Great-Grandma Wargo’s potato pancakes

       By Steve Cichon

My German ancestors arrived in Buffalo in 1827, and probably brought some version of this potato pancake recipe with them.

I know the recipe I use goes back at least to my German great-grandmother, Jeannette Greiner-Wargo.

Potato pancakes are a messy pain to make, but well worth it, especially when none of the local restaurants that make them don;t taste anything close to this.


5 or 6 medium potatoes
one medium onion
one egg
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for cooking

Peel 5 or 6 medium potatoes, and peel and trim onion.

Using the larger of the two shred sizes of a hand grater, shred the potatoes and the onion in a big bowl.

Add the egg and salt & pepper and mix.

Add enough flour to soak up any liquid in the bowl, stir well. (You will likely have to do this again as more liquid shows up in the bowl while you’re frying.)

Heat a heavy frying pan (I use cast iron) to medium-high, and coat the bottom of the pan with oil.

When the oil is hot, make 3-4 inch pancakes. Let the edges brown, flip once.

Put pancakes on paper towel covered plate to allow grease to drain.

Coat bottom of pan with oil again, repeat. Add flour and mix well if there is liquid in the bowl.

Grandma Coyle always served them with homemade applesauce… which was deliciously easy— apples cut into inch cubes into a sauce pan, covered with sugar, and then covered with water, turned on low and let it simmer.

Cool Whip Jell-O, aka “I made the Jell-O”

By Steve Cichon

Despite it’s revered place at every major family dinner, there’s no real name for it except “the Jell-O.”

Just like her mother before her, my mother-in-law made this delicious side dish for each of the holy trinity of family “eating holidays”— Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

In 2010, Pam Martyna Huxley has newspapers spread to catch the spatter from mixing the Jell-O and Cool Whip. She was probably mad later when she found some spatter on her shirt.

Grandma Martyna probably found the recipe in the coupon section of the paper or on the back of a box of Jell-O some time in the 70s, and it’s been a beloved part of my wife’s family’s holidays ever since.

In the early 80s, the Martyna family gathers for a holiday meal– with a giant Corningware dish of Cool Whip Jell-O in front of Grandma Martyna.

Since my mother-in-law passed away, I have made it for every holiday, and it warms my heart to see that pink blob on just about every plate.

It can probably be served as a dessert, but at any Martyna family dinner, it’s always served as a side dish as a part of the main course.

Cool Whip Jell-O

2 packages of Strawberry Jell-O
8oz Cool Whip
2 cups boiling water
1.5 cups cold water

In a large bowl, add boiling water to Jell-O packets, stir until Jell-O is dissolved. Add cold water.

Refrigerate until 80-90% jelled. (Completely jelled is ok, but slightly less firm makes for a more thorough mix in the next step.)

In the largest bowl you have, combine Jell-O and Cool Whip. Use hand mixer on low, then high, until thoroughly blended. Be ready for this step to make a spattering mess.

My mother-in-law had a box she’d place around the mixing bowl.

Pour combined mixture into a heavy Corningware or Pyrex serving dish, and refrigerate to reset the mixture. Keep refrigerated until serving.

Most things cook better in an old cast iron skillet

By Steve Cichon

Both of my grandmothers had great cast iron skillets that they used daily for everything.

I was probably 9 or 10 years old when I saw this pan at the Salvation Army on Seneca Street, for probably $3 or $4.

It’s been my favorite pan for more than 30 years, but I don’t remember ever trying to look up its provenance before. It’s a Wagner pan, made in Sidney, O. sometime between 1895 and 1915.

Grandma Cichon’s BBQ Hamburgers

By Steve Cichon

It’s not a Polish dish, but it is a sacred and beloved meal of Buffalo Polonia: the Barbequed Hamburger.

This is my version of Grandma Cichon’s version, which was her version of the BBQ hamburgers my great aunts used to serve at the family gin mill, The Sport Den, on Walden Avenue near the city line.

Grandma Cichon’s BBQ Hamburgers

2lbs ground beef
Envelope of onion soup mix (which Grandma Cichon put in EVERYTHING)
Bottle of BBQ sauce (Kraft would have been more Grandma Cichon authentic, but a generic version of Sweet Baby Rays was all I had.)

Thoroughly mix meat and soup mix with hands, shape into burgers on the small side.

Heat up a big pan, let the burgers brown on one side, then flip to brown the other. Add bottle of BBQ sauce, and then half a bottle of water.

Cover and simmer until they look done. Cut one in half if you’re not sure.

These were really good… Grandma Cichon was right— onion soup mix makes any crap delicious!

Grandma Cichon’s Goulash

By Steve Cichon

The garage is cleaned out, the Bills are winning, and Grandma Cichon’s goulash is ready for dinner. Perfect fall day.

It’s not really much of a recipe…. It’s churning out lotsa food by a mother of ten. I’ve played with the recipe before— but today it was pure Grandma Cichon as I remember her making it.


In a big heavy pot, brown a pound of the fattiest ground beef you can buy (it gets dry tasting with 90 or 95) with an onion, a green pepper, and garlic salt and pepper. Cook off as much fat as possible. Add a large can of diced tomatoes… and a large can of whole peeled tomatoes (I eyeball whether its too juicy… and sometimes drain the whole tomatoes… sometimes not.)

With the spatula I chop up those whole tomatoes… let that simmer.

Cook a pound of macaroni (or shells) firm (if it says 7-9 minutes, I go 7). Drain well and mix into the big pot.

