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

Large Cupcakes For Little Ivanka

Lemon Cupcakes for Ivanka

Ivanka has turned 6 months old! It feels like it was a week ago that we brought her home from the hospital, and yet it feels like she’s been here always. The first two and the most exhausting months have simply disappeared from my memory. I know there have been sleepless nights and tears and exhaustion, but I don’t really remember all that.  As we all know, that’s how a woman’s brain is designed. It erases all negative memories connected to giving birth and raising a child.

Ivanka's little foot

Ivanka has changed so much from a tiny orange-skinned creature to a lively baby interested in everything. She wants to touch our books, drink our tea, taste our food, and of course her biggest dream is to play with the notebooks, mobile phones, and electric cords. The sports programme is prevailing at the moment: she is more interested in learning to crawl and trying to stand up than to learn pronouncing new sounds… what she does love though is to spit with a loud bubbling “ppp” sound - she can do that for hours… *sigh* hope she will make us happy with some more advanced sounds soon!

Ivanka's clothes

To celebrate Ivanka’s little anniversary, I made some cupcakes. Well, strictly speaking these were muffins topped with cream cheese and whipped cream and they were too large to be called cupcakes, but anyway. Cakes, mini cakes, large cupcakes, whatever - I am proud that I have managed to bake and decorate them:) They are not as neat and beautiful as what I’d like them to be, but I believe they’re quite okay for a busy Mom :) I’ve never been a perfectionist, after all.

Decoration

I adapted the recipe for lemon muffins from here and topped them with cream cheese that I whipped with some maple syrup. I had baked these muffins before and I loved how well buttermilk and lemon paired, not to mention how fluffy the batter was thanks to the combination of acid and baking soda. For the other sort of cakes, I used the same proportions, incorporating some whole wheat flour, frozen sour cherries, cinnamon, and nutmeg. For some reason I love the combination of nutmeg and cherries. These muffins/cupcakes came out more moist and dense, with a pleasant homely flavour of whole wheat. I decorated them with cherry-flavoured whipped cream and coloured sugar hearts… I hope Ivanka liked them even though she couldn’t eat them! :)

Ivanka's clothes

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Pozharskie Kotlety (Pozharsky Cutlets)

Pozharsky's Cutlet

While I still eat chicken… I should post as many chicken recipes as possible :) I plan to breastfeed until Ivanka turns 1 year old, so I still have 6 months ahead to test and post chicken recipes. What’s the connection between breastfeeding and eating chicken? As I already wrote here, I have been eating poultry in order to maintain my animal protein balance since I got pregnant. And I’m planning to quit eating poultry as soon as I stop to breastfeed.

This time I would like to tell you about Pozharsky Cutlets. My Mom made these for me the other day, when I visited my parents to take pictures of something beautiful… something I’ll show you later.

There are two versions of the story behind this old Russian recipe. The first version suggests that Prince Dmitry Pozharsky, whose home chef was famous for his veal cutlets, once wanted to make them for the Great Prince of Moscow, but the chef had run out of veal and, instead, made analogous cutlets with chicken. The high guest liked the chicken cutlets so much that he asked for the recipe, and soon Pozharsky’s chicken cutlets became a hit among the Russian nobility.

Another version says that this recipe was invented by an inn owner Pozharsky’s wife. This legend says that Russian Tzar Alexander the First once stayed in the inn and ordered veal cutlets. The inn’s owner was shocked to realize that there was no veal at hand, and so his wife Darya suggested that he made similar cutlets of chicken fillets with plenty of white bread and butter, coated them in breadcrumbs and served as veal cutlets. Just as in the previous story, the trick worked so well that the cutlets became a popular dish on Tzar’s menu and beyond.

Yet another legend says that Darya Pozharsky learned this recipe from a French man who didn’t have money to pay for lodging and “paid” with this great recipe.

You see how many legends there are behind these simple cutlets? I’m quite sure there might be even more. Whichever version you prefer, I can tell you for sure that thanks to a perfect proportion of meat and other ingredients, these cutlets are extraordinarily juicy, buttery, and tender. Well, I find it morally unacceptable to eat veal, so I have never even tried it and I can’t compare, but I’m absolutely content with these chicken cutlets. My Mom used chicken breasts, so her cutlets were snow-white inside - a quality that makes a cutlet much more visually appealing! And of course the golden-brown breadcrumb coating is irresistible. If you eat chicken meat, go try these now - highly recommended! Read the rest of this entry »

Baked Millet Bars

Baked Millet Bars served with sour cream

I think I should experiment more with traditional Russian/Eastern European ingredients, trying to create my own, new recipes inspired by these foods. Millet is one of the foods that are very characteristic of old Russian cuisine. You would hardly see any modern recipes using millet, but it’s still widely available in local supermarkets even here in Latvia. A bowl of millet flakes boiled in sweetened milk is a great alternative to oatmeal for breakfast. But even though millet flakes are much faster to make, I still prefer millet grains. The warming and healthful millet meal is one of my favourite comfort foods. Millet is rich in vitamins В1, В2, В5, PP, and protein, and it’s gluten-free. It’s also very versatile, as it can be made both in sweet or savoury variations, or milled into flour and then used for baking flatbreads, for example.

One of the traditional ways to cook sweet millet in Russian cuisine is to cook it in boiling milk with pumpkin and then let it sit in the oven for some 15 minutes. Another option is to add prunes or raisins. Millet is normally cooked untoasted. As a savoury dish, millet can be cooked with lard and, optionally, fried onions, potatoes, green herbs, etc. This thick soup called Kulesh, served as the main course, belongs to traditional cuisines of Ukraine and Southern Russia.

