Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year’s Day Comfort – Pork & Sauerkraut

Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku - Happy New Year!


New Years Day is for recovery.  Whether you partied hard the night before, or not at all, it is a day to relax, “chill,” and just hang out.  The comfort of pork and sauerkraut is just perfect whether you will be planted in front of the TV cheering for your favorite team, or enjoying friends and family in some other way.   Taking a mid-afternoon snooze would be a luxury! 


In years past, we’ve often invited friends and neighbors over for Hunters Stew (Bigos), thought of by many as the national dish of Poland.  That’s it on the cover of our book and the recipe is on page 45.  It’s a delicious stew of sauerkraut, pieces of pork and smoked sausage (kielbasa) and flavored with dried mushrooms, bacon, maybe a bit of apple, and some crushed tomatoes.  The beauty of Hunters Stew is that it cannot be screwed up because it doesn’t matter what are the proportions of the ingredients.  We use whatever leftover meats are in the freezer, saved for just this purpose.  Hunters Stew is best reheated so it can and should be made a few days early when you have more time.  Serve it with young boiled potatoes on the side (drizzled with melted butter and fresh chopped dill) and shots of icy Polish vodka or a hearty red wine.  OMG – so awesome.

But this year Laura chose to go a slightly different route – a rolled pork loin roast with the sauerkraut – a delicious change of pace.  Again, this is one of those dishes you probably can’t screw up, but a few tips may serve you well.  The advantage of a rolled pork loin roast (usually seen in two pieces tied together with butchers’ twine) is the thin layer of fat on the roast and often between the pieces that will keep the meat moist.  These days pork tenderloins and some center cut chops are so lean that they don’t have much flavor.  We’ve been trying to buy pork with the bone in, or at least with some fat on it.  A four-pound pork roast will only serve four or five people because it will shrink while cooking.

Take a handful of dried mushrooms and rehydrate them in a cup of hot water.  Let them sit in the water for at 30 minutes.  Save the mushroom water.

Open two or three pounds of good sauerkraut and wash it well.  Rinsing and draining a couple of times will take away a lot of the sharp briny tang.  Set aside.

Salt and pepper the roast generously.  Heat two tablespoons of cooking oil in a very hot skillet and brown the roast on all sides.  Peter controls the roast with two pairs of tongs and not a fork to avoid making holes for the juices to leak.  Three to five minutes on each side should give you a nice dark crust on the roast which seals the juices.  Set the roast aside.

Slice a medium onion.  Scrape the skillet with a wooden spatula to loosen the residue from browning.  Add another tablespoon of oil if needed and sauté both the onion and sauerkraut in the hot skillet until golden.  Add the dried mushrooms and their water, and mix well.  Taste and decide how else you’d like to flavor the sauerkraut.  For a slightly sweeter flavor add half of a tart apple which has been cut into small slices, and a tablespoon or two of tomato paste.  For a more savory flavor, add a handful of sliced fresh dark mushrooms, and a tablespoon or two of caraway seeds instead of the apple.  Taste again and adjust the flavorings as desired, keeping in mind that the flavors will intensify as the roast braises.

Depending on the skillet you used, either place the roast into the sauerkraut or transfer everything to a small oven-proof braising pan.  For the roast to stay moist and braise properly be sure to have an inch of liquid in the bottom of the pan and push the sauerkraut up around the sides of the roast.

Braise the pork & sauerkraut low and slow for about two hours at 325°F.  Check your pan every half hour or so to make sure it’s not drying out.  Add liquid as needed...any good bullion is great.  The pork will be done when you stick a fork in it, twist and the meat will be almost falling apart – about two hours.  Some more time won’t hurt it but if time is short please be absolutely sure the internal temperature is at least 160°F.
Serve with a salad or your favorite fresh vegetables.  Pair with a nice hearty red wine, European-style beer or icy shots of Polish vodka.

FYI, Polish Classic Desserts will be released around February 15th and it contains amazing photography and awesome classical dessert recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation but updated for modern kitchens.  You can reserve your own autographed and personally dedicated copy now (no money due) by clicking on the RESERVE button at the top right.  We’ll send you an email on the day the book becomes available.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Crepes With Sauerkraut & Mushrooms for Wigilia

Wesolych Swiat!

