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!