Monday 26 March 2012

Polish "Baba" - Easter Cake

I think I may have the best family in the world. OK, so my parents used to forget to pick me up from school, argue constantly and have some consistency issues, but they sure are making up for it now that we are all grown up. On Sunday, they drove up from Eastbourne in order to help me sort me garden out, knowing that I would be incapable of doing this myself or even considering doing it at all. Mum brought this beautiful "Baba", which is a typical cake for Easter. We're going away on holiday this year, but I guess she couldn't quite forgo making it
Even though this is one cake that must be on every table in Poland at Easter time, it's an extra special version, because even though you can have many delicious flavours of "Baba", this one has three distinct sides to it. It's sweet but not sickly, both lemony and chocolaty, with poppy seeds providing an interesting texture and nuttiness. Each mouthful is different, therefore this is the perfect cake for people who want to both have their cake and eat it

300g plain flour
250g butter
8 Tblsp Olive oil
5 eggs
250g icing sugar
1 tsp light vinegar
2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp cocoa
1/2 cup poppy seeds
2 tsp vanilla essence
Juice of 2 lemons
Mix the softened butter with the egg yolks and icing sugar. Once this is smooth, start adding the flour (which has been previously mixed with the baking powder), followed by the vinegar, oil and vanilla essence, mixing all the time. Beat the egg whites until stiff, then add them too. Now, split this mixture into three - into one add the cocoa, into the other two the poppy seeds and juice of 1 lemon respectively. Take the "Baba" mould and butter it. First pour in the lemon mixture, then the chocolate, and finally the poppy mixture. Bake for 40min at 180 degrees C. Make the icing by mixing some icing sugar with the juice of 1 lemon and ice whilst the cake is still warm. Cool and enjoy with family and friends

Monday 19 March 2012

A sweet bean salad

Last week I understood why funerals were invented. For me it wasn't about saying goodbye, because my gran wasn't there anymore and I was lucky enough to be able to do that a few weeks ago. This is a time to show respect for the life of another human being that touched yours. There's a distance and a severity to it. Or perhaps that's just a Polish funeral. But it's important to be there, to be honest and not hide away - to "man-up" anotherwords. I was amazed at my mum's inner strength and her ability to give a meaningful speech, in which she captured the essence of Babcia Ziuta, her mother, a person who "took life as it came", showing warmth and kindness to everyone she met. At the wake we were much more cheerful, reminiscing about gran's life and exchanging memories. We ate bigos, schabowe and this delicious, sweet bean salad made by auntie Majewska

Red kidney beans
Mild hard cheese, cubed
Salt and white pepper

Thursday 15 March 2012

Clotted cream sugar-free ice-cream

I don't mean to be big-headed, but I have, through sheer coincidence, stumbled upon genius here
I have a habit of clearing out the fridge before I go anywhere and so I was doing this last night before I set off for my gran's funeral, and I discovered some left-over clotted cream. I sweetened it with maple syrup and stuck it in the freezer. Every time I went back to stir it - that's every half an hour or so - I tried a bit and got more and more excited. This morning I took it out for a final stir and ended up eating it all. For breakfast

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Polish snacks and simmered pears

This past month has been one of the hardest in my life. Not in a horrible, traumatic way (see when I was breaking up with my ex two years ago), but in a natural, growing kind of a way. Of course, there have been times where I've swerved slightly into the dark and others where I attempted to be too light in order to distract myself, but those were fleeting moments and on the whole I've dealt with my grandma's illness and death as honestly as I could have done. There was a time, not so long ago, when the mere thought of it made go mad with anxiety and fear, but I guess when things happen in the right time and in the right way, then life is being kind. There were a couple of things I would have changed about the whole experience if I could, so that she suffered less, but that would have meant changing certain people which is something that I clearly don't have the power to do. So I'm trying to be understanding of the fact that everyone is damaged in some way and everyone is trying to heal (even if they are going about it in a way which hurts others and themselves)
 Last Friday, I had some friends round for a dinner of "przekaski" - Polish snacks. I made placki - that's the little potato cake you see up there with some creamy mushroom topping, a spicy beetroot salad, cauliflower in breadcrumbs and grilled some dried Polish sausage which we dipped in English mustard (as much as I love mild Polish mustards, I'm addicted to that English kick). For the placki, you need to grate a couple of large potatoes and a medium onion on the really small holes of the grater - so that they are basically raw mush. Try not to grate yourself. Season your mush well before frying in olive oil until golden, about 4min each side. The mushroom topping is a mixture of closed cup mushrooms and shitake mushrooms, chopped and fried in butter, in a pan where they have room to brown. Then I added a little bit of garlic, soya sauce and some single cream. If that up there looks like a tiny portion, it's because I forgot to take pictures of our first and second helpings and that's all we had left by the time I remembered!
And here are the pears which I simmered in a mixture of ginger wine and cherry vodka (Wisniowka), with a couple of cinnamon sticks, for about an hour. I covered the pan and clearly left the gas on too high because before I knew it the whole thing was on fire in the most spectacular way. I wish I had thought to take a photo but we were all panicking slightly to tell you the truth, and then Tommy blew it out, thank god. I'm glad he didn't set himself on fire, as when my dad did that once he singed his eyebrows, and Tommy has a lot of hair

