Tag 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

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

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?

Spicy Turkey Burek

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Spicy Turkey and Filo Burek
Some smells and tastes are so nostalgic that even the mere memory of them create instant longing. Sometimes it’s the taste itself but more often it’s the time of our life that is linked to certain food experiences-happy childhood memories, flashbacks to the dizzying early days of a first love or late night eating with your girlfriends in a college dorm. Life is inevitably connected to food we eat and people we share it with. That’s what makes some things truly unforgettable.

One of the best parts of my childhood were summer travels with my parents to the South of Russia. We often went to the Black Sea for a much needed beach holiday. It was a day and a half travel by train which was surprisingly fun for my brother and I. I really loved Russian trains or “mobile hotel rooms” as Brad calls them with their endless tea drinking ceremonies usually accompanied by adults passionately discussing everything from the history of football to the flaws of the government structure and the children watching the expanse of Russian landscape stretch for hours on end. The highlight of the journey was the moment the food vendors would knock on our door with their cart full of wonderfully smelling food. To our utter disappointment, their food never passed my mom’s standards for health and nutrition but once in a while she’d be out of the compartment and my dad would buy us a burek or a cheburek as it is known in Russia

Spicy Turkey and Filo Burek
Cheburek is a popular street food commonly sold throughout Russia. It’s Crimean Tatar’s national dish that is loved and accepted in Russia as their own. Different incarnations of it exists in parts of Eastern Europe and also in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan and is more commonly known as Burek or Borek. Deep fried pastry filled with spicy minced meat and onions, cheburek is a lovely snack but not the healthiest thing in the world. I am sure you can see my dilemma as I’ve been on a quest to shed a few pounds for a couple of months, burek just didn’t fit into my diet but the need to make it grew stronger every time I passed the Turkish shop on my way to pick up the kids from school. Necessity is the mother of invention they say. Lo and behold, I present to you-Healthy Burek. Spicy minced turkey breast wrapped into delicate filo pastry and baked in the oven. I served it with hummus and fresh veggies for dipping. Although creating guilt-free burek was hugely experimental, the end result was a keeper and equally loved and enjoyed by husband and children alike. Win-win.
Spicy Turkey and Filo Burek with Hummus
Ingredients:

  • Minced Turkey Breast-500 gr
  • Onion-1 medium
  • Cilantro- 1/2 bunch
  • Parsley- 1/2 bunch
  • Garlic- 2 cloves
  • Dry Coriander- 1 tsp.
  • Chili Flakes(optional)-to taste
  • Salt and Pepper- 1 tsp.
  • Filo Pastry sheets- 150 gr.
  • Olive oil or oil spray

Method:

Preheat the oven to 250C/450F.

Chop onions, cilantro and parsley, mince garlic and combine with turkey, add salt and pepper and mix well. It’s very important to make sure your filling is properly spiced or you will end up with something bland and uninteresting, pinch a small amount off and fry it, taste it and add more spices if necessary.

Take one sheet of filo pastry and keep the rest covered with a tea towel to prevent drying out. My filo pastry came from a Turkish shop and was already cut into triangles, if yours is not you can do it yourselves. I prefer the triangle shape because you end up with less pastry to meat ratio and therefore crispier burek.

Put 2 tbsp. of filling on the wide end of the filo sheet and wrap it towards the tip of the triangle tucking the sides in. Place it on the parchment lined baking sheet making sure that the tip of the triangle is on the bottom, then either brush it with a bit of olive oil or use an oil spray. Repeat until the filling is gone- approximately 8-10 bureks.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, turning them over at a half time point to make sure they crisp up evenly.

Spicy Turkey and Filo BurekSpicy Turkey and Filo Burek
Additional links of this tasty treat are found below. Enjoy!

Russian Pastry Chebureki by Mom’s Dish

Borek or Burek (with spinach and cheese) by To Food with Love

Turkish Sigara Boregi with Minced Meat by Eating Out Loud

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”

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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 Honey Valentine, Russian Honey and Cream Cake “Medovik” or Fire and Ice

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Follow my blog with BloglovinHoney and Mascarpone Cream Cake "Medovik" with Caramel Flames

It’s Sunday and Valentine’s Day is long gone, but the leftover cake is still in my fridge and tastes better than ever. I love Valentine’s Day so much and I could care less that it’s been commercialised and turned into a sappy holiday with poorly written cards and tasteless teddies all over the place. I love the day that could be unashamedly ALL about my love for the most amazing man I know. We usually don’t go out on Valentine’s day, we made this pact on a V Day many years ago when we were still students living in Minneapolis and unable to get into any restaurants because of the reservations and waiting and pre-set menus…all the stuff that makes the day uncool. After being turned down by so many restaurants we wound up at the Olive Garden close to 10 pm too tired to enjoy the food, we agreed to never go out on the Valentine’s Day but stay in and still make the day completely out of the ordinary.

This year I decided to re-create our 10th anniversary celebration in France. Everything on the menu was a replica of our dinner in a tiny restaurant in Paris tucked away from the tourist area. We sat outside for hours while the rain kept pounding on the roof of the awning, there was not one person speaking English in view, the food was exquisite, the night was decidedly perfect.

How does my Russian cake fit into this? It doesn’t really but it’s an incredibly tasty treat that I never made for Brad, so there was my chance to rectify the situation.

I am starting with the dessert but there will be more posts, so come back if you like to know what kind of food you get served in France!

