Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chocolate heaven!

Witamy! Laura and I recently went to a cooking demonstration at the Spice and Tea Exchange in Old Town Alexandria VA, an event held once a month with local chefs. This particular evening was with Chef Dennis Marron from The Grille at Morrison House and Jackson 20.  There were four tastings and each was to die for!  The chef selected the menu and recipes around the amazing spices and flavored products available in the shop.

The evening started with a cocktail called “Bourbon and Spice” - a mix of fine, old bourbon with brown cardamom pod, sumac, maple and espresso syrup;  just before serving, the rim of each glass was dipped in a mix of maple granules & espresso sugar!

The 2nd course was a White Peony Tea Smoked Diver Scallop, seared on a rose salt block, paired with a Bamboo Green Rice Cake.   The process of smoking the scallops was amazing.  Chef Marron had the scallops in a rectangular cake pan covered with plastic, into which he fed a little rubber hose which was connected to a little jar-like container of  the smoldering White Peony Tea Leaves (and yes, there were a few bad jokes about not inhaling and what was really being smoked).  

The cheese course was next, featuring a sweet onion imported blue cheese with onion bread, dried shallots, apple cider reduction, blue cheese powder and apple chutney.  The combination of sweet ‘n savory flavors and of the different textures stacked on top of each other was heaven on the palate.

And then the sweet ending - a small tower of chocolate cake with coconut frosting, a marble-sized chocolate, salty truffle resting on a smear of New Mexico Chili Powder Chocolate Sauce.  Well, the juxtaposition of salty yet sweet truffle with a dab of that spicy sauce was an explosion on our tongues.  But as amazing as each course was, for me the cake was the biggest star of the evening. Without a doubt it was one of the most moist and flavorful American-style cakes I have ever tasted.  I liked it so much and kept carrying on about it that Laura made it for us for Valentines Day – in the shape of a heart.  She emailed this picture over to The Grille at Morrison House and they liked it so much they’re going to put the recipe on their website.  But because we appreciate each and every one of you so much  we’re sharing it right here, today.  Smacznego!        

Chef Dennis Marron’s Chocolate Cake, February 2011,  Spice and Tea Exchange, Alexandria, VA.

1½ cups all; purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
3 tablespoons coco powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
1 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Mix the dry ingredients well in a large mixing bowl.  Slowly add wet ingredients and incorporate.  Pour into a greased sheet pan. Note:  Laura used a 10½” x 15½” pan which worked well…she could have used a somewhat smaller pan to yield taller layers, but anything bigger than 10½ x 15½  would not work very well because the batter will be too thin.

Bake at 325 until fork comes clean – about 30 minutes depending on the size of the pan. Watch the edges which will tend to harden earlier.

Allow to cool. Cut into desired shape using cookie molds, upside-down glass, etc.

Coconut Frosting
2 cups coconut milk
8 egg yolks
2 cups coconut flakes
¾ cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon corn starch
2 cup granulated sugar

While the cake is cooling, add all frosting ingredients into a heavy-bottom, non-corrosive pan, i.e. stainless steel.  Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly until it reaches 180 degrees. Remove from heat and whisk until cool.

Spread frosting on the first layer. Set the second cake layer on top and spread with more frosting.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New bride kitchen disaster...

Laura Zeranski
Witamy! Getting married and starting a relationship with your in-laws is often a stressful time for any new bride.  You want to please them and show them you love and can take good care of their son.  But add to the mix a Polish mother-in-law that writes cookbooks and you up the stress level by about 1000%.  My heritage contains some Polish ancestry, but we only cooked a few Polish dishes at our house and certainly didn’t observe Polish holiday customs. So I had to learn Polish cuisine and customs pretty quickly.

The first Christmas Peter and I were married, my mother-in-law asked me to make the Honey Cake (Piernik).  The recipe was in her cookbook and I had baked enough to know how to follow a recipe, so I thought this would be a snap.  My collection of bake ware did not include the correct size pan for the honey cake, so I thought I would make the batter and go to my mom’s and bake the cake.  As a novice baker I didn’t understand that the baking soda used to make the cake rise has a short shelf life.  My mom lived 40 minutes away and during travel time, the chemical reaction created by the baking soda fizzled.

