Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Easter Celebrations In Years Past!

Easter is fast approaching and I am sure your plans for family gatherings are well underway.  Your family may have dinner or brunch reservations as a way to celebrate without all the fuss of cooking a huge home dinner.  Or you may be continuing a long standing tradition of a huge dinner at home with family and friends after a week of Easter and Lenten activities.  The table will be set with the good china and crystal and beautiful flowers.  There will, of course, be the bowl of dyed Easter eggs and a chocolate bunny or two. No matter how you choose to celebrate Easter it will certainly be different than when my Mother-in-law, Alina Zeranski, grew up in Poland.           

In her cookbook, THE ART OF POLISH COOKING, she lovingly wrote of her Easter customs and traditions.  Here is some of what she wrote:

"Poland is predominantly a Catholic country, and Lent was always observed seriously.  Two or three meatless days were a common practice. "

"The last week of Lent was dedicated to prayer, spring cleaning, and preparation of the biggest feast of the year-Easter Luncheon.  With women so busy, and the whole household in a terrible turmoil, husbands loved to sneak our with friends to one of the numerous excellent Polish restaurants "for a little fish." But as the old saying goes "a fish loves to swim"; the opportunity was provided by washing it down with vodka."

"Polish children love Easter no less than Christmas, and by no means is it a smaller holiday.  There is the tradition of visiting several churches on Good Friday.  Each church presents a tomb with a figure of Jesus Christ lying among thousands of hyacinths and tulips.  Canaries hidden in the greenery chirp their delicate songs.  Little maids in white veils, boy scouts and soldiers keep guard at the tomb."

"Dinner on Good Friday consisted of just Herring with boiled potatoes or vegetable barley soup.  The evening was spent in coloring eggs.  In the Polish countryside, it was customary to decorate them with beautiful flowery designs."

"Easter dishes were not tasted even on Saturday, but the house already cleaned, smelled of fresh wax and hyacinths, the traditional Polish Easter flower. Pussy willows in tall vases decorated each room. Samples of Easter were put in a basket: a few eggs, salt, butter, sausage, a piece of pate, a few slices of babka, and mazurkas (Easter cakes). Covered with a white napkin, it was taken to the church for blessing." On Saturday afternoon the the food was ready and the table was prepared. "At the middle of the table a little, white sugar lamb was placed as the symbol of Jesus, with a little red banner and sugar flowers on the stand.  Next to the lamb was a bowl of colored eggs and hyacinths.  In the countryside the lamb was often made of butter or baked from yeast baba dough.

The dishes of the cold meats and relishes occupied the front of the table: a huge baked ham, rolls of sausages, a roast pig, a turkey or goose, large pieces of roast beef, pork loin, or veal."

"At the other end of the table stood the tall Easter babas silvery with sweet icing, a rich cheese cake with raisins, and endless varieties of thin squares of mazurkas."

The food remained untouched until the family returned from church around noon on Sunday. "Before everyone was seated, mother took a plate with quartered Easter eggs blessed in church, and approached everyone in the room offering a piece, wishing good health and happiness." As you can imagine with that much food, Easter luncheon was an endless affair and no one went away hungry.

No matter how or where you choose to celebrate your Easter meal, I wish you and your families a blessed and happy holiday.

Both of our cookbooks, POLISH CLASSIC RECIPES and POLISH CLASSIC DESSERTS are full of recipes you can prepare for your Easter Celebration.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Honey Cake Trifle

Christmas is my favorite time of the year.   The lights, music, decorations, gaily wrapped presents and sharing special moments with family and friends are very special to me.  But it is the smells of pine, narcissus, cinnamon, clove, orange, ginger, honey and chocolate that evoke memories of times past for me. Memories of baking Christmas cakes and cookies with my Mother and Grandmother.  

One of the first things my mother-in-law ask me to make for Christmas Eve dinner was piernik, the honey cake. 

 My first attempt as a new wife was an epic failure (See blog article New Bride Kitchen Disaster, Wednesday, February 9, 2011 for all the details).  But over 49 years of marriage, I mastered it. This year I decided to take the flavors of the honey cake and turn it into a trifle, another family Christmas favorite.  The base for the trifle is honey cake cubes, layered with a raspberry curd, grated chocolate and vanilla custard topped with an almond whipped cream.  The results got rave reviews from my neighborhood taste testers.  This trifle could be my new favorite Christmas dessert.  Hope you like it too.

