Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A weekend when everyone is Italian: Collinsville Italian Fest

I write this even as I am nearly prostrate on my futon, immobile from a gut full of really unhealthy food.  Once a year the residents of Collinsville Illinois converge on Main Street for a celebration of food, local history, the Italian culture, bad fashion, impromptu reunions, and libations.

I'm the first to admit that I love people but hate gatherings.  The Italian Fest at night is crowded, loud, and drunk.  Basically it's like an Italian Family dinner, it's bellisimo!  I usually swoop in long enough to grab some bagna cauda and swoop out.  This year I had the opportunity to head up there early on the first day and it was wonderful.

My childhood memories of The Italian Fest are mostly from the inside of the kitchen at my church.  For years my church, First Assembly of God in Collinsville, had a booth at The Fest selling "Famous Stuffed Shells".  I have vivid memories of red faced women running a well oiled shell stuffing machine.  Tables lined up with the stuffing being mixed by hand, large tin foil shiny pans coming out of hot ovens, my father loading up the sparkling pans into the church van to shuttle them to the Fest.  Running the van constantly, we could barely keep up with the demand.  It's been over a decade since The Italian Fest was graced with the booth selling the Famous Stuffed Shells.  This year there was another group selling stuffed shells, and they were good, but it's just not the same.

As an adult, I pass up almost every booth and head straight for the bagna cauda.  There are actually a couple of places you can get this pungent garlic and anchovy knock out punch, and by knock out, I mean knock out anyone that comes within a 10 foot radius of you after you've eaten it. The more prominent being the Kiwanis truck.  They serve it up with Napa cabbage leaves and hunks of Italian bread.  The proper way to indulge is to scoop up the oil concoction being sure to dive deep down to the bottom for that flavorful, garlicy, anchovy salted, soot.  Then hold it over the bread to catch any drippings before shoveling the molten hot fondue into your mouth.  The cabbage acts as a great contrast in taste, texture, and temperature.  If you've rationed it right you'll have just enough bread to sop up any remaining oil slicks of pure flavor.

After reading that last bit you have probably planted yourself firmly in one of two camps.  There are only two camps when it comes to this Italian favorite.  The first being those that seek it out like The Lost City of Atlantis.  Its fragrant call a siren drawing you to the cliffs.  The second being those that flee in the other direction at the slightest hint of the pungent smell.  No one sort of thinks that bagna cauda is just ok.  As a child we brought in every New Year at a very Italian friends house.  This was the midnight meal.  Zombies grunting and moaning bending over the pot fighting for a taste huddled in the kitchen.  Then in the furthest corner of the house cowering, the haters, grumbling their disdain.

If you'd like to see which camp you are in you can find the recipe for Bagna Cauda below.  The recipe is thanks to that long time family friend who was the host and chef every New Year's.  To be honest, and I'm sorry mom, but her's is by far the best I've ever had.

If you would like to take your chances on a slightly less risky bet the recipe for First Assembly of God's Famous Stuffed Shells is also below.  Getting my hands on this was not easy but I was finally able to land it thanks to a good friend and long time church Secretary Sandy Snider.

Jan's Bagna Cauda

1 pound butter
1 cup olive oil
1 whole head (yes head.. all the cloves inside one head of garlic) peeled and sliced
6 cans of anchovies

Combine all ingredients and let simmer on low 20-30 minutes until anchovies break down.  Keep heat on low to avoid burning the garlic.  Burnt garlic is bitter and will flavor the entire pot.

Serve with Napa cabbage, Italian bread, and various vegetable.

Famous Stuffed Shells

1 box large pasta shells
1 medium diced onion
1 LB ground beef for red sauce or 1 LB diced chicken for white sauce (honestly, I only remember hamburger no matter the sauce)
1 pkg frozen spinach thawed and drained well or one can of spinach drained well and chopped
2 eggs 
4 or 5 cloves of garlic mashed or diced
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded parmesean cheese

Cook shells in boiling water for 12 minutes with 2 TB of oil (honestly I'd oil them after I cooked them rather than before).  After boiling rinse with cold water and set aside (wow, they are breaking all the rules with this recipe).  

