Sunday, December 4, 2016

Christmas Eve Traditions - Polish Style

Witamy ! 
When Peter was growing up, Christmas was never such a big commercial spectacle as it is now.  His Mom told stories about Christmas in Poland before WW-II that the celebrations were always simple and no one sang carols until Christmas Eve.  Wigilia, the traditional Christmas Eve supper (which means vigil or waiting for the birth of Jesus) was totally based on traditions and dishes that had been handed down for generations upon generations. 

The feast begins at the light of the first star.  At maybe 5 or 6 years old Peter remembers running out on the porch and looking up for that 1st starlight so they could get started with the sharing of the Communion wafer (Oplatek) – an important tradition. Peter’s Mother would always use a communion wafer mailed to her from Poland that had been blessed back there. 

The white, almost translucent wafer is a symbol of love, friendship and forgiveness. It is broken into bite size pieces and shared with everyone at the table along with wishes for a happy and healthy new year. 

It is customary to set an extra place at the table for the lonely traveler who may knock at the door...Twelve dishes were served for the twelve apostles and poppy seeds were always a part of Christmas Eve supper as a symbol of peacefulness as was honey for sweetness. 

The meal is traditionally meatless.  Our own menu is right out of our books, starting with clear beet soup, called Barszcz, which is a delicious peppery, deep red beet broth served in fine china cups. 

The second appetizers are Crepes stuffed with mushroom and sauerkraut, breaded and sautéed lightly in plenty of butter…our daughter and son-in-law would be perfectly happy if these crepes were the only menu item for the whole dinner! 

White fish - herring or carp - is the traditional fish course but for years Peter’s Mom would buy a very fresh salmon and actually freeze it in a block of ice.  With a nod to changing tastes and availabilities, we serve haddock or flounder or cod or whatever white fish is fresh and available.

For dessert Laura always serves a variety of Polish baked goods and American Christmas cookies. 

The Polish Nut Roll and Poppy Seed Roll are always requirements.  Laura usually makes a dozen or so for sharing with the neighbors.  Peter loves trading sweets with our Greek friends who trade Poppy Seed Rolls for their wonderful Baklava. 

We also love Kolaczki  a very traditional cookie of delicate dough squares wrapped around fruit preserves.

Or our Gingerbread Honey Cake which is so popular and easy to make. 

And our dessert table would not be complete without the stately Warsaw Fruit Cake which is not loaded down with cloyingly sweet candied fruit.  Peter likes to pour a little Polish brandy over his slice, just for an added kick. 

After Wigilia has ended, Peter’s Mother always insisted that they sing Christmas carols together – both Polish and English – before opening their gifts.  The evening ends at Midnight Mass, after which everyone falls into bed stuffed to the top, exhausted but happy. 

All these traditional recipes are in our two cook books – Polish Classic Recipes 

          and Polish Classic Desserts.
There are lots of books on the market with Polish holiday traditions and Christmas recipes, but the traditions and dishes in our two books are truly authentic heritage recipes which have been extensively tested (to the delight of our neighbors) and just updated for modern kitchens.  So no more pinch of this and pinch of that.  There are over 90 beautiful photographs in each book, stories, traditions, and plenty of tips on preparing each dish successfully.  If you live in the U.S., each book will autographed by the authors – that would be us – and personally dedicated to whomever you’d like, as long as you get your order in by December 15th.  If you don’t live in the U.S. your best bet will be Amazon. 

So if you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, or can’t find Babcia’s recipes, or just want to treat yourself,  please click on the “add to the cart”  button above, before the 15th, and we’ll do the rest!  Thanks!

Wszystkiego Najlepszego, Happy Holidays and Smacznego!  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Thanksgiving With Polish Flavors

Thanksgiving is sneaking up on us with lightning speed.  Laura has already started to plan our feast.  Most of our family are definitely traditionalists so the menu hasn’t changed much over the years, except for making sure that we have a favorite dish for each guest around our table.

(image courtesy of
Laura’s sister will be with us this year and she’s requested their family’s legendary lime green jello salad with little cream cheese.

A big twist this year is that we’re going gluten and dairy-free in deference to newly developed allergies.  But that’s a subject for another post.

