Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fat Tuesday! Polish Paczki Day!

Fat Tuesday, Polish, Paczki, Detroit
My Aunt Sophie and my grandmother "Babci" would make these at Easter, but they take a lot of work to make. I am happy to find them here in Florida at my local Publix supermarkets.

It is the weekend before the beginning of Lent, a forty day period of fasting, sacrifice, and penance for those who are devout Catholics. My remembrance of Lent was of dry fish sticks, only marginally better than cardboard, with a little ketchup on them if we were lucky. We did have, on occasion, beet soup and potato pancakes, recipes I will post in the next few weeks.

A treat I did remember was Paczki, Polish jelly-filled doughnuts that were traditionally made on Fat Tuesday, except that in Detroit in the 1950s everyone had to work during the week, so my Grandmother and Aunt made them on the Saturday before Lent began.

Along the stairwell leading to the partially finished attic in the house on Florida Street, was a cutout pantry where many of the kitchen utensils were stored. I was especially amazed at the wealth and the large sizes of the mixing bowls, every color, size, and shape imaginable. The big bowls were brought out to make the Paczki.

They were nothing like typical jelly doughnuts found in a supermarket deli or even a doughnut shop. These were big, hearty, orbs of dense, rich, eggy pastry, often filled with jelly, usually raspberry, or sometimes only with a handful of white raisins in the dough.

Paczki are very labor and time intensive. The recipe I provide below is from our family, but I have never made them. In fact, I don’t remember having seen Paczki being made. I only saw and savored the end result! I called my sister before posting and even she, the great cook that she is, doesn’t make them by hand, but orders them from a bakery in Detroit.

I have no such nearby bakery, but this year our local supermarket, had something they called Paczki. They weren’t as brown or as dense or as rich as those of my childhood, but they will have to do. If you do make my recipe I would love to hear your comments. on how they turned out.

Polish Doughnuts (Paczki)

1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 whole egg and 3 yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
1/2 cup raspberry jam
Optional: 1/4 cup white raisins

Dissolve yeast in water. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, gradually beat in egg and egg yolks. Add yeast mixture, vanilla, orange rind and salt. Gradually add flour, blend ingredients well, and knead until dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Set aside in warm place until doubled. On floured board roll out until 1/2 inch thick. Cut into circles with glass or biscuit-cutter.

Place a spoonful of raspberry jam at center of each circle, fold in half, pinch and roll into balls snowball fashion.

Fry in hot oil or shortening until dark brown. Transfer to paper towels. When cool dust with powdered sugar.

Note: For a lighter texture, the formed and filled paczki can be set in a warm place to rise once again before frying.
Paczki come in several flavors, but I like the raspberry filling best.

10964 McKean Road, Willis, Michigan --- Kindergarten

I have kept a small, tattered, brown cardboard box for over forty years. Although I have moved many times; sometimes halfway around the world, I have never misplaced it. I know exactly where it is. It is the only tangible evidence I have of living on McKean Road as the label is addressed to my mother. The box had contained an iron that my mother had ordered from a catalog. I think I keep the box so that I will not forget our first address, 10964 McKean Road. Willis, Michigan.

Willis, Michigan was a small town in southeastern Michigan, about thirty miles from Detroit. There was a grocery market with a soda fountain; a hardware store; a barber shop; a convenience story that served as the Greyhound bus station, a farmer’s feedlot, and an oil delivery station, There were a couple of dozen houses and a couple of churches, but that was all. There was a railroad track that you had to cross to get into town. I think that someone was killed there, because they did not hear the train whistle. I cannot say this for certain.

Dad brought home chicks in the springtime. He fixed a box in the basement with a light bulb to keep the chicks warm. I know it bothered me that that in addition to the chicken feed, he fed the chicks chopped eggs. I felt sorry that the chicks were eating their possible sisters and brothers.

I have no memory of anything in my life before I was five years old. There are pictures of my parents and me in front of the big, red brick house. There are pictures taken on my first trip to Wisconsin when I was almost two. My mother told me a story about that trip. Along the way, they told me that they had forgotten my baby bottle at our cousin’s house in Wisconsin and that from then on I would have to drink from a glass, and I did. There are pictures taken at Christmas at my grandmother’s house with my cousins and aunts and uncles. Pictures are the only things I have left of that house at 10964 McKean. Pictures and that box.

