Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Profiteroles or Cream Puffs--Plain Vanilla

I put a picture of a vanilla stick on top of today's post because profiteroles or cream puffs, as they are called here, to me are mostly about a perfect vanilla cream. I like them most plain vanilla, no chocolate sauce, just dusted with icing sugar on top.

You would not believe how many years ago I made them for the first time. I perfected this recipe and baked for weekends very often. I would say, probably a hundred times. When I moved out from Poland, I did not make until four years ago when I was doing dessert catering for a restaurant and the parties they organized. Profiteroles seemed a perfect finger dessert--delicious and easy to eat just in two bites.

To some, profiteroles seems so complicated to make, that they prefer to buy them ready-made and stuffed with whipped cream. But, in fact, it is a very easy dessert and unbelievably rewarding, when a smooth, aromatic vanilla cream melts in your mouth together with the delicate pastry, which, first crispy, softens with the cream inside the puff. I like to add a little bit of fresh sour cream cheese as Lebne or just a bit of Greek yogurt to the cream, which gives the vanilla cream a little bit of extra taste.

Vanilla Profiteroles


1 cup water,
1 cup all purpose flour,
4 eggs,
1 stick unsalted butter,
a pinch of salt,
1/2 tsp baking powder,
icing sugar for dusting.

1. Pour water in a medium pot, add butter cut into smaller pieces, salt, and bring it to boil.
2. Turn down the heat and add all the flour at once, incorporating it with a wooden spoon. Stir until a smooth and shiny dough forms and the dough does not stick to the wall of the pot. Take it aside and let it cool slightly.
3. Using a large whisker or a hand mixer, add eggs, waiting in between until each is incorporated in the dough.

At the end, add half a teaspoon of baking powder and mix it well with the dough.
4. Preheat oven to 400F. Grease with butter a large cookie sheet. Using a large spoon scoop a dough and place on a baking sheet leaving space between as they will double in size. This should make 22-26 profiteroles.

5. Bake for 20-23 minutes until profiteroles rise and turn gold. Turn off the oven and let them stay there for another 10 minutes.

Place them on a cookie rack and let cool.

Vanilla Cream

1 and 1/2 cup milk,
1/2 cup sugar,
2 eggs,
2 and 1/2 tbsp corn or potato flour,
2 and 1/2 tbsp all purpose flour,
1 stick of vanilla or 1 tbsp a good quality vanilla essence.
2 sticks of butter,
1/4 cup fresh sour cheese (optional) as Lebne, or 2 tbsp of Greek yogurt

1. In a small bowl mix eggs, both flours and 1/2 cup milk.
2. Pour remaining cup of milk into a medium pot, add sugar and vanilla stick cut alongside, or vanilla essence. Bring to boil. Discard the vanilla stick.
3. Pour a hot milk into flour and eggs mixture. Mix well and transfer it all back to the pot where the milk was boiled. Return to heat and bring to the boil. Take off from the heat and cool.
4. Cut butter into smaller cubes. Add them gradually to the custard and using electric mixer beat until it becomes smooth and shiny. If you like, add fresh cheese or Greek yogurt at the end.

5. Cut the profiteroles in half, put a generous spoon of cream on each bottom half, cover it with the top half,

and dust with the icing sugar on top.

Hint: You can keep the finished profiteroles in a refrigerator--they will be soft, or assemble them before serving--this will make them more crunchy. Dust with icing sugar just before serving.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms--The Best Starter Ever

Last week I had my friends over, who have lived in Poland for four years and only later this year will be moving back from Poland to DC, so I wanted to serve something they do not eat in Poland too often.

The choice usually comes down to either a good fish or steaks. When they came first time during their week long visit, I made NY steaks. Unfortunately, it was very cold and extremely windy. I put steaks on the grill and hid home for a couple of minutes to warm up. Meanwhile, the wind made fire wild and steaks burned completely turning my menu into a culinary disaster. I hope my friends were sufficiently jet lagged not to remember that for too long.

