Sunday, January 18, 2009

Culinary Trip Around the World: Poland

Joan at Foodalogue came up with the brilliant idea to plan A Culinary Tour Around the World event both to sample the world's cuisines and to promote BloggerAid, a new consortium of food bloggers united to raise awareness and funds for world hunger. Last time, I traveled with Joan to Norway, where unfortunately I was blinded by the whiteness of the food, but now we journey to Poland, my husband's paternal grandfather's home land. While Dan never sampled much Polish food at home as his family, like many other immigrant families at that time, wanted to be as Americanized as possible, we do know a few Polish phrases like "Dah me boozhie" (Give me a kiss) that his grandfather passed on.

I had some cabbage (kapusti) in the vegetable crisper and thought I'd try some sauteeing it up with mushrooms and dill seed for some Polish flavor. The recipe turned out to be a toothsome one and I paired it with some plain steamed rice for a simple dinner, as I had a fancy Polish cake to pull out for dessert.

Sauteed Cabbage a la Polska

1 half head of green cabbage, core removed and chopped coarsely
1/2 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
4 Tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. dill seed

Melt butter in large skillet. Add mushrooms and saute, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add cabbage and saute, stirring, another 10-15 minutes, until softened, adding water if skillet becomes dry. Add dill seeds and season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook, covered, another 5 minutes to let cabbage steam up and become tender.

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Now, I had high hopes for my Polish dessert. I have a newly acquired cookbook, "Ultimate Cake" by Barbara Maher (NY: Dorling Kindersley, 1996), which, like the other DK publications, has clear photos and lots of them, to illustrate all different kinds of cakes and baking techniques. I was flipping through it and my caught on a Polish Coffee and Walnut Cake recipe which was virtually gluten-free, so I thought I would attempt making it, despite the fact that there were about a twenty different steps to its fabrication.

In the last book I read, Diana Abu-Jaber's "The Language of Baklava" (for the Cook the Books club), the author describes the great divide which separates cooks and bakers: "Cooks are dashing, improvisational, wayward, intuitive; bakers are measured, careful, rational, precise." I am a cook and when I tackle being a baker it takes great restraint in following instructions exactly, measuring precisely and not deviating on some cooking tangent. I was determined to make this complicated Polish treat without doing anything different other than subbing some gluten-free breadcrumbs for the tablespoon of bread crumbs called for in the recipe.

And so, with Ms. Maher's detailed cookbook instructions and lavish illustrations, I:

-Separated and whipped egg yolks and whites
-Prepared a Coffee Mousseline Buttercream Icing
-Made Simple Syrup and Coffee-Flavored Sugar Syrup
-Concocted Apricot Glaze
-Made Coffee Glace Icing
-Sliced a Cake into Layers

It took me the better part of two afternoons to do all these steps in my fabulous dessert and I enjoyed learning some new baking skills. However, this story ends badly at the very final step, when after brushing my split nut torte with apricot glaze and letting that dry, I attempted to "coax" my coffee glace icing over the top of my cake and down the sides. As much as I tried to coax this frosting over my cake, it kept bunching at the top and pulling at the glaze, which in turn, pulled at the top layer of crumbs from the cake. Granted, my cake was a little (alright, a lot) lumpier than the model cake in the cookbook photo, but this kept my Polish cake from becoming the gloriously beautiful dessert I had slaved for.

Nonetheless, my culinary Polska Palooza proved to be a hit with my family, as we all enjoyed the humble cabbage dish and ate my less-than-perfect cake, as it was still awesomely tasty.

I hope to join Joan on some of her other stops along her Culinary Tour of the World. Next up is Germany, which is another cuisine I'm not entirely familiar with, so I will have to go forth and research their traditions before attempting a Teutonic feast. One thing is for sure, I am not going to try any fancy cakes!


FOODalogue said...

Oh, dear Rachel, I feel for you. I'm sure it tasted good but I came to terms long ago that baking is too much precision and too much of a mess to clean up in the kitchen that I stay as far away from it as possible. I applaud your effort! Thanks for continuing the journey with me.

Ivy said...

Glad you joined us. We did eat a lot of cabbage, didn't we ;)

As for your dessert, it's the taste that counts and not the appearance. With a little practice, that can be improved. Rendezvous a Paris.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like my experience with the last Daring Baker yule log. A painful memory. But I'm sure it tasted great!


Amy said...

Haha, I gave up on cakes when I tried to make a simple chocolate cake for my daughters birthday a few years ago. I put it into separate silicone molds (a teddy, a love heart and a butterfly). What I ended up with was a delicious bunch of chocolate crumbs, they just refused to come out of the pans! Yours is at least in one piece and despite being a little "lumpy" looks like it'd taste fantastic (and that's what matters the most! I never cared what my food looked like before blogging :P)

brii said...

ciaooo rachel!!!
wait for me I'm coming too :)))
this is great!
I love cabbage!!

Arlene Delloro said...

Why, Rachel, they're nearly identical! What are you talking about? Seriously, it's all in the taste. I just finished an article in Self magazine by Abu-Jaber. In it, she speaks of the "feeding out of hand" that was so much a part of her father's culture and how her American-born mother, sensing her growing discomfort with it, finally said, "NO" to one of her uncles.

I love pierogies and stuffed cabbage. If I didn't already have this week's menus planned, I'd make one.

Anonymous said...

You've picked a whole lot of yummy looking dishes here!