Treats from a Tree: Welcome To Maple Country

Happy Wednesday! Welcome to Week 7 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. Tonight in the kitchen we are heading to Canada, the big, beautiful neighbor that sits right above us in the United States and offers up all sorts of creative inspiration for the artistic mindset.

On the famous front…  it’s the new home of Harry and Megan, it’s the birthplace of Lucy Maud Montgomery, it’s the creator of cheese curd covered french fries and it’s the film location star for over a dozen favorite movies (Titanic, Gorillas In the Mist, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Seven Years in Tibet, Catch Me If You Can, Anne of Green Gables, Capote, Juno, Good Will Hunting, The Notebook, Legends of the Fall, A Christmas Story, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Cutting Edge, and Fly Away Home to name just a few). It also shares an interesting fun fact with last week’s Recipe Tour destination, Brazil. Do you know what it might be? Here’s a clue…

Canada, as it turns out, is a natural leader when it comes to being a tree loving paradise. With over 318 billion on record (as of 2015), it boasts the second largest collection of trees in the world. In case you were wondering, Russia has the largest collection, then Canada, then Brazil and then the United States.  Among all those billions of trees lives one in particular that is so special it has its own name and a regular roster of visitors. Meet Comfort…

The Comfort Maple, Pelham, Ontario, Canada.

the oldest surviving sugar maple in all of Canada, possibly in all of the world. Named after the Comfort family of Pelham, Ontario who donated the tree and surrounding land to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority in the 1960’s, the Comfort Maple is believed to be about 500 years old. Included in a land sale purchased by the Comfort family in 1816, this lucky sugar maple has survived more than five centuries thanks to a calm relationship with Mother Nature and years of thoughtful care from generations of the Comfort family. Standing 80′ feet tall and measuring 20′ feet in diameter at the trunk, it’s amazing to think about all the life that has occurred in and around this tree. Now a designated living monument to history, this majestic heirloom has become one of the most treasured icons in all of Canada with people from around the globe coming to picnic under its branches.

 

Like the Comfort tree, the Canadian recipe we are whipping up in the kitchen tonight is also a national favorite steeped in its own time laden history. On the menu, we are making Maple Walnut Tart, a sweet treat of a dessert that features a sugary pool of 100% pure maple syrup  that has been dotted with walnuts and then tucked between two layers of pie crust. Although, it is traditionally called a tart, it is much more of a thin, shallow pie.

Maple Walnut Tart

Born out of necessity and enterprise, Maple Walnut Tart is a Canadian manifestation of Tarte au Sucre (Sugar Pie) which was a popular dessert in France involving sugar, eggs and pastry dough. When the French started immigrating to Canada, sugar was an expensive, often unobtainable commodity. Luckily these new French Canadians had a local sweetener right in their own backyard – the sap of the maple tree. The sugar in their French pie was swapped for maple syrup and a new national dessert was born. Likewise, as a nod to further tweaks and adjustments, over the course of the past century, Maple Walnut Tart has taken on a menagerie of variations including additional ingredients. Eggs, butter, salt, cream, lemon peel, bread crumbs, granulated sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate and even other nuts create signature desserts that nowadays are almost always baked open- faced, without a top crust.

That makes the vintage recipe we are making in the Vintage Kitchen quite unusual now, since it has a traditional top and bottom crust and very few ingredients. Containing just seven in total, it is made of a collection of everyday essentials that you almost always have on hand. Because of its simplicity, it reminded me a lot of one of those homemade desserts you might whip up on the impromptu when you are craving something sweet but don’t have all the necessary ingredients on-hand to make anything remotely decadent like a chocolate layer cake or fancy cookies or a berry pie.

The star of the show and the highlight of this recipe is of course the maple syrup, one of Canada’s most well-known foods. Producing on average about 10 million gallons a year, Canada is the leader in maple syrup production in the world. Interestingly, most of it comes from one province in particular – Quebec – which means if you are a fall foliage lover with a sweet tooth that’s where you should head come Autumn!

I was excited to find 100% pure maple syrup from Quebec at Trader Joe’s. Most of the maple syrup at all the other markets or grocery stores in my neck of the woods seem to come from New York State or Vermont. At $16.00 a bottle it was a splurge for the Kitchen but after learning so much about maple syrup production for this post I have a new found appreciation for it.

Did you know that on average it takes one sugar maple between 30-50 days to produce 40 gallons of sap? That 40 gallons of sap yields just one gallon of retail-ready maple syrup. The bottle of maple syrup that I purchased for this recipe was 25 oz in total, which is just a little under a quarter of a gallon. Basically this means it took one tree, one full week to make my one bottle of maple syrup. What a feat! Although I only needed one cup for this recipe, it makes me appreciate every drop:)

This is the first recipe in the Tour that I’ve had mixed feelings about. I’ll get to the recipe first so that you can see what is involved and then I’ll follow up at the end…

Maple Walnut Tart

(serves 6-8)

1 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup shelled walnuts, coarsely chopped

Pastry for a two crust 8″ inch pie (I used my reliable family heirloom pie crust recipe which you can find here).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the pastry and then set aside while the filling is being made.

Bring the maple syrup and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Continue to boil for two minutes. Mix the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl and add to the boiling syrup., stirring constantly for about two minutes or until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter, and cool quickly by placing the pan in the refrigerator (about 10-15 minutes).

Line an 8″ inch pie pan with the pastry, pour in the cooled syrup and sprinkle the walnuts on top.

Cover with the top crust, crimping the edges to seal, and cut a few slashes in the center of the pastry to allow steam to escape.

Bake for thirty minutes in the center of the oven. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Originally at the onset of preparing this recipe, I thought the end result was going to be  more creamy and caramel-like in both consistency and taste.  In actuality though, it is much simpler – really just imagine walnuts drizzled in maple syrup and wrapped in pie dough and you pretty much have the general gist.

Needless to say, at first bite, the tart was pretty underwhelming. My first thought was there’s not enough ingredients (ie flavor components) to make this sensational. The maple was there but it mixed very soft and very subtle with the pie crust. The walnuts, didn’t really melt or dissolve when baked in the oven and therefore left a chunky consistency. This aspect actually  turned out to be a nice contrast though with the softer syrup.

I can understand now why different versions have been created with eggs and spices and additional flavor enhancers. Every modern day recipe for Maple Walnut Tart I looked at in comparison to this one included butter, eggs, milk, vanilla, brown sugar, etc in significant quantities. In full agreement, I think ultimately, what this recipe is lacking is a creamy fat component. Over the course of this next week, I’m going to experiment with some creamier accompaniments… a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a dollop of freshly whipped cream, a few slices of apple and brie and see if that might just be all the pizzazz you might need to create a more satisfying dessert. I’ll report back on those findings next week.

In the meantime, I’m excited and anxious for you guys to try this recipe and see what you think. In my opinion, it tastes better served at room temperature on the third day. I’m not sure if it’s because I have sampled it a few times in order to get an accurate understanding of the tart or if this dessert is actually starting to grow on me, but it seems to be one of those recipes like fruit cake that gets better with time. After discovering all the labor that went into making the maple syrup on the tree’s behalf, I really wanted this recipe to be phenomenal right away, but maybe that’s the spirit of the syrup.  After all, it took  one entire week out of one tree’s life to make the sap! Maybe this recipe is slow to bloom in more ways than one:)

Lucy Maude Montgomery’s most famous literary character, Anne Shirley said… “Maples are such sociable trees. They’re always rustling and whispering to you.”

Perhaps this vintage recipe is whispering to us too.

Cheers to maple trees and to the incredibly long life of Comfort and to sugary sweet contemplations in the kitchen. There is always something to think about around here.

Join us next week as we head to spicy Ceylon, a true time-traveler of a kitchen feat since the country doesn’t exist anymore:)

 

Thoughts on Love, Dinner and New Discoveries Courtesy of Brazil

Happy Valentine’s week fellow kitcheners! Since love and romance are dominating the spotlight right now, it’s wonderfully fortuitous that the featured destination on our International Vintage Recipe Tour this week wound up being Brazil. It’s not good to generalize people or countries, but Brazil is known to be a passionate place.

Beautiful Brazil!

Consistently included in top ten lists as one of the world’s most romantic nationalities, it’s safe to say that Brazil is in love with love. And we are not just talking romantic relationships here. Brazilians are known to be equally passionate about their hometown  soccer team, their spouse, their favorite carnival and their kitchen.  Ah serendipity! On this week of hearts and roses and pink colored everything, a romantic holiday dinner awaits us here in the Vintage Kitchen.

Or so I imagined!

I was hoping that our vintage recipe was going to highlight a dinner food that matched the passionate place from which it came.  Surprisingly  that wasn’t quite the case. On today’s menu we are making Picadinho a Brasileira, a recipe that roughly translates to “Minced to the Brazilian” in Portuguese. A popular heritage dish especially in Southeastern Brazil, there are two main versions of picadinho – one a hearty beef stew with whole vegetables and the other a slow simmered light and fluffy ground beef cooked with wine and vegetables.

Picadinho a Brasileira

Our recipe this week involves the latter.  Not exactly one of the glamour foods usually touted on Valentine’s Day menus (steak, lobster, oysters, anything drenched in champagne or chocolate) ground beef always tends to get relegated to more humble, homey everyday recipes like meatloaf, burgers, tacos and casseroles. It’s never a dish you see people eating in romantic movies. It’s never the culinary centerpiece tucked in between candlelight and flower bouquets. And it’s definitely not the most tantalizing type of meat to photograph.

I don’t know exactly what I expected of Brazilian food at the start of Week 6, but I think I was hoping for something a little more exotic in the food spectrum, something that matched the passion of the people. A recipe that involved colorful fruit perhaps or a sea swimmer from the waters of the Atlantic. Picadinho a Brasileira is neither of those two things. But after making this recipe and thinking about it for a bit, I came to realize that it is in actuality, an absolutely wonderful and appropriate dish to share with your sweetheart or your gaggle of loved ones on Valentine’s Day. More reasons on that shortly.

