Friday, December 31, 2010

Best Blog on Earth--My Unique 2010 Award

Ever since I wrote my first post in June, it has felt like I have been holding a full time job. So much work is required to prepare just one post: shopping for the right ingredients, measuring their exact proportions (this is the most tedious part, which I never do when I cook for myself), taking photographs of the food and the dishes and, finally, writing the post in English, which is the most challenging part for me as a non-native English speaker.

Someone calculated that writing a blog with a well-defined subject and sending 2-3 posts weekly takes on average 30-40 hours of preparation a week. This is absolutely true, especially for a novice blogger and, in particular, when you do a food blog with a recipe in each post. And even more so when it is purely a hobby and the increased readership is your only, although also the most satisfying, reward. Therefore, growing numbers of visitors and awards from blog ranking sites count very much to bloggers. Probably everyone, who writes a food blog, dreams to be among The Times 50 of the world's best food blogs and have thousands of devoted visitors every day.

Because I concentrate mostly on cooking and the presentation of my dishes, and I am very bad at advertising myself and marketing my blog, I will probably never achieve any of that. Busy with the family life and its daily ups and downs, I sometimes think about discontinuing this project. But on the next day I wake up and already think about what to cook and share on my blog. I see at the market a beautiful fruit and already know in which dessert to put it in. I find a tiny plate and imagine a dish presented on it. I think it is called passion and the existence of this blog has changed forever how I look at food.

One of the biggest supporters of my blog is my eight years old son Philip, a native speaker and also sometimes an editor of my English, who tries hard to keep my blogger's spirit up in doubtful moments. Last summer, shortly after I started this blog, he made this poster, which he volunteered to hang all over the Washington D.C. area to help popularize my blog. This is my only award thus far, but will for ever be the most precious one. I am the only and very proud recipient of it, so at the end of this year, my first year of blogging, I would like to share it with you all.

Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Celery Root Gratin--Not Exotic but Still Unknown

On my recent visit to the Asian food market, while looking for the exotic jicama for the red cabbage and beets salad, I spotted many vegetables that I not only have never tried, but did not even know they existed. I took out a pen and wrote down all the unusual names later to find recipes for them. The list is surprisingly long--eddo, malanga, nagaimo, jokote, battata--just to name some. As those vegetables became available in an exotic food store, I will try to find good recipes for them and popularize those that I will like best.

But, in the meantime, I decided to write again about the celery root, a vegetable that can be found in all popular supermarkets, but in the United States is still considered as exotic as all the vegetables I have just named. And although I see every day people buying celery sticks, I have never spotted anyone reaching for the celery root.

Celery root is a necessary ingredient in almost all Polish soups and many salads. We share this love with the French who make many interesting dishes from that aromatic tuber, and even marinate it in vinegar.

The other day when I had a French friend over, she reminded me of celery gratin--a dish that I have heard a lot about, but never tried. I love everything that is gratinéed in a creamy and cheesy sauce, and served with a glass of red wine, the French way, so I right away assumed that it could be one of my favorite dishes. This essentially vegetarian dish is quite hearty, which makes it perfect for this cold season. It is quite similar to although a little sweeter than potato gratin. At first, I served it with baby potatoes, but later I tried it with a baguette and liked it more that way.

A green salad--especially a peppery arugula salad--will be a nice complement to it as its sharp taste will contrast with the sweetness of the celery root.

Celery Root Gratin

1 large celery root about 2 lbs,
1 1/3 cup milk,
1 egg yolk,
1/2 cup creme fresh, or heavy whipping cream,
1 cup Gruyère, Fontina, or Cheddar cheese, grated,
3 tbsp butter,
salt and white pepper.

1. Peel off the celery root, cut in quarters and slice into 1/4 inch slices.
2. Put them in a pot, add milk and butter, and cook slowly for about 20 minutes (be careful as milk has a tendency to spill if it is boiling too rapidly).
3. Preheat oven to 425 F.
4. Butter an oven-proof dish and arrange gently the slices of the cooked celery root at the bottom of it.
5. In a bowl mix together cream, egg yolk, 2/3 cup of cheese, and milk from cooking the celery root.
6. Pour the mixture over the celery root slices and cover on top with the remaining cheese.
7. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, until the cheese melts and forms a gold crust.