Our traditional Christmas Eve supper (Wigilia) is in a few days. This year we are having some friends join us for Wigilia who are not Polish and Laura has been thinking about the menu.  But we are determined to stay true to our family traditions. That’s important!
When Peter was young, his family faithfully followed most of the big traditions...starting Wigilia at the light of the first star, sharing the wafer (oplatek), setting an extra place at the table for the wayfaring stranger, and so on. This year, with our young granddaughter at the table, the practicality of maintaining regularly scheduled meal and bed times is more important than waiting for the first star to come out. Not everyone at our table eats fish so we just deal with it. But no one will be wearing jeans or flip flops, because after all Wigilia is special and only comes once a year. We still make our wishes for each other with the sharing of a wafer from Poland. We’ve gotten away from some of the traditional dishes that are more time consuming, but we each have something on the menu that is special and beloved. Each of these traditional dishes is in our book:
• Crepes with Sauerkraut & Mushrooms
• Classic Beet Soup
• Fish With Mushrooms & Cheese
• Vegetables Polonaise
• Holiday Nut Roll
• Platters of goodies from friends and 
As Peter & Laura travel the east coast to book signings, they are often asked about their favorite foods. For Christmas, everyone in our family agrees that there is one absolute beloved and favorite dish that must be prepared above all – the Crepes with Sauerkraut and Mushrooms. Here is the recipe for our perfect Christmas Eve starter - so that you can enjoy it with your family.

Crepes with Sauerkraut & Mushrooms (Yields 8 to 10)
 The Crepes:
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
 Mix the milk with the eggs, flour, water and salt in a blender or hand mixer at low speed.   Heat a small non-stick skillet which measures 6 to 7 inches across the base (crepe pans are great) and brush or lightly spray the bottom with cooking oil.   Pour a small amount of batter into the medium hot skillet.   (For a 6 inch pan use a just under 1/3 cup of batter per crepe.)   Immediately start swirling the pan around so the batter will evenly cover the bottom and put back on the burner.   When the crepe becomes firm on top, maybe 30 to 60 seconds, and just starts to lightly brown on the bottom, flip it over and cook the other side for another 15 seconds or so. (Tips - use a wide spatula with a thin edge; if you’ve never made crepes or pancakes before, try your hand at flipping by making a practice batch. The imperfect ones are very tasty with your favorite fruit jam). Remove the crepe from the pan and stack on a plate with a sheet of wax paper between crepes to prevent sticking. Continue this process until all the batter is used – you should get 8 to10 crepes from one batch. Note: The crepes can be made 4 or 5 days ahead of time, wrapped in plastic or foil; and stored in the fridge.

The Filling
  • ½ pound sauerkrau
  • 2 tablespoons butter or rendered bacon fat
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons butter

 Rinse the sauerkraut thoroughly in a colander and squeeze heartily to remove the excess water. Do it again. Then, place the sauerkraut in a small amount of boiling water. Cook for 20 minutes and drain well. Heat the butter or bacon fat in a skillet; add the onions and sauté until golden. Add the mushrooms and sauté an additional 3 minutes. Add the sauerkraut and sauté until golden. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and add the egg and sour cream. Mix well. Spoon a small amount of the filling into the center of a crepe. Fold the crepe in envelope fashion to completely encase the filling. Roll the stuffed crepe in egg and then in bread crumbs. Gently fry crepes in butter until golden on both sides. Serve either hot or warm. Clear Barszcz (Classic Beet Soup on page 29 of our book) is the absolute perfect accompaniment.

Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku (Happy New Year)!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Polish Comfort Food - Sauerkraut With Mushrooms

Witamy!  Sauerkraut and mushrooms go together like...a horse and carriage...or Mom and apple pie...or baseball and hot dogs...or cookies and milk...or pierogi and anything!

We use sauerkraut that comes right from the nearest grocery store and we’re not picky.  I suppose making your own from scratch can be rewarding but we never seem to have time.  Besides, by the time we get done re-flavoring and stewing the kraut, any decent brand in the grocery stores is a great starting point.

Poles love to use dried forest mushrooms in their cooking.  They are like a gift times two - you get to use one of the richest, most savory, most complex foods there is, but you also get their “likker” which is a marvelous flavoring agent.  Their flavors are much stronger than the farm-raised fresh mushrooms common to large grocery stores.  And where they come from makes a big difference - always better from the forests of Eastern’s something about the soil.

