Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Prunes Topped with Cream

I'm a bad, bad blogger. I have so many cool things to post about, but I don't ever seem to have enough time. But tonight I made this easy dessert that was so fast, I figured that writing a blog post about it would be fast, too. So basically, there was no excuse not to!

This is a Russian dessert that I first had at one of the several New Year's parties I attended in Ukraine. However, I find it remarkable that this could just as easily be French, as it features two French favorites: prunes and crème fraîche. That's basically like sour cream, but a little bit more mild.

I think this dessert is also fairly healthy, but beware that I find it really hard to stop at just one piece!

12 prunes
12 walnut halves
~1/4 c crème fraîche (substitute full-fat sour cream)
1 T of sugar (can add more or less to taste)

Mix the cream with the sugar really well. If it's too sour, add a little more sugar. It shouldn't be super sweet though, it's going to balance the sweetness of the prunes. If your prunes are already pitted (stoned? Sounds weird.) then you're more than halfway finished. If they're not, take the stones out. Make a slice down the prune and just wiggle it out until it gives up. Tuck a walnut half inside each prune, and arrange them on a plate. Top them evenly with the cream and sugar mixture. Done!

Notes and Serving Suggestions: This recipe is so fast, especially if your prunes are ready. It is easily expanded as well, for a party or something. If you do this for a party, maybe poke a toothpick in them. They're really great with tea! I think of this as a dessert, but I think it would also be a cool hors d'oeuvre or tapas style food item.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


The main part of today's lunch is pictured here: pelmeni (Siberian meat dumplings) and vinagret. Vinagret and olivier are what I think of as the "Big Two" of Russian salads. Both are extremely classic, everyone knows them, and you probably won't go to a Russian party or holiday celebration where they aren't present.

Even though everyone knows them, of course everyone has their own way of preparation. And of course, everyone is surprised to find out when someone else makes one of these salads differently, as they are "classics" for which the preparation is set in stone. ;-)

Here is how I've made it, which I believe is a pretty standard preparation. At least, my boyfriend proclaimed that it was "a real one."

1 medium to large beet
1 large potato, boiled and peeled
1 large dill pickle (like this), or 2-3 smaller sized (baby dills)
1/2 a medium apple
1.5 c kvashennaya kapusta (or substitute drained sauerkraut)
1.5 c canned or jarred peas (you could use cooked frozen ones, but for some reason I've always liked the taste of canned peas)
A couple of tablespoons of oil (we use a mix of sunflower and olive, and it's tasty)

Boil the potato and the beet. Peel them. I usually boil first and then peel. It's easy, and the vegetables retain more nutrients and taste. (Experimentally verified!) It's best to do this in advance, if they are cooled off they are easier to chop into nice little cubes.

Everything except the cabbage and peas will be chopped into smallish cubes (in the neighborhood of .25"x.25" to .5"x.5"). Start with the beet and potato. Add them to a salad bowl. Salt just a little bit. You'll be adding other salty things (pickle, cabbage) so don't add too much, but the beet and potato should get a little salt of their own. Chop the apple and pickle(s) into small cubes. Drain the peas. Add these things to the salad. Now add the cabbage (or sauerkraut). Drizzle the salad with the vegetable oil, and stir well.

Notes and Serving Suggestions: This is probably my favorite Russian salad. I love all the ingredients separately and together they're awesome. Plus, there's no meat or mayonnaise! (Well, some people add herring. And some people use mayonnaise. See the intro to this post.)

This is great as an appetizer or part of an appetizer course, or, as we had today, as sort of a side dish.

Weekend Cooking Projects

It's the weekend again ... unfortunately, I think we'll be doing a lot more cleaning than cooking this time. The place has gotten to be a real mess! (We're both very busy with work.)


Salad "Vinagret." One of the few Russian vegetarian salads out there (with the exception of any "fasting day" versions of other salads.

We want to try and hunt down some more winter cabbage. So far we've only found it in the farmer's market in the nearby French village. It's a bit more expensive than the regular one, but man, do I love that cabbage! The kvashennaya kapusta we made last weekend is almost gone, so it's time for round two (and maybe we'll make more this time).

I might make some piroshki. Last time I made them I was lazy and used store-bought pizza dough. When fried, this worked beautifully. When baked, the piroshki were bland. It's been a while since I made these from scratch. I may not do it because...

I think this is the weekend I'm going to try to make borodinskiy bread. I bought ingredients last weekend.

I'm going to make a big jar of ryazhenka! (I love the stuff). It's baked and slightly fermented milk. I know, it sounds disgusting. It's really good.

Maybe some soup? Probably should take advantage of the fact that it's still cold outside.

That's probably it. Like I said, a lot of cleaning to do, and maybe some work.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Kvashennaya Kapusta

This is the fermented cabbage we made this weekend. It's kind of like magic. The first day you don't want to eat it, but of course you try a little bit out of curiosity, and it is insanely salty. I kept asking my BF, "Are you sure we didn't add too much salt? Are you sure?" And he'd just respond, "Don't worry, you can't spoil this with too much salt!" I had my doubts. But then the fermentation actually happened, and it turned into the sour cabbage that I remembered eating in Ukraine.

