Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Christmas Must Have: Root Vegetable Salad

This vegetable salad is a traditional Polish accompaniment. I suppose that it is made in nearly every Polish home at least twice per year. Also in my family, everybody cooks and chops root vegetables before Christmas Eve and Easter. My grandma Pola, who now is 86 years old, and always was an excellent cook, used to serve it for other occasions like, for example, her name day (“imieniny”), which, in Poland, used to be more popular than birthdays. When I was 3 years old, my parents took me to my grandma's to celebrate her name day. I wanted to help her and I offered to carry a large glass bowl containing the salad from the kitchen to the dining room. Unfortunately, the floor was polished and slippery, so I fell on the floor. I do not have to mention that the bowl broke and the salad was everywhere, except on the serving table. Anyway for me, at that time, it was not a big loss as I hated this vegetable salad. I do not remember at what age I realized that it is edible. I like to eat it nowadays but my favorite recipe is this one of my mother. Usually this vegetable salad contains mayonnaise and canned peas which I hate. My mum does not add any non edible canned peas nor mayonnaise; instead she prepares a simple dressing based on sour cream, mustard, hard boiled egg yolks and lemon juice. In my opinion such a salad is lighter, more delicate and tastier. Do not spoil the salad with overcooked canned peas! It is a matter of individual taste of course, but in my opinion the idea of this salad is to serve root, winter vegetables; canned peas are summer vegetables and do not have their place here. Some people make variations by adding cooked corn (which is wrong), or pickled bell peppers which is also wrong. Do not add raw chopped onion into it as some people do, because the whole salad will stink on the next day. Besides the taste will be too rough. I like it when the taste of sweet root vegetables like carrots, parsley and celery does not dominate and that is why I counterbalance the taste with acid ingredients such as (quite a lot of) sour cucumbers (gherkins) and sour apples (Polish russet apple – “szara reneta”). To summarize - as many households, as many recipes for the salad. 

Serves 4

2 medium root parsley or parsnip, peeled and washed
2 medium carrot, peeled and washed
¼ medium celery root, peeled and washed
4-5 medium potatoes, washed but not peeled
350 g sour cucumbers, peeled
1 hard boiled egg
1 sour apple
2 tablespoons mustard
200 ml crème fraiche or heavy cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Cook vegetables: Put root parsley, carrots and celery root in boiling water and cook until soft but not overcooked. Strain vegetables and let them cool down. In the meantime, cook potatoes. Strain them and let them cool down completely.
Dice vegetables: Dice vegetables, potatoes and apple into small cubes – around 0,5 cm. Place them in a bowl. Chop cucumbers into cubes of the same size as the vegetables. Put into the salad bowl and mix everything thoroughly. The salad itself should be a bit sour. If necessary, add a bit of lemon juice or one more cucumber. Peel the egg. Separate the yolk from the white. Chop finely the egg white and add to the salad. Mix well.
Prepare the dressing: In a bowl or a mortar mash well the egg yolk. Add mustard, mix well. Add cream, salt and pepper generously, mix, taste, and pour into salad. Mix well. The salad should be quite moist. Place into the fridge for at least one hour.
Serve as an accompaniment to cold meats, pâtés, hams, herrings and marinated mushrooms.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

CNN about Our Christmas Market in Kraków

Hello, just a quick note tonight: CNN writes about our Christmas Market in Kraków here :"....welcome to a city so cold that even a well-insulated, heavily whiskered Santa Claus might think about pushing back gift delivery till spring. Beneath the cold of the southern Polish city of Krakow, however, lies an ancient hotbed of holiday trade that generates enough Christmas warmth to overcome any winter chill. This is Christmas, Krakow-style...." 
And I did not have time to visit it, what a shame !

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Duo: Pâté with Dried Ceps and Pâté with Almonds

The tradition to make pâtés came to Poland from France a few hundred years ago. Nowadays they are still an important part of culinary heritage; pâtés are baked at home, in particular for Christmas and Easter. Local products like dried mushrooms and spices (typical of Polish cooking): marjoram, allspice, juniper and bay leaves are frequently added. Polish pâtés are served cold, cut in slices, accompanied with horseradish, fruit preserves or tartar sauce. As far as I noticed, in comparison to French pâtés, Polish recipes usually call for the smallest amount of alcohol. You may serve the pâté below cut in slices, accompanied by: lingonberry or cranberry preserves, sour cucumbers (gherkins) or French cornichons, pickled ceps, tartar sauce, horseradish, home-made mayonnaise (for example cranberry mayonnaise)

