Saturday, July 30, 2016

Baked Bean Casserole in the French Style (Cassoulet)

I recently entered a recipe contest sponsored by Mimi's Cafe. Mimi's is a national chain, with a restaurant in Fort Myers. John and I went there and liked it a lot. Mimi's serves American "cafe" dishes with a French twist in a cozy, French-style atmosphere. I didn't win the contest but I think the recipe is terrific and decided to share it here.

The cassoulet cooks in one pot.
When I thought about the theme of this contest, I immediately envisioned comfort food that would appeal to both American and French culture and I quickly settled on a baked bean dish. In France, that would be the cassoulet, a hearty dish of duck and pork and beans; in America, the dish would feature a more tomato-based dish with some type of pork as the main meat. I combined the essence of both to make my own American version of cassoulet with chicken as the main meat accented with fresh Polish pork sausage and bits of ham. Since this was to be an American dish with a French accent, I cooked the beans with a more traditional tomato-based sauce.

This will make a great evening supper as soon as the weather begins to cool.
The hardest part of making this dish was the ten ingredient limitation. I had to make some hard decisions about what to eliminate. I made the assumption that salt and pepper were ingredients, so I had to come up with alternatives. The sausage and ham provided the salt and Herbs de Provence gave the dish it’s unique flavor. Garlic was essential so the flavor came from the fresh Polish sausage and the fire-roasted tomatoes with garlic.

Note: This recipe won a contest sponsored by the National Pork Board in April, 2017 for a recipe that contained a pork product

Baked Beans in the French Style (Cassoulet)

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
4 links fresh Polish sausage (about 16 ounces), cut in half
1 medium onion diced
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence, divided
1 8 oz. package ham cubes
1 15.8 oz. cans Northern beans
1 14.5 oz. can diced fire-roasted tomatoes with garlic
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup unsweetened white grape juice

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in 4 quart Dutch oven on top of stove. Sauté Polish sausage in oil until browned. Put into colander and drain. Sprinkle chicken thighs with 1 teaspoon herbs de Provence. Sauté thighs until lightly browned. Set aside on plate. Sauté onions until golden, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Drain beans and add to Dutch oven. Stir in sausage, ham cubes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, white grape juice, and remaining herbs de Provence. Tuck chicken thighs into beans. Cover and bake for about 1 hour. Remove cover and bake for an additional half hour until top is crusted over.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 15 minutes.

Serve with toasted slices of French baguettes with garlic butter.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Bake time: 90 minutes
Rest time:  15 minutes

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Easter 2016

Polish and Ukrainian Easter Eggs (Pysanki) on my Easter Table.
I enjoy displaying my pysanky (Easter Eggs), some Polish, most Ukrainian, a couple new this year. In my early 20's I bought the dyes, the beeswax, and the stylus, and created several eggs of my own. Some were in the traditional style, but I also branched out and did some modern designs as well. The process was very tedious, painstaking, and time-consuming. Sadly, I lost my entire collection in one of my moves overseas. I could never create them again today; my hands are not still enough to make the tiny straight lines and my eyes would never be strong enough to keep everything straight. Today, I simply enjoy collectingpysanky and add a few to my collection every year. Every area in the Slavic world has their own style of eggs, I wish I could find samples of all of them.

Home-made shrink-wrapped pysanky on my Easter table.

Preparing "pysanky" Easter eggs.
I've also discovered a neat trick for simulating pysanky on my Easter table. You can buy psyanky "sleeves" wrap them over hard-boiled eggs, dip in boiling water for about 5 seconds and you have instant pysanky! You can't save them, but they sure do look pretty on an Easter table.

I bought my package of sleeves online from the Polish Art Center in Hamtramck, Michigan. Here is the link:

When we visited my grandmother in Detroit for Easter in the 1950s and 60s, we would always have cake after our traditional Polish breakfast of Easter soup. There would always be Polish poppy seed coffee cake, sometimes a cake made by my Aunt Hattie in the shape of a lamb and covered in coconut, or, my favorite, a cake from Sander's Bakery in Detroit. It would be a yellow cake with "buttercream" icing garnished with finely crushed hazelnuts. The icing was very light and smooth. A "nest" of green-colored coconut with a couple of chocolate malted milk Easter eggs would complete the cake.

Sander's No Butter, No Cream "Buttercream" Easter Cake!
My mother saved a recipe for the icing she found on the "Bob Allison's Ask Your Neighbor" radio program which still, after 50 years, is on the air in the Detroit area. Click here to go to their website. What's interesting about the recipe for the buttercream icing is that it does not contain any butter or cream! I've tweaked the recipe for the cake by adding orange zest and flavoring, and sometimes I substitute toasted sliced almonds in place of the hazelnuts, but the icing itself is always the same recipe.

Sander’s Easter Cake with Buttercream Icing

1 package Duncan Hines butter yellow cake mix

2 teaspoons grated orange rind

1/2 teaspoon orange flavoring

2 cups hazelnuts

Toast hazelnuts and remove skins. Chop finely in a food processor.

