Sunday, September 15, 2013


Yesterday, the city of Indianapolis held its annual Sister Cities Festival downtown. And it was such a beautiful day to do so: it was sunny with a slight breeze, and the temperatures were in the low 70s.  We have eight sister cities, all mostly with ties to racing or agriculture.  I visited the booth to one of our sister cities: Piran, Slovenia. Piran is lies on the Adriatic Sea not too far from the Croatian border. I started talking to the lady there (who was part Croatian) and showed her my recipes. We talked about how amazing Swiss chard is and how we much we would love to retire to the Balkans. She showed me a bread stamp from the 1800s, a piece of metal with a raised design that bakers would put into the bottom of the bread pan and indent the bread with their stamp. That way people would know which bakery their bread came from.  I know a new project for my husband now: make me a bread stamp.
Povitica as it came out of the oven.

Cross-section of the povitica so you can see the marbled goodness and be jealous. 
So, stepping out of my dreams of retiring to Zagreb, I started my afternoon off today by making Chocolate Walnut Povitica (it’s sometimes referred to as a nut roll in the US).  The first thing to do is to proof the yeast. Then I had to scald my milk before putting it into my mixing bowl, adding in sugar, salt, the yeast mixture, egg, vanilla extract, and melted butter, and then the flour. Once it’s been kneaded until smooth, it had to rest for an hour and a half so that I could play some Candy Crush. (Just kidding on that part. Sort of.) Next came the filling.  I mixed cocoa powder, walnuts, and sugar together, and since I don’t have a food processor, I put it in my blender to crush everything so that it was the consistency of wet sand.  After I poured almost-boiling mixture of milk and butter on top of this cocoa-walnut mixture, I added an egg yolk and some vanilla and stirred until it was consistent and set it aside.  I rolled out the dough until it was more or less a 12-inch “square” and spread the filling over it, leaving about an inch or so from the edge.  Then I just rolled it up, which was easier said than done.  And somehow I managed to get it into my cake pan, although the seam side wasn’t necessarily down. And it was time to rest again. Trust me, I needed to. Just prior to putting it in the oven, I brushed the top with an egg white and sprinkled with sugar.  This is baked at 350F for 15 minutes, then at 300F for another 20-25 minutes (or until golden on top). What came out of the oven is a crispy, golden crust with a marbled chocolate inside and the occasional walnut piece lying in the corners like a forgotten Christmas present.  It practically melted in my mouth – the dichotomy of crispy dough and smooth filing makes for a decadent pastry. I absolutely loved this. It was definitely worth waiting for.  Because I used cocoa powder, it had a different flavor than if I had used milk chocolate chips or something.  If I were to do this again (who am I kidding? WHEN I do this again…), I think I’ll keep more walnut pieces in the chocolate mix in chunks instead of pulverizing all of them.
You had me at "bacon shoved into beef." 
The main meal today is called pasticada, or a Dalmatian stewed beef.  It starts with beef rounds, that I pierced the sides and shoved bacon inside of it.  It already sounds amazing. Then I browned it in oil, and once it was browned, I removed it. I added soup vegetables (I used a frozen mix of mirepoix vegetables) and browned those, adding in marjoram (in lieu of rosemary since my husband hates rosemary), a bay leaf, and ground pepper (it actually called for peppercorns, but I forgot to get them). Then I placed the meat back on top of the vegetables and added just a little water, letting it simmer on medium heat for about an hour and a half.  After this time, I took the meat out and set it aside.  Straining the vegetables, I put the liquid back in the pot and added some flour and a cup each of beef broth and white wine (I actually used a cheap moscato).  I didn’t want the vegetables to go to waste, so I put them in a blender with a little bit of the beef broth and pureed them, adding them back to the pot to help thicken the sauce.  I added a small can of sliced black olives and the juice from one lemon.  At first I thought the meat wasn’t done all the way through because it was a little pink on the inside in places. What confused me was that it was so tender to cut, but then I remembered I shoved it full of bacon.  And once I poured the sauce on top, the wine, the bacon, and the few olives gave it a very complex merging of flavors.  It was moderately smooth with a pleasant bitter bite in the aftertaste.  I really liked it.  Everyone else seemed to like it as well, except my little finicky one.
Whoever says vegetables are yucky obvious hasn't tried this.
And last but certainly not least, probably the most underrated part of the meal: blitva. I boiled five diced red potatoes in salted water. Then I added one bunch of Swiss chard. It always seems like a lot when I first put it in there, but it does draw up a little once it gets wet.  I like chard a little more than spinach because, like kale, it holds it shape a little more than spinach does.  I think the reason a lot of people don’t like spinach is because it gets soggy when it cooks down.  Perhaps if they would just try chard, we’ll finally get world peace. I’m certain that soggy spinach is the cause of all the fighting in the world. I threw in some minced garlic and a little sea salt and pepper.  It was amazing. I’m going to have to bring this recipe back out because it’s so easy and everyone loves it. And that’s a win-win in my book.
Definitely a cold-weather comfort meal. 
And while my weekend winds down, and I’m full from this absolutely wonderful Croatian meal, and I’m sipping on some of this cheap moscato I bought for the pasticada, I realized that I learned a lot about a country that I didn’t know much about.  And I was taken away from it all, so much so that I thought of retiring there. The thing that I appreciated is that this region is such a melting pot of Europe, and you can see that in their art, their music, their literature, and their cuisine. And I think that’s great. But another thing that I’ve learned to appreciate about where I am now, is that we’re such a global society. Even in my city of Indianapolis, we have representatives from most of the countries in the world here in my city somewhere. And we have the opportunities through these ethnic fests to eat the food, listen to their music, and talk to the locals who are from these countries or know a lot about these countries to learn firsthand what life is like there.  I highly encourage everyone to visit these festivals wherever you are. You’d have to pretty much be a grade A jerk to not enjoy yourself and learn something.
Up next: Cuba

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