Archive | November, 2011

The Thanksgiving Banquet: A Melting Pot of Traditions, Cultures and Food

23 Nov

From sweet potato gnocchi to pumpkin pie, everyone has their own special way to celebrate Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s a game of football, a favorite parade, fighting over the wishbone, or donating to a local food bank.

Times have changed since pilgrims and Native Americans observed the initial Plymouth Thanksgiving in 1621. Today our feasts rarely resemble that first meal of wild turkey and venison, cod, Indian corn, eel, acorns, wild yarrow and liverwort. I must admit, that menu does not sound very appealing.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. As Americans, we bring our cultural influences to this grand celebratory meal. Some of us will gather before a traditional meal of turkey, dressing and squash. Others will add ethnic dishes and ingredients that reflect longstanding family recipes. And why not? This is a time to honor everything and every one of us that makes our country great.

As a nation of immigrants, Thanksgiving can be a holiday inspired by sharing in another’s food traditions. Like the melting potAmericahas become, so has our Thanksgiving banquet. In addition to traditional Thanksgiving fare, many tables feature the foods of cultures that have come to our shores. These side dishes pay homage to our homelands, and add familiarity and comfort to the meal.

There is no “one right” Thanksgiving celebration or food. Add whatever twist makes the meal truly yours. Including one dish that reflects your family background might become a tradition itself!

When I was growing up inReese,Mich., my family celebrated Thanksgiving with my Aunt Lydie’s family, my mother’s sister.  My mother came from a much larger family, however, 12 to 14 people was all that fit around our dining room table. That was a perfect combination of families — mom’s and Aunt Lydie’s.  Mom and Aunt Lydie alternated being the hostess – with the hostess preparing the entire meal. I always loved to go to Aunt Lydie’s for Thanksgiving because she added homemade donuts to the traditional meal I described last week.

I can still see the serving dishes that Mom used for the turkey, dressing and other menu items. I hold a fond memory of one dish in particular. Mom served the mashed potatoes in the dish that my younger brother Raymond was baptized in. All three of us children were baptized by the pastor in our home. I was 10-years-old when my baby brother was born. I remember Mom placing the “mashed potato” bowl and a fancy handkerchief out on the table, which was adorned with an equally fancy tablecloth. The bowl held the water for the baptismal ceremony.  I wonder if my brother knows that story. I will have to tell him when I see him next.

My sister Edna and I helped Mom prepare the Thanksgiving dinner when our family hosted. We made everything from scratch – many items coming from our garden. They were either stored in our cellar or preserved by canning. My mom was a great cook and my sister Edna still is. I give my mom credit for my skills. She’s the one who started me on my path of love for cooking and baking.

There is no better way to create joy and a renewed sense of hope than through gathering with loved ones around a table of comforting food.  I’d love to hear your special Thanksgiving memories, and the new holiday traditions you’re creating. Today my children and their children (and their children) are creating a new collection of stories for future generations to tell.

At nearly 90 years, I’ve learned that the best thing I can create in the kitchen is a memory.

Auf Wiedersehen – until I see you next week!

Thanksgiving: Simple Food, Abundant Thanks

16 Nov

Thanksgiving can mean one of two things for a hostess — a time spent with family and friends giving thanks for life’s many blessings; or the culinary Olympics. Trying to do too much in the kitchen can be your downfall. I’ve cooked my share of Thanksgiving meals in my nearly 90 years and I can offer only one suggestion – simplify. You can provide your guests a memorable meal without creating stress.

Today, I’d like to focus on those men and women taking their first turn playing host or hostess. These people need nurturing and confidence. And, perhaps, a few store-bought items safely hidden in the back of the refrigerator “just in case.”

Start by asking yourself a few simple questions. First evaluate your skills. Are you a Julia Child or do you burn toast? Are you hosting a small family or the Michigan State football team? Do you like experimenting with new foods and recipes? Are you expecting picky eaters? Does anyone have food restrictions? How much time are you really willing to spend shopping, prepping and cooking? Answering these questions honestly will be your first step toward success.

They’ll be plenty of time to exercise your culinary mastery in the years to come. For novices, the best menu includes simple, recognizable foods that most everyone enjoys. Don’t get in over your head by offering dozens of side dishes, too many courses, items that have to be finished at the last minute, or anything that comes to the table flaming. If offered help, accept! Allow guests to bring an appetizer or dessert. Allow your sister-in-law or nephew to help in the kitchen. People remember the day not by how many types of chutney you made from scratch, but by the fun they  had. If you are stressed out, your guests will pick up on that. The best host/hostess is one who goes with the flow, who moves with ease, and who takes whatever mishaps occur with laughter and grace.