This is an excellent stand-alone vegetarian dish, or can be served as accompaniment to white meats.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Roasted Pepper Soup--Between Christmas and New Year

Some are still on vacation, but some need to go back to work. Having family visiting and kids home for almost two weeks, I really have had no time to write much. We are still eating Christmas leftovers and very little is cooking is needed these days. But I was thinking that an easy soup recipe can be appealing for those who need to cook something, especially in this cold weather. How about a roasted pepper soup?

Bell peppers are one of my favorite vegetables. They can be used to make almost any type of dish and they taste equally good all year round, as they are imported from parts of the world where they are in season. You can roast many bell peppers at once and use part of them to make this soup and later in the week you can use the rest of them to make some other dishes, such as pasta with roasted bell peppers, or marinate them in garlic, lemon, and olive oil to serve them as salad or a side dish.

I like to serve this soup with strips of fried prosciutto and sesame bread sticks.

Roasted Pepper Soup
Serves 4-6

3 red bell peppers, roasted,
3-4 shallots or 1 medium onion, chopped,
1 medium potato, cut into small cubes,
2 garlic cloves, minced,
2 celery sticks, cut,
3 slices prosciutto, cut in small strips,
3 tbsp olive oil,
1/2 cup table cream,
1/2 tsp red pepper,
salt and pepper to taste

1. Roast the peppers, cool them, and remove all the peel. Cut into smaller pieces. This step can be made ahead; roasted peppers can be stored in a refrigerator for up to three days. If you use an electric oven you can roast whole peppers or cut them in halves, remove the seeds and put the pepper halves skin up on a baking tin as close to the broil as possible. If you have a gas stove, you can stuck the whole pepper on a fork and roast it over the gas burner. Put the roasted peppers on a dish, cover them immediately with a lid, and keep them covered until they cool down. Then remove the blackened peel--the better roasted the pepper, the easier the peel will come off. Cut each pepper into quarters and then into stripes.

2. Heat one tbsp of oil in a saucepan, and fry prosciutto strips until crispy. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. Add the remaining oil to the pan and cook shallot with garlic for about 5 minutes, until soft.
4. Add potato and celery and cook on a small heat for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until potatoes become transparent.
5. Put peppers into the saucepan and saute all the vegetables for about 3-5 minutes, season with paprika, salt, and pepper. Add water just so to cover all the vegetables, and cook until potatoes become soft.
6. Cool the soup a little bit and purée using electric a blender.
7. Add cream and mix gently with a large spoon.
8. Decorate with prosciutto strips on top.

Serve with Italian bread sticks or white French bread.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cod in Winter Vegetables--A Piece of Polish Christmas Tradition

Sweets are the main subject of food blogs these days: cookies, pies, and Christmas cakes. Perhaps because they look festive and are more photogenic than other traditional Christmas items: fish, turkey, or goose. Is there anything that could compete with hand-crafted cookies meticulously decorated with icing and chocolate?

Sweets are also a big part of Christmas culinary tradition in Poland, but many original savory dishes are key to the Polish Christmas cuisine, especially fish and other vegetarian dishes, which are served on the Christmas Eve supper. The tradition requires that twelve vegetarian dishes are served at this most important meal of the year. With some regional variations to the Christmas Eve menu often includes

1. Herring in cream,
2. Herring in oil,
3. Clear beet soup served with small dumplings or stuffed yeast pastry,
4. Cabbage cooked with porcini,
5. Yellow peas,
6. Potatoes,
7. Fish sauteed with onion, or fish in vegetables,
8. Fish in cream,
9. Fish in bouillon jelly,
10. Winter vegetable salad in mayonnaise,
11. Noodles with poppy seeds,
12. Dried fruit soup or drink.

All kinds of sweets: cookies, cheesecakes, poppy seed cakes, and babkas are served for dessert. All that is just for Christmas Eve, whereas on the first and second day of Christmas we eat many different dishes and a lot of meats and cold cuts, accompanied by horseradish and winter preserves: beets, cucumbers, and mushrooms.

Today, I wanted to share something from this vegetarian menu. However, these dishes are so specifically Polish that I wondered if they would be appreciated by people who did not grow up in our culinary tradition. I decided to post the recipe for fish in vegetables as it is often the popular and healthy option with a decidedly universal appeal. Although this dish is part of the Christmas Eve menu in many Polish homes, we also eat it throughout the entire winter.