The turkey has already been procured and is resting in the freezer.  Laura’s brand of choice is the Butterball
since 40+ 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.  Next year we’re planning to go out of our comfort zone with a fresh, organic, free range turkey from a near-by farm...we’ll let you know how that goes. 

Even though Thanksgiving is primarily a North American holiday, devotees of Polish cuisine can very easily give the menu a Polish twist.  The first way is to chop up a few tablespoons of fresh dill and combine with your favorite crouton or bread stuffing - replacing any other herbs that might compete with the dill.  Herbs such as sage, thyme, marjoram or parsley just don’t do well next to fresh dill.

A second way is to serve Vegetables “Polonaise “ style.  It’s very “Polish” and definitely makes your veggies more interesting.  

Vegetables Polonaise
1½ pounds of vegetables
½ teaspoon of sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Salt & Pepper to taste
Lemon Zest (optional)
2 teaspoons of butter
2 tablespoons of toasted plain bread crumbs

Clean and prep the vegetables in your usual way.  Rinse them well.  Boil a small amount of water in your pot, add the salt and sugar.  Cook the vegetables for about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the vegetable) until just under done (remember they will continue to cook and soften on the platter.  Drain well and place in a warmed serving dish. 
Melt the butter over a low heat and mix in the breadcrumbs.  Sautee for just a few minutes until golden brown and sprinkle over the vegetables.  Add salt & pepper to taste.  Optionally, sprinkle a little lemon zest over the top for a little extra kick.

Another Polish twist could be to add a traditional Polish salad to the menu.  This Cabbage & Apple Salad goes very well with the turkey because it is colorful and bright tasting.

Cabbage & Apple Salad
1      small head red cabbage, shredded
2      apples, cored, peeled and shredded
Juice of 2 lemons
4      tablespoons sugar
Boil the shredded cabbage in salted boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes.  Drain & cool.  Combine the lemon juice and sugar to make a dressing.  Toss the cabbage and apples with the dressing.  Cool well before serving.

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 puts his or her spin on the menu.  Each family’s Thanksgiving table usually showcases one or more family favorites...some beloved by all and some favored by just one or two.   And that’s just great because it’s really all about being together whenever possible and giving thanks – whether you’re cooking a big meal, enjoying someone’s else’s hospitality, or just grabbing a quick bite at a fast food joint on your way to work.  Just pause a moment to give thanks.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Apple Pie In Custard

It’s apple season.  Our 6-year old granddaughter Lucy loves to visit near-by apple orchards for the apple picking, cool & tangy fresh cider, caramel apples on a stick, or jars of super-fresh apple butter.  The bees or wasps that hang around the cider-pressing hut are a bother, but the payoff in your mouth is tremendous.
image courtesy of
The idea of fruit pies covered with custard allegedly originated in Switzerland.  It’s long been a favorite Sunday treat for European families everywhere, including Poland, because it’s not too sweet,

not overly heavy, but healthful and nourishing.                                                              

Serves 6
1 ¾ cups flour
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 pound plus 1 tablespoon sweet butter
I egg
Or, one store-bought pie dough

4 medium tart apples, peeled & sliced
½ cup milk
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup whipping cream
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 °F.  For the dough, combine the flour with salt and sugar.  Cut the butter into the flour and crumble with your fingertips. Add the egg and knead the dough quickly. Refrigerate for half an hour.  Or, use your favorite defrosted store-bought pie dough.

Roll out the dough and transfer to cover the bottom and sides of the 9 to 10 inch pie pan.  Pierce in a few places with a fork.
 Image courtesy of                                                                                                   
Arrange the apple slices loosely on the crust in the pie pan.  Fill up the pan at least half way.  Combine all of the ingredients for the custard in a blender until smooth.  Slowly pour over the apples.   
Bake for 40 minutes or until the apples are soft.  Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top and decorate if you wish. Serve warm.
image courtesy of


Friday, July 29, 2016

More Classic Polish Summer Salads


Poles have loved raw vegetable salads ever since they were introduced by Italian nobility in the 14th and 15th centuries.  Their bright colors enhance every plate and with heir fresh crunch, vegetables pair well with almost any main course for dinner or lunch.  And best yet, they’re a healthy way to improve your family’s diet.   Favorite “binders” are sour cream and favorite seasonings are dill, chopped green onion or lemon juice.  Now that hot weather is here and the farmer’s markets are trending big, there’s not much better than a fresh chilled salad on your plate.  These Polish classic salads are light, refreshing and pair well with just about any main course on today’s menu.  
(Note:  these salads lend themselves especially well to modern kitchen tools such as food processors or mandolin slicers.)

