Thursday, December 29, 2011

I am a meat and potatoes kind of girl.

   Have you ever wondered what kind of food you would take with you if you were stranded on a deserted island? Well I have, many times, thanks to my lovely husband who asks this question at least once a week. I do have to admit that my choices change, depending on the moon phase, but no matter what, I need to have eggs, cheese, and of course meat and potatoes with me. Sounds like a lot for a deserted island, but for such a food lover like me it's not nearly enough. What can be better for a meat and potatoes girl then some scrumptious Shepard's Pie? I had one recently in a restaurant and unfortunately it wasn't too good, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and make a proper, flavorful, and delicious Shepard's Pie, with no artificial ingredients.
Here is the shopping list:

3 lbs of lean ground beef
3-4 large potatoes
1 cup of frozen peas
1 cup chopped carrots
1 chopped onion
chopped parsley
olive oil
Worcestershire sauce
0.5 stick of butter
1 egg
0.5 cup of milk

   Cook potatoes in salted water until tender and then mash them with butter, milk, and egg. While potatoes are cooking saute onions, peas, and carrots with olive oil, then add ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook everything together until the meat is no longer pink. Put the beef on the bottom of a baking dish (about 2 inches thick) and using a piping bag (the same you use for decorating cakes with frosting) pipe the potatoes on the top of the meat. If you don't have a piping bag you can just layer potatoes with a spoon, just make sure you "spike" them with a fork, which will allow them to brown nicely. Bake it at 400F for about 30 min.

   I like to make it into single servings with small individual baking dishes. First of all, it looks really cool, second, it's much easier to serve, and third, it's super easy to take with you to work for lunch! If you for any reason don't like beef (I have no idea what reason can it be!), you can substitute it with a ground lamb, it's delicious as well and maybe even better. No matter what meat you put in it, I'm sure everybody is going to love it... I know we did!

   And there goes my post-Xmas diet. I devoured this bad boy like I was kept in a dungeon for a week without any food. Hey, tomorrow is a new day to start a diet... oh wait, we do have Shepard's Pie leftovers... well, lets wait a couple more days!

Hope you like it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Multipurposing a muffin pan!

   I don't make muffins or cupcakes too often, so since I had two muffin pans, I needed to find some creative use for them. I was walking through the grocery store, saw a phyllo dough, and it hit me: I'm going to make fruit filled phyllo cups! I think it was high time for some different dessert rather then szarlotka or carrot cake and I also wanted to make a semi-light sweet treat after all these heavy Christmas dishes! The list of ingredients is really short:

10 sheets of phyllo dough
butter spray
1 apple
1 pear
white sugar

   I was always hesitant to work with a phyllo dough because I was afraid it's very fragile and easy to tear but I was wrong, it's nothing difficult. You do have to be careful with it, but it's quite manageable. I stack 5 sheets of phyllo dough together, spraying each layer with a butter spray. You can't be lazy and skip layers when buttering because it will not stick together and you will end up with a mess! Cut the stack of dough into 6 squares and gently place each of them in a muffin pan (I use a 12 muffin pan), forming them into cups. Slice apples and pears and put them in the dough cups, sprinkling with a little bit of sugar and cinnamon. Bake at 375F for 10-15 min until the edges are brown.

   It's very quick, easy, and not too not healthy... (did you notice how I tried to use reverse psychology, huh)? If you think if it's too healthy, or that it's not a respectful match for a Holiday dinner, you can always add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, sprinkle some cinnamon, and it will make everything just perfect!

   Doesn't it look much better with some ice cream action? I hope you will enjoy it.

Good luck.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The ultimate Suthern Belle.

   OK, making shrimp and grits doesn't make me a Southern Belle (it would take much more than that), but I am really fascinated by delicious comfort southern food and I want to learn how to cook it. Ever since I came to the US, especially after moving to Richmond, I kept hearing about the famous shrimp and grits, and couldn't stop and wonder what's so special about them? One day we discovered this small and cozy place called Mosaic Cafe (you should definitely check this place out!) and I found out why so many people are crazy about the glorious shrimp and grits! Their version of the dish is absolutely insane. Creamy, cheesy, buttery, bacony, smooth, and rich... do I need to go on or do you get my point? It was love at first sight... I think Justin should be a little bit jealous about my relationship with this lowcountry cuisine dish. I can't spend all my time in the Mosaic Cafe so I decided to start cooking it myself... and as always I make a healthy version of it (the guilt after consuming 2789 calories in one sitting was just unbearable)! What you will need to prepare the dish is:

2 cups of skim milk
1 cup of water
3/4 cup quick-cooking grits
1 cup of fat free shredded cheddar cheese
6 slices of turkey bacon (chopped)
1/2 chopped onion
1 small chopped red pepper
1 lb cleaned shrimp
1/2 teaspoon of hot sauce
salt and pepper

   Boil milk with water, add salt, grits, and cheese, and cook on reduced heat for 5-6 min while stirring often. Meanwhile in a skillet saute bacon until brown and crispy and then set it aside. In the same skillet saute onions, bell peppers, shrimp and hot sauce until everything is cooked and then add prepared earlier bacon. To serve, spoon grits into a shallow bowl, top with shrimp and you will end up with a piece of heaven on a plate.