Tonight we’ll dive right into the recipe so that we can talk about the unique aspects and attributes of it after all the steps are laid out. A super easy recipe to make (a nice reprieve after the confusing fondue affair of last week!) Picadinho a Brasileira is a one pot dish that slow simmers on the stove for almost two hours.  It includes half a bottle of wine, a satisfying amount of vegetable chopping and six eggs (something that originally sounded a bit unusual). It’s also low-maintenance thanks to the slow cooking so it conveniently allows time for you to do other stuff while its simmering away. Maybe that’s where you can fit some extra time for romance:)

Picadinho a Brasileira

Serves 6-8

1/2 cup olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, coursely chopped

2 lbs ground beef (I used grass-fed)

6 eggs

2 ribs celery, including leaves, finely chopped

1 green pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped

1 cup finely chopped parsley

2 cans (17 oz. each) Italian style tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups dry red wine (I used Storyteller Red Blend)

Hot red pepper flakes to taste

Heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Cook until golden brown, stirring frequently.

While the onions are cooking, place the meat in a large bowl. Add the eggs, celery, green pepper, parsley and tomatoes.

Combine everything together with your hands until it is thoroughly mixed. (Note: This step is a little soupy and a little sludgy not to mention both visually and tactile-wise pretty unappealing, but don’t worry, it gets better soon.)

Add the mixture to the onions in the pan and cook stirring until well blended and the meat loses its red color. Cook the mixture 15 minutes and then add the salt (I used about  1 1/2 teaspoons), pepper (I used about 1/2 teaspoon) and one cup of wine. Cover and cook 15 minutes longer.  (Side Note:  If you are following the Recipe Tour over on Instagram too, you can see a  little video of this step in the Highlights section. Every Sunday, I post a sneak peek video of the recipe coming up, so if you are big into previews come visit the Vintage Kitchen Instagram page on Sundays!)

Now back to the recipe!

Add the remaining wine  and red pepper flakes (I used about two pinches), then partly cover and cook, stirring occasionally, one hour or longer. At the beginning of the one hour of cooking, the picadinho will be very liquidy, but as it cooks over the next 60 minutes, it will dry out and all of the moisture will evaporate. At that stage it will look like this…

…a  mixture that mirrors taco meat but is much lighter and fluffier. Once all the liquid has evaporated the dish is done and is ready for serving.

Traditionally, you’d accompany Picadinho  a Brasileira with white rice or farofa (which is a Brazilian form of farina – something similar to cream of wheat). However, I wasn’t that excited about either option when it came to pretty plating,  visual appeal and a Valentine vibe. As you can see the picadihno has lost most of its vegetable color and is pretty much in the end just one shade of brown. It is not the most visually striking dish that we have made so far, but what it lacks in appearance it more than makes up for in delicious flavor.

Between the fruity notes of the wine, the citrus notes of the tomatoes and the sweetness of the onions, combined with the fact that it looks a lot like taco meat, my first impression upon tasting it was to pair it with something in the corn family. Something like tortillas. Although this dish would be fantastic with such a companion, corn tortillas are not widely consumed in Brazil, so to stick a little closer to a more authentic meal, I chose corn grits since they are more similar to the consistency of farofa. Made with milk, Parmesan cheese and butter, the grits add color, a creamy texture and a complimentary corn flavor that blends all the ingredients in the picadinho together so well. I also added some freshly chopped onion, parsley and green pepper for a burst of fresh crunch and more color.

All sorts of other garnishes like sour cream, cheddar cheese, olives, avocado, cilantro, basil (basically anything you enjoy on a taco)  would also be delicious here, albeit not very Brazilian. But that, I discovered, was really the fun of this recipe. It is open to creativity, to interpretation, to personal touch. Which brings us back to why this recipe is actually a very good choice for Valentine’s Day. Let’s look…

  1. It has the ability to showcase your own creative flair and your personal passion for cooking. Wrap it up in pastry dough like empanadas, stuff it into pasta shells, serve it over potatoes or transform it into a patty melt. It’s yours to experiment with, to make, to mold, to accent and to call your own. It’s a love letter to your culinary ingenuity!
  2. For all the lovebirds that like to eat together, it’s a shareable meal.
  3. It’s family friendly, thanks to its basic ingredients, making it inclusive for all the ones you share your life with.
  4. It feeds a crowd, so if you wanted to throw a galentine party this Valentine’s Day it’s a delicious option for both entrees or hors d’oeuvres.
  5. It’s a food that stimulates the art of conversation and encourages new ideas, which means it’s pretty much guaranteed to keep the attention of fellow diners for at least a little while.

Picadinho a Brasileira may not be chocolate covered strawberries or lobster thermidor or a fancy special occasion food brought out once a year, but any Brazilian would tell you that love deserves to be extended, extolled and celebrated every moment, every day, not just on February 14th. Romance doesn’t have to be elaborate in order to be understood or received. A simple meal served to someone special is such a sincere act of love. The enjoyment that follows – tasting something new, talking about the experience and exploring some culinary curiosities leads to unexpected discoveries. This one dish opened up a whole conversation between myself and my valentine of a husband about spices that had us chatting and speculating the day away. Also, while researching this blog post,  I discovered some new favorites courtesy of Brazil…

Two new vintage books to read by Brazilian authors Paulo Coelho and Jorge Amado

and a new art book to explore…

And it also led to the discovery of two new artists. I love this 1920’s era portrait, untitled, but referred to as Woman with Lemons by Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973)…

and the colorful botanical collage paintings of Brazilian-born artist Beatriz Milhazes…

So you just never quite know where your dinner will wind up taking you!  At the start of this particular cooking adventure, I thought this post was going to be all about a traditional romantic Valentine’s Day worthy dinner. An idea I understand now sort of bordered on the cliche side of things. But in reality, this seemingly unromantic Brazilian ground beef recipe turned out to be quite a little passionate catalyst that produced new loves in art, literature and conversation. That’s pretty romantic after all!

I hope this Valentine’s Day your hearts and bellies are full to the brim with thoughts and  foods that you make you feel happy, loved and inspired. Cheers to the holiday and cheers to foods that surprise and satiate us not only physically but mentally and emotionally!

Next week finds us making a sweet treat that hails from the land that Meghan and Harry now call home…Canada! Until then, happy cooking!

 

 

To Be or Not to Be: It’s Fondue in Belgium

Oh for the love of cheese already! How many weeks does it take to get yourself all discombobulated in the kitchen? As it turns out that number is five. Welcome to Week Five of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. Last week we were in Barbados dancing around the kitchen with rum punch in hand. Tonight we are headed 4300 miles north to beautiful Belgium – the country that gave us diamonds, Audrey Hepburn, fancy chocolates, waffles, Brussels sprouts, and pretty sites like these…

But the way I went about this week’s cooking task I might as well have taken us all to a foggy headed mountain in Switzerland.

The most important rule of cooking, the number one rule, the golden rule of all rules is to read your recipe first. All the way through. This way you have a good understanding of what’s involved ingredient-wise and what’s coming up at the start of each step. It’s a no-brainer activity. Something that just occurs so naturally you don’t even have to think about it. Of course you always read the recipe first, silly. Except that one time you actually didn’t.

I’ve been anticipating this week’s dish since the very beginning of the project because  1) it features a food I’ve never made before but have always wanted to try, 2) it is cozy sweater weather fare ideal for this time of year and 3) it offers a fun dinner idea for upcoming Valentine’s Day. On the menu this week we are making Fondue Bruxelloise, a dairy laden comfort food that conjures up images of shared dining, pots on pedestals, and unabashed consumption of all the bread and cheese you ever wished to eat. How fun and delicious!

The first order of business this week, the fun order of business, before market shopping even ensued, was to purchase a fondue pot. In this case, of course it would need to be vintage, so out I went all around town looking for such a find. Three days later, nothing. There was not a vintage fondue pot to be had anywhere in my fair city. In a frenzied, last-minute search online, I found one in a neighboring state that could be here in time for the cooking project deadline.

Tah-dah… a sleek 1970’s stainless steel set complete with floral design work on the legs, teak accents on the handle and on the lid, and a set of forks to match. Perfect! While that gadget was flying through the air, I was busy collecting vintage advertisements from the 1960’s and 1970’s – the two decades in culinary history when fondue parties were at the peak of popularity. The retro ads circulating around the magazine world at that time captured a real sense of colorful joy and excitement when it came to showcasing the novelty of a fondue party.

With an exciting feast on the horizon and a new (old) fondue pot now in possession, it was time to buckle down and get to cooking. Like all the other dishes we  have made in the International Vintage Recipe Tour so far, the ingredients for Fondue Bruxelloise are not complicated ones. Basically the recipe consists of four main components… butter, milk, eggs, and cheese.

The night before I was going to make it, my husband inquired. Is this the type of fondue where you dip vegetables or just bread? Confidently, I said just bread, but then immediately went back to the kitchen to check the recipe just to make sure. And that, my fellow kitcheners, is where Week Five officially went south.

The preparation of Fondue Bruxelloise involves six steps which include a glass dish, overnight refrigeration, a vat of frying oil and cheese cutouts. It does not, at any stage, involve a fondue pot, fondue forks, or a steaming pool of cheese. Oh dear. My stainless steel beauty.

Somehow, in all this excitement of knowing that we were going to be making fondue and searching for a retro pot in which to prepare it, I forgot to read the recipe first. As it turns out, fondue, in the traditional sense that I was thinking of, is actually Swiss not Belgian in origin. The word fondue comes from the French and simply means melted, so technically lots of dishes could be considered fondue and lots of countries can claim their own variations. That’s why there are chocolate fondues (American), saucey and brothy fondues (Asian), oil fondues (Italian) and cheese fondues (French, Swiss and American). But Switzerland’s version of melted cheese remains at the top of the most popular hot pot recipes and it’s the first image most people think of upon hearing the word fondue.

This is what I had in mind originally!

So where does this leave Belgium, you ask? The answer lies in an Italian American named Nika Standen Hazelton.

Nika Standen Hazelton (1908-1992)

Nika was a trusted authority of regional cooking from cuisines all around the world. She started her writing career as a reporter in the 1930’s, and never lost that level of curiosity or scrutiny for the topic at hand. She approached each cookbook and each country with an investigative eye and a thorough understanding of the food scene, the culture and the eating habits of the places she explored. She was also a tremendous home cook and hostess herself, managing to turn both her own passion for food making and her insatiable interest of other countries into a life-long career. By the time of her death in 1992, she had published 30 cookbooks in total, taking readers on tour with her around the globe highlighting all sorts of interesting food ways with a candor that made her writing legendary.

