The Polish Dinner Party

Babuska doll

The Fearless Cookers have three members who are of Polish descent with family names of Bilikiewicz, Figinski, Wisniewski. It was just a matter of time before we had a Polish celebration.

Last fall when we went to a Polish restaurant to celebrate Joy’s birthday at Cracovia.  We decided right there we would have our Polish dinner party. Now that the holidays are over, we could focus on cooking and learning some new recipes. We picked a weekend with no football and gathered the group and spouses.

All good cooking adventures begin with a shopping trip. We started at the Chicago Market in our neighborhood. The website link is all in Polish.

Chicago Market

Authentic Polish food, shipped in  from Chicago distributers, the hometown of the owner, Krystyna. What a wonderful, gracious person who helped us with our shopping list. There were also Polish-Colorado food items like locally produced honey.

owner of Chicago Market

Menu

Golumbki (pronounced gwumb – key)

Polish sausage and sauerkraut

Pierogis

Potatoes

Cold beet borscht

Chruscki

Belvedere Vodka

IMG_3662Golumbki, aka stuffed cabbage or cabbage rolls, are numerous in versions. We made spicy, medium and plain versions; some with or without tomato sauce.

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Next up were Chrusckis. These lovely delicate fried pastries that took a village to make.

mixing the dough

kneading the dough

cutting the dough

making the bow ties

frying

draining

finished chrusckis

Patty’s Points:

1.  I had never heard of Cabbage rolls until I was an adult and thought they sounded odd. But, if you grew up in Chicago, Baltimore or Philadelphia you would find pockets of Polish heritage. Cabbage rolls to me, were akin to church ladies gathering together to make, sell or serve for a potluck. If you searched the internet you would also find that different types of cabbage rolls native to some South Pacific and Asian cultures as well.

2. I had never understood how to separate the cabbage leaves from the head until I saw this website on how to softened cabbage leaves. Boy, did that help!

3.  Wrapping cabbage leaves around the stuffing of meat can be done two ways: like wrapping a burrito or “pinning” the leaves together with a toothpick while steaming. It depends on how large the cabbage leaf is that you are working with. You can steamed them on a stove top, bake in the oven, or heat in a crockpot. Pretty versatile. You can make them plain or place a tomato sauce atop.

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4. Chrusckis are also a group project. Joy said that they should never be made solo. As you can see in the above pictures, there are many steps involved. Mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough, rolling it to a proper thickness, frying at the right temperature, draining and sprinkling with icing sugar. We actually used a pasta roller to get it a good thickness.

5. There are numerous recipes for chrusckis some have baking powder, some without. Joy referenced a recipe from a friend from  her teenage years .

Bow Ties from Alvena Brudzinski 

1 heaping TBSP butter

4 whole eggs

1 oz whiskey

1 tsp vanilla

4 C flour

3 TBSP baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 small can Pet (evaporated) milk (about 6 oz)

Directions:

Mix butter, eggs, vanilla, and whiskey.

Mix flour, salt, and baking powder.

Add dry mix to egg mix gradually at the same time add the evaporated milk gradually.

Knead the dough

Roll thin, cut into strips, cut a slit and pull one end of the dough through the slit.

Fry in vegetable oil or Crisco (325 degrees)

Drain on paper towels or paper bags

Dust heavily with powdered sugar.

Joy kept us organized with all the menu items to combine. A Polish village of Fearless Cooks

Chruscki makers

the babushka picture

Oh we all donned a babushka before sitting down to eat.

the spread

 Belvedere vodka is Polish vodka We kept cold in the front yard snow bank.

Belvedere vodka

I think that is a lovely picture worth advertisement in a magazine eh?

Garden Variety

The produce from our garden has been busting out all over.chard in the basketI love Swiss Chard and it grows so easily in our garden. Within a week after trimming out 1/3 of this bed, it grew right back.

Swiss ChardI had to search for recipes that would be a challenge for me other than sautéing chard in olive oil and shallots.

