how you feel about roasts but I’ve always been a fan. Nothing is easier and more satisfying than throwing a big hunk of meat in the oven waiting for a couple of hours and then feasting on it for days and making your house smell heavenly in the process! My love for them only grew deeper when we moved to England where a Sunday Roast is a century-old tradition. When it comes to roasting meat I trust my favourite chef (who also happens to be a Brit), Jamie Oliver, more than anybody else in the world, even my own mother. I’ve looked through at least 6 of his recipes for different cuts and this is what I came up with- a hybrid of sorts but delicious and tender nonetheless.

Ingredients:

Pork leg- 6-7 lbs

Carrot-2 medium

Celery-2 stalks

Onion-1 medium

Sage and Rosemary- 2-3 sprigs of each

garlic-3 cloves

salt and pepper

For Port Gravy:

Flour-1 tbsp.

Port-1/4 c.

Stock- 2 c.

Method:

Preheat your oven to the highest temperature.Take your pork leg out of the fridge, rinse it with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Lay it on the cutting board skin side up and make slits on the skin with a sharp knife. Rub the meat with salt and paper. Take your herbs and vegetables and roughly chop them up while leaving garlic whole but smashed. Put them in the middle of your roasting pan and place the pork leg directly on top of them like that.

Place the pork in the oven and cook at 475F/250C for about 10-15 min allowing the skin to blister up, then turn the temperature down to 350F/180C and cook for 2 hours or until the internal temperature is 145F/60C basting it with the pork drippings half-way through. If you don’t have a meat thermometer I highly recommend buying one. They are inexpensive and a great way to make sure you don’t overcook your meat and end up with something that tastes like a shoe.They are quite important as oven temperatures vary so much that going by the internal temperature of your roast is much better than the cooking time in the recipe. I suspect that the reason many people stay away from roasts is because of the memories of dry and overcooked meat from their childhood.

When your roast is done. It should look similar to this one.

Remove the roast from the pan and set it aside. Cover it with foil if you plan on eating later. On the side note, once you take the roast out of the oven and cover it, the temperature will rise a bit more as the the internal cooking is still happening. That is why it’s important to watch the temperature and take it out of the oven sooner rather than later.

Next on the list is gravy. I cook mine in the same pan where I cooked the roast. This way you can use all the drippings and the burnt bits. That’s where the flavour is going to come from…well that and port, of course!

Sprinkle your flour over the pan and blend it in the fat. (I drain most of the fat but leave about a tablespoon.) Remember all the herbs and vegetables that were hidden under the roast? They should be nice and very soft right now. Mash them with the potato masher and blend everything together. The mixture will be very chunky but we won’t worry about it right now. Add port and let it cook for a couple of minutes, let the flavour seep into the gravy and then add the stock. Turn the heat up and allow the gravy to thicken, just watch it bubble away and enjoy the aroma that rises from it. When the gravy reached the right consistency take it off the heat and strain into a gravy dish leaving all the vegetable bits behind.I can’t begin to tell you how much the roasted veggies and port in this recipe improve and add depth to the overall taste of the gravy. The sweetness that port offers works particularly well with the pork. Please, please, please give it a try! I promise you won’t regret it! And when you do try it let me know your thoughts. Also, don’t forget to come back for Part 2 and 3 of this fabulous meal.

It was such a hit with the whole family that the last words of my 6-year old before bed were: “Mummy, can I please have more of that pig tomorrow?”

 

 

 

Beef Wellington ( the humble version)

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Ground Beef WellingtonToday is American Thanksgiving and I am quite sure their bellies are going to be full of all kinds of amazing food. I am also sure this post is going to be absolutely irrelevant to the nation quietly snoring on their couches by 5pm. As for the rest of the world…well, we still gotta eat something. What I am bringing to you today is a humble, speedy but no less delicious version of grand Beef Wellington.  Traditionally Beef Wellington is prepared with a good cut of beef but our recipe calls for ground beef which is much cheaper and less intimidating to work with. While I’ve always wanted to make the “real” version I never seemed to be able to justify spending the money on the high priced chunk of beef. When Jamie Oliver came up with this recipe I knew it would become a regular week night dinner option. On a side note, I would like to express my love and devotion to Jamie Oliver. Isn’t that guy amazing?!! I simply adore his food. I follow him on Twitter, I follow him on Instagram, I subscribe to his daily recipe, I watch him on TV and I have at least 5 of his books! Wow, I think I just scared myself with my passion for the man! No intervention needed I think I got it under control.

Right, back to food.This tasty dish is a winner with everyone, from young to old. It’s beautiful and will make you look like you possess chef-like skills in the kitchen while it’s a breeze to make. Ready?