In the 1960’s, Nika got to work collecting recipes for her Belgian Cookbook.  Exploring the country quite intimately, she was determined with her latest project to create a book of traditional everyday Belgian foods as prepared by the home cook. She wasn’t interested in featuring fancy dishes that you’d find in Belgian restaurants, nor she was interested in featuring foods that were so traditional and so foreign sounding that they would dismay the American reader who was just trying to gain an introductory sense of food in Belgium.  “All one wants are some feasible and pleasant dishes…” she wrote in the introduction to The Belgium Cookbook, published in 1970.  It is from that cookbook that Craig Claiborne collected this recipe for Fondue Bruxelloise, which literally translates as Melted from Brussels, for his New York Times International Cookbook, which was the springboard for our year-long cooking project here.

Still regarded as one of the most tastiest Belgian recipes out there, Nika’s Fondue Bruxelloise is similar in preparation to a croquette, looks like a mozzarella stick and contains an inner filling that tastes a bit like a lemony Hollandaise sauce, even though there is no lemon in it.

Once I actually read the recipe the whole way through, I was slightly intimidated. I’ve never fried anything in a big pot of oil before, something almost unheard of since I’ve lived in the South for over a decade now. Needless to say, I had to do a little bit of extra research on how to go about that, since the recipe assumes you already know what type of oil to use and what temperature to heat the oil to and so on. I’ve included those notes along with the original recipe below in case you are a frying novice like me too. Overall though it’s not a difficult recipe to manage, but it is a bit unusual in its preparation. Refrigerating the cheese batter overnight yields a rectangular creation that has the consistency of somewhat rubbery, somewhat softened butter. The bread crumbs are made fresh, chopped up in a food processor from a day old loaf. And the cheese squares require frying in small batches giving this cooking project an awkward stop and start rhythm as you wait for things to come together, at first in the fridge, and then in the frying pot. This is what this year is all about though. Learning new techniques and new foods from old recipes. Intimidation aside, there’s nothing to do but jump right in. So here we go…

Fondue Bruxelloise

(Makes 8-12 servings which equates approximately to 18 pieces that are roughly 2 1/2″ inch x 2 1/2″ inch squares)

1/4 butter

All-purpose flour (I used about 2/3 cup)

2 cups milk

1/4 lb. Gruyere cheese, grated

1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

5 egg yolks

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3 eggs lightly beaten

2 teaspoons cold water

1 tablespoon peanut oil

3 cups fresh bread crumbs (I made these using a day old baguette)

Oil for deep frying ( I used 24 oz of peanut oil)

Parsley

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in six tablespoons of flour, using a wire whisk. Add the milk, stirring rapidly until the mixture is thickened and smooth. Simmer 5 minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat and add the cheeses, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, egg yolks, and salt and pepper to taste. (Note: I used about 1/2 teaspoon salt and a 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper). Return the sauce to the heat and stir rapidly with the whisk. Cook, stirring until it thickens further, but do not allow it to boil. (Note: I cooked this until the mixture just started to form a couple of big bubbles).

Generously butter a 13×9 inch or a 9×9 inch square pan and pour the sauce into it. (Note: The longest dish I have is 8×11 so I used that. See more notes about this specific choice of dish further down).

Spread the mixture smooth with a rubber spatula. Cover with buttered waxed paper (parchment paper) and refrigerate overnight or longer. (Note: I kept mine in the fridge for 24 hours).

Now firm, cut the mixture into squares, rectangles, rounds or diamond shapes. (Note: I chose squares because they were most simple and because while the top side of this mixture was firm, the underside was slightly gooey, so any well defined shape, like a diamond would have gotten all gummed up).

The bottom consistency might not have been as solidified as the top because I was using a smaller dish than was recommended, adding a thicker dimension to the overall mixture. Surprisingly though, even with this consistency the squares were fairly easy to remove from the dish and retained their square shape for the most part.

Top side!
Underside!

Beat the eggs until frothy, then beat in the water, oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Coat the cutouts on all sides with flour, then dip them into the egg mixture.

Finally, coat them in the bread crumbs tapping lightly with the flat side of a knife so the crumbs will adhere.

Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer to 360 degrees and cook the cutouts until golden. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot garnished with parsley.

(Note: As I mentioned earlier, this step was a little vague, especially for first time fryers. If you are a new experimenter with home frying, there are a couple of things I wanted share about the process. I don’t have a deep fat fryer myself so I used a heavy stainless steel medium-sized saucepan which worked perfectly well. I set the pot of oil over medium heat and let it warm gradually. It takes about 20 minutes for the oil to heat to 350 degrees, but use a thermometer to test the temperature to make sure it is hot enough before you add the cheese squares. The trick to frying is to do it in small batches. I could only fit three squares in at a time based on the size of my pot. This number still allowed ample room for them to bob around in the oil. I cooked each batch for 3 minutes. Also, it is important to let the oil warm back up to 350 degrees between batches. That step generally takes about 5 minutes).

After the squares have drained on a paper towel for about a minute it is best to serve them right away or keep them hot in the oven while you finish frying all the rest. That way when you cut into them, the melted cheese will ooze out into a little pool on your plate.

 

The longer they sit at room temperature, the more solidified the cheese gets inside. In the photo below, you’ll see that the plate on the right has been resting at room temperature for about 15 minutes. The cheese is still soft on the inside but is more like the consistency of fresh mozzarella rather than a melting pool…

Delicious in a very rich and decadent way, these cheese squares are like a little mini meal. Nika recommended serving Fondue Bruxelloise with fried parsley, but because they are so creamy, I’d recommend forgoing the extra frying and replacing it with anything acidic to balance out the flavors. Fresh parsley adds a bit of bright tang, as does freshly squeezed lemon juice. Other possible companions include a dollop of mustard or hot sauce, a side salad tossed in a citrus vinaigrette, a few slices of home grown tomatoes or simply a cold glass of dry white wine.

The cafe crowd in Brussels…

In Belgium, especially in the 20th century, locals used to enjoy a habit of a small snack everyday at 4 pm. A little delight like Fondue Bruxelloise would be perfect for such a time of day. Because of their velvety richness, you’d only want to eat one or two per setting, based on the size suggested in the recipe. Crunchy on the outside and soft and billowy on the inside, this serving size is a petite portion that is filling and satisfying but won’t risk spoiling your appetite for dinner a few hours later. As a national favorite, several Belgian cookbooks include Fondue Bruxelloise in their appetizer or hors d’oeuvres sections with suggestions to serve them at parties large and small. I like the idea of the 4:00pm Belgium tradition though and would next serve this at that time of day along with a glass of wine or a Belgian beer as part of a special happy hour treat. After all, it is fondue. It only seems fitting to involve some friends.

While this recipe was certainly not what I had anticipated at the start of the week, it turned out to be a curious adventure in cooking techniques and frying lessons. I may have not have gotten to use my new fondue pot, but perhaps when we visit Switzerland on the Recipe Tour towards the end of the year, I’ll be able to test out its capabilities with a classic Swiss fondue.  Then we can circle back around to this recipe and compare the two. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to read your recipes first:)

Cheers to cheese for offering up a few surprises and to Nika for taking us on an unexpected cooking adventure.  Also, a big cheers this week goes to blog reader Angela, who baked our featured Australian recipe, Queen Mother’s Cake for her neighborhood and received rave reviews! If anyone else has their own stories to share please send a message or comment below, we’d all love to more about your cooking experiences too!

Next Wednesday, just in time for Valentine’s Day weekend, we are headed to the passionate country of Brazil, where romance and recipes bloom in the kitchen. Stay tuned!

A Beach Drink in Barbados: Cheers To Week Four!

Right now, as I write this post its 43 degrees outside and raining. There has been a thick grey cloud cover that has been hanging over the city for what feels like weeks. The forecast for the next seven days is rain, rain and more rain. Not quite cold enough to snow (which would be magic) and not quite warm enough to picnic (also magic), winter has definitely settled. But not indoors. Inside it is paradise.

In the Kitchen today, it’s a balmy 72 degrees (thanks to the heat setting!), there’s calypso music playing on the speakers and a special tropical cocktail circulating. The mood is downright beachy as Harry Belafonte encourages us to jump in the line and Lord Invader sings about the flying fishes.  Welcome my friends to Week Four of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Welcome to Barbados!

Under the swaying palm trees on the sandy beach of Barbados. Photo credit: David Cain

This week, we are embracing the relaxed ambiance of the tropics as we make Rum Punch for a crowd and dance around the Kitchen to traditional island music. It’s celebration time in more ways then one. On a personal note,  we’ve hit a mini milestone.  If you joined us from the beginning, we are now officially one month into the Recipe Tour and I hope you are still as excited about the whole project as I am. On a party note, this recipe serves 12 or more, so if you ever wanted to invite your friends over to try a vintage recipe, now’s a good time:)

Last week’s post took us on a romp around snow-capped  Austria with a local native, and featured a hearty vintage chicken recipe perfect for winter weather. This week, we are traveling 4,800 miles from Austria to a tropical island in the Atlantic Ocean that lies in close proximity to South America. There’s no snow in sight here.  There is, however, plenty of snow white sand.

Rockley Beach, Barbados

Travel these days doesn’t always guarantee what you’ve  imagined, but Barbados  delivers when it comes to beautiful beaches, a fun atmosphere and endless amounts of rum. They’ve been making this sugar cane based spirit since 1703, so its easy to see why this is the alcohol of choice when it comes to island drinks.

Mount Gay Rum is the oldest distillery in Barbados, dating all the way back to the 1700’s, but for this vintage 1970’s era rum punch recipe, which simply called for any type of dark rum, I chose Kraken (a more modern Caribbean rum company)  for it’s fun, splashy label which was modeled after Victorian era typography, its nod towards oceanic intrigue, and its new yet old bottle design (a style that was easy to hang from hooks to avoid breakage).

Taking only 20 minutes to make, Rum Punch was quick to prepare but there were a few surprises when it came to this recipe. First and foremost, the darkness of the rum. I’m not a big rum connoisseur but perusing this section of the liqueur store yielded quite a range in rum colors from light to dark, as well as flavors  (everything from natural to banana to coconut) which in turn alters the end result of your cocktail. The recipe calls for three other fruit juices as companions – oranges, limes and pineapples plus a final flourish of sprinkled nutmeg, so that is something to keep in mind when selecting your personal preference in the rum department.

