Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Super Bon!: Pączki

I've never been so excited about a guest post! Get ready to fall in love with latent (closet?) food writer Kristin Smith and the Case of the Great Pączki!

To all my friends and associates now deep within their period of Lenten sacrifice, let me take you back to a time when the roads were paved with candy and the rivers ran with wine (or so your sugar-withdrawal hallucinations may lead you to remember.) Long, long ago…three weeks ago to be exact, when I began a small but exciting journey to join the global brotherhood of overindulgence called Fat Tuesday.
Though the real holy business is a few weeks away, Fat Tuesday is a high holiday in the world of food. Medieval Christians had to utilize all their eggs, butter and milk on this day, as each was strictly forbidden during Lent. And though modern living has for the large part relaxed the grip of such religious regulatin’, the resulting day-of-dessert has remained unchanged as the centuries went by – not surprisingly. Instruments of pure fun tend to weather the test of time: sweets…sex…dancing…jet skis.
Around the world, bakers unveil time-honored and sugar-coated treats to celebrate Fat Tuesday. It’s a day a confectionary mayhem worldwide, when flour is spun into one-night-only decadence. Pastries gone wild, if you will. Swedes celebrate with semla, a cardamom-spiced wheat bun, scooped out and filled with a mix of bread crumbs, milk and almond paste, topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar. Cue mouth-watering. Finns and Danes make Fastelavnsbolle, a puff pastry filled with whipped cream, and topped with chocolate icing. Brits are a little simpler, but no less fantastic, with a nationwide “Pancake Day” on Fat Tuesday. And let’s not forget King Cake, proof that when Catholicism finds the kitchen, things can sometimes get a little weird.
But it’s our friends from Poland that started me on my own sugary journey this month. My dear boyfriend Chris is a native of Detroit, where Fat Tuesday is often called Pączki Day (pronounced punch-key, which I can’t help but say in the voice of a strange Pokeman soprano.) A pączek is sphere of dough, deep-fried and filled with fruit preserves or custard. Pączki are usually covered with powdered sugar, icing or bits of dried orange zest. And then eaten. Quickly and without regard to table manners.
Pączki Day is very popular in metro Detroit and areas around the Midwest where large Polish communities live. And being from a small town in Georgia, I had never heard of such a pastry until I met Chris and experienced his annual complaint of not being able to find a pączek in Los Angeles.
When this complaint surfaced yet again in 2011, I thought –as my know-it-all self is wont to do – “Surely, you can’t be looking hard enough.” We live in Los Angeles! A melting pot of every culture of the world! How could you NOT find this silly little jelly doughnut? (Pro Tip: Do not call pączek a jelly doughnut to anyone who is familiar with Pączki. You will be chastised.) Also – we have the mighty Internet on our side! These. Pączki. Can’t. Hide.
It just so happened on Fat Tuesday 2011, I was home sick with a cough and an edict from our corporate leadership to not come into work when ill (our office is basically a sanatorium from November through March.) After a few hours of boredom while I “worked from home”, I decided I would prove Chris wrong and find this mythical pastry and surprise him with a taste of home.
Time elapsed: Two hours.
No luck. Warsawa in Santa Monica? Nope. Polka in Eagle Rock? Surely you jest. A variety of Russian bakeries? “We’re Russian, not Polish.” I was growing desperate, when I found six year old Chowhound post stating that I could find what I was looking for in an old folks home in West Adams. What?!
Said scrapirony on Feb 13, 2005 08:18PM:
If you want a great pączki, you can find it not at the Polish Parish on West Adams but at the Polish old folks' home next door. As you're facing the church (3424 W. Adams Blvd.), go into the driveway immediately east of the property (not the church lot). There's a small sign with a single Polish word that starts with an S (forgive me, I was in a donut daze and can't remember much beyond the pączki). Go through the parking lot and in the front door. Trays of big fat pączki, beautifully brown and filled with prune butter (sprinkled with powdered sugar upon request), will be right in front of you. $1 each. A Chowhound posting from Nov. 2002 said they're only available on Sunday between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., but I'm not sure if that's true -- the Polish American lady who told me where to go said they served them "all the time." Just to be safe, though, go on Sunday because you can get a 3-course lunch at the Polish church for $8.
Excuse me, a 6 year old Chowhound posting based on a 9 year old posting.
Adventure time! I put on my shoes, got on the 10 and arrived in West Adams to find exactly what he described --- a small, one story building behind a tall fence with a tiny red sign in Polish.
As soon as I rang the doorbell on the gate, I panicked – what am I DOING?! It’s 2 PM on a Tuesday and I am demanding entry to a retirement center to ask for food. Before I could run away, the gate opened and a woman looked at me quizzically from the parking lot. “Punch-key?” I asked meekly.
“Come back Saturday.”
I was too nervous to ask any questions, so I thanked her and headed home, thrilled that I had found the elusive treat…kind of.
I enlisted Chris and the lovely Nathan to accompany me on my return trip Saturday morning. We arrived timidly at 10 AM and waited for the gate to open again. A man led us down a long hallway, part hospital, part Polish banquet hall.
We were asked how many we wanted (10 at $1.50 each – what a steal!) and we instructed to wait outside the kitchen. As the kitchen doors swooshed back and forth, we caught sight of older ladies preparing the day’s treat, with hair tied up in kerchiefs, backed by trays and trays of dough. We waited patiently (and me nosily, as I explored the dining hall’s dried flower centerpieces and Pope John Paul II wall hangings) until out came a box of 10 freshly glazed paczki.
We said goodbye to our brief encounter with Polska, got out to the parking lot and immediately dove in. I missed out on the filling during my first bite – it tasted of the warm yeast rolls my grandmother used to make. Except covered in a layer of sweet frosting. Ding! The next bite introduced the filling – very old world, very old folks home: prune! And while I would usually turn my nose up at prune preserves, it was tangy and rich – a perfect complement to the mellow doughnut and the sticky sweet frosting.
Five quick bites later, I finally knew what Chris was talking about when he fondly spoke of Pączki Day. And a few hours later, I was delivering pączki to a friend from Toledo, who was giddy to re-live a childhood tradition. And now a few weeks later, I am craving another pączek, but I’ll have to wait until next year – maybe by then, we’ll have figured out a way to import pastries from Detroit, and I can leave those nice old folks alone!