Dried mushrooms are available in many gourmet food stores or on line.  In fact Peter’s last batch was from Bulgaria purchased on eBay – about $25 for a one-pound bag, which was very reasonable considering that a pound of dried mushrooms fills a 3-quart cereal container and that a little 4-ounce bag of mushrooms imported from Poland can cost three or four bucks. 

This classic recipe is remarkable for its hearty flavors and adaptability because it pairs really well with just about any meat.  We like it best with braised pork or kielbasa, and of course with a glass or hearty red wine, Polish beer or glass of ice-cold Polish vodka. 

• 1 ounce dried mushrooms, washed  (or 4 ounces fresh mushrooms)
• ½ cup water
• 2 pounds sauerkraut, drained, well rinsed and drained again
• 2 small onions, sliced
• 6 slices bacon, partially cooked, and the bacon drippings
• 3 tablespoons flour
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• salt & pepper to taste

Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water for 45 minutes.  Drain but keep the mushroom water because it has all that good flavor.  Rinse the rehydrated mushrooms in fresh water to make sure no sand is left.  Drain well and slice thinly.  Note:  if using fresh mushrooms, they should be washed, quartered and sautéed in butter or oil.  A little mushroom bullion, available in Polish or Russian delis, can also intensify the mushroom flavor.

Bring the sauerkraut to a low boil and then simmer.  Sauté the sliced onions in butter or oil until they are just golden and add to the pot.  Cut the partially cooked bacon slices into one-inch pieces and add to the pot along with the bacon drippings.  Mix in the flour and sugar and simmer some more.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Let the mix stew for another 30 minutes or so, just making sure the pot does not go dry.  Add water or stock as needed.

This sauerkraut can be served after an hour of stewing but the flavors will be more pronounced if made a day early, cooled and reheated for at least 30 minutes.  One variation which we like a lot, is to add well browned pork chops or a small pork roast to the pot and let the meat braise until fork-tender. One-inch pork chops take about 45 minutes and a small pork roast can take up to two hours.  In either case, as the sauerkraut stews, the flavor actually becomes a bit milder.  And there’s no need to wait until tomorrow.

Consider making a double batch, freezing the left over sauerkraut for quick supper when time is short.  Defrost in the morning, add whatever meat you have handy and simmer for 30 minutes.  Wow!    Smacznego!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thanksgiving Dinner - It'll Be a "Cheat Day"

Thanksgiving isn't a holiday in Poland and is not really celebrated, except by American ex-pats, but many of the same foods typically associated with this Western holiday are enjoyed year-round.  Laura has already started planning our Thanksgiving feast.  This year it’s our turn to host “the kids” for Thanksgiving since they’ll be going to our son-in-law’s parents for Christmas.  Next year we’ll switch and I’m sure that’s similar to many families in the interest of fairness.  We’re not sure yet how many chairs will be occupied around the table since we always cast a net out among our friends and our kids’ friends for anyone who is facing the prospect of spending this holiday alone...”stray cats” as we call them affectionately. 

Most of our Thanksgiving dinners were spent with Peter’s 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 has been adding new dishes and new recipes to the “groaning board” - most of the time with enthusiastic acceptance. 

This year we’ve decided to cut back a bit on the number of dishes.  It’s just getting to be too much work and since most of our family seems to be on a carb-free diet this year,  Thanksgiving Day will be a designated “cheat day,”  but we want to minimize the left overs so that we’re not tempted by a week’s worth of stuffing and pumpkin pie.  In the theme of the recent Presidential election, Laura created a “ballot” of dishes we’ve prepared in past years, and everyone got to vote for their favorite versions of sides, relishes, vegetables and desserts – one each.  Of course, the turkey and stuffing were non-negotiable. 

The turkey has already been procured and is resting in the freezer.  Laura’s brand of choice is the Butterball since 35+ years of experience has established a comfort level that’s impossible to argue with.  Last week several days were spent pouring over the food ads from the newspaper searching for the best price.  I’m not sure why we put so much effort into trying to save ten cents a pound, but it is what it is.

One of Peter’s tasks is to choose the wine...and every year it’s a big debate – with himself!  There will be hours of research on line, multiple visits to his favorite wine store, tastings, discussions and more tastings.  More often than not we end up with a light and fruity Pinot Noir from Oregon, but this year he is leaning to one of the new and dry Rose’s from France.  But then there was this slight sweet Pinot Gris a few years back from Austria that was truly memorable, but then again...