Prepare stuffing:
Saute onion and garlic in skillet but DO NOT BROWN.  Add spinach and eggs stirring and mixing together. Add both cheddar and parmesan cheese and stir until the cheese is stringy and melted.  Remove from heat.  Open the shells and stuff about 1 TB or more inside shell and roll the shell back up and place in deep baking dish.  Make sure all shells are covered in sauce: 

For white sauce:
1 Can cream of mushroom soup and 1 soup can of milk.  

For Red Sauce:
1 31 oz jar of Prego chunky sauce.  Dilute as desired with water.

Cover and bake 350 degrees Farenheit for 40 minutes.  


Happy Butter Day!

What makes a slave eat like a king? Butter
What breaks a fast with bacon and eggs? Butter
What makes a tongue swoon with delight and delish? Butter
What turns flour into a beurre manié? Butter
What makes gravy so creamy and rich? Butter
What makes the French so Frenchity French? Butter
What makes a birthday happier than most?

You guessed it....Butter!

      Oh the delightful wisdom on the French. Those smelly gastronomes might not have the best reputation for hospitality and portion size but they kick epicurean butt despite having their noses pointed skyward. All of the worlds most wonderful things regarding food come from France. Gene, my dear
sweet boyfriend, holds fast to the opinion that the French just take over other words to make them sound fancier "Everything is French!" Well, there is good reason. Their painstaking attention to detail in both ingredients and methodology put them way at the head of the culinary pack. I mean without Mise en Place we would all be running around like Rachel Ray, with a million things balanced on our arms, hoping that our mushrooms don't burn before we get the onions chopped. 

       They also gave us the Statue of Liberty, Béchamel Sauce, Velouté Sauce, Butter Sauces, and darn near every other kind of sauce imaginable. And as Meg Ryan so eloquently pointed out there are 452 official government cheeses of France, how can that be a bad thing (here is
where you all run to youtube to try and find the "Lactose Intolerance" scene, small price to pay I say).

       As a matter of fact you can thank the French for Bobby, Paula, Emeril, Tyler, Rachel, Guy, Alton (swoon), Barefoot, er, I mean Ina, Michael, Cat, Anne, Mario, Duff, Giada, Nigella, and all those Next Food Stars. How is that possible, you ask. The reason is simple, tall, and fell in love with France when her husband was stationed there with U.S. Information Services. Julia Child was one of the first faces that we ever saw cooking in front of us on the tv. As a girl I would open a box of cake mix set out my ingredients, a proper Miise En Place, put on my best high nasal voice and cook that box of cake mix like I was Julia herself.

       With all of my admiration of the woman I never attempted French Cuisine until after I saw
"Julie and Julia", and of course this is where I say that the movie really inspired me. Well, its corny but its true. I asked for and received "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" as a Christmas gift and have made good use of it here and there. When my birthday rolled around my mom asked me what exactly I wanted to do to celebrate.  The first thing I thought of was Julia's classic Boeuf Berrgion. In my family we never just 'make dinner' we have a theme that runs through the food, the table settings, the decor, and the gifts gosh darnit!

      The theme for my birthday dinner was Julie, Jen, and Julia. Julie being my mom by the way. The menu was straight out of Julia's book, the table settings were gorgeous black and white, and the meal cooked by ME.  

      So, here I had my opportunity to show off my cooking skills.... with a classic French dish... that I had never prepared before.... in a really small hot kitchen.... for 20 of my closest friends. I know what you are thinking. You're thinking it all went terribly awry and we had to order pizza for dinner. Admit it, that's exactly what you're thinking. You see the famous scene in the movie where Julie drops the hen and immediately has a 3 year old hissy fit on the floor of her kitchen.  Incidentally this is the one scene that reminded my loving boyfriend of me.  In reality, the exact opposite happened. We did get the kitchen and the entire house extra toasty warm, and my mom's tongs weren't nearly long enough to save me from a few grease splatters while browning the meat, but an hour before my guests were to arrive I was lazing on the couch, in my fancy dress, sipping a cool beverage. The Boeuf was in the oven, the potatoes bolied and foiled, and the peas thawing in preparation... for butter.

