Monthly Archives: December 2010

>Christmas Sauce

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The day after Christmas, Sarah’s brother-in-law, Mick, and I drove up to Cabela’s. He had gotten a gift card for Christmas and I wanted hot sauce and barbecue sauce. I remembered going to Cabela’s about a year or two ago and being surprised to find a small cache of unique sauces there. That first time, I had only bought a bottle or two. This time, I was going to buy everything I could get my hands on.

The drive to Cabela’s is a treacherous one. As if it were some sort of man-card-challenge to be able to find this outdoor/hunting store, the place is nestled in between a mountain and another mountain. It has a warehouse attached, which just doesn’t make sense to me. Seems like one would want to put a distribution center in a centralized location that is easily accessible. This place is neither. It’s in Wisconsin.

We got there and were welcomed by the sign that says that you need to check your guns at the door. They do not mean this ironically.

As Mick looked around for something to spend his gift card on, I began to wander. The Cabela’s in Prarie Du Chien is enormous, and they have a natural history museum style exhibit of all sorts of game like elk, caribou, and bobcat. To the left of that is the shoes.

I find it amazing to be in a store that is that large and is completely full of things that I don’t know what they are and can’t imagine ever needing. There is a ton of fishing gear, atv accessories, and gun safes. They also have aisles and aisles of ammunition. I mean, seriously, real live bullets. No one else seemed to think that was weird.

After those aisles of large caliber bullets was a very extensive glass case of knives. Presumably, these were hunting knives. But at least some of them, I suspect, were machetes.

After walking around, I looked for the food section that I had remembered seeing. After about ten minutes of searching, I realized that the place that I was thinking of was not a Cabela’s. It was a Bass and Pro Shop that I had gone to a couple summers ago in central Iowa. My fault for confusing the two.

Fortunately, this place did have a sauce and food section. It was in the women’s trinkets department. Cabela’s has an entire section that you can use to decorate your country home with things like painted wooden ducks and plaid throw pillows. These things are obviously directed at women, and this is where they keep the barbecue sauce, which makes me sigh.

After selecting one hot sauce, I kept looking around until I reached the scary back portion of the store that looked like it was the entrance to the warehouse. There, you can find several sizes of sausage grinders and outdoor turkey friers. They also have some additional barbecue sauces and hot sauces there. It is a clearance aisle. Behind it are the crossbows and GPS devices. I think they just stopped trying to organize things once they expanded into this annex to the store.

I picked up three different kinds of hot sauces and two different kinds of barbecue sauce. I was going to get the Jeff Foxworthy beef jerky as well, but thought better of it. Mick eventually decided to spend his gift card on a pair of gloves. They were $50 and made his hands look like spider man. I am fairly sure that he is going to return them.

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>Iowa Style Pizza

>You likely are familiar with the concept of New York style pizza and Chicago style pizza and maybe even the loose category of pizzas that might be considered California style. But what you may not be familiar with is the concept of Iowa style pizza. Thing is, neither are Iowans.

