Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review of Sunkafleky - Czech Noodle Casserole

A few weeks ago, my wife pinned from Czechinthekitchen website, this “Fleky”or Czech ham and egg noodle casserole recipe and gave it a try. I do recall eating this dish as a young child that was prepared by my mother or grandmother. Whom actually prepared the dish, I do not recall.  It is only until now I have been re-introduced to this Czech comfort food dish.  I refer to Fleky as eastern European comfort food because low cost hearty meals typically involve eggs, noodles, or mushrooms or a combination of all those. The beauty of this recipe is that it is so cheap to make and often only requires use of minimal ingredients that most may already have on hand (egg noodles, milk, eggs, and ham or bacon).

This is also a great dish to make in a pinch because the prep time for this authentic Czech dish is minimal compared to other meals such as Svickova, Koprova, Chicken Paprika, etc. Unlike many casseroles, the appearance of the completely baked Fleky is attractive as the egg noodles brown nicely with generous amounts of diced ham sprinkled throughout. I also enjoyed the texture and flavor added by the baked custard type of consistency created by the eggs and milk. It was also nice to finally prepare a casserole that did not involve dealing with a highly sensitive flour based roux or cheese that is always susceptible to separating during cooking. 

 I like this fleky recipe as it is a great budget stretcher and makes for a satisfied feeling when leaving the supper table. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Smažené žampióny: Czech Fried Mushrooms

A great savory Czech appetizer or even main course are mushrooms. A commonly served mushroom dish is Smazene zampiony or fried mushrooms. These tasty little  nuggets pair nicely with a cold pilsner or even a glass of wine. As much as I enjoy tasting deep fried foods, I am not a big fan of the deep frying process in the kitchen given the potential mess involved. Also, if I am going to break out the deep fryer or iron skillet for frying, I will usually have several deep fried items in mind to make the effort worth the clean up. For example, if I deep fry mushrooms, I will also consider coating and frying up some zucchini, cauliflower, and even cheese. (Please check out my other post on Czech fried cheese). When deep frying appetizers or even chicken, I prefer to cook with my fry daddy kept in the garage. I will set up a portable table and fry away in my garage which keeps the odor of the oil out of the home. Fried mushrooms are a hit in my home and these go nicely with a sauce accompaniment such as tartar or ranch dressing. This recipe is a slightly different recipe than other Czech recipes found in different cook books. Two notable differences with my technique is that I prefer to keep the mushroom stems attached and I also prefer to substitute pilsner in my batter instead of water. These are a great snack that require very little effort in preparation, but more work involved in the clean up stage. If whole white  button mushrooms are not available, feel free to experiment with similar mushrooms such as cremini.

Czech Fried Mushrooms (2-3 appetizer servings)

8 ounces - Fresh whole button mushrooms
2 cups breadcrumbs
1 cup pilsner beer (or water)
1 cup flour
1 egg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon thyme
Peanut or Canola Oil

1.    Clean  (wipe) mushrooms.
2.    Whisk beer and egg together in bowl; work in flour until batter smooth
3.    In a second bowl, combine breadcrumbs and salt/pepper/thyme seasoning.
4.    In a skillet or heavy pan, add at least half inch of cooking oil (peanut or canola) and heat to 375 degrees.
5.    Place mushrooms in egg mixture, then roll in bread crumbs.
6.    Place coated mushroom in fryer. Fry until golden brown on both sides.
7.    Remove and place on paper towel lined plate to cool slightly.

