• deborahreinhardt

In less than an hour, you can make this hearty supper brimming with Old World flavor.


Many years ago, my mom and I took a day trip from St. Louis to Hermann, Missouri. Just 90 minutes west of the city, Hermann is noted for its wineries and German history.

Mom and I were browsing through one of the many shops in this quaint small town when she came across a T-shirt and said with a laugh, “I have to get this for your Dad.” It was a simple white knit shirt with blocked black letters that read: You can always tell a German, but you can’t tell him much.”

I don’t remember Dad as being a particularly stubborn man; although he was pretty adamant about me not keeping the kitten I tried to smuggle into the house when I was 15 years old. But Mom thought the shirt apropos, so we brought it home to Dad, who wore the garment for many years.

Our family was aware of our German heritage (my DNA is a mixture of mostly German and a tiny bit of Welsh from Dad’s side with Austrian/Hungarian from Mom’s people), but it’s not like we flew the German flag along with the Stars and Stripes on the front lawn. He owned no albums of polka music (thank goodness). But we connected to our ancestors through food, and for special meals—like Dad’s birthday—a German menu would be offered.

I think our DNA is somehow wired into the portion of our brain that controls comfort food cravings. An article in Medical News Today suggests that memory and emotions play a definite role in our food cravings.

I was fortunate to visit Germany during my time as a travel writer and editor and remember feeling a sense of familiarity in the country, despite my obvious language barrier. Maybe that’s why in September leading up to Oct. 3, (my Dad’s birthday), I start to get a taste for some German comfort food, like Schnitzel.

In America, Schnitzel is closely associated with Wienerschnitzel, but it’s not the same thing. Wiernerschnitzel is a geographically protected term in Germany and Austria and can only be made with veal. The traditional German pork schnitzel is usually served with a wedge of lemon and a sprig of parsley, but variations can include different sauces (such as the dill cream sauce in my recipe).

The term schnitzel refers to the thin cut of meat (sniz or slice), which is usually tenderized, breaded and fried. Dozens of countries have a similar version of schnitzel, including the Southern U.S. staple of chicken-fried steak.

German schnitzel is wonderful with a side of buttered noodles, warm German potato salad

or tangy sauerkraut. It’s one of the quicker German dishes to prepare; you could have this to the table in about half an hour for a satisfying weeknight supper. Mahlzeit!


Pork Schnitzel with Sauerkraut

Ingredients (schnitzel):


2 4-ounce cubed pork cutlets

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 ¼ tablespoons Panko bread crumbs

1 ½ teaspoons seasoned salt

2 ½ tablespoons of reserved bacon fat for frying; or use vegetable oil if you don’t have the bacon fat

Cooking spray


Ingredients (for sauerkraut):

2-pound bag of sauerkraut

½ sliced red onion (or use yellow if you don’t have red; just nice to have the pink color in dish)

1 teaspoon caraway seed

1 tablespoon brown sugar

½ teaspoon bacon fat to cook onion in (or use unsalted butter)


Ingredients for dill sauce:

(It’s perfectly fine to serve the schnitzel with traditional lemon and parsley. However this is the basic white sauce with added dill and tang of apple cider vinegar)


1 tablespoon each butter and flour

1 ¼ cups warm milk

1 teaspoon fresh dill (use a bit less if using dry herb)

½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Method:


1. Mix together 3 tablespoons flour, the Panko bread crumbs and seasoning salt. Spring each pork cutlet with salt and pepper and spray both sides lightly with cooking spray. Dredge cutlets in flour/bread crumb mixture.

2. In a large skillet, melt 2 ½ tablespoons of bacon fat (or add the oil) over medium heat. When pan is hot, add breaded cutlets. Brown four minutes on each side, remove pork from skillet and set aside. Take skillet off heat for now.

3. Slice onion. In a 6-quart stock pan, melt ½ teaspoon bacon fat over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent (you don’t want to brown these).

4. Add the sauerkraut, caraway seed and brown sugar. Bring pot of kraut to a hard simmer (near boiling) and then turn down to low heat, cover and gently simmer for about 20-25 minutes.

5. Put the skillet back on the stove, wipe out any browned bits from the schnitzel. Pour the milk into a small sauce pan and gently warm just until you see tiny bubbles start to form on the side. Turn off heat.