Cod in Vegetables

4-6 half pieces of cod fillet,
1 medium onion,
1 cup grated carrot,
1 cup grated celery root,
3 tbsp tomato paste,
4 tbsp grape seed oil,
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg,
2 tbsp chopped parsley,
salt and pepper.

1. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a frying pan.
2. Salt and pepper fish and fry each side for about 2-3 minutes, until gold.
3. Take the fish off the pan and put aside.
4. Add the remaining oil to the pan and fry onion until soft and transparent.
5. Add carrot and celery and saute on a small heat for about 10 minutes, until soft. You may add a little bit of water to prevent burning.
6. To soften the vegetables add tomato paste and two tablespoons of water.
7. Season with salt water, nutmeg and let it cook for another 5-10 minutes.
8. Transfer the fish back to the frying pan and cover it gently with vegetables.
9. Let it absorb the sauce for couple of hours.
10. Serve cold with bread.

This dish can be served as a stand-alone meal or as a starter before dinner.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Shortbreads--My Favorite Holiday Cookies

Shortbreads are not exactly what I had for Christmas most of my life, but they are my favorite cookies. Now you can buy the original Scottish shortbreads everywhere. They are so perfect and smell with real butter that, when I make mine at home, I look for the exact taste of the shortbreads from the original checkered tin box.

Years ago, they were not as widely available outside the British Isles, so after I left England I was happy to find this recipe in a Good Housekeeping magazine, as their incredible taste was haunting me. The recipe worked very well for me and I hope my shortbreads taste similar to those that are made in noble Scottish homes.

The secret of the shortbreads lies in the butter. The old-fashioned rich yellow butter is what you need to make them taste great. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to find it in the US, where average butter is rather pale and watery. Shortbreads made with supermarket butter will still be delicious, but they will not have this milky/buttery flavor, as they do when they are made with true farmers butter. So if you want to make them taste best, it is worth investing in a good quality butter. Today, I made them with Keller's butter, but next time I am thinking about trying the imported Irish butter.

Besides their great taste, shortbreads are nut free and are safe for a kids party. They also store well in cookie containers, so if you make a big batch of them they will be good for weeks or even months.

You can make them small and round, by slicing a dough log, which is an easy option, or make this traditional big round cookie and cut it into triangles. When making them, add a pinch of good quality sea salt to accentuate their buttery taste, and sprinkle them with sugar at the end.


2 sticks good quality unsalted butter,
2 1/4 cup plain white (wheat) flour,
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 tbsp extra,
1/2 cup rice flour,
pinch of sea salt.

1. In a large bowl mix together wheat flour, rice flour, and sugar.
2. Add butter to the bowl. Working with fingers make crumbs and gradually knead them into a smooth dough.
3. Form a dough into a log about 2 inch thick and cut it into 1/4 inch thick slices, or make a traditional big flat cookie, cut it into triangles, and poke it with a fork or bamboo stick.

4. Preheat oven to 330 F, and place the cookies on the buttered baking tin.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until pale gold.
6. Cool down and sprinkle with sugar.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Poppy Seed Cookies and Cute Santas Playing in the Snow

Here comes winter. Washington has been covered and partially paralyzed with the first snow of this season. Kids could not be happier with the early school release and I just panic that it is so soon. I am not ready at all. I was dragging my feet over different recipes, when with the first flurries I realized that there was no way out and it was the time to start posting holiday recipes.

I can write a book about the Polish Christmas culinary tradition, which I think is one of the most festive, rich, and unforgettable. But no matter how wonderful it is, Polish Christmas food tastes best when it is prepared in Poland. It is really wintry and quite heavy. And, living in the Washington DC area, which has a true cold winter season, I consider myself in a a way lucky to be able to spark the appetite for Polish food and cook it without remorse. But I often wonder how my Christmas would look in Australia when people are in the middle of a summer. I suppose our traditional heavy dishes, such as fried cabbage with wild mushrooms, are probably indigestible in 90°F.

So, a week before Christmas, I have decided to make cookies with poppy seeds--the ingredient that is essential for Polish Christmas. We use poppy seeds in many dishes and cakes but, unless you live in Poland and can buy a can of a very good ready-to-use filling made of poppy seeds or are willing to invest time and effort in scalding poppy seeds in milk and grinding them three times, I would not dare to talk anyone into making anything fancy with poppy seeds. Instead, here is a recipe that uses unprocessed poppy seeds, which play a largely symbolic role to remind of us of a much richer tradition. They are very delicate and, as many Polish desserts, not overwhelmingly sweet, so if you crave for a more satisfying dessert, just put more icing on top.

