Friday, August 27, 2010

White Cabbage Salad--Polish Ingredients, German Way

What can I possibly post on my last day of vacation in Poland? Cabbage, of course! But since this is almost a one-ingredient dish I will have to tell the story how this very low calorie and healthy salad got onto my family menu, especially that--which may seem surprising--this is not a Polish recipe.

Many years ago, still during the communist times, I went with my parents on vacation to our western neighbors--a tiny town called Friedrichroda in then East Germany, very close to the border with West Germany. You cannot even imagine how western it felt there then! Store shelves were filled up with a great variety of very desirable products: Salamander shoes, corduroy pants, a huge choice of wallpapers, not to mention the great variety of attractive looking food. The only regret was that we could not buy much for our limited allowance of GDR marks.

Every day's highlight were though the copious meals that we were served at the resort. It was a "lavish" Swedish buffet where you could eat as much as you wanted, which some people really tried, endlessly filling up their plates. The choice was wonderful, especially cold meats, which at that time we could only dream of in Poland, but also breads and salads. The most disappointing were desserts--tasteless, and not even sweet at all.

We liked the white cabbage salad particularly well. It was made from a very familiar ingredient--a mainstay of Polish cuisine--but was served in an unfamiliar way. We put our broken German through a strenuous test and got the recipe. Ever since, for more than thirty years, we have been having it at hour home. The only difference is we do not serve it as a self-standing salad but only with dinners--it enhance very good with meat, even grilled ones, and most of all with fish, especially fried in breadcrumbs.

So if you are tired of green salads and looking for something easy and healthy, this salad is an option rich in vitamins A, B1, B12, and C. It is always a huge hit at our deck parties and disappears fast, earning praises for its uniquely refreshing taste.

Shredded White Cabbage Salad

1/2 medium white cabbage (it actually should be young and still green),
1/2 cup flat-leaved Italian parsley,
1/2 cup chopped dill,
1 tbsp sugar,
1 lemon,
salt and pepper.

1. Shred the cabbage very thinly, put in a bowl, salt with about 1/2 tsp of salt, squeeze with hands slightly to help salt to penetrate and soften the cabbage, and aside for about 20-30 min.
2. Add sugar and lemon juice--you need to try how sour and sweet you like it to be--it should be sweet but the sour taste should dominate.
3. Put in dill and parsley, mix together, and serve.

Can be made even hours ahead and served straight from the refrigerator, especially on a hot day, for instance with grilled meats.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pears in Chocolate Sauce--A Perfect Vacation Finale

When I went through my recent posts I thought that it was time for a dessert again. And, although you cannot deny that the fall is approaching, last days of summer can be still hot making fruit desserts most desirable.

As a child, I never liked the time when apples and pears were ripening in our little orchard. It meant that the school year was about to begin and cold and rainy months were coming. On one of the three radio stations we had, Joe Dassin, my then French pop idol, was singing his deeply nostalgic "Indian Summer", perfectly in tune with my increasingly melancholic mood.

But late summer and early fall in DC is a very joyful season. It is warm and sunny. Skies are clear and air is fresh. With the end of the punishing heat and humidity, it is the time when relaxed people are coming back to town from vacations. School will start soon and will keep our kids busy. Meanwhile, we have a lot of memories to share over dinners and wine with our cosmopolitan friends.

The real fall in DC is not so much about pears, which are available almost the whole year round, but pumpkins. It really comes in late October, when farmers start to sell pumpkins at their seasonal markets.

So with this little pear dessert I am not trying to rush the fall in but would like it to be a celebration of the vacation end and all the beauty of the late summer. It is a simple and elegant dessert and can impress any fruit lover with a sweet tooth. I think it has its roots in the Hungarian cuisine but stand to be corrected on this score.

Pears in Chocolate Sauce
(Six servings)

3 firm pears,
1 cup water,
1/2 cup sweet wine,
2 tbsp sugar,
1 vanilla pod, if available,
1 tbsp lemon juice,
1/2 cup ground walnuts,
2 tbsp powdered sugar,
2-4 tbsp sour cream,
1 cup good quality dark chocolate; I like to use dark Lindt, or semi-sweet chocolate chips,
2-4 tbsp milk, but have some extra amount handy just in case.