8.    Serve with dipping sauce of choice.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How to Make Dried Apple Slices – Křížaly

Krizaly before baking
Doing some research across various message boards and recipes sites (of which some were translated from Czech); I found numerous methods to prepare dried apples. This dried fruit is a popular snack in the Czech Republic. There are many benefits to dried apples. They are healthy, lightweight, provide energy boost, and are an excellent way to preserve apples that might be on their way out or getting soft. I like to add dried apples to hot cereals or incorporate into dumplings. Homemade dried apples are also a heck of a lot cheaper than buying them packaged in the dried state. I enjoyed digging away on this topic as some websites showed the apples being dried next to a furnace or tented alongside a radiator for a couple of days! If I had radiators throughout my home, I think I would give this method a try. My furnace is enclosed in a very dusty room with too many spiders to count, so I decided to pass on that approach and dried the apples using the electric oven. The oven is a quick way to dry foods when a kitchen dryer is unavailable.
First thing I do is get three medium size apples. There is no perfect apple for Krizaly. Go with your apple of choice. Since it is being dried I would go with a less expensive type of apple such as a granny smith, golden delicious, or gala. These are perfect for drying. Drying top shelf apples such as Honey crisps or pink lady is just wrong as these sweet tender juicy apples will fare no better than any other apple in the dried state.
It is also a matter of personal preference if you want peels to remain or get removed. I decided to remove peel. I then cored the apple, as I do not want any seeds in my apple rings.
Take the entire apple and make rings approximately 1/8 inch thick and place in water solution that includes lemon juice (acid will prevent browning). Once all apples have been cut and submerged in water they are ready for drying stage.
Remove apples and place on towel. Pat dry apples to remove excess water. Place the fruit on parchment lined pan trying to squeeze as many rings as close together as possible. For extra flavor consider sprinkling cinnamon or nutmeg over apple rings. I my batch I used cinnamon. Heat in oven for 4 hours at 225 degrees Fahrenheit (107 Celsius); turning apples midway through drying. This baking process will make kitchen and home smell wonderful.

After four hours are up, turn off oven and leave apples inside to continue drying for additional hour. Remove from oven and place rings in container.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Trying to Remove Jalapeno Heat from Hands

Cooler weather and football games kicking into full gear made the weekend dinner menu an easy one. Our Sunday evening meal consisted of a large pot of homemade chili. The responsibility of preparing chili in our home is alternated between my wife and me.  As most of my Sunday was consumed with yard work, chili production fell into her hands for the day. While we both stick to similar recipes, my wife goes down a milder path that produces a tasty batch yet without the influence of chili or jalapeno peppers.

In preparing our meal, I added my own last minute heat by chopping up some jalapeno peppers picked straight out of my garden. I diced these peppers fine and put them in a side dish that served my own personal chili topping. To say these peppers were hot would be an understatement.  The level of heat or scoville units of a jalapeno can be misleading. I have tried some jalapenos that were mild as a cubanelle or poblano on one extreme, and then had some be as fiery as a cayenne or Serrano. Interestingly enough, the peppers I cut were green and red, of which the red peppers had seemed to lose their heat unlike their green counterparts.

My first mistake in performing this task was that I did not wear gloves. I know better and should realize latex or any thin protective gloves are a kitchen essential when cutting spicy peppers.  Some people will even get skin burns from spicy peppers. The capsaicin or heat producing compound in peppers when unabated will quickly absorb into skin tissue. As I threw caution to the wind during prep, I had reassured myself that extreme hand washing would rid me of having any of this capsaicin on my fingers which could be cumbersome when it came time to remove contact lenses at the end of the day. Here was my regimen that I followed to try and remove the jalapeno capsaicin heat from my hands:

1.       I hand washed the dinner dishes which included about twenty minutes of intermittent soaking and wiping of dishes in very warm soapy water.

2.       I washed hands a few more times after clean up.

3.       Following leads from my wife’s internet search, I went through a regimen of rubbing a generous amount of vegetable oil on my hands. The intent was for the oil to absorb some of the capsaicin (the same principal as milk fat that can absorb the hotness of peppers).