Home Made  Pâté  
Makes 2 molds 12 x 25 cm


700 g boneless veal (cheapest piece for baking), cut into 3-4 cm cubes
600 g boneless quite fat pork, cut into 3-4 cm cubes
300 raw bacon, non smoked, cut into 3-4 cm cubes
500 g chicken livers
300-350 g back pork’s fat (salo), cut into very thin slices
200 ml milk
1 carrot, peeled and washed
1 root parsley, peeled and washed
½ small celeriac, peeled and washed
1 onion, peeled, washed and cut into halves
1 garlic clove, peeled
30 g dried ceps
30 g almonds, blanched, peeled and cut in slices along
30 g walnuts blanched, peeled and cut in slices along
1 bread roll
1-2 cloves
2-3 bay leaves
5-6 grains black pepper
2-3 grains allspice
3 pinch nutmeg
5 eggs
100 ml cognac or brandy

For the horseradish:
150 g grated horseradish
1 hard boiled egg
2 tablespoons, heavy cream
salt, pepper

Prepare the mushrooms, meat and livers: soak mushrooms for at least two hours in 300 ml of water (preferably overnight). In a large pot, bring to a boil 1.2 l of water. Add pepper grains, allspice, bay leaves, cloves and garlic and cook for around 2 minutes. Put pork, veal and bacon into boiling water with spices and cook under the cover over a small flame for around 1.5 hours until all the meat is cooked. After 50 minutes, add vegetables and mushroom, as well as ½ of the mushroom liquid.
In a bowl, place livers and soak them for around 15 minutes in milk. Then strain them and blanch them in boiling water for 2 minutes, and strain. Strain also the meat. Discard vegetables, bay leaves and cloves. Keep the mushrooms, other spices and the broth. In 200 ml of warm bouillon soak the bread roll for a few minutes and then squeeze in hands. Check if meat does not contain any little bones or tendons.

Grind ingredients: In a meat grinder, grind the meat, bread roll and the liver three times. Place the mixture in a large bowl. Salt and pepper very generously, add nutmeg and cognac. Mix everything with a wooden spatula. If the meat is too dry, you can add a bit of stock.

Prepare the eggs: Break eggs and separate yolks from whites. Add yolks to the mixture and mix. Whip the eggs until stiff and then put them into the mixture and mix delicately.

Bake two pâtés: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Take two molds. Lay slices of salo on the bottom and the sides of the molds. Divide the pâté into two equal parts and place the first half delicately in the mold until 2/3 of its height. Make the surface equal. Add almonds and walnuts to the second half, mix and then place in the second mold. Repeat the actions. Place the two molds in a bain-marie and cover them with aluminum foil. Bake in the oven for 1.5 hour. 15 minutes before the end of baking remove the sheet of aluminum and let the surface grill a bit. Remove from the oven, let it cool down completely and place in the fridge overnight.

Prepare horseradish: Before serving, prepare the horseradish accompaniment: separate (hard boiled) yolk from the white. Mash the egg yolk and mix it with horseradish. Chop the egg white finely and add to the yolk with horseradish. Add cream, season with salt and pepper.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Is Sauerkraut Really Everywhere?

Some time ago I was invited to a specific dinner in a restaurant in Kraków. The event was designated to discovering ancient Polish recipes from the 17th century. After the New Year, I will publish a post about the old “gingery” Polish cuisine. That cuisine was so different from what we eat today. For example, one today’s most popular food product – which is sauerkraut – was not so common back in those old days.

Nowadays sauerkraut is served with numerous food items:  meat, fish, sausages, mushrooms and vegetables.

We have sauerkraut soup – kapuśniak which is good for hangovers; in the south of Poland, people eat “kwaśnica” - a type of sour soup which base is sauerkraut juice. My recipe for this traditional soup from the Tatra Mountains will be published in a coming post. 

We eat salads made with red and/or white sauerkraut.  We cook “bigos” (hunter's stew). Contemporary bigos is cooked with sauerkraut and meat. Three hundred years ago sauerkraut was not added at all – bigos consisted exclusively of meat or fish.

We bake “kapuśniaczki” - in the Kraków region, which is a type of savory cake with, for example, a sauerkraut -mushroom filling inside. We cook or bake “pierogi” (dumplings) with sauerkraut / mushroom stuffing.

