Monday, November 13, 2017

Thanksgiving - Polish/American Fusion

Witamy!  And Happy Thanksgiving!

Most of us understand that Thanksgiving is not a classic Polish tradition.  But for the ten million Americans of Polish origin living in the U.S. that’s no reason why we can’t have a fusion of both cuisines – traditional American Holiday 
                                                         Image courtesy of ButterBall & Betty Crocker

fare with a Polish spin.  In fact, after a lifetime of traditional Thanksgiving feasts, adding a Polish twist is a pretty attractive and easy idea. 

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. Consider that herbs such as sage, thyme, or marjoram just don’t do well next to fresh dill. 

By the way we recently learned that “stuffing” is what you place inside the turkey, but it’s called “dressing” if you bake it outside the turkey.  For many years Laura would stuff the turkey and then bake the left over stuffing in the oven.  But a few years ago she stopped stuffing the turkey after noticing that most of our guests preferred the “dressing.” It was less greasy and gloppy than the stuffing from inside the bird.  Makes sense to me!

So if you added a Polish spin to your stuffing (or dressing)  the rest of the “fusion” will come from the sides you choose. 

We love to do Vegetables Polonaise from Page 65 of our book “Polish Classic Recipes."  Cook the vegetables in salted water, drain, place on a pretty serving platter. Then garnish over the top with a mixture of breadcrumbs that have been sautéed in butter until dry.  So pretty, so colorful and with a new taste profile. 

Another way to enhance your turkey is whip up a small batch of Ćwikła (page 49) – the famed spicy garnish made with shredded beets, and prepared horseradish.  It’s easy:  five parts shredded beets (not the pickled kind), one part horseradish (more or less to taste) and a pinch of sugar.  That’s it.  Make it up a few days ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge.  Taste just before serving...Peter likes to add some horseradish but he likes it hotter. 

Another favorite that pairs well with turkey, is Polish Vegetable Salad  (Page 22)

4 cups cooked, diced potatoes
4 cups frozen mixed vegetables, cooked and drained
2 cups frozen peas, cooked and drained
3 large dill pickles, diced (optional)
1/2 cup chopped green onion
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
 Salt and pepper
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped

Mix the potatoes with the vegetables, pickles, onions and dill.  Season with salt and pepper. Mix mayonnaise with sour cream and mustard.  Combine dressing and vegetable mixture.  Chill thoroughly.  Arrange salad in a pretty bowl.  Sprinkle top with the chopped or sliced egg. A few slices of radish and sprigs of dill will add a nice touch of color.  

Our menu has evolved over the years as there are fewer guests coming to dinner and as we reduce the number of dishes and work for the cooks.  Everyone still gets their favorite but our feast is now Gluten Free and Low Carb.  Those are manageable challenges even with dessert.  The turkey dressing relies on croutons made from GF bread, and we’ve cut out potatoes and the pumpkin pie will be made from a GF crust.  

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’s version has evolved over the years.  Each family’s Thanksgiving table usually showcases one or more family favorites...some beloved by all and some favored by just one or two.  It’s all about compromise.   Peter is not a fan of green beans sauced with cream of mushroom soup, or lime green jello with cream cheese, but the jellied cranberry sauce, right out of the Ocean Spray can, is an absolute requirement.  Go figure!

Friends, when it’s all said and done, it doesn’t matter so much what’s on the table, be it American, Polish, Italian or Chinese...a turkey, ham or hot dogs.  What matters is that every year we have a new opportunity to give thanks for our blessings.  Hopefully you will be lucky enough to spend it with family or friends. 

May your Thanksgiving, be filled with, Peace, Love, and Harmony!
Laura and Peter

Monday, October 30, 2017

Haluski – Polish Comfort Food

One of the favorite comfort foods of Poles on the East Coast of the U.S.  is Haluski – a scrumptious and satisfying combination of buttery egg noodles, fresh cabbage, and spices.   Traditionally, Haluski is a meatless dish often served during Lent.  But for the rest of the year, many home cooks like to kick in a little umph by adding bacon or kielbasa.  

Haluski may or may not be an original Polish dish.  Around Philadelphia, up-state New York or Buffalo, many claim Haluski as their own.  But others say that Haluski has Slovak or Hungarian origins.  But no matter – everyone loves it.  We’ve also heard that Haluski has been especially popular for many decades in Western Pennsylvania, specifically around Pittsburgh and the community of “Polish Hill.”   

These days Haluski is on the menu of several Pittsburgh-area restaurants serving Polish dishes.

