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

Vatrushki (Russian Cottage Cheese Buns)

Vatrushka with dried apricots

Yesterday Mom came over and we had our first joint cooking session since I had the baby. I mean, we’ve been cooking regular meals together, or more often I’ve been shamelessly consuming dinners cooked entirely by Mom (somehow I still can’t juggle taking care of the baby and cooking), but we haven’t done anything for the blog.

So, yesterday we made Vatrushki. These are Russian/Ukrainian/Belorussian buns with sweetened cottage cheese in the middle. Vatrushki are normally made of bread dough, but we don’t really like the combination of plain bread dough and cottage cheese. So, we made our Vatrushki with a sour cream and margarine dough (the same we used for our Lemon Pie) and with plenty of cottage cheese filling. This type of yeast dough is my favourite. It remains soft and flavourful for days and days! We also folded in some dried apricots and sprinkled all this with cinnamon - believe me, the aroma of baking Vatrushki was so strong that Mom said she still smelt like Vatrushki on her way home… she supposes everyone on the bus thought she was a baker, hehe. I can imagine how envious those hungry people on their way from work could have been.

Anyway, if you are looking for a conventional recipe for this Eastern European pastry, you should really stop reading this, because we are going to present our fantasy on the theme of Vatrushki :) the recipe, however, has all the components of classic Vatrushki: a ring of dough with cottage cheese filling in the middle. Only… I arranged them too closely to each other on the baking pan… and as the dough baked through and raised, they nearly stuck to each other and their shape transformed to squares. Aaaaargh!! I promise I’ll make new pictures of correct Vatrushki next time I make them. I’m just posting what I have at the moment, okay? Please don’t judge too strictly. The shape is not a key factor after all - it’s much more important to mention that the cottage cheese filling was luscious and juicy and scented with melted dried apricots, and the crust was subtly crispy on the outside and moist and buttery on the inside. Even Stano said those were great - and he’s not a pastry eater. Oh by the way his parents are visiting us for Catholic Christmas, so we’re going to have some lovely Slovak Christmas recipes for the blog. In fact I should start saving for December/January family dinners, because we’re going to have a lot of special occasions - Catholic Christmas, then Ivanka’s Name day, then New Year’s Eve, and finally Russian Orthodox Christmas. Oh, and then there’re just 3 weeks left until my birthday ;-)

Vatrushka of sour cream dough

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Quick Apple Cake

Quick Apple Cake

Looking through Grandmother’s recipe notebook that I borrowed from her (although it looks more like I’ve expropriated it, muahaha), I stumbled across a recipe titled “Quick Apple Cake”.  Naturally, the word “quick” caught my eye. My first attempt at this was a fail though, because I used a baking form that was too deep so there was too much batter and too little apples. Last night I made the cake again and it was a lot better!

This is the classic combination of fragrant fall apples flavoured with cinnamon and nutmeg on top of a dense, moist sweet-scented cake. Something very basic and homely, perfect with a scoop of good sour cream or Crème fraiche. Not to mention that the smell of a baking apple cake is one of the coziest food smells in the world!! I’m now thinking of trying this as an upside-down cake - to lock all of the rich apple juices inside.

Grandmother's Quick Apple Cake
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Lazy Vareniki with Fresh Apricot Jam

Lazy Vareniki with fresh Apricot Jam

First of all, I would like to say huge thanks for all your nice comments on our First Anniversary post! As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been on a small break from blogging – that’s because I’ve been living in another place where I had absolutely no free space to take photos. Now I’m back and trying to catch up on your updates. My mailbox is bursting with Foodbuzz newsletters and Twitter notifications… so much to read there! I’ve unsubscribed from about ten newsletters recently in order to clear out my mailboxes, but there are still a few I can’t live without!

The heat and sultriness are still here. I hardly know anyone who has air conditioning at home, summer has always been very mild in Latvia. Air conditioners are bad for the environment, after all. So, there are air conditioners in offices and public places like malls etc, but not in people’s homes. I had grand baking plans for this summer – really wanted to learn to make pizza from scratch, for example – but it’s absolutely unbearable to mess with the oven in this weather. I’ve been making tons of blackcurrant cordial instead. We drink it with ice sparkling water as a refreshing fizzy drink. Stano has been freezing cherry and blueberry ice popsicles and making berry and peach smoothies. Looks like his favourite kitchen appliance is hand blender – he always wants to turn all fruit and berries we get into purée, lol. So he is the master of smoothies in our kitchen.

Today, Mom and I decided to make Lazy Vareniki. These are called “lazy” because in contrast to classic Vareniki (which you might also know as Pierogi), cottage cheese is mixed directly into dough, which is shaped into small dumplings. They are much easier and quicker to make than standard Vareniki. Served with melted butter, sour cream, sprinkled with sugar or accompanied by jam, Lazy Vareniki make a very filling homey breakfast! I had some overripe apricots that I cut into quarters and cooked with sugar and ground cinnamon for some 15 minutes until they turned tender and translucent. I served our Lazy Vareniki with this fresh apricot jam. Mmmm!

Lazy Vareniki with Fresh Apricot Jam

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Strawberry Apricot Semolina Pudding

Strawberry Apricot Semolina Pudding

I never count calories, so be warned: when I make something light and low-calorie, it is by pure accident. Because if I want something, I will have it. Be it healthy or guilty. But I think this pudding with fresh fruit counts as a low-calorie dessert… doesn’t it? It includes no cream, eggs or soft cheese, just milk. The percentage of milk fat can be adjusted to individual taste. I believe it’s also a fun and healthy way for kids to have their semolina. Food tastes so much better when it’s bright-coloured!

The pudding is very similar to Cranberry Semolina Mousse, but its obvious benefit is that it’s made with fresh berries and fruit – no heat treatment this time. The bright fragrance of apricot blends nicely with the classic flavour of strawberries, and semolina adds a pleasant grainy texture. All you really have to do is cook semolina and wash your blender after you puree the ingredients. Couldn’t be any easier!

Strawberry Apricot Pudding
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Cold Beetroot Soup

Cold Beetroot Soup

At some point, I was afraid that with this ongoing Icelandic volcano eruption we wouldn’t have summer at all, but it seems like there’s still not enough ash above Europe to deprive us of summer. This week has been really warm and we’ve been enjoying cold beverages, refreshing salads, frozen desserts, and cold soups. I still haven’t bought an ice-cream machine, but I’m determined to do so by mid-June. Then I’d probably need a book with ice-cream recipes – any suggestions are very welcome as I have just enough time to order one from Amazon (again, unless the volcanic ash doesn’t come between). Oh and speaking of the volcano eruption, when I first heard about that air service collapse that had happened due to the ash cloud spread, my first thought was: how will my boyfriend get here from London?? and my second was: oh my God if this continues for more than a week, how are they going to transport fruit and vegetables from overseas? Do you think I can now be considered a true foodie? :)

Anyway, this cold beetroot soup is quite a typical Eastern European soup; different variations of this soup exist in Polish, Russian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian cuisine. It’s healthy (as anything with beetroots is), attractive (as anything of pink colour is), and refreshing (as any cold soup is). You also have slices of fresh, crunchy cucumbers and radishes in it, and a pinch of spring onions, and little cubes of hardboiled egg. There’s a hint of sweetness and a hint of sourness in it, a bit of crunch and a bit of tenderness. There’s the vitality of fresh herbs, which you are free to experiment with. And of course there’s plenty of freshness in each bowl of cold beetroot soup.

Ingredients for cold beetroot soup
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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

Priyatnovo appetita! (Bon appetit!)

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