4.       After wiping off the oil, I splashed some isopropyl alcohol on my hands and rubbed thoroughly.

5.       Washed the alcohol off with hot water and dish soap.

6.       Splashed a small amount of milk on my hands, rubbed thoroughly and rinsed with soapy water once again.

After going through steps #1 through #6, I proceeded to remove contacts at around 10:30 p.m. unfortunately, the result was as I expected. My eyes endured a few seconds of painful stinging but probably a lot less had I not taken the above measures. While there are some good tricks out there, none of them removed succeeded in removing the capsaicin entirely from my hands.  The only way to get the compound out of skin is through the elapse of time. I was easily able to touch eyes, nose, and mouth the next day without the slightest ping of heat. I also had to break out a new pair of disposable lenses as the last ones were discarded since they were contaminated.

Lesson learned. The only way to prevent this from happening again is to use gloves when handling!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Blanching Green Peppers for Freezing

It is unfortunate that most of my garden produce is coming to a halt as the growing season is ending. The tomatoes, corn, cucumbers and zucchini have run their course with only the broccoli and peppers remaining.  On that note, there were four robust size peppers that were recently picked along with a few jalapenos. As we did not plan on using these peppers anytime soon, I decided it would be best prepare them for freezer storage for later use.  In prior years, we keep a bag of frozen peppers available for soups, stews, pizzas, and chili. Even if they aren’t home grown, it is good to stock up on them when they go on sale at the store during peak season.

Since these peppers are going into cooked dishes, they require a blanching process which is very simple. Blanching is an extreme hot water/cold water shock to the food that allows for flavor and appearance to remain preserved when the item is store in frozen state. I have done blanching with not only peppers, but also broccoli and green beans.

Blanching Green Peppers

First I get warm a pot of water to a boiling point. Then I cut the peppers in half and remove stem and seeds.  The peppers are cut again in long strips.

Once the water is boiling, the peppers are placed into hot bath for two minutes. When time is up, place the peppers in a bowl of ice water and let them cool for a few minutes.

Remove the peppers from ice water and place on paper towel and pat dry.

Place the peppers in freezer safe storage bag, write date on bag, and then freeze for later use. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Finding Kitchen Items at Goodwill Stores

One of my latest favorite places to go thrift shopping is Goodwill stores.  These stores are located in 32 states and have a brilliant donation/re-sale concept.  For those that are not familiar with Goodwill, there process is as follows. Goodwill locations accept most donated items that can be quickly dropped off in drive through lane. Attendants from Goodwill will quickly pop out of the door and gladly accept your items and quickly return with tax receipt. These same goods will quickly get tagged with a re-sale price and emerge on shelves inside the store soon thereafter. After spending a few years dropping off items, my wife and I decided to it was time to browse the store on a Sunday afternoon to see what was offered. Some items in the store are junk, there can be a few “diamonds in the rough”.  There were plenty of items that were a great deal; especially for the kitchen.

Goodwill is a gold mine when shopping for kitchen dishes, tools, and small appliances such as blenders, ice cream makers, bread makers, can openers, coffee grinders and so much more. One of our best cheap finds was an old pot for popping corn. Making popcorn the old fashion way involves a healthy amount of oil. Regardless of how hot the pan gets and how many times the pot is washed, the bottom always maintains an oily residue. That is why we picked out this pot that is specifically designated for strictly popping corn. The sales price at checkout for this pot was a measly $2.00.

We have found plenty of other great deals at Goodwill, but the little popcorn pot stands out to me as it is used just about once a week and we no longer eat microwave popcorn.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Three Easy Steps to Preparing St. Louis Spare Ribs

Yesterday I decided to get my barbecue fix on. It has been a long time since I prepared a batch of spare ribs and Saturday was definitely the day.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to prepare a decent rack of ribs off the grill. Just know the proper steps of trimming the silver skin and excess fat, preparing the ribs for pre-baking, then finally, grilling.

