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Family Time, Beef Wellington, And A Happy Surprise!

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.

Ingredients:

  • 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.

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Yeah, probably should have split this between two pans.

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.

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Cole working hard and getting dirty.  As it should be.

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Cole demonstrating the proper folding technique to mix the ground beef and veggies.

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.

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Here Cole is demonstrating how to brush on egg wash to the edges of the dough.

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.

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Glossy and fresh out of the oven.

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Not too bad for a twelve year old.

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!!!

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Don’t take a drug test after eating this. Seriously. False-positive. Mythbusters proved it.

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Grandma Rose was holding out on us!

One of the traditions that we had growing up at the Czeck Christmas gatherings was a dessert called Makówki (pronounced mah-KOOV-kee).  The way that Grandma Rose made it sort of defies explanation.  You almost have to experience it to fully understand and appreciate it.  Of course, being genetically inclined towards the stuff doesn’t hurt either.  You’ll understand that point better in a little bit.

The “official” recipe that Grandma Rose used for Makówki was like all old family recipes.  Not exactly big on measurements.  I’m sure someone has a version written down that has some actual numbers associated with it, but I’m too lazy at the moment to find out, so here’s the version that I have.  Take homemade bread (it has to be homemade) and tear it into chunks, then let it sit out on the counter and get stale.  Next, you make a simple syrup solution with ground poppy seeds in it, and build up layers, alternating between the bread and syrup in a bowl.  Refrigerate it for at least several hours and then serve.  What you end up with is a really soupy, sweet, soggy bread with a crap load of poppy seeds in the mix.  Sounds appetizing right?  I don’t think many of the in-laws actually eat the stuff.  I’m not even sure how many of my cousins do.  I know that at least some do, because my cousin Stephen and I were talking about it at Roy’s wake with a couple of my aunties.  It was established that our respective wives won’t touch the stuff, but we actively sought it out.  I also found out that my aunt Rosie has the official Makówki pottery bowl, and of course it’s green.  Rosie mentioned that her brother Mel was supposed to have been the one to keep the Makówki recipe alive.  He took the time and made it with Grandma Rose so he understood how to make it.  But unfortunately he passed away over ten years ago and no one took the opportunity to learn it again while she was alive.  I know that Mary Ann made it a couple of times, and it is possible that one of Mel’s sons has it.  I’ll have to make inquiries into some kind of official version in the near future.

A reasonably close picture of how Grandma Rose’s Makówki looked.

When I started actively collecting recipes and searching out different dishes, I always was on the look out for this recipe.  I had flipped through every applicable section of any Polish cookbook that I could find hoping to discover a variation of this dish.  I even read through the index looking for the recipe.  I was becoming increasingly convinced it was something that Grandma Rose had made up.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one that came to this conclusion because Rosie mentioned that she too was convinced of the same.  Grandma Rose was well known for combining odd things and making them taste amazing.  Her punch being one example (some odd combination of 7-Up, fruit juice, kool-aid, and who knows what else).  I guess living through the Depression and raising nine kids forces you to become creative in the kitchen.

You can’t even imagine my surprise and delight when I literally stumbled across a Makówki recipe while browsing the web.  I finally had a starting point outside of my family to do some research!  It seems that outside of Silesia, this dish is not well known.  In fact, many people in Poland haven’t even heard of this dish.  Talk about your regional cuisine!  This would explain why I’ve never seen it in any of the cookbooks.  Although I was impressed that there is a Wikipedia article on it (a few key selections):

The main ingredient are: sweet white bread and finely ground poppy seeds boiled in milk with butter. Other important ingredients include: dried fruit (figs, raisins, apricots, dates, etc.) almonds and other kinds of nuts (the choice of nuts and dried fruit varies). It is flavoured with sugar, honey, vanilla, cinnamon and rum.

Silesian cuisine can be very conservative. The tradition of makówki/mohnkließla/mohnpilen is well maintained amongst Silesians, i.e., it is hard to imagine a Silesian Christmas without this foodstuff, and it would be rather unorthodox to serve it outside the Christmas–New Year period.

I basically only found two versions of the recipe doing a Google search.  This one is fairly close to what Grandma Rose made (which strangely enough is the one that was in Polish).  The measurements in brackets are the originals, I have converted them to US standard.

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 1 1/2 quarts [liters] of milk
  • 5 large tablespoons of sugar
  • 8 3/4 oz [250 g] of poppy seeds
    (ground dry)
  • 2 small wheat buns
  • 5 1/4 oz [150 g] hazelnuts
  • 1 3/4 – 3 1/2 oz [50-100 g] walnuts
  • 5 1/4 oz[150 g] of raisins

Mix the sugar and milk together in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Add the ground poppy seeds and bring back to a boil (the recipe doesn’t state how long you need to boil this mixture).  Refrigerate the poppy seed mixture until cool.  Meanwhile, cut the buns into slices and chop the nuts quite finely.  In a large glass bowl, alternate layers of bun, nuts, raisins, and the refrigerated poppy seed mixture.  Repeat until you use up everything.

Grandma Rose’s version did not have the milk, nuts, and raisins.  Also, she used white bread instead of wheat buns.

The other version that I found sounds completely over the top compared to what I’m used to eating.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups poppy seeds, ground
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 8 tablespoons honey
  • 3 ounces rum
  • 6 ounces Amaretto
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup raisins (pre-soaked in a little rum)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 loaf raisin bread (sliced 3/4 thick)
  • 2 ounces chocolate, shaved (bitter sweet)
  • 1 tablespoon sliced almonds
  • whipped cream (optional)

Prepare a day before because this needs to refrigerate over night.  It is sometimes difficult to find ground poppy seeds, so I use the poppy seeds, put them in a coffee filter and pour boiling water over the poppy seeds twice, to soften them up, then put them in the food processor, set aside.  In a large pot over medium heat bring the milk, cream and butter almost to a boil.  While constantly stirring with a wooden spoon, add the honey, rum, amaretto, cinnamon, raisins, walnuts, and almonds.  Reduce heat to medium low and let this cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn the heat off and add the ground poppy seed, stir twice and let the mixture sit for 10-15 minute (its important to have the heat off because the poppy seeds can become bitter if heated too much).  The mixture should be slightly thickened.  In a large glass bowl alternate layers the poppy seed mixture and the bread slices, starting with a ladle of the poppy seed mixture and ending with poppy seed mixture.  Should be 3 – 4 bread layers.  Cover the top with chocolate shavings and almond slices.  Cover and put in the fridge overnight.  Can be served with whipped cream.

Personally, I think the chocolate and the whipped cream are completely unnecessary.  I do like the idea of adding the dairy to make it more like a bread pudding.  And if you are going to do that, you might as well add the nuts and dried fruit because they go well that style of pudding.  Adding a alcohol to a dessert, to my knowledge, has never hurt anything.  But by the time that you get here, you’ve got a fairly typical bread pudding with poppy seed in it.  While it may be the more traditional Silesian version, I think I’m going to stick with Grandma Rose’s for the familial tradition and personal memories.

R.I.P. Auntie Theresia

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).

Crumbs:

  • 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.

Not Theresia's coffee cake, but it's the closest picture I could find.

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.