Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bell Pepper Rolls--For Party Dinners

Bell peppers, like tomatoes, can be turned almost into any dish. I have always liked their strong aroma and taste, but I love them even more since I learned years ago that they can be roasted and peeled off. Bulgarians use so much of pepper prepared this way that they invented a special clay pot to make the process of peeling easier. I just broil them in my oven and then peel them off easily.

Pepper-based dishes can enrich any menu, as starters, side dishes, or main dishes by themselves. In the past years I have been cooking and experimenting with roasted peppers a lot. I stuffed, fried, marinated, and pureed them. I also made many roasted pepper-based dishes--a soup, pasta, a tart, and preserves.

Some time ago, inspired by the Bulgarian cuisine where pepper is often paired with Feta cheese, I made slices of pepper rolled with goat cheese and prosciutto. It was an experiment based on the idea "whatever you have in your fridge" when I had unexpected guests coming and no time to do additional shopping. This combination happened to be excellent--the softness and sweetness of roasted peppers, delicate sourness of the goat cheese, and and the smoky taste of prosciutto turned this simple dish into an attractive dinner starter.

It became one of my most popular starters, I prepared it already several times for many of my guests. It tastes and looks great taste and also can be made a day or two ahead. Two of my French friends, ladies who are excellent cooks themselves, asked me to share this recipe. Since a party season is approaching, I thought this was a good time to post this recipe, as some may want to look it up searching for an idea to make a dinner more festive.

I served those pepper rolls with caper fruits, fresh parsley sauce, and a freshly baked ficelle.

Bell Pepper Rolls
(Serves six)

4 red peppers,
8-10 slices slices prosciutto or Serrano ham,
a log of goat cheese, about 8 oz, room temperature (this is important, as it can be spread more easily without tearing the soft peppers),
marinated caper fruits or capers to decorate,

For the parsley sauce:
1/2 cup of fresh, chopped parsley (can be either Italian or curly),
2 tbsp lemon juice,
1/4 cup olive oil,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Put whole or half peppers on a cookie sheet in an oven (on the highest rack) and set it for broiling at 400F. Let them broil until the skin on top is blackened and even partially charred. If you broil whole peppers, they should be turned once upside down.

2. Remove the peppers from the oven and place them all in a large container. Cover it with a lid and let the peppers cool down completely.
3. Take the peppers out of the container, remove seeds, and (using a small pairing knife) peel off the skin.
4. Cut each pepper in four and lay on the cutting board.

5. First, spread a slice of goat cheese on each piece evenly, season with ground black pepper, and put a slice of prosciutto on top and roll up.

6. Put pepper rolls in a refrigerator and let them chill for at least half an hour to set.

7. To make a parsley sauce put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until they make a smooth sauce.

Drizzle the rolls gently with the parsley sauce, decorate with caper fruits, and serve.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ukrainian Borshch--and the Bean Factor

This is probably the most popular soup in my home. And it is also one of the dishes that all the foreigners who traveled to Poland tried and keep asking for. Simply because it is unique.

Although the name suggests that it comes from Ukraine, since there was a time in our history, when borders were moving back and forth and Ukraine and Poland were parts of one kingdom, we consider this borshch Polish and it has been in our national menu for ages.

Yesterday, I was invited by an Ukrainian friend to cook an Ukrainian borshch together. I could not be more excited. I was anxious to find out what Polish and Ukrainians make under the same name.

We cooked two versions of the same borshch. One was based on a beef stock, the other was vegetarian. My grandmother used to cook a meat (pork) version of it, while my mother did mostly a vegetarian borshch. These days, I also make a vegetarian borshch, as it is always safe to serve it to friends in such diverse environment where some don't eat beef, others don't eat pork, and some don't eat meat at all. Luckily, this soup is rich enough to be very satisfying just in its purely vegetarian version and often it was served as an Eintopf; however, especially when it was made with meat. Ukrainians serve it with a special bread which is topped with garlic and oil. In Poland we add garlic directly to the soup.

As we peeled, cut, and cooked all the ingredients there was almost no difference in preparation. Svitlana made the most traditional version of the soup based on beets, carrots ,onion, potatoes, cabbage, and tomato paste. However there was one difference in how she made it and how we make it. In Poland we always add beans to the soup. During summer months it is usually green or yellow string beans, or even better a wax bean. It does not take long to cook such soup made with very fresh vegetables and can be served when the vegetables are still on the crispy side, and especially when beans and cabbage are still al dente. In winter we use white cannellini beans, and cook the borshch longer, until all the ingredients are soft. Since beans make this soup very fulfilling, we usually do not serve it with bread.

