Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Fine Art of Polish Canapés (Kanapki)

Whether you call them hors d’oeuvres, starters, or fancy appetizers, Canapés, (Kanapki in Polish) have always held an important place in classic Polish cuisine, especially on special festive occasions.  In pre-war Poland, it was customary to greet important guests with bread and salt on a tray, signifying the host’s readiness to share everything valuable.  Hospitality was always held sacred in Poland, according to a belief that “a guest in the house – is God in the house!”  

Kanapki are multi-layer bites of goodness that are the perfect finger food for a cocktail party or starter for a larger dinner party.  Most are assembled from little rounds of rye bread or pumpernickel, artfully layered with components such as cheese spreads, green and black olive, herring, small slices of kielbasa, sardine, small cheese slices, and much more.  

Back in the day, Peter’s parents loved to entertain at home.  And Peter’s Dad was a master Canapé artist.   The morning of a fancy house party, he would line up all his ingredients on the kitchen counter and form an assembly line.  Then he would start the creative process.  His tools were a small cutting board, sharp paring knife, cocktail fork and tweezers.  

Heading up the line were three types of bread:  cocktail rye, pumpernickel rounds, and slices of French baguette cut into thin, two or three-inch slices.

The first layer was usually a soft spread such as butter, brie cheese, pâté, or one of the spreads below. 

The second layer could be a protein:  slice of kielbasa, smoked salmon, piece of sardine or pickled herring. 

The third layer could be a slice of pickle, tomato or sometimes a slice of hard boiled egg. 

Finally that gorgeous “tower of flavor” was topped off with a tiny dollop of sour cream or mayo, and then a bit of caviar or a sprig of dill.  Peter’s Dad didn’t follow any rules or recipes, but his creations were all about great ingredients, creating an amazing balanced bite, and of course - the visual presentation.   It’s an art form.

Here are several spreads that work well as the first layer on your cocktail bread.  Let your creativity run wild and go for it!

Mustard Butter
½ cup softened butter
½ cup course, whole grain mustard
Blend the butter and mustard until creamy. 
Variations:   instead of the mustard, try with:  2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions;  or two tablespoons of fresh chopped dill;  or 1 tablespoon of prepared horseradish (more or less to taste).  

PS:  For a "must-have" collection of great heritage recipes check out our two acclaimed Polish cookbooks: Polish Classic Recipes and Polish Classic Dessertswhere all the recipes have been handed down from previous generations, but updated for modern kitchens.  Also, listen to us discuss great heritage Polish cuisine in our vignette called Smacznego, every month at:

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Let's Get "Saucy" - Polish Style


In Polish cuisine, sauces are not quite so prolific or complicated as in France.  This image is of a beautiful flounder recipe with a light lemon sauce, found on Page 50, of our cook book: Polish Classic Recipes.  The right Polish sauce can elevate your cooking to the next level.  The key to success is in the right proportions of fat, flour, liquids, flavorings, and patience.  Always cook your sauces on low heat, always stir vigorously.  Today’s immersion blenders are super for getting the lumps out.

Here are a few important tips:
Instant flour, such as Wondra, can be a big help because it yields a smoother and less lumpy texture with less mixing  It's not always easy to find, but worth a spot in your pantry.
Never add flour to a hot sauce but do add sauce to the flour, a spoon at a time while constantly stirring.

Never boil a sauce with sour cream because it will separate.  And if it does separate, you can often save it by cooling it down and adding some more sour cream to the sauce.

Chicken or beef stocks are easiest to work with; bouillon cubes can be dissolved and used but watch the saltiness.  Base stock (highly concentrated stock in a jar – beef, chicken, mushroom) is great for kicking up flavor but use it very sparingly because it can be very salty. 

Here are a few traditional Polish sauces with great versatility.

Dill Pickle Sauce
1 ½ tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup beef stock
½ cup pickle juice from the jar
3 large dill pickles, shredded
½ cup sour cream
                                        Salt to taste
Heat the stock.  Mix the butter with the flour over low heat.  Stir in the hot stock gradually. Stir in the pickle liquid. Bring to a low boil while stirring constantly.  Add the pickles.  Add the sour cream very slowly while stirring.  Heat but do not let it boil.  Season with salt.   Serve over beef roast and boiled potatoes.

Dill Sauce
1 cup chicken or beef stock
3 tablespoons flour
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped dill (fresh has more flavor)
½ cups sour cream
Salt to taste
Put the flour in a small saucepan.  Stir in the stock (room temperature) into the flour gradually, while stirring. Bring to a low boil stirring constantly.  Add the dill and remove from heat. Add sour cream. Season with salt.  Serve warm over braised meats and dry casseroles. 

Dried Mushroom Sauce
1 ounce dried mushrooms
1 cup water
3 ½ tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons cold water
Salt & pepper
½ cup sour cream
Rinse the dried mushroom very thoroughly.  Rehydrate them by soaking in 1 cup hot water for about an hour.  Bring the soaking mushrooms in their water to a low boil for another 45 minutes, or until they are soft.   Rough chop the mushrooms. Combine the broth into the flour mixed with 4 tablespoons cold water.  Fold in the chopped mushrooms and bring to a low boil while stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool a bit and add the sour cream very slowly while stirring constantly.  Serve over meatloaf, meat balls or any braised meats.  