Poppy Seed Cookies

2 sticks of butter (about 225 g)
1/3 cup icing sugar,
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk,
3 cups flour,
1/4 cup poppy seeds,
1/4 tsp baking flour.

1. Sift flour, poppy seeds, and baking powder into a large bowl.
2. Add butter to flour and working with fingers make a crumble-like dough.
3. Mix together the egg, the yolk, and sugar until smooth.
4. Pour this mixture over the flour and work it into the dough.
5. Wrap the dough in plastic foil and chill it in a refrigerator for at least 1 hour (it can be made even a week ahead).
6. Before making cookies preheat oven to 350 F.
7. On a surface dusted with flour roll out the dough down to a thickness of 1/4 inch.
8. Cut out cookies using the Christmas cookie cutters and place them on a cookie tin greased with butter.

9. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until dark gold.
10. Cool down and sprinkle with icing, depending on how sweet your tooth is.

Icing can be made from a 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, 1-2 tbsp of milk, and 1 tsp of lemon juice.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Crispy Artichoke Roulade--A Wine Party Snack

After months of sabotaging me, my laptop caught on fire last week. Apparently, two years too late I have learned that it is a common problem with that model to the point that the company even sells the wire that usually breaks down. (I do not know why they just don't fix the problem themselves). If you think about buying a laptop for yourself or as a Xmas gift for someone you like or love, I have to warn you that it was a Toshiba, and my disappointment can be reversed only if they offer me a new laptop, which I don't think is going to happen.

As a result of that accident I have been incapacitated for a few days and I feel completely uninspired and powerless, because I have never realized how my creativity, inspiration, and everything else was facilitated by that small gadget. I hate the other big fancy computer I have to use now, and can't wait to find out if my little laptop is fixable. Meanwhile, I am just struggling to write anything, in particular something revealing. But since I was at a big party last night, and there are a few more ahead, maybe another party idea would be useful, especially with the New Year festivities approaching.

This is one of those simple snacks that do not take much but make a huge difference, especially if peanuts or a bag of chips are the alternative. I made some shortcuts while preparing it, which is buying puff pastry instead of making it myself (uncharacteristically, the one I bought was as good as a home-made one) and using easily available and canned ingredients. This recipe can be an inspiration for trying different fillings that you have handy, such as sun-dried tomatoes or mushrooms.

Artichoke Roulade

1 pack of puff pastry (two sheets), thawed,
1 can artichoke hearts,
1 bag baby spinach, about 6 oz,
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese,
2 tbsp butter,
1 egg,
salt and pepper.

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Heat the butter in a medium skillet and fry the onion in it for about 3 minutes, or until soft.
3. Add spinach to the onion and let it cook until it softens and releases water; let the water evaporate and continue to cook until the leaves become dark green.
4. Take the skillet from the heat, cool, and add chopped artichokes.
5. Add Parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper.
6. Unfold sheets of pastry and top each with a half of the filling.

7. Roll up each piece and brush with beaten egg.

8.Cut the pastry diagonally and place it on a greased baking tin, one inch apart. Bake for 15-20 min, or until gold.

Serve as a snack while still warm,or cold.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cabbage Sautéed with Prunes--And Let's Go Shopping

December is not the month when we cook the most. It is the month when we shop. Actually, I think that until last days before Christmas we cook less than ever. My local Giant food store is not yet busier than usual, but my huge local shopping mall is crowded at any hour. We shop, but we do not shop for food, at least until next week. We shop for gifts, we shop for ourselves, we shop for parties. So who has the time to cook? These days, not even me.

Tomorrow, I going to a big Christmas party, and others will be cooking. For me, this is going to be about a tufted black Marc Jacobs dress, red lipstick, and perfumes. So, before the compulsive Christmas cooking starts, I decided to take a break and just use whatever is left in my refrigerator. I found there a half of cabbage, which has been there probably since October, but cabbage preserves well. This is why it has been such a popular vegetable during harsh winters in Poland.

