I realize after last weeks post that I wrote about what we saw while on our trip to Krakow and Prague but I didn't write much about the food.
There is something about changing the way you eat with the seasons. Living on the equator we don't really do that, and I miss those more robust Fall and Winter foods. For the week we said good bye to our typical stir fries, and noodle dishes bright with chilies and herbs, and filled our bellies with the dumplings and rich sauces of Poland and the Czech Republic. These hearty meals were welcome when we needed to warm up after hours of walking. There were many tasty bits along the way, such as the Linzer cookies I wrote about last week. I am currently in a sausage coma after finishing off the last of the salami's we brought back with us. But oh, let's not forget the goulash, pirogi, strudels, and palacinky, (a crepe filled sweetened cottage cheese and coated in sugar which was then caramelized). And then there are the soups. Wow. I happen to love soup but when you live in perpetual summer you tend to not make or eat many soups. I don't often crave a big bowl of red or a chowder when its 90 degrees and humid. I'll get to the soups later, hence the Seinfeld reference in the title. You didn't know I was such a tease did you.
In Krakow after spending a day walking in drizzly weather Andy and I ducked into a coffee shop to warm up. Andy ordered us both a hot chocolate and we were presented with a demitasse cup filled with an amazing almost molten pudding like drink, called Horka Cocolada. Really I think it needs a better name. Horka sounds like you are trying to cough up something. Say it...HORKA. See, you make that same sound when you have a bad cold. Anyway, the Horka was intensely chocolaty, smooth, creamy, and above all else rich. We were not prepared for such a little cup of loveliness. I do think one a winter would be all one could manage but being over achievers we soldiered on to sample the other cafe's offerings. None compared to that first cup in however.
And the soups. See there I didn't make you wait too long. I think we had soup nearly everyday if not at lunch and dinner. It wasn't a problem, they were all delicious, but goodness they were filling and they were not served in tiny bowls either. These were not starter portions. We were sometimes too full to eat our main course which prompted me to think of that Seinfeld episode "The Soup". Not "The Soup Nazi", but the episode where Jerry, in return for receiving a free Armani suit, agrees to buy Kenny Bania a meal. Jerry takes Kenny out for the meal where Kenny orders soup and says he'll save the "meal" for another day. There is hilarious dialogue between Jerry and Elaine as to whether or not soup constitutes a meal. I believe the soup in question was a consume, which falls into the starter, not a meal, category in my opinion. The soups we had however could easily stand alone as a meal.
The first memorable soup was served at Kawaleria restaurant near the Old Town Square in Krakow. Kawaleria means Cavalry I believe in Polish and it does have a sort of equine/upscale horsey theme. Don't be scared, it is a pretty restaurant with an attentive wait staff and excellent modern Polish food. We started with a Cheddar soup. The soup was very light, not like the thick cheese soups I have had before. At the bottom of the bowl were little surprise bites of thick bacon. The crispy caramelized salty pork nicely offset the rich creaminess of the cheese. A winner!
This next soup turned out to be slightly traumatic. It came in a really pretty and clever bread bowl. It smelled really nice, it had a great texture, but I was lead to believe that it was potato soup when really it was mushroom. I don't like mushrooms. They creep me out. I should mention here that most of our meals were ordered before hand by the tour company and we weren't always given a choice in what we would be eating. And since I had just told our students to eat what was put in front of them, I had to do just that. The first few bites were fine, I nearly convinced myself that maybe I could learn to like mushrooms, when it happened. I spooned up a large piece of a ruffly, inky black, sort of alien looking thing and well, I was done.
The last soup I'll mention was one to love. It seemed a little quirky, a little fancy. At Cafe Louvre in Prague the waiter placed a bowl in front of me that had a lovely mound of creamy mashed potatoes mixed with garlic and bacon. Off to a good start....Garlic + Bacon = Good. Then he began to pour a very intensely green soup around the potatoes. Hmmm. I did have thoughts of trying to rescue the bacony goodness before too much of it got tainted by the green but the students were watching. I had to be a grown up. I'm glad I took a bite. It was a lovely cream of pea soup with a hint of heat. The sweetness of the peas was complimented perfectly by the slight bite of cayenne and then the creamy potatoes and bacon just brought it all together. I tried to recreate that soup this past weekend and received good reviews from my family. I forgot to take a picture but it is a very pretty spring green soup. I hope you'll like it, but really, you'll need to make a trip to Prague to compare. That only seems right.
Pea Soup with Creamy Potato and Bacon Garnish
6 slices of bacon chopped
4 medium sized russet potatoes peeled and diced
1 medium onion chopped fine
3 cloves of peeled garlic. 2 minced, 1 left whole
2 ribs of celery chopped fine
2 carrots chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 cups good quality chicken stock
1 pound frozen peas
4 tablespoons of butter
3/4 cup half and half divided. You may need more or less to smooth out your potatoes.
Salt and Pepper
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and one whole clove of garlic. Return to a boil and cook the potatoes until they are tender. Drain and set aside.
Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add bacon and cook until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Drain the bacon, reserving 1 tablespoon of fat, and set aside.
In the same pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the reserved bacon fat over medium high heat. Add the onion and saute until browned;add the minced garlic and saute another 2 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, bay leaves, thyme and cayenne. Saute for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cook until the carrots and celery are soft. Add the peas and simmer until the peas are very soft. Remove the bay leaves.
Working in batches, puree the soup in the bowl of a food processor until very smooth. If desired, (I desired) strain the soup through a fine mesh sieve pressing down on the solids to extract as much of that pea goodness as you can. Discard the solids.
Return the soup to the stove, add 1/4 cup of half and half and warm through. Season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, in the large saucepan melt the butter with the remaining half and half. When the mixture has come to a simmer add the potatoes and mash them into the hot milk and butter with a large fork or potato masher. Mash them as smooth or a chunky as you like. When the potatoes are warmed through, add the reserved bacon and mix well.
To serve divide the potatoes between 4 large soup bowls mounding them in the middle. Ladle the hot soup around the potatoes.