Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Great Expectations

Another day, another attempt at pickling mushrooms. I've made Russian-style marinated mushrooms before with mixed results, and I've yet to find a really great recipe. If I'm happy with this attempt, I'll blog about it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Weekend Eats

*I kicked off the grilling season a few weeks ago. Yes, the weather isn't getting much warmer than 55 degrees around these parts, but we stubbornly huddle around the grill in our winter coats. I like grilling vegetables, especially eggplant, bell peppers, onions and tomatoes.

I slice everything into rounds, toss them on the grill, and cook about 15 minutes, flipping the veggies often. When the vegetables are done and everything's cool enough to handle, I slice the eggplant and peppers into strips, toss them in a bowl with the tomatoes and onion rounds, and add chopped parsley, minced olives, cubed mozarella, a bit of olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar. This salad is good as a relish, but I often end up eating it out of the bowl with a tablespoon.

*I rarely find myself on Milwaukee's south side, but last weekend I took a drive to A&J Polish Deli, 1215 W. Lincoln Ave. It looked just like the Russian groceries on Milwaukee's North Shore. The two exceptions were Polish-speaking clerks and a great selection of cheese, deli meats, sausage (including kielbasa that's very good on the grill).

Monday, March 16, 2009

A belated Maslenitsa

I celebrated a belated Maslenitsa last week. Maslenitsa, the Russian Orthodox version of Fat Tuesday, is famed for its pancake feasts. Now, by “celebrated,” I mean that I made and ate a bunch of pancakes. Religious holidays were taboo when I was growing up, and the little I know about this celebration comes from 19th century Russian lit.

My pancakes were blini, the Russian version of crepes, which I’ve blogged about in the past. This time, I decided to forgo the usual sweet fillings for savory rollups with cream cheese and smoked salmon.

This sounds fancy, but it’s very simple. Fry up a bunch of blini as described in the linked recipe above. Spread with cream cheese—fluffy Philadelphia whipped cream cheese works best. Layer with thinly sliced smoked salmon. Roll up and eat.

For more on Maslenitsa, see this excellent blog written by an expat American woman who's raising two young daughters in Moscow.

Friday, March 13, 2009

On Freebies, Samples & PR

I love getting PR pitches in my inbox. There’s nothing like attention from a real, live company to make an obscure blogger feel like Kind of a Big Deal. I am new media; hear me roar. But should I accept the freebies and samples on offer?

My policy is this: I’ll accept samples of products that a) fit the Russian/Eastern European theme of this blog, and b) would be of interest to my readers. (I already do occasional product reviews of Russian foods and brands.) I might also accept samples of products I consider good and would be happy to plug even if I weren’t being offered freebies. Lifeway kefir is an example.

That said, I still like reading PR pitches. The good ones are personalized and address the Yulinka Cooks theme or a specific post. Hey, we bloggers love attention and flattery. If you thought my recipe for homemade farmer's cheese sounds really, really cool, let me know! That’s an approach recommended by the Bad Pitch Blog, a collection of do's and don’ts for PR people. Truth is, even personalized pitches follow a formula, but I still appreciate the effort.

Tip #2: Don’t offer me freebies. Really. The best pitch I’ve ever received was from Red Gold tomatoes, which offered product samples to my readers. The idea was to run a contest for the best recipe that called for canned (Red Gold) tomatoes.

Readers would submit recipes through the comments, I’d pick my favorite, and the chosen commentator would receive product samples as a prize. Red Gold gets it. Bloggers live for comments and traffic. Reader interaction is a huge part of this Web 2.0 business. No one wants to blog into the void.

Now, I passed on Red Gold’s offer because it’s not a favorite brand and canned tomatoes are kind of a stretch for this blog’s theme. But would I do this for a different brand or product? You bet. (Burp!, a Milwaukee food blog, ran Red Gold’s contest and garnered more than 50 comments.)

That’s it! Go forth and pitch.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

When the economy gives you lemons...

* ....throw a bunch of sugar at it. Lemons were on sale this week at Sendik's; so I bought half a dozen and made sugared lemons.

*A food blogger for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is compiling weekly grocery store deals on her blog, Post-College Kitchen. If you're in the Milwaukee area, check this out. I hardly ever buy produce, meat or dairy that isn't on sale.

*If you find yourself at a dinner party with two food bloggers, you're unlikely to eat until the said bloggers have photographed everything on the table. My friend Anna hosted a party where we shot these delicious smoked salmon-and-goat cheese canapes, among other things.

*Readers, you've been doing a great job of pretending you like the links, notes and whatnot I've been posting lately. Work, school and countless odds and ends have kept me from cooking much in recent weeks. Recipes will resume.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Weekend Odds & Ends

*Yulinka Cooks is now on Twitter. Read food-related musings that pop into my mind when I'm not working on the blog.

*The sushi craze has invaded Moscow and St. Petersburg, judging by all the fast-food sushi places I spotted last summer. I didn't try any of them, but I wonder what they serve. In my experience, the Soviet generation is extremely averse to any kind of "raw" food. Bad food quality and frequently-spoiled meat encouraged people to cook everything well-done. The parents and I sparred over baked salmon this weekend: I cook it 10 minutes per inch; they go for nearly 30.
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