However you celebrate Thanksgiving in your family, it seems that there’s no real 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 some favored by just one or two.  It’s all about compromise.  For instance, Peter is not a fan of green beans sauced with cream of mushroom soup, or lime green jello with cream cheese, but if the others don’t mind my jellied cranberry sauce - right out of the can, then everyone is a winner. 

In any event, here is one of Peter’s Mom’s turkey recipes.  We published it in this space last year but it’s good enough to share again.  Frankly, we’re 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! 

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.   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. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show


Visions of pierogi, kielbasa, bigos, and Polish donuts were put aside for short time when this outstanding culinary exposition came to town.  These two foodies tasted around the huge convention center hall from north to south and east to west. 

There were cooking demos galore, from knife skills to pie baking,from cooking with Lindt chocolate to putting on a fancy 
party, and more.

The show always features several celebrity chefs and this year was no different, headlining:  Giada De Laurentiis star chef on the Food network,  Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons from Top Chef, Jeff Mauro-the Sandwich King, Carla Hall and Michael Symon - chefs and stars on The Chew, the legendary Jacques Pepin and his talented daughter Claudine, and more.  They were insightful, funny, endearing, and each put on a great show.  Perhaps more meaningfully, the first day was dedicated to the caregivers and spouses
of our “Wounded Warriors”, which was a stirring tribute
just before Veteran’s Day. 


We saw over 300 vendors on the exhibit floor and ever since I’ve been dreaming about hot sauces, salad dressings, cookies, cupcakes, infused oils and blended vinegars, sharp knives, shiny pots, and new windows & gutters, gourmet chocolates, and everything else about food you could possibly imagine.

We loved this yummy Greek salad dressing that pairs well with just about everything and occupies a place of honor in our fridge.

And there was a group of high school students studying the culinary arts (back in the day all we had was “Home Ec!”) Well here they were selling their own jams and jellies and making a bunch of money at it for their school and the culinary program.

 One of the more creative products we saw (and purchased) were these tiny baby speakers for I-Pads, I-Pods and other music storage devices. Stick the end on any container and it instantly turns into a portable speaker with surprising clarity.  We bought several for stocking stuffers.

Keeping with the theme of honoring our veterans, Jeanne’s Military Cookies were packaged in “mail friendly” containers, perfect for sending off those care packages to loved ones.

Thousands of foodies visited this show and smiled all day.  Look for the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show in Houston and Dallas, in September 2013.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Strawberry Decadence From Poland


Yesterday I bought some strawberries at the local grocery store.  True, they were shipped in from the west coast or some warmer and more tropical climes to the south of the U.S.  (I didn't check) but they were still pretty good although many of the centers were quite pale and white.  I have to tell you that in a pinch frozen strawberries are almost as good as the fresh ones, if defrosted slowly and carefully.  On our last trip to Poland we noted that Polish strawberries are generally smaller than those we see in America and they have a more intense flavor because they are not harvested so early.
Here is an old fashioned dessert dating back to the Polish monarchies as well as the court of the Romanoffs, and the epoch of the last Russian czar.  Within the walls of their sumptuous castles and grand residences, their days were filled with laughter, elegance and splendor.  Banquet tables were heavy with delicious dishes meals prepared for aristocrats, diplomats and other gentry.  This particular dessert was  favored by the diners but also by the kitchen staff because it is so easy to prepare.  Serve it in your finest crystal glassware.

• 2 quarts small ripe strawberries, washed, hulled and chilled

• 1 cup whipping cream

• 1 pint vanilla ice cream, softened at room temperature

• ¼ cup fresh lemon juice

• 1/3 cup Cointreau or similar orange-flavored liquor

Whip the cream until stiff.  Beat the ice cream in a mixer until fluffy.  Gently combine the whipped cream, ice cream, lemon juice and liquor and mix lightly.  Fold in the berries. Portion into pretty crystal glasses and serve immediately.  

Serves 8

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ugly Apples for Dessert

It’s apple time!  Local orchards are full and ready for picking.  Apple cider is fresh and tangy and most fun when purchased from a roadside fruit stand -- I’ve always preferred the fresh pressed, unpasteurized, straight-out-of-the-barrel kind because the taste is so much more intense.  Grocery store shelves are overflowing with several varieties of apples, including those “not-so-pretty” local varieties.  In fact I just read about one orchard featuring “heirloom apples”...yes, they were deformed and misshapen, but apparently just delicious. 

