Our website has moved! Redirecting to RecipeStudio.com...
If this does not work, please click here.

Buttermilk Blini

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Loved by many as a common weekend breakfast, blini are also a ritual food in Russia. They symbolize sun and are the main food during Pancake Week (Maslenitsa), a celebration of upcoming spring. They are also served during mercy meals and memorial dinners, where they also carry a symbolism: the connection between lower and upper worlds and eternity of life.
The other day we had Aunt Shura's memorial evening. It's been eleven years she departed to the other world in the ripe age of 96, and it is a tradition to mark this day each year with a dinner at home. She was one of my six aunts from mama's side. Childless, she clung to her sisters' children, and so it happened that I was her favorite niece. She later got deeply attached to Masha (the other host of this blog), when later we had to live together in one apartment. Hot-tempered, demanding and rowdy, she was not an easy-going person, but on the other hand she was  kind, generous and open-hearted. Once in a while she brought me to tears, but strangely enough I remember mostly good things about her. One of them is her cooking lessons. She armed me, the then ten-year-old girl, with tools of the trade - all the basics and principles of good home cooking.  All these principles are used today with gratitude, and I hope to have passed most of them on to my daughter who surprises and gladdens me with her fantastic kitchen experiments.
Today's blini recipe is quite different from Yeast Blini -  they are thin, lower calorie and pretty quick to do.

What you need:
B a t t e r:
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk/kefir
1 cup and 1 Tbsp flour
1/8 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
2/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp olive oil + oil for frying
Stick of cold butter to oil ready blini

S a v o r y:
Sour cream
Salted salmon

S w e e t:
Whipped cream
Maple Syrup
Fresh fruit

Also: sour cream combines well with all sweet things.

Non-stick or cast iron skillet.
Soup ladle
Heat-resistant serving dish

Time 1 hour (it will take more if you have no experience with pancakes or crepes)
Yields 12 blini

1. Slightly beat the eggs, add 1/2 cup buttermilk, salt, sugar, and oil, mix until sugar and salt completely dissolve.
2. Add all flour and make a rather thick batter. Mix rapidly until there are no lumps and the batter looks smooth.
Tip: When making blini it's much faster to make a thick batter first, then dilute it with liquids.
3. Now, add the remaining buttermilk, sprinkle with baking soda, stir well, and finally mix in milk in 1/3 cup portions.
4. Let the batter sit for a few minutes to form gas bubbles that will give airy texture to blini.

Keep in mind that the first blin (blini is plural form of blin) is usually ruined. There's even a saying in Russian: "The first blin comes crumbled" (near equivalent in English is "The first pancake is for the cook"), meaning when you do something for the first time, it's not always successful. So don't be discouraged if your first blin is a failure - it's normal. That's why you see only eleven blini on the picture, and the middle is empty: the twelfth blin was supposed to be there in a form of a rosette. :)
Heat the skillet on a high heat setting. Now you have to work with two hands: sprinkle the skillet with oil (just a little), take the skillet in your left hand, tilt it around, make sure the oil spreads in all directions in thin lines (you can also butter the skillet as shown in Yeast Blini recipe), then scoop about half of soup ladle of batter and pour it on top of the skillet, quickly swirl and tilt making sure the batter spreads around - it shouldn't be perfect. If you feel the batter is too thick, add a little more milk to it.

Cook on one side until the surface becomes mat and bubbles form.

Flip over and finish on the other side.

When ready, flip it over to a heat-resistant dish - second side up. This side is smoother and easier to butter. Quickly butter your blin with a half-undressed butter stick, and immediately start another blin.
It takes some practice to bake blini. You also should have everything arranged and easily reachable otherwise you will either forget to butter or will burn your blini or something else will go wrong.
Thin blini should be baked on high heat setting, but sometimes (depending on the skillet you use) you need to adjust the heat. I alternate high and medium heat to achieve what I need.
Stack all your blini on a serving plate (heat-resistant!), loosely cover with foil, and toss it in the 280-300F oven to keep warm. It's better to lay the table beforehand, so you could immediately start eating blini.

