Where do you go to eat something you've never heard of before? Across the ocean? Down South? Up North?
This past week, Cortland was the destination, where Trumbull Cook Theresa Kowalczyk was serving spotzins.
This term for bread dumplings is unique to her family, and they are served with sauerbraten.
Theresa Kowalczyk serves up sauerbraten and spotzins at her home in Cortland.
A northeast Ohio resident for more than three decades, Kowalczyk grew up in Arkansas and says this is "a typical German meal."
She remembers her mother making this meal on Sundays and the smell of the vinegar and beef.
"By the time we sat down, we were starved," she said.
Sauerbraten and Spotzins (Bread and Potato Dumplings)
Submitted by Theresa Kowalczyk
Kowalczyk said, "This recipe is my mother's signature Sunday dinner. It is made with readily available ingredients, is easy to make and is still our family's favorite. Spotzins is a unique term for my mother's unique bread dumplings."
For the marinated roast:
1 2- to 3-pound lean beef roast
1 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons pickling spice tied up in a cheesecloth ball
1 peeled and trimmed onion
Several cups of water
For the spotzins:
1 large loaf of plain, soft, white bread cut or torn in half-inch cubes
4 to 5 potatoes, peeled and very finely grated (or pureed in a food processor or blender)
Place the roast, cheesecloth ball of pickling spice and onion in a large casserole dish. Add the cider vinegar and enough water to completely cover the roast. Place covered in the refrigerator for 8 hours.
Remove and discard the pickling spice. Place the roast, marinade and onion in a roasting pot in preheated oven at 325 degrees, baking until desired doneness and tenderness. (You may use your crockpot, following manufacturer's instructions.)
For a richer gravy, add a tablespoon of beef soup base, can of beef stock or 2 beef bouillon cubes before baking.
About an hour before the roast is done, bring a large pot water to boil, as you would for pasta.
To assemble the spotzins, mix the finely grated or pureed potatoes with the eggs until well blended, With your hands, combine the potato and egg mixture with the bread cubes. Form 1 1/2-inch balls. The balls should be soft and pliable.
Drop half of the spotzins, one at a time, in the rapidly boiling water. Allow them to cook until firm, about 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the spotzins from the boiling water, allowing the water to drain out of the spoon. Place in a serving bowl. Repeat with the second half.
When the roast is done, remove the roast and onion to a serving platter. Slice the roast as you would any roast to serve.
Reduce the remaining liquid on your stovetop by about 50 percent or until dark brown. Mix several tablespoons of water and flour separately in a bowl or cup until blended and free of lumps. As the liquid continues to simmer and using a whisk, blend the water and flour mixture into the hot liquid, little at a time, until the gravy is to desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper. Serve separately in a gravy boat or bowl.
To eat the spotzins, slice them into bite-size pieces before covering them and the sliced beef with gravy.
Cream-style corn, baked apples, applesauce or fresh fruit salad will accompany sauerbraten well.
Kowalczyk, 62, said her mother did everything from scratch.
"We never even had store bread," she remembered.
No matter her mother was working full-time and raising eight children. These days, the 95-year-old, also named Theresa, still bowls in a league and keeps her own house that one of her daughters proudly shares.
The sixth of those eight children, Kowalczyk said her small town near Branson, Mo., had flooded. By the time she went to high school, it was rebuilt and free of harmful asbestos. All but four of her class of 155 are still living.
Another memory from her hometown is the football season.
"Everybody's head turns into a pigskin," she said. "Everything's Razorbacks."
Kowalczyk retired in June. Her name may sound familiar from the billboard advertising her insurance agency along state Route 5 in Cortland. The former labor relations representative got into insurance sales hoping for a more flexible schedule, something a single parent needs.
She said retiring was the best thing she ever did.
"I've never been happier," she said. Kowalczyk calls herself and her husband Joe "recycled" - when they married, he had two sons and she had one. For a time, their auto insurance premium was higher than the house payment.
Her son, Bruce, now 39, is a chef living in Dacula, Ga. He has four children.
"That's a good ROI (return on investment) - raise one kid and get four grandkids," Kowalczyk said.
Since her mother always had homemade ingredients, Kowalczyk tries to make it work for modern life. For example, she buys thinly sliced Italian bread from the grocery store. And she uses the food processor to pulverize potatoes for the spotzins - her mother always did it by hand with a grater.
Those potatoes are mixed with eggs and a little flour then formed into balls halfway between golf and baseball size.
As she takes the gravy out to the dining table in her everything's-in-order home, she samples a little - "Mmm, that tastes good," she says.
The spotzins are cut and served with beef, plenty of gravy over both. To balance the flavors, Kowalczyk served a colorful side dish of red cabbage and apples, as well as round apple dumplings tied with a string.
An admitted neat freak, Kowalczyk has painted light stripes on her dining room walls - she even added a mistake to make it look like overlapping wallpaper.
For those who want to try this delicious dish, she recommends adding 2 tablespoons of beef soup base. She said it's like beef bouillon but has less salt and tastes better.
The cut of meat she uses also is important - boneless chuck.
"You have to have enough fat to make gravy," she explained. "Gravy is fat and flour and water."
She's tried sirloin, but the gravy wasn't good.
Although she loves retirement, she also misses the customers, wonders what they're doing.
"They would mail their payments in but come in to have a cup of coffee," she said.
This cook also enjoys making stuffed shells and manicotti, as well as wedding soup and chili. The German background returns not only with hot potato salad but also in the spices she uses with regular dishes. Green beans, for example, are enhanced with bacon and vinegar flavors.
In her burgundy and green dining room, a wine rack sits in the corner. On the top are unique salmon-shaped bottles.
Does she drink wine?
"You bet," she says. "Wine is to me like beer for Norm."
This laid-back sense of humor comes out in a lot of answers.
Does she use the lovely copper pots hanging from the kitchen ceiling?
"Heavens no - I just look at it."