1. Peel the pears, cut in half, and remove seeds leaving a round hollow space in their place.
2. In a pot, boil water, wine, lemon juice, sugar and the vanilla seeds from the vanilla pod together for 1 minute.
3. Place pears' halves in syrup and let them cook for about 8-10 minutes.
4. Remove pears from the hot syrup and cool down on a plate.
5. Mix walnuts with powdered sugar and cream to achieve a smooth and thick cream.
6. Melt chocolate in milk--it can be done over the boiling water, in a microwave oven, or very slowly on a stove, but you need to stir it all the time. You may need to add more milk to obtain a sauce-like consistency, depending on the type of chocolate you use.
7. Place pears on a dessert plate inside up and fill them with the walnut paste, creating a small mound sticking out.
8. Pour a cooled down chocolate sauce over, decorate with mint leaves and serve.

In the original recipe pears should be cooked in syrup, but recently I baked them at 375F for about 10 minutes in two-three tablespoons of sweet wine with two tablespoons of sugar added to it and they also tasted delicious. It seems to be a simpler method as well.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

White Bean Salad--A Very Lazy Idea

This is another easy salad that I love to serve with grilled or roasted meat or fish dishes. All the effort is in the chopping. Other than that, there is nothing easier to make, as it has only three ingredients, and the main one--white canned beans--I keep always on my pantry's shelf.

As today's recipe for the salad is so banal that there is nothing to talk about, I would like to take this opportunity to share a few more general culinary ideas and make some clarifying remarks on the recipes I posted earlier.

My recipes often leave space for creativity and I could be more liberal in defining the quantities of the ingredients used but, since this blog is also addressed to those who do not yet feel very comfortable in the kitchen, I try to measure all the ingredients and provide their accurate proportions to maximize everyone's chance to succeed. But you should always feel free to experiment. For instance, you could easily use more or less of the non-essential ingredients, like salt or spices, to achieve the taste you like. You could also use different fruits for the upside down cake, as it will not hurt its taste.

However, some of the recipes work well only when you use the key ingredients as recommended and strictly observe their proportions. Likewise, some of these dishes should be served only with the recommended accompaniments or at least something similar. For example: this blue cheese snack requires hard blue cheese, like Stilton, and will not work with Gorgonzola, which is soft already and will melt too fast. Similarly, yogurt dumplings will not taste right with the Asian-style sweet and sour meats, and should be served only with spicy meats of goulash type.

As soon as the summer and my traveling ends, I will start posting some of my more complicated culinary ideas, which I find more enjoyable, since they can truly prove my creativity and passion for food. But for now, lazy cooks enjoy!

White Bean Salad

2 cans any kind of white bean--I used Italian Cannellini beans,
1 English cucumber,
1/2 bunch of chives or 1 bunch of spring onion,
1/4 cup chopped dill,
1 tbsp mustard,
1 tsp sugar,
juice from 1 lemon,
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
salt and freshly ground pepper.

1. Open the cans of and rinse the beans with running water on the colander.
2. Peel the cucumber and cut it into small cubes.
3. Chop spring onion and dill.
4. Make a dressing from mustard, sugar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. When the dressing is smooth, pour in olive oil and stir gently.
5. Mix together the cucumber, beans, and herbs. Pour the dressing all over the salad and serve.

This amount of salad can satisfy 4 to 6 hungry guests. Can be served for dinner with meats or as a lunch dish with bread.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Herbs--if You Need to Eat Meat

My carnivore friends have been asking me to post some recipes for meat dishes. I must admit that there are at least two problems with this request.

First, there are not that many meat recipes on my menu. I do eat meat, but I tend to be more impressed with a good vegetable dish. I have probably eaten my share of meat dishes already in my youth and I am now more into experimenting with vegetables, especially those that were not part of my native cuisine.

Even more importantly, and this is something that even best food photographers are saying, it is very difficult to make cooked meat look good. For that reason, as someone who is very new to blogging and food photography, I was hesitant to confront this challenge. There are some good meat dishes in my recipe book, but I am afraid that, even though they taste great, they may look disappointing, as cooked meat almost always looks brown, brownish, or outright grey, which is not the most flattering way for a tasty dish to come out on a picture.

Below I share a recipe for pork with herb stuffing, and I hope that if you try to cook it, the taste will be more satisfying than these pictures may suggest. But I also promise to update this post if in the future I succeed in making a better picture of that dish.

Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Herbs

2 lb pork tenderloin; there are usually two pieces in one pack.

