Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Chrusciki (Angel Wings) For Carnival

Witamy na Nowy Rok!   New Year's Greetings!
Of all the great variety of Polish pastries, Chrusciki or Favorki (in Polish)  or in English:  Angel Wings or Crullers, are among the best known wherever Poles live around the globe.  They are beloved by children and adults alike.  They can always be found at Polish Church festivals and lately in some American grocery stores, although the quality is not up to par with homemade versions.

In Poland they are traditionally served between Christmas and Lent, the time of the year called Carnival, when all the best dances and parties take place.  In fact we also heard that there is one tradition for husbands to give Chrusciki to their wives on Friday the 13th in order to avoid bad luck.  You decide whether that makes sense. 

In Polish the word “Chrust”, means "dry branches broken off trees"  and Chrusciki is the diminutive version.  So it makes sense since these little fried cookies can resemble little dried twigs or even bow ties.  There are several variations to this recipe but the one below comes from Krakow before WWII.  It was given to Peter’s Mom by an excellent cook who grew up in Krakow.  They are not too difficult to make and with some practice it may take you about an hour. 
The dough must be soft and elastic and easy to roll out as thinly as possible. This also means they will fry very quickly. They don’t freeze well and if not eaten within a day or so of being made, they tend to lose their crispiness. But they are so traditional and so delicious.

Yields about 4 dozen

6 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon sugar
Dash of salt
1 tablespoon light rum (or vodka or brandy)
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups sifted flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Beat the egg yolks with sugar and salt thoroughly.  Add the rum, sour cream, lemon juice and lemon zest, vanilla extract, and blend until smooth.  Sift the flour and baking powder together.  Mix into the egg mixture a little at a time to make a stiff dough.  Knead the dough for at least ten minutes, keeping your board well floured as you knead.  Allow the dough to absorb as much flour as possible until it is no longer sticky.  Separate the dough into three portions and roll each out until it is very thin – almost transparent.

Cut the dough into thin strips about 1½ inches wide and 4 inches long.  Make a one inch slit, length toward one end of the strip.  Pull the long end of the strip through the slit.
Using a fryer or a deep pot, heat your oil to 375°F.  Fry the dough strips in the hot oil, turning them at least once.  (Hint:  chopsticks work well as turners).  Take them out when golden brown – just a minute or so.  Drain them  on paper towels,  sprinkle generously with powdered sugar, just before serving.

They are best served right away, but can be stored for a day or so in a tightly sealed, air-tight container. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Christmas Eve Traditions - Polish Style

Witamy ! 
When Peter was growing up, Christmas was never such a big commercial spectacle as it is now.  His Mom told stories about Christmas in Poland before WW-II that the celebrations were always simple and no one sang carols until Christmas Eve.  Wigilia, the traditional Christmas Eve supper (which means vigil or waiting for the birth of Jesus) was totally based on traditions and dishes that had been handed down for generations upon generations. 

The feast begins at the light of the first star.  At maybe 5 or 6 years old Peter remembers running out on the porch and looking up for that 1st starlight so they could get started with the sharing of the Communion wafer (Oplatek) – an important tradition. Peter’s Mother would always use a communion wafer mailed to her from Poland that had been blessed back there. 

The white, almost translucent wafer is a symbol of love, friendship and forgiveness. It is broken into bite size pieces and shared with everyone at the table along with wishes for a happy and healthy new year. 

It is customary to set an extra place at the table for the lonely traveler who may knock at the door...Twelve dishes were served for the twelve apostles and poppy seeds were always a part of Christmas Eve supper as a symbol of peacefulness as was honey for sweetness. 

The meal is traditionally meatless.  Our own menu is right out of our books, starting with clear beet soup, called Barszcz, which is a delicious peppery, deep red beet broth served in fine china cups. 

The second appetizers are Crepes stuffed with mushroom and sauerkraut, breaded and sautéed lightly in plenty of butter…our daughter and son-in-law would be perfectly happy if these crepes were the only menu item for the whole dinner! 

White fish - herring or carp - is the traditional fish course but for years Peter’s Mom would buy a very fresh salmon and actually freeze it in a block of ice.  With a nod to changing tastes and availabilities, we serve haddock or flounder or cod or whatever white fish is fresh and available.

For dessert Laura always serves a variety of Polish baked goods and American Christmas cookies. 

The Polish Nut Roll and Poppy Seed Roll are always requirements.  Laura usually makes a dozen or so for sharing with the neighbors.  Peter loves trading sweets with our Greek friends who trade Poppy Seed Rolls for their wonderful Baklava. 

We also love Kolaczki  a very traditional cookie of delicate dough squares wrapped around fruit preserves.

