Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stuffed Peppers--On the Wild Side

Recently, while going through my recipes, thinking what I should cook next and share on my blog, I discovered that the most popular vegetables in my own notebook are not tomatoes--as I expected--but peppers.

Peppers are extremely fragrant and can enrich or be turned into practically any dish. Tropical cuisines tend to use the spicy varieties of pepper, the cold-climate ones, including from the Central Europe, rather have sweet peppers on their menus. I have written down multiple dishes in all categories based on pepper--pastas, tarts, entrées, soups, and salads. I even have several recipes on how to preserve peppers.

All my childhood I was eating peppers either raw, for instance in sandwiches, or stuffed and baked with meats. I also ate a lot of them in a Hungarian lecsó dish---which became very popular in Poland when meat was in short supply--similar to ratatouille, which is made with peppers cooked with tomatoes and squash as main ingredients.

Later, when I started to travel, I became familiar with roasted peppers and ate them in soups, quiches, and various side dishes. As I have plenty to share on the subject of this versatile vegetable, I will certainly return to it in the near future.

But today I have made something rather well known--stuffed roasted peppers. The only innovation in that recipe was the choice of rice. For the first time I made them with wild rice to change the texture of the stuffing and add some nutritious value to it. I think that this experiment produced encouraging results, although the stuffing became much more firm than when made with white rice as prescribed in traditional recipes.

For that reason it is important to use ground meat that is not too lean, as lean meat would additionally harden the stuffing. I would say that, for this particular recipe, beef of chicken can be too lean. All in all, I think that this recipe is worth trying--peppers stuffed with wild rice have beautiful presentation, great taste, and much more value as wild rice is more reach in minerals and vitamins than white rice.

Peppers Stuffed with Wild Rice

6 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers,
1 medium onion,
1 pound ground pork or lamb,
1 cup wild rice,
1/2 cup Italian cheese mix,
2 tbsp oil,
3 tbsp butter,
1 tbsp of any herb mix (can be any grill seasoning),
salt (about 1 tsp) and pepper.

1. Cook wild rice in salted water according to the instruction on the box and cool it down.
2. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Peel onion, cut into small cubes and fry in oil, just so it is not raw.
3. Put the meat in a bowl, add rice, onion, spices and working with a hand make a smooth stuffing.
4. At the end add cheese and gently incorporate it into the meat stuffing.
5. Cut off pepper tops and remove the seeds.
6. Fill up the peppers with the stuffing and put the pepper tops back on.

7. In a heat-proof dish put a little bit of water and butter, and place all the peppers.
8. Cover with the aluminum foil and bake for about 45-60 min. You can remove the foil after about 40 minutes and let the pepper tops become gold.

Serve with green salad as accompaniment and, if you wish, a baguette.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pomegranate Cheesecake Dessert--A Delicious Mood Enhancer

Rain is pouring down and clouds have turned a bright morning into an evening. No complaints though, as the drought has been lasting for too long already. On a day like that, how about a mood enhancer and a ray of sunshine for the palate? And what would that be? There is only one answer for me: a sweet, satisfying, and unfortunately also a high-calorie dessert.

When I took two beautiful red pomegranates out of my shopping bag, all I thought about was this cheesecake I once made for one of the DC restaurants. When I had to produce 30 cakes for one evening, this one was easy to make, tasty, and original. It also preserves well and can be refrigerated for up to one week. And because of the pomegranates it is also very in-season now. Pomegranates are best early in the fall and can last until early winter. I came up with this recipe looking at the leftover ingredients, after having baked already 20 cakes but still needed another dozen.

I have never succeeded in making a good cheesecake in America with Philadelphia cheese as a main ingredient. I used to make the most delicious and fluffy cheesecakes in Poland, but back home we use quark, or farmer's cheese, which we whip with butter, eggs, and sugar. Somehow my American cheesecakes were not as good as those from Cheesecake Factory, and disappointed with the results I gave up on making them. There are not many dishes that you can buy at a store and taste better than home made, but I resigned myself to this one being an exception.

But since making desserts is my biggest culinary romance and cheesecakes have always played an important part in it, I had to come up with something that would be irresistibly delicious and at least in the cheesecake family--a cheesecake dessert, which does not need to be baked, is very delicate in texture and taste, and is more of a dessert than a regular cheesecake.