       Speaking of butter, I would say that it was certainly the cornerstone of the entire meal, nay, evening. It went in nearly everything I prepared, except the stew meat...that was browned in bacon fat! At the end of the night we did the math and nearly 4LBS of it was used. Caramelized onions and mushrooms.. butter, potatoes with parsley and...butter, green peas in...BUTTER. That doesn't even account for all the butter that my mom used in the desserts, I knew when to turn something over to the master, which included a lemon semi-fredo that will simultaneously stop your heart and send you to heaven.

      The evening was as near perfection as one can come. I have to admit a sense of pride knowing that I pulled off a classic French meal that everyone seemed to enjoy, and I didn't freak out once the entire day. It was incredible to be surrounded by so many people willing to eat my food, love on me, and help me celebrate a pretty blessed life. As I looked at my 94 year old grandmother enjoying her meal, and looking rather spring chicken like, I began to think off all the birthdays I have ahead of me.... despite all the butter.

So without further ado... some yummy pictures of my Happy Butter Day.

Dad's Cranky Face

Everyone knows that if you don't dry the
meat properly it won't brown. Because I was tripling the recipe I used the stack and press method.

When browning anything fat is used to sear and transfer heat quickly. You can use oil, butter, or rendered bacon fat...

Hmmmm....choices, choices. Boeuf Bergionne calls for browning the meat in rendered bacon fat.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Saturday Adventure with Julia

I'm reading a book about a girl who gets the chance to move to France, work in a French bakery, and go to a French pastry school and it's really doing a number on my appetite.  She kept going to these little cafe's and having Cafe Creme's and eating Grougerè's.  What the heck is a Grougerè?!?   I asked Google.

After having satisfied my initial curiosity I consulted my good friend Julia on how I might go about making these Grougerès, but she didn't mention them anywhere in her Mastering the Art of French cooking.  Apparently the star of my book didn't learn her French culinary facts from Julia.  Thankfully I was armed with my Google research and knew that it was basically a cheese puff, think cream puff, but without cream filling and tasting of yummy cheese instead.  A puff with a crisp exterior, a soft airy center, and deceptively light.  Julia had several versions of this pastry that starts with a basic Pâte â Choux.

Pâte â Choux is one of those mystical things that is as simple as breathing but as complex as learning to regulate your breaths during a deep sea dive.  It's basically water, butter, flour, a pinch of salt, and eggs.  You start with a slow boil of water and butter until the butter melts.

The next step sounds so easy unless you don't spend any time at all in the gym.  You dump all the flour in at once and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together and pulls away from the pan.

Initially this is done off the heat with a return to heat at the end.  It is remarkably reminiscent of glue at this point.  After all, you've just got a blob of water and flour.  If you have a strong man in the house this would be the time to employ his biceps   I didn't have a man, I don't need no stinking man!  Whew, I do this 5 days a week and I'll give Linda Hamilton a run for her money.

After phase one of your work out it's time to beat in the eggs.  One at a time is key and your choux should be warm throughout this entire phase so you can't walk away (to rest your arms) but it's got enough residual heat that you don't have to go all Flash Gordon on it.  Add one egg, off heat, beat it in, by hand, with a wooden spoon until it's fully incorporated.

Do this with each egg and keep in mind that they will take longer and longer to incorporate.

     At this point you would add your cheese if you are making cheese puffs.  If you are making sweet puffs a bit of sugar is added to the boiling water.  I added a half and half mixture of Swiss and Parmesan   I added slightly more than the cup Julia called for.  Yes, we ARE on a first name basis.

Add your mixture to a pastry bag.  Oh, you don't have a pastry bag, Mon Dieu! Oh wait, I don't either.  A sturdy zip top bag will do.  I like to put my bag inside a tall glass to make filling it easier.

