Peanut Butter Post

Reese's Dark Chocolate Cake

I wanted to make a birthday cake for my Grandpa and one of the recipes recently added to my collection required peanut butter. This thing is somehow not popular in Russia (I’m no fan either), costs a lot and can be found only in a limited number of stores. So I naturally thought, why not make my own? (experiments, here we go!)

Homemade Peanut Butter

What you see here is not exactly peanut butter but something reminding me of something we call shcherbet in Russia (contrary to the classic sharbat this one is not liquid but rather thick like halva, being a mixture of cream (milk), fruits and nuts, one of those Turkish delights we love here in Russia). You see, my blender is a pretty sissy one and just wouldn’t surmount so many peanuts, poor thing! So I ended up with lots of distinctive bits of nuts instead of a proper paste. When I mixed the nuts with the rest of the ingredients and I popped it into the fridge it became even less spreadable. But it worked just fine when it was processed for the cake frosting (see further)!

Homemade Peanut Butter

1 year agoHow to Make Silky Cream Cheese at Home

2 years agoTwo Spinach Pies and Spinach…Rice

3 years agoRye Malt Bread, Two Versions

4 years ago2 Energy-Boosting Sweets to Keep Your Mind and Spirit Up

Homemade Peanut Butter adapted from www.thekitchn.com will make more than a cup of thick chunky nutty treat – with all-natural ingredients! Visit the link to get the entire recipes. My changes and remarks:

I used less salt and more nuts, almost burning them while roasting as I forgot them in the oven (hence the deep brown colour). I added sunflower oil and honey as a sweetener but did not add any extras.

When I realized my butter was a tad too thick for butter I tried adding some more oil and honey but that wouldn’t help much. You just need a sturdy blender!

Remarks: You might want to keep your friends away while you’re making this or you might run out of roasted peanuts before they make it to the blender! :) The author of the recipe suggests using various kinds of nuts and considering different extras like cinnamon, for example. You can also skip the roasting part or leave some nuts only just roughly ground for a chunkier peanut butter.

Result: Super chunky and super peanutty :) Of course everything will depend on the blender – you might end up with a much finer paste than what I had. After some time in the fridge my ‘butter’ was so thick I could break it into bits so I also used it for the decoration:

Reese's Dark Chocolate Cake

Ah yes, let’s turn to the cake recipe now:

Reese’s Dark Chocolate Cake adapted from www.thenovicechefblog.com will make a very soft & rich deep-dark cake with unusual peanut frosting. I doubled the recipe to have a two-layer cake. Visit the original website for the entire recipe. My changes and remarks:

I used less butter although I doubled the recipe and still got quite a lot of frosting. However, I increased the amount of peanut butter and decreased the powdered sugar. I skipped the chocolate glaze part decorating the top with bits of peanut butter instead. 

Reese's Dark Chocolate Cake

Remarks: The chocolate cake is actually so super soft that it almost fell apart when I was transferring both layers from the pan. So if you choose to make a double recipe and bake the whole bunk in one pan to later cut it in two, i wouldn’t suggest this. Also, while making the batter I was careless enough to add the egg while the mixture was quite hot which almost resulted in a poached egg :) Be careful! And yes, keep the cake in the fridge!

Reese's Dark Chocolate Cake

Result: At the first bite the cake appears quite light and fluffy but then the peanut frosting sinks in and you realize that this is quite a substantial cake after all! I think that this cake was pretty uncommon in its taste thanks to the peanut flavour. And although I’m no fan of peanut butter or buttercream, I think this cake was quite a success!

Reese's Dark Chocolate Cake

These photos feature the celebrated tea set of my Granny with my favourite teaspoons made in Leningrad. The teaspoons might as well been produced in the 1980s as the design rarely changed once it was approved in the USSR, but they do look very 1960s with their black and white pattern!

Reese's Dark Chocolate Cake

The peanut frosting leftovers were used in this improvised peanut cake. Since the frosting was essentially a mixture of butter, sugar and nuts, I added some flour, baking powder, 2 eggs and milk. I had a limited amount of time, so had to use the fan option of my oven hence the weird shape of the cake:

Reese's Dark Chocolate Cake
This post goes to the Chocolate and the Sweet recipe collection.