So a week later when they came for the farewell dinner, I played it safely and prepared an oven-baked fish. It turned out great and I will share this recipe shortly. But I had no concept what to make for starter. Without a specific idea I bought very fresh looking portabella mushrooms, which are not available in Poland. At the last moment I decided to make a "whatever I have in the refrigerator" dish. I literally did. I took out the leftover Gorgonzola cheese, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and fresh parsley, all of which I almost always have in my refrigerator. In no time at all I made a colorful, and somewhat spicy thanks to the cheese, Mediterranean style stuffing. I baked mushrooms and served them with a warm baguette.

I had expected that all the classical Italian cuisine ingredients would make this dish taste good. But I did not expect that my friend would have called it the best starter he ever had. That was very sweet of him, but even more of a compliment as I know that sometimes, during the professional galas he attends, he gets to eat dinners at the Ritz-Carlton in a company of people like Bono or Ashley Judd.

I made this dish already twice. My first experiment worked better--when I covered mushrooms with the aluminum foil for the initial baking and opened it only for the last few minutes. It made mushrooms soft and the topping melted nicely. Second time, I baked them without the foil and the stuffing dried out a little bit too much and the tomatoes burned slightly. Luckily, I got them perfect on that first time when I cooked for my friends.

Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms
(Serves six)

6 Portabella mushrooms,
1/4 lb Gorgonzola cheese,
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (either dry or in oil),
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves,
1/4 cup roasted pine nuts,
2 tbsp bread crumbs,
2 tbsp olive oil,
freshly ground pepper to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 370F.
2. Wash mushrooms and dry them gently with paper towel. Remove stems.
3. In a medium bowl place Gorgonzola and with fingers make small crumbles.
4. Chop sun-dried tomatoes and add to cheese. If you use dry tomatoes, pour also 2-3 tbsp olive oil. If you used tomatoes in oil you do not need to put any extra oil.
5. Add breadcrumbs, pine nuts, parsley, and pepper. Mix all the ingredients until they make a sticky paste. Divide it equally between mushrooms.
6. Pour one tbsp of olive oil at a bottom of a medium baking tin and place mushrooms on it.

7. Cover the tin with the aluminum foil and put it in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes.

Serve with a fresh baguette.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Spicy Potato Cake--From Poland

It is rather cold today and a good opportunity to share this recipe, perhaps the last one to do it this season. It has been sitting in my draft box since last year and I thought that if I do not post it now, I may forget about it altogether.

I do not make this dish too often maybe because it tastes best when the weather is really cold, almost freezing as it is right now in Europe. It was not something that I have learned at home but a friend introduced me to a potato cake during my university years. We baked it almost every Friday to celebrate the end of the week. All the ingredients even then were easily available. It was served with a sour cabbage (sauerkraut) salad and tasted best with beer.

On many international blogs I saw recipes for potato pancakes or latkes, but I have never seen a recipe for a potato cake (of this kind), so I thought that maybe this will be something original and someone will find it interesting.

This dish can be made vegetarian, but my favorite is with bacon. I hardly eat bacon, but in that particular dish I like it a lot and I think that this potato cake tastes better when bacon is added to it. Other important ingredients are the spices that enhance its taste--we use something which is called herbal pepper, or otherwise paprika, ground caraway seeds, coriander, and marjoram. I like the potato cake most when it is served with a sauerkraut salad.

Spicy Potato Cake

Serves four.
(For a 10" loaf pan)

2 lbs (about 4-5) large white potatoes,
1 large onion,
3 eggs,
1/2 lb (8 oz) lean smoked bacon,
1/4 cup fine corn flour plus extra 1 tbs,
1 tbsp dried marjoram,
1 tsp ground coriander,
1 tsp paprika,
1 tsp ground caraway seeds,
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg,
1 tsp black pepper,
1 tbsp salt.