After I had my bag filled I cut a pretty good sized hole in the corner of my bag because I wanted to make large puffs.  I think next time I'll make little bite sized puffs instead.

Squeeze a rounded dollop on a cookie sheet.  A 2 inch mound for large puffs and a 1 inch mound for small puffs. I didn't have parchment but I wish I did, if you have it, employ it.  I did struggle with getting the choux to detach nicely but a pair of scissors made that much easier.  I ran the blades under water first to prevent sticking.  You will have a little point at the top and you don't want this.  Take a beaten egg and use a pastry brush to both flatten this tip and coat each dollop.  I spaced my puffs about 3 inches apart as they were to double in size but most of that expansion is upward so I think I could have put them a bit closer together, not too much though.

This is where the precision of the French come in.  We are used to recipes that say bake it at this temperature for this long.  Not so, says Julia!  The puffs go into a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes at the top and bottom thirds of the oven (I had to rotate and turn my pans half way as my oven doesn't bake evenly), then knock it down to 375 degrees for 10 minutes, then slit the side and turn the oven off, prop open the door, and let them sit for 10 more minutes.

*note if you are making small puffs omit the step of lowering the oven temperature and cooking for 10 extra minutes and go straight from 425 to piercing with a knife (not a slit as they are smaller) the sides of the puff, turning off the oven, and propping door open.

I'm going to go ahead and admit to you right now that my oven and I aren't speaking today.  She really has no respect for the delicacies of French cooking.  When I find the patience to deal with her again she and I will have a long talk until we come to some kind of agreement on times and temperature.  Moral of the story, don't always trust the recipe.  Get to know your equipment and don't be afraid to experiment, if you don't get a perfect result the first time.

*additional note: My oven and I broke up.  I am now seeing a wonderful second hand but infinitely more agreeable oven.

You can eat these yummy morsels warm right from the pan and let the rest hang out on a cooling rack.  My insides were still a little wet so I made my slits a little bigger, basically cutting them through but leaving top attached to bottom, and put them back in the oven with it off and the door cracked over night.

I give myself a B- on these but I intend to practice with my finicky oven and with my choux paste a bit more with varying sizes and fillings.  I guess that means you have a Choux Part Deux post to look forward to.

The basic recipe is below but the formatting of Julia's recipes in Mastering the Art of French cooking is done in such a wonderful teaching style that I highly recommend picking it up.  You'll find hundreds of other valuable lessons therein.

For Cheese Puffs
1 cup water
3 Ounces (6 Tb or 3/4 stick) butter cut into pieces
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
4 eggs
1 cup (4 ounces) grated Swiss, or Swiss and Parmesan, cheese
beaten egg

1 1/2 -Quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan
Wooden spoon or wooden spatula
pastry bag with round tip or zip top bag
pastry brush or paint brush
2 buttered baking sheets or baking sheets covered with parchment paper

Bring water to boil with the butter and seasonings (salt and pepper) and boil slowly until the butter has melted.  Meanwhile measure out the flour.

Remove from heat and immediately pour in all the flour at once.  Beat vigorously with a wooden spatula or spoon for several seconds to blend thoroughly.  then beat over moderately high heat for 1 to 2 minutes until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and spoon, forms a mass, and begins to film the bottom of the pan.

Remove saucepan from heat and make a well in the center of the paste with your spoon.  Immediately break an egg into the center of the well.  Beat it into the paste for several seconds until it has absorbed.  Continue with the rest of the eggs, beating them in one by one.  The third and fourth eggs will be absorbed more slowly,  Beat for a moment more to be sure all is well blended and smooth.

