Thursday, April 26, 2012

Polish Pork Chops and Sauerkraut

Witamy!  Laura has been away for a while so if I want to eat at home, it’s on me to cook.  Soup and sandwiches get tiresome very fast!  Although I enjoy cooking, when I’m flying solo, simple and easy is the way to go.  Prep time needs to be quick, otherwise I’m turning the page.  Know what I mean??

Have you seen those TV commercials that declared pork as “the other white meat”  It’s true because pork production has improved a lot and we no longer have to cook it to “flavor-death” for safety’s sake.  Whenever I’m grilling chops over a direct flame, a tiny hue of pink in the middle is my goal. 

We love pork because it is so versatile and hard to screw up -- as long as you don’t dry it out.  And I’m a huge fan of stewed sauerkraut, as in our iconic Hunter’s Stew recipe (Bigos, Page 49).  It has a natural tang which pairs beautifully with almost any meat, and it just sings when you add layers of additional flavorings such as mushrooms, tomato or apple.  Whether sweet or savory, sauerkraut is one of my favorite foods. 

So yesterday I stopped by our grocery store’s meat case and picked up a couple of bone-in loin chops (tip:  bone-in has more flavor) about one inch thick and a small, one-pound bag of sauerkraut.
• About 2 hours before I was ready to eat, I stopped working on our new book (Polish Classic Desserts) and grabbed a handful of Eastern European dried forest mushrooms (bought in bulk on EBay) from our stash in the pantry, and put them in a big mug of hot water (12 ounces) to soak.  Don’t throw away the mushroom water – it has great flavor;
• Next, I put a tablespoon of oil into a deep skillet, browned the chops, set them aside, and lightly golden-browned a small chopped onion - making sure the heat didn’t get too high to burn the brown stuff in the bottom of the pan;

• With a hard spatula I scraped and loosened the bottom of the pan, leaving the brown stuff IN the pan for flavoring;
• Then I rinsed the sauerkraut really well to help mellow  out the flavor;

• The sauerkraut and mushrooms went back in the pan with some additional flavoring.  For a sweeter style you could add half an apple which has been cut into wedges.  Personally, I prefer a more savory taste and added a bay leaf and one teaspoon of caraway seeds;

• Tossed in some salt and pepper, stirred lightly to blend all the flavorings, and the chops went back in the skille, kind of pushed down into the sauerkraut;

• Finally, the mushroom water was poured over the top, covered the skillet tightly with a lid, and cooked on a very low simmer for an hour or so;
• Once or twice I checked the skillet to make sure the liquid hadn’t evaporated.  The easy test for doneness is to stick a fork in the chop -- after an hour the pork should be almost falling off the bone and the fork should twist easily;
• Mashed potatoes are a favorite with this dish, but any green vegetable is healthier.  In Poland they’d be serving this with shots of ice-cold vodka, but I don’t care to drink alone, so a glass of hearty red wine did the trick.

So I spent less than six bucks on the pork and sauerkraut, less than 20 minutes prepping, and I got two meals out of it.  It was full of big bold flavors, the pork was moist, and the whole dish was pretty healthy, so that goes down as a big win.  Polish Pork and Sauerkraut – yum!   Smacznego!

(Photo from

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter Leftovers - Polish Style

Witamy!  How was your Easter holiday?  Did you have Polish Easter lunch, or Easter dinner?  Did your family hold to any of the traditions?  Our dinner was late this year, about 5 PM, and pretty casual.  Family had been driving most of the day and there just wasn’t much time to put together a full-up festive feast.  Except for the addition of our American favorites such as cheesy potatoes and scalloped apples, our meal was still pretty Polish.  We had a spiral sliced ham which was garnished with Cwikla (shredded beets and horseradish), and Polish sour cream mustard sauce and Laura made a bowl of traditional vegetable salad.  These all came from straight from our book and from Babcia’s table over one hundred years ago.  We shared the egg with Easter wishes, and our little granddaughter proudly said “amen” at the end of the blessing.

But I have to be honest with you...the next few days after the main attraction are tasty as well because Easter leftovers can be amazing.  Since most of the dishes are served cool or at room temperature, snacking right from the storage containers in the fridge is absolutely allowed.  For several days my spoon never leaves the counter next to the fridge.  To that end we’re now more strategic since we buy our ham about 50% larger than needed on the day of the big feast.

One of our favorite ways of using up extra ham is in fact a very traditional Polish dish – ham and noodle casserole.  Full of fragrant dill and topped with a crusty lid of breadcrumbs hiding chunks of ham and buttery noodles, Laura has taken the heritage recipe to the next level, and it’s pretty gosh darn good!  Smacznego!
Ham and Egg Noodle Casserole  (Serves 4)

3 cups cooked egg noodles
2 cups chopped ham
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped green onions
1 to 2 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tablespoon bacon drippings (or melted butter)
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 tablespoons breadcrumbs (Panko style if you have it)

Mix the noodles with the ham, bacon drippings, green onions and dill and place in a oven-safe baking dish.  Mix the breadcrumbs, butter and grated cheese and sprinkle over the top. (Note: add more breadcrumbs if the topping seems too wet or mushy).  Bake at 400 °F for 35 minutes.  At the end, put under the broiler for just a minute or two to toast the breadcrumb topping until golden.  Pair with your favorite green vegetable.

Washes down very nicely with tomato juice, a light beer or slightly sweet wine such as Reisling or Pinot Gris.