Ukrainian Borshch (Polish Version)
(Serves six)

2 medium beets,
4 medium carrots,
a small piece (about 1/8) of a celery root or two celery stalks,
3 medium white potatoes,
1 medium onion,
3 garlic cloves,
about 1/4 of a small white cabbage,
1/2 lb of preferably wax beans or yellow or green string beans, or one 14 oz can of white cannellini beans,
1/2 cup of tomato paste or 2 tbsp tomato concentrate,
1/2 cup of crème fraiche, sour cream, or Greek yogurt,
fresh chopped dill or parsley,
1 bay leaf,
3 grains all spice,
salt and pepper.

1. In a large pot put about a gallon of water, add bay leaf and all spice and bring to boil.
2. Peel the onion, chop it, and add to the boiling water. Let it boil for about 5 minutes.
3. Peel the carrots, potatoes, and beets. Cut carrot into thin slices, potatoes into small cubes, and beets into small sticks.

You can also grate carrots and beets (but not the potatoes) on a large hole grater or use a food processor with grater blade.

4. Add beets, carrots, and celery to the pot and cook for about 20 minutes, until almost soft. If you grated the vegetables they will cook faster.
5. Add potatoes and cook for about 10 minutes.
6. Shred cabbage and add to the boiling soup together with fresh beans if you use them. Let it cook for about 10-15 minutes.
7. The last step is to season the soup with salt and freshly grated pepper and add tomato paste or concentrate. If you make this soup with white beans, rinse them under the running water, and add just before the tomato concentrate. Toss in chopped garlic and let it boil for about 3 minutes to infuse all the flavors together.

Serve warm with a dollop of crème fraiche on top, and sprinkle with dill or parsley.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Potato Pancakes--Polish Classic

Fall potatoes taste best, and in Poland this is the time when we start making all kinds of potato dishes. At least we used to, so I can easily name probably twenty or even more dishes featuring potatoes as their main ingredient. And I would probably call them, next to soups, our comfort food.

Last couple of years, about once in two weeks my kitchen is overtaken by potatoes pancakes, a pillar of Polish cuisine. Luckily, my sons love them, so at least on those days I can make the same dinner for both of them. They like it probably because they remind them pizza, especially when they are crispy and eaten, as they do, with ketchup.

At the same time, I should admit that until last year I have never made those pancakes myself. So far, I was always able to rely on my mother's talent when she was visiting. Not only I considered them too basic and too ordinary to make, but also when I put her in charge she felt appreciated and needed. Besides, Polish potato pancakes were literally very painful to make. Unlike the Jewish latkes, they were grated on a a very fine grater, and often times together with the outer layer of the fingers. Just recently, I adapted a very handy shortcut and started to puree raw potatoes in a food processor with a knife blade.

Because of that invention and since I make them pretty regularly for kids, I decided it is time to share this recipe. I know that every Polish cook has her or his own special recipe for potato pancakes. Also, almost each region of Poland prepares and serves them a bit differently.

My grandmother served potato pancakes with sugar, which is probably the most popular way, and sour cream on top. But later my mother started to make them only in a savory way, by adding onion to the batter and different spices. I like them them this way better and this is how my kids like them as well. Those who wish to try the most traditional version of pancakes and serve them with sugar (and cream), should omit onion and herbs in the preparation.

Potato Pancakes
(Makes 16-20 pancakes or 4 servings)

4 large potatoes--baking potatoes would be best, or any other type which is starchy and not watery,
1 large egg,
1 onion,
2 tbsp all purpose flour,
1 tbsp salt,
1/2 tsp black pepper,
mix of herbs--1/4 tsp of each--paprika, dried marjoram, ground coriander, ground caraway, and ground mustard seeds (addition of herbs is optional)
vegetable oil (grape seed or rice bran oil) for frying.

1. Peel, wash, and dry potatoes. Cut them in small cubes and place in food processor with a knife blade. First, pulse the blender to make smaller pieces, and later run until potatoes become puree.
2. Peel onion and chop it. Add it to the food processor and run the engine a couple of times together with the potatoes.
3. Transfer the potato batter to the large bowl. If there is an extra liquid from potatoes on the surface, try to collect it with a spoon and discard.
4. Add a whole egg, flour, salt pepper, and spices if used.

5. Using wooden spoon or spatula blend well all the ingredients.

6. Preheat a large frying pan with 2 tbsp of oil until very hot. Place about a spoon of potato mixture next to each other and flatten on the top.
7. Fry for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until the pancakes become dark gold. Repeat with adding oil before each batch.

