My little sis, Sara, wanted a pepper grinder for her birthday this past summer. So Lindz and I found her a nice one and gave it to her (it ended up being a couple months late, but we’re pretty chill about this kind of thing in my family). Then my uncle Art discovered it. Mom had written a note to remind herself to tell me that I needed to pick up one for Art. Somewhere along the line, my nephew Cole found said note and added his name to it as well. Christmas rolled around, so we gave a grinder to Art and another one to Cole.
Since Cole has been expressing an interest in cooking, Lindz and I decided to pick him up a cookbook as well. The one Lindz selected was Jamie’s Food Revolution, by none other than one of my favorites, Jamie Oliver. Personally, I like a couple of his other cookbooks better, but I couldn’t argue with Lindz’s logic. This book is a spin off of the time he spent in Huntington, West Virginia, where he started a grassroots campaign to end obesity and to get people to eat healthier. While working a bit with the community as a whole, he concentrated his efforts on the school lunch system because that is where he felt he could do the most good. As a result, this cookbook is geared towards a novice in the kitchen and the recipes tend to be on the easier side. Like I said, I couldn’t argue with her logic.
I ended up giving Cole the cookbook a day early because I told him that I was kidnapping him one day, so we could cook supper for people. (I saved the pepper grinder for Christmas day and judging my how much he was bouncing around, I think he liked it). The recipe I picked out was the Ground Beef Wellington. Before we started, I told Cole that he was cooking and I was just there to make sure he didn’t burn the house down.
- 1 medium Onion
- 1 Carrot
- 1 Celery Stalk
- 1 Potato
- 2 cloves of Garlic
- 2 Portabella Mushrooms
- Olive Oil
- 4 sprigs of fresh Rosemary
- large handle of frozen Peas
- 1 large Egg
- 1 pound Ground Beef
- Salt and Pepper
- AP Flour, for dusting
- 2 sheets Puff Pastry
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Peel and chop the onion, carrot, celery, and potato into 1/4″ dice. Finely grate the garlic. Clean and roughly chop the mushrooms to about the same size. Heat 2 Tbs of olive oil over medium-low heat in a large frying pan and place all the veggies in it.
Pick off the rosemary leaves, finely chop them, and add them to the pan. Fry and stir the veggies for around 8 minutes, or until they soften and color lightly. Add the peas and cook for another minute. Put the veggies in a large bowl to cool completely. Crack an egg into a cup and beat it until it is mixed. Add the ground beef to the bowl with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add half of the beaten egg. With clean hands, mix everything up.
Lightly dust a clean work surface and rolling pin with flour. Lay the puff pastry sheets one on top of the other. Roll out the pastry so it is roughly 12″ x 16″. Dust with flour as needed. Turn the pastry so that the long edge is towards you and place the beef mixture along this edge. Mold the beef mixture into an even log. Brush the edges of the pastry with some of the beaten egg.
Roll the beef mixture up in the pastry until it’s completely covered. Squeeze the ends together. Dust a large cookie sheet with flour and place the Wellington on top. Over all of the Wellington, brush with the remaining beaten egg. Bake in the preheated oven for an hour until golden brown.
Since we were cooking for a fairly large crowd, we did a double recipe. Also, since I am apparently inept at finding puff pastry, I just used the croissant dough in the paper tubes. Cole and I did have a minor argument about who got to pop them open. I thought this recipe was a bit under-spiced, but it was well received by everyone.
And now for the surprise!
Chell tried out a different family recipe for coffee cake. She said it was an easier dough to work with, but she liked the crumbles from the original. I would have to agree with her on the topping. These were a bit doughy instead of a nice sugary consistency. The new recipe had cinnamon in it, which wasn’t a bad addition, but I prefer it without. But most importantly, she made it with a poppy seed filling! And even better, she sent a poppy seed one home with Lindz and me!!!
My family is Catholic (with the stray Lutheran or two), so when my Grandfather Mike passed away back in ’76, a mass was said for him. That has turned into a yearly tradition which has been going strong ever since. As other relatives have passed away over the years, they have been added to the remembrance.
The mass is held at my parent’s church (which also used to be my grandparents) and afterwards, everyone heads over to the farm to BS and eat lunch. So I thought it would be fitting to use this as a post on the one year (-ish) anniversary of starting this blog. The reasoning is pretty simple. Family gatherings like these have been a major influence on my life, both culinarily and communally. I look forward to this event each and every year because it’s one of the few times that I get to see a large portion of my family. That and the food. The Czecks love to eat. And they love to eat good food.
I just want to point out that the food has been scaled back significantly as the years have gone by. The food this year completely covered the kitchen table and the desserts took up a decent portion of a counter.
As noted in a previous post, my nephew Cole helped me make a kale salad (I really promise this post is coming soon). My aunt Rosie (and hubby Gary) went to the State Fair this year and she sat through a twenty minute demonstration in order to get this wild rice salad recipe (at least I think this is the recipe). I’m glad she was patient because it was very good. It had avocado, steak, wild rice, and all sorts of other goodies in it. One of my other aunties, Mary Ann, had a freezer full of pheasant, so she used this opportunity to get rid of some of it. Much to everyone’s delight I might add. She fried off the pieces, made a pan gravy, and finished it off in the crockpot. She had some of the younger kids come up to her and tell her how good it was. It was really cute. Some of those kids have never had pheasant before. It warmed my heart that they were willing to try something completely new and even more that they liked it.
