Archive for 2017

2259727779_aa219f0424_z

Russia is the biggest pancake loving nation in the world, and when we say Russians love pancakes we really mean it. It’s the only country that not only has a holiday dedicated to crepes but an entire weeklong festival called Maslenitsa.

For seven days straight, somewhere between February or March, Maslenitsa festivities take place all across Russia and its many regions to celebrating the passing of Winter and the arrival of Spring. Also known as ‘butter week’ or ‘pancake week,’ the traditional Russian festival is famous for its pancakes (blini) with various fillings and toppings from traditional sour cream and honey, to gourmet caviar and salmon, as well as all things sweet.

If you’ve never tried Russian crepes before, you’re missing out, because they are exceptionally delicious and unlike any other kind of pancakes you’ve ever had. You might have been wondering what is a blini, is it a crepe, is it a pancake? Well, it walks the line between both! They differ from French crepes since they are slightly thicker, but about the same in diameter; they are also different from American-style pancakes since they are much thinner and wider. The typical toppings and fillings used for Russian pancakes are also quite different. You will never see pancakes served with syrup at a Russian restaurant, or cheese, fruit, or ham and bacon. It’s common to make a burrito-style wrap out of them. Sweet fillings include jam, cottage cheese, honey, and condensed milk. Savory fillings are often things like potatoes, meet, sautéed cabbage, smoked salmon, or caviar. But the most common – and traditional – way of eating them, is simply served with a side of sour cream and jam. Hot black tea or milk is a must-have to go along with Russian pancakes, although coffee is an acceptable option.

February 20, 2017 is the beginning of Maslenitsa festival in Russia and a great reason to finally try this delicious and versatile treat. It’s quite easy to make at home too! You only need a few very simple ingredients to make traditional Russian pancakes – milk, eggs, and flour form the basis of the recipe.

pancake-1315229-638x463

Russian Pancakes “Blini” in 10 easy steps:

Ingredients:
(makes 10-15 crepes)

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups of whole milk room temperature
  • 1 tbsp. sugar for savory pancakes or 2 tbsp. for sweet
  • 1/3t salt
  • approx. 2 cups of flour
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Butter (for frying and oiling the pancakes)

Instructions:

  1. Whisk eggs, milk, sugar and salt
  2. Gradually start adding flour in equal parts to the milk and egg mixture; mixing well until no lumps are visible and batter is runny like kefir or thin sour cream (but not as thin as milk). Don’t stress about this step, you can always adjust as you go.
  3. Stir in oil
  4. Let rest for 20-30 minutes in a room temperature.
  5. Preheat a medium 10″ or 12” non-stick pan over medium heat and rub with butter.
  6. Use a 1/4 cup or 1/3 cup measurer to scoop the batter into the center of the pan and quickly tilt the skillet from side to side to spread evenly and make a thin layer.
  7. When small bubbles form on top and the sides of the pancake start to look dry and a bit golden (1-2 minutes), flip the pancake over with a thin spatula and cook for 30-60 more seconds. Flip the pancake onto a large plate and spread a pat of butter on top. You can either fold the pancake over or keep them all in a flat stack.
  8. Repeat until batter is used and remember to rub the pan with butter each time before you pour the batter.
  9. Serve warm and enjoy with the toppings of your choice.

Sure, making perfect Blinis sound easier than it actually is and if you didn’t nail the recipe from the start, don’t worry, you are not alone. Even a lot of Russians are not natural blini makers themselves. But while it doesn’t take an experienced cook to make Russian crepes, it will definitely require some practice and these tips below should help you troubleshoot any problems you might face.

4463257555_b6d4410e9a_z

Tips:

– Using a heavy cast iron skillet or a good non-stick pan will prevent batter from sticking

– Using butter for cooking instead of oil adds to the taste, just make sure to rub the pan with butter every single time to prevent dryness and sticking to the pan

– Every stove is different. Some won’t get hot enough on medium while other will get way too hot. So don’t be afraid to play with the heat.

– Start with 1/4 cup and see if the batter seems too thick, then add some milk. If it’s too thin, add more flour instead. If it flows freely but doesn’t properly cover the pan, use 1/3 cup per blini. The right consistency for batter is runny like kefir or thin sour cream, only in this case your crepes will turn out thin and delicate. If the batter is too thick the pancakes will have a more “rubbery” texture to them.

– Letting your batter rest for 20-30 minutes before cooking is an important step that will make your pancakes fluffy and “bubbly”.

