Friday, October 23, 2015

The Sauerbraten Tradition

Leaf-turning-pumpkin-mums-hot cider season. October. Thirty-one days of color culminating in an eve of children wandering in the dark in eccentric clothing begging for white sugar.

Love it.

For as long as I can remember, October was sauerbraten season. My father (not exactly Italian!) had sauerbraten on his October birthday since childhood. Great-Grandma Schmidt and Great Aunt Elsie and Great Aunt Helen were always at the helm of this birthday dinner. I do have one of those tug-at-your-heart-holiday tales regarding sauerbraten and my two great aunts carrying a sauerbraten roast, gravy, red cabbage, dumplings and the requisite pitcher of Manhattans on two subways and a bus (from the Bronx to Queens) during a particularly difficult New Year's Eve. Their intent was to nourish body and soul. It was a spirit-saver. The post is here: My Three Magi. There's also a simpler version of sauerbraten there as I hadn't found my mother's yet.

My father passed five years ago. Nobody had the heart to make the sauerbraten for a while. And then my mother joined my father and the sauerbraten meal remained in the past. Until this year. It was time to revive happy celebrations.

My sister brought me the sauerbraten roaster that my mother used for ... let's just kindly say - decades. And I have her metal potato ricer - equally as old. I like tradition. I like playing with new but never, ever discarding the old. And that makes me fortunate because my "old" is filled with loving memory. And I loved, loved having the sauerbraten in that little blue roaster in my oven.

This is one of those things where almost all the work is done ahead of time (chorus of happy singing just started) and the work on the day of the meal (including the gravy) couldn't be easier.  So there's this ingredient list - looks long. It is long - but it's water and two types of vinegar and things like salt and sugar - nothing you need to go find at a specialty store.

And then - you get this. Tender. Warm. Autumn. October. Good.

Marinade and Meat (serves 4, easily doubled)
This is basically my great-grandmother's recipe. The addition of juniper berries and mustard seeds came from Alton Brown and I thought it was fun. I also happened to have juniper berries in my spice closet. Don't go crazy trying to find them. They are easily omitted.

3-1/2 - 4 pound *top round roast
*About the roast? You want a decent roast - certainly not a tenderloin - but not grizzly and fatty (I did trim) and you want a low roast. The sirloin tip roasts I looked at were way too tall. This should be a long, low roast. It soaks in the marinade better. Even my low roast had to be turned daily as it was not completely covered.

Marinade Ingredients - here we go!
2 cups water
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 medium onion - chopped
1 large carrot - chopped
1 tablespoon Kosher salt and 1 teaspoon Kosher salt for seasoning meat
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 bay leaves
6 whole cloves
 12 juniper berries (can omit)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (can omit)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Before cooking:
1/3 cup sugar

For gravy:
18 gingersnap cookies - crushed

1. Combine water, vinegars, onion, carrot, 1 tablespoon of the Kosher salt, pepper, bay leaves, cloves, juniper berries and mustard seeds in saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer ten minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Pat meat dry and rub vegetable oil all over. Rub in the teaspoon of Kosher salt. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat and brown on all sides. (About three minutes a side.)
3. Place meat in a non-reactive container. Poor cooled marinade over it and refrigerate for 3-5 days (I did five days) turning daily if not completely submerged.
4. When ready to cook, place rack in middle of oven and preheat to 325 F. Add the sugar to the marinade. Cook covered for four hours.
5. Remove meat and keep warm.

GRAVY (so easy)
1. Strain liquid to remove solids. Place in pan over medium-high heat. Whisk in gingersnaps and cook till thickened, stirring occasionally. Strain again to remove lumps (I didn't). You also do not need to de-fat this. I did skim the top once. Slice meat and serve.

And do serve with these dumplings. They're surprisingly easy and all the work is done ahead of time (except for the boiling).

Boil the potatoes in their jackets the day before. You can do all the steps except for the actual cooking of the dumplings the morning of the dinner.

Dumplings - makes 12 - supposedly serves 6 - (HA! I doubled the recipe for six people. None were left!)
1-1/2 pounds Russet potatoes (about 2 large). Do use Russet - they are low moisture and the dumplings hold together well
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (you can use more)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 cup cornstarch
1 large egg

DAY BEFORE: Cook scrubbed, unpeeled potatoes in a large pot of salted boiling water for 45 minutes. Refrigerate over night. Really. Just plan on it.

