How are your Christmas preparations going? Have you planned your festive menu yet? What are your favourite dishes? The ones you need to have for Christmas to happen?


For me, the magic of Christmas is the magic of childhood and the childhood memories. It’s about being present, being with the closest ones. It’s all about celebrating the traditions and following the customs. It’s knowing that wherever I am in the world, family will follow the same rituals on the day of the Christmas Eve. There will be a little bit of hay under the festive table cloth, there will be an extra space on the table, for any unexpected visitors, and surely my dad will look out for the first star on the sky before announcing it’s time for the festive dinner.



And there will certainly be twelve traditional dishes on the table. Each of them reminding me of all the Christmas Eve dinners shared with the closest ones every year. With so much choice, everyone will surely find something delicious for themselves. As for me, I relish every single one of them. After all, you don’t get to eat them at any other time of the year.



First comes the red beet soup, accompanied by tiny ‘uszka’ filled with dried mushrooms. Then come all the sauerkraut dishes, with dried mushrooms, prunes or split peas. You can choose between sauerkraut with porcini mushrooms, or sauerkraut with split peas, or perhaps croquettes or pierogi with, guess what, sauerkraut and mushroom fillings. Plus, obviously, there is the Polish stew too. Moving towards more sweet dishes, we have the kutia with poppy seeds and dried fruit and nuts, accompanied by dried fruit compote. And finally, the unquestionable highlight of the evening – my grandma’s Christmas parcels with various fillings, sweet and savoury; I’m not sure how popular they are in other families, as I’ve never seen them in any recipes books or website, which makes them even more special for me, as special as my beloved grandma.



Here are my twelve dishes for a vegetarian Christmas Eve:
(click on the name to see the recipe)



Christmas Eve red beet soup

Uszka – Christmas Eve dumplings

Sauerkraut with porcini mushrooms

Sauerkraut with split peas

Croquettes with sauerkraut and mushrooms

Pierogi with sauerkraut and dried mushrooms

Vegetarian bigos – Polish stew

Christmas pie with pumpkin, spinach and buckwheat

Grandma’s Christmas parcels with three fillings

Kutia

Dried fruit compote

Christmas gingerbread cookies



May the enchantment of the magical Christmas Eve night be with you and your loved ones.



Bon appétit!
Lena x

Twelve dishes for a traditional, vegetarian, Polish Christmas Eve
Twelve dishes for a traditional, vegetarian, Polish Christmas Eve




…Christmas time, mistletoe and wine…


Yes, mistletoe and wine will certainly be present at our home on Christmas day. Although every year, the main question is, what to make for the Christmas meal?

As we celebrate the Christmas Eve as the main festive day or better said evening, quite often I happily skip any cooking on the Christmas day and savour the delicious leftovers from Christmas Eve throughout the entire festive period. After all, they are so special and delicious that enjoying them on one night only doesn’t seem enough.

Although, especially when guests are due to arrive, it’s nice to have something special for the Christmas day. How about this wonderfully colourful and amazingly flavoursome pie? I admit, it does require a bit of time, but you can prepare it in advance and it’s actually not too difficult. And it looks absolutely gorgeous on the table. This is definitely a dish to impress your guests.

What else do you need for a wonderful Christmas day..?

…Love and laughter and joy ever after…

Ps. Inspiration for this recipe came from this website although I modified the ingredients list and preparation method quite a bit as I was making it.

Ingredients

Serves 4

For the filling
1 small pumpkin or squash, about 1kg (I used harlequin pumpkin), peeled and cubed
240g fresh spinach leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
150g brown mushrooms, sliced
20g dried porcini mushrooms
125g buckwheat
650ml vegetable stock
100g feta cheese
125g ricotta cheese
Bunch of fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
0.5tsp ground nutmeg

For the pastry
600g plain flour
150g butter
85ml milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
Pinch of salt

Preparation

Preheat oven to 200C/ gas mark 6.


Prepare the baking tin (e.g. a loaf tin), brush it with a little oil and lay with a double layer of aluminium foil across the length, ensuring it’s longer than the length of the tin and sticks out, so that you can lift the pie by pulling the foil when it’s ready.


Brush the prepared pumpkin with a little olive oil and grill for about 30 minutes until tender.
Heat remaining oil in a large pan and cook the onion for 3-5 minutes until golden. Add one garlic clove and cook for another 2-3 minutes.


