Category Archives: Russian

Stuffed Bell Peppers with Smoky Paprika Sauce

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Stuffed Bell Peppers with Smoky Paprika SauceThis recipe was on my waiting list far too long. As soon as I began blogging I knew I would have to write about stuffed bell peppers that my mom used to make. It’s an authentic Russian recipe, which means the peppers are stuffed with meat. Yes, we Russians are very much a meat loving nation. 🙂 However, our vegetable dishes are bountiful and ridiculously full of flavour and no one would ever imagine to sit down to just a plate of humungous steak. Variety and moderation is key to any diet in my world.
These peppers are loved by anyone who eats them, the meat filling is mixed with rice and flavoured with herbs and spices in perfect harmony, I tell ya.
Ingredients:

  • Olive oil- 1 tbsp.
  • Onion, chopped-1
  • Extra lean ground beef- 1/2 lbs
  • Extra lean ground pork-1/2 lbs
  • Rice, cooked- 1/2 cup
  • Flat leaf parsley, chopped-  a bunch
  • Salt- 2 tsp.
  • Pepper- 1/2 tsp.
  • Bell Peppers (any colour but I prefer yellow and red)- 10 medium
  • Creme Fraiche or Sour Cream- 1 1/2 cups
  • Crushed Tomatoes- 1 1/2 cups
  • Smoked Paprika- 1 tsp.
  • Salt- 1 tsp.
  • Bay leaf- 1-2

Method:

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F

Cook rice or use leftover rice. If you are cooking 1/2 cup of rice just for this recipe I usually cook it the same way as I do pasta. Bring water to a boil in a pot and add rice to it, cook for 7-10 minutes. Don’t worry if it’s not completely soft, it will get there when you are cooking peppers.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a pan gently saute the chopped onion over medium low heat until softened for 5-7 minutes.

In a large bowl combine beef, pork. onion, rice, chopped parsley, salt and pepper.

Stuffed Bell Peppers with Smoky Paprika sauce
Wash peppers, cut the tops off and removes the cores with seeds and membranes by gently pulling and twisting them out of the peppers.
Stuffed Bell Peppers with Smoky Paprika Sauce
Stuff peppers with the meat filling. If you have any leftover filling roll it into meat balls. We used to call them “hedgehogs” when I was little because rice starts to poke out when they cook and they really start to resemble tiny hedgehogs. 🙂 Then stand them up in a casserole dish and put the meatballs (if you have any)on top. Choose a casserole dish where all the peppers can fit while standing up.
Stuffed Bell Peppers with Smoky Paprika Sauce
Make sauce by mixing creme fraiche or sour cream with crushed tomatoes, then add paprika and 1 tsp. of salt. Pour the sauce over the peppers, add your bay leaf, cover with a lid and put in the preheated oven for 40-50 minutes until the peppers are soft.  One of the best features of this dish is the sauce. After 40 minutes in the oven sour cream based sauce becomes even more delicious through absorbing the flavours of the peppers and the meat.  People joke that Russians put sour cream in everything and we really do. Can you blame us?! Wouldn’t you if you hit the jackpot!

Stuffed Bell Peppers with Smoky Paprika Sauce
If your sour cream separated a bit in the process of cooking don’t worry it will still look just as amazing. Serve your stuffed peppers with mashed potatoes or on their own. I am getting hungry all over again just thinking about them!
Stuffed Bell Peppers with Smoky Paprika Sauce

French Ratatouille or Russian Eggplant Caviar

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Are you ready for another family classic?

