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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


A Sweet Entree to 2010
Text by Katrina Marie. Photos by Dianne Marie.

14 February: St. Valentine’s Day
Happily, St. Valentines Day is not just for lovers. Children exchange valentines at school, though it is often a nail-biting moment hoping that one’s crush is reciprocated. Single women toast their independence (or drown their sorrows) with pink champagne and delectable chocolate. Chocolate is the must-have endorphin rush on Valentine’s Day and may come in any form, but chocolate chip cookies and heart-shaped red velvet cupcakes are perfect American treats to celebrate the day.

All-American Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 30-40 cookies
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
½ cup sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
12 oz chocolate chips**
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

**Chocolate chips are traditional, but if unavailable, simply chop bars of good dark chocolate into small chunks.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Beat brown and white sugars with butter in large bowl until well combined. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
  3. Add flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon; mix until blended.
  4. Add chocolate and nuts. Give a couple of final stirs to incorporate.
  5. Now the obligatory part of practically every American child’s upbringing: sample a spoonful of cookie dough. Some Americans stop right there and eat the remaining dough as-is, but it would indeed rob one of the full experience. **Note that eating raw cookie dough (and hence, raw eggs) can be hazardous, so avoid if concerned about salmonella or with a compromised immune system.
  6. Spoon dough onto ungreased cookie sheets as illustrated, and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes until edges are golden brown.
  7. Transfer to plate or wire rack to cool, and repeat.
  8. And for the grand finale, break in half a still warm gooey chocolate chip cookie, dip into a very cold glass of milk, take a bite, close your eyes… and savor heaven.

Cinnamon Vanilla Frosting

1½ cups sugar
¼ cup flour
1½ cups milk
¼ cup heavy cream
1½ cup unsalted butter, softened but cool, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar and flour. Add milk and cream. Cook over medium heat.
  2. Whisk occasionally until mixture boils and has thickened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Transfer mixture to bowl and beat at high speed 5 minutes.
  4. Reduce speed to low, add butter; beat at medium-high speed until frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add vanilla and cinnamon. Beat until combined. If frosting is too soft, chill in refrigerator.

Red Velvet “Love Cakes” with Cinnamon Vanilla Frosting

The sexy siren of southern cooking, red velvet cake unapologetically oozes luscious sensuality. Most recipes call for buttermilk, which when combined with cocoa powder and baking soda turns the cake a reddish colour. Red food colouring is often added to enhance the shade. Since buttermilk is not always available outside the U.S., this recipe uses sour cream.

Makes approx 30 cupcakes

2 cups flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder**
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
½ cup milk
1 oz red food coloring
1 tsp vanilla

**The amount of cocoa powder often varies by recipe. I prefer dark chocolate cocoa powder, which produces a rich chocolate flavor, but sacrifices a vibrant red color. If you want a very red cake with just a hint of cocoa, simply add less cocoa and more red food coloring. Either way, the end result will be delicious.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place paper muffin liners into tins. For heart-shaped cupcakes, insert a marble or small foil ball between paper lining and tin (as illustrated).
  2. Mix flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Add sour cream, milk, food color and vanilla.
  4. Add flour mixture until just blended. Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling each cup 2/3 full.
  5. Bake 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out clean. Remove from pans only when completely cool.

16 February: Mardi Gras
Since the 18th century, carnival masks, gaudy beads, Hurricanes (recipe below) are essential, as is King Cake.
Truth be told, outside of Louisiana, most Americans are not very familiar with King Cake and numerous variations have emerged since the original concoction of 12th century France. More of a pastry than cake and decorated in Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold, King Cake, as made in New Orleans is usually filled with cinnamon and (not to be missed), a very small toy baby to celebrate the visit by the Three Kings on 6 January to the Baby Jesus, marking the beginning of the Mardi Gras season. Whoever finds the toy baby in their slice is promised one year of good luck.

Hurricane Katrina

This recipe is my own version of the original, with ingredients easy to find in Moscow. I promise, after a few, you won’t know the difference.

4 ounces rum
8 ounces peach nectar (or peach juice)
4 ounces Red Bull
Maraschino cherries and orange slices (for decoration) Ice

In a cocktail shaker, add rum, peach nectar, Red Bull, and crushed ice. Shake vigorously and strain into glass. Garnish with maraschino cherry and orange slice.

Makes 1 serving.

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