Sunday, May 2, 2010

Russia? Hungary? Austria? Identity Crisis!

For many years now, my family has identified itself as Russian.  I was under the impression that my family had come from Belarus, my sister was of the opinion we were somehow Ukranian.  Where she got that idea, I don’t know.  I got my idea from a friend of my husband’s who was from Russia and said it was a common name from Belarus.

This past week, I received an email via from my father’s cousin, Patty.  I don’t recall meeting her, but she remembers my sister and me from when we were little and went swimming at her mother’s house.  She has learned a lot about our family, and sent me some information about my great-grandparents.  It turns out that they came through Ellis Island and identified themselves as Hungarian!!!  Hungarian!?  Really?  What happened to Russia? 

We communicated more and more and today I spoke with her mother, my great-aunt.  On her birth certificate, my great-grandparents are listed as being Austrian!  Austrian?  Hungarian?  Russian?  What gives?

P1040714 So to prepare for today’s big phone call, I invited my sister to participate and decided to cook foods from Hungary and Austria both to celebrate our new cultures and stave off an identity crisis.  I did a Google search on Hungarian recipes and found June Meyer's site.  She is staunchly Hungarian-American, and I settled on her recipe for Sour Cream Potato Salad.  I’d been dying to do Austria for a while now, as when we were in Vermont last summer, we went to the Trapp Family Lodge and I picked up a cookbook called “Now That’s A Linzertorte!” by Marshall Faye, the pastry chef at the Trapp Family Lodge.  I wanted to make that linzertorte in the worst way.  So I did it today!

P1040713 Of course, I started by going to the grocery store and picking up the ingredients I needed for both recipes.  It was probably the easiest part of the day.  Leah was totally crabby throughout Wegman’s, but I brought her home and put her to bed before I got cooking.  That was the last quiet moment I had—she was in a TERRIBLE mood all day and just sat around crying.  I even gave her a stalk of celery, which would typically make her very, very happy, but not this time.  I pray she is not getting the cold I am finally getting over.  Anyway, you can see my dirty little cooking secret:  whenever I have a recipe that needs hard boiled eggs, I go to the grocery store and buy them off the salad bar.  I don’t have the patience to boil eggs and I am not especially good at it.  It saves a lot of time and a lot of hassle. 

P1040715 Linzertorte ingredients

P1040716 So of course, the first thing to do is boil up some potatoes.  While I got those boiling, since they needed to sit afterwards and cool, I decided to get cracking on the linzertorte. I started by putting some walnuts in the food processor and grinding them up.  When that was done, I started creaming together cold butter and sugar.

P1040718After it was nicely mixed, I added in the walnuts, an egg, flour, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg and combined them into a nice dough.

P1040721I hadn’t read the directions all the way through (will I ever learn to do that!?), but it turns out that Marshall’s recipes makes TWO linzertortes.  You basically take the dough and divide it into quarters.  You take two of the quarters and press them into 8” pans to form a bottom crust.

P1040722Then you roll out the other quarters.  I am a terrible dough roller.  This dough was no exception.  It was quite sticky and stuck to the countertops like crazy.  I also had stuff everywhere, so I had a limited amount of counter space on which I could do any rolling.  Consequently, it was shaping up to be a disaster!

P1040724As you can see, the dough crumbled quite crazily and there was no way of making a nice rectangle of dough.    Then you were supposed to take some of the strips and put them along the sides of the pans to build up the crust.  I basically took all the strips that looked like crap and did just that.

P1040725 Then it was time to measure out and mix the jam.  I had some conflicting feelings about the jam.  According to the story in the book, Marshall Faye went through dozens of linzertorte recipes attempting to find one that met with Maria Trapp’s approval.  She kept saying that something was missing, something wasn’t quite right. Finally, one of the Trapp children pulled Marshall aside and told him that Maria had always mixed the raspberry jam with red currant jam, but Marshall was only using raspberry jam.  He switched to a half and half mixture of currant and raspberry and won Maria’s approval!  I didn’t know what currants tasted like, and I was nervous about mixing up something I knew I’d like with something I didn’t know if I’d like or not.  (raspberries are my favorite berry!)  Still, I decided ultimately that that’s what 80 Plates is all about—trying new things—and since Wegman’s had currant jam, it seemed like a sign.  I mixed them together and spread them over the crust, and then attempted to lay strips of crust over the jam in a sort of lattice-like thing, although I didn’t do the weaving business.  When that was put together, I sprinkled some slivered almonds over the whole thing.

