The nine Vanni siblings with their mother, Anna, at her 90th birthday celebration. Front row: Joyce, Anna, Joan, Jackie. Back row: Jerry, Julie, Jean, Janette, John, Jenny
The nine Vanni siblings with their mother, Anna, at her 90th birthday celebration. Front row: Joyce, Anna, Joan, Jackie. Back row: Jerry, Julie, Jean, Janette, John, Jenny
June 24, 2013

Janette Volz was 12 when she began baking for 4-H projects at the county fair. In high school she remembers cooking polenta with spaghetti sauce quite often for her family for dinner.

Janette's interest in cooking continued into adulthood. Right after she and Mike were married 40 years ago, she took a gourmet cooking class with the chef from the Des Moines Golf and Country Club at Sears in Merle Hay Hall. The class expanded Janette's cooking horizons and she still has the class cookbook.

A few years ago, Janette, of Altoona and formerly of Carroll, and her eight brothers and sisters discussed the idea of putting together a family cookbook. The Vanni Family Cookbook contains 20 sections including old and new family recipes, along with photos of the siblings from childhood to adulthood, as well as photos of their parents.

Janette's parents, John Edward Vanni and Anna Theresa Kurimski met after World War II. Anna was working at Rosie's, a restaurant near Waukee. John's uncle was the owner of Rosie's. They married on Aug. 28, 1946, and their family includes nine children: Joan, John, Jerry, Jean, Janette, Joyce, Julie, Jacqueline and Jennifer. Their children grew up learning how to raise their own fruits and vegetables and how to prepare meals in the kitchen. John passed away in 1979, and Anna continues to live on the Granger homeplace. Anna still makes her homemade chicken noodle soup and tortellini on her gray 1950s chamber stove.

With nine growing children, an abundant supply of fresh produce was necessary. John and Anna practiced organic gardening before many people did. On just 2 acres of black loam soil the family grew sweet corn, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, melons, peas, strawberries, raspberries, peppers, cucumbers, popcorn, garlic, onions, Swiss chard, lettuce, radishes, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, pumpkins, squash and zucchini. Anna's flower garden took at least another half-acre alone.

Beginning in May the family put in many hours of long, hard work. After John was done working construction for the day, he and the rest of the family would plant until dark. Janette clearly remembers all of the hard work and recalls, "Weeding was not too bad until it got too hot. Then all of the canning, 100 quarts of everything."

The family's produce garden was featured in the Des Moines Register's Home and Garden section in 1970. Vanni's Veggies were sold to local grocery stores. Customers also stopped by the homestead to purchase vegetables. Janette said their customers got some good deals. "They usually got a lot more than what they paid for!" she said. Money was used to help pay for school tuition to St. Joseph's Academy and Dowling Catholic High School.

Growing up in a large family meant plenty of playmates, but also plenty of work. "We had one TV with four stations, one telephone, one bathroom, no air conditioning or dishwasher. My dad said that there were seven of those (meaning seven daughters), and the boys did not do dishes. Also no clothes dryer, just long clotheslines."

Everyone took turns cooking in the kitchen making tortellini. Their father insisted the smaller the tortellini, the better. All of the time in the kitchen instilled a love of cooking, which the Vanni children have passed on to their own children.

The nine siblings played baseball and softball together and went on family picnics at Jester Park, after doing their chores on Saturday.

In the fall, the family hunted for black walnuts and other nuts, as well as mushrooms in the timber near Madrid, which is now Saylorville Lake. Janette recalls, "The burlap bags were heavy by the time we got home, a mess to clean, but they were good." Today Janette's favorite pastime continues to be walking in the woods.

Mike and Janette Volz moved to Carroll in 1976 where they raised their six children: Erin, Jennifer, Brandon, Marissa, John and Sarah. They left Carroll in 1994 and now live in Altoona. Janette is a communications associate in corporate communications for Central Iowa Power Cooperative. Mike is retiring at the end of this month as director of transportation for Johnston Community Schools and is looking forward to playing more golf.

