Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Slovenian Angel Wings: Baked Flancati, A Healthier Update on a Traditional Treat



My grandma used to make us a sweet, beignet-like treat we called by their American name: Angel Wings.  Slovenians call them flancati (flan-tsa-tee) or sometimes pohanje.

She twisted strips of dough into fanciful knots and shapes and plunged them into a simmering pot of oil. (Back then, it might have been Crisco, perish the thought!) They emerged brown and crispy, ready to be mounded on a plate, buried in a snowstorm of powdered sugar, and inhaled by a tribe of hungry grandchildren.

I don't do deep-frying.  So I figured angel wings would remain a distant childhood memory.

Then I spotted a recipe for baked flancati.  I figured it couldn't possibly be legitimate.  But it turns out the recipe came from More Pots and Pans, another cookbook put out by the Slovenian Women's Union of America.  So I figured it was worth a try.

The recipe, I realized, was simply a variant of the rich pastry dough, made with either sour cream or cream cheese, that is used to make those little filled cookies that are beloved by Eastern Europeans.  They are known by various names: Kolachke. Kifles. Rugelach. Everyone has a version.  No, it's not exactly a health food.  But baking rather than  deep frying is still a more health-conscious choice.

I made a few changes in the recipe, drawing on flavor variations I found in some of the traditional fried versions.  Rum instead of vanilla.  A little freshly grated nutmeg.  And I have to confess: I had to use salted butter.  But do try to use unsalted!



2 c. flour
1/2 lb butter, unsalted
2 egg yolks
1/2 c. sour cream
1 t. rum (or vanilla)
freshly grated nutmeg

Cut butter into flour, using knives or (like me) your fingers.  Mix together eggs, sour cream, and rum, and add to the flour-butter mixture.  Mix lightly by hand until dough is firm.   Divide into four portions, wrap well, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove dough from refrigerater and let warm up at room temperature for about a half hour.  Now, here is where these cookies become angel wings.

Roll each portion out on a floured surface, into an 8 or 9 inch square.  Cut into 16 squares, each about 2 x 2 inches.  Cut a slit in the center. At this point, directions differ. Some recipes suggest you can pull a single corner through the slit.  Others offer more elaborate directions: pull one corner forward, another back.  I finally figured out that the shapes look most like angels if you pull an entire side of the square through the slit.  See the before-and-after photos below:







I decided to turn one batch into the familiar kolachke. I just put a small dollop of good quality apricot jam in the middle of each square and pinched two opposite corners together.



Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet, or line with parchment paper, at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, until medium brown.

Here's a step I added:  I turned the angel wings over halfway through the baking time, to make the browning more even and add to the "deep-fried" effect.

Remove to racks and sprinkle with confectioner's sugar.

The verdict:  A sweet and delectable alternative to the deep-fried version.  More like a puff pastry than a doughnut, but with the beautiful shapes and all that sugar on top, who would notice?

Enjoy!  Or, as Slovenians say: Dober Tek!

Update: For the latest twist on baked flancati, see my new"rough puff" version!


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Kasha Mediterranean: A Smokey, Slovenian-inspired, Gluten-free Salad



This unusual dish was the creation of a Slovenian American Facebook friend named Josef. He took a familiar Mediterranean pasta salad as the foundation and then added some twists to reflect his Slovenian heritage.  He calls it Kasha Mediterranean.

Here are the special ethnic touches: Kasha or buckwheat groats, a Slovenian staple, instead of pasta. Paprika, to reflect the Hungarian-influenced cooking of Prekmurje, a northeast border region. Pumpkin seed oil from Styria, a Slovenian-Austrian area to the north and east.  Chickpeas to evoke the spirit of Primorska, the Mediterranean region that borders Italy.  And feta, similar to the tangy Slovenian goat  cheese that was a breakfast favorite during my own visit to Slovenia a few years ago.

This dish is definitely Slovenian inspired, even if it is not a traditional recipe.  So I think it deserves a Slovenian name:  Ajdovi Salata, or Buckwheat Salad.