This recipe is something my grandma cooked and my mom cooked and I cook ALL summer long…and sometimes in the winter and in-between. In Russia it’s called “Baklajannaya Ikra” or “Eggplant Caviar”. Surprisingly enough the recipe is almost identical to French Ratatouille. There is also Sicilian Caponata that is oh so similar with an addition of olives and capers. After travelling the world and discovering all the food similarities you realise we are a lot more connected than we think.French Ratatouille or Russian Eggplant Caviar

This dish is incredibly flavourful and so versatile. It’s eaten as a warm side dish or as a tasty topping for your crusty bread, a favourite with Russian children. As a little girl I remember eating it cold with bread for an afternoon snack. I still love doing it but Brad really prefers it warm so you are going to discover for yourself which way is your favourite.
Ingredients:

  • Eggplant-2 medium
  • Zucchini-2-3 medium
  • Onions-2
  • Red, yellow, green peppers( I use whatever I have on hand)-2
  • Garlic-2-3 cloves
  • Parsley- 1/2 bunch
  • Cilantro-1/2 bunch
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Ketchup or tomato paste-1 tbsp.
  • Olive oil-2 tbsp.

Method:

There is a long version and a speedy version. The long one involves slicing eggplant, putting it in a colander and sprinkling it with salt and letting it sit for an hour under a heavy weight. That draws bitterness and extra moisture out. It really does. However, I often skip that step and never regret it. If you decided to skip the first step as well the dish will take a bit longer to cook. Lately I’ve been using a cast iron casserole which cuts the cooking time in half. After years of not wanting to spend the money I finally broke down and bought an Ikea version (still can’t bring myself to pay the Le Creuset price tag) and I’ve never been happier. A cast iron pot is truly a must have tool for every kitchen. Now I have a small size and a big size and 3 skillets!

Back to our Eggplant caviar. Dice your onions, eggplant, zucchini, red or green peppers, set aside. Preheat the olive oil in a heavy casserole type dish and add onions and peppers first, let them saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes and then add your eggplant. Eggplants takes longer to cook than zucchini so if you put them together zucchini will turn into a mush and eggplants will still be spongy. Cook eggplant together with onions and peppers until it’s nearly done, about 7 minutes, then add zucchini, parsley, cilantro, minced garlic and a tablespoon of ketchup. Here is my confession, I never cook with ketchup, I don’t even like it but I found it gives this dish just a right amount of sweetness! You can add  some tomato paste, it’s up to you. Cook it for 5-10 minutes longer.

You will see quite a bit of liquid after you’ve added zucchini, at this point you can turn the heat up and cook it down or keep it a vegetable stew consistency. Mine varies depending on how I feel or how hungry my family is!

The batch right here was pretty dry and perfect to use as a bruschetta topping.French Ratatouille or Russian Eggplant Caviar The recipe given here is a basic recipe that you could be altered by adding any other vegetables that you like.
Just a few examples of what I’ve done in the past: At various times I’ve added green peas (frozen), asparagus, green beans, carrots, potatoes, chick peas and red kidney beans. They all work well. Play with it and find your favourite combo!French Ratatouille or Russian Eggplant Caviar

Crumb Apricot Cheesecake

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Crumb Apricot Cheesecake
Do you have a recipe you’ve made so many times you know it by heart? Better yet, was that recipe passed on to you by your momma? The one I am about to share with you is one of those recipes. The first time I made it I was in my early teens and since then I’ve made it hundreds of times…literally. It was my mom and my “go to recipe” when there was only about half an hour between a phone call and guests appearing on our doorsteps.  We made it so many times we used every kind of fruit filling possible. I thought we exhausted all the options but I was wrong.

Last Saturday morning I woke up with a strong urge to bake and I knew I was craving something Slavic. 🙂 That’s right it’s a thing. I made a dash to the closest Polish shop and picked up a pound of farmer’s cheese. It was a good start. When I grabbed the closest to me cookbook an old, marked with food stains piece of paper fell out. I grinned widely when I picked it up. The precious sheet of paper contained a collection of our family’s favourite recipes typed up by my mom and sent to me when I left for college in America. Bingo! That’s exactly what I needed.