1 bunch of parsley,
4 branches of fresh rosemary,
1 cup of breadcrumbs,
4 cloves garlic,
1 small beaten egg,
salt and pepper.

1 tbsp of coarsely ground mustard,
4 tbsp olive oil,
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce,
salt and pepper.

1. Wash meat, dry with a paper towel, and cut half way alongside making sure that you do not cut through the end; this is just to be able to spread the meat sideways to accommodate the stuffing.
2. Chop garlic, parsley, and the leaves plucked off the rosemary branches.
3. Add breadcrumbs, beaten egg, season with salt and pepper, and mix all the ingredients to make a smooth stuffing.
4. Divide the stuffing between two pieces of meat, spread slightly and close tenderloins with wooden picks.

5. In a small bowl mix mustard, 2 tbsp of olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, salt.
6. Rub this dressing all over the pieces of meat and let it marinate for about half an hour.
7. Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan on high temperature and fry on it the tenderloins on both sides until dark gold or almost brownish.
8. Lower the temperature and add a little bit of water (about 1/4 cup) to prevent the meat from burning, and cook for about 20-30 minutes under cover, depending on how well you like your meat done.

Pork made this way is very nice just with salad, for example a bean one--my next post, or served traditionally with potatoes or rice.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tomato Flans from Tomato Coulis--a Summer Delight

Undeniably, more than anything else, this is a tomato season, and not only in Poland where for an equivalent of one dollar you can get two pounds of ripe tomatoes, but all over Europe, from Russia to Portugal. Also in DC, at farmers markets, or along the cross-country rounds on the way to the beach you can get now the locally grown tomatoes that are much tastier than the imported ones, which will be available in the supermarkets all year round.

If you buy such tasty tomatoes and have some leftovers after enjoying them with mozzarella or in any other tomato salad, I encourage you to make your own coulis, using this recipe. But if you did not find ones that taste like true summer tomatoes, just get a can of the fire-roasted tomatoes and the result will be acceptably good most of the time.

It is a rather light dish, as it is mainly made of tomatoes. It can be served for lunch or for dinner. It must be baked in water, or as the French say "au bain marie", but please don't be scared to try this because there is nothing simpler than that. And once you overcome the fear of baking in water, you will be ready to try all kind of delicious dishes requiring this technique, including crème brulée, everyone's favorite French dessert.

I am sure that, if you are a vegetable and light cuisine lover, you would appreciate this dish. I bake it usually in small ramekins, but it can also be made in a bigger, 10-inch oven-proof pie dish and cut into triangles. It will still taste and look great.

Tomato Flans

3 eggs,
1 pound of tomatoes or one medium-sized can of fire-roasted tomatoes,
1 cup table cream,
1/2 medium sweet onion,
2 cloves of garlic,
1 brunch of celery sticks,
1/4 cup chopped chives,
1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley,
2 brunches of fresh thyme,
1 tbsp of butter,
1 tbsp olive oil,
salt, pepper to taste.

1. For the coulis:
If you use fresh tomatoes, put tomatoes in a boiling water for about 2 minutes, then move them to the cold water in order to remove the peel, cut the peeled tomatoes into pieces.
If you use canned fire-roasted tomatoes, just open the can and cut the tomatoes.
2. Cut the celery, onion and garlic in small pieces and fry on the butter and oil mixture in a pot, until transparent.
3. Add to the pot tomatoes and simmer them for about 15-25 minutes--it will take a little bit longer if you use fresh tomatoes.
4. Cool the sauce a little bit and blend it into a smooth purée.
5. In a separate bowl, whip together whole eggs and cream until well blended.
6. Add to the egg mixture chopped chives, parsley and thyme leaves, and season with salt and pepper.
7. Combine tomato coulis and egg sauce.
8 Heat the oven to 375 F.
9. Butter 6-8 small ramekins or one oven-proof dish.
10. Divide the mixture over the ramekins to about 2/3 of the height,as the flan will rise slightly.
11. Place ramekins on a baking tin and pour around hot water up to half of their height.
12. Bake for about 30 minutes.