And one more plus I recently discovered: Thanks to the buckwheat, the salad is gluten-free!

I have made this salad four or five times in the past year. It's a flexible recipe. When we were preparing a cevapcici dinner for a friend on the East Coast recently, I even made it with couscous instead of kasha. Still good, but  I don't recommend skipping the buckwheat!

The recipe that follows is my most successful version so far.  I have followed Josef's original guidelines pretty closely.  To maximize the distinctive smokey-nutty taste,  I do recommend toasting the buckwheat, splurging on pumpkin seed oil, and using smoked paprika.

A word about buckwheat: Kasha is probably the form of buckwheat groats most familiar to Americans, especially in Jewish cooking.  It is usually pre-toasted, often cracked into smaller pieces, and generally packaged in boxes.  This recipe works best with whole buckwheat groats, often sold in bulk.  You may need to toast them yourself, as described below.

To learn more about buckwheat, check out the website for Burkitt Mills, probably the major grower and producer in the United States, or maybe the world.  It will tell you everything you need to know about buckwheat.  You can even buy seeds to grow your own!  (Once again, thanks to Josef for the suggestion!)

And here is an informative and entertaining new site about pumpkin seed oil, by the first American producer of this pricey-but-worth-it delicacy.





Kasha Mediterranean (Buckwheat Salad/Ajdova Solata)


Salad:

1 c. dry whole buckwheat groats or kasha, cooked in
1 ½ c.  salted water

1 16 oz can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
6-8 oz feta cheese, cubed
4 small/medium tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 green pepper, diced
½ c. red onion, diced (or 4 green onions)
4 T. fresh parsley, minced
sea salt, ground, to taste
black pepper, ground, to taste
smoked paprika, ½ t. or to taste

Dressing:

2 T. olive oil
2 t. pumpkin seed oil
juice of 1 lemon
2 T. white wine vinegar
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T fresh mint, chopped
1 t. smoked paprika, or to taste
sea salt, ground, to taste
black pepper, ground, to taste

To prepare buckwheat: Toast the whole buckwheat groats in a dry skillet on medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes, until buckwheat grains have browned.   Add 1 ½ c. salted water and let come to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 15-20 minutes, or until water is absorbed.  Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove cover and fluff with a fork. Let cool. Measure out 1 ½ c. cooked buckwheat to use in salad. Save the rest.

To prepare salad:  Mix 1 ½ c. cooked buckwheat with remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with seasonings and toss.

To prepare dressing: Mix all ingredients together.  You can change the proportions of olive and pumpkin seed oil. A little pumpkin seed oil goes a long way!

To assemble:  Pour dressing over salad and toss lightly but thoroughly.  Taste to adjust seasonings. Chill for several hours or overnight.  Garnish with additional parsley.

Since the feta, buckwheat, and chickpeas are all rich sources of protein, this salad can easily serve as a main course, with a little bread or a plain green salad on the side.  It also works well as a side dish to accompany a plain meat entree, like the sausage shown in the photo.  It's a good dish for a potluck.

But however you use it, this hearty salad is delicious and unusual.  Most recently, it impressed our wandering journalist son, who was visiting from his current home in Kosovo.




Sunday, August 19, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 27: A Cevapcici Dinner for A Friend; Discovering the New Normal





Menu
Cevapcici III with Lamb and Pork
Pita
Chopped Red Peppers
Greek Yogurt
Green Salad
(Almost) Kasha Mediterranean Salad


This was another dinner for a sad time.

We were on the East Coast for a memorial gathering to honor a dear old friend.  He had died six weeks earlier, after months of declining health.  We were staying in the home he had shared with his wife, also a close friend of ours.

On the last day of our visit, a Monday, we offered to make dinner for her.  Perhaps something Slovenian?

Once again, cevapcici seemed like a good choice.  To accompany it, I decided to make kasha Mediterranean salad, an unusual dish that was the creation of a Slovenian-American Facebook friend named Josef.