Finishing this dessert with pomegranates gives it crunchiness and also a dose of antioxidants that this fruit is particularly reach in, and therefore became such a craze in recent years.

Those who come from or traveled to Afghanistan say, that there is no place on earth where pomegranates taste better than there, but also here the most dark and ripe can be very sweet, juicy and worth trying, if you do not mind their kind of seedy texture.

I make my cheesecake dessert in a 10" baking form with a removable wall.

Pomegranate cheesecake dessert


6 oz (200 g), or about 15-16 pieces of Graham crackers,crushed into small crumbs,as you do for regular cheesecake,
1 stick butter (100-112 g)

3 packs of Philadelphia or other cream cheese (room temperature),
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk,
1 tbsp vanilla extract,
1 pomegranate,
1 pack of Dr. Oetker red cake glaze or you can make your own,
1 cup pomegranate juice,
1/2 tbsp sugar,
1 tbsp corn starch.


1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Melt butter, mix with graham crackers, and spread this crust over the bottom of the pan and around 1" on the side.
3. Bake 15-20 min until dark gold and let it cool down completely.

1. Using a stand-up or hand mixer whip all the cheese together.
2. Add condensed milk with vanilla essence and mix with cheese until it turns into a smooth filling.
3. Working with your fingers, scoop the pomegranate seeds out of the fruits.
4. Put the filling on the crust and cover it with pomegranate seeds.
5. Make a ready glaze according to instruction or mix together sugar, starch and juice in a pot to make your own. Bring it to boiling stirring continuously. Let it bubble for two minutes until the mixture becomes transparent. Cover pomegranate seeds with the glaze and put the dessert immediately in the refrigerator.

If you are very impatient you can try this dessert a couple of hours later, as I did. It will resemble more a dessert than cake and the filling will be still soft and creamy, running from the crust. With the first bite of it in my mouth, the sun came up again.

If you chill it over night, the filling will set up, the dessert will be easier to cut, and will resemble more of a cheesecake than a dessert. Whatever you prefer, both ways I think this is a really wonderful mood enhancer. In different seasons, this recipe would work as well with blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries, but in my opinion, pomegranates make it really special.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Creamed Celery Root Soup--For the Snobbish Taste

Of all seasons, some people love just summer but, maybe because I was born in Europe, I am a four season person. I love sunny summers, but I also enjoy colder fall days and snowy winters. I love to put a sleeveless dresses on a tan body but, on cold days, I like to find comfort in soft cashmeres. For the same reason I enjoy seasonal food, when it tastes best and matches the weather.

The moment bright sun disappeared from the DC sky and the temperature went below 70 F, I finally had an excuse to make a true fall dish. I went to my local food store and got a big bulb of celery root (also called celeriac). Celery root is not very popular in America, although now it is now increasingly available in some hip stores. It is pricey comparing to celery sticks, which cost one dollar a bunch. Priced per pound, a nice bulb can cost over four dollars, which can buy you a good piece of meat.

For many years that was the only type of celery available in Poland. It is also popular in many other European countries, France including, where it has a long-established culinary tradition. The French appreciate its original taste and make many interesting dishes based on celery root, from salads to main dishes. In Poland we use celery root as a soup ingredient, and--either raw or cooked--also in many salads, most notably, in the popular cooked-vegetable salad with mayonnaise, which in Poland is called Italian salad, but in many other countries, possibly including Italy, it is called Russian salad.

I have at least three interesting celery root recipes, which I will try to share with you on this blog, because in my view this nice vegetable is not yet fully appreciated. Despite its characteristically strong flavor and taste, which you either love or hate, the celery root is not as nutritious as some other vegetables, but it is high in fiber, contains potassium and magnesium, and is a good source of vitamins C and B6. It is also alleged to be particularly good for men's health, but you may wish to confirm that on other (more adult) blogs.

I have recently read an article reporting that, in California, many reputable and snobbish restaurants started to put celery root dishes on their menus. I decided to make a celery soup today, as it is one of very few dishes that my entire family would eat. It is a simple soup with a slightly sweet but not overwhelming taste of celery.