Serve warm, or at room temperature with French or Italian white bread and accompanied with a glass of red wine that always tastes good with tomato dishes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Blue Cheese and Pear Snacks for Wine Lovers

A friend has been asking me for a long time to share this recipe but, to be honest, I have been very reluctant to do that. It is one of the dishes from my "all-time favorite" list and one that I often serve to my guests. Most of the people who try this snack love it and ask for the recipe, but sharing it with them makes it impossible to serve it next time I have them over, since they learn how to do that and often use that recipe themselves.

My close and a very candid friend, who took home and reproduced some of my culinary secrets asked once: "Please do not make that dish for us anymore. I have been cooking it so often that we are tired of it." That is the only downside of having a culinary blog and sharing it with people we know. But, the big upside of it has been that it makes me feel great to be able to influence other people's culinary habits.

So I quietly hope I can interest with this recipe my anonymous readers in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Indonesia, and Russia but not so much in Washington DC. Let's hope they are all on vacation.

This simple snack is excellent served before dinner, or just as a party snack in itself when we meet people for drinks and finger food. Since summer creates many opportunities for meeting friends and family in a very informal atmosphere, it is a perfect time to let others enjoy this dish, its taste and simplicity.

When you look at it, it seems that you can recognize all the ingredients, but in fact there is a hidden one, which people cannot distinguish and which makes these petite sandwiches taste mysterious. You should guess.

Blue Cheese and Pear Baguette Sandwiches

1/2 baguette, a day-old baguette works the best,
1 soft pear,
1/2 pound of any hard blue cheese--it can be Bleu d'Auvergne or Stilton,
1/2 stick of butter,
1/2 cup of walnuts.

1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Cut the entire baguette in 1/4 inch thick slices and spread butter on them.
3. Peel off the pear, remove seeds and cut in quarters, then slice them across diagonally into thin slices.
4. Arrange the baguette on the baking tin buttered side up, and put a slice of pear on each piece.
5. Cover pear slices with slices of blue cheese and top with halves of walnuts.
6. Bake for that between 20-30 minutes, until cheese melts slightly, walnuts get roasted and the baguette turns gold.
7. Serve warm with wine.

This snack tastes wonderfully with red wine, but on a hot sunny evening it is goes particularly well with a glass of cold Vouvray or Sancerre.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cauliflower from my Hometown

Whenever I visit the farmers market in my hometown, I am overwhelmed by the great number of stands selling fruits and vegetables. I have to admit that I have never seen anything as impressive in the US and only the open-air market hosted by Geneva's Plaine de Plainpalais was comparable to this one, which is located in a relatively small provincial city in Poland.

All the products sold are very fresh and most of them, including eggs, are genuinely organic. Although you can find there only about four kinds of lettuce, I am sure that there are not many places in the world, maybe with the exception of Italy or Spain, where you can find so many--probably around twenty--different kinds of tomatoes. And they all are wonderfully ripe and tasty. There is also an enormous variety of potatoes, and many different types of cucumbers and peppers. Green beans are green only in their name as they come in various colors, from purple to white, and in many shapes and sizes.

Behind each stand there are mountains of cabbage and of course cauliflowers--large snow white curds, which are very fresh and aromatic in an earthy sort of way. Without any hesitation I have chosen the biggest cauliflower curd (in Poland we always say "cauliflower head" though) I could find for today's dinner and I will prepare it in a traditional Polish way with buttery, crispy bread crumbs, and I will serve it accompanied by a tomato salad. But can anyone else anywhere in the world get excited like me about a cauliflower cooked in such a simple way? True, a simple cauliflower tastes really great only when it had been grown locally in a good soil, with the right amount of water and sun, and was harvested in the morning of the very same day it was sold at the market.

Probably this is the reason why I do not cook it as often anymore in my American home, and if I do, I typically serve it in béchamel sauce or baked with garlic, since both methods can make even a supermarket cauliflower taste rich and interesting.

Cauliflower Pie

1 cauliflower,
1 egg,
3 cloves of garlic,
1 tbsp of sour cream,
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese,
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg,
1 tbsp chopped parsley,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Divide cauliflower into smaller pieces and cook in salted water until almost soft.
3. Mix the whole egg, cream, and Parmesan cheese together.
4. Cool slightly the pieces of cooked cauliflower and, using food processor, break them into smaller rice-like pieces.
5. Add to the cauliflower the egg mixture, add chopped parsley and crushed garlic, and mix well.
6. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
7. Put cauliflower in a buttered oven-proof dish and bake for 35–45 minutes, or until the it turns slightly gold at the top.