After the cake came out of the oven and cooled, I tried to split the cake into two layers as the recipe indicated but it is extremely difficult to cut a “brick."  Peter looked at it and said "I don’t think that’s the way it is supposed to be."  Of course, there were a few tears, but I was determined to make this work.  I borrowed Mom’s pan and made it again at home. This time it came out perfectly. What a relief!

There were several other attempts at making some of my mother-in-law’s recipes that did not work on the first try.  Most were just due to my inexperience. For instance, I did not know that the dough for the nut rolls did not rise when you put in the refrigerator overnight.  An entire recipe was thrown in the trash before Peter’s mom told me that was the way it was supposed to be. I persevered and eventually mastered the Polish cuisine much to the delight of my father-in-law. Over the years I eventually took over the preparation of all the holiday meals with excellent reviews from all.

Here is a delicious Honey Cake recipe that is a very traditional holiday favorite, but just as good all year round.  Just be sure not to make the same mistake I did. Bake the cake immediately after making the batter, so the baking soda doesn’t fizzle out!

Honey Cake
Serves: 12

¼ pound of butter, softened
5 egg yolks
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
4 cups flour
5 egg whites
2 tablespoons cocoa
3 ounces ground peeled almonds
Bread Crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream the butter.  Add egg yolks, beating at high speed.  Gradually add sugar.  Beat 3 minutes more.  Add honey, baking soda, spices and orange rind.  Beat 2 minutes more.  Add 2 cups flour.  Beat 3 minutes.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff.  Add to the creamed mixture alternating with the rest of the flour, chocolate and almonds.  Mix together lightly.

Butter a tube pan and sprinkle with bread crumbs.  Fold the cake batter into the pan.  Bake for 70 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cool for 15 minutes and remove from pan.  Cover and keep in a cool place for 3 days before serving.  Serve in thin slices.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

You break it you buy it! The Polish Pottery Mart

Witamy! Handcrafted Polish stoneware is beautiful, distinctive and is “in” all over the world...and you don’t have to be Polish to appreciate it. Diane and Jim Richardson are not Polish but they love Polish pottery. So much that they have a little shop, Polish Pottery Mart, tucked away in a historic Savage Mill, about half way between Washington DC and Baltimore. They import the finest hand crafted pottery directly from Boleslawiec, Poland, the historic town where Polish pottery originated over 500 years ago.

Their shelves and tables are heavy with a wide variety of beautiful patterns - both classic and "Unikat" decorations which are signed by journeyman artists and are great to collect.  Visitors can pick from a selection of cups, teapots, sugar bowls and creamers for having a special tea party with your friends.  Or choose a combination of mugs and a unique pitcher.

Cooking enthusiasts will love their bakers, dishes, tureens and serving pieces, as well as dinner plates and bowls. In fact, the tureen photographed on the front cover of our book is from their shop and features one of their “signature patterns.”  You just can’t imagine how many positive comments we’ve received about this tureen.

Their shop is so popular that they’ve already moved to larger spaces twice since opening their doors just a couple of years ago. And now an even bigger space is under construction right next door.  (By the way, the new building will be big enough for us to hold a “Polish food chat” and book signing, as soon as our book is released April 15th!)

It’s quite warm and sunny in Alexandria, Virginia today, but much of the country is under the effects of a huge cold storm. So here is a historic “comfort food recipe” that was one of my great-grandfather’s favorites.  In fact the story goes that my great-grandmother used this recipe to get him in a good mood whenever she had bad news to share…after a while he got wise to this tactic and would disappear right after dinner…smart man!

Great Grandmother Maria Grudzinska’s Chicken in Lemon Sauce
·       One large chicken, skinned, roasted or boiled, de-boned, and cut into bite-sized pieces
·       2 tablespoons soft butter
·       3 tablespoons flour
·       1 3/4 cups chicken broth, boiling
·       2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, (more or less to taste)
·       2 tablespoons chopped parsley (or dill)

In a small bowl mix the butter and flour very well.  Stir in a few tablespoons of boiling broth.  Transfer this mix to the pot with the remaining broth and bring back to a low boil.  Add the lemon juice slowly, tasting as you go.

Add the chicken pieces to the sauce and heat gently.  Transfer to a warmed serving dish.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley or dill.  Serve with rice, a green vegetable or salad.  Smacznego!