Alright, I’m a bad blogger. I can’t tell you how many people have contacted me wanting to know what is going on, why I’m not blogging more often, and even a few who were concerned about my well being. Well…okay, not a lot of people, but more than I expected. I’m not going to offer up any excuses other than it has been me not being very motivated. I promise I’ll try to do better.

Not long ago I had a craving for something pizza-like, big surprise I know, me being the king of pizza delivery. What was surprising is that I didn’t exactly want pizza. Yes, I even shocked myself. I wanted something crispy, and chewy, savory and loaded with carbs. Something with a lot of flavor, just like pizza. Then I remembered a German dish that I had had before, Zwiebelkuchen, kind of a cross between a quiche and a pizza. Yes, I know, it sounds strange, but stay with me for a minute. Zwiebelkuchen come in many different forms from thick and eggy to thin and crispy with just a thin layer of custard to hold everything together…just like the cheese on a pizza. Made with lots of sauteed onions, and usually some kind of pork, this dish packs a wallop in the flavor category, and although a little time consuming (you make a yeast dough that needs to rise) it’s pretty simple. Serve it like you would a quiche, with a side salad for a light lunch, cut it into smaller pieces and serve as an appetizer or cut it into large wedges like I do and eat it as you would pizza.

This recipe makes a more pizza-like Zwiebelkuchen as opposed to the thicker, deeper quiche style.

Zwiebelkuchen (German Onion Tart)

1 package active, dried, yeast
2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups All purpose flour
1 Tbl. butter
1 cup water, warm
6 slices Bacon, chopped (preferably thick cut)
2 mdium onions, sliced
1/4 tsp. Caraway seed
1/2 tsp salt
Black pepper, freshly ground
1 each Egg
1 each Egg yolk
1cup sour cream
2 Tbl. milk (optional)

Combine the yeast with sugar, salt and 1/2 cup flour in a bowll. Blend in the butter and warm water and mix to combine. Add enough of the remaining flour flour to make a soft dough (you will need most of it) then turn this onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, turn to coat then cover and set aside to rise in a warm place for about 30-45 minutes.

After this time, pat the dough into a lightly-greased, 12 inch pizza pan or a jelly roll pan. Cover and set aside as you prepare the filling.

Place bacon in large, preheated skillet and cook until crisp then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Using the remaining bacon fat, saute the onions until tender but not browned. Add the caraway then remove from the pan and sprinkle over the dough. Top with the crispy bacon. Bake at 400°F for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the egg, the egg yolk and the sour cream together. This will give a custard that you can spoon on top, leaving areas devoid of custard, which is how I like it. If you want something a bit more uniform add the milk to the egg mixture and pour over the onions, spreading it out to cover completely. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Bake 10-12 minutes longer, or until the top is golden brown and the sour cream mixture has set. Serve warm or room temperature, sliced into wedges.

It’s been a long, hard couple of weeks the last few weeks. Work has been difficult as I’ve had supervisor out sick so I’ve been covering her shift, along with all of my work. It finally culminated on Friday when I had to let go of one of my supervisors. While normally I have no problems firing someone (because most often it has been because they weren’t doing the job and I have no tolerance for that kind of thing) this one was different as she had been doing a good job. Unfortunately, a drop in revenue made it necessary to eliminate a position. While the rational side of me knows I had no choice as I had to do what was best for the company, and for my remaining staff (if I didn’t lay off one then they would all have had to go to part time) the emotional side of me was wrecked over this difficult task. Unfortunately, this scenario has been playing out way too often in the recent years. Too many people I know have lost jobs due to downsizing or loss of revenue. I feel lucky that I still have a job, but my heart goes out to the many that have been unemployed for months and months. It is my hope that our elected officals can come together, put their petty partisan politics aside and come up with a solution to help the economy and the American people get back on their feet.

While I could go on and on about politics and the crappy weeks I’ve had, that’s not what you are here for so I should probably bring it back around to food. In my last post I promised a number of beet inspired dishes so today’s offering is a wonderful Autumn time side dish, Roasted Beets. Add to those beets some onion and a few cloves of garlic and you have a dish that delights both the sense of taste and smell.

While this recipe works well with red beets, I prefer to use golden, Chioggia, or candy stripe beets. These beets tend to bleed off less color than your standard red beets, keeping the onions and garlic from taking on a pinkish hue. If that doesn’t bother you or you can’t find anything other than red beets go ahead and use the red.

