Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Pork & Sauerkraut - Polish Style

As the weather turns colder, our taste buds turn to comfort food, dishes that are satisfying and stick to your ribs.  We often take turns in the kitchen but when I’m the designated chef, simple and easy is the way to go.  I’m not looking for a long list of ingredients and prep time should be no longer than a 30-minute news broadcast.  Are you with me? 

So we often turn to pork.  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.  If I’m grilling chops over a direct flame, a little bit of light pink in the middle is my goal.

We love pork because it is so versatile and hard to screw up – so 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 (Polish Classic Recipes, 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 brought home 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.

As soon as I got home, I grabbed a handful of dried forest mushrooms (bought in bulk on Amazon) 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.   After the mushrooms softened, I rough-chopped them.

Next, I put a tablespoon of oil into a deep skillet, browned the chops, set them aside, and lightly sautéed a small chopped onion - making sure the heat didn’t get too high to burn the brown pork bits in the bottom of the pan;

With a hard spatula I scraped and loosened the pork bits leaving them IN the pan for flavoring. Then I rinsed the sauerkraut three times to help dilute some of the harsh tang.  

The sauerkraut and mushrooms went back in the pan with some additional flavoring.  For a sweeter style you could add half a tart 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.

Next went in some salt and pepper, stirred lightly to blend all the flavorings. Then the chops went back in the skillet, kind of pushed down into the sauerkraut;

Finally, the reserved 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 a glass of hearty red wine is just great.
I spent less than six bucks on the pork and sauerkraut, less than 20 minutes prepping, and the two of us got a big meal out of it.  It was full of big bold flavors, the pork was moist, and the whole dish was healthy, so that goes down as a big win.  Polish Pork and Sauerkraut – yum!   Smacznego!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Awesome Apple Desserts - Polish Style


It’s apple time!  Local orchards are full and ready for picking.  Our farmer’s markets are overflowing with many varieties of fresh picked apples including those “not-so-pretty” local varieties. In fact Peter just read about one orchard featuring “heirloom apples”...yes, they were deformed and misshapen, but apparently just delicious. 

There’s an apple orchard just up the road and their apple cider barrels are brimming with fresh and tangy, amazing cider - if you can swat the bees away which are looking for a treat as well.  We’ve always preferred the fresh pressed, unpasteurized, straight-out-of-the-barrel kind because the taste is so much more intense. 

Apples are an important part of Polish cuisine and here are two favorite desserts that Peter’s Mom made for him every fall.

Apple and Rice Delight
Serves 6
    4  cups, semi-tart, peeled, cored and shredded apples  (use those ugly local ones, because they taste great, are often cheapest and most plentiful, and they support your local produce farms.) 
    1  tablespoon cinnamon
    1/2  cup brown sugar
4     cups cooked rice, not precooked or instant rice
cups sour cream
4     tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 375 °F.  In a bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar with the shredded apples and mix well.
Grease a 9-inch baking dish (or glass pie pan)  and spread out the rice and apples in the pan , in alternating layers  (rice/apples/rice/apples/rice) .
Cover and bake for 40 minutes.  In the mean time, whisk the sour cream and sugar into a sauce and set aside.
Let the dish cool down a bit.  Serve warm in small bowls, topped with the sweet sour cream sauce. 
Note:  the top layer of rice may get a little crunchy, but that gives it a great texture.

Stuffed Apples  (Serves 6)
·       3 tablespoons honey
·       3 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
·       3 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs
·       2 tablespoons orange liqueur  *
·       6 medium apples  (sweet, not tart)
·       3 teaspoons butter

Preheat oven to 375 °F.  Mix the honey with the walnuts, cracker crumbs and liqueur  * or substitute with 2 tablespoons orange juice plus ½ teaspoon orange zest.    Cut the tops off the apples and core to remove the seeds.  Fill the holes with the stuffing.  Top with ½ teaspoon of butter and cover with the apple tops.    Place close to one another in a baking dish and bake for 1 hour.  Serve warm.  Maybe with a scoop of ice cream to be really awesome.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Chilled Fruit Soups - Summer's Delight

Witamy!   It's a hot summer this year and our local farmers’ market is overflowing with delicious fruit.  And the shelves in our local grocery stores are displaying huge varieties of summer fruit - just ripe and ready to be loved.  This is the time of year for chilled summer fruit soups – a unique and original element of Polish cuisine.  blueberry soup image courtesy of "przyslijprzeps.pl
We serve them on hot summer days for lunch, as in-between refreshers, or even a light supper. They are refreshing, full of flavor, and always enjoyed by everyone in the family, regardless of age.  These fruit soups are not too sweet and Poles eat them as a first course for supper or as a heartier main course with noodles.  Sometimes they are served after the main course, as a healthier replacement for dessert.

