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!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Berry Berry Not Contrary

Witamy!  You may be surprised to learn that Poland is one of the leading suppliers of blueberries to all of Europe.  I did a Google search for “blueberries in Poland” came up with a lot of Polish websites for farms promoting their berry crops.  I guess the internet has even reached berry farms in the Polish country side.  Sounds like a field trip is in order! 
Here in Virginia we’re still seeing blueberries at local farmers markets and on the grocery store shelves.  Soon they’ll be getting scarcer and more expensive because they’ll be flying in from other regions.  So now is a “berry good time” to “get blued” (yuk!) and satisfy those cravings while you can.  Serious fans of blueberries could try making blueberry pierogi.  The recipe in our book for fruit fillings, on page 71, is a delicious and easy winner.  But my favorite way to enjoy berries is with just a little cream poured over the top.  My cardiologist would remind me that this is not the healthiest way to eat fruit, but once in a while is acceptable.  My Mom believed that as we get older it’s OK to be a bit self indulgent, otherwise how else will we get pleasure from life that we deserve.  And in the same vein, both Julia Child and Paula Deen’s recipes are full of butter.  Moderation is the operative word.
Speaking of sweets, have you seen this curious behavior pattern about desserts that we’ve been  seeing lately?   It’s about how some folks react when offered a dessert in a restaurant...they throw up their hands with a loud self-righteous declaration that they’re off all desserts.  Then they sit back and enviously stare while their dining companions are enjoying a bite or two of something sweet.  But then some have the gall to steal a bite of someone else’s treat.  In my humble view, a little dessert once in a while is perfectly OK.  In fact exposing your palate periodically to something sweet and wonderful goes a long way to re-balancing your taste buds and increasing life’s simple enjoyments.  It’s OK to share...we and a lot of our friends do.  It’s OK to taste a couple of bites and push the rest away (that’s not one of my skills), and it’s OK to choose a dessert that’s not way over the top (have you ever seen those “molten lava chocolate cakes” in some restaurants...there’s enough sweetness there to drive your blood sugars through the stratosphere!)  But yes, dessert can be OK.
Here is an easy summer delight that is “reasonable” yet quite tasty.
Polish Blueberry Cake
½ pound butter (or margarine if you must)
1¼ cups sugar
4 eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
Plain breadcrumbs
1½ pints blueberries (3 cups)
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

Beat the butter and sugar very well.  Add the eggs alternately with the flour.  Beat 5 more minutes.  Add vanilla and baking powder.

Fold batter into a 9 x 12 inch pan which has been buttered and sprinkled evenly with breadcrumbs.  Sprinkle the top with all the blueberries.  Bake in a hot 400 degree F oven for 30 minutes.   Hint: test for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of the pan.  The cake will be done when the toothpick comes out fairly dry but with a few crumbs attached.  A wet toothpick means the batter is not yet done.  But if the pick comes out completely clean, the cake may be too dry and over done.

Remove pan from the oven.  Cool to room temperature.  Sprinkle top with confectioners’ sugar through a sieve.  Cut into 2-inch squares in the pan before plating.  Serve with your favorite after-dinner beverage such as Port or a chilled, sweet dessert wine.  Smacznego!
Yields 15 to 20 portions, depending on size. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Getting "Potted" - Polish Style

Witamy!  Do you have a favorite, “go-to” cooking pot?  Why do you like it so much?  Ours is wide 5-quart beauty that is well into its golden years, having been purchased over 35 years ago, as part of a cookery set Laura bought before we got married.  Occasionally we still see this same brand of pots being hawked at home & garden shows by salesmen who cook every type of ingredients without sticking, burning or ever ruining the food.  They’re right next to the miracle wiping cloth, miracle mops, and miracle knives that cut everything from paper to my fingers.  Yeah, right! 

We’ve bought a lot of pots over the years:  small saucy pots, big lobster pots, pasta pots, steamer pots, non-stick pots, outrageously expensive pots, just about every kind of specialty pot ever made.  But the one we keep going back to is this 35 year-old mature, shiny, vessel that has cooked more pasta, chili, spaghetti sauce, stews, soups, and braised roasts, than I can remember.  It’s wider than most, fits the burner exactly, heats the bottom uniformly, and doesn’t burn stuff unless we forget to stir or crank the heat up too high.  With all the fancy kitchen tools on the market, this pot is a gem and I expect will be with us forever. 

