Wednesday 28 April 2010

Ukrainian borscht with oxtail

I woke up this morning to find I have finally grown some balls. Not literally, thank god, but I woke up with a strong feeling that enough is enough. I will own my suffering now, so that I never have to feel like this in the future. I will never let a man mess me around, or be disrespectful towards me, or lie to me, ever again. Then I got up, and made the most amazing Ukranian borscht ever. My parents ate 3 bowls each and were amazed at how tasty it was, and they have eaten a lot of borscht in their lifetimes. I have to warn you, the recipe sounds more complicated than it actually is, there's a lot of ingredients, but you have made this once, it will be part of your repertoire forever. And remember, you do not need to follow what I did exactly, every household throughout Poland, Russia and the Ukraine has their own way of cooking beetroot soup and everyone thinks their way is best... but they are all wrong

Ingredients (6-8 servings)

400 grams oxtail
2 litres water
2 carrots
1 parsnip
1/4 celeriac (celery root)
1/2 leek
1/4 cabbage
300 grams potatoes
6 beetroot
Small tin tomato puree
1/2 lemon
200 grams single cream
1 tbl spoon flour
4 garlic cloves
2 tins of butter beans (670 grams drained)
2 tbl spoons dill
Salt and pepper

There are three recipes for borscht in the old Polish cookbook I am studying right now. I didn't follow any of them to the letter, as I had to include elements which come from my family's experience (i.e. butter beans). Using oxtail was also my mum's idea, and it has never been done before, but it turned out so amazingly well that I have to recommend it. So start off by cooking the oxtail and peeled beetroot for half an hour. Remove the beetroot and let them cool on the side. Add the finely chopped  (or grated) carrots, parsnip, celeriac and leek, as well as the potatoes, which have been chopped into bitesize chunks. Cook for another fifteen minutes, before adding the chopped cabbage, and carry on cooking on a low heat for the same amount of time. I then had to go to the gym with my mum (as part of my "therapy"), so I turned the heat off and let the soup cool. When I came back from the gym, I removed the oxtail from the pot and took the meat off the bone, chucking any fatty bits away, and sticking the lovely meaty bits back in. I put the heat back on. I chopped the beetroot into chunks (my mum always cuts it into fine strips, and the book tells you to grate it, but I prefer chunks), added the tomato puree, and squeezed half a lemon in. I also crushed the garlic cloves into a separate bowl and mashed them with 2 tablespoons of salt, adding that into the mix. After another half an hour, I sieved the flour into it, mixing thoroughly. I then turned the heat off again, and let the borscht cool, as I still had a couple of hours before my parents came home

Once the borscht had cooled I added the cream. You need to do this when it is cool so that it doesn't curdle. At the same time, I added the fresh, chopped dill and drained butter beans, sugar and more salt and pepper, according to taste. This cooked for another half an hour before we sat down to dinner, eating it with fresh bread. This soup is like life force - I can see why the whole of Eastern and Central Europe is obsessed

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Pork schintzel with cucumber salad and mash or Kotlety schabowe z mizeria i ziemniakami

I'm terrible at break-ups so I am pretty much in hell right now. However, I need to remember these things do happen, and life goes on. I am lucky that I have the support of my unconventional but loving family, and loyal friends. My aunt called from Holland yesterday and we had a two hour conversation about life and love. During this heart-to-heart, I learnt that some people don't know how to suffer, and also, that I need to find people who are on my wavelength (or "spiral" as she put it), who are, above all, sincere, because that's who I am. According to my aunt's "spiral" theory, I am starting a new spiral now, even though it doesn't feel like it, everything is destroyed so I need to start building again, starting very small, like a snail, she said. All very strange, but it has made me feel more positive nevertheless. As well as my support system, I have cooking, which may just be the tool to drag me out of this hole. Yesterday, I made "schabowe", which are basically breaded pork cutlets, or schnitzel, and they turned out great, so things can't be as bad as they seem...we decided to go against the "schabowe" recipe in the old Polish recipe book, as they overlooked the breadcrumbs, which, to my family, would be a complete travesty


Pork cutlets
Garlic clove
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

Shallots or spring onions
Sour cream
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Salt and pepper