2 medium/large heads of white winter cabbage*
2-3 medium carrots
about 5 pieces dried horseradish**
A LOT of salt

*Using the winter kind, which is white and sort of flatter, is important because the leaves are firmer. I think it may still be tasty with regular cabbage, but the texture is better with the winter one.
**This is optional but I strongly recommend it! Each of the dried horseradish pieces I have is about .25"x.25". I'm sure you can substitute fresh, but it's probably stronger, so use less in that case.


Wash the cabbage, wash and peel the carrots. Grate the carrots on your grater's rough setting. Shred the cabbage (like for coleslaw or other salad). In a large vessel (I use a wide, deep bowl, like this but about 2-3x as deep), put a few handfuls of cabbage and carrots, then add a lot of salt. Sprinkle liberally all over the cabbage. Now, scrunch the cabbage and carrots with your hands, really work the salt in there. Toss in a piece of the horseradish. Add the next layer, a few more handfuls of the cabbage and carrots, and repeat. When you have exhausted all your vegetables, they're all in the bowl and thoroughly scrunched with salt, put a weight of some kind on the cabbage. We put a salad plate on top of the cabbage, and then a large pickle jar filled with water on top of the plate. Let it sit at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Ours took about 2.5 days before it wasn't salty anymore, but nice and sour. The cabbage should still have crunch, but it's softer. There will be a lot of liquid in the bowl, too. Keep it, it's tasty. And while the cabbage is sitting at room temperature, you don't have to worry about stirring or anything. If the liquid rises above the veggies that's fine.

Once the cabbage has fermented, keep it in a cool place, like the refrigerator, or outside (like we do) if it's cold enough.

Notes and Serving Suggestions: I really love this stuff. We made that huge bowl of it this weekend, and it's over half way finished! To serve it, put some cabbage in a serving bowl. Drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil, sprinkle with a teaspoon or two of sugar (to taste), and mix well. Let sit for a few minutes then serve. You can also add herbs, such as dill, and sometimes people add chopped apples. Served as a salad, or as a side dish.

Weekend Cooking Summary (Late)

This past weekend we cooked:

-Kvashennaya Kapusta (salted fermented cabbage)
-Russian blini raised with yeast

Plus my BF and I accidentally made tvorog (farmer's cheese). We were trying to make ryazhenka.

I'll post more about the cabbage, blini, tvorog and ryazhenka later. In the mean time here's a pretty picture of golubtsy:

Ok, so the pictures not so good, but I assure you the cabbage rolls were!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Shuba (Herring in a Fur Coat)

The finished salad with a portion removed

There are many versions of how to layer this salad, but this is the one my BF's mom uses. The salad is shaped into a dome or elongated dome on the plate. But if I ever get around to having a dinner party, I want to make mine look like a fish. These ingredients will make a small salad that fits on a dinner plate. That means 4 big servings or 8 small ones. (A small serving would be enough if you had other salads/appetizers, but a big one is good if this is the only salad.)

135 g salted herring fillets (I used ones with 4% salt) (bones removed)
1/2 a large beet
1 medium sized potato
1 small onion
2 hard boiled eggs
1/4 c mayonnaise

Boil the beet and potato until they are soft. You can peel first and then boil, but I like to boil and then peel (I've heard it makes the vegetables tastier and more nutritious). Boil the eggs. Keeping everything separate: Grate the potato on the fine grater setting and the beet on the course one. Chop the onion extremely fine. Chop the herring into pretty fine pieces, too. When the eggs are done, peel and chop them (yes, you guessed it, into pretty fine pieces).

Now the layering. Spread a very thin layer of mayo on the plate, where you will make the salad. Cover that layer with all the herring. Cover the herring with all the onion. Next comes the potato, then the egg. Now, you should have sort of a dome made from these layers. Cover the whole dome with the rest of the mayo, and then put the beet all over the mayonnaise.

Me with the finished product:

Notes and Serving Suggestions: This salad seems to be an obligatory part of the new year's table. It often shows up
on festive occasions in general. Served usually as an appetizer or part of a large salad/appetizers course, but I find it filling enough to be the main part of a light dinner. Also, all that mayo isn't so bad distributed throughout the whole thing. :-)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I'm Tired!

I cooked more today than I probably have in the past month! Today I made golubtsy (cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and rice), kvashennaya kapusta (salted cabbage, alluded to in the New Year post), and shuba herring and beet salad, also alluded to in the New Year post).

I had also intended to make a bunch of pelmeni today and freeze them, but it looks like that will have to wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow I'm also going to make a bunch of meat broth, and maybe I'll try my hand at bread (but probably I'll leave that for next weekend). But so far I feel pretty good with 7 cabbage rolls (big ones!) in the fridge, 7 in the freezer, and one in my stomach. :-)

Pictures and recipe for shuba tomorrow, and the same for kapusta shortly afterward.

