Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Golden Beets and Flippin’ Fish, Burgers & Pancakes

Witamy!  So it’s still Lent, Laura is on a diet and one of us is eating VERY healthy (the other of us is just along for the ride…cheating a bit).  For someone in the business of food, that’s a tough challenge.  But last night’s dinner was actually quite tasty and got 4 stars out of 5.  Here’s how it went…

Earlier in the day we stopped by Whole Foods needing to buy flounder to supplement the anemic portion we found in the freezer left over from a previous meal.  We walked by the produce and saw the yellow beets we had been talking about trying, ever since we tested basic red beet dishes for the book. The tag said “Organic Golden Beets” and they were the color of pale carrots. Curious!  So we grabbed a fresh bunch and got the fish. We went with gray sole since it's cheaper than flounder and I can’t really taste the difference after it’s been cooked.  As usual we bought stuff we didn’t need, but that’s what Whole Foods is all about! There were these bins of nuts, seeds and grains for designing your own trail mix…YUM!

To roast the beets, Laura removed the stems and leaves, wrapped each one in foil and roasted them at 400 degrees for about an hour. Next she tossed 1/3 cup of chopped walnuts with 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.  When the beets were soft, she took them out of the oven, removed the foil and let them cool a bit.  Then she rubbed off the skins and cut the beets into wedges.   Just before plating, she tossed the beet wedges with the vinegar and nuts, and finished them on the plate by drizzling with olive oil and sprinkling with crumbled feta cheese.

The fish were thin fillets of flounder and sole, brushed with a mixture of mayonnaise and country Dijon mustard and crusted with finely chopped pecans. The fillets were then sautéed  for 2 minutes per side in a hot pan with a bit of olive oil, and they’re done – easy breezy!

I must say here, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that flippin’ is an important skill that not all have mastered.  Not long ago we took a cooking class which required browning meat on all sides, and there were a lot of meat plops and spatters of hot oil flying around the pans.  I don’t profess to be an expert by any means, but here is my take on flipping a long filet of fish, a burger on the grill, pancakes on Sunday morning, or even crepes.

Using the right tool is critical and it’s all in the wrist. For me this is usually a two handed operation – one tool held lightly in my left hand just to hold the target steady and a thin spatula in my right hand that is as round or long as the target (that’s important).  While holding the target from sliding away, I slide the spatula under - all the way.  Then keeping the down side close to the pan (in other words, keep the spatula very low), turn the spatula and let the target slide (not fall) back on to the pan. The firmer the target the easier it will be.  Burgers and thicker fillets are easy as long as the spatula gets completely under the target and is kept low.  For pancakes or crepes, first loosen the bottom by shaking the pan back and forth a bit.  That way you can slide your spatula underneath without tearing up the uncooked batter on top.

Once you get really good, you may not even need a spatula, but before you start showing off,  please keep in mind that I’ve been flippin’ for over 40 years. There have been many crepes and pancakes that missed the pan on the way down.  So good flippin’!


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Musings of a virgin food stylist...and stuffed cucumbers!

Witamy! Just a few short weeks until our book’s release on Amazon (April 15th) but we’re hoping to mail all the signed copies that have been pre-ordered on our site, a week or so before the 15th.   We’ve already scheduled a few book signings in early May, they’re posted here on the site – on the right side, down a bit.

We want you to meet Daniel Dalcin, a “chef-in-the-making,” which means he is a culinary student here in Washington DC.  Dan artistically arranged the food on the serving plates, so that Matthew could take his great photos.  It was really a team effort – Laura cooked, Dan styled, Matthew shot, I got in their way, and we all tasted! Anyway, we asked Dan to blog about his experience on our book, so this is from Dan:  

Working on the cookbook was a lot of fun! I remember the first day Matt and I went out to Peter and Laura's house. Matt had picked me up from work where I was wearing my slightly dirty and fish-smelling kitchen whites, to go out and meet the authors of this cookbook. I was a little nervous because Matt was wearing a nice button up shirt and slacks, making me think I was going to be the “slobby” under dressed cook – ha-ha.  It was no big deal at all; as soon as we knocked on the door we were greeted by the most friendly couple I've gotten to deal with in a long time.

