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.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Baked camembert with thyme and lingonberry jam

This is a stunning guilty pleasure. Not only it tastes as good as classic fondue. It also is three times easier to make. You unwrap a wheel of camembert cheese and stick it into the oven. Once you take it out all you need to do is deep your slice of baguette in. But if you are feeling more sophisticated than that, you add some sweet and sour jam, some thyme or rosemary and the whole thing gets romantic.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Christmas Black cake (Rum cake)


Late in November I felt like being sad and doing nothing, so I set down with a random cookbook from my bookshelf and it randomly opened on Christmas chapter. It was saying that late November is exactly when one is supposed to make English Christmas cakes, so that they have time to mature before the big day. That's how I came to making those for the first time. That felt somehow proud to undertake this kind of month long baking venture. It turned out to very enjoyable and rewarding too, so I well might continue with it next year.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Schnecken (German sticky cinnamon buns)


I remember saying something about baklava just recently. Forget. These sticky cinnamon buns are the most powerful piece of anti stress baking (and eating) I ever tried. They might well be the best piece of pastry I ever produced. You will smell the nuts bubbling in sticky maple syrup and all the sweet cinnamon richness, while watching how the spiral buns puff out of their cases, catching each others' sides and crisping up on top. Twenty minutes later that one of them looking right at you will be just yours. And so will be the maple nutty goo left over at the bottom of the baking dish (which is, as often happens in life, the best part of the exercise).

Getting a little more serious, I have to say I'm very uncomfortable dealing with yeast. On top of that I was extremely sad that morning, so there was not much hope that the idea of baking will at all work. But it just wouldn't get out of my mind. I was reading the Domestic Goddess couple of days before and got fascinated by the idea of schnecken. These are German / Jewish cinnamon roll buns and the thing is that they are cooked in a muffin pan, each in its individual case filled with soft rich and gooey maple caramel.

Somehow everything worked magically. And it didn't even take long. The dough is easily mixed in the processor or by hand. It rose extremely well and fast. Rolling and slicing felt easy and comfortable. And that sticky maple caramel I wouldn't mind making every day, so pleasurable it was.

I didn't even consider "cooling them down" as Nigella suggested in her recipe and had one right out of the oven. At least most of the cookies I make always taste very special when they have just been baked. So did the schnecken. My mom, dad and brother entered the house an hour or two later and they didn't even notice how they instantly found their way straight to the kitchen. They looked so genuinely happy once they had a taste. Those few buns which were left over at the table the next morning still tasted wonderful, but talking about longer storage here is perhaps irrelevant.

However easy and enjoyable the process is, it is still yeast dough and it will take you no less than 1.5 - 2 hours. This is more relevant for the relaxed weekend than for a busy afterwork cooking. Another thing to mention is about authenticity. I've no idea what the traditional German schnecken taste like. Knowing Nigella's approach, these may well deviate from the classics (perhaps in the direction of cooking simplicity, but never compromising on the taste).

The recipe calls for things like maple syrup, corn syrup, brown sugar etc. In Moscow they used to be hard to find, but luckily not any more. There are several online stores selling them. The one I use most often is here, though I'm not ready to argue it is the best one. I do think maple syrup and corn syrup are worth getting. What they produce is so gorgeous that even if you never used them before you are likely to find yourself doing it more and more once you start.

Schnecken (German / Jewish sticky cinnamon buns) (recipe adapted from How to be a domestic goddess by Nigella Lawson)

makes 12

420 g (3 1/3 cups) all purpose flour
40 g (3 tablespoons) white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
11 g (1 packet) of rapid rise yeast
80 g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
150 g (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) milk, around 3.5% fat
2 eggs

Maple caramel:
130 g (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, softened
25 g (2 tablespoons) demerara or turbinado brown sugar
60 g (4 tablespoons) maple syrup
45 g (3 tablespoons) light corn syrup
150 g (1 cup) walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped

1 egg
2 table spoons milk, around 3.5% fat

40 g (3 tablespoons) white sugar
100 g (1/2 cup) demerara or turbinado brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

To bake you will need a 12-cup steel muffin pan, buttered

In a medium bowl or in a standing mixer bowl combine the dry ingredients of the dough (flour, sugar, salt and yeast) and give them a quick stir. Melt the butter in the milk (do not overheat, it shouldn't boil, should feel warm when touched with your finger). Beat the eggs into the milk and butter mixture. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Knead for 10 minutes with your hands or for 5 minutes with a standing mixer dough hook.

Now, that's important that you do knead it. Not till everything is combined and looks like dough, but for the requested 10 minutes. Just relax over this activity. It's very pleasurable actually.

Put the dough in a slightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover with a plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place. It should about double in size. The process can take from 30 minutes to slightly over an hour. By "warm" place I mean something around 28-30C with no draught. In my house it is substantially colder in the winter, so I live the dough to rise in the oven preheated to 25-30C. If you go this way, be careful not to overheat the dough. It might be helpful to wrap the bowl with your dough in a large towel or blanket to stabilize its temperature.

While the dough is rising, make the maple caramel. Beat the brown sugar into the butter. Beat in maple syrup and corn syrup. Mix in the nuts.

Divide the mixture among the muffin cups.

Once the dough has risen, knock it back. Knead once or twice and roll into a rectangle around 30 by 60 cm (12 by 24 inches). It was easy to work with and didn't stick, so I didn't flour my working surface and roller. However if you feel it's needed, do.

Make the glaze by whisking an egg with two tablespoons of milk. Brush the dough with the glaze (you will probably need less than all of the glaze - just set the rest aside).

Make the filling by mixing together white and brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle the filling over the glazed dough.

Starting from the longer side, roll the dough. Try to keep the roll a firm cylinder.

Cut the roll into 12 slices and place each slice into an individual muffin cup on top of maple caramel.

Cover the buns with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise once again. This will take around 20 - 30 minutes.

Once they increased in size and became puffy, remove the plastic wrap and stick them in the 175C oven. It is better to place the muffin pan on a baking sheet covered with foil (some of the caramel may leak during the baking). If you were using your oven to create the "warm place", take the buns out and cover with a towel to prevent them from cooling. Switch the oven to 175C and stick the buns back only once the oven it fully preheated to the requested temperature. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, till the buns rise well, get golden and crisp on top (see the picture above). Take out of the oven.

While they are still very hot, you will need to invert them onto a baking sheet covered with baking paper. The best way is to cover the muffin pan with the baking paper, than with inverted baking sheet. Than turn the whole thing upside down, being careful not to burn your hands. Put the nuts which got stuck in the muffin pan back on the buns (or use them differently, if you know what I mean).

They were perfect right out of the oven. So they were after cooling down to room temperature. Once cool, they are better stored covered with a plastic wrap or in an airtight container. Should you need to store them longer than 1-2 days, I guess fridge would be the best decision.


Chocolate fondant Sticky toffee pudding
Spicy hot cake with sticky toffee sauce
Banana upside down mini cakes (vegan version)
Cinnamon roll cookies
Brownies with cream cheese topping (video)
Ginger bread house 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Gravlax (Swedish marinated salmon)

I was not at all aware about Swedish cooking before I got a request for a private Swedish cooking class last November. It looked like no chances to make for me. However at the end of the story the class went well and I became attached to many Scandinavian dishes among which gravlax goes first. Gravlax is home marinated salmon served with special mustard sauce on rye bread toast. It requires hardly any work and is a killer appetizer. For those like me, who can't really stop eating it halfway, it often tends to become a self sufficient lunch or dinner.