Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wigilia and New Year's Eve Traditions

Wszystkiego Najlepszego na Boze Narodzenie (Merry Christmas)!

Our traditional Christmas Eve supper is in a few days.  I’ve been seeing recently the musings of several Polish American writers, discussing Wigilia traditions in great depth and talking about history, meanings and significances of all the little details and nuances.  Those writings were interesting but not so practical for most of us.  Over time and several generations removed from the old country, those traditions become less rigid and become somewhat adapted to modern values and cultural comfort zone.  Yet, it is the responsibility of the family leaders to not let go of the traditions completely.  When I was young, we faithfully followed most of the big ones...starting Wigilia at the light of the first star, sharing the wafer (oplatek), and setting an extra place at the table for the wayfaring stranger, and so on.  This year, with our young granddaughter seated at the table, the practicality of regularly scheduled meal times and bed times get a higher priority than waiting for the first star to come out.  Not everyone at our table eats fish.  But no one will be wearing jeans or flip flops, because after all Wigilia is special and only comes once a year.  We still make our wishes for each other with the sharing of a wafer from Poland.  We’ve gotten away from some of the traditional dishes that are more time consuming, but we each have something on the menu that is special and beloved.  Each of the dishes we enjoy for Wigilia is in our book.

• Crepes with Sauerkraut & Mushrooms
• Classic Beet Soup
• Baked Fish With Mushrooms & Cheese
• Vegetables Polonaise
• Holiday Nut Roll
• Our favorite Christmas goodies sent over by the neighbors

New Year's Eve: If you aren’t going out this year to celebrate you could host a dinner party for friends or family (or both).  Make it easy on yourself, plan a delicious menu (from our book) and ask everyone to bring a dish.   For me it’s gotta be comfort food that goes best with the adult beverages to be consumed that night.

Greet everyone with a favorite cocktail, or a glass of bubbly.  As an appetizer, serve a selection of pretty canapés made up that after afternoon.  Use round crackers or cocktail squares of dark and light rye bread...see how creative you can get with stacking the ingredients. 

For the main course, you can’t go wrong with Hunters Stew (Bigos).  It’s a big-flavored savory dish that can be made up several days ahead of time.  Have a bowl of baby boiled potatoes nearby that have been drenched in butter and sprinkled liberally with dill.  Some of our friends like an ice-cold Polish vodka with their Hunters Stew, so I’m always ready for “them that do” but will not pressure “them that don’t.”

If the group is larger, you may want to have one or two additional dishes.  If you have access to good smoked kielbasa,  buy two or three varieties, slice them into ½ inch rounds and serve with  Cwikla, the traditional Beets With Horseradish garnish that takes less than 5 minutes to whip up.  YUM...the hotter the better!
Early in the evening, play lively music in the background and keep the beverages flowing.  But you also have a responsibility to keep track of how much your guests imbibe.  Closing down the bar early, and switching to coffee, well before folks start going home, is the right thing to do.

Finally, about 11:30 pass out the cheesy hats and noise makers, throw on the TV at 11:55, watch the ball drop in Times Square, kiss your honey, and if you’re like me, start thinking about heading home before the crazy drunk drivers take over the roads.  Get your beauty sleep and prepare for the next day’s football games!  Keep the left over Hunters Stew for half time because it will be even better then -- that’s what I’m talkin’ about! 
Wszystkiego najlepszego na Nowy Rok (Happy New Year)!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

And The Secret Ingredient Is...

Witamy!  The secret ingredient in any dish is the flavor enhancer you don’t tell anybody about!  Recently we were in the Kielbasa Factory, our favorite Polish deli,, and just perusing the shelves of imported condiments.  We saw this display of Mushroom Bouillon from Poland and bought a box, along with all the other Polish goodies that fell into our shopping basket.  Laura tried it in a recipe that contained mushrooms as one ingredient.  KAPOW!  The depth of flavors that came out of that dish, after adding just a few ounces of the mushroom bouillon, was like night and day.  Not only was the flavor of mushrooms more intense, but all the other ingredients tasted more pronounced as well.  I guess it must have something to do with the chemical effect that flavor enhancers have on food.  Salt is a flavor enhancer which chemically brings out flavors, so that’s why under-salting any dish leaves the other ingredients tasting bland. 
On another shelf at Kielbasa Factory, was a bottle of Maggi.  We used to keep a bottle around in the fridge but pitched it a while back because it was several years old and had all this disgusting crud dried up inside the cap.  Sound familiar?  But I remember that my Mom was a big fan of Maggi, putting a few drops in many dishes.  The label is pretty crazy because there’s not much “natural” about it.  By itself it tastes like a very intense mix of soy and meat extract, though it contains no soy.  Maggi has been around since 1872 starting in Switzerland.  It has since become a well-known part of everyday culinary culture in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and in Poland.  A few drops in soups, stews, gravies, dark sauces, etc, go a long way.  I just can’t get over how much better foods taste with just a few drops added to the recipe.  It’s magic! 