Bake cake as directed on the package adding the grated orange peel and flavoring to the batter before beating.

When cool, frost with Sander’s Buttercream Icing.

Gently pat hazelnuts on the side of the cake.

If desired, decorate with a “nest” of coconut dyed green and candy Easter eggs or jelly beans.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Sander’s Buttercream Icing

1 stick margarine

1/2 cup Crisco shortening

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup milk, lukewarm

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Cream together the margarine and Crisco shortening. Add sugar, and then gradually add milk.

Beat on medium high speed for at least 15 minutes. For about the first 14 minutes the mixture will be very watery until suddenly the icing will congeal. Continue beating for a few minutes or until the icing is smooth.

Chill the icing for about an hour before icing the cake.

Note: If you can't find hazelnuts, sliced toasted almonds may be substituted instead.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Wedding--It began with Polish Polka practice and ended with Pinochle!

I married my partner, John, on December 26th, 2015. I wanted a Christmas wedding, with all the decorations still up, lights lit, and colors of red, white, and gold abounding. I got my wish!
I love this picture. Sometimes simple is the best!
We had the wedding at St. John the Apostle MCC Church in Fort Myers, Florida. The church was awash in red poinsettias. We added two red and white floral arrangements to flank the altar. Pastor Steve Filizzi performed the ceremony. Wonderful friends served as attendants.
John and I at the altar after our wedding service.
The flowers from Cape Coral Florist were beautiful!
A picture of the wedding party.
We are truly blessed to have great friends!
One of the cookie trays.
There weren't any left at the end of the evening!
Cutting the "cakes." We had five! All different.
They came from Fresh Market in Fort Myers and were delicious!
Blake Becker was our caterer.
His friend, Nicole, was his assistant and bartender.
Blake's food was out of this world good!!! And he is a great friend!
 I made a side dish of Polish Hunter's Stew (Bigos) and kielbasa. I also made the cookies that were served and given as favors to take home in little gingerbread houses. 
We never danced the polka at the reception, but we did end the evening with a couple of rousing hands of pinochle at the hotel where relatives were staying.
How we spent our honeymoon--
after the reception playing pinochle with the family!
My sister, Felicia, joined, us later.
It was a magical day! I am so happy that John and I had the opportunity to join our lives together from now to eternity!
Our friends, Kurt and Jack, gave us this ornament.
It is very special!
Feel free to post a comment below.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas 2015

I am so very busy...getting married on the 26th of December. So here I am on Sunday evening baking Christmas cookies for the reception. Magic bars and fruitcake cookies are done. The last batch of chocolate chip cookies are in the oven. Tomorrow I will make mocha crackle cookies and lemon squares and Reece's peanut butter cookie cups if I have the time. Should have started last weekend!

One cookie I will have to make this year is a new cookie that is quickly becoming a favorite--it's a play on jam thumbprint cookies, but with a Florida twist. I use orange marmalade for the jam and add minced rosemary to the shortbread. The cookies have a touch of sliced almonds and are dusted with powdered sugar--a cookie that says this is Christmas.

P.S. It's a prize winner!! My recipe won the prize for being the best Holiday Cookie in the Fort Myers News-Press Holiday Cookie Baking Contest!

I tried making these Florida's Finest Orange Marmalade Thumbprint with Fresh Rosemary cookies a couple of different ways,  but liked them best with a simple dusting of powdered sugar.
Florida’s Finest Orange Marmalade Thumbprints with Fresh Rosemary


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1 egg white, beaten
1 cup sliced almonds, roughly chopped
1/4 cup powdered sugar

In a small bowl stir together flour, cornstarch, and salt; set aside.
Beat butter until fluffy. 
Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar, minced rosemary and almond extract. Beat until combined.
Stir in flour until just combined.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls.
Dip into beaten egg white.
Roll ball in chopped almonds.
Indent each cookie with thumb or back of 1/2 inch measuring spoon.
Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon marmalade into center of each cookie.
Arrange 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.
Bake about 14-17 minutes or until edges are lightly golden.
Cool on rack. When completely cool, sift powdered sugar lightly over cookies.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Caramel, Coconut, Chocolate, and Pecans—Oh My, What a Brownie!

I like to take a standard brownie mix and jazz it up and make it my own. The recipe that follows is one of my best!

Caramel, Coconut, Chocolate, and Pecans
Oh My, What a Brownie!


1 egg
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon coconut flavoring
1 box Ghiradelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup chocolate chips
25 Rolo Minis chocolate covered caramels
25 pecan halves


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray 9” baking pan with baking spray.

Whisk together egg, water, oil, and coconut flavoring. Add brownie mix and stir until well blended. Add chopped pecans, coconut and chocolate chips and stir until mixed in with brownie batter. Pour into baking pan and spread evenly. Bake 39-43 minutes. Do not over-bake.

Turn oven off. Place Rolo Minis upside-down in a 5 x 5 grid pattern over the baked brownies, pressing each one about half way into the brownie. Return to oven for about 3 minutes to allow caramel to melt. Remove from oven and place a pecan half on top of each Rolo.

Makes 25 scrumptious brownies!