Tuesday, November 29, 2011

And The Secret Ingredient Is...

Witamy!  The secret ingredient in any dish is the flavor enhancer you don’t tell anybody about!  Recently we were in the Kielbasa Factory, our favorite Polish deli, www.kielbasafactory.com, and just perusing the shelves of imported condiments.  We saw this display of Mushroom Bouillon from Poland and bought a box, along with all the other Polish goodies that fell into our shopping basket.  Laura tried it in a recipe that contained mushrooms as one ingredient.  KAPOW!  The depth of flavors that came out of that dish, after adding just a few ounces of the mushroom bouillon, was like night and day.  Not only was the flavor of mushrooms more intense, but all the other ingredients tasted more pronounced as well.  I guess it must have something to do with the chemical effect that flavor enhancers have on food.  Salt is a flavor enhancer which chemically brings out flavors, so that’s why under-salting any dish leaves the other ingredients tasting bland. 
On another shelf at Kielbasa Factory, was a bottle of Maggi.  We used to keep a bottle around in the fridge but pitched it a while back because it was several years old and had all this disgusting crud dried up inside the cap.  Sound familiar?  But I remember that my Mom was a big fan of Maggi, putting a few drops in many dishes.  The label is pretty crazy because there’s not much “natural” about it.  By itself it tastes like a very intense mix of soy and meat extract, though it contains no soy.  Maggi has been around since 1872 starting in Switzerland.  It has since become a well-known part of everyday culinary culture in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and in Poland.  A few drops in soups, stews, gravies, dark sauces, etc, go a long way.  I just can’t get over how much better foods taste with just a few drops added to the recipe.  It’s magic! 

We do a lot of shopping in a Latino/Asian supermarket where the fruits and vegetables are cheaper than in our local American grocery store, plus they carry a lot of European products as well.  One of the Latino seasonings is Sazon – a unique blend of spices and seasonings that enhances everything from spicy soups to hamburgers to chili.  The box says it’s “magic in a packet” but the ingredients include coriander, annatto, salt, MSG, and a lot of artificial stuff I can’t pronounce.  But it does enhance our flavors noticeably, and whenever we’re cooking spicy, Sazon get’s added liberally.
So the bottom line is that using flavor enhancers can be the key to unlocking amazing flavors, and whether or not you reveal you secret is totally up to you...We won’t tell!

Here is a Polish-style Beef Stew that is a great example of how a basic dish can be kicked up a few notches by using a flavor enhancer.  Smacznego!

1 ½ pounds sirloin, or other good stewing beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, diced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups strong beef broth, from bouillon cubes or ready-mixed
    Optional:  2 ounces of mushroom bouillon or 5 drops of Maggi One 1-pound can chopped tomatoes, unflavored
2 green peppers, diced
4 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Salt & pepper the beef cubes.  At the same time sauté the onions and brown the beef cubes on all sides.  The onions should be golden.  Transfer to your favorite pot and be sure to scrape all the brown crud from the skillet and add it to the pot – that brown stuff is solid flavor.  Add the bouillon, tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, mushrooms.  Add mushroom bouillon or Maggi, if desired.  Cover loosely; bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer until meat is tender, up to two hours depending on the cut of meat used.  Watch that the liquid does not all evaporate.  Add water as needed.  Just before serving, mix in the flour and sour cream to thicken the sauce.  Sprinkle parsley over the top.  Serve with a mixed salad, your favorite green vegetable and a hearty red wine.
Serves 4 to 5

Friday, November 18, 2011

Winner Winner, Turkey Dinner - Polish Style

Witamy!  It’s almost time for the American Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the traditional trimmings.  Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday to be embraced by anyone, regardless of where the family tree began.  There’s no one traditional menu any more...culinary traditions vary from family to family as each cook’s version has evolved over the years.  Each family’s Thanksgiving table usually showcases one or more family favorites...some beloved by all and maybe some favored by just one or two family members.  It’s all about compromise,  for instance  I’m not a fan of green beans sauced with canned cream of mushroom soup, or lime green jello holding small chunks of cream cheese, but if the others don’t mind my jellied cranberry sauce (right out of the can),  then everyone is a winner. 