For delicious, traditional Thanksgiving fare, you can’t beat the Bavarian Inn Restaurant. You can recreate many of our dishes at home easily and without fuss — roasted whole turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, cole slaw, and apple or pumpkin pie. A recipe for our famous cranberry relish can be found in my book, “Come Cook With Me.” Bavarian Inn noodles, which we serve in place of sweet potatoes, can be purchased in our Bake Shop and on online. (I like to make dressing instead of stuffing:  Stuffing the turkey adds one hour to the roasting time.)

Preparation is the key to success. Starting early will help reduce stress and ensure everything gets done on time. I prepare all my dressing ingredients the day before, refrigerate overnight, and mix and bake right before supper. Similarly, cole slaw ingredients can be prepared the day before and mixed an hour before serving. You can peel your potatoes ahead, cover with water and place in the refrigerator. If you like to make your own bread, do so two days before your dinner. Same with your cooked cranberries.

I like to bake my pies the day ofthe party. There’s nothing better than fresh baked apple and pumpkin pie.

The Bird

It’s not difficult to make a moist turkey. Remember, frozen turkeys must be thawed in the refrigerator to avoid food-borne illness. Refer to your bird’s instructions on proper thawing methods. I rinse the turkey inside and out, pat dry, and salt and pepper. Then I place it in my roasting pan, and add about one-half cup water, onion and celery to the bottom of the pan. This is the beginning of a good gravy. Roast the fully thawed turkey at 350 degrees and baste four to five times with the drippings in the pan. If the skin begins to brown too quickly, loosely cover – don’t seal – with aluminum foil. Using a meat thermometer, roast the meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, remove the bird from the oven and let it  rest for at least one-half hour. Remember, the meat continues to cook while resting. The total time of roasting depends on the weight of the turkey. A 12- to 16-pound unstuffed bird can take up to five hours to roast.  Let the meat thermometer be the final judge.

For the gravy, use all the drippings in the pan, scraping off the crusted-on particles. They are the best! If you do not have enough liquid, you can add chicken broth. One year I was quite short on liquid, so I added the butcher string – the string I trussed my turkey with — to the drippings. I also added some extra water, and while cooking, those baked-on drippings fell off the string. That was the best gravy I ever made. My children still ask if we are having “string” gravy today. Some things you never live down.

One final suggestion: Take an inventory of your hardware. Do you have the right serving dishes, utensils, warmers, place settings, trivets and the like? I set out all my serving dishes with their corresponding utensil a dayor two ahead, and put a post-it note on the dish telling me its purpose. The covered dish, “potatoes;” grandmother’s cut-glass bowl, “cranberry relish.”

No one will have higherexpectations for you than you will have for yourself. There is nothing catastrophic about overdone rolls or forgetting the salad dressing. You’ll look back at those at fond memories when you become a top chef.  Until then, have fun. And enjoy yourself.

No one at the first Thanksgiving worried about falling soufflés or dried-out turkey. They were merely thanking God to be alive and free. We can all take a lesson from that.

Auf Wiedersehen – until I see you next week!

Pork: A Lean, Healthy Protein

9 Nov

This week I’m dedicating another blog post to pork.  As you may know, I grewup on a farm.  My father raised both cows and pigs.  At any one time, our pigpen housed four or five pigs.  We would get the little piggies in the spring, raise them throughout the summer and butcher them in the fall.  One of my jobs was to feed and water the pigs daily.  Their dinner was “mash;” ground corn mixed with water.  After mixing the mash I would spread it in the pig trough.  Then I gave the pigs water in a cut down wooden barrel.

After butchering day, my mother, sister, and I would make Fried Down Pork.  On the first day we salted the meat and on the next we pan-fried the pork until it was well done.  My mother wore a pair of old socks on her hands and arms to protect them from the splattering fat as the pork fried.  The meat was then stored in a large crock alternately layered with pork and lard until the crock was full.  There were no freezers at that time — that was the best method we had to preserve the meat.  We simply placed the crock in the cellar and the meat would last all year.

How times have changed!

As a young wife and mother, I was blessed to have children who weren’t picky eaters.  They ate a variety of pork dishes I prepared for them.  Their favorite was simply pork roast with mashed potatoes and good pork gravy.  In our Castle Shops and online at Bavarian Inn we sell “Grandpa Zehnder’s Bavarian Pork” seasoning – a key ingredient in making some of my favorite pork dishes.

The kids’ next favorite recipe was Boiled Pork Dinner.  Pork hocks – a cut of pork located around the ankle join of the pig — were boiled with carrots, potatoes, cabbage and onion, each one simmering just the right amount of time as not to become overcooked and mushy.  For color, I added green peas at the end.  And, of course, I used Bavarian Inn All Purpose Seasoning.  That’s what I made for my children.