My first day at kindergarten; I do not recall getting on the big, yellow, school bus that took us to school. When it was time to come home someone put a tag on my chest that let everyone know which bus I was to take home. They put me on the wrong bus. I was only five—what did I know? I only knew my address: “10964 McKean Road.” Everyone had been delivered safely home. I was the only one left on the bus. The bus driver asked me where did I live? I answered “10964 McKean Road.” “Show me your address!” She said. “You are on the wrong bus!” Makes no difference, I knew my address “10964 McKean Road.” The bus driver headed for McKean Road, I recognized my house and got off. My mother was frantic. I was over an hour late getting home. “What happened? Why are you so late?” I had no idea. I sprawled out on the dining room floor and “read” the comic section of the newspaper. My mother brought me a bowl of chicken soup. I ate it on the floor. I was oblivious to my mother’s questions.

I have only vague memories of my kindergarten teachers. It is only my imagination that I picture one as being tall and thin, the other being short and fat. Both had gray hair. One did have coiled braids wound tightly around her head.

My parents were called in for a conference with my kindergarten teachers. This was unusual. I came with them. I kept my head down and looked at my teachers’ shoes; they had the same shoes—black, lace-ups, tied in a bow. I did not look at the teachers, only at their shoes! I was amazed that they both wore the same shoes.

They told my parents that if their child was to succeed in America, they must never speak Polish to me again. My parents did not challenge teachers—certainly not as some parents do today. Polish was never spoken to me again. I had learned Polish as easily as I had learned English. My neighbor, Mrs. Gerak had babysat me. I had visited my grandmother everyday. They did not speak English—if I was to communicate with them, I had to learn Polish. And I did—what did I know?

My mother always gathered us in the hallway in our house on McKean Road and we said our evening prayers, in Polish, before the crucifix that hung in the hall. After that conference with my kindergarten teachers, we never said our prayers in Polish again—we said them in English. My mother, our extended family, and the neighbors only spoke Polish when there was gossip, gossip they did not want the children to understand. I had learned too much however and I still knew some Polish, so they had to be careful when I was around.

It was coming up to Easter. Our teachers had sent home a note, telling parents to send their child with one hard-boiled egg to decorate. I proudly carried my egg to school. We decorated our eggs with crayons. My egg was so beautiful. We made Easter baskets out of construction paper, colorful strips woven into basket shapes at the direction of our teachers. It was naptime. We were told to close our eyes and not to peek. I peeked. I saw the teachers fill our baskets with Easter grass, candies and our special egg. We were told that the Easter bunny had filled our baskets, but I knew who did it. It was not the Easter bunny at all!

We were on the bus going home. I held my basket triumphantly in my hand. I was carrying an Easter basket for my mother. The bus lurched to a stop. The paste, still wet, which was supposed to hold the basket together, gave way. My egg fell to the floor. I tried to get it, but it rolled right out the school bus door. I had no Easter egg for my mother. I yelled for the bus driver to stop, but the bus continued on. I was inconsolable. The egg was lost—I was being punished because I peeked, when I was told not to. I had nightmares about the egg rolling out the bus door for years afterward.

That was not the only nightmare I had. It was only one of the milder ones. I had nightmares about the Lone Ranger and Superman, except in these nightmares, they were the bad guys and they were coming to get me. The worst nightmare, the one that I feared the most, because after I awoke from it I was afraid to go back to sleep, involved a huge circulating vortex. It whirled and whirled. I was being sucked in, and I knew that when I reached the bottom I would die. I would wake up, shaking, afraid to fall asleep again in case the nightmare would reappear. I never told anyone about my nightmares.

My brother, Thomas, died before I entered kindergarten. Maybe things would have been different if he had not died. It was winter. It was the middle of the night. My father was working. There was a commotion in the house. Mrs. Gerak was there. Someone from the Gerak family was taking my mother and brother to the hospital. Too late, he died on the way. I do not know what caused his death. My mother did not talk much about it. I found out later that it was pneumonia, and it could have been cured. Suddenly my life changed.

This visitation for my brother was at Roberts Brothers funeral home in Belleville, Michigan. I have been there many times since, but this was the first time for me. There were flowers, so many flowers, in fancy arrangements. My brother was there. I asked if he was sleeping. No, they told me, he had gone to heaven, but he looked like he was sleeping.