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 potato
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 portobello mushrooms or 5 regular button mushrooms
  • olive oil
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary or thyme (your choice)
  • 1/2 cup of frozen peas
  • 1 egg
  • 1lbs of ground beef/mince meat( I used  a half and half mix of extra lean beef and pork)
  • 1 package of store-bought puff pastry -500gr
  • flour for dusting and rolling
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350F/180C and take your pastry out of the fridge to soften a bit. Peel onion, carrot and potato. Dice all the vegetables (except the peas!) into similar size pieces, put your frying pan on a medium heat with 2 tbls. of olive oil, chop up your herbs and squeeze the garlic through a garlic press or chop it up with a knife and throw them in the pan as well. Gently saute everything stirring occasionally until your vegetables are tender and onions are translucent. It will take about 5-8 minutes. Then transfer your mixture into a bowl and cool completely.

Ground Beef Wellingon

Once it’s cooled enough to touch add your beef and peas to it. Here is your chance to play with your food-get into the bowl with your hands and start mixing everything together adding salt and pepper and a half of your beaten egg, reserve the rest for the pastry. If you are one of those people who really doesn’t like to touch meat I recommend buying kitchen gloves for instances like that because it’s really important to get into the mixture with your hands to ensure even distribution of all the nice bits plus it’s just fun!

Ground Beef Wellington

Dust your clean work surface with a handful of flour and roll out your pastry to a 1/4 inch thickness or use an already rolled one!

Shape your beef mixture into a log and place it on your rolled out pastry sheet, brush the edges with the reserved egg. Roll it up tucking the ends inside like a giant burrito, brush with the egg all over and place it on a baking sheet seam down.

Ground Beef Wellington

Bake Beef Wellington in the preheated oven for 45 min to an hour depending on your oven until golden.

That’s what mine looked like…

Ground Beef Wellington

Serve your Wellington with a simple green salad or roasted potatoes if you wanted it to be a heftier meal.

Ground Beef Wellington
Enjoy and come back for more!
Ground Beef Wellington

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

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Pumpkin Spice Latte CupcakesThese cupcakes were born out of my never ending longing for Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes that were not available in England last autumn. I’ve moved so many times in my life that I’ve developed a certain strategy by now. My way of coping with the change is to bring as many familiar things into my life as possible to alleviate the stress of it for a time until I no longer need them.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes were a result of one of my experiments in the kitchen that worked well the first time. I love when that happens! In this case I combined two recipes- my favourite Pumpkin Muffin recipe that was given to me by a dear friend Barbara from my church in Canada and the icing came from Sweetapolita’s Vanilla Bean Latte Cake. Well, let’s jump to it.

Cupcake Recipe

Ingredients:

4 1/2 c. flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 salt
3 tsp. cinnamon and 1tsp. mixed pumpkin spice(nutmeg, cloves, ginger)
2 1/4 c oil
3 c. white sugar
6 eggs
1 large can 28 oz of pumpkin pure or use your own as I did

Directions:
Mix first 5 ingredients, add next 3, than the last one.
Bake at 325 F/160C for 25-30 min.

Easy peazy lemon squeezy. Please, don’t judge me for saying that but when you are a mom of two primary school children a lot of unnecessary stuff is rattling in your brain!

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Right, this particular Buttercream recipe takes longer than the traditional American Buttercream but has much superior taste, so for me it’s worth the effort. Don’t be intimidated to attempt it, especially if you have a stand mixer like KitchenAid or any other brand-the machine is practically doing it for you!

Ingredients:

6 large egg whites
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups(340 g) unsalted butter, softened but cool, cut into cubes
1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder dissolved into 1 teaspoon boiling water
Pinch of salt

Directions:

Cut your butter into cubes and set aside. Clean your mixing bowl very well making sure there are no traces of grease left on it from previous use. I wiped it and the beater with a bit of lemon juice. Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks (refrigerate the yolks for another day in the kitchen). Set a large pot about 1/3 full of water on the stove on medium heat. Combine egg whites and sugar in your mixing bowl with a whisk and set the bowl inside the pot of simmering water to create a double boiler. Heat the mixture while constantly whisking it. I am serious about the word “constantly”. Do not walk away from it under any circumstances or you will boil your egg whites. Continue whisking until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is hot.

Take the bowl out of the pot and start whisking the eggs whites with a whisk attachment until the mixture is no longer warm and looks thick and glossy. It will take about 10 minutes.  And will look like this. The next step is combining the meringue with butter but don’t start putting butter yet if your bowl is still warm to the touch.

Switch to a paddle attachment and start adding your cubes of butter one at a time and continue beating until each cube is fully incorporated. Add your vanilla and coffee flavour last. Now I have heard many times that at this point in the process your buttercream might curdle but because it never happened to me I thought that the people just didn’t follow the directions properly! Well, it curdled today but I knew that I just had to keep beating and it would come back together. I beat and beat and beat and then beat some more. Then I switched to a whisk attachment and continued beating because the icing would just not submit! In the end I conquered it and the awful cottage cheese like icing turned into fluffy, silky and delicious!

Pipe your beautiful Buttercream on the cupcakes using a star tip and decorate with a coffee bean or however your creativity inspires you.

