Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Auld Lang Syne

Photo by Matthew Aron Roth
Witamy! Many Poles love to “do shots” of ice cold vodka – it really smooths the way for many comfort foods featured in our new book, Polish Classic Recipes to be released in March 2011.  So if you’ll be at a house party for New Years Eve, here is the perfect hostess gift - a bottle of home made flavored vodka.  Who needs to spend a bundle on commercial flavored vodkas? This is just as good, if not better, and it will impress. Especially if you put your own label on the bottle.

Excellent vodka does not have to cost a lot.  Check out objective vodka ratings on-line…there are several.  I recently bought a very smooth bottle of potato vodka imported from Poland, for about $12 (it never leaves our freezer).  You don’t need to fall for the hype around broadly advertised brands, but my personal experience suggests that some of the cheap brands do have a bite that is not so pleasant. You won’t go wrong with mid-priced vodka imported from Poland or other Eastern European countries.

So start with a bottle of good vodka.  Then take the rind of one lemon (just the yellow top layer often called the zest), and cut it into very narrow strips. Drop the strips into the bottle.  Add 2 tablespoons of sugar (I like to use simple syrup because it dissolves better) to a quart of vodka.  Use a little less sugar if you are working with a fifth of vodka or even less...there is no need to be terribly precise.  Let it stand for 4 days (in the freezer is best), turning or lightly shaking the bottle once in a while to keep the lemon strips circulating.  Strain most of the rind out, but I always leave a few pieces floating, for the color and presentation. Serve ice cold with hors d’oevres or Hunters Stew.  

P.S.  For a twist, you can substitute orange rind.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Eve recollection

Witamy!:  Christmas Eve (Wigilia) was always the single most special evening of the entire year.  The table was set with the best crystal goblets, delicate bone china, the good silver, plus antique Polish fish forks and serving utensils that were over a hundred years old – handed down over several family generations.

The table was always set with an extra plate – for the unexpected “guest.”   In the center of the table sat a small plate, on a bed of fresh evergreen cuttings (clipped from stray branches off the Christmas tree)  on which lay the traditional Christmas wafers. They looked just like communion wafers but shaped in small rectangles, maybe 2 inches by 3 inches.

Our wafers were always sent to us by family in Poland, but some folks got them from the nearest Polish Church (blessed) or from a nearby Polish deli (unblessed). Mom had been preparing the meal all day and the kitchen was awash with fragrant aromas of Classic Beet Soup, Crepes filled with a mixture of sauerkraut and mushrooms and much more. Many of these special recipes are in our book which will be out in March 2011.

The light of the first star was the official signal that the festivities were to begin. First we exchanged Christmas greetings. By tradition, each of us shared a piece of wafer with everyone else and made our wishes for the season and for the coming year. This was a little uncomfortable when I was younger, but eventually I came to appreciate the symbolism and ceremony. Then we ate…and ate…and ate some more.  The dessert goodies were put off for a while until everything settled.

Next, we moved to the living room, only lit with the colored lights of the Christmas tree and we sang Polish Christmas carols. We had several record albums (yes, vinyl) from Poland but they were pretty scratchy. Neither of my parents could carry a tune in the proverbial bucket, so that part of the tradition was pretty painful. Besides, I just wanted to open the gifts. A big black plastic bag was ready for the trash, and as the youngest (and only) it was my job to distribute the gifts. A little shake…a little sniff…anything to guess what was hidden in each box. After the gifts, we would enjoy some sweets (some of these are in our book as well) and bundle up off to visit friends of the family and later to midnight Mass.

We didn’t have much when I was growing up. Most first-generation immigrants started life in the new country with nothing. But we had the family.  And we had out rich traditions. They need to stay alive!

The special recipe for this season from The Art of Polish Cooking is a traditional Christmas Barszcz.

Christmas Barszcz
Barszcz Wigilijny
Serves 6

3 carrots, cut up
2 celery stalks
2 parsley roots
2 onions, quartered
1/4 head savoy cabbage
5 peppercorns
Salt to taste
2 qts. water
8 medium beets*
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp pepper
Dash garlic powder

Simmer the vegetables with peppercorns and salt in water for 30 minutes. Strain. Wash and bake beets for 1/2 hour in moderate 350 degree oven. Coarsely chop beets and add to broth. Simmer 5 minutes. Add lemon juice and season.

*Note - It is okay to substitute canned sliced beets (plain, not pickled).

© Copyright 1968 Alina Zeranska. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission from LoraPeet Ventures LLC

The Polish phrase of the day is Wesolych Swiat, which is the traditional Christmas greeting, and literally translates as: Happy Holidays!  (Pronounced:  Veh-so-wych Shfiont).

Friday, December 17, 2010

It's a wrap!

Witamy!  The manuscript for our beautiful cookbook was just delivered to the publisher. We’re done…at least with this phase! Hurray!

The release date has been announced as March 2011 so we have the winter to work with the publisher on marketing the book. They will be setting up book signings, media interviews, etc. We’ve already had some inquiries close to home about book signing events. There will be some travel involved to visit cities where lots of Polish-Americans live…maybe Chicago, Detroit, etc. Great fun!

It’s cold and snowy today, so the recipe of the day is my Mom’s hearty Pea Soup with Barley. It’ll warm your bones!