At the bottom drawer of my refrigerator I also found an onion--which always goes well with cabbage--and a bag of Californian prunes. All those ingredients brought back the memory of a dish that I cooked years ago in Poland--cabbage with prunes. Today, I would think that this recipe had its roots in the Asian cuisine, but being such avid cabbage lovers, maybe we invented it ourselves, to bring a new flair to the old vegetable. It is an easy, fast, and I would say quite interesting dish. It can be eaten alone or as an accompaniment to meats. Whatever you decide, unlike many other cabbage dishes, it does not take long to prepare it, which is particularly important during these busy days.

Cabbage Sautéed with Prunes

1/2 medium cabbage,
1 medium onion,
1 tbsp grated ginger,
3 tbsp soy sauce,
1 tbsp white vinegar,
1/2 cup prunes,
3 tbsp vegetable oil,
salt and pepper.

1. Cut the cabbage into thin slices, salt it, and set aside for 10 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and, when the oil is hot, add ginger. Fry together for 2-3 minutes.
3. Cut the onion in half-moon slices, add it to the saucepan, and fry until transparent.
4. Add cabbage and saute it for 8-10 minutes, until it is soft.
5. Season with vinegar--you may add a little bit more if you like it on the sour side, soy sauce, and salt and pepper.
6. Cut the prunes into thin slices, add to the cabbage, and cook together for another 5-8 minutes.

This dish, as almost all cabbage dishes, tastes even better on a next day.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Onion Tart with Gruyère--A Guilty Pleasure

Among all the ingredients that one can imagine to make tarts with, onions or mushrooms seem most appropriate for this season. I often bake tarts using seasonal vegetables, but when the weather is cold like this, an onion tart often comes first to my mind. And I really mean a tart not a quiche.

Wherein does the difference lie? First of fall, the crust. A quiche is most often made on a puff pastry crust, while a tart is made on a short pastry crust. Second, how many eggs are used to make the filling. A typical quiche uses a lot of them and, in a quiche, eggs often dominate the taste of other ingredients. But when you make a tart, you can almost do without the eggs. Once I clarified that distinction for myself, I realized that I belonged among the tart, not quiche, lovers. I ate many quiches when I lived in Switzerland, but ever since I tried tarts that are made of pâte sablée or shortcrust, I fell for them deeply.

Recently, I have been experimenting with different tart crusts, and some of them turned out to be very interesting. I will eventually share some of these results. The crust I used today, however, is the most classical and pure, and all the character of the tart is in its rich onion topping.

I got the basic recipe for this tart from my French friend. She made her tart using pâte sablée and did not put any eggs in the onion mixture, which got me very intrigued. The richness of the filling was coming from the heavy whipping cream and cheese. That tart was delicious, although the presentation suffered a bit from the absence of eggs, which would help to lift and tie all the ingredients together. For that reason in my version of that tart I use one egg, which is barely detectable, but makes the topping look smooth and creamy.

Another secret which makes it exceptionally good is the cheese. Nothing can replace Gruyère with its sharp taste and strong flavor. The combination of the sweet onion and Gruyère makes this tart whole. I like to add a little bit of fresh thyme to the topping, but I did not have it handy this time. I suggest to use fresh thyme as it has a milder taste than when it is dry. There is not really any way to make this tart to be a diet meal, but since I already used an egg I decided to replace the heavy whipping cream with the regular table cream to cut down on a few calories, but even with that little replacement, this is not a light dish. But, after all, what is wrong with offering yourself a piece of comfort food with a glass of wine and a bowl of salad on a cold December day?

Onion Tart with Gruyère

The crust (for a 10" baking pan)

2 cups of flour,
1 stick butter,
3 tbsp shortening,
1 tsp salt,
3-4 tbsp ice cold water.

1. Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and working with your fingers create a mixture that resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Add cold water at the end and stir the mixture until it starts to stick together.
3. Collect the dough until it forms a smooth ball.
4. Wrap the dough in a plastic foil and chill in a refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes.
5. Take the dough out and put it on a work surface dusted slightly with flour.
6. Sprinkle a rolling pin with flour and use it to roll the dough to the size of the pan, plus the height of the edges.
7. Preheat the oven to 375F and bake the crust for about 15 minutes, or until the bottom is slightly gold.

Onion topping:

3-4 medium, regular (not sweet) onions,
1 large egg or 2 smaller eggs,
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese,
1/2 cup table cream (if you are not scared of calories you can use heavy whipping cream),
1 tsp salt,
freshly ground pepper,
1 tsp fresh thyme,
3 tbsp olive oil.

