Monday, April 25, 2011

Fish with a kick - Polish style

Photo by Matthew Aron Roth
Witamy! The Catholic ritual of fasting on religious feast days, introduced to Poland about 900 a.d., has had a strong influence on Polish food traditions. Christmas Eve and Lent are just two times when no meat is eaten, explaining why fish has such a key role in Polish heritage cooking. This dish works well with any flat, white fish fillets such as sole, flounder, perch, or tilapia. When Laura tested this dish for the first time, she was cautious about the intensity of the horseradish.  However, she quickly discovered that the sauce comes out milder than expected.  It was delicious and, in fact, we both spooned a bit of the sauce over fresh vegetables and loved it.

Fish with Horseradish Sauce
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds fish fillets
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 cups horseradish sauce

Season the fish with salt and sprinkle with vinegar.  Place fish fillets in a buttered baking dish.  Drizzle with the melted butter. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Pour the horseradish sauce over the fillets and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Horseradish Sauce
Yield 2 cups

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup prepared horseradish
2/3 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Melt butter in a sauce pan over low heat and blend in flour to make a paste. Gradually stir in the broth to the mixture stirring constantly until thickened and smooth.  Stir in the horseradish and the sour cream.  Add the sugar and salt to taste.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sixty-three traditional Easters

Witamy i Wesolych Swiat!   (Greetings and Happy Holiday!)

Easter is arguably one of the two biggest culinary feasts the year for most Poles, many other Roman Catholics, and billions of Christians around the world.  For some reason my memories of Easter celebrations go back much farther than Christmas, even though as a child I usually associated Christmas with getting and giving gifts.  But for some reason the sense of excitement and anticipation was greater at Easter – perhaps because I enjoyed the traditional food so much.

Photo by Matthew Aron Roth
A few days beforehand, we always dyed a batch of hard boiled eggs – five colors with each pastel tablet dissolved in a cup of boiling water with a splash of vinegar;  then after they dried we would shine them with a bit of cooking oil or bacon fat.  Then there was the butter lamb.  Most of the time we could buy one at a Polish deli. Then it slept in the freezer until the big day.  It always sat on the table next to a chocolate rabbit, and when we got to dessert, I always had to bite off the head to see if it was hollow or solid.  Getting the first bite into that rabbit was a morbid, but delicious privilege.  A few years ago Laura found a lamb mold and she has been making her own Easter lambs…but special care must be taken to fill the mold completely, otherwise we would end up with a deformed lamb – not a pretty sight.

Before the meal we always exchanged wedges of hardboiled egg and extended Easter wishes to each other – the same as we do at Christmas with a blessed wafer.  The meal was quite traditional and seldom wavered from previous years.  Except for the clear Barszcz sipped from china cups, the rest of dinner was served at room temperature – after church, about 1 PM.  There was a ham, several varieties of kielbasa, Fish in Aspic (our aspic was a broth in which floated tiny bits of celery, onion and carrot for flavor, to which gelatin was added and poured over the fish, and then chilled until the gelatin set up).

We always had Polish Vegetable Salad which was faithfully made by my Dad every year.  And on the side we always had a pale yellow, sour cream and mustard sauce to kick up the meats, plus Cwikla - a relish made of chopped beets and prepared horseradish, which definitely kicked everything up in a big way!  Some years, when my Mom wasn’t looking, I would add an extra spoon full of horseradish, but somehow I always got caught because my eyes watered from the “kick”.  One thing about the ham…we always got our ham from the Polish market and I particularly remember that it was a lot leaner and had a milder flavor than American brands.  It was absolutely not salty in the least.  My Mom always said that Polish pigs were fed potatoes which gave them that milder flavor.  I don’t know how true that was but it certainly sounded plausible.

Desserts included one or two Mazurkas, a Baba, and occasionally a Polish Cheese Cake.  Our book contains recipes for most of the traditional foods, tested and adjusted for modern kitchen techniques.  If you get a copy you’ll be all set for next year.


Here is a Baba recipe that we particularly like because of the rum that flavors the icing.

1/3 cup margarine, melted
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons milk
1 grated orange rind

1 cup sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup orange juice (no pulp)
¼ cup white rum

Batter – Place all the ingredients in a bowl and beat with a mixer for 5 minutes at medium speed.  Bake in a well-buttered 8-inch fluted ring pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Icing – Add the sugar to the water in a heavy pan and cook until it becomes a heavy syrup.  Add the orange juice and rum.

Remove the warm cake from the pan onto a serving plate and immediately pout the icing slowly over the top, letting it drip down the sides at will.  Cool thoroughly before cutting.