When not exposing the greatest abominations of our age ("German Chocolate Cake has nothing to do with Germany. AT ALL!"), Kristin can be found musing over dessert pizzas passed, stalking J Gold on Twitter, keeping a Journal of Pants, and generally making the world a funnier place.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Foodbuzz 24x24: YOU INSPIRE ME

This isn't a Chocolate of Meats post.

No, get ready for something completely different.

Yesterday, myself and four other LA food blogs turned Foodbuzz 24x24 into a game of culinary roulette and, we hope, raised the bar in the process. This is our Twitter-spawned adventure. And it started with a phrase.


Moved by the prospect of an homage to what really is the core of the food blogging community - how we continually inspire one another daily - Greg (Sippity Sup), Andy (the Wind Attack) and I drew up a plan.

The challenge:
5 Food Bloggers. 5 courses, inspired by - each other.
To help us find our spark we called on one of our favorite Northwest bloggers, Ms. Salty Seattle herself. Or should I say, Madame Saltzmerelda...

The players:
Greg of Sippity Sup
And our Twitter-delivered mystery guests (and lovely new friends):
Melba and Kim of Out A Thyme

And to make things even more exciting, we employed the genius of Jill Bernheimer of our favorite wine store DomaineLA to dream up course pairings, with the help of fabulous wine blogger Whitney Adams (of Brunellos Have More Fun). Furthermore, we were ecstatically fortunate to have Whitney attend the meal and give insight to the pairings as each was poured.
Day of event. Table is set and the kitchen is abuzz.
Our hungry plus ones. Looks they need a cocktail.
Amuse Bouche & Cocktail: 
The Chocolate of Meats inspired by Joy the Baker
Cucumber Sorbet with Herbsaint Sabayon and Vanilla Salt
Joie de Vivre cocktail
So I was fated to start the show. No pressure.
But let's be honest, Joy the Baker couldn't be a more exciting muse.
For the cocktail, I was directly inspired by a spirit I learned about reading Joy's blog: Ransom Old Tom Gin. The caramel-colored gin has been aged in oak barrels imbuing it with a rich bourbon-like mouthfeel, while retaining bright ginny botanicals. Basically it's perfect.
If you've ever taken a gander at Joy's blog, you know it's pretty perfect too. To invoke Joy's effervescent personality, I decided to mix the gin with prosecco, kissed by sweet rhubard and orange bitters.
And in light of Joy's infectious bon vivant nature, I fittingly call this the Joie de Vivre cocktail.

