It’s Not Salsa (Too Big)        It’s Not Salad (Too Small)

It’s Salsalata! (Just Right)

Our dear Myra Fillion served something she called “chopped salad.” It was essentially a very regular salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and sweet onion, dressed with oil and vinegar.

The distinction is in the way it is prepared. Everything was cut to a size that lets you eat it with a spoon. Perfect for dining while watching TV. [Yes, we wrote that, while watching TV. Don't get all up in our stuff, like you never do that yourself (or did, or will do). Cooky Cat's 6th sense says you do. He knows. By his 7th sense, he knows you will.]

We’ve been making this salad as a summertime dish when farm ripe tomatoes, sweet Vidalia onions, and local cucumbers are in season. Or, in the garden. A simple salad of tomatoes, cucumber, and sweet onion dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar is great. From childhood days we remember mom adding some sugar to the dressing. That touch of sweetness adds a wonderful extra dimension. Try honey instead. Or, some fruit flavored syrup (Grenadine works).

If you want to add a lettuce(s), go ahead. Just to also chop small.

And, of course, there is no limit to options. Herbs like fresh basil, parsley, dill, cilantro, chives; any one, or in a combination that suits your fancy. 

Bitter leaves like arugula and/or radicchio fit right in. Also, blanched bites of cauliflower and/or broccoli. Some cooked beets, always good (just toss them in last to keep the red in its place). And, here's one to try, fresh navel orange segments. And then there's cheeses, and meats, and seafoods. Bean sprouts, cooked beans and cooked pulses. And, lest we forget ... Avocado.

And, yet, the triumvirate of tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet onions is King.

Enjoy some Salsalata . . .

Lent Will be Here Soon
... Got Pączki?

Our beloved David D. Wronski (aka "The Polish Prince") definitively writes . . .

We all know about Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras and eating Donuts and Pancakes; they represent all the good things you have to [should] give up for Lent.

In the Polish Catholic tradition there's another day. Tłusty Czwartek ... Fat Thursday. That is the day, the Thursday before the beginning of Lent, when Poles polish off mass quantities the Donut of Donuts: Pączki.

As you already know from the previous writing on the subject, Pączki ("poonch-kee") are Polish style jelly Donuts available the year around from any self respecting Polish bakery. Be advised, though, Pączki are to jelly Donuts what Ferraris are to Ford Pintos. Or, pink Champagne is to Cold Duck. We do not exaggerate!

FYI, there are two styles. The version with the jelly in the dough wrapping before deep frying (rare); and, the kind with the jelly added in after the dough is deep fried (usual). Being a decent Polish lad at heart (of Polish descent) my life has being in part a search for the perfect jelly donut. The Polonia Bakery in Passaic, New Jersey arguably has the very finest this boy has ever had. They make the first type (jelly fried-in) and are the nicest folks. Here is a link to an excellent review in Edible New Jersey magazine.

Below are my on site photos (date: February 4, 2016) from Piast in Garfield, New Jersey where we also shop. They had Marmalade, Rose jelly, and Bavarian Cream. Rather too little filling for my taste. And, it was quite a go around getting a bead on what exactly was "Marmalade". They sell jars of a Marmalade, so I figure they just took the name from there.  Turns out it's mixed fruit jam.

Afterward we went to Polonia and got some more, filled with prune butter/lekvar (in Polish it's "Povidla", pronounced "Povidwa"). As I said, Polonia is the definitive version. Jelly fried-in, orange zest flecked thin glaze icing. Light, flavorful, delectable.

And, let's just touch on the subject of the amount of jelly. This pertains to the style with the jelly squirted/slipped in after it's a donut. You want those babies to be a little heavy with the filling. Jelly in every bite is the action standard. When I worked in my Polish Uncle's bakery on Friday's preparing for the big Saturday sales day, my last job after having worked 12 or so hours overnight was to fill the Pączki. That was probably what got me through the night, the anticipation of being left alone to fill those little treats at my very own sole discretion. And, fill them I did. Heavy hand on the jelly dispensing machine. Like the one shown below.