This recipe can be modified: add less oil in batter and use water instead of milk to reduce calories, add melted butter instead of oil to make it deliciously  flavorful, add more sugar if you prefer sweeter blini.
What you see on the picture is three-fold blini. This is the best way to serve them to a crowd of people and easy to heat up if needed.
Another rather sinful way to serve blini: generously butter a hot blin, generously sprinkle it with sugar, roll up - eat! That's what  my aunts did to spoil their grandchildren.:)

My buttermilk blini turned out great: delicate inside with a perfect pattern. I ate and thoroughly enjoyed them as they are, without any additions. Aunt Shura would be proud of her humble apprentice. :)

Sour Spinach Soup

Monday, March 26, 2012

This spinach soup is a nostalgic effort to reproduce one of my favorite soups from the past times.
When we bought a house in the US, I was full of dreams and plans about my own organic garden. I tried to grow many things, from greens  to strawberries, and once even cantaloupe (that was relentlessly eaten by some beasts before we had a chance to enjoy it ourselves). Nothing grew well: too many bugs, too little sun, too many impudent squirrels. Then there was this unfortunate chipmunk that was strangled in a strawberry net - it was the last drop... I ended up growing  greens and sometimes tomatoes. But there is a a hope I cherish: grow my own sorrel that cannot be found in stores and farmers markets here in New England, if I am lucky enough to find good seeds. I grew sorrel in our dacha garden in Siberia back then. It required minimum effort and spread like a weed every year. We used sorrel to make fabulous seasonal shchi, we called it green shchi - it tasted sourish and very refreshing in the heat of summer. We also baked delicious sweet piroshki with it, believe it or not it tasted like strawberries! The idea to make "kinda green shchi" using spinach came suddenly one day, and this recipe was born.
What you need:
2 pints filtered water
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 small carrot, grated
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 small parsnip, finely sliced/julienned (optional)
1 cup of packed finely chopped/minced spinach
1 Tbsp butter
1 chicken broth cube or 1 tsp paste (for flavor)
Salt to taste
4 tsp lemon or lime juice
Garnish: chopped greens, hard boiled eggs, sour cream
Preparation time: 45 minutes to 1 hour
Feeds 4 people

Pour water in a 2-3 quart pot, put on high heat and bring to boil. Add potatoes, simmer for 5 minutes, then add chicken broth cube and parsnip (if you choose to use it).
Saute carrots and onion with 1 Tbsp butter until slightly caramelized, add to soup. Taste for salt and add more if desired.
Chop spinach very finely, so it is almost minced. You could use food processor to speed up things, but then it will be too fine.
Chop spinach with a wide kitchen knife. 
When potatoes are completely ready, add spinach, stir, and remove from heat (don't boil!). Pour in lemon/lime juice, stir,  and let brew for 5 minutes before serving. This no-boil way of cooking spinach allows to retain its bright green color and some of the good things contained in fresh leaves.

Serve with greens, chopped hard-boiled eggs and sour cream in the middle of each bowl. Consider 1/2 egg per portion. Toasted bread is also a good thing to have on the table for this healthful sour spinach soup. Lovely!

Farmers Cheese Muffins

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

These muffins are actually a healthier variation of Farmers Cheese Pancakes. The main ingredients are the same, but the way of cooking is quite different. It's baking instead of frying - a preferable way to cook in the age of fat phobia. I used tvorog bought at a Russian market, but farmers cheese will also do. These two products are very similar in texture and taste. One just have to pay attention what farmers cheese it is: if it's salted no more salt is needed. It was my first experiment with this kind of muffins, but it can be called a success. :) We had a pleasant  morning chewing on tender and slightly sour cheesy "cakes". What is also good about it, it's an easy dish anybody could do.
What you need:
1 lb tvorog/farmers cheese
1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt (for unsalted cheese)
3 Tbsp flour
Butter for greasing muffin baking sheet
Semolina for dusting the baking sheet
Sour cream to garnish

Medium muffin baking sheet (non-stick is better)
Preparation time: a little over 1 hour
Yeilds 7 medium muffins