It seemed like an ideal warm weather dinner.  Everything could be made in advance, and the cevapcici could be prepared on the outdoor grill our friend often used.



We went to the modest grocery store in her small New England town and had a few challenges. There was no ground lamb available, but the store's butcher eventually agreed to grind up a package of  lamb stew meat we selected.  We managed to find pita and Greek yogurt, but no ajvar.  We couldn't find kasha (buckwheat groats) for the salad, so I bought the next best thing, whole wheat couscous.

The cevapcici was a combination of my two previous recipes. The meat mixture was almost identical to the first version.  But the seasonings were more like the second version, which I had spiced up for company.

  
1 lb. ground lamb
3/4 lb. ground pork
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T. fresh parsley, minced
1 1/2 T. paprika (half hot, half regular)
1 1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. pepper
2 T. mineral water.

Mix all ingredients lightly.  Form into  thin sausage shapes and let sit for an hour or more before grilling.


The Mediterranean Salad worked out fine without the kasha, athough it did seem more ordinary with the familiar couscous.  Fortunately, I did have the two other elements my Facebook friend included as a reflection of his Slovenian heritage: chickpeas and paprika.  I mixed in feta cheese, tomatoes, assorted green vegetables, along with fresh parsley and mint from the garden.  After marinating for a few hours in a tart vinaigrette dressing, the salad had a nice tang.  (To see a recipe for the proper version, which I made after I returned home, go here.)



Our friend grilled the cevapcici herself. She seemed to enjoy the meal, although food wasn't really the point.

The memorial gathering was over.  She was entering a new phase of her life. Her children had left earlier that day.  We would be leaving the following morning.  But not together, because my husband had to take the train to Boston for a work-related conference, where he would spend the remainder of the week.  I would make the long flight back to California alone.

So it was a bittersweet farewell dinner.

Tuesday morning, I set out for the airport with a nice cevapcici lunch our friend had packed from the dinner leftovers.  I was touched that she wanted to take care of me, when it was supposed to be the other way around.

When I got home on Tuesday night, after twelve hours in transit,  I was in the mood for something easy  and soothing. So I made myself some šmoren, the simple nursery favorite I had discovered back in January, at the very beginning of my Slovenian cooking project.  I found some strawberries in the refrigerator to go along with the sweet eggy crumbles.  And I opened the bottle of white wine my husband had left in the refrigerator for me.

Wednesday morning, I defrosted the leftover uštipci from our Week 25 dinner.  When I got home from work in the evening, I transformed those peculiar meatballs into a sauce for polenta.  I made a green salad and poured myself a glass of wine.

Thursday night, I defrosted some chicken paprikash from last week's company dinner. More salad and wine.

By Friday, I figured it was time for a change.  So I prepared a salad with some white beans and canned tuna we had in the pantry.  It was probably Italian-inspired more than Slovenian. My husband would be getting home very late that night, and I thought it might be a dish he would enjoy.

That's when it hit me. Slovenian food was no longer an interesting project.  Not just a weekly experiment. It had become comfort food.  A way to take care of myself and other people.  Natural. A part of me.

I could have kept on eating it, night after night.  



Saturday, August 18, 2012

Slovenian-Jewish Fusion Dinner Week 26: Chicken Paprikash and Potato Latkes, Fit for Company




Menu 
Chicken Paprikash II
Latkes (Jewish Potato Pancakes)
Applesauce and Sour Cream
Green Salad


My husband had invited a co-worker and her spouse to join us for dinner.  The date happened to fall on a Tuesday. 

“Don't worry, “ he assured me, “I already told them to expect a Slovenian dinner.”  In his mind, it wasn't even a question.  If it was Tuesday, it had to be Slovenian.

There was just one stipulation. His young colleague had a food request: Potato pancakes—or latkes, in the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition she and my husband share.  He had mentioned preparing them, a few months back, and she had been impressed, or maybe just nostalgic. 