Beat the cheese into the warm pâte à choux.  Correct seasoning.  Squeeze into circular mounds 1 inch in diameter and 1/2 inch high. Space 2 inches apart on baking sheet, paint with beaten egg and flatten the top slightly.  Bake in upper and lower thirds of preheated 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  The puffs are done when they have doubled in size, are golden brown, and firm and crusty to the touch.  Remove from the oven and pierce the side of each puff with a sharp knife.  Then set in the turned off oven and leave the door ajoar for 10 minutes.  Cool puffs on rack.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Puff the Magic Pancake

Snow days can be a glorious thing but they can also mean being stuck.  Many of us panic and head out the night before an anticipated cataclysmic event, such as a snow fall, to the grocery store for the standard snowpocalypse stock up on bread, eggs, and milk.  For my sister it meant being stuck with all three boys home from school when her oldest had oral surgery scheduled.  For me it meant being stuck with icy hills and a car that doesn't handle great even if the road hazard is a banana peel.  Because of our respective stuck-ness my nephews spent the night last night at the LAST MINUTE.  I cannot tell you how laid back and easy my middle nephew is which makes him the perfect house guest as long as you have Netflix or the Disney Channel.  My youngest nephew could use a full time activity manager.  When he spends the night alone I spend days scouting Pinterest and combing through the remains of my teacher stash in the basement in order to find enough to entertain, engage, and keep him busy.

I did not have that luxury.  I also didn't have the luxury of sleeping in this morning as he was tiptoeing into my bedroom before the sun rose with all the energy and focus of a howler monkey.  I spent the next three hours trying my best to keep him busy and quite so as not to wake his brother. This involved employing him to help me clean, really bad children's programming, and a fun experiment with bio-degradable packing peanuts.  All of that makes a kid hungry and he was finally ready for breakfast.  This was one thing I didn't have to plan.  He made it clear what he wanted the night before: Pancakes!

I don't keep mixes in my house, but I admit using a certain favorite pancake mix.  I haven't wanted or made pancakes in so long and money has been tight so there was no pancake mix in my house.  Thanks mom for the Betty Crocker Cook Book.  Flip to pancakes and there I see it.  Puffed Oven Pancake.  It shouted out to me from a memory.  My boyfriend's cousins enjoy this treat around Christmas time and since I saw a picture of it posted on her facebook profile I'd longed to make it myself but never got around to it.

When I saw how easy and, quite frankly, healthy it was I got fully on board and even managed to convince my very picky nephew that we were going to try something new today.  I think in his mind as long as it was a pancake he was going to be fine.  Even after seeing how simple the recipe was I still couldn't believe the simplicity of the process itself.  It's ease of preparation is directly inverse to it's wow factor. I mean, I literally don't even have to look at the recipe to share it with you.

2 Tb. Butter
3 Eggs
1/2 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup of Milk
1/4 tsp. Salt
Desired toppings

Hardware: 10 inch oven safe pan.  I used my trusty Cast Iron Skillet.

Put your butter in your your pan and place in oven pre-heated to 400 degree F.  As that melts, 3-5 minutes, crack your eggs and whisk them in a medium sized bowl until they are combined.  Dump the rest of the ingredients in there and whisk again until smooth.  At this point your butter should be melted.  Pull the rack your pan is on far enough out to access your pan to pour the mixture into it.  You have to do this as soon as you are done mixing, no standing with this batter.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Assemble your audience and prepare to amaze and astound as you bring it out of the oven.

While it is baking you can consider your toppings.  We went with what we had on hand, syrup and powdered sugar.  This is a hearty, protein rich, egg-ey pancake that would be delicious with warmed fruit preserves and freshly whipped cream.  My beau's cousin adorns their with Christmas colored sprinkles!  

To  adapt for individual pancakes omit the butter and spray custard cups (I'm going to say large cupcake cups might work too) with non stick spray.  Prepare your batter, divide among custard cups, Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes.

Viola!  An impressive breakfast or dessert that you can make with your standard snow day fare.and you don't even need BREAD!  But, the real test is do the nephs like it?  Tell me what YOU think (and ignore the pile of coats and scarves... They're gone now, I promise).

Sunday, August 26, 2012

My Crave: Salsa Fresca and Chips Con Chile and Limon

Lately I've been craving some snacks and dishes from my childhood and for me that means easy, quick, fresh Mexican creations.  While my ability to form memories was barely forming while my family lived and traveled throughout Mexico, the recipes my mother collected became a cornerstone of family meals and quick snacks throughout my lifetime.