The second surprise was a difference in taste between room temperature punch and chilled punch. Vastly different! Room temperature punch tastes like all the sharp angles of everything… alcoholic, acidic, bitter and sweet.  But chilled punch (3 hours or more) is much more soft, subtle and well rounded. The chilling process gives this punch time to mellow and blend so that nothing jumps out significantly enough to say “oh this is full of lime”or “this is full of orange” or “this is full of rum” etc.  Instead you just notice that is full of flavor. Ideally, this is what you want in a mixed drink – a sharing of the spotlight when it comes to taste. And that’s exactly what this rum punch – Barbados style – delivers. It’s smooth, sweet and light without being syrupy, heavy and headachey.

I also loved the 1970’s color palette this drink produced… walnut, orange, lime green… it is definitely decade appropriate as far as aesthetic:)

RUM PUNCH

(12 or more servings)

Juice of 6-8 limes

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups water (or 1 cup orange juice and 1 cup pineapple juice)

1 fifth bottle dark rum (that’s  750ml of rum)

5 dashes of Angostura bitters

Grated nutmeg

Combine the lime juice, sugar, water (or orange/pineapple juices), rum and bitters in a lrge bowl.

A trio of juices! Clockwise from top left: lime. pineapple, orange.

Pour the mixture into a large pitcher and chill thoroughly. (Note: I strained the cocktail mixture before putting it in a pitcher since there was lots of lime pulp floating around the top from the freshly squeezed limes. I recommend chilling the mixture for 3+ hours in the fridge.)

Serve in small tumblers, adding a touch of nutmeg to each drink. {Note: If you don’t have a large enough pitcher, which was my case, you can serve punch in a number of different vessels. This was a trifle dish, which works well because of the roomy basin and pedestal base. But you can also other kitchen items like a large bowl, a big vase or a trio of flip top glass water bottles.}

Garnish for both the bowl and the individual tumblers was made by thinly slicing limes and oranges.

The third interesting thing I learned while adventuring in the kitchen this week has nothing to do with the rum punch recipe itself but more to do with the country. Specifically with the music of Barbados. Tropical drinks, beach scenes and local music are a natural fit when it comes discussing island ambiance. Since each one compliments the other, i was excited to tie-in some local music with our local cocktail.  Originally, I thought Barbados would be flush with sounds of steel drums and tinkly piano music. But in actuality, the country’s music scene is rooted much more in tribal sounds from Africa, flute songs from England and narrative story telling.

lord-invader-1950’s album cover

Under British rule until the 1960’s, Barbados’ music scene grew out of tuk bands in the 1600’s – a combination of melodies and sounds which reflected African drums, English religious ballads, and Spanish arrangements. A distinct sound that was representative of all the cultures that inhabited “Little England” as Barbados was first called. By the 1920’s and 1930’s, a popular jazz and calypso culture distinguished Barbados from other Caribbean island music – sounds which still influence musicians and bands today.

Clockwise from top: Lord Invader; Harry Belafonte; the Andrew Sisters, Rhianna; Lord Kitchener

One of the most popular artists ever to come from Barbados is Rhianna. But many decades before her, in the early years of the 20th century, there were highly lauded and famously recognized artists like Atilla the Hun (1892-1962), Lord Kitchener (1922-2000) and Lord Invader (1914-1961). They were responsible for popularizing the unique Caribbean beats that spread throughout the islands, including Barbados, and filling the airwaves with clap-your-hands drum beats and sing-songy storytelling. To highlight this interesting sound, I made a playlist on Spotify that features popular music of Barbados from the 1930’s – 2000’s to accompany this post.

Rum Punch Playlist on Spotify

The playlist opens with Lord Invader and his wistful song titled Barbados, which was produced in early in the 1950’s.  Traveling back and forth through the 19th century to include songs by Lord Invader’s comrades, popular favorites by Harry Belafonte and the Andrew Sisters, the list finishes out with a song from Krosfyah – a contemporary, modern day calypso band, so that you can see how the sounds of Barbados have evolved (yet still remained similar) over the course of a century.

Vintage Calypso album covers

There are 23 songs included in the playlist, some of which you’ve heard before and others which may be new to you.  Each of them are ideal companions to a cold glass of rum punch, day dreams of palm tree paradises, and impromptu dance lessons around your kitchen. One of the fun things about traveling internationally via the kitchen, is the ability to transport yourself to another place via food, and a festive atmosphere. The music of Barbados is bright and energetic and the rum punch jubilant. If the winter weather in your neck of the woods has you feeling cold and dreary, hope this post brightens your day!

Cheers to middle of the week celebrations, rum drinks that you make dance and music that makes you sing out loud:) Join us next week as we head out into week five of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Our next stop takes us back to Europe where we explore a recipe that revolves around cheese and communal dining, something that was all the rage in the 1960’s. See you next Wednesday in…

All Around Austria via Food and Festivity: An Interview and a Recipe

From the land of Johann Strauss, Mozart, Gustav Klimt, and my lovely friend, Viktoria, comes the latest escapade in our around-the-world culinary adventure. Welcome to Week Three of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020!

Last week, we were in Australia dissecting the history of a favorite Aussie cake that turned out to be inspired by a famous woman from England. This week, we are heading here…

… to picturesque Austria… a country known for its gorgeous snow-capped mountains, stunning cityscapes and panoramic vistas. On the menu is Viennese Chicken – a saucy vegetable-laden vintage recipe that is perfect fare for cold winter weather.

Viennese Chicken

In this post, we will not only be cooking something warm and hearty, but we will also be getting to know the warm-spirited Viktoria, an Austrian native who has been living and working in the U.S. for the past year and a half. She’s about to head back home to Europe, but before she bids Nashville goodbye, I caught up with her to discuss the food culture in her native country, how it compares and contrasts with ours here in America, and to see what she knows about the mysterious Austrian recipe that’s the focus of our international menu this week. She also recommends a list of the most interesting things to see (and eat!) in Austria, reflects on which aspects of her U.S. adventure she will miss most and shares how one particular type of American restaurant stole her heart.

Photo courtesy of Drew Beamer.

Our recipe this week is an easy one to make, so before we get to cooking, grab a glass of Riesling or an Austrian beer and get to know a beautiful part of the globe through the eyes of a local. I’m so pleased to introduce to you to Viktoria, art director by day, intrepid explorer by night (and on the weekends!)…

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little about the city in Austria in which you are from…

Viktoria: Well, first and foremost I cannot call it a city ha – I grew up in a very small town, called Stans, with only around 2000 people. It’s one of those charming little places with one tiny grocery store, one butcher, one bakery, one bank and so on… but hey, that’s everything you basically need, right? 

Stans im Karwendel

Stans is a town within the state of the Tyrol – one of 9 states within Austria. It’s in the western part of Austria, surrounded by the Alps, yet only 1h away from the German border in the north and the Italian border in the south. (Yes, dimension in Europe are a little bit different.)

What are some things you missed most about Austria while living in the United States?

The 4 F’s: Family, Food, Fall Fest and Fasching!

1) Family: The thing I missed the most is definitely my family. Just to be clear, I was never homesick, from the second I stepped out of the airplane at BNA airport I immediately knew I found my second home away from home, but my family and I are very close so it was definitely a big change for me to not see or spend time with them every other day.

2) Food: I am not a picky person at all, I have no allergies or intolerances and I definitely have what Americans would call a “goat stomach.” Having said that, it is not hard for me to adjust to a country’s culinary culture. Besides that Austria and America have lots of similarities in food, so from the very beginning I was sure I would not starve overseas. Yet, nothing is as good as granny’s Schweinebraten or my sister’s chocolate mousse cake. People who know me, know that I am not a big fan of sweets, but man, let me tell you what, I just can’t resist it!

The fancy cows of Fall Fest!

3) Fall Fest: I’m sure people are familiar with the Octoberfest in Munich. Our fall fest is similar to that, beside the fact that we also have a cattle drive. Farmers drive their cows down from the mountain meadows into the valley where they spend the winter months. People from Italy, Germany and France come to see this spectacle, which happens every year during the last two weeks of September. The cows wear bells and flower arrangements; it’s almost like a fashion show for cows if you want to put it that way ha. There is a farmers market, souvenir booths, food courts, live music, and, most importantly, the men and women dress in snazzy Lederhosen and beautiful Dirndls.

The colorful and creative world known as Fasching. Photo courtesy of austria-forum.org

4) Fasching: It’s the Austrian word for carnival. Fasching season starts on the 6th of January and ends on the day of Ash Wednesday, which is February 26th this year. Within this period we have days like Fasching Tuesday or Silly Thursday. People dress up in conspicuous costumes and we have parades with floats and wild colorful parties. This time of the year even has its very own pastry, specifically dedicated to Fasching– The “Faschings-Krapfen”.

Faschings Krapfen! Photo via pinterest.

How is daily life different in the U.S. vs Austria?

There’s actually not a big difference. You go to work, run your errands, and meet up with friends – the basics. I think the biggest difference for me personally is that back in Austria I had to get up at 6AM at the latest to drive to the railway station, catch my train to Innsbruck (the capital and biggest city of the Tyrol) where I had to catch a bus in order to get to work.

The beautiful cityscape of Innsbruck, Austria

We Austrians love out public transportation system ha! Here in Nashville I only have to hop into my car and I’m at work 10 minutes later. So yes, I’m definitely super spoiled when it comes to sleeping late in the morning now! But besides that I think Americans and Austrians have a pretty similar everyday life.

Since 2018, Viktoria’s U.S. home base has been the city of Nashville. Photo courtesy of Tanner Boriack.

What are some things you’ll miss most about America once you return home?

Just circle back to question 3 and you will have your answer ha! No, to be serious, I had a great time here in the U.S.: I worked a job that I loved, I was part of a culture that I enjoyed inhaling and most importantly, I was surrounded by so many loving and caring people. It’s almost unbelievable what great personalities I met and the close friends I made on this journey.

Oh, and brisket! I love brisket; unfortunately that’s not a thing in Austria.

What is your most favorite Austrian food? And what is your most favorite American food?