Also, freshness is key. Best to get your Pączki (that's plural, singular is Pączek) as close as possible to having been made.  (Not you — having been made — but, the  Pączki, silly ) Not to belabor the "having been made" double entendre, but close to having been made with jelly Donuts is the same as the other meaning: make that, in the morning. There seems to be a 4 hour or so window of opportunity. After that they start to become contenders for a game of hockey.

Getting back . . . But there is a single day, little known, the zenith day for Pączki. It comes just before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, officially celebrated on Fat Thursday, the Thursday before Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). On Pączki Day, to meet demand, the number of Pączki made for sale jumps 10X . I suggest you call ahead and place an order. Recommended varieties: apricot and raspberry jam, rose (the flower) jam, and Bavarian cream. But, do not leave without mass quantities filled with Powidła (prune butter)---the ne plus ultra (pronounced "po-veed-wa".) [A diagonal mark across the letter L, written as "ł" in the Polish language, is pronounced "wa". And, just so you are thoroughly aware of the upside down nature of the Polish mind — one of which I happen to have . . . so I can comment . . . — the letter W is pronounced as an English "V". Go figure.]

If you want to get in on the festivities, do check with your local Polish baker to find out on what day they will be honoring that fabulous fabled fried fritter; probably Fat Thursday [It took me several years to get it straight about which day was Pączki Day. I would typically saunter in on Fat Tuesday and receive a wilting look from the lovely sales girl at the bakery. In fact, I dearly remember Pączki Day from my youth; but it wasn't until my wizzoned adult years that I finally figured out on what day it fell and its significance. Thank you, Google. Thank you, Internet. Thank you jelly. Thank you, Alanis Morissette---Thank U.]

For a truly beatific experience, while you are buying your Pączki, also ask for chruściki ("krus-chee-kee"), another traditional favorite at this time of year. Chruściki---when they are made right---are as light and tender as angels' wings. In fact, translated, chruściki means "angel wings."  As my mother would say, "Be an angel, pass the chruściki." But watch out for all that powdered sugar; it's a real game changer if you are wearing your favorite black slacks or that little black dress. They can be little devils plenty if you don't partake with precision and perspicacity. [I honor the letter "P", for Pączki; get it? Really, get some.]

Additionally... I have also suggested that Voodoo Doughnuts be ready for the action. When in Portland, look them up. Find out for yourself what they are talking about when they say "the magic is in the hole."

Written by Paula Wolfert in Moroccan Cooking Facebook Group  https://www.facebook.com/groups/moroccanCooking/
Moroccan Preserved Lemons

To Make Preserved Lemons:

The following recipe can be doubled, tripled, etc. Once made, be sure to store your preserved lemons in a glass jar with a tight fitting cover.

According to the late, distinguished food writer Michael Field, the best way to extract the maximum amount of juice from a lemon is to cook it in a microwave or in boiling water for a short time, then allow it to cool before squeezing.

Some cooks suggest using commercial lemon juice to top off their preserved lemons. I only use freshly squeezed lemon juice.

-5 organic lemons, washed, scrubbed and dried
-About ½ cup kosher salt
-1/2 cup freshly squeezed (not bottled) lemon juice,

1. Soften the lemons by rolling them back and forth on a wooden workspace. Quarter the lemons from their tops to within one quarter inch of their bottoms, sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit. Begin packing them in a glass jar, pushing them down, and adding more salt between layers. Top off with the lemon juice, but leave some air space before sealing the jar.

2. Allow the lemons to ripen in a warm place for 30 days, turning the jar upside down every few days to distribute the salt and juice. If necessary, you can open the jar and add more lemon juice to keep them covered.

Notes to the Cook

To use: pluck out a lemon with a wooden fork or spoon and rinse it under running water. Remove and discard the pulp unless called for in the recipe.