Roasted Beets with Garlic and Onions
serves 4

2 pounds beets (I used a mixture of golden and Chioggia beets)
1 large onion
8-12 cloves garlic
3-4 small sprigs rosemary
3 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil
fresh ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Peel the beets and cut into 1-1 1/2 inch cubes. Place in a baking dish. Peel the cloves of garlic and place in a bowl. Peel the onion and cut into bite sized wedges and add to the garlic. Add the olive oil to the garlic and onions and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper then pour over the beets. Add the sprigs of rosemary to the baking dish then cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake. After 45 minutes minutes remove the foil, increase the temperature to 400°F and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender and slightly browned (approximately another 20-30 minutes). Serve immediately.

One thing I’ve learned, living here in Wisconsin, is that this state is obsessed with Bratwursts. It’s a passion that seems on the verge of mania. If you think I exaggerate I invite any of you to drive through any number of towns on any given weekend and you will see plenty of evidence. On any weekend from May through October you would be hard pressed to find a town that doesn’t have at least one “Brat Fry” going on, and oftentimes larger towns will have 2, 3, 4 or more going on simultaneously. These are usually fundraisers for community or high school groups from the Lions, to Rotary, to Band Boosters. The obsession doesn’t stop there either. Ask most people what is on the menu for their summer celebration and I bet brats are included somewhere on that list. On nice weekends throughout the summer it almost becomes impossible to escape the sweet smell of brats sizzling over an outdoor grill. I can almost envision the entire state being blanketed by a giant cloud of smoke from all the grills frying up the thousands upon thousands of brats required to satiate this state’s collective hunger for these humble sausages.

Brat making in Wisconsin is a local affair. Sure there are a number of companies mass producing brats for nationwide distribution and you’ll find these same brands in any of the large grocery stores in any town in Wisconsin, but Wisconsin is still one area where local butchers still flourish and most of these butchers produce their own brats. These handcrafted sausages are flavorful and complex, easily rivaling any of the great fresh sausages of Europe. Brats make a great addition to a traditional Choucroute and bring a wonderful flavor to any recipe calling for sausage, but grilling is where the brat really shines. There are 3 basic philosophies to grilling brats: 1. is to gently grill the brats over medium heat. Cook them too quickly or at too high a heat and they burst open spilling their flavorful juices and fat all over the grill, 2. is to first poach the brats in a mixture of beer and onions until cooked all the way through and finishing them on the grill, and finally, 3. is to first grill the brats quickly then finish them in the beer and onion poaching liquid. I prefer the straight grilling method though if I am not serving them directly off of the grill I do place them in a warm bath of beer and onions to keep them warm.

Most local grocery stores sell “brat buns” which are basically a larger version of a hot dog bun. That’s one of things I hated about living in Chicago and trying to make Italian Sausage Sandwiches; you either had the choice of hot dog buns which were too small or sub rolls, which were too large and, oftentimes, too hard. These brat buns perfectly fit the larger sausage. As far as toppings are concerned, brats should be topped with mustard, onions and sauerkraut, in my opinion. Forget the ketchup, it has no place on top of a brat. Use it for your burger and fries. One word about sauerkraut; sauerkraut should always be rinsed before using whether you are serving it cold or hot. Most people miss this step and end up serving a product that is so overpowering it obscures most of the other flavors in the dish.

The Beer Braised Onion recipe I offer below is a great accompaniment to a brat. This recipe was created with brats in mind. It would also make a great topping for burgers or other grilled sandwiches though if not planning on serving it over brats you might want to consider substituting other flavors for the cinnamon and nutmeg.

Beer Braised Onions

2 Tbsp. Butter
1 large Onion, peeled and cut into a julienne
8 oz. Beer, preferably something a little sweet and malty
2 tsp. Sugar
½ tsp. Salt
½ tsp. Black Pepper
1 pinch Cinnamon
½ pinch Nutmeg

Melt the butter in s sauté pan and add the onions. Season with the salt and pepper and cook until wilted and just starting to brown. Add the beer and simmer uncovered until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and continue to cook until almost all the liquid has evaporated, stirring regularly to prevent the mixture from burning. Remove from the heat, taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

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