Peter, throughout the whole cookbook, was the idea man, the revision man and the shopping man. He must have been sick of the local stores in the area by the end of the book. Laura was the kitchen queen, whipping up various dishes for the shoots in only a matter of minutes. She also had a great eye for picking out the backgrounds and helping me choose a plate for the food. 

It was hardly what I would call "going to work". It was more like hanging out with some good friends and tasting some awesome new food, while making a nationally published cookbook on the side. I always looked forward to spending the day there, listening to various kinds of music, but Peter always insisted on NO RAP! Peter and Laura also had become grandparents soon before we got to meet them, so it was cool to see a whole wall of pictures of the new baby develop from week to week.

All in all we made a good team and I think it shows in the cook book. Keep your eyes peeled for the next volume, and if it's Deserts then let’s hope Matt has a big enough lens to frame me and my possibly 50 extra pounds of body mass.


Here’s a tasty snack or appetizer that show’s France’s influence on classic Polish cuisine, as well as our love for sour cream.  It’s so easy and tasty that your kids will have a ball with it, plus it’s a great new way to use up some left over ham after Easter. Smacznego!

Stuffed Cucumbers

4 cucumbers, peeled  (straight ones will work better)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 cups lean finely chopped ham
¾ cup sour cream
¼ cup prepared horseradish

Cut each cucumber in half, length wise.  Scoop out just the seeds making a small trough down the length of the cucumber. Sprinkle with the salt, pepper, and vinegar.  Let stand for two hours while the liquid leaches out.  Drain.  In a bowl combine ham with sour cream.  Add the horseradish a little at a time, tasting frequently.  Fill the hollowed out cucumber halves with the ham mix – about a quarter cup each.  Serve with a warm, crispy French baguette.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cookbook update...

Witamy! A lot of friends have been asking about how the book is doing and when it will be out. As far as we know everything is on target for an April 15th release. That’s the date on Amazon’s web site.  We might get some books delivered here a few days earlier but who knows. The books were actually printed in China, along with many more being released by Pelican Publishing at the same time. They all get shipped at the same time by sea from China to New Orleans where Pelican has their warehouse.

With big help from Kim, our “social network publicist,” we’ve been pretty busy promoting the book on this blog, Twitter and Facebook.  Even though I’ve been marketing stuff for a long time, this is a whole new world. And, with the eager help of the Pelican sales and promotions staff, we’ve been introducing the book to retail stores that sell Polish stuff, cookbooks, and other food-related establishments, to libraries and to the media in cities with large Polish heritage communities. The book has been available on Amazon for several weeks for pre-orders and is getting picked up by a host of other sites as well. The power of the internet is eye opening when you’re actively involved in selling something online!

We have several personal signing events already scheduled  (listed on this page, over on the right)  and will be taking the book on the road later this spring and early summer to cities such as Pittsburgh, Erie, Buffalo, Richmond, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and more.

Laura and I are talking about a launch party in May to celebrate the release with all our friends who have been so supportive of this venture. Dan, our food stylist wants to help prepare the food, but I really think he’s coming back to eat again! We hope that Matthew, our photographer, can also come with his cameras. Now we just have to pick which dishes to offer for tasting. I’d love to have a special spot on the table for ice-cold shots of Polish vodka -- what do you think?

So that should bring everyone up to date...thanks for reading!
Peter & Laura

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

...more on beets

Our recent blog on beets, inspired Matthew Aron Roth, who photographed all the food for Polish Classic Recipes so well, to offer these thoughts on the noble beet.   (Check out Matthew’s own blog at:

I was elusive to the beet for many years.  Being adventurous with food from an early age, eating whitefish as a toddler and willing to try new foods, that round purple beet never appealed to me. My father and mother liked them either pickled or prepared some other way I was oblivious to. 