We start off by making the salad, as it needs some time to "bite together" as you say in Polish. We slice the cucumbers and whichever onions you decide to use as thinly as you can get'em. Squeeze over some lemon, cover in salt and pepper and the sour cream, which has been mixed with a teaspoon of sugar. Put the potatoes on to boil, and go have a glass of wine. After about fifteen minutes come back, put the meat in a plastic bag and beat, so it flattens out and becomes tender. Massage the salt, pepper and crushed garlic into both sides. Beat the eggs in one bowl and put the breadcrumbs in another. While the oil is heating up, dip the cutlets in the egg, then the breadcrumbs and fry for about 7-8 minutes each side. The thinner they are the better, I think we could have beaten ours a little more...

Now, all that needs doing is the potatoes - you can do these while the pork is frying or, if that's too much then put the meat in a warm oven once it's done (pouring the oil from the pan over it so that it doesn't dry out) and do the potatoes then. Once the potatoes were mashed with the butter and milk, my mum put them in the same frying pan where we cooked the meat, so that they soaked up any left-over juices - this was a great idea, as the potatoes ended up with a richer, meatier taste. But this is completely optional. Et voila, a typical Polish dinner!

Sunday 25 April 2010

Lazy dumplings or Pierogi leniwe

I haven't been blogging much recently as I haven't really been eating. I have lost nearly a stone already on the break-up diet, which consists of cigarettes, the odd piece of toast and gallons of wine, and promises to take about five years off your life expectancy. Nevermind, I am now recuperating at the family home in Eastbourne, and I have decided to explore my mum's old Polish cookbook, from the communist era, which has always both fascinated and intimidated me

There are masses of different dumplings in here, but ones which have been "following me", as you'd say in Polish, are Pierogi leniwe...I think the last time I made these I was five years old in my grandma Hala's tiny, dark kitchen in Warsaw, and she'd let me cut the long dough strips. So, to be fair, I have never actually made them myself, but they are nevertheless close to my heart... I may as well show you what they look like now, so you can decide if it's something you fancy or not


500 grams white young cheese, I used ricotta
3 eggs
150 grams flour
30 grams flour for rolling
60 grams butter
20 grams breadcrumbs
Pinch salt
About 2 tablespoons sugar
Single cream to serve

Whenever my mum has made these in the past she has used white cheese which she buys from the Polish shop. However, I wanted to use something easily accessible to everyone, so I tried ricotta today, which worked really well! Firstly, separate the egg yolk from the egg white. Blend the yolks with 30 grams of the butter, soft butter is best, so I stuck normal butter in the microwave for 10 seconds. This takes a little while, if you are to have no lumps. Then, add the ricotta/white cheese. Beat the whites until they form peaks and add these in too, as well as the 150 grams of flour. Mix it all in together, and add a good pinch of salt. It's now time to put a large pan of lightly salted water on heat, and bring it to the boil, while we work the dumplings

Now, clean the surface that you will be using to roll out the dough and cover with the remaining flour. Spread the mixture out on the flour and kneed into a ball, adding more flour to the bits which are too sticky

That's me kneeding it up there - after you have done this for about 5 minutes, separate the mixture into two or three, and it's time to start rolling it out into long strips. And that's my mum showing me how it's done, below

You have to be quite gentle, as this dough is really soft. Once you can't roll anymore, then just form it into this kind of a shape, and make sure it's covered in flour on all sides. It's a balancing act with the flour, you don't want to add too much as the dumplings will end up hard. But the mixture is too sticky to do anything with if there is not enough flour, so just use your instincts on this one, and next time you'll know. I say next time, because once you have tried these, I guarantee you'll make them again. It's quite a simple recipe, and they are delicious - a lovely balance of sweet and salty and totally moreish

Cut the strips into more or less this kind of a shape and size. Once the water is boiling, drop half the dumplings in, and stir gently so that they do not stick together. When the dumplings rise to the top, give them once more minute and drain them spoonful by spoonful, trying to get rid of as much as the water as possible, before placing on a serving dish

While the second lot is cooking, melt the rest of the butter on a frying pan, and brown the breadcrumbs - this should take about 2-3 minutes. Finally, we cover the dumplings in the breadcrumb sauce, sugar, and serve, with cream on the side. This is pure Polish comfort food!