We roll croquets – krokiety – which may be stuffed with sauerkraut. I even tasted a savory tart with sauerkraut filling.
You can braise sauerkraut with beans, raisins and mushrooms or even with pumpkin and honey – my last discovery.

Want to read more about sauerkraut? Sauerkraut in this country is everywhere. Pork chops with potatoes and sauerkraut (raw or braised) is still the most common Sunday meal, although it became popular after the Second World War. Sauerkraut is not only used for everyday cooking, but also for the preparation of Christmas dishes. That is why the smell of cooked sauerkraut can be felt especially before Christmas Eve. This smell is strong and it penetrates the whole building. On Christmas Eve, most of the people do not eat meat – instead, they eat sauerkraut, fish and mushrooms. In my family, we usually have 3 dishes with sauerkraut: pierogi stuffed with sauerkraut and dried mushrooms; braised sauerkraut with raisins and braised sauerkraut with dried ceps. When I was younger, my mum used to braise sauerkraut with beans, but it was too much for our stomachs. The mixture of sauerkraut and dried mushrooms is very tasty (especially when eaten once per year, on Christmas Eve) but it is not so easy to digest.

And what one can do with leftovers of Christmas sauerkraut? It may be used for the New Year's bigos (hunter's stew).

The best is to buy sauerkraut on open air food markets. I have also heard about a chocolate cake made of sauerkraut. When you buy sauerkraut, try to choose one that is white, sour but not bitter in taste. Of course, when you buy sauerkraut abroad you are limited to pasteurized one usually, so you cannot see really what you buy (usually in Poland you can taste a bit before buying).  When sauerkraut is too sour, you should rinse it under running water before cooking it to get rid of the excess of acidity.  The best is to buy sauerkraut which is sold straight from large barrels or containers, instead of pre packed items. Regarding fermentation: more and more often the cabbage is not fermented 100 per cent naturally meaning exclusively with salt; frequently vinegar is added and that is not right. Also, remember not to choose sauerkraut mixed with carrots (at least not for Christmas dishes) – and if this is all you can get, discard shredded carrots and reserve the sauerkraut.

Today I will not bother you about home-made sauerkraut, but I assure you that it is very easy.
Although the picture that you can see in this post was already published on this blog, the recipe itself was not, that is why I am using it again today.

Cabbage with dried ceps – Christmas Eve recipe

Serves 4

400 g sauerkraut
40 g dried ceps
750 ml water
1 large onion, peeled and washed, finely chopped
3 tablespoons butter

Prepare dried ceps: soak mushrooms in water overnight. On the next day, cook them until soft for around 30 minutes. Strain the mushrooms. Reserve the liquid. Cut the mushrooms into strips 0.5 cm wide and put them aside.

Prepare the sauerkraut: Cut the sauerkraut into smaller pieces. Then squeeze it in hands and remove the excess of sour liquid. In a hot frying pan melt 2 tablespoons of butter and fry onions until soft over low heat. Do not let the onions burn. Put the cabbage into a sauce pan; add onions and half of the mushroom liquid.  Cook over minimum heat until soft, for around one hour and a half. Mix often, so the cabbage does not burn. If necessary, add little by little the remaining mushroom liquid or just water. Add mushrooms and mix well. Cook for another 30 minutes and eventually add a bit of water and mix. At the end, add one spoon of butter, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Cabbage with raisins – Christmas Eve recipe

Serves 4

400 g sauerkraut
200 g sultan raisins 
1 big onion, peeled and washed, finely chopped
3 tablespoons butter

Prepare mushrooms: soak raisins for around one hour in 750 ml of warm water. Strain the raisins. Reserve the liquid.

Prepare the sauerkraut: Cut the sauerkraut into smaller pieces. Then squeeze it in hand and remove the excess of sour liquid. In a hot frying pan melt 2 tablespoons of butter and fry onions until soft over low heat. Do not let the onions burn. Put the cabbage into a saucepan, add onions and half of the raisin liquid. Cook over low heat until soft, for around one hour and a half. Mix often, so the cabbage does not burn. If necessary, add little by little the remaining raisin water. Add raisins and mix well. Cook another 30 minutes and eventually add a bit of water. At the end, add one spoon of butter and mix.

Serve both types of braised sauerkraut with potato crockets or as an accompaniment to a dish of meat or fish.

Bon appétit !

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Kutia. Love It or Hate It.

Christmas kutia, kutia, kutia …wheat grains, poppy seeds and honey. You either love it or hate it.

