Some of my favorite cookbooks…

Happy New Year!   The fresh start of a new year is always a great time to get your home in order — and if you think I’m the only one with that idea, just check out the sale prices on home organization products in your local stores — everyone is doing it!  It’s a nice time to go through old holiday decorations, your closets, and cupboards.  And while I can regularly produce big garbage bags full of old clothes and housewares from my home to donate, I have a very, very hard time parting with books… but I don’t have any problem with that!  Books don’t take up a lot of space (well, one at a time they don’t take up a lot of space) and they are amazing time capsules.  Since I have been going through my cookbooks this week, I thought I’d share with you some of the favorites that I’ve used for inspiration on this website, and included links to the two that you can actually buy online (#2 and #6).

  1. The George Worthington Company is no more, but this book from 1990 is a personal favorite.  Thus far I’ve only posted “How to Boil Water” on this site, but all of the other recipes in the book are for real food and I look forward to sharing more of them.  My mom had several contributions published (yes, she was a good cook but… full disclosure: she also had a slight advantage since my father was president of the company).
  2. The Better Homes and Gardens Complete Step-by-Step Cookbook was THE cookbook when I was growing up.  Published in 1978, my mom’s copy was already pretty old and worn when I started to be interested in cooking, and today it’s a stained, dog-eared mess.  It still has little pieces of paper stuck between pages, marking things I wanted to make when I was old enough to read a recipe but young enough to do little more than make a total mess of a kitchen.  However, the techniques still hold up!  It’s a great resource for basics, like how to make pancakes or how to brew coffee.  It’s also full of delightful late-70s photography (seen in my post about Minted Lime Soda).  I was super excited to find a second copy of this very book at a Goodwill store recently, thinking it was a really rare find… only to learn that you can buy it on Amazon starting at $1 (click on the title above).  I highly recommend this addition to your library.
  3. This book has seen better days, but it’s where I found the recipe for Pistachio Delight, so I’m glad I kept it around.  It’s from my aunt’s office in 1992 at Progressive Insurance. Her department used the exact same publisher as The George Worthington Company.  The early 1990s must have been really profitable for Cookbook Publishers, Inc.  (who are still in business today!) and Cool Whip, which features very prominently in this compilation.
  4. This cookbook was gifted to my cousin when she was very young and that label, in her childhood handwriting, is so no one stole it from her!  Woman’s Glory was the very first cookbook published by the Slovenian Women’s Union (SWU), and this is a later edition, printed in 1977.  It’s the source for the post on JFK and Potica, the Mother’s Day Marshmallow Roll, and Graduation Party Special!, among others.
  5. I don’t own Pots and Pans, but that was the predecessor to this one, More Pots and Pans.  This was a 1998 publication of SWU and I have a copy autographed by my grandma!  It’s where I found the recipe for Farina Dumplings.
  6. Sadly for you, most of the books I’ve listed here are hard to get your hands on.  However, you can actually buy this one!  In 2015, the Slovenian Women’s Union became the more inclusive Slovenian Union of America and they published a new cookbook in a new, photo-filled format that is arranged by seasons and holidays.  It’s available for purchase on the SUA website (linked above).  So far I’ve used it for Slovenian Coleslaw and Medenjaki. I look forward to sharing more seasonal recipes.

Please use the comments section below to share any of your favorites that I should know about! (especially if they are still in print and I can add them to my collection!)

 

 

Kolachy (also: Kolache, Kolachki, Kolacky, Kolace, Kolachi, Kolachke)

I have always loved almonds, but I never truly appreciated them until I visited an almond tree farm in Spain and learned how they are actually grown and harvested.  Almonds grow in little pods of one nut each, and at harvest time the trees are shaken to release these pods, then each one is cracked open, collected, and processed.  Almond trees take about 5 years to produce a harvest, and once the trees are mature it’s about 7 months from flower to almond.  This all makes $6.99/pound seem like a real steal when you consider the time and work involved!

Why all this talk about almonds?  Because I recently discovered that Kolachy are like the almond of the holiday cookie world.  My aunt makes them every year, and I’d usually eat one here or there, but it wasn’t until I spent a day making them this fall that I came to truly appreciate the detail, care and deliciousness that go into each one of these little treats!

[A note here on spelling… like so many other Eastern European foods, Kolachy have about 50 different spellings and 8,000 different countries of origin.  I wish I could tell you that these are the definitive Slovenian version, but just like my decidedly non-Polish family’s habit of listening to Bobby Vinton singing “Santa Must Be Polish” every year on Christmas Eve, I think it’s fair to assume that these are a mishmash of several different ethnic traditions.]

Kolachy has as many recipes as it does spellings, but they are all pretty similar – a soft, cream cheese dough with your choice of filling.  I’m sharing my family’s recipe below.  For filling, we used some purchased at a local baking supply store (also available online).  Occasionally, you can also sometimes find it in the grocery store (just make sure it is for pastry, as “pie” filling tends to be too watery).  You can also use a very stiff jam (again, just nothing too watery).  And, of course, there are recipes online if you’d like to try making your own.