On the first day of shooting for the cook book, one of the dishes was the Cool Summer Barscz soup. It was a light purple or pink hue with julienne sticks of beet in it. This was the day I was going to see how beets tasted.  I can’t describe the taste well enough but knew then and there that the taste, consistency and feel of that soup in my mouth would make it an ideal dish on a hot summer day. 

Truthfully, the beet was not my favorite food out of the entire book. However, it is one of the most important ingredients to me since it opened my eyes to a new flavor and taste with which I was totally inexperienced.  The various applications and uses for the beet is expansive. The only prior way I had ever encountered it was in horseradish.  I just liked the fact that it made the horseradish more manageable on my pallet and added some color to the bland gefilte fish that it garnished.  I am happy that I now know the unique flavor profile of this vegetable and how it important it is to various dishes in Polish cuisine.


In honor of Matthew’s new culinary experiences, here is a traditional Beet recipe that works really well when served with pork roast and boiled or roasted baby potatoes. Since we’re still in Lent, these beets will be stunning on a plate next to your favorite white fish.   Smacznego!

Beets, Polish Style
2 one-pound cans of red beets, (not pickled beets) drained and finely chopped
½ cup beet juice, reserved from the cans
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice (to taste)
Salt (to taste)

In a pot, whisk the flour into the beet juice and mix well.  Add the chopped beets and bring to a low boil.  Add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Add half of the lemon juice and taste. The beets should have just a hint of lemon, to compliment the sweetness of the beets.   Add more lemon juice and salt to taste.

NOTE:  if you have some extra time, start with six medium peeled, fresh beets.  Cover with water in a pot and bring to a boil.  Cover the pot and simmer for about 45 minutes or until just fork tender.  Remove from pot and cool.  Retain half a cup of the beet juice.  Once cooled, chop the beets, and follow the recipe as above.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lenten comfort food

Photo by Matthew Aron Roth
Witamy!  As we approach another Lenten season, many Poles and other Catholics around the world are digging through their recipes for meatless dishes. We wrote an earlier blog about how Polish cuisine and other Eastern European cuisines depend on dried mushrooms in their cooking. It’s very distinctive since their flavors, when reconstituted, are much more intense than what is usually found in our grocery stores. Years ago forest mushrooms throughout Poland were harvested and threaded on strings and hung up to dry for use throughout the winter months.  These days dried mushrooms are mostly sold in small packages, but if you do see dried mushrooms on a string they are quite expensive.  So look for dried mushrooms in better grocery stores and gourmet shops – the darker the better. I tried ordering some online and it turns out the seller is in Bulgaria.  Two months later I still haven’t received my package.  The seller assures me they were mailed but “that Bulgaria is a long way from the USA.”

Sauerkraut with Mushrooms
Note:  if you can’t find dried mushrooms, fresh ones will work fine as long as you use a darker variety that has stronger flavors – Eight ounces of porcinis would be great.  

1 ounce dried mushrooms, thoroughly rinsed
½ cup water
2 pounds sauerkraut, well rinsed and drained
2 onions, sliced
3 tablespoons cooking oil
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Rinse the mushrooms very well and soak in hot water for two hours.  Remove, rinse again and slice.  Strain the mushroom liquid through cheese cloth and save.

Rinse the sauerkraut very well and place in a pot which contains a small amount of boiling water. Add the mushrooms and the mushroom water and bring to a low boil.  Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, start reheating the sauerkraut gently. Saute onions in oil until just golden. Add the flour and saute for a few more minutes, constantly stirring. If the mix is too thick (like a paste) dilute with a little bit of liquid from the sauerkraut.  Add this mix back to the sauerkraut, bring to a low boil.  Salt & pepper to taste.

Pair this dish with very small boiled potatoes which have been drizzled with melted butter and fresh chopped dill.  Serve with hunks of crusty rye bread.  Finally,  it would be very traditional that this dish would also be accompanied by a shot of ice cold Polish vodka or a good beer.  That sure works for me!  Smacznego!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Beets, beets, bodacious beets!