Usually, on my blog, I only publish posts about food which I like. I have never liked kutia, because I hate poppy seeds and you have tons of ground poppy seeds in kutia. It is usually sweet like hell and that is why many people do not like traditional one.

However it is still a strong accent of Polish Christmas. I also believe that it is so unusual that it would be a sin not to publish the recipe below. After a “lifting” by reducing the amount of honey and, it may actually be quite interesting.

This is a very ancient dessert which is made exclusively for Christmas Eve dinner. It has its origins in Eastern European countries, and was a necessary element of the Christmas Eve dinner for ages. Today, it is still served in many households, usually where families have some roots in the Eastern part of old Poland.

Nowadays it is made of unprocessed wheat grains, but as far as I know, it was originally made of barley. In the past kutia not only had a culinary meaning but was connected to religious beliefs. Wheat grain for kutia is available in stores in Poland during the Christmas period and abroad in stores carrying organic food. The proportions of poppy seeds and wheat given in this recipe are not mandatory; you may reduce the quantity of poppy seeds or add much more, increase the amount of wheat, if you prefer it that way. Feel free to add almonds, various nuts, sunflower grains, raisins, other dried fruits like cranberries or apricots, soaked in a small amount of port or red wine.

Avoid, however, the excess of sugar and honey, otherwise kutia will be too sweet and not so tasty. To make your kutia less traditional and moister, in texture, you can use crème fleurette for desserts or even sweet wine, or even cook a little orange sauce and candied orange zest, so it will add a bit of acidity. It is best on the second or even on the third day, so if you plan to serve it on Christmas Eve dinner, make you kutia at least two days in advance.


Serves 8

200 g husked organic wheat grains
150 g black poppy seeds
50 g walnuts, finely chopped
50 g almonds, peeled and finely chopped
50 g sultan raisins
1 vanilla bean
2 table spoons powdered sugar (optionally)
4-5 table spoons of flower honey

Prepare wheat: rinse wheat grains under cold water. Put in a plastic container and pour 500 ml of water. Let stay overnight or at least a few hours. On the second day, strain the wheat. In a saucepan, bring to a boil 2 liters of water, put the wheat grains into it and cook until soft for around 2 hours, depending on the quality of the grains. Strain well and let it cool down.

Prepare poppy seeds and raisins: In the meantime, prepare poppy seeds and raisins. Soak raisins for around one hour in 200 ml of warm water. Then strain them well. Put aside. Reserve water. Put the poppy seeds into a saucepan, add one liter of boiling water and cook until soft.  The poppy seeds are cooked when you can easily mash the seeds with your fingers. Then grind poppy seeds in a meat grinder, twice. Put aside. You can also cook poppy seeds in milk.

Finish kutia: Open a vanilla bean and remove the seeds. Mix them with 2 spoons of honey. Take a large bowl. Place wheat, poppy seeds, raisins, almonds, walnuts, honey with vanilla beans. Mix everything very well. Taste. If the desert is too dry, add a bit of raisins water. If it is not sweet enough, add sifted powdered sugar and honey, according to your taste. Put overnight into the fridge. Serve cold with some orange candied skins for decoration and a bit of orange sauce.

What did I do for the past few months ?

Despite the fact that I do not publish so often now, I am quite active. I, and my group of friends, whom I met at the screen plan of the first Polish season of Master Chef, frequently meet and cook for the public on various culinary events. I have a lot of new friends who are foodies - thank you guys !

Today, I participated to a meeting and culinary workshops designated to the preparation of traditional Christmas Eve dishes from Małopolska (Kraków region). I wrote many times that, in most Polish homes, the Christmas Eve menu is very traditional (nevertheless, the dishes vary according to the region).The meeting took place in the Hotel Stary close to the Main Market Square. On your next visit to Kraków, do not forget to visit this hotel, go to its top floor. There is a bar there and you can admire the Main Market Square and the rooftops of Kraków. The event was organized by Slow Food Cracovia in connection with the Terra Madre Day. The president of Slow Food Polska – Jacek Szklarek and the chef Krzysztof Żurek explained how to pick up a good carpe – the national fish at Christmas time (many people do not believe it, but carpe may be good !) and how to debone it (which is not so easy). The chef gave us some instructions and personal tricks for a perfect pierogi dough (in his opinion, the dough should stay in the fridge overnight and it should not be too thin), and how to obtain a perfect colour for the bortsch. We tasted Polish herrings (the must for the Christmas Eve in many Polish homes) with cold pressed Polish organic oils – linen and colza. We finished with some yeast cakes (babas) and kutia – the dessert which is presented in today's post. Those who did not come by car could drink some special types of okowita – very strong and fruity distilled alcohol, traditionally made in the south of Poland.