The only fair thing to do when one is having a craving is do one's very best to pass the crave along.  To  that end, I'm going to share a couple of my favorite, quick, recipes with you.  Please forgive the lack of pictures but lately I've realized that my desire to have beautiful pictures on my blog posts conflicts directly with my inability to capture decent pictures while I'm chopping, stirring, and being fabulous in the kitchen.

The first snack I am going to share is insanely easy and really not a recipe at all, but that doesn't mean that your mind won't be blown by its perfect friendship of crunch, smokey spice, and tangy tartness.  Are you ready....

1.  Get some plain potato chips, you're favorite kind, but those really crunchy ones are GREAT and stand up well.  I'll admit, I don't really keep chips in my house so when I'm craving this I'll take whatever kind of plain potato chips I can get.  

2.  Cut a wedge of lime and squeeze it over the chips (now you see why those really thick super crunchy ones work so well).

3.  Flip the top on some chili powder and sprinkle liberally over the chips.

4.  Devour

Try this with popcorn too or take a trip to a Mexican grocery store and find a fun seasoning that has already united in holy and tasty matrimony the tangy and the zippy.  Look for anything that says something like "salsa con limon" or "chile con limon" or even... you'll love this "fruit seasoning" yes, this combo is amazing on fruit too!  Is that cray cray or what?  I usually use the brand Tajin but go with your heart. 

You're less likely to have this combo on hand but Citric Acid (vitamin C) and Chili powder can be thrown together in whatever proportions float your raft to keep on hand for cravings. 

Ok, let's move from crunch and spice to spice and lusciousness.  My mom's salsa fresca or pico de gallo is one of those things that seems to be at every family gathering, impromptu or formal.  It usually lasts about 5-10 minutes and is best enjoyed with some really great tortilla chips or any dang thing you want.  I realize I am apologizing a lot today but I don't have specific measurements for you, it would be against the spirit of the dish.  You throw this together out of a desperate attempt to keep your greedy family away from the carne while it finishes roasting.  You know how garlicy, oniony, or spicy you like your food.  Go ahead and boldly create. I'll give you guidelines to make about 3 cups of salsa.

Diced Tomatoes- This is your primary ingredient, what you  should have the most of.  Everything else works to make these better.  I can get about 2-3 cups of salsa if I have a couple pints of cherry or 4-5 roma or 3-4 large beefsteaks.

1 chopped medium or 1/2 large white onion.  If you don't like onions... I'd say get over it, but as an alternative to you changing your lifetime held onion prejudices you can try using dehydrated onions (not my favorite course of action) or grating about half the amount of onions called for.  You will get the necessary flavor components without getting a big bite of onion.

1/2-1 jalapeno minced as small as you can get them.  Go ahead and drag out that fancy food chopper thing you bought at the last in home appliance party.  You'll need it again for the....

2-4 cloves garlic minced.  I like garlic.  I don't understand that it's possible to have too much.  If you aren't using your food chopper try this method:

Roughly chop your garlic with a large chef's knife (buck up camper, YouTube some videos on knife handling and PUT DOWN THE PARING KNIFE).  Pour some (preferably) kosher salt over your little mound of garlic and chop some more.  Let it get messy while you teeter totter the knife back and forth through the garlic. Lay your knife flat and while putting pressure on the blade of the knife press and drag the garlic to turn it into a paste.      

This video might help. In fact, you could have just ignored this whole paragraph and watched the video, but I guess it's too late for that. 
Fresh Cilantro roughly chopped.  Bundle that bunch of cilantro up into a tight little ball and chop away.

Juice of 1/2-1 lime.  A lemon will do in a pinch.

Salt and Pepper to taste

Throw all of that into a bowl and TRY with all of your might to let that refrigerate, and I only say refrigerate because it will be out of site and therefore less of a temptation, for at least 30 minutes. 

Once you taste the magic of this recipe don't feel like it's sacrilege to play with the ingredients.  Throw some cucumbers or black beans or avocado in there.

