Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cabbage Goodness

Witamy!   We were at a farmers’ market the other day and I noticed that most of the veggie stands were selling cabbages.  Whether red or green, big or small, wrinkled or smooth, they all looked very fresh and quite appealing.  Then it struck me about how often I walk right by the cabbages in search of beans, carrots or other veggies.  But, whenever we prepare cabbage dishes at home (especially our Polish recipes) they’re delicious.

Cabbage in closeup
Did you know that cabbage just may be one of the world’s miracle foods?  From my research on the internet, I saw that cabbage is rich in fiber, Vitamin C and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Experts claim it is good for the treatment of constipation, stomach ulcers, headache, excess weight, skin disorders, eczema, jaundice, scurvy, rheumatism, arthritis, gout, eye disorders, heart diseases, and Alzheimer's disease.  That’s quite a list and I really can’t say how true those claims are, but I do know that cabbages are good eating! 

We have several lovely cabbage dishes in our book that have been getting great feedback (pages 18, 46, 57).  Here is a different recipe that combines Poles’ love for both cabbage and caraway.  Smacznego!

Savoy Cabbage with Caraway
1 ½ pounds of Savoy cabbage, sliced in ½ strips
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, more or less to taste
2 semi sweet apples, peeled & shredded (Gala is a good choice)
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ tablespoons flour
Salt & pepper to taste

Put the cabbage in a pot and add a half cup of boiling water.  Bring to a boil and cook uncovered for 3 minutes.  Cover and cook for an additional 15 minutes, adding just enough water if needed to prevent the cabbage from burning on the bottom.  Stir in the caraway seeds and apples; cook for another 10 minutes.  While the cabbage is cooking, sauté the onions in 1 tablespoon of butter until clear and just starting to turn color.   Add the rest of the butter and the flour.  Sauté till golden, stirring constantly.  Add the onions to the cabbage and bring to a boil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve with pork or a darker meat such as pot roast or duck.  Pair with a rich red wine such as a Tempranillo, Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon. 
Serves 6

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A dish for kings - Sour Milk with boiled potatoes

Witamy!  The weather is getting hot now and we’re turning our attention at lunch to some of the cool summer soups so popular in Polish cuisine. We love to visit area farmers markets and take advantage of the huge red strawberries, crimson cherries, plump blueberries -- all of which can be easily blended into healthy and refreshing soups.  They’re like milk shakes but with less sugar and calories. The basic recipe is in our book on page 38.  YUM!

Another classic summer dish I enjoyed immensely as a child is Sour Milk (Siadle Mleko), served with baby potatoes and fresh dill.  Before you turn up your nose, I promise that it really tastes good.  It has the tang of fresh yogurt, and the consistency and texture of a light pudding or flan.

There’s a great story told by my Mom, who was active in the Polish resistance, that during World War II, there was a small band of Polish resistance fighters who found themselves in France behind enemy lines. They were lost and exhausted from dodging the enemy.  A French farmer took them in and let them hide in his cow barn. That farmer, seeing that they were also famished, apologized and said that all he had was some potatoes in the field, a few left-over sprigs of dill in the garden, and a bucket of soured milk which he was using to feed his pigs.  The Polish soldiers, hearing this, started laughing hysterically and pounced on the bucket of sour milk.  You see, where they grew up in Poland this was a delicacy known as “a dish for kings” -- a bowl of sour milk enjoyed best with a small plate of buttered potatoes and dill.  Amazing!

Back in the day, this dish was made with unpasteurized milk.  But these days there is risk of germs or disease from consuming raw milk, so we strongly suggest that only pasteurized milk be used.

First, the milk has to be “cultured” to become thick and tart.  Pour 1 quart of whole milk into a glass or ceramic bowl (anything but metal); add ½ cup of sour cream OR 1 cup of cultured buttermilk.  Whisk or blend the mixture thoroughly.   Place the bowl into a very warm spot (80 degrees F is great) and let it stand for 24 hours or until thick.  Do not move or disturb the bowl while the milk is setting up.  When it thickens to the consistency of flan or a light pudding, place the bowl into the fridge and cool for half a day or so.  To serve, spoon it into serving bowls and serve with young white potatoes that have been sprinkled with butter and fresh chopped dill.  Smacznego!

Footnote:  we just made a bowl...kept it a full day in the warm garage,  and now it's ready!  Just had a spoonfull - tastes like fresh yogurt.  It's cooling in the fridge, can't wait to have it for lunch tomorrow.  p

Monday, June 13, 2011

Picnics, BBQ & tailgating - Polish style

Witamy! Polish BBQ...for real? Other than grilling up big hunks of garlicky kielbasa, slathered with Cwikla – the iconic beets & horseradish garnish (Page 49 in “the book”), I’m not about to compete with your favorite American BBQ recipes and all those experts on the Food Network!  But I do want to share with you that we have some fantastic salads and sides that will pair very well with your chicken, burgers or steaks, plus they’ll wow your guests.

The marks of great picnic or tailgate dishes are that they can be prepared ahead of time, travel well, minimize slicing or dicing with a plastic knife from Costco on your plastic plate (also from Costco), and taste best at room temperature. One dish that meets those tests is Polish-style Deviled of my favorite outdoor dishes. This recipe has a very unique spin and will be a sure-fire hit - not to mention a great conversation piece.