We do a lot of shopping in a Latino/Asian supermarket where the fruits and vegetables are cheaper than in our local American grocery store, plus they carry a lot of European products as well.  One of the Latino seasonings is Sazon – a unique blend of spices and seasonings that enhances everything from spicy soups to hamburgers to chili.  The box says it’s “magic in a packet” but the ingredients include coriander, annatto, salt, MSG, and a lot of artificial stuff I can’t pronounce.  But it does enhance our flavors noticeably, and whenever we’re cooking spicy, Sazon get’s added liberally.
So the bottom line is that using flavor enhancers can be the key to unlocking amazing flavors, and whether or not you reveal you secret is totally up to you...We won’t tell!

Here is a Polish-style Beef Stew that is a great example of how a basic dish can be kicked up a few notches by using a flavor enhancer.  Smacznego!

1 ½ pounds sirloin, or other good stewing beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, diced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups strong beef broth, from bouillon cubes or ready-mixed
    Optional:  2 ounces of mushroom bouillon or 5 drops of Maggi One 1-pound can chopped tomatoes, unflavored
2 green peppers, diced
4 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Salt & pepper the beef cubes.  At the same time sauté the onions and brown the beef cubes on all sides.  The onions should be golden.  Transfer to your favorite pot and be sure to scrape all the brown crud from the skillet and add it to the pot – that brown stuff is solid flavor.  Add the bouillon, tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, mushrooms.  Add mushroom bouillon or Maggi, if desired.  Cover loosely; bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer until meat is tender, up to two hours depending on the cut of meat used.  Watch that the liquid does not all evaporate.  Add water as needed.  Just before serving, mix in the flour and sour cream to thicken the sauce.  Sprinkle parsley over the top.  Serve with a mixed salad, your favorite green vegetable and a hearty red wine.
Serves 4 to 5

Friday, November 18, 2011

Winner Winner, Turkey Dinner - Polish Style

Witamy!  It’s almost time for the American Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the traditional trimmings.  Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday to be embraced by anyone, regardless of where the family tree began.  There’s no 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 maybe some favored by just one or two family members.  It’s all about compromise,  for instance  I’m not a fan of green beans sauced with canned cream of mushroom soup, or lime green jello holding small chunks of cream cheese, but if the others don’t mind my jellied cranberry sauce (right out of the can),  then everyone is a winner. 

Most of our Thanksgiving dinners were spent with my parents.  Laura took over the lead for preparing the feasts very soon after we got married.  So she was in control of the menu.  The early years featured dishes that she grew up with, prepared by her Mom and Grandmothers.  But as she gained more experience and as our taste preferences changed, our menu slowly evolved.  Several decades later we have pretty much established our own traditional Thanksgiving menu.  But our list of delicacies can vary as she occasionally adds new dishes and new recipes to the “groaning board” - most of the time with enthusiastic acceptance. 

Have you ever had Turducken?  This is supposedly a Lousiana specialty consisting of a de-boned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck, which is stuffed into a deboned turkey.  Turduckens are generally stuffed with a highly seasoned breadcrumb mixture with cajun sausage.  We've never had one either.  Nor have we ever deep fried our turkey.  I guess we're traditionalists at heart! 

Roast turkey is not just an American specialty.  There are some pretty good turkey recipes in my Mom files, but for us it has always started with a frozen Butterball, procured a few weeks early after scouring the newspaper ads for the best sale prices.  I know that the purists like to go for fresh, organic, free range turkeys, and we keep promising ourselves that we’ll “go natural” next year, but somehow always gravitate back to our comfort zone.  Maybe we’ll get really adventuresome next year – go organic  AND deep-fry that bird, or maybe even push the culinary envelope further with a turducken!