Step number one was to remove the silver skin from the back of the rack. The silver skin is that thin opaque or sometimes white but firm elastic film that covers pretty much the entire back of the rack of bones. I highly recommend a boning or filet knife to do the job. I had neither of those cutlery items, so I had to use one of my smaller chef’s knives that made the task rather cumbersome as it is not as flexible as the other knives. Basically start on one side of the rack and pry the knife edge under the skin, and work to peel the skin off using the assistance of the knife to try and get large sheets of this skin off in one or a few attempts. Please don’t skip this step. I have been to restaurants where the prep cooks were too lazy to trim the skin off the ribs. The texture of the cooked silver skin was akin to chomping down on thin paperboard stuck to the back of what should have been tasty ribs.  Leaving the silver skin remaining on ribs can make the barbecue dining experience less than desirable.

The second step of the process to rib preparation is getting the rack ready for baking. I do the “low and slow” method of 200 to 225 degrees in the oven for about four hours.  I pre-cook my ribs in a tomb of aluminum foil with a generous splash of red wine vinegar. ACV (or apple cider vinegar) will also surely work. I also add some fresh garlic, a few pepper corns and a dash of Montreal meat seasoning. In this case, I had to resort to garlic powder as my crisper was bare of the real thing. For additional flavor, I cut up a Vidalia onion and place on top of the ribs. The racks are then wrapped on top with additional foil and placed on cookie sheet and placed into oven.

Once the ribs are baked, I pull them from the oven and let them rest for about an hour.  Soon thereafter, I place them on a hot grill and sauce. I usually grill the racks about five minutes on each side before I generously sauce them and grill for additional four to five minutes on each side. The total grill time is about twenty minutes over medium heat. There is no set measurement to time and saucing. Some people like a light baste while others like me prefer to coat the ribs a few times over.  I will also leave it to the reader’s discretion on how grilled they want their ribs. Many people like the a little carbon or dark grilling marks on their ribs. Just be careful to not let time get away as to avoid blackened or charred meat.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Installing Home Legends Solid Wood Flooring in the Kitchen

Well our kitchen has long been overdue for some flooring upgrades. A few years ago we removed a horrible thick terra cotta style tile that was replaced with a café style black and white checker tile. That project was a rushed job and done with total carelessness; my bad. The tiles ended up looking decent in some places but bubbled and rose in other spots of the kitchen. That shoddy work was attributed to laziness (by not peeling away the entire subfloor in an even manner). We learned to live with it for a few years, but this past spring, we ended up finally doing the floor the right way. We decided on wood flooring from Home Depot.

The wood flooring of choice was the Home Legends series sold at Home Depot. The flooring ran about $5.48 per square foot. Overall I spent about $660 for my kitchen floor which factored in about 10% extra for waste or just wanting a little extra. My internet searches about waste factor resulted in most sites recommending anywhere between purchasing and additional 5% upwards to 12%. 

Our small sized kitchen allowed my budget to accommodate thicker wood flooring (three quarters inch) that was solid wood grain throughout. There were no engineered or pressed layers. We preferred the thick grain wood to ensure we could potentially sand and re-stain in the future at least a few times over, if needed. The color was a dark oak (known as Oak Verona). The width of the floor planks is four and three quarter inches.

Removal of Old Tile Kitchen Flooring

The first part of this flooring replacement was the painful process of removing the old floor. The battered checkerboard had to go. A good portion of these checkered tiles came up fairly easy once I was able to sneak a flat end screwdriver under the tile. Once I got about half the tile propped up, I was able to slowly pull the rest of the tile away from floor. That layer was covering a thin wood underlayment layer that covered another tile floor. After going down two tile floor layers, we came across a third tile floor layer. We stopped at that point since that final layer of tile was flat and in decent shape.  It was a funky seventies pattern that I probably should have taken a photo of. The heavy burden of this project was removing tiles under the refrigerator and dishwasher. I actually had to repair some subflooring under the dishwasher due to some water damage from long ago. This entire demo/removal process took me two Sundays to complete.