    There is nothing left to say. It speaks for itself. If you are a fan of comfort food, shrimp and grits should definitely be on your to-do list.

Good luck,.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

¿Qué pasa?

   Do you like pizza? Do you like Mexican food? Do you have problems deciding which one of them to have for dinner tonight? You don't have to decide anymore, because thanks to me you can have both for the price of one! I present you with an amazingly amazing and explosively explosive: Santa Fe Pita Pizzas! Wow, wouldn't I be a perfect sales person for a TV commercial? But seriously, I wasn't joking, I really present you with a Mexican pizza, and it is really amazing. Not only flavorful and delicious but also quick and easy. There is no cooking really required, just putting together few ingredients and baking for a little while. All you need is:

4 pita breads
refried black beans
chunky salsa
sliced black olives
corn (I use Mexicorn by Green Giant)
Mexican shredded cheese mix
fat free sour cream
cilantro (lots of it!)

   Spread refried beans on the pita bread and top with salsa, corn, olives,cilantro, and cheese.

   Even though it looks good already, bake it at 350F for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve it with a spoon (or more) of sour cream and more cilantro on the top. Since you are making individual pizzas, each of them can be altered to suit everybody's needs. Justin, for example, is not too crazy about olives, so I just made his without them but with triple serving of cheese.

   Oh and one more thing! They are awesome when topped also with cooked shredded chicken but guess what? I realized that I forgot to add chicken just when we were taking the last bite of our pizza... oh well, they were awesome anyways and I have some chicken for something else now.  :)


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Practicing for Santa!

   It's only one week left until Christmas and you know what that means! Yes, Santa Claus is coming to town! I am really excited for Santa's visit, but all I can think of is if I was naughty or nice and I came to the conclusion that I better bake a lot of cookies for him because I might not get anything otherwise. And they better be perfect and delicious! I hope I didn't start practicing too late and that I will be able to optimize my cookie protocol by next Sunday, otherwise I will have to ask my mother-in-law for some help (she is Xmas cookies extraordinaire). Many cookie recipes are very similar to each other and you can use one dough, modify it, and get few different cookies. I made three or four different variations using only two different doughs. First was thumbprint cookies, and the recipe calls for:

1 stick unsalted butter (room temp)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 and 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
3/4 cup of finely chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon almond extract
pinch of salt

   Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolk, vanilla, almond extract, salt, and walnuts, reduce mixer speed to low, and beat in flour. Continue mixing on low until dough comes together. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, transfer to baking sheet, and using your finger, make a hole in center of each ball. Well, I used a small measuring spoon to make a hole and it worked just fine. Fill it with your choice of a fruit jam (I used the black cherry jam) and bake for 10-15 minutes at 350F.

The second recipe I used was for butter cookies and what you need is:
3 cups of all-purpose flour
2 sticks of unsalted butter
3/4 cup of white suggar
1 cup of sour cream
orange zest

   In a large bowl, cut butter into flour as you would for a pie dough. Add sugar, sour cream, and orange zest, and bring it all together. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for about 2 hours. After the dough is chilled, roll it thinly, and cut out different shapes with cookie cutters, sprinkle with white or colored sugar, and bake for 10-15 minutes in 425F (until they start to brown).

   Those are your regular, not too exciting cookies, and I decided to spruce them up a little bit. I cut out two different types of circles (full and empty), baked them as before, and after they cool down I made a cookie sandwiches using different fruit jams. You know how they say that necessity is the mother of invention? Well, I needed round cutters in different sizes and I got really inventive... I used the top of the cooking spray as a big circle and a Dr. Pepper bottle cup as a second. Worked better then fancy and expensive cookie cutters!

   I think that fruit jam makes everything taste much better so I definitely like these cookies better that the previous ones, even though its the same recipe. Try it and find out for yourself which one you prefer. 
Everybody loves Christmas cookies. If you have no idea what to get for some of your friends, put the cookies in a nice box and you have a great gift.

   In my case I have to make sure that I put a huge box of them in front of our Christmas tree so that Santa will forget about all the naughty things I did last year. Do you think it will work?

   Well, we will see... I will let you know next week if Santa liked my cookies and if he left me something in return!

I hope everybody was nice this year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A little healthy, a little unhealthy, and whole lot of tasty!