We went to the cemetery. I was not with my parents. I was kept in the back with my Godmother, my Aunt Pauline. I wanted to see my mother, but Aunt Pauline would not let me. I do not know how I got home, but when I did I found my mother on the bed in my bedroom and the door was closed. I do not know where my father was. I opened the door. She was crying. She screamed at me: “Get out! Get out! Get out!” The last nightmare, the one that still haunts me, even today.

I was never hugged or kissed by mother after that day. It was not until I was an adult that I would hug her again. Then the hugs were different. They were the type of slightly awkward hug that acknowledged that this was my mother who should be hugged, not the hug that says I love you, care for you, and miss you. It was not our way.

Mom’s Macaroni
My ultimate comfort food--Mom's macaroni.
To me, the following recipe is the ultimate comfort food when I am feeling blue. Mom never served this with "real" Parmesan cheese. In fact, I never knew that Parmesan cheese came from anything except the Green Kraft can until I was an adult! But first, a story!

In the early days at the McKean Road house, Mom always hung the laundry out to dry when the weather was good. One early spring, when snow was still on the ground, she realized that she had lost the diamond from her engagement ring. She searched for hours, but finally gave up. Our neighbors, the Geraks, told her they would pray to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost causes, and a few weeks later, after the snow had melted, Mom noticed a bright, rainbow speck in the grass—it was her diamond!

1 pound ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 and 1/2 cups macaroni
1  28 ounce can stewed tomatoes (I use the petite cut)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional) or Kraft Parmesan Cheese in the green can
Salt and pepper

Cook macaroni until firm, but done. Drain and rinse with cool water. Sauté onion in olive oil until golden, add ground beef and fry until done. Drain off fat.

Add tomatoes; chop them up if the pieces are too large. Bring to slow boil, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add macaroni. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to slow boil and shut off heat. Keep pan covered to let macaroni absorb the liquid.

I like eating this lukewarm with a healthy handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

I am thinking about the night we were coming home from Detroit and as we got closer we saw this huge glow in the sky. Dad instinctively knew it was a fire, a farmer's worst nightmare. It looked like it was coming from our grandparents' farm. He sped up and as we got close to home it wasn't that barn, but old man Blazak's barn a half mile away. Dad parked nearby. There were dozens of cars, but it was too late. You could hear the animals screaming as they burned to death. Blazak had horses and cows inside. I had nightmares for months after that. We went back the next morning. There was nothing left. Just the concrete pad and burning embers. The barn was never rebuilt.

There are more stories. It was probably 1959. My dad's father, and my dad's stepbrother crash into each other at a curve not far from my grandparents' home on McKean Road. Both have to go the hospital. The accident is blamed on a tree at the roads' edge obscuring vision around the curve. My mother is on the phone calling the Washtenaw County Road Commission to cut down the tree. They refuse. She tells them that the tree is going to be cut down blocking the road. It is a dangerous curve. It could have been a school bus. The County officials threaten to send the sheriff. Whoever cuts the tree down will go to jail. Sawhorses are set up at the junctions of McKean Road and Judd and Talladay Roads warning that the road is closed. Neighbors and family gather. Everyone has saws and axes. A newspaper is called. A reporter comes. A sheriff deputy appears. The tree has been felled. Cousins and uncles and neighbors sit on the tree, saws and axes in hand. Everyone claims responsibility. A photo is taken. The deputy doesn't arrest anyone. A couple of days later the county removes the tree. The sawhorses are taken down. I wish I still had that picture from the newspaper.

I think it was 1960, late summer. My dad was testing a kerosene lamp in the garage. I don't know the occasion, but it must have been a huge party. Dozens of aunts and uncles and cousins were there. The party went on forever. As dusk came, the adults were dancing in the garage by the light of the kerosene lamp. The cousins and I were rolling down the swale in front of our house. I was so dizzy from rolling over and over. It will be the last party I recall at 10964 McKean Road.

My grandfather died in 1961. It must have been late winter. My mother sewed a black armband around my winter coat. I was in one of the first cars and looked back at the cortege of cars behind us, as we made our way up from the Roberts Brothers Funeral Home to St. Anthony's Church in Belleville, Michigan. The line of cars stretched forever, purple funeral flags fluttering. It was the end of an era. There would not be such a line of cars again.

