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Russian, Eastern European and international cuisine brought to you by a mother and a daughter

Oatmeal Bars with Dried Cherries and Walnuts, and Merry Christmas to everyone!

Dried Cherry Oatmeal Bars

With this post (which is going to be a little bit chaotic, as there’s so much I’ve got to tell you!) we are taking a short break until January. I am off to Slovakia on Friday (via Vienna - do you think I’ll still catch the winter sales this weekend?!) and will be back just a few days before the New Year. Being a Russian Orthodox, I celebrate Christmas on 6/7th of January, so there’s still plenty of time until Christmas for me. Anyway, I’m certainly going to participate in Christmas celebrations while I’m in Slovakia, and then spend a cosy New Year’s Eve together with my family. Sure we’re going to bake and cook a lot for New Year’s Eve, so expect new posts in the beginning of January ;-)

Speaking about travel, I’ve just read there’ll be direct flights from Riga to Belgrade starting from May 2010 – I’m so excited! I’ve always wanted to visit Serbia, and voila – they’re opening this new destination specially for me! :)

In this post I would also like to thank Barbara Rolek, the Guide to Eastern European Food at About.com, for mentioning our website. You can’t imagine how excited I was when Barbara wrote and let us know she was going to include RussianSeason in her latest list of blogs to watch for. Barbara is a professional cook, food writer and restaurant critic. Be sure to check out her Top10 (Eastern European) Foodie Gifts!

I’m not sure I will have the opportunity to spend a lot of time online while I’m away – I bet that you wouldn’t be often seen online either if you had only 10 days to see the Tatra mountains, visit Vienna, and learn a bunch of Slovak recipes! So, just a few technical notes: if you posted a comment and it never got published – don’t worry, it’s probably my Akismet module which sometime filters out good comments. I’ve got to approve them manually afterwards. Also, if you have a comment or a question to ask, please feel free to email us, I’ll reply when I come back (I *love* hearing from our readers!)

Before leaving, I’ve made two large pans of baked goods for my friends. I’d been thinking of some simple, homely goodies that would not be too fragile and yet look/taste festive. So I decided on Lazy Pahlava and Oatmeal Bars with dried cherries and walnuts, which evolved from a plain oatmeal cookie recipe. Those translucent dried cherries bring a Christmas note and add a fruity flavour to the bars, while the walnuts kind of merge with the oats and create that nutty aroma.

We wish a very happy Christmas to everyone! Thank you very much for being out there, cooking, inspiring, reading, commenting! See you soon! ^_^

Dried Cherry Oatmeal Bars
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Potato and Mushroom Pie with fresh parsley

Potato&Mushroom Pie

One of the distinctive features of traditional Russian cuisine is that it was very filling. It involved a lot of pastry, dairy products, cereals, bread, and so on. Fruit were mostly represented by apples, plums, cherries, sweet cherries, cherry plums and the likes. As for vegetables, mostly root vegetables like potatoes, turnips, and beetroots were used for cooking. There’re also strong traditions of fasting in the Russian Orthodox Church - you were not allowed to eat meat or fish under several periods of the year, including the very restrictive Lent. My Grandmother also says that in the countryside, meat hardly appeared on the table in summertime.

So, good substitutes for meat were pies. And the fillings for those pies were… quite filling:) Potatoes, eggs, rice, or buckwheat in a pie?! This definitely does seem too heavy nowadays, but people did a lot of physical work back then and they needed heavy meals. Besides, they didn’t have all those addictive snacks that we nibble throughout the day.

I’m convinced that a lot of those recipes can be adapted to modern tastes and lifestyles. And I’m sure they are worth it. For example, I love the Potato and Mushroom pie which we made this weekend. It’s comforting and rustic in a nice way. It has a layer of sliced jacket potatoes, fried onions, and champignons, all topped with sour cream and egg. Finally, add some fresh parsley, which brings you the essential daily dose of vitamins. Mm?

Potato&Mushroom Pie
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Apple & Sour Cream Tart

Apple and Sour Cream Tart

I’ve always admired the endless variety of apple pie recipes from different times, nations, and lifestyles. Perhaps the apple pie could be an independent area of culinary study and a separate subject for a book. Actually I’m sure someone has already done this. Maybe even written the Big Book of Apple Pies. Or made a special all-year-round apple pie menu that would feature one apple pie for each weekend: from warm and spicy types in winter to light and airy summer apple cakes… In any case, this tart, based on traditions of Russian cuisine, is just our humble contribution to the family of quick apple pies.

