Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dill Soup - Zupa Koperkowa

Witamy!  We recently received a request to share a recipe for Dill Soup.  I don’t remember my Mom having cooked this dish so we fired up Google and started browsing through Polish cooking sites.  After finding recipes on several sites in Poland, we concluded quickly, that this is about as “Polish” as you can get...showcasing the flavor of dill, which I’ve said over and over, should be declared the national herb of Polish cuisine.  This soup is simple, fresh and a snap to prepare.

Fresh is the best way to go!   We buy all our dill in fresh bunches from a local Latino/Asian market.  They carry it almost the whole year round and the taste of fresh dill is just so much more flavorful than the dried variety from a jar.  The newly harvested bunches are sold with their roots still attached so we wrap the roots in moist paper towels, place them in a one-gallon plastic bag and keep them crisp and cool in the lettuce bin of the fridge.  It’s easy to chop a few tablespoons from the bunch, and the dill stays fresh for more than a week.

Laura looked at several different recipes, some of which have you making your own stock from meaty bones and vegetables.  But she wanted to give you a simpler and easier version that could be made in less than 30 minutes.  We had it for our supper tonight, with a side of Marinated Beet Salad (pg 25 in our book) which was featured in the September issue of Healthy Aging Magazine.  YUM!

Tough choices:  Dill Soup can be served with either quartered hard boiled egg as an ingredient (as with the iconic sorrel soup), or with dribbled batter dumplings (lane kluski in Polish).  This is my favorite;  when I was young, “dribbles”  were an infrequent treat, even though they are incredibly easy to make.

More choices:  according to the recipes Laura reviewed, these days in Poland Dill Soup is also being eaten with potatoes (cooked in the soup), with rice, or even egg noodles. I'm thinking Orzo, but that's not aso Polish...regardless of the starch you choose, this is a tasty traditional soup dish that everyone will love.   Smacznego!

Dill Soup - Serves 4
2 tablespoons butter, divided
¾ cup dill, finely chopped
6 cups of stock, either: beef, veal, chicken or vegetable
3 tablespoons flour
½ cup cold water
1 egg yolk
½ cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

• Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet, add ¼ cup dill and sauté gently over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes.
• Heat stock to boiling and add the dill and butter mixture. 
• Dissolve the flour in the cold water and add to the stock.  Bring the stock back to a low boil.
• If you are cooking the string dumplings (see below), dribble the dumpling mixture into the boiling stock and cook for one minute.  Keep soup at a low boil to avoid disintegrating the dumplings.
• Beat the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of butter.  Gradually add 1 cup of the boiling stock and stir well.  Stir in the sour cream until the mixture is smooth.  Return this mixture to the soup pot.
• Simmer for a minute or two but do not boil.  Turn off the heat, add the remaining dill, stir, cover and let stand for 2-3 minutes.
• Adjust seasonings.

String Dumplings
1 large egg
3½ tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
• Mix egg with flour and salt.  Beat with wisk or fork for 2 minutes.  Dribble batter slowly into boiling stock from a spoon or fork.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Czarnina - Polish Duck Blood Soup

Witamy!  Over the past few weeks we’ve been signing our book at several Polish church festivals up and down the East Coast.  Quite a few folks have asked if our book contains a recipe for Czarnina (Duck Blood Soup) which holds a legendary spot in old traditional Polish cuisine.  Poles remember it from their childhoods and having tasted it at their Babcia’s table.  Today, I submit that this dish is one of those legends that gets bigger with age, but it also fades with age when trying to remember how this soup actually tasted.   Duck blood??  For real?? 
Even though I can’t get my head wrapped around the idea of sipping the blood of a duck, even cooked, we would have included it in our book – if the ingredients were easier to find.  I called our favorite butcher and was told that fresh ducks were readily available, but only cleaned and dressed.  With all the regulations on commercial food handling, I’m guessing that no one will guarantee the freshness and safety of the blood.  I suppose one could get fresh blood directly from a farmer...if one knew a farmer.  Do you know how to get fresh duck blood soup in the U.S.?
While researching this post, I found a no-blood version, called Blind Duck Blood Soup. It still has a lot of flavor, but avoiding the blood is a better way to go, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s an imitation version that gets a lot of flavor from fresh or smoked neck bones, either pork or some variety of fowl – whatever you can get.  Try it and let us know how it worked. 