Creamed Celery Root Soup

1 pound celery root,
2 large potatoes,
1 medium onion,
4 cups vegetable stock,
2-3 cups of water,
1 tbsp butter,
3 tbsp oil,
1/4 cup sour cream,
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg,
2 tbsp of any hard blue cheese,
salt and pepper.

1. Peel the onion, celery and potatoes, and cut them into small cubes.
2. Heat oil in a saucepan, add onion and fry until transparent.
3. Add celery and potatoes to onion and fry together until potatoes become transparent too--slightly soft, but not entirely cooked.
4. Salt the vegetables and add enough water just to cover them.
5. Simmer until all the ingredients become soft.
6. Now add vegetable stock, nutmeg, pepper and boil the soup for 3 minutes.
7. Add cream and butter to the soup.
8. Using food processor or blender make a light purée (creamed soup) from the soup.

Divide among bowls, decorate with blue cheese, and serve with white French or Italian bread.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Healthy Quinoa Salad--Tabbouleh from South America

It is fall, but only on a calendar. Yesterday, on the third day of autumn, thermometers in DC showed again almost 100F. We still run around in flip flops (Thank God not in crocks any longer), while in some parts of Europe girls have already started to wear boots and warm coats. People in Central Europe eat hot soups and drink hot tea, while we keep grilling and refresh ourseleves with cold drinks. And, although pumpkins already preside over my kitchen counter, I still make summer food.

I have prepared another salad today. This was my best choice for such a hot day. I used quinoa, something very healthy. You may say that "healthy" is a very popular word when it comes to salads. By the way, can salad be unhealthy? It seems to be in its definition to be healthy, like no other food. But quinoa is definitely very healthy.

But what is it? It is not a classic grain, although it looks like cous cous or bulgar wheat. Quinoa comes from South America. It is a so-called psudocereal and, surprisingly, it is related to beets and spinach. It is gluten free and a complete source of protein, also rich in magnesium and iron.

Recently, probably because of its nutritious values, quinoa became more widely available at food stores. For this salad, I bought plain white quinoa at Trader Joe's. But you could also get there organic, white or red quinoa. When cooked, quinoa looks like grains with tiny sprouts.

I made a salad similar to the very popular tabbouleh, which could be served as a meal in itself for lunch or as an accompaniment to grilled meats, for example. As quinoa is rather neutral in taste, to enhance it, I used watercress with its peppery and tangy flavor. I served it with quarters of fresh figs, a seasonal addition, that gave the whole salad a slightly sweet taste.

Quinoa Salad

2 cups cooked quinoa,
1/2 English cucumber,
1 pint cherry tomatoes,
1 cup watercress--preferably leaves only,
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts,
4 fresh figs (optional),
juice from 1/2 lemon,
3 tbsp olive oil,
salt and pepper.

1. Cook quinoa according to instruction on the box (usually 1 part of quinoa in 2 parts of water) and cool it down.
2. Peel the cucumber and cut it into small cubes.
3. Cut tomatoes in half.
4. Combine all the vegetables, watercress, and pine nuts with quinoa.
5. Add lemon juice, oil, and season with salt and pepper.
6. Decorate with figs and serve.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Giveaway from CSN Stores!

Recently, I received an e-mail from the CSN Promo Team offering a $35 giveaway coupon to a person of my choice. I have known CSN stores for a while and bought a few items from them, including new lighting for my kitchen. They also have a wide variety of cookware, furniture, and outher household items, also in a modern slick style. Check out for instance their collection of modern bedding.

If you reside in the United States or Canada, please send me a constructive comment on any of my posts (please include your e-mail address) by October 1, and you will be entered to win a $35 giveaway with CSN sites,, or


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Almond Sponge Cake with Fresh Fruits--an Elegant Idea

I always expect desserts to be not only indulging, but also elegant. Desserts come last and should crown the feast. But every single dish, before we even taste it, appeals to us first by its looks. That is also how we choose certain recipes and that is the reason why cookbooks with pictures sell better than those without them. I always pay a lot of attention to the presentation of food I serve, especially when I have guests over. A simple salad nicely arranged on a plate can be forgiven for its simplicity, if the presentation is attractive. It also shows that someone cared, made an effort, and put an extra touch, which is what counts most. A nicely presented dish can also spark an interesting conversation.