There were issues, so many issues. My father bought the headstone for my grandparents. The stonemaker coming to the house with his book of samples. He leafed through the book. I watched as my father picked out the images and text that would go on the tablet.There would be no more parties at the house on McKean Road. The family, on my father’side had been riven. It would only get worse. The decision was made to leave the farm. It would be years before I saw some of my cousins again. Some I would never see. Some I would never know.

It was the Christmas of 1962. We would be moving to Belleville the following summer. My dad had the attic renovated to include two bedrooms and a half bath. I had the big bedroom. It was so lonely up there. I asked if I could have a Christmas tree in my room. “No way. Too expensive,” he said. And then, just before Christmas my dad came home with a tree. He said he was following a truck of Christmas trees and as it went over the railroad tracks in Belleville a tree came loose and fell off and he stopped and picked it up. He couldn't believe it. Here was the tree for my room! I am sure it was a tall tale. But I had my Christmas tree! I couldn't believe he had such heart. And then I demanded a radio. It was too scary and quiet alone by myself in the upstairs room cut off from the family. “No way, too expensive,” I was told by my dad.

We made our annual trek to Florida Street that Christmas Eve. I was depressed. I was twelve and here weren't toys for me anymore, only shirts and socks and other useful things. I watched with sadness as my sisters tore into their toys and games.

When I awoke on Christmas morning, on my desk there was a clock radio! I think it was an RCA. It was white, and big, and had gold trim. And it picked up CKLW from Windsor, Ontario, clear as a bell! I could listen to MoTown songs whenever I wanted to. It was the greatest Christmas gift ever! How did it get there? Dad must have put it there while we were packed in the car, ready for the trip to Detroit. I never noticed it when I got home, because it was so late.

Maybe I didn't appreciate my dad enough.

The Christmas tree.

The radio.

You always have second thoughts about how much your dad loved you until you are too old, and he is gone.

Calves Liver with Coffee Gravy

This is a strange sounding recipe, but oh so good! Absolutely do NOT substitute beef liver for this recipe—it is too tough, and has too strong a flavor. Do not let the coffee in the recipe stop you from making this dish. It will not taste at all like coffee when it is done. Also, don't overcook the liver. Many people do not like liver because they had only eaten dried-out over-cooked beef liver!

1 pound calves’ liver
1 to 2 cups milk
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons brewed coffee
Flour for dredging
Salt and pepper

Cover calf liver with milk and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours. Drain and pat dry.

In large frying pan, sauté onions in butter until golden. Remove with slotted spoon, trying to leave as much butter in the pan as possible. Add vegetable oil.

Slice liver into 1x2 inch strips. Salt and pepper. Dredge lightly in flour.

Place strips in single layer in frying pan. Fry briefly on each side for a couple of minutes until golden brown, but still pink. Combine water and brewed coffee. Pour over liver. Add onions. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thickened, not more than 5 minutes, or the liver will turn tough.

Serve over mashed potatoes.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bananas Foster Cream Pie -- My Latest! It's a Winner!

Bananas Foster Cream Pie

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Caramel Sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons cream
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons dark rum or ½ teaspoon rum flavoring (optional - I didn't use either, but rum is a traditional ingredient of Bananas Foster.)
1/2 cup Nestle La Lechera Dulce de Leche (caramel sauce)

2-3 bananas sliced
3 cups milk
1 large package (4.6 oz.) Jello Cook & Serve Vanilla Pudding & Pie Filling mix
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon banana flavoring

1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon for dusting

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a bowl mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter until well mixed. Pour into a 9″ pie plate and press it evenly into the pan.

Bake for 7 minutes and set aside to cool.

Stir pudding mix into 3 cups milk in medium saucepan. Add cinnamon and allspice. Whisk until blended and bring to full boil on medium heat, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and whisk in banana flavoring. Set aside and allow to cool somewhat while you prepare the caramel.

In a small skillet melt the butter and brown sugar over medium low heat. Allow it to come to a boil, turn the heat down to low and cook for 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream and optional rum or rum flavoring. Add cinnamon and Dulce de Leche and stir until the caramel has melted. Allow to cool slightly.

Slice two to three bananas and put one layer of the sliced bananas on the bottom of the pie crust. Pour the caramel evenly over the bananas and spread to completely cover bananas. Layer remaining banana slices on top.