1. Preheat oven to 370F.
2. Peel off potatoes and cut into medium cubs. Put them in a food processor, purée into a pulp, and transfer it to a large bowl.
3. Cut bacon into thin slices. Peel off onion and chop.
4. Preheat a frying pan. Fry bacon until it releases all the fat. Add onion and fry on a low heat until onion becomes transparent.
5. Drain onion and bacon from the fat and add to the potato pulp.
6. Beat in eggs and mix all the ingredients.
7. Add all the spices and mix well.

8. Grease a baking loaf pan with butter and dust with corn flour. Transfer the potato pulp into it and bake for an hour, until the top is set and gold.
9. Serve cut in slices and accompanied by pickles or sauerkraut salad.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pots of Chocolate Cream--Amar​etto Flavored

Last year when I was in Paris, while shopping for food, one thing in particular had caught my attention: a huge variety of excellent ready-made desserts, chocolate including.

I tried many of them, including crème brûlée, white chocolate and raspberry mousse, and all the milk- and dark-chocolate choices. Not only were they beautifully served, often in ceramic or glass pots, but also tasted amazing. Honestly, if I lived in France I probably would not bother making any desserts and I am not sure I would have any culinary aspirations.

I usually prefer fruit or vanilla desserts, but those chocolate I discovered were irresistible. I got totally addicted to two of them. One was milk chocolate mousse, layered with thin flakes of dark chocolate. The other one was chocolate cream. It was something between a cream and custard, but more on a creamy side. So delicious that every single day during the week I spent in Paris I had at least two of them one after another. I even carefully washed the cute little pots they were served in and brought them back home to show how supermarket desserts are sold in France.

The memory of that chocolate cream was coming to my mind every time I looked at these pots and I looked everywhere for a recipe that would imitate this dessert, which reminded closely a very thick chocolate pudding, but much more rich in chocolate than a regular pudding. And I think I have finally found something almost as good and easy to make.

Chocolate Cream
(Serves six)

3 tbsp granulated sugar,
1 tbsp all purpose flour,
1 and 1/3 cup whole milk,
4 oz( about 100 g) good quality milk or dark chocolate,
2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur,
1 tbsp unsalted butter,
1 tbsp roasted slivered almonds for decoration.

1. In a medium pot, using a whisker, mix until smooth sugar and flour with 3 tbsp milk. Heat it over medium heat until ingredients make a creamy, custard like mixture.
2. Whisking continuously add the rest of milk and follow with chopped chocolate. Mix until it thickens. At the last moment add butter and incorporate it into the mix.

3. Divide the mix among six small glass bowls and chill for a minimum of two hours.

4. Serve decorated with roasted almond slivers and amaretto biscuits.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons--A Bit of Moroccan Flavor

There are three dishes that are most often made with preserved lemons: chicken, fish, and lamb. Lamb and chicken are usually made tagine style, that is slowly cooked in a special dish with a shallow bottom and a conical cover. So far I have tried chicken and have been making it from time to time. It is the most classical dish coming from the Moroccan cuisine tradition.

Before I made for the first time, I had been looking everywhere for a most complex and interesting recipe. All of them called for the same ingredients--chicken, preserved lemons, olives and spices. But when I read different reviews not everyone who tried this dish liked it. Most complaints concerned the sourness of it that overshadowed its other subtle tastes, particularly, when the dish was made with green olives, which seems to be the most popular recipe. And it seems that even the mildness of couscous that the chicken is served with did not help diminish its acidity. Many people who tried out this dish would never make it again.

I decided then to make this dish a bit differently. I added carrot and raisins, which I thought would help offset its sourness. Both ingredients are often used in the Moroccan cuisine and also sometimes in different type of tagine dishes. A typical tagine calls for a meat with bones, which gives out its flavor through long cooking, but I used chicken breast tenderloins. To make sure I get a maximum flavor from it I made sure the chicken was organic and free range. I cooked them much faster in a regular heavy bottom cookware, but I think the taste was similar to what it would be if I did it as a slowly cooked dish.

Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons
(Serves four)

4 chicken breasts with bones or 8-10 breast tenderloins,
1 red onion,
6 carrots, peeled and sliced,
1/2 cup raisins,
2 preserved lemons,
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp turmeric,
4 anise star fruits,
1/2 tsp ground ginger,
2 inch long stick of cinnamon,
1/2 cumin,
1 tsp paprika,
pinch of saffron powder,
1/4 tsp black pepper,
1/2 tsp salt,
chopped fresh coriander and parsley,
olive oil for frying.

1. Mix 3 tbsp of olive oil with garlic, salt, and pepper. Rub the chicken in it and let marinate for about an hour.
2. Preheat a frying pan and fry chicken breasts until gold. Add sliced onion and carrot, and fry for about two minutes stirring from time to time. Add to the pan all the spices: turmeric, paprika, ginger, saffron, cumin. Let the chicken parts coat in spices.
4. Cut preserved lemons alongside into thin slices. Add to the pan with chicken.

5. Let it cook covered for about 40 minutes (about 30 will do if you use tenderloins) until the meat is tender.
6. Add chopped parsley and cilantro on top of the dish.
Serve with couscous and salads.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Preserved Lemons--How to Make Them

First time I made preserved lemons many years ago I was just intrigued by their look but I did not really know any good recipe to use them. So they just stood on my kitchen counter as decoration until eventually, after a year or so, I threw them away.

Only later I found in French magazines several recipes calling for preserved lemons. Most attractive were those coming from exotic cuisines. They inspired me to make another jar of preserved lemons to try some of these recipes. Ever since from time to time, when I buy a large bag of lemons, I make a jar of preserved lemons. I tried a couple of recipes calling for them and I already have found one favorite. I will share the recipe for this dish next time. But in order to make it you need to make preserved lemons first.

There are two method to preserve lemons. First uses only salt and water, the other salt and oil. I prefer the second as it is less salty and I can use the remaining oil, strongly infused with the lemon aroma, to make salads. Preserved lemons are usually good in a week and can stay in a jar from two to six months.

Preserved Lemons

3 lemons preferably organic,
2 tbsp sea salt,
1 and 1/2 cup of olive oil,
2 bay leaves,
red peppercorns(optional).

1. Put whole lemons in a medium bowl and cover them for two minutes with boiling water. Drain.
2. Cut lemons in four. Place in a medium bowl and sprinkle with sea salt. Cover and let marinate over night.

3. On the next day, drain lemons on a colander. Place them in a small vacuumed jar. Add bay leaves and pepper if you have. Cover completely with olive oil, close the jar and let marinate for a week.
4. Before using lemons you can just dry them a bit and use less oil for cooking or rinse them under the running water.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Two-Cheese Cheesecake--Very Fluffy

As I already said it once, American cheesecakes are so good that I do not try to imitate them at home. Most often I just buy them. Especially those from the Cheesecake Factory taste great and come in a wide variety.

But sometimes I crave a typical cheesecake that I grew up on in Poland. It is lighter in texture than its American cousin and has slightly sour taste coming from the farmers cheese. Polish cheesecake is more complicated to make mainly because typical farmers cheese we use is not available everywhere, except some Eastern European food stores.

But years ago, when I live in England, I found in one of the British magazines a recipe that is a fusion of both. This cheesecake is very delicate is made of two cheeses that are easily available--cottage cheese and cream cheese. The combination of two, plus whipped whites, which we always add to the cheese mixture, make this cheesecake very fluffy and make it taste more like a cheese dessert than a cake.

It is made on a delicate waffle and almond crust. Since this cheesecake is more of a dessert than a cake, I like it to serve it with fruits and fruit sauce. My favorites are raspberry or strawberry, as you can see on the pictures.

