Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

   How is everybody spending this Easter? I wish I could be in Poland and spend it with my family because there is nothing better than Polish Easter. Lots of traditions, lots of eggs, and lots of kielbasa... it doesn't get any better than that! But just because I can't be it in Poland doesn't mean that we won't have traditional holidays with lots of eggs and kielbasa (vegetarian experiment is OVER!) and great friends. Oh, and Babka too! It's a traditional Easter yeast cake that can be made hundreds of different ways. This time I decided to make a lemon version of it... delicious! Here is the recipe:


*  2/4 cup warm 2% milk
*  3/4 oz dry yeast
*  2 tbsp sugar
*  1 cup all-purpose flour


*  3 cups all-purpose flour
*  3/4 cup sugar
*  2 eggs
*  3 egg yolks
*  1 stick butter, melted
*  pinch of salt
*  zest from 2 lemons


*  1 cup powdered sugar
*  juice from one lemon


1. Make leaven: in a bowl combine yeast with warm milk and let it stand for 2-3 minutes. Add sugar and flour, mix to combine, cover with kitchen towel and let it stand in warm place for 1 hour.
2. When leaven rises add remaining flour and sugar, eggs and egg yolks, salt and lemon zest. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes.
3. Add melted and cooled butter and knead the dough until all butter is absorbed and dough is shiny and elastic.
4. Transfer into greased bunt cake pan, cover with kitchen towel and let it stand for 1 hour.
5. Bake at 345F for 30 minutes, remove from the pan and let it cool down.
6. To make icing combine powdered sugar with lemon juice, mix until smooth and runny and pour over the cake. Let it set.

   There is no better smell than a yeast cake! Yeast and lemons...even better. There are few staples on the Easter table in my house... previously mentioned eggs and kielbasa, zurek (sour rye soup), dessert and... tulips! I can't imagine Easter without these beautiful flowers! They just scream Spring to me!

Happy Easter,

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Behind the bars!

   So I promised that I would bring something sweet to work for my coworkers and I was planning on making good old oatmeal cookies until I saw this recipe on TV. Giada was making oatmeal bars with apricot jam and some nuts and I thought that it just sounded delicious. And it's super easy to make as well. They are not your typical bars, they came out much softer and more resembling a cake, but that is not a bad thing at all!


*  1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
*  1 cup packed light brown sugar
*  1 tsp cinnamon
*  1 tsp baking soda
*  3/4 tsp fine salt
*  1 3/4 old fashion oats
*  1 cup (4oz) pecans, chopped
*  3 tbsp sesame seeds
*  1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
*  2 eggs
*  1 tsp vanilla extract
*  1 13oz jar apricot preserves


1. In a bowl whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
2. Stir in oats, pecans, and sesame seeds. Add eggs and vanilla extract and mix until combined.
3. Add melted butter, mix everything together until the dough forms.
4. Line up the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with parchment paper. Using your fingers spread and pack half of the dough in the bottom of a baking dish, top with apricot preserves, and cover with remaining oat dough.
5. Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.
6. Let them cool completely before cutting to avoid crumbling.

   Unfortunately I won't be able to tell you how they taste, because I don't eat sweets during lent, but looking at how quickly they disappeared, I assume they were pretty good. I know that they smelled awesome. Everybody who tasted them really liked them and came back for more... so I think I did good.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Nude-less in the kitchen!

   No, not me... lasagna! Absolutely nude-less with no noodles vegetarian lasagna with eggplant and yellow squash. I always wanted to try one and see how good it is. Justin was a little bit scared when he saw all that eggplant and squash in the shopping cart and his first reaction to a noodle-less lasagna was: "...what? what's wrong with noodles?!?!". But he came around, when he tasted it. Real lasagna flavor with half the calories (if not less)... how can you say no to such a treat? Just make sure that you have a large... and I mean large and deep... lasagna baking dish, the recipe makes a lot! If you are having people over or if you want to make some ready-to-go, home-made, frozen lunches... this is your dish!