Today, I made an elegant dessert with the very sweet figs I had bought the other day. The recipe is simple and the good news is that there are two versions of it. For the lazy or inexperienced cooks there is an easy one and for those more ambitious I have a more difficult version. Both look and taste great. I used figs for decoration, which were in the original recipe from a French cooking magazine, that I used to read in Switzerland, but feel free to use any seasonal fruits you have available: peaches or plums, or more exotic ones, like mango or kiwi. A remarkable thing about this cake is that it is done without flour and, instead, ground almonds are used to make the dough.

For this post, I made a dozen of tartelette-size cakes from this recipe, which I think look very attractive, but this amount of dough is sufficient to make one big cake in a 11'' tart pan. It can be decorated and cut later into small triangles.

Almond Sponge Cake with Fresh Fruits

Cake ingredients:
1 cup ground almonds,
1/2 cup sugar,
2 eggs,
6 tbsp (room temperature) butter,
1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp sugar for the baking pan.

1. Preheat oven to 325F(180 C.)
2. Spread butter over the baking dish and dust with sugar.
3. Using a mixer whip the butter with sugar until smooth.
4. Add eggs and, when they blend, add almonds.
5. Mix well and transfer to the baking tin.
6. Bake for 15-20 min.

Let the cake cool down before you transfer it on a serving plate, pour the vanilla sauce over it, decorate with fresh fruits of your choice and serve.

Vanilla Sauce

The easy version:
1 cup sweet condensed milk,
1 tbsp rum,
1 tbsp vanilla extract,
Mix all the ingredients and pour sauce over the cake, following with fruits.

Home made--the more ambitious version:
1 egg yolk,
2 tbsp sugar,
1 cups milk,
1 tsp corn starch,
Vanilla pod or vanilla essence,
1 tbsp rum.

1. In a bowl beat eggs with sugar, add corn starch, and mix well.
2. If you use a vanilla pod, cut it in half, scoop up the black seeds with a knife and add them to the milk.
3. Boil the milk and pour hot into the yolk mixture.
4. Return to the heat and cook until sauce boils and becomes thicker.
5. Cool down the sauce, add rum, and pour over the cake. Decorate with fruits and serve.

This really simple and elegant dessert will certainly impress.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Papaya Dressing--Healthy Hollywood Fashion

Papaya is a very nutritious fruit coming originally from Central America but it now can be bought in most supermarkets all over the world. I have been a great papaya aficionado for many years. Thai salads with green papaya are excellent but I mostly use ripe papayas to make fruit salads or something else.

Papaya has one third more Vitamin C and twice as much Potassium than you can find in orange juice and, on top of that, it is also a good source of Vitamins E, A, and K. No wonder papaya has many "believers" among Hollywood celebrities. It has been claimed that it irons out wrinkles and speeds up metabolism. It is considered to be so healthy that some stars stay just on a papaya only diet for days, or at least drink a papaya smoothie everyday as a first morning drink, mixed with tomatoes, strawberries, mango, or just water.

Until recently, I was eating papaya mostly for these healthy and rational reasons. I made some papaya-banana or papaya-mango smoothies with a squeeze of lime, and I tried to make various desserts including papaya, which I found tricky, because its delicate taste was not always easy to bring out.

Once, I ate at my friend's place a delicious dish made of baked papaya with grilled scallops and garlic. I will try to obtain his recipe and will post it in the future. But I think that this healthy fruit should be served fresh as much as possible, so all its nutrients remain intact and can benefit our body.

I have bought it today again not only for its nutritional values but also for its photogeneity. Looking at this interesting fruit, and its dark orange flesh, I was struck by an idea to make an exotic salad dressing from it. I thought that adding vinegar would make it taste stronger. I think it worked pretty well and I enjoyed how it made many simple dishes taste more interesting and mysterious.

I have made a big  jar of it and used for many purposes. Papaya stores pretty well in a refrigerator but a dressing made from it thickens next day and acquires a jelly-like consistence, so it is better to eat it the same day you make it. Here are some of my ideas.