   Probably you wonder what this could be? Shredded zucchini (a little healthy), fried (a little unhealthy), and served with a BBQ flavored chicken sauce (a whole lot of tasty)! I was looking through some magazine and I found a recipe for zucchini fritters, which reminded me of our potato pancakes, so I decided to give it a try and check if they are equally as delicious. Justin was a great sport and didn't say a word, but I knew he wasn't too thrilled, first because he is the executive shredder in my kitchen (not his favorite activity) and second because I was cooking zucchini (not his favorite veggie).

3-4 medium size zucchinis
2 eggs
1 finely chopped onion
a little bit of flour ("a little bit" is a very scientific term in my kitchen and it means about 2-3 big spoons)
salt, pepper and a fresh herb of your choice (I had cilantro in my fridge)

   The most important part of the preparation is to find somebody who will grate the zucchini, if you can't find anybody you are stuck doing it yourself. To get a nice texture in the fritters use a grater with large holes and don't peel the zucchini (just make sure you clean it well). Mix the zucchini, onions, flour, eggs, and spices together making sure that all the ingredients are nicely combined. Heat some olive oil in a pan, just enough to cover the bottom, and spoon the mixture forming small pancakes. You can make them as small or as big as you want, but remember that the smaller you go the easier they will be to turn, and much crispier too. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side until they are nicely browned.

   They are absolutely delicious on their own and I could just eat them like M&Ms, but I had a feeling that Justin needed an "encouragement", something to sweeten the deal (at the end it's still zucchini, which he hates with a passion). I had some leftover rotisserie chicken in the fridge so I just chopped it, mixed it with carrots and peas, added a little bit of BBQ sauce, and finished it with a big spoon of sour cream.

   I was sure that Justin will use 10:1 ratio of sauce to fritters but I was very pleasantly surprised when he actually loved the fritters by themselves. Yeah, he covered them with the sauce pretty generously, but I saw him really enjoying sinking his teeth in those fritters made from one of his biggest enemies.

Oh and Spikey sank his teeth into one, too!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Can you say Kluski Slaskie?

   Man, I am on a Polish streak recently aren't I? Pierogies, szarlotka, and today kluski slaskie! I am sorry for the Polish names of my dishes but you can't really appreciate their Polishness (yes, Polishness!) without their "real" name. Yeah, I could say "Silesian dumplings" instead of "kluski slaskie" but lets be honest, does that make as big of a statement? No, so I'm going to stick to my kluski and that's it. It's a regional dish, very popular in south-western part of Poland (hint: Silesian!), but I make them very often too, even though I am nowhere near Silesia! The original version is just plain dumplings without any filling, but I wouldn't be myself if I didn't stuff them with something, and the best choice is beef! Here is the recipe:

1 lb ground beef
1 chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic
olive oil
salt, pepper

   Saute onions, garlic and beef with olive oil, season to taste, add cilantro and let it cool down a little bit.

Potato dumplings:

2 lbs potatoes
1 cup of potato flour
0.5 cup all purpose flour
2 eggs

   Cook the potatoes, mash them, and then let them cool down. After they are cool enough to handle add flour, eggs, and salt and mix all together until smooth. I think you know the drill by now, take your rings off and get your hands dirty, no spoon can do better job then your hands! After "the dough" is mixed form balls out of it (a little bit bigger then egg size), flatten them in your hand, stuff with prepared earlier beef and round them up hiding stuffing inside. I love to serve them with melted butter or crisp chopped bacon, even though I cheat a little bit because I use turkey bacon (by the way where is the bacon on a turkey?).

   If it sounds complicated or if you struggle with stuffing them you can just make them plain, without anything inside and use the beef to make a meat sauce :).

   They are silky, soft, fluffy, and delicious, especially when they are freshly prepared and straight from boiling water! Even though they look a little bit like pierogies, the dough is completely different and there is no comparison between those two dishes! You should definitely put them on your kitchen bucket list!

Good luck.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Same dough different filling.

   I don't want to repeat myself and show you pictures and recipes of the same dishes all the time, but I definitely think that cabbage pierogies deserve their own post! A few weeks ago I posted cheese and potato stuffed pierogies and I think it is high time to present you with equally Polish and delicious version filled with cabbage, mushroom, and onions. Usually I don't make them that often, first because they are pretty time consuming and second, and most important, because we always end up making a bucket of them and can't stop devouring them. Pierogies reveal our animal instincts in us and it ain't pretty. This time I had an excuse because my sister-in-law was visiting and her husband is a huge fan of Polish pierogies, so there was no way I wasn't going to make them for him. If somebody tells me that they love my food I am willing to make pierogies twice a day for them! Joe is a cabbage/mushroom lover so the choice was simple. The man has great taste because those are one of my favorites too. This is what you need to make the filling:

1 cabbage (shredded and cooked)
2 cups of chopped mushroom
1 chopped onion
salt and pepper.

