Soup, Soup, Soup!!!!

One word…soup but what a world of variety and comfort! Here at The Pantry “soup” has the status of an art form. I love creating special pots of soup and sharing the enjoyment with others.

On Saturdays customers can often sample some of our delicious soup recipes. Although I do make soups totally from scratch, base soup mixes can be so handy when we are busy. One of the soups we have sampled is Biaty Barszcz, a Polish white borscht. IMG_5635 IMG_5636 It is a traditional Easter soup made with a sour cream base and flavoured with a little bit of horseradish. We have been carrying Winiary brand white borscht soup mix.  I don’t think traditionally the soup contains cabbage but I wanted to give the soup a bit more body.  I chopped up about a third of a large cabbage and sauteed that in a bit of olive oil.  After mixing two packages of the Winiary soup case with the required amount of water, I added the sauteed cabbage and 2 Hungarian Debreszeni sausages chopped up.  That filled my slow cooker which I let simmer overnight so the soup would be ready to share with our customers this morning. A few weeks ago I made Dutch Zuurkool Stamppot.  The Dutch love mashed potato dishes and this is one of their many variations of Stamppot. Very simply, chopped sourcrout is mixed through mash potatoes although I added Silvo Zuurkool kruiden: an herb mix that elevates the flavour of the resulting dish. Usually I will serve a dish like this with Dutch Gelderse Rookworst…smoked sausage prepared with a recipe that hails from the Dutch province of Gelderland. But this time I served it with the same Hungarian Debreszeni sausage I used in the soup today. The slightly sour taste of the soup and the Stamppot pairs wonderfully with the Hungarian Debreszeni sausage.

When I was visiting my son and daughter-in-law in February we cooked up a family favourite: Potato Leek soup. IMG_5375The secret to this soup is simmering smoked pork hocks all day until the meat falls off the bones and you have a thick gelatinous broth. At home I have the wonderful Wagener Meats smoked pork hocks here at The Pantry.  Those aren’t available in Washington State. In fact, I couldn’t find any pork hocks in the store. What I did find were smoked pork shoulders.  They were called picnic hams…nothing like the sweet brine picnic pork shoulders I get here in Ontario…but prepared much the same as our pork hocks. Some recipes for Potato Leek call for rich cream.  Cream, however, limits the keeping life of the soup so if I am making a very large batch I prefer using a combination of Knorr Cream of Leek souIMG_5376p and Knorr Cream of Potato.  I couldn’t find those products in my daughter-in-law’s grocery store either so I was back to improvising. In the end, I used a couple of packages of alfredo sauce mix to create the creamy taste we are used to. What couldn’t be substituted though was several teaspoons of Verstegen Gehakt Kruiden. Fortunately, this “secret ingredient” which is actually intended for making Dutch meatballs was not forgotten in Ontario although we actually found it in a Dutch bakery the next day. To me Verstegen’s special combination of coriander, pepper, ginger, mace, nutmeg, cardemon, chillies and marjoram give the soup a little something special. It took a while to peel and cube all the potatoes but what a nice way to spend an hour chatting while you work. We enjoyed the resulting soup for supper that night with light biscuits. We also were able to freeze meal size containers to be enjoyed by our western family long after I went home.IMG_5391 It will also bring back the memory of a special day of cooking together. I know I won’t be able to make another pot of Potato Leek Soup without it bringing back that memory!  IMG_5390

Nagyon Finom – delicious!