1. Peel the onion and cut it in half and into thin slices (half-moons).
2. Heat the oil and fry onion for about 5 minutes, until it becomes transparent. Cool it down.
3. Mix together egg, salt, and cream and pour the mix over the onion.
4. Add Gruyère and thyme. Mix gently and pour over the pre-baked crust.
5. Bake for another 40-45 minutes until the top becomes gold.
Serve with green salads.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Apple Pancakes--A Quick Feast

When I started this blog I did not consider posting a recipe for such a basic dish as apple pancakes, thinking that no one would ever be interested in it. But the truth is, not chefs, but ordinary people like myself, with passion for cooking, browse through culinary blogs in search of new and appealing recipes that are also easy to make. I discovered that whatever seemed very familiar and almost too obvious to me, despite its simplicity, could be interesting and revealing to people that do not come from my culinary culture.

I was inspired to share this recipe by reading a recent Smitten Kitchen post about apple latkes, which got a huge response. I suppose that latkes have been exported outside Eastern Europe, by Jewish migrants. Latkes, in particular potato latkes, are staple food in Poland. We call them "placki", which can be translated into "latkes" or, more generally, "pancakes". However, Jewish latkes are typically drier inside and crispier than Polish "placki".

Polish pancakes are soft and quite thick. When they are still warm, they are slightly crispy, but as they get cooler they become more chewy. For apple pancakes, which are very popular in the fall and winter, we use pretty much the same batter that is used to make crepes, but add yeast, soda, or baking powder to the batter. In my version, I also add yogurt, kefir, or sour milk.

Apple pancakes are one of the simplest  sweet snacks. If you like sweet meals, you can serve them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or supper. Whatever you decide to make them for, kids will always love them. The whole preparation takes no more than five minutes. They taste great also when they are cold on the next day and my son likes them to have with a cup of chocolate milk for breakfast.

Apple Pancakes
(Makes about small 16 pancakes)

1 cup flour,
1 egg,
1 1/2 cup yogurt, kefir, or sour milk,
pinch of salt,
1 medium apple Granny Smith or McIntosh,
vegetable oil for frying,
powdered sugar,
cinnamon, optional.

1. Put flour, baking powder, egg, yogurt, and salt into a bowl and mix well with a whisker until you obtain a smooth batter.
2. Peel off the apple and grate it on a large whole grater or cut into small thin slices. Incorporate them into the batter with a spatula.
3. Heat a large pan and cover the bottom evenly with oil.
4. When oil becomes hot, put dollops of batter and fry them for about 2-3 minute until they become gold.

5. Turn the pancakes over and fry on the other side. Transfer them on a plate covered with a sheet of paper towel to absorb the unnecessary oil.

6. Dust pancakes with powdered sugar, and cinnamon (optional) and serve warm.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Easy Cheddar and Apple Bread--An Excuse to Empty my Pantry

When I visit grocery stores, one reflection often comes to my mind--there are many products that I never buy because I simply do not know how to use them. Especially here in America I have this feeling more often than in Europe. Peaking into someone else's cart, and seeing things that I never buy myself, I wonder what these people do with that (especially in such amounts). Recently, when I was buying ingredients for my Christmas cake, I carefully looked at the packages to make sure that I do not buy accidentally something that I do not know how to use.

It happened a couple of months ago when in a rush I bought a bag of self-rising flour instead of the regular one. Most of my cakes or tarts do not contain baking powder and only some of them require just a teaspoon of it or less. I also hardly use baking soda in my recipes. For that reason I do not know how to use a self-rising flour, especially that I cannot imagine how much baking powder is in it. But because of my mistake I had a bag of it on my pantry shelf. Ever since I made that mistake I had been desperately looking for recipes to use this flour before it became too old for anything. Recently, being in a mood for baking a variety of different breads, I found one such recipe in my old English cookbook. This bread always looked very appetizing to me, but required self-rising flour, which has always put me off. But this time it was a perfect time to try it out.

I come from a yeast-based bread culture and only such breads truly love, but I was willing to make a different one just to try out this self-rising flour.
Breads based on baking powder and soda come from the English or Irish tradition. The one I found also had cheddar cheese, apples, and peanuts, which made it much more than just a bread. I used walnuts as I am not a big fan of peanuts. The bread came out drier than the yeast-based bread, almost as a kind of spicy cake, but its shape and texture were bread-like and the whole result was not bad at all. Since I still have a lot of that flour left, I think that--before I discover some other recipes for its usage--I will make those breads a couple of times more.

