Tuesday, May 4, 2010

We Ate Knuckles

Sunday.  Typically the day of the week for gigantic meals with family, the day for homestyle brunches and sitting around the parlor in your church clothes, sipping mint juleps and decrying the Northern industrial complex.  Well, maybe not all of that, but we did have the gigantic meals with family.  Ensuring that we ended Polish Week with a special bloated feeling, we had sweet omelettes for breakfast, leftovers for lunch and a dinner of stuffed eggs, "Hubert's Knuckle" pork knuckle soup, and Polish cheesecake.  I'm not sure how big the average Polish family is (in number and girth of individual members) but we fed eight people and sent home several pounds of leftovers...and still put pounds more into our refrigerator.

Starting with breakfast, it had become evident that the kids were pretty done with Poland.  They were declaring the food to be nasty before they even tasted, and the vocal portion was just an afterthought...case in point, the omelettes.  They were sweetened and had a bit of flour mixed with them, then served with preserves -- in this case with peaches that Angel had canned this past summer.  The kids gobbled the peaches, licked the egg and chorused "I'm done," with screwed-in faces.  I tasted the egg.

"It tastes like crepes!  You like crepes!" I exclaimed.
"I don't know what crepes are," Evie said.
"Yes you do...they're the thin pancakes I made for you, rolled up with jam in them."
"I don't know what those are."
"You ate seven of them."
"Well I don't like these.  I'm full."

They tasted like crepes, just a bit eggier, and I, at least, thought they were delicious.  So there.

We had a couple of hours after breakfast to relax -- or in my case to put up the entry of this blog for Saturday and try to do a little homework.  Only a couple of hours, though.  I'd say that by noon, Angel was back in the kitchen working on dinner, scheduled for five o'clock.

First was the unleavened bread.  It was made noodle-style -- pile of flour on the countertop with a hole in the middle for the milk and eggs.  You whisk the wet stuff together and gently scoop away at the flour-wall to mix it into dough...or at least that's how it goes in an ideal world.  In our case we had a core breach, immediately followed by an egg flood, and Angel mashed all the ingredients together with her bare hands.  It seemed to work, though, and the hot samples fresh from the oven were darn tasty.

Unleavened Bread

Shortly thereafter, I was pressed into service as Angel's prep cook, tasked with peeling carrots, parsnips and turnips for the knuckle soup.  Since I can't remember actually eating a parsnip or a turnip before, we tried samples while cutting them up:  Parsnips tasted like a mild, white carrot.  Turnip smelled and tasted like a mild radish.

Next, I was tasked with making the stuffed eggs, probably because they're similar to deviled eggs, which I've made before.  The recipe was substantially different, though.  No mayonnaise was harmed in the making of these eggs -- sour cream was substituted.  Also, a full pound of bacon was mixed in and the whole filling was seasoned with, guess what....dill.

Stuffed Egg Prep #2 Stuffed Egg Prep #1

After heaping the whites with filling, we stored them in the fridge until just before dinner, because the final step was to sprinkle them with breadcrumbs, drizzle them with butter and broil them for a few minutes to brown'em.  None of the eggs on this plate survived to see the morning.

Stuffed Eggs

At some point -- before the peeling and chopping, I think -- I helped make the cheesecake.  Given our lack of a food sieve, I pressed a pound of farmer cheese through a screen colander with a mixing bowl so it would be the right consistency for cheesecake filling, once mixed with freshly grated orange peel and mashed potatoes.  Yes, you read that right.

The real star of the meal, however, was the pork knuckle soup.  Gable was the real driver of this choice -- he was adamant that he wanted to eat knuckle soup, right from the beginning.  Angel had a bear of a time even finding pork knuckles, and ended up driving over an hour to "Ebel's," the only shop that would sell us less than a case of them.  To top it off, when Angel picked them up the store sold them to her at their cost, which cut the price from $40 to only $20.  Thank you!  Once in the house, the knuckles had to soak in brine that had been seasoned with pimento berries (remember them?) for a couple of days before they could be used in the soup. 