I define Iowa style pizza in two parts: First, it must be a standard midwest medium crust pizza that is inspired very literally by a sandwich. Second, the weirdness of the pizza must be matched by the normalness with which it is attributed amongst Iowans.
For years, I have been going back with Sarah to visit her family for various holidays, birthdays, weddings, or other family gatherings. From time to time, pizza gets ordered. The local favorite in my wife’s family is Happy Joe’s, which I frequently confuse with Taco John’s, for reasons I don’t quite understand. 
A Happy Joe’s, we typically order at least one cheese pizza, one sausage pizza, and one taco pizza. A taco pizza replaces the pizza sauce with a mild taco sauce. Then there’s cheese, then there’s shredded iceberg lettuce. Then there’s crushed Doritos. Yes. Crushed Nacho Cheese Doritos. Presumably, when Doritos went through its superlative phase, the crushed Doritos were of the Nacho Cheesier variety. This “pizza” is then served with a handful of taco sauce packets thrown in the box. I have been eating these for years now. It’s weird and delicious and weird.
This summer, I had the pleasure of eating a BLT pizza. At first, I thought, this can’t possibly be too weird. Bacon is not that unusual a topping. And, given my taco pizza experience, I was familiar with the lettuce being on top. I mean, it looked pretty much the same as the taco pizza. Little did I know that, instead of pizza sauce, there would be mayonnaise. Mayonnaise!
The second prong of the Iowa style pizza is that, if you are from the east coast and have never had these sandwich inspired pizzas, Iowans will look at you funny, as if you told them you had never had pepsi before.
On the last night we were back in Iowa over the Christmas holiday, Sarah and her high school friends all got together. One of the pizzas that was ordered had sauerkraut and canadian bacon on it. I remarked that I had certainly never had any pizza like this. 
My host for the evening then asked, incredulously, “Then what would you ever eat sauerkraut on, if not on a pizza?”
“Hot dogs,” I replied. 
“Oh. I guess people do that, too.”
We then got into a discussion about how I had not grown up with taco pizza or blt pizza or a sauerkraut and canadian bacon pizza (which tastes like a cheese bratwurst, incidentally). Everyone was delighted because, for them, these kinds of pizza were so commonplace they considered them a universal part of the human experience. 
Having missed out on these pizzas in my childhood, however, I felt somewhat like the foreign exchange student in this conversation. But in a good way and not because I was the only Asian in the room. 
Then, one of Sarah’s friends remarked that she prefers the Chicken Taco Pizza from Pizza Hut, but she gets it with regular pizza sauce instead of the refried beans it would otherwise come with. 
That sentence.  Blew.  My.  Mind. 

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Kay’s Meatloaf

This is the recipe that started our journey through the Western Dubuque Marching Band Cook Book. Sometime before Thanksgiving of this year, I had been craving meat loaf, as is not unusual for me once the weather starts to chill. The problem was, I had never made meatloaf before. And I had never actually seen anyone make meatloaf before, other than on TV. Growing up, the closest thing I had ever gotten to homemade meatloaf was the meatloaf sandwich at Boston Market, which used to be called Boston Chicken, if you recall. Today, the nearest Boston Market, as far as I know, is out in Brookfield or maybe LaGrange. Either way, much too far to be a viable option.

I recalled Sarah having spoken highly of her father’s meatloaf. So we called him. He had made it many times and probably would have been able to recite the ingredients by memory, but in an abundance of caution, he directed us to a recipe from the Western Dubuque Marching Band Cook Book. Therein, there are multiple recipes for meat loaf. There’s Main Street Meat Loaf, Kay’s Meat Loaf, Easy Cheesy Meat Loaf, and two different recipes each entitled, Meat Loaf. We made Kay’s Meat Loaf. According to the book, the recipe was submitted by Eileen Schmitt.

  1. 2 lbs hamburger
  2. 1.5 – 2 C rolled cracker crumbs
  3. 0.5 C chopped onion
  4. 2 eggs
  5. 1 tsp salt
  6. 0.25 tsp pepper
  7. 1.5 tsp sage or poultry seasoning
  8. 0.5 C catsup

The instructions are brief, which presumably is how this recipe was chosen amongst the several that are contained within the book. In total, they are, “Combine all ingredients. Form into a loaf and put in a loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.”

We made some minor modifications – in technique mostly.

I like the crispy parts of the meatloaf, so we decided to use mini loaf pans rather than one large one. We had gotten these as a wedding gift. It only took us three years to use them. Also, I like it when the ketchup caramelizes on the top of the meatloaf, so after about 30 minutes of baking, I started painting the tops with ketchup every couple of minutes. Finally, I love ketchup, so I was likely a little heavy handed with the ketchup in the meatloaf mix. But if I was, it was completely subliminal.

