Archive | June, 2011

Not Your Average Sheboygan

10 Jun

I grew up with brats.  Not brats, like the screaming child who kicked you in the leg at the grocery store, but bratwurst, the sausage (pronounced broughts).  My dad, being a native Michigan Upper (pronounced you-per) and then having spent most of his growing up years living in Wisconsin, had the natural Midwestern instinct of knowing how to make a good brat.  Let me tell you, there are good brats, and bad brats, and when you find a good one, buy a lot because a perfectly cooked brat is good any which way – hot, cold, bun or sans, in casseroles, in quiche, on pizza, really the options are endless.

Along with the eating options, there are also the cooking ones: there’s the boil-in-beer technique, and the grill is always a favorite.  The toppings can be endless – onions, caramelized or not, sauerkraut, chili, cheese, relish, or anything your little sausage heart desires.  But in our house, it usually always came down to the simple, but still debated, question of using mustard or ketchup (obviously, mustard is the clear choice.  Did you hear that Jenn?  Mustard.).

My mom would serve brats and my dad would turn into a little kid again, occasionally doing a little dance in front of the grill and making sure there was a good cold beer in the fridge awaiting.  She always had a yummy salad to go with, or maybe baked beans, or if we were really lucky, she’d make her prize-winning macaroni salad (the prize was from our church picnic, but still).  As the four of us would sit around the kitchen table dipping our brats into the topping of choice, Casey (the dog) would eye us from just outside hoping one of us was nice enough to bring out a piece (we were never nice enough).

Not so many years later, I meet a New Englander who just happens to also be a huge brat fan.  Who also likes them with mustard!  What luck!  And it’s funny, Rob’s grill stance/dance is similar to my dad’s, and there’s always a good cold beer waiting in the fridge.

So, keeping with the yummy summertime theme, last night we grilled brats.  But, knowing what we had in the fridge, I decided to shake things up a little bit and turn the standard simple brat into something even more delicious.  We both had seconds.

First the toppings: so, I was debating whether or not to beer boil, and then grill, or just grill, but then while driving home, the idea sparked – I’ll make a sweet beer mustard sauce.  There I am getting saucy again.  But it totally worked – fingerlicking worked.  I reduced some summer ale with a bit of maple syrup, added the mustard and seasoning, and voila, a perfect brat sauce.

But that wasn’t all.  Our school has a beautiful, yet overgrown, garden that has the most lovely herbs (why I’m only discovering this now, with 4 days left of school, is beyond me).  So I picked some chives with the flowering bulb at the top (a vibrant purple color with a mild onion flavor), and mixed together those chive flowers in a simple relish of mango, cucumber, and lemon juice.  Topped on the salty and spicy brat, with the sweet and tangy mustard beer sauce, it was a flavor combination that kicked good ol’ sauerkraut back to Germany.

Then the side dish: beans.  But, with limited I-just-got-home-from-work-and-I-will-eat-pounds-of-nachos-if-I-don’t-cook-something-healthy-now patience, slow cooked baked beans were not going to cut it.  So, turning towards the pantry and freezer I grabbed some staples: black beans, chickpeas, and frozen edamame.  These three protein and fiber packed powerhouses warmed slightly and mixed together with just a touch of butter and herbs (chives, applemint, and thyme – again, from our school’s garden) created a tasty, colorful, rustic side dish.  It provided a perfect creamy contrast to the main dish with its cooling relish.  There were even enough leftovers for a delicious lunch today (the thought of which made my stomach start talking around 10am).

I don’t know how my Wisconsin grandparents would feel about my vamped up brats, but Rob and I were certainly happy.  And I’d like to think my dad might even skip the beer boil step to try the beer mustard sauce.  But for now, we’ll keep the grill hot, make lots of leftovers, and thoroughly enjoy our glamafied sausages.

Sweet Beer Mustard Brat Sauce (makes about 1 1/2 c) 

  • 1 c summertime (light) ale
  • 1/4 c good quality maple syrup
  • 1/2 c dijon mustard 
  • s&p (optional)

Over med high heat, combine the maple syrup and ale in a sauce pot.  Reduce (let bubble and boil) until the mixture has concentrated by half.  Off the heat, whisk in the dijon mustard.  Bring back to med-low heat, and reduce for about 10 minutes more, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth, silky, and coats the back of a spoon.  Taste for s&p seasoning. 

Serve over hot grilled brats. 

Warm Herbed Three Bean Salad (serves 4-6) 

  • 1 can black beans, strained and rinsed
  • 1 can chickpeas, strained and rinsed
  • 12 oz edamame (if frozen, pop in boiling water for 3-5 minutes until the beans in the pods are tender with a bite) 
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped chives
  • 1 tsp applemint, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp thyme, finely chopped
  • s&p 

Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over med-high heat until just melted.  Add the chopped herbs, and stir.  The herbs should become fragrant very quickly.  Add the mixture of three beans, s&p to taste, and stir to combine.  Turn heat down to low and keep stirring until just heated through.  Turn off the heat and immediately cover.  

