Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Eating ala Polska - Making Kapusta & Kielbasa

We enjoyed a weekend of  Polish cooking and eating over Memorial Day at the cottage. While the weather left something to be desired, there was no shortage of good times as family and friends came up to celebrate the long weekend. In preparing for company, the question is always what to make. I thought some Polish fare might be in order, since there would be some fellow Poles in the mix over the weekend.

The first dish we made was kapusta - Polish sauerkraut. It always amazes me when I go into a Polish restaurant or have a Polish cook prepare a meal that includes sauerkraut. Typically, what I see on the plate is something that involved no more than a can opener. Yes, this is technically sauerkraut, but in the great tradition of Polish cooking it simply will not do! Kapusta is something that is long-simmered, and while it requires brined or pickled cabbage, there is so much more to it. I've made hundred of pounds (maybe more) of kapusta for church dinners, big parties, etc. I make it as my mom made it, and she got the recipe from my dad's mother. It's something, like soup, that is difficult to make a small quantity of - but that's alright because if there is any left over, it freezes beautifully.

So, when you have a little time and really want to make something special for a Polish (or any other) meal - especially if you are serving pork or poultry - don't just open a can. Make something special that you and your guests will really enjoy!

Making Kapusta

Polish Kapusta

4 large cans sauerkraut (rinsed and drained)
4-5 medium onions, diced
1 stick of butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 1/2 - 2 tsp. caraway seeds
1 1/2 lbs. pork neck bones
salt and pepper (to taste)

In a small electric roaster or 8 quart pot, melt butter and add onions. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook onions until translucent. Once onions are done, add the sauerkraut, brown sugar, bouillon, onion soup mix, caraway seeds and enough water to come up to the top of the sauerkraut. Mix ingredients well, making sure the onions on the bottom are well incorporated into the cabbage. Lay neck bones on the top, cover and bring to a simmer. Keep cover on and continue simmer for six hours. Check water level periodically and add more if necessary - do not stir! After the cooking time carefully remove neck bones from top. Using a fork, pull meat off bones and discard bones and any remaining cartilage. Return meat to kapusta and mix it in. You can serve immediately or transfer to small containers and place in refrigerator or freezer. Freezes up to six months.


Once the kapusta was made, I thought it would be good to serve it with kielbasa. There are lots of options for Polish sausage out there, and most of what is sold in the supermarkets are a far cry from the real deal. Sausage also gets a bad rap because most of what is made commercially is not very good for you. Load with salt, nitrates and preservatives, these fatty tubes are heart attacks in the making. But it doesn't have to be that way. When you make your own sausage you know exactly what goes into in, and you can control the amount of fat, salt and other ingredients. Once you've had homemade kielbasa, you'll understand why it is well worth the effort to make.

Making Kielbasa

5 1/2 lbs. pork shoulder (boneless, excess fat trimmed)
3 cloves garlic - finely chopped
3 TBSP salt
2 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 tsp. marjoram
1/2 cup water
natural casing (most butchers will be able to supply you with this)

You need to have a food/meat grinder for this job. There are the old-school types that are hand-powered (like I use), but there are also electric ones and attachments that can be added to your stand mixer (like Kitchen Aid).

Insert the course die on your grinder. Cut the pork into cubes (maybe an inch to an inch 1/2), trimming off any excess fat. You don't want to remove all the fat - fat provides moisture and flavor, but depending on the cut of your pork, you will probably have more fat on the meat than you want going into your sausage. Run the cubed pork through the grinder. In a shallow pan or bowl, combine the garlic, salt, pepper, marjoram and water with the ground pork. Mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and put in refrigerator overnight. The next day, put the sausage stuffer attachment on your grinder. Prepare casing (it may be packed in salt - if so, soak in water for a few minutes, this will make it easier to handle) and fit casing over stuffing tube. Run meat through the machine taking care not to allow air into the casing a filling the casing so that it is snug around the meat but not overstuffed. You don't want the casing to break. Make sausages to desired length. You can tie off the ends with string, or tie knots in the casing itself. Once sausage is made, you can grill it, boil it or bake it. I prefer to boil/bake it in the oven in a covered pan of water at 375 degrees for about an hour. This will render some of the fat out of the sausage and keep it moist. Serve with horseradish and your homemade kapusta!


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cottage Kitchen - Making Risotto and Gnocchi

Hi everyone! It's been a while since I've posted on Cavalcade, but it's been a long, cold winter here in Michigan and so other than some routine baking for my crew at work, I've been in hibernation! Now that spring has FINALLY arrived (only within the last couple of weeks has the weather even been warm), this bear has emerged from his cave and is ready to go!