Two-Cheese Cheesecake
(For a 9-inch baking form with removable high walls)

6 oz (2 cups) ground lady fingers or biscuit waffles,
1/ 3 ground almonds (almond meal),
1 stick unsalted butter,
1 pack (8 oz) cream cheese,
10 oz (1 cup) cottage cheese drained on a colander,
4 tbsp heavy whipping cream,
1 cup icing sugar,
2 tbsp lemon juice,
3 eggs,
1 tbsp cornstarch,
1 box (6 oz) fresh raspberries.

1. Mix ground biscuits with almonds. Melt butter and add to the crumbs. Mix well and divide in two equal parts. Spread one part on the bottom of the baking form greased with butter. Press it slightly to the base of the form.
2. Preheat oven to 370 F.
3. Place both cheeses, heavy whipping cream, egg yolks, lemon juice, and cornflower in a food processor. Blend until smooth. You can also beat all the ingredients with a hand mixer.
4. In a large bowl whisk whites until stiff. Add about 1/4 cup of sugar and whisk until shiny. Fold in the rest of sugar and beat again until stiff and smooth.
5. Gently and gradually fold in the cheese mixture into whipped whites. Spread the mixture on top of the biscuit base.

6. Sprinkle on top with the rest of the biscuits.

7. Put cheesecake in the oven and bake at 370 F for about thirty minutes. After that time turn down the heat to 350 F and bake for another 30 minutes, until cheesecake's top rises slightly and biscuits turn gold.

8. Serve with whole fruits

or with a fruit sauce.

9. To make the fruit sauce, using a blender, purée a cup of raspberries or strawberries with 2 tbsp of custard sugar. If you use raspberries sieve it to remove the seeds. You can also add a tbsp of liqueur into the fruit sauce. Pour the sauce over the pieces of cheesecake and serve decorated with fruits.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Cream of Bean Soup with Chorizo

Some time ago, in one of illustrated magazines, I spotted a very interesting recipe for a bean soup, but when I wanted to make that soup as part of the iron-rich diet, I could not remember where I saw this recipe. I always have many magazines around me, often culinary and in different languages, even those I do not speak. I read them, while waiting for my kids to finish their after-school activities, to learn more about food, but mostly to get inspired. So, in order to find this recipe I went through a huge pile of magazines but with no luck.

I certainly remembered that it was a very simple soup, almost pure bean, and what appealed to me most in it was the chorizo. When the soup was ready to be served in a bowl it was topped with fried chorizo and paprika.

Chorizo belongs to one of my most favorite sausages. I love its spicy, slightly sour taste. I prefer the thick type and one that is least greasy, and especially when it is cut into paper-thin slices. Whenever I buy some, it disappears rather fast. Yesterday, in a small food store, where I often buy wine, I noticed a chorizo sausage. It was this thinner type which the recipe called for. I decided to make that bean soup from memory. The soup turned out pretty nice, spicy from chorizo and pepper, rich and thick, but not too greasy. And its taste had much more to it than the basic three ingredients that were used in its preparation.

Cream of Bean Soup with Chorizo

4 shallots or one medium onion,
1/2 lb white dry bean, or one 29 oz can bean,
2 bay leaves,
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
freshly ground pepper,
2-3 cups vegetable broth,
1 tsp paprika,
1/2 chorizo sausage (about one cup) sliced and cut into strips.

1. If you use dried beans, soak them over night completely covered with water. The next day cook in the same water with two bay leaves, for one to one and a half hour until very soft.

2. On a frying pan, preheat one tbsp of olive oil and fry chopped onion in it for about 5 minutes, until transparent. Add it to the cooked bean or canned bean. Pour in 2 cups of vegetable broth and let it all simmer for about 15 minutes.
3. Remove bay leaves and using an electric mixer puree the beans. If the soup is too thick add extra vegetable stock and let it simmer for another 5 minutes, on a low heat, stirring occasionally, as the beans can easily burn.
4. Remove the skin from the chorizo, cut into slices, and then into strips.

5. Heat a frying pan and when it is already hot, sautée the chorizo on it, until it releases most of its fat.

6. Pour the soup into serving bowls. Sprinkle on top with paprika, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and finish with grilled chorizo strips.