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

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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Churchkhela - A Sweet From The Caucasus

Georgian Churchkhela

Today I’m going to tell you about a  Georgian sweet that a relative of mine recently brought us from the Caucasus. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with the church; it is a sausage-shaped sweet that (to my mind) looks a little bit gross yet tastes good.

Churchkhela is made by dipping strings of nuts or dried fruits into thickened grape juice with addition of flour; then Churchkhelas are dried in the sun or in a dry ventilated place. The grape juice that coats the filling is rubbery and very dense; it has a mildly sweet flavour and a subtle fruity smell.

This sweet is also made in Armenia, I’ve eaten it in the Crimea, and I’ve heard that they have an analogous sweet in Turkey. The variety I’ve had in the Crimea had a thinner coating of juice and was coloured into bright yellow, red, or purple. The Churchkhela I got from Georgia looks more natural, and the thickened juice is more tender. This variety has walnuts inside: Read the rest of this entry »

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)

Yellow Wax Beans and Cauliflower with Cashew Nuts

Yellow Wax Beans and Cauliflower with Cashew Nuts

So jam/preserve season in officially open in our house. We’ve started off with 9 liters of strawberry freezer jam and 5 liters of black currant. That’s just a warm-up before tons of strawberry, raspberry, and plum jam, black currant marmalade and maybe apricot confiture. Fruit preserves are eaten in enormous quantities in our family, while two or three boxes of chocolates we got for Christmas are still collecting dust in the pantry. Fruit preserves are so much healthier than candies, aren’t they? And making them is healthy too: my arms got some extra workout today!

Between hulling and pureeing berries, we sometimes make meals for the family too, although the air is hot and humid outside (our small Cambodia, as I call it), and nobody feels like eating a lot, let alone cooking or (God forbid) baking. As I’m writing this however, it looks like it’s finally going to rain, so if the rain brings us some freshness, I might finally test my new muffin forms tomorrow!

As a compromise with the heat and sultriness, we made these beans and cauliflower today – they may be served lukewarm and they don’t require a lot of cooking. Yellow Wax beans, or Butter beans as they’re called here, turned out to pair extremely well with slightly fried cauliflower. Toasted cashew nuts bring some pleasant crunch to the tender vegetables, and shredded Parmesan adds a sharp, salty note. It takes minutes to boil the beans, and then you just cook them and cauliflower in a pan until they’re as golden-brown as you like.

Yellow Wax Beans and Cauliflower with Cashew Nuts and Parmesan

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New Year’s Walnut Meringue & Chocolate Mousse Cake with Drunken Plums

Walnut meringue cake

First of all, I would like to wish everyone a very happy year 2010. Hope you had a lovely Christmas and an exciting New Year’s party! With lots of delish food and drink, of course :)

I’ve spent ten marvellous days in Slovakia, where I’ve been eating so much that I was about to buy myself that T-shirt with the slogan “Please don’t feed me; I want to be a model” written across the chest. But I’d be lying to myself if I did so: those home-made Slovak foods were irresistible!

Krater in Slovakia

And this large and festive cake we made for our New Year’s party in Riga. We wrote the recipe from scratch. Actually we have baked a heavier version of this cake (with 4 layers of sponge cake instead of 2, as you will see from the pictures) because we wanted a really huge one, for 12 persons or so. But even in its lighter variation (as posted below), this is definitely a cake for special occasions. The preparations are quite time-consuming too. But we’re sure your guests will appreciate the result!

A walnut sponge cake serves as a base for this cake; it is topped with chocolate butter mousse and crispy walnut meringues; then comes a thick layer of whipped cream sprinkled with toasted walnuts and dried plums soaked in cognac - pleasantly sharp and fruity. And finally, another walnut sponge cake and a thin layer of glossy chocolate icing. Happy New Year!!

Walnut meringue cake

We both agreed however that the chocolate icing we used was a big mistake. Much as I like Dansukker, their chocolate icing turned out below average. Manufacturer’s instructions on the package were lame and they said nothing about the icing never freezing or being soft and sticky forever! There was too much sugar and too much starch in it. Next time we’ll choose another brand or simply melt a bar of dark chocolate!
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Lazy Pahlava

Pahlava

The best Pahlava I have ever tried was in Turkey: it was soaked in honey, golden, and crunchy. Tatar Pahlava in the Crimea is also good, usually made in two ways: with minced walnuts and without them, just of thin, glossy honey filo pastry. Here in Riga you can find Pahlava in, say, Armenian restaurants or even buy some in a supermarket, but of course it’s not as fresh and good as it is in those Southern parts of the world, where the sun makes honey melt, and your fingers stick together as you take another piece of delicious Oriental dessert.
Dreaming about all that warmth and sunshine and summer laziness, we cooked this “Lazy Pahlava” today. It’s really lazy as we didn’t make any filo pastry. And we didn’t add any rosewater or other special flavourings that are added to traditional Pahlava. But, I think the result was very good nonetheless! Lazy Pahlava is quick and easy to make, it doesn’t require a lot of ingredients, the crust is soft and the filling is pleasantly moist. Actually, we used fresh organic walnuts from Slovakia, so the filling is incredibly juicy!
If you try this, you might want to substitute at least half of the sugar for honey I guess. It’s just that not everyone in our family likes honey in baked goods.

Pahlava

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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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