The first weekend of May I opened my cottage for the season. This is always a ritual that brings great excitement and comfort. The shutters are off, the water is on, the cobwebs have been dusted away and now the place is ready for another season of life. There is no place on the earth that I love more, and I often threaten that one day I'll leave for the cottage and not return. My dream is to make good on that some day.

My dad gave me a video camera as a gift, thinking this would be something I'd like. I guess he knows me well, because I've been having a lot of fun with it. Ralph and I were talking about all the great meals that are served at the cottage during the season. In addition to enjoying the beautiful Lake Huron and Michigan's Thumb, me and my guests do a lot of cooking at the cottage, and wouldn't it be great to get it on video?

As the summer approaches, the bounty of Michigan's farmland will begin to avail itself to us, and with it comes endless possibilities for good cooking and eating. Not to mention all the bread, cakes, pies and canning projects that are routine throughout the summer and autumn. And, of course, there's lots of Polish food - city chicken, kapusta, pierogi and homemade kielbasa.

So, with Ralph serving as cameraman, we embark on videologue called, "Cottage Kitchen" that will serve to share some of these moments of cooking, sharing and celebrating life with family and friends.

Here are the first two installments from this past weekend. I guess we were in an Italian mood, as two of our dinners were centered on great Italian fare: risotto and gnocchi. I'm happy to report that both dishes came out beautifully, which made the efforts worthwhile. These were both dishes that my mom used to occasionally make - she made them look so easy, as she did with most things - and I felt her guidance as I stumbled through some of the mechanics of creating these dishes. Thanks, mom - I think of you every day!

Cottage Kitchen - "Risotto"

2 TBSP olive oil
8 oz sliced mushrooms (your choice - we used baby bellas)
2 TBSP olive oil + 2 TBSP butter
1 small onion - diced fine
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
4 1/2 cups hot chicken stock
Freshly ground pepper (to taste)
4 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Saute mushrooms in olive oil until tender (about 4-5 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside.Add olive oil and butter to pan and saute diced onion until translucent (about 3 minutes). Add rice and stir to coat all grains with oil/butter. Let rice toast in pan for about 2 minutes. Add first ladle of hot chicken broth (about a cup) and stir until broth is absorbed and rice begins to release some of its starch. Repeat this process one ladle at a time until all the broth has been added and absorbed. Rice should be creamy and slightly al dente. Add mushrooms back in, pepper as needed and then add the Parmesan cheese. Stir and enjoy!

Cottage Kitchen - "Gnocchi" 

8-10 medium russet potatoes

1 egg yolk
2-2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 TBSP salt
A big pot of boiling water
3 TBSP vegetable oil
1 TBSP salt

Pierce potatoes with fork a couple of times and bake in 350 degree oven for an hour, or until soft. Remove potatoes from oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Slice hot potatoes lengthwise and scoop out flesh with a spoon. Once all the potatoes have been removed from their skins, put potatoes through a ricer or food mill. Let potatoes cool some more - about five minutes. To potatoes add egg yolk, 2 cups of flour and the salt. Stir with a spoon. As dough comes together work with your hands until all the flour has been combined into the potatoes. Remove from bowl. Flour a board and kneed dough for a couple of minutes by hand. Add additional flour if dough is too sticky. When dough is smooth, break off a piece about the size of an egg and roll on board into a tube that is about as big around as your thumb. It will probably be about 12 inches long or so. Cut into 1-1 1/2 inch pieces with knife. Roll small dumplings on the backside of a fork to make small indentations. Set finished dumpling on a floured dish. Continue process until all the dough is used. Have a big pot of water at boiling point - add vegetable oil and salt. Add gnocchi ONE AT A TIME into the water (about 20 at a time) - turn the heat down if boiling too rapidly. When gnocchi are cooked they will float to the top. Remove cooked gnocchi and continue process until they are all cooked. Cover with your favorite sauce and dig in! 

The sauce we made:
1 large can San Marzano tomatoes
1 medium onion - cut in half leaving the root ends intact
5 TBSP butter
pinch of salt (to taste)
pinch of pepper (to taste)
pinch of sugar (to taste)

Combine all ingredients in sauce pan and cover. Simmer over low heat 45 minutes to an hour. Stir occasionally and press whole tomatoes against pan wall with spoon to help break them down. This is a light sauce with big tomato and onion flavor and a silky buttery finish.