Papaya dressing

1 and 1/2 cup papaya cut into cubes,
1/2 cup of grape seed oil (which is more neutral in taste than olive oil),
1/4 cup of white balsamic vinegar or other good quality white vinegar,
1 shallot,
salt and pepper,
black cumin to decorate.

1. Peel off papaya and remove black seeds.
2. Cut the fruit in pieces and put about 1 and 1/2 cup of it in a blender.
3. Add chopped shallot, vinegar, and oil.
4. Season with salt and pepper,and blend into a smooth puree.
5. Use black cumin for decorating and to enhance the taste.

Spread this dressing on top of an avocado.

Serve on a delicate lettuce, such as Boston, Romaine hearts, or Iceberg.

Use as a dip for shrimps for a party snack (e.g., instead of the much heavier mayonnaise dressing or a spicy tomato dressing).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Potatoes Baked with Tomatoes--Mélange à la Provençal

We have fresh, crispy mornings, and very sunny, still hot days, but ending in chilly evenings when we need to reach for a cashmere shawl to warm up.

I still think "summer" when I see the local tomatoes, and I am already in fall when I buy potatoes. We can still wear sleeveless dresses and eat light summer lunches, but on a cold evening we start to crave for heavier comfort food and baked desserts instead of frozen ones. A glass of chilled white wine tempts us at lunch, but in the evening we would like to open a bottle of red. It means that the change of seasons has unavoidably come.

Last night, I made a dish that stands exactly at the crossing of the seasons--potatoes baked with tomatoes, Provençal style. It is an easy country dish. It can be entirely vegetarian, but it can be enriched with bacon, or better yet, with an Italian-style pancetta. If you are a fish lover, you can make it with anchovies. I made it in the simplest of ways (just vegetables) and my whole family enjoyed it very much.

Potatoes Baked with Tomatoes

2 pounds of white potatoes,
6 tomatoes ripe but not too soft,
3 cloves of garlic,
1/2 cup of flat-leaf parsley and 1/4 cup of fresh oregano,
1 cup of vegetable stock,
3 tbsp of butter,
3 tbsp of olive oil.

1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Peel off the potatoes and cut them into thin slices.
3. Cut tomatoes into slices.
4. Pour the oil on the bottom of an oven-proof dish.
5. Arrange slices of potatoes and tomatoes (see the picture above); it can take two layers to use all the vegetables.
6. Scatter the slices of butter on top; you can use less butter if you add bacon or anchovies.
7. Salt and pepper generously.
8. Pour the stock on top and finish with parsley or oregano, or both.
9. Bake first covered with foil, for about 30-40 min, later uncovered, for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes turn gold.

Serve warm with green salad and a glass of red wine, to warm up the evening.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Leeks in Mustard Dressing--Fall on the Table

Recently, I bought leeks for the first time since last winter. They are very much a fall vegetable. In Poland, leeks have been particularly popular as a salad vegetable during our long winters as they could easily be stored in a cold cellar together with potatoes, cabbage, celery, and various other tubers.

Today leeks are available the whole year around but to me they will forever be a fall vegetable and they really taste best during that season. Last week, I cooked them, took pictures, and planned to post this recipe some time later this fall, but in yesterday's Orangette post I read about a very similar leek dish that Molly makes, which prompted me to publish my recipe now. Perhaps some of you will compare which version is better.

I have known this recipe since my childhood, for more than 30 years. It came from our friend's French cousin. And since, at that time, only a limited assortment of vegetables was available in Poland, this creative way to serve our old good leeks became an instant hit in my parents' home. We made them often for Sunday brunches as accompaniment to cold cuts and ate them with fresh rye bread. Later, also some of my cousins adopted this recipe and recently I heard that it has become one of the most popular dishes at their friends' gatherings.

I still make them for fall weekend brunches in DC, but not so often any more. Nevertheless, these first "feels like fall" days always remind me about that dish and before spring comes back again I will make them from time to time.

There are a few tricks with preparing leeks. The most important is to wash them carefully because even if they are sold pre-washed, there can still be a lot of dirt between the leaves. For that reason I often cut them lengthwise in half to be able to clean them thoroughly. As Polish leeks had a very strong flavor, to neutralize it a bit, I added sometimes a spoon of sugar to a salted water in which I cooked them. In the original recipe, only white parts were used for that dish, but I always leave some of the green leaves, which have stronger taste but always find their amateurs.

