Tom Hausberger has been cooking for most of his life, helping make meals for his family since his teenage years.
But it wasn’t until his grandmother died that Hausberger buckled down to learn the dishes that meant the most to him: the German specialties of his childhood.
After Marie Maier passed away in the late 1990s, “some of the stuff she made, we never had it again,” said Hausberger, The News’ February Cook of the Month.
So in his late 30s, Hausberger started taking cooking lessons from his mother, Elsie.
“She was getting older, too. So I figured, I better learn to make some of these,” he said, referring to childhood favorites like liver dumpling soup. “I always liked it, and we didn’t have it for a long time. So I said, ‘We gotta make that soup.’ ”
It wasn’t as simple as reading his grandmother’s recipe – it was handwritten in cursive German. His mother was able to translate it, and they made the soup for the first time about two years ago, Hausberger said.
“I’ve made it maybe once or twice a year since then. Just when I get a hankering, usually in the winter,” he said. His mother died last year.
But despite his best efforts, Hausberger, who is divorced, could never get his children – who have kids of their own now – to like liver. However, his girlfriend, Mary, and his father, George, like the liver dumplings, so he has someone to share with, like he usually does when he cooks.
His father was born in Germany, like his mother’s parents, Hausberger said: “We ate lots of German [food] growing up.” That included dishes like sauerbraten, beef marinated for three days, but also lots of liver, still one of his favorites. Besides liver dumpling soup, he enjoys “sour liver,” seared with onions and served over noodles with a quick vinegar gravy.
Hausberger grew up in West Seneca, graduating from West Seneca East High School in 1974. He moved around the country before returning to Buffalo in the mid-1980s. In 1993, he started working as a corrections officer and retired on disability with a bad back in 2006.
He said he stopped watching the Food Network a few years ago, when its shows turned from chefs in the kitchen to teaching to celebrities and competitions. But he never stopped cooking. He prepares something to share with his father and girlfriend three or four days a week, he said.
“The kids come over sometimes on Sunday during the football season,” he said. Then he’ll make a pork roast, spaghetti and meatballs, or short ribs for them to eat while “we sit here and watch the Bills lose.”
His liver dumplings would make his grandmother proud. There’s no mistaking the mineral organ-meat flavor, but they’re tender and impossibly light. That’s because of the coarse texture of the liver and bread, Hausberger said, which he has gotten right only by using a hand grinder ‑ which can be a headache to use. He has tried grinding the dumpling filling in a food processor, but it got too fine-grained and the dumplings were leaden.
To be sure, the German dishes of his youth can be some work, he agreed. So why bother?
Simply put: satisfaction.
“I want it to taste like my mother or grandmother made it,” Hausberger said. “That’s what I want.”
12 beef short ribs, about 3 pounds
6 cloves garlic
1 large sweet onion, peeled and quartered
24 ounces beef stock, more or less
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup flour
¼ cup olive oil
Combine salt, pepper and garlic powder, and sprinkle beef with mixture.
Put flour on a plate and roll beef in flour until coated. Pour oil into an ovenproof lidded pot, like a Dutch oven. Heat oil and brown meat well on all sides.
Put ribs, garlic cloves and quartered onion in large cast iron pot, or other stovetop-oven capable baking dish. Pour in beef broth until it comes to about three-quarters of the way up the meat. (Ribs don’t need to be covered in broth.) Bring pot to a simmer.
Cover pot and place in 325-degree oven for 3 to 3½ hours, until very tender but not disintegrated. Put meat in holding dish. If desired, remove bones. Make gravy out of broth by cooking 2 tablespoons of flour in 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet until light brown, then whisking in cooking liquid and simmering until thick.
Serve with mashed potatoes or spaetzle.
5 cups all purpose flour
½ cup milk, approximately
Mix flour, eggs and pinch of salt in large bowl with wooden or metal spoon. Add milk slowly, stirring until mixture is smooth and stiff. Dough should become difficult to stir; you need a strong arm.
Boil a big pot of salted water. Run spaetzle mixture through spaetzle maker, dropping noodles into boiling water. Alternatively, push dough through the holes in coarse, flat grater or large-holed colander with a rubber spatula.
Keeping water at a boil, stir and boil noodles 7 to 10 minutes. Spaetzle will float to the top when done.
Drain well. Toss with butter, or brown in pan with butter if you like. Serve with beef short ribs or pork roast. Makes 8-10 servings.
Liver Dumpling Soup
2½ stale hard rolls or other stale bread, sliced thin, about 2 cups
5 ounces milk
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
¾ teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 pound fresh calves liver
1 large onion, chopped
30 ounces beef broth, more or less
Heat milk and pour over sliced rolls and mix to moisten.
Grind liver and onion together. (Best is twice through a hand meat grinder equipped with coarse blade, but you can use a food processor if you are careful to stop while it’s still coarse, with pea-sized particles).
Add salt and pepper, egg, parsley, marjoram to soaked bread mixture. Mix well. Add ground liver mixture and mix again.
Mixture should be thick enough to hold together when shaped into balls. If liver is too moist, add plain bread crumbs, a tablespoon at a time.
Heat beef broth in pot to a slow, rolling boil. Using a tablespoon and your hand, shape liver mixture into oval dumplings, about ¼ cup of mixture in each.
Gently lower them into broth. Let them simmer slowly for 12 minutes. When they rise to the top, the soup is done. Add chopped scallions or chives to soup, and serve.