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Polish-Russian salad recipe

Food is like love to me - when I am happy and content, I express it with cooking and I enjoy every bite I eat. However, when I feel heartbroken and sad like now Jamie has gone, I view food almost with suspicion. It's not food's fault, of course, the way I am feeling now, and one day I am sure to realize this and food will coax its way back into my life, just like it always does. For now, though, I am not really eating. It's hard to blog too, but just then, as I was watching "Julie and Julia", for one short moment, I felt of pang of hope. So, I have paused the film and decided to tell you about the Polish-Russian salad we have on every special occasion at my parents' house, and we also had this Easter...

It's a bit of a tradition now, that my mum boils and peels all the vegetables and eggs before my arrival, and then I come home and chop everything very finely, add lots of mayo and smother the surface with more mayo,  before decorating it with slices of anything that we have lying around


2 hard boiled eggs
Boiled parsnip
2 boiled carrots
Boiled celery root
Fresh leek
Drained tin of peas
3-4 gherkins
Jar of mayo
Teaspoon mustard
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
Stuff for decorating (e.g. parsley)

Sunday 11 April 2010

My mum's low fat lime cheesecake recipe

There's no other word to describe my Easter, other than "traumatic", hence my failure to keep up with the blogging recently. But before all the trauma, there was my mum's lovely low fat cheesecake, which is ridiculously easy to make. My mum measures everything in "mugs", so just to let you know that that's about 250g (or an ounce)


Quark (fat free soft cheese) 250g x 3
250g soft butter or margarine
3 egg yolks
1 mug of icing sugar
30g vanilla sugar (or 1 tsp vanilla essence)
10g gelatine 
Lime jelly
Green seedless grapes

You start off by blending the sugar with the egg yolks, adding the butter and quark cheese, slowly in. Then melt the gelatine in hot water. We used Polish gelatine, which is in powder form, and used 3 teaspoons, but you basically want half an mug. Stir this in really well. Then start adding the gelatine to the blender, spoon by spoon. Now, the mixture is ready to pour into a buttered a cake tin. You can place your halved grapes on top of this in pretty formations, and into the fridge to cool

Then you make the jelly, and wait for about an hour while the jelly cools, in room temperature. Take the cheesecake out of the fridge and pour the green stuff over the top, and straight back into the fridge. In total, the cheesecake needs to be in the fridge for about 3 hours

I love the cheese cake as it's lights and refreshing, and completely guilt free! You can use and fruit and jelly you want so in the summer we often do a berry version too. And, if you don't know what to do with the egg whites, then meringues are always a welcome treat!

Bon Apetit!

Friday 2 April 2010

The best English breakfast in east London?

I personally think that the full English breakfast at Hackney City Farm fits the bill quite well. All the food is free range and tastes fresh and flavoursome, not greasy. The price of about £7 (with extra for a cup of tea or coffee) also reflects this, but what the hell...

The great thing about Hackney City Farm is that feeling you get of being in the countryside (and the smells to go with it of course) without having to take a train anywhere. It feels a bit like you're camping, without having to commit to a night out in the freezing cold. The annoying thing about Hackney City Farm is the screaming children and the cots you trip over while going to get your cutlery. It's to be expected really - if I had a young child, I would want to spend every weekend here too
Another thing that could be improved about this place is the choice - you don't really have any when it comes to the breakfast. There's an array of other tasty homemade dishes, but you can't have black pudding instead of the mushrooms, for example. Not like at Pellicci's...

Pellicci's is an east-end institution, and they have masses of choice when it comes to the full English - I love making up my own perfect version, which always includes black pudding, bubble and squeek and beans. Unfortunately, last Sunday, I "popped in" for a quick breakfast with Anna and Rob, hungover and on the way to my haircut appointment, and ended up having to run to Shoreditch (a good twenty minutes away) with no breakfast and a splitting headache, in order not to miss it completely. This is not a fast food kinda place. They have an Italian attitude to time I'd say, which is all very nice and relaxed, if you are not cramming too much into your day, like I tend to do. Needless to say, the lovely staff did not make us pay for the uneaten breakfast. Sadly, the founder, Joe Pellici, died last year (with a massive east end send off), but his legacy continues...