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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!

And Things That Go Bump in the Night

26 Oct

Let me just start by saying I’m not a fan of scary things. I don’t like horror movies, fake blood or the darker side of magic.  Just like Scooby Do, “I
don’t go anywhere with ‘spooky,’ ‘haunted,’ or ‘forbidden’ in the title.”

So while you won’t find me at haunted houses or corn mazes this Halloween, I do like to have fun.

My children and grandchildren, and now great grandchildren, ask me what Halloween was like when I was a girl.  The answer is simple, we did not have Halloween.  The celebration of Halloween as we know it today here in the U.S. — dressing in costumes, trick-or-treating and children’s parties – didn’t start in earnest until the late 1940’s and early ‘50s.  Much before that sugar wasn’t available because it was rationed as the result of World War II.  And we all know how important sugar is to Halloween.

By the time my children, Judy and Bill and Roxie, were school aged Halloween was a full-blown institution and a very big deal in our home.  Our kids took it very seriously.  It wasn’t unusual for them to change costume ideas four or five times right up to the big night.  Then Judy would change her mind once more.  I guess it is a woman’s prerogative.

Judy would drag Bill, who was quite small at the time, up and down Main Street; she didn’t want to miss a thing.  Tiny and I would take turns handing out treats, oohing and aahing over the children’s costumes and trying to guess their names.  Back then we knew all the kids in the neighborhood.  We always decorated the house – I still do.  And our poor dog would bark all night long – every time someone yelled “Trick-or-Treat” or rang the bell.

At the end of the night poor Bill would come home sweaty and exhausted, but with a bag full of candy.  The cousins would come to our house last on their route, and we’d all visit.

The custom of trick-or-treating was very different back then.  Homemade costumes and homemade treats were commonplace. One of our neighbors made delicious fudge for the children.  I handed out little bags of store-bought candy and included popcorn balls that I made in my kitchen.  My popcorn balls were very simple:  a little corn syrup, some margarine, a few cups of popped popcorn and voila – they were done. Today I’ve seen all types of gourmet popcorn  balls – made with caramel, fruit-flavored gelatin, small candies, chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, peanut butter, nuts and even pretzels.  Ours weren’t fancy, but they were good.

Now most of my celebrating is done at the restaurant.  We host a lovely party for the community and our team members on Oct. 27th .    That way children can still trick-or-treat in their own neighborhoods and adults can pass out candy on Halloween night.  About 300 people typically join us, most dressed in costumes.  We have a parade and games for the children, and we also hand out treats.  It is so nice for us to have an opportunity to meet our team members’ families. Every year we have a very special time.

Even though much of my family is fully grown, I still like to make a few sweets from scratch for Halloween.  There are several recipes in my book, “Come Cook With Me” for tasty treats – especially cookies and bars.

Try Grandma’s Apple-Nut Squares.  My mother baked them in the fall when Northern Spy apples were in season.  My kids liked Salted Peanut Chews made with Rice Krispies and salted peanuts.

Even though I no longer hand out homemade goodies on Halloween, I have special people in my life I like to spoil.  And it helps to conjure those great Halloween memories I had with Tiny and the kids.

Auf Wiedersehen – until I see you next week!

Michigan, My Michigan!

19 Oct

This week’s blog is all about Pure Michigan; my home state.  Fall is my absolute favorite season in Michigan.  I love everything about it:  the crisp weather, changing colors, mums and most of all harvest time.

Agriculture is the state’s second-largest industry.  Buying Michigan-made products really helps our state’s economy.

Bavarian Inn purchases many Michigan products because everything produced in our state is on par or superior to what you’ll find around the world.

Recently, we held a “Pure Michigan Dinner” at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant in Frankenmuth.  We featured farms, fisheries, wineries and breweries from more than a dozen Michigan cities and waterways and everyone had just a ball.  It’s not unusual for us to highlight the state’s premier food and beverage artisans.  In fact, Bavarian Inn uses more “Pure  Michigan” products than any one restaurant in the country, including the items we manufacture and sells in our shops and online.

My son Bill searches the state to find the best of the best – produce, wine and beer, cheese, meat and dry goods.  He believes one needn’t travel far for an extraordinary culinary experience. We have capable farmers and food growers all
through our state.