I cook leeks in a shallow, but a very large pot. This way I do not need to cut too much of their length, and still manage to keep them all covered with water. For the dressing I use a good quality olive oil and French creamy mustard but not from Dijon, which I find too bitter for this purpose.

Perhaps, this is all I need to say about them. Please make them and enjoy their sharp and sweet taste.

Leeks in Mustard Dressing

4 medium size leeks,
3 tbsp mustard,
1 tbsp sugar,
1/3 cup mayonnaise,
2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar,
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil,
2 garlic cloves,
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

1. Cut off the "hairy" roots and about one-third of the green leaves.
2. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and wash them thoroughly to remove any residual dirt.
3. Cook leeks in salted water. It will probably take 20-30 minutes, but you need to check their softness. Cool them on a colander.
4. Make dressing: first mix mustard with sugar, add mayonnaise, and all the remaining ingredients, finishing with the squeezed garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Put the dressing on cold leeks. Let them marinate under the dressing for a couple of hours and serve.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lentil and Garlic Salad--from Lunch to Grill Party

I am not a big fan of social marathons. I like going out, seeing people, invite and be invited, but I can easily feel overwhelmed doing that too many times in a row. Funny enough, it often happens that way, as people get excited and socially active around the same occasions and holidays. That is what happens now, when people have returned from vacation to DC and want to meet friends after a couple months of the summer break, but cannot meet them all at the same time. As a result, I have on my schedule a picnic on Friday, grill on Saturday, and people coming over on Monday.

For today's grill I have offered to make a salad to accompany the delicious meats that the hosts will grill for us. Again a very easy one. I ate it first many years ago in Switzerland, and I make it quite often. It is very helpful to serve it at grill events, when we mostly serve meats, but also happen to have vegetarians among guests. Lentil is a plant that is third richest in protein, and also one of the best sources of iron, and therefore it can be a nutritious meal in itself especially when served with other vegetables. This lentil salad can also be served as a great lunch dish, just with fresh bread, and with or without cold cuts.

Lentil and Garlic Salad
(Six to eight servings)

3 cups of cooked lentil (canned lentil would be just fine--you would need two 15.5 oz cans),
2 pint boxes or 1 lb of cherry tomatoes,
1 bunch of dill--you will need about 1/2 cup of chopped dill,
2 cloves of garlic,
1/2 lb of Ricotta Salata cheese,
1 lemon,
3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil,
Pepper to taste.

1. If you use canned lentil, drain it, wash in cold water, drain again and place in a large bowl.
2. Cut tomatoes in half if they are of the larger variety, or leave them whole if they are very small, and add to the lentil.
3. Chop dill and add to the bowl.
4. Cut the cheese into very small cubes, mix it with all the ingredients.
5. Squeeze garlic into the salad.
6. Add pepper (no salt as Ricotta Salata is very salty already).
7. Add oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice, mix carefully and serve.

It is important to have all the ingredients cut into small pieces, as the salad prepared this way tastes better. I tried recently to make this salad in Poland--where Ricotta Salata is not widely available--with Feta cheese but this did not work because Feta is much more wet and soft than Ricotta Salata.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Brownies--All Kids' Favorites

My today's culinary obligation was to prepare a dessert for a back-to-school picnic. At first, I wanted to make a cheesecake dessert with pomegranates, which have started to appear in food stores and are not only very rich in antioxidants, but also very attractive looking. I made it and even took pictures of it for my blog but, at the end, I realized that it has been too sunny for such a creamy dessert to stay outdoors for several hours.

I decided to make something else: brownies, which is a fully baked chocolate dessert. These are not classic brownies, because they are much lighter and fluffier, but they are brown nevertheless. They are fast to make, if you can use a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, and even faster to bake. And since "whatever chocolate" has always been all kids's favorite food, I was sure they would disappear from the tables long before salads and hot dogs, as they do at my home. Once you made them, eat them when they are still warm, and you will fully share the kids' choice. The recipe is only for six but, especially if we have kids over, I always double the amount and they never last until the next day.


4 eggs,
1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips,
1/3 cup sugar,
1/3 stick or 5 tbsp butter,
1/4 cup flour.