            (image courtesy of
Tomato Cucumber Salad
Serves 6

1 medium cucumber, peeled and sliced
4 medium tomatoes,  sliced
Salt to taste
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped green onion
1 tablespoon chopped dill (fresh is best)
1 teaspoon white vinegar

Arrange your tomato and cucumber slices alternately on a long serving dish.  Sprinkle with salt, sugar, green onions and dill.  Sprinkle with the vinegar.

Polish Summer Salad
Serves 6
2 heads butter lettuce
8 to 10 medium radishes, sliced
1 large cucumber, sliced
1 cup sour cream
Sugar and salt to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

image courtesy
Wash the lettuce, separate the leaves and dry, then tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces.  Combine with radishes and cucumber slices.  Season the sour cream with sugar and salt and pour over the vegetables.  Sprinkle dill over top.  Serve immediately.  (Note, if you wait too long before serving, the cucumbers will start giving off liquid and the lettuce will wilt).

Radishes & Cottage Cheese
Serves 6

1 bunch red radishes, sliced
1 cup of creamy cottage cheese
1 tablespoon chopped green onions
Salt to taste
Lettuce leaves

Fold the radishes into the cottage cheese.  Top with green onions and salt.  Chill well.  Serve on the lettuce leaves or as a spread on your favorite crusty bread.

Cabbage & Pickle Salad
Serves 6

2 cups shredded cabbage
2 medium dill pickles, coarsely shredded
½ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons pickle juice (from the jar)
2 tablespoons salad oil
1 small tomato, sliced

Combine the cabbage and pickles.  Mix in the salt, sugar, pickle juice, and oil.  Arrange on a pretty dish. Chill well.  Garnish with tomato slices and serve.

image courtesy of

Sauerkraut, Apple & Carrot Salad
Serves 4

½ pound sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
1 large sweet apple, shredded
3 tablespoons salad oil
1 teaspoon chopped green onions

Rinse the sauerkraut really well, squeeze to drain and chop or shred finely. Sprinkle with sugar.  Mix in the carrots, apples and oil.  Chill well.  Taste before serving and perhaps add more sugar if needed.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Summer Vegetables "Polonaise"

We love vegetables from the farm.  

When just picked, they are so fresh, vibrant and full of flavor.  Now that we’re in the primo harvesting season we’re eating a lot more green, yellow and orange stuff than ever before.  Right now in our fridge and pantry we’ve got: fresh asparagus, a yellow cauliflower, green & yellow beans,  a big bunch of very young carrots, orange beets,

 kale, and some zucchini we just brought home.  We hope the two of us can eat all that before it spoils. We see a couple of vegetarian meals in our near future!

But...Peter is always encouraging Laura to add layers of flavor to the vegetables. 

She’s happy with just a little butter and salt & pepper,  but Peter is all about attacking his taste buds with the flavors of garlic, herbs, infused oils, balsamic vinegar, lemon zest, and more.

One delicious and easy way to satisfying
his flavor cravings is to prepare the vegetables the Polish way - “polonaise style.” 

This works with brussels sprouts,  beans, asparagus,  cauliflower,  young carrots, or whatever you can get at the market.  In fact, this preparation will work well with frozen vegetables (egads!) if you are pressed for time.  Try it tonight!

Serves 6
1½ pounds of vegetables
½ teaspoon of sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Salt & Pepper to taste
Lemon Zest (optional)
2 teaspoons of butter
2 tablespoons of toasted plain bread crumbs

Clean and prepare the vegetables in your usual way.  Rinse them well.  Boil a small amount of water in your pot, add the salt and sugar.  Cook the vegetables for about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the vegetable) until just under done (remember they will continue to cook and soften on the platter.  Drain well and place in a warmed serving dish.

Melt the butter over a low heat and mix in the breadcrumbs.  Sautee for just a few minutes until golden brown and sprinkle over the vegetables.  Add salt & pepper to taste.  Optionally, sprinkle a little lemon zest over the top for a little extra kick. 