Crumb Apricot Cheesecake
If you follow my blog you’d know that when it comes to recipes nothing is sacred to me. I love to change things up and what started out as my mom’s favourite recipe became highly experimental at some point of the process. Needless to say, I was beyond pleased when I cut into it (after hours of waiting for it to cool) and found out the risk payed off!
What my mom and I always made was essentially a seasonal fruit encased in rich and buttery pastry but somehow I ended up with a fruit cheesecake with a buttery crust and almond crumb topping. Pure luxury.
Crumb Apricot Cheesecake
Have I convinced you that you too need it in your life?

Ingredients:

For the pastry:

  • Flour-2 1/2cups
  • Butter- 1 cup/250 gr.
  • Sugar- 1 cup
  • Egg- 1
  • Baking powder-1/2 tsp

For the filling:

  • Apricots- 12
  • Farmer’s Cheese (Tvorog)/Cream Cheese- 500 gr/16 oz
  • Eggs -2
  • Sugar- 1 cup
  • Semolina- 2 tbsp.
  • Vanilla bean/Vanilla extract- seeds from 1 vanilla bean/ 1 tsp.
  • Ground Almonds ( for the topping)- 1/4 cup

Method:

In the food processor combine flour, cold butter, sugar and baking powder, pulse until the  mixture resembles fine bread crumbs, add the egg and pulse until just combined.  (This could also be easily done in a regular bowl with a pastry blender.) Take the pastry out of the food processor, it will be soft.  Pinch off 1/3 of the pastry, wrap it in a plastic wrap and put in the freezer. Wrap the rest in the plastic wrap as well and put this portion in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Crumb Apricot Cheesecake

Now let’s take care of the filling.  Cut your apricots in half and pit them. Set aside. (I also planned to use the red and black currants at first but then changed my mind and that is why they are in the picture.)

Combine farmer’s cheese or cream cheese, eggs, sugar, semolina and vanilla bean seeds in a large bowl using a hand mixer until smooth or a food processor if you want your farmer’s cheese to be less grainy. ( I processed mine in the food processor for a silky consistency.)

When the pastry is finished chilling take it out of the fridge and roll it out to fit an 9″ springform pan lining the bottom and the sides all the way to the top. Don’t worry if your pastry tears, just take the overhanging pieces and patch up the holes! That pastry is very pliable and forgiving. When your springform pan is lined all the way put it back in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Then take it out of the fridge and fill it with the cheese filling and top with apricots.

Crumb Apricot Cheesecake
Now it’s time to get your crumb topping out of the freezer. In Russia this dessert is called “Tertiy Pirog”, which literally means “Grated Pastry” because the top is being frozen and then grated directly on the filling with a vegetable grater like so.
Crumb Apricot Cheesecake
I decided to toss my crumbs with ground almonds for an extra indulgence. Trim off your overhanging sides and press them gently in to blend with the crumb topping. When the pastry casing bakes it magically all blends together beautifully.

Put it in the preheated oven at 350F/180C and bake for 50 minutes or until golden. Cool it for an hour until cool to the touch and then chill it in the refrigerator for at least 2 more hours to ensure the cheese filling in cooled completely. (Waiting for it was the hardest part for me. :-)) Crumb Apricot CheesecakeDust with additional powdered sugar if desired and enjoy with a cup of tea!
Crumb Apricot CheesecakeCrumb Apricot Cheesecake

Strawberry Meadow Galette for Brad {giveaway closed}

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Strawberry Meadow Galette
In the early days of my husband and I dating he told me that his name Bradley meant “from a meadow” and that little tidbit just added to his allure. As if he needed any help I was already hopelessly in love with him. This past Sunday we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. Our night out in London was absolutely perfect-aimless wandering through the South Bank, crossing the Thames on our way to the West End with numerous stops in hundred year old pubs culminated in us being serenaded by a lovely street performer in Covent Garden along with a couple hundred other people. I couldn’t help feeling so blessed by having him by my side for the last 14 years.