I wish I could give you a definite answer for this questions but I cannot. And I love that fact! There is way too much good food out there and it would be a waste to focus myself on only one most favorite thing. That’s why I’ll give you my top 3:
Viktoria’s favorite Austrian foods -Clockwise from top: Kaiserschmarn, Schweinebraten and Cheese and Spinach Dumplings
For Austria it is definitely Schweinebraten. The one they have at the Bavarian Beerhouse here is not bad at all but in no way comparable to the Austrian original. Schweinebraten is followed by cheese and spinach dumplings. Unlike what Americans call dumplings, these are more like balls of batter that contains a lot of different ingredients and gets boiled and served with lots of melted butter. We even have a festival to celebrate our love for dumplings in the Tyrol. And last but not least the – the“Kaiserschmarn.” I looked up the translation and the dictionary suggested “sweet cut-up pancake with raisins.” We serve it with powdered sugar and apple mousse. It’s a main dish as well as a desert – a dish that deserves to be among my top 3.

When it comes to American cuisine it’s the brisket that would probably make it on the winner’s rostrum. I am a meat lover and since I didn’t know what brisket was before I moved to the States I immediately fell in love with this dark smoked delicacy. Another thing that I am hardly able to resist is a Nashville specialty: Hot Chicken! Wings, thighs, breasts, battered and fried or grilled – I don’t care, I love them all, as long as they come with a hot and spicy Buffalo sauce.

Are you familiar with Viennese Chicken? If so, do you have any stories that relate to it in some way? Maybe you’ve made a version yourself or this was something you mom made?

Unfortunately I’m not familiar with this specific recipe. It reminds me a little bit of “Jäger Schnitzel” (“hunters-schnitzel”). It’s either a pork or chicken schnitzel, served with spaetzle and creamy mushroom sauce.

Jager Schnitzel

Also, cheese speatzle is a very famous Austrian dish. Speatzle are little pasta dough twirlings, mixed with melted cheese, garnished with cheese and topped with fried onions, usually served in a traditional cast iron pan. Super filling but super yummy!

If someone was traveling to Austria for the first time, which top five places would you recommend they visit first?

First and foremost is definitely Vienna. Yes, there are thousands of tourists but there is a good reason for that. Vienna offers so many things to see and do: outstanding architecture, fascinating history, open minded and hospitable locals, a wide culinary palette, from traditional Austrian dishes to food inspired by different countries from all over the world, to the newest food trends; you will find it all in Vienna.

When you come to Austria you should also pay Carinthia, our most southern state, a visit. Carinthia’s biggest lake, the Worthersee lake is one of Austria’s most famous summer destinations. It appeals not only to those who want to canoe across the lake, but also spelunkers who will want to check out several caves, including Griffen Stalactite Cave, which is considered Austria’s most colorful cave. Those who are vintage car enthusiasts may enjoy a visit to Gmund, birthplace of the Porsche, or to the large Villach Automotive Museum with its collection of cars, motorcycles and more.

I studied and worked in Innsbruck for 4 years. It’s this great historical jewel surrounded by stunning scenery. Rumor has it that Innsbruck replaced Vienna as the most expensive city to live in. Innsbruck, with a name that translates as “bridge over the inn,” (Inn is the name of the river that runs through Innsbruck) is an all-season tourist destination.

It is internationally known for its winter sports, having hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976. But this Tyrolean city offers more than just great skiing. It offers a good mix of cathedrals, such as Hofkirche, which houses the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I; the Schloss Ambras, which has a collection of paintings and armor; and the Bell Museum, a nod to 400 years of bell-making.

The gorgeous town of Halstatt

More beautiful scenery can be found in the Salzkammergut. It is a beautiful resort area that starts with Salzburg and heads east into a land of lakes. Sparkling clean lakes, green hills, wonderful mountains, romantic towns like St.Wolfgang and Hallstatt make up this region. Travelers who have seen the movie The Sound Of Music will know what this lake region looks like, because that movie was filmed in and around the city of Salzburg and the neighboring Salzkammergut region. For those who enjoy classical music, a visit of the city Salzburg, the home of the Mozartkugel and birth house of Mozart is worthwhile.

Mozart’s Birthplace in Salzburg, Austria

And last but not least St Anton am Arlberg. It is a must visit for all winter sport enthusiasts. This town is widely regarded as the leading ski resort destination in Austria. Located in the Tyrol, this village offers serious, legendary ski terrain that caters to a mixed level of abilities. Often attracting adventurous youths, St Anton is notorious for living up to the saying “work hard, play hard”. The vast landscape welcomes its loyal winter crowd, as well as its summer mountaineers, who come to trek the landscape each year.

Here’s a very accurate video about the best places in Austria that I can highly recommend watching. It even taught me things I didn’t know about:

Have you been to Vienna before? If so what is your impression of it?

Yes, in fact I studied and lived there for over a year when I was working for McCann Erickson. Vienna is the capital of Austria and such a multifaceted city. Vienna is not only famous for its architecture and history but also for its worldly and cosmopolitan vibe. I loved grabbing my laptop and just hanging out in one of many cozy coffee houses and watch people strolling by. Vienna is a very lively city and there is always something going on for everyone.

Every aspect of Vienna looks like a perfect picture postcard!

Also, since everything here is kind of food related, I want to use this opportunity to resolve one of the most misconstrued stories of the culinary world – the story of the croissant!
The earliest known occurrence of the croissant dates all the way back to 1683 Vienna, Austria. The legend takes place during the Ottoman Turk siege of the city; a baker apparently heard the Turks tunneling under the walls of the city as he lit his ovens to bake the morning bread. He quickly sounded an alarm, and the military collapsed the tunnel, saving the city. To celebrate, the baker baked a crescent-shaped bread, in the shape of the crescent moon of the Turkish flag.

And for whom this is not enough, the Vienna Kipferl pastry actually dates back to the 13th century. Ergo, Austria invented the ‘croissant’. It is a sore topic for this Austrian, so thanks for letting me vent publicly – ha!

Who taught you how to cook?

It was definitely my school education, maybe combined with me having always been a connoisseur of delicious food and being curious about new recipes. Many people don’t know that I went to Tourism College for 5 years between the age of 14 and 19. Besides majoring in tourism management and marketing I also had to complete a 4 year apprenticeship where I was thought how to cook as well as learn to fold at least 40 different shapes of napkins. But let’s be serious for a second – the Tirol is one of the top tourism regions in Austria and skilled professionals within this sector are highly in demand. My interest in tourism wasn’t the main reason why I went to Tourism College though – it was because of the language studies they offered. I studied German, English, Italian, French and Russian. Languages always fascinated me. Long story short, this is how I learned cooking. If you are trained on how to cook a 5-course meal for 10 people all by yourself, you can also cook a box of pasta just for you.

What are some of your favorite things to cook?

Speaking of pasta! I love love love pasta in all variations with all sauces possible. Pasta creations are my favorite! Pasta might sound boring to some people but you can create so many creative delicious variations with all kinds of ingredients. I am definitely always looking for new adventurous and interesting recipes out there; I like trying new things.

Viktoria with her mom, sister and niece

When it comes to traditional food though, I would never even try to compete with my sister. You would think making the perfect Schweinebraten takes decades of experience and at least 2 cut off fingers, but at the young age of only 32 she has already perfected the recipe for a sublime Schweinebraten with Sauerkraut, potatoes and breaded dumplings.

When you return home to Austria, what is the first thing you will eat?

I will most like have a Kaiser Roll with smoked bacon and a bottle of ice-cold Zipfer beer (it is a local beer and my most favorite).

You might want to ask why I am so sure about this. The answer is simply: because whenever I go back home my family picks me up from the airport and brings exactly these two things with them! What a lovely tradition it has become.

Do you have a favorite restaurant back in Austria? If so, what about it did you like? 

There definitely is. Let me mention one thing first: If you are looking for a place to eat in the Tirol region and you find places which names include “Gasthaus” or “Gasthof” you can’t go wrong. These are local restaurants with local food and local specialties.
And when it comes to Tyrolean delicious dishes I definitely have a favorite restaurant.

It is called “Gasthof Herrnhaus” (see “Gasthof, you can’t go wrong). I not only really like this place because I once did an internship in their kitchen but moreover because they serve great local food for a moderate price. Don’t get me wrong, I know that good food and especially good quality has its price but at Gasthof Herrnhaus you really get something for your money, and that is one thing that Tyrolean hospitality is about.

Interior of Gasthof Herrnhaus

How is food and/or the culture surrounding food different in the US than in Austria?

I have two approaches to this question.

One word: barfood.

Unlike America, in Austria we either have a bar where you can get something to drink, or a restaurant where you can get something to eat. If I think about trying to find a place in Austria where I can just hangout, watch my favorite sports team, eat my delicious chicken wings and drink a beer, I will probably not be able to come up with a single place. I am very simple as you can see ha.

Downton Nashville Bar Scene. Photo courtesy of Drew Hays

There are great restaurants in both, America and Austria, of course, but when it comes to the barfood culture as I call it, there is definitely a big difference and something I would love to have in Austria as well.

Before food is served on our plates it has to be bought. And I think this is a big difference between America and Austria. My first grocery-shopping-trip to Kroger took me a striking two hours! Can you believe this ha. By now I have become a total pro as to knowing in what aisle the items are that I need, but when I first moved here I was totally lost. The overwhelming amount of goods and different products completely over stimulated me. And please don’t get me started on my first experience with a self check-out counter ha.

One event that I consider myself lucky of having been able to be a part of is Thanksgiving. In Austria we have something that’s called “Ernte Dank” which means being thankful for this falls crops, but it is neither a very special nor a family get together kind of event. I was invited twice to my landlady’s nephew’s house for Thanksgiving and I always had a great time there. People getting together for good (and way too much) food, quality time, maybe some football and pumpkin shooting is a wonderful occasion. I am very happy and thankful for having been invited to this annually family event.

When you are not busy designing beautiful things for work, what do you like to do with your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

Funny enough, I would say my hobby is looking for new hobbies. I mean I like to work out, cook, paint, go for a walk, and be in nature but I always try to find new interesting activities. Recently I have been into axe throwing and it turns out I am actually quite good at it. It is a lot of fun and will definitely help you forget some of the everyday stress. When it comes to watching sports, I definitely count soccer and ice hockey to my most favorite kinds of sport. When I have to think about an activity that satisfies me the most though, I have to say it is definitely meeting up with friends, having a beer and simply spending a good time together with the people I love.

 

What are three places in Austria that most inspire you and why? 

1) Wolfsklamm Gorge, Tirol:

The Wolfsklamm Gorge impresses nature lovers with thundering waterfalls and emerald green pools. The location of this trail is very convenient for me because I can start the hike right from my doorstep. I used to go there a lot with my dad when I was a kid.