To make the buckwheat layer, put half of the cooked onion and garlic in a large pan (set aside the other half) add the brown mushrooms and dried porcini mushrooms and the buckwheat to the pan. Cook for a few minutes, then pour in the stock and bring to boil. Cook for about 20-30 minutes until the buckwheat is tender and there is no liquid left. Season to taste with salt and pepper and leave aside.


Meanwhile, to prepare the pumpkin layer, mix the feta cheese with the remaining onion and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently fold with the thyme and roasted pumpkin.


For the spinach layer, pour some boiling water over the spinach, to wilt. Drain well and squeeze out the excess of water as much as you can. Roughly chop, then mix into the ricotta mixture and minced garlic glove. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

To make the pie, in a small saucepan melt the butter with milk and 150ml of water. In a large bowl mix the flour and salt. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and mix with a large spoon until combined. Then knead with your hand until the mixture is relatively smooth.


Take two-thirds of the pastry dough, place it onto a slightly floured surface and roll out into a large rectangle, so that you can line the tin with it.


Ease the rolled out dough into the tin, pressing well into the corners. Spoon the buckwheat layer into it and smooth the surface with a spoon, then add the spinach layer and finally the pumpkin layer.


Roll out the remaining pastry into a smaller rectangle, to create the cover. Brush the edges with a bit of beaten egg, then press the pastry lid over the top. Trim the excess and pinch to seal.


The pie can be prepared the day before, if so, cover it with a tea towel and chill in the fridge until ready to bake.


Preheat oven to 200C / gas mark 6.


Brush the surface of the pie with some more beaten egg.


Bake the pie for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180C /gas mark 4 and bake for a another 60-90 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and feels hard.


Gently take out the pie, using the foil strips to lift out carefully.


Serve warm.


Bon appétit!
Lena x

Christmas pie with pumpkin, spinach and buckwheat
Christmas pie with pumpkin, spinach and buckwheat




This time, it’s not an anti-candida diet recipe…

It’s a wonderful recipe and one very close to my heart. From my lovey mum.

Last week, the chatter in the office moved was all around the Great British Bake Off. It didn’t take long until we came up with a sweep stake accompanied by our own baking spree. The rules are easy, if your contestant leaves the show, you’ve got one week to bring your own cake to the office. This week it’s my turn…

A yummy cake that will make everyone’s mouth water? It’s gotta be mum’s recipe! It’s September, the best season for apples. And so I’m baking an apple pie. Yum, my favourite. Even he scent itself is simply so delicious. For me it’s more than a scent of a delicious cake. It’s a scent of my family home. And even though I will try to resist it myself (September is my usual detox month when I return to a stricter anti-candida diet after holiday time), just baking the cake has been a pleasure.

I do hope that we will wow everyone e with this cake. Me and my mum.

Ingredients

Butter for greasing
1tbsp bread crumbs



For the crust and crumble:
520g plain flour
220g sugar
2 eggs
250g butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp sour cream
Pinch of salt
1tbsp bread crumbs



For the apple filling:
1,5 kg baking apples
4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon



To decorate (optional)
3 apples
0.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sugar
Juice from 0.5 lemon
2 tbsp butter

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 180 C

Put all the ingredients for the crust and crumble into a large bowl and quickly mix to form a dough. Divide into 2 parts and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Spread one of the parts on the bottom of a round baking tin (greased with butter and sprinkled with 1tbsp of bread crumbs. Bake in a preheated oven for 10 minutes, take out of the oven and sprinkle with the remaining bread crumbs.

Peel the apples and cut into roughly dice, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Place half of the apples to a small pot with 2tbsp water and cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly until the apples soften and begin to caramelise. Mix with the raw apples.

Place the apples into the tin, on top of the crust.

Take out the remaining dough from the fridge and grate it roughly over the apples.

Optionally, make a few apple roses to decorate (instructions below).

Bake for about 40 minutes in a preheated oven. Take out and sprinkle with a little icing sugar.

To make the apple roses, cut the apples (skin on) into very thin slices. Place into a heatproof bowl and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Pour over lemon juice mixed with melted butter. Place in a preheated oven for 5 minutes to soften the apples. To make the roses, fold the first apple slice to form a tight roll and stick it in the dough. Then place another slice around it and so on, until the roses form.



Bon appétit!
Lena x

mums best apple cake
mums best apple cake




The man and I love weekend dinners in a mezze style, with a few different dishes to try. It transforms a simple dinner into a feast, where we celebrate the long conversations over the dinner, enjoying time spent together.
The more plates there are to be, the simpler they need to be. Much as I like spending time in kitchen, I prefer spending it with the man, over the dining table!
Here’s a dish that works well as a standalone main, or as part of the mezze.
I much prefer the taste of red peppers, but you can use green ones if you like their bitter taste.