So all I had to figure out was a main course that would go well with potato pancakes.  It shouldn't be too difficult.  I had come to realize that Slovenian and Ashkenazi Jewish cooking styles have a lot in common.  

So this would be my first official attempt at a Slovenian-Jewish fusion dinner.*

I wanted to make a reliable entree that was tasty but not too unusual. Something that would naturally pair with a starchy side dish like potato pancakes. Then it came to me.  

Chicken paprikash.

Four months earlier, I had made a nice simple version, from the 1950s cookbook published by the Progressive Slovene Women of America.  (The homemade egg noodles were the bigger challenge!)

For this week's  “company” dinner, I devised a slightly more elaborate version.  I combined two recipes:  Chicken paprikash from Woman's Glory, another one of my vintage Slovenian American cookbooks, and a chicken pepper stew with potato dumplings from the 1985 Yugoslav Cookbook, the newest addition to my library.  


The version below has more vegetables than the first one, and it includes bacon and tomato puree. And there is an added step at the end: the chicken is removed and the sauce is finished separately and then poured on top.


3 slices bacon 
2 ½ to 3 lbs of chicken breasts, cut up
1 onion 
2 stalks celery
1 green pepper
1 carrot
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
fresh parsley
1 T. paprika (mix mild, sweet, and smoked)
1-2 T. red wine vinegar
chicken stock to cover 
1 T. tomato puree
1 T. flour
2 T. sour cream

Cut the vegetables into small dice and brown in olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven. Add diced bacon. Sprinkle with paprika, salt,  and pepper and cook for a few minutes. Add cut up chicken and brown. Add parsley, vinegar, tomato puree, and enough stock to cover chicken. Cover and simmer for about an hour.

To make sauce: Remove chicken pieces and arrange on serving platter. Mix 1 T. flour in a little broth and add to the drippings and vegetables that remain in the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens.  Remove from heat and stir in sour cream.  Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with additional fresh parsley.















My husband's latkes were wonderful, as always.  He doesn't use recipes and he likes to experiment. (I think these included some zucchini.)   Maybe I'll watch him closely next time and see if I can write down an approximation.  



As for the chicken paprikash: It was a success.  Even better than the first time around. But I have to admit that a flour-thickened sauce, though traditional, can be a little too heavy for today's sensibilities.  Next time, I might skip it. The sour cream probably adds enough richness. 

*An important note: If you were following Jewish dietary laws, you would not serve bacon. You could substitute turkey bacon or simply leave it out.  And the sour cream would be omitted, since dairy cannot be combined with meat.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Prekmurska Gibanica: My All-American Slovenian Strudel Pie Recipe

Prekmurska Gibanica, or Slovenian Strudel Pie

Here is my recipe for prekmurska gibanica.  Or, if you prefer an English name, Slovenian strudel pie. 

I tasted this traditional dessert during my first trip to Slovenia.  It is an unusual and tantalizing pastry with alternating layers of paper-thin strudel or filo dough and a series of fillings: apple, cheese, walnut and poppy seed.

It is a specialty from Prekmurje, the part of Slovenia that borders Hungary. The European Union has recognized it as an official traditional food, with the name and the recipe protected.   

I took the bold step of attempting prekmurska gibanica for the first time and then entering it into my neighborhood Fourth of July pie baking competition.  I actually won third prize. (Of course, there were only seven entries.  But I still felt proud!) 

To learn more about the background of this dish, or to read about the unlikely pie bake-off, take a look at my essay on Red Room, a writing community:



I adapted the recipe from a variety of Slovenian sources, mostly online. It was not in my vintage Slovenian American cookbooks.  Too exotic, I expect!   But it is definitely a traditional food.

I tried to keep the preparation as simple as possible.  There is no denying that this is an elaborate dish.  But it is also a forgiving one. I had a few disasters along the way, and it was still a success.  Even my mother approved!


Going, going, gone!


