Friday night in The Minter household is generally a date night with for hubby and me. However, on occasions we do have friends over and today/tonight is one of those evenings and should prove interesting as we visit Russia.
The Russian Federation or Russia as we know it, is the largest country in the world and has a population of around 145 million which makes Russia the 9th most densely inhabited place in the world.
Russia spans across much of Europe – Eastern Europe and all of Northern Asia and incidentally spans at least nine time zones. It shares it’s borders with may countries from Norway, Finland, Poland, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Mongolia, China to name a few. The Sea of Okhotsk, The Bering Strait and Alaska share waters around Russia.
The food of Russia is a a mix of various cooking traditions and the food is as varied as the country itself. The basics of the cuisine were placed by the peasant food of the rural population where foods such as poultry, fish, pork, berries, honey, mushrooms and caviar were plentiful. There were many ingredients available, such as rye, millet, wheat and barley for bread making or for pies. Also for making vodka and beer. Then during the 16th – 18th century the expansion of their culture, the more sophisticated foods and better cooking methods, it became one of the more improved food countries of the world.
Tonight isn’t just one course as normally on a week night but 3 for a dinner party. Researching for tonight’s dinner party proved very interesting and enlightening. The Russians take entertaining very seriously and I found out very interesting facts one of which was “much of how a table is “properly” set comes from Russian aristocratic rules” I love a beautifully laid table and take pleasure out of doing it. It adds to the ambience of the evening and makes the guests feel they are special.
Because food isn’t served or displayed on the table, what covers the table is extremely important. The cloth or cover tends to be very plain, with maybe something fancy at every place setting. As the table is plain coloured runners may be used. Chargers would be used and left on the table between each course. The cutlery is laid up in the same way we would do it here…always working form the outside in. Glasses would be laid for red and white wine and also a water glass and coloured glasses were often used to add colour to the table. Because food is not on the table the centre of the table would possibly be filled with flowers, candles or maybe a huge bowl of fruit. Coloured napkins would be used to give more colour and for more a really fancy touch menus and place cards would be provided.
An appetiser of Blinis, soured cream and Caviar is a must if hosting a Russian themed dinner party. On this occasion I opted for shop bought Blinis and Caviar that could be sourced from supermarket, instead of a long expensive journey to London and the The London Caviar Company.
In addition to this a Mushroom Strudel…. the superb flavours of mushrooms cooked with shallots, parsley and white wine, then placed in buttered filo pastry just melted in the mouth…
Just as a point of interest in Russian dining etiquette the most honoured or oldest guest is served first, so made a point of serving our friend first – as he was the oldest among us…. All food must be delivered to the table at the same time so no one has to wait and as here – which I in-still onto my boys that you do not begin eating until the host/hostess invites you to start and you never ever rest your elbows on the table but always should your hands be visible. Also men serve drinks for women seated next to them.
I have chosen for the main course a dish that we have cooked on many times as a weekday dinner, but the recipe we have always used generally are adapted to be lower in calories and fat as we were probably trying to shed pounds. There is nothing wrong with those recipes, but tonight – and if you know me – will understand why I want to try and give the full Russian experience, so no corners to be cut. Beef Stroganoff – originated from mid 19th century Russia – is dish of sliced beef in a sour cream sauce garnished with straw potatoes was named for the Stroganov family of Russian merchants. The inventor was plainly familiar with French cuisine (browning meat to make a pan sauce was not a Russian technique)—no surprise in a country whose wealthiest sent their chefs to train in France. The sour cream, however, is distinctly Russian. (Darra Goldstein, from “Classy Dish” (September/October 2000)).
This we served with a rice titled Azebaijan Pilaf, a rice dish cooked in stock with ginger,sesame seeds, salt and pepper. The dish is cooked in the oven.
The smell was fragrant and mouth watering….
No dinner party would be complete without a dessert and Russian people really do enjoy their desserts because of the sweetness of them. Research has shown me that it could be because of the weather. As we know Russia is cold and sweets/desserts are high in calories and can create quick energy boost and because of the lack of natural sun light in the winter, sweets/desserts and chocolate can be instant “mood boosters”
As Russians allegedly love cakes one dessert had to be a cake. I opted for a “Zvetajevsky” – Apple Cake. In Russia, apples are a common and popular fruit and are used in a limitless array of recipes – pancakes, fritters, pies etc – and this recipe was easy to follow and a doddle to cook.The ingredients for the base form a dough when mixed together
Apples are then peeled and sliced and laid on top. A cream topping is then put together from sour cream, sugar and flour, poured poured over the top and baked in the oven.
The finished result was amazing and was exactly as the author of the recipe suggested – delicious!!
It is alleged that in the early 20th century, there were 2 sisters – the Zvetajevy sisters used to serve this cake to their guests. Whether this is true, who knows? However, it is delicious and amazing whether you eat it hot or cold…I served it warm.
For an extra treat I decided I just had to do two desserts, so opted for something cold It had to be fit for a dinner party so what better than this fantastic pud….. Russian Cream Parfaits A delightful dessert that is wonderfully creamy and thick. It is topped with a sweet raspberry topping finished off with fresh raspberries. Raspberry preserve lemon juice and fresh raspberries are all warmed through in a pan and when cooked pushed through a sieve and cooled until needed.
A luscious, self indulgent dessert. (Next time I make this I will increase the topping ingredients to able me to cover the who dessert as pictures on the web show…I felt the ingredients were sparse…also using cups oppose to metric can make me confused :-))
Family and friend verdict: A superb combination of food with some beautiful intense flavours. None of it was difficult to cook or prepare. Although I need to get my head round cups etc..I will learn. The beef was incredibly tender and the apple cake was indeed delicious and very moorish….Our friends said “The meal was absolutely delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves”