Wednesday, March 16, 2022

 Wesołych Świąt (Happy Easter)! 

Our Easter menu has remained pretty much the same through four generations and over 70 years since the Zeranski’s emigrated from Europe.  For 2022 it will be again be a blend of Polish traditional delicacies with some American favorites – all intended to please our family’s diverse palates. 

Poles the world over love their Easter sweets, many of which can be found in our book: Polish Classic Desserts. 

The cornerstones of the main menu are always platters of traditional sliced ham, kielbasa, roast pork and more.  

On the side we sip traditional peppery Barszcz (clear beet broth).  The combination of sweet and peppery flavors balance so well with the rustic garlicky kielbasa and more delicate vegetables. 

For dessert Laura always has such a hard time choosing between the traditional Babas, Cheesecakes or Mazurkas.  Everyone’s mouths are already watering intensely with the anticipation of this meal.

As we start to make our plans for this wonderfully traditional Easter meal, we quickly understand that a couple of sauces to garnish the cold sliced meats, are the true difference-makers that elevate the feast to the next level.   These are classics and easy to prepare ahead of time.  A dollop or two on your plate, right next to the ham and kielbasa, will kick the flavors up and make the meal truly memorable…until next year.  

Mustard Sauce   (Makes 1 cup)
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1 cup sour cream
Salt to taste
¼ teaspoon sugar

Mix all ingredients well. Chill well.   

Green Onion Sauce   (Makes 1 ½ cups)
1 cup sour cream
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
4 tablespoon chopped green onions
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt to taste

Mix all the ingredients.  Chill well.  

Beets & Horseradish   (Makes 2 cups)
2 14.5 ounce cans beets (not pickled), drained & rough-chopped 
5 ounces prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon sugar

Combine all ingredients, place in an airtight sealed container.  Best after 24 hours.  We often add an ounce or two of more horseradish just before serving for an even stronger kick.   

Dill Pickle Sauce   (Makes 3 cups)
1 ½ tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons instant flour
½ cup beef stock or bouillon (hot)
3 large dill pickles, shredded
½ cup dill pickle liquid from the jar
½ cup sour cream
Salt to taste

Mix butter with flour over low heat. Gradually stir in the hot bouillon and then the pickle juice. Bring to a light boil, stirring constantly. Add the pickles and sour cream.  Heat, but do not boil. Add salt to taste.  Serve warm. 


Monday, January 17, 2022

Polish-Hungarian Goulash

 Witamy!     Brrrrr!  It’s cold in many parts of the world so preparing delicious, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food is a top dinner choice for many cooks.  One-pot meals are especially appreciated because they don’t have to take a lot of prep time and can be left alone while cooking.  This is especially true of dishes that can be prepared in a slow cooker or crock pot.  We love one-pot meals because the left-over’s can be reheated a couple of times and often taste better over time.  That’s because the ingredients have more time to infuse into the whole dish.

Students of classic Polish cuisine will know that many Polish dishes evolved from recipes first popularized in near-by  countries.  That occurred for two main reasons --  first was the inter-marriages of nobility from neighboring countries, dating as far back as the 14th century.  The second reason has to do with Poland’s long history of changing borders.  During the last 100 years or so, Poland’s land mass was claimed and occupied by several countries such as Germany and Russia.  The result was an integration of cultures, customs and food that took hold over time.

Here is an economical and tasty one-pot dish that borrows heavily from its Hungarian roots yet still retains a Polish spin through the inclusion of caraway.  It's actually better if made a day early and reheated,  but that takes patience.  (The dish actually tastes much better than the photo looks.)   Smacznego!

Goulash With Sauerkraut

½ pound of bacon, diced
4 medium onions, sliced
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup water
4 pounds stewing beef, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 green peppers, cored and sliced
Salt, to taste
2 pounds sauerkraut, drained and rinsed very well
2 cups cooked rice
1 pint sour cream

Brown the meat on all sides and set aside.  Sauté the bacon until transparent.  Add the onions and sauté until golden.  Add the paprika, caraway seeds and garlic.  Mix well.  Transfer to a pot, add the water, meat, peppers.  Cover tightly and simmer for one hour.  Taste the liquid and add more paprika and caraway if desired.  (We happen to like bolder flavors and usually add more flavorings than most recipes call for.)  Add the sauerkraut and simmer for one more hour.  Taste again.  Let cool, If you have the time, refrigerate overnight.  Before your meal, reheat the goulash slowly. Before serving, add the cooked rice, bring to a low boil while stirring.  Remove from the heat.  Stir in the sour cream.  Serve in large bowls with crusty bread, sweet butter, and your favorite adult beverage.    
Serves 12

Friday, December 10, 2021

Christmas Traditions

 Wesołych Świąt 

Christmas in Poland was simpler back in the day.  Carols were not sung for weeks ahead. There were no Hallmark movies.  There was no Black Friday or Cyber Monday, and the holiday in general was not as commercial as here, today.  Oh sure, the stores in big cities like Warsaw were crowded and decorated for the holiday.  Vendors on the town squares sold shiny baubles and other decorations.  Folks everywhere rushed to finish their last minute shopping.  All over there was excitement in the air – the anticipation of sacred Christmas traditions and the biggest celebration of the year.  

As the late afternoon turned to dusk, the shoppers headed for home and the busy streets grew empty and quiet.  The feast received its final touches, everyone was dressed up in their finest.   The kids were scanning the sky looking for the first star, which meant that Wigilia was about to begin.

As Peter was growing up, his family always made a significant effort to preserve as much of the heritage as possible.  Nothing began until he saw the first star.  They started by sharing the blessed wafer.  As the family gathered round the table, everyone shared a piece of blessed wafer with everyone else.  The wafer is a symbol of love, friendship and forgiveness, allowing everyone to extend their best wishes for the coming year.

There always was an extra place setting at the table for the lost traveler who might come to the door, and there are small boughs of greens or hay, representing the Mary and Joseph’s stable lodgings for the night.  The supper was meatless and in the olden days consisted of twelve courses, one for each of the apostles.  Poppy seeds were always included as a symbol of peaceful sleep and honey for sweetness and contentment.  

Menus have always varied a bit, according to each family’s customs, but the menu that Peter’s  family followed when he was a boy, included:  

Herring in Sour Cream
Clear red barszcz,

Crepes with a wild mushroom and sauerkraut filling
White fish in a light butter sauce, served with hard boiled eggs and
        boiled potatoes
Dried fruit compote
Poppy seed rolls, nut rolls, honey cake and honey cookies.

After the feasting has ended, and the belt buckles loosened a notch or two,  the family adjourned to the Christmas tree to sing Christmas carols, and open gifts.  The evening was topped off by a visit to the local church for Midnight Mass.

Today, we’ve dropped the herring, swapped the white fish for salmon, and lately given up on the dried fruit compote because it takes a while to prepare.  But those are concessions made to changing food preferences and the practicalities of our modern lives.  The core traditions remain in place. 

When Laura prepares Christmas Eve supper (Wigilia), following these traditions that Peter grew up with, these stuffed crepes are everybody’s favorite part of the meal.  They go really well with a cup of Classic Barszcz, which is a classic way to serve them.  The blend of savory sauerkraut mixed with earthy mushrooms is an amazing combination.  This dish is an ideal starter, whether for Christmas Eve or any other festive meal.  

Yields 8 to 10 crepes

1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup flour
½  cup water
½  teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Mix the milk with the eggs, flour, water and salt in a blender or hand mixer at low speed.  Heat a small non-stick skillet which measures 6 to 7 inches across the base (crepe pans are great) and brush or lightly spray the bottom with cooking oil.  Pour a small amount of batter into the medium hot skillet. (For a 6 inch pan use a just under 1/3 cup of batter per crepe.)  Immediately start swirling the pan around so the batter will evenly cover the bottom and put back on the burner.  When the crepe becomes firm on top, maybe 50 to 60 seconds, and just starts to lightly brown on the bottom, flip it over and cook the other side for another 15 seconds or so.   Remove the crepe from the pan and stack on a plate with a sheet of wax paper between crepes to prevent sticking.  Continue this process until all the batter is used – you should get 8 to10 crepes from one batch.

½  pound sauerkraut
2 tablespoons butter or rendered bacon fat  
1 onion, chopped 
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper
1 hard boiled egg, chopped
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 egg beaten
½  cup bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter

Rinse the sauerkraut thoroughly in a colander.  Squeeze the sauerkraut to remove the excess water.  Place the sauerkraut in a small amount of boiling water.  Cook for 20 minutes and drain.  Heat the butter or bacon fat in a skillet, add the onions and fry until golden.  Add the mushrooms and fry an additional 3 minutes.  Add the sauerkraut and fry until golden.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from the heat and add the egg and sour cream.  Mix well.

Spoon a small amount of the filling into the center of a crepe.  Fold the crepe in envelope fashion to completely encase the filling.  Roll the stuffed crepe in egg and then in bread crumbs.  Gently sauté the crepes in butter until golden on both sides.  Serve either warm.