A couple of weeks ago we braised a hunk of pork butt in our favorite pot, for a sweet‘n spicy pulled pork recipe we brought back from Costa Rica.  That reminded me of how tasty braised roasts can be.  If you don’t cook the meat too long, the liquids in which the meat cooks impart moist and flavorful results that are amazing.  Here is a really easy recipe for a tasty pork roast that is a sure winner for family and company alike!  Smacznego!

Braised Pork Loin - Polish Style
Serves 6
1½ pounds boneless pork loin
2 tablespoons seasoned flour
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¾ cup apple cider, apple juice or water
3 large onions, halved and cut in ¼ inch slices
½ teaspoon salt
3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut in ¼ inch slices
2 tablespoon flour
Additional salt and pepper to taste

Dredge the pork loin in the seasoned flour.  Heat oil in a 4-5 quart oven-safe pot over medium heat until hot but not smoking.  Brown the meat on all sides and set it aside.

Add onions to the pot and sauté on medium heat, stirring occasionally until softened and just starting to turn golden in color - about 5 minutes.  Add ½ teaspoon salt and continue to sauté and stir until onions are golden and caramelized.  This may take up to 8 more minutes.  Remove the onions and set aside for later.

Add the apple cider, juice or water to the pot and return the pork to the pot.  It should sit in about one to two inches of liquid.  Cover pot with a tight fitting lid and simmer for 1 hour.  Check the pot once in a while to make sure the liquid has not evaporated.  Add more if needed.

Add the cooked onions and apples to the pot and simmer for an additional 30 minutes.  Remove the meat and keep warm on a platter covered with foil. 

Strain the pan drippings through a sieve, pressing down on the solids to push all the juices out.  Discard the solids and return the strained juices to the pot.  Add 2 tablespoons flour and bring to a boil, stirring frequently to make a sauce.  Adjust seasonings to taste.

Slice the pork thinly, arrange on a pretty serving platter, and pour the sauce over the meat. 

Serve with red cabbage, mashed potatoes, Polish beer or your favorite hearty red wine.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Summer Survival - Polish Style

Witamy!  We haven’t been cooking a lot of traditional Polish food lately.  We’ve been grilling almost every day to avoid heating up the kitchen with pots and pans.  Plus it’s healthier.  And we’ve been eating more fish that someone said is “brain food” – I can use that!  Salmon is plentiful and does really well on the grill, especially if the filets are thicker than half an inch.  I like to baste our salmon in a 50:50 mix of melted butter (or canola oil), lemon juice, and with a tablespoon or two of fresh chopped dill whisked in (dill being the honorary national herb of Polish cuisine)!  Thinner filets can be poached on the stovetop in less than 10 minutes...add a quarter cup of dry white wine to the butter/lemon/dill mix.  Grill  (or simmer) the salmon until just barely done, then serve with sliced tomato over which you have sprinkled more fresh dill. 

Almost every cuisine has preparations for salmon.  It’s mostly a matter of changing up the herbs and other flavorings.  So here is another way to serve salmon in a uniquely Polish style that works well for a light supper on a hot sunny day.  And it’s guaranteed to make any Polish Bacia (Gramma) or Dziadzius (Grandpa) smile.

Chilled Salmon - Polish Style
6 small salmon steaks
1 celery stalk
1 onion, quartered
1 parsnip (optional)
Salt to taste
3 canned beets (plain, not pickled), sliced, well drained
1 cucumber, sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 hardboiled egg, chopped finely
½ cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons fresh chopped dill (dried will work if fresh is not available)

Precook the salmon by placing the salmon steaks, celery, onion and parsnip in a flat pan.  Cover with boiling water, season with salt, and simmer about 15 minutes, or until just under done.  Let stand in the water until the fish cools to room temperature.   You can make this a day ahead, but seal and refrigerate the fish overnight.  Bring it out early enough for the salmon to warm up to room temperature - about 45 minutes.

Place the fish steaks on a long serving platter.  Lightly dress with a little “smear” of mayonnaise across the top of the steaks.  Sprinkle with chopped egg and then sprinkle with dill.  Arrange the cucumber slices on one side of the fish and sprinkle with dill.  Arrange the beet slices on the other side of the fish.  Lightly sprinkle the whole platter with lemon juice just before serving.  Pair with a very dry white wine if desired.  Smacznego!