I generally use only the rinds, but in a few recipes, I add the pulp to the marinade.
If properly made, there is no need to refrigerate after open¬ing. Preserved lemons will keep up to a year, and some of the pickling juice can be added to new batches.

The most important thing to remember about preserving lemons is that they must be completely covered with salted lemon juice.

How To Write a Recipe

If you cook you use cook books. And, if you’ve used a lot of cook books, no doubt you are more than aware there are many different ways to organize the presentation of recipes. Not to mention the wide variety of approaches to any given recipe. It seems that every cookbook author has to come up with their own unique style. Some better than others.

Cooky Cat is rather minimalist in his approach. Like some people, who shall remain nameless. (Shout out to the Queen of the Peasant Pot.) His acclaimed work is for the cognoscenti, not the hoi polloi. It's his choice. We've attempted to persuade him to become more universal, but he lives in his own "pussyfied" realm. He's rather, ahem, taken with his own writing approach, so he tends to the "readerly" style.

The main peeve we have with a lot of cook books out there is in the way they are formatted. Many are beautiful vanity pieces, making for better reading in a chaise lounge than for instructions to follow in the kitchen. In the kitchen, as in during the actual preparation, when the fat is on the fire, so to speak.

For actual use, in the kitchen, many cookbooks are just plain difficult to follow. Have you ever had your hands full and messy and then be forced to take extra time to scrutinize a recipe to find your place for the next step because it was written like a novel? In paragraphs, that is. Long sentences. If so, then you know what we’re talking about.

This is a no fail, user friendly template for delivering a recipe that is easy to follow in the kitchen. The beauty of this suggested approach is that it gives the cook, all at once, 1) an easy take on the ingredients with amounts for each and 2) step by step instructions right along with the ingredients list. All together!

Use separations, indents, bolds, italics (especially for Itralian), underscores, bullets, hyphens, capitalization. The formatting helps the eye locate its place.

Just always keep in mind you are attempting to be helpful. Make your instructions interesting, but always as easy to follow as possible.

A good recipe will have: 

1) a story or personal anecdote which may or may not have anything at all to do with the recipe itself. You are in a conversation with your reader after all. Dance a bit. For example, "One day I was thinking about Sir Isaac Newton, and then I had this idea drop into my head with hankering for a warm piece of apple pie."

2) A description / history / background at the head sets the mood and sells the recipe. Include that whenever you can. "Grandma would always . . . " (That's a whole sub-genre about what Grandma would or wouldn't do, and we won't get into the myriad permutations.)

3) As much ancillary information as seems appropriate and/or necessary (i.e., how to serve / how to eat, accompaniments / condiments / garnishes, other menu items to coordinate with, wine / beverage pairings). E.G.: "Best to drink lots of booze before serving this particular dish. It isn't the best looking thing that ever was put on a table."

4) Your recipe should be tested. By you. Some cooks following your instructions will be literal. So be sure to get it right to your own satisfaction first. Stand by your recipe. One of our favorite sources, Saveur Magazine, is famous with us for getting amounts wrong in some of its recipes. 

Some general rules/checklist to follow:

— (Optional) Start each entry with a story or personal anecdote.

— (Optional) Include the description / background / history.

—Include, as appropriate, photos of finished dish and the (Optional) intermediate preparation steps.

— (Optional) Include video if available for online recipe entries.

— List serving portion numbers / sizes and yield.

— Indicate preparation time

— Advice on sourcing hard to find/rare/unusual ingredients.

— All the ingredients are listed in bold with bullets / hyphens for visual separation (or some other separating mark).

— List the ingredients in bold in order of handling.

— We like to capitalize food / ingredient names. (Optional)

— Suggest alternative and additional / optional ingredients.

— The amounts are indicated alongside each ingredient, non-bold.

— The preparation for cooking (e.g., wash, peel, dice/slice/mince) of the item is listed with the item or just below, depending on length of instruction. The preparation of the ingredients is a step in itself; prep is a set of steps prior to assembly, and the (good) cook will want to have that chore(s) completed before going to assembly.