Ingredients

Serves 2
2 red peppers, tops removed and retained, deseeded
125g mixed wild rice and basmati rice
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tomato, diced
10 black olives, pitted and chopped
2 tsp pine nuts, toasted
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preparation

In a large pot, bring plenty of salted water to a boil and cook the rice for about 15-18 minutes until tender.

Preheat the oven to 200 C / gas mark 6.

Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil on a frying pan, add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Add the herbs and spices, pine nuts and olives and stir. Add the cooked rice and stir again. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the mixture between the peppers, packing them tightly. Place the peppers in a roasting tin, upright, topped with the pepper lids. Drizzle with 1 tbsp of olive oil and cook for about 30 minutes until the peppers begin to soften. Cover the roasting tin with aluminium foil and cook for another 15 minutes.

Serve hot.



Bon appétit!
Lena x

Turkish-style stuffed peppers
Turkish-style stuffed peppers




Fresh.
Cool.
Crisp.

Finger-licking.
Mouth-watering.
Moreish.

You.
Have to.
Try.

Ingredients

165g desiccated coconut
2 eggs, whites and yolks separated
1 egg yolk
7 tbsp of xylitol
150ml full fat Greek yogurt
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 1 lemon
Butter for greasing
Berries to garnish

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 180 C / gas mark 4. Grease 4 loose-based tartlet tins.

In a bowl mix together the coconut, 2 egg whites and half of the xylitol until combined and sticky. Press the coconut mixture firmly into the base and to the sides of the tartlet tins. Place in the fridge and cool for 30 mins. After this time, place in a preheated oven and bake for 5-8 minutes.

To make the filling, beat together 3 yolks, half of the xylitol, Greek yogurt, lemon zest and lemon juice.

Remove the tartlets from the oven and pour in the filling. Return to the oven for 15-20 minutes until the custard gets firm and golden.

Leave to cool on a wire rack completely before removing the tartlets from the tin.

Decorate with fresh berries.



Bon appétit!
Lena x

Lemon tartlets with berries
Lemon tartlets with berries




I have rediscovered ratatouille!

I have always loved the this melting pot of Provençal vegetables like aubergines, courgettes, peppers, tomatoes coming together to give a simple, homely yet toothsome result of ratatouille. I liked the simplicity of this one-pot dish: wash, chop, mix, cook. Voilà! Or so I thought…

In preparation to our French holiday, I have recently been reading more and more about the French cuisine. This has been a great journey in itself, book by book, website by website, recipe by recipe. A journey through various regions of France, various traditions as well as fresh, novel ideas, various cooking and presentation styles. A delightful, multidimensional journey combining geography, history, tradition and taste.

As a result, I have rediscovered ratatouille! Turns out, that by giving every ingredient individual attention and cooking them separately, you’ll achieve a dish with much more character and flavour. It does take a little longer, but if you can afford spending a bit more time on this dish, it’s absolutely worth it. You’ll transform your ratatouille from a regular vegetable stew into a delicious melange of vegetables, each with strong individual character, that create an incredible synergy of tastes. And they look so much more appetising this way too!

Once you try it, there is no way back. Here’s my new and improved way of creating the ratatouille.

Ingredients

2 onions, quartered
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 aubergines, cut into chunks
2 courgettes, sliced
3 red or yellow peppers, seeded and quartered
4 ripe tomatoes, thickly sliced
4 tbsp olive oil
2-3 thyme sprigs
Handful of basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large, heavy based pot. Add the quartered onions and cook for 3-5 minutes until soft. Add the sliced garlic cloves and cook for another 2 minutes until soft.
Using a slotted spoon, take out the onions and garlic and transfer to a clean bowl.

Repeat the process with other hard vegetables (aubergines, courgettes and peppers) adding a tablespoon of olive oil at a time and cooking each of them separately for about 5-10 minutes until soft and gold and transferring to a large bowl once ready (you can keep all of them in the same bowl).

When all the vegetables are cooked, transfer them back to the heavy based pot. Add thickly sliced tomatoes and thyme sprigs and season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix gently and cook for about 15-20 minutes until soft and tender.

Before serving, stir in fresh basil leaves.

Serve warm.