Cauliflower prepared this way can be served as a self-standing, vegetarian dish and will taste even better with a tomato salad. It can also accompany any meat or fish. If enriched by adding chopped, smoked ham, it turns into a very rich meal in itself. It is not very photogenic but it tastes better than it looks!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Life Savers--Apple Juice with Mint and Honey Lemonade

Around the world, August is probably the most popular vacation month of the year. Not only, traditionally, in France and Italy, but even in the culinary blogosphere. Blog hosts leave on vacation, close their blogs for the entire month, and later share more pictures of the places they visit than recipes. Check Mowielicious, What's for lunch, Honey?, Jul's Kitchen, and some others.

Well, I am on vacation too, far away from DC, at the Masurian Lakes, my native region in the north east of Poland. But even here I cannot forget about my blog and not only do I collect new recipes and copy the old ones, some of which I forgot about a long time ago, but also continue to write and--despite many technical difficulties and the lack of a decent camera--try to post new blogs from time to time.

I found a recipe book that I created more than thirty years ago. It was my culinary bible for many years. I wrote down in it and clipped out into it the recipes from all over the world, which were then so rarely appearing in Polish magazines. There are even traces of whipped eggs, also more than thirty years old, that I splashed on my notebook when I was using it to make some of the cakes that became very popular with my friends and family. You would not believe how many of these recipes I recreate at least once a month at my American home. And you would not believe from how many different cuisines of the world they come from. There you find the Croatian pumpkin, Flemish beef, Czech dumplings, German Quarktorte, Cypriot noodles, and hundreds of others. I will try to share the most interesting ones in my posts, starting this fall. But, until then, I also will mostly write rather than cook, but hopefully not only for those who just like to read about food.

Anyway, it is very hot here which means that not only fruits and vegetables are at their peak and taste great but, most of all, we drink a lot.

My younger son is addicted to a very Polish summer drink, which is apple juice with mint. It is very simple to make but I have not found it anywhere else, even though apple juice is probably even more popular for instance in the United States than here. I will try to imitate something similar by adding to it fresh mint leaves from my garden, or by mixing apple juice with cold mint tea--this should work one way or another.

Honey lemonade is another very refreshing drink for these boiling hot days. Honey is very popular in Poland and considered very healthy, as opposed to sugar. Our bees make it from many different flowers and in different colors. At this time of the year, honey is very fresh, wonderfully running, and aromatic. I will not specify any proportions for this lemonade as there is nothing simpler than this. Just squeeze into a pitcher of spring water a few lemons and/or limes and add some running honey, according to your taste. Chill it down with a few ice cubes and enjoy the respite this wonderful homemade drink provides on an unbearably hot August day.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Coffee Mousse

I am not a big fan of chocolate or any heavy desserts during summer. Of course, like most of us, I do crave the richness of chocolate but mostly when the weather is cold. On hot summer days, I find the fruit-based desserts most satisfying and refreshing, and the hot weather brings out their taste like nothing else. However, I recently re-discovered this recipe for a coffee mousse.

This coffee mousse is similar in taste to a chilled or frozen coffee drink and it is very refreshing. While not as rich as most chocolate desserts, it is also very sweet and fulfilling. One hot day in July I served it to my friends. Being amateurs of good quality coffee, my guests loved it. It was a great finish to our dinner--a small amount of coffee mousse made everyone very happy and full.

If you follow my recipes you may notice that, although sometimes they look complicated, in fact they are not. I am not a professional cook and most of all I love recipes that are not only tasty and elegant but that are also simple and can work for everyone. Luckily, I have many such recipes, especially for desserts, and this coffee mousse, although it takes many steps to make it, is one of them. And I will post more really easy ones after the vacation.

You may notice as well that I never use raw eggs and for that reason all my desserts are safe. Sometimes, to achieve the desired lightness I have to use whipped cream to compensate for the lack of egg whites but I guarantee that, if you follow my recipes, you will not get infected with salmonella.

Here is a coffee mousse that will wake you up after any lazy summer dinner.

Coffee Mousse

2 cups heavy whipping cream,
1 tsp instant coffee extract,
1/3 cup powdered sugar,
3 egg yolks,
1 cup of white chocolate or white chocolate chips.