A day or so before the event, hard boil half a dozen eggs (tip: low & slow for max 15 minutes will keep the yellow yolks from turning gray);  immediately cool the eggs in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.  Peel them and cut each egg in half length-wise. Take out the yolks while being careful not to rip the egg-white “shells.”   Finely chop the yolks and mix in about 3 tablespoons of sour cream, 1 tablespoon of plain bread crumbs (Panko is great if you have some in your pantry), 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped dill, 1 tablespoon of finely chopped green onion, salt & pepper to taste.

Place the mix back in the egg-white “shells,”  sprinkle the tops generously with more bread crumbs, and flatten the tops with a knife.  Now here’s the big twist...melt 3 tablespoons of butter (or healthier cooking oil) in a skillet and quickly sauté the eggs, flat side down, until golden brown.  Pack them up in an airtight container and keep cool until time to serve.  When serving you could sprinkle a little fresh, bright green, chopped dill on top, just for color.  Now get out of the way because they’re going fast!  YUM!

Polish cuisine has some great salads that work surprisingly well with BBQ.  Two of our favorites are Marinated Beet Salad (page 25 ) and Cucumber Salad (page 21).  Samples of the Cucumber Salad were served at two of our recent book signings and tasters raved about the beautiful appearance and fresh taste.

Another salad that works well on a picnic or any buffet table is Sauerkraut, Carrot and Apple Salad.  It has a tang that is very refreshing and the interaction of flavors helps this salad pair really well with most meat dishes that don’t have a big sauce.  Start with half a pound bag of good quality sauerkraut, rinse it really well and squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible  (tip: I just press my fist into the colander...the point is to take out as much of the sharp packing brine as possible).  Rinse and squeeze a second time and chop it up finely.  Add two medium raw carrots that have been peeled and shredded.  Add one large sweet red apple (Gala is a good choice) that has been peeled and shredded.  (tip: a food processor will make quick work of these steps ).  Add in a tablespoon of sugar and 3 tablespoons of a good, unflavored salad oil.  Mix well, place in an airtight container and chill until ready to serve.  Serves 4.

There are many other salads and appetizers in Polish cuisine that work well at a picnic, tailgate or BBQ.  Our book includes some of our favorites that have been proven successful and popular over many generations.  Smacznego!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Celebrating "The Art of Polish Cooking" by Alina Zeranska

Witamy!  Many folks have asked us what was the inspiration for our own new cook book, and it was my Mom’s tome…nothing else.  My Mom wrote this iconic cook book in 1967.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving because it still sells a few hundred copies every year - all over the world.  We’ve always loved Polish food and every time Laura made a dish from of my Mom’s book, we would find her notes on changes to the recipes, suggested over 35 years of continuous improvements. And of course Laura made some of her own improvements as well. So we approached Pelican Books, the current publishers, and proposed a new and improved version…with recipes that are updated for modern kitchens. After all, when Mom wrote the book we weren’t using microwaves, immersion blenders, or bullet choppers. Cuisinart was just a dream and there was no going "on line" to download the latest recipes.  But Dr. Milbourn Calhoun, publisher of Pelican Publishing Company, suggested that we write a new book as part of their classic recipe series – 96 pages, upscale, lots of photography, and sold for a reasonable price. We gratefully agreed and off we went on our journey.

At 18 years of age, I was the very first editor of The Art of Polish Cooking.  Since English was not my Mom’s first language, she struggled a bit with spelling, grammar and tenses - all that stuff we were supposed to learn in middle school grammar class.  So, under the assumption that some of that grammar actually stuck in my head, I was tasked to spend at least an hour a day, for weeks, reading and correcting each recipe and each story that told of the culture and tradition associated with Polish cuisine.  I made hundreds of red pencil notes in the margins of smeary erasable typewriter paper.  And the debates over how to turn a particular phrase…just went on and on.  I was totally glad when the book was done. Today, as Mom is up in that “glorious kitchen above,” I can freely admit that I hurried through a lot of it.  As we now read her pages more closely, my young age and anxiousness to “just get through it” kind of shows.  But, I can also say very gratefully, that I was thoroughly enriched by going through the process (even though I had no clue back then).  I tasted almost all the dishes she tested, and I absorbed volumes about the customs and traditions.  There is a whole lot of great food in that book.  Ours may be prettier and our recipes have been refreshed for modern kitchens, but for any serious advocate of Polish cuisine, there should be a place on your shelf for The Art of Polish Cooking by Alina Zeranska.  Today I’m thankful for going through it all.  Thanks Mom!

Walnut Cookies
In Europe, back in the day, it was so tedious to squeeze cookies into different shapes from a pastry bag.  Today with a modern cookie gun, creating and enjoying these old fashioned goodies can be a snap and more fun as well.

2 egg whites, lightly beaten
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 cups walnuts, ground
½ cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon rum

Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Load the cook gun and create a variety of small fun shapes on a buttered cookie sheet.  Bake at 275 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.  Smacznego!

Yields about 6 dozen, depending on size.