In any event, here is one of my Mom’s turkey recipes.  Frankly, I’m not sure if it is Polish or not, but we can keep that secret among ourselves.  And besides, you could always add a little fresh dill to the stuffing mix, and voila, it immediately becomes a Polish-style stuffing!   Smacznego!
* * * * * * *

Turkey Stuffed with Almonds and Raisins

One 14 to 16 pound turkey
½ cup butter, melted

 6 slices white bread
¾ cup milk
Your turkey’s liver, finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3 eggs separated
½ cup raisins
3 tablespoons almonds, peeled and slivered
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon sugar
One dash Allspice
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 cup of breadcrumbs

 Soak the bread in the milk and squeeze out the liquid well.  Combine with the liver, butter, egg yolks, raisins, almonds and spices.  Beat the egg whites with salt until stiff.  Fold into the stuffing mix a scoop at a time, alternating with the bread crumbs. Mix lightly.

Stuff the neck and body cavities and close with skewers. Brush with butter.  Place in the oven which has been preheated to 450 degrees.  Drop the thermostat to 325 degrees and roast about 15 minutes per pound until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.  Baste skin frequently with the drippings.  Sprinkle skin with salt about half way.  Be sure to use a meat thermometer to gauge doneness (160 degrees) making sure the probe is set in the meat and not in the stuffing.   There are a ton of recipes out there for roasting turkey ...your favorite method will be great, as long as you use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cookbook Update

Witamy!  Several of you have asked how the book is doing, so here is an update. 

We’re actually very pleased with how the book is being received...we’ve seen several very praising newspaper reviews and everyone who has flipped through the pages has loved it.  The 100+ stunning photos have really been admired and a lot of folks have commented that they would never buy a coobook without a lot of pictures. 

Over the last several months we’ve been to many Polish American church festivals up and down the east coast, from Long Island to Florida, visiting several cities such as Baltimore, Silver Spring MD, Doylestown, Pa. and more.  With Christmas gift giving in mind, quite a few folks are buying multiple copies for their families and friends who don’t have access to the classic recipes.  One gentleman bought 6 copies to give to each of his grown kids.  Then there was our ex-neighbor who bought ten autographed copies for all her “foodie” friends who collect cookbooks.  And there was the colleague I used to work with who also bought ten signed copies and declared that his Christmas shopping was done in one fell swoop! 

 This weekend we have two signing events scheduled – on Saturday at Salt & Pepper Bookstore in Occoquan VA, and Sunday at the Kielbasa Factory in Rockville MD.  As soon as that event is over, we’re hitting I-95 South for Florida, where on Tuesday the 22nd, we’ll be at The Villages, Florida, for a meeting of the Polish American Club there.  We’ll be giving a presentation about the making of the book, and several volunteer members will be preparing dishes from our book for a tasting event.  Plus, Laura’s Mom and Sister live in Florida not too far from The Villages, so that will give us a chance to enjoy Thanksgiving with them, while our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter spend the holiday with his family. 

We're generally pleased with the way our book is selling, but there have been a few surprises along the way. One is how the book is finding its way abroad.  We’ve seen it advertized on several websites around the world, including in Germany, Australia and Norway.  Another is that our publisher has told us that there may be some interest in Poland to acquire the rights and translate it into that is a huge twist - a Polish cookbook, written in English and translated back to Polish - go figure!

So it’s going well.  We appreciate everyone’s best wishes for our success.  And if you haven’t purchased a signed copy yet for yourself or to give for Christmas, just click the buy button at the top of this page.  The PayPal process is really easy.

Do zobaczenia!  (See ya!) Laura and Peter

Monday, November 7, 2011

101 Bottles of Sauce on the Wall...

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that Washington DC is not a food town! 

This weekend the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show came to Washington DC for the 6th year in a row.  Thousands upon thousands of enthusiastic foodies came out to rub shoulders with celebrity chefs, attend cooking workshops, buy the latest autographed cookbooks, and sample the countless varieties of yummy foods.  There were hot sauces, BBQ sauces, pasta sauces, dipping sauces, jams & jellies, cupcakes, cheeses, fresh herbs, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, wines & spirits and much more!  The convention floor was jam packed with vendors, chefs, bakers, cookbook writers, and the occasional miracle mop, sharp knife and never-stick fry pan vendors.  It was astounding!  After cruising up and down the aisles for a couple of hours, our green “trick-or-treat bags” were stuffed with coupons, samples, brochures, and products we had purchased.   Plus, our bellies were stuffed with crackers, sauces, cheese, wine, cakes, beef dishes, and bunches of other goodies.  Our taste buds were definitely on over-load.  We can’t imagine that the food stalls did much business with all the free samples within arm’s reach.