P1040729Since it was such a pain in the but with the cut strips, which fell apart whenever I tried to move them, I decided to do the top of the second torte using snakey-ropey type things that I could easily roll out by hand and put in there.  They still broke apart, but it wasn’t as much work as rolling and cutting. I put them in the oven and drained my potatoes.

P1040730Around this time I started feeling kinda warm.  At first I chalked it up to the fact that there was boiling water on the stove and the oven was on.  But as the day wore on and it got warmer and warmer, we realized our new air conditioner (less than a year old!) was on the fritz. FUN! 

P1040732 Anyway, time to make potato salad!  I chopped up the potatoes, celery, onion, and hard boiled eggs.  It looked pretty good just like that!!!  Oh, and I decided not to peel the potatoes—I just didn’t feel like it.  But I was supposed to.  Then in a bowl, I combined sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper, and sour cream.  I was not too sure how I was going to like vinegar and sour cream mixed together, but I remember my great-grandmother’s recipe for potato salad mixed vinegar and mayonnaise, so I went for it.

P1040734It did make a beautiful, smooth dressing with sweet little flecks of black pepper.  I poured it over the potato mixture, combined, and sprinkled paprika over the whole thing before putting it in the refrigerator for the flavors to set up together.  By then, the linzertortes were ready to come out of the oven.  Doesn’t everything look divine?

P1040731P1040735And I don’t think it really matters that I rolled the dough on the one torte versus making the ropes on the other.  They both look great.

The rest of our meal was good ole American.  Our friends Russell and Amy had given us some Southern Gold barbeque sauce, and I marinated some chicken in what we had of it, and then grilled it.  I am becoming a master at grilling chicken!!!  I paired that with corn on the cob, a green salad, and the potato salad.  Little did I know that Lucas doesn’t eat potato salad, and Michael also declined to so much as try it, the first country he has staunchly refused even one bite.  I was gravely disappointed, but I respected his decision.  Here’s our happy little party and my plate:

P1040736P1040737All the food was spectacular.  There is nothing like a really good, well balanced, home cooked meal.  Our grill has been out of gas for several weeks, so I haven’t been able to grill since Leah’s birthday, but I sure intend to change that!!!  Sadly, we are out of Maurice’s sauce, so I will have to grill up some other chicken and some pork tenderloins I have handy.  Alton Brown was right when he said, “Anything you can make is better than anything you can buy.”  Amen!  We all tucked in as much as we could while leaving a little room for dessert.

About that time, all the kids started getting crabby.  Leah was up from her nap and none too happy to see interlopers in her turf.  William was starving to death. Dottie wanted to fling stuff around.  So I pulled the sides off the springform pan, handed Lucas a knife, and told him to go to.  We also had our torte with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.


P1040743 P1040742Fortunately Mike decided to try the torte, and declared it spectacular!  If anything, I think the red currant jam mellowed out the sharpness of the raspberries a little bit.  I loved it!!! 

After dinner, we got the kids settled and called Aunt Theresa and spoke to her for about 20 minutes.  She was a spunky lady with a few stories to tell and I really enjoyed speaking with her.  She is going to call her brother and find out anything he might know and give me a call back.  I hope to stop and see her in June when Mike and I take Leah to NYC for the first time.  It’s all very exciting to be in touch with family I either didn’t know I had or didn’t know was still alive :-)  And Aunt Theresa loves to play bingo.  Can we say BONUS!?

One more country and we’ll have done 50.  Imagine?  I don’t know if we’ll get there, but I never thought we’d make it this far!  Cool!

Friday, February 26, 2010

80 Plates In My Kitchen & How Emily Used Every Single One of ‘Em

So last weekend, I had Emily and Melissa down to do 80 Plates: Central and South America.  We started out planning to do just Chile and Mexico, but then Emily thought, “what the heck!  Let’s toss in El Salvador to round things out!”  We divided up the ingredient list and after a delay of a couple of weeks due to Snowmageddon, we were ready to roll!  Melissa came down to party too, since there is no party like a cooking party :)

My request was to learn to make empanadas, which is one of my favorite foods at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Pancho Villa.  Emily had an empanada recipe from Chile, so we decided to use that, and she brought a chalupa recipe from Mexico and we decided that would be our Mexican dish.  She also had been wanting to try horchata, a rice drink that is quite popular in Central America, and we decided to try that for El Salvador.  Thus, we had a menu.  Melissa ran to the store and contributed salsa, guacamole, and sour cream, and the party was on :)  Oh, and to celebrate EMILY’S BIRTHDAY, she made a Tres Leches cake, and we finished prepping it here.