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Tangerines

Oh my God, it’s Sunday afternoon and it’s the first time this weekend that I’m cooking :(  That’s because I’ve got to buy/find/fix/finish a million things before my Christmas vacation.

While the Potato&Mushroom pie is baking, I’ll just post a couple of pictures of those beautiful and juicy tangerines we got yesterday. I love when tangerines come with sprigs and leaves. Aren’t they marvellous?

Tangerines
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Cheese&Rosemary Halfmoons

Cheese&Rosemary Halfmoons

These pleasantly salty and buttery Cheese&Rosemary Halfmoons are perfect to serve with root vegetable soup. They are made with a semi-soft to firm sort of cheese with a mild flavour – something like Havarti, for example. We used a sort which is called Russian cheese here. And the fresh rosemary that I bought comes from Israel. This rosemary grew on a sunlit land and made such a long way to be eaten here, in this small Northern country! Poor herb. I cherish the hope of planting my own tiny herb garden next year, although I’m not sure the delicate herbs would stand the Latvian weather. There’s a joke about Latvian weather which explains the difference between winter and summer: you wear your coat fastened in winter and unfastened in summer. That’s true. Not that it’s so freezing cold in winter - but it’s almost equally mm…fresh outside all year round. I’m very picky about choosing a coat for myself because I know I’ll be wearing it October to April. And April to June I’ll be wearing a jacket :) Then I’d be off to a warmer corner of the world - I hear, however, that some people go swimming here as well, in mid-July, when the temperature of water in the sea reaches whole 18C. Haha!

Cheese & Rosemary Cookies

 

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Rūpjmaizes kārtojums (layered Latvian rye bread dessert)

Rūpjmaizes kārtojums

As I already wrote, Latvians have some incredibly delicious desserts, a lot of them are made with rye bread, which is an essential part of traditional Latvian cuisine. There’s even rye breadcrumb ice-cream over here and yogurt with rye breadcrumbs – very tasty. Not to mention cream of bread, bread soup, etc etc. Even nowadays, as bread is losing its popularity (a lot of people are on a diet and think it’s too fattening), public opinion polls say an average Latvian eats up to 50 kg bread per year. And coarse rye bread is the sort which remains favourite throughout the years.

The dessert we will be talking about today is originally called Rūpjmaizes kārtojums, which means layers of bread. The most common method is to layer rye breadcrumbs, whipped cream, and cranberry or cowberry jam. Sometimes cream of cottage cheese is used instead. The dessert can be made in small individual ice-cream bowls or in a larger bowl and then cut in portions. We made it in a larger container for four and used mascarpone instead of whipped cream. Mascarpone has a richer taste than whipped cream; the only shortcoming is that it’s thicker and you’ll probably need to let sit your Rūpjmaizes kārtojums for at least 5 hours until the breadcrumbs saturate in jam and mascarpone. At least that’s what we did – and the result was very pleasing! Imagine rye breadcrumbs toasted with sugar and cinnamon, layered with tangy mashed cranberries, and topped with soft, vanilla-flavoured mascarpone; repeat once and top with those crunchy breadcrumbs. Sounds good, uh? And those fresh forest cranberries that Mom pureed with sugar came up really handy here: we store them in refrigerator and use for time-saving baking and dessert-making. Fresh cranberries can be replaced with cranberry jam, if you prefer.

Rūpjmaizes kārtojums

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Are you curious to learn more about Eastern European cuisine?
RussianSeason.net is a food blog run by two Russian-speaking women - a mother (Natalia) and a daughter (Alina) - living in Latvia. Natalia is a professional artist and Alina is the co-owner of a web directory of Russian-speaking businesses in Europe. We both cook and Alina writes posts and takes photos.
In our blog you'll find a range of (mostly tweaked&adapted) recipes from Russia, Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and former USSR. But we can't restrain ourselves from experimenting with other cuisines too :)
Stano is the guy behind the Slovak version of this blog. He is currently living and working in Latvia and is also known as the Man Who Makes Alina Eat A Lot Of Cakes, because he hardly ever eats cakes or pies she bakes. He doesn't have a sweet tooth, you see. Stano also provides us with traditional Slovak recipes - such as Halušky that he's been promising to make for 7 months now :) Just be patient - we're sure he will eventually do it!
Ivanka is the largest cross-cultural project Alina and Stano have been ever involved in:) We hope she will be a foodie too when she grows up!
Our email address is: russianseason@gmail.com

Priyatnovo appetita! (Bon appetit!)

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