Many of the foods harvested this  month and next are associated with the holidays and conjure great childhood  memories.  On the farm where I grew up,  our fall kitchen and cellar was overflowing with zucchini, greens, root
vegetables and — of course — apples.  There was plenty of good food and plenty of hard work when the crops came in.  Mother taught us how to preserve the harvest through canning and freezing – even drying.  And every home back then had a root cellar for cool storage.  A cellar is an invaluable addition to the kitchen, extending the life of produce for months in northern climates like Michigan.  I hear they’re even making a come-back.

Nearly all produce holds up well to a variety of storage techniques.  Try pickling and making chutneys and salsas.  There are hundreds of blogs dedicated to canning and preserving food.  Younger people are coming up with all types of new relishes and sauces using only Michigan produce – including herbs.  Life in the kitchen these days is much more exciting than just strawberry jam and apple butter.

I have several recipes in “Come Cook with Me” dedicated to Pure Michigan products that are harvested in the fall.  Blue Hubbard squash arrives at the restaurant during the third week of September and we serve it through December.  Then it’s off the menu in January.  I have a number of really good squash recipes in my book.

Applesauce and Creamy Cucumber salads – two of our most popular items at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant – are also  seasonal.  Buying locally means serving items only at their height of freshness.

Food bought locally can translate into some terrific dishes, economic prosperity and wonderful lasting memories for your families.

Auf Wiedersehen – until I see you next week!

Baking: I Love Mondays

14 Oct

Welcome back to my blog; I hope you enjoyed my post on Michigan apples and that you tried some special dishes for your family.  All of my favorite recipes can be found in my book, “Come Cook With Me,” available at the Bavarian Inn Bakery and online through the Bavarian Inn website (www.bavarianinn.com).

This week I want to  talk about baking.  Those who know me  know I’m passionate about baking.  Even  in my home, you’ll likely find me in the kitchen preparing dough for  something.  Mondays are my one day off a  week and I like to make it special by spending the time baking with my children  and grandchildren (and now, even great-grandchildren).  After we’re done baking we share our goodies  with the rest of the family.

By  mid-afternoon on a Monday, we’re delivering doughnuts or cookies or cakes to wild applause.  Who wouldn’t welcome a pan of orange rolls or Baby Ruth bars as a special pick-me-up?  This has become quite a tradition in our family, so much so that when our baking day gets cancelled, I receive calls asking if my oven is broken.

Everyone has special memories of their Mondays with me.  It’s when I can really spend time focusing on each child – away from the restaurant.  If there’s one thing I stress about being a parent, it’s setting aside quality time for the children.  At the same time, I taught my family how to bake.  It is a skill we’ve handed down; we now have four generations of bakers in the kitchen.

I believe baking is  becoming a lost art.  Buying delicious  breads and pastries is very easy now – even seven days a week.  As a girl we didn’t have superstores open  around the clock with in-house bakers and cake makers.  All of our baked items – rolls, cookies and birthday  cakes – came right out of mom’s oven.  Store-bought bread is a nice convenience for busy families, as are frozen  or refrigerated items like pie crust and cookie dough.  Even good box mixes for cakes and brownies  are helpful timesavers.  But I believe nothing compares to items made from scratch.

I love using yeast and  watching it work.  You needn’t be intimidated by yeast, though I know a lot of people are.  It is not mysterious or complicated.  Consider yeast among your best friends.  It is merely a leavening agent that causes  dough to rise.  Potatoes, eggs and sugar  accelerate its growth.  Only two things can kill yeast, salt and heat; be mindful of the temperature of your water and other ingredients or adding too much salt.  And make sure that there’s a bit of sugar in the bowl before adding the flour for the yeast to feed on.

Knead dough just long enough for it to be cohesive and elastic, about 10 minutes.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap in an oiled or buttered bowl to prevent a skin from forming.  It will generally take one to two hours for it to double in bulk.  To check for readiness, poke it gently with a finger; if the impression remains in the dough is good to go.  I don’t punch my dough — that way air stays in and the second raising doesn’t take so long. When your dough is swollen and has a spongy feel, you’re ready to put it in a preheated open.  Toothpick tests don’t work for breads.  To check for doneness, tap the tops of loaves with a wooden spoon or your finger. A hollow sound means the bread is done; a dull thud means that the bread is moist inside and requires more baking.