Whisk the custard until smooth. Pour the custard over the bananas and caramel. Chill for at least four hours, but overnight is better.

 To finish the pie, whip cream until the cream begins to thicken. Add powdered sugar and continue beating until soft peaks form and the whipped cream holds its shape. Spread the cream over the cooled pie and dust with cinnamon. Chill for thirty minutes before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sometimes I wonder if I should just have a pie blog??!!

I made this pie for a meeting at church last night. I was told that the pie was "orgasmic" and that everyone wanted to marry me!! I've never made this pie before and didn't even get a chance to sample it! I will definitely put it on my do again list and may even enter this one into a pie contest! I am giving you the recipe I found and noting any differences that I made to the recipe.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Pie

2 cups semisweet  chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups whipping cream divided
1/4 cup butter, cut into pieces
1 (9-inch) chocolate crumb piecrust (I made mine from scratch)
1 (21 oz.) can cherry pie filling (look for a deluxe version with lots of cherries)
1 (8 oz.) package of cream cheese, softened
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
16 maraschino cherries with stems
2 cups whipped topping, thawed (I made real whipped cream)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Microwave chocolate morsels and cream in a small bowl on medium for 1 to 2 minutes or until chocolate begins to melt (I used a double boiler).  Whisk in butter until smooth. Let cool, whisking occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes or until mixture is a spreadable consistency.

Spoon half of chocolate mixture into pie crust. Cover and chill remaining chocolate mixture. Spoon cherry pie filling evenly over chocolate mixture in pie crust. Place pie on a baking sheet and set aside.

Beat together cream cheese, sugar, egg and almond extract at medium speed with an electric mixture until smooth. Pour evenly over cherry pie filling. (The pie shell will be full, but it will not overflow when you bake it.)

Bake fro 30 minutes or until center is set. Remove pie from oven and cool on a wire rack. Cover and chill for 8 hours.

Microwave reserve chocolate mixture at medium power for 1 minute. (Again, I used a double boiler). Stir until spreadable. Dip cherries in chocolate mixture and let them firm on a sheet of wax paper for 15 minutes before decorating pie. (Hint: Be sure to wipe off the cherries with a paper towel so that they are dry before dipping into the chocolate or the chocolate will not stick. I also put my cherries into the refrigerator to firm up.)

Spread remaining chocolate evenly over top of pie. Spoon 8 dollops of whipped topping around outer edge; place 2 cherries in each dollop. (I used real whipped cream and piped it on and then added the cherries--see picture. Makes for a more classy looking pie!! I got lots of "oohs" when I uncovered it last night).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Kowalski Kare Package

I had to go in to have some minor surgery and was feeling a little blue about it so I had my sister, Barbara, in Michigan send me down a care package—10 pounds of Kowalski kielbasa, ring bologna and kiszka (blood sausage).

If you have any feelings about Detroit, check this book out if you get the chance. It is about families and about baseball, specifically Detroit Tiger baseball, The Final Season: Fathers, Sons, and One Last Season in a Classic American Ballpark (Honoring a Detroit Legend) by Tom Stanton. I loved this book, having picked it up at the Ft. Myers airport on a trip to Detroit. It was so sweet. It combined the story of a father and his son, with the story of the author and his Polish family in Detroit. And, of course, baseball, and the Detroit Tigers and their final season at Tiger Stadium at Trumbull and Michigan in Detroit. It had so many parallels with our own family including the eating of what we called Keeshka—the only reference to keeshka I have ever see in any book (except Polish cookbooks) I have ever read!

Genuine Kowalski Kiszka--direct from Detroit! Not even most Polish people like it but my brother and sisters and I inhale it.

Kiszka is an acquired taste. It is a combination of buckwheat, beef blood, finally ground pieces of beef and pork that you probably don’t want to know where it came from, onion and spices. We always had it for breakfast.

Kiszka “Keeshka” (Blood Sausage)

1 half ring Kowalski Kiszka
1/2 onion minced
2 tablespoons butter

Sauté onion in butter in frying pan until onion is translucent  Remove casing from kiszka. Cut kiszka into slices. Add to onion and butter.Stir occasionally until combined and browned.Serve with fried eggs and white toast.

Kiszka, eggs sunny side up and toast with butter and homemade strawberry jam--A breakfast fit for a Polish Prince!