Set the oven at 375 F, warm up the baking sheet (it will take a few seconds in the oven). Grease 7 muffin forms with butter, dust with semolina, shake off the excess. Semolina will prevent the muffins from sticking to the walls of the baking form (it can happen even in non-stick forms).
Mix cheese, eggs, sugar, salt, flour, and vanilla until you have an even mass. Fold in the raisins. Divide the mass between the 7 forms. 
Bake for 45 minutes until golden and set. Take the sheet out of the oven and let the muffins sit in the form for 2-3 minutes. Slightly twist each muffin in the form, then it will easily go out. They will recede a little while cooling, but not too much.

Puffy beauties. :)
Serve warm with chilled sour cream atop. If you want it even more sweet, serve also your favorite jam. These muffins are filling, so two per person  is more than enough. Enjoy your very nutritious breakfast!

Boiled Corned Beef & Veggies

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Not that I have Irish ancestors to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day, but I really like this corned beef & veggies soup.  It is simple and rustic, but very aromatic and filling. It does take a lot of time to boil meat, but if you cook  in two stages, it's really not that bad. The meat could be boiled in advance the evening before you actually cook the whole dish, the rest is quick and easy. It is supposed to be a one pot dish, but I did some adjustments. Nobody in my family likes boiled onions, so onions were sauteed, not boiled - this is the only difference from the original recipe.
The aromas of all vegetables blended together in a beautiful "quartet", especially to my Russian nose that is used to the smell of boiled cabbage in borsch and shchi. But if you try to cook corned beef & veggies yourself, whatever your roots are, you will be fascinated by the result.
What you need:
1.5 lb corned beef
Filtered water, about 4 quarts or some more
2 medium yellow onions
1 big carrot, sliced
2 large potatoes, cubed
2-3 cups of coarsely sliced white cabbage
Black pepper corns
1 bay leaf
1.5 Tbsp clarified butter/butter (if you will saute onion)
Chopped parsley
Meat preparation time: 3.5 hours
Soup preparation time: 30 minutes!
Feeds 4 people

Rinse meat with cold water, put in a pot, cover with water. Bring to boil on high heat, discard this water, rinse meat again. This will reduce the salt content in cured beef, and most likely you will not need any more salt besides the remaining salt in the meat. Cover meat with filtered water second time. Bring to boil, set heat to simmer, add pepper corns, one peeled (or unpeeled, but thoroughly washed) onion, and cook until meat is easily pierced with a fork. It took me about 3.5 hours, but it was very easy just checking on it from time to time, while I was able to do other things. Watch that meat is well covered with water during cooking, if it evaporates add some boiling water.
The next day I made a thick soup. Bring the broth and meat to boil, discard the boiled onion. Add sliced carrot and cubed potatoes, simmer until potatoes are half-done, then add cabbage and 1 bay leaf. You can add chopped onion right to the soup, but I sauteed onion until nicely caramelized and added it to soup with cabbage. It gave the broth a light tan color and additional flavor.
Simmer the soup until all vegetables are soft. Throw in a handful of chopped parsley, cover,  and set aside for 10 minutes to brew. Lay the table.
Now... remove the lid and feel the aroma of this wonderful  dish. Oh-so-good!
Take the meat out of the pot right before serving (it dries out fast), slice it across the fibers. Divide meat slices and vegetables between bowls, pour the delicious broth over. Serve with more chopped greens and good beer. :)
Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Carrot Omelet on Toasted Rye Roll

Monday, March 12, 2012

On a lazy Sunday morning the time goes by slow. You don't have to frantically rush about to get ready for a new workday and then shoot out  and along the street as a madman. No. You leisurely move around your still quiet dwelling with this warm  feeling inside, the feeling of being-at-home-in-the-morning-without-the-need-to-move-anywhere-else. Oh my, what a good feeling it is.
Cooking breakfast on Sunday is a great pleasure, and eating it is an even greater pleasure, especially if you have a good company. You have some time to to mix and fry and fill the house with those homey aromas. Basic omelet made of quality eggs being my favorite, I also like to experiment and add things to it. Today's recipe is very simple and quick. The omelet is savory and sweet in the same time, it is very bright and colorful and  gives your day a really good start.

