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

Lemon Polenta Apricot Cookies via 6Bittersweets

Lemon Polenta Apricot Cookies

“No more expensive foods until the end of the month”, I said to myself after receiving my January bills. I just wasn’t prepared to pay TWICE as much for things like central heating and water; seems like someone’s prosperity is improving in the new year, huh. Then I sat down and started to ponder what those expensive foods of our daily menu could be. I couldn’t think of any luxury foods I had recently bought - dried dates sounded like the most decadent of my latest purchases. It’s just that in a country with 22% VAT, everything is freaking expensive. So I headed off to the supermarket and bought potatoes, cornmeal, oatmeal, some butter (certainly we will have to cut down on that next month, haha) and other staples like milk and flour. If they raise VAT to 23%, we’ll have to rename our blog to “Creative Cooking with Potatoes” or something like that.

Anyway. If you like cornmeal as much as me, and even if you don’t have to think of 10 next ways to cook polenta because your family budget is staggering, you MUST make these cookies. I found them on a blog called 6 Bittersweets - it’s so beautiful and inspiring and fresh, I just can’t take my eyes off those stunning food photos. Xiaolu adapted the recipe from Bon Appetit, and I adapted it from her blog, substituting finely diced dried apricots for cranberries just because that’s what I had at hand. I think I’ll bake polenta cookies again for my birthday, and make both cranberry and apricot versions. They’re so yellow, crumbly, homeopathically salty, and noticeably lemony even though there’s just one teaspoon of fresh lemon zest in the dough. The smell of baking polenta cookies will make your home a million times cozier than the most expensive furniture would do. And with remaining egg whites, I made a small batch of tiny raspberry jam meringues, so we had enough sweets for all weekend.

Oh and it’s snowing again today, all day. How sweet :-/ I decided that no matter what,  we have our own micro spring in our home. I’m terrible at growing flowers, but luckily I have a good relationship with bulbous plants, so I’m going to buy more hyacinths and, hopefully, crocuses.

Lemon Polenta Cranberry Cookie recipe at 6Bittersweets

Pink Hyacinth

Heart-shaped Cookies and Happy Orthodox Christmas

Heart-shaped cookies with pearl sugar

I really wanted to bake something Russian for Orthodox Christmas, but I couldn’t think of anything simple enough. I knew I’d be alone with Ivanka all day and I just couldn’t make yeast dough AND make dinner AND then bake. Mom is making her traditional cabbage Pirozhki for our family dinner, while I had no other choice than think Scandinavian. Why Scandinavian? Because their recipes are always simple and precise, focused on convenience, time-saving, and often thrifty. Lagom är bäst. This cookie recipe can be found on any Dansukker pearl sugar package. I only altered the cookie shape - I had absolutely no time to make four baking sheets of pretzels, so I armed myself with a heart-shaped cookie cutter and soon I had 200 crispy hearts sprinkled with beautiful snow-white sugar. They’re lightweight, they’re flaky inside, they’re lagom sweet and they’re utterly easy to make! Margarine, flour, sugar, and some whipping cream are four ingredients that are always at hand. In fact these are shortbread cookies with margarine in place of butter.

Now I’m wondering why I had never visited Dansukker page before to see their recipes?! Just have a look at their collection of citrus marmalades for example. They’re minimalist and economic, and they’re all about pure, bright, basic flavours - flavours of our childhood, of a sunny winter morning, of a grandmother’s pantry. They’re inspiring!

Last but not least, I would like to wish a happy Christmas to anyone Orthodox who’s reading our blog, and I will also try my best to finally write about those Slovak cookies soon. I couldn’t have a more supportive baby than Ivanka, but still - a baby is a baby :)

Heart-shaped cookies with pearl sugar

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Chocolate Marmalade Candy Muffins

Chocolate Marmalade Candy Muffins
It’s good to have Orthodox Russians and Catholics in the same family, you know? Our Christmas season began on December 6th, when we celebrated the Slovak holiday of Mikulaš and filled each other’s boots with sweet goodies (or you can get an onion or a piece of coal if Mikulaš thinks you behaved badly during the year). Now Stano’s parents have come over and we’re getting ready for Catholic Christmas (everyone gives presents to Stano and his family) and the New Year (everyone gives presents to me and my family), and then Orthodox Christmas (no gifts, just a family get-together). Wahoo! Stano’s parents have brought along several boxes with Christmas cookies and mini cakes, so I’ll be posting some Slovak recipes and photos soon. Until then, I would like to present you my Chocolate Marmalade Candy Muffins that I also made for the Christmas season. I find these muffins quite perfect - not too buttery, not too sweet, very chocolatey, with specks of red and green translucent marmalade candy, they kept their shape perfectly, and I finally didn’t feel like coating them with some kind of glaze to make them look puffier. I think the inclusion of melted dark chocolate added some extra firmness to muffin texture, so perhaps if they would have lasted for 3 days, they would be a little bit chewy; but they were polished off in a day.

