Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Brunch--Eggs in a Nest of Summer Vegetables

I was leaving on vacation for a few days but thanks to my compulsive food shopping my refrigerator was full of fresh produce--fruits and vegetables are at their more appetizing peak, so I could not resist buying them in mass quantities. I realized that unfortunately they would get spoiled by the time we would come back. As I went through the content of the refrigerator shelves I wondered what to cook on this last day to use as much produce as possible. And it seemed like I was almost able to throw a small party. I thought about freezing some of the freshest vegetables and from the rest--peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, onions, and eggs--make something light for a Sunday brunch.

Serving eggs for Sunday brunch has been our family tradition for as long as I can remember. This was fully justified when my grandmother was breeding her own hens and organic eggs were always in reach. Those were the days. We ate eggs in omelets, soft- or hard-boild, or most often scrambled or fried. And scrambled eggs were made in many seasonal variations. In the fall, we made them with chantarelles, which are still my favorite version. In the winter, we enriched them with bacon. When some of my younger aunts were visiting us we were experimenting in the kitchen and made summer scrambled eggs with tomatoes, fresh peppers, and onions. In the spring, we fried them just on butter and served with young chives.

Many years ago I wrote down in my notebook this egg recipe and have forgotten about it for some time. When more recently I made it once for a brunch, it was a big success with my guests, because some of them were vegetarian. In today's recipe I also use prosciutto, as it is one of my leftovers from the refrigerator, but this dish can be made with vegetables only.

Eggs in a Nest of Vegetables

2 eggs per person, 8 altogether,
2 large ripe tomatoes,chopped or one can fire roasted tomatoes,
1 green or yellow pepper cut into stripes,
1 bunch asparagus,1 medium onion,cut in half and sliced,
1/4 cup chopped parsley,
4 slices prosciutto,chopped,salt and freshly ground pepper to taste,a pinch of sweet paprika,
3 tbsps olive oil.

1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Heat oil in a frying pan.
3. Put onion (in slices) and fry until transparent.
4. Add pepper and cook with onion for about 1 minute.
5. Cut from the end of asparagus about 1/4 of the length .The rest cut in 1 inch long sticks and add to the tomatoes mixture.
6. Cook everything for about another 5 minutes, at the end add cut prosciutto.
7. Butter small, individual ovenproof dishes.
8. Divide vegetables among four dishes, arrange them in nests (to put the eggs in).
9. Break two eggs and place them in the middle of each dish, season with salt, pepper and paprika.
10. Put dishes in the oven and bake them until the eggs are set, i.e., for about 20 minutes, depending on how you like the eggs to be done.
11. Decorate with parsley and serve warm with fresh European whole wheat bread.

There is a whole array of breads we eat in Europe. Polish bread is most often made of rye flour or whole wheat flour, and are based on yest leaven. In the US, this kind of bread can be found in Polish or German bakeries. It is different than, for example French bread, which is typically made of wheat flour and yeast, as opposed to leaven.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dill Cucumbers, but Not So Salted.

When I saw at the market small and fresh pickles, also called kirby cucumbers, I thought about introducing them to the international readers, since cucumbers in brine are a very important part of Polish national cuisine, and I have never tried them anywhere.

In the US they are available in jars in some grocery store in Jewish food sections, under the name kosher dill pickles, but they are more salted and contain a little bit of vinegar. Polish cucumbers in brine, that is cucumbers marinated in salt only and without the use of vinegar, are more healthy and, together with sour cabbage--another Polish specialty, for many years had been one of the very few sources of vitamins during winter months and protected us from digestive tract cancer.

On the second, or third day, when cucumbers are only half-marinated and still half-raw, we call them "malosolne" (i.e., not so-salted) and eat mostly as accompaniment to bread and cold-cut meat sandwiches, use them in a summer salads, make chilled soup, or eat on the side with dinners.

As they turn deeply salted we store them through the whole winter in tightly closed jars and use them for salads, soup, and serve with dinners.

When cucumbers appear on the summer farmers market we buy them by kilograms and the whole season preserve for winter. But they are so popular and tasty that consumption of the freshly marinated cucumbers is as big in the summer as later during the year when we take them from the storage when they are already well preserved.

