Monthly Archives: January 2013

My Baking Therapy Blueberry Muffins

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Blueberry Muffins
Do you believe in Baking Therapy? I can’t recall when I became a believer but it’s something I practice whenever I need extra warmth in my life. Everyone has a no-fail, go-to recipe that works no matter what and mine is these Blueberry Muffins. It was given to me by a co-worker years ago which in turn was given to her by her mother. I’ve tried many other recipes until I found the one, and once you find a treasure you stop searching! The brilliance of it lies both in its simplicity and the most unbelievable tastiness! No fuss whatsoever-mix the dry ingredients, mix the wet ingredients, mix altogether, bake, eat, die and go to heaven! Dramatic? Maybe be a little bit, however my recent experience of seeing Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” on stage convinced me to embrace my Russian roots and drama that they ensue!
Ingredients:

  • All purpose flour-2 1/2 cups
  • Sugar-3/4 cup
  • Baking powder-2 tsp.
  • Baking soda-1 tsp.
  • Salt-1/2 tsp.
  • Butter-1/2 cup/125 gr.
  • Plain yogurt-1 cup
  • Egg-2 large
  • Vanilla essence- 1 tsp.
  • Blueberries (fresh or frozen)-1 cup

Method:

Preheat your oven to 400F/200C.

Mix your flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut in butter into the mixture the same way you would for a pie crust or scones. In a separate small bowl combine yogurt, eggs and vanilla, beat with a fork and add to the dry ingredients. Mix in blueberries taking care not to mash them.

Blueberry Muffins
Add a splash of milk if your batter is too dry but don’t worry if it’s sticky, you are on the right track.
Line your muffin pan with deep paper liners as these muffins rise pretty high, fill them with the batter no more than 3/4 full. Bake at 400F for 20-25 minutes.
Blueberry Muffins
Note: This recipe is brilliant for substitutions. I have used whole-wheat flour instead of the all purpose variety and sour cream instead of yogurt and ANY fruit I have available in season! A true winner:-)
Blueberry Muffins

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Reindeer and Butternut Squash Winter Stew or How to Survive a Snow Day in London

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Reindeer and Butternut Squash Winter Stew
It’s blistery cold here in London, it’s been snowing for the last 24 hours and many trains have been delayed or altogether canceled. The whole country is in the state of a national emergency judging by the frequent TV, radio and other media “sever weather” announcements. Every Facebook status update, Twitter feed and any conversation refers to this awful snowfall, yet when I look outside my window this is the picture I see.Snow Day in London
Yep, a light dusting of snow. Being a Russian Canadian I need to dig deep to find compassion or understanding for this hysteria. However I have to admit that although my husband and I have experienced much colder weather  in our days we found ourselves unprepared for how overwhelmingly ‘chilled to the bone’ this winter day feels! Right now London is wet, windy, snowy and grey and after a long way home the best remedy to combat this misery  is the comfort of a warm and homey stew brightened with orange chunks of butternut squash. If that still didn’t peak your interest I know the fact that it’s also made with a reindeer meat would!  You are probably wondering where in the world one would find reindeer meat (you can read my story here) but did you know that reindeer also live in North America under the name of caribou? I beg you not to discard this recipe if  reindeer meat is not stored in your freezer. Truth be told whether you use reindeer, caribou or plain beef this stew is a winner and your family will love you forever!

Ingredients:

  • Reindeer steaks-350 gr
  • Stewing beef-500 gr
  • Italian pancetta (cubed) or unsmoked bacon- 200gr
  • Onion- 2 medium
  • Carrots- 2 medium or 4-4 baby carrots (cubed)
  • Celery- 2 stalks
  • Butternut Squash- 1/2 of a medium (cubed)
  • Tomato paste-1 tbsp.
  • Red Wine-1 cup
  • Juniper Berries-3-4 (crushed to release flavour)
  • Thyme- leaved of 2-3 sprigs or 1 tsp of dried thyme
  • Flour- 1 tbsp
  • Garlic- 2 cloves
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat your oven to 350F/180C.

I like to cook my stews and stew-like dishes in a cast-iron pot. It cooks everything much fast due to the even heat distribution and a heavy lid that traps the heat and moisture producing magical results. If you can’t invest money in the most popular brand like LeCreuset, don’t despair there are other brands that are more affordable like Ikea(worldwide) or Sainbury’s for those living in the UK. I have both of those brands in different sizes and I prefer the Sainsbury’s brand as their pots are enameled and the Ikea ones aren’t.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil to your pot and cook your pancetta on medium-high heat until golden and most of the fat is melted away.