Monday, April 11, 2011

An exciting shipment plus our favorite zapiekanka recipe!

Witamy! Laura and I are happy to report that the first shipment of our new Polish Classic Recipes cook book was just delivered.  Opening the carton was like watching our baby being born  (I guess Laura wouldn’t agree), but it was very exciting nonetheless.  A few copies are being sent to family and special friends who supported us throughout the process. I’m sure that Matthew Aron Roth (our photographer) and Dan Dalcin (our food stylist) will be excited to get their copies as well.  But first we had to figure out how to sign them because there’s not a lot of room on the title page and we’ve never signed books before.  It’s all good.  We already have several book signing events on the calendar (see schedule on the right) with more in the works.

We’ll be away for a while on a vacation, but fresh blogs will be posted while we’re on our cruise. One of our Twitter tweeters tweeted (phew) a request for our favorite “zapiekanka” which is Polish for casserole.  There are many we enjoy, but our go-to dish is a crispy ham and noodle casserole that’s always been a hit for more than 50 years.  My Mom used to make it all the time after Easter and Christmas to use up the left over ham.  And it works with kielbasa just as well.  The original version is in her iconic book The Art of Polish Cooking (still available on Amazon) but over the years, Laura has put her own twist on it.  Smacznego!

Crispy Ham or Kielbasa and Noodle Casserole

3 cups cooked egg noodles
2 cups chopped ham or kielbasa*
1 tablespoon melted butter, olive oil or bacon fat
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
½ teaspoon fresh dill leaves or ¼ teaspoon dried
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 cup grated cheddar cheese**

Mix the cooked noodles with the meat, butter, green onions and the dill.  Place in a greased 2 quart casserole dish. Mix the breads crumbs with melted butter and the cheese.  Sprinkle the mixture over the top of the casserole. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes until crumb topping is golden brown and the noodles and meat are heated through.

*The amount of meat may be increased based on personal preference.
**The type and amount of cheese may be changed or eliminated based on personal preference.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Polish Embassy Open House

Witamy! As you might imagine, receiving support from the Polish Embassy would be huge for our book.  We’ve just been invited to sign our books at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland at an annual open house event for the Embassies of the European Union.  About 5000 people are expected to pass by our table, having just sampled kielbasa & pierogi.  WOW!

We had a connection with a senior embassy official – one of those “friend of a friend” scenarios that are pretty typical in Washington DC circles. On the phone, my new acquaintance at the Embassy was very willing to support our book, but advised that the Ambassador first needed to see and approve it – perfectly understandable.  But the book was on press in China somewhere and wasn’t to be shipped for quite a while.  So Rebecca, our Sales Manager at Pelican Publishing, came to our rescue by sending us the “F & G’s” – which stands for “fold and gather.”  In other words, the book’s pages were taken off the press, folded and gathered in their correct order, but not bound into their hard cover.

We were invited to coffee at the Embassy to chat about the book and hand off the pages, but Laura chose not to go because she does not speak Polish.  I would be meeting with my contact plus the Cultural Attaché who usually takes care of these types of events.  I had been in the Embassy before – the public spaces are like a small European palace with beautiful drawing rooms, fine Polish works of art of Poland’s most famous historical figures, beautiful renaissance furniture, and so on.  I was escorted into one of these drawing rooms by my host.  In a corner of the room sat a low coffee table, set with crisp white linen, fine delicate china, a small silver urn of coffee and a plate of small sweet cookies.  It was an elegant and impressive setting.

After exchanging pleasantries, we got down to the issue at hand.  They were quite interested in having us display and sign books at this Open House on May 7, 2011.  Our book is a great fit since the Ambassador is particularly interested in sharing Poland’s culture and traditions with Americans.  This event is an annual celebration of international culture presented by Cultural Tourism DC and showcases Washington DC’s embassies and cultural organizations with a wide range of performances, talks, and exhibits. Over 5000 people passed through the Polish Embassy last year.  Food tables will be set up in one of the rooms on the tour for sampling typical Polish food such as kielbasa and pierogi.  Our table would be right after the food – I couldn’t ask for a better spot – location...location...location!

A few days after the meeting, we received word that and everything was all set for us. Plus, the Embassy officials agreed to distribute a flyer about our book at this event and at subsequent gatherings.  That’s very cool!  So now we have to make up several thousand flyers and take a guess at how many books to bring - a dart board or crystal ball would be helpful.

Here’s a link for more information:   If you live in this area, come by on Saturday May 7, 2011 from 10AM to 3PM - we’d love to see you and sign your book!