Unfortunately, there are still many misconceptions about cooking pork.  I say, “Get with the times.”

The risk of getting a disease from pork is virtually nonexistent thanks to modern safety standards.  Cook pork to an internal temperature of 160° F using an instant-read thermometer.  Because today’s pork is so lean, it’s important not to overcook it.  Remember, as with all meat, pork must rest after roasting as it will continue to cook.  Cutting into the roast too soon will allow all the moisture to release prematurely.

The other misconception about pork is its fat content.  Back in the late ‘80s, we started hearing “Pork:  The Other White Meat.”  Today’s common cuts of pork are significantly leaner than they were 20 years ago and are among the leanest meats available.  In fact, pork tenderloin is just as lean as a skinless chicken breast.  For the leanest pork cuts, look for the word loin in the name, such as pork tenderloin or loin chops.  Ham, fresh or cured, is also a lean choice.  As a lean protein option, pork can be part of a heart-healthy diet.  Try my recipe for pork veggie stir-fry (pg. 121 in my cookbook, “Come Cook With Me”).  Because the cooking time is so short, the pork stays moist and the vegetables keep the dish juicy.

Less fat doesn’t mean less flavor.  I suggest dry rubs and marinades as a way to infuse more flavor into lean pork.  Also try different cooking methods like grilling or roasting.  I like to roast my meat with liquid at the bottom of the pan, placing the meat on a screen.  The moisture helps to preserve the meat’s juices. When frying meat in a pan, fry pork slowly on medium heat.  Combining pork with other moist ingredients into a casserole is also good.  See my pork chop casserole with ginger and rosemary on page 119 of my cookbook.

Pork is a great value, especially if you catch it on sale.  Experiment with the many varieties of pork cuts and talk with your butcher for suggestions.  I predict that pork will become a favorite staple in your kitchen as well.

Auf Wiedersehen – until I see you next week!

Pork: A Tasty German Tradition

3 Nov

Pork is a staple in the German kitchen.  It is so popular in fact that I’ll be writing about it this week and next.

The flavor of pork is undeniably unique:  there’s nothing else like it.  Depending on how it is prepared, pork can taste salty, smoky, peppery or delicately mild and sweet.  Pork can be served not only as a main dish; it is often used in the preparation of other foods, such as vegetables, sauces, dressings and other meats.  I use cured pork – ham or bacon – in my creamed corn, sauerkraut, warm German potato salad, spinach salad with warm bacon dressing, and in soups and stews.  It gives each dish a nice rich consistency and helps pull all of the flavors together.

A small amount of pork is all you  need to complete a dish – using too much can overpower the recipe.  When using smoked pork, be mindful of adding additional salt, as the meat will be naturally salty.  Be sure to taste your dish along the way to avoid over seasoning.

There are many cuts of pork and I like them all.  A favorite of mine is barbeque pork chops.  There was a famous restaurant in Mt. Pleasant that made barbeque pork chops and I tweaked that recipe to create my own by adding different ingredients.

I have several pork recipes in my book, “Come Cook With Me.” Among my favorites: Apple-berry pork chops, gingered pork tenderloin and the best barbecued ribs – ever.  Some of the most popular dishes at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant – other than our world-famous chicken – feature pork.  Our customers love the Hunter’s Schnitzel, a tenderloin of pork lightly breaded in seasoned breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese and then topped with a flavorful mushroom cream sauce.  To make a real traditional German meal, I like to serve pork schnitzel with noodles, blue cabbage and applesauce (pgs. 64 and 41 of my book).  When my children were still home, I made pork schnitzel with spaghetti topped with marinara sauce.  There’s virtually no end to what you can do with pork.

At Bavarian Inn, we also make all of our own sausages on site in our Metzgerei (butcher shop).  That includes our bratwurst (pork sausage), and knockwurst (beef and pork sausage) and a variety of other smoked meats.  My late husband Tiny developed all of the sausage recipes and the meat processing methods.

Making sausages is an old Frankenmuth custom.  When a hog was slaughtered, a “Schlachtfest” — sausage making festival — was held to celebrate the feast.  My father-in-law, William Zehnder Sr., kept the tradition alive in our family.  Because he worked in the court system, William would host his Schlachtfest on either Washington’s or Lincoln’s Birthday because the courthouse was closed. After William passed, my husband Tiny continued the ceremony until his death.

At the restaurant, the bratwurst are fully smoked and cooked.  To serve them, we simply heat them gently in water and then “score” them on a grill. Then we slide them into homemade buns made in our bakery, and top themwith BBQ sauce, sauerkraut, (both made in our kitchen) and our house mustard.  Mm Mm Good!  There is no better bratwurst than that.

Now I’ve made myself hungry!

Auf Wiedersehen – until I see you next week!