Walking through the Wolfsklamm Canyon in the Karwendel Alps, Stans in Tyrol, Alps, Tyrol, Austria, Europe

The beautiful waterfalls, timber bridges and the galleries carved into the rock have always fascinated me- it seems so magical. Its 354 steps, to be precise, that lead upwards to the pilgrimage monastery of St. Georgenberg, where we always used to rest and stop for a bite to eat because they have a great restaurant up there. It’s a picturesque and magical hike that makes you feel like you are in a different world.

Kloster St. Georgenberg in Tirol

2) Millstätter Lake, Carinthia:

My stepdad is from this region of Austria where my grandparents still run a farm up on a mountain. Whenever I go there to visit them I can’t get enough of the spectacular view on the lake…

especially on a summer day when the setting sun is reflecting in the waters surface and makes the entire like sparkle. It’s a beautiful place where the time seems to stop whenever you soak up this stunning view. I love to go there to recharge my batteries.

3) My grandma’s attic:

A place you will not find in a tourist guide – my grandma’s attic. My grandma is Italian (that might explain my love for Italian food) and she used to run a souvenir shop. After the shop closed she kept a lot of the stuff, my grandma likes keeping stuff in general, she wouldn’t even throw away an old and broken picture frame. I loved to play in my grandma’s attic when I was a kid because I always found new ancient items and made up stories for them. It’s for sure a so repository for inspiration!

Who or what inspires your cooking? 

I think I am a typical millennial when it comes to answering this question. Most of the time it simply happens that a recipe, of one of the social media food channels that I follow, pops up in my feed. I save it for later and whenever I feel like trying something new I recall it and it tells me what ingredients I need and how to cook it – super convenient.

One time it happened though, that I found an old cookbook that my grandma used to use. You know, one of those with a handwritten font and no photos ha. What an adventure it was to cook a recipe from this book, completely without any pictures to show how the outcome would look. Now that I remember how much fun this was, I think I should do it more often. Maybe not for family gatherings, at least not without doing a test run first. I love to cook for my family. The feedback has always been good so far, at least they keep asking me to cook for them ha.

If you could invite any five famous people (living or dead) to dinner who would you choose and why?  

That is a tough question but considering my current mood and time here are the 5 people I would invite right now and right away:

Four of five ideal guests at Viktoria’s dinner party. Clockwise from top left: Hermione Granger, Anthony Bourdain, Kurt Cobain, Nick Offerman

Hermione Granger: I hope movie characters count as well. I always wanted to meet her. Hermione was literally my role model when I was kid: she is brave, smart, modest and a very loyal friend. Maybe she would teach me a thing or two about magic. I love magic; I think everyone should have some magic in their lives. Wingardium Leviosa ha!

Kurt Cobain: I read his biography when I was 12 (yep, I was a weird kid) but there has always been something that fascinated me about this guy. He always conveyed the image of this very anguished and beyond his time creative person. I would have a lot of questions for that dude. Also, I am curious to see how he would act at a dinner party in 2020.

Nick Offerman: He is super interesting, entertaining and also kind of a genius. He definitely has an appreciation for some of the finer things in life and I think 5 minutes with him would leave an impression, so a dinner party can only be fantastic. Also he can probably treat a steak better than I, so he’s on grill duty.

My uncle Michael: He was my mom’s younger brother and my godfather. I was born in November 1993; he passed away from cancer shortly after my baptism in 94 at the age of 30. I never had the change to meet him. According to my mom I apparently inherited his assertiveness and my love for motorcycles. On his tombstone they engraved the swallow tattoo that he had. I got the same tattoo on my lower leg.

Anthony Bourdain: His love of great adventures, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the not only culinary world made him a unique storyteller that I would love to meet. Also, I need someone to watch the food and the kitchen while I hang and practice my magic tricks with Hermione. 😉

I think we would be a fun round: Good food, great music, fun entertainment, some magic and family, sounds like a good combination to me.

What is one goal that you hope to accomplish in 2020?

2020 is going to be a very interesting year for me I would say. There are lots of uncertainties. People who know me will tell you that I am a person who always has a plan A, B and at least C. My plan A for 2020 is to go back home to Austria, since my visa expires, and apply for a new one in March. I have made the decision for myself that I will not have a precise plan B or C this time. Simply because it will take me some time to process a possible failure of plan A. So even if I do not know what is going to happen, I am still very excited about seeing what this year has in store for me.

Karwendel wandern Stanser Joch

There is one very specific goal that I have for 2020 though: I want to scale the “Stanser Joch”. My dad keeps telling me: “You are not a genuine local (Stanser) if you haven’t been at the summit cross and written down your name in the book of Stanser Joch.” Sounds like ancient mythology, but it’s not, simply something my dad will keep rubbing under my nose until the end of days if I won’t eventually hike up there with him ha.

Do you think you’ll ever come back to live and work in the U.S. again? (Secretly, I hope so!) 

Thank you for saying that haha. I do hope so too. When I moved to the US in 2018, if you had told me where I would be today, I would not have believed it! I have enjoyed my time and have loved living in Nashville. I definitely widened my horizons, professionally as well as personally. Every place you go and every person you meet is a part of your storybook. My time here was one of the most enriching experiences of my -still very young I should say- life. So yes, I really hope there will be another U.S. chapter in my storybook. 🙂

Now that we are all experts on the festive foods and vibrant landscape of Austria, thanks to Viktoria, we can get to work on making Viennese Chicken. So far, the easiest recipe of the Tour to make, it is also the most obscure when it comes to its origin story. It even managed to stump our interviewee, who likened it to something along the lines of a somewhat more familiar Austrian favorite – schnitzel.

Viennese Chicken made from a 1971 recipe

Close but not exactly, the difference between Viennese Chicken and Vienna Schnitzel lies in bread crumbs. The latter has them, the former does not. Similar also to Italian and French recipes for Chicken Cacciatore or Hungarian Parikahendl, it seems that Viennese Chicken (at least in the way that we are making it here) has fallen into obscurity. Fantastic!

This is exactly the kind of recipe we were hoping to uncover this year during the Tour – something that is delicious but barely known about. At least when it comes to recipe searches online. The only recipe that I could find that was almost exact (but again not totally) was a reference to a Boston Cooking School recipe that was posted on a cooking website back in 1996. The Boston Cooking School operated from the 1870’s to the 1950’s, which means this recipe could have first emerged during that early time period, then resurfaced in the 1970’s (when this recipe was published) and then fell out of favor sometime after the 1990’s.

The only spices in Viennese Chicken are simple ones – paprika, salt and pepper

Whatever the case may be, I’m glad to be drawing attention to it again. A healthier alternative to pounded, pan fried and breaded schnitzel, Viennese Chicken is much more similar to a hearty beef pot roast or a winter stew. Ready in under an hour, including prep time and cooking, it requires only one big pan and one big spice – paprika. The chicken gently cooks in its own juices with the help of a homemade chicken stock and a few stew-happy vegetables, so it’s a breeze to make and only gets more flavorful the next day and the day after that.

I followed the recipe exactly, except that I wound up using smoked paprika (a personal preference) instead of regular paprika and I wound up adding another 1/2 teaspoon of salt and about 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice to the sauce at the very end. I’ll include those extras in the ingredient list as well, but before adding those two last minute additions though, you might want to test the sauce yourself to see what you think.

Also, making homemade chicken stock, as recommended in the recipe, is an easy and fulfilling task that really brings out a round bouquet of flavors in this dish. That recipe is included here too. The stock simmers on the stove for an hour and a half, but if you are running short on time, you could substitute pre-packaged stock from the grocery. {One side note: I like to use chicken legs in my stock recipe in place of wings and backbones. Once the chicken has thoroughly cooked in the broth I cut the meat from the bones for use in Indie’s dog food. It’s a time saver step for me but not a necessary one for you.}

Homemade Chicken Stock

(makes 1 3/4 quarts)

3 pounds chicken necks, wings, and backs (or legs!)

10 cups water

1 onion, peeled

2 ribs celery

2 sprigs parsley

salt to taste (I used about 1 teaspoon Kosher sea salt)

10 peppercorns

Place all the ingredients in a large kettle and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for an hour and a half, skimming the surface as necessary. Strain through cheesecloth and boil rapidly, uncovered to reduce the stock to about 7 cups. Skim off all the fat and chill.

Viennese Chicken

Serves 4

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, finely chopped

1 chicken (2 to 3 pounds), cut into serving pieces

1 green pepper, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

6 mushrooms, sliced

1 tomato, skinned and diced

1 cup chicken stock

1 teaspoon paprika ( I used smoked paprika)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sour cream

Additional – 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan. Add the onion and saute until tender but not browned. Add the chicken pieces and brown on all sides.

Add the green pepper, carrots, mushrooms, tomato, stock, paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer twenty five to thirty five minutes, until the chicken is tender.

{A little tip:  My big heavy duty saucepan never came with a lid, so when a recipe calls for a cover I just use tin foil and seal it really tight around the edges. This works perfectly in place of a conventional lid, but this does remind me for this year-long cooking project, I should really invest in some new pots and pans!}

Remove the lid…

In a separate bowl, blend the sour cream and flour together and then stir it into the pan. {Note: It’s a little awkward to smoothly stir the sour cream mixture into the saucepan because of the chicken, so I suggest removing about a cup of liquid from the pan and stirring that into the sour cream bowl, blending it thoroughly, and then incorporate that mixture back into the pan.}

Toss everything to coat…

At this stage, taste the sauce and determine whether you want to add an additional 1/2 teaspoon salt and the lemon juice. Once seasoned to your preference, transfer the chicken to a warm platter, and spoon the sauce over the top. Garnish the dish with lemon slices and fresh parsley and serve.

Good companion foods with Viennese Chicken would be anything in the potato family (mashed, baked, boiled, sauteed), any kind of rustic bread or baguette, any vegetable that is bulky yet light like peas or cauliflower or just a simple dish of rice or pasta.

Originally, before I began actually cooking this recipe I thought it was going to be very light and creamy in color and texture. But as the onions caramelized while the chicken was browning on each side, they built a foundation of flavor that turned the broth a dark brown like the color of soy sauce. When the sour cream and flour were added at the end, it brightened the whole dish up a bit but left all that slow roasted, caramel-like flavor. If you aren’t a red meat eater, but long for hearty, comforting foods like pot roast or beef stew, especially on these cold winter days,  than this just might become your new favorite. I hope you guys love this recipe so much that you help it become a trend again. It is definitely worthy of  some new time in the spotlight!