Other modifications we made were that we skipped the salt to keep the overall salt content down and because there would already be cracker crumbs in the recipe. Also, we didn’t add the 1.5 t sage or poultry seasoning. I do not own sage. And I don’t use poultry seasoning; it’s mostly salt. I may have added ground garlic powder instead.

The meatloaf turned out quite nice. I was surprised. The meat was very moist, and the ketchup glaze was nice and tangy. There was quite a bit of grease in the bottom of the pans, so I drained it by grabbing the loaf pan with an oven mit, holding the meat inside with a wooden spoon, and dumping it over the sink. The dog was disappointed that I didn’t have worse aim on this manuever.

Having made this recipe over a month ago, I no longer recall what we served with this meal. But I do recall that having made the meat loaves in the mini loaf pans created the perfect sized slices to go with the baguettes that I have been baking. At first, I thought I would be able to eat leftovers for a good three or four lunches. But this meat loaf recipe was so tasty that I don’t think it lasted nearly as long as I had expected.

If I were to guess, I would suppose that this recipe would serve 4 to 5 people, depending on how many of them were children.

If anyone knows the Eileen Schmitt who submitted this recipe, I would like to speak with her. And ask her who Kay is.

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>chriskindlmarket 2010

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Earlier this week, Sarah and I went to the Daley Center to visit the Chriskindlmarket. In the several years that we have lived in Chicago, neither Sarah nor I had ever been. Being a good German, Sarah thought it was time to finally check it out.

I had actually went earlier this month with some people from work. That time, I ate a leberkese and sauerkraut sandwich and drank some hot spiced wine in a novelty boot-mug. I had never had leberkase before, but it was described on the picture menu as a cooked pork and beef product. And if there’s anything I love, it’s cooked pork and beef product. Eating it was like eating the anthropologic ancestor to a spamwich. It was awesome. I should have gotten a second one.

This time, I got the wine again. However, they were out of the novelty boot-mugs by this point in the year, taking away one of the only two redeeming qualities of this spiced wine – the other redeeming quality being that it contains alcohol. I don’t know why people drink hot wine. It’s gross.

The first thing that I ate with Sarah was a weinerschintzel. It was supremely tasty. It was like eating a really large breakfast sausage patty, which is awesome for me. Because breakfast sausage patty is my favorite style of sausage patty. It was breaded and fried, so it had a really nice crispy crust. Even Sarah liked it, except for the fatty parts. Sarah does not like the fatty parts, and as we shared this sandwich, she would save the fatty parts for me to eat. This is one of the reasons why our marriage works.

Next, we ate some potato pancakes. These smelled so wonderful that we couldn’t wait to take a picture of them before diving in. And they were so delicious that we were done eating them before we even remembered to take a picture. You must get potato pancakes if you go to chriskindlmarket. but there are two kinds. The kind we had came from a batter and had an irregular shape. This is the real deal. Other booths had potato pancakes that came out in perfect round circles. I suspect that they came flash frozen before being deep fried. Those are not the real deal.

Finally, I ate a weisswurst. I’ve never eaten a weisswurst before, so I was very excited about it, particularly because the place I got it from was serving it with a bavarian pretzel roll. When the lady handed it to me, I think she could tell that I was in a little over my head. She warned me to take off the casing before you eat it.

So, of course, the first thing I did was try to take a big ol bite out of it. Turns out she was right about the casing. I don’t know what that casing was made out of, but it was chewy. Like hot, pork-flavored gum. I had to spit it out.

Trying to eat this dish of white hot tube meat was intimidating. But once I was able to dig the meat out of the casing, the insides of the weisswurst were pretty good. I’ve never eaten head cheese before, but I imagine that it would taste like weisswurst. I was glad to have tried this, and I ate both of the two links that came in the serving. But I don’t know that I will be going out of my way to eat this again. The pretzel was magnificent though.