A day later at home I made this Strawberry Meadow Galette which is dedicated to my Brad. 🙂 Throughout the years, no matter how busy we’ve been we’ve always managed to find time for a quick tea and a chat and I know we will have many more in the years to come, for which I am happy to bake for!Strawberry Meadow GaletteStrawberry Meadow GaletteStrawberry Meadow Galette
Ingredients: {For the Pastry} Makes 2 galettes

  • Flour-3 cups
  • Salt-3/4 tsp
  • Butter-3/4 cup/200gr
  • Sour Cream-3/4 cup/200 gr

Ingredients: {For the filling}

  • Strawberries (cut in half)- 2 lbs
  • Sugar- 1 cup (I used vanilla scented sugar for extra flavour)
  • Egg- 1 (for brushing)
  • Edible flowers for decorating (optional)

Strawberry Meadow Galette

I am a big fan of galettes as I love the rustic look of them plus they are so easy! Check out this Yellow Plum and Blueberry Galette  and Eggplant, Red and Yellow Pepper Galette  that I’ve made in the past.

The pastry I am sharing is very special and comes from one of my favourite Russian cookbooks Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen. I’ve adapted it slightly for my own taste. Sour cream makes this flaky pastry pleasantly tart which contrasts the sweetness of the fruit fillings in pies and galettes.

Strawberry Meadow Galette
Method:

In a large bowl combine flour and salt, add the butter using a pastry blender, cut it into the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add sour cream and work it into the mixture with your hands until it comes together. Knead briefly, divide into two balls, wrap them in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Dust your work surface with some flour and roll out your pastry 1o″ in diameter. Wrap the pastry around the rolling pin and transfer it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Arrange half of the strawberries cut side down on the pastry leaving an inch wide border filling free and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of sugar. Fold the border over the berries while brushing the pleats of pastry with a beaten egg to hold the pastry in place and also to give your galette a beautiful golden colour. Sprinkle the pastry with additional sugar if desired.

Repeat with another ball of pastry.

Bake in the oven for 25-30 min.

Decorate with edible flowers to make it look like a meadow! 🙂

Strawberry Meadow Galette
Giveaway:

A couple of months ago kind people of Lurpak sent me a nice package which I would love to share with my readers. If you are not from Europe and not sure what Lurpak is click on the link above. I am giving away a beautiful apron!

Lurpak apron

This apron is not only useful to keep your clothes in top shape while you are busy in the kitchen but also is a brilliant cheat sheet for a novice or a seasoned cook alike! From recipes to useful tips this apron is full of helpful information.

Lurpak apron
And if it’s not enough I am also throwing in a Lurpak kitchen towel!

Lurpak kitchen towel

So what do you do to receive these items?

  1. “Like” Vikalinka on Facebook.
  2. “Share” Vikalinka Facebook Page with your friends.
  3. Leave a comment on my Facebook page that you’ve shared.
  4. For an additional entry, share this post on Twitter and include Vikalinka in your post  and then come back here and leave a comment telling me you did so. That comment will count as your extra entry.

That’s it!!

The contest will close on July 31 st. 

Good luck!

Get Your Picnic On!

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Roasted Eggplant Salad

Lately, I am all smiles. Why wouldn’t I be? The weather outside is glorious! I know I am not the only one who is loving sweet summer days that lead to wonderful outdoor dining. A while back I announced a contest. I suggested my readers would challenge me with any recipes/meal ideas and I would cook them, photograph them and report back. I was supposed to randomly draw up 3 winners. Drum rolls please….
The first winner is Noemi Hedrick. Here is what she requested, “I would love to see a picnic “done well”. Cold foods that make you want to picnic ALL DAY! I love chicken on skewers and dip. Can you deal with that?”

Absolutely!

I loved working on this post because it combined so many things that I adore-my reader’s request, Russian food I grew up on, endless tasting tests with friends and family while having picnics of my own.

