Saturday, April 26, 2014


Actorboy and I took a trip to Poland a few months ago.  The trip was planned to research our geneology and put together the missing pieces of our heritage.  Actorboy's motivation was also to create a piece of art that could be shown on stage.  This is an ongoing project and is currently being written.  We travelled with a videographer who literally filmed everything.  Thankfully, our videographer also speaks fluent Polish and was able to be our voice as well as interpreter.

One of my goals while in Poland was, of course, to make sure that I sampled as much authentic Polish food as possible.  One evening as we travelled from one city to the other, we stopped at a hotel restaurant.  Katka (the videographer) suggested that I try Zurek; a fermented rye meal soup.  I'd never eaten fermented soup before and although it sounded a little strange to me, I did want to know that I'd eaten it and understood what it was.

Every region in Poland seems to have its own version of this soup, some vegetarian but most made with a combination of a base broth infused with bacon, sausages, kielbasa, potatoes or derivitives of these combination completed with a rye starter much like sourdough and often served in a bread bowl.  At first spoonful, you definitely taste the sourness of the soup (in a good way) and it's very addictive.

The starter.  I did my research and although the starter is readily available everywhere in Poland, finding it at home was another story.  Thank heavens for you tube - you can find whatever you want on you tube.

For the starter:

1/2 cup rye flour
1 1/2 cup tepid water (boil first and cool to tepid)
3 cloves garlic (I mashed it with my chef's knife)
1 large bay leaf
3-4 black peppercorns
3-4 whole allspice

In a 1 liter mason jar, mix the rye flour with tepid water.
Add the remainder of the ingredients, give it a stir and cover with a piece of cheesecloth and fasten with a rubber band.
The starter should sit in the fridge for 5 days before preparing the soup.

As seems to often be the case for me, after I say I can't find something I end up somehow finding it and this was true with premade starter.  I found some in a Polish store (imagine that) and now I have it for the next time.


1 1/2 - 2 liters vegetable broth
1 onion, peeled and halved
2 slice carrots
4 potatoes, medium dice
1 clove minced garlic
1 uncooked Polish sausage
1 length of kielbasa (I used a piece the length of a ruler, peeled and cubed)
4 boiled and peeled eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp marjoram

Add all the ingredients (except for the eggs) to the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, turn down and simmer until the meat is very tender - 40 min - 1 hr.
Take starter and mix it well and put through a strainer.  Discard the onion, garlic, peppercorns and allspice
Add starter, bring soup back up to a boil.  Turn back to medium and cook for another 10-15 minutes.
Serve with a halved boiled egg on the top.

I really enjoyed the soup although it wasn't as rich as the soup I had in Poland.  But, like I said initially, each region has its own version of Zurek (pronounced jsurek).  I also think that serving this soup in a bread bowl makes it even more delicious.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Onion-Braised Brisket

I can't remember the last time we had company for dinner.  More recently, the idea of catching up to the household chores and making a dinner has seemed insurmountable.  So, we've been opting to go out for dinner with friends instead.  

A few weeks ago, I had a moment of denial (about the state of my house) and decided to invite a couple of friends for a pre-Passover seder.  I call it "pre-Passover"because we did it on Sunday night rather than Monday, after work.  Also, it wasn't really a seder.  We just ate a nice meal with some of the foods we'd traditionally eat at Passover and were motivated by knowing that our families would be doing the same thing in different parts of the world.  

There are a few things I love about Passover.  Yes, of course, they're mostly food related.  I love chicken soup with matzo balls.  I love charoset (with or without horseradish).  Last, but not least, I love horseradish and any dish that lets me indulge in my love for horseradish.  Food aside, I like the getting together with family aspect too, assuming those around the table have similar ideas about how long a seder should last.  

I recently received a sample of the second edition of The Healthy Slow Cooker.  After taking a first look through, I was immediately drawn to the brisket recipe.  

Onion-Braised Brisket

2 tbsp olive oil, divided
4 - 5 lbs. double beef brisket, trimmed
4 onions, thinly sliced on the vertical
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup beef stock
2 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup beef stock
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley leaves

1. In a skillet, heat 1 tbsp of oil over medium-high heat.  Add brisket and brown well on both sides, about 6 minutes.  Transfer to slow cooker stoneware.

2. Add remaining tbsp of oil to stoneware (note: I think this should say skillet instead of stoneware).  Add onions and cook, stirring until they begin to turn golden, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic, thyme, salt and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Add vinegar, mustard and wine and bring to a boil.  Cook, stirring and scraping up brown bits from bottom of pan, for 2 minutes.  Stir in tomato paste and stock.  

3.  Transfer to slow cooker stoneware.  Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5 hours, until brisket is very tender.  

4.  Transfer meat to a deep platter, slice and keep warm.  Transfer sauce to a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce head and simmer for 5 minutes to slightly reduce.  Remove from heat and add cornstarch solution, stirring until sauce thickens.  Pour over meat and garnish with parsley.