Overall, I liked Chriskindlmarket, and, along with the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights, I think that this will become part of our yearly Chicago Christmas ritual. There were way too many kids there though. I mean, seriously, shouldn’t they be in school? I mean, I love babies and little kids and all. But teenagers, bleh.

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>Cooking for the in-laws

>Every holiday, Sarah’s family gets together at her mother’s house. All of the other siblings bring something from their kitchens to share. Because Sarah doesn’t really cook all that much, we would typically bring booze.

This year, since we have been cooking more, we decided that we would cook something. And to make up for lost time, we decided we would make dinner for sarah’s parents and her sister’s family. Except for when there’s a grill involved, this was my first time cooking for a group this large: ten people, four of which were children. 
When they visited over the summer, pizza seemed to work out quite well. So Sarah and I decided we would make a triple batch of pizza dough. I also breaded some pork and chicken in panko for the adults. We served this with a side of acorn squash, a father-in-law favorite, and green beans. 
While I was busy cooking the meat, Sarah had the kids work on the pizzas with the kids. We pre-baked the crusts and let the pans cool down so the kids wouldn’t burn themselves. Then we set out the crusts for the kids to do the work. It was a pretty awesome setup. If the kids would have been Asian, it would have looked like a small sweat shop. 
We bought extra extra toppings, thinking that the kids would be heavy handed. But, for some reason, they weren’t. They would put some sauce on, ask if that was enough, I would tell them to add more, and so on. After the third time, I just told them that it was enough. The same happened with the cheese. 
Here are the pizzas we had:
  1. cheese: pizza sauce, mozzarella ball chunks, shredded mozarella, and a shredded pizza blend (mozzarella and some other yellow cheese)
  2. pesto: pesto sauce, mozzarella, shredded mozarella
  3. chicken alfredo: alredo sauce, diced cooked chicken, shredded pizza blend
  4. blue cheese and mushroom: pizza sauce, blue cheese, shredded mozzarella, baby bells mushrooms
  5. pepperoni: pizza sauce, turkey pepperoni, mozzarella, shredded mozzarella, and pizza blend cheese
For the dough, I used my regular pizza dough recipe, although we used all regular flour instead of the flour and wheat flour mix I usually use.
Overall, I think things turned out fair. The pizza ended up tasting pretty doughy and definitely needed more cheese and sauce, but the kids seemed to like eating the pizzas they made. Also, I have made better chicken and pork before. I think it was the scale of the number of servings that threw me off. At home, I rarely have to manage more than a pan or two at a time.
Turning out a meal for that many people was an endeavor. I don’t know how people do it on a regular basis.
It was nice to cook in a full sized kitchen, though. While prepping the meal, Sarah and I noted that our feet were getting tired. This, we hypothesized, is because we had to walk to and from the fridge, the counter, the sink, or the garbage can. Our kitchen at home is the size of a closet. We can reach all of these things by simply turning around. 

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Dinner in a French Loaf

My wife was in marching band in high school. I’m told that, in her high school, this is what the cool kids did.

As part of the fundraising for this marching band, they sold cookbooks. These cookbooks were filled with recipes that were submitted by marching band moms and other members of the community. The recipes were presumably then sent off to be printed and bound before being sold. Looking through this cookbook is like a time capsule’s peek into a traditional midwest american kitchen. And for Sarah, many of these recipes conjure up memories of her dad’s cooking, as the only things that he knows how to cook come from these pages.
Here is a recipe that got the father-in-law’s seal of approval. My wife and I made this shortly after Thanksgiving this year. It’s a heavy dish, that’s for sure. But it’s wonderful. Eating this dish is like eating a cheeseburger for the first time. It’s called Dinner in a French Loaf because you serve it like a soup breadbowl, but I really think it should be called Cheeseburger Casserole. It’s savory, crunchy, cheesy, and really warms you up from the inside out.
Dinner In a French Loaf:
  1. 1 lb. hamburger
  2. 1 small onion, chopped
  3. 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  4. 1.5 C cubed Velveeta cheese (I know, right)
  5. 1 loaf French bread
Brown hamburger with onions.
Slice the french loaf in half and cut out the inside. Mix the crumbs of loaf with the hamburger. Add soup and cheese. Press into loaf.
Place the top on the loaf. Wrap in aluminum foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Slice to serve.
This recipe serves a ton of people. My wife tells me that this used to serve her entire family for dinner, which is six people. All I know is, we ate this for dinner, and then I ate the leftovers for lunch at work for about a week.
Like I said, the recipe is heavy. We are planning on going through and trying several of the recipes from the cookbook as is. Then, we are going to try and remake them in a slightly more modernized fashion. Should be an interesting experiment.