Mom was the one who made the sausages. She picked up five pounds of the polish at Thielen’s (as usual) and it all disappeared by the time everyone was through eating. It really is that good. I can’t talk up that meat locker enough.
I think there may have been a riot if my sis, Chell, didn’t make coffee cake. (I’ve posted the recipe before.) I don’t even care that she didn’t make the poppy seed version because she sent a whole apple one home with Lindz and me. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m very easily bribed with food. It’s even easier when it’s really good homemade food.
I was joking with my cousin Jon about the popcorn balls that he brought. I asked him if he was trying to class up the Czeck gatherings by drizzling chocolate over them. He just smiled sheepishly and chuckled. Good enough of an answer because they were a chocolate-caramel delight.
I’ve tried for years to get Mom to sit down, relax for a minute, and grab a bite to eat. But she is having none of it. At this point, I ask the token question of if she needs help and then let her do her thing. For the record, I do gladly help when she asks for it.
As a final note, I am endlessly amused watching people on the farm. It started out many years ago with my cousins. They would run around like wild animals crawling over the hay bales, running through the woods, sitting on the tractors, chasing the cats, mooing at the cows, and spooking the chickens. Or what I would call a normal day. Now that my cousins are older and have kids of their own, I get to watch the next generation do the same thing. And you know what? It still hasn’t gotten old.
Last Saturday, my great-aunt passed away at the ripe ol’ age of 94. (The obit is here.) I have met very few people who were always genuinely happy to see you and Theresia was one of those. Even if our family visits weren’t the most regular. For most of my life, she and Grandma Rose (they are sisters) lived in the same apartment building and later in the same assisted living housing, so it was really easy to duck in and say “Hi.” The catch was that she wasn’t at home all that much because she was off visiting somebody, or shopping, or doing something at church, or out for heaven knows what reason. One of Auntie Theresia’s passions was baking. As an added bonus, she was unbelievable good at it. Her two signature desserts, angel food cake and coffee cake, are the gold standards in our family. It is considered high praise if someone said that you came close to Auntie Theresia’s version. Like all great cooks, she loved to share her creations and we were more than happy to oblige. She was also very prolific in her baking. When we did manage to cross paths and visit, she always had some kind of treat already sitting on the counter or she pulled something out of the freezer to thaw even before you had a chance to sit down. And if you were really lucky, you managed to catch her when she was cleaning out the freezer and she would send something home with you.
Many people in my family have tried to reproduce her recipes. Most have had decent luck with the angel food cake. No one has been able to nail her coffee cake recipe though. My sister Michelle probably comes the closest with a version that’s about 87% of Theresia’s sinfully delicious coffee cake. All the different fillings that Theresia used were wonderful, but the one that everyone fought over was the poppy seed filled one. It had so much poppy seed in it, you couldn’t pass a drug test for a year after only one piece. There would be a layer of three-quarters of an inch of poppy seed across the whole cake. Combined with milk and sugar, the poppy seed layer was always the best part. As a very close second, was the crumb that she put on top of the cake. It is a combination of sugar, flour, butter, and lard that approaches foodie nirvana. Remember fat equals flavor!
I have never worked up the nerves to try this recipe, but here is Auntie Theresia’s Poppy Seed Coffee Cake recipe (as found in the Holy Trinity Centennial Cookbook, Royalton, MN):
Ingredients – Dough:
- 3 1/2 C Milk – scalded
- 1 1/4 C Lard
- 2 tsp Salt
- 1 1/2 C Sugar
- 3 Eggs
- 10 C Flour
2 yeast cakes and 1 package yeast dissolved in 1 C lukewarm water, 2 tsp vanilla and 2 tsp sugar add to above ingredients.
Mix and let rise, punch down and let rise again. Divide dough in greased 10″ round or 7″ square pans. Spread filling (see below). Gather sides to the the middle, pinch together and press down. Spread on dough (beat 1 egg and 2 Tbs sugar mixed so crumbs stick).
- 5 C Flour
- 1 C Butter
- 1 Tbs Vanilla
- 2 C Sugar
- 1 C Lard
Mix until crumbly and spread on dough.
Poppy Seed Filling:
- 6 C Milk
- 1 C Half & Half
Bring to boil and add 2 lbs ground poppy seed, 6 C sugar, 1 Tbs Vanilla; boil slowly for 1 hour stirring frequently; let cool.
Bake at 350 F degrees for 30-35 until brown.
Mind you, this is verbatim from the church cookbook and I’ve never done this before, so if you have questions, ask Michelle. She is getting better as the years go by. Michelle did want me to say that this is a very sticky dough, so be warned.
As a very strange aside, I find comfort in that Fr. Virnig will be co-officiating the funeral. He was the priest at Mom and Dad’s church while I was growing up, and then he moved over to Royalton where Grandma and Theresia lived. Then when Grandma passed, he was one of the officiants at her funeral with my cousin, Fr. Tom. I guess I just like the continuity.
I just want to leave saying that Auntie Theresia will be missed, and more than just for her food.