Kolachy

  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup any flavor fruit jam or pastry filling
  • 1/3 cup confectioners sugar for dusting
  1. Mix cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Add flour slowly until well blended.  Shape into a ball and chill for several hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll out dough on a floured surface into 1/8 inch thickness (check out our favorite rolling tip here!)
  3. Cut into 2-1/2 inch squares.
  4. Move squares to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper*.  Place approximately 1/2 tsp filling onto each square.
  5. Overlap opposite corners and press dough together — you should press hard so all three layers of dough make contact.
  6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until very lightly browned at the edges.  Cool on a wire rack, and sprinkle lightly with confectioners’ sugar.

(*this is a really helpful step that most recipes neglect to mention.  It is so much easier to move the dough to the tray before you fill and seal the kolachy!!!)

Dear St. Nicholas: I want Smello-vision for these Cinnamon-Honey Cookies (Medenjaki)

When you consider the fact that this year some kids will actually be getting hoverboards for Christmas, that most of us walk around everyday with miniature computers in our pockets, and many people drive cars that actually give them directions to their destination, it is not unrealistic to wish that Smello-vision internet browsing was a real thing.  I am so sorry that it is not, because the recipe I’m writing about today produced some of the most aromatic cookies I have ever made!  Better than any holiday candle or room spray, you need to bake these Cinnamon Honey Cookies (Medenjaki) for your next holiday gathering. Your kitchen will smell unbelievable.

When I entered the word “medenjaki” into an online Slovenian dictionary, it quite literally translated into “gingerbread.”  And these are absolutely reminiscent of gingerbread, with one stunning and delicious addition: orange zest.  You do not want to leave out that very important ingredient!

December 6 is St. Nicholas Day.  I’ve found this to be a selectively celebrated holiday in the US — it’s certainly more common in Catholic households in cities with large populations of European descent. Wikipedia associates St. Nicholas Day with cities that have strong German influences like Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Evansville, Indiana; Cincinnati, Ohio; Fredericksburg, Texas; Newport News, Virginia; and St. Louis.  My own research revealed that Sveti Miklavž (St. Nicholas Feast Day) marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Slovenia, and is usually marked with a visit by St. Nicholas to the local Catholic mass, in his traditional red-and-white outfit, carrying the incredibly important white book where the names of good children are listed.

Apparently in Europe, and in Slovenia in particular, St. Nick travels with what are described as “devil-like companions” (parkeljini) who rattle chains and frighten children who were not good.  These minions were sometimes known to leave behind a rod that parents could use to punish their naughty children. (If you would like to read an absolutely hilarious take on the St. Nicholas tradition, check out this story from David Sedaris, and be sure to look around the rest of the site for more Christmas legends!)

In my house there weren’t any devils or rods, just small presents in our stockings on the morning of December 6.  Whether or not you celebrate the holiday, and whether or not you’re in the habit of leaving plates of cookies for white-bearded men who enter your house at night, please consider making these Medenjaki this month!  I found the recipe in The Slovenian-American Table, the most recent cookbook publication of the Slovenian Union of America (available for purchase on that link).  The recipe for these cookies is published in its entirety on the SUA website, along with some helpful comments.  I have added my own below.  Enjoy, and Happy St. Nicholas Day!

medenjaki

Cinnamon Honey Cookies (Medenjaki)

“These cookies are thick, cakelike, and homey.”

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup mild honey
  • zest of 2 otanges, finely grated
  • 3-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon1
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons water

Combine the butter and honey in a medium saucepan and warm over medium heat, stirring, until the butter melts.  Stir in the orange zest, remove from heat, and cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, thoroughly stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg in a large bowl and set aside.  Separate one of the eggs and set the white aside in a small bowl.

Add the egg yolk and 2 eggs to the cooled honey mixture and beat with a wooden spoon.  Stir into the dry ingredients until thoroughly incorporated and smooth.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1-1/2 hours.2

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease baking sheets and set aside.  Turn dough out onto a floured surface and roll to 1/4 inch thickness.3 Dust the rolling pin frequently with flour and lift the dough to make sure it isn’t sticking.

Using a 2-1/4 inch plain round cutter or the floured rim of a juice glass, cut out the cookies.  Transfer them to the baking sheets with a spatula, spacing about 2 inches apart.Gather and re-roll dough scraps, cutting more cookies until all of the dough is used.  (If the dough gets too soft and sticky, put it back in the refrigerator briefly.)

In a small bowl, beat together the reserved egg white and 2 teaspoons water.  Brush the tops of cookies before baking.5

Bake on the center oven rack for 14-16 minutes,6 or until nicely browned all over and just slightly darker at the edges.  Let cookies stand on cookie sheets for one minute, then transfer to wire racks to cool.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.  These cookies also freeze well.

NOTES:

  1. THIS IS NOT A TYPO!  There really is this much cinnamon in the cookie dough, and it smells and tastes amazing, so don’t skimp!
  2. The original recipe says to only refrigerate for up to 4 hours but I refrigerated it overnight with no issues.
  3. Make sure your cookies are thick enough!  Some of mine were too thin and ended up crispy rather than “cakelike,” as the recipe describes.  I think you are better off with cookies that are too thick rather than too thin.
  4. I was able to space mine with only an inch between, with no issues.  The cookies don’t grow much in the oven.
  5. I used this egg white glaze as the perfect way to add some holiday sprinkles to my Medenjaki.  This is not part of the original recipe, but it worked well!
  6. I decreased this cooking time from the original recipe, and as you can see from the picture some of my cookies ended up a little too browned.  I’d watch carefully and depending on your oven these could take as few as 12 minutes.