Bon appétit!
Lena x

Ratatouille
Ratatouille




Love is in the air… it’s the love affair between me and the French cuisine.

For quite some time I thought about French cuisine as very elaborate and time consuming… until I actually tried experimenting with it myself a few years ago after a few holiday trips to various regions of France as I absolutely fell in love with French cuisine. Yes, there is the ‘haute cuisine’ which indeed is complex and sophisticated, but actually, it’s the classical French cuisine and perhaps the ‘nouvelle cuisine’ which gives much lighter versions of the typical rich, cream-based dishes that grabbed my heart. Not to mention ‘cuisine du terroir’ the regional French cuisine with its rustic character, traditional recipes and local, seasonal produce. The quiches from Lorraine, crepes and galettes from Brittany, ratatouille from Provence, plus all the tarts like the leek tart or tomato tart to name just a couple, or the onion soup. And let’s not forget about the desserts, from macaroons, through lemon tart, all the fruit tarts and obviously the tarte tatin, oh I could just go on as the list is almost endless. An absolute delight!

All this delightful food, is it good for you though? Oh yes, after all, we’ve all heard about the French paradox as the French enjoy one of the longest life expectances in Europe with very low rate of heart disease. I think it’s all about celebrating and enjoying the quality food in the right quantities, and let’s not forget, a glass of red wine can be actually quite beneficial to you. If you ask me, I absolutely think that a healthy diet doesn’t need to compromise on taste and the French cuisine is the best example of this.

As we’re just about to go on our summer holidays in France, you might see a few French recipes on the blog over the coming days. To start with, my breakfast favourite, classic French omelette. It takes just a few minutes to make. If you’re preparing this dish for more than one person, it’s still best to prepare individual small omelettes rather than one for all. Plus they taste best as soon as they’re ready. And do make sure you use best quality ingredients as they make a real difference, so go for good quality free range eggs, best butter you can get (I personally opt for French butter whenever I can) and fresh herbs like the classic ‘fines herbs’ including parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil, although I just love to add a few leaves of fresh thyme too.

Bon appétit!

Ingredients

Serves 1
2 eggs
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (e.g. chives, parsley, tarragon, chervil, thyme)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preparation

In a bowl, put together the eggs and 2 tbsp of chopped herbs. Beat vigorously and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a heavy-based, non-stick frying pan.

Pour the egg mixture on the heated pan.

Cook for about 2-3 minutes, without stirring until the eggs are just lightly set.

Sprinkle with the remaining herbs and fold the omelette over.

Serve immediately.

Bon appétit!
Lena x

Classic French Omelette with herbs
Classic French Omelette with herbs




A warm summer evening. It’s time for a home-made dinner, but who wants to stay inside on an evening like that. Let’s go out. A dinner on the balcony. A few candles lit to give the evening an even more relaxed ambience. Tranquil music in the background mixes with some pleasant sounds from the garden and nearby park. Bliss. Let’s eat. Let’s talk. Let’s enjoy the evening.
What could be better for a light summery dinner than some grilled vegetables. And the winning duo of early summer days are the artichokes and asparagus. Delicate flavours of vegetables are smartly accentuated by the lemon and garlic dressing. Hmm, a charcoal grill would be ideal for this, but even our home grill does the job well.
And here we are, sat on the balcony, mouthful by mouthful enjoying the artichokes and asparagus. Best enjoyed eaten with fingers if you ask me. Perhaps it gets more messy, but it’s so much more satisfying than proper fork and knife etiquette. It’s all about taking it easy tonight. Enjoying the moment. Right here. Right now.

Ingredients

Serves 2
2 fresh artichokes
Bunch of fresh asparagus
1 lemon, sliced
Juice of half a lemon
75ml extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preparation

Wash artichokes and asparagus under running cold water.



Prepare a large bowl full of water with a splash of lemon juice and keep the artichokes in the water whilst you’re not working on them. This will prevent from browning.



To prepare the artichokes, trim about 2 cm from top of each artichoke. Peel the stems with a vegetable peeler. Remove and discard any loose bottom leaves. Using scissors, trim 1cm off top of outer leaves. Cut the artichokes in half lengthwise. Remove choke using a small spoon or melon baller.



Trim the asparagus stalks, removing the hard ends if needed and cut them in half.



Bring a large pan of salted water with a splash of lemon to a boil. Place the artichokes onto the boiling water and simmer for 12 minutes. Add the asparagus and simmer for another 3 minutes. Rinse the vegetables under cold running water and drain well.



