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Cookbooks come in all shapes and sizes and styles. But YouTube videos, like those created by former Brno-resident Simon Miller, may give you the confidence to actually cook a favorite meal while stuck at home. Photo Credit: Bruno Zalubil

One of the best gifts that I have ever received was from my mother. It was just months after I had graduated from college and started my first job as a journalist for a small newspaper south of Seattle. I lived in a two-story hotel that had been changed into apartments. If you can imagine a small hotel room, with a tiny kitchenette, that was my home.

Half a mile to the east was Highway 99, where the Green River Killer had picked up most of the prostitutes that he later murdered. Half a mile to the west was the Des Moines marina where, a few years later, Mary Kay Letourneau would break parole by resuming sexual relations with her still-underage former student. That summer was when OJ Simpson went on his famous White Bronco slow-speed chase through Los Angeles.

I think my mom was a bit concerned, so gave me a gift that has kept on giving for more than a quarter century. It is a recipe book.

The cover says “Favorite Recipes from Mom”. On the title page, my mother, who left Czechoslovakia in 1969 and emigrated to the United States before I was born, put a hand-drawn heart over the “t” in Dobrou chut instead of the hook accent mark. There were 31 recipes translated from Czech to English. Most pages have splash marks from sauces or frying meat.  

I’ve made a lot of them. Beef goulash has been the most popular. Jewish friends have always used the potato pancake recipe for Passover dinners. The dumpling recipe, which always resulted in flour everywhere, is no longer necessary because knedliky are available in every local store here in the Czech Republic.

But the one recipe that I have always wanted to make — but never had the nerve — was the one that I always liked the most: svíčková na smetaně.

* * *

Simon Miller is a professional chef. He operates five tapas restaurants in Yorksire, England, named La Casita. But he has strong ties to Brno. He lived and worked as a chef at Noem Arch and he met his wife, Lenka, here. When he visits, he tries all of the local restaurants and usually ends up at Baru, který neexistuje

Miller knows his way around a kitchen — and he enjoys sharing his knowledge online. His YouTube video series — the Social Food Network — offers basic instructions and the confidence to replicate them into a sumptuous meal. My daughter, who enjoys watching all kinds of cooking shows, is a particular fan. Click here to watch some of the videos.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing us indoors, there has surely been an uptick in home-cooking, whether baking sourdough bread or some other fad. In the spring, I worked on perfecting my pad thai and pizza dough recipes. Now, in the fall, I have a new goal.

“I think svíčková is just unique,” Miller said last week in an online interview. “I have never tasted anything quite like it.“

If you have never had svíčková, it is a treat. It is sirloin beef, a vegetable sauce and dumplings, with a dollop of whipped cream, some cranberry sauce and a lemon on top. It’s delicious. (And it is a common wedding-party dish, including for both mine and Miller’s.)

“The fundamentals are quite simple,” said Miller, who has been a professional chef for 15 years. “You have to put a lot of time and attention into preparing it. Then the hard work is done. You just sit back and let it do its thing. If you do every step well. There is no reason the end product should not be good. There is no real super technical step.”

Easier said than done. Meat can be terribly intimidating. But, really, when you follow the YouTube video, it does look easy. I followed Miller’s pork chop recipe video and it turned out great. Everyone wanted seconds.

Svíčková is on the menu this Sunday. Click here to see the video.

“It is a labor of love,” Miller said. “It takes time, about five or six hours. But it is definitely worth it.”

And, with a video, eminently doable.

I hope.

* * *

What kinds of things are you eating now that the restaurants are mostly closed? Are you experimenting with new meals? Or just eating frozen pizza and drinking bottled beer?

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