Bottom Layer (Shortcrust Pastry):

1 ¼ c. flour
dash salt
1/3 c. butter
1 egg, beaten


Cheese Filling:

1 lb. farmer cheese or ricotta
1 egg, beaten
4 T. sugar

Walnut Filling:

½ lb walnuts, ground
5 T. sugar
½ t. cinnamon
¼ to ½ c. hot milk or cream (or a mixture)

Apple Filling:

1 lb apples (3)
4 T. sugar
½ t. cinnamon
1 T. lemon juice
lemon zest

Poppy Seed Filling:

12 oz can prepared poppy seed filling
lemon juice

For the assembly:

1 package commercially prepared filo dough, defrosted overnight if frozen
1 stick butter, melted
1 c. heavy cream


fillings: walnut, farmer cheese, apple, poppy seed



First, prepare the fillings and set aside.

For cheese filling: Blend all ingredients well

For walnut filling: Mix finely-ground walnuts with sugar and cinnamon. Slowly add hot milk or cream (I used half of each) until mixture is a thick but spreadable paste.

For apple filling: Peel apples and cut into thin slices. Mix cinnamon and sugar and add to apples, along with lemon juice to taste.

For poppy seed filling: The prepared filling I used (Solo) was quite thick and sweet.  I mixed it with the juice of a lemon and a little milk/cream until it was spreadable.

shortcrust layer
Next, prepare the shortcrust pastry, which will be the bottom layer:

Mix salt into flour. Cut in butter. Add beaten egg and combine. You should have a crumbly mixture. Butter a deep ceramic dish or spring form pan and press the mixture onto the bottom of the pan.

Now, the assembly:

Cut sheets of filo into pieces that are approximately the size of the dish or pan you are using. Keep covered with a towel during the assembly.

Put the first sheet of filo onto the shortcrust layer you have pressed into the bottom of the dish. (If necessary, fold in corners of the filo to make it fit.) Brush filo with melted butter and spread with a layer of poppy seed filling. Add a second sheet of filo, spread with butter, and then add a layer of cheese filling. Add a third sheet of filo, spread with butter, and then a layer of walnut filling. Add fourth sheet of filo, spread with butter, then a layer of apple filling. Repeat in the same order (poppy seed, cheese, walnut, and apple) for a total of 8 layers of filling.

For the final layer of filo, use two sheets. Spread with melted butter. Then pour about ½ cup of cream over the top of the gibanica. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour. Cover with foil if it starts to become too brown.

Let cool and serve at room temperature.  Refrigerate leftovers.  It is also good cold.

prekmurska  gibanica, out of the oven

A Few Tips:

In trying to create this dish, I had a few mishaps.

Even though I was careful to defrost the filo overnight, it was tempermental. It seemed dry and crumbly and it kept sticking and shattering.  But I was still able to piece it together.  So treat filo carefully, but don't worry too much.  As I noted earlier, a dish like this is forgiving. (And no, I am not tempted to make filo from scratch, although there are recipes available.)

One of the recipes I consulted called for a full cup of warm milk in the walnut filling. I made the mistake of adding it all at once and ended up with a milky walnut soup! I had to grind up more walnuts and add them, along with some sugar, to get the right texture. So follow the revised quantities I suggest above, and add the milk slowly.

The next time I attempt this, I will make my own poppy seed filling. Here is one simple recipe: Grind 8 oz of poppy seeds. Add 5 T. sugar and ½ c. hot milk.

Since I had leftover filling, especially the walnut, I decided to make a second, smaller gibanica. Unfortunately, I forgot to pour the cream on top before baking that one. So it had a crunchier top, as you can see on the right hand side of the photo below. Without the cream,  the inside was drier and it lacked the pudding-like quality I recall from the version we tasted in Slovenia. But it was still tasty.

Oops! I forgot the cream topping on the right hand version















Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Slovenian Strudel Pie: My All-American Fourth of July Winner



The proper name for this delectable dish is prekmurska gibanica.  I will be posting the recipe soon.
(Update: The recipe is now posted here.)

