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Touring Wisconsin Food

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Does Race Matter? Kitchen Politics in the Election of White Versus Dark in a Chocolate Coconut Cake

Does race matter? My kitchen radio keeps broadcasting this question. Perplexed interviewers repeatedly put it to pundits and people too busy to be pundits, – people like me. Of course, they’re all discussing November’s election, – pretty much what they’ve been doing for the past four years. But this year’s presidential politics has a new twist. Now they’re conversation spins on race versus age.

As one who likes to consider how many years I have ahead rather than behind, I’d like to think that age is irrelevant. And if not irrelevant, at least manageable, thanks to physical therapists, opticians, podiatrists, beauticians, skin care companies, and their health-care compatriots. So when my eyes inevitably catch a glimpse of my image in the mirror, I just mutter TV Laura Petrie’s response to her mirror, “Snow White lives.” and get back to life, just as she did. John McCain probably does the same.

I wonder what Barak Obama says to his mirror? I wonder why media folk refer to him as black when his mother was white. My beloved dog is half Labrador retriever, half German shepherd. I don’t call him a lab. I call him a mix, and vets tell me how much healthier mixes usually are.

These idiosyncratic American political spins are making me dizzy. A little unbalanced, now I’m looking at two chocolate bars and wondering, “Does race matter?” I’m reading a cake recipe that I think my daughter, Lauren, would enjoy for her ninth birthday. It’s for a chocolate cake with coconut and whipped cream icing. Lauren loves chocolate, coconut, and whipped cream. (So do I.) The recipe is from the cookbook The White Gull Inn: More Favorite Recipes From Our Kitchen. The White Gull Inn is a renowned gourmet restaurant in Door County, Wisconsin. Stories of its other-worldly meals spread from the U.P. to Iowa. Even Chicagoans know to visit the White Gull Inn when they trek to Door County. So I’m absolutely confident that any White Gull Inn cake is to die for, especially a chocolate one.

But here’s the quandary. The recipe is White Chocolate Coconut Cake. And Lauren and I don’t like white chocolate; we’re prejudiced in this way. In fact, my snacking chocolate is 85% cocoa. So if I substitute dark chocolate for white chocolate will the cake still reach White Gull Inn standards? 

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Chef’s Challenge: Cook The Same Meal For 4 People Who Like Different Foods

Picture this: 4 people (call them A,B,C, and D) sit down at a table.

A and B like spicy food; C and D like bland.

B and D like fatty meats, such as ribs and brisket, A prefers lean meats like chicken, C does not like meat.

A loves vegetables, B will eat most vegetables, D will eat some vegetables, and C gags on vegetables.

C savors starch such as pasta, rice, and potatoes, B and D eat them moderately, A equates eating them with lobbing lead into the stomach.

The chef’s challenge: cook the same, healthy meal for all 4 people. The meal must be enjoyed such that everyone eats, and no one complains or sneaks handfuls to the dog.

If you can cook one meal for these 4 people, (and you probably do if you are a parent of young children) you can join Cristie’s Cooks Club where our motto is: Can we cook it? YES WE CAN!

So, have club members found a perfect food that pleases all palettes, or a particular combo of tastes that pacifies the picky? Or perhaps there are ways to disguise questionable foods and slip them incognito on to the plate? Maybe, but I haven’t found them yet.

I win by fudging the rules of the chef’s challenge. I stretch the requirement of the “same meal”. To please a spouse who insists the kids should “eat what we eat” and “not be made different dinners,” I broadly interpret the boundaries of “sameness”.

For example, last night our “same meal” was a “spaghetti dinner”. Now, the creative cook realizes that spaghetti appears in multiple forms. Obviously, spaghetti is that long, starchy pasta. But it also is a football-sized, yellow squash – the spaghetti squash, found in most supermarkets. I’m not kidding – its sticker even says “spaghetti squash” and tells you how to cook it.

The crafty cook also knows that spaghetti is still spaghetti regardless if it is covered by a tomato-based veggie sauce, a meat sauce, a pesto sauce, a creamy Alfredo sauce, or even just butter seasoned with salt, basil and garlic. All variations qualify.

Armed with this breadth of possibilities, Super Chef whips up the winning spaghetti dinner in what could have been a half hour, but because of interference from the sidelines, takes 45 minutes. Click on “continue reading…: for the play-by-play recipe.

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Sauerbraten: This German Pot Roast is a Recipe for Wisconsin Comfort Food Fit for Company Dinners

 Sauerbraten – German Pot Roast

Three days before serving, have the butcher cut 3 1/4 pounds of round steak 1 1/2 inches thick. Place the round steak in a shallow enamel or glass dish. Combine:

  • sauerbraten-11 Tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 8 peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, sliced
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 4 cups cold water

Pour these over the meat. Cover and refrigerate for three days. (After 1 1/2 days turn the meat over to expose all of it to the marinade.)

About 3 1/2 hours before serving:

  1. Remove steak from marinade, and dry with paper towel. Reserve marinade.
  2. In a large Dutch oven (big pot with lid), heat 3 Tablespoons olive oil. Add the meat and brown it well on both sides then remove.
  3. To the drippings in the Dutch oven, add
    • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  4. Brown the flour and sugar in the drippings, scraping the bottom of the pot well.
  5. Stir in the reserved marinade, and bring to a boil while stirring.
  6. Add the steak and simmer, covered, over a low heat for 3 hours or until fork-tender.

Ten minutes before serving, remove the steak to a platter. Carefully remove the surface fat from the cooked marinade. Stir in 10 crushed ginger snap cookies. Simmer the gravy until the cookies are dissolved – about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile cut the meat into 1/2″ thick slices and arrange on a serving dish.

Pour part of the gravy over the meat, and serve the rest in a gravy boat.

Serves 4 – 5.

Sauerbraten is especially good with potato pancakes, mashed potates, parsley potates, noodles, or dumplings. I always accompany it with cooked red cabbage.

“Kiss the cook – she’s German!” says a magnet on my mom’s refrigerator. Thirty-five years ago her German father gave her a recipe for sauerbraten (German pot roast)used by the once-famous German restaurant, Luchow’s, in New York City. Now, I know Wisconsin is over-run with sauerbraten recipes, -but this one is REALLY GOOD! Unlike typical American pot roast that dries up into strings of beef in the oven, this sauerbraten simmers in a marinade for three hours on the stove. It is tender and juicy and served with a comforting, light brown gravy that balances sweet with sour, and carrot, onion and ginger flavors. Plus, – It’s EASY to cook! I’m posting the recipe on the side page, Comfort Foods – Wisconsin Style.

I don’t make this sauerbraten as often as I should for two reasons. One, despite its soothing goodness, it is only craved when temperatures are below 50 degrees, – not really a problem in Wisconsin. But second, the beef must be specially cut by the butcher and then marinate in the refrigerator for three days. Thus, this sauerbraten cannot be served on a whim. True to its heritage, it exacts planning from the organized cook. (And now I’ve lost most of my readers.) But still – it IS easy to fix!

I especially like to serve sauerbraten when company’s coming for dinner. Most people have never tasted sauerbraten this delicious, so it is a new treat for them. But, more importantly for a company dinner, the sauerbraten doesn’t require attention when the guests arrive, and it can hang out on the stove until everybody feels like eating. In other words, this sauerbraten is laid-back and flexible, like the cook would like to be.

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