Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Redcurrants and Red Wine Sponge Cake--Farewell to Poland

Redcurrants. They were a horror of my childhood. Each summer my aunt made us, all the kids in the family, spend hours in the yard picking them up with our small hands. It was the most hated vacation activity I could think of. We even did not much like the redcurrants to eat as they were very sour, but my aunt terrorized us with arguments that preserves and juices made from them will be priceless in the winter. Not really. I always preferred blackcurrants, which actually were even more difficult to harvest, but their aroma and taste had imparted an uncanny attractive power to anything made of them. Meanwhile, unused redcurrant preserves often turned into wine or vinegar.

I had this difficult relation with redcurrants until I moved out of Poland. At that time, in both France and Switzerland, redcurrants were rare and pricey, but even more so in the US. When I came here, I hardly saw any redcurrants and even if I did, they were expensive and sold in tiny boxes. In restaurants they were served hanging over sophisticated desserts like jewellery.

That changed my attitude toward redcurrants and I have started to dream about using them to garnish white chocolate mousse or some other elegant desserts.

In August, the redcurrant season was almost over in Poland, but I saw small amount of redcurrants at my local market and became almost emotional imagining tens of recipes I could used them in. And they were still only one dollar a pound. Of course I bought them and made a cake. I used an interesting recipe calling also for red wine--good idea to use glass of leftover wine. The sweetness of the cake and the sourness of the redcurrants blended perfectly, and I enjoyed this cake even more so because I did not have to pick up these redcurrants myself.

Redcurrant and Wine Sponge Cake

3 eggs,
3/4 cup sugar,
1 cup all purpose flour,
1/2 cup vegetable oil,
1 tsp baking powder,
1/4 cup wine (50 ml),
1/2 cup potato or cornstarch,
1 tsp vanilla extract,
1/2 lb redcurrants,
1 tsp of butter,
1 tbsp plain breadcrumbs,
1/2 cup icing sugar,
2 tbsp milk.

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Using an electric mixer beat eggs with sugar until they acquire a mousse-like consistency.
3. In a small bowl mix flour, cornstarch, and baking powder, and add to the egg mixture. Fold in gently.
4. Add vanilla extract to the batter together with wine and oil .Mix all the ingredients well until the batter becomes smooth.
5. Spread butter over a baking form and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Pour over the batter and scatter the redcurrants on top.

6. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the top is set and slightly gold. Remove from the oven and cool down.
7. Mix icing sugar with milk until smooth. Turn the cake upside down as fruits likely will drop to the bottom of the cake. Pour icing on top of the cake. Cut and serve.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chanterelle Soup--About Polish Truffles

This is not really going to be about truffles, which are as hard to obtain in Poland as anywhere else in the world. This is going to be about chanterelles, which are a truly indigenous food in many countries of central and northern Europe.

In Poland, you can buy chanterelles everywhere these days, even alongside the road from Warsaw to my hometown. People who picked them in the neraby forest sell them to the passing by motorists. At the farmers' markets, which are held on Tuesday and Friday morning, city dwellers buy baskets full of freshly picked chanterelles.

I like mushrooms in general, but chanterelles are my favorite. They are available in DC at Costco but only in the fall, imported from Canada, or at Whole Foods, but are extremely expensive (about $40 per lb). So I cannot have enough of them now that I can have them in such abundance and cook them almost every day. Sometimes I add them to scrambled eggs for late breakfast, sometimes I serve then for dinner with spaetzle, pasta, or add them to a meat sauce.

I usually buy chanterelles that are smaller than those imported from Canada, and at today's farmers' market I found really tiny ones, so young and fresh that they looked like they were made from plastic. Those are usually more expensive  but, at about two dollars a pound, are still ridiculously cheap comparing to the U.S. prices. I got a couple of pounds of these beauties and forced my mother, who by now is really tired of my chanterelle diet, to cook a soup from them. It was fantastic and reminded me of my childhood years when such soups were served very often during summer dinners.

Chanterelle Soup

1 lb chanterelles--the smaller the better,
2 carrots,
3-4 medium potatoes,
1/2 small leek,
a small piece of celery root or 2 celery stalks,
1 small parsley root (if you can get it, it really adds the special aroma to the soup),
1/2 cup sour or heavy whipping cream,
2 tbsp butter,
2 tbsp chopped parsley leaves,
1 bay leaf,
3 grains of allspice,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Wash chanterelles. If they are very small leave them whole, if they are bigger, cut them into smaller pieces.
2. Melt butter on a frying pan and add mushrooms. Fry them until all the water released from them evaporates and they become slightly fried.
3. In a large pot, bring to boil about 6 cups of water with a tbsp of salt. Add all the vegetables (whole),bay leaf and allspice and cook for about 15 minutes.
4. Cut potatoes into small cubes and add to the boiling vegetables. Cook them for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes become soft. Remove celery, leek, carrot and parsley from the stock and discard all vegetables but the carrot. Cut the carrots into small pieces and add them back to the stock with potatoes. Add also the fried chanterelles and bring the soup to the boil. Cook for about 5 minutes. Spice up with freshly ground pepper and extra salt, if needed.
5. If you use heavy whipping cream add it straight to the soup. If you use sour cream, mix it with a tsp of all purpose flour (it prevents the cream from curdling) to which you add a little bit of liquid from the soup, and then pour all of it back into the pot with the soup. Bring it to the boil again and cook for 2 minutes.