Cold Mustard Sauce
2 tablespoon prepared (yellow) mustard
Salt to taste
1 cup sour cream
¼ teaspoon sugar
Mix all the ingredients well; serve over cold ham, kielbasa, cold pork loin, or boiled eggs.  This sauce is very popular at Easter. 

Cold Green Onion Sauce
1 cup sour cream
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
4 tables finely chopped green onions (scallions) 
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt to taste
Mix all the ingredients well; serve over cold ham, kielbasa, cold pork loin, or boiled eggs. 

Cold Horseradish Sauce
5 ounces prepared horseradish
1 large apple, peeled & shredded
1 cup sour cream
Salt to taste
¼ teaspoon sugar
Mix the horseradish with the apples. Add the sour cream. Season with salt and sugar.  Serve with fish, cold cuts, hard-boiled eggs. 


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lenten Filet of Sole - Polish Style

It is Lent and time for meatless meals. Polish cuisine is not just about kielbasa, pierogi, or stuffed cabbage rolls.  Polish comfort food is loved around the whole world, but in fact there are a great many traditional dishes in our repertoire that are healthier, lighter, and just as delicious.  For this year’s Lenten season, we’re sharing with you a delicious fish preparation from Peter's Mom, first posted a few years ago, that will please the whole family and especially the healthy eaters around the table.   

This recipe features filet of sole which is pretty easy to find in better grocery stores.  But it can also be substituted with any lighter and thinner white fish such as flounder or tilapia.  We like Basa quite a bit, which is actually a Vietnamese cousin to the catfish but often sold in thinner filets.  

In Virginia we see Basa, both fresh and frozen, in Asian grocery stores so we like to make a special trip and buy a larger quantity for the freezer.  It’s one of our favorite fish and much cheaper than sole or flounder. 

Filet of Sole with vegetables - Polish Style
Serves 6
1 ½ tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
¼ small head of savoy cabbage, chopped
1 leek, finely sliced  (just the white part)
1 large carrot, finely sliced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 parsley root, finely sliced
3 tablespoons water
2 pounds filet of sole, or any white fish filets
Salt to taste

1 ½ tablespoons butter
1 ½ tablespoons flour
2 bouillon cubes, vegetable or chicken
1 cup hot water
Salt & pepper to taste
3 tablespoons sour cream

In a large skillet, heat the butter, add the vegetables and the 3 tablespoons of water,  sauté over medium heat until soft - about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the fish lightly with salt.  Place on top of the vegetables and simmer until the fish is just cooked through – about 5 to 10 minutes depending on thickness.  To test for doneness, pierce the filet lightly with a fork, turn it a bit to see if the fish is no longer opaque in color.  When done the fish should be somewhat flaky under your fork. 

To prepare the sauce,  heat the butter, add the flour, sauté while mixing until well blended.  Dissolve the bouillon cubes in hot water and add the broth to the pan.  Bring to a boil.  Stir until slightly thickened.

To serve, transfer the fish filets gently to a warm serving platter.  Add the sauce  to the vegetables. Remove from heat.  Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste.  Finish by stirring in the sour cream.  Pour over the fish.  
Serve with Polish dumplings, rice or egg noodles
                                                image courtesy of

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Chicken In Lemon Sauce From Warsaw

Witamy!  Best wishes for the New Year!

We’ve been eating a lot more chicken lately, its lean, healthy, budget-friendly, and generally easy to prepare.  One of the smartest ways to get a chicken on the table these days, especially for dual wage-earner families, is to buy a rotisserie chicken from your neighborhood grocery store.  

Our challenge though, is that Peter really hates dried out white meat and he’s not a big fan of left overs.  Since there are only two of us most evenings, we can’t finish a whole chicken.  That means that Laura has to work hard to reinvent the leftovers into something delicious.

One of our favorite preparations is this “Chicken in Lemon Sauce from Warsaw.”   This was Peter’s Great-Grandfather’s favorite dish and for years it would always put him in a good mood.  However, Great-Grandmother used it for that purpose a little too often because over time he became suspicious, expecting bad news to follow after each time he saw Chicken In Lemon Sauce on the table.  

We love this recipe and not just for left-overs.  Often we will roast our own chicken, or buy one, specifically to debone and let the pieces swim in this awesome, light & bright lemon sauce.  We like to serve it over rice with fresh veggies and a salad on the side. 

Serves 6
One 3-pound chicken, cooked, skinned, de-boned, cut into pieces.
2 tablespoons soft butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 egg yolks, beaten
2 tablespoons cold water
1 ¾ cups of chicken broth 
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped dill
Salt & pepper to taste.

Bring the broth to a boil.  In a separate pan, mix the butter with the flour well.  Stir in 5 tablespoons of the hot broth, one at a time.  Add this mix back to rest of the boiling broth.  Remove from the heat.  Add the egg yolks beaten with the cold water. Stir in half of the lemon juice. Taste.  The sauce should be bright and clearly lemony but not so tart that it puckers your lips.  Add more lemon juice if desired.  Sprinkle in the dill.  Taste again.  Season as needed but be careful with the salt since dill can add a salty back note to the sauce.