   Saute the onions with the mushrooms and mix it with the previously cooked cabbage. When you are seasoning the mix make sure you put a little bit more salt that you would normally would because boiling water will suck some of it out. It's that simple and you end up with a great dish.

   Oh, did you notice the delicious, brown crust on my pierogies? That's the best way to heat them up, rather then using microwave, I just reheat them in a pan. Not deep fry them, just brown them on both sides with a little bit of the olive oil so they won't stick to the bottom. It makes them crispy and crunchy on the outside while the inside portion of the dough is still chewy, gooey, and perfect.

   Oh yeah, you know you want them. They look amazing and taste even better, correction, they looked and tasted amazing. Remember I told you about our animal instincts... well, they struck again... and pierogies are gone!

Have a great evening.

Friday, December 9, 2011

If you are Polish you know your szarlotka!

   A long time ago, during our wonderful trip to Poland, I posted picture of a szarlotka (apple cake) I made. I think it's high time to post some more pictures and, more importantly, give you a recipe for it! It's one of the most popular desserts in Poland, Americans have their brownies and we have our szarlotka. It's not the quickest cake ever, because you have to knead some dough, but it's not that bad, and it takes only few minutes to do it. Before I take care of the dough I make the apple filling and that's when my wonderful husband comes in, somebody needs to grate those apples and I don't want to lose my nails!

Ingredients for filling:
6-7 apples
1 cup of dried cranberries and raisins
sugar (according to your liking)

   Grate the peeled apples and cook them with sugar, dried fruit, and cinnamon for about 10 min while stirring the whole time (they really like to stick to the bottom of the pot).

   You can prepare them even couple of days earlier and store them in the fridge until you are ready to bake a cake. Speaking of cake these are the things you will need:

3 cups of flour
2 sticks of unsalted butter
1 cup of white sugar
1 packet of vanilla sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
4 eggs
fresh orange zest.

   Combine flour with baking powder, sugar, and orange zest, add butter and cut everything with a knife until it's mixed. Add eggs and knead the dough using your hands (yes it requires to get dirty!). Divide the dough in half, freeze one of them and roll the other one on the baking pan and bake for 5-6 min (don't let it brown). Spread the apples on the top of it and grate the frozen half of the dough on the top of apples.Grating the dough can be challenging because it's not too frozen and it's just melting in your hands, so what I discovered is that freezing small pieces of it helps a little. Bake at 350F for about 45 min (until the top is brownish).

   Either the recipe calls for a little bit too much of everything or my baking dish is not big enough, but I always end up with leftover dough. But this is absolutely no big deal because there are plenty of things you can do with it. This time I just rolled it out and cut out different shapes with my Christmas cookie cutters, brushed them with eggs, sprinkled with sugar and poppy seeds, baked until golden brown and voila, delicious cookies are ready! No dough will be wasted in my house!

   The orange zest gives the cookies a really fresh, citrusy, and Christmasy flavor. To be honest I was a little bit surprised how good they turned out, who knew! All you need is a glass of milk and you are good to go!

Have a sweet day.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lazy, rainy afternoon.

   Remember how I said that sometimes I slack off in the kitchen and just eat out or bring some take out home? Today was a perfect day to do that. We got home really tired and just as we were parking in front of the house it started raining, or should I say pouring like crazy. All we wanted is some delicious comfort food, which is not necessarily the best for you (hey, you can't eat healthy all the time!). I think Justin was thinking about takeout the entire day because the second I said I don't feel like cooking he shout out: HOOTERS! Yeah, we love Hooters, actually we love us some Hooters' wings! They are one of the best: crispy, crunchy, juicy, and flavorful. Add the side of celery sticks and blue cheese dressing and you have a perfect meal. No wait, there is one thing missing... fried pickles! I know, I had the same reaction first time I heard about them. Fried pickles? How can somebody fry pickles? Oh trust me, you can fry them just fine, and they are absolutely, amazingly addictive.

   Wings would never be the same without some good, cold beer and our choice always is a Japanese Sapporo, can't beat that! And that's how we spent today's evening: Hooters, beer, Dexter, and us! Are you jealous yet?

Stay dry in this rainy night.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Stuffy stuff!

   What can be better than one delicious thing stuffed with another delicious thing and covered with even more delicious things? No, I'm not talking about a turducken, which I'm sure is good, even though I never had it before. I am talking about delicious bell peppers filled with delicious stuffing and covered with even more delicious aged sharp cheddar cheese. It not only tastes great, resembling kind of polish golabki (stuffed cabbage), but it's also a perfect dish for a busy week because you can prepare as many peppers as you want and have a few lunches and dinners.