After the brining, the chopping and peeling and three hours of simmering, the soup was ready.  Angel had invited her mom and stepdad for dinner, so there were eight of us, as I believe I said earlier.  When five o'clock rolled around, we congregated, and started bringing food to the table.  First were the eggs -- which were mowed down to nearly the last man -- followed by bowls filled with soup.  The knuckle meat was so completely tender that it fell apart at the touch of a spoon.  Sadly, the parsnips and turnips had largely turned to mush, only a few recognizable pieces remaining.

"Hubert's Knuckle"

The flavor, though...holy wow!  Knuckle-meat tastes like any pork roast, only a tiny bit muskier, and after the brining was a lean, white color.  The broth was the ultimate in savory, and the vegetables had soaked up the flavor.  There were actually no complaints from the kids, and Gable declared that he wanted it for his birthday dinner in two weeks!

Evie and Grandpa Over Soup

Last, we brought out the cheesecake.  It was not like the cheesecake we're used to.  It was less rich and heavy -- surprising given the nature of the food we'd had for the past week -- and had a pleasant citrus-y flavor.

After dessert, it was time for the drawing of our next country.  I pulled out the official tin and mixed up the slips, making sure to separate them all.  Gable reached in to pull out our next destination.

"Please, just not Germany," Angel said, "Or Russia."  We'd been joking for the past couple of days about how it'd be nice to leave behind the heavy, Polish food for something lighter and maybe with less sauerkraut.  "What if we did Germany next, ha ha," we joked.

Gable pulled out the slip.  It was Russia.

We cried "foul," and a couple of other short words, and actually held a re-draw (it was Brazil) before we stopped and admitted that it was a random draw, and that we had committed ourselves to honoring a random draw.

And so, after spending the next week researching, (and eating much-missed hamburgers and mac'n cheese!) we're going to Russia.

Gable, Knuckle Soup and Unleavened Bread


Hubert's Knuckle

6qt water
6 pimento berries, dried
6Tbs salt
6 bay leaves
4 pig's knuckles
2 onions, chopped
soup vegetables (carrots, celery, parsnips, turnips)
1-2 bouillon cubes (optional)

Add pimento, salt and 3 bay leaves to 3qt water to make a brine.  Rince knuckles well and place in brine, making sure they do not stick out of liquid.  Refrigerate for three days.  After that time, remove knuckles and rinse.  Fry onions on a dry pan until they are deep brown, almost black on both sides (this adds taste and aroma).  Add soup vegetables, optional bouillon, knuckles, salt to taste and pepper to taste in 3qt water.  Cook for about 3 hours, until knuckles are tender.  Serve with bread and either horseradish or mustard.  (note, we doubled the recipe)
-- From "Hungry Planet, What the World Eats," page 251.

Grandmother's Cheese Cake (Sernik Babci)

1-1/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 egg
3 Tbps sour cream
1/3 cup confetioners sugar
6 eggs
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 lb. farmers cheese or ricotta
2/3 cup melted butter
1-1/2 cups mashed potatoes (not seasoned)
          You can save the ones from the night before.
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup grated orange or lemon peel
For the dough, combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a fork.
Beat egg into the sour cream. Stir into the flour mixture then stir in the sugar. Knead the dough until well mixed and smooth.
Roll dough on a floured surface into a rectangle. Line a 13x9x2 inch pan with the dough and bring dough part the way up sides.
For the filling, separate 1 egg and reserve the whites, beat remaining yolk and whole eggs with the the sugar for 5 minutes at hight speed of a electric mixer. Add the vanilla, beat at high until the mixture is soft.
Press cheese through a sieve, blend cheese with butter add the potatoes, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. Stir in organge peel. Fold into the egg mixture. Turn into prepard crust in pan.
Bake at 350 degrees F for about 45-55 min. or until set. Cool well before cutting.
-- From Global Gourmet website.

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