I furrowed out a Bon Appétit  magazine from May 1999 profiling Provence, France. It was a Special Collector’s Edition. The main article profiled 20 essential ingredients of the region: fresh produce, herbs, dairy, meats, seafood and breads.

Bon Appetite May 1999In France, Swiss Chard is called blette. It has white or red stem varieties. The leaves need to be trimmed away from the stems before using in a recipe.

I have never made gnocchi before so I chose the recipe Swiss Chard Gnocchi (Gnocchi aux blettes) to prepare. On top of this, I have never even eaten gnocchi before!

Swiss Chard Gnocchi (Gnocchi aux blettes)  8 servings

1 pound russet potatoes (about 2 large)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 1/4 pounds Swiss Chard, stems and ribs trimmed

1 large egg

1 TBSP olive oil

1 3/4 C all-purpose flour

1 stick butter (1/2 Cup)

4 C homemade or purchase tomato-herb sauce

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Steam or boil potatoes, about 50 minutes until tender. Cool potatoes, slightly then peel . Mash potatoes in large bowel until smooth, add the salt and pepper.

Steam or boil the Swiss chard until wilted, about 3 minutes. Once it has wilted, drain, until cool and then squeeze out as much water from the chard as you can. Finely, chop the chard by hand or with the food processor.

Mix the chard in the mashed potato mixture add egg and oil. Gradually add the flour until combined, forming a slightly sticky dough.

sticky dough

Dust a board with flour, I used pastry fabric. Working in batches and with floured hands, roll 1/4 cup of dough and form a 12 inch long rope. Cut the rope into one inch pieces.

rolling and cutting the rope

Roll each piece between palms forming a ball. Using a whisk, roll each ball down the length of the wires to make a ribbed impression.

ribbed impressions

Transfer gnocchi to a baking sheet with parchment paper to rest.

gnocchi on baking sheet

Place the gnocchi, in batches of 10-12 in a large pot of boiling salt water cooking for 6 minutes, until the gnocchi rises to the surface of the boiling water and are tender.

boiling gnocchi

Using a slotted spoon transfer the gnocchi to a large bowl.

Gnocchi cooked

Melt butter in large heavy skillet over med-high heat. Add the gnocchi and sauté until coated with butter and cooked through for about 3 minutes.

Serve the gnocchi atop hot marinara red sauce or white sauce and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

red sauce

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1. The gnocchi can be frozen up to 1-2 months in the freezer after boiled. When ready to serve, thaw, then cook with butter in a sauce pan before serving.

2. I used all-purpose vinyl gloves to mix and roll the dough. It was way to sticky not to!

3.  I enjoyed the white sauce better than the red sauce with the gnocchi.  The white sauce gave it a richer taste. If using a red sauce, it would be best to pick a light one, nothing heavy. Of course the shaved parmesan atop made the flavors pop.

4. Okay, I have to say it. The green-ness of the gnocchi was visually off-putting. It reminded me and my daughter of insect larvae.

5. When produce comes out of the garden I have to wash it two to three times. Dirt and bugs hang onto the leaves pretty easily.

Sorry if talking about bugs grossed you out.

Enjoy your meal – Bon appétit!

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I took a macaron cooking class. See what I learned

4-H was my first leap in cooking. I learned how to make dishes from the project recipe books with lots of practicing. But, I have never taken a cooking class. I’ve seen plenty of food demonstrations (that will be a future blog post) but never taken an actual class from a chef.

Ever since the macaron adventure in February 2012 I’ve been obsessed with macarons.  I have looked at different recipes on blog posts and macaron cookbooks. jothetartqueen has a chocolate macaron recipe; The Seaside Baker, my BlogHer Food friend, makes tons of macarons and has several flavors posted on her  blog; and a friend went to France and brought back a package of French macarons and a macaron cookbook completely written in French.

I saw an opportunity to take a macaron cooking class. I thought I could learn from a professional chef and fine tune my technique. After all, I am self-taught, studying recipes and cooking by lots of trial and error. I wanted to see what an expert could teach me.

I was off to a rocky start as I rolled in 15 minutes late and as my online reservation wasn’t received. But, they had room in the class and I fell into an affable group of two women, Erin and Susan, who welcomed me to the class. Susan has a knitting blog, so we bonded quickly.

