Tuesday, October 8, 2013

At Patrizia's Calabrian kitchen (pork, figs and wine)

"Let's go see the garden" Patrizia walks us down a steep mountain path. I completely fell for her from the first sight. Gorgeous at her sixties she was harmony itself. Married to Enzo, the head of Barbieri family, hostess of the kitchen of the family hotel, mother of three adult children, many times grandmother, she was always shining with genuine care for each and everyone around her. My lovely friend Alina brought us to Barbieri hotel this August. "You just have to meet her" she said, and as soon as I saw Partizia I knew exactly why. We instantly started thinking about bringing a cooking tour there.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Red onion marmalade (confit d'onions)

Onion marmalade 006

I didn't notice how this month passed so full it was on everything and especially on cooking. We kept receiving guests and cooking for them, visiting friends and cooking for them, giving cooking classes and doing guess what there... While packing after one of those classes we found a bowl of sliced red onions left uncooked for some reason. Quite a large bowl of crisp red onions, which are now in season. That's how the time came for me to try making French onion marmalade. And I'm so glad I did.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Crustless almond melon tarts

These almond tarts hardly take over half an hour to make because they are crustless. I suddenly found that this way I like them way more that the classic version in short pastry shells. You can use more traditional apples, pears or cherries instead of melon. I never thought about using melon here before a month ago. Turned out that it does a great job here, everybody seems to love the dessert, but I'll better tell you the whole story.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Romantic day in Venice


I visited Venice three times before but I can't tell you how different this time was from all the others. It never felt this way without someone I love and I don't think I'll ever dare to return there without him. We had a day only and I was nervous preparing it. I so much wanted him to like it. To me Venice has always been about beauty with subtle romance in the air and, needless to say, about unique local food. I really wanted us to taste it despite Venice's thick touristic cover. And it worked luckily and magically. I would so much want to return...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Hünkar Beğendi - Turkish lamb on eggplant mash


I love lamb overall and this particular way to cook it just became my absolute first choice. I first tried the dish couple of months ago at Hünkar restaurant in Istanbul. Simple and intense melt in your mouth lamb stew with smoky and creamy eggplant mash made a truly perfect combination. I started researching and it turned out that Hünkar Beğendi was a well known dish. There were many recipes around, but none really resembled the version I had at Hünkar. It took quite some time to replicate it, but finally it worked. Now it seems that at home it comes out even better.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Kulichi (Russian Easter cakes)


I rarely go into baking yeast cakes or bread, but sometimes there is definitely room for that in life. Exactly like I do enjoy making my own cakes for Christmas, some years I do like baking my own kulichi for Easter. They are not really labor intensive, but they certainly are time consuming. However there are times when spending a thoughtless half a day around the kitchen making something homey the same as times and times before feels just right. Especially given that proper home made kulichi are incredibly good. None of the bought counterparts will ever get close to them.

In essence kulichi are yeast fruit cakes. What makes them special is their richness - I mean LOTS of butter. They turn out very soft, airy and crumbling. So they are wonderful together with pascha - traditional cheesecake we also make for Easter. However it is not at all necessary. You can easily serve them just with tea or add some plain cream cheese on the side.

I really like adding good vanilla and lemon zest to the dough. So do I like soaking the fruits in rum or brandy. Both are perhaps not traditional, but do add a lot to the flavor. Making kulichi does take some time just because yeast dough needs to rise a couple of times before you bake it. But there is nothing really complicated about the process.

Kulichi (Russian Easter cakes)

makes 4 cakes (around 400 g each)

Kulichi dough:
400 g all purpose flour
125 ml of milk
180 g sugar
10 g (1 packet) of rapid rise yeast
2 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
250 g butter, softened
180 g mixed fruit (some combination of raisins, sultanas, candied cherries, currants, apricots, pineapple and citrus peel)
50 ml rum or brandy

200 g icing sugar
juice of 1 - 2 lemons

Soak the fruit in rum or brandy and set aside.

Heat the milk till it's a little warmer then your finger.

Mix half of the milk with yeast and a teaspoon of sugar, cover and leave for 15 minutes. The yeast should start bubbling. Do not skip this step even if your yeast package instructions say you should mix the yeast straight into the flour. As the dough is very rich the yeast needs a little help to activate here.