All of Mike and Janette's six children live in the Des Moines area, except for one. Oldest, Erin is a nurse at Iowa Methodist. Her daughter, Brooke is off to college this fall, her son Sean is in high school, and her daughter Samantha is 9. Jeni is a dental hygienist in Waukee and has two sons, Max, 6, and Mitchell, 4. Brandon is a commercial underwriter, having recently received his CPCU designation, and is getting married to Erin, a nurse. Marissa, of Kansas City, is a solution architect for Cerner and a world traveler. She will be living and working in Dubai later this summer. John works for Doll Distributing and in his spare time plays in a band called Plastic Apartment. This group played in college at Iowa State University and recently started playing together again. The youngest, Sarah, graduated last winter from Iowa State University and works for WebFilings in Ames and studying to take her CPA exam.

There are many favorite foods loved by Mike and Janette's children. Janette said, "To say that they enjoy good food is an understatement." It's easy to cook for them as they like pretty much anything, but Janette said they especially like tortellini soup, lasagna, beef stroganoff, pork loin roast, and rosemary and garlic potatoes.

Janette has over 100 cookbooks and has passed some of them on to her children. They like to try out of the ordinary food and have become good cooks themselves.

Janette can't believe it's been almost 20 years since her family left Carroll. Janette said, "I will always cherish the time that we lived in Carroll, five of my babies were born there. I miss my neighbors, the girls at the shop (Janette's Headquarters), Beta Sigma Phi sorority, St. Lawrence, the Country Club, and dinner club. Everyone was so friendly when we moved there, and did I cry when we left! Great memories and treasured friends, nothing can ever take that away. I hope the community appreciates what they have, but knowing them I am sure that they do."


Janette Vanni Volz

Kolaches are a Slovakian pastry that holds a dollop of fruit filling. They are a bit time consuming to make, but they are definitely a family favorite.

In a very large mixing bowl, beat the following ingredients until creamy:

8 egg yolks

½ heaping cup of lard

1 stick butter

1 cup sugar

*All ingredients should be room temperature

Add ¼ cup instant mashed potatoes dissolved in 1 cup hot water.

Add 2 cups instant dry milk and 2 tablespoons salt dissolved in 4 cups warm water.

Beat in ¼ cup instant dry yeast with 8 cups flour.

Beat 3 minutes. Add 3 more cups flour.

Beat 3 minutes more, or until smooth and shiny. If too thin, add flour. If too thick, add warm water.

Put in large greased bowl and cover with plastic that has been sprayed with Pam. Let rise 30 minutes or more, then punch down. Let rise 20 minutes more. Put on floured board and flatten with hands or rolling pin to ¼ inch thickness. Let rest 5 minutes.

Cut into 2-inch squares with pizza cutter. Stretch each square slightly before adding filling (apricot, poppy seed, prune, or cherry). Solo brand is good. Add 1 tablespoon of filling to each square, then stretch opposite corners, pull and pinch together on top of filling. Leave opening for filling to show. Place on baking sheets that have been lined with parchment paper, cover with plastic and let rise 45 minutes.

Bake about 8 to 10 minutes in 400 degree oven. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter.

Makes 8 to 9 dozen.

Prune Filling:

1 pound dried prunes (pitted)

½ cup sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon vanilla

Cook prunes in enough water to cover until they are soft. Drain and mash. Add sugar, cinnamon

and vanilla. Mix well.

Apricot Filling:

1 pound dried apricots



Soak apricots overnight in enough water to cover. Cook until soft. Drain well of any remaining water. Mash. Add sugar to taste.

* This dough recipe makes so much, I use half to make kolaches and the other half for Potica (Slovak nut roll) or poppy seed roll.

Sweet Potato Soup with Buttered Pecans

Janette Vanni Volz

¾ cup finely chopped onion

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 cup finely chopped leek, washed well and drained

1 bay leaf

3 large carrots, sliced thin (about 1 ½ cups)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 pounds (about 3 large) sweet potatoes

½ pound russet baking potatoes

5 cups chicken broth plus additional for thinning the soup, if desired

¾ cup dry white wine

1½ cups water

For the buttered pecans:

¾ cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

To make the soup:

In a kettle cook the onion, the leek, the garlic, and the carrots with the bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste in the butter over moderate heat, stirring, until the vegetables are softened. Add the sweet potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced thin, the russet potato, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced thin, the 5 cups broth, the wine, and the water, simmer the mixture, covered for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are very tender, and discard the bay leaf. In a blender puree the mixture in batches until it is very smooth, transferring it as it is pureed to a large saucepan, add the additional broth to thin the soup to the desired consistency, and season the soup with salt and pepper.

