Play with Me

How was your weekend? I hope you were off today too and had a chance to either rest or play, whatever was your preference. I did a bit of both, if you of course consider cooking as playing because I sure do, the kitchen is my playground. Did you actually expect any other answer?

But Saturday was the epitome of the most perfect mix of rest and play: it was a spa day! Three of my best girls and my mom joined me for several hours of pure bliss at one of the spas in Manhattan. We were pampered and indulged and both drinks and the conversations were flowing freely. There were plenty of snacks there too of course. So, basically the five Russains monopolized the whole spa, but, luckily, they told us we were welcome to come back. The only annoyance that plagued me was the fact that I was on my second day of a raging migraine that would not cooperate with any meds (it’s apparently a stubborn one as I’m still feeling it on day four). But, I behaved like a trooper and was determined to have a good time no matter what.

The plan was to go out for dinner after the spa, but they all declared we should rather continue the night at one of my friend’s place. My mom went home as it was getting late but the four of us partied on till “I don’t remember what time it was but I got home at pre-dawn”. Now that the realization settled in, those little bitches made me miss a good restaurant experience where I’d be served gluten free pasta and Italian bread that was made and served by SOMEONE ELSE! They’re going to pay fo it dearly! And take me out for dinner.

Anyway, I hope you had fun this weekend and did something creative or indulged in something fabulous. Speaking of fabulous and creative, we’ve got a great recipe today that I had so much fun making, it literally felt like being a kid and playing with play dough. But, if you want to stick to adult world, it’d make an awesome Valentine’s Day meal in case you’re inclined to start planning ahead.

 

What’s Cooking This Week 

Gnocchi are small Italian dumplings that are generally made with soft dough, potatoes and some cheese. I wanted to bring in a healthier spin with more vegetables plus play with the natural color of beets. So, out come beet gnocchi with goat ricotta, instead of the traditional cows one, and I’m using beet greens here as well. Beets provide not just the red color but a mildly sweet taste also that’s perfectly paired with rich honey-balsamic drizzle in the greens. I’m encouraging you to buy organic beets since you’d be using the whole produce here, tops and the roots, and organic beets are much sweeter and more tender than the traditional ones. One word of caution, don’t do like I did after blending beets with goat cheese (forgetting that there’s a raw egg in it too), resist the temptation to taste it. I assure you it tastes great, but, let’s just hope, since I always buy organic eggs, that those didn’t have Salmonella in them. Just be patient and boil gnocchi first. 🙂 They also keep in the fridge or freeze well if you’re only boiling 1-2 portions.

Beet Gnocchi with Goat Ricotta and Honey-Balsamic Beet Greens 

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Makes 6-8 gnocchi portions:

2 medium size beets, unpeeled

1 1/2 cup of flour (I used King Arthur gluten free)

1/2 cup of goat ricotta (or other soft cheese)

1 egg

1 1/2 tsp of garlic powder

1 tsp of salt

1/2 tsp of nutmeg

Beet greens, makes 2-3 portions:

2-2 1/2 cups of cut greens (from 2 beets)

1 Tbsp of honey

1/2 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar (I used elderberry vinegar)

1 tsp of coconut oil (or butter)

1/2 tsp of salt

1/4 tsp of sweet paprika

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Trim beet greens, wash and cut, then set them aside.

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Rub beets with some oil, skin intact, roast at 400 degrees for about 30-35 minutes or until soft. Cool off a bit, peel and, in a blender, combine cut beets, ricotta, egg and all spices, blend until all is soft and incorporated, then add flour and blend until a dough forms.

Sprinkle some flour on a surface and knead the dough a few times. Cut into several pieces and roll each piece into about 1 inch rope, then cut each rope into gnocchi.

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Transfer cut gnocchi onto a lightly floured parchment lined baking sheet. You can then set aside whatever you’d be boiling right away and transfer the rest to parchment lined sealed containers for either freezer or fridge.

To make 2-3 portions, bring to a boil 6-7 cups of water, add some salt and, on a medium heat, boil 20-25 gnocchi for about 7-8 minutes, drain well.

In a mean while, heat 1 tsp of coconut oil, or butter, add greens and lightly sauté till just wilted, add spices and sauté another minute. Stir in honey and balsamic vinegar and toss around to incorporate.

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Mix gnocchi with beet greens to coat evenly in balsamic glaze. Portion onto plates.

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Whether you’re eating alone or entertaining a crowd, make every meal a joyous experience and enjoy every bite.

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Fat Tuesday (Dress Rehearsal)

Fat Tuesday is coming in 6 weeks, right? We had our own dress rehearsal for it this past Saturday at a family gathering. New York was covered in snow, but nothing stops Russian people when food and drinks are involved, some people came from as far as Philadelphia.

So, this was our Saturday evening in one shot, literally.

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The more extended version of the evening usually goes like this: you will be eating and drinking the entire time you’re around Russian families; everyone will be talking at the same time (verbal language and hand-gestures language); music will be playing and people will be dancing; and your every step will be photographed as soon as you come in; I mean, as soon as you’re through the door – exhibit A.