1. Heat oven to 400 F.
2. Beat eggs with sugar until almost stiff.
3. Add flour to the egg mixture.
3. Melt butter with chocolate chips--can be done in a microwave oven, but do it for 30 seconds at first and repeat until melted, stirring in between.
4. Fold in the melted chocolate mixture to the eggs, until it becomes a smooth batter.
5. Put into the buttered muffin tin--this should be enough for six muffins.
6. Bake in a hot oven for 10 minutes--they are done when the centers of the brownie is still soft.

Serve them warm, dusted with powdered sugar or with melted chocolate topping, which would make them even more satisfying.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mango with Ginger--Surprising Simplicity

My confession will not sound humble at all but, as my culinary experience evolves, it becomes more and more difficult to impress me. By being interested in cooking for many years I can tell, as many food lovers would, what ingredients were used in a particular dish, or often, just by looking at the ingredients list, I could guess if the recipe would be worth trying. As my notebooks are filled with recipes I rarely ask the "How do you make it?" question any more.

But please do not take me for a culinary snob. I do not eat foie gras, caviar, ducks, or even sushi, and many others delicacies. Although I am somewhat spoiled by good food, at the same time, I am a most grateful guest. I could not be happier to be invited for a simple pasta dinner, which always tastes better if I do not have to cook it myself.  And, I do get impressed.  Funny enough, it does not have to be a sophisticated culinary creation, which could cause many fastidious food lovers to drool, but a most simple one, that can make me think "Wow! It is so easy and so delicious. How could I have never thought about such a combination?"

Last year, I was invited for a dinner by a German friend. I knew he was a great cook and, indeed, everything he prepared for that dinner was superb, from salad to the main dish (I brought the dessert). During the dinner not once, but twice I had to pose the "How did you make it?" questions and, for the first time in a long time, I left the dinner party with two new recipes.

I will share both of them. Today it will be the first one--a simple and easy side dish made with mango and ginger, which is a great fish or meat accompaniment. My previous post featured it as a side dish to the sole in macadamia nuts crust.

This mango dish is very delicate and sharp at the same time, thanks to ginger. And it is composed basically from these two ingredients. Wouldn't you appreciate such a short shopping list--just mango and ginger--and later indulge yourself with its slightly exotic, but subtle taste?

If you are a mango lover and appreciate interesting combinations, that dish will likely become one of your favorites.

Mango with Ginger

3 mangoes, ripe but still firm,
1-2 inch-long pieces of fresh ginger,
2 tbsp butter,
1/2 of a lime.

1. Peel off the mangoes,
2. Cut a flesh from four sides, not too close to the seed.
3. Cut it in smaller, diagonal pieces.
4. Peel off the ginger root and grate it on a grater with very small holes.
5. In a pot, melt butter and add mango.
6. Cook fruits for about 5 minutes (until they soften up).
7. Add ginger--if you like it mild, add about 1 inch of grated ginger, if you like a stronger taste, grate two inches.
8. Cook it together for another 5-10 minutes, depending on how ripe the mangoes are.

Serve with chicken, any meats and fish.If mango happens to be very sweet, a squeeze of lime on top will help offset some of its sweetness.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sole Baked in Macadamia Nuts Crust--an Accidental Recipe

One day last spring, my next door neighbor knocked on my door with an odd request. He worked as a private chef at that time and asked me if he could bake in my oven a dish for his customer. It was to be a fish and he could not bake it in his kitchen because his very vegetarian family would not stand the smell of fish in their house.

We have been very good friends for many years and I agreed without hesitation, although I must admit that I am not a big fan of the fish smell myself. My friendly gesture, however, outraged my eight years old son, who cannot stand fish and its smell.

Not being a big fan of sea food, I cook only certain types of fish and most often fish fillets. I almost always use a lot of lemon and white wine to neutralize the strong flavor, which can linger in the air for a long time.