Cheddar and Apple Bread
(Adapted from the Good Housekeeping New Step-by-Step Cookbook)

1 1/2 cup self raising flour,
1 cup aged cheddar cheese coarsely grated,
2 tbsp butter,
1 medium apple, peeled off and grated on a big hole grater,
1/2 cup nuts-- I used walnuts, the original recipe calls for peanuts but any kind would probably work as well,
1 egg,
5 tbsp milk,
1 tbsp vegetable oil,
freshly ground pepper.

1. Put flour in a large bowl and using fingers rub the butter in it.
2. Add grated cheese, apple, pepper and chopped nuts. Mix all the ingredients.
3. Whisk together egg and milk, pour them into the flour mixture, and make a soft dough.
4. Preheat oven to 375 F.
5. Grease lightly the baking sheet with oil and place dough on it formed into a flat disk with diagonal cuts on top.
6. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until golden brown.

Just a couple of slices with butter make a rich and fulfilling lunch and can be served with salads. It tastes best on the same day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Leek and Beef Soup--Another Eintopf

Sometimes we enjoy a labor intensive and sophisticated cooking that brings a "wow!' comment, but sometimes, especially after a long weekend that was most of all about cooking, a simple and easy meal is all we dream of. I do not expect that those two, or really three ingredients already sit on your refrigerator shelf, but you can get them on the way home and later, without much effort, enjoy a hearty, fulfilling meal. This soup certainly belongs in the eintopf category, as it is a rich wholesome dish in itself.

I got this recipe from my godmother. Ironically all her life she was everything but a good cook. She had a great style and taste, which was particularly striking years ago, in the most difficult economically times. She was funny and easy going. She had a business talent and was running a very profitable jewelry store, one of the biggest in northern Poland. Although we are not related, I claim to have inherited from her my "good eye" for jewelry of all kind.

After I told you all that about my godmother, you should not be surprised that I was rather apprehensive, when she called me to share this recipe. But on one busy day I decided to give this culinary experiment a try. And the result was surprisingly good, especially for the few ingredients it required.

I cannot give you the true origins of this recipe but, since my godmother is of German descent and traveled often to Germany, it likely comes from there, but perhaps not and it is just an invention of the busy generation.

This soup is so simple, that I am sure one can experiment with it endlessly--a different type of cheese can be used, or some spices added, vegetable or beef bouillon cubes, or anything extra. But if you decide to stick with the original version, it is still quite interesting. My own addition was to spice it up with a lot of freshly ground pepper and a full spoon of Italian herbs. It tastes great with a nice French country bread, but when I prepared this soup for today's post, I served it with a very fresh baguette and this worked perfectly well too.

Leek and Beef Soup
(Serves four)

1 pound of lean ground beef,
3 leeks,
3 wedges of The Laughing Cow creamy cheese, or any European equivalent,
salt, pepper,
1 tbsp of dry Italian herbs, or at least oregano,
1 cube of vegetable bouillon,
2 tbsp vegetable oil,

1. Wash leeks thoroughly, to make sure that all the dirt has been removed from between the leaves, and cut them into thin slices.
2. In a saucepan heat the oil and fry beef until gold.
3. Add leeks to the saucepan and saute them until they become transparent.
4. Turn down heat a notch, add herbs, salt, and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. Cover the meat with water (about 4 cups) and cook for about 30 minutes or until soft.
5. You can add a vegetable or beef bouillon cube at that moment.
6. When meat becomes soft, add three wedges of cream cheese and let the soup simmer until the cheese melts completely.
7. Serve the soup with fresh bread.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Basmati Rice with Coconut and Lime--Delicious Warm or Cold

It has been very quiet in my neighborhood, as it is only on holidays. There was not even much traffic on the black Friday, probably because nowadays you can buy everything on the Internet, without looking for a parking spot and waiting in long lines at the cashiers. People are not shopping for food, still finishing the remains of the recent feast, but I am already looking forward to trying something different than we ate in the past weeks. And I need to hurry up, as soon enough Christmas food aroma will overtake my kitchen.

Recently, while going through the pile of Metropolitan Home magazine, in search of a minimalistic garden furniture idea, I found a recipe that intrigued me right away. Did I tell already that I deplore terribly that this magazine has been discontinued? I loved not only the architecture and the interior ideas it proposed, but also the culinary recipes it featured on its pages once a month.