Most of our Thanksgiving dinners were spent with my parents.  Laura took over the lead for preparing the feasts very soon after we got married.  So she was in control of the menu.  The early years featured dishes that she grew up with, prepared by her Mom and Grandmothers.  But as she gained more experience and as our taste preferences changed, our menu slowly evolved.  Several decades later we have pretty much established our own traditional Thanksgiving menu.  But our list of delicacies can vary as she occasionally adds new dishes and new recipes to the “groaning board” - most of the time with enthusiastic acceptance. 

Have you ever had Turducken?  This is supposedly a Lousiana specialty consisting of a de-boned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck, which is stuffed into a deboned turkey.  Turduckens are generally stuffed with a highly seasoned breadcrumb mixture with cajun sausage.  We've never had one either.  Nor have we ever deep fried our turkey.  I guess we're traditionalists at heart! 

Roast turkey is not just an American specialty.  There are some pretty good turkey recipes in my Mom files, but for us it has always started with a frozen Butterball, procured a few weeks early after scouring the newspaper ads for the best sale prices.  I know that the purists like to go for fresh, organic, free range turkeys, and we keep promising ourselves that we’ll “go natural” next year, but somehow always gravitate back to our comfort zone.  Maybe we’ll get really adventuresome next year – go organic  AND deep-fry that bird, or maybe even push the culinary envelope further with a turducken!

In any event, here is one of my Mom’s turkey recipes.  Frankly, I’m not sure if it is Polish or not, but we can keep that secret among ourselves.  And besides, you could always add a little fresh dill to the stuffing mix, and voila, it immediately becomes a Polish-style stuffing!   Smacznego!
* * * * * * *

Turkey Stuffed with Almonds and Raisins

One 14 to 16 pound turkey
½ cup butter, melted

 6 slices white bread
¾ cup milk
Your turkey’s liver, finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3 eggs separated
½ cup raisins
3 tablespoons almonds, peeled and slivered
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon sugar
One dash Allspice
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 cup of breadcrumbs

 Soak the bread in the milk and squeeze out the liquid well.  Combine with the liver, butter, egg yolks, raisins, almonds and spices.  Beat the egg whites with salt until stiff.  Fold into the stuffing mix a scoop at a time, alternating with the bread crumbs. Mix lightly.

Stuff the neck and body cavities and close with skewers. Brush with butter.  Place in the oven which has been preheated to 450 degrees.  Drop the thermostat to 325 degrees and roast about 15 minutes per pound until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.  Baste skin frequently with the drippings.  Sprinkle skin with salt about half way.  Be sure to use a meat thermometer to gauge doneness (160 degrees) making sure the probe is set in the meat and not in the stuffing.   There are a ton of recipes out there for roasting turkey ...your favorite method will be great, as long as you use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cookbook Update

Witamy!  Several of you have asked how the book is doing, so here is an update. 

We’re actually very pleased with how the book is being received...we’ve seen several very praising newspaper reviews and everyone who has flipped through the pages has loved it.  The 100+ stunning photos have really been admired and a lot of folks have commented that they would never buy a coobook without a lot of pictures. 

Over the last several months we’ve been to many Polish American church festivals up and down the east coast, from Long Island to Florida, visiting several cities such as Baltimore, Silver Spring MD, Doylestown, Pa. and more.  With Christmas gift giving in mind, quite a few folks are buying multiple copies for their families and friends who don’t have access to the classic recipes.  One gentleman bought 6 copies to give to each of his grown kids.  Then there was our ex-neighbor who bought ten autographed copies for all her “foodie” friends who collect cookbooks.  And there was the colleague I used to work with who also bought ten signed copies and declared that his Christmas shopping was done in one fell swoop! 

 This weekend we have two signing events scheduled – on Saturday at Salt & Pepper Bookstore in Occoquan VA, and Sunday at the Kielbasa Factory in Rockville MD.  As soon as that event is over, we’re hitting I-95 South for Florida, where on Tuesday the 22nd, we’ll be at The Villages, Florida, for a meeting of the Polish American Club there.  We’ll be giving a presentation about the making of the book, and several volunteer members will be preparing dishes from our book for a tasting event.  Plus, Laura’s Mom and Sister live in Florida not too far from The Villages, so that will give us a chance to enjoy Thanksgiving with them, while our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter spend the holiday with his family. 