One of the most creative products we saw on the floor was a plant-based food called Cavi-art.   For caviar lovers, this product has the taste, look and smell that amazingly rivals the real fish roe.  Can you keep a secret?  It’s actually made from seaweed...really!  Cavi-art was developed in Denmark and comes in a wide range of colors and styles.  I tasted several, including the salmon and beluga styles  and loved them all.  Check them out at:

“The Pickle Ladies”  are Ashlee and Jenny  from North Carolina.  They offered four flavors to sample.  They’re based on family recipes, all natural and absolutely delicious.  We bought several jars – need I say more?

Another very original product was the line-up of nine sauces sold by Quebec-based La Maison Le Grand.  They come in foil pouches that can be easily squeezed to extract the sauces.  We tasted several of the varieties and bought:  Lemon Confit & Pumkin Seed,   4-Nuts & Cheese Pesto,  Olive & Sun Dried Tomato Tapenade,  and a Greek Tzatziki sauce to go on grilled meats and sandwiches.  Yum!

Finally, a big shout out to a local bakery called Cakes By Happy Eatery.  They have retail outlets in Centreville and Manassas, VA, and do private and corporate catering as well.  Cakes, pastries and desserts for all occasions.  We were invited to sample a range of their cupcakes.  All flavors were great, but surprisingly enough the ones we enjoyed the most were their sugar-free and gluten-free varieties, both great choices for sinners with dietary restrictions.

This is a great food show.  Attendees get chances to shake hands (and maybe even the occasional hug) with popular TV stars such as Paula Deen, Giada, Guy Fieri, Jaques Pepin, and others.  There are scores of expert presentations and workshops on topics ranging from knife skills to planning parties, and all things food in between.  There were over 300 exhibitors showing off their best stuff.  And it was a great opportunity to observe, learn, taste, and immerse ourselves in foodie heaven.  In 2012, the show will be visiting Atlanta, Houston and Washington DC again.  Watch their website  for exact dates.  YUM!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Polish Potato Dumplings – Country Style

Witamy!  October is Polish Heritage Month, and a thoughtful way to showcase our heritage is to give the gift of authentic recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation.  Christmas is coming soon and our book makes a great gift for younger generations who may not have the old recipes passed down the family tree, or who would appreciate a little guidance and pictures to show what the dish should look like.  One of our friends just bought ten copies for all her friends, and we just met another gentleman during the Festival at Czestochowa who bought six copies for each of his kids, to help them preserve their heritage. Sure, this is a shameless plug, but the fact is that that everyone who has flipped through the pages, and laid eyes on Matthew’s gorgeous photography absolutely loves it.

As long as I’m plugging, the young man who photographed our book is a very talented extreme sports photographer.  He also has a passion for food and loved tasting every dish captured by his camera lenses.  We now have a convert to beets!  Check out his work:  He’s based out of Long Island NY right now, but if you know anyone who needs a professional photographer, Matthew is willing and eager.

Potatoes have always played a large role in shaping classic Polish cuisine – especially comfort foods that originated in the country and on farms.  We recently met a lady who swears that Polish potatoes taste so much better than Baltimore potatoes - because of the dirt they were grown in.  Okay, I believe her, but I haven’t found any Polish potatoes at the farmers markets we frequent, so we’ll have to go with Idaho spuds...or whatever is available. 

Here is a very classic, old timey recipe for a potato-based side dish that really goes well with braised meats.

Potato Dumplings
Serves 4 to 6
2 cups peeled and grated uncooked potatoes  (in a blender or food processor)
2 cups ground boiled potatoes (in a blender, food processor or ricer)
1 egg
¾ cup flour
3 slices of crisp bacon, diced
1 small to medium onion, sliced

Drain the uncooked potatoes in a colander or strainer and press them well to extract the moisture.  In a bowl combine all the potatoes, about a half teaspoon of salt, and the egg.  Form into small balls, about ¾ to 1 inch across.  Gently roll each in the flour.