*  1 large eggplant (or two medium)
*  2 large yellow squashes
*  4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Tomato sauce:
*  1 30oz can crushed tomatoes
*  1 large onion
*  1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
*  2 tbsp ketchup
*  1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce  
*  1 tbsp olive oil
*  salt and pepper

Ricotta filling:
*  1 lb ricotta cheese
*  1 lb frozen copped spinach, thawed and drained
*  2 eggs
*  1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
*  1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
*  salt and pepper


1. To make tomato sauce: in a skillet heat the olive oil and saute onions for 6-7 minutes with some salt, until softened. Add crushed tomatoes, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes and set aside.
2. To make ricotta filling: in a bowl combine ricotta cheese with parsley, spinach, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add eggs and mix to combine (make sure you taste everything before you add raw eggs). Set aside.
3. To assemble lasagna:
      - slice eggplant and squash into 1/4 inch slices
      - on the bottom of a deep lasagna dish layer 2 tbsp of tomato sauce (so nothing will stick)
      - arrange one layer of eggplant, slightly overlapping the slices
      - top with 1/2 ricotta filling and 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese
      - arrange one layer of squash slices
      - top with 1/2 tomato sauce and 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese
      - one layer of eggplant
      - add rest of ricotta filling and 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese
      - one layer of squash
      - add rest of tomato sauce and remaining mozzarella cheese


4. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 365F for 50 minutes
5. Remove the foil and bake for additional 15-20 minutes to brown the cheese.
6. Let it stand for 20-30 minutes before cutting into it.

   You have to admit that it looks as delicious as the "real" stuff! I think the best way to do it is a few hours in advance of serving, so that everything has time to set and firm up. There is some water coming out of the eggplant and squash, so it's not as firm as noodle lasagna, but it's DELICIOUS!!! And you don't have to feel guilty about eating it! Winning!


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Burrito Madness!

   Today's dish really proves that you can be a vegetarian and still enjoy hearty and delicious Mexican-inspired, loaded with flavor burritos. If you think I am biased because I made it, you should have seen (and heard) Justin during the dinner. Lots of "hmm, om nom nom, yummy" must be the best possible complement of all. Not only delicious, but also super good for you. I found these wheat tortillas that have 26g of fiber per serving, that's like 104% of your recommended daily intake - you can't go wrong with that! As always, I made more than needed for one dinner (it actually makes 8 of them), so we packed all the components separately to make a "fresh" burrito every night.


*  8 whole wheat tortillas

*  2 cups brown rice
*  1 lime (zest and juice)
*  1/2 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

*  1 15oz can fire roasted tomatoes
*  2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
*  1/2 red onion
*  1 tbsp red wine vinegar

*  1 15oz can black beans, washed and drained
*  1 large onion, chopped
*  1 tsp ground cumin
*  pinch of cinnamon
*  1 tbsp olive oil

*  1 cup shredded lettuce
*  1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded 
*  salt and pepper


1. Cook rice in salted water for 35 minutes (or until soft).
2. Drain the rice and mix with finely chopped cilantro, lime zest and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper, set aside.
3. In a sauce pen heat the olive oil and saute chopped white onions for 5-6 minutes. Add drained black beans, cumin, pinch of cinnamon, salt, and pepper and cook everything for 2-3 minutes until beans are warm. Set aside.
4. In a bowl combine drained fire roasted tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, red onion, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Mix to combine and set aside.
5. To assessable burritos, lay down the tortilla on flat surface, place a little bit of lettuce, rice, beans, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese along one side of tortillas. Fold over the ends and roll burrito up.

   I'm telling you they are awesome! If you want, you can serve them with a little side of Greek yogurt or sour cream and with some hot sauce if you like to live on the edge!


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Party cups!

   Need another appetizer idea for a party? So did I, and that's why I came up with these cute mini wonton cups filled with spinach dip. I try not to repeat my appetizer recipes, especially if I'm taking them to somebody's party, so I am always on a look out for something new. Wonton cups are not really super original, but I don't care. They are really cool, you can fill them with anything you want, they look pretty, and they make for a great party food.