We're generally pleased with the way our book is selling, but there have been a few surprises along the way. One is how the book is finding its way abroad.  We’ve seen it advertized on several websites around the world, including in Germany, Australia and Norway.  Another is that our publisher has told us that there may be some interest in Poland to acquire the rights and translate it into Polish...now that is a huge twist - a Polish cookbook, written in English and translated back to Polish - go figure!

So it’s going well.  We appreciate everyone’s best wishes for our success.  And if you haven’t purchased a signed copy yet for yourself or to give for Christmas, just click the buy button at the top of this page.  The PayPal process is really easy.

Do zobaczenia!  (See ya!) Laura and Peter

Monday, November 7, 2011

101 Bottles of Sauce on the Wall...

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that Washington DC is not a food town! 

This weekend the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show came to Washington DC for the 6th year in a row.  Thousands upon thousands of enthusiastic foodies came out to rub shoulders with celebrity chefs, attend cooking workshops, buy the latest autographed cookbooks, and sample the countless varieties of yummy foods.  There were hot sauces, BBQ sauces, pasta sauces, dipping sauces, jams & jellies, cupcakes, cheeses, fresh herbs, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, wines & spirits and much more!  The convention floor was jam packed with vendors, chefs, bakers, cookbook writers, and the occasional miracle mop, sharp knife and never-stick fry pan vendors.  It was astounding!  After cruising up and down the aisles for a couple of hours, our green “trick-or-treat bags” were stuffed with coupons, samples, brochures, and products we had purchased.   Plus, our bellies were stuffed with crackers, sauces, cheese, wine, cakes, beef dishes, and bunches of other goodies.  Our taste buds were definitely on over-load.  We can’t imagine that the food stalls did much business with all the free samples within arm’s reach.

One of the most creative products we saw on the floor was a plant-based food called Cavi-art.   For caviar lovers, this product has the taste, look and smell that amazingly rivals the real fish roe.  Can you keep a secret?  It’s actually made from seaweed...really!  Cavi-art was developed in Denmark and comes in a wide range of colors and styles.  I tasted several, including the salmon and beluga styles  and loved them all.  Check them out at: http://www.plantbasedfoods.com/.

“The Pickle Ladies”  are Ashlee and Jenny  from North Carolina.  They offered four flavors to sample.  They’re based on family recipes, all natural and absolutely delicious.  We bought several jars – need I say more?  www.missjennyspickles.com

Another very original product was the line-up of nine sauces sold by Quebec-based La Maison Le Grand.  They come in foil pouches that can be easily squeezed to extract the sauces.  We tasted several of the varieties and bought:  Lemon Confit & Pumkin Seed,   4-Nuts & Cheese Pesto,  Olive & Sun Dried Tomato Tapenade,  and a Greek Tzatziki sauce to go on grilled meats and sandwiches.  Yum!   www.maisonlegrand.com

Finally, a big shout out to a local bakery called Cakes By Happy Eatery.  They have retail outlets in Centreville and Manassas, VA, and do private and corporate catering as well.  Cakes, pastries and desserts for all occasions.  We were invited to sample a range of their cupcakes.  All flavors were great, but surprisingly enough the ones we enjoyed the most were their sugar-free and gluten-free varieties, both great choices for sinners with dietary restrictions. www.cakesbyhappyeatery.com.

This is a great food show.  Attendees get chances to shake hands (and maybe even the occasional hug) with popular TV stars such as Paula Deen, Giada, Guy Fieri, Jaques Pepin, and others.  There are scores of expert presentations and workshops on topics ranging from knife skills to planning parties, and all things food in between.  There were over 300 exhibitors showing off their best stuff.  And it was a great opportunity to observe, learn, taste, and immerse ourselves in foodie heaven.  In 2012, the show will be visiting Atlanta, Houston and Washington DC again.  Watch their website  http://www.metrocooking.com/  for exact dates.  YUM!