When I jumped in, Erin was sifting the almond flour with the powdered sugar. Tip #1 was to sift the dry ingredients twice for a finer flour and to throw out the bigger pieces. You could even put it in the food processor first before sifting. You can’t over sift the dry ingredients.  Tip #2 store your almond flour in the freezer so it doesn’t spoil.

Next was the egg whites. Tip #3 whip them until foamy on a medium speed before adding the sugar and when the sugar is incorporated whip at a high-speed until stiff peaks are achieved. Deborah our chef said the bowl did not have to be cold but the egg whites should be at room temperature and “aged” at least one day.

Tip #4 use a Silpat liner under the parchment paper to prevent burning as well as an extra cookie sheet underneath. Our first batch of blueberry macarons turned out great. Perfect in fact.

Then we learned how to make a berry cream filling. That was new for me because I have used pre-made fillings like curd, jams, Nutella, or caramel in the past. I volunteered with three other students to go to the stove and make the filling. It turned out to be a lovely curd-like filling using cream, marscapone cheese, berry filling, eggs and sugar.

So I took those techniques from class and fine tuned my macarons.

Problem #1: Too hot an oven. The recipe called for 375 degree oven. After the first batch I turned it down to 350-360 degree F. See the first batch on the left is a little too brown compared to the light green batch on the right.

Problem #2: Cracked macaron. I think this happened because I didn’t let this batch dry completely for 30 minutes, I might have popped them in at 25 minutes.

Problem #3: Powdered mango. The mango macaron recipe called for powdered mango. In our class we had powdered mango. I asked Chef Deborah how to make it and she said to food process dried mango. As you can see below that did not happen. I dried it in the oven twice and pulverized it 2-3 times in the food processor and I got maybe 2 pinches of mango powder into the mix. I added some water to it and used it to make my filling.

I made two fillings Lime Cream and Mango Cream. I can’t believe I used a stick of butter for each of these fillings with the curd flavoring. They tasted good. mmmm butter.

While I was in the class, I asked lots of questions and I think Chef Deborah liked that. There were four groups of students, 15 in all, and four helpers clearing away our dishes. If I was taking the class for the first time I would’ve been overwhelmed. Making macarons calls for many details. I knew my subject and kept up with a fast paced class. All in all, I am glad I took the class. I felt more confident making my macarons today.

Pièce de résistance (my fine accomplishment). Embrassez le cuisinier (kiss the cook)

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Oh Aioli!

The Fearless Cooking Club challenge for March are eggs. Eggs are so spring-like and so versatile. You can use just the yolk, the whites or both. Eggs can be whipped, sautéed, baked, scrambled, fried, poached, boiled, and emulsified and be put into almost any dish. And eggs are everywhere these days. The March edition of Cooking Light  focused on comfort foods had a fried egg on top of many recipes. And on Worst Cooks in America, Chef Anne Burrell had the contestants pattern a diner dish she made with French Fries a cheese sauce and a fried egg atop.

Last summer I was was watching From Spain with Love  on The Cooking Channel when I saw a chef make garlic mayonnaise with an immersion blender. The concoction was whipped together in less than a minute. I was flabbergasted that this blender could be used for more than pureeing soup in a pot. So I knew I had to have one.

I did get an immersion blender for Christmas and I love it. And because my inspiration was aioli I had to make it for this egg challenge. Aioli  (alhòli) comes from Provençal alh ‘garlic’ (< Latin allium) + òli ‘oil’ (< Latin oleum) = garlic oil.

As with my last challenge of making macarons which had four ingredients, the key was to master the technique for a fabulous end product; aioli is the same, all about technique.

I scoured cookbooks and websites on how to make aioli and oh my goodness there are a lot of versions. As a result I went through a lot of garlic, olive oil and eggs. I bet I made 5-6 batches of aioli.