6-8 medium size bell peppers
2 cups of brown rice
1 lb ground turkey
1 cup of lentils
tomato sauce
shredded sharp cheddar

   Cook the rice together with lentils (both of them need at least 30-40 min to soften). Saute chopped onions, garlic, and ground turkey and mix it with the rice, tomato sauce, and chopped dill. It's already so good that all it needs is a little bit of salt and pepper to be just perfect. Cut the top of the bell peppers, clean the seeds from the inside, stuff them with the rice mixture, and cover with the cheese. Bake at 350F for 30 min.

   I usually roast the tops separately, without covering the peppers to let the cheese brown. All you need to do now is just stuff your face with it. And trust me, you won't be able to stop yourself. It's pretty much a guilt free dish. You can always skip the cheese if you are calorie conscious, but in my opinion it's not worth it. You will probably save 40-50 calories and lose hell lot of flavor, just think of cheese as a protein and calcium source.

Happy stuffing.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fishy party!

   Do you also spend hours thinking about what appetizers to bring to the party? In my opinion, appetizers should be not only delicious and colorful, but also easy to grab and eat without too many
utensils. I usually try to make something fast, easy, tasty, and something that is unique. Of course the
easiest thing to do is to grab salsa or guacamole (nothing wrong with that, I bring both of them very
often to the parties!) but the real challenge is to come up with something different, inventive, and
unusual. Something that everybody will want to try even out of curiosity. Some time ago I came up with
this simple idea of one-bite-pumpernickel sandwiches. You can buy a thinly sliced pumpernickel bread,
either already small and ready to use, or in a regular, toast-size slices and just cut them in 4 pieces. It's
absolutely up to your imagination what you are going to put on the top of the bread, but my favorite
choices are kind of fishy... salmon and sardines. There is absolutely no work for the salmon one. You just
spread a salmon cream cheese on the bread, put a piece of a smoked salmon on the top, and decorate
with some dill!

   The second one is not complicated at all but reacquires mixing few ingredients together. I mix canned
sardines (in water) with a spoon of light mayo, a big spoon of cream cheese, and horse radish sauce (as
much as you want, according to your taste) and viola, the spread is ready. It's good to decorate it with
some fresh and crunchy vegetable since the spread tends to be very creamy and rich. I think cucumber is
perfect for the job!

   Even if you are not a "fish person" you still may like it because the horse radish gives it very unique flavor, far from what regular sardines are. It definitely looks colorful and fun put together on a plate.

   Try it, you may surprise yourself and your guests as well. Worst case scenario you have a great conversation starter, so you have nothing to lose.

Good luck.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Something from nothing!

   I just created an absolutely perfect dish for everybody who loves comfort food but is watching their calories/staying healthy/doesn't want to feel guilty (circle whatever applies, don't be shy, I circled all of them!). I came home from work without any idea what I am going to cook for dinner, but I knew I wanted something flavorful, fresh, juicy, and satisfying. I opened the fridge, saw the broccoli and cooked chicken breast and... and I had a vision. I will be honest, I have no desire to be modest about that and I will openly admit that the dish I created is genius! Here is what you need:
2 cups of fresh broccoli,
2 cups of broccoli cole slaw mix (comes in a bag),
1 chicken breast, cooked and cubed,
olive oil,
fresh dill,
salt, lemon pepper and powdered ginger.

   Blanch the broccoli for 2-3 minutes, drain the water, and set aside. In a pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a pretty high temperature, add the raw broccoli slaw, and saute for about 5 min. Add cubed chicken breast, blanched broccoli, dill, salt, pepper, and a pinch of powdered ginger, and saute some more. I don't stir it too often to allow the veggies to brown a little bit in a pan, it gives them an unbelievable flavor.

   I wish you could smell that. Probably broccoli is not most famous for its wonderful smell but when you add ginger and some dill it gives an amazing aroma. I think we can all agree that this dish is similar to our beloved stir fry but without all the calories, grease, and artificial ingredients! If you are a veggie lover, you will love this!

Good luck.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Don't go bananas!

   Or better yet: don't waste bananas! I'm sure most of us buy too many of them once in a while and let them sit until they turn brown, soft, and are good for nothing! I had three of them, way riper than they should be, staring at me from the fruit basket, slowly turning into a perfect fruit fly attractant! I never throw away any food unless it's absolutely necessary, so it was high time to get creative and make some banana bread. Oh all right, it might not be the most creative dish, and probably not the most surprising considering over-ripened bananas, but it was definitely very spontaneous! I wish you could see Justin's face when he saw me taking my hand mixer out! Like a five-year-old on Christmas morning! Spikey also knew that something good was going on because he sat next to Justin with his huge cute ears up staring at me the entire time without even one blink! I love to make my boys happy.
   Well, but lets get back on track with the banana bread. I know I say it a lot, but the recipe is super easy, you will see. All you need is 0.5 cup of butter at RT (room temperature for all non-science people), 1 cup of white sugar, 2 eggs, 2 cups of all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1.5 cups of mashed bananas (I used three big once). Cream the butter and sugar until smooth, then beat in eggs and bananas. Add flour and baking soda stirring just until combined. Transfer it to the pan and bake for 45-60 min at 350F or until the toothpick comes out dry.