1. Put 1 cup of heavy cream in the pot together with the coffee extract, egg yolks, and sugar.
2. Mix all the ingredients until they combine well.
3. Heat the coffee mixture and, using a whisker or an electric mixer, whip constantly until it turns into a mousse.
4. Take off from the burner and continue to whip until the mousse cools almost entirely down.
5. Melt white chocolate over a pot with boiling water until it becomes smooth and cool it a bit.
6. Add chocolate to the coffee mixture.
7. Whip the remaining heavy cream until stiff.
8. Fold it slowly into the coffee mousse in two steps.
9. Put the mousse into small glass goblets.
10. Decorate with whipped cream and cocoa powder.
11. Chill for at least 4 hours and serve cold.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Red Cabbage Salad--Coleslaw's Polish Cousin

Poland can certainly be called a land of cabbage and potatoes. These two ingredients, together with beets, practically define Polish cuisine. If you visit Polish farmers markets you will be astounded by the mountains of cabbage heads and the great variety and quantity of potatoes being sold. Therefore, while spending the whole month in Poland, I cannot resist introducing my international readers to cabbage.

Whenever any foreigner asks about Polish cuisine or wants to show any knowledge of it, cabbage-based dishes inevitably come up. The most famous is bigos--a long cooked dish (it can take days to cook bigos properly), which is made from sour and fresh cabbage with a generous amount of different meats and sausages, and it is spiced up with dried porcini or prunes. It is very heavy but very tasty and everyone who has been raised in its flavor is nostalgic about it. Foreigners who tried it either fell in love with bigos, or hate forever even the very smell of it.

For those who are even scared to try bigos, we also have much lighter and less odoriferous dishes that are made of cabbage. They are also much easier to prepare. We have many variations of them in our national cuisine and anyone who is willing to try them, will find for sure a dish made of cabbage that is very tasty but also very light.

Unfortunately, as foreign cuisines have become widespread in Poland in recent years and even all the "holes in the walls" now serve exotic food like sushi or Turkish kebab, it is now much harder to find a good traditional dish like a cabbage salad, which used to be so prominent on the Polish daily menu.

Red cabbage was always one of my favorites. It is very healthy as it is particularly rich in vitamins K and C. It can be served in a cooked version, as a side dish to heavier meats like duck or venison, but the one I make at home is a simple salad made of raw red cabbage to preserve all its nutritional values. It can be served to accompany any meat, especially grilled.

Red Cabbage Salad

1/2 head red cabbage,
1/2 medium sweet onion,
2 tbsp roasted, slivered almonds,
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar,
1 tsp of sugar,
1/4 cup olive oil,
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional),
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Shred cabbage thinly, salt generously, and set aside for about half an hour.
2. Using hands squeeze cabbage to help soften and macerate in its own juice.
3. Season with sugar, vinegar, and pepper.
4. Add onion and oil and mix well.
5. Sprinkle with almonds and serve.

Useful tips:
This salad can also be served at lunch with bread and cold meat cuts. If you sprinkle it with feta cheese, it would become a rich meal in itself.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dragon Fruit Salad for the Cucumber Season

A summer vacation in Poland is called the cucumber season, meaning that it is time to relax in a silly sort of way as press news are not worth reading (being mainly about cucumbers growing strong and other gardening events like that) and most big city cultural establishments are closed. And that is the reason for this post.

I have never dreamed to be a fruit salad queen, but it's a perfect seasonal topic given the heat we experience and the somewhat lazy August atmosphere.

I went to the Asian market last week and I could not resist buying these picturesque dragon fruits. I do not remember eating them ever before, so I thought it would be a good excuse to try them and share my impressions on the blog.

A dragon fruit is unbelievably pink on the outside and very interesting in shape, but its inside is even more surprising. It is white but looks a little bit like a kiwi fruit, or one Polish cake with poppy seeds, and it is very subtle in taste.

To be honest with you, I had bought it mainly to make a picture of it. But when I tried it, I immediately thought to combine it into a fruit salad with a pineapple that has already been sitting in a fruit bowl on my kitchen counter. Just another exotic combination: a dragon fruit and a pineapple, that's all it is. If you are disappointed, I hope that you will at least enjoy these pictures.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Chicken to Impress--Mission Impossible

Part 1

Who serves chicken these days and can impress anyone with the result? Impossible.