Pancetta

Cube the reindeer steaks and beef into 1″ cubes and add to the pot, sear the meat on each side for 3-5 min for extra flavour.

Reindeer Stew

Peel your onions and slice them, do the same with celery and cut the carrots in big chunks if using the whole ones or half the baby carrots. Add the vegetables, stir everything and cook for 10 min., adding thyme, minced garlic and crushed juniper berries. If you don’t know what juniper berries are look up what gin is made from!
Juniper Berries

Put your tomato paste in and sprinkle flour, give it another good stir to coat all the ingredients.

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Now pour in your wine and top it up with water so the vegetables are just covered, add your butternut squash, stir and add a pinch of both salt and pepper. The reason I add the squash at the end is because I don’t want it to overcook and turn mushy.

Butternut Squash Bring your stew to a boil, cover it with a lid and put it in the over for 2 hours, check on it occasionally making sure it’s not too dry, add more water if necessary.

At the end of 2 hours your meat should be incredibly tender and delicious. If your stew is too soupy, take the lid off and leave it in the oven for 20-30 min. longer. Serve it with crusty bread or over creamy mashed potatoes. Stay warm!!

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Eggplant, Red and Yellow Pepper and Feta Galette

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Eggplant, red and yellow pepper galette with feta Not so long ago my friends Scott presented me with a challenge to devise a full-on vegetarian meal – a task not so easy for this meat-loving Russian. Don’t take me wrong, I adore vegetables. I buy them and cook them in every way possible but they are always served as sides. It’s almost impossible for me to go out for a meal and NOT order meat. I am sure all the vegetarians at this point stopped reading but if you are still with me  you’d be happy to learn about this Eggplant, Red and Yellow Pepper and Feta Galette. It’s full of flavour, you won’t miss meat one bit! Galette is a basically a free-form tart, so easy to make and it’s charm is in how rustic it looks, which means there is no need to worry over making it just perfect!

Ingredients:

  • Eggplant-2 medium
  • Bell Pepper-1 red and 1 yellow
  • Feta-150 gr (crumbled)
  • Sundried Tomato Pesto -2 tbsp (Feel free to use Basil Pesto if you prefer)
  • Pre-made pie crust (Jus-Rol or your favourite brand)-500 gr
  • Basil- 5-6 leaves or 1/2 tsp of dried basil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Olive Oil-1-2 tbsp.
  • Egg-1 (beaten)

Method:

Preheat the oven to 400F/ 200C and take your prepared pie crust out of the fridge.
Slice the eggplants 1/2″ thick, brush the slices with olive oil and arrange them on a parchment paper on a baking sheet. Grill until brown for 12-15 min. until soft all the way through and the eggplant lost it’s spongy texture. Remove from the oven and place it on a plate and let it cool off.
Eggplant, Red and Yellow Pepper and Feta Galette
Grill peppers with skin side up. When peppers’ skins are blackened and blistered, remove from heat. Put the peppers in a ziplock bag and close it, let them sweat. When they are cool enough to handle, take them out and remove blackened skin which should be pretty easy at that point.
Eggplant galette
Slice the peppers.
Here are all the ingredients for your galette. Simple and delicious.
Eggplant, Red and Yellow Pepper and Feta Galette

Dust your work surface with some flour and roll out your pie crust in a circle 14″/35 cm in diameter. Slide it over on the same parchment paper you baked eggplant on and spread pesto on it leaving about an inch border pesto-free. Arrange the eggplant slices overlapping in a circle, then put pepper slices on top in any fashion you like, then spread your torn basil leaves on top and finish with feta cheese. Fold the border over the vegetables while brushing the pleats with a beaten egg to seal it. Then brush the egg all over the crust which will give the galette a beautiful colour. Bake at 400F/200C for 20-30 min until the crust is golden and the cheese is slightly coloured.
Eggplant, Red and Yellow Pepper and Feta Galette
It’s incredibly easy and fast, especially if you use a pre-made crust.
Eggplant, Red and Yellow Pepper and Feta Galette

Celebrate like a Russian with Shuba and Olivier or Russian Food Demystified.

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caviar canape

Yesterday was Russian Orthodox Christmas celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar, and as done as I was with all the holidays I couldn’t resist making a special meal. Our festive fare was an exact replica of what my mum would have made- Roasted Chicken and Savoury Buckwheat with Caramelised Onions and Mushroom as the centrepiece but surprisingly that is not what my post is about. Today I will be talking about the sidekicks of Russian holiday meals known as “zakuski”, which if translated into English, would mean “little bites”. Little they might be but their presence is absolutely essential and marks every special meal in every Russian household. Zakuski (pl) serve the same purpose as Italian antipasti-they are meal starters and are meant to whet your appetite and are traditionally offered with a selection of flavoured vodkas, liqueurs and, more commonly nowadays, wines.

Although Zakuski are just there to tease you before the main course arrives, they are so incredibly delicious and oftentimes people can’t resist eating just a little and are usually already stuffed to the brim when it’s time to move to the next course. In Russia there is a vast variety of foods that are known to be served as zakuski-from simple pickled and brined vegetables to cured meats, variety of cheeses, caviar and salads.

I will be sharing two main salads that no Russian holiday goes without- Shuba and Olivier. You are probably wondering if I’ve lost my mind trying to promote salads as some sort of a delicacy. Don’t worry; for Russians holiday salads are something entirely different- no lettuce leaf in view!

Shuba

Shuba- Smoked Salmon under layers of colourful veggies.

Shuba Ingredients:

  • Smoked Salmon -200 gr. ( I prefer cold smoked salmon)
  • Potatoes- 2 medium
  • Onion- 1/2 medium
  • Carrots- 2 medium
  • Eggs-3
  • Beets-3 small

Dressing Ingredients for both Shuba and Olivier:

  • Mayonnaise – 3/4 cup
  • White Wine Vinegar- 1 tbsp
  • Dijon Mustard (no yellow French’s mustard please)-1 1/2 tsp.
  • Milk- 1-2tbsp (to losen the dressing)
  • Pepper -a pinch

Method for Shuba:

Put potatoes, carrots (don’t worry about peeling)  and eggs in the same pot and cook until  tender but not falling apart. Cook beets with the skin on in a different pot as they will take much longer to cook and will colour the water bright purple. Alternatively, you can roast them in the oven at 375F/190C for about 30 min., pierce them with a knife to test for doneness, your knife should easily go all the way through.

Cool the vegetable.

While the vegetables are cooling prepare your dressing. In a medium sized bowl mix together mayonnaise, white wine vinegar, mustard, milk and pepper with a wire whisk until well combined. Add more milk if necessary to ensure your dressing is somewhat runny.

Peel your eggs and vegetables and grate them on a vegetable grater separately without mixing with each other. Set aside in separate small bowls. Dice the onion finely. Set aside.

Chop the smoked salmon and cover the surface of your serving plate with it. This recipe will fit on a regular dinner size plate.

This salad is assembled by layering the ingredients on top of each other. The order of the layers is not as important as long as you start with the salmon and finish with the beets. This is how I usually arrange my layers:

  1. Salmon-a drizzle of dressing all over
  2. Potatoes-a little more of dressing
  3. Onions-still more dressing
  4. Carrots-and a bit more
  5. Eggs-a teensy more
  6. Beets- and the last bit of dressing

You get the idea, right? Each layer of the salad gets covered with the dressing, just drizzle lightly with a spoon and smooth it out.  I recommend using no more than 1 tbsp per layer, otherwise it becomes too stodgy! Reserve the rest of the dressing for Salad Olivier.

This salad is the best enjoyed a few hours after it’s prepared as time allows the dressing to seep through the layers and produce almost magical and very unusual flavours.

Note: Traditionally Shuba is prepared with pickled herring but I started making it with cold smoked salmon for the lack of the right kind of pickled herring I found that I like it even better. I’ve also made it with adding yams/sweet potatoes as another layer, it was simply delicious.

Olivier 

olivier

Salad Olivier is a Russian favourite and as I am discovering quickly becoming a salad of choice for anyone I’ve ever cooked it for. I often bring it to barbecues as it goes ideally with grilled meat. Overtime it became known among my friends as “Russian Potato Salad” and one of the most requested items. The original recipe was invented in 1860s in Moscow by a French chef and a fashionable restaurateur M. Olivier. It was so wildly popular they could never take it off the menu. Many other chefs tried to duplicate it without success as chef Olivier never revealed his secrets and took the dressing recipe to his grave while the salad lived on. The modern day recipe is not exactly the same as in the 19th century and my version will take you even further from the widely accepted one.