I have never tried making Kulesh myself - I think I would have to play with the traditional recipes a little bit before this dish could be adapted to modern taste - anyway, this time I just wanted to make something new and unconventional. And I thought of baked millet bars on a shortbread crumb base. This was a total improvisation - I added a pinch of this and a dash of that - which eventually worked out pretty good. I mixed the millet meal with beaten egg to make it fluffier and added a layer of pear apricot jam between the shortbread and the millet. This jam layer turned out to be the most problematic part for two reasons: 1) the jam didn’t want to spread over the crumbs, 2) its flavour didn’t really come through in ready millet bars. So, if you ever decide to try this recipe, feel free to experiment with fruit/jam in it and suggest your ideas. I felt like millet bars without any fruitiness in them would be too chewy and plain. Maybe I should have incorporated bits of dried fruit in them. This recipe is totally open for improvements, I am just posting my Beta version - this is just a humble blog of mine, after all.

Oh, and a few words on the bars: they were very filling and there were a lot of them. I believe it would be wise to reduce all ingredients twice unless you have an Italian family. The bars should be eaten warm, best served with sour cream or creme fraiche. They have a rustic look and a nice, expressed texture formed by tender, plump millet grains. The shortbread base adds a  more sophisticated and finished look to these simple, homely baked bars. Read the rest of this entry »

Chocolate Butter

Chocolate Butter

Along with boiled condensed milk, chocolate butter is one of the simplest - and the most nostalgic - home-made sweet treats of the Soviet period. Under conditions of total deficiency*, you had to be thrifty and creative. You know what we sometimes did with chocolate sweets? We spread some butter on a piece of bread, then cut a chocolate sweet into slices and put it on top of the bread. Or sometimes it was just bread, butter, and sugar on top. These simple pleasures were not as miserable as you might have thought - as everything was organic and natural. You couldn’t store products in the fridge for weeks and weeks and weeks like now: they spoiled. Butter was extremely thick, rich and… yes, buttery: the quintessence of butter. Bread was always crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, somewhat similar to ciabatta; the crust was slightly salty and pale golden. Another thing is that sometimes you could notice dirty fingermarks on a loaf of bread, so a common practice was to quickly roast each loaf over a fire in order to disinfect it, hehe.

This morning I spread a spoonful of chocolate butter on a slice of a multigrain bun and meditated about my childhood and all the flavours that are gone for good. But back then, how could I think that I would ever try mascarpone, and wasabi, and arugula?.. And that I would discuss all that with people from all around the globe? All changes are to the good…

*A riddle I invented as a child: “It’s round, green, and grows in Moscow. What is it?” - the right answer is orange, hahaha.

Chocolate Butter

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A Few More Words On Borsch

Vegetarian Russian Borsch

I already wrote about  Borsch, but we had very few readers at that time, so I thought it would be nice to highlight this awesome soup once again. It’s one of the pillars of Russian/Ukrainian cuisine, so you can never have too much Borsch! Made with juicy and colourful sauteed vegetables, complemented with freshly squeezed garlic and fresh chilli, and tinted with tomato paste, Borsch is such a universal kind of soup - I don’t associate it with a certain time of the year, for example. It’s equally good in summertime, when all you need for dinner is fresh vegetables, and in winter, when a bowl of comfortingly warm soup can bring you out of hibernation. This time vegetarian Borsch served as a detox meal to me - remember I was going to eat healthier after all the cakes I had been baking? I also made a polenta, and of course I’m still the terror of chickens as I’m still going on with my increased protein consumption.

Do you think I have deserved the right to bake a batch of pumpkin muffins tonight?.. :)

 

Borsch: Click here for our recipe with step-by-step photos (check out the secret ingredient of Borsch and the trick to intensify the colour of beets!)

In the pictures: serve Borsch with a spoonful of sour cream and a slice of rye bread with hot Russian mustard!

Vegetarian Russian Borsch

Cold Pumpkin Cake

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Cold Pumpkin Cake

On the first snowy day in Riga, Mom made this cold pumpkin cake.

I’ve never seen a fall as long, warm, and sunny in Riga as this year. I believe this was done specially for Ivanka :) thanks to the fine weather, we could stay in the fresh air for hours, and those long long rains typical for Latvian autumn began only in mid-November. Or maybe that’s just a head start before a severe winter, we’ll see. Anyway, yesterday everything got covered with a thin layer of snow - and believe me I can see far from my 14th floor! In fact I can make mini-weather forecasts from here! Not to mention that it’s just nice to see nothing but the sky from the windows. I noticed some drawbacks of living on the 14th floor however, when the elevator stopped and someone remained stuck inside until the mender arrived…

Anyway, it looks like winter here now, and it’s a reason to have a piece of delicious cake, isn’t it? The pumpkin cake made by Mom is a compilation of multiple American cake recipes (including carrot cake) and it’s cold like winter, dusted with snow-like caster sugar, and comforting and filling as anything made of pumpkin is. I loved the super-dense, super moist texture, the slightly salty creamy filling and the subtle sweet flavour of baked pumpkin enhanced by ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. I’m sure it’s good with a cup of Christmas tea, although it was just as good with the delicate jasmine and peach blossom tea that my aunt brought from China. These pictures of the cake are actually taken by her (seems like everyone in my family is getting involved in this blog, hehe)!

Cold Pumpkin Cake

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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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