The uncooked dumplings will be quite delicate...lower them carefully into a large pot of lightly boiling salted water.  Cover, bring back to a low boil.  Cook uncovered on high heat until they float – about 5 minutes or so depending on their size and density.  (Hint:  with a spatula nudge and release any that are stuck to the bottom of the pot;  2nd hint:  test one of the 1st floaters to see if they are cooked through).  Drain and transfer to a warm serving platter.  Sautee the bacon with the onions until the bacon is crisp and onions are golden.   Pour over the dumplings.  Garnish with a bit of sour cream if desired and dill sprigs for color.  Serve with braised or roasted meats.  Smacznego!
PS:   Tell us how they came out – we love your feedback.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cauliflower Salad - Unboring

Witamy!  Catherine de Medici, the Italian wife of Henry II was responsible for many famous refinements of European cookery.  From Florence she popularized serving vegetables with the main meal – mostly roasted and boiled meats, some fish and a little honey for dessert.  Looking back through history, there are several instances of French and Italian nobility having intermarried with Polish nobility.  And that’s the overly short and simplistic version of how Italian and French influences showed up in refined Polish cuisine. 
I’ll be honest here – I’m not a huge cauliflower fan.  Laura has a couple of recipes I like, but for me the taste of cauliflower needs to be “enhanced.”  But here is a very nice cauliflower salad, adapted from the French, that works well for a buffet dinner party or just as an “un-boring” change of pace for dinner one day this week.  Cauliflower is plentiful this time of year so here’s a new way to take advantage of fall harvests.
By the way, this is a good dish for trying a new healthier version of mayonnaise, made with olive oil for half the fat and calories (according to the label).  For my palate, the taste is quite similar to regular mayonnaise.  I detected a slight lemony note which was not at all unwelcome.

1 medium cauliflower, divided into small flowerets
4 medium potatoes, boiled-in-their-skins, cooled and sliced
1 cup mayonnaise
2 cups red cabbage, thinly sliced
½ cup vinaigrette (see below)
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped dill (fresh is best)
Lettuce leaves

Place cauliflower in boiling salted water, cook until just tender - about 10 minutes.  Drain and cool.   At the same time, in another pot, cover the red cabbage with boiling salted water.  Cook for 10 minutes; drain and cool. 

In a bowl, combine the cauliflower and potatoes, pour in half the vinaigrette.  Taste and add more vinaigrette as desired but don't drown the vegetables. 
Place a few salad leaves on a serving platter.  Arrange the salad on the platter and sprinkle with dill.  Arrange the red cabbage on the platter around the cauliflower for color.  Garnish the top with egg slices and sprigs of dill.
Serves 10

1 tablespoon wine vinegar
4 tablespoons oil
Salt, pepper, herbs  (i.e.:  dill, basil, parsley) to taste

Combine all the ingredients and whip or blend until smooth.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dill Soup - Zupa Koperkowa

Witamy!  We recently received a request to share a recipe for Dill Soup.  I don’t remember my Mom having cooked this dish so we fired up Google and started browsing through Polish cooking sites.  After finding recipes on several sites in Poland, we concluded quickly, that this is about as “Polish” as you can get...showcasing the flavor of dill, which I’ve said over and over, should be declared the national herb of Polish cuisine.  This soup is simple, fresh and a snap to prepare.

Fresh is the best way to go!   We buy all our dill in fresh bunches from a local Latino/Asian market.  They carry it almost the whole year round and the taste of fresh dill is just so much more flavorful than the dried variety from a jar.  The newly harvested bunches are sold with their roots still attached so we wrap the roots in moist paper towels, place them in a one-gallon plastic bag and keep them crisp and cool in the lettuce bin of the fridge.  It’s easy to chop a few tablespoons from the bunch, and the dill stays fresh for more than a week.

Laura looked at several different recipes, some of which have you making your own stock from meaty bones and vegetables.  But she wanted to give you a simpler and easier version that could be made in less than 30 minutes.  We had it for our supper tonight, with a side of Marinated Beet Salad (pg 25 in our book) which was featured in the September issue of Healthy Aging Magazine.  YUM!

Tough choices:  Dill Soup can be served with either quartered hard boiled egg as an ingredient (as with the iconic sorrel soup), or with dribbled batter dumplings (lane kluski in Polish).  This is my favorite;  when I was young, “dribbles”  were an infrequent treat, even though they are incredibly easy to make.

More choices:  according to the recipes Laura reviewed, these days in Poland Dill Soup is also being eaten with potatoes (cooked in the soup), with rice, or even egg noodles. I'm thinking Orzo, but that's not aso Polish...regardless of the starch you choose, this is a tasty traditional soup dish that everyone will love.   Smacznego!

