The wind is blowing in Médoc. It’s one of those unusually cold December months when you wake up to frosted trees and even the dogs don’t fancy going out. The weather (and the ice-cold stone floors) make me feel raw and in need for big shawls, hot cups of tea and gentle music. I find it romantic to sit by the window, watching the bare trees and glazed blue-grey grass. The wintery view opens my appetite to a whole new level. Not only do I want comfort, but color, joy and warmth.
I am fascinated by Russian cuisine, especially during winter. It symbolizes a culture I admire, filled with rich colors and different tastes I appreciate so much. I have always loved a borscht soup, and have fond memories of going to a very unusual restaurant in Hong Kong called ‘Queen’s café’. It was the very old one that closed down decades ago (there are new ones now but the atmosphere is modern and completely different). It was small and dark, the waiters were old Shanghainese men, dressed in white jackets and matching gloves. They were extremely grumpy. Queen’s café served Russian food, like borscht soup, potato salads, marinated chicken wings, nougats and delicious biscuits you could buy at the deli. There was an element of old-school Shanghai, influenced with Russian culture. I loved it. It was like a movie, so authentic and original. It’s one of those unforgettable moments linked with food. Ever since then, borscht soup has a special place in my food memoirs. Years later, during all my pregnancies, borscht was the food I craved most. Some of my favourite Russian places in Paris are ‘La maison du caviar’ (21 Rue Quentin-Bauchart 75008 Paris), Pétrossian (18 Boulevard de la Tour-Maubourg Paris 75007, and the Rachmaninoff conservatory in Paris where they have a very authentic Russian canteen-style restaurant in the basement (complete with a karaoke too!). The one I make at home is also very satisfying. The colour, the sweetness, the acidity that I crave, it’s all there.
Last week, inspired by the chilly air and the Slavic look of the landscape, I wanted to create a small Russian inspired feast, with home-made blinis, salmon, crème fraîche, dill, lots of borscht soup and a succulent beef Stroganoff. I usually make a lot of borscht so I am sure I can keep some for the next day. As for desserts, I served the Sarah Bernardt cakes (see previous post). They are all about Christmas, and it feels like a pleasurable duty to have one after each meal this month!
On another note, we made a few changes to Manger today, making it a bit more accessible and incorporating the new logo and icons, illustrated by the wonderfully talented Anna Bond from Rifle Paper Co. Merci Anna! The logo was inspired by a beautiful ceiling wreath from a nearby château in ruins we discovered this fall (see ‘From quail to quince’). Many thanks to Mr. Ingvi Guðmundsson for helping me with all the technical stuff and putting up the new site. Takk Takk. I am so grateful for working with such talented people!
450 g/1 pound beetroot, peeled and diced (save half a beetroot to grate)
50 g/ 3 tbsp butter
1 small onion (diced)
1 shallot (diced)
1 small leek (diced)
2 small carrots (diced)
1 stick of celery (diced)
1.5 l beef or vegetable stock
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
½ small cabbage, shredded
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp allspice
1 bay leaf
2-3 tbsp cider vinegar
Salt & pepper, for seasoning
Crème fraîche or sour cream, to serve (1 tbsp each)
Large handful of fresh dill, to serve
Prepare all the vegetables. Dice the potatoes, beets (keep one beet for later/grating), carrots, celery and finely chop the onion, shallot and leek. Coarsely shred the cabbage. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter on a low heat and fry the onions and shallot for 6-8 minutes. Add all the remaining vegetables, bay leaf, garlic and spices. Continue frying for 5 minutes so they are coated with butter. Add stock, mix gently and bring to a soft boil. Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes, then add cabbage. Grate remaining beet in soup. Add a bit of water if needed. Simmer for a further 20 minutes until all the vegetables are tender. Add vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve with crème fraîche/sour cream and dill.
Blinis: (makes about 50-60 small blinis)
80 g/ 3/4 cups buckwheat flour
160 g/ 1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tbsp clarified butter
2 eggs (separated)
1 tsp baking powder
350 ml/ 1 1/2 cups full cream milk
80 g/ 1/3 cup unsalted butter (clarified)
1 tsp salt
For the clarified butter:
Heat unsalted butter on a low heat in a saucepan until melted. Let it simmer until it starts to foam. Skim off the foam and white parts and keep the clear ‘clarified’ butter.
Sift the buckwheat flour, plain flour and baking powder together. Whisk milk, 2 tbsp clarified butter and egg yolks together in another bowl. Mix dry ingredients with egg/ milk mixture, mix gently. Whisk egg white till stiff peaks, and gently fold in to batter.
In a large pan, heat a tbsp clarified butter and fry approx 1 tbsp of batter for each blini. When the blini starts to bubble (under one 1 minute each side), flip over. Serve with crème fraîche/ sour cream, smoked salmon/trout and fresh dill.
500g-700g/ 1-1&1/2 pound beef filet steak
300 g/ 2/3 pounds button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, ground
30 ml/ 1/8 cup cognac
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp mustard
2 tbsp plain flour (for dusting the beef)
80ml/1/3 cup crème fraîche or sour cream (you can add less if you prefer)
A large handful of parsley, chopped
Salt & pepper, for seasoning
Slice the beef into thin slices, across the grain, approx. 1cm/0.5inches wide. Dust beef with plain flour, salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil, fry the onion and garlic on a low heat for 6 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue frying until they turn slightly golden. Set aside.
Scrape off any bits in the pan, add 1 more tbsp of oil, and start frying the beef on a medium heat until all sides are brown. Add the onions, garlic and mushrooms, paprika and mustard. Stir, pour the cognac and let it reduce for 2 minutes. Simmer on a very low heat for 15 minutes (you can add a bit of water if you find the beef too dry). Take off the heat, stir in the crème fraîche or sour cream. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with tagliatelle or rice.