Serve with chopped flat parsely leaves.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sweet Plum Dumplings--All I Eat These Days

I am in Poland, and I promised myself to take some time off from the blog, especially that I have to cope with rather poor internet access. But of course I think about the food blog all the time and still take many pictures. I try new ideas with old ingredients (which means more beets and cabbage in the future) but also eat a lot of simple, seasonal, and tastyPolish food. My native cuisine and its ingredients inspire me so much that I cannot resist to share at least a couple of recipes over this remaining days here.

Eating in Poland to me is always about Polish food and I forget completely that those gorgeous tomatoes would taste fantastic with burrata, or the local smoked ham would go well with fresh figs. Instead, I eat tons of tomatoes Polish way--with onion and oil--and I eat a lot of salted cucumbers. Every other day I cannot resist fresh wild mushrooms, mostly chanterelles that are picked up at dawn the day you can buy them at the market, and gain extra pounds indulging in different cakes made with fruits that are popular in Poland--sour cherries, red currants, or Hungarian plums.

Today's recipe is a result of one of such feasts and is one of my favorite sweet dinners. I ate these dumplings (knedle in Polish) often in late summer and early fall all my childhood. Their taste--coming from a blend of a starchy dough, plums, butter, sugar, and cinnamon--is one of a kind. If you ever wonder what to do with those blue-black plums (they are called Italian in the US), my suggestion is to try and cook this wonderful dish.

My grandmother used to wonder how such a petite body as mine could accommodate so many of them--my record number was eight, but my usual intake depended on their size, which could vary from that of a tennis ball to a small cannon ball, depending on the size of the plums. I hope I convinced you to try.

Plum Dumplings
(Makes ten large dumplings)

3 packed cups of cooked potatoes,
1 and 1/2 cup all purpose flour, plus extra to clean hands and dust the working surface,
1 egg,
1 tbsp potato or corn starch,
10 Hungarian or Italian plums,
1 stick of butter, melted,
1 cup sugar (more or less, depending on how sour the plums are),
1 tbsp salt,

1. Cook potatoes and cool them down. Mush them into a purée.
2. Place potatoes in a large bowl, add the egg and both flours and make a smooth dough.
3. Cut plums in halves, but leave them connected, remove pits and put a tsp of sugar inside each of them.

4. Roll the dough in a thick log and cut into 10 equal cylinders. Place a plum on each of them and close the dough around the plums. Roll it in hands to make a perfect ball. Place on a large cutting board, dusted with flour.

5. In a large pot bring to boil water with one tbsp of salt. Dump half of the dumplings and, depending on their size, cook them for 3-5 minutes from the moment they appear on the surface. Repeat with the the rest of the dumplings.
6. Drain the dumplings, place on a serving place, drizzle with hot melted butter, a tsp of sugar per dumpling, and dust with cinnamon.

Serve and enjoy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Coffee Panna Cotta with Frangelico--Super Easy

Today it will be about panna cotta, coffee panna cotta, precisely. And I like it so much that this will be the second time I'm showing a panna cotta dessert on my blog.

I would like to convince those who have never made panna cotta to challenge themselves and try, as it is in fact an unbelievable easy culinary task. And the result is undescribably rewarding.

I know that some people can be scared by the use of gelatin in it, which can make things messy and turn a culinary experiment into a disaster, and you may be afraid that this beautiful panna cotta can turn into a huge curd cottage cheese, rather than a smooth dessert. I assure you though that with a little bit of effort this disaster is utterly avoidable. I make many fantastic desserts and cakes based on gelatin, and I hope soon enough also you will.

Moreover, for many other reasons, panna cotta is so easy that it is the best way to start working with gelatin. And there is no way this recipe will not work, because gelatin is dissolved in a large amount of milk which prevents it from forming lumps.

Basically, all you need to do is to put all the ingredients in a pot, heat it, pour it in the molds, let it chill, and six hours later you will never regret the risk you took. The secret lies in the right proportions, so the dessert is not too liquid or too stiff.