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You have to dress up or you’d be sent home (kidding, kinda). And, if you are like me, with a rebellious streak, you’d go backwards and dress in vintage. My full-skirted 1950s dress is having fun in 2017 – exhibit B.

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The pictures that you’d actually be looking forward to take are with your mom and with your kid. (I have a handsome boy, I cooked him right! 😊) – exhibit C.

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There are 100s of different dishes and everything is served family style so leave your diet resolutions behind – exhibit D.

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Cold seafood and caviar will occupy the most room in the beginning so, you’re going to love it (or you’ll have to learn to like it) – exhibit E.

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Everyone’s favorite dish of Russin style fried potatoes with chanterelle mushrooms disappears so fast that you have no chance to take a picture – no exhibit.

That will be followed by some grilled fish and meats, and most likely a foie gras too – exhibit F.

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There’s always room for dessert, especially if your homemade cake makes the very epic grand entrance 😊 – exhibit G.

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If you can still breathe, walk and talk, you were at a wrong Russian party. So, how’s hungry after this post?

 

It’s a White Christmas

We did not have a white Christmas this holiday season. It was actually raining on Christmas Eve here in New York. But we have a white Russian Orthodox Christmas today, it’s been snowing all morning and looks so peaceful outside.

Merry Russian Orthodox Christmas to my family, and to all who celebrate! And happy 24 years living in the US for us too!

Winter Wonderland cake for a big family party tonight: vanilla cake with lemon curd, vanilla mascarpone cream and homemade white chocolate decorations (all gluten free of course). Who wants some of this cake? 😊

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Feeling Zen

Happy New Year 2017! The holidays are officially over, unless you’re Russian; we have 2 more holiday weekends to go. I mean these 6 weeks of holiday fun requires stamina. It’s definitely not for the weak. We, Russians, start our training early, in kindergarten where they train us the military style on apple juice and keeping up till 2 am.

I’m kidding (kind of)!

But, seriously, don’t you feel done like half way through the holiday season?! I think a whole month of parties is just way too much. Even me, the biggest foodie in the world, is way over-stuffed and tired of all the holiday fair. Alas, a big party is coming this Saturday. So, I have to get ready. I need to train myself the military style to I survive it (and then another big outing on January 14th). We’re talking serious business here!

Therefore, I need to be very Zen these next 2 weeks so I can actually enjoy all the fun. And it usually is pretty festive. By January, nobody wants to cook and host anymore, so we generally go out to a nice restaurant, with music and all the works. Did I say, partayyy! So, I need to train. If you’re Russian, the holiday season (or your whole life) is a marathon; you can’t survive it without a proper stamina.

What’s Cooking This Week

So, how do you survive a party marathon? By having some lighter yet still comforting meals. Grain bowls have been very popular lately with their perfect combos of carbs, protein and all the great veggies. Most grain bowls are rice or quinoa based though and other delicious grains sometimes are overlooked. Today’s recipe is my go-to quick meal after a busy day. Or rather, it’s any time of the day meal because the bowl is oatmeal based. Oats are not just for breakfast; it’s very tasty when cooked as a savory meal. I’m using steel cut oats and dairy-free nutritional yeast to make my dish look and taste like creamy risotto. You can sub it with regular oatmeal and parmesan or pecorino cheese of course. I’m topping my grain bowl with a fried egg that’s nested inside spiced zucchini noodles. You’re getting a quick yet balanced meal in this bowl that is also creamy and soothing on a cold winter day.

Savory Oatmeal with Zucchini Noodles Egg Nest and Roasted Tomatoes 

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1/3 cup of steel cut oats

3/4 cup of broth (or water)

2 Tbsps of nutritional yeast (or cheese)

1 egg

1/3 cup of zucchini noodles

5-6 cherry or grape tomatoes

1/4 tsp of sweet paprika

1/2 tsp of dry oregano and marjoram

salt, pepper, oil or butter

avocado slices, sesame seeds  and micro greens for garnish

fresh spinach or kale leaves (optional)

Toss tomatoes with olive oil, some salt and pepper and place on a tray to roast at 400 degrees for about 7-10 minutes.

In a small pot, combine broth (or water) with oats and some salt and cook on a low heat stirring often. When it’s almost done, stir in oregano, marjoram and nutritional yeast and finish cooking.

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While the oatmeal is finishing, in a small frying pan, melt some butter or oil, place zucchini noodles and arrange them like a nest, sprinkle paprika around the top layer, then crack and carefully place the egg on top, sprinkle salt and pepper all around, add sesame seeds if you want. Cook until the egg is done, don’t overcook zucchini noodles, they still need to be a bit crunchy.

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Once everything is cooked, assemble your grain bowl. Place some spinach or kale at the bottom, if you’re adding any. Then pour oats over it and carefully place a zucchini nest egg on top. Garnish with roasted tomatoes, micro greens and avocado, use a pepper mill to add coarse black pepper.

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You can be proper and use a fork, but, to me, a spoon is so much better. Just dig in!

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It’s light and creamy and totally satisfying. I’m now very Zen and ready for the next party!

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