Category Archives: Home Cooking

Food and drink we enjoy in our home.

#GBD

Last week was a big week in the Kansas culinary world, friends: the Kansas Sampler Foundation named Hays (America) as the Green Bean Dumpling Soup Capital of the state.

It’s a pretty simple dish with just a few ingredients – a simple dumpling made of flour, eggs and water, boiled until perfectly chewy, stirred together with green beans, cream and a light-colored roux. It’s surprisingly rich for its relatively humble components.

I get more questions about eating options in Hays than anywhere else in the state. My top choice is Gella’s, for several reasons – the warm interior, the giant sunflower art, the inventive yet classic beer they brew. My favorite meal there: a bowl of green bean dumpling soup, a soft pretzel, and a shared plate of whatever’s on special that day. (With a pint of Liberty Stout if you’re lucky enough to be there for the seasonal tap.)

Best. Art. Ever.

Best. Art. Ever.

I love that the restaurant celebrates the town’s heritage. The Volga-German settlers who moved from Germany to Russia to Ellis County, bringing with them a culture of growing wheat, brewing beer, and making fantastic food, made barrels of this soup. 

The recipe I made came from Das Essen Unsrer Leute. Women from the small towns in Ellis County compiled the recipes in 1976 to celebrate the centennial of their ancestors settling in the county.

I made a batch last night for an out-of-town colleague, who brought a guest from Chicago. We went all in with the Volga-German theme and made our first batch of bierocks of the year – another Volga-German staple – and some chewy ginger cookies that Andrea shared last week.

I’m far from a seasoned dumpling maker, and am on a quest to learn what the perfect “sticky dough” consistency looks and feels like. The good news is that this soup is great even with wonky dumplings. Perhaps my technique would be better if I actually lived in the Green Bean Dumpling Soup Capital of Kansas?

Finished product, imperfect dumplings and all.

Finished product, in its imperfect and delicious glory.

Creamed Bean and Dumpling Soup
from “Das Essen Unsrer Leute” – 1976

Put one can of cut green beans into 8 cups of boiling water with 1 tablespoon salt. While bringing to a boil, mix 2 cups of flour with 2 eggs and enough water to make a sticky dough. Drop by spoon-full into boiling water, when dumplings float to top remove from stove. Melt 1/4 cup cooking oil in pan add 3 tablespoons flour and brown, pour into hot soup, stirring so it doesn’t get lumpy. Add one cup cream. Serve.

 

 

Canning salsa

We’ve had a bountiful summer, between the farmers’ markets, friends and family, and our CSA.

A week ago, we received 10 bonus pounds of tomatoes, an unexpected windfall from the CSA to which we belonged last year.

We’ve been doing a LOT better about not wasting food this year. But this was a true test.

The tomatoes were heirlooms – lots of Green Zebras, and some that might be German Red Strawberries, along with some possible Brandywine Yellows. (Thanks, Google, for helping me ID these.)

They were gorgeous. They weren’t perfect. (Neither am I.)

Gorgeous, right?

Gorgeous, right?

So we decided to try our luck canning salsa. Reasons why I’d never canned anything before:

  • It seemed like a lot of work
  • I was worried about killing someone because I didn’t know what I was doing (hello, botulism)
  • I didn’t have the proper equipment (or didn’t think that I did)

This year, I’d inherited my grandmother’s trusty canner, which kept our family in green beans and pickles for years. I picked up a jar lifter a few years ago during an well-meaning attempt to can a single jar of pickled okra… and I knew exactly where it was. (After moving twice in 2013, this might have been the greatest miracle of all.)

The real tool that I had was enough time to figure out the process. This proved to be crucial to the endeavor. (Also, I remembered the advice I had been given about canning: keep everything hot, and keep everything clean.) Note to my future self: this is not a project to start at 8 p.m. the night before you need it.

Chris and I agreed to devote the better part of our Saturday to this project. We hit the farmers’ markets in Wichita for the remaining ingredients. I invested in a wide-mouth funnel, and a Ball Blue Book for good measure.