In a small bowl mix the olive oil with lemon juice of half a lemon and crushed garlic cloves and season to taste with salt and pepper.



Brush the artichokes and asparagus with some of the dressing.



Grill the vegetables and half of the sliced lemons on a preheated grill over medium-high heat on both sides, adding some more dressing as you turn the vegetables on the other side. This should take about 10-12 minutes.



Serve warm, drizzled with the remaining dressing together with lemon slices.

Bon appétit!
Lena x

Grilled artichokes and asparagus in lemon dressing (anti-candida)
Grilled artichokes and asparagus in lemon dressing (anti-candida)




One recipe I didn’t manage to make during a recent visit to my parents, simply as there wasn’t enough days to fit it in, were millet stuffed courgettes. I did try it in advance with quinoa, which you could also use in this recipe, and as millet is much more popular in Poland, I thought I’d make it using this yellow gluten-free grain. It works deliciously with both grains. I’m sure mum will be trying it out soon.



This recipe is the essence of summer, combining ripe courgettes (try using smaller ones though) filled with a very summery combination of grains, flavoursome sundried tomatoes, nuts and seeds. The fusion of colours is wonderful too, with the yellow stuffing thanks to the millet, with some red, brown and green accents, in green courgette shells, all in red tomato sauce.



It looks very impressive whilst actually isn’t difficult to make at all. For me, this is a perfect Sunday lunch, a great dinner that would surprise your guests, or an exciting dinner for two.

Ingredients

Serves 2
2 small courgettes
120g millet
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 bunch of spring onion, chopped
8 dried tomatoes, chopped
15ml / 1 tbsp olive oil
30g walnut, roughly chopped
25g pumpkin seeds
25g sunflower seeds
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the tomato sauce
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
15ml / 1 tbsp olive oil
Fresh thyme and basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 200 C / gas mark 6.


Place the whole courgettes on a baking tray and bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes until they soften. Take out from the oven and leave to cool.


In the meantime, heat the olive oil on a large pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 2-3 minutes until golden. Add the chopped spring onion and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the millet, stir well and cover with 350ml of water. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook over a medium heat for about 15 minutes until the millet absorbs the water and is soft.


Meanwhile, cut the baked courgettes in half, lengthwise and using a spoon scoop out the flesh leaving about 0.5cm thick skin. Roughly cut the flesh and add to the millet, together with chopped sundried tomatoes.


When the millet is ready, take it away from the heat, add the chopped walnuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds and season to taste with salt and pepper.


Transfer the millet mixture onto the courgette skins. Place the stuffed courgettes in a preheated oven and bake for about 15 minutes.


To prepare the tomato sauce, in a small sauce pan heat the olive oil. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook for about 2-3 minutes until golden. Add the chopped tomatoes and fresh herbs and cook over low heat for about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


Take out baked courgettes from the oven and serve warm with the tomato sauce.


Bon appétit!
Lena x

Millet stuffed courgettes
Millet stuffed courgettes




I really fancied something delicious this weekend. Something absolutely indulgent, delectably sweet and creamy. And this shouldn’t mean any less healthy. As I couldn’t make up my mind, I decided to do a bit of food gazing and came across this recipe. Oh yes, I definitely had to try it out. Only three ingredients, yogurt and fruits, no sugar added, no cooking and baking required, just some time to drain excess water. So as long as you can plan it a day ahead, this is the ultimate healthy dessert to indulge in. Try it yourself.

Ingredients

500g Greek yogurt
125g strawberries, hulled and halved
7 oranges (or 500ml freshly squeezed orange juice)

Preparation

Line a medium sieve (about 12cm wide) gauze (you can also use paper towels for this) and place it over a bowl.

Stir the Greek yogurt in the container to make it smooth and pour onto the sieve. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 24 hours, whilst any excess water drips into the bowl and the yogurt thickens.

An hour before serving, prepare the orange sauce. Cut the oranges in half and squeeze out orange juice. In a small sauce pan, bring the orange juice to a boil. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes until reduced to a third of its original volume and thickened. Chill in the fridge.

When ready to serve, remove the yogurt from the fridge and gently turn the yogurt and the sieve onto a serving plate. Remove the gauze or paper towels. Gently mold the yogurt with a spoon to achieve the desired form.

Garnish with strawberries and pour over some orange juice.
Serve with some more orange juice on the side.

Bon appétit!
Lena x

Yogurt cheesecake with strawberries
Yogurt cheesecake with strawberries