   Every time you open the oven to check on it, it smells so unbelievably good that you just want to eat it right away, despite the fact that your mama told you not to eat a hot cake! Clearly nobody listened to mama tonight, because the second my banana bread was cool enough to touch it (none of us seemed to care about the hot steam coming out) it was sliced and half gone!

   All the Christmas decorations, the smell of spices, and baking definitely makes it feel like the holiday season is on in the Morgan's household. I'm loving it already and it's only the beginning!

Take care,

Saturday, November 26, 2011

You knew it was coming!

   Thanksgiving is over and I hope everybody had an amazing time with their friends and family. Even though I've been in US for over 7 years it was my fourth "real" Thanksgiving spent with my new family eating traditional and delicious Thanksgiving dishes. I thought I was extremely lucky to have a mom who is a great cook and then I met my mother-in-law, and now I have two moms who are the best chefs in the world! So you can imagine that every holiday, no matter which mom we are visiting, is an explosion of flavor. This past Thanksgiving was no different. As always it was a lot of fun with a great company, but you have to come prepared! Every year is the same, we need to start fasting at least 24 hours before going over there and even then our stomachs are not empty enough. I don't even know if there is enough space in this blog to write about and put pictures of all the food Justin's mom cooked for us. There is absolutely no way I could give you the recipe, so I decided just to post a few pictures of my favorite dishes.
   Lets start with the appetizers, which each year are an absolute surprise. This year we enjoyed amazing stuffed (with I have no idea what) mushrooms...

   and shrimp and mango salad served in endive boats. Very refreshing!

   You would think that on a turkey day The Turkey would be a main attraction of a table, right? Wrong! The biggest hit, and the thing that Justin starts talking about in early October, is the mountain of fluffy and silky potato rolls. Different shapes, different sizes and one unbelievable taste!

   Trust me, Justin makes sure that we go home with a trunk full of them, and ever since we got the SUV, that's a lot of rolls! I know everybody is waiting for a picture of a turkey, but by the time I grabbed my camera and got to the kitchen Tio Curtis was already halfway through the bird! So here you go, I present you with a one-sided turkey, a very tender, juicy, and flavorful side!

   Of course there is no turkey without mashed potatoes...

    ... and stuffing full of veggies and chestnuts! Man that's good!

   Delicious! The last but not least is my absolute favorite dish of the night: corn pudding! Oh I'm getting the recipe for that one and as soon as I perfect it I'm gonna share it with you all. Right now all I can do is show you the picture and tell you that it's extremely creamy and corny (I said corny!!!).

    I would love to show you my mother-in-law's signature pumpkin pie, but I was so full after dinner and the camera was so far away... at least 3 feet away... that I just couldn't walk that far! We will have to leave the pie for a next year. Hopefully, I will remember to keep my camera closer!

I hope you enjoyed it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Total improvisation!

   Today was a perfect example of me cooking without any recipe and just creating a dish on the spot! All I knew is that I have a chicken breast in the fridge and that I have a craving for something with a "punch" which is a little bit sour and tangy. That's actually all I needed to know! I just opened the fridge and started to adding ingredients, which I knew were going to work well together and will give me the desired flavor I was looking for. For the best results you should marinate the chicken the day before but if you are like me and you realize in the middle of setting the PCR that you forgot to do this, don't worry you can "fix" it while you are cooking. It's all about building a right base before you put chicken in a pan. I heated some olive oil and tossed a handful of dried cranberries, chopped onions, a clove of garlic, half a cup of chopped cilantro, and some salt. When the onions became translucent I added 1 teaspoon of dried ginger, lemon pepper, and 2-3 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce... and that's when magic began! The Worcestershire sauce gives the dish one of a kind flavor, it's a little bit spicy, sour, and very aromatic, which is exactly what I was craving. The base is ready and all that's left to do is add cubed chicken breast and saute until it's completely cooked. I think it's high time to give you another one of my culinary secrets... whenever I want the dish to have a sweet/sour flavor I add 2-3 teaspoons of... wait for it... wait for it... ketchup!!! Here, I've said it, I am ready to take a beating from all the chefs out there, but yes I use ketchup in some of my dishes! Try it and you will see what I'm talking about, it's really good! I serve it with some rice noodles which bring additional Asian flavor to the dish.