Apples are an important part of Polish cuisine and here is a favorite dessert that Peter's Mom made for him as a child.

Apple and Rice Pudding
Serves 6
4  cups, semi-tart, peeled, cored and shredded apples    
1  tablespoon cinnamon
½  cup brown sugar
4   cups cooked rice, not precooked or instant rice
1½  cups sour cream
4   tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Note:  try to use those ugly local apples...they taste great, are often cheaper and more plentiful in the fall, and they support your local produce farmers.

Preheat oven to 375 °F.  In a bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar with the shredded apples and mix well.

Grease a 9-inch baking dish (or glass pie pan)  and spread out the rice and apples in the pan , in alternating layers  (rice/apples/rice/apples/rice.)


Cover and bake for 40 minutes.  Mix the sour cream and sugar onto a sauce and set aside.


Let the pudding cool down a bit.  Serve warm in small bowls, topped with the sweet, sour cream sauce. 

Note:  the top layer of rice may get a little crunchy, but that gives it a great texture.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Peaches in Syrup, From Poland


As the summer orchard season draws down, there are still a few peaches available for picking. Perfectly ripe off the tree is the way to go, but we always pick too many. After Laura’s recipes for peach cobbler, peach pie, peach crumble, peach turnovers, peach salsa, peach sangria, peach ice cream and peach jam have been exhausted, there are usually a few peaches left over. This time of the year many newspapers and magazines feature articles on canning fruit. Some are too basic (boring) some are too creative (terrible), but here is one we found in Poland that’s easy to prepare, tastes great, and has our own optional spin to kick it up a notch.
  • 8-9 pounds small, perfectly ripe peaches
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1 quart water
  • 3-4 one-quart mason jars
Fill a large pot with enough water to cover a portion of the peaches. Reserve the rest. Drop the whole peaches in boiling water and boil for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the first batch, drop in the next batch and so on - until all the peaches have been boiled for 3 to 5 minutes each.

While the 2nd batch of peaches is boiling, remove the skins from the first batch. They should come off very easily while still hot. Do the same for the rest of the peaches. In the mean time, put on the quart of water and sugar to boil. When boiling, stir until all the sugar is thoroughly dissolved and remove from the burner.

Gently cut each peach in half and remove the pit. Don’t worry that some of the pits don’t come out easily or the peach halves end up like chopped up quarters – it will all look just fine in the syrup.

Wash the jars, lids and rubber seals very well. Pack the peaches firmly into each jar, but without pushing them down. Leave about an inch from the top. Pour in the syrup to just cover the fruit and tap the jars to remove any air from the peaches. Close the lids loosely. Now we must pasteurize - do not skip this step.

Put the jars in a large pot and cover with lukewarm water. Slowly bring to a boil within 20 minutes or so, and, simmer for at least 20 minutes. Remove the jars from the water, re-tighten the lids and cool. Store the jars in a dark, cool place and enjoy whenever you wish. The flavors are much brighter than canned peaches from the grocery store.

Two options: To change up the flavors, you can add some red berries. To give your peaches a kick, to the syrup you could add an ounce or two of peach or orange-flavored brandy such as Grand Marnier. Smacznego!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fresh Raspberries and Kogiel Mogiel

Yesterday morning Peter woke up dreaming of raspberries – huge bowls of freshly picked, plump, perfectly ripe, sweet, luscious red berries. So we got on line and found a truck farm not too far from us that had pick-your-own raspberries available. Right after breakfast we jumped in the car and drove the 60 miles to the farm. It was a gorgeous day for a road trip.

After arriving, we were handed a cardboard flat with pint containers to capture the fruits of our labor. After 45 minutes or so, we had filled six containers and figured that we had enough.

 Right next door was a peach orchard so of course we had to stop and pick a peck of gorgeous peaches. There was a sign that said not to climb the trees, but the peaches were so big and heavy that the branches just presented themselves to us, offering to be lightened of their load. Now Laura has to figure out what to do with all that fruit, although I did make a good dent in the berries this morning for breakfast.

Unrelated to all this fruit, Peter was making homemade ice cream earlier for an upcoming dinner. As he was beating the eggs and sugar for the custard, he licked the spoon and immediately recalled a childhood delicacy called kogiel mogiel.  Sometimes called Kogel Mogel, this is a simple Polish concoction of raw egg yolks beaten with sugar. It was amazing that such a flavor could come back instantaneously - it was like a light went on in a dark room. Back in the day, whenever his mother would bake, she would make sure there were a couple of egg yolks available for mixing with sugar. Did you ever have kogiel mogiel as a child?