DISCLAIMER:  Leah was cuh-rank-ee during this whole afternoon, so consequently I didn’t do the picture taking or a whole lot of cooking.  I’m doing my best here, people, work with me!

P1040093 We started out by making the empanada dough.  I will include the recipe at the bottom, as this is a recipe from the same cookbook Emily provided when we did 80 Plates Ecuador.  The crust was a mixture of butter, flour, baking powder, salt, egg, and water.  My stand mixer was put to work to put it all together.


P1040141 Once she formed it into a ball, it went into the refrigerator until we were ready to bake the empanadas.  Meanwhile, I worked on the filling.  It required finely cubed steak, chopped onion,   cooked together in a bit of oil until tender.  I chopped up onions and the steak and got to cooking! Once it was done, I added cayenne, oregano, flour, salt and pepper, then let it cool in the pan off the heat. 

P1040096 Then we decided to pour the liquid over the Tres Leches Cake, which translates to “Three Milks Cake”.  The three milks in question were evaporated, sweetened condensed, and heavy cream.  We did use fat free evaporated and sweetened condensed milks, but what can you do about the heavy cream, really?  So Em mixed them together, and we were all going to take turns doing some ladling onto the cake.  Emily got the first ladleful on there and screamed, “Stop!  We’re supposed to poke holes in it first!” and we all busted up laughing.  Alright, it was funny at the time, ok people?!

(I should note that she had already baked the cake before she got to my house, and she used The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for it.)

So she and I got forks out and we poked holes in the cake, and whaddaya know, it absorbed the milks much better!  We all took turns with the ladle and soon the cake was swimming in sweet, delicious milk.







P1040095 We set that aside and used the  extra milk that was left over to make the the horchata.  Emily decided to make up her own recipe to an extent, as the recipe she had called for soaking rice in water for hours, straining it, and then blending the hell out of it to make rice milk.  Why bother when rice milk is readily available?  Basically all that was required was to pour the rice milk and the other milks into a saucepan with some sugar and cinnamon and regular milk and heat it up!

P1040114 P1040115 P1040119Once that was done, we put it in the freezer and let it cool off for a while.

This was all taking some time, mind you.  When Emily first arrived, she, Michael, and I all spent a couple hours catching up on all the hot gossip since we’d seen each other in October (was it that long ago!?).  Then Melissa arrived and since they didn’t know each other, they had to become fast friends.  Meanwhile, we had a 10 month old squealing at us.  And we were trying to make 3 or 4 different things at once!!!  It was wonderful chaos in the kitchen :-)

So, now it was time to stuff the empanadas and get them baking so we could make the chalupas.  I had vetoed the idea of putting olives in the empanadas, since I don’t like olives, and on Michael’s behalf, we agreed not to let raisins into the empanadas.  We added cheese and hard boiled eggs and while I rolled out the dough, Emily stuffed the empanadas and got them oven ready!  And look!  She brought me a real rolling pin!!!!!!  WAHOOO!!!!  No more using a wine bottle!!!!!

 P1040150 P1040153 P1040155

Yum!  A quick brush with some egg yolks and we were ready to roll!!!

P1040094 Time to turn our attention to the chalupas.  Again this was a Pioneer Woman recipe, and we did make a modification for The General:  he didn’t get refried beans, while the rest of us did.  Emily was fully in charge of the chalupas as by now, the only thing keeping Leah calm was me sitting on the basement floor playing with her.  I felt like a heel in that I wasn’t helping and I wasn’t really learning, but I did make the chalupas again this week for dinner, so I can say honestly I have made them now and know how.  In addition to a traditional Mexican cheese blend, we used a Queso Fresco, which is a delicious crumbly Mexican cheese.  And we did use fat-free refried beans.

P1040157 The directions are pretty simple, you fry up your corn tortillas in a little bit of oil on the stove until they are crispy on both sides, but haven’t turned brown.  I don’t know about Emily, but when I made them later in the week, I found that turning them pretty regularly and keeping the heat consistently on medium was the key to making it work.