Imagine alternating layers of filo dough and four different fillings: farmer cheese, poppy seed, walnut and apple.  Yes, it was labor intensive.  But well worth it.

In the meantime, you can read more about how I discovered prekmurska gibanica in the Red Room essay below.  I really did enter a neighborhood Fourth of July baking contest with this Slovenian specialty!


Slovenian Strudel Pie: As American as the Fourth of July | Blair Kilpatrick | Blog Post | Red Room



Thursday, August 9, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 25: A Grilled Meatball from The Yugoslav Cookbook of 1985

Menu
Meatballs with Cheese (Uštipci)
Ajvar
Pita
Coleslaw
Crispy Kale

It was the first Tuesday in July, the halfway point in my year of cooking ethnically.  The following day was July 4th, Independence Day in the United States.

I hoped to figure out a dish for tonight's dinner that would also work at the neighborhood Fourth of July cookout.  As usual, each family would bring its own meat to grill, along with another dish for the communal potluck.

Cevapcici would have been an ideal choice, but I wanted to branch out.  So I turned to a new source I had just added to my cooking library:  The Yugoslav Cookbook by Olga Novak-Markovic, issued in 1985 by a publisher in Ljubljana, now the capital of Slovenia.

This once-glossy cookbook wasn't quite as “vintage” as my trio of Slovenian American cookbooks from the 1950s.  But it was an historical document in another way: it was an artifact from the final  years of Yugoslavia's existence.  That multi-ethnic country began to unravel just a few years later.  The first of the constituent republics to break away was Slovenia, during a ten day war for independence in June and July of 1991.

Months earlier, I had borrowed the book from the library of the Slovenian Hall in San Francisco.  A few weeks ago, I had located a copy of the hard-to-find volume for sale through an online bookseller, so I snapped it up.

The English language edition was a joint venture of the original Slovenian publishing house and a British company.  The author was a Slovenian woman.  Although the dishes were chosen to reflect the diversity of food from all the republics of Yugoslavia, the book did appear to have something of a Slovenian focus.

Sometimes the origins of a recipe were noted, and sometimes not. So for me, picking out the Slovenian dishes was a guessing game.  But I had already decided that I would not be a purist in that regard.

Besides, there was a whole section devoted to grilled and barbecued dishes.

I found the recipe for meatballs with cheese, or uštipci, right under čevapčiči. The two dishes looked very similar.  I suspected that they must share the same “oriental influence,” as the cookbook author quaintly put it in the preface, in describing the dishes from Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

Ustipči seemed to be cevapcici with a few twists: a meatball shape, a little bacon, and kačkavalj, described as “a hard, fatty sheep's cheese.”  I assumed it must be the same as  kashkaval, which I could probably find at our local cheese market.

Assuming I did the metric conversions right, the ingredients below follow the original.




1 lb ground beef
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 oz bacon, diced
½  t. salt
½  t. black pepper
½  t. cayenne pepper
2 oz. kashkaval cheese, grated

Mix all the ingredients well. Shape into walnut-sized balls.  Refrigerate, as I did, or grill immediately.

The verdict:  Mixed.  The sides were just fine.  But the meatballs didn't work.  They didn't hold together the first time my husband grilled them.  The second time, he reshaped them into patties, which did work a little better.  But the flavor and texture continued to be odd.

The ingredients just didn't fit together.

I thought the problem might be the bacon.

I had used a thick, uncured bacon from the butcher shop on the corner, diced into squares that were about 1 cm in size.  Those squares looked pretty prominent when I mixed up the meatballs.  I wondered how the fattier bits would crisp up.  Well, they didn't. They didn't cook well at all, especially the ones on the inside.  It was disconcerting to bite into prominent, firm pieces of bacon fat.



The solution might be to use ordinary thin bacon and mince it.  A less fatty cut would also help.