6. Turn the heat to medium under the skillet, add butter until it melts. Whisk in the flour a cook for about a 45 to 60 seconds, just so the raw flour taste is removed. Slowly add the warm milk and keep whisking to keep sauce smooth. Incorporate all the milk and then add dill, salt and pepper. When sauce is thickened, turn off heat and whisk in the vinegar. Set aside until ready to plate. YIELD: Two servings with extra kraut for another day!


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  • deborahreinhardt

What comes to mind when you hear or see the words “comfort food?”


Dictionary.com has a pretty straightforward definition:

Comfort food is food that provides a nostalgic or sentimental value to someone, and may be characterized by its high caloric nature, high carbohydrate level, or simple preparation.


Well, that’s about as bland as raw eggplant.


Here’s my definition for comparison: Comfort food is any edible item or dish that connects your taste buds to memories of people or places that you love. It’s food that triggers a smile.


Carbs and calories be damned. We’re not eating these foods three times day. Many of us don’t eat like this three times a month. Perhaps now more than ever, reaching back into our cupboard of memories and digging out a favorite recipe from the family cookbook is absolutely in order. In case you need more permission, let me list a couple of reasons you should embrace a meatloaf without any shame.


• We’re facing a global pandemic. It’s been in all the newspapers. A lot of us have COVID fatigue.

• Home and the kitchen table should be the place that provides healing and solace.

Food costs have risen. Our moms and grannies knew how to squeeze the last drop out of a food budget. Mine surely did, and we can find a lot of wisdom in their old recipes.

• Time around the table should also be story hour. With so many families still more or less sheltered together, what better way to remember Grandma than over a bowl of her beef stew?


Speaking of Grandma, I remember a dinner from the early 1980s. My Bubba had made a family favorite, baked beef stew. But this night, it was exceptionally tasty. Even Dad commented. “Mom,” he said, “this is really very good.” Bubba thanked him, saying she was out of cooking sherry so she used some of his 12-year-old Scotch.


A cook can’t miss with fine ingredients.


But a comforting dish doesn’t always need fine Scotch and sirloin to be special. My mother’s favorite comfort food was this very weird concoction called — and I’ll spell it phonetically — “chewyspice,” which was essentially a turnip, potato, and bacon fat mash. Don’t bother with a Google search because you’ll get a cookie recipe.


Chewyspice was a staple in the Brolaski household because they didn’t have much to eat. Making a pot of turnips and potatoes reminded Mom of her childhood.


A childhood food memory for me involves a humble plate of grub you may remember from the comic strip Beetle Bailey: Cookie’s creamed chipped beef or, as soldiers like my Dad used to call it, “sh*t on a shingle.” I’m sure while serving in the Korean War, Dad had his share of this stuff, but somehow, he seemed to enjoy it when it was served at our table.


For me, creamed chipped beef was a Saturday dinner special, to be followed by either family game night or watching TV sitcoms like Petticoat Junction and Here Come the Brides (boy, did I have a huge crush on Bobby Sherman). Root beer floats often would follow my bath and then bedtime by 10 p.m.


Bobby might have been a cutie, but creamed chipped beef isn’t much to look at. However, it was filling and cheap! Check this out: You have most of the ingredients in your refrigerator and pantry right now. In my area, Instacart lists a two-ounce package of Buddig brand chipped beef at about 80 cents. So, for under $4 (not including tax), you have dinner for four people!


And who isn’t instantly comforted by Béchamel sauce? I could bathe in its velvety luxuriousness. But instead, I’ll drown my cheap chipped beef in it and find reruns of The Partridge Family on Hulu.


Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups warm milk

8 ounces packaged dried beef

(substitution ¾ pound browned, drained ground beef)

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

8 slices toast (sourdough is nice)

1 pinch paprika for garnish before serving



Method:


1. In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the milk just so tiny bubbles start to form on the side; be careful not to scorch.

2. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Whisk in flour to form a roux. Slowly whisk in the warmed milk and once it’s incorporated, increase heat to medium. Stir until thickened.

3. Pop bread in toaster

4. Cut the beef into strips and fold into white sauce. Stir in garlic powder and pepper.

Spoon over bread and add a pinch of paprika to each serving


YIELD: 4 servings


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  • deborahreinhardt

Updated: Jan 18

Dorothy Reinhardt raised a son and chickens, welcomed everyone into her home, and made the best coffee cake.


Tomorrow (Aug. 31) is my grandmother’s birthday. Let me tell you about my Bubba.


