Tuesday, May 19, 2009

From Russia with Love

I'm not a giant fan of Russian food. Most of what we ate while I lived there was only a "meh" on the Yum scale, and the stuff they served us at the school was enough to make me gag half the time. I'm pretty sure I subsisted on Milka Bars and Passion Fruit Fanta. (Oh how I dream of thee!)

It did have its moments, however. Here a a couple of things I loved from my time in the motherland:

In Russia, the New Year and Christmas are celebrated twice as a result of the Orthodox Church's decision to abide by the "old" or Julian calendar, putting Christmas on January 6th/7th and New Year on January 13th/14th, and the Soviet shift to the "new" or Gregorian calendar. (The one we use.)

Salad Olivier is a special dish served on Russian New Year or Christmas. It's a twist on potato salad, you might say. I served it to my family at our annual Christmas party the year I went to Russia (I got home right before Christmas) and it got rave reviews.

Salad Olivier (Russian New Year Salad)
2 lg. potatoes, boiled, peeled and diced
2 lg. carrots, boiled, peeled and diced
1 small bag frozen peas, cooked and drained (And I must add that we should be grateful for frozen peas. Canned peas are gross and that's all we could find there.)
1/2 small jar dill pickles, diced
1 c. diced ham
1/2 med. onion, minced
1 egg, hard-boiled and diced
salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Blini were a Friday ritual. Marissa always made them best. They were such a satisfying way to end a week of teaching. We would fill them with jam, honey, nutella-like spread, ham and cheese, and on one occasion they substituted for tortillas on fajita night. (Not a very satisfying substitute...)

I'm not really sure what the difference is between these Blini and crepes, but they're excellent!

1 c. flour
3 c. milk
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2-3 eggs
salt and sugar to taste (you won't need much of either)
vegetable oil, or cooking spray
desired toppings/fillings

Mix eggs and milk. Add in flour, soda, salt and sugar. Mix until smooth.
Pour a little oil in pan (or use spray) and ladle in a thin layer of batter.
Tilt and turn pan to fully coat with batter. Cook only a minute or two on each side.
They should be golden, but tender and crispy only on the very edges.
Fill as desired and fold into quarters.

Suggestions for fillings:
1. deli-sliced ham with havarti cheese
2. nutella. need I say more?
3. cinnamon sugar and a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk
4. sour cream, smoked salmon and caviar -- not my idea of a good time, but this is the most traditional way to go. Russians like to serve it with good-quality vodka. (I'm pretty sure most of them like pretty much anything with vodka of any quality...)

Get creative! Sweet and savory fillings are both scrumptious.
(Blini can also be a "raised" pancake made with buckwheat flour. I have a recipe for that, too, but I haven't tried making it yet. If it's good I'll share it with you.)

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I don't know about you, but the bread at the grocery store these days just isn't cutting it for us. (And at $5 - 6 a loaf, Great Harvest or anything else comparable to what I can make at home isn't really a viable alternative...) I love real, hearty bread, and I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty.

Below is our favorite recipe for bread. I use either my KitchenAid mixer or breadmaker.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

2 1/4 c. warm water
10 Tbsp. honey (I eyeball it... give that honey bear ten good squeezes)
1 Tbsp. yeast
3 Tbsp. oil
1 Tbsp. salt
6 c. whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp. nonfat dry milk
6 Tbsp. vital wheat gluten

In a large bowl, combine flour, gluten and powdered milk. Set aside.

In your mixing bowl, dissolve honey in warm water and add yeast. Let proof for 10 minutes or so, or until the mixture looks frothy and/or creamy. Stir in oil, then salt.

Stir in flour mixture 1 c. at a time. (At first, I incorporate it with a sturdy spatula, but when that gets tiresome I bring out the dough hook.) If your machine can handle it, use the dough hook to knead the dough for a couple of minutes. I don't use my machine because the motor gets overworked. If you're like me, turn out the dough on a lightly-floured surface and knead by hand.

Coat a large bowl with oil. Place your dough inside, turning to coat, and cover with a damp cloth. Let sit in a warm place for about an hour, or until dough has doubled in bulk.

Punch down the dough and knead a bit more. Divide in two and shape into loaves. Place in mell-greased loaf pans, and let rise again until the loaves come above the lip of the pan an inch or so. (This will take about a half an hour, depending on the warmth of the room you're in.)

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. (Slip the loaves out of the pan and tap lightly on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it's done.) Remove from pans immediately and let cool on wire racks.

*If you're using a breadmaker, cut this recipe in half. Place all ingredients in your machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer and start. We use the whole wheat, 1.5 loaf size, light crust settings and it comes out perfect every time.