Category Archives: breakfast

One Week-End Morning

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It’s Friday night and I am beyond excited. I can’t wait till tomorrow because Saturday morning lazy breakfasts with my favourite man and my two little ones is one of my most beloved times.
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Ah…pure bliss.
If you are looking for inspiration for a weekend breakfast look no further. I’ve got you covered- Syrniki Russian Sweet Cheese Fritters, Russian Crêpes Blini , Best Blueberry Muffins or a simple but tasty breakfast sandwich.

Have a fantastic weekend!

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Kefir Blini or Russian Crêpes (Take II)

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Kefir Crepes
Another post on Blini? Haven’t I just written about them a couple of weeks ago? True, all true, however since then I found the magic ingredient that my mum always used in her blini and I couldn’t resist giving the crepes another try.

Kefir. What a wonderful thing you are and how have I lived all these years without you?! Are you scratching your head at my odd ode to this unknown kefir yet? I know my husband was utterly surprised when I brought a couple of bottles home from a newly opened Polish shop in my neighbourhood and stuck them in his face with a gleam of victory in my eyes. No, it’s not a type of vodka, it’s not alcoholic at all! Kefir is a dairy drink which is a cross between milk and yogurt in consistency but comes from kefir grains that is very popular in Russia and as I learned also in the rest of Eastern and even Northern Europe. It’s very healthy and believed to regulate people’s digestive system, much like yogurt only better ;-).

Health benefits aside it’s really tasty, especially if you grew up drinking it. Russians cook with kefir a lot, it’s great for baking because it has a natural raising agent. No wonder I was so impatient to make blini again. Here is my recipe.

Ingredients: {Makes 10  9″/23 cm crepes}

  • Flour – 2 cups
  • Kefir- 3 cups
  • Water-1 cup
  • Eggs-2
  • Sugar- 3 tbsp.
  • Salt- 1 tsp.
  • Baking soda- 1 tsp.
  • Oil- 3 tbsp.

Method:

(I added oil to this recipe to increase elasticity)

In a mixing bowl mix eggs, flour, 1 cup of kefir, baking soda, sugar, salt and oil with a whisk. When the mixture is smooth and has no lumps add remaining kefir and water. The consistency should be the same as of heavy cream.  Let stand for 20-30 minutes. You should see small bubbles on the surface of your batter. Preheat your non-stick frying pan on medium heat and grease it with an odourless oil. ( I usually put some oil on a paper towel and rub the frying pan with it to ensure even coating, I re-aply oil before frying each crepe.) With a ladle or a measuring cup pour 3/4 cup of batter in the pan and tilt the pan slightly so batter runs to the edges forming a thin and round crepe. Cook it until batter looks dry, then flip with a spatula and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Remove to a platter. Repeat with the next crepe and continue cooking until the batter is used. Stack the blini on top of each other. In Russia cooks usually brush each crepe with melted butter but I find it a bit too excessive.

Kefir wasn’t the only treasure I found in the Polish shop, I also came away with Cherry Compote and yummy sour cream.

Cherry Compote and Sour Cream

Traditionally Blini are served with sour cream, jam, honey and tea and kids drink compote. (Compote, in our definition, is slightly different from the trendy foodie version. It’s a homemade fruit drink. Extremely delicious and flavourful.)

Russian Crepes "Blini"
Russian Crepes Blini
After taking pictures for a while I just had to take a bite! YUMMMM!

Kefir Crepes

If you are looking for ideas for crepes add-ons, check out my other Blini post.

{Note: If kefir is not available feel free to use buttermilk, the result is also delicious.}

Russian Crepes “Blini”

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Their peaceful life was firmly grounded

In the dear ways of yesteryear,

And Russian blini fair abounded

When the fat Shrovetide spread its cheer. 

                                                                                                                                -Aleksandr Pushkin Evgeni Onegin”

These lines are familiar to every Russian and come from one of the most beloved poet of the 19th century Aleksandr Pushkin, someone I was obsessed with from the age of 13 to 15. Yes, you heard me right, completely infatuated with a dead poet whose life ended in a duel, defending his wife’s honour at the same age I am now. So very romantic and tragic-absolutely perfect for an impressionable teenager.  I am sure the life and literary heritage of Pushkin will creep up in my writing again at some point but today’s post is about one of the most celebrated foods in Russian cuisine-Blini, loved enough to be immortalised in literature!

What exactly are Blini (plural)? They are thin, crepe-like pancakes, usually eaten with jam, honey, and sour cream or stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings.