Dill Soup - Serves 4
2 tablespoons butter, divided
¾ cup dill, finely chopped
6 cups of stock, either: beef, veal, chicken or vegetable
3 tablespoons flour
½ cup cold water
1 egg yolk
½ cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

• Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet, add ¼ cup dill and sauté gently over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes.
• Heat stock to boiling and add the dill and butter mixture. 
• Dissolve the flour in the cold water and add to the stock.  Bring the stock back to a low boil.
• If you are cooking the string dumplings (see below), dribble the dumpling mixture into the boiling stock and cook for one minute.  Keep soup at a low boil to avoid disintegrating the dumplings.
• Beat the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of butter.  Gradually add 1 cup of the boiling stock and stir well.  Stir in the sour cream until the mixture is smooth.  Return this mixture to the soup pot.
• Simmer for a minute or two but do not boil.  Turn off the heat, add the remaining dill, stir, cover and let stand for 2-3 minutes.
• Adjust seasonings.

String Dumplings
1 large egg
3½ tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
• Mix egg with flour and salt.  Beat with wisk or fork for 2 minutes.  Dribble batter slowly into boiling stock from a spoon or fork.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Czarnina - Polish Duck Blood Soup

Witamy!  Over the past few weeks we’ve been signing our book at several Polish church festivals up and down the East Coast.  Quite a few folks have asked if our book contains a recipe for Czarnina (Duck Blood Soup) which holds a legendary spot in old traditional Polish cuisine.  Poles remember it from their childhoods and having tasted it at their Babcia’s table.  Today, I submit that this dish is one of those legends that gets bigger with age, but it also fades with age when trying to remember how this soup actually tasted.   Duck blood??  For real?? 
Even though I can’t get my head wrapped around the idea of sipping the blood of a duck, even cooked, we would have included it in our book – if the ingredients were easier to find.  I called our favorite butcher and was told that fresh ducks were readily available, but only cleaned and dressed.  With all the regulations on commercial food handling, I’m guessing that no one will guarantee the freshness and safety of the blood.  I suppose one could get fresh blood directly from a farmer...if one knew a farmer.  Do you know how to get fresh duck blood soup in the U.S.?
While researching this post, I found a no-blood version, called Blind Duck Blood Soup. It still has a lot of flavor, but avoiding the blood is a better way to go, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s an imitation version that gets a lot of flavor from fresh or smoked neck bones, either pork or some variety of fowl – whatever you can get.  Try it and let us know how it worked. 

 Ślepo Czarnina - Blind (or Bloodless) Duck Blood SoupServes 8
• 3 pounds fresh or smoked neck bones: pork, turkey, duck, etc.
• 1 pound dried prunes, pitted
• 1 stalk celery
• 1 sprig parsley
• 1 bay leaf
• 5 whole allspice
• 2 whole cloves
• ¼ cup raisins
• 1 small tart apple, chopped
• 1/4 cup vinegar or lemon juice
• ½ to 1 tablespoon sugar
• 2 cups light cream
• 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• Salt and pepper to taste

1. If using fresh neck bones, blanch, drain and rinse them.  Place blanched or smoked neck bones in a large pot or Dutch oven. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the top.
2. While the bones are coming to a boil, make a small bag from cheese cloth (or a clean cotton hankie) and place in it the celery, parsley, allspice and cloves.  Add it to the soup pot, reduce heat, add vinegar and bay leaf and simmer, partially covered, for 1 hour.
3. Add prunes, apple, and season slowly with sugar, salt and pepper (watch the salt if using smoked neck bones).  Bring back to a boil, reduce heat and simmer slowly, partially covered, for 1 hour or until meat falls off the bone.
4. Taste again and adjust the seasonings, including the vinegar or lemon juice, to your own palate.  Add the seasonings slowly, and keep tasting.  The broth should have a slightly sweet tone from the plums and sugar, but with a light and soft contrasting tartness from the vinegar or lemon juice.  Remove meat from bones and return to pot.
5. Turn off the heat, cool soup and then refrigerate until fat is congealed on top for easy skimming and removal. 
6. Just before serving, in a medium bowl, “cream” the cold soup by adding a few ladles of cold soup and slowly whisking in the flour and cream; and whisking (or blending) until very smooth and all the flour lumps are gone.  Pour this mixture back into the soup pot and heat gently until soup is thickened and any raw flour taste is cooked out.
Serve over noodles, if desired.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Pinch of This and a Pinch of That!