You might not catch the crave that I have for these childhood food memories but with these two recipes/methods you have some tools that you can twist up and use in as many different ways as you can think of.  Throw that lime and chili powder on some popcorn, you won't regret it.

Love and Deliciousness to all!  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

G&W Bavarian Style Sausage Company

Groupon has become a sort of addiction for Gene (my beau) and I. To say that the money savings isn't a motivating factor would be a lie, but it also encourages us to try new places and trying new places is a bit of a hobby for me. After all, what would I write about otherwise.

One of the Groupons that we purchased a while ago was for G&W Bavarian Sausage Company. I had a faint recollection of my mom going on and on about this little sausage shop in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis and thought maybe this was the place. Indeed it was the very same shop, although, more accurately its in the Tower Grove neighborhood. G&W isn't a restaurant or deli counter but more of a butcher shop, a rather busy butcher shop, known, of course for their sausage. As a matter of fact their motto is "You can't beat our meat". Let me just give you a minute to get all the naughty jokes out of your system..... ready? A bit more? OK, one more moment.

Alright moving on. The first impression you have of this place is that its relatively small with an odd parking situation. Basically you park where you can find space across the side street the shop is located on. The second thing that hits you is the large 3D one horned bull head that greets you above the door. Let's go ahead and say these people claim to be great at sausage, not iconography. Gene and I made our decision to visit G&W on a Saturday when an errand of his took us into the general area. This errand also happened to require us to take his Un-air-conditioned truck. Needless to say, I was HOT and in a hurry to get inside so I didn't take much time to ponder the one horned bull.

There is a little bakery in my home town, maybe you have heard of it, Kruta. It has a reputation of being particularly crowded on Saturday's. You take a number as you enter then chat with the locals, peruse the cases filled with creamy, crumbly confections, and pray you haven't gotten there too late to get your favorite pastry. On any given Saturday the counter is ten deep all the way down its 15 foot counter. Entering G&W is like entering that bakery but with twice as many people and half the space. WHOA! I took a number, 92. They were serving 77. Not bad, several people behind the counter, should move quickly. 5 minutes later, "serving 77". Huh? Then I noticed the sign "Please be patient and take a number, we're worth the wait". OK, I can deal with this. They take their time with each customer and I have to respect that.

Then I noticed something else you never see at the little home town bakery, or well, ANYWHERE. I saw people walking around with cans of Busch Beer. Check my watch, slightly after noon. Are people anticipating the wait and bringing in their own beer? Then I heard it "Need a Beer?" Need a what? Folks behind the counters were handing out cold beers to the customers waiting. I began to think that perhaps people intentionally came here when it was busy just so they would get a free beer. You could tell some of the patrons were regulars as they would slide behind the counter to grab their beer and chat with the staff.

This would be a great time to mention that one of the staff members is a guy with a heavy German/Austrian/Bavarian? accent whose wife worked their for years until she passed away. He just shows up on Saturdays to help out. Did we all get sucked into a vortex and end up in a fantasized Brighten Beach... where's Jonathan Silverman? The rest of the staff is made up of several hurried, cheerful men and women, girls, and a cute little college aged boy I swear I knew from somewhere. They scurry back and forth grabbing sausages (OK another moment), wrapping and ringing up orders, and ducking into the back where large sausage making mechanisms are visible. Busy Bee's every one of them.

The store itself is lined with cases of their famous sausage, lunch meats, raw cuts of various parts of animals, including liver. The tops of the cases are arranged with gift packs, a basket with what used to be Gus' pretzels, samples of their beef sticks, butcher paper, and scales. The shelves directly opposite house various German centric candies and pantry items. The customers are a mix of trendy women who desire to be in the know of the quaint little neighborhood places (hi mom), old German women shopping for "tin" liver (that's 'thin' for those who need translating), and hot sweaty people who came in for the free beer or the Groupon.

