Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Growing Up Polish - Easter Traditions, 2017

Wesołego Alleluja  -- Happy Easter !

This is a recent conversation with Laura and Peter Zeranski about their Easter traditions:

Peter:  Easter is coming soon and for most Poles it is one of the two biggest religious celebrations of the year. I love the traditional foods and delicious sweets such as the sweet Walnut Mazurka pictured here.

Laura: As Peter’s parents grew older, preparing the food and keeping up tradition became my job.

Peter: About a week before Easter, my assignment was to dye a batch of hard boiled eggs – five colors with each pastel tablet dissolved in a coffee mug cup of boiling water.  After they dried we would shine them up with bacon fat. And even today it's still my job,

Laura:  And you do such a good job!  Then there is the butter lamb.  Most of the time Peter’s Mom would buy one at a Polish deli and it rested in the freezer until the big day.  It always sat on the table next to a chocolate rabbit. 

Peter:  Growing up I always had to bite into that rabbit’s head to see if it was hollow or solid.  If it was hollow, shards of chocolate would get all over the white tablecloth and I was in big trouble!

Laura:  A few years ago I found a lamb mold and I’ve been making my own Easter lambs…but you must be careful to fill the mold completely, otherwise we would end up with a deformed lamb – not a pretty sight.  Many Polish deli’s still carry butter lambs or you can find one on-line.

Peter:  We convene after church and first share bits of hardboiled egg and exchange Easter wishes – the same as we do at Christmas with a blessed wafer.  Our menu hasn’t changed much over the generations.  We sit down to cups of traditional clear, beet consommé, Barszcz...  

Laura: .. which is served hot in my best, elegant, china cups.  But the rest of dinner is served chilled or at room temperature.  There’s always a ham, Polish Vegetable Salad,  several varieties of Polish kielbasa, and on the side we always have a delicious mild mustard sauce plus Cwikla- a relish made of chopped beets and horseradish.  Easy to make:  just 5 parts finely chopped beets and one part prepared horseradish – m ore or less depending on how hot you like it.

Peter:  I always go for the big flavors so when Laura is not looking, I’ll sneak in an extra tea spoon of horseradish.  Years ago my Mom always got an imported Polish ham because it was a lot leaner and had a milder flavor than American brands.  Back in the day, it was said that Polish pigs were fed potatoes which gave them that milder flavor. 

Laura:  These days we go for a honey-glazed spiral sliced variety, just because it’s easier.

Peter:  Desserts used to include one or two Mazurkas, a Baba, and occasionally Grandma’s cheese cake.  These days we’ve cut back on the sweets but here is a Baba recipe that we particularly like because of the rum icing.

Laura:  The batter is made from margarine, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, milk, orange rind and raisins.    Place all the ingredients in a bowl, beat it with a mixer or 5 minutes and bake in a well-buttered 8-inch fluted ring pan, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. 

Peter:  The icing is just simple syrup, orange juice, some white rum, candied orange rind and maybe some orange zest.   Transfer the warm cake from the baking pan onto a serving plate and immediately pour the icing slowly over the top, letting it drip down the sides.  Sprinkle the top with orange zest.  Let it cool before cutting.  Soo good!

Here is the full recipe for this Baba.  And there are several other delicious Easter treats in our Polish Classic Desserts book. 

1/3 cup margarine, melted
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons milk
1 grated orange rind
½ cup raisins (optional)

1 cup sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup orange juice (no pulp)
¼ cup white rum
2 tablespoons candied orange rind, chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon orange zest (optional)

Batter – Place all the ingredients in a bowl and beat with a mixer for 5 minutes at medium speed.  Bake in a well-buttered 8-inch fluted ring pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. 

Icing – Add the sugar to the water in a heavy pan and cook until it becomes a heavy syrup.  Add the orange juice and rum.
Remove the warm cake from the pan onto a serving plate and immediately pour the icing slowly over the top, letting it drip down the sides slightly.  For a splash of color, sprinkle with bits of candied orange rind or orange zest.  Cool thoroughly before cutting.