Serve warm plain, or the American way (i.e., how my kids like them with ketchup on top), or

with yogurt sauce (yogurt, garlic salt, and pepper), or

with mushroom sauce, and cucumbers in brine or cornichons.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Yogurt Plum Cake--A Simple Autumn Dessert

From what I know about the culinary world, I would risk a statement that only Polish and French, and perhaps also Italians and Hungarians, have such a great affection for plums. This may apply to all kind of plums, but in particular to these oval and dark purple one with the blueish coating on their skin, which in Poland we call Hungarian plums, and here they are called Italian plums. In France, I often ate them in classic tarts on a short or puff pastry crust. But once, many years ago, a French friend made a cake with a plum preserve. I still remember how exquisitely delicious it was--with a very thin and buttery crust that immediately dissolved in the mouth and long-cooked preserve or rather a plum butter on top. I always promise myself to email her and ask about her recipe.

When Italian plums are picked at their ripest stage, they have most aroma and flesh, and least juice of all the plums I tried. This quality makes them perfect for baking, preserving, and using for all kinds of cooking. Unlike other plums that grow all over the world and are often available all year round, Italian plums appear in my food store only for a short time in mid-September and mid-October. So I thought that they were already gone, but today I found them again in one of the stores. I bought two pounds of them and made this simple cake.

Yogurt Plum Cake

2 lb Italian plums, washed,

3 eggs,
1/2 cup (150g) natural yogurt,
1 and 1/2 cup flour (250g) all purpose flour,
2 cups (300g) powdered sugar,
1/2 cup (150ml) vegetable oil,
1 and 1/4 oz (7g) sachet dry yeasts,
1 tsp vanilla extract,
juice from one lemon,
1 tbsp butter to grease the baking tin,
2 tbsp fine corn meal.

1. Cut washed plums in half alongside and remove the pit.
2. Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).
3. Separate egg yolks and whites. Beat the yolks with powdered sugar until almost white. Add to that mixture yogurt, oil and lemon juice. Mix.
4. In a separate bowl combine flour and yeast and add to the batter. Mix until it becomes smooth.
5. Beat the whites until stiff. Using spatula fold them into the batter.
6. Grease the baking tin (about 9 by 13 inches) with butter. Sprinkle it with corn meal and spread the batter all over it. Place halves of plums on top, skin up.

7. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the cake is set and light gold.

Serve dusted with icing sugar.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pomegranate and Potato Salad--Unexpected Combination

I would think that any potato salad is such a culinary cliché that it would not be worth paying attention to. On every salad bar menu there is at least one. But I noticed recently that somehow potato salads have been undergoing a renaissance. At least, when I have guests from Europe for BBQ dinners, potato salads are a big hit.

So when I heard about this salad I could not wait to make it, also because of its other ingredients. It sure has potatoes, but for me the most exciting element in it was pomegranate, which I absolutely love. It is one of the most picturesque fruits, always looking good on photos, and also one of the most healthy, loaded with antioxidants, Vitamin K, and iron.

The pomegranate season has just begun, so this is a very opportune time to share this recipe. I am not sure where this salad comes from, but having some knowledge of Afghan cuisine I would guess that it might have come from there, although it might as well have come from Georgia, where they also love pomegranates and coriander.

I know that pomegranate can be tricky. If they are not entirely ripe their seeds have texture similar to grape seeds and not everyone enjoys them. But most of those fruits sold here are very tasty and of that have that awesome bloody color, which indicates that they are sweet and juicy. In that case, the crunchiness of the seeds should not overshadow their taste. Thanks to pomegranates, an ordinary potato salad turns into a very interesting dish, with a sweet and sour vinous taste. It goes great with cold cuts and grilled meats.

Pomegranate and Potato Salad
(Serves 4-6)

4 large white potatoes (about a pound),
one pomegranate,
half a medium onion,
half a cup chopped fresh coriander leaves,
3 tbsp mayonnaise,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Cut potatoes in halves and cook them in salted water until soft. Cool down and peel them off. Cut into small cubes and place in a large bowl.
2. Peel the pomegranate and using hands shuck the seeds out of the white membranes (which are inedible). Add all the seeds to the potatoes.
3. Peel onion and slice it thinly. Add to the bowl.
4. Chop the coriander. Add to the bowl.

5. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add mayonnaise and mix gently.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tenderloin Roulades with Sage

Since my last post was about red cabbage, today I feel like posting something that would go well with it, and red cabbage loves the company of good meat. I also like this recipe very much because of the sage.