Baking fish for my neighbor did not take long and the final result looked pretty appetizing. At the same time, I have learned a new dish, which I later replicated on my own. It turned out to be wonderfully delicate and crunchy at the same time. As far as I can remember, my neighbor used mahi-mahi. I used sole, which is one of my favorite fish, but I suppose any white fish fillet would work with this recipe. Macadamia nuts gave it a special texture as well as the subtle taste. Bread crumbs made it rich enough to be a self-contained but a healthy and light meal, which does not need to be served with rice or any other starchy side dish. I served it though with a secret fruity accompaniment, which you can notice on the picture. It complimented it fantastically and helped bring out the delicate taste of sole. I will post a recipe for it shortly.

But first, enjoy ...

Sole Baked in Macadamia Nuts Crust
(Serves four)

4 sole fillets,
1 cup of fresh bread crumbs; I used a two-days old baguette, which I chopped into small pieces in a food processor,
1 cup macadamia nuts roughly chopped, also in a food processor,
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley,
1 lemon,
2 tbsp olive oil,
salt and pepper.

1. Heat oven to 370F.
2. Sprinkle an oven proof dish lightly with oil.
3. Lay fish fillets in it and season them with salt pepper and sprinkle with lemon oil.
4. In a bowl create a mix of breadcrumbs, macadamia nuts, and parsley.
5. Cover each fillet with this mix, which once baked will form the crust.
7. Cover dish with aluminum foil and place in the oven for 20 minutes.
8. Remove the foil and bake it another 10-15 minutes until the crust turns gold.

Serve it with a delicate white wine, e.g., from New Zealand, like Cloudy Bay or The Crossings Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Following with a light salad is another good idea.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Roasted Peppers and Sun-Dried Tomatoes Pasta--Comfort Food that Makes Us Feel at Home Anywhere in the World

We move, we travel, we visit again the places where we were born. We miss a childhood home we left behind and back there, again, we miss the place we live now. We look for the perfect place on earth, a place that does not really exist because such place means something different to each of us.

In my home town, an artist I was buying jewelry from asked me where I came from. I hesitated for a long moment as I could not find an answer immediately. Half of my life I lived in Poland, the other half I was thrown from one place to another, ending up in the US. I do not know where I feel more at home--in the place where people speak my native tongue, or in the place where they speak the native tongue of my kids. She saw me pondering and tried to help "I think home is where most memories come from". "The nicest memories" she added. And I still wonder where my best memories come from.

I came back and put my suitcases in the hall of our DC home. I left them unpacked for a couple of days, suspended like myself between my past and present life. I just took out the papers and the beautiful small dishes I bought for my new pictures, a notebook with the new and the long forgotten recipes, and bags of "smuggled" spices.

I headed for the perfect place on earth--my kitchen, where I can create the best of all worlds with Polish bread, Italian pasta, French salad, Portuguese dessert, and Californian wine. I am sure I am not the only one feeling that way. I realized that, after a month of my native cuisine, I got to miss pasta--my comfort food that will make me feel at home again.

I know many pasta recipes and got some of them from my Italian friends, but this recipe was totally my own creation. Perhaps something similar already exists in Italy, but for this exact version I am ready to take all the compliments and complaints.

Roasted Peppers and Sun-Dried Tomatoes Pasta
(For six people)

1 box of pasta, I use Barilla's penne,
3 red or yellow bell peppers,
1 medium red onion,
1 cup sun dried tomatoes,
1 cup table cream,
1/3 cup slivered roasted almonds,
1/3 cup flat leaves parsley,
2 tbsp olive oil,
salt and pepper,
freshly ground Parmesan cheese.

1. Roast the peppers until their skin becomes black. 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. Cook pasta al dente in salted water.
3. Cut the onion in half and slice into thin slices.
4. Strain the sun-dried tomatoes from the oil and cut into smaller stripes. Save the oil.
5. If you have enough of the oil from the tomatoes you can use it for frying the onion.
6. When onion becomes transparent, add peppers and let them fry on a low heat for about 5 minutes.
7. Add tomatoes and about 1/4 cup of water, cook for 1 minute, and add the cream.
8. Mix the sauce gently, season with salt and pepper (If you have a Vegeta spice mix available, you can add a teaspoon of it, but then reduce the amount of salt), add almonds and let the sauce cook for 5 minutes.
9. Pour the sauce on hot pasta, finish with chopped parsley and as much of the freshly shredded Parmesan as you like.

This pasta, as all others, tastes best with one or two glasses of red wine, and followed with baby green salad.