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

Strawberry Glazed Cheesecake

Strawberry Glazed Cheesecake
This was our first attempt at cheesecake ever, so please don’t judge too strict. You know, things like cheesecakes, carrot cakes or pizzas might seem pretty ordinary for a lot of you, but they are not too common in home cooking in this part of the world, so this was quite a challenge for us.

So, this was our first experiement with a cheesecake. In fact we had a jar of strawberry preserves and two packages of Philadelphia cheese that I had bought at a discount and the idea of making a cheesecake was obvious. I checked Love My Philly and found a recipe for a cake that looked beautiful, mouthwatering, perfect!.. A little problem was that we didnt want a large cheesecake, because ever since we started this blog, everyone in the family has been continuously overfed:) We didn’t have a small springform pan so we had to use a regular baking pan instead. Yes I know a cheesecake should be round-shaped. So ours was… unconventional, to begin with :)

Another thing I’d change next time I cook this would be the crackers. The original recipe called for some Honey Maid graham crackers, but for some reason we thought chocolate cracker crumbs would be cool too. Which was a mistake, as the chocolate flavour turned out too overwhelming (so was the colour, in fact). I also overdid it with pressing the crumbs onto the pan :D the crumb layer looked thin in the beginning, but it kind of increased in volume in the oven and resulted in a too thick crust.

And yet another departure from the rules: a much thinner layer of batter. We just feared that it wouldn’t bake through, but this was a needless precaution – the cake baked through perfectly in an hour and 10 minutes. So, next time we’re also making it taller.

Despite the mediocre looks of our cheesecake, I can eventually rate its taste and texture very good. It was moist, airy, and creamy. The strawberry glaze added a note of freshness and fruityness (I think I’m falling in love with gelatine: it can turn ordinary things into shiny, colourful lolly-pops!). The chocolate cracker crumb crust… err… could be better :)

But we still have dozens of cheesecakes ahead of us, don’t we?
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Cheese Pancakes and Celery and Walnut Salad

Cheese Pancakes and Celery and Walnut Salad

These cheese pancakes are one of our family recipes – I loved them when I was a kid, and not just because they were quite a rare treat on our everyday menu – yes there were times when eggs and cheese were considered expensive products that couldn’t be wasted just like that.

While some magical childhood memories about certain foods die as you grow up and try those foods (my Grandmother, for example, cherished memories of beetroot leaves soup that she once had during the war, until she finally made it many years later and… the dream got ruined: the soup was not too edible), but I have to say these cheese pancakes taste just as good now as they did in my childhood. They look good, too – golden brown on the outside, fluffy and yellow on the inside. The eggs in the batter make them taste a little bit omelet-y. Well, I think there are some flavours that are just impossible to resist – the flavour of melted/fried cheese is one of them, to me.

But, obviously you will want a counterbalance to these pancakes - something green and fresh and preferably crunchy on the side. From the limited choice of fresh greens and vegetables that we have in this time of the year, celery looked like the perfect candidate. Green, fresh and crunchy. We added some chopped parsley leaves and tossed it all with some minced walnuts and garlic. The walnut-garlic-oil paste is close to what you could find inside Georgian eggplant rolls. I found out it could serve as a standalone dip for crackers/tortillas as well.

The salad came out so good that we thought we’d make it next time we have guests. As for the pancakes… isn’t it great we always have enough cheese and eggs to make them nowadays?

Celery, Parsley, and Walnut salad
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Two Chicory Drinks

Chicory Coffee

You might have noticed that I often complain about food diversity/availability here in Latvia. That’s why we decided we’d occasionally write about our favourite Latvian or Eastern European products. Some of them are also available overseas; some are specific to Latvia. Just to let you know there are good foods here too :) Because despite all criticism, there are plenty of local foods I’ll miss when I move away. And, with all the travel collapse in Europe, we will soon have to turn to domestic produce, hehe. Which would look, however, quite miserable, as I went to buy some greens the other day and found out that the spring onions were from Cyprus, the dills were from Israel, and the rocket salad had arrived from Sweden. Why can’t we grow our local dills and onions?.. Okay okay enough of this… I was actually going to write about chicory root extract!