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>Whole Wheat Pizza Dough Recipe

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Whole Wheat Pizza Dough Recipe
  1. 2 C regular flour
  2. ~1/2 C whole wheat flour
  3. 1 packet rapid rise yeast
  4. 2 T olive oil
  5. 1 C water at about 130 degrees
Makes two small/medium pizzas
Start getting the water ready. My tap water only gets to about 110 degrees, at best. To get the water to the right temp, I use a kettle. When it whistles, the water is boiling, which presumably means that it is at 212 degrees. However, I have found that when my kettle starts to make some creaking sounds, the water is about 120 or so. This is close enough for me. To check your water temps, I would get a kitchen thermometer, if you don’t have one already.
Mix flour and rapid rise yeast together in a large mixing bowl. I don’t have a fancy stand mixer, so I take the handle of a wooden spoon and try to simulate it. I rotate it in little circles around the outer circumference of the bowl. I know a lot of other bread recipes call for salt, but I have been skipping it. With the whole wheat, the dough doesn’t seem to rise quite the same. And I heard that salt inhibits yeast.
Add the water to the flour and yeast. I like to add it slowly as I use the handle end of a wooden spoon to stir/mix – think spirograph, if you were nerdy enough to have actually played with that as a child. Once this starts to ball, it will be sticky. At that point, I add the 2 tablespoons of oil and start mixing with my hands in the bowl. You could pull the dough out of the bowl and mix as well, but I find this to be easier and less messy overall. Plus, my dog always barks when I knead dough on the cutting board. In the bowl, however, he doesn’t seem to mind that.

Mix the dough around for about 5 minutes or until your arms get tired, whichever comes first.

Put the dough on a board or clean countertop. Most recipes call for you to use a clean towel to cover the dough while is rests/rises. This seems like a great way to create unnecessary laundry. Flip the bowl over and use that to cover the dough. Wait for about 20 minutes or so. The dough will get bigger.
At this point, lightly flour the cutting board and cut the dough in half. this will give you dough for two small/medium pizzas. lightly form one half of the dough into a ball and then start rolling the dough out. there are a million youtube videos on how to stretch out pizza dough. find a way that works for you. previously, i would toss the dough in the air to stretch it. this is fun, but it makes my dog bark, which makes my wife grumpy at me. so i hand stretch the dough. 
i don’t have a fancy pizza stone, so i cook my pizzas on regular baking sheets lined with parchment paper. set the oven to 450, which is as high as i am comfortable setting my 30 year old oven. because i like a crispier crust, i bake the pizza dough with nothing on it for about 8 to 10 minutes. then, i pull them out of the oven, flip them over, and then top. there’s really no wrong way to top a pizza, but unless you put down the sauce, then the cheese, and then the toppings, you’re doing it all wrong. 
once topped, put the pizzas in the oven for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until other people in the house can start smelling pizza. these two events should occur at about the same exact time.

this pizza dough recipe is something i’ve been tinkering with for a little while now. the crust is not anything close to new york style, for several reasons. but it’s serviceable. this dough prefers to be cut into squares rather than traditional slices. this is something that i have reluctantly come to terms with. 

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