Last year, during a visit to London, I had a luck to dine at a three Michelin star restaurant. I read that booking at such a highly recommended place should be made long in advance so I did not really hope to get a table there straight from the street especially on a Saturday night. Even though it was November and the rain was pouring even beyond British tolerance, streets were full of people going out (like me).

It was impossible to catch a taxi so I decided to walk. With some difficulty and guidance from several Indian vendors I found the renowned restaurant I had read about in the restaurant guide. It was located on a tiny one-way street. I walked in just out of sheer curiosity at least to see the interior.

The restaurant did not seem to be full, but in fact it was completely booked. Luckily, the girl who asked if I had the reservation happened to be Polish and, for once, the Polish connection worked for me--someone cancelled at the last moment and the waitress was sweet enough to offer me that place.

I have recently read on Delicious Days that, if we plan to review a restaurant, it is good to sleep over our thoughts, in order to be objective and to calm our emotions. I have slept on my impressions for almost ten months and I believe I am now ready to share them with the world.

I was offered a fixed menu that included a chicken as a main course. I was very happy about that as I have always been curious to find out how the world famous cooks are able to change something so ordinary into a culinary poetry.

Unfortunately, I am sorry to admit, the whole meal was very prosaic and not only for a restaurant rewarded with three Michelin stars but any reputable culinary place. The least interesting part was the chicken itself, or rather the hen. Even if this free-range bird was hand-massaged and volunteered to give up his life to be my dinner, it still was one of the most ordinary, dull, and fibrous poultry I had ever eaten. It had no taste and on top of that it was served with a very bland rice.

I left this restaurant truly disappointed. After this experience I concluded that it was impossible, even for a top culinary institution, to impress anyone by serving chicken for dinner. But...

Part 2

...there was a time in my life, when I first moved to DC, I was brave enough to serve chicken, even at dinner parties. I still think there are in my recipe book at least three chicken dishes that are able to impress many guests. In my opinion, chicken in basil sauce is certainly one of them. It used to be a dish that people asked me about the most. I got it from my friend in Geneva and I think that the recipe could come from England, where she had lived for a couple of years.

I hope it will deserve at least one star in your rating. The taste of this dish comes mainly from the basil sauce. Next time you decide to serve chicken, please try this one and judge for yourself if a humble chicken can impress anyone, or is this mission impossible.

Chicken Breasts in Basil Sauce

6 chicken breast fillets or 8-10 breast tenderloins,
1/2 cup of fresh breadcrumbs,
1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese,
3 stripes of lean bacon cut into small pieces,
2 tbsp of soft butter,
2 garlic cloves finely chopped,
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce,
1 tsp mustard,
salt and pepper.

1. Heat the oven to 375F.
2. Mix butter, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt and pepper.
3. Rub breasts in that sauce and arrange in an oven proof dish.
4. Combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and bacon, and sprinkle them over the breasts.
5. Put the the dish in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, for breasts it could be slightly longer than for tenderloins

While meat is baking prepare the green sauce.

Basil Sauce:
1/3 cup olive oil,
1/4 white vinegar,
2 garlic cloves
1 cup fresh basil leaves,
1/3 cup extra heavy whipping cream,
salt pepper to taste.

1. Put all the ingredients in a food blender and puree until obtain a smooth sauce.
2. Transfer the sauce to the pan and heat carefully, until hot. Do not allow it to boil as the basil will change color from green to brownish.
3. Pour over baked breasts and serve.

This dish tastes excellent with roasted baby potatoes or cooked rice.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mozzarella and Tomato Salad--World's Best Idea?

"Pots and Frills" have been having visitors from all over the world, but still not that many from Italy. Let me therefore smuggle in this basic Italian recipe: mozzarella and tomato salad (aka "Caprese" or "Mozzarella Pomodoro").

I thought that my roasted potatoes were already a stretch and a cliché, but I have just got a comment about them: "Finally I got it right and perfect", so for those who have never tried mixing tomatoes and mozzarella, here is another very basic dish.

All you need is:
ripe tomatoes or cherry tomatoes,
fresh basil,
extra virgin olive oil,
fresh mozzarella, possibly in water,
salt and pepper.

Cut the ingrendients, arrange on the plate, drizzle with olive oil, decorate with basil leaves, salt and pepper, and enjoy.

And pictures speak for themselves. Tomatoes with mozzarella can be served before dinner or instead of a dinner, or at any time in the summer months. Simple dishes are often the best.