IMG_4628There’s nothing like pictures to inspire us to cook but one of my favourite and obviously well used recipe books, “The Old World Kitchen”  by Elizabeth Luard boasts no colour photography.IMG_4638 The illustrations are pen and ink drawings by Luard. Yet it is the cookbook I frequently go to for simple authentic recipes that are grounded in history. This morning I had a serendipitous moment. I had pulled out “The Old World Kitchen” and opened it to a Hungarian recipe for handmade noodles.  Luard has a recipe for Tarhonya  or noodle barley. I was pondering whether this was the same as the Csipetke noodles that we sell when Ilona came into the store. I have been on quite the learning curve trying to master the Hungarian names for the products we sell. One customer has taught me how to say, “Delicious!” in Hungarian (as in the title of this post!) or “Volt nagyon finom!” Which means: It was very tasty! Ilona has been especially helpful in my efforts to master some of the Hungarian.  The sounds of the language are starting to become familiar so when she told me the name of the noodle that she couldn’t find on the shelf I followed my hunch. My recipe book was still sitting open in the store kitchen. Sure enough Tarhonya was exactly what she was looking for and fortunately I can get it from one of wholesalers…so Ilona will soon get her noodles.

Luard describes tarhonya  as “probably the most primitive noodle dough in the world, the ancient solution to the problem of how to make milled grain palatable, storable and portable.” Palatable seems a bit short of nagyon finom! yet Luard says these pearl barley shaped noodles are still made in Hungary today evenIMG_4620 though the ancient need to preserve milled grains isn’t quite as urgent in the modern age. Obviously, tarhonya is delicious or no one would be asking for it anymore. Old world cooking is an antidote to fast food overload. We all crave foods that satisfy more than an empty stomach. Anne Applebaum, co-author of “From a Polish Country Kitchen”, writes that immediately after communism collapsed in Poland the Polish people craved foods from the world beyond. “But in recent years, Polish cooks, both amateur and professional, have returned to their roots, launching a revival of Polish cooking on a national scale.”  We all crave the foods that babcia, nagymama, or oma cooked. These foods satisfy something much deeper than the bottom of our stomachs.

This is one of the reasons why I am always looking for cookbooks that honour the IMG_4624cooking traditions of different cultures. Yesterday, I scored some new finds. Come on in and check out our cookbook collection. Here’s a peak at what you will find:IMG_4631

IMG_4627 From Classic French cooking to German, Scandinavian, Belgian, Dutch, South American, Jewish and more. IMG_4633IMG_4623

Cottage Omelet: Simple meals that satisfy.

IMG_4108 The ingredients for this cottage omelet are usually at hand. Leftover dried bread cubed, milk, eggs, German salami pieces, cheese, butter and dipping olive oil. Make 1-2 eggs & 1-2 TBSP of milk per person. You can vary the type of salami or substitute another type of sausage. Same for the cheese. The proportion of bread to eggs is also flexible.  Some like lots of crunchy bread and others prefer more egg.

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Brush a cast iron frying pan with balsamic vinegar and Italian herb dipping oil.     I use International Collection oils from the UK. Melt      a table spoon of butter. Brown cubes of bread on high heat.  Then reduce heat  to medium low.                                                                                                                                                 Beat your eggs & add a few tablespoons of milk for each egg. IMG_4105IMG_4106             Pour egg mixture over bread cubes. Sprinkle with cubes of cheese and salami. I used a mix of Jarlsberg. Gouda and cheddar. This is a great way to use up odds and ends of cheese.  Cover and let the cheese melt & mixture set. Flip over gently with a spatula and serve.  IMG_4107

Balkan Chili

IMG_4030We tend to associate chili with TexMex but beans are equally at home in other cultures. Essentially chili is a bean stew. Balcan ingredients lend themselves to great chili….hot or mild.

Chili is a great dish for novice cooks.  Ingredients are basic: beans, veggies, seasonings and optional meat.

IMG_4042Beans: I avoid the typical kidney beans because there are other beans that are so much easier to digest.  I use romano beans or Dutch “Bruinebonen” which both have soft skins but fill the spoon like kidney beans.

Veggies:  Tomatoes are a must but onions, green and red peppers, mushrooms, kernel corn, celery, or any combination are all okay. I cut my veggies in big chunks and saute them before adding them to the rest of the ingredients.IMG_4041 My secret ingredient is “Zacusca”. This is a Balcan relish made from baked eggplant, onions peppers and tomatos. I sometimes “cheat” and throw in a small jar of chunky salsa. In our family that means mild salsa but like everything in chili, that’s negotiable!