Weekend Cooking Projects

This weekend (tomorrow) I'm going to try and make the delicious kvashennaya kapusta (salted cabbage) that I ate ate my BF's parent's house. I know it involves horseradish, carrot and cabbage, but I'm not sure about the rassol (brine). We're going to call tomorrow and ask. :-)

My hopefully soon-to-be-in-laws have a huge stand alone freezer that is stocked with produce from their piece of land (dacha) and tons of pelmeni. They also have lots of cool stuff in jars: preserved tomatoes, aforementioned cabbage, homemade prunes, plumes in sour-sweet syrup, tomato juice, apricot jam, pickled cucumbers, pickled garlic, cherry jam, jars of kompot (kind of like juice), and honey.

The upshot of this is that half of a meal in the winter consists of simply opening a jar or the freezer. I think that is brilliant, and I want to create the same thing over here. You see, we work, a freaking lot. As some of you may have noticed, the big collider (scariest machine ever, I believe it was called) where we're working is going to be turned back on pretty darned soon. We have to prepare for that, so that we can graduate and continue to be gainfully employed. As such, BF and I are both VERY busy, and we have been living on mostly noodles and fried eggs.

That was fine before, but after a week of being fed the goodies I've described earlier in this post and in the last one, it doesn't sit very well with me. Not only because it's not as tasty, but also because it's kind of demoralizing. It makes me feel not like a grown-up to be eating noodles with fried eggs every night, until we run out of eggs, like we did tonight.

Yeah. So, tomorrow we're gonna be busy. I've decided to make 1) salted cabbage to put in a bunch of jars, 2) pelmeni (meat dumplings) and 3) golubtsy (cabbage rolls) to put in the freezer. Sunday I may make vareniki (cheese filled dumplings) and a bunch of meat broth to also freeze.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Year

I just got back from Ukraine. It was so fun, and my first time celebrating New Year Russian style. New Year is the main holiday in Russia and in many former soviet countries, including Ukraine.

One of the most important aspects (the aspect?) of celebrating is the novagodniy stol (New Year's Table). This is the dinner table, laid out with tons of different zakuski (appetizers), salat (salads) etc, etc. Sometimes all food for the meal is laid out at once on the table, other times the starters are on the table, and then hot food comes out of the kitchen, and then more hot food, and then of course, tea and dessert!

We saw 4 different New Year's tables on this visit. I don't know if I can even remember everything that I ate, but here's my best attempt at a list. Recipes for some of these to come. I've given some links to my favorite Russian cooking website. It's in Russian but there are pictures, too.

Salati (Salads):
-Shuba (Herring in a Fur Coat, ours had the beets on top)
-Kapusta (Preserved Cabbage with Horseradish)
-Mimosa (Fish and Egg)
-Olivier (very classic one, mostly potatoes)
-Vinagret (very classic, it has beets)
-Grated carrots with garlic
-"Korean" spicy carrots (posted about these before)
-"Happy New Year" salad
-Green salad topped with radish and red caviar
-Crab and corn salad

Zakuski (Appetizers):
-Kalbasa (Salami)
-Eggplant caviar
-Buterbrot C Ikroi (Buttered bread with red caviar)
-Fried pieces of white fish
-Fried pieces of veal
-Stuffed goose's neck
-Holodyets (meat in gelatin)
-Pechenochniy Tort (non-sweet cake made from liver)
-Fried chicken cutlets
-Salted fish (trout, some tasty white one I don't know, salmon)
-Homemade prunes (delicious)
-Homemade conserved tomatoes
-Marinated mushrooms
-Salmon and cheese rolls
-Stuffed mushrooms
-Quince fried with sugar
-Preserved apples

Hot dishes or Main dishes:
-Boiled and salted goose (this is a Tatar dish and DELICIOUS)
-Pelmeni served with Georgian plum sauce
-Braised meat with quince and potatoes
-Cooked duck with apples
-Broth (from goose)
-Plov (with chicken)
-Indian spicy potatoes (I made these)
-A baked chicken stuffed with bread stuffing, American style (but with Russian flavors...dill, parsley, celery root, carrots, parsley root, tarragon, onion and garlic). Everyone was amazed by the idea of stuffing a chicken with bread!

-Thick blini (made with yeast)
-Kievskiy Tort
-Bannaniy Tort
-Tiramisu (not like it's Italian namesake, but good)
-Some tasty jam cookies
-Lots of honey straight from the dacha
-Homemade jams (cherry, raspberry)

-Balsam from Bashkortostan
-Balsam from Tatarstan
-French white wine and Champagne (our gift)
-White wine from Crimea (BAD)
-Red wine from Crimea (not half bad)
-"Champagne" from Odessa (pretty good)
-Samagon (homemade alcohol) from honey

You know what, I'm sure I've forgotten something! But that's a lot, isn't it? I hope I can manage to find the recipes for more of those things, because they were all really tasty.

Also, this new year I managed to make my first good toast in Russian. I had tried twice before, but this time, I finally managed a really good one.