Dorthea (Dorothy) Minerva Tubbesing Reinhardt was the baker in our family. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904, the year our city celebrated its only World’s Fair. She was one of five children (middle child). I like to think the can-do attitude our city had in order to make the fair a reality somehow rubbed off on “Bubba.”


My Grandma Dorothy in the kitchen, probably around the early 1960s, after a holiday meal.

With just an elementary school education, Bubba was one of the wisest people I’ve ever known. You always knew where you stood with her because she had no shyness about telling you. A woman of action, she worked in a dry goods store and in a hotel before marrying my Grandpa, Lares (Larry) Reinhardt. He had a good side, but I sensed that Grandpa wasn’t always the easiest guy to live with.

My Dad, Robert, was born in 1927, so Bubba raised a son through the Great Depression, and in her later years, shared stories with me of how they managed not to go hungry. I’m sure that had to do with Grandpa’s work ethic and luck, but equally it’s a testament to Bubba’s ability to squeeze a nickel until the buffalo pooped.


One of her Depression stories she told was the time they raised chickens. My Grandpa didn’t think the whole plan through, so the eggs that would become chicks arrived during the winter, requiring Grandma to create an incubator hutch in the living room. When the chicks were grown enough to become stewing hens, my Grandpa built the chopping block out back, but left the incredible dirty work of killing and cleaning the chickens to his wife. And Dorothy did it.


In the early 1950s, Grandma watched her son join the Army during the Korean War. Thankfully, he returned, and in 1955, Bubba welcomed my mom, Katie, into her family, and treated her like a daughter. The struggling young couple tried living on their own in an apartment, but about a year later for financial reasons, moved in “temporarily” with Grandma and Grandpa into their old home on Randall Place in St. Louis. That temporary situation lasted for the rest of Bubba’s life.


I was born in 1959, so very blessed to have my grandparents under our roof and a great-aunt, Grandma’s sister, Edna, living across the street. But things change.


My great-aunt moved to Penrose Street. In 1968, my Grandpa died of pancreatic cancer. When we moved to a new house in 1969, I still remember sitting in the back seat of our station wagon, Bubba and I crying as we left our old neighborhood, the only one she had known all her life.


But one of my favorite memories of her was during a Thanksgiving more than 30 years ago in the “new” house. After dinner, her sister-in-law Ruth (a hell of a ragtime piano player, by the way) was at our piano banging out a jazzy tune when Bubba comes in from the kitchen, towel slung over her shoulder, cigarette dangling from her lips to entertain us with a hoochie coochie. I guess that’s not surprising because her favorite song was Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” probably (at least in part) because her brothers used to call her Minnie, but also because she could do a naughty little dance to it. “Minnie had a heart as big as a whale” is a descriptive lyric for Bubba.


You see, hospitality was simply her way of living. She always had the coffee pot at the ready to pour a cup for a friend, whether that would be a neighbor or our milkman. And there usually would be some type of sweet treat to go with the coffee. One of her favorites was a sour cream coffee cake.


It’s so good, but I can’t remember what type of pan she baked it in. I seem to remember this cake as a Bundt; however, since I have lousy luck with a Bundt turning out well, I tried it in a springform pan (had a bit of trouble getting that out cleanly, too).


Like most of her hand-written recipes, not every step is clearly detailed because she just knew how to make it. We’d often get the ingredients listed, but the concise and often incomplete directions had a lot to be desired. She probably didn’t want to take the time to write it all down.


So, friends, here’s my best attempt to translate the recipe for Dorothy’s sour cream coffee cake. Give it a try, and then invite a friend over for coffee.




Sour Cream Coffee Cake


Ingredients for cake:

½ cup softened butter

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

2 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon almond extract


Ingredients for filling and topping:

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon


Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2. Mix all ingredients for cake. (Here’s where Bubba leaves out detail! I think she probably creamed the butter with the sugar then added the eggs using an electric mixer. She then likely sifted the dry ingredients together and then slowly added to the wet mixture. Then fold in the sour cream and almond extract. OK, back to Bubba’s recipe.)

3. Put half the dough in pan. (Again, what pan, Bubba? Springform works pretty well. Try a square baking pan if you don’t have a springform or if you’re super brave, a bundt.)

4. Sprinkle (¾ is what I did) brown sugar mixture over dough and add rest of dough in pan. Sprinkle remaining brown sugar mixture on top of cake. (Don’t you just love her?)

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. (I use the standard toothpick-comes-out-clean test, just to be sure.)

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