Monday, February 27, 2017

White Fish in Horseradish Sauce, Polish Style

Ryba w Sosie Chrzanowym
Now that we've had our fill of Polish doughnuts, (pączki) it's time to turn our attention to Lent, which is almost upon us. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and a typical meatless meal would be non-peeled boiled potatoes (with dill and melted butter) and herring.

The Catholic ritual of fasting on religious feast days, introduced to Poland about 900 a.d., has had a strong influence on Polish food traditions.  Christmas Eve (Wigilia) and Lent are just two times when no meat is eaten, explaining why fish has such a key role in Polish heritage cooking.  This dish works well with any flat, white fish fillets such as sole, flounder or perch, or tilapia.  When Laura tested this dish for the first time, she and Peter were cautious about the intensity of the horseradish.  However, they quickly discovered that the sauce was milder than they expected.  It was delicious and, in fact, Peter spooned a bit of the sauce over his fresh vegetables and loved it. 

Serves 4
1 1/2   pounds fish fillets
1    teaspoon vinegar
2    tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2   cups horseradish sauce 

Season the fish with salt and sprinkle with vinegar.  Place fish fillets in a buttered baking dish. Drizzle with the melted butter.

Bake in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for 10 minutes.  Pour the horseradish sauce over the fillets and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Horseradish Sauce - Yields 2 cups

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup prepared horseradish
2/3 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Melt butter in a sauce pan over low heat and blend in flour to make a paste.  Gradually stir in the broth to the mixture, stirring constantly until thickened and smooth.  Stir in the horseradish and the sour cream.  Add the sugar and salt to taste.

Serve with buttered boiled baby potatoes and your favorite vegetables Polonaise Style. And don't forget the dill!  Can you guess what we'll have for dinner tonight?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Chrusciki (Angel Wings) For Carnival

Witamy na Nowy Rok!   New Year's Greetings!
Of all the great variety of Polish pastries, Chrusciki or Favorki (in Polish)  or in English:  Angel Wings or Crullers, are among the best known wherever Poles live around the globe.  They are beloved by children and adults alike.  They can always be found at Polish Church festivals and lately in some American grocery stores, although the quality is not up to par with homemade versions.

In Poland they are traditionally served between Christmas and Lent, the time of the year called Carnival, when all the best dances and parties take place.  In fact we also heard that there is one tradition for husbands to give Chrusciki to their wives on Friday the 13th in order to avoid bad luck.  You decide whether that makes sense. 

In Polish the word “Chrust”, means "dry branches broken off trees"  and Chrusciki is the diminutive version.  So it makes sense since these little fried cookies can resemble little dried twigs or even bow ties.  There are several variations to this recipe but the one below comes from Krakow before WWII.  It was given to Peter’s Mom by an excellent cook who grew up in Krakow.  They are not too difficult to make and with some practice it may take you about an hour. 
The dough must be soft and elastic and easy to roll out as thinly as possible. This also means they will fry very quickly. They don’t freeze well and if not eaten within a day or so of being made, they tend to lose their crispiness. But they are so traditional and so delicious.

Yields about 4 dozen

6 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon sugar
Dash of salt
1 tablespoon light rum (or vodka or brandy)
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups sifted flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Beat the egg yolks with sugar and salt thoroughly.  Add the rum, sour cream, lemon juice and lemon zest, vanilla extract, and blend until smooth.  Sift the flour and baking powder together.  Mix into the egg mixture a little at a time to make a stiff dough.  Knead the dough for at least ten minutes, keeping your board well floured as you knead.  Allow the dough to absorb as much flour as possible until it is no longer sticky.  Separate the dough into three portions and roll each out until it is very thin – almost transparent.

Cut the dough into thin strips about 1½ inches wide and 4 inches long.  Make a one inch slit, length toward one end of the strip.  Pull the long end of the strip through the slit.
Using a fryer or a deep pot, heat your oil to 375°F.  Fry the dough strips in the hot oil, turning them at least once.  (Hint:  chopsticks work well as turners).  Take them out when golden brown – just a minute or so.  Drain them  on paper towels,  sprinkle generously with powdered sugar, just before serving.

They are best served right away, but can be stored for a day or so in a tightly sealed, air-tight container.