Tag Archives: mushrooms

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?

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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"

Coq Au Vin, the Ultimate One Pot Dinner

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Just because I like to cook it doesn’t mean I don’t love shortcuts in the kitchen. Serving delicious food to my family and friends doesn’t always equal hours spent behind the hot stove. I am usually on the lookout for the recipes that are tasty yet simple. This Coq Au Vin (French for “Chicken in Wine”) is one of those dishes that is good enough to serve for a fancy dinner yet doesn’t require much hands-on time. It could be cooked a few hours in advance and then reheated quickly right before dinner. This way you can relax and make yourself look pretty and avoid greeting your guests all red and sweaty. French cuisine is so impressive for its ability to be sophisticated and deeply satisfying and comforting at the same time. Just look at that spread. Who wouldn’t want to sit down to a bowl of flavourful chicken cooked in wine with some crusty bread!
Coq-Au-Vin
The rich taste in this wonderful dish comes from the quality ingredients and a few spices artfully put together. No chef skills required. Have no fear, it’s impossible not to ace it! I have made Coq Au Vin numerous times. It doesn’t get old and it’s always a crowd pleaser. You can guess from the name that wine is one of the main ingredients. I am sure you have heard it before but I will say it again- only use the wine that is good enough to drink. I have tried this dish with a bottle of homemade wine and it tasted good or so I thought. Good but not memorable enough to make it my “dinner special”. It took me a few years before I came back to this recipe but I tried cooking with a decent bottle of wine. That time I saw the magic of Coq Au Vin, the quality that stood the test of time and kept this dish on people’s tables for generations.
Coq-Au-Vin
Ingredients:

  • Olive Oil- 1 tbsp.
  • Pancetta or Bacon lardons (cubed)- 120 gr/4 oz.
  • Chicken thighs and legs- 8-10 pieces
  • Onion- 1 large
  • Carrots- 2 medium
  • Garlic (chopped)- 1-2 cloves
  • Brandy or Whisky- 1/4 cup
  • Red Wine (your choice)-1/2 bottle
  • Chicken Stock- 1 cup
  • Thyme- 8-10 springs
  • Butter- 1 tbsp.
  • Flour- 1 1/2 tbsp for thickening (could substitute for corn starch for gluten-free version)
  • Mushrooms- 250 gr/ 1/2 pound
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 120C/250F.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large Dutch oven. (If you have a cast iron pot it’s perfect for it.) Fry your bacon lardons for 8-10 minutes until browned and remove them to a plate lined with paper towel.

Season your chicken pieces with salt and pepper and brown them in the same pot in batches to avoid overcrowding. Remove to the same plate as bacon. You are not cooking your chicken all the way through, just browning on both sides.

Slice your onions and carrots in medium sized chunks and add them to the pot with salt and pepper, cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer stirring the whole time not allowing it to burn. Add your brandy and scrape all the burned bits to incorporate them into your sauce, now add bacon and chicken with all the juices they collected, pour in your wine, chicken stock and thyme sprigs and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover with a lid and put it in the oven for 40 minutes.

When chicken is no longer pink mix melted butter with flour and stir in the sauce. Slice mushrooms thickly and add to the pot, taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.  Put back in the oven with the lid off for 10-15 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.

Serve Coq Au Vin with mashed potatoes and  crusty French bread and of course, a glass of nice French wine. Bon Appetit!
Note: The recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s Coq Au Vin.French Coq au Vin. One pot dinner for busy weeknights.

Coq-Au-Vin

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!

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.