The Book: Favorite Recipes of the Nebraska Czechs (1968)
Three Cubed Project
How can you not love a cookbook that devotes an entire chapter to dumplings, another to gravies and, quite rightly, prioritizes cakes and candies at the front? That it also serves as a historical record of my people, home state and the decade in which it was produced makes Favorite Recipes of the Nebraska Czechs all the more endearing to me.
I bought my copy (in its eighth printing, 1986) to expand my recipe index for koláčes (kolaches), the hallmark pastry of southeastern Nebraska—home to the Czech Capital of America, in Wilbur—and the standard by which bakers there are judged. I have my grandmother’s dough recipe (perfect!); it was new and interesting koláče fillings I was seeking.
On that account, I was thwarted. All of the koláče recipes simply instruct you (once you have rolled the dough into small rounds) to spoon filling—no recipe, sigh—into the center and bake. (Molly, I feel your Eastern European pain.)
Assumption of knowledge aside, this book is a treasury of foods from the old country—houska, an intricate braided yeast bread redolent with spices; poppy seed cakes; doughnuts of various stripes; plus a multitude of ways to use sauerkraut. Of course, reflecting time, place and culture, it also has plenty of dishes the involve beef tongue, round steak, Jell-O, cottage cheese and cabbage—though, thankfully, not all at once.
Which leads me to Page 127 and its three entrées, from the Meats section. Two feature round steak—the bane of my childhood— and the third is essentially a hamburger made with shredded potatoes. (It takes a mere 220 pages to sum up the Nebraska Czechs’ favorites but, like a good church cookbook, it is chockfull of family recipes with multiples on every page.)
So, I committed to making something on this page, and a deal’s a deal. I gritted my teeth, pulled out the meat hammer and opted for Stroganoff Supreme over the Beef Parmigiana. If I were going to do this, at least it should seem Slavic.
The stroganoff, like most of the recipes in the book, was simple. After I hammered the round steak and cut it into strips, I browned the meat in butter (NOT margarine, sorry ancestors). After that, I tossed in chopped onions, canned sliced button mushrooms, salt, pepper and dry mustard. After a quick sauté came the pièce de résistance: CREAM CHEESE! A whole block of it, plus enough milk to thin the sauce. Once the cheese melts, you spoon the stroganoff over hot buttered egg noodles tossed with fresh parsley.
All in all? Not bad. It’s certainly something that could serve as inspiration for future winter dishes. Say, with a different cut of meat, fresh mushrooms, more mustard and lots of garlic. But you can’t beat cream cheese and buttered noodles.