And yesterday I had a chance to sit, for three hours, in a freezing cold (minus ten Celsius degrees) on a stage of "Galicyjski Kiermasz Adwentowy" ("Galicia Christmas Fair") which took place here, in the center of Kraków, before Christmas, and could talk a bit about Christmas culinary traditions. Ewa Wachowicz – the author of cook books and TV programs – talked about Christmas cookies. My friend Klaudia talked about Christmas traditions in Greece and I chose to tell about Christmas traditions in France. That was a busy weekend.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas Recipes. Pheasant à la Teresa.

I believe that really a lot of people like memories of the  times when they were kids. In my case, I have been coming back to the old times, meaning when I was a child, since my daughter was born. I wrote quite a lot on this blog about my childhood which took place in the eighties, so I will not be repeating myself today.

Today's recipe was given years ago to my parents by their good friends:  Teresa and  Jan. They both died already a good few years ago. They never had kids. Teresa was a well known journalist in Krakow. Her husband, Jan was the author of many books about Kraków (like, for example: Kraków from A to Z).

The recipe below would have disappeared, completely forgotten, in one of my Mum's kitchen drawers, but I found it three years ago, and I copied it. Jan, except for being a well known person in Kraków, was as well an enthusiastic hunter. The inseparable member of this couple, which (as I mentioned) never had their own children, was a gundog named Igor. Jan used to always take Igor hunting with him.

Quite often, we had been invited to their summer house, close to Kraków. I loved their big wooden house, full of mysteries and secrets. And always we were served some delicious food there. I remember some venison dishes - meat which you could not find in regular shops in the eighties.

Teresa was a master in the preparation of hunter style dishes. It is quite a pity that probably most of her recipes disappeared over time. I still have a strong sentiment of tenderness for those people and the great time I always had at their place. I will always remember her as an older lady smoking cigarettes, and Jan – as a calm guy in glasses.

Pheasant à la Teresa

Serves 4


1 pheasant of around 1.2 – 1.4 kg or 2 small ones of 700 g
300 ml dry red wine
40 ml cognac
1 bunch chives, washed and finely chopped
2 table spoons goose grease
150 ml crème fraîche
2 table spoons Polish mustard, optionally Dijon mustard
100 g butter
200 g pork’s back fat, non salted, cut into strips of around 0.3 cm thick and 12 cm long
150 g chicken liver

Sautee the pheasant: Season the bird with salt and pepper. In a hot frying pan, melt goose grease and roast the bird on all sides for around 5 minutes. Then pour cognac onto the bird, light with a lighter and flambé.
Bake the pheasant: Preheat the oven to 165 degrees. Place the bird in a baking pan, sprinkle with 150 ml of red wine, cover with strips of the pork’s fat and put into the oven. Bake at 165 degrees for between 1h15 minutes to 1h30 minutes. From time to time, check the meat and sprinkle it with its own juice, eventually with some more wine. Be careful, the juice should not evaporate.
Prepare chicken livers: In the meantime, chop the livers finely. In a hot frying pan, melt the butter and add livers. Keep them over low heat for around 10 minutes, until cooked. Put aside.
Finish the pheasant: Remove the pheasant from the oven, switch the oven off, place the pheasant on a cutting board and cut it into equal parts. Throw away the pork’s fat. Place in a saucepan, cover with aluminum foil and put into the warm oven (the oven must be switched off).
Finish the sauce: Remove the excess of grease from the baking pan, in which the bird was cooked and throw it away. Place the baking pan over the heat, add remaining wine and cook on a low flame for around 10 minutes, until the sauce is reduced. Add livers with butter, mustard and cream. Mix everything and cook for about 3 minutes. At the very end, add 2/3 of chives and mix. Cook for one minute. Remove the pan from the heat. Strain the sauce using a thin strainer; pour it into a sauce-boat. Season with salt and pepper according to your taste. Remove the meat from the oven. Serve immediately, most preferably with sautéed or mashed potatoes, Silesiandumplings, kopytka (little hooves) accompanied by lingonberry preserves, pickled pears, cranberry preserves, shredded beetroots and red cabbage – the recipe for traditional red cabbage will be presented in a following post.

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