What you need:
2 eggs
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup milk
2 pinches of salt
Black pepper
2-3 twigs of green onions, chopped
2 rye rolls
Cooking time: 10-15 minutes
Feeds 2 people

Saute carrot in butter on medium heat for 5 minutes
Beat eggs in a bowl, add milk, salt, pepper, mix well.
Pour eggs on carrots, sprinkle with green onions.
Cook until eggs are barely done.

Cut the rolls in two round halves, toast them, and divide the omelet between 4 halves.

Sit and enjoy a very merry breakfast and the morning sun peeping through the windows.

I cannot stress enough - use organic eggs from free range chickens. It makes a huge difference in the taste of your omelet. I didn't believe it until I tried.

No-Egg Yeast Dough Pies

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

No-egg yeast dough is a real savior during Great Lent that started about a week ago and will last until Orthodox Easter. During this time one cannot eat anything of animal origin - no milk, no eggs, no meat, no butter. They say it's the time of cleansing your body and soul, time of praying and re-evaluating yourself. Well, I tried it a few times, and it seemed to be the dullest time of my life. My body longed proteins that it was not getting, and depression set in quickly. Then I thought that I could pray and re-evaluate my doings by just eating less or attempting occasional short fasts. It worked fine. :)
Today's recipe will satisfy vegans and those who endeavored Great Lent. One of the pie fillings does include chicken, but this is for us, carnivores. This dough is economical (no milk, no eggs!)and surprisingly tasty, it stores well and is as good the next day as it was freshly baked.
What you need:
1.5 cups water
4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
0.5 cup olive oil
2.5 tsp dry yeast
More flour and oil to work with the dough

Enameled/Stainless steel pot
2 large baking sheets

Preparation time: 3-4 hours

For the Fillings:
1. C a b b a g e:
1/2 cup sour kraut, packed
1.5 cup shredded white cabbage, packed
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
Black pepper to taste
1 cup water
1 tsp fresh dill, finely chopped

2. M u s h r o o m s:
16 oz Baby Bella mushrooms, diced
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp white vinegar

3. C h i c k e n   a n d    r i c e:
1 half of cooked chicken breast, cut in small pieces
1/2 cup rice, boiled in 2 cups of water and 1/4 tsp salt for 10 minutes
1 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp fresh dill, finely chopped

1. Prepare the dough for the first rise. In the pot warm up water, add oil, salt, sugar, stir all together. The mixture should be lukewarm. Add 3 cups of flour mixed with dry yeast. Mix with wooden spoon until well incorporated, then transfer to the cooking surface/board dusted with the 4th cup of flour, knead the dough until it doesn't stick to your hands. Oil the dough ball with some olive oil and put back to the pot. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise. The first rise took about 1 hour, your time could be less or more depending on the quality of the dough and the flour.

2. While the dough is rising you have plenty of time to prepare fillings. You can make them all together, and keep an eye on all of them. Boil rice, saute onions (I did it in one skillet for cabbage and chicken fillings), work with two skillets at a time (one for mushrooms, one for cabbage) and so on, to save time - it will take much more time if you cook each filling separately.

C a b b a g e   f i l l i n g:
In a skillet simmer sour kraut covered with water for about 10 minutes, add thinly shredded fresh cabbage, salt, pepper, 1 tbsp olive oil, mix all together, and saute until fresh cabbage is soft and all water is evaporated. Mix in sauteed onions and dill, set aside.

M u s h r o o m s   f i l l i n g:
In this filling I tried to reproduce mama's salted mushrooms filling that was a real delicacy. I did it with fresh mushrooms though.
Saute mushrooms with 3 Tbsp olive oil until all liquid is evaporated, add chopped onion, salt, pepper, white vinegar. Saute on low heat until onions are translucent, then add diced apple and cook until apples are soft. While cooking, add some water if necessary.