Honey Cake Trifle

7-8 cups of cubed honey cake or gingerbread (Use your favorite recipe or our Honey Cake From Warsaw, on page 90 in Polish Classic Recipes.

Raspberry Curd (Recipe below)
Vanilla Custard (Recipe below)
Almond Whipped Cream (Recipe Below)
1 bar of semi-sweet chocolate grated

Make a layer of honey cake in the bottom of a trifle bowl.  Layer half of the raspberry curd over top of the cake.  Grate 1/3 of the chocolate over the curd.  Pour a layer of half of the  vanilla custard over the chocolate.  Repeat the layers. Pipe the whipped cream over the top and garnish with the remaining grated chocolate. Decorate with fresh raspberries and optional gingerbread men.

Raspberry Curd
2 1/2 fresh or frozen raspberries
Zest of 2 lemons
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons butter, softened
Place butter in one medium bowl.  Place fine mesh strainer over another medium bowl.
Place the raspberries, lemon zest and juice in a small saucepan  Cook on medium to low heat until the raspberries soften, burst and become mostly liquid.
Press the raspberry mix through the strainer to remove the seeds and the zest, scaping the bottom of the strainer.  The raspberry liquid should measure about 3/4 cup.  
Discard the seeds, rinse the strainer and dry it.  Set the strainer over the bowl with the butter.
Return the raspberry liquid to the saucepan.  Add the sugar and stir.  The mix should be cool.  If not wait a few minutes before adding the eggs.  Whisk in the eggs .  Return the pot to the stove.  Cook the mixture on medium heat.  Whisking until the curd is thick and coats the back of a spoon.
Pour the curd through the strainer over the bowl of butter.  Press to get as much of the curd through the strainer as possible.  Stir the curd and the butter until butter is melted and you have a smooth curd. 
Cover the bowl and chill until thickened.

Vanilla Custard
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Whisk the granulated sugar, cornstarch and egg yolks together in a saucepan.  Whisk in the milk in a thin, steady stream.  Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until thickened to the consistency of a custard.  Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla.  Let cool completely.

Almond Whipped Cream
2 cups of heavy whipping cream, cold
3 tablespoons of confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Whip the cream in a chilled bowl until soft peaks form.  Beat in the confectioners' sugar and almond extract and continue beating until stiff.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Cabbage Roll Soup


Autumn leaves in brilliant hues of yellow, orange and red are carpeting our lawns.  The air has a bit of chill and some places across the US have already had their first snow fall.  With colder temperatures our thoughts turn to comforting soups and stews.  After raking leaves all day,  everyone is ready for a warm and filling dish.  Our Polish Classic Recipes Cookbook is full of soups, stews and other cold weather comfort dishes you might like to try. Soups like Polish Sour Soup (p.34), Christmas Dried Mushroom Soup (p.37), Dill Pickle Soup (p. 41) and Hunter's Stew (p.45). Pair any of these dishes with a crusty bread and your favorite wine for a delicious meal.

This fall I decided to transform my cabbage roll recipe into a soup.  Making Cabbage Roll Soup provides all the luscious flavors of my cabbage rolls without all the rolling and the long cook time.  The soup ingredients include the usual elements, cabbage, onion, tomato sauce, rice, ground beef and pork.  While the soup is simmering your kitchen will be filled with a heavenly aroma.  


Cabbage Roll Soup

1 large diced onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 pound ground beef

1/2 pound ground pork

1 1/2 cups cooked rice

1 head of cabbage (approximately 3 pounds), coarsely chopped

1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes

4 cups of beef broth

8 ounces tomato sauce (Use the following recipe for my Grandma's sauce or use store bought)

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, fry the onion in butter or bacon fat until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Mix the onion and garlic mixture with the beef and pork and season well with salt and pepper.

Make tiny meatballs with the meat mix and brown. (Or you make choose to just brown the meat mixture.)  Remove the meatballs and set aside.  

Add cabbage to your pot and cook until soft. Add the diced tomatoes, beef broth and tomato sauce to the pot and bring it to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low. Return your meatballs to the soup pot.  Cover the pot and cook for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the cabbage is tender.

Add the cooked rice to the pot and continue to simmer until rice is warmed.

Grandma's Tomato Sauce

1 14 ounce can plum tomatoes

1/2 cup of butter

Salt and pepper

In a sauce pan , bring the tomatoes and butter to a boil.  Break up the tomatoes as they cook.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook the tomato butter mixture until it thickens.  This may take 20-30 minutes.

Blend mixture on low in a blender or with an immersion blender.  Salt and pepper to taste.