The first thing I got working on was skewered meat with dip called Shashlik in Russian, which is mostly likely a borrowed word as it doesn’t sound Russian to me. 🙂 Shashlik is a marinated meat that is later skewered and slowly roasted over hot coals. It’s Russian campers’ favourite past time. All city dwellers will talk of nothing more than their desire to finish the work week and go to the countryside “na shashliki” (to have shashlik).  This tasty food came to Russia in the 19th century and was brought by Russian soldiers who fought in the Crimean War and fell in love with that local delicacy. Since then it’s been one of the most beloved foods and became the symbol for outdoor eating.Russian skewered meat "Shashlik"

My husband Brad was first introduced to shashlik by my two friends Marina and Misha in the country house outside of Nizhni Novgorod, Russia. He loved it so much that he made it his first project in our newly bought house to build a brick fire pit for making shashlik. It does tend to leave an impression on people!

Russian Shish Kebab "Shashlik"
Shashlik is traditionally enjoyed with fresh vegetables and simple salads.
        My Picnic Menu

  1. Pork Shashlik with Minted Greek Yogurt Dip
  2. Crudités (tomatoes, green onions, cucumbers or any vegetables you like)
  3. Grilled Eggplant Salad with crusty bread
  4. Mixed Olives
  5. Red Wine

Russian Picnic Menu
Russian Picnic Menu
Grilled Eggplant Salad
Ingredients for Shashlik:

Marinade:

  • Onions (sliced for marinade)- 3 large
  • Garlic- 1 head
  • Cumin- 1 tbsp.
  • Paprika- 1 tbsp.
  • Oregano- 1 tsp.
  • Salt- 1 tsp.
  • Fresh Pepper- 1 tsp.
  • Red Wine Vinegar- 2/3 cup
  • Lemon Juice- 1 lemon
  • Bay Leaf-2

Skewers:

  • Pork Loin- 2,5 lbs
  • Onions (quartered for skewers)
  • Bell Peppers- 2-3 (red, green, yellow)

Method:

{The night before}

In a large wide bowl combine all the ingredients for marinade, then add 3/4″ cubes of pork loin, cover with either a lid or a cling wrap and refrigerate over night.

Prepare hot coals for grilling until coated with white ash or use a gas grill.

Remove the meat from the marinade and string it on a skewer intermittent with pieces of bell peppers and onions. Grill the skewers sprinkling with marinade every 3 minutes for 9-11 minutes.

Note: Do not use the onion slices from the marinade on your skewers as they were in contact with raw meat for hours and might be unsafe to eat.

Ingredients for Minted Greek Yogurt Dip:

  • Greek Yogurt-1 cup/250ml
  • Lemon Juice-1/2 lemon
  • Fresh Mint- 3-4 sprigs, leaves only (to taste)
  • Cucumber (diced)- 1/4 cup
  • Radishes (diced)-1/4 cup
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Method:

Recruit your spouse or partner to grill the meat. This way you can get all the side dishes ready. Combine yogurt, lemon juice, mint, salt and pepper. Add cucumbers and radishes right before serving as the vegetables will release quite a bit of liquid and will make the dip too watery if combined too early.

Also prepare a selection of raw vegetables and arrange them on a platter. They will be delicious with Minted Greek Yogurt Dip.

Grilled Eggplant Salad

Ingredients for Grilled Eggplant Salad:

  • Eggplant- 2 medium
  • Eastern European style or Italian marinated mushrooms (usually in the deli section)- 1 small jar
  • Bell peppers (red, orange, yellow)-  2-3 mini peppers or just the number according to the size
  • Cherry tomatoes (halved)- 7-8
  • Olives (optional)-1/4 cup
  • Flat leaf parsley (chopped)- 1/4 cup
  • Garlic (crushed)- 1 clove
  • Red wine vinegar- 1 tbsp.
  • Olive Oil- 1 tbsp.
  • Salt to taste

Method:

While your barbecue is warming up, cut the eggplants into 1/2″ slices and leave them in a bowl filled with water and 1 tsp. of salt for 30 minutes. Then remove them from water and put on the skewers, brush with a bit of olive oil or spray with a calorie reduced cooking spray. Grill on the barbecue for 10 minutes, test for doneness, they should not be spongy but have a soft and silky texture.

