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!