Let’s bring this delicacy back to life! Today you might be uncomfortable eating raw egg yolks, so here is a way to combine the fresh raspberries with the amazing taste of kogiel mogiel, but it’s baked just long enough to eliminate the bacteria.

• ½ cup sugar
• 3 egg yolks
• ½ cup fresh raspberries

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until very smooth and creamy – about 3 minutes with a hand mixer. Pour a little of the mixture into the bottom of several ramekins. Add some berries to each dish. Portion out the rest of the egg mixture into the ramekins.

Bake at 375 °F for five to ten minutes, or until the mixture starts to turn golden on top. This should bring the internal temperature to about 160 degrees, which is high enough to be safe. Remove the ramekins from the oven and cool, but serve warm.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Awesome Summer Grilling – Polish Style

It says August on our calendar and it’s probably hot and humid wherever you live - unless you’re “down under” in Australia or New Zealand.  You’ve worked hard all day and the last thing you want to do is prepare an involved dinner.  That sounds like us almost every night!  But luckily we love to do entire meals on the grill.  They’re quick and easy, healthy, delicious, don’t require heating up the ovens or stove and come with a little reward – minimal cleanup.

We like to take advantage of the farmer’s markets where most of the time we can get amazingly fragrant and tasteful fruits and vegetables.  Yesterday I bought some grapefruit-sized tomatoes that had been harvested just 24 hours earlier.  The samples we tasted were a deep crimson all the way through, so you know they were on the vine until perfectly ripe. 
Our menu for tonight’s supper will be grilled tomato, vegetable kabobs with dill and a piece of lean grilled kielbasa, kicked up with a spoonful of Ćwikła - the iconic beet ‘n horseradish garnish.

Shopping List - dinner for 4

1 can of sliced beets (not pickled)
1 jar of prepared horseradish (4 or 5 ounces, whatever is at the store

2 ripe tomatoes

1-2 pounds of fresh vegetables, include: zucchini, yellow squash, baby onions, mushrooms, young carrots – anything that looks good

1 bunch fresh dill

1½  pounds lean kielbasa, more or less according to hunger

Prep  (15 minutes):

1. For the Ćwikła, open a can of sliced beets (not the pickled variety), and rough-chop them, either by hand or your favorite chopping machine.  Add in about 4 ounces of ground prepared horseradish, but be sure to taste as you add the horseradish because it can clear your sinuses in a hurry!  Refrigerate.  Ćwikła is best made a day or so ahead of time so that the flavors can infuse, but never let that be an obstacle.

  2. Cut your tomatoes in half, brush lightly with oil, salt & pepper the flat tops.

3. Rinse the dill thoroughly, dry between paper towels and finely chop about 3 tablespoons - more if you love dill.

4. Cut your vegetables into 1-to-2 inch pieces, place in a bowl and season with a little oil, salt & pepper, and the dill and toss to thoroughly coat with the flavorings.  Reserve some of the dill for the last step.

5. Place the vegetables on skewers – the two-pronged kind are good because it’s easier to turn them without losing food into the fire.  If the veggie pieces are small, it may be smart to use a vegetable basket on the grill.

6. Cut the kielbasa into smaller pieces and score the casing in several places so that the hot fat can drip out.

Grilling  (10 minutes)
Heat your gas grill to high, and then turn the heat down to medium.  If you are using real charcoal, raise the cooking grid as high from the very hot coals as it will go.

Oil the cooking grids and put everything on at the same time.  Start the tomatoes flat side down to get your impressive sear marks.  Grilling time for everything will be about ten minutes, depending on the heat of your grill.  Be sure to turn everything frequently. Grill the kielbasa long enough to get most of the fat out.  We like our vegetables and kielbasa with a little char on them so that usually takes about 5 more minutes.
  Remove, sprinkle more fresh dill on the veggies and serve right away. Don’t forget to take the Ćwikła out of the fridge...stir and serve as a garnish for the kielbasa.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Polish Peach Turnovers

Our heads are still in dessert mode as we’re put the finishing touches on Polish Classic Desserts.  And since this is peach season, these turnovers will make a great dessert for you to try.  The recipe is an unpublished favorite of my mom’s (Alina Zeranska, The Art of Polish Cooking, available on Amazon and some better book stores) because they are easy to make and have bold flavors of summer.  When finished, they look a bit like Kolaczki – the classic Eastern European cookie.