Sage is to me a quintessential autumn herb, just as basil is a summer herb, which enhances the taste of ripe tomatoes, and marjoram, especially dried, is a winter herb. Sage belongs to autumn because it is often served with pumpkin dishes and is used to flavor and decorate the Thanksgiving table and meals.

I used to have two big bushes of different types of sage--one green and the other one silver, but my rosemary has been so expansive that it overshadowed my sage plants. As a result, I have been left only with one very weak sage bush. And when I was preparing these roulades, I harvested almost the whole plant. I like the taste of sage and I was very generous with it while making these rolls.

Tenderloin roulades--this time I made them from pork but this applies to both beef and pork roulades--taste great with red cabbage, and can be served with all kinds of noodles or dumplings.

Tenderloin Roulades
(Serves four)

1 lb (half a kilogram) of pork or beef tenderloin,
4 oz (125g) feta cheese,
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage leaves,
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley,
3 tbsp(72g)butter,
1 medium onion sliced,
3/4 cup (150 ml) vegetable stock,
3/4 cup (150 ml) white wine,
3/4 cup (150 ml) crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream,
salt and freshly ground pepper.

1. Cut tenderloin into thick (2/3 inch) slices. Using a meat tenderizer beat gently each slice on both sides.
2. Using food processor blend feta cheese and herbs until smooth. If you do not have a blender you can mix it together using fork.
3. Put an equal amount of feta mix on each piece of meat and spread it. Roll up each piece of meat and secure with wooden tooth pick.Season with salt and pepper on top.

4. In a frying pan with heavy base melt butter. Add onion and fry until transparent. Add tenderloin roulades and fry on the high heat for about 2-3 minutes, until brown, on both sides.
5. Pour in wine and vegetable stock. Bring it to boil and let it boil for a minute. Add crème fraîche and simmer for another 10-15 minutes.

Serve with all kinds of noodles, for instance egg noodles, and red cabbage sauté or red cabbage salads.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Red Cabbage Sauté--To the Rescue

In my recipe book there are many recipes that I copied decades ago from different sources but never had a chance to use, until now, when I now continuously look for something new and original, worth sharing.

Yesterday, I reached for one such recipe from Poland, and made a cake that, from looking at all the ingredients, I expected to be delicious. However, half way through the preparation, I started to realize that the dough seemed somewhat heavy. There was nothing I could have done at that moment, so I just finished it and baked it. When ready, the cake looked beautiful on the outside, although it almost did not rise during baking. I took a picture of it, but when I cut a piece I knew that it was inedible. Very dense and almost raw, totally slack-baked, the cake landed in the trash.

Very disappointed, I decided to make something Polish again, but well tried and familiar, that never failed during preparation--red cabbage.

When I lived in Poland, around this time of the year a red cabbage was showing up on our tables, where it was continuously present until early spring. I liked it even more than a regular green cabbage probably because it was more dense and harder and I was always charmed by its purple color and all the shades of it. It depended on the stage at which the cabbage was cooked. Unlike the green one, red cabbage usually is not served as a dish itself, but to accompany meat dishes. We serve it with beef rolls, roasted meats, and obviously a duck (which by the way I do not eat). But because I have not made it in a long time, I enjoyed it so much that I ate it as my lunch.

Red Cabbage Sauté

1/2 medium red cabbage (about 6 cups shredded),
2 apples (I use Granny Smith or McIntosh)
1 medium onion,
1/2 stick butter (about 50 grams),
3-4 tbsp balsamic vinegar,
1 tsp salt,
1/4 tsp ground Cinnamon, or a small piece of cinnamon stick,
1 tbsp sugar,

1. Shred cabbage into very thin slices.

2. In a large pot, bring to boil about a gallon of water with a tbsp of salt. Put in shredded cabbage, turn off the heat, and let the cabbage blanche in the hot water for about 10 minutes. Drain the water but save about a cup for further cooking.
3. Peel the apples and shred them on a large hole grater.
4. Peel the onion, cut in half, and then into thin half-moons.

5. Melt butter in a large pan. Add onion and fry it for 3-5 minutes, until transparent. Add cabbage to the onion and mix. Add back a couple of tbsp of blanching water to the cabbage and let it simmer for about 5 minutes.
6. Add apples and cinnamon and at this stage cook cabbage until soft--that may take 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile,if the cabbage starts to fry, add a little more water again.
7. When the cabbage turns appropriately soft (I like it a little al dente; please note that red cabbage, because of its texture, will always be somewhat harder than green cabbage), add more salt to taste, sugar, and vinegar. The vinegar will pretty much prevent the cabbage from softening further so you need to try it before adding it. Mix well all the ingredients, and let it all cook for about two more minutes.