While your eggplant is getting grilled, prepare the dressing for the salad. Mix together oil, vinegar, crushed garlic and chopped parsley, set aside.

As soon as you take the eggplant off the grill, put the slices in a salad bowl and pour the dressing on them while still hot, then add the remaining ingredients, season with salt if needed.

Set aside for the flavours to meld. This salad is delicious both cold from the refrigerator and at room temperature. Perfect picnic food!

{Note: Grilled Eggplant is also great just on its own with the salad dressing as pictured in this post.}Grilled Eggplant SaladRussian skewered meat "Shashlik"
So what do you think Noemi? Did I handle it alright?

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!

Lemon Scented Vanilla Cheesecake with Fresh Figs and Honey

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"Tvorog" Cheesecake
My dear friends, I’ve been holding out on you and for that I am sorry. I made the most delicious cheesecake this past Easter but just posting the recipe today. The good news is that cheesecake is not seasonal, it’s welcome for any occasion. The recipe for this culinary delight was a bit of a gamble-part tradition/part speculation and experiment but the result was nothing short of divine.

As I wrote in one of my previous posts Easter is one of the biggest holidays in Russia and I wanted to keep the traditions alive in my own family. The least I could do was to cook all the Easter treats. Paskha, Kulich and Coloured Easter Eggs are the three musts for every Russian household. Check out the links to Paskha and Kulich from my talented fellow bloggers, the treats are as delicious as they are beautiful!

I coloured eggs with my children this year but ended up buying Kulich or something similar from a Polish shop nearby instead of making my own. I really wanted to make a sweet cheese Paskha but I didn’t have a proper mould so I opted out for a modern day Paskha. Paskha with a twist.

Traditionally Paskha is made from a farmer’s cheese called “Tvorog” in Russian, eggs, sugar, vanilla and dried fruit and candied orange and lemon peel.  I thought it would be fun to try to use the same ingredients but make it into a cheesecake instead. Russian Cheesecake is called “Zapekanka” which translates as “Baked”, it doesn’t have a bottom crust and the cheese is often held together by eggs and semolina. I have vague and not the fondest memories of ‘Zapekanka’, something that was served for school lunches- heavier on semolina rather than cheese yellowish squares with burned top. It tasted far from stellar, so I successfully avoided eating it whenever possible. Needless to say, I set out to create different memories for my children.

My efforts were worthwhile because what they got as a result of my experiment tasted lighter than a cloud and looked… Actually, a picture is worth a thousand words so judge it for yourself!

Lemon Scented Vanilla Cheesecake with Fresh Figs and Honey
The recipe for this beauty is not too different from a standard cheesecake recipe but includes a couple of Russian twists.
Ingredients:

  • Farmers’s Cheese- 750 gr/24 oz
  • Eggs- 3 large
  • Sugar- 1 cup
  • Semolina-3 tbsp.
  • Lemon zest- from 1 lemon
  • Vanilla Bean seeds- from 1 bean
  • Digestive biscuits crushed( you can use graham crackers, unfortunately they are not available in England)-125 gr
  • Butter- 1/4 cup

Method:

Preheat your oven to 325 F/160 C

Zest the lemon and set aside…or take a picture like I did.

Lemon Crush the biscuits (I equipped my children with a rolling pin and a large bowl and told them to “go nuts” on those biscuits, they happily obliged.) then mix the crumbs with melted butter. Line the bottom of a 21″ springform pan with the crumbs and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, set aside and cool.

Separate your egg yolks from the egg whites. Mix together farmer’s cheese, egg yolks, sugar, semolina, lemon zest and vanilla bean seeds with an electric mixer until well blended. In a separate bowl whip egg whites until soft peaks form and gently fold them into the cheese mixture.

