What better way to launch a blog than with a photo recap of our first dining event in St. Louis since the re-launch? I ended up doing two seatings for Zimowy Obiad: A Polish Winter Dinner. Both were very well received, and lots of new friends and acquaintances were made.
That’s one thing I really like about family-style service: The spirit of cooperation and sharing among guests. Even if someone has never sat down to eat with a table of strangers, they figure out how it works pretty quickly (because they are hungry).
This was a fairly involved menu to execute. There were many components, and I prepared all but one–the pickled cucumbers–from absolute scratch. Here’s the menu with photos and notes.
bread, smalec, pickled vegetables, farmer’s cheese, charcuterie
Charcuterie courses are always pretty involved on their own, with each component requiring its own time-consuming preparation.
The proteins on the charcuterie course were boczek (a dry-cured, smoked bacon) and a bacon-wrapped pasztet (pâté) made from chicken thighs, pork belly and chicken liver. I don’t think you often see bacon-wrapped pasztet in Polish cooking, but it’s a nice touch, so I did it anyway.
Imported Polish pickled cucumbers and my own pickled mushrooms were the vegetables.
The fats were twarog, a fresh farmer’s cheese, and smalec, a spread made from rendered pork fat and bacon with yellow and green onions.
The bread was fresh-baked.
creamy herbed mushroom soup
One thing I try to do as much as possible is to put every last bit of nutritional value from the ingredients to work in the meal. Water from cooked vegetables and grains get re-used when possible, for example. The result is generally a greater depth of flavor, and a sort of underlying unity between dishes.
In the case of the mushroom soup, I used the reserved whey from the farmer’s cheese as the soup base, along with vegetable and chicken stock. From there, an ungodly amount of button and King Trumpet mushrooms were sauteed and pureed into the broth, then heavy cream and marjoram were added. I let this simmer and reduce for some time. It was essentially a very simple soup, but extremely delicious. The whey gave it a unique sweetness.
Gulasz Wieprzowy, Kasza Pszenna, Bigos, Kopytka
stewed pork, whole grain kasha, stewed kraut with sausage and beans, potato dumplings
The gulasz was pretty straightforward: Braised pork in a pork fat-based sauce. This was leaner than I originally planned because I used pork loin instead of shoulder. I also used paprika to add some sweet, vegetable notes. This “paprikasz” style isn’t strictly done in Polish cooking at all. In fact, it’s most commonly associated with Hungarian and other nearby cuisines. But everyone loves paprika sauces, and I thought it wise to do something accessible and popular for our first new menu.
The bigos was sauerkraut stewed in chicken stock with smoked ham hock, smoked Polish sausage, celery, onion and kidney beans. I added a head of tender winter cabbage to give it some sweetness. Guests remarked that they could smell this dish most prominently as they approached the building, and that put a smile on my face.
The kasza pszenna (under the gulasz) was originally just going to be a kasha of cooked whole durum wheat, but I ended up including equal parts buckwheat groats and whole barley. The result was a wonderfully aromatic whole grain dry porridge, which was buttered liberally and garnished with fried onions.
The kopytka were very basic potato dumplings, essentially a Polish gnocchi. The difference here is the addition of egg (gnocchi are traditionally just potato and flour). After the dumplings were mixed, cut into shape and boiled, they were sauteed in butter with a bit of Vegeta seasoning and garnished with chopped fresh dill.
sweet poppy seed roulade cake
This moderately sweet poppyseed roulade cake wasn’t terribly challenging, just involved. It’s a yeasted dough, but it’s very rich and dense, so it takes quite a while to rise. I used apricots in the poppyseed filling, so it was probably sweeter than it would normally be. But it was still just moderately sweet compared to typical American desserts.
So, there you have it. If you weren’t there, that’s what you missed. It turned out to be a fantastic meal, and everyone was very pleased (and full). My guests at the second seating even took a short nap after the main course, as you’ll see below.
Our next event is a Romanian meal with paired Romanian wines on Valentine’s Day. I’m only doing one seating of 24 guests for that menu, and tickets are starting to sell. You can check out the menu and get your tickets from Eventbrite, or click the “Tickets” link in the top menu.