*  wonton wrappers 
*  1 cup fat-free sour cream
*  1/2 cup fat-free Ranch dressing
*  1/4 cup mayonnaise
*  1 cup frozen and thawed spinach
*  1/2 cup chestnuts, chopped
*  2 tbsp fresh chopped dill
*  1/2 tsp garlic powder
*  salt and pepper


1. Drain thawed spinach and using a clean kitchen towel squeeze out all the liquid.
2. Chop the spinach and combine it with sour cream, Ranch dressing, mayo, chestnuts, dill, and garlic powder. Mix everything together, season with salt and pepper to your liking and refrigerate until needed.
3. Place wonton wrappers in a mini muffin pan, forming little cups. Bake at 350F for about 10 minutes, until they are golden brown.
4. When the wonton cups are cooled, fill them in with a spinach dip (about 1 tbsp).

   Super crunchy cups with delicious creamy filling! Quick and easy appetizers that are perfect for any party!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Different rice cakes!

   I am so proud of this recipe. I have no idea how I came up with it. I wasn't really inspired by anything, I never saw or heard about it, I just thought that these things would work well together. I was trying to plan a cheap and healthy dish that would be completely different from what I usually cook and that's how I came up with these rice and sauerkraut cakes. Man, are they delicious or what? The recipe makes 12 nice-size cakes.


*  2 1/2 cups brown rice
*  2 cups sauerkraut
*  10 scallions, chopped
*  1/3 cup chia seeds (optional)
*  2 eggs
*  panko bread crumbs
*  3 bay leaves
*  4 juniper berries
*  salt and pepper

* vegetable oil for cooking


1. Cook rice in salted water with bay leaves and juniper berries until the rice is al dente (about 35-40 minutes). Drain, remove bay leaves and berries and set aside.
2. Drain all excess juice from sauerkraut and finely chop it.
3. Add 2/3 cup of water to chia seeds and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. I added chia seeds to add more nutrients to the dish, but you can skip it.
4. Combine rice, sauerkraut, scallions, chia seeds, eggs, and 2 tbsp of panko bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper, and mix utill everything is combined.
5. Form big patties, roll them gently in panko bread crumbs and place on a large plate. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
6. In a skillet heat couple of tablespoons of oil to high temperature and fry the cakes for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown.

   Super crunchy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside. I'm telling you, this stuff is delicious. I served them with some chunky mushroom sauce and a side salad.


Sunday, March 10, 2013


   This vegetarian thing is going better than we thought. I was worried that we would miss meat, crave some turkey sandwiches or chicken, but so far we are really liking this new lifestyle. It's also fun to come up with new recipes that are creative, nutritious and vegetarian. Recently I really like to cook with farro - a delicious grain belonging to the wheat family. I find it kind of ironic that I love it so much, because I remember feeding it to my grandma's chickens when I was a kid... I know you can make flour out of it, but I would never think of eating the grain itself. And now look at me...I'm cooking it at least couple of times a week. You should try it, its not only delicious, but also really good for you. Check out this farro salad with roasted mushrooms, goat cheese and cranberries.


*  2 cups dry farro
*  8 oz baby portabella mushroom
*  4 oz goat cheese
*  3/4 cup dried cranberries
*  4 oz walnuts, chopped
*  1/4 cup fresh chopped dill
*  1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
*  2 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette
*  1 tbsp olive oil
*  salt and pepper


1. Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel and cut in 4 pieces, leaving the stems in. Place on a baking, sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper, toss to coat, and bake at 450F for 15-20 minutes (depending on the size of mushrooms). Set aside to cool down.
2. In a deep pot, cover farro with cold water (at least 3-4 inches above the grains), add a pinch of salt, bring to boil, reduce the heat and cook for 30 minutes or until it's soft. Drain and set aside to cool down.
3. In a bowl combine cooked farro, roasted mushrooms, crumbled goat cheese, cranberries, walnuts, herbs and balsamic vinaigrette. Mix everything together, season with some salt if needed and its ready to serve.

