Sunday 29 December 2013

"Dobra Kasza Nasza" in Zakopane

Kasha ("kasza" in Polish), or grains, are such a common food stuff here that actually we have sayings about them. For example, a person may be described as someone who "doesn't let anyone blow on their kasha", meaning that they don't let anyone boss them around, or "take the piss" as we would charmingly say in the UK. There are many varieties of kasha and all are available in this restaurant in Zakopane, recommended to me by my old childhood friend, Iza, who writes this blog
Zakopane is the Winter capital of Poland, somewhere we have spent the past couple of Christmases, and a place that's popular all year round with tourists: full of cosy, wooden restaurants and hearty "mountain" food. If you are a keen skier or snowboarder, used to the likes of the Alps, you may not feel completely satisfied with the conditions here - the Tatra mountains, being a national park, have but one slope you can ski down (this was closed due to wind this year), so the main ski area is Białka Tatrzańska, a 30min drive away, in the direction of Kraków; apart from this it's just an odd slope here and there. However, it is well worth a visit, any time of the year, if only for the atmosphere. If you do find yourself in this magical little town, you may get tired of all the "mountain" food after a couple of days and this is why I would recommend "Dobra Kasza Nasza" - it's different to all the other restaurants in Zakopane, in food and ambiance alike
I would also strongly recommend the "kwaśnica" for starters, the Polish sauerkraut soup that in other parts of Poland goes by the name of "kapuśniak". The ribs are a tasty main if you're hungry, otherwise go for one of the baked kashas. I ordered the millet and pumpkin one you see up there, which was nice (not a very descriptive word, I know - it would be inaccurate to use anything stronger, yet it was "quite nice"). I would however go for something else next time, probably buckwheat based, as this is the kasha that I most associate with Poland and that I miss when I am out of the country. They also have a couple of delicious unpasteurized beers on tap

Saturday 14 December 2013

Chocolate Chlli Con Carne

I've had some kind of awful throat infection the past week, so I haven't been able to get much food down me, yet I've been craving Chilli Con Carne - melt-in-the-mouth beef and vegetables filling me with warm, spicy goodness. The Chilli that I make is always vegetable-rich and always cooked for as long as possible - usually between 2 and 3 hours. P loved it, and I asked him about Chilli Con Carne in Mexico, where he has spent a lot of time. He told me that they often add chocolate, an idea that I fell in love with immediately. So the next day I added some Green&Blacks dark chocolate to the Chilli that I'd made and it really has elevated it to a whole new level for me
I love chilli, and each time I cook it I feel like it tastes just that little bit better than the last time. This is because I have picked up many little "chilli secrets" along the way, and found some things out through the repetitive cooking of this dish over the years. Adding plenty of vegetables is one of these little secrets - they really do add so much flavour - yet they must be chopped as finely as possible for maximum effect. For some reason, this makes a big difference. So once chopped, fry the onion with the grated carrot and celery in plenty of olive oil for about 5 minutes, add the beef and chopped chillies and fry while stirring and breaking up the mince for another 5 min. Add the paprika and ginger, add the wine, keep stirring. Add the chopped tomatoes, crushed garlic, plop the whole chilli in the pan, some salt and pepper and bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add more wine if at any point it seems a bit dry in there - we want enough extra liquid for there to be bubbles. After two hours, taste it and season to your taste, add more paprika if required. Add the chocolate, kidney beans and most of the chopped coriander, reserve some for garnish. Allow the chilli to simmer for another 20min or so like this, then serve on top of rice, with fresh coriander on top and, if you fancy, some sour cream on the side. It's easy to make a good chilli, but to make a really excellent one, you really must put a bit of love and care into it, don't just cook it automatically, but strive to improve and perfect it. Perhaps sometime in the future I will learn a few more secrets and make a better chilli than this, but at the moment, this is the pinnacle 

500g organic minced beef
3 red chillies, 2 chopped finely, 1 whole
2 garlic cloves, chopped and pressed with the back of a knife
2 carrots, grated
1 onion, chopped finely
2 celery sticks, chopped
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
2 glasses of red wine
1 tin of red kidney beans (the ones in chilli sauce work especially well)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground ginger
50g good quality dark chocolate
Large handful fresh, chopped coriander

Thursday 12 December 2013

A snack: quick guacamole on rye bread with grilled cheese on top

It's just a snack, but it was so tasty I'd feel bad if I didn't share it with you
Take a piece of rye bread and toast it. Meanwhile, mash a soft avocado with some sea salt, half a red chilli and a bit of fresh, chopped coriander. I could have used my pestle and mortar for this, yet I used an ordinary fork and a chopping board. Squeeze a bit of lime in to make the mashing easier. Place the guacamole on top of the rye bread and put it on a baking tray. Grate some cheddar on top. Or another strong-tasting hard cheese. Grill until the cheese is melted and golden, then sprinkle with chilli sauce to finish. Yum!