We set to our task with good music, a fresh six-pack of beer, and a recipe from the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. We blistered and peeled peppers (we went with a “garden salsa” variety); we peeled, cored and chopped tomatoes, and made sure our jars were properly sanitized in the dishwasher.

A few hours later, we had 11 tiny jars of salsa to show for our work.

We did some things right. We did some things not-so-right. We had a good time. We’ll try it again.

The finished product.

You can put sauerkraut on that.

A few months ago, I decided to make sauerkraut.

This wasn’t exactly a spur of the moment decision. Part of it was a desire to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps, and of all the others in my family who made their own kraut throughout the years. Part of it was a plan to become my dad’s favorite child, since it’s one of his favorite things to eat.

And part of it was because I wanted to ferment SOMETHING.

My brother started brewing beer in our basement. His special ladyfriend makes her own kombucha. We’ve dabbled in kimchi and okra pickles the past few summers when our CSA provided us with a glut of fresh veggies. (And if you’ve seen “Portlandia,” you’ll think this is kind of funny. I just pickled this blog!)

Last October, I tasted some smoked jalapeno sauerkraut at a farmer’s market in San Francisco. The heavens opened, the angels sang, and I thought, “I want to do this.”

So the stars aligned in March, when I put a whole bunch of stuff in my Amazon shopping cart because I figured I needed it to be successful.

And then I put it all back when I found this recipe for small-batch kraut. We’re talking VERY small batch: one head of green cabbage, one quart-sized Mason jar.

The first batch was all right. It’s a bit dry, which I think I can remedy with a little practice. I gave half to my dad, who noted the dryness, and mentioned that his grandma never put so much caraway seed in her kraut. (But, he said, keep trying.)

The finished product, divided in two. I was mostly just excited that it looked like sauerkraut at this point.

The finished product, divided in two. I was mostly just excited that it looked like sauerkraut at this point.

Now I have a pint jar of kraut in my fridge, and not a lot of ideas for it.

We eat brats every now and again; obviously it’s an excellent accompaniment to a good smoked sausage of some sort.

Lately, I’ve been eating it for lunch as a quesadilla.

Laugh if you must, but sometimes it’s the true highlight of my day. It’s kind of tangy, and the texture of the chewy kraut and slightly crispy tortilla is at least complex enough to keep me interested. I usually put a little bit of cheese on it to glue the whole thing together, but not always.

One of these days I’ll try it with a little turkey or corned beef, and some nice mustard, and call it a reuben (or a rachel) quesadilla. I’m all about the fusion food.

In the meantime, send me your thoughts on what I can do with the remaining half-pint of sauerkraut. I’m starting to get worried that the novelty of the quesadilla will wear off.

On cooking with a CSA

I love spring. I partially credit my April birthday; but it’s also a season that keeps you on your toes. Rain, thunderstorms, HUGE thunderstorms, and this year, snow, all came with my favorite season.

My birthday dinner growing up almost always included asparagus (topped with Cheez Whiz!) and strawberries. The beginning of my new year means there’s a reliable source of fresh fruit and vegetables in Kansas, and I couldn’t be happier.

For the last six years we belonged to a CSA in the Kaw and Wakarusa river valleys in northeast Kansas. Much like spring weather, a CSA brings its own surprises. Each week we would receive a bag full of whatever fresh vegetables were in season. In April, that meant mostly lettuce and other tender greens, the much-coveted asparagus, and green onions. Later in the summer, we’d progress into tomato and pepper season. And in the fall, butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

But there was always the thing we’d never seen or eaten. Kohlrabi looks more like Sputnik than something you slice up and eat with peanut dip. There were the fresh edamame, which of course are soybeans, but when they come on a long stalk and are covered in a bit of fuzz… we initially wondered if our farmers pulled them from a ditch on the way to the drop-off.

The unusual veggies, along with those we thought we didn’t like — oh, if I could get back all those lovely pink breakfast radishes! — often ended up, shamefully, to molder in the back of the fridge.