I have always used white sugar to make it, but this time I used the brown variety to strengthen the "burned" taste of the coffee extract itself. On top of that, it created an additional visual layered effect, as the heavy sugar stayed at the bottom of the molds. This time, I also added an extra tbsp of Frangelico liqueur, to make it a more of a grown-up treat.

The biggest challenge though is to take panna cotta out of the container, as it is rather wobbly. If you are afraid of this, make it simply in nice elegant glass goblets and serve it like that.

Coffee Panna Cotta

1 cup whole milk,
2 cups heavy whipping cream,
2/3 cup brown sugar,
3 tbsp coffee extract (I used simply Nescafe Instant coffee)
2 tsp gelatin,
1 tbsp Frangelico liqueur,
pinch of salt.

1. Pour milk over the gelatin in a medium pot and let it stand for about 10 minutes.
2. Heat the milk over the medium heat until warm and the gelatin dissolves. Add cream, sugar, coffee extract, and salt, and heat everything until very hot--but do not let it boil.
3. Set aside and cool. Add Frangelico liqueur.
4. Divide the whole mixture among 6-8 small small bowls and chill for minimum 6 hours.

Serve decorated with grated chocolate.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Peas and Herbs Pasta--Before I Go

This weekend I am leaving on an almost month-long, and probably rainy and cold vacation in Poland and I am desperately trying to empty my refrigerator and freezer. Although I have known about that for weeks and not been buying much food, my refrigerator is still packed. For some, this could be an extra food stock, for me this is a minimum, survival supply.

I hope that there would not be a major storm that will cut power for hours and unfreeze all the frozen goods. But I also have quite a lot of fresh produce that will not survive my three-week absence. So I have been experimenting with all that is left and if I had been in the mood I should have organised a party to make that stock disappear. But I was just too busy.

Last week I made a pretty good progress in emptying shelves, but yesterday I found a piece of ricotta salata that will turn into blue cheese if I do not use it now. I had no fresh vegetable to make salad of it, but still had a bag of frozen peas, and I thought about a pasta dish that once I read about in Gourmet magazine. I still had one lemon that was needed and all the herbs that are growing in my yard. Without much cooking, a fresh and summery pasta was ready in minutes--a proof that pasta can be made from anything.

Peas and Herbs Pasta

1 box farfalle,
8 oz (1/2 lb) fresh peas or one bag of frozen,
1/2 lb ricotta salata,
1 lemon,
1/2 cup basil leaves,
2 tbsp fresh tarragon,
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

1. Cook pasta in a large pot with a tbsp of salt. When it is almost al dente add peas and cook for a couple of minutes, until they become soft but still bright green. Strain everything on a colander.
2. Grate ricotta salata on a large grater into a large bowl. Grate a peel from one lemon and squeeze the juice into a bowl. Add fresh chopped herbs, olive oil, freshly ground pepper, and salt if needed.

3. Add hot pasta with peas, mix and serve.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tomatoes with Burrata--In Tomato Season

There is nothing special in this post beyond my provocative saying "If you like mozzarella and never tried burrata, try it, and I am sure you will fall for it as well."

For many years one of my favorite summer dishes, when truly good sweet tomatoes are available, was mozzarella with tomatoes and basil. I could have eaten it every single day. Until the day I discovered burrata--an even more guilty pleasure.

Burrata means buttered. And it is. On the outside it looks like mozzarella but inside is soft, creamy, buttery. Ever since I tried burrata ,I became addicted to its taste but even more the texture. Now I buy mozzarella only if burrata is not available. Although fresh mozzarella is nowadays quite popular in the US, burrata not so much yet. Whenever I see its much smaller supply at Whole Foods or TJ I buy a couple of boxes.

Like in many so simple dishes the secret lies in the quality of the ingredients--fresh cheese, extra virgin olive oil, and most of all in the tasty, sweet tomatoes, topped with fresh aromatic basil leaves.

Last Friday, I made a trip to my local farmers market in search of perfect tomatoes for my burrata. I looked for tomatoes like those we have in Poland and Italy--fleshy and sweet, grown under the local sun. I bought two types: red and orange. Red, heirloom tomatoes were sweet and fleshy. But the orange ones, advertised as low on acid, tasted as perfect as if they grew in Poland, during a particularly hot summer, or if they ripened under the Tuscan sun. I used both of them, layering with burrata and drizzling with oil. It was a truly summery feast...

Tomatoes with Burrata

2 tasty tomatoes,

1 ball of burrata,

See burrata on the left and mozzarella on the right:

extra virgin olive oil,
fresh basil leaves,
freshly ground pepper,
coarse sea salt.

Just arrange the slices of burrata and tomatoes, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with spices and basil and enjoy