Pickled kirby cucumbers owe their taste to the herbs in which they are marinated. These include horseradish root or leaves, dried blooming dill, and garlic. In Poland, one can buy just the right mix in bunches. Here I buy them separately and use just fresh dill instead of the dried one, which is not available.

If you find it difficult to find kirby cucumbers in a regular supermarket, you will certainly find them at local farmers market, smaller food stores and in the ethnic, particularly Asian supermarkets. Always look for the very fresh ones, as they stay preserved in a better shape and longer.

I make cucumbers in brine only for a short time, seasonal consumption and never tried to store here over the winter. But, since I will also share a recipe for the famous Polish cold beet soup (Chlodnik) which we eat in the summer, I needed to mention them as well. And since recipes have become so global and we are willing to try different food, maybe salted cucumbers will also find their lovers outside the Poland.

Here is a modified, international version, for a small preserve jar.

Dill cucumbers

1 pound of small kirby cucumbers,
4-6 dill branches,
4 cloves of peeled garlic,
1 piece of horseredish root, about 1 inch long,
1/2 tsp mustard seeds,
2 branches of fresh tarragon (optional),
1 tbsp salt,
2 bay leaves.

1. Dissolve salt well in one cup of water.
2. Wash cucumbers.
3. At the bottom of the jar arrange dill, garlic cloves, horseradish, and mustard seeds.
4. Put cucumbers in the jar vertically, tightly next to each other, with firmly lodged in the center.
5. Put a bay leave between the cucumbers and cover with tarragon.
6. Pour cold salted water until cucumbers are entirely covered. (You can use hot water if would like the cucumbers to marinate faster.
7. Close the lid tightly and let the jar stand in room temperature for couple of days.

If you would like to try half raw cucumbers they are good on the second, or third day when they turn from bright green to slightly dull. Cucumbers become fully marinated after four-fiver days when they become dark green, nearly brown. Then they become ordinary cucumbers in brine, which are a very popular side dish in Poland all year around.

Yogurt Dumplings

These dumplings are probably the simplest you would have ever done. They are delicious especially with a good meat sauce, but I also made them with a mushroom sauce for vegetarians. They are my kids absolutely the most favourite dinner, always causing an enthusiasm.

I used to make in Poland a more complicated version of them, but since I've got this simplified recipe from my mother, I found this version not only much easier to prepare but also more delicate in taste, I make yogurt dumplings as often as every two weeks.

Well, how much more can I talk about it? Just make them and try yourself. And I hope you will get addicted to them as my family is.

Yogurt Dumplings

2 cups low fat yogurt,
1 large organic egg,
2 and 1/2 cup flour.

1. Using whisker mix eggs with yogurt.
2. Add flour and make a smooth heavy batter.

3. Boil two quarters of water in a fairly large pot; add one tbsp of salt.
4. Using a regular soup spoon, take a little bit of batter (one-third of a tbsp) on the tip of the spoon and, while dipping each time the spoon in the boiling water, let the dumplings to drop one by one in the boiling water until the whole batter is gone.
5. Gently stir with a wooden spatula preventing from sticking to the bottom.
6. When dumplings appear on the surface, turn down the heat and let them boil for 4 minutes.
7. Drain the dumplings on a colander and serve with meat sauce, goulash, or a simple mushroom sauce for vegetarians.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Apricot Tart--Another Summer Celebration

Apricots came with a summer sun and are everywhere. I saw them today at the market perfect, smooth, and orange and could not resist trying them for the first time this year.

On the east coast of the United States they are available already in June and through the whole summer. In Poland, they become ripe and sweet only in August, unless July is exceptionally warm and sunny.

I have always preferred them over peaches and found easier to work with, because they are less juicy and more firm in texture. I also find them more tasty than peaches.

I have tried and made many dishes made of or with apricots: cakes, preserves, salads, different types of noodles, and meats. My favorite though, which I make most often, is an apricot tart.

The one that I make is very easy. I make double amount of crust and I keep it in my refrigerator up to two months, and use whenever perfect fruits appear on the market. I like this recipe for the crust because it does not require eggs. This is particularly good if I use eggs for the filling. This way the whole eggs consumption is kept to a minimum and their taste is not overpowering.

You will notice on my blog that I use that crust in many recipes.

Apricot Tart

Basic tart crust
(For an 11" baking tin)

2 sticks butter - 1/2 lb,
2 cups cake flour,
1/2 cup icing sugar.

1. Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and working with hands make big crumbs (see the picture) until all the ingredients are combined.

2. Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour, or better overnight (you can store this dough in a refrigerator for up to three weeks).
3. Grease with butter an 11'' baking form and put the dough.
4. Working with your fingers make edges and cover the bottom of the tin.

Apricot filling

1 1/2 pound apricots,
3/4 cup light cream,
3/4 cup sugar,
2 large organic eggs.

1. Heat the oven to 375 F.
2. Cut apricots in half and remove pits.
3. Whisk together eggs, cream, and sugar.
4. Bake the crust for about 10-15 minutes until it is not raw anymore but before it turns gold.
5. Arrange apricots on top of the crust and bake the tart for another 10 minutes.

6. Take the tart out of the oven and pour the egg mixture on it.
7. Bake for 30 minutes until the top is set and slightly gold. It may rise a little bit when it's done.
8. Take out from the oven, cool it down and serve warm or cold. It will also be excellent on the next day with a morning coffee.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lemon Pasta

June is exceptionally hot this year. We've had another hot week with temperatures above 90F. And another busy day - the last day of school. I'm trying to do all the errands before boys stay at home for the rest of the week. But nothing could be an excuse not to make a dinner on time. I'm thinking about something light and easy again, something that would satisfy the whole family at the same time and would be appropriate to celebrate summer and vacations. There is only one such thing - pasta.

On a cold, rainy, sunny, bad, or happy day it is always comfort and reward. Any kind, depending on the season, with tomatoes, salmon, lemon, pepper, meat, mushrooms, and a variety of herbs. Safe - everyone likes it, simple and easy but how tasty and delicious, especially with a glass of good wine! I chose the one with lemon, as it would be very refreshing on such a humid evening.

Lemon Pasta

1 pound of linguine pasta,
11/2 cup of heavy whipping cream,
2 tbsps butter,
2 lemons,
1/4 cup roasted pine nuts,
salt, freshly ground pepper,
freshly ground Parmesan cheese,
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley

1. Cook pasta al dente for about 8-9 minutes in a big pot of water with one tbsp of salt.
2. Roast pine nuts on a dry pan until dark gold.
3. Grate lemon peel from two lemons using a grater with small holes.
4. Squeeze juice from one lemon.

5. In a big, non-stick pot melt butter, add cream, lemon juice, lemon peel, and pine nuts and heat up just to the point of boiling.
6. Add cooked pasta to the sauce and mix it gently together.
7. Season with pepper.
8. Put pasta in a bowl, finish with chopped parsley and freshly ground Parmesan cheese.

Bon Appetit

And do not forget a glass of wine.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mache Salad--Perfect for a Summer Lunch

It is an early morning on a beautiful, sunny, and a very hot day in June. I sit at my kitchen island, drink coffee, and think about what to write in my first post.

Through the window I see my favorite hydrangeas in full bloom. At this time of the year, you can spot them in almost every yard in our neighborhood in many different colors from acid green, when they start to bloom, through all the shades of blue, pink, violet, and deep purple. Seven big hydrengea bushes are growing in front of my house. Every time I look at them I can hardly resist the urge to cut all the flowers and fill my many vases with them. But I know that if I let them bloom, they will stay beautiful until the first frost when they finally turn dark olive green and burgundy.

Lunch on such a gorgeous day should be light and fresh, and whenever I think that, a salad is almost always the first thing that comes to my mind. Today, I would like to propose a salad made from mache, also known as lamb's lettuce.

I have learned that recipe in Switzerland many years ago. Since mache is nowadays widely available I think it is worth popularizing.

Mache salad

1 pack mache, about 340 grams,
3 organic eggs,
1/2 pack lean bacon, about 6oz,
1 tbsp honey mustard,
2 tbsps balsamic vinegar,
1/4 cup extra virgin oil,
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

1. Cook eggs for about 3 minutes from the moment of boiling (until hard), cool them down, and cut into small pieces.
2. Cut bacon in strips, fry until gold. Drain from all the excess fat.
3. In a big bowl mix together mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Add chopped eggs and bacon.
5. Fold in mache gently into the mixture.
6. Serve immediately with white bread or baguette.

Very simple and nutritious. I hope you'll enjoy it.

And please have another look at my hydrengeas: