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For the pastry (Pâte Brisée):

*pastry recipe makes 2 galettes

2 1/2 cups (or 625g) all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup (250g) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup  (or 60-125 mL) very cold water

a piece of parchment/baking paper

1 beaten egg for glaze

some raw sugar for glaze

  1. In the bowl combine flour and salt.
  2. Add pieces of butter and mix quickly with your fingers until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (You don’t want to overmix/warm the butter too much)
  3. Pour in a little water at a time, just until dough holds together without being wet or sticky.
  4. Once dough holds together enough to form a ball, divide in half, and place each half on a piece of plastic wrap. Shape into flattened disks and wrap it in plastic.
  5. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight before using

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For the topping:

10-15 damson plums (depending on their size), pitted and sliced into 1/6th

about ¾ cup (180 g) ground poppyseed

¼ cup (60g) sugar (may vary according to taste)

¼ cup (60mL)  milk (also may vary)

  1. Combine poppyseed and sugar in a saucepan, and over low/medium heat on the stovetop stir as you pour in milk.
  2. The consistency should be of a thin porridge or paste, so adjust amounts of milk if needed.
  3. Also note that you should adjust amounts of sugar to taste as well, as you don’t want it to  be overbearingly sweet. The taste of the poppyseed should be prevalent.
  4. Let the mixture heat up and thicken and turn the heat down to very low and cover until needed.

For the crumble:

1/3 cup (80g) coarse flour

1/3 cup (80g) coarse sugar

1/4 cup (60g) chilled, unsalted butter

1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl with fingers until you have pea-sized clumps. If mixture is too dry, add a little butter, if it is too sticky, add sugar and flour.

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To assemble:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 Fahrenheit (190 Celsius)
  2. Roll out galette dough on a well-floured surface to about ½ cm thickness. (it should be quite thin but sturdy enough to transfer to a sheet and not tear)
  3. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet
  4. Chill sheet in refrigerator until dough firms slightly, about 30 minutes.
  5. Spread poppyseed mixture in consistent layer- leaving at least a 5cm dough border bare
  6. Arrange sliced plums evenly on top and sprinkle with crumble.
  7. Lift the edges of the dough border and fold it down overlapping the outermost edges of the fruit. Brush folded border with egg glaze; sprinkle with raw sugar.
  8. Place baking sheet with galette in the oven and bake until crust is golden brown and fruit filling is bubbling at the edges (about 50 min- 1hour). If dough is getting too brown too fast, simply cover with aluminium foil.
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Damson Plum & Poppyseed Galette

Before there were Las Adelitas, you could not get real Mexican food in Praha. Yes, there was the odd Tex-Mex-Czech-Mex joint, but nothing that came close to the real thing. It is still relatively rare to find the right ingredients for Mexican food in most shops, although La Costena brand sauces/beans pop up here and there in some supermarkets (which is fine, in a pinch).  Díky bohu for the internet: this site has links to some local, Mexican e-shops, and for today’s ancho-braised beef tacos I visited Mexicali Hot Shop. You can order online and have it delivered, or pick up your order at their Českomoravská location- just meters away from the metro station. They have a nice selection of dried chilies, salsas, and canned goods like beans, pozole, and nopales, and service is very friendly. On to the recipe! Olé!

You will need:

2 ½  pounds beef cheeks

3 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp ground cumin

1 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 Ancho chili

1 tsp smoked sweet paprika

bunch of fresh coriander and/or parsley

1 tsp salt

1 cup broth

Serve with:

corn tortillas, fresh cilantro, mango salsa*, avocado salsa*, refried beans*, pickled onions*, a jar of pickled jalapenos….

*see recipe below…

1.  Clean and trim the beef cheeks. Put them in a bowl that you can marinate them in.

2. Remove the stem and seeds from the ancho chillio, cut it up into chunks and rehydrate in a little warm water

3.  Peel and chop the garlic. Put everything from garlic to the salt into a mixer including the water from the chili and blend into a paste. Toss the paste with the cheeks and marinate for several hours/overnight.

4. At minimum, 3-4 hours prior to serving time heat the oven to 140 degrees celsius, and heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a heavy pot. Brown the cheeks on all sides. Use the broth to rinse the rest of the marinade into pot, then squeeze the juice of 2 limes in. (the longer this marinades, cooks, rests..the better it gets)

5. Bake at 140 degrees for 3 1/2 hours – turn the cheeks over once or twice while they cook and if the liquid dries up add a bit more broth

6. When the cheeks are fall-apart tender, take the pot out of the oven. Using two forks, pull the meat apart in the pan so that it mixes with all of the saucy juices

7. Heat tortillas on a cast iron pan, top with a thin layer of refried beans, beef cheeks, avocado salsa/mango salsa, some of pickled onions/pickled jalapenos and fresh cilantro. Have a few margaritas and eat everything!

Pickled Onions

1 large red onion

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

½ cup warm water

1 Tbsp sugar

pinch of salt

  1. Thinly slice onion and put in a bowl.
  2. Add vinegar, water, salt, and sugar and refrigerate (up to 2 days before using)

Refried Beans:

(the lazy way)- you can always forgo canned beans and soak/cook beans the regular way as this is much better.

1 can of black beans

1 tbsp lard

1 onion

1 tbsp cumin

pinch chilli flakes

¼ cup water

  1. Melt lard in a heavy pan. Add chopped onion, and sauté until translucent. Add a pinch of salt.
  2. Add beans, cumin, and chili and sauté for a minute or so
  3. Pour in water, and constantly stirring, start to mash beans (with a potato masher) and stir some more, until you reach a creamy consistency (add water if beans dry out too much)

Mango Salsa:

1 fresh (yellow/red) mango, diced

1 red onion, diced

1 big bunch of coriander/cilantro, finely chopped

juice of 1 lime

1/3 cucumber, diced

1/3 jalapeno, diced

salt and pepper

Avocado Salsa:

This isn’t quite guacamole… it’s much better.

1-2 avocados roughly mashed with a fork

3 diced cherry tomatoes

½ diced red onion

a big bunch of chopped cilantro/coriander

½ diced jalapeno

juice of ½ lime

½ clove garlic, mashed

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Roughly mash avocado with fork.
  2. To a mixer, add tomatoes, coriander, garlic, jalapeno, lime, salt and pepper and just barely mix together
  3. Add to finely chopped onion, mashed avocado, and mix together
  4. Taste, and add anything that’s missing.

Making Margaritas in Praha:

Not only is it near to impossible to get decent (but inexpensive) 100% agave tequila in Praha, but I have not been able to find a drop of triple sec/cointreau either. Maybe I am very bad at looking, but in a pinch, this makes a perfectly fine praha-rita:

(for 2 margaritas)

2 limes

2 shots of tequila (silver/bianco)

2 x 3/4 shot agave nectar (you can get it at DM) or simple syrup (sugar you’ve dissolved in a bit of hot water

ice

a tiny drop of orange blossom essence (optional)- this you can get at M&S

  1. Rub lime on outer edge of glass and roll in a plate of salt, set aside
  2. Into a shaker: add ice, tequila, syrup, lime juice, (triple sec/orange blossom essence) shake well
  3. Add some fresh ice to glass, strain in contents of shaker

*you could infuse your simple syrup with some orange zest for a few hours/overnight to get that triple sec scent- will be trying this next time, stay posted for updates!

Ancho-Braised Beef Cheek Tacos

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Eggs are great with a little salt n’pepper…

Frequently maligned and misunderstood by fat-fearing cholesterol-phobes and just about everybody else, the humble egg’s reputation took a beating (ehm) particularly in the spandex days of the 80’s and 90’s.

Thankfully, supported by numerous studies, today nearly everybody knows and extols the virtues of this small and magical food. Not only is it a majestic feat of engineering and design, it’s also nutritionally dense: an excellent source of vitamins A, B12, D, E, K, folate and pantothenic acid.

Eggs contain a variety of essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc and selenium (to name a few). This is good for boosting red blood cell production as well as metabolism, and is excellent for skin, eyes, and nervous system.

They’re also chock full of protein and good fat. Yes fat.

The subject of dietary fat and cholesterol has always been controversial. However, healthy fats (such as the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids found in egg yolks) are vital to human health. Evidence has shown that eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fats can actually improve blood cholesterol levels, which can eventually decrease the risk of heart disease. This is because fats like oleic and linoleic acids can reduce dietary fat and cholesterol absorption in the intestines. These fatty acids also have antioxidant properties which protect blood vessels from breaking under pressure.

Not only that but, many nutrients, such as vitamin A (as well as D, E and K) are better absorbed with fat, while the omega-3 fatty acids and nutrients like folate, pantothenic acid and zinc are also important for brain and nerve function. Eating the yolk can reduce stress levels and even help to prevent depression. Oh, and they taste lovely.

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OK, so we know eggs are good (even great!) for us, but which ones should we buy? If you don’t have the privilege of a Babička or Dědeček with their own flock of hens in the countryside, don’t worry, I’ve compiled a few tips for egg shopping.

Let’s crack on, shall we?

In a shop:

When buying eggs in a shop, open the carton and take a look at the code stamped on the shell.

It can look something like this: 1 CZ 2235

The first number code (0-3) tells us a bit about the living conditions of the laying hens. The second, letter code (CZ) tells us which country the eggs come from, and the last (4 digit) number code is the registration number of the farm.

So, what do the numbers 0-3 have to say about living conditions?

0 – Ecological & free range

This means that farmers have to adhere to ecological agriculture laws when it comes to the care and feeding of the hens. Hens themselves can happily run outside with enough room, and pick at grass and greens in addition to their feed.

1-    Free range

This is the same as above, only there are no ecological agriculture rules to stick to. This is a typical farm/statek setting you’d find in the Czech countryside- usually small-batch and kept for personal use.

2-    Sometimes labeled vejce z podestýlky

Hens are kept in a big hall, where while they are free to move about on the straw floor, they never see the light of day. Moreover, conditions are usually rather tight, so it is debatable just how much these ladies can roam about.

3-    Battery cage/ factory-farmed

By far, the worst: hens are kept in cages, with no room to stretch their wings or move at all. Needless to say, beyond the very obvious cruelty of this method, it also proves to be rather unhygienic and is bound to produce very low quality eggs.

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Feathers ruffled yet?

Most shops here, sadly, do seem to carry mainly (or only) #3’s. Your local bio obchod very likely will have even #0’s, but at 10 Kč/egg it can get a bit pricey. Farm shops like Sklizeno and Český Grunt, and even the excellent butcher’s The Real Meat Society all tend to have products from small-scale, local farms. Always ask if you’re not sure where the eggs are coming from, staff is usually, I find, more than helpful and informed.

At the farmers market:

The recent rise in popularity of the farmers markets has unfortunately, also attracted people wanting to capitalize from this, and with not always the best quality produce. Be aware- even though the eggs may not be stamped and look like they’ve just come straight from Babička’s farm, it’s always best to ask. Some of the market sellers even have photos of their hens and how they’re kept.

Of course, you can always visit a farm, yourself and get your eggs, straight from the source. And if you have a house/garden why not raise some yourself?

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Salade Niçoise sourced from the Náplavka Farmers’ Market

Let’s talk about eggs (baby)…

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O mój Boże I’ve stumbled upon on what is, perhaps, (modestly) the best flipping borscht I have ever had. Armed with just cold hunger, some old (squishy) beets and today’s Náplavka Market’s offerings, here it is, hurriedly scribbled down between noisy gulps and mouthfuls of ahhh

Borscht is Polish, Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian…etc depending on whom you ask- and there are about as many ways to prepare it as there were Solidarność members pre- September 1981 (up to 10 million!).

For this reason, I choose to abandon (any/every) recipe and venture forth, blindly, by feel and by taste.

It’s so good, Radio Maryja wouldn’t approve.

* (if you eat meat, I can imagine this is divine with a nice marrow bone and beef shank/cheeks cooked down to falling-apart tenderness…)

**carrots, parsnips, swede, and others of the root-veg family, would also probably add to the greatness.

You will need:

2 tbsp olive oil

1 chopped onion

5-6 beets (preferably with stems and greens- if not: also 2 large  pieces of swisschard, all chopped)

2-3 cloves of garlic (chopped into just a few big chunks)

¼ fennel bulb

knob of butter

1-2 large mushrooms

5-6 cherry tomatoes

handful of chopped parsley

splash of dry white wine

pinch chili flakes

2-3 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh dill

1 Tbsp tomato paste

water

1 tbsp sugar

1-2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

This is what you do:

  1. To a dollop of olive oil, in a heavy-bottomed pot add onion and beet/ swisschard stems, salt to taste.
  2. Add some rather large chunks of garlic saute for a bit
  3. Add about a ¼ sliced fennel bulb, saute and add knob of butter
  4. Throw in sliced mushrooms (large chunks), saute
  5. …add about 5-6 chopped cherry or plum tomatoes and chopped parsley… saute!
  6. Add peeled chopped beets, keep saute-ing!
  7. Pour in a bit of white wine to deglaze the pot
  8. Add in your sliced swisschard leaves, a pinch of chili flakes, coarsely chopped fresh dill
  9. Pour in some water, enough to cover solids- you will adjust the other tastes depending on amount
  10. Add a bit of tomato paste
  11. Pour in 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar or more if you like (keep tasting after each addition to get the balance of everything just right)
  12. If you feel something is lacking, add a tablespoon sugar, stir and taste: better?
  13. If not add a little more butter/salt/pepper
  14. Cover and simmer the hell out of it (about 1/2 hour)
  15. Serve with white yoghurt/ sour cream and fresh dill
  16. Swoon
  17. Fall to your knees
  18. Repeat.

Borscht

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How česká is pomazánka? Whether as a component of chlebíčky (small open faced sandwiches laden with hardboiled eggs, pickles, ham, and heavily laced with mayonnaise ) or simply spread on some fresh Šumavský bread, most pomazánky tend to be heavy, stodgy, and not exactly summery. This spread, however, is a summer staple at our weekend chata (cottages being another terribly typical Cz summer staple). With tvaroh (quark or something like cottage cheese), fresh chives (grown on your kitchen window of course!), garlic, salt, and pepper, you have the makings of a perfect summer cottage breakfast or lunch. Pair it with polévka/ soup, and you’ve got supper. If you’re not “on the cottage in the nature”, drag it out to Riegrák,  Parukářka, or any other park and you can enjoy it al fresco.

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You Will Need:

1 tub (250 g) of polotučný tvaroh (half-fat soft quark)

a big bunch of chives, chopped

1 or 2 Tbsp of full fat tvaroh (optional)

1 clove of garlic, crushed

salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix everything together! Enjoy under a blue sky, with plenty of fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and of course, some crusty rye bread.

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Letní Pažitková Pomazánka – Summer Chive Spread

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Sautee onions along with your spices.

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Add passata or (canned) tomatoes, simmer covered for at least 15 min,  remove the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks, and blend with immersion mixer.

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One of these peppers is not like the other… If you choose not to eat meat,  this is one of those rare Czech foods that can be easily made meatless. For the “regular” filling- and since this was for grandparents who like to keep things traditional- I’ve mixed mince, rice, parsley, egg, salt, pepper and garlic.  But mint would be a nice addition, maybe fennel seeds, and any other flavours you enjoy. Leftover meat can be used to make meatballs.

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In the meatless filling, I’ve used red lentils, sauteed mushrooms, parsley, chilli flakes, a bit of rice and some beaten egg to hold it all together. This is just what I had in the pantry, but really, any legumes, pulses, herbs work well.

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Plněné papriky – Stuffed peppers

For the sauce

oil or butter

2 medium yellow onions, chopped

4 whole peppercorns

4 allspice

5 cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

3 bay leaves

½ tsp thyme

2 tsp ground ginger

1 small piece of lemon peel

½ clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp flour

500 ml tomato passata or canned tomatoes

a splash of water

1 tbsp vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

For the peppers/filling

6 banana peppers

400-500 grams mince meat

1/2 cup cooked rice

2 tbsp parsley chopped

½ clove garlic pureed

1 egg

salt and pepper to taste

1. Sautee chopped onions on butter or oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot.

2. Add spices along with sugar and keep sautéing until onions are glassy and golden.

3. Add flour and stir for a minute or so, and add passata or tomatoes. Cover and allow to simmer for at least 15 minutes, turning down heat if it’s bubbling too much.

4. Check the taste- if it’s too intense, add some water- not intense enough, add more of the spices according to taste. Add your garlic and salt and pepper to taste as well.

5. Remove the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, and puree with immersion blender

6. Take another large pot and a sieve/strainer with smaller holes. Carefully, pour sauce through strainer into the second pot- unless of course you prefer a very thick, oniony sauce.

7. Prepare peppers: wash and cut off the very top- like a lid. Scoop out the seeds.

8. Take your mince, rice, parsley, garlic, egg, salt and pepper and mix well in a bowl.

9. Fill the empty peppers with mince filling (or with a meatless filling of your choice), and carefully submerge peppers into pot of sauce

10. Cook on medium/low heat for at least half an hour to cook the meat through and soften the peppers.

11. Add a spoonful of vinegar if the sauce lacks acidity and adjust any flavours by adding spices, or even sugar and salt to taste.

12. Serve with rice or dumplings.

Plněné papriky – Stuffed peppers

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I hardly ever order Czech classics like guláš or svíčková in Praha restaurants because, honestly, they’re never half as good as the real (homemade) thing. However, should you ever really crave a proper guláš while you’re out and about in the mean streets of Žižkov, let me recommend the one at Restaurant Olše on Olšanské Náměstí. Flanked by socialist relics such as the Hotel Olšanka, some crumbling paneláks (housing estates), a boxing club and a very grim butcher’s; the surroundings may not be the cheeriest. But there is a certain, indistinguishable atmosphere. And with the TV Tower kindly looking down upon you and with some very good watering holes (like Hapu, U Sadu, and the TV Tower itself)  just around the corner, the location is actually really quite great. And the guláš? I really, really hate to admit this: it’s great. Fantastic even. Sure it’s about 5 sizes too big- accompanied by 5 or 6 (!) snowy dumplings-  and containing unheard of things like tomato (paste?) but yes, it’s really good. Oh and they have tank Pilsner on tap. Need I say more?

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Restaurant Olše

But, if you have the time, ingredients, and willing to make it at home, this is how you my mum makes a proper guláš.

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Mama Central Eating cuts up some beef shank in her Nova Scotia kitchen

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Onion and marrow bones sauteeing

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Add the chilli flakes

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Add lots of good quality paprika

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Hovězí Guláš – Beef Gulash

You will need:

5-6 larger onions (yellow)
about 1.8 kg beef shank and some marrow bones (without the marrow)
3-4 tbsp sweet hungarian paprika
1-2 tbsp hot hungarian paprika
chilli flakes/dried chilli if you have it, about 1 tsp
1/2 (ish) cup of water
oil or lard for the pan
salt and pepper

Serves 4 easily

  1. Heat a good amount of oil or lard in a large, heavy bottomed pan
  2. Add chopped onions and sautee until glassy and golden- you may throw in the bones at this point as well
  3. Toss in the beef shank- cut into roughly 4×4 cm chunks (it helps if you just cut along the connective tissue) keep in mind that the meat will shrink a lot and release all of the collagen that will thicken the sauce. This is why we use cheaper, tougher cuts of meat.
  4. Cook at a medium heat until the meat is seared on the outside
  5. Cover the pot/pan with a lid and cook for about ten minutes/ until juices are released
  6. Preheat your oven to 320 F or 160 C
  7. Once the juices have been released, add salt and pepper to taste, paprika, some water, put it in the oven, and LEAVE IT ALONE for at lease 1.5 hours- of course check on it occasionally to make sure it hasn’t dried out and add water if necessary. You can eventually turn the oven off, and leave the pot of guláš inside (even overnight).
  8. Serve with fresh rye bread or dumplings and some fresh raw onions

Hovězí Guláš – Beef Gulash