Sunday 11 March 2012

My Babcia Ziuta

I would love to tell you about the dinner of Polish tapas (przekaski) I made on Friday night, the little potato cakes, spicy beetroot salad and Polish cauliflower in breadcrumbs, the vodka poached pears which set the pan on fire and Tommy bravely blew out... it was a great evening with lovely people and I will share all those recipes with you shortly. But today I found out that my darling grandma Ziuta has passed away. I am devastated because my life will be empty without her, and yet I know that she wanted to go. When I went to see her in hospital in Poland two weeks ago, she told me that she loved me but wanted to go and be with God, and asked me to pray for this. I'm so sad that I won't see her this Summer making Chlodnik or sorting through the sorrel. She was the warmest, sweetest person I have ever known and I have a feeling that I will miss her more and more as time goes on, but I'm also glad that she isn't suffering anymore and that she is where she wanted to be. She is the one laughing on the right for those of you that didn't know her

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Gourmet San on Bethnal Green Road

Ok, there is no way I can spin this to make it seem like a part of my detox. But in my defense, when someone invites you to dinner at Gourmet San, you don't refuse
Especially if they're one of your best friends and a Hong Kong national, who knows exactly what to order. Not that this is HK cuisine, this is Sichuan and there is nothing else like this in the whole of London
The menu is extensive, so you need reliable tip offs. My favourite thing on the menu, and perhaps my  favourite Chinese dish of all time even, is thousand year eggs with tofu. Don't worry they're not really that old. But they are green

We also had lamb with cumin, Japanese tofu with prawns and some greens (Chinese broccoli with scallion I believe it was), all washed down with tea. See, no alcohol, no pudding, so I haven't veered too far off-course 
I can't tell you how much it cost as it was a treat, but Gourmet San isn't expensive. It's a dispensable paper tablecloths and super quick service kind of a place, with fantastic authentic Sichuan food. Perfect for a mid-week catch up with your mates

Sunday 4 March 2012

Superfoods salad aka The Best Salad in the World possibly

I have been on my detox for less than a week and I haven't been entirely faithful. I've had a swig of coke, a glass of Pinot Grigio, a couple of oaty biscuits that looked healthy but actually had many ungodly things in them like "inverted sugar" (whatever that it), a bite of sausage, some delicious white bread and a pill of codeine. Many would have given up by now, concluding that their detox hasn't worked out this time, yet I persevere. Why? Because it would be easy to give up, to go out and have fun and forget all about it, but if I do that I will destroy my own trust in myself. If I continue, then despite the setbacks, by the month's end I will feel amazing and the odd glasses of wine and naughty bites of sausage will be forgotten, because they meant nothing anyway. Today has been a fantastic detox day, because I have invented "The Best Salad in the World possibly"

Pearl barley
Turkey (free-range)
Pomegranate (Half per portion)
Linseeds (or pumpkin seeds perhaps)
Sunflower seeds
Spring onion
Soya sauce
Vegetable stock
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
It all started when I went out for lunch yesterday with some friends and I ordered the "Superfoods Salad" (along with the wine and the bread), in order to "be good". This contained pumpkin, lentils, goat's cheese, salad leaves and some kind of seeds from what I can remember. It sounds like nothing special, but I guess my body needed the nutrients because I wolfed it down with minimal food envy. I always have a minimal level of food envy, so this is normal. I am very greedy and always want some of what everyone else is having. The salad was so delicious that it inspired me to make my own version today. And, my goodness, that up there was the best salad I have ever eaten! I marinated the turkey in a bit of honey, soya sauce and pepper, while the pearl barley cooked in my home-made vegetable stock. Obviously, you can always use a stock cube for this. I toasted the seeds lightly on a dry frying pan. The one thing I would change about this salad in the future are the linseeds - I'd replace them with something less small and annoying. After taking the seeds out of the frying pan, I added some olive oil and fried the turkey strips, turning half way, for about 10min. While the sauce was caramelizing, I chopped the spring onions and took the seeds out of the pomegranate - my least favourite job. Finally, I added the pearl barley to the frying pan and removed it from heat. Mix it all in well so you don't waste any of the delicious honey and soya flavours. Add the pomegranate. Prep the watercress, and add the contents of the frying pan to the plate. Sprinkle with toasted seeds, chopped spring onions and an artistic flair. Now, I challenge you to make a better salad that this. Without blowing my own trumpet (that's a lie, but here in the UK it's unseemly to be seen blowing it, so we pretend not to), I'm not sure it can be done