Gene and I both maxed out and surpassed the value of our Groupon loading up on specialty sausages and brats. I should say he loaded up on brats while I loaded up on specialty sausage: Chorizo, polish, hot links, Hungarian, andouille, salsiccia, and on and on. We exited with our crisp white butcher paper bundles and hurried to the nearest Walgreen's to buy ice. Remember the HOT day and the no air conditioning? We weren't taking any chances with our new prizes!

So, now you want to know how it tastes. Does it live up to the hype? Were they, indeed, worth the wait? While we haven't had an opportunity to try all of the variety we purchased we've cooked up a couple different types. The first we tried was the salsiccia. This is an Italian sausage that is typically a pork sausage and spiced according to the region of Italy they call home. This particular salsiccia was of the southern variety and spiced primarily with fennel. We used them to cook up some sausage and peppers on hoagie rolls. I abandoned my hoagie roll and peppers to fill my belly with the comforting, fennel-ly, juiciness of the salsiccia. I expected it to be spicier or sweeter but it had a real savory quality to it and it didn't loose any of its moisture in the cooking process. This might be a good place to mention that most of their meats are fully cooked before selling which take a bit of the paranoia out of the prep process for me. We also sampled the Hungarian brat in a red pepper penne dish. Their Hungarian brats are spiced with paprika and garlic. It was a satisfying, meaty, juicy treat.

Both Gene and I thought the taste of the sausage was indeed worth the wait, the trip, the purchase of a bag of ice and a new cooler, the heat, the crowd. But given all of that, the quality and taste of the sausage really feel like the icing on the cake here. I would never consider placing an order for shipping, which they do offer by the way, because half the worth is the store itself. The people, the process, the location, the history, its all part of the package, encased in a tiny off the main road store with a one horned bull on the front.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Devour your passion

There are some of us whose lives are consumed with the Food Network, Bon Appetite Magazine, rooms full of coookbooks, and who plan entire days around a trip to a favorite grocery store. In recent years this trend has boomed. The word for people like us is "foodie". Its such an innocent little word but what does it mean?

To me, it has nothing to do with ability or education. We could break this down by simply saying that we are food geeks. You know what a geek is right? That guy at work with absolutely no social skills but is intimately knowledgeable with the fictional story time line of Star Trek. Or that dude on the History Channel who can't even put on a bow tie straight or comb his hair for a nationally televised documentary, who gets absolutely giddy when when given the opportunity to share his knowledge on the Spanish Inquisition. Then there are the unwashed, pale masses, equipped with camel backs so as not to be bothered to leave the gaming table to get a drink of water, who only see daylight to spend hours upon hours playing with tiny figurines they have painstakingly, and with the detailed precision of a NASA shuttle, created.

Yep, if you are a foodie you, my friend, are among these social anomalies. The idea of finding black garlic gives you a tummy churning feeling akin to the first blush of love. The opportunity to dine at a restaurant that Bobby Flay or Emeril once walked past has you knocking poor tourists to the ground in order to get your name on the reservation book. The perfectly poached egg is a virtual Poncho Via quest for you. Who has the best pizza, steak, perfectly al dente pasta, french fries (do they double fry them, do they use duck fat, grey sea salt?). Where can I get my taste buds on some Beluga caviar - not in the U.S. anymore thanks to its source being considered an endangered species, see -- who else would know that?!?!?

Does your bucket list have things on it like being a judge on Iron Chef America, meeting Alton Brown, or grilling with Bobby Flay? How many different kinds of salt, honey, vinegar, olive oils, do you have in your pantry? Do you know what Quinoa is? Do YOU? If you do you are either a foodie or have a gluten intolerance. Did you chose to debut your version of one of Julia Child's most famous dishes for YOUR birthday for 20 of your closest friends?

I am here to tell you that you are not alone. I am here with you as are thousands of others. It is time to embrace your foodie status, neigh your FOOD GEEK status. Be not shameful of your collection of cookbooks that threatens the support beams of your home. Stand tall and proud with your "Kiss the Cook" apron and grasp your le creuset Dutch oven (its good bicep exercise after all)! Fly high your flour sack towel flag. We are loud and proud. We are here and hungry!