We froze some of the uncooked meatballs.  A month later, I defrosted them, crumbled them up, and used the meat mixture to make a tomato sauce for polenta.  Once liberated, the bacon pieces cooked much better.  (I did pick out some of the tougher fatty bits and discard them.)  The result was was a pleasant tomato-meat sauce with an interesting tang.

Some ingredients are more harmonious when they aren't bound too closely together.

I think this lesson had to do with more than just cooking.






Saturday, August 4, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 24: Goulash for a Bittersweet Birthday


Menu
Beef Goulash II with Sauerkraut
Polenta
Green Salad
Brussels Sprouts
Strawberry Shortcake


It was a Monday in late June, on what would have been Week 24 of my Slovenian cooking project. For the second time in three months, we were in Florida, staying at the home of my husband's father and stepmother. But this was a bittersweet time, because our unplanned trip had been triggered by the death of my husband's mother.

My father-in-law's birthday had been the previous day.  There hadn't been a celebration. But today, my husband and I wanted to do something to observe his special day.  We offered to make a belated birthday dinner.

"I could make a Slovenian dinner," I said hesitantly.

I was more than willing to cook.  As I had learned the previous week, during sad times it can be a relief to perform a concrete, useful task--like feeding other people.

But I wasn't sure how my offer would be received.  My father-in-law is a fine cook who didn't start to slow down until he passed eighty.  During our spring visit, he had shared his special recipe for kreplach, a traditional Jewish dumpling with a strong resemblance to Slovenian žlikrofi.

He is a man of strong opinions about food (and most other things).  So it wasn't a surprise when he didn't immediately embrace the idea of a Slovenian dinner.

He asked what I had in mind.

Goulash, I suggested.  Slovenian-style, made with sauerkraut.

My father-in-law seemed puzzled but intrigued.  He had never tasted anything like that, he admitted.

My husband thought it was a fine idea.  His stepmother agreed.   She took us shopping.

When we got back, my husband and I took over the kitchen.

I followed the same goulash recipe I had used for my Week 4 Dinner, with a few small changes. I used skirt steak, a better cut of meat,  because it was already on hand.  This time, I used green pepper, as the original recipe suggested, instead of red pepper.  To enrich the flavor, we added some white wine toward the end of the cooking period.

We served the goulash on soft polenta, along with a green salad and some nicely cooked brussels sprouts, courtesy of my husband.

Instead of birthday cake, I put together strawberry shortcake with freshly whipped cream.

The goulash worked out well.  If anything, the changes made it even better, this time around.

My father-in-law liked it, too.  And he's not one to mince words, in or out of the kitchen.



Slovenian Dinner Week 23: Caraway Meatballs, A Simple Dinner for a Sad Day


Menu
Caraway Meatballs
Polenta
Coleslaw

The foundation for this dinner was a recipe called "Spaghetti and Meatballs" in Woman's Glory: The Kitchen, the classic cookbook published by the Slovenian Women's Union of America.  When I first saw the recipe, I figured it must be one of their standard American recipes, or perhaps Italian-American.

But then I took a closer look.  Caraway seeds, cheese and bacon? That was not a typical American take on spaghetti.  It might not be traditionally Slovenian, but those were the unmistakable flavors of Central Europe.

So I made a mental note: This dish would be a good choice on a week when I was short of time, or didn't feel up to the challenge of an unfamiliar Slovenian specialty.

Months later, the time arrived.

On Tuesday of Week 23, I didn't want a cooking challenge.  It was a sad time at our house.  My mother-in-law had just died on that June day.   My husband got the call from his stepfather early in the morning.  Even though she was in her eighties and in failing health, it was a painful shock to lose her so suddenly.

The day was filled with phone calls and travel arrangements.  We would be flying to the east coast on Friday.

In the midst of all that turmoil, I felt a surprising relief to have one simple, necessary task to perform. Making dinner.  It might bring a small degree of comfort to both of us.

So I went to Woman's Glory and followed that simple meatball-and-sauce recipe.  My only only real change was to add some matzo meal, when the meat mixture seemed too soft.