I let that mixture cook a little… then turn it off. It’s much better if you can let it stand for an hour. Even better when reheated the next day.

Martyna Family Barszcz

       By Steve Cichon

For many years, white barszcz (borscht) was a Polish Easter tradition in Monica’s family. Her grandpa wrote out the recipe years ago. I tried it once or twice, but no amount of salt could help vinegar soaked white bread in my book… This hasn’t been made in a few years, but it’s still talked about at every Easter meal.

Chicken Paprikash

By Steve Cichon

2° calls for some serious ethnic comfort food. Chicken Paprikash on the way!

This is the way I’ve been making this dish which came down from my Hungarian great-grandfather’s family for about 30 years now.

Chicken Paprikash

A whole split chicken or split breasts or whatever parts are on sale
Medium onion coarsely chopped
Few stalks of celery coarsely chopped
Few carrots coarsely chopped
Potatoes for mashed potatoes (or white rice)

Bisquik biscuits (or the cheapo refrigerated biscuits) for dumplings

In a stock pot, cover chicken, onion, celery, carrots with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the chicken starts falling off the bones… or… the longer the better.

Strain and keep the broth. Spread the chicken and vegetables out on a cookie sheet to cool. (Everything but the meat is going in the garbage… but it’s a bit of a challenge to pick out the meat.)

While the meat cools, peel and cut potatoes for mashed potatoes. Cover with water and bring to a boil, then simmer. Potatoes are traditional, but I’ve also served this over rice… I like mashed potatoes better.

Follow the Bisquik recipe for biscuits and mix that and have it ready… (or have a can of the small, cheap refrigerated cardboard tube of biscuits on standby.)
Once meat has cooled, carefully pick the meat out of the stuff on the cookie sheet, and shred it— being careful to get rid of bones. (This takes forever, and is the primary reason why I don’t make this more than once or twice a year.)

Add salt, pepper, paprika to chicken shreds. You’ll need quite a bit of dollar store paprika to get any flavor… but the good Szeged Hungarian Paprika (I like to use the sweet version, not the hot version) only takes a couple of shakes. If you get the hot one, be careful—it’s the kind of heat that sneaks up on you. It’s not immediate, but hits you as you eat.

Heat some oil…. And toss the chicken in the oil and fry up the shreds a bit. You can add a come more shakes of paprika as you toss the chicken.

After some of the chicken is fried up a bit… add the broth back to the pan. If it doesn’t cover the chicken, add water to cover. Bring to a boil.

Scoop spoonfuls of the biscuit mix onto the top of the boiling broth. (This part I’ll call optional. These dumplings are my favorite part, but Monica thinks they are disgusting.) Cover and simmer.

Drain and mash potatoes.

To serve, I put mashed potatoes in a bowl… chicken and broth on top. (Dumplings on mine, no dumplings for my dumpling wife.)

To eat, mix it together— might need salt.

It’s a lot of work for the resultant slop… But generations of my family loves it.

Minch: the ancient Irish peasant dish

By Steve Cichon

Known as “minch” in my family for generations, I love me some 19th century Irish peasant food.

My poor indigent ancestors probably used the cheapest meat available— probably lamb in Ireland 200 years ago, ground beef on Seneca Street 100 years ago.

Grandma Cichon (and her mom Grandma Scurr) made it with peas, but I like corn.

*Pound of the fattiest hamburger you can find
*small onion chopped fine
*salt & pepper
*tbsp corn starch
*bag of frozen corn (or peas, but I like corn)
*5lbs potatoes

Peel, cut, boil potatoes for mashed potatoes.

Brown meat and onion, cook off the grease. Add salt, pepper, frozen corn and water to cover. Bring to a boil. Dissolve corn starch in cold water, then add to meat and corn. Bring to a boil then simmer. The longer it simmers, the better.

Ladle meat mix over mashed potatoes, and be ready to add salt.

To do it right, you have to eat two bowls.

Rump Roast at Grandma Coyle’s

By Steve Cichon

Grandpa Coyle used to buy the rump roast– which was great with a big hunk of fat on top which kept the whole thing moist. This is some fancier cut.

When I was a kid, my job for dinner was to walk up to b-kwik on Seneca Street to buy rolls. Looks like I’ll be heading to Dash’s (the former b-kwik) on Hertel for rolls now since I can’t stop thinking about them.

Steak & Ale Pie with memories of our honeymon

By Steve Cichon

Here’s dinner… I made British pub classic Steak & Ale pie, washed down with a Newcastle Brown Ale… Great-Grandpa Scurr was born only blocks away from where the Newcastle brewery is now at Newscastle-On-The-Tyne.

Steak & Ale Pie

Cut stew beef into bite sized chunks (little over a pound), soak in Guinness for a few minutes.

Drain off but reserve Guinness (or some flavorful beer)

Dredge beef in flour, then fry beef in hot oil….

add salt, pepper, Worcester sauce.

Mix quarter cup of flour with remaining beer… add that mixture to the meat as it cooks.

Add cooked peas to mixture.

You want the gravy to be paste like… so you have to judge how much beer/flour to add.

Line heavy pie plate with crust…

add beef/peas/gravy mix, and cover with second piece of crust.

Add a few slits.

Cook 15/20 mins at 450.

I usually heat up a can of beef gravy to pour over the pie and french fries– just like they serve it in the pub.

All measurements are totally out of my hindquarters. I usually eyeball it.