A perfect treat for this November day. I do hope you will give these cupcakes a try.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

If you really would rather not spend the time making Swiss Meringue Buttercream I would recommend adding a bit of coffee flavour to the regular Buttercream and this way you too will end up with something like this…

Pumpkin Spice Latte CupcakesEnjoy!

 

Rudolph, the red meat reindeer…

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There is a chain of stores in the UK called Lidl and anyone who has lived in Europe will immediately smile as soon as they hear the name as the chain has a presence in a few European countries. That store is truly amazing for two reasons-their low prices and their absolutely the most random and unpredictable selection of the stock they carry. I am not sure how they manage to keep the prices down but I am guessing it’s due to the European Union free trade laws and also because they sell the least known and recognized brands from all over Europe.
Searching of the unexpected discovery of the week is one of my favourite reasons for going there. What will I find at Lidl today? It was the store that had frozen turkeys in October just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving while no other store in all of London would bring them in till late November for the Christmas season.
As per my usual custom after I drop the kidlets at school I stop at Lidl once a week or twice, maybe thrice who is counting. Am I ever glad I stopped this week because I was not disappointed! They had everything you would EVER want-from recorders and ukuleles to reindeer steaks and Cherry Schnapps! It is not a big store! When I got to the frozen meat section all of my usual restraint got up and left and this is what I came away with…

Siberian Reindeer, Venison, a Duck and a Goose

And a ukulele. Not for myself. Honestly.

While I was hauling this unusually heavy lot to my flat I couldn’t stop thinking of what kind of Christmas and post-Christmas meals I will be cooking. Aren’t you curious about what is going to come out of the Vikalinka’s kitchen? Come and visit often! Great things are coming!!

Saturday morning brunch-Russian sweet cheese fritters “Syrniki”

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Syrniki Russian sweet cheese fritters.
As a child I always liked Saturday mornings. They meant special breakfast for us. I grew up with a mom who worked full time. She had an important job as an engineer so every morning my brother and I had pretty simple breakfasts before heading to school. She loved to spoil us on the weekends by making something special for breakfast. I still remember waking up to the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. Syrniki (seer-nee-kee) were one of her Saturday treats and one of my precious childhood memories. I missed them terribly when I moved away from Russia. Syrniki are made from a farmer’s cheese called ‘Tvorog’ in Russian and I couldn’t find a good substitute in the US or Canada for the longest time. It’s very similar to cottage cheese and ricotta cheese but is drier and has a tangy taste. This is what it looks like in texture.

I have used well-drained cottage cheese in the past but it really lacks the slightly sour kick of ‘Tvorog”.

However, I am getting reports that all the major supermarkets in North America are now carrying this item under the name of ‘Farmer’s Cheese” and you can always find it in any Russian or Eastern European store if there is one close by. I bought mine from a local Eastern European Foods shop in my neighborhood in London. Imagine my excitement! It’s been so long since I last made the recipe that I had to pull out my Russian cookbooks for a refresher. As I often say I am not a recipe follower, I only use it as a guideline. I had to combine two different ones, tweak them in a few places and this is what I came up with.

Russian sweet cheese fritters "Syrniki"

Ingredients:

Farmer’s Cheese- 1 lbs/450 gr

2 eggs

2 tbsp. oil

4 tbsp. sugar

3/4 c. flour plus extra flour for dusting and rolling

1/2 tsp. baking powder

vanilla

Directions:

The method of preparing syrniki is pretty much the same as old plain pancakes. If you ever attempted to make pancakes you will manage this recipe with ease. Combine cheese, eggs, sugar, oil, flour, baking powder and vanilla in a medium size bowl and mix all the ingredients with a hand mixer until you get a homogenous mass- no longer than 2-3 minutes. The mixture will be very sticky. Don’t panic, that’s what you are supposed to get!

Put your non-stick or cast iron frying pan on the stove on medium heat and add 3 tbsp of oil to it.

Dust a clean work surface with some flour. Take a regular soup spoon and start scooping the mixture from the bowl. Put it directly on the floured surface and roll it in the flour, then flatten it with your palm to make it into a patty. Continue the process with the rest of your cheese mixture until it’s all gone. You should get about 14 patties.

Before you start frying your syrniki make sure the oil in the frying pan is very hot by sprinkling a bit of flour into it. If it sizzles it’s hot enough. Fry your syrniki the same way you would pancakes. When you turn them over they should puff up a bit. The flour coating will make the outside slightly crispy while the mostly cheese filling will taste light and delicious.

Dust syrniki with icing sugar as the final touch and serve them with your favourite jam or a fruit sauce. If you want a truly Russian experience enjoy them with a bit of “smetana”-creme fraiche. I love mine with blackcurrant jam! Yum!  This one tasted just like my babushka used to make. If only my kids had the same appreciation for it. They rejected it and went for the maple syrup. However they LOVED the syrniki and I have one of the pickiest children in the world. I call it- Success!


Russian sweet cheese fritters "Syrniki"