   I told you it was delicious! Creamy goat cheese, paired with sweet and tangy cranberries gives this salad a nice touch. Meaty mushrooms gives it some "body" and fresh herbs bring everything together. It's only one example of using farro, but it's definitely one of the best!


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Green version of a classic!

   I never had mac 'n cheese when I was growing up, so I have to make up for all this lost time. It's easy, affordable, and can be super versatile. I keep trying new flavors, new combinations, and new additions and I don't think I made one that we didn't like. Sometimes (and only sometimes) I feel guilty eating it... at the end it is mostly pasta and cheese... not exactly guilt free, so to make it "more healthy" I added bunch of spinach and cilantro. It looks cool and tastes even better. The perfect example that you can have a delicious and healthy vegetarian dish! Here is the recipe (serves 8):


*  1 lb whole grain elbow pasta
*  1 10oz bag fresh baby spinach
*  1 packed cup fresh cilantro
*  1 16oz container of mushroom, roughly chopped
*  3 cups fat free milk
*  4 tbsp butter
*  4 tbsp flour
*  2 cups shredded mix cheese (I used Asiago, sharp cheddar, mozzarella)
*  1 tbsp Dijon mustard
*  pinch of nutmeg
*  panko bread crumbs
*  1 tsp olive oil
*  salt and pepper


1. Cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
2. In a skillet heat the olive oil and saute mushrooms for 5-6 minutes. Set aside.
3. In a food processor, combine cilantro and spinach with 1/2 cup of water and blend until smooth.
4. In a large pot, melt butter, add flour and cook for 2-3 minutes constantly stirring. Add milk, blended spinach, Dijon mustard, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to boil and cook for 5-6 minutes, constantly stirring, until thickens.
5. Add cheese and mix to melt it down.
6. Combine sauce with pasta and mushroom, transfer into a deep baking dish, sprinkle with panko bread crumbs, and bake at 385F for 10-15 minutes.

   You can definitely taste the "greens" in it, but it's so good. Very flavorful with big chunks of mushrooms here and there. I made mine a little bit more saucy, because that's how my hubby likes it, but you can adjust it to your liking.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Polish soup at its finest!

   Have you ever had a meal so good that you wanted to cry eating it? I know you think that I probably exaggerate, but I'm telling you, Polish cucumber soup is that good. Not only is it one of my favorite soups, but also it tastes like my home and childhood. My Mom cooks it pretty frequently and we all love it. It's not easy to make it here, because you need to find a right type of cucumbers in brine... I'm sorry, but it has to be Polish... no other type will taste the same. I'm lucky that we have a European store close by that carries some of the Polish items so that I could make this amazing soup. I do have to warn you though... it does have a very "specific", sour flavor, which might take some getting used to. I'm sure all my Polish friends out there will agree that it's the best, but Justin's reaction was quite interesting: "...oh, it's good... tastes very Polish...". Recipe makes a huge pot of it, but you know I love soup.


*  1 30oz jar cucumbers in brine
*  2 large potatoes, cubed
*  2 carrots, shredded
*  1 onion, chopped
*  1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
*  1/4 cup fresh chopped dill
*  2 vegetable bullion cubes
*  2 tbsp sour cream
*  salt and pepper


1. In a large pot, add water (I used about 3 litters), cubed potatoes, onions, shredded carrots, bouillon cubes, parsley and dill, bring to boil, reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes.
2. In the meantime, using a hand grater shred cucumbers capturing all the juices.
3. Add shredded cucumbers and all the juice from the jar to the soup and cook for 5-10 more minutes until potatoes are soft. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
4. When the soup is ready, add a little bit of hot liquid to the sour cream and mix. Turn off the stove, add sour cream to soup and mix to combine.

   Sour and delicious! You can also substitute potatoes with rice, but I am a potato girl and definitely prefer this version! With the amount I just made I will eat it for next few days... and that's the best part of making soups!