Verdict: The brisket was a bit of a saga.  Not at all due to the recipe itself.  I had to do quite a bit of work to get the brisket.  Initially, I figured I would just get a brisket from the kosher butcher.  But then I saw the price: $58 for 1.86 kg (4.1 lbs.).   There was no way I was going to spend that much on a brisket, particularly if no one eating it cared if it was kosher.  So, then I tried a non-kosher butcher.  They were $6.99/lb.  The price was better, but I wanted to check with one other place -- the beef coop I  often order my beef from, Fitzroy Beef Farmers.  It was a bit of a long shot because the only way you can get beef from them at this time of year is to pick it up at their drop off locations (a random parking lot) on their predetermined drop off days.  But luck was on my side.  Their briskets were $4.50/lb. and they had a drop off scheduled for the day before my dinner party.  Sold!  I requested a 4-5 lb. brisket.  

My next challenge came upon pick up.  You don't always know what you're going to get size-wise.  So, when R came home with a 7.29 lb. (frozen) brisket, I was a bit nervous about doing it in the slowcooker.  

Since it was frozen, I really couldn't separate it.  The brisket couldn't even fit into my largest frying pan!

I quickly gave up hope of getting this thing in my moderately-sized slow cooker.  I took out the turkey roaster instead.

That may have decreased the liquid.  That, and the fact that I didn't double the other portions of the recipe.  There wasn't enough sauce leftover to do step four.  But, there was still plenty of flavour.  It ended up coming out like pulled beef.  Everyone loved it!  I would definitely make this again.  Sorry for the lack of a nicely plated picture.  There was too much going on to pull that together.

Aside from the brisket, we had potatoes, chicken soup and matzo balls, salad, matzo...

...and my other two favourite: charoset and horseradish.  I used this recipe for the charoset with some modifications such as using grape juice instead of wine and almonds instead of walnuts.  Aside from that, I added more cinnamon and played with the quantities a bit to get the flavour I wanted.

It was so nice to have these leftovers to enjoy all week.

We didn't have as much leftovers of the dessert my friend brought, but it was delicious too.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Passover Mandelbrot

Passover, like most holidays seems to creep up quietly and then all of a sudden it's busy kitchen to the power of 10.  I really love this holiday but honestly, it's alot of work.  Anyone who tells you differently isn't the one doing the cooking.  Thank goodness for my sister (aka Auntie Takeout) who's stepped forward and is taking on alot of the work.

We cook at our own homes and then do the schlep to baba's place.  It's actually easier to do it this way than try to bring my mom to one of our homes.  It also leaves baba with enough leftovers for a week's worth of meals.  This year I'm doing the sides and desserts.
One of the desserts this year is mandel brot.   This recipe is a first timer for me and until now I had no idea how simple it is to make and I know baba will love these cookies.  They're really like a smaller and softer version of biscotti.  You also don't need a mixer for these - easy to put together by hand.

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 cup cake meal
1/2 cup potato starch
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Line cookie sheet with parchment paper
Whisk eggs and add sugar, continue whisking until well blended
Slowly incorporate oil and then both cake meal and potato starch
Stir in chocolate chips
Let mixture sit for 15 minutes
With oiled hands form 3 long logs (the mix will be sticky)
Bake for 30 minutes.  Take out logs and cut into approximately 12 slices per log and return to oven for 5--10 minutes to dry.



Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lemon Cranberry Muffins

Why am I craving lemons?  It was a total mystery to me but I went a couple of days wishing I had something with lemon in it. After doing some reading about lemon cravings and quickly ruled out pregnancy I read that it's not uncommon for people who have difficulty sleeping and/or not enough magnesium to have this craving.  Interesting, no?  I've always had to take magnesium supplements so maybe there's something to it.

I stood in front of the open fridge and just took a mental inventory of what was there and I had some lemons and also some fresh cranberries.  Hmmm... now what?  I found a recipe for Lemon Cranberry Muffins.

I can't believe this was the first time I'd ever made this variety of muffin.  It's easy (my favourite), you do it all by hand and it takes 5 minutes to put together.  That's a good recipe!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup (I used more) fresh cranberries
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
1 egg
1/4 cup oil

Preheat oven to 400 F
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together
In a separate bowl mix sugar with lemon zest mixing well to incorporate zest to sugar, add to flour mixture
In a measuring cup pour in milk and lemon juice; allow to sit for a few minutes (it'll look like buttermilk)
Add egg and oil and whisk all together  
Make a well in the dry ingredients, add liquid and stir only until blended, add cranberries

If you have large muffin tins, spray one tray of six with non stick and scoop even amount to each one. The smaller muffin tins (12/tray) will work also, just adjust baking time accordingly.
Bake large muffins for 23 minutes (depending on your oven); mine were done in 20 minutes 

NOTE:  These muffins are so good and I'd compare them to any good lemon cranberry muffins anywhere! They're not dry, cake like with a twist of tang.
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