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

Rabarberu Rausis (Rhubarb Cake With Streusel Topping)

Rhubarb Cake with Streusel Topping

Rhubarb is one of the foods that I can eat every day once their season arrives. And it seems like all of our family is sitting on a rhubarb diet. Ivanka in enjoying her daily rhubarb drink, Stano’s asking for more rhubarb cordial, my Mom is making a rhubarb crumble, and I have three different rhubarb cakes plus preserves in my plan. We’re a kind of a rhubarb family, aren’t we! :) Maybe this is just an effect of rhubarb being the first spring fruit plant that can be eaten as a fruit. I guess most of you are already enjoying fresh strawberries and other gifts of summer, but here up North, we’re still stuck in the rhubarb season (imported strawberries don’t count). And I love it! The tart stalks that turn so tender when baked or simmered, the bold play of green and red colour that turn amber and translucent when heated, the glossy skins and the firm, watery flesh. Oh, rhubarb!

This cake, topped with streusel, is my attempt to recreate the most common Latvian rhubarb cake - a simple, lovely, habitual cake. I’ve compared about half a dozen recipes (that sometimes were pretty controversial) and compiled them into one recipe with my own amendments included. First, I used 1/4 whole wheat flour, as I frequently do these days. It’s healthier, it gives extra taste, it provides pleasant moistness. Second, I used a mix of white and brown sugar for the filling, and I think I could have used brown sugar only. The original recipes called for plain sugar of course, but I thought brown sugar was a better match for the tart rhubarb. Third, I incorporated a little starch into the filling, just to prevent it from leaking. And that’s it. I thought of playing with walnuts in the streusel, but then I decided to keep it simple and traditional. Sometimes I succeed in holding back from too much tweaking ;-)
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Almond Cranberry Biscotti

Almond Cranberry Biscotti

The Italy issue of Bon Appetit was splendid. I’ve bookmarked about a dozen recipes and already made Pasta al Pomodoro twice. Now I know how to make a smooth and silky pasta sauce :)

From this BA issue, I also learned that making biscotti is a doable task. Biscotti are one of my favourite Italian sweet treats, but I’ve never thought of making them at home. I thought I would need tons of almond flour or other ingredients that I would have to hunt for all around the city, while all I needed was a dash of almond extract. And almonds :) The BA recipe called for dried cherries and pistachios, but I opted for dried cranberries and almonds instead, because the pistachios they are selling here at the moment look ugly.

Surprisingly, my own biscotti looked and tasted quite similar to what I usually get as a gift for Christmas and Easter! The blend of almond, citrus zest, and cranberry flavours was divine! The only thing I did wrong was slightly over-bake them. They looked too moist all of the time, and then suddenly oups! they got over-baked. Next time I bake biscotti I will remove them from the oven while they still retain moistness, for they will harden as they cool. I’d like to try to make them with AP flour next time as well. I couldn’t find unbleached flour so I used 3/4 AP flour and 1/4 whole wheat flour, which  tinted the biscotti golden brown. I guess with 100% AP flour, they would have been even crispier and airier. But anyway. I’m very content with this recipe, that’s why I’m sharing it with you (with my tweakings), even though it’s not Eastern European :)

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Mini Rogaliki

Chocolate Applesauce Rogaliki

Rogaliki are small crescent rollls filled with jam, marmalade, Tvorog or even raisins. I think the most common filling for Rogaliki however, is jam/marmalade. I’m not sure we ever had them at home when I was a kid, but some of my friends’ mothers and grandmothers used to bake these very often. Rogaliki are very good with tea or coffee, and they are budget-friendly. It’s been my dream to have warm Rogaliki for breakfast for many years now, and today this dream came true.
I made the dough ahead and refrigerated it overnight. Chilled dough was very comfortable to roll and cut. The unsweetened dough made with sour cream and a pinch of baking soda is flaky and soft, even though my Rogaliki were tiny. I was in the mood for something petite and delicate, so these crescent rolls came out more like soft filled cookies. Of course this means you have less filling in the centre - just for flavour - and it takes you longer to make them. Classical Rogaliki should be larger in size, with more filling inside; the original recipe yields 3 times fewer rolls than I made.
At first I was thinking of filling them with dark, rich apricot jam made by Stano’s Mom, but then I remembered about three little jars of a wonderful chocolate applesauce she gave to us, and used it instead. I must ask Stano’s Mom for the recipe when we are in Slovakia in summer; chocolate applesauce is something amazing! First you taste the chocolate, then the juicy tartness of apples comes through; there’s a lot of surprise in it! It’s great on crepes, pancakes, ice-cream, whatever. As a filling for Rogaliki too. It smelt like a chocolate factory when the rolls were baking!

Mini rogaliki
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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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Banana Chocolate Swirl Muffins

Banana Chocolate Swirl Muffins

I came up with the idea of these muffins when I wanted to bake something as a little “Thank you” gift for a friend of ours who is helping us with choosing and buying a car. Of course the idea of banana chocolate swirls is not new, but I didn’t really follow any recipe except for using my Chocolate Marmalade Candy Muffin recipe as a reference for making chocolate batter. I generously complemented the banana batter with vanilla in order to enhance the contrast between the moist, sweet banana swirls and the dark, rich and dense chocolate swirls. The batter was very quick and easy to make, although of course adding mashed banana and melting the margarine involves some extra bowls. I haven’t actually tried to just cream margarine instead of melting it - I suppose the batter would be  plastic enough with creamed margarine, so if you don’t want to wash an extra saucepan, try using creamed margarine at room temperature.

I was very content with the result and was happy to give these muffins away as a gift. I also gave a couple of them to my parents and left two for me and Stano to sample. I am trying to follow a healthier diet these days - five months of breastfeeding are making themselves felt and my skin and hair are starting to suffer (although I’m still getting off lightly I believe!).  One of my latest hits is an easy salad made with arugula, baby spinach, canned cannellini beans, walnuts, and blue cheese (yes, blue cheese again!). I’ve also bought a pack of organic wheat, so soon I’ll be able to jazz up my salads with wheat sprouts.

Banana Chocolate Swirl Muffin

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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 »

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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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