Witamy!   Our readers really appreciate  that Laura tested and retested each recipe to translate Babcia’s comments about adding “a pinch of this and a pinch of that” into specific measuring-spoon directions.  That’s huge for someone who is just learning to cook, or doesn’t yet have enough confidence to put their own twist on something.  And of course it’s huge when doing pastry  because a big pinch or a little pinch of an ingredient like baking powder can mean the difference between a winning dessert and a total bomb. 

But the fact is that many of the world’s great comfort foods do not require specific measurements at all and thus are impossible to screw up.  Examples exist in every regional cuisine:  Louisiana gumbo, Polish Hunters Stew (Bigos), French bouillabaisse, San Francisco-style cioppino, Chinese stir fry, and so on.  These are all dishes that were born from a need to create hearty meals from whatever ingredients were available from the land.  Over time they were popularized by creative chefs into “haute cuisine” for which restaurants now charge a small fortune.  But their humble beginnings always remind us of their basic simplicity, and that anyone can make them taste out of this world, with very little precision and without detailed directions. 

Sausage and Cabbage (pg. 57 in our book) is a perfect example.  While the printed recipe in our book has been perfected with exact measurements and proportions, it can be a tossed together for a wonderful supper by just mixing the basic ingredients, without stressing over the amounts.  So let’s you and I make this  dish the old fashioned way – a bit of this and a glob of that!   In this recipe and others like it, more or less onion is up to you...more or less kielbasa is up to you...more or less potato is totally up to you.  Success is ONLY about how the dish tastes to you – just chop everything into bite-size chunks and add the flavorings - but very cautiously.  And keep tasting because you can always add more salt, but you can't take it back out.

So let’s go for it! 
Your Ingredients:
·       1 head of green cabbage, (a small head , 6 to 8“ diameter, will yield about four big portions)
·       1 ring of smoked (ready to eat) kielbasa, about 1½ lb. (use the best you can find)
·       1 to 2 tablespoons butter (or margarine)
·       4 or 5 five small, new potatoes  (1 old big one will work but the new potatoes are more tender)
·       1 small to medium onion
·       1½ cups of chicken broth
·       1 to 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
·       1 teaspoon cornstarch
·       A pinch of sugar  (less than ¼ teaspoon)
·       Salt & pepper to taste
·       ½ tablespoon lemon Juice

The Prep:
1.     Get all the ingredients out, handy on the counter
2.     Find a large pot (5 or 6 quarts) with lid
3.     Rough-chop the cabbage and slice up the onion;
4.     Cut potatoes into bite-size cubes,
5.     Slice the sausage into bite-size pieces - ½ inch max.

The Cooking Steps:
1.     Heat the pot on medium, melt the butter but don’t let it go brown;
2.     Add the onions and sausage and saute until the onions just start to turn golden;
3.     Add a 1/4 cup or so of broth, stir in the cabbage and cook until it becomes limp;
4.     Add the potatoes and a cup of chicken broth;  cover and cook until potatoes are just soft;  (about 5 min or so, depending on the size of your chunks)
5.     Put the rest of the broth in a bowl, stir in the cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice, mix well and add to the pot.
6.     Bring the mix back to a low boil uncovered until the liquid thickens a bit  (maybe 5 min);
7.     Add half of the salt, pepper and caraway seeds and stir well.  Let it cook for a couple more minutes and TASTE.  Add more salt, pepper and caraway seeds if desired.
8.     And that’s all there is to it - IT’S DONE!

Serve with hunks of fresh rye bread and ice cold vodka shots, your favorite beer or a hearty red wine.  Smacznego!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Adult Beverages - Polish Style

WITAMY!  Poles love to eat!  And we love to drink as well.  Truth be told, much of the traditional food goes better when served with a little adult beverage.  A nice robust red wine, a cold Polish beer or an ice-cold shot of Polish vodka go so well with Hunters Stew (Bigos), the signature dish in our book on page 45, or other comfort food that warms your soul.  When enjoyed responsibly and in moderation, a little alcohol with your food helps the digestion and enhances the flavors...but always in moderation! 