One of them, salmon in green sauce, has been in my repertoire for years and became my guests favorite salmon version--interesting in taste, easy, and elegant. Today's coconut rice is my new hit which came from Metropolitan Home. I made it already several times and tested on friends . So far, it was loved by everyone, including my picky kids and already a couple of friends asked me to share that recipe. Originally, it was supposed to be a salad, and I am sure it will be a wonderful summer meal, but these days I serve it warm as meat accompaniment.

Basmati Rice with Coconut and Lime

2 cups basmati rice,
2 tbsp vegetable oil,
1 small onion diced,
2 garlic cloves minced,
2 tbsp grated ginger,
1tsp turmeric powder,
1 can (13-14 oz) unsweetened coconut milk,
1/2 cup unsalted roasted cashews chopped,
1 bunch spring onion, thinly sliced,
2 limes,
salt to taste.

1. Rinse rice well in cold water.
2. Heat the oil in a saucepan, adding onion, garlic, ginger, and cook until onion is soft.
3. Stir in turmeric and add rice. Saute for about 3 minutes.
4. Add the coconut milk, 2 1/2 cup water, and about 1 tsp of salt. (If you use a rice cooker, first transfer the rice mix to the cooker and then follow with coconut milk and water).
5. Bring rice to boiling, reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until all the liquid evaporates.
6. If you serve it warm, add cashews, spring onion, and peel and juice from one lime. Mix and serve decorated with lime wedges. If you serve it as a salad, cool down the rice and serve cold.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pear and Cranberries Tart--Not Only For This Weekend

Thanksgiving for me, and probably many other people coming from Europe, is not about typical American food. It is mostly about a four days-long weekend, meeting friends during these days and maybe finally having time to read a book that has already been renewed twice at the library and for which I have already had to pay a fine.

Last week, after I came home from a party, I found a message on the phone from my neighbors and friends with an invitation for a Thanksgiving lunch. There is nothing I could be more grateful for! Even better news is that it is not only going to be a delicious feast as always, but most of all VEGETARIAN!!

I made a couple of times the whole Thanksgiving meal myself, and I have witnesses--the invited guests, who could testify that all the dishes were wonderful and innovative, including a turkey breast roasted with rosemary and lemon. But I just feel like betraying myself and my guests, by cooking something that I do not try while preparing it and do not eat when it is ready. Ironically, I mean the turkey.

My all contribution to that lunch will be a cake. I still cannot decide between my no bake pomegranate cheesecake or pear and cranberries tart. I will make both and since the hostess prepares a pie I will probably decide to take the cheesecake. This way, on Friday morning I will have a piece of that tart with my morning coffee.

A simple pear tart seems bland to me. Adding sour cranberries to it compliments the sweetness of the pears nicely and makes the tart taste neither too dull nor too sour.

Pear and Cranberries Tart


Crust (for 10'' round baking pan)
2 sticks butter, cut into smaller pieces.
3 cups flour,
1/4 cup sugar,
2 egg yolks,
2 tbsp cold water,
pinch of salt.

Fruit Topping
3-4 soft pears, peeled, seeded, and cut into thin slices.
1 cup fresh cranberries,
2 tbsp ground almonds or bread crumbs,
1 cup sweet cream,
2 eggs,
1/3 cup sugar.

1. In a large bowl put flour, salt, and butter, and working with hands make crumbs.
2. Mix egg yolks with sugar, until the mixture becomes smooth and pour it into the bowl.
3. Finally add cold water and form a dough (you may dust your hands with flour to make the dough less sticky).
4. Wrap the dough in plastic foil and chill it in a refrigerator. The dough can be made even a week ahead.
5. Take a cold dough from the refrigerator and leave for 20 minutes in room temperature to let it soften.
6. Roll it out to the size of the baking form on a surface dusted with flour and fill the tart form.
7. Preheat oven to 375F and bake crust for about 20 minutes, or until it starts to turn gold.
8. Mix together eggs with cream and sugar.
9. Take the crust from the oven, sprinkle it with ground almonds and cover with pear slices.
10. On top of the tart scatter cranberries and cover with egg and cream mixture.

11. Continue to bake for another 20-30 minutes.
12. You can serve it when it is still warm.