– A good trick for making your pancakes softer and fluffier is adding a teaspoon of soda to the milk and egg mixture (before adding flour). But first you have to “put it out” with a teaspoon of vinegar in a separate small bowl.

– It’s all about technique and practice. It’ll take a minute before you master a perfectly round thin crepe. So, be patient, practice makes perfect.

True, it might take a few blinis to get the hang of it, but once you do, you’ll be banging them out like a pro. Happy Pancake Week!

Image #1 by Un Bolshakov
Image #3 by Catherine Bulinski

5451116698_44cee1c8cc_z

Valentine’s Day is upon us. When you think about the “most romantic day of the year” (at least according to marketers), hearts, flowers, chocolates, and romantic gestures are the first things that pop in your head. These days, society’s expectations for Valentine’s Day put way too much pressure on couples, especially men. Often, they feel pressured to spend more than they reasonably can to impress their special someone. Worse yet, some feel pressured to make promises they aren’t ready to make and keep, including the Big One: a marriage proposal.

About 10% of all marriage proposals take place on Valentine’s Day which is like killing two birds with one stone, you stretch your gift budget and you won’t struggle the rest of your life trying to remember the date of your engagement. It’s also true that some women (35% to be more precise) will consider this adorable. But what if your significant other is not a ‘Hallmark girl’? Unless you’re 100% sure that your girlfriend is dying for a Valentine’s Day proposal and will find it sweeter than cotton candy dipped in honey, topped with chocolate sprinkles, don’t do it for these 5 reasons:

1. It’s Unoriginal

In general, it’s not the best idea to propose on Valentine’s Day, simply because it’s unoriginal and totally overdone. 4 million Americans are expected to propose on February 14th. By doing the same thing you will be joining literally legions of people who can’t think of anything better than to ask the most important question on the most obvious day of the year.  It’s so predictable, in fact, your girlfriend should question if she really wants to spend the rest of her life with someone who can’t think outside the square box that holds the ring you bought.

3613609979_51257613a6_z

2. It’s Fleeting

Don’t let anything steal your moment in the sun! Big romantic gestures will be happening left and right on Valentine’s Day, and you don’t want yours to be just one among many. Besides, the expectations are way too high, and you don’t want to be compared to other “creative” romantics because you can never win.

You think you’ve thought it all through – romantic gift, flowers, dinner at a fancy restaurant — until you sit down at your table and realize there are at least five other guys who have planned exactly the same surprise as you. By the time your Valentine discovers a diamond ring at the bottom of her champagne glass, you’ve already heard two women squealing with delight after their boyfriend has pulled the same exact stunt. Congrats, your engagement happened five minutes ago and it’s already old news.

3. It’s Not Personal

Women don’t like to share, period. Let this special day she’s been waiting for belong to her and her alone. If you decide to propose on Valentine’s Day, she will be forced to share it with thousands of other women. This won’t be just her day, it’s everyone’s romantic day, thus reducing the real value of the moment. Really, think this through because you want this occasion to feel special for both of you and not as a bandwagon to the holiday.

118974357_0faa23cce9_z(1)

4. It’s Unforgettable

You’ll have to tell the story of how you proposed for the rest of your life whenever anyone asks how you got engaged. So, instead of the overdone answer of “I proposed on Valentine’s Day,” wouldn’t you rather have a more exciting story to tell? Besides, you might be positive she will say YES, but there’s still a slight chance you’ll get a NO. If that’s the case, there is really no way to recover your (very expensive) evening. Even if you move on and find another special someone, February 14th will be forever marred by the memory of the rejection. And who would want that?

5. It’s Overpriced

And last but not least, proposing on Valentine’s Day is expensive, way more expensive than during any other season. Everything will cost you double or more. It’s a couple’s holiday, so every service and item associated with it will be marked up. This will include everything from flowers and chocolate to restaurants and vacations. The prices for rings also skyrocket before Valentine’s Day and it’s quite a shame to let all those big stores with annoying commercials profit from your sincere love.

Save yourself a lot of trouble and money better spent on a vacation together (check out the list of the most unusual and romantic places for couples to stay around the world) rather than making a mistake by proposing on Valentine’s Day. Go with a romantic surprise that also includes classic chocolates and flowers and reserve your marriage proposal for some other less obvious day!

5448483535_c7449bf700_z

Image #1 by Andrew Abogado
Image #2 by John Varghese
Image #3 by Liz West
Image #4 by Jinterwas
 
-->