Poles have always enjoyed their brandies, cordials, flavored vodkas and similar drinks.  Some of the well known varieties include:  Zubrówka (buffalo grass vodka),  Jarzembiak, (rowan berry flavored brandy),  Pieprzowa (pepper vodka), or Citrinówka (citrus flavored vodka).  My Dad loved to infuse lemon peel or orange peel in vodka, and the results were delicious - not so strong as Limoncello, but distinct and enjoyable as well.  There are a lot of flavored vodkas from many countries  on the market today, but I always thought the idea of making my own was much more appealing.  It’s really easy and they taste great.  They’re a great conversation starter at parties, and the projects leave you with a sense of satisfaction after being enjoyed by your guests.

Here are recipes for two very traditional Polish liquors.  Start them now and they’ll be ready for a great Christmas treat with your holiday meals. 

ŚLIWÓWKA – Christmas Plum Liquor
2 quarts vodka – 100 proof if you have it
1 cup sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
2 to 3 quarts plums, not fully ripe (Italian plums are great)
4 whole cloves

Start this now, while there are plums in the stores.  Rinse the plums, cut in half, remove the pits and place them in a sterilized one gallon jar.  Pour one half of the vodka into a large sauce pan.  Warm up the vodka slowly and add the cloves and cinnamon sticks.  Stir in the sugar slowly and completely dissolve by whisking or stirring.  Let the vodka cool to room temperature, then pour into the jar over the plums.  Add remaining vodka.  Seal the jar tightly and place it in a dark place such as a pantry or closet.  Forget about it for one to three months.  Break it open for Christmas and serve in small liquor glasses as an aperitif with sweets.  (Save the plums if you wish to add a few pieces to your traditional Christmas compote).  Smacznego!

WIŚNIAK – Cherry Liquor
½ pound fresh dark cherries
1 cup sugar
2 cups quality vodka

Slit each cherry on two sides and remove the pits.  Place cherries in a sterilized 1 quart jar.  Pour the sugar over the cherries (do not stir or shake the jar).  Slowly add the vodka down the side of the jar until full, but leave a ½ inch space at the top.  Make sure the cherries are completely covered with vodka, but again do not stir or shake the mixture.  Seal the jar tightly and put in the pantry or closet at room temperature for 3 months.  After 3 months strain the liquor and it is ready to serve in small liquor glasses.  Keep the cherries if you wish for a tasty compote with a kick.  Smacznego

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Preserving Our Heritage

Witamy!  Poles everywhere love to eat and traditional Polish cuisine is as rich in flavors as Poland’s history is rich in customs and traditions.  As in many cultures, Polish traditions most often involve food.  And as we move farther away generationally from our parents and grandparents who grew up with these traditions and foods, it is important to preserve what was left to us by those that came before us.   I remember as a kid spending an hour every morning with my Mom, studying Polish history, Polish literature, Polish traditions, and learning to read and write the language.  Frankly, I absolutely hated those lessons because at the age of ten, twelve or even sixteen, I did not want to be different in any way from my school friends and playmates.  Years later I started to appreciate those lessons more when I realized that others were envious of my ability to speak Polish, so that added to the four years of French and German I had taken in high school, I could get along pretty well just about anywhere in Europe.

It always seems to come back to the food.  Over the years we’ve met a lot people from every continent in the world, from many nations and countless cultures.  They all love the food they grew up with, but Poles are arguably more passionate about their food than most others...right up there with the Italians and French whose cuisines get so much attention.  That’s one reason why we wrote our preserve the culinary culture for those who don’t have frequent opportunities to taste these heritage dishes.

As we thought about whom our book would appeal to most, three groups emerged:  1)  those who want to help their grown children to reconnect with their Polish roots;  2) those younger generations who want to relive the memories of the food from their childhoods;  3) others who experienced Polish culture and food through Polish friends and want to experience those fabulous tastes again.  If you see yourself in one of these groups, then our book is especially for you.  The holidays will be here before you know it and Polish Classic Recipes is a great gift.  Just click on the “buy" tab at the top and we’ll send you a personally signed and dedicated book right away.
Here is a classic recipe for a very old, traditional Christmas soup that is delicious any time of the year.

Almond SoupServes 8

5 cups milk (whole milk will give a richer flavor)
½ pound almonds, ground twice to a very fine consistency
1 teaspoon almond extract
2½ cups cooked rice
¼ cup sugar
½ cup small raisins
Heat the milk, add all the ingredients.  Serve after the meat or fish course.  Smacznego!