The soup may be made 1 day in advance, kept covered and chilled, and reheated.

To make the buttered pecans:

In a skillet cook the pecans in the butter with salt to taste over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown, and transfer them to paper towels to drain. The pecans may be made two days in advance and kept in an airtight container or a resealable plastic bag.

Divide the soup among bowls and top each serving with a dollop of crème fraîche and some of the buttered pecans.

BBQ Beans

Janette Vanni Volz

Janette had these beans at her neighbor's house and had to have the recipe. She said they are the best beans ever.

First make sauce:

5 cups BBQ sauce, I used Cookies original sauce

2 cups of brown sugar, measured loose in cup

1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

3½ tablespoons honey

4 tablespoons molasses

4 tablespoons maple syrup

¼ medium onion, cut up small

1 large green pepper, cut up small

1 pound hickory smoked bacon, cook and break up into small pieces

2 large rolls of Kielbasa, cut to desired cuts

1 tablespoon liquid smoke

2 (8¼ ounce) cans of chunky pineapple, cut up just a little, drained

Mix sauce ingredients together and simmer for awhile in a large pot.

Then mix 1 gallon of your favorite beans, drain and wash juice off of beans, add to sauce and simmer for a long time, at least 4 to 5 hours in a cast iron Dutch oven.

Harvey Wallbanger Cake

Joyce Vanni Little

This is a dessert that is a good ending to a great Italian meal.

1 box orange cake mix (18 ½ oz)

1 box (3 ¾ oz.) instant vanilla pudding mix

4 eggs

½ cup vegetable oil

4 oz Liquore Galliano (a sweet, yellow liqueur)

1 oz Vodka

4 oz orange juice


1 cup confectioners' sugar

1 tablespoon Liquore Galliano

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 teaspoon Vodka

Combine cake mix and pudding in a large bowl. Blend in eggs, oil, 4 ounces Liquore Galliano, 1 ounce Vodka, and 4 ounces orange juice. Mix batter until smooth and thick. Pour into a greased and floured 10" Bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove and place on rack. Have glaze ready to spoon on while cake is still warm.


Combine confectioners' sugar, Liquore Galliano, Vodka and orange juice.

Blend until

very smooth.

Note: Can also use two greased and floured 9" cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Pepper Steak

Julie Vanni Koch

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

2 pounds round steak, cut into ½ inch strips

2 cups beef stock

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 medium onion, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

3 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in ½ cup water

¼ cup soy sauce

3 medium red bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips

8 cups cooked rice

3 medium green bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips

In a skillet, warm the oil over moderate heat. Add the steak strips, and cool until lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the onion, garlic, peppers and mushrooms. Sauté, stirring often, for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Add the beef stock and Worcestershire sauce; cook for 2 minutes more. Add the cornstarch mixture and soy sauce to the steak and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Serve over rice.

Makes 8 servings

Coconut Curry Chicken Fingers with Cashews

Jacqueline Vanni Shanks

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, rinsed and patted dry

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 ¼ cups light coconut milk

1 cup skim milk

3 ½ tablespoons red curry paste

¾ cup roasted, salted cashews

¾ cup unsweetened coconut flakes

¾ cup cornflakes

1 (10 oz) bag baby spinach

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a large baking sheet. Cut the chicken into 3-by-1/2-inch strips; season with salt and pepper. In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together one cup of the coconut milk, the skim milk and 1 ½ tablespoons curry paste.

In a food processor, pulse together the cashews and coconut until finely chopped. Add the cornflakes and pulse until coarse. Transfer the mixture to a wide, shallow bowl.

One by one, dip the chicken strips in the coconut milk mixture, letting the excess drip back into the bowl. Place the chicken in the cashew mixture and turn to coat evenly. Transfer each chicken finger to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the chicken fingers in the oven, turning once halfway through; until they are golden all over, about 10 minutes each side.