Or our Gingerbread Honey Cake which is so popular and easy to make. 

And our dessert table would not be complete without the stately Warsaw Fruit Cake which is not loaded down with cloyingly sweet candied fruit.  Peter likes to pour a little Polish brandy over his slice, just for an added kick. 

After Wigilia has ended, Peter’s Mother always insisted that they sing Christmas carols together – both Polish and English – before opening their gifts.  The evening ends at Midnight Mass, after which everyone falls into bed stuffed to the top, exhausted but happy. 

All these traditional recipes are in our two cook books – Polish Classic Recipes 

          and Polish Classic Desserts.
There are lots of books on the market with Polish holiday traditions and Christmas recipes, but the traditions and dishes in our two books are truly authentic heritage recipes which have been extensively tested (to the delight of our neighbors) and just updated for modern kitchens.  So no more pinch of this and pinch of that.  There are over 90 beautiful photographs in each book, stories, traditions, and plenty of tips on preparing each dish successfully.  If you live in the U.S., each book will autographed by the authors – that would be us – and personally dedicated to whomever you’d like, as long as you get your order in by December 15th.  If you don’t live in the U.S. your best bet will be Amazon. 

So if you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, or can’t find Babcia’s recipes, or just want to treat yourself,  please click on the “add to the cart”  button above, before the 15th, and we’ll do the rest!  Thanks!

Wszystkiego Najlepszego, Happy Holidays and Smacznego!  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Thanksgiving With Polish Flavors

Thanksgiving is sneaking up on us with lightning speed.  Laura has already started to plan our feast.  Most of our family are definitely traditionalists so the menu hasn’t changed much over the years, except for making sure that we have a favorite dish for each guest around our table.

(image courtesy of recipeler.com)
Laura’s sister will be with us this year and she’s requested their family’s legendary lime green jello salad with little cream cheese.

A big twist this year is that we’re going gluten and dairy-free in deference to newly developed allergies.  But that’s a subject for another post.

The turkey has already been procured and is resting in the freezer.  Laura’s brand of choice is the Butterball
since 40+ years of experience has established a comfort level that’s impossible to argue with.  Last week several days were spent pouring over the food ads from the newspaper searching for the best price.  I’m not sure why we put so much effort into trying to save ten cents a pound, but it is what it is.  Next year we’re planning to go out of our comfort zone with a fresh, organic, free range turkey from a near-by farm...we’ll let you know how that goes. 

Even though Thanksgiving is primarily a North American holiday, devotees of Polish cuisine can very easily give the menu a Polish twist.  The first way is to chop up a few tablespoons of fresh dill and combine with your favorite crouton or bread stuffing - replacing any other herbs that might compete with the dill.  Herbs such as sage, thyme, marjoram or parsley just don’t do well next to fresh dill.

A second way is to serve Vegetables “Polonaise “ style.  It’s very “Polish” and definitely makes your veggies more interesting.  

Vegetables Polonaise
1½ pounds of vegetables
½ teaspoon of sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Salt & Pepper to taste
Lemon Zest (optional)
2 teaspoons of butter
2 tablespoons of toasted plain bread crumbs

Clean and prep the vegetables in your usual way.  Rinse them well.  Boil a small amount of water in your pot, add the salt and sugar.  Cook the vegetables for about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the vegetable) until just under done (remember they will continue to cook and soften on the platter.  Drain well and place in a warmed serving dish. 
Melt the butter over a low heat and mix in the breadcrumbs.  Sautee for just a few minutes until golden brown and sprinkle over the vegetables.  Add salt & pepper to taste.  Optionally, sprinkle a little lemon zest over the top for a little extra kick.

Another Polish twist could be to add a traditional Polish salad to the menu.  This Cabbage & Apple Salad goes very well with the turkey because it is colorful and bright tasting.

Cabbage & Apple Salad
1      small head red cabbage, shredded
2      apples, cored, peeled and shredded
Juice of 2 lemons
4      tablespoons sugar
Boil the shredded cabbage in salted boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes.  Drain & cool.  Combine the lemon juice and sugar to make a dressing.  Toss the cabbage and apples with the dressing.  Cool well before serving.

However you celebrate Thanksgiving in your family, it seems that there’s no real one traditional menu any more...culinary traditions vary from family to family as each cook puts his or her spin on the menu.  Each family’s Thanksgiving table usually showcases one or more family favorites...some beloved by all and some favored by just one or two.   And that’s just great because it’s really all about being together whenever possible and giving thanks – whether you’re cooking a big meal, enjoying someone’s else’s hospitality, or just grabbing a quick bite at a fast food joint on your way to work.  Just pause a moment to give thanks.