Pea Soup with Barley
Grochowka z peczakiem
Serves 8

1/2 cup barley
2 cups salted water
1/4 lb. bacon, diced
1 medium can of green peas
4 cups beef broth

Add the barley to cold water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer until tender. Fry the bacon until golden. Add with the drippings to the cooking barley. Rub the peas through a fine sieve. Combine the peas and their liquid with the barley. Add the broth and bring to a boil.

Laura’s Hint: This recipe is a classic and appeared in The Art of Polish Cooking more than 40 years ago, before the days of many kitchen aids we use today. Instead of rubbing the peas through a sieve, consider using a blender. Also, a fist full of ham chunks or kielbasa slices would add power to the soup – go for it!

© Copyright 1968 Alina Zeranska. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission from LoraPeet Ventures LLC

The Polish phase of the day  is: Ale zimno – czy mamy zupe? (Pronounced:;  Ah-le zhimno - chyh mahmyh zoo-peh?) meaning – Wow, it’s cold – do we have any soup?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Domku Café and Cauliflower with Ham Au Gratin

Witamy!  Laura and I had a very nice Sunday supper last night at Domku Café in the Petworth section of Washington DC.  They feature Slavic and Scandinavian comfort foods, which needless to say is an eclectic combination.  But it works…the food was great, the service was friendly, and the proprietor was excited that we enjoyed her excellent Polish recipes.  In fact, she volunteered to host a book signing event in the spring.  We sampled two different pierogi,  potato pancakes, cabbage rolls, stuffed crepes, and had no room for the beet cake – their spin take on carrot cake.  That’s not one I had heard of before and now wish I had tried it.  YUM!

We’re working hard on last minute changes to the manuscript - no matter how many times we proof the text, we always find something new to fix.  But we’re almost done!!

The recipe for today, from The Art of Polish Cooking is Cauliflower with Ham, Au Gratin. I’ve not always been a fan of cauliflower, in fact I really prefer to “enhance” its flavor with other flavors, in this case ham and a sauce.  This is quite good and not hard to prepare.

Cauliflower with Ham Au Gratin
Kalafior zapiekany z szynkq
Serves 4

1 medium cauliflower
1/2 lb. ham, diced
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
3/4 cup milk
3 eggs, separated
1 tbsp. dill leaves

Cook the cauliflower in salted water until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and divide into small parts. Arrange in a buttered baking dish and add the diced ham.

Heat the butter, stir in the flour and blend. Stir in the milk. Cook over moderate heat, stirring until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Remove from the heat, add egg yolks, salt and mix. Beat egg whites until stiff and then add to sauce. Pour the sauce into the baking dish. Sprinkle with dill. Bake in a hot 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.

© Copyright 1968 Alina Zeranska. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission from LoraPeet Ventures LLC

The Polish phrase of the day is Ale Smaczne – loosely translated to mean: “wow – this tastes great.”  (Pronounce phonetically:  all-leh smach-neh).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Editing, proofing and a feast of leftovers - Polish Sausage with Savoy Cabbage

Witamy!  We’re working hard on final revisions to the manuscript before turning it over to the publisher.  Our food photographer, Matthew Aron Roth has taken over 1000 images and we need to find the most dramatic photographs for the book.  We’re also proofing the text again and still catching a few typos. Laura is reviewing all the recipes one more time just to make sure some key ingredient or instruction didn’t get dropped off. We’re still a few pages over the maximum page count, but hopefully we can make that up by consolidating a couple of the recipes. The book must be 96 pages…no more and no less!

We didn’t have much time for preparing dinner yesterday and I found in the fridge some ingredients left over from the last photo shoot – half a head of cabbage and some hunks of really nice smoky, garlicky Kielbasa from New York that we bought at a local Russian deli. This so much more flavorful than the mass-produced sausage from big grocery stores.  So I grabbed a big pot, the old scarred cutting board, and a big knife, rough-chopped it all, threw in a bunch of caraway seeds for the tang, and it was done in 20 minutes.  A great one-pot meal when you’re on the run - fast food, Polish style!  And this dish reheats really well, so today’s lunch is taken care of. Here is a recipe for a similar version.

Polish Sausage with Savoy Cabbage 
Kielbasa z kapustq wtoskq
Serves 3

1 small head savoy cabbage, coarsely sliced (any variety of green cabbage will do)
1 tsp. caraway seeds
1 large onion, sliced
2 tbsp. bacon drippings
10 oz. Polish suasage, sliced
2 1/2 tbsp. flour
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Place the cabbage in a saucepan with a small amount of boiling water. Bring to a boil. Add caraway seeds, cook for a few minutes. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Fry the onions in half the drippings till golden. Add the rest of the drippings and the sausage, fry for a few more minutes. Add the sausage, leaving the drippings in the pan, to the cabbage, simmer for 10 more minutes.

Add flour to the drippings. Fry for a few minutes. Dilute with some liquid from the cabbage and then add the flour mixture to the cabbage. Bring to a boil. Add salt, sugar and lemon juice. Serve with boiled potatoes.

© Copyright 1968 Alina Zeranska. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission from LoraPeet Ventures LLC

The Polish phrase of the day is:  “Dzienkuje, to jest pyszne!”   meaning Thank you, that’s delicious!  Pronounce like this:  jenkoojeh, toh yiest pyhshneh.