Ingredients for Olivier:

  • Potatoes-4 medium
  • Eggs-6
  • Cooked Chicken-(I usually use Rotisserie Chicken from a supermarket) 1/2 of whole chicken
  • Dill Pickles/Gherkins- 4 medium
  • Green Onions- one bunch
  • Apple- 1/2 of a medium
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Method:

Cook potatoes and eggs until potatoes are tender but not too soft and cool both. Cook chicken if not using already prepared, set aside to cool.

Dice all the ingredients into 1/2″ dice and empty into a large bowl. Add the reserved dressing and gently mix everything together making sure not to mash the cooked ingredients. At this point give it a try and add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow all the flavours to blend. Don’t skip that step, it does make a big difference.

If you would like to experience a true Russian zakuski table serve some salami, a variety of cheeses, olives, crusty bread with butter and caviar in addition to the lovely salads I shared with you and don’t forget VODKA!

caviar canape

Salmon Cakes and a Lesson on the Virtue of Frugality

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When I woke up this morning I didn’t plan to blog about salmon cakes, but I did plan to finally clean out my fridge and use up all the leftovers for lunch. If my mum taught me anything from when I was very little and impressionable that being frugal was definitely a virtue! I followed her instructions on how to use every part of a chicken (including the liver, often to my husbands horror and disgust) almost with a religious fervour when I was newly married, still a student and very poor and then… Brad and I got our first paying jobs. Slowly, the good housekeeping rules started to fly of the window. Nowadays I find myself coming back to my senses and saving a forgotten container of the mashed potatoes at the back of my fridge doesn’t seem like insanity, especially when it could be transformed into something completely different, exciting and delicious! Those were my thoughts when I spotted those potatoes and my brain immediately connected them with even more neglected cans of salmon in my cupboard that had stayed there for months. I realised those unappealing potatoes can definitely have their life stretched and neither I nor Brad (since no livers were involved) were disappointed.
This recipe is almost not even a recipe, it’s a “throw a bunch of ingredients you love together” kind of a recipe and, therefore, my favourite kind 🙂
Ingredients:

For 8 salmon cakes:

  • Potatoes -4-5 medium (I used 3 cups of mashed potatoes)
  • Canned Salmon- 2 cans/450 gr
  • Egg-1
  • Lemon-1
  • Flour-1tbsp plus extra for dusting
  • Dill- a small bunch
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil

Method:

In a large mixing bowl combine mashed potatoes and salmon while making sure no skin or bones end up in there as well, and break an egg into it.

Salmon Cakes

Zest your lemon.

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Now on the scale of 1 to 10 how much do you love my new wooden zester/grater? I love it 14! A birthday present from my friend Angela. How beautiful is that! I am sure you will be seeing a lot of it in the future.
Salmon cakes
I just can’t get enough of this cute contraption but I promise to stop now.
Add the lemon zest to the mixture, juice the lemon and pour it in as well along with chopped dill and flour.
Salmon cakes
Mix everything well, add a pinch of each salt and pepper.
Divide the mixture into 8 golf-sized balls and roll them in the flour on your flour dusted board or plate, flatten them slightly to form a patty.
Salmon Cakes
What I found worked the best (after the first one almost fell apart as I was frying it) was putting the mixture in the shape of a ball on the frying pan and then patting it down but not too flat. You can also refrigerate them for an hour to allow the mixture to firm up.
Fry 3 or 4 salmon cakes at a time in hot olive oil until golden and crunchy on the outside. Yum!

These salmon cakes are a delightful lunch option. When I called Brad for lunch the first thing he asked me if we had any tartar sauce to go with the salmon cakes. We didn’t and I was about to make some but then he took the first bite and announced, “Never mind, they are so flavourful, you don’t need any sauce with them!” I consider that a mark of success as Brad loves his sauces!

Note: You can prepare these salmon cakes with fresh salmon which I have done when best quality salmon was plentiful during our years on the West Coast of Canada. The taste is no doubt superior to the canned variety. Also you can cook the potatoes specifically for the recipe if you don’t have any leftovers. Boil potatoes until tender and mash them while still hot. Poach your fresh salmon or steam or bake, in other words, cook it any way you like it and then proceed with the recipe.

Alternatively you can use any type of fish you like or find at the back of your cupboard!

good centre