Peaches are a very tasty ingredient when baked into cakes, tarts, or other pastries.  Their natural sweetness and soft texture works well with all types of dough and the flavors are easily enhanced when dusted with cinnamon or drizzled with a bit of lemon juice.  There are many varieties of peaches, so for baking, always ask for “freestones” or another variety that gives up its pit more easily.

Note:  these tunrovers also work well with tart apples, apricots or other tree-hanging fruit.

YIELDS  50 to 60 small turnovers
½ pound of margarine
4 cups flour, sifted
½ ounce fresh yeast
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
4 large ripe peaches, pitted and sliced thinly (not peeled)
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Cut the margarine into the flour with a knife and rub in well with your fingertips.  Mix the yeast with vanilla and sour cream, and add to the flour.  Knead the dough for a few minutes (a standing mixer with dough hooks will makes this task much easier).  Roll out the dough into a very thin square - about 1/8th-inch or less.  Using a cookie cutter or knife tip, cut into 3x2-inch rectangles. 

Place a peach slice onto each rectangle and dust with sugar and cinnamon.  Lift two opposite ends of the rectangle.  Fold over the peach and press together to seal.

Using a knife or very thin spatula, transfer the turnovers to a buttered cookie sheet, so that they do not touch.  Bake at 375°F for 40 minutes or until golden.  Remove from oven, immediately sprinkle generously with confectioners’ sugar.  Best enjoyed while still warm.  Smacznego!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Summer Salmon Salad - Polish Style

Canned salmon!  Yes indeed, canned salmon has a place in every pantry.  It has more flavor than canned tuna and offers a world of options for a light healthy meal when time is short or you’ve had a hard day and your energy tank is running on fumes. 

The fishing industry in Poland is growing rapidly as eating fish is becoming even more popular.  Baltic salmon, as in this photo,  is a unique Polish specialty item.  Unlike fatty farm-raised salmon, its firm flesh is only slightly pink (after cooking it is nearly white). Whether cooked or smoked, wild salmon provides amazing taste sensations far superior to the farmed varieties.  It is available in cans and can be also eaten raw when salted.  Have you ever tried Polish canned salmon and what did you think of it?  I’ve never tried it but will look for some on the next visit to our favorite Polish Deli.

Serves 8
1 pound canned, wild-caught salmon, drained and crumbled
2 cups young potatoes, boiled & diced
1 cup mayonnaise
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
1 tablespoon scallions or green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped

The only prep is to arrange all the ingredients in layers, so how easy is that?  On the bottom of a serving platter, spread the potatoes in a flat layer.  Second, spread the crumpled salmon for the next layer.  Third, lightly spread the mayonnaise over the salmon.  Cover with alternating slices of tomato and the egg – show off your wild side and be creative!  Sprinkle the chopped green onions, and lastly sprinkle generously with chopped dill.  Chill for an hour and serve on lettuce leaves.  A glass of dry white wine or fresh iced tea can be a very relaxing accompaniment. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Very Berry Polish Blueberry

Those little round marbles of blue goodness are plentiful right now and the prices are a bit more affordable.  We’re seeing them at local farmers’ markets as well as in grocery stores.  My secret pleasure is a bowl of fresh crisp blueberries with a little sugar sprinkled on top, and swimming in cream.  Thoroughly decadent, not so good for the diet, but very good for the soul – once in a while. 

As a kid in Canada I remember picking wild blueberries while on vacation up around the Georgian Bay area.  Hiding low to the ground, nirvana was finding the right patch that would yield all those goodies.  In those days, out in the country, we didn’t worry about pesticides, bug sprays, organic growing or any of the concerns we have today.  One in my in my basket...and so on.  They had an intense flavor never matched by today’s farmed fruit. 
We’re still in a “dessert mode” as we are close to finishing our second book - Polish Classic Desserts, due out in the spring.  Berries are especially favored in traditional Polish baked goods because they aren’t so cloyingly sweet.  So here’s a great Polish coffee cake that takes advantage of the season’s goodness. 

Blueberry Coffee Cake
2 sticks butter
1¼  cups sugar
4 eggs
2 cups flour

1½  teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½  pints blueberries
½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Using a standing mixer, beat the butter and sugar until thoroughly combined.  Add the eggs alternately with the flour and beat to combine.  Add the vanilla extract and baking powder and beat another minute.