Photo by Matthew Aron Roth
Witamy!  Beets just may be one of the most under-appreciated foods in the history of eating. Several websites point out that although the leaves have been eaten since before recorded history, the red bulbous roots which we commonly eat today were more often used by healers and did not become a popular food until French chefs recognized their potential in the 1800's. From the earliest times of medicine, beets have been used to treat anemia, poor digestion, constipation, piles, poor blood circulation, kidney disorders, skin ailments, dandruff, gall bladder disorders, cancer, and heart diseases.

The health benefits of beet roots can be attributed to their richness in nutrients, vitamins and minerals. They are a source of carotenoids and lutein/zeaxanthin. Beets are also rich in dietary fibre, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus. One website I saw mentions that beets are also full of powerful anti-oxidants called anthycyanins. They are very low in calories, but have very high sugar content and are also used to make refined sugar.

Now that we’ve covered the technical stuff, the really cool thing about beets is how amazingly versatile they are as a food. Growing up in Pittsburgh and occasionally frequenting a “beer garden”  (that’s a Western Pennsylvania term for local hangout – kind of like Cheers) I can still see those large jars perched on the bar, filled with hard boiled eggs floating in dark red liquid. Even before I could legally slurp the foam of an Iron City beer, I loved wrapping my lips around the end of a pink egg, biting down into the firm yellow yolk surrounded by envelope of firm egg white that had been absorbing the tang of the pickled beet juice. The best nickel I ever spent!

Photo by Matthew Aron Roth
These days, Laura and I are often asked about what distinguishes Polish foods from others. The answer is found in Polish cuisine’s use of ingredients and flavorings such as kielbasa, dill, and, for sure, beets.  I confess that I’ve not always been a fan of plain beets out of the can - my Mom often julienned canned beets and added them to green salads, not my favorite. However, my two all-time favourite Polish dishes are beet soups, known in Polish as Barszcz, and a beet relish known as Cwikla  (pronounce: chfi’ kwa) – nothing more than chopped beets mixed with ground horseradish in whatever proportion your lips can stand.

Barszcz is the most iconic of Polish soups and is an uncontested favorite throughout Eastern Europe.  There are hundreds of varieties, depending on which region or town or village your recipe originates.  The clear varieties, not much more than flavored broth, are very sophisticated holiday specialties, most often sipped from a fancy china cup to accompany other Easter or Christmas appetizers.  More hearty versions get their balanced flavors from the addition of vegetables, sour cream and occasionally a full head-on shrimp or two.  They are commonly served both hot and refreshingly cool.

There are several classic recipes for beet dishes in our new book, including a clear Barszcz for Christmas, Cwikla, a very simple Marinated Beet Salad, and Chlodnik – a cool summer Barszcz with the most amazing pink color with flavors to match. It must be said here that Dan and Matt, who styled and photographed the plates for our book, were not very familiar with beets before coming to our kitchen.  As expected from two young men in a perpetual state of hunger, they had to taste every dish in the book.  By the time they tasted all the beet recipes, it’s safe to say they had become converts!


Here is a simplified recipe for a very quick and easy version of Barszcz that would be great for a spring lunch, served with hunks of fresh crusty rye and your favourite adult beverage. Only 15 minutes to prepare! Smacznego!

6 beef bouillon cubes
3 1/2 cups water
2 1-pound cans of red beets (not pickled)
1 14-ounce can of brown baked beans
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Bring water to boil in a large pot.  Dissolve the bouillon cubes and add all the beet juice drained from the two cans of beets. Rough-chop 1 cup of beets and add to the pot; save the rest of the beets for another day.   Rinse the beans well, add to the pot and bring back to a low boil. Add the lemon juice and seasonings to taste.  The salt and lemon juice will enhance the beet flavours. Also, you should definitely taste the pepper.   Remove from heat.  Serve in casual bowls and top with dollops of sour cream and sprinkled parsley.