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From city to country cooks

By Staff | Sep 16, 2011

Michelle Schmidt assists her daughter Hannah in retrieving a potato dumpling from her kettle. Schmidt is of Czech descent, bringing those traditions to her new farm family. “I’ve spent time learning from my grandmother who lives in Tabor, S.D.,” said Schmidt. “She does cooking demonstrations during their Czech Festival Days each June.”

HOLSTEIN – While it might not be entirely true to say that Michelle Schmidt is new to rural Iowa, you’d be right in noting she’s not exactly a farm girl either.

New to farm life in north central Ida County, Schmidt grew up in Ida Grove, graduating from Battle Creek-Ida Grove High School in 1995.

“When I left the area, I was pretty sure that I’d find a home elsewhere,” said the adventurous Schmidt, who has lived in Colorado, Texas and Nebraska. “I never thought I’d be on a farm.

“One of the first things I did was tear a ligament climbing onto one of Dave’s tractors.”

The initial farm experience for Schmidt’s daughter, Hannah, 7, was painless. “I get to ride my bike around the farm, but I’ve got to be careful,” she said, pointing at the farm machinery. Her blue heeler, Shadow, is always by her side.

Mother and daughter moved from Lincoln, Neb., in February to share the farmstead with David Johannsen. Johannsen raises cattle and farms corn on the northern most edge of Ida County.

“It’s been quite an adjustment,” admitted Schmidt. “First of all, I had to get used to the quiet. In Lincoln, we had trains going by our home frequently.

“It was nothing to sleep through all that noise after we got used to it. Now, I’ve had to adjust sleeping through the quiet and the chirping of crickets.”

Becoming accustomed to farm cooking was not something that she had to get use to, however. Both her mother and her grandmother are known for their cooking prowess, Schmidt said. She is thankful for her learned ability to cook both beef and her garden produce, which has grown since living on the farm.

“I’ve always enjoyed green bean casserole, but it’s so much better with home-grown green beans,” she said.

“I have a Czech background. My grandmother Rita Varilek lives in Tabor, S.D., where there is a large Czech community and a Czech festival each year.

“She taught me how to make kolaches, a traditional Czech pastry, and it’s been a favorite of mine ever since.”

The traditions are being passed on to Hannah, as well, who helps grate potatoes for another Czech family favorite, potato dumplings. She often helps her mother in the kitchen.

“Since Dave raises his own cattle, we also have the best cuts of beef,” said Schmidt, who is not hesitant to combine her Czech heritage with good farm cooking. “I already have a recipe for marinated roast beef that goes over very well with Dave and my daughter, too.”

Marinated roast beef

For the marinade, mix:

1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon meat tenderizer

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke

A large roast should be marinated for 48 hours.

Slow cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, depending upon size of roast.

Potato dumplings

6-8 boiled potatoes

Flour to consistency

1 to 2 teaspoons salt

Boil potatoes.

Let cool, then peel and grate.

For every 3 cups of potatoes, add 2 cups of flour and 1 teaspoon of salt.

Rub together until no longer “sticky.”

Using hands, press and form into baseball-sized dumplings.

Place in boiling pot of water until the dumplings float and roll in water. Serve with drippings from the meat or gravy made from the meat drippings.

Coconut cake

1 box yellow or white cake mix

2 eggs

1 cup oil

1 1/2 cups water

1 16-ounce can of cream of coconut

2 cups shredded coconut

1 8-ounce carton whipped cream.

Pour oil into 9-by-13-inch pan and spread evenly.

Put cake mix, water, eggs and 1 cup coconut in pan and stir. Mixture will be lumpy and runny.

Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Remove from oven and poke holes in cake with fork or handle of wooden spoon.

Pour cream of coconut over cake while it is still hot.

Let cool and refrigerate. Mix whipped topping and remaining coconut and frost the cooled cake completely. Keep refrigerated.

Artisan bread

Makes 4 1-pound loaves

3 cups lukewarm water

1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (1 1/2 packets)

1 1/2 tablespoons coarse kosher or sea salt

6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour

Cornmeal for pizza peel

Heat the water to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded container (not airtight – use container with gasket or lift a corner).

Mix in flour. Mix, until uniformly moist. Don’t knead. This step is done in a matter of minutes, and yields wet dough loose enough to conform to the container.

Cover loosely. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flatten on top), approximately two hours.

(Note: A portion of the dough can be used any time after this period. Refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and easier to work with than room-temperature dough.)

Prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent sticking when sliding loaf into oven.

Sprinkle the surface of the dough with flour, then cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-sized) piece with a serrated knife.

Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands.

Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on four “sides,” rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go, until the bottom is a collection of four bunched ends.

Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it doesn’t need to be incorporated. The bottom of the loaf will flatten out during resting and baking.

Place the ball on the pizza peel. Let it rest uncovered for about 40 minutes.

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees with a baking stone on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on another shelf.

Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing, serrated knife to cut without sticking. Slash a 1/4-inch-deep cross, scallop or tick-tack-toe pattern into the top. This helps the bread expand during baking.

Slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the baking stone. Quickly, but carefully, pour a cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is browned and firm to the touch.

Refrigerate the remaining dough in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next two weeks: Even one day’s storage improves the flavor and texture of the bread.

This maturation continues over the two-week period. Cut off and shape loaves as you need them.

The dough can also be frozen in 1-pound portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking day.

Contact Doug Clough at douglasclough@gmail.com.

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