I served the meatballs with a stovetop cornmeal polenta, instead of spaghetti.  It seemed more Slovenian that way and also more soothing.

I've given the recipe a new name,  caraway meatballs, since that was the flavor that distinguished it from the standard American version of this dish.

It did turn out to be a good, comforting choice.  And not just because of the food itself.

It seemed right, somehow, to be sustaining my little family with the help an old-fashioned cookbook called Woman's Glory.   Looking back, I consider it a small gift from all those mothers and grandmothers of the past, now gone.

Dinner became a moment to stop and remember all the women in our families, especially the ones we have lost.  A time to give thanks to all those women of blessed memory.



                                                                  


Meatballs:

1 lb. ground meat (original recipe suggests a beef/pork mix)
1/4 c. grated sharp cheese
1 t. caraway seed
1 T. celery, minced (my substitute for green pepper)
1 T. fresh parsley
2 t. salt
pepper, black and cayenne
1 egg
4 T. matzo meal, as needed (my addition)

Sauce:

1/2 c. chopped onion
3 strips of bacon, diced (turkey bacon can be substituted)
24 oz. jar strained tomatoes
salt, pepper to taste
parsley to taste
1/4 t. sugar

Directions:  Mix all the ingredients for meatballs, adding matzo meal (or bread crumbs) to bind, if necessary.   Form into balls and set aside.  For sauce, brown bacon and onions, then add meatballs.  Add tomatoes and seasonings.  Simmer an hour, or longer if you like, adding water as needed.

Serve over polenta, as I did, or over spaghetti.  Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese, if desired.




Friday, August 3, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 22: Mineštra, Not Just for Italians!



Menu
Mineštra (Slovenian Minestrone)
Coleslaw
French bread

I hadn't paid much attention to  the recipe for mineštra in Treasured Slovenian and International Recipes, my never-fail vintage cookbook from the  Progressive Slovene Women of America.

The recipe seemed too familiar.  Too Italian, maybe.

When  I woke up Tuesday morning, I didn't feel like getting out of bed, much less cooking. I could feel a cold coming on.   And Sauce Piquante, my Cajun band, was supposed to practice at our house that night.

Suddenly that Slovenian minestrone seemed like a perfect choice.   Easy comfort food.  And I had almost everything on hand.  So why not?

I made a few changes in the recipe from that 1950s cookbook.   As usual,  I used olive oil instead of lard or drippings. I was a little more generous with the vegetables.  As a short cut, I used canned beans instead of cooking them from scratch.  At least they were those genuine, hard-to-find Roman beans.  Instead of canned peas, I used frozen.

The recipe called for smoked sausages or chopped ham.  I used smoked chicken apple sausages from the butcher shop around the corner.


1 medium onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 T. olive oil
½ head cabbage (part green, part red) sliced
2 smoked chicken apple sausages, sliced
1 can Roman beans (borlotti beans)
1 c. baby carrots
1 medium potato
¼ c. fresh parsley
cherry tomatoes, equal to 2 regular
2 stalks celery
2 quarts water
1 c. frozen peas
¼ c. rice
salt and pepper to taste


Brown onion and garlic in oil.  Add cabbage and sausage and let brown.  Add remaining ingredients except for peas and rice.  Cover and simmer.  Adjust seasonings.  When vegetables are almost tender, add rice, cover,  and simmer for 15 minutes more.  Add peas and simmer for 5 more minutes.




It was comforting to see that nice pot of soup bubbling away on the stove!

When it was time to eat, we sprinkled the soup with freshly grated parmesan cheese and had some coleslaw and bread alongside.

The verdict?  Delicious and comforting.  I even felt revived enough to play the Cajun accordion!

The one change I would make next time:  A spicier sausage.   The chicken-apple was a healthy choice, but a little mild for our taste.  Next time, I'll use Italian or Polish sausage. Unless, of course, I have some authentic Slovenian klobase handy!