Installing the Home Depot Legend flooring

The fun part was finally installing the new flooring. The only prep required was relocating appliances and putting down some pink paper that the store associate recommended.  I am not 100% sure what kind of protection this paper serves as it is really a paper and I cannot imagine it would hold up to any serious moisture. My arsenal of tools included a miter saw, wooden floor stapler and hammer, jig saw, air compressor and staples. The wooden floor stapler or nailer was a fun tool that ran me just under $40 for twenty four hour rental from the Home Depot. These are pretty common tools that can be found at most rental equipment stores.  I enjoyed using this hammer as it was actually pretty fun striking the nailer with the Thor like hammer. Only staples were required, no glue required which meant no mess. The staples went into the tongue on a 45 degree angle. It doesn’t get much simpler.

The most time consuming part of the flooring installation is making tricky cuts around corners. The jig saw helped this process along. The other time consuming part was constant measuring. Take your time measuring. If there are any second guesses or doubts, measure numerous times to avoid miss cuts.

The flooring installation process was a team effort between my wife and I. We took about ten hours to complete this project as we were interrupted by a few mishaps (miss cuts, meal breaks and a trip to Lowes for a jigsaw replacement).  Without any breaks, we could have probably knocked this out in six to seven hours

For those reading this post that are hesitant to attempt this DIY project, please consider the fact that I am not a carpenter nor mechanically inclined yet was able to pull this off. For added re-assurance I would recommend watching several YouTube videos on wooden flooring installation.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Preparing Broccoli for Freezing: Microwave Blanching

Broccoli finally arrived in my garden and I have cut three to four bunches for meals later in the year. I like to eat a handful and freeze the rest. Preparing broccoli for later use or freezing is pretty simple. Typically I prepare my cut veggies like beans and broccoli by blanching in hot water bath then transferring to a cold water shock, then into the freezer.

However, time has seemed to have got away from me this past week.  My veggies were cut a few days ago and their time spent in the crisper was just about up. (My cut broccoli was going on day three of refrigeration). As I got home last night to a very warm home courtesy of our current heat wave, I decided to forgo the traditional stove top blanch technique and  opted to steam the broccoli or as I call it, “microwave blanching” or steaming. I basically precooked the broccoli in a microwave safe container. I placed the small portion of broccoli in a microwave safe dish and placed a few teaspoons of water in the dish. I covered up the vegetable with another dish to create a steam effect and microwave on high for three minutes. As soon as the broccoli was done, I immersed in ice water bath, then removed patted dry and froze in sealable freezer bags. I had to repeat this process three times to accommodate all the cut broccoli. The results were bright firm green broccoli spears that will serve me well for the next few months. For those that do not want to heat up their kitchen during the hot season, I recommend the microwave broccoli steam or blanch method to pre-cook the veggies for freezing.

With any luck this summer, my broccoli plants that were recently cut will provide another harvest or two so I can keep going. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Growing White Zucchini in the Garden

There are several zucchini plants starting to really produce in my garden. The network of vines seems to be overcrowding just about every corner of my vegetable lot. I may have been overzealous in planting four plants from seeds as each vine is going crazy. Nestled throughout the garden are a few long green zucchini fruits; and of greater surprise are a few robust white zucchini! I am not sure the reason for these mutated zukes other than they look like something out of a science fiction movie. These different looking fruits seem to run a tad shorter and much wider than the usual thin green zucchini. The good news is that these vegetables show no difference in taste or quality to their typical green counterpart. I had spoken to several folks and did a little bit of web searching on this anomaly which I am quickly learning is not uncommon in the garden world. Gardeners will often get mutated versions of the ordinary zucchini fruit that becomes white in appearance. My options for cooking with our zucchini harvest seems to be wearing thin as our household has already endured breaded and fried zucchini, grilled zucchini with seasonings and herbs, baked zucchini, and of course zucchini bread. We have even managed to freeze a bit of the zucchini for later baking. If anyone has any ideas on other ways to prepare zucchini, please feel free to comment below. We are in for several more on the way! 