When an ingredient does double duty in a recipe and has different prep styles (e.g., onion half-slices, onion small dice) these will be listed separately and in what amounts; such as, a) 2 Cups-half slice and b) 1/2 Cup-minced. And, so forth.

Cooking / Assembly is a separate section placed below ingredients in italics and indented.

— Serving / Eating suggestions (especially helpful with unfamiliar dishes; e.g., Escargot, Borlengo, Ortolan Bunting [search “How to eat Ortolan Bunting”])

— (Optional) Accompaniments / Garnishes. 

— (Optional) Menu suggestions

— (Optional) Wine and beverage pairings

The recipe below is for French Onion Soup. (In typical Cooky Cat fashion, how to make beef broth / stock is not explicated. The Internet provides.) 

The headers are to show you the structure, not included in an actual recipe.

1. Recipe Title

Traditional Classic French Onion Soup

2. Description/Background/History

The French are a nation of traditional cooks and once they have a good recipe, they see no need to update or change it simply for the sake of change. 

Classic French onion soup is a great example of how a relatively basic yet perfectly balanced traditional dish has stood the test of time and is just as popular today as it ever was.

There are lots of easy recipes for French onion soup and you can alter the soup ingredients or topping ingredients but the photo shows how a classic traditional French onion soup recipe should look. Perhaps you have enjoyed this delicacy before in a restaurant but it is easy to make your own French onion soup at home too.

The trick to making the best French onion soup is to begin with a good broth. Beef broth, also known as beef stock, is usually used in easy recipes for French onion soup and you can make beef broth from leftover bones when you have a roast. 

It is also important to caramelize the onions properly when making the best onion soup recipe. You have to allow them at least half an hour of slow cooking over a medium heat to bring out the natural sugars. This makes the onions extra sweet and juicy. A pinch of sugar to move things along is optional.

This easy French onion soup recipe is best served in French onion soup bowls. These bowls are deep and keep every drop of the soup warm until you have finished. This rich brown colored French onion soup recipe is topped with a layer of bread and creamy Gruyere cheese for an authentic finish. 

The following easy French onion soup uses the traditional steps and techniques for the very best results.

3. Servings

(Serves 8 - 12 ounce servings)

4. Preparation Time

Preparation Time: 1 hour (Beef broth / stock not included)

5. Ingredients Amounts/Preparation/Assembly

 6 large Sweet Onions thinly sliced (approximately 6-8 cups)

 3 T Olive Oil

      — Sauté the onions in the olive oil in a big, heavy bottomed pan, over a medium heat. Cook them for at least half an hour, until they are well browned, but not burnt.

  ¼ tsp. Sugar (optional)
     — Add the sugar about 10 minutes after you start the process to help with the caramelizing.

  2 cloves minced Garlic (optional)
     — Add the garlic and cook for a minute.

  8 cups of rich Beef Stock (Prepared previously)

  ½ cup Dry Vermouth, Dry White Wine or Dry Sherry

  1 tsp. Fresh Thyme (1/4 tsp. dried thyme optional)

  1 Bay Leaf

     — Add the beef stock, wine, thyme and bay leaf.
     — Cover the pan partially and let the soup simmer for half an hour, to allow the flavors to blend.

  Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
    Season with salt and pepper and discard the bay leaf.

  8 slices French Bread, toasted

  1 ½ cups grated Gruyere Cheese

     — Ladle the soup into ovenproof soup bowls and top each one with a piece of toasted French Bread.

     — Sprinkle the Gruyere Cheese on top of the bread and broil for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F or until the cheese is bubbling and melted.

    — Serve immediately.

6. Serving/Accompaniments

— Serve along with crusty baguette and a leafy green salad. Pair with white wine. dry-to-sweet scale to preference.

"Lucky Strike Extra": How to Eat Ortolan Bunting