Dipping sauce: while the chicken cooks, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup coconut milk and remaining 2 tablespoons curry paste.

Antipasto Misto

Jennifer Vanni Johnson

A classic Italian appetizer meaning, "before the meal mixed hors d'oeuvres" is made the night before a family gathering.

1 (9 oz) jar of green olives with pimento

1 (4 oz) can black olives

1 (6 oz) jar marinated artichoke hearts

1 (4 oz) can mushrooms

1 (6 oz) can tuna

1 (2 oz) can anchovies (optional)

8 oz Provolone cheese

6 to 8 oz salami

Drain olives and chop roughly. Drain the artichoke hearts, mushrooms and tuna. Add anchovies. Cut cheese and salami in thin strips. Add to the drained mixture. In a large bowl, pour marinade

over everything. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Stir occasionally. Serve on crackers or on a thinly sliced baguette.

Marinade for Antipasto Misto:

1 cup olive oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon basil

Mix well.

Stuffed Peppers

Anna Kurimski Vanni

This is a recipe the Vanni family grew up eating often for dinner.

5 to 6 medium green peppers

¾ cup rice

1 pound lean ground beef

1 medium onion, chopped

1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce

¼ teaspoon dried basil

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste

Remove tops and seeds from peppers. In a large kettle bring water to boil. Cook peppers for 5 minutes, remove and drain. Cook rice according to package directions.

In a skillet brown the meat and onion and drain. Add tomato sauce, herbs, and salt and pepper. Stir in rice.

Stuff the peppers with the rice mixture, place upright in baking dish or casserole and bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Dissolve 1 teaspoon beef bouillon in 1 cup hot water; pour in bottom of casserole to steam peppers.


Anna Kurimski Vanni

The Vanni girls learned how to make homemade tortellini. Their father, John, always told them, "the smaller, the better."

Filling for Tortellini:

Grind up white meat from chicken, add shredded Parmesan cheese to taste

1 egg

1 teaspoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

dash of pepper

small pinch of nutmeg

Mix thoroughly.

Dough (can be used for noodles and tortellini):

2 cups white flour

1 cup pasta flour

3 eggs

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon oil

Enough water to make a medium-soft dough

Mix thoroughly and knead until dough is smooth texture. Let rest under bowl for 1 or 2 hours, knead again.

To make Tortellini:

Roll out strip of dough 2" x 16" or 18". Put filling on one edge of dough then flip other edge of dough over the filling, and press edges to seal. Space filling at 1 inch intervals. Cut with sharp knife between fillings, twist to make tortellini. Flip top over bottom. Cut between filling and seal and twist to make tortellini. Twist over tip of middle finger to make circle.


Anna Kurimski Vanni

Haluski is a traditional Slovakian comfort food made of pan fried cabbage, potatoes and dumplings.

1 large head of cabbage, cut in ½ inch wide strips

1 pound thick sliced bacon, cut ½ inch wide and cooked till crispy (cook an extra pound of bacon since the family will steal half the crispy bacon before the potatoes are ready)

1 stick butter

2 potatoes, cubed

3 potatoes, grated fine (grate in food processor to save the knuckles)

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

cottage cheese (optional)

In a large pot cook bacon over medium-low heat until crispy. While bacon is cooking, cut up the cabbage. Set aside bacon in a bowl. Pour all but 4 tablespoons of grease from the pan and add butter. Add the cabbage and cook until lightly browned. While the cabbage is cooking peel and prep the potatoes. Boil the cubed potatoes in boiling salted water until fork tender and drain.

To make the Haluski, mix the grated potatoes with flour and 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Mix in a bowl until the consistency when done is not sticky. You may have to add more flour. Put potato mixture on a plate. Use a tablespoon to drop teaspoon-size Haluski in boiling water. The Haluski will be about 1 inch long and about ½ inch wide. After all Haluski are in the pot, boil approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Haluski will float to the top when done. Drain. Combine cabbage, Haluski, boiled potatoes and bacon. Serve with cottage cheese.