G.

Rachmaninov at Church of the Saviour on Blood

Church of Saviour on Blood, St Petersburg

Back in spring 2015 we attended a concert at the Smolny Cathedral here in St Petersburg. Almost exactly one year after, Smolny will fully belong to the Church as it used to be long time ago, there will be no concerts inside this cathedral (which is a shame considering its first class acoustic characteristics!). I wonder if they will still let people climb up the bell tower – it’ll be a shame if no one will be able to see St Petersburg from that observation point! The concerts are now primarily held at two churches – Church of the Saviour on Blood and St Isaac’s Cathedral (which has a more popular observation platform). Earlier this month we attended Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil at the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, that architectural marvel close to Nevsky.

Church of Saviour on Blood, St Petersburg

Sergei Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil was my first live choral performance that I have ever attended (not counting several church choirs that I’ve heard). And although Rachmaninov created a piece which cannot be considered 100% religious or church music, it certainly moves you so much that you experience something very similar to a spiritual uplifting. No scholarly research on Orthodox religion could ever give you the same level of experience and insight into the spirit and the perception of the world. To cut the long story short, I really loved it.

Church of Saviour on Blood, St Petersburg

So far it was probably the strongest emotional experience I got while listening to a live performance – or even just music! Very good concerts usually make me smile and I laugh but this music made me cry – just couldn’t stop it! The voices kept reverberating from the walls, the music was flowing in a stream towards you and surrounding you – you could almost feel the music with your skin, so very “thick” that it became tangible!

Church of Saviour on Blood, St Petersburg

I struggled to make photos which would more or less render the atmosphere and the grandeur of the interior. The church does look like a museum of mosaics of the beginning of the 20th century (which it was turned into by the Soviets after serving as a morgue during the Siege and a storehouse for veggies and the nearby theatre) but with that choral music the space was suddenly transformed into a real church. And the space in its turned also helped the experience cause the same piece performed somewhere in a concert hall would be a completely different story.


Listen to this celestial music, how the voices of the Smolny Cathedral Choir intertwine and create this wonderful wall of sound…

Sorry for the inevitable cracking sounds and the tic-tac of my wrist watch in the background :)

Church of Saviour on Blood, St Petersburg
The chandeliers inside this church impressed me more than the mosaics…

Church of Saviour on Blood, St Petersburg

I also liked this smaller lamp close to the entrance:

Church of Saviour on Blood, St Petersburg

This photo was taken with my phone so it has a different – brighter – colour scheme:

Church of Saviour on Blood, St Petersburg

Just when we were about to leave the church, they started switching the lights off one by one, which changed the atmosphere into a more mysterious one, with these lights encircling the cupola just like candles:

Church of Saviour on Blood, St Petersburg

Outside there was snow and we couldn’t believe that we spent only 1 hour inside – it felt like we listened to that magical music for hours! The grate which lines the square and also serves as the railing for the nearby Mikhailovsky Garden (which belongs to the Russian Museum) is such an intricate creation of the Art Nouveau era, that you just cannot pass by without noticing it.

Church of Saviour on Blood, St Petersburg

Same week we also visited the intimate hall of the St Petersburg Opera for the second time – this time we watched a super light performance, the Bat. It was so light indeed that I caught myself not thinking about anything – I mean I usually tend to switch off from time to time thinking about my own stuff but here I sat just listening to the performers and giving my head some rest.

St Petersburg Opera

Upcoming – another concert at the Smolny Cathedral (the last one before its official closure as a concert hall) and some Mariinsky Theatre performances. Panem et circenses!

This post goes to the St Petersburg series and my posts On Russia.

G.

Whole Wheat Fig Bars

Whole Wheat Fig Bars

It’s been a while since my last post here and this post won’t be long either. Just wanted to share with you this winter-time recipe of Whole Wheat Fig Bars. The figs are used dry but then you book them creating a sort of fig jam filling. And the flavour is very summer-like! When we were in Greece we would go around the island with my Mom and pick up the over ripe figs which have already fallen – gosh, why waste all this goodness and buy them in a supermarket instead? So don’t waste your time, go make some some Whole Wheat Fig Bars and enjoy your piece of summer in the middle of winter!