C h i c k e n   a n d   r i c e    f i l l i n g:
Rinse boiled rise with cold water, drain well. Mix chicken pieces with rice, sauteed onion, pepper, dill, add more salt if desired.

Before filling pies, add about 1 tsp flour in each filling to hold it together.
3. When the dough doubles or even triples in size, punch it with your fist to let out air bubbles, cover and set in the warm place to rise for the second time. It will take about 45 minutes.
4. I made three pies out of this dough - one bigger and two smaller ones. Tastes differ, but I like my pie crusts thin, so I rolled them out thin, about 1/3". If you prefer thicker crusts, use more dough. You will have less pies, and you will not need three fillings.
For the bigger pie you will need a bottom and top parts of dough. The bottom should be about 0.5" bigger than the top on all sides. Roll out 0.5 lb of the dough to form about 9"x12" rectangle, transfer it to the greased and sprinkled with flour baking sheet, shape with your hands by slightly pressing and tearing. Spread  the filling (I used chicken for the bigger pie), leaving a 0.5" border all around the bottom. Roll out the top (you will need about 6 oz or so of the dough), transfer it on the filling, shape the rectangle over the filling.
The big pie in the making.
Pinch together the top and the bottom,  make a small hole in the middle of the top to release steam while baking, then press gently with your hands to shape the pie. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm place to rise before baking.
5. For smaller pies I used another method - each is made out of one  10"x12" piece of dough ( about 0.5 lb of dough per each). I baked both smaller pies on one baking sheet. Roll out the dough, transfer it to the baking sheet so that one half of it is hanging out (see the picture below).

Spread the  filling, fold the top part, and pinch both parts together. Repeat with the other pie. Again, make small holes in the middle of tops for steam to escape. Cover with plastic wrap, put in a warm place to rise.
Loosely cover with plastic wrap to let
the dough rise freely.
6. When pies look puffy and very soft to the touch, they are ready to bake. Carefully remove plastic wrap, and bake in 400 F oven for about 35-45 minutes or until the top and bottom are golden (the time depends on your oven). Transfer ready pies to the board lined with paper towels, oil with butter (it is optional!), and cover with paper towels or a kitchen towel to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Let the pie rest covered to soften the crust a little.

Small pies look like huge calzones. :)

7. Cut and serve the pies while still very warm!
Want a piece?..
The dough is soft, light and bubbly - nice! The verdict: highly recommended. :)

This dough also will do for small pies - pirozhki. Form small dough balls, about 2" in diameter each, roll out rounds, fill with a filling, pinch together, and let rise before baking or frying. See Belyashi recipe how to work with dough for pirozhki.
The fillings are a matter of taste of course, but this time they worked extremely well with us. You can compose your own fillings, your imagination is the limit.
It's convenient to keep leftover pies in a covered pot lined with paper towels.
The pies can be warmed up in the 325 F oven, on a dish loosely covered with foil, OR on a dry skillet, covered and on low heat (my preferred method).
It's your choice what to serve pies with. Traditionally, pies are served with tea, but broth (vegetable or meat) is also very popular.

Yeast Blini

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Yeast blini have been traditionally prepared in Russia at Pancake Week (Maslenitsa). Before Christianity onset it was a week of pagan celebrations when people parted with harsh Winter and welcomed long-awaited Spring.
Nowadays it is a week of festivities at the end of winter, before Great Lent that lasts until Orthodox Easter. People gather in still snowy parks to sing, dance, watch improvised shows, take part in funny competitions, and eat in the open air. Food is abundant and copious: pelmeni, pirozhki, blini to name a few. Blini is the main dish since a blin (singular form of blini) symbolizes Sun.
I cook different types of blini, but yeast blini I make once a year at the end of Pancake Week, and it is our family tradition here in America. These blini are thick, and rich, and fun to eat.
The process is rather challenging, but once you get a grip on it, it's pretty easy to do. Today's recipe was introduced to me by aunt Shura and  is published in her memory.
What you need:
3 large eggs
3 1/4 cups milk
3 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2.5 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2-2.5 tsp dry yeast
Oil to grease the skillet
1 stick (about 100g) butter to oil ready blini
Preparation time: 3-5 hours, depending on the quality of yeast
Yields 18-20 blini