1. Peel potatoes and run through a potato ricer. You can mash them - but the ricer really makes them smooth.
2. Mix in salt and nutmeg.
3. Using hands, mix in flour and cornstarch. Knead until it forms a smooth dough. You can add more flour if it is sticky. I didn't need to.
4. Add egg and mix in using your hands. (The best kitchen utensil by far!)
5. Form dough into balls using 1/4 cup for each.

If making ahead: place balls on a pan lined with wax paper lightly dusted with flour. Refrigerate.

When ready to cook: (I was making 24 dumplings so I started the process 20 minutes before the meat was ready.)

Cook dumplings in nearly/almost not-quite boiling, salted water. Only cook four at a time - you don't want them touching each other and sticking to each other while cooking. Semi-boil for ten-fifteen minutes (until they rise to the top). You can cover them to keep them warm or put them in a warm oven (I turned off the oven when the meat came out and placed the dumplings in it while the other dumplings cooked.)

Do serve with red cabbage. Do buy the jars of red cabbage. You don't have to make everything.

There were six of us for the sauerbraten meal - six family members reliving old tradition that happened to be delicious. And there was sweet remembrance at the table.

These are bonus days. Only one hard frost and I am still enjoying geraniums, shrub roses, petunias, violets, mums and herbs. The burning bushes are bursting fiery red. More candles will get lit as the days get darker.

Our King Maple had to come down this week. We will miss it (and it's accompanying hosta glade). The garden will evolve and the seasons turn. And sometimes you get to return to a past memory. It's different. It, too evolves. But it never goes away.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Summerfall: Eggplant Dip and an Apple-Pear Salad

We pulled the last plants from the garden. It's warm: summer-fall. The crisp nights have just started. September spent too much time in the 80's. (My DNA has changed since I moved to Minnesota. 80 is just plain hot to me.) I am itching to warm cider, throw on boots and scarves and dig out my blue-plaid blanket for cuddles.

Don't tell me that January is coming. I know. I may even be ready. But first, I will work with what I have and that is Summer-Fall. Time to use up the last of summer vegetables before we become squirrels, digging up the roots.

This is Ina Garten's recipe and it's simple (I can write an ode to simplicity these days), healthy (I know it's a buzz word - just throwing it in there and we won't speak about my ten pound weight gain) and quite tasty (most important).

2 eggplants
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons parsley
1 red pepper
1 red onion
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper (I used more)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (use more)
1-1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut eggplants, bell pepper and onion into 1 inch cubes. Toss them in a large bowl with the garlic, olive oil, cayenne, salt and peppers. Roast for 45 minutes. Turn them 1 time halfway through baking. 

Remove from oven. Cool slightly. Put vegetables in food processor and add the lemon juice and tahini. Pulse 3 or 4 times to blend. Adjust salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl and garnish with fresh parsley.

We've gone to the apple orchards a few times. A happy by-product of living here is the easy access to  quite a few orchards. We've come home laden with pies, apple doughnuts and even - fresh apples! (The pies and doughnuts have nothing to do with my weight gain.)

This is one of those salads that you wind up craving in the fall. It's not one of those foods that "you should eat because it's good for you." The fact that it is indeed buzz-word healthy should be ignored. Make this before the only thing fresh in the produce aisles are turnips.

APPLE PEAR SALAD (serves 4) (Recipe from Recipe Runner)
(I'm not going to give amounts. You know how much lettuce and fruit and almonds you want, right?)

1 small apple (or more)
1 small, perfectly ripe pear (or more)
Your favorite tender lettuces: spring mix, butter lettuce, mache, young spinach
Almonds (sliced and toasted)
dried cherries or dried cranberries
feta cheese
bacon (2-4 slices, optional but the salty crunch in the salad is highly recommended by all the humans in the house)

1 minced shallot
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all in a jar and shake and bring to the table - allowing people to add their own dressing and ensuring the salad doesn't get soggy. Soggy salads are sad.

Cioppino-Bambino went to the vet for his first year check-up. 15.2 pounds. When we got him at four months he was 4.1 pounds. But unlike his owner - not overweight. He has landing gear for paws, a true lion's mane (Kirsten wanted him shaved to look like a lion when I had his matted fur combed out; I resisted) and a lemur tail. The vet confirmed that there's a lot of Maine Coon in this chatty boy. 

In true Italian fashion, I currently have sauerbraten marinating in the fridge in honor of my father. (Every Sunday doesn't have to be pasta even though most should be.) Meanwhile, hope you are having a leaf-crunching, apple-laden, blue sky, sugar maple summerfall!