Grease a 9x12-inch baking pan and sprinkle all over with flour.  Fold in the batter, covering the bottom of the pan evenly.  Sprinkle the berries on top, evenly.  Bake in a 400 °F oven for 45 minutes.  When done, a toothpick stuck in the center will come out cleanly.  Remove, cool, and dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving. Smacznego!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Kielbasa Time

This post was adapted from a newsletter by our favorite Polish market - Kielbasa Factory, in Rockville MD.

Witamy!  Kielbasa is an iconic Polish word that describes a traditional sausage. A staple of Polish cuisine, kielbasa comes in several of varieties of primarily smoked or fresh cooked lean pork, also available in beef, chicken, turkey, and veal. Every region of Poland has its own unique ingredients and recipes. The most popular are:

Kabanosy – a very thin, air-dried smoked sausage (referred to by some as a Polish slim jim);

Kielbasa Szynkowa – a very thick smoked sausage made from ham;
Kielbasa Krakowska – from Krakow, a thick, straight, smoked sausage with garlic and pepper, a favorite of Polish Kings;

Biala Kielbasa – a famous un-smoked fresh sausage traditionally used as an accompaniment to White Barszcz, a traditional Polish soup prepared for Easter;

Kielbasa Starowiejska – “old-country style, ”a smoked thin sausage made using a very old, traditional recipe;

Kielbasa Wiejska – a country-style sausage shaped like a large U made primarily from pork or a mix of pork and veal, with marjoram and garlic;

Parówki – a Polish style hot dog made from veal or pork, best served hot. 

The best Polish-style kielbasa uses only the choicest cuts of tender pork with a little beef or veal added to improve its body and character.  Typically, no preservatives are added.  The sausage is seasoned with fresh herbs and spices and then gently smoked, just long enough to achieve the right color, flavor and aroma.  It is good for breakfast, lunch, dinner; snack time or any time!
Kielbasa can be served cold or hot, boiled, baked, grilled, or right out of the fridge.  It can be cooked in soups such as Barszcz, Kapusniak (Cabbage Soup), or Grochówka (Bean Soup), baked with sauerkraut or added to bean dishes, stews (notably Bigos or Hunter Stew which is the signature dish of our book.  Often kielbasa is served with Cwikła, a traditional garnish of shredded beets and horseradish.  Our book contains many heritage recipes that make great use of kielbasa.

It’s easy to buy a mass-produced kielbasa at the big grocery stores, but the flavors just don’t measure up to the authentic Polish-style varieties available at Polish delis such as Kielbasa Factory.

2 cans of red beets, drained and shredded in a food processor
5 ounces of prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon of sugar
Combine everything, place in a sealed glass jar and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to really integrate.  Taste...add more horseradish if your palate can take it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Barszcz For Spring

Witamy!  There are a “gazillion” recipes for Barszcz.  It seems that every region, town and village in Poland has its own version.  And very often there are different versions favored at different times of the year.  The elegant holiday variety is essentially a beet consommé, quite peppery, and sipped from delicate china teacups, as an accompaniment to the delicacies consumed at Christmas or Easter.  Then you have your more hearty versions chock full of leafy vegetables, beans, dices of cooked pork, and whatever was on hand that day.  These were especially popular in the country when hard working farmers needed fuel to get through the day. 

 This version is somewhere in between – more filling than a cup of broth, but just filling enough to serve on a bright and sunny spring day.  A hunk of fresh rye bread smeared with sweet butter, and a bowl of Spring Barszcz, is all you need for lunch or a light supper.  

Serves 81 bunch of fresh young beets with leaves, washed and diced
2 cups water
1 teaspoon vinegar
4 cups beef or chicken broth
2 tablespoons flour
¼ cup cold water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped green parsley
1 tablespoon fresh chopped dill, or more to taste
1 tablespoon chopped green onion
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup sour cream
2  hardboiled eggs, sliced

Cook beets in the water and vinegar for 10 minutes or until tender. Add the broth and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the flour mixed with ¼ cup cold water. (For more "heft"  you could add half a cup of your favorite chopped greens or   cooked  beans). Stir and cook for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Season with lemon juice, sugar, salt & pepper.  Add the dill, parsley, green onion, butter and sour cream.  Ladle into soup bowls.  Float egg slices on top and serve.