Friday, August 16, 2013

German Apple Pancake Recipe

Allow me to intoduce a family favorite recipe that brings back many fond memories of waking up to the smell of baked apples, pancake batter, and bacon on occasional sunday mornings in the late fall and early winter. Restaurants and households that I have visited all seemed to have done a pretty decent job of creating the Apfel Pfannekuchen, but this home recipe seems to take the cake. Yes, that pun was intended. I like the flavor and texture of the german apple pancake as it seems to be a "culinary mixer" in which custard meets bread pudding who in turn meet french toast with baked apples. Please give this one a try next time you want to create a fun breakfast for family or guests. The recipe is ideal to prepare right now as apple harvest season is upon us. The beauty of this recipe is that the batter can be prepared the night before and refrigerated prior to the next morning's use. I also highly recommend a crisp tart apple such as a granny smith to offset the sweetness of the cinnamon sugar. Feel free to also divide this recipe in half as it serves about five to six people.

German Apple Pancake or Dutch Baby Recipe
Easy To Make Apfel Pfankuchen Recipe

8 eggs
1 cup unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon of salt
2 cups of milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Apple Mixture
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar, divided two containers
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 medium granny smith apples, peeled and sliced.

1.To make the batter, blend the eggs, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Slowly add in the milk while constantly stirring. Then add in vanilla and butter. Set batter aside for twenty five to thirty minutes or refrigerate if preparing for the next morning.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
3. To make the apple mixture, combine sugar (1 of 2 reserved containers) with cinnamon and nutmeg. Now melt butter in two cast iron or oven proof skillets. Make sure to work the butter along the sides of the pan. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture into both pans. Now place the apple slices into the bottom of pans trying to avoid stacking. Try to get all the apples to cover the bottom surface or avoid stacking. Now sprinkle remaining sugar over apples. Once the mixture become hot and starts to bubble, pour batter into both pans.
4. Place both pans into oven and bake for 15 minutes. Then reduce temperature to 375F and bake for another 10 minutes.
5. Once removed from oven, allow pancakes in skillet to cool briefly then dust with confectioners sugar and squirt a little lemon over the pancake. (The Dutch Baby Effect).
6. Serve while still warm.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Easy to Make Bohemian Rye Bread

A few weeks back, I had a desire to make a sour dough starter to initiate my own homemade bohemian rye bread.  As mentioned in previous posts, this experiment has failed for a few reasons, so I went to option number two – using dry yeast. I scoured the internet in pursuit of Bohemian rye bread recipes and found one here at I was disheartened that there weren’t any pictures nor testimonials next to this recipe, but the recipe appeared to be easy to follow and used a combination of rye flour and all purpose flour.  Since I was a young child, I enjoyed a good Czech or German rye bread at restaurants and have been in pursuit of trying to imitate some of those good table breads. I like Bohemian rye bread because it is lighter in appearance and density (not too heavy on the rye grains) and it works well as pre-meal offering and partners well with soups or with assorted meats and cheeses.  This rye bread recipe I found adds in the European accent of caraway and fennel seeds. I skipped the fennel since I don’t have any in stock.
This bohemian rye bread process is simple from start to finish when I used this recipe. The ingredients are easy to find and bread can be made in a matter of about three hours (Proofing time included). I made my bread in two stages since I only have one baking stone (and that is my preferred cooking surface for homemade breads). A greased or lined cookie sheet will suffice. The first baked rye bread loaf was a huge success and rose much better than bread number two, which was a little flatter when finished baking. The bread had a heavenly aroma (I could really smell the rye/caraway!) and tasted really good.
As much care as I put into kneading, proofing, and baking, I did not completely duplicate a rye bread that would be produced by a Czech bakery.  Restaurant and bakery rye breads have a smoother texture that is obtained most likely from Czech or European fine grain rye flour.  The texture of my rye bread was much more coarse.
The only thing I would have done differently with this recipe would be to add another teaspoon of caraway or actually used the fennel seed. This bread was still considered a success and will go well with soups, or with some tasty deli meats such as corned beef or ham. Check out the recipe here.