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

Cottage Cheese-Apricot Rolls

Cottage Cheese Apricot Buns

To sum up things, our Christmas was wonderful. It was a very white Christmas, yet not too cold; we had a delightful dinner with my and Stano’s parents; our Christmas tree was beautiful; we all got great presents (Ivanka got the most - she’s now supplied with clothes for years ahead). Of course about one half of my gifts were food-related. I got another two Slovak cookbooks (one of which is solely about desserts and baking, wahoo), a pastry tube, funky muffin liners, and Stano gave me… maple syrup! I was in seventh heaven, because I had never seen maple syrup in Riga. And I’ve been craving crepes with maple syrup!! Well, Stano also gave me a much valuable gift, but I guess I was most emotional about the syrup… haha.

Slovak cookbooks
My humble collection of Slovak cookbooks

And here’s our perfect holiday morning treat: cottage cheese and apricot rolls, served warm for Christmas breakfast. We made tons of these, so we had to freeze the excess rolls - you can thaw them and easily re-heat them any time later. I loved the combination of cottage cheese and vanilla pudding in the filling - it made the filling very smooth and creamy. There’s a belief in our countries that you have to be in a good mood while baking; you could even try singing as you knead your dough… Apparently we felt very happy while kneading, because our dough kept rising and rising and rising…

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Slovak Christmas Baked Goodies

Slovak Christmas cookies

As I already wrote, we have guests from Slovakia for Christmas. Stano’s Mom brought us tons of homemade cookies, gingerbreads and mini cakes that all look and taste delicious. My favourite are Parižske rožky (Paris Horns), petite walnut meringues topped with chocolate cream and dark chocolate glaze. I would never have the patience to make them, and we got two (!) boxes of these cakes. I also love tiny pig- and flower-shaped crispy shortbreads. Orechove Kolieska (Walnut Rings) are made with the same walnut shortbread dough and then each is dipped in dark chocolate. Then, we got Slovak gingerbreads - golden-brown and glossy Perniky, and also Kokosky - beautiful coconut meringues on a chocolate-coated pastry base. These coconut meringues can actually be made as a standalone dessert, and then they’re called Kokosove Pusinky (Coconut Kisses).

Our kitchen is crammed with food from Slovakia. There’s ham, butter and cheese in the fridge, honey, tea, and spices in the pantry, beer, mineral water, and homemade preserves under the kitchen table, plus we have fruit and sweets in large bowls all around the house. Oh and I finally got rosemary in a pot, so we’ll always have fresh rosemary now!

I’ll be posting new Slovak recipes one at a time, now as the grandparents are looking after the baby and I have more free time. But, we’ll be busy cooking as well: we’ve got to prepare traditional Slovak cabbage soup, potato salad and (hopefully) cottage cheese and peach buns. I’m pretty excited about all these new culinary experiences, the more so because it’s the first Christmas that we’ll host as a new family. After two years of travelling all around Europe to see each other, we finally have our own (okay, rented) apartment and our own Christmas tree…

Slovak Christmas baked goodies

Slovak cookies and cakes for Christmas

Parižske Rožteky (Paris Horns)

Parižske Rožky (Paris Horns)

Kokosky (Slovak Coconut Meringue)

Kokosky (Coconut meringues)

Slovak Christmas shortbreads

Walnut shortbread cookies

Perniky (Slovak gingerbreads)

Perniky (Slovak gingerbreads)

Orechove Kolieska (Walnut Rings)

Orechove Kolieska (Walnut Rings)

Korbačiky (Slovak String Cheese)

Korbačiky

Korbačiky (Slovak string cheese)

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

Quince Butter

Quince Butter

I had never seen quince in our supermarkets until this year. Now I’m thinking that all of our supermarket chains buy in foods from the same wholesaler, because quince suddenly appeared in ALL major supermarkets. Okay… Quince jam is quite a classical feature of Russian cooking, yet I have never had it before. I’ve always been curious what it tastes like!! I still haven’t made quince jam however, because this fruit is very expensive here, and I’ve been feeling stingy:) In fact when I bought quinces for the first time, the lady at the checkout asked what this was… yeah seems like it’s still too rare here!

Therefore, I made some quince butter - just for dessert. I baked two quinces with a lot of butter and then pureed them. Because I baked them, the butter had a subtle nutty flavour and was opaque and thick. The colour was very interesting too - I couldn’t tell whether it was beige or rose or milky yellow. I really liked the mild, warm flavour that resembled baked apples with a hint of pineapple and citrus. I’m not sure if I can eat a lot of quince now as I breastfeed, so I just tested the butter and gave it to my sister. In fact I’d love to make some yummy preserves or desserts in small pretty jars and give them as Christmas presents, but I doubt that this is possible with a 2 1/2-month-old. Even though she is getting more and more independent! Yes, she now seems really independent compared to what she was a month ago, when I just couldn’t leave her alone for a single minute. Now she can play on her own for half an hour for example and I can do my chores… or blog! And then, we have a fantastic family and a brilliant Daddy who spends really a lot of time with the baby!

Baked Quince Butter

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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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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

Priyatnovo appetita! (Bon appetit!)

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