Whole Wheat Fig Bars

1 year ago How to Make Silky Cream Cheese at Home

2 years ago – Apricot Oatmeal Bar With Pistachios

3 years ago – After Apples Come the Berries

4 years ago – 2 Energy-Boosting Sweets to Keep Your Mind and Spirit Up

Whole Wheat Fig Bars adapted from www.food.com will make bars with jammy fig filling and crunchy seeds, with that very Greek summer flavour! Visit the original website for the recipe. Here are my changes and suggestions:

I used a mixture of regular white ans brow sugar, butter instead of shortening or margarine and also opted for the orange juice. The procedure is quite easy – although you will have to cook the figs first. Also I луззе my dough in the fridge overnight but still it was kind of sandy and wouldn’t roll out easily (well, what would you expect from just whole wheat flour!). I made bigger bars (i.e. less in number) and baked them longer including several minutes with the oven switched to the ‘only top’ mode.

Whole Wheat Fig Bars

Remarks: As the author suggests, these bars can also be made with dates and I think that’s a good idea too! I wonder if you can actually substitute it with some jam filling, instead of boiling the dry fruit.

Result: Those fig seeds and the orange zest make the bars pretty unusual in terms of flavour. The fact that these bars are 100% whole wheat is an obvious plus too, making them a little bit healthier, you know. I also liked this other ‘fashion’ of shaping the bars (i.e. precutting them), they look like those jam or nut filled treats you can still find in Russian confectionery stores.

This post goes to Sweet recipe collection.

G.

Frozen Piter

Frozen Piter

I have gathered quite a collection of pictures with the frozen St Petersburg & Kolpino over these past days. The city looks much brighter with the snow & much better compared with the previous years thanks to the decision to stop using those nasty chemicals which created mud and ruined your shoes.

Frozen Kolpino

The shoes might still be ruined with the salt used to sprinkle the streets so that they become less slippery but the snow does really bring in the magic of winter.

Frozen Kolpino

Frozen berries, frozen cars, frozen front doors and handles, frozen canals and much more city space suddenly accessible thanks to the paths in snow across and over just about everything :)

Frozen Piter

After the irregular +12 ‘C in December the city has covered itself with a thick and warm white blanket. Most probably for good – the weather forecast promises mild minus temperatures throughout February.

Frozen Piter

If you’re not frozen all over yet (sometimes the temperature drops below -20 here) you can enjoy the winter sun and the winter fun too. I’ve always thought that winter is one of the two seasons most enjoyed by children and dogs :)

Frozen Piter

On some days you wake up to find the entire city turned into a subtle winter fairy tale, as if it’s all made from ice and you somehow start walking with great care not to ruin this fragile wonderland.

Frozen Kolpino

The sunsets are as always dramatic. With each day they come a little bit later and the day is gaining precious seconds and eventually minutes. Still it feels like everything around is in a deep sleep…

Frozen Kolpino

Winter sunrise is also picturesque – if we’re lucky to witness it:

Frozen Piter

The picture was taken last year when the ice was not still thick enough on the rivers and canals of the city. Now these have become extra streets and paths, and in theory you can cross all through St Petersburg via its waterways without a motorboat :)

Frozen Piter

Not only the Russian Museum benefits from this white frame. One of those Stalin-era residential buildings in Kolpino also looks better with all this snow around: its white decoration matches the snow on the trees.

Frozen Kolpino

Welcome to the frozen Piter!

Frozen Piter
This post goes to St Petersburg series.
G.

Where to Eat Out in St Pete – A Selection

Khachapuri i Vino, St Petersburg

Some time ago I wanted to make a series of posts on various St Petersburg cafes which seem to be experiencing a particular boom right now. Some of them disappear, new ones spring up and I’m in no way able to keep up with this process. So in the end I combined my posts into one, offering you a selection of two national cuisine places and one spot for just hanging out.