Russian Crepes "Blini"

I have always thought that my mum’s blini were the best I ever tasted. That opinion is probably biased but I stick to it. However, I found the task of re-creating the taste of her blini almost unsurmountable. The main reason is the absence of the recipe. You see most of the Russian women cook without recipes, they just sort of throw things together as they call it “na glaz”, which translates as “by the eye”. There is a famous Russian saying “The first Pancake is always a lump”. You would hear it all the time if a new venture doesn’t work out, someone would look at you kindly and say, “Don’t worry, the first pancake is always a lump” meaning-“it’s still early days, you will eventually figure it out”. Well, the origin of that saying became obvious when I decided to create the recipe. I was hoping to write the recipe that would help to avoid the harsh truth of that famous proverb, the recipe my readers could use and succeed with it. Let me tell you, it was one of the hardest things I ever did. I mixed the batter and fried the first blin. Sure enough, it was a lump that I had to scrap. More flour. Second try was better but still not “it”. More flour. Third try. Sigh and close to tears. In the end, after many, many, MANY adjustments I conquered it and  came up with the version that was the closest to my mum’s.

Her two main secrets were using kefir instead of milk and always frying blini on a cast iron pan. It’s impossible to find kefir in London unless you make your own, which I don’t do so I decided to substitute it with buttermilk. Here is my recipe and I hope you will be brave and try it in your kitchen.

Ingredients:

  • Flour- 3 cups
  • Buttermilk-3 1/2 cups
  • Water-1/2 cup
  • Eggs-2 large
  • Baking soda-1/2 tsp.
  • Sugar-1 tbsp.
  • Salt- 1 tsp.

Method:

In a mixing bowl mix eggs, flour, 1 cup of buttermilk, baking soda, sugar and salt with a whisk. When the mixture is smooth and has no lumps add remaining buttermilk and water. The consistency should be the same as of heavy cream.  Let stand for 20 minutes. You should see small bubbles on the surface of your batter. Preheat your non-stick frying pan on medium heat and grease it with an odourless oil. ( I usually put some oil on a paper towel and rub the frying pan with it to ensure even coating.) With a ladle or a measuring cup pour 1/2 cup of batter in the pan and tilt the pan slightly so batter runs to the edges forming a thin and round crepe. Cook it until batter looks dry, then flip with a spatula and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Remove to a platter. Repeat with the next crepe and continue cooking until the batter is used. Stack the blini on top of each other. Serve with fresh fruit, jam, creme fraiche or sour cream. As much as I try to instil the “Russian-ness” in my children they still prefer blini with whipped cream and maple syrup! I shake my head and say to myself, “They are Canucks not Ruski.” When it comes to food, there are no hard rules. Eat blini with whatever your heart desires!

In Russia Blini are usually enjoyed with butter, jam and sour cream and sometimes caviar although the latter was not very common in my family. My mum often made blini for a late weekend breakfast. She made A LOT and there were always leftovers which she used for lunch the next day. Always wanting to serve a variety of food she would make a savoury filling and stuff blini with it. There are countless options for a filling and today I will share one of them with you.

Chicken and Mushroom Filling for Blini

Ingredients:

  • Cooked Chicken- 450 gr/ 1 lbs
  • Mushrooms-300 gr
  • Onion-2 medium
  • Flat Leaf Parsley- 10 springs
  • Garlic- 1 clove
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Chicken stock-1/2 cup
  • Butter- 1 tbsp.

Method:

Melt the butter in the skillet, add the onions and saute over medium heat for 5 minutes, add chopped mushrooms, garlic and parsley and saute until mushrooms are cooked for another 8 minutes. Add cooked chicken, chicken stock and season with salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes. Your filling should be juicy but not too runny.

Once your filling is done, the blini are ready to be rolled. Use 1/2 cup of the chicken and mushroom mixture per crepe and roll in the same manner you would a burrito. Brown them on both sides in a skillet with a little bit of butter or warm them up in the oven at 350 F/180C for 10 minutes. You can have them made and stored in the refrigerator well in advance and warm them up right before serving. Try them instead of sandwiches on a side of a nice bowl of steaming soup. Ah all of this talk of blinchiki is evoking some great childhood memories for me! Enjoy!

Blini with a chicken and mushroom fillingRussian Crepes "Blini"Russian Crepes "Blini"

How do I eat buckwheat? Let me count the ways…

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Buckwheat groats
Quinoa, goji berries, flaxseed. What do they have in common? They are the buzzwords circulating in the foodie media/blogosphere, all claiming to be a “miracle food”. Like many others I get weary and suspicious when the next “cure for all ills” emerges, being of the opinion that variety is key in any diet. That said, I believe buckwheat is something special, and that will soon flood first the health stores then the supermarkets and then pantries everywhere. As we stand now buckwheat is still fairly unknown outside of Russia, where it’s been a staple for centuries, and a big part of my diet growing up. The most common use of buckwheat in North America is in the flour form. It’s gaining popularity for it’s unique earthy taste and the fact that despite the name it is not related to wheat or any other grain and is gluten-free. People want to incorporate more buckwheat into their diets for its health benefits-high amount of protein, fibre, potassium and over 80 minerals! However, I am not going to go into details as I am not a nutritionist but merely a buckwheat lover. You can research it yourself if you are interested!

One of the greatest qualities of buckwheat is its versatility. The groats could be ground up and made into pancakes, you could enjoy a bowlful of  morning “kasha” (Russian for porridge) with a bit of milk, for lunch- toss it with some fresh veggies in a salad or sit down to a plate of savoury buckwheat with caramelised onions and sautéed mushrooms for dinner. Reheat the leftovers in the morning, top it up with an egg and voila a new breakfast dish is born! The only two things you need to know are what type of buckwheat is suitable for these recipes and how to cook it.

When I first moved to North America 15 years ago the only place I could find buckwheat was a health food store but although I could recognise the familiar triangular shape of the groats, the colour was anaemic grey instead of rich brown I was used to. I learned that buckwheat sold in Russia is pre-roasted, and it is this process that prevents the groats from turning into a mushy mess during cooking as well as provides that lusciously nutty flavour I’ve come to expect. It seems that many stores have the pre-roasted variety of buckwheat groats, however, the best buckwheat comes from Russian stores so if you have one nearby check it out. It’s worth it!

Buckwheat
What I would like to share with you is the basic method of cooking buckwheat and one simple recipe which happens to be my family’s favourite way of eating it. Have I mentioned that my kids are crazy about buckwheat?
Buckwheat with Caramelised Onions and Cremini Mushrooms {Breakfast Edition}Buckwheat with caramelised onion, mushrooms and egg

Ingredients:

  • Buckwheat-2 cups
  • Water-4 cups
  • Salt- a pinch
  • Cremini/Chestnut Mushrooms-8-10
  • Red Onions-1 large
  • Pepper- to taste
  • Egg-1 (per person)
  • Butter- 2 tbsp.

Method:

Rinse your buckwheat and dry fry it in a non-stick frying pan (i.e. in a dry pan, without oil) over medium heat for a 2-3 minutes. Transfer the buckwheat to a pot, add water and salt and cook for 15 minutes until the groats are soft and the water is evaporated. Take it off the heat, cover the pot with a lid and let it stand for additional 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, you can cook buckwheat in your rice cooker, just follow the instructions for grain to water ratio for your particular rice cooker.

While waiting for your buckwheat dice your onions and mushrooms. Feel free to slice them if you prefer a chunkier look. I am still in the stage  of “hiding” the healthy things from my kids so I usually dice.

Put a large frying pan on high-medium heat and when it’s hot add butter, onions and a pinch of salt. Salt will draw moisture out of the onions which will help with caramelising process. Fry them slowly, stirring once in a while and not letting them burn. Once your onions look wilted and darker in colour, add mushrooms and sauté them for 5 minutes adding salt and pepper to taste. Now add your buckwheat and mix everything together, cook for 2 more minutes to bring all the ingredients to the same temperature and allow for the flavours to blend, taste to make sure it has enough seasoning. This meal could be enjoyed as a main course or as a side dish to any type of meat or fish.  What you see here is leftovers that were served a couple of days later for breakfast. Fry your eggs in a frying pan and top each portion with an egg. By all accounts-Breakfast of Champions.

Buckwheat with Caramelised Onions and Cremini Mushrooms

Buckwheat with Caramelised Onions and Cremini Mushrooms
Note: I use water to cook buckwheat when I want it to be versatile-sweet or savoury. If you are preparing buckwheat for dinner in a savoury dish I would suggest using broth instead of water- a quick and simple way to infuse your dish with much flavour.

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

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"

Starting the day right

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Here is my confession. Although I am always cooking something delicious and posting pictures of the great looking food, I am almost always on some sort of a diet. Sometimes it works but more often than not it doesn’t. Sad. This breakfast you see on this picture was this morning’s decision to ditch my Herbalife diet and start the day the way God created it to be, in other words eating real food. Healthy, nutritious and just plain gorgeous! Just look at that!

I am sure you don’t need a recipe for a breakfast sandwich but here it goes anyway. It comes with a few minor tweaks to make more it palatable for this fussy Russian.

Ingredients:

3 cremini mushrooms

1/4 small red onion

1 tsp olive oil

1 egg

1 slice Russian black bread (dark rye bread)

salt and pepper

Directions:

Slice your mushrooms and onions and slightly saute them in the frying pan over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until the mushrooms are soft and onions translucent. When they are almost done make some room for an egg and break it onto the pan. Meanwhile toast your bread and make coffee or tea to go with your scrumptious breakfast. Pile your mushrooms and onions on the toasted bread and top it with a fried egg. As you might have noticed I like my egg “sunny side up”, so I only fry it on one side as I like the look of it and the runny yoke. Feel free to do it however you like but I warn you it’s much less delicious any other way!!!

I am sure you figured it out by now that this recipe is a breakfast for one but could be doubled, tripled or quadrupled. Your choice. I was all alone after my hubby left for work and the kids were dropped off at school. I enjoyed it immensely. Yes to real food! Now let’s hope for no relapse.