Seasonings: Most people usually reach for chili powder. Nothing wrong with that but there are many other options, too.  If you want a Balkan chili then Hungarian paprika should be your ‘go to’ choice.  Hungarian paprika comes sweet or hot.  IMG_4039What I love about the sweet is that you can really up the flavour without going too hot. Then you can add some hot paprika for just the right amount of heat.  The most important thing to know here is that not all Hungarian paprikas are equal.  Most grocery store grade lacks in freshness.  Here at the European Pantry we put a few packages on the shelf and the rest is kept in a fridge for optimum flavour. You can tell the difference just by smelling it. You can also boost flavour by using paprika paste: Piros Arany or goulash creme: GulyaskremCsipos mean HOT. Csemege means sweet…not sweet as in sugary. Just not hotIMG_4044

IMG_4043Do some like it hot in your household and others mild? Make your chili on the mild side and then put hot pepper condiment on the table. Eros Pista is a ground hot pepper condiment from Hungary.  Edes Anna is the milder form.

Meat:  Chili can be a great vegetarian meal. Serve it with a wholegrain bread and you will have a full protein.  If someone is going to ask: Where”s The Meat? you have a number of options.  You can saute ground meat with your veggies or you can use stewing meat. This is the ingredient that benefits from slow cooking for tenderness and full flavour absorption. But you can also use leftover meat and then chili can be a quick after work throw together meal. Nevertheless, a few hours at least in a slow cooker melds the flavours.

It’s hard to go wrong with chili but here are a few hints that will guarantee success.

  • If you are using fresh tomatoes be sure to simmer them for a while to evaporate some of the moisture.  I love using fresh garden ingredients but canned tomato chunks are a real timesaver on this step.
  • If your chili is too watery, add some tomato paste…or thicken it with some cornstarch.  Remember though you have to dissolve your cornstarch into fluid  before adding it to the hot ingredients.  Take a bit of the fluid out, let it stand to cool or add just a bit of cold water.  Two tablespoons of cornstarch will thicken a cup of fluid to gravy style consistency. The actual fluid in your chili mightn’t  actually measure to very much so  add any thickener incrementally.
  • If you don’t have a slow cooker make sure you don’t simmer your chili on too high a temperature…you don’t want your chunky ingredients to become mush. If it is cooler weather, slip your dish into a 200 degree oven for several hours to let the flavours mingle and blend.

Add a fresh salad, buns or bread and you can pretend you are eating on the slopes of the Mecsek mountains!

Jewels of Summer

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Berries are the jewels of summer!  I was leaving work the other day and realized…after I had locked the door and didn’t want to go back inside…that my currants in the back yard were ripe. So my hat came off to make a handy bowl conjuring up memories of impromptu berry picking when I was a child.

The tartness of many berries make them an excellent addition to sweeter desserts. Strands of currants will beautifully garnish a cake. On one such creation I also added a few mint leaves which pleasantly surprised  us by giving the frosting hints of mint.  All it needed then was a bit of dark chocolate….

When it’s hot, who wants to bake so this time I used my berries to make a trifle. Custard, some left over pound cake,  whipped cream or frozen whipped topping plus the berries…and you have a quick attractive dessert.  If I haven’t baked pound cake I will use one of Kuchenmeister pound cakes that we sell here at the Pantry. They are available in a number of flavours; each can add something special to your dessert

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When I make custard, I only heat up about half the required milk.  Some is reserved for mixing the custard powder but I leave more on the side to whisk in once the pudding starts to thicken.  I also whisk in some 10% coffee cream for a richer flavour. It preps faster this way and I can control the thickness of the pudding by adding milk until it is just right.