Let’s first talk about a small cafe situated on the corner of the streets with super-Soviet names (one of them is Socialist and the other is called after the Pravda newspaper) – Khachapuri i vino (Khachapuri and Wine), immediately announcing two probably most beloved items from the Georgian cuisine (at least for vegetarians) – the cheese pie and the wine. Georgian cuisine has always been popular in Russia. It’s the ideal get-together comfort food which is supposed to be quite hearty, fatty and well, abundant! There’s also this sharing side to it which you will also find in the Greek tradition (sharing meze, the appetizers, etc). I think I know more Georgian cafes in St Petersburg than places with Russian food. And since the Georgian and Caucasian dishes have long been considered a must on the Russian table, I usually prefer to go there instead of trying to find something ultra-Russian.

Khachapuri i Vino, St Petersburg

It is probably one of the cheapest places to eat khachapuri as normally they cost twice as much (the least expensive was cheaper than soup). Although the size is also considerably smaller which however helps if you are not that super hungry to devour an entire pie (remember that the Georgian – and Caucasian in general –  portions are big ones!). So I would say that the prices are medium, probably because this is a cafe and not a restaurant. I’ve just discovered that they have opened another cafe, also in the center.

Khachapuri i Vino, St Petersburg

We saw the lady who is in charge of the kitchen and I think she really knows her stuff :) Also my father who grew up in the Caucasus appreciated the meat and the kharcho soup he ate there. As for me – and this is unfortunately almost a rule – as a vegetarian I have to choose between something with dough or a salad / soup. I didn’t really like it there as the salad (pictured above) was not that very fresh and the khachapuri was a bit too thin on the cheese-side than I would expect. I can’t recall if we tried the wine there but judging from the name it should be at least quite varied there. Ah, now I remember that I drank berry juice, mors.

***

The other cafe with a national cuisine is Bekitzer which is situated in this very building (the top of the tower is occupied by an artist), the spot is known as Pyat’ uglov or Five Corners. Four streets meet and create this well-known central place in St Petersburg. Rubinstein Street where this cafe is located is actually one of those restaurant streets of the city: almost every building houses some sort of a food place!

Pyat Uglov, St Petersburg

The cafe positions itself as a Jewish street-food bar – the idea exactly is to re-create such a place where all kinds of people can meet and eat. When we were there back in summer 2015 we did feel as if we suddenly moved to a busy  street somewhere in Israel, with people talking very loudly, the open kitchen and open doors. I don’t know how it looks like in winter but if you are searching for a quiet place, this is not one for sure :)

Bekitzer, St Petersburg

We had some falafel with humus and a lentil salad which we decided to finish with this great Napoleon-style cake (and here I mean the traditional layered Napoleon cake with lots of cream inside which is so adored by Russians) which is much lighter than the original and is made with matzo flatbread instead of pastry. I would definitely recommend trying it – especially on such a plate! :)

Bekitzer, St Petersburg

The food, the plates and the design are pretty zesty and bright. As for the prices, I would call this a rather affordable place where you can sample such dishes which you will hardly ever come across in most of the places in the city. They also have take-away service as a street-food place would and you can even try and celebrate your special day there with a company – and though you will obviously strain your vocal cords, it will be a very loud celebration :)

Bekitzer, St Petersburg

They say the designers tried to recreate some of the graffiti you can find in Tel Aviv. We were sitting just next to the open kitchen and observing the process of food making. I also like the fact that they chose this rough and ostensibly minimalist style which adds to the authenticity of the place. There’s also a long bar opposite the entrance – with the limited sitting space inside I guess it’s the only chance you can find a sit there in the evenings.

Bekitzer, St Petersburg

***

And finally one of the places operating according to the time-spent-in-the-cafe principle, called Anticafe in Russia. You pay by the hour and get some tea and cookies as a bonus. There are usually some games, books and even musical instruments. I cannot say anything about the cuisine though, as I have only tried tea there. The menu usually includes things like cookies, sandwiches etc but it can be more varied and substantial than that too – normally without any particular ‘specialization’. By the way, I have the same electric (!) samovar from the late 1980s:

Miracle Anticafe, St Petersburg

We have a number of such places all over the central St Petersburg where people apparently need some space to meet, read or eat without being constrained to cede place for new customers. You can come and celebrate your birthday in such a cafe or use it for a presentation, a meeting of a club etc. These cafes also tend to turn into some kind of artsy places with concerts, lectures and stuff. This one is rather close to the Hermitage and it is called Miracle Anticafe. Inside it’s such a mixture of odd and just old objects that it’s somehow feels like you’re in a very cozy kommunalka with a view to a typical St Pete courtyard :)

Miracle Anticafe, St Petersburg

     and a typical St Pete wall (photo taken in late March 2015)

Miracle Anticafe, St Petersburg

I hope I have given you an idea of what St Petersburg cafes look – and taste – like!