Once the tortillas are are cooked, you spread each one with some refried beans and then top them with the cheese!  Then into the oven they go under the broiler until the cheese gets nice and bubbly.  We did keep a close eye on them while they were in there because broiling is very tricky and things burn very quickly.

P1040177 P1040181

Finally, it was time to eat!!!!!  I took the obligatory group shot of my guests:

P1040183…and we dished up and dined.  From the left, you can see the chalupas, the horchata, and the empanadas.  YUM!!!  It was time for The General’s obligatory first bite and he decided to go with the chalupas:

 P1040187Everything was absolutely DIVINE.  YUM!  I so enjoyed our tour of Central and South America on this one.  The horchata was very sweet and creamy, but the cinnamon was a nice touch too, kind of like an egg nog.  The chalupas were crispy and cheesy and gooey and delicious.  The empanadas were very filling and the crust was perfect while the filling was delicious. They had a real kick to them courtesy of the cayenne pepper.

After we stuffed ourselves, I made up some whipped cream to go atop the cake.  Leah decided to help by eating her first beater, and fingerpainting an obliging Melissa with whipped cream!  (God, I know she’s my kid, but she is SO STINKIN’ CUTE!)  Then Emily frosted the cake and added cherries to the top!  We put in a birthday candle since it was her birthday the day before and then it was time to eat some cake!




Oh my, what can I say about Tres Leches cake?  I have always been very hesitant to try it on account of the fact that I don’t tend to like things that are squishy from being in a liquid, but this was a-ma-zing!!!  YUM!!!

So all in all, an excellent meal with excellent company.  Hooray for cooking from south of our borders and thanks to Emily and Melissa for a wonderful Saturday!  Can’t wait for “ladies night”!




1 box vanilla rice milk
1/3 can evaporated milk
1/3 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 T cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in sauce pan and heat over medium until cooked through.  Chill thoroughly.  Serve over ice.

Empanadas Chilenas

1/4 lb. butter
2 c. flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 lg. egg
1/4+ c water

Cut butter into small cubes and mix with dry ingredients.  Mix in egg with flour mixture.  Slowly mix in water until dough is semi firm.  Shape into a ball and refrigerate at least 15 minutes.

1/2 lb. boneless beef round steak, cut into 1/4 inch cubes (Chilean style) or 1/2 lb. ground beef (Argentina style)
1 c chopped onion
2 T cooking oil
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t oregano
Salt and Pepper
2 t flour
3 T raisins
1/3 c sliced green olives with pimientos
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped

In skillet, cook beef and onion in oil about 5 minutes until tender.  Add in spices and flour, remove from heat and let cool.


Divide dough into 8 portions and roll each portion into a 6 inch circle.  On half of each circle, place 3 T meat, 1 t raisins, some olives, and some eggs.  Fold over remaining dough and press edges closed to seal.  Brush empanadas with egg yolk.  Bake in 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Good Jul and Glogg

In the not too distant past, I ran across a cookbook in the bargain bins at my local Borders.  The book is called Santa’s North Pole Cookbook and features holiday recipes from all around the world that are traditionally served at Christmastime.  One of them is glogg, a traditional wine drink that is served during the holidays in Finland.

P1030563 Initially I vetoed the idea of glogg because we don’t consume alcohol very much in this family (IE ever).  I wasn’t sure if I could substitute grape juice or not, so I decided not to mess with the recipe.  But, God Bless Danny Wegman, I was wandering the aisles of my local Wegman’s supermarket and there in the juice aisle was a special blend of juices marked Glogg!  Woo hoo!  I knew I had another country in my grasp!

And an easy recipe to prepare, as well.  Basically all you do is mull the spices in the juice to make a wonderful warm beverage.  Joyfully, I got to use some of my cardamom, in addition to cinnamon and cloves.  I poured the juice into a big pan, added the spices, and added raisins and almonds, traditionally stewed in the glogg mixture.


P1030565I let it all warm up and the house smelled AMAZING while it was heating.  I was feeling so festive, I decided to get out the good china cups and we all raised a toast to Finland!

P1030566It is hard to describe what glogg really tastes like—it’s spicy and sweet and warm and hearty.  It’s kind of a perfect Christmastime drink.  I hope Wegman’s continues to sell glogg during the holidays, as I could easily see us drinking more of it.

P1030567Leah opted out of the glogg and decided to chew on a candy cane instead.  (Don’t worry, it’s wrapped, her teeth are safe for now!)

P1030568Happy Holidays!