 Ślepo Czarnina - Blind (or Bloodless) Duck Blood SoupServes 8
• 3 pounds fresh or smoked neck bones: pork, turkey, duck, etc.
• 1 pound dried prunes, pitted
• 1 stalk celery
• 1 sprig parsley
• 1 bay leaf
• 5 whole allspice
• 2 whole cloves
• ¼ cup raisins
• 1 small tart apple, chopped
• 1/4 cup vinegar or lemon juice
• ½ to 1 tablespoon sugar
• 2 cups light cream
• 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• Salt and pepper to taste

1. If using fresh neck bones, blanch, drain and rinse them.  Place blanched or smoked neck bones in a large pot or Dutch oven. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the top.
2. While the bones are coming to a boil, make a small bag from cheese cloth (or a clean cotton hankie) and place in it the celery, parsley, allspice and cloves.  Add it to the soup pot, reduce heat, add vinegar and bay leaf and simmer, partially covered, for 1 hour.
3. Add prunes, apple, and season slowly with sugar, salt and pepper (watch the salt if using smoked neck bones).  Bring back to a boil, reduce heat and simmer slowly, partially covered, for 1 hour or until meat falls off the bone.
4. Taste again and adjust the seasonings, including the vinegar or lemon juice, to your own palate.  Add the seasonings slowly, and keep tasting.  The broth should have a slightly sweet tone from the plums and sugar, but with a light and soft contrasting tartness from the vinegar or lemon juice.  Remove meat from bones and return to pot.
5. Turn off the heat, cool soup and then refrigerate until fat is congealed on top for easy skimming and removal. 
6. Just before serving, in a medium bowl, “cream” the cold soup by adding a few ladles of cold soup and slowly whisking in the flour and cream; and whisking (or blending) until very smooth and all the flour lumps are gone.  Pour this mixture back into the soup pot and heat gently until soup is thickened and any raw flour taste is cooked out.
Serve over noodles, if desired.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Pinch of This and a Pinch of That!

Witamy!   Our readers really appreciate  that Laura tested and retested each recipe to translate Babcia’s comments about adding “a pinch of this and a pinch of that” into specific measuring-spoon directions.  That’s huge for someone who is just learning to cook, or doesn’t yet have enough confidence to put their own twist on something.  And of course it’s huge when doing pastry  because a big pinch or a little pinch of an ingredient like baking powder can mean the difference between a winning dessert and a total bomb. 

But the fact is that many of the world’s great comfort foods do not require specific measurements at all and thus are impossible to screw up.  Examples exist in every regional cuisine:  Louisiana gumbo, Polish Hunters Stew (Bigos), French bouillabaisse, San Francisco-style cioppino, Chinese stir fry, and so on.  These are all dishes that were born from a need to create hearty meals from whatever ingredients were available from the land.  Over time they were popularized by creative chefs into “haute cuisine” for which restaurants now charge a small fortune.  But their humble beginnings always remind us of their basic simplicity, and that anyone can make them taste out of this world, with very little precision and without detailed directions. 

Sausage and Cabbage (pg. 57 in our book) is a perfect example.  While the printed recipe in our book has been perfected with exact measurements and proportions, it can be a tossed together for a wonderful supper by just mixing the basic ingredients, without stressing over the amounts.  So let’s you and I make this  dish the old fashioned way – a bit of this and a glob of that!   In this recipe and others like it, more or less onion is up to you...more or less kielbasa is up to you...more or less potato is totally up to you.  Success is ONLY about how the dish tastes to you – just chop everything into bite-size chunks and add the flavorings - but very cautiously.  And keep tasting because you can always add more salt, but you can't take it back out.

So let’s go for it! 
Your Ingredients:
·       1 head of green cabbage, (a small head , 6 to 8“ diameter, will yield about four big portions)
·       1 ring of smoked (ready to eat) kielbasa, about 1½ lb. (use the best you can find)
·       1 to 2 tablespoons butter (or margarine)
·       4 or 5 five small, new potatoes  (1 old big one will work but the new potatoes are more tender)
·       1 small to medium onion
·       1½ cups of chicken broth
·       1 to 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
·       1 teaspoon cornstarch
·       A pinch of sugar  (less than ¼ teaspoon)
·       Salt & pepper to taste
·       ½ tablespoon lemon Juice

The Prep:
1.     Get all the ingredients out, handy on the counter
2.     Find a large pot (5 or 6 quarts) with lid
3.     Rough-chop the cabbage and slice up the onion;
4.     Cut potatoes into bite-size cubes,
5.     Slice the sausage into bite-size pieces - ½ inch max.