I started with Julia Child Mastering the Art of French Cooking I and II. Julia had several aioli recipe versions which were all to be whipped by hand. She started with a piece of stale bread soaked in milk and combined the garlic and salt with a mortar and pestle. She then added the eggs and hand whipped all the while slowly drizzing in 1 -1 1/2 cups of olive oil.

Then I moved onto the internet and watched videos of hand whipping and immersion blender techniques of making aioli. I took the techniques from each chef and incorporated them into what would work for me. Finally, I found the recipe that tasted the best and would allow me to use my immersion blender.  The Wishful Chef Homemade Garlic Mayonnaise recipe was perfect and the right combination for me.

Patty’s Points on Technique:

1. Eggs. Okay yes mayonnaise uses raw egg yolks at room temperature. If you are squeamish make sure you: a) buy fresh eggs, b) wash the exterior shell, and c) coddle the egg. To coddle an egg for this recipe you place the whole egg in shell into a pot of boiling water for one minute. Remove the egg, crack  and separate the yolk from the partially cooked white.

2. Oil. Most of the recipes I read said not to use extra virgin olive oil but you use regular olive oil. Many recipes also advised to use two kinds of oil, like olive oil with cannola or grape seed oil to temper the strong taste of olive oil.

3. Garlic. The garlic clove must be minced and mashed into a past with the salt to extract the garlic oils. I saw techniques using a good chopping knife or a mortar and pestle. I used the knife method and it took awhile to mash it into a paste. I will probably invest in a mortar and pestle because it probably would’ve been easier.

4. Temperature. All the ingredients must be at room temperature or slightly warmed for the emulsion of liquid to mayonnaise to occur.

5. Taste. The unfortunate part of making mayonnaise is that you really can’t tell what it tastes like until it is completed. My second batch had great texture, but it tasted bad so I threw it out. I made a cilantro aioli (in the picture above) that called for 1/4 cup of lime juice. That much lime juice overpowered the recipe and gave it a harsh taste. I couldn’t taste the garlic, oil or cilantro.

6. Serving. This was probably my biggest challenge. I made a condiment and what do I serve it with? Below is a picture of my first batch which tasted good but was really runny. I served it with asparagus and panko crusted shrimp. Julia Child served aioli by placing it into a Garlic Soup or a Fish Stew. The Fish Stew was very good, the Garlic Soup was a little too thin of a broth for my tastes. I’ve also seen recipes that put it on sandwiches, just like any old mayonnaise, but more flavorful.

Today I may serve my aioli with a vegetable or sweet potato chips as in the picture above or with some fresh asparagus and just use it as a dip.

Fearless but exhausted over making mayonnaise.

My next post will be the pictures of the Fearless Cookers dishes at the Eggs-travaganza Dinner.

A day trip to France

We started our day at the Paris Street Market that is held six months per year in our neighborhood. It is a outdoor market where vendors sell antiques, food, jewelry, fresh vegetables and fruits, flowers, and their treasures. It draws huge crowds of people from all over to celebrate this beautiful time of year in Colorado.  
 
From the Paris Street Market, we traveled to our friend Josette’s home for an authentic French luncheon. Josette was born in Lure, France where her family owned a lace factory.

dentelle

Josette married an American, Herbert. They made their way to Colorado where she became friends with Joy, who is my good friend.

Josette (right) et sa soeur

Josette is an excellent cook and has given cooking lessons to several of us over the years. 

Bienvenue, mon ami!

On the menu today is Endive with cream cheese and smoked salmon,French onion soup, French deviled Eggs with homemade mayonnaise and crab, fresh beets, fresh Romaine lettuce with Josette’s salad dressing AND of course wine!

endives avec fromage à la crème et le saumon

betteraves fraîchesoeufs

 

à la diableoeufs à la diable

 

soupe à l'oignon gratinee

 The French onion soup was fabulous. The Swiss cheese was not stringy, very smooth and it melted in my mouth.  Cheers to you Josette for sharing your home and culinary talents with the Fearless Cook on the Inaugural Club event. We shall all come together again in July for our next cooking club event.
 

À votre santé

 
Maybe we will make it to Lure, France someday. In the meantime we can gaze upon this picture and dream of longer trips to come.

Lure, France