Note:   Peter likes a heavier dose of breadcrumbs so Laura often doubles the recipe, depending on the amount of vegetables being served.  But keep in mind that this is a topping to be sprinkled lightly.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Rhubarb-StrawberryTart - Polish Style


* recipe corrected 5-26-16

Poles love fruit tarts.  They’re nothing like American grocery store style fruit tarts with huge chunks of fruit in a yellow custard, and drenched in a shiny sweet glaze.  Those are pretty to look at but I prefer other European pastries that are less sweet.   

The classic Polish berry tarts we grew up with have fewer ingredients, they are simpler to make, less sweet and focus more on the natural flavors of the fruit.  This one is a favorite because it combines the flavors of berries and rhubarb for a wonderful contrast of sweet and tart.

Have you been to a farmers’ market yet this spring?  As the weather gets warmer, more and more berries are showing up for sale.  And since they are usually local and fresh picked, the berries are bright red and super-sweet. 

Now we’re also seeing rhubarb which is a bakers’ dream ingredient.  When raw it looks like red celery, and it’s quite tart on the tongue.  But when you cook it down with some sweetener, it can add such a beautiful bright fresh note to any fruit it is paired with. 

This is a favorite “go-to” dessert of ours because it is so easy and frankly flexible.  Any berries will work although we like it best when the berries are paired with the rhubarb for a more natural and fresher flavor profile. 

Yields 32 squares

Cake Batter
1¼       cups butter, softened
¾         cup sugar
1½       cups flour
1½       teaspoons baking powder
½         cup milk
4          eggs, separated
1          teaspoon vanilla extract
1          pounds rhubarb, cut into thin, ½-inch wide slices
1         pound ripe strawberries, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter and flour a 10x15-inch pan.

Using a standing mixer, blend the butter and sugar and until pale and creamy.  Mix the flour with the baking powder and add to the butter - alternately with the milk.  Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating constantly.  Add the vanilla and blend thoroughly.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff.  Fold into the dough and mix lightly.  Spread the dough evenly in the prepared pan.  Combine the strawberry and rhubarb pieces and distribute the fruit mixture evenly on top of the batter. 

½         cup butter, softened
1          cup flour
¼         cup brown sugar, lightly packed

Mix the butter and flour until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the sugar and mix well.  Sprinkle the crumb mixture over top of the fruit.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  If the crumb topping starts to brown too quickly, place a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the cake.  Remove from oven.  Cool and cut into portion-sized squares.   A scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side would be a no-brainer! 

*  Note:  if your fruit pieces are too small they could render too much moisture and the middle of your tart will be wet. If so, bake a little longer, keeping an eye on the crust not getting too dark.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Laura's Strawberry Pie

Strawberries are a favorite fruit in Poland and the number of recipes for strawberry dishes could stretch from Belarus to Germany or from the Baltic Sea to Slovakia - many times over.  Here in central Virginia, where we now live, the first crops of strawberries are just being picked.

We visited a near-by farm yesterday and got their first harvest, picked just hours before we arrived.  In fact we got these berries before the local farmers market had any, so we really lucked out.  On the way home Laura asked if I had any requests for the berries and I chose her strawberry pie in a nano-second because it is absolutely to die for and super-easy to make.  Truth be told the recipe below is not a heritage Polish recipe but it is Laura’s heritage recipe which she has tweaked and perfected over time.

As soon as we got home, we wanted to taste-test the farm-berries against some berries we had bought at the grocery store just the day before.  These were imported from California, and while they looked picture-perfect on the outside, that’s where the similarities ended.  Both samples were cut in half – the imported berries were quite pale in the center and the farmer’s berries were deep red throughout.  We bit into each and rolled the fruit around our taste-buds, just like a fine wine.  The “shipped-in” berries were rather bland and did not have that intense strawberry flavor simply because they were picked before their time.  But the farmer’s berries on the other hand, were juicy and had that bright sweet flavor that let us know they were still on their stems just earlier that morning.  There’s an obvious moral to this story…if you have access to a berry farm or a farmers’ market, it’s well worth the extra pennies to buy berries that are totally satisfying.  