Joie de Vivre cocktail

1 oz Ransom Old Tom Gin
1/2 oz Dolin Vermouth de Chambery Rouge
dash Fee's rhubard bitters
dash Fee's orange bitters

Shake gin, vermouth and bitters with ice and strain into a cocktail glass or flute. Top with Prosecco and garnish with a lemon twist and [slapped!] leaf of lemon balm.
Whitney on the Prosecco choice, Sommariva Prosecco Superiore di Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Brut, Veneto, Italy:
My favorite prosecco to use for cocktails! The Sommariva has a fun, approachable fruitiness with a very dry, clean finish. And it's affordable.
Life is a LOT about dessert for Joy the Baker.
Perusing the recipes, you'll find every sweet, baked good, and indulgence under the sun. But clearly I can't bake for an amuse bouche, I wanted something light, crisp, refreshing.
I took a lead from Joy's cantaloupe sherbet - Summery and exotic, but familiar, and a little boozy. To keep the course dry I opted for garden-bright Persian cucumbers as a sorbet, challenged by a sassy Herbsaint sabayon and dash of vanilla salt. Dessert in disguise. And palate-cleansing to boot.

Get the recipe here

1st course: 
Joy the Baker inspired by Andy of the Wind Attack
Shaved Brussels Sprout and Poppy Seed Pineapple Salad
Joy on her inspiration:

The essence of Andy's Wind Attack is seasonal surprise... well, that... and bright lime green.
The green of the brussles sprouts, avocado, and herbs represents the lime green walls of Andys website. Sometimes I like to get literal.
This salad is a surprising combination of greens, spring, and tropics. Andy doesn't shy away from odd pairings: Avocado and Stout Cake, Raspberry and Persimmon Sorbet, and Emu Egg Frittata. All of his surprise ingredients and combinations have a distinct seasonal feel to them. The surprise seasonal element in this salad is the first-of-the-season pineapple. The fruit is tossed into the salad and it's both its flesh and juice is used to make a vinaigrette. Combined with both poppy seeds and macadamia nuts, I tried to make this dish a surprising celebration of early spring.

Get the recipe here at Joythebaker.com

Whitney on the pairing, 2005 Jacques Puffeney Savagnin Arbois, Jura, France:
We wanted to do something a little outside the box for the first course and chose an oxidative savagnin from "The Pope of Arbois" Jacques Puffeney. The nuttiness, acidity and texture of the wine really played well with the macadamia nuts and pineapple.
2nd course: 
Out A Thyme inspired by the Chocolate of Meats
Stone Crab Salad with Watercress, Red Onion, Avocado, Hearts of Palm
Out A Thyme on their inspiration:

Fresh and healthy – but with a sharp bite and more than a passing curiosity about what’s going on below the surface. Whether you’re about to meet Nathan Hazard (aka ChocoMeat), or this seductress of a salad, there’s a fine line between pleasure and pain. Arizona-native Chiltepin pepper stays true to its desert character, even in the midst of hearts of palm and watercress… and yes, that’s crab, the chocolate of the sea. All it takes is a fork to appease that curiosity. Now – or you’ll be Out A Thyme.