   No recipe, never done it before and it turned out great! That's exactly what passionate and exciting cooking is about! Don't be afraid to experiment and mix and match ingredients, worst case scenario you will end up with a not so tasty dish, but if you wait 2-3 hours you will be so hungry that it will be good enough! 

Stay creative.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Got leftovers?

   I know I've got some! Remember my last post about delicious cheesy pierogi? Well I got so excited that I made way too much stuffing and ran out of a dough in the middle of it. No worries though, you don't have to throw it away, my mom gave me a great tip on what to do with the leftover stuffing. Just wrap it up in crepes (nalesniki to all "my" folks out there!), sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese, and broil until golden brown! You won't be disappointed.
    The crepe batter is really simple. All you need is 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 2 cups of milk, a pinch of salt, white sugar, and 2 eggs. As a special "treat" I add some nutmeg, which brings a little bit of a warm, sweet, and spicy flavors to the dish. Using an electric hand mixer beat all the ingredients together until the batter is smooth, pour 3/4 cup of it onto a frying pan, tip and rotate it to form a thin layer and brown on each side. Spread the potato/cheese stuffing on the crepes, wrap it however you like...

   ... sprinkle with some cheese, I used the combination of Parmesan and sharp cheddar, and broil it on "low" until the cheese is melted and a little bit browned.

   The crepes are a little bit crunchy on the outside but soft and gooey on the inside. Justin usually eats them with ketchup (like 99% of all other things!), but I think that the best pairing for it is just a cup of hot and aromatic red borscht. I use an instant powder, which I brought with me from Poland, but you can get one in the European market or just come by and enjoy one at my place!

   I think my mom was really creative to come up with such a great solution for leftover pierogi stuffing. What do you think?

Take care.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The time has come!

   Oh yeah, I've got the absolute proof that I am Polish (even though I don't think anybody doubted it). Besides my strrrrong accent and impossible to pronounce maiden name I also make my own pierogi from scratch! It takes some time and it produces a "little" bit of a mess in the kitchen, but it's absolutely worth it. For me it's not really such a big deal because I grew up with my Mom making them all the time, but when Justin saw me for the first time making the dough I can tell he was surprised, impressed, and excited all at the same time.

   You don't even have to worry about all the carbs and calories you are going to consume because making and rolling the dough works out every single muscle in you upper body and sometimes in your legs too (I have to stand on my toes to be taller and put more pressure on the dough)! All it takes is flour, 2 eggs, a pinch of salt and warm water. Be prepared to get dirty. Mix eggs with the flour and slowly add water until it forms the dough and knead it until it is not sticking to your hands anymore. It should be rather soft but not too watery, otherwise it will just fall apart when boiled. I cut the dough in half to check if it's uniform  and has no clumps of flour inside.

   Cover it with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 10 minutes. It makes it a little bit fluffier and easier to work with. Roll the dough out and cut the circles using the desired size glass. We prefer ours to be larger so that's where the Budweiser beer glass comes handy.

   There are so many different stuffings you can use but I think the easiest and the most popular is cheese and potato. It can be tricky though, especially here in the States, because it takes special kind of white cheese which you can't really find in a regular store. I either make it myself or buy it in a European market, but I also discovered that you can substitute it with ricotta cheese. It's not the best solution and it doesn't taste exactly the same (it's a little bit sweeter then "our" cheese) but it will do just fine if you have no choice. Everybody makes their own version of the stuffing, but I believe mine is the best (and here my Polish modesty comes through!). I boil and mash 2-3 potatoes and when they cool down I add the cheese (1:1 ratio), chopped and caramelized onions, salt and lots of pepper, and I mean a lot. I have one secret ingredient which makes it the best stuffing in the entire world: chopped mint!!! Yes, that's right, mint... it gives the amazing flavor! Put the filling inside the dough circles and make sure you pinch the edges pretty good before boiling, because you will end up with a cheese water and empty doughy shells. I always make mine with my signature edges, which I think look cool and serve as a double protection from leaking!

   Put few of them in a boiling water and make sure they are not too crowded and don't stick together and cook until they all come to the surface! You can serve them with butter, bacon, caramelized onions or just plain straight from water! They taste amazing no matter what!

    I don't even know if there is anything left to say after this. All I can do is sit back and enjoy a piece of my Polish heritage on the plate! And let me tell you, it's a delicious piece!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fingers or toes?