Cheers to Viktoria for sharing her Austria with us, and cheers to new (old) recipes coming out of the dark recesses of history once again! If you try this recipe, please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. If you ever get a chance to visit Austria – stop by Stans and say hi to Viktoria. She’ll be the one in the beautiful dirndl that’s ready to greet you in five languages.

Join us next Wednesday, Week Four of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020, as we island hop our way over to Barbados, where will be livening up the night with a little party atmosphere. Stay tuned!

A Celebration for Australia: Queen Mother’s Cake & The Royal Lady Who Inspired It

Hello and welcome to Week Two of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020! This week’s cooking adventure takes us 7,200 miles away from the lamb-stuffed food of Armenia to the beautiful land of Australia, the only stop on our Recipe Tour this year, that is both a country and a continent.

As you all know, Australia has been in the news quite a bit these days due to the devastating wildfires burning throughout the country. In an effort to help the recovery process and because this is our featured destination of the week, 50% of all Vintage Kitchen shop sales made between January 15th-January 22nd will be donated to the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. There people are working tirelessly to save the koalas, kangaroos and other wildlife harmed by the fires that burnt a large portion of their natural habitat. This donation will help feed, shelter and supply the island’s animals with much-needed medical care and attention. I selected Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park because they specifically addressed through social media, the need for food supplies for the animals, all of whom are national icons and unique treasures of the country.  If you wish to donate to Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park directly, please visit their donation page here.

A koala undergoing care at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park

Because we are visiting countries alphabetically via the kitchen on this Recipe Tour, (a decision made last summer when the whole international idea first came about), it just so happened that we landed on Australia during an environmental crisis.  At times like this, when an area of the world is going through a major upset, it seems trivial and unnecessarily indulgent to draw attention to something like dessert.

But one thing I learned after experiencing 9/11 while living in New York City, is the significance of small pleasures. Familiar experiences like watching a favorite tv show or listening to music or eating a favorite food during a time of disaster can bring a much-needed sense of comfort and temporary joy. Even if it’s just a mild distraction in a day full of struggle. Our featured recipe this week is a homemade cake. Usually cake is most defined as a celebratory food – one that draws people together, raises spirits and commemorates life, new beginnings or accomplishments. It is one of the most optimistic and joyful foods we eat. One of the few that can automatically bring people together and instantly raise spirits. So it is with that in mind, that I focus this post. For the days and weeks and months ahead for Australia, I wish endless amounts of cake and all the symbolism that such a sweet treat stands for… love, support, community, optimism and comfort.

In this week’s post, we’ll be making an Australian favorite – Queen Mother’s Cake, a flourless chocolate cake that reflects a cosmopolitan cross-cultural heritage. We’ll also learn more about the vivacious English woman behind the recipe’s name, including her special connection to the Land Down Under.

Do you recognize her? Long before Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle captured headlines, this famous royal woman dazzled the world with her vivacious spirit and warm personality. If you guessed that she was a lady, a duchess or a queen you’d be right on all three fronts. She is Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, also known as the Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother. If you were intimately involved with the royals during her lifetime, you’d know her by one more moniker too – her family nickname “Cake” which was earned because of her sheer delight and interest in anything resembling a cake-like dessert. This was Elizabeth on her wedding day, the start of her journey towards eventually becoming Queen Mother…

Elizabeth on wedding day in April 1923.

and this was her elaborate wedding cake…

Photo courtesy of royal.uk

On the Netflix show, The Crown, you’ll see Elizabeth portrayed by Victoria Hamilton on screen, a supporting character to Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth II …

Victoria Hamilton as Queen Elizabeth L in the Netflix show, The Crown

but in real life, for much of her life, Elizabeth the Queen Mother, was the star of her own spectacular show. A glittering jewel in the Royal Family, she was beloved for her warm demeanor, her cheerful personality and her ability to relate to people, most especially working-class women.

A world traveler throughout her life, she loved trying new things and surprising people with her authenticity, integrity, capability and willingness to be involved. If she went camping, she would set up her own tent. If she went fishing, she would catch her own dinner. If she wanted a new dress, she’d work out the initial designs herself. Witty, stylish, observational and fun to be around, Elizabeth was one of the most popular members of the Royal family from the time she stepped into the limelight as the bride of King George VI to the time of her death at the age of 101.

She visited Australia several times throughout her life, but her first impression of it in the 1920’s sealed her fondness for it for the rest of her life. In a letter home to her mother, in 1927 she wrote…

“It is most lovely country… The climate is marvellous – very hot sun and cool breezes, and we have both enjoyed ourselves up here in Queensland. The people are so nice & friendly, & the distances are so vast that it keeps them simple.”

Queen Elizabeth _ Canberra, Queensland Australia 1927. Photo courtesy of the National Archives of Australia

As the previous constitutional monarch of Australia (up until 1952), it’s easy to understand how Queen Mother’s Cake could be linked to Aussie history. But the origin story of this confectionary creation doesn’t start or stop there. Legend states that the cake was introduced to the Queen via a Polish pianist named Jan Smeterlin (1892-1967)…

who had first tasted the cake in Austria. Jan, in addition to being a talented piano player, was also a talented cook. It is unclear whether he brought the Austrian recipe home with him or if he created it from memory in his own kitchen, but either way , the story goes that he made the cake for the Queen one day while she was visiting him in the early 1950’s.  So in love with it did she fall that Queen Elizabeth requested a copy of the recipe from Jan and started baking it herself at the palace. Taking on new significance and a new name – Queen Mother’s Cake – it became the favorite cake that Elizabeth liked to offer to guests and it was the only cake that she insisted on making herself each time an occasion called for it.

With its glossy chocolate frosting, simple ingredients and fluffy, moist consistency, it is easy to see why this cake became a favorite, not only with the Queen and Jan Smeterlin, but also with all of England and Australia too.

So delicious, so easy to make and so fast to assemble, Queen Mother’s Cake tastes like a fudge frosted brownie but without the heft and density normally associated with a traditional flour-filled brownie. A dash of powdered instant coffee in the frosting gives a slight tangy contrast to the sweet cake and a dollop of freshly whipped cream perfectly unites all the flavors.

I’m always a fan of a cake that allows you a little creativity in the decorating department. Apparently many Australian bakers from earlier generations learned their pastry and confectionery skills from English artisans during the Victorian era which focused heavily on beautifully presented cakes and exquisite designs.  This stylized influence and interest in gorgeously crafted cakes has remained within the country over the past century, making Australians some of the most highly skilled cake decorators in the world.

The Queen Mother’s Cake is sort of a blank canvas of creativity though when it comes to the presentation department. Like the woman it was named after it is very amenable and open to all sorts of different design interpretations and embellishments.  This recipe just calls for a simple, smoothly frosted cake with no particular adornment though. In wanting to stay authentic to the recipe, I left my cake unadorned as well, but I couldn’t help adding some whip cream and a sprinkle of sliced almonds on each slice. There is something to be said about a good simple cake that requires minimal effort, but next time, it might be fun to experiment with a little extra design on top too.

Queen Mother’s Cake

(serves 12)

For the cake:

Fine bread crumbs

6 oz. fine quality sweet chocolate ( I used German baking chocolate that contained 48% cocoa)

3/4 cup sweet butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

6 eggs, seperated

6 oz. finely grated almonds

Pinch of salt

Icing

For the icing:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 rounded teaspoon decaffeinated instant coffee (I used Starbucks Via)

8 oz. fine-quality sweet chocolate, broken into pieces ( I used German baking chocolate that contained 48% cocoa)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter a 9″ inch spring-form pan. Line the butter with waxed paper (parchment paper) and butter the paper. Dust the sides and bottom with fine bread crumbs. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in the top of a double-boiler. Remove the heat and cool.

Cream the butter and sugar very well. Add the egg yolks one at a time, and beat until smooth. Stir in the cooled chocolate and almonds.

Beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff but not dry. Adding one-third of the egg-whites at a time, fold carefully into the chocolate mixture.

Pour into the prepared pan…

and bake twenty minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake 45 minutes longer . Remove from the oven, place on a wet towel, and cool.

When cool, remove the cake from the pan. If the top is uneven, level it with a thin sharp knife. Place the cake on waxed paper (or parchment)…

Next make the icing. Heat the cream in a heavy saucepan until it just barely begins to boil. Add the instant coffee and stir to dissolve…

then add the chocolate. After a minute or two, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir constantly until the chocolate is completely melted.

Let cool a few minutes until just barely tepid. Poor icing over the top of cake.  Using a spatula, completely cover the top and sides.

Let stand at room temperature until the icing sets, then transfer to a cake platter. Gather up all your friends and your family, your co-workers, your neighbors, your party-goers, your joy-seekers. Then, get to celebrating. Raise a fork to Australia and to all that they have managed to achieve in the face of adversity. Raise a fork to optimism and to courage, to comfort and support. To cake. And to carrying on towards a brighter day.

Join us next Wednesday, Week Three of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020, as we head out on our next epicurean adventure… Austria, where we will be making a saucy recipe and discussing all things food and travel with a modern-day local. Stay tuned!

The International Vintage Recipe Tour: {Week 1} Armenian Stuffed Meat Balls

Welcome to Week 1 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020! If you missed the previous blog post a few days ago, this is week #1 of a year-long culinary adventure as we cook our way through 45 countries in 12 months, courtesy of recipes from the 1971 edition of The New York Times International Cook Book. If you are all caught up and ready to explore, then cheers to our travels. Let’s get started…

COUNTRY #1: Armenia

In today’s post, we are headed to Armenia via the kitchen, to prepare a traditional heritage food packed with protein and whole grains, and to learn more about this exotic country’s history thanks to the publication of a modern day memoir.

I must confess right off the bat, before I began this cooking project I knew absolutely nothing about Armenia, other than the fact that it is where the paternal side of the Kardashian clan hails from. Pronounced R-Me-Knee-A (not R-Min-E-A!), and  nestled between Turkey, Georgia and Iran, Armenia is a small country that could easily be missed, depending on the age of the map you are consulting…

Located in Western Asia, a section of the world which also includes Middle Eastern countries,  Armenians consider themselves neither Middle Eastern nor Asian but distinctly European. Armenia is the birthplace of the apricot and home to the oldest winery in the world (which dates back 6000 years). The capital city of Yerevan predates Rome, and is considered one of the oldest inhabited capital cities in the world. On the food front, their traditional cuisine has been influenced and enhanced by the closeness of their surrounding neighbors, giving Armenian dishes a unique blend of Russian, Turkish, Georgian and Mediterranean flavors.