Over time, we learned the proper way to fix what we got. The biggest challenge to overcome wasn’t a fear of trying new things, but rather trying new things AGAIN if a recipe didn’t work out the first time. The radishes from our former “don’t like” list are now dipped in butter and salt, a French tradition that agrees with us. Even the leafy beet tops that used to go straight to the trash are now sautéed or otherwise fixed along with other greens.

We got our first share of our new CSA here in Wichita last week, which means that spring is really here. Included in the offering: two kinds of lovely lettuce, thick green onions, tiny red beets, kale, a turnip, arugula, and some herbs.

We ate salads topped with balsamic-marinated flat iron steak and spicy chicken wings (separate occasions, and the second was, well, it was a Friday); coarsely chopped the kale and threw it in to a pot with some browned andouille sausage and cooked lentils, all topped with a decent amount of smoked paprika; and braised the greens in white wine and garlicky oil to go with broiled salmon and couscous.

Beet greens, turnip greens, baby tatsoi and who knows what else, with a little garlic, next to the salmon and couscous.

Beet greens, turnip greens, baby tatsoi and who knows what else, with a little garlic, next to the salmon and couscous.

At this point, the only thing left are the tiniest little radishes you ever did see. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the fridge…

Potlucks are the BEST.

I’m not sure I love anything more than eating really great home-cooked food.

Which means, of course, that potlucks are the best thing EVER.

One of my favorite springtime events during the past two years has been a soup potluck at the East Lawrence home of William S. Burroughs, the beat poet, troubled marksman and, at the end of his life, Kansan. (I’m claiming him. I think it counts.)

The Burroughs house in East Lawrence.

The Burroughs house in East Lawrence.

The setup involves a crowded stovetop and a host of crock pots bearing the most fantastic soups: some old family recipes, some new favorites, all homemade and all delicious. Salads, bread and dessert round out the meal — for the lucky ones who have room left in their bowls.

A few of the soup offerings, in the sunny kitchen window.

A few of the soup offerings, in the sunny kitchen window.

It’s tough to pick a favorite when everything is AMAZING, but here are some worth noting:

  • A simply gorgeous beans and greens soup with gigantic Christmas lima beans and kale. A dish so earthy and complex that I said “mmmm!” with every bite.
  • A pork posole, with a bright red broth, tender pork and soft hominy. All texture, all the time. The soup went under a pile of fresh radishes and jalapeños that added an additional layer of crunchy goodness. (We snuck back over for another bowl of this for lunch the next day. I can truthfully report that this got even more amazing over 24 hours.)
  • A creamy golden corn chowder, the color of late-afternoon sunbeams, with roasted red peppery sweetness and a hint of spice.
  • An Italian wedding soup with dainty meatballs and thick-cut homemade noodles.
  • A Greek avogolemono, a soup that almost defies logic: the broth is neither thin nor thick, but an opaque white and oh-so-lemony. There’s orzo, too, and some other chewy goodness involved.
  • A wonderful warm borscht with tender beets and a deep dill flavor.

And then there was the gingerbread. With fresh whipped cream. DELIGHTFUL.

Extra bonus points were awarded to this particular potluck because we got to hang out with some awesome if not a bit distant cousins who were also in attendance, including Mazlo, the next generation of Schneweis descendants to rule the Earth.

This is my cousin Mazlo and his awesome mom Laurel. I think Mazlo and I are like 61st cousins, or something like that. His great-grandpa was a first cousin of my great-grandma. So, you know, we're tight.

This is my cousin Mazlo and his awesome mom Laurel. I think Mazlo and I are like 61st cousins, or something like that. His great-grandpa was a first cousin of my great-grandma. So, you know, we’re tight. Cute kid, right?

Family, friends and food? Kind of like Christmas. In April.

Bread as a metaphor

I consider myself to be a decent cook, a little lax with direction-following at times, but generally adventurous and willing to try new things.

I also occasionally make goals for myself, as I do in other parts of my life. For the past four years or so, my goal has been to learn to make awesome bread.

Each year, the routine is the same: pore over cookbooks and conduct endless internet searches for the “perfect” bread recipe. Decide I don’t have a food processor, so can’t do it. Decide I don’t have a fancy stand mixer, so can’t do it. Decide that I don’t have a dutch oven, so can’t do it. Decide that I don’t have the right kind of flour, so can’t do it. Decide that it’s too hot, too cold, too humid, too dry, so can’t do it. I’m pretty good at excuses.