Adding this post to my vast St Petersburg series.

G.

Peach and Raspberry Jam Bars

Peach Crumb Bars

Before we plunge into more sweet recipes I’ve tried during this festive time, let me share with you some of the shots taken in the streets of the brightly decorated St Petersburg these days.

St Petersburg decorations

This is a small side street that is just off Nevsky prospekt in St Petersburg.In the background you can see the statue of Catherine the Great in front of the Aleksandrinsky Theatre which I vividly remember for a Chekhov’s Three Sisters 3+ hour performance I once attended and almost died :) I guess we were either too young for that or it was a very boring performance which was to blame. Anyway, this street looks very European-like, I think Peter the Great would have been very satisfied with the result.

St Petersburg decorations

And this is the Dom Knigi bookstore in one of the city’s most recognizable art nouveau buildings, Singer house. Behind it is the no less famous Kazan Cathedral, looking very much like that Vatican cathedral. All these lights make St Pete appear even more artificial and theatrical than it is in summer, for example. And yet I just love it (if you exclude the crowds, the shopping craze and the cold weather). Particularly now with the snow and the coziness of the lights coming from the windows. Makes you wanna soak in the frozen beauty of the city and happily go home to enjoy a cup of tea…

St Petersburg decorations

And here comes the dilemma of what to have with your cup of tea, indeed. Winter is the time when you have to switch on your imagination to make something different without having all those relatively cheap and fresh ingredients available. This is the time when all your jam and canned stocks will come in handy. We’ll start with a great combination of orange and canned Greek peaches:

Peach Crumb Bars

1 year ago – Winter Fairy Tale and Semolina Bread

2 years ago – Chocolate, Cocoa, Coffee and Cakes

3 years ago – Join the Soviet New Year Table

4 years ago – 4 White Breads and Old New Year

Peach Crumb Bars adapted from www.cookingclassy.com will make zesty peach pies, soft and sugary. For the entire recipe please visit the link provided. Here are my changes and remarks:

I used a large can of Greek peaches in syrup instead of fresh fruit, resulting in having less (possibly much less) filling than required. I blended them and added quite a lot of orange zest instead of orange juice as the canned peaches are quite gooey even when drained. I used sweetened condensed milk (a rare bird in my kitchen, it was brought in by a friend) instead of sour cream.

As for the procedure, I followed it without changes.

Peach Crumb Bars

Remarks: Even though my baking dish was quite large, I think the dough layers were a bit too much for the amount of filling I had. I would increase the former next time. On the other hand, the dough recipe was very successful, I loved the addition of sour cream (condensed milk in my case) which helped make these crumbs much more … crumbly! 

Peach Crumb Bars

Result: Perfectly transportable and soft, these bars are a full-fledged peach pie! If you bake these you will understand what I mean when I say I enjoyed those sugar crystals in combination with the soft peach pieces and the zest in particular… I can only imagine making these with 4,5 cups of fresh Greek peaches, mmm!

Raspberry Oatmeal Crumble Bars

And here’s yet another winter recipe this time with jam. You can use up your leftover jam with this recipe, no doubt any jam will do:

Raspberry Oatmeal Crumble Bars adapted from www.averiecooks.com will make super-sweet, over-sweet jam bars with a crunchy crumb. For the entire recipe please visit the link provided. Here are my changes and remarks:

To imitate the required ‘old-fashioned whole-rolled oats’ I used a 4-cereal porridge (barley, rye, oat, wheat) and – why not – added some lemon zest too. My jam was with seeds but obviously too sugary for such a recipe. The procedure is very easy, no much time needed.

Raspberry Oatmeal Crumble Bars

Remarks: I would suggest adding less sugar to the crumb or using a less sweet jam. Or just use less jam – I added quite a lot because I thought the bars would be very dry. With the time the bottom crumb layer gets surprisingly not soggy with the jam but quite hard instead.

Result: A bit too sweet for my taste but definitely very crunchy and sugar-addictive.