Chilled Blueberry Soup
Serves 6
1 quart blueberries
1 slice white bread
4 cups water
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves
½ cup sugar
2/3 cup sour cream

Add the blueberries and bread to one cup of boiling water. Bring back to boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Mix in a blender for just a few seconds until smooth.  Add remaining 3 cups of boiling water, spices and sugar, blend well until smooth.  Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.  Just before serving, add sour cream to the soup tureen and mix.  Garnish each serving with croutons.

Chilled Strawberry Soup
Serves 6
1 quart ripe strawberries, washed and hulled
1 quart buttermilk
½ cup sugar
2/3 cup sour cream
Using a blender, mix the strawberries and 1 cup of the buttermilk for a few seconds until smooth.  Add the sugar and remaining buttermilk and mix well.  Chill thoroughly.  Serve with home-made buttery croutons. 

For two delicious varieties, substitute 3 pints of pitted Italian plums or 3 pints of pitted cherries, and increase the sour cream a bit to 2/3 cup.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Czarnina – Duck Blood Soup (With or Without the Blood)


Czarnina is a Polish comfort soup that originated decades ago on Polish farms as a way to use up every part of a slaughtered duck or goose. It’s a rural dish. It was brought over by early immigrants and is now revered by those who remember Czarnina at their Babcia’s kitchen table.  Today, I believe that this dish is one of those legends that gets bigger with age, but it also fades with age when trying to remember how this soup actually tasted.  Duck blood??  Really?  

Even though I can’t understand the pleasure from sipping the blood of a duck, even cooked, there must be a reason why duck’s blood is so hard to find these days. I called our favorite butcher and was told that fresh ducks were readily available, but only cleaned and dressed.  With all the regulations on commercial food handling, I’m guessing that not many will guarantee the freshness and safety of the blood.  I suppose one could get fresh blood directly from a farmer...if one knew a farmer.

But today you won’t need that farmer  to buy fresh duck blood!!

This link goes to a shop just outside of Buffalo, NY that sells a kit for making Czarnina. It includes the duck, 2 pints of freshy duck blood, the noodles, and more.  It’s not cheap because you are required to have the kit shipped to you by air to maintain the freshness of the blood.  But it’s real -- I actually called them today to verify.
But if you’re like me and can’t excited about the real thing, here is a recipe for a no-blood version, It still has a lot of flavor, but avoiding the blood is a better way to go, as far as I’m concerned.  It gets a lot of flavor from fresh or smoked neck bones, either pork or some variety of fowl – whatever you can get.  Try it and let us know how it worked. 

Mock Duck Blood Soup
Serves 8
  3 pounds meaty fresh or smoked neck bones, pork, turkey, duck, etc.
1 pound dried prunes, pitted
1 stalk celery
1 sprig parsley
1 bay leaf
5 whole allspice
2 whole cloves
¼ cup raisins
1 small tart apple, chopped
1/4 cup vinegar or lemon juice
½ to 1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups light cream
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste

If using fresh neck bones, blanch, drain and rinse them.  Place blanched or smoked neck bones in a large pot or Dutch oven. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the top.
2.     While the bones are coming to a boil, make a small bag from cheese cloth (or a clean cotton hankie) and place in it the celery, parsley, allspice and cloves.  Add it to the soup pot, reduce heat, add vinegar and bay leaf and simmer, partially covered, for 1 hour.
3.     Add prunes and season slowly with sugar, salt and pepper (watch the salt if using smoked neck bones).  Bring back to a boil, reduce heat and simmer slowly, partially covered, for 1 hour or until meat falls off the bone.
4.     Taste again and adjust the seasonings, plus vinegar or lemon juice, to your own palate.  Add the seasonings slowly, and keep tasting.  The broth should have a slightly sweet tone from the plums and sugar, but with a slight and soft contrasting tartness from the vinegar or lemon juice.  Remove meat from bones and return to pot.
5.     Turn off the heat, cool soup and then refrigerate until fat is congealed on top for easy skimming and removal. 
6.     Just before serving, “cream” the cold soup by adding a few ladles of cold soup into a medium bowl and slowly whisking in the flour and cream; and whisking (or blending) until very smooth and all the flour lumps are gone.  Pour this mixture back into the soup pot and heat gently until soup is thickened and any raw flour taste is cooked out.
      Serve over noodles, if desired.   Smacznego!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Salmon, Two Ways: Polish Style

So you know that fresh dill is often called the national herb of Polish cuisine, right?  A sprinkle of chopped dill will brighten up almost any dish.  Peter just came back from the farmer’s market where he found bunches of fresh dill that had just been harvested that morning.  Of course, he brought some home and when we put it up to our noses and inhaled that distinct aroma...it was heaven! 