Laura’s Strawberry Pie
(serves 8)

1  9-inch baked pie crust (homemade or purchased)
2 quarts  fresh strawberries 
3 tablespoons  corn starch
½ to 1 cup  sugar (depending on the       sweetness of the berries)
1 cup  water
1 teaspoon  butter 

Wash the strawberries and remove the hulls.  Mash enough of the strawberries to make one cup.  Put the mash with one cup water in a 1-quart or larger glass measuring cup.  Add sugar ¼ cup at a time, mix and taste until you achieve the desired sweetness.  

Microwave the strawberry mixture on high for 4 to 6 minutes or until the mixture is boiling.  Watch carefully so the mixture does not boil over. 

Soften the corn starch in a couple of tablespoons of water and whisk quickly into the strawberry mixture.  Microwave the mixture another 2 to 3 minutes on high or until mixture thickens.  Stir in the butter.

Let the mixture cool completely.  Cooling may take 30 minutes or longer.

Arrange the remaining strawberries, either whole or sliced, in the baked and cooled pie crust.  Pour the cooled strawberry glaze mixture evenly over the top of the berries.  Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours, before serving.  Garnish with whipped cream, if desired.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Easter 2016 – Celebrate Our Heritage With Easter Cheesecake

Have you planned your big Easter meal yet?

Traditionally it’s a mid-day, room-temperature feast served after church.  Our menu has been pretty much the same for over a century, dating back at least to Peter’s great grandparents in Warsaw in the early 1900’s.  The menu has been honored through six generations, including Peter’s emigration to Canada in the 1950’s, through our marriage, kids, and a 5-year old grandchild.  Lucy already has an adventuresome palate, is learning to cook, and last year loved some of the Easter dishes.  This year she’ll try more and learn to love the rest before long. 

For the last month or so we’ve been tracking the Polish food blogs and Polish Facebook groups and checking out everyone’s favorite recipes.  They all look wonderful.  Some highlight the creative spin of contemporary cooks and each is a part of someones’ family tradition whether handed down through many generations or just one.  But as you know, our focus is on heritage recipes and preserving the traditional dishes and flavors of many generations past. 

So here we want to share with you a very traditional recipe for a Polish Easter cheesecake.  It’s absolutely delicious, a perfect ending for your Easter meal, and not hard to make if you follow the recipe exactly.


Yields 32 portions

1/3 cup butter
cups flour
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
3 tablespoons sour cream
¾ cup seedless raspberry jam

Using the paddle attachment of a standing mixer, cut the butter into the flour until it forms coarse crumbs.   Mix the egg with sour cream and add, then add the sugar and baking powder.  Mix until all the ingredients come together into a soft dough.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll out 2/3 of the dough to fit a 9x12-inch pan, buttered and sprinkled with bread crumbs.  Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes.  The crust will be only partially baked.  Remove from oven and cool.  Spread the raspberry jam over the partially baked crust.

Note:  if you wish to make a traditional decorative lattice on top of the cheesecake, reserve the remaining third of the dough and keep it cold until you are ready. If you’ve chosen to forgo the lattice, use the entire dough ball in the baking pan.

Cheese Filling
6 eggs
cups confectioners’ sugar
teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons orange zest
2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
tablespoons flour
pounds ricotta or farmer’s cheese
½ cup candied orange rind, finely chopped
1 egg white, beaten

Using a standing mixer, beat the eggs with the confectioners’ sugar for 5 minutes at high speed.  Add the vanilla, and lemon and orange zests.  Combine the cheese with the butter and flour and add to the egg and sugar mixture.  Fold in the candied orange rind.  Spread mixture over the partially baked crust and raspberry jam.

Bake for 50 to 65 minutes or until the cake is firm.  Remove and cool. 

To decorate the top with lattice, remove the cake from the oven after the first 30 minutes, or as soon as the filling is firm enough to support the dough strips without sinking.  

Form the remaining dough into thin, even rolls (like long straws) and place them diagonally across the top of the cheesecake in a criss-cross pattern.  Brush the latticework lightly with a beaten egg white.

Note:  for aesthetics, try to lay out the lattice rolls evenly parallel to each other, but don’t worry if they break or don’t quite stretch to the edge.  Stretch and seal the breaks and they’ll be just fine after baking – a few imperfections add rustic character to your cake.  

Return the cheesecake to the oven and continue baking for an additional 20-30 minutes until the lattice is golden brown and the cheesecake is firm.