1/2 small raw unpeeled potato and a fork, for greasing tool
3 quart covered pot (better enameled or at least stainless steel)
Non-stick skillet, 8-9" diameter
Ladle or a big spoon
Wooden/bamboo spatula
Heat-proof dish to stack ready blini

Salted herring, thinly sliced and garnished with onions
Melted butter
Soft boiled eggs, chopped
Sour cream

1. Scald 1 1/4 cup of milk in a pot. Separate 1/4 cup and mix it with yeast until dissolved. Beat eggs, stir them in milk, along with yeast, salt and sugar. The mixture must be lukewarm, so if it cooled down, warm it up on very low heat constantly stirring.
2. Add flour and mix well until you get the batter/dough (I don't really know how to call it in this case) of rather thick consistency, like thick sour cream. Cover the pot, and let the dough rise in a warm place. My yeast was not too good, and it took the dough 2.5 hours to rise. Usually it's about 1 hour.

3. While the dough is rising, prepare garnishes (caviar and herring should be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated) and lay the table. Blini are served hot, so later you will have no time for this. Leave boiling of eggs to the end though - it's nice when they are served warm, just take then out of the fridge to acquire room temperature before boiling.
Silvery herring is thinly sliced and decorated,
drizzled with unrefined  sunflower oil.

4. When the dough rises and at least triples in size, scald the remaining milk, and mix it in the dough in small portions (about 1/2 cup each), stirring well every time. Small portions of hot milk will not kill the yeast, but will keep the mass very warm. After all milk is in, leave the dough to foam for about 30 minutes, covered.  Don't mix the foam!
It's time to mix in milk.

5. Prepare your baking tools. Pour some olive oil in a small bowl - for greasing your skillet. Make a greasing tool with a half of potato and a fork.
This greasing tool adds a hint of potato aroma
to your blini. 
"Undress" half of a butter stick (it must be cold and firm) - for oiling ready blini. Arrange everything for easy handling.
My pancake "arsenal". :)

5. Your dough/batter will look like a thick foam when ready to bake. Heat the skillet on high heat, grease it with the potato dipped in oil, scoop a ladle of dough on the skillet, and smear it around. The thick foam will not spread easily just by tilting and turning the skillet.
Almost ready to flip over!

6. Bake on one side until bubbles form and the surface becomes matte, check if it's nicely browned by lifting the edge a little, then flip over with the spatula and bake on the other side. Adjust the heat so your blini don't burn, but bake through and are beautifully browned. Grease the skillet before each blin, otherwise your blini will not get a nice pattern.

7. Stack blini on a heat-proof dish, second side up (it is smoother and easier to oil), and gently oil each blin with the butter stick (don't get carried away with this, put just a sheen of butter, you can add more later, while eating). Butter will prevent blini from sticking to one another.

8. When all blini are ready, loosely cover the dish with foil, and toss it into the 175 F oven to keep warm. At this point boil soft eggs.

Serve everything, all garnishes and more butter. :) Each garnish, except butter that you can add to your liking, is used separately (i.e. I would not use herring with caviar OR caviar with eggs at the same time). My favorite is caviar, see how I do it.
Add some caviar, not much.
Roll into a tube - very convenient to eat. :)
Another way is shown on the main picture, where a blin is folded in half, then in half again, and once more.
These blini are very filling and nutritious with all additions, so two per person is enough. I ate three, and it was pure shameless gluttony. :) But, to tell you the truth, that's what always happens when people eat blini - you just cannot get enough of them.

Leftover blini, if any, should be refrigerated. Blini will stick all together, so don't try to separate one blin - it will break. Warm them up all together in a microwave or an oven at 325 F, loosely covered with foil.

Interesting that my mom greased a skillet with a goose feather. It was a traditional old Russian way to do it, and she used clarified butter to grease.

In this post I used the term baking while technically blini are fried. It has a historical explanation since in old Russia almost all dishes were baked in the Russian oven. They baked breads, blini, and even made soups in pottery pots.