The Cooking Steps:
1.     Heat the pot on medium, melt the butter but don’t let it go brown;
2.     Add the onions and sausage and saute until the onions just start to turn golden;
3.     Add a 1/4 cup or so of broth, stir in the cabbage and cook until it becomes limp;
4.     Add the potatoes and a cup of chicken broth;  cover and cook until potatoes are just soft;  (about 5 min or so, depending on the size of your chunks)
5.     Put the rest of the broth in a bowl, stir in the cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice, mix well and add to the pot.
6.     Bring the mix back to a low boil uncovered until the liquid thickens a bit  (maybe 5 min);
7.     Add half of the salt, pepper and caraway seeds and stir well.  Let it cook for a couple more minutes and TASTE.  Add more salt, pepper and caraway seeds if desired.
8.     And that’s all there is to it - IT’S DONE!

Serve with hunks of fresh rye bread and ice cold vodka shots, your favorite beer or a hearty red wine.  Smacznego!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Adult Beverages - Polish Style

WITAMY!  Poles love to eat!  And we love to drink as well.  Truth be told, much of the traditional food goes better when served with a little adult beverage.  A nice robust red wine, a cold Polish beer or an ice-cold shot of Polish vodka go so well with Hunters Stew (Bigos), the signature dish in our book on page 45, or other comfort food that warms your soul.  When enjoyed responsibly and in moderation, a little alcohol with your food helps the digestion and enhances the flavors...but always in moderation! 

Poles have always enjoyed their brandies, cordials, flavored vodkas and similar drinks.  Some of the well known varieties include:  Zubrówka (buffalo grass vodka),  Jarzembiak, (rowan berry flavored brandy),  Pieprzowa (pepper vodka), or Citrinówka (citrus flavored vodka).  My Dad loved to infuse lemon peel or orange peel in vodka, and the results were delicious - not so strong as Limoncello, but distinct and enjoyable as well.  There are a lot of flavored vodkas from many countries  on the market today, but I always thought the idea of making my own was much more appealing.  It’s really easy and they taste great.  They’re a great conversation starter at parties, and the projects leave you with a sense of satisfaction after being enjoyed by your guests.

Here are recipes for two very traditional Polish liquors.  Start them now and they’ll be ready for a great Christmas treat with your holiday meals. 

ŚLIWÓWKA – Christmas Plum Liquor
2 quarts vodka – 100 proof if you have it
1 cup sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
2 to 3 quarts plums, not fully ripe (Italian plums are great)
4 whole cloves

Start this now, while there are plums in the stores.  Rinse the plums, cut in half, remove the pits and place them in a sterilized one gallon jar.  Pour one half of the vodka into a large sauce pan.  Warm up the vodka slowly and add the cloves and cinnamon sticks.  Stir in the sugar slowly and completely dissolve by whisking or stirring.  Let the vodka cool to room temperature, then pour into the jar over the plums.  Add remaining vodka.  Seal the jar tightly and place it in a dark place such as a pantry or closet.  Forget about it for one to three months.  Break it open for Christmas and serve in small liquor glasses as an aperitif with sweets.  (Save the plums if you wish to add a few pieces to your traditional Christmas compote).  Smacznego!

WIŚNIAK – Cherry Liquor
½ pound fresh dark cherries
1 cup sugar
2 cups quality vodka

Slit each cherry on two sides and remove the pits.  Place cherries in a sterilized 1 quart jar.  Pour the sugar over the cherries (do not stir or shake the jar).  Slowly add the vodka down the side of the jar until full, but leave a ½ inch space at the top.  Make sure the cherries are completely covered with vodka, but again do not stir or shake the mixture.  Seal the jar tightly and put in the pantry or closet at room temperature for 3 months.  After 3 months strain the liquor and it is ready to serve in small liquor glasses.  Keep the cherries if you wish for a tasty compote with a kick.  Smacznego