Grilled Salmon - Dill goes especially well with salmon – both fresh and canned.  Peter loves to cook fresh salmon steaks (or salmon filets) on the grill.  And Laura loves it too because that lets her off the hook for cooking dinner.
       image courtesy of naruszcie.pl                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
First he oils them lightly with canola oil so they don’t stick on the grill grates (any flavorless vegetable oil will work).  Then he gives each piece a light sprinkling of fresh chopped dill and places a couple of thin lemon slices on top.  When the grill is hot or the charcoal is gray, he places the fish on the grill grates and immediately turns the heat down to low.  If you’re using charcoal, raise the grill grates up at least 3 or 4 inches from the coals.  Cook about 4 or 5 minutes on each side (less for thin filets), remove the lemon, flip the fish, put the lemon slices back on top and grill for another three or four minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish. 
image courtesy of naruszcie.pl

Now if Peter was a professional chef, he would check for doneness by just touching the fish. But he’s not, so there’s absolutely nothing wrong with cutting a small slit at the thickest point and having a look.  It will be ready to come off the grill if the middle is still just a bit pink inside. Salmon that has been cooked too long gets very dry, very quickly.
Put the fish on a serving platter, sprinkle some more fresh chopped dill on top, maybe drizzle with some fresh lemon juice, and voila, you’re ready to serve.  It’s the dill that makes it Polish style.  We love to pair our grilled Polish salmon with a small green salad, maybe some rice, and a fresh rose wine from our favorite local vineyard.

Salmon Salad - If you open Laura’s pantry you’ll always see a few cans of salmon on the shelf.

It has a lot more flavor than canned tuna and offers a world of options for a light healthy meal when you’re short on time or energy. Canned salmon has a lot of healthy nutrients, especially good for your heart.  Laura prefers the wild sockeye salmon which has orange-red color and stronger flavor than the basic pink salmon.  It’s a little more expensive but the flavor profile is worth it.  Laura likes the Kirkland brand of canned salmon (packed in water) from Costco but any brand will work. 

This salmon salad was a favorite of Peter’s Mom’s.  It’s been shared in this space before but is being brought it back today because it really needs to be in your book of go-to recipes.  It’s a great warm-weather plate when you don’t feel like preparing a more complicated meal. 

Serves 8
16 ounces canned, wild salmon, drained and crumbled
2 cups young potatoes, boiled & sliced thinly
1 cup mayonnaise
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
1 tablespoon scallions or green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

The only prep is to arrange all the ingredients in layers, so how easy is that?  On the bottom of a serving platter, spread the potatoes in a flat layer.  Second, spread a healthy layer of the crumpled salmon over the potatoes and lightly sprinkle with half of the chopped dill.  Third, spread a very light layer of the mayonnaise over the salmon.  Cover with alternating slices of tomato and the egg – show off your wild side and be creative!  

Sprinkle the top with chopped green onions, and the rest of the chopped dill.  Chill for an hour and serve on lettuce leaves.  A glass of dry white wine or fresh iced tea can be a very relaxing accompaniment.  

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Easter Traditions - Polish Style

Witamy, Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych

Greetings and Happy Easter! 

Easter will come upon us very soon. Since Poland is mostly Catholic, Easter is as important as Christmas on the religious calendar. 

We’re in the middle of Lent right now, which began on Ash Wednesday.  It is an opportunity to empty the larder of all fats and sweets and a typical Lenten meal in Polish rural villages might be un-peeled potatoes with herring.

This year, Palm Sunday is on the 14th.   Back in the day, one week before Palm Sunday, practicing housewives in the villages would stop baking bread because of a legend that the bread they bake almost every day during the rest of the year will be spoiled.  They would resume baking during Holy Week. In some villages they didn’t begin to bake until Good Friday but in other religiously strict villages it was not permitted to bake anything at all that day. If any housewife violated this ban, the entire village would be in danger of a long drought, which could be repelled only by throwing the pots and the guilty housewife into the pond! 

On Holy Saturday, priests in Polish churches all over the world, would bless baskets of food brought by parishioners which were filled with breads, cakes, decorated eggs, horseradish, sausages, ham, salt, pepper, and tiny sugar lambs.  

On Easter Sunday, we eat!  The feast is actually a mid-day meal served at room temperature because no food smoking or cooking was permitted.   After morning church, the beautifully laid dining table is covered with colored eggs, cold meats, salads, coils of sausages, ham, and more. 

A few of the traditions we followed when Peter was growing up have since become “Americanized” but we still exchange pieces of hardboiled egg and exchange Easter wishes to each other – the same as we do at Christmas with a blessed wafer.  Our menu hasn’t changed much from the early years.  Things get serious shortly after coming home from church and we're all hungry.  After sharing the egg, we sit down and start with the clear Barszcz (beet consommé) which is served hot  "on the side" in elegant china cups.

