Monday, June 20, 2011

The best things in life are free

I love fish! And that makes me a true daughter of my father. My dad loves fish even more than I do and needs to eat it at least once a week, preferably every other day ;o) When he was a kid he had a deal with my grandma that she would make it for dinner as long as he did all the cleaning.
We ate a lot of fish at home and I never had to do anything with it. 

Then I got married and came to America. Our good friends upon a discovery that I love fish presented us with two lovely trouts. I cleaned them, seasoned and baked in aluminum foil with bones (that's how we frequently eat them at home). My poor husband had a horrible time eating that fish. The only fish he was familiar with were fish sticks. So next time I was planning fish for dinner I decided to learn how to fillet them. It looked very complicated at first but in reality (and after few tries) it's not that hard at all.  

Recently our neighbors gave us 5 smaller trouts FOR FREE! Yes, our neighbors are pretty generous and awesome.
Just looks at them. Aren't they beautiful?

I removed their heads and fins and fillet them. I always leave the skin on after I scrub it with knife to remove all the scales (the scrubbing part goes before filleting, info for the beginners)

Heads, spines and fins are great for flavoring a broth as a base for a fish soup. I told you I'm thrifty. Greatpoland forever! (Sorry, couldn't help myself.) 

Ok, so soup pack goes into the freezer and now we must deal with the fillets.
Slice 2 medium yellow onions. I highly recommend using/buying for this purpose a mandolin. No, I don't mean a musical instrument.

Onion gives a great flavor to a fish. 
Create a nice bed of onions on a plate.

Next, grab Vegeta. 
Ok, Vegeta is a seasoned salt from Croatia and is very popular in Poland. You can find it at most European/Russian stores. 
But if you don't have it you can use a regular salt, a little pepper and a little paprika. The fish will taste different but it will be good too.

Season fish with Vegeta on both sides and place on top of onions.
Vegeta has chunks of dried vegetables in it. I use to apply it though a strainer to get rid of those chunks. This was probably the first time that I used it as is and... it was ok.

Cover fish with another layer of onions and if you have more fish continue in the same matter. Fish-onion-fish -onion etc. Finish with the layer of onions. The idea here is to marinate fish with seasoned salt and juices from onions. 
Cover the plate with the plastic wrap and put in the fridge for at least an hour. The longer it marinates the better. It can even stay like that overnight or probably up to 2 - 3 days. But I don't have an experience in that matter. Can't wait that long...

When it's time to fry the fish remove the plate from the fridge and uncover. 

Take a pan and melt 2 Tbsp of butter on it.

Next dump all the onions into the pan and cook stirring often. It will take a while for onions to get soft and yummy that's why we start with them.

Here you have beautiful, marinated fillets. See how vegetable chunks got a lot bigger (and softer) after being exposed to moisture?

Now it's time to prepare your frying station.
Plate with fish, plate with flour for dusting and...

...a frying pan

Start with heating up a few tablespoons of oil. The oil should be really hot.
Next, dust the fillets.

And when the oil is hot enough put them in the pan.

I always start frying them skin side down. Why? Because that's how my dad would fry fish.
 After 2 minutes check them. If they are golden brown they are ready to be flipped over. Fish cooks very fast. Especially small fish like that.
2 more minutes on the other side and they should be ready.

Onions are ready too.

Dinner time!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

It's been a while, I know and I appologize all my faithful readers.

I've been on a big cooking roll right before Easter and took a lot of pictures of many dishes. Just couldn't find time to post them.

So Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie... Wait, before you'll say "Ew!" and call to order Meat Lover's Pizza...
"Please, reconsider! I beseech you!" ( yes, I've been watching "Mary Poppins" lately ;o) )

 I brought this recipe with me from Poland. One time my mom decided to start a diet called "Dieta zycia" (which translates "Fit for life", I believe) and she bought a book with the same tittle by Harvey and Marilyn Diamonds. At the end of that book were various recipes and among them this one for a Shepherd's Pie. At that time I had absolutely no idea that Shepherd's Pie in an American staple and that it's a dish with meat (in it's original form).
Fast forward 13 years. I came to America bringing this delicious recipe with me (not even realizing that it's made it's way back home). At that time I was familiar with a regular Shepherd's Pie so the first few times I was serving this dish to my American guests I was a little nervous that they will say: "What? Shepherd's Pie without meat? Forget it!" Well, not really but I wasn't sure will they like it. But everyone did like it.
And then it finally strike me. This dish is a comfort food to most Americans because it's a reminder of a... Thanksgiving dinner! Mystery solved :o)
The dish consist of filling, which is basically stuffing and mashed potatoes and taste great served with mushroom gravy and some vegetables on the side.
My friend, Connie makes a similar dish the day after Thanksgiving adding turkey meat as a middle layer.

The very first time I made this dish back in Poland was quite and adventure to me. First of all, translating a recipes can be a tricky thing. In Poland we don't use cup measurements. Well, there is a term "glass" but it's not very specific. It can be anything between 220 to 250 ml vessel. And there is nothing like specially designed measuring "glass". You just use whatever glass you have. The "cup" was translated as a "tea cup". My mom's tea cups were very small, around 1/4 cup size so I figured out that 8 tea cups of bread cubes won't make a very big casserole dish ;o) Also spices used in this recipe are not used as spices in Poland so to obtain sage I had to go to the Herb Shop (like an Herb/Natural Pharmacy) and celery seeds I got at the Gardening Shop. At that time in Poland stalk celery was unknown so translator decided to go with grated root celery. And the bread I used was very dense and moist dark bread (the one I love and miss... sniff).
Over the years I made several adjustments of the original (translated) recipe as some things just didn't make any sense. For example: one of the ingredients for mashed potatoes is WHOLE celery with leaves. I'm quite sure this got mistranslated.
Ok so let's make it!

You will need:

For the filling:
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 leek, halved and sliced 
  • 8 cups dried bread cubes
  • 2 tsp sage
  • 1/2 tsp marjoram 
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1/2 tsp paprika 
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp Chicken Flavored Bouillon 
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp fresh parsley
  • 2 cups of water
For the mashed potatoes:
  • 15 - 20 medium potatoes, peeled and quarted
  • 3 stalks of celery, sliced into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 bay leave
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • 1/2 tsp salt
First measure all spices for the filling:




Celery seeds



Freshly ground black pepper

Chicken Bouillon and mix it together

Next grab a bag of dried dark bread cubes which you have conveniently prepared earlier. 
What I do is I go to Orowheat store and grab usually 2 loaves of dark rye bread. Then I go home and cut this bread into cubes, throw them on a cookie sheet and dry them on lowest setting in my oven. When they are completely dry I put them into a bag and they are ready to store. One loaf makes 8.5 cups dried bread cubes.

Then take a leek and... no, not a leak, a leek...ok. 
Cut off dark leaves and cut it in half from top to bottom leaving the roots intact.
Funny thing, I cooked with leeks all my life (it's very popular in Poland) and I always started peeling it but cutting off the roots. After all that's what my grandma and my mom always did. But just recently I've learned that leaving the roots on helps with rinsing leeks. They simply don't fall apart in your hands as you rinse them. And you need to rinse them well cause usually they are very dirty. 


Put them cut side up on a cutting board and look at them. Now is the time to...

...cut off the roots along with the hard part leaving only delicate leaves. Slice them thinly.

Chop an onion and celery

Melt butter

Add onion, celery and leeks and saute until vegetables are soft

they should look more or less like that

Dump in the spices, mix and let them heat up a little. The aroma will be glorious.

Next add dried bread cubes

And gently mix it all up

Add water, 2 cups

Stir around...

...lower the heat, cover and let cook for 15 minutes stirring often. After 15 minutes is done set it aside.

While filling is cooking peel the potatoes. Cover them with cold water and add 1 tsp of salt.

Cut celery into 1 inch pieces

Peel and half garlic gloves, pick a bay leave

Add celery, garlic and bay leaf to potatoes. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook until potatoes are soft.
Then turn off the heat but leave them covered in hot water for 5 more minutes.

When filling is ready and you are waiting for potatoes to cook prepare baking dish.
Grease 9 x 13 dish and set aside.
Also preheat oven to 375° F

Chop some fresh parsley

And add it to the filling

Stir it in

Put filling in a baking dish

Even it out and set aside

When potatoes are ready drain them and remove bay leaf. Original recipe says to also get rid of garlic but I LOVE garlic and I'm always keeping it in :o)

 Add butter and mash away

After the inicial mash add milk or half and half. Transfer potatoes into a baking dish.

And even out

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in 375° F until potatoes are brown on the top. To serve slice into 1.5 inch slices and try (first piece is always very challenging since warm pie is very soft) to slide spatula underneath the whole thing to grab both filling and potatoes (sorry, no picture. I know it would be very helpful here).
Serve with mushroom gravy and some vegetables. Pan fried broccoli is our favorite.

If you have leftovers you should know that they freeze very well. Just cut the pie in 1.5 inch slices and freeze separately. To reheat simply put frozen slices on a non-stick pan, cover and turn the heat on low. Takes about 15 to 20 minutes on each side.

Smacznego! (Polish Bon Appetite)