Get the recipe here at Outathyme.com

Whitney on the pairing, 2009 Domaine de la Pepiere Marc Ollivier Muscadet de Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie, France:
After the savagnin, we knew we would need to give everyone's palate a little respite and this muscadet from Marc Ollivier was the perfect thing to do that. It's minerality and freshness was great with the creamy crab and lemon of the dish. And even worked with the subtle spiciness of the chiltepin!
Main Course: 
the Wind Attack inspired by Greg of Sippity Sup
Chuck roast braised in Stone Brewery Smoked Porter with red onion, mushrooms, fresh thyme and garlic. Roasted turnips, parsnips, carrots and mushrooms in a reduction of the braising liquid, fortified with syrah, avocado honey and tomato vinegar. Potato and cauliflower blue cheese mash. Sauteed pea tendrils with garlic, capers, red onion, lemon and grüner.
Andy on his inspiration:

Greg's blog is full of savory treats, but my real inspiration for the entree of this meal came from one of Greg's own blog inspirations: his Mother.

Greg writes about what an amazing cook his own mother was and how that was such an influence in developing his interest in food. Since her passing, Greg's brother took the time to collect some of her recipes, and Greg was kind enough to share some of them on his blog.

My own Mother wasn't a great cook, but I felt inspired to honor my deceased mother in a similar way to Greg... by cooking a dish inspired from her. The one food that she made that I enjoyed most was pot roast, which consisted of three ingredients: powdered onion mushroom soup mix, water and beef.

Naturally, I wanted to make something a little more gourmet and robust, so I braised the beef in porter with lots of real onion and mushrooms. Clearly not my Mama's pot roast, but I think she would have enjoyed it just as much as we all did.

Get the recipe here at Windattack.com

Whitney on the entree pairing, 2009 Donkey and Goat The Prospector Mourvedre El Dorado, California:
Porter braised beef and blue cheese mash! We would need a red that would have enough body and fruit to not get lost. One of my favorite wines that's just arrived to the store, Donkey & Goat's "The Prospector" mourvedre, was seriously gulpable and perfect with this course.
Dessert: Sippity Sup inspired by Out A Thyme
Baby Coconut Lemon Bundt Cakes Swimming in Lemon Cream, topped with a Chocolate Toasted Coconut Surprise
Greg on his inspiration:

What do you do when you are working with some of your closest blogging friends on a FoodBuzz 24 24 24 project about inspiration and one of the most inspiring bloggers in the group has to drop out at the last minute?
You could throw down your spatula and go all diva. Which had a certain appeal I must admit. But wait I thought, the whole point of this exercise is to find new inspiration from the wonderful blogs around us. So I went to Twitter and invited the first blogger fearless enough to respond to join us in our game.
Which was inspiring all in itself, because almost instantly Out A Thyme responded. A few mad volleys forth and these brave bloggers decided to throw themselves into the project, having never met any of the rest of us before!
But I have to admit I was not familiar with this blog. In fact a little research told me that these were new bloggers. Brand new bloggers. So new that when I went to their site– I saw they had but 4 posts. Four!
The spunk alone of these two women was enough to inspire me. Because let’s face it. When I was a newbie blogger I never would have raised my hand in the presence of blogging royalty like Joy The Baker and offered up my scant scribbles.
Right away I decided to find inspiration from the amazing character these women obviously possessed. I needed to find out what makes them tick. So I went to their “About” page to snoop around in their personal lives.
Well not only is their blog a newborn, but these bloggers are moms too. So to honor the spirit of Out A Thyme I became the proud papa to these Bouncing Baby Bundt Cakes with Lemon & Coconut. Hey, I realize it’s not the same thing as having an actual child, but it’s the closest I’ll ever come! Besides aren’t they the cutest thing you ever saw?

Get the recipe here at sippitysup.com

Whitney on the magical dessert pairing, Vergano “Luli” Moscato Chinato, Piemonte, Italy:
We took a gamble with the final dessert course. Instead of choosing a predictable moscato d'asti or late harvest dessert wine, we went with a chinato from Mauro Vergano called Luli. It is made from moscato grapes and fortified with spirit that has been infused with typical chinato herbs and spices- cinnamon, orange peel, clove and quina bark among other things. It has added sugar but also that classic undercurrent of bitterness and a cloudy, curvy texture. This was the standout pairing of the evening for me. The risk paid off!
And what comes after dessert? More prosecco cocktails!
With a toast to our success and our incredibly generous hosts Greg and Ken we drank up all the joie de vivre we could muster!

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Video created by the The Wind Attack and Sippity Sup, starring Salty Seattle. Edited by The Wind Attack. Featuring music by Oh Darling.