There are always several varieties of kielbasa (always from a Polish deli) and a ham. Peter’s Mom used get her ham from a Polish deli on the assumption that Polish hams were always less salty, but these days we don’t have a Polish deli near-by, so we get a beautiful spiral sliced ham from the grocery store. Next to the ham and kielbasa, we always have a pale yellow, sour cream & mustard sauce (to kick up the meats), plus Cwikla - a relish made of chopped beets and prepared horseradish, which definitely kicks everything up in a big way and makes our tongues sing! 

Also on the table there is always a big bowl of Polish Vegetable Salad which is so easy to make and served at most of our holiday feasts.  A bag of frozen vegetables, diced potatoes, diced dill pickle, and a special dressing made from mayo, sour cream, mustard and fresh chopped dil -- all dressed on top with more dill, egg slices and maybe a few radish slices for color. Soo good!  

Desserts include one or two Mazurkas, a Baba, and occasionally a Polish cheese cake.  Our books contain the heritage recipes for all of these traditional Easter dishes, each tested and adjusted for modern kitchen techniques.  

Here is a Baba recipe that Peter likes a lot because of the rum that flavors the glaze. 

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 F° for 45 minutes. 

Glaze – Add the sugar to the water in a heavy pan and cook until it becomes a heavy syrup.  Add the orange juice and rum and stir well.
Remove the warm cake from the pan onto a serving plate and immediately pour the glaze 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 slicing. 


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Braised Pork Loin, Polish Style

Do you have a favorite, “go-to” cooking pot?  Why do you like it so much?  Ours used to be this wide, shiny 5-quart beauty that is well into its golden years, having been purchased over 45 years ago, as part of a cookery set Laura bought before we got married.  Occasionally we still see this same brand of pots being hawked at home & garden shows by salesmen who cook every type of ingredients without sticking, burning or ever ruining the food.  They’re right next to the miracle wiping cloth, miracle mops, and miracle knives that cut everything from paper to my fingers.  We’ve bought a lot of pots over the years:  small saucy pots, big lobster pots, pasta pots, steamer pots, non-stick pots, outrageously expensive pots, just about every kind of specialty pot ever made.

Now we have a new favorite – a bright yellow, cast iron Dutch Oven by Le Creuset. It’s heavy and a bit awkward to work with, but it’s our beloved, go-to vessel for chili, spaghetti sauce and of course for braising meats such as beef roasts or pork loins.  It heats evenly and keeps its heat marvelously and does its best work on medium. If you don’t burn your food in the bottom, its easy to clean as well.

We love braising pork loins in our pot.  Pork loins are inexpensive, lean, healthy, and delicious.   
Here is a really easy recipe for a tasty pork roast that is a sure winner for family and company alike! 

Braised Pork Loin - Polish Style
Serves 6
1½ pounds boneless pork loin
2 tablespoons seasoned flour
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¾ cup apple cider, apple juice or water
3 large onions, halved and cut in ¼ inch slices
½ teaspoon salt

3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut in ¼ inch slices
2 tablespoon flour
Additional salt and pepper to taste

Dredge the pork loin in the seasoned flour.  Heat the oil in a 4 or 5 quart oven-safe pot over medium heat until it’s hot but not smoking.  Brown the meat on all sides and remove from the pot.

Add onions to the pot and sauté on medium heat, stirring occasionally until softened and just starting to turn golden in color - about 5 minutes.  Add ½ teaspoon salt and continue to sauté and stir until onions are golden and caramelized.  This may take up to 8 more minutes.  Remove the onions and set aside for later.

Add the apple cider, juice or water to the pot and return the pork to the pot.  It should sit in about one to two inches of liquid.  Cover pot with a tight fitting lid and simmer for 1 hour.  Check the pot once in a while to make sure the liquid has not evaporated.  Add more if needed.

Add the cooked onions and apples to the pot and simmer for an additional 30 minutes.  Check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. The safe internal pork cooking temperature is 145° F followed by a three-minute rest. A little pink inside is perfectly OK.   Remove the meat and keep warm on a platter covered with foil.  Don’t let it sit too long because it tends to dry out quickly.

Strain the pan drippings through a sieve, pressing down on the solids to push all the juices out.  Discard the solids and return the strained juices to the pot.  Add 2 tablespoons flour to half cup of cold water and blend well.  Add back to the pot juices and bring to a boil, stirring frequently to make a sauce.  Adjust seasonings to taste.

Slice the pork thinly, arrange on a pretty serving platter, and pour the sauce over the meat.
                                                                   Image courtesy of blueapron.com

Serve with red cabbage, mashed potatoes, Polish beer or your favorite hearty red wine.