For a rustic look, serve in the pot with a wooden spoon. 


Getting Saucy

7 Jun

It’s testing time again at our school.  That means taking an amped-up-for-the-end-of-the-school-year-knowing-summer-is-just-around-the-corner child and sitting them in front of a computer screen to answer math and reading comprehension questions.  If you listen hard enough, you may be able to hear the groans and exasperated sighs, from both kid and teacher.  But if you listen even harder – yes, put your ear to the screen – you will hear the sounds of joy from realizing hard work really does pay off.   Again, from both kid and teacher.  And just in time for the summer.

I always get a little nervous around testing time, hoping and wishing that the students put forth the brain power they’ve gained this year to show improvement.  For some, I’ve even taken to practicing my willful ESP: choose A, you can do it, A, A, A, no – don’t change your mind!  For the most part, the kids care so much, and want to do well, too.  So, while the existential teacher side of me continues to send vibes, I fully well realize the kids are the ones doing all the work, and there’s no reason to worry.  I love the look they get after getting those high scores – it’s a look I wouldn’t have gotten at the beginning, or even middle of the school year, but now their comfort level is such that their at-home personas are clearly visible.  After seeing their own success, their eyes, body language, and even sometimes verbal expression give me a mixture of, ‘Wow!  I’m aweeesome!’ all the while maintaining their oh-so-very-cool confidence of ‘See Ms. T, I tooold you!’

So being that it’s almost summertime, after all, and the kids are getting wonderfully spunky and saucy in their attitude and personalities, so am I.

Rob and I have been craving summer foods.  Our Wintergreen Farms CSA basket should be arriving within the next couple weeks (from which my 42potatoes name came about), and we are antsy with anticipation.  Summertime foods are down-right fantastic and our hunkering is even surviving the occasional cold blasts of coastal wind, still reminding us that where we live is not exactly considered “tropical.”  But that doesn’t stop us.  No Sir-ee.

Thinking about bar-b-qued food, the first thing that comes to mind is not chicken, fish, nor veggies – it’s sauce.  Yes, sauce.  Saucy sauce.  Finger-licking sauce.  Makes anything delectable, sauce.  Makes the napkin tucked into a shirt a fashion statement, sauce.  Makes evidence of devoured food on lips and chin sexy, sauce.  You know what I’m talking about.

I’ve been all about the sauces lately, mostly because I’ve also been all about the BBQ.  Rob and I have been grilling veg, meats, and most recently, chicken; and to the delight of our stomachs, our neighbors just made grilled moose burgers that were out of this world.  It is putting us in the summertime mood, and making me just as rambunctious as my summer-awaiting kiddos at school.

As Rob stood over the grill last Saturday (looking very Tommy Hilfiger in his khaki shorts and flip flops, beer in one hand and  oversized manly grill spatula in the other),  the menu consisted of grilled spring and summer veg (zucchini, summer squash, asparagus, and mushrooms), chicken legs and wings, and peaches, all with their own special sauce.  The veg got a light drenching of a sweet basil balsamic that was just tangy enough to have a mouth-fight with the smoky char from the grill.  The chicken sat in my go-to dry rub for a while before being lathered and painted with an amazing sweet and spicy strawberry BBQ sauce.  And then the macerating peaches got a hot caramelization from the grill and then cooled off with a frothy cream infused with honey and mint.  The sauces were simple, easy, and made the simple main ingredients shine.  And the smell of that BBQ… it just can’t be beat.

So, with summer vacation right around the corner and the hint of 72 degrees in the air, the kids will continue to get more saucy over the next week, I guess I will, too!

Strawberry BBQ Sauce (makes about 4 c sauce) 

  • 1 tbsp butter 
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 c very ripe strawberries, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp organic sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped 
  • 1 1/2 c ketchup
  • 3/4 c dijon mustard
  • 2 chicken stock
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • couple sprigs of thyme 
  • s&p

Let the butter melt over a medium pot sauce pot, and add the diced onion.  Season with a pinch of salt, and saute until translucent.  Add the strawberries and the sugar and let cook until soft and mushy.  Add in the garlic, and stir until you can smell it, then add the ketchup, mustard, chicken stock, and herbs.  Season with a bit of s&p and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil, and then to a quick simmer, and reduce the sauce – stirring occasionally – until the sauce is syrupy and completely coats the back of a spoon.  

Strain the sauce over a fine mesh strainer, smooshing the ingredients so that all of the liquid strains out.  

Pour into a serving bowl and use on your BBQ favorites!  



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