Pour the mixture into your springform pan and set it inside a larger roasting pan filled with 1″ water. This technique called “bain marie” helps to evenly distribute heat when cooking delicate foods like cheesecakes and custards. I find it produces much lighter texture in cheesecakes as it infuses them with additional moisture which also helps with preventing cracks.

Bake at 320 F/160C  for 60-65 minutes until the edges are lightly browned and the centre is nearly set. Turn the heat off and leave in the oven for additional 20-30 minutes. If your cheesecake still cracks, don’t worry and cover it up with something pretty! Cool completely in the refrigerator.

I used fresh figs instead of dried fruits that are traditionally used in Easter Paskha and drizzled them with a touch of  dark and deep flavoured chestnut honey I brought from my last trip to Italy. An experiment that turned out to be a true winner. I couldn’t be happier with the end result. 🙂

Lemon Vanilla Cheesecake with Figs and Honey

Lemon Scented Vanilla Cheesecake with Fresh Figs and Honey

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.}

Easter Eggs and Our Traditions

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Easter EggsEaster Eggs
Every Easter I am taken back to my childhood in Russia where the holiday is steeped in century-old traditions and memories. The holiday so loved and revered by people that even Communism wasn’t able to erase it from the nations’ psyche. It seems like the early childhood memories are the strongest and what I remember is my babushka starting to collect onion peels in a plastic shopping bag weeks before the arrival of Easter, so there would be enough to colour dozens of eggs. How could we possibly eat them all? We didn’t! With the rise of the dawn on Easter Sunday we would start hearing little knocks on our front door and my granny with a big bowl of beautifully coloured eggs at the ready opening the door to hear cheerful choir of the neighbourhood children, “Christ is risen!” to which she would reply with no fail, “Risen Indeed!” and give them each an egg. That went on for hours. That is one of the Easter traditions that carried on through centuries and was carefully preserved during the tough years when Christ was not welcome anywhere in the country. I still don’t understand how it was possible but one thing I do know there was not one family that didn’t celebrate Easter in one way or another. Miracle.
Having moved away from Russia many years ago I’ve lost many traditions but I was not about to lose the joy and anticipation of Easter by not colouring eggs with my own children! We colour eggs each Easter to remind us of what Christ has done, paving the way to new life, new birth and new beginning.
Easter eggs
Easter Eggs
The design on the eggs I have here is so beautiful yet so simple to achieve and what is even better is completely natural, no chemicals involved! Here is what you will need:

  • Onion peels(red or yellow) from about 10 onions
  • White Eggs
  • Any leaves you like e.g. rose leaves, parsley, dill, anything interesting you can find in your back yard!
  • Salt -1 tsp.
  • Pantyhose
  • Thread

Take the onion peels and put them in a pot. The next step is quite simple but a teensy bit fiddly. Place a leaf of your choice on the egg and slide it inside a pantyhose, tie a thread on each side of the egg to prevent the leaf from sliding. Repeat the process until all the eggs are “dressed” in pantyhose. I learned that very stiff leaves don’t work as well because they don’t “hug” the egg too tightly and produce an unclear print. Fill your pot with water and boil the eggs for 15-20 minutes. Make sure the heat is not set on very high as you don’t want your eggs knocking around in the pot and cracking. Cool the eggs, remove the panty hose and the leaves, wipe any leaf remnants with a cloth. The last step is to make them shiny! Simply rub each egg with a little bit of oil.

Easter egg colouring-The Russian method
I am sure I don’t have to tell you how much fun you will have with your children colouring eggs! However, if you have very young children the above method might be a bit too intricate for their little fingers. Not to worry, this is what I did with mine.
Egg colouring
Egg colouring
Use food colouring pastes and a tablespoon of vinegar per each cup of colour, top up with boiling water. Drop a cooked egg and let it sit for 5 minutes. I recommend using gel colours as they produce more vivid hues than their liquid counterparts.
Easter Egg Colouring
Easter Egg Colouring

Russian Crepes “Blini”

Standard

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"