Then there have been the grand experiments that have mostly failed, resulting in loads of sad, sticky dough bound for only the trash can and the creatures who used our dumpster as a feed trough. These failures have resulted from using the wrong yeast, the wrong temperature of water, and overall, a lack of planning on my part. I usually decided that I’d become The World’s Best Baker on a weekend morning, on days already packed with responsibilities and planned outings. I’d try to hurry the dough along to fit my schedule. The best laid plans, literally, were wasted.

Over time, I’ve acquired many of those appliances that I’d considered to be absolutely essential to the effort; this year, for Christmas, I received a gorgeous blue-enameled, cast iron dutch oven. And now, in my professional transition, I have free time at home during my days that I’ve never experienced.

In other words: I was out of excuses.

So on Monday I pulled out my trusty copy of How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman for the no-knead bread recipe (a version of which is available here.) I first read it when it was published in the Times in 2006 — which may have even sparked this long, dramatic effort, now that I think about it.

The amount of time it took me to actually do something — measure, stir, shape the dough, etc. — was probably a total of 10 or 15 minutes. But it took planning. This technique requires the dough to rise at room temperature for 18 hours. About two hours before you plan to bake, you shape it in to a ball.

I put the appropriate times that I needed to hit on my calendar, and then I tried something new: I didn’t worry about it.

I remembered a good friend of mine telling me a few years ago that bread can, in a sense, smell fear, and will act accordingly. I believed him then, but now I see what he meant.

I didn’t worry about the equipment (I used a spoon, and a bowl, and the dutch oven.) I didn’t worry about the ambient temperature of the house; the weather is getting nicer every day, and the temperature was close enough. I didn’t worry about having it ready for supper.

The result? a dark, crusty loaf of bread that made me feel like a magician.

"Magic" bread.

“Magic” bread.

I’ll make it again, and I’m sure I’ll get more comfortable with the process over time. But if I’m really going to get deep about it, there’s another lesson somewhere in here, about the power of letting go.

In this case, it was delicious. It makes me wonder what I’ve been missing by being too prescriptive, too nervous, and, OK, too fearful of taking a chance with other things.

May we all overcome our obstacles in a similar way.

Grocery stores as art

Grocery stores can be different things, depending on where you live.

In Hutchinson, you used the closest grocery or convenience store as a landmark. “I live on Sierra Parkway — off of 30th, near the big Dillon’s.” “Turn at the Pic Quik on 4th to get downtown.”

I’ve dragged my husband and family into grocery stores around the country and around the world. Grocery shopping on vacation is one of the best ways I know to find out what other people eat. (And I admit that I sometimes go to Aldi just to pretend I’m on vacation in Europe.)

I have the opportunity to work with the Rural Grocery Initiative, a project at Kansas State University that studies the importance of grocery stores as a key quality of life indicator — and economic driver — of rural communities. Through working with the group, I have a new appreciation for grocery stores as community centers. I like thinking about them as more than just a place to gather supplies, but as a place to check in with your friends and neighbors.

A couple of weekends ago, I found another way to view groceries and grocery stores. There’s a fantastic exhibit on at the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University that explores the connections between culture and the routine act of shopping.

Stocked: Contemporary Art from the Grocery Aisles isn’t just a display of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans (although those are there.) First Nations artist Sonny Assu uses altered images on cereal boxes to discuss the relationship his tribe and others have with food. Karyn Olivier installed an actual library on the shelves of a Carribean supermarket, and captured the images on film.

My favorite piece, which I’ve included below, was a short video shot by German artist Christian Jankowski, who, in “The Hunt,” hunted his food with a bow and arrow — in the aisles of a grocery store. The video may be accessed here.

Image from "The Hunt." Photo credit: Lisson Gallery

Image from “The Hunt.” Photo from http://www.lissongallery.com.

Admission to the show at the Ulrich, slated to run through April 14, is free.