This week in the kitchen, we are making a regional favorite, Armenian Stuffed Meat Balls. Essentially, this recipe is a meatball made with lamb, which is then stuffed inside another meatball, also made of lamb, and then cooked in beef broth. Each batch of meatballs is made with a different blend of ingredients – one vegetable laden, the other grain laden. Once tucked inside each other, they are quickly cooked in a boiling homemade broth and served immediately from the pot, plump and steamy.  Although stuffing meatballs sounds a little bit complicated, it’s actually a very easy and fun recipe to make.

Over the course of the last few decades I have made countless numbers of meatballs, but I never considered, before this recipe, that they could be 1) be stuffed or 2) be cooked in other ways besides pan frying or baking in the oven. Always a fan of innovative cooking methods and creative food compositions, I thought these stuffed and boiled meatballs would be a really interesting and exciting challenge. And boy was this the case!  A combination of  artistry, hand massage and play dough, these magical meatballs rolled their way into formation in the kitchen with nothing but joy and fun.

The only tricky situation I encountered with this recipe was sourcing bulgur, a cracked wheat that is a staple in the Armenian diet. Usually I can find this easily in the organic section of my local grocery store, but the day I went to shop for all the recipe ingredients, the store had sold out of what I needed. Two additional stops at other grocery stores also yielded an empty cart. Because the International Vintage Recipe Tour happens at a quick clip with shopping, cooking, photographing and writing all occurring within a week’s time frame, I had to come up with a substitution for this now elusive ingredient.  My first challenge of the project!

As it turns out, thanks to some quick research online, it was a simple remedy. Two similar alternatives for bulgur are couscous and quinoa, both standard finds in most grocery stores, both traditional heritage foods of Armenia and surrounding countries, and both substituted with the same 1-1 ratio. Perfect!

While the meatballs are easy to make, and they cook within ten minutes,  they do require about 6 hours of preparation time. Most of the time is eaten up by broth making (3 hours), chilling time in the fridge (2 hours), and hand kneading (20 minutes) but simultaneously, while each of these tasks are occurring, other components of the recipe can be readied, making it feel like the hours and the tasks just fly by. Both the interior meatball filling and the beef broth can be made a day or two ahead of time, but I recommend doing it all at once just for the sheer delight of completely immersing yourself in the making of this unique food.  The recipe itself feeds a crowd, making on average between 22-24 meatballs in total, so this would be a fun weekend cooking project when you don’t have the pressure of the busy work week to battle and you can relax with a glass of wine or an Armenian cognac as you cook the day away.

THE RECIPES: Homemade Beef Stock and Armenian Stuffed Meat Balls 

(Note: All  recipes prepared throughout the International Vintage Recipe Tour are executed exactly 100% as written in the New York Times International Cook Book, unless noted).

Homemade Beef Stock

4-5 lbs. beef short ribs or beef soup bones

2 leeks, trimmed split and washed well

2 carrots, trimmed and scraped

2 ribs celery, cut in half

1 onion stuck with two cloves

2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon peppercorns

Place the beef in a kettle and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and blanch about 5 minutes, then drain and run under cold water. Return the bones to the kettle and add the remaining ingredients. Add more cold water to cover and simmer, uncovered, about three hours. Skim the surface as the stock cooks to remove fat and scum. Strain.

Armenian Stuffed Meat Balls

For the stuffing:

1 lb. lamb, ground

4 medium onions, sliced

1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1/4 teaspoon chopped mint

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the Meatballs:

1 lb. very lean ground lamb

1 cup very fine burghul (cracked wheat) or 1 cup quinoa or 1 cup couscous

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

water

4 cups boiling beef stock

To make the stuffing, saute the lamb over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add the onions and cook over low heat  for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the green pepper, parsley and mint and cook 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper and simmer for five minutes.

When cool, chill stuffing for at least 2 hours. After it is filled shape into the size of marbles (about one teaspoonful for each)

To make the meat balls, combine the meat burghal, salt, pepper, onion and parsley and knead the mixture as you would dough , adding a few drops of water as you go along. Knead the mixture for twenty minutes until the mixture is like a medium soft dough.

Dip your hands in a bowl of cold water and make balls the size of walnuts. Make a dent in the middle of each ball with your thumb and press all around the inside wall to amke a round opening for the filling. The wall should be fairly thin. (Watch a video on how to do this on my Instastory here).

Place the marble-sized filling in each shell and bring the edges together to close. Smooth the surface with wet fingers  and flatten slightly by gently pressing between the palms.

Drop the meat balls into the boiling stock and cook for ten minutes  or until the meat balls come to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon without puncturing. Serve immediately.

THE RESULT…

Delicious! Like a hearty little bundle of meatloaf, these meatballs contain all the components of a balanced dish with subtle, nuanced flavors. Filling, comforting and satisfying, the only thing I would have wished, was that they were a bit more aromatic in the spice department. They weren’t bland in the least, but I think I might have been spoiled years ago by my lovely Bulgarian friend’s specialty of Turkish meatballs, which are laden with cumin. That aside, these Armenian meat balls were delicious and delicate in their own unique way. I bet also, had I prepared this dish in the Springtime when the onions and the mint are at their peak of freshness, the sweetness of the mint and the tangy-ness of the onion would have been stronger, sharper and more distinct.

Next time, I’ll experiment with this recipe again in March or April, and add a triple dose of mint to the stuffing to see how that adds to the overall taste. If you try this recipe now, during the winter months, I would suggest serving them with a dollop of mint jelly or a spicy habanero jelly to add another dynamic layer of flavor. Traditionally, this food would be served alongside a heaping pile of rice pilaf or in a shallow basin of broth, like a soup, but because we are featuring just one recipe from each country on this Tour (although this week had two because of the broth) I served these meatballs with a simple side salad and some fresh grapes in lieu of the suggested Armenian Rice Pilaf recipe that followed in the cookbook.

HISTORICAL COMPANION: The Hundred Year Walk

Just like you would pair a fine wine with a fine meal to bring out the food’s flavor,  I thought it would be fun to connect each recipe we make with a unique cultural story from history to add interest to the dish and spark additional conversation. Throughout the tour, this historical nod will come in various forms – interviews, book recommendations, movie suggestions, music playlists, art discussions and artifact discoveries. This week’s cultural tie-in comes in the form of a book, The Hundred Year Walk, which details the history of Armenia and its people in a highly relatable way.

Written  by Dawn Anahid MacKeen, a thirty-something California native who is half American and half Armenian, The Hundred Year Walk,  published in 2016, tells the true story of her Armenian grandfather who survived Turkish military capture in the early part of the 20th century. It’s almost impossible to research anything about Armenia without reference to the tragic Armenian genocide of 1915 – an event that killed over 1 million people – about half of the country’s population. While this is a heavy topic for our recipe tour, this event is as important to the country’s history as their staple foods, and has come to define the Armenian culture throughout the past 100 years.

Dawn’s grandfather Stepan, a survivor of the Armenian genocide of 1915, recorded details of this life-altering experience and his escape to freedom in journals which he kept throughout his life.  Those journals were passed down to Dawn’s mother who tucked them away, out of sight for decades. But in the early 2000’s, on a trip home to California to visit her parents, Dawn finds the handwritten books and suddenly becomes consumed by stories surrounding her grandfather’s unusual and heroic escape.  Filled with a desire to understand her own family history and the struggles Stepan faced, Dawn begins piecing together  his cataclysmic journey as he walked through cities, over mountains and eventually across the desert in order to escape death. Retelling Stepan’s story as events unfolded in 1915, Dawn also parallels this ancient history with her own modern day journey of exploration in the early 2000’s, as she follows in his own footsteps retracing his route through modern day Turkey and Syria – a young woman traveling alone amid post 9/11 tension and unease.

What I loved most about Dawn’s book was her ability to paint a thoroughly engrossing portrait of the Armenian way of life known by her grandfather’s generation, and then balance that against her own unique perspective and experiences as a modern day American woman. Her book is a crash course in all things Armenia, while also offering a compassionate viewpoint of the effects of war and displacement upon multiple generations.

On a side note, one of the random things I learned in preparation for this post is that the library will buy books for you.  I wanted to read The Hundred Year Walk over the Christmas holiday but none of the books available online would be delivered in the timeframe that I needed, and my local bookstore didn’t carry this title. Dawn’s book was also not included in my local library system, which meant that they didn’t have any copies in any of their branches. On their website, I noticed a feature called “suggest a book ” where you can suggest a book for the library to buy which will then become part of  their permanent circulating collection. Not sure, how all this worked nor how quickly, I submitted a request for the library to purchase a copy of The Hundred Year Walk. The very next day I received an email that the book request had been approved, and that they were ordering several copies for several branches. Four days later, I received another email. The book was at the library ready for pickup. How marvelous! I’m not sure if all libraries offer this service, but it’s worth an inquiry if you find yourself in a particular predicament.

A 1940’s map of West Asia

History can feel very far removed and intimidating when you have no reference point or fundamental understanding of a country or a culture that is thousands of miles away and vastly different from your own.  But cooking this batch of Stuffed Meat Balls and reading The Hundred Year Walk was such a captivating experience.   Riveting from page one, I won’t spoil the book and its trajectory of events, only to say that it starts with a scene in the kitchen – a conversation between Dawn and her mother while they wash dishes. It’s a mundane task, so commonplace and ordinary, yet ultimately becomes life-changing for both women as there in the swirl of the dish water, Stepan’s story begins to form.

I hope Week One of the International Vintage Recipe Tour sets up in your kitchen in just the same way.  That conversations spark between between friends and family as meatballs get made and interest about Armenia grows.  I look forward to exploring and sharing more recipes from this fascinating country with you in future posts.  In the meantime, if you have any related food stories or experiences to share about Armenia or the Stuffed Meat Ball recipe,  please share them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

To learn more about Dawn Anahid Mackeen , visit her website here.

Join us next week, as we embark on Week Two of our epicurean adventure… Australia, where we’ll feature a good news recipe for a country that needs all the good news it can get right now.