Chicory root extract

This thick and dark liquid made of roasted chicory root is produced in Ukraine. I had tried ground chicory root drink before I discovered this, and I can say that liquid extract is much much better. A huge advantage is that you can easily dissolve it in cold water. It is made of chicory extract (70%) and water (30%). No sugar, and 45% natural inulin, which is great news for diabetics. And of course chicory is a good caffeine-free coffee substitute. I hardly ever drink coffee – unless I need to stay awake for 24 hours in a row, yelling at others, feeling stressed, irritated, and awkward. No thanks; I’d rather have a cup of fake coffee made of chicory root :)

I’m sure most of you have heard of chicory root coffee, yet there’s another chicory drink you might not have tried before. It’s made with cold water and fresh lemon juice and makes a refreshing, bitter-ish drink, slightly resembling Kvas. And again, just think how healthy it is!

Do you have any other chicory drink suggestions?

Refreshing chicory drink
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Mango Yogurt, Peach and Grape Jelly

Mango Yogurt, Peach and Grape Jelly

As far as I remember, Mom first learned this recipe from one of those promotional brochures that arrive with Tupperware equipment. She has experimented with different kinds of yogurt and fruit ever since, so I am not sure how close this is to the original recipe. Anyway, this jelly makes a perfect summer dessert – light, fruity and extremely versatile as you have two layers to play with: one is made with yogurt or sour cream, and another with fresh or canned fruit or berries. Whatever your choice, this dessert will always look neat, glossy, and colourful. You might be surprised how little ingredients it requires – for example, to make this jelly we used only 2 canned peaches, 10 grapes, 500ml yogurt – which yields 7-8 servings. And, if you choose to freeze the jelly instead of refrigerating it, this can be a real time-saver. In a word, I’m happy I have now learned how to make this jelly too!

Mango Yogurt, Peach and Grape Jelly

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Machine-free Honey Ice-Cream

Machine-free Honey Ice-cream

A few days ago I discovered this amazing blog The Stone Soup that suggests lots of simple recipes with the minimum of ingredients and equipment, which really appeals to me. And can you imagine - Jules, the author of this blog, possesses the secret of making ice-cream without an ice-cream machine! Isn’t this wonderful? It’s only made with cream and honey. Which means my ice-cream mixture was ready in about 10 minutes, plus about 6 hours for freezing. Or maybe 7. That’s it. I left it in the freezer overnight and it still remained soft and creamy - simply unbelievable! I really like the idea of making 100% natural (well, as natural as store-bought cream can be) ice-cream at home. Until now I’ve only experimented with different kinds of sorbet.

I couldn’t resist decorating my ice-cream with pictachios just as Jules did it - mine were slightly salted and this touch of salt worked great with the sweetness of the honey-flavoured ice-cream and the dried dates that I also used as a garnish.

Machine-free Honey Ice-cream
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Red&White Ukha (Russian Fish Soup)

Ukha (Russian Fish Soup)

Ukha (pronounced ooo-h’a!) is a clear Russian fish soup made with the minimum of vegetables and the maximum of different varieties of fish. To learn more about ukha, we referred to a reprint of a 1890 book from Saint Petersburg, the so called Northern capital of Russia. The book suggests almost 230 kinds of soups and around 80 soup “accessories” such as meatballs and fishballs, pelmeni, croutons, noodles, dumplings, and flavoured butters. I was surprised to find out that ingredients like Brussels sprouts, olives, and capers, as well as French wines, were widely used in Russian cuisine already in the 19th century (somehow I used to believe capers were first imported to Russia 100 years later).

We studied 23 different recipes for fish soup and compiled a method that seemed conventional enough yet applicable to modern reality. Most of the recipes called for loads of pike, sturgeon, starlet, and other kinds of fish you cannot find in an ordinary Latvian supermarket (well sometimes you cannot even buy tomatoes here – like it happened to my Mom today; if some places on Earth sound like foodie paradise, this country’s food market is rather a foodie purgatory – monotonous, limited, and pathetic). Moreover, most of the recipes suggested that you start with small and cheap fish and, when the broth was ready, you throw away that fish and add large pieces of more expensive fish. Which I think is just unfair towards the ingredients. The key point is to use several varieties of fish, so we thought of a red&white ukha with salmon and cod. The cod, which I was pretty skeptical about in the beginning, came out surprisingly tender, and I have to say that its mild flavour was even better than that of salmon! We tried to stick to all directions regarding the broth, so it came out clear and transparent.

Just one note: don’t ignore the parsley root! It’s one of the secret ingredients (like it is in a lot of soups). As soon as we decided we would be making an ukha, I ran to the market to buy a parsley root. The parsley root season has not yet started in fact, but I was lucky to find a stand where they still had some. I guess I looked pretty silly trotting from one market stall to another and asking for a single parsley root! :D

Salmon and Cod Ukha (Russian Fish Soup)
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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

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