   Can you guess what the post will be about? Chicken fingers, or should I say pretzel crusted chicken fingers... and I don't mean the actual fingers of the chicken, which I have had before and liked a lot. Oh, don't judge me, I'm Polish... and fierce... and try new things all the time! I think I already scared you enough with the chicken gizzards, so I will spare you "adventurous" ingredients for now, but trust me, they will be back! Today I'm just showing you the traditional, loved by everyone, and feared by no one sliced and breaded chicken breasts, misleadingly called chicken fingers! Yeah I get it, they are long and have a similar shape (those are some fat and deformed fingers!), but that's about all that they have in common with fingers! Oh well people choose to call them that and I am not going to argue with them. The truth is that they are super delicious and I couldn't care less if we call them chicken fingers or toes (well, that actually doesn't sound appetizing).
   Lets forget about the terminology and focus more on the flavor! I am very famous for having a "pretzel tooth" (yes, a pretzel tooth, that's exactly what I have!) so I try to use them as often as possible, and using them as a breading is the perfect example of this. I use the thinly cut chicken breast, marinate them over night in buttermilk mixed with soy sauce, ground cumin, and salt! These few simple ingredients are enough to give the chicken great flavor and moisture. The best part of preparing this dish is making the breading. Basically I just put 2-3 handfuls of pretzels in the Ziploc bag and smack as hard as I can with whatever I can find! There is no better stress reliever than that, just don't go too crazy otherwise you will have pretzel dust everywhere! Roll the chicken strips in it, put them on a baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes at 375F.

   They taste even better than they look! The buttermilk makes them moist and silky, cumin gives them nice, exotic flavor, and pretzels... well pretzels make everything taste awesome! Justin had only one problem with the dish, there were way too few of them!


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater!

   Halloween might be long gone, but pumpkin, which is such a great staple of the fall is still popular and cherished in our household! Less as a decoration and more as a delicious and versatile ingredient used for cooking. I think most people have favorite dishes that they prepare at certain times of the year. I know we have quite a few of them. In the summer, for example we always have grilled asparagus and corn, in the spring we eat a lot of salads with fresh veggies, and the most traditional dish of the fall is definitely a pumpkin soup. If you need something healthy, nutritious, and delicious, go for a pumpkin soup, it makes you feel cozy and warm!

   It's super easy to make. I cook chopped celery, carrots, and onions in a little bit of water together with two bullion cubes, black pepper, parsley and cilantro. When the veggies are cooked, but still a little bit crunchy, I add one big can of pumpkin puree (Oh yeah, I use canned pumpkin to make my life way easier!) and adjust the density of the soup with water. I like mine pretty dense, it makes it much more satisfying and filling. Of course lets not forget about spices, which give the soup it's superpowers of comfort and warmth! I use two secret ingredients:  ground cumin and Chipotle Pepper Tabasco sauce to make the soup a little bit hot but not overpowering! Add a few crackers on the side and you got yourself a delicious, nutritious, and comforting dinner!

Stay warm.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rachael and Me!

   It's time for some dirty secrets of mine. If you ask me who is my celebrity crush I would have to say it's Rachael Ray! Yes, you've read it right, I have a crush on a woman! She is smart, gorgeous, very funny, has an awesome voice, loves dogs, but most importantly she is a great chef. How can you not have a crush on her?! I love watching her shows because she always has great tips and gives me the most inspiring ideas, even though I never really followed her exact recipe! So today I decided to change it up and actually cook something that she cooked on the show (with some modifications of course). It looked so good that I couldn't resist. She calls it "Green Pasitsio", the vegetarian version of a meaty Greek dish. It may not be the quickest dish I've ever made and definitely there was a time that I wished I had two extra hands (thanks God my wonderful husband lent me his), but at the end we couldn't believe how tasty the dish was.
   The recipe called for swiss chard but I used collard greens instead. I was always a little bit intimidated by this ingredient but I decided to give it a chance and I absolutely don't regret my decision.

     The recipe is kind of long, but I will try to shorten it without leaving any important details out. Saute onions and garlic with olive oil, add chopped collard greens, spinach, one cup of parsley, one cup of cilantro, salt and pepper. Collard greens tend to be a little bit tough when raw so I boiled them for about 10 minutes before that. Cook everything for about 5 minutes and add cooked pasta, and crumbled feta cheese.

   You know it's going to be good if feta cheese is involved! Put everything in the baking dish, pour the bechamel sauce on the top of it and cover with grated Parmesan cheese. I'm sure everybody knows how to make a bechamel sauce, but as a quick reminder: melt butter in a saucepan and then whisk in flour and milk with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bake everything at 375F for about 20-25 minutes, until it's brown and bubbly.

   After taking it out of the oven, wait for 5-10 minutes for it to cool down a little bit. It will be much easier to cut and serve, but it will also taste much better.

   I was thinking what can I write to explain how delicious this dish is, and I have nothing. It sounds good, it looks good, but trust me there is no words that can express how great it tastes. I guess you have no choice but make it yourself and enjoy it as much as we did!

Try it and you won't be disappointed.