Back to the Honey Cake. The Russian name for it is “Medovik” and the first time I made it I was 13 or 14 when this cake was the “it cake”  in Russia. The recipe was being passed on from one household to another. It was impossible to have any sort of celebration without Medovik crowning the meal. It was so common that after a while it didn’t seem special anymore. I am glad I re-discovered this treasure because despite it’s simplicity of ingredients and the method of preparation the end result is far from plain.

Honey and Cream Cake "Medovik"

8 layers of honey goodness with creamy filling in between and adorned with caramel flames, this cake was a perfect finish to our romantic dinner for Valentine’s Day! Caramel flames is not the traditional decor for this cake but I wanted to add a little pizzazz to the special occasion cake and also  try my hand at making caramel. It turned out to be such a fun process, needless to say I was very pleased with the result.

Ingredients for cake:

  • Butter- 5 tbsp./70 gr
  • Sugar 1 cup
  • Honey- 2 tbsp. ( I prefer dark honey as it has richer taste. I used chestnut honey for my cake)
  • Eggs-3 large
  • Vanilla- 2 tsp.
  • Baking soda- 1tsp.
  • Vodka (although optional you wouldn’t believe me the cake was Russian if it didn’t call for vodka ;-))- 2 tbsp.
  • Salt-1/2 tsp.
  • Flour- 3 cups

Ingredients for the filling:

  • Creme fraiche- 2 cups
  • Whipping Cream/Double Cream- 2 cups
  • Sugar- 1/2 cup
  • Vanilla bean (seeds scraped out) or vanilla essence-1

Ingredients for the frosting:

  • Mascarpone cheese (cold)-1 cup/250 gr
  • Whipping cream/Double Cream-1/2 cup
  • Icing Sugar- 1 cup
  • Vanilla Bean or essence

Ingredients for the Caramel Flames:

  • Sugar ( I used half brown and half white)-1 cup
  • Lemon Juice- 1/2 tsp.

Method for the cake:

This cake preparation method is quite different from what you might be used to but don’t let it deter you from giving it a go because the result is stunning and you will be able to brag about making this authentic Russian cake to all your friends.

Preheat your oven to 400F/200C and line two baking trays with parchment paper.

Set your double boiler or a large pot filled 2/3 with water and a glass or metal bowl over it on the medium heat. Melt butter, sugar and honey in the bowl. In a separate bowl beat eggs and vanilla and pour the mixture in the double boiler while mixing the whole time (I use electric mixer) to avoid ending up with scrambled egg! Then add vodka, baking soda, salt and 2 cups of flour, continue mixing for a few minutes until the dough starts to thicken and come away from the edges of the bowl. Take it off the heat and add the last cup of flour, mix well. Be careful as the dough will be hot. Allow it to cool for a couple of minutes and then knead it with your hands until your get smooth, pasta like dough. What you are looking for is a cookie dough rather than a cake batter.

Divide into 8 equal parts and cover with a kitchen towel to avoid drying out. The cake layers will be baked separately on baking trays and then cut into neat circles using a 7″ cake pan, tart pan or, in my case, a pan lid as a template.

Dust your work surface with flour and roll out a thin circle slightly larger than 7″, transfer on a parchment lined baking tray and bake for 4-5 min. Watch closely as the cake layers burn quickly. Roll out the next layer while the previous one is baking. That is why you need to have 2 baking trays on the go. Remove from the over when golden brown and cut out a circle while still hot as the layers will turn into crisp biscuits in a couple of minutes. (Traditionally the scraps from the cake are turned into crumbs and pressed into cake sides and the top for the decoration. However, I decided to go the different route and use a stunning caramel piece for the top of my cake.) Cool on the cooling rack. Repeat the process until all 8 layers are done.

Filling:

Beat creme fraiche (can be substituted with sour cream) with whipping cream, sugar and vanilla until sugar is dissolved and it’s doubled in volume. Fill all 8 cake layers except for the top and the sides.

Frosting: 

Once again I’ve changed the frosting as in the original cake the above filling is used for the outside of the cake as well and later reinforced with the cake crumbs. Since I decided to go crumb free and wanted my cake to look a dinner date worthy, I’ve used a mascarpone frosting similar to the one I’ve used for Meringue Mascarpone Cake.

Beat cold mascarpone with icing sugar, vanilla and whip cream until stiff. Decorate the sides and the top of the cake with mascarpone frosting.

It needs to be noted that the cake is best served 24 hours after it’s made which is perfect when you are making a big meal as your dessert is already taken care of! A full day in the fridge allows all of those crisp layers to soften and soak all the wonderful flavours from the filling and the frosting.

Russian Honey Cake "Medovik"

Caramel Flames:

Mix sugar with lemon juice in a saucepan, set the saucepan on medium heat and don’t stir until the edges start to bubble up, then start stirring until all the crystals melted, sugar looks clear and deep amber colour. Take it off the heat and put the bottom of the pan in ice cold water to stop it from cooking immediately but don’t keep it there for too long or the caramel will harden before you have a chance to work with it.

Drizzle caramel with a spoon on parchment paper  that was previously sprayed with an oil spray, let it set. Then break up the hardened caramel and decorate your cake in any way you like.

Caramel

Caramel flames are best to be set on the top of the cake right before serving. You can have them made beforehand and pop them on top as you get ready to serve dessert. Russian Honey Cake "Medovik"