The instructions for Koopman’s Custard mix are very easy to follow. Two cups of milk  will give you about 4 servings.  To that I add 2-3 slices of the pound cake and about a cup or more of whipped cream.  All you need is about a half cup of berries.  Any type will do. If they are sweeter you can increase the amount but it is better not to over do it with particularly tart berries.

Start assembling your dessert before the custard has time to cool and set. After spooning in a bit of custard on the bottom a clear bowl or into 4 tall glasses crumble some pound cake in pieces. (The larger your dessert, the larger the pieces of cake can be. Otherwise an inch square is about right.) Spoon a bit of custard on top of the pieces of cake. Then drop your berries into the custard. Dollop some whipped cream then repeat your layers again starting with another layer of pound cake. Garnish with extra berries on top.  You can serve it immediately or chill it first.

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Almond Plum Tarts (Gluten Free)

IMG_3336These tarts got rave reviews when I served them recently.  After several requests for the recipe I decided to share it here on our site for more of you to enjoy. This recipe will make about 32 small tarts.

You will need:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 cup (brown) rice flour
  • 1 tbsp almond flavouring
  • 1 cup softened butter
  • approx. 2 tbsp  of 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp milk
  • Zentis plum butter
  • greased mini tart tin.  I recommend using butter.

Mix the first 5 ingredients together evenly. Knead in the butter. Add just enough of the egg mixture for dough to hold together without being sticky. Roll the dough into 1 inch balls.

IMG_3324Putting a ball of dough in each tart form, press a depression into the center with your thumb.  Your tarts will not be quite as large as these pictured. Slightly smaller tarts are easier to remove from the tin.

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Spoon about a 1/2 tsp of plum butter into the center of each tart. A good quality apricot jam like Bonne Maman could be substituted for the plum butter.  Bake at 350 degree F for about 15 minutes or until golden brown as pictured.  Cool before removing them from the tin.

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Dutch Meatball Soup

IMG_2783Hankering for some traditional Dutch meatball soup but not sure how to begin?  Pick up one of our Dutch Meatball Soup Kits. They contain all those secret herbs and spices that even the Colonel doesn’t know about.  All you have to add is a pound of hamburger, water and maybe some fresh veggies.

OR here is the recipe:

Dutch Meatball Soup

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 package Silvo Gehakt Kruiden with breadcrumbs(Dutch hamburger spices                         or 2 tsp Verstegen gehakt kruiden + 2 rusk crushed into crumbs
  • 1 Honig Vleeskruidenbuiltje (herb sachet for beef broth)
  • 1 package Honig Groente Soep (Dutch Vegetable soup mix)
  • 2 litres of boiling water
  • 4 large carrots
  • 4 celery stems
  • 1 small leek stem
  • 2 handfuls vermicelli noodles
  • (Dried veggies can substitute for fresh veggies but a mix of both is nice)

Mix ground beef, spices and rusk crumbs together. Hang herb sachet in water. (Tie string to stock pot handle for easy removal.)  Roll ground beef mixture into small 1/2 inch meatballs and drop into simmering water.

Keep water at a simmer but do not allow it reach a rolling boil. If broth is allowed to boil too vigorously fat will emulsify making it difficult to skim off. When all the meatballs have made continue to let broth simmer as you chop the vegetables. Quarter the larger parts before chopping into 1/4 inch thick pieces. Remove broth from heat and allow fat to raise to the surface. Remove herb sachet. Skim off top layer into a large measuring cup or bowl. Refrigerate. Remove fat when it becomes a solid mass and return the extra broth to pan.  Broth will cool faster in a glass or metal container.

Return broth to heat. Add chopped vegetables and bring soup back to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until  vegetables are tender. Dissolve soup mix in refrigerated broth or cold water and add to soup. Vermicelli should be added 7-10 minutes before serving depending on cooking time.

Traditionally served with crusty rolls, Gouda cheese and coldcuts.