Chocolate Marmalade Candy Muffins
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Chocolate Coated Pumpkin Cottage Cheese Muffins

Pumpkin Cottage Cheese Muffins

Buttery. Moist. Sweet. Fluffy. Aromatic. Coated with dark bittersweet chocolate and generously sprinkled with walnuts. The milky flavour of cottage cheese curds and the mild sweetness of pumpkin enhanced by the rich aroma of nutmeg and cinnamon. Perfect served for breakfast or for dessert, with a glass of milk or a cup of tea alike. I’m talking pumpkin and cottage cheese muffins!

Chocolate Coated Pumpkin Cottage Cheese Muffins
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Banana Upside-Down Cake

Banana Upside-Down Loaf

I can’t keep getting away with it forever. Yes I squeeze in my pre-pregancy jeans, but having a cake every night… hmm… this doesn’t really encourage weight loss, you know? But I just can’t resist. My web browser is full of cooking-related bookmarks and I’m baking a new cake almost every night. I still have persimmon cake on my to-make list for this weekend, but I (kind of) promised myself to concentrate on baking with quince savoury, non-baked, and just healthier things next week. I just hope that the calories I lose while whipping up a cake batter while running back and forth from the kitchen to the room to check the baby, partly compensate for the calories I consume. I hope. Oh and I work out a few days per week. I’m a good girl :) just in an acute phase of baking obsession.

Anyway, what I made last night was so good that I needed to share the recipe. Banana Upside-down Cake by lululu at home - imagine slices of fragrant sweet bananas coated with buttery gooey caramel on top of an equally buttery cake? Sounds good and guilty, doesn’t it? Unfortunately I didn’t have brown sugar at hand, so I made this with plain white sugar, that’s why my cake is not as perfectly golden as lululu’s. I also added a generous pinch of salt to the caramel, just because I like salted caramel. And of course I made the cake twice as small. I don’t have a small flat baking form in this apartment, so I baked the cake in a deeper loaf form. There’s just me and Stano who have to deal with all the pastry I produce, after all! Fortunately my Dad came over for a cup of tea and he helped us a little bit :)

My mistake was that I used too little bananas. I thought I arranged them very densely when raw, but when the batter raised, there appeared large gaps between the slices. And the bananas somehow reduced in size. I used two bananas for twice as little batter (the original recipe called for 3 bananas), and still these were not enough. I guess I should have arranged them in two layers so that they’d overlap. But even despite all these imperfections, the cake tasted great. Thank you Fanny of Lululu at home! Next time I’ll certainly make it with brown sugar to achieve that beautiful rich colour!

Banana Upside-Down Cake: Click here for Recipe

Banana Upside-Down Loaf of Cake

Sour Cream Panna Cotta with Pumpkin Cranberry Compote

Pumpkin Cranberry Compote

One of the first golden rules I’ve made as a new parent is not to rush. You will never accomplish everything you’d like to on time, unless you have someone who looks after your baby 24/7 and feeds her. I was very stressed out for the first two weeks because I was trying to do everything at once – be with my daughter whenever she’s awake, do housework, update my two websites, cook, plus a dozen things more. Which was impossible, of course. The only way to handle this postpartum chaos is to relax and do your tasks one by one. Don’t be afraid to postpone things or cancel your plans, that’s what I realized, just try to be super-flexible about your schedule. Baby wakes up just after you’ve prepared all ingredients and heated your skillets for a new dish you’ve been dreaming to try? Never mind, seal your ingredients in a plastic wrap and put them off for later. Managed to do just five yoga asanas instead of the planned ten? A little is better than nothing!

With this new rule in my armoury, I’ve been waiting patiently for a free hour in my schedule to make a Panna Cotta that I’ve been meaning to make for ages, and to use up the large piece of pumpkin that Mom brought me from the farmer’s market. I primarily associate pumpkin with cuisine of the US, but it’s also a common ingredient for old Russian cuisine, where pumpkin appears in dishes like stuffed pancakes, millet gruel, pies, and others. Sour cream (Smetana in Russian) is another essential component of Russian cuisine, so this dessert is an attempt to fuse elements of Italian, American, and Russian cooking traditions. Actually I chose to substitute sour cream for half of the cream in my Panna Cotta because I shouldn’t be eating a lot of fats. Sour cream contains a lot of fat as well, but it just sounds healthier to me. And it kind of links the purely Italian treat to a compote that includes a not at all Mediterranean ingredient: wild cranberries to set off the straight sweetness of pumpkin in sugar syrup. The original recipe, which I copied from my Grandmother’s notebook, called for a splash of lemon juice and a quince in the syrup, but I’m not allowed to eat any citruses at the moment, while quince has somehow disappeared from local farmer’s markets these days. But aren’t cranberries, the fall berries, a better match for pumpkin than lemon? With cranberries instead of lemon juice, I also find this dessert quite breastfeeding-friendly, unless you’re on an individual diet. Worked well for me and my little one, at least!

Sour Cream Panna Cotta with Pumpkin Cranberry Compote

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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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