As we travel around to various Polish festivals up and down the east coast, we almost always see Haluski being served in the Polish Food tents, right along with traditional Cabbage Rolls in tomato sauce, savory Bigos and flavorful Pierogi – and the recipes for the latter three dishes are in our book Polish Classic Recipes.  So here is an easy recipe for this simple and delicious dish which is perfect for supper on these chilly fall afternoons.  In fact we just made a big pan of Haluski, to test the proportions in this recipe.  It was delish and we've got left-overs for lunch! 

Serves 8 
6 cups green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced 
2 cups white onions, peeled and thinly sliced 
4 cups egg noodles, pre-cooked al dente and
     rinsed in cold water
1 stick butter or 1/3 cup cooking oil
2 teaspoons salt, to taste
1 tablespoon ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped garlic, to taste
1 tablespoon caraway seeds, to taste  (optional)
½ pound crisp, cooked bacon, crumpled  (optional)
1 cup smoked, cooked kielbasa, sliced and quartered  (optional)

Heat butter or oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions, half the salt, pepper and garlic, and sauté until translucent, stirring often. (Note, don’t let the butter turn brown).  Mix in the cabbage and keeping cooking while stirring often, until the onions turn golden and the cabbage is starting to change color and become limp – about 12 minutes.

Stir in the noodles and more salt, pepper and garlic - a bit at a time and while tasting.  Cook until the noodles are just done – keep tasting.  Add the caraway seed, if desired, and keep tasting while the flavors marry.  Let it all cook together for 5 to 10 minutes, on low to medium heat, allowing the flavors to come together thoroughly.  Taste the noodles so they don’t overcook.

Variation #1:   To add some kick to the dish, pre-cook the kielbasa and / or bacon, and add it to the mix when adding the noodles.  Caution:  if using fresh kielbasa make sure it is thoroughly precooked.  

Variation #2:   After the noodles, cabbage and all the flavorings have cooked for about 5 minutes, transfer everything to a casserole dish and finish in the oven, at 350°F for about ten more minutes, or until the top just begins to brown and crisp.  A few seconds under the broiler may help to crisp up the top quicker

Note: the big key to this dish is to not overcook the noodles or the cabbage, otherwise the whole plate turns mushy. 

2nd Notethis is one of those dishes where the proportions of cabbage to noodles to kielbasa are totally up to you.  The flavors come from the spices and the marriage of ingredients, so more or less of one or the other will just reflect your personal taste. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

EZ Dumplings in Wild Mushroom Sauce - Polish Style

Through centuries of wars and tough economic time, Poles learned to never waste food. Even in upscale homes, throwing out bread was always considered a sin. There were too many hungry people in the streets.  According to one superstition, any children who dropped a roll or slice of bread on the floor, were asked to immediately pick it up and kiss it, as a sign of respect that was thought to guard against future hunger.  True or not, stale bread or rolls are easily transformed into tasty dumplings.  
Pour a little Wild Mushroom Sauce over top and serve with a pot roast or stew, for a lovely, filling, cold-weather meal. 

Dumplings (Serves 6)

4 slices white bread, cut into small cubes
4 strips bacon, diced
1 medium onion, chopped finely or shredded
1 tablespoon chopped dill
2 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup milk
¾ cup flour
Salt & pepper to taste

Brown the bread cubes in 400 degree oven for about ten minutes. Fry the bacon with onion until golden.  Add bread cubes and dill. Combine with eggs, milk, flour, salt and a dash of pepper.  Mix well.

Wet your hands and form the bread mix into small round dumplings about the size of a golf ball.  Drop into large pot of boiling water and cook about 8 to 10 minutes.  Test one for doneness in the center.  Drain well.  Top with mushroom sauce and serve with your favorite meat dish. 

Wild Mushroom Sauce  (Yields 2½ cups)

1/3 cup dried wild mushrooms
1 2/3 cups fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, shredded
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1½ cups light cream or Half & Half
1 tablespoon chopped dill  (fresh is best)
Salt and white pepper to taste

Reconstitute dried mushrooms by covering with boiling water – let soak for about 30 minutes. Drain well but reserve the liquid. Chop finely.

Melt the butter in a hot pan and add the fresh and reconstituted mushrooms, and onions and saute until golden and very aromatic.  Sprinkle with flour and stir in well for a few more minutes, taking care to not let the flour burn past a golden brown.  Gradually stir in the cream.  Add salt and pepper to taste.   Taste…if you want more mushroom flavor, stir in some of the dried mushroom “liquor” a tablespoon at a time. Keep tasting.  While stirring constantly, let the sauce simmer and reduce a bit until it reaches the desired “saucy” consistency and intensity of flavor.

Pour over the dumplings and garnish with fresh chopped dill.