Adding these winter recipes to my Sweet collection.

G.

Fanouropita, Byzantine Nut and Orange Cake

Vizantini fanouropita

Let’s bake a Greek holy cake today! The name fanouropita refers to Saint Phanourios the Great Martyr & Newly Appeared of Rhodes, Άγιο Φανούριο. The cake is baked on this saint’s day, August 27th, and is cut in 40 pieces. The legend says that St Phanourios’ mother was a heartless sinner who treated the poor very tough. For which she obviously went to hell. Her son tried to save her but failed, so Archangel Michael together with St Phanourios pulled her with an onion skin which she once threw to a beggar. But three other women tried to escape with her too, so she pushed them back to hell. Then Archangel Michael renounced from helping her and St Phanourios begged him to save her soul.

Vizantini fanouropita

This is why the housewives bake this cake and take it to the church to later share it with the neighbors, so that the mother of the saint could be forgiven. It’s believed that the saint will help make appear lost things or a husband for an unwed girl or a job for an unemployed, all through this Lenten cake :) I’m not sure my cake was holy but there surely was that ‘holy’ aroma coming out of the oven when this cake was baked!

Vizantini fanouropita

They say that the authentic fanouropita should only have 9 (or 7 or 11, all are ‘holy’ numbers) ingredients though these could be varied. For example, some of the fanouropita recipes have raisins. This cake is done with ground walnuts (which I substituted with cheaper peanuts) and have 9 ingredients all in all.

Vizantini fanouropita

1 year ago – Winter Fairy Tale and Semolina Bread

2 years ago – Chocolate, Cocoa, Coffee and Cakes

3 years ago – Join the Soviet New Year Table

4 years ago – Sourdough Breads

βυζαντινή φανουρόπιτα (Vizantini fanouropita) or Byzantine Nut and Orange Cake translated and adapted from pandespani.com will male a Greek-size (giant) super flavourful moist cake. See my remarks in italics.

Ingredients

  • 500 g self-raising flour – I mixed all-purpose with wholewheat flour, salt, baking powder and soda
  • 3/4 cups olive oil – I substituted some with sunflower oil
  • 1 cup sugar – if you want it sweeter, increase the amount by 1/2 cups, but I wouldn’t do it
  • 2 cups or 500 ml orange juice
  • 2/3 cups ground walnuts – I blended some peanuts
  • 1 Tbs cloves – substituted it with mahlepi
  • 1 Tbs cinnamon
  • 1 shot of cognac – substituted it with honey
  • 4-5 Tbs white sesame seeds – I used less as my cake was smaller

Procedure

Preheat the oven to 250 ‘C.
Beat all the ingredients apart from flour and sesame with a mixer (I did it by hand), add the flour and mix until you get a homogenized batter. Grease a baking dish (I used a round silicon cake tin), pour the batter in and level it out with a spatula. Generously sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake at 200 ‘C for 10-15 minutes so that it acquires the colour. Then decrease the temperature to 170-180 ‘C and continue baking for 30-35 minutes more. The baking time depends on the size so check the doneness with a toothpick. You might want to cover your cake with foil if it browns too fast.

Vizantini fanouropita

Remarks: Peanuts are great, probably less distinct as the walnuts would be but still nice, particularly when you get a larger bit! The authentic fanouropita should be small and round but as this is a Greek recipe supposedly to be shared into 40 pieces, you can imagine that ‘small’ means giant here. I guess you can easily make only half the recipe. I had to freeze this cake in halves actually! Although I used a smaller cake tin than suggested, my fanouropita roe perfectly as baked through without getting too dry.

Vizantini fanouropita

Result: Giant, tasty, moist, full of flavours and crunchy bits of nuts! You will think twice before sharing it with the entire neighbourhood :) Oh those Greeks they are masters at feeding crowds with hearty and flavourful food! I don’t know how the Byzantine food would taste like but to my taste buds this cake is a perfect tangy orangy winter treat – no need to wait for the 27th of August to enjoy it!

Vizantini fanouropita

…and here’s what was going on behind the window at that moment:

Kolpino

This recipe goes to my Sweet and Country-Specific recipes, to expand my Greek collection even more.
G.
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