Monday, February 28, 2011

Winter Detox: Butternut Squash and Spinach Whatever

This is something I like to think of as a post-holiday detox dinner. It’s healthy enough for New Year’s resolutions, it has a comfort-food factor for cold winter nights and it’s easy to make.

Roast some butternut squash on a Sunday afternoon when you’re pottering around the house.* When you’re ready to eat, sauté some spinach in a bit of olive oil. Add cubed butternut squash and some cheese—almost anything works here, although I like whipped cream cheese because it makes a nice, creamy sauce and isn’t terribly caloric.

Or add a bit of butter—it’s okay, a pat won’t set you back too much.  Eat with rice, pasta or as is.

*To roast squash: Preheat the oven to 425 and line a large pan with foil. Cut up a butternut squash into 4-inch chunks. Don't bother peeling. Place squash in the pan; sprinkle with brown sugar, salt and black pepper. Add a splash of olive oil.

Roast 30-45 minutes, until the squash is easily pierced with a fork. Let cool and peel.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Russian Cold Remedies

Been sick yet this season? In Russia, you wear down the cold! In keeping with cold and flu season, here’s a rundown of traditional Russian cold remedies. None of these will cure your cold, of course, but all will make you feel better when you’re going through boxes of Kleenex and rubbing your bleary eyes.

Tea: Tea is the Russian cure-all for everything—illness, hangovers, heartbreak, you name it. Brew yourself a pot of strong Earl Grey (see my user-friendly directions) and choose your add-in: lemon and honey, raspberry jam, or a good splash of brandy...okay, vodka.

Raspberry jam: Whether you add it to tea or eat as is, Russians say raspberry jam is good for colds. I’m neutral on this.

Oatmeal with raisins and butter.
Kasha: I don’t know if this counts as a traditional Russian remedy, but it helps me when I’m sick. Kasha* (каша), in Russian, is any hot cereal, such as oatmeal or cream of wheat. It's usually made with milk, not water, and it’s good comfort food when you’re out of sorts. Eat with a big pat of butter. You can afford the calories when your immune system is weak, you know. (*Kasha refers to buckwheat in English--in Russian, however, buckwheat is called grecha/греча.)

Hot steam: This one’s fun. Boil some potatoes in a large soup pot; drain when done. Lean over the empty pot, cover you head with a blanket—and breathe. The steam’s supposed to clear the nasal passageways. It’ll also open up your pores--kind of like a DIY spa treatment! Save the potatoes for salad Olivier, if you manage not to sneeze all over them.

Gogol-Mogol: Also on the weird side is this eggnog-like drink. I have no idea if it helps cure colds, as I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid it. Gogol-mogol involves mixing a raw egg with honey, hot milk and butter. Here’s a recipe.

Chicken noodle soup with meatballs.
Soup: Chicken soup, of course, but any kind of hot soup will do.

This is by no means a complete list. For more Russian cold remedies, including non-edible ones—ground mustard on your socks, anyone? —check out this blog.  And share your favorite cold remedies, Russian or otherwise, in the comments.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Russian Candy Review: Korovki

This is part three of my occasional Russian candy review series. See also part one and part two.

Who’s up for a little cow? That’s what these caramel candies are called in Russian—Korovki, which is short for little cows, plural (коровки=little cows/корова=cow, singular/коровы=cows, presumably full-sized).

They come in bright little wrappers with a picture of a blissfully happy cow on the front. As for the taste, these are like a soft, creamy version of Werther’s butterscotch toffee. They’re a bit too sweet for my tastes, but work when I need sugar rush. I give them a B-.

You can buy Korovki at most Russian and Eastern European groceries. In the Milwaukee area, I recommend Spartak in Whitefish Bay. For more on Milwaukee-area shopping options, check out this guide.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Times Are 'a Changing: Blogging in 2011 vs. 2006

Yulinka Cooks is back in business! Did you miss me? If not, I can’t blame you. It’s hard to keep up with all the food blogs out there. We bloggers are competing for readers, page views, comments, attention. During my hiatus I've thought about how blogging's changed since Yulinka Cooks began back in '06. Here are my tips on blogging in 2011:

Go hyper-local: Like the newspaper industry, food bloggers should focus on gaining a local readership. Cover local food, local restaurants, local farmers. Meet local foodies, organize local events (the Milwaukee-based food blog Burp! is doing this right).

Find a Niche: It’s hard to sustain a food blog that’s all over the place. Pick a theme, the more unusual the better, and stick to it. (This pertains to all blogs, not just food—see the fashion blog Manrepeller for an example. The theme is clothes that confuse and repulse men. Weird? Yes. But in a universe full of fashion blogs filled with recycled industry gossip, this blog stands out and gets covered in the New York Times.)

Forget Anonymity: When I started this blog in 2006, hardly anyone who read it knew me offline. Later, thanks to a mention in the local paper, local food blogger events and the ubiquity of Facebook, nearly half my readers seemed to be from the Milwaukee area. Co-workers and acquaintances (now Facebook friends) would mention my blog posts. My blog came up, unprompted, during job interviews.

Social Media: You pretty much have to be on Facebook and Twitter now, if you’re a blogger.

Be Creative: Remember when food bloggers got book deals? That stopped circa 2008. Great recipes and artsy pictures aren’t enough to pull in readers, let alone a publishing contract, unless you run a really major blog like Smitten Kitchen. So be creative. Be weird. Don’t settle for just another recipe-and-picture food blog.

Have Fun: When blogging's fun, it shows! Also: find a few blogs that you really admire, read them and leave comments. The bloggers will appreciate it.  As will I if you stick with Yulinka Cooks. Thanks again for reading!  
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