Cool your loaf on a rack out of the pan.  And while it is hard to resist, let the bread rest before cutting with a sharp serrated knife.

Baking takes practice, practice, practice.  Try experimenting with everything:  pans, parchment, temperatures, times, techniques, shortenings, fillings, flavors, freezing, mixers, utensils – even humidity and altitude. Soon, you’ll be an expert with your own secrets to pass to the next
generation of bakers in your family.

Auf Wiedersehen – until I see you next week!

October is Apple-palooza at Bavarian Inn Restaurant

7 Oct

Welcome to my  blog.  Every week, I’ll share some of my  favorite stories and recipes from my life at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant.  This week is all about apples.

I love apples!  Here at the Bavarian Inn we use 1,500 bushels  a year – all grown in the state of Michigan.  And why not, we have the best apples in the world.  That’s why I use them in all  types of recipes – main dishes and side dishes, breakfast items, salads and of  course, desserts.

Growing up on the farm I don’t remember too many meals without apples.  I guess I believe the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”  Maybe that’s why I’ll be  celebrating my 90th birthday in December, and still working in the  restaurant 60-hours a week.  That should be a strong testimonial to the benefit of apples for sure.

Good apples are  available throughout the year, not just in the fall, especially if you freeze  them or make preserves.  But you can’t  deny the special experience of visiting one of the state’s apple orchards this  month and next.  Fresh-pressed cider and cinnamon donuts are to autumn what pumpkin pie is to Thanksgiving.  We are blessed to live in an agricultural  area so rich with exceptional produce.  There are some 900 apple farms occupying 37,000 acres of orchards in Michigan – you simply can’t go too far without bumping into one on your travels.

I use a variety of  apples in my dishes.  Each one offers a  unique flavor and texture – some more sweet, some best for pies, and a mixture for apple sauce.  Even apple juices and ciders vary in taste and consistency.  I encourage you to experiment with a wide range of types and find the ones you like best.

To me, the Northern Spy apple is the best.  While they’re not as prevalent as they used to be, they are worth the search.  The Spy is a very old-fashioned American variety that is picked in late October, used through the winter months and keeps in cold storage well into spring.  It is an overall perfect apple – good for cooking, juicing, and eating straight off the tree.

The Northern Spy – sometimes called the Northern Pie or Pie Apple because of its popularity in apple pies – has a green skin, flushed with red stripes. The white flesh is juicy and harder than most varieties and its flavor is more tart than many.  If Northern Spy apples aren’t available in your area, I recommend McIntosh, Granny Smith or Jonathan.

When shopping for apples, I look for a fruit that’s firm for its variety, without bruises and with a shiny skin.  Since apples quickly lose their crispness at room temperature, I suggest refrigerating apples before use.  To keep apples from turning brown during slicing, I recommend dunking each peeled slice in a mixture of three-parts water, one-part lemon juice.  Here’s one of my secrets:  I put the apple slices in lemon-lime soda (Sierra Mist/Slice) if I’m out of fresh lemons.  Finally, use a combination of sweet and tart apples in recipes to find the best, balanced flavor.

A story on apples wouldn’t be complete without a word about pie crust.  The apples make the pie delicious, but the crust is what makes it memorable.   We’re lucky in Frankenmuth to have the best flour available locally from Star of the West Milling Company.  I use their Nightingale Pastry Flour; it’s low gluten pastry and pie flour from winter wheat and is also available in the Bavarian Inn’s Castle Shops.

Like everything else at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, our pie crust is made from scratch.  I’ve even convinced my children and grandchildren that home-made crust is worth it.  It takes only one-half hour to make pie crust:  I recommend making in bulk and freezing.  Use a light hand, don’t overmix and don’t use  bread flour.  And do use lard.  Remember, I’ve been eating these pies my  whole life and I’ll be 90 in two months.

A recipe for the perfect pie crust and other delicious apple recipes can be found in my book, “Come Cook With Me,” available at the Bavarian Inn Bakery and online through the Bavarian Inn website (www.bavarianinn.com).

Auf Wiedersehen – until I see you next week!