Combine the rest of the milk with all the remaining sugar, egg yolks, salt, lemon zest and vanilla and stir till most of the sugar dissolves.

Place the flour in a medium bowl. Add the milk mixture and the yeast mixture. By hand or using a dough hook stir everything together until you get even dough.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes by hand or for 5 minutes with a dough hook of electric mixer. Do not skip this step. It is needed to make sure kulichi do not go stale too early.

Cover the dough and let it stand in a warm place till it doubles in size. It should take 30 - 45 minutes. If it's not very warm at your home, use your oven heated to 30C.

Once the dough has risen, add the fruits together with rum or brandy and softened butter. Mix all together. It's much better to use a dough hook of electric mixer here, doing it by hand really takes a lot of effort.

Pans we use for baking kulichi are mug-shaped (tall, cylindrical, approximately 400 ml in volume) - the recipe is enough for four of these. If you can't get them, just use two 9 inch loaf pans lined with baking paper. Or use a muffin pan (small kulichi are very cute too), lined with paper muffin cups.

Fill your pans with dough to 1/3 of their height (not more, the dough will rise a lot). Cover with a towel or cling film and let stand in a warm place till the dough doubles in size.

Preheat the oven to 160C. Once the dough has risen, place kulichi in the oven. If your shapes are around 400 ml each, baking will take around 50 minutes. For a loaf pan it can take longer. For muffin cups it will take around 30 minutes. In any case it is safer to cover the kulichi with foil or baking paper 20 minutes after you start baking to prevent them from burning on the top.

Kulichi are ready when they are dark brown on top and a wooden stick inserted deep in the middle of the cake comes out clean and dry. Take them out of the oven and let cool down in their shapes on a rack.

Once kulichi are cool, take them out of their shapes and decorate them. To make the icing, place the icing sugar in a small bowl. Add enough lemon juice to get thick and creamy paste. Spoon the paste on the kulichi to cover the top. Let the icing set for 15 - 20 minutes.

Serve the kulichi with tea. Pascha cheesecake or plain cream cheese are wonderful complements to them.


Pascha (Russian Easter cheesecake)
Schneken (German sticky cinnamon buns)
Kovrizhka, grandma's spice cake (vegan version)
Christmas Black cake (Rum cake)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Pascha (Russian Easter cheesecake)


This coming Sunday everybody in Moscow is going to celebrate Easter. I was never religious, but Easter for me is a good old family tradition. And above all it's about food. I do not go into egg decorating affair, which is popular around here, but I have to have kulichi and pascha. Kulichi are special yeast fruit cakes and pascha is a kind of dense cold cheesecake. Together they produce a wonderful festive breakfast. Pascha tastes very fresh and complements the warm soft cake as a delicious spread. I do not bake my own kulichi every year, but pascha I always make myself. I do think it deserves to be made more often than once a year. It only takes half an hour but tastes really special.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Turkish eggplant salad #1002

In Istanbul they told me many times: we are experts in one thousand and one way to cook eggplant. And indeed they are. Eggplant salad on a menu can stand for a dozen different things. One of our dinners included two eggplant starters plus one eggplant side dish and so different all these were that nobody felt overwhelmed by eggplant. However there is much beyond the classics. My favorite eggplant starter in Istanbul was a chef's special at Meze by Lemon Tree restaurant - spicy fried eggplant with sweet tomato sauce and creamy yogurt topping. I couldn't trace it in google, but I still found a way to make it. Trial and error method always works if you go on with it long enough.

Turkish baked halva (sicak helva)

Before I came to Istanbul I heard about sicak helva - a kind of custard made of crushed tahini halva mixed with cream and baked. The dessert is traditionally eaten after a fish main as it removes fish aftertaste completely. The idea really resonated with me, so the evening we did visit a fish restaurant I was more concerned about my dessert than about my fish main. I ended up loving it and cooking it at home. It turned out to be very practical in Moscow, as tahini halva is very common around here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Eating in Istanbul

A little over a week in Istanbul and I'm in love already. It is proud yet humble. Old yet live and full on energy. Like a wave you caught and can’t jump off. There is no way to get enough. My Istanbul is yet little, but each and every piece of it is precious as it lets you feel some more of this city in a very special way. Not many big names, but these you’ll find without me.