Serve warm usually with red meats and all kind of potato dumplings, speatzle, or potato puree.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Swiss Apple Roulade--Surprisingly, from Poland

It is apple season. And I have just realized that so far I have not posted too many apple recipes. Back in Poland, I used apples a lot, at least once a week, mainly for baking cakes and pies. Here not so much anymore. Maybe because in the US I can buy all kinds of fruits and vegetables that I did not eat often then, and I keep exploring new recipes with fruits I never tried before.

Also, I cannot find here the cooking apples that we had in Poland in great variety, not necessarily the perfect looking ones, beautiful and shiny, but rather the sour and rough looking but very aromatic apples that would ripen in late fall and still be hard when harvested. They would soften nicely when baked and with the addition of some sugar would make a perfect dessert, so I am afraid to share a recipe that would be disappointing if a wrong kind of apple is used. Besides, in my yard, in Poland I had at least four different apple trees. Whenever we felt like, we had all kinds of apples within the reach of our hands, for eating raw or for cooking and serving in different dishes.

But recent fall weather made me think about apples more. Also, my son,a picky eater enjoys apple desserts very much, so I decided to make a couple of them recently. Today's recipe comes from my aunt who is a very good cook, but an even better baker.

Apple Roulade

4 eggs,
1/2 cup sugar,
3/4 cup all purpose flour,
1 tsp baking powder,
2 tbsp hot water,
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon,
5-6 cooking apples (I used McIntosh),
icing sugar for dusting.

1. Line a large square baking cookie sheet with a wax paper. Grease the top of the paper with butter.
2. Peel off apples and grate them on a large wholes grater. Add cinnamon, mix it in, and spread apples on the buttered wax paper.
3. Preheat oven to 330F.
4. Separate egg yolks from whites. Put whites in a a large bowl or a stand-up mixer and beat them until almost stiff. Add gradually sugar and continue to beat until all the sugar dissolves.
5. Add yolks to the whites and mix with a spatula. Add hot water and mix again. Sift in flour and baking powder and fold them gently in the batter.
6. Spread a batter on top of the apples.

7. Put the cooking sheet in the oven and bake the cake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is set and gold.
8. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool slightly, but not completely.
9. Turn it upside down on a smooth surface (wax paper up). Remove gently the paper. Starting with one end roll up the cake into a roulade. Let it cool down completely.
10. Dust with icing sugar, cut into slices, and serve.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Walnut Beef Soup--Probably from Georgia

The soup season is in. After a month of unstoppable rain, a real fall chill has come. Last weekend for the first time this season it was so cold that the heating system went on and off the whole night. And every time I looked through the window at this depressing weather, I dreamed more and more about a bowl of warm soup.

On Sunday evening we had a dinner at our neighbours who served a pumpkin bisque soup. There was nothing that could taste better on that cold evening, served with fresh, home made bread. But because last week I already made many pumpkin dishes, I decided to cook a different soup. And, for that purpose, I reached for a recipe that has been intriguing me for a long time.

I have been reading a lot about less known cuisines and among them about the Georgian cuisine. And it struck how much walnuts they use. This makes me believe that this soup, which I do not know exactly the origins of, comes from Georgia as walnuts are its main ingredient. It falls into the Eintopf category. Although it is based on basically two main ingredients (walnuts and beef), the two of them already make it very rich. When served with bread that soup can be as satisfying as a main dish. Fresh herbs add a lot of aroma to that already unusual combination.

Walnut Beef Soup

1 lb (about 500g) beef (any tender variety will work best),
1 cup of shelled walnuts,
1 tbsp all purpose flour,
1 tsp ground coriander,
2 garlic cloves,
2 tbsp tomato paste,
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves,
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves,
1 tsp salt,
ground pepper to taste.

1. Cut beef into about one-inch cubes and put it in a medium pot. Cover the meat with 8 cups of cold water and bring it to boil.
2. When the beef starts to cook skim the foam from the surface and let it cook until the beef becomes soft, which will take 30-40 minutes, depending on how tender the beef is.
3. Chop garlic on the cutting board and mix it with salt. Add to the beef stock.
4. Chop or grind the walnuts and add them to the soup.
5. In a small bowl mix one tablespoon of flour, tomato paste, coriander, and a little bit of water to make a smooth paste. When all the flour clots dissolve, add four tablespoons of beef stock to the tomato paste, mix well and pour into the soup. Stir and let it boil.
6. Remove the pot from the heat, add chopped basil and parsley. Serve with bread.