Thanks to the kindness and bravery of dear Anya, who has now also returned from Vladivostok to her native California, I made my first U.S. attempt at Russian cooking yesterday. I say "kindness and bravery" because I believe it takes a bit of both to attempt to send tvorog through the mail. The package didn't arrive exactly when it was supposed to, but the couple of extra days on UPS trucks didn't seem to hurt the tvorog (at least it tastes alright, and I haven't died yet - thank goodness for pasteurization and airtight containers!), so yesterday I made:
(This is Anya's recipe. The parts I added are in italics.)
1. mix 50 grams (approx. half a stick) butter and 1 cup flour and a pinch of salt, until crumbly.
2. mix 200 grams tvorog, approx. 1 cup sugar and one or two eggs. I used two eggs and a rounded 3/4 cup of sugar, and added a splash of vanilla extract.
3. line a pan with the butter/flour mixture and pound down. I used a 9-inch pie plate and lined the bottom and about halfway up the sides. reserve 1-2 tablespoons of mixture to sprinkle on top.
4. pour tvorog mixture into pie shell and sprinkle reserved butter/flour mixture on top.
5. bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until golden and set, approx. 40-45 minutes.
Notes: There are two kinds of vatrushka. The one I made looks nothing like the danishes that you'll see if you click on the word "Vatrushka!" above - it's more like a cheesecake, big and flat with a pie crust. The tvorog is the element common to the two types.
This recipe made a liquidy, custard-like filling, while I remember the filling being drier when we made it in Russia. This could be because of the tvorog itself, which varies in consistency, or because I used two eggs.
You can find tvorog in the States, especially if you live in a major metropolitan area and can find a Russian grocery store. If not, I've read that you can substitute ricotta, which has a similar consistency, but add a few spoonfuls of sour cream to get the tangy bite that ricotta lacks.
In researching tvorog, I found (to my disappointment) that Wikipedia lacks a good entry for it. But then I found out that the word quark (as in those crazy little sub-subatomic particles) comes from the word tvorog. That made my evening.
Speaking of which, I recently learned (by reading The Economist) that the Russian word вокзал/vokzal, 'railway station' - a word I had never given much thought to - is inexplicably derived from Vauxhall, the name of an area of London which I had also never given much